Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Potatoes

Potatoes…what’s not to like…

A couple of weeks ago the World Potato Congress was held in Dublin hosted by the Irish Potato Federation. It was the first to be held in Ireland, despite our long, complicated and tragic relationship with the potato.

The startling news from the congress was the Irish government report that there had been a 25% drop in the consumption of potatoes in Ireland over the past 10 years. I’m saddened but not surprised…

It is of course, partly due to the growing popularity of other foods, pasta, grains, rice, couscous and the perception that potatoes are fattening.

However, good to remember that potatoes are, to quote a much-overused word, a Super Food, super nutritious, and super versatile. My personal veggie hero, definitely a desert island staple.

Don’t we all know that the humble spud can be cooked in a million different ways – boiled, sautéed, roast, steamed, fried, layered up in gratin, added to stews, tagines, casseroles…They can be dressed up or down, used to spin out other dishes. An intrinsic part of  vegetarian and vegan diets…full of goodness.

However not all potatoes are flavour packed so when you find varieties like Home Guard, British Queen, Sharp’s Express or Charlotte, snap them up.

They are all ‘earlies’ and so delicious that you just want to boil and eat them with lots of good butter and flaky sea salt…one of the highlights of the year for me is digging the first new potatoes and making a wish that we’ll all be as well this time next year.

Here on the farm at the cookery school, we grow a small quantity of organic blight resistant varieties including Premier, Solist, Alouette, Carolus, Agri and Vitabella.

Nonetheless, the perception that potatoes are a diet disrupter,a fiddle to prepare and take much longer to cook doesn’t help their popularity. I personally prefer to buy freshly dug potatoes and give them a quick scrub. Strange as it may seem, they will have much more flavour and keep better.

A few little tips.

For maximum flavour, boil them in their jackets, add plenty of salt to the water- this really soups up the taste…Sea water is even better.

Resist the temptation to soak them. Instead, if you want to get ahead for Roasties, (peel, save the peel to make the potato skin crisps).  Dry them well, toss in extra virgin oil, pop them into a bag in the fridge till needed. They won’t discolour and will keep their flavour, roasties are even better when cooked in duck fat, dripping or lard but I also love smashed potatoes, all crusty on the outside and squishy inside.

Great for a barbeque too.

I am also loving this potato crisp frittata, based on a recipe from Home Cooking with Ferran Adriá.  I have added some parsley and a little tarragon but the original without herbs is also delicious(annual marjoram would also be a tasty substitute).

We also love crispy potatoes with labneh and fresh herbs or just wedges with Aioli, a delicious and satisfying way to get kids to eat potatoes. A filling, wholesome, super chic- supper for just a few cents.

After all that, tell me what’s not to like about potatoes but do go out of your way to find organic or chemical free tubers, otherwise they may have been sprayed multiple times, and have had a dose of glyphosate as a desiccant just before harvesting…

Seek out a local grower on NeighbourFood or buy directly from a Farmers Market stall.

Potato Crisp Tortilla

You’re all going to love this simple tortilla.  Of course it’s delicious warm but also brilliant picnic food or for school or office lunch.  Serve little bites to nibble with drinks.

Serves 4

6 large eggs

75g (3oz) potato crisps

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, for serving

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon tarragon, chopped (or annual marjoram)

1 x 15cm (6 inch) pan

Whisk the egg really well.   Add salt and freshly ground black pepper and the chopped herbs. 

Heat the pan over a medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and swirl around the pan.  Add the potato crisps, toss and allow to soak for a minute or two.  Pour in the egg mixture, loosen around the edge and allow to cook gently for 4-6 minutes.

Cover with a lid or an upside-down plate.  Gently flip the tortilla onto the plate.  Add another tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the pan, then slide the tortilla back into the pan, uncooked side downwards.  Continue to cook over the medium heat for 2 minutes, then slide the tortilla onto a warm plate and serve with a salad of organic leaves – delicious.

Good to know…double the quantity of ingredients and use a 25cm (10 inch) pan to serve 6 or 8 hungry guests.

Crispy Potatoes with Labneh and Soft Herbs

Another chic way to use up boiled potato.  The combination of crispy potato, soft creamy labneh and fresh herbs is mind blowing…yet inexpensive. 

Serves 4-6

900g (2lb) cooked boiled potatoes

450g (1lb) soft labneh (dripped natural yoghurt)

150ml (5fl oz) softly whipped cream

fresh herbs – sprigs of chervil, tarragon, flat parsley and chives

Peel and cut the potato into approximately 2.5cm (1 inch) square chunks.

Heat oil or beef dripping in a deep-fry to 200°C – cook the potatoes in batches until really crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.

Fold the cream into the labneh and loosen with a few tablespoons of whey if too thick. It should be the consistency of softly whipped cream.

Serve the crisp potatoes immediately in wide bowls with a few dollops of labneh and a generous handful of soft fresh herb sprigs on top.

Note: New Potatoes do not need to be peeled

Potato Wedges with many riffs

These are my grandchildren’s favourite kind of roasties. They particularly love all the crusty skin and enjoy dipping them.

Serves 4-6

6 large preferably ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pinks

olive oil or beef dripping (unless for vegetarians)-duck or goose fat are also delicious

sea salt

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

Scrub the potatoes well, cut into quarters lengthways or cut into thick rounds 2cm (3/4 inch) approx.   Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and toss so they are barely coated with olive oil.   Roast in a preheated oven for 30-45 minutes depending on size. 

Sprinkle with sea salt and serve in a hot terracotta dish.

Cheesy Potato Wedges

When almost cooked, sprinkle 110-175g (4-6oz) grated Cheddar cheese or a mixture of Cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyère generously over the potatoes. Pop back into the hot oven or under a hot grill for 5 to 6 minutes until the cheese has melted.  Serve ASAP.

Rustic Roasties with Aioli (Garlic Mayo)

Add 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic and 2-3 teaspoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley to 225g (8oz) of homemade mayonnaise and season to taste and serve as a dip with freshly cooked wedges. 

Potato Wedges with Sweet Chilli Sauce and Sour Cream

When the roasties are crisp and golden.  Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.  Season with flaky sea salt.

Serve immediately in a deep bowl with a little bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.

Toby’s Smashed Potatoes

My son Toby also cooks these on the BBQ, the contrast of crisp edges and soft centre is irresistible.  Great as a side but also pretty irresistible to munch on as a snack.  Best made with freshly cooked potatoes but a brilliant way to revitalise leftover boiled potatoes.  I sometimes sprinkle the crunchy smashed potatoes with  chopped chives and a grating of Parmesan or Coolea cheese.

small to medium sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional – freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander…

Boil the freshly scrubbed potato in well salted boiling water until almost fully cooked.

Drain, allow to dry off for a couple of minutes.

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

Brush a roasting tin or baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil.  Distribute the potatoes evenly in a single layer over the base.  Use a potato masher or a fork to crush each one to a height of about 1cm (1/2 inch) – we’re not talking neat, the more knobbly, the better. 

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  They’ll be delicious roasted until golden, 20-25 minutes but of course one can also sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary, thyme leaves, smoked paprika, a few chilli flakes, freshly ground cumin or coriander…

Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and serve. 

Cookbooks: Hot Fat and Breadsong

Two new cookbooks this week, one arrived on my desk by snail mail which I love.

I still greatly enjoy the excitement of opening my post and there it was, provocatively entitled Hot Fat.

The other, more whimsically named Breadsong was written by father and daughter duo Kitty and Al Tait.

On our recent UK adventure, I detoured over 100 miles to buy this book at source…and to get it signed by the indomitable Kitty…

It’s the story of the Orange Bakery in Watlington, reputedly England’s smallest town with a market building dating to the 15th century.

Watlington has a famous history that goes right back to the 6th century but this sleepy little town is more well-known nowadays for the tiny Orange Bakery on the High Street.

If you arrive before 10.30 a.m.  you will most likely see a queue snaking up along the street.

Arrive as we did by 11.10AM and you would be lucky to find anything to buy…We were fortunate to get one croissant, one cinnamon bun and half a loaf of porridge bread…and delicious they were…

I accidently came across the Orange Bakery on Instagram, loved the bread but was also intrigued by the story of this 14-year-old, red-haired baker…A bit of backstory – Kitty was bouncing with the joys of life until she became totally overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. She gradually withdrew from the world – every parent’s worst nightmare.

One thing led to another and after a few whirlwind months, Kitty and her Dad opened the tiny  Orange bakery which among other things helped to feed the local community during the pandemic.

Breadsong is an enchanting book, a cross between a cookbook that celebrates the magic of baking and a brave, intimate, courageous memoir which for me was ‘unputdownable’.

I quote – ‘‘If you told me at 14, when  I couldn’t even get out of bed with depression and anxiety that 3 years later, I would have written a book, I would never have believed you. But here it is –the story of the Orange Bakery. How I went from bed to bread and how my dad went from being a teacher to a baker. You reading it means everything to me’’ Kitty Tait.

Bread making worked its magic and for us it was a joy to meet Kitty and her Dad and their whole joyful team whom Watlington has taken to their hearts. I have invited them to come to Ballymaloe Cookery School to teach a bread class in the future so I will keep you posted…

This is the very best kind of book to get an enthusiastic amateur started because Kitty and Al learned from scratch, gradually honing and perfecting their bread making skills by constantly testing and retesting the recipes. 
They also take the mystery out of making your very own sourdough starter and share the magic of bread making…

Breadsong is published by Bloomsbury Publishingwww.bloomsbury.com

The other book Hot Fat is the second in a series of small books from Ireland’s newest publisher, 9 Bean Row Books.

This one is co-written by Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon (fried-food aficionados) aka The GastroGays.

They are absolutely obsessed with anything that can be put in a deep fryer or a pot of dripping and aren’t we all…It’s a fantastic little book but in the words of Oscar Wilde‘ Everything in moderation including moderation’.

Sounds counter intuitive considering the devastating impact we know that too much greasy fried food has on our health and waistlines. But fried food doesn’t have to be greasy or unhealthy. So much better to cook your own hand cut potato chips in top quality oil or fat than opt for the easy alternative… A couple of potatoes will also make a ton of delicious crisps at a fraction of the cost… 

Russell and Patrick answer all the pertinent questions re types of frying fats, changing the oil, how to get the crispiest crust, best batter…

How about Ginger beer onion rings, black pudding scotch eggs, fish fillet burgers and a brilliant version of Ireland No. 1 favourite  takeaway, the Spice bag. It’s all there + donuts and deep-fried ice cream and much, much more besides in this deliciously irreverent but deadly serious little book that packs quite a punch. Love the funky design and Nicky Hooper’s illustrations also…

Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books – www.blastabooks.com

Tempura Oysters

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
That shatteringly crisp tempura is truly something special when it comes to frying. The key here is using something carbonated and keeping it freezing cold, so we opt for sparkling water and keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before using.

*Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit that’s something like a cross between a lemon, a grapefruit and a mandarin. Stirring the juice into a standard mayonnaise adds a whole other dimension, especially good when paired with seafood.

Serves 4-6 as a snack

sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
40g (1 1/2oz) plain flour
40g (1 1/2oz) rice flour
40g (1 1/2oz) cornflour, plus 30g (1 1/4oz) extra for dredging
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (the oysters have a natural salty-sweet flavour, so you don’t need much)
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
12 oysters, shucked and flesh patted dry
150ml (5fl oz) fridge-cold sparkling water

To Serve
lemon wedges
yuzu mayonnaise* (see intro)

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

Whisk together the plain flour, rice flour and 40g (1 1/2oz) of cornflour in a mixing bowl with the salt and white pepper.

Put the simmering 30g (1 1/4oz) of cornflour in a small bowl and dredge the oyster meat through it to completely coat, shaking off the excess.

Whisk the cold sparkling water into the mixing bowl until just combined into a thin batter, like a crêpe batter. Don’t over mix the batter – in fact, some small lumps are positively encouraged. Working quickly, cover the oysters one by one in the batter, then place gently into the hot oil.

