ArchiveApril 2010

Spice it up with Cinnamon

I’m not quite sure what’s going on but it’s becoming more difficult to find really good cinnamon—frequently what is sold as cinnamon is its coarser cousin cassia. Most of the real cinnamon comes not from India but from Sri Lanka. The latter is the biggest exporter of cinnamon in the world by far. Cinnamon trees grow happily in the same kind of tropical climates as tea and rubber. They can grow to a height of 20-30ft but are carefully pruned to a height of 6 ft so the branches grow in a spindly fashion. These are cut when they are about the thickness of a brush handle and 6-8ft long.

I visited a cinnamon plantation in Sri Lanka some time ago, the grower explained that one can start to harvest the cinnamon after 3 ½ years. In December and January and then again in August. The art of peeling the bark is very specialized and done by a people from a particular caste called Salagama. The cinnamon peelers sit side-by-side, cross-legged in a shed. It is fascinating to watch, one person peels off the outer bark, then the next carefully slits the inner layer with a short knife and lifts it off in long pieces. This will curl up as it dries and then be sold in cinnamon quills or sticks for use in sweet and savory dishes and medicines. Cinnamon is now known to be a cure for type 2 diabetes. It brings blood sugar levels down naturally and mimics the action of insulin. In Sri Lanka people also drink cinnamon tea to help reduce cholesterol—just add a ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to a cup of weak tea. Omit the milk.

From the cook’s point of view, good cinnamon is a beautiful flavour enhancer however the majority of ground cinnamon is now adulterated with the cheaper and more acrid cassia. You will notice that it is darker in colour than it used to be and has a much less appealing aroma so it’s best to buy whole cinnamon sticks or quills and grind them yourself in a coffee or spice grinder.

Cinnamon and Orange Cake


Serves 8


45g/ 1 ½ oz slightly stale white breadcrumbs (yeast or soda bread)

200g/ 7 oz caster sugar

100g/ 3 1/2 ozs ground almonds

7 fl ozs / 200ml oil

4 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 large orange

finely grated zest 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder


Cinnamon Syrup

juice of 1 orange

juice of 1/2 lemon

85g /3 ozs sugar

2 cloves

1 cinnamon stick

crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt


8 inch x 2 1/2 inch deep (20.5cm x 6.5cm deep) tin OR 4 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm) lined with greaseproof or silicone paper.


Mix the breadcrumbs with the sugar, almonds, and baking powder. Whisk the oil with the eggs, pour into the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the orange and lemon zest. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined tin.


Put into a cold oven, and set the heat to 180C/350F/regulo 4.


Bake for 45-60 minutes or until the cake looks a rich golden brown. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a plate.


Meanwhile make the syrup



Put all the ingredients into a stainless steel saucepan, bring gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely. Simmer for 3 minutes. While it is still warm,

pierce holes in the cake with a skewer and pour over the syrup. Leave to cool. Spoon excess syrup back over the cake every now and then until it is all soaked up.

One can remove the cinnamon sticks but I like to leave them on top of the cake.

Serve with crème fraiche or thick Greek yoghurt.

Cinnamon & Marzipan Apples

A Swedish friend called Bo Hermansson gave me this mouth-watering recipe for baked apples. The centre is filled with homemade marzipan and then the apples are rolled in cinnamon-flavoured sugar.

Serves 12, 1 per person

12 medium eating apples, eg. Worcester Pearmain, Golden Delicious or Cox’s Orange Pippin


175g / 6 oz ground almonds

225g / 8ozs sugar

4 fl ozs /110ml water

1 egg white

natural almond extract to taste (beware, 1 drop only)


4 ozs /110g melted butter

8ozs /225g castor sugar mixed with 4 rounded teaspoons ground cinnamon. (This is approximate: the amount of the mixture depends on the size of the apples.)

To Make the Marzipan

Put the sugar and water into a deep saucepan. Stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar in the water. Bring to the boil. Cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from saucepan sides. Remove cover and boil rapidly just to thread stage -106-113°C (236°F).

