AuthorDarina Allen

Reboot The System

A recent encounter with antibiotics has set me thinking about the very best way to replenish my gut biome with oodles of good microbes after a course of essential antibiotics. In their quest to kill off all the pathogenic bacteria, many of the beneficial as well as the harmful microbes are extinguished, that’s just the way it is.
From a growing body of research, we all know just how important it is to maintain a healthy gut biome and not just for physical, but also for our mental health.
Good bacteria don’t just facilitate digestion but also help to keep harmful bacteria in check so it’s vital to be proactive and rebuild the gut biome as soon as possible. It’s worth knowing that it can take several weeks, even months to restore gut health after a course of antibiotics.
So how best to go about it? For me as a non-medic there are just two P words to remember – probiotics and pre-biotics.
PROBIOTICS are foods, (or supplements) containing live microorganisms, principally, lactobacillus, and bifidobacterium (healthy bacteria) and saccharomyces boulardi (a type of yeast). Probiotics have a beneficial influence on the immune system.
PREBIOTICS
Prebiotics come from high fibre foods, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans. They provide nourishment for good bacteria in the gut, help to restore gut flora and slow down the growth of harmful bacteria.
Fermented foods like yoghurt, natural cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and particularly milk kefir are also brilliant to restore a healthy gut biome.
Make your own for extra complexity, see how easy it is to make your own ferments and yoghurt, but do use organic ingredients when possible.
I’m a big fan of BONE BROTH, it’s all about collagen to strengthen the gut lining. It also helps to rebuild the intestinal barrier, repair connective tissue and the intestinal wall, particularly relevant for those with diverticulitis. Apparently 65% of people over 60 have the condition though some are not bothered by it.
Lots of rest, keep stress to the minimum and get as much really good sleep as you possibly can.
So here’s my not altogether comprehensive list of nourishing foods to put the pep back into our step…
Probiotics like pure natural organic yoghurt, raw milk kefir and raw milk from a small organic dairy herd (your choice). Fermented products mentioned above plus miso, real cheese, fresh fish, avocados, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, the highest inulin content of any vegetable, a superstar for building back diversity in the gut, Winter greens and turmeric, bananas – lots there to keep you sated.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and delicious Spring…

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes (Slices)

Jerusalem artichokes are superstars for reintroducing beneficial bacteria into the gut. They have the highest insulin content of any vegetable; Jerusalem Artichoke soup is delicious (see column 9th December ‘sleepwalking in a food security crisis) but this is a totally brilliant way to cook Jerusalem artichokes. Great as a vegetable accompaniment of course, but also super delicious in warm salads, starters or with any meat particularly goose, duck, pheasant…

Serves 4 to 6

450g Jerusalem artichokes, well-scrubbed

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Slice the well-scrubbed artichokes into 7mm rounds or lengthwise. Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with the extra virgin olive oil.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Arrange in a single layer on silicone paper on a roasting tin.  Roast for 10 minutes or until golden on one side then flip over and cook on the other side until nicely caramelised.   Test with the tip of a knife – they should be tender.  One could sprinkle with a little thyme or rosemary, but they are perfectly delicious without any further embellishment. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve.

Homemade Yoghurt

It is so simple to make your own yoghurt – the higher the quality the milk, the better the end result will be.

We use organic Jersey milk and ingredients where possible.

600ml fresh milk

2-3 tsp live natural yoghurt

Heat the milk to 90°C in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Allow to cool to 42°C.  Gently whisk in the yogurt. Leave in the saucepan or pour into a deep terracotta bowl, cover and put into a warm draught-free place until set.  This usually takes about 14 hours.  The cooler the temperature, the longer the yogurt will take to set, but too high a temperature (over 50°C) will kill the bacillus and the yogurt will not form, 43-44°C is the ideal temperature

Yoghurt can be set in a warm airing cupboard or boiler room, a vacuum flask with a wide neck or an insulated ice bucket

To keep the yoghurt warm, an earthenware pot with a lid, wrapped up in a warm blanket, put close to a radiator will also do the job.  The simple aim is to provide steady even warmth to allow the bacillus to grow.  Remember to keep back 2 tablespoons of your bowl of yoghurt as the starter of the next lot.

Ayran

On a trip to Turkey, I came across Ayran – a drinking yoghurt which is not only brilliantly healthy but becomes addictive.  It’s almost a national drink in Turkey and is an excellent way to build up a healthy gut flora.

Simply dilute best quality natural yoghurt with cold iced water, approximately one third water to yoghurt depending on quality and thickness of the original, it should have a frothy top – it’s best to whisk in the water. 

Penny’s Kombucha from the Ballymaloe Fermentation Shed

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweet tea.  It is said to have many health benefits when consumed regularly. It’s super easy to make, don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar terms like scoby.

Link in with your local fermentation hub to source a scoby and kombucha to get going – there are various active groups on Facebook and Instagram.

