We may all flirt with the idea of doing something different for Christmas and occasionally we do, but inevitably, despite the deliciousness of the maverick choice there are always whimsical remarks tinged with nostalgia about the traditional roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings.

So this year let’s have ‘the works’, but in the interest of self-preservation in this season of peace and goodwill, make a detailed plan.

Countdown to Christmas – A week or two before the big day snatch a few quiet moments, make yourself a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, put your feet up and make a few detailed lists. I love to set up the crib first, to remind me of the raison d’être for the whole celebration and to get me into the true spirit of Christmas. Our grandchildren gather round to help, wide-eyed with wonder as they hear the story of Joseph and Mary and then place the little baby Jesus in his tiny crib. They love to help to bring in the holly and of course to decorate the Christmas tree. There’s nothing co-ordinated about our decorations, all the jingles and baubles collected over the past three decades, each with its own little story, hang in a haphazard way. Its fun to include some edible decorations on the tree, even tiny children can help to make popcorn garlands with a darning needle and thread, Dolly mixtures or little jellies also work well and can alternate with the glittering tinsel on the tree.

Older children can help to make little star-shaped biscuits. We thread a narrow ribbon through the top and they can be dangled from the branches. Finally the little candle holders are clipped onto the branches and the tiny wax candles are lit. Memories of my childhood come flooding back, for me this moment has always been one of the most magical parts of Christmas. We play Christmas carols and the grandchildren sing Jingle Bells and Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer with gusto and delight – Christmas is truly here.

Back to the kitchen, if you haven’t made the cake and pudding don’t worry, there’s still time. When the children were small I once made the cake on 23rd December, iced it on Christmas Eve and it was one of the nicest cakes we ever had, crumbly and delicious. Plum puddings too can be made close to the time. This year we’ve made lots of tiny pud bowls, just enough for 2-4 not very hungry people. We’ve even more individual ones in espresso cups, which worked really well and looked adorable. They’ll only take 20-30 minutes to cook through on Christmas Day.

One week or so ahead – make mincemeat and leave to mature. Make Cranberry Sauce. Order the goose or turkey if you prefer.

Weigh up mulled wine spices and wrap in twists of cling film or greaseproof paper.

Herb and bread stuffing can be made ahead and frozen. Extra bread crumbs can be stored for the bread sauce.

Several days ahead – make pastry and mince pies and freeze.

1-2 days ahead make smoked mackerel pate and refrigerate. Remember to buy some delicious crusty bread and pop a loaf or two into the freezer as a standby.

Made the trifle, some homemade mayonnaise, cover and refrigerate. Make the yule log, cover but don’t roll up.

The day before you plan to eat – lay the table and decorate – lots of holly, party poppers and Christmas crackers. Prepare the celery and sprouts and potatoes. Toss the latter in extra virgin olive oil, put into a plastic bag, twist the end tightly and pop it in the fridge. The potatoes will keep perfectly and taste delicious. Just cover the vegetables with damp kitchen paper – no vegetables benefit either flavour wise or nutritionally from being soaked in water overnight. In fact if the celery is cooked it will reheat perfectly.

If using the prawns, cook in the shell, cool and refrigerate, they would make a delicious light supper if you decide to have the pate for the main meal. Wash and dry the salad and make the dressing, (you’ll need it to aid the digestion).

On Christmas Day – decide on the time of the meal. Weigh the turkey or goose, calculate the cooking time. Pop into the oven and relax. Roll up and decorate the Yule log. Decorate the trifle and put on the sideboard.

Forty five minutes to one hour before the end of cooking time, put the potatoes on to roast. Put on the bread sauce (this can also be made ahead if you’d prefer). Make a little toast or a few crostini, top with smoked mackerel pate and dill, arrange on a plate. Chill wine or bubbly.

Just before serving, make the gravy, cook or reheat the vegetables. Pop the bird on your poshest serving dish and keep warm. Open a bottle of bubbly or prosecco, relax and pass around the crostini, have a toast.

Make your way to the table, tuck in and enjoy and all the rest of you don’t forget a hug for the cook and do all the washing up.

Merry Christmas to all our readers and may all your dreams come true in 2005.

Ballycotton Prawns with Homemade Mayonnaise

We get the most wonderful juicy prawns straight from the boats in Ballycotton.We eat them in several ways but they are best freshly cooked and served with homemade Mayonnaise and some crusty bread.
Serves 4

24 large very fresh prawns

4 pints (2.3 L) water
2 tablespoons salt

4-8 tablespoons home-made Citrus Mayonnaise (see recipe)

Wild watercress leaves
4 segments lemon

First Cook the Prawns
Bring the water to the boil and add the salt. Put the prawns into the boiling salted water and as soon as the water returns to the boil, test a prawn to see if it is cooked. It should be firm and white, not opaque or mushy. If cooked, remove prawns immediately. Very large ones may take ½ to 1 minute more. Allow to cool in a single layer.

Note: Do not cook too many prawns together, otherwise they may overcook before the water even comes back to the boil.

Put 5 or 6 cooked whole prawns on each plate. Spoon a tablespoon or two of homemade Citrus Mayonnaise into a little bowl or oyster shell on the side of the plate. Pop a segment of lemon on the plate. Garnish with some fresh wild watercress. Serve with fresh crusty brown soda bread and Irish butter.

Citrus Mayonnaise

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard or pinch of English mustard
1 dessertspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
250ml(8 fl oz) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) - We use 175ml (6 fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2 fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
grated rind of 1 unwaxed lemon

Put the egg yolks into a medium size pyrex bowl with the mustard, salt and the lemon juice (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don't get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and lemon juice if necessary. Add the grated lemon rind.
If the mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. Should this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it re-emulsifies.

Smoked Mackerel and Dill Pate with Cucumber Pickle

Serves 4

175g/6oz un-dyed smoked mackerel, de-skinned and boned
50g/2oz softened unsalted butter
25g/2oz soft full fat cream cheese
juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To serve
dill fronds
clarified butter
dressed watercress leaves

Cucumber Pickle – see recipe

Place the mackerel, butter, cream cheese and lemon into a liquidiser. Blitz to form a smooth consistency. Tip into a bowl and fold in the herbs. 

Season to taste and then divide between four ramekins. Place dill fond on top and our over a little clarified butter. Chill for at least and hour.

Serve with Melba toast and watercress salad and cucumber pickle.

If you are not going to use this within 48 hours, cover the tops with a layer of clarified butter and they will keep for up to one week. To make clarified butter, simply heat butter gently in a small pan until melted. Remove from the heat and allow to settle for a minute or so, then carefully pour the clear liquid butter into a jug leaving all the milk solids behind.

Cucumber Pickle

Serves 10-12
1 kg (2 lb 4 ozs) thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber
3 small onions thinly sliced
340 g (12 ozs) sugar
2 level tablespoons salt
250 ml (8 fl ozs) cider vinegar

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

How to Prepare a Duck or Goose for the Oven

1. First gut the bird if necessary and clean well.
2. Singe carefully over a gas jet.
3. Remove the wish bone from the neck end.
4. Goose - Tuck the wings in close to the body
Duck - use a sharp chopper to trim the wings just above the first joint nearest the
5. Goose legs leave intact.
Duck - chop off the knuckle just above the 'knee'
6. Season the cavity. Stuff with cold stuffing just before the bird goes into the oven.
7. Truss loosely with cotton string.

NB* It is not absolutely essential to chop the wings and legs of a duck unless you want a more formal restaurant presentation.

Old fashioned Roast Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Serves 10-12
This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices. Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, turkey with neck and giblets, free-range and organic

Fresh Herb Stuffing
170g (6oz) butter
340g (12oz) chopped onions
400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft breadcrumbs (check that the bread is non GM)
55g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm
salt and freshly ground pepper

neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey
2 sliced carrots
2 sliced onions
1 stick celery
Bouquet garni
3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey
225g (8oz) butter
large square of muslin (optional)

Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)
Bread Sauce (see recipe)
large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate). Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold. If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing. Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end.

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt 2 dessertspoons of butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 3-3½ hours. There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin. The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with tin foil. However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word.

The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy. Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and roast in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 1-1½ hours.

The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast
potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.
Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Bread Sauce

I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!


1 pint (600ml) milk
3-4 ozs (85-100g) soft white breadcrumbs
2 onions, each stuck with 6 cloves
2 ozs (55g) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
3-4 fl ozs (75-100ml) thick cream
2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer gently on a very low heat or cook in a low oven 160C/325F/regulo 3, for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Quatre Epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

Cranberry Sauce

Serves 6 approx.
Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. 

170g (6oz) fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons water
85g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water - don=t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins. Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries >pop= and soften, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Serve warm or cold.
Note: Cranberry Sauce will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days.
Creamed Celery
Serves 4 - 6
1 head of celery
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4-6 fl ozs (120-175ml) cream or creamy milk

Garnish: chopped parsley

Pull the stalks off the head of celery. If the outer stalks seems a bit tough, peel the strings off with a swivel top peeler or else use these tougher stalks in the stockpot. Cut the stalks into 2 inch (1cm) chunks.
Bring 3 pint of water to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped celery, cook for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until a knife will go through with ease. Remove celery to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. Thicken the remaining liquid with the roux, add the enough cream to make sufficient sauce to coat the celery. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, pour over celery, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Note: Can be reheated successfully

Roast Potatoes

Everybody loves roast potatoes, yet people ask over and over again for the secret of golden crispy roast potatoes.

Duck or goose fat gives a delicious flavour to roast potatoes. Good quality pork fat or lard from free range pigs is also worth saving carefully for roast or saute potatoes. All three fats will keep for months in a cold larder or fridge.

Well, first and foremost buy good quality ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonders, Kerrs Pinks, Rooster or British Queens. New potatoes are not suitable for roasting.
For perfection peel them just before roasting. Do not leave them soaking in water or they will be soggy inside because of the water they absorb. This always applies, no matter how you cook potatoes. Unfortunately, many people have got into the habit of peeling and soaking potatoes even if they are just going to boil and mash them.
Dry potatoes carefully, otherwise they will stick to the roasting tin, and when you turn them over you will lose the crispy bit underneath. If you have a fan oven it is necessary to blanch and refresh the potatoes first, then proceed as below.
Heat the olive oil or fat in a roasting pan, toss the potatoes to make sure they are well coated in olive oil or fat. Roast in a hot oven, basting occasionally, for 30-60 minutes depending on size.
For perfection, potatoes should be similar in size and shape.

Traditional Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing and Bramley Apple Sauce

Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing is almost my favourite winter meal. However, a word of warning. A goose looks enormous because it has a large carcass. Many people have been caught out by imagining that it will serve more people than it does. Allow 450g (1 lb) in cooked weight per person. This stuffing is also delicious with duck but use one quarter of the quantity given below.

Serves 8-10

4.5g (1 x 10 lbs) approx. goose

Neck, giblets and wishbone of goose
1 sliced onion
1 sliced carrot

Bouquet garni
A sprig of thyme
3 or 4 parsley stalks
A stick of celery
6 or 7 peppercorns
Cold water to cover

Potato Stuffing
30g (1 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) chopped onions
450g (1 lb) cooking apples e.g. Bramley Seedling, peeled and chopped
1 fl oz (2-3 tablespoons) fresh orange juice
900g (2 lbs) potatoes
1 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm
3 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
Salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the stuffing: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice. Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture. Add the orange rind and seasoning. Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the goose.

To prepare the goose: Gut the goose and singe off the pin feathers and down if necessary. Remove the wishbone from the neck end. Combine the stock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer for 12-2 hours. Season the cavity of the goose with salt and freshly ground pepper; rub a little salt into the skin also. Stuff the goose loosely and roast for 2 hours approx. in a preheated moderate oven, 180 C/350 F/regulo 4.
Prick the thigh at the thickest part; the juices which run out should be clear. If they are still pink, the goose needs a little longer. When cooked, remove the goose to a serving dish and put it in a very low oven while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting tin (save for sauteeing or roasting potatoes – it keeps for months in a fridge). Add about 1 pint (568 ml) of the strained giblet stock to the roasting tin and bring to the boil. Using a small whisk, scrape the tin well to dissolve the meaty deposits which are full of flavour. Taste for seasoning and thicken with a little roux if you like a thickened gravy. If the gravy is weak, boil it for a few minutes to concentrate the flavour; if it=s too strong, add a little water or stock. Strain and serve in a hot gravy boat.
Carve the goose and serve the Bramley Apple Sauce and Gravy separately.

Roast Duck with Traditional Potato Stuffing

Use ¼ or 1/3 of the Potato Stuffing recipe depending on the size of the duck. Serve with Bramley Apple Sauce.

Bramley Apple Sauce

The trick with Apple Sauce is to cook it covered on a low heat with very little water.

Serves 10 approx.

1 lb (450g) cooking apples, e.g. Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
1-2 dessertsp. water
2 ozs (55g) sugar, depending on how tart the apples are

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut the pieces into two and put in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan with sugar and water. Cover and put over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, beat into a puree, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm.
Note: Apple Sauce freezes perfectly, so make more than you need and freeze in tiny, plastic cartons. It is also a good way to use up windfalls.


Ballymaloe Mince Pies with Irish Whiskey Cream

Makes 20-24 mince pies

225g (8oz) plain flour
170g (6oz) butter
a pinch of salt
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
egg wash

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

Ballymaloe Mincemeat
Makes (3.1kg)

2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling
2 lemons
450g (1lb) minced beef suet or Kerrygold butter, grated
110g (4oz) mixed peel (preferably home made)
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
225g (8oz) currants
450g (1lb) raisins
225g (8oz) sultanas
900g (2lb) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark brown sugar)
62ml (2½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4 for 45 minutes approx. When they are soft, remove the skin 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. Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly together. Put into jars, cover with jam covers and leave to mature for 1 week before using.

Next make the shortcrust pastry.
Sieve the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into ½ inch (1cm) approx. cubes, toss into the four and rub in with the finger tips. Add the icing sugar. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball: it should not be wet or sticky. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Roll out the pastry until quite thin – about of an inch, stamp out into rounds 3 inches (7.5cm) diameter and line shallow bun tins, put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, damp the edges with water and put another round on top. Egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves in the shape of holly berries etc.
Bake the mince pies in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or castor sugar.
Serve with a blob of whiskey flavoured cream.

Irish Whiskey Cream

225ml (8fl.oz) whipped cream

1 teaspoon icing sugar
12-3 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Fold the sugar and whiskey into the cream.

Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle – Elizabeth O’Connell

Sherry Trifle

The pudding to be avoided at all costs on most restaurant menus, can be a revelation when it=s made as it should be, with good home-made ingredients and lots of best-quality sweet sherry.

Serves 8-10

1 lb (450g) approx. home-made sponge cake or trifle sponges
(trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)
1 pint (600ml) custard made with:
13 pints (750ml) rich milk
5 eggs, free range if possible
13 tablespoon castor sugar
: teaspoon pure vanilla essence
8 ozs (225g) home-made Raspberry jam
5-6 fl ozs (150-175ml) best quality sweet or medium sherry
– don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry.

