ArchiveJanuary 2022

India

Last year our Indian holiday had to be cancelled for all the reasons we are now familiar with, so rather than ask for a refund, we deferred our booking for 12 months so we had something really to look forward to throughout the ups and downs of the last year.

In November 2021, India reopened for travel and one could get a month-long visa so rather than hop from one place to another, we decided to go directly to Ahilya Fort, an enchanting heritage property perched high above the sacred Narmada River in Maheshwar where there’s always a gentle breeze. 

It’s quite a mission to get there, Cork to Amsterdam and onto Delhi and then a domestic flight to Indore.  A driver from the hotel welcomes you at the airport with a picnic to sustain you for the almost two-hour journey to the exquisitely restored fort, originally the home of Ahilya Bai, the warrior Queen who ruled Indore from 1765 – 1796.   The driving force behind the restoration project was Prince Richard Holkar, descendant of Queen Ahilya Bai.  He and his original wife Sally Holkar also re-established the almost extinct hand weaving industry for which Maheshwar was justly famous and is now once again thriving.  Women now come from all over India to choose a much-coveted Maheshwar silk sari.

The balcony of our bedroom overlooked the ghats (steps), temples and chattris on the riverbank where there is endless activity from sunrise to sunset.  It’s a riot of colour.  Before dawn, local women come to wash their clothes in the river.  Hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom have walked for over 150kms with their little bundle of possessions, pour onto the ghats to perform their pujas and bathe in the sacred river to wash away their sins.  Others chant, sing, pray… Children fly homemade kites, feed the sacred river fish and sell brightly coloured baubles to Indian tourists on day trips…There’s street food galore, poha, pingers, poppodums, sugar cane juice, guavas…The women bathe in their beautiful saris and then spread them out on the ghats to dry…Little boats, all gaily painted, ferry devotees backwards and forwards across the km wide river to the myriad of temples on both riverbanks…From the poorest to the most affluent…everyone is so devout…it’s incredibly moving.

The little town is bustling with activity too, lots of tiny shops, selling everything from garlands of marigolds and roses to embellish the Gods or welcome visitors.  Intriguing hardware shops, tailors busy on their Singer sewing machines, jewellers hand beating silver, stalls piled high with spanking fresh vegetables and fruit, bananas, carrots, water chestnuts, papayas, watermelons, pomegranates…A host of Indian sweets and namkeen shops.  Halfway downtown, close to the ATM machine, there’s a barber with an open-air shop front trimming hair, beards and soaping up chins ready for shaving.  Around the corner, a man meticulously irons piles of clothes with a big heavy iron like one might find in an antique shop.  Others sell colourful pictures of the Indian Gods, incense and much sought-after Shiva lingam from the river, and other essentials for puja’s (special prayers) – so beautiful and intriguing, it’s like walking through a Bollywood movie…

From early morning to late at night, the air is fragrant with the smell of food from the numerous street stalls, katchori, pakoras, bright orange jalebi, poha, robori and a wonderful fluffy saffron milk bubbling in a large kari (iron wok).  

By now you can tell that I love India.  Everyday there’s another adventure, somewhere new to explore.

I had several wonderful cooking classes in Indian homes, usually from grandmothers who still do everything from scratch and cook over an open fire with wood and dried cow dung patties.  The latter may sound very strange to us but in fact, it’s very common in rural India.  Food cooked over dried dung fires tastes delicious.  They don’t smell at all, it’s a brilliant way of recycling and Guess What…you can buy Indian cow patties (gotha) via Amazon.  They are also used in some religious ceremonies.

How about the food at Ahilya Fort? 

All meals are included in the room rate plus afternoon tea and non-alcoholic cocktails from 7-8pm.  Much of the produce is home-grown in the organic gardens, on the farm or comes beautifully fresh from local markets. 

Memorable, long lazy breakfasts with deliciously ripe fresh fruit and juices, homemade yoghurt (curd), jams made by Prince Richard Holkar himself, freshly baked breads…I made kumquat marmalade from the fruit in the garden and picked the lemons from the lemon tree to make a zesty lemon curd.  There’s an Indian speciality every day, dosa with sambal, idli, uppam, masala omelette or Maheshwari scrambled eggs…

Lunch is mostly western vegetarian food but for dinner a different Thali every night, with 6 or 7 little bowls of delicious Indian food and fresh crunchy vegetables with a segment of lime and salt. 

