Christmas Store Cupboard

Today, I’m thinking about what to rustle up for the unexpected guests who pop in from time to time over Christmas.  A well-stocked pantry is of course the key.  My brilliant standbys are smoked Irish salmon, tuna, sardines, artisan farmhouse cheeses, pickles and relishes, frozen and fresh pasta, Arborio rice for a spontaneous risotto, chicken liver pâte to slather on pan-grilled bread, water biscuits, pistachios, pizza bases, charcuterie, chorizo, nduja, cooked ham, eggs of course, a large pot of natural Jersey yoghurt, some raw local honey and cream.  A bag of meringues and a pot of ‘delicious over everything’– a mixture of mildly boozy dried fruit and nuts that keeps for months in your fridge, awesome to scatter over ice-cream, meringues, crêpes, yoghurt, rice pudding…

A few winter vegetable soups, frozen in 2 person containers are another of my ‘go to’ standbys… They defrost in a few minutes and can be jazzed up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of seeds and a few fresh herbs.

Freeze a few slices of fresh natural sourdough, great to toast or pan grill, as a base for all manner of tasty toppings.  Who doesn’t love a toastie perked up with some spicy mustard.  My other top tip is to weight up the dry ingredients for white soda bread, crumpets, pancakes and popovers minus the raising agent which can be added with the liquid at a moment’s notice.

Teeny weeny scones take 7 or 8 minutes to cook in a hot oven and you can be tossing crumpets and pancakes on the pan within minutes.  Then coarsely chop a few nuts, whip out a jar of that salted caramel sauce, maybe slice a banana and pile them on top for a little spontaneous feast.

I’d also have a few really quick pasta sauces up your sleeve.  Frozen pasta or for that matter any fettuccini cooks in minutes and who doesn’t love pasta.  I’m never without a couple pots of fresh or frozen tomato fondue.  It’s one of my ‘great convertibles’, a sauce for pasta or chicken breast, a filling for an omelette, topping for pizza…

Little tartlets or vol-au-vonts made with all butter puff pastry also merit a place in the pantry.  I love to fill tartlets with a blob of goat cheese, a few rounds of kumquat compote and a peppery rocket leaf – Christmassy and delicious.  A fat prawn and a dollop of dill mayo is also delicious.  A few retro mushroom vol-au-vents will also disappear in no time so have a pot of mushroom ‘a la crème in your fridge or freezer.  Another great convertible and a delicious sauce to slather over steak or lamb chop or burgers.  Even simpler but equally delicious, Mushrooms on Toast anyone?

I adore sardines on toast or waffles with a big dollop or mayo or horseradish cream but ever since my trip to Portugal.  I’ve been making a super quick sardine pâté – just whizz up the sardines with some soft butter, a little mustard and some chopped parsley or dill if you have it.  All made in minutes, just a few suggestions so you’ll be relaxed and prepared, doesn’t matter who or how many unexpected visitors you need to welcome.  Chill out, pour yourself a glass of fizz.  Have fun and enjoy.

Portuguese Sardine Pâte

A gem of a recipe, a brilliant Christmas standby made in minutes and ever present on tables in Portuguese cafés.  Slather on toast or a crusty baguette. We use Shine’s sardines from Donegal.

Serves 6-8

118g (4 1/4oz) sardines in tomato sauce

110g (4oz) soft butter

1 generous tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly cracked black pepper

Put the sardines and tomato sauce into a food-processor. Add the soft butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped parsley and 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Whizz until smooth. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Fill into a bowl or ramekin and cover.

Served slathered on hot toast or grilled bread. Really tasty with a glass of crisp, dry white wine.

Sardine and Dill Pâte

Use sardines in olive oil rather than tomato sauce.  Add a little dill and maybe a scrap of grated horseradish. 

David Tanis’s Pasta Cacio e Pepe

This delicious version of Cacio e Pepe, one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes comes from one of my all-time favourite cooks David Tanis.  Cacio e pepe (literally, “cheese and pepper”) has lately achieved mythic status, which is a bit surprising considering it’s so basic. You can get it in any restaurant in Rome, but it’s really a home dish. The trick is getting the pasta to finish cooking properly in the creamy sauce, which is just pasta water, butter, and cheese. The more peppery, the better.

Makes 2 servings

Cook 225g (8oz) linguine extra al dente (this is crucial) in well-salted water.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat and add 1/2 teaspoon coarsely crushed black pepper.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan, along with 110ml (4fl oz) of pasta water and a good pinch of salt.  Stir constantly, keeping the liquid at a rapid simmer; the pasta will begin to wilt in the sauce and absorb liquid. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Turn off the heat, 175g (6oz) grated pecorino, and stir until the pasta is coated with the creamy sauce. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Enjoy immediately…

Darina’s Magic Mushrooms

This creamy mushroom sauce is a ‘must have’ in your fridge.  It’s a brilliant sauce for a juicy steak, chicken breast or piece of grilled fish or toss it into a vegetable gratin – I particularly love it with leek and potato.  It makes a delicious sauce for pasta, a filling for an omelette, pizza topping and the most awesome mushroom toast.  It keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days. 

Serves 4

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced (flats have best flavour)

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add parsley and chives if used.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Christmas Popovers

This is a gem of a recipe which can be made in seconds and used as a sweet or savoury dish, breakfast, as a pudding or just to go with a cup of tea.  There are many variations on the theme.

For 14 popovers

110g (4oz) flour

2 eggs

300ml (10fl oz) milk

15g (1/2oz) butter, melted


1/2 pot homemade kumquat compote (see recipe) OR raspberry jam OR cranberry sauce OR savoury filling of your choice – how about Darina’s Magic Mushrooms and a little diced ham!

150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped

icing sugar, to dust

Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in eggs.  Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and add the milk in a steady stream at the same time.  When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter.  Allow to stand for one hour.  Grease hot deep patty tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full.  Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes approx.

Remove from the tins.  Cool and fill with a teaspoon on kumquat compote or homemade raspberry jam or cranberry sauce and whipped cream.  Decorate with holly leaves.

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

Note: If serving for breakfast fill with a spoon full of homemade marmalade, omit the cream.

Cheese Popovers: Add 50g (2oz) grated Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above, omit the jam and cream and enjoy immediately!

Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.  If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Kumquat and Clove Compote

Add 6 cloves to the kumquats in the saucepan and proceed as above.

‘Delicious Over Everything’

This spiced fruit relish keeps for months and is as the title says, delicious over everything…You’ll find lots of ways to use it.  It will even perk up porridge, rice and is gorgeous over ice-cream, panna cotta, pancakes or crumpets.  Try it with cold ham or bacon.  I sometimes use Irish whiskey or Grand Marnier instead of sherry and post. 

Makes 425ml (15fl oz)

50g (2oz) yellow raisins

50g (2oz) muscatel raisins

50g (2oz) currants

50g (2oz) dried apricots, sliced into pieces

50ml (2fl oz) port and 50ml (2fl oz) of sherry

25g (1oz) almonds, peeled and split

150g (5oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick

1 star anise

4 cardamom pods

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

Cover the dried fruit with warm port and sherry.  Allow to soak and plump up overnight.  Add the split almonds.    

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the cinnamon, star anise and cracked cardamom pods.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the syrup thickens.  Add the soaked fruit to the syrup with the chopped candied peel.  Bubble for 2 or 3 minutes.  Fill into sterilised glass jars, cover with a screw cap.  Keeps for 6 months or more.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Tick, tick, tick, such a joy to be able to cross off some of the ‘must-dos’ off my interminable list.

How come Mummy somehow managed to arrange her life so that virtually everything was organised by Christmas Eve (and there were nine of us!). The tree decorated, paper chains looped from corner to corner across the ceiling, holly tucked coyly behind picture frames, Christmas cards on every mantel piece, log baskets filled, candles primed and the pantry bursting with Christmas goodies. Mincemeat, plum puddings, brandy butter, cranberry sauce… the stuffing was made, the ham glazed and several batches of soda bread weighed up ready to just mix and pop into the oven when we needed freshly baked loaves over Christmas. The Christmas cake took pride of place on the sideboard, simply decorated with a snow scene embellished with a scattering of silver dragees and Christmas decorations that re-emerged every year from where they were stored in the old Jacobs biscuit tin box.

Mummy’s legendary trifle laced with oodles of sweet sherry, hidden well away so the boys couldn’t demolish it on their return from midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

In later years, we’d all travel back home from far and wide on Christmas eve and gather around the fire while Mummy cut the aforementioned Christmas cake. We’d catch up with each other’s lives over many cups of tea and moist crumbly cake with a thick layer of marzipan – that’s what memories are made of….and then there was supper…

Somehow, simple comforting nursery food is just what’s needed for Christmas Eve supper.  How about a delicious dish of bubbling mac’ and cheese or croque monsieur (they too can be prepped ahead). Fish pie also hits the spot. Maybe add a few prawns or shrimp for an extra ‘lux’ version and don’t forget lots of creamy mash on top or could be scrunchy filo.   Good juicy sausages in a sweet chilli and mustard glaze or Ballymaloe relish and mayo in a soft bun are also a crowd pleaser.  It’s good to cook and glaze your ham (or loin of bacon) on Christmas Eve or even the day before.  It will keep brilliantly and be a super standby for snacks, sandwiches.  Slice or dice to add to ‘mac and cheese’ or a St Stephen’s Day pie. Just a few suggestions… here are some recipes for standby dishes to have ready to pop into the oven. Pour a glass of fizz for yourself, give thanks for the many good things during the year and share the joy with your family and friends.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to ‘zhuzh’ it up. Maybe a few cubes of smoky bacon, mackerel, chorizo or a layer of melted leeks to the sauce.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

50g (2oz) plain flour

850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk OR 700ml (1 1/4 pints) milk and 150ml (1/4 pint) pint cream

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

225g (8oz) freshly grated mature Cheddar cheese or a mix of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan

25g (1oz) freshly grated Cheddar or Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring 3.4 litres (6 pints) water to the boil in a large saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6–8 minutes until sweet and mellow. Add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk the milk in gradually, season well with salt and pepper, then return to the boil, stirring constantly. Add the mustard, parsley, if using, and cheese. Add the well-drained macaroni and return to the boil. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Alternatively, turn into a 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish and sprinkle the extra grated cheese over the top. Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15–20 minutes.

Good things to do with leftover Mac & Cheese

* Mac & Cheese Fritters

You can’t imagine how sinfully delish this is…

Heat olive oil in a deep-fat fryer at 180°C (350°F) or a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of oil. Roll the leftover mac and cheese into ping-pong-sized balls. Roll in seasoned flour, beaten eggs and fresh white or panko crumbs to coat. Fry for 4–5 minutes until crisp on the outside and melting in the interior. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and toss in freshly grated Parmesan. Serve with spicy mayo made by mixing 110ml (4fl oz) homemade mayonnaise with teaspoons of sriracha, 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek or harissa and lemon juice to taste. Alternatively, allow the baked mac and cheese to get cold in the gratin dish. Cut into fingers or squares, dip in seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fry in olive oil for 3–4 minutes until crisp and golden on both sides. Serve with a dipping sauce or with the spicy mayo.

* Smoked Salmon or Smoked Mackerel or Chorizo

Add 225g (8oz) smoked salmon or smoked mackerel or chorizo dice to the mac and cheese before serving.  Add lots of chopped parsley too.


A croque-monsieur is the quintessential Parisian sandwich.   It’s really no more than a grilled ham sandwich topped with grated cheese, but it appears in many different guises.   Sometimes a croque-monsieur is topped with a thick Mornay sauce or transformed into a Croque-Madame with the addition of a fried egg on top.  