Cooking in batches of four or five oysters, fry for 60-90 seconds before lifting the basket to drain, then further draining on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper.

Enjoy immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice or dipped into yuzu mayonnaise.

Korean Fried Chicken

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
What makes Korean Fried Chicken different? A couple of things: crucially, a blend of flours and starches and it’s double fried, the combination of which results in a shatteringly crisp coating that is then smothered in a fiery, punchy, sticky, crimson-coloured sauce that still retains its crisp as you eat. Talk about finger-lickin’ good! This is next level – napkins at the ready.

Serves a greedy 2

6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
300ml (10fl oz) buttermilk
2 teaspoons gochugaru or paprika
sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Coating
60g (scant 2 1/2oz)plain flour
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) rice flour
60g (scant 2 1/2oz) potato starch or cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauce
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or Shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons gochujang
2 tablespoons sriracha
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon aekjeot or nam pla fish sauce
1 tablespoon gochugaru
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter

Garnish
sesame seeds
spring onions, sliced into thin lengths or at an angle
thinly sliced or chopped fresh red or green chilli

Cut each chicken thigh into two or three pieces to make bite-sized chunks and season with salt. Whisk the buttermilk and gochugaru or paprika together in a large bowl or baking dish. Submerge all the chicken in the buttermilk, cover and marinate in the fridge for a good 4-6 hours (leaving it overnight is fine too).

When it’s time to cook, remove the buttermilk-brined chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil in your deep-fryer to 150˚C/300˚F.

Combine all the coating ingredients in one bowl. (If you’ve run out of baking powder, use 60g (scant 2 1/2oz) self-raising flour instead of the plain flour.

Working quickly and without shaking off too much of the buttermilk, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mix, ensuring a generous and even coating. Working in batches, add each piece directly into the fryer and cook for about 5 minutes, until cooked through and light golden.  Remove from the fryer and set aside on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper while you cook the rest of the chicken.

When all the pieces have had their first fry and have been drained, crank up the temperature of the oil to 190˚C/375˚F.

Meanwhile, put all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan set over a medium heat and bring to the boil, then drop down to the lowest heat setting and give it a stir every so often just to keep it warm and pourable.

Fry all the chicken for a second time for 90 seconds to 2 minutes, until it looks incredibly crisp and has darkened in colour. Depending on the size of your fryer basket, you may need to do this in two batches.

Place the chicken into a large heatproof bowl and pour over all the sauce, tossing to coat each piece. The chicken will soak up the sauce but still retain its crispness.

Plate up with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, sliced spring onions and fresh chilli on top. Alternatively, serve in a steamed bao or as a burger. Kimchi or some sharp pickles are the ideal supporting side act or you can go all out on the whole banchan experience of a table laden with small side dishes.

Corn Dogs

From Hot Fat is published by Blasta Books
A fairground favourite in the States, the corn dog consists of a hot dog speared on a stick, dipped in a thick cornmeal batter and fried until golden with a signature fluffy interior beneath its crisp jacket.

Makes 6 large or 12 small corn dogs

sunflower or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
120g (scant 4 1/2oz) fine cornmeal
80g (3 1/4oz) plain flour
1 large egg
175ml (6fl oz) buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6-8 large skinny frankfurter-style sausages and 6-8 skewers
a small dish of cornflour (cornstarch), to coat

To Serve
ketchup
yellow mustard

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

Prepare your batter by adding the cornmeal, flour, egg, buttermilk, salt, sugar, paprika, white pepper, garlic powder (if using) and baking soda into a mixing bowl and whisking vigorously to combine, then transfer to a tall glass, measuring jug or NutriBullet beaker, any of which provide the height that enables enviably easy dippage to completely coat the dogs.

Pat the dogs dry on kitchen paper. If making small corn dogs, cut each one in half to make two, but if making large ones, just keep them whole. Skewer each one with a wooden or bamboo skewer three-quarters of the way up through the centre, taking care not to veer off and tear through the side.

Put the cornflour in a wide, shallow dish or tray, then dredge each of the sausages through it, coating completely and shaking off any excess – this helps the cornmeal batter to stick. Set aside on a plate, ready for dipping.

When ready to dip and coat, holding the wooden skewer, submerge each sausage head-first into the batter, twisting gently to coax the batter to stick, then gently and slowly twisting as you pull the skewer up and out of the glass or jug to reveal a completely coated corn dog.

Working quickly, gently lower the battered corn dog head first into the hot oil (rather than into the fryer basket, which should already be submerged), hovering the top in the oil for a little bit to get it accustomed and then lowering it in. At this point, give the submerged basket a rigorous shake to ensure the corn dog doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Repeat this process as you fry in batches of two to four, depending on the size of your fryer, for 3-4 minutes in total. About two-thirds of the way through the cooking time, you may want to use tongs to turn the corn dogs gently to ensure they colour evenly.

When the corn dogs are an even golden colour, you’ll know they’re done, so lift them out one by one or together in the basket, drip-draining any excess oil. Allow to further drain and cool on a wire rack set over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper as you continue with the next ones.

Enjoy immediately with ketchup and yellow mustard, your choice of condiments or just as is.

Variation
If you’d prefer to make hush puppies (and please your vegetarian pals!), we suggest upping the quantity of both cornmeal and flour by 50g (2oz) each and stirring a small 200g (7oz) tin of sweet corn (drained) through the batter for extra texture. A very finely chopped spring onion wouldn’t go amiss in that mixture too for a little allium kick if you don’t mind the green speckles though these gorgeous blond bites. Drop generous tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil (at 180˚C/350˚F) and fry until lightly golden, turning once during frying.

Miracle Overnight White Loaf

From Breadsong published by Bloomsbury Publishing
This was the first bread recipe I learnt to bake, and how the simple ingredients transform into a loaf still feels like magic. All you need to make a loaf twice as fast as anything on the supermarket shelf, with a crunchy crust and pillowy crumb, is a casserole dish with a lid and an oven that can get up to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8. If you make only a single recipe from this entire book, this one will probably give you the biggest thrill. It’s truly a miracle.

Makes 1 loaf

500g (18oz) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10g (scant 1/2oz) fine sea salt
3g (scant 1/8oz) instant dried yeast (1 teaspoon or slightly less than half a 7g (1/4oz) sachet)
330ml (11 1/4fl oz) lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast. Stir everything together using either a sturdy spoon or your hands. Bit by bit, gently mix in the lukewarm water until a shaggy dough forms. We call this the Scooby dough in homage to Scooby-Doo.

Place a damp tea towel over the rim of the bowl and leave in a cosy (draught-free) place to prove for 12-16 hours, overnight is best. Time transforms your scrappy, dull dough into a bubbly, live creature of its own.

Once your dough has risen and is bubbling away, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Remember, it’s alive, so the greater respect you show the dough with gently handling, the more it will reward you and the better your loaf will come out. Gently shape the dough into a ball (a well-floured plastic dough scraper really helps here), making sure there is a light coating of flour all over.

Place the shaped dough on a sheet of parchment paper, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, cosy place to rest for 1 hour.

Halfway through the resting time, preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 (or as high as it will go). Put a large cast-iron casserole dish with a lid and a heatproof handle into the hot oven for 30 minutes to heat up.

Once the casserole dish is good and hot, carefully take it out of the oven and lift off the lid. Uncover the dough and using the parchment paper, lift and then lower the dough into the heated casserole dish. Using a sharp knife, razor blade or scissors; score the top of the dough with slashes in any pattern you like – one long slash, a cross, a square or even a smiley face.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of water inside the casserole around the dough, replace the lid and put the dish back in the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid to reveal your magnificent loaf and then continue to bake uncovered for a further 10 minutes to get a nice, golden crust or 15 minutes if you like your loaf a bit darker.

Place the loaf on a wire rack and leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important as the bread keeps cooking after you take it out of the oven.

*For variations on above, please refer to the book.

Vegan Nut Butter and Banana Cookies

From Breadsong published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Makes 15 cookies

125g (4 1/2oz) mashed banana (1 large banana or 2 small)
125g (4 1/2oz) crunchy peanut butter
125g (4 1/2oz) soft light brown sugar
125g (4 1/2oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
80g (3 1/4oz) vegan dark chocolate chips (optional)
a pinch of coarse sea salt flakes

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the banana and peanut butter until creamy. You can use either a handheld electric mixer or the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and mix again until all combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the banana-peanut butter mixture and mix well. Throw in the chocolate chips, if using. Gently roll the dough into a ball, cover in parchment paper and put it in the fridge to chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Scoop the cookie dough into 15 even-sized balls and place at least 5cm (2 inch) apart in the baking trays. Using the tines of a fork, flatten each cookie by making a crisscross pattern on the top. Sprinkle over coarse sea salt flakes and bake in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes or until the edges go crispy but the middle is still gooey. Let cool for a few minutes then eat.

World Ocean Day 2022

World Ocean Day is on Wednesday the 8th of June 2022.

I am not fully clear if this is meant to be a celebration or a day of reflection to remind us of the chronic mess we humans have got ourselves into.

In our busy lives, most of us have taken the oceans for granted. We somehow haven’t understood that mankind depends on the health of the oceans for our very existence.

The oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface, provide 97% of the world’s water supply as well as 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. 

94% of the earth’s living species exist within the oceans and apparently much is yet to be discovered.

70 – 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants plus the oceans feed and provide livelihoods for billions of people.

The ocean plays a vital role in our climate. It’s the ocean currents that govern the world’s weather. For decades scientists and marine biologists have stressed that rapidly rising ocean temperatures are causing the ice to melt, altering coral reefs and coastal ecosystems, causing cold water habitats to shrink resulting in less plankton available for marine life.

Rising temperatures are putting low lying nations such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean at immediate risk of disaster.

Enough statistics….

For centuries, the oceans have been used as a dumping ground for all manner of waste, sewage, plastic in its many forms, six pack rings, fishing nets, polystyrene…. which harm sea mammals, fish and seabirds who get entangled in it or feed it to their young mistaking it for food. 

Although the ocean is vast, it turns out it is more easily polluted and acidified than was originally thought.

Many of you will have read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast floating dump, 15 times the size of Ireland in the Pacific Ocean. It contains over 100 million tonnes of plastic debris.

We have reached a tipping point…….

At last, scientists and governments of many countries are cooperating to limit overfishing and control pollution in a frantic effort to slow down global warming – hopefully it’s not too late.

Here in Ireland, a little progress has been made but there is still much to be done.  Year-round swimmers have given further impetus to the Clean Beach campaign and Blue Flags are much coveted.

So after all that, let’s go back into the kitchen to cook some delicious fish…

But where do we find information on sustainable fish, it’s much easier to get information on the health benefits. 

There are few things more delicious than a piece of spanking fresh fish simply cooked.  Freshness is everything.  Remember, fresh fish look bright and lively and DOESN’T smell fishy, stay alert when shopping, freshly landed (could be five days old) is altogether different to freshly caught. 

Forever and ever, fish has been referred to as ‘brain food’ and numerous studies confirm the health benefits of eating fresh fish at least once a week.

The omega-3 fat found in fish is now scientifically proven to be helpful in the treatment of depression, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD….

www.bim.ie

From the cook’s point of view, fish is the quintessential fast-food.  I am a big fan of crudo or thinly sliced raw fish but it must absolutely be fresh.  If that idea doesn’t ‘float your boat’, there are a million other super quick recipes to enjoy with your family and friends.

It’s really easy to overcook fish, remember the flesh just needs to change from translucent to opaque, a matter of two to three minutes if the fillet is thin like plaice, lemon sole or megrim. A little longer for a piece of hake or haddock.

It’s also worth knowing that sea vegetables are 10 to 20 times more nutritious than anything grown on land.

Sustainable fish in Irish water?

