ArchiveSeptember 2021

How to Cook

My latest book written during the Pandemic is called ‘How to Cook’, but the working title has always been ‘Recipes No Kids Should Leave School Without Being Able to Cook’ however my publishers were adamant that ‘kid’ was not PC so here we are with a title that doesn’t get the same spontaneous response that the original title engendered when I announced what was in the pipeline in answer to the question.

However, it’s all in there, 100 recipes and lots more variations on the originals to get everyone excited about how easy it is to cook simple and delicious dishes and do lots of contemporary riffs on time-honoured favourites.

How crazy is it that only a tiny percentage of our children learn how to cook at home or in our schools…What are we like…to have now let at least two generations out of our houses and schools without equipping them with the basic life skills to feed themselves properly or for that matter letting them experience the magic of sowing a seed and watching it grow into something delicious and super nutritious to eat.

Since the 1950’s, the main focus in education has been acquiring academic skills – mastering the STEM subjects.  The subliminal message to all students has been that practical skills like cooking or growing are of much lesser value – unnecessary in today’s world where one can pop into the local supermarket and choose from an endless variety of ready-made and ultra-processed goods to save time and the ‘drudgery’ of cooking it yourself.

So why is it important to be able to cook – a fundamental question that sometimes stumps people…well at the very least to feed oneself nutritiously and deliciously and to take control of one’s own health.  With a few basic cooking skills, one can whip up a spontaneous meal with a few inexpensive ingredients at a moment’s notice and bring joy to those around you.  It’s one of the easiest ways to win friends and influence people plus one can travel anywhere in the world and get a job.  Chefs and cooks are welcomed with open arms everywhere but in the end, home cooking is the most important skill of all..

When you teach someone how to cook, you give them a gift that will forever enhance their lives, it becomes increasingly evident that our food choices affect our energy, vitality, ability to concentrate and both our mental and physical health.  So this book that I was determined to write before I hang up my apron has 100 basic recipes for you to cook your way through.  For virtually every recipe, I suggest variations on the original.  For example, when you make a basic Irish soda bread, one of the simplest and most delicious breads of all, it can be white or brown, seedy or plain, flecked with seaweed or fresh herbs.  Baked in a loaf tin or in a traditional round, marked with a cross – the traditional blessing and pricked in the four quadrants to let the fairies out of the bread. 

Scones or teeny weenies made from the same dough can be dipped in grated cheese or toasted nuts, they can be sweet or savoury – spotted dog or stripy cat…. Gently, roll the dough into a rectangle, slather with chocolate spread.  Roll up, cut and dip the twirls into coarsely chopped hazelnuts…Change tack, place a rectangle of dough into a well-oiled ‘Swiss roll’ tin.  Top with tomato sauce, slivers of pepperoni, a scattering of chopped spring onion and grated Cheddar – now you have a deep-pan pizza and on and on it goes…

Same with an omelette, the quintessential fast-food made in minutes.  So many delicious fillings to add, slip it into a crusty baguette for an omelette sambo… Cut in strips to add to a salad or soup or cook the well flavoured mixture in muffin tins to make mini frittatas. 

This book is not just for kids, teenagers and college grads, it’s for anyone and everyone who wants to whip up something delicious for themselves or for family and friends. 

So back to our educational system which many rightly believe has failed in our duty of care to fully educate our young people… so let’s raise our voices and pick up our pens to demand that our Government and Department of Education re-embed practical cooking and growing in our national curriculum for the future health and happiness of the nation.

Let’s start here…

Special thanks to my daughter Lydia Hugh Jones whose drawings greatly enhance How to Cook…. 

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Quinoa Chilli

Quinoa is a super nutritious grain that originally comes from the Andean region of South America. It is full of protein and has more vitamins and minerals than virtually any other grain, so it’s a brilliant option for vegetarians and vegans. Pumpkin or yam may be substituted for the sweet potato in this recipe.

Serves 4 (vegetarian if using vegetable stock)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

750g (1lb 10oz) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

450g (1lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes

100g (3 1/2oz) quinoa

500ml (18fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock

200g (7oz) black beans, soaked overnight and cooked for 1 – 1 1/2 hours (depending on the age of the beans) until just tender or 400g (14oz) can

black beans, drained and rinsed

a pinch of brown sugar (optional)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

natural yogurt or labneh

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and toss together. Reduce the heat, cover and sweat for 5–6 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the cumin and coriander and season well with salt and pepper.

Add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, quinoa and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black beans and continue to simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the sweet potato and quinoa are tender.  Season to taste, you may need to add a little brown sugar if using canned tomatoes.

