Recipes for Easy Entertaining

A Taste of Home – the nostalgic memory of your favourite meal.
According to a study by Checkout magazine, in association with Behaviour & Attitudes, Tayto crisps, Cadbury chocolate and Kerrygold are the most missed brands missed by Irish emigrants when abroad. Now I would like to know your most missed meals, this can be a dish or recipe that reminds you of home.  In a short survey I invite you to share your most memorable meals and missed moments from around the kitchen table.

Whether you are living abroad, going on holidays or simply reminiscing back to childhood, we want to know what triggers food memories for you.  Is it Aunt Mary’s Brown Bread, your mother’s Sunday Roast or a midweek special of Bangers and Mash. Please take a moment to complete the short survey, open until Monday 20th  April, and you will automatically be entered into a draw to win a place on cookery class of your choice at Ballyknocken Cookery School.

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In other news and speaking of home I recently had an article in The Irish Times called Key Ingredients for Special Meals

A lovely guest in my cookery school recently bemoaned the fact that in all her life she had learned only three good recipes. This meant that every time she had a gathering in her house, she couldn’t change her recipes, so she had to keep changing her friends.

Entertaining for groups can be a bit stressful, but there are key points to bear in mind: know your guests; engage others; know your recipes; and keep it simple.

I’m not quite sure whether it’s our Irish roots or our Italian connections that make entertaining so enjoyable for us as a family. It’s the best way to mark occasions among family and friends, in a relaxed homely environment.

I really believe that the most memorable days are the ones spent with family and friends in the intimacy of your own home, and through the cookery school at Bally- knocken I see more and more people opting to celebrate special events with parties at home.

For some of us, it’s a major step outside our comfort zone, but with the proper planning, it’s a rewarding opportunity to bring people together under one roof. Know your guests Think of the different personality types and look for the common denominator; that’s what will guide your planning. You may then decide to set it up as either formal, with table service, or informal, with a buffet. That will determine whether you decide to offer a mix of hot and cold foods, so much of the food can be prepared in advance.

Remember, when planning the menu for these events, there always tend to be three generations present with various tastes and needs. Cooking for the generations needn’t mean having three different menus. In fact, I am delighted to have found that children’s tastebuds have become more sophisticated and there is a move towards children eating the same as adults but, to be on the safe side, include a homemade pizza for the few fussy eaters.

It’s also important to bear in mind the dietary requirements of guests, especially gluten-free, vegetarian, pescetarian and the likes. And again, rather than preparing special meals for the dietary requirement, incorporate these dishes into the main offering.

Engage other people Do accept help – and even ask for help – and allocate jobs to a handful of close family members. They will enjoy the community spirit and be glad to help out. There’s bound to be a dessert queen or a bread king in your family. And children love to help out, so they can set the tables, fold napkins and help with some of the cooking, depending on their age. Know your recipes Whatever you decide to cook, it’s important that you have tried the recipes in advance.

This will not only give you confidence in the finished meal but also give you a full understanding of the time and workload involved in preparing the dishes.

Think a good mix of tasty treats to suit all ages, from kids on the move to grandparents: try an antipasti platter for starters that can be prepared in advance and will be appreciated by all ages. Then for mains I am suggesting a very mild north Indian curry, as the flavours of north Indian cuisine are subtle and sweet and acceptable to most palates.

Most households have their own version of korma, which is a great crowd-pleaser, but I am opting for a prawn curry (and of course prawns can be replaced with diced chicken breast). You can dress it up by using raitas, fruity pickles and chutneys on the table, which will really impress, and for a filler, a plate of piled up naan bread and salad with mango dressing are always winners.

Desserts are always anticipated and it is easy to impress with my DIY dessert bar, and add your own signature desserts.

Here is one of my lovely recipes for simple versatile breadsticks that always go down a treat at any gathering

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Grissini Three Ways/Tris Di Grissini

What’s the first thing you nibble in an Italian restaurant? For me, it’s always the breadsticks. They are delicious with Parma ham wrapped around them or dipped in pesto. I love these three different breadstick versions – sesame, thyme and Trapini style, which has sea salt sprinkled on – as they nicely complement each other. Makes about 20 breadsticks.

To activate the yeast:

  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 11/2 tsp fast action dried yeast
  • 280ml warm water

For the dough:

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 250g ‘00’ flour
  • 90g semolina flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp water)
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp sea salt

Method:

  1. Stir the sugar and yeast into the warm water in a small bowl and let it stand for 10 minutes. When the yeast is frothy, it’s ready to use.
  2. Add the olive oil and stir in the ‘00’ flour, the semolina and the salt until it just comes together, adding a little more flour or warm water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until it’s smooth and soft.
  3. Brush a large bowl for proving the dough with olive oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 200°C/gas 7. Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment and dust with semolina.
  5. Sprinkle a little semolina over a clean surface. Knock back the dough and knead it on the floured surface for about 3 minutes, until smooth.
  6. Roll out the dough into a rectangle. Cut about 20 thin strips and roll into breadstick shapes. This is how I do it: one hand moves forward and the other hand moves backwards. Keep rolling until a fairly even length is reached. Brush on a little egg wash and sprinkle over the sesame seeds on some of the breadsticks, the thyme on others and the sea salt on the rest. Carefully lift onto the baking tray.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until crisp. Leave on the baking tray to set for 5 minutes.

Have a lovely weekend entertaining and enjoy

Photo by Joanne Murphy from The Weekend Chef by Catherine Fulvio, published by Gill and MacMillan

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