Christmas Eve

Nearly there…so hope that you are all feeling in a celebratory mood rather than completely exhausted and that you have had the love and support you need to create a festive spirit and fill the pantry with goodies.

My grandchildren adore the build up to Christmas, the more they are involved the more excited they become. They love to decorate the Christmas tree and squabble over where each and every bauble should hang. We play lots of cheesy Christmas music and they compete with each other with renditions of their favourite Christmas carols. We unpack the figures for the crib and solemnly reassemble it, chatting about the real story of Christmas as Jesus, Mary and Joseph are positioned in the midst of the straw, fresh moss and lichen in the little thatched crib made by a kindly neighbour in his carpentry workshop over three decades ago.  

On Christmas Eve we continue the family traditions. We light the Christmas candle in the window to guide Joseph and Mary as they search for shelter.

How lovely is it to pop into a church and sit quietly for a few minutes in the midst of all the craziness.  Then gather round the fire to count one’s blessings and remember loved ones and others less fortunate in these tumultuous times.   

Christmas Eve is a big celebration in many countries but here it’s still Christmas Day. Santa will come here tonight, so how about a  simple, comforting supper for all the family.

Let’s have a big bowl of risotto with grated Parmesan or a steamy mushroom mac and cheese… a bubbly potato gratin with little bacon lardons or chorizo might also appeal to all the family, followed by a lightly dressed salad of winter leaves to make you feel less full so you can tuck into a bowl of proper trifle with a generous glug of sweet sherry or a few mince pies. Or graze on one of those charcuterie and cheese boards that are all the rage now.

Have a lovely, peaceful Christmas and many blessings for 2023.

Mac and Cheese with Mushrooms

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon or ham to the sauce.

Serves 6

500g (18oz) flat mushrooms

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 – 3 tablespoons marjoram, chopped

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

50g (2oz plain flour

850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk

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

Slice the flat mushrooms thinly.  Sauté in batches in olive oil on a hot pan.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add marjoram – taste and correct seasoning. 

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 just soft. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion and garlic, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6 – 8 minutes. 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 sautéed mushrooms and 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 (add some dried breadcrumbs if available for a crunchy top). Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 – 20 minutes.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom with Thyme Leaves

This gratin is terrifically good with a few roast chicken thighs, lamb chops or on its own as a supper dish.  It can be made ahead and reheated later. 

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

350g (12oz) flat or wild mushrooms

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

350ml (12fl oz) light cream

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)

Ovenproof gratin dish 25.5cm x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch)

Slice the mushrooms and stalks thinly. Peel the potatoes and cut into scant 5mm thick slices.   Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Tip in the potato slices.  As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes.  Refresh under cold water.  Drain again and spread out on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. 

Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the base of a shallow gratin dish.  Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.  Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes.

Bring the cream almost to boiling point, pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the freshly grated cheese on top and bake for 1 hour approximately at 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.


Mushrooms are one of the rare vegetables that taste better when they are a few days old.  The stalks taste every bit as good as the caps so don’t discard.  If the root end is still attached, trim it off and add it to the compost bin.

Radicchio, Parmesan and Parsley Salad

I’m crazy about this simple salad made with bitter Winter greens at the moment.  Serve as a side or a starter.

Serves 6

1 head of radicchio

75 – 110g (3 – 4oz) Parmesan, coarsely grated

flat parsley, sliced into a chiffonade


1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of sugar or 1/4 teaspoon runny honey

First whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together.

Quarter and slice the radicchio into roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces.  Allow 75 – 100g (3 – 3 1/2oz per person.

Just before serving.

Put the radicchio into a bowl.  Sprinkle with the dressing, toss well so each piece of radicchio is glistening with dressing.

Add the shredded flat parsley.  Toss once more, divide between 4 flat plates.  Grate a piece of Parmesan evenly over the top with a coarse silvery grater.

Serve – fresh and delicious.


Radicchio Salad with Parmesan, Parsley and Pomegranate

Add 4 tablespoons of fresh pomegranate seeds to the salad.  Toss in the dressing and continue and serve as above.

Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle

Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special cut glass bowl kept especially for the purpose.  My mother Lily O’Connell’s trifle was legendary.  She made huge bowls of trifle at Christmas, with trifle sponges, (later she used sponge cakes when they were unavailable), homemade raspberry jam and custard, and lots and lots of good, sweet sherry.   She had to become more and more inventive about hiding places, because the boys would search high and low to find it when they arrived home on Christmas Eve from a night out on the town.  Eventually she hid it in her wardrobe to keep it intact for Christmas Day. 

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam

150 – 175ml (5 – 6fl oz) best-quality sweet or medium sherry – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry (we use Bristol Cream).


5 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

1 1/4 tablespoons caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

700ml (1 1/4 pint) rich milk


600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds

1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. 

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

Cut the sponge into 2cm (3/4 inch) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with half the sherry as you go along.   Pour in half of the custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the rest of the sherry and spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge, to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top or pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.


For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of Swiss roll.

An Irish Charcuterie and Farmland Cheese Platter

Serves … depends on how much you choose…

A beautiful timber board laden with a selection of artisan charcuterie and perfectly ripe farmhouse cheese is a delicious and relatively effortless way to entertain family and friends – perfect for a Christmas Eve supper.

Add some good crackers, a crusty sourdough baguette with some homemade butter and perhaps a chunk of membrillo (quince cheese). Maybe a few Medjool dates and fresh walnuts.

Charcuterie and cheese boards can be beyond ‘naff’ so keep it simple. Don’t get carried away and choose each item carefully. Resist the temptation to add lots of random chutneys and out of season fruit and rancid nuts….

The variety also depends on the number of guests. Choose 3 – 5 cheeses – there are so many to choose from,  perhaps a ripe Durrus, a piece of Coolea or a mature Templegall, a soft Ardsallagh goats milk cheese, a beautiful piece of an Irish blue, perhaps a ripe Crozier or a Young Buck all the way from Belfast.

Fingal Ferguson of the Gubeen cheese family also led the way with a range of charcuterie in the 1980’s. He continues to add to his range and  now many other artisans are following in his footsteps ( Broughgammon Farm cured meats, from a small family farm near Ballycastle Co. Antrim are superb quality ( as are Ispini, a range of cured meats from Moira Co. Down ( They make delicious bresaola, fennel salamis and garlic and pepper salad.  

Look out for the Wooded Pig cured meats made from ethically reared free-range pigs who roam freely in mature forests of ash, beech and oak on the family farm near Tara in Co. Meath  –

Arrange the cured meats, salami, bresaola, prosciutto, coppa, lomo chorizo and farmhouse cheese randomly across the board.  Cut the cheese into wedges, slices, cubes depending on the style.  A few gherkins could be added to nibble with charcuterie. A piece of honeycomb can be very delicious with a slightly under ripe blue cheese. You may want to ruffle some of the cured meats into little fan shapes for ease of serving. It’s so easy to make the platter look irresistible.

Just provide a plate and knife and some good red wine and encourage everyone to tuck in and celebrate our artisan producers.  

Edible Christmas Gifts

I’m dedicating my entire column to edible gifts for the many food lovers in your life this week.  Lots of savoury treats, delicious accompaniments, pickles, chutneys, spicy salts and a few jars of toasted nuts, sweet and fiery chilli sauce and a super delicious peanut rayu to liven up absolutely everything from fried eggs to cold turkey over the festive season. 

Next week we’ll focus on comforting food for Christmas Eve but I’m keeping the blurb to the minimum to fit in as many delicious treats as possible.

During the year, I look out for little pots, jars or special glasses in charity or bric-a-brac shops, I have a stack ready to fill with Christmas goodies.  Do ramp up the labelling and packaging, ribbons and glitter to add extra excitement and festive cheer. 

A hamper of four homemade soups got an ecstatic and grateful response from a couple of busy working mums last Christmas – easy, delicious, fun and quick to defrost even if frozen. 

Chilli Salt

A perfect pressie for a foodie friend who likes to add a little extra oomph to everything – carry it in your handbag to perk up bland dishes…

110g (4oz) flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons crushed dried chilli pepper (Jalapeno or Habanero)

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Mix the salt and chilli together and whizz for a couple of seconds in a food processor or a molcajete with a pestle and mortar. 

Fill into little airtight glass containers. 

Roasted Almonds with Rosemary

Delicious to nibble with drinks.  The quality of almonds varies a lot.  Look out for Marcona almonds – they are grown in Spain and have a sweet, delicate flavour.   They are more rounded and plumper than the Californian almonds that are more widely available.

whole unpeeled almonds

extra virgin olive oil

freshly chopped rosemary to taste

sea salt

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

Put the almonds onto a dry baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Toss in olive oil, freshly chopped rosemary and sea salt.   Serve warm but perfect filled into little glass jars as a Christmas present. Irresistible – try not to eat the lot!

Sweet and Fiery Chilli Sauce

We grow about six or eight varieties of chilli in the greenhouse.  They vary enormously in heat, even on the same plant.  For consistency, you’re probably best to use Dutch red finger chillies that are widely available in the shops.  Serve over everything…even fried eggs…

Makes 1 bottle

3 large red chillies finely chopped (seeds and all)

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

185g (6 1/2oz) sugar

1 clove garlic crushed

Put all the ingredients into a little saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture.  Cool and fill into a sterilised jam jar or bottle.  Store in a cool, dry place.

It will keep for a year or more, though you are unlikely to have it for that long. 

Spicy Asian Cucumber Pickle

This fresh tasting pickle is an irresistible accompaniment to and perk up cold meats, smoked fish and Cheddar cheese.  Use within a couple of weeks.   

Serves 4-6

1 cucumber, quartered, excess seeds removed and sliced thinly at an angle

2 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly, lengthwise

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings

1 green chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings


4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons white malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients for the marinade together in a saucepan.  Bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. When cool, pour the marinade over the cucumber, shallots and chilli.

Fill into cold sterilised glass jars.  Cover and label. 

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

Another delicious combination, this relish compliments goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats – keeps for months.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately)

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served….

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

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.

Gary’s Peanut Rayu

This stuff is addictive, the problem is that the recipient of this will plead for more…what can I say!

500g (18oz) red skinned peanuts

12 cloves garlic thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) sunflower oil

150g (5oz) Korean chilli flakes

125g (4 1/2oz) Tamari

150g (5oz) sesame seeds (75g each of black and white seeds – use all white if you don’t have black sesame seeds)

150g (5oz) honey

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

Roast the peanuts with a good pinch of Maldon sea salt for 10-12 minutes, remove from the oven, cool, blow off the skins and chop coarsely.

Heat the sunflower oil in a small pot and fry the garlic slices until light golden brown and crisp, drain through a sieve and dry on kitchen paper. Allow the oil to cool to tepid and reserve.