1 pint (600ml) whipped cream
8 cherries or crystallised violets
8 diamonds of angelica

1 x 3 pint (1.7 L/72 cups) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with home-made raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. Next make the egg custard. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla essence. Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg whisking all the time. Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.
Cut the sponge into : inch (2cm) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 3 pint (1.7 litre) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along. Pour in some home-made egg custard and then add another layer of sponge. Sprinkle with the remainder of the sherry. Spread the rest of the custard over the top. Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight, to mature.
Before serving, spread whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and diamonds of angelica.

Sponge Cake – Whisked Method

Serves 8

5 eggs
5 ozs (140g) castor sugar
5 ozs (140g) flour

a of a pot approx. home-made raspberry jam
Castor sugar for sprinkling on top
2 x 9 inches (23cm) tins

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 and sugar 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 a preheated oven, 190°C/375°F/regulo 5, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked. Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.
This sponge would also be delicious filled with fresh fruit and cream.

Swiss Roll

Serves 8
4 ozs (110g) plain flour
4 eggs
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoon vanilla essence
6 tablespoons warmed home-made raspberry jam

1 x 10 inches (25.5cm) x 15 inches (38cm) Swiss Roll tin

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/regulo 5.

Line a large Swiss Roll tin with greaseproof paper cut to fit the bottom of the tin exactly. Brush the paper and sides of the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and castor sugar.
Sieve the flour. Put the eggs and castor sugar into a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Take it off the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture is cool again. (If using an electric mixer, no heat is required.) Add the water and vanilla essence. Sieve in about one-third of the flour at a time and fold it into the mousse using a large metal spoon.
Pour the mixture gently into the tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. It is cooked when it feels firm to the touch in the centre. The edges will have shrunk in slightly from the sides of the tin. Lay a piece of greaseproof paper on the work top and sprinkle it evenly with castor sugar. Turn the Swiss Roll tin onto the sugared greaseproof paper. Remove the tin and greaseproof paper from the bottom of the cake. While the cake is still warm, spread it sparingly with home-made raspberry jam. Catch the edge of the paper nearest you and roll up the Swiss Roll away from you.

Suggestions for other fillings: If you are not using the Swiss Roll as a basis for Trifle there are many other fillings you might like to try, but roll the greaseproof paper into the Swiss Roll while warm and unroll it later when cold to fill if you are using whipped cream.
1 Mashed banana with lemon juice and whipped cream
2 Melted chocolate and whipped cream
3 Fresh strawberries or raspberries mashed with a little sugar and whipped cream
4 Other home-made jam and whipped cream.

Chocolate Yule Log

Chocolate Yule Log is usually made with a chocolate sponge Swiss roll but I prefer this sinfully rich version. There’s no need for any icing, it’s rich enough as it is!
Serves 10 approx.

6 ozs (170 g) best-quality dark chocolate
5 free range eggs
6 ozs (170 g) castor sugar
3 tablespoons water

½ pint (300 ml) double cream
1-2 tablespoons rum
icing sugar

1 x shallow Swiss roll tin
12 inches (30.5 cm) x 8 inches (20.5 cm)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

Line a Swiss roll tin with oiled tin foil or bakewell paper. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks into a bowl, gradually add the castor sugar and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale lemon coloured. Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, then draw aside while you whisk the egg whites to a firm snow. Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture. Stir a little of the egg white into the mixture, cut and fold the remainder of the egg whites into the mixture and turn it into the prepared tin. Cook in a preheated oven, bake for 15-18 minutes or until firm to the touch around the edge but still slightly soft in the centre. Wring out a tea-towel in cold water. Take out the roulade, cool it slightly, then cover with the cloth. (This is to prevent any sugary crust forming.) Leave it in a cool place. Provided the cloth is kept damp, it will keep for 2 days like this.

To Serve
Whip the cream and flavour with the rum. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a table and dust it well with sieved icing sugar. Remove the damp cloth from the roulade and turn the tin upside down onto the prepared paper. Remove the tin and peel the tin foil off the roulade carefully. Spread with the rum-flavoured cream and roll it up like a Swiss roll. Cut about one-third off the roll at an angle. Lift the roll onto a serving plate, arrange the smaller piece so it looks like a branch and dust well with icing sugar. Decorate with Christmas cake decorations, e.g. holly leaves, Santas, robins etc., sprinkle again with a little extra icing sugar and serve.

Mulled Red Wine

One of the easiest ways to entertain some of your friends before Christmas is to serve Mulled Wine and Mince Pies with lots of Whiskey Cream. At that stage they are still a novelty, whereas after Christmas people tend to groan, >Oh no, not Mince Pies again!=

Serves 8 approx.

1 bottle of good red wine
4 ozs (110 g) sugar
Thinly-pared rind of 1 lemon
A small piece of cinnamon bark
A blade of mace
1 clove

Put the sugar into a stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, pour the wine over, add the lemon rind, cinnamon bark, mace and the clove. Heat slowly, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved. When it is hot but not scalding serve in glasses with a wedge of lemon in each one if desired.

The thrill of a Pomegranate

When one cuts through the leathery skin of a pomegranate Punica Granatum, for the first time, one can’t help but be thrilled – all those jewel-like seeds, little ‘rubies’ neatly arranged in a star-shaped pattern. When I was at hotel school in Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin in the late 60’s, the street traders in Moore Street called them wine apples. They sounded and looked so exotic with their little crown-like calyx, but I had no idea what to do with them.

They’re a bit strange if you just eat them like a fruit – lots of gritty pips if you decide to chew. Pomegranates are at their best at the moment – it’s the season.

They come from the Middle East and the Mediterranean and nowadays India, China and Saudi Arabia, the Central Valley in California. They flourish where summer temperatures reach 100F. They need a hot, dry climate to ripen which explains why my pomegranate ‘tree’ is not doing so well in Shanagarry!. The seeds vary in colour, sometimes they can be disappointingly pale, but if you have a choice seek out a variety called ‘Wonderful’ which has brilliant red seeds.

Although pomegranates are relatively exotic on our food scene, they have been part of the human diet for millennia, their cultivation pre-dates written history and in many Eastern cultures they are a symbol of fertility.

The seeds not only look, but taste delicious in couscous, sprinkled over salads, both sweet and savoury, and in Winter game casseroles.

Their sweet tart juice tenderises meats, especially lamb. One of my favourite new ingredients, Pomegranate molasses thick, syrupy, concentrated juice produced in the Middle East is now available in Asian shops, delis and some more adventurous supermarkets. The concentrated syrupy liquid is great in salad dressings, splashed into drinks, added to a marinade or just drizzled over cooked food. It keeps for ages so once you have a bottle in your cupboard, experiment, you’ll find lots of opportunities to use it.

Extracting the seeds – this can be, but doesn’t have to be a messy business.

Cut the fruit in half around the equator, some cooks suggest holding the pomegranate cut side down in the palm of the hand or on a plate, then bashing the upturned fruit with the back of a wooden spoon to loosen the seeds. This works pretty well but is certainly messy and a little hazardous when you remember that pomegranate juice leaves a stubborn stain on clothes, so cover up with a dark apron.

It may be a bit slower and more pernickety to cut the fruit in half and then break each half in two, flick out the seeds from each section, avoiding the creamy, yellow, coloured pith. 

Juicing - Some recipes call for pomegranate juice, I find that a citrus juicer works well. Fresh pomegranate juice or indeed just the seeds can have a dramatic effect on reducing the bad cholesterol in our system – another good reason to take advantage of the short season – you’ll find them in the shops from October to February. Unfortunately their appearance gives very little clue as to their ripeness but choose fruit that looks fresh, not dried out. Organic fruit have more seeds and less membrane. Markets and fruit shops sometimes cut one fruit in half to demonstrate the quality and colour of the seeds.

Pomegranate Molasses Salad Dressing

A versatile dressing, delicious with salad leaves, but also with grilled fish, grilled chicken and grilled vegetables.
Pomegranate molasses is made by reducing the juice of sour pomegranates to a thick dark brown syrup with a distinctive sweet-sour flavour, available from Asian shops, Mr Bell’s in Cork’s English Market, or a good delicatessen.

2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sugar
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp lemon juice
8 tbsp olive oil
salt, black pepper, extra sugar if necessary

Mix the garlic, cumin, sugar, pomegranate molasses and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a little extra sugar if you think it’s a bit too sharp.

Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate Cocktail 
Mix freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice with Grenadine. Sweeten with stock syrup and dilute with still water or sparkling water. 
Serve with pomegranate seeds in ice-cubes and mint leaves 

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Sorbet

The jewel like seeds of the pomegranate look like glistening rubies and somehow appear very festive. A grapefruit sorbet is particularly versatile it can be served at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal and would make a delicious light refreshing starter on Christmas Day.
Serves 4-5

1 litre(1¾ pint) ruby grapefruit juice (10 grapefruit approx.)
225g (8oz) castor sugar approx.
1 egg white (optional)
1-2 pomegranates 

2 pink grapefruit cut into segments
pomegranate seeds
Fresh mint leaves
8 chilled white side plates

Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl add the sugar and dissolve by stirring it into the juice. Taste. The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, it will loose some of its sweetness in the freezing.

Cut the pomegranates in half around the 'equator'. Open out and carefully flick the seeds into a bowl, discard the skin and all the yellow membrane.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed. 

Method 2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to freezer. Repeat several times. When almost frozen fold in the pomegranate seeds. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a covered stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Freeze again until needed.

To Serve:
Chill the plates in a refrigerator or freezer. 

Put 1 or 2 scoops of sorbet on each chilled plate, garnish with a few segments of pink grapefruit. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, spoon a little grapefruit juice over the segments, decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately.

Ruby Grapefruit Sorbet

Proceed as above but omit the pomegranate seeds.
Meringue Roulade with Pomegranate Seeds and Rose Blossom Water
Serves 6 - 8

4 egg whites
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
½ pint (300ml) whipped cream
2 pomegranates
1-2 teaspoons rose blossom water 

Pomegranate seeds
Rose petals if available (make sure the rose hasn’t been sprayed)
Berried holly

Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC\350ºF\regulo 4. 

Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer. Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together. Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff peak 4 - 5 minutes approx.

Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with tin foil, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (eg. sunflower or arachide). 

Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Put a sheet of tin foil on the work top and turn the roulade onto it, remove the base tin foil and allow the meringue to cool.

Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the equator, open out and flick out the seeds. Sprinkle with a few drops of rose blossom water. 

Keep the seeds from half a pomegranate aside to decorate the roulade. 

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and remaining pomegranate seeds over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes of cream along the top of the roulade, decorate with the reserved pomegranate seeds and rose petals if available. Surround with berried holly.

Serve, cut into slices about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick.

Note: This roulade is also very good filled with raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, sliced peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.

Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad with Rocket, Figs and Pomegranates

Serves 8
1 fresh pomegranate
4 small fresh Ardsallagh cheese or a similar fresh goat cheese
8-12 fresh figs or 
8-12 plump dried figs
Enough rocket leaves for eight helpings and perhaps a few leaves of raddichio
32 fresh walnut halves


4 fl.ozs (125ml) extra virgin olive oil
3 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teasp. honey
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the pomegranate in half around the equator, break each side open, flick out the glistening jewel-like seeds into a bowl, avoiding the bitter yellowy pith.

Next make the dressing – just whisk the oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey together in a bowl. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toast the walnut halves in a dry pan over a medium heat until they smell sweet and nutty. 

Just before serving, toss the rocket leaves in a deep bowl with a little dressing. Divide between eight large white plates. Cut each cheese into 3 pieces. 

Cut the figs into quarters from the top, keeping each one still attached at the base. Press gently to open out. Divide the cheese between the plates, three pieces on each, place a fig in the centre. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and freshly roasted walnuts. Drizzle with a little extra dressing and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Note: plump dried figs are best cut into slices and scattered over the salad.

Cool Yule Fruit Salad

Serves 10-15
Equal volumes of:

ripe melon, balled
ripe papaya, sliced thinly and cut into squares.
ripe mango, sliced
passion fruit seeds
ripe pineapple, diced
ripe kiwi, sliced and quartered.
ripe banana, sliced
pomegranate seeds 

A glass bowl
Lime Syrup

8 oz (110 g) sugar
8 fl oz (110 ml) water
2 limes

First make the lime syrup. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes; allow to cool. Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime. 

Prepare all the fruits in individual bowls and cover with lime syrup.

Arrange the fruit in layers in a glass bowl. Cover and allow to chill and marinate for an hour at least.

To Serve
Ladle carefully into serving bowls so each guest gets a mixture of fruit. Serve alone or with softly whipped cream.

Foolproof Food

Mulled Red Wine

One of the easiest ways to entertain some of your friends before Christmas is to serve Mulled Wine and Mince Pies with lots of Whiskey Cream. At that stage they are still a novelty, whereas after Christmas people tend to groan, >Oh no, not Mince Pies again!
Serves 8 approx.

1 bottle of good red wine
4 ozs (110 g) sugar
Thinly-pared rind of 1 lemon
A small piece of cinnamon bark
A blade of mace
1 clove

Put the sugar into a stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, pour the wine over, add the lemon rind, cinnamon bark, mace and the clove. Heat slowly, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved. When it is hot but not scalding serve in glasses with a wedge of lemon in each one if desired.

Hot Tips

Some gift ideas:
Intensive Wine Course with Mary Dowey at Ballymaloe House – 11-13th March next – ideal Christmas present for a wine lover – Tel. 021-4652531 to book.

Christmas Presents

Every year I swear I’ll never ever again be wrapping and delivering presents on Christmas Eve, yet despite my endless resolutions I somehow end up doing just that the following year.

On one occasion I was so tired I managed to scrape the side of the car on the gate post on my way home, I was so blind with exhaustion. 

This year I’m determined to start earlier. I make endless lists, get some inspired ideas but then there are a few special people for whom I can’t seem to find something appropriate.

So for this column I’ll focus on pressies for foodie friends. 

The number of escapees from the city looking for the good life in the country is really gathering momentum. It’s now at last becoming hip to grow one’s own vegetables, have a few hens and a growing number – wait for it – are even keeping a pig. These are the acolytes of Monty Don, Antony Worrall Thompson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and James Martin. Virtually every magazine lifestyle supplement and Sunday supplement has evocative photos of new age farmers in green or even spotty wellies and Barbour jackets feeding the pigs or collecting the eggs – I’m all for it. Sting was one of the originals, but more recently Zac and Sheherazade Goldsmith and Roger Saul of Mulberry were the subject of colour spreads.

For these born again rural dwellers a pair of rare poultry, Ancona, Buff Orpington, Hebden Black, Speckledys - Will generate some terrific excitement on Christmas Day – a practical present which will provide a few eggs and maybe a clutch of chickens later in the year.

