ArchiveApril 2, 2011

Mother’s Day

It’s Mothers Day tomorrow, bunches of flowers, boxes of chocolates, mugs and pretty cards with cute little messages all have a feel good factor for us and show our lovely Mums we are thinking of them on Mother’s Day but how about giving a real surprise? Maybe show our appreciation with breakfast in bed or cooking even one fab dish for lunch or supper, you can’t imagine how thrilled us Mum’s are when we get a little extra surprise.

For breakfast in bed, always a delight, lay a little tray with a pretty cloth or even a gingham napkin, a tiny posy of flowers that would definitely give her an ‘oops’ in her tummy. You’ll need a nice pot of tea or coffee for a start and maybe some mini scones or muffins. They are really easy to make and look adorable. A glass of freshly squeezed orange or pink grapefruit is also a special treat, just cut the citrus fruit around the equator and squeeze – even one of those little plastic juicers will do the job perfectly.

It’s a bit of a mission cooking a full Irish but a delicious scrambled egg or a mini frittata made with good eggs can be delectable. If you really want to impress, make a loaf of bread as well, this is a nice easy recipe. There are gorgeous bunches of  new seasons rhubarb in the shops at the moment so I’ll also include rhubarb and ginger jam which can be made with little effort over two days.

If you prefer to rustle up something for lunch, how about a cheddar cheese fondue, the whole family can gather around the kitchen table, tuck in and have fun. Better still there will be virtually no washing up.

If you want to go the whole hog and treat your mum to an evening off, then how about a full dinner? Try to enlist other family members to help, lay the table, do place names, and maybe draw zany place mats… A posy of flowers will add to the special atmosphere and excitement. Better still run a nice bath for Mum to relax in, while you cook. Maybe scatter some rose petals into the water, light a few candles, play some soothing music, then treat her to Tomato Soup with Pesto Toasts followed by Roast Chicken Salad and as a finale a luscious Chocolate Meringue Roulade. How about that for a special treat for Mum?

Fresh Soda Bread for Mum

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.

Makes 1 large loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14 oz) stone ground wholemeal flour

55g (3oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon honey

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented

425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sourmilk approx. (put all the milk in)

Sunflower or sesame seeds optional

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

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

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins and bake for 60 minutes approx, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Tomato Soup with Pesto Crostini

Serves 5

We worked for a long time to try and make this soup reasonably foolproof. Good quality tinned tomatoes (another must for your store cupboard), give a really good result. Homemade tomato puree although delicious can give a more variable result depending on the quality of the tomatoes.

1¼ pints (750ml) homemade tomato puree (see recipe) or 2 x 14 oz (400g) tins of tomatoes, liquidised and sieved

1 small onion, finely chopped

¾oz (15g) butter

8 fl ozs (250ml) Bechamel sauce (white) (see recipe)

8 fl ozs (250ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

4 fl ozs (120ml) cream

pesto – see fool proof food

6 crostini made from inch (5mm) thick slices of thin French bread cooked in olive oil until crisp and pale golden

Sweat the onion in the butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured.  Add the tomato puree, (or chopped tinned tomatoes plus juice) white sauce and homemade chicken stock.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Liquidise, taste, dilute further if necessary. Bring back to the boil, correct seasoning add a little cream if necessary.

Spread a little blob of Pesto on 6 freshly cooked crostini and serve with each bowl of tomato soup.

Note:  This soup needs to be tasted carefully as the final result depends on the quality of the tomato puree, stock etc.

Bechamel sauce

½ pint (300ml) milk

a few slices carrot

a few slices onion

a small sprig of thyme

a small sprig of parsley

3 peppercorns

(2oz) 45 g roux

salt and freshly ground pepper

This is a wonderfully quick way of making Bechamel Sauce if you have roux already made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, and remove from the heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency by whisking in roux. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Roast Chicken Salad with Caesar Dressing

Crisp leaves of little Gem lettuce provide the perfect scoops for chunks of tender chicken drizzled with creamy Caesar dressing.  Everything can be prepared ahead, ready for the final assembly.

Serves 12

1 large organic chicken

2 lemons

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon clear honey

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 2 ozs (50g) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1/2-1 tablespoon) Tabasco sauce

6 fl ozs (175ml) sunflower oil

2 fl ozs (50ml) extra virgin olive oil

2 fl ozs (50ml) cold water

I make the dressing in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks; add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together.  As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

To Serve

Separate the leaves from the lettuces, arrange the leaves over 2 platters.  Remove each breast coarsely from the chicken in one piece.  Pull the meat from the legs and wings and shred it.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cut each breast in to 6pieces each with a little skin attached.  Put a little brown meat in each lettuce leaf, then top with a slice of breast. (Save the remainder of the dressing for another occasion. Refrigerate until needed).

Just before serving, drizzle a little dressing over each piece of chicken.  Garnish with watercress sprigs

Cheddar Cheese Fondue

A fondue party is so retro, terrific fun.  Choose your seat carefully because if you drop the bread into the fondue you must kiss the person on our right – this could be your big chance! Myrtle Allen devised this Cheese Fondue recipe made from Irish Cheddar cheese. A huge favourite at Ballymaloe.  Even though it’s a meal in itself it can be made in minutes and is loved by adults and children alike. A fondue set is obviously an advantage but not totally essential.

Serves 2 – perfect for a romantic supper.

