ArchiveFebruary 2009

Burger Culture

In this gloomy economic climate as one multinational after another announces staggering losses, guess what company has not merely survived but is reporting a staggering increase in business – McDonald’s. The fast food chain started in 1966 by Ronald McDonald has announced plans to open even more outlets this year.

Despite the lambasting McDonalds have had in recent years with best selling books like Fast Food Nation and films like Supersize me, McDonalds has taken stock, picked itself up, dusted itself down and not only survived but prevailed in a way that is the envy not only of other restaurants but many food chains not least Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts whose business it is now affecting with it’s new McCafes express coffee drinks.
The strategic management team at McDonalds heeded well to the criticism, they listened to and observed their customers, they introduced salads, wraps, carefully tweaked the menu but never lost sight of their core product. In this economical crisis they promote their menu outside featuring low cost food. Inside they promote their happy meal combos. Why? Because the French fries and soft drinks make more profit – they are the high margin items. The same basic business principal operates in a supermarket. Low margin commodity items such as milk are far from the entrance where the high margin more profitable sweeties are piled high close to the cash register. Much to annoyance of parents with young children with lots of pester power. McDonalds must be admired for their achievement but with every success comes responsibility. Now that so many are depending on McDonald’s to feel their families in these desperate times, the meal must be truly formulated to nourish as well as fill.
McDonalds doesn’t pretend to be haute cuisine. The public are well and truly voting with their feet. The McDonalds formula of consistency and value is a resounding success. The four factors for their success are speed, accuracy of order system, cleanliness and temperature. Most people like their food hot not lukewarm but too hot either.
Taste is not necessarily a big issue, McDonalds customers have a pretty broad range of acceptability galling though it may be for all the whole foodies.
The concept is brilliant and its performance during these challenging economic times is truly proof of the pudding.

If you like to make great burgers and chips at home here’s how.

Buying Mince

Be really fussy – buy fresh meat that has been minced on the day. If mince is a day or two old it will taste sour and acrid. It doesn’t have to be round steak, flap or flank are fine. It sounds politically incorrect but for real flavour and succulence, mince meat should contain 20 to 25% fat.
Basic Hamburgers

The hamburger, the universal fast food, immortalized by the Americans and enjoyed by the rich and famous, the down and outs and all the rest of the world as well.
It can be a feast or a travesty simply a burger in a bun or an elaborate creation with lots of sauces and pickles.
The secret of really good hamburgers is the quality of the mince, it doesn’t need to be an expensive cut but it is essential to use the beef on the day it is minced. A very small percentage of fat in the mince will make the hamburgers sweet and juicy.

Serves 4-6

1/2 oz (15g) butter
3 ozs (75g) onion, chopped (optional)
1 lb (450g) freshly minced beef – flank, chump or shin would be perfect
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
pork caul fat, optional
extra virgin olive oil

burger buns

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, toss in the chopped onion, cover and sweat until soft but not coloured, allow to get cold. Meanwhile, mix the mince, add the herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the cold onions. Mix well. Fry off a tiny bit on the pan to check the seasoning, correct if necessary.  Then shape into hamburgers, 4-6 depending on the size you require. Wrap each one in caul fat if using.  Cook to your taste in a little oil on a grill pan or medium-hot pan or, turning once. I prefer to use a grill pan because I love the way it sears the burgers.

Watch Point:
If the hamburgers are to be wrapped in caul fat, wrap loosely to allow for contraction during cooking.
If the hamburgers are being cooked in batches make sure to wash and dry the pan between batches.

Useful Tip

Use good salt, Maldon or plain cooking salt and freshly ground pepper.
A little finely chopped onion is a delicious addition but it’s best to sweat it in a little butter or olive oil first otherwise raw onion will remain rawish even when the rest of the burger is cooked.
Hamburgers with Mushroom a la Crème and Crispy Bacon

Several people are doing really good bacon these nowadays. Gubbeen (028) 28231 and Caherbeg (023) 48474 have a cult following, but you may not be so familiar with Caroline Rigney from Curragh Chase near Limerick (061) 393988 and Noreen and Martin Conroy from Woodside Farm (087) 2767206 from East Cork who sell from the Farmers Market in Midleton.

Serves 6

6 homemade burgers (see recipe)
Mushroom a la Crème, (see recipe)
6 really good streaky rashers
freshly chopped parsley

Sizzling chips
Green salad and cherry tomatoes

burger buns

Cook the burgers to your taste. Meanwhile fry or grill the rashers until crisp and golden, then cut each one in half.   Heat the mushroom a la Crème.

