Sarah Raven


During these recessionary times we’re racking our brains to come up with thrifty ways of having fun and improving our quality of life without breaking the bank. Every year when we plan our course schedule for Ballymaloe Cookery School we come up with some new ideas. One of my favourites this year is ‘Grow your own Party or Wedding with Sarah Raven’ – whom many of you will know from BBC Gardeners World and her columns in The Daily Telegraph, Gardens Illustrated, Gardeners’ World Magazine. The idea is to plan ahead so you can grow as much of the produce and as many of the flowers as possible for your own wedding or party. Sounds daunting, but you know, with a bit of forward planning its absolutely achievable even for those who don’t reckon to have green fingers. Can you imagine the delight and satisfaction of filling your home and church with beautiful bouquets of home-grown flowers? Apart from saving money, garden flowers are so beautiful and fragrant and even simple flowers like primroses, sweet pea and cornflowers can be utterly charming. You can even crystallize the flowers to decorate the wedding cake and then of course there’s the food. Sarah will give suggestions and recipes for several menus for Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter weddings, with lots of great images and ideas.

Then you can choose your favourite menu and with Sarah’s advice you can grow the vegetables, salad, herbs and even berries and fruit. Can you imagine how much fun you’ll have and more importantly how much extra money you will have to spend on bubbles and fizz. Sarah’s ‘Grow your own Party or Wedding’ course is on Tuesday 30th March For those who are eager to learn more about vegetable gardening, Sarah will teach her brilliant ‘How to Grow Year Round Vegetables’ Monday 29th March, 2010. Meanwhile here is a suggestion for a Spring wedding menu. or contact Lucy on 086 8179964

Spinach and Rosemary Soup with Heart Shaped Croutons

Fish Mousse with Shrimp Beurre Blanc

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with New Potatoes, Roast Beetroot and a Salad of Organic Greens and Flowers from your Garden

Goats Cheese with Honey and Rocket Leaves

Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote with Shortbread Sweethearts



Spinach and Rosemary Soup


Serves 6-8


The trick with these green soups is not to add the greens until the last minute, otherwise they will overcook and the soup will lose its fresh taste and bright green colour. For a simple spinach soup, omit the rosemary and add a little freshly grated nutmeg with the seasoning.


50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

150g (5oz) potatoes, chopped

225-350g (8-12oz) spinach, destalked and chopped

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

425-600ml (3/4-1 pint) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped




2 tablespoons whipped cream (optional)

sprig of rosemary or rosemary flowers


Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams add the onions and potatoes and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock and milk bring back to the boil and simmer until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the spinach and boil with the lid off for about 3-5 minutes, until the spinach is tender. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Add the chopped rosemary.

Liquidise and taste. Serve in warm bowls garnished with a blob of whipped cream and a sprig of rosemary. If you have a pretty rosemary bush in bloom, sprinkle a few flowers over the top for extra pizzazz or use your heart shaped croutons.

Heart Shaped Croutons


Serves 4

1 slice of slightly stale pan bread, 5mm (1/4 inch) thick

Sunflower or olive oil

With the help of a heart shaped pastry cutter, stamp out your shapes neatly.

Heat the sunflower or olive oil in a frying pan, it should be at least 2cm (3/4 inch) deep and quite hot..

Add the croutons to the hot oil. They will colour almost immediately, so turn quickly to achieve a golden colour on both sides. Immediately remove from the pan, drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. Allow the oil to cool, strain and save for another use later.



Croutons may be made several hours ahead or even a day. The oil may be flavoured with sprigs of rosemary, thyme or onion.



Fish Mousse with Shrimp Beurre Blanc

This recipe makes a large number of light fish mousses. It’s a favourite on our menu and can be served with many sauces. Even though the mousse is light it is also very rich, so it’s vital to cook it in small ramekins. They can be done in several batches as the raw mixture keeps perfectly overnight, covered in a cold fridge. Cooked crab meat, oysters, prawns, periwinkles or a tiny dice of cucumber could be added to a Beurre blanc sauce to serve with them.

