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If you were to meet Clodagh McKenna, owner of two restaurants, vibrant television personality, and award-winning author of five successful cookbooks, the first thing that you would notice about her is that she radiates genuine warmth and happiness — qualities that shine through in her newest cookbook, Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Traditional Flavors. Though the book is based on fresh interpretations of Irish soul food, each of its 150 recipes will leave you feeling that you’ve experienced traditional Irish fare at its best as well as a call to the communal family table; the table that serves as a cornerstone of Irish culture. As Clodagh says, “life revolves around the Irish table.”
This beautifully photographed cookbook has more than 300 pages with recipes, menus, and ideas for entertaining — each of which will leave you wanting nothing more than to head into your kitchen to start cooking.
Hungry for more on Irish cooking? Here are Clodagh’s thoughts on her newly released cookbook:
This book is not at all what I expect when I think of an Irish cookbook. Can you talk a little bit about the recipes you’ve included?
So, there are a lot of traditional dishes in this cookbook, because my aim is for anyone who doesn’t know what Irish cuisine is to get the book, buy the book, and be able to make Irish dishes off the top of their head. Anybody who has any sort of connection to Ireland understands that life revolves around the Irish table; you’d never come into an Irish home without being offered tea, cake, or something to eat. You’d be asked 10 times, “Are you not hungry? Are you sure you’re not hungry?” There’s always something simmering on the stove.
When you think of Irish cuisine, you might think of colcannon, which is so delicious. It’s real Irish soul food. But I put a fresh take on it by making it into a soup. I take all those gorgeous ingredients and pair them with a delicious parsley pesto, which adds lovely peppery and salty flavors to the soup.
The Irish stew is another example. I love Irish stew. Mine uses lovely pearl barley. Pearl barley was traditionally used in Ireland if you didn’t have enough meat; it would sort of plump a dish up. I also put some lovely fresh thyme in the stew and cook it with chops so that you get lots of flavor from the bones.
Or the Guinness cake. The Guinness cake is the best chocolate cake you’ll ever taste… in my opinion. It’s something that is part of our history but that I’ve perfected to my taste. The Guinness cake is made with cocoa powder and buttermilk, so you get sweet and bitter flavors, and then the Guinness brings a nice caramel flavor to it.
The book really captures many traditional Irish soul food recipes and then adds the flavors that we all love to taste.
Click here for Clodagh's Mussels Cooked with Cream, Chorizo, Garlic, and Flat-Leaf Parsley Recipe
Part of what surprised me about this book was that a lot of the recipes really revolve around local ingredients and foraging. Is that something new, or has that always been the case with Irish cuisine?
It was something that my grandfather grew up with (and that even my mother grew up with), and then it was lost in the 1980s. All of a sudden, Ireland became very wealthy; advertising and big PR campaigns came onto television and we got bedazzled with ready-made foods and meals. Women started having their own careers and there was nobody at home looking after the house or cooking, so these ready-made meals made life easier. But they also took those local and foraged ingredients away.
Now it’s become really, really hot again. People are really excited about what’s in season, what’s local, and what’s foraged. I think it’s because we’ve been going through this recession. Everybody’s had to rethink what’s important, and that’s brought us all back to the Irish table.
Do you consider your approach in this book to be indicative of larger trends in Irish cooking, or is it unique to your own cooking experiences?
I think that there are some things that are traditional and what I like to call soulful Irish dishes, but then I like a lot of chefs who take inspiration from other things. A lot of them are my interpretation of kinds of dishes; they’re flavors that I really love.
Click here for Clodagh's Lamb with Fennel and Roasted Nectarines Recipe
So, tell me a little bit more about the book. How is it different than other Irish cookbooks? And what’s the takeaway for readers?
I want readers to realize that Irish cooking is really accessible. The ingredients that we use in our cooking are so accessible and the recipes are so doable; there’s nothing in there that’s too complex. The book is geared toward the home cook. I wrote this book with home cooks around the world in mind. I want them to be able to create an Irish meal. I want them to bring people to their table and create that sense of family in their own homes.
I also want Irish food and cooking to become part of the Irish culture worldwide. Whenever I talk to people about Irish food, they always mention their memories, “Oh, my grandmother used to cook it like this,” or “When I was in Ireland I tasted it like this.” They are true Irish people who don’t cook Irish food themselves.
Anybody who has any sort of connection to Ireland understands that life revolves around the Irish table.It’s not just green pints on St. Patrick’s Day — I want people to wake up on the weekend and think, “I can make a full Irish tortilla for brunch,” or “I’m going to make a Guinness cake and invite everyone over on Sunday afternoon for tea.” I want people to start those traditions that are so ingrained in Irish culture — they’re probably the most important thing in Ireland, part of our daily life and culture, sitting around that Irish table and cooking for each other. And I want that to grow because that is really the essence of understanding a culture.
