ArchiveDecember 2023

Students Pop-Up Dinner

We’re just about to say Au revoir to another group of students, who have been with us here since September last. Fourteen nationalities this time, now winging the way back round the world to South Africa, Jordan, US, Panama, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Israel, Luxembourg, Norway, Netherlands, France, Portugal and of course Ireland and UK. They’ve absorbed the food culture and learned a multitude of culinary skills while they were here and leave with their heads swirling with ideas and  dreams, plus a determination to make a difference, not just in food but also in  environmental and regenerative farming, wherever they go.
 They are keenly aware that every bite of food we eat has consequences to our health and every euro we spend can make an impact for better or worse, depending on the decision we make….
They will be snapped up by restaurants, catering businesses, artisan bakers, cafés, gastro pubs, food magazines… Some will start their own business; one is determined to start a food truck. Another, a doctor will go back to their practice, determined to spread the word to their patients about the connection between nutrient dense food and health and the mantra that our food can be our medicine….
Several others are planning to develop food products and ferments. Many have a love of natural sourdough baking from their early morning forays into the Bread Shed.
We miss them all, we don’t say goodbye, we say Au Revoir until we meet again…
Just a few weeks ago all the students collaborated as they do on each Ballymaloe Cookery School 12 Week Course, to cook a Pop-Up dinner to showcase their skills. All the proceeds go to charity and the tickets sell out in a matter of hours.
Students plan and orchestrate the entire event with just a little guidance from a couple of senior teachers. First, they came up with the concept, this time, it was Food from Here, a celebration of the bounty of fresh produce in season at present on the organic farm, in the gardens, hedgerows, seas and coastline of the local area.
They designed the menu, tested and retested the recipes, created the artwork, designed the table settings, organised the playlist, collected the foliage and dried seed heads to embellish the dining rooms.


Sage and sweet potato rolls served with brown butter and fried sage leaves – the butter was hand churned from the organic Jersey cream on the farm to accompany the fluffy sweet potato and sage rolls.

Mussel Glas: Ballycotton mussels, kale, Ballymaloe cider broth, leeks and chervil.

Farm to Pork: Pressed Ballymaloe pork belly, ham hock pie, black pudding, pork and leek sausage, red wine sauce, kale purée, served with Bramley apple sauce.

Leek and potato gratin, bitter leaf salad.

Meringue with raspberry kombucha sorbet, crème anglaise and fig leaf oil.
When the guests arrived in all their glam, they were served a series of delicious little canapés to accompany their glass of fizz flavoured with homemade blackberry cordial.
Ticking boxes for the event went on for over five weeks. It’s a brilliant learning experience for the students who quickly realise just how much advance planning and sheer hard work is needed to achieve a really successful and memorable event.
We were super proud of our students and their tutors who got a spontaneous, standing ovation at the end of the meal from 70 plus guests. The students were thrilled with the response and justifiably proud of their achievement.
As an extra treat, several students designed and filled an edible goodie bag for each guest to take home as a memento of the evening.
They happily gave me permission to share the recipes with The Examiner readers – I hope you too will enjoy.

Christina Hotsko’s Sage and Sweet Potato Rolls with Brown Butter and Crispy Sage Leaves


250g sweet potato 

a good fistful if sage leaves 

60-65g melted butter, cooled 

3 tbsp sage 

4 tsp honey

12g fresh yeast 

1 egg 

320g plain flour, sifted 

¾ teaspoon salt 

a rectangular ‘Swiss roll’ tin (30.5 x 20.5cm)

Add cold water to a small saucepan, just enough to cover the sweet potato, about 150ml. (You will want 120ml of the potato water once the potatoes have been boiled). 

Put plenty of sage into the saucepan with water and bring to the boil.  

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potato and cut into 1cm size pieces. Add to the sage water and cook until very tender. Once cooked, remove the sage. Strain the potatoes and reserve 120ml of the cooking water for the yeast. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan with 3 tbsp of chopped sage. Can add more if desired. Allow to cool. 

When the potato water is lukewarm (45-50°C), add 1 teaspoon of honey and the yeast to 120ml potato water.  Allow to activate for 5-10 mins. 

Meanwhile, mash the sweet potato with a fork or masher. Whisk the egg and add to the sweet potato, along with the remaining 3 tsp of honey. Add most of the cooled melted butter and chopped sage, reserving a small amount for later to brush/coat the tin. Mix to combine. 

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add both the sweet potato and yeast mixtures. Mix together by hand. The mixture will be slightly wet but should still come together. 

Transfer the dough to the bowl of a food mixer with a dough hook, coat with a small amount of olive oil and shape into a round. Cover and allow to rise for 1 ½ – 2 hours, or until doubled in size. 

