Darina’s Saturday Letter

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The Joy of Food by Rory O’Connell

‘The Joy of Food’, Rory O’Connell’s excellent third book was published by Gill Books at the beginning of October. My signed copy arrived in the post, beautifully wrapped with a limited edition linen tea towel from Stable. That’s the gorgeous shop in Westbury Hall, off Dublin’s Grafton Street where I want to buy absolutely everything in the shop. The package also included several post cards of Rory’s line drawings that illustrate the pages of this enchanting book. All so beautifully chic and stylish.

I know what you’re thinking – Well, She would say that wouldn’t she? After all, Rory is Darina’s brother who co-founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School with her in 1983… True, but many of you who have been watching the accompanying series, The Joy of Food on RTE, will have realised that Rory is an exceptional talent….A curious chef with his own unique style, who not only loves to cook but also loves to share his knowledge, making him a much-loved teacher here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork.

For me, as his older sister, it’s a trip down memory lane, an extra fascinating element. We were both brought up in the little village of Cullohill in the rural midlands of Co.Laois by a mother (our Dad died when I was 14) who loved to cook yummy meals for us every single day. Simple but truly delicious comforting food, vegetables and fruit and berries from the kitchen garden. Chickens and eggs from our own hens, milk from the Kerry cow, meat from the local butcher, wild food in season…..This was our norm and was unquestionably where we learned to cook but also to appreciate the magic of food and its ability to enhance both our family life and the experience of friends and the students we share with.

The evocative introduction to the chapters in this new book gave me an even  deeper insight into my brothers psyche, his passion for good food, and superb ingredients in season. Memories of family picnics, foraging expeditions up Cullohill ‘mountain’ to gather hazelnuts, the importance of laying a beautiful table and lighting a candle, even when dining alone. Read about the difference a little bunch of flowers makes, I also loved his homage to the pestle and mortar, his musings on the joy of owning a few hens and was intrigued to read how much Jane Grigson’s book ‘Good Things’ meant to him because it’s my favourite too.

It’s packed with delicious sounding recipes, special tips and insight into how to use some less familiar ingredients e.g. sumac, perilla, shiso…..

I’ve chosen a few of my favourite seasonal recipes to tempt you. Don’t miss the Pantry and Preserving section towards the end of the book – a personalised copy would make a brilliant Christmas present.

Eggs stuffed with Mayonnaise and Nasturtium

Serves 4

4 eggs

3 tablespoons Homemade Mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped nasturtium leaves and flowers

2 green olives, stoned and halved or quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To decorate

8-16 small nasturtium leaves

8 nasturtium flowers

8 slivers of green olive (2 olives will easily yield this)

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and add a good pinch of salt. Drop in the eggs carefully and boil for exactly 10 minutes. Remove immediately and chill in cold water.

Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthways. Remove the hard yolks and place in a sieve over a bowl. Push the yolks through the sieve and then scrape the bottom of the sieve to ensure you have not wasted any. Add in the mayonnaise and chopped nasturtiums and mix well with a wooden spoon. Taste and correct seasoning. I find it is easy to over season stuffed eggs as the eggs have been salted in the cooking and the mayonnaise will have been salted in the making, so proceed with caution.

Use a teaspoon to drop and divide the egg yolk mixture into the hollowed out egg white. You could also use a piping bag fitted with a large plain or star nosel. Decorate each egg with a nasturtium flower and leaf. Finally place the sliver of green olive in a prominent place so that its sharp flavour does not come as a surprise to diners. By now the eggs embellished with flower and leaf should look like the smartest hat ready for the Chelsea Flower show or a day at the races.

Rory O’Connell’s Casserole Roast Pheasant with Jerusalem Artichokes and Indian Spices

Jerusalem artichokes have just come back into season.

Serves 4 -6

2 Pheasants oven ready

20g butter at room temperature

650g Jerusalem Artichokes, scrubbed and sliced in half lengthways

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

Spice paste

1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, lightly roasted and finely ground

1 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 180°c/ 350°f/ gas 4

Mix all of the ingredients for the spice paste and reserve.

Heat a heavy casserole large enough for the two birds on a gentle heat until quite hot. Dry the skin of the birds and smear the butter over the breasts and legs and place them breast side down in the heated casserole. The breasts should sizzle on contact with the casserole, if they do not, remove and allow the casserole to become hotter. Equally you don’t want to burn the birds so make sure your heat is not too high. Allow the breasts to become a golden brown colour and then remove from the casserole and turn off the heat. Do not wash out the casserole at this point unless it has over-heated while browning the birds. Place half of the artichokes in the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Smear half of the spice paste over the breasts and legs of the birds and also a little into the cavity. Reserve the rest of the spice paste for another use. It will keep covered in the fridge for a week or freezes well. Place the remaining artichokes around the birds, season and cover with a tight fitting lid.

Place the casserole in the oven and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Test to see if the birds are cooked by checking to see if the juices are clear between the thigh and the breast. I loosen the leg a little and push in a teaspoon to get some of the juices and then can accurately judge the colour of the juices. If they are a little pink, I usually pop the covered casserole back into the oven for another 10 minutes and test it again.

The dish is now finished and ready to serve with tender artichokes and delicious cooking juices that are the sauce. If you wish you can spoon off the small amount of fatty juices from the surface of the sauce.

I often leave them on the sauce. Carve the birds on to hot plates or a serving dish. Surround with the artichokes and pour over the bubbling hot juices and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Notes; I love to serve simple boiled green cabbage or curly kale with this dish. York is a wonderful variety of winter cabbage.

Rory O’Connell’s Roast Plums with Pomegranate Molasses and Crème Fraiche

Serves 4-6

8 blood plums

110g caster sugar

1 lemon

Pomegranate molasses

Crème Fraiche

Preheat oven to 180°c

Halve the plums leaving the stones intact in some of the halves and place in a close fitting baking dish. With a swivel top peeler, peel 5 strips of peel off the lemon and push in around the plums. Scatter on the sugar and squeeze over the lemon juice. Wet a piece of parchment paper under a tap and then squeeze out the excess moisture. Spread the dampened paper over the dish and down to cover the sides. Place in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the plums as the cooking times of plums will vary depending on the ripeness and the variety of plum being used. You want the plums to be perfectly soft but also still holding their shape. There should be beautiful burgundy coloured juices surrounding the cooked plums.

I like to serve the plums still slightly war, though they are also delicious served chilled. If plating them individually, serve with plenty of the cooking juices, a dessertspoon of crème fraiche and a drizzle of the pomegranate molasses. If serving family style, serve the crème fraiche and pomegranate molasses separately and ensure all diners also spoon lots of the delicious cooking juices over the plums.

Rory O’Connell’s Homemade Stem Ginger and Chocolate and Ginger Mendiants

Learn how Rory makes his own stem ginger from The Joy of Food and then make these delicious treats.

225g dark chocolate, 62% cocoa solids

50g stem ginger

Place the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl and sit over a saucepan of cold water. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water. Heat the water to a simmer and turn off the heat immediately. The chocolate will not be fully melted at this stage but the residual heat in the saucepan will melt the chocolate perfectly. Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula. 

Remove the ginger from its syrup and dry well on kitchen paper. Cut into c 3ml dice.

 Lay a sheet of parchment or silicone paper on a baking tray. Spoon small blobs of the melted chocolate on to the paper – about the size of a 2 euro coin. Leave a little space between the chocolate blobs as they will expand slightly. Carefully scatter little dice of the ginger on to the chocolate. Allow to chill and set. 

Peel the mendiants off the paper and serve. 

Rory O’Connell’s Ginger, Lemon and Turmeric Cake

175g butter at room temperature

3 eggs

175g self-raising flour

150g caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

30g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

Icing

45g butter at room temperature

55g cream cheese

80g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of finely grated peeled fresh turmeric

2 teaspoons lemon juice

50g stem ginger, chopped into 1/3 cm dice

1 x 22cm cake tin

Preheat oven to 180°c. 

Brush the cake tin with a little melted butter and line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper. Dust the sides of the tins with a little flour and tap the tins to remove any excess. 

Place the butter, eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest and ginger in a food processor. Using the pulse button, process the ingredients very briefly to achieve a creamy consistency. This may take as little as twenty seconds. Ensure that all of the flour from the base and sides of the processor are amalgamated evenly into the mixture.

Spread the mixture into the lined tin as evenly as possible. Place in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the cake is risen, richly coloured and just barely starting to come away from the edges of the tin. Test that the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the cake and retracting it. The skewer should come out of the cake clean.

Place the cake still in the tin on a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes before carefully removing from the tin and replacing on the wire rack.

To make the icing, place the butter, cream cheese and sieved icing sugar in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until a creamy and fluffy consistency is achieved. Add the turmeric and lemon juice and mix in gently. Chill the icing until you are ready to ice the cake. 

When the cake has completely cooled, remove the parchment paper and place on a flat serving plate. Spread the icing over the top of the cake achieving a gentle and swirly finish. Scatter the diced stem ginger over the icing as evenly as possible.

Serve the cake with crème fraiche or softly whipped cream.

Edible Christmas Gifts

Who knows what kind of Christmas we’ll have this year. Will we be able to get together and celebrate with our family and loved ones or will we be forced to wish our children, grandchildren and grandparents a Happy Christmas through tears of loneliness on Zoom?

The answer is in the lap of the God’s at present so let’s use the intervening weeks having fun, making edible Christmas gifts. If necessary they can be beautifully ribboned and wrapped and couriered a few days ahead.

There are so many options, I could write five or six columns without running out of ideas. There’s still time to make lots of chutneys, pickles and relishes. I particularly love this Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney.

The last of the Summer tomatoes refuse to ripen as the days get dramatically shorter so we have lots of green under ripe tomatoes, can’t bear to waste even one. We’ve been really enjoying them sliced and fried in a corn meal coating as they do in the US, with a dollop of Remoulade sauce but for the purpose of this article how about the more unusual and super delicious Jane’s Green Tomato Jam as opposed to the more predictable chutney. It’s equally great with goats cheese, cold meat or slathered on scones.

This Beetroot and Ginger Relish is another winner. Particularly good with pate’s or coarse terrines as is Confiture d’oignons or Onion Marmalade. All of these keep for months. I’d pot them in small rather than large glass jars or better still keep an eye on local charity and junk shops for earthen ware jars which add an extra dimension to your pressies.

