Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Season of Root Vegetables

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

Mary Jo’s Bodice with Root Vegetables

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

Serves 8

1 bodice (bacon ribs), cut in 8 pieces

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

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

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

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

a  sprig fresh thyme, bay leaf and 2-3

parsley stalks

10-12 peppercorns

4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut in half 

1 small or 1/2 medium cabbage, sliced

Garnish

2-3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley

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

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

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

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

Venison and Jerusalem Artichoke Stew with Gremolata

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

Serves 6

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

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

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

250g (9oz) leeks, sliced

3 cloves garlic

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

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

1 teaspoon salt

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

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

1 sprig of thyme

To Serve

Gremolata (see recipe)

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

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

Gremolata

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

4 tablespoons preferably flat parsley, chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

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

Swede Turnips with Caramelised Onions

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

Serves 6 approximately.

900g (2lbs) swede turnips

salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

Caramelised Onions (see recipe)

Garnish

finely chopped parsley

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

Caramelised Onions

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

450g (1lb) onions, thinly sliced

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

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

Roast Winter Vegetables

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

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

Serves 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

leeks, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) rounds

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

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

8 garlic cloves, unpeeled

extra virgin olive oil

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

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

Carrot and Cardamom Cake

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

Serves 8–10

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

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

pinch of salt

2 large organic eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

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

50ml (2fl oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) carrots, finely grated

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

fresh mint leaves

For the icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

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

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

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

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

St. Brigid’s Day

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

Happy Saint Brigid‘s Day to one and all.


Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue

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

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

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

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley

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

To Serve

crusty white bread

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

Melted Gubbeen Cheese with Winter Herbs

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

Serves 6-8

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

2 teaspoons approx. freshly chopped thyme

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves finely chopped

freshly ground pepper

parchment paper

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

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

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

Cooleeney would be perfectly cooked in about 10 minutes.

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

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

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

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

Serves 6

75g (3oz) butter

40g (1 1/2 oz) flour

300ml (10fl oz) cream

300ml (10fl oz) milk

a few slices of carrot

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

1 small onion, quartered

5 eggs free range organic, separated

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

75g (3oz) Gruyére cheese

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

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

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Garnish

thyme flowers if available

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve immediately on warm plates with a good green salad.

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

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

Serves 8

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

Spice Candied Nuts

75g (3oz) sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

a pinch of  freshly ground star anise

100g (3 1/2oz) walnut halves

Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

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

salt and freshly ground pepper

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

ripe Cashel Blue Cheese

Garnish

chervil sprigs

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

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

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

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

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

To Serve

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

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

Durrus with Kumquats and Rocket Leaves

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

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

Serves 4-6 as a starter

1 ripe Durrus

4 handfuls of fresh rocket or watercress leaves

4-6 tablespoons kumquat compote

Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

freshly ground black pepper

flaky sea salt

Cut the cheese into wedges.

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

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

Simple but delicious. 

Kumquat Compote

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

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz/1 cup) water

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

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

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Cabbage

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

Penny Allen’s Ballymaloe Basic Sauerkraut

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

800g (1 3/4lb) of cabbage

Or

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

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

3 level teaspoons sea salt

1 x 1 litre Kilner jar or similar

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

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

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

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

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

Buttered Cabbage

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

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) fresh Savoy cabbage

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

salt and freshly ground pepper

a knob of butter

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

Riffs on Buttered Cabbage

Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

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

Cabbage with Crispy Bacon

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

Emily’s Cabbage

Add 3 teaspoons or more of fresh thyme leaves.

Cabbage with Sichuan Peppercorns

Add 1 teaspoon of highly crushed Sichuan peppercorns to taste.

Charred Cabbage with Katuobushi

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

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

Serves 6

1 medium sized cabbage

1 tablespoon light olive oil or a neutral oil

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

Katuobushi flakes (optional)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

Rumbledethumps

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

Serves 4

450g (1lb) freshly mashed potatoes

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

1 tablespoon chopped spring onion

150ml (5fl oz) cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper

butter (optional)

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

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

Scrunched Cabbage Salad with Sultanas, Roasted Almonds and Dill

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

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

1 teaspoon approx. salt

1 scallion, thinly sliced

5g picked dill (plus extra for sprinkling)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

1/2 clove garlic, finely grated

1-2 teaspoons granulated sugar (more if needed)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

40g (1 1/2oz) sultanas

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

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

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

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

Crispy Cabbage aka Crispy Seaweed

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

Savoy cabbage

salt

sugar

oil for frying

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

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

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

Superfoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Favourite Scary Green Juice

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

Makes 450ml (15fl oz)

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

10g (1/2oz) coriander leaves

10g (1/2oz) flat parsley

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon honey

600ml (1 pint) apple juice

Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender and enjoy.

Potato, Mushroom and Leek Gratin

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

Serves 8 – 10

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

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

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

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

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

350ml (12fl oz) single cream

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

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quinoa, Sweet Potato and Watercress Salad  

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

Serves 6-8

2 large, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 medium onions, peeled and quartered

225g (8oz) red or brown quinoa

350ml (12fl oz) cold water

2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

6 – 8 handfuls of watercress sprigs

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Asian Vinaigrette

juice and zest of 2 organic limes

same volume of extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)

5 spring onions or lots of chives, finely chopped

lots of chopped basil or coriander

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

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

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

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

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette.

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

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

Penny’s Cabbage and Fennel Salad

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

Serves 4

1/2 Savoy cabbage, finely shredded

1 fennel bulb, finely shredded

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

Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons Forum white wine vinegar

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 heaped teaspoon grain mustard

1 large clove of garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon honey

Maldon Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the salad.

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

To make the vinaigrette.

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

To Serve

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

How to Cook Green Broccoli, Calabrese or Romanesco

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

Serves 4

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

600ml (1 pint) water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Butter or extra virgin olive oil

lots of freshly ground pepper

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

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

Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.

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

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

Cooked Alexanders

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

Serves 4–6

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

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons salt

butter or extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper

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

Variation

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

Carrageen Moss Pudding with Sweet Geranium

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

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

Serves 6 – 8

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

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

8 medium leaves of sweet geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

1 large egg, preferably free-range

1 tablespoon caster sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar

6 – 8 frosted sweet geranium leaves

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

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

Simple Baking Treats

Quick and easy baking recipes this week, delicious treats to bring a smile to everyone’s face. You can whip them up in a few minutes and have fun with the kids in the kitchen.

Just a few little things to say before we get started…. It’s important to weigh ingredients accurately for baking, otherwise you may get a disappointing and inconsistent result , after all the effort your cakes and bikkies ought to be super delicious….

The quality of the ingredients you use really, really matters, of course use butter rather than margarine, both for flavour and because it’s far better for your health.