Mix the chilli flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and add the tamari then pour in the cooled reserved oil, allow to cool completely and stir in honey, crisp garlic, stir well and enjoy.

Fill into jars, label and decorate.  Keeps for months.

Christmas Granola

Perfect for breakfasts over the holiday season. Enjoy with yoghurt and lots of grated Irish apple…

Serves 20 people approximately

125g (4 1/2oz) butter or coconut oil

175ml (6fl oz) honey

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (1lb 2oz) oatmeal

110g (4oz) sunflower seeds

150g (5oz) slivered almonds

110g (4oz) pumpkin seeds

50g (2oz) barley flakes

50g (2oz) rye flakes

50g (2oz) coconut flakes

50g (2oz) dried apricots or a mixture of dates and apricots, chopped

50g (2oz) dried cranberries or dried cherries 

50g (2oz) juicy sultanas 

Preheat the oven to 170°/325°/Gas Mark 3.

Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan over a low heat, stir in the honey and vanilla extract.  Mix all the remaining ingredients, except the dried fruit and coconut flakes, in a large mixing bowl, add the liquid and stir well until everything is evenly coated.   Spread over 3 large baking trays and toast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the grains are crisp and very lightly browned. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the trays. Add the coconut flakes and continue to cook for a further 5-8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and when cool transfer to a large bowl.  Add the dried fruit and mix.   

Fill into Kilner jars and zhuzh up with ribbons and labels and a sprig of holly or rosemary – keeps for up to 1 month.  

Little Pots of Christmas Pâté

This pâté can be served in many different ways: its success depends on being generous with good Irish butter.  You could fill this pâté into little glass jars but how about buying a few little pottery ramekins to embellish the gift.  For extra lux, spoon some brandy-soaked raisins and a few chopped pistachio nuts on top. 

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.

225g (8oz) fresh organic chicken livers

2 tablespoons brandy

225 – 350g (8 – 12oz) butter (depending on how strong the chicken livers are)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper

few sprigs of thyme

clarified butter, to seal the top

Wash the livers in cold water and remove any membrane or green tinged bits. Dry on kitchen paper.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan; when the butter foams add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat.  Be careful not to overcook them or the outsides will get crusty; all trace of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then deglaze the pan with brandy, allow to flame or reduce for 2-3 minutes.  Scrape everything with a spatula into a food processor.  Purée for a few seconds.  Allow to cool.

Add 225g (8oz) butter.  Purée until smooth.  Season carefully, taste and add more butter, cut into cubes if necessary.

This pâté should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots.  Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.  Add a little sprig of thyme. 

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.

Serve with crusty hot white bread or toast.  This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.

Watchpoint: It is essential to cover chicken liver pâté with a layer of clarified or even just melted butter, otherwise the pâté will oxidize and become bitter in taste and grey in colour.

Caramel Popcorn

Makes tons…

225g (8oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

50g (2oz) popcorn

First make the popcorn.

Combine the sugar and cold water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut brown.  Do not stir and do not shake the pan.  If sugar crystals form around the side of the pan, brush them down with cold water.  When the caramel is ready, it must be used immediately or it will become hard and cold.

Spread the popcorn onto a silicone mat or oiled tin and drizzle the hot caramel over.  Leave to cool

Fill into jars, label and fancy up with ribbons and a sprig of rosemary.

Rachel Allen’s Popcorn Paradise

It’s difficult to have a home cinema night without popcorn, so why not try this recipe and all its variations?  Serve the popcorn in a big bowl or in paper cornets for each person.

Serves 4

Plain Popcorn

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

75g (3oz) popcorn

25g (1oz) butter

pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the popcorn and swirl the pan to coat the popcorn in oil.   Turn down the heat to low, cover, and the corn should start to pop in a couple of minutes.  As soon as it starts popping (after 5 – 7 minutes), take the saucepan off the heat and add the butter and salt.  Put the lid back on the pan and shake to mix.  Pour out into bowls and leave to cool a little.


Toffee Popcorn

Cook the popcorn as for the plain popcorn recipe, but while the corn is popping, make the toffee coating by melting 25g (1oz) butter in a small saucepan.   Then add 25g (1oz) brown sugar and 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup and stir over a high heat for 1/2 – 1 minute until thick.   Pour the toffee over the popcorn, put the lid on the pan and shake to mix.   Pour out into bowls and cool a little before serving.

Spiced Popcorn

Cook the popcorn for the plain popcorn recipe as far as removing the pan from the heat.  In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and coriander seeds with 1/2 teaspoon each of medium-strength curry powder and ground paprika and 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper.   Heat 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan, add the spices and stir for about 30 seconds until lightly toasted.  Throw in 25g (1oz) caster sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt, stir, then add all of this into the prepared popcorn in the saucepan, toss and empty into a big bowl.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Make lots of these, some can be gifted alongside a beautiful ripe cheese but fill a tin box to serve with a charcuterie and cheese board over Christmas (see next week’s column – 24th December).

Makes 20-25 biscuits

225g (8oz) plain white flour or a mixture of brown wholemeal and white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

25g (1oz) butter

1 tablespoon cream

water as needed, 5 tablespoons approx.

Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl.   Rub in the butter and moisten with the cream and enough water to make a firm dough.

Roll out very thinly to one sixteenth of an inch approx.  Prick with a fork.  Cut into 9cm (3 1/2  inch) squares with a pastry wheel.  Bake at 150˚C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2 for 30 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in a tight-fitting tin box or fill into jars as a gift. 

Family Friendly One Pots

Now is the time to plan for a really chilled Christmas, so let’s stock the pantry with items and fill the freezer with casseroles, pots of stews, tagines, make sure to have a couple of chunky vegetarian dishes and some vegan treats – delicious for everyone. 

I’ve got lots of gorgeous bean and chickpea recipes that everyone loves.  Dried legumes and pulses are packed with flavour, nutrients and are a very inexpensive source of protein.  Serve them with a salad of late Autumn leaves and a bowl of natural yoghurt with lots of snipped fresh herbs particularly mint.

For meat dishes, go along to your local butcher, have a chat to discover the less expensive cuts that are so brilliant for slow cooked stews and braises. This is no sacrifice, these have twice the flavour of the prime cuts, but you can’t just slap them on the pan, they need to be cooked long and slowly to break down the tissue and tease them to melting tenderness.  Here’s where a slow cooker really comes into its own.  Put on a batch of short ribs, a shin of beef stew, some ham hocks or maybe a few lamb shanks. 

Tomato fondue and piperonata in two portion tubs are also brilliant bases to have in a freezer.  One can defrost them quickly and add a couple of cans of beans, chickpeas, even diced cooked potatoes, a few chunks of streaky bacon or chorizo.  A bag of mussels and or clams or a few cubes of fresh fish make an almost instant swanky Mediterranean fish stew – it’s brilliant to have a few of these secret standbys to take the stress out of unexpected situations so you can spontaneously invite a few pals home after an evening out on the town or after a funeral or a point-to-point.

Don’t forget venison, somehow it always feels festive.  Stewing venison from the shoulder is what you need for stews and casseroles and how about adding a pastry crust to make a delectable venison or game pie.  For chicken dishes, buy a bag of thighs or drumsticks by far the best flavour.  The bones add extra deliciousness not to speak of collagen, the new buzz word in nutrition which we all need for healthy bone structure.  Unless you are super careful, white breast meat dries up quickly in casseroles.  I’m always baffled as to why so many people prefer white rather than dark meat.

Brown meat has always been my favourite, I will eat white meat where offered if given a choice but would never choose it myself.  Plus being less popular has resulted in it being less expensive – a bonus when you discover how good it is. 

There are still lots of squash and pumpkins around.  Apart from being delicious, they are brilliant to add to stews and casseroles to bulk them up deliciously at little cost. 

So here are a few of our favourite standbys to cook up and pop into the freezer during the next few weeks – Happy Cooking.

Black-eyed Bean, Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew

One of the very best vegetarian one-pot dishes. What’s not to like about black-eyed beans, chickpeas and pumpkin with lots of spices? Delicious on its own, but equally good with a roast chicken or a few lamb chops. Eat with flatbreads or pilaff rice, if you prefer.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick

150g (5oz) onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

225g (8oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced approx. 3mm (1/8 inch) thick

450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

400g (14oz) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

a pinch of sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

450g (1lb) cooked black-eyed beans, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

225g (8oz) cooked chickpeas, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped coriander

For the Mint Yoghurt

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5 – 6 seconds, then add the onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edges.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms wilt, then add the pumpkin or squash, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, a pinch of sugar and the cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and tip in the drained beans and chickpeas. Add the salt and pepper, together with 2 tablespoons of coriander. Pour in 150ml (5fl oz) of bean cooking liquid and 150ml (5fl oz) of the chickpea liquid (or 300ml (10fl oz) vegetable stock if you’ve used tinned pulses). Return to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans and chickpeas are tender.

To make the mint yogurt, combine the yogurt with the chopped mint in a bowl.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan before serving and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the mint yogurt. Accompany with a good green salad and rice, if you wish.

Mary Jo’s Braised Short Ribs

Serve 10-12

6 cross cut short ribs, trimmed

225g (8oz) streaky bacon (in a piece if possible. Remove rind, dice bacon, fry out fat in 1 tablespoon olive oil or duck fat

225g (8oz) diced carrot

175g (6oz) diced celery

6-8 cloves garlic, cut in half

1 chilli, sliced

1 red pepper, diced

1 yellow pepper, diced

2-3 large onions (1 sliced – the other 2 chopped)

1 tablespoon tomato purée

200 – 250ml (7- 9fl oz) red wine

1 sprig of rosemary

2 bay leaves

small fistful thyme branches

1 cinnamon stick

3 spirals of orange zest

beef or chicken stock

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

If possible, trim and salt the beef the night before cooking.

Remove rind and dice the bacon.  Save the rind to cook with beef, it adds gelatine to the sauce.  Heat a little oil in a wide sauté and brown the bacon dice.  Remove to a plate.

Brown beef in batches; do not overcrowd the sauté pan.  Leave 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan and sweat onion, carrot and celery, stirring to dissolve all browned bits in the sauté pan.  Add the garlic, chilli and peppers and sweat for 5 – 6 minutes or until limp.

Place beef, bacon and vegetables in a casserole or heavy braising pot, preferably enamelled cast iron.

Add the tomato paste to the hot sauté pan and cook briefly.  Add wine and bring to the boil.  Pour this over the beef, add the herbs, cinnamon stick and orange zest and enough stock to come halfway up the pot. Bring back to the boil. Cover with a butter paper and tight-fitting lid.  Braise in a moderate until tender, 3 – 4 1/2 hours (depending on the size). Pour off the liquid, allow to settle.

