Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Last year our Indian holiday had to be cancelled for all the reasons we are now familiar with, so rather than ask for a refund, we deferred our booking for 12 months so we had something really to look forward to throughout the ups and downs of the last year.

In November 2021, India reopened for travel and one could get a month-long visa so rather than hop from one place to another, we decided to go directly to Ahilya Fort, an enchanting heritage property perched high above the sacred Narmada River in Maheshwar where there’s always a gentle breeze. 

It’s quite a mission to get there, Cork to Amsterdam and onto Delhi and then a domestic flight to Indore.  A driver from the hotel welcomes you at the airport with a picnic to sustain you for the almost two-hour journey to the exquisitely restored fort, originally the home of Ahilya Bai, the warrior Queen who ruled Indore from 1765 – 1796.   The driving force behind the restoration project was Prince Richard Holkar, descendant of Queen Ahilya Bai.  He and his original wife Sally Holkar also re-established the almost extinct hand weaving industry for which Maheshwar was justly famous and is now once again thriving.  Women now come from all over India to choose a much-coveted Maheshwar silk sari.

The balcony of our bedroom overlooked the ghats (steps), temples and chattris on the riverbank where there is endless activity from sunrise to sunset.  It’s a riot of colour.  Before dawn, local women come to wash their clothes in the river.  Hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom have walked for over 150kms with their little bundle of possessions, pour onto the ghats to perform their pujas and bathe in the sacred river to wash away their sins.  Others chant, sing, pray… Children fly homemade kites, feed the sacred river fish and sell brightly coloured baubles to Indian tourists on day trips…There’s street food galore, poha, pingers, poppodums, sugar cane juice, guavas…The women bathe in their beautiful saris and then spread them out on the ghats to dry…Little boats, all gaily painted, ferry devotees backwards and forwards across the km wide river to the myriad of temples on both riverbanks…From the poorest to the most affluent…everyone is so devout…it’s incredibly moving.

The little town is bustling with activity too, lots of tiny shops, selling everything from garlands of marigolds and roses to embellish the Gods or welcome visitors.  Intriguing hardware shops, tailors busy on their Singer sewing machines, jewellers hand beating silver, stalls piled high with spanking fresh vegetables and fruit, bananas, carrots, water chestnuts, papayas, watermelons, pomegranates…A host of Indian sweets and namkeen shops.  Halfway downtown, close to the ATM machine, there’s a barber with an open-air shop front trimming hair, beards and soaping up chins ready for shaving.  Around the corner, a man meticulously irons piles of clothes with a big heavy iron like one might find in an antique shop.  Others sell colourful pictures of the Indian Gods, incense and much sought-after Shiva lingam from the river, and other essentials for puja’s (special prayers) – so beautiful and intriguing, it’s like walking through a Bollywood movie…

From early morning to late at night, the air is fragrant with the smell of food from the numerous street stalls, katchori, pakoras, bright orange jalebi, poha, robori and a wonderful fluffy saffron milk bubbling in a large kari (iron wok).  

By now you can tell that I love India.  Everyday there’s another adventure, somewhere new to explore.

I had several wonderful cooking classes in Indian homes, usually from grandmothers who still do everything from scratch and cook over an open fire with wood and dried cow dung patties.  The latter may sound very strange to us but in fact, it’s very common in rural India.  Food cooked over dried dung fires tastes delicious.  They don’t smell at all, it’s a brilliant way of recycling and Guess What…you can buy Indian cow patties (gotha) via Amazon.  They are also used in some religious ceremonies.

How about the food at Ahilya Fort? 

All meals are included in the room rate plus afternoon tea and non-alcoholic cocktails from 7-8pm.  Much of the produce is home-grown in the organic gardens, on the farm or comes beautifully fresh from local markets. 

Memorable, long lazy breakfasts with deliciously ripe fresh fruit and juices, homemade yoghurt (curd), jams made by Prince Richard Holkar himself, freshly baked breads…I made kumquat marmalade from the fruit in the garden and picked the lemons from the lemon tree to make a zesty lemon curd.  There’s an Indian speciality every day, dosa with sambal, idli, uppam, masala omelette or Maheshwari scrambled eggs…

Lunch is mostly western vegetarian food but for dinner a different Thali every night, with 6 or 7 little bowls of delicious Indian food and fresh crunchy vegetables with a segment of lime and salt. 

Some of the recipes come from Prince Richard Holkar’s book, the Food of the Maharajas, others have been brought to Ahilya Fort by the cooks from their family homes. 

Many in India are vegetarian, so there’s a ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ option at every meal and an Indian dessert – perhaps carrot or guava halwa, lemongrass kheer, gulab jamum, lapsi…Not all Indian food is spicy but I looked forward to every meal at Ahilya Fort.  Here are a few recipes for some of the food I enjoyed.

Check it outwww.ahilyafort.com

Ahilya Fort Chicken Survedar

Another of my favourite recipes from ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) organic chicken

6 tablespoons clarified ghee/butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ginger paste

2 tablespoons garlic paste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/4 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

450ml (16fl oz) coconut milk

10 – 12 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh coriander

Heat the clarified ghee or butter in a pan.  Add the chopped onion, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic paste, poppy seeds and turmeric.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the freshly ground black pepper and salt and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, add the chicken pieces and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cook until the chicken is tender.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Before serving add the coarsely chopped cashew nuts and lots of fresh coriander. 

Virgin Chicken

Not sure how this recipe got its name but the end result is intriguing and delicious.  Serve with Basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons seeds only of whole dried red chilli peppers

1 tablespoon scraped and minced ginger

1 tablespoon salt

110ml (4fl oz) natural yoghurt

110ml (4fl oz) cream

Drop the chilli seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz to a smooth purée.

50ml (2fl oz) clarified ghee/butter

450g (1lb) chicken pieces, preferably skinned, cut into 5cm (2 inch) piece with bone in, if possible

225ml – 450ml (8-16fl oz) hot water

Pour the clarified butter into a medium saucepan.  As it begins to heat, stir in the chicken pieces and the blended mixture.  Mix thoroughly.  Add 225ml (8fl oz) of hot water and simmer uncovered until tender (add extra water as necessary).

1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

50g (2oz) dried coconut

14 almonds, peeled and coarsely chopped

110ml (4fl oz) whole milk

Meanwhile, put the poppy seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Blend to a smooth purée.  Add this purée to the chicken ten minutes before serving.  Heat through, stirring gently. 

1 – 2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

Basmati rice to accompany

Just before serving, stir in the remaining ingredients.  Serve on a mound of Basmati rice to absorb the abundant sauce.  Garnish with lime wedges. 

Ahilya Fort Lobia Beans

Fresh lobia beans look like French beans, the dried beans are also used in many dishes – but use the fresh beans for this recipe.  I hadn’t come across white chilli powder before but it can be sourced in an Indian food store.

Serves 4-6

500g (18oz) French beans

1 tablespoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1/4 tablespoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

3 tablespoons Thai basil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon white chilli powder (or use a combination of ground white pepper and chilli powder)

pinch of asafoetida 

1/4 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons grated coconut

Cut the beans into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.  Grind the garlic, ginger and basil to a paste in a pestle and mortar.  Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the ginger, garlic paste into the oil.  Add the French beans, stir and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk, white chilli powder and cook for another 5 minutes.  Then add a pinch of asafoetida and mustard seeds and salt.  Cook until it splatters.  They can be reheated.

Just before serving, garnish with fresh coconut. 

Cauliflower and Tomato Stew

I love this combination – delicious alone or with chicken, lamb or beef.

Serves 4-6

5 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 onions, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1 teaspoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

500g (18oz) cauliflower, cut into small florets

5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and diced

lots of fresh coriander to serve

Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the mustard and cumin seeds, then the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add the garlic and ginger paste and cook and stir for a further 5 minutes.  Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and salt to taste.  Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.  Add the cauliflower florets.  Stir and cook for 5 – 8 minutes or until just cooked.  Add the tomato dice and cook for 3 minutes.  Taste and serve with lots of fresh coriander. 

Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

I made this recipe at Ahilya Fort, based on a delicious brownie recipe created by super baker Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes, in London.  It was a BIG success.  We’ve gilded the lily by adding a drizzle of ganache and by sprinkling some coarsely chopped pistachio and a few rose petals on top – I used fresh rose petals from the organic flower garden at Ahilya Fort.

Makes 10 brownies

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing

350g (12oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces (approx. 60-70% cocoa solids) (we use Valrhona)

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white flour or spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using sea salt)

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs (about 200g/7oz)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

110g (4oz) dark chocolate, chopped into pieces


50g (2oz) pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals

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

Butter and line a 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch)  baking dish with parchment paper.

In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over water that has been brought to the boil and then taken off the heat.  Leave the mixture to rest, stirring occasionally as it melts.

In another bowl, sift together the cocoa, spelt flour and baking powder.  Sprinkle over the salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture, followed by the combined dry ingredients and pour into the prepared baking dish.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes – the brownies should be set but with a slight wobble.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed stainless-steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  Leave it to cool to room temperature.

Slather a little chocolate ganache on top of the brownies. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and rose petals.  Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy.

Tangerines with a hint of Jasmine Syrup

This deliciously refreshing recipe also comes from Ahilya Fort.  A simple gem so good after a rich main course.  Scatter with a few jasmine flowers in season. 

Serves 6

6 clementine, mandarin or satsumas

Jasmine Syrup (available to buy in Asian food stores)

fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season

Peel the citrus, removing all the pith.  Cut into approx. 7mm (1/3 inch) slices around the equator.  Lay 3-6 slices on cold plates, depending on the size of the fruit.  Sprinkle with a little jasmine syrup (just a few drops). 

Scatter a few fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season over the top.

Climate Change

By now there can scarcely be a person on the planet who is unaware of climate change and the imminent threat to natural ecosystems and life as we know it.  It’s difficult not to feel helpless in the face of the terrifying statistics but there are over 7.5 billion of us on planet Earth and think of the collective difference everyone of us doing our bit could make…  I’m convinced that we all want to but where to start?  You’ll have lots of ideas and suggestions yourself and let’s share…Send me yours and I’ll put them in ‘My little hot tip to save the planet’ every week for 2022.  So to get us started….

Everyone’s situation is different but here are a few suggestions for lots of little actions we can make at home in our own lives.  based on the time-honoured soundbite – reduce, reuse, recycle….

1. Let’s start with our grocery shopping – make a list, scrutinise each item and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?  Do I need this much? Is it produced sustainably?  Can I do without it?’

2. Breakfast cereals…Most have virtually no nutritional value but lots of sugar, salt and air miles…Yes, they are convenient, an easy option when you and everyone around you is bleary-eyed in the morning but how about organic porridge oats – can be cooked in minutes or better still, the night before and reheated in the morning.  Serve with a drizzle of honey, whole milk or Jersey cream, peanut butter, maple syrup….feel good and bounce with energy.

Flahavan’s or Kilbeggan sustainable organic rolled oats are cooked in minutes but try making a fine pot of Macroom oatmeal once or twice a week – Wow!  You’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier.

3.  Make twice or three times soup or stew recipes.  Takes a little more prep time but saves on cooking time.  Freeze surplus in recycled plastic containers.

4. Buy an organic chicken – 100% sustainable or at least a free-range bird (a pretty elastic term) and get 6 meals from one chicken including a pot of stock from the carcass and giblets and a delish chicken liver parfait from the livers…Very cheap chicken very often has antibiotics, hormones, growth protomers, bone strengtheners and antidepressants in every feed – NOT GOOD, unsustainable comes from the other side of the world, not to mention the welfare issues…

5. Save all your bones, cooked or raw plus trimmings of vegetables and herb stalks.  Store in a large ‘Stock Box’ in your freezer.  When the box is full to the brim, make a celebration pot of stock, same cooking time for a large pot as a tiny saucepan.  Strain, cool and freeze in recycled litre milk bottles.  Use for soups, stews, tagines or reduce to make a nourishing broth.