Use the best and freshest eggs you can find and pure ingredients, for example, vanilla extract rather than that vanilla essence that was never ‘next nor near’ an actual vanilla pod…. The difference in flavour is dramatic…. The real thing is far more expensive but you can actually make your own very easily using a spirit, either gin or vodka. We always have a vanilla extract bottle on the go here. Check out the recipe below.

When using orange zest, use organic fruit or else give them a good scrub before you grate the zest to wash off the many chemicals on the rind. Don’t forget my thrifty tip to dry the peels and use them for firelighters.

The correct size tin/tins can also make the difference between success and a disappointing result.

Keep an eye out in charity shops to add to your collection of different size tins. I find real treasures from time to time and always hope to discover older tins that tend to be made of heavier gauge and so give extra protection to the edges of the cake while baking.

Let’s start with popovers.  Even if you never before made anything, you can make popovers. Just whisk all the ingredients together, allow the batter to rest for a bit, then pour some into a well-oiled bun tray or  muffin tin and straight into a preheated hot oven. They will pop up magically and have a dip in the middle that can be filled with everything from raspberry jam and cream to a spoonful of that delicious marmalade you made from my recipe in last week’s column….! A special breakfast bite…dredge with icing sugar. 

Guess what and with no extra embellishment you’ve got Yorkshire puddings to serve with a roast beef dinner…Or how about a savoury version … pop a little salad into the centre instead.

Now isn’t that a little gem of a recipe and Willowzina’s cake is another that you will return to over and over again because you can do so many riffs on it. Add lemon or orange zest, coffee extract or cocoa powder…… Ice and decorate with whatever you fancy or spoon a lemon drizzle over the top. Plus it keeps well if you can manage to hide it away in an airtight tin.  

Wee buns with sprinkles are also irresistible and how about these peanut butter cookies… Finally our favourite brownies, how’s that for a baking fest to get you started… Let me know how you get on.

Wee Buns with Sprinkles

I adore sprinkles, use the colours you love most, the red and green ones are the most festive but I love them all. 

Makes 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 – 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

sprinkles

1 bun tray with 10 – 12 holes

Line the base of the tins with small muffin papers or bun cases… 

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

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Divide evenly between the 10 or 12 cases depending on size.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes approx. or until golden and well risen.  Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing. Use a palette knife to spread a little icing on each bun, decorate the tops with a generous sprinkling of sprinkles. 


Willowzina’s Cake with Pistachio and Rose Petals

This is a gem of a recipe, made in minutes even without a food processor.  It can be dressed up or down in so many ways – raspberry and coconut – sounds dull but it’s super delicious.  When the cake is cold, cover the top with raspberry jam and sprinkle generously with desiccated coconut or spoon some lemon drizzle over the top.

Serves 8 – 10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Lemon Glacé Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

To Decorate:

chopped pistachios

rose petals, dried or fresh

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured. 

Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped pistachios and dried or fresh rose petals.  Serve on a pretty plate.

Alternative Icings

Super-Fast Lemon Drizzle

Spoon the syrup over the top of the cake while it’s still in the tin just as soon as it comes out of the oven.

freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1 – 2 lemons

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Mix the ingredients for the glaze.

Chocolate Icing

A super easy chocolate icing for éclairs, cookie sandwiches or a half quantity cake. Should be enough to ice this cake but it keeps for 1 – 2 weeks covered in the fridge.  Decorate with toasted hazelnuts. 

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) cocoa

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools. 

Coffee and Walnut Icing

Pour over the top of the cake, spread gently to the edges and allow to drip over the sides of the cake.  Decorate with half walnuts or pecans. 

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Irel or Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream.

How to Make Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure vanilla extract is gorgeous but enormously expensive. You can make your own superb extract quite easily. The flavour of the vanilla is extracted by the alcohol, which in turn becomes more mellow. The vanilla pods can later be used to flavour custards, creams and mousses.


Split 3 or 4 vanilla pods lengthways, put into a 600ml (1 pint) bottle of vodka or brandy, seal tightly and leave to infuse for at least 3 days, but better still for up to 4 – 6 weeks before using. Shake occasionally. Before use, strain the liquid through a fine nylon sieve. Store in small airtight bottles. It keeps almost indefinitely.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Insanely simple cookies that I found years ago from a reader’s recipe in Gourmet magazine. Amy Fritch contributed her grandmother’s recipe.

Makes 36 – 40

225g (8oz) chunky or creamy peanut butter

175g (6oz) sugar

1 large egg, free-range and organic

1 teaspoon baking soda (Bicarbonate of soda)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 baking trays lined with silicone paper

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

Mix the peanut butter and sugar in a bowl, add 1 beaten egg, baking soda and salt and beat with a wooden spoon until combined.

Roll into balls a little smaller than a walnut. Arrange about 2.5cm (1 inch) apart on the baking tray. Flatten with a fork to about 4cm (1 1/2 inch) diameter. Bake in batches in the preheated oven for 10 – 12 minutes or until puffed and golden. Allow to cool for

2­ – 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Store in an air-tight tin. Keeps brilliantly for 4 or 5 days.

Ruffles Chocolate Brownies

We must have at least a dozen delicious brownie recipes in our repertoire.  Florrie Cullinane, a senior tutor at Ballymaloe Cookery School shared this recipe, it was a perennial favourite in her restaurant.

Makes 24 – 36 depending on size

375g (13oz) chocolate (good quality 62% Valrhona or Callebaut)

375g (13oz) butter

6 eggs

400g (14oz) caster sugar

200g (7oz) flour

150g (5oz) chopped walnuts or hazelnuts or pecans

Tin – 35 x 24 x 6cm depth (14 x 9 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch depth)

180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a gentle heat.  Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it’s a light mousse.  Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse.  Fold in the flour to this mixture.  Finally add the chopped nuts.  Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then turn down to 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2 for another 20 minutes until the centre is slightly wobbly, leave to sit in the tin to cool and set.  Turn out carefully and cut into squares. Yummy!

Popovers and variations

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

Filling

1/2 pot marmalade OR raspberry jam OR cranberry sauce OR savoury filling of your choice OR salad if desired

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 the 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 of homemade marmalade or raspberry jam or cranberry sauce and whipped cream (or savoury filling of your choice).  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!

2023: 10 New Year’s Resolutions

In 2023, we can no longer pretend that we don’t know the damage ultra-processed food is doing to our health.  The research is there so this year let’s heed it and invest in fresh, chemical free seasonal food, chock-full of vitamins and minerals to nourish the family rather than damage their health. 

1. Let’s spend as much as we can afford on wholesome food rather than having to spend it later on meds and bottles of pills.  This will be the year when we resolve to eliminate ultra-processed food completely from our family diet.

2. Try to get to your local Farmers Market once a week.  It’s a completely different and infinitely more satisfying way of shopping.  You can buy directly from the farmer or food producers.  That way you know the source of your food and all the money (rather than less than one-third) goes directly to the farmer to enable them to continue to produce this fresh food for your local community.

If there is no Farmers Market close by, why not think about starting one with a group of friends…. 