Skim the fat off the top (keep for roast potatoes).  Remove the herbs and bones from the pot if you wish.  Bring back to the boil.  Thicken the juices with a little roux if desired.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Add back into the pot.   Scatter with coarsely chopped parsley.

Serve with mashed potato.

Chicken and Apricot Stew with Gentle Spices

We use chicken thighs for this recipe, but of course white meat could also be used.  Children also love this mildly spiced curry.  The apricots add a fruity sweetness that lifts the stew deliciously.  Serve with a big bowl of pilaf rice. 

Serves 6

175g (6oz) dried apricots

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

4 cloves

4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

50ml (2fl oz) sunflower oil

5cm (2 inch) of cinnamon bark

270g (scant 9oz) onions, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1.3kg (3lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced in 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

10 cherry tomatoes, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons concentrated tomato purée mixed with 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water


3 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander

Soak the apricots overnight in 450ml (16fl oz) cold water, or if you are in a hurry soak them in hot water for 2 – 3 hours.

To make the masala, combine the chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.  Add 50ml (2fl oz) water and stir to make a spice paste.  

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add the cinnamon.  Add the chopped onions and salt. Cover and sweat for 4 – 5 minutes until the onion is a little soft.   Stir in the spice masala.  Add the chicken, toss to coat and cook for 4 – 5 minutes.  Add the apricots with their soaking liquid, quartered cherry tomatoes and tomato purée.

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.   You may need to reduce the liquid by removing the lid halfway through the cooking.

Season to taste.  Serve in a warm bowl, sprinkled with lots of freshly chopped coriander.  We serve it with pilaf rice and a green salad.

Rory O’Connell’s Ham Hocks with Mustard and Chive Cream

I love ham hocks and they are very easy to cook, tremendously good value and are delicious served hot, warm or at room temperature. I prefer them unsmoked but that is a personal choice. The leftover cooking water makes a delicious stock for soups so do not discard it.

The mustard and chive cream could not be easier to make but I feel the dry English Colemans mustard powder is essential for a fiery yet comforting accompaniment to the hocks.

Serves 4

4 fresh ham hocks

1 onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 carrot thickly sliced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

6 black peppercorns

Place all of the ingredients into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the meat is almost falling off the bone.

Serve with the mustard and chive cream on the side.

Mustard and Chive Cream

This sauce is also delicious served with roast beef.

1 teaspoon of dry English mustard powder

1 teaspoon hot water

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) softly whipped cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blend the dry mustard and warm water to form a wet paste. Fold it along with the chives and a pinch of salt and pepper through the softly whipped cream. Keep chilled until serving.

Masala Lamb Shanks 

This rich spicy dish is even better reheated the next day, or the day after and also freezes brilliantly.  If you have any of the sauce left over, toss it with some pasta or noodles for a simple supper.

Serves 8

8 lamb shanks, weighing approx. 1.2kg (2 3/4lbs) in total

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

3cm (1 1/4 inch) piece of fresh ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

5 cloves

6 cardamom pods, bashed

450g (1lb) onions, sliced

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

1–2 teaspoons honey

2 teaspoons ground cumin

3 teaspoons ground coriander

2 – 3 green chillies, halved

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

8 large potatoes, peeled and halved

sea salt

lots of fresh coriander sprigs, to serve

Masala Paste

25g (1oz) desiccated coconut

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 – 3 red chillies, finely chopped

Mint Yoghurt

4 tablespoons chopped mint

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

sea salt and a little honey, to taste

Put the lamb shanks into a 27 – 29cm (11 – 11.5 inch)/4.1 – 4.7 litre (7 – 8 pint approx.) casserole and add the turmeric, ginger, garlic and some salt. Pour in enough water to cover (approx. 2.4 litres/4 pints) and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer gently for 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile, grind the ingredients for the masala paste in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, and set aside until needed.

Once the lamb shanks are cooked, remove them carefully from the pan and keep warm. Pour all of the cooking liquid into a separate pan and set aside.  Return the casserole to a low heat with the extra virgin olive oil. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir-fry for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the onions and fry for 5 – 6 minutes until they start to soften. Add the chopped tomatoes and honey and cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the ground cumin and coriander, add the green chillies and cook for 3 minutes. Finally stir in the masala paste and coconut milk and bring slowly to the boil. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Return the cooked lamb shanks to the pan and pour in enough of the cooking liquid to come halfway up the shanks. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 10 minutes, turning the shanks several times during the cooking time.

Add the potatoes to the pan, replace the lid and cook for
20 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked and the lamb is almost falling off the bone. Season to taste.

To make the mint yogurt, stir the chopped mint into the yogurt and season to taste with salt and honey.

Sprinkle the casserole with lots of fresh coriander and serve with the mint yogurt.

Rice Pudding

Guess what, rice pudding is really having a moment, almost every restaurant I’ve eaten in recently has had rice pudding in some shape or form on the menu – can you imagine that the humble pud of our childhood would be gracing the table of swanky establishments.  No problem for me, I adore rice pudding even the simplest version with a blob of softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar or a spoonful of jam.

Challenging times call for familiar comforting foods, apparently sales of rice pudding and tinned rice are up in all major food chains and recipe searches are up by 233% – who would have thought that the dreaded milk pudding of our school days is all the rage again.  Perfect for these frugal times.  If ever there was a pudding that can soothe, this is it.  A 500g packet of rice costs approx. €2.45 and even though the price has recently increased, it’s still brilliant value, 100g of rice will yield enough rice pudding for 6 or 8. One can make rice pudding from any kind of rice but my favourite by far is short grain rice or Carolina rice – often referred to as pudding rice or pearl rice.  I love the way it soaks and plumps up in the milk to an unctuous creamy texture.  Rice pudding can be dressed up or down and is a vehicle for so many different flavours and accompaniments.  I enjoyed different versions at Café Cecilia, Portland and St. John Restaurant in London.  Each serves their own riff on the classic pudding.  During the Summer, Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis served a refreshing cold rice pud with tea-soaked prunes and custard but now that the weather has turned chiller it’s back to the classic version now – what Jeremy refers to as ‘comfort and joy’…He adds a good measure of cream, half a vanilla pod and a generous grating of nutmeg.  This coconut milk version is also delicious as are these rice pudding pancakes.

Simon Hopkinson, late of Bibendum, is also a rice pudding fan and here too is his recipe.

We all agree about the deliciousness of the golden skin on top of the baked version but if you are happy to forgo that tradition, one can also make rice pudding in a pot – here is Mrs. Black’s version to enjoy.  If perchance you have some leftover rice pudding, how about rice pudding arancini?  Roll the cold rice into balls, then into flour, egg and toasted crumbs, before deep-frying in hot oil until crisp and golden.  Dust generously with icing sugar and serve hot with butterscotch sauce or ice-cold apple purée and cream.  A slab of crumbed cold rice pudding, fried until crisp on the outside in bubbling butter is irresistible too.  So there are lots of options to try and not a morsel wasted…

My Mum’s Delicious Rice Pudding

A feast for just a couple of cents, which brings childhood memories romping back.  We show every group of students how to make this simple pudding and it’s a revelation how simply delicious it is.

Serves 6–8

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

50g (2oz) caster sugar

15g (1/2oz) butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) whole milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) pie dish, mine is Pyrex from a charity shop

Preheat the oven to 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour evenly over the rice. Bake for 1 – 1 1⁄2 hours. The skin will be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it, so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages, it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.  Serve with softly whipped cream and a good sprinkling of soft brown sugar. 

Mrs. Black’s Rice Pudding in a pot

Thank you, Mrs. Black, for sharing your recipe, no need for an oven – hot but still rich and delicious. 

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

75g (3oz) pearl or pudding rice

15g (1/2oz) sugar

grated rind of 1 tangerine or mandarin

To serve

soft brown sugar

softly whipped cream

fruit compote of your choice

Wash the rice in a strainer, allow cold water to flow through it.

Put the rice and milk into a saucepan, stir and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently until the rice grains soften and swell, absorbing the milk.  Stir regularly – this will take 45 minutes approximately. 

Add the sugar and the finely grated rind of the tangerine or mandarin. Mix gently.

Serve warm or cold with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream and a fruit compote of your choice or perhaps slices of tangerine or mandarin.

Variation: Rice Brûlee for a posh party

Put the rice into ramekins, sprinkle a generous tablespoon of Demerara sugar on top, and caramelize with a blow torch.

Simon Hopkinson’s Rice Pudding

Simon Hopkinson cooks the kind of food I love to eat – this recipe is taken from the BBC Food Recipes but look out for his cookbook ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’

40g (1 1/2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) rice pudding 

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) whole milk

150ml (5fl oz) cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways

pinch salt

plenty of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 140°C/285°F/Gas Mark 1.

Melt the butter in a heavy-based casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Continue stirring until the rice swells and becomes sticky with sugar.

Pour in the milk and keep stirring until no lumps remain. Add the cream and vanilla and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once this is reached, give the mixture a final stir and grate at least a third of a nutmeg over the surface. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours and cover if the surfaces browns too quickly.

Once there is a thin, tarpaulin-like skin on the surface, and the pudding only just wobbles in the centre, it is ready.

Serve at room temperature.

Kheer Marwadi – Indian Rice Pudding

This delicious rice pudding, a speciality of Rajasthan, is spiced with cardamom, it’s got lots of plump sultanas and chopped nuts and saffron has an almost soup like texture. 

Rosewater varies in strength so be careful to add gradually and taste.

This dessert can be cooked ahead and served warm or cold.

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon coconut oil

50g (2oz) Basmati rice, soaked for an hour and drained

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) coconut milk

500ml (18fl oz) water

3 tablespoons ground almonds

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) fresh coconut, grated

25g (1oz) raisins or sultanas

50g (2oz) pistachio nuts cut into slivers

50g (2oz) blanched almonds, cut into slivers

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons kewra essence – keeps indefinitely or use rosewater instead but be careful – add 1/2 teaspoon first and then taste.

To Serve

chopped pistachios

rose petals

Heat the coconut oil in a pan.  Add the soaked rice, stir for 2 or 3 minutes then add the coconut milk and water and cook over a low heat for an hour until the rice absorbs the liquid and the pudding thickens.

Stir in the ground almonds, sugar, coconut, raisins or sultanas, pistachios and almond slivers.  Cook for a final couple of minutes until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and stir in the ground cardamom and kewra or rosewater.  Cool and chill. Sprinkle with some chopped pistachios and rose petals if available

Serve in individual dishes.

Rice Pudding Pancakes

A fun way to use up leftover rice pudding.

