The Darina Allen Column

Super excited to have three new Michelin Star restaurants in County Cork - Mews in Baltimore, West Cork under Chef Ahmet Dede; Ichigo Ichie in Cork City owned by Chef Takashi Miyazaki; and Chestnut in Ballydehob with Chef Rob Krawczyk (a Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni). It focuses attention on the culinary scene outside the capital and hugely boosts the confidence of the many young chefs who are working tirelessly to raise standards in a time of tiny profit margins on food.

In the midst of all the euphoria came the budget and the reintroduction of the 13.5% VAT rate on restaurants, a whopping 4.5% increase from the 9% rate that enabled many, but not all, to survive the recession. The hotel and restaurant scene in the capital is booming and profitable overall. The food scene in most of rural Ireland is quite a different scenario, the tourist season can be as short as 10 – 12 weeks. Many restaurants are just beginning to recover, from the crippling recession, starting to reinvest and were hoping to start a ‘rainy day fund’ to prepare for the inevitable next downturn which may not be too far away….

It’s all very disheartening….. To maintain standards, continue to pay staff and local food producers, prices will have to increase significantly to enable restaurants to even stand still – a 2% increase was anticipated – 4.5% has totally knocked the ‘wind out of the sails’ of an industry that does so much to create employment, put Ireland on the global food map and boost tourism. I’m truly saddened and apprehensive – this can only result in dumbing down of standards, loss of jobs and closures - I so hope I’m wrong…

Back to our home kitchens and let’s cook up some comforting food to cheer us up and ‘warm the cockles of our hearts’ as Autumn settles in. What better than a delicious pot of stew. Here are two of my current favourites. Lamb with a pearl barley risotto and gremolata and the other a veggie feast, spicy pumpkin or squash and coconut curry.
Must give a shout out to the recently published Currabinny Cookbook by super enthusiastic young foodies James Kavanagh and William Murray (ex Ballymaloe Cookery School). The book exudes a love of food and their mission to encourage other cool young people like themselves (they have a huge fan base on social media), to discover the joy and larks to be had around the kitchen stove, doing pop-ups, selling at Farmers Markets and sharing the yummy food they’ve cooked with friends.

Lots of good things to explore inside the covers of the Currabinny Cookbook (love the graphics too). I’ve chosen Parsnip and Fennel Soup with Macroom Brown Soda Bread, Ruby Chard Korma, and Lemon and Lavender Cake to tempt you to whizz out to buy the book, which is published by Penguin Ireland.

Currabinny Cookbook Parsnip and Fennel Soup
In this soup the natural sweetness of parsnip combines beautifully with the delicate aniseed flavour of fennel. The result is smooth, velvety and very elegant.
Serves 4–6

1 medium-sized onion
4 medium-sized parsnips
2 large fennel bulbs, stalks removed
1 stick of celery
15g fresh flat-leaf parsley
70g butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ litres vegetable stock
200ml milk
To serve:
fresh cream
fresh fennel fronds

Peel the onion and parsnips. Chop finely, together with the fennel bulbs and celery, to roughly the same size dice. Roughly chop the parsley leaves.
Melt the butter in a large pot or casserole dish. Add the onion, parsnips, fennel and celery, and season well with salt and pepper. Stir so that everything in the pot is well coated in the butter.
Construct a cartouche by cutting a circle of greaseproof paper that perfectly covers the inside of your pot. Press this down on the vegetables, sealing them in to cook. Put the lid on the pot and cook for around 10 minutes on a gentle heat. Check and stir at least once to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom.
Meanwhile, in another pot, heat up your vegetable stock until it comes to the boil. This will shorten the cooking time considerably.
When it’s boiling, remove the cartouche from the other pot and pour your hot stock over the vegetables, stirring the contents to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom.
Simmer on a medium heat for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are completely soft and tender.
Add the milk and parsley, and blend with a stick blender until completely smooth and creamy.
Check the seasoning and serve with a swirl of cream and some fennel fronds sprinkled on top of each bowl.

