ArchiveOctober 2019

The Ulster Food Trail….

On a recent reconnaissance trip to Northern Ireland, it’s not too strong to say I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers.  After three action packed days, I struggled home on the train resembling a ‘bag lady’ with large totes overflowing with produce – so many delicious new finds…..

My adventure began in the Strangford Lough region. I was collected from lovely Clandeboye after a particularly good breakfast of freshly boiled eggs and unctuous Clandeboye yoghurt made from the milk of Lady Duffrin’s fine herd of Jersey cows – Seek out this yoghurt, its superb and I don’t use that word loosely.

After a meandering drive around beautiful Strangford Lough, we arrived at the Echlinville Distillery outside Kircubbin. It’s the first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years. Since it’s establishment in 2012 it’s at the forefront of Ireland’s spirits renaissance and is the home of some of the North’s best known spirits, including Jawbox Gin, Dunvilles Irish Whiskey and lots of innovative work going on here with barrel aging in various woods… We particularly enjoyed a 12 year old Dunville’s single malt, aged in a PX barrel, the return of an icon originally introduced in 1808.

After our tour and tipple, it was on to the little town of Comber to the super cool indigenous and independent Indie Füde shop. Owner Johnny McDowell bounced out to greet us, his little deli/cum café was packed with small batch artisan products from all over the island of Ireland but particularly the North. Fantastic charcuterie from Broughgammon Farm and Ispini, Boerwors from Hellbent, Buffalo Salami from Ballyriff, Buchanan’s Irish peat smoked back bacon with a delicious layer of fine back fat, Abernethys handmade butter made in Dromara from the cream of the grass fed cows and then a whole counter of wonderful artisan cheese. Blue Buck of course but also several I hadn’t tasted before, a Sperrin blue, a triple cream cheese from Ballylisk of Armagh called Triple Rose. An oak smoked Drumlin Cheddar from Silka Cropp of Corleggy fame in Co Cavan.

I also found some smoked anchovies from East Coast Seafoods and a loaf of French Village Bakery sourdough – How about that for a picnic?

Johnny is properly passionate about local foods and loves to do things differently from eco-friendly packaging, bold designs to bespoke gift ideas, always trying to surprise and innovate, follow Indie Füde (www.indiefude.com) to find out about their cookery demos and pop up supper clubs, Will Brown was cooking up a storm while we were there getting ready for that evenings supper club.

Next day we explored the mid Ulster region – First stop the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Op in Toomebridge, Co Antrim. Several fishermen were sorting their nets under the watchful eye of a flock of herons on the weir over the River Ban which runs through the 45 mile Lough Neagh. I’d particularly asked to visit this fishery…. we’ve been enjoying the tender Lough Neagh smoked eel at Ballymaloe for many years, both silver and brown eels thrive in the lough. They love dark and stormy nights before a new moon, the eels become restless and move down the river to start their epic 5,000 mile journey back to the Sargasso Sea, carried along on the gulf stream. The fishermen wait in their flat bottomed boats, with their traditional cogull nets and hooks to harvest the fat charged eel, carrying on a tradition and passing on the skills that date back to the Mesolithic times

Cathy Chauhan & Pat Close showed us round the interpretive visitor centre and Science room where school children learn about the intriguing history and life cycle of the eel.

Over 400 tons of Lough Neagh eel are caught and processed every year in line with careful conservation guidelines. A large part of the catch are shipped to Holland for smoking and to Billingsgate in London for the production of Jellied eel. Fresh eel are also available but what I didn’t know was that Lough Neagh is also home to many other species including Dollaghan, a wild brown trout, Perch, Roach, Bream, Pike and Pollan, an ancient fish species which dates back to the ice age and is unique to Ireland. I tasted it both fresh and smoked by North Coast Smokehouse and love it – By the way fresh eel is my favourite fresh water fish, and that’s also available from the Lough Neagh Co-op.

There’s so much more to share with you but enough for this article, to be continued…..

Rory O’Connell’s Roast Red Onion Leaves with Smoked Eel and Horseradish Mayonnaise

Choose small red onions for roasting as you really want the finished leaves to be bite sized. The smoked eel can be replaced with smoked salmon or mackerel but do try to source smoked eel if you can.

