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Mother’s Day

There’s a special day allocated to celebrate almost anything one can think of these days but I’m sure we all agree that if ever a celebration was warranted, it’s Mother’s Day.
It’s a movable feast so keeping up with the annual date is tricky enough. Here in these islands, it’s rooted in the Christian observance of Lent so Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, exactly 3 weeks before Easter. Not only does it land on a different date each year, but it’s celebrated at different times around the world. So, check it out…. If your mum is in the US, it’ll be the second Sunday in May.
My lovely Mum, mother of nine, passed away over a decade ago now.  Little things remind me of her almost every day, but Mother’s Day really brings memories flooding back.  I remember her delight when we would pick a simple little posy of primroses for her, bake a few fairy cakes or a rhubarb tart or bring her breakfast in bed…
Looking back with hindsight, many of us will remember with regret how obnoxious we were during our teens and look back with shame at the torment and annoyance we caused our long-suffering parents. Hopefully we have found the right moment to tell them how sorry we are for the hoops we put them through….
Invariably, we don’t remember just how abominable and unreasonable we were until our children are going through the same phase …!
Mother’s Day gives us all, young and old the opportunity to let actions speak louder than words.
If cooking isn’t your forte, you could treat your Mum to a slap up meal in anything from a ritzy restaurant to the local café depending on your finances.  If you’re broke as well as culinarily challenged in the midst of this cost of living crisis, not to worry, it’s time to get creative and offer your services instead…
How about a practical gift token instead…I bet that an offer to wash and valet the car or clean out the fridge will be greatly appreciated…
If you have green figures, a pledge to weed the flowerbed after Winter or dig the vegetable patch will be greeted enthusiastically. You might even manage to buy a few fresh herbs to plant into a tub or hanging basket by the kitchen door.
An offer to do the washing up every evening for a week or even once would win you serious brownie points. Most mothers loathe ironing with a passion, so that’s another way to show your devotion. If you too hate ironing, grit your teeth, and cheer yourself up that you are developing life skills…That’s the sort of ‘Mumsie’ remark that my daughters hate! I am one of the rare people who love ironing but rarely do it!
If you have the cash, newspapers, magazines and the internet are packed with ideas for special Mother’s Day gifts over and above the usual cards and flowers – a voucher for a spa treatment, a ticket to her favourite retro gig, maybe even a karaoke session…
And no, not an expensive tub of anti-aging cream. I’m totally happy with my wrinkles – honourable scars built up over the years. If I could make a wish, it would be that all mothers could be released from the beauty industry’s insistence that we must look forever young.  So let’s let go of ‘aging anxiety’ and embrace our very own natural beauty.
Flamboyant gifts are all very fine, but this is a cooking column.
This year, Mother’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter are all in quick succession so here are a couple of my mother’s delicious family recipes plus my favourite comforting Irish stew for Saint Patrick’s Day and a recipe for rainbow cake from the revised edition of Mary Berry’s ‘Baking Bible’ which has just arrived in the post.
Finally a recipe for Simnel cake which coincidentally was traditionally made by servant girls to bring home to their mothers as a gift on Mothering Sunday.
I have a feeling that it was unlikely to have been as rich and delicious as this version…make it now so it’ll be ready to enjoy for Easter Sunday afternoon tea with family and friends.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a traditional Irish Stew, a classic one-pot dish.  The recipe varies from region to region – in Cork, carrots are a quintessential addition, not so in parts of Ulster.   Pearl barley is a favourite addition, originally added to bulk up the stew.

Serves 4-8

1.1 – 1.35kg (2 1/2 – 3lbs) lamb chops (gigot from the shoulder of lamb or a combination of gigot and neck chops) not less than 2.5cm (1 inch) thick

8 medium or 12 baby carrots

8 medium or 12 baby onions

8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like

salt and freshly ground pepper

850ml – 1 litre (scant 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 pints) stock (lamb stock, chicken stock) or water

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon roux, optional (equal quantities of butter and flour cooked for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally – it will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator)


2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render the lamb fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

Trim the root end of the onions.

Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you may want to leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small, leave whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, when small they are best left whole.

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. Degrease the pan with lamb stock, bring to the boil and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1 – 1 1/2 hours approx., depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget

If using floury potatoes (not waxy) such as Golden Wonder or Kerr’s pinks, do not add them into the stew until after 1 hour of cooking. Sit them on top of the meat and vegetables and continue to cook for 30 minutes more.

When the stew is cooked, remove the sprig of thyme.  Pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish sprinkled with herbs.


Irish Stew with Pearl Barley

Add 1-2 tablespoons pearl barley with the vegetables.

Increase the stock to 1.2 litres (2 pints) as the pearl barley soaks up lots of liquid.

Mary Berry’s Rainbow Cake

Recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible published by BBC Books/ Penguin Random House UK

A fun cake for Easter.  From the outside, it looks like any other cake, but once you cut into it, it reveals itself to be as colourful as a rainbow.  For St. Patrick’s Day, one could just do layers of green, white and gold and decorate it with crystallised primroses and wood sorrel leaves that look like Shamrocks – sounds cheesy but it’ll taste delicious.

Serves 20

6 eggs

375g (13oz) caster sugar

375g (13oz) soft butter or baking spread, straight from the fridge

375g (13oz) self-raising flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons milk

food colouring paste or gel (in 6 different colours)

For the cream cheese icing:

375g (13oz) butter, softened

3 tablespoons milk

750g (1lb 10oz) icing sugar, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

275g (10oz) full-fat cream cheese

hundreds and thousands, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C fan).

Grease and line two 20cm (8 inch) round loose-bottomed cake tins with non-stick baking paper. 

Measure one-third of the cake ingredients into a large bowl and whisk using an electric hand whisk for 2 minutes.  Divide the mixture into 2 bowls and add some food colouring to each bowl (two different colours) and mix well. 

Spoon into the tins and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until well risen and springing back when pressed in the centre with your fingertips.  Remove from the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack. 

Wash, grease and reline the tins.  Repeat the method to make four more cakes, all in different colours.

To make the cream cheese icing, beat the butter and milk with half of the icing sugar in a large bowl, using an electric hand whisk, until smooth.  Add the remaining icing sugar, the vanilla extract and the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. 

To assemble the cake, remove the baking paper from all six cakes.  Place the violet cake on a cake board and spread with a little icing.  Continue to layer the cakes with icing sugar until you have all six cakes stacked neatly with the red cake on top.  Cover the whole surface of the cake with a thin layer of icing, then place in the fridge for 20 minutes.  This will help to seal the crumbs. 

Once the icing is firm, cover with a final layer and spread to make a smooth finish.  Sprinkle the top with hundreds and thousands. 

Mummy’s Country Rhubarb Cake

This traditional Irish recipe is particularly interesting because it uses sour milk or buttermilk. The resulting texture is soft – more cakey than other pastries. Even though it is referred to as rhubarb cake, it was always made in the shape of a pie or tart on a plate. Mummy made it throughout the year with whatever fruit was in season: rhubarb or green gooseberries were especially irresistible because all the bittersweet juices soaked into the pastry. According to the season, she also used plums, apples, blackberries and damsons. It’s important that firm fruit (such as apples and rhubarb) is thinly sliced, otherwise it doesn’t cook properly.

Serves 8

For the Pastry

350g (12oz) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

40g (1 1⁄2oz) caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g (4oz) butter

1 organic egg, beaten

about 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

700g (1 1⁄2lb) rhubarb, thinly sliced

225g (8oz) granulated sugar

egg wash

To Serve

caster sugar, for sprinkling

soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream

25cm (10 inch) enamel or Pyrex plate

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Sieve the flour, salt, sugar and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Rub in the butter. Add the beaten egg and enough sour milk to mix to a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Divide in two. Roll both pieces into rounds large enough to fit your enamel or Pyrex plate and line the plate with one of the rounds. Put a good layer of thinly sliced rhubarb on the pastry, sprinkle the sugar over the top and cover with the other piece of dough. Pinch the edges together. Brush the top with egg wash. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until the pastry is golden and the rhubarb is soft and juicy.

Sprinkle with caster sugar; serve warm with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is the traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top.  The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.  This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft brown sugar

6 eggs, preferably free range

300g (10oz) white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

65ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

350g (12oz) best quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best quality currants

350g (12oz) best quality raisins

110g (4oz) cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel

50g (2oz) whole almonds

50g (2oz) ground almonds

rind of 1 lemon

rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

450g (1lb) ground almonds

450g (1lb) caster sugar

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or an 20.5cm (8 inch) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next make the almond paste.

Sieve the caster sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into a 21.5cm (8 1/2 inch) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper. 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 after 1 hour. Bake for a further 2 1/2 hours approximately until cooked, test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

NOTE: When you are testing, do so at an angle because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 23cm (9 inch) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 4cm (1 1/2 inch) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chicken.  Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake.  You will need half the almond paste again.

Vegetable Shortage in Supermarkets

Empty baskets in the vegetable and fruit section of our supermarkets (and even more so in the UK) in recent weeks has sent a quiver of panic through the retail trade. Shoppers are having to become accustomed to gaps on the shelves.

The shortages are caused by a variety of factors, unpredictable weather conditions linked to climate change, soaring fuel costs, staff shortages and supply chain issues.

An unexpectedly cold snap in Spain during the past month resulted in 16 consecutive nights of below zero temperatures. The increasing energy costs have meant that many growers delayed planting crops or actually left their greenhouses empty altogether because they simply no longer afford to grow at a loss…

It’s crunch time, there simply isn’t enough product to go around. For far too long, we have ignored the vegetable and fruit growers’ warnings that they cannot continue to grow indefinitely unless they are paid a fair price for what they produce. Already many experienced growers who have been in business for generations have reluctantly locked their gates and are selling up.

It’s abundantly clear that our food supply system is deeply flawed and the just-in-time delivery model leaves us vulnerable to unexpected shocks. This wakeup call exposes the fragility of the modern supply chain.

Regular readers of this column will recall that I have highlighted this issue on many occasions. We urgently need a government food strategy that supports Irish farmers to produce fresh local food so we are no longer overly reliant on importing fresh products from thousands of miles away. Otherwise, we will have no Irish vegetable growers within a couple of years and then what….

Advance planning is crucial, fresh food cannot be spirited onto the shelves in a few days…… It takes 3 to 5 months for many vegetables to grow from seed to shelf.

Meanwhile, at home. Let’s take back control – let’s consider growing some of our own food. It couldn’t be a better time of the year, Spring is in the air, perfect time to sow seeds.

Even if you’ve never grown anything in your life before, you can certainly grow some salad leaves, even on your balcony or windowsill…. All you’ll need is a container, could be a recycled box or even a plastic mushroom container from your local greengrocer…Fill it up with some soil or compost, scatter some salad mix seeds over the top, sprinkle on a little more soil and mist with water…Cover with a sheet of damp newspaper…The seeds will germinate within a couple of days, remove the paper….They love plenty of light, then all you need is a bit of patience as you watch your salad leaves grow…Within a few weeks, you’ll be able to harvest your very own salad leaves several times.

Then you may want to progress to a raised (or otherwise) bed in your garden.

In the US, an enthusiastic movement to ‘Grow Food, Not Lawns’ has been gathering momentum for some time now – www.foodnotlawns.com

Meanwhile, let’s go out of our way to source freshly harvested local food, jumping with vital nutrients to ensure optimum health. We can all take matters into our own hands and make a difference by actively sourcing in local shops and farmers markets….

Hotels, restaurants, hospitals, universities around the country can also make a dramatic contribution by linking in with local farmers and food producers to commission them to grow, even staples like potatoes, carrots, salad leaves and onions at an agreed price, a win-win situation for all.

Our current food system is broken… it’s time for urgent action…

Meanwhile, on both a government and personal level, we can and must, all make a difference. Let’s make a concerted effort to eat with the seasons when local food is at peak flavour and perfection …

So, what’s in season?

