ArchiveAugust 2021

Going Back to School (Part 1)

What a year our children have had to endure.  It’s been difficult for everyone in a myriad of ways but the poor little dotes have been deprived of interaction with their friends, sport and much of their natural behaviour for months on end.  Consequently, many are displaying signs of anxiety and mental illness.  Parents did their very best while they themselves battled to keep going often in a haze of confusion. 

Now it’s back to school time again in a mixture of excitement, apprehension and the extra challenge of providing healthy, wholesome, exciting school lunches every day.  We are all aware that it’s more important than ever to boost our young people’s immune system – it’s all about yummy healthy wholesome, nutrient dense food, our secret weapon to help them resist viruses, colds, flu and to cope with anxiety. 

So let’s do everything we can to source chemical-free, organic food.  The investment will be well worth the effort and occasional extra expense.  A growing body of research indicates beyond a shadow of doubt that the less we spend on nourishing wholesome food, the more we spend on meds and supplements.

Once again, I repeat the mantra ‘our food should be our medicine’ and when I say food, I don’t mean the ultra-processed food that is undoubtedly damaging our health. 

All very fine but it all takes thought, time and effort.  So here are a few suggestions…get the kids involved as soon as possible. 

If lunch is to include a sandwich – good bread is vital.  Soda bread, teeny weeny loaves, scones or bunnies are made in minutes and take only 10-15 minutes to cook.  Most 10 year olds could master it easily and enjoy the fun.  Ideally every lunch should include protein, carbs and fats.  Lots of options but how about an egg and chive mayo, a delicious sandwich filler but could also be a dip or a salad.  Ring the changes by adding a dice of cucumber or a sprinkling of smoked salmon, mackerel as an extra nourishing bounce.

Good nutrition is a vital part of a child’s development. 

Easy pop-ins:

1. A little jar of natural yoghurt – add some stewed fruit or berries occasionally or add a teeny pot of honey.  Those little mini glass pots are brilliantly useful – one can be refilled all year with a relish, sauces, jam or a dip.

2. Peanut butter or a mix of peanut butter and honey to slather over cold toast – yes believe me, it’s delicious.

3. Pitta Pockets are also a favourite, fill them with a mixture of veggie and maybe a few slices of salami and perhaps a sliver or two of cheese.

4. Hummus in its many reincarnations is also a popular choice for vegetable stick dippers. Chickpeas, beetroot, white bean and pea are all delicious…

It’s also worth making a batch of crispy chickpeas – a delicious little nibble as are nourishing nuts, make your own ‘trail mix’ and add some raisins to the nuts, maybe add some sunflower seeds too.

5. Swap out water kefir or kombucha for coke – the super cool fizzy drink for cool kids. 

6. Chips and dips are also a hit, tortilla chips, made from corn are certainly nutritious.  You can make your own for a fraction of the price.  Same with potato crisps, a few slivered potatoes will make a carrier bag full.  Steer well away from the commercial crisps with lots of phony flavours.

7. Chicken drumsticks or wings are also a great favourite to nibble.  Add a little spice if your kids enjoy Asian flavours or add a little pot of Ballymaloe Relish mixed with mayo. 

8. When the weather gets chillier, our kids love a little flask of soup and they are also enthusiastic broth guzzlers.  Save all your bones, vegetable scraps and herb stalks and keep a slow cooker bubbling – it’s magic stuff full of collagen to build healthy bones and teeth.

9. A batch of energy balls are also perfect to pop into a lunch box and we still love flapjacks or oatmeal biscuits – they keep really well, taste delicious and can be drizzled with chocolate occasionally for a special treat.

There’s so much more but I’ve run out of space.  I’ll have to do another column very soon, meanwhile, here are a few tasty bites to try out – let me know what reaction you get and don’t forget to pop in a little piece of fruit…

Teeny Weeny Soda Scones

The soda bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white scones take just 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are irresistible to children and adults alike.  Maybe brush the top with buttermilk or egg wash and dip in grated cheese or a mixture of seeds.

Makes approximately 40 teeny weenies but one could make a mixture of shapes or half the recipe

1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon teaspoon of salt

1 level teaspoon teaspoon of bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

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

4cm (1 1/2 inch) cutter approximately

First fully preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large 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 board.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a round, about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack.

Chopped fresh herbs e.g.; rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients to make delicious little herb scones.

Brush the tops with egg wash and dip in grated cheddar cheese for yummy cheddar teeny weenies.

