I'm not one of those chefs who claim to have spent my childhood watching a loved one baking in the kitchen. I grew up on mini pizza and fish fingers, but the strong, earthy flavours in these recipes will hopefully create wonderful memories for my own children.
I started work as a kitchen porter in a French bistro near Manchester, washing pots and preparing vegetables. However, I soon got addicted to the buzz and energy of a busy commercial kitchen. I became a commis chef at 16, and began to delight in seeing the raw ingredients coming in one door and leaving through the other as complete dishes, transformed into simple, yet delicious, perfectly cooked fare.
I drew influences from the different head chefs I worked under, especially the man himself, Monsieur Raymond Blanc.
Keen to pull all my experiences together in creating my own menu, I returned home to Ardee and got a call to say Tankardstown House were looking for a chef to take over their restaurant. After a meeting with the owners, Brian and Trish Conroy, it was clear that we all shared the same passion and philosophy for simple, local food cooked with care, and presented fuss-free, just like the recipes below.
Pork Rillette with Spiced Squash Chutney
The rillette can be made 2-3 days ahead of time; it gets better with age. Serves 4.
For the rillette, you will need:
500g (171/2oz) pork belly, diced into 4cm cubes
250g (8 3/4oz) pork shoulder, diced into 4cm cubes
450ml (3/4pt) water
Sprig of each; thyme, parsley, sage and tarragon, all tied together with string into a bundle
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the spiced squash chutney, you will need:
500g (17 1/2 oz) butternut squash, cut into 3cm cubes
250g (8 3/4oz) tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
250g (8 3/4oz) onions, skinned and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
375g (13 1/4oz) soft brown sugar
300ml (10 1/2fl oz) white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the diced pork belly and the diced pork shoulder in a heavy-bottomed pot, add the water and the tied bundle of herbs, and cook over a very low heat for about six hours, or until the meat is very tender. Stir in the salt and the freshly ground black pepper and remove the tied bundle of herbs.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the pork to cool down in the cooking liquid, but don't let it go cold. Once the meat is cold enough to handle, remove it from the liquid and transfer it to a mixing bowl. Using two forks, roughly shred the meat. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Using a sheet of cling film, roll the meat into a fat sausage shape and place it in the fridge until it is nicely set.
Set about making the chutney at this stage. Simply place all ingredients -- the cubes of butternut squash, the skinned, roughly chopped tomatoes and onions, the crushed garlic, the soft brown sugar, the white wine vinegar, the ground allspice and some salt and freshly ground black pepper -- into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally until no excess liquid remains and the mixture is thick. This is a very simple but tasty accompaniment; it will keep for up to six months in properly sterilised jars.
To serve, remove the rillette from the fridge and cut two even slices per portion. Try to do this at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the rillette to reach room temperature. Place a neat spoonful of chutney next to the rillette and enjoy with a little salad as a starter, or, for a tasty supper, with some crusty bread and a glass of wine.
Honey Roast Parsnip Soup with Pan-Fried Scallops
You will need:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1kg (2lb 3oz) parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
250g (8 3/4oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
100g (3 1/2oz) salted butter, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5L (2 3/4pt) chicken or vegetable stock
50ml (1 3/4fl oz) double cream
To cook the scallops, you will need:
Drizzle of olive oil
8 medium-sized king scallops, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
Drizzle of rapeseed oil
Place the olive oil, the roughly chopped onion, the pressed garlic, the parsnip chunks, the potato chunks, the fresh thyme, the chopped salted butter, the honey and the curry powder into a roasting tray. Mix everything well and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place into an oven -- preheated to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4 -- to roast for 25-30 minutes, until golden and tender.
Place the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you are using, and the double cream into a saucepan over a high heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the roasted vegetables to the stock, making sure to get all the bits from the bottom of the roasting tin. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the contents to cool slightly, then transfer into a food processor and blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and season, to taste, with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Once the soup is ready and just before you are about to serve it, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a non-stick, heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium to high heat, and add the seasoned king scallops. Cook the scallops for about two minutes on either side, or until there is a little spring in the centre when you gently push on them.