It is unbelievably difficult for the concerned public to get simple coherent information on what to buy and believe me – I’ve tried!  My preferred option is day boat fish but there are few enough day boats still fishing around our coasts for a variety of reasons.

The bigger boats can go further out and stay longer at sea.  They target the fish shoals with sophisticated technology.  The ‘unintended’ consequences often result in copious amounts of by-catch and decimation of the ocean floor and breeding grounds.  Many species have been overfished almost to the point of extinction which impacts on many other species and habitats in the complex web.  So, let’s do our best to seek out non-threatened species and strive to support our local fishing communities.   Be prepared to pay more for day boat fish if you are fortunate enough to be able to source it.

Try at least to ascertain that the fish you buy is caught in Irish waters so we are supporting the Irish fishing community who are experiencing unprecedented challenges.

Check out Sustainable Seafood Irelandwww.sustainableseafood.ie

SSI: office@sustainableseafood.ie

(01) 8472376

Yummy Fish Fingers with Garlic Mayo

The hake stocks are in good shape, fresh hake is a superb fish, sweet and flaky.

Serves 8

8 pieces fresh haddock, hake or pollock cut into fingers 11.5 x 3cm (4 1/2 x 1 1/4 inch) approximately

salt and freshly ground black pepper

white flour, seasoned well with salt, freshly ground and pepper and a

a little cayenne or smoked paprika (optional)

Egg Wash

2-3 beaten free-range, organic eggs and a little milk

panko or dried white breadcrumbs

To Serve

crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaves

Garlic Mayo

225g (8oz) homemade mayonnaise

Add 1-4 crushed garlic cloves (depending on size) to the egg yolks as you start to make the mayonnaise.  Add 2 teaspoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley at the end and season to taste. 

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

Season the fingers of fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then, dip the fish, first into the well-seasoned flour and then into the beaten egg and finally coat evenly all over with the crumbs of your choice.  Pat gently to firm up…!

Heat some olive oil or clarified butter in a wide frying pan over a medium heat.

Cook the fish fingers until golden and crispy on the outside and cooked through into the centre. Drain on kitchen paper.  

I love to wrap them in crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaves, add a dollop of garlic mayo (aioli)/mayo of choice and enjoy. 

Smoked Mackerel Pâté, Potato Crisps and Dill or Fennel Sprigs and Flowers

A fun and delicious way to serve a fish pâté.

Cooked fresh salmon, smoked salmon, mullet, trout or herring can be substituted in the above recipe.

Serves 6-8

110g (4oz) undyed smoked mackerel or herring, free of skin and bone (we use Belvelly smoked mackerel –www.frankhederman.com )

50-75g (2-3oz) softened butter

1/4 teaspoon finely snipped fennel

freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2-1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste

salt and freshly ground pepper

Homemade Potato Crisps (see Darina’s Letter 8th May 2022 – OFFAL)

Garnish

sprigs of dill or fennel and flowers

Next make the smoked mackerel pâté.

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and garlic. It should be well seasoned and soft. Cover and chill until needed.

To Serve

Put a generous tablespoon of smoked mackerel pâté on a small plate.  Cover the entire surface with homemade potato crisps.  Tuck tiny sprigs of dill (or fennel) in between the crisps and dill or fennel flowers.

Baja-Style Fish Tacos

All along the coast in Baja, California, the beach shacks offer fish tacos and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy them at home too. If you’d rather not have batter, you can just sprinkle the fish fillets with a mixture of salt and spices such as cumin, paprika and maybe some chilli powder before shallow frying.

Makes 10

10 portions of fresh fish – haddock, monkfish, brill, plaice, lemon sole, weighing about 125g (4 1/2oz) each

olive oil, for deep-frying

Chilli Beer Batter

225g (8oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons English mustard powder

2 teaspoons mild or hot chilli powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 organic, free-range eggs

225ml (8fl oz) light beer or a mixture of beer and water

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons puréed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

a pinch of salt

To Serve

10 corn tortillas

20 lettuce leaves

Guacamole (see recipe) or avocado slices

Tomato Salsa (see recipe)

a few sprigs of coriander

First make the chilli beer batter. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the mustard and chilli powders, salt and sugar. Make a well in the centre, crack in the eggs, then gradually add the beer, whisking all the time from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles until all the flour is incorporated. Cover and leave to stand while you make the mayonnaise.

Mix the chilli in adobe, lime juice and coriander with the mayonnaise and season to taste.

Warm the corn tortillas either individually in a pan or better still wrap them in a parcel and heat at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5–10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190°C (375°F). Dip each fish fillet in the batter, then cook for 4–7 minutes until crisp and drain on kitchen paper. This will depend on the thickness of the fish. Alternatively, fry in a deep saucepan with 5 – 7.5cm (2 – 3 inch) depth of olive oil.

Put a little lettuce on one half of a warm tortilla, top with a chunk of crispy fish, some chipotle mayo, guacamole, tomato salsa and a sprig of coriander, fold over and enjoy!

Guacamole

Choose really ripe avocados for guacamole.

2 ripe avocados (organic if you can find it)

3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.  Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of damp parchment paper to exclude the air.  Cover and keep cool until needed.

 A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.

Tomato and Coriander Salsa

In Season: Best in Summer and early Autumn when tomatoes are ripe and juicy.

This sauce is ever present on Mexican tables to serve with all manner of dishes. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have now become a favourite accompaniment to everything from a piece of sizzling fish to pan-grilled meat.

Serves 8-10

8 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons red or white onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped Jalapeno or Serrano

2-4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

squeeze of fresh lime juice

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Roast Fish in three delicious ways

An inspired way to cook either whole fillets or individual portions of fish, I’ve given three separate sauce suggestions here but even a simple dill butter makes roast fish into a feast. Needless to say, other ‘round’ fish, such as hake, haddock, ling or cod can be cooked in exactly the same way.  Pollock stocks are not in good shape at present. 

Serves about 20

1 whole wild fresh salmon or Mowi (organic farmed salmon)

butter or extra virgin oil, about 25g (1oz)/25ml (1fl oz) 

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tomato and Dill Topping

4–8 tablespoons chopped dill

4–6 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced, sprinkled with a little flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

110–225g (4-8oz) extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 9.  

Descale the salmon, fillet and remove the pin bones. For the topping, mix the dill and diced seasoned tomato together with the extra virgin olive oil.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Put the fillets of fish on top. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the dill and tomato oil over the surface. Roast for 8–10 minutes or until cooked and tender.

Serve in the tray or transfer the salmon onto one or two hot serving dishes. Sprinkle with a little fresh dill and dill flowers. Serve immediately with a salad of organic green leaves.

Roast Salmon with Teriyaki Sauce

To make the teriyaki sauce, put 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) light or dark soy sauce, 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) dry white wine, 2 large, thinly sliced garlic cloves, a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, 2 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar into a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3–4 minutes. (Alternatively, spoon over the fish before putting it in the oven.) Roast the fish as above. Brush the fish generously with the teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Roast Salmon with Pul Biber

Prepare the salmon as above, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with pul biber and flaky sea salt. Roast as above. Serve with a good green salad.

Mussels with Tomato and ‘Nduja

Serves 4

2kgs (4 1/2lbs) mussels

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) sliced onions

1 clove of garlic, crushed

450g (1lb) very ripe fresh tomatoes (peeled and chopped) or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

pinch of chilli flakes

1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

175ml (6fl oz) rich cream

2-3 tablespoons parsley, coarsely chopped

Wash and check that the mussels are tightly shut.  Keep refrigerated.

Next, make the tomato base. 

Heat the oil in a stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole.  Add the sliced onions and garlic, toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured – about 10 minutes. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added.  Add a pinch of chilli flakes and the smoked paprika.    Add the ripe tomatoes or the chopped tinned tomatoes with all the juice to the onions.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity).  Cover and cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens, uncover and reduce a little.  Tinned tomatoes will need to be cooked for longer.  Add cream and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes and taste for seasoning.

*The base can be prepared to this point.

Just before serving.  Bring the base back to the boil, add the mussels in their shells.  Cover, stir from time to time and cook on a medium heat until the shells open, 3-4 minutes approx.

Turn into warm bowls, scatter with coarsely chopped parsley and serve with lots of good sourdough to mop up the juices. 

Trip of UK

After my gushing article last week about the wildflower lanes and dandelion filled permanent pastures of West Wales and the Cotswolds, there’s more to come….

There’s so much catching up to do with students and friends after two plus years of anxiety and dread.  We had a sort of plan but as we wandered from one special place to the next, our Instagram photos gave a clue as to our whereabouts and suddenly our phones began to ping with messages and suggestions from old friends and Ballymaloe Cookery School graduates. 

‘Don’t miss’….
‘Come and see us’…

‘Can’t believe you are having lunch in my favourite local pub’…. 

That was the beautiful Victoria Inn in Eastleach overlooking the 12th Century church and a magnificent bird cherry tree in full bloom, delicious and simple food (@victoriainneastleach on Instagram).

Another student who did a 12-Week Certificate Course in September 1998 popped in for breakfast while we were staying at Thyme in Southrop in the Cotswolds and another from 1989 joined us for a coffee catch up… then on we went to Bristol. 

Put Little French Restaurant in Westbury Park on your list too (@littlefrench_bristol on Instagram).  We had a delicious catch-up lunch there with another of our grandchildren who is loving doing Performance Arts in the University of Bristol and her cousin.  Again lots of little plates of seasonal food.  I particularly enjoyed a little monkfish kebab with rouille and a sprinkling of chives.  I also remember scallops with sauternes butter sauce and the tiny Pyrenees lamb cutlets.  Also loved the toasted marcona almonds with rosemary…a simple twist on a tasty pre-dinner nibble.

And then on down to Coombeshead Farm in Lewannick on the Devon/Cornish border, the main focus of our visit to the UK.  In 2019, we managed to book a 2-night stay and loved everything about this little farmhouse hotel in the midst of a 66-acre regenerative farm and gardens.  There are extensive no-dig vegetable beds, kitchen food waste is made into compost and almost 100 rare breed hens roam through the woodland. They rear a few Mangalitza pigs – an old-world Hungarian breed with thick curly hair that produces the sweetest, most succulent pork I’ve EVER tasted.  Its name means ‘hog with a lot of lard’, rightly prized for its flavourful marbled meat and abundance of wickedly decadent healthy, nourishing fat – no hormones, antibiotics, growth promoters…www.thyme.co.uk

Tom Adams and his team of young cooks, chefs, bakers and gardeners are passionate about what they do.  During the pandemic, they pivoted and created Coombeshead Provisions from the farm and gardens, also a Pop-Up Shop and courtyard café with a hugely impressive natural wine and local beer selection as well as sausages, rillettes, hogs’ pudding, piccalilli and a variety of cured meats and relishes from the pigs and garden produce.  The Coombeshead sourdough is made right there in the bakery in the farmyard and sent hundreds of miles to devotees in London every day.  The rich yellow butter is hand churned from local clotted cream made in the traditional way by Barbara Anne Lane from the cream of her little herd of one Guernsey and four Jersey cows.  One of the highlights of the entire trip was learning how to make clotted cream in the time-honoured way from this beautiful woman now in her late 70’s – more of which anon…www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk

The food was delicious, we looked forward to every meal.  On one day, we drove down to the enchanting little fishing village of Fowey and had lunch at North Street Kitchen (@nskfowey on Instagram) – a sister restaurant of Fitzroy’s (www.fitzroycornwall.com) , part of the Jolene Group of gems and definitely worth adding to your list.  Plate after plate of super tasty, seasonal food.

After lunch, we went to Ethy House Gardens, open for just one day a year.  We drooled over the rare rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and walked through a sea of wild bluebells in the woodlands.  There were Cornish cream teas, and even more thrilling was the Pelynt Male Voice Choir (not one of the handsome chaps under 75) belting out Cornish songs.    Everyone jumped to their feet and stood proud as the boys in their impeccable blue blazers and red monogrammed ties sang a rousing rendition of the Cornish anthem, Trelawny.  There was hardly a dry eye in the courtyard on that beautiful afternoon.

