ArchiveMarch 2021

Easter Baking

The weeks are whizzing by Easter is virtually upon us. We’ve just made our Simnel Cake, and wrapped it up to marzipan and ice closer to the feast day. Easter is particularly early this year so it’ll be more difficult to get milk fed lamb but if you contact your local family butcher they will hopefully be able to source it for you. It’s so worth making the effort for the sweet delicate flavour and melting texture but there’s still time to make the Simnel cake, with a delicious layer of moist almond marzipan in the centre.

I’m sharing my favourite recipe for hot cross buns too. They take time to make but the anticipation and satisfaction are so worth it. We’ve also discovered that they freeze well, both cooked and uncooked and will taste miles better then virtually anything you can buy.

We’ve also experimented with a hot cross bun loaf which is fun to make in a tin or a tear and share version. I’ve also ordered a mould to  make Flores Fritas, the crackly rose shaped fritters so beloved of Spaniards for Semana Santa at Easter time. The batter is super simple to make, then simply dip the hot mould into the batter, cook in hot oil until it crisps. When it slips off the mould continue cooking, we’re only talking seconds until evenly golden. Drain on kitchen paper, dredge with icing or vanilla sugar. Enjoy immediately, the problem is where to stop – everyone loves them! Another simple way to bring joy into our Covid 19 world.

Finally, for this week , Torrejas, another Spanish Easter speciality for Holy Week that’s also eaten all over Latin America, can be enjoyed year round. It’s the Spanish version of French Toast. Sliced, slightly stale bread, dipped in a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar and occasionally a splash of wine or better still sherry, preferably soaked overnight so the stale bread absorbs the maximum amount of liquid. A rich bread like Brioche gives best results. Apparently this simple treat dates back to Roman times. It differs from French Toast principally because its cooked in olive oil. It’s easy to see how it became popular, especially in households where money was scarce, a delicious way to transform leftover bread into an inexpensive dessert. In the middle ages it became common to eat Torrejas during Lent, particularly during Semana Santa (Holy Week) to compensate for the absence of meat and wine. Traditionally eaten with a glass of wine, the combination was said to represent the body and blood of Christ – not exactly a penance in my book….

Torrejas still feature on traditional Menu del Dia all over Spain as an affordable workers lunch. It was in fact a legal requirement in Spain for decades. One way or another this recipe will become a favourite in your repertoire of ‘go to’ dishes loved by all the family. Get going on your symbolic Easter Simnel cake  –  to decorate with marzipan ice and the 11 of the 12 apostles to enjoy on Easter Sunday but meanwhile have fun making Torrejas with your little ones, who’ll no doubt want to drizzle them with chocolate spread rather than traditional honey.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top.  The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.

8oz (225g) butter

8oz (225g) pale, soft brown sugar

6 eggs, preferably free range

10oz (275g) white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

2 1/2fl oz (35ml) Irish whiskey

12oz (350g) best quality sultanas

12oz (350g) best quality currants

12oz (350g) best quality raisins

4oz (110g) cherries

4oz (110g) homemade candied peel

2oz (50g) whole almonds

2oz (50g) ground almonds

rind of 1 lemon

rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

1lb (450g) ground almonds

1lb (450g) castor sugar

2 small eggs

3 of 4 drops of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or an 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next make the almond paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 3 or 4 drops of pure almond extract (careful it’s really easy to put in too much), then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

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

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8 1/2 inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper. 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3 – 3 1/2 hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

NOTE: When you are testing do so at an angle into the cake mixture because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of parchment paper until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chickens and flowers if you fancy. Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake.  You will need half the quantity of almond paste again.

This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

Names of the Apostles

(1).   Simon (also known as Peter)

(2).   Andrew (Simon Peter’s brother)

(3).   James

(4)     John (James’s brother)

(5).   Philip

(6).   Bartholomew

(7).   Thomas

(8).   Matthew (tax collector)

(9).   James

(10). Thaddaeus

(11). Simon the Cananaean

(12).           Matthia

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns were traditionally eaten in Ireland only on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday but nowadays they are available right through Lent. This practice would have been frowned on in the past when these were several black fast days and the people would scarcely have had enough to eat, not to mention spicy fruit filled buns. Buns can be made larger if desired.