To Serve
Put a grilled bun on each plate, spoon 2 – 3 tablespoons of Mushroom a la Creme over each.  Top each hamburger with 2 pieces of crispy bacon and a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley.

Serve with some sizzling chips and a green salad and perhaps a few cherry tomatoes.
Mushroom a la Crème

Serves 4

1/2-1 oz (15-25g) butter
3 ozs (75g) onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced
4fl ozs (100ml) cream
freshly chopped parsley
1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper

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

Note: Mushroom a la crème may be served as a vegetable, or as a filling for vol au vents, bouchees or pancakes or as a sauce for pasta.  It may be used as an enrichment for casseroles and stews or, by adding a little more cream or stock, may be served as a sauce with beef, lamb, chicken or veal.  A crushed clove of garlic may be added while the onions are sweating.

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

Debbie Shaw’s Asian Chilli Chicken Burgers with Fresh Coriander

This is a delicious and healthy alternative to beef burgers, full of fresh aromatic Asian flavours.

Makes: 4 medium sized bugers.

400g (14oz) minced free-range organic chicken (thigh, leg, breast meat or a mixture)
50g (2oz) minced pork belly
50g (2oz) red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ to 1 hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 tblsp fresh lime juice
2 tblsp chopped fresh coriander (substitute basil if you prefer)
1 dessertspoon oyster sauce
1 dessertspoon soya sauce
1 dessertspoon of fish sauce
1 dessertspoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 tspn salt
1 small free range egg

Sweet Chilli Yoghurt dip. (See Fool Proof Food)

Ask your butcher to mince some chicken for you. Alternatively finely chop 400g (14oz) of de-boned and skinned chicken breast/thighs/legs by hand or pulse in a food processor (leaving some texture) Add the minced pork, onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, lime juice, coriander, oyster sauce, soya sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, beaten egg and salt. Mix well, shape into flattish burgers and chill for 1-2 hours to firm up. If using immediately, use a small whisked egg to bind the ingredients. Heat a grill pan, when smoking hot add a little extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil and brown the burger for 3 minutes on each side, then reduce the heat and cook the burger through, turning frequently. Serve with crispy lettuce, slices of vine ripened tomato and sweet chilli yoghurt dip in a lightly toasted ciabatta roll or bagel.
Rory O’Connell’s Spicy Lamb Burgers with Yoghurt, Mint Raita and Pitta Bread

Serve in warm pitta bread or mini burger buns, with salad leaves, tomato salad and fresh mint and yoghurt dressing.

Makes about 12

4 tablespoons fresh coriander chopped
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
175g (6oz) onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 kg (2¼ lb) minced lamb
2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1 free-range egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper

12 pita bread

Heat the olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cook the onion and chilli until soft and golden. Allow to cool a little.

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Divide the mixture into burgers, shaping them as you wish; but it should make about 12.

Cook on a frying pan in a little extra virgin olive oil or on a baking sheet under a hot grill for 3-4 mins on each side or on a barbeque.

Serve each spicy lamb burger in a warm pitta with some fresh salad leaves, tomato salad and cucumber and mint raita.

Hamburgers with Blue Cheese, Sweet Cucumber Salad and Tomato Relish

Serves 4-6

Basic burgers (see recipe)
Little Irish Blue Cheese, eg. Cashel Blue or Chetwynd

Sweet Cucumber Salad
4 ozs (110g) approx. cucumber, thinly sliced
1 dessertspoon sugar
a good pinch of salt
1 1/3 fl ozs (31.5 ml) white wine vinegar

To Serve
Ballymaloe Country Relish* or a good homemade tomato chutney
Green salad
Freshly cooked chips (optional)
Marigold petals (Calendula Officinalis)

4-6 burger buns

First make the cucumber salad. Put the sliced cucumber into a bowl add the sugar, salt and wine vinegar and mix well. Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile make the hamburger mixture. When shaping the hamburgers put a blob of Blue cheese into the centre of each one and seal well.  Cook the burgers to your taste.

To Serve: Split and chargrill the buns, put the base on a warm plate, put a freshly cooked blue cheese burger on top, arrange some cucumber salad on top of the burger and put a spoonful of Ballymaloe Country Relish on the side. Some sizzling chips and a little tossed green salad would also be delicious. If you happen to have a few common marigold petals sprinkle them over the top of the salad for extra posh!

