The Darina Allen Column

Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook (, €19.99)

Darina has been inundated with a whole new crop of cookbooks published just in time for Christmas - something to tempt aspiring, experimental and accomplished cooks

Every time I think I’ve reached ‘peak’ cookbook season, along come some new temptations. So what has piqued my fancy...

Jamie has done it again – Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook (, €19.99) is if full of gorgeous photos of tempting foods and delicious recipes for edible gifts, party foods and new ways to love leftovers. Loved his smoked salmon toasts and Boxing Day Quesadillas.

Do you know what Hygge means? I had no idea what the word meant until relatively recently when I noticed that it seemed to be popping up all over the place. Well apparently it means in essence – ‘living cosily’ – enjoying life’s simple pleasures with friends and family, creating a warm atmosphere, fire and candlelight….. It’s a Danish and Norwegian word that’s difficult to translate, it seems to be a feeling of comfortable well-being – savouring the moment….several cookbooks have been published with Hygge in the title including a young Norweigan cook, Signe Johansen who sent me her book How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living, Nigel Slater described it as “uplifting heart-warming, life enriching. I wish I could have read this book years ago”.

Signe is a woman after my own heart, in a recent interview in the Guardian, she told Dale Berning Sawa “everything tastes better with butter. It is generally my fat of choice when cooking. I make my own but I also buy some too – both salted and unsalted. I go through so much of it”.

The Five Seasons Kitchen by Pierre Gagnaire

Admirers of Michelin starred chefs may be delighted to get a copy of The Five Seasons Kitchen by Pierre Gagnaire who was voted Best Chef in the World by his peers in 2016 and whose restaurants worldwide boast two or three Michelin stars each. The recipes are surprisingly easy to reproduce, try his cream of pumpkin soup with coconut milk below, easy and super delicious. Use a Red Kuri or pumpkin butternut squash.

Gather by Gill Meller is a beautiful book that will excite your hunter gather friends – you may not be familiar with Gill’s name partly because he stayed behind the scenes at River Cottage with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for years but is now Head Chef ,has been for some time, and is definitely a name to note – I love Gill’s simple food based on superb ingredients from seashore to woodland, orchard to garden, field to farm, moorland to harbour, the very best kind of honest cooking and gorgeous flavours. I’ve chosen fried pheasant with quince and bay for you to try, beautiful food photographs also. (See In Season for this recipe)

The British Table by Colman Andrews is also quite a production – a new book of the traditional cooking of England, Scotland and Wales. The photos in this book are by two of my most admired food photographers, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.

Many of the recipes from all four corners of the UK have been shared by some of my favourite chefs Jeremy Lee, Mark Hix, Sally Clarke, Fergus Henderson, meticulously researched and beautifully written, published by Abrams. So many tempting recipes but try this cockle popcorn which Mark Hix freely admits he stole from his local fish merchants Samways who originally served them at a local festival. Check out the English Market in Cork for a terrific selection of fish and shellfish but we also get a fantastic selection from Michael Kelly (, Carlingford Oyster Company ( and Quinlans (

Recipes from my Mother by Rachel Allen published by Harper Collins

Closer to home Rachel Allen has just published yet another gorgeous book, this time it’s called Recipes from my Mother published by Harper Collins and is full of recipes from both her mum and grandmother with a few of my mum’s favourites as well – you’ll love this.

RECIPES to try…

Pierre Gagnaire’s Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk, from The Five Seasons Kitchen by Pierre Gagnair (Grub Street, £25)

Darina’s tip - Use a Red Kuri or pumpkin butternut squash

Serves 6 as a starter

700 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
700 ml fresh milk
400 g coconut milk
½ kaffir lime leaf
120 g lightly salted whipped cream
40 g shredded coconut
Fine salt

Cook the pumpkin from cold in lightly salted milk. Once boiling, add the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaf, then continue simmering for a further 15-20 minutes. Remove the kaffir lime leaf and process the mixture in a blender to a perfectly smooth, creamy soup.

For the whipped cream:- carefully fold the whipped cream into the grated coconut. Serve the pumpkin soup in soup bowls. Each guest can serve their own coconut cream on top of the hot soup.


Signe Johansen’s Winter Nordic Salad, from How to Hygge The Secrets of Nordic Living, Signe Johansen (Pan Macmillan, £14.99)

Signe Johansen’s Winter Nordic Salad, from How to Hygge The Secrets of Nordic Living, Signe Johansen (Pan Macmillan, £14.99) 

Kale is about as zeitgeisty as a winter green can be, but I’m actually not a huge fan and this is the only way I’ll eat it as find raw kale hard to chew. The secret is to really massage kale leaves so they start to soften and wilt. Roast squash or sweet potato make pretty much any salad better and pomegranate adds a little razzmatazz to this otherwise super simple dish.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main

1 butternut squash or 2 sweet potatoes
Olive oil
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 bunch of variegated or plain kale, washed and finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 large unwaxed lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°Fgas mark 6.