Irish soda bread is one of the recipes most familiar to non-Irish cooks, so I have to ask you: Do you have a few tips you can share? How do we make perfect Irish soda bread?
Definitely use buttermilk. It adds that lovely sourness to it.
Be really light with your kneading. What you need to do is stretch out all the fingers on your hand like a trough and then mix the flour like that.
You also need to make sure that there’s not one part of the flour that’s dry. All the flour should be wet.
And sift your flour.
Then, cross the dough. Traditionally, we pat the dough into a round and then, using a dry knife (with a little bit of flour on each side so that it doesn’t stick), make a little cross in the loaf. We do that for two reasons: you’re blessing the bread, and it also makes it easier to tear apart when it comes out of the oven.
Click here for Clodagh's Thyme-Herbed Soda Bread Recipe
Anything else I should know about you or the book? Anything I’m forgetting to ask?
I would say, for anybody who is interested in cooking and wants to cook more Irish food, start out by making the soda bread. That’s a great way to get started. Then move on to the rock buns (they were a great tradition in my house on Saturday mornings). After that, learn to make soups (we love our soups in Ireland!). Then, set yourself a specific task. Maybe say, “In one month’s time I’m going to cook a sophisticated Irish dinner party” or “I am going to have an Irish brunch.” Invite people. Pick two or three recipes from the book, try them out, and then master them. Really own the Irish kitchen and spread the Irish love.
For more information on Clodagh McKenna, visit her website.
Or, click here to purchase a copy of her book.
My Life in Food
Chef, TV presenter and cookbook writer Clodagh McKenna, speaks with Editor Jillian Bolger about Irish childhood memories, influencers and her new book.
What was the first dish you ever learned to cook?
I started to cook early in my childhood, and my memory of the first recipe I totally perfected was Irish soda bread. I now make it every Saturday morning and it is the most searched recipe on my website.
What are your most vivid food memories from childhood?
Growing up we ate as a family every night of the week. We would all be given different chores when we got home from school – flowers were picked for the table, linen laid out, vegetables prepped, and a quick fix or ‘one and done’ recipe was whipped up.
This was to create a time for us all to gather around the table, chat about the day we had, to love, argue, laugh, every night at 6pm. I think it’s mealtimes that make food memories the most.
Who has been the biggest influence on the way that you cook?
I think Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell from Ballymaloe. They showed me the importance of the taste of fresh, local, seasonal food. There is nothing like it, and never will be.
What country’s food do you most enjoy?
Italy, because I’m addicted to how passionate the Italians are about their food.
Their passion drives perfection and exploration of the old and new. I lived there for quite some time and just fell in love with the whole food culture there.
Where would you love to visit, because of its food?
I’d visit anywhere right now! But top of the list would be Japan.
What’s your favourite Irish ingredient?
I love Carlingford Oysters, based in the beautiful medieval town on the Cooley Peninsula. The taste is unbelievable and the owners are wonderful.
I also love Rare Apple Ice Wine from Killahora Orchards. It’s such an amazing drink to serve to guests. And one more… Gubbeen, anything from Gubbeen Farm. The Fergusons are my food heroes.
What’s your favourite fast food?
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever enjoyed?
It is always a family occasion for me. My family gathered around the table and a big Irish sing-song afterwards. My dearest and most cherished memories are of those moments.
Do you own many cookbooks?
I have loads and loads! As a chef and cookbook author myself, lots of people send them to me, and I love looking through them and being inspired.
I sent my latest book, Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen to all my chef friends as I love to hear which recipes they like the most.
Have you ever had a kitchen disaster?
Plenty! How would you ever learn, or experiment if you didn’t? I call them learning curves, not disasters!
Name your 5 desert island ingredients.
Eggs, olive oil, Perello olives, Martelli pasta and Barry’s Tea.
What is your idea of food hell?
Eating over-processed foods. It is just not for me. I love the taste of fresh food too much and I’ve put in too much effort into growing my own ingredients to let it go to waste.
What’s the one thing you’ll always order if you see it on a menu?
What would you eat as your last meal on earth and who would cook it?
I don’t know, how do you eat through that many tears!
Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen: Easy & exciting dishes to liven up your recipe repertoire, is out now. Buy online here on the Good Food Ireland® Shop €25.00.
Food&Wine editor Dee Laffan caught up with Clodagh to find out why she loves entertaining at home and get her expert advice on hosting the perfect supper.
Where did you get the inspiration for your new book, Clodagh’s Suppers?