It can be confusing, ask your local shop or supermarket to identify local seasonal produce on their shelves … Winter roots and greens are at their peak at present so look out for kales, chard, Savoy cabbage, cauliflower, leeks… Swede turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, black radishes, winter carrots, parsnips… The first of the new seasons rhubarb is ready for picking and if you have access to wild watercress, it’s deliciously peppery at present, perfect for salads, soups and garnishing.

Have fun experimenting, use lots of spices and lashings of gutsy winter herbs …. Enjoy and give thanks to Mother Nature for her bounty…

Soda Bread Focaccia with Roast Jerusalem Artichokes, Potato and Thyme Leaves

Jerusalem artichokes look like knobbly potatoes but have quite a different flavour and are really, really worth seeking out. If you don’t already have them in your garden you’ll find them in some of the better supermarkets and certainly on stalls in local farmers markets. For example, Midleton, Mahon Point and Skibbereen…They’re in season at present, incredibly versatile, here is yet another way to enjoy them…

450g (1lb) plain white flour

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda

sour milk or buttermilk to mix: 350-400ml (12-14fl oz) approx.


450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes

450g (1lb) cooked potatoes, sliced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

225g (8oz) Gruyère and Parmesan

1 large Swiss roll tin with edges 32cm (13 inch) (length) x 23cm (9 inch) (width) x 5cm (2 inch) in depth

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Slice the well-scrubbed artichokes into 1cm (1/2 inch) rounds. Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with the extra virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves … Season well with salt.  Arrange in a single layer on a roasting tin.  Roast for 10 minutes or until pale golden on one side then flip over and cook on the other side.   Test with the tip of a knife – they should be just tender. 

To assemble.

First make the soda bread.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most 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 softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.  Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round, about 4cm (1 1/2 inch) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out

Brush the tin with extra virgin olive oil.  Roll out the dough into a rectangle, line the tin and brush with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.  Cover with slices of Jerusalem artichoke and potato, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Sprinkle evenly with remaining thyme leaves and the grated cheeses.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Cook in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the tin, cook on a wire rack, cut into squares and eat soon.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bacon, Cabbage and Scallion Champ Pie 

Who doesn’t love bacon and cabbage? St Patrick’s Day is coming up too…This version is a traditional Irish meal, all in one pot meal. Make from scratch or I sometimes love to whip this up with the leftovers from a bacon and cabbage and parsley sauce meal, it gets a terrific reaction.

Serves 8-10

650g (1lb 6oz) bacon (collar or oyster cut, rind on) or cooked ham

Parsley Sauce (see recipe)

1 teaspoon English mustard

2 tablespoons cream

450g (1lb) Savoy or Hispi cabbage, cored and sliced across the grain

450g (1lb) Scallion Champ (see recipe)

1 x 3 pint terracotta dish (25cm (10 inch) width x 2.5cm (1 inch) depth)

Cover the uncooked bacon in cold water, bring to the boil uncovered. Taste, if the liquid appears very salty discard and re-cover with hot water. Bring back to the boil, cover, and cook for 40-45 minutes approximately or until the rind will peel off easily. Remove to a plate, add the chopped cabbage to the bacon water and continue to cook until the cabbage is tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the variety.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, make the Parsley Sauce (see recipe).

Add mustard and cream.  Taste and correct seasoning.

Make the Scallion Champ (see recipe).

Remove the bacon rind, if necessary, Cut the bacon into scant 2cm (3/4 inch) chunks. Add the cooked cabbage and mix gently. 

Bring the Parsley sauce back to the boil.  Fold in the bacon and cabbage, add a little bacon cooking water if necessary. Taste, correct the seasoning.

Fill into one or several pie dishes.

Pipe a generous layer of Scallion Champ on top. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, cook for 10-15 minutes until bubbling and beginning to colour on top.  Serve immediately with a little extra mustard on the side.

Parsley Sauce

Serves 6–8

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (retain the stalks)

900ml (1 1/2 pints) fresh whole milk

30-45g (1-1 1/2oz) Roux (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the parsley stalks into a saucepan with the cold milk, bring slowly to the boil, then remove the stalks. Whisk the roux into the boiling milk until thickened and add the chopped parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer for 5-10 minutes on a very low heat, then taste and correct the seasoning.  The sauce should be thickish for this pie.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Spring Scallion Champ

Serves 6-8

1.5kg (3lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (1 3/4oz)

chopped chives

350ml (10-12fl oz) whole milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets in well-salted water.

Meanwhile chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chives.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. 

Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while still hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, beat in the butter. 

Serve in 1 large or 4-6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. 

Cauliflower or Broccoli Salad

Cauliflower or broccoli salad is not an obvious choice, but it is surprisingly delicious. The secret as is the case with many salads is to dip the florets in a good dressing while still warm, so they really absorb the flavours.

Serves 6

1 small head cauliflower

110ml (4fl oz) Ballymaloe French Dressing (see recipe)

Ideally this should be made with slightly shot heads at the end of season. Take a head with the leaves on, trim off the damaged ones. Wash and shred the remaining leaves and stalk, split the cauliflower into small florets so it will cook evenly.

Take a saucepan that fits the cauliflower exactly and boil 1 inch of water in it. Add a little salt, put in the shredded leaves and sit the cauliflower on top, stems down and cover closely. Control heat so that it does not boil dry. Remove from the pot when the stalks are barely tender. Divide into florets. dip each into French dressing while they are still warm and arrange like a wheel on a round plate. Build up layer upon layer to reform the cauliflower head. This looks good and tastes delicious on a cold buffet.

Note: Green broccoli (Calabreze) or purple of white sprouting broccoli can be cooked this way also and a mixture of all three looks and tastes wonderful.

Make all the difference… Salad Dressings

Best to dress a green salad just before serving, otherwise it can look tired and unappetising. The flavour of the dressing totally depends on the quality of the oil and vinegar. We use beautiful, cold-pressed oils and superb wine vinegars to dress the precious organic lettuce and salad leaves. The quantity one uses is so small it’s really worth buying the very best quality you can afford – it makes all the difference.

Simple French Dressing

makes 120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz)

6 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin

olive oil

2 tablespoons best-quality white or red

wine vinegar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black


Whisk all the ingredients together just before the salad is to be eaten. Salad dressings are always best when freshly made but this one, which doesn’t include raw garlic, shallot or fresh herbs, will keep in a jar in the fridge for 3–4 days. Whisk to emulsify before using.

Ballymaloe French Dressing

Makes approx. 150ml (5fl oz)

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

Put all the ingredients into a small bowl or jam jar. Whisk until the dressing has emulsified. Preferably use fresh but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Whisk to emulsify before using.

Honey and Wholegrain Mustard Dressing

Makes approx. 250ml (9fl oz)

150ml (5fl oz) extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of

olive and other oils, such as sunflower

and groundnut

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey


2 garlic cloves, crushed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, whisking well before use. Season to taste. Preferably use fresh but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Whisk to re-emulsify before using.

Herbed Vinaigrette Dressing

Makes approx. 250ml (9fl oz)

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs, such

as parsley, chives, mint or thyme

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put all the dressing ingredients into a screw-top jar, adding salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Shake well to emulsify before use or whizz together all the ingredients in a food processor or liquidiser for a few seconds.

For a variation, use 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice or wine vinegar instead of the cider vinegar. This dressing should be served when freshly made otherwise the herbs will discolour. As a compromise the dressing could be made a day or two ahead without the herbs, then whisk and add the fresh herbs just before serving.

Rhubarb and Custard Meringue Tart

You’ll get lots of compliments for this celebration, rhubarb tart it’s even delicious without the meringue on top… 

Serves 8-10

300g (10oz) sweet shortcrust pastry, chilled made from:

200g (7oz) white flour

pinch of salt

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

2-3 tablespoons cold water approx.


1 kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb, cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) pieces

3 egg yolks

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons plain flour


3 egg whites

175g (6oz) caster sugar

1 x 26cm (10 1/2 inch) tin, preferably with a pop-up base

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour with the salt, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg yolk and add the water. Take a fork or knife, (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.

Cover and chill for half an hour, if possible, this will make it less elastic and easier to roll out.  Roll out the pastry and line the tin.  Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans.  Bake ‘blind’ for 20 minutes approx. until the pastry is three-quarters cooked, remove from the oven. Remove the baking beans, brush the base with beaten egg wash and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Slice the rhubarb and spread over the pastry base. 

Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and flour and spread over the rhubarb.  Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes, this will start the rhubarb cooking.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until fluffy.  As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar and continue to whisk until stiff.

Remove the tart from the oven and pipe or spread the meringue on top.  Reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, return to the oven.    Bake for a further 25 minutes. 

Cool on a wire rack and serve with softly whipped cream.


Incredible India, it keeps drawing me back year after year, not just for the extraordinarily varied culture and vibrant colours but the haunting mystical music, spicy pungent smells and of course the food.

India is huge, a subcontinent with a myriad of different gods, religions, customs, temples and colourful festivals. The traffic is crazy, endless honking of horns …. but always something to celebrate.

I love the way the cows still wander nonchalantly through the streets with such an air of entitlement even in enormous cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta knowing that the sea of motorbikes, cars and lorries will avoid them.

Cows are sacred in India, worshipped and revered and are certainly not for eating. Nothing is wasted.  Cow manure is shaped in flat frisbee size patties, sun dried and then used for fuel…that may sound gross to us but it’s totally sustainable and doesn’t smell at all unpleasant…

Beef is not an option on the menu for millions of people – a high percentage of whom are vegetarian. In the towns and villages, people leave out food and water for the cows on their doorsteps believing strongly that they will receive blessings from the gods in return. 

This time we went back to Rajasthan, an area over twice the size of Ireland, much of which is semi-arid desert and hilly terrain where a variety of tribals live alongside pastoralists, camel herders, nomads and subsistence farmers.

Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur are the tourist hotspots in this area but wonderful as they are, we love to get out of the towns, well off the tourist track and into the rural areas. We are intrigued by the way of life of the Raikas, in their traditional white garb and bright red turbans. They move their flocks of camels, sheep and goats from place to place, nibbling sustainably on the trees and the sparse vegetation. Another group moves through the landscape digging up the Prosopis juliflora trees which they then make into charcoal, providing them with a meagre livelihood and helping to eradicate an invasive species at the same time… killing two birds with one stone.

In 1971, Prime Minister Indra Gandhi passed the 26th Amendment Act and abolished the privileges and privy purses of all the princely rulers meaning they no longer recognised any of the princes or chiefs as the ruler.  Many of the Rajput families are now converting their often crumbling palaces into heritage hotels or homestays. These are a wonderful experience for the traveller, family run, with an intriguing history, delicious food and famed Rajput hospitality.

We have stayed and returned to many over the years but on this occasion, we found two new places, one called Chanoud Garh, just outside the village of Chanoud in northern Rajasthan – www.chanoudgarh.com 

A magnificent 300-year-old palace, home to Thakur Ajeet Singhji and his family, descendants of the original Mertia Rajputs.

The second was a camp called Sujan Jawai, built in the midst of the desert, in the Aravali hills, close to the Jawai Dam. This is a game reserve where leopards roam freely and coexist with the local tribes, pastoralists and villagers. 

As ever, I was on the lookout for new (to me) flavours, cooking techniques and unfamiliar ingredients. At Chanoud Garh I took a cooking class from Swati, sister of the owner.

As we walked across one of the ancient courtyards to the little demonstration kitchen, a local lady sat cross-legged, cheerfully grinding homegrown chickpeas in an ancient stone quern to make dahl.

In many parts of India, medievalism exists side-by-side with the 21st-century. Barefoot children have mobile phones and many simple mud dwellings have satellite dishes. At Swati’s class I learned how to make Dhoongar chicken, a traditional Rajasthani dish.

The flavours were exquisite, and the recipes can be reproduced at home. 