Makes 1

a dab of butter

2 tablespoons well-seasoned béchamel sauce (see Mac and Cheese recipe)

2 thin square slices best quality white bread (Pain de mie in France) – We use Ballymaloe Bread Shed ‘Family’ pan

1 slice best quality ham, cut to fit bread

2-4 slices (25g/1oz) of Gruyère cheese, grated

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Dijon mustard

Preheat the grill.

Butter one slice of bread.  Turn over and spread half the béchamel on the other side.  Top with a slice of Gruyère cheese, a slick of mustard, a slice of ham and add another slice of Gruyère, cover with the other slice of buttered bread.

Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and cook on both sides until golden.  Transfer to a small baking tray.  Slather the top with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle with grated Gruyère and Parmesan.  Pop under the preheated grill and cook until golden and bubbly. 

Serve immediately on a warm plate with a little salad of Winter leaves.

Fish Pie with Saffron

Who doesn’t love a fish pie? This easy-peasy recipe can be used for almost any round fish, including cod, pollock, ling, haddock, salmon or grey mullet. I love to cook up a big batch to make several pies, which can be covered and popped in the fridge or frozen and reheated another day. Omit the saffron if you don’t have any. A chopped hard-boiled egg and 110g (4oz) cooked peas add extra deliciousness and even more flavour. One can have a scrunchy filo topping, but I often make a crispy Cheddar crumb or mashed potato topping.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) cod, hake, haddock or grey mullet fillets, or a mixture

15g (1/2oz) butter, for greasing

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a generous pinch of saffron stamens

1 tablespoon water

approx. 20g (3/4oz) Roux (made by blending 10g (1/3oz) softened butter with 10g (1/3oz) plain flour – melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

150–175g (5-6oz) grated Gruyère or Cheddar cheese OR 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

110g (4oz) shelled cooked mussels

110g (4oz) peeled cooked shrimps

1/2 tin of chopped anchovies, approx. 4 fillets (optional)

Fluffy Mashed Potato

melted butter, for brushing

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little extra saffron if you have it to spare

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

Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of hot water.

Skin the fish and cut into 6-8 portions. Season well with salt and pepper. Lay the pieces of fish in a lightly buttered 26cm (10 1/2 inch) sauté pan and cover with rich milk and saffron. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 4–5 minutes until the fish has changed from translucent to opaque. Remove the fish to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in enough of the roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Stir in the mustard, grated cheese and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cooked fish together with the mussels, shrimps and chopped anchovies, and stir gently to coat with the sauce.

Pipe a layer of fluffy mashed potato over the top.

Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes until the pie is bubbling and the potato topping is crisp and golden. Drizzle a little saffron here and there over the top for an extra treat but it will still be gorgeous without it. I sometimes save a few whole shrimps or mussels in the shell for garnish too.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Pineapple and Cloves

I know this sounds a bit old hat, but of all of the glazes that I do, this is the one that I keep coming back to. Or you could just use marmalade. You’ll know when the ham is cooked when the rind comes off the fat easily.  Loin or streaky bacon is less expensive but equally delicious.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of fat) and the rind still on.

30 or more whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds

350g (12oz) brown Demerara sugar

a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice from a small tin of pineapple

If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight and discard the water the next day. Cover the ham with fresh, cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty, there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water, put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of ham (usually about 4 hours but depends on the size of the ham). When the ham is fully cooked the rind will peel off easily and the small bone at the base of the leg will feel loose.

To glaze the ham: preheat the oven to 250˚C/ 500˚F/Gas Mark 9.

While still warm, gently peel the rind from the cooked ham, score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Transfer the ham to a roasting tin just large enough to take the joint.

Spread the thick glaze over the entire surface of the ham, but not underneath. Bake it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until it has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste the ham regularly with the syrup and juices.

Serve hot or cold with accompanying sauce of your choice.


Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

Both of these cuts are delicious glazed as above. The latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious.

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard and variations

Cocktail sausages are a brilliant product to have on standby.  Everyone loves them, even if there are lots of other fancy bites.

Makes about 30

450g (1lb) good-quality cocktail or breakfast sausages

2 tablespoons Irish honey

2 tablespoons Irish grainy mustard (such as Lakeshore wholegrain mustard with honey)

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

Prick the sausages and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally, until cooked and golden.  Baste several times during cooking. 

Mix the honey with the mustard. Toss the sausages in the honey and mustard mixture and serve hot or warm.

Here are a few other ideas for glazes.

Sesame and Honey Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to the above recipe and omit the mustard.

Honey and Rosemary Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped rosemary to 4 tablespoons of honey.

Sweet Chilli Sauce and Lime

Add 4 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce and juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, depending on size.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies with Irish Whiskey Cream and toppings

We have so much fun with mince pies and do lots of variations.  Sometimes we press out a star shape from the top so the mincemeat is visible, then we use that star to cover the next one.  A tiny heart can be put on top of another.  All mince pies with a pastry top need to be brushed with egg wash before going into the oven.

Makes 20-24 mince pies


225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) approx. cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

450g (1lb) Ballymaloe Mincemeat (see recipe)

egg wash

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Cream (see recipe)

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball: it should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

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

Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch).  Stamp out into rounds 7.5cm (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.  Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.  Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves in the shape of holly berries, etc.

Bake the mince pies in a preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or castor sugar.

Serve with a blob of whiskey flavoured cream.

Irish Whiskey Cream

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon icing sugar, sieved

225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream

Fold the whiskey and sugar into the whipped cream.

Ballymaloe Homemade Mincemeat

This is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  It contains suet, so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot.  Ask your butcher for some suet.

Makes 3.2 kilos (7lbs) approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots

2 cooking apples, such as Bramley’s Seedling

2 organic lemons

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

450g (1lb) beef suet

450g (1lb) sultanas

225g (8oz) currants

110g (4oz) candied citrus peel (preferably homemade)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

2 tablespoons Séville orange marmalade

pinch of salt

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

Core and bake the whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp. 

Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless-steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. 

Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.


This week, in answer to readers’ enquiries about how to use some ‘new’ ingredients, I’ve chosen to concentrate on miso for this article out of a list of more than 10, n’djuja, miso, sumac – I’ll get to the others in due course…
Some of you who enjoy cooking Asian and Japanese food particularly, will have been enjoying miso in both raw and cooked dishes for years but others will have noticed it popping up in random recipes in cookbooks and articles with increasing frequency.

What is miso – the word simply means fermented beans in Japanese. It’s nearly always made with soya beans, sometimes with other grains, beans and koji (a totally safe type of mould that grows on rice). It’s a staple of Japanese food. It lends a deeply savoury umami flavour to many vegetarian dishes but also makes meat and fish taste more intensely delicious. It’s packed with ‘good for your gut’ probiotics.

Miso has been made in Japan for millennia. The traditional process considered to be an art form in Japan involves inoculating a grain usually rice with the mould called koji, then using that to ferment a protein rich legume usually soy.  However, now that miso is no longer niche but quickly becoming mainstream, artisans, particularly in the US are experimenting with other grains – chickpeas, lima, aduki beans, farro, even sweet potatoes.

As the demand for this ‘must have’ sweet, salty flavour enhancer grows so does the demand for a non-soy version for those with allergies. So there can be lots of varieties, over 1,000 in Japan but for most of us here, there are just two choices. White (light) or red miso (dark). It varies in colour, texture and flavour and can be fermented for anywhere from a few weeks to several years.

Paler miso tends to be sweeter, dark miso has a more earthy, robust taste. The salty funkiness ramps up the flavour of a myriad of dishes. It can be eaten raw or cooked, used to add a burst of flavour to anything from gravy, polenta, stews, marinades, sauces, salad dressings, butters even bikkies or apple pie, so much more than miso soup which is many people’s introduction to miso.

It’s also super nutritious, brilliant for your gut biome and a terrific source of antioxidants, dietary fiber and protein. It’s now become a global flavour enhancer that no pantry should be without.  You’ll find it in your nearest Asian/Japanese store and in many supermarkets in a tub or jar – it looks like a paste resembling peanut butter. If you are fortunate to have a Japanese store near you, you’ll have a wider choice. Even the pale miso lasts for ages, darker miso, fermented for longer lasts for years in an airtight container in your fridge.
Chefs inspired by the NOMA Food Laboratory are experimenting with making their own.

So stock up and start to experiment. Pale miso is sweeter, less complex, more versatile, use it in soups, dressings, sauces, marinades, it also dissolves more easily and is dairy-free and vegan.

Aki Ishibashi’s Miso Soup

This is so easy to make and soon becomes addictive.

Serves 4

600ml (1 pint) dashi (see recipe)

3-4 generous tablespoons miso paste

175g (6oz) tofu, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 dessertspoon wakame (dried seaweed)


1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Heat the dashi, and dissolve the miso paste by stirring it into the dashi.  When it has dissolved completely, add the tofu cubes and wakame.  Bring it to the boil.  As soon as it starts to boil, turn off the heat.  Ladle miso soup into warmed individual soup bowls and garnish with spring onion.


Dashi (bonito fish stock) is essential in many Japanese dishes.  It provides a savoury flavour which cannot be attained by using seasoning only and it is much easier to make than meat or fish stock.

425ml (15fl oz) water

10cm (4 inch) piece konbu (dried kelp)

5-7g (1/8 – 1/4oz) dried bonito flakes

Wipe and clean konbu with a dry cloth.  Do not wipe off the white powder on the surface, as that is the one element that provides a unique savoury flavour.  Put the water in a saucepan and soak the konbu for 30 minutes before turning on the heat.  Remove any scum that forms on the surface.  When the water begins to bubble, just before boiling, take out the konbu.  Do not overcook or it will become slimy and the flavour of the stock too strong.  Add the bonito flakes, bring back to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside until the bonito flakes sink to the bottom.  Strain through very fine muslin and discard the bonito flakes.  Use fresh garnished with spring onion or freeze immediately. 

Heavy Dashi

Follow the above recipe but increase quantity of bonito flakes to 15-25g (1/2 – 1 oz) and the water to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints).  Add two thirds of the bonito flakes and simmer the mixture uncovered for 20 minutes.  Add the remaining bonito flakes and proceed as above.  Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.

Instant Dashi

Instant dashi can be found in the form of a liquid extract as well as powder.  Just dissolve a liquid dashi or powdered dashi in boiling water.  But the flavour is nothing like as good as homemade dashi.

Roast Garlic and Miso Mash

An Asian twist on our fluffy mashed potato.

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) potatoes, mashed with a good dollop of cream and lots of seasoning

2 medium heads of garlic

sprig of thyme

sprig of rosemary

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil


1 tablespoon of white miso

25g (1oz) butter

Split the heads of garlic in half around the ‘equator’.  Put them into a small round, ovenproof dish, add the herbs. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add a little water and a good drizzle of olive oil. Cover the dish, bake in a preheated oven 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3, for 30-50 minutes depending on the size of the bulbs.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water, peel and mash with cream, season with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper.

Squeeze the soft roast garlic out of the skins, mash coarsely. 

Add the miso to the butter, mix well (save a blob or two).  Fold the remainder through the hot mashed potato, taste and serve with some roast garlic miso butter melting over the top.

Miso Butter Onions

Inspired by a recipe from ‘Flavour’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. Delicious with a pan grilled steak or lamb chop.

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

8 medium onions, about 850g (1lb 14oz)

80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted

80g (3oz) white miso paste

600ml (1 pint) water

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F.

Halve the onions lengthways, discard the papery skin. Remove the next layer, it can be a bit dry and tough (add to the stock pot). Trim the tops, and a little off the root end, not too much. The onion halves need to stay together at the base.