* Ballymaloe Country Relish is available in shops countrywide, if unavailable in your area, contact: Yasmin Hyde, Glanmire, Co Cork, phone: (021) 4354810.
Fool Proof Food

Sweet Chilli Yoghurt Dip

Mix the following ingredients together and chill

2 tblspns Thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tblspns of organic natural yoghurt
4 tblspns homemade or bought mayonnaise
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 tblspn chopped fresh coriander (substitute basil if you prefer)

Hot Tips

Practical Allotment Gardening Course

Ightermurragh Garden Allotments Ladysbridge, East Cork. Five week course starting
Saturday 7th March, 2009 at 11am. Planning plot, preparation of seed bed, planting early crops, sowing and pruning of fruit bushes. Grow your own fruit and vegetables, you don’t need a garden, precultivated ready to sow plots will be provided. €75.00 for five week course with reduced rates for plot holders.

Course taught by:  Michael Brenock B.Agric (Hort) and Donal Murphy B.Agric and Liam Murphy (Owner) Telephone Liam 021-4667330   Mob 086 3003810
Booking essential.

Spring Lamb at the Nautilis

The Nautilis Restaurant at Inn by the Harbour in Ballycotton have reopened after a winter break. Try their delicious new Moroccan Lamb dish made with locally sourced spring lamb. Booking essential (021) 4646 768.
Reducing your Carbon Footprint

Feidhlim Harty sets out some straightforward and very easy ways to reduce your rubbish by a surprising amount – saving you money and helping the planet with his new book ‘Get Rid of Your Bin and Save Money’
Published by Mercier Press ISBN no 978-185635-626-8
Thrifty Tip

Buy a whole chicken rather than chicken pieces. Then you can use the carcass for stock to make delicious soups and stews. Sometimes you can buy bags of giblets (necks, hearts and gizzards) very cheaply. They add greatly to the flavour of the stock. The cooked gizzards are delicious tossed in hot olive oil, served on tossed salad leaves with a few croutons, one of my favourite starter salads.


What is it about oats that makes them such a wonder food, if I don’t have my bowl of porridge for breakfast in winter or fruit muesli in Summer – I seem to get a craving for something snacky and sweet around 11:30am in the morning. All my grandchildren love porridge, Joshua and Lucca eat it with peanut butter, sounds like an odd combination but they polish off a big bowl of it every morning. The girls prefer brown sugar and creamy milk.

At the Mahon Point Farmers Market people queue for Arun Kapil’s porridge with spiced apricots and prunes on top. Others favour honey and cream – I am a big fan of pinhead oat meal. It cooks slowly overnight in the bottom of the Aga. Guests at Ballymaloe House go crazy for a bowl of Macroom Oatmeal which Donal Creegan stone grinds in the time honoured way in the last stone grinding mill in Ireland -wonderful stuff. Also wonderful and a more widely available product is Flahavans oatmeal from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford
This exemplary family run business now in its sixth generation has been operating for over 200 years. Flavahans burn the by-product of the oat to power the boiler which generates steam for the cooking process. Electricity is also generated from the original mill stream alongside the mill on the River Mahon. The company also funds the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

Flahavans have won several awards including the 2008 SIAL D’or, international food competition, and in 2007 the Euro Toque award and the Bord Bia Food and Drink Industry award for their quick oats range. They also won an environmental award for their organic packaging range. 

The Flahavan family have had a strong environmental conscience long before it became fashionable to be green. They source as much of their raw material as possible locally in Ireland but John Flahavan is always interested to hear from more Irish farmers who would like to grow oats for Flahavan’s mill. At present the demand outstrips the supply and they have to supplement with imported Polish oats but would far prefer to use all home grown grains.

Blackberry, Strawberry, Raspberry or Apple Muesli

Serves 4
4 ozs (110g) fresh or frozen strawberries, raspberries, loganberries or grated dessert apple (preferably Worcester Permain or Cox’s Orange Pippin)
3 heaped tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Flahavans Oats)
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon approx. honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 10 or 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a scant teaspoon is usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with cream and soft brown sugar.

This fruit muesli is served for breakfast right through the year at Ballymaloe, the fruit varies with the season.
 Blackberry and Apple Muesli
A few blackberries are delicious added to the apple muesli in Autumn.

Pinhead Oatmeal Porridge

Pinhead oatmeal or steel cut oats is quite simply a feast and a perfect GI breakfast. We eat it with rich creamy organic milk from our Jersey cows and soft brown sugar – sublime.

