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Neven's heaven: MacNean House in Co Cavan


Winner of Best Celebrity Chef at last year's Santa Rita/ LIFE Magazine Irish Restaurant Awards, Neven Maguire

Winner of Best Celebrity Chef at last year's Santa Rita/ LIFE Magazine Irish Restaurant Awards, Neven Maguire

Winner of Best Celebrity Chef at last year's Santa Rita/ LIFE Magazine Irish Restaurant Awards, Neven Maguire

Like many chefs, the summer is my busiest time. So January is my summer, and Amelda and I do as the Beatles recommended -- we follow the sun. We've just enjoyed a wonderful time in Australia and New Zealand. So much good food. And great wines. And lots of new ideas that I am looking forward to trying.

2011 is going to be a very exciting year for us. We made a few big decisions last year. We have always known that we needed more bedrooms, as so many of our customers travel and would like to stay. They may have heard about our breakfasts!

And the other niggle we have always been aware of is that our area for people to have a drink before or after their meal was not big enough. So we did the research on what was involved and decided it was time to solve those issues.

In December we opened a new space to have a drink in comfort. I think it is fair to say it is a lot more comfortable. And, the great thing is, people seem to have taken to it immediately and almost forgotten how it was before! There are some essentials that won't change. The picture of my father, who, with my mum, started this business, is in place. He would have been very proud.

Our new rooms will be in operation as we open again. Sometimes we wonder if we were mad, what with all the doom and gloom around. But I am a positive person, and our customers have been so loyal. Fingers crossed. Come and see us sometime. You can stay for breakfast!

Spicy Chicken and Mango Noodles

This is a quick, light salad, and a very easy one to make. Raw tiger prawns would make a nice alternative to the chicken. Serves 4.

For the marinade, you will need:

1 tablespoon dark soya sauce

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1 garlic clove, crushed

Pinch of caster sugar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

For the dressing, you will need:

1 teaspoon caster sugar

2 tablespoons dark soya sauce

1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce

Juice of 1 lime

4 tablespoons rapeseed oil

You will need:

450g (1lb) skinless chicken fillets

Marinade, see recipe above

100g (4oz) rice noodles

1 red onion, thinly sliced

Small bunch fresh coriander

Handful fresh mint leaves

1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into fine strips (stone discarded)

Dressing, see recipe above

4 tablespoons roughly chopped cashew nuts

To make the marinade, place the dark soya sauce in a bowl with the sweet chilli sauce, the lime juice, the mild curry powder, the crushed garlic, the caster sugar, the chopped fresh basil and the sunflower oil. Mix everything well to combine.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, dissolve the caster sugar in the dark soya sauce and then whisk in the sweet chilli sauce, the lime juice and the rapeseed oil. Drain both the noodles and the red onion well and place them in a large bowl. Tear the fresh coriander and mint leaves away from their stalks and add them to the bowl of noodles along with the fine strips of mango.

Cut the skinless chicken fillets into 3cm (1?in) strips and stir into the marinade. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill for at least two hours -- overnight is best -- to allow the flavours of the marinade to penetrate the chicken.

Place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water. Leave them for about five minutes until they have softened or follow the packet instructions.

Place the thinly sliced red onion in a bowl of iced water for 2-3 minutes. This will make it crisp, and mellow out the flavour a little.

Preheat the grill to high. Place the chicken strips on a foil-lined grill rack and cook them for five minutes without turning. When they are cooked, cover them with foil to keep warm.

Add the dressing, the warm chicken strips and any of the chicken juices into the noodles, then toss everything gently with your hands until all the ingredients are well combined. Divide the chicken and noodles among four plates, arrange in an attractive manner, and then scatter over the roughly chopped cashew nuts to serve.