“It came about very naturally when I moved over to London and I was having a huge amount of suppers at home, getting to know more friends, and creating my own community. When you work in food for so long, sometimes you don’t take a step back to really look at the meaning of having a supper. But for me, that period was very focused on what the suppers meant to my life. I guess I also had the time to be very creative with it and to curate really considered menus. Then, after about a year or so I wanted to put it all in a book, so that’s when it started."
Did you enjoy the tablescaping aspect?
“I’ve always love curating beautiful-looking plates and I started styling at the very beginning of my career for magazines. It’s something I’ve always loved doing and it just adds so much to the whole experience when you sit down at the table and somebody has put a lot of consideration into it. It makes the experience a lot warmer."
A post shared by Clodagh McKenna (@clodagh_mckenna) on Mar 25, 2019 at 3:00am PDT
Is there a technique for creating the perfect supper?
“I think the formula would be to be organised. If you’re having a supper in a week’s time, take some time out in the evenings to plan it out and you’ll really get some joy from the whole experience. If you’re doing a starter, main course and dessert, I would always suggest that two of those dishes are ones you can make a day ahead.
"I pretty much always do the table the night before because then I get to really enjoy doing it. I can have a bath and get into my pjs and put on the music and dress the table really nicely and really enjoy it. And I get to enjoy looking at it all day long and it’s not like, ‘Jesus I don’t have the table done’."
What your top tips for hosting a dinner party?
"I do think it’s really important to have everything done early. If you are having a dinner party and people are coming at 7pm, have everything done by 5pm. That means you have two hours to yourself and really enjoy everybody coming in rather than being a nervous wreck when they arrive at the door because that makes people uncomfortable.
"A really important thing to remember is that when you’re a host it is your job to make people feel comfortable. Make sure they are settled next to people that they enjoy and they don’t feel nervous. Making them feel included it’s your number one job, the food is second.
"That’s what I really wanted to get across in the book: take time to sit down and read. At the beginning of the book it goes through the tips on how to get organised and your checklist. Once you’ve got that in your head, it just becomes a lot more stress-free.
The chef bringing innovation and traditional Irish cuisine to the world (RECIPES)
Irish star chef and author Clodagh McKenna appears every month on "The Rachael Ray Show" in New York, which means that her inspired brand of traditional Irish cooking is not just receiving national attention it’s also a worldwide hit. Cahir O'Doherty talks to her about her latest book "Clodagh's Irish Kitchen" and her mission to bring tradition and innovation together in Irish cooking.
Food connects you to a place. Just think of how much you sometimes miss a real Irish soda scone or a properly made breakfast to know it’s true.
Irish chef and cookbook author Clodagh McKenna, 39, who has trained in Paris and New York and worked at the world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, deeply understands the power of food to transform a mood, a day and even your health.
With a series of successful cookery books and two popular Dublin restaurants to her name, her star is on the ascent in the U.S. too, which means that she visits constantly.
“I’m back and forth every month,” she tells the Irish Voice. “I’m back in New York on the weekend of the 14th of March to do 'The Rachael Ray Show' and later I’m hosting a party at Soho House doing the food. Then I’m flying up to Canada for St. Patrick’s Day to do a live show there as well. It’ll be a full week!”
How does she make the case for Irish cooking and baking to an international audience which may not know there's more to the Emerald Isle than 50 shades of potatoes?
“I do it by cooking really. I’m sharing the dishes I love, or my interpretation of old traditional dishes that I put a fresh or modern take on,” she says.
“I always think the proof is in the pudding, and since mine is a Guinness cake or a whiskey caramel bread and butter pudding it’s the kind of recipe that often gets picked up by magazines like Better Homes. I make the case for Ireland by cooking and showing people, which makes them want the recipes and want to try them.”
Her creativity in the kitchen is astounding and explains her success. McKenna nimbly cross-references Irish recipes with European and even eastern influences and makes easy-to-prepare dishes that are notably Irish and yet consistently sophisticated.
“I’ve always been cooking,” she explains. “I’ve been doing it professionally for 17 years and I’ve always been interested in food so it was a natural progression for me to adapt traditional Irish recipes.
“Luckily I was able to make a career out of it. The creative side, creating the recipes, comes really easily to me and I love it.”
McKenna says that nowadays her whole world revolves around Irish food, whether it’s eating out or writing or reading cookery books and testing new recipes.
“I cook every single day. I’m not one of those chefs who writes a book but doesn’t cook at home. I like to share them on my Instagram page,” she says.
McKenna’s enthusiasm and skill have made her one of the most recognizable faces of Ireland’s cooking renaissance, and her influence can be felt nationwide.
“It’s great that in the last 10 years, perhaps especially in Dublin, everybody is using a lot more locally produced and seasonal food and thinking about how they can make it really good and coming up with lovely recipes,” she says.