Once doubled, knock back the dough and mix together slightly. Cut into approximately 50g pieces and knead each piece of dough into a tight ball. Place on the lightly buttered tin. Allow to rise for another hour until doubled in size. Rolls will touch each other so they can be served as a tear and share later. Bake at 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 23-25 minutes.

Mussels Glas – Ballycotton Mussels, Kale, Ballymaloe Cider Broth, Leeks and Chervil

The wild mussels came from Ballycotton Seafood, Ballymaloe House Cider and organic apple juice from the Ballymaloe Cookery School orchards.

Serves 6

300g kale (de-stalked)

90g creamsalt
3 small leeks (120g approx.)

extra virgin olive oil
50g butter

4 garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
40ml Ballymaloe House cider
60ml apple juice
36-40 mussels, cleaned and beards removed, discard any that are not tightly shut



Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3.

Begin by making kale and cream mixture. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the kale leaves until tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain cooked kale leaves in a colander. Purée the kale leaves with the cream until smooth consistency. Season with salt to taste.

Trim off the green leek tops, set aside. Lightly oil the leek stalk and place on a baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and roast in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until tender.

Melt the butter in a low sided saucepan when it foams add the sliced garlic and shallot. Sweat the mixture until tender, be careful not to brown. Add the cider and boil until the alcohol flavour cooks off, 5-7 minutes. Add the kale mixture and the apple juice to the saucepan. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes until all the flavours have combined. Check the seasoning, if it requires more acid, add a teaspoon of cider. If it requires more sweetness, add a tablespoon more apple juice.
Put the mixture into a cheesecloth on top of a fine mesh sieve. Squeeze the cheesecloth to ensure all the liquid has passed through. Return the green broth to a clean saucepan and keep it warm on a low simmer. Do not cover or the liquid will discolour.

Once the leeks are roasted. Removed to outer layers to expose the tender interior. Cut into 2cm medallions and add to the green broth.
Increase the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Next take the discarded outer leek layers and green leek tops and cut them into 1cm strips lengthwise. Coat lightly in olive oil and salt. These will be used as a crispy leek topping on the mussels. Distribute them on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until crispy.

Meanwhile, put the mussels into a saucepan on a medium heat. Cook until they open, 2-3 minutes discarding any that do not. Pour mussel cooking liquid into green broth and stir.

To Serve
Divide the green broth, roasted leek medallions and mussels between bowls. Garnish with crispy leek tops and chervil and serve immediately.

A Trolley Tribute – Meringue with Raspberry Kombucha Sorbet, Crème Anglaise and Fig Leaf Oil

A delicious combination, lots of work to assemble the various components but so worth the effort for the final result.

Serves 14

1 x meringue (see recipe)
2-3 tsp fig leaf oil (see recipe)
2-3 tbsp crème anglaise (see recipe)
scoop of raspberry kombucha sorbet (see recipe)
1 tsp of (unsweetened) softly whipped cream

1 leaf of wood sorrel

Instructions to assemble:
Put 2-3 tablespoons of crème anglaise into a shallow bowl.
Drop 2-3 teaspoons of fig leaf oil into the crème anglaise to create a swirling effect. Place the meringue in the middle of the bowl, add a scoop or quenelle of sorbet on top of the meringue
Place the whipped cream next to the sorbet and garnish with the wood sorrel.


Makes 14 meringues

4 egg whites
220g caster sugar

1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp cornstarch (cornflour)

Preheat your oven. If you have 2 ovens, preheat 2 ovens to 150°C/Gas Mark 2 (conventional). If you have 1 oven, preheat to 135°C/Gas Mark ½ (using fan setting).

Using a pencil, mark out the circumference of the meringues to bake. Use a circular shape, e.g. a bowl or wide glass, with a diameter of 6-7 cm. Mark 14 circles and leave approximately 2cm space between them, because the meringues expand slightly in the oven.

Whisk the egg whites in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer until they form stiff peaks, then gradually whisk in caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until the meringue looks glossy. Whisk in the vinegar and cornstarch.
Spread the meringue inside the circle, creating a crater by making the sides a little higher than the middle.
Turn the oven down to 110°C/Gas Mark ¼.
Bake for 45 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the meringues cool completely inside the oven.

Raspberry Kombucha Sorbet

We make raspberry kombucha at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Fermentation HQ but use the best you can find.

400ml raspberry kombucha

250g caster sugar
250g water
juice of ½ lemon

Prepare the sugar syrup by dissolving together equal parts of sugar and water in a saucepan, boil for 2 minutes and allow to cool.

Put containers in the freezer to store the sorbet.

Blend the chilled sugar syrup, chilled kombucha and lemon juice and churn in an ice cream machine.
Put in the cold container, cover and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Crème Anglaise with Cream

400ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

4 egg yolks

40g (1 ½oz) caster sugar

400ml cream

Bring the milk almost to the boil with the vanilla extract.