Serve in a warm bowl scattered with lots of fresh coriander and a dollop of yogurt or labneh.

Basic Beefburgers and variations

The secret of really good beefburgers is the quality of the mince, it doesn’t need to be an expensive cut but it is essential to use the freshly minced beef. A small percentage of fat in the mince will make the burgers sweet and juicy – between 20-25 per cent.  One or two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes, 1-2 tablespoons of sambal oelek, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1-2 teaspoons of ground cumin or coriander can be added according to your taste but the recipe below gives a delicious basic burger.  If you’re looking to eat less but better meat, try the variation with mushrooms – you’ll never to back…

Serves 4

15g (1/2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped (optional)

450g (1lb) freshly minced beef – flank, chump or shin would be perfect

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

To Serve (optional)

burger or brioche buns


sliced ripe tomatoes

sliced red onion

crispy bacon

avocado slices or a dollop of Guacamole

fried onions

roast or piquillo peppers

kimchi, pickled slaw or pickles

spicy mayo, spicy tomato sauce,

barbecue sauce, hot sauce, bacon jam or relish of your choice

Melt the butter in a saucepan, toss in the onions, if using, cover and sweat over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Set aside to get cold. 

Meanwhile, mix the beef mince with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.  Then add the cooled onions and mix well.  Fry off a tiny bit of the mixture in the pan to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

With wet hands, shape the mixture into four burgers, or more depending on the size you require.  Chill until needed.

Cook to your taste in a little oil in a medium-hot frying or griddle pan, turning once.  For rare, cook for 2 minutes each side, for medium 3 minutes and for well done 4 minutes.  If you’re cooking the burgers in batches, make sure to wash and dry the pan between batches.  Burgers can plump up in the centre while being cooked; to avoid this, make an indentation in the centre of each raw burger with your thumb.  Serve with any of the serving suggestions above, or try one of the variations.


Lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger and pop under the grill until the cheese begins to melt.  Serve as in the main recipe.

*Beef & Mushroom Burgers

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin oil in a pan over a high heat.  Add 225g (8oz) finely chopped flat or chestnut mushrooms, season well with salt and pepper and cook over a high heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed.  Season to taste, transfer to a plate and leave to get cold. Once cooled, mix the mushrooms with 450g (1lb) minced beef.

(You should have about one-quarter mushrooms to three-quarters beef by volume.)  Fry off a little morsel to check the seasoning.  Shape into four

burgers.  Cook as in the main recipe and serve with your favourite accompaniments.

*Beefburgers with ginger mushrooms

Melt 15–25g (1/2–1oz) butter in a heavy–bottomed saucepan until it foams. Add 75g (3oz) finely chopped onions, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5–6 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile, slice and cook 225g (8oz) flat or chestnut mushrooms in a hot frying pan, in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add 125ml (4fl oz) double cream, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, 20g (3/4oz) nibbed, lightly toasted almonds, if you wish, and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season to taste, then add 1–2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley and 1/2 tablespoon of freshly chopped chives, if you wish. Set aside.

*To make Buffalo chips.

Scrub 4 large potatoes and cut them into wedges from top to

bottom – they should be about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick and at least 6.5cm (2 1/2 inch) long. If you like, rinse the chips quickly in cold water but do not soak.  Dry them meticulously with a tea towel or kitchen paper before cooking. Deep-fat fryers vary in size so fill the fryer up to the recommended line. Heat dripping or olive oil, or a mixture of olive and sunflower oil, in a deep-fat fryer to 160°C (325°F).  Fry twice, once at 160ËšC (325°F) until they are soft and just beginning to brown, the time will vary from 4–10 minutes depending on the size of the chips.  Drain, increase the heat to 190ËšC (375ºF) and cook for a further 1–2 minutes or until crisp and golden. Shake the basket, drain well, toss on to kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, turn into a hot serving dish and serve immediately.

Alternatively, fry in a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of olive oil.  Cook the burgers as in the main recipe, transfer on to hot plates, spoon some ginger mushrooms over the burgers and pile on the crispy buffalo chips.

*Smashburger (Serves 4)

Heat a frying pan or griddle pan over a high heat. Melt 1–2 tablespoons of beef dripping. Divide 450g (1lb) freshly minced beef (20% fat) into four balls. Flatten each down with a spatula or whatever implement you find handy. Smashburgers get their name ’cos you get to smash them flat.

