Top chef Noel McMeel and his homely cookbook selling like hot cakes
The homely cooking of top Ulster chef Noel McMeel is teasing tastebuds worldwide after his Irish Pantry cookbook was honoured at the 20th World Gourmand Cookbook Awards in far-off China.
And the book - named as third in the world - is selling like the proverbial hot cakes.
"We're going to need a second edition soon," the Lough Erne resort chef said.
More than 200 of the world's top chefs competed for the prestigious award - and just nine were shortlisted. Noel's was the only book from Ireland or the UK to make the cut.
Noel grew up near Toome in Co Antrim. He developed a passion for food in his childhood and has nurtured that passion throughout his life.
He said: 'I was stunned to win third in the cook book awards and to be recognised as blazing a trail for authentic Northern Ireland cuisine.
"We have the best ingredients any chef could wish for and the Irish Pantry showcases that with its traditional breads, preserves and treats.
'We're all about hospitality and one of the ways we express our love for our family and guests is through feeding them."
Noel's Irish Pantry tells a homely story of a little boy growing up in rural Ulster and the foods he learned to make at his mother's kitchen table - like eel suppers, homebaked cakes, and jam.
"Did I want to make jam as a little boy?
"Not really, but little did I know that what I learned at home would enable me to go on to make jam that is now sold in Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.
"I wanted to write a book that everyone could cook from at home, that people would put into their pantry, not full of recipes that would need a brigade of chefs and a professional kitchen to prepare."
Noel has a simple message for chefs in Northern Ireland.
"Get writing!" he said: "Write a book about what we do.
"It's vital that we let the whole world know about the wonderful cultural and culinary heritage we have here.
"The more we can tell the world about this amazing place, the better."
And judging by the phenomenal international acclaim his Irish Pantry cookbook has received, it's a message the world is eager to hear.
- Irish Pantry is available via Amazon and all good booksellers
Try a couple of recipes from the book...
Blue cheese and pecan crackers
Cashel Blue is one of Ireland's many fine cheeses. Baked into crackers, it's a great with fruity white wines.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
8 tablespoons (1 stick)/120g unsalted butter, at room temperature
8oz/230g blue cheese, such as Cashel Blue, crumbled, at room temperature
1-and-a-half cups/180g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 medium-size eggs, beaten
Half cup/75g roughly chopped pecans
Makes about two dozen crackers
METHOD: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and blue cheese together on high speed for one minute, or until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt, and pepper and mix until it's in large crumbles - about one minute. Add one tablespoon of water and mix. Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball and roll it into a 12in /30cm-long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the pecans in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the pecans, pressing lightly, distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four days.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 175C/gas 4/350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the log into slices 3/8 inch/9mm thick and place them on the prepared pan. Bake for 22 minutes. Rotate the pan once during baking. Transfer to a cooling rack, then serve at room temperature.
Jameson whiskey balls
The two secrets to these rich, mouth-melting, warm- flavoured candies are good whiskey and good butter. Use Kerrygold, if you can lay hands on it.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
Half cup/120g good-quality unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 cups/400g confectioners' sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons Jameson Irish whiskey
6oz/170g semisweet chocolate
30 to 40 whole pecan halves for garnish
MAKES 30 TO 40 BALLS
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, about five minutes. Add the whiskey and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate the mixture for one hour. Form the mixture into 1in balls and place on waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm.
METHOD: Transfer the candies to a resealable plastic freezer bag and freeze for several hours or overnight. (Reserve the lined pan for the next step.) Stick a toothpick through the centre of each whiskey ball. Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Working quickly, dip the whiskey ball centres into the chocolate, one at a time.
Tap the toothpick against the side of the bowl to shake off any excess chocolate. Set the coated whiskey ball on the lined baking sheet. Use another toothpick, push the whiskey ball gently from the dipping toothpick and cover the hole with a pecan half.
When all whiskey balls have been dipped, allow them to rest until set. When set, transfer the candies to a holiday tin or other storage container and store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.