Whisk the melted butter, miso and 600ml (1 pint) of warm water together until fully combined.

Arrange the onion halves spaced apart, cut side down, in a 30cm x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) high-sided roasting tin or dish. Pour over the miso liquid. Cover tightly with damp parchment and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the parchment, carefully flip the onions over so the cut sides are upwards. Baste well and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 45-50 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes, until the onions are very soft, a rich brown on top, and the sauce has reduced to a light coating consistency.

Transfer the onions carefully to a serving plate, spoon the sauce over and serve at once.

Miso-Glazed White Turnips

Look out for winter white turnips in the Farmers Markets.  We love for White Globe, small white and crisp, delicious to munch raw but try this version with a white miso glaze.

Serves 4

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) small turnips, scrubbed and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) wedges

2 tablespoons white miso

1 teaspoon sugar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

Put the butter, turnips, miso, and sugar into a sauté pan.  Add barely enough water to cover the vegetables.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat.  Cook, turning occasionally, until the turnips are tender, and liquid has evaporated almost to a glaze, 8-15 minutes depending on age.

Continue to cook, tossing occasionally over the heat, until they are golden brown and caramelized, 3-4 minutes approximately.  Test with a tip of a knife, taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.  Serve hot alone or a side with chicken, lamb, beef, game or whatever you fancy.

Roast Cauliflower or Romanesco Florets with Miso Mayonnaise

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

Divide the cauliflower or romanesco into florets. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes or until slightly caramelised at the edges.

Serve with miso mayonnaise on the side.

Miso Mayonnaise
White miso also known as Shiro miso is fermented for a shorter time and is sweeter, more mellow and less salty.

Serves 4-6

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white miso (Shiro miso)
a splash of tamari
a squeeze of lime of lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl for taste and add a little more citrus juice if it needs it.

Pan-grilled Fish with Miso and a little salad

You can’t imagine how this miso ‘marinade’ enhances the flavour of the fish.

Serves 4

4 fillets of spanking fresh fish

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce


salad of organic leaves

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Coat the flesh side of the fillet, allow 15-20 minutes for the fish to absorb the flavour. 

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat.  Wipe excess marinade from the fish.  Drizzle with olive oil, cook, skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side.  Continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  Serve immediately with a little salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.

Chicken Breasts with Miso and Cabbage

Serves 4

2 large (or 4 smaller), organic chicken breasts (remove fillet if still attached)

4 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons runny honey

450g (1lb) cabbage

a little extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6

Score the chicken breasts on both sides with a sharp knife. Put into a shallow dish, just large enough to fit the chicken.

Whisk the mirin and honey into the miso. Pour over the chicken, turn in the mixture to coat evenly and allow to marinade for an hour or so.

Transfer to a small sauté pan or oven proof dish. Cook, basting regularly in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breasts (our organic ones are large, weighing about 225-300g/8-10oz each).

Meanwhile, cook some shredded cabbage quickly in a little olive oil and a splash of water in a sauté pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste. Remove the chicken breast from the tray, toss the sliced cabbage in the juicy marinade. Add back in the chicken. Toss gently, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve scattered with some shredded shiso perilla leaves or mitsuba.  Use flat parsley if they are not available.

The latter is a type of perennial Japanese parsley with a distinct celery flavour – worth growing to use in soups, salads and as a garnish.

Large, green leaves with purple undersides and a distinctive flavour with hints of basil, mint, anise, coriander and citrus. You’ll find yourself using it not just in sushi and sashimi and tempura but also in scrambled eggs, frittata, salads and stir-fries.  It grows easily in a tunnel in our climate so put the seeds on your list for next season.

NASU Dengaku (Miso Glazed Aubergines)

Serves 4

4 small or 2 large aubergines
extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons red miso (dark)
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons slivered spring onions

Slice the small aubergines lengthwise. If using large aubergines, cut crossways in thick slices. Score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern.

Heat the olive oil on a pan-grill. Cook the aubergines on both sides until tender and golden.

Meanwhile, whisk the miso, honey, soy and mirin together.

Preheat the grill.

Transfer the aubergines to a baking tray, coat with the glaze. Pop under the grill for 3-4 minutes or until bubbling and delicious.  Alternatively, cook in a preheated oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 for 8-10 minutes, keep an eye, they may be cooked earlier.  Transfer to a serving dish sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced spring onions.  Enjoy. 

World Soil Day

World Soil Day falls on December the 6th this year.  For me it’s the most important day of the year – perhaps that sounds as if I’ve gone slightly dotty but it’s really good to remind ourselves that we are all totally dependent on the four or five inches of topsoil around the world for our very existence. Our health and over 90% of our food comes from the soil.  If we don’t have rich fertile soil we won’t have clean water or good food – think about it….!  Soil also plays a vital role in regulating the climate and supporting animal and plant biodiversity.

In the words of Lady Eve Balfour: “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible” and the ominous warning from Franklin D Roosevelt – 32nd President of USA that “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself” – how prophetic was that!

Here in Ireland, we have little reason to be complacent – only 10% of Irish soil is at optimum fertility.  According the Teagasc that means 90% of Irish soil is mineral deficient mainly as a consequence of overuse of artificial nitrogen, synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which damage the soil and the earthworm population.

Soils are a limited natural resource; their formation occurs at an extremely slow pace.   At the very least, it takes 100 years to build an inch of topsoil but can in fact take 500 years or more.  Most current food production methods do not nurture the soil, instead they exploit it.  There is a growing realisation among the farming community that we can no longer continue with ‘business as usual’ for a myriad of reasons not least the diminishing nutrient content of our food.  The move by many farmers to regenerative farming as a means of improving soils, increasing biodiversity and mitigating climate change is to be welcomed. 

I’m intrigued by the soil.  Soil scientists confirm that there are more microbes, enzymes, protozoa and nematodes in a teaspoon of healthy soil than people on earth but there is so much, still to understand.  If I ‘come back again’, I want to be a soil scientist…  

As organic farmers, we are passionate about the soil.  We continue to build fertility by adding well-rotted farmyard manure, compost, humus, seaweed and even seashells.  Regular soil testing monitors progress.  We eagerly await the introduction of a spectrometer that can measure the nutrient density of food so farmers who produce more nutrient dense food can be paid properly for the extra nourishment their food provides.  That could surely be a game-changer.  It’s not difficult to calculate that someone along the food chain is losing out when a bunch of carrots which takes at least four months to grow from seed are sold for 46 Cent.  Despite economies of scale, if this continues there will be no Irish vegetable growers within a few years – they simply cannot any longer continue to produce vegetables below an economic level.  In the words of one farmer ‘we would probably be paid more for stacking shelves in the supermarket’.  This can’t go on – check out the brilliant French initiative C’est qui le Patron (cestquilepatron_ on Instagram) where the consumer gets the option to pay more having being told the story behind the production of that litre of milk, loaf of bread, carton of eggs…

Delicious, nutrient dense, wholesome food that helps to build a strong immune system and boosts our antibodies comes from rich fertile soil not from labs and test kitchens.

Late Autumn/Winter is the root vegetable and citrus fruit season, leeks and calcots too and all the stronger brassicas, kale, red cabbage…So here are a few recipes for nourishing Winter dishes – you’ll eat less and feel more satisfied – don’t believe me – Try it!

Swede and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

I love swedes, an inexpensive, super-versatile vegetable with lots of flavour and one that’s often forgotten.  A night’s frost concentrates the sugar and sweetens them even more.  This soup is an example of how swedes can sing. A little diced chorizo or some chorizo crumbs mixed with some chopped parsley is also delicious sprinkled on top.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, peeled and cut into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk, to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parsley Oil

50g (2oz) freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

fried diced bacon


First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook over a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potatoes and swede in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid to keep in the steam and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

To Serve

Serve with a drizzle of parsley oil, a grind of black pepper and a mixture of crispy bacon and croutons sprinkled on top.


For a vegetarian version use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and omit the bacon.

For a vegan option omit the cream or creamy milk as well.

Winter Lamb Stew with Bacon, Root Vegetables and Garden Herbs

A super tasty meal in one pot.  Celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes can also be added for extra nourishment and deliciousness.  Then perhaps one could reduce the quantity of lamb a little. 

Serves 4-6

1.8kg (4lb) of shoulder of lamb chops, not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)

350g (12oz) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sautéing

450g (1lb) onions, (baby ones are nicest)

450g (1lb) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced or 225g (8oz) carrots and 225g (8oz) of parsnips

750ml (1 3/4 pints) approx. lamb or chicken stock

8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)

sprig of thyme

Roux (optional)

Mushroom a la Crème (optional) 


a scattering of freshly chopped parsley

Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips if using, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.

Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.

When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.

The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some Mushroom a la Crème is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Mushroom a la Crème

Serves 4

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add parsley and chives if used.

Note: Mushroom a la Crème keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

It has to be said that roast whole Jerusalem artichokes don’t look that appealing, but don’t let that put you off. They are particularly good with goose, duck or pheasant, birds which enjoy eating Jerusalem artichokes themselves – which may or may not be a coincidence!

They are in season from November to March and look like knobbly potatoes.  Jerusalem Artichokes are a very important source of inulin which enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in our systems, particularly important after a course of antibiotics.

Jerusalem Artichokes are called sunchokes in the US, they are a member of the sunflower family.

Serves 4–6

450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes, well-scrubbed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

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

Cut the well-scrubbed artichokes in half lengthways. Toss them with the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt. Transfer to a roasting tin and cook cut side down for 20–30 minutes, when golden, flip over and continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Test with the tip of a knife – they should be mostly tender but offer some slight resistance. Sprinkle with thyme or rosemary sprigs, season with pepper and serve.

Nordic Kale Salad with Lemon and Cream

You must try this; the flavour is such a surprise and will convert even the most ardent kale refuser.  It is reminiscent of my grandmother’s dressing for lettuce, sounds a bit shocking but you are not going to eat the whole bowl yourself. Half natural yoghurt could be substituted for full cream.

Serves 10 – 12

450g (1lb) curly kale (225g/8oz) when destalked

lemon, finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

25g (1oz) sugar

250ml (9oz) cream

sea salt – scant teaspoon or to taste

Strip the kale off the stalks, chop the leaves very finely and massage well to release the juices. Toss in a bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon directly onto the salad. Add the freshly squeezed juice, a good sprinkling of sugar and some sea salt. Toss, pour over the cream and toss again.

Taste and add a little more seasoning, if necessary, needs to be a balance of zesty and sweet – totally delicious.

Fresh Orange Jelly with Mint

Everyone loves jelly – you can imagine how good the spearmint is with the orange – we sometimes substitute mandarins or tangerines here, use 10 or 12 depending on size.

Serves 6-8

sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing

6 organic or unwaxed oranges

225ml (8fl oz) syrup – (175ml/6fl oz) water and 150g/5oz sugar)

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

2 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine

2 tablespoons cold water


225ml (8fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice

caster sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped mint

To Garnish  

sprigs of mint or lemon balm

Brush 6-8 x 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) oval or round moulds with a tasteless oil. 

Using a stainless-steel grater, very carefully grate the zest from two of the oranges. Segment all 6 oranges and set aside.

Mix the syrup, orange zest, lemon juice and Grand Marnier together well. Then strain the liquid off the orange segments and measure 300ml (10fl oz). Add the measured orange juice to the syrup mixture and set aside the remainder for the sauce.