For the aspiring gardener a little hamper of vegetable seeds – say a few early potatoes, a mixture of lettuces and salad leaves, a packet of carrot seed, a few radishes, some beetroot and my favourite broad beans. You may want to add a beginners guide to vegetable gardening to get the whole project kick-started. A selection of little pots of fresh herbs and maybe a window box will also delight a green-fingered cook. You may even want to offer to plant them close to the kitchen door – parsley, thyme, chives, mint, marjoram and tarragon would make a good starter pack.

A cook will always welcome a rosemary bush, plant it for remembrance and remember it will only thrive in the house where the woman wears the pants! The aromatic spears can be plucked in every season to flavour lamb, chicken, pork, roast vegetables and jellies and sorbets. Choose a favourite farmhouse cheese and arrange for one to be sent by mail or courier once every 2-3 months. Alternatively choose a little hamper of Irish Farmhouse Cheese from Iago or On the Pig’s Back in the English Market in Cork, Sheridans in Galway or Dublin, or Peter Ward from Country Choice in Nenagh.

A gift token for the Midleton Farmers Market or tempting food and wine shops like Urru in Bandon or The Butlers Pantry in Dublin, or one of the Avoca Shops is bound to be a hit.

Look out for Richard Graham-Leigh’s delicious buttery cakes and pastries in Urru in Bandon or at Clonakilty and Fermoy Farmers’ Markets, they are quite simply the best ‘bought’ confectionery you are ever likely to find.

A side of smoked wild Irish salmon from Ummera, Belvelly, Dunn’s or Woodcock Smokery will remind your friends of how smoked salmon used to taste. We also love Bill Casey’s smoked salmon from Shanagarry. Native Irish oysters are in their prime at present, only in season when there is an R in the month. A couple of dozen oysters packed in a split timber box are a really special present for shellfish lovers. Its always good to include an oyster knife in case its been lost or mislaid – it’s a nightmare to open oysters without a special knife.

If you want to taste ham like it used to – try Fingal Ferguson’s ham from The Gubbeen Smokehouse – might be too late for Christmas but worth seeking out anytime.

A brace of pheasant, well hung with a little pot of bread sauce and some red currant jelly would be a treat, but imagine how gorgeous it would be to receive a really large joint of beef , a wing rib – dry aged and well hung – wrapped in greaseproof and brown paper and tied with butchers string, instead of a nasty sweaty plastic bag. As an extra treat, why not include some homemade horseradish sauce or some garlic mayo.

An exciting new cookbook is always a bonus for a foodie friend and a food guide eg. Georgina Campbell’s Ireland – The Guide – tried and tested recommendations of the best places to eat, drink and stay throughout Ireland or John and Sally McKenna’s Bridgestone Guides – 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland, 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland, Bridgestone Dublin Food Guide, Food Lovers Guide to Northern Ireland  These guides should be in the glove compartment of every car, they make terrific stocking fillers. These are just a few suggestions to add to the more predictable, but nonetheless welcome plum pud, mince pies and Christmas cake.

The following sauces as well as making great presents will be a wonderful standby in your own Christmas supplies.

Red Currant Jelly

Red currant jelly is a very delicious and versatile product to have in your larder. It has a myriad of uses. It can be used like a jam on bread or scones, or served as an accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon or ham. It is also good with some rough pâtés and game, and is invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts. 

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine, not only because it's fast to make and results in delicious intensely flavoured jelly, but because one can use the left over pulp to make a fruit tart, so one gets double value from the red currants. Unlike most other fruit jelly, no water is needed in this recipe.

We’ve used frozen fruits for this recipe also, stir over the heat until the sugar dissolves, proceeds as below.

Makes 3 x 1 lb (450g) jars

2 lbs (900g/8 cups) red currants
2 lbs (900g/8 cups) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the red currants either by hand or with a fork. Put the red currants and sugar into a wide stainless steel saucepan and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully.

Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through, do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp.

Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

Cumberland Sauce

Serve with cold ham, turkey, chicken, guinea fowl, game or rough pâtés.
Serves 8-12 approx.

1 orange
1 lemon
225g (8oz) red currant jelly
3-4 tablespoons port
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a pinch of ground ginger

With a swivel-top peeler, remove the peel very thinly from the orange and half of the lemon (make sure there is no white pith). Shred into thin julienne strips, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain off the water and discard it, then refresh the peel under cold water. Strain and keep it aside.

Squeeze the juice from the fruit and put it into a stainless steel saucepan with the jelly and spices; allow it to melt down. Then add the peel and port to the sauce. Boil it rapidly for 5-10 minutes.

Test like jam by putting a little blob on a cold saucer. When it cools it should wrinkle slightly.
Cumberland Sauce may be served in a bowl right away or it may be potted up and kept until needed, like jam.

Horseradish Sauce

Horseradish grows wild in many parts of Ireland and looks like giant dock leaves. If you can=t find it near you , plant some in your garden. It is very prolific and the root which you grate can be dug up at any time of the year.
Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.
Serves 8 - 10

12-3 tablesp. grated horseradish
2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoon mustard
3 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
8 fl ozs (250 ml) softly whipped cream

Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a ‘slivery grater’. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not overmix or the sauce will curdle. It keeps for 2-3 days: cover so that it doesn=t pick up flavours in the fridge.

This is a fairly mild horseradish sauce. If you want to really Aclear the sinuses@, increase the amount of horseradish!

Emmilines Peanut Brittle

Emmiline Weeks is a student on our current 12 week Certificate Course. She demonstrated this delicious peanut brittle for us. At home in Maryland she packs it into little cellophane bags tied with raffia as presents for her friends.
675g (1½lb) castor sugar
350g (12oz) golden syrup or light corn syrup
495g (18oz) peanuts (fresh roasted and salted)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking soda
vegetable oil

2 large baking sheets
candy thermometer
large pot
metal spoon

Oil 2 baking sheets (if they are small you will need 3). In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, golden syrup and 125ml (4floz/½cup) of water. Dissolve the sugar over a high heat. Once the sugar is dissolved reduce the heat to medium, insert the candy thermometer and bring to 120°C/230°F. At this stage, add the peanuts. You must stir constantly with a metal spoon, stir until it reaches 150°C/300°F – this will take around 30 minutes. Once it reaches 150°C/300°F, remove immediately from the heat and add the vanilla, baking soda and butter. Pour into prepared baking sheets and smooth out. Allow to cool for at least an hour. The brittle should lift easily from the pan, break into desired size.
Store in an airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for at least a week if not two.

Ballymaloe Chocolates

¼ lb (110g) chocolate
24-30 sweet paper cases
Chocolate Ganache
¼ lb (110g) best quality dark chocolate
¼ pint (150ml) cream
¼ - ½ tablesp. rum or orange liqueur

Crushed praline or crystallized violets or unsweetened cocoa powder.

First make the chocolate cases. Melt the chocolate until smooth in a very low oven or in a bowl over simmering water. Put 2 paper cases together and spread melted chocolate evenly over the inside of the paper case with the back of a teaspoon. Check that there are no 'see through' patches when you hold them up to the light, if there are, spread a little more chocolate in that area, stand the paper cases in deep bun tins to keep the sides upright. Chill until they set hard, carefully peel the paper off the cases (it is a good idea to do a few extra cases to allow for accidents!).

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. Transfer the chocolate cream to the bowl of a food mixer and allow it to cool to room temperature. Add the liqueur and whisk until it is just stiff enough to pipe.

To Assemble: Using a piping bag and a three-eights inch star nozzle pipe a rosette of the mixture into peeled chocolate cases. Decorate each one with a little crushed praline or a crystallized violet leaf or a dusting of unsweetened coca powder.

Sue’s Hazelnut Whirls
Place one toasted hazelnut in each of the chocolate cases. Pipe a rosette of ganache on top. Dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Lemon Curd

110g (4 oz) castor sugar
50g (2oz) butter
finely grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)

On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, lemon juice and rind and then stir in well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools.) 

Foolproof Food

Homemade Cheese Biscuits

They keep for several weeks in an airtight tin and also freeze well. These biscuits can be cut into squares, diamonds, or even star shapes for Christmas. You could give them with a present of some Irish farmhouse cheese.
Makes 25-30 biscuits

4 ozs (110g) brown wholemeal flour
4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached
½ teasp. baking powder
½ teasp. salt
1 oz (30g) butter
1 tablesp. cream
Water as needed, 5 tablesp. approx.

Mix the brown and white flour together and add the salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter and moisten with cream and enough water to make a firm dough.

Roll out very thinly to one-sixteenth inch thick approx. Prick with a fork. Cut with 2½-3 inch (6.5-7.5cm) round cutter. Bake at 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

White Cheese Biscuits

Use 8 ozs (225g) plain white flour instead of the brown and white: adjust liquid as needed.
Top Tips

Good Things in Durrus – will hold an Open Weekend on 11/12 December from 2-6 with stalls selling cakes and other goodies, and some local art. Tel Carmel Somers at 027-62896.

Smoked Salmon – 
Woodcock Smokery, (Sally Barnes) Castletownsend Tel 028-36232
Shanagarry Smokehouse, Tel 021-4646955
Ummera Smoked Products, Timoleague, Tel 023-46644
Dunns of Dublin, 01-8643100
Kinvara Smoked Salmon, 091-637489
Belvelly Smokehouse – 021-4811089

Gubbeen Smokehouse– 028-28231

Irish Society of Poultry Fanciers – tel 045 432325 – the preservation and survival of pure breeds including duck, geese and all fowl.

Hidden Ireland Guide 2005 now available –
A unique collection of historic private houses throughout Ireland which combine stylish accommodation with great hospitality. Ideal for weekend breaks, house parties, workshops or corporate retreats. Full details of locations and rates from brochure or  or Tel 01-6627166

Not Just a Cookbook

Back in the days when the Irish palate was notoriously conservative, Derry Clarke’s father and his brother Joe dealt in everything from proper continental cheeses and Danish rusks to snails and frogs legs. In the warehouse on Wellington Quay in the centre of Dublin there was a treasure trove of edibles and drinkables: Huntley and Palmer biscuits, rusks, maple syrup, caviar, chestnut puree, Schwartz spices, smoked salmon, bottles of carrot juice for the health food shops, Sunquick orange squash for the less choosey, bags of whole spices imported from Indonesia, vast wheels of Brie….

This is presumably where Derry got a taste for fine food. Home was a big, rambling house in Clonskeagh. His mum did little cooking confining herself to “huge hearty stews with whole cloves of garlic but his dad was constantly experimenting in the kitchen, which was highly unusual for a man in those days. He kept up a continuous output of brown soda bread. The larder and the fridge were always packed with unusual stuff: Baxter’s tinned soups, jars of olives, tins of anchovies and shark’s fin soup (for the Chinese restaurant market), even rollmop herrings.

Much of his teens were spent at a small but liberal school called St. Georges in Portroe near Lough Derg where he developed a love of sailing. This gathered momentum during his summer holidays spent in Kinsale. He fantasized about going to sea but decided a maritime career was not for him after a short stint as a crew on a fishing trawler out of Crosshaven.

His first job during school holidays back in the 1960’s was cleaning the loos in Man Friday’s in Kinsale. In time he was promoted to waiter. Eventually straight out of school in early 1970, he got the opportunity to work in the kitchen at Peter Barry’s Man Friday under a great French chef Xavier Poupel. Stints in the Delgany Inn and the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire all helped to develop his repertoire and to hone his skills.

In 1977 John Howard had opened Le Coq Hardi in Pembroke Road, serving by all accounts the best food in Dublin. Derry, eager for a challenge and desperate to learn more jumped at the opportunity to work with John, a brilliant and legendary classic chef. John drove his Merc down to the market at 5 in the morning to choose the vegetables – there was no messing, when Derry slept out, John came to get him – it didn’t happen again!!

After four years of hard but exhilarating Work, Derry says he was approaching “burn out” so it was time for a change. He took on the challenge of upgrading the food at St. James’s Hospital. Eventually in 1983 he became involved in a new venture in the basement of the Lansdowne Hotel with Patsy McGuirk called Bon Appetit. Here he met and eventually wooed the lovely Sally Anne.

A stint as head chef of the Ante room restaurant in Baggot Street followed. Derry and Sallyanne were getting closer to opening their own restaurant. On 7th July 1989 L’Ecrivain opened in a small cramped basement. Derry went about setting up a network of good producers to supply his restaurant – he knew only too well that good produce was essential for good cooking and no amount of fancy cheffing can make up for poor quality produce – ‘Cooks are not alchemists’- a fundamental lesson that many chefs never seem to learn despite talking the talk. It’s been a long hard road, Derry and Sally Anne have worked incredibly hard and developed a loyal and appreciative clientele. Bursting at the seams in 1995 they took the plunge and expanded the restaurant, this too proved too small and they expanded again to reopen with a brand new much bigger restaurant in January 2000. They now have a Michelin star and have just published their first cookbook – ‘Not just a cookbook’ co-written with Tom Doorley. 

The name is apt, its not just a cookbook, but a warm and generous celebration of the people who contribute to making L’Ecrivain such a success. Photos, biographies of the key staff and the valued food producers – butchers, bakers, fish smokers, cheesemakers, game purveyors, wine makers, herb and vegetable growers, who supply the raw materials for Derry and Sallyanne’s food.

It also tells the story of a chef in the making and Sallyanne, the brilliant supporting cast. L’Ecrivain was the winner of Food and Wine Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year from 2000 – 2003. 

The restaurant is not cheap, nor can it be. This kind of dining experience costs a great deal of money, dedication, and sheer hard work to deliver, and this book will give an insight into the enormity of the task. There are more than 90 recipes from the past and present L’Ecrivain, including Cream of Spiced Parsnip and Coriander Soup, Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Coconut Ice-Cream, Pecan Brownie with Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce and Buttermilk Ice-Cream.

‘Not Just a Cookbook’ published by L’Ecrivain Restaurant. Price €29.99
Here are some recipes from L’Ecrivain

Cream of Spiced Parsnip & Coriander, Curry Oil
3 medium sized parsnips, peeled and sliced in half lengthways

1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 leek, sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
1 litre of chicken stock
salt and freshly ground white pepper

Curry Oil
100ml (3½fl oz) sunflower oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 pinch of ground coriander
1 pinch of tumeric
1 pinch of ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Sprinkle the ground coriander over the parsnips, place them in a roasting tin and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Roast for 35 minutes until tender.

In a separate medium-sized saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil and gently cook the garlic, onion, leek and thyme for 5 minutes until tender. Cut the roasted parsnips into large chunks and add them to the onion mixture. Next add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Blend the soup with a hand blender, then sieve and season with salt and pepper.

Curry Oil
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan and gently cook the shallot and spices until tender. Add 100ml (3½fl oz) sunflower oil and warm through. Transfer to another container to cool and infuse overnight. Pass through a sieve, retaining the oil.

