Mary Jo McMillin

M

Lovely Mary Jo McMillin from Chicago came to the Ballymaloe Cookery School again recently – Mary Jo has been coming to Ireland for over 30 years.  Her idea of a holiday from her restaurant in Oxford, Ohio was to come into the busy kitchen at Ballymaloe House for a couple of weeks each summer. We all had fun cooking together and learned lots and lots of good things from each other.

In 2008, Mary Jo moved from Ohio to set up a new life near her children and grandchildren in Chicago. It was back to home-cooking and the challenge of making a whole new set of friends in her retirement. What to do? Her children’s friends were all sweet but much younger so Mary Jo joined a church choir brought along some delicious food plus tempting cakes and cookies which blew them all away – had she really cooked all these delicious things herself? Immediately, they’re were requests for big gratin dishes of lasagne, stews, casseroles, apple tarts and praline cakes so within a short time Mary Jo had a new bunch of friends and a thriving catering business. Her plans for retirement were cheerfully put on hold.  Soon she was giving cooking classes in the local kitchen ware shop and that led to invitations to do private cooking classes in people’s houses. So many of the local community, no longer had cooking skills and were overjoyed to be able to learn gorgeous comforting family dishes in an informal environment. In many ways this is fast becoming a similar reality over here.

So at her recent cooking class on a frosty winter’s day here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School she charmed the audience with a range of delicious comforting dishes and a long list of cooking tips gleaned over many years.

Here are some of the favourites

Hot Tips

Cooking for Baby: Natural and Wholesome Food

Everyone wants to feed their babies nourishing and wholesome food but many young mothers are completely confused and bamboozled by endless conflicting advice.  How and when do I start to offer solids….. Many of us lack the understanding to make our own baby food but as a mother of four and grandmother of ten, Darina Allen is happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding children and grandchildren totally without packets, cans or jars!

On Friday 26th February 2016, we will cover everything – choosing the ingredients, recipes, preparation tips, menus, storage, health and nutrition ….  Not only will it save you a small fortune but it will be infinitely better for your baby.

You’ll soon discover that making your own, nourishing baby food is quick, easy and surprisingly good fun. Also, by giving your baby lots of variety you’ll ensure that as they grow up they don’t become fussy eaters.

If you need to bring a child minder with you they are very welcome to take a walk around our gardens free of charge while you are attending the course.

This course is subsidised by the Ballymaloe Cookery School to make it more attractive to young mothers as we feel very strongly that we should all be giving our children the best start in life. www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Street Food Revolution

Richard Johnson’s Street Food Revolution provides a fascinating and important read on what’s going on with British food today. Inspired by his travels and his love of street food, Richard tells the story of street vendors across the UK, serving up fresh seasonal edgy food to the locals. Published by Kyle Books

 

Cooking for a Farmers Market

With the rise of the farmer’s market in Ireland, more and more young entrepreneurs have the chance to make their mark on the food industry without having the considerable start-up costs of a ‘bricks & mortar’ premises. With this in mind, we’ve introduced an exciting two and a half day course to our calendar this year – Cooking for a Farmer’s Market Stall, 6th-8th April 2016. We will cover a range of easy-to-replicate recipes from zingy chutneys and pickles to rich, buttery pâtés, and decadent sweet treats, guaranteed to tempt the most discerning artisan shoppers!  www.cookingisfun.ie or follow the blog

http://www.cookingisfun.ie/items/2016/story-farmers-market-stall

 

Mary Jo’s Brunch Strata

This is an absolute gem of a recipe, a savoury bread and butter pudding which can utilise all kinds of tasty bits and pieces from your fridge in a totally delicious way. Mary Jo serves it for brunch but it would also make a delicious lunch or light supper dish with a salad  of organic leaves.

