The Darina Allen Column

Planning for Christmas? Well how about a great cook book for the foodie or budding cooks and chefs in your life. I've recently got lots of new titles, which I am really enjoying, all very different. One of course is 'The Joy Of Food' by my brother Rory O'Connell, which I love but will write about later.

Meanwhile, let me mention some of the others that particularly appeal to me. One is 'Towpath' by Lori de Mori, who has the most enchanting little café in four canal keeper's stores along the banks of the Regent’s Canal in East London. Towpath is one of the secret hidden gems in the middle of London, one of the busiest and most sophisticated cities in the entire world. Lori, who trained at Rochelle Canteen, and her partner Laura Jackson have a passion for seasonal food.Towpath opens from the spring until late November. It has become a unique and beloved destination for so many. I totally include myself in the many who dream about whittling away a few hours at a table alongside the canal enjoying the delicious food while watching the swans glide past, the mallard chasing each other and the coots and waterhens skittering across the water. If I lived in London I would want to ramble along to Towpath every single day, no website, no phone and no take-away, such joy and now Lori and her partner Laura share their recipes and the stories.

Next up, ‘Neven Maguire's Midweek Meals'. For many, Neven is Ireland's most trusted and best loved chef. He writes a weekly column in the Irish Farmer's Journal where he has a loyal and devoted following. His restaurant, MacNean's in Blacklion, is permanently booked out. Yet, he finds time to do regular cooking videos from his home kitchen to encourage people to cook nourishing food for family and friends during the pandemic. Exciting midweek meals to share around the kitchen table.

Another gem - 'Sourdough Mania' is by passionate self-taught baker and teacher, Anita Šumer. Based in Slovenia she has become an international success and now has over 70,000 followers on Instagram @sourdough_mania.Sourdough Mania gives us both simple-to-make and more ambitious recipes for more festive occasions. Every stage is fully illustrated with step-by-step photography on weighing, mixing, kneading, shaping, scoring and baking. Just what all the Covid-19 sourdough bread bakers are yearning for.

John and Sally McKenna's latest book is entitled 'MILK' and tells the story of Ireland's dairy producers and the importance of pasture fed cows to the quality and reputation of our milk, butter, cream, yoghurt... 'MILK' also looks at the scientific understanding of the liquid and explores its unique cultural power and resonance in the history of Ireland. It features brand new recipes featuring fresh dairy products from the new generation of Irish chefs, Niamh Fox, Takashi Miyazaki, Ahmet Dedc, Darren Hogarty, Mark Moriarty, Caitlin Ruth, Lily Higgins, Clodagh McKenna.


Niamh Fox: Ireland's Beloved Jambon
(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragon Press)
Niamh Fox cooks like an angel – sadly her restaurant 'Little Fox' in Ennistymon closed recently, but watch that space...!

Makes 12

2 sheets puff pastry
Roasted red onion:
2 red onions, cut into quarters, then sliced
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Sprig of thyme, picked
Small sprinkling of brown sugar
Cheesy sauce:
25g butter
25g plain flour
250ml full fat milk
250g cheese, grated (Templegall, Gubbeen, Coolea, a good creamery Cheddar or bits and bobs from your fridge too.) Reserve a little to sprinkle.
Pinch of nutmeg
Pepper and sea salt to taste
200g of the best free-range ham you can get your hands on, cut into little cubes
1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk

To make the caramelised onions: mix together the onions, oil, seasoning and sprinkle with sugar. Pop in an ovenproof casserole, set around 200°C for 30 minutes, then mix and cover and continue to cook for 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
To make the cheesy sauce: melt butter at low heat, stir in the flour and mix well until a dough starts to form. Gradually pour in the milk, mixing really well so that there are no lumps in the sauce. Once all the milk has been added, add the grated cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg, pepper and salt. Mix well until you get a thick cheesy sauce. Add the finely cubed ham to the sauce, allow the mixture to cool.
To assemble the jambon: roll out the pastry, and cut each sheet into 6 squares.
Put a scoop of the cheese mixture in the centre of each square and a little of the caramelised onion, on top. Fold the corners to the centre and make sure they overlap (to avoid the ham and cheese from pouring out of the pastry). Pinch together the edges where needed. Brush the egg mix over the pastry and sprinkle the final bit of cheese on top and repeat for the other squares.
Place on oven tray and bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until golden-brown.

