Today I have a lovely feast for friends and family.

I know that in the times we are in big dinner parties are just not a good idea. But hold on to these recipes for better times. And they will still make for a great pre- or post-Christmas dinner while taking care with our numbers in the house.

The crispy goat’s cheese is a great starter, or a light lunch any time. Walnuts go well with goat’s cheese and make a great combination with beetroot when warm. There are a lot of very good goat’s cheeses in Ireland now.

Two in Cork that you should try are Bluebell Falls in Charleville and Ardsallagh in Carrigtwohill.

Thornhill Duck, just up the road from me, have been supplying us in the restaurant for thirty years and are now available in Dunnes. This honey and ginger sauce is a delicious festive sauce. It also works well with bacon or pork chops, or chicken breasts. Again, I often mention Carol’s stock. I always keep some of her stock in the freezer at home.

I like this recipe for cooking cabbage. You can cook it a day ahead and keep covered with clingfilm in the fridge. Reheat it gently.

This crème brûlée recipe brings back great memories to me. Many years ago I won the Eurotoque Young Chef of the Year. My prize was to go and work in Luxembourg with a wonderful chef, Lea Linster. We have remained good friends and she gave me this recipe. It is a delicious light dessert. The tartness of the apples cuts through the brûlée. You can make it up to two days in advance and keep covered in the fridge. The sugar just needs to be caramelised at the last minute

Happy cooking,


Learn to Cook with Neven is out now published by Gill Books.


Crispy goat’s cheese with roasted beetroot, cranberries, watercress & caramelised walnuts

Serves four

50g (2oz) fresh white breadcrumbs

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

2 tsp toasted pine nuts, finely chopped

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 eggs

50g (2oz) plain flour

4 × 4cm (1½in) thick slices of goat’s cheese (from a log with a 7.5cm/3in diameter)

Groundnut oil, for deep-frying

100g (4oz) fresh watercress

50g (2oz) dried cranberries

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt and pepper

For the roasted beetroot:

675g (1½lb) small beetroot, scrubbed and tops trimmed (each about 75g or 3oz)

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

4 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp rapeseed oil & extra for the dressing

For the caramelised walnuts:

2 tbsp butter

100g (4oz) walnut halves

2 tbsp maple syrup

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish and mix with the parsley, nuts, sesame seeds and seasoning.
  • 2 Beat the eggs in a separate dish and season lightly. Put the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Lightly coat the goat’s cheese in the flour, then dip into the beaten egg, shaking off any excess.
  • 3 Finally, coat in the breadcrumb mixture. Chill on a tray lined with parchment paper for at least 30 minutes (or overnight is fine) to firm up.
  • 4 To roast the beetroot, preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7). Put the beetroot in a roasting tin with the thyme and drizzle over the balsamic vinegar and oil. Season with salt and pepper, cover with tin foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour, until they can be pierced easily with a knife. Leave to cool, then cut into quarters and toss back into the juices.
  • 5 To caramelise the walnuts, melt the butter in a frying pan set over a medium-high heat. Add the walnuts and toss to coat, then drizzle over the maple syrup and stir for a minute or two, until caramelised. Spread on a piece of parchment paper to cool.
  • 6 Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4). Heat the groundnut oil in a deep-sided pan or deep-fat fryer to 180°C (350°F) and cook the coated goat’s cheese for 3 minutes, until crisp and golden brown.
  • 7 Drain well, then put on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper and bake in the oven for another 3-4 minutes to completely heat through.
  • 8 Meanwhile, arrange the watercress on plates with the cranberries and lightly dress with rapeseed oil and some lemon juice. Scatter the roasted beetroot on top with the caramelised walnuts and finish each one with a piece of crispy goat’s cheese.
  • Breast of duck with sweet potato fondants, creamed cabbage and honey & ginger sauce

    Breast of duck with sweet potato

    fondants, creamed cabbage, honey & ginger sauce. \ Photography: Claire Nash. Food styling: Janine Kennedy

    Serves four

    4 x 275g (10oz) duck breasts, well trimmed

    1 tbsp cracked black pepper

    8 sweet potato fondants

    To serve, see below:

    Spinach purée

    Sweet potato purée

    Honey and clove sauce

  • 1 Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/gas mark 6).
  • 2 Score the fat on the duck in a criss-cross pattern. Season the duck on both sides with the cracked black pepper and salt.
  • 3 Heat a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium to high heat and add the duck breasts, skin side down.
  • 4 Cook for about 2 minutes, until the skin is nicely golden and crisp.
  • 5 Turn the duck breasts over and cook for another minute, then transfer to an oven proof dish, place in the oven and cook for 8 minutes for a pink finish or 10 minutes for well done. Leave to rest covered in tinfoil.
  • Honey & clove sauce

    2 tbsp clear honey

    2 tbsp dark soy sauce

    2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

    2 tbsp light muscovado sugar

    2 tbsp tomato ketchup

    1 tsp whole cloves

    225ml (8fl oz) beef stock

  • 1 Place the honey in a small pan with the soy, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, cloves and stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer vigorously for 5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened to a sauce consistency which coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste, then pass through a sieve into a clean pan, discarding the cloves. Reheat gently and use as required.
  • Creamed cabbage

    Creamed cabbage. \ Photography: Claire Nash. Food styling: Janine Kennedy

    Serves four to six

    1 tbsp rapeseed oil

    2 tbsp softened butter

    100g (4oz) carrot, finely diced

    75g (3oz) celeriac, finely diced

    350g (12oz) Savoy cabbage, tough stalks removed and finely sliced

    200ml (7fl oz) cream

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 Heat a pan over a medium heat.
  • 2 Add the oil and butter to the pan.

  • 3 Gently sweat the carrot and celeriac for 3-4 minutes.
  • 4 Tip in the cabbage and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the cabbage is wilted.
  • 5 Pour in the cream, stirring to combine.
  • 6 Allow to simmer and reduce until slightly thickened.
  • 7 Season to taste.
  • Sweet potato fondants

    Makes four

    2 sweet potatoes, each at least 8cm (3in) long and 4cm (1½in) across

    25g (1oz) butter

    1 tsp rapeseed oil

    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    300ml (½ pint) chicken/vegetable stock

    2 fresh thyme sprigs

  • 1 Peel the sweet potatoes and cut each one into 2cm (¾in) slices, then use a straight-sided cutter to stamp out 8 × 4cm (1½in) rounds.
  • 2 Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter and oil. Add the sweet potato discs and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden.
  • 3 Add in the thyme sprigs.
  • 4 Season to taste and pour in enough stock to come three-quarters of the way up the sweet potatoes.
  • 5 Bring to the boil and the reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes without moving the potatoes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
  • Crème brûlée with apple compote

    Creme brulee.\ Photography: Claire Nash. Food styling: Janine Kennedy

    Makes six

    For the brûlée:

    8 egg yolks

    125g caster sugar

    1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out

    600ml cream

    300ml milk

    For the apple compote:

    300ml freshly pressed apple juice

    1 tbsp honey

    ½ tsp ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick

    1tsp vanilla extract

    2 apples, cored and finely diced

    To serve:

    25g casanade sugar or caster sugar

    1 tsp fresh tiny mint leaves

  • 1 Preheat the oven to 115°C (240°F/gas mark ¼).
  • 2 To make the brûlée, place the egg yolks in a large bowl with the sugar and the vanilla seeds.
  • 3 Whisk for about 3 minutes, until pale and fluffy and the mixture holds a trail of the figure eight.
  • 4 Place the cream and milk in a pan with the scraped out vanilla pod, simmer gently until the mixture just comes to the boil.
  • 5 Remove the vanilla pod, then slowly pour the hot milk and cream into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Pass through a sieve into a clean bowl.
  • 6 Divide the mixture into 6 × 120ml (4fl oz) small dishes or ramekins set in a baking tin filled with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this is called a bain marie).
  • 7 Bake in the oven for 1 hour, until just set but still with a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave in the bain marie, for another 30 minutes before removing and allowing to cool completely.
  • 8 Transfer to the fridge and allow to set for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
  • 9 To make the apple compote, place the apple juice, honey, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a pan and bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  • 10 Add the apples and switch off and allow the flavours to infuse and leave to cool completely.
  • 11 Transfer to a rigid plastic container and chill until needed, allowing the apples to come back to room temperature before using.
  • 12 To finish the brûlées, sprinkle the sugar over the brûlée in an even layer and use a blowtorch to melt and glaze the sugar until caramelised.
  • 13 Arrange on plates. Stir the mint into the poached apples, then divide among small dishes and place alongside the brûlées.