Some of the recipes come from Prince Richard Holkar’s book, the Food of the Maharajas, others have been brought to Ahilya Fort by the cooks from their family homes. 

Many in India are vegetarian, so there’s a ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ option at every meal and an Indian dessert – perhaps carrot or guava halwa, lemongrass kheer, gulab jamum, lapsi…Not all Indian food is spicy but I looked forward to every meal at Ahilya Fort.  Here are a few recipes for some of the food I enjoyed.

Check it outwww.ahilyafort.com

Ahilya Fort Chicken Survedar

Another of my favourite recipes from ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) organic chicken

6 tablespoons clarified ghee/butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ginger paste

2 tablespoons garlic paste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/4 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

450ml (16fl oz) coconut milk

10 – 12 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh coriander

Heat the clarified ghee or butter in a pan.  Add the chopped onion, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic paste, poppy seeds and turmeric.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the freshly ground black pepper and salt and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, add the chicken pieces and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cook until the chicken is tender.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Before serving add the coarsely chopped cashew nuts and lots of fresh coriander. 


Virgin Chicken

Not sure how this recipe got its name but the end result is intriguing and delicious.  Serve with Basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons seeds only of whole dried red chilli peppers

1 tablespoon scraped and minced ginger

1 tablespoon salt

110ml (4fl oz) natural yoghurt

110ml (4fl oz) cream

Drop the chilli seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz to a smooth purée.

50ml (2fl oz) clarified ghee/butter

450g (1lb) chicken pieces, preferably skinned, cut into 5cm (2 inch) piece with bone in, if possible

225ml – 450ml (8-16fl oz) hot water

Pour the clarified butter into a medium saucepan.  As it begins to heat, stir in the chicken pieces and the blended mixture.  Mix thoroughly.  Add 225ml (8fl oz) of hot water and simmer uncovered until tender (add extra water as necessary).

1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

50g (2oz) dried coconut

14 almonds, peeled and coarsely chopped

110ml (4fl oz) whole milk

Meanwhile, put the poppy seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Blend to a smooth purée.  Add this purée to the chicken ten minutes before serving.  Heat through, stirring gently. 

1 – 2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

Basmati rice to accompany

Just before serving, stir in the remaining ingredients.  Serve on a mound of Basmati rice to absorb the abundant sauce.  Garnish with lime wedges. 

Ahilya Fort Lobia Beans

Fresh lobia beans look like French beans, the dried beans are also used in many dishes – but use the fresh beans for this recipe.  I hadn’t come across white chilli powder before but it can be sourced in an Indian food store.

Serves 4-6

500g (18oz) French beans

1 tablespoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1/4 tablespoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

3 tablespoons Thai basil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon white chilli powder (or use a combination of ground white pepper and chilli powder)

pinch of asafoetida 

1/4 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons grated coconut

Cut the beans into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.  Grind the garlic, ginger and basil to a paste in a pestle and mortar.  Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the ginger, garlic paste into the oil.  Add the French beans, stir and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk, white chilli powder and cook for another 5 minutes.  Then add a pinch of asafoetida and mustard seeds and salt.  Cook until it splatters.  They can be reheated.

Just before serving, garnish with fresh coconut. 

Cauliflower and Tomato Stew

I love this combination – delicious alone or with chicken, lamb or beef.

Serves 4-6

5 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 onions, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1 teaspoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

500g (18oz) cauliflower, cut into small florets

5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and diced

lots of fresh coriander to serve

Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the mustard and cumin seeds, then the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add the garlic and ginger paste and cook and stir for a further 5 minutes.  Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and salt to taste.  Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.  Add the cauliflower florets.  Stir and cook for 5 – 8 minutes or until just cooked.  Add the tomato dice and cook for 3 minutes.  Taste and serve with lots of fresh coriander. 

Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

I made this recipe at Ahilya Fort, based on a delicious brownie recipe created by super baker Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes, in London.  It was a BIG success.  We’ve gilded the lily by adding a drizzle of ganache and by sprinkling some coarsely chopped pistachio and a few rose petals on top – I used fresh rose petals from the organic flower garden at Ahilya Fort.

Makes 10 brownies

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing

350g (12oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces (approx. 60-70% cocoa solids) (we use Valrhona)

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white flour or spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using sea salt)

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs (about 200g/7oz)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

110g (4oz) dark chocolate, chopped into pieces

Garnish

50g (2oz) pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals

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

Butter and line a 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch)  baking dish with parchment paper.