 Serves 8

4oz dried apricots
4oz prunes
1 tablespoon honey
310g (11oz) pinhead oatmeal
950ml (32fl oz) water
1/2 teaspoon salt

The night before, soak the oatmeal in 225ml (8fl oz) cold water. Soak the dried fruit in cold water over night. Next day put into a saucepan, add the honey, cinnamon, cloves and cook until plump. Serve a generous spoonful off the top of the porridge.

On the day, bring 725ml (24fl oz) water to the boil and add to the oatmeal. Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.  Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the salt. Cover again and leave aside overnight, the oatmeal will absorb all the water.

Next day, reheat adding a little more water if necessary; serve with cream or rich milk and soft brown sugar.

Good things to serve with porridge. Dark brown sugar and cream. Apple and sweet geranium compote (see recipe)

Compote of Blackberry and Apples with Sweet Geranium Leaves

A delicious Autumn dessert, or use frozen blackberries at this time of the year.

Serves 3 approx.

225g (8 ozs) sugar
450ml (16fl ozs) water
4 large dessert apples eg. Worcester Permain or Coxes Orange Pippen
275g (10 ozs) blackberries, fresh or frozen
8 large sweet geranium leaves (Pelagonium Graveolens)

Put the sugar, cold water and sweet geranium leaves into a saucepan, bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes. Peel the apples thinly with a peeler, keeping a good round shape. Quarter them, remove the core and trim the ends. Cut into segments 5mm (1/4inch) thick. Add to the syrup. Poach until translucent but not broken. Cover with a paper lid and lid of the saucepan.

Just 3-5 minutes before they have finished cooking, add the blackberries, simmer together so that they are both cooked at once.

Serve chilled, with little shortbread biscuits.

Compote of Cranberry and Apple
Substitute 1 cup of cranberries for blackberries in the above recipe.

One of the quickest, easiest and most nutritious of all biscuits to make. They keep very well in a tin.  Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – use butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.  The crunchy crumbs are delicious sprinkled over cold apple purée.  Dip one corner into melted chocolate for a treat.

Makes 24-32

12 ozs (340g) butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
1 lb (450g) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

Swiss roll tin, 10 inches (25.5cm) x 15 inches (38cm)

Preheat the oven to180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter in a deep saucepan; add the golden syrup and pure vanilla extract. Remove from the heat. Stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread evenly in a large Swiss roll tin. Bake in a preheated until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.

Make half the recipe if a 9 inch (23cm) x 13 inch (33cm) Swiss roll thin is used.

A toasted grain cereal.
 Serves 20

12 ozs (350g) 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
3 1/2 ozs (100g) rye flakes

5 ozs (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5 ozs (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4 ozs (70g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2 ozs (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too
Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also a delicious addition
 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 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!
 Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana and yoghurt.

Fool Proof Food
 To follow your bowl of yummy porridge for breakfast, try these delicious spicy eggs.

Mexican Scrambled eggs – Huevos a la Mexicana
 8 large free range organic eggs
1 ½ oz (45g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-3 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (the amount depends on how much excitement you would like in your life!)
1 very ripe tomato, chopped
½ tspn salt

Serves 4
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, cook the onion and chillies until the onion is soft but not coloured, add the tomato and cook gently for a few more minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and salt well; add them to the saucepan and scramble, stirring all the time until cooked to your taste. Serve immediately on warm plates.
 Thrifty Tip

Get the family involved in the cooking, maybe plan the weeks menus with everyone’s input. Allocate a budget per meal and chefs specials. This could be an eye opener to family members who think money grows on trees and will have the knock on effect of teaching budgeting skills.
 Hot Tips

Grow your own Vegetables
 Experienced growers Caroline Robinson and Rupert Hugh-Jones will talk about starting a garden, preparing the soil, making compost, sowing seeds, caring for plants and getting the most from polytunnels

Crawford Art Gallery Café Thursday 26th February at 7.30pm, entrance €6.00 including tea or coffee.