3. Alternatively, check out NeighbourFood, the online Farmers’ Market, www.neighbourfood.ie Every week they have a selection of hundreds of local foods to choose from … seasonal fruit and vegetables, farmhouse cheese, pickles, preserves, home baking, heritage meat and free-range  poultry, natural wine, cider and maybe even juices and cocktails…Order, pay and collect…

4. Agree a time when everyone will get together around the table to enjoy a kitchen supper at least three nights a week.  Sitting down is not just about eating, it’s about children having fun,  learning table manners, how to share, exchange views and banter.  Even if they are only arguing, it keeps the lines of communication open…

5. Gather all the family together, explain your plan, enlist their help… Make a rota so everyone is involved and realises that there will be a bit more work but it’ll be fun and so worth the effort. 

6. Strictly no phones at the table, a difficult one to enforce but resolve to stand your ground!

7. Decide to grow some of your own food in 2023, even if it’s just salad leaves in a container on the windowsill or balcony. Better still make a plan with some friends to grow and share a variety of homegrown produce.  Perennial vegetables like rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, Welsh onions, and kale are also brilliant to have.  Chives, mint and marjoram re-emerge every year whilst hardy rosemary, sage and thyme will see you through the winter as well.  Believe me, you won’t want to waste a scrap after you’ve put all that effort into growing.  It’ll bring you so much joy, teach the kids a life skill and save money particularly during this cost-of-living crisis…www.giy.ie

8. This year, let’s decide to challenge ourselves to have a Zero Waste policy in our homes…once one get onto that wavelength it becomes a game…You’ll find more and more ways to repurpose all sorts of things and to use up leftovers deliciously. 

9. In 2023, how about trying out one new dish every week…Lots of us get into a rut and serve the same food month in, month out.  Even if it’s delicious, it can get a bit boring and biodiversity of nutrients is also vitally important for our overall health.  Ask for requests and suggestions and HELP…  

10. Avoid low-fat or light products, they are unquestionably the biggest con of the 20th & 21st Century, yet shop shelves are still full of them.  If they worked, how come obesity figures continue to rise exponentially.  Believe me, they are not good for your health but have been and continue to be a boom to the multi-national food company profits – check out the research… 

If you have a specific request, email me at darina@cookingisfun.ie – provided  I have a recipe, I’ll do my best to include it in my Examiner column.  I’ve included some recipes using leftovers from Christmas this week.

A happy, healthy, fun and delicious New Year to all our readers. 

Winter Vegetable and Bean Soup with Spicy Sausage

A great way to use up the contents of your fridge.

We make huge pots of this in the Winter, I usually keep some in the freezer. Kabanossi is a thin sausage now widely available, it gives a gutsy slightly smoky flavour to the soup which although satisfying is by no means essential.

Serves 8 – 9

225g (8oz) rindless streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) lardons

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onions, chopped

300g (10oz) carrot, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

215g (7 1/2oz) celery, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

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

200g (7oz) white part of 1 leek, 5mm (1/4 inch) slices thick approx.

1 Kabanossi sausage, cut into 3mm (1/8 inch) thin slices

400g (1 x 14oz) tin of tomatoes

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1.7 litres (3 pints) good homemade chicken stock,

225g (8oz) haricot beans, cooked *

Garnish

2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped

extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Prepare the vegetables. Put the olive oil in a saucepan, add the bacon* (see note at bottom of recipe) and sauté over a medium heat until it becomes crisp and golden, add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cover and sweat for five minutes, next add the parsnip and finely sliced leeks. Cover and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Slice the Kabanossi sausage thinly and add. Chop the tomatoes and add to the rest of the vegetables and the beans. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, add the chicken stock. Allow to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes approx. Taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lots of crusty bread.

* Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.  Next day, strain the beans and cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy – anything from 30 – 60 minutes.  Just before the end of cooking, add salt.  Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables and discard.

Note

If the bacon is very salty, put into a small saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Strain and dry on kitchen paper. 

Leftover Pie 

The turkey has probably been eaten up by now but how about some leftover chicken and ham for this delicious pie – it’s the most scrumptious way to use up leftovers and can be topped with fluffy mashed potatoes or a puff pastry lid.

Serves 12

900g (2lbs) cooked chicken, white and brown meat and crispy skin

450g (1lb) cooked ham or bacon

25g (1oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

350g (12oz) leek, sliced

1 – 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (optional)

225g (8oz) flat mushrooms or button if flats are not available

1 clove of garlic, crushed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) well-flavoured chicken or better still turkey stock or 600ml (1 pint) stock and 300ml (10fl oz) gravy

150ml (5fl oz) cream

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 teaspoons fresh marjoram or tarragon, if available

roux

900g (2lb) mashed Potato 450g (1lb) puff pastry

2 x 1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dishes with a lip.

Cut the roast chicken and ham into 2.5cm (1 inch) approx. pieces and shred the crispy skin. 

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the chopped onions, sliced leeks and ginger, if using.  Cover and sweat for about 10 minutes, until they are soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile, wash and slice the mushrooms.  When the onions and leeks are soft, stir in the garlic and then remove to a plate. 

Increase the heat and cook the sliced mushrooms, a few at a time.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add to the onions and garlic.  Toss the cold chicken and ham in the hot saucepan, using a little extra butter if necessary.  Add to the mushrooms and onions.  Deglaze the saucepan with the stock.  Add the cream and chopped herbs.  Bring it to the boil, thicken with roux, add the meat, mushrooms and onions and simmer for 5 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5.

Fill into 2 x 1.2 litres (2 pint) capacity pie dishes with a lip and pipe rosettes of mashed potato all over the top.  Bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes, until the potato is golden and the pie is bubbling.

Alternatively, if you would like to have a pastry crust, allow the filling to get quite cold.  Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness, then cut a strip from around the edge the same width as the lip of the pie dish.  Brush the edge of the dish with water and press the strip of pastry firmly down onto it, then wet the top of the strip.  Cut the pastry into an oval just slightly larger than the pie dish.  Press this down onto the wet border, flute the edges of the pastry with a knife and then scallop them at 2.5cm (1 inch) approx. intervals.  Roll out the trimmings and cut into leaves to decorate the top.  Make a hole in the centre to allow the steam to escape while cooking. 

Brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven, 250˚C/475˚F/Gas Mark 9, for 10 minutes.  Turn the heat down to moderate, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4, for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through and the pie is bubbling.

Serve with a good green salad.

Kohlrabi, White Cabbage and Cranberry Slaw with Herbs and Sesame Seeds

I love this salad, which we borrowed from Yotam Ottolenghi who made it at a cookery class here at the school – the pickled ginger provides a zesty burst of flavour.  White turnip can be substituted for kohlrabi in this recipe and dried cherries for cranberries if you prefer.