Remove from the heat. Stir the syrup for a second or two until cloudy. Stir in almonds. Set aside to cool briefly.

Lightly whisk egg white, add the almond extract and stir into the almond mixture. Transfer the paste from the saucepan to pyrex plate. Cool. The cool marzipan should feel like moulding clay.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples. Stuff the cavities with the marzipan filling. Roll the apples first in melted butter and then in the castor sugar and cinnamon. Arrange side by side in an ovenproof dish and bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. The apples need to be very soft and almost bursting.

Serve warm with a bowl of softly-whipped cream.

(Marzipan will keep for 2-3 months in a fridge).


Apples may take less/more time to cook depending on the variety and time of the year.


Cinnamon Scones


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


In season: all year


900g / 2lb plain white flour

175g / 6oz butter

3-4 teaspoons cinnamon

3 free-range eggs

pinch of salt

50g /2oz castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

450ml /15floz approx. milk to mix



egg wash (see below)

granulated sugar mixed with one teaspoon cinnamon


First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/gas mark 9.


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

Serve split in half with good Irish butter.

Egg Wash

Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.


Top Tip

– Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.




Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon Tart

A yummy pud to share with family and friends. Pecans and hazelnuts are also delicious.


Serves 8-10


225g/ 8oz self raising flour ½ teasp. baking powder

75g/ 3oz butter

150g /5oz castor sugar

freshly grated zest from ½ lemon or lime

1 free range egg

5 fl.ozs /150ml milk


500g/18ozs cooking apples – we use Grenadier or Bramley Seedling

25g/1oz butter, melted

25g/1oz chopped walnuts or pecans

50g/2oz granulated sugar

1 teasp. freshly ground cinnamon

1 rectangular tin 30x20x2.5cm (12x8x1 inch)

Line the tin with parchment paper (Bakewell)

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


Sieve the flour and baking powder in a wide bowl, cut the butter into cubes, and toss in the flour. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the castor sugar and freshly grated lemon or lime rind.

Whisk the egg and milk together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the liquid and mix well with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be soft and smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the lined tin and spread evenly.

Brush the top with melted butter; arrange the apple slices in overlapping layers. Sprinkle the roughly chopped walnuts or pecans evenly over the top. Mix the cinnamon with the sugar and sprinkle evenly over the entire surface.

Bake for 40 minutes approx. or until puffed and golden. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraiche.

Variations; substitute mixed spice for cinnamon.

Fool Proof Food


Apple and Cinnamon Fritters

Apple Fritters have been one of my absolutely favourite puddings since I was a child – nothing changed I still love them.

4 cooking apples, Brambly, Seedling or Grenadier

110g / 4 ozs plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 egg, free range if possible

150ml/ ¼ pint milk

sunflower or peanut oil for frying

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

1 teasp. cinnamon

Serves 6 approx.

Sieve the flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, whisk the egg slightly, pour into the centre slowly add the milk whisking in a full circle; gradually bring in the flour from the outside. Continue to whisk until the batter is light and bubbly. Peel and core the apples, cut into 5mm thick slices. Heat about 4cm of oil in a frying pan. Dip a few slices of apple into the batter one by one. Fry on both sides until crisp and golden, drain well. Add cinnamon to the castor sugar, toss each fritter in and serve immediately with softly whipped cream.

Hot Tips

Michael Brenock, known to home gardeners and self sufficiency buffs throughout the country and a regular on ‘Ask about gardening’ on RTE radio has just published ‘The Irish Gardeners Handbook’ (O’Brien Press) a brilliant, simple guide for those of us who want to grow their own. Michael also provides weekly classes to allotment growers.

(021) 4631369.

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group presents ‘How to make your own Compost’. Donal O’Leary from Wastedown will explain how to make compost at home. Billy Wigham will talk about how he produces ‘Gee-Up’ compost and Caroline Robinson will demonstrate how to make compost teas. Crawford Art Gallery Café, Thursday 29th April at 7.30pm. The entrance fee of €6.00 includes tea/coffee

When you’re next in Cloyne, East Cork, it’s worth going to Cuddigan’s Bakery run by Siobhan Cronin – she stocks all sorts of delicious goodies. She sources most of her stuff locally – fresh fish from Ballycotton Seafood , meat from Kevin Day and Cormac O’Connor, potatoes from Ballycotton, smoked fish from Frank Hederman and goats cheese from Ardsallagh. Her salmon and potato cakes are yummy and her pear and almond tarts a treat. 021 4652762.

