ArchiveDecember 2021

Christmas Store Cupboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portuguese Sardine Pâte

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

Serves 6-8

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

110g (4oz) soft butter

1 generous tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly cracked black pepper

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

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

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

Sardine and Dill Pâte

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

David Tanis’s Pasta Cacio e Pepe

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

Makes 2 servings

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

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

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

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

Darina’s Magic Mushrooms

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

Serves 4

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

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

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

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

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


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Christmas Popovers

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

For 14 popovers

110g (4oz) flour

2 eggs

300ml (10fl oz) milk

15g (1/2oz) butter, melted


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

150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped

icing sugar, to dust

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

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

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

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

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

Kumquat Compôte

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

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

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

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Kumquat and Clove Compote

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

‘Delicious Over Everything’

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

Makes 425ml (15fl oz)

50g (2oz) yellow raisins

50g (2oz) muscatel raisins

50g (2oz) currants

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

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

25g (1oz) almonds, peeled and split

150g (5oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick

1 star anise

4 cardamom pods

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

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

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

Christmas Eve Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

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

Serves 6

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

50g (2oz) plain flour

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

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

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

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

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

Good things to do with leftover Mac & Cheese

* Mac & Cheese Fritters

You can’t imagine how sinfully delish this is…

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

* Smoked Salmon or Smoked Mackerel or Chorizo

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


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

Makes 1

a dab of butter

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

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

1 slice best quality ham, cut to fit bread

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

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Dijon mustard

Preheat the grill.

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

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

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

Fish Pie with Saffron

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

Serves 6-8

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

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

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a generous pinch of saffron stamens

1 tablespoon water

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

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

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

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

110g (4oz) shelled cooked mussels

110g (4oz) peeled cooked shrimps

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

Fluffy Mashed Potato

melted butter, for brushing

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little extra saffron if you have it to spare

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

Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of hot water.

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

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

Pipe a layer of fluffy mashed potato over the top.

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

Glazed Christmas Ham with Pineapple and Cloves

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

Serves 12-15

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

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

350g (12oz) brown Demerara sugar

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

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

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

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

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

Serve hot or cold with accompanying sauce of your choice.


Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

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

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard and variations

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

Makes about 30

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

2 tablespoons Irish honey

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

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

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

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

Here are a few other ideas for glazes.

Sesame and Honey Sausages

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

Honey and Rosemary Sausages

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

Sweet Chilli Sauce and Lime

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

Ballymaloe Mince Pies with Irish Whiskey Cream and toppings

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

Makes 20-24 mince pies


225g (8oz) plain flour

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

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

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

egg wash

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Cream (see recipe)

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

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

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

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

Serve with a blob of whiskey flavoured cream.

Irish Whiskey Cream

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon icing sugar, sieved

225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream

Fold the whiskey and sugar into the whipped cream.

Ballymaloe Homemade Mincemeat

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

Makes 3.2 kilos (7lbs) approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots

2 cooking apples, such as Bramley’s Seedling

2 organic lemons

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

450g (1lb) beef suet

450g (1lb) sultanas

225g (8oz) currants

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

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

2 tablespoons Séville orange marmalade

pinch of salt

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aki Ishibashi’s Miso Soup

This is so easy to make and soon becomes addictive.

Serves 4

600ml (1 pint) dashi (see recipe)

3-4 generous tablespoons miso paste

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

1 dessertspoon wakame (dried seaweed)


1 spring onion, thinly sliced

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


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

425ml (15fl oz) water

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

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

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

Heavy Dashi

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

Instant Dashi

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

Roast Garlic and Miso Mash

An Asian twist on our fluffy mashed potato.

Serves 4

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

2 medium heads of garlic

sprig of thyme

sprig of rosemary

salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil


1 tablespoon of white miso

25g (1oz) butter

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

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

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

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

Miso Butter Onions

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

Serves 8 as an accompaniment

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

80g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted

80g (3oz) white miso paste

600ml (1 pint) water

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F.

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

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

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

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

Miso-Glazed White Turnips

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

Serves 4

25g (1oz) butter

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

2 tablespoons white miso

1 teaspoon sugar

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

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

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

Roast Cauliflower or Romanesco Florets with Miso Mayonnaise

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

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

Serve with miso mayonnaise on the side.

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

Serves 4-6

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

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

Pan-grilled Fish with Miso and a little salad

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

Serves 4

4 fillets of spanking fresh fish

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce


salad of organic leaves

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

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

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

Chicken Breasts with Miso and Cabbage

Serves 4

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

4 tablespoons white miso
4 tablespoons mirin
4 tablespoons runny honey

450g (1lb) cabbage

a little extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASU Dengaku (Miso Glazed Aubergines)

Serves 4

4 small or 2 large aubergines
extra virgin olive oil

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

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

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

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

Preheat the grill.

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

World Soil Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swede and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

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

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

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

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced

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

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

cream or creamy milk, to taste

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parsley Oil

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

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

fried diced bacon


First make the Parsley Oil.

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

Next make the soup.

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

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

To Serve

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


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

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

Winter Lamb Stew with Bacon, Root Vegetables and Garden Herbs

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

Serves 4-6

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

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

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

a little butter or oil for sautéing

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

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

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

8-12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)

sprig of thyme

Roux (optional)

Mushroom a la Crème (optional) 


a scattering of freshly chopped parsley

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

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

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

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

Mushroom a la Crème

Serves 4

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

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped

225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced

110ml (4fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

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

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


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

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

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

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

Serves 4–6

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

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

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

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

Nordic Kale Salad with Lemon and Cream

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

Serves 10 – 12

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

lemon, finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

25g (1oz) sugar

250ml (9oz) cream

sea salt – scant teaspoon or to taste

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

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

Fresh Orange Jelly with Mint

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

Serves 6-8

sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing

6 organic or unwaxed oranges

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

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

2 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine

2 tablespoons cold water


225ml (8fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice

caster sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped mint

To Garnish  

sprigs of mint or lemon balm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Orange Jelly

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


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