Sponge the gelatine in the cold water in a small bowl for a few minutes. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until all the gelatine crystals are dissolved. Mix with the orange liquid, stirring carefully. Add the orange segments and pour into the moulds. Transfer to the fridge for 3–4 hours to set.

To make the sauce, measure 225ml (8fl oz) orange juice, taste and sweeten with caster sugar, if necessary, then add the mint.

To serve, unmould the jelly onto individual plates. Pour a little sauce around each jelly and garnish with mint leaves or variegated lemon balm.

Blood Orange Jelly

Substitute 6-8 blood oranges and follow the above recipe.

Soup Bread Broth

What a tempting title for a cookbook published just as the Autumn weather begins to turn chilly.  Rachel loves soups, ‘there’s no better food to warm the heart and restore the soul.  Whether it’s smooth and silky, rustic and chunky or light and brothy, soup conjures up a feeling of cosiness and care for me’.  When she was a child, her Mum always had a pot of chicken or turkey stock on the go, ready to use as a base for the delicious soups for Rachel and her sister, Simone when they ran in from school.  The memory turned them both into avid soup-makers too. 

Rachel’s own home is also filled with soup lovers.  It’s the first thing she offers the children, if they’re feeling under the weather (after a hug, of course!).  Soup helps soothe everything from a sniffly cold to a tired body after a tough day.  Rachel’s daughter even takes broth or soup in a flask for her school lunch, a little bit of home from home. 

Rachel tells me that she loves rummaging in the fridge and seeing what needs to be used up and turned into a spontaneous soup – a great way to make the most of leftovers… So many cooked vegetables can be turned into a soup once you have just a few other ingredients to hand.  Cooked meat and seafood skills can also be transformed into a chunky broth or chowder with a little know-how, and leftover rice and pasta just love being given another lease of life in a beautiful bowl of soup. 

There’s also a brilliant and accompaniments and garnishes section to bling up a bowl of soup.  Different sauces, salsas, drizzles, oils and emulsions to liven up even the simplest soup, not to mention delicious crackers, croutons and crumbs.  There’s also a whole chapter of wonderful breads, plus some savoury buns, flatbreads, scones and muffins, including recipes for particular dietary needs.  Perfect to serve with a steaming bowl of soup, or simply to eat warm from the oven. 

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (published by Penguin Michael Joseph – €25) 

Brussels Sprout Soup with Candied Bacon and Roasted Hazelnuts

A most Christmassy soup, with the candied bacon and roasted hazelnuts bringing a festive flavour and delicious crunch to the sprouts. To get ahead, make the soup in advance and freeze it. The candied bacon can be made hours in advance of serving, and the hazelnuts can even be roasted a couple of days ahead.

Serves 6

For the soup

50g butter

175g peeled and diced potatoes

175g peeled and diced onions

salt and freshly ground pepper

400g Brussels sprouts

1.1 litres chicken stock

250ml cream or milk, or a mixture

For the roasted hazelnuts

50g (2oz) hazelnuts

For the candied bacon

25g soft light brown sugar, such as

light Muscovado sugar

6 slices of streaky bacon (smoked if you wish)

First, make the soup. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix.  Cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper, then turn the heat down to low, cover with the saucepan lid and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent the vegetables sticking and burning.

While the potatoes and onions are cooking, prepare the sprouts. Trim the base, remove and discard the outer two or three leaves, and slice the sprouts thinly. Set aside.

When the potatoes and onions have been cooking for 10 minutes, add the chicken stock and boil for 2–3 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Add the sliced sprouts to the pan and cook over a high heat, with the lid off, until tender, approximately 2–3 minutes. Do not overcook, or the sprouts will lose their fresh colour and flavour. Add the cream or milk and blend until smooth. If you want the soup to be a bit thinner, add a little more stock. Taste for seasoning.

To prepare the hazelnuts and the bacon, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for 6–8 minutes, checking regularly, as they can burn quickly. To test them, take the tray out of the oven and carefully rub the skins off a few of them – the nuts should be golden underneath.  When ready, tip them out of the tray and on to a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins.  Discard the skins and chop the nuts coarsely.  Set aside until you’re ready to use them. 

To make the candied bacon, line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper.  Place the brown sugar in a bowl and dip both sides of the streaky bacon in it so that they are completely coated.  Use a little more sugar if you need to.  Cook for 5-6 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bacon is caramelized on both sides.  Remove from the oven and leave until cool and crisp.  Once crisp, break the bacon, or snip with scissors, into pieces about 1cm in size.

Reheat the soup gently until steaming, then pour into bowls and scatter over the roasted hazelnuts and candied bacon.  Serve immediately. 


For a Vegetarian version, you can use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and omit the candied bacon. 

If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to steaming point and serve.  Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups and also this soup’s smooth, silky texture. 

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph – €25) 

Potato, Parsley and Thyme Soup with Chorizo

A potato soup is so versatile and works superbly with spices, fresh herbs, pestos and drizzles. I prefer to use floury potatoes, rather than waxy, for the lightest, silkiest consistency. If reheating this soup, avoid prolonged simmering, to retain its silky texture. This soup is also delicious unblended and served chunky.

Serves 4-6

25g butter

350g peeled and chopped potatoes

150g peeled and chopped onions

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

750ml chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

250ml milk, or half milk and

half cream

75g chorizo

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it foams. Add the chopped potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, then stir well and cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper. Add the pan lid and sweat over a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the potatoes sticking.

Add the stock, bring to the boil, and cook until the vegetables are all tender. Add the chopped herbs and milk (or milk and cream), liquidize the soup and season to taste.

While the vegetables are cooking, peel the chorizo and cut into small dice. Pour the olive oil into a cool frying pan. Add the chorizo, then place the pan on a very low heat and gently cook for a few minutes, turning the chorizo every so often. Done over a very low heat like this, you’ll end up with beautifully cooked chorizo with the rich amber-coloured oils rendered out. You want both the oils and the chorizo itself for drizzling over the soup when serving. Take off when it is crisp, reserving the rendered oil.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, then pour into warm bowls and top with a few pieces of cooked chorizo, with a drizzle of the oil from the pan over the top.


You can use leftover mash in place of some or all of the raw potato, but instead of adding at the start, stir it in when the milk goes in and continue as above. Other leftover vegetables, such as cooked carrots, broccoli, parsnips or even spinach, can be added with the milk, keeping in mind that you may need extra stock and milk to thin it out at the end.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Oxtail Soup with Gremolata

Oxtail is a great but often under-used cut of beef. There isn’t a huge amount of meat on an oxtail, but what you do get is deliciously rich and flavoursome. The intensely refreshing gremolata cuts 1hrough and complements the richness perfectly. A wonderful bowl of soup for a blustery day.

Serves 10–12

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

1.5kg oxtail, cut into pieces (see note at end of recipe), and trimmed of excess fat

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large onion, peeled and chopped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced 2 large cloves of garlic

250ml red wine 1 bay leaf

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 litres beef stock

For the gremolata

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Place a large saucepan or casserole pot on a high heat and allow to get hot. Drizzle in 1–2 tablespoons of the olive oil and fry the oxtail pieces in batches, adding a little more olive oil, if necessary, for 4–5 minutes in total, or until they are well browned all over, seasoning them with salt and pepper as they cook. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and tip in the chopped onion, carrots, celery and garlic, season with salt and pepper, then cover with a butter wrapper or a sheet of parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid and cook on a very gentle heat for 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender.

Return the oxtail pieces to the pot and add the red wine, bay leaf, thyme, tomato purée and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the stock and bring slowly to the boil, skimming off any frothy impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce the heat to very low, cover with the lid and gently simmer for about 3 hours, or until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Continue to occasionally skim off any impurities as well as any rendered fat.

Remove from the heat and strain through a colander over a large bowl to catch the liquid. Tip the meat and vegetables into a large, shallow bowl and leave to cool a little. Add a few ice cubes to the liquid and wait for the fat to rise to the top, then remove and discard it. Once the meat and vegetables are cool enough to handle, discard the bay leaf and thyme sprig and remove the meat from the oxtail bones.

Pour the liquid into a blender with the reserved vegetables and two-thirds of the meat (you may have to do this in batches) and blitz to a smooth soup, then return it to the pan. Add the remaining shards of meat and bring slowly to the boil.

Mix together the ingredients for the gremolata, then check the seasoning and serve the soup in warm bowls, with the gremolata scattered over the top.


To cut the oxtail into pieces, using a sharp knife, slice between the bones where they are connected to each other with tissue similar to ligament – it’s easier if you feel with your fingers first where the joints are. Where the oxtail is thick and wide, at the top end, cut at every joint, but where the oxtail is thin and skinny, cut at every second or third joint.

For an alcohol-free version of this soup, just omit the red wine and use extra stock, though do bear in mind that a lot of alcohol evaporates in cooking anyway.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Roasted Parsnip and Cauliflower Soup with Smoked Paprika

I love the combination of nutty cumin and smoky paprika used in Middle Eastern cuisine, which also works so well in this smooth and velvety soup. Topped with the roasted vegetables and the smoked paprika oil, this soup is supremely simple, completely delicious, and just perfect on a cold day.

Serves 6

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium parsnips (450g in weight)

1 small head of cauliflower

2 large red onions, peeled and cut into chunks

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.25 litres vegetable or chicken stock

For the smoked paprika oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Place the olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Cut the parsnips into quarters, remove and discard the tough cores, then cut them into 1cm chunks. Add these to the olive oil in the bowl. Now remove the tough outer green leaves from the cauliflower and cut off the base of the stem. Cut the cauliflower into florets and add these to the parsnips, along with the red onion chunks. Scatter over the smoked paprika, cumin and some salt and pepper and toss well together.

Lay the vegetables and all the oil in a single layer on a large roasting or baking tray and roast for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are golden around the edges, and tender.

Now remove 3 tablespoons of the vegetables (these will be scattered over the soup when serving, so save some nice-looking florets and parsnip and onion chunks) and blend the remaining vegetables with the stock until smooth, adding more stock if it is a bit thick. Pour into a saucepan, heat through and season to taste.

Mix the smoked paprika with the olive oil and set aside.

Reheat the soup, if necessary, then serve in bowls, with a few pieces of roast vegetables arranged on top and a drizzle of smoked paprika oil.


I use sweet smoked paprika for this soup, but you can also use hot smoked paprika.

Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen (Penguin Michael Joseph) 

Guinness Bread

A delicious wholemeal bread that has a deep, dark flavour from the Guinness or Irish stout. This recipe uses a whole 500ml can of stout to make 2 loaves, but you can make just one loaf by halving the recipe. The bread will freeze well if frozen when fresh, and if you like you can cut the loaf into slices before freezing.

Makes 2 x 450g loaves

800g coarse wholemeal flour

100g plain flour

50g rolled oats

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs

500ml Guinness or Irish stout

200ml buttermilk

2 teaspoons brown sugar, treacle or molasses

50g butter, melted, or 50ml extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame, poppy, pumpkin or sunflower seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Brush the inside of two 2lb loaf tins with some olive oil or melted butter and set aside.

Place the wholemeal flour, plain flour, oats and salt in a large, wide mixing bowl. Sift in the bicarbonate of soda and mix everything together. Make a well in the centre.

Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then add the Guinness, buttermilk, brown sugar (or treacle or molasses) and the butter or olive oil. Whisk to mix.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones (making sure to scrape out the wet bowl), then, using one hand in a claw position, mix everything together until combined.

Tip the mixture into the loaf tins, then gently shake the tins and cut down the centre of the loaves with a knife – this helps to give an even rise in baking. Scatter with seeds if you wish and bake in the preheated oven for 60–70 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when gently tapped on the base. I like to remove them from their tins for the last 10 minutes or so of baking, to get a nice crust on the bottom. 