Blathnaid’s Energy Balls

Special thanks to my highly energetic sister Blathnaid Bergin who shared this recipe with me.  A batch of these will keep for several weeks and can be popped into lunch boxes on a whim.

Makes 24 x 50g (2oz) balls

280g (9 3/4oz) cocoa butter or chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (64%)

85g (3 1/4oz) cocoa powder

160g (5 1/2oz) peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

8 tablespoons of honey or 12 tablespoons maple or agave syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Filling

260g (9 1/4oz) – use 1 or a mixture of cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, roughly chopped

60g (2 1/2oz) raisins or dried raspberries

100g (3 1/2oz) dried apricots, preferably unsulphered, roughly chopped

40g (1 1/2oz) Medjool dates, roughly chopped

100g (3 1/2oz) dried figs, finely chopped

pinch of salt

1 x loaf tin – 24cm (9 1/2 inch) lined with parchment paper

Half fill a large saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and turn it off.  Melt the cocoa butter or chocolate in a bowl over the simmering water, stirring every now and then.  Add the cocoa powder, peanut butter, honey (or maple or agave syrup), vanilla extract and mix well.

Add the chopped nuts and fruit mixture to the melted cocoa butter and stir well.  Pour immediately into the prepared tin.  Allow to set in a cool place and chill in the fridge.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.

If you like you can roll the balls in a little desiccated coconut. 

Store in an airtight box in the fridge.

Tortilla Chips

Corn tortilla chips are full of goodness and make an excellent alternative to crisps, they will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Serves 4

6-8 corn tortillas

oil for deep frying

1 teaspoon salt

Cut the tortillas into eighths.

Heat the oil to 200°C/400°F. 

Fry the pieces until they are pale golden.  Stir occasionally to ensure that all the tortilla chips colour evenly.  Drain on absorbent paper, season and toss with the salt.   

Totopos

Proceed as above, toss with 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) and/or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne if required. 

Nibble as they are or use to scoop up a dip.   

Chips and Dips

Children love dips, there are lots of options, tomato salsa, guacamole, satay sauce, hummus but you might like to try this spicy dip. 

Spicy Peanut Dip

Use batons of carrots, cucumber, peas in the pod, roast sweet potato wedges, potato crisps, tortilla chips…

Makes 600ml (1 pint approx.)

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1-2 tablespoons red curry paste

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

140g (scant 5oz) creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon fish sauce, Nam Pla

1-2 tablespoons honey

salt

Gently heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the curry paste, stir and cook until the paste begins to stick to the base of the saucepan, 2–3 minutes.

Whisk in the coconut milk and continue to cook, until the mixture turns a shade darker and reduces slightly, about 3 minutes.  Take off the heat, whisk in the peanut butter, vinegar, fish sauce and honey. Season to taste with salt and add a little more honey if necessary.  Cool and store in the fridge – it will keep for 5-6 days. 

Homemade Potato Crisps

Making crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180°C/350°F.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

Roast Sweet Potato Wedges

Serves 4

Quick and easy and super nutritious and once again terrifically versatile – a delicious little snack or starter or use as a dipper.

Pumpkin wedges can be swapped for sweet potatoes.

2 sweet potatoes (approximately 450g/1lb in weight) (orange fleshed, if possible)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon freshly roasted ground cumin and coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Wash the sweet potatoes and cut them into quarters lengthwise.  Pop into a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with the chopped herbs or chosen spices. Season with sea salt and toss into a roasting tin.   Bake for 10-15 minutes turning once until completely tender and lightly golden.

Egg and Chive Mayonnaise

I can’t resist egg sandwiches.  I love them with lots of chives or spring onions but many kids are wary of green bits in their food so just leave them out if that’s the case.

Serves 2-4

4 free range eggs

3-4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives or spring onions

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lower the eggs gently into boiling salted water, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 10 minutes.  Drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water.  (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, and chop coarsely.  Mix with the mayonnaise and chives or spring onions.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Flapjacks

These nutritious biscuits keep very well in an airtight tin.  Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.

Makes 24-32

450g (1lb) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

350g (12oz) butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

175g (6oz) castor sugar

Swiss roll tin, 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inches) lined with a strip of parchment with overhang at each end

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla extract, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven (on low shelf), 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm.

Note: Make half the recipe if a 23cm (9 inch) x 33cm (13 inch) Swiss roll thin is used.

Watermelons

We’ve had the most gorgeous watermelons recently – huge, pot-bellied orbs of sweet juiciness, just what we love to relish during these long Summer days. Watermelons have a high water content so try to find organic fruit if you can.

