Food & drink

This is the per­fect time of the year to get your kitchen in order

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE - CARMEL SOMERS

There’s some­thing about this time of year that nudges us to­wards get­ting our house in order. We’re now in the mid­dle of Novem­ber and wit­ness to the Christ­mas pre­am­ble. It’s a good time to start mak­ing a bit of space for the busy few months ahead.

Over the years, I have found it best to start in my kitchen, as it’s the hub of any home.

It’s al­ways open, in de­mand and mostly where we so­cialise. My aim ev­ery year is to cre­ate more free work­top space with less clut­ter to give me a sense of free­dom.

Make a plan by start­ing with your fridge and see­ing what needs to be used up, there’s nearly al­ways the mak­ing of a soup in the bot­tom drawer.

Get your soup bub­bling away while you work your way through your cup­boards or shelves. You will be amazed what you will achieve in such lit­tle time.

As you work through your dried goods, check the use by dates but also taste as you go. When items are stored well there is a chance that they can be saved by toast­ing, poach­ing or, some­times, just us­ing sooner rather than later.

I find with some foods, use by dates are a guide­line more than a hard and fast rule.

Sim­ple adap­ta­tions of store cup­board in­gre­di­ents can make a ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­di­tion to meals. Nuts and seeds oiled and mixed with a lit­tle spice, sweet­ener and salt can end up be­ing a real treat to go with a salad.

Ul­ti­mately, an or­dered kitchen makes cook­ing more re­lax­ing and en­joy­able which gives you the abil­ity to be more cre­ative and ef­fi­cient in the kitchen.

Leeks Vinai­grette

This is a clas­sic and I’ve been cook­ing it for years. Ev­ery time I do, I’m sur­prised by how so few in­gre­di­ents can give such an amaz­ing re­sult.

Most recipes for this dish use small whole leeks, but we’re not al­ways lucky enough to find them. It is so im­por­tant to wash the leeks very well, oth­er­wise, you will find soil where you wouldn’t ex­pect. Leeks cook quickly. This is a cold dish so re­move them from the boil­ing wa­ter when they still have a bite to them or they’ll get over­cooked very quickly and will, in fact, con­tinue to cook as they cool. This makes a great starter but dou­bling the quan­ti­ties makes it work re­ally well as a light lunch with a good loaf of bread or served along­side some cold roast beef or ham. Serves 4 In­gre­di­ents: 4 medium leeks, chopped into rings and washed 2 hard boiled eggs chives or pars­ley Dress­ing: 2 tbsp smooth di­jon mus­tard 2 tbsp cider vine­gar 2 to 4 tbsp wa­ter 300- 450 ml olive oil 1. Leeks are tricky to get clean so fill the sink, a basin or a bowl with wa­ter, add the chopped leeks and give them a good stir to help loosen the dirt. Let them sit for a while and let the soil set­tle to the bot­tom. 2. Cook the leeks in boil­ing wa­ter un­til ten­der, this hap­pens very fast so don’t wan­der too far! Drain and al­low to cool. 3. Make the dress­ing by putting the mus­tard, vine­gar and 2 tbsp wa­ter in a blender. While the mo­tor is run­ning add the oil slowly. If the dress­ing is too thick let it down with wa­ter. You are look­ing for a pour­ing dress­ing. 4. Ar­range the leeks in a dish and pour over the dress­ing, grate over the hard boiled eggs and sprin­kle with the herbs Tips: Ve­g­ans can just drop the eggs, it’s still a great dish. For those who do like eggs but not the look of them hard boiled, add the eggs to the dress­ing in­gre­di­ents in the blender and whizz up.

Turnip and Gin­ger Soup

Veg­etable soup is a won­der­ful ba­sic to have in your reper­toire. It’s de­light­fully sim­ple in that you can make a veg­etable soup with­out a stock of any form. The se­cret is good veg­eta­bles, proper sea­son­ing at the be­gin­ning of the cook­ing process and plenty of time. Turnip, which so of­ten gets for­got­ten about at the bot­tom of the fridge, is a lovely veg­etable and goes so well with gin­ger in this soup. If you have some turnip left over, chop it up and roast it to go with your Sun­day roast beef. ( You can al­ways re­place the turnip for any other starchy veg­etable such as parsnips, pota­toes, squash or pump­kin or a mix­ture of any of these.) Serves 4 In­gre­di­ents: Olive oil 2 medium onions, roughly chopped 3 sticks cel­ery, roughly chopped 1 large car­rot, roughly chopped A good thumb, size root gin­ger Salt and pep­per 1 - 1.5 litres tap wa­ter 400g turnip, peeled and chopped Method: 1. Warm a heavy based large saucepan, add a good splash of oil fol­lowed by the onions, cel­ery, car­rot, grated gin­ger and a good pinch of salt and pep­per. Mix well.

2. Cook the veg­eta­bles for a least 5 min­utes or un­til they are start­ing to soften, on a medium to low heat, mix­ing now and again. 3. Turn the heat to the low­est ( use a heat dif­fuser if you have one) and put on a tight fit­ting lid and cook for at least 20 min­utes, the longer and slower you do this the bet­ter the flavour.

4. Add the wa­ter and the turnip, bring to the boil and sim­mer for 20 min­utes or un­til the turnip is very soft. 5. Taste and add more sea­son­ing if needed. If it looks too thick add some more wa­ter and bring back to the boil and sim­mer for 5 min­utes. 6. Whizz in a blender un­til smooth and serve.

Plaice in a bag with horse­rad­ish and pota­toes

This recipe is ideal for one ( as be­low) and can be scaled up from there for any party size. Your oven will com­fort­ably take four to six por­tions. It’s a per­fect dish for one and it’s con­tained all in one pot, pan or, in this, case, par­cel. It’s even bet­ter when you get to use up those bits and pieces you have in your fridge and only have to head to the shop for the main in­gre­di­ent, that be­ing the fish.

This is a warm­ing win­tery dish that’s ideal to be eaten on your lap by the fire. I would rec­om­mend us­ing parch­ment over grease­proof as it’s stronger, and I don’t like cook­ing with tin­foil. Serves 1 In­gre­di­ents: Olive oil 1 large cooked potato sliced 1 tsps of horse­rad­ish cream or sauce 4 thin slices of cu­cum­ber 1 plaice fil­let, about 250g in weight Two lemon slices Salt and pep­per A few sprigs of fresh dill, fen­nel or pars­ley ( if you have it), roughly chopped 1 sheet of grease­proof or bak­ing parch­ment about 50cm in length Method 1. Turn your oven to its high­est tem­per­a­ture and heat an oven tray. Do this be­fore you start any­thing else! 2. In the mean­time, spread out your sheet of grease­proof or parch­ment, lightly brush the sur­face with olive oil. Lay the sliced pota­toes in the cen­tre in the bot­tom half of the pa­per. Now spread the horse­rad­ish cream over the pota­toes with a knife, do this to your taste. Lay the slices of cu­cum­ber on top and sea­son a lit­tle with salt and pep­per.

Next lay the fish on top, sea­son lightly, top with a cou­ple slices of lemon and sprin­kle with some chopped herbs. Fold the pa­per over the fish and seal up the sides re­ally well. You must start with a knot at one corner and con­tinue to knot all the way to the other side, mak­ing sure it is well sealed. 3. Once your oven has come up to tem­per­a­ture, with an oven cloth re­move the hot tray from the oven and place the fish par­cel on it. Re­turn to the oven and bake for about five to eight min­utes de­pend­ing on the thick­ness of the fil­let. Re­move from the oven and place the bag on a plate and serve. Use a scis­sors to cut open the packet and en­joy the smell as you do so.

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