Later in Udaipur, after we had visited Seva Mandir, the NGO we’ve been collaborating with for many years www.sevamandir.org  

I took another cooking class with a local cook from Udaipur called Meenakshi Singh.  Here I learned several other delicious new dishes which I hope you’ll also try…meenakshiudaipur@gmail.com

Dhoongar Chicken

A delicious whole smoked chicken curry from Swati Rathore at Chanoud Garh in Rajasthan – www.chanoudgarh.com

Serves 4

Smoked Chicken

2 – 3 tablespoons sunflower oil

450 – 700g (1 – 1 1/2lbs) chicken pieces without skin – could be thigh or breast

175g (6oz) onion, finely sliced – save the 1st layer for smoking at the end

250g (9oz) natural yoghurt

5 tablespoons fresh tomato purée * see end of recipe

15g (generous 1/2oz) teaspoons ginger paste, peel and purée

15g (generous 1/2oz) teaspoon garlic paste, peel and purée

1 bay leaf

1 black cardamom

5cm (2 inch) cinnamon stick

2 cloves

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 – 1/3 teaspoon red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the dhoongar smoking:

wood charcoal

1 onion, peeled and halved, remove one layer and keep for smoking  

1 teaspoon clarified butter (ghee)

2 cloves

1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves

Heat the sunflower oil on a medium to high heat in a saucepan, add the bay leaf, black cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.  Stir and fry for a minute or so until the flavours are released.  Then add the sliced onions and cook until beginning to brown (8 – 10 minutes).  Turn up the heat, add the chicken, allow to fry for 4 – 5 minutes.  Add the fresh tomato purée, yogurt, ginger and garlic paste, coriander powder, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt to the chicken.  Stir well and bring to the boil. Cover with the lid and allow to simmer on a medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When cooked (15 minutes approx.), remove the lid and fry until the oil separates and the spices are well fried (8 minutes).  This is a dry curry but packed with flavour.  You can add some extra ghee if necessary.

Now do the Dhoongar smoking. 

Heat a stumpy piece of charcoal on a gas jet or in a barbecue.

Take the layer of the halved onion (or a little stainless-steel bowl) and lay on top of the chicken in the saucepan.  Place the hot charcoal in the centre of the onion layer and then pour a little ghee or butter on top along with a couple of cloves. It will instantly start to smoke, cover immediately with a tight-fitting lid and leave for 15 – 30 minutes for the chicken to absorb the smoke. 

Uncover, discard the onion, and charcoal.

Finally add the chopped coriander and serve. 

* The tomato paste that Swati used was made from whole fresh ripe tomatoes puréed.

Kashmiri Lamb Korma with Green Coriander

A rich, flavourful Kashmiri curry usually made with goat, but mutton, pork or beef also works well.  Serve with pilaf rice.

Serves 8

250g (9oz) onion paste (purée)

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water

3 – 4 necks of lamb, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices and trimmed of excess fat – your butcher will do this for you

30g (1 1/4oz) clarified butter [ghee]

salt and freshly ground black pepper

15 whole green cardamom pods, gently crushed to slightly open the pod

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

75g (3oz) green coriander, chopped

200g (7oz) natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3.

To make the onion paste.

Whizz 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water with the onion in a food processor for 30 seconds until it forms a smooth paste.

Heat the clarified butter in a cast-iron pan and brown the lamb for 3 – 4 minutes on each side.  Cook in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.  Add to a casserole and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Remove the excess oil from the cast-iron pan and deglaze with 200ml (7fl oz) water and bring to a boil.  Add the ground onion and cardamom and cover with the boiling water. Cover the casserole and cook in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until the meat is tender.  Remove from the oven.    

Add the coconut milk, mix thoroughly and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes on the hob. This will produce a delicious rich sauce.

Add lots of chopped green coriander, finally stir in the yoghurt, stir well and serve.

Ahilya Fort’s Tomato Cutt

Richard Holkar at Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar kindly shared this recipe with me.  Serve as a vegetable accompaniment.

Serves 12

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

125g (4 1/2oz) onion, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

450g (1lb) tomato, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

25g (1oz) garlic paste (peel and purée)

25g (1oz) ginger paste (peel and purée)

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

1 – 2 teaspoons chilli powder, depending on how hot you like it

2 teaspoons cumin powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons sugar

110ml (4fl oz) water or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon salt

250g (9oz) tomato, chopped


2 tablespoons fresh green coriander, chopped

Heat oil in a pan on high heat, add bay leaf and cumin seeds and cook for a few seconds until the cumin pops.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook stirring until light brown in colour (5 – 6 minutes), then add the 450g (1lb) of chopped tomato and cook on a medium-high heat for 7 minutes. 

Add the ginger and garlic paste, mix well and cook for 3 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the remaining ingredients and cook for another 7 minutes. Check for seasoning and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt if necessary.   

Add remaining 250g (9oz) of chopped tomato and simmer for 5 minutes. It should be a thick soupy consistency. This will depend on how juicy your tomatoes were. If it’s too thick add 110ml (4fl oz) of boiling water or more if needed.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.  

Safed Aloo (Potatoes with Yoghurt and Coriander)

Swati Rathore from Chanoud Garh shared this recipe with me.

Serve as a stand-alone dish or as part of a thaili (an array of selective dishes served together on a round platter).

Serves 2

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small red or white onion, chopped

1 dry red chilli, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, slightly crushed
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, slightly crushed

5 garlic cloves, peeled
4-6 tablespoons of natural yoghurt

1 heaped teaspoon of cashew powder (unsalted cashew nuts)
2 – 4 cooked potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
salt to taste

fresh coriander leaves, chopped.

Heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan, add the chopped onion, stir and fry over a medium heat until translucent, add the red chilli, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and whole garlic cloves. Stir and fry for 3 – 4 minutes.

Mix the yoghurt and cashew powder in a bowl, add to the pan.  Bring to the boil, stirring continuously and allow to simmer for a few minutes on a low heat until it thickens somewhat.  Add the boiled potato cubes and salt to taste. Continue to simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, turn off the heat and add the chopped coriander.  Serve hot.

Pea Halva ….Mattar Halva

Another delicious recipe from Swati at Chanoud Garh.  I’d previously eaten both a fruit and nut combination, plus a carrot, cardamom and pistachio halva so I was intrigued by this delicious pea version which was new to me.

Serves 4-6

green peas

2 generous tablespoons of clarified butter or ghee
2 whole green cardamom
1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 tablespoon each of sultanas or raisins, coarsely chopped cashew nuts and sliced almonds

Purée the fresh peas with a little milk in a food processor and keep aside. Melt the tablespoons of the ghee or clarified butter in a sauté pan over a medium heat. Add the whole green cardamom and then the pea purée. Stir continuously on a low heat until the mixture looks split and the globules of ghee are visible….about 5 minutes.
Add a little more milk and stir continuously. When the peas have cooked and the milk has condensed, 10 minutes approximately, the mixture will be a richer colour and the ghee will have separated so it appears curdled. Add the sugar, stir continuously, the halva is ready when it’s a deeper green colour and the ghee is visible on the sides of the pan. Add the ground cardamom and half of the dried fruit and nuts. Taste and add a little more if necessary…. Serve hot in small bowls sprinkled with the remainder of the dried fruit and nuts…

Bored of Lunch – The Healthy Slow Cooker Book

How about this…. Top of the best seller charts in Ireland for the past few weeks has been a cookbook ‘Bored of Lunch – The Healthy Slow Cooker Book’, written by social media sensation, Nathan Anthony. It’s really worth pricking up your ears when a cookbook is giving Prince Harry’s publishing sensation, ‘Spare’, a run for its money….
What’s going on? It’s quite simple, Nathan Anthony who has over a million followers on social media has just written the cookbook that the millions of people who work long hours and need quick, easy recipes, have been desperately craving.
It’s a brilliant story, Nathan who comes from Portadown, started his blog in 2020 during the pandemic. He wanted to share the meals he was cooking in his own kitchen ‘to help people to cook healthier, more interesting meals at home’.
Nathan is anxious for people to know that he is not a trained chef, has never actually worked in the hospitality industry and neither does he have a background in nutrition. His career is in finance, in his day job, he’s a super, busy project manager in one of the largest companies in the UK, FTSE 100 but he absolutely loves to cook at home, and his food has certainly struck a chord.
Nathan’s recipes tick all the boxes, they are affordable, satisfying, flavourful, and overall, really quick and simple to make. A dream, come true for those who are trying to keep all the balls in the air, feed their family, healthy, nourishing food and are fed up of eating the same meals over and over again.
The book is flying off the shelves and bringing joy and fun to the many who feel they are just too busy to cook.… Bravo, Nathan.
He makes brilliant use of his slow cooker.  Most of the recipes are cost-effective and perfect for those who want to prepare meals for themselves and for the family for the week ahead. Most recipes are made with ingredients that you are likely to have in your pantry or are easy to source so you won’t have to go hunting in a deli or specialist shop.
Each recipe has a calorie count because that’s what he likes to keep track of himself.
It’s also worth noting that slow cookers use significantly less electricity than regular ovens and hobs, a not insignificant fact, in the midst of this cost of living crisis. However, if you don’t have a slow cooker, all of the recipes can of course be cooked in a regular saucepan on the stove and many are one pot dishes.
There’s much to choose from, weekday lunches and dinners, light meals, family, favourites, comfort food, feeding a crowd, and even a chapter on fakeaways….
Here are a few of Nathan’s recipes to tempt you.

Recipes from ‘Bored of Lunch – The Healthy Slow Cooker Book’ by Nathan Anthony, published by Ebury Press 

Chorizo, Carrot and Chilli Soup

I’m obsessed with chorizo and its smoky flavour enhances any dish.  Like all my soups, this could be made in a large saucepan on the hob – just bubble all the ingredients away for 25-30 minutes, then blitz until smooth. 

Serves 6 

170g (scant 6oz) chorizo, sliced

7 carrots, chopped (skin left on)

3 potatoes, chopped (skin left on)

1 red chilli, sliced 

3 garlic cloves, chopped 

1 tablespoon curry powder 

small handful of fresh coriander 

1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable or chicken stock 

salt and pepper, to taste 

chilli flakes, to garnish

If you have the time, heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat on the hob, then place the chorizo in the pan and sear until browned on both sides.  If you’re in a hurry, just skip this step.

Reserving a few slices of chorizo for garnish, place all the ingredients in the slow cooker, stir and season to taste.  Cook on high for 3 hours, then blitz the soup with a handheld blender until smooth.  Garnish with the reserved chorizo and a sprinkle of chilli flakes. 

Honey Chilli Beef Noodles 

This is a quick and lean version of one of my favourite local Chinese takeaway dishes, and one of the most popular recipes I have ever shared with my online followers.

Serves 3

400g (14oz) beef steaks, thinly sliced 

4 tablespoons dark soy sauce 

5 tablespoons light soy sauce 

2 teaspoons rice vinegar 

5 garlic cloves, crushed 

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons orange juice

4 tablespoons honey 

2 teaspoons chilli flakes

1 tablespoon cornflour, mixed to a paste with 1 tablespoon water 

1 red pepper, sliced 

200g (7oz) dried egg noodles

350ml (12fl oz) hot chicken stock

chopped spring onions and sesame seeds, to garnish 

Place all the ingredients, except the red pepper, noodles and stock, in the slow cooker and stir.  Cook on high for 2 hours.  Add the red pepper, noodles and stock, stir and cook for another 15-20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes.  Garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds.

Chicken and Peanut Curry

I adore anything with peanut butter in it.  The lime, chilli and curry powder give this dish a great flavour profile and the long, slow cooking makes the chicken taste even more incredible.  If you like a thicker sauce, add the optional cornflour paste in the ingredients.  Serve with rice.

Serves 3 

3 chicken breasts or 6 thighs, cut into chunks 

juice of 1 lime

4 tablespoons peanut butter 

handful of fresh coriander

4 garlic cloves, crushed 

1 tablespoon curry powder 

400ml (14fl oz) tin of reduced-fat coconut milk 

2 tablespoons soy sauce 

1 red bird’s eye chilli

1 tablespoon cornflour, mixed to a paste with 1 tablespoon water (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste 

chopped spring onions, chopped peanuts, chopped red chilli and fresh coriander, to garnish 

Place all the ingredients in the slow cooker, stir and season to taste.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-7 hours. Garnish with spring onions, peanuts, chilli and fresh coriander.