In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over water that has been brought to the boil and then taken off the heat.  Leave the mixture to rest, stirring occasionally as it melts.

In another bowl, sift together the cocoa, spelt flour and baking powder.  Sprinkle over the salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture, followed by the combined dry ingredients and pour into the prepared baking dish.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes – the brownies should be set but with a slight wobble.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed stainless-steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  Leave it to cool to room temperature.

Slather a little chocolate ganache on top of the brownies. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and rose petals.  Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy.

Tangerines with a hint of Jasmine Syrup

This deliciously refreshing recipe also comes from Ahilya Fort.  A simple gem so good after a rich main course.  Scatter with a few jasmine flowers in season. 

Serves 6

6 clementine, mandarin or satsumas

Jasmine Syrup (available to buy in Asian food stores)

fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season

Peel the citrus, removing all the pith.  Cut into approx. 7mm (1/3 inch) slices around the equator.  Lay 3-6 slices on cold plates, depending on the size of the fruit.  Sprinkle with a little jasmine syrup (just a few drops). 

Scatter a few fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season over the top.

Climate Change

By now there can scarcely be a person on the planet who is unaware of climate change and the imminent threat to natural ecosystems and life as we know it.  It’s difficult not to feel helpless in the face of the terrifying statistics but there are over 7.5 billion of us on planet Earth and think of the collective difference everyone of us doing our bit could make…  I’m convinced that we all want to but where to start?  You’ll have lots of ideas and suggestions yourself and let’s share…Send me yours and I’ll put them in ‘My little hot tip to save the planet’ every week for 2022.  So to get us started….

Everyone’s situation is different but here are a few suggestions for lots of little actions we can make at home in our own lives.  based on the time-honoured soundbite – reduce, reuse, recycle….

1. Let’s start with our grocery shopping – make a list, scrutinise each item and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?  Do I need this much? Is it produced sustainably?  Can I do without it?’

2. Breakfast cereals…Most have virtually no nutritional value but lots of sugar, salt and air miles…Yes, they are convenient, an easy option when you and everyone around you is bleary-eyed in the morning but how about organic porridge oats – can be cooked in minutes or better still, the night before and reheated in the morning.  Serve with a drizzle of honey, whole milk or Jersey cream, peanut butter, maple syrup….feel good and bounce with energy.

Flahavan’s or Kilbeggan sustainable organic rolled oats are cooked in minutes but try making a fine pot of Macroom oatmeal once or twice a week – Wow!  You’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier.

3.  Make twice or three times soup or stew recipes.  Takes a little more prep time but saves on cooking time.  Freeze surplus in recycled plastic containers.

4. Buy an organic chicken – 100% sustainable or at least a free-range bird (a pretty elastic term) and get 6 meals from one chicken including a pot of stock from the carcass and giblets and a delish chicken liver parfait from the livers…Very cheap chicken very often has antibiotics, hormones, growth protomers, bone strengtheners and antidepressants in every feed – NOT GOOD, unsustainable comes from the other side of the world, not to mention the welfare issues…

5. Save all your bones, cooked or raw plus trimmings of vegetables and herb stalks.  Store in a large ‘Stock Box’ in your freezer.  When the box is full to the brim, make a celebration pot of stock, same cooking time for a large pot as a tiny saucepan.  Strain, cool and freeze in recycled litre milk bottles.  Use for soups, stews, tagines or reduce to make a nourishing broth.

6. Save all your citrus peels, one could make candied peel to use in cakes, plum puddings, garnishes etc.  Otherwise, dry and use for firelighters.  I use the bottom oven of my ancient Aga to dry the peels but could be near a radiator or close to a heater.  They keep for ages, spark deliciously and smell of caramelised oranges and provide tonnes of virtuous feelings…



7. Mindful tea and coffee, let’s think before we fill the kettle every time. Do we just want a small pot of coffee or just one mug of tea? Let’s just boil enough water for our needs and save energy – again this is something we can become mindful about…

8. Eliminate ‘tin-foil’ totally from the kitchen, you can do without it altogether – YES you can…I banned it from the Ballymaloe Cookery School years ago for a variety of reasons (not least the possibility of particles of aluminium in our food – not good). Clingfilm is more of a challenge but I’m on a mission to eliminate that also, particularly as I remember life before clingfilm. It’s best to remember to cover bowls with plates and plates with upturned bowls where possible.  However, this can create a space challenge in the fridge and coldroom….
Beeswax wrappers are a good solution in domestic settings but a challenge in restaurants and commercial situations. Store leftover food in recyclable plastic boxes (get them free from your local sweet shops).