We’re bang in the middle of the citrus fruit season. Kumquats are back in the shops, time to make a few jars of luxurious Kumquat Marmalade, the most delicious of all.

I found some Bergamots on Rebel Organics stall at the Midleton Farmer’s Market last week so we made a batch of Bergamot marmalade, deliciously tart and bitter. I also found green Verdelli lemons, a new one on me so I’ll experiment with those during the week.

Sweet sauces also make great little pressies. Why not try, Dark Chocolate sauce, a Butterscotch sauce and a Salted Caramel – now wouldn’t those three make a cute little hamper and maybe add an Irish Whiskey Sauce for good measure.

That’s probably enough to keep you and your family having fun in the kitchen for this week. The less than enthusiastic cooks can help with the labelling and wrapping, perhaps they can source some ribbons and pretty twines. Jar covers, can be as simple as newspaper, parchment or fancy wrapping paper. Sprigs of rosemary tucked into the twine look great and last well. Keep a good look out for little baskets and containers to pack your goodies into. More ideas next week. Meanwhile, have fun…

Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney

Makes 3–5 jars, depending on size

225g (8oz) onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

450g (1lb) very ripe red peppers, seeded and diced

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon allspice

1⁄2 teaspoon mace

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated

1 stalk of lemongrass, finely chopped

450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

110g (4oz) raisins

1 garlic clove, chopped

225g (8oz) white sugar

150ml (1⁄4 pint) white wine vinegar

Sweat the onions in the olive oil in a stainless-steel saucepan. Add the peppers, salt, spices, grated ginger and lemongrass. After 10 minutes, add the tomatoes, raisins, garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 11⁄2 hours, until it looks thickish. Pour into sterilised glass jars, cover with non-reactive lids and store in a cool, dry place.

Janie’s Green Tomato Jam

A change from Green Tomato Chutney, delicious on toast as well as drizzled on goats cheese or mozzarella.

Makes 2 small jars

500g (18oz) green tomatoes

450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) water

300g (10oz/1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

Boil rapidly for 10 –12 minutes or until setting point is reached.

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

Serve with coarse terrines, pâtés and cheese.

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 (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.

Onion Marmalade  – Confiture d’Oignons

Once again, delicious with pâtés and terrines.

Makes 450ml (16fl oz)

675g (1 1/2lb) onions

50g (2oz) butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground

150g (5oz) castor sugar

7 tablespoons sherry vinegar

250ml (9fl oz) full bodied red wine

2 tablespoons crème de cassis

Peel and slice the onions thinly.  Melt the butter in the sauté pan and hold your nerve until it becomes a deep nut brown colour – this will give the onions a delicious rich flavour but be careful not to let it burn. Toss in the onions and sugar, add the salt and freshly ground pepper and stir well. Cover the saucepan and cook for 30 minutes over a gentle heat, keeping an eye on the onions and stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula.

Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and crème de cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. This onion jam must cook very gently (but don’t let it reduce too much).

Kumquat Marmalade

A read luxury, my favourite marmalade of all.

Makes 3 x 400g pots

1 kg kumquats

1¾ litres (56fl oz) water

1¾ kg (3 lb 1oz) sugar

Slice kumquats thinly crossways.  Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml (8fl oz) of the water, allow to stand overnight.  Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.

Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.

Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender.

Add the warm sugar and stir until fully dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes. Test for a set, put a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold saucer, it should barely wrinkle when pressed with a finger.

Remove the pan from the heat while testing.

Pour into hot sterilised jars. Cover and seal and store in a cool dry place.

Pam’s Bergamot Lemon Marmalade

6 – 8 pots

1kg (2.4lb) un-waxed Bergamot lemons

1 3kgs (3lb/6 cups) granulated sugar

2 1/2 litres (4 1/4 pints/generous 10 1/2 cups) cold water

Scrub the skin of the lemons in warm water with a soft brush. Put into a deep stainless steel saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2 hours until the lemons are soft and tender.

Remove the lemons and allow to cool.  Bring back the liquid to the boil and reduce the liquid to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups). 

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cut the lemons in half, save the pips and tie with the soft membrane in a little muslin bag. Chop the peel and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the reduced juice, liquid and the bag of pips. Put back on the heat, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook to a setting point – 15-20 minutes. Test for a set in the usual way.

Allow to cool in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Pot into sterilised jars, cool and store in a dark dry cupboard.

Dark Chocolate Sauce

Brilliant to have some chocolate sauce to drizzle over ice cream, profiteroles or on crépes.

Makes 16fl ozs (450mls) – 2 – 3 small jars

8ozs (225g) best quality dark chocolate (semi sweet or bittersweet)

8fl oz (225ml) cream

1 tablespoon dark rum or orange liqueur or strong coffee or ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  It will seem curdled at first but don’t worry, keep on stirring and it will become smooth and glossy.  Add the chosen flavouring if using.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

Butterscotch Sauce

Serves 12 approximately. 

This delicious sauce keeps for months, can be served with any ice-cream, crépes or over sticky toffee pudding.

4oz (110g) butter

5oz (150g) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

3oz (75g) granulated sugar

10oz (285g) golden syrup

8fl oz (225ml) cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt gently on a low heat.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract.  Put back in the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth. 

Serve hot or cold. 

Note: This sauce will keep for several weeks stored in a screw-top jar in the fridge. 

Salted Caramel Sauce

Once again, salted caramel sauce is irresistible drizzled over crépes, ice cream or bananas and keeps for weeks in a jar in the fridge.

600ml (3x 200g jars)

450g (16oz) caster sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted whole butter (diced)

250ml (9fl oz) double cream

10g (1/2oz) Fleur de Sel from Brittany (literally flower of the salt, the very mineral and not too salty top layer) or Irish Sea salt

Put the caster sugar into a large pan over a medium heat and stir continuously until it turns into a rich caramel. You need to do this by eye, but aim for a dark mahogany colour. If it is too light, the butter and cream will dilute any caramel flavour and it will lack that slightly burnt sugar taste that makes this sauce so good.

When you are happy with the caramel, very carefully whisk in the cream to stop the cooking. Be really careful not to do it too quickly as the caramel has a tendency to spit. When you have whisked in the cream, add the butter bit by bit until it’s all incorporated and you have a smooth rich caramel.

Allow to cool to 37°C and then stir in the fleur de sel and mix so you get an even distribution. Ed says it is very important to allow the caramel to cool before doing this so that the salt crystals do not dissolve and you then get that lovely crunch.

Irish Whiskey Sauce

We love this sauce to serve with glazed ham or bacon chop, as well as drizzled over crépes or ice cream.

Makes 1 small jar of 230ml (8fl oz)

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water

3- 4 tablespoon Irish whiskey

4fl ozs (120ml) hot water

Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a nice chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish whiskey. Serve hot or cold.

Some new cookbooks to add to your list for Christmas

Planning for Christmas?

Wondering how to get some of those pressies ticked off your list early without having to worry about the risk of another pre-Christmas lockdown.

Well how about a great cook book for the foodie or budding cooks and chefs in your life. I’ve recently got lots of new titles, which I am really enjoying, all very different. One of course is ‘The Joy Of Food’ by my brother Rory O’Connell which I love but will write about later.

Meanwhile, let me mention some of the others that particularly appeal to me. One is ‘Towpath’ by Lori de Mori, who has the most enchanting little café in four canal keeper’s stores along the banks of the Regent Canal in East London. Towpath is one of the secret hidden gems in the middle of London, one of the busiest and most sophisticated cities in the entire world. Lori, who trained at Rochelle Canteen and her partner Laura Jackson have a passion for seasonal food.

Towpath opens from Spring to late November. It has become a unique and beloved destination for so many. I totally include myself in the many who dream about whittling away a few hours at a table alongside the canal enjoying the delicious food while watching the swans glide past, the mallard chasing each other and the cootes and waterhens skittering across the water. If I lived in London I would want to ramble along to Towpath every single day, no website, no phone and no Take-Away, such joy and now Lori and Laura her partner share their recipes and the stories.

Next up, Neven Maguire’s ‘Mid Week Suppers’. For many, Neven is Ireland’s most trusted and best loved chef. He writes a weekly column in the Irish Farmer’s Journal where he has a loyal and devoted following. His restaurant, Macnean’s in Blacklion is permanently booked out. Yet, he finds time to do regular cooking videos from his home kitchen to encourage people to cook nourishing food for family and friends during the pandemic. Exciting Midweek Meals to share around the kitchen table.

Another gem –  – ‘Sourdough Mania’ is by passionate self-taught baker and teacher, Anita Šumer. Based in Slovenia she has become an international success and now has over 70,000 followers on Instagram @sourdough_mania.

Sourdough Mania gives us both simple-to-make and more ambitious recipes for more festive occasions. Every stage is fully illustrated with step by step photography on weighing, mixing, kneading, shaping, scoring and baking. Just what all the Covid-19 sourdough bread bakers are yearning for.

John and Sally McKenna’s latest book is entitled ‘MILK’ and tells the story of Ireland’s dairy producers and the importance of pasture fed cows to the quality and reputation of our milk, butter, cream, yoghurt… ‘MILK’ also looks at the scientific understanding of the liquid and explores its unique cultural power and resonance in the history of Ireland. It features brand new recipes featuring fresh dairy products from the new generation of Irish chefs, Niamh Fox, Takashi Miyazaki, Ahmet Dedc, Darren Hogarty, Mark Moriarty, Caitlin Ruth, Lily Higgins, Clodagh McKenna..

Niamh Fox – Ireland’s Beloved Jambon

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Niamh Fox cooks like an angel – sadly her restaurant ‘Little Fox’ in Ennistymon closed recently but watch that space…!

Makes 12

2 sheets puff pastry

Roasted red onion:

2 red onions, cut into quarters, then sliced

Splash of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Sprig of thyme, picked

Small sprinkling of brown sugar

Cheesy sauce:

25g butter

25g plain flour

250ml full fat milk

250g cheese, grated (Templegall, Gubbeen, Coolea, a good creamery Cheddar or bits and bobs from your fridge too.) Reserve a little to sprinkle.

Pinch of nutmeg

Pepper and sea salt to taste

200g of the best free-range ham you can get your hands on, cut into little cubes

1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk

To make the caramelised onions: mix together the onions, oil, seasoning and sprinkle with sugar. Pop in an ovenproof casserole, set around 200°C for 30 minutes, then mix and cover and continue to cook for 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

To make the cheesy sauce: melt butter at low heat, stir in the flour and mix well until a dough starts to form. Gradually pour in the milk, mixing really well so that there are no lumps in the sauce. Once all the milk has been added, add the grated cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg, pepper and salt. Mix well until you get a thick cheesy sauce. Add the finely cubed ham to the sauce, allow the mixture to cool.