Her own innovation when it comes to recipes has come from tried and tested experience, she reveals.
“I wasn’t doing the same thing 10 years ago. It comes with being confident and knowing your own style and growing your own style of cooking,” McKenna says.
“My friends are all in the food industry as chefs or restaurateurs or something related. Every night I’m going to something related. I’m either cooking at home or I’m going to the launch of a new restaurant.”
Good cooking makes for memorable days and nights. It also turns a house into a home, McKenna says.
“We’re similar to the Italians in that so many Irish stories are centered around the kitchen. We were having cups of tea and bread and butter rather than great pasta dishes, but there was so much home cooking that went on from stews to casseroles to soups to breads,” she says.
“It’s such a massive part of our lives. There are so much stories and nurture and attachment to cooking and I think that we don’t look at that enough. I’d like to help us to.”
She thinks of her cookery books as efforts to put traditional Irish flavors on the culinary map and be proud of them and to remember that we did all our growing up around the kitchen.
“The minute you walk into an Irish home you’ll be offered a cup of tea and something to eat. Ireland is great for baking tea bracks and porter cakes for example and while they might seem a little dull and everyday to us, visitors to or country think they’re beautiful and unique,” McKenna says.
“A well-made tea brack is just as good as a panettone from Italy. That’s how I think.”
In "Clodagh's Irish Kitchen" McKenna reminds us that a picnic on the shore with a flask of tea and a good tea brack to share (delicately spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg) is her idea of a perfect day. “Especially if it’s home made!”
We've been sitting on a gold mine in Ireland for decades and it's time we realized it. Her book takes our traditional dishes and connects them to the world's great cuisines.
McKenna wants to share two seasonal recipes from "Clodagh's Irish Kitchen" with Irish Voice readers. In Ireland in spring lamb is often served, and McKenna has a recipe for it that would be welcome and timely on St. Patrick’s Day or Easter. In this one she has added barley, as the Irish often do, to make them more substantial and tasty.
“This is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods,” says McKenna. “I grew up having this exact recipe once a week, and I would imagine the same goes for most Irish people. We all have our own variations of Irish stew and, when cooked right, this dish is so delicious.
“Make a very well-ﬂavored stock, use good-quality lamb, and thicken the casserole juices to make a gravy. It’s a fantastic mid-week supper for the whole family. It can be made the night before and reheated.”
“At least once every month I will bake a tea brack at home. It is possibly one of the easiest and most satisfying recipes to make,” McKenna says.
“You do have to soak the fruits for a few hours, or overnight, but the rest is just weighing and mixing together.
It’s delicious fresh on the day it’s made but, to be honest, I prefer it a couple of days later, toasted with butter and jam. The cake is dense and moist – a real crowd pleaser!”
. familiar themes : an interplay of mirrors in the bedroom , hangings to channel
the flow of ch ' i , mirrored backsplash in the kitchen . . What was missing in
Clodagh ' s open loft was a sense of intimacy , so the sofa and chairs were
regrouped to make a closed figure , and . Clodagh has pursued a vision of
healing through her work , first as a fashion designer in her native Ireland , then
in interior and .
Have a Very Dairy Christmas – Clodagh McKenna Launches Exclusive Christmas Recipe Campaign
The National Dairy Council is delighted to announce that it is launching a special Christmas campaign with Irish Chef Clodagh Mckenna. Clodagh has created eight delicious festive recipes using the best of Irish produce, a range of indulgent treats to cook for friends and family this Christmas.
Clodagh says “I have always been passionate about the quality and goodness of Irish dairy and use it regularly in all my recipes and dishes for its delicious flavour and superb taste. The best meals are made from fresh ingredients and dairy is delicious, nutritious and versatile. In Ireland, we are very fortunate to have a wonderful range of dairy produce to choose from and thanks to our tradition of excellence in dairy production, quality comes naturally. The recipes I have created will add that extra special touch of luxury to your Christmas celebrations this year”.
Clodagh’s recipes include a range of delicious ideas to complement your turkey or goose dinner with luxurious side dishes given a special Clodagh Mckenna twist. Start your meal with a rich chicken liver pate with caramelized onions topped with crispy sage lives and grated orange, or a delicious “cheese cloud” farmhouse cheese soufflé or why not be adventurous and make the Irish crab toasts finished with a spicy yogurt topping.
Cauliflower cheese is made extra special with a mature cheddar cheese and a crunchy hazelnut topping. For dessert, there are a delicious range of alternatives to the Christmas pudding including a chocolate pecan trifle with orange blossom cream and a rice pudding flavoured with star anise and orange.