Apparently there are over 1,000 varieties of watermelon cultivated worldwide and have been for centuries.  The seeds of wild watermelons have been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. There used to be an annoying number of seeds in the fruit, but in recent times virtually seedless varieties have been developed which add greatly to my personal enjoyment of the fruit…. (although my grandchildren greatly enjoy a seed spitting competition!).

I love to keep a watermelon in my pantry, it’s super versatile, I use it for both sweet and savoury dishes and it’s a must-have for a Summer picnic.  Pop a chunk into a cold box surrounded by lots of ice and then produce a chilled slice as a thirst quencher after a swim – that’s what memories are made of. For a more grown up version, how about injecting a watermelon with vodka…so fun and delicious…check out spruce…. https://www.thespruceeats.com/vodka-watermelon-recipe-4175568

Save the rind – both the flesh and rind are edible. Americans particularly love watermelon rind pickle.  Bravo to the person who experimented with that originally. Here is a simple recipe from eco-chef Tom Hunt who writes a regular column in the Guardian Feast magazine every Saturday on Food Waste…
Deliciously refreshing, watermelon juice is made in minutes, great in cocktails too, popsicles, smoothies or as a boozy watermelon slushie.
Grilled watermelon slices are surprisingly delicious. Add watermelon to gazpacho for a delicious Summer starter and we love little chilled cubes with a piece of salty feta shredded over the top… they make an irresistible bite.


How about watermelon jellies or a granita. Watermelon and tomato are another irresistible combination in a salad, add some thinly sliced chilli for extra oomph.

Apart from the time-honoured combination of juicy watermelon and salty feta, both crab and shrimp partner deliciously too.

Finally, a few tips when buying a watermelon. Although you may not have much choice. Look out for a melon that has a strong consistent pale yellow stripe pattern, it should feel heavy for its size. Choose a watermelon where the skin is slightly dull rather than shiny, it’s likely to be riper and sweeter. Often the really ripe ones have a creamy yellow splodge where the melon touched the ground and have a deep hollow sound when tapped on the base

Here are a few recipes to get you started, have fun and enjoy…

Watermelon Bites

watermelon

feta

spearmint leaves

Cut the watermelon flesh into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) cubes, arrange on a platter, cover and chill. 

To Serve

Put a little piece of feta on top of each watermelon cube, top with a sprig of mint, secure with a cocktail stick.

Pan-fried Fillets of John Dory with Watermelon and Chilli Salsa

Watermelon is also a delicious foil for mackerel but they have been so scarce this Summer that you may want to use another fresh fish – John Dory, haddock, hake…

Serves 6

450g (1lb) watermelon

zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

1 not too hot red chilli, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

75-110ml (3-4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

6 x 225g (8oz) fillets of John Dory

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

To Serve

wedges of lemon

sprigs of fresh coriander

Cut the watermelon flesh into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice, removing the seeds as you do so.

Pop the diced melon into a bowl with the zest and juice of the lime, the chopped red chilli and tablespoon of freshly chopped coriander.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar to taste.

Season the fillets of John Dory with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pan-grill on a hot pan with a little extra virgin olive oil until golden on both sides. 

Serve on hot plates with the salsa, wedge of lime and a few sprigs of fresh coriander. 

Roast Pork with Watermelon, Ginger and Chilli Salad

Serves 4

For the pork belly

1kg (2 1/4lbs) pork belly with rind attached

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 teaspoons of freshly chopped rosemary

2 garlic cloves, crushed

extra virgin olive oil

Watermelon Salad

450g (1lb) watermelon

1 heaped tablespoon of pickled ginger, chopped

1 small mild chilli, deseeded and chopped 

flaky sea salt and a little sugar

fresh mint leaves

fresh basil leaves

8 – 12 black Kalamata olives, stones in.

Garnish

sprigs of mint and basil leaves

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

Score the rind of the pork belly.

Put the sea salt, rosemary, crushed garlic in a bowl and mix well.

Rub the rosemary mixture into the scored skin.

Lay the joint of pork on a rack in a roasting tin, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes to allow the crackling to form, then reduce the temperature to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3 and cook for a further hour or until fully cooked and the juices run clear.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the watermelon and cut the flesh into approx. 2cm (3/4 inch) dice, removing the seeds. Fold the chopped pickled ginger and chilli into the watermelon, season with salt and a little sugar to taste.