Contact Green Saffron to get fresh cinnamon quills – 021 4637960. Also try your local health food shop.

New York New York

A few days in New York leaves you wondering what recession? No point in chipping up to one of the hot restaurants without a reservation. Many don’t take bookings anyway so you just resign yourself to queuing – could be half an hour or longer but you might as well chill out and accept the inevitable wait. One can enjoy the camaraderie and cheery banter between fellow ‘hopefuls’.

This time, I stayed in a newish boutique hotel down-town in the Meat Packing district in Greenwich Village. The uber-cool Standard Hotel has a procession of gorgeous young people in the edgiest new gear traipsing in and out all the time.

Hunter Wellies seem to be the hippest footwear just now; I was feeling totally frumpy having left my wellies on the back porch in Shanagarry. As ever, I ate for Ireland – all in the way of research! It was over the St Patricks Day holiday so the food and kitchen shops from posh Dean and Delucca, to the farmer’s market were selling shamrock cookies edged with glitter, scary green cup cakes and gateaux covered in Kelly-green shamrocks and cheeky leprechauns. Many sold soda bread and spotted dog. The US version of Irish soda bread usually includes dried fruit and caraway seeds as well – very delicious.

The food scene in New York is brilliantly exciting; some of the best food is found in tiny restaurants where hungry young chefs and cooks, passionate about fresh, local straight from the farm or farmer’s market are doing simple creative food that knocks your socks off. This was typified in Aldea where George Mendes daily menu has a Portuguese influence.

I had a particularly delicious lunch at Locanda Verde a new ‘haut-casual’ neighbourhood restaurant in Tribeca’s Green Hotel where chef Andrew Carmellini is making waves. People are flocking for garlic encrusted chicken for two; I didn’t try that but I loved the sheep’s milk ricotta with cracked pepper and fresh thyme leaves and a good gloop of really beautiful extra virgin olive oil. This was served with a few slices of char-grilled focaccia. There was also a slice of duck and pistachio terrine with a frisée salad, roast pumpkin and pomegranate seeds. We also tasted delicious little meat balls rolled in fresh tomato sauce tucked inside a tiny brioche bun with a little goat cheese and pickled cucumber. But the most mind blowing of all was steak tartare with truffle oil and was it gherkin? The beef was hand cut into minute 1/8 inch cubes and exquisitely seasoned. A little strip of crisp guanciale propped up against the side and a fried poached quail egg sat on the top – much of the food is served on slate or timber boards and like many New York restaurant now there’s a little café at the side of restaurant with tempting goodies to take home.

 Mario Batali’s Casa Mona in Irving Place is still pulling in the adventurous eaters with its sublime tapas and small plates which might include duck hearts, cocks combs, pig’s ear, or tripe.

It’s all about meat in New York at present; chefs are going crazy doing cured meats, homemade sausages, salami… Some of the hottest new places like Minetta Tavern are leading the way. Artisan Butchers are the new heroes, cool young people are vying with each other to sign up for Butchers School and apparently most classes are over subscribed. The cool crowd and it seems everyone else as well, are on a stampede in search of the ‘smash’ burger. Can you imagine, there are blogs about burgers where people reveal their newest find and affionados are forking out up $28.00 for trendy – piled high burgers in throbbing faux ‘speak-easys’. Try the iconic Shake Shack, there are now three in town. Zaitzelf in the East Village is getting rave reviews for their glamburgers make of Kobe beef, sirloin, turkey, veggies…

BD Bistro Moderne – David Bouloud’s superbistro also serves a delish enriched burger if you have a mind to pay $32.00 for the fashionista’s favourite.