Makes 22 (50g/2ozs dough)

25g (1oz) fresh yeast

110g (4oz) castor sugar

450g (1lb) bakers flour

75g (3oz) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2-3 teaspoons mixed spice, depending how fresh it is

1 level teaspoon of salt (important to add)

2 organic eggs

225-300ml (8-10 fl oz) tepid milk

75g (3oz) currants

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

egg wash made with milk, sugar, 1 organic egg yolk, whisked together

Liquid Cross

50g (2oz) white flour

1 tablespoon melted butter

4-5 tablespoons cold water

Bun Wash

Put 600ml (1 pint) water and 450g (1 lb) sugar into a pan and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven to give them a sweet, sticky glaze. This makes a large quantity of bun wash but it keeps very well.

To Make the Hot Cross Buns.

Dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a little tepid milk.

Put the flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, a pinch of salt and the remainder of the sugar.  Mix well. Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, adding a little more milk if necessary.

Cover and leave to rest for 2 or 3 minutes then knead by hand or in a food processor until smooth.  Add the currants, sultanas and mixed peel and continue to knead until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.

“Knock back”, by kneading for 3 or 4 minutes, rest for a few minutes.  Divide the mixture into 14 balls, each weighing about 50g (2oz). Knead each slightly and shape into buns.  Place on a lightly floured tray.  Egg wash and leave to rise. 

If using shortcrust, arrange a cross of pastry on each one.  Leave to rise until double in size.  Then egg wash a second time carefully.

We tend to decorate with what we call a “liquid cross”.  To make this, mix the flour, melted butter and water together to form a thick liquid.  Fill into a paper piping bag and pipe a liquid cross on top of each bun.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 6.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for a further 10 minutes or until golden.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.  Split in two and serve with butter.

Alternatively, brush each one with bun wash while still warm.

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Brush the bottom and sides of the loaf tin (13x20cm (5x8inch) approx.) with oil. Make the dough in the usual way – Knock back.

Roll 8 x 50g/2ozs balls of dough and arrange in the tin. Egg wash, cover and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230°C, just before baking brush with egg wash, pipe a liquid cross on each bun.

Bake for 10 minutes at 230°C reduce temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, paint with the bun wash. Cool on a wire rack and pull apart and eat slathered in butter.

Hot Cross Tear & Share

Brush the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round spring form tin with oil. Arrange 12 – 14, 50g/2oz balls of dough almost side by side in the tin, egg wash and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size. Egg wash again, pipe a liquid cross onto the top of each bun. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and brush with bun wash while still warm. Cool on a wire rack.


A speciality for Semana Santa – Holy Week in Spain but enjoyed year round. It’s a brilliant way to use up any leftover bread deliciously. Cook in olive oil rather than butter.

Makes 8 pieces

8 slices Baguette, challah or brioche

175ml (6 floz) Milk

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Cook:

Olive oil

For Sprinkling:

Cinnamon sugar, honey or icing sugar

Slice the bread approx. 1” thick slices, whisk the eggs, milk and sugar well together and pour into a gratin dish. Dip the slices in the liquid and flip over. Leave to soak, for at least an hour. In Spain they sometimes soak overnight.

To cook, heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wide frying pan over a medium heat. Cook until golden 3 – 4 minutes on each side.  Sprinkle with icing sugar, cinnamon sugar or drizzle with honey. I love Torrejas warm with a dollop of crème fraiche but it’s usually served cold or at room temperature in Spain as a dessert or a nibble with a cup of strong coffee.

Magnificent Mussels…

Prawns, oysters, lobsters are all highly prized on the shellfish popularity stakes but it baffles me why mussels don’t seem to be revered in the same way. This week, at my local fishmonger, Ballycotton Seafood, a 1 kilo net bag of spanking fresh Glenbeigh mussels for €5.00. So few euros for such a burst of deliciousness plus mussels have the most impressive nutrient profile of all shellfish.

They boost our immune system and are properly sustainable. They are cultivated on ropes suspended from floating rafts in the clean waters of various bays around the Irish coastline. They appear to be environmentally benign and some research seems to indicate that their cultivation has a beneficial effect on the marine eco system.

Of course there are wild populations too, but for most, the sweet plump cultivated mussels are easier to come by. Cheap and super easy to cook, plus they take on flavours from every continent around the globe. Mussels are the quintessential fast food; from fridge to table in less than 5 minutes…..A simple supper of warm freshly steamed mussels with a bowl of mayo and some brown soda bread is one of my all-time favourites. I still dream of those large green tipped mussels I enjoyed over and over again in New Zealand.