Carve the pork into 2cm (3/4 inch) thick slices approx.

Add mint and basil leaves and black olives to the watermelon.

Serve the pork with a side of watermelon and olive salad.  Garnish with sprigs of mint and basil. 

Watermelon, Rosewater and Maftoul Salad

Maftoul – Palestinian or Pearl couscous sounds very exotic but it’s now widely available and so worth keeping in your store cupboard. 


Serves 6

500g (18oz) watermelon, 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
1-2 teaspoons rosewater, depending on intensity

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
225g (8oz) Maftoul or Pearl couscous
seeds of 1 pomegranate
50g (2oz) pistachio, coarsely chopped
1 handful of mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1 handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
1-2 teaspoons sumac
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
60ml (scant 2 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
125g (4 1/2oz) feta

Sprinkle the rosewater over the watermelon cubes (careful not to use too much).  Allow to macerate. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, add the couscous and stir for 3 or 4 minutes until coated and toasted.    Transfer the maftoul to a stainless-steel saucepan of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, drain and cool.

Meanwhile, flick the seeds out of the pomegranates and save the juice too.

To Serve
Mix the pomegranate seeds with the watermelon and chopped pistachio nuts. Add the mint leaves and parsley. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and sumac.

Whisk the pomegranate molasses with the extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle over the feta, toss gently and add with a shower of crumbled feta to the salad. Taste and tweak if necessary.
Enjoy soon.

Watermelon Limeade

Enjoy as a drink or freeze as a granita or popsicles.

Lemon juice can be substituted for lime – taste and tweak.

Serves 4-6

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

5-6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 large watermelon (2.2kg/5lb flesh)

juice and zest of 2 limes

sparkling water to taste

sprigs of fresh mint

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat.  Cut the rind off the watermelon, then cut the flesh into 5cm (2 inch) chunks, flick out the seeds and purée the chunks in batches in a food processor.  Stir in the syrup, lime juice and zest into the melon purée.  Dilute with sparkling water to taste, add a few ice cubes and a sprig of fresh mint to each glass.

Watermelon Popsicles

Proceed as above but omit the sparkling water – the mixture should taste a little sweeter than you’d like it because it will lose a little of its intensity in the freezing.  Pour into popsicle moulds and freeze for 3-4 hours.

Watermelon Granita

Proceed as above.  Freeze the watermelon liquid in a sorbetière in the usual way – the texture should be slushy.  Serve in chilled glasses with a sprig of mint.  

Grilled Watermelon

Super easy to do, delicious either as a sweet or savoury dish.  Love it with crispy roast pork with crackling or a pan-grilled heritage pork chop.

watermelon

salt

extra virgin olive oil

Top and tail the watermelon.  Cut into quarters lengthways and slice into 2.5 – 3cm (1 – 1 1/4 inch) pieces.  Sprinkle lightly with salt on both sides (careful not too much).  Lay in a single layer on a wire rack over a platter for 15-20 minutes to draw out excess moisture. 

Preheat a pan-grill or barbeque on a high heat.

Dab dry the watermelon with a cloth or kitchen paper.

Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and grill until nicely charred on both sides, 5-6 minutes. 

Transfer to a serving platter, serve sprinkled with

1 Crumbled feta and shredded mint.

2. Freshly squeezed lime juice, drizzle with new season’s honey and sprinkle with a chiffonade of fresh mint.

Tom Hunt’s Pickled Watermelon Rind

Take 400g (14oz) watermelon rind with a little flesh still attached, peel off the hard skin and cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) pieces. Put 275ml (9 1/2fl oz) water, 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) vinegar, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, four teaspoons of salt and 100g (3 1/2oz) sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, add the rind, return to a boil and turn off the heat. Fill a clean jam jar with the pickled watermelon and juice, top with a few slices of green chilli and screw on the lid. They’re ready to eat once cooled, and will keep in the fridge for a month or longer.

Japanese Cuisine

How about some Japanese food to really keep us in the Olympic vibe. Instead of ordering a pizza or a burger and a pint in a pub, why not impress the pals by whipping up a few super easy Japanese dishes from the host country for your socially distanced viewing party or get together.

What do we know about Japanese food?  Most of us would be hard pressed to name more than two or three Japanese dishes…sushi immediately comes to mind but understandably many feel intimidated to even attempt to make sushi rolls.  But scattered sushi, the most ancient form of sushi is ridiculously easy to make and really delicious. How about ramen – silky noodles and many other good things in a bowl of deeply flavoured broth.