Organic Vegetables and Fruit Growing Course
 Practical FETAC certificated course on growing and producing organic vegetables and fruit. Beginning Tuesday 24 February and running Tuesdays fortnightly for 10 days 10.00am – 5.00pm. Cost:   €350 for 10 days (includes lunch). Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Mallow.
Course Tutor:  Jason Horner, experienced grower from Co Clare. Jason has been selling his own organic produce and eggs at a Farmer’s Market for the last 16 years.
The course is suitable for people with a view to growing on a commercial basis.
Places are limited so please book early. Contact Nano Nagle Centre:  022 26411

Living Willow Tunnel
 Create A Living Willow Tunnel, Nano Nagle Centre, Saturday, March 7th – 10.00am – 4.00pm €75 (includes lunch, tea, coffee and materials (willow available to bring home )

You will learn how to build a basic living structure with willow sculptress, Angela Nolan and in the process find out everything you ever wanted to know about willow:  growing, weaving and maintenance. Contact Nano Nagle Centre:  022 26411


The Way to a Man’s Heart

Romantic sounding menus, lots of red roses, twinkling candles, a bottle of fizz – hotels and restaurants are using all their ingenuity to tempt us to throw caution to the wind, forget the blues and celebrate. 

My students laugh when I tell them to get out there and find a fine strong farmer with a parcel of land, learn how to keep a few chickens, grow a few vegetables and cook a delicious dinner to tempt him down off his tractor. 

Recessions can come and go but at least we won’t go hungry if we have basic life skills.  Doesn’t matter how much of a whizz kid you are on the computer or how much you impress your colleagues in the work place if you can’t spontaneously whip up pasta or a pot of bubbling stew. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous you are, the attraction soon wears thin particularly in recessionary times.  If you know the basics there’s no end to the delights you can whip up in a short time.  On the other hand if terms like sweating, creaming and baking blind are ‘double Dutch’ to you it might be time to consider setting some time aside to take a few cooking lessons.  There are many to choose from all over the country. 

The newest cookery school in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford is owned by chef Paul Flynn of the “Tannery Restaurant” fame.  Terrific reports, great facility and if you’d both like to cook together why not stay the night in Paul and Maria’s townhouse –

Award winning chef Rory O’Connell offers highly recommended private and bespoke cookery classes at his 18th century farmhouse in East Cork
086 8516917

Over in West Cork, Carmel Summers of “Good Things Café” near Durrus has built up a terrific following for her sophisticated local food and her cooking classes –

In Dublin, Lynda Booth of the Dublin Cookery School  has a good variety of courses to choose from as does the Cook’s Academy in Dublin  

In Wicklow there’s Catherine Fulvio in Ballyknocken House – whose vivacious style has lured many into the kitchen – teaches classes 040444627
Both Lynda and Catherine are past pupils of Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Eurotoque chef Kevin Dundon also teaches regular cookery classes at his country house, Dunbrody in Co Wexford. Tel. 051 389600
Also in Co Wexford, Pierce and Valerie McAuliffe of Dunbrody Abbey Cookery School run tailor made cookery classes 051 388933

In Cork city chef Gary Masterson has a whole series of cookery classes planned at Brennan’s Cook Shop, Oliver Plunket Street. There are two classes weekly open to the public, he also organises cookery staff nights out and hen parties. Tel 021 4278283

Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we have a series of evening cooking classes on Wednesday evenings from 7-10pm at a cost of €50 per person which includes copies of all recipes and tastings.  Afternoon cookery demonstrations are open to the public almost every day 2 – 5pm. See our website for further details. 



Mushroom Soup

Serves 8-9

Mushroom soup is the fastest of all soups to make and surely everyone’s favourite. It is best made with flat mushrooms or button mushrooms a few days old, which have developed a slightly stronger flavour.

450g (1 lb) mushrooms (flat mushrooms are best)
110g (4 ozs) onions
25g (1oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
25g (1oz) flour
600ml (1 pint) milk
600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

Rinse the mushrooms quickly under cold running water. Chop the onion finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat. Toss the onions in the butter. Cover and sweat until soft and completely cooked. Meanwhile, chop up the mushrooms very finely.* Add to the saucepan and cook on a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring the stock & milk to the boil in a separate pan. Stir the flour into the onions and mushroom mixture and cook on a low heat for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then add the hot stock and milk gradually, stirring all the time. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.  Taste and add a dash of cream if necessary. Serve immediately or cool & reheat later.

Tip:  If you can’t be bothered to chop the mushrooms finely, just slice and then whizz in a liquidizer for a few seconds when the soup is cooked.  Be careful not to overdo it, this soup should still have a coarse texture. Stalks may also be used. Mushroom soup freezes perfectly.

Watchpoint: Bring the milk to the boil otherwise it may curdle if added to the soup cold.
White Soda Bread and Scones

Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses.  It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-400 ml) approx.