To assemble the jambon: roll out the pastry, and cut each sheet into 6 squares.

Put a scoop of the cheese mixture in the centre of each square and a little of the caramelised onion, on top. Fold the corners to the centre and make sure they overlap (to avoid the ham and cheese from pouring out of the pastry). Pinch together the edges where needed. Brush the egg mix over the pastry and sprinkle the final bit of cheese on top and repeat for the other squares.

Place on oven tray and bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until golden-brown.

Buttermilk Lemonade

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Serves 3-4

Juice of 1 lemon

15ml (1 tbsp) caster sugar

500ml buttermilk

Combine the lemon juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the buttermilk, whisking, so everything is smoothly combined.

Neven Maguire’s Char Sui Pork Ribs with Slaw

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serve 4-6

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tbsp clear honey

3 tbsp light muscovado sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp hoisin sauce

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp freshly grated root ginger

1.3-2kg (3lb 5oz – 4 1/2lb) meaty pork ribs

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water

20g (3/4oz) fresh coriander

For the slaw

100g (4oz) red cabbage, cored and finely shredded

100g (4oz) white cabbage, cored and finely shredded

1 large carrot, grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

To Garnish

Spring onion curls (optional)

Mix the garlic in a bowl with the honey, muscovado sugar, soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine vinegar and ginger. Spoon 4 tablespoons of the marinade into the slow cooker (reserving the remainder) and add the ribs. Top up with the water, mixing to combine. Strip the leaves off the coriander and set them aside for the slaw, then put the stalks into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7). Line a large baking tray with foil.

Remove the ribs from the slow cooker using a slotted spoon or tongs. Handle them carefully, as the meat will be tender and may start to fall off the bone. Baste with the reserved marinade and lay on the foil-lined tray. Cook in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until starting to crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile, to make the slaw, mix the red and white cabbage with the carrot and reserved coriander leaves. Put the rapeseed oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and salt in a screw-topped jar and shake until evenly combined, then use to dress the slaw.

If making the spring onion curls, cut the spring onions into very thin slices, then put in a bowl of ice-cold water to curl. Drain well and lightly pat dry on kitchen paper before using.

Arrange the slaw on plates with the char sui pork ribs and garnish with the spring onions curls (if using).

Neven Maguire’s Pork Tacos al Pastor

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serves 6-8

1 x 1.8kg (4lb) pork butt roast (ask your butcher for the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg)

1 x 200g (7oz) tin of crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained

1 small onion, chopped

15g (1/2oz) fresh coriander

Juice of 1 small orange

2 tbsp granulated garlic

2 tbsp chipotle paste (or use 1 tbsp smoked paprika and 1 tbsp Tabasco instead)

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

4 tbsp water

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

Small warm soft corn tortillas

Thinly sliced radishes

Fresh coriander leaves

Salsa verde (shop-bought)

Lime wedges

Place the pork in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until it’s firm enough to cut.

Meanwhile, to make the marinade, place the rest of the ingredients except the oil and water in a food processor, season generously with salt and pepper and blitz to purée.

Take the pork out of the freezer and place on a chopping board, fat side up. Cut into slices 1cm (1/2in) thick, almost but not quite all the way through. Slather the marinade between each layer, then tie the roast back together with butcher’s string. Place in a shallow non-metallic container and cover loosely with cling film. Place in the fridge overnight to marinade.

The next day, bring the pork back to room temperature, then preheat your slow cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your slow cooker has a sauté option, you can use this; if not, use a large sauté pan on the hob over a medium heat. Heat the oil, then add the pork and cook until lightly browned and sizzling. Place in the slow cooker, fat side up (if you have used a separate pan), along with the juices and the water. Cover and cook on low heat for 7 hours, until the pork is tender.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker and cover with tin foil, then leave to rest for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut the meat up into small pieces and place in a bowl, moistening with some of the juices. Fill the tortillas with the pork, then top with the radishes, coriander and salsa verde. Arrange on plates and serve with the lime wedges.

The Benefits of Sourdough Bakes Explained by Anita Sumer

(from Sourdough Mania by Anita Šumer, published by Grub Street Publishing)

We now know what happens when sourdough ferments and why dough prepared with this leavening agent rises. This section explains why this method of baking is beneficial for our health and a good intestinal flora, and why it tastes incomparably better than bakes made with baker’s yeast.

Easier digestibility

Bakery products prepared with sourdough are already partially digested, because much of the work is done for us by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, which partially breaks down the starch.

Reduced gluten content

The longer preparation and fermentation process makes wheat flour more easily digestible by reducing the amount of gluten since lactic acid bacteria break down gliadin and glutenin, which together form gluten. This, of course, does not mean that sourdough bread does not contain gluten at all, but in such a fermented form, it is better for the body and easier to digest.

Useful compounds for the body

In the fermentation process and also during baking, compounds useful for the body are formed: antioxidants, peptides (lunasin, which acts against cancer cells) and various anti-allergenic substances.

Lower glycaemic index

We are familiar with the claim ‘bread is fattening’, which is why bread is generally avoided by people with a tendency to be overweight. The fact that white bread made from ordinary baker’s yeast leads to weight gain is true. However, sourdough products have a lower glycaemic index due to organic acids that react with heat and consequently reduce starch availability. This index is lower for wholemeal bread types and bread made with sprouted grain flour. Sourdough bread is therefore more filling, and instead of two or three slices, one is often enough. However, due to its excellent taste, it is difficult to stop after just one slice!

Bread stays fresh longer

The acetic acid produced by lactic acid bacteria ensures that sourdough products stay fresh and can be kept for longer, do not crumble and age better. Sourdough bread is still good after a few days, especially rye bread, which gains flavour with time. These naturally occurring acids also prevent mould and fuzzy growth on bread.

A softer crumb

Sourdough gives the crumb a more uniform and compact structure, which is preserved for several days after baking; it is also softer, thanks to lactic acid bacteria.

Better taste

Lactic acid bacteria, and to a lesser extent wild yeast, provides a rich, savoury taste and aroma. During the fermentation process, various aromatic compounds are produced that make sourdough products more palatable.

Better use of nutrients and minerals

Cereals contain naturally occurring phytic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. By using a sourdough starter and prolonged fermentation, this acidity is neutralised so our body can use the minerals present in the flour. Rye flour and wholemeal flour contain the most phytic acid.

No time limit

One advantage of baking with sourdough is that you don’t need to stand by the dough while it’s proving as you do with commercial yeast due to its fast reaction. This gives you plenty of time to choose the right time for baking and all the other preparation steps, because wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria have a slow metabolism, so the dough rises slowly. While the microorganisms are active, you can do your household chores, go to work, run errands, sleep…

Towpath’s Olive Oil Cake

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Serves 12

Butter, for greasing

3 eggs

300g/10 ½ oz caster sugar

175ml/6 fl oz best quality olive oil

180ml/ 6 ¼ fl oz full-fat milk

1 orange, zested and juiced

325g/ 11 ½ oz self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan /350°F/gas mark 4.

Line, butter and flour a 24cm/9 ½ in cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Towpath’s Beetroot Borani

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

We use the last of the season’s beetroot for this delicious thick unctuous soup

Serves 4

8 medium beetroot, washed and scrubbed, boiled until tender, peeled then returned to their cooking water

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon merlot red wine vinegar (or a red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar added)

2 pinches of sugar (if the beetroot is not that sweet)

200ml/ 7 fl oz Greek or natural yoghurt

75ml/3 fl oz olive oil

160g/5 ¾ oz feta

80g/3oz walnuts, toasted

8 sprigs dill, leaves picked

Best olive oil, to drizzle

Chop the beetroot into chunky dice. Place in a liquidiser with a ladleful of cooking liquid, blitz until thick and smooth – you may need to add in a bit more liquid if it is thicker than the thickest of yoghurts.

Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth – you are aiming for the consistency of thick yoghurt. Season to taste.

To serve, ladle the borane into a bowl, crumble the feta over the top, scatter with toasted walnuts and sprigs of dill and drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with flatbread or sourdough bread.

Time to start the Christmas prep

It’s extraordinary in these uncertain times to think that it’s only eight weeks to Christmas. Already some of us are storming the shops to find presents for our loved ones or to secure a longed for toy for our little dotes.

Who knows what level of restrictions will be in place by then, impossible to predict. We can just plan for the worst and hope for the best. Meanwhile, let’s get cooking, we’ve already started to make plum puddings, and have early orders on the board. We’re fortunate to have two really good recipes – one is my Mother’s passed down through several generations and the other is my late Mother-in-law’s Myrtle Allen’s, both are fruity and delicious and benefit from being made ahead and left to mature. Both are super easy to make, just mix and boil. Mincemeat is even easier .. put all the ingredients into a bowl, add a good slosh of whiskey, then fill it into sterilised jars. Cover and label for presents and Christmas hampers.

Lots of other edible presents can be made during the next few weeks, little jars of Kumquat Marmalade, Cranberry Sauce, Green Tomato Jam.

The best juiciest plum puddings are made with beef suet so go along to your local butcher, ask for the suet from around the beef kidney. It’s easy to prepare and can be frozen in batches for plum puddings and mincemeat.

Buy the best quality dried fruit and how about making a batch of homemade candied peel. It will hugely enhance the flavour of your Christmas Cake and Puddings and can also made into sweetmeats.

Our seasonal tomato crop is coming to an end but we still have lots of green tomatoes so we’ve been making a delicious green tomato jam and green tomato chutney to add to Christmas hampers.

Try this beetroot and ginger relish too. The remainder of the beets can be left in the ground but they just become woodier as the weeks pass, so best to whip them up, cook and pickle or freeze for Winter meals.

So these are a few suggestions…..

Christmas Cake

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well.  It can either be made months ahead or if you are frenetically busy it will still delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!   This cake, now a classic, was originally published in 1989 in A Simply Delicious Christmas, it’s still my favourite rich Christmas Cake.  Source the best ingredients you can, including moist plump dried fruit.

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar

6 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

285g  (9oz) flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

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

350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best- quality currants

350g (12oz) best-quality raisins

110g (4oz) real glacé cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

50g (2oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) whole almonds

rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon

rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20.5cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper.  Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.  Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.