Gyoza, fat juicy pork dumplings… who could resist a plate full of those?  Yakatori, tonkatsu, okonomiyaki are all staple Japanese dishes that sound super exotic but are easy to whip up once you stock up your store cupboard with a few Japanese ingredients.

Tuna, salmon or trout, tataki is light and refreshing and super easy to make – a perfect small plate for a summers evening and how about sipping a kombucha negroni to get into the spirit. Karaage or katsu, Japanese fried chicken is also a brilliant crowd pleaser.  It will disappear off a plate in a flash.  Both are Japanese fried chicken but karaage is usually thigh meat dipped in a coating of potato starch and served with a mayo based sauce while katsu tends to be sliced white meat or wings, breaded, deep fried and served with a thin sauce.

Here’s a list of essential Japanese pantry ingredients to get you started.

Enjoy…

Sushi Rice

Soya Sauce

Mirin (sweet rice wine)

Sake (rice alcohol)

Rice Vinegar

Miso (fermented bean paste)

Wasabi (mustard)

Pickled Ginger

Bonito Flakes

Kombu (kelp)

Yoma (sesame seeds)

Togarashi

Yuzu Sauce (citrus)

Nori (sheets of toasted seaweed)

Noodles

Chirashi Sushi – Scattered Sushi with Seared Beef Fillet and Red Onion

Chirashi sushi or scattered sushi is the oldest form of sushi and by far the easiest to make at home, no fiddling with sushi mats or sheets of nori.  Toppings to scatter over the rice can be your choice of delicious fresh seasonal ingredients and often though not always raw fish.

This recipe uses the traditional Japanese method normally used for cooking tuna, to cook beef, but it works just as well.

Serves 8

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced in rings

500g (1lb) beef fillet or sirloin – cut into about 3 steaks

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sake

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

1 quantity prepared sushi rice (see recipe)

4 spring onions, finely sliced, to garnish

chilli daikon relish (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the steak with salt and pepper and set aside to season for 30 minutes.  Heat a large frying pan or pan-grill and sear the beef until brown, about 2 minutes on each side.  The surface of the beef should be well-browned, but inside should be very rare. Cook the meat for longer if you prefer it less rare. 

Transfer the beef to a bowl of iced water and allow to stand for 10 minutes.  Mix the sake and soy in a shallow dish.  Drain and pat the beef dry with kitchen paper and put into the dish of sake and soy mixture and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or better still overnight in the refrigerator.

To Serve

Put the sliced onion into a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes.  Drain.

Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper.  Slice into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick pieces or as thinly as possible.  Fill each bowl two-thirds full with the prepared sushi rice, and arrange some slices of beef on top.  Arrange a few finely sliced spring onions and chilli daikon relish beside the beef and garnish with the onion slices.

Chilli Daikon Relish

Peel 250g (8oz) daikon, soak briefly in cold water, then grate it into a bowl.  Deseed and finely chop a small red chilli finely and mix with the daikon – a delicious accompaniment to the Scattered Beef Sushi recipe.

Basic Sushi Rice

450g (1lb) sushi rice ” No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Bonito Dashi – Japanese Broth

Dashi is the basic broth of Japanese cuisine. It’s a clear, delicate, umami liquid. Every chef in Japan has their own dashi recipe.

Try this one.  This version comes from Takashi Miyazaki who taught an inspirational class on Japanese food here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2018.

20cm (8 inch) kombu (sugar kelp)

a handful bonito flakes

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) water

Pour the water and kombu into the pot and leave for 2 hours and heat.  Take the kombu out before the water boils and turn off the heat. (kombu dashi).  Add bonito flakes into the kombu dashi and strain the dashi into bowl after 5 minutes.

Kombucha Negroni

How about sipping this cocktail to get into the Japanese spirit.

50ml (2fl oz) best gin

25ml (1fl oz) Campari

10ml (scant 1/2fl oz) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) kombucha

lemon wedges

Combine the ingredients and shake over ice.  Pour into a chilled glass and enjoy.

Ramen


Ramen is the ultimate comfort food, the basic broth needs to be well flavoured but it can be varied in so many ways.  It can be a mixture of chicken, pork, dashi, miso or vegetable based.  Use traditional wheat ramen noodles or choose buckwheat or brown rice noodles for a gluten-free version.  Meat can be braised beef, brisket or short ribs, pork shoulder, pork belly or bacon, tofu or shrimp.  Add whatever seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs you fancy.  You can top it with softish hardboiled egg, nori, sesame seeds or nuts.  The variations are endless.  It’s also a fantastic way to use leftovers at any time of year.  Here’s a basic starting point.