Serves 4

3-4 kohlrabi bulbs

200g (7oz) white cabbage, finely shredded 

25g (1oz) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

25g (1oz) dill, chopped

25g (1oz) tarragon, chopped

70g (scant 3oz) dried cranberries

2 teaspoons pickled ginger, finely chopped

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sesame oil

4 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons nigella seeds

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the kohlrabi.  Yotam peels them and slices them into matchsticks, but we grate them on the coarsest part of a box grater and it works very well.

Put into a large bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and tweak if necessary.  Fresh tasting and delicious.

Christmas Mincemeat Scones with Brandy Butter

Makes 18 – 20 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3inch) cutter

900g (2lbs) plain white flour

175g (6oz) butter

450g (16oz) Ballymaloe mincemeat (or vegetarian, no suet)

3 free-range eggs

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

450ml (15fl oz) approx. milk to mix

Glaze

Egg Wash (see below)

Demerara sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

To Serve

Brandy Butter

First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Add the mincemeat and toss well to distribute evenly through the flour. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add all but 2 tablespoons (save to egg wash the top of the scones to help them to brown in the oven) to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 1/2cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease.  Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in demerara sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a little wire rack.

Serve while still warm, split in half and slathered with homemade brandy butter.

Brandy Butter

Serve with mince pies, plum puddings or on scones.

75g (3oz) butter

75g (3oz) icing sugar

6 tablespoons brandy

Cream the butter until very light, add the sieved icing sugar and beat again.  Then beat in the brandy, drop by drop.  If you have a food processor, use it: you will get a wonderfully light and fluffy Brandy Butter.  Fill into glass jars and cover tightly.

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding is a most irresistible way of using up leftover white bread – this is a particularly delicious recipe.

Serves 6 – 8

12 slices panettone or good-quality white bread, crusts removed

50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted

1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg or cinnamon

200g (7oz) Lexia raisins or plump sultanas

450ml (16fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz milk

4 large eggs, beaten lightly

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or a dash of Eau de Vie or brandy

175g (6oz) sugar

1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding

Garnish

Softly whipped cream

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch square pottery or China dish

Butter the panettone or bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in a dish.  Sprinkle with half of the nutmeg or cinnamon and half the raisins, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining spice and fruit on top.  Cover the raisins with the remaining panettone or bread, buttered side down.

In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, eau de vie or brandy if using and sugar.  Pour the mixture through a sieve over the pudding.  Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

Bake in a bain-marie, the water should be halfway up the sides of the baking dish.  Bake in the middle of a preheated oven, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden.  Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.

Old-Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas every year and are around for just 4 – 5 weeks so get cracking.

Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lbs)

900g (2lbs) of Seville oranges, organic if possible

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

1 organic lemon

1.45kg (3 1/4lbs) granulated sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.). Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is reached 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104˚C/220˚F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen the peel and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Christmas Eve

Nearly there…so hope that you are all feeling in a celebratory mood rather than completely exhausted and that you have had the love and support you need to create a festive spirit and fill the pantry with goodies.

My grandchildren adore the build up to Christmas, the more they are involved the more excited they become. They love to decorate the Christmas tree and squabble over where each and every bauble should hang. We play lots of cheesy Christmas music and they compete with each other with renditions of their favourite Christmas carols. We unpack the figures for the crib and solemnly reassemble it, chatting about the real story of Christmas as Jesus, Mary and Joseph are positioned in the midst of the straw, fresh moss and lichen in the little thatched crib made by a kindly neighbour in his carpentry workshop over three decades ago.  

On Christmas Eve we continue the family traditions. We light the Christmas candle in the window to guide Joseph and Mary as they search for shelter.

How lovely is it to pop into a church and sit quietly for a few minutes in the midst of all the craziness.  Then gather round the fire to count one’s blessings and remember loved ones and others less fortunate in these tumultuous times.   

Christmas Eve is a big celebration in many countries but here it’s still Christmas Day. Santa will come here tonight, so how about a  simple, comforting supper for all the family.

Let’s have a big bowl of risotto with grated Parmesan or a steamy mushroom mac and cheese… a bubbly potato gratin with little bacon lardons or chorizo might also appeal to all the family, followed by a lightly dressed salad of winter leaves to make you feel less full so you can tuck into a bowl of proper trifle with a generous glug of sweet sherry or a few mince pies. Or graze on one of those charcuterie and cheese boards that are all the rage now.

Have a lovely, peaceful Christmas and many blessings for 2023.

Mac and Cheese with Mushrooms

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon or ham to the sauce.

Serves 6

500g (18oz) flat mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 – 3 tablespoons marjoram, chopped

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

50g (2oz plain flour

850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk

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

Slice the flat mushrooms thinly.  Sauté in batches in olive oil on a hot pan.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add marjoram – taste and correct seasoning. 

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 just soft. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion and garlic, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6 – 8 minutes. 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 sautéed mushrooms and 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 (add some dried breadcrumbs if available for a crunchy top). Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 – 20 minutes.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom with Thyme Leaves

This gratin is terrifically good with a few roast chicken thighs, lamb chops or on its own as a supper dish.  It can be made ahead and reheated later. 

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

350g (12oz) flat or wild mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

350ml (12fl oz) light cream

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)

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

Slice the mushrooms and stalks thinly. Peel the potatoes and cut into scant 5mm thick slices.   Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Tip in the potato slices.  As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes.  Refresh under cold water.  Drain again and spread out on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. 

Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the base of a shallow gratin dish.  Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.  Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes.

Bring the cream almost to boiling point, pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the freshly grated cheese on top and bake for 1 hour approximately at 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.

Note

Mushrooms are one of the rare vegetables that taste better when they are a few days old.  The stalks taste every bit as good as the caps so don’t discard.  If the root end is still attached, trim it off and add it to the compost bin.

Radicchio, Parmesan and Parsley Salad

I’m crazy about this simple salad made with bitter Winter greens at the moment.  Serve as a side or a starter.

Serves 6

1 head of radicchio

75 – 110g (3 – 4oz) Parmesan, coarsely grated

flat parsley, sliced into a chiffonade

Dressing

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of sugar or 1/4 teaspoon runny honey

First whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together.

Quarter and slice the radicchio into roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces.  Allow 75 – 100g (3 – 3 1/2oz per person.

Just before serving.

Put the radicchio into a bowl.  Sprinkle with the dressing, toss well so each piece of radicchio is glistening with dressing.

Add the shredded flat parsley.  Toss once more, divide between 4 flat plates.  Grate a piece of Parmesan evenly over the top with a coarse silvery grater.

Serve – fresh and delicious.

Variation

Radicchio Salad with Parmesan, Parsley and Pomegranate

Add 4 tablespoons of fresh pomegranate seeds to the salad.  Toss in the dressing and continue and serve as above.

Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle

Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special cut glass bowl kept especially for the purpose.  My mother Lily O’Connell’s trifle was legendary.  She made huge bowls of trifle at Christmas, with trifle sponges, (later she used sponge cakes when they were unavailable), homemade raspberry jam and custard, and lots and lots of good, sweet sherry.   She had to become more and more inventive about hiding places, because the boys would search high and low to find it when they arrived home on Christmas Eve from a night out on the town.  Eventually she hid it in her wardrobe to keep it intact for Christmas Day. 