Makes approximately 20 pieces or bites

4 small red onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

250g (9oz) smoked eel cut into dice or thin slices

5 tablespoons horseradish mayonnaise (see recipe)

sprigs of chervil or watercress for garnish

Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the unpeeled onions in half straight down through the middle and through the root. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil and place cut side down on a roasting tray. Cook for 20-40 minutes or until the onions feel completely tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When the onions are cool, separate the layers of onion to achieve little cup shaped leaves. These can be prepared in advance and stored at room temperature.

To assemble, place the onion leaves on a serving dish. Spoon a little of the horseradish mayonnaise into the base of each leaf and follow with a piece of eel and a spring if chervil or watercress.

Horseradish Mayonnaise

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of caster sugar

2 tablespoons of wine vinegar

150ml sunflower oil or light olive oil or a mixture of both oils

1 heaped tablespoon of finely, grated fresh horseradish

1 teaspoon of chopped tarragon

Put the egg yolks, mustard, sugar and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk well and add the oil gradually in a slow and steady stream while whisking all the time. The sauce will emulsify and thicken quite easily. Add the horseradish and chopped herbs. Taste and correct seasoning. It is unlikely to need salt because of the large quantity of mustard.

Chill until needed.

Scrambled Egg with Chervil and Smoked Salmon, Mackerel or Smoked Eel

Makes 24 approx.

Cold Scrambled Egg with Chervil may not sound in the least appetizing. Try it, it makes the very best egg sandwiches, and served here on tiny croutons with little strips of smoked salmon, mackerel or eel on top, it makes a delicious cocktail bite.  Smoked eel is sublime but we need to be aware that eels are endangered in some areas, in which case use smoked salmon or smoked mackerel.

2 really fresh organic eggs

1 tablesp. cream or milk

a dot of butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

trimmings of smoked salmon, smoked mackerel or smoked eel cut in strips

sourdough bread,  7mm (⅓ inch) thick, cut into 5cm (2 inch) squares approx. (large enough for about 2 bites)

chervil

Preheat a pangrill, chargrill the sourdough on both sides.  Cut into squares.

Scramble the eggs in the usual way, taste for seasoning.  Spread some scrambled egg on each piece of sourdough.   Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and top with chervil.

A Salad of Figs, Sperrin Blue Cheese, Cured Coppa, Smoked Almonds and Nasturtium Leaves

I used some Ispini Coppa, Broughgammon Salami.

Serves 4

4 ripe juicy figs

A drizzle honey

A drizzle lemon juice

8 thin slices of artisan salami or coppa

50g (2ozs) crumbled Sperrin Blue cheese

8 smoked or well toasted unskinned almonds coarsely sliced

A few small salad leaves or small nasturtium leaves if available

Extra virgin olive oil

Flakey sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Trim each fig and cut into thirds and place into a wide serving bowl. Drizzle with a little runny honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Toss gently.

To assemble.

Put three pieces of honeyed fig on each plate, top with a few crumbs of Sperrin Blue cheese, a couple of folds of wafer thin coppa or salami. Scatter a few small organic salad leaves and a nasturtium leaf or two on top.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a few flakes of sea salt and a scattering of coarsely sliced, roasted or smoked almonds. Enjoy immediately.

Carrot, Apple and Raisin Salad with Yoghurt and Mayonnaise Dressing

This delicious salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have in your kitchen, but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead, as the apple will discolour.  It can be served either as a starter or as an accompanied salad for ham or pork.

Serves 6

8 ozs (225g) grated carrot

10 ozs (285g) grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

2½ oz (60 g) raisins

salt and freshly ground pepper

Dressing

2-3 tablespoons natural yoghurt

2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

honey (optional)

Garnish

a few leaves of lettuce

sprigs of watercress or parsley

chive flowers if you have them

Wash the carrots and peel if necessary.  Grate the carrots and apples on the coarsest part of the grater. Mix the yoghurt with the mayonnaise.  Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together, add the raisins and season with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss in the dressing. Toss with a fork to mix.   Taste and add a bit of honey if needed, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Take 6 large side plates, white are best for this.   Arrange a few small lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates.  Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

Bhapa Doi – Steamed Sweetened Yoghurt

So maybe this isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, but steamed puddings are certainly a forgotten skill and I ate the most sublime steamed yoghurt at Kempies restaurant in Calcutta. This isn’t exactly the same, but it is delicious also. I found it in The Calcutta Kitchen by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel.