When I’m in New York if I have a craving for a burger I head to Le Parker Meridian Hotel in Midtown and slink in behind the crumby velour curtain off the lobby, there’s a  ‘caf’ with Formica tables where you can tuck into maybe the best but not the most expensive burger in town. The Breslin Bar and Dining Room is another place to add to your list. April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame has opened a new flagship gastropub there, great lamb burgers, tongue sandwiches and onion soup laced with bone marrow. Love nor money couldn’t get me into Maialino, Danny Meyer’s classic new Roman trattoria – there are rave reviews for the food so it may be worth booking on line before you leave home and while you’re at it, book Momofuku KO – they only have 12 seats – a brilliant experience – there’s also Momofuku Ssam and Momofuku Noodle Bar – all David Chang’s brainchild.

There is so much more, Sorella, Emma Hearst’s small seasonal restaurant and winebar serves exceptional Austrian Farmers market cooking at good prices and is again in mid-town.

I haven’t even mentioned breakfast at Ino or the Grey Dog. Pack a skirt with an elasticated waist band, buy a Time Out and a Zagat’s guide to New York dining and have fun. 


French Onion Soup with Gruyére Toasts


Serves 6


French onion soup is probably the best known and loved of all French soups and is still an enduring favourite from Paris to New York. It was a must for breakfast in the cafes beside the old markets at Les Halles in Paris and is still a feature on bistro menus at Rungis market.  Traditionally this soup is served in special white porcelain tureens. 


Serve with a glass of gutsy French vin de table.


1.35kg (3 lb) onions

50g (2 ozs) butter

1.7Litre (3 pints) good homemade beef or chicken stock or vegetable stock

salt and freshly ground pepper


To Finish

6 slices of baguette (French bread), 1/2 inch (1cm) thick toasted

75g (3oz) grated Gruyére cheese


Peel the onions and slice thinly. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for about 40-60 minutes with the lid off, stirring frequently – the onions should be dark and well caramelised but not burnt.


Add the stock, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, bring to the boil and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Taste and correct seasoning.


Ladle into deep soup bowls; put a piece of toasted baguette covered with grated cheese on top of each one. Pop under the grill until the cheese melts and turns golden. Serve immediately but beware – it will be very hot.  Bon appetit!


Useful Tip

Hold your nerve: – The onions must be very well caramelized otherwise the soup will be too weak and sweet.  


American Irish Soda Bread with Caraway Seeds and Sultanas


Try this Irish American version of soda bread the caraway seeds give a delicious flavour and its made in minutes.


1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon breadsoda

3 oz (75g) sultanas

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

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. Add the sultanas and caraway seeds. 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.

Cool on a wire rack , break in half and cut in thickish slices from the end. Slather with good Irish butter and enjoy.


Duck and Pistachio Terrine




Serves 10


8 ozs (225g) fresh duck livers

2 tablespoons) brandy

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper (yes, put it all in!)

8 ozs (225g) very thinly sliced, rindless streaky rashers (you may need more if they are not very thinly sliced) or better still, barding fat*.

1/2 oz (15g) butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 lb (450g) streaky pork, minced

8 ozs (225g) duck leg, minced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (Pimento or Jamaican Pepper)

a good pinch of ground cloves

1 tablespoon freshly chopped annual marjoram

2 small eggs, beaten

salt, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg

2 ozs (50g) shelled pistachios

6-8 ozs (170-225g) piece of cooked ham, cut in thick strips

bay leaf

sprig of thyme


Luting paste or tinfoil

3 pint (1.7 L/7 1/2 cups) capacity terrine or casserole with tight fitting lid


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


Wash the duck livers, separate the lobes and remove any trace of green.  Marinade in the brandy and 1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper for 2 hours.   Line a terrine or casserole with very thinly sliced bacon or barding fat, keeping a few slices for the top.


Sweat the onion gently in the butter until soft but not coloured.  In a bowl mix the sweated onion with the pork, duck, garlic, allspice, ground cloves, chopped marjoram, beaten eggs and the brandy from the duck livers.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and lots of grated nutmeg.  Mix very thoroughly.  Fry a little piece and taste for seasoning – it should taste quite spicy and highly seasoned.  Add the pistachios and beat until the mixture holds together.



