Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Irish Recipes

Ballymaloe House
Rosemary and raisin soda bread, Ballymaloe House.

  • 1lb/450g firmly packed plain white flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1 level tsp of salt
  • 1 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 3 oz/75g of raisins
  • 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 14 fl oz/400ml of sour milk or buttermilk to mix
  • Pre-heat  a very hot oven to 230c or gas mark 8.
  • Sieve the flour , salt and bread soda into a large bowl, then add the raisins and rosemary.
  • Make a well in the centre. Pour all of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be soft and not too wet and sticky.
  • When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured work surface. Tidy up the shape and flip over gently. 
  • Pat the dough into a circle about 1.5 inch/4cm deep. It is traditional in Ireland to cut a cross on the top, to help the loaf to cook evenly.
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200c/gas mark 6 and continue baking for a further 20-30 minutes, or until done. To test, tap the bottom of the bread, if it is fully cooked it will sound hollow. 
Bushmills Inn
Armagh apple tartlets with caramel sauce, Bushmills Inn.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
For tartlets:
  • 3-4 eating apples
  • 4 thin round puff pastry, approx 6 inch/15 cm in diameter
  • 1oz/25g of unsalted butter, melted
  • a little icing sugar
For the frangipane: 
  • 3oz/75g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 3oz/75g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 4oz/110g ground almonds
  • 1oz/25g plain flour
  •  0.5 fl oz/15ml of milk
  • a dash of calvados
For the caramel sauce:
  • 14oz/400g caster sugar
  • 16fl oz/500ml cold water
  • 16fl oz/500ml cream
  • A little creme fraiche
  • fresh mint leaves
Preheat oven to 180c/gas mark 4.
  • Frangipane: Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then fold in the egg, ground almonds, flour, milk and finally the calvados. Chill in the fridge until required.
  • Pastry bases: Place the puff pastry discs onto a floured baking tray and prick with a fork. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and slightly rising.
  • While still warm, and to keep the disc quite flat, place another baking sheet on top and push down slightly to expel the air from the pastry.
  • Caramel sauce: In a heavy-based pan, heat the sugar and water gently until it forms a rich golden coloured syrup. 
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then heat the cream and carefully add to the syrup. Return to the heat for a few seconds, strain through a fine sieve if necessary.
  • To complete: Arrange the cooled pastry discs on a baking sheet and spread a layer of the frangipane on each one, leaving a narrow margin around the edge. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples and arrange neatly on top of the tarts. Brush with melted butter and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Finally, dust the tart with icing sugar and place under the grill until the sugar starts to caramelise.
  • To serve: Place the tartlets on warmed dessert plates and drizzle the caramel sauce around them. Garnish with a little creme fraiche and a sprig of mint, and finally dust with icing sugar.
Cashel House
Warm Cashel Mussels with garlic, tomato and chilli, Cashel House, Co Galway.

Ingredients: (Serves 6)
  • 6.5 lb/3kg mussels
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 green & 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • 1 tin of plum tomatoes (14oz/400g)
  • 1/2 pint/300ml lager
  • 2 scallions (spring onions), cut into strips
  • Wash the mussels in cold water, scrub well and remove the beards. Use only mussels which are tightly closed, discarding any that are open.
  • In a large pan, heat some olive oil and saute the garlic in it to soften a little without browning.
  • Add the mussels and cook for 5 minutes (or just until the shells are opening)
  • Add the chopped chillis and tomatoes.
  • Cook for a further 3 minutes to heat through, then finally add the lager and cook for a further 2 minutes or until the broth reaches boiling point.
  • Serve in large bowls topped with sliced scallions and accompany with home made brown bread.
L'Ecrivain Restaurant
Cured wild Irish salmon with whiskey yoghurt and sweet mustard dressing, L'Ecrivain Restaurant. 