9. Kitchen paper towels have become another ‘must have’ in our homes. Now let’s look at this – actually, it’s totally unnecessary, spills can be mopped up with a damp dish cloth in the time-honoured way. Reusable dish cloths can be made from old towels or distressed tea towels, Certified FSC cellulose cloths are worth exploring. They absorb lots of liquid, apparently replace 17 rolls of kitchen paper and last for over nine months and endure over 200 constant washes.
No prizes for knowing that kitchen paper and paper napkins have huge environmental impacts from deforestation and water consumption to the pollution associated with pulping and bleaching, not to speak of the waste created by these throw-away products.
According to the Environment Protection Agency, Ireland has increased its waste right across the board.  An 11% increase in packaging waste alone.  Each and everyone of us creates 628kgs of waste each year. How shocking is that but not surprising considering all the extra packaging generated by everything having to be wrapped during Covid and all those paper cups…So what can we do?  An easy one is to keep a glass or mug in your bag or car at all times for those take-away coffees and teas…


10. Save all your leftover bread and crusts to make breadcrumbs – just whizz up in a blender or food processor or grate on a box grater in the time-honoured way (careful of your fingers…)
Freeze for stuffings, crumbles, gratins, crumbing, pangrattato, migos…

11.Wash-up liquid – we really need to think about this.  At the very least, buy a well-established eco brand (plant rather than petroleum  based).  Many contain phosphate which contributes to eutrophication of water in rivers and lakes. If possible, buy in bulk and refill your plastic bottles.

12. If it is an option, trade up and buy a dishwasher with a 10-12 minute cycle, uses less water and in my experience cleans non-greasy dishes perfectly without any dishwasher tablet. Think before you add the tablet, perhaps you can save 4 or 5 a week….

13. Use natural cleaning products, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice are some of the most effective. Totally illuminate all ‘fresh airs’, detox products from your home…they are expensive and may damage your health. Open the windows and how about lots of scrubbing brushes and elbow grease…

14. Save apple peels and cores to make apple jelly. Keep in a freezer box.

15. Best thing ever, get a few hens, four in a chicken coop on the lawn are plenty for an average household. Feed them the food scraps and get delicious fresh eggs in return a few days later – best recyclers ever – plus the chicken poo will fertilise your lawn or activate your compost heap. Your kids will love them, give a present of a few eggs occasionally to your neighbours in exchange for scraps and looking after hens when you are on your hols!

Ballymaloe Granola

A million times more delicious, nutritious and satisfying cereal than virtually anything you can buy.  Remove breakfast cereals except porridge entirely from your shopping list – sounds horribly bossy but yes you can!

Serves 20

350g (12oz) local runny honey

225g (8fl oz) light olive or grapeseed oil

470g (1lb 1oz approx.) oat flakes

200g (7oz) barley flakes

200g (7oz) wheat flakes

100g (3 1/2oz) rye flakes

150g (5oz) seedless raisins or sultanas

150g (5oz) peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds or cashew nuts split and roasted

70g (2 3/4oz) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

50g (2oz) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, berries in season, milk and/or natural yoghurt.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stone-ground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

Serves 4

155g (5 1/4oz) Macroom oatmeal

1.4 litres (scant 2 1/2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

soft brown sugar

Bring the water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with Jersey cream or whole (preferably raw) milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top or any other favourite toppings of your choice.

Leftover porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day but will need some extra water added.

Note

If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Chicken Liver Pâté with Croutini

Chicken livers are loaded with Vitamin A – a vitally important nutrient at this time.  This recipe has been a timeless favourite in Ballymaloe since the opening of the restaurant in 1965.  Its success depends upon being generous with good Irish butter.  Thin crisp croutini are made from stale bread, yet another way to use up every scrap…

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

Clarified Butter (melted and skimmed 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 traces of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then de-glaze 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 or into one large terrine.   Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.  Serve with croutini.   This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.