But first a few basics…

Mussels must be fresh – each shell should be tightly shut, if it is open, tap the mussel lightly on the worktop. If it reacts and begins to close it is obviously still fresh and alive – “but if in doubt throw it out”. Mussels like clams, roghans, cockles, palourdes are all bivalves they filter the water so the water needs to be unpolluted. All mussels you buy will have been purified as a precaution, so no need to be apprehensive. Store them in your fridge and enjoy while they are fresh and plump.

How to cook….

Pick over the shells, if there are any open ones that don’t close after a gentle tap, discard. Run under cold water, drain, at it’s most basic put in a sauté or a heavy frying pan or a  saucepan in a single layer over a medium heat. One can add a dash of white wine, chopped shallots and herbs, depending on the recipe. Cover with a lid, in two or three minutes the mussels will start to open. Lift out with a perforated spoon. Remove the beard, the beard is the little tuft of tough hair that attaches the mussel onto the rock or rope that it grows on, it’s not good to eat but is not dangerous. The mussels will exude lots of delicious briny juice which can be the basis of a sauce or chowder.

In Belgium, moules frites are the ‘must have’ dish in every bistro. Sitting around a table, tucking into crispy chips with a big bowl of freshly opened mussels and some mayo is a quintessential Belgian experience. In France, Moules Marinière in a richer sauce are equally irresistible. Moules Provençal or garlic mussels in English are universally loved by everyone from toddlers upwards.

Mussels take on Asian flavours deliciously so here is a recipe for Thai mussels in a spicy coconut broth – completely irresistible. And then how about mussels in the Goan style from South India and how about  mussels with Mexican flavours that will include Jalapeno, chorizo and maybe tequila. Chinese mussels will be steamed open with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce with lots of ginger, chillies and spring onions and maybe oyster sauce. Japanese mussels will also be teased open in Saki, but try Dynamite mussels which seem to pop up everywhere in Japan. The name refers to the burst of flavour from the topping. These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Pick up some Irish mussels next time you go shopping and start to experiment with recipes from around the world. Here are a few to get your started.

Moules Mariniere

Serves 4

Curnonsky, France’s Prince of Gastronomes, declared that Brittany is a paradise for concylliophages. Apparently that unpronounceable word means shellfish eaters. Ever since I discovered the word I’ve been longing to use it but haven’t managed to get my tongue around it yet! The legendary mussel dish, Moules Mariniere can now be found not only in this area but all over the world – anywhere mussels are produced.

1.8kg (4 lbs) scrubbed mussels, weighed in their shells

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped spring onions

1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

1 teaspoon chopped chives

2 teaspoons chopped fennel

225ml (8 fl ozs) dry white wine

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)


freshly chopped parsley

Check that all the mussels are tightly closed and wash well in several changes of water. Steam open on a medium heat with the wine, herbs. and spring onions. Take the mussels out of the pan just as soon as the shells open. Remove the ‘beard’ and one shell from each.  They can be kept at this stage for some time, even for a day or two in the fridge, as long as they sit in the cooking liquid.

To Serve

Heat the cooking juices. When boiling, add the mussels, allowing them to heat through but not to cook any more. Remove from the heat and stir in the Hollandaise Sauce. Serve at once in deep old-fashioned soup bowls, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley.

Mussels in the Goan Style

This is a great recipe in that most of the work can be done early in the day or even the day before.

The mussels can be replaced with clams, shrimp or monkfish and a combination of fish and shellfish may be used. Thick pieces of pollock also work well as do salmon and mackerel.

Plain boiled rice can be served with this dish or just crusty bread to mop up the delicious broth.

Serves 6

72 mussels

a 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

8 cloves of peeled garlic

110ml (4fl oz) of water

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

200g (7oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1-2 fresh chilies, sliced into fine rounds

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 1/2 tins (1 pint/600ml) of coconut milk


fresh coriander leaves

Wash the mussels, removing any loose beards. Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender and blend to a smooth purée.

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic purée, chillies, turmeric and cumin. Stir and cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. This broth can now be put aside for later.

When you want to serve the dish, put the mussels into the pan with the broth. Cover and place on a moderate heat and allow to come to the boil. Shake the pan occasionally and cook for approx.6 minutes. Check to see that all the mussels have popped open. Serve immediately with lots of fresh coriander leaves.

If using monkfish, bring the broth to the boil and add the collops of monkfish.  If using any of the other suggested fish, cut into 5cm (2 inch) pieces. Cover and simmer gently for approximately 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. It will no longer look opaque but will have a white and creamy appearance.  Serve in deep bowls garnished with coriander leaves.