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.  Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).
Cheddar Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones

4 ozs (110g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
egg wash

Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.

Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones

Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.

Rosemary and Olive Scones

Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Tagine of Lamb with `Medjool Dates

 Tagines are brilliant for easy entertaining. The word Tagine refers both to the distinctive earthenware cooking pot with shallow base and conical top and to a multitude of stew-like dishes cooked in it.   These can be based on meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.

Serves 6

1.35kg (3 lbs) boned shoulder of lamb
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch saffron
50g (2ozs) butter
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 fl ozs (300ml) tomato juice
175g (6ozs) Medjool dates
2 tablespoons chopped coriander

1 tablespoon oil, optional
50g (2ozs) flaked almonds

fresh coriander leaves

Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes. Mix cinnamon, paprika, ginger, pepper and saffron with 4 tablespoons water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.

Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, tomato juice, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the dates, and coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving.

Serve with couscous

To cook Couscous

The commercial varieties of couscous we get here are pre-cooked and instant. You do not need to steam it in the traditional way; in fact it’s no advantage to do so. Once the grain has absorbed an equal volume of water, all you need to do is heat it through.

Making couscous
For 6 people, put 500g (1lb2oz) of medium-ground couscous in a pyrex or pottery bowl. Add 600 ml (1 pint) of warm salted water (with ½-1 teaspoon of salt) gradually, stirring so that it gets absorbed evenly. After about 10 minutes, when the grain has become a little plump and tender, add 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil and rub the grain between your hands to air it and break up any lumps.
Heat it through in the oven, covered with foil. A small quantity for 2 or 3 can be heated in a saucepan, stirring so as not to burn the bottom, or in the microwave. Before serving, break up any lumps very thoroughly and work in 2 tablespoons of butter or sunflower oil.
Sweetheart Biscuits with Rhubarb Fool
Makes 45-50 biscuits approx.

8 ozs (225g) soft butter
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
10 ozs (275g) self-raising flour
grated rind of one lemon or orange

Cream the butter, add in the castor sugar, sifted flour and grated lemon or orange rind and mix just until it all comes together. Alternatively, place all four ingredients in the bowl of a food mixer and mix slowly until all the ingredients come together. At this stage the dough can either be used right away or put in the deep freeze or kept in the fridge for up to a week.

When required, bring up to room temperature and form into small balls the size of a walnut. Flatten them out onto a baking sheet using the back of a fork dipped in cold water. Allow plenty of room for expansion.

Bake in a preheated oven – 180°C/350°F/regulo 4 for 10 minutes approx. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar. When cold, store in air tight containers.

Serve with Rhubarb Fool (see Fool Proof Food)

Chocolate Mousse with Boudoir Biscuits

225g (1/2 lb) of best quality dark chocolate
150ml (5 fl ozs) water
15g (1/2oz) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Jamaica Rum
6 small or 4 large free range, organic eggs

Chocolate Caraque 
110g (4ozs) dark chocolate

whipped cream
chocolate Caraque
unsweetened cocoa

First make the mousse. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl with the unsalted butter and water over a low heat.  Stir gently until melted and completely smooth.  Remove, cool, whisk in the rum if using and the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites and fold them in.  Beat for 5-6 minutes, this makes the mousse smooth and silky even though it sounds like a contradiction.   The mousse thickens as it is beaten at the end.  Fill individual glasses or espresso cups with the mousse.  Allow to set for 5 or 6 hours or overnight.

Then make the Caraque. 
Melt the chocolate and spread it thinly with a palette knife onto a marble slab.  Allow it to set almost completely and then with a sharp knife or paint scraper shave off long, thin scrolls.  Use a slightly sawing movement and keep your hand upright.  This is fun to do but there’s quite a lot of skill involved – you’ll get good at it with practice and you can always eat the rejects!

Serve with Boudoir biscuits.


Fool Proof Food
Rhubarb Fool

Serves 6 approx.

1 lb (450g) red rhubarb, cut into chunks
6-8ozs (175-225g) sugar
2 tablespoons water
10 fl ozs (300ml) cream whipped

Put the rhubarb into a stainless saucepan with the sugar and water, stir, cover, bring to the boil and simmer until soft, 20 minutes approx.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb dissolves into a mush. Allow to get quite cold. Fold in the softly whipped cream to taste. Serve chilled with sweetheart biscuits.