6. Save all your citrus peels, one could make candied peel to use in cakes, plum puddings, garnishes etc.  Otherwise, dry and use for firelighters.  I use the bottom oven of my ancient Aga to dry the peels but could be near a radiator or close to a heater.  They keep for ages, spark deliciously and smell of caramelised oranges and provide tonnes of virtuous feelings…

7. Mindful tea and coffee, let’s think before we fill the kettle every time. Do we just want a small pot of coffee or just one mug of tea? Let’s just boil enough water for our needs and save energy – again this is something we can become mindful about…

8. Eliminate ‘tin-foil’ totally from the kitchen, you can do without it altogether – YES you can…I banned it from the Ballymaloe Cookery School years ago for a variety of reasons (not least the possibility of particles of aluminium in our food – not good). Clingfilm is more of a challenge but I’m on a mission to eliminate that also, particularly as I remember life before clingfilm. It’s best to remember to cover bowls with plates and plates with upturned bowls where possible.  However, this can create a space challenge in the fridge and coldroom….
Beeswax wrappers are a good solution in domestic settings but a challenge in restaurants and commercial situations. Store leftover food in recyclable plastic boxes (get them free from your local sweet shops).

9. Kitchen paper towels have become another ‘must have’ in our homes. Now let’s look at this – actually, it’s totally unnecessary, spills can be mopped up with a damp dish cloth in the time-honoured way. Reusable dish cloths can be made from old towels or distressed tea towels, Certified FSC cellulose cloths are worth exploring. They absorb lots of liquid, apparently replace 17 rolls of kitchen paper and last for over nine months and endure over 200 constant washes.
No prizes for knowing that kitchen paper and paper napkins have huge environmental impacts from deforestation and water consumption to the pollution associated with pulping and bleaching, not to speak of the waste created by these throw-away products.
According to the Environment Protection Agency, Ireland has increased its waste right across the board.  An 11% increase in packaging waste alone.  Each and everyone of us creates 628kgs of waste each year. How shocking is that but not surprising considering all the extra packaging generated by everything having to be wrapped during Covid and all those paper cups…So what can we do?  An easy one is to keep a glass or mug in your bag or car at all times for those take-away coffees and teas…

10. Save all your leftover bread and crusts to make breadcrumbs – just whizz up in a blender or food processor or grate on a box grater in the time-honoured way (careful of your fingers…)
Freeze for stuffings, crumbles, gratins, crumbing, pangrattato, migos…

11.Wash-up liquid – we really need to think about this.  At the very least, buy a well-established eco brand (plant rather than petroleum  based).  Many contain phosphate which contributes to eutrophication of water in rivers and lakes. If possible, buy in bulk and refill your plastic bottles.

12. If it is an option, trade up and buy a dishwasher with a 10-12 minute cycle, uses less water and in my experience cleans non-greasy dishes perfectly without any dishwasher tablet. Think before you add the tablet, perhaps you can save 4 or 5 a week….

13. Use natural cleaning products, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice are some of the most effective. Totally illuminate all ‘fresh airs’, detox products from your home…they are expensive and may damage your health. Open the windows and how about lots of scrubbing brushes and elbow grease…

14. Save apple peels and cores to make apple jelly. Keep in a freezer box.

15. Best thing ever, get a few hens, four in a chicken coop on the lawn are plenty for an average household. Feed them the food scraps and get delicious fresh eggs in return a few days later – best recyclers ever – plus the chicken poo will fertilise your lawn or activate your compost heap. Your kids will love them, give a present of a few eggs occasionally to your neighbours in exchange for scraps and looking after hens when you are on your hols!

Ballymaloe Granola

A million times more delicious, nutritious and satisfying cereal than virtually anything you can buy.  Remove breakfast cereals except porridge entirely from your shopping list – sounds horribly bossy but yes you can!

Serves 20

350g (12oz) local runny honey

225g (8fl oz) light olive or grapeseed oil

470g (1lb 1oz approx.) oat flakes

200g (7oz) barley flakes

200g (7oz) wheat flakes

100g (3 1/2oz) rye flakes

150g (5oz) seedless raisins or sultanas

150g (5oz) peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds or cashew nuts split and roasted

70g (2 3/4oz) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

50g (2oz) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, berries in season, milk and/or natural yoghurt.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stone-ground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

Serves 4

155g (5 1/4oz) Macroom oatmeal

1.4 litres (scant 2 1/2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

soft brown sugar

Bring the water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with Jersey cream or whole (preferably raw) milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top or any other favourite toppings of your choice.

Leftover porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day but will need some extra water added.


If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Chicken Liver Pâté with Croutini

Chicken livers are loaded with Vitamin A – a vitally important nutrient at this time.  This recipe has been a timeless favourite in Ballymaloe since the opening of the restaurant in 1965.  Its success depends upon being generous with good Irish butter.  Thin crisp croutini are made from stale bread, yet another way to use up every scrap…

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.

225g (8oz) fresh organic chicken livers

2 tablespoons brandy

225-350g (8-12oz) butter (depending on how strong the chicken livers are)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper

Clarified Butter (melted and skimmed butter), to seal the top.

Wash the livers in cold water and remove any membrane or green tinged bits. Dry on kitchen paper.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan; when the butter foams add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat.  Be careful not to overcook them or the outsides will get crusty; all traces of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then de-glaze the pan with brandy, allow to flame or reduce for 2-3 minutes. Scrape everything with a spatula into a food processor.  Purée for a few seconds.  Allow to cool.

Add 225g (8oz) butter. Purée until smooth.  Season carefully, taste and add more butter, cut into cubes if necessary.

This pâté should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots or into one large terrine.   Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.  Serve with croutini.   This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.


Another brilliant way to use up every leftover scraps bread deliciously. 

Preheat the oven to 150C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2.

Slice staleish baguette diagonally into the thinnest slices possible and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray.  Dry in a low oven until crisp and dry, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pâtés, cheese or just as a snack slathered with something delicious, or with soup.

Leek, Sprout and Macaroni Bake

Recipe taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books.

This gratin can be cooked ahead, refrigerated for several days or frozen, so it’s a good standby option. Try adding some little morsels of bacon, chorizo, merguez or Toulouse sausage…Use breadcrumbs (can be frozen) for the crumble topping with grated cheese from the last little scraps in your fridge.

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) macaroni

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, weighed after trimming, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) leeks (white and green parts sliced in 7mm (1/3 inch) slices at an angle)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

green salad, to serve

For the Cheddar Cheese Sauce

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) plain flour

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

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

150g (5oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan cheese

For the Buttered Crumbs

15g (1/2oz) butter

25g (1oz) white breadcrumbs

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar cheese

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

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook for 10–15 minutes until just soft. Drain well.

Bring 600ml (1 pint) water to the boil and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Add the sprouts and cook for 2–3 minutes. Strain and refresh under cold water.  Drain well.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sliced leeks, season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 3–4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the leeks to continue to cook in the residual heat while you make the sauce.

To make the Cheddar cheese sauce, melt the butter, add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley (if using) and cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and season to taste.

To assemble, spread one-third of the macaroni in the base of a 30 x 20.5 x 6cm (12 x 8 x 2 1/2 inch) gratin dish. Top with the well-drained sprouts, another third of macaroni, then the leeks (add the juices to the remaining sauce) and spread the remaining macaroni evenly over the top.

To make the buttered crumbs, melt the butter, turn off the heat, add the breadcrumbs and leave to cool. Stir through the grated cheese and sprinkle evenly over the gratin. Cook for 15–20 minutes until golden on top and bubbling. Flash under a grill for a few minutes if necessary. Serve with a green salad.

Bramley Apple Peel Jelly

Save your apple peels and cores in a box in the freezer, then top up with cooking apples to make an apple jelly of your choice.

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lb)

apple peels, cores and Bramley apples to make 2.7kg (6lb in weight)

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons


Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oZ) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Flavour with sweet geranium or rosemary as desired (see below). 

Apple and Sweet Geranium Jelly

Add 6-8 large leaves of sweet geranium while the apples are stewing and put a fresh leaf into each jar as you pot the jelly.  Delicious on scones or with roast lamb or pork. 

Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot.  Serve with lamb or pork.

Food Trends 2022

As we gear up for a New Year, I’ve been doing some crystal ball gazing in an effort to predict food trends for 2022. During the past year we’ve seen a considerable pandemic related shift on grocery buying habits as we adjusted to spending more time at home.

There’s been a well-documented rise in the food to go and meal kit area and considerable innovation as the restaurant sector struggled to pivot.  Food truck numbers increased exponentially and these days it’s more usual to see a coffee machine in a horse box than a horse…

On the other end of the scale, Forbes predicts a rise in cooking robots and automation in the dining industry fuelled by labour shortages.

Expect to see more food ATM’s and vending machines. Meanwhile, anyone living in a city or big town can’t have failed to notice the stratospheric rise in delivery bikes – akin to London or LA.  After an initial rise in home cooking, cooking fatigue appears to have set in.

Nonetheless, my new book, ‘How to Cook’ – 100 essential recipes everyone should know is getting a tremendous response from people who think they can’t cook but would love to…!  I’m always happy to write a personal message on request…

There’s a definite rise in the number of people prioritising food and drink products that promise additional health and well-being benefits.  It’s difficult to get up-to-date figures on the number of vegans and vegetarians in Ireland but the increasing number of menu options and products on supermarket shelves acknowledges the growth in these areas.  Plant-based ‘meats’ like the Impossible Burger and Moving Mountains Burger that sizzle and bleed continue to gain fans.

This year, reductarianism is the new buzz word.  It has been dubbed one of the top 10 trends: Reductarians are “Not ready to go full vegan but want to significantly reduce consumption of meat”. This group are determined to make more sustainable life choices and restore the ecosystem.  They seek out high quality pasture fed meat produced to high-welfare standards and want to be reassured of environmentally friendly production methods.  The plant-based sector and the number of ‘plant-curious’ eaters is growing exponentially.  The growing number of environmentally aware consumers want to hear that farmers are making an increased effort to protect wildlife and restore ecosystems.

According to Waitrose, nearly 70% of shoppers are going the extra mile to reduce their carbon footprint in some way or another. Research confirms that environmental awareness amongst consumers has surged during the past year with 85% of us making more sustainable life choices.

Trend forecasters have also noted that those working from home are eating bigger and enjoying more experimental breakfasts.

There’s been a spike in the sale of eggs, bacon and demand for all manner of exotic mushrooms is way up.  Kits to cultivate oyster and lion mane mushrooms at home are all the rage.  Post cereal’ snack packs to munch during the day and frozen sandwiches are emerging as lunch solutions.   

Pet food sales have gone through the roof.

Urban hydroponic farming is a huge trend in cities all over the world. Everything from salad greens to exotic mushrooms.  Innovation in indoor farming and growing some of our own food has skyrocketed.  Some vegetable seeds were in short supply last year so order early for 2022.  Supermarkets are using roof space to grow both indoors and outdoors. Hydroponics is creating a new interpretation of locally grown – Hyper local…

Millennials and generation-Z-ers are dabbling with ‘drysolation’.

Buzz less spirits, bottled cocktails and ready to drink cans are revolutionising the bar experience.  Definitely one of the top trends and here to stay.  Functional fizz infused with probiotics and botanicals to boost immunity and benefit gut health and heart health are all the rage.  Water kefir, kombucha, tinctures are mainstream. It’s no surprise that turmeric, with its many health-giving properties, is popping up everywhere, not just in fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles continue to gain market share.

Our love affair with coffee continues unabated.  Cold coffee is trending. Look out for Amazake-Japanese coffee, Vietnamese iced coffee.  Plant based dairy sales are up.  Potato milk is the next big thing, it will be in a coffee shop near you before too long.