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam

150 – 175ml (5 – 6fl oz) best-quality sweet or medium sherry – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry (we use Bristol Cream).

Custard

5 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

1 1/4 tablespoons caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

700ml (1 1/4 pint) rich milk

Garnish

600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds

1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. 

Next, make the custard.  Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract.  Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm (3/4 inch) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with half the sherry as you go along.   Pour in half of the custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the rest of the sherry and spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge, to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top or pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.

Note

For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of Swiss roll.

An Irish Charcuterie and Farmland Cheese Platter

Serves … depends on how much you choose…

A beautiful timber board laden with a selection of artisan charcuterie and perfectly ripe farmhouse cheese is a delicious and relatively effortless way to entertain family and friends – perfect for a Christmas Eve supper.

Add some good crackers, a crusty sourdough baguette with some homemade butter and perhaps a chunk of membrillo (quince cheese). Maybe a few Medjool dates and fresh walnuts.

Charcuterie and cheese boards can be beyond ‘naff’ so keep it simple. Don’t get carried away and choose each item carefully. Resist the temptation to add lots of random chutneys and out of season fruit and rancid nuts….

The variety also depends on the number of guests. Choose 3 – 5 cheeses – there are so many to choose from,  perhaps a ripe Durrus, a piece of Coolea or a mature Templegall, a soft Ardsallagh goats milk cheese, a beautiful piece of an Irish blue, perhaps a ripe Crozier or a Young Buck all the way from Belfast.

Fingal Ferguson of the Gubeen cheese family also led the way with a range of charcuterie in the 1980’s. He continues to add to his range and  now many other artisans are following in his footsteps (www.gubbeen.com). Broughgammon Farm cured meats, from a small family farm near Ballycastle Co. Antrim are superb quality (www.broughgammon.com) as are Ispini, a range of cured meats from Moira Co. Down (www.ispinicharcuterie.com). They make delicious bresaola, fennel salamis and garlic and pepper salad.  

Look out for the Wooded Pig cured meats made from ethically reared free-range pigs who roam freely in mature forests of ash, beech and oak on the family farm near Tara in Co. Meath  – www.thewoodedpig.ie

Arrange the cured meats, salami, bresaola, prosciutto, coppa, lomo chorizo and farmhouse cheese randomly across the board.  Cut the cheese into wedges, slices, cubes depending on the style.  A few gherkins could be added to nibble with charcuterie. A piece of honeycomb can be very delicious with a slightly under ripe blue cheese. You may want to ruffle some of the cured meats into little fan shapes for ease of serving. It’s so easy to make the platter look irresistible.

Just provide a plate and knife and some good red wine and encourage everyone to tuck in and celebrate our artisan producers.  

Edible Christmas Gifts

I’m dedicating my entire column to edible gifts for the many food lovers in your life this week.  Lots of savoury treats, delicious accompaniments, pickles, chutneys, spicy salts and a few jars of toasted nuts, sweet and fiery chilli sauce and a super delicious peanut rayu to liven up absolutely everything from fried eggs to cold turkey over the festive season. 

Next week we’ll focus on comforting food for Christmas Eve but I’m keeping the blurb to the minimum to fit in as many delicious treats as possible.

During the year, I look out for little pots, jars or special glasses in charity or bric-a-brac shops, I have a stack ready to fill with Christmas goodies.  Do ramp up the labelling and packaging, ribbons and glitter to add extra excitement and festive cheer. 

A hamper of four homemade soups got an ecstatic and grateful response from a couple of busy working mums last Christmas – easy, delicious, fun and quick to defrost even if frozen. 

Chilli Salt

A perfect pressie for a foodie friend who likes to add a little extra oomph to everything – carry it in your handbag to perk up bland dishes…

110g (4oz) flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons crushed dried chilli pepper (Jalapeno or Habanero)

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Mix the salt and chilli together and whizz for a couple of seconds in a food processor or a molcajete with a pestle and mortar. 

Fill into little airtight glass containers. 

Roasted Almonds with Rosemary

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

whole unpeeled almonds

extra virgin olive oil

freshly chopped rosemary to taste

sea salt

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

Put the almonds onto a dry baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Toss in olive oil, freshly chopped rosemary and sea salt.   Serve warm but perfect filled into little glass jars as a Christmas present. Irresistible – try not to eat the lot!

Sweet and Fiery Chilli Sauce

We grow about six or eight varieties of chilli in the greenhouse.  They vary enormously in heat, even on the same plant.  For consistency, you’re probably best to use Dutch red finger chillies that are widely available in the shops.  Serve over everything…even fried eggs…


Makes 1 bottle

3 large red chillies finely chopped (seeds and all)

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

185g (6 1/2oz) sugar

1 clove garlic crushed

Put all the ingredients into a little saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture.  Cool and fill into a sterilised jam jar or bottle.  Store in a cool, dry place.

It will keep for a year or more, though you are unlikely to have it for that long. 

Spicy Asian Cucumber Pickle

This fresh tasting pickle is an irresistible accompaniment to and perk up cold meats, smoked fish and Cheddar cheese.  Use within a couple of weeks.   

Serves 4-6

1 cucumber, quartered, excess seeds removed and sliced thinly at an angle

2 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly, lengthwise

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings

1 green chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings

Marinade

4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons white malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients for the marinade together in a saucepan.  Bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. When cool, pour the marinade over the cucumber, shallots and chilli.

Fill into cold sterilised glass jars.  Cover and label. 

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

Another delicious combination, this relish compliments goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats – keeps for months.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately)

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served….

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

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.

Gary’s Peanut Rayu

This stuff is addictive, the problem is that the recipient of this will plead for more…what can I say!

500g (18oz) red skinned peanuts

12 cloves garlic thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) sunflower oil

150g (5oz) Korean chilli flakes

125g (4 1/2oz) Tamari

150g (5oz) sesame seeds (75g each of black and white seeds – use all white if you don’t have black sesame seeds)

150g (5oz) honey

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

Roast the peanuts with a good pinch of Maldon sea salt for 10-12 minutes, remove from the oven, cool, blow off the skins and chop coarsely.

Heat the sunflower oil in a small pot and fry the garlic slices until light golden brown and crisp, drain through a sieve and dry on kitchen paper. Allow the oil to cool to tepid and reserve.

Mix the chilli flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and add the tamari then pour in the cooled reserved oil, allow to cool completely and stir in honey, crisp garlic, stir well and enjoy.

Fill into jars, label and decorate.  Keeps for months.