Makes 8 pancakes

400g (14oz) leftover rice pudding

1 egg

70g (scant 3oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

ground cinnamon (optional)

butter for cooking

Mix together the cold rice pudding, beaten egg, flour, baking powder with a generous pinch of cinnamon (if using) until everything is well combined.

Melt a little clarified butter in a frying pan.  When it starts to bubble, add a large tablespoon of batter, reduce the heat and gently fry over a low heat for 3-4 minutes until golden, flip over and continue to cook until golden on the other side.  Serve on a hot plate with honey, butterscotch or chocolate sauce and softly whipped cream.

Comforting Soups

It’s a soupy kind of day…I’m sitting by the fire listening to the horizontal rain pattering against the windowpane.  I’ve totally abandoned my plans for the afternoon…and I’ve decided to make a big pot of comforting soup instead.  Don’t we all love soup, I always have a few containers in the freezer – 2 portion pots that can be defrosted in just a few minutes in any emergency – a virtual hug in a bowl…

Everything from ‘chicken soup for the soul’ to Laksa, that Asian noodle soup you never knew you loved until you tasted it.   Slurpy noodles are super comforting too as is a ricey broth.  Just did a bit of research with Cully and Sully soups to check out what were their bestselling flavours – chicken and vegetable by a long mile, then vegetable soup followed closely by tomato – how perfect do they sound on a wet Sunday afternoon or evening after a stressful day at work…

To make really flavourful soup, you’re going to need good stock – chicken stock is my favourite  for making soups and broths but vegetarians and vegans will need to have a supply of rich vegetable stock.  Fresh ginger and lots of fresh herbs help to boost the flavour and if all else fails, there’s water but it’s difficult to compensate for the lack of a good base.  Nonetheless, Japanese dashi which forms the base of miso soup is really easy to make and accentuates the savoury umami flavour in many dishes.  Years ago when I first cooked in the kitchen at Ballymaloe House, Myrtle Allen showed me this brilliant formula used to make many of the delicious soups on the menu:

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped potatoes

3 cups of any vegetable of your choice or a mixture e.g. carrot, carrot, parsnip and celeriac…pea, bean and courgette…

5 cups stock or 4 stock + 1 cup creamy milk

This formula works brilliantly for a myriad of soups.  We’re in the midst of the root vegetable season now – Jerusalem artichokes are just coming on stream but it’s also great for greens – kale, chard, spinach, watercress, even the often-overlooked cabbage which makes one of my favourite soups of all.  These soups can be puréed or served in their brothy state, scattered with some freshly chopped herbs for extra zing. 

I also love to add a variety of seedy drizzles, a herb and chilli oil adds extra oomph and how about some tahini with sunflower, pumpkin and sesame on a squash soup to add a delicious cheffy touch. 

Soups provide the opportunity to be endlessly creative with ingredients you have close to hand, something to suit your every mood, light broths, purées, chunky vegetable soups, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean.  Every country has its soup, enough to fill endless volumes.  But best of all in these challenging times – delicious, nourishing, wholesome soups can be made with a few inexpensive ingredients in minutes.  Involve the kids and turn up the music, get them chopping and having fun and then tuck into big bowls of delicious soup around the kitchen table.

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get the best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5 – 6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints)

2–3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3–4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.

Homemade Tomato and Basil Soup

The simplest and most delicious tomato soup of all, the cream softens the soup and helps to absorb all the nutrients from the tomato.

Serves 8

25g (1oz) butter

175g (6oz) onion, diced

1.2 litres (2 pints) puréed tinned tomato (3 X 400g/14oz tins)

425 – 600ml (15fl oz – 1 pint) homemade chicken stock

small fistful fresh basil leaves

salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

300 – 425ml (10 – 15fl oz) cream

5 fresh basil leaves

Melt the butter and sweat the onion until soft. Add the tomato purée, stock, and a small fistful of basil leaves. Season well with salt, pepper and lots of sugar. Simmer for five minutes. Add cream and simmer for two minutes. Liquidise until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning and check consistency. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Savoy Cabbage Soup

Crispy seaweed can be fun to serve with this soup but in many ways it’s also perfect unadorned.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes, one third inch dice

110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one third inch dice

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (scant 2 pints) light chicken stock or vegetable stock

250g (9oz) chopped Savoy cabbage leaves (stalks removed)

50 – 100ml (2 – 3 1/2fl oz) cream or creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, and turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil until the potatoes are soft, then add the cabbage and cook with the lid off until the cabbage is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour.  Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender, taste and adjust seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk before serving.

Useful tip: If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.


Cabbage and Caraway Soup

Add 1 –2 teaspoons of freshly crushed caraway to the potato and onion base.

Crispy Cabbage aka Crispy Seaweed

A bit confusing but this is what Chinese restaurants serve as ‘crispy seaweed’.

Savoy cabbage



oil for frying

Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage, remove the stalks, roll the dry leaves into a cigar shape and slice into the thinnest possible shreds with a very sharp knife. 

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 180˚C/350˚F. Toss in some cabbage and cook for just a few seconds.  As soon as it starts to crisp, remove and drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar.  Toss and serve as a garnish on Cabbage Soup or just nibble, it’s quite addictive – worse than peanuts or popcorn!

Chicken and Coconut Soup

Please, please make this soup – another really quick super, tasty soup.  All these ingredients can be easily found in Asian shops on most supermarket shelves and keep well in your pantry. 

Serves 4

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

1 x 400g (14oz) can coconut milk

8 thin slices of fresh ginger or galangal

2 lemongrass stalks

1 tablespoon red curry paste (we use Mae Ploy)

1 – 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  onion (50g/2oz), thinly sliced

225g (8oz) crimini or brown mushrooms, thinly sliced and slivered if larger

5 tablespoons fish sauce

225g (8oz) chicken breast, very thinly sliced

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 limes, juiced (at least 50ml/2fl oz or more to taste)

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

20g (3/4oz) fresh basil leaves (use Thai basil if available)

110 – 225g (4 – 8oz) cooked white rice (optional)

To Serve

fresh basil leaves

Remove the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass, use only the pale tender portion, chop into 5cm (2 inch pieces) and slightly crush with the back of a knife.

Place the chicken stock, coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, curry paste, sugar and sliced onion in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the mushroom and fish sauce. Reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 4 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken, salt, lime juice, lime zest and basil.  Simmer for about 3 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through and changed from translucent to opaque – taste and add the rice if using.

Serve soup with a few fresh basil leaves.

Italian Sausage Soup with Kale

A gorgeous chunky soup – a meal in a bowl.

If you can buy fresh tortellini and Italian fennel sausages, this comes together in minutes but even with fresh mince, it’s very quick to make.

450g (1lb) mild Italian sausages

OR homemade sausages meat made from:

450g (1lb) pork mince

fennel seeds, roasted lightly and crushed

2 tablespoons fresh herbs, parsley, thyme, rosemary, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes

1 – 2 tablespoons tomato purée

900ml (1 1/2 pints) chicken stock

1/4 teaspoonred pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper and sugar

1 x 300g (10oz) bag tortellini, fresh (not dried)

110 – 175g (4 – 6oz) kale, stems removed and coarsely chopped

225ml (8fl oz) heavy cream

To Serve

Parmesan cheese (optional)

If you can’t source Italian sausage.

Mix the pork mince, spices and herbs for the sausage together and season well.

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat.

Add the sausage meat, chopped onions and crushed garlic and sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, chicken stock and red pepper flakes if desired.  Stir and bring to a boil, season well with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a good pinch of sugar, simmer for 12 – 15 minutes.

Add the tortellini and coarsely chopped kale and bring to the boil.  Pour in the cream.  Simmer for 3 – 5 minutes until the kale is wilted and the pasta is tender.

Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese.

GIY Diaries and Bake Cookbook

A new name has just burst into the Irish cookbook scene – a larger than life character known to many as the ‘cupcake bloke’ from his bakery in Dublin’s Rialto. I heard him speak for the first time recently at Food On The Edge and was enchanted by his enthusiasm for baking. He charmed the audience of top chefs and food writers from around the world with stories of learning how to bake at home from his Granny Flynn, Mammy, aunts and neighbours, all of whom love to bake and share.

Graham Herterich was brought up over his family’s butcher shop in Athy, Co. Kildare. Originally, he thought of following in the family tradition but then went on to study Culinary Arts at WIT in Waterford, spent several stints and ‘stages’ in many top restaurant kitchens and two years with a Carmelite Community. Although he greatly enjoyed the experience, Graham decided that religious life was not for him and after a period of travel and a spell in product development and food production, he decided with encouragement from friends and mentors to open his own business in 2018… 

The bakery in Rialto quickly became a much-loved part of the community. Graham specialises in taking classic Irish recipes, like soda bread, tarts, porter cake, barmbrack…and gives them a modern twist – how about panch phoran soda bread, West Indies porter cake or barmbrack with many toppings and flavoured butters. In his new book, ‘Bake’, every traditional Irish recipe is followed by a modern interpretation. I love how he evokes memories of our favourite bikkies – remember Mikado, bourbons, lemon puffs and had a Retro Biscuit League to discover his customers’ favourites. You’ll have fun with ‘Bake’, a perfect presume to get all your pals baking.

Michael Kelly of GIY on the other hand is very well known and much admired for the ground-breaking work he and his ace team have done and continue to do… 
Michael, charismatic founder in 2008 of GIY (Grow It Yourself), the social enterprise that encourages and teaches people to grow their own nutritious vegetables, fruit and fresh herbs. Well known to millions through his prime-time TV series and Amazon Prime, Michael and his team have taken the mystery out of starting a vegetable patch and shown us all the magic of sowing a seed and watching it grow into something delicious to eat.

For the wannabe gardeners in your life, seek out Michael’s latest book ‘The GIY Diaries – A Year of Growing and Cooking’ Michael’s passion for teaching leaps off every page as do Sarah Kilcoyne’s illustrations.

He shares his deep knowledge and experience in day by day lessons and encourages all of us to experience the joy of growing and the satisfaction of becoming at least somewhat self-sufficient.
Lots of brilliant practical suggestions on how we can do our bit to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, food security concerns and the rapidly rising cost of living.
Every month there are recipes to make the most of your seasonal harvest, how to use every scrap, store and preserve a glut…
So many practical tips to empower you to join the Grow-It-Yourself food revolution.

‘The GIY Diaries – A Year of Growing and Cooking’ by Michael Kelly published by Gill Books

‘Bake – Traditional Irish Baking with Modern Twists’ by Graham Herterich published by Nine Bean Rows

Graham Herterich’s Mammy Buns

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always referred to buns as ‘mammy buns’. That what our mammy made and if you went to a friend’s house as a kid and there were buns, you could be assured they were made by their mammy.