Japanese, Korean and Chinese flavours are trending. Sales of umami paste are gathering momentum.  Food of the Caucasus and the Levant are also on foodie’s radar.  Spicy foods are here to stay from Indian garam masala to Mexican tajini (a mixture of dehydrated dried chillies, lime juice and sea salt), Indonesian sambal oleck, BBQ rubs, Japanese gochujang – all add a pop of flavour.

Pomegranate molasses, Turkish Urfa, chilli flakes and feta are flying off shelves.  Every list includes Yuzu, the sour tart tangerine sized citrus from Japan, Korea and China that’s taking the culinary world by storm. Use it in drinks, cocktails, vinaigrettes, mayo, ponzu sauce, desserts… mostly available so far as a juice or a bottled sauce.  There’s also a craving for old-fashioned flavours that bring back memories of happier more carefree times.

Nut allergies have accelerated the popularity of sunflower seeds – they are trending also and are great for people who have allergies to other nuts.

CBD food products, both food and drink are moving mainstream. Hibiscus, the red flowers of a colourful shrub, has been dried and used in tea and drinks around the world from Mexico to South Africa for years but are now included in a myriad of foods, ice-cream, cakes – high in vitamin C.  Hibiscus tea is the new matcha. 

Moringa from the drumstick tree is being hailed as a new super food and tastes a bit like dried cherries.

Artisan bakers are burgeoning, virtually every small town in Ireland will soon have an artisan bakery and a range of viennoiseries offering natural sourdough. Market leaders are liaising directly with farmers to grow heritage grain varieties and using freshly milled flour for their loaves.

Sales of herbs and spices are up over 40% since 2020.

By no means a comprehensive list, and it’s always interesting to keep an eye on what is trending in the US. It’ll be coming our way before too long. There’s more genuine concern about food waste. Labelling is becoming more ‘homey’ with terms like 100% grown on American soil and regionally grown produce – watch that space…

Happy New Year to all our readers, continue to buy seasonal, Irish produce.  We can all make a difference to local farmers and food producers with how we choose to spend our food Euro.

Apple and Hibiscus Soda

A super nutritious and refreshing drink, flavoured by the Mexicans….

Serves 6 approx.

1 bottle (750ml/generous 1 1/4 pints) of apple juice

15g (1/2oz) dried hibiscus flowers

1/2 – 1 bottle (1 – 2 litre/1 3/4 – 3 1/2 pints) sparkling water


Put the dry hibiscus flowers down the neck of the bottle of apple juice.  Screw on the lid.  Shake the bottle and allow to macerate overnight.

Next day, half fill glasses, add a couple of ice cubes.  Top up with sparkling water and enjoy.

Exotic Mushroom Risotto

Everyone needs to be able to whip up a risotto, comfort food at its best and a base for so many good things, from exotic mushrooms, crispy pork lardons or kale to foraged nettles. 

Serves 6

1 – 1.3 litres (1 3/4 – 2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock

50g (2oz) butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

400g (14oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a mixture of Parmesan and Pecorino

sea salt

225–350g (8–12oz) a selection of sliced and sautéed mushrooms (lion’s mane, chestnut, oyster, porcini, chanterelles…)

First bring the stock to the boil, reduce the heat and keep it at a gentle simmer.  Melt half the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4–5 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (5fl oz) of the simmering stock, stir continuously, and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (5fl oz) of stock.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly.  The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside.  If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey.  It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously.

The risotto should take 25–30 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, add the stock about 4 tablespoons at a time.  I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on.  The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly al dente.  It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick.  The moment you are happy with the texture, add in the well-seasoned hot sautéed mushrooms, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan, taste and add more salt if necessary.  Serve immediately on hot plates.

Alternatively, you can pre-cook the rice for finishing later.  After about 10 minutes of cooking, taste a grain or two between your teeth.  It should be firm, slightly gritty, definitely undercooked but not completely raw.  Remove the risotto from the saucepan and spread it out on a flat dish to cool as quickly as possible.  The rice can be reheated later with some of the remaining stock and the cooking and finishing of the risotto can be completed.  Risotto does not benefit from hanging around – the texture should be really soft and flowing.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is spicy Indonesian chilli paste – hugely popular condiment – in Malaysian and Thai dishes.  If you are not a fan already, buy a little jar and start to experiment.  It really adds a pop of flavour to a myriad of curries, dishes from soups and stews to scrambled eggs.   Serve with sausages, hot dogs, cold chicken, turkey, burgers, pork…

Prawns with Sambal Oelek Mayo

I predict that this sambal oelek mayonnaise will become a new favourite in your kitchen for 2022.

Serves 30

30 cooked prawns in their shells

Sambal Oelek Mayo

300ml (10fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sambal oelek

1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar or best white wine vinegar

flaky sea salt

coriander sprigs

Mix the mayonnaise with the sambal oelek and vinegar to taste.  Add a little flaky sea salt if necessary.  Use as you fancy.  Store covered in the fridge for 8-10 days or more.

To Serve

Serve five fat cooked prawns in their shell per person.  Add a dollop of sambal oelek mayo and a few sprigs of fresh coriander.

Sambal Oelek Chicken Skewers

Another delicious way to use your new ‘best friend’ sambal oelek…

Makes 8

110g (4oz) light brown sugar

110ml (4fl oz) unseasoned rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sambal oelek or hot chili paste

50ml (2fl oz) fish sauce (nam pla)

50ml (2fl oz) Sriracha

1-2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

700g (1 1/2lb) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 4-5cm (1 1/2 – 2 inch) pieces

12 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water at least 1 hour

Whisk the brown sugar, vinegar, chilli paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat.

Allow to marinate for 15-30 minutes.

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

Drain the chicken.  Thread 4 or 5 pieces onto each skewer.  Pour the leftover marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, simmer until reduced by almost half, 7–10 minutes.

Transfer the chicken skewers to a baking tray.  Cook in the preheated oven, turning and baste often with the reduced marinade, cook through, 8–10 minutes approx. 

Serve drizzled with a little marinade on a bed of salad leaves.  Sambal oelek mayo would be a delicious accompaniment. 

Yuzu Curd

Tangy delicious yuzu curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge.  It is best eaten within a fortnight.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 yuzu or 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, yuzu zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Cover when cold, refrigerate and use as you fancy. 

Winter Mocktail

When it comes to Winter cocktails or mocktails, it’s all about citrus.  The blood orange season is now in full swing so have fun.

4 freshly squeezed blood oranges

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon honey or sugar syrup or more if required

Sparkling water

Mix the freshly squeezed juices with honey to taste.  Add sparking water.  Pour into a cocktail glass.  Top with a sprig of mint and a thin slice of thin blood orange.  Enjoy immediately.

Fizz can of course be substituted for sparkling water…

Christmas Store Cupboard

Today, I’m thinking about what to rustle up for the unexpected guests who pop in from time to time over Christmas.  A well-stocked pantry is of course the key.  My brilliant standbys are smoked Irish salmon, tuna, sardines, artisan farmhouse cheeses, pickles and relishes, frozen and fresh pasta, Arborio rice for a spontaneous risotto, chicken liver pâte to slather on pan-grilled bread, water biscuits, pistachios, pizza bases, charcuterie, chorizo, nduja, cooked ham, eggs of course, a large pot of natural Jersey yoghurt, some raw local honey and cream.  A bag of meringues and a pot of ‘delicious over everything’– a mixture of mildly boozy dried fruit and nuts that keeps for months in your fridge, awesome to scatter over ice-cream, meringues, crêpes, yoghurt, rice pudding…

A few winter vegetable soups, frozen in 2 person containers are another of my ‘go to’ standbys… They defrost in a few minutes and can be jazzed up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of seeds and a few fresh herbs.

Freeze a few slices of fresh natural sourdough, great to toast or pan grill, as a base for all manner of tasty toppings.  Who doesn’t love a toastie perked up with some spicy mustard.  My other top tip is to weight up the dry ingredients for white soda bread, crumpets, pancakes and popovers minus the raising agent which can be added with the liquid at a moment’s notice.

Teeny weeny scones take 7 or 8 minutes to cook in a hot oven and you can be tossing crumpets and pancakes on the pan within minutes.  Then coarsely chop a few nuts, whip out a jar of that salted caramel sauce, maybe slice a banana and pile them on top for a little spontaneous feast.

I’d also have a few really quick pasta sauces up your sleeve.  Frozen pasta or for that matter any fettuccini cooks in minutes and who doesn’t love pasta.  I’m never without a couple pots of fresh or frozen tomato fondue.  It’s one of my ‘great convertibles’, a sauce for pasta or chicken breast, a filling for an omelette, topping for pizza…

Little tartlets or vol-au-vonts made with all butter puff pastry also merit a place in the pantry.  I love to fill tartlets with a blob of goat cheese, a few rounds of kumquat compote and a peppery rocket leaf – Christmassy and delicious.  A fat prawn and a dollop of dill mayo is also delicious.  A few retro mushroom vol-au-vents will also disappear in no time so have a pot of mushroom ‘a la crème in your fridge or freezer.  Another great convertible and a delicious sauce to slather over steak or lamb chop or burgers.  Even simpler but equally delicious, Mushrooms on Toast anyone?

I adore sardines on toast or waffles with a big dollop or mayo or horseradish cream but ever since my trip to Portugal.  I’ve been making a super quick sardine pâté – just whizz up the sardines with some soft butter, a little mustard and some chopped parsley or dill if you have it.  All made in minutes, just a few suggestions so you’ll be relaxed and prepared, doesn’t matter who or how many unexpected visitors you need to welcome.  Chill out, pour yourself a glass of fizz.  Have fun and enjoy.

Portuguese Sardine Pâte

A gem of a recipe, a brilliant Christmas standby made in minutes and ever present on tables in Portuguese cafés.  Slather on toast or a crusty baguette. We use Shine’s sardines from Donegal.

Serves 6-8

118g (4 1/4oz) sardines in tomato sauce

110g (4oz) soft butter

1 generous tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly cracked black pepper

Put the sardines and tomato sauce into a food-processor. Add the soft butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped parsley and 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Whizz until smooth. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Fill into a bowl or ramekin and cover.

Served slathered on hot toast or grilled bread. Really tasty with a glass of crisp, dry white wine.

Sardine and Dill Pâte

Use sardines in olive oil rather than tomato sauce.  Add a little dill and maybe a scrap of grated horseradish. 

David Tanis’s Pasta Cacio e Pepe

This delicious version of Cacio e Pepe, one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes comes from one of my all-time favourite cooks David Tanis.  Cacio e pepe (literally, “cheese and pepper”) has lately achieved mythic status, which is a bit surprising considering it’s so basic. You can get it in any restaurant in Rome, but it’s really a home dish. The trick is getting the pasta to finish cooking properly in the creamy sauce, which is just pasta water, butter, and cheese. The more peppery, the better.

Makes 2 servings

Cook 225g (8oz) linguine extra al dente (this is crucial) in well-salted water.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat and add 1/2 teaspoon coarsely crushed black pepper.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan, along with 110ml (4fl oz) of pasta water and a good pinch of salt.  Stir constantly, keeping the liquid at a rapid simmer; the pasta will begin to wilt in the sauce and absorb liquid. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Turn off the heat, 175g (6oz) grated pecorino, and stir until the pasta is coated with the creamy sauce. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Enjoy immediately…

Darina’s Magic Mushrooms

This creamy mushroom sauce is a ‘must have’ in your fridge.  It’s a brilliant sauce for a juicy steak, chicken breast or piece of grilled fish or toss it into a vegetable gratin – I particularly love it with leek and potato.  It makes a delicious sauce for pasta, a filling for an omelette, pizza topping and the most awesome mushroom toast.  It keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days. 

Serves 4

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced (flats have best flavour)

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add parsley and chives if used.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Christmas Popovers

This is a gem of a recipe which can be made in seconds and used as a sweet or savoury dish, breakfast, as a pudding or just to go with a cup of tea.  There are many variations on the theme.

