All you need is good food

CARMEL SOMERS, owner of the iconic Good Things café in Durrus developed her love and appreciation of good food in her childhood “while surrounded by lavish roast dinners, meticulous baking and too much butter”.

In her late teens she struggled to decide which direction to follow so on a friend’s suggestion, she decided to flex her wings and head to Paris, the source of so many gastronomic delights. There she met and trained with John Desmond who now owns the Island Cottage Restaurant on Heir Island off Baltimore in west Cork. She soaked up all that Paris had to offer; bistros, brasseries, food markets and worked her socks off at Lous Landes.

Stints in several of Britain’s top kitchens followed; Whites, Markwich’s, Bibendum and Sally Clarke’s lovely restaurant in Kensington Street in London. In 2001, Carmel decided it was time for a change so she packed up her possessions and moved to Ireland with her young daughters. Soon the Good Things Café, whose name is taken from Jane Grigson’s beautifully written classic cook book Good Things, was established.

Carmel originally envisioned a small café/deli, but the business quickly developed into a much loved summer restaurant and cookery school. Carmel’s food is stylish and simple based on the beautiful fresh ingredients produced all around her in west Cork. The organic salad leaves come from Clovisse & Ferguson who has created a Garden of Eden at Gubeen near Schull. The fish comes from local fishermen, the meat from traditional butchers McCarthy’s in Bantry and O’Flynn’s in Cork. The butter is from Glenilen in Drimoleague and the fresh berries from Shirley Hosford (last year she supplied 82 kilograms of gooseberries in just two of the summer months). West Cork has a myriad of wonderful farmhouse cheeses, the most local being Jaffa Gill’s washed rind Durrus. The latter is the star ingredient in one of Good Things most frequently ordered dishes, Durrus Cheese, Spinach and Nutmeg pizza.

After eight hectic years Carmel has written her first book, aptly named Eat Good Things Every Day. Fans will be thrilled to find that all 90 recipes are typical of the type of food served at the Good Things café and the food that Carmel has been feeding her own children over the years. Carmel is quite rightly passionate about the importance of feeding our children well for optimum health and energy. She invited one of her great heroes, Myrtle Allen to launch her cookbook — Myrtle, 85 going on 18, recalled in her childhood (pre-penicillin) all parents’ priority was to feed the children, like “fighting cocks” so they would have a healthy immune system to resist disease, no bottles of vitamins or minerals in those days — your food had to be your medicine — a valuable lesson to absorb and still as vital and relevant today.

To make it easier to cook food from readily available seasonal produce, there are four weeks of summer recipes and four weeks of winter recipes.

All recipes are designed for the busy person who wants to eat well; week-day recipes are short and easy to prepare with lots of helpful tips and ideas to vary the dishes for another time. Each menu is balanced between meat, fish and vegetarian recipes and are also suitable for when you have friends around without spending too much time in the kitchen. Each week has a simple soup and a dessert, if you feel like a treat. This food, which is fresh and light, using no flour and just a little dairy, has a hint of spice here and there to brighten up basic ingredients. Here are some delicious recipes for you to try from the book.

Eat Good Things Every Day is published by Atrium (Cork University Press).

Oxtail with Wholegrain Mustard

I had to include this recipe as it is so simple with amazing results. Don’t be put off by the tail — you are in for a real treat. This is another dish that improves when cooked at least a day in advance. Don’t forget to pick up the bones and have a good chew.

Olive oil

2 oxtails, chopped

Salt and pepper

2–3 large onions, sliced

3 bay leaves

200ml white wine

2tbsp wholegrain mustard

400ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 150/Gas 2.

Heat a shallow pan with a lid and in the meantime season the oxtail well with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, add a good splash of olive oil and start browning the oxtail. You will have to do this in about three batches, transferring the meat to a plate as you go.

Add another drop of oil to the pan and soften the onions for a few minutes, as they clean the pan. Place the oxtail on top of the onions, add the bay leaves and pour in the wine. Bring to the boil and let simmer for a minute.

