ArchiveJanuary 5, 2018

Nollaig na mBan

I just love that the tradition of celebrating Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan, as it was known, has once again become super cool. Why wouldn’t it? The 12th day of Christmas is the special day when all the hardworking Mammies, Grannies and Aunties who have lovingly laboured to create a fun, delicious and hopefully carefree Christmas for all the family get to enjoy time off, kick up their heels and get out to celebrate and feast and have fun together.

The tradition is particularly strong in Cork, Kerry, the West of Ireland and the Gaeltacht areas but the custom is enjoying a popular revival all around the country, a welcome excuse for us girls to get together. The tradition where the men and women swopped roles and the men did the chores was passed on orally from one generation to another.

Originally, several women from around the parish would gather around the fire in each other’s houses drinking tea, with currant cake or spotted dog and sharing little dainties. On some of the islands there was a custom of lighting candles in every room in the house on the twelfth night, the night of the Epiphany. Nowadays we don’t necessarily stick to drinking tea! Originally the custom was little known in urban areas but nowadays some Dublin friends meet for breakfast, others lunch, a leisurely chatty afternoon tea is also a favourite way to celebrate and of course a get together dinner.

Hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafés have recognised the opportunity so it could be worth watching this space – see how Halloween has gathered momentum.

Women of all ages who get together to celebrate Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas say there’s a different quality about the get together, almost a celebration of sisterhood – an Irish version of International Women’s Day.

In France, they celebrate the Feast of the Kings with the traditional Galette du Rois. Every  boulangerie has its own version of this recipe but this one is hard to beat and is easy to make, so one can start the tradition in your home.

So how about organising a Nollaig na mBan celebration with all your friends? It could always be afternoon fizz, I do love a nice cup of tea though.

Galette du Roi


Serves 8

Puff Pastry made with:

225g (8ozs) flour

225g (8ozs) butter

pinch of salt

water, 150ml (¼ pint) approx.


75g (3ozs) ground hazelnuts toasted, freshly ground

25g (1oz) ground almonds

110g (4ozs) castor sugar

45g (1½ozs) melted butter

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

2 tablespoons double cream

1 dessertspoon rum (optional)

Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt


Icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6.

Put the hazelnuts onto a baking tray.  Bake until the skins loosen.

Remove nuts from oven and place in a tea towel.  Rub off the loose papery skins.  Let cool.  Grind the nuts in a nut grinder or chop in a food processor.

Increase oven temperature to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8.

Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into 2 circles approx. 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter.  Put one onto a damp baking sheet, chill and chill the other piece also.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl until smooth. Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge.  Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges.

Make a small hole in the centre brush with egg wash and leave for 5 minutes in the refrigerator. With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect. Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry just score it.


Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for 30 minutes approx. While still hot dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (Do Not Leave the Grill) – the sugar will melt and caramelize to a dark brown glaze. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Note: Galette du Roi is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated


Curnie Cake (Currant Cake)

Makes 1 loaf


450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

75g (3oz) sultanas (or more if you’d like)

1 organic egg

about 350 – 425ml (12-14fl oz) buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7.


In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up in to your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.


Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.


The trick with currant cake like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. With floured fingers, roll the dough lightly for a few seconds – just enough to tidy it up. Then pat the dough into a round, about 6cm (2½ inches) deep. Transfer to a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross on it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with knife at the four triangles. Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.


Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Currant Cake is also really good eaten with Cheddar cheese.


Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

This version is based on a delicious spelt brownie recipe created by super baker Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes in London.  We’ve gilded the lily by adding a drizzle of ganache and by sprinkling some coarsely chopped pistachio and some rose petals on top.


Makes 10 brownies


175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

350g (12oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces (60-70%) (we use Valrhona)

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white spelt flour

½  teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using Sea salt)

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 medium eggs (about 200g)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


Chocolate Ganache

110g (4oz) dark chocolate

125ml (4 floz) cream


50g (2oz) Pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.


Butter and line a 20 x 30cm baking dish with parchment paper.


In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over water that has been brought to the boil and then taken off the heat.  Allow the mixture to rest, stirring occasionally as it melts.


In another bowl, sift together the cocoa, spelt flour and baking powder.  Sprinkle over the salt.


In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture followed by the dry ingredients and pour into the prepared baking dish.


Baked in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.  The brownies should be set but with a slight wobble.


Meanwhile, make the ganache

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed 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.

Slather a little chocolate ganache on top. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and rose petals.  Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy.


Lemon Curd Meringue Cake

This cake would not necessarily win prizes in a beauty contest but is one of the most delicious confections you’ll ever eat.


Serves 8 – 10


150g (5ozs) butter

225g (8ozs) flour

225g (8ozs) caster sugar

4 eggs, organic and free-range

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk


Lemon Curd

50g (2 ozs) butter

100g (3½ ozs) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)



2 egg whites

110g (4 ozs) caster sugar


2 x 25cm (2 x 10 inch) sponge cake tins


First make the cake. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.