Moules Provençale

Mussels are a perennial favourite; don’t skimp on the garlic in this recipe or they will taste rather dull and ‘bready’.

Serves 6-8

48 mussels, approx. 600g (1 1/4lbs)

Provençale Butter

75g (3oz) soft butter

2 large cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon olive oil

fresh, white breadcrumbs

Check that all the mussels are closed. If any are open, tap the mussel on the work top, if it does not close within a few seconds, discard. (The rule with shellfish is always, ‘If in doubt, throw it out’.) Scrape off any barnacles from the mussel shells. Wash the mussels well in several changes of cold water. Then spread them in a single layer in a pan, covered with a folded tea towel or a lid and cook over a gentle heat. This usually takes 2-3 minutes, the mussels are cooked just as soon as the shells open. Remove them from the pan immediately or they will shrink in size and become tough.

Remove the beard (the little tuft of tough ‘hair’ which attached the mussel to the rock or rope it grew on). Discard one shell. Loosen the mussel from the other shell, but leave it in the shell. Allow to get quite cold.

Meanwhile make the Provençale Butter. Peel and crush the garlic and pound it in a mortar with the finely chopped parsley and olive oil. Gradually beat in the butter (this may be done either in a bowl or a food processor). Spread the soft garlic butter evenly over the mussels in the shells and dip each one into the soft, white breadcrumbs. They may be prepared ahead to this point and frozen in a covered box lined with parchment paper.

Arrange in individual serving dishes. Brown under the grill and serve with crusty white bread to mop up the delicious garlicky juices.

Mussels with Thai Flavours

We love this recipe.   Use some of your precious fresh lime leaves to enhance the flavour.   Cockles, clams or collops of monkfish can also be used.

Serves 4 – 6

2 kg mussels

2 tablespoon sunflower oil

6 cloves garlic

1-2 Thai red chillies

1 stalk lemon grass, chopped

3 kaffir lime leaves

1 tablespoon fish sauce, nam pla

3-4 tablespoons chopped coriander

Check the mussels carefully, discard any broken or open shells.  Wash well, drain.  Crush the garlic and chop the chillies finely.  Heat a little oil on a medium heat, add the garlic and chilli and lemon grass and fry for a minute or two.

Add the nam pla and kaffir lime leaves and then the mussels.  Cover with a folded tea-towel or the lid of the pan.  The mussels will open in just a few minutes.

Add the chopped coriander to the mussel juices.  Divide the mussels between four hot plates, pour the hot juices over the shellfish and serve immediately.

Gok’s Chinese Mussels with Black Bean Sauce

Serves 4

2 tablespoons groundnut oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

2 sticks of celery, finely sliced at an angle

3 spring onions, finely sliced into rounds

1.5kg fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

75ml Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons black beans, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

Heat the groundnut oil in a wok or saucepan with a tight fitting lid over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, celery and spring onions. Stir-fry these vegetables for 1 – 2 minutes until they are soft and beginning to colour.

Increase the heat to maximum and add the mussels, stirring so they are coated with the rest of the ingredients. Once they are combined, pour in the Shaoxing rice wine and immediately cover the wok with a lid.

Leave the mussels to cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Mussels are cooked when they have opened to reveal the coral-coloured flesh on the inside. Do not eat any that remain closed. As soon as they mussels are opened, tip the entire contents of the wok into a sieve set over a bowl, shaking they mixture to make sure all the liquid has drained through.

Place the wok back on the heat over a low flame, then pour the sieved liquid back into the wok and bring back to the boil. Once it’s bubbling, add the black beans, oyster and soy sauce. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes to reduce the mixture by a quarter.

Put the mussels back in the wok, along with all the other ingredients gathered in the sieve. Heat through and serve immediately.

Recipe from Gok Wan’s Gok Cooks Chinese Published by Penguin)

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I’ve just been re-reading my Examiner column for St Patrick’s Day 2020. There was general consternation around the country because parades were cancelled …. Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine that a year later the possibility of St Patrick’s Day parades wouldn’t even be discussed…..

I had just cancelled my annual trip to New York to promote Ireland and Irish food. This year despite the Covid 19 pandemic , there have still been numerous interview requests from radio, TV and print media. The continuing interest is due to Tourism Ireland and Bord Failte, who over the years have very successfully used St Patricks Day to focus the world’s attention on Ireland.  Whenever I get the opportunity, I love to wax lyrical about the creativity of Irish chefs and cooks to the Americans who heretofore had certainly not associated Ireland with a vibrant contemporary food scene.