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

Preheat the oven to 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle.  Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently.  Add the grated cooking apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).  You can of course use a food mixer if one is available but the same principle applies.

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.

Lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat.  Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 after 1 hour.  Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean after a further 2 1/2 hours approximately in total. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

Next day remove from the tin.  Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of greaseproof paper and brown paper until required.  Store in a cool dry place, the longer the cake is stored the more mature it becomes.

Close to Christmas, ice and decorate as desired.

Ballymaloe Famous Homemade Mincemeat

Here are two delicious options, the first is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  Of course it contains suet so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot in pies and tarts.

The second, Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat is vegetarian, it doesn’t include suet or butter and is also gluten-free.

Makes 3.2 kilos approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots.

2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling

2 organic lemons

450g (1lb) finely minced beef suet

pinch of salt

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

2 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade

225g (8oz) currants

450g (1lb) sultanas

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

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

Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp.  Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.  Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.

Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat (Vegetarian)

This delicious mincemeat is suet free and suitable for vegetarians.

Makes 6 pots

700g (1½lb) cooking apples, peeled and chopped

1 orange, rind and juice

1 lemon, rind and juice

330ml (11fl.oz)  cider or apple juice

500g (18 oz) Barbados sugar

500g (18 oz) sultanas

250g (9oz) currants

125g (4½ oz) mixed candied peel

100ml (3½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon mixed spice

Place the apples, orange and lemon juice and rind and cider in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apple has cooked.  Stir in the sugar, mixed spice, mincemeat, sultanas, currants and candied peel.    Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer for a further 15 minutes.   Remove from the heat, allow to cool.  Stir in the whiskey and pot into sterilized jars.

Elizabeth O’Connell’s Plum Pudding

It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   As children we could hardly contain ourselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seemed all the more delicious because it was our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding was usually made about mid-November and everyone in the family had to stir so we could make a wish – I now know that it helped to mix it properly.  This is quite simply the best plum pudding I’ve ever tasted and everyone who tastes it seems to agree wholeheartedly.

It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.

This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. 

The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8.

350g (12oz) raisins

350g (12 ozs) sultanas

350g (12 ozs) currants

350g (12 ozs) brown sugar

350g (12 ozs) good quality white breadcrumbs (non GM)

350g (12 ozs) finely-chopped suet

110g (4 ozs) candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

rind of 1 unwaxed lemon

3 whole cloves pounded (not ground cloves)

a pinch of salt

6 organic eggs

62ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) dark Jamaica Rum (not Bacardi)

110g (4oz) chopped peeled almonds (finer than nibbed)

Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine,  making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 6 hours, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, you will need to steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with  Brandy Butter.

Myrtle Allen’s Plum Pudding

Serves 8-10

Making the Christmas Puddings (from The Ballymaloe Cook Book by Myrtle Allen)

The tradition that every member of the household could have a wish which was likely (note, never a firm promise) to come true, was, of course, a ruse to get all the children to help with heavy work of stirring the pudding.  I only discovered this after I was married and had to do job myself.  This recipe, multiplied many times, was made all at once.  In a machineless age, mixing all those expensive ingredients properly was a formidable task.  Our puddings were mixed in an enormous china crock which held the bread for the house hold for the rest of the year.  My mother, nanny and the cook took it in turns to stir, falling back with much panting and laughing after a few minutes’ work.  I don’t think I was really much help to them. 

Christmas puddings should be given at least 6 weeks to mature.  They will keep for a year.  They become richer and firmer with age, but one loses the lightness of the fruit flavour.  We always eat our last plum pudding at Easter.

If possible, prepare your own fresh beef suet – it is better than the pre-packed product. 

6ozs (175g) shredded beef suet

6 ozs (175g) sugar

7ozs (200g) soft breadcrumbs

8ozs (225g) currants

8 ozs (225g) raisins

4 ozs (110g) candied peel

1-2 teaspoons mixed spice

a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons flour

2 fl ozs (50ml) flesh of a baked apple

3 eggs

2 fl ozs (50ml) Irish whiskey

1 x 3 pints (1.75 L) capacity pudding bowl

Mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Whisk the eggs and add them, with the apple and whiskey.  Stir very well indeed.  Fill into the greased pudding bowl.  Cover with a round of greaseproof paper or a butter-wrapped pressed down on top of the pudding.  Put a large round of greaseproof or brown paper over the top of the bowl, tying it firmly under the rim. 

Place in a saucepan one-third full of boiling water and simmer for 10 hours, we now do six.  Do not allow the water to boil over the top and do not let it boil dry either.  Store in a cool place until needed.

Boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours before serving.  Left-over pudding may be fried in butter.

Serve with Whiskey Cream or Brandy butter.

Homemade Candied Peel

Fruit should be organic if possible, otherwise scrub the peel well.

5 organic unwaxed oranges

5 organic unwaxed lemons

5 organic unwaxed grapefruit   (or all of one fruit)

water

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2lbs (1.1kg) sugar

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve the juice for another use, perhaps homemade lemonade. Put the peel into a large bowl (not aluminium), add salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours. Next day throw away the soaking water, put the peel in a saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil cover and simmer very gently until the peel is soft, 3 hours approx. Remove the peel and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membranes from inside the cut fruit, leaving the white pith and rind intact. (You could do the next step next day if that was more convenient).

Slice the peel into nice long strips.  Alternatively cut each half in half.

Dissolve the sugar in 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) water, bring it to the boil, add the peel and simmer gently until it looks translucent, 30 – 60 minutes and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove the peel with a slotted spoon, fill the candied peel into sterilised glass jars and pour the syrup over, cover and store in a cold place or in a fridge. It should keep for 6-8 weeks or longer under refrigeration.

Alternatively spread on a baking tray or trays and allow to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour to cool. Toss in castor sugar and store in covered glass jars until needed.

Janie’s Green Tomato Jam

A recipe given to me by Janie Suthering.  We always have masses of green tomatoes when it becomes colder in the Autumn and the tomatoes ripen more slowly. Delicious with cold meats and pâté.  We use the green fruit for chutneys for predictable things like fried green tomatoes and chutneys.

Makes 2 small jars

500g (18oz) green tomatoes

450ml (16fl oz) water

300g (10oz) granulated sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

Boil rapidly for 10 –12 minutes or until setting point is reached.

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

A delicious combination, this relish complements goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats.

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 (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.

Halloween Cooking Session for all the family…

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year, I love how kids all over the all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry…Can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year…Poor little dotes….Robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid 19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this, amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride, perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV…..hard to avoid it…

Well how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games. We definitely have to have a barmbrack – soak the fruit in strong Barry’s tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter. If you find a ring in your slice – you’ll be married within the year. The Stick – a bad sign, your partner will beat you. A Rag – bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty. A Coin – is a promise of riches. These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish – a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.

As children we had a variety Halloween games. Apple bobbing was a favourite, many involved divination and being blindfolded, and then there was the Three Saucers, arranged in a line, one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated matrimony was nigh….but now for fun in the kitchen.

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour. Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts….Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake. Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have  hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh, seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast, have a safe and happy Halloween….

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup potato, chopped

3 cups of pumpkin, chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves, optional

5 cups of chicken or veg stock, or stock and milk mixed

Flaky sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of chilli flakes if you fancy

Roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipe)

Served in a hollowed out pumpkin

One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

Choose a large pumpkin. Carefully remove the lid, preferably with the stump attached. First scoop out all the seeds and filaments. Separate the seeds and toast as below. Scoop out the flesh being careful not to damage the shell. Chop the flesh and use to make the pumpkin soup.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and pumpkin and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock. Boil until soft and liquidise. Do not overcook or the pumpkin will lose its flavour. Adjust seasoning. Pour the boiling soup in to the pumpkin shell. Cover with the lid and serve hot with some toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roast pumpkin seeds with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seed and save for next year’s crop.

Pumpkin seeds

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/gas mark 1⁄2.

Remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single layer on a baking tray and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt.

Dry roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, by which time the seeds should be nice and crunchy.

Halloween Colcannon

Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like Champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. It was traditionally eaten at Halloween and shared with the fairies to keep evil spirits away. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition.

Serves about 4-6

450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

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

about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

Dragon’s Eggs

Makes 8

Pickled Beetroot Juice (see recipe)

8 eggs, hard boiled

Homemade Mayo

Watercress

First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil, lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water, ten minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

Serve with mayonnaise on a bed of watercress.

Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

Halloween Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see below)

8oz (225g/1 cup) sugar

16fl oz (475ml/2 cups) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

Leave 2 inches (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Dracula’s Cheesy Brains

Flavour popcorn with grated Parmesan or Cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper, then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread.

Enough for 12 ish

1 ½ tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping.

125g (4 1/2 oz) popcorn

400g (14oz) finely grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheese

Few pinches cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or do in two batches). Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops to pop, about 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

Mix finely grated  Parmesan, Cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toss over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

These can be made a few hours before serving.

Spooky Meringue  Púcas

A Púca means ghost or spirit in Gaelic – primarily a creature of Celtic folklore, so easy and fun to make.

Serves 4-6

2 egg whites

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

You will need a piping bag with a plain ‘éclair nozzle’.

Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry.  Fold in half the sugar.  Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak.  Fold the remaining sugar in carefully.  Fill into the piping bag.  Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pipe a small blob of the meringue onto the paper pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a willowy point.     

Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/Gas Mark 1/4 for 4 hours approx.  Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt some chocolate and fill into a paper piping bag.  Decorate the meringues by piping little dots for eyes and a little oval for a scary mouth. Arrange on an appropriate plate, maybe on a bed of edible soil (see recipe below) with wood sorrel dotted here and there.

Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream. 

Chocolate Soil… sounds scary but it tastes delicious

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135C. If you don’t have a thermometer the mixture will start to turn a golden brown.

At this stage you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to soil almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

Scary Strawberry Ghosts

Another simple recipe to make with the kids for their Halloween feast.

Makes 20

20 Large strawberries

100g best quality white chocolate

100g dark chocolate

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a tray. Put the white chocolate into a small pyrex bowl over a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat immediately (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Allow to site until the chocolate melts.

Catch each strawberry by the calyx and dip in the melted chocolate until the fruit is almost fully submerged. Allow to develop a drip at the base, then lay each on its side on the parchment paper.