Christmas Granola

Perfect for breakfasts over the holiday season. Enjoy with yoghurt and lots of grated Irish apple…

Serves 20 people approximately

125g (4 1/2oz) butter or coconut oil

175ml (6fl oz) honey

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (1lb 2oz) oatmeal

110g (4oz) sunflower seeds

150g (5oz) slivered almonds

110g (4oz) pumpkin seeds

50g (2oz) barley flakes

50g (2oz) rye flakes

50g (2oz) coconut flakes

50g (2oz) dried apricots or a mixture of dates and apricots, chopped

50g (2oz) dried cranberries or dried cherries 

50g (2oz) juicy sultanas 

Preheat the oven to 170°/325°/Gas Mark 3.

Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan over a low heat, stir in the honey and vanilla extract.  Mix all the remaining ingredients, except the dried fruit and coconut flakes, in a large mixing bowl, add the liquid and stir well until everything is evenly coated.   Spread over 3 large baking trays and toast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the grains are crisp and very lightly browned. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the trays. Add the coconut flakes and continue to cook for a further 5-8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and when cool transfer to a large bowl.  Add the dried fruit and mix.   

Fill into Kilner jars and zhuzh up with ribbons and labels and a sprig of holly or rosemary – keeps for up to 1 month.  

Little Pots of Christmas Pâté

This pâté can be served in many different ways: its success depends on being generous with good Irish butter.  You could fill this pâté into little glass jars but how about buying a few little pottery ramekins to embellish the gift.  For extra lux, spoon some brandy-soaked raisins and a few chopped pistachio nuts on top. 

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

few sprigs of thyme

clarified 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 trace of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then deglaze 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.  Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.  Add a little sprig of thyme. 

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.

Serve with crusty hot white bread or toast.  This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.

Watchpoint: It is essential to cover chicken liver pâté with a layer of clarified or even just melted butter, otherwise the pâté will oxidize and become bitter in taste and grey in colour.

Caramel Popcorn

Makes tons…

225g (8oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

50g (2oz) popcorn

First make the popcorn.

Combine the sugar and cold water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut brown.  Do not stir and do not shake the pan.  If sugar crystals form around the side of the pan, brush them down with cold water.  When the caramel is ready, it must be used immediately or it will become hard and cold.

Spread the popcorn onto a silicone mat or oiled tin and drizzle the hot caramel over.  Leave to cool

Fill into jars, label and fancy up with ribbons and a sprig of rosemary.

Rachel Allen’s Popcorn Paradise

It’s difficult to have a home cinema night without popcorn, so why not try this recipe and all its variations?  Serve the popcorn in a big bowl or in paper cornets for each person.

Serves 4

Plain Popcorn

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

75g (3oz) popcorn

25g (1oz) butter

pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the popcorn and swirl the pan to coat the popcorn in oil.   Turn down the heat to low, cover, and the corn should start to pop in a couple of minutes.  As soon as it starts popping (after 5 – 7 minutes), take the saucepan off the heat and add the butter and salt.  Put the lid back on the pan and shake to mix.  Pour out into bowls and leave to cool a little.

Variations

Toffee Popcorn

Cook the popcorn as for the plain popcorn recipe, but while the corn is popping, make the toffee coating by melting 25g (1oz) butter in a small saucepan.   Then add 25g (1oz) brown sugar and 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup and stir over a high heat for 1/2 – 1 minute until thick.   Pour the toffee over the popcorn, put the lid on the pan and shake to mix.   Pour out into bowls and cool a little before serving.

Spiced Popcorn

Cook the popcorn for the plain popcorn recipe as far as removing the pan from the heat.  In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and coriander seeds with 1/2 teaspoon each of medium-strength curry powder and ground paprika and 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper.   Heat 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan, add the spices and stir for about 30 seconds until lightly toasted.  Throw in 25g (1oz) caster sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt, stir, then add all of this into the prepared popcorn in the saucepan, toss and empty into a big bowl.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Make lots of these, some can be gifted alongside a beautiful ripe cheese but fill a tin box to serve with a charcuterie and cheese board over Christmas (see next week’s column – 24th December).

Makes 20-25 biscuits

225g (8oz) plain white flour or a mixture of brown wholemeal and white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

25g (1oz) butter

1 tablespoon cream

water as needed, 5 tablespoons approx.

Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl.   Rub in the butter and moisten with the cream and enough water to make a firm dough.

Roll out very thinly to one sixteenth of an inch approx.  Prick with a fork.  Cut into 9cm (3 1/2  inch) squares with a pastry wheel.  Bake at 150˚C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2 for 30 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in a tight-fitting tin box or fill into jars as a gift. 

Family Friendly One Pots

Now is the time to plan for a really chilled Christmas, so let’s stock the pantry with items and fill the freezer with casseroles, pots of stews, tagines, make sure to have a couple of chunky vegetarian dishes and some vegan treats – delicious for everyone. 

I’ve got lots of gorgeous bean and chickpea recipes that everyone loves.  Dried legumes and pulses are packed with flavour, nutrients and are a very inexpensive source of protein.  Serve them with a salad of late Autumn leaves and a bowl of natural yoghurt with lots of snipped fresh herbs particularly mint.

For meat dishes, go along to your local butcher, have a chat to discover the less expensive cuts that are so brilliant for slow cooked stews and braises. This is no sacrifice, these have twice the flavour of the prime cuts, but you can’t just slap them on the pan, they need to be cooked long and slowly to break down the tissue and tease them to melting tenderness.  Here’s where a slow cooker really comes into its own.  Put on a batch of short ribs, a shin of beef stew, some ham hocks or maybe a few lamb shanks. 

Tomato fondue and piperonata in two portion tubs are also brilliant bases to have in a freezer.  One can defrost them quickly and add a couple of cans of beans, chickpeas, even diced cooked potatoes, a few chunks of streaky bacon or chorizo.  A bag of mussels and or clams or a few cubes of fresh fish make an almost instant swanky Mediterranean fish stew – it’s brilliant to have a few of these secret standbys to take the stress out of unexpected situations so you can spontaneously invite a few pals home after an evening out on the town or after a funeral or a point-to-point.

Don’t forget venison, somehow it always feels festive.  Stewing venison from the shoulder is what you need for stews and casseroles and how about adding a pastry crust to make a delectable venison or game pie.  For chicken dishes, buy a bag of thighs or drumsticks by far the best flavour.  The bones add extra deliciousness not to speak of collagen, the new buzz word in nutrition which we all need for healthy bone structure.  Unless you are super careful, white breast meat dries up quickly in casseroles.  I’m always baffled as to why so many people prefer white rather than dark meat.

Brown meat has always been my favourite, I will eat white meat where offered if given a choice but would never choose it myself.  Plus being less popular has resulted in it being less expensive – a bonus when you discover how good it is. 

There are still lots of squash and pumpkins around.  Apart from being delicious, they are brilliant to add to stews and casseroles to bulk them up deliciously at little cost. 

So here are a few of our favourite standbys to cook up and pop into the freezer during the next few weeks – Happy Cooking.