Friends who live in New York tell me that there has actually been a construction boom there recently – No, they are not building more sky scrapers….. But thanks to the Mayor’s decision to allow the cities restaurants to remain open for outdoor dining, architects and designers are putting their energy into creating a combination of street dining options, restaurants have scrambled to keep going in novel ways despite the cold. Dotted all along the sidewalks are a combination of canvas or plastic tents,  wooden sheds, yurts, booths and Kotatsus (Japanese heated tables) and a variety of heaters.

Not an option here at present, the restaurants who have managed to ‘pivot’ to offer take-outs and/or meal kits for collection will hopefully be able to capitalise on St Patricks Day, to entice us to mark our national feast day make the day and celebrate at home.

 Every sector is hurting but a huge thank you to all of you who are making a determined effort to support the local businesses and small shops, farmers markets, butchers, bakers, fish smokers, cheesemakers… who are still open. Each and every decision we make,  can manage to sustain someone in our community for another few weeks, every euro really matters at present…

So what shall we cook for St Patricks Day? I feel drawn to something comforting and traditional. Personally I just love boiled bacon, cabbage and parsley sauce followed by a juicy rhubarb tart (see previous articles for these recipes) but I have chosen a gorgeous riff on a Kerry Pie for you to enjoy. It can certainly be made ahead and reheats and freezes brilliantly.

If the weather is still a bit frosty how, about Irish Scallion Champ soup – a hug in a bowl and of course some little soda bread shamrocks with crunchy oatmeal tops…how naff is that but sure it’s just a bit of fun and they are properly delicious.

For dessert it has to be carrageen moss pudding with Irish whiskey sauce or how about this St Patrick’s Day cake.  I’ve been out picking wood sorrel…the delicious shamrock shaped leaves have a tart lemony flavour and are just the thing to decorate my special convection.

For the past 11 years Tourism Ireland have worked to ‘Green’ iconic buildings around the World from Sydney Opera House to the Pyramids, to focus attention on Ireland. At home in Ireland, an increasing number of us including, Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School have been enthusiastically joining in and will continue to do so for the 4th year in 2021. Why not join in, and share the images with friends worldwide to encourage them to think about planning a post Covid visit to Ireland but meanwhile Happy St Patricks Day and spread the love.

Irish Scallion Champ Soup with Shamrock Scones

Serves 6

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

50g (2oz) butter

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

110g (4oz) diced scallion, use green and white parts of the plant

salt and freshly ground pepper

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

100ml (4fl oz) creamy milk

freshly chopped herbs and herb flowers, optional

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

Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and a few wild garlic flowers of available.

Shamrock Soda Scones

The soda bread dough only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20 – 40 minutes to bake depending on how you decide to serve it.. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses.

Makes 12 approx. depending on size of cutter

1lb (450g/4 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoonsalt

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/bread soda

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

4oz (110g) grated mature Cheddar cheese and/or flaked oatmeal

A Shamrock ‘cookie’ cutter. Mine is roughly 7cm long and 6cm wide.

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

Sieve the flour into a large bowl. Carefully measure the salt and bicarbonate of soda. Sieve into the bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. 


Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/4 inches (3cm) deep. Dip the cutter in flour in between cutting each scone to avoid the mixture sticking. Stamp out shamrock shaped scones.

Brush the top with buttermilk or egg wash and dip in oatmeal or a mixture of rolled oats and grated Cheddar cheese.

Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 10 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the scones: when they are cooked they will sound hollow.

Kerry Lamb Pie

Serves 6

450g (1lb) boneless lamb or mutton (from the shoulder or leg; keep bones for stock)

250g (9oz) chopped onions

250g (9oz) chopped carrots

2 good teaspoons cumin seed (the amount will depend on how fresh the seeds are)

300ml (10fl oz) mutton or lamb stock (or even chicken stock)

2 tablespoons flour

salt and freshly ground pepper


lamb bones from the meat

1 carrot

1 onion

outside stalk of celery

a bouquet garni made up of a sprig of thyme, parsley stalks

a small bay leaf


350g (12oz) white flour

175g (6oz) butter

110ml (4fl oz) water

a pinch of salt

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze

1 tin – 18cm (7 inch) in diameter, 2 1/2 cm (1 inch) high with a pop up base.