To serve, pour the warm soup into bowls and lay two scallops in the centre of each . Drizzle the rapeseed oil over the top and enjoy.
Braised Short Ribs of Beef with Ale
You will need:
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 beef ribs, cut into 15cm (6in) pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, skin left on, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, skin left on
570ml (1pt) good-quality craft ale
1.5L (2 3/4pt) beef stock
1 generous sprig of thyme
1 small handful of sage
Mashed potato, to serve
Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan. Season the beef rib pieces well with the sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add them to the pan. (Don't overcrowd the pan, cook the ribs in batches if necessary). Turn the ribs regularly until they are dark brown and a crust has started to form. Remove them from the pan and place in an ovenproof casserole.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the roughly chopped onion, carrots, celery sticks, leek and the garlic cloves to the pan. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until the vegetables have started to colour and soften slightly, then add them to the casserole along with the ribs.
Add the craft ale to the pan and bring it to the boil, scraping clean any sediment that has stuck to the saucepan with a wooden spoon. Add this to the casserole along with the beef stock, the fresh thyme and the sage.
Give the ribs a stir at this point to ensure everything is well mixed together. Cover and place in the centre of an oven -- preheated to 140 C, 275 F, Gas 1. After two hours' cooking, remove the lid and, with a spoon, skim away any fat which has risen to the surface. Continue to cook uncovered for another hour.
After this the ribs should be very soft and just starting to fall off the bone. Gently remove them from the casserole and set aside. Discard the vegetables. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a saucepan and boil it rapidly until the liquid has reduced by half and started to thicken into a gravy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if required. Turn the heat down to a low simmer; add the ribs back to the gravy for 10 minutes or until they are warm.
To serve, carefully remove the ribs from the sauce and place them in a bowl, spoon over the gravy and serve with mashed potato and a glass of craft ale.
Apple Tart with Almonds and Vanilla Ice Cream
For the almond paste, you will need:
55g (2oz) butter
55g (2oz) sugar
1 egg, beaten
40g (1 1/2oz) ground almonds
1 tablespoon plain flour
For the tart, you will need:
1 packet of ready-rolled puff pastry
4 Cox's apples, core removed and thinly sliced
50g (1 1/2oz) melted butter
4 teaspoons caster sugar
20g (1/2oz) flaked almonds
Good vanilla ice cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.
Make the almond paste by creaming together the butter and the sugar with an electric whisk until it turns pale in colour and light in texture. Add the beaten egg and continue to whisk -- don't worry if the mix splits a little here. Stir in the ground almonds and the plain flour and then set this mixture aside.
Unroll the puff pastry and, using a large pastry cutter, cut out four discs of pastry, about 12cm (4?in) each. Using a cutter that's slightly smaller than the first, make an indentation about ?cm (?in) inside the edge of the pastry, being careful not to push too hard, or cut through the pastry. With a fork, prick a small hole in the inner ring of the pastry, leaving the outer edge untouched.
Put a dessertspoon of almond paste into the centre of the pastry discs and spread it up to, but not on to, the edge of the pastry discs.
Layer the thinly sliced apple on top of the almond paste, placing one slice overlapping another to form a spiral design. Brush the sliced apple with the melted butter and sprinkle with the caster sugar.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper, place the tarts on it and bake them for 10 minutes. Remove the tarts from the oven, brush with a little more butter and sprinkle with a few flaked almonds. Return to the oven for 7-8 minutes or until the pastry is fully cooked and the apple is golden brown.
Serve straight away with a generous scoop of good vanilla ice cream.
A night of intrigue and wonder awaits curious foodies this March as pioneering New Zealand wine brand Brancott Estate will stimulate the senses with a free four-night food and wine event. Cully & Sully will host this event and four top Irish restaurants -- Pichet, Campagne, Tankardstown House and Locks Brasserie -- will create a range of gastronomic delights in front of a live audience. Curious? See www.brancottestatestaycurious.com