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry 

This gorgeous curry with chunks of sweet potato and comforting chickpeas has added sweetness from the mango chutney.  There is lots of sauce here, but you could add more veg and some vegetable stock to stretch it further. 

This goes great with rice, but the sweet potato makes this curry quite filling so you can just serve it on its own if you’d rather.

Serves 4 

400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes 

400ml (14fl oz) tin of reduced-fat coconut milk 

1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder 

1 tablespoon mango chutney 

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin 

1 tablespoon garam masala 

1 teaspoon honey 

4 garlic cloves, crushed 

3 large, sweet potatoes, cut into small chunks 

1 onion, sliced 

1 handful of spinach

1 teaspoon peanut butter

handful of fresh coriander, chopped 

400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas, drained 

salt and pepper, to taste 

extra fresh coriander, to garnish 

Place all the ingredients, except the chickpeas, in the slow cooker, stir and season to taste.  Cook on high for 2 hours or low for 4-5 hours, then add the chickpeas and cook for another hour.  If it’s more convenient, you could add the chickpeas from the start, but they might lose some of their texture.  Garnish with extra coriander. 

Vegetarian Lasagne 

I aim for one Vegetarian day every week and when I’m craving pasta or something warming, this doesn’t disappoint.  I love lasagne and this veggie version is packed full of flavour after a long, slow cook.  I never say no to lasagne.  

This is a perfect midweek meal with garlic bread, salad and light coleslaw.

Serves 6 

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) pine nuts or other nuts 

3 x 400g (14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes 

1 tablespoon red pesto 

5 garlic cloves, crushed 

2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon powder

1 tablespoon dried oregano 

1 tablespoon dried thyme 

1 tablespoon tomato purée 

1 courgette, finely chopped 

1 red pepper, finely chopped 

1 onion, finely chopped 

100g (3 1/2oz) mushrooms, finely chopped 

handful of fresh basil, chopped 

1 aubergine, sliced 

8 sheets of dried lasagne 

1-2 tablespoons basil pesto

100g (3 1/2oz) ricotta cheese (or extra Mozzarella)

100g (3 1/2oz) Mozzarella, shredded 

1 large tomato, sliced 

salt and pepper, to taste

Place the pine nuts, tinned tomatoes, red pesto, garlic, vegetable bouillon, herbs and tomato purée in a food processor and blitz for 15-20 seconds until the pine nuts are in small pieces but still have some texture.  Place the mixture in a mixing bowl, season to taste and add the courgette, red pepper, onion, mushrooms and fresh basil.  

Place one-third or the vegetable mixture in the slow cooker and top with one-third of the aubergine slices and one-third of the lasagne, breaking up the sheets to fit the pot.  Dot with one-third of the basil pesto, one-third of the ricotta and one-quarter of the Mozzarella.  Repeat the layers until the ingredients are used up, finishing with the remaining Mozzarella and the sliced tomato on top of the final layer of lasagne sheets.  

Cook on high for 4 hours.  If you have an ovenproof slow cooker pot, place it without the lid under a preheated grill for 10 minutes to create a golden crust on top.

Pancake Tuesday

There were many memorable moments at Ballymaloe House, but the following is certainly one of them.

“Myrtle, your hair is on fire…an alarmed guest exclaimed as Myrtle’s fringe went up in flames while she was enthusiastically flambéing crêpes beside their table. The guest jumped out of his chair and damped out the flames with a bunch of napkins and the water jug.  Drama in the dining room….

For many years, it was a timeless ritual to serve Crêpe Suzette on Shrove Tuesday. Many regular customers from earlier years will remember the matriarch, Myrtle wheeling the famous Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley into the dining room with her copper chaffing dish, a pile of crêpes, the spirit stove, and a bottle of Cointreau and Grand Marnier. The delicious crêpe suzettes were made to order and Myrtle shared the recipe in the Ballymaloe Cookbook, first published in 1977 and still in print to this day. If you are fortunate to still have a copy of the first edition in hardback, treasure it, it’s a collectors’ item now.

Well here comes Shrove Tuesday once again (21st February), so I’ll share both Myrtle’s and my favourite recipe for pancake batter. I love, love, love pancakes, but doesn’t everyone? Super quick to make and such a brilliant standby, whisked together in minutes with ingredients that pretty much everyone has to hand, eggs, milk, flour, butter, caster sugar and a lemon for traditionalists. But why stop there, the possibilities for fillings are endless….

Pancake batter is magical stuff, it’s definitely one of my ‘great convertibles’. Even if you never held a whisk in your hand before, you can make a million variations by just changing the proportion of egg and flour to liquid. White flour can be substituted by buckwheat, chickpea, tapioca, spelt, rice flour….or a mixture. The liquid too can be varied coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, buttermilk, even oat milk. Sparkling water or soda water gives an even crisper batter. One can create dairy free, gluten free and vegan versions. Half milk half and water result in a lacier crepe. Use less liquid to make a thicker pancake. …buttermilk will produce a stack of fluffier American style pancakes for breakfast or brunch.

Pikelets and crumpets are all variations on the theme as are Dutch babies and Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire pudding and popovers.

Basic pancakes, as we always called the thin lacy crepes, were my “go to” recipe when the kids were little. The recipe was written inside the door of the kitchen cupboard and could be whizzed up in seconds while a pan was heating up on the Aga and a little butter softened on the side of the stove. The kids would line up to eat them in turns, hot off the pan slathered with butter, sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

We were pretty conservative then but now, so much more adventurous, chocolate spread and lots of roasted nuts, peanut butter and honey, homemade lemon curd and mascarpone, honey butter and of course savoury pancakes too.

Top Tips – Pancakes

  • Have your pan hot enough.
  • Add a few tablespoons of melted butter to the batter.
  • No need to grease the pan between crepes
  • Use half milk, half water for lacier pancakes

So why not plan a Shrove Tuesday pancake party and try some of these recipes.

Myrtle Allen’s Crêpes Suzette from the Ballymaloe Cookbook

Crêpes Suzette, the queen of the pancake family, is a party piece.  It cannot be served to too many people at once, so it’s served on the menu at Ballymaloe House around Shrove Tuesday, when oranges are at their best.

Serves 4

50g (2oz) flour

1 tablespoon oil

1 organic or free-range egg

1 organic or free-range egg yolk

2 teaspoons orange curaçao

150ml (5fl oz) milk

Orange Butter

225g (8oz) large ripe oranges

75g (3oz) softened butter

75g (3oz) caster sugar

To Finish

caster sugar



Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre.  Pour in the oil, egg, egg yolk and curaçao.  With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, stir in the egg mixture and gradually bring in the flour. Beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. Leave aside for 30 minutes. 

Next make the orange butter. 

Grate the rind of the oranges very carefully so as not to penetrate the white.  Add to the butter and sugar.  Cream vigorously until smooth.

Put a frying pan on a high heat.  Melt about 15g (1/2oz) orange butter in the pan.  When the butter is bubbling, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly, swirling the batter around to get it even.  Loosen the crêpe around the edge, flip over with a spatula, cook for a second or two on the other side.  Fold into a fan shape and slide onto a hot plate. Repeat with the remaining pancakes. Sprinkle them with caster sugar.  Return the pancakes to the pan, pour over a little brandy and curaçao.  Set alight, keeping your face away from the flames.  Tilt the pan and spoon the juices over the pancakes until the flame subsides.  Serve immediately on hot plates with lots of softly whipped cream. 

Ballymaloe Cookery School Pancake Batter

This pancake recipe is almost as good as those Crêpes Suzette they used to serve with a great flourish in posh restaurants when I was a child. These crêpes are half the bother and can be made for a fraction of the cost.

Serves 6/Makes 12 approximately

Pancake Batter

175g (6oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

a good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon caster sugar

2 large organic or free-range eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks

scant 450ml (15fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoons melted butter

Sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of caster sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).

Let the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Heat the pan until quite hot.  Grease the pan lightly with butter and pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

* A small ladle can also be very useful for this, loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.  The greasing of the pan is only necessary for the first two or three pancakes.

They will keep in the fridge for several days and freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen, it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of parchment paper between each for extra safety.

Note: If you have several pans, it is perfectly possible to keep 3 or 4 pans going in rotation. Only necessary if you need to feed the multitudes.

Serve with melted butter, caster sugar or whatever you fancy….

Dutch Babies

Another way to use batter delicious, I love this version of the famous Dutch baby which I enjoyed at Reynard restaurant in the Wyeth Hotel in Brooklyn.

Makes 4 

3 organic or free-range eggs

175ml (6fl oz) milk

75oz (3oz) all-purpose flour

salt to taste

3/4 tablespoon clarified butter


4 slices cooked ham or 8 slices of crispy bacon

75-110g (3-4oz) Gruyére cheese, grated

maple syrup (optional)

2 teaspoon thyme leaves

freshly ground pepper

We use a 25.5cm (10 inch) cast iron pan for ours.

Preheat an oven fully to 230°/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Whisk all the ingredients together for the batter. Melt a scant tablespoon of clarified butter in each of the cast iron pans over a high heat, pour quarter of the batter into the very hot pan.  Transfer into the preheated oven, they will bubble up.   Reduce temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Add a slice of cooked ham or slices of crispy bacon and a good sprinkle of grated Gruyére cheese.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the cheese melts. Slide onto a warm plate.

Drizzle with maple syrup (optional), sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and a grind of freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.

Clarified Butter

Melt 225g (8oz) butter gently in a saucepan or in a Pyrex measure in a low oven 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Allow it to stand for a few minutes, then spoon the crusty white layer of salt particles off the top of the melted butter. Underneath this crust there is clear liquid butter which is called clarified butter. The milky liquid at the bottom can be discarded or used in a white sauce.

Clarified butter is excellent for cooking because it can withstand a higher temperature when the salt and milk particles are removed. It will keep covered in a refrigerator for several weeks.

Rachel’s Crumpets

Makes 12

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 organic or free-range egg

110ml (4fl oz) whole milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix.  Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat.  Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or chocolate spread. (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)

Mini Mee’s

Kids of all ages love these…they can be fancied up with raspberries, apple purée or Kumquat Compote and cream.

Makes 50 – 60, enough to have a real feast!

4 organic or free-range eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

25g (1oz) plain white flour

475ml (17fl oz) sour cream

2 – 3 tablespoons caster sugar

clarified butter or light oil

icing sugar for dusting

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender. Alternatively, put the eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the salt, sieved baking soda, flour, sour cream and sugar. Mix well.

Heat a frying pan until it is good and hot, add clarified butter to the pan and drop small spoonful’s of batter onto the pan – just enough to spread to an approximately 6cm (2 1/2 inch) round. When a few bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes flip them over and cook briefly.

Dust with icing sugar and enjoy.