Croutini

Another brilliant way to use up every leftover scraps bread deliciously. 

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

Slice staleish baguette diagonally into the thinnest slices possible and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray.  Dry in a low oven until crisp and dry, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pâtés, cheese or just as a snack slathered with something delicious, or with soup.

Leek, Sprout and Macaroni Bake

Recipe taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books.

This gratin can be cooked ahead, refrigerated for several days or frozen, so it’s a good standby option. Try adding some little morsels of bacon, chorizo, merguez or Toulouse sausage…Use breadcrumbs (can be frozen) for the crumble topping with grated cheese from the last little scraps in your fridge.

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) macaroni

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, weighed after trimming, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) leeks (white and green parts sliced in 7mm (1/3 inch) slices at an angle)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

green salad, to serve

For the Cheddar Cheese Sauce

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) plain flour

900ml (1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

150g (5oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan cheese

For the Buttered Crumbs

15g (1/2oz) butter

25g (1oz) white breadcrumbs

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar cheese

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

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook for 10–15 minutes until just soft. Drain well.

Bring 600ml (1 pint) water to the boil and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Add the sprouts and cook for 2–3 minutes. Strain and refresh under cold water.  Drain well.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sliced leeks, season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 3–4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the leeks to continue to cook in the residual heat while you make the sauce.

To make the Cheddar cheese sauce, melt the butter, add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley (if using) and cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and season to taste.

To assemble, spread one-third of the macaroni in the base of a 30 x 20.5 x 6cm (12 x 8 x 2 1/2 inch) gratin dish. Top with the well-drained sprouts, another third of macaroni, then the leeks (add the juices to the remaining sauce) and spread the remaining macaroni evenly over the top.

To make the buttered crumbs, melt the butter, turn off the heat, add the breadcrumbs and leave to cool. Stir through the grated cheese and sprinkle evenly over the gratin. Cook for 15–20 minutes until golden on top and bubbling. Flash under a grill for a few minutes if necessary. Serve with a green salad.

Bramley Apple Peel Jelly

Save your apple peels and cores in a box in the freezer, then top up with cooking apples to make an apple jelly of your choice.

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lb)

apple peels, cores and Bramley apples to make 2.7kg (6lb in weight)

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

sugar

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oZ) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Flavour with sweet geranium or rosemary as desired (see below). 

Apple and Sweet Geranium Jelly

Add 6-8 large leaves of sweet geranium while the apples are stewing and put a fresh leaf into each jar as you pot the jelly.  Delicious on scones or with roast lamb or pork. 

Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot.  Serve with lamb or pork.

Food Trends 2022

As we gear up for a New Year, I’ve been doing some crystal ball gazing in an effort to predict food trends for 2022. During the past year we’ve seen a considerable pandemic related shift on grocery buying habits as we adjusted to spending more time at home.

There’s been a well-documented rise in the food to go and meal kit area and considerable innovation as the restaurant sector struggled to pivot.  Food truck numbers increased exponentially and these days it’s more usual to see a coffee machine in a horse box than a horse…

On the other end of the scale, Forbes predicts a rise in cooking robots and automation in the dining industry fuelled by labour shortages.

Expect to see more food ATM’s and vending machines. Meanwhile, anyone living in a city or big town can’t have failed to notice the stratospheric rise in delivery bikes – akin to London or LA.  After an initial rise in home cooking, cooking fatigue appears to have set in.

Nonetheless, my new book, ‘How to Cook’ – 100 essential recipes everyone should know is getting a tremendous response from people who think they can’t cook but would love to…!  I’m always happy to write a personal message on request…

There’s a definite rise in the number of people prioritising food and drink products that promise additional health and well-being benefits.  It’s difficult to get up-to-date figures on the number of vegans and vegetarians in Ireland but the increasing number of menu options and products on supermarket shelves acknowledges the growth in these areas.  Plant-based ‘meats’ like the Impossible Burger and Moving Mountains Burger that sizzle and bleed continue to gain fans.

This year, reductarianism is the new buzz word.  It has been dubbed one of the top 10 trends: Reductarians are “Not ready to go full vegan but want to significantly reduce consumption of meat”. This group are determined to make more sustainable life choices and restore the ecosystem.  They seek out high quality pasture fed meat produced to high-welfare standards and want to be reassured of environmentally friendly production methods.  The plant-based sector and the number of ‘plant-curious’ eaters is growing exponentially.  The growing number of environmentally aware consumers want to hear that farmers are making an increased effort to protect wildlife and restore ecosystems.