Here are recipes for some of the many delicious dishes I enjoyed..

Smoked Haddock Rarebit from North Street Kitchen in Fowey

Thank you Ethan Friskney-Bryer for sharing this North Street Kitchen special and it even contains some Guinness – certainly worth making a detour for.

Makes enough for 4-6 pieces of toast

200g (7oz) naturally smoked haddock

full fat milk (enough to cover the haddock)

25g (1oz) butter

25g (1oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon mustard powder or English mustard

2-3 dashes Tabasco sauce

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) Guinness

450g (1lb) aged Cheddar, grated

4-6 pieces of day-old bread to toast

To Serve

Worcestershire sauce

Place the haddock in a small saucepan and submerge in milk.  Cook on a low heat until the fish is fully cooked through.  Allow to cool and then remove the fish from the pan, reserving the milk. 

Melt the butter in a fresh sauce pan and stir in the flour until fully combined and smooth, allow it to colour slightly in the pan whilst stirring.

Still on a gentle heat, add the mustard or mustard powder, the tabasco sauce, then the Guinness along with 75ml (3fl oz) of the smoked haddock milk, stirring constantly.  Once smooth, stir in the grated cheese.  As soon as the cheese has melted, transfer the mix to a bowl and flake through the cooked smoked haddock.

Allow the mix to cool before generously covering the pieces of toast (ensure the mix is spread all the way to the edge of the toast to prevent the bread from burning).  Return the toast to the hot grill until the mix has turned golden brown on top and bubbles slightly.

Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and serve immediately.

Fried Monkfish with Carrot Salad and Mustard Mayonnaise from North Street Kitchen in Fowey

These are just two of the tasty seasonal plates on the blackbird menu at North Street Kitchen where Ethan doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’ about local, seasonal ingredients.

Serves 4 as a light lunch or starter

400-500g (14-18oz) monkfish fillet

2 free-range eggs

splash of milk

100g (3 1/2oz) panko breadcrumbs

For the Carrot Salad

3 carrots

white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chives, finely chopped

1 teaspoon tarragon, finely chopped

For the Mayonnaise

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon English mustard

pinch of salt

250ml (9fl oz) rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard

First peel the carrots and shred them.  We use a julienne blade on a mandolin, but you could also grate them.  In a bowl, lightly salt the cut carrots and leave them for about half an hour at room temperature to soften.

Meanwhile, make the mayonnaise by whisking the egg yolks, white wine vinegar, Dijon and English mustard along with a pinch of fine salt, and slowly add the rapeseed oil until fully combined and glossy.  Finish by folding through the wholegrain mustard and salt/additional vinegar to taste.

Ensure the skin and membrane (along with the central bone) have been removed from the monkfish and dice into 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes.  Dust the monkfish in flour, then the eggs whisked with a little milk, then the breadcrumbs.  Use one hand for the dry and one for the wet ingredients to ensure you don’t end up breadcrumbing yourself.  Transfer to a plate and sprinkle a few extra breadcrumbs on top to guarantee they are fully covered. 

Drain off any liquid from the carrots and toss with a few drops of white wine vinegar, the chives and tarragon and any additional seasoning as required.

Place the monkfish in a deep-fat fryer (or a pan no more than half full of rapeseed/vegetable oil) at 175°C/347˚F until dark golden brown on the outside.  Season with fine salt and pepper and serve immediately with a big dollop of the mustard mayo and the carrot salad.

Roast Scallops with Sauternes Beurre Blanc from Little French in Bristol

This delectable scallop dish was inspired by a starter at Little French in Bristol … Chef Freddie Bird served five Queen Scallops per person, a perfect little feast…. 

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course

8 large scallops on the rounded half shell

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Sauternes Beurre Blanc (see recipe)

To Serve

lemon wedges

chives, finely chopped

First make the Sauternes Beurre Blanc.

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10.

If the scallops are live, open the shell, remove the fringe and everything else except the coral and muscle.  Wash well.  Put the scallops back into the rounded half shell.

Season each scallop with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.  Roast in a very hot oven until the scallops are barely cooked, 3-4 minutes approx.

Spoon a tablespoon of Sauternes Beurre Blanc over the top of each one. Sprinkle with very finely chopped chives. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice and a wedge of lemon…

Sauternes Beurre Blanc

Makes about 250ml (8fl oz)

3 tablespoons Sauternes

3 tablespoons Moscatel or best white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

pinch of ground white pepper

1 tablespoon cream

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, diced

salt, freshly ground pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the first four ingredients into a heavy stainless-steel saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and reduce down to about a tablespoon.  Add 1 generous tablespoon of cream and reduce again until the cream begins to thicken. Whisk in the chilled butter a couple of pieces at a time, keeping the sauce just warm enough to absorb the butter.  Season with salt, taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary.  Strain through a fine sieve.  Transfer to a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. Keep warm until needed. Save the remainder to serve with a piece of fresh haddock or hake…

Sorrel and Apple Granita from Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall

This exquisitely refreshing granita may be served as a starter or a dessert.

130g (generous 4 1/2oz) sorrel

200g (7oz) stock syrup or elderflower cordial

600ml (1 pint) apple juice 

pinch of citric acid 

Blend all ingredients together hard to a smooth consistency. Pass through a chinois (or fine sieve into a freezable container, skim off any foam that remains at the top, and freeze. 

Serve on chilled plates and garnish with a leaf or two of fresh sorrel. 

Mousse au Chocolat from Little French in Bristol

At Little French, Freddy Bird serves a luscious quenelle of the chocolate mousse in a pool of Jersey cream – irresistible!

Makes 8

300g (10oz) dark chocolate (70%) (Valrhona)

pinch Maldon sea salt

10 eggs, separated

50g (2oz) caster sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) whipped cream

Put the chocolate drops (or chopped chocolate) into a Pyrex bowl, add a pinch of Maldon sea salt.  Melt gently over a saucepan of hot but not simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the base).

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until quadrupled in volume.  Fold in the chocolate.  Whisk the egg whites until they reach soft peaks.  Fold into the base with the whipped cream.

Pour into individual glasses or ramekins.  Cover and chill overnight.

Serve with a jug of pouring cream. 

Roasted Marcona Almonds

The quality of almonds varies a lot.  Look out for Marcona almonds – they are grown in Spain and have a sweet, delicate flavour.   They are more rounded and plumper than the Californian almonds that are more widely available.

whole unpeeled almonds

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

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

Put the almonds dry onto a dry baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Toss in olive oil and sea salt and serve warm. Try not to eat the lot!

Variation

Roasted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary

Follow the master recipe, add  finely chopped fresh rosemary to taste to the marcona almonds and enjoy. 

Wales

I’m loving Wales…I had forgotten how easy it is to pop onto the ferry at Rosslare and after a few chilled hours’ drive off in Fishguard. How charming is Fishguard…then off into the Welsh countryside.

I had also totally forgotten how beautiful the Welsh countryside is, some wide roads but lots and lots of windy lanes edged with wildflowers, native bluebells, pink campion, jack of the hedge, stitchwort, and Queen Anne’s lace…Is this the most beautiful time of the year in Wales?  I don’t know, I haven’t been here for over a decade.  And NO I am not in the pay of the Welsh tourist board, I am just enchanted….Many of the towns and villages are old-fashioned, lots of antique and charity shops, estate agents and sadly some empty premises too.

We are on our way to fforest farm, an eco-development just outside Cardigan, part glamping, part shacks and a beautiful farmhouse, but super chic.  Our Onsen dome overlooks a field of dandelions edged by a deciduous wood, out of which deer amble nonchalantly in the early morning.  A really comfy bed and a stove which makes everything toasty warm even on chilly April nights.  There is a cute little kitchen plus an outdoor kitchen, a barbecue, a hot tub, several Adirondack chairs and a lovely lounge banquette seat,  we’re not exactly slumming it…

We tuck into the picnic that we never leave home without.

Dinner…it’s Pizza Night at fforest – a very convivial outdoor affair with a choice of 5 or 6 pizzas with gorgeous fresh toppings from the wood burning oven.  Just tuck into slice after slice of whatever you fancy, help yourself to a salad of leaves from the garden, all around the brazier…all ages.

We drove to Lampeter, still in Wales, to visit friends who make Hafod, a wonderful organic Cheddar cheese from the milk of their beautiful herd of Ayrshire cows.  We talk into the night around the kitchen table, meet many inspirational farmers, educators, researchers and share thoughts and ideas about food production, farming sustainably and supporting those on a journey towards regenerating farming.

Then on to another farm, just over the Welsh border into Shropshire, this time 2,500 acres in conversion to Organic Farming.  Another stunning landscape, sheep grazing the hills and woodlands.  Walled garden and greenhouses bursting with beautiful healthy organic vegetables and fruit trees in full blossom.

We cook supper together, make a salsa verde from the gorgeous freshly picked herbs from the garden and Béarnaise sauce with some of the most luscious fresh tarragon I have ever seen.  All this served with a beautiful fillet of beef from the local butcher and some purple sprouting broccoli from the garden.   A little feast followed by delicious poached plums saved in the freezer from last year’s harvest.

Next, we’re on our way to the Cotswolds, wending our way through those idyllic sandstone villages to Southrop to stay at Thyme, a particularly lovely country house hotel in the midst of gardens and grounds…

That’s all for this week, if you are looking for some inspiration for a trip this summer, Wales is definitely worth considering. 

Here are a few recipes to tantalise your taste buds…

Roast Fillet of Beef with Béarnaise Sauce

A fillet of beef is an expensive cut and a real treat, so do take care with the cooking time to ensure it will be exactly as you would like it.

Serves 8 – 10

1 whole fillet of well hung dried aged beef 2.6kg (6lb) approximately

a few cloves garlic

pork caul fat (if available)

sea salt and freshly cracked pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Béarnaise Sauce (see recipe).

Trim away the chain if it is still attached, use the meat for Beef Stroganoff.  Double over the meat at the tapered end and tie the fillet securely with fine butcher’s cotton twine.  Alternatively ask your butcher to do the ‘butchering’ for you.

Rub the fillet all over with a cut clove of garlic, season well with lots of freshly ground pepper and wrap loosely in caul fat if available.  Season well with sea salt. 

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

Alternatively, rub the fillet all over with the cut clove of garlic as before, season well on all sides with salt and freshly cracked pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Heat a cast iron pan grill to very hot.  Sear the beef until nicely browned on all sides.  Transfer it to a roasting tin and tuck a couple of sprigs of thyme underneath. 

Roast for 25-30 minutes.  If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should read 50°C/125°F for rare or 75°C/167°F for well done.  Alternatively the meat should feel springy to the touch and   the juice should be a pale pink when the meat is pierced with a skewer.  Remove from the oven to a carving dish.  Cover and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes by which time the juices will have redistributed themselves and the beef will be uniformly medium rare.

Serve cut in 5mm (1/4 inch) slices and serve with Béarnaise sauce.

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 8–10

4 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

4 tablespoons dry white wine

2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots

pinch of freshly ground pepper

2 organic egg yolks

110g (4oz) butter

1 tablespoon freshly chopped French tarragon leaves

Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a low, 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.

Rory O’Connell’s Salsa Verde

This is one of the most useful sauces and pairs perfectly with the beef. Can also be served with lamb, pork or oily fish such as mackerel or mullet. It keeps for several weeks in the fridge.

1 bunch of rocket, about 100g (3 1/2oz)

1 bunch of flat parsley, about 100g (3 1/2oz)

6 large sprigs of mint

6 sprigs of tarragon

1 tablespoon of capers, coarsely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed to a smooth paste

8 anchovies, very finely chopped

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

225ml (8fl oz) olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon and a little juice

freshly ground black pepper

Maldon sea salt to taste

Remove all of the stalks from the herbs and chop to a texture halfway between coarse and fine so as the individual flavours of the herbs stand out in the finished sauce. Immediately add the rest of the ingredients and mix. It is unlikely that the salsa will need salt, but very occasionally a pinch might be needed. In any event, taste and correct seasoning adding a little lemon juice if the salsa needs sharpening up. Chill until ready to serve.