In a Pyrex bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light. Whisk in the hot milk in a slow and steady stream.
Replace in a clean saucepan and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly. Your finger should leave a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon.
Remove from the heat at once and strain. Cool.
When completely cooled, mix in two-thirds of the unwhipped cream. Taste and check texture and add more cream if needed.

Note: The mixture is transferred to a clean saucepan to avoid the mixture catching on the bottom
of the pan).

Fig Leaf Oil

Makes 180ml approx.

15 medium sized fig leaves

200ml extra virgin olive oil

Bring a pot of water to the boil and prepare a bowl with ice and water.
Blanch the fig leaves in the boiling water for 20 seconds, to brighten up the colour. Remove the leaves from the pot and immediately drop them in the ice water. Using your hands, wring out all the excess water from the leaves. Add the leaves with the oil to a blender. Blend until completely smooth, approximately 2-3 minutes.

Pour the mixture in a sieve lined with a coffee filter or a muslin cloth. Let this drip overnight If stored airtight, the oil can be kept for up to 3 months.

Christmas Day Starters

We definitely want something light and deliciously refreshing…
How about a platter of oysters nestled on the bed of glistening seaweed with some crushed ice to keep them nicely chilled. Native Irish oysters are a very special luxurious treat, could be from Rossmore in the estuary of Cork Harbour, Kelly’s of Galway, Harty’s in Dungarvan Bay, Carlingford Oysters in Co Louth….

Each has their own unique flavour and needs no further embellishment other than perhaps a tiny squeeze of juice from an organic lemon.

The curvy Portuguese oysters can take on lots of flavours. How about these rock oysters with Asian vinaigrette?

Order them ahead to be delivered by courier and keep them well refrigerated until needed. Just love the way they arrive in those timber boxes, often packed with bladder wrack seaweed and if you’re lucky it’ll include an oyster knife too, an essential tool to open oysters.
I also love the super fresh combination of watercress with blood oranges, Medjool dates, Macroom mozzarella and chopped pistachio nuts…
You can do lots of riffs on the combination,  maybe omit the dates and add a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds instead. Also delicious for vegetarians and if you remove the cheese, you’ve got a tempting vegan starter too.

Hopefully, you’ll have had time to make a few pots of chunky soup to have ready to reheat as a moment’s notice. There’s so many Winter roots to choose from, they all make delicious soup in many combinations, freeze two/portion tubs so you never get caught out.
But I’m still wanting a light, fresh and easy to combine starter before my juicy roast turkey or goose on Christmas Day.

If you’re a bit jaded from mediocre smoked salmon, how about gravlax (you can make your own but Ummera and Woodcock Smokery make a delicious version), or how about some smoked trout or a piece of warm smoked salmon or my absolute favourite smoked eel.

Really good smoked fish needs little in the way of embellishment either although I do love some horseradish cream with smoked trout, a juicy smoked mackerel and of course smoked eel. Once again, a simple combo can be put together in minutes. All are delicious with the Ballymaloe brown yeast bread which can be made in minutes, (the recipe is in The New Ballymaloe Bread Book). There’s no kneading involved and only one rising. Make four loaves together, it’ll keep for the best part of a week over the Christmas period.

Smoked eel from the Burren Smokehouse or Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative is recognized as the largest producer of wild caught eel in Europe. Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny for trout, be sure to get a jar of trout roe. Just gorgeous as an extra treat to top off little canapés.

Merry Christmas to all our readers and remember, the way to everyone’s heart is through delicious dinners all year long…

A Plate of Locally Smoked Fish with Horseradish Sauce and Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

We have fantastic smoked fish in Ireland. Artisan Smokers like Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in West Cork, Frank Hederman of Belvelly, near Cobh, Anthony Cresswell of Ummera have developed a cult following for their wild smoked Irish Salmon and other fish.

Serves 4

a selection of smoked fish, such as smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked eel, smoked tuna, smoked hake and smoked sprats

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise (see recipe)

Horseradish Sauce (see recipe)

Cucumber and Dill Pickle (see recipe)


segments of lemon

sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves

Occasionally we serve just three different types of smoked fish, for example salmon, mussels and trout, on tiny rounds of Ballymaloe brown yeast bread, topped with a small frill of fresh Lollo Rosso.  A little cucumber pickle goes with the smoked salmon, while a blob of homemade Mayonnaise is delicious with marinated smoked mussels and a dollop of horseradish cream, and a sprig of watercress compliments the pink smoked trout. These three delicious morsels make a perfect light starter.

Slice the smoked salmon into thin slices down to the skin. Allow one slice per person.  Cut the mackerel into diamond-shaped pieces and divide the trout into large flakes.  Skin and slice the eel.  Thinly slice the tuna and hake. 

To Serve

Choose four large white plates. Drizzle each plate with mayonnaise and divide the smoked fish between the plates, arranging it appetizingly. Put a blob of horseradish sauce and some cucumber pickle on each plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves.

