We had the first of our Christmas Cookery Schools back before Christmas and we began with this chestnut and wild mushroom soup. It was a favourite of my father’s and I still make it every year without fail. All of the family love it and I think you will enjoy it just as much. Chestnuts are readily available in supermarkets at this time of the year. If you want to make the soup extra special, add a few spoonfuls of Port or Madeira wine and it will transform it.

I always love the combination of prawns with chorizo. This makes for a quick, tasty starter with some grilled sourdough bread. Make sure to get the best prawns - either Dublin Bay or Wild Atlantic. They are a bit of a luxury but well worth it. There are lots of good Irish chorizo makers these days - Gubbeen in West Cork and Corndale in Limavady are two that come to mind.

The poached pears are nice with the little bit of spice. I like to serve them with ice cream or crème fraîche. They keep well, and for apple juice I always think of Con Traas - known from The Apple Farm of Tipperary. Another great family business. This chocolate fudge sauce will keep happily for up to a week covered with cling film in the fridge.

Happy Cooking,


Chestnut and Wild mushroom Soup

Serves 4-8

  • 50g (2oz) dried mixed wild mushrooms
  • 400ml water
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 450g (1lb) peeled chestnuts (canned or vacuum-packed), chopped
  • 100g (4oz) smoked duck, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 200ml (7fl oz) cream
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Snipped fresh chives, to garnish
  • Fresh micro herbs, to garnish
  • 1 Put the dried wild mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and pour 400ml (14fl oz) of boiling water over to cover. Set aside for 20 minutes, until they have plumped up. Drain the mushrooms and gently squeeze dry, reserving the soaking liquid.

    2 Heat a large pan and add the oil. Add the chestnuts, half of the smoked duck, the onion and drained wild mushrooms and sweat gently for 10 minutes, until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Season to taste.

    3 Add the thyme to the pan with the reserved soaking liquid and the stock, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes. Stir in the cream and allow to heat through for one minute, then whizz with a hand-held blender until as smooth as possible. Season to taste, then blend again until light and foamy, tilting the pan to get the maximum effect.

    To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Garnish each one with the rest of the smoked duck, the chives and micro herbs.

    Sizzling Dublin Bay Prawns with Chorizo & Garlic

    Serves 4

  • 20 large Dublin Bay prawns
  • 4 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • Knob of butter
  • 50g (2oz) cooking chorizo, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 mild fresh red chilli, halved, deseeded and cut into rings
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • ½ lemon, pips removed
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crusty bread, to serve
  • 1 To prepare the prawns, firmly twist the head away from the body and discard or use for stock. Turn each prawn over and crack open the hard shell along the belly, then carefully peel it away from the flesh, twisting off the tail.

    2 To remove the intestinal tract, which looks like a thin black vein running down the back of the prawn flesh, run the tip of a small knife down the back of each prawn, then lift up and pull out the vein. If you are lucky, sometimes the vein comes away with the prawn tail or it can be easily pulled out without having to cut the prawn at all.

    3 Heat the oil in a large frying pan set over a high heat with the knob of butter. Once the butter has stopped foaming, add the chorizo and sauté for a few minutes, until sizzling. Add the chilli and garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds, until the garlic is lightly golden.

    4 Tip the prepared prawns into the pan and sauté for another few minutes, until tender. The prawns will change colour and begin to curl up. Be careful not to overcook. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle over the parsley, tossing to coat. Season to taste.

    5 Divide among warmed dishes with all their delicious juices. Serve with plenty of crusty bread.

    Spiced poached pears

    Serves 4

  • 300ml (½ pint) clear apple juice
  • Juice and finely grated rind of 2 limes
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • ½ vanilla pod, split in half
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 firm, ripe pears
  • 2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds
  • 1 Place the apple juice in a deep-sided pan with a lid (the pan needs to be just large enough to hold the pears in an upright position). Add the lime juice and rind, star anise, cinnamon stick, vanilla pod and honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

    2 Meanwhile, peel the pears, leaving the stalks attached. Add them to the pan, standing them in an upright position. Cover with the lid and simmer gently for 20–25 minutes, until the pears are tender, basting them from time to time with the liquid.

    3 Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the syrup. The cooking time will depend on the ripeness of the pears.

    4 Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a dish and set aside. Reduce the cooking juices by half to a more syrupy consistency. This will take 8–12 minutes. Strain into a jug and leave to cool.

    5 To serve, carefully cut each pear in half so that you don’t spoil their beautiful shape.

    6 Place the pear halves on a serving platter and drizzle over the spiced syrup followed by chocolate sauce.

    Chocolate fudge sauce

  • 150ml (¼ pint) cream
  • 2 tbsp Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 175g (6oz) plain chocolate, finely chopped (at least 70% cocoa solids)
  • 1 Place the cream and Coole Swan in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring.

    2 Gently add in the chocolate and stir gently until completely melted.

    3 This is ready to serve warm or transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely, then cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge until needed. Use warm or cold as required.

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