Cool on a wire rack. If you want a softer crust, wrap the bread in a clean tea towel until cool, as soon as it comes out of the oven.


Despite the times that are in it, we have seven nationalities with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for the Autumn 12-Week Program. All have of course fully quarantined having made the long and tortuous journey from the other side of the world to come to a cookery school in the midst of an organic farm in East Cork to learn how food is produced from the much-hackneyed phase ‘from the farm to the fork’. 

They are of course learning how to cook and bake but also how to keep hens, milk cows, make cheese, smoke food, make charcuterie, pickles and ferments as well as wonderful 48 hour naturally fermented sourdough bread.  They are snapped up after the intensive course by restaurants, catering businesses and publishing houses around the world. 

Excitement is gathering for our American students as they look forward to celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving is almost bigger than Christmas in the US, I only recently discovered the history of this flamboyant feast and celebration.

According to my students, The Pilgrim Fathers arrived in New England in 1620 having crossed the wild Atlantic to America. They almost starved during their first harsh winter, so when the first harvest was gathered, they had a celebratory feast to thank the good Lord and Mother Nature.   This became known as Thanksgiving and is still celebrated every year on the last Thursday of November by Americans both at home and abroad.  This year, 2021, it will be on November 25th

Americans crisscross the country and the globe to join their family and loves ones.  They feast on turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potato, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.  Another bizarre favourite is sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.  The latter is quite the leap of faith for us but apparently, it isn’t Thanksgiving without this bizarre sounding dish, so pick up courage and try it, you may find that it is super delicious as my American students predicted.

Every family has their own favourite stuffing and traditions.  Column inches are written every year to encourage readers to try lots of variations on the theme.  The turkey in particular can be cooked in an ever-evolving number of ways.  One way or another, dry or wet brine the bird for 6-8 hours, this really enhances the flavour.  Then stuff with your favourite ‘dressing’. Alternatively spatchcock the bird and slather with spices or a gutsy herb butter. Best fun of all is to deep-fry the turkey, sounds terrifying but I have to tell you, it’s delicious. You’ll need a large deep saucepan and a powerful gas burner.  Don’t attempt this in the house, best to experiment in the garage or outdoors if the weather is clement.  Fill the deep saucepan with oil or dripping, gently dunk the turkey up and down a few times before submerging in the hot oil.  Keep a good eye on progress, this is more of a ‘macho thing’ – it’ll take about 45-50 minutes to cook through.  The skin will be a crisp mahogany colour and irresistible and the flesh, moist and juicy – extraordinary!

We surely need another celebration and indeed, despite the challenges, many of us have much to be grateful.  Let’s gather our families around us, give thanks and remember those who are no longer with us … 

Here are a few tried and tested recipes that friends and students have shared with me over the years. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Brine for Turkey

6 litres (10 1/2 pints) water

600g (1 1/4lb) salt

Brine the turkey overnight, not essential but it makes for moist, tender and flavourful meat.

*Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Put the turkey into a deep stainless-steel saucepan, bucket or a plastic bucket.   Cover with the brine and a lid and chill for 24 hours.  Drain and dry well.  This is of course optional, but it hugely enhances the flavour of the turkey.  

Deep-Fried Turkey for Thanksgiving

Who but the Americans would have thought of deep-frying a turkey?  Bet you are deeply skeptical, so was I but I’ve become quite an enthusiast, it is such fun and a much faster way to cook the bird.  So how about trying out this method but NEVER leave the deep-fryer unattended.

1 x 4.4 – 5.4kG (10-12lb) organic or free-range turkey, brined (see recipe) (Remove the giblets before brining – use the neck, heart and gizzard to make stock to use for gravy.  The liver makes a delicious smooth pâté or parfait.)

oil to cover (in America, they usually peanut oil – pomace oil is also good)

To cook the bird, you’ll need a large deep pot, preferably with a turkey tray, lift hook and thermometer.  If you don’t already have a suitable pot, there are several options on the internet so get GOOGLING.  Grill gloves or thick oven mitts are also worth having.

Carefully choose a safe, level spot preferably concrete on your patio or close to the door in the garage.  Set up the gas burner and cylinder.  Remove the turkey from the brine.  Lift the empty saucepan onto the propane burner.  Lower the turkey into the pot, cover with water, mark the level on the side of the pot – the waterline should be at least 10 – 12.5cm (4-5 inches) from the top of the pot. 

Remove the turkey onto a tray, pour out the water and dry the pot.  Fill to the water mark with oil.  Turn on the heat and warm the oil gradually to 190˚C/375˚F.  Meanwhile, drain and dry the bird meticulously both inside and out.  Insert the lifting hook and impale the turkey neck downwards on the tray (there are several designs so follow instructions on your model.) 

When the temperature reaches 190˚C/375˚F, turn off the heat. 

Gently and GRADUALLY lower the turkey into the hot oil.  Relight the burner, maintain the oil temperature at 180˚C/350˚F and cook for 40-45 minutes allowing 3 – 3 1/2 minutes per 450g (1lb).

Slowly and carefully, lift the turkey out of the hot oil allowing it to drain over the pot for a few seconds and transfer to a tray.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh).  The internal temperature should read 75˚C/165˚F.  Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

Serve on a large platter.  Carve and serve with all the trimmings.

Be super careful, maybe prudent to keep a fire extinguisher close by and I REPEAT, NEVER LEAVE UNATTENDED!

Note: Allow to oil to cool completely, strain through a fine metal sieve, store for future use.

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Traditional Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse and as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries (look out for the Irish grown cranberries)

4 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a small heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water.  Don’t add the sugar yet, as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.


Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

The sauce should be soft and juicy. Add a little warm water if it has accidentally overcooked.

Green Bean Casserole with Mushrooms

This is super delicious, but I must admit I tweaked the recipe….  The original was made with packet of mushroom soup, freeze dried onions and frozen beans … this is even better…!

Serves 4-6

50g (2oz) butter

350g (12oz) onion, finely chopped

900g (2lbs) mushrooms, sliced

225ml (8fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

Green Beans

900g (2lbs) French beans

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

3 teaspoons sea salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Crispy Onions

700g (1 1/2lb) of onions, peeled and sliced into rounds.

25g (1oz) butter

4 tablespoons olive oil


50g (2oz) flaked almonds

First make the mushroom sauce.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the milk and cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Next cook the crispy onions.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add the olive oil, toss in the onions and cook stirring regularly on a medium heat until golden and crisp – 10 minutes approximately.

Meanwhile, prepare and cook the beans.

Choose beans of a similar size.  Top and tail the beans. If they are small and thin leave them whole, if they are larger cut them into 2.5- 4cm (1- 1 1/2 inch) pieces at a long angle.

Bring the water to a fast-rolling boil, add 3 teaspoons of salt then toss in the beans. Continue to boil very fast for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked (they should still retain a little bite). Drain immediately.  Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and a little sea salt if necessary.

To finish.

Heat the mushroom sauce, stir in the beans and transfer to a gratin dish.  Sprinkle the top with crispy onions and flaked almonds and heat through in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Eoin Cluskey’s Pumpkin Pie

The recipe for this delectable Pumpkin Pie came from the same Eoin Cluskey, who is the brainchild behind Bread 41 in Pearce St in Dublin where there is a continuous queue for the sourdough bread and irresistible pastries. He did a 12 Week Course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Autumn 20212. Thanks for sharing Eoin …. 

Serves 8


200g (7oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

50ml (2fl oz) water

pinch of salt


300g (11oz) pumpkin flesh (finely chopped) (variety – Uchiki Kuri)

225g (8oz) golden syrup

75-100g (3 – 3 1/2oz) pumpkin skin

80g (3oz) breadcrumbs

juice and zest of 1 lemon

pinch of ground ginger

23cm (9 inch) round tart tin

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Using a fork to stir, add just enough water to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Flatten into a round and wrap in parchment paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Once rested, roll out, line the tart tin and retain the excess pastry. Line the tin with parchment paper and fill with baking beans and chill for 5-10 minutes in a refrigerator.

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

Bake the tart base blind for about 25 minutes in the preheated oven or until pale and golden, remove the beans and paper.

Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.

Peel the pumpkin and set aside the skin (keep the seeds for roasting for a healthy snack).  Finely chop the flesh.  Heat the golden syrup in a pan and add the pumpkin flesh, lemon zest and juice.  Bring this mixture to the boil and remove from the heat.   Blitz the breadcrumbs and pumpkin skin in a food processor and add a pinch of ground ginger.   Mix the bread crumb/pumpkin skin mixture into the pumpkin flesh/syrup mixture.

Fill the tart case with this pumpkin mixture and decorate as your wish with the left-over pastry – lattice, leaves etc.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Cool, remove from the tin.

Serve either warm or cold with softly whipped cream.

Guest Chef Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes

We were all super excited at Ballymaloe Cookery School this week, we’ve just had our first guest chef for almost two years.

Claire Ptak from Violet Cakes and Café on London’s Wilton Way taught a sparkling class for the current 12 Week Course students and it was beamed out to her many fans all over the world on Ballymaloe Cookery School Online.

Claire, who comes from California, started her career on a market stall in Broadway Market in Hackney. This was in 2005, soon she became known as the Cupcake Queen. People flocked to buy her adorable mini cupcakes in many flavours, made with beautiful, mostly organic ingredients. All were cooked in her tiny home kitchen but in 2010 Violet Bakery and Café was born. Claire baked a range of beautiful cakes with exquisitely pure ingredients, best Madagascar vanilla pods, pure cane molasses, Valrhona chocolate and limited-edition buttercream flavoured with freshly brewed espresso, homemade fruit cordials and dark caramel with sea salt. The flavours of the cakes reflect the season.  She constantly experiments with flavour combinations as new foods become available.

Claire has a very unique flamboyant icing style which looks effortlessly rustic but is quite difficult to achieve. She is the acknowledged master of the delicious ‘imperfect cake’ – no fondant icing here…!

Claire didn’t just ‘pop-up’. She’s been obsessed with baking since she was little, she had her first holiday job at a local bakery in Point Reyes in California when she was just 14.  Some years later, when Alice Waters tasted her baking, she offered her a job on the spot and so Claire became pastry chef at the iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.  Here, she was intrigued by the variety of exquisite seasonal berries and peaches, five different types of limes, and the nuanced flavours that influenced the food.

Word of the flavour of Claire’s cakes and café food spread around London like wildfire. She developed a cult following but it wasn’t until she was chosen to make Harry and Meaghan’s cake that her fame went global.

Claire introduced us to several new ingredients in her class.  She used blonde chocolate from Valrhona to make her Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies – it tastes like caramelised white chocolate – a new flavour for me but destined to become a new favourite…

She loves to use spelt and kamut flour and dark brown sugar for some of her cakes and is really into sheet pan cakes at present. Sheet pan cakes are made in a rectangular tin with approx. 5cm (2 inch) and are brilliant for portioning and icing. Try this bubble cake that blew everyone away at the class. The Roast Quince and Mascarpone Cake took quite a bit of making but was so worth the effort for a really special cake. You’ll also love the Autumn Carrot Cake with prunes and walnuts and the killer Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies.

If you’d like to watch Claire’s class, you can sign up on the website to view the recording via or call the Cookery School on 021 4646785 for more information.

Meanwhile, check out Violet Cakes on Instagram – @violetcakeslondon

Chocolate Bubble Cake

Makes one layer 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch) deep rectangular cake tin.