Neven Maguire's Char Sui Pork Ribs with Slaw
(from Neven Maguire's Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)
A melt in the mouth treat to cook gently in the slow cooker and finish in a hot oven.

Serve 4-6

2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp clear honey
3 tbsp light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp freshly grated root ginger
1.3-2kg (3lb 5oz - 4½ lb) meaty pork ribs
1 litre (1¾ pints) water
20g (¾ oz) fresh coriander
For the slaw
100g (4oz) red cabbage, cored and finely shredded
100g (4oz) white cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 large carrot, grated
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
To Garnish
Spring onion curls (optional)

To make a marinade, mix the garlic in a bowl with the honey, muscovado sugar, soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine vinegar and ginger. Spoon 4 tablespoons of the mixture into the slow cooker (reserving the remainder) and add the ribs. Top up with the water, mixing to combine. Strip the leaves off the coriander and set them aside for the slaw, then put the stalks into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7). Line a large baking tray with foil.
Remove the ribs from the slow cooker using a slotted spoon or tongs. Handle them carefully, as the meat will be tender and may start to fall off the bone. Baste with the reserved marinade and lay on the foil-lined tray. Cook in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until starting to crisp on the outside.
Meanwhile, to make the slaw, mix the red and white cabbage with the carrot and reserved coriander leaves. Put the rapeseed oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and salt in a screw-topped jar and shake until evenly combined, then use to dress the slaw.
If making the spring onion curls, cut the spring onions (scallions) into very thin slices, then put in a bowl of ice-cold water to curl. Drain well and lightly pat dry on kitchen paper before using.
Arrange the slaw on plates with the char sui pork ribs and garnish with the spring onions curls (if using).

Towpath's Beetroot Borani
(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)
We use the last of the season's beetroot for this delicious thick unctuous soup

Serves 4

8 medium beetroot, washed and scrubbed, boiled until tender, peeled then returned to their cooking water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon merlot red wine vinegar (or a red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar added)
2 pinches of sugar (if the beetroot is not that sweet)
200ml/ 7 fl oz Greek or natural yoghurt
75ml/3 fl oz olive oil
160g/5 ¾ oz feta
80g/3oz walnuts, toasted
8 sprigs dill, leaves picked
Best olive oil, to drizzle

Chop the beetroot into chunky dice. Place in a liquidiser with a ladleful of cooking liquid, blitz until thick and smooth – you may need to add in a bit more liquid if it is thicker than the thickest of yoghurts.
Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth – you are aiming for the consistency of thick yoghurt. Season to taste.
To serve, ladle the borane into a bowl, crumble the feta over the top, scatter with toasted walnuts and sprigs of dill and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with flatbread or sourdough bread.


Cook up a storm to chase away the Covid 19 Blues.
If you are feeling dreary, head into the kitchen and cook something delicious... Could be just a nice pudding or Mac and Cheese. Apart from the occupational therapy, you'll have the joy and nourishment of eating and hopefully sharing it with others. The way to all our hearts is through our tummies, how it always was and always will be...

Great news for good food lovers
Ballymaloe Alumni, Niamh Hegarty has opened a branch of NeighbourFood in Midleton. Check it out to order a range of local food, pay online and collect at a designated time slot.

Local Food for Local People...
Farmer's Markets are operating valiantly during Covid-19 complying with all government and HSE requirements. Local food for local people. Check out your local area for details and support local, every euro helps.

Big shout out...
To all the courageous restaurateurs around the country who continue to 'roll with the punches'. Doing Take-Out, complying with all the regulations... Feeding grateful customers – among them Dede at the Custom House in Baltimore and the Algiers Inn which has recently opened and re-launched for outdoor eating and Take-Out. Give thanks and support all local heroes.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Online
Check out the growing list of online cookery courses here at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Canapés, Finger Food and Tasty Bites on Wednesday 18th November at 9.30am. Check out for more information.

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