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)
For the cured salmon:
  • 2lb/900g tail end fillet of wild salmon, scaled, with the skin on
  • 3tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 1tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • a sprinkling of crushed white peppercorns
For dressing:
  • 5 fl oz/150ml of wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4.5 oz/ 125g tub of natural yoghurt
  • half measure of Irish whiskey
  • Garnish: salad leaves of your choice
  • Salmon: Mix the curing ingredients - sugar, salt, chopped dill and crushed peppercorns and sprinkle over the flesh side of the salmon
  • Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 12 hours (farmed salmon takes 24 hours as it has more fat)
  • Dressing: Mix mustard and honey together, mix yoghurt and whiskey together.
  • Assembly: Arrange some salad leaves on serving plates. Slice the salmon thinly and arrange on top. Drizzle some mustard dressing around the edge of the plate, and serve with the whiskey yoghurt. 
Longueville House
Murphy's and Walnut Bread, Longueville House, Co Cork.

Ingredients: Makes two loaves
  • 8fl oz / 225ml Murphy's Irish Stout
  • 8fl oz / 225ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1.5 oz / 40g fresh yeast
  • 1.75 lb / 800g (firmly packed) wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
  • In a saucepan, warm the stout and water to about blood temperature. (If overheated it will kill the yeast in the stout.)
  • Remove from the heat, whisk in the treacle and then the yeast making sure it dissolves into the stout completely.
  • Mix the flour, salt and walnuts together. Make a well in the centre, and add the wet ingredients. Mix well to make a fairly soft, pliable dough; adjust with a little extra water or flour if it seems too dry or wet.
  • Divide the mixture in two, and place in two buttered loaf tins, 8inch/20cm x 4inch/10cm. Leave in a warm place for about 1 hour, to rise.
  • Preheat the oven to 170c / Gas Mark 3.
  • Bake the loaves in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, then remove them from the tins and turn upside-down on oven rack, continue baking for a further 15 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when rapped on the base with your knuckles.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
Moy House
 Pan-fried turbot, Galway Bay prawn, fennel and asparagus, with a citrus sauce, Moy House, Co Clare.

Ingredients: (serves 4)
  • 1.5lb / 700g turbot fillet (8 x 3oz/75g portions, approx.)
  • 20 Galway Bay prawns (langoustines)
  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • a little olive oil
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • salt & freshly milled pepper
  • Scant 4fl oz / 100ml fish stock
  • juice of two oranges
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3.5 oz / 100g butter
  • quarter pint / 150ml cream
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 courgette
  • 2 small tomatoes, concasse
  • 4 sprigs of fennel
  • To prepare fish & vegetables: Wash the turbot; cut into 8 pieces, if necessary; place in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Boil the prawns for 3 minutes, turn into a colander to drain and remove from their shells. Wash the fennel bulb and slice into rounds; wash the asparagus and trim off the coarse base of the stems.
  • To make the sauce: Put the fish stock, orange and lemon juice in a saucepan and boil, uncovered, until reduced by one quarter. Add the cream, remove from the heat and gradually incorporate the butter to make a smooth sauce. Set aside.
  • To prepare the garnish: Simmer the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan until reduced by at least a quarter, and set aside. Wash the courgette and use a small knife to turn it into barrell shapes. Scald and peel the tomatoes, remove core and dice the flesh to make tomato concasse.
  • To cook: Fry the fennel in a little olive oil for 3 minutes; boil the asparagus for 3 minutes; boil the courgettes in salted water for 2 minutes. Brush the turbot lightly with olive oil; heat a dry pan and, when very hot, place the turbot skin side down and sear for 2 minutes. Turn over and sear the other side then lower the heat and cook for about a further 2 minutes. Add the prawns for a few moments to reheat.
  • To serve: Place the fennel in the centre of four heated plates, then place two spears of asparagus on top, then a piece of turbot, five prawns and finally the second portion of turbot. Place the turned courgettes and tomato concasse around the fish and spoon the citrus sauce around the place. Flash under the grill, and finish with a sprig of fennel and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. 
Rathsallagh House
Braised shank of Wicklow lamb with crushed rosemary potatoes, tomatoes and olives, Rathsallagh House, Co. Wicklow.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
  • 4 lamb shanks, medium sized
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • half bottle of red wine
  • 18 fl oz / 500ml beef or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 x 8 fl oz/225ml cups baby potatoes, boiled
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 scallion (spring onion), finely chopped
  • 1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
  • 16 sundried tomatoes
  • 16 kalamata olives
  • Preheat a moderate oven 170c / gas mark 3
  • To cook the lamb: Season the lamb shanks with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a flameproof casserole, add a tablespoon of the olive oil and sear the shanks in it until golden brown on all sides.
  • Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, saute the onion, carrot and leek , with the bay leaf, until wilted. Stir in the wine and stock.
  • Return the shanks to the casserole, cover and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour, then turn them over carefully and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Place the shanks on a baking tray.
  • To make the sauce: Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by about half. Check the flavour as you do this as it may become too salty if reduced to much.
  • Potatoes: Melt the butter with the remaining olive oil in large frying pan. Saute the potatoes, onion, scallion and rosemary over a medium heat until the potatoes are heated through and crispy.
  • Add the tomatoes and olives and heat through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • To assemble the dish: Re-heat the lamb shanks in the preheated oven (170c / gas mark 3) for about 15 minutes, or until hot and sizzling. Reheat the sauce. Divide the hot potatoes between four heated plates, place the shanks against them, pour the sauce over shank and serve at once.
Rosleague Manor
Wild Connemara Salmon Tartare, Rosleague Manor, Co Galway.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
  • 9 oz / 250g wild salmon fillet
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • a dash of Tabasco
  • a little salt
  • a little cayenne pepper
  • Skin the salmon and check that there are no bones in it, then chop finely.
  • Mix all of the other indredients with the salmon, seasoning to taste with a little salt and some cayenne pepper.
  • Serve immediately, with toasted brown bread.
Wineport Lodge
Beef and Guinness Stew, Wineport Lodge, Co Westmeath.

Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)
  • 2.25 lb / 1kg of stewing beef, e.g. shin, flank or rib, trimmed & cut into 1" / 2.5 cm cubes
  • 1oz / 25g flour
  • oil & butter, as required
  • 1 onion peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced thickly, about 1cm 
  • half celeriac or 3-4 stalks celery, trimmed and cubed
  • 1 large or 2 small parsnips, peeled & cubed
  • Boquet garni or mixed herbs & seasoning, as required
  • 1 pint/ 600ml Guinness, or beef stock
  • quarter bottle / 225ml prune juice or to taste (optional)
  • half an orange, left whole (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 150c / gas mark 2
  • Season the beef and toss in the flour to coat. Heat a little oil and butter in a heavy pan and brown the meat in batches, then transfer to a casserole.
  • Add the onions and other vegetables and sweat gently for a few minutes in the same pan. Transfer to the casserole.
  • Add any remaining flour to the pan, stir to absorb whatever fat is left, then cook for a minute before stirring in the Guinness or stock, and prune juice if using; add liquids to the casserole (enough to cover the main ingredients), also the bouquet garni or mixed herbs and the orange; season, stir to mix well, cover and cook in the oven for about 2 hours, until the beef is tender.
  • Remove the orange and bouquet garni, check seasoning and serve with mashed potatoes, 2 prunes soaked in Guinness (optional) and chopped parsley.
Happy cooking and La Fheile Padraig Shona from all at Irelands Blue Book.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Rathmullan House stands on the edge of the village and port of Rathmullan, Co Donegal. This year the house celebrates 50 years in business as one of Ireland's leading country house hotels. Let us take a journey through the history of Rathmullan house to the present day.

 A Sense of History

The man who built Rathmullan House in around 1820 was Andrew Knox, a prominent landowner and MP whose principal residence was the fine Prehen House outside Derry. The building was initially called The Lodge, and was a summer retreat for Andrew, his wife Mary and younger members of their family of ten children.
The Knoxes were already long established in the Rathmullan area, going all the way back to 1612. They were very much part of the Irish landed gentry - Andrew was described as “the most extensive landowner in the parish” in the Ordnance Survey papers of 1834.
The family had a storied past. Bishop Andrew Knox, a Scot, arrived as part of the Plantation of Ulster around 1612. He was of the same family as John Knox, who founded the Presbyterian Church of Scotland half a century before.
Bishop Knox was granted the ‘Friars’ lands’ in Rathmullan (King James I also appointed 25 horsemen and 15 soldiers to help him hold on to them). The Bishop lived in a fortified house within the old Priory, now Rathmullan’s most notable ruin. Fortified, of course, because this was still the wild North West.