Serves 16-20 as a starter

12 ozs (340 g) very fresh fillets of whiting or Pollock, skinned and totally free of bone or membrane

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch of freshly ground white pepper

1 large egg, preferably free-range and 1 egg white or 2 whole eggs

Generous 1¼ pints (750 ml) cream, chilled

Beurre blanc sauce recipe x 2

4-8 ozs (110-225 g) peeled cooked shrimps

¼ oz (8 g) butter


Sprigs of chervil

Whole cooked shrimps (optional)

Ramekins 2½ fl ozs (65 ml) capacity, 2 inches (5 cm) x 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep

Cut the whiting fillets into small dice, purée in the chilled bowl of a food processor, add the salt and freshly ground pepper and then add the egg and egg white and continue to purée until it is well incorporated. Rest and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, line the ramekins with pure Clingfilm or brush with melted butter. When the fish is well chilled and has rested for approx 30 minutes. Turn on the processor and pour the cream steadily down the tube of the food processor. Stop immediately when the cream is incorporated. Check seasoning. Fill the mousse into the moulds and put them in a bain Marie. Cover with a pricked sheet of tinfoil or greaseproof paper. Bring the water in the bain Marie just to boiling point, put it in the oven at 200C/400f/regulo 6 and bake for 20-30 minutes. The mousses should feel just firm in the centre and will keep perfectly for 20-30 minutes in a plate-warming oven.

Meanwhile make the Beurre blanc sauce and keep warm. When the mousses are cooked remove them to a warm place and leave to rest. Toss the shrimps in a very little foaming butter until hot through, add them to the sauce, taste and correct seasoning: the sauce should be very thin and light. Pour a little hot sauce on to each plate, unmold a mousse, place it in the centre and garnish with shrimps and sprigs of fresh chervil.

Note: It is vital to season the raw mixture well; otherwise the mousse will taste bland.


Beurre Blanc Sauce

Makes about 250ml (8fl oz)

Serve 2 -3 tablespoons per person

Beurre blanc should be served with poached fish, not pan-fried or pan-grilled fish.

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

pinch of ground white pepper

1 tablespoon cream

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, diced

salt, freshly ground pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the first four ingredients into a stainless steel saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and reduce down to about a tablespoon. Add 1 generous tablespoon of cream and reduce again until the cream begins to thicken. Whisk in the chilled butter a piece at the time, keeping the sauce just warm enough to absorb the butter. Season with salt, taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary. Transfer to a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. Keep warm until needed.

Useful Tip

Keep warm in a flask until needed. Beurre blanc can curdle if the pan gets too hot. If this should happen put 1-2 tablespoons of cream into a clean saucepan, reduce to about half, then vigorously whisk in the curdled mixture, little by little. Serve as quickly as possible. The flavour will be a little ‘softer’ so a little more lemon juice may be needed to sharpen it up and cut the richness.

A re-emulsified sauce will not be as stable as an original. Leftover beurre blanc will

solidify as it cools. It may be used to enrich fish sauces or mashed potato.

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb


Serves 8-10 approximately.


A shoulder of lamb is much trickier to carve than a leg, but the flavour is so wonderfully sweet and juicy, it’s certainly worth the struggle particularly at home where perfect slices of meat are not obligatory. I sometimes put this into the low oven of the Aga in the morning. By 7.30 pm in the evening, it is beautifully cooked – how easy is that!


1 shoulder of lamb 3.3-3.6kg (7-8lbs) on the bone

Extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper



600ml (1 pint) homemade lamb or chicken stock


Roux, optional


Score the skin of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the meat with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with olive oil, roast in a low oven 140°C/275°F/gas mark 1 in the usual way for 6-7 hours – this gives a delicious juicy succulent texture. Alternatively cook in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for 2 – 2 1/2 hours. Carve it into thick slices. Serve with light gravy.


To make the gravy

: Spoon the fat off the roasting tin. Add the stock into the remaining cooking juice. Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well, to dissolve the caramelised meat juices I find a small whisk ideal for this. Allow to thicken with a very little roux if you like.


Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Strain and serve the gravy separately in a gravy boat.


Serve with new potatoes and a garden salad with edible spring flowers.




New Potatoes with Mint

Serves 4-5

2 lbs (900g) new potatoes eg, Home Guard, British Queens

2 pints (1.2 litres) water

1 teaspoon salt

a sprig of mint

Bring the water to the boil. Scrub the potatoes. Add salt and a sprig of mint to the water, and then add the potatoes. Cover the saucepan, bring back to the boil and cook for 15-25 minutes depending on size.

Drain and serve immediately in a hot serving dish.


It’s vitally important for flavour to add salt to the water when cooking potatoes.



Rhubarb Compote

When I had stewed rhubarb as a child, we just put the rhubarb into a pan with a little water and sugar, and stewed it to a mush, but now I’m frightfully fussy about keeping the pieces of rhubarb whole. This recipe is the way to do that, because the fruit is

just brought to the boil and then left to stew in the hot syrup. If it does turn to a mush though, just make it into a fool. Some people like orange with their rhubarb. I’ve never been tempted by that combination, but I can quite easily indulge in rhubarb and ginger.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperley early

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan, add the rhubarb, cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute (no longer or it will dissolve). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the

covered saucepan to finish cooking, and then cool.


Rhubarb and Strawberry or Raspberry Compote

A truly gorgeous combination. Hull and halve lengthways 225–450g (1⁄2 –1lb) fresh strawberries – Cambridge Favourite or Cambridge Vigour are good. When the rhubarb compote is almost cool, add the strawberries and stir gently.

Alternatively, add 225g (1⁄2lb) whole raspberries at the same stage.

Shortbread Sweethearts

I am a big fan of this simple shortbread recipe. Measure the ingredients accurately and you will have no problems. The biscuits can be served with tea or coffee, with fruit fools and mousses or sandwiched with seasonal fruit and cream to make a more complicated confection. The biscuits will keep fresh in a tin for a couple of days.

Makes 20 biscuits

6oz (170g) plain white flour

4 oz (110g) butter

2 oz (50g) caster sugar

Put the flour in a bowl and rub in the butter and sugar until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. Keep going and it will come together into a mass. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Do not be tempted to add any liquid. If you have measured the ingredients accurately it will work. Chill at this point if you wish or roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch (7mm). Cut out the shapes with a heart shaped pastry cutter and transfer to a baking tray. Gather up the trimmings, lightly shake off the excess flour and roll and shape again. Bake in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 until a pale golden colour. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool. If you leave them on the oven tray they will stick and burn.

The biscuits can be simply served with a light dusting of caster or icing sugar.

For a more involved presentation, sandwich together with whipped cream and sugared seasonal fruit.

The dough can also be baked in tartlet tins of your choice and filled with seasonal fruit, jam and cream or whatever takes your fancy.

Fool Proof Food

Crystallized Flowers

Flowers and leaves crystallized with sugar will keep for months, although they may lose their initial vibrant colour. This is what we call a high-stool job – definitely a labour of love and not something suited to an impatient, type A personality. The end result is both beautiful and rewarding and many family and staff wedding cakes have been embellished with crystallized flowers over the years.

Flowers and leaves must be edible and are all worth doing.

Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized eg. primroses, violets, apple blossom, viola’s, rose petals….We crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements. Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g. mint, lemon balm, sweet cicely, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves.

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry; one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx.

Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on silicone paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box.


For those of you who were disappointed when cookery classes were cancelled at Brennan’s because of the floods in Cork city take heart Lucy Hyland teams up with chef Gary Masterson at Brennan’s Cookery School on the 4th, 11th and the 25th March, where they will cover the five principals of healthy living with delicious recipes. Cost €48. For further information see 

Irish Raw Milk Cheese Presidia ( IRMCP)

– Slow Food Taste Workshop- Friday 26th February 2010 at 7pm at Donnybrook Fair Cookery School. Taste Workshop, followed by informal cheesemaker tastings Places are limited, so please book in advance with Elisabeth Ryan – 086 394 9270

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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