The sweetness of the condensed milk works wonderfully with the acidity of the plain yoghurt. This creamy, sliceable textured pudding is similar to a crème caramel – one of my favourites.

Serves 8

800g (1lb 12 oz) natural yoghurt

300g (10 1/2oz) sweetened condensed milk

seeds of 6 green cardamom pods

powdered in a mortar and pestle

8-10 saffron strands

Garnish

Sliced pistachio nuts

Heat some water in a steamer. You could use a bamboo over a wok, but any multi-tiered steamer will work. If you do not have a steamer, upturn a small, metal, flat-bottomed bowl inside a larger pot with a fitting lid. Pour water into this and bring to a simmer. Put the item to be steamed into a suitable dish, cover with clingfilm, and place on the upturned bowl to steam.

Mix the natural yoghurt and other ingredients in a bowl and whisk to incorporate some air but don’t overdo it or the whey will separate. Pour it into 8 small serving bowls. Cover with clingfilm and put in the steamer or on to the upturned bowl. Cover with the lid and steam on a steady simmer for 35-40 minutes.

Carefully remove the bowls and leave to cool. Remove the clingfilm and chill.

Serve chilled, sprinkle with the sliced pistachio nuts.

Celebrating the Potato

Drat, I’ve just discovered that I missed National Potato day. It was on Friday 4th of October. Somehow it whizzed by without me registering but I really want to write a column extolling the virtues of my veggie hero – my top pick for a desert island staple.

Why do we insist on calling it the humble spud when for me it is the most versatile of all vegetables. It can be dressed up or down, boiled, fried, sautéed, mashed, pureed, roast, layered up in a gratin, served as a side or presented as the main attraction. Like on the menu at terroir-based café, Tartare in Galway.

Multi award winning chef JP McMahon served new season potatoes in sea herb butter on the dinner menu. The oval potatoes came in a viscous broth sprinkled with dillisk seaweed and fresh mint – an inspired contemporary celebration of freshly dug organic potatoes from Beech Lawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe where JP gets many of his fresh organic vegetables.

This week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland meeting artisan food producers and visiting some ‘off the beaten track’ tourist attractions. I was particularly intrigued by two enterprising women, Tracey Jeffrey from Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen (https://traceysfarmhousekitchen.com/) and Bronagh Duffin at the Bakehouse in Bellaghy (http://bakehouseni.com/)

Tracey welcomes visitors and small groups who would like to learn the simple art of bread baking to her farmhouse. She made wheaten farls and fruit bannocks and taught us how to make fadge (potato bread) – a real taste of Ulster baking. I really wanted to learn how to make this traditional Ulster favourite. Turns out Tracey and Bronagh make it in quite different ways. . . . .

Tracey explained how potato bread was originally made as a way to use up leftover mashed potato. She kneaded the well-seasoned mash into some flour. Rolled it into a ¾ inch thick round and then cut it into 4 farls (quarters) these were originally cooked on a griddle over a turf fire but Tracey cooked them on an electric crepe pan (an ingenious idea), but of course, a dry frying pan also works perfectly. When they were speckled on both sides, Tracey slathered them with Abernethy’s Dillisk butter churned down the road in Dromara, Co Down.

Bronagh had invited 5 children from the local St Mary’s Primary School, to her kitchen for a class. The smell of turf smoke from the fireplace filled the kitchen while the children mixed the warm mashed potato and flour in a bowl with a fine dollop of butter and a dash of milk. Some of these children had never even eaten this traditional dish before but were super excited to learn that they could use a variety of cutters to cut out fun shapes to cook on the pan or the griddle over the open fire.

I stayed at Ballyscullion Park, Richard and Rosalind Mullholland’s beautiful Regency house, now a favoured wedding destination amidst the gardens and parkland. George, son of the house, cooked us a delicious country house dinner, the starter of home-grown tomatoes, fennel and halloumi had a drizzle of truffle flavoured Burren Balsamic on top – which added an extra delicious ‘je ne se quoi’ to the dish. https://www.ballyscullionpark.com A buttery potato gratin was served with slow cooked lamb, kale and runner beans.

A Potato gratin is such a versatile dish, it can be a meal in itself or a just ‘pop into the oven’ accompaniment.

I’m particularly fond of Indian potato dishes too, a few spices elevate potato cakes to a new level. , try these . . . .

And who doesn’t love a smooth and silky potato soup? The children will love it too and it can be dressed up for a dinner party with a slick of scallion oil or watercress pesto.