Hot Tips

Mary Dowey’s well-established ‘Introduction to Wine Appreciation’ weekend courses at Ballymaloe House will run from 20th – 22nd February 2009 and also 24th – 26th April 2009. Combines good wines, good food and good fun.
Listed in the Top 10 Wine-Tasting courses in Ireland & UK. Suitable for anybody who enjoys wine and would like to learn much more about it.
Ballymaloe House Tel: 021 4652531

Mahon Point Farmers Market

The Mahon Point Farmers Market has resumed after its winter break, it takes place every Thursday 10am-2pm.
Baker, Richard Leigh from Dunmanway begins at the market this week, visit his stall, this is the best bought confectionary you are likely to find. 

Slow Food – Taste of India

Local spice guru, Arun Kapil of Green Saffron, will demonstrate how to blend traditional Indian spices and then show us how to make a range of delicious, fragrant curry dishes. All recipes and tasting at the end included and all the spices will be available for purchase on the night. At the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Friday 20th February, 7:30pm – 10.00pm €30.00 Slow Food Members €40.00 non members. Booking essential 021 4646 785
Thrifty Tip

Research has, not surprisingly, shown that we spend less when shopping alone, so whenever possible do a deal with a pal to mind the kids while you shop. Pester power is very effective and expensive. Persuasive and enthusiastic family members can easily tempt us to buy unnecessary items.



There’s a big pot of citrus peel bubbling away on my cooker in my kitchen. The whole house smells of marmalade and I love it. The aroma of freshly cooked Seville oranges brings me back almost 40 years when I made my first marmalade. I was so proud of my few pots of glistening preserve studded with thick peel; I kept it on my kitchen shelf so I could admire them and show them off. Even though my favourite is Seville orange marmalade, I make lots of recipes to suit my mood. Sometimes I crave a dark bitter marmalade, on other mornings a fruitier one hits the spot and gives me better results for marmalade tart.
The bitter Seville and Malaga oranges are in season for about 5 or 6 weeks at this time of year. These are the orange trees whose blossoms perfume the air along the roadside in the towns and villages in the South of Spain. When I first saw these trees laden with fruit, I was intrigued. Why had no one picked them? I was deeply impressed by how law-abiding the Spaniards were!
Gradually the penny dropped and I realised the beautiful ripe fruit were actually marmalade oranges, far too bitter to enjoy.
Ironically the Spaniards rarely make marmalade and they are somewhat perplexed by the British and Irish craving for this bizarre preserve. The whole crop of Citrus Aurantium is harvested and sent to British marmalade manufacturers with a sprinkling distributed through the retail trade for those of us who love the experience of making our own marmalade. If you can’t manage to make a years supply during the short Seville orange season, remember these fruit freeze perfectly so you can make a few batches at your leisure later in the year.
This whole orange marmalade version is brilliant to have in your repertoire. I’ve also included a kumquat marmalade recipe given to me by an Australian friend – we make this every year as a special treat and store it in little glass jars. Kumquats are considerably more expensive here than in the antipodean countries, but it’s really worth the extra expense.
One little word, for the past few years I really sought out organic marmalade oranges, because I find it much easier to soften the peel, so if you can find them, it’ll be worth the extra expense.  

Old Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-6 weeks.

Makes approx. 7 lbs (3.2kg)

2 lbs (900g) Seville Oranges
4 pints (2.3L) water
1 lemon
4 lbs (1.8kg) granulated sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips, tie them in a piece of muslin and soak for 30 minutes in cold water. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours until the peel is really soft and the liquid is reduced by half. Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

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

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

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

Whiskey Marmalade

Add 6 tablespoons (8 American tablespoons) of whiskey to the cooking marmalade just before potting.

Seville Orange Bakewell Tart

Serves 10-12


6oz (175g) flour
4oz (110g) unsalted butter
1oz (25g) castor sugar
2 egg yolks

Almond Filling

9oz (250g) soft butter, unsalted
9oz (250g) castor sugar
9oz (250g) whole almonds (If you are feeling lazy use ground almonds but it won’t taste so good.)
3 eggs
1 dessertspoon Grand Marnier

1/2 – 3/4 pot (8-12fl ozs) of homemade marmalade

1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin with ‘pop up’ base.

Crème fraiche

First make the pastry.

Put the flour and butter into the food processor.  Whizz for a few seconds then add sugar and egg yolks, turn off the machine just as the pastry starts to form a ball.    Chill for 1/2-1 hour.  Line the flan ring with pastry, fill with paper and baking beans, chill for 15 minutes in a refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/regulo 4. Bake blind for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile make the almond filling.   Blanch the almonds in boiling water, remove the skins and grind in a liquidiser or food processor.