According to Waitrose, nearly 70% of shoppers are going the extra mile to reduce their carbon footprint in some way or another. Research confirms that environmental awareness amongst consumers has surged during the past year with 85% of us making more sustainable life choices.

Trend forecasters have also noted that those working from home are eating bigger and enjoying more experimental breakfasts.

There’s been a spike in the sale of eggs, bacon and demand for all manner of exotic mushrooms is way up.  Kits to cultivate oyster and lion mane mushrooms at home are all the rage.  Post cereal’ snack packs to munch during the day and frozen sandwiches are emerging as lunch solutions.   

Pet food sales have gone through the roof.

Urban hydroponic farming is a huge trend in cities all over the world. Everything from salad greens to exotic mushrooms.  Innovation in indoor farming and growing some of our own food has skyrocketed.  Some vegetable seeds were in short supply last year so order early for 2022.  Supermarkets are using roof space to grow both indoors and outdoors. Hydroponics is creating a new interpretation of locally grown – Hyper local…

Millennials and generation-Z-ers are dabbling with ‘drysolation’.

Buzz less spirits, bottled cocktails and ready to drink cans are revolutionising the bar experience.  Definitely one of the top trends and here to stay.  Functional fizz infused with probiotics and botanicals to boost immunity and benefit gut health and heart health are all the rage.  Water kefir, kombucha, tinctures are mainstream. It’s no surprise that turmeric, with its many health-giving properties, is popping up everywhere, not just in fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles continue to gain market share.

Our love affair with coffee continues unabated.  Cold coffee is trending. Look out for Amazake-Japanese coffee, Vietnamese iced coffee.  Plant based dairy sales are up.  Potato milk is the next big thing, it will be in a coffee shop near you before too long.

Japanese, Korean and Chinese flavours are trending. Sales of umami paste are gathering momentum.  Food of the Caucasus and the Levant are also on foodie’s radar.  Spicy foods are here to stay from Indian garam masala to Mexican tajini (a mixture of dehydrated dried chillies, lime juice and sea salt), Indonesian sambal oleck, BBQ rubs, Japanese gochujang – all add a pop of flavour.

Pomegranate molasses, Turkish Urfa, chilli flakes and feta are flying off shelves.  Every list includes Yuzu, the sour tart tangerine sized citrus from Japan, Korea and China that’s taking the culinary world by storm. Use it in drinks, cocktails, vinaigrettes, mayo, ponzu sauce, desserts… mostly available so far as a juice or a bottled sauce.  There’s also a craving for old-fashioned flavours that bring back memories of happier more carefree times.

Nut allergies have accelerated the popularity of sunflower seeds – they are trending also and are great for people who have allergies to other nuts.

CBD food products, both food and drink are moving mainstream. Hibiscus, the red flowers of a colourful shrub, has been dried and used in tea and drinks around the world from Mexico to South Africa for years but are now included in a myriad of foods, ice-cream, cakes – high in vitamin C.  Hibiscus tea is the new matcha. 

Moringa from the drumstick tree is being hailed as a new super food and tastes a bit like dried cherries.

Artisan bakers are burgeoning, virtually every small town in Ireland will soon have an artisan bakery and a range of viennoiseries offering natural sourdough. Market leaders are liaising directly with farmers to grow heritage grain varieties and using freshly milled flour for their loaves.

Sales of herbs and spices are up over 40% since 2020.

By no means a comprehensive list, and it’s always interesting to keep an eye on what is trending in the US. It’ll be coming our way before too long. There’s more genuine concern about food waste. Labelling is becoming more ‘homey’ with terms like 100% grown on American soil and regionally grown produce – watch that space…

Happy New Year to all our readers, continue to buy seasonal, Irish produce.  We can all make a difference to local farmers and food producers with how we choose to spend our food Euro.

Apple and Hibiscus Soda

A super nutritious and refreshing drink, flavoured by the Mexicans….

Serves 6 approx.

1 bottle (750ml/generous 1 1/4 pints) of apple juice

15g (1/2oz) dried hibiscus flowers

1/2 – 1 bottle (1 – 2 litre/1 3/4 – 3 1/2 pints) sparkling water

Ice

Put the dry hibiscus flowers down the neck of the bottle of apple juice.  Screw on the lid.  Shake the bottle and allow to macerate overnight.