“People always ask me how to avoid stress when entertaining a big crowd at Christmas” says Clodagh. “The key of course is to be well organised, I start writing my menu about a week beforehand, and I balance it with at least two courses that I can make the night before, so that it usually only leaves me with the cocktails, bread and one course to do on the day. I like to start out the meal with sharing plates or boards, this always relaxes my guests, and it’s easy for me to assemble, like my delicious chicken liver pate with caramelized onions, an old classic, and can be made a day or two in advance, or my crab toasts with a drizzle of spiced yogurt. Having good quality ingredients is the key to a delicious tasting supper. I always have Irish dairy in my fridge, nothing compares to the clean pure taste of Irish butter, yogurt, cream and our cheeses! And for my vegetables, I go as direct as I can to getting them from farms, via the farmer’s markets or good vegetable stores, root vegetables are tasting so good at this time of the year”.
Clodagh’s Christmas Entertaining Tips
1. Plan and write up your menu a week in advance
2. Have at two courses that you can make ahead
3. Take the time to create a beautifully laid table the night before, it’s so lovely to sit at a beautiful thoughtful table
4. Bake my simple ‘Rosemary Clodagh’ bread in the morning of your supper, a house filled with fresh bread smells is so welcoming and of course to eat too!
5. Source really good quality ingredients, it makes the creating of delicious dishes very easy.
Chef Clodagh McKenna: Let's live for every night
Clodagh McKenna who has published a new cookbook. Picture: Dora Kazmierak/PA.
CLODAGH McKenna actually did what many of us vaguely imagined doing during March’s lockdown: she went and wrote a book.
During that first never-ending-feeling stint, when many of us were firmly confined to indoors, the Irish cook and telly presenter turned to Instagram. Posting a daily recipe video, she hoped to go some way in answering the many, many messages she was receiving from housebound people across the country in need of lockdown-suitable dishes, non-stressful suppers, family-friendly midweek meals, interesting dinners for one, and more.
“I did them every day,” says McKenna of the videos.
“Every single day – I did over 120 of them. It was exhausting, but it was also a real purpose.”
Clodagh's new book includes lock-down suitable dishes, non-stressful suppers and famly-friendly midweek meals and more. Picture: Dora Kazmierak/PA
A whole new community sprung up around these brief snippets of chic, blonde-fringed McKenna whipping up a solo bread-and-butter pudding, or a tray of retro chicken kievs. And that community provided real-time feedback that McKenna scooped up and used to help fuel the book: Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen . She considers it a “a real community cookbook” – which is what made her blub when she first got to hold a finished copy.
“I wanted to focus on the weeknights,” explains the Ballymaloe Cookery School trained cook.
“We’ve got so much going on during the day and it comes to six o’clock, and it’s like, you’re hungry, you’re tired and you’ve had a hard day, how can you put a meal together? Without it getting on top of you?”
The result is a 100-strong brand new cache – McKenna, aged 45, wrote them on top of all those Insta videos – of recipes she says are “incredibly simple to make with ingredients that are completely accessible but they’re gorgeous and they’re fun, and they’ll make you feel good about yourself.”
Split into sections including ‘quick fixes’, ‘Friday night gatherings’ and ‘store cupboard standbys’, the underlying message for McKenna is the difference cooking for yourself makes.
“Especially when you’ve got to get up early in the morning, [you’ve got] kids or work to look after, you’ve got to keep yourself motivated to work at home you need to have that something to look forward to in the evening.
“Sometimes a takeaway can be great, but it doesn’t give you that same feeling of – I call it a sprinkle of happiness because that what it is to me,” adds McKenna, who also presents recipe segments on the Today Show in the US.
“Whether it’s for one or for two, you’ve made something for yourself physically you feel better mentally you feel better.
“That’s where the importance of cooking yourself a lovely supper every night, or at least two nights during the week, [comes in]. Some weeks go by and it’s like you don’t have any special moments at the table. It all becomes TV and a takeaway, or heated up food, and you live for the weekend. I’m like, let’s live for every night.
“Only good can come from planning your week and cooking weeknights,” she adds. “Only positive things can come financially, mentally, health-wise, everything.”
Clodagh McKenna who was trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork.
When it comes to positives, something that has brought huge delight into McKenna’s life recently is the arrival of her ‘girls’ – a brood of hens.
“They’re the light of my life at the moment,” says the telly chef gleefully. “My dog Nolly is very jealous every time I come in, smelling me like crazy, like, ‘Who are these other girls in our lives?’ But they are an absolute joy. I mean, I was terrified the night before of them arriving – all of a sudden you’ve got six new animals that need looking after. But they’re doing really well.”
They even put themselves to bed: “One night it was getting kind of dark and we’re looking everywhere for them, and they’re all inside their beds all perched up waiting for the lid to go down! And they’re making me breakfast every morning, which is great.”