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

Super delicious with any or all of those smoked fish and gravlax.

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range

2 tbsp French mustard

1 tbsp white sugar

150ml groundnut or sunflower oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp dill, finely chopped

salt and white pepper

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.

Horseradish Sauce

This is a fairly mild sauce.  If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish!  Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.

Serves 8 – 10

3 – 6 tbsp freshly grated horseradish

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ tsp mustard

¼ tsp salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

225ml softly whipped cream

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.  The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours. 

Cucumber and Dill Pickle

Brilliant to have in your fridge over Christmas or indeed at any time.

Serves 10-12

1kg thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g granulated sugar

1 tbsp salt

225ml cider vinegar

2 tbsp chopped dill

Combine the sliced cucumber, onion and the chopped dill in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt, vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Rock Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette

Even though oysters are produced all year round here in Ireland, they too are best in Winter.  Unlike the native oysters’ which are only in season during the colder months when there’s ‘an r’ in the spelling.

Serves 8 as a starter

24-32 rock oysters

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp finely chopped chives

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

To Serve

fresh seaweed (if available)

lime segments

To make the Asian vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal and shake well.

If you can get some, place a little fresh seaweed on each plate.  Arrange 3-4 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one.  Serve with segments of lime.

Watercress, Blood Orange, Medjool Date and Macroom Mozzarella Salad with Pistachio Nuts

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalo’s feed on gives the Macroom Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

Serves 4

2-3 balls of fresh Macroom Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 Medjool dates, stoned and quartered lengthways

2-3 tbsp Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut one into 5mm thick slices and segment the other.

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  Tuck a few orange slices/segments here and there in between the watercress, mozzarella and dates.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.  Scatter with pistachio nuts. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Granita

A grapefruit granita is super versatile. Serve in chilled shot glasses as a canape or at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal but this is meant to be a starter here.

Serves 20 as a canapé or 4-6 as a starter

500ml ruby grapefruit juice (5 grapefruit approx.)

160g caster sugar approx.

1 egg white (optional)


seeds from ½ – 1 pomegranate

fresh mint leaves

16-20 shot glasses if served as a canapé or 4-6 cocktail glasses if served as a starter

Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl, add the sugar and dissolve by stirring it into the juice.  Taste.  The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, it will lose some of its sweetness in the freezing.

Make the granita in one of the following ways.

Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes until completely set and frozen.  Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

Method 2.  Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer. After about 4-5 hours when the granita is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to the freezer. Repeat several times. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.

Method 3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the granita completely in a covered stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl. Freeze again until needed.

To Serve

Chill the glasses in a refrigerator or freezer.

Put 1 chilled scoop of granita into each glass. Sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top. Freeze until needed just before servings. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately with a tiny teaspoon for each one.

Laois Taste

Love the way counties all over the country have well and truly got their mojo back after the setback of the pandemic but it has to be said that much wonderful creativity bubbled up during those couple of years of confinement.
 This really came home to me on a recent visit to Stradbally to celebrate the many awards that members of Laois Taste won during 2023 including the EU organic award presented to Kevin Scully of The Merry Mill near Vicarstown for the exceptional quality and nutrient density of his organic gluten-free oats.
It was such a convivial event held in the courtyard of the Ballykilcavan Brewery, virtually all of the 26 artisan and specialist food and drink producers from all over the county turned up and proudly displayed their products. The passion in the room was palpable, I have to say I was properly impressed by the quality and have since sent in an order for several items to stock in our little Farm Shop in Shanagarry.
Laois County Council, Laois Chamber of Commerce, Laois Partnership Co, Laois Enterprise Board, Laois Tourism and Laois Co Manager were out in force to show their unqualified support for this vibrant sector. On my way to the event, I called in to the Muller O’ Connell artisan bakery in Abbeyleix for a cup of coffee and was mightily impressed by the display of both food and drink products from around the county, but I now know that if I had wandered into Supervalu down the road I would have been equally impressed. They are just one of several businesses in the county who are highlighting and selling these local Laois products proudly.
Long gone are the days of my childhood when local food was a derogatory term, one would expect to pay less for something if it was local. Fast forward to now when local is one of the sexiest words in food and there’s a deep, craving for food with a story and genuine provenance.
One of the pioneers, the legendary, Helen Gee was there in fine fettle, she regaled us all with the story of how she started off with a saucepan and wooden spoon in her own kitchen and how winning first prize for her raspberry jam at the Abbeyleix Food Fair in 1997 gave her the confidence to establish Gee’s Jams, now a hugely successful business selling a wide variety of jams and preserves all over the country. Little pots of her jams grace first class trays on Aer Lingus flights worldwide and three of her children have returned to Abbeyleix from other careers to help to sustain and grow the business even further.
Kevin Scully also shared the hilarious story of his transition from the building trade to farming, and his initial efforts to harvest, mill and dry his oats with the help of a sieve and hair dryer. Virtually all of the artisans and producers would’ve had stories of how they improvised as they started.
Adding value to the raw materials and initial produce is the key to survival for many in rural areas and it is hugely encouraging to see the creativity and spirit of cooperation within the sector and the second generation, returning to the business in several cases.
As the numbers grow, it encourages others within the county to wrack their brains for ways to add value to the produce and come up with new ideas, rather than ‘me too’ products, the world is your oyster in the sector at the moment.
But there is no success without plenty of hard work and it’s wonderful to see the joy that the Blas na hÉreann, The Great Taste Awards and others bring to those who are trying so hard to establish a brand and break into a brave new world.
I also ordered some of the ION organic oils, cold pressed in Portarlington. I was particularly looking for sunflower oil, but they have hazelnut, walnut and poppy seed oils too. I loved the sugared cranberries and caramel shortbread nuts from Tatiana Bite of Zephyr Yard.
For a full list of Laois Taste products, check out www.laoistaste.i