Hake with Clams, Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes in Parchment Paper

This has to be one of the healthiest ways to cook fish, but it is vital not to overcook it. When the parcels are opened the hake should give slightly, but not too much when it is gently pressed; if it is wobbly or jelly-like, then it is undercooked. There is now a wide range of clams available -- my favourite have to be palourde, but amande and tellini are also good options. Serves 4.

You will need:

6 tablespoons rapeseed oil

50g (2oz) raw chorizo sausage, skinned and diced

2 garlic cloves

225g (8oz) cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon chopped fresh fennel

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 x 150g (5oz) skinless hake fillets, pin bones removed

20 large clams (such as palourde)

4 tablespoons fino sherry

4 slices sourdough bread

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

150g (5oz) wild rocket

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Heat one tablespoon of the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based pan. Add the skinned, diced, raw chorizo and saute for 2-3 minutes until it's sizzling. Stir in the garlic cloves and cook until they are softened, then tip in the cherry tomatoes with the caster sugar and the smoked paprika. Saute for 3-4 minutes until the cherry tomatoes have just begun to split, then remove from the heat. Stir in the chopped fresh fennel and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Make the largest circle you can from a roll of non-stick parchment paper (you will need four parchment circles in total). Divide the cherry tomato mixture between the four circles, ensuring you place it nice and centrally on the parchment.

Place a skinless hake fillet on top of each one, followed by five of the large clams and a tablespoon of the fino sherry. Season to taste with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then bring the two sides of each circle together and then fold over to form a loose parcel. Place the four parcels on a hot baking sheet and cook them for 6-8 minutes until the hake is tender and all of the clams have opened; discard any clams that do not open.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan until it is very hot. Grill the sourdough bread slices for about one minute on each side or until they are lightly charred and toasted. Drizzle one tablespoon of the rapeseed oil over the bread and sprinkle with the Maldon sea salt.

To make the dressing, whisk the Dijon mustard with the fresh lemon juice in a small bowl and then slowly add four tablespoons of the rapeseed oil until you have a smooth emulsion. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Place the wild rocket in a bowl and pour over enough of the dressing to lightly coat the leaves.

To serve, place a parcel on to each warmed plate with some lightly dressed rocket and a piece of the grilled sourdough bread.

Lemon and Mascarpone Mousse

This creamy, zesty dessert is delicious on its own, or you can make it even more special by serving it with roasted apricots, fresh summer berries or poached rhubarb, depending on the time of year and what fruit is in season. The recipe below serves eight -- people love it so much I make a lot.

You will need:

5 gelatine leaves

300ml (11fl oz) milk

1 lemongrass stalk, outer layers removed and finely sliced

3 egg yolks

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod

Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

250g tub mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

300ml (11fl oz) double cream

Mint sprigs, to serve

Place the gelatine leaves in a small bowl and pour over enough cold water to cover them. Set aside for 10 minutes. Place the milk and the finely sliced lemongrass stalk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and then remove it from the heat. Using an electric beater, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and the vanilla seeds until the mixture becomes pale and thickened. Remove the lemongrass stalk from the hot milk and gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking the custard continuously until it is evenly mixed.

Pour the custard back into a clean saucepan and cook it over a low heat until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon, stirring continuously. Do not allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle.

Pass the custard through a fine sieve into a large bowl. Drain the gelatine leaves and squeeze out the excess liquid, then stir the leaves into the custard until they dissolve. Add the finely grated lemon zest and the lemon juice, stirring to combine them. Set the bowl in another, larger bowl half-filled with ice and set aside for 1? hours until the mousse is just beginning to set and hold its shape.

Once the custard has set, whisk the mascarpone in a bowl until smooth. Whip the double cream in a separate bowl until it forms soft peaks and fold, along with the whisked mascarpone, into the set custard .

Pour into eight 150ml (?pt) dariole moulds or ramekins. Arrange them on a baking tray, cover them with cling film and place them in the fridge for at least two hours to set. These can be left in the fridge for up to two days. Arrange the ramekins on plates and decorate the mousses with mint sprigs to serve.