Finally we need to talk about variety, there are ‘potatoes and potatoes’ but it is good to realise that if you are interested in flavour, the variety really matters. . . seek out traditional and old varieties, Golden Wonder, Kerrs Pink, Pink Fir Apple, Charlotte, Alouette, Carolus, Setanta. . . .so much nourishment and flavour for just a few euros.

Potato Soup

Serves 6

Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboard was otherwise bare so one could make this simply delicious soup at a moment’s notice. While the vegetables are sweating, pop a few white soda scones or Cheddar cheese scones into the oven and wow, won’t they be impressed.

50g (2oz) butter

550g (20oz) peeled, diced, potatoes, one-third inch dice (weight when prepared)

110g (4oz) diced onions, one-third inch dice

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

100ml (4fl oz) creamy milk

freshly chopped herbs and herb flowers, optional

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx. Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil, when the vegetables are soft but not coloured add stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and herb flowers if available.

Aloo Tikki (Spiced Potato Cakes)

1 onion, finely chopped

450g (1lb/4 potatoes), boiled and peeled

150g (5oz) green peas, cooked

1/2 – 3/4 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1-3 teaspoons ginger grated very finely

1 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped

1 level teaspoon roast and ground cumin

1 level teaspoon roast and ground coriander

1/2 – 1 level teaspoon chilli powder

salt and pepper to taste 

seasoned flour

vegetable oil

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden.

Mash the boiled peas and potatoes with the other ingredients.  Add the chilli, ginger, coriander and spices.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Shape into small balls with the dough, roll it in some seasoned flour and line them in a tray. Keep this in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Just before serving, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and shallow fry them until golden.

Delicious served with a mint and coriander chutney or tomato chutney

Fadge or Potato Bread

Serves 8

In Ulster people are passionate about fadge or potato bread.  It can be cooked on a griddle, in a frying pan or in the oven.

2 lbs (900g) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

2 tablespoons flour

1-2 ozs (25-50g) butter

creamy milk

1 tablespoon chopped Parsley, Chives and lemon thyme, mixed, (optional)

seasoned flour

salt and freshly ground pepper

Bacon fat, butter or olive oil for frying

Cook the potatoes in their jackets, pull off the skin and mash right away.   Add the flour and butter. Season with lots of salt and freshly ground pepper, adding a few drops of creamy milk if the mixture is altogether too stiff. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shape into a 2.5 cm (3/4 inch) thick round and then cut into quarters or eights.  Dip in seasoned flour.  Bake on a griddle over an open fire or fry in bacon fat or melted butter on a gentle heat.  Cook the fadge until crusty and golden on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side (4-5 minutes approx.. each side).  Serve with an Ulster fry or just on its own on hot plates with a blob of butter melting on top.

New Season’s Potatoes with Dillisk Butter and Sea Vegetables

At Tartare in Galway, JP McMahon’s chefs serve this as a ‘standalone’ potato dish on the dinner menu. It’s high time potatoes took a starring role. We loved it.

Serves 6 – 8 as a starter

1kg new season baby potatoes (Pink Fir Apple or Charlotte)

1 teaspoon of milled dillisk flakes

250g butter

Seaweed vinegar to taste

Sea vegetables – dillisk, sea lettuce or mint leaves

Flaky sea salt

Cook the well-scrubbed potatoes in well salted boiling water until tender, 10 – 15 mins. Strain and reserve 100mls of the water. Slice the potatoes lengthwise or widthways depending on size. Return the water to the pot, add dillisk and butter. When the butter melts, blend to create an emulsion. Add the warm potatoes to the pot and glaze with the dillisk butter emulsion. Season to taste with seaweed vinegar ad salt. Ladle into hot bowls and serve immediately with sea herbs or fresh mint.

Ballyscullion Park Pommes Boulangere by George Mulholland

1.2Kg Maris Piper potatoes

1.5Litres homemade chicken or vegetable stock

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250ml double cream

Butter

Scrub, peel and slice the potatoes into a 4mm thick rounds. Place one layer of potatoes into a casserole dish. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep layering the potato slices until they are all used up, this amount should give you approx. 5 layers of sliced potatoes with each layer well-seasoned.

Cover potatoes with 1.5 litres of homemade stock and cover with a buttered cartouche (baking parchment cut to size and buttered on one side). Place in the oven at 260°C for 30 minutes until almost tender and remove from the oven.