To Serve
Divide the cream of spiced parsnip and coriander between four warm bowls and drizzle the curry oil over the soup.

Pecan Brownie with Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce and Buttermilk Ice Cream

Pecan Brownie
100g (3½oz) 71% dark chocolate
150g (5oz) butter, melted
250g (9oz) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 drops of vanilla extract
175g (6oz) plain flour, sifted
100g (3½oz) pecan nuts, chopped

Buttermilk Ice Cream
500ml (18fl oz) cream
180ml (6fl oz) buttermilk
8 egg yolks
130g (4½oz) caster sugar

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
150g (5oz) brown sugar
100ml (3½fl oz) cold water
50g (2oz) butter, diced
350ml (12fl oz) cream
75g (3oz) 71% dark chocolate

Pecan Brownie
Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Combine the melted chocolate and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the flour and pecans. Fold all the ingredients together in the mixing bowl until they are well combined. Line a 22cm (9inch) square tin with buttered greaseproof paper. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before removing the brownies from the tin. Cut the brownies into four squares.

Buttermilk Ice Cream
Heat the cream and buttermilk in a heavy-based saucepan until the mixture almost reaches boiling point. In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Pour a little of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks and stir. Return this mixture to the remainder of the hot cream and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. At this point, remove the saucepan from the heat, chill the mixture and strain it. Churn the mixture in an ice-cream maker until it has frozen. Alternatively, transfer it to a shallow container, place in the freezer and stir every hour until it has set.

Chocolate Butterscotch Sauce
Bring the sugar and water to the boil and continue to cook until the sugar caramelises. Add the diced butter and cream, bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the chocolates and stir until the sauce is smooth.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Coconut Ice Cream

4 slices of fresh pinapple, 1cm thick, core removed, outer skin removed
110g (4oz) granulated sugar
110g (4oz) butter
300g (10½oz) puff pastry

Coconut Ice Cream
275ml (9½fl oz) milk
6 egg yolks
75g (3oz) caster sugar
150ml (5fl oz) cream, lightly whipped
½ tin of coconut milk

Icing sugar, sifted

Put the milk in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Remove the milk from the heat and pour on to the egg mixture, whisking continuously. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil. Remove the custard from the heat and cool. Strain. Fold in the cream and coconut milk. Pour into an ice-cream maker and churn. Alternatively, transfer the mixture to a shallow container, place in the freezer and stir it every hour until it has set.

Pineapple Tarte Tatin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Melt the sugar in a large, ovenproof frying pan until caramelised. Add the butter and combine, then add the pineapple to the caramel. Roll out the puff pastry to ½cm thickness and shape to fit the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and place the pastry on top. Bake for 25 minutes. When the tart is cooked, remove it from the oven, place a plate on top of the pan, cover it with a cloth and turn the tart upside down. Remove the pan and cool the tart.
To Serve
Dust the Tarte Tatin with icing sugar and place a slice on each chilled plate. Place a scoop of coconut ice cream beside it. Dust with some icing sugar.
Foolproof Food

Carrot and Parsnip Mash

Carrots and parsnips are both in season – this delicious combination is real comfort food.
Serves 4-6

½ lb (225g) carrots
12oz (340g) parsnips
2 ozs (55g) butter
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Chopped parsley

Wash and peel the carrots and parsnips. Slice the carrot into ¼ inch (5mm) slices. Cook in a little boiled salted water with a pinch of sugar until soft.
Cook the parsnips separately in boiling salted water.
Strain both, mash or puree together and add butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Hot Tips

Sheridans Cheese and Wine Shop in Galway
On a recent visit I bought some exquisite cheese in superb condition – a treasure trove for those who seek out top quality food, organic vegetables and fine wines. Tel 091-564829
In Dublin don’t forget to drop into their sister shop in South Anne St. 01-6793143.

Coast Restaurant in Tramore, Co Waterford
Delicious food – Dinner Tuesday – Sunday, Lunch- Sunday. Tel. 051-393646 

Innocent – the fresh fruit juice and smoothie company have just launched a range of one litre take home smoothies – mangoes & passion fruit, strawberries & banana, cranberries & raspberries, pineapple, banana & coconut –pure crushed fruit and fresh juice – get your recommended daily allowance of fruit, good for breakfasts and kids love them.  

Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived 
It is launched on the 3rd Thursday in November at 0h00 in France and in over 150 countries from Japan to the US. The grapes were harvested in unfailing sunshine throughout the harvest. The Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, the Beaujolais Nouveau variety, grapes have given fruity wines with aromas and flavours of small red fruit that are very characteristic of Beaujolais. Supple, pleasant,well-balanced wines. So check out your local wine shop.

SIP teas – There is a huge resurgence in leaf tea – partly driven by the fact that tea is an extremely healthy beverage – research findings are proving more exciting by the day. SIP tea specialises in handpicked ‘fine pluck’ tea – this is the fresh, young growth, it contains the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. Highly sought after, and healthy. Some delicious flavoured teas available. Mail order to Sip, Bellamont, Cootehill, Co Cavan. Email:

The Game Cookbook

Clarissa Dixon Wright is one of my favourite people – always bubbling with energy, full of fun, outspoken, irreverent and enormously witty. Many of you will know her as the surviving lady of the Two Fat Ladies. She’s written several best selling cookbooks and writes on food for several newspapers and magazines. Recently she teamed up with Johnny Scott to write the Game Cookbook
Johnny is a keen shot and excellent horseman. As a farmer, naturalist and historian he has written for many newspapers and magazines. He studied farming on three continents, was jackaroo, miner, lumberjack, Lloyds aviation broker and brakeman in the British bobsleigh team, before returning to farm hefted black-face sheep in southern Scotland – altogether lived a full life. Brought up in a long tradition of rural stewardship, Johnny acquired his love and knowledge of the countryside from his father and the gamekeepers, hunt servants, stalkers and the ghillies he knew as a child. He is determined this heritage should be preserved for the next generation – hence this terrific book.

In this era of mass-produced food – wild game is one of the last remaining authentic flavours, but where can we find a wild duck, grouse, partridge, snipe, woodcock, hare or even a rabbit. Years ago when I first came to Cork, one of the delights of winter on regular trips to the English Market in Cork, was Sullivan’s stall opposite the Fountain at the Princes Street end. The semi-circular stall would be bedecked with a huge variety of game hanging in the feather. One could choose a pheasant, mallard, teal, widgeon, woodcock ……. as well as rabbit. 

In 1995 the Food Safety Authority issued new regulations which stipulated that wild game can only be sold if it is processed in an EU approved plant – there is only one in the entire country in Co Wicklow. It doesn’t take much to realise that it would be totally impractical, not to mention uneconomic, for game hunters and even larger shoots to transport game, particularly small game birds, over long distances. This regulation was originally introduced because there was an unease that not all venison had been inspected and approved. However, the net result was to virtually eliminate a part of our traditional food culture. A spokesman from the FSAI confirmed that they are in discussion with representatives of the wild game suppliers about revised, and hopefully simplified rules which are to come into operation in January 2006. Let’s hope that a solution can be arrived at that will result in the consumers being able to get a ready supply of game as our ancestors were long before fridges and vac packs were even dreamt of. 

If game is cooked within 12 hours of being shot it will be tender but have a wild undistinguished flavour. However if it is allowed to hang for a few days in a cool airy place, enzyme action in the flesh will tenderise the meat and give it the characteristic gamey flavour.

There is a divergence of opinion on how long game should hang, ultimately it depends on individual taste. Many people, nowadays, seem to favour a mild, not too challenging flavour. I personally like my game to taste reasonably gamey, otherwise one may as well eat chicken rather than pheasant. Birds are best left to hang in the feather, undrawn for between one and seven days. The time varies according to the type of bird and the weather conditions. Feathers keep the bird moist during hanging. 

Suggested hanging times 

Mallard and Teal 2-3 days
Pheasant 5-7 days
Woodcock 5-7 days
Snipe 4-5 days
Grouse 3-4 days
Partridge 3-4 days
Hare 7-14 days
Pigeon 1-2 days
Wild Goose 2-3 weeks
Rabbit 2-3 days
Venison 2-3 weeks
(gutted and bled first)

How to hang Game

Game should hang in a cool, dry well ventilated larder or cold room, free of flies etc. Few people have specially constructed game larders nowadays – a cool garage may well be the best option.

If the weather turns warm and humid it is essential to hang in a refrigerated cold room, ideally at a temperature of 0º-5ºC/32º-41ºF. 

Feathered game should be hung by the neck, (not in pairs). Furred game, eg. rabbits, hare and venison by the hind legs. Air must be free to circulate around. Examine all hanging game each day.

After hanging, the game should be plucked or skinned and gutted and then marinated if necessary.

Game are shot so be realistic, look out for shot, probably best not to eat!. Sadly, many restaurants have stopped serving game because of complaints from customers who found shot in their meal. 

Wild game is hugely nutritious, low in fat and cholesterol and a welcome change from beef, lamb and chicken. It is so easy to overcook so be vigilant, otherwise even the most delicious bird will be dry and dull. 

A game bird such as pheasant would make a welcome change from turkey for Christmas dinner, particularly for a small family.

For game: Contact Paul Fletcher, Premier Game, Skeheenarinky, Burncourt, Cahir, Co Tipperary. Tel 052-67501/086-8384700.

The Game Cookbook by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott, published by Kyle Cathie Ltd. 2004.

Pheasant with Noodles and Horseradish Cream

From The Game Cookbook
This recipe was invented by Clarissa’s friend Marianne More-Gordon. Don’t overcook the pheasant breasts – they should be slightly pink.

75g (3oz) butter
4 pheasant breasts
4 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tablesp. creamed horseradish, or 1 tablesp. strong horseradish, grated
juice of ½ lemon
150ml (5 fl.oz) double cream
1 packet black or green Italian noodles
small bunch of parsley , chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté the pheasant breasts until they are sealed. Remove them and sauté the shallots and the garlic until the shallots are pale gold; remove and discard the garlic clove.

Stir the horseradish into the shallots and add a tablespoon or so of water and the lemon juice. Season. Return the pheasant breasts to the pan, add the cream and cover and cook gently for 15-20 minutes or until the breasts are just cooked. If the sauce is too wet, remove the breasts and zap up the heat to reduce; if its too dry, add a little more cream or some dry white wine. Cook the noodles according to the instructions and drain. Serve the noodles with the pheasant ad sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Orange and Herb Duck

Also from The Game Cookbook
Although this recipe is designed for mallard, it works perfectly well with any wild duck, even pochard! If using the small duck you may need more than one breast per person. This recipe serves 2.

Breasts from 2 wild duck
Salt and pepper

For the Stuffing:

50g (2oz) butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
110g (4oz) thyme, sage and parsley, chopped
175g (6oz) breadcrumbs
1 shallot, chopped
rind and juice of 2 oranges

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4

Carefully slice the duck breasts so that you can open them flat and place them on a piece of tin foil and lightly season them.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté all the stuffing ingredients, except the orange juice. When the stuffing looks done, add the juice and check the seasoning. Place the stuffing on one half of each duck breast and fold over.
Wrap each one in tinfoil and bake for 40 minutes in the oven.

Open each package carefully onto a hot plate so as not to lose any of the juices.

Rabbit in the Dairy

From the Game Cookbook
Wild rabbit can have a strong taste, and the way the country people overcame this was to soak it in milk. This is probably the origin of this delicate dish. It is very good if you are feeling poorly or in need of comfort.

2 rabbits, jointed
50g (2oz) bacon rasher, chopped
2 onions, chopped
mace or nutmeg
1.2 litres (2 pints) whole milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180C/359F/gas 4

Wash and dry the rabbits and place in an ovenproof dish. Add all the other ingredients and cook, covered for 1½ hours. Remove the rabbits and reduce the sauce by fast simmering or thicken with a little beurre manie*. Serve with a colourful vegetable, such as carrots or kale. * or roux

A Salad of Pheasant with Parsnip Crisps

and Cranberry Sauce
Serves 4

A selection of mixed Salad leaves (Oak Leaf, Little Gem, Rocket, Lambs Lettuce, finely sliced Savoy Cabbage) - enough for 4 helpings
French Dressing: or Mustard and Fresh Herb Dressing

1 pan-grilled pheasant breast.
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Parsnip Crisps - see recipe
Cranberry Sauce – see Foolproof food recipe

Garnish: Chervil or Flat Parsley

First make the parsnip crisps – see recipe. Keep warm.
To assemble:

Put the salad leaves into a bowl. Sprinkle with a little French dressing, toss until the leaves are nicely coated. 
Taste and divide the salad between 4 large places.
Slice the pheasant breast thinly and arrange upwards around the salad. Place a clump of warm parsnip crisps on top, put a few dots of Cranberry sauce around the edge. Garnish with chervil or flat parsley and serve immediately.

A Warm Salad of Pheasant with Myrtle Berries and Parsnip Crisps 
Subsitute Myrtle berries for Cranberry sauce in the above recipe.
The berries of myrtus ugni are ripe and gorgeous at present, they are particularly delicious with pheasant, guinea fowl or coarse pates.

Parsnip Crisps

We serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for Roast pheasant or Guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup. * Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much loved potato. Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 - 8

1 large parsnip
Sunflower or Arachide oil 

Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150C/300F. Scrub and peel the parsnips. Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler. Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Venison Pie

When you buy venison, allow time for marinading, and remember that some item like fat salt pork or fat green bacon is essential either for cooking in with the meat (stew) or for larding (roasting or braising), unless the meat is well hung.
Serves 8

1½ kg (3 lb) shoulder of venison, trimmed and diced – 1½ inches

300-350 ml (10-12 fl oz) red wine
1 medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, lightly crushed black pepper
Bouquet garni

250 g (8 ozs) fat salt pork or green streaky bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
About ½ litre (three-quarters pint) beef or venison stock
Bouquet garni
24 small mushrooms, preferably wild ones
Extra butter
Raspberry vinegar, or lemon juice or redcurrant jelly
Salt, pepper, sugar

12 ozs (340 g) Puff or Flaky pastry

Egg wash

Season the venison well and soak in the marinade ingredients for 24-48 hours. Drain the meat well, pat it dry on kitchen paper and turn in seasoned flour.

Meanwhile, brown the pork or bacon in olive oil in a frying pan, cooking it slowly at first to persuade the fat to run, then raising the heat. Transfer to a casserole.

In the fat, brown the venison and then the onion, carrot and garlic: do all this in batches, transferring each one to the casserole. Do not overheat or the fat will burn. Pour off any surplus fat, deglaze the pan with the strained marinade and pour over the venison. Heat up enough stock to cover the items in the casserole and pour it over them. Put in the bouquet garni, bring to a gentle simmer, either on top of the stove or in the oven, preheated to 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2, cover closely and leave until the venison is tender.