Mummy’s Light Christmas Cake

This light fruit cake is a huge favourite with many who don’t enjoy a rich Christmas cake.  Mummy used royal icing and made a snow scene with Santa and his sleigh. Thanks for the memories…

Makes 35 pieces

50g whole almonds

200g sultanas

200g raisins

100g homemade chopped candied peel

50g currants

50g real glacé cherries, cut in quarters

50g ground almonds

225g butter, softened

225g caster sugar

4 large or 5 small eggs, preferably free-range and organic

grated rind of 1 orange

275g flour

a pinch of salt

⅛ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp milk

Almond Paste

175g caster sugar

175g ground almonds

1 small egg, preferably free-range and organic

2 tsp whiskey

1 drop of almond extract

1 egg white, beaten, or apricot jam

icing sugar, for dusting the worktop

Fondant Icing

vodka, for brushing over the almond paste

600g ready-to-roll fondant icing


Santas, candied angelica or holly leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Line a 20.5cm x 30.5cm cake tin that is 5cm deep lined with parchment paper.  Mum cooked this cake in an oval enamel tin with a lid.

Blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop.  Mix together all the fruit, candied peel and the ground and chopped almonds.  Cream the butter until it’s really soft, then add in the caster sugar and beat until light and creamy.  Whisk the eggs and add them in bit by bit, beating well between each addition.  Add the grated orange rind.  Sieve the flour and salt together, then stir in the flour and all of the fruit.  Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and stir it thoroughly through the mixture.  Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes.  Allow to get cold, turn out of the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper until ready to ice.

To make the Almond Paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix it with the ground almonds.  Beat the egg and add the whiskey and almond extract.   Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste (you may not need all the egg.) 

To ice the Cake

Brush the top of the cake with beaten egg white or apricot jam.

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar.  Roll the almond paste into a rectangle slightly larger than the cake.  Roll the almond paste over the rolling pin, then unroll it over the cake.  Press carefully onto the cake.  Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

When ready to apply the fondant icing, brush the almond paste with vodka or other non-coloured spirit.

Next, apply the fondant icing.  Roll it out slightly larger than the cake.  Roll it over the rolling pin and then unroll it over the cake.   Press lightly.

Decorate if you wish with Santas, candied angelica or holly, but it looks great just as it is.

Cut the cake into 35 pieces (5 across x 7 on the length) or to whatever size you prefer.

Chocolate Yule Log

This melt in the mouth Chocolate Yule Log is usually much more delicious than the original chocolate sponge Swiss roll but I prefer this sinfully rich version.  There’s no need for any icing, it’s rich enough as it is! Even though it seems very fragile, it can be made 1-2 days ahead, keep covered with a slightly damp cloth and roll up and decorate close to time of serving.

Serves 10 approx.

5 eggs, preferably free-range

175g best-quality dark chocolate (we use Callebaut 52%)

175g caster sugar

3 tbsp water


300ml double cream

1-2 tbsp rum

sieved icing sugar


Santas, holly leaves etc.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Line a shallow 30.5cm x 20.5cm Swiss roll tin with oiled parchment paper.

Separate the eggs.  Put the yolks into a bowl, gradually add the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale lemon coloured.  Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan set over a very gentle heat, then set aside while you whisk the egg whites to a firm snow.  Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture.  Stir a little of the egg white into the mixture, then cut and fold the remainder of the egg whites into the mixture and turn it into the prepared tin.  Cook in a preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, until firm to the touch around the edge but still slightly soft in the centre. 

Wring out a tea-towel in cold water.  Take out the roulade out of the oven and let it cool slightly, then cover with the cloth.  (This is to prevent any sugary crust from forming.)  Leave it in a cool place.  Provided the cloth is kept damp, it will keep for 2 days like this.