Serves 20-24

For the cake

330g (generous 11 1/2oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

520g (scant 1.1lbs approx.) caster sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

300g (10oz) plain yoghurt

150g (5oz) vegetable oil

340g (scant 12oz) hot water

For the marshmallow icing

5 egg whites (200g/7oz)

340g (scant 12oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) golden syrup

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


gold leaf (optional)

fresh flower petals for example Marigolds and/or Johnny Jump Ups

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/Gas Mark 3/ (Fan – 140˚C/275˚F/Gas Mark 1). Butter and line your cake tin with enough greaseproof paper to come up the sides of the tin, this will help to remove the cake later.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the sugar, into a large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water).

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Don’t switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps. Gradually whisk together until you have a smooth but thick batter.

Whisk in the hot water until smooth.

Pour the batter into your pan right away and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin.

Once the cake has cooled, prepare the marshmallow. Have ready your mixer with a whisk attachment.

Measure all of the ingredients into a metal bowl and place over a saucepan of boiling water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will cook the egg whites). Whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very warm to the touch. Use a thermometer and whisk continuously until it reads 72°C or 70°C (162˚F or 158˚F) for two minutes, whichever comes first. Transfer the mix into the bowl of your electric mixer and whisk on high speed until nearly stiff peaks form.

Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round nozzle and pipe 20-24 big bubbles in rows over the top of the cooled cake. Use a tiny sieve to dust a strip of cocoa powder lengthwise across the cake.  Decorate with flakes of gold leaf and a scattering of fresh flower petals.

Quince and Mascarpone Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

All Claire’s cakes at Violet are based on the seasons, this luscious confection could also be served as a dessert.

Serves 12-14

For the Roasted Quince

2 quinces

150g (5oz) sugar

4 tablespoons water

100g (3 1/2oz) fresh orange juice

peel from 2 oranges

8 cardamom pods, pounded open to release the black seeds

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, scraped

For the Sponge

500g (18oz) caster sugar     

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, softened   

100g (3 1/2oz) sunflower oil/vegetable oil   

4 eggs (240g/8 1/2oz in weight)  

320g (generous 11 1/2oz) milk    

1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

500g (18oz) plain flour        

1 tablespoon baking powder        

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

For the Mascarpone Filling

400g (14oz) mascarpone cheese

200g (7fl oz) double cream

60g (2 1/2oz) icing sugar, sifted

For the Buttercream (can be frozen)

1 vanilla bean

9 egg whites (350g/12oz in weight)

600g (1 1/4lbs) dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

900g (2lbs) unsalted butter

3 x 23cm (9 inch) cake tins

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7.

Peel the quince and cut them into wedges by cutting them in half from top to tail and then cutting each half into three. Spread the wedges out in a single layer in a large, heavy-bottomed gratin or roasting dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and cover with water and orange juice. Add the zest, cardamom seeds and pods, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Toss all the ingredients together in the roasting tin to make sure the quince is nicely coated in the spices. Cover tightly with a lid or upturned tin.  Roast in the preheated oven for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until a deep pinky-orange and tender to the touch. If it’s still firm, leave it in a little longer. Cool completely in the tin.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150˚C/300˚/Gas Mark 2). Grease and line three 23cm (9 inch) cake tins.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until combined.

In a jug weigh out milk and vanilla and set aside. Add half of the dry flour mix to the butter mix and combine. Then add half of the milk mixture, mix well, scrape down thoroughly. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix. Add the remaining milk mixture and combine.

Divide the batter between the cake tins.  Tap gently on the worktop to release the air bubbles and bake for 25-28 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the cake is baking, make the mascarpone filling. Whisk all the ingredients together until fluffy, being careful not to overmix. Keep this in the fridge until ready to use.

Next prepare your icing.

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft and pale, set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt over a bain-marie until the sugar is dissolved, the mixture is frothy and it reaches 75°C/167˚F.

Fit the bowl to your mixer and whisk until cool and peaks form. Add the soft butter in batches, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth, it may break but it will come together again, whisk until stiff.

Once the cakes are completely cool you can begin to assemble the cake. Use a paring knife to remove the core of the quince and thinly slice the quince. Line a deep 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with parchment paper, place one layer of sponge inside the lined tin and drizzle with some of the sieved roasting liquid from the quinces.  With a round nozzle, pipe a ring of Swiss meringue buttercream around the edge of the cake and then Put a thin layer of the sliced roasted quince within the centre. Spoon half the mascarpone filling over the cake. Repeat with the second layer of sponge, border of icing, fruit and mascarpone.

Place the final layer of cake into the tin and bring the sides of the parchment paper up. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour, this will make it much easier to ice.

Remove the cake from the fridge and place on to a plate or stand and ice the top and sides with the rest of your Swiss meringue buttercream. Chill or serve right away.

Autumn Carrot Cake with Prunes and Walnuts

A delicious riff on the usual carrot cake.

1 Sheet Cake – serves 12

For the cake

4 eggs, separated plus 1 whole egg

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted butter, softened

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (18oz) grated carrots (700g/1 1/2lbs before peeling)

150g (5oz) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

150g (5oz) Armagnac-soaked prunes, turn into quarters

zest of 1 orange

315g (10 1/2oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout

For the frosting

375g (13oz) unsalted butter, softened

600g (1 1/4lbs) cream cheese, brought to room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

200g (7oz) icing sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 walnuts for decoration (untoasted)

Butter and line a deep baking tin (24cm x 32cm/9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inch) and heat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150°C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2).

Separate your eggs. Put the whites aside to whip up later with the 100g (3 1/2oz) of caster sugar.

In another bowl, add the yolks, whole egg, brown sugar, soft butter, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk well together and to this add your grated carrots, toasted chopped walnuts, torn prunes and orange zest. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In a large bowl, weigh out the remaining dry ingredients and whisk them together well. To this add your wet mixture. Mix together well.

Finally whip your egg whites with the caster sugar into lovely soft peaks. Fold this mixture into the cake mixture until fully combined. Spoon into your prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake has some spring. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.

To make the icing, whip together the very soft butter and cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffy.    Cover the cake with the frosting. Decorate with grated walnuts.  Alternatively, with a sharp serrated knife, slice the cake into 12 squares before frosting and pipe a wiggle of cream cheese icing diagonally with a petal tip or your favourite nozzle.  Then grate a little fresh walnut over the top with a fine microplane zester.  Serve on flatted cupcake cases if desired. 

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crisp outside, gooey inside…these might just be the ultimate choc chip cookies – plus they can be cooked from frozen.

Makes 21

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

150g (5oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) cocoa powder (Dutch)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

250g (9oz) unsalted butter, soft

350g (12oz) blonde (caramelised white chocolate)

OR USE 180g (6 1/4oz) blonde Valrhona chocolate (caramelised white chocolate) or white chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)  

AND 180g (6 1/4oz) milk chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Maldon sea salt for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 (Fan – 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3).

Combine the dry ingredients in your mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment fitted, don’t overmix.

Add the soft butter and mix until a sandy texture forms.

Add the chocolate discs, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until a dough forms.

Use a cookie scoop to scoop the dough into balls.

You can bake right away or from frozen.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Arrange just 6 cookies on the tray to allow them to spread during cooking.  Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, tapping the tray on the oven rack twice during the baking time. This helps the cookie to flatten and the chocolate to spread, whilst remaining gooey in the middle.  Leave to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve chocolate chip cookies warm or a room temperature

Note: Uncooked dough keeps for up to 3 months in the freezer.

Food On The Edge

Recently, I spent an amazing two days at Food On The Edge, meeting and listening to an inspirational group of chefs, food activists, artisan bakers, millers, heirloom seed producers, food archaeologists and leading thinkers chosen for their passion and drive and their ability to inspire chefs around the world.  The theme this year was Social Gastronomy. 

Some speakers like Bill Schindler, Arlene Stein from Canada, Gísli Matt from Iceland, Petra and Paul Moinea from Romania and Anissa Helou were present in person.  Others like Bertrand Grébaut and Théophile Pourriat flew in from Septime in Paris to deliver their presentations while others like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse delivered their fifteen-minute talk virtually from San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ghana, India, Peru and London…The Happy Pear twins, Stephen and David Flynn were there, exuding energy as ever, living examples of the benefits of eating real food and living the good life, while spreading the message of a plant-based diet. 

The seventh edition of FOTE, the brainchild of Michelin chef, JP McMahon was appropriately held at Airfield Estate, a working urban farm of 38 acres in Dundrum.  A superb educational facility with a mission ‘to inspire and enable people to make food choices that benefit people, planet and pockets’.  Much of the delicious food for the event came directly from the farm and gardens and was curated by Luke Matthews in conjunction with Gather and Gather.

Virtually all the speakers referred to the lessons learnt during the Pandemic by a sector that hitherto considered itself to be ‘unshakeable’.  There was a realisation that much of the current staff shortage crisis had been brought on by the industry itself over many years of unacceptable kitchen culture and poor conditions.   A chastened industry is now determined to create optimum working conditions for our ‘second family’, so they feel valued and fulfilled!  ‘The job must be rebooted – it’s all about the team’.  Other speakers shone a light on the challenges for women chefs, the ‘Me Too’ movement and LGBT issues.

There was an emphasis on sharing and exchanging knowledge.  Chefs were also focusing on reducing food waste in restaurant kitchens.  Joshua Evans of the Novel Fermentations Research Group and senior researcher at the Danish Technical University’s Center for Biosustainability in Copenhagen urged chefs to be leaders and rethink waste – ‘No such thing as waste, just another product’.  Joshua, along with his colleagues at The Nordic Food Lab has spent years researching and relearning and experimenting with fermentation techniques, preserving and enhancing the nutrient value of what many would hitherto consider to be waste food. 

Incorporating wild foraged and fermented foods into menu’s is an exciting ‘new’ area for a growing number of cool chefs. 

Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody who created the ‘My Table’ project where refugees and asylum seekers can cook and share their food, focused on the importance of creating cooking facilities in direct provision centres so residents can cook their indigenous food for their children and themselves.  Dee Laffan, Mei Chin and Blanca Valencia of ‘Spice Bags’ also highlighted the not to be missed opportunity for the sharing of food cultures with the ‘new Irish’ and the conditions needed for that to become a reality.

Several other speakers including myself focused on the vital importance of teaching children to cook from an early age so they experience the joy of delicious food and are equipped with the practical life skills to feed themselves properly.

Others like Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills in South Carolina were making valiant efforts to recover heirloom and landrace varieties of grains and seeds that withstand the rapidly changing conditions as climate change accelerates. 

There was so much more – 40 speakers in total, all the presentations will be online shortly –

Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Salad

This recipe has stood the test of time – it’s been on the menu at Chez Panisse since it opened and comes from ‘Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook’ published by Random House Inc. now a collector’s item.

Serves 4

3-4 x 6cm (2 1/2 inch) rounds of fresh goat’s cheese, each about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried thyme

110g (4oz) approx. fine dry breadcrumbs

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

16 garlic croutons

about 4 handfuls garden lettuces (rocket, lamb’s lettuce, small oak leaf and red leaf lettuces, chervil)

Marinate the goat cheese in 50ml (2fl oz) of the extra virgin olive oil with the sprigs of fresh thyme for 24 hours.  Mix the dried thyme with the breadcrumbs.

Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking the remaining olive oil into 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar until the vinaigrette is balanced and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Wash and dry the lettuces.  Make the garlic croutons.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

To bake the goat cheese, remove from the olive oil marinade and then dip them in the breadcrumbs.  Put the cheese on a lightly oiled baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is lightly bubbling and golden brown.

Meanwhile, toss the lettuces with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat them and arrange them on round plates.  Place the cheese in the centre of the plates with the browner side up and arrange the croutons around the cheese.