Makes 12 large cupcakes or 24 small traditional buns

165g (5 1/2oz) butter, very soft
165g (5 1/2oz) caster sugar
165g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour
3 medium eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To decorate (choose one):
jam and desiccated coconut
jam and buttercream frosting or whipped cream
buttercream frosting and sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan.
Like your cupcake or bun trays with paper cases (12 cupcake cases or 24 smaller bun cases).

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix everything together until you have a smooth, well-combined, fluffy batter. This will take a minute or two.

Divide the batter between the paper cases. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes for the larger cupcakes or 14-16 minutes for the smaller buns, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely, then decorate as desired.

1. Spread a little jam across the top of each bun and roll in desiccated coconut.

2. Cut the top off each bun. Decorate with a little jam and frosting or freshly whipped cream. Cut the top in half and place back on the bun to look like butterfly wings.

3. Pipe on some buttercream frosting and decorate with sprinkles.

Buttercream Frosting
This is a simple frosting that’s perfect for decorating these buns. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, start on a slow speed (or you’ll have a big mess!) and beat 150g (5oz) very soft butter with 300g (10oz) icing sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Continue to beat for about 5 minutes, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk if you would like to make the frosting a little softer.

Graham Herterich’s Tahini and Black Sesame Cupcakes

‘A lot of people know me as The Cupcake Bloke, the name of the business I started with my husband in 2012, so I couldn’t write this book without including at least one cupcake.’

Makes 12

165g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour
165g (5 1/2oz) caster sugar
115g (scant 4 1/4oz) butter, very soft
50g (2oz) tahini
3 medium eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, plus extra to decorate (see note)

100g (3 1/2oz) butter, softened
50g (2oz) tahini
300g (10oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan.
Line your cupcake tray with paper cases.

Put all the ingredients except the black sesame seeds in a large bowl. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix everything together until you have a smooth, well-combined, fluffy batter. This will take a minute or two. Gently fold in the black sesame seeds.

Divide the batter between the paper cases. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, using an electric mixer or the stand mixer again, mix the softened butter with the tahini and icing sugar, starting slowly or you’ll have a big mess! Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, adding a little milk if you would like to make the frosting a little softer.

Using either a piping bag, a palette knife or a spoon, divide the frosting between the cupcakes. To decorate, sprinkle with more black sesame seeds.

You can get black sesame seeds from Asian food shops.

Graham Herterich’s Pork and Fennel Rolls with Fennel and Apple Slaw

I adore the sweet, mild aniseed flavour that comes from fennel. It works really well in both sweet and savoury dishes, and pork with a mix of fresh fennel bulb and fennel seeds is a great combination.

Makes 6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
25g (1oz) butter
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced (keep any green fronds)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed, plus extra for sprinkling on top
600g (1lb 5oz) pork mince or sausage meat (I like to use a mix of both)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
plain flour, for dusting
1 medium egg, beaten

For the fennel and apple slaw:
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced (keep any green fronds)
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into thin strips

Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan.
Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper.

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the sliced fennel bulb and cook for a further 10 minutes, adding the crushed fennel seeds just before you take the pan off the heat. Allow to cool.

Put the pork mince and/or sausage meat in a bowl (first removing the skins if using whole sausages) along with the cooled onion and fennel. Season with a little salt and pepper and mix well by hand.

Unroll the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it lengthways into two long, even rectangles.

Divide the sausage filling in two. Roll half of the filling into a long sausage shape with your hands along the centre of each rectangle.

Brush the pastry on one side of the filling with the beaten egg, then fold the other side of the pastry over the filling, wrapping it inside. Turn so that the seal is on the bottom of the sausage roll. Cut each long roll into three and space them out on the lined baking trays.

Brush the top of each roll with the beaten egg and sprinkle on some extra fennel seeds. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until puffed up, golden and cooked through.

To make the slaw.

Mix the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice together in a large bowl, then season with salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Add the sliced fennel bulb, apple and any green fennel fronds and stir them into the sauce until evenly coated.

Serve the warm sausage rolls with the slaw on the side.

Michael Kelly’s Raw Kale Salad

This recipe will open your eyes to the potential of kale for salads. Massaging the kale with lemon juice and salt in effect cooks it and makes it far more palatable while retaining its nutrients. I was sceptical about the culinary merits of a kale salad until I tasted this – it’s delicious. It will keep for three days in the fridge.

Serves 4

250g (9oz) kale
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 pinches of salt
olive oil
1 small red onion, finely sliced
25g (1oz) dried cranberries, finely chopped
50g (2oz) cashew nuts, roasted and chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, finely chopped

Remove the stalks from the kale and chop the leaves into fine strips. Place in a large bowl with the lemon juice and salt until it starts to soften a little. Sprinkle with olive oil and leave it to sit for another 10 minutes. Add the red onion, cranberries, cashew nuts and celery and mix well. Later in the year you could add some cherry tomatoes or cucumber to this salad.

Michael Kelly’s Sausage and Beer Stew

So many of my recipes at this time of the year focus on the available root crops that I have either in the ground or in storage, such as carrots, parsnips, celeriac and beets. Don’t worry too much about sticking to the veg ingredients too rigidly – you could use celery instead of celeriac, swede instead of squash, etc.

Serves 4

olive oil
6-8 good-quality dinner sausages
2 onions, diced
1 leek, trimmed and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1/2 celeriac, diced
1 x 330ml (11fl oz) bottle of beer
500ml (18fl oz) beef or chicken stock
400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes or 2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 tablespoons chopped herbs (parsley, rosemary and thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon mustard (I use Dijon)
1/4 squash or pumpkin, peeled and chopped into large chunks
salt and pepper

crusty bread or baked potatoes, to serve

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. Cut the sausages into chunks and fry them for a minute or so on each side, until browned. In the same frying pan, fry the onions, leek, garlic, carrots and celeriac on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until soft. Transfer to a heavy saucepan or casserole.

Pour the bottle of beer into the frying pan to deglaze the pan, scraping any nice brown bits off the pan with a wooden spatula. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce down a little. Add it to the veg with the stock, tomatoes, herbs, bay leaf and mustard. Bring to the boil and then add the squash or pumpkin. Cook for 15 minutes with the lid on.

Add the sausages to the saucepan and cook for another 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Check the consistency – leave to simmer for another 10 minutes if it needs to be thickened or add a little boiling water if it’s too thick.

Serve with crusty bread or baked potatoes.


What is the world coming to…

It takes real courage to turn on the news these days – one crisis after another, the war in Ukraine shows little sign of abating, global warming, then there’s the escalating cost of living and energy crisis, biodiversity loss, food security issues, diminishing fertility of the soil resulting in the dramatic drop in nutrient density of foods..

In the midst of all of this, the farming community who feed us are also in turmoil – confusion reigns… 

I’m still reeling from the publication of the recent study conducted by UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science which found that one in every four Irish farmers are considered to be ‘at risk of suicide’ while over 50% experienced ‘moderate to extreme depression.  The key triggers appear to be Government policies to reduce climate change, concern about the economics and future of the farm, constant criticism from outsiders with little understanding of farming and the ever-increasing raft of new regulations and paperwork.

Farmers, having done exactly what they were advised to do for decades, now find themselves being lambasted by the press and they believe ‘unfairly’ blamed for disproportionately contributing to climate change despite the fact that the 2006 Livestock’s Long Shadow report which concluded that methane from cattle is the main problem has now been discredited.  However, it’s too late for many, the ‘genie’ is out of the ‘bottle’…The report was the main inspiration behind movements such as ‘Meatless Monday’.

The Government needs to be very conscious of farmers mental health when framing new legislation.  Despite the perception, the farming community in general is fully aware and anxious to implement measures to sequester carbon and reduce emissions.   They fully realise that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option but they need support and knowledgeable advice to transition to regenerative farming, organic and biodynamic farming practices tick all the boxes.  A very difficult situation for all concerned.

Organic farmers are willing and happy to share their experience, more communication is needed between the sectors.  Resources need to be poured into research on organic farming production methods.  Heretofore, billions have been invested in research into intensive farming methods but little into non-chemical farming.  Costs of inputs for conventional farms – artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides have also skyrocketed adding to the challenge and despair of farmers. 

At the Farming for Nature Seminar and Awards held in Co. Clare recently.  Farmers were  not without their concerns but many with small holdings seemed happy and content with their lot, proud of their contribution to their natural environment, making a decent living producing nourishing wholesome food for their community.  Many were selling at least a portion of their produce direct online via box schemes, Farm Shops or at Farmers’ Markets adding to the viability of the farm.

Every one of our actions has environmental consequences, driving, flying, eating…so spare a thought for the farmers who are producing the food that sustains us.  Shop mindfully, support those who are farming sustainably and those who are in transition to regenerative farming.  It’s not an easy time for anyone but each and every one of us can do our little bit to ease the burden.

Now that the clocks have gone back, time for warming winter stews, casseroles and a big dish of roast Brambly apples. 

Pork and Green Tomato or Tomatillo Stew

Green tomatoes work brilliantly in this stew if you can’t find tomatillos.

It can be cooked ahead, refrigerated overnight and reheated gently. 

Serves 8 approx. 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

700g (1 1/2lbs) boneless pork shoulder or neck, cut into 3-inch chunks

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large celery sticks, finely diced

175g (6oz) red onion, finely diced

2 medium sized carrots (175g/6oz), peeled and chopped into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 red chilli, seeded and finely diced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder

1 tablespoon roasted and ground cumin

1 tablespoon marjoram, chopped

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and diced

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

450g (1lb) green tomatoes or tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo, chopped

chopped coriander, for garnish

corn tortillas, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a medium casserole. Season the pork with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss the pork cubes in batches and cook over a high heat until browned all over.  Add the celery, onion and carrot and cook over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the diced chilli, garlic, chilli powder, cumin and marjoram.  Cook stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes or until both meat and potatoes are tender.  Add the chopped green tomatoes or tomatillos and chipotle en adobo. Cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, 25 – 30 minutes.

Taste and correct the seasoning.  Ladle the stew into bowls.  Scatter with lots of coriander and serve with tortillas.

Ethiopian Spiced Lamb Stew – Awaze Tibs

Ethiopian food is becoming hugely popular.  We love this favourite Ethiopian home cooked stew.  

Made with tender, boneless shoulder of lamb, this quick-cooking

stew freezes and reheats perfectly.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons red wine

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon berbere spice

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) boneless shoulder of lamb, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons, rosemary finely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves

1/2 tin tomatoes (200g/7oz), diced

1 yellow pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

Whisk the wine with the lemon juice, berbere, paprika and mustard in a small bowl.