Serves 8-10

350g (12oz) good French, Italian or sourdough bread

1 jumbo onion (350g/12oz) peeled and cut in small dice

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) butter

300g (10oz) fresh spinach wilted, drained and chopped

225-350g (8-12oz) fresh mushrooms sliced and sautéed in butter

3 red peppers roasted, peeled and cut in large dice

350-450g (12-16oz) sausage, cooked and diced or crumbled

good handful of fresh parsley, chopped

fresh or dried thyme

350g (12oz/3 cups) grated cheese (Gruyère Cheddar)

6 eggs

450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) whole milk

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) heavy cream

salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of cayenne

 

Cut the bread into large dice, about ½ inch (1 cm). Include crusts unless scorched. (Measures about 9 cups.)

Melt the butter in a small heavy, sauté pan and sweat onion over a low heat. Add the chopped garlic to the top of the onion and cover with butter wrappers or a parchment circle. The onion and garlic should not brown but will lightly colour, melt into softness and reduce by half. Allow 20-30 minutes to cook the onion.

Combine the cooked onion, garlic, drained, squeezed and chopped spinach, sautéed mushrooms, cooked sausage, parsley and thyme. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. The vegetable/sausage mixture should weigh at least 1.1kg (2 1/2 lbs).

Beat the eggs in a large bowl; add the cream, milk and season well with salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne.

Generously butter a 39 cm x 27 cm x 6 cm oval baking dish or two 21cm x 21cm x 6cm square baking dishes.

Pour half of the egg milk mixture over the diced bread.  Spread half of the moistened bread with a slotted spoon and spread it over the bottom of the baking dish. Distribute 2/3 of the vegetable mix over the bread and top with 2/3 of the grated cheese. Add the second half of the moistened bread over the vegetables and sausage.  Pat everything firmly in place with your clean hands. Pour the remaining milk and egg mixture evenly over the casserole and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from the fridge an hour before cooking if possible. Bake the Strata in a 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 oven for 45-50 minutes or until puffed and golden. Allow to rest at room temperature 15 minutes before cutting.

 

 

Chicken Masala

Serves 6

 

1.6kg (3 1/2 lbs) whole chicken, cut-up, or 1.1kg (2 1/2 lbs) chicken legs and thighs

3-4 tablespoons (4-5 American tablespoons) vegetable oil (or 1 1/2 tablespoons/2 American tablespoons butter plus oil)

1 x 7.5cm (3 inch) coiled stick Ceylon cinnamon or 1 regular cinnamon stick

5 whole cloves

3 whole green cardamoms

2 large onions (1 1/4 lbs.) thinly sliced (4-5 cups)

50g (2oz) fresh ginger, peeled and sliced (1/2 cup)

25g (1oz) garlic, peeled and sliced (6-8 cloves, 1/4 cup)​​

2 green chilies (cayenne or Serrano), seeds intact, 1 sliced, 2 whole generous

teaspoon salt

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (see recipe)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) curry powder (optional)

1 x 425g (14 1/2oz) tin good quality canned tomatoes or 450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes in season, peeled, seeded and chopped

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) tomato paste (optional)

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) water

fresh lime juice and coriander (cilantro)

 

Pull off as much skin as possible from the chicken, trim any excess fat, pat dry with paper towels, and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight or leave 1/2 hour at room temperature.

Heat 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) oil (or 1 1/2 tablespoons/2 American tablespoons each butter and oil) in an enamelled casserole or heavy stewing pot; add the whole spices and sliced onion. Sauté gently for 30-40 minutes or until the onions have reduced to a deep golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the crushed “green spices” and measure all the dry spices into a small cup.

Plan to grind 1 chilli with the ginger and garlic; cook the other chilli whole in the curry and remove when the sauce reaches desired point of heat.

To grind the green spices in a mortar, begin with one sliced chilli and a pinch of salt. When the chilli is mashed to a paste, add 1/2 the ginger and another pinch of salt. Continue with the remaining ginger, and finally add the garlic. Crush thoroughly, pounding and grinding against the stone to produce 75g (3oz/1/2 cup) ginger mash.

