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Dublin chef’s summer delights

We all know the old saying about too many cooks spoiling it, but don't tell Donal Skehan.

The 24-year-old Dubliner has been steadily building up a reputation for himself as the next big thing on the celebrity-chef scene. His first book, Good Mood Food, was a bestseller and the follow-up, Kitchen Hero, has just been published (Harper Collins, €23.99). And if that wasn't enough, his new 13-part tie-in TV show, Kitchen Hero, starts on RTE1 in the middle of May.

But does the world need another cookbook? And what makes his any different from all the others?

“The world always needs another cookbook,” he laughs, “you can never have enough of them. My ethos when it comes to cooking is simple, healthy and wholesome stuff. It is hearty food and stuff that anyone can make. Any of my skills would have been learned in the family kitchen. Family is a big inspiration when it comes to my cooking. My mum would have been my first big cooking influence. But I think she gets a bit annoyed now that I have surpassed her skills in the kitchen!”

Skehan, a former member of pop band Industry, has no formal training — something which he thinks may be to his advantage.

Confidence

“Maybe I look at things slightly differently — I'm coming from the perspective of the home cook, the person who wants to cook and eat well but doesn't want to spend all of their free time doing it. My book is probably not going to be read by a Michelinstarred chef, but it'll be read by someone who wants to try new things but don't necessarily know everything there is to know about the kitchen.”

And what about those of us who only have kitchens because they came with the house — is there any hope for us?

“Absolutely. There's no reason why anyone can't learn to cook well. Getting people into the kitchen is simply about confidence. That's what I try to get across in the book — just having the confidence to go in there and start. So what if it doesn't go perfectly the first time? Go try it again and you'll get it right. “I might not have formal training but my skill is that I'm not afraid. I just go into the kitchen and go for it. That's the important thing — just get into the kitchen and start trying something. Don't be afraid of making mistakes.”

A keen blogger and tweeter, Skehan will be hosting a dinner party on Twitter — “Next week, if I can get my act together. I've loads on. Things are mad busy at the moment”.

A state of affairs he'll have to get used to. In the meantime, here’s Donal’s foolproof guide to a great summer meal, taken from his new cookbook, Kitchen Hero.

>To start: Thai Fishcake Platter

Fishcakes really are so easy to make! It's basically bunging all the ingredients into a food processor, forming the fishcakes and frying them. It couldn't be easier!

Experiment with the flavours — I like my fish cakes spicy so add a chilli to kick up the heat, but you can leave it out if you want.

SERVES 4

Ingredients

450g/1lb of white fish fillets such as haddock or cod

15ml/1tbsp of fish sauce

1 egg

Good handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

1tbsp of red curry paste

1 red chilli, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

75g/3oz of green beans, finely sliced

3-4 spring onions, roughly chopped

60ml/4tbsp of vegetable oil

2-3 spring onions

Sweet chilli dipping sauce

Instructions

>Place the fish in a food processor and blitz for 3 seconds or so until smooth.

>Add in the fish sauce, egg, coriander, curry paste, chilli, garlic, ginger and grated lime zest and juice and blitz again until everything is combined.

>Remove the blade from the processor and stir through the green beans and spring onions.

>Form 12 fish cakes from the mixture, by rolling balls and then flattening them.

>Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and fry the fish cakes in two batches for approximately 2 minutes each side.

>Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.

>Garnish with spring onions and serve with sweet chilli dipping sauce.

>Main course: Beef and mango salad

I am addicted to really fresh and vibrant Asian flavours like the ones in this dish. People have mixed feelings about coriander, but I am a complete convert, it provides a really different taste to a dish like this. Make sure to slice your beef as thinly as you can, it makes all the difference to each mouthful! Don't panic about having all the right veggies — if you can get the steak and the dressing sorted, you're well on your way.

SERVES 4

Ingredients

2x200g/7oz striploin steaks

15ml/1tbsp of sesame oil

15ml/1tbsp of soy sauce

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

Sunflower oil for cooking

150g/5oz bean sprouts

5 spring onions, thinly sliced

1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced

2 baby gem lettuces, roughly torn

Handful of chopped peanuts (40g/1½oz)

Handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped

Handful of coriander, roughly chopped

For the dressing:

15ml/1tbsp of soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

30ml/2tbsp of fish sauce

15g/1tbsp of caster sugar

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

>Toss steaks in sesame oil, soy sauce and finely chopped garlic.

>Heat a drop of sunflower oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and just before it begins to smoke add the steaks and cook for 3-4 minutes either side for medium rare.

>Remove the steaks from the pan, place on a plate and cover with tin foil.

>While the steaks are resting, prepare the salad by whisking together soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chilli, in a large bowl.

>Add in the beansprouts, spring onions, mango, and the baby gem lettuce pieces and toss to combine.

>Slice the beef as thinly as possible and serve the salad with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts, mint and coriander on top.

>Dessert: Blueberry & White chocolate cheesecake

This makes a wonderfully creamy and rich cheesecake. It’s a perfect make-ahead dessert, prepare it in advance and pop it in the fridge!

SERVES 6-8

Ingredients

200g/7oz plain digestive biscuits

100g/3½oz butter, melted

400g/14oz of good quality white chocolate

250ml/8½floz carton of double cream

250g/9oz full-fat cream cheese

250g/9oz tub of mascarpone cheese

250g/9oz blueberries

>Bash the biscuits in a resealable bag with a rolling pin or any other blunt instrument you can do serious damage with, until you have nice fine crumbs.

>Melt the butter in a large bowl and then add in the biscuit crumbs, mix to combine.

>Tip the butter and biscuit crumb mix into the bottom of a 20cm/8” nonstick spring form pan and press down with the back of a spoon.

>Cover and place in the fridge.

>Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, over a pan of barely simmering water and gently melt.

>Beat the cream, cream cheese and mascarpone in a large bowl until well combined.

>Stir through the white chocolate and fold in the blueberries.

>Spread the mixture on top of the biscuit base, cover and place in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours.

>Remove the cheesecake from the tin and serve in generous slices!

Donal Skehan's Kitchen Hero is now available. The TV show starts on May 16 on RTE1 at 8.30pm


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