The following websites are also worth checking out:

www.allaboutkombucha.ie

www.kefirgrains.ie

750ml boiling water

2 tsp loose leaf tea or 2 tea bags (green, white or black – organic is best)

150g organic caster sugar

1.25 litres dechlorinated water

250ml Kombucha

1 Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast)

Equipment – 3 litre Kilner jar or large Pyrex bowl or similar. Measuring jug

*Don’t use a metal container when brewing kombucha

Pour the cold water into the Kilner jar.

Make the tea with 750ml of boiling water in a teapot or bowl. Let this sit for a few minutes to infuse.  Add the caster sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain the sweet tea into the cold water in the jar. 

The temperature of the sweetened tea should now be tepid and you should have just over 2 litres of liquid.

Add 250ml of Kombucha and the Scoby.

Cover the jar or bowl with a clean cloth tied around with string or an elastic band. Don’t be tempted to put a lid on it because the Kombucha Scoby needs air to thrive.

Put in a warmish place for 10-14 days. It should be out of direct sunlight and somewhere it won’t have to be moved.  Taste after 10 days and decide if it’s to your liking and if not, leave a little longer – the taste you are looking for is a pleasing balance between sweet and sour.

Bottling

Lift off the Scoby (which looks like a jelly) and put it in a bowl with 250ml of your just brewed Kombucha and cover this with a plate or bowl while you bottle the rest.

Pour the brewed Kombucha into bottles through a funnel (makes 2 x 1 litre bottles), or into another large Kilner jar. You can then store this in the fridge and enjoy as it is, or you can do a second ferment to add flavour and extra nutritional benefits!

Second Fermentation

To each bottle you can add a handful of any of the following:

  • fresh or frozen (defrosted) raspberries.
  • fresh or frozen (defrosted) strawberries and 1 tsp raw cacao
  • ½ apple and a small beetroot chopped
  • 1 ripe peach sliced

Let this sit for 24-48 hours at room temperature with a lid on and then strain out the fruit (or vegetables) and bottle. Store in the fridge and enjoy. Delicious!

Mexico City

A tempting wedding invitation gave us the excuse we needed to spend a very enjoyable interlude in Mexico recently.

Over a year ago, two of our lovely middle aged friends, upped sticks and moved lock, stock and barrel from the UK and Denmark to Mexico City, now considered to be one of the coolest places to live anywhere in the world, there and Margate on the south coast of England….

Richard is a baker of some considerable renown.

Having started the now world famous Mecca of sourdough, Tartine in San Francisco with Chad Robertson, he was later invited by René Redzepi of Noma to Copenhagen where he established his own Hart Bageri in Frederiksberg. Plans are currently underway to establish yet another artisan bakery to introduce his deeply flavourful natural sourdoughs and viennoiserie to the eager expat hipsters in the leafy La Condesa and Roma area of Mexico City.

His paramour, Henrietta Lovell, aka The Rare Tea Lady plans to run her exquisite, rare tea business sourced from tiny tea gardens around the world from Mexico City and the original headquarters in London.

The wedding in a beautiful venue called Salón Barcelona was further embellished with brightly coloured pinatas. The bride wore a flowing hand printed silk dress in shades of whisper pink with a pale yellow ruff on the hem and carried a bouquet of heritage wheat tied with a pink velvet bow. This was carried all the way from Italy by the farmer, who grows the wheat for Richard’s slowly fermented sourdough loaves. How romantic was that?

Flamboyantly dressed friends travelled from all over the world to celebrate the joyous occasion. Tea cocktails laced with mescal and tequila flowed, Mexican street food, quesadillas, tacos, elotes, esquites, tamales were served at intervals throughout the evening. Live music and dance and a selection of refreshing ice creams, homemade in small batches from ripe mangoes, sapote, and other seasonal fruits, what a fun party.

But Mexico City has so much more. It’s a really hot food city with some of the very best food I’ve eaten anywhere and markets to make you swoon. Before I start to wax lyrical about the food. I must mention that Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world apart from London. The National Museum of Anthropology located within Chapultepec Park is not to be missed and I would also say that Museo de Arte Popular and Museo de Arte Contempóraneo also be on your absolutely ‘must see’ list. Both are in the Centro Historico, so pop your head into the awe inspiring Catedral Metropolitana. Make time, if possible, to see Diego Rivera’s Mural Museum and if you can make it to the Mescal and Tequila Museum, do so. Museo Frida Kahlo needs to be booked months ahead but it’s sooooo worth it.

There are many beautiful markets but at least try to get to the Flower Market and the huge Mercado San Juan just a few steps southwest of the historic centre. There’s a wonderful communal eating area where paper thin slices of beef cecina are flashed over charcoal barbecues then eaten with black beans, avocado and a selection of fiery and mild salsas. Visit the butchery areas where not a scrap of meat or bone or intestines is wasted but continue to wander on until you find the exotic meat stalls selling indigenous delicies, a mesmerising selection armadillo, crocodile, iguana, turtle, snake, skunk, wild boar, deer and buffalo, even lion and tiger…Apart from Mexican, traditional foods, there are excruciatingly expensive exotic imports like the finest caviar, Iberico ham and Parmigiana Reggiano.

Most intriguing of all is the area where they sell the staple of the pre-Hispanic diet, a vast selection of insects – crickets, grasshoppers, ants, spiders, tarantulas, grubs, maguey cactus worms, scorpions, can now be found not just in markets and street stalls but also on virtually every high-end restaurant menu.