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and transfer to a well buttered casserole dish whilst layering them up. Add the double cream to the stock remaining which the potatoes were cooked in, stir to mix and pour over the potatoes. Top with lots of butter. Return to the oven at 260°C until the top layers are nicely browned and bubbling (20 – 30mins). Serve immediately.

A Trip to West Clare

Just love to take short breaks in Ireland. Choose an area, spend a couple of nights in a local country house or B&B and explore.

This time it was West Clare and boy is it all happening in West Clare! I steer well clear of the prime tourist spots, been there, done that a long time ago when they weren’t overrun with tourist buses and often truly shocking fast food. Is it really the case that bus tours only want that kind of food? I find that really hard to believe and wince at the damage to the reputation of Irish food. . . .

On the other hand there’s much to be excited about. In Lahinch we found Hugo’s Deli, a tiny bakery cum café, where Hugo Galloway, a brilliant young baker was turning out dark and crusty natural sourdough loaves, warm sausage rolls, focaccia and warm Portuguese custard tarts to die for. Can’t imagine how they do it in such a tiny space. Hugo is self-taught, learned by trial and error. The counter is made from recycled packing cases, a few wooden seats around the edges. A nonstop stream of cool young hipsters, surfers and grateful locals poured in for a ‘made to order’ focaccia sandwich that looks properly delicious, while I was sipping a double espresso and nibbling one of the best pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) I’ve ever eaten.   That was it – a short menu of delicious things – Bravo Hugo and team!

Another exciting discovery for me was Moy Hill Community Farm where Fergal and a whole group of friends and volunteers have developed an inspirational food producing project on 70 acres of mixed land, with 55 CSA’s / members, which supply 13 restaurants, and two Farmers Markets, Ennistymon and Kilrush and a REKO Ring in Ennis, on Wednesday 6:30 and 7:00 at 9 Lower Market Street, Clonroad Beg, customers meet producers and pay cash to collect their spanking fresh food. Another brilliant route to market where local farmers and food producers get paid full price for their produce rather than the circa 33% they would get through the ordinary retail system.

The energy and enthusiasm was palpable  when we visited unannounced as preparations were being made for the Farm Gathering –  three days of workshops, music, food, foraging farm tours, regenerative agriculture talks, crafts and dancing – a wonderful celebration on the Harvest Equinox.

Moy House, a Blue Book property overlooking Lahinch Bay also had a beautiful garden bursting with fresh produce grown by Sarah Noonan and her team Matt Strefford to use to make magic in the kitchen.

On the main street in Ennistymon you’ll find Niamh Fox, chef and owner of The Little Fox, a super cool spirited café serving the sort of fresh quirky creative plates that I’m happy to drive all the way to Clare for. We washed it down with Thalli Kombucha made by Avery Maguire a brilliant young forager whom you’ll occasionally find in The Aloe Tree Health food shop on Main Street or on her stall at the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturdays. We were there for lunch but check out Little Fox delicious dinners and ‘pop ups’.

Bespoke handmade knife lovers, of which I am certainly one should link up with Niamh’s partner Sam Gleeson (also a furniture maker) to explore the options. While we are on the subject of handmade, just across the road under the stone arch you’ll find Eamon O’Sullivan who carves handmade spoons and will give his next course in Ballymaloe cookery School on Saturday November 16th 2019, from 9.00am to 5.00pm, and the course includes lunch.

Just next door you’ll find The Cheese Press run by Sinead Ni Ghairbith where you’ll find among other temptations the superb St Tola goat cheese in its many variations made by her sister Siobhan Ni Ghairbith.

If you have a little more time to linger in Co Clare, drive across the Burren, treat yourself to a stay at lovely Gregans Castle and enjoy Robert McAuley’s food.  Swing by Flaggy Shore for some oysters, then on up to Hazel Mountain Chocolate, the most remote chocolatier in Europe – making chocolate from the bean to the bar and yet one more absolutely must do – check out where Julia’s Lobster Truck will be that evening (maybe Bell Harbour) – you absolutely mustn’t miss Julia Hemmingway’s barbequed lobster , lobster roll, steamed clams and mussels, traditional fish and chips and briny Flaggy Shore oysters.

How about that for a quick taste of Co Clare and there’s so much more to see. . . .