To Serve

Whip the cream and flavour with the rum.  Put a sheet of parchment paper onto a table and dust it well with sieved icing sugar.  Remove the damp cloth from the roulade and turn the tin upside down onto the prepared paper.  Remove the tin and carefully peel the parchment paper off the roulade.  Spread with the rum-flavoured cream and roll it up like a Swiss roll.  Cut about one-third off the roll at an angle.  Lift the roll onto a serving plate, arrange the smaller piece so it looks like a branch and dust well with icing sugar.  Decorate with Christmas cake decorations, such as holly leaves, Santas or robins, sprinkle again with a little extra icing sugar and serve.

Frosted Christmas Tangerines

Can you imagine how welcome frosted tangerines are after a rich meal?

This clean, tingly fresh-tasting ice tastes like superior iced lolly. It can also be filled into ice-pop moulds, which halves the work! Clementines, mandarins or satsumas are also great in this recipe. Citrus fruit are at their best and most varied in the winter, when they are in season.

Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2

20-24 tangerines

juice of ½ lemon

icing sugar (optional)


225g sugar

150ml water

juice of ¼ lemon


fresh bay leaves or holly

First make the syrup. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice into a saucepan over a low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool.

Grate the zest finely from 10 of the tangerines, cut in half and squeeze the juice. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop the sections out of the ‘shell’ with a small spoon and then press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 700ml juice approx. Add the finely grated zest, the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice if more sweetness or sharpness is required.  It should taste sweeter than you would like it to be because it will lose some of its sweetness when it freezes.

Freeze until firm in one of the suggested ways.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer.  After 4-5 hours, when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in 1 stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add 1 lightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

Meanwhile, chill the tangerine shells in the fridge or freezer and fill the chilled shells with scoops of the frozen sorbet. We sit them in muffin trays so they don’t wobble around.  Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day.

To Serve

Serve on a white plate decorated with fresh bay leaves or holly.


Sorbetières or ice-cream makers can be very expensive, but we find that the kind that can be put in the freezer the night before work surprisingly well.

Grow Your Own Food in 2024

I know we’re all sick and tired of the rain, but I’ve just come back from a trip to Canada and a Climate Farm School at Spannocchia, a 2,000 acre estate in Tuscany. Ironically, everywhere I went, the predominant topic of conversation was also rain but actually the lack of it.

On a visit to Trails End Ranch near Nanton, less than an hour from Calgary in the province of Alberta and close to the Rocky Mountains, we met a trailblazing couple Tyler and Rachel Herbert who are raising grass fed cattle on the prairie lands they share with both brown and grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, coyotes, whitetail, deer and the occasional cougar.
Their beef has a loyal following of devotees, who are grateful for the sustainable, humane and environmentally friendly way they rear their red and black Angus cattle. They are lone voices in mostly huge feedlot territory where thousands of cattle are reared in pens.
From the farm shop on the farm and online, they sell quarter, half and whole animals to restaurants and discerning customers all over Canada who crave the flavour of their grass fed meat, but it’s not easy. Prior to the snow, which now covers the prairies, they hadn’t had rain for over five months so didn’t manage to save any of their own hay this Summer nor did their neighbours. Consequently, the price of a bale of pesticide free hay is €230 this year as opposed €120 last year. They need five bales a day to feed their hundred cattle throughout the winter, the difference between profit and loss.
Needless to say, they are fearful for the future, particularly of family farms and have no idea what’s ahead. It’s even more alarming when we learn that Canada is warming at twice the global average. Here in Ireland on the other hand, because of the constant rain, many farmers are struggling to harvest some of last year’s crops while others are unable to get seeds planted for future harvests.
We are sleepwalking into a food security crisis and unlikely though it may seem, we will see food shortages sooner than we think.
So, let’s get proactive in our own space, start a conversation with your family and friends about growing some of your own food. You’d be astonished just how much could be grown in a small space – consider joining a community garden e.g., Community Roots  
Fresh herbs, grow despite you and almost favour poor soil. (Forget basil, it’s out of season,  hails from sunnier climes and hates the Irish Winter).
If you’ve never grown a thing in your life, a fun thing to do is to buy a bunch of scallions, Use some of the green tops, plant the rest individually into soil, a raised bed, barrel or pot, they’ll continue to grow and you can go on snipping the juicy tops every time you need a little green onion for scrambled eggs, an omelette or frittata…
For Christmas, how about giving packets of seeds as a pressie, maybe a digging fork and trowel or even a wheelbarrow plus a How to get Started, gardening book.
For example, Klaus Laitenberger’s books ‘The Self-Sufficient Garden’, ‘Vegetables for the Irish Garden’ and ‘Fruit and Vegetables for the Polytunnel and Greenhouse’ are brilliant for Irish conditions as are the GIY Books, written by Mick Kelly and his team of passionate Grow it Yourselfers, maybe even ‘Grow, Cook, Nourish’…
It’s hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction and joy one gets from harvesting some of your own homegrown produce. You’ll want everyone to know you grew it and won’t want to waste a scrap. You’ll relish and appreciate every delicious morsel so much more than picking it off a supermarket shelf, plus you’re unlikely to spray it with toxic chemicals that you know will damage both the precious soil and your family’s health.
Share with your neighbours, and if you have a glut, have fun, making chutney and pickles or just freeze the surplus for another occasion.
We’ve still got lots of root vegetables and kale in the garden to see us through the winter months. Check out your local shop and Farmers’ Market.
How about making some yummy presents for Christmas hampers…