Valentine’s Day

Brilliant – we’ve got through dreary January at last, celebrated St. Brigid’s Day and now it’s upwards and onwards and we’ve got St. Valentine’s Day just around the corner. Another excuse to paint the nails, pop on our glad rags and definitely a day to crack open a bottle of fizz.
 Doesn’t have to be Premier cru champagne, could be a prosecco or one of those sexy little Pet Nats that are all the rage.
There’s always a scramble for restaurant tables on the 14th of February but if you can’t snag a booking, don’t fret, you can always save up the treat for another night. Interestingly, this year several restaurants have told me that they are getting bookings for shared tables of 6 or 8 couple friends, wanting to celebrate and have fun together rather than whispering across a table for two…
However, for a celebratory experience, that’s truly special, nothing quite tops, a special home-cooked meal that’s designed to be delicious, comforting and chic.
Light the fire, lay the table and pop a few little flowers into a vase, you could go low-key or all out romantic with lots of cheesy hearts and red roses.
So, what will you cook?  Perhaps you already know your partner’s favourite dish, could be mac and cheese or even spaghetti Bolognese, which, according to Google, are among the top favourites for St. Valentine’s suppers.…!
It’s good to choose dishes, not too complicated that can be prepared ahead, finished off in a few minutes so you can serve the meal effortlessly and spend maximum time at the table rather than faffing around the cooker….
I know they are not everybody’s cup of tea but I love oysters, They are at their very best just now, plump and delicious, while there is still an R in the month plus they have a reputation for being an aphrodisiac…. It’s all that zingy zinc…..
Oysters are super easy to serve. I love them just as they are with a little squeeze of lemon juice, I’m not a fan of tabasco sauce with them but there are lots of good things to spoon onto oysters to enhance (or mask) the briny flavour, as you wish.
Here are two delicious options. Many people who don’t necessarily enjoy oysters au nature but love them when they are cooked. Here is the much-requested recipe for the Ballymaloe oysters with champagne sauce. This could be just the time to indulge, and the good news is the sauce can be prepared and the oysters opened ahead and kept in the fridge. Just pop under the grill to gratinate for a couple of minutes just before you serve them proudly with a flourish.
Some chaps love a juicy steak which sounds complicated to cook at the last minute, but actually you can slightly undercook a thick steak and leave it to rest on an upturned plate in a cool oven for 20 minutes or more. I love to serve it, thickly sliced over a bed of watercress or rocket leaves with lots of crispy potato wedges and a drizzle of Béarnaise sauce.
Alternatively, how about a tagine or a bubbly stew made several days ahead. It will just need to be heated up and popped into the centre of the table for sharing… It can also be a vegetarian or vegan version and all you’ll need is a little rice, couscous or potatoes depending on the dish. Better still, do a one pot version that includes the potatoes or pasta.
Shameless plug coming up…!  Check out Darina Allen is One Pot Feeds All for lots and lots of suggestions.
There are so many delicious romantic desserts, it might have to be something chocolatey… Alternatively, serve a kumquat compote with some unctuous vanilla bean ice cream and some little wood sorrel leaves from your walk in the woods…. and how about going all out with heart-shaped shortbread biscuits with a ‘subtle‘ message piped on top….cheesy but fun….
Here are a few options for you…

Ballymaloe Oysters with Champagne Sauce

Serves 2

8 rock or Japanese Oysters

Champagne Sauce

This sauce makes lots, but it is also excellent with baked fish, e.g. turbot, black sole and brill.

quarter bottle of Champagne or sparkling white wine

12g (1/2 oz) finely chopped shallot

2 large egg yolks

110g (4oz) of butter

150ml (5fl oz) whipped double cream

First make the champagne sauce.

Boil the champagne with the shallot, reducing to 1 tablespoon.  Remove from the heat and beat in the yolks.  Return to a very low heat and add the butter bit by bit as for Hollandaise sauce. When all the butter has melted, fold in the whipped cream.

Scrub the oysters well. 

Just before serving, put into a hot oven 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9 until they just start to open and release their juices. Using an oyster knife, remove and discard the top shell, place a little champagne sauce on top of each oyster and put under a hot grill until golden.  Serve immediately and garnish with frothy fennel and a lemon wedge.

Chargrilled Sirloin Steak with Crusty Potatoes and Béarnaise Sauce

An irresistible meal on a sharing plate, just tuck in and enjoy.

Serves 2

2 x 175g (6oz) sirloin or 1 rib steak 2 inch (5cm) thick

700g (1 1/2lbs) small potatoes

coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 bunches Rocket, watercress or mixed lettuces

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper

To prepare the steak, drizzle both sides with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the Béarnaise Sauce (see recipe).

Wash the potatoes, dry and rub with olive oil, (cut in half if large). Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the potatoes onto a baking sheet and roast at 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 until crusty and tender in the centre – about 35 minutes.

Put the rocket or watercress into a bowl. Mix the red wine vinegar with the olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange on a serving plate.

At the last minute, grill the steak over a charcoal fire or on a pan-grill, allow to relax for 5 minutes. Slice at an angle. Arrange the slices of steak over the salad and serve with Béarnaise Sauce.  Finally scatter on the potatoes.

* The flavour of chargrilled steak is wonderful, but an iron grill pan also gives a delicious result.

Béarnaise Sauce

The consistency of Béarnaise sauce should be considerably thicker than that of Hollandaise or Beurre Blanc, both of which ought to be a light coating consistency. If you do not have tarragon vinegar to hand, use a wine vinegar and add some extra chopped fresh French tarragon.

Serves 4–5

2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallots

pinch of freshly ground pepper

1 organic egg yolk

50g (2oz) butter

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped French tarragon leaves

Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a low sided, heavy-bottomed, stainless-steel saucepan until completely reduced and the pan is almost dry but not browned. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water immediately. Pull the pan off the heat and leave to cool for 1 or 2 minutes.

Using a coil whisk, whisk in the egg yolks and add the butter bit by bit over a very low heat, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece; it will gradually thicken. If it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally, add 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped French tarragon and taste for seasoning.

If the sauce is slow to thicken, it may be because you are excessively cautious, and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until all the butter is added and the sauce is a thick coating consistency. It is important to remember, however, that if you are making Béarnaise sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce!

Another good tip if you are making Béarnaise sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so that you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if it becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water or in a Thermos flask until you want to serve it.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes and Honey

This wonderful Moroccan dish, which Claudia Roden made for us when she was guest chef at the school, derives its name from the tomatoes in which it cooks (there are mountains of them that reduce to a thick sauce) and from the honey, which comes in at the end.
It makes enough for six but there’s always tomorrow and it will reheat deliciously. 

Serves 6

6 organic, free-range chicken legs

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onions, diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

a pinch of saffron threads

1.3kg (3lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or tinned chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons honey

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


50g (2oz) blanched almonds, skinned and toasted

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

a few sprigs of coriander

Separate the drumsticks from the thighs and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a wide 25cm (10 inch)/3.2-litre casserole and add the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for a minute or two, stirring, and then add the tomatoes and chicken pieces. Cover and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/4 hours until the chicken is meltingly tender.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Return the tomato sauce to the hob and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens – it should be concentrated and unctuous. The colour will darken somewhat. Stir regularly to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan as the sugar in the tomatoes begins to caramelise. Add the honey. Return the chicken to the casserole to heat through.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon to a hot serving dish, spoon over the sauce and garnish with the toasted almonds, sesame seeds and sprigs of fresh coriander.

Vegetable and Tofu Curry

You’ll love this curry, relished by everyone including vegetarians and vegans.  Even ardent curry haters can’t get enough of this deliciously spiced dish.  It’s also an excellent base for other additions such as chunks of cooked potato.

Serves 4 -6

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 – 2 chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped

zest of 1 organic lemon or 2 limes

110g (4oz) coriander leaves and stalks (coarsely chopped) plus extra to serve

60g (2 1/2oz) cashew nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

400ml (14fl oz) homemade vegetable stock

500g (18oz) pumpkin or sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

1 small cauliflower, weighing approx. 350g (12oz), broken into small florets

225g (8oz) firm tofu, cut into approx. 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

225g (8oz) chard, thinly sliced (use French beans in Summer)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

organic lemon or lime wedges, to serve

Combine the garlic, chilli, citrus zest, roughly chopped coriander leaves and stalks, cashew nuts, ginger, turmeric, cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt in a food processor and whizz to a chunky or smooth purée, depending on your preference.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the garlic and ginger purée and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring. Whisk in the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 8–10 minutes.

Add the chunks of sweet potato or pumpkin and return to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and tofu chunks and bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the chard and simmer for a further 3–4 minutes, uncovered, until all of the vegetables are cooked through.

Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze over a little lemon or lime juice, to taste. Sprinkle with lots of coriander and serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Little Chocolate Pots with Raspberries

How about a Valentine’s Day biscuit on the side…

Serves 2 plus 1 extra!

Chocolate Mousse

50g (2oz) good quality dark chocolate (we use 54% Callebaut)

50ml (2fl oz) cream

1 egg, separated

225-350g (8-12oz) fresh raspberries

whipped cream
fresh mint leaves

First, make the chocolate pots.

Chop the chocolate finely.  Bring the cream up to the boil, turn off the heat, add the chocolate to the cream and stir it around until the chocolate melts in the cream.  Add in the alcohol, if using, and whisk in the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites until just stiff, then stir in a quarter of the egg white, fold in the rest, gently, being careful not to knock all the air out.  Divide between 6 pots or espresso cups.
Cover and chill and allow to set for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.

To Serve
Pipe a rosette of softly whipped cream onto each mousse, arrange fresh raspberries on top and maybe a mint leaf.


Little Chocolate Pots with Raisins in Pedro Ximénez and Crème Fraîche


Pedro Ximénez

Follow the master recipe.

Warm some Pedro Ximénez or rum.  Pour over the raisins and allow to plump up and macerate.

Put the little pot or espresso cup on a small plate or saucer.  Spoon a generous teaspoon of boozy raisins on one side.
Place a blob of whipped cream on the other side, add a teaspoon and serve.

Valentine’s Day Biscuits

Stamp the dough into heart shapes but it can be used for all kinds of shapes, round, square, rectangles, teddy bears, animals, birds……

Makes 20-30

175g (6oz) plain white flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1/2 – 1 egg, free-range and organic

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Rub in the butter, add the caster sugar and mix well.  Beat the egg.  Mix the dry ingredients to a stiff dough with the beaten egg.

Turn out onto a floured board and roll out to a scant 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness.  Cut the biscuits with the cutter of your choice.  Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes depending on thickness.  Cool on a wire rack.

When cold, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

2 egg whites

2 teaspoons strained lemon juice

red food colouring or whatever you fancy…

Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl just until they begin to froth; then add the sieved icing sugar by the tablespoonful, beating well between each addition.  If you are making the icing in an electric mixer, use the lowest speed. When all the icing sugar has been incorporated, add the lemon juice.   Beat until the icing reaches stiff peaks; scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth until you are ready to use the icing.

The texture of the icing is important.  Fill some slightly stiffer icing into a piping bag with a fine writing nozzle, pipe a message on each biscuit or for a fancier finish, pipe an outline on the edge of each biscuit.  Then pipe some softer icing inside the lines to fill the centre (you’ll need a slightly larger nozzle).  Allow to set, then pipe the message on top in chosen coloured icing –  ‘Love You’; ‘Sorry’; ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Oops’…….

Season of Root Vegetables

Oh, this really is a tough time of the year for many , the month of reckoning after the Christmas splurge and all for what…. Can we even remember what we spent a lot of our hard-earned cash on or the presents we got….?
It’s an especially good time of the year to get creative in the kitchen, using inexpensive but deliciously satisfying ingredients in response to the cost-of-living crisis that’s spooking us all…
So back to basics… What’s in season at present, well of course the citrus fruits are at their very best but let’s think veg…
Once upon a time, root vegetables were our winter staples, they stored well at a time of the year when fresh fruit and vegetables were not so readily available.
Does anyone make a Root Pit anymore?
I remember when I was little, beetroot, carrots and Bramley apples were carefully stored for Winter in the garden in straw lined pits, covered with soil, a traditional way of preserving vegetables.
When I visited Faviken, the legendary 3 Star Michelin restaurant in Northern Sweden in the late 1990’s, Magnus Nielsen proudly showed me his root store beside the restaurant.
Well, one way or the other,  a wide range of root vegetables are now available in our shops and supermarkets. Try not to buy washed vegetables, they have less flavour and quite possibly,  less nutrients due to leaching as a result of the industrial washing process.
Think swede turnips, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, black radishes, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes… Of course, carrots are also a root vegetable but many of the carrots available at present are imported, partly because it’s becoming virtually impossible for Irish vegetable growers to stay in business because they’re not paid nearly enough to cover the cost of production…
We’re all losers in this race to the bottom. If this continues and sadly, I don’t see much reason to expect change any time soon there will be virtually no Irish vegetable grower left within a couple of years…
Seek out fresh produce from local producers.  Small local shops and farmers’ markets are the best place to source this kind of produce, packed with the vitamins and minerals we need to get us healthily throughout these winter months.
Back in the kitchen, spices and fresh herbs are your friend to perk up root vegetables but don’t just think savoury. Virtually all the roots  can be incorporated into sweet dishes too and are also brilliant to spin out a little meat or to bulk up a stew or casserole.
The other advantage of root vegetables is their keeping qualities, you can use half a Swede turnip and use the remainder a week later.
Best to store roots in a cool dark place and they don’t need to be in the fridge, a covered box in the garage is fine.
 So here are a few suggestions for delicious rooty recipes, both sweet and savoury.  I particularly loved a pot of Bodice and Roots that I made recently with a sheet of bacon spareribs from my local butcher that cost just €7 and made a fine supper for eight of us.
If you are in Cork city, go along to the butchers in the English market,  particularly Kathleen Noone’s & O’Reilly’s Stall to find a whole selection of less expensive traditional cuts of pork and bacon. skirts and kidneys, pig’s tails, tripe and drisheen,  fresh and salted ribs…. The latter are endearingly known as bodice in Cork… all are delicious with root vegetables even if it’s just a big bowl of carrots and parsnip mash with a blob of good butter melting into the centre….