Serves 6


1.8 litres (3 pints) homemade chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2.5cm (1 inch) chunk ginger root, gently smashed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

300g (10oz) squash or pumpkin, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

2 red chillies, finely sliced
200g (7oz) ramen noodles or egg noodles
100g (3 1/2oz) mizuna or spinach or Swiss chard or kale, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

450g (1lb) sliced cooked chicken thighs, with or without skin
3 ‘hard-boiled’ eggs – cook for 7-8 minutes rather than 10
6 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

6 lime wedges


Heat well-flavoured chicken stock with soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the ginger.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the sesame oil, squash and sliced chilli and simmer for 10 minutes.  Taste and tweak if necessary, it needs to be highly seasoned.


Cook the noodles in boiling water until just tender (usually 4 to 5 minutes but check the directions on the package).  Drain well.  Add the mizuna or other greens to the soup, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the coriander and lime juice.


Place the noodles in each bowl, top with the sliced or shredded chicken.  Ladle the broth over noodles.  Shell the eggs, halve and lay half an egg in each bowl and sprinkle with lots of green spring onions and garnish with a lime wedge.  Eat while very hot — broth first and then other ingredients or any way you want.

Yakitori Chicken with Teriyaki Sauce

Yakitori, literally means grilled bird – a Japanese version of skewered chicken.  I love this recipe, I’m using thigh meat but it’s also delicious with chicken livers or gizzards.  Do your best to source organic chicken.

Serves 6-8 as a starter/nibble

450g (1lb) boneless chicken thighs, chicken livers or gizzards

110ml (4fl oz) dark soy sauce or tamari

50ml (2fl oz) mirin

2 tablespoons sake

1 tablespoon dark soft brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

Garnish

2-3 scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced

Cut the chicken thighs, livers or gizzards into generous 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Combine the soy sauce or tamari, mirin, sake, brown sugar, crushed garlic and grated ginger in a small saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil and cook for 7 minutes or until just thickened, cool.  Save 2 tablespoons, pour the remainder over the chicken and marinade for an hour if possible.

Meanwhile, soak bamboo satay sticks in water. Alternatively, use flat metal skewers.

Preheat the oven or grill to 220°C/430°F/Gas Mark 7.

Thread 5 or 6 pieces of chicken, liver or gizzard onto the skewers.

Roast or pan-grill, turning occasionally – about 3-4 minutes for livers, 6-7 for thighs or 9-10 minutes for gizzards. Careful not to overcook but nonetheless, it’s important that they are fully cooked.

Drizzle with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with slivered scallions and serve immediately with Teriyaki Sauce.

Teriyaki Sauce

110ml (4fl oz) sake

110ml (4fl oz) soy sauce

scant 75ml (3fl oz) mirin

3 tablespoons dark soft brown sugar

Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for 7-8 minutes or until the liquid thickens. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 weeks or more.

Reheat and drizzle over pan-grilled chicken, fish, pork, tofu, vegetables… for a delicious Japanese flavour.

TIP

Add some teriyaki sauce to a burger or meatball mixture.

Teriyaki is derived from the Japanese words teri to shine

Tataki with Ponsu Sauce

Tataki refers to a Japanese method of cooking where the surface of the fish or beef is lightly seared on a very hot pan before marinating. The centre remains very rare – you’ll love this technique.

Serves 4

Sauce

45ml (1 3/4fl oz) soya sauce

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) yuzu sauce

10ml (scant 1/2fl oz) rice vinegar

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) mirin (rice wine)

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

15ml (generous 1/2fl oz) dashi stock

250g (9oz) fresh tuna, wild salmon or trout chilled

1-2 spring onions

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

2 radishes

1 mini cucumber, very thinly sliced, optional

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a jar. Cover and pop into the fridge until needed. Cut the chilled fish into pieces approximately 7cm (2 3/4 inch) wide by 20cm (8 inch) long. Prepare in either of the following ways.

1. Lay the fish on a wire rack. Blow torch all sides. Cool.

2. Sear the fish on a hot non-stick pan with a tiny drop of oil for a couple of seconds (30-45 seconds max). Cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnish, slice the radishes into paper thin slices and the spring onions diagonally into “horse’s ears”. Chill in iced water. Toast the sesame seeds.