Meanwhile melt some dark chocolate also. Fill into a parchment piping bag, decorate each strawberry with eyes and a smile or a frown – can be a happy, sad or scary face, all part of the fun….

Good to know: a toothpick dipped in the dark chocolate also works well to create the expressions. Enjoy!

Spider Web Cake

Lovely and delicious as it is, but even spookier if you top it with pucas and spiders…!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Chocolate Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

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, castor 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.

Next make the chocolate icing.  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.

For the lemon glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glace icing, fold over the top, snip off the point to make a writing pipe.

Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

Decorate with spiders and púcas if available and serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book is full of Flavour…

Yotam Ottolenghi is a paradigm shifting force on the global food scene. His new book FLAVOUR is quite the revelation and I certainly don’t use that word lightly. Even though Yotam is not a vegetarian, he has been celebrating and singing the praises of vegetables for decades and is on a mission to present them in new and exciting ways.  He and his team have been testing, tasting and sharing the many recipes they have devised to ramp up and create new flavours that totally banish our concept of traditional vegetables.

Although his six restaurants all across London are not vegetarian, vegetables feature abundantly on the menus. He’s written and co-authored seven cookbooks thus far

Among them, PLENTY which was published in 2010, PLENTY MORE in 2014,  FLAVOUR is the most recent book in the series, Yotam teamed up with Ixta Belfarge who is equally obsessed with vegetables. Her journey to the world of food via Mexico City, Brazil, France, Tuscany and Australia was complex and varied, she even had a market stall in London for a spell and eventually got a job at Nopi, one of Yotam’s restaurants.

Her eclectic cooking is deeply engrained in the cultures she absorbed during her travel over the years.

The third contributor to this inspirational book was Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni, Tara Wigley. She cooks and writes like an angel and also collaborated with Yotam’s business partner Sami Tamini on his recent book Falastin (see Examiner article 26th September 2020)

So why am I waxing lyrical about FLAVOUR – Well, for a start I’ve been cooking all of my adult life and a good part of my childhood, I live on an organic farm, I too love vegetables and I am fortunate to have access to beautiful freshly harvested produce throughout the year. Since 1983, I have taught thousands of students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School since and thus far written nineteen cookbooks. Yet, Yotam and Ixta have introduced me to a myriad of new ways to add hitherto undreamt of flavours to our favourite vegetables. Cauliflower, celeriac, even carrots and cabbage will never be the same again.

How do they do it? – well you’ll need to buy the book to discover all the secrets but a few hints, Yotam and Ixta introduce us to a series of twenty essential ingredients to add extra oomph – I’ve got to add Guachong chilli paste to my larder! Furthermore to add extra magic they hone in on four processes, charring, browning, infusing and ageing and there’s more…

Pop into your local bookshop – FLAVOUR is published by Ebury Press. Treat yourself and maybe pick up an extra copy for a friend who loves to cook. Once again, here are a couple of recipes to illustrate how common vegetables and pulses can be utterly transformed.

Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Roasted in Chilli Butter

Serves four

2 large whole cauliflowers, with leaves (1.9kg)

2 onions, peeled and cut into eighths

8 red chillies, whole with a vertical slit cut into them

1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

Salt

Chilli butter

120g unsalted butter, melted (or 120ml olive oil, if you want to keep it vegan)

110ml olive oil

1 ¼ tbsp. red bell pepper flakes

2 ½ tsp tomato paste

1 ¼ Urfa chilli flakes

90g rose harissa (adjust according to the brand you are using)

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ tsp caster sugar

Trim the leaves at the top of each cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the actual cauliflower is exposed. Cut both cauliflowers into quarters lengthways, making sure the leaves remain attached at the base.

Fill a very large pan (large enough to fit all the cauliflower quarters) with well-salted water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, blanch the cauliflower quarters for 2 minutes, weighing them down with a lid a little smaller than the pan to ensure they stay submerged. Transfer to a colander to drain well. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

Mix all the ingredients for the chilli butter together in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower quarters, onions and chillies on a very large, parchment-lined baking tray and pour over the chilli butter. Carefully mix to make sure everything is very well coated (gloved hands are best for this). Arrange the cauliflower quarters so they are spaced apart as much as possible; one of the cut sides of each quarter should face down, so the leaves are exposed. Roast for 30 minutes, baste well, then turn the heat down to 170 degrees Celsius fan and continue to roast for another 35-40 minutes, basting twice, until the cauliflower is very well browned and the leaves are crispy.

Transfer everything to a platter, spooning over the remaining chilli butter and browned aromatics from the baking tray. Serve at once, with the lemon wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curried Carrot Mash with Brown Butter

Serves four as a side dish or six as a dip

1-2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds (deseeded for less heat)

1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp caster sugar

800g carrots (that’s roughly 8), peeled and roughly chopped into 2cm pieces

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

30g unsalted butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil)

5g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

½ tsp nigella seeds

½ fennel seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tbsp lime juice

1 spring onion, trimmed and julienned (10g)

5g mint leaves, finely shredded

Salt

Put the chillies, vinegar and sugar into a small bowl with ¼ tsp of salt, massage together and set aside to pickle for at least 30 minutes.

Put the carrots into a steaming basket or colander, place on a high heat, cover with a lid and steam for about 25 minutes, or until you can cut through them easily with a knife. Put the carrots into the bowl of a food processor with the oil, curry powder, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of salt, and blitz for about a minute until you get a semi-smooth mash (it should still have some texture and not be completely smooth).

While the carrots are steaming, put the butter, ginger and nigella, fennel and cumin seeds, with a generous pinch of salt, into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Gently cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the butter begins to foam and turn light brown and the seeds become fragrant. Set aside until ready to serve. You may need to gently melt the butter again when you’re plating, if it has set.

Spoon the mash on to a large platter, creating dips with the back of the spoon. Drizzle over the butter with the ginger and seeds, followed by the lime juice. Drain the pickled chillies well and scatter them over the mash. Finish with the spring onions and mint and serve warm.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curry-Crusted Swede Steaks

2-3 swedes (1.8kg), peeled and cut widthways into 8 (total) 3cm-thick steaks

120g crème fraiche (or coconut yoghurt)

Salt

Fenugreek Marinade

1 ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds

6 small garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped (25g)

1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp lime juice

75ml olive oil

Salad

3-4 ruby grapefruits (750g unpeeled weight)

1-2 banana shallots, finely sliced on a mandolin, if you have one, or by hand (70g)

2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds

20g picked mint leaves

10g picked coriander leaves

2 tsp olive oil

2 limes : juice to get 1 tbsp, then cut into wedges to serves

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

For the marinade, put all the ingredients into a spice grinder or the small bowl of a processor with ¾ teaspoon of salt and blitz to a paste, scraping the sides as you go if necessary. Put 2 teaspoons of the marinade into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Put the remaining marinade into a large bowl with the swede steaks and mix well to coat all sides (this is easiest with gloved hands). Place the steaks, spaced apart, on a large, parchment-lined baking tray. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven to the grill setting, and grill for 3-4 minutes, until the swede is cooked through and the marinade has turned into a golden-brown crust.

When the swede is nearly cooked, prepare the salad. Cut the grapefruits into thin wedges by removing the skin and the white pith, then release the segments by cutting in between the white membrane, discarding any pips. Put the wedges into a large bowl, avoiding the juice (which can be kept for another use).

When you’re ready to serve, add all the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl with a generous pinch of salt and gently mix together.

Arrange the steaks and any marinade left on the tray on a large platter with the salad (or plate individually). Swirl the crème fraiche into the remaining marinade and serve alongside the steaks, with the lime wedges squeezed on top.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Whole Roasted Celeriac

1 large celeriac, hairy roots discarded (no need to peel) and scrubbed clean (900g)

60ml olive oil

Flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius fan.

Pierce the celeriac with a fork all over about 40 times and place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Mix the oil and 1 ½ teaspoons of flaked salt, then rub the celeriac generously with the oil mixture. Roast for a minimum of 2 ¼ hours, or up to 2 ¾ hours, depending on the size of you celeriac, basting every 20 minutes or so, until the celeriac is deeply browned, soft all the way through and oozes a celeriac caramel.

Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then cut into either wedges or steaks brushing each cut side with the oil and caramel left on the tray (you may need to add a little more oil if there isn’t enough to coat the cut sides).

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Celeriac Steaks with Café de Paris Sauce

Serves four as a main

2 whole roasted celeriac (double the master recipe), each cut widthways into 2 1/2 cm thick steaks

Flaked sea salt and black pepper

Café de Paris Sauce

110g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes

1 small banana shallot, finely chopped (25g)

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped (optional, but adjust seasoning if not using)

½ tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1tbsp baby capers

2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

2 tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves

110ml single or whipping cream

2 tsp lemon juice

Put the first seven ingredients for the sauce and ¼ teaspoon of flaked salt into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Cook for about 6 minutes, swirling the pan until the shallots have softened and the butter has melted and become golden and caramelized. Add the capers, herbs and a very generous grind of pepper and continue to cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.

Turn the oven to its highest grill setting. Arrange the celeriac steaks, spaced apart, on a large parchment-lined baking tray big enough to fit the slices in a single layer. The steaks should have been brushed with their cooking oil and celeriac caramel by this point, but if not, brush with some olive oil and a little maple syrup or honey. Make sure there is not overhanging parchment that could burn. Grill the steaks on the top shelf of the oven, until they are golden-brown on top, 6-8 minutes. Turn the oven off, keeping the tray warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Return the sauce to a medium heat and gently cook for a minute, then add the cream and lemon juice. Swirl for another 2 minutes or until warm, but don’t over mix it too much – you want the sauce to be split, not emulsified.

Pour the sauce on to a large platter with a lip and arrange the celeriac steaks on top (or plate individually with some sauce poured on top and the rest served alongside). Sprinkle the steaks with a little flaked salt and black pepper, and serve.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Hispi Cabbage with Nam Prik

Page 44

Serves six as a side

2 pointed cabbages (aka hispi or sweetheart cabbage), quartered, lengthways (1.6kg)

3 tbsp sunflower oil

5g coriander, finely chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges to serve

Flaked sea salt

Nam Prik

20g fresh galangal (or ginger, as a substitute), peeled and roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove, peeled

1 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy sauce)

1 ½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ tsp regular chilli flakes)

1 tbsp shop-bought tamarind paste, or double if you’re extracting it yourself from pulp

1 ¼ tsp soft light brown sugar

50g cherry tomatoes

1 ½ tbsp lime juice

1 tsp sunflower oil

To make the nam prik, put the galangal and garlic into the small bowl of a food processor and blitz well. Add all the remaining ingredients and pulse until combined and finely chopped but not completely smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.