Sunchoke Soup with Chorizo Crumbs

Sunchoke is the US name for Jerusalem artichokes, a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins and are high in inulin. They are a real gem from the gardener’s point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants! Despite their name, apparently, they have no connection to Jerusalem, their name is an aberration of girasol, the French word for artichoke because the flavour is reminiscent of artichoke hearts.

Serves 8-10

50g butter

560g onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1 litres light chicken stock 

600ml creamy milk approx.


Chorizo Crumbs (see recipe)

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chorizo crumbs.


This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Chorizo Crumbs

Chorizo Crumbs are delicious used in so many ways.  We like to scatter them over potato, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke or watercress soup.  They are particularly good sprinkled over cauliflower or macaroni cheese.  Keep in a box for several weeks and scatter when and where you fancy!

Makes 175g

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

125g chorizo, peeled and cut into 5mm dice

100g coarse breadcrumbs

Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp.  Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, the oil should be BARELY warm.  Drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.

Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden.  Drain and add to the chorizo.

Parsnip or Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps

We serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or Guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

* Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much loved potato.  Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip or 3-4 Jerusalem artichokes

sunflower oil


Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Notice the lower frying temperature because of the high sugar content in root vegetables. 

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Kale Crisps

Suddenly Kale is the coolest thing, it’s all over the place, on restaurant menus, in Farmers’ Markets, even on supermarket shelves – kale crisps are the snack of the moment. I’m not complaining. I love kale and it’s super nutritious, we grow four varieties here at the school – Red Russian, Asparagus Kale, Curly Kale and Raggedy Jack.  We find curly kale best for this recipe.

Makes lots

250g curly kale

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt, a little sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Strip the leaves off the kale stalks, tear in large bite sized bits, approximately 5 x 5cm and put in a bowl.  Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, a little salt and sugar, toss and spread out in a single layer on two baking trays. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or so until crisp.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and crisp further.  Enjoy. 

Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

An enchanting name for carrot jam.  Sophie Grigson shared this recipe when she taught a course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1993.  I’m loving Sophie’s new book ‘A Curious Absence of Chickens: A journal of life, food and recipes from Puglia’.

600g carrots

500g caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick. 

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

Serve on scones, wee buns or with goat’s cheese.


Twice last week, I got a request for a few tips on how to make really great gravy. A super tasty gravy is always part of a roast dinner and certainly an essential part of the magic of a traditional Christmas feast. 

So here are a few of my top tips.

The best gravy is made in the roasting tin after the cooked bird or joint of meat has been removed. The caramelised juices that accumulate at the bottom of the tin are packed with flavour. There will be a little fat too but skim that off carefully and save for making delicious roasties. You’ll need some really good well-flavoured stock and now is the time to start to build up a stash in your freezer. Stock is a flavoured liquid made from bones and poultry carcasses and giblets when available. Add lots of root vegetables, carrot, celery, onions, the green tops of leeks when you have them, a few peppercorns, no salt, parsley stalks, fresh herb trimmings. Fish stock takes just 20 mins to simmer and is made from fish bones, vegetable stock is made from lots of vegetables including mushroom stalks. I love to add a little ginger too, even peelings add a little extra something.

No brassicas (cabbage family) because the flavour taints the stock. No potatoes either because they soak up rather than add flavour.

Neither are beets a good idea, that’s unless you want to make Borsch or don’t mind having a pink gravy.

You’ll also need some roux to thicken the liquid gravy. As you can see from the recipe included, it’s super simple to make and a brilliant standby ingredient to keep in a covered box in the fridge.

Cranberry sauce is also made in minutes, look out for some fresh, preferably Irish cranberries, I like a simple cranberry sauce but of course you can zhush it up with citrus jest, chilli and spices or even port if you fancy.

Breadcrumbs are also great to have in the freezer, so save every scrap of stale bread, including the crusts to make into crumbs. Go the whole hog and make up a few batches of stuffing, freeze and have it ready to pop into your turkey on Christmas Day and also a traditional bread sauce if that floats your boat and it’s certainly a favourite of mine.

Now I want to add something else to this column, it’s a stollen. The traditional German Christmas Cake, a rich fruity loaf with a layer of marzipan tucked inside.