To grind the green spices in a blender, place chopped ginger, garlic and chilli in a blender jar; add 50ml (2fl oz/1/4 cup) of water and pulse to a smooth puree.

When the onions have reduced and browned, add the ginger mash and continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until seasonings smell cooked and any water has evaporated. Sprinkle in the mixed dry spices and continue stirring until the mixture is delightfully fragrant. At this point the seasoning base will have reduced to a dark lump smaller than a baseball. Gradually blend in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Add 1 whole chilli if desired. Simmer the sauce, covered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly brown the chicken pieces in 3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) oil and add to the sauce in the casserole. Pour the fat off from the frying pan, deglaze with water and add to the curry. Take care to place dark meat on the bottom and breast pieces on top, since white meat will cook faster and will need to be removed before the dark meat is ready. (This step is optional. Many cooks add raw chicken to the prepared curry sauce for cooking; however, the effort of browning will add depth of flavour to the finished dish.)  Cover and bake in moderate oven, or simmer on the stovetop. Breast meat will be ready in 20-30 minutes; dark meat will take 45-50 minutes.

When the chicken is tender, skim excess fat if necessary and taste sauce for seasoning, adding fresh lemon or lime juice and a generous amount of chopped coriander (cilantro).

Note: For a typical variation, simmer 1 large peeled, diced potato along with chicken, and just before serving, sprinkle in 130g (4 3/4oz/1 cup) frozen peas.

 

Garam Masala

Store in an airtight jar and use within a couple of weeks.

 

Makes scant 25g (1oz)

1 small nutmeg, broken with side of chef’s knife

1 tablespoon (1 1/2 American tablespoons) whole green cardamom, including husk

1 1/2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) crumbled Ceylon cinnamon or 1 broken cinnamon stick

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) whole cloves

1/4 tablespoon (1/2 American tablespoon) black peppercorns

 

Roast the spices in a dry iron skillet until fragrant. Cool slightly and grind to a powder in a spice grinder, sift and store in a small jar with a tight fitting lid.

Top Tip:  To clean a spice grinder, add a handful of white rice, grind and discard the rice. Do not try to wash a spice grinder. An electric coffee mill makes an excellent spice grinder.

 

Cucumber Raita

Delicious with chicken masala or lentil and rice pilaff

 

1 cucumber (at least 300-350g/10-12oz) or 1/2 large seedless cucumber

1/2 teaspoon salt

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) plain whole milk yogurt, preferably homemade

1 clove garlic mashed with a little salt

1 1/2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) chopped green onion

1 1/2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) chopped cilantro or fresh mint, dill and parsley

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped green chilli, seeds intact (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

sprinkle of ground cumin

diced fresh tomato in season (optional)

 

Peel the cucumber, scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. (Leave the centre intact if using seedless cucumber.) Cut into small dice. Place the diced cucumber in a bowl; toss with salt and allow to stand 20-30 minutes. Rinse lightly under water; shake dry in a sieve, then place drained cucumber in a tea towel and twist to squeeze out most of water. Squeezed cucumber will be crisp, transparent and half its original volume.

Mix the garlic, onion, herbs and optional chilli into the yogurt. Fold in the cucumber. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in a serving bowl and dust the top with ground cumin. Garnish with more coriander (cilantro) and optional tomato.

 

Mary Jo’s Rice and Lentil Pilaf

This recipe was also a revelation; the rice is cooked in water rather than stock and had a rich and complex flavour because of all the additions. Mary Jo serves it as an accompaniment to  the chicken masala but I would also enjoy it as a vegetarian dish on its own with a nice dollop of raita.