Mary Jo’s Bodice with Root Vegetables

This recipe makes a great big comforting, tasty pot that will feed the entire family for a few Euros.

Serves 8

1 bodice (bacon ribs), cut in 8 pieces

1 medium onion, 150g (5oz) approx.., cut into 8 wedges

300g (10oz) carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

300g (10oz) parsnips, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

3/4 Swede turnip, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) chunks

a  sprig fresh thyme, bay leaf and 2-3

parsley stalks

10-12 peppercorns

4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut in half 

1 small or 1/2 medium cabbage, sliced


2-3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley

Cover the bodice in cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer

for 30-45 minutes before adding the onion, carrots, parsnips, swede turnip, sprig of thyme, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for a further 30 – 45 minutes,  then add the halved  potatoes. Continue to cook for a further 10 mins, add the cabbage and cook until fully tender.  It should be soupy.  Remove the sprig of thyme, parsley stalks and bay leaf.

Taste , correct the seasoning (it may need more salt depending on how salty the ribs are).  Scatter with lots of coarsely chopped parsley and serve with lots of butter and mustard… 

Venison and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew with Gremolata

There is lots of delicious venison around at present but a shoulder of lamb or goat (if you can get it) also works excellently in this recipe.

Serves 6

900g (2lbs) potatoes, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

250g (9oz) onions, sliced or roughly chopped

250g (9oz) leeks, sliced

3 cloves garlic

500g (18oz) artichokes, peeled and sliced crossways into 1cm (1/2 inch)

500g (18oz) carrots, peeled and sliced crossways into 1cm (1/2 inch)

1 teaspoon salt

900g (2lbs) venison or lamb shoulder cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) venison, lamb or chicken stock

1 sprig of thyme

To Serve

Gremolata (see recipe)

Season 900g (2lbs) potato cubes well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and crushed garlic, toss and add the carrots and Jerusalem artichokes.  Stir and cook for 4-5 minutes until just beginning to colour at the edges.  Transfer to a casserole.  Add the venison or lamb and toss in batches over a high heat.  Add to the casserole with the stock and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and continue to cook for 15-30 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are cooked (lamb cooks faster than venison). Remove the thyme and parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning and sprinkle with gremolata or just chopped parsley. 


Gremolata is a fresh tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. We use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious!

4 tablespoons preferably flat parsley, chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and use soon.

Swede Turnips with Caramelised Onions

Best in Winter and early Spring, a little frost sweetens the flesh.  Swede turnips are so versatile, brilliant value and take on lots of flavours.  The caramelised onions add a whole new dimension to the mashed swedes here.  Lots of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is another option. 

Serves 6 approximately.

900g (2lbs) swede turnips

salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

Caramelised Onions (see recipe)


finely chopped parsley

Peel the turnip thickly in order to remove the thick outside skin.  Cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes approx.  Put into a high sided saucepan.  Cover with water.  Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft – this can take between 45-60 minutes.  Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter.  Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt if necessary. Garnish with parsley, sprinkle with caramelised onions and serve piping hot.

Caramelised Onions

These keep for ages and are also a brilliant condiment to have in the fridge for another time.

450g (1lb) onions, thinly sliced

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Toss in the onions and cook uncovered over a low heat, scraping the base of the saucepan regularly with a wooden spoon for whatever length of time it takes for them to soften and caramelize to a rich golden brown, 30-45 minutes approx.

Roast Winter Vegetables

This gratin tastes different every time I make it. A versatile technique that can be vegetarian or vegan with added tofu, or you can include chunks of bacon or spicy sausage. Remember you don’t need all these vegetables, just three or four would be brilliant – gutsy winter herbs really add oomph! Substitute 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and maybe some smoked paprika for the herbs if desired.

This gratin tastes different every time I make it. A versatile technique that can be vegetarian or vegan with added tofu, or you can include chunks of bacon or spicy sausage. Remember you don’t need all these vegetables, just three or four would be brilliant – gutsy winter herbs really add oomph! Substitute 1 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and maybe some smoked paprika for the herbs if desired.

Serves 8

2kg (4 1/2lbs) winter vegetables of your choice from:

carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

parsnips, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

red or white onion, peeled and cut into wedges of quarters or sixths, depending on size

leeks, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) rounds

beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

celeriac, peeled and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tablespoons rosemary and/or thyme, freshly chopped

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Toss the prepared vegetables into the gratin dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs. Toss well so each chunk is lightly coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until the vegetables are fully cooked and starting to caramelize at the edges. Serve immediately.

Tuck in as soon as the roast vegetables come out of the oven, if they sit around in or out of the oven, they’ll quickly go soggy and you may wonder why you bothered.

Carrot and Cardamom Cake

Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is perfect for afternoon tea, but has also been much enjoyed for dessert. It will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight container.

Serves 8–10

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable or sunflower oil, plus extra for brushing

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

pinch of salt

2 large organic eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

55g (2 1/4oz) soft brown sugar

50ml (2fl oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) carrots, finely grated

10g (scant 1/2oz) pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh mint leaves

For the icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Brush a 20.5cm (8 inch) round springform cake tin with oil and pop a round of baking parchment in the base.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl. Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil together until smooth. Gently mix the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough strained lemon juice to make a thickish icing. Pour onto the top of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble down over the sides of the cake. Sprinkle the surface with coarsely chopped pistachio nuts and decorate with fresh mint leaves if available.

St. Brigid’s Day

Lá Fhéile Bríde is one of my favourite days of the year, a quintessentially Irish celebration.
It marks the  beginning of Spring, the season of hope when nature wakes up and begins to leap back into life and seed sowing begins.
This year, there’s even more reason to celebrate, because Ireland has declared a national holiday to honour our beloved female patron saint. At last St. Brigid has been elevated to her rightful place and has equal billing alongside Saint Patrick.
Saint Brigid‘s Day on February 1st also coincides with the start of the Celtic festival of Imbolc, one of the four major fire festivals of the year. The others in Irish folklore are Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
Imbolc which in old Neolithic language translates literally to ‘in the belly’, comes halfway between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox when the days begin to lengthen.
Depending on who or what you read, Saint Brigid is the patron saint of cattle farmers, dairymaids, beekeepers, midwives, babies, blacksmiths, sailors, boatmen, fugitives, poets, poultry farmers, scholars, travellers. For me, Brigid was the original feminist, a trailblazer,  a strong woman’s voice in a male dominated world, a feminine role model, a force to be reckoned with…..  she was one busy saint!
She is still widely venerated and many lovely traditions and rituals still endure around the country. Possibly best known is the tradition of weaving Saint Brigid’s crosses from rushes and reeds.
Brigid, we are told, was the founder of the first Irish Monastery in Kildare in the fifth century. According to legend, she was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain and while she watched over him, she bent down, picked up some rushes from the floor and began to weave a cross to explain the Christian story whereupon the chieftain was promptly converted to Christianity….
Her ability to intercede with God for special favours for the sick is legendary. There are still some fifteen holy wells around the country connected to Saint Brigid where the water is believed to have miraculous power to heal.
Just as the shamrock is associated with Saint Patrick, the little woven cross is forever associated with Saint Bridget.
Typically it has four arms with a woven square in the centre but three armed crosses are traditional in some counties according to Saint Brigid‘s cross maker ‘extraordinaire’, Patricia O’Flaherty whom I met a number of years ago at  the first annual Lá Fhéile Bríde celebration at the Irish Embassy in London. This inspired event initiated originally by the then, Irish ambassador, Adrian O’Neill, celebrated not just Saint Brigid but the achievements of Irish women around the globe.
On the invitation of the Ambassador O’ Neill, Patricia had travelled over from County Roscommon, clutching a bag of freshly cut rushes to demonstrate how to make the traditional Saint Brigid’s cross. I was intrigued to learn from her that originally all counties in Ireland had different patterns which sometimes even varied from parish to parish.
In 1961, the Saint Brigid‘s cross was chosen by the newly launched Teilifís Éireann as its logo and continued until 1995 when it was dropped in favour of ‘a clean striking piece of modern design’….. How lovely it would be to still incorporate Saint Brigid‘s cross proudly into the RTÉ logo….
Every year we like to show the Ballymaloe Cookery School students who come from all over the world how to make a Saint Brigid‘s cross. In the time honoured tradition, we hang a cross over the door of our little dairy to protect and bless our small herd of Jersey cows which produce the most delicious rich milk to make butter, cheese, yoghurt and buttermilk.
So in this column, to honour the memory of Saint Brigid, I thought it would be appropriate to feature recipes using ingredients from some of the many Irish women food producers, in particular the artisan farmhouse cheesemakers who too were pioneers on the Irish food scene…
Invite some friends around to celebrate Lá Fhéile Bridé.

Happy Saint Brigid‘s Day to one and all.

Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue

Cheese fondue is so retro but terrific fun.  Choose your seat carefully because if you drop the bread into the fondue you must kiss the person on our right – this could be your big chance!

Myrtle Allen devised this Cheese Fondue recipe made from Irish Cheddar cheese. A huge favourite at Ballymaloe.  Even though it’s a meal in itself it can be made in minutes and is loved by adults and children alike. A fondue set is obviously an advantage but not totally essential.

Serves 2 – perfect for a romantic supper (Valentine’s Day is coming up too!

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley

175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese, there are lots to choose from – Hegarty’s, Knockanore, Mossfield Organic…but why not choose Coolattin or Mount Leinster made by Tom Burgess near Tullow in Co. Carlow

To Serve

crusty white bread

Put the white wine and the rest of the ingredients into a fondue pot or small saucepan and stir. Just before serving, put over a low heat until the cheese melts and begins to bubble – a couple of minutes. Put the pot over the fondue stove and serve immediately.  Provide each guest with fresh bread or a rustic baguette crisped up in a hot oven.  They will also need a fondue fork and an ordinary fork.

Melted Gubbeen Cheese with Winter Herbs

Legendary Farmhouse cheesemaker, Giana Ferguson from Schull in West Cork gave me this little gem of a recipe, one of her irresistible recipes for easy entertaining.  Breda Maher’s Cooleeny from Co. Tipperary would be delicious here too.

Serves 6-8

1 baby Gubbeen, 450g (1lb) in weight, 11.5cm (4 ½ inch) in diameter

2 teaspoons approx. freshly chopped thyme

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves finely chopped

freshly ground pepper

parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut a square of parchment paper, approximately 30cm (12 inch). Split the cheese in half around the equator. Put the base onto the centre of the parchment paper, sprinkle the cut surface generously with freshly chopped herbs, chopped garlic and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Top with the other half of cheese. Gather up the edges but allow a little vent for the steam to escape. Bake in a moderate oven for 15-20 minutes or until soft and melting.

Cooleeney would be perfectly cooked in about 10 minutes.

Open the parcel. Lift off the rind and eat the soft herby melting cheese with lots of crusty bread, boiled potatoes and a green salad. Exquisite!

Ardsallagh or St. Tola’s Goat Cheese and Thyme Leaf Soufflé

Bake this soufflé until golden and puffy in a shallow oval dish instead of the traditional soufflé bowl; it makes a perfect lunch or supper dish.