Lobster Rolls

A recipe of a delicious lobster roll with homemade mayo but buttered lobster is also sublime tucked into a brioche roll.

Serves 4

4 long brioche rolls

extra virgin olive oil

225-350g (8-12oz) lobster meat cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

4 tablespoons (5 – 7 1/2 American tablespoons) mayonnaise or mayonnaise and natural yoghurt mixed

2 sticks of celery, finely chopped

3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) scallions, chopped

lemon juice to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4-8 lettuce leaves or watercress depending on size

To Serve

Cucumber Pickle (optional)

Mix the mayonnaise and yoghurt in a bowl with the diced celery, scallions and lobster meat.  Fold gently, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice.

Just before serving.

Heat a cast iron grill-pan on a high heat.  Split the rolls lengthwise, brush with extra virgin olive oil.  Char on a hot grill-pan.  Fill with lettuce and lobster filling.   Serve immediately with thick cucumber pickle. 

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Try these, but Hugo’s tarts are worth a detour….

Makes 24

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

400ml whole milk

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

900g (2lb) puff pastry

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool.  Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs.  Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top.  Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

Native Irish Oysters

Serves 4

24 Oysters

Garnishes:

Crushed ice and/or seaweed

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Accompaniments:

Brown Soda bread

Guinness or Champagne

Scrub and rinse the oysters well.  Open them carefully with an oyster knife – try not to spill the juices.

To serve:

Cover a large platter with crushed ice or seaweed (or both). Carefully arrange the oysters and lemon wedges around the platter.  Serve with Guinness bread and a glass of Guinness.

St. Tola Goat Cheese Croquettes with Rocket Leaves, Roast Pepper and Tapenade Oil

Serves 5

285g (10oz) St. Tola goat cheese (or a similar fresh mild goat cheese)

seasoned flour

beaten egg

flaked almonds

white breadcrumbs

2 large red peppers

extra virgin olive oil

Tapenade Oil

110g (4oz) stoned black olives

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) capers

1 teaspoon lemon juice

freshly ground pepper

175ml (6fl oz/3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil

A selection of lettuces and rocket leaves

Dressing

4 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons + 4 teaspoons) extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Balsamic vinegar

1/2 clove garlic crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

wild garlic flowers in season

First divide the St. Tola or Ardsallagh goat cheese into 25 balls, chill.

Next make the Tapenade oil.

Coarsely chop the stoned black olives and capers, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Whisk in the olive oil and process to a course or smooth puree as you prefer.  Season with freshly ground pepper.

Coat the cheese in seasoned flour, beaten egg, flaked almonds, breadcrumbs. Arrange in a single layer on a flat plate.  Cover and chill well.

Roast the peppers in a preheated oven 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 for approximately 20 minutes until soft/tender.  Put into a bowl, cover the top with cling film and allow to steam for 5 or 10 minutes.  Peel, remove seeds and cut into strips.

Next make the dressing.

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a deep fry or a pan to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Fry the goat cheese croquettes in batches until crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen paper.

Toss the lettuces and salad leaves in a bowl with just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten.

Divide between the six plates. Put five croquettes on each plate, decorate with strips or red pepper, rocket leaves and a drizzle of Tapenade oil.

Scatter some wild garlic flowers over the top and serve immediately.

Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies

Everyone has their own favourite brownie recipe and indeed we have several – this is definitely one of the greats.

Makes 9 generous brownies

275g (10oz) chocolate

275g (10oz) butter

5 organic eggs

350g (12oz) granulated sugar

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

110g (4oz) chopped hazelnuts

cocoa powder, for dusting

deep tin 30 x 20 x 5cm (12 x 8 x 2in)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/ gas mark 4. Line the tin with silicone paper. 

Melt the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes a light mousse. Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse. Fold the flour into this mixture. Finally add the chopped hazelnuts. Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the surface and cook in the preheated oven for 35–40 minutes. The centre will be slightly wobbly. Leave to sit in the tin to cool and cover the tin with a large rectangular plate or tray.

When set, turn out by flipping the tin carefully. Peel off the silicone paper. Place another tray on top of the brownies to turn them right way up. Cut into squares, dust with cocoa and serve.

Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly

Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you can’t get enough crab apples, use a mixture of crab apples and windfall cooking apples, like Bramley’s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.