Season with sea salt and flatten so the edges are lacy.  Cook for a minute or two and when the surface is well browned, flip over.  Season the surface with salt and pepper.  Lay a slice of American cheese on top of each burger, then cover the pan with a lid so the cheese starts to melt.  Meanwhile, split 4 burger buns in half, slather the surface of each with hot mayonnaise (mayo and tomato ketchup mixed with a dash of hot sauce or Tabasco). Top the base with the smashburger, add a couple of slices of pickled gherkin, maybe some shredded lettuce and a couple of slices of tomato, or whatever you fancy.  Top with the other half of the bun. Enjoy right away.

Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: rhubarb, green gooseberries and elderflower, a mixture of stone fruit, such as apricots, peaches and nectarines… Enjoy all with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12 (vegetarian)

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk


600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) blackberries

150g granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out on to a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line a 18 x 30 x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) square tin or a 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.


* Classic Apple Pie

Use 675g (1lb 8oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice, 2–3 cloves and 150g (5oz) granulated sugar for the filling.

* Apple & Raspberry Pie

Use 450g (1lb) Bramley cooking apples and approx. 225g (8oz) raspberries.

* Rhubarb Pie

Use approx. 900g (2lb) red rhubarb, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces and 175–225g (6–8oz) sugar.

* Apricot, Peach & Nectarine Pie

Use a total 1kg (2lb 4oz) fruit and 225g (8oz) granulated sugar.

* Green Gooseberry & Elderflower Pie

Use approx. 700g (1 1/2lb) gooseberries, 250g (9oz) brown sugar and 3 elderflowers.

* Cherry Pie

Use 1kg (2lb 4oz) cherries.

Inis Meáin

I’ve just eaten a delicious mouthful of dill pickled herring with cream cheese on a slice of freshly baked soda bread for breakfast – sublime…  I’m back on Inis Meáin for the second time this Summer, how fortunate are we to have benefited from the misfortune of some other guests who couldn’t take up their booking at Inis Meáin Suites.  There are just five rooms so one feels super fortunate.

Our bedroom overlooks the extraordinary Inis Meáin landscape, little fields surrounded by high dry stone walls, a few cattle here and there, Coilumin’s rectangular garden along the road is bursting with cabbages, ripe onions, beets, rhubarb, potatoes…He has harvested the rye since the last time we were here, tied it in sheaves, threashed it against a standing stone on the limestone pavement below his field.  He’ll save the precious seed for next year’s crop and the long straw can be used for thatching, I wondered if he made rye bread but apparently it’s not part of the island tradition.

On a fine day, one can see across Galway Bay to the 12 Pins, and the Clare coast to the south but this morning, a thick mist is swirling in from the sea, enveloping the white washed buildings of the Inis Meáin Knitwear factory.  It’s a hive of activity around the clock, lovingly turning out the most beautiful knitwear from the finest wool, cashmere, linen and cotton yarns for export to a few carefully chosen shops around the world.

The fluffy grey mist ebbs and flows and I can’t help being secretly pleased that it’s likely that our flight to the mainland in the tiny Aer Arann plane will be somewhat delayed…so I can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

So let me tell you about this delicious repast â€“ Breakfast at Inis Meáin Suites is no ordinary breakfast.  It’s delivered into the bedroom porch in a handmade iroko timber box tray around 8.30am ish.  Lift off the lid, inside you’ll find a feast… 10-12 little jars and Bec containers are tucked into thick polystyrene moulds…freshly squeezed orange or apple juice, homemade granola, seasonal fresh fruit, thick unctuous yoghurt…  There are several slices of both brown and white soda bread tucked into a little box beside two slices of poppy seed banana bread.  Two fresh hardboiled eggs from their little flock of happy hens are covered in little hand knit Aran egg cosies – how cute and practical is that!  But that’s not all, there’s also a little pot of pickled herrings and a gutsy liver pâté and just in case we have a craving – two little pots of the most sublime chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted with a pot of crème fraîche.  We made a pot of coffee from the freshly ground beans. There’s a minimum two night stay, and other choices for breakfast the next day.

Each room comes with walking sticks, two bikes, fishing rods, two deck chairs and lest you need it, an umbrella.  Wandering or cycling around the island is a joy, fields full of wild flowers…hare bells, fuchsia, loosestrife, heather, honeysuckle… A few cattle here and there and there’s certainly one donkey and maybe more.  Don’t miss the Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows in the chapel of Saint John and Immaculate Mary.  Check if Millington Synge’s little thatched cottage is open and climb up the steps to at least one of the stone forts.  You’ll probably be alone to ponder how these extraordinary ruins were built between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago…

Inis Meáin is possibly the quietest and the least visited of the three Aran Islands – there’s one shop and one pub with lots of outdoor seating.  Depending on the time of the year, there’s one or two cafés and a quirky craft shop but don’t leave the island without visiting Inis Meáin Knitwear.  No ‘fast fashion’ here – beautifully crafted pieces that you’ll treasure for a lifetime…

I almost forgot to mention dinner, always a surprise – Ruairí de Blacam’s food reflects seasonal organic produce from their garden and polytunnel, fresh catch of fish and shellfish from local fishers and occasionally wild and foraged food from the island.  The wine list chosen by Ruairí’s wife Marie-Thérèse is also exceptional.  This place is one of Ireland’s hidden gems, check it out and put your name on a cancellation list –

Thank you Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse (who hails from East Cork) for sharing your recipes.