Garlic Croutons

1 baguette cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices

50ml (2fl oz) melted butter

2-3 cloves of garlic

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

To prepare the croutons, brush each slice of baguette with melted butter and bake in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes until the croutons are light golden brown.  Rub each crouton with a cut clove of garlic while they are still warm. 

Crab with Smoked Cheese Custard

Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon

Serves 4

250g (9oz) crabmeat

extra virgin rapeseed oil

zest and juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

For the Cheese Custard

150ml (5fl oz) double cream

150ml (5fl oz) milk

100g (3 1/2oz) Irish smoked cheese, grated

4 egg yolks

chopped chives and seaweed powder, to garnish (optional)

To make the custard, add the cream, milk and cheese to a medium pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a separate medium pan of water to the boil.

Add the egg yolks to a large heatproof bowl and gradually pour the hot cream mixture over the eggs, whisking all the time to avoid scrambling.  Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and cook for about 20 minutes until the custard thickens.

Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.  Season to taste.

Pick through the crabmeat for shell and season with the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt.  Place the crab in the bottom of four bowls and pour the custard over the top.  Refrigerate for 2 hours until set.

Serve garnished with chopped chives and seaweed powder if you wish.

Squash and Oyster Mushrooms

Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon

Serves 4

2 small pumpkins or butternut squash

rapeseed oil

a few sprigs of thyme

150g (5oz) oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced and scored

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

edible flowers and fresh herbs such as parsley, fennel, sage or thyme, to serve (optional)

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

Halve the squash horizontally and scoop out the seeds.  In a roasting pan, coat the squash with oil, season with salt and add the thyme. Put into the preheated oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and fry the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Add the butter towards the end of the cooking time and finish with parsley.  Place the mushrooms in the centre of each piece of squash.  Garnish with some fresh herbs and serve.

Vietnamese Coconut and Tempeh Curry

Taken from The Happy Health Plan by David & Stephen Flynn published by Penguin Life

This is a deliciously simple curry!  Tempeh is a fermented soy bean block, originally from Indonesia.  We know it’s not a very appealing description, but when prepared right, this dish is packed with flavour and really filling.  Tempeh is not as readily available as tofu, but it can be found in most good health stores.  If you can’t find it, just replace it with tofu.  We like to serve this curry with short-grain brown rice.

Serves 4

300g (10oz) sweet potatoes

400g (14oz) potatoes

1 teaspoon salt

a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger

220ml (scant 8fl oz) full-fat coconut milk

400ml (14fl oz) water

juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 tablespoons curry powder

4 tablespoons tamari/soy sauce (make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce if you need to avoid gluten)

1 x 300g (10oz) pack of tempeh (if not available, substitute firm tofu/oyster mushrooms)

1/2 a head of pak choi

ground black pepper  

To Serve

a small bunch of spring onions/scallions (green part only)

a bunch of fresh coriander

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 (180˚C fan)

Chop the sweet potatoes and regular potatoes into bite-size pieces (leaving the skin on).  Put on a baking tray with a generous pinch of salt, mix well and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.  Peel and finely dice the ginger.

To make the dressing, put the coconut milk, water, ginger, lime juice, maple syrup, curry powder and tamari/soy sauce into a blender and whizz until smooth.

Cut the tempeh/tofu into small cubes (around 1 1/2cm/2/3 inch) – the smaller they are, the more flavour each piece will have.  Put on a baking tray and dress with about half the dressing.  It’s important to mix the tempeh and the sauce well, to make sure each piece is full of flavour, and also to make sure that the tempeh is well spread out on the baking tray.  Put into the oven alongside the potatoes and bake for 20 minutes.  After 10 minutes, stir the tempeh to ensure that the dressing is well distributed.

Meanwhile, pour the other half of the dressing into a large pan – this will become the sauce for the dish, along with any remaining sauce from the baked tempeh.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer.

Once the tempeh and potatoes are done, transfer them into the pan of simmering sauce and mix well.  Finely chop the pak choi, removing the rub at the end, and add to the pan.

Remove from the heat, taste and season.  Finely slice the spring onions/scallions (make sure you just use the green tops) and fresh coriander and sprinkle them over the dish when serving.   

Heavenly Coconut Bars

Taken from The Happy Pear, Recipes for Happiness by David & Stephen Flynn published by Penguin Ireland

Growing up, Bounty Bars were always Dave’s favourite chocolate bars, so it was important that we created something equally delicious!  These are really easy to make, and as they are dairy and gluten-free, they’re perfect for everyone.  This recipe makes about 18 small bars, which might seem like a lot, but you’ll be surprised how quickly they disappear!

Makes 18 small bars

3 tablespoons coconut oil

4 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g (7oz) desiccated coconut

75g (3oz) ground almonds

a small pinch of sea salt

250g – 300g (9-10oz) dark chocolate

Put a medium-size saucepan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Heat until the coconut oil has melted, ensuring the liquid does not boil.

Put the desiccated coconut, ground almonds and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well.  Once the coconut oil has melted, add the heated liquid to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Place some baking parchment on a baking tray and spread the coconut mixture over it.  Shape the mixture into a square shape roughly 20cm x 20cm x 2 1/2cm thick (8 inch x 8 inch x 1 inch thick).

Place the baking tray in the freezer for 20 minutes, for the mixture to harden.  After 20 minutes, the coconut bars should be firm enough to cut into sold bar shapes.  You should get about 18 small bars.

Next place the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and melt it over a saucepan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally until it fully melts.  Remove from the heat.

We have found the best way to cover the coconut bars with chocolate is to place a bar on a palette knife or large knife and pour the chocolate over the bar with a spoon or ladle until fully coated.  Try to avoid dropping the coconut bars into the chocolate, as they will melt and make your chocolate lumpy with coconut.  Put a little chocolate on the bottom, repeat and leave to harden.  If you want ridged lines on the top of the bars, use a fork when the chocolate is still soft.  It will most likely take a few goes to get this right, but it is fun to practice!

Place the now coated bars on fresh parchment paper on a baking tray and pop them into the fridge for 10-15 minutes, to allow the chocolate to cool and harden.  

Scary Halloween

Wow, Halloween is back with a vengeance this year. Now that restrictions have eased, much of that pent up excitement can be channelled into Halloween celebrations and rowdy trick or treating.

I’ve come full circle, from memories of childhood Halloweens with neighbours recounting ghost spooky stories, scaring the living daylights out of us children with ‘true stories’ of banshees waiting in graveyards and haunted houses to resentment of corporate marketing and the commercialisation of Halloween on a par with Christmas.

But, I’ve decided to lighten up and enter into the spooky spirit with the enthusiastic help of my grandchildren.  Who can resist the excitement of the little dotes who have been decorating their houses and planning their costumes for weeks, no longer having to suppress the glee, so I too have embrace the whacky bandwagon…while quietly doing my utmost to suggest riffs on delicious recipes with a spooky Halloween slant, so embrace your inner ghoul and let’s have a wild Halloween party.

Get the kids involved in decorating the house outrageously and the cooking too – so there is something for everyone coming up.
Pumpkin carving is definitely a must do, it keeps everyone happily amused for hours and the flesh can be used for a pumpkin soup. The giant pumpkins are principally grown for size. They are bred to have thin walls for easy carving. They are fun to carve but tend to have pale watery flesh with little flavour. One can use it for soup but you’ll need to use a really tasty stock and lots of herbs and spices to add flavour. Better still, choose a smaller pumpkin with deep orange flesh.

Pumpkin and squash seeds are edible so don’t bin the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of protein, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.  The hulls tend to be tough so do your best to shell them first which can be quite a mission but I prefer to roast and crunch.

On a more sombre note, if you have lost loved ones this year, perhaps you might like to create an offenda, a family altar with lots of photos, nostalgic items and keepsakes to remember them by. Gather around and remember them joyfully, tell stories and eat some of their favourite foods as they do in Mexico on The Day of the Dead.

Green Slime with Nachos 

Makes 16 approx. depending on size

Serve 3-4 as a starter garnished with a red chilli or serve as a dip.

16 warm tortillas, 2 1/2 inch (6cm) approx.

450g (1lb) podded fresh or frozen peas

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

1/2 fresh chilli, finely chopped (seeds removed)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt, approx. and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the peas in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. Refresh under cold water and drain. Whizz the olive oil with the lime juice, coriander and chilli in a food processor, blend for 1 minute. Add the peas, cumin, coriander, parsley and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and blend until smooth and slimy. Taste, correct the seasoning, put into a bowl and cover until needed.

Serve with tortilla chips or nachos.

Witches Brew with Wiggly Worms 

Sounds scary but tastes delicious…

Serves 6-8

25g (1oz) lean bacon

15g (1/2oz) butter

2 medium spring onions, chopped

1.2 litres (2 pints) light homemade chicken stock or water

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

700g (1 1/2lb) podded peas, fresh or frozen

outside leaves of a head of lettuce, shredded

a sprig of mint

2 tablespoons thick cream

‘Wiggly Worms’

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) of streaky bacon lardons


whipped cream

freshly chopped mint

Heat the chicken stock.

Cut the bacon into fine shreds. Melt the butter and sweat the bacon for about 5 minutes, add the spring onion and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Then add the hot chicken stock or water. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil with the lid off, add the peas, lettuce and sprig of mint, cook for 3-4 minutes approximately or until the vegetables are just tender.   Fry the lardons in olive oil over a medium heat until they plump up and look like crisp worms.

Remove the mint, liquidise and add a little cream to taste. Serve hot scattered with ‘the worms’. 


Be really careful not to overcook this soup or you will lose the fresh taste and brightgreen colour.  Add a little extra stock if the witches brew is too thick.

Rory O’Connell’s Pumpkin Soup with Herb Oil and Crisped Pumpkin Seeds

We have a lot of pumpkin soups, Rory O’Connell’s recipe is the latest one in our repertoire.

Be careful when peeling the pumpkin as the skin can be tough and cause your knife to slip, so make sure your knife is always pointing away from you when you are preparing the vegetable.

Serves 6-8

50g (2oz) butter or 4 tablespoons of olive oil

450g (1lb) pumpkin, weighed after peeling, and cut into small dice, approx. 2cm (3/4 inch)

225g (8oz) onions, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.2 liters (2 pints) chicken stock or 800ml (1 3/4 pints approx.) for a thicker soup

225ml (8fl oz) creamy milk (optional)


4 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds toasted on a dry pan until crisp

Herb Oil (see recipe)

Melt the butter or heat the oil in a saucepan. Allow the butter to foam or the oil to get quite hot. Add the pumpkin, onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and coat the vegetables in the fat. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat the vegetables on a very low heat. After 15 minutes the vegetables should be starting to collapse at the edges.   Now add the stock. Replace the lid and simmer for approx. 20 minutes or until the vegetables are completely soft.

Purée the soup in a liquidizer or with a handheld blender. Taste and correct seasoning and if the consistency is a little thick, thin out with some creamy milk or more stock.

Serve in hot bowls with a drizzle of herb oil and a scattering of toasted pumpkin seeds on each serving.

Herb Oil

This oil is also delicious on simple grilled lamb, beef, pork or fish and will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

4 tablespoons of olive oil

4 tablespoons of chopped herbs; parsley, chives, marjoram, sage or rosemary.

(Use just one of the herbs or a combination of what is available to you)

zest of 1/4 of a lemon

1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the oil, chopped herbs, lemon zest, chilli and garlic and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are super delicious and bouncing with nutrients.  Roast with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads, salads, or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seeds and save for next year’s crop.

pumpkin seeds

sea salt

Split the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and wash off the fibres.