Cover with a disc of greaseproof paper followed by the lid. Cook in the oven for at least two hours, maybe three, or until the meat is leaving the bone.

Remove from the oven. Transfer the oxtail to a plate. Place the pot on a medium flame and add the mustard and cream. Mix well and let simmer for four or five minutes. Return the oxtail to the pan, coat well in the mustardy cream sauce and simmer for a further five minutes.

Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes.

Notes: If making in advance — remove from the oven, cool down and keep in the fridge. When needed, bring the cream and mustard to the boil, add to the oxtail, simmer for 15 minutes on a low heat and serve.

Coconut Chicken with Spices and Herbs

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

4 cardamom pods (optional)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

Thumb size of grated ginger

4 cloves of garlic

2 limes — one for zest and juice, the other for serving

1 chilli, finely chopped, or use a dried chilli that has been soaked in boiling water

A big bunch of coriander (or parsley); separate the stalks from the leaves and chop the stalks finely Salt and pepper

400ml tin of coconut milk

Coriander or parsley leaves, lightly chopped

400g (or as near as possible) chicken picked from the leftover roast chicken

1 bunch of spring onions, finely chopped (optional)

500g cooked rice

Wok, saucepan, or big frying pan

Heat the wok and toast the cumin, coriander and cardamom for a couple of minutes. Next add a little oil to the toasted spices and add the onions, celery, ginger, lime zest, chilli and herb stalks, season with salt and pepper and soften over a low heat for about five minutes. You might need a little more oil but make sure you do not brown the vegetables.

Add the coconut milk, bring to the boil and let it simmer for a few minutes. Finally add the chicken and let it warm through without letting it boil.

Add the lime juice and sprinkle the top with the chopped coriander leaves and spring onions.

Reheat the rice by heating a pan to very hot and adding a drop of oil to coat the bottom. Stir fry the rice until very hot. Serve with segments of lime.

Notes: This is a great way to use up bits of odd vegetables that are hanging around in your fridge. To bulk it out, add a bag of frozen spinach (defrosted) towards the end or serve spinach separately with a good squeeze of lemon juice.

If you get to shop at an Asian supermarket, you can buy lots of nice things to add to this dish — lime leaves, lemon grass, Thai fish sauce, shrimp paste and big bunches of fresh herbs.

Braised Green Peas

50ml (3tbsp) olive oil

750g frozen peas

Salt

Warm a heavy-based casserole (with a lid). Add the olive oil and tip in the peas. Toss well in the oil and season with salt. Turn the heat to low, place the lid on top and leave the peas to braise for about 15 minutes.

Durrus Cheese, Spinach and Nutmeg Pizza

This is our most popular lunch dish at Good Things and the idea came about when all I had was a bag of spinach and an old Durrus cheese.

Makes two large pizzas, enough for four people.

1 recipe of pizza dough (if you manage to roll the dough very thin, you will have extra for another day)

4–5 large handfuls of roughly chopped spinach, stalks removed

Salt, pepper and lots of freshly grated nutmeg

12 thin slices Durrus cheese (about 200g) with rind removed

Olive oil

Handful of fine brown flour for rolling

Heat the oven to its hottest temperature and heat two flat baking trays with no sides. This is essential for a crispy base.

Divide the pizza dough in half and roll each piece very thinly, using the fine flour to dust the work top.

Place on the hot baking tray and top with the spinach. Season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg. Arrange the slices of cheese on top. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in the hot oven for 8 to 10 minutes until the base is golden and crispy and the cheese has melted.

Notes: Instead of spinach you can use Swiss chard, beetroot tops or seabeet.

If you cannot get Durrus cheese, use a strong semi-soft cheese, preferably unpasteurised, as the flavour is better for cooking.

Stolen Cuban Dish

Olive oil

2 very ripe bananas

4–8 eggs

500g cooked rice

400g homemade tomato sauce

Cook the rice and the tomato sauce or reheat if you have them already made. Heat a frying pan and add some olive oil, cut the bananas in four lengthways and fry quickly on both sides until nicely brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a plate over the rice or sauce. In the same frying pan add a little more olive oil and fry the eggs to your liking — nice runny eggs work well here. On a large serving plate layer the dish, starting first with the rice, followed by the tomato sauce and topped with the fried eggs. Finally arrange the bananas around the dish.