Toss the cabbage with the oil and 1 teaspoon of flaked salt. Place on a very hot barbeque or griddle pan and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side (i.e. 12-15 minutes in total), until the cabbage softens on the outside, while still retaining a crunch, and you get clear grill marks. Transfer to a platter. Add the coriander to the nam prik and spoon the mixture evenly over the cabbage pieces. Serve either warm or at room temperature, with the lime wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

How about some cake….

How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? I’ve just realised that it’s been several years since I actually wrote a column on cakes, so it’s high time to share some of my favourite sweet treats and new finds.

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…..she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.

A few little tips to get started:

  1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.
  2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.
  3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.
  4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously
  5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernicity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!

  • Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.
  • Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

  • A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.
  • Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.
  • A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here are a few tried and tested recipes for some of my favourite cakes and one new addition to our repertoire.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Carmalised Walnuts

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.

2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

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

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining  buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. 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 (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour.  Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly.  Allow to get cold.  This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate Curls

Claudia Roden, one of my favourite cooks and food writers, showed us how to make this delicious flourless cake when she came to the school for the inaugural Ballymaloe Litfest in 2013.   It’s her family’s favourite chocolate cake, not surprising.

Serves 10

150g (5oz) dark chocolate, we use 54%

3 tablespoons water

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 large eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons rum

Topping

100g (4oz) dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

100g (4oz) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 160°C/310°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line an 8 inch (20.5cm) in diameter spring-form cake tin, with parchment paper.

Heat the chocolate with the water in a Pyrex bowl or small pan that is sitting on top of a pan containing water over a low heat so that the top pan or bowl does not touch the boiling water (this is a double boiler), until almost melted.  Add the butter and let them both melt. 

In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum very well.  Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix vigorously.  Beat the egg whites until stiff with an electric mixer and fold them into the mixture.

Pour in the cake mixture and bake in an oven preheated to for about 35 – 40 minutes until firm.  Turn out when it is cool.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a small bowl over boiling water, let them melt and mix well. Allow to cool until thick and spreadable. Pour over the cake, smoothing around the sides and top.

Chocolate Curls

Melt 5oz (150g) of chocolate in a pan over hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a flat baking sheet, and tap the tin gently to spread.  Allow to cool. Once cool, using a cheese slice, or the blade of a chopping knife, pull the blade across the chocolate creating “curls” as you go. Use to garnish cakes, mousses or ice-cream

Decorate with chocolate curls and dredge with cocoa powder.

Whisked Sponge Cake with Autumn Berries and Rosewater Cream

Serves 8

4 organic eggs, or free range

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) plain white flour

Filling

1-2 tablespoons of homemade raspberry jam

350g (12oz) fresh Autumn berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries

225ml (8fl oz) double cream

1 tablespoons castor sugar approx. (optional)

1 tablespoon rose blossom water

mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely to decorate

castor sugar for sprinkling on top

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) tins

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Grease the tins carefully with melted butter, dust with flour, cut out a circle of greaseproof paper and fit it neatly onto the base of each tin.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until it is a pale and fluffy mousse.  When you lift the whisk, make a figure of 8 on top: it should hold its shape for several seconds.  Put the flour into a sieve and sift about one-third gently over the mousse; fold in the flour with a spatula or a long-handled metal spoon (not a wooden spoon) and then sieve in some more; repeat until all the flour is lightly folded in. Turn gently in the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked.  Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

Once cool, whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. 

Spread the raspberry jam onto the base of each sponge cake. Pile the summer berries on top, and finally spread the cream over the fruit. Place the remaining sponge onto the cream and press gently. Sprinkle castor sugar over the top of cake.

Decorate with fresh mint or sweet cicely and additional summer fruit and a few rose petals if desired. Serve immediately.

Coconut Macaroon Cake

This cake has an irresistible crispy topping – the crumb is moist and rich with coconut and almonds, so needless to say, it will keep well, stored in an airtight tin.

Cake

8 ozs (225g) butter

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

4 free-range and organic eggs and 1 egg yolk

8 ozs (225g) plain white flour

½ teasp. baking powder

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

Macaroon topping

1 egg white

3 ozs (85g) castor sugar

½ oz (15g) desiccated coconut

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

2-3 ozs (50-85g) flaked almonds

8 inch (20.5cm) tin with sides 2¾ inch (7cm) approx. high

Line the sides and base of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.gas mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk and add gradually, beating well between each addition.  Add the vanilla essence.  Mix the dry ingredients well and stir in gently.  Turn into the prepared tin.

Next prepare the topping:

Whisk the egg white lightly and fold in the other ingredients.  Spread carefully over the cake mixture in the tin.   Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake in a moderate oven for 40 mins approx.  Cool in the tin before putting on a wire rack.

Julija’s Lemon Cakes

Makes 6 small mini loaves or 2 pound loaves.

450 g self-raising flour

350 g caster sugar

zest of 4 lemons

6 eggs

200g (3 1/2oz) natural yoghurt

350 g butter, melted and cooled a little to room temperature

Icing 400g (7oz) icing sugar

juice of a lemon approximately

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Line the tins with baking parchment.

Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest together in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs into the yoghurt gently, then tip this into the dry ingredients with the melted butter.  Mix together with a wooden spoon or whisk until lump-free, but gently. Divide into cake tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes minutes until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean – the cakes will be quite pale on top still.  Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then carefully lift onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the icing.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a stiffish icing. 

Using a palette knife to spread, ice the lemon cake. Decorate with lemon candied peel or crystallised lemon julienne.

Alternative Icing

Lemon Butter Cream Icing

8oz (225g) soft butter

14oz (400g) icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Cream the butter and gradually add the sieved icing sugar. Mix thoroughly and stir in the golden syrup and lemon zest using a palette knife to spread onto the cakes.

The Wonder of Oats

Virtually every food writer and journalist who stays at Ballymaloe House raves about the porridge that they serve for breakfast with a generous drizzle of Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown Barbados sugar. It’s not just any old porridge – it’s Macroom oatmeal, lovingly kiln roasted and milled by Donal Creedon at Walton’s Mill, the last surviving stone mill in Ireland. The mill has been in the same family since the 1700’s. Donal, the great, great, great, great grandson of founder, Richard Walton, carefully and respectfully carries on the tradition.

The porridge is sold in the same distinctive red, white and yellow bags – which is somehow reassuring. The oats are gently toasted for up to two days on cast iron plates to give the oatmeal the distinctive toasted flavour we all love. October 10th is World Porridge Day, a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this inexpensive super food which comes to us in many variations – it’s basically one of the great convenience foods of the world.

Long gone are the days of gruel and watery porridge….. So if you are convinced oatmeal is just for breakfast – think again! The texture is deliciously chunky and packed with flavour. Steel cut or what many refer to as pinhead oatmeal, which takes considerably longer to cook.  Jumbo rolled oats and ‘speedie cook’ rolled oats, are also delicious. Oatmeal is not just for breakfast porridge, biscuits and granola. It’s also brilliant in savoury dishes such as savoury porridge with greens.

A past student Alex Hely-Hutchinson, opened a restaurant in London called 26 Grains. The 8 or 9 different types of porridge on their menu, both sweet and savoury have customers queuing every day. 26 Grains was probably inspired by GrØd the porridge paradise in Copenhagen, opened in 2011 in a basement on Jaegerborggade, at that time a distinctively dodgy street with appealingly low rent. Now there are several branches and a GrØd cookbook. They were pretty much ‘skint’ when they opened but manged to afford to buy some oats to make bowls of hot steaming porridge – the rest is history…a huge success story! The menu now includes other comforting food like risotto, dahl and congee and there are now branches all over Denmark.

Oatmeal has a long and fascinating history. It has been grown in Ireland since medieval times, our humid, wet climate suits it. There are many historical references and a wealth of archaeological evidence. Oats were used in gruel, porridges, flatbreads and by all accounts, a not very good beer! The straw and chaff were used in the manufacture of floor covering, baskets, hen roosts and bedding – but back to the kitchen.

To use that much overused term, they are definitely a ‘super food’. Oats are packed with protein, high in soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and you’ll have noticed that you don’t feel like reaching for a donut at eleven if you have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Apart from the fibre content which is good for your gut and helps to prevent constipation, it is super filling and satisfying and boosts our energy levels. Oats also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and if you are to believe all the research, helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering your bad LDL cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. The high fibre and complex carbs help to stabalize the blood sugar according to the American Cancer Society. The lignans In oats helps to reduce hormone related cancers. Up to relatively recently I was a Jersey cream and soft dark brown sugar devotee but I’ve become much more adventurous (led by my grandchildren and the Ballymaloe Cookery School students example). Think peanut butter and banana, walnuts, Blueberries and maple syrup or Honey, roast almonds, dates and almond butter (it’s all about what you sprinkle on top). Stewed apple or compote with cinnamon. I draw the line at white or dark chocolate chips but suspect that’s a generational thing.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Serves 4

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

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.

Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day.

Note

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

Savoury Porridge with Greens

Serves 1

1 clove garlic grated or crushed

Ginger – grated or crushed

Extra virgin olive oil

Fist of greens – kale, chard, spinach, bok choi, mustard or a mixture

A dash of tamari

Pinch chilli flakes – optional

Sesame seeds

Fried Egg – optional

First make the porridge.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the grated garlic and ginger, stir for a couple of seconds, add the chopped or torn greens. Toss until they wilt, add a few chilli flakes, a dash of tamari (careful it is easy to make it too salty). Taste. Pile on top of the hot porridge. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and even a fried egg if you fancy it and enjoy!

Rachel Allen’s Chewy Seedy Oat and Apricot Bars

Makes about 36 squares

300g (10oz) porridge oats

100g (3 1/2oz) pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or a mixture of the two

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2ozcup) plain flour

200g (7oz) butter

200g (7oz) golden syrup

150g (5ozup) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) cranberries or dried apricots, chopped

125g (4 1/2oz) crunchy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line a 23 x 23cm (9 x 9 inch) square cake tin with non-stick baking parchment, leaving a little hanging over the edges for easy removal later.