For 14 popovers

110g (4oz) flour

2 eggs

300ml (10fl oz) milk

15g (1/2oz) butter, melted


1/2 pot homemade kumquat compote (see recipe) OR raspberry jam OR cranberry sauce OR savoury filling of your choice – how about Darina’s Magic Mushrooms and a little diced ham!

150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped

icing sugar, to dust

Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in eggs.  Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and add the milk in a steady stream at the same time.  When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter.  Allow to stand for one hour.  Grease hot deep patty tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full.  Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes approx.

Remove from the tins.  Cool and fill with a teaspoon on kumquat compote or homemade raspberry jam or cranberry sauce and whipped cream.  Decorate with holly leaves.

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

Note: If serving for breakfast fill with a spoon full of homemade marmalade, omit the cream.

Cheese Popovers: Add 50g (2oz) grated Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above, omit the jam and cream and enjoy immediately!

Kumquat Compôte

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

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

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

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Kumquat and Clove Compote

Add 6 cloves to the kumquats in the saucepan and proceed as above.

‘Delicious Over Everything’

This spiced fruit relish keeps for months and is as the title says, delicious over everything…You’ll find lots of ways to use it.  It will even perk up porridge, rice and is gorgeous over ice-cream, panna cotta, pancakes or crumpets.  Try it with cold ham or bacon.  I sometimes use Irish whiskey or Grand Marnier instead of sherry and post. 

Makes 425ml (15fl oz)

50g (2oz) yellow raisins

50g (2oz) muscatel raisins

50g (2oz) currants

50g (2oz) dried apricots, sliced into pieces

50ml (2fl oz) port and 50ml (2fl oz) of sherry

25g (1oz) almonds, peeled and split

150g (5oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick

1 star anise

4 cardamom pods

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

Cover the dried fruit with warm port and sherry.  Allow to soak and plump up overnight.  Add the split almonds.    

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the cinnamon, star anise and cracked cardamom pods.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the syrup thickens.  Add the soaked fruit to the syrup with the chopped candied peel.  Bubble for 2 or 3 minutes.  Fill into sterilised glass jars, cover with a screw cap.  Keeps for 6 months or more.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Tick, tick, tick, such a joy to be able to cross off some of the ‘must-dos’ off my interminable list.

How come Mummy somehow managed to arrange her life so that virtually everything was organised by Christmas Eve (and there were nine of us!). The tree decorated, paper chains looped from corner to corner across the ceiling, holly tucked coyly behind picture frames, Christmas cards on every mantel piece, log baskets filled, candles primed and the pantry bursting with Christmas goodies. Mincemeat, plum puddings, brandy butter, cranberry sauce… the stuffing was made, the ham glazed and several batches of soda bread weighed up ready to just mix and pop into the oven when we needed freshly baked loaves over Christmas. The Christmas cake took pride of place on the sideboard, simply decorated with a snow scene embellished with a scattering of silver dragees and Christmas decorations that re-emerged every year from where they were stored in the old Jacobs biscuit tin box.

Mummy’s legendary trifle laced with oodles of sweet sherry, hidden well away so the boys couldn’t demolish it on their return from midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

In later years, we’d all travel back home from far and wide on Christmas eve and gather around the fire while Mummy cut the aforementioned Christmas cake. We’d catch up with each other’s lives over many cups of tea and moist crumbly cake with a thick layer of marzipan – that’s what memories are made of….and then there was supper…

Somehow, simple comforting nursery food is just what’s needed for Christmas Eve supper.  How about a delicious dish of bubbling mac’ and cheese or croque monsieur (they too can be prepped ahead). Fish pie also hits the spot. Maybe add a few prawns or shrimp for an extra ‘lux’ version and don’t forget lots of creamy mash on top or could be scrunchy filo.   Good juicy sausages in a sweet chilli and mustard glaze or Ballymaloe relish and mayo in a soft bun are also a crowd pleaser.  It’s good to cook and glaze your ham (or loin of bacon) on Christmas Eve or even the day before.  It will keep brilliantly and be a super standby for snacks, sandwiches.  Slice or dice to add to ‘mac and cheese’ or a St Stephen’s Day pie. Just a few suggestions… here are some recipes for standby dishes to have ready to pop into the oven. Pour a glass of fizz for yourself, give thanks for the many good things during the year and share the joy with your family and friends.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to ‘zhuzh’ it up. Maybe a few cubes of smoky bacon, mackerel, chorizo or a layer of melted leeks to the sauce.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

50g (2oz) plain flour

850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk OR 700ml (1 1/4 pints) milk and 150ml (1/4 pint) pint cream

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

225g (8oz) freshly grated mature Cheddar cheese or a mix of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan

25g (1oz) freshly grated Cheddar or Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring 3.4 litres (6 pints) water to the boil in a large saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6–8 minutes until sweet and mellow. Add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk the milk in gradually, season well with salt and pepper, then return to the boil, stirring constantly. Add the mustard, parsley, if using, and cheese. Add the well-drained macaroni and return to the boil. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Alternatively, turn into a 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish and sprinkle the extra grated cheese over the top. Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15–20 minutes.

Good things to do with leftover Mac & Cheese

* Mac & Cheese Fritters

You can’t imagine how sinfully delish this is…

Heat olive oil in a deep-fat fryer at 180°C (350°F) or a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of oil. Roll the leftover mac and cheese into ping-pong-sized balls. Roll in seasoned flour, beaten eggs and fresh white or panko crumbs to coat. Fry for 4–5 minutes until crisp on the outside and melting in the interior. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and toss in freshly grated Parmesan. Serve with spicy mayo made by mixing 110ml (4fl oz) homemade mayonnaise with teaspoons of sriracha, 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek or harissa and lemon juice to taste. Alternatively, allow the baked mac and cheese to get cold in the gratin dish. Cut into fingers or squares, dip in seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fry in olive oil for 3–4 minutes until crisp and golden on both sides. Serve with a dipping sauce or with the spicy mayo.

* Smoked Salmon or Smoked Mackerel or Chorizo

Add 225g (8oz) smoked salmon or smoked mackerel or chorizo dice to the mac and cheese before serving.  Add lots of chopped parsley too.


A croque-monsieur is the quintessential Parisian sandwich.   It’s really no more than a grilled ham sandwich topped with grated cheese, but it appears in many different guises.   Sometimes a croque-monsieur is topped with a thick Mornay sauce or transformed into a Croque-Madame with the addition of a fried egg on top.  

Makes 1

a dab of butter

2 tablespoons well-seasoned béchamel sauce (see Mac and Cheese recipe)

2 thin square slices best quality white bread (Pain de mie in France) – We use Ballymaloe Bread Shed ‘Family’ pan

1 slice best quality ham, cut to fit bread

2-4 slices (25g/1oz) of Gruyère cheese, grated

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Dijon mustard

Preheat the grill.

Butter one slice of bread.  Turn over and spread half the béchamel on the other side.  Top with a slice of Gruyère cheese, a slick of mustard, a slice of ham and add another slice of Gruyère, cover with the other slice of buttered bread.

Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and cook on both sides until golden.  Transfer to a small baking tray.  Slather the top with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle with grated Gruyère and Parmesan.  Pop under the preheated grill and cook until golden and bubbly. 

Serve immediately on a warm plate with a little salad of Winter leaves.

Fish Pie with Saffron

Who doesn’t love a fish pie? This easy-peasy recipe can be used for almost any round fish, including cod, pollock, ling, haddock, salmon or grey mullet. I love to cook up a big batch to make several pies, which can be covered and popped in the fridge or frozen and reheated another day. Omit the saffron if you don’t have any. A chopped hard-boiled egg and 110g (4oz) cooked peas add extra deliciousness and even more flavour. One can have a scrunchy filo topping, but I often make a crispy Cheddar crumb or mashed potato topping.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) cod, hake, haddock or grey mullet fillets, or a mixture

15g (1/2oz) butter, for greasing

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a generous pinch of saffron stamens

1 tablespoon water

approx. 20g (3/4oz) Roux (made by blending 10g (1/3oz) softened butter with 10g (1/3oz) plain flour – melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

150–175g (5-6oz) grated Gruyère or Cheddar cheese OR 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

110g (4oz) shelled cooked mussels

110g (4oz) peeled cooked shrimps

1/2 tin of chopped anchovies, approx. 4 fillets (optional)

Fluffy Mashed Potato

melted butter, for brushing

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little extra saffron if you have it to spare

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

Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of hot water.

Skin the fish and cut into 6-8 portions. Season well with salt and pepper. Lay the pieces of fish in a lightly buttered 26cm (10 1/2 inch) sauté pan and cover with rich milk and saffron. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 4–5 minutes until the fish has changed from translucent to opaque. Remove the fish to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in enough of the roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Stir in the mustard, grated cheese and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cooked fish together with the mussels, shrimps and chopped anchovies, and stir gently to coat with the sauce.

Pipe a layer of fluffy mashed potato over the top.

Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes until the pie is bubbling and the potato topping is crisp and golden. Drizzle a little saffron here and there over the top for an extra treat but it will still be gorgeous without it. I sometimes save a few whole shrimps or mussels in the shell for garnish too.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Pineapple and Cloves

I know this sounds a bit old hat, but of all of the glazes that I do, this is the one that I keep coming back to. Or you could just use marmalade. You’ll know when the ham is cooked when the rind comes off the fat easily.  Loin or streaky bacon is less expensive but equally delicious.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of fat) and the rind still on.

30 or more whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds

350g (12oz) brown Demerara sugar

a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice from a small tin of pineapple

If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight and discard the water the next day. Cover the ham with fresh, cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty, there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water, put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of ham (usually about 4 hours but depends on the size of the ham). When the ham is fully cooked the rind will peel off easily and the small bone at the base of the leg will feel loose.

To glaze the ham: preheat the oven to 250˚C/ 500˚F/Gas Mark 9.

While still warm, gently peel the rind from the cooked ham, score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Transfer the ham to a roasting tin just large enough to take the joint.

Spread the thick glaze over the entire surface of the ham, but not underneath. Bake it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until it has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste the ham regularly with the syrup and juices.

Serve hot or cold with accompanying sauce of your choice.


Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

Both of these cuts are delicious glazed as above. The latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious.

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard and variations

Cocktail sausages are a brilliant product to have on standby.  Everyone loves them, even if there are lots of other fancy bites.

Makes about 30

450g (1lb) good-quality cocktail or breakfast sausages

2 tablespoons Irish honey

2 tablespoons Irish grainy mustard (such as Lakeshore wholegrain mustard with honey)

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

Prick the sausages and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally, until cooked and golden.  Baste several times during cooking. 

Mix the honey with the mustard. Toss the sausages in the honey and mustard mixture and serve hot or warm.

Here are a few other ideas for glazes.

Sesame and Honey Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to the above recipe and omit the mustard.

Honey and Rosemary Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped rosemary to 4 tablespoons of honey.

Sweet Chilli Sauce and Lime

Add 4 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce and juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, depending on size.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies with Irish Whiskey Cream and toppings

We have so much fun with mince pies and do lots of variations.  Sometimes we press out a star shape from the top so the mincemeat is visible, then we use that star to cover the next one.  A tiny heart can be put on top of another.  All mince pies with a pastry top need to be brushed with egg wash before going into the oven.

Makes 20-24 mince pies


225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) approx. cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

450g (1lb) Ballymaloe Mincemeat (see recipe)

egg wash

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Cream (see recipe)

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball: it should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

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

Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch).  Stamp out into rounds 7.5cm (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.  Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.  Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves in the shape of holly berries, etc.

Bake the mince pies in a preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or castor sugar.

Serve with a blob of whiskey flavoured cream.

Irish Whiskey Cream

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon icing sugar, sieved

225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream

Fold the whiskey and sugar into the whipped cream.

Ballymaloe Homemade Mincemeat

This is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  It contains suet, so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot.  Ask your butcher for some suet.

