Entertaining | Five easy ways to impress your family and friends this New Year's Eve

Entertaining

Five easy ways to impress your family and friends this New Year's Eve

The problem with this time of year is that it leaves little scope for creativity. The mistress (or possibly master) of the house is in charge of the kitchen. The family want the same recipes they always have. You, the humble male have little else to do but choose the wine, pull the cork and make sure it’s served at the right temperature.

But what if there was an easy but impressive dish that you could sneak into the kitchen and whip up to dazzle your guests? A little bit of oneupmanship over ‘er indoors? Well, we have just the thing thanks to Dermot and Christine Gannon, the young Irish-American proprietors of the most original restaurant I’ve been to this year, The Old Convent in Co. Tipperary.

Dermot a self-taught chef, met Christine when he was working in a restaurant in her home state of Colorado. She was about to travel to south-east Asia, discovered he’d recently been there and asked to pick his brains. She made such an impression that he ended up going with her. They went round the world together then came back to Ireland where they opened their own restaurant, Gannons above The Bell in Cahir. Its successor, The Old Convent, or TOC, as it’s known in Irish food circles, opened in 2006 and has been dubbed the ‘hottest address in Ireland’ by John and Sally McKenna of the Bridgestone guides

What makes Dermot’s cooking stand out from the crowd is its no-choice tasting menu full of clever, original dishes that are based on local organic and artisanal produce. Not the molecular gastronomy favoured by so many chefs (“no foams and froths” as Christine puts it), but a whimsical, playful cuisine delivered with great accuracy and stunning flavour combinations. “We’re not going for a Michelin star” says Dermot. “We just want to enjoy what we’re doing which is elegant comfort food.”

Here are five of their top ideas for seasonal entertaining.

3 Soup Shots: Sweet Potato, Parsnip and Pea
This master recipe can be played three different ways or you could make just the one shot. To make the sweet potato velout preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F . Roast 2 large sweet potatoes for approximately 40 - 45 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and cool. Peel and chop the potatoes and place in a blender with 950ml chicken stock and blend until smooth. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a saucepan and heat over a medium high heat. Stir in 40g of cubed butter and stir until melted and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from the heat, stir in a tablespoon of crme fraiche and a little grated parmesan then return the soup to the blender and whizz again until smooth. Serve in shot glasses or espresso cups, topped with 3 drops of hazelnut oil

To make a parsnip velout roast 4 parsnips (about 400g) the same way as the sweet potatoes then follow the recipe above, finishing it with 3 drops of truffle oil instead of the hazelnut oil.

To make the pea velout, put the chicken stock in a pan with a vanilla pod and 40g of cubed butter and slowly bring to the boil. Add 2 cups of frozen peas then when the soup comes back to the boil, remove from the heat and put into the blender. Follow the recipe above adding 3 drops of mint oil (olive oil infused with mint leaves) to finish.

Irish Artisan Sushi Rolls
“Sushi is becoming quite a dinner party favourite” says Christine. “Don’t be intimidated by the impressive knife wielding skills of professional sushi chefs – try it at home and make it your own unique flavour combinations. Here are some of our favourites”:

You will need a bamboo rolling mat and some nori (dried seaweed), 3 cups of Japanese Sushi Rice and some sushi rice vinegar. (Dissolve 2 tablespoons of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of mirin in 75ml rice wine vinegar over a low heat and set aside to cool).

Three popular fillings we use are Connemara oak smoked salmon, mascarpone cheese and avocado; McCarthys air dried beef, Ardsallagh goats cheese and rocket and Dunmore East crab mixed with a little mayonnaise & freshly chopped chives with pineapple, cucumber and apple strips and fresh coriander

Cook the rice following the instructions on the pack and spread it out on a baking tray. Sprinkle the sushi vinegar over the rice and gently fork through. Allow the rice to cool to room temperature.

To make the rolls put a sheet of nori on the bamboo rolling mat. Spread an even layer of rice over 2/3 of the nori sheet. Place strips of filling ingredients in a row lengthways down the centre of the rice. Start to roll from the edge nearest to you, using the the mat to help form the roll. Once the roll is complete, take a sharp knife and slice into eight even pieces.

Ice Cream Martinis
Ice cream martinis make a quick and impressive dessert - or even pre-dessert. As with the soups you can make them in three contrasting colours or flavours - or just one. You will need some martini glasses and a blender. Start with top quality vanilla ice cream and blend to taste with Baileys and crme de menthe for an Irish Mint, brandy and crme de cacao (Brandy Bean) or crme de banane and coconut rum (Banana Nut). To decorate sprinkle the surface with a little cinnamon or cocoa powder, coat the rim of the glass with flavoured sugar or add sliced fruit such as banana, cherry, strawberry, pineapple and apple to the rim of the glass.

Flamed Cashel Blue with poached pears and pistachios
A dramatic alternative to the traditional cheeseboard or Stilton. Peel some pears and poach in a 50/50 mixture of port and water with some added spices such as cinnamon and cloves. Carefully cut each pear in half lengthways and scoop out the centre. Briefly reheat the pear halves in the poaching liquid then put each one on a small plate and fill with a scoop of Cashel Blue or other soft blue cheese. Sprinkle with roasted pistachios. Heat a ladleful of Irish whisky, set it alight and carefully pour a little over the top of each cheese-filled pear. Take to the table while still flaming and serve with home made crackers.

Breakfast fruit martinis
The highlight of the breakfasts that have won the Gannons this year’s Irish breakfast award from Georgina Campbell’s Ireland are the fruit ‘martinis’ which are brough to the table as you sit down. A martini glass filled a third of the way up with yoghurt and piled with chunkily diced fresh fruits such as pineapple, melon, pears, apples and grapes topped with candied pecan nuts or roasted pistachios as the mood takes them. So easy to do and a perfect start to a Boxing Day brunch.

The Old Convent, Mount Anglesby, Clogheen, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Tel: +353 (0) 52 65565. www.theoldconvent.ie

This article first appeared in the December 2008 issue of Decanter

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