Place the oats, seeds, coconut and flour in a large bowl and mix together.  Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan, then mix in the sugar, chopped apricots, peanut butter and vanilla extract.  Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined.

Press this mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until golden and slightly firm.  Allow to cool in the tin, then remove, still in the paper, and cut into 36 small squares (or cut them depending on whatever size you want them to be).  Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.  These will also freeze well.

JR Ryall’s Oatmeal Biscuits

These are the delicious heart shaped oatmeal pastry biscuits that JR Ryall of Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley fame serves for afternoon tea.
Makes 20-25 approximately

100g (4oz) butter

62g (2 1/2oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) Flahavan’s porridge oats

50g (2oz) flour

Pinch baking powder

Pinch of salt

Extra caster sugar to sprinkle

Mix the dry ingredients together. Rub in the butter. Press the mixture together to form a dough. This dough is quite brittle and can be tricky to handle. Roll out to 3mm thick, cut into heart shapes and transfer to a lined baking tray. Egg wash each biscuit and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3, for 15 minutes or until golden.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Sue’s Oatmeal Bread


This recipe surprised me from the start. When Sue Cullinane, one of our great teachers at Ballymaloe told me about this simple bread made from oats, yoghurt and a couple of other ingredients I was not so sure. I was even less sure the first time I tried making it myself as I tipped the heavy dense dough into the tin. But hey presto, after 1 hour in the oven I realised I had a gorgeously nutty and nutritious loaf, not dissimilar to a great brown soda bread.

425g (15oz) rolled oats (not jumbo or pinhead)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons bread soda, sifted

2 tablespoons mixed seeds

1 egg

500g (18oz) natural yoghurt

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

Line the base of a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt, sifted bread soda and the mixed seeds. Make a well in the centre.

Whisk the egg into the yoghurt. Pour the yoghurt and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough is meant to be dry and sticky at this stage, so don’t worry.

Scoop the dough into the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Turn out of the loaf tin and bake for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Falastin – A Cookbook

Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini……

The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.

Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.

For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.

It was really hard to pick recipes but here is some to whet your appetite, for me this book comes highly recommended.

Sweet and Spicy Seeds and Nuts

Serves 4 as a snack

2 tbsp light soft brown sugar (20g)

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp mild curry powder

¼ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes)

180g raw unsalted cashews

2 tbsp sunflower seeds (20g)

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds (20g)

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan.

Put everything apart from the cashews and seeds into a small saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to the boil on a medium heat. Stirring often, then add the nuts and seeds. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, stirring constantly until the nuts and seeds are coated in a sticky glaze.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray, then, using a spatula, spread the nuts out so that they’re not stuck together. Bake for 14 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely, then transfer to a bowl to serve or to a sealed container if making in advance.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Hummus

I’m just sharing one way but in Falastin Sami and Tara give two ways and lots of toppings.

Serves 6

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in double their volume of water

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

270g tahini

60ml lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

100ml ice-cold water

Salt

To make the hummus, drain the chickpeas and place them in a medium saucepan on a high heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1½ litres of water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 30 minutes – timing can vary from 20-40 minutes depending on the freshness of the chickpeas – skimming off any foam that appears. The chickpeas are ready when they collapse easily when pressed between thumb and finger: almost but not quite mushy.

Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor. Process to form a stiff paste and then, with the machine still running, add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and 1½ teaspoon of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and continue to process for another 5 minutes: this will feel like a long time but it is what is needed to get a very smooth and creamy paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside at room temperature, until needed. If you are making it in advance then transfer to a sealed container and keep in the fridge. Remove it half an hour before serving, to bring it back to room temperature, and give it a good stir if a ‘skin’ has formed.

When ready to serve, spoon the hummus into individual shallow bowls, creating a slight hollow in the centre of each. Sprinkle with parsley, chilli and mint, if using and serve with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Labneh Balls (Labneh Tabat)

Makes about 50og / 20 balls, to serve 10 as part of a larger spread

900g Greek-style yoghurt (or a combination of 450g goat’s yoghurt and 450g Greek-style yoghurt)

About 500ml olive oil

3 sprigs of thyme or oregano, or a mixture of both

1 ½ tbsp. chilli flakes (enough to coat 10 balls)

2 ½ tbsp. za’atar (enough to coat 10 balls)

Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheese cloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine, as an alternative) and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth-lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drip – inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for 24-36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.

Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.

With lightly oiled hands, spoon a small amount – about 20g – of the labneh into the palm of one hand. Roll it around to shape it into a 3cm-wide ball, and transfer  it to a tray lined with a damp (but clean) J-cloth. Continue with the remaining labneh until all the balls are rolled. Transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight) to firm up.

Half fill a jar (enough to fit all the rolled labneh: about 10cm wide and 12cm high) or airtight container with olive oil and drop in the balls. Top with more oil, if necessary – you want the balls to be completely covered with oil – and add the thyme or oregano. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.

When ready to coat – you can do this up to a day before serving – remove the jar from the fridge and bring to room temperature, so that the oil becomes unset. Life the balls out of the oil and roll them in the chilli flakes or za’atar: an easy way to do this is to spread your chosen coating on a plate, place a few balls at a time on top and shake the plate: the balls will be coated in seconds. If not eating at once, return them to the fridge on a plate (but not in the oil). Bring back to room temperature before serving: you don’t want them to be fridge-cold.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds

Serves four

3 large cucumbers (1kg), peeled

65g tahini

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

2 lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 60ml

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

10g dill, roughly chopped, plus a few extra fronds to serve

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

100g ice cubes

20g mint leaves

20g parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

1 tomato, cut into ½ cm dice (80g), to serve

Spicy pumpkin seeds

3 tbsp olive oil

40g pumpkin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp chilli flakes

Put all the ingredients for the spicy pumpkin seeds into a small sauté pan, along with 1/8 tsp of salt, and place on a medium heat. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the seeds begin to colour lightly and pop. Transfer to a bowl (or to an airtight container if making a batch) and set aside to cool.

Cut off a roughly 80g chunk of cucumber and slice in half. Scoop out the seedy core (add this to the pile of cucumber to be blended), then finely chop the remainder into 1cm dice. Set this aside, to serve. Roughly chop the remaining cucumber into 2cm chunks and transfer to a free-standing blender (or a deep bowl if you are using a hand-held blender), along with the tahini, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, dill, chilli flakes, ice cubes, half the mint, half the parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Blitz for about 2 minutes, until completely smooth, then keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Divide the soup between four deep bowls and spoon the reserved cucumber and diced tomato on top. Shred the remaining mint and sprinkle this over each portion, along with the remaining parsley, any spare dill fronds, the spicy pumpkin seeds and a final drizzle of oil.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Chicken Musakhan

Serves four

1 chicken (about 1.7kg), divided into 4 pieces (1.4kg) or 1kg chicken supremes (between 4 and 6, depending on size), skin on, if you prefer

120ml olive oil, plus 2-3 tbsp extra, to finish

1 tbsp ground cumin

3 tbsp sumac

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice

30g pine nuts

3 large red onions, thinly sliced 2-3mm thick (500g)

4 taboon breads or any flatbread (such as Arabic flatbread or naan bread) (330g)

5g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Salt and black pepper

To serve

300g Greek-style yoghurt

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat the oven to 200°C fan oven.

Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac, the cinnamon, allspice, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take about 30 minutes if starting with supremes and up to 45 minutes if starting with the whole chicken, quartered. Remove from the oven and set aside. Don’t discard any juices which have collected in the tray.

Meanwhile, put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large sauté pan, about 24cm, and place on a medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with kitchen paper (leaving the oil behind in the pan) and set aside. Add the remaining 60ml of oil to the pan, along with the onions and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Return to a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are completely soft and pale golden but not caramelised. Add 2 tablespoons of sumac, the remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin and a grind of black pepper and mix through, until the onions are completely coated. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When ready to assemble the dish, set the oven to a grill setting and slice or tear the bread into quarters or sixths. Place them under the grill for about 2-3 minutes to crisp up, then arrange them on a large platter. Top the bread with half the onions, followed by all the chicken and any chicken juices left in the tray. Either keep each piece of chicken as it is or else roughly shred it as you plate up, into two or three large chunks. Spoon the remaining onions over the top and sprinkle with the pine nuts, parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons of sumac and a final drizzle of olive oil. Serve at once, with the yoghurt and a wedge of lemon alongside.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Pulled lamb Shawarma sandwich

Serves eight

3 onions, 1 roughly chopped and the other 2 quartered (and peeled as always) into wedges

2 heads of garlic, 1 cut in half, horizontally, and 8 cloves from the second head roughly chopped

2 ½ cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

20g parsley, roughly chopped

1 ½ tbsp ground cumin

1 ½ tbsp ground coriander

2 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

3 tbsp cider vinegar

60ml olive oil

2-2.5kg lamb shoulder, bone in

700ml chicken stock

½ a lemon

Salt and black pepper

Sumac yoghurt

200g Greek-style yoghurt

60g tahini

1 ½ tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp sumac

To serve (any or all of the following)

2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (200g)

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rounds (120g)

10g picked parsley leaves

5g picked mint leaves

100g shatta

8 pita breads

First make the spice paste. Put the chopped onion into a food processor along with the chopped garlic and ginger. Pulse until finely minced, then add the parsley and spices. Pulse for about 10 seconds, until just combined. Scrape down the sides, then add the vinegar, oil, 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Pulse to form a coarse paste, then transfer to a non-metallic food container large enough to hold the lamb

Pat the lamb dry and pierce liberally all over with a small, sharp knife. Add it to the spice paste and coat generously, so that all sides are covered. Cover with foil and leave to marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Take the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before going into the oven: you want it to be more like room temperature rather than fridge-cold.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius fan.

Put the remaining onions and head of garlic into the centre of a large roasting tray and pour over the chicken stock. Sit the lamb on top of the vegetables, cover tightly with foil and bake for 4 hours. Remove from the oven, discard the foil and bake for 90 minutes more, increasing the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius fan towards the last 30 minutes of cooking time. The lamb is ready when it is fork-tender and easily pulls away from the bone. Set aside to cool slightly, about 15 minutes, before using two forks to roughly shred the lamb directly in the pan, gathering as much of its juices as possible. Transfer the shredded lamb, onions, garlic cloves and any of the pan juices to a serving bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and set aside.

While the lamb is in the oven, prepare the sumac yoghurt. Put the yoghurt, tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of water, the sumac and ¼ teaspoon of salt into a bowl and whisk well to combine.