Notes: Every student should know about this dish before they leave home. You can use up the unwanted brown bananas at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Chilli and Lime Butter

4 large sweet potatoes

A medium-sized red chilli pepper or a dried chilli soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes

Juice of a lime

100g butter, very soft

A small handful of coriander leaves

Heat the oven to its hottest setting, this should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Sweet potatoes tend to leak a sugary juice when they are baked, so put a tray on the bottom of the oven to catch the juices and bake the potatoes on the oven rack for about an hour. Meanwhile, chop the chilli finely. Put the chopped chilli, lime juice and butter together in a bowl and mix well with your hands. Split the cooked potato in half, stuff with the chilli butter and eat while hot.

Notes: Try this with the lentil salad instead of a regular potato. If the chilli is too hot for you, remove the seeds.

A Gorgeous Christmas Cake Suitable for Coeliacs

A particularly moist and delicious cake which has the added bonus of being gluten free — it also keeps brilliantly.

Serves 8 — 10

3 large or 4 smaller clementines, mandarins or Satsumas

225g (8 oz) butter at room temp

150g (5 oz) raisins

75g (3 oz) currants

110g (4 oz) real glace cherries

2 tablespoons whiskey or brandy

225g (8oz) soft dark brown sugar

3 organic eggs

1 teaspoon mixed spice

Small pinch ground cloves

150g (5 oz) ground almonds

110g (4 oz) polenta or cornmeal

1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder

Icing:

225g (8oz) marzipan

12 oz gluten free icing sugar

2 tablespoons water

Diamonds of candied peel

Dried cranberries

Angelica Toasted almonds

Put the citrus fruit into a stainless steel saucepan, cover with cold water bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour or until tender. Drain off the water and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ Mark 4/ moderate. Put the dried fruit and quartered cherries in a bowl. Cut the citrus fruit in half, discard the pips, whizz for a few seconds in a food processor or chop coarsely, add the whiskey or brandy, stir and pour over the dried fruit. Cream the soft butter, add the dark soft brown sugar and beat until soft and pale, add the eggs one by one, beating well between each addition, stir in the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder and spices. Finally add the fruit and fold in gently but thoroughly. Pour into the tin and smooth the top with a wet spoon.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes then reduce the heat to 140C/ 275F/ Mark 1 for a further 40 or 50 minutes or until fully cooked. You could loosely cover the top of the cake with a sheet of parchment for the final 20 minutes to prevent it from burning. Allow to cool before turning out of the tin.

Icing the cake: Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add the water and mix to a stiffish icing. Pour into the centre of the cake, it will spread to the edges and drip appetisingly down the sides, Decorate with diamonds of angelica, candied peel, dried cranberries and toasted almonds.

Hot Tip

Christmas in Cork Market every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 20, 2009, on Grand Parade in the city centre from noon until 8pm. When you are doing your Christmas shopping, stop in for some hot mulled apple juice and mince pies. You’ll find great gift ideas and delicious handmade food. Contact JC Collery on 086-6055023.

The Crescent Farmers Market in Limerick now has even more stalls for you to do your food shopping. Check out Caroline Rigney’s award-winning Curraghchase pork products (ring 087-28347540 for more information). Colette O’Farrell of Natures Bounty Preserves, makes jams, preserves and chutneys from homegrown and foraged fruits (086-3936768). For more information about the farmers market contact Gareth Granville 086-8069605.

An Cruibin and the Silk Purse restaurant serve really good authentic locally produced food with a continental twist. Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Ring 021-4310071 or see www.themeatcentre.com

Congratulations to Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets both of which have been awarded the Bord Bia Good Practice Standard initiated by Minister Trevor Sargent. Visit www.bordbia.ie for details of the 26 markets around the country who have been awarded this special seal of approval.


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