Makes 3.2 kilos (7lbs) approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots

2 cooking apples, such as Bramley’s Seedling

2 organic lemons

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

450g (1lb) beef suet

450g (1lb) sultanas

225g (8oz) currants

110g (4oz) candied citrus peel (preferably homemade)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

2 tablespoons Séville orange marmalade

pinch of salt

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

Core and bake the whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp. 

Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless-steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. 

Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.


This week, in answer to readers’ enquiries about how to use some ‘new’ ingredients, I’ve chosen to concentrate on miso for this article out of a list of more than 10, n’djuja, miso, sumac – I’ll get to the others in due course…
Some of you who enjoy cooking Asian and Japanese food particularly, will have been enjoying miso in both raw and cooked dishes for years but others will have noticed it popping up in random recipes in cookbooks and articles with increasing frequency.

What is miso – the word simply means fermented beans in Japanese. It’s nearly always made with soya beans, sometimes with other grains, beans and koji (a totally safe type of mould that grows on rice). It’s a staple of Japanese food. It lends a deeply savoury umami flavour to many vegetarian dishes but also makes meat and fish taste more intensely delicious. It’s packed with ‘good for your gut’ probiotics.

Miso has been made in Japan for millennia. The traditional process considered to be an art form in Japan involves inoculating a grain usually rice with the mould called koji, then using that to ferment a protein rich legume usually soy.  However, now that miso is no longer niche but quickly becoming mainstream, artisans, particularly in the US are experimenting with other grains – chickpeas, lima, aduki beans, farro, even sweet potatoes.

As the demand for this ‘must have’ sweet, salty flavour enhancer grows so does the demand for a non-soy version for those with allergies. So there can be lots of varieties, over 1,000 in Japan but for most of us here, there are just two choices. White (light) or red miso (dark). It varies in colour, texture and flavour and can be fermented for anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

Paler miso tends to be sweeter, dark miso has a more earthy, robust taste. The salty funkiness ramps up the flavour of a myriad of dishes. It can be eaten raw or cooked, used to add a burst of flavour to anything from gravy, polenta, stews, marinades, sauces, salad dressings, butters even bikkies or apple pie, so much more than miso soup which is many people’s introduction to miso.

It’s also super nutritious, brilliant for your gut biome and a terrific source of antioxidants, dietary fiber and protein. It’s now become a global flavour enhancer that no pantry should be without.  You’ll find it in your nearest Asian/Japanese store and in many supermarkets in a tub or jar – it looks like a paste resembling peanut butter. If you are fortunate to have a Japanese store near you, you’ll have a wider choice. Even the pale miso lasts for ages, darker miso, fermented for longer lasts for years in an airtight container in your fridge.
Chefs inspired by the NOMA Food Laboratory are experimenting with making their own.

So stock up and start to experiment. Pale miso is sweeter, less complex, more versatile, use it in soups, dressings, sauces, marinades, it also dissolves more easily and is dairy-free and vegan.

Aki Ishibashi’s Miso Soup

This is so easy to make and soon becomes addictive.

Serves 4

600ml (1 pint) dashi (see recipe)

3-4 generous tablespoons miso paste

175g (6oz) tofu, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 dessertspoon wakame (dried seaweed)


1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Heat the dashi, and dissolve the miso paste by stirring it into the dashi.  When it has dissolved completely, add the tofu cubes and wakame.  Bring it to the boil.  As soon as it starts to boil, turn off the heat.  Ladle miso soup into warmed individual soup bowls and garnish with spring onion.


Dashi (bonito fish stock) is essential in many Japanese dishes.  It provides a savoury flavour which cannot be attained by using seasoning only and it is much easier to make than meat or fish stock.

425ml (15fl oz) water

10cm (4 inch) piece konbu (dried kelp)

5-7g (1/8 – 1/4oz) dried bonito flakes

Wipe and clean konbu with a dry cloth.  Do not wipe off the white powder on the surface, as that is the one element that provides a unique savoury flavour.  Put the water in a saucepan and soak the konbu for 30 minutes before turning on the heat.  Remove any scum that forms on the surface.  When the water begins to bubble, just before boiling, take out the konbu.  Do not overcook or it will become slimy and the flavour of the stock too strong.  Add the bonito flakes, bring back to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom.  Strain through very fine muslin and discard the bonito flakes.  Use fresh garnished with spring onion or freeze immediately. 

Heavy Dashi

Follow the above recipe but increase quantity of bonito flakes to 15-25g (1/2 – 1 oz) and the water to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints).  Add two thirds of the bonito flakes and simmer the mixture uncovered for 20 minutes.  Add the remaining bonito flakes and proceed as above.  Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.

Instant Dashi

Instant dashi can be found in the form of a liquid extract as well as powder.  Just dissolve a liquid dashi or powdered dashi in boiling water.  But the flavour is nothing like as good as homemade dashi.

Roast Garlic and Miso Mash

An Asian twist on our fluffy mashed potato.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) potatoes, mashed with a good dollop of cream and lots of seasoning

2 medium heads of garlic

sprig of thyme

sprig of rosemary

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil


1 tablespoon of white miso

25g (1oz) butter

Split the heads of garlic in half around the ‘equator’.  Put them into a small round, ovenproof dish, add the herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add a little water and a good drizzle of olive oil. Cover the dish, bake in a preheated oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3, for 30-50 minutes depending on the size of the bulbs.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water, peel and mash with cream, season with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper.

Squeeze the soft roast garlic out of the skins, mash coarsely. 

Add the miso to the butter, mix well (save a blob or two).  Fold the remainder through the hot mashed potato, taste and serve with some roast garlic miso butter melting over the top.

Miso Butter Onions

Inspired by a recipe from ‘Flavour’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. Delicious with a pan grilled steak or lamb chop.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

8 medium onions, about 850g (1lb 14oz)

80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted

80g (3oz) white miso paste

600ml (1 pint) water

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F.

Halve the onions lengthways, discard the papery skin. Remove the next layer, it can be a bit dry and tough (add to the stock pot). Trim the tops, and a little off the root end, not too much. The onion halves need to stay together at the base.

Whisk the melted butter, miso and 600ml (1 pint) of warm water together until fully combined.

Arrange the onion halves spaced apart, cut side down, in a 30cm x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) high-sided roasting tin or dish. Pour over the miso liquid. Cover tightly with damp parchment and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the parchment, carefully flip the onions over so the cut sides are upwards. Baste well and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 45-50 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft, a rich brown on top, and the sauce has reduced to a light coating consistency.

Transfer the onions carefully to a serving plate, spoon the sauce over and serve at once.

Miso-Glazed White Turnips

Look out for winter white turnips in the Farmers Markets.  We love for White Globe, small white and crisp, delicious to munch raw but try this version with a white miso glaze.

Serves 4

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) small turnips, scrubbed and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) wedges

2 tablespoons white miso

1 teaspoon sugar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Put the butter, turnips, miso, and sugar into a sauté pan.  Add barely enough water to cover the vegetables.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.  Cook, turning occasionally, until the turnips are tender, and liquid has evaporated almost to a glaze, 8-15 minutes depending on age.

Continue to cook, tossing occasionally over the heat, until they are golden brown and caramelized, 3-4 minutes approximately.  Test with a tip of a knife, taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.  Serve hot alone or a side with chicken, lamb, beef, game or whatever you fancy.

Roast Cauliflower or Romanesco Florets with Miso Mayonnaise

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

Divide the cauliflower or romanesco into florets. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes or until slightly caramelised at the edges.

Serve with miso mayonnaise on the side.

Miso Mayonnaise
White miso also known as Shiro miso is fermented for a shorter time and is sweeter, more mellow and less salty.

Serves 4-6

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white miso (Shiro miso)
a splash of tamari
a squeeze of lime of lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl for taste and add a little more citrus juice if it needs it.

Pan-grilled Fish with Miso and a little salad

You can’t imagine how this miso ‘marinade’ enhances the flavour of the fish.

Serves 4

4 fillets of spanking fresh fish

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce


salad of organic leaves

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Coat the flesh side of the fillet, allow 15-20 minutes for the fish to absorb the flavour. 

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat.  Wipe excess marinade from the fish.  Drizzle with olive oil, cook, skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side.  Continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  Serve immediately with a little salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.

Chicken Breasts with Miso and Cabbage

Serves 4

2 large (or 4 smaller), organic chicken breasts (remove fillet if still attached)

4 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons runny honey

450g (1lb) cabbage

a little extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Score the chicken breasts on both sides with a sharp knife. Put into a shallow dish, just large enough to fit the chicken.

Whisk the mirin and honey into the miso. Pour over the chicken, turn in the mixture to coat evenly and allow to marinade for an hour or so.

Transfer to a small sauté pan or oven proof dish. Cook, basting regularly in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breasts (our organic ones are large, weighing about 225-300g/8-10oz each).

Meanwhile, cook some shredded cabbage quickly in a little olive oil and a splash of water in a sauté pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste. Remove the chicken breast from the tray, toss the sliced cabbage in the juicy marinade. Add back in the chicken. Toss gently, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve scattered with some shredded shiso perilla leaves or mitsuba.  Use flat parsley if they are not available.

The latter is a type of perennial Japanese parsley with a distinct celery flavour – worth growing to use in soups, salads and as a garnish.

Large, green leaves with purple undersides and a distinctive flavour with hints of basil, mint, anise, coriander and citrus. You’ll find yourself using it not just in sushi and sashimi and tempura but also in scrambled eggs, frittata, salads and stir-fries.  It grows easily in a tunnel in our climate so put the seeds on your list for next season.

NASU Dengaku (Miso Glazed Aubergines)

Serves 4

4 small or 2 large aubergines
extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons red miso (dark)
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons slivered spring onions

Slice the small aubergines lengthwise. If using large aubergines, cut crossways in thick slices. Score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern.

Heat the olive oil on a pan-grill. Cook the aubergines on both sides until tender and golden.

Meanwhile, whisk the miso, honey, soy and mirin together.

Preheat the grill.

Transfer the aubergines to a baking tray, coat with the glaze. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes or until bubbling and delicious.  Alternatively, cook in a preheated oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 for 8-10 minutes, keep an eye, they may be cooked earlier.  Transfer to a serving dish sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced spring onions.  Enjoy. 

World Soil Day

World Soil Day falls on December the 6th this year.  For me it’s the most important day of the year – perhaps that sounds as if I’ve gone slightly dotty but it’s really good to remind ourselves that we are all totally dependent on the four or five inches of topsoil around the world for our very existence. Our health and over 90% of our food comes from the soil.  If we don’t have rich fertile soil we won’t have clean water or good food – think about it….!  Soil also plays a vital role in regulating the climate and supporting animal and plant biodiversity.

In the words of Lady Eve Balfour: “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible” and the ominous warning from Franklin D Roosevelt – 32nd President of USA that “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” – how prophetic was that!

Here in Ireland, we have little reason to be complacent – only 10% of Irish soil is at optimum fertility.  According the Teagasc that means 90% of Irish soil is mineral deficient mainly as a consequence of overuse of artificial nitrogen, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which damage the soil and the earthworm population.

Soils are a limited natural resource; their formation occurs at an extremely slow pace.   At the very least, it takes 100 years to build an inch of topsoil but can in fact take 500 years or more.  Most current food production methods do not nurture the soil, instead they exploit it.  There is a growing realisation among the farming community that we can no longer continue with ‘business as usual’ for a myriad of reasons not least the diminishing nutrient content of our food.  The move by many farmers to regenerative farming as a means of improving soils, increasing biodiversity and mitigating climate change is to be welcomed. 