Makes 2.7–3.2kg (6–7lb)

2.7kg (6lb) crab apples or windfall cooking apples

2.7 litres (5 3⁄4 pints) water

2 organic lemons

425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice

Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.

Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)

Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8–10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required.

A day out in Limerick

The Limerick Milk Market was buzzing on Saturday morning, throngs of eager customers on a mission to fill their shopping bags with goodies from the more than 70 stalls tucked into the market square, protected from the elements by an elegant canvas canopy.

I love the way every Farmers Market has its own vibe and unique collection of stall holders – yet the banter is the same, customers so grateful for the opportunity to buy beautiful artisan produce directly from local producers and what a choice. . . . Mimi Crawford was all out of raw milk by 11 o’ clock but still had just a few joints of her organic beef and pork and a couple of beautiful chickens from her regenerative farm in Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary. Delighted to find Oliver Beaujouan from Castlegregory with his brilliant selection of charcuterrie from happy outdoor Tamworth pigs “no vaccines, no GM or Soy in the feed”. I also bought some dilisk and a delicious guanciale as well as the garlic salami. Sefik from Turkey was busy juicing fresh pomegranates and oranges and had a tantalising array of borek. Country Choice was humming and loaded with temptations. Round the corner, people were bonding in the long queue for the Country Choice toasted baps, sandwiches and rolls – well worth the wait. Peter and Mary Ward’s daughter Evie’s also award winning NutShed stall is close by, selling what many consider to be the very best nut butters available in Ireland.

 The Sushi Truck was also doing a roaring trade, luscious cannoli across the way, artisan breads, tempting home baking, beautiful bunches of flowers, floury British Queens potatoes all the way from Wexford side by side with bric a brac. A tremendous selection of local homegrown vegetables and fruit. Crunchy Spiralaetos anyone? Tiermoyle honey with hazelnuts or walnuts.

Upstairs, Ciara Brennan was all smiles on her Happy Food at Home stall with a selection of plant based, vegetarian and vegan salads. A mesmerizing selection of olives , Toonsbridge Buffalo Mozzarella and  many other good things on the Olive Stall.

Round the side of Country Choice, I made another exciting discovery Foragers called Thalli foods was behind her hessian covered stall , with an intriguing selection of wild foods from land and seashore – fat rosehips, wood and sheeps tongue sorrel, sea blite, water pepper, yarrow, wild garlic pickles, fennel and sea blite kraut, elderflower vinegar . . .

There were many more stalls around the perimeter of the market, including pork and bacon from Cloncannon Bio Farm in Moneygall  – By then my bags were laden with many good things for a picnic but I really wanted to check out Sodalicious on Lower Cecil street owned by Ballymaloe alumni, Jane Conlan. An inspired concept where virtually everything on the menu is based on, or served with brown or white soda bread or scones in their many incarnations. Delicious food in a contemporary space, worth seeking out.. . .

 Alexander Findlater & Co Food Hall is another contact for your list. If you visit Limerick, find time to head to the Hunt Museum for their latest exhibition.

Then back to Glin Castle, one of Ireland’s loveliest places to take a relaxing break. A few recipes inspired by my visit to Limerick….

White Soda Bread Pesto Swirl

Makes 10 – 12

450g (1lb) plain white flour

25g (1oz) cold butter

Pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 small free range eggs

200ml whole milk (not low fat milk)

Homemade Basil Pesto (see recipe below)

Homemade Basil Pesto

4ozs (110g) fresh basil leaves

6 – 8fl oz (175 – 225ml) extra virgin olive oil

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

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

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

salt to taste

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/gas mark 9

1 roasting tin   33cm x 22.9cm x 5.08cm deep,   well buttered

First make the basil pesto. 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.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the cold butter into cubes or grate coarsely, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 1cm thick x 45cm long. 

Slather liberally and evenly with the homemade pesto over the scone dough, roll tightly from the long side and if needed egg wash the edge and pinch to seal.  Divide into four and then each into three swirls, to give you 12 altogether.  Brush cut side of each with egg wash.  Arrange side by side in the buttered roasting tin, allowing a little room for expansion.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.

Serve while still warm or at room temperature Pull apart gently like a tear and share – … problem is where to stop….