Spread a third of the farce in the lined terrine, add a layer of half the ham strips interspersed with half the duck livers, and then cover with another third of the pork mixture.  Add the remaining ham and livers and cover with the last third.  Lay the reserved barding fat or bacon slices on top, trimming the edges if necessary.  Set the bay leaf and sprig of thyme on top of the bacon or barding fat and cover with the lid.  Seal the lid with a sheet of tinfoil under the lid.


Cook in a ban-Marie in a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo4, for 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted for 1/2 minute into the mixture is hot to the touch when taken out.  If you are still in doubt remove the lid and check: the pate should also have shrunk in from the sides of the terrine and the juices should be clear. 


Cool until tepid, remove the luting paste or tinfoil and lid and press the terrine with a board and a 2 lb (900g) weight until cold.  This helps to compact the layers so that it will cut more easily.  Keep for 2-3 days before serving to allow the terrine to mature.  It can be frozen for up to 2 months.


To Serve: Unmould the terrine, cut into thick slices and serve with some crusty bread. Andrew Carmellini served it with a little frisée salad with a few chunks of roast pumpkin and some pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.


Coffee Crème Brulee


Serves 4


200ml (7oz) milk

200ml (7oz) cream

4 large or 5 small organic egg yolks

40g (1 ½ oz) sugar

1 ½ tablespoons Irel Coffee Essence


4 ramekins


Preheat the oven to 150ºC / 300°F / Gas 2


Put the milk and cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, gradually pour the boiling liquid over the egg yolks whisking all the time. Add the coffee and whisk again.

Pour the mixture through the sieve into 4 ramekins. Bake in a bain maire in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes until just set but slightly wobbly in the centre. Shallow wide dishes cook faster, 20 minutes approximately.

Cool, cover with cling film and chill. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar – it should be a thin layer, tip off excess if necessary. Glaze with a blow torch. Café crème brulee is already very rich but serve with a little pouring cream if you must.


Fool Proof Food


Confiture D’Oignons  


Makes 450ml (3/4pint)


This superb recipe has become very popular in recent years and I always have some made up. It is wonderful warm also, particularly with pan-grilled monkfish or even a lamb chop. This recipe will keep for months and is especially delicious with pâtés and terrines of meat, game and poultry.



1 1/2 lbs (675g) onions

3ozs (75g) butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground

5ozs (150g) castor sugar

7 tablespoons sherry vinegar

9fl ozs (250ml) full-bodied red wine

2 tablespoons cassis


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


Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. This onion jam must cook very gently (but don’t let it reduce too much). When it is cold, skim off any butter which rises to the top and discard.





Don’t miss the Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th April. To get a taster of the exciting program of events and to book online go to or phone (058) 22000 for more information.


Eat your own honey… learn how to get started on keeping your own bees, buying a hive and colony, necessary equipment, feeding and management on ‘Beekeeping an Introduction’ with Pat Finnegan on Sunday 18th April at the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim. To book this course and to see their full course schedule visit or phone (071) 9854338






On Easter Sunday our clever hens lay beautiful coloured eggs with the children and grandchildren’s names on them. In late morning we have an Easter egg hunt in the Palais des Poulets. When the children have found their very own eggs and deposited them carefully in the basket, there’s a stampede to the garden where they run hither and thither looking for their chocolate eggs which the Easter Bunny might have hidden in the beech hedge, tucked into flowering shrubs or into a clump of daffodils. The excitement is off the radar. Later those who can bear to eat their precious eggs have boiled egg soldiers.

Later we tuck into our Spring lamb and a juicy rhubarb tart. There is lots of Wild Garlic at present so I plan to serve Wild Garlic Champ with my roast Spring lamb this year.