Season the lamb with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the lamb in batches over a medium heat until browned all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a casserole. Repeat with the remaining lamb.

Add the chopped onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bring to the boil and cook over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened, about 8 minutes.

Add the lamb and any accumulated juices to the casserole along with the wine mixture, diced tomatoes, pepper, and shallot. Cook over a medium heat, stirring, until the pepper and tomatoes have softened and the lamb is just cooked through, about 30-40 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve with Injera or another flatbread, pitta, or naan.  Alternatively, serve with rice or potatoes.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

The flavour of this stew really improves if you cook it the day before and reheat it the next day – as well as improving the flavour, cooking the venison in advance ensures that it is meltingly tender. If ‘needs must’ and you are racing against the clock, just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked. Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew, but a layer of potatoes on top provides a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot. Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the potatoes before tucking in.

Serves 8-12

1.3kg (3lbs) shoulder of venison, trimmed and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

50g (2oz) plain flour, for dusting

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) piece of fatty salted pork or green streaky bacon, cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450ml (16fl oz) homemade beef stock

bouquet garni

8–12 medium potatoes, peeled (optional)

a squeeze of organic lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


300–350ml (10-12fl oz) gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

bouquet garni

Horseradish Sauce (optional)

To Serve

lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley

green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage

First marinate the meat. Season the cubes of venison with salt and pepper. Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl, add the venison and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, or better still overnight.

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

Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Tip the flour onto a plate and season well. Turn the cubes of venison in the seasoned flour to coat on all sides.

Heat the oil in a 25cm (10 inch)/3.2-litre (5 1/2 pints) casserole pan over a low heat, add the salted pork or bacon and cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring, until it starts to release its fat. Increase the heat to medium and fry the salted pork or bacon until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the venison to the casserole in batches and fry over a medium heat until nicely coloured on all sides. Avoid the temptation to increase the temperature or the fat will burn. Remove and set the batch aside while you colour the rest.

Toss the vegetables in the casserole, stir in the garlic and then add the pork or bacon and venison.

Pour off any surplus fat from the casserole and remove the meat and veg and set aside. Deglaze the casserole by pouring in the strained marinade. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the crusty bits on the base, add the pork or bacon and vegetables back in.

Pour over enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables and put in the bouquet garni. Bring the casserole to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven and cover the surface of the stew with the peeled whole medium potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with a circle of greaseproof paper, and then the lid of saucepan. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further 1 hour or until both the venison and potatoes are cooked.

Season to taste. As well as adding salt and pepper, I find it often needs a bit of acidity in the form of lemon juice or crab apple jelly, if available.

Scatter with lots of freshly chopped parsley and serve with a nice big dish of Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage and some homemade horseradish sauce.

Venison and Parsnip Pie

This makes a delicious pie. Fill the cooked stew into one or two pie dishes. Cover with a generous layer of mashed potato or puff pastry.

A Tray of Roast Apples

Don’t forget this simple recipe for a much-loved autumn or winter dessert – a great way to use up any last windfall cooking apples. I love to roast them in an enamel roasting tin. For a special dish, you could vary the fillings and allow your guests to select their favourite. Soft brown sugar and cream is a compulsory accompaniment. Nowadays, baked apples are often stuffed with ‘exciting’ mixtures which may include dried fruit, lemon rind, nuts and spices. This is nice occasionally, but my favourite is still the simple roast apple of my childhood. It’s important to note that the apples will cook much faster in the autumn than they will later on in the year, when they will have most probably come from a cold store.

Serves 9

9 large cooking apples, preferably Crimson Bramley

9 tablespoons granulated sugar

25g (1oz) butter

150ml (5fl oz) water

softly whipped cream and soft dark brown sugar, to serve

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

Core the apples and score the skin of each around the ‘equator’. Arrange the apples in a single layer in an ovenproof dish large enough to take the apples in a single layer, approx. 31 x 25 x 5cm (12.5 x 10 x 2 inch), and for the simplest but nonetheless totally delicious version, fill the centre of each one with 1 generously tablespoon sugar. Put a little dab of butter on top of each.

Pour a little water around the apples and roast in the oven for about 1 hour. They should be fluffy and burst slightly when they are fully cooked, but still be fat and puffy (not totally collapsed). Serve as soon as possible with softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar.


Roast Apples with Cinnamon Sugar

Add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the granulated sugar.

Roast Apples with Sultanas and Hazelnuts

Add 1 scant teaspoon of sultanas and 1 teaspoon of coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts to the granulated sugar for each apple. Top each apple with a tiny blob of butter.

Marzipan Roast Apples

Fill the apple cavities with 225g (8oz) marzipan mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Roast Apples with Pedro Ximénez Raisins

Soak 110g (4oz) raisins in warm Pedro Ximénez sherry for at least 30 minutes, or better still overnight. Combine the raisins with 4 tablespoons of caster sugar and use to fill the apples. Top with butter and bake as above. Serve with 225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream mixed with 3 tablespoons of Pedro Ximénez.

Jeremy Lee’s ‘Cooking Simply and Well, For One or Many’

I love a long weekend in London, it’s so easy to pop over from Cork Airport, no queues, no hassle.  A chance to see a couple of exhibitions, maybe a play, stroll around several cool Farmers’ Markets and food shops, go to the theatre and do some yummy research on new openings and the current food scene.  I love to check out the latest restaurants and cafés but there’s one old favourite that I can’t resist returning to virtually every time I go to London – Quo Vadis in Dean Street in Soho.  I love Jeremy Lee’s food and always hope that this charismatic, bespectacled chef will come bouncing into the dining room with his usual exuberant welcome and generosity of spirit. 

Jeremy is one of those rare, seemingly egoless chefs whom everyone loves.  In Jay Rayners words, ‘one of those rare phenomena in the London food world – a chap everyone agrees is a good thing’.

He writes the menu every day.  At this time of the year, he cooks the sort of warm comforting food that we crave in Autumn and Winter, chunky soups, game pies, salad of bitter greens with perfectly ripe pears and chunks of Stichelton cheese….wild plums and caramelised apple tarts and when the weather get chillier, steamed puddings floating in homemade vanilla flecked custard with freshly churned ice cream and thick rich Jersey cream.  The dining room is small so you’ll need to book ahead…

His love for food was honed in the kitchen of his childhood in Dundee where both his Mum, a home economics teacher and his illustrator Dad loved to ‘read cook and eat’ and share good things around the table with family and friends. 

He came to London in the 1970’s when becoming a chef had little allure for middle class boys.  Back then the restaurant world was all about starched hats and Escoffier inspired hierarchical kitchens, but in the 80’s, interest in food gathered momentum, a whole new generation of great restaurants opened around the world.  Changes in produce and restaurant menus…cookbooks on every cuisine were rolling off the press.   He cooked with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum, Alastair Little at Frith St, and manned the stoves at Boodles and the Blueprint Café.  In 2012 Jeremy joined forces with the Hart brothers, Sam and Eddie, the restaurateurs behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis in Soho.  He’s got a vast and much-loved library with Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Julia Child, Claudia Roden, Elizabeth Luard, Marian McNeill, Florence White and Eliza Acton were all powerful influences.

For years Jeremy’s many devotees have been longing for him to write a cookbook but it wasn’t until Quo Vadis was shuttered up during Covid that Jeremy began to jot down recipes for a combination of his favourite things to eat and favourite recipes from a lifetime spent in restaurant kitchens.  Warm comforting, nourishing dishes that he cooked during lockdown form the heart of the book.

The smoked eel and red onion sandwich so beloved of Quo Vadis guests is there, as is the baked salsify or asparagus in filo, chocolate, almond and marmalade tart as well as the classic pommes Anna and rumbledethumps – one of the many nods to his beloved Scottish ancestry.

Like many others, I predict that Jeremy’s cookbook will become a cherished classic.  I’ll leave you with a quote from the introduction. ‘The simple truth, I’ve learned from a lifetime of cooking, is that good food is honed from fine ingredients’ – how true is that…

Cooing Simply and Well, For One or Many by Jeremy Lee is published by 4th Estate.

Jeremy Lee’s Griddled Chicken Livers, Bacon and Sage

These are as pleasing as they are simple. Two each will serve well for a bite or buy and make more for a more substantial dish.
Made earlier in the day and refrigerated, they are a treat cooked swiftly on a grill, heaped on a dish and taken piping hot to the table.
When buying chicken livers, ensure they are dark in colour, firm and, above all, fresh. Wooden skewers are best here and soak them for 20 minutes before using.

Serves 6

150g (5oz) freshest chicken livers
12 rashers of streaky smoked bacon
24 sage leaves
2 soup spoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Trim the livers of all and any trace of gall, easily recognised by its green colour.

Cut the rashers of bacon in half. Lay these flat on a chopping board or baking tray. Lay a small sage leaf on each piece. Lay a piece of liver on top of each leaf. Thread a skewer securely through the bacon, liver and sage. Cover and refrigerate until required.

Place a skillet or griddle on a high heat. When ready to cook, have a dish beside you. Lay the skewers on the skillet or grill, season well with a pinch of each of salt and black pepper, then let cook until a fine-sounding sizzle is achieved after a minute or so. Turn the skewers and cook for a minute or two. Remove to the waiting dish, then mix together the oil and vinegar and lightly brush the meat. Serve swiftly.

Jeremy Lee’s Hake with Parsley, Dill and Anchovy Sauce

A striking dish with the pale green limpid sauce pooled in the plate, contrasting with the delicate slivered skin of the hake. Heaven with the first crop of new potatoes.

Serves 6

3 small shallots
1 clove of garlic
6 anchovy fillets
7 soup spoons olive oil
200ml (7fl oz) double cream
150g (5oz) picked flat-leaf parsley leaves
30g (1 1/4oz) picked dill leaves
6 fillets of hake, roughly 1kg (2 1/4lbs) in total

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

Peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic. Place in a pan with the anchovies and olive oil. Sit this upon the gentlest heat and warm until the shallots have softened and the anchovies have melted. Pour in the cream. Bring to a simmer, then pour into a blender packed with the picked herbs. Render smooth and pour this through a fine sieve. Cool swiftly and refrigerate until required.

Place the fillets of hake in a deep ovenproof dish, lightly season with salt and white pepper and lightly dress with a soup spoon of olive oil. Pour in enough cold water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish and bake in a hot oven until done, say 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm. Any residual juices left in that dish can be added to the sauce.

Warm the sauce and pour on to a dish. Place the fillets of hake on the sauce and serve swiftly.