A Breakfast in a Soda Bun

Makes 8 – 10 scones

450g (1lb) plain white flour

25g (1oz) butter

Pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 small free range eggs

200ml whole milk (not low fat milk)

8 – 10 bacon rashers fully cooked

4 – 5 hard boiled eggs

Watercress sprigs

Homemade mayonnaise or homemade ketchup (featured on Examiner website)

First preheat the oven to 250ºC/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 until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. 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.  Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round.  Roll out to about a thickness of 2cm (1 inch) and cut or stamp into scones.  Transfer to a baking sheet – no need to grease.  Brush the top of the scones with egg wash.

Bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Split the soda bun in half and butter. Fill with bacon, ½ hard boiled egg, a blob of mayonnaise or tomato ketchup and a sprig of watercress. Secure with a bamboo cocktail stick and serve immediately.

Blueberry and Mint Scones

Makes 8 – 10 scones, using a three inch cutter

450g (1lb) plain white flour

25g (1oz) butter

Pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) blueberries

1 tablespoon fresh mint finely chopped

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 small free range eggs

200ml whole milk (not low fat milk)

For glaze:

egg wash

granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250ºC/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 until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the blueberries and the chopped mint. 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.  Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round.  Roll out to about a thickness of 2cm (1 inch) and cut or stamp into scones.  Transfer to a baking sheet – no need to grease. 

Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one into granulated sugar.

Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with butter and serve.

Filo Pastries with various Savoury Fillings (Börek)

1 packet of best quality filo pastry

Melted butter

Cut a sheet of filo in 4 or 6 strips.  Brush with melted butter. 

Put a heaped teaspoonful of the filling of your choice onto the end of each strip, fold and roll into a triangle.  Brush with butter, arrange on ungreased baking trays and chill.

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

Brush the tops with egg beaten with water, and bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until a warm golden colour.

Savoury Fillings

Certain fillings are common to many savoury pastries – here are a few:

Cheese Filling

500g (18oz) cheese, grated

2 eggs, beaten

white pepper

Use Greek Halumi, Gruyère, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda or a mixture of any of these with a little Parmesan.  Mix the grated cheese with beaten eggs and season to taste with pepper.

Variation: a little pinch of nutmeg and a little crushed mint is also a delicious addition.

Meat Filling

This is called a tatbila

1 medium or large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons oil or butter

500g (18oz) lean lamb or beef, minced

2 tablespoons  pine nuts

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

Gently fry the onion in the oil or butter (I prefer to use oil) until soft and a pale golden colour.  Add the meat and fry lightly until it changes colour.  Stir in the pine nuts and fry for a further 2 minutes.  The pine nuts can also be fried separately and added at the end.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and if liked, cinnamon or allspice.  Some even add a little sugar.  Moisten with about 5 tablespoons water – the meat will otherwise be too dry for a filling.  Cook for a few minutes more until the water is absorbed and the meat tender. 

Variation:  in some countries cumin and coriander are preferred as flavouring spices for this popular filling. 

Spinach Filing

500g (18oz) fresh spinach or 225g (8oz) frozen chopped or leaf spinach

1 tablespoon butter

125g (4 1/2oz) Gruyère or Cheddar cheese, grated

1 egg

Black pepper

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (optional)

Trim the steams of the fresh spinach, wash carefully and chop the leaves finely.  Put in a sauté pan with the butter.  Cover and let it cook in its own juices over a very low heat, stirring occasionally until tender.  If using frozen spinach, de-frost it and squeeze all the water out.

Stir in the grated cheese, the lightly beaten egg and black pepper to taste.  Do not add salt unless necessary.  Take into account the saltiness of the cheese melting into the spinach.  Add a little nutmeg if you like and mix well. 

Homemade Lemonade

If you keep some chilled ‘stock syrup’ made up in your fridge all these fresh fruit drinks are simplicity itself to make. They contain no preservatives so they should be served within a few hours of being made. Many different types of citrus fruit may be used.

Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (28fl oz)

450g (1lb) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.  This quantity is enough for several batches of lemonade.

NB: Please measure the correct amount of syrup carefully for the lemonade. It is not necessary to use the all the stock syrup made.

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Lemonade

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons

freshly squeezed juice of 4 ruby grapefruit

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup

water or sparkling water to taste

seeds of 1 pomegranate (put into ice cubes with fresh mint leaves)

Juice the fruit, add the syrup and add water or sparkling water to taste.

Serve chilled with mint and pomegranate seed ice cubes.

Variation

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Soda

Substitute soda water for plain or sparkling water and proceed as above.

Letters

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