Chop the squash or sweet potatoes into bite sized chunks, put them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes until tender.

Once cooked, remove from the oven and set aside.

Place the pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Massage the kale with the lemon zest and juice and some olive oil so that the leaves soften, then add to the bowl with the pomegranate seeds. Toss together, cover and set aside until ready to serve.

Mix the salad with the roasted butternut squash and serve with some roast fish, chicken or meat of your choice.

This salad also works a treat with diced feta, avocado and mixed seeds if you would rather keep it vegetarian.


Rachel Allen’s Custard Creams from Recipes from my Mother by Rachel Allen (HarperCollins, £25.99)

These are what they say on the tin, but they are a really good buttery, crumbly version of those you get in a packet.

Makes about 24 biscuits

200 g (7 oz) soft butter
150 g (7 oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
200 g (7 oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100 g ( 3½ oz) custard powder

For the Butter Icing

125 g (4½ oz) soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250 g (9 oz) icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with baking parchment.

Place the butter in a bowl or in the bowl of an electric food mixer and cream well. Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat again until soft and light. Sift in the flour and the custard powder and mix well until the dough comes together.

When the dough has come together, roll it out on a floured worktop with some flour dusted on top, to stop it sticking, until it is 5 mm (¼ inch) thick.

You’ll probably need to regularly slide a palette knife under the dough with some flour to stop it sticking. Cut into shapes, squares or rectangles (making sure you have doubles of each shape so they can be sandwiched together) and carefully lift onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced a little apart as the will spread ever so slightly when baking.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until just feeling dry around the edges and light golden in colour. Take out of the oven and leave to stand on the baking sheet for a few minutes before lifting off to cool on a wire rack.

While the biscuits are cooking or cooling, make the butter icing. Cream the butter and the vanilla extract in a bowl with a wooden spoon or in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix in the icing sugar until it comes together.

When the biscuits are cooked and cooled, spread some butter icing onto a biscuit


Whisky Soaked Raisin and Orange Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding, from The British Table by Colman Andrews (Abrams, £30). 

Serves 6-8 

145 g (1 cup) sultanas (golden raisins)

60 ml (½ cup) good quality Scotch whisky, plus more if needed

300 ml (1¼ cups) whole milk

300 ml (1¼ cups) heavy cream

Pinch of salt

2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

5 large eggs

50 g (4 tablespoons) sugar

90 g (½ cup) mixed candied citrus peel

1 large brioche loaf bread or challah, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) slices

285 g (1¼ cups/2½ sticks) butter, softened

480 ml (2 cups) orange marmalade

Vanilla ice cream for serving, optional

Put the sultanas in a small bowl and cover them with the whisky (add a little more if necessary to completely cover them). Soak for at least 2 hours, then drain them and set aside (reserve the whisky for cocktails).

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

Combine the milk, cream, salt and vanilla beans in a medium pot. Bring the liquid to a boil, then take the pot off the heat and set aside to infuse for at least 15 minutes.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a medium bowl, then strain the milk mixture into the eggs and stir well.

Mix the sultanas and the citrus peel together, then spread them evenly over the bottom of a 4.5 litre baking dish.

Butter each slice of brioche or challah on one side, then cut each one at an angle into two triangles each. Arrange the slices, overlapping on top of the citrus and peel. Pour the custard mixture evenly over the bread, then bake the pudding, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Just before the pudding has finished baking, put the marmalade into a small saucepan and heat it over a low heat, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pudding from the oven and spread the heated marmalade over the top. Bake for 10 minutes more.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream if you like. 


 '30 Years at Ballymaloe' - Bord Gáis Avonmore Cookbook of the Year 2013

Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012/2013


Ballymaloe Cookery SchoolOnce again, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork has a great programme of cookery courses for all interests and abilities running throughout 2017. Ranging from a relaxing visit to sit in on an afternoon cookery demonstration to a week long ‘Intensive Introductory Course’.

Sitting in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm the Ballymaloe Cookery School provides its students not only with a life skill learnt under the expert tutelage of their very capable teachers but also a place to relax and unwind from the stresses and strains of normal everyday life. The cottage accommodation available onsite for residential courses consists of a collection of delightful converted outbuildings which have been transformed over the years by the Allens, and other accommodation is available locally for the short courses.

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