Our Rhubarb is later than usual this year, the first new spears are just ready now – I get such a thrill picking rhubarb, it reminds me of when I was little. We used to sneak into the kitchen garden with a cup of sugar and a pen knife to trim the rhubarb stalks, then we’d dip the end into sugar and eat it raw – I’m not sure I’d enjoy it now but I loved it then. By the way a simple rhubarb sauce is absolutely delicious with roast pork or a pork chop instead of the conventional apple sauce. The acidity cuts the richness in an appetising way. Happy Easter.

Roast Spring Lamb with Wild Garlic Champ


The flesh of young spring lamb is sweet and succulent and needs virtually no embellishment apart from a dusting of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and a little fresh Mint Sauce – made from the first tender sprigs of mint from a cold frame in the garden.

I have a standing order with my butcher from one year to the next for Spring lamb.

For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter. Spring lambs will have been born before Christmas so they are ready for the Easter market. As Easter is a movable feast they vary in age but are most delicious when they are about 3-4 months old weighing approximately 9-10kgs. They will have mainly been milk fed with a little grass. Older lamb between Easter and Christmas takes longer to cook and benefits from some additional herbs and spices, little sprigs or rosemary and garlic inserted into the lamb, or freshly roasted coriander or cumin seeds rubbed into the scored surface with some Maldon sea salt is also delicious. After Christmas, the flavour of Hogget is stronger and the flesh a little tougher so we love to braise it slowly and serve it with a bean stew or poached vegetables.

Serves 6-8

1 leg of Spring lamb – about 2.7kgs

sea salt and freshly ground pepper



1 pint (600ml) lamb or chicken stock

a little roux (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground pepper

Wild Garlic Champ (see recipe)

Remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb or ask your butcher to do it for you. This makes it so much easier to carve later, then saw off the knuckle from the end of the leg. Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer into a roasting tin.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4. Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approx. for rare, 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size. When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a hot carving dish. Rest the lamb in a low oven at 50-100°C for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the meat juices in the roasting tin (* see note), add the stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux, just enough to thicken slightly. Taste and allow it to bubble up until the flavour is rich enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring vegetables and lots of crusty roast potatoes.





4oz (110g) butter

4oz (110g) flour

Melt 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.

How Do I Degrease the Juices?


The gravy should be made in the roasting tin because that is where the flavour is. Usually there is not a great deal of juice in the roasting pan, there will be some caramelised meat juices and lamb fat. This is precious because it is the basis of the gravy. Tilt the roasting tin so the fat collects in one corner. Spoon off as much fat as possible. Then pour icy cold stock into the roasting tin, this will cause the last few globules of fat to solidify so they can be quickly skimmed off the top with a perforated spoon. Then continue to make gravy as in the recipe.


Wild Garlic Champ


Wild Garlic Allium Ursinum is in season now and will be for another few weeks. Use copiously in salads, pesto, soups and gratin. It’s particularly delicious with Spring lamb.

Serves 4-6

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with wild garlic and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best.

1.5kg (3lb) 6-8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

350ml (10-12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

85g (2-3oz) roughly chopped wild garlic leaves

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the wild garlic leaves. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Wild garlic champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin.


Scallion Champ


In season: spring

Add 110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g

chopped chives to the milk just as it comes to the boil. Continue as above.



Cauliflower Cheese




There are lots of lovely cauliflowers in the green grocers at present. A bubbly cheese would be delicious and easy to serve with lamb.

Serves 6-8

1 medium sized cauliflower with green leaves



Mornay Sauce

600ml (1 pint) milk with a dash of cream

a slice of onion

3-4 slices of carrot

6 peppercorns

sprig of thyme or parsley

roux (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground pepper

150g (5oz) grated cheese, e.g. cheddar or a mixture of Gruyére, Parmesan and Cheddar

1/2 teaspoon mustard




Chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8.

Prepare and cook the cauliflower (see recipe).

Meanwhile make the Mornay Sauce. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the onion, carrot, peppercorns and herb. Bring to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Add most of the grated cheese (reserving enough to sprinkle over the dish) and a little mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower and sprinkle with the remainder of the grated cheese. The dish may be prepared ahead to this point.