Made by two iconic Irish cheesemakers, Jane Murphy from East Cork and Siobhán Ní Gháirbhith near Inagh just south of the Burren in Co. Clare.

Serves 6

75g (3oz) butter

40g (1 1/2 oz) flour

300ml (10fl oz) cream

300ml (10fl oz) milk

a few slices of carrot

sprig of thyme, a few parsley stalks and a little scrap of bay leaf

1 small onion, quartered

5 eggs free range organic, separated

110g (4oz) crumbled goat cheese, Ardsallagh  or St. Tola’s goat cheese

75g (3oz) Gruyére cheese

50g (2oz) mature Coolea farmhouse cheese, grated (Parmesan may also be used)

a good pinch of salt, cayenne, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves


thyme flowers if available

30cm (12 inch) shallow oval dish (not a soufflé dish) or 6 individual wide soup bowls with a rim

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with melted butter.

Put the cream and milk into a saucepan, add a few slices of carrot, a quartered onion, 4 or 5 peppercorns and the fresh herbs.  Bring slowly to the boil and allow to infuse for 10 minutes.   Strain and discard the flavourings, (we rinse them off and throw them into the stockpot if there is one on the go.)

Melt the butter, add the flour and cook for a minute or two.  Whisk in the strained cream and milk, bring to the boil and whisk until it thickens.   Cool slightly.   Add the egg yolks, goat cheese, grated Gruyére and most of the grated Coolea (or Parmesan if using.)  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.   Taste and correct seasoning. Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold them gently into the mixture to make a loose consistency.   Put the mixture into the prepared dish, scatter the thyme leaves on top and sprinkle with the remaining Coolea or Parmesan cheese. 

Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the sides and top are nicely puffed up and golden, the centre should still be creamy. Garnish with thyme flowers.

Serve immediately on warm plates with a good green salad.

A Salad of Cashel Blue Cheese with Chargrilled Pears and Spiced Candied Nuts

Cashel Blue is the original Irish blue cheese made by Jane and Louis Grubb near Fethard in Co. Tipperary but other mild blue cheese like Crozier may also be used.

Serves 8

A selection of salad leaves.  If possible, it should include curly endive and watercress.

Spice Candied Nuts

75g (3oz) sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

a pinch of  freshly ground star anise

100g (3 1/2oz) walnut halves


2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, we use Mani or extra virgin organic olive oil from Greece

salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 ripe pears depending on size (Bartlet or Anjou)

ripe Cashel Blue Cheese


chervil sprigs

Gently wash and carefully dry the lettuce.  Put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast them for 4 or 5 minutes just until they smell rich and nutty. Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the spices.  Spread over the base of a frying pan in an even layer.  Scatter the walnut halves on top.  Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and stars to colour.  Carefully rotate the pan until the walnuts are completely coated with the amber coloured spicy caramel.  Turn out onto a silpat mat or silicone paper or an oil baking tray.  Allow to cool and harden.  (Store in an airtight container until later if necessary). 

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, pour into a jam jar, cover and store until needed.

Heat a grill-pan on a high flame.  Peel, quarter and core the pears.  Toss in a little sunflower oil, grill on both sides and then on the rounded side.  

To Serve

Cut the cheese into cubes or small wedges.  Sprinkle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss gently until the leaves glisten.  Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. 

Divide the salad between the plates making a little mound in the centre.  Slice each chargrilled pear in half lengthwise and tuck 3 pieces in between the leaves.  Scatter with a few cubes of Cashel Blue and some spice candied walnuts.  Sprinkle with a few sprigs of chervil and serve.

Durrus with Kumquats and Rocket Leaves

Durrus is a beautiful, washed rind cheese made since 1979 by one of the original Irish farmhouse cheesemakers, Jeffa Gill on her hillside farm in Coomkeen in West Cork.

The combination of the Durrus, freshly dressed leaves and kumquat compote is irresistible.  Serve it with homemade crackers or simple cheese biscuits – Sheridan’s or Carr’s water biscuits. 

Serves 4-6 as a starter

1 ripe Durrus

4 handfuls of fresh rocket or watercress leaves

4-6 tablespoons kumquat compote


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

freshly ground black pepper

flaky sea salt

Cut the cheese into wedges.

Just before serving, whisk the ingredients for the dressing together.  Toss the leaves with just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten.

Arrange a fistful of leaves on a large white plate, add 3 or 4 wedges of beautiful ripe Durrus, a tablespoon of kumquat compote and a few fresh crackers.

Simple but delicious. 

Kumquat Compote

A gem of a recipe, this compote can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz/1 cup) water

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) sugar

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.  If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.


What is it about cabbage that so many people are sniffy about? Even in winter when it’s at its very best, it seems to rank even lower than potatoes on the popularity scales.
I ADORE cabbage in all its forms, despite the best efforts of my boarding school to put me off cabbage for life…
For me, cabbage ticks all the boxes, lots of different varieties from crinkly Savoy to pointy Hispi and January King… There’s green, red and white cabbage, Chinese cabbage and drumhead for coleslaw….  Inexpensive, yet packed with vitamins and minerals. What’s not to like about a lovely head of cabbage that provides us with so many options…
Cabbage is revered in many countries.  Where would the Germans be without cabbage for sauerkraut? In Romania, there’s a Cabbage Festival in Mosna over the first weekend in October. It takes place in the centre of the charming Saxon village and is an opportunity to taste a variety of traditional cabbage recipes.
 I’ll never forget the sweet juicy Romanian cabbage salad I ate in Mosna a number of years ago which makes me long to return to Transylvania. Can you imagine longing to get back to a country because of the flavour of cabbage…!
And then there is the beloved, veggie vendor, Cabbage Man in the animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender streaming on Netflix. Perhaps he will be the one to make people lust after cabbage once again.
I have a particular ‘yen’ for cabbage for a variety of reasons,  not least because when I cooked shredded cabbage quickly in melted butter with a sprinkling of water on my first Simply Delicious cooking series, it caused a sensation… The method was a revelation for the many cooks who hadn’t ever thought of cooking cabbage in any way, other than in a large pot of water for a long time…
So, you can be famous for just one thing, could be your cabbage!
More recently, we’ve discovered how delicious roast cabbage can be with crispy charred edges. Couldn’t be easier,  just cut in wedges, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil., season all over with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and maybe a few chilli flakes. Roast in a hot oven to 220˚C/425˚F until tender inside, turning occasionally to brown evenly.
We’ve got lots of cabbage salad recipes, try this one, I love the sweetness of the sultanas and the freshness of the dill and then there’s the crunch of the roasted almonds…
Cabbage rolls take a little more effort to make but they are so comforting and delicious, try these,  They have an Asian as opposed to a Transylvanian flavour which I also love.
And how about making your own sauerkraut… It’s really, really easy to do and will open up a whole new world and greatly enhance your gut biome which as you know impacts both and on our physical and mental health.
Cabbage is also the main ingredient in kimchi but it’s better to use Chinese cabbage for that so in this column we will focus on ordinary cabbage…
Cabbage, cooked to melting tenderness in bacon water, is just wonderful folded or beaten into soft potato mash to make one of our most delicious traditional dishes, colcannon. It also makes a delicious soup which always surprises and then converts the most ardent cabbage haters…

Penny Allen’s Ballymaloe Basic Sauerkraut

At its most basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice.  It has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content. 

800g (1 3/4lb) of cabbage


600g (1 1/4lbs) of cabbage plus

200g (7oz) of mixture of any of the following: grated carrot, turnip, celeriac, onion

3 level teaspoons sea salt

1 x 1 litre Kilner jar or similar

Small jar to act as a weight inside the lid of the 1 litre jar

Wash the cabbage if it’s muddy. Take off any damaged outside leaves. Quarter the cabbage, core it and then finely shred each quarter.

Mix the cabbage and the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using your hands, scrunch cabbage and other vegetables with the salt until you begin to feel the juices being released.  Continue for a few minutes. Pack a little at a time you’re your Kilner jar and press down hard using your fist – this packs the kraut tight and helps force more water out of the vegetables.  Fill the Jar about 80% full to leave room for liquid that will come out of the vegetables as it starts to ferment.

Place a clean weight on top of cabbage (a small jar works well).  This weight is to keep the vegetables submerged under the brine. This is the most important thing to get your ferment off to the right start. (Under the brine, all will be fine!)

Sit the jar on a plate just in case some brine escapes while it is fermenting.  Place on a countertop to ferment at room temperature for at least 3 weeks and up to 6 weeks.  As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well.  It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time. Once you have opened it, it’s best to keep it in the fridge where it will last for months.

Buttered Cabbage

The flavour of this quickly cooked cabbage has been a revelation for many and has converted numerous determined cabbage haters back to Ireland’s national vegetable.

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) fresh Savoy cabbage

25g (1oz) butter or more if you like

salt and freshly ground pepper

a knob of butter

Remove the tough outer leaves and divide the cabbage into four. Cut out the stalks and then cut each section into fine shreds across the grain. Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and the knob of butter. Serve immediately.

Riffs on Buttered Cabbage

Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

Add 1-2 tablespoons of caraway seeds to the cabbage and toss constantly as above.

Cabbage with Crispy Bacon

Fry 2-3 streaky rashers in a little oil while the cabbage cooks, then cut into strips and add to the cabbage at the end.

Emily’s Cabbage

Add 3 teaspoons or more of fresh thyme leaves.

Cabbage with Sichuan Peppercorns

Add 1 teaspoon of highly crushed Sichuan peppercorns to taste.

Charred Cabbage with Katuobushi

If you haven’t got katuobushi, just serve the charred cabbage without, it’ll still be delicious.

Charred cabbage is a revelation, who knew that cooking cabbage in this way could taste so delicious and lift this humble vegetable into a whole new cheffy world. Lots of sauces and dressings work well with charred cabbage but I love this combination.  Katuobushi are shaved bonita flakes. Bonita is a type of tuna. Buy some – you’ll soon be addicted and find lots of ways to use it up.  Delicious either as a starter or as a side.

Serves 6

1 medium sized cabbage

1 tablespoon light olive oil or a neutral oil

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

Katuobushi flakes (optional)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the cabbage. Cut into quarters or sixths depending on the size.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 4.

Heat a cast iron pan, add a little oil, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Lay the cabbage wedges cut side down on the pan, cook on a medium heat until well seared on both cut surfaces, add butter to the pan. When the butter melts and becomes ‘noisette’, spoon the melted butter over the cabbage several times. Sprinkle with sea salt, cover and continue to cook, basting regularly for about 10 minutes.  Test with a cake skewer or the tip of a knife close to the stalk to make sure it’s tender through.

Add some Katuobushi flakes (if using) to the butter and baste again. Transfer to a serving platter or individual serving plates. Sprinkle some more Katuobushi flakes over the top and serve immediately. 


In Ireland all cultures that have cabbage and potatoes put them together in some form. In Ireland we have colcannon, in England Bubble and Squeak but the Scottish version is called Rumbledethumps.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) freshly mashed potatoes

225g (8oz)  kale or spring cabbage, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped spring onion

150ml (5fl oz) cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper

butter (optional)

Cook the cabbage in a little boiling salted water, drain well. If cooking kale, cook in a large pan of boiling salted water (6 pints water to 3 teaspoon salt).

Put the cream into a large pot with the spring onion, bring slowly to the boil, add the potatoes and freshly cooked cabbage.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes.  To taste, you could add a lump of butter if you like – the Scots do!

Scrunched Cabbage Salad with Sultanas, Roasted Almonds and Dill

We use the same massaging technique here as I use for kale salad with deliciously juicy results.