Born in Blackrock, Ireland, McKenna was a cheffing “city girl” in London for years before relocating to Broadspear – the home in Ireland that she and her partner have been restoring and turning into a fully sustainable homestead.
“It’s been a dream,” she explains, describing how they’ve built 10 raised beds in what was the property’s dilapidated 18th century walled garden, and notes that alongside the hens there are plans for pigs.
“And we’ve got our own working beehives now. We’ve planted a whole orchard and I’ve got my own cutting garden going.”
There’s woodland too (“All the mushrooms are coming up there,” she says, speaking in mid-October).
“This is the first time, in the last couple of weeks, where we can see the whole eco cycle working, from composting, to the compost now going back into the beds for the winter,” says McKenna, buzzing about her wormery: “It’s like the gold compost for sprinkling on really important things.”
Much of the last couple of years has been spent getting to grips with the land, and the art of growing her own – which this year did benefit from Covid restrictions.
“It was a big learning curve because we’d never done anything like this before. So you know, a lot of things never came up. And then a lot of things came up in abundance,” she says, namechecking her artichoke, named after Elton John.
Clodagh's Weeknight Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna (published by Kyle Books. Picture: Dora Kazmierak/PA.
“Then we have things like my melon plants, they stayed this small throughout the whole summer and then just died,” she says, her fingers measuring just a centimetre or two on zoom. “I feel like I’ve learned so much over the year and I kept a diary throughout,” — she’s planning to share her findings too, to help others with their veg plots, and so she can carry on trading wisdom with her online community.
“The comments are amazing,” she says with a grin.
“I never knew that you put cloves of garlic into the chickens’ water and it stops them from getting mites! All that brilliant information – that’s out there. It’s like, I don’t know, what would you call them – granny skills.”
As autumn crackles around us and winter looms, those skills, and that sharing of information, will continue to be vital says McKenna.
“There are things that we took up over lockdown that will stay with us now,” she says.
“You’ve probably stopped the things that you didn’t enjoy that much, and you’ll keep the ones that you did enjoy.”
And for new inspiration, there’s always the kitchen.
Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna is published by Kyle Books. Photography by Dora Kazmierak. Available now.
EATING NEW MEMORIES
So here I am. It’s a new year, I’ve interviewed celebrity chef, Clodagh McKenna and I’m following two of her recipes. It’s all from Clodagh’s Suppers, her new book which celebrates the seasons, and already, I find myself enjoying it all. Sure, I’m buoyed by Clodagh telling me to, “Prep the night before whilst enjoying a glass of wine,” advice which I have dutifully followed, but, considering I am someone who traditionally gets in a flap cooking for more than two, I’m really rather having fun. I am making Rosewater Florentines of all things for the first time, and as I do, jazz music on, a glass of Rioja in hand, it dawns on me that celebrity chef, Clodagh McKenna and I are actually rather similar.
How? Because, aside from her partner being The Honourable Harry Herbert, whose family owns Highclere Castle, the sprawling mansion where Downton Abbey is filmed and is the estate on which Clodagh and Harry now live. Apart from the fact that Clodagh is a television star, appearing as a regular guest chef on ITV’s This Morning and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, as well as The Today Show and The Rachael Ray Show, in the USA, The Marilyn Denis Show and Your Morning in Canada. Aside from Clodagh being a judge on the hit new Channel 4 series, Beat the Chef, with her own TV series in her native Ireland, a weekly food column in the Evening Standard and over six cookbooks published, her latest one, Cloadagh’s Suppers being shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards Cookbook of the Year.
Yes, aside from all that, Clodagh and I are quite similar because, like me—in fact like all of us, when you truly think about it—Clodagh McKenna, wants one wonderful, utterly justifiable thing in life: to be happy.
“Before I met Harry, I was living on my own in London,” Clodagh tells me as we talk about life, love and food over tea and cake in the Cotswolds. “I’d just come out of a relationship when I moved to London, so I wanted to enjoy being on my own.” She pauses and I hear a flicker of something in the lyrical Irish lilt of her voice. Reflection? Melancholy? “Not feeling that I’m totally on my own," she continues, "it takes effort, it opens up memories. But eating supper with friends? It’s about so much more than food. It’s about creating new memories.”
Clodagh McKenna talks with equal parts positivity and reflectiveness. Waves of light blonde hair, a petite face with a wide, warm smile, she is friendly, very much so, to the point where, when talking with her, you feel as if you’ve known her for years. But I think that’s part of Clodagh’s not only charm but incredible success, that blend of girl-next-door and high-society femme, with a celebrity address book to die for. You get the sense this is a very genuine person.