Cáca Treacle (Treacle Bread)

Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves

160g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour

320g (scant 11oz) wholemeal flour

40g (1 1/2oz) wheatbran

40g (1 1/2oz) mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and linseed)

1 level teaspoon bread soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

400 – 450ml (14 -16fl oz) buttermilk

1 dessertspoon treacle 

2 x 450g (1lb) or 1 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins

Preheat the oven to 210ËšC/410ËšF/Gas Mark 6 1/2 and grease the bread tins.

Mix the dry ingredients together by hand in a big bowl and make well in the centre.

Mix the egg, buttermilk and treacle together, pour half of the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix lightly by hand.  Pour the remainder of the liquid in and continue to mix very lightly.  Turn the mixture into the prepared bread tins and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approximately, remove from the tin and pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked, it will sound hollow. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Aubergine with Feta and Mint

We enjoyed this as a starter but you can imagine how good it would be as a salad or side also.

Slice aubergines 1cm (1/2 inch) thick, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill on a cast iron griddle on a high heat until cooked through and nicely charred.  Serve three slices per person for a starter portion.

Crumble good quality feta cheese over the aubergine slices with torn mint leaves, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Note: good quality piquillo peppers can be an optional extra.

Monkfish Roasted on the Bone with Garden Carrots, Tzatziki and a Lemon Chilli Dressing

A delicious combination – typical of Ruairí de Blacam’s simple, inspired dishes at Inis Meáin Suites.

Serves 4

Skin and trim a 1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) monkfish tail (bone in), season generously with Maldon sea salt

Melt 50g (2oz) of butter in the oven on a baking tray until bubbling
Roll the monkfish tail in the butter until completely coated.

Roast for 12 minutes at 225°C in a fan oven.

On a separate tray with another 50g (2oz) of butter and seasoning, repeat the process with 6 medium garden carrots split lengthwise. These will need to go into the oven 5 minutes before the monkfish.

Add a good fistful of fresh thyme at the end and toss.

For the tzatziki, grate a whole cucumber on a rough grater. Salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze to remove the water. Stir into 500g (18oz) Greek yogurt and a generous amount of chopped dill.

Serve with the fish and carrots.

A mixture of lemon juice, good quality harissa and extra virgin olive oil is a great dressing with this dish. Quantities will depend on how spicy you wish to make it….

Broccoli with Anchovy Dressing

1 average head of broccoli will yield 5-6 starter portions

Cut the vegetable up into equal sized florets. Bring 3 litres (5 1/4 pints) of properly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli for 60 seconds, strain and plunge into ice water to arrest the cooking. Strain and set aside. 

For the anchovy dressing put 250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin in a hand blender vessel. Add 2 whole free range eggs, 6 Ortiz anchovies, 1 crushed clove of garlic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Emulsify with the blender and finish off with the juice of half a lemon. Salt to taste.

Gently sweat 200g (7fl oz) of Beluga lentils & mirepoix of vegetables for 2 – 3 minutes. Add 1/2 bottle of Madeira, burn off the alcohol and reduce by half.  Add the beef stock and cook until al dente for a further 7 – 10 minutes. 

To Serve

Reheat the broccoli with boiling water from the kettle. Put a good blob of anchovy dressing on a serving plate, add the broccoli florets and a tablespoon of the lentils, dress with a chilli, garlic and olive oil…

Chocolate Pots

These exquisite little chocolate pots are served as part of the breakfast tray at Inis Meáin Suites.  I can’t do chocolate for breakfast so I tuck them into the fridge and enjoy them later for my picnic lunch of homemade soup and onion focaccia with the accompanying pot of crème fraîche.

Makes 1 litre to pour into ovenproof single serve containers

325ml (11fl oz) cream

250ml (9fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) chocolate (70%)

6 egg yolks

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

 Melt the cream, milk and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.  Beat the egg yolks and the caster sugar together and combine with the chocolate mixture.  Pour into individual small oven-proof containers (ramekins or Weck jars).