Crushed Potatoes

Many people now peel potatoes before they boil them, however, it’s worth remembering that they have considerably more flavour if cooked in their jackets. Plus, there’s less waste, and most of the nutrients are just underneath the skin.

Serves 4

900g (2lb) new potatoes such as Jersey Royals or Pink Fir Apple

3 teaspoons of salt to every

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

Put the potatoes in a deep saucepan, cover with fresh, cold water and add salt. Cover and bring to the boil and continue to cook over a medium heat for approx. 15 minutes, until three-quarters cooked. Pour off all of the water.

Crush the potatoes lightly and place on a roasting tray.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and roast in a hot oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 until crusty all over. 

Serve immediately in a hot serving dish with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

Rhubarb Crumble

Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

This is an old favourite using rhubarb which I adore at this time of the year.

Serves 6-8

700g (1 1/2lbs) rhubarb

110g (4oz) sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

Crumble

110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) cold butter

50g (2oz) castor sugar

25g (1oz) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces and turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the rhubarb in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.

Sustainability

This week’s column will focus on sustainable food and how each of us can do our bit to make a difference.  The question of what we should eat to combat climate change and environmental degradation has never been more urgent, however, the term sustainable has become quite a buzz word, bandied around and abused in many different contexts – all very confusing.

Having a better understanding of what makes food sustainable could help us all to make more informed food choices.  Sustainable food is not just about the food itself, it’s a combination of factors.  How it’s produced, distributed, packaged and consumed (or wasted).  Sustainable farming practices, environmental impact, animal welfare, biodiversity, working conditions and a living wage are all factors.

Intensive agricultural food production systems are responsible for 11-20% of all greenhouse gases depending on  which research one references…Sustainable agriculture on the other hand supports organic, regenerative farming and low carbon food production methods including crop rotation and avoids the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides as well as GM organisms. 

A lot to think about in our busy lives…As we navigate the aisles of the supermarket, our decisions are usually based on price, convenience, maybe taste but in the words of Margaret Visser, ‘much depends on dinner’.  Our food choices and every bite we put in our mouths has consequences on our health and the health of our planet, awareness is growing but time is fast running out…

I’m convinced that each of us genuinely wants to make a difference so we can pass on a liveable planet to the generations who follow us… Here are a few tips to help us source more mindfully and live more sustainably.

1.    Choose foods that are in season – less air miles, no need for artificial ripening…

2.    Seek out meat, dairy and eggs from less intensive production systems. 

3.    Spend a little more and pay a fair price to support local farmers and food producers who farm sustainably and trade fairly.

4.    Support your local Farmers Market, a NeighbourFood branch – www.neighbourfood.ie and/or join a vegetable box scheme then the money goes directly to the producer to enable them to continue.  The greatest threat to food security is the low and often below-cost price of food at the farm gate.

5.    Grow some of your own food – herbs, vegetables, fruit… If you have the space, plant a few currant and berry bushes, a couple of apple trees which go on giving year after year and create habitats for birds and pollinating insects.  Plant a bee friendly garden.

6.    Reduce the amount of plastic packaging and continue to lobby for less.  Packaging is so energy intensive to make and recycle. 

7.    Learn to use up leftovers so you can work towards Zero Waste.  Think nose-to-tail eating and use every scrap of each vegetable. 

8.    Get a few hens, three or four in a movable chicken coup in your garden will eat up your food scraps, provide you with enough eggs for all your needs and chicken manure for your compost heap to make your soil more fertile. 

9.    Make stock from meat, fish bones and vegetables as a basis for soups, stews and tagines.

10.                       Use every scrap of each vegetable, cauliflower – roast the leaves as well as the curds.  Use the fresh radish leaves in salads and soups, really delicious.  The stalks and leaves of beets as well as the roots themselves…

Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli

Organic oats grown in Ireland are far more sustainable than breakfast cereals made from imported maize. 

This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – it’s such a good recipe to know about because it’s made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)

8 tablespoons water

250g (8oz) fresh strawberries

2-4 teaspoons honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal.  Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.

Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.

Spinach Stalks

People usually chuck out the spinach stalks after they’ve strung the spinach, but they’re delicious and it’s a pity to waste them after all the hard work of growing them.

Chop the spinach stalks you have reserved into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Cook in boiling salted water – use 1 teaspoon salt for every 600ml (1 pint) water – until tender, about 3–4 minutes.

Drain well. Toss in a little butter or extra virgin olive oil. I sometimes toss in a few chilli flakes and freshly chopped herbs. If you feel like an Asian flavour, substitute soy sauce or oyster sauce for the butter or olive oil.

Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny, they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Gratin of Potato, Spring Onions and Bacon, Chorizo or Lamb

Grass fed beef and lamb are highly nutritious and in a mixed farming system are absolutely sustainable restoring carbon to the soil which is an invaluable carbon sink.

Potato gratins are nourishing and economical one-pot dish to feed lots of hungry friends on a chilly evening.  This recipe could also include little tasty pieces of bacon, chorizo or a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a wholesome main course or a delicious accompaniment.

Serves 4 as a main course

Serves 6 as an accompaniment

25g (1oz) butter

1.3kg (3lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g., Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

2 bunches of spring onions, sliced

75-150g (3-5oz) mature Cheddar cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper

300-450ml (10-16fl oz) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock

For a non-vegetable version, add:

175g (6oz) bacon lardons, chorizo dice or a cooked and diced lamb chop

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

Oval ovenproof gratin dish – 31.5cm (11 1/2 inch) long x 5cm (2 inch) high

Rub an oven proof dish thickly with half the butter

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, blanch and refresh. Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. 5mm (1/4 inch) slices with a scissors or a knife.

Scatter with some of the spring onions, then a layer of potatoes and then some grated cheese.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Scatter with the bacon, chorizo or lamb here if using.  Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, neatly arranged. Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven for 1 – 1 1/4 hours or until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown and crispy.

Watch Point

 It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

Rory’s Delicious Mussels with Spices and Coconut

Bivalves such as oysters, mussels, clams and scallops are brilliant at sequestering carbon and purifying sea water.

This is a great recipe in that most of the work can be done early in the day or even the day before.

The mussels can be replaced with clams, shrimp or monkfish and a combination of fish and shellfish may be used. Thick pieces of pollock also work well as do salmon and mackerel.

Plain boiled rice can be served with this dish or just crusty bread to mop up the delicious broth.

Serves 6

72 mussels or 700g (1 1/2lbs) monkfish in neat collops

a 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

8 cloves of peeled garlic

110ml (4fl oz) of water

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

200g (7oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1-2 fresh chilies, sliced into fine rounds

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 1/2 tins (600ml/1 pint) of coconut milk

salt

fresh coriander leaves

Wash the mussels, removing any loose beards. Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender and blend to a smooth purée.

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic purée, chillies, turmeric and cumin. Stir and cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. This broth can now be put aside for later.

When you want to serve the dish, put the mussels into the pan with the broth. Cover and place on a moderate heat and allow to come to the boil. Shake the pan occasionally and cook for approx.6 minutes. Check to see that all the mussels have popped open. Serve immediately with lots of fresh coriander leaves.

If using monkfish, bring the broth to the boil and add the collops of monkfish.  If using any of the other suggested fish, cut into 5cm (2 inch) pieces. Cover and simmer gently for approximately 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. It will no longer look opaque but will have a white and creamy appearance.  Serve in deep bowls garnished with coriander leaves.

Irish Seaweed and Sesame Salad with Ginger Dressing

Seaweeds are definitely a sustainable superfood.  Like all plants, they absorb CO2 but can also reduce acidification of the ocean helping microorganisms to thrive, they can convert pollutants into nutrients.  We ought to incorporate more sea vegetables into our diet, they are infinitely more nutritious than anything grown on the land.

Serves 6

500g(18oz) selection of fresh seaweed:

sea lettuce

kelp (sugar and regular)

pepper dillisk

dillisk

rack (channel/bladder/egg)

corulina

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Put the seaweed in a large bowl.

Grate a small amount of ginger into the bottom of a salad bowl and mix together with the vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and salt.

Toast the sesame seeds briefly in a dry pan, and then add along with the finely chopped spring onion. Toss the seaweed together in the salad dressing.

Offal

What are we like?  We’re happy to eat a steak, a chicken breast or a chop but present someone with a salad of gizzards and hearts, or a spleen sandwich and they’d rather starve – where’s the logic but offal certainly engenders a feeling of disgust in many.  I’ve just had a delicious bit of flash fried lambs’ liver with lots of fresh sage leaves for supper. 

It’s wonderful to see that A O’Reilly’s Tripe and Drisheen Stall in the English Market in Cork City still survives at a time when people seem to be more and more squeamish.  I love tripe too but not so much of a fan of the traditional Cork tripe and onions, I rather prefer the Spanish or Italian way of cooking it to melting tenderness in a rich tomato sauce.   

Cork has been a trading port right back to the time of the Phoenicians, the last port of call to stock up before the ships crossed the Atlantic.  Many of those employed in the provisioning trade and abattoirs were part paid in offal SO up to relatively recently Cork people ate more offal than any other part of the country.

Wander through the lanes in the English Market and you’ll find tripe and drisheen, the traditional blood pudding, skirt, kidneys and bodices and tongue, pigs, trotters, tails and ears, livers, hearts, kidney and sweetbreads in season.
But as impressive as that sounds, we’ll lap up cheap sausages, cured meats and pâtes and yet turn our noses up at liver, kidneys, not to speak of a juicy bit of pig’s snout.  In London however, sweetbreads are now three times the price of steaks and quite rightly so.

Fortunately the Eastern Europeans and now Ukrainians appreciate the variety of meat and have many treasured ways to cook it.  Well I love offal; in our house we didn’t look down on offal, we celebrated it like any other cut of meat.  This is the best time of the year for lambs’ liver, kidney and sweetbreads so rush to your butcher, get their advice and have a delicious feast for a few euros, twice as much nourishment for half the price of a steak.  Organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.

Tripe and Trotters with Chorizo

There are loads of people who don’t like tripe, but the Spanish influence of chorizo and tomatoes in this recipe lend the dish flavours that woo many tripe-haters.

Serves 6–8

2 fresh pig trotters

1kg (2 1⁄4lb) honeycomb beef tripe, cut into thin strips

salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 large red pepper, sliced

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped

1⁄2 teaspoon chilli powder

250g (9oz) cooked ham, chopped

250g (9oz) chorizo, sliced 5mm (1⁄4 inch) thick

4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Put the pig trotters into a deep saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 2 1⁄2 hours. Drain. Put the trotters back into the saucepan with the tripe, barely cover with fresh water, add some salt and cook for 1 1⁄2 – 2 hours, or until tender and the meat is almost falling from the bones.

Remove the trotters from the liquid. When cool enough to handle, remove the bones and discard. Chop the meat coarsely and add back to the tripe.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, cover and sweat for 4 – 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and pepper, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Add the chilli powder, ham and chorizo. Stir well and cook for about 20 minutes. Add this mixture to the tripe and trotters – add a little more cooking liquid, if necessary, it should be soft and juicy. Taste, correct the seasoning, add the chopped parsley and serve.

Salade de Gésiers

When I go to Paris, one of the first things I do is seek out a little bistro or brasserie that serves salade de gésiers.  The French could teach us a thing of two about using every scrap.  Chicken gizzards or hearts are also super tasty. 

Serves 4

8 duck gizzards cooked in duck fat *

100g (3 1/2oz) French beans

duck fat for frying

4 duck hearts (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

a selection of salad leaves

For the Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 small garlic clove, crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

To Garnish

sprigs of chervil and wild garlic or chive flowers (if in season)

Remove 8 pieces of duck gizzard from the duck fat.