Bring the pumpkin seeds to the boil in a saucepan of salted water (1 teaspoon for every 1.2 litres (2 pints) of water.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/Gas Mark 1⁄2.

Drain the seeds, dry, toss in a tiny amount of oil, 1/2 – 1 teaspoon is enough for 1 pumpkin.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, toss again.

Spread in a single layer on a baking tray.  Dry roast for 30–35 minutes, then check after 30 minutes, they should be nice and crunchy.

Cool and store in an airtight jar, they will keep up to three months at room temperature and longer in the fridge.  They can also be tossed in a mixture of spices, such as cumin and coriander, or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon or ginger before roasting.

Halloween Meringue Pumpkins and Spooky Ghosts 

For the meringue:

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) egg whites

pinch of cream of tartar (optional)

180g (6 1/4oz) caster sugar

orange, green, red and black gel food dyes (or use your favourite colours)
edible glue (or a paste made of icing sugar and water)
edible eyes and sprinkles

Add the egg white into a bowl of a food-processor.  Mix on a high speed until you have soft peaks, whisk in the cream of tartar, then add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking for about 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. It is important to add the sugar very slowly so that it all dissolves.

When all the sugar has incorporated (the mixture should feel smooth between your fingers), divide the meringue between different bowls depending on how many colours you want to make. Stir the gel food dye into each bowl until evenly distributed.

For the pumpkins, slip a piping nozzle with lots of open teeth into your piping bag before spooning in orange-coloured meringue. When you pipe, it will look like the ridges on a pumpkin. Pipe a small amount of green meringue for the stalk (just snip the end of a piping bag for this). For the ghosts, fill a piping bag with white meringue (you can use other colours, too), cut a medium tip and pipe meringue kisses. You can also use your fingers to pinch the sides to create little arms, or pipe on little arms. For the tall ghosts with a rippled effect, alternate between squeezing and stopping squeezing your piping bag while working your way upwards. Play about with other shapes and effects.

Bake for 45-60 minutes at 120ËšC (100ËšC Fan)/250ËšF/Gas Mark 1/2 for meringues that are gooey in the centre. For completely crisp and dry meringues, bake for 1 1/2 hours and then switch off the oven and leave the oven door closed for a few hours and allow to cool.

To decorate, use red gel food dye for blood (you can thin this with a little water) and black gel food dye for other details. Use edible glue to stick on edible eyes and sprinkles (e.g. bones).

Witches Black Cat Cake 

We also do a scary spider web on top of this cake – have fun experimenting….

Makes 36 bites/19 squares/12 slices

225g (8oz) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt 

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) cocoa

350g (12oz) sugar

110g (4oz) softened butter

225ml (8fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

2 organic eggs 

Chocolate Icing 

300g (10oz) icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa

2 teaspoons melted butter 

35ml (1 1/3fl oz) coffee

cocoa for dusting 

300ml (10fl oz softly whipped cream)

Line a 22.5cm (9 inch) square tin or

3 x 17.5cm (6 3/4 inch) sandwich tins with parchment paper

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

Sieve the dry ingredients together into the bowl of a food mixer.  Add the soft butter, buttermilk and vanilla extract.  Beat for two minutes.  Add the eggs one by one.  Beat for a further 2 minutes.  Fill into the prepared tin or tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  

To make the chocolate icing.

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa together.  Beat in the butter and moisten with coffee to a spreading consistency. 

Ice the top and sides of the cake or sandwich the two rounds together with the icing.  Decorate the top of the cake with a scary cat face using white chocolate icing.

Cut into squares or slices and serve with softly whipped cream.

Vampire Lemonade with Vampire Teeth Ice Cubes

Store the stock syrup in the fridge until needed.  This quantity is enough for several batches of lemonade.

4 ruby grapefruit

350ml (12fl oz) approx. stock syrup made with 350g (12oz) sugar and 600ml (1 pint) of water. Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.

1.4 litres (2 1/2 pint) approx. sparkling or still water

Vampire teeth ice cubes (freeze halved almonds in ice cubes with a drop of edible red food colouring).

Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste.  Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.


Autumn is well and truly upon us. There is a nip in the air and the leaves of the Virginia Creeper in the courtyard have turned glorious shades – rich reds, deep orange and yellow. We’ve been foraging for hazelnuts, elderberries, damsons, harvesting apples and picking up windfalls. We’ve got a poor enough crop this year, largely due to several frosty nights during apple blossom earlier in the year.

If you didn’t manage to plant a few apple trees last year, time to dash off to your nearest garden centre to pick up a Crimson Bramley tree, the variety that makes the fluffiest apple sauce and glorious apple pies, tarts and fritters, jams and jellies.
We keep adding to our repertoire of apple cakes.
Try this apple and cardamom tart, a new favourite. Cardamom marries deliciously with apples.  Serve it with custard or softly whipped cream.

The windfalls are perfect for apple sauce. Don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite, just cut them out, give the apples a good wash but for apple jelly, don’t bother to peel. Add the stalks and seeds too, they all add extra pectin and contribute to the deliciousness.  I’ve noticed that many young people who are conditioned to seeing ‘perfect’ fruit in supermarkets, most of which have been heavily sprayed, have never seen ‘real’ fruit, larger or smaller or misshapen versions so are scared to eat anything that’s not perfect.  There is a job of education and reassurance to be done here…these fruits often taste even more delicious.

Here’s a recipe for apple and elderberry jelly, the elderberries are ripe, ready for picking and are packed full of Vitamin C and iron, just what’s needed to boost the family’s immune system for the Winter. A few rose geranium or verbena leaves will add a haunting lemony flavour. Serve a dollop on roast pork with crackling or crispy duck legs. It’ll also be delicious on scones with a blob of cream.

If you have some dessert apples, why not experiment with dried apple slices – it’s easy peasy if you have a dehydrator but that’s not at all essential. A fan oven works brilliantly but a shelf over your cooker also works well. If all that fails, spread them out on a wire rack over a tray, on the back window of your car in the sun or on a shelf in a conservatory or in your tunnel.

Choose really tasty dessert apples, we love Ard Cairn or Ergemont Russets, Pitmaston PineApple, Charles Ross…
It’s really worth having a few tubs of apple sauce in the freezer too. Add to natural yoghurt for breakfast or serve on these Dainty Almond Tartlets for tea.
Do you know about Apple Snow, this one of Myrtle Allen’s favourite recipes – just fold some stiffly beaten egg white into the sweetened apple purée – shortbread biscuits are a delicious accompaniment and finally one of my mother’s favourite recipes, Bramley apple trifle – make a big bowl and invite a few friends around to celebrate Autumn 2021 and the easing of restrictions – keep safe and well.

Bramley Apple Trifle

This delicious Bramley Apple Trifle is one I have adapted from a recipe that I believe originally came from Co. Armagh, which is famous for its Bramley Apple orchards.

Serves 8-10

A Homemade Sponge Cake

Lemon Curd

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten together


4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon caster sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

425ml (15fl oz) milk

150ml (5fl oz) cream


900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1–2 tablespoons water

2 egg whites

300ml (10fl oz) cream

25–50g (1–2oz) toasted flaked almonds

Make a whisked sponge in the usual way.

Make the lemon curd. On a very low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the caster sugar, lemon juice and rind and then the well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools). 

Divide the sponge into two pieces, spread one piece generously with lemon curd and top with the other piece. Cut into small squares and put half into a glass serving bowl. 

Make the egg custard.  Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon rind.  Heat the milk and cream to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

While it is still warm, pour half over the sponge. Top with the remainder of the sponge and the rest of the custard.

Peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and cover and stew in a non-reactive saucepan with the sugar and water. When they are soft, beat into a fluff. Allow to cool. Whisk the egg whites and fold gently into the apple purée. Whip the 300ml (10fl oz) cream and fold most of it into the apple also, reserving some for decoration. Spread this on top of the custard, cover and chill.

To serve, decorate with the remaining whipped cream and sprinkle generously with toasted almonds.

Myrtle Allen’s Bramley Apple Snow

We love this simple, traditional featherlight pudding.  It’s great with shortbread biscuits or even Lady Fingers, amazingly delicious for little effort.  Windfall apples can be used, just discard any bruised bits.  This recipe has been passed down from my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen’s family.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) Arthur Turner, Lanes Prince Albert or Bramley cooking apples

approximately 50g (2oz) granulated sugar

2 organic egg whites

cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers, to serve

Peel and core the apples, cut into chunks and put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and 1-2 dessertspoons of water, cover and cook over a low, gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the apples dissolve into a fluff. Rub through a nylon sieve or liquidise. Bramley apples can be very sour at the beginning of the season, taste and add a little more sugar if it seems too tart.

Whisk the egg whites until stiffly whipped, then fold in gently. Taste, pour into a pretty glass bowl, pop into the fridge and serve well chilled with cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers.

Swedish Apple and Cardamom Cake

Delicious served warm as a pudding or with a cup of coffee.

Serves 8-10

2 large eggs preferably free range and organic

175g (6oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) butter

150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

185g (6 1/2oz) plain flour

3/4 – 1 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom

3 teaspoons baking powder

2-3 Bramley Seedling cooking apples (350-400g/12-14oz approx.)

25g (1oz) caster sugar

Cardamom Sugar

20g (3/4oz) castor sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 200ËšC/400ËšF/Gas Mark 6.

1 x 23cm (9 inch) round springform tin

Grease the springform tin with a little butter and dust with flour shaking off any excess.

Whisk the eggs and the castor sugar in a bowl until the mixture is really thick and fluffy. Bring the butter and milk to the boil in a saucepan, and stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar. Sieve in the flour, add the ground cardamom and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that no lumps of flour remain. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices, arrange them overlapping on top of the batter – some will sink but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180ËšC/350ËšF/Gas Mark 4, for a further 20 – 25 minutes or until the apples are tender and the cake is well risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with cardamom sugar.  Serve with softly whipped cream or custard.

Dainty Almond Tartlets with Apple Fluff

Serves 12

110g (4oz) butter

750g (3oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) ground almonds


Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée (see recipe)

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream


mint or sweet geranium leaves

Makes 24 shallow tartlets

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small shallow patty tins.  Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown, 10-12 minutes for tartlets or until golden brown.  The tarts or tartlets are too soft to turn out immediately so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before turning out.  Do not allow to set hard before removing to a wire rack or the butter will solidify and they will stick to the tins.  If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts and then they will come out easily. 

Just before serving, spoon a blob of Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée on the base.  Decorate with a rosette of cream and a mint or sweet geranium leaf.

Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée

The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking.  This can also be served as an apple sauce with pork or duck and freezes perfectly. 

450g (1lb) Bramley seedling cooking apples

3-4 sweet geranium leaves

2 teaspoons water

50g (2oz) sugar, or more depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan. Add the sweet geranium leaves, sugar and water, cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a uniform texture and taste for sweetness.

Bramley Apple and Elderberry Jelly

Use this basic recipe as a catch all for many Autumn berries, japonica, rowan berries, sea buckthorn, sloes, damsons…

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lbs)

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

1-2 fistfuls of ripe elderberries

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons


Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core.  Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Strip the elderberries off the stalks.  Put the apples into a large saucepan with the elderberries, water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 45 minutes.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow it to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  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.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving 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 uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.


Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

Dried Apple Slices

Choose sweet juicy apples – no need to peel, it will add flavour and extra fibre.  Remove the core and cut into thin slices.  Dip in a solution of 1 tablespoon of elderflower cordial, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 225ml (8fl oz) of water.  Drain, dry on a wire rack then transfer to a dehydrator or other chosen method.  Store in Kilner jars. 


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