I’m intrigued by the soil.  Soil scientists confirm that there are more microbes, enzymes, protozoa and nematodes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than people on earth but there is so much, still to understand.  If I ‘come back again’, I want to be a soil scientist…  

As organic farmers, we are passionate about the soil.  We continue to build fertility by adding well-rotted farmyard manure, compost, humus, seaweed and even seashells.  Regular soil testing monitors progress.  We eagerly await the introduction of a spectrometer that can measure the nutrient density of food so farmers who produce more nutrient dense food can be paid properly for the extra nourishment their food provides.  That could surely be a game-changer.  It’s not difficult to calculate that someone along the food chain is losing out when a bunch of carrots which takes at least four months to grow from seed are sold for 46 Cent.  Despite economies of scale, if this continues there will be no Irish vegetable growers within a few years – they simply cannot any longer continue to produce vegetables below an economic level.  In the words of one farmer ‘we would probably be paid more for stacking shelves in the supermarket’.  This can’t go on – check out the brilliant French initiative C’est qui le Patron (cestquilepatron_ on Instagram) where the consumer gets the option to pay more having being told the story behind the production of that litre of milk, loaf of bread, carton of eggs…

Delicious, nutrient dense, wholesome food that helps to build a strong immune system and boosts our antibodies comes from rich fertile soil not from labs and test kitchens.

Late Autumn/Winter is the root vegetable and citrus fruit season, leeks and calcots too and all the stronger brassicas, kale, red cabbage…So here are a few recipes for nourishing Winter dishes – you’ll eat less and feel more satisfied – don’t believe me – Try it!

Swede and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

I love swedes, an inexpensive, super-versatile vegetable with lots of flavour and one that’s often forgotten.  A night’s frost concentrates the sugar and sweetens them even more.  This soup is an example of how swedes can sing. A little diced chorizo or some chorizo crumbs mixed with some chopped parsley is also delicious sprinkled on top.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, peeled and cut into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk, to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parsley Oil

50g (2oz) freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

fried diced bacon


First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook over a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potatoes and swede in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid to keep in the steam and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

To Serve

Serve with a drizzle of parsley oil, a grind of black pepper and a mixture of crispy bacon and croutons sprinkled on top.


For a vegetarian version use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and omit the bacon.

For a vegan option omit the cream or creamy milk as well.

Winter Lamb Stew with Bacon, Root Vegetables and Garden Herbs

A super tasty meal in one pot.  Celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes can also be added for extra nourishment and deliciousness.  Then perhaps one could reduce the quantity of lamb a little. 

Serves 4-6

1.8kg (4lb) of shoulder of lamb chops, not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)

350g (12oz) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sautéing

450g (1lb) onions, (baby ones are nicest)

450g (1lb) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced or 225g (8oz) carrots and 225g (8oz) of parsnips

750ml (1 3/4 pints) approx. lamb or chicken stock

8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)

sprig of thyme

Roux (optional)

Mushroom a la Crème (optional) 


a scattering of freshly chopped parsley

Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips if using, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.

Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.

When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.

The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some Mushroom a la Crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Mushroom a la Crème

Serves 4

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add parsley and chives if used.

Note: Mushroom a la Crème keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

It has to be said that roast whole Jerusalem artichokes don’t look that appealing, but don’t let that put you off. They are particularly good with goose, duck or pheasant, birds which enjoy eating Jerusalem artichokes themselves – which may or may not be a coincidence!

They are in season from November to March and look like knobbly potatoes.  Jerusalem Artichokes are a very important source of inulin which enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in our systems, particularly important after a course of antibiotics.

Jerusalem Artichokes are called sunchokes in the US, they are a member of the sunflower family.

Serves 4–6

450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes, well-scrubbed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

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

Cut the well-scrubbed artichokes in half lengthways. Toss them with the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt. Transfer to a roasting tin and cook cut side down for 20–30 minutes, when golden, flip over and continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Test with the tip of a knife – they should be mostly tender but offer some slight resistance. Sprinkle with thyme or rosemary sprigs, season with pepper and serve.

Nordic Kale Salad with Lemon and Cream

You must try this; the flavour is such a surprise and will convert even the most ardent kale refuser.  It is reminiscent of my grandmother’s dressing for lettuce, sounds a bit shocking but you are not going to eat the whole bowl yourself. Half natural yoghurt could be substituted for full cream.

Serves 10 – 12

450g (1lb) curly kale (225g/8oz) when destalked

lemon, finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

25g (1oz) sugar

250ml (9oz) cream

sea salt – scant teaspoon or to taste

Strip the kale off the stalks, chop the leaves very finely and massage well to release the juices. Toss in a bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon directly onto the salad. Add the freshly squeezed juice, a good sprinkling of sugar and some sea salt. Toss, pour over the cream and toss again.

Taste and add a little more seasoning, if necessary, needs to be a balance of zesty and sweet – totally delicious.

Fresh Orange Jelly with Mint

Everyone loves jelly – you can imagine how good the spearmint is with the orange – we sometimes substitute mandarins or tangerines here, use 10 or 12 depending on size.

Serves 6-8

sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing

6 organic or unwaxed oranges

225ml (8fl oz) syrup – (175ml/6fl oz) water and 150g/5oz sugar)

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

2 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine

2 tablespoons cold water


225ml (8fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice

caster sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped mint

To Garnish  

sprigs of mint or lemon balm

Brush 6-8 x 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) oval or round moulds with a tasteless oil. 

Using a stainless-steel grater, very carefully grate the zest from two of the oranges. Segment all 6 oranges and set aside.

Mix the syrup, orange zest, lemon juice and Grand Marnier together well. Then strain the liquid off the orange segments and measure 300ml (10fl oz). Add the measured orange juice to the syrup mixture and set aside the remainder for the sauce.

Sponge the gelatine in the cold water in a small bowl for a few minutes. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until all the gelatine crystals are dissolved. Mix with the orange liquid, stirring carefully. Add the orange segments and pour into the moulds. Transfer to the fridge for 3–4 hours to set.

To make the sauce, measure 225ml (8fl oz) orange juice, taste and sweeten with caster sugar, if necessary, then add the mint.

To serve, unmould the jelly onto individual plates. Pour a little sauce around each jelly and garnish with mint leaves or variegated lemon balm.

Blood Orange Jelly

Substitute 6-8 blood oranges and follow the above recipe.

Soup Bread Broth

What a tempting title for a cookbook published just as the Autumn weather begins to turn chilly.  Rachel loves soups, ‘there’s no better food to warm the heart and restore the soul.  Whether it’s smooth and silky, rustic and chunky or light and brothy, soup conjures up a feeling of cosiness and care for me’.  When she was a child, her Mum always had a pot of chicken or turkey stock on the go, ready to use as a base for the delicious soups for Rachel and her sister, Simone when they ran in from school.  The memory turned them both into avid soup-makers too. 

Rachel’s own home is also filled with soup lovers.  It’s the first thing she offers the children, if they’re feeling under the weather (after a hug, of course!).  Soup helps soothe everything from a sniffly cold to a tired body after a tough day.  Rachel’s daughter even takes broth or soup in a flask for her school lunch, a little bit of home from home. 

Rachel tells me that she loves rummaging in the fridge and seeing what needs to be used up and turned into a spontaneous soup – a great way to make the most of leftovers… So many cooked vegetables can be turned into a soup once you have just a few other ingredients to hand.  Cooked meat and seafood skills can also be transformed into a chunky broth or chowder with a little know-how, and leftover rice and pasta just love being given another lease of life in a beautiful bowl of soup. 

There’s also a brilliant and accompaniments and garnishes section to bling up a bowl of soup.  Different sauces, salsas, drizzles, oils and emulsions to liven up even the simplest soup, not to mention delicious crackers, croutons and crumbs.  There’s also a whole chapter of wonderful breads, plus some savoury buns, flatbreads, scones and muffins, including recipes for particular dietary needs.  Perfect to serve with a steaming bowl of soup, or simply to eat warm from the oven. 

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (published by Penguin Michael Joseph – €25) 

Brussels Sprout Soup with Candied Bacon and Roasted Hazelnuts

A most Christmassy soup, with the candied bacon and roasted hazelnuts bringing a festive flavour and delicious crunch to the sprouts. To get ahead, make the soup in advance and freeze it. The candied bacon can be made hours in advance of serving, and the hazelnuts can even be roasted a couple of days ahead.

Serves 6

For the soup

50g butter

175g peeled and diced potatoes

175g peeled and diced onions

salt and freshly ground pepper

400g Brussels sprouts

1.1 litres chicken stock

250ml cream or milk, or a mixture

For the roasted hazelnuts

50g (2oz) hazelnuts

For the candied bacon

25g soft light brown sugar, such as

light Muscovado sugar

6 slices of streaky bacon (smoked if you wish)

First, make the soup. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix.  Cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper, then turn the heat down to low, cover with the saucepan lid and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent the vegetables sticking and burning.

While the potatoes and onions are cooking, prepare the sprouts. Trim the base, remove and discard the outer two or three leaves, and slice the sprouts thinly. Set aside.

When the potatoes and onions have been cooking for 10 minutes, add the chicken stock and boil for 2–3 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Add the sliced sprouts to the pan and cook over a high heat, with the lid off, until tender, approximately 2–3 minutes. Do not overcook, or the sprouts will lose their fresh colour and flavour. Add the cream or milk and blend until smooth. If you want the soup to be a bit thinner, add a little more stock. Taste for seasoning.

To prepare the hazelnuts and the bacon, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for 6–8 minutes, checking regularly, as they can burn quickly. To test them, take the tray out of the oven and carefully rub the skins off a few of them – the nuts should be golden underneath.  When ready, tip them out of the tray and on to a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins.  Discard the skins and chop the nuts coarsely.  Set aside until you’re ready to use them. 

To make the candied bacon, line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper.  Place the brown sugar in a bowl and dip both sides of the streaky bacon in it so that they are completely coated.  Use a little more sugar if you need to.  Cook for 5-6 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bacon is caramelized on both sides.  Remove from the oven and leave until cool and crisp.  Once crisp, break the bacon, or snip with scissors, into pieces about 1cm in size.

Reheat the soup gently until steaming, then pour into bowls and scatter over the roasted hazelnuts and candied bacon.  Serve immediately. 


For a Vegetarian version, you can use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and omit the candied bacon. 

If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to steaming point and serve.  Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups and also this soup’s smooth, silky texture. 

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph – €25) 

Potato, Parsley and Thyme Soup with Chorizo

A potato soup is so versatile and works superbly with spices, fresh herbs, pestos and drizzles. I prefer to use floury potatoes, rather than waxy, for the lightest, silkiest consistency. If reheating this soup, avoid prolonged simmering, to retain its silky texture. This soup is also delicious unblended and served chunky.

Serves 4-6

25g butter

350g peeled and chopped potatoes

150g peeled and chopped onions

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

750ml chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

250ml milk, or half milk and

half cream

75g chorizo

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it foams. Add the chopped potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, then stir well and cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper. Add the pan lid and sweat over a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the potatoes sticking.

Add the stock, bring to the boil, and cook until the vegetables are all tender. Add the chopped herbs and milk (or milk and cream), liquidize the soup and season to taste.

While the vegetables are cooking, peel the chorizo and cut into small dice. Pour the olive oil into a cool frying pan. Add the chorizo, then place the pan on a very low heat and gently cook for a few minutes, turning the chorizo every so often. Done over a very low heat like this, you’ll end up with beautifully cooked chorizo with the rich amber-coloured oils rendered out. You want both the oils and the chorizo itself for drizzling over the soup when serving. Take off when it is crisp, reserving the rendered oil.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, then pour into warm bowls and top with a few pieces of cooked chorizo, with a drizzle of the oil from the pan over the top.


You can use leftover mash in place of some or all of the raw potato, but instead of adding at the start, stir it in when the milk goes in and continue as above. Other leftover vegetables, such as cooked carrots, broccoli, parsnips or even spinach, can be added with the milk, keeping in mind that you may need extra stock and milk to thin it out at the end.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Oxtail Soup with Gremolata

Oxtail is a great but often under-used cut of beef. There isn’t a huge amount of meat on an oxtail, but what you do get is deliciously rich and flavoursome. The intensely refreshing gremolata cuts 1hrough and complements the richness perfectly. A wonderful bowl of soup for a blustery day.