Rathmullan House
‘May you live in interesting times’ can be a blessing or a curse, and it’s certainly the tale of the Knoxes down the generations. Bishop Knox was in the vanguard of the Plantation; his son Andrew lived through the 1641 Rebellion, when the Priory came under attack; and the next Andrew was an army major within the walls of Derry during the famous siege of 1688/89.

Hanged MacNaghten
Perhaps George Knox, born around 1660, had an uneventful life, but his son Andrew – grandfather of the first owner of Rathmullan House - was caught up in one of the most sensational events of the next century. The tale of ‘Half-Hanged MacNaghten’ is still dusted down regularly today, and was recently the subject of a book.
Andrew, a long-serving MP for Donegal,  married Honoria Tomkins and they lived in the Priory in Rathmullan before moving to Derry around the mid-1700s when she inherited Prehen House. Andrew gave hospitality at Prehen to an old friend down on his luck, the celebrated gambler and bon viveur John MacNaghten. However, the relationship turned sour when MacNaghten wanted Andrew’s young daughter Mary-Anne to be his wife. After various twists and turns, the entire affair ended in tragedy in 1761 when MacNaghten ambushed the Knox family carriage on its way to Dublin, and Mary-Anne was killed.

Rathmullan Beach
MacNaghten was sentenced to death, despite having considerable public sympathy, but at the gallows in Strabane the rope broke three times. This entitled him to escape execution, but he said he didn’t want to be known as ‘Half-Hanged McNaghten’ and died at the fourth attempt. Of course, ‘Half-Hanged MacNaghten’ is what he’s been called ever since.
The oldest tablet in the church in Rathmullan commemorates the death of Andrew Knox in 1774 and also the loss of his only daughter Mary-Anne – ‘Mariana filia obiit November 1761’.
Andrew and Honoria had one other child, George. It was George’s son Andrew, nephew of the ill-fated Mary-Anne, who built Rathmullan House (perhaps it was to have an escape from the ghost of MacNaghten, which was naturally said to haunt Prehen House).
Andrew and his wife Mary were part of that intricate mix of relations and connections which made up the Irish gentry. Andrew’s mother was Jane Mahon, one of the Pakenham Mahon’s of the remarkable Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon, and sister of Lord Hartland. Mary herself was one of the well-to-do McCauslands from Daisy Hill, near Limavady.
Andrew played a prominent part in the life of the landlord class in Donegal, serving as MP and as a lieutenant-colonel in the Donegal Militia.

Rathmullan Village
The Batts arrive
 The Knoxes maintained The Lodge as their summer retreat until the mid 1830s, by which time their children were long grown up. And so in 1836 Rathmullan House, as it became known, got a new owner - Thomas Batt from 4 Donegall Place in Belfast. His wife Charlotte was also originally Knox, a distant relative of those in Rathmullan.
Thomas was from one of Belfast’s most prominent business families, founders of the Belfast bank and owners of Purdysburn House (later the hospital). They also gave their name to Batt’s Mountain in the Mournes. This Irish branch of the family, originally Cornish, seems to have come from the New Ross area of Wexford, and indeed Wexford and Waterford both have a ‘Batt Street’.
View from the House
In the nature of things, the family of Thomas’s wife Charlotte was also well-connected. One of her uncles was the Earl of Ranfurly, another was a major general, and her father and two other uncles were prominent clergymen. Her brothers-in-law included the chairman of Dunville’s Whiskey firm in Belfast, William Dunville.
Thomas and Charlotte outdid the previous owners and had twelve of a family. Thomas was active in local church affairs and was chairman of the Vestry in 1840. He died in 1857, and is remembered in a pretty stained glass window in the local Church of Ireland.
It seems his son, also Thomas, took over the estate. He carried out a major renovation of the house in 1870, which doubled it in size and added the three distinctive bay windows with wide overhanging eaves. He died in 1897.
Records show that in 1876 Thomas Batt was one of the bigger landowners in Donegal, with 4,377 acres. However, times were changing. Land reform was heralding the beginning of the end for the landlord class. The Batt estate was transferred to tenant ownership in 1902.