Grease the tins with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten if necessary.


Meanwhile mix all the caster sugar together with the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.


Divide the cake mixture evenly between the 2 tins, spread a layer of meringue evenly over the top of each.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked.


Next make the lemon curd, melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken further as it cools.)


When the cake is cooked, allow to cook for a few minutes, run a knife around the edge of the tin, then slide onto a wire rack.


To assemble

When completely cold, sandwich together with a layer of lemon curd.

For extra oomph make double the lemon curd and put another lay on the top.

Serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraîche.



Makes about 24


135g (4 3/4oz) butter, plus extra for greasing tray

2 tablespoons floral honey

1 tablespoon orange flower water

3 eggs

125g (4 1/2oz/) caster sugar

135g (4 3/4oz/) self-raising flour or 135g (4 3/4oz) plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted

plus extra flour for dusting


Melt the butter with the honey, then pour in the orange flower water and set aside to cool. Whisk the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer for 10 minutes or so, until they are really fluffy and double in size.  Fold in the flour, then the butter and honey mixture.


Pour into a container and leave the batter to rest for at least 3 hours in the fridge, or overnight is fine too.


Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5.


Butter a madeleine tray (you can also do this in a small muffin tray), then dust with flour and shake off the excess. Fill the moulds two-thirds full, then bake for 10 minutes or so until golden brown and firm to the touch.



Coconut Kisses


Easy peasy to make, can be tiny bites or adapted to make a delectable pudding. This recipe also makes two 18cm (7 inch) meringue discs which can be sandwiched together with chunks of fresh mango or pineapple and cream.


Makes 30 approximately


2 egg whites

125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla castor sugar

75g (3oz) desiccated coconut


Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.


Cover 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone paper.  Whisk the egg whites with the vanilla sugar until very stiff and fold in the desiccated coconut gently.  Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx.

Cool on a wire rack.

These biscuits may be stored in an airtight tin for 3-4 weeks.

Delicious Leftovers

All set for Christmas… hope so but if you’re not, let me cheer you up… neither am I  and despite  all my good advice I’m still whizzing around gathering up bits and pieces and trying to wrap some last minute pressies. It’s the wrapping that usually scuppers me in the end. Once again this brings memories flooding back, Mummy always waited until everyone else had shared their presents on Christmas, then she’d gather up all the wrapping paper and ribbons and disappear to embellish her gifts.

Only two sleeps away now from that ‘phew’ moment when Christmas is over for another year. Love that huge sense of relief that washes over me, pressure is off and expectations revert to more or less normal, and better still I get to have fun transforming the leftovers into innovative deliciousness. It’s scary to think that 30% of all the food bought over Christmas is likely to end up in the bin at a time when so many people not far away from any of us are homeless or in need. Don’t want to pile on the guilt but at least we can use up every scrap, there are a million ways to do this, often by adapting familiar recipes. Concentrate on the fresh and perishable foods first. Leftover cranberry sauce keeps for at least several weeks, if not months, fresh berries can of course be frozen, even if they were already frozen (it won’t improve them but they won’t be a health hazard), alternatively throw a fistful in muffins or scones, a pound cake or add to salads.

A Christmas cake, stored in an airtight container will keep for weeks, and if you get fed up of it crumble a bit into vanilla ice-cream or try frying a slice gently in butter, like left over plum pudding. Eat it with a dollop of brandy butter, melting over the top. The latter keeps for ages and is delicious slathered onto warm scones or over mincemeat and Brambly apple tart.

Mincemeat also has a long shelf life so no urgency there either. Wait until a frosty day in February to make a mincemeat bread and butter pudding.

So I’ll concentrate on the non-perishable items that need to be enjoyed within a couple of days and suggest a few comforting dishes.

Sprouts certainly need to be used up and be sure to save the turkey carcass for a fine pot of stock to use for the best turkey broth ever.


Turkey, Ham and Chickpea Stew with Fresh Spices


Serves 6 to 8


A few little jars of fresh spices add magic and exotic flavours to leftovers.


450g (1lb) chickpeas (cover and soak overnight in cold water)
or 2 x 400g (14oz) tins

2 fresh green chillies

5cm (2inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, crushed

8 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 11/2 tins of 400g (14oz) tomatoes

225g (8oz) cooked turkey, chopped

225g (8oz) cooked ham, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander leaves

1 fresh mint leaves



To Serve

Tomato and Coriander Salsa



Drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and cook until tender, this can take anything from 30-60 minutes depending on the quality. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Meanwhile remove the seeds from the chilli and grind to a paste in a pestle and mortar or food processor with the ginger and garlic.


Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan, sweat the onion until soft but not coloured, add the chilli paste together with the crushed cumin and the coriander seeds. Cook for a minute or two, then add the peeled and chopped or tinned tomatoes, the drained chickpeas and a little of the cooking liquid (save the rest for soup). Simmer gently for about 50 minutes until the flavours have mingled, add the chopped cooked turkey and ham and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes or until hot. Taste, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with lots of freshly chopped coriander and mint and serve immediately. Delicious served either with plain boiled rice and Tomato, Red Onion and Coriander Salsa or cold with yoghurt, crème fraîche and lots of fresh coriander and mint leaves.



Tomato and Coriander Salsa

2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ – 1 chilli, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

freshly squeezed fresh lime juice to taste

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar


To make the salsa, mix all the ingredients together.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.



Irresistible Cheese Croquettes


A brilliant way to use the scraps of cheese you find in the drawer of your fridge – you can use a little blue but not too much, cheddar and harder cheese are best. Everyone including the kids will be begging for more, but they are also a huge success when served as a hot and tasty bite at a drinks party.


Makes 25 – 30, depending on size


450ml (15fl oz) milk

few slices of carrot and onion

1 small bay leaf

sprig of thyme

4 parsley stalks

200g (7oz) roux

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

a pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

beaten egg

fine dried white breadcrumbs



Ballymaloe Country Relish or the Tomato and Red Pepper and Tomato Chutney from my column last week.

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time.  Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go.  Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere.  (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).


Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spread out on a wide plate to cool.


When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx.  Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten

egg and then in fine breadcrumbs.  Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst.  Just before serving, heat a deep fry to 150°C/300°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.


Note: Cooked Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.


A posh variation:

Cheese and Truffle Croquettes

Add 1-2 tablespoons of white truffle oil to the mixture with the cheese and proceed as in master recipe.




Cranberry Scones with Blue Cheese Butter

A delicious way to use the scraps of blue cheese in your fridge, this blue cheese butter is also great melting over a steak.

Fresh cranberries can also be added to sweet scones but increase the sugar by 25g (1oz).


450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda

110g (4 oz) cranberries, fresh or frozen

350-400ml (12-14fl oz) approx. sour milk or buttermilk to mix


Blue Cheese Butter


110g (4 oz) unsalted butter

3-4oz (75-110g) Cashel Blue or Crozier Blue cheese depending on strength of cheese

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional



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


To  make the blue cheese butter:

Crumble the blue cheese, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends.  Chill or freeze until needed.


Sieve the dry ingredients. Add the cranberries. 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/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 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.



Surprise Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Serves 6


Macaroni cheese is a terrific base for extra bits. Here we add a dice of smoked mackerel or salmon but leftover turkey or ham are also delicious added to a bubbly macaroni.


225g (8ozs) macaroni

3.4 litres (6 pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

50g (2ozs) butter

50g (2ozs) white flour

850ml (1½ pints) boiling whole milk

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon) freshly chopped parsley, (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

150g (5ozs) grated mature Cheddar cheese, Derg or Coolattin

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar for sprinkling on top

225g (8oz) diced smoked mackerel or salmon

1.1 litre (1 x 2 pint) capacity pie dish


Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approx. drain well.


Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil, stir in the smoked fish, taste, correct seasoning and serve immediately.


Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place.  Turn into a pie dish, sprinkle grated cheese over the top.  Reheat in a preheated moderate oven – 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. It is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.


Top Tip: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce.  Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.


Pickled Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apricots and Hazelnuts

A delicious simple salad to use left-over red cabbage and sprouts.


Serves 10


¼ red cabbage

225g (8ozs) Brussels sprout, trimmed and shredded

175 g (6ozs) dried apricots, sliced

a fistful of flat-parsley sprigs

2 tablespoons preserved lemon, diced (optional)

50g (2oz) hazelnuts, toasted
Honey and Vinegar Dressing

45 ml (3 good tablespoons) pure Irish honey

90 ml (6 tablespoons) white wine vinegar


Salt and freshly ground pepper


First make the dressing. Mix the honey and vinegar together.  Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into shreds across the grain. Trim and shred the sprouts. Dice the preserved lemon, if using.   Put into a bowl and toss in the dressing, add the sliced apricots and lots of flat parsley. Toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning. Tumble into a serving bowl. Scatter with toasted hazelnuts and enjoy.



Goose or Duck Tacos with Guacamole


Serves 6 approx.


2 roast duck legs or confit, or leftover pieces from the carcass with some crispy skin

12 small corn tortillas

1 red onion, finely sliced


fresh coriander, chopped

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons pureed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt



Remove the hot meat and crispy skin from the bone, chop in small pieces or reheat in a little duck or goose fat.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.


Warm the tortillas, on a dry hot pan for a few seconds.  Put a little mound of seasoned duck or goose on each with some folded tortillas.


Serve guacamole, finely sliced onion, freshly chopped coriander and chipotle mayo as an accompaniment.  Each diner makes and rolls up their own tacos.


Chipotle Mayonnaise

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way.

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.



The avocado must be really ripe for guacamole


1 ripe avocado (Hass if available)

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.  Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of plastic to exclude the air.  Cover and keep cool until needed.


A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.




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