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Blanch the French beans in boiling salted water for 2–3 minutes; drain, refresh in cold water and drain again well.

Heat a little duck fat in a frying pan over a medium heat. Remove the gizzards from the fat. Slice each one into 2–3 pieces and toss in the hot fat until hot through and slightly brown at the edges. Slice the duck hearts, if using. Season with salt and pepper and cook quickly in the duck fat.

To serve, add the French beans to the salad leaves. Toss in some dressing to coat the leaves. Divide between four plates and scatter the hot duck gizzards and hearts (if using) on top with the garnish.

*Duck Gizzards Cooked in Duck Fat

Cooking gizzards in duck fat gives them extra succulence.

duck gizzards

duck fat

Cut the lobes off the gizzards and wash and dry.  Put into a casserole and cook with duck fat.  Cook on the lowest possible heat (use a heat diffuser mat on a gas jet) for about 2 hours, until a knife goes through the meat easily.  Store in a sterilised Kilner jar or bowl covered with duck fat for several weeks in a cold place. 

Lamb’s Liver with Crispy Sage Leaves

The robust flavour of sage is great with lamb or veal liver, so keep a sage plant in a pot near your kitchen door. Sage leaves crisped in olive oil make an irresistible garnish.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) very fresh spring lamb’s liver, cut into 1cm (1⁄2 inch) slices

plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

12 fresh sage leaves

Lamb’s liver toughens very quickly once cooked and it really just needs to be shown to the pan, so wait until your guests are sitting around the table before you start to cook.

Toss the liver in well-seasoned flour and pat off the excess. Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan and add the slices of liver. Sauté gently for 2 – 3 minutes on each side. Remove the slices while they are still slightly pink in the centre.

Put the remaining olive oil in the pan, add the sage leaves and allow to sizzle for a few seconds until crisp. Pour the oil, juices and sage leaves over the liver and serve immediately. Even if liver is perfectly cooked, it toughens very quickly if kept hot

Salad of Warm Sweetbreads with Potato Crisps, Anchovies and Wild Garlic

The elongated sweetbreads that are found near the throat and the more esteemed round ones found next to the heart, which are sometimes called heartbreads, are connected to form the thymus gland, which disappears in mature animals.

Calf’s sweetbreads are the most highly prized; they may be sautéed, deep-fried or briefly braised.  Lamb’s sweetbreads are cooked in the same way.

Sweetbreads are definitely a forgotten treat.

The salty tang of the anchovies in this recipe gives another dimension and adds lots of complementary flavour without compromising the sweetness of the sweetbreads.

Serves 4

4 lamb or 2 veal sweetbreads

1 small carrot

1 onion

2 celery stalks

25g (1oz) butter

bouquet garni

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock 

a selection of salad leaves (little gem, oakleaf, sorrel, watercress and wild garlic leaves and flowers)

plain flour, well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper

beaten organic egg

butter and oil for sautéing

For the Dressing

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1⁄4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve

homemade potato crisps (see recipe)

4 anchovies

wild garlic flowers (or chive flowers depending on the season)

To prepare sweetbreads.

Put the sweetbreads into a bowl, cover with cold water and let them soak for 3 hours. Discard the water and cut away any discoloured parts from the sweetbreads.

Dice the carrot, onion and celery and sweat them in butter; add the bouquet garni. Then add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.

Poach the sweetbreads gently in the simmering stock for 3–5 minutes or until they feel firm to the touch. Cool, then remove the gelatinous membranes and any fatty bits carefully.  Press between 2 plates and top with a weight not more than 1kg (2lb) or they will be squashed.

Prepare the salad.

Wash and dry the lettuces and salad leaves and whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.

Slice the sweetbreads into escalopes, dip in well-seasoned flour and then in beaten egg. Sauté in a little foaming butter and oil in a heavy pan until golden on both sides.

Toss the salad leaves in the dressing, divide between 4 plates and lay the hot sweetbreads and then potato crisps on top of the salad. Sprinkle with chopped anchovy and wild garlic flowers or chive flowers and serve immediately.

Homemade Potato Crisps or “Game Chips”

Making chips at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce

a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! When these are served with roast pheasant, they are called game chips.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180˚C/350˚F.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

A Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys with Oyster Mushrooms and Pink Peppercorns

Spring lambs’ kidneys are mild, tender and delicious.  If you can’t find pink peppercorns, don’t fret, the well-seasoned tomato dice also embellish the salad.

Serves 4

2-3 lamb kidneys

110g (4oz) oyster mushrooms

1 tablespoon freshly chopped annual marjoram, optional

30 pink peppercorns OR

2 tablespoons of tomato concasse

Selection of lettuces and salad leaves, e.g.  butterhead, iceberg, radicchio, Chinese leaves, lambs’ lettuce or rocket leaves

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

Remove the skin and fatty membrane from the centre of the kidneys, and cut the kidney into small cubes 1cm (1/2 inch) approx.

Trim the stalks from the mushrooms and slice lengthways.  Wash the lettuces and dry carefully. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until it smokes, toss in the mushrooms, season and fry quickly for about 3-4 minutes, add the marjoram, remove to a hot plate, add the kidneys to the pan and fry quickly for about 2 minutes.  While the kidneys are cooking, toss lettuce in a little of the dressing, divide between the plates.  Spoon the hot kidneys and the mushrooms over the salad immediately they are cooked and if liked, scatter salads with pink peppercorns or with tomato concasse and serve immediately.

Auntie Florence

My Auntie Florence was quite the character, tiny in stature but a huge presence.  We used to call her Mrs. Tiddywinkle after the famous character in Beatrix Potter’s tales in the Lake District.

In her later years she seems to have shrunk in stature but certainly not in personality.

When she passed away recently at the age of 88, tributes poured in from all over the world from people whose paths had crossed with her in life and particularly from the students for whom she was a familiar presence at the Cookery School.

Numerous mentions of ‘a warm welcome from this colourful character’, ‘always ready to party’, ‘always up to mischief with a glint in her eye’. ‘A much-loved social butterfly’.

Always beautifully dressed in her imitable quirky style, she loved bright colours – pink, orange, rose, colourful beads, stripy socks, jaunty scarves, sun hats in Summer, furry hats in Winter, she even had a pink one…

All her life she had a passion for horses and the races – even in her last days, a mention of Cheltenham brought a smile to her face.

Her interests were wide and varied – she loved to entertain, play bridge, the archaeological society, the Georgian society, watching the stormy seas…

She travelled all over the world rekindling treasured friendships, making new friends everywhere she went and always genuinely interested in people.  She had an uncanny way, particularly in later life, of managing to get people to do things for her.  In one of the many memorable messages on Instagram, a past student wrote she even ‘had him and his friend washing her Yaris outside the school on the last day of exams’!. My response was ‘Just as well I didn’t catch her’!

Auntie Florence will be remembered for many things, but we’ll also remember her through her recipes, she loved to cook.  Auntie Florence’s Orange cake is the stuff of legends – it was chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the European Parliament and is a favourite Birthday cake for many.  I can still see her standing by the Aga, flipping her famous crumpets, the standby treat for any unexpected guests.  She even made the occasional loaf of Soda Bread up to a few weeks before she passed away.

Back in the 1950’s, before electricity had arrived in the village of Cullohill in County Laois where I was born, she would peddle her little bike all the way from Johnstown (8 miles) with a brick of HB Ice-cream carefully wrapped in layers of newspaper and a pack of wafers.  You can’t imagine the joy and excitement when we saw her coming over the hill.  Later we’d made raspberry buns from ‘All in the Cooking’ together at the kitchen table, a perfect first cooking lesson for a child eager to cook.  There are so many memories connected to food.

I remember helping to clean the wild field mushrooms we collected together and then watching her stewing them in milk on the old ESSE cooker – I can still taste the flavour….

Another random thought – she loved lambs’ kidneys and would sidle up to the students during butchery class here at the school and say, ‘I’ll have those please’!  She loved them dipped simply in seasoned flour, seasoned with salt, a few blobs of butter, a little water and cooked in the oven between two Pyrex plates.  Try it – delicious! 

And of course broth, Auntie Florence loved broth and certainly knew the value of it, she made a few attempts to die in recent years but each time, we brought her back from ‘near dead’ with organic chicken broth.  Sadly it didn’t work this time, but, when we see the stock pots bubbling, they will always remind us of Auntie Florence as will these recipes which I joyfully share with you.

Aunt Florence’s Orange Cake

Here it is, the recipe for the legendary orange cake.

Serves about 8–10

225g (8oz) butter

200g (7oz) caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Orange Butter Cream

110g (4oz) butter

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

Orange Glacé Icing

juice of 1 orange

300g (10oz) icing sugar

1 or 2 pieces of homemade orange candied peel, optional

2 x 20cm (8 inch) round cake tins or 1 x 28cm (11 inch) in diameter and 5cm (2 inch) deep

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

Grease and flour the cake tins. Line the base of each with silicone paper.

Cream the soft butter and gradually add the caster sugar. Whisk until soft and light and quite pale. Add the orange zest followed by the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each addition.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together and stir in gradually. Mix lightly, then stir in the orange juice.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake for 35 minutes or until cooked. Turn out onto a wire tray and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the orange cream. Cream the soft butter; add the sieved icing sugar and orange zest. Whisk in the orange juice little by little.

To make the icing, simply add enough orange juice to the icing sugar to make a spreadable icing.

When the cakes are cold, use a serrated bread knife to split each one in two halves.  Spread with a little filling and then sandwich the two bases together.

Spread the icing over the top and sides and decorate the top with little diamonds or heart shaped pieces of orange candied peel.

Variation

Single Orange Cakes

We sometimes just ice the top and sides of each layer with orange buttercream or glacé icing.  Decorate the sides with toasted flaked almonds and the top with candied orange peel – two cakes for the price of one…

Auntie Florence’s ‘Crumpets’

Another great standby, ‘Crumpets’ are made in minutes with ingredients you’d probably have in your pantry.  A perfect solution if you’ve got nothing ‘in the tin’ when a friend drops in for tea. The problem is one always eats too many!  If you can’t find Bextartar, substitute self-raising flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Makes 15 approx.

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 teaspoon Bextartar (cream of tartar)

2 eggs, preferably free range

225ml (8fl oz) milk

50g (2oz) castor sugar

25g (1oz) butter

To Serve

butter

homemade jam or apple jelly

or

lemon juice and castor sugar

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter. Drop the eggs into the centre, add a little of the milk and stir rapidly with a whisk allowing the flour to drop gradually in from the sides. When half the milk is added, beat until air bubbles rise. Add the remainder of the milk and allow to stand for one hour if possible. *  Drop a good dessertspoonful into a hottish pan and cook until bubbles appear on the top. It usually takes a bit of trial and error to get the temperature right. Flip over and cook until golden on the other side. Serve immediately with butter and homemade jam or better still apple jelly.  Alternatively crumpets can also be served with warm lemon juice and sprinkled with castor sugar.

* They are usually lighter if the batter is allowed to stand but I’ve often cooked them immediately with very acceptable results!

Auntie Florence’s Soda Bread

Florence sometimes added an egg to the buttermilk for extra deliciousness.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (8oz) brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda), sieved

1 tablespoon of fine oatmeal or bran or wheat germ

25g (1oz) of butter or 2 tablespoons fresh cream

1 organic and free-range egg

400-425ml (14-15fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

wholemeal flour for the work top and baking sheet

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

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, rub in the butter.  Add the cream (if using) and beaten egg to the sour milk or buttermilk to measure 425ml (15fl oz).  Make a well in the centre and pour all of the buttermilk mixture. Using one hand, stir in a full circle, starting in the centre and working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured board (use wholemeal flour).

WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm (2 inches) approx. Sprinkle a little of the spare wholemeal flour from the worktop onto a baking tray.  Lay the loaf on top of the flour. Mark the surface with a deep cross and prick in each corner to let the fairies out of the bread. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further 30 minutes approximately.   Turn the bread upside down on the baking tray and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes.  The bread will sound hollow when tapped on both sides.  Cool on a wire rack, wrapped in a clean tea-towel while hot if you prefer a softer crust.

Raspberry Buns

These buns were the very first thing I remember helping my Auntie Florence to bake. My grandchildren love filling the holes in the centre with jam, just as I did – I seem to recall that the recipe came from ‘All in the Cooking’.

Makes about 10

200g (7oz) self-raising flour and 25g (1oz) ground rice

OR

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

75g (3oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) butter diced

1 organic egg

1 tablespoon full cream milk

homemade raspberry jam

egg wash

caster sugar

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

Put the flour and ground rice, if using, into a bowl and add the caster sugar. Toss, add in the diced butter to the flour. Then rub into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with the milk and then use a fork to mix it with the dry ingredients until you have a softish dough.

Divide the mixture in two, roll each half into a thick rope and then divide each into five pieces. Form each piece into a round and transfer to a baking tray.  Dip your thumb in flour and make an indentation in the centre of each bun.

Drop a little spoonful of raspberry jam into the hole, then pinch the edges of dough together to almost cover the jam.

Brush the top of each raspberry bun with egg wash and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, sprinkle with caster sugar and eat while nice and fresh.

Kidneys on a plate

Another of Auntie Florence’s favourites.

Serves 2

4 young lambs’ kidneys

plain white flour well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

20g (3/4oz) butter

2 tablespoons water

2 Pyrex plates

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

Half the kidneys and remove the ‘plumbing’.  Dip each piece into well-seasoned flour.  Arrange in a single layer on a Pyrex plate, dot with little pieces of butter and add a couple of tablespoons of cold water.  Cover with a second Pyrex plate and cook for 15-20 minutes or until no trace of pink remains. Serve with bread and butter to mop up the delicious juices.  

Stop Food Waste Day 2022

Stop Food Waste Day on April 27th this year is all about raising awareness, igniting change and identifying more ways to change our behaviour and minimise food waste.  

You’ll all be familiar with at least some of the statistics.  33% of all the food produced globally is lost or wasted but did you know that 45% of all root crops grown never reach the table. 

Just 25% of all the food wasted could feed all the 95 million undernourished people in the world and 8% of all the greenhouse gas emissions each year are due to food loss or waste.  Shameful statistics – a massive issue for the planet and each and every one of us. 

Here at the Ballymaloe  Cookery School, even though we’ve got a strong focus on Zero Waste, we’ve still on a journey, gradually discovering and sharing more innovative ways to avoid food waste, we continue to encourage students to be mindful about simple things like throwing the veg peelings and herb stalks into the stock pot rather than the bin.  Scraps that don’t qualify for the stock pot go into the hen’s bucket in every kitchen to be recycled by the hens to come back as beautiful fresh eggs a few days later.  The shells go back into the hen’s bucket to add calcium to the shells of future eggs (and no it doesn’t encourage them to peck the shells of freshly laid eggs!). 

For many, unconscious wasting has become an acceptable way of life – it may surprise many to realise that this is a relatively new phenomenon.  When I was a child in the 1950’s, waste was not an option, all leftover scraps were used up deliciously, clothes and machinery were mended rather than discarded and built-in obsolescence was not a thing.  Hopefully as public opinion becomes more intolerant of the mantra ‘better to buy new than to fix, companies will be forced to rethink their policies. 

But back to food and what we can do in our homes and restaurants.   Cheap food is certainly part of the problem – ‘easy come, easy go’ but with cost spiralling, working towards a ‘Zero Waste’ policy in our homes or businesses was never more timely.  It may take a fundamental change in mindset for all the family or team but quite quickly it can become part of the ethos with everyone entering into the spirit.  There’s also a brilliant feel-good factor – good for the environment, your pocket and your business….

Start to cast an ‘eagle eye’ over what’s going into the bins.  Ideally plates should be empty after a meal.  If not, ask yourself, WHY? 

Are portions too large or perhaps it doesn’t taste good.  Zone in on the cause and remedy…  We need to view waste as ‘tearing up bank notes’.  Every morsel of waste matters…and in restaurants, the head chefs’ attitude to waste can quite easily be the difference between profit and loss in a business where margins are already tight. 

At home, you’ll be astonished how much money can be saved weekly once you focus on food waste.   We need to be conscientious ourselves and lead by example.  Chefs can scrutinise the menu, examine every single dish and ask – are we using every scrap of each ingredient, from ‘nose to tail’ and ‘root to shoot’.  Choose recipes that won’t result in waste.  Often though not always, fine dining restaurants are the most wasteful.  Long tasting menus that only utilize the choicest of morsels can result in the trimmings being dumped.  

Make stock with meat, fish bones, poultry carcasses and vegetable trimmings. This ought to be part of the work ethic.  Use as a base for soups, broths and sauces.

Stock can be frozen in recycled plastic gallon cream containers.

Both at home and in restaurants, listen to requests.  If someone asks for a small helping…. one piece of toast for breakfast or one slice of bread with a soup – that is what they want, don’t give them two!  One can always offer a second helping…

Relearn and teach your family and team the almost ‘forgotten skill’ of using leftovers to make delicious new dishes.

Leftover bread can be used in a myriad of ways to make other dishes such as bread and butter pudding, strata, French toast, breadcrumbs, croutons, pangrattato, croutini, crostini…

Link in with local farmers/vegetable growers to buy ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables and gluts in season, use all parts of the vegetable.  Make it a priority to pay them a fair price.   It’s possible to get 2 or 3 uses from many vegetables – e.g. beets – one can use the roots, stalks and young leaves in different ways.  It’s a valuable and fun exercise to educate yourself and your team by visiting the producers and learning about their process.

Encourage supermarkets and local shops to sell ‘less than perfectly shaped and sized fruit and vegetables.  They are just as delicious and can be sold for 30% less.  This minimises the waste on the farm and increases the farmers income.  According to the WHO, over 15% of food is lost before leaving the farm in great part due to supermarkets criteria for perfect produce. 

Reducing waste is one of the most immediate and impactful actions we as individuals can do to fight climate change.

Top tips

Have a stock box in your freezer (broth).

Cheese rind.

Whizz leftover Parmesan cheese rind in the food-processor and use in a Béchamel Sauce.

Leftover cooked fish.

Leftover cooked fish can be used in a myriad of ways – in salads, pastas, grain bowls, sandwiches, rice paper rolls, fish cakes.  If you have leftover raw fish, it’s really best to slowly poach it either in olive oil or fish stock, that way it keeps way better.  Once it’s carefully poached, it’s less time sensitive and can be used in all kinds of recipes for several days.

How about a simple salad.  Just flake the fish ‘confit’, mix gently with mayo or aioli, lots of freshly chopped herbs – chives, parsley, chervil, maybe fennel, a little pinch of mild chilli flakes, maybe piment d’ espelette or Aleppo pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Taste, season and pile onto toast or crackers to enjoy with a glass of dry white wine.

Alternatively, if you like crudo or lightly pickled fish.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight if it’s a thick piece.  For extra excitement, add a sprinkling of fennel seeds, maybe paprika or chilli flakes or freshly squeezed lemon juice – experiment.  One could also cook it lightly and add to pasta or a salad.  Have fun. 

Crispy Rice Cakes with Salmon, Avocado and Pickled Ginger

Ordinary cooked rice works perfectly too, though it’s not as sticky. 

leftover sushi rice or sticky rice

flaky sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

smoked salmon or gravlax

wedges of avocado

horseradish sauce or wasabi

pickled ginger

coriander sprigs (optional)

Line the base and sides of a small ‘lasagne’ dish with parchment paper.  Press the cooked rice into the dish so it’s about 1cm (1/2 inch) deep.  Cover and pop the block into the freezer for about 45 minutes.

Then unwrap, season with flaky sea salt.  Dust both sides with a little seasoned flour or cornflour.  Cut into fingers about 6 x 4cm (2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch).

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a wide, heavy frying pan.  Cook until crisp and golden on all sides (4-5 minutes).  Cool a little, spread a little horseradish sauce on each, add a strip of smoked salmon or gravlax, a wedge of avocado and a little pickled ginger and maybe a sprig of coriander.  Alternatively, use raw wild salmon when available and a dash of wasabi.  Dip in soy sauce and Enjoy!

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do but just follow the instructions.

450g (1lb) sushi rice “No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1 pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly, preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Mashed Potato Pizza

Of course one can make potato cakes or croquettes but how about this potato pizza.

Serves 1

Leftover mashed potato

chorizo or pepperoni, diced

Tomato Fondue or homemade tomato sauce

Mozzarella or bocconcini

grated cheese, Parmesan, Pecorino or a mature Irish Cheddar cheese

flaky sea salt

oregano, basil or parsley sprigs to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10.

Spread the well-seasoned mashed potato into a well-oiled, hot metal dish or iron pan.  Sprinkle with little cubes of chorizo or pepperoni or ‘nduja.  Top with a layer of tomato fondue.  Add a few blobs of Mozzarella or bocconcini and sprinkle with grated cheese.  Pop into an oven and cook for 8-10 minutes until hot throughout and bubbling and golden.  Sprinkle with sprigs of fresh herbs and a few flakes of sea salt. 

Slide onto a hot plate and enjoy.  Needless to say, one can do all kinds of riffs on this theme depending on what looks enticing in your fridge.  I also love Turkish lamb mince made with:

1 tablespoon  extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) freshly minced lamb

4 ripe tomatoes, finely diced

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin or pinch of cayenne (optional)

Sweat the onion in a little butter or oil and allow to cool completely.  Mix all the ingredients together and season well with salt and pepper.

Potato Peel Crisps

A brilliant and super tasty way to use potato peelings – you’ll never chuck them out again. 

Main crop potatoes are best for this recipe.  Scrub the potatoes well. Heat the oil (dripping/beef fat) in a deep fat fryer or in a pan with at least 4cm (1 1/2 inch) of oil if unavailable. Dry the peelings as best you can.

Drop one into the hot oil to check the temperature, it should bubble and rise to the surface if the oil is hot enough.

Cook the remainder of the peelings in batches until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, or a towel.

Sprinkle with pure salt and maybe a little chilli powder or dry roasted cumin powder for extra fizz.

Scones or Hot Cross Bun French Toast

A super delicious way to use up those stale scones or buns, you discover in the bottom of the bread bin!

Serves 2

2 stale scones or hot cross buns

3 organic free-range eggs

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon (optional)

To Serve

crème fraiche or softly whipped cream

mint sprigs or shredded mint leaves

Whisk the egg with the cream and add a pinch of cinnamon if using.  Pour onto a deep plate.  Split the scones or hot cross buns.  Put cut side down and allow to soak up the mixture.  Flip over and wait until both sides are saturated.

Meanwhile, melt a little butter on a medium heat, cook gently on both sides until golden.

Serve on hot plates with a blob of crème fraiche or softly whipped cream and a sprig of mint or some shredded fresh mint if available. 

Moroccan Style Stew

A scrummy way to use leftover lamb, beef, pork or chicken.

Serves 8

15g (generous 1/2oz) butter


olive oil


2 onions, finely chopped


2 garlic cloves, finely chopped


1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed


1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon honey


1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


juice of 1 lemon (or lime)


450ml (16fl oz) homemade vegetable or chicken stock (plus more if needed)


1 large bunch of fresh coriander or parsley, finely chopped (or a mixture of both)


1 tablespoon shredded mint


1 teaspoon paprika


1/4 teaspoon or more cayenne pepper or chilli flakes depending on how feisty you’d like the flavour


leftover roast lamb (beef, pork or chicken), diced

Heat the butter and oil mixture in a large saucepan. Add the onion and gently fry for about 10 minutes until soft and slightly golden. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times.