2 tablespoons white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley

170g (6 ozs) grated mature Cheddar cheese

Crusty white bread

Put the white wine and the rest of the ingredients into a fondue pot or small saucepan and stir. Just before serving put over a low heat until the cheese melts and begins to bubble. Put the pot over the fondue stove and serve immediately.  Provide each guest with fresh French bread or cubes of ordinary white bread crisped up in a hot oven.  They will also need a fondue fork and an ordinary fork.

Chocolate Meringue Roulade

A really luscious but completely irresistible dessert, perfect as a naughty treat for Mum on Mothers Day.

Serves 10-12


4 egg whites

250g (9oz) castor sugar

4 rounded teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Chocolate Filling

225g (8oz) best quality dark chocolate

300ml (10fl oz) cream

1/2 – 1 tablespoon rum or orange liqueur

Chocolate Wafers

50g (2oz) best quality dark chocolate

Icing sugar

Swiss roll tin 38×25.5cm (15x10inch)

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

First make the Meringue

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease.  Add 225g (8oz/1 cup) of the castor sugar to the egg whites all at once and whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks (this can take up to 10 minutes).  Sieve the cocoa and the remaining 25g (1oz/1/8 cup) castor sugar together and fold in very gently.

Line the Swiss roll tin with oiled tin foil.  Spread the meringue evenly over the tin foil with a palette knife.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 18-20 minutes or until just firm to the touch.

Turn out onto a sheet of bakewell paper and remove the tin but leave the tin foil on, allow to get cold.

Meanwhile make the chocolate filling

Put the cream in a heavy-bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted. Transfer the chocolate cream to the bowl of a food mixer and allow it to cool to room temperature. Add the liqueur and whisk until it is just stiff enough to pipe.

To make the chocolate wafers

Melt 50g (2oz) of chocolate over a gentle heat or in a very low oven. Spread onto a piece of card, allow to set.

To assemble

Peel the tin foil off the meringue, spread most of the ganache over the surface. Holding the edge of the bakewell paper roll up the roulade from the short end. Transfer to a serving dish – easier said than done! Dredge with icing sugar. Pipe the remainder of the ganache onto the top. Cut the chocolate sheet into diamonds or stamp out in heart shapes. Use to decorate the roulade. Serve with softly whipped cream.

Raspberry Coulis

8 ozs (225g) raspberries

3-6 tablespoons sugar

8 tablespoons water

lemon juice – optional

Make a syrup with sugar and water, cool and add to the raspberries.  Liquidise and sieve, taste, sharpen with lemon juice if necessary.  Store in a fridge.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

A change from raspberry and strawberry jam, make it now when rhubarb is in full season and not yet thick and tough. It is also gorgeous in a light fluffy sponge cake.

Makes 8 x 1 lb (450 g) jars

4 lb (1.8kg) trimmed rhubarb,

4 lb (1.8kg) granulated sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

2 ozs (50g) bruised ginger

2 ozs (50g) chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces.   Put it in a large bowl layered with the sugar, add the lemon rind and juice.  Leave to stand overnight.  Next day put into a preserving pan, add the bruised ginger tied in a muslin bag.  Steadily bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp.  Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

If you like 2ozs (50g) chopped crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Fool Proof Food


Homemade Pesto takes minutes to make and tastes a million times better than most of what you buy.  The problem is getting enough basil.  If you have difficulty, use parsley, a mixture of parsley and mint or parsley and coriander – different but still delicious.

Serve with pasta, goat cheese, tomato and mozzerella.

4ozs (115g) fresh basil leaves

6 – 8 fl ozs (175 – 250ml) extra virgin olive oil

1 oz (25g) fresh pine kernels (taste when you buy to make sure they are not rancid)

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 ozs (50g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiana Reggiano is best)

salt to taste

Whizz the basil with the olive oil, pine kernels and garlic in a food processor or pound in a pestle and mortar.  Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese. Taste and season.

Pesto keeps for weeks, covered with a layer of olive oil in a jar in the fridge. It also freezes well but for best results don’t add the grated Parmesan until it has defrosted. Freeze in small jars for convenience.


Build a wood fired oven – if you have been bitten by the DIY bug how about picking up a copy of ‘Building a Wood Fired Oven to Cook Bread and Pizza’ by Tom Jaine published by Prospect Books – Having read it myself I feel like picking up a trowel myself. Meanwhile don’t miss Philip Dennhardt’s yummy Saturday Pizza’s at the Ballymaloe Cookery School every Saturday between 12pm and 4:30pm – 021 4646785 –

Instead of or as well as giving a box of chocolates on Mother’s Day this year why not give your Mum a gift voucher for ‘ Hand Made Chocolates – Demonstration Course’ from 10am to 4pm on Sunday 10th April 2011 at the Baking Academy Palmerstown Village, Dublin 20, close to the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre. There are also some wonderful bread and cake baking courses.  Phone 01 8451214 – Email:

Slow Food Ireland have organised a Seaweed Foraging event on Friday 8th April at 2:15pm sharp Bruce MacDonald of Copper Coast Tours will show you how to identify and gather edible seaweed on Shanagarry Strand (Garryvoe Beach) in Shanagarry, Co Cork. Bring your boots, coats, buckets, knife or scissors and come foraging. To find out the cost where the meeting place is phone 021 4646785.


Past Letters