Currabinny Cookbook Macroom Brown Soda Bread
Could there be anything more Irish and down-to-earth than a classic soda bread made with wholewheat flour from the legendary Walton’s Mill in Macroom, Co. Cork, Ireland’s only surviving stone mill? We don’t think so!
Makes 8–10 slices

Butter, for greasing
180g cream (plain) flour
340g Macroom Stoneground Wholewheat Flour (extra coarse)
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
70g Macroom Oatmeal
1 medium organic egg
575ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 180ºC fan/gas 6. Butter a 450g loaf tin.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and oatmeal to combine, then make a well in the centre.
Whisk together the egg and buttermilk in a jug, and pour into the dry mix. Using your hand as a claw, mix the ingredients together in a circular motion until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. When you remove the loaf from the tin, make sure to tap the bottom too, listening for that hollow sound just to be sure. Cool on a wire rack.

Currabinny Cookbook Ruby Chard Korma
William suggests keeping the stalks for another dish but at Ballymaloe Cookery School we loved them finely shredded and added them as we were pouring in the water.
Serves 4–6
3 onions
3 cloves of garlic
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
700g chestnut mushrooms
a large knob of butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
seeds from 10 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
a few pinches of ground cinnamon
a few pinches of chilli powder
3 bay leaves
200ml water
350g ruby chard
200g natural yoghurt
150g crème fraîche
To serve:
toasted flaked almonds
pomegranate seeds
basmati rice

Peel the onions, garlic and ginger. Slice the onions and mushrooms, grate the ginger and crush the garlic with some salt. Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions, garlic and ginger with some salt and pepper.
When the onions have softened a bit, add the cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli powder and bay leaves. Now add the sliced mushrooms to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly. Pour in the water, stir, and simmer for 15 minutes, then check the seasoning.
Meanwhile, remove the stalks from the chard* and add the leaves in batches to the pot until it is all wilted. Turn the heat to low and gently stir in the yoghurt and crème fraîche.
Serve with rice and top with the almonds and pomegranate seeds.

Currabinny Cookbook Lemon and Lavender Cake
Combining lavender with lemon and yoghurt makes this cake sticky, subtle and utterly delicious.

Makes 8–10 slices
butter, for greasing
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
250g caster sugar
175g cream flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of sea salt
2 medium organic eggs
250g Greek yoghurt
125ml rapeseed oil
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
dried lavender sprigs, to decorate

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 medium egg white

Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan/gas 4. Butter a 20cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
Crush the lavender in a pestle and mortar. Put the caster sugar into a large bowl and mix the lavender through. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and stir to combine.
In another bowl, mix the eggs with the yoghurt and rapeseed oil and pour this into the dry ingredients, stirring well. Add the lemon zest and juice.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for a minute, then turn the cake out to cool fully on a wire rack.
Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and add the lemon juice, whisking until smooth. Add the egg white gradually to loosen the mixture until it is quite runny and pourable. The icing should be extremely sharp and lemony. Spoon this icing over the top of the cake until it covers the top and starts to drip down the sides.
Arrange some dried lavender sprigs on the top as decoration.

California Wines Thanksgiving Dinner: Enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving at Ballymaloe House on Thursday 23rd November in co-operation with Wines of California. California Wines will be hosting a tasting and talk where you will be sampling a selection of Californian wines chosen to reflect the diversity of this wine region. ?The tasting will be followed by a family style Thanksgiving dinner in the Long Room at Ballymaloe House. ?Places are limited so please book early by calling Ballymaloe House reception on (021) 465 2531. Price: €75 per person
Sushi Made Simple: Join Ballymaloe Cookery School 12 Week students and allow Shermin Mustafa to demystify this jewel of Japanese cuisine. She will use fresh fish straight from the boats in Ballycotton Bay to create sublime sushi and sashimi. Wednesday, 28th November from 9.30am – 2.00pm, Price €145.00 per person. To book go to or call (021) 4646785.
#NoIncinerator #Chase

'30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013
Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013

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