Black-eyed Bean, Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew

One of the very best vegetarian one-pot dishes. What’s not to like about black-eyed beans, chickpeas and pumpkin with lots of spices? Delicious on its own, but equally good with a roast chicken or a few lamb chops. Eat with flatbreads or pilaff rice, if you prefer.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick

150g (5oz) onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

225g (8oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced approx. 3mm (1/8 inch) thick

450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

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

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

a pinch of sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

450g (1lb) cooked black-eyed beans, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

225g (8oz) cooked chickpeas, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped coriander

For the Mint Yoghurt

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5 – 6 seconds, then add the onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edges.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms wilt, then add the pumpkin or squash, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, a pinch of sugar and the cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and tip in the drained beans and chickpeas. Add the salt and pepper, together with 2 tablespoons of coriander. Pour in 150ml (5fl oz) of bean cooking liquid and 150ml (5fl oz) of the chickpea liquid (or 300ml (10fl oz) vegetable stock if you’ve used tinned pulses). Return to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans and chickpeas are tender.

To make the mint yogurt, combine the yogurt with the chopped mint in a bowl.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan before serving and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the mint yogurt. Accompany with a good green salad and rice, if you wish.

Mary Jo’s Braised Short Ribs

Serve 10-12

6 cross cut short ribs, trimmed

225g (8oz) streaky bacon (in a piece if possible. Remove rind, dice bacon, fry out fat in 1 tablespoon olive oil or duck fat

225g (8oz) diced carrot

175g (6oz) diced celery

6-8 cloves garlic, cut in half

1 chilli, sliced

1 red pepper, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

2-3 large onions (1 sliced – the other 2 chopped)

1 tablespoon tomato purée

200 – 250ml (7- 9fl oz) red wine

1 sprig of rosemary

2 bay leaves

small fistful thyme branches

1 cinnamon stick

3 spirals of orange zest

beef or chicken stock

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

If possible, trim and salt the beef the night before cooking.

Remove rind and dice the bacon.  Save the rind to cook with beef, it adds gelatine to the sauce.  Heat a little oil in a wide sauté and brown the bacon dice.  Remove to a plate.

Brown beef in batches; do not overcrowd the sauté pan.  Leave 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan and sweat onion, carrot and celery, stirring to dissolve all browned bits in the sauté pan.  Add the garlic, chilli and peppers and sweat for 5 – 6 minutes or until limp.

Place beef, bacon and vegetables in a casserole or heavy braising pot, preferably enamelled cast iron.

Add the tomato paste to the hot sauté pan and cook briefly.  Add wine and bring to the boil.  Pour this over the beef, add the herbs, cinnamon stick and orange zest and enough stock to come halfway up the pot. Bring back to the boil. Cover with a butter paper and tight-fitting lid.  Braise in a moderate until tender, 3 – 4 1/2 hours (depending on the size). Pour off the liquid, allow to settle.

Skim the fat off the top (keep for roast potatoes).  Remove the herbs and bones from the pot if you wish.  Bring back to the boil.  Thicken the juices with a little roux if desired.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Add back into the pot.   Scatter with coarsely chopped parsley.

Serve with mashed potato.

Chicken and Apricot Stew with Gentle Spices

We use chicken thighs for this recipe, but of course white meat could also be used.  Children also love this mildly spiced curry.  The apricots add a fruity sweetness that lifts the stew deliciously.  Serve with a big bowl of pilaf rice. 

Serves 6

175g (6oz) dried apricots

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

4 cloves

4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

50ml (2fl oz) sunflower oil

5cm (2 inch) of cinnamon bark

270g (scant 9oz) onions, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1.3kg (3lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced in 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

10 cherry tomatoes, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons concentrated tomato purée mixed with 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

Garnish

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander

Soak the apricots overnight in 450ml (16fl oz) cold water, or if you are in a hurry soak them in hot water for 2 – 3 hours.

To make the masala, combine the chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.  Add 50ml (2fl oz) water and stir to make a spice paste.  

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add the cinnamon.  Add the chopped onions and salt. Cover and sweat for 4 – 5 minutes until the onion is a little soft.   Stir in the spice masala.  Add the chicken, toss to coat and cook for 4 – 5 minutes.  Add the apricots with their soaking liquid, quartered cherry tomatoes and tomato purée.

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.   You may need to reduce the liquid by removing the lid halfway through the cooking.

Season to taste.  Serve in a warm bowl, sprinkled with lots of freshly chopped coriander.  We serve it with pilaf rice and a green salad.

Rory O’Connell’s Ham Hocks with Mustard and Chive Cream

I love ham hocks and they are very easy to cook, tremendously good value and are delicious served hot, warm or at room temperature. I prefer them unsmoked but that is a personal choice. The leftover cooking water makes a delicious stock for soups so do not discard it.

The mustard and chive cream could not be easier to make but I feel the dry English Colemans mustard powder is essential for a fiery yet comforting accompaniment to the hocks.

Serves 4

4 fresh ham hocks

1 onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 carrot thickly sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

6 black peppercorns

Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the meat is almost falling off the bone.

Serve with the mustard and chive cream on the side.

Mustard and Chive Cream

This sauce is also delicious served with roast beef.

1 teaspoon of dry English mustard powder

1 teaspoon hot water

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) softly whipped cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blend the dry mustard and warm water to form a wet paste. Fold it along with the chives and a pinch of salt and pepper through the softly whipped cream. Keep chilled until serving.

Masala Lamb Shanks 

This rich spicy dish is even better reheated the next day, or the day after and also freezes brilliantly.  If you have any of the sauce left over, toss it with some pasta or noodles for a simple supper.

Serves 8

8 lamb shanks, weighing approx. 1.2kg (2 3/4lbs) in total

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

3cm (1 1/4 inch) piece of fresh ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

5 cloves

6 cardamom pods, bashed

450g (1lb) onions, sliced

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

1–2 teaspoons honey

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 teaspoons ground coriander

2 – 3 green chillies, halved

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

8 large potatoes, peeled and halved

sea salt

lots of fresh coriander sprigs, to serve

Masala Paste

25g (1oz) desiccated coconut

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 – 3 red chillies, finely chopped

Mint Yoghurt

4 tablespoons chopped mint

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

sea salt and a little honey, to taste

Put the lamb shanks into a 27 – 29cm (11 – 11.5 inch)/4.1 – 4.7 litre (7 – 8 pint approx.) casserole and add the turmeric, ginger, garlic and some salt. Pour in enough water to cover (approx. 2.4 litres/4 pints) and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer gently for 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, grind the ingredients for the masala paste in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, and set aside until needed.

Once the lamb shanks are cooked, remove them carefully from the pan and keep warm. Pour all of the cooking liquid into a separate pan and set aside.  Return the casserole to a low heat with the extra virgin olive oil. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir-fry for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the onions and fry for 5 – 6 minutes until they start to soften. Add the chopped tomatoes and honey and cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the ground cumin and coriander, add the green chillies and cook for 3 minutes. Finally stir in the masala paste and coconut milk and bring slowly to the boil. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Return the cooked lamb shanks to the pan and pour in enough of the cooking liquid to come halfway up the shanks. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 10 minutes, turning the shanks several times during the cooking time.