Place these in a bain-marie in a deep baking tray, filled with hot tap water two thirds up the sides of the small containers.

Cook at approximately 130°C for 30 minutes approx., until a slight dome shape appears on the surface.

Leave to cool and then refrigerate. 

Note: if you can resist them, they keep brilliantly for up to a week.


For foraging nerds like me, there are treasures to be found year round.  We found a few wild mushrooms in the fields – our buckthorn berries are ripening and I’ve picked lots of rowan berries to make jelly to serve with pork, lamb or game when it comes into season. 

There are oodles of wild blackberries this year so you can satisfy your inner ‘hunter gatherer’ or just have a trip down memory lane.

We have tons on the briars in the hedgerows around the school, an extra bonus from rewilding areas on the farm to provide extra habitats for birds, wild animals, bees and other pollinating insects.  This year they are really fat and juicy, with a more intense tart flavour than the cultivated blackberries, and of course they are free.  Organise a bramble picking expedition with your children and grandchildren.  You will need to show them how to pick the best ones and how to judge if they are infested with tiny maggots – the core will be stained with blackberry juice rather than pale creamy green centre.

We buy kilos of blackberries for jam from local children who love to earn some pocket money and continue the tradition that has endured in many families for generations. 

Blackberries freeze brilliantly – they also dry well.  If you have a dehydrator, it’s really worth experimenting with blackberries – add them to scones, muffins, muesli.  Try folding some into Champ or Colcannon to serve with roast duck…

They are at their best at present but will gradually deteriorate depending on the weather.   Older people used to tell us children not to pick blackberries after Halloween, some say Michaelmas (29th September) ‘cos the ‘púca’ will have spit on them’.  This was a brilliant deterrent to stop hungry kids from eating over ripe blackberries years ago.

Have fun with blackberries…Once again, they are deliciously versatile, think of adding them to both sweet and savoury dishes as well as scattering over breakfast granola, muesli, yoghurt…Pop one into an ice cube with a mint leaf to add to cordials and aperitifs.

They are packed with Vitamin C and are supposed to improve both motor and cognitive functions and couldn’t we all do with that.  They also make delicious wine if you are into home brewing but crème de mûre is even easier – try this recipe which I originally  came across in one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’.  It’s a brilliant base for a cordial or a blackberry Kir.

All of the hedgerows around us here are still full of fluffy meadowsweet so hope you’ve been picking some and experimenting with the fragrant blossoms – see my article of 7th August 2021.

Medallions of Venison with Blackberry Sauce

A taste of Autumn, if the wild blackberries are frozen they may need a sprinkling of sugar.

Serves 4

4 medallions of venison

225g (8oz) wild blackberries

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock

75ml (3fl oz) port

4 tablespoons sloe gin or brandy

salt and freshly ground pepper

Purée or liquidise and sieve the blackberries. Put the stock and port into a stainless steel saucepan and boil and reduce for a few minutes, add the brandy and fruit and boil until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile season the medallions of venison, fry in a very little butter on a hot pan for 2 minutes each side.

Sharpen the sauce with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, taste and correct the seasoning. Put the medallions onto a hot plate spoon over a little sauce, garnish with a few fresh blackberries if available and a few sprigs of fresh herbs.

Serve immediately with Gratin Dauphinois and a good green salad.

Crème de Mûre (Blackberry Liqueur)

Makes 2 litres (3 1/2 pints)

This recipe can also be made using blackcurrants in which case the name would change to ‘Crème de Cassis’.

Drink within 6 weeks.

1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) ripe blackberries

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) red wine

800g (1 3/4lbs) granulated sugar, possibly more to taste

70cl (700ml/1 1/4 pints) brandy or vodka (unflavoured)

Pick over the blackberries, carefully removing bits of leaf or twig.  Put into a stainless steel bowl. 

Crush the fruit well with a potato masher.  Pour on the red wine and stir well.  Cover and leave to macerate for 48 hours, stirring from time to time.

Strain through a muslin bag into a stainless steel preserving pan.  Squeeze the bag well to get the last of the liquid out.

Add the sugar and heat up gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is almost boiling.  Simmer uncovered for about an hour until the liquid thickens and turns slightly syrupy.  Stir occasionally.

Taste, and add a little more sugar if necessary.  Allow to cool.

Add the spirit, stir well and pour into sterilised bottles.  Seal and store in a cool place.

Serve well chilled in small glasses or with sparkling water and lots of ice.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam

Blackberries rot on the hedgerows all over the countryside every year.  Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made – so full of Vitamin C!  This year, organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic.  You’ll find it’s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam.  The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like “Lydia’s Jam – keep off”!, or “Grandma’s Bramble Jam”. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea.

Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the tart Bramley apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.

Makes 9-10 x 450g (1lb) jars approx.

2.3kg (5lbs) blackberries (wild or cultivated)

900g (2lbs) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling in season)

1kg – scant 1.1kg (2lbs 4oz – 2lbs 6oz) granulated sugar

8-10 sweet geranium leaves (optional), alternatively use the finely grated zest and juice of an organic lemon

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples.  Stew them until soft with 300ml (10fl oz) of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 150ml (5fl oz) of water (or water and lemon juice) if the berries are dry.  If the blackberries are frozen, omit the water.

Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and heated sugar. Destalk and chop the sweet geranium leaves (or zest of the lemon if using) and add to the fruit.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. 

Boil steadily for about 15 minutes approximately.  Skim the jam, test for a set and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars. Seal, store in a dark place or share with friends.

Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry and Mint Pavlova

Pavlova, the dessert named after prima ballerina Anna Pavlova has to be in here – a base for so many delicious ripe berries and fruit.  Once again, we can have some fun with flavoured creams and seasonal fruits or lemon curd or strained fruit compote…

Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the zest of 1 lemon


300ml (10fl oz) cream

400 – 450g (14oz – 1lb) mixture of whole and sliced blackberries, raspberries, blueberries mixed with fresh mint


fresh mint leaves

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

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Check that your bowl and whisk are dry and free of grease or any residue of detergent. Using a food-processor, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add in half the caster sugar, continue to whisk until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the rest of the caster sugar with the cornflour, vinegar, vanilla extract or lemon zest.

Spread the meringue mixture onto a 23cm (9 inch) round or oval on the silicone paper.  Make a well in the centre and push the mixture to the side to form ‘walls’.  Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for 1- 1 1/4 hours or until very pale brown, crisp on the outside and dry underneath but soft and marshmallow in the centre. 

Remove from the oven, turn the pavlova upside down on a wire rack and peel off the paper. If it’s still a little sticky in the centre, replace in the oven for 5-10 minutes longer.  Allow to get quite cold.

To Serve

Transfer the pavlova carefully onto a serving plate.  Whip the cream softly, fill the centre of the pavlova with cream and berries.  Garnish with fresh mint.

Note:  This quantity makes 6 individual 10cm (4 inch) pavlovas which take 20 minutes to cook.

Blackberry, Apple and Hazelnut Crumble

Crumbles vie with apple pies as the comfort food of all ages, vary the fruit according to the season.  Hazelnuts will be ripe from mid-October, so keep an eye out for hazel trees if you are walking on the hills or mountain, they are indigenous to Ireland.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

225g (8oz) fresh blackberries

45-50g (1 3/4 – 2oz) granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons water


110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) cold butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

25g (1oz) chopped hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish or whatever you have!

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.  Turn into a pie dish with the blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really coarse breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar. 

Lemon Curd Cream with Wild Blackberries, Toasted Almonds and Mint

A delicious combination of flavours and textures – combined in minutes.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons homemade lemon curd (see recipe)

3-4 tablespoons of softly whipped cream

175g (6oz) wild blackberries

a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice

a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of honey (optional)

2 tablespoons of toasted flaked almonds

shredded mint leaves plus a couple of whole mint leaves for garnishing

Taste the blackberries, if they are very tart, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of sugar or honey.  Allow to macerate for 4-5 minutes.

Fold the whipped cream into the lemon curd.  Taste and add a more of either depending on the intensity of the lemon curd.

Toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan to a rich golden colour (watch them as they burn really easily) and cool.

To Serve

Put two generous tablespoons of lemon curd cream into each shallow bowl.  Spoon some of the macerated blackberries over the cream.  Scatter with flaked almonds and sprinkle on some shredded mint plus a few fresh mint leaves for garnish. 

Lemon Curd

Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge.  It is best eaten within a fortnight.

Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

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

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

Cover when cold and refrigerate. 

Going Back to School (Part 2)

I ran out of space last week so here we go again, more ideas for school lunches.  As mentioned in my previous column, good nutrition is a vital part of every child’s development – so fill that lunch box with lots of real food – totally exclude all ultra-processed food and anything that purports to be healthy, it probably isn’t.  Invest in real stuff – you’ll spend less on ‘meds’ in the end

Building on last week’s suggestions.  How about sushi balls, also great and really easy to make.  Put a little surprise into the centre, younger children may not love pickled ginger and wasabi but teenagers definitely love sushi.