Jeremy Lee’s Apple Tarts

I first ate a ‘tarte fines aux pommes’ at the Peat Inn in Fife on the east coast of Scotland when still a young apprentice in the late seventies. It is a lovely pudding, timeless, elegant and delicious, simplicity itself, the very best recipe to withstand the vicissitudes of time.
I have made this tart with pears, peaches, apricots and plums and enjoyed them immensely, but there is just that something about apple to which this cook happily returns again and again.

For each person
50g (2oz) puff or rough puff or flaky pastry
1 apple, such as Egremont Russet or Cox’s Orange Pippin
a squeeze of lemon juice
15g (generous 1/2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar

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

Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface, roughly into a 12-13cm (4 3/4 – 5 1/4 inch) disc.
Place on a baking sheet and prick with a fork. Refrigerate.

Peel and core the apple, halve it, slice the halves thinly and toss in lemon juice. Lay these concentrically and fairly evenly over the pastry. Brush the apple with melted butter. Evenly sugar the apple slices. (These keep remarkably well in the fridge if necessary).

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes until slightly risen and golden. Serve with very good cream. (If you make the tart in advance, warm it through before serving).

Jeremy Lee’s Custard

Makes 600ml (1 pint)

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500ml (18fl oz) whole milk
6 organic egg yolks
40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar
140ml (scant 5fl oz) double cream

Place the vanilla pod and seeds in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the milk (if using vanilla extract, add this to the milk instead). Place over a gentle heat while the milk infuses, stirring from time to time.

In a bowl mix the egg yolks and sugar together. Just as the milk comes to the boil, pour half on to the egg mix, stirring all the while. Pour this back into the remaining milk in the saucepan, and return to a gentle heat, stirring until the custard thickens.

Remove from the heat and pour in the cold cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a waiting bowl and stir for a few minutes until the steam disperses. Cool and refrigerate until needed.


We’re all set for Halloween, squash, pumpkins and gourds of every size, shape and colour are piled precariously on the table in the hall of the cookery school, on the window ledges, in baskets and boxes, they look so decorative.  It’s become a bit of a tradition, our grandchildren and children from the local schools to come to the farm to harvest the squash and pumpkin every Autumn. They have the best fun and are intrigued by the names, Hubbard, Turks Turban, Little Gem, Delicata, Hokkaido, Crown Prince, Kobocha,  Cocozelle, Jack be Little, Red Kuri… Some are the size of a child’s fist, others so enormous that it takes two sturdy lads to carry them.

On my recent trip to New York, there were pumpkins everywhere and in everything – pies, muffins, lattes, smoothies, bread, soups, cake, baked, roasted, frittatas, stews, curries, pasta, bread, pancakes, salads, pickles, even popsicles and ice cream…both sweet and savoury dishes – pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

Everyone loves carving pumpkins into scary faces for Halloween, the festival that apparently originated in Ireland over three thousand years ago when the pagan festival of Samhain  marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the new year, the natural transition from lighter Summer to the darker Winter. At this time of the year it was believed that the division between this world and the other world was at its most fragile, allowing spirits to pass though. So as in the Mexican tradition of the ‘Day of the Dead ‘the spirits of the ancestors were invited back home and evil spirits were warded off. Bonfires, traditional food, costumes and masks were all part of the festivities.

After the famine, the Irish carried their Halloween traditions to America where it is now one of the major holidays of the year. Similarly, here in Ireland where it is fast becoming as big as Christmas.  For several weeks now children have been whipped into a lather of excitement by all the Halloween temptations on TV and in the shops and the anticipation of dressing up as ghouls and witches to do the rounds of their neighbourhood for the annual ‘trick or treat’.

You may be amused to hear that we were inadvertently removed from the ‘must visit’ list a number of years ago when word spread among the ‘trick or treaters’ that Ballymaloe Cookery School was ‘no good’ because you only got fruit and nuts…

The fact that they were home-grown apples and fresh hazelnuts, cobnuts and walnuts from the nut garden did not remotely impress the scary little dotes who were hoping for proper sugar laden treats. So I think we’ve been black-listed!!

Apparently, Barmbrack is back…! I never realized that it wasn’t cool …  It’s always been a treasured part of Halloween for me, super easy to make and the best fun to make with the kids … adding in the ring and charms…

Here too are a few pumpkin recipes for you to have fun making with your children and their friends.  There are masses more ideas online.

Ballymaloe Halloween Barmbrack

Everyone in Ireland loves a barmbrack, perhaps because it brings back lots of memories of excitement and games at Halloween. When the barmbrack was cut, everyone waited in anticipation to see what they’d find in their slice: a stick, a pea, a ring, a piece of cloth and what it meant for their future.

This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack.  Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.

Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)

110g (4oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) currants

50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered

300ml (10fl oz) hot tea

1 organic egg, whisked

175g (6oz) soft brown sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3 inch)

Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.

Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.

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

Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Keeps very well in an airtight tin.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkins vary in intensity of flavour, some are much stronger than others so you may need to add some extra stock or milk. I sometimes add a can of coconut milk with delicious results.

Serves 6-8

900g (2lbs) pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

175g (6oz) onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

25g (1oz) butter

1 sprig of thyme

450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1.2 litres (2 pints) homemade chicken stock

salt, freshly ground pepper

pinch of nutmeg


35g (1 1/2oz) butter

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon white mustard seeds

5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick

Put the pumpkin or squash into a pan with the onion, garlic, butter and thyme. Cover and sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the chopped tomatoes, (add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon sugar if using tinned tomatoes) and tomato purée and cook until dissolved into a thick sauce. Stir in the stock, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and simmer until the squash is very tender. Discard the thyme stalk, then liquidise the soup in several batches and return to the pan. You may need to add a little more stock or water if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Just before serving, gently reheat the soup and pour into a warm serving bowl. Heat the coriander, cumin and peppercorns, and crush coarsely. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and, when foaming, add the crushed spices, mustard seeds and cinnamon. Stir for a few seconds until the mustard seeds start to pop. Remove the cinnamon and quickly pour over the soup.  Serve, mixing the spiced butter as you ladle it out.

Black-eyed Bean, Pumpkin and Chickpea Stew

One of the very best vegetarian one-pot dishes. What’s not to like about black-eyed beans, chickpeas and pumpkin with lots of spices? Delicious on its own, but equally good with a roast chicken or a few lamb chops. Eat with flatbreads or pilaff rice, if you prefer.

Serves 6

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 x 2.5cm (1 inch) cinnamon stick

150g (5oz) onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

225g (8oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced approx. 3mm (1/8 inch) thick

450g (1lb) pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut in 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes

400g (14oz) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

a pinch of sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

450g (1lb) cooked black-eyed beans, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

225g (8oz) cooked chickpeas, strained (reserving the cooking liquid)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped coriander

For the Mint Yoghurt

300ml (10fl oz) natural yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cumin seeds and the cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle for 5–6 seconds, then add the onions and garlic. Stir-fry for 3–4 minutes until the onion is just beginning to colour at the edges.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms wilt, then add the pumpkin or squash, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, a pinch of sugar and the cayenne. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then cover with a lid and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and tip in the drained beans and chickpeas. Add the salt and pepper, together with 2 tablespoons of coriander. Pour in 150ml (5fl oz) of bean cooking liquid and 150ml (5fl oz) of the chickpea liquid (or 300ml (10fl oz) vegetable stock if you’ve used tinned pulses). Return to the boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10–15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans and chickpeas are tender.

To make the mint yogurt, combine the yogurt with the chopped mint in a bowl.

Remove the cinnamon stick from the pan before serving and sprinkle with the remaining coriander. Spoon into serving bowls and top with a dollop of the mint yogurt. Accompany with a good green salad and rice, if you wish.

Salad of Roast Pumpkin with Pumpkin Seeds and Preserved Lemon

Serves 8-10

250g (9oz) dried cannellini beans

1 pumpkin (approximately 1.5kg/3lb 5oz)

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) pumpkin seeds, toasted

1 preserved lemon

rocket leaves


125ml (4 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

coriander leaves

Day Before

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.

Next Day

Drain and discard the water, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 30-50 minutes.

Meanwhile peel and deseed the pumpkin. Cut into 3-4cm (1 1/4 – 1 1/2 inch) pieces. Transfer to a roasting tin. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven at 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7 for 20-25 minutes until tender. Allow to cool.

Toast the pumpkin seeds for 10-15 minutes in a moderate oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Remove the flesh from the inside of the preserved lemon and discard. Cut the rind into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice.

Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing. Put the rocket leaves, beans and roast pumpkin into a wide, shallow serving dish. Scatter with preserved lemon. Drizzle with dressing, toss gently. Sprinkle with coriander leaves.  Scatter with pumpkin seeds.

Taste and correct seasoning. Divide between eight shallow bowls. Eat with lots of fresh pitta or crusty ciabatta.

Pumpkin Spice Cake 

Inspired by a recipe by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey and Co in the Weekend FT a few weeks ago.

190g  (scant 7oz) soft dark brown sugar

190g (scant 7oz) spelt flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon each of turmeric, ground allspice, ground cardamom

50g (2oz) hazelnuts, skinned and roughly chopped

50g (2oz) rolled oats

100g (3 1/2oz) block dates, pitted and roughly chopped

50g (2oz) crystallised ginger, chopped

 250g (9oz) peeled pumpkin

2 large eggs

200g (7oz) melted butter of ghee (cooled)


25g (1oz) hazelnuts, skinned and roughly chopped

10g (scant 1/2oz) rolled oats

15g (generous 1/2oz) Demerara sugar

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8 inch) or makes 10-12 muffins

Preheat the oven to 170˚C (fan)/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Mix the topping ingredients together.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Grate the pumpkin using a coarse grater, then add that and the rest of the cake ingredients to the bowl.  Mix well to combine, then transfer to a lined loaf tin.  Make sure to leave some room for the cake to grow about 2 – 3cm (3/4 – 1 1/4 inch) below the top.  Score with a butter knife down the middle of the cake. 

Sprinkle the topping all over the top of the cake, then pop into the oven to bake for approx. 1 1/4 hours, until springy to the touch (cover with parchment paper if the top is browning too quickly).

Allow to cool in the tin before removing…serve thickly sliced slathered with butter…

New York

So, I just spent a few days in New York to check out the post pandemic food scene.  It feels like the Big Apple is almost back to ‘normal’ whatever that might be.  Lines outside many restaurants and extra covered seating on the sidewalks alongside every eatery.

I’d come to New York to attend the launch of the Ballymaloe Desserts cookbook published by Phaidon at King on King Street, a wonderfully convivial fun event with delicious food cooked by Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni Jess Shadbolt and her team of beautiful cooks.  JR Ryle magicked up a range of Ballymaloe desserts to recreate the much-celebrated Sweet Trolley – Pear and Walnut Meringue, Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly, Almond Tartlets with Autumn Raspberries and Mint, Poached Plums, Ballymaloe Vanilla-Bean Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce and of course Carrageen Moss Pudding with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream.  I almost forgot the pistachio langues du chat – the books disappeared like hot cakes – the recipes are well tried and tested so people can reproduce their favourites at home.