Put into the preheated oven or under the grill to brown. If the cauliflower cheese is allowed to get completely cold, it will take 20-25 minutes to reheat in a moderate oven. 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.


How to Cook Cauliflower


1 medium-sized cauliflower with lots of fresh green leaves


Remove the outer leaves and wash both the cauliflower and the leaves well. Put not more than 1 inch (2.5cm) water in a saucepan just large enough to take the cauliflower; add a little salt. Chop the leaves into small pieces and cut the cauliflower in quarters or eighths; place the cauliflower on top of the green leaves in the saucepan, cover and simmer until cooked, 10-15 minutes approx. Test by piercing the stalk with a knife, there should be just a little resistance.


New Season’s Rhubarb Tart


Serves 8-12

This is such a terrific pastry. If I’m in a mad rush I make it in a food processor – it’s a little more difficult to handle if you use it right away but works fine even if you have to patch it a bit. It’s fun to do an Easter Bunny on the tart.




225g (8 oz) butter

55g (2 oz) caster sugar

2 eggs free-range and organic if possible

350g (12 oz) flour




450g (1 lb) red rhubarb

175g (6 1/2 oz) sugar

Egg Wash

1 beaten free-range organic egg with a little milk, to glaze

1 x 23cm (9 inch) tin with 4cm (1 ½ inch) sides

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer, add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and add in the flour, little by little, to form a stiff dough. Flatten into a round, cover with cling film and chill for at least 1 hour, this makes the pastry much easier to handle. Otherwise just put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until just combined.

Roll out half the pastry to about 3mm(c inch) thick and line a round tin measuring 20.5 x 30.5cm (8 x 11.5 inches).

Slice the rhubarb into 1 cm (22 inch) rounds, fill the tart and sprinkle with the sugar.

Roll the remaining pastry, cover the rhubarb and seal the edges. Decorate with pastry bunnies. Paint with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 until the tart is golden and the rhubarb is soft (45 minutes to 1 hour). When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.


This tart can also be filled with, gooseberries and elderflower, Worcesterberries, Bramley apples, damsons, plums, blackberry and apples, peaches and raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries.


Easter Bunny Biscuits


Makes 25 approximately

These are rather fun to make for Easter – the kids can make them too.

6 oz (170g) plain white flour

4 oz (110g) butter

2 oz (55g) castor sugar



icing, raisins, tiny speckled eggs

rabbit or chick shaped biscuit cutter

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

Mix the flour and castor sugar in a bowl, rub in the butter and continue to work until the mixture comes together in a firm dough. Roll into a quarter inch (6mm) thick sheet on a floured board.

Stamp into ‘bunny’ shapes with a cutter. Bake in the preheated moderate oven for 8 -15 minutes or until pale and golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack.

Decorate with icing, raisins or speckled tiny chocolate eggs where appropriate.



Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven, because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden colour – darker will be more bitter.

Food Proof Food

Rhubarb Sauce


450g (1lb) red rhubarb cut into 2.5cm (1in) pieces

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the rhubarb in a stainless-steel saucepan, add the sugar and cook over a low heat until soft. Taste and add more sugar if necessary.


Thrifty Tip



Cauliflower Cheese Soup


Follow the master recipe for Cauliflower Cheese but instead of browning in the oven or under the grill, liquidise the lot with any left over cauliflower cooking water and enough light chicken stock, about 850ml (11/2 pints) to make a nice consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve with croutons, cubes of diced cheddar cheese and parsley.



Stock up for the week at Listowel Farmers Market, Co Kerry, every Friday from 9:00am to 2:00pm. Get some of Caroline Rigney’s award winning Curraghchase Free Range Pork (087 2834754) and to accompany your roast pork, some delicious organic veggies from Manna Organic Store 066 7118501. Why not pick up a treat for Coeliacs from Maurice Hannon’s gorgeous gluten free cakes and biscuits 087 6260157.

Sophie Maill breeds traditional, rare breed chickens and also sells hybrid laying hens in various colours. She is based in Skibbereen, West Cork and sells hatching eggs, day old chicks, hens and ducks. Phone 086 0839569.


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