One batch of sushi rice will make lots but you could do scattered sushi in a bowl the next day.   They also love tacos and tostados, use corn tortillas – they are much more nutritious, easy to eat and fun to top with favourite tasty morsels plus they can be vegetarian or vegan.  Spring rolls made with rice paper wrappers are also fun for teenagers to make.  They can ‘roll their own’ around the fillings of their choice, julienne of veggies, vermicelli noodles, maybe a shrimp or two, Budda bowls with a mixture of rice, prawns, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots with a perky dressing. 

Mexican wraps are also brilliant with crunchy lettuce, strips of roast chicken, lamb or beef with crisp cucumber and tomato, add a dash of chilli sauce – for those who like it hot and more and more do.

Half or a whole avocado is the perfect lunch box food, super nutritious, easy to digest.  A spoon and a little phial of flaky sea salt is all that’s needed, a few cherry tomatoes are perfect for a pop of juicy flavour. 

An occasional hard-boiled egg – great protein, easy to peel and once again delicious with a sprinkling of sea salt or a dollop of mayo mixed with Ballymaloe Relish.  Draw a funny face or write a name on the shell if you have the energy at 7.30am in the morning!

A little pot of chive or scallion potato salad is great on its own but also a perfect base to add a dice of bacon, chicken, chorizo or cucumber. 

Mini muffuletta with layers of roast peppers, cured meat, cheese – lunch sorted in one bun.

Cheese is of course another valuable protein – Cheddar seems to be most children’s favourite, batons are easy to eat.  Add a few crackers, a slice of brown yeast or soda bread and a little chutney or relish.

Pasta or noodles with a peanut sauce are also a winner and can be a basis for lots of other additions.

Try to include some fruit, a few cherries for a treat or a squashed donut peach when they are in season and of course an organic banana is a worthwhile source of potassium, iron, fibre, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, all in one easy package.

A slice of really good brown bread and raspberry jam couldn’t be simpler but it’s delicious and loved by everyone.

I should also mention lettuce wraps – easy to eat and particularly delicious with sticky pork and matchsticks of cucumber and carrot – try this recipe.

And finally, don’t forget dates, a brilliant snack.  One or two juicy Medjool or Deglet Noor dates are a rich source of magnesium, calcium, potassium and fibre.  Dried apricots or mango slices and fruit kebabs for a fun and tasty nibble – just thread cubes of fresh and/or dried fruit on a stick.

A wedge of water melon on a lollipop stick is another easy peasy lunchbox treat.

Sausage or frankfurter rolls.

Crumpets and drop scones are all made in minutes, slather with a little butter or peanut butter and honey.

So hopefully there’s lots of ideas in all those suggestions to keep your little dotes nourished and whet their appetites…

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do but just follow the instructions.

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.)

Sushi Balls

Makes 20-30 pieces

sprig of dill or chervil or coriander

1/2 quantity prepared sushi rice

25g (1oz) smoked salmon, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) squares


10 cooked prawns or shrimps


1/2 cucumber, sliced wafer thin and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces


25g (1oz) roast beef, thinly sliced and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

Lay a piece of parchment paper, about 10cm (4 inch) square, on a clean work surface and place a sprig of chervil or coriander face down and then a piece of smoked salmon at the centre of it.  Put a teaspoonful of sushi rice on top of it.

Pick up all four corners of the parchment paper and gather them in the middle.  Twist the paper to compact the rice and form a small ball.  Repeat the process with the other toppings.

Keep each piece of sushi wrapped in the parchment until just before serving.  Serve with a little wasabi paste or pickled ginger depending on your children’s taste

Scattered Sushi

For scattered Sushi, put some sushi rice into a bowl, scatter with toppings of your choice for example cherry tomatoes, Mozzarella, beef and spring onion, smoked salmon or tuna, spring onions and strips of cucumber…

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Gary Masterson, one of our tutors here at Ballymaloe Cookery School shared this recipe with us, everyone loves it.

The spices transform the mince into something irresistible, to scoop up with fresh lettuce leaves. Minced chicken can also be used; I prefer the brown meat but, of course, white meat is delicious too – just bear in mind that it needs a shorter cooking time.  Use less rather than more chilli for children.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin or vegetable oil

30g (1 1/4oz) fresh ginger, grated

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

500g (18oz) minced chicken or pork (I use brown meat, but use white if you prefer)

4 makrut lime leaves, shredded

50g (2oz) palm sugar or soft light brown sugar

juice of 1 organic lime

2 tablespoons fish sauce


3–4 handfuls of Iceberg lettuce or butterhead leaves

a good handful of mint leaves

a handful of coriander leaves

2–3 spring shallots, finely sliced on the diagonal

a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, roughly chopped

1 organic lime, cut into wedges

Heat the oil over a high heat in a large (26cm/10 1/2 inch) frying pan. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and stir-fry for a minute or two to release their flavours. Add the minced chicken or pork and cook over a high heat until it starts to colour, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go.