Make it now and hide it away to share with friends at Christmas. This is the recipe from my most recent book, The New Ballymaloe Bread Book. You could make several and gift them to friends, a change from the traditional Christmas Cake or maybe as well as.

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 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

2-3 raw or cooked chicken, preferably organic 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.


For one roast chicken, double or triple the quantity for a turkey or goose.

600-900ml homemade chicken stock

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

After the bird or joint has roasted and been removed to a low oven to rest. Tilt the roasting tin to one corner, spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.


110g butter

110g flour

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

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Serves 6 approximately

175g fresh or frozen, preferably Irish cranberries

4 tablespoons water

75g granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Serve warm or cold.

Mary Jo’s Stollen

Taken from The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books

My lovely American friend and legendary baker, Mary Jo McMillin, shared this delicious stollen recipe with me.  It’s a three-day process but really worth it.

Stollen is a fruit bread, speckled with nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit, coated with icing sugar and often containing marzipan. It is a traditional German Christmas bread and apparently was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545.

Makes 2 x 700g cakes

Brandied Fruit

250g mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, candied peel and/or diced glacé cherries)

2 tablespoons brandy

Yeast Sponge Starter:

15g fresh yeast (or 1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast)

115ml tepid milk

115g strong white flour


55g caster sugar

grated rind of ½ lemon

110g butter, softened

2 eggs

5g salt

250g strong white flour

To Finish:

175g marzipan (see recipe)

2 tablespoons melted butter

3-4 tablespoons icing sugar

Day 1

Mix the dried fruit with the brandy in a bowl.  Cover with cling film and allow the fruit to macerate overnight.

Day 2

To make the yeast sponge starter, crumble the fresh or dried yeast into the tepid milk in a medium bowl.  Set aside in a warm, draught-free place.  After about 5 minutes, it should be creamy and slightly frothy on top.  Mix in the flour and beat well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with cling film and allow to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes, until light and well risen.

Meanwhile, put the caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the lemon rind and rub it into sugar with your fingertips.  Add the butter and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the salt, scrape down the edges of the bowl with a spatula and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes, until soft.

Add the risen yeast sponge to the creamed mixture along with the 250g strong white flour.  Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on a medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and soft.  It should not stick to your fingers.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2-2 ½ hours, until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and scrape it out onto a clean flour-dusted surface.  Flatten to 1cm and sprinkle the brandy-soaked fruit on top.  Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead the fruit into the dough.  The dough may grow sticky but avoid adding more flour.  Scrape fruited dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3

Remove the dough from the fridge and scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half.  Shape each half into an oval and roll to about 2cm thick.  Make an indentation lengthways along the centre of the dough and lay a 75g long sausage-shaped piece of marzipan on it.  Fold over and press to seal.  Place each oval approximately 5cm apart on a parchment-lined baking tray.

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm, draught-free place for 4-5 hours, until doubled in size.

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

Spray the loaves with a water mister.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until deep golden and fully cooked.

While still hot, brush with melted butter, then sieve some icing sugar thickly over the top.

Cool well on wire racks before slicing.  The stollen will keep wrapped for four or five days and may be frozen.


So versatile and delicious.  Use marzipan to stuff croissants, brioche or pastries.

Makes 300g

110g granulated sugar

62ml water

175g ground almonds

1 small egg white

natural almond extract, to taste (do not use more than 4 drops)

Put the sugar and water in a deep saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil, then cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from the saucepan sides.   Remove the cover and boil rapidly just to the thread stage (106-113°C on a candy thermometer).

Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir the syrup for a second or two, until cloudy.  Stir in the ground almonds.  Set aside to cool briefly.

Lightly whisk the egg white, then add the almond extract and stir this into the almond mixture.  Transfer the paste from the saucepan to a bowl.  Cool. 

Knead the cool marzipan – it should feel like moulding clay.  Put in a bowl or jar, cover and use as required. 

This will keep for months stored in a covered box in the fridge.

Top Tip – how to make breadcrumbs!

Any time you have a slice or two of bread or a heel left over, make breadcrumbs. I’ve seen breadcrumbs for sale for more than the price of a loaf of bread for a 250g bag, so let me share the secret of how simple it is to make your own.

You can make breadcrumbs by grating squares of stale bread on the coarsest part of a box grater. The breadcrumbs won’t be as uniform as those made in a food processor, but that’s fine. This doesn’t work with modern sliced bread, which tends to be more rubbery. Breadcrumbs are normally made with white yeast bread, but soda breadcrumbs are also delicious. Any time you have stale bread, get into the habit of whizzing it in the food processor, putting the breadcrumbs in a bag and popping it into the freezer. They don’t freeze solid, so you can get to them at any time. There’s something psychological about having them at the ready, which will make you more inclined to use them in stuffings, for coating fish, in plum puddings, croquettes, fish cakes and bread sauce, or as buttered crumbs or pangrattato.


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