Clodagh McKenna was born in 1975 in Cork, Ireland. With hard-working, cookery-loving parents, after regular summers spent in rural France, Clodagh’s natural path was food. She trained in Ireland, working at Ballymaloe Cookery School & House in County Cork, before going onto develop farmers markets around Ireland as well as creating her own food range. Later, she lived in Italy for three years where she worked with the international organisation, Slow Food, ran two restaurants in Dublin and Blackrock, and hosted pop-ups in collaboration with brands, including Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, Cheyne Walk Brasserie, L’Or Coffee and The Whitney Museum. Now, she's a spokesperson for many different brands including Kerrygold, Guinness and an Irish ambassador for the National Dairy Council, plus, she's an ambassador for the beauty brand, L’Occitane. And of course, there are her six bestselling books, TV shows and her sold-out supper clubs.
For quite a private person, life for Clodagh is now very much in the public spotlight. Yet it’s something she appears very comfortable with, mainly, it seems because she’s truly so very happy. After first meeting each other at a Fortnum & Mason board meeting, Clodagh and Harry now live within the grounds of their 60-acre property called Broadspear in Highclere Park, England, where Downton Abbey is filmed. Harry is known in royal circles as one of the Queen’s confidants after his father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, also known as Porchy, made famous by the Netflix series, The Crown, was The Queen's racing manager and close friend.
Clodagh and Harry began restoring their 'Downton' property a year ago and now have a one-acre 18th-century walled vegetable and fruit garden, working beehives, orchards, chickens and pigs. “The plan is to make Broadspear a sustainable working homestead within the next few years,” Clodagh tells me. “We want to create a space where people can come and then be inspired to do the same in their own homes.” Foraging for Clodagh is a huge part of who she is, the natural aspect of it, the way food is, essentially when you forage, free and sustainable. And so for this, too, she has plans. “We will have foraging workshops, held in the middle of our walled garden. We’ll be chatting about how to grow your own vegetables and build raised beds.”
It’s incredible what Clodagh wants to do, inspiring, but while she’s talking, there’s one huge thing I really have to know. Namely, what is it like effectively living on the set of TV's Downton Abbey? Clodagh laughs. “Harry hasn’t watched the show, but it is an amazing series. The castle is breathtaking. We walk along our driveway and the castle is there in front of us. Harry tells me all his stories of growing up here. It feels very special.”
Special, too, for Clodagh are the Cotswolds. “My sister, Marie got married in the Cotswolds,” Clodagh says, who loves fishing and horse riding. “I’ve loved the Cotswolds forever.” Christmas as a child was often celebrated here, and when she later moved to London, Clodagh would spend each weekend in the Cotswolds, resting, visiting friends, including Blur’s Alex James over in Kingham. Clodagh loves the stylishly-cut coats of Cheltenham's Jackie Maguire, and she adores organic farm, Daylesford. “I love their summer festival,” Clodagh says. “It’s so inspiring. I take inspiration from Daylesford.”
With her new book, Clodagh’s Suppers now on the best sellers list and a beau who seems to be every bit as kind as he is dashing, it seems for Clodagh, life is truly settled. But of course, with a new year here, what advice can Clodagh give to help us refresh how we approach food? “Forage,” she says, “beginning with wild garlic. Then make bread. It’s a great basis to start your switch to making things that you use every day. My Rosemary Clodagh bread is a soda bread with a slight variation using wholemeal flour and yoghurt. It’s so easy to make and I always start my workshops with it.” Indeed, she's right. I've made it and it's super easy.
It’s almost sad when I have to bid goodbye to Clodagh, so inspiring is she, so easy to talk to. But then I turn to her book, Clodagh’s Suppers, and I look in my kitchen and I get out the flour and I begin making bread and florentines for my supper with friends and just like that, I know 2020 is going to be a good year. One florentine and foraged garlic leaf at a time.
Clodagh’s Pistachio and rosewater florentines
"These are a staple after-supper treat at most of my suppers. They take about 15 minutes to make. Make them a day ahead and keep chilled. Try to prepare extra if you have time, as people will gobble them up! Makes approximately 20."
300g dark chocolate (70pc cocoa solids), chopped
100g pistachio nuts, finely chopped
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (don't let the base of the bowl touch the water).
Remove the bowl from the pan and stir half the pistachios and all the rosewater into the melted chocolate.
Place separate dessert-spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture onto a sheet of baking paper and form into even-sized rounds.
Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and the dried rose petals on top, then gently press into the melted chocolate. Chill in the fridge for an hour until set.
Think Irish Food Is Drab? This Chef Wants to Change That
What do you think of when you think of Irish cuisine? Bread, butter, beer, beef— brown stuff, right? Irish chef, author, restaurateur, and TV personality Clodagh McKenna’s new cookbook challenges our perceptions of Irish food. CalledClodagh’s Irish Kitchen, it’s packed with fresh oysters, bright salads, fruit tarts, and it’s positively awash with green. According to the Irish Times review, “it looks and feels indelibly Irish.” (According to us, whatever it is looks delicious.) So where’s the disconnect?
