YES, 'tis the season to be cooking – but it also seems to be the serious season for launching new cookery books.
Do we ever get enough of cookery books? No, is the answer. Most women read them like novels, and this season some really great books have been published. So, get stocked up and learn how to dazzle your friends and family with brilliantly inspired dishes that make you look like a culinary superstar, and you can also put one under the Christmas tree for your favourite foodie.
Last weekend the one and only Rick Stein was in Dublin promoting two new books, his autobiography, Under a Mackerel Sky and India, in search of the perfect curry. India is the book which runs in conjunction with his recent TV series featuring recipes from his Indian Odyssey.
We caught up with him at a dinner hosted by Clodagh McKenna at her new Clodagh's Kitchen restaurant in Blackrock. There was a full house to greet the amiable Rick, who was even nicer in person than on TV.
For the past few years we have travelled in spirit with Rick through the canals of France on a barge, around the Far East, through Spain and more recently watched him mop his brow in the intense heat of India, tossing in the cumin, coriander, chilli and star anise into a big pot and wishing he had another shirt.
The menu at the dinner incorporated recipes from Rick's books, using the best of Irish produce.
Clodagh's delicious potted crab preceded a great lamb dopiaza, utilising meat from butcher Pat Whelan, who has also just launched his new book The Irish Beef Book. I hope Clodagh keeps this Indian twist on her menu because it had something really different; there were a lot of black peppers, it had a great under bite and we all loved it.
Rick says he got this recipe in turn from The Calcutta Cook Book and was struck by its simplicity. He says, "The main author of the book was Minakshie Das Gupta; the recipe was contributed by Mrs Tara Sinha, who got it from Mrs Sita Pasricha. Where would we be without the contributions to cookery books of good, trustworthy, female home cooks?"
This is very true, and sounds like Ireland, because there are so many old recipes around the country in lined notebooks written by our mothers and grandmothers, which are absolute gold dust. India is published by ebury (€26.99).
Clodagh McKenna, of course, also has her own lovely book Clodagh's Kitchen Diaries. She will be giving cookery demos in the lead-up to Christmas, kicking off with Christmas Entertaining at Home at Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa in Killarney on Saturday, November 16. Tickets are €65 and there are also overnight packages. There will also be a children's cookery demo on the day from 11am- 12pm at €20 per child.
If, however, you can't get to Killarney, you can join Clodagh for a cookery demonstration on delicious and inspiring Christmas ideas at Clodagh's Kitchen in Arnott's department store on either November 20 or December 4.
The evenings will kick off with Christmas cocktails and canapes, and a three-course dinner is then served showcasing the dishes demonstrated along with paired wine. Tickets for these events are €60 and booking is essential. www.clodaghmckenna.com
Last week the magnificent Hugh Lane Gallery, on Dublin's Parnell Square, saw the official launch of Chapter One, An Irish Food Story by celebrated Cork-born chef Ross Lewis. This is indeed a tome of great magnitude and breadth that truly celebrates the 21st birthday of what is constantly voted Ireland's best restaurant.
Hundreds of famous people from around the world have trooped down the steps to Chapter One to be greeted by co-proprietor and maitre d' extraordinaire, Martin Corbett, with the words, "It's an honour to have you."
The Queen didn't go there on her visit to Ireland but she had Ross Lewis cook for her at Dublin Castle. These two men between them were the perfect combination to set up the perfect restaurant that is Chapter One today. It wasn't always so easy, as they will readily tell you.
They opened their doors in 1992 on Parnell Square, which was not exactly a dining destination back then – it was a slow burner in the early years, but their excellence in all spheres had Chapter One rising like cream to the top.
Ross Lewis's food has of course changed and is ever moving forward since 1992. He accredits time he spent in Ferran Adria's El Bulli in Catalonia as being a sea change in his entire culinary philosophy and also credits three-star Michelin chef Olivier Roellinger, who is based in Normandy and Paris, with creating his interest in spices.
The photography by Barry McCall is also stunning and through his camera lens you meet some of Ireland's best food producers, from Eoghan Mac Giolla Coda on Lannleire Honey to Manus McGonagle of the Quality Sea Veg Company in Burtonport, Co Donegal, to Brendan Guinan and Donnacha Donnelly who head up The In Season Farm in Oldtown, Co Dublin. All of these good people and many more are the lifeblood of Chapter One and Ross Lewis is fulsome in his praise for them.
The book is of the magnitude and size of Rene Redzepi's Noma and the brothers of El Celler de Can Rocca – it is superb – not only will it enhance any serious kitchen but it will also grace your drawingroom coffee table if you only like to look at beautiful things!
This Christmas, think of serving up carpaccio of spiced beef with creamed shallots and horseradish, mature West Cork Gouda and shaved baby vegetables, pickled king oyster mushrooms and apple balsamic cream; or Toonsbridge buffalo ricotta cheesecake with crushed Irish oat biscuit and passion fruit curd, passion fruit and thyme sorbet.
Ross Lewis actually makes them look easy. He captures the land, the seasons, the people, the recipes, the restaurant. At €39.95 I think it is good value and a book for life. This will sell out fast so make sure you are not left longing. It's available online from chapterone.com and is published by Gill and Macmillan.
Lynda Booth of the Dublin Cookery School, based in Blackrock, Co Dublin, has just launched From Lynda's Table, a gorgeous book which shares with the reader her many years of cooking around the world, her tips, her secrets, her insight into fabulous cooking made easy.
Starting with 'Foundations' Booth shows you how to master key techniques whilst rustling up some great food: bake a loaf, prepare a salad, whip up a stir-fry. And then get a handle on some key questions such as how long should you keep olive oil, and why does pastry need to rest. Having built on your foundations she shows you how to branch out in different directions which will "bring you to shelves in the supermarket you never knew existed".
Dublin Cookery School is the Restaurant Association of Ireland/Sunday Life 2013 Cookery School of the Year and people travel from all over the world to attend courses there. From Lynda's table you can learn how to cook a superb butterflied leg of lamb marinated with spices, whip up linguine with shellfish sauce, pan-fried lobster and Dublin Bay prawns, or produce a wonderful tomato chutney from the recipe of chef Sunil Ghai, who is a regular guest chef at Dublin Cookery School.
You can of course brush up your skills for Christmas with a short course such as 'Edible Gifts for Christmas' or 'Cooking for Christmas'. Details on the book and courses from www.dublincookeryschool.ie
Another Irish book is Food for Friends from the popular and entertaining Wexford chef Edward Hayden, who apart from appearances on TV3 is a culinary lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology and also regularly lectures in An Grianan, the Irish Countrywomen's Association Adult Education Centre.
This is Hayden's third cookery book and this time he tells us that "whether it's a cosy dinner or a big bash, Food for Friends makes get-togethers enjoyable and hassle free for you and your guests.
"With Food for Friends, you can entertain at home with ease and on a budget, from casual brunches and suppers to more formal dinner parties, large family events and festive get-togethers."
Whatever you do with Edward Hayden is bound to be fun.