To Serve

Slice the cold fish into 1cm (1/2 inch) slices. Arrange on chilled plates. Shake the ponzu sauce. Spoon over the fish. Garnish with spring onion and radishes and cucumber, if available. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Karaage – Japanese Fried Chicken Andrew Zimmern

This version of izakaya-style Japanese fried chicken comes from Andrew Zimmern… bite-size chicken thigh pieces quickly marinated, dredged in flour and potato starch and double fried for an extra crispy crunch. He likes to season the chicken with a mix of salt, cumin and Szechuan peppercorns, and then serve it with Kewpie mayo and togarashi. Andrew says ‘it’s seriously the best fried chicken I make, a guaranteed crowd pleaser’.  Kewpie mayo, beloved of Japanese and increasingly across the world, seems smoother and creamier than regular mayo – it’s made with egg yolks, rice or cider vinegar, no salt or sugar and a sprinkling of the flavour enhancer, MSG.

5 boneless, skin on chicken thighs

salt and pepper for seasoning

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon grated garlic

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

125g (4 1/2oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) potato starch

Mayonnaise, lemon and togarashi, for serving

Cut the chicken thighs in 4ths or 6ths to make bite size chunks. Marinate in ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil for 30-45 minutes, no more.

Meanwhile, heat the deep-fat fryer to 170˚C/325˚F.

Place the plain flour in one bowl and the potato starch in another.

After marinating, dip the chicken one piece at a time in the plain flour and then dredge in the potato starch, fry 5-6 pieces at a time maintaining 170˚C/325˚F temperature and cook for a few minutes to light gold, reserve on to a wire rack and repeat with all the chicken pieces.

Increase the heat to 190˚C/375˚F and repeat to crisp all chicken and cook through to walnut brown. Drain again over a wire rack.

Season with salt or a seasoned salt (I like salt/cumin/Szechuan peppercorns).

Serve immediately with Kewpie mayonnaise, lemon wedges, shichimi togarashi.

Meadowsweet

If you have been meandering along the country roads for the past few weeks, you’ll have seen swathes of fluffy cream flowers along the verges, tiny sweet fragrant blossoms clustered together in irregularly branched cymes.   The plant grows 2-4 foot tall and is called meadowsweet.  The legendary Tudor botanist and herbalist John Gerard called this wildflower that blossoms from the end of June until mid-September ‘Queen of the Meadows’, and described how it ‘delighted the senses and scented people’s houses’. 

It thrives in clammy meadows and ditches and along river banks.  It delights me too and I love it for a myriad of reasons, not only the fact that it comes into season just as the elderflowers fade.  I’ve been using the latter in a myriad of ways but from now until September, it’s the turn of frothy meadowsweet.  It has many medicinal qualities and is known to contain salicylic acid, one of the components of aspirin and has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties.  Herbalists value it for its many medical qualities, bees and hoverflies love it too.

But this is a cooking column so how do we enjoy it in the kitchen.  Well, I’ve been adding to my repertoire of meadowsweet recipes for the past few Summers.  It flavours custard deliciously which can then be churned into meadowsweet ice-cream.  You can imagine how fragrant meadowsweet panna cotta and crème brûlée are – infuse the milk for rice pudding.  It also makes a delicious cordial, lemonade, spritzer or a simple tea.  Strew a few blossoms on the base of a cake tin while making a sponge and/or add some to a lemony icing.  Try flavouring end of season rhubarb compote for a delicious surprise and I’ve had success with both rhubarb and ginger meadowsweet jam plus it also combines well with gooseberry to make a delicious compote. How does meadowsweet gin and tonic sound? Infuse gin for a week or two as you would sloe or damsons. Strain and enjoy.

Keep your eyes peeled for meadowsweet as you drive through the countryside.  Pop it into a vase on your kitchen table, it will perfume the entire kitchen while you decide on delicious ways to enjoy it…

Meadowsweet Tisane

From Spring onwards when the herb garden is full of an abundance of herbs, we make lots of tisanes and herb teas.  All you need to do is pop a few leaves or flowers into a teapot, pour on the boiling water – and allow it to infuse for a few minutes. Infinitely more delicious than the dried herb teabags.

meadowsweet, lemon verbena, rosemary, sweet geranium, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint…

water

Bring fresh cold water to the boil.  Scald a China tea pot, take a handful of meadowsweet flowers and crush them gently.  The quantity will depend on the strength of the herb and how intense an infusion you enjoy.  Put them into the scalded teapot.  Pour the boiling water over the flowers, cover the teapot and allow to infuse for 3-4 minutes.  Serve immediately in a glass or China teacups.