“[The Irish] tend to think the grass is greener on the other side,” McKenna said when she stopped by the Yahoo Foodoffices earlier this week. “We’ve spent so much time searching for and being excited by other cuisines the minute we got off the island, we were traveling, looking at the Italians and thinking their food was better, looking at the French and thinking their food was better… We thought of other countries as great food countries and not ourselves.”
McKenna said that while Ireland has always been home to great raw ingredients—“that’s never been a doubt”—she explained, “We haven’t been the best country at building a repertoire of recipes. We’ve looked after our island and our seas, but not much time was spent on creating that Irish cuisine and using all the different ingredients in different ways.” To build that food culture, she said, takes decades.
Seaweed and Vegetable Salad. Photo: Tara Fisher
The Irish have also historically exported a lot of their goods. McKenna said that 70 percent of Ireland’s scallops go to Spain. Upon returning to her homeland after living in Italy, she was reminded of “how superior the ingredients are here.”
McKenna, took those ingredients—the beef and lamb, the butter, the seaweeds, the smoked mackerel and salmon, and all the seasonal produce—and married them with old Irish recipes she dug up over the years. “What will surprise people is how many of these recipes are truly Irish and how good they are.”
McKenna’s updates to those classic recipes include mixing fresh thyme into soda bread and topping colcannon soup with parsley pesto. She puts pearl barley into her stews and a couple ounces of chocolate in her beef pies. And the majority of the recipes serve a crowd.
“Life in Ireland revolves around the kitchen table,” McKenna said. “There’s always a simmering pot on.” McKenna believes that’s been lost for Irish Americans. “People talk a lot about the food when they visit [Ireland], but they always say, ‘My grandmother used to make an Irish stew,’ or ‘My mother told me she used to have baked apples.’ Very few people say ‘I make these Irish dishes at home.’”
Dillisk Ravioli of Irish Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese with Watercress Pesto. Photo: Tara Fisher
“There is this question mark over Irish cuisine and I wanted to make sure it was answered,” McKenna said. For that reason, she tested the recipes thoroughly in two of her restaurants, called Clodagh’s Kitchen, over a course of four years, and she eschewed recipes that required serious kitchen equipment. You don’t need an ice cream machine to make her Bailey’s Irish Soda Bread Ice Cream, for example, and the Irish Lamb Stew basically cooks itself, bubbling away on the stove for a few hours.
Speaking of Irish lamb, it will make an appearance on McKenna’s St. Patrick’s Day table this year. “We’ll start with a whiskey cocktail as an aperitif, then have Colcannon soup with fresh parsley, then beautiful spring lamb with fennel and nectarines, and, for dessert, my raspberry and Bailey’s trifle.” The meal’s balance of meat and vegetables and buttery and citrusy flavors matter a great deal to McKenna.
“The French do that incredibly well,” she said. “It’s so important to balance a menu properly.”
“The Irish do that incredibly well,” McKenna smiled.
Clodagh McKenna on Killiney Beach in Dublin. Photo: Tara Fisher
Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day:
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The dishes are among the more than 100 she offers in her sixth cookbook, Clodagh’s Suppers (Kyle Books, 2019). In praise of shared meals, McKenna makes a distinction between supper and dinner, the former being “more relaxed and informal.” The food within its pages is celebratory but casual: Simultaneously stylish and homey, and a snap to put together.
“We have this amazing history of sitting around the table and sharing, whether it be a big pot of stew or soup. It’s very convivial food that Irish food is,” she says. “My approach was really about getting people back around that table again, and making it really simple. The whole book is to take the stress out of it and make it easier.”
Born in Blackrock, County Cork, McKenna trained at the prestigious Ballymaloe Cookery School and lived in Turin, Italy where she was involved in the Slow Food movement. She now stars in Beat the Chef, a cooking show on Britain’s Channel 4, and regularly travels to Toronto and New York City for appearances on the Marilyn Denis and Rachael Ray TV shows. This year marks her 20th year in the industry. “Now’s a really exciting time to be in food,” she says. “People are cooking more and are more knowledgeable about ingredients.”
The book has stunning photography and illustrations, and is filled with household tips, notes on food producers, farmers' markets and Clodagh's favourite restaurants, cafés and bars.
Author: Clodagh McKenna
With a strong focus on using local produce and eating together, Clodagh McKenna's book brings together recipes and ideas gathered from years of travelling and taking notes. There are chapters on aperitifs, lunchbox ideas, baking, mid-week suppers, homemade fast food, preserving and edible gifts.