Add the drained chickpeas and chopped tomatoes. Stir, then add the turmeric, honey, ginger, cinnamon, salt and freshly ground black pepper and the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced but not dried out completely. Top up with more liquid if necessary.

About 10 minutes before the end, add the chopped coriander and/or parsley, 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, paprika and cayenne or chilli flakes.

About 5 minutes before the end, add the leftover diced roast lamb, beef, pork or chicken.

Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Sprinkle with lots of fresh herbs.

Tip: Add additional vegetables such as red peppers or cooked potatoes.

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter to you all.

Hope you are having a joyful holiday with all your family and friends.  If you have children around the house, there will probably be Easter eggs everywhere.  I have to say, I’m nostalgic for the days when I nibbled my one precious Easter egg slowly, enjoying every little morsel over several days.  I even kept the packaging and smoothed out the shiny, silver foil carefully with my fingers to bring into school to make a collage at art class.  Can you imagine…

Well, I’m going to dedicate this week’s column to using up leftovers from the Easter feast.  Do you have some lamb?  Spring lamb is delicious cold, provided it’s not refrigerated, I just cover the entire dish carefully with a tea-towel and keep it in a cool place.  My favourite way to enjoy morsels of leftover lamb is in white bread sandwiches with lots of butter, thinly sliced lamb, a few crisp slices of cucumber, a slick of apple and mint jelly and a few little flakes of sea salt – a delicious combination.  We use the handmade Family Pan we make in the Ballymaloe Bread Shed which tastes like a pan loaf used to taste like before the Chorley Wood method for bakeries became the norm. 

If you have more cold lamb, how about making a nice, big dish of my Moussaka for tomorrow’s supper.  Season it up well and use lots of chopped marjoram or oregano.  It reheats and freezes brilliantly and if anything, it even improves.  The only accompaniment needed is a green salad of Spring leaves and soft herbs. 

I adore devilled eggs.  If, like me you have hens, you’ll notice that they have got their ‘mojo’ back now that Spring has arrived and have gone into overdrive recently.  So, if you have a glut of eggs, they’ll pair deliciously with a few scraps of smoked salmon or mackerel and a little cucumber pickle to make a gorgeous little starter or a light lunch plate.

Now how about all that chocolate, collect up all the bits of Easter egg.  There are lots of ways to use us all those morsels.  Add it to scones or muffins as you might chocolate chips.  Alternatively, melt them in cream to make a chocolate ganache, which can be slathered over a chocolate cake, drizzled over vanilla ice-cream or whipped up into a Rum or Grand Marnier laced mousse.  It may also work well when melted or grated into your favourite chocolate cake but do reduce the sugar in the recipe because most Easter eggs are made from inexpensive chocolate that tends to be super sweet.

It’s also fun to make an Easter rocky road by adding a terrifying, combination of mini marshmallows, coarsely chopped speckled eggs, broken digestive biscuits and some Crunchie or honeycomb.  I love to add a few raisins and some whole, toasted nuts to the melted chocolate – a little freshly chopped mint adds extra zing and cuts the sweetness somewhat.

Leftover hot cross buns made a totally delicious bread and butter pudding.  Chop up frozen hot cross buns into chunks and add to chocolate chip cookies for a brilliant riff on the original.

Some chopped chocolate can be added to that too or you could pop a hot cross bun back into the oven to reheat, split it in half, add a dollop of chocolate ganache and a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream or just a dollop of Jersey cream – a decadent treat with the extra feel-good factor of using up leftovers deliciously.

Slow Roast Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Wild Garlic Aioli and Fresh Mint Chutney

When wild garlic is not in season, double the quantity of parsley, it will still be delicious… 

Serves 8-10

1 whole shoulder of Spring lamb on the bone, weighing approximately 3.6kg (8lb)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Wild Garlic Aioli

Homemade Mayo

1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped wild garlic leaves (Allium ursinum)

4 -6 tablespoons lamb cooking juices

Fresh Mint Chutney

1 large cooking apple (we use Grenadier or Bramley Seedling), peeled and cored

a large handful of fresh mint leaves, Spearmint or Bowles mint

50g (2oz) onions

20-50g (1-2oz) castor sugar (depending on tartness of apple)

salt and cayenne pepper

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

Place the lamb shoulder in a wide roasting tin or oven tray with the skin side up. Score the skin to encourage the fat to run out during the cooking and to crisp up the skin. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Place in a roasting tin, transfer to the oven and roast for 30 minutes before turning the temperature down to 160°C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for a further 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is soft and succulent and will lift off the bones… 

Meanwhile make the aioli.

Note:  the crushed garlic may be mixed into the mayonnaise for the aioli.   Finally add the chopped parsley and wild garlic.  Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary.

This sauce cannot be finished until we have the juices from the cooked lamb.

Next make the fresh mint chutney.

Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor, season with salt and a little cayenne pepper.  Cover and keep cool. 

To test if the lamb is cooked to a melting tenderness, pull the shank bone and it and some of the meat should come away easily from the bone.

When the lamb is cooked, remove from the oven. There will be plenty of fatty cooking juices. Strain these through a sieve into a bowl. Keep the lamb warm in the oven with the temperature reduced to 100°C/200°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

When the fat has risen to the surface of the lamb cooking juices, skim carefully and thoroughly with a spoon.

Thin out the garlic mayonnaise with 4-6 tablespoons of the degreased juice to achieve a consistency similar to softly whipped cream or in other words the mayonnaise should now just lightly coat the back of a spoon. Taste and correct the seasoning. 

Bring the remaining juices to a simmer and taste and correct seasoning.

To serve the lamb, a tongs or serving fork and spoon are the best implements to remove the meat from the bones.  Prise largish pieces off the bones and serve on hot plates with some of the hot cooking juices, Wild Garlic Aioli and the Fresh Mint Chutney drizzled over the top… 

Greek Moussaka

Serves 8

This Greek peasant recipe, served in almost every taverna in Greece is one of the best ways to use up leftover lamb.  There are many variations on the theme, some include a layer of cooked potato slices and raisins. I’m sure it’s not my imagination, but I sometimes feel that moussaka is even better on the second day.

350g (12oz) aubergines

350g (12oz) courgettes

1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes (use at this time of year) but very ripe fresh tomatoes are best in summer

1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for frying

1 onion, finely chopped (include some green part of spring onion if you have it)

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450g (1lb) cooked minced lamb

1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

1 bay leaf

pinch of grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons plain white flour

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) raisins, plumped up in hot water while you prepare the other ingredients (optional)

For the topping

45g (1 1/2 oz) butter

45g (1 1/2 oz) plain white flour

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

1 bay leaf

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons cream

110g (4oz) grated Gruyère or mature Cheddar cheese or a mixture

salt and freshly ground pepper

earthenware dish 25.5 x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch)

Slice the aubergines and courgettes into 1cm (1/2 inch) slices, score the flesh lightly with a sharp tip of a knife, sprinkle with salt.  Leave for half an hour. Roughly chop the tinned tomatoes. Peel and chop the fresh tomatoes finely if using. Keep the juices.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat, add the onions and garlic and cover and sweat for 4 minutes. Add the meat, herbs, bay leaf and nutmeg to the onions. Stir in the flour, cook for 1 minute then pour in the tomatoes and their juice. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Season well.

Dab the aubergines dry with kitchen paper. Heat a pan-grill over a fairly high heat.  Brush both sides of the aubergines generously with extra virgin olive oil, cook until richly coloured on each side. Brush both sides of the courgettes with olive oil, pan-grill until richly coloured on each side. As the courgettes are ready, transfer into the bottom of a shallow casserole. Tip the meat mixture onto the courgettes, sprinkle with the drained raisins if using, then lay the fried aubergines on top. See that the top is as flat as possible.

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

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, then draw off the heat, add the milk slowly, whisking out the lumps as you go. Add the bay leaf. Return the pan to the heat and stir until boiling. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 2 minutes until thickened.  Whisk the egg yolk with the cream in a medium sized bowl. Pour the sauce on to this mixture whisking all the time. Add half the cheese and pour over the aubergines in the casserole. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and bake for 30-35 minutes in the preheated oven until completely reheated and nicely browned on top.  Serve with a good green salad.

Moussaka can be made up in large quantities ahead of time, cooled quickly and frozen after it has been closely covered with parchment paper.

Note

In Autumn, if using fresh tomatoes at the end of the season, it may be necessary to use about 65ml (2 1/2fl oz) of stock to make the mince juicy enough.

Devilled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Pickle and Watercress

Smoked mackerel, trout or eel also works well here instead of the smoked salmon.

Serves 8

Devilled Eggs

4 free-range eggs

3-4 tablespoons homemade Mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

110g (4oz) smoked Irish salmon

Cucumber Pickle (see recipe)

Garnish

watercress or flat parsley or chervil

First make the cucumber pickle (see recipe).

For the egg mayonnaise, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes in boiling salted water, drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water. (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked).

When cold, shell, slice in half lengthways and sieve the yolks into a bowl. Mix the sieved yolk with mayonnaise, add chopped chives and salt and pepper to taste. Fill into a piping bag and pipe into the whites. Garnish with a chive or a sprig of parsley or chervil.

To assemble

Slice the smoked salmon into 3mm (1/8 inch) thick slices straight down onto the skin, arrange 3 or 4 pieces on one side of the plate, place the stuffed egg beside it and then add some cucumber pickle to the plate. Garnish with a sprig of watercress or flat parsley or chervil and we like to serve it with Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread.

Egg Sandwiches

Coarsely chop the peeled eggs, season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, mix with mayonnaise and finely chopped chives. Add a little smoked paprika if you fancy.

Cucumber Pickle

You won’t need all of this, but it keeps well and is a brilliant store cupboard standby.

Serves 10-12

1kg (2 1/4lb) thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

200g (7oz) sugar

2 level tablespoons salt

225ml (8fl oz) cider vinegar

Combine the cucumber and onion sliced in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in refrigerator and leave for at least 4-5 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Ganache

A brilliant multi-purpose recipe.  Use as a sauce over ice-cream, to ice a chocolate cake or allow to cool and whisk up into a mousse for feather-light chocolate truffles.

225g (8oz) plain chocolate, chopped – we use 52% (Valrhona or Callebaut) but one could use up leftover chocolate

175ml (6fl oz) cream

1-2 teaspoons rum or orange liqueur (optional)

Put the chocolate in a large bowl. Bring the cream to the boil, pour over the chocolate, add the booze if using.  Leave for 8-10 minutes or until cool.  Pour over ice-cream as a sauce or use to ice a cake.

For chocolate truffles, whisk the chocolate and cream together gently until it reaches really soft peaks – careful not to over whisk or it will be too stiff to roll and may turn into chocolate butter. Roll into balls and coat with cocoa or praline to make delicious little chocolate truffles. 

An After Easter Rocky Road

Scary stuff but addictive – an inspired way to use up leftovers!

This recipe is not carved in stone so use what you have access to…

Makes 24-36 depending on size

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted butter

300g (10oz) chocolate

300g (10oz) mini marshmallows

110g (4oz) cherries, cut in half or a mixture of cherries and Crunchie

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) hazelnuts (toasted and skinned)

110g (4oz) biscuits, chopped or broken

150g (5oz) mini speckled eggs – leave 75g (3oz) whole and cut the remaining in halves.

23cm (9 inch) square tin (5cm/2 inch depth) lined with silicone paper

Melt the butter and chocolate gently in a Pyrex bowl sitting over a saucepan of tepid water, allow to cool but while still liquid stir in the marshmallow, halved cherries, Crunchies (if using), raisins, hazelnuts, biscuits and mini speckled eggs. Toss gently to coat in the melted chocolate. Pour into a lined tin and allow to set for 2 hours or over overnight.

Cut into 4 x 7.5cm (1 1/2 x 3 inch) squares or whatever you fancy.

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