Next day, half fill glasses, add a couple of ice cubes.  Top up with sparkling water and enjoy.

Exotic Mushroom Risotto

Everyone needs to be able to whip up a risotto, comfort food at its best and a base for so many good things, from exotic mushrooms, crispy pork lardons or kale to foraged nettles. 

Serves 6

1 – 1.3 litres (1 3/4 – 2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock

50g (2oz) butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

400g (14oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a mixture of Parmesan and Pecorino

sea salt

225–350g (8–12oz) a selection of sliced and sautéed mushrooms (lion’s mane, chestnut, oyster, porcini, chanterelles…)

First bring the stock to the boil, reduce the heat and keep it at a gentle simmer.  Melt half the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4–5 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (5fl oz) of the simmering stock, stir continuously, and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (5fl oz) of stock.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly.  The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside.  If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey.  It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously.

The risotto should take 25–30 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, add the stock about 4 tablespoons at a time.  I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on.  The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly al dente.  It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick.  The moment you are happy with the texture, add in the well-seasoned hot sautéed mushrooms, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan, taste and add more salt if necessary.  Serve immediately on hot plates.

Alternatively, you can pre-cook the rice for finishing later.  After about 10 minutes of cooking, taste a grain or two between your teeth.  It should be firm, slightly gritty, definitely undercooked but not completely raw.  Remove the risotto from the saucepan and spread it out on a flat dish to cool as quickly as possible.  The rice can be reheated later with some of the remaining stock and the cooking and finishing of the risotto can be completed.  Risotto does not benefit from hanging around – the texture should be really soft and flowing.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is spicy Indonesian chilli paste – hugely popular condiment – in Malaysian and Thai dishes.  If you are not a fan already, buy a little jar and start to experiment.  It really adds a pop of flavour to a myriad of curries, dishes from soups and stews to scrambled eggs.   Serve with sausages, hot dogs, cold chicken, turkey, burgers, pork…

Prawns with Sambal Oelek Mayo

I predict that this sambal oelek mayonnaise will become a new favourite in your kitchen for 2022.

Serves 30

30 cooked prawns in their shells

Sambal Oelek Mayo

300ml (10fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sambal oelek

1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar or best white wine vinegar

flaky sea salt

coriander sprigs

Mix the mayonnaise with the sambal oelek and vinegar to taste.  Add a little flaky sea salt if necessary.  Use as you fancy.  Store covered in the fridge for 8-10 days or more.

To Serve

Serve five fat cooked prawns in their shell per person.  Add a dollop of sambal oelek mayo and a few sprigs of fresh coriander.

Sambal Oelek Chicken Skewers

Another delicious way to use your new ‘best friend’ sambal oelek…

Makes 8

110g (4oz) light brown sugar

110ml (4fl oz) unseasoned rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sambal oelek or hot chili paste

50ml (2fl oz) fish sauce (nam pla)

50ml (2fl oz) Sriracha

1-2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

700g (1 1/2lb) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 4-5cm (1 1/2 – 2 inch) pieces

12 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water at least 1 hour

Whisk the brown sugar, vinegar, chilli paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat.

Allow to marinate for 15-30 minutes.

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

Drain the chicken.  Thread 4 or 5 pieces onto each skewer.  Pour the leftover marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, simmer until reduced by almost half, 7–10 minutes.

Transfer the chicken skewers to a baking tray.  Cook in the preheated oven, turning and baste often with the reduced marinade, cook through, 8–10 minutes approx. 

Serve drizzled with a little marinade on a bed of salad leaves.  Sambal oelek mayo would be a delicious accompaniment. 

Yuzu Curd

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

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 yuzu or 2 lemons

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

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

Cover when cold, refrigerate and use as you fancy. 

Winter Mocktail

When it comes to Winter cocktails or mocktails, it’s all about citrus.  The blood orange season is now in full swing so have fun.

4 freshly squeezed blood oranges

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon honey or sugar syrup or more if required

Sparkling water

Mix the freshly squeezed juices with honey to taste.  Add sparking water.  Pour into a cocktail glass.  Top with a sprig of mint and a thin slice of thin blood orange.  Enjoy immediately.

Fizz can of course be substituted for sparkling water…

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