250g (9oz) green cabbage, tough outer leaves discarded

1 teaspoon approx. salt

1 scallion, thinly sliced

5g picked dill (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

1/2 clove garlic, finely grated

1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar (more if needed)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

40g (1 1/2oz) sultanas

40g (1 1/2oz) almonds, chopped coarsely

If necessary, remove the outer leaves and use for crispy seaweed.  Cut the cabbage in quarters through the core.  Discard the core and any very tough ribs.  Separate the leaves and tear or cut into 5-7.5cm (2-3 inch) pieces.  Put into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and toss.  Allow to sit until it feels wet (a couple of minutes), then massage the leaves until they’re very tender and juicy, 1-2 minutes.  The leaves will look glossy and slightly translucent.  Drain off the liquid. 

Add the sliced scallions (reserve some for garnish), dill sprigs, lemon juice, sugar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Add the sultanas and toss thoroughly to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add more sugar if necessary.  Transfer to a serving dish and set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan over a medium heat.  Add the coarsely unskinned almonds and stir until beginning to colour, about 2 minutes.  Spoon over the salad and serve. 

Crispy Cabbage aka Crispy Seaweed

A bit confusing but this is what Chinese restaurants serve as ‘crispy seaweed’.

Savoy cabbage



oil for frying

Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, remove the stalks, roll the dry leaves into a cigar shape and slice into the thinnest possible shreds with a very sharp knife. 

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 180˚C/350˚F.

Toss in some cabbage and cook for just a few seconds.  As soon as it starts to crisp, remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar.  Toss and serve as a garnish on Cabbage Soup or just nibble, it’s quite addictive – worse than peanuts or popcorn!


Superfood always sounds like a gimmicky marketing term for an often-exotic food or indeed a drink that purports to have exceptional nutritional benefits.  Think goji berries, moringa, chaga mushrooms, maqui berries, tiger nuts…

Seems to change every year but we don’t need to search across the globe, we’ve got lots of superfoods right here in Ireland that will add pep to our step on a daily basis.

Kale is indeed loaded with vitamins, minerals and trace elements but so is a humble Savoy cabbage and all of the broccoli, Romanesco and the greater brassica family.  That is, provided it’s super fresh and chemical-free. Freshness really matters – the nutrient content of vegetables and fruit, not to mention the flavour starts to tick away from the moment it’s harvested. 

Home gardeners will be well aware of this, another reason to redouble your efforts to grow at least some of your own superfood during 2023. 

Now is the time to make a plan around the fire on these dark evenings – maybe start a gardening club with your friends, agree to share and enjoy the delicious results of your labour.

Meanwhile, go out of your way to get to a Farmers’ Market and buy directly from a grower like Caroline Robinson in the Coal Quay Market in Cork on Saturday morning.  Caroline will have a seasonal selection of vegetables full of flavour and vitality that will have you bouncing with energy. Check out your local area for similar treasures…

Don’t waste a scrap of the leaves or stalks, use every delicious morsel.  This is superfood, real health-giving food that will nourish not only your body and mind, but will improve both your physical and mental health and also nourish your soul…

Make no mistake, a bag of organically grown potatoes, a few home-grown onions (the difference in flavour and texture is considerable) or a few handsome leeks are all superfoods.  Make sure to use all the green leaves – they are packed with flavour, but they don’t even make it to the supermarket shelves. 

Concentrate on trying to source as much real food as you can, the sort that doesn’t have a label with a sell-by date and a long list of ingredients.  Then eat and/ or cook it ASAP.  Remember, the sooner you enjoy it, the better it will taste. 

Broccoli is a case in point.  Pick it, cook it simply, in boiling, well-salted water for a couple of minutes, toss in a nice dollop of good Irish butter, the whole family will be blown away but try tempting the kids with week old broccoli (average age of commercial vegetables on shelf with a few exceptions) and watch the reaction, it even smells remarkably different. 

Seaweeds are definitely superfoods… Here in Ireland, we have over 600 around our coasts, all are edible though some are not worth eating.  Several companies are drying and processing seaweed that can be used as sprinkles over salads or added to a white soda bread or mashed potato. 

Knowledgeable foragers can collect their own on a walk along the seashore.  Harvest sustainably, snipping only what you need off the rocks for your own use and be careful to leave the holdfast attached so it will continue to grow.

Carrageen moss is one of my enduring superfoods – it’s easy to source, dried in health food shops and incredibly inexpensive considering the nutritional value.  Try this recipe – if you don’t have sweet geranium, it will still be delicious without it.

Finally…foraged foods. Let this be the year when you learn how to identify edible foods in the wild and when you start to incorporate foraged foods into your diet.  They have their full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements and will hugely boost your immune system but once again, harvest wild food from chemical-free pastures, ditches and hedgerows.  Bittercress is at its best at present as is watercress – add them to your Winter salads or soup.  Be sure the water is clean and constantly flowing… 

Alexanders are just coming into season and rock samphire is also in prime condition…. 

Have fun and once again, Happy New Year to all our readers. 

My Favourite Scary Green Juice

Do make this, it’s super delicious and a mega boost of vitamins.  Try to use all organic ingredients.

Makes 450ml (15fl oz)

40g (1 1/2oz) curly kale, weigh after stalks are removed

10g (1/2oz) coriander leaves

10g (1/2oz) flat parsley

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon honey

600ml (1 pint) apple juice

Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender and enjoy.

Potato, Mushroom and Leek Gratin

A simple gratin that all the family will love.  It’s a gorgeous combination – the leeks don’t need to be fully cooked before adding to this gratin. If you have a few wild mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this. If you can find flat ones, all the better. This is also delicious without the leeks and terrifically good with a pan-grilled lamb chop, a steak or as part of a roast dinner.

Serves 8 – 10

25g (1oz) butter, plus extra for greasing

350g (12oz) leeks (prepared weight), sliced into 5mm (1/4 inch) rounds

1kg (2 1/4lb) ‘old’ potatoes, such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks, sliced into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

300g (10oz) mushrooms, such as button, chestnut or flat mushrooms, or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake, and enoki, sliced

350ml (12fl oz) single cream

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) or mature Cheddar cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter in a heavy casserole; when it foams, add the sliced leeks and toss gently to coat with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with baking parchment and a close-fitting lid. Reduce the heat and cook very gently for 3 – 4 minutes or until semi-soft and moist. Turn off the heat and leave to cook in the residual heat. (The leeks can also be cooked in the oven at 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 – 12 minutes if that is more convenient.) Leeks cooked in this way are delicious as a vegetable on their own.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potato slices to the boiling water. As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes. Refresh under cold water. Drain again and arrange on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.

Grease a shallow 25.5 x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch) gratin dish or two 12.5 x 19.5cm (5 x 7 1/2 inch) gratin dishes generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over the top. Arrange

half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish(es) and season with salt and pepper. Spread a layer of half-cooked leeks on top.

Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes. (The gratin dish should be full to the top.)

Bring the cream almost to boiling point and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 1 hour until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.

Quinoa, Sweet Potato and Watercress Salad  

Superfoods, one and all – a meal in itself.  This salad is delicious on its own but I love it with roast duck. Pumpkin or butternut squash or a mixture can be substituted for the sweet potato. Other sweet vegetables and roast peppers can also be used. Chickpeas or beans are another gorgeous addition.

Serves 6-8

2 large, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 medium onions, peeled and quartered

225g (8oz) red or brown quinoa

350ml (12fl oz) cold water

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

6 – 8 handfuls of watercress sprigs

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Asian Vinaigrette

juice and zest of 2 organic limes

same volume of extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)

5 spring onions or lots of chives, finely chopped

lots of chopped basil or coriander

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Peel the sweet potato (and deseed the squash or pumpkin if using) and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes. Mix the spices with the extra virgin olive oil, toss the vegetables and spread out in an ovenproof sauté pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 – 25 minutes until golden and nicely caramelised at the edges. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water for 2 – 3 minutes to remove the natural bitter coating. Place it in the sauté pan with the cold water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to very low and cook covered for 12 minutes until the grain is tender. Remove from the heat, leave the lid on and set aside for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette.

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

To serve, put the cooled quinoa, roast vegetables and toasted seeds in a bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, toss well. Season to taste. Pile onto a base of watercress sprigs and serve.

Penny’s Cabbage and Fennel Salad

This delicious recipe was given to me by my daughter-in-law Penny.  I sometimes add a fistful of plump sultanas but it’s irresistible as it is.

Serves 4

1/2 Savoy cabbage, finely shredded

1 fennel bulb, finely shredded

2 – 4 tablespoons fresh herbs – parsley, chives, mint, finely chopped


2 tablespoons Forum white wine vinegar

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 heaped teaspoon grain mustard

1 large clove of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon honey

Maldon Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the salad.

Cut the cabbage in half, remove the core and slice very thinly across the grain, put into a roomy serving bowl. Add the finely shredded fennel bulb and the freshly chopped herbs and toss, taste and correct the seasoning. 

To make the vinaigrette.

Mix all the ingredients together in a jam jar and shake well before use.

To Serve

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the cabbage, fennel and herbs and mix gently.  Serve immediately.

How to Cook Green Broccoli, Calabrese or Romanesco

The secret of real flavour in broccoli, as in so many other green vegetables, is not just freshness, it needs to be cooked in well-salted water.  If you grow your own, cut out the central head but leave the plant intact, and very soon you’ll have lots of smaller florets.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) sprouting broccoli (green, purple or white), romanesco or calabrese

600ml (1 pint) water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Butter or extra virgin olive oil

lots of freshly ground pepper

Peel the stems of a broccoli head with a knife or potato peeler, cut off the stalk close to the head and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces.  If the heads are large, divide the florets into small clusters.

Add the salt to the water, bring to a fast boil, first add the stalks and then the florets, and cook uncovered at a rolling boil for 5-6 minutes.  Drain off the water while the broccoli still has a bite.

Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.

Better still, melt a little butter in a saucepan until it foams, toss the broccoli gently in it, season to taste and serve immediately.

Broccoli can be blanched and refreshed earlier in the day and then reheated in a saucepan of boiling salted water for just a few seconds just before serving.

Cooked Alexanders

This simple way of cooking alexanders can be the basis of several other recipes.  Alexanders grow in profusion along the cliffs, roadside and hedges near the sea in the south of Ireland.  Enjoy for the next couple of months before it flowers from late March to June, depending on the weather.  The flavour is delicate and delicious, in fact, the taste is slightly like sea kale.   

Serves 4–6

700g (1 1⁄2lb) Alexander stalks (cut close to the ground for maximum length)

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons salt

butter or extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

Cut the stems into 4 – 5cm (1 1/2 – 2 inch) lengths and peel off the thin outer skin as you would rhubarb. Cook in boiling salted water for 6 – 8 minutes or until a knife will pierce a stem easily. Drain well, then toss in a little melted butter or extra virgin olive oil and lots of freshly ground pepper.


Cook as above, drain and transfer to a gratin dish. Coat with a rich Mornay Sauce and top with a mixture of grated Cheddar cheese and buttered crumbs.

Carrageen Moss Pudding with Sweet Geranium

Many people have less than fond memories of Carrageen Moss, partly because so many recipes call for far too much carrageen. It is a very strong natural gelatine so the trick is to use little enough. Because it is so light it is difficult to weigh, we use just enough to fit in my closed fist, a scant 7g. 

This recipe given to me by Myrtle Allen is by far the most delicious I know. Nowadays more chefs are using carrageen, but often they add stronger flavours such as treacle or rosewater, which tend to mask the delicate flavour of the carrageen itself. Carrageen Moss is served on the dessert trolley at Ballymaloe House every evening.

Serves 6 – 8

7g cleaned, well dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)

900ml (1 1/2 pints) whole (full fat) milk (we use our own Jersey milk)

8 medium leaves of sweet geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

1 large egg, preferably free-range

1 tablespoon caster sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar

6 – 8 frosted sweet geranium leaves

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen and sweet geranium into a saucepan with the milk. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point, and not before, separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl. Add the sugar and whisk together for a few seconds. Pour the milk, carrageen and sweet geranium through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub most of this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the liquid. Test for a set on a cold saucer: put it in the fridge and it should set in a couple of minutes. Rub a little more jelly through the strainer if necessary. Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Leave to cool. Refrigerate. 

Serve chilled with softly whipped cream, soft brown sugar and frosted sweet geranium leaves.


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