Add the shredded makrut lime leaves, sprinkle in the sugar, squeeze in the lime juice and add 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce. Reduce the heat and cook everything down for 5–10 minutes until the mince is sticky and delicious. Season to taste with the remaining fish sauce, if necessary.

Transfer the mince to a lunch box with accompaniments, add lettuce, herbs, shallots, peanuts or cashews and lime wedges so that they can assemble their own little parcels.

Pizza Rolls

A delicious tasty bite – perfect for school lunches or a picnic.  The filling can be as simple as grated cheese or a mixture of tomato sauce, chorizo, pesto, spring onion…

This makes approx. 9 rolls but they freeze well for future lunches.

225g (8oz) pizza dough


175-225ml (6-8fl oz) concentrated tomato sauce or Tomato Fondue

1 teaspoon chopped annual marjoram

a good pinch pepper flakes (optional)

300g (10oz) diced pepperoni, tiny dice

75g (3oz) grated Mozzarella

25g (1oz) Parmesan or Cheddar cheese

Egg Wash, beaten egg with a generous pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or use a fan oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough into a 1cm (1/2 inch) thick rectangle on a floured board. It should be roughly about 23cm long x 17cm wide (9 inches by 6 1/2 inches) but no need to reach those exact dimensions).

Spread the well-seasoned tomato sauce evenly over the dough keeping it in 2.5cm (1 inch) from the long side.  Sprinkle with marjoram, red pepper flakes (if using) evenly over the sauce.  Brush the edge with egg wash.  Sprinkle the diced peperoni and cheese in an even layer over the sauce.

Roll the dough from the long side into a tight spiral. Transfer the dough to a baking tray and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Brush with egg wash.

Use a serrated knife to slice the chilled dough into 9 even rolls (about 2-2.5cm/3/4 – 1 inch wide). Transfer to the prepared baking tray allowing a little space between each one for expansion.

Bake in the preheated oven until the rolls are golden and the filling is bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or wrap in parchment for school lunches.

Mini Muffuletta

The New Orleans speciality makes a perfect chunky sandwich. One can vary the fillings but there should be lots of it.

1 round rustic bun or brioche

Filling of your choice – could be…

pesto or Ballymaloe Relish

lettuce or a mixture of salad leaves and rocket

red and/or yellow pepper (roasted, peeled and roughly cut into chunks)

salt and freshly ground pepper

slices of cheese

salami, ham or chorizo, thinly sliced (approximately)

Cut a lid off the top of the little round loaf or bun.  Remove the soft crumb and keep for breadcrumbs.

Smear the pesto or Ballymaloe Relish over the base and the under-lid of each loaf.  Then arrange layers of salad leaves, roasted peppers, cheese and salami, ham or chorizo.

Pop the lid on, wrap tightly with parchment paper, keep chilled until you pop into the lunchbox.  Divide each muffuletta into five or six wedges.

Rice Bowl and lots of good things

Rice bowls, buddha bowls, poke are all riffs on a theme, a delicious little meal in a bowl.  A rice bowl will have a base of cooked rice, could be white, brown, topped with many good things, raw, cooked or a mixture flavoured with a well flavoured dressing.   They can be vegetarian, vegan or include meat, fish, game… other pulses can also be used – bulgur, freekah, pearl barley, farro, quinoa, lentils, pulses – all make a delicious and super nutritious base for a variety of toppings.  Make sure the rice is well seasoned otherwise the end result be bland and boring.

You can do infinite variations on the theme depending on the child’s taste. Thin slices of chicken or duck breast, rare beef, cured or smoked fish, vegetables, raw or roast, greens, spring onions, sliced omelette, avocado, pickled ginger.  Occasionally some mango or apple slices.  A poached, fried or hard-boiled egg for extra protein. 

Occasionally add a crispy element, a few tortilla chips, prawn crackers, crispy chickpeas….

A tasty dressing or maybe tahini, teriyaki, rayu or satay sauce is pretty essential to liven up the bowl and maybe a sprinkling of seeds, sesame, sunflower or toasted nuts.

Rachel’s Drop Scones

This is Rachel’s brilliant recipe for drop scones.  The children can easily make the batter and cook them.

Makes 12

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

110ml (4fl oz) milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix.  Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat.  Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or if you are like my children, chocolate spread! (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)


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