Test after 1½ hours, but allow 2½ hours cooking time. For best results, it is wise to cook this kind of dish one day and then reheat the next, this improves the flavour and gives you a chance to make sure that the venison is tender.

Foolproof Food

Cranberry Sauce

Serves 6 approx.
Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. 

170g (6oz) fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons water
85g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water - don=t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins. Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries >pop= and soften, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. 

Serve warm or cold.
Note: Cranberry Sauce will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days, so you could make it early in the week before Christmas to get ahead.

Cranberry and Orange Sauce

Use freshly squeezed orange juice instead of water and add the grated rind of ½ an orange to the above recipe.
Hot Tips 

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Annual Dinner will be held on Thursday 25th November at the Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place Cork at 7.30m for 8pm – Tickets €50, available from Ballymaloe House (021-4652531), Caroline Robinson (021-7331078) or ‘Well and Good’, Coolbawn, Midleton. Menu will include Sally Barnes’ wild smoked salmon, Fingal Ferguson’s smoked ham and beef from the best butchers in the country. Speaker Tom Doorley, well known food journalist, on ‘The Importance of Artisan Foods’ – he will also have signed copies of his new book for sale.

For great Pizzas and yummy Tiramisu, pop into the new CIBO on 40 Paul St. Cork. Open till 11, closed Sunday. There’s a whole raft of thin crust pizzas to choose from but my favourite is Chorizo, Roast Red Onion and Gruyere. Tel 021-4271082 

Le Gourmet , 5 River Gate Mall, Youghal, Co Cork. Tel 024-20000 or 087-2319210 –freshly prepared high quality food to take away – catering for dinner parties, receptions, corporate functions, celebration cakes, hampers…  

The National Sausage and Pudding Competition Winners were announced at recent Retail FoodShow in City West - Supreme Champion Sausage Award goes to Donegal and Spiced Beef honours to Kerry–

Supreme Sausage Champions are Ernan and Diarmuid McGettigan of Donegal Town – other sausage winners were Roger Finnerty & Sons of Oughterard, Co Galway, Black Pudding – Peter Callaghan, Ardee, Co Louth , White Pudding – Robert Savage, Swords, Co Dublin, Drisheen – Michael & Maurice Whelan, Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary.

2004 Spiced Beef Champion was John Griffin of Listowel, Co Kerry. Full list of winners  

Dingle Seafood Soup Co. range of soups and pates were launched in UK when they attended ‘Bite of Ireland’ promotion at Selfridges in October.

Terra Madre

The Pleasures of Slow Food by Corby Kummer  published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Italian Cheese - A guide to their discovery and appreciation – Slow Food Editore
I’ve just been to the most extraordinary event – it was held in Turin in Northern Italy in the last week in October. Terra Madre, meaning Mother Earth, was billed as the world’s first meeting of food communities. This event initiated by Slow Food was the brainchild of Carlo Petrini founder of Slow Food, the environmentalist food movement. It was held over 4 days in the enormous Palazza del Lavoro in Turin, there were 4,300 participants representing about 1,000 food communities from 130 countries. Terra Madre provided a meeting place and a forum for people from around the world - for farmers, artisans, food producers, seed-savers, fishermen, distributors, cooks, cheese-makers, fish smokers, cured meat producers, bakers, merchants … to come together to exchange ideas, share diverse experiences and to try to find solutions to similar problems.

This event was supported by the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, the President of Piedmont Regional Authority and the Mayor of Turin, Coldiretti - Piedmont National Farmers Federation, CRT Foundation and New Holland, the agricultural machinery manufacturer and many other sponsors.

Early this year Slow Food sent out a call to their convivium leaders around the world to identify food communities in each country who were involved in sustainable agriculture.

Sixty five participants came from Ireland. The 4,300 delegates who were chosen were hosted by B&B’s, monasteries, farmers, hostels and entire villages which enabled the visitors to interact and exchange ideas with local farmers and food producers.

At the opening session on Wednesday Carlo Petrini set out his agenda to protect the rights of the small farmer and promote sustainable agriculture. It was also a call to unite against the growing domination of the multinationals and large corporations, ‘alone and divided communities can not react against violence’, Petrini told the enthusiastic if jet-lagged assembly, a vast gathering of food producers who had converged on Turin from all corners of the earth. Some had never before strayed from their villages, not to mention travelled on trains or planes. They came, each food heroes in their own way, each with an amazing story to tell, some clutching precious seeds, others with grains, all with a deep knowledge of their own food culture. Many were dressed in their colourful traditional clothes, distinctive headdress – from Indian feathers to cowboy hats, sombreros, head scarves…

From the several keynote addresses translated into seven official languages, it was clear that politics not just pleasure would dominate the two days of workshops.

Indian activist Vandana Shiva accused decision makers of being out of touch with farmers, ‘the earth’s caretakers’.

Speaker after speaker from the Minister for Agriculture Giovanni Alemanno, to Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, stressed the need for bio-diversity, lashed out against transgenic crops, illustrated how globalization is causing the erosion of rural communities, how the indiscriminate use of pesticides and antibiotics is destroying the land and how the WTO organization accords affect farmers and food producers.

Never before has such a diverse group of like-minded people come together for a common purpose. Where else would Masai peasants meet Afghan raisin farmers, or American maple syrup producers meet yak herders and cheesemakers from Kyrayzstan, or wild Irish salmon smokers meet Ghanaian fishermen.

Over a period of two days there were 67 Earth workshops on a huge variety of topics, many were brilliant, others were a little chaotic when occasionally desperate delegates from indigenous communities elbowed their way onto any forum to tell their story.

The story was always fascinating but not always relevant to the topic. On a panel that I spoke on there were 5 official speakers, thirteen turned up to speak! 

Dolores Godeffroy from Swaziland had fought for years to open the first African restaurant in her country. An old Russian woman spoke passionately about a local grain. Members of the Tohona O’dan tribe in Arizona came determined to spread the word about the tepary bean, a valuable traditional food they were reintroducing to try to reduce obesity and diabetes in their population.

Slow Food, since its inception in 1986 has already battled and successfully saved a growing number of foods and drinks threatened with extinction. It defends our right as consumers to free choice. It could be described as the Greenpeace of gastronomy.

Prince Charles, an organic farmer himself, addressed the closing session. In his speech to the conference, the Prince highlighted the huge social and environmental costs of cheap ‘fast food’. His Royal Highness said: ‘Any analysis of the real costs would have to look at such things as the rise in food-borne illnesses, the advent of new pathogens such as E.Coli 0157, antibiotic resistance from the overuse of drugs in animal feed, extensive water pollution from intensive agricultural systems, and many other factors. These costs are not reflected in the price of fast food, but that doesn’t mean that our society isn’t paying them.’

Terra Madre preceded the Salone del Gusto, the biggest artisanal food fair in the world by a couple of days – there, hundreds of producers sold their products to a public increasingly craving forgotten flavours. Ireland was well represented by Bord Bia who proudly displayed the food of our artisan producers - Fingal Ferguson’s ham, Con Traas Apple Juice, Carlow Brewing, Connemara Smokehouse, Crossogue Preserves, Milleeven, and a huge variety of Irish farmhouse cheeses.

The response was overwhelming but the most sought after item was Oliver Beaujouan’s seaweed tapenade and dilisk collected and prepared by the dedicated seaweed collector.

Further down the aisle the Irish raw milk cheese and Wild Irish Salmon presidia were getting a tremendous response. Irish Cheesemakers and fish smokers who manned the stalls were astonished by the positive response to the product.

It was more than evident to everyone who travelled to Turin that there is a deep craving and a growing market for artisan and specialist food products. Over 140,000 people visited in three days – its over for this year, mark October 2006 in your diary – its an event no food lover should miss. October 2005 will bring the Cheese Festival in Bra. 

Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Pork with Fennel Seeds

Shoulder of pork is best for this long slow cooking method, the meat is layered with fat which slowly melts away. We also slow roast shoulder of lamb which is succulent and juicy.
Serves 8 – 10

1 whole shoulder of pork, with skin, about 2.75-3.25 kg (7-8 lb) in weight
8 garlic cloves, peeled
30 g (1 oz) fennel seeds
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chilli flakes, optional

Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas 8. 

Using a small sharp knife, (a Stanley knife if best), score the rind of the shoulder with deep cuts about 5 mm (1/4’’) wide.

Peel and crush the garlic with the fennel seeds, then mix with salt, pepper and chilli flakes to taste. Push this mixture into the cuts, over the rind and on the surface of the meat. Place the shoulder on a rack in a roasting tin and roast for 30 minutes or until the skin begins to blister and brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 150ºC/325ºF/Gas 3, and leave the meat to roast for 5-6 hours or more until

it is completely soft under the crisp skin. The meat will give way and will almost fall off the bone. Serve each person some crisp skin and some chunks of meat cut from different parts of the shoulder. Serve with soft fluffy mashed potato.
Loin and streaky pork is also delicious cooked in this way.

Irish Apple Cake

We are always being asked for this delicious traditional recipe
It would originally have been baked in a bastible or pot beside an open fire and later in the oven or stove on tin or enamel plates. These are much better than ovenproof glass because the heat travels through and cooks the pastry base more readily - worth remembering, as a tart with a soggy base is not attractive! 
Serves 6 approx.

8 ozs (225g) flour
3 teaspoon baking powder
4 ozs (110g) butter
42 ozs (125g) castor sugar
1 egg, preferably free-range
2-4 fl. ozs (50-120ml) milk, approx.
1-2 cooking apples - we use Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
2-3 cloves (optional)
egg wash
Ovenproof plate 

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles the texture of breadcrumbs, add 3 ozs (85g) castor sugar, make a well in the centre and mix to a soft dough with the beaten egg and enough milk to form a soft dough. Divide in two. Put one half onto a greased ovenproof plate and pat out to cover. Peel, core and chop up the apples, place them on the dough and add 12 ozs (45g) sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples. Roll out the remaining pastry and fit on top, this is easier said than done as this 'pastry' is more like scone dough and as a result is very soft. Press the sides together, cut a slit through the lid, egg wash and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 40 minutes approx. or until cooked through and nicely browned. Dredge with castor sugar and serve warm with Barbados sugar and softly whipped cream.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

Serves 4-6

2½ - 3 lbs (1.35kg) lamb chops (gigot or rack chops) not less than 1 inch (2.5cm) thick
8 medium or 12 baby carrots
8 medium or 12 baby onions
8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like
salt and freshly ground pepper
1½-1¾ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water
1 sprig of thyme
1 tablesp. roux, optional – see recipe

1 tablesp. freshly chopped parsley
1 tablesp. freshly chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

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

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

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.

When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Slightly thicken by whisking in a little roux if you like. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.

4 ozs (110g) butter
4 ozs (110g) flour
elt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Back to Top
Irish Stew with Pearl Barley
Add 1-2 tablespoons pearl barley with the vegetables.
Increase the stock to 2 pints (1.2L) as the pearl barley soaks up lots of liquid.

Yum, Yum Pigs Bum

This soup recipe of Giana Ferguson’s comes from ‘The Pleasures of Slow Food’ by Corby Kummer, published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Serves 4-6 as a main course

12 ozs (175g) dark green kale, such as dinosaur or lacinato
6 cups (48 fl.oz/scant 1½ litres) water
salt to taste
1 lb (450g) russet potatoes, (eg Rooster), peeled and cut into ½ inch dice.
2fl.ozs (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ozs (110g) smoked garlic sausage, cut into ½ inch dice or smoked bacon, cut into ¼ inch crosswise slices.

Strip the cabbage leaves from their stems and cut away the tough mid-ribs of any large leaves. Roll the leaves tightly into cigars and, using a sharp knife, cut them into shreds. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add salt. Add the potatoes and cook until soft and beginning to fall apart, about 8-10 minutes. Using a potato masher, smash them into a puree. Adjust the heat so that the soup simmers gently. Add the cabbage, olive oil and salt and black pepper, keeping in mind that the sausage or bacon may be salty. Simmer until the cabbage is tender, 6-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage or bacon in a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat until crisp and golden brown. Drain the fat and set the meat aside.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Divide the sausage or bacon among the bowls.

Foolproof Food

Nutella Pannini

Serves 1
1 Pannini
Nutella or Green & Black’s organic chocolate hazelnut spread.

Split the pannini in half. Spread generously with Nutella or chocolate spread. Pan-grill or toast on both sides. Serve immediately. Watch out, it can be very hot!

Hot Tips

Slow Food Books – The Pleasures of Slow Food by Corby Kummer  published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Italian Cheese - A guide to their discovery and appreciation – Slow Food Editore

Geese and Free range bronze Turkeys for Christmas - order now - contact Noirin Buckley at 021-7331119

Lettercollum Kitchen Project – Cooking Classes, Gourmet Catering, Cooking Holidays  Lettercollum House, Timoleague, Co Cork, Tel 023-46251

Alastair Sawday Special Places to Stay – hundreds of properties throughout Europe – check out the Alastair Sawday Guides or visit  – now introducing their Fine Breakfast Scheme in Ireland – B&B owners can sign up to pledge their commitment to the scheme to serve breakfasts of only the finest and best available ingredients. Alastair Sawday Publishing, the Home Farm Stables, Barrow Court Lane, Barrow Gurney, Bristol BS48 3RW. Tel 00 44 1275 464891


Every morning when I see the gardeners coming in with baskets of freshly picked vegetables and herbs, I feel thrice blessed. Beautiful salad leaves, zucchini blossoms, a myriad of little leaves, misuna, mibuna, texel greens, orach, rocket leaves, sorrel and a variety of edible flowers for delicious salads. We still have some broad beans, beetroot, several varieties of kale and rainbow chard. The heirloom tomatoes are tailing off now as are the cucumbers, still there’s lots to choose from. I’m a hopeless photographer but I often feel like grabbing my camera to record the bounty. Today the impulse was irresistible when I saw Eileen manoeuvring a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and squash up from the greenhouse. A myriad of shapes and sizes – Little Gem and crookneck squash, hubbard, turks turban, acorn, delicata, butternut squash, several huge pumpkins, a few Jack o lanterns’ and a variety of gourds. They looked like a glorious ‘still life’, Eileen and Kay arranged them in clusters on the window sills, along the shelves and piled them into wonderful pyramids in the centre of the dining room and serving tables. They looked so stunning sitting on the crimson leaves of the Virginia creeper and the Actinidia Kolomikta.

The whole school looks as though it was decked out for a Thanksgiving celebration

Almost immediately the displays prompted the inevitable questions what’s the difference between a squash and a pumpkin, how do you cook them, how do they taste, which pumpkin is best for a particular recipe.

Well having consulted a number of sources I’m still not totally clear about what exactly constitutes a squash or a pumpkin. Of all the families of fruit and vegetables I’ve come to the conclusion that pumpkins and squashes must surely be the most confusing. Not only are there hundreds of varieties but some go by a multitude of names.