When ready to serve, lay out all the various condiments, along with the pita, to let everyone make up their own shawarma sandwich.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 35 cookies

200g ghee or clarified butter, at room temperature

80g icing sugar, sifted

370g plain flour, sifted

¾ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp orange blossom water

1 tsp rose water

12g unsalted pistachio kernels (enough for one to go on each cookie)

Put the ghee and icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixer with the whisk attachment in place. Mix on a medium-high speed for about 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Replace the whisk with the paddle attachment. Add the flour, salt, orange blossom water and rose water and mix for another 3 minutes, until the dough is uniform and smooth. Using your hands, bring the dough together and shape into a ball. Place the dough in an airtight container and leave in the fridge for about an hour, to rest. You’ll need to remove it from the fridge 10 minutes before you want to roll it out so that it has some malleability.

Preheat the oven to 160 degree Celsius fan.

Pinch off a bit of the dough, about 20g, and roll it into a sausage: it should be about 10cm long and ½ inch thick. Bring both ends together, slightly overlapping them and pressing down where the two ends meet. Press a single pistachio into the dough where the ends join and place on a tray lined with baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the rings 1cm apart on the tray. You’ll need two trays to fit them all. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are cooked through but have not taken on too much colour. Remove from the oven and set aside until completely cool before serving.

(From Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, published by Ebury Press)

Windfall Apples…

Storm Ellen and Storm Francis played “hell” with our apple crop. We didn’t have a particularly good crop anyway but much of our meagre harvest ended up as windfalls in the grass underneath the apple trees in the orchard. Some like Beauty of Bath were already ripe, many other varieties were not but still the strong winds managed to shake them off their branches. I collected as many as I could to make windfall jelly. 

These under-ripe fruit are perfect for apple jelly, don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite just cut them out. Wash the fruit but don’t bother to peel, save the stalks and seeds too, they all add to the end result.

To make the preserve… Just fill a large pot with the coarsely chopped fruit, cover with cold water.  Add other flavours if you fancy, a few fistfuls of blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, damsons or haws.  If you add  a mixture, it can be called Hedgerow jelly. Alternatively, simply add mint, chillies or a pinch of traditional cloves. This is a brilliant all-purpose recipe – ‘a-catch-all’ to use up a couple of fistfuls of autumn fruit and berries. I can add some ripe elderberries, and in a few weeks bletted medlars to make a delicious apple and medlar jelly to accompany game or a boiled leg of mutton.

We have also found that the strong pectin, rich apple juice works brilliantly as a natural gelling agent in both  strawberry and blackberry jam, both of which can be notoriously difficult to set. We plan to freeze it as an experiment to use in winter jams and jellies instead of jam sugar.

And who doesn’t love an apple tart – every family has their favourite pastry but this recipe for a buttery ‘break all the rules’ shortcrust pastry was passed on to me by my Mum. It’s not just our favourite but has become many other people’s ‘go to’ recipe for a tart or pie crust. Its made by the ‘creaming method’ so those of you who are convinced you have hot hands, there’s no need to worry – this one is a ‘keeper’ and it also freezes well.

The whole family will love this Autumn apple and blackberry pie, with cinnamon sugar  and I’ve also included the aristocrat of apple tarts, the French classic, Tarte Tatin. This is sometimes made with puff pastry but we also love this tender irresistible sour cream pastry – give it a try, it is made in minutes, see how you like it…

Apple charlotte is an almost forgotten pudding. I find it’s best made with Cox’s Orange Pippin apples and slices of good white yeast bread, soaked in melted butter – No wonder, it’s so delicious. I make it just once a year, but the memory of the texture of the crisp buttery bread and the sweetness of the Cox’s Apple puree lingers for months on end. And finally check out this simple recipe for apple fritters, another of my grandchildren’s favourites which they have nicknamed Scary Little Monsters because of the funny shapes the batter cooks into on the pan… sprinkle them with castor sugar and enjoy…. 

Windfall Apple Jelly and Variations

Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you can’t get enough windfall apples, use a mixture of crab apples, windfall and cooking apples, like Bramley’s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.

Makes 2.7–3.2kg (6–7lb)

2.7kg (6lb) windfall apples of crab apples

2.7 litres (5 3⁄4 pints) water

2 organic lemons

425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.

Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)

Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8–10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required (see below).

APPLE AND ELDERBERRY JELLY

Add a fistful or two of elderberries to the apple and continue as above. Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

APPLE AND SLOE JELLY

Substitute sloes for elderberries in the above recipe. You want about the same quantity by weight of crab apples and sloes.

APPLE AND MINT JELLY

Follow the Windfall Apple Jelly recipe and add 3–4 sprigs of mint to the apples as they stew. Add 2–3 tablespoons (2 1/2 – 3 3/4 tablespoons) of finely chopped mint to the jelly just before it’s potted.

APPLE AND ROSEMARY JELLY

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

APPLE AND ROSE GERANIUM JELLY

Add 8–10 leaves of rose geranium (pelagonium graveoleus) to the apples initially and 5 more when boiling to a set.

Autumn Apple and Blackberry Pie with Cinnamon Sugar

Serves 8 – 10

8 ozs (225 g) soft butter

8 ozs (225 g) caster sugar

4 eggs, preferably free range

11 oz (300 g) self-raising flour

2 good – size cooking apples (approx. 450g (1lb))

4 ozs blackberries

A generous dusting of cinnamon sugar

Cinnamon Sugar

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 x 9 inch (23 cm) round tin.

Cream the butter and sugar until light, fluffy and pale in colour.  Add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Gently fold in sifted flour, mixing well.  Place mixture into the well greased tin.

Peel the cooking apples, slice thinly into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices and arrange slightly buried on top of the mixture.  Scatter the blackberries or incorporate as part of the pattern.

Place in a preheated fan oven 170ºC (325ºF/gas mark 3) for 25-30 minutes.  Bake until the cake and the apples are cooked. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Tarte Tatin

Serves 6-8

The ultimate french apple tart. The Tatin sisters ran a restaurant at Lamotte-Beuvron in Sologne at the beginning of the century.  They created this tart, some say accidentally, but however it came about it is a triumph – soft, buttery caramelised apples (or indeed you can also use pears) with crusty golden pastry underneath.  It is unquestionably my favourite French tart! One can buy a special copper tatin especially for this tart.  It takes considerable courage to cook the caramel dark enough but the end result is so worth the effort

1.24kg (2 3/4lb) approx. Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Bramley Seedling cooking apples

175g (6oz) Sour Cream Pastry or puff pastry or rich Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (see recipe below)

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

210g (7 1/2oz) castor sugar *

a heavy 20.5cm (8inch) tatin mould or copper or stainless steel sauté pan with low sides

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 for puff pastry.  For shortcrust -180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

First, roll out the pastry into a round slightly larger than the saucepan.  Prick it all over with a fork and chill until needed.

Peel, halve and core the apples.  Melt the butter in the saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until it turns golden – fudge colour.  Put the apple halves in upright, packing them in very tightly side by side, careful not to burn your fingers.  Replace the pan on a low heat and cook until the sugar and juice are a dark caramel colour. Hold your nerve otherwise it will be too pale.  Put into a hot oven for approx. 15 minutes.

Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck in the edges.  Put the saucepan into the fully preheated oven until the pastry is cooked and the apples are soft-25-30 minutes approx. For puff pastry reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 after 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven and rest for 5-10 minutes or longer if you like.  Put a plate over the top of the saucepan and flip the tart on to a serving plate.  (Watch out – this is a rather tricky operation because the hot caramel and juice can ooze out).  Reshape the tart if necessary and serve warm with softly whipped cream.

Sour Cream Short Crust Pastry

Makes 500g (18oz)

250g (9oz) plain white flour

25g (1oz) icing sugar

175g (6oz) butter

62ml (2 1/2fl oz up) sour cream

To make the pastry.

Put the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl.  Dice the butter and rub into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Add enough sour cream to just bring it together.  Divide in two pieces, wrap, refrigerate and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  Use for tarts, pies or tarte tatin.

Apple Charlotte

This is the scrummiest, most wickedly rich apple pudding ever. A friend, Peter Lamb, make it as a special treat for me every now and then.

It’s also a brilliant way to use up bread and apples deliciously.

We make apple charlotte from old varieties of eating apples – my favourites are Ergemont, Russet, Charles Ross, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Pitmaston Pineapple. It’s sinfully rich but gorgeous.

Serves 4-6

1 kg (2 1/4lb) dessert apples

225g (8oz) clarified butter

175g (6oz) castor sugar

2 organic egg yolks

good quality white yeast bread

1 loaf tin – 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

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

Peel and core the apples. Melt a little of the clarified butter in a stainless steel saucepan, chop the apples into cubes and add to the saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and the castor sugar. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the apples break into a thick pulp. Beat in the egg yolks one by one – this helps to enrich and thicken the apple purée. Taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Melt the remaining clarified butter and use a little of this to brush the inside of the tin then dust it with caster sugar.  Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into strips about 4cm (1 1/2inches) wide and 13cm (5 inches) high and quickly brush them with the clarified butter.  Line the sides of the tin with butter-soaked bread. Cut another strip to fit tightly into the base of the tin. Brush it on both sides with butter and tuck it in tightly. Fill the centre with the apple pulp. Cut another strip of bread to fit the top. Brush with melted butter on both sides and fit it neatly to cover the purée.

Bake for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for another 15 minutes or until the bread is crisp and a rich golden colour.

 To serve

Run a knife around the edges in case the bread has stuck to the tin. Invert the apple charlotte onto a warm oval serving plate. It won’t look like a thing of beauty, it may collapse a bit, but it will taste wonderful. Serve with softly whipped cream.

Apple Fritters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour.

Serves 6–8

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

225g (4oz) caster sugar or cinnamon sugar (see apple and blackberry pie recipe)

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C (375°F).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄4 inch). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off, then drop into hot fat, a few at a time. Fry until the batter is golden brown and the apple is tender.  Drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar. Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.

Wild Foods – Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)

Crab apples are wild apples that probably grew from seeds in an apple core that was tossed from the window of a car, they are in season at present and may be picked off the tree, but many grow quite high so they can be difficult to reach. However, the windfalls that lie on the ground are also worth collecting. Once the bruised bits are cut out and thrown into the compost bin, the remaining skin, pips and stalks are fine for making jellies.

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