 

Serves 15-20

 

50g (2oz/1/2 stick) butter

2 1/2 tablespoons (3 American tablespoons) olive or vegetable oil

large cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

350g (12oz) onion diced

3 carrots diced small

1 1/2 tablespoons (3 American tablespoons) chopped julienned ginger

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

21oz (3 cups) Basmati rice, washed and drained

100g (3½oz) cooked Puy or brown lentils, cooked and drained (optional)

25oz (3 cups) water

salt

In a 5 litre heavy saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat the cinnamon and coriander in butter and oil until fragrant. Add the onion and sauté covered with butter wrappers or parchment until tender. Add the carrots, spices and sauté until fragrant. Stir in the rice and salt to coat with the spiced base. Add water and cooked lentils.  Stir, cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.  Allow to stand for 15 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

This pilaf reheats well in a covered casserole or Pyrex baking dish

 

Mary Jo’s French Apple Tart

Mary Jo showed us such a brilliant technique to make a stunningly professional looking French Apple Tart – there’s no sugar in the pastry because the tart will be cooked at a high temperature.

 

Serves 8

 

250g (9oz) shortcrust pastry (see recipe)

800-900g (1 3/4 – 2lbs) tart cooking Bramley apples

sprinkling of flour

60g (2 1/2oz/1/3 cup) sugar

3/4 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon) butter

3-4 tablespoons (4-5 American tablespoons) apricot glaze

Tart Tin – 1 x 23 cm (9 inch) tart tin

 

Pie Crust

The pastry quantity below is enough to make three tarts. Left over pastry can be frozen for another time.

450g (llb/3 1/2 cups) plain flour

l 1/4 teaspoon salt (1 teaspoon if using salted butter)

250g (9oz/2 1/4 sticks) cold butter or 225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter plus 25g (1oz/1/4 stick) lard

150ml (5fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) ice water

To make pastry in food processor: place the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the cold butter and lard and cut in 1/2-inch cubes or slices. Pulse 3 times to break up the butter into flakes. With the processor running, pour in the ice water in a slow stream through the feed tube. Stop the processor as soon as the pastry rolls into a ball. Remove the ball of dough from the bowl; shape into 15cm (6 inch) log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate (makes scant 2lbs/30oz pie crust).

To roll a shell: shape 300g (10oz) chilled pastry (one-third of batch) into a 10cm (4 inch) disk. Dust with flour and roll on a smooth, clean surface, giving the dough a quarter turn with each rolling to maintain a circle. Roll to a generous 33cm (12 inch) circle; brush off any excess flour. Fold in quarters; unfold onto the inside of the quiche tin. Press the pastry firmly into bottom edge of the tin. Use a scissors to trim the dough to an even 1cm (1/2 inch) overhang. Tuck the overhang inside the pastry edge, pressing firmly. Crimp or flute the top edge. Chill the pastry shell for at least 30 minutes before baking. Chilling relaxes the gluten in the flour and prevents shrinkage and cracking. In haste, the tart shell may be chilled in the freezer for 10 minutes. Next prepare the apples.

Peel the apples, swivel out the stem and blossom the ends with a paring knife, cut in half, and remove the cores with a teaspoon or melon baller.  Place the apple halves cut-side down on  wooden board. Cut a thin slice from both the stem and blossom ends. Coarsely chop cut-off the slices and set aside. Hold each apple half between the thumb and first finger; cut halves into 8 – 9 x 5mm (1/4 inch) slices. Cut through but keep the slices together.

Preheat oven to 220ºC/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Dust the chilled pastry shell bottom with flour. Sprinkle over the chopped apple bits. Place the sliced apple halves snugly around the tart shell and in the center. Cut any leftover slices in half and tuck into any spaces.  Sprinkle the apples with sugar and dot with butter. Bake the tart in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until the pastry is richly colored and the apples are brown-tinged and tender. Remove the tart from the oven and use the back of a spoon to carefully fan the cooked apple slices into a circle. Brush or spoon over the warm apricot glaze while tart is hot (see recipe below). Cool on wire rack.

Note: To prepare apricot glaze, simmer the apricot jam until it has consistency of melted jelly. If jam has chunks of fruit, it will need to be strained. If jam is too sweet, sharpen with lemon juice.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

Letters

Back to List
Latest Letter
All Recipes
Back to Website
All Darinas Letters are published each week in The Examiner

Past Letters

  • Recipes