Roughly they seem to divide in to Summer squashes and pumpkins and marrows and winter squashes and pumpkins and edible gourds – botanically speaking they are all members of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, melons and decorative gourds. The majority of the summer squash are native to Central America and Mexico, while many of the winter squash originated in the Argentine Andes. Squash grows in both bush and vine forms, both are easy to grow and a few plants will provide you with enough squash to share with all your family and friends.

The blossoms of all squash from courgettes onwards are edible and delicious. The golden petals look wonderfully exotic in green salads. For a really impressive first course stuff each blossom with a little soft goat cheese or Mozzarella and a dab of pesto and perhaps a morsel of sun blushed tomato. Twist the tops of the petals together to seal, dip in a light batter and fry quickly. Serve immediately while they are crisp and plump. 

Squash or zucchini blossoms are a favourite filling for quesadillas in Mexico, serve with salsa.

Its usually better to harvest the male blossoms (the females have the fruit on the end), but be sure to leave a few on the plant to ensure pollination. 

For optimum flavour don’t harvest winter squash until we’ve had a cold snap, as with swede turnips a touch of frost enhances their sugar content. Winter squash harvested unblemished will keep in a cool dark place, eg a garage or garden shed, for up to 6 months.

Nutrition – Somehow I’d always supposed that squash and pumpkins weren’t up to much nutritionally but on the contrary, apparently a study done at the University of California at Davis, found Winter squash to be among the most nutritious vegetables, rivalling cabbage, carrots, spinach and potatoes. They are a tasty source of complex carbohydrates and fibre and provide iron, niacin and potassium. The orange flesh is high in beta carotene, the source of Vitamin A, the more orange the flesh the higher the content. Don’t forget to dry the seeds, add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply sprinkle them with sea salt and nibble to your hearts content. 

Best flavour Squash

Butternut squash - smooth pale tan skin, longish neck, excellent flavour and texture.

Acorn – named for its shape, dark green skin is most common but it also comes in shades of orange and cream.

Delicata – another of my favourites – green cream, yellow and orange stripes, try to find small ones – dry, sweet tasting flesh, great for baking and stuffing.

Hubbard – an old favourite, shaped a bit like a spinning top, pale green to bluey-grey, dull orange flesh, good for baking, roasting, soups or add chunks into Winter stews.

Spaghetti marrow – an oval shaped pale yellow squash with flesh that forms long spaghetti like strands when its cooked. Bake or boil, serve with a gutsy Bolognese type sauce, or a garlic and parsley butter.

Little Gem – a dark green/black tasty little squash the size of a cricket ball, mature in early August and can be stored till Christmas. The deep yellow flesh is moist and sweet. They can be boiled whole and eaten with butter and cinnamon. Very popular in South Africa.

Turks turban, easy to recognise, so beautiful you’ll be reluctant to cook this vividly coloured squash – its good but not quite as tasty as some of the other varieties.

Beef and Pumpkin Stew

Serves 6
1½ lb (700g) stewing beef
olive oil
8oz (225g) onion
8oz (225g) carrot
8oz (225g) pumpkin
8oz (225g) parsnip
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ pint (300ml) water or beef stock

Cut the meat into 1½ inch (4cm) chunks approx. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, toss the meat in the hot pan, transfer to a casserole, then toss the vegetables in the hot oil and add to the meat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add ½ pint (300ml) water or beef stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Serve with fluffy mashed potato or colcannon


A toasted grain cereal.
Serves 20

12 ozs (340g) honey
8 fl ozs (225g) oil eg. sunflower or arachide
1 lb 1 oz (370g) oat flakes
7 ozs (200g) barley flakes
7 ozs (200g) wheat flakes
3½ ozs (100g) rye flakes
5 ozs (140g) seedless raisins or sultanas
4 ozs (110g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
1oz (25g) pumpkin seeds toasted
2¾ ozs (75g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2 ozs (55g) chopped apricots and or chopped dates etc. are nice additions too

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

Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don't burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Cool and mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm. Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.
Serve with sliced banana.

Stuffed Courgette Blossoms with Goats Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Fondue

In the Summer we grow courgettes (zucchini) in both the Kitchen garden and the Green Houses they produce hundreds of canary yellow blossoms. The female flowers produce the fruit but we use the male flowers in our salads, as a container for sauces and in soups. They are also utterly delicious stuffed with a few melting morsels, then dipped in a light batter and deep fried until crisp and golden. 
Serves 6-8 

Batter (excellent for fish fillets also) 
140g (5ozs) plain flour 
1: tablespoons olive oil 
1-12 egg whites
Sea salt 
Sunflower oil for deep frying 
12 - 16 courgette flowers approx.

175g - 225g (6 - 8ozs) fresh Irish goat=s cheese (I use St Tola, Crogan or Ardsallagh, each wonderful but different) 
3-4 teaspoons Pesto 
3-4 tablespoons Tomato fondue 

First make the batter. Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil, stir and add enough water to make a batter about the consistency of thick cream. Allow to stand for at least 1 hour if you can. 

Just before cooking, whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak and fold into the batter. Add salt to taste.

Heat the oil in the deep fryer until very hot. Remove the >thorns= from the base of the courgette flowers and the stamens from the centre. Hold a courgette flower upright, open slightly and carefully. Put about 15g (2oz) goat=s cheese, 2 teaspoon pesto and 1 teaspoon of Tomato fondue into each. Twist the tip of the petals to seal. Dip in batter and drop into the hot oil. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes and then turn over. They=ll take about 4 minutes in total to become crisp and golden. 

Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately - just as they are or with hot Tomato Sauce or a little extra Tomato fondue. 

Creamy Winter Squash Soup

– from James McNair’s Squash Cookbook, published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco
He usually prepares this soup with pumpkin, other winter squash such as ‘Buttercup’, ‘Butternut’, or ‘Hubbard’ can be used with excellent results.
Serves 6

To prepare an edible serving bowl, cut off and reserve the top of a large whole squash of the same type used to prepare the soup. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and stringy portions, replace the top, and wrap the stem with foil to prevent it from burning. Place in a shallow pan containing about ½ inch of water and bake in a preheated oven 350F/180C/gas 4, until the pumpkin is tender but still holds its shape, about 1 hour.

4 tablesp. unsalted butter
1 cup (4 oz) chopped leek, white part only
½ cup (2oz) chopped shallot
1½ lbs (700g) pumpkin, or other winter squash, peeled, cleaned, and cut into 
½ inch chunks, or 3 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or other winter squash from about 1½ lbs (700g) raw squash.
1 quart homemade chicken stock or chicken broth
1 cup (8fl.ozs) heavy whipping cream or light cream
1 cup (8fl.ozs) freshly squeezed orange juice
½ teasp. ground ginger
freshly ground white pepper
crème fraiche or sour cream
chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish
minced orange zest for garnish

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the leek and shallot and sauté until very tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the pumpkin or other squash and chicken stock or broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes. (If using pumpkin or other squash puree, simmer about 15 minutes.)

Working in batches, transfer to a food processor or blender and puree. Place in a clean saucepan, add the cream, orange juice, ginger and salt and pepper to taste. Place over medium heat, stirring frequently, until hot; do not boil. Carefully pour into baked pumpkin shell if desired (see above). Ladle into preheated bowls, add a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, and garnish with toasted hazelnuts and orange zest.

Note: To toast hazelnuts, place in a shallow pan in a 350F/180C/gas 4 oven, stirring frequently, until the nuts are golden under their skins. Transfer to a plate to cool. Rub nuts between fingertips to remove skins.

Foolproof Food

Wholemeal Bread with Pumpkin Seeds

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
400g (14 oz) stone ground wholemeal flour
55g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 teaspoon salt
25g (1oz) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon honey
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented
425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)
extra pumpkin seeds to scatter on top

Loaf tin - 9 inches (23cm) x 5 inches (12.5cm) x 2 inches (5cm) 

Preheat oven to 2001C/4001F/regulo 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Scatter some pumpkins seeds on top. 

Bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Hot Tips

Muck and Merlot – Tom Doorley is one of Ireland’s best known commentators on food and wine. He has been at the forefront of the organic movement in Ireland, championing small producers. In his recent book Muck and Merlot, Tom shares his passions, his opinions, his curiosities, his grievances and the commonplace miracles of his life. Muck and Merlot, published by O’Brien Press, €19.95

Sweet and Simple – The fruit company Fyffes have recently launched a range of fresh fruit packs, sliced apple, sliced apple and grapes, and seedless grapes. Designed to appeal to busy people and concerned parents looking for a healthy addition to the school lunch box. Available nationwide €1 per pack. An idea for the ‘trick and treaters’ this Hallowe’en.

The popular and weekly tv programme ‘The Restaurant’ in which a celebrity prepares a three course meal for three well known food critics, is one of the nominees for Best Lifestyle Prgoramme.

Sarah Raven’s Garden and Cookery School in East Sussex – offers a huge variety of courses in gardening, keeping livestock, flower arranging, cooking – in a wonderful location – with guest chefs like Mary Berry, Antonio Carluccio, Monty Don – special courses running up to Christmas – festive flowers and wreaths, deck the house ……. For details contact 0845 050 4849 – email:   for a brochure. 

Stream Farm, Dallington, East Sussex is an ancient hall house in unspoilt acres of its own farmland – It’s a wonderful place to stay if you are in that part of the country and is very convenient if attending a course at Sarah Ravens. Contact Tam Lawson, tel 01435 830223. mobile 07710 482430

The Borough Market

Every now and then I need to pop over to London for a meeting so I use it as an excuse to check out the food scene, perhaps catch a show or maybe visit an exhibition. This time I spent a happy few hours meandering through the Augustus and Gwen John exhibition at the Tate but neither love nor money could secure tickets for David Hall’s play ?? at the National Theatre on Saturday night. The whole run is booked out but it is occasionally possible to get returns if one is prepared to queue at the ticket booth in Leicester Square on the day.
Food lovers who find themselves in London on Saturday morning should don a pair of runners, grab a couple of stout shopping bags and head over the river at London Bridge for the Borough Market. Unless you want to beat your way through crowds, comparable to Patrick Street on Christmas Eve, you’ll need to drag yourself out of bed early. We got there at 11.15am by which time the market was thronged with eager, almost frenzied shoppers, tourists and two rival television crews. I bumped into several friends including a past student dressed in motorbike leathers who was on a mission to pick up a variety of offal for an offal feast he and his pals were cooking that night.

Stalls were piled high with vegetables, autumn fruit, wild mushrooms and fresh herbs. Jocular butchers vied to outsell each other with their selection of meat from rare breeds, organic, free-range, well hung and dry aged, Cured meats, salamis, dry-cured bacon, prosciutto….. At Brindisa, Serrano ham and Pata Negra were being sliced off the hoof. Two people worked unceasingly yet couldn’t keep up with the demand. We ordered and paid for 100g of Pata Negra and the sensational Spanish cured ham of the black pigs fattened on acorns in the woods of Aracena in Andalusia. We were told to come back in 30 minutes to collect it. I bought some pimento de padron, the little green peppers from Galicia which are almost impossible to come by outside Spain - fried in oil and sprinkled with coarse salt they are one of my favourite Spanish foods.

By now a queue of about 20 people had formed around the corner of the stall for the Chorizo sandwiches, a soft chewy bap split in half lengthwise was filled with a sizzling chorizo, some rocket leaves and a few pieces of piquillo pepper – an irresistible combination. Other stalls were groaning with farmhouse cheese, mouthwatering cakes and cookies and fresh fish. Oliver Beaujouan was over in London for the Selfridges promotion during 6-17 October, highlighting the best produce from South West Ireland, so he was selling his pickled sea weeds and sea weed tapenade to a rapturous public. His assistant sold Silke Cropp’s Corleggy and Drumlin cheeses. When I visited Selfridges to meet some of the Irish artisan producers Tristan Hugh- Jones was opening Irish oysters at the fish counter and Richard Corrigan, the hugely acclaimed Irish chef of Lindsay House was having no difficultly enticing people to taste Irish beef with a Bearnaise sauce made from Kerrygold butter, or an Irish seaweed tapenade.

After the market we stopped at the Monmouth Coffee Shop for a reviving cup of freshly ground Fair Trade coffee and some great bread and jam – seek it out, some of the very best coffee in London. Coffee lovers may also want to make a trip to the Algerian Coffee Shop in Old Compton Street. Around the corner – a mecca for cheese lovers - Randolf Hodgson’s Neal’s Yard Dairy has the best selection of British and Irish farmhouse cheese in superb condition in theses islands.
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We had lunch in Brindisa’s new tapas bar, the food was REALLY good, every morsel delicious. We fought over deep fried Monte Enebro cheese with orange blossom honey. Farmhouse Mahon with tomato marmalade and a chicory salad with 

Cabrales cheese and walnut vinaigrette. Other memorable meals were a breakfast at Baker and Spice in Denver Street (get there early, there was a queue at 9.30 on Sunday morning). Dinner at St Jean Fergus Hendersons’s simple almost Spartan restaurant in a converted Smithfield smoke house is a mecca for passionate meat eaters and offal fiends.

There is a now a St John Bread and Wine in Commercial St which boasts a full working bakery and a bistro style modern British menu. I also swung by Babes ‘n Burgers to check out the newest concept in kids food. Owners William and Sam Sarne and their contemporaries now have kids so they want to provide the kind of fast casual restaurant and healthy fast food that they want their kids to eat and really enjoy. They are attracting a new kind of fashionable punter who doesn’t care much about swanky table service but wants more than a mystery meat burger, preferably organic. There’s a nursery room at the back with low tables, easy wipe banquette seats and lots of toys and puzzles. Sam has plans for a Saturday club for dads who can chat and chill while the kids eat cruditees or chicken fingers coated in spelt flour; or great little organic burgers served with Maris Piper chips. Sticky fingers in Phillimore Gardens in Kensington, is another fun restaurant to check out if you are bringing the kids to London.

We also had a delicious dinner at Kensington Place, Rowley Leigh’s ever popular eatery on Kensington Church St. Starters and puds were best. If you are there at lunch time don’t miss Sally Clarke’s food shop and bakery across the road.

Both Rowley Leigh and Fergus Henderson have published cookbooks – see Hot Tips – here are some of their recipes.

Devilled Kidneys

 from ‘ Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson
Serves 2

6 lamb’s kidneys, suet and membrane removed and slit in half lengthwise, retaining the kidney shape
3 tbsp. plain flour
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp dry English mustard
sea salt and pepper
a big knob of butter
Worcester sauce
A healthy splash of chicken stock
2 pieces of toast (white or brown, up to you, though – just an observation – white seems to sup up the juices better)

Nip out the white fatty gristle of the kidneys with a knife or scissors. Mix together the flour, cayenne pepper, mustard, and salt and pepper in a bowl.

Get a frying pan very hot, throw in a knob of butter, and as this melts roll your kidneys in your spiced flour, then shake them in a sieve to remove excess. Place them in a sizzling pan, cook for 2 minutes each side, add a hearty splash of Worcester sauce and the chicken stock, and let all the ingredients get to know each other. Remove the kidneys to your two waiting bits of toast, let the sauce reduce and emulsify in the pan (do not let it disappear) and pour over the kidneys and toast. 