Serves 10–12

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

1.5kg oxtail, cut into pieces (see note at end of recipe), and trimmed of excess fat

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large onion, peeled and chopped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced 2 large cloves of garlic

250ml red wine 1 bay leaf

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 litres beef stock

For the gremolata

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Place a large saucepan or casserole pot on a high heat and allow to get hot. Drizzle in 1–2 tablespoons of the olive oil and fry the oxtail pieces in batches, adding a little more olive oil, if necessary, for 4–5 minutes in total, or until they are well browned all over, seasoning them with salt and pepper as they cook. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and tip in the chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, season with salt and pepper, then cover with a butter wrapper or a sheet of parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very gentle heat for 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender.

Return the oxtail pieces to the pot and add the red wine, bay leaf, thyme, tomato purée and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the stock and bring slowly to the boil, skimming off any frothy impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce the heat to very low, cover with the lid and gently simmer for about 3 hours, or until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Continue to occasionally skim off any impurities as well as any rendered fat.

Remove from the heat and strain through a colander over a large bowl to catch the liquid. Tip the meat and vegetables into a large, shallow bowl and leave to cool a little. Add a few ice cubes to the liquid and wait for the fat to rise to the top, then remove and discard it. Once the meat and vegetables are cool enough to handle, discard the bay leaf and thyme sprig and remove the meat from the oxtail bones.

Pour the liquid into a blender with the reserved vegetables and two-thirds of the meat (you may have to do this in batches) and blitz to a smooth soup, then return it to the pan. Add the remaining shards of meat and bring slowly to the boil.

Mix together the ingredients for the gremolata, then check the seasoning and serve the soup in warm bowls, with the gremolata scattered over the top.


To cut the oxtail into pieces, using a sharp knife, slice between the bones where they are connected to each other with tissue similar to ligament – it’s easier if you feel with your fingers first where the joints are. Where the oxtail is thick and wide, at the top end, cut at every joint, but where the oxtail is thin and skinny, cut at every second or third joint.

For an alcohol-free version of this soup, just omit the red wine and use extra stock, though do bear in mind that a lot of alcohol evaporates in cooking anyway.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Roasted Parsnip and Cauliflower Soup with Smoked Paprika

I love the combination of nutty cumin and smoky paprika used in Middle Eastern cuisine, which also works so well in this smooth and velvety soup. Topped with the roasted vegetables and the smoked paprika oil, this soup is supremely simple, completely delicious, and just perfect on a cold day.

Serves 6

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium parsnips (450g in weight)

1 small head of cauliflower

2 large red onions, peeled and cut into chunks

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.25 litres vegetable or chicken stock

For the smoked paprika oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Place the olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Cut the parsnips into quarters, remove and discard the tough cores, then cut them into 1cm chunks. Add these to the olive oil in the bowl. Now remove the tough outer green leaves from the cauliflower and cut off the base of the stem. Cut the cauliflower into florets and add these to the parsnips, along with the red onion chunks. Scatter over the smoked paprika, cumin and some salt and pepper and toss well together.

Lay the vegetables and all the oil in a single layer on a large roasting or baking tray and roast for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are golden around the edges, and tender.

Now remove 3 tablespoons of the vegetables (these will be scattered over the soup when serving, so save some nice-looking florets and parsnip and onion chunks) and blend the remaining vegetables with the stock until smooth, adding more stock if it is a bit thick. Pour into a saucepan, heat through and season to taste.

Mix the smoked paprika with the olive oil and set aside.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, then serve in bowls, with a few pieces of roast vegetables arranged on top and a drizzle of smoked paprika oil.


I use sweet smoked paprika for this soup, but you can also use hot smoked paprika.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Guinness Bread

A delicious wholemeal bread that has a deep, dark flavour from the Guinness or Irish stout. This recipe uses a whole 500ml can of stout to make 2 loaves, but you can make just one loaf by halving the recipe. The bread will freeze well if frozen when fresh, and if you like you can cut the loaf into slices before freezing.

Makes 2 x 450g loaves

800g coarse wholemeal flour

100g plain flour

50g rolled oats

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs

500ml Guinness or Irish stout

200ml buttermilk

2 teaspoons brown sugar, treacle or molasses

50g butter, melted, or 50ml extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame, poppy, pumpkin or sunflower seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Brush the inside of two 2lb loaf tins with some olive oil or melted butter and set aside.

Place the wholemeal flour, plain flour, oats and salt in a large, wide mixing bowl. Sift in the bicarbonate of soda and mix everything together. Make a well in the centre.

Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then add the Guinness, buttermilk, brown sugar (or treacle or molasses) and the butter or olive oil. Whisk to mix.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones (making sure to scrape out the wet bowl), then, using one hand in a claw position, mix everything together until combined.

Tip the mixture into the loaf tins, then gently shake the tins and cut down the centre of the loaves with a knife – this helps to give an even rise in baking. Scatter with seeds if you wish and bake in the preheated oven for 60–70 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when gently tapped on the base. I like to remove them from their tins for the last 10 minutes or so of baking, to get a nice crust on the bottom. 

Cool on a wire rack. If you want a softer crust, wrap the bread in a clean tea towel until cool, as soon as it comes out of the oven.


Despite the times that are in it, we have seven nationalities with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for the Autumn 12-Week Program. All have of course fully quarantined having made the long and tortuous journey from the other side of the world to come to a cookery school in the midst of an organic farm in East Cork to learn how food is produced from the much-hackneyed phase ‘from the farm to the fork’. 

They are of course learning how to cook and bake but also how to keep hens, milk cows, make cheese, smoke food, make charcuterie, pickles and ferments as well as wonderful 48 hour naturally fermented sourdough bread.  They are snapped up after the intensive course by restaurants, catering businesses and publishing houses around the world. 

Excitement is gathering for our American students as they look forward to celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving is almost bigger than Christmas in the US, I only recently discovered the history of this flamboyant feast and celebration.

According to my students, The Pilgrim Fathers arrived in New England in 1620 having crossed the wild Atlantic to America. They almost starved during their first harsh winter, so when the first harvest was gathered, they had a celebratory feast to thank the good Lord and Mother Nature.   This became known as Thanksgiving and is still celebrated every year on the last Thursday of November by Americans both at home and abroad.  This year, 2021, it will be on November 25th

Americans crisscross the country and the globe to join their family and loves ones.  They feast on turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potato, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.  Another bizarre favourite is sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.  The latter is quite the leap of faith for us but apparently, it isn’t Thanksgiving without this bizarre sounding dish, so pick up courage and try it, you may find that it is super delicious as my American students predicted.

Every family has their own favourite stuffing and traditions.  Column inches are written every year to encourage readers to try lots of variations on the theme.  The turkey in particular can be cooked in an ever-evolving number of ways.  One way or another, dry or wet brine the bird for 6-8 hours, this really enhances the flavour.  Then stuff with your favourite ‘dressing’. Alternatively spatchcock the bird and slather with spices or a gutsy herb butter. Best fun of all is to deep-fry the turkey, sounds terrifying but I have to tell you, it’s delicious. You’ll need a large deep saucepan and a powerful gas burner.  Don’t attempt this in the house, best to experiment in the garage or outdoors if the weather is clement.  Fill the deep saucepan with oil or dripping, gently dunk the turkey up and down a few times before submerging in the hot oil.  Keep a good eye on progress, this is more of a ‘macho thing’ – it’ll take about 45-50 minutes to cook through.  The skin will be a crisp mahogany colour and irresistible and the flesh, moist and juicy – extraordinary!

We surely need another celebration and indeed, despite the challenges, many of us have much to be grateful.  Let’s gather our families around us, give thanks and remember those who are no longer with us … 

Here are a few tried and tested recipes that friends and students have shared with me over the years. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Brine for Turkey

6 litres (10 1/2 pints) water

600g (1 1/4lb) salt

Brine the turkey overnight, not essential but it makes for moist, tender and flavourful meat.

*Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Put the turkey into a deep stainless-steel saucepan, bucket or a plastic bucket.   Cover with the brine and a lid and chill for 24 hours.  Drain and dry well.  This is of course optional, but it hugely enhances the flavour of the turkey.  

Deep-Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving

Who but the Americans would have thought of deep-frying a turkey?  Bet you are deeply skeptical, so was I but I’ve become quite an enthusiast, it is such fun and a much faster way to cook the bird.  So how about trying out this method but NEVER leave the deep-fryer unattended.

1 x 4.4 – 5.4kG (10-12lb) organic or free-range turkey, brined (see recipe) (Remove the giblets before brining – use the neck, heart and gizzard to make stock to use for gravy.  The liver makes a delicious smooth pâté or parfait.)

oil to cover (in America, they usually peanut oil – pomace oil is also good)

To cook the bird, you’ll need a large deep pot, preferably with a turkey tray, lift hook and thermometer.  If you don’t already have a suitable pot, there are several options on the internet so get GOOGLING.  Grill gloves or thick oven mitts are also worth having.

Carefully choose a safe, level spot preferably concrete on your patio or close to the door in the garage.  Set up the gas burner and cylinder.  Remove the turkey from the brine.  Lift the empty saucepan onto the propane burner.  Lower the turkey into the pot, cover with water, mark the level on the side of the pot – the waterline should be at least 10 – 12.5cm (4-5 inches) from the top of the pot. 

Remove the turkey onto a tray, pour out the water and dry the pot.  Fill to the water mark with oil.  Turn on the heat and warm the oil gradually to 190˚C/375˚F.  Meanwhile, drain and dry the bird meticulously both inside and out.  Insert the lifting hook and impale the turkey neck downwards on the tray (there are several designs so follow instructions on your model.) 

When the temperature reaches 190˚C/375˚F, turn off the heat. 

Gently and GRADUALLY lower the turkey into the hot oil.  Relight the burner, maintain the oil temperature at 180˚C/350˚F and cook for 40-45 minutes allowing 3 – 3 1/2 minutes per 450g (1lb).

Slowly and carefully, lift the turkey out of the hot oil allowing it to drain over the pot for a few seconds and transfer to a tray.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh).  The internal temperature should read 75˚C/165˚F.  Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Serve on a large platter.  Carve and serve with all the trimmings.

Be super careful, maybe prudent to keep a fire extinguisher close by and I REPEAT, NEVER LEAVE UNATTENDED!

Note: Allow to oil to cool completely, strain through a fine metal sieve, store for future use.

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

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

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Traditional Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse and as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries (look out for the Irish grown cranberries)

4 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a small heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water.  Don’t add the sugar yet, as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.


Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

The sauce should be soft and juicy. Add a little warm water if it has accidentally overcooked.

Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms

This is super delicious, but I must admit I tweaked the recipe….  The original was made with packet of mushroom soup, freeze dried onions and frozen beans … this is even better…!

Serves 4-6

50g (2oz) butter

350g (12oz) onion, finely chopped

900g (2lbs) mushrooms, sliced

225ml (8fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Green Beans

900g (2lbs) French beans

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons sea salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Crispy Onions

700g (1 1/2lb) of onions, peeled and sliced into rounds.

25g (1oz) butter

4 tablespoons olive oil


50g (2oz) flaked almonds

First make the mushroom sauce.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the milk and cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Next cook the crispy onions.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the olive oil, toss in the onions and cook stirring regularly on a medium heat until golden and crisp – 10 minutes approximately.

Meanwhile, prepare and cook the beans.

Choose beans of a similar size.  Top and tail the beans. If they are small and thin leave them whole, if they are larger cut them into 2.5- 4cm (1- 1 1/2 inch) pieces at a long angle.

Bring the water to a fast-rolling boil, add 3 teaspoons of salt then toss in the beans. Continue to boil very fast for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked (they should still retain a little bite). Drain immediately.  Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and a little sea salt if necessary.

To finish.