The Gardens
A bracing walk
Members of the Batt family stayed on in Rathmullan House until just before the Second World War. The house was put up for sale in 1939. An auction of house contents was held, and Philadelphia millionaire and art collector Henry P. McIlhenny got many items for Glenveagh Castle, which he had recently bought.
A Batt relative, G.O. Batt, writing from London in August 1939, commented, “Lovely Rathmullan House – it is very sad for me to think that it has all gone out of the family with all its memories and I do not know yet what exactly may become of it.”
In fact, Rathmullan House was to turn rather spartan. The new owners were the Holiday Fellowship, a walking group founded by the Rev T.A. Leonard in England in 1913. It seems he embraced walking as an alternative to what his young parishioners were getting up to on their annual holidays in Blackpool.
His walking holidays proved popular, and over the years the Holiday Fellowship bought a series of hotels and guest houses. Rathmullan House was a new location. Visitors got as far as Derry, then by train and later double decker bus to Fahan, and finally across Lough Swilly on the ferry.
Rathmullan Beach
From accounts of Holiday Fellowship guesthouses elsewhere in those days, it was all very organised. Packed lunches were provided with the clear instruction that “lunch rucksacks will be carried by the men.”  Notices announced that, on excursions, “gentlemen will leave the party for a short time after lunch to allow both sexes to attend to the needs of nature.”
There was entertainment in the evenings, including ‘sing-songs’, discussions, lectures and a home-grown concert on the last night. Upstairs in Rathmullan House was converted into dormitories with rows of sinks for muddy boots, and the electricity generator was turned off at 8pm to encourage an early start in the mornings.
The Holiday Fellowship, now known as HF, is still operating, but on a more luxurious level these days. It has 18 “fine Country House hotels” in England, Scotland and Wales.
During the war years, Rathmullan House was also used as a base by the Irish army reserve, the Local Defence Force.

The Wheelers
The current owners, the Wheeler family, come into the picture around 1962. Bob Wheeler was brought up in  London of Irish parents and spent a lot of time on family holidays in Marble Hill, near Dunfanaghy. Later his mother bought Cloghan Lodge outside Ballybofey.
Although Bob trained as an interior designer, he found himself drawn to the hotel industry, not least because of his time helping out the legendary Mr Bertie Barton in the halycon days of the Portsalon hotel, welcoming leading Dublin families like the Bewleys and the Jacobs.
The Drawing Room
Bob worked for three years in hotels in Rhodesia, and on his return became a partner in the Milford Hotel in Milford. When Rathmullan House came up for sale, he and his wife Robin put together a consortium and bought it. At that time Seamus, the famous house donkey, was still meeting guests at the pier and collecting their luggage, as well as ploughing the walled garden.
After extensive renovation, Rathmullan House re-opened as a 21-bedroom hotel.
Bob recalls, “We got a very good boost early on because news of our opening was carried on Ulster Television and the wife of the governor of Northern Ireland, Lady Margaret Wakehurst, came to stay. That raised our profile. It also meant we got an all-night telephone service – until Lady Wakehurst arrived it went off at 8pm!”
The Rathmullan House success story was beginning. In 1969 there was an investment programme, including the distinctive ‘tented’ pavilion dining room designed by celebrated architect Liam McCormick.
However, there were clouds on the horizon. Across the border in Northern Ireland, the Troubles began.
“In 1970 it was just a disaster – we had 90% cancellations. We opened for two months in the summer, and in that year we lost more than it cost us to set up the place. But we were rather determined we wouldn’t give up.”

Cozy open fire
With grit, hard work, a continuing commitment to quality and some imaginative marketing, Rathmullan House survived and began to thrive again. The swimming pool was replaced and a new bedroom wing added in the 1990s.
Bob and Robin have since handed over the reins, although they both continue to take a close interest in the business. Bob’s bailiwick is the gardens. Nowadays Mark and Mary Wheeler are the second generation of the family to welcome visitors to Rathmullan House. 2012 sees them celebrating 50 years of Irish Country House hospitality.

The View
Major changes
In important ways, the history of Rathmullan House charts major developments in the history of Ireland itself – the ascendancy of the landed gentry, the rise of the Ulster business class, the age of land reform and finally new roles for the ‘Big House’, including its re-invention as one of Ireland’s most charming institutions, the country house hotel.
That sense of history, coupled with the continuing tradition of quality, hospitality and elegance, is part of what makes a visit to Rathmullan House a special experience.