Brined Pork Belly

 from ‘Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson
Serves 4

Brine – see recipe
2kg piece of pork belly, with skin and bones on
2 onions, peeled and chopped
a miniscule splash of olive oil
a pinch of coarse sea salt

Brine your pork belly for 3 days, rinse, then score the skin gently with a sharp knife, a Stanley knife is excellent for this purpose.

Place the onions on the base of a roasting tray (their purpose is, as well as flavour, to stop the belly sticking.) Lay the belly on top. Rub the skin with a little oil and then the salt. Place in a medium to hot oven for approximately 1½ - 2 hours, keep an eye on it so it does not burn. If you’re anxious that the skin is not crisping up, you start or finish the belly under the grill.

When cooked you should have crispy skin on top of soft and giving fatty flesh. Lift off the onions and serve.


Makes 4 litres
You can use this brine to preserve other meats, eg beef brisket or silverside or ox tongue.

400g caster sugar
600g sea salt
12 juniper berries
12 cloves 
12 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4 litres water

Bring all the brine ingredients together in a pot, and bring to the boil so the sugar and salt melt. Decant into a container and allow to cool. When cold add to your meat, and leave it in the brine for the number of days required for your recipe.

Griddled Scallops with Pea Puree and Mint Vinaigrette

‘There’s no place like home by Rowley Leigh’.
Serves 2

2 spring onions
the outside leaves of a lettuce
150g fresh shelled or frozen peas
1 bunch of mint
½ glass of white wine
75ml double cream
lemon juice
50ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
125ml sunflower oil
8 scallops, shucked, rinsed and cut in half if very large

Although you will not need so much mint vinaigrette, it is difficult to make in smaller quantity and keeps well in the fridge, to accompany some lamb chops on another occasion.

To make the puree, slice the spring onions and stew them in a little butter. Finely shred the lettuce leaves and add to the pan, then stir in the peas. Add three or four leaves of mint, a small pinch of nutmeg, a good pinch of sugar and some salt and pepper. Add the white wine and then stew, covered on a low heat for half an hour. When the peas are very tender and swollen, add the cream and simmer briskly to reduce, until it is in danger of catching on the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender until very smooth. Sharpen the seasoning with a little squeeze of lemon and more salt and pepper if it needs it. Put the puree in a small saucepan and keep warm.

To make the vinaigrette, pick six or seven sprigs of mint, chop the leaves very roughly and put them in a blender. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a big pinch of salt. Bring the vinegar up to the boil and pour over the mint. Switch on the blender and add the oil in a steady trickle. Check the seasoning and adjust with lemon, salt and pepper if necessary.

To cook the scallops, salt them lightly, leave for ten minutes and then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Lightly brush them with a little sunflower oil. Get a heavy, dry frying pan or a griddle very hot and put the scallops on it one by one. Do not move them for a couple of minutes but let them brown well. Turn and cook for another two minutes, then remove. They should be just hot in the middle, but very moist.

To serve, arrange the scallops around a mound of the pea puree on each plate and drizzle the vinaigrette between them. Do not drown the scallops.

Tarte Tatin

There are tatins of everything under the sun these days, but this was the first and remains the best. A really heavy pan (preferably made or iron or copper), about 22-24cm in diameter, with straight or almost straight sides is pretty well essential for its successful execution. Cox’s are certainly the ideal apple, partly because they have the necessary acidity and depth of flavour to cope well with all that sugar and partly because they do not fall apart during cooking.
2 lemons
2kg Cox’s apples
125g unsalted butter, slightly softened
125g caster sugar
200g puff pastry

Squeeze the juice of the lemons and put it in a large pudding basin or similar shaped bowl with a couple of tablespoons of water. Peel and halve the apples, remove the cores with a teaspoon and roll the halves in the juice.

Smear the butter generously all over the base and sides of the cold pan. Sprinkle the sugar on top and give the pan a shake to ensure it is evenly distributed. Drain the apples of any lemon juice and arrange them, standing on their sides, in concentric circles, embedding them in the butter/sugar mix. Pack them in as tightly as you can, then put the pan on the fiercest heat you have.

While keeping a beady eye on pan, roll out the puff pastry into a disc about 2cm wider than the rim of the pan and leave it to rest on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a plate in the fridge. Watch the sides of the pan very closely. You are looking for a good, rich caramel colour to develop. Move the pan around on the heat to ensure the mixture caramelises evenly. It needs a certain courage to keep going in order to get a rich, deep toffee colour. This whole process can take ten to twenty minutes, depending on the pan and the strength of the flame. When it is done, transfer to a heatproof surface or a pot rest.

After five minutes or so, when the pan has cooled a little, drop the disc of pastry on to the apples and let the edges hang over the sides of the pan. Place the pan in an oven preheated to 220C/gas mark 7 and bake for fifteen minutes, or until the pastry is nicely risen.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for a minute.

The moment of truth has arrived: place an inverted plate, slightly bigger than the pan, over the top. With one hand firmly in place over the plate, grip the handle equally firmly with your other hand and a cloth and, with a determined turn of the wrist, flip the pan over on to the plate. Lower the plate on to a surface, pause a moment and then lift off the pan. Behold, one hopes, a perfect golden circle of apples. If things are not as perfect as they might be, do not despair, but grab a palette knife and shape the apples into place. This might include a bit of scraping around in the pan, gathering up some residual bits of apple and caramel.

Serve warm with a bit of double cream.

Foolproof Food

Rowley Leigh’s Parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke, celeriac or swede mash.

All of these roots gain body and substance from the tolerant spud. Being low in starch, they also help to alleviate the glue problem.

Simply cook an equal amount of the root vegetable, cut the same size, with the potato. Although the roots will cook faster than the potato, they are more fibrous and need breaking down more to make a smooth mash. Drain extremely well and take care to dry the mixture thoroughly in the pan before adding the milk. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to parsnip mash to give a sharper, stronger flavour of parsnip.

Hot Tips

Time Out London Eating and Drinking Guide – the brand new edition of this guide has just been published. With more than 1,200 reviews of the best restaurants, gastropubs, cafes and bars plus a new section covering party venues and entertainment, food and drink shops, cookery and wine courses, this is still the biggest and best guide to London eating and drinking you’ll find. Available from for £8.99 or £10.99 at good bookshops.

Monmouth Coffee Company, 27 Monmouth St, London WC2 Tel 020 7 836 5272
Algerian Coffee Store, 52 Old Compton St. London W1. Tel 020 7 437 2480
Neals Yard Dairy, 17 Short’s Garden, London WC2 Tel 020 7 379 7646
Brindisa, 3 Riverside Workshops, 28 Park St, London SE1. Tel 020 7 403 0282
Lindsay House, 21 Romilly Street, W1D 5AFl Tel 020 7 439 0450 

St John, 26 John St, London EC1M 4AY Tel 020 7 251 0848 

St John Bread & Wine, 94-96 Commercial St. London E1 Tel 020 7 247 8724  

Kensington Place, 201 Kensington Church St. London W8 7LX Tel 020 7 727 3184 

Clarke’s, 124 Kensington Church St, London W8 4BH Tel 020 7 221 9225 

Babes ‘n Burgers, 275 Portobello Road, London W11 Tel 020 7 727 4163

Sticky Fingers, 1A Phillimore Gardens, W8 7QB London, Tel 020 7 938 5338 

Books – Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson, published by Macmillan, London

No Place Like Home by Rowley Leigh published by Fourth Estate, London.

Birr Market – Special Halloween Market today 23rd October

I Love a Date

I’ve just read a fascinating article about dates, so much so that it has whetted my appetite in every sense of the word to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in search of the very best dates. Apparently date connoisseurs throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East consider the Khalasah – pronounced Kha-lah-sah to be the quintessential date against which all others are judged. Known as Khlas in Saudi Arabia, the name loosely translates as quintessential in Arabic. Its home is in the kingdom’s eastern province, more specifically Hofuf the main city of the Al Hasa oasis. The very best growers, roughly 100 in number come from Al Mutairfi village and are considered to be the undisputed masters. The harvest starts in May and goes right through to October. 

I adore dates, the first I tasted came in the elongated timber box lined with a scalloped doyley edging. The shiny sticky dates covered with a disc of cellophane tasted strange but deliciously exotic to a six year old. My father had brought them home as a present for Mummy after one of his rare trips to Dublin – we all crowded around and were offered one to taste. My next encounter with dates was less exotic, at boarding school a block of dates still in its cellophane wrapper was unceremoniously placed on the table for tea every Thursday. At first we had no idea what we were supposed to do, then we simply ate them on white bread and butter – surprisingly delicious – I’ve always been fond of date sandwiches ever since – immeasurably better than sandwich spread which was Wednesday’s treat!

I’ve experimented with dates on and off in biscuits, bars, tarts and cakes, but it wasn’t until my first visit Morocco, that I tasted the plump succulent Medjool date – a revelation. I thought this rich chewy jumbo date must be the most delicious of all dates but now I read that it pales in comparison to the Khalasah.

The date palm Phoenix dactylera is thought to be the world’s oldest cultivated fruit. Fossil records reveal that the date palm was widely grown in the Mediterranean and in Mesopotamia as early as the Eocene Epoch some 50 million years ago. There are many written references, among them a AKKadran cunuform text from about 2500BC, which mentions the date palm as a cultivated tree. The date palm flourishes best between 15 & 35 degrees north, principally in the arid areas of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Souther Iraq where dates have been a staple food not only for humans but also for animals for thousands of years.

I remember watching a flock of sheep ambling onto the lawn of our hotel near Taroudant in Morocco to hoover up the windfall dates every day.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN estimate that there are approximately 600 different types of dates and 90 million date palms in the world, producing in excess of 3 million tons a year. 

Dates are dates are dates as far as most of us are concerned – not so in date growing countries where there are specific terms to describe different degrees of ripeness.

Khalah when the dates are almost fully grown, have started to ripen but are still fresh and crunchy. When the dates are partially ripe or fully ripe they are referred to as Rutab. Tamr yabis is the stage when the dates ripen on the tree and are left to dry – they are the least perishable of all the dates.

California also grows a considerable acreage of dates mostly Medjool and Deglet noor. The latter meaning ‘date of light’ or ‘translucent’, is medium sweet and has a sweet nutty aftertaste. I tasted some delicious ones last year when Mr Bell the charismatic Moroccan owner of the ethnic food stalls in Cork Market gave me a box for a present. He explained that during Ramadan, Muslims break the fast at sunset with a sip of water and a few dates. Finally if we are really to appreciate dates, we shouldn’t gobble them up as I’ve been known to do, instead one should let a date melt slowly in one’s mouth. At first there will be no taste, then as the date begins to warm the outer skin will become detached and slide off. Soon the soft flesh will begin to fill the mouth with flavours of honey caramel and sweet potatoes, toffee, … Try it, the texture will be a revelation, but apparently not a patch on the Khalasah – can’t wait to taste it.

Date and Walnut Cake

From The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen
Makes approx. 10 slices

1 cup chopped dates
1 cup boiling water
½ teasp. breadsoda
1 cup sugar
2oz (50g) softened butter
1 beaten egg
1 teasp. vanilla essence
1½ cups flour
½ teasp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup chopped walnuts


2½ tablesp brown sugar
5 tablesp cream
1 oz (25g) butter
â…“ cup approx. icing sugar

walnuts for decoration
Shallow tin 9 x 12 inches (23x30cm) or 2 smaller ones, greased.

Pour boiling water over the dates and add bread soda. Cream butter and sugar together and gradually beat in the egg, vanilla essence, flour, baking powder and salt. Finally add walnuts and combine with date mixture.
Bake at 375F/190C/regulo 5 for approx. 35 minutes. 

When cool ice with the frosting and decorate with walnuts.
To make the frosting: Put sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and boil for 3 minutes. Add icing sugar and cool. Add a little more icing sugar if too liquid.

Rory O’Connell’s Date Tart

Serves 8
15 fresh dates, halved and pitted
7 egg yolks
3¼ oz (80g) castor sugar
700ml (1.25pints approx) pouring cream
½ vanilla pod, split lengthwise

7¼ oz (205g) butter, chopped
1 oz (25g) castor sugar
1 tablespoon milk
10oz (275g) white flour

9 inch (23cm) flan tin with a removable base

For pastry, combine butter, sugar, and milk in a food processor and process until butter is in small pieces. Add flour and process until mixture just comes together in a ball. Gently knead pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface and line a 9 inch flan tin with a removable base. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place the tart shell on an oven tray, line with baking paper, fill with dried beans or rice and bake at 200C for 10 minutes. Remove paper and beans and bake a further 10 minutes, or until golden.

Place dates on pastry in two circles. Cream egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy, then stir in cream and seeds from vanilla bean. Pour cream mixture into tart shell, to cover dates, then bake at 180C for about 30 minutes or until just set. Cool at room temperature before serving.

Lamb and Medjool Date Tagine, Herbed Couscous

Merrilees Parker gave me this recipe when she was guest chef here at the Cookery School.
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp each ground coriander and turmeric
2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cumin
2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1.5kg/3lb 5oz lamb shoulder, well trimmed and cut into 4cm/11/2in chunks
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2.5cm/1in piece peeled root ginger, chopped
3 onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
600ml/1 pint tomato juice
600ml/1 pint lamb or chicken stock
2 tbsp clear honey
225g/8oz Medjool dates, cut in half and stones removed

For the Couscous
350g/12oz medium couscous
juice of 2 lemons
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
600ml/1 pint chicken stock
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek style yoghurt and fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Mix together the paprika, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and pepper in a large bowl, then tip half into a small bowl and set aside. Add the lamb to the large bowl and coat in the spices. Cover with clingfilm and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3. Place the garlic, ginger and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Heat a large heavy-based casserole. Add half of the oil and brown off the marinated lamb in batches. Add the remaining oil to the pan and then add the onion mixture cook for a few minutes until softened but not coloured. Stir in the reserved spice mixture and cook for another minute or so until well combined.

Pour the tomato juice and stock into the pan and then add the honey, stirring to combine. Bring to the boil, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then stir in the dates and cook for another hour until the lamb is completely tender and and sauce has thickened and reduced. Season to taste.

To make the couscous; place it in a large bowl and add four tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice. Mix well ensuring that all the grains are completely coated. Heat the stock in a small pan and season generously. Pour over the couscous and allow to sit in a warm place for 6-8 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed, stirring occasionally. To serve, stir in the remaining oil and the herbs into the couscous and arrange on plates with the tagine. Finally garnish with a dollop of the Greek yoghurt and coriander leaves.

Marzipan Dates

Makes 28
Use up your scraps of almond paste on these Marzipan Dates. 