Meadowsweet Lemonade

3 lemons

225ml (8fl oz) meadowsweet syrup (see recipe)

750ml (1 1/4 pints) water

ice

meadowsweet heads

Juice the lemons.  Add the syrup and water.  Mix and taste.  Add ice and meadowsweet to garnish.

Meadowsweet Syrup

Makes 400ml (14fl oz)

225g (8oz) sugar

300ml (10fl oz) water

10-15 meadowsweet heads

To make the meadowsweet stock syrup: Put the sugar, cold water and meadowsweet into a saucepan.  Bring slowly to the boil.  Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.  Strain and store in the fridge until needed.

Meadowsweet Gin

It’s great fun to organise a few pals to pick some meadowsweet and have a meadowsweet gin-making party.  Either enjoy it neat or put a measure of damson or sloe gin in a glass, add ice, a slice of lemon and top it up with the finest tonic.

50g meadowsweet (heads)

350g (12oz) granulated sugar

1.2 litres (2 pints) gin

Examine the meadowsweet and shake in case there are any insects.  

Put the meadowsweet into a sterilised glass Kilner jar and cover with the sugar and gin. Seal tightly.

Shake the jar every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 2-3 weeks by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for another few months.

Meadowsweet Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on any day of the year. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. I loved this irresistible version perfumed with meadowsweet.  Its delicious warm but I love to serve it chilled in Summer with a few fresh berries.   

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1/2fl oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

40g (1 1/2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

850ml (1 1/2 pints) milk

20g (3/4oz) freshly picked meadowsweet

To Serve

softly whipped cream and soft dark brown sugar

summer berries, optional

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish

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

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk and meadowsweet to the boil.  Strain using a colander, remove the meadowsweet and pour the fragrant liquid over the rice. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours approximately (usually the latter but keep checking). The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have absorbed up the milk, but the rice pudding should still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time so that it’s ready for pudding.  If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar. 

Meadowsweet Ice-Cream

Makes 1.2 litres (2 pints)

This is wonderfully rich ice-cream, delicious on its own but also irresistible with fresh raspberries, tayberries, boysenberries or Irish blueberries. 

60g (2 1/2oz) meadow sweet flowers (weighted off stalk)

350ml (12fl oz) whole milk

8 egg yolks

110g (4oz) sugar

350ml (12fl oz) rich cream, cold

Place the meadowsweet flowers and milk in a heavy saucepan.   Heat to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat.   Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.  Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly until all the milk is added.  Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (170˚- 175˚C).

Pour the cream into a large bowl.  Strain the custard into the cream.  Mix well, then chill thoroughly.

Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream machine.

Serve alone on chilled plates or with summer berries.

Rory O’Connell’s Meadowsweet Panna Cotta

Meadowsweet is used to flavour the cream for this delectable panna cotta (‘cooked cream’).

Serves 8

Panna cotta

600ml (1 pint) cream

6g (1/4oz) meadowsweet flowers

50g (2oz) caster sugar

2 leaves of gelatine

To Serve

250g (9oz) ripe raspberries

mint leaves

softly whipped cream

8 ceramic, glass or tin moulds, approximately 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) each, brushed with non-scented oil such as sunflower or grape seed

Put the cream and sugar into a stainless-steel saucepan over a low heat, add the meadowsweet flowers.  Slowly bring to the shivery stage – turn off the heat and infuse for 15 minutes or more. 

Cover the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water until pliable, 3-4 minutes.  Pour the meadowsweet cream through a sieve.  Return to the saucepan and add the well-drained gelatine leaves. Stir to dissolve completely.  If necessary, warm the meadowsweet infused cream slightly. Divide the panna cotta between the oiled moulds and chill for at least 3 hours or until gently set.

Serve with fresh berries or a seasonal compote – particularly good with poached apricots.

Rhubarb and Meadowsweet Compote

Meadowsweet is sometimes called mead wort or Queen of the Meadows. It grows in damp places, meadows and sometimes along the roadside.  It flowers from early summer to early autumn.  We use it to flavour panna cotta, ice-cream, custard – here I’m using it to flavour a fruit compote – delicious!

Serves 4

450g (1lb) field rhubarb

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml (10fl oz) of water and boil for 2 minutes)

4-6 sprigs of meadowsweet

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless-steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and meadowsweet.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold.  Remove the meadowsweet, serve with lots of softly whipped cream sprinkled with meadowsweet blossoms.

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