If no stock is available, put the bones, carrots, onions, celery and bouquet garni into a saucepan.  Cover with cold water and simmer for 3-4 hours to make a stock.  Cut all the surplus fat away from the meat and then cut the meat into small, neat pieces about the size of a small sugar lump.  Render down the scraps of fat in a hot, wide saucepan until the fat runs.  Discard the pieces.  Cut the vegetables into slightly smaller dice and toss them in the fat, leaving them to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Remove the vegetables, set aside, and toss the meat in the remaining fat over a high heat until the colour turns.

Heat the cumin seed in a dry frying pan, stir for a minute or two until it smells aromatic, careful not to burn.  Stir the flour and cumin seed into the meat.  Cook gently for 2 minutes and blend in the stock gradually.  Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.  Add back the vegetables, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and leave to simmer in a covered pot until tender.  If using young lamb, 30 minutes will be sufficient; an older animal may take up to 1 hour. 

Meanwhile, make the pastry.  Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.  Dice the butter, put it into a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil.  Pour the liquid all at once into the flour and mix together quickly; beat until smooth.  At first the pastry will be too soft to handle but as soon as it cools it may be rolled out 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, to fit the tin.  The pastry may be made into individual pies or one large pie.  Keep back one-third of the pastry for lids.

Fill the pastry-lined tins with the cool meat mixture.  Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash and put on the pastry lids, pinching them tightly together.  Roll out the trimmings to make pastry leaves or twirls to decorate the tops of the pies; make a hole in the centre, egg-wash the lid and then egg-wash the decoration also.

Bake the pies for 40 minutes approx. at 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 until golden on top and bubbling hot in the centre.  Serve with a good Green Salad.

Myrtle Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

Carrageen moss is a little seaweed that grows on rocks all around our coast, collecting it after Spring tide is part of our traditional food culture. Many people have less than fond memories of Carrageen Moss, partly because so many recipes call for far too much carrageen. It is a very strong natural gelatine so the trick is to use little enough. Because it is so light it is difficult to weigh, we use just enough to fit in my closed fist, a scant 8g (1/4oz). 

This recipe given to me by Myrtle Allen is by far the most delicious I know. Nowadays more chefs are using carrageen, but often they add stronger flavours such as treacle or rosewater, which tend to mask the delicate flavour of the carrageen itself. When Ballymaloe House is open Carrageen Moss pudding is served on the famous Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley every evening.

Serves 6

8g (1/4oz) cleaned, well dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)

900ml (1 1/2 pints) milk

1 vanilla pod or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, preferably free-range

1 tablespoon caster sugar

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Sauce (see recipe)

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and vanilla pod, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point, and not before, separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla extract (if you are using it) and whisk together for a few seconds. Pour the milk and carrageen through a strainer on to the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub all this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the liquid. Test for a set in a cold saucer: put it in the fridge and it should set in a couple of minutes. Rub a little more through the strainer if necessary. Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Leave to cool. Serve with Irish lots of softly whipped cream and Irish Whiskey sauce.

Irish Whiskey Sauce

Makes 8 floz (1 x 230ml jar)

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water

3- 4 tablesp. Irish whiskey

4 fl ozs (120ml) hot water

Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a nice chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish whiskey. Serve hot or cold.

St Patrick’s Day Cake with Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel with it’s tart lemony flavour and resemblance to shamrock makes the perfect decoration for our celebration cake.

Serves 8-10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

To Decorate

Lemon Icing (see below)

Wood sorrel Leaves (oxalis acetosella)

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the icing (see recipe). Once the cake is cool, pour the icing onto the top and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

Decorate with the lots of wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

Lemon Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Edible green colouring (optional)

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.  Add a few drops of green food colouring (optional) Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Happy International Women’s Day

International Women’s day is a global celebration of the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s also a “call to action” to accelerate women’s equality.

Every year, thousands of women and their supporters courageously gather in cities across the world, often risking their lives to protest for women’s rights and protection against violence. They are often met with riot police and counter demonstrations.

This year events are, of course, virtual. But I found a list of over 300 events on .  

How fortunate are we to have been born into a society where overall, women are considered equal to men and a girl child is welcomed with the same joy as a boy.

It has certainly taken a while…..