28 fresh dates
4 ozs (110g) almond paste or marzipan (see recipe)
Castor sugar

Split one side of the date and remove the stone. Roll a little piece of marzipan into an oblong shape so that it will fit neatly into the opening. Smooth the top and roll the stuffed date in castor sugar. Repeat the procedure until all the dates and marzipan are used up. Serve as a petit four or as part of a selection of home-made sweets. 

Almond Paste
225g (8oz) ground almonds
225g (8oz) castor sugar
1 small egg
A tiny drop of pure almond essence
1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

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

Medjoul Dates with Pistachio

Dip the top of the stuffed date in finely chopped pistachio nuts.
Serve as above

Date pudding with cardamon toffee sauce

Serves 8-10
6 ozs (170g) dates, pitted and chopped
1 teasp. bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
8 fl ozs (250ml) boiling water
2 tablesp. butter
6 ozs (170g) castor sugar
2 free range eggs
6 ozs (170g) self-raising flour
½ teasp. vanilla extract

Cardamon toffee sauce
4ozs (110g) butter
6ozs (175g) dark soft brown, Barbados sugar
4ozs (110g) granulated sugar
10ozs (275g) golden syrup
8fl.ozs (225ml) cream
½ teasp. vanilla extract
4 cardamon pods, crushed

7 inch (18cm) square cake tin, well buttered.

Mix the dates with the bread soda.
Pour water over dates and leave to stand.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Beat in the eggs one by one.
Gently fold in flour, stir in date mixture and vanilla, and pour into the prepared cake tin. Bake at 180C (*425F) for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160C (350-375F) for a further 10 minutes approx.

Meanwhile bring sauce ingredients to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut pudding into squares and place on warm serving plates.
Discard cardamon pods, pour sauce over the pudding and serve.

Hot Tips

Slainte Handmade Health Cuisine, Clonakilty, Co Cork - specialising in Gluten/wheat free, Dairy free, Sugar and Yeast free products – a range of cakes , breads and quiches, using locally produced organic products where possible. Also special orders birthdays, Christmas and Halloween, gift baskets…. Tel 087-758 8846  

Dunbrody Abbey Cookery School, Dunbrody, Campile, New Ross, Co Wexford
Tel 051-388933
Autumn Course programme now available  

Tullamore Country Fair – this Farmers and Producers Market is held every Saturday in Millennium Square in Tullamore, Co Offaly

Mullingar Market – moves to new location in Harbour Place shopping Centre, every other Sunday from 3rd October.

Foolproof food

Date and Banana with Yoghurt

Serves 4-6
4-5 bananas
8 ozs (225g) stoned dates, fresh or dried
½ pint (300ml) yoghurt
a little cream

Arrange alternate layers of thinly sliced bananas and halved dates in a serving bowl. Spoon a little cream and yoghurt all over and chill for a few hours before serving. The yoghurt will soak into the fruit and give it a soft slightly sticky texture – sublime!

The truffles were displayed like jewels!

Driving through Piedmont, the countryside in late October is gloriously Autumnal. This is Barolo and Barbaresco region, most of the grapes have already been picked and the leaves on the vines are turning a variety of orange and burnished red, rust and gold. The vineyards are interspersed with hazelnut groves – this is nougat, giandujotte and Nutella country.
Every bar and enoteca (wine bar) serves Torta di Nocciole. I’ve just eaten a delicious slice topped with zabione in a little café in Monteforte de Alba. The grumpy landlord refused to give me a plate of Vitello Tonnato – too late for lunch, so I succumbed to the temptation which I fear will be forever on my hips.
During the truffle season Tartufo are Piedmont’s greatest gastronomic treasure, aficionados come from all over the world during the truffle season to savour this earthy delicacy. This precious fungus looks like a knobbly potato and grows 4-6 inches below the ground in parasitical symbiosis with the roots of oak walnut, chestnut, hazelnut, and willow trees.

An old truffle hunter explained to me that the harder the wood of the tree the more intense the truffle’s perfume. Some are as tiny as marbles but in rare cases they can be as big as your fist. Two types are found in Italy, the Tuber melansporum – a black truffle with little flavour in season from November to March all over Italy. Tuber magnatum – the white truffle on the other hand is highly scented and exquisitely flavoured and excruciatingly expensive. We visited the truffle market in Alba held on Saturday morning from September through January. There were about twelve farmers in winceyette check shirts and dungarees each sitting on stools watching protectively over their little cache.
The truffles were displayed like jewels in covered cases and as one passed by the proud owner would lift the cover slightly to allow a tantalising waft of aroma to escape. I was longing to buy a truffle but wasn’t sure what to look out for or how to judge a really good one, particularly when my pitiful Italian made it impossible to ask the questions I so badly needed answers to. I watched the other truffle hunters going about their purchase, each one sniffed the truffles individually and then felt, so I gathered that apart from the aroma, it was important that the truffle was firm, not soft or spongy. Then I realised that there was a truffle inspector available to customers so I carefully made my purchase from a local farmer. I was mightily relieved when after much sniffing and feeling it was endorsed by the inspector.

I’ve always longed to link up with a farmer to go truffle hunting but the search involves much stealth and secrecy. Selectively bred pigs or more usually nowadays hounds, help their masters to find the truffles, sometimes several kilos, in an evening. This harvest is sold furtively by the gram in early morning markets, cash only, no cameras allowed, transactions conducted in a local dialect. Unscrupulous vendors have a myriad of ways to piece together a broken truffle or fill wormholes with clay to add extra weight. Consequently its better for the inexperienced buyer to head for markets in Alba or Asti.

Few cookbooks tell you what to do with a precious truffle if you should decide to purchase one. Use it soon. Its best shaved over an omelette or simply fried or scrambled eggs. Its also divine with fresh pasta, tossed in a simple sauce of cream and parmesan. At about €3 a gram you’re unlikely to have large quantities to worry about.
Chestnuts are another speciality of the Piedmont region, they are preserved in syrup and sold as marrons glacés, a local speciality despite its French name.
Grissini or bread sticks are another speciality of the area – up to a yard long, the best are hand rolled and slightly knobbly and bear little resemblance to the boring packaged commercial grissini.

This area is full of surprises, it wasn’t until we passed through the little village of Arboria that I realised that Piedmont is also an important rice growing region. The flat fields are flooded to grow Arboria, Canaroli and Vilano Nano rice for risottos. I’ve always loved the food in this region of Italy, less well known than Tuscany and for my palate much more varied.
We ate wonderful Bagna Cauda – raw seasonal vegetables dipped in a hot bath of olive oil, garlic and anchovies. I also adore Vitello Tonnato, wafer thin slices of roast veal with a tuna flavoured mayo. Almost every meal starts with a salumi course followed by an antipasto, Primo is the pasta course, perhaps plump agnolotti filled with chopped roast meat or tajarin, thin shoelace homemade egg pasta with various sauces. We also enjoyed potato gnocchi and of course Fonduta with shavings of truffle. Next comes the main course – Seconda. One mustn’t miss Bollito misto, a mixture of boiled meat including tongue, served with salsa verde or rossa.

Look out for Finanziana also – a stew of cocks combs, chicken livers, sweet breads and other exciting variety meats. Fritto misto turns out to be a huge platter of deep fried foods, lamb chops, chicken, zucchini and their blossom, aubergine, mushrooms, cauliflowers, fried cream and sometimes peaches and amaretto biscuits.
If you’ve got any room left you can tuck into Formaggio (local cheese), followed by Dolce (dessert). I always seek out Castelmagno, a terrifying looking, rare and pungent cow’s milk cheese with a cult following. Its certainly not for the faint hearted, there’s also Gorgonzola, Bra, Tom and many many others that live on in one’s memory.
Desserts are for me least memorable, I am still mystified by people’s attachment to Bonet -a trifle like pudding with chocolate, rum and amaretti, Pere al barola – pears slow cooked in the lovely Barola wine, can be delicious with a wobbly Pannacotta and one must taste a foamy zabaione at least once. Aer Lingus flies into Milan from Dublin daily, also Al Italia, and from Cork the direct service from Milan ran from April to the end of October twice weekly, so its easy to get to this area. My advice is to quickly head for Turin and then meander through the countryside, truly a food and wine lover’s paradise.

Fried Eggs with White Truffles from Piedmont

Truffles, a rare treat, have a natural affinity with eggs, this is a favourite way to enjoy them in Alba.
Serves 2

4 fresh free range eggs, preferably organic
extra virgin olive oil
1 small white truffle
salt and freshly ground pepper
crusty white bread

Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add the eggs (you’ll need to cook them in batches). Fry the eggs gently. When the white is set but the yolk still soft, transfer 2 eggs to a warm plate. Top with slivers of truffle.
Serve immediately and enjoy every mouthful.

Breadsticks – Grissini

Crusty breadsticks are all the rage now. The more rustic looking the better, great with soups, salads or just to nibble. Remember they will double in size, so roll very thinly.
Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread dough (see recipe)

Sea salt, chopped rosemary, crushed cumin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, ground black pepper, chilli flakes, grated Parmesan cheese…..
When the dough has been ‘knocked back’, preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Sprinkle the work surface with coarse sea salt or chosen flavouring.
Pull off small pieces of dough, 15-25g (½-1oz). Roll into very thin, medium or fat breadsticks with your hands. Roll in chosen ‘sprinkle’ (you may need to brush lightly with cold water first). Place on a baking sheet. Repeat this process until all the dough has been used.
Bake in a preheated oven for 8-15 minutes depending on size until golden brown and crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: Breadsticks are usually baked without a final rising but for a slightly, lighter result let the shaped dough rise for about 10 minutes before baking.
Wiggly Worm: Shape a very thin breadstick which has been rolled in finely grated Parmesan cheese into a wiggly worm. Serve with Kinoith Garden Salad.
Bread sticks wrapped in a slice of Parma or Serrano ham make a delicious nibble to serve with an aperitif.

Ballymaloe White Yeast Bread

This loaf is always served in a traditional plait shape in Ballymaloe but it can be shaped in many forms, from rolls to loaves or even in to animal shapes! It is a traditional white yeast bread and once you have mastered this basic techinique the sky is the limit.
Makes 2 x 1 lb (450g) loaves
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast
425ml (15 floz) water
30g (1oz) butter
2 teaspoons salt
15g ( ½ oz) sugar
675g (1½ lbs) strong white flour
Poppy seeds or Sesame seeds for topping – optional
2 x loaf tins 13 x 20cms 5” x 8” 

Sponge the yeast in 150ml (5fl oz) of tepid water, leave in a warm place for about five minutes.
In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter, make a well in the centre.
Pour in the sponged yeast and most of the remaining lukewarm water. Mix to a loose dough adding the remaining liquid or a little extra flour if needed
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, cover and leave to relax for 5 minutes approximately. 

Then knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth, springy and elastic (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).
Put the dough in a large delph bowl. Cover the top tightly with cling film (yeast dough rises best in a warm moist atmosphere).
When the dough has more than doubled in size, 1½ - 2 hours, knock back and knead again for about 2 to 3 minutes. Leave to relax again for 10 minutes.
Shape the bread into loaves, plaits or rolls, transfer to a baking sheet and cover with a light tea towel. Allow to rise again in a warm place, until the shaped dough has again doubled in size. 

The bread is ready for baking when a small dent remains when the dough is pressed lightly with the finger. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if using them. Or dust lightly with flour for a rustic looking loaf.
Bake in a fully preheated hot oven, 230C/450F/regulo 9 for 25 - 35 minutes depending on size.

The bread should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
To make a plait-
Take half the quantity of white yeast dough after it has been ‘knocked back’, divide into three equal pieces. With both hands roll each one into a rope, thickness depends on how fat you want the plait. Then pinch the three ends together at the top, bring each outside strand into the center alternatively to form a plait, pinch the ends and tuck in neatly. Transfer onto a baking tray. Allow to double in size. Egg wash or dredge with flour.

Bagna Cauda

This is one of the great specialities of the Piedmont area in Northern Italy.
Serves 4-6

A variety of raw vegetables cut in bite sized pieces eg. peppers, cardoons, celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, fennel
Globe artichoke heart and Jerusalem artichokes
boiled potatoes and beetroot
Lots of crusty bread
6 fl ozs (175ml) olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
14 anchovy fillets, chopped
4 ozs (110g) butter

Heat the oil gently in a small pot, add the garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add the anchovies and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Add in the butter and serve in the pot, keep warm on a spirit lamp or over a night light. Guests then dip in the vegetables in the Bagna Cauda and eat them immediately.

Torta di Nocciole (Hazelnut Pound Cake)

From ‘Celebrating Italy’ by Carol Field
This hazelnut pound cake is without doubt the dessert of Alba.
Makes 1 pound cake

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
250g (9oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, separated, warm room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
120g (4½ oz) hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and finely chopped
250g (9oz) plain flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

9 x 5 inch (23 x 12.5cm) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c/gas 4

Cream the butter and 225g (8oz) of sugar with a wooden spoon or with the whisk of an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes by hand, or 3-5 minutes by mixer. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, then the hazelnuts. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together, then resift them over the batter and gently fold into the batter. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the remaining 25g (1oz) of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is glossy and holds peaks. Change to the paddle attachment on your mixer and on the lowest speed, stir the egg whites into the hazelnut mixture in 3 careful additions.
Pour the batter into the lined tin. Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, 50-60 minutes.

Foolproof Food


This is possibly everyone’s favourite Italian dessert. Marsala is best in it but you can use a mixture of dark rum and sweet sherry instead.
Serves 4

4 egg yolks, preferably free range
4 tablesp. castor sugar
8 tablesp. Marsala
8 - 12 sponge fingers
1 bowl 4 pint (2.3L) capacity

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Separate the eggs, put the yolks into the bowl with the castor sugar and whisk for a few seconds until they fluff up. Sit the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water, add the Marsala whisking all the time and continue until the zabaglione is light and fluffy and has increased enormously in volume - about 5-8 minutes with an electric whisk or 15 minutes by hand. Pour at once into warm glasses, put each one on a plate and serve immediately with a few sponge fingers to dunk in the boozy fluff.
Zabaione is also delicious served with fresh summer berries

Hot Tips

Markets News –
Ahascragh Country Market in Co Galway – next market on 20th November 11-1 – will include tastings of Christmas goodies and orders may be placed on the day. Locally produced – Cakes, jams, relishes, vegetables, fruit, crafts and much more.
Birr, Co Offaly – next market also on 20th November.
Cahir Farmers Market – every Saturday 9- 1- the very best of locally produced foods.

Listowel Food Fair – will run from November 4-8th – now celebrating its tenth year the fair is still gathering momentum. Opening by Anne Cassin of RTE and featuring celebrity chef Neven Maguire.  Tel. 068-23034.

Retail Foodshow 2004 - City West Dublin– November 7th.This is a one-stop market place which puts food producers and equipment/service suppliers face to face with their customers. Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, Apollo Business Park, Dundrum Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14 Tel: 01-2961400


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