Whisk the butter with the sugar until soft and fluffy; add the ground almonds, eggs and Grand Marnier if available.   Spread the marmalade over the base of the tart.  Spread the almond filling over the top.

Reduce the oven to 160°C/325°F/regulo 3, and bake for approx. 40 minutes.   Allow to cool on a wire rack.  

Serve with a blob of crème fraiche.

Seville Orange Marmalade Cake

Serves 8-10

350g (12oz) self raising flour
pinch of salt
140g (5oz) butter
140g (5oz) castor sugar
4 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade
2 organic eggs
3- 4 tablespoons of marmalade

17 x 7 1/2 cm (6 1/2 x 3 inch) cake tin

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

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, rub in the butter and add the sugar. Make a well in the centre; add the chopped marmalade and lightly beaten egg and mix to a softish consistency with 5 tablespoons milk. Put into a lined tin and bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 1 1/4 hours approximately.

Allow to cool, still wrapped on a wire tray. Paint the top with marmalade and dust with icing sugar.


Kumquat Marmalade

Makes 3 pots approximately

In season: winter

My favourite marmalade, I first tasted this in Australia in the Regent court off Potts Point in Sydney, one of my favourite places to stay in the world and certainly the best breakfast.

1 kg kumquats
1¾ litres (56fl oz) water
1¾ kg (3 lb 1oz) sugar

Slice kumquats thinly crossways.  Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml (8fl oz) of the water, allow to stand overnight.  Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.
Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.
Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender.
Add the warm sugar and stir until fully dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes. Test for a set, put a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold saucer, it should barely wrinkle when pressed with a finger.
Remove the pan from the heat while testing.
Pour into hot sterilised jars. Cover and seal and store in a cool dry place.

Marmalade Glazed Loin of Bacon
Serves 12-15

4-5 lbs (1.8-2.25 kg) loin of bacon, either smoked or unsmoked
½ pot Seville orange marmalade
whole cloves 20-30 approx.

Cover the bacon in cold water and bring slowly to the boil, if the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in this case it is preferable to discard this water. It may be necessary to change the water several times depending on how salty the bacon is, finally cover with hot water and simmer until almost cooked, allow 15 minutes approx. to the lb.  Remove the rind, cut the fat into a diamond pattern, and stud with cloves.  Chop the rind in the marmalade into dice, and then spread both the marmalade and rind over the bacon.  Bake in a fully preheated hot oven 250°C/475°F/regulo 9 for 15 – 20 minutes approx. or until the top has caramelized.

Note: We use loin of bacon off the bone.

Fool Proof Food

Deep Fried Sprats with Tartare Sauce or Garlic Mayonnaise
In general January or February have few highlights, apart from the arrival of the marmalade oranges in the shops – but when the Sprats arrive in Ballycotton the excitement is tangible. We feast on them for a few short weeks – deep fried, soused, pickled and smoked. Don’t even think of gutting them you may be shocked but we eat them insides and all – completely delicious.
Serves 6 – 8

450g (1lb) Sprats
well seasoned flour
lemon segments
tartare sauce or garlic mayonnaise

Just before serving: Heat the oil in a deep fry to 200°C / 400ºF. Toss the sprats in well seasoned flour, cook until crisp and golden. Put an oyster shell or a little bowl on each plate to hold a generous spoonful of tartare sauce or garlic mayonnaise. Serve immediately with segments of lemon.

Hot Tips

Organic Marmalade Oranges
Contact organic greengrocer Caitriona Daunt to buy her organic marmalade oranges (086) 3623918 or visit her at her vegetable stall at the Midleton Famers Market on Saturday mornings or at Mahon Point Farmers Market on Thursday mornings.

St Bridget’s Day Brunch

Kerry Slow Food are hosting a Slow Brunch to celebrate St Bridget’s day in Kilkooleys Bar, Ballybunion, Co Kerry at 11:00am Sunday 1st February. Learn how to make a St Bridget’s cross as an extra bonus – €20.00 Slow Food members and €25.00 non members.

Thrifty Tip

You can bulk out soups, casseroles and stews with a can of haricot, cannellini or black eyed beans. Chickpeas are also delicious – if you soak the dried pulses overnight and cook them yourself they’ll be cheaper and even more nutritious.


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