Heat the mushroom sauce, stir in the beans and transfer to a gratin dish.  Sprinkle the top with crispy onions and flaked almonds and heat through in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Eoin Cluskey’s Pumpkin Pie

The recipe for this delectable Pumpkin Pie came from the same Eoin Cluskey, who is the brainchild behind Bread 41 in Pearce St in Dublin where there is a continuous queue for the sourdough bread and irresistible pastries. He did a 12 Week Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Autumn 20212. Thanks for sharing Eoin …. 

Serves 8


200g (7oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

50ml (2fl oz) water

pinch of salt


300g (11oz) pumpkin flesh (finely chopped) (variety – Uchiki Kuri)

225g (8oz) golden syrup

75-100g (3 – 3 1/2oz) pumpkin skin

80g (3oz) breadcrumbs

juice and zest of 1 lemon

pinch of ground ginger

23cm (9 inch) round tart tin

First make the pastry.

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

Using a fork to stir, add just enough water to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Once rested, roll out, line the tart tin and retain the excess pastry. Line the tin with parchment paper and fill with baking beans and chill for 5-10 minutes in a refrigerator.

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

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in the preheated oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Peel the pumpkin and set aside the skin (keep the seeds for roasting for a healthy snack).  Finely chop the flesh.  Heat the golden syrup in a pan and add the pumpkin flesh, lemon zest and juice.  Bring this mixture to the boil and remove from the heat.   Blitz the breadcrumbs and pumpkin skin in a food processor and add a pinch of ground ginger.   Mix the bread crumb/pumpkin skin mixture into the pumpkin flesh/syrup mixture.

Fill the tart case with this pumpkin mixture and decorate as your wish with the left-over pastry – lattice, leaves etc.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Cool, remove from the tin.

Serve either warm or cold with softly whipped cream.

Guest Chef Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes

We were all super excited at Ballymaloe Cookery School this week, we’ve just had our first guest chef for almost two years.

Claire Ptak from Violet Cakes and Café on London’s Wilton Way taught a sparkling class for the current 12 Week Course students and it was beamed out to her many fans all over the world on Ballymaloe Cookery School Online.

Claire, who comes from California, started her career on a market stall in Broadway Market in Hackney. This was in 2005, soon she became known as the Cupcake Queen. People flocked to buy her adorable mini cupcakes in many flavours, made with beautiful, mostly organic ingredients. All were cooked in her tiny home kitchen but in 2010 Violet Bakery and Café was born. Claire baked a range of beautiful cakes with exquisitely pure ingredients, best Madagascar vanilla pods, pure cane molasses, Valrhona chocolate and limited-edition buttercream flavoured with freshly brewed espresso, homemade fruit cordials and dark caramel with sea salt. The flavours of the cakes reflect the season.  She constantly experiments with flavour combinations as new foods become available.

Claire has a very unique flamboyant icing style which looks effortlessly rustic but is quite difficult to achieve. She is the acknowledged master of the delicious ‘imperfect cake’ – no fondant icing here…!

Claire didn’t just ‘pop-up’. She’s been obsessed with baking since she was little, she had her first holiday job at a local bakery in Point Reyes in California when she was just 14.  Some years later, when Alice Waters tasted her baking, she offered her a job on the spot and so Claire became pastry chef at the iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.  Here, she was intrigued by the variety of exquisite seasonal berries and peaches, five different types of limes, and the nuanced flavours that influenced the food.

Word of the flavour of Claire’s cakes and café food spread around London like wildfire. She developed a cult following but it wasn’t until she was chosen to make Harry and Meaghan’s cake that her fame went global.

Claire introduced us to several new ingredients in her class.  She used blonde chocolate from Valrhona to make her Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies – it tastes like caramelised white chocolate – a new flavour for me but destined to become a new favourite…

She loves to use spelt and kamut flour and dark brown sugar for some of her cakes and is really into sheet pan cakes at present. Sheet pan cakes are made in a rectangular tin with approx. 5cm (2 inch) and are brilliant for portioning and icing. Try this bubble cake that blew everyone away at the class. The Roast Quince and Mascarpone Cake took quite a bit of making but was so worth the effort for a really special cake. You’ll also love the Autumn Carrot Cake with prunes and walnuts and the killer Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies.

If you’d like to watch Claire’s class, you can sign up on the website to view the recording via ballymaloecookeryschool.online or call the Cookery School on 021 4646785 for more information.

Meanwhile, check out Violet Cakes on Instagram – @violetcakeslondon

Chocolate Bubble Cake

Makes one layer 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch) deep rectangular cake tin.

Serves 20-24

For the cake

330g (generous 11 1/2oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

520g (scant 1.1lbs approx.) caster sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

300g (10oz) plain yoghurt

150g (5oz) vegetable oil

340g (scant 12oz) hot water

For the marshmallow icing

5 egg whites (200g/7oz)

340g (scant 12oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) golden syrup

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


gold leaf (optional)

fresh flower petals for example Marigolds and/or Johnny Jump Ups

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/Gas Mark 3/ (Fan – 140˚C/275˚F/Gas Mark 1). Butter and line your cake tin with enough greaseproof paper to come up the sides of the tin, this will help to remove the cake later.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the sugar, into a large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water).

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Don’t switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps. Gradually whisk together until you have a smooth but thick batter.

Whisk in the hot water until smooth.

Pour the batter into your pan right away and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin.

Once the cake has cooled, prepare the marshmallow. Have ready your mixer with a whisk attachment.

Measure all of the ingredients into a metal bowl and place over a saucepan of boiling water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will cook the egg whites). Whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very warm to the touch. Use a thermometer and whisk continuously until it reads 72°C or 70°C (162˚F or 158˚F) for two minutes, whichever comes first. Transfer the mix into the bowl of your electric mixer and whisk on high speed until nearly stiff peaks form.

Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round nozzle and pipe 20-24 big bubbles in rows over the top of the cooled cake. Use a tiny sieve to dust a strip of cocoa powder lengthwise across the cake.  Decorate with flakes of gold leaf and a scattering of fresh flower petals.

Quince and Mascarpone Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

All Claire’s cakes at Violet are based on the seasons, this luscious confection could also be served as a dessert.

Serves 12-14

For the Roasted Quince

2 quinces

150g (5oz) sugar

4 tablespoons water

100g (3 1/2oz) fresh orange juice

peel from 2 oranges

8 cardamom pods, pounded open to release the black seeds

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, scraped

For the Sponge

500g (18oz) caster sugar     

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, softened   

100g (3 1/2oz) sunflower oil/vegetable oil   

4 eggs (240g/8 1/2oz in weight)  

320g (generous 11 1/2oz) milk    

1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

500g (18oz) plain flour        

1 tablespoon baking powder        

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

For the Mascarpone Filling

400g (14oz) mascarpone cheese

200g (7fl oz) double cream

60g (2 1/2oz) icing sugar, sifted

For the Buttercream (can be frozen)

1 vanilla bean

9 egg whites (350g/12oz in weight)

600g (1 1/4lbs) dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

900g (2lbs) unsalted butter

3 x 23cm (9 inch) cake tins

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

Peel the quince and cut them into wedges by cutting them in half from top to tail and then cutting each half into three. Spread the wedges out in a single layer in a large, heavy-bottomed gratin or roasting dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and cover with water and orange juice. Add the zest, cardamom seeds and pods, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Toss all the ingredients together in the roasting tin to make sure the quince is nicely coated in the spices. Cover tightly with a lid or upturned tin.  Roast in the preheated oven for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until a deep pinky-orange and tender to the touch. If it’s still firm, leave it in a little longer. Cool completely in the tin.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150˚C/300˚/Gas Mark 2). Grease and line three 23cm (9 inch) cake tins.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until combined.

In a jug weigh out milk and vanilla and set aside. Add half of the dry flour mix to the butter mix and combine. Then add half of the milk mixture, mix well, scrape down thoroughly. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix. Add the remaining milk mixture and combine.

Divide the batter between the cake tins.  Tap gently on the worktop to release the air bubbles and bake for 25-28 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the cake is baking, make the mascarpone filling. Whisk all the ingredients together until fluffy, being careful not to overmix. Keep this in the fridge until ready to use.

Next prepare your icing.

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft and pale, set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt over a bain-marie until the sugar is dissolved, the mixture is frothy and it reaches 75°C/167˚F.

Fit the bowl to your mixer and whisk until cool and peaks form. Add the soft butter in batches, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth, it may break but it will come together again, whisk until stiff.

Once the cakes are completely cool you can begin to assemble the cake. Use a paring knife to remove the core of the quince and thinly slice the quince. Line a deep 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with parchment paper, place one layer of sponge inside the lined tin and drizzle with some of the sieved roasting liquid from the quinces.  With a round nozzle, pipe a ring of Swiss meringue buttercream around the edge of the cake and then Put a thin layer of the sliced roasted quince within the centre. Spoon half the mascarpone filling over the cake. Repeat with the second layer of sponge, border of icing, fruit and mascarpone.

Place the final layer of cake into the tin and bring the sides of the parchment paper up. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour, this will make it much easier to ice.

Remove the cake from the fridge and place on to a plate or stand and ice the top and sides with the rest of your Swiss meringue buttercream. Chill or serve right away.

Autumn Carrot Cake with Prunes and Walnuts

A delicious riff on the usual carrot cake.

1 Sheet Cake – serves 12

For the cake

4 eggs, separated plus 1 whole egg

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted butter, softened

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (18oz) grated carrots (700g/1 1/2lbs before peeling)

150g (5oz) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

150g (5oz) Armagnac-soaked prunes, turn into quarters

zest of 1 orange

315g (10 1/2oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout

For the frosting

375g (13oz) unsalted butter, softened

600g (1 1/4lbs) cream cheese, brought to room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

200g (7oz) icing sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 walnuts for decoration (untoasted)

Butter and line a deep baking tin (24cm x 32cm/9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inch) and heat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150°C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2).

Separate your eggs. Put the whites aside to whip up later with the 100g (3 1/2oz) of caster sugar.

In another bowl, add the yolks, whole egg, brown sugar, soft butter, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk well together and to this add your grated carrots, toasted chopped walnuts, torn prunes and orange zest. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In a large bowl, weigh out the remaining dry ingredients and whisk them together well. To this add your wet mixture. Mix together well.

Finally whip your egg whites with the caster sugar into lovely soft peaks. Fold this mixture into the cake mixture until fully combined. Spoon into your prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake has some spring. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.

To make the icing, whip together the very soft butter and cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffy.    Cover the cake with the frosting. Decorate with grated walnuts.  Alternatively, with a sharp serrated knife, slice the cake into 12 squares before frosting and pipe a wiggle of cream cheese icing diagonally with a petal tip or your favourite nozzle.  Then grate a little fresh walnut over the top with a fine microplane zester.  Serve on flatted cupcake cases if desired. 

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crisp outside, gooey inside…these might just be the ultimate choc chip cookies – plus they can be cooked from frozen.

Makes 21

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

150g (5oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) cocoa powder (Dutch)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

250g (9oz) unsalted butter, soft

350g (12oz) blonde (caramelised white chocolate)

OR USE 180g (6 1/4oz) blonde Valrhona chocolate (caramelised white chocolate) or white chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)  

AND 180g (6 1/4oz) milk chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Maldon sea salt for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 (Fan – 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3).

Combine the dry ingredients in your mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment fitted, don’t overmix.

Add the soft butter and mix until a sandy texture forms.

Add the chocolate discs, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until a dough forms.

Use a cookie scoop to scoop the dough into balls.

You can bake right away or from frozen.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Arrange just 6 cookies on the tray to allow them to spread during cooking.  Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, tapping the tray on the oven rack twice during the baking time. This helps the cookie to flatten and the chocolate to spread, whilst remaining gooey in the middle.  Leave to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve chocolate chip cookies warm or a room temperature

Note: Uncooked dough keeps for up to 3 months in the freezer.


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