Add the potatoes to the pan, replace the lid and cook for
20 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked and the lamb is almost falling off the bone. Season to taste.

To make the mint yogurt, stir the chopped mint into the yogurt and season to taste with salt and honey.

Sprinkle the casserole with lots of fresh coriander and serve with the mint yogurt.

Rice Pudding

Guess what, rice pudding is really having a moment, almost every restaurant I’ve eaten in recently has had rice pudding in some shape or form on the menu – can you imagine that the humble pud of our childhood would be gracing the table of swanky establishments.  No problem for me, I adore rice pudding even the simplest version with a blob of softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar or a spoonful of jam.

Challenging times call for familiar comforting foods, apparently sales of rice pudding and tinned rice are up in all major food chains and recipe searches are up by 233% – who would have thought that the dreaded milk pudding of our school days is all the rage again.  Perfect for these frugal times.  If ever there was a pudding that can soothe, this is it.  A 500g packet of rice costs approx. €2.45 and even though the price has recently increased, it’s still brilliant value, 100g of rice will yield enough rice pudding for 6 or 8. One can make rice pudding from any kind of rice but my favourite by far is short grain rice or Carolina rice – often referred to as pudding rice or pearl rice.  I love the way it soaks and plumps up in the milk to an unctuous creamy texture.  Rice pudding can be dressed up or down and is a vehicle for so many different flavours and accompaniments.  I enjoyed different versions at Café Cecilia, Portland and St. John Restaurant in London.  Each serves their own riff on the classic pudding.  During the Summer, Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis served a refreshing cold rice pud with tea-soaked prunes and custard but now that the weather has turned chiller it’s back to the classic version now – what Jeremy refers to as ‘comfort and joy’…He adds a good measure of cream, half a vanilla pod and a generous grating of nutmeg.  This coconut milk version is also delicious as are these rice pudding pancakes.

Simon Hopkinson, late of Bibendum, is also a rice pudding fan and here too is his recipe.

We all agree about the deliciousness of the golden skin on top of the baked version but if you are happy to forgo that tradition, one can also make rice pudding in a pot – here is Mrs. Black’s version to enjoy.  If perchance you have some leftover rice pudding, how about rice pudding arancini?  Roll the cold rice into balls, then into flour, egg and toasted crumbs, before deep-frying in hot oil until crisp and golden.  Dust generously with icing sugar and serve hot with butterscotch sauce or ice-cold apple purée and cream.  A slab of crumbed cold rice pudding, fried until crisp on the outside in bubbling butter is irresistible too.  So there are lots of options to try and not a morsel wasted…

My Mum’s Delicious Rice Pudding

A feast for just a couple of cents, which brings childhood memories romping back.  We show every group of students how to make this simple pudding and it’s a revelation how simply delicious it is.

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) caster sugar

15g (1/2oz) butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) whole milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) pie dish, mine is Pyrex from a charity shop

Preheat the oven to 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour evenly over the rice. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin will be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it, so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.  Serve with softly whipped cream and a good sprinkling of soft brown sugar. 

Mrs. Black’s Rice Pudding in a pot

Thank you, Mrs. Black, for sharing your recipe, no need for an oven – hot but still rich and delicious. 

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

75g (3oz) pearl or pudding rice

15g (1/2oz) sugar

grated rind of 1 tangerine or mandarin

To serve

soft brown sugar

softly whipped cream

fruit compote of your choice

Wash the rice in a strainer, allow cold water to flow through it.

Put the rice and milk into a saucepan, stir and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently until the rice grains soften and swell, absorbing the milk.  Stir regularly – this will take 45 minutes approximately. 

Add the sugar and the finely grated rind of the tangerine or mandarin. Mix gently.

Serve warm or cold with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream and a fruit compote of your choice or perhaps slices of tangerine or mandarin.

Variation: Rice Brûlee for a posh party

Put the rice into ramekins, sprinkle a generous tablespoon of Demerara sugar on top, and caramelize with a blow torch.

Simon Hopkinson’s Rice Pudding

Simon Hopkinson cooks the kind of food I love to eat – this recipe is taken from the BBC Food Recipes but look out for his cookbook ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’

40g (1 1/2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) rice pudding 

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) whole milk

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways

pinch salt

plenty of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 140°C/285°F/Gas Mark 1.

Melt the butter in a heavy-based casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Continue stirring until the rice swells and becomes sticky with sugar.

Pour in the milk and keep stirring until no lumps remain. Add the cream and vanilla and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once this is reached, give the mixture a final stir and grate at least a third of a nutmeg over the surface. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours and cover if the surfaces browns too quickly.

Once there is a thin, tarpaulin-like skin on the surface, and the pudding only just wobbles in the centre, it is ready.

Serve at room temperature.

Kheer Marwadi – Indian Rice Pudding

This delicious rice pudding, a speciality of Rajasthan, is spiced with cardamom, it’s got lots of plump sultanas and chopped nuts and saffron has an almost soup like texture. 

Rosewater varies in strength so be careful to add gradually and taste.

This dessert can be cooked ahead and served warm or cold.

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon coconut oil

50g (2oz) Basmati rice, soaked for an hour and drained

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) coconut milk

500ml (18fl oz) water

3 tablespoons ground almonds

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) fresh coconut, grated

25g (1oz) raisins or sultanas

50g (2oz) pistachio nuts cut into slivers

50g (2oz) blanched almonds, cut into slivers

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons kewra essence – keeps indefinitely or use rosewater instead but be careful – add 1/2 teaspoon first and then taste.

To Serve

chopped pistachios

rose petals

Heat the coconut oil in a pan.  Add the soaked rice, stir for 2 or 3 minutes then add the coconut milk and water and cook over a low heat for an hour until the rice absorbs the liquid and the pudding thickens.

Stir in the ground almonds, sugar, coconut, raisins or sultanas, pistachios and almond slivers.  Cook for a final couple of minutes until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and stir in the ground cardamom and kewra or rosewater.  Cool and chill. Sprinkle with some chopped pistachios and rose petals if available

Serve in individual dishes.

Rice Pudding Pancakes

A fun way to use up leftover rice pudding.

Makes 8 pancakes

400g (14oz) leftover rice pudding

1 egg

70g (scant 3oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

ground cinnamon (optional)

butter for cooking

Mix together the cold rice pudding, beaten egg, flour, baking powder with a generous pinch of cinnamon (if using) until everything is well combined.

Melt a little clarified butter in a frying pan.  When it starts to bubble, add a large tablespoon of batter, reduce the heat and gently fry over a low heat for 3-4 minutes until golden, flip over and continue to cook until golden on the other side.  Serve on a hot plate with honey, butterscotch or chocolate sauce and softly whipped cream.

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