JR went on to Chicago and Toronto, but I stayed in New York to explore the food trends.  Some of my favourite restaurants have closed, others like Daily Provisions, Union Square Café and Il Buco Alimentari seem to have somewhat lost their mojo – New York establishments have the same staffing challenges as Ireland, UK and Europe have but new places continue to open.  Many are out in Brooklyn, I had a fantastically good meal in the Four Horsemen on Grand Street and add Hart’s to your New York list too, it was fun to find Phoebe Fry, another Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni in the kitchen there.  Buvette in the West Village is just as good as ever, I go there for breakfast every time I go to New York and was not disappointed.  A superb short menu, delicious freshly squeezed juices and perhaps the best tart tatin I ever tasted.  All of Jody Williams and Rita Sodi restaurants are work seeking out – I Sodi and Via Carota but I wanted to try their newest venture, The Commerce Inn, a Shaker inspired early American tavern with farmhouse cooking – I loved the food.  Veal tongue with cabbage, dripping toast with mince, a dark sticky ginger cake and rice pudding…The decor is simple, elegant and soothing, unlike most New York restaurants where the throbbing music makes it virtually impossible to have a conversation unless you can lip read.

A highlight of my trip was a journey upstate along the Hudson River through the dazzling autumn colours to Stissing House owned by Clare de Boer of King in New York.  This place is a real gem – an utterly beautiful old ruin built in 1782 that has had many incarnations.  The décor is simple Shaker style, white painted walls, fine dark furniture, no nonsense just plain, restful old luxury.  We had what can only be described as a perfect lunch, a plate of home cured ham, smoked in the wood-burning oven, slivers of cheese and house made pickles with really good sourdough bread and homemade butter followed by the best onion tart I’ve ever eaten and a coconut cake to die for with a full inch of whipped cream and toasted coconut on top. 

Pastry Chef Suzanne Nelson worked with Alice at Chez Panisse for many years and how fortunate are the folks of Pine Plains to have that gem in their area.  Seek out La Cabra on 2nd Avenue for superb coffee, bread and viennoiserie.  Bar Pisellino is another name for your list and here are two more that I didn’t manage to get to but wish I had. Dame in Greenwich Village is particularly known for its fried hake and chips and now Lords located at 506 LaGuardia Place, Ed Szymanski’s newest venture is more meat centric and includes pigs’ trotters and hocks, a pig’s head terrine with piccalilli, black pudding with clams and braised tripe with cipollini, offal heretofore, abhorred by most Americans is very much in evidence on cool restaurant menus as is skate or ray, a new experience for many New Yorkers.  There’s also a nostalgic thing going on, several menus including Cervo’s featured trifle…

Everything scone and everything bagel is also ‘a thing’ as is the jelly revival.  I tasted a particularly delicious blackcurrant and red wine version at Stissing House. 

Cocktails are becoming ever more exciting, lots of Mescal natural wines are on all good restaurant lists and there’s a dramatic increase in choice of non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails.  Butter boards, cream cheese and cured meat boards are everywhere.

The rye bread at La Cabra was so good that I actually brought a loaf home in my suitcase along with miche and rye from She Wolf Bakery in the Union Square Farmers’ Market, it weighs a ton but is so good.  Okra is also having a moment and pumpkin is in absolutely everything – well, it is Fall after all..

Loved my few days in New York, here are a few recipes for you to enjoy. 

Grilled Flatbread with Pimento Butter and Marjoram

Inspired by the grilled bread that I enjoyed at the Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, New York. 

Makes 8

flatbread (see recipe)

110g (4oz) soft butter

1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika

1 tablespoon annual marjoram, chopped plus extra for sprinkling

flaky sea salt

First make the dough (see recipe).

Now for the pimento butter. 

Cream the soft butter in a bowl, add the smoked paprika and chopped annual marjoram.

Cook the flatbread (see recipe).

Brush the warm flat bread with the soft pimento butter.  Sprinkle with a few leaves of fresh marjoram and some flaky sea salt.

Serve immediately. 

Turkish Flatbread

There are so many delicious flat breads that one can make. This Turkish version called Yufka is a favourite of ours. 

Makes 8

110g (4oz) strong white flour

110g (4oz) plain white flour

50g (2oz) wholemeal flour

1 scant teaspoon salt

200-225ml (7-8fl oz) warm water

Mix all the flours and the salt together in a bowl, add the warm water, mix to a dough and knead well for just a few minutes.  Shape into a roll, divide in 8 pieces, cover and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes – 45 would be better (however I sometimes cook it straight away).

Roll each piece of dough into a thin round, no more than 8mm (1/3 inch) in thickness.  Heat a griddle or large iron or non-stick frying pan.   Cook the Yufka quickly on both sides until just spotted.  Eat immediately or alternatively the Yufka can be stacked for several days, even weeks, in a dry place.

To reheat.

Before eating, sprinkle a Yufka with warm water, fold it in half, wrap it in a cloth and allow to soften for about 30 minutes. 

Ballymaloe Ginger Ice Cream with Honeycomb

Also inspired by a ginger and honeycomb ice cream from the Four Horsemen in Brooklyn. 

Serves 12–16

4 organic egg yolks

90g (scant 3 1/2oz) sugar

200ml (7fl oz) water

25g (1oz) grated ginger

1.2 litres (2 pints) softly whipped cream (measured after it is whipped, for accuracy)

6 pieces of stem ginger, chopped finely

2 tablespoons syrup from the jar


Honeycomb (see recipe)

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues). Combine the sugar with the water in a small heavy-based saucepan. Stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, about 106–113°C: it will look thick and syrupy, and when a metal spoon is dipped in the last drops of syrup will form thin threads.  Add the grated ginger and stir. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time by hand. (If you are whisking the mousse in a food mixer, remove the bowl and whisk the boiling syrup in by hand; otherwise it will solidify on the sides of the bowl.)

Continue to whisk the mixture until it becomes a thick, creamy white mousse.   Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze.

After one hour, fold in the finely chopped ginger and the syrup.  Return to the freezer, chill until firm.

Meanwhile, make the honeycomb (see recipe).

When absolutely cold and hard, grate a chunk on the coarsest part of the grater.  Scoop out a ball of ice cream.  Serve in an iced silver coupe.  Sprinkle generously with grated honeycomb and serve. 


Fun and easy to make – like magic, honeycomb has multiple uses – ice cream, cake decorations, petit fours, garnish…

Makes about 500 g (1lb 2oz)

85g (3 1/4oz) good quality local honey

180g (6 1/4oz) liquid glucose

400g (14oz) castor sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water

15g (3/4oz) bicarbonate of soda

1 deep rectangular tin – 20 x 30cm (8 x 12 inch)

parchment paper or silpat mat

First loosen the honey and glucose syrup by dipping their containers in warm water, then weigh out into your saucepan.  Then add the sugar and water and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.   Gradually raise the temperature of the pan’s contents to 150°C (300°F). 

Carefully sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda into the pan.  The contents will fizz up like lava from the underworld, but don’t be alarmed, this is what puts the tiny air bubbles into the honeycomb.  Stir the mixture to make sure all the powder is incorporated, then pour it out onto your silicone sheet (or baking tray).  Leave to set for at least 30 minutes, then break the brittle mass into small pieces.

Use as required but put the remainder into a sealed glass jar or it will pick up moisture from the air and become sticky. 

Coconut Angel Cake

This coconut cake was inspired by a delicious confection that I enjoyed at Stissing House in Pine Place, upstate New York made by pastry chef Suzanne Nelson.  This version is not quite as light as hers, but we all love it here.

50g (2oz) soft butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

150ml (5fl oz) milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

150g (5oz) flour

2 egg whites

75g (3oz) desiccated coconut

40-50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) desiccated coconut

425ml (15fl oz) softly whipped cream

2-3 tablespoons icing sugar

20.5cm (8 inch) round cake tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Cream the soft butter and sugar until light and fluffy, gradually stir in the milk and mix until smooth.  Combine the baking powder and a pinch of salt with the flour and coconut and gently beat into the butter mixture.

Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until they hold a stiff peak. Lightly fold into the mixture.  

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm and beginning to shrink in from the edge of the tin. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, toast 40-50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) of coconut on a dry pan over a low to medium heat, stirring constantly until golden.  Turn out onto a plate to cool. 

When the cake is cold, sweeten the whipped cream with sieved icing sugar.  Taste and add a little more if necessary.  Spread a really generous layer of sweet cream on top of the cake. Suzanne’s cake had about 2.5cm (1 inch) of cream sprinkled with toasted coconut on top.  Sounds scary but it was totally delicious.     

Walnut Meringue Gâteau with Pears

Taken from Ballymaloe Desserts by JR Ryall published by Phaidon

This meringue gâteau is a very useful way to serve fresh fruit as an elegant dessert. The walnut in the meringue encourages the ripe pear to taste its best, and of course if you are eating meringue, you must also have cream.

Pears are tricky to grow, tricky to ripen and tricky to catch at the perfect moment! There are many pear trees at Ballymaloe and they grow well against the comfort of a south facing wall. The best and most useful of these pears are the later varieties, which can be stored into the winter and bring a freshness to the dessert trolley during these months. Josephine de Malines is one of the newer additions to our garden and is harvested in late October; it crops well and the fruit stores well, and the pears are very beautiful. Whichever variety of pear you choose, it is important to use fragrant and ripe fruit in this dish.

Serves 6

For the Meringue 

2 large egg whites

110g (4oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) chopped walnuts

To Assemble and Decorate

2 ripe dessert pears

225ml (8fl oz) whipped cream

5 walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 130°C/265°F/Gas Mark 1.

Cover a baking sheet with baking paper and, with a pencil, draw out two 19cm (7 1/2 inch) diameter circles on the paper. Flip the paper over so the pencil is on the underside.

To Make the Meringue

Check that the bowl of your electric stand mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.

Fold in the chopped walnuts and, using the drawn-on circles as a guide, evenly spread onto the baking sheet in two circles.

Bake for about 1 hour, until crisp and set. When the meringue is cooked it will lift easily away from the baking paper. Allow to cool completely.

To Assemble and Decorate
Put one of the meringue circles on a serving plate. Peel the pears, remove the core and slice into 1cm (1/2 inch) wide pieces. Spread or pipe most of the whipped cream over the meringue and arrange the slices of pear on top of the cream. Put the second circle of meringue on top and lightly press down. Decorate the top with rosettes of the remaining cream and the walnut halves.


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