When I was a child I distinctly remember overhearing ‘shocked’ conversations about some man in the parish who was spotted pushing a pram, with several of his own children….. it was almost a scandal – that was considered women’s work…

My father had an innate respect and admiration for women. He was so proud of Mummy, a mother of nine by any standard a wonderful homemaker, who dedicated her early life solely to looking after all of us and my father whom she adored. (I don’t use that term loosely). Looking back she was a totally liberated woman. How fortunate were we that she loved cooking and saw it not only as a way of nourishing us all, but bringing joy and excitement into our lives on a daily basis. Later, when my father died she took over the running of the business despite having no training.

Looking back, her skill set was pretty awe-inspiring. She made most of our clothes, wonderful dresses for me, serge dungarees for all of us boys and girls for after school play. I always remember a tartan circular skirt she made for one of my birthdays. I was the envy of all my school friends…

And then there were the fluffy angora boleros, doubt if any if you know what I am talking about! She taught me how to sew and embroider, lazy daises, French knots and chain stitch onto tray cloths, how to use a sewing machine, how to sow seeds and fill hanging baskets. The kitchen garden produced vegetables year round, currants and berries in summer, and several varieties of apple in the Autumn. Daddy made sure she had help in both the house and garden. I remember, local people spoke about how lucky those girls and lads were to be working alongside Mummy.

As a child this was my norm. We also had a flock of hens, chickens were reared for the table and a Kerry cow produced raw milk for the house. I’ve just remembered that she also made hand-made floor rugs, did tapestry fire screens and candlewick bed-spreads which were all the rage at that time. Even though there was no TV, I still marvel at how she did it. In the midst of all this, she taught me how to knit Aran patterns, diamond, blackberry, zig zag, honeycomb, multiple cable and basket stitches.

A wonderful trip down memory lane, as I write, I realise how fortunate I was not only to have my own mother as a role model but to marry into a family with an innate respect and appreciation of women and a culture of encouragement and ‘can do’!  I’ve never experienced a ‘glass ceiling’, the idea abhors me. I feel so proud that so many women have broken through in recent years, both in Ireland and internationally, so much so that a friend recently said to me “You’d almost begin to feel sorry for the men”.

It’s certainly not about either /or, it’s about equal opportunity. But watch out, cultural attitudes can be very deep seated. If your partner thinks that sexist remarks are hilariously funny, be wary, very wary… Though you may be able to laugh it off, it may not really be a joke, but may be a hint of a hidden but deeply held cultural belief which would not bode well for the future.

Covid has resulted in a huge increase in domestic violence- a very worrying situation. In Ireland today, there are numerous examples of gender imbalance and women being paid less for identical work.

As parents, we can all play our part by our example, encouraging our children to reach their full potential with their unique talents. Our educational system would do well to emulate the Finnish Model Vihti where both boys and girls learn essential life skills- basic carpentry, first aid, how to wire a plug, sew, grow, cook, save seeds…

Since the 1960’s here in Ireland, our educational system has primarily focused on a set of academic skills, often to the detriment of practical skills. Consequently, several generations have left school with top grades, but without the basic skills to feed themselves properly and a mis-guided notion that practical skills are of lesser value than academic skills.

During this pandemic, thousands of hugely competent women who could ‘run the country’ found themselves feeling utterly out of their depth and helpless in the first Lockdown when they were confined to home with no backup and a family to feed- 7 days a week, 3 meals a day….

Once again, it’s not either/or, it’s as well as and remember in the end the way to everyone’s heart in through their tummy…!

It could be said that some early feminists did women a grave dis-service by making them feel that cooking was beneath them- drudgery to be avoided at all costs. Learning cooking skills is not a sign of weakness, but it is a sign of strength and self-sufficiency.

Happy International Women’s Day, a celebration of all women particularly those who succeed against the odds in every area of life!

Here are some of Mum’s favourite recipes:

Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

340g (3/4lb) wholemeal flour (Howard’s-one-way)

110g (1/4lb) plain white flour

15g (1/2 oz) butter

Barely rounded teaspoon bread soda

Level teaspoon salt

1 egg and 415ml (14fl oz) buttermilk


470ml (16fl oz) buttermilk *

Add two tablespoons of cream if the buttermilk is low fat

Preheat the oven to 230ºC/445ºf/gas mark 8.

Mix the flours in a large bowl, rub in the butter. Add the salt and sieved bread soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the salt and bread soda.

Add the beaten egg (if using) to the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the liquid. With your fingers stiff and outstretched, stir in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later the dough should be made.

Sprinkle a little wholemeal flour on to the worktop.

Turn the dough out onto the flour. WASH and dry your hands. (Fill the bread bowl with cold water so it will be easy to wash later.)

Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Gently tidy the dough around the edges and flip onto the flour. Tuck the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands, gently pat the dough with your fingers into a loaf about 4cm (1 ½ in) thick.

Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called ‘Blessing the bread’ and then prick it in the centre of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread).

Transfer to a floured baking tray.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for the remaining 25-30 minutes. Turn the bread upside down after approximately 30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Scalloped Potatoes with Beef and Kidney

Serves 4-6

This filling and economical dish often cooked by my mother was one of our favourites for a cold Winter’s evening. We all loved beef kidney and it was excuse to eat lots of butter on the scalloped potatoes.

3 1/2 lbs (1.5 kg) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonder, or Kerrs Pinks

1 lb (450g) stewing beef

1 beef kidney

1 lb (450 g) chopped onions

2 ½ -3 ozs (70-85 g) butter

13-15 fl ozs (375-450ml) stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned flour

1 oval cast-iron casserole (4 pint/2.3 l) capacity

Wash the beef kidney, remove the core and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes, sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water.

Cut the stewing beef into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes.

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) thick slices, put a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the casserole.  Drain the kidney pieces and dry with kitchen paper, toss the beef and kidney in seasoned flour and scatter some over the potatoes with approx. one-third of the chopped onions and a few knobs of butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add another layer of potatoes, then meat, onions, and so on up to the top of the casserole, putting some knobs of butter between each layer and ending with a neat layer of overlapping slices of potato.  Season each layer carefully otherwise it may taste bland.  Top with a few knobs of butter, pour in the boiling stock, cover and cook in a low oven, 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 2 ½  hours approx.   Serve on hot plates.

This reheats very well.

Marmalade Pudding

For almost a week during the cold January days the whole house smells of marmalade as we lay down our store for the coming year.  My father-in-law, Ivan Allen adored marmalade pudding.

Serves 6

110g (4oz) plain white flour

110g (4oz) minced beef suet

110g (4oz) breadcrumbs

110g (4oz) sugar

1 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg, preferably free range

2 tablespoons homemade Marmalade chopped

Marmalade Sauce

2 tablespoons water

450g (1lb) homemade Seville Marmalade

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons

To Serve

softly whipped cream

bowl – capacity (5 inches/12.5cm)

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add beaten egg, marmalade and a little milk to moisten if necessary (the mixture should have the consistency of plum pudding.)  Fill into a pudding bowl.  Cover with a double sheet of greaseproof paper with a pleat in the centre.  Tie firmly and steam in a covered saucepan for 2-3 hours.  Check regularly and top up with hot water if necessary (the water level should be 3/4 ways up the bowl).

To make the Sauce

Put the water and marmalade into a saucepan.  Warm gently, boil 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice.  Taste.

To Serve

When the pudding is fully cooked, turn out onto a hot plate.  Spoon some sauce over and around the puddings.  Serve on very hot plates with lots of softly whipped cream and the remaining sauce.

Mum’s Victoria Sponge

This buttery sponge, the best you’ll ever taste is still my favourite to serve with afternoon tea. The best sponge cake you’ll ever taste. It keeps brilliantly and it’s even more delicious if you add some softly whipped cream and fresh raspberries in season as well as the jam.

4 1/2oz (125g) butter

6oz (175g) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

6oz (175g) flour

1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder

1 tablespoon milk


4oz (110g) homemade Raspberry Jam

10fl oz (300ml/1/2 pint) whipped cream

castor sugar to sprinkle

2 x 7 inch (18cm) sponge cake tins

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

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

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Queen of Puddings

Another pud that conjures up child-hood memories. Mummy loved to cook this Queen of Pudding’s for us as an occasional treat when we came home from school.

Serves 6

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

50g (2oz) butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

150g (5oz) white breadcrumbs

grated zest of 1 lemon

25g (1oz) caster sugar

3 organic eggs, separated

110g (4oz) caster sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling

3 tablespoons raspberry jam

1 x 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease the pie dish.

Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, bring almost to boiling point, and add the vanilla extract. Mix the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest and sugar. Stir in the hot milk, leave for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one. Pour into the pie dish and bake for about 25 minutes or until just set.

Remove from the oven. Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, grease-free bowl. When it is just becoming fluffy, add half the sugar. Continue to whisk until it holds a stiffish peak. Fold in the rest of the sugar. Warm the jam slightly. Spread very gently over the surface of the custard. Pile the meringue on top in soft folds. Sprinkle sugar over the top. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold and crisp on top. Serve with pouring cream.


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