They are super high in protein, the Aztecs, Mixtecs and other civilisations flourished for millennia on a diet rich in crickets, grubs, grasshoppers and other edible invertebrates. They have been rediscovered and mark my word; they will be coming our way soon.
A favourite way to eat crunchy chapulines in Oaxaca is on tacos with a dollop of guacamole, a sprinkling of finely diced white onion, crumbled queso fresco, chopped coriander and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Insects, worms and ant eggs are frequently added to omelettes or sprinkled over frittatas and snacks. I greatly enjoyed an ant egg omelette at Cardenal in Mexico City, they are crunchy like popcorn!

They are already being farmed by ‘sustainable entrepreneurs’ and the UN describe them as a ‘promising source of sustainable protein’

I simply didn’t have enough meal slots to get to every restaurant, café, bakery, taqueria, and fonda that I wanted to visit in Mexico City but here is a list of a few that I particularly loved.

Rosetta, owned by the celebrated Mexican woman chef Elena Reygades who spoke at Food on the Edge in 2023, is ranked 49th in the world’s top 50 restaurants, I would put her much higher on the list, the food was memorably delicious.

Panderia, her café/bakery is also superb as is Lardo where we returned a second time – don’t miss the guava pastries and superb brunch dishes.

Máximo, owned by Chef Eduardo Garcia and his wife Gabrielle is also superb and ranked 28th in the world’s top 50 restaurants.

El Cardenale, for breakfast, has several branches in Mexico City, all really good but my favourite is in the Hilton Hotel in Alameda, close to the Centro Historico. I loved everything but particularly enjoyed the escamole (crunchy ant eggs) omelette and of course dipping the soft squishy conchas in their hot chocolate.

Expendio de Maiz in Roma is a very cool, very basic café where they have no menu, but keep on bringing food until you’re feeling deliciously satiated.

Mendl and Maque are two other breakfast spots in the La Condesa area. There’s so much more, but I’ve run out of space…

Burrata with Kumquats and EVO

This simple combination served at Lardo in Mexico City was super delicious with flat bread straight from the oven – kumquats are at their very best just now.  The poached fruit will keep in the fridge for weeks and is also delicious with ice cream, pancetta, roast pork, duck…a leaf or two of rocket embellishes this even further.

Serves 1 as a substantial starter or a small plate

1 burrata (cut in half if too large)

Poached Kumquats

235g kumquats

200ml water

110g sugar

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

First poach the kumquats.

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender when pierced with a knife.  Time may vary depending on the batch of citrus. 

Cool and store until needed.

To Serve

Place a ball of burrata on a plate, slice almost in half perpendicularly.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of poached kumquats into the centre so it spills out on either side.  Season with freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkle of sea salt then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve immediately with flatbread 

Fried Eggs on a Hoya Santa Leaf


Hoya santa, Piper auritum. Pronounced hah SAN -tah is a leafy herb in the piperaceae (pepper) family.
It is sometimes referred to as the pepper leaf or sacred pepper and has large floppy heart shaped leaves with a velvety texture. The plant grows to a metre tall and can be grown in a greenhouse here in Ireland. Hoya Santa leaves have a peppery, herbaceous flavour and are also used to wrap fish, meat, cheese and sometimes as the wrapping for tamales

A beautiful breakfast for one.

1 fresh hoya santa leaf
a dash of oil
1 freshly laid egg
flaky sea salt

Accompaniment:
queso fresco
black beans (see recipe)

Heat a griddle or an iron frying pan. Turn the leaf over and over on the hot pan for a few seconds. Remove, drizzle a little oil over the base of the pan, lay the leaf on top. Crack an egg onto the leaf, put a cover on the pan.  Allow to cook until the albumin is set, but the yolk is still runny.

Slide onto a warm plate, egg upwards. Sprinkle with a few grains of flaky sea salt and serve with a little piece of queso fresco to crumble over the top and a side of black beans.
Enjoy the most delicious breakfast.

Frijoles de Olla – Mexican Beans

Beans cooked simply like this and the Frijoles Refritos (refried beans) that are made from them are virtually a staple in Mexico, served at almost every meal including breakfast.  In Mexico, the markets are often divided into two sections, the regular stalls serving all manner of things and the eating side where people eat simply and cheaply at large tables covered in colourful oil cloth.  Hundreds of people eat these beans every day in simple market ‘fondas’ with some coarse salt, some hot green chillies and a stack of tortillas and maybe a few small pieces of creamy cheese melting over them.  They keep well and taste even better the next day or the day after.

Serves 6-8 depending on how they are served

450g dried or canned black beans or red kidney or pinto beans

1-2 tbsp good quality lard or butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp salt approx. (may take more depending on the beans)

1-2 sprigs of epazote (optional)

The day before.  

Cover the beans generously with cold water and soak overnight.   Alternatively, if you are in a hurry, bring the beans to the boil for 3 or 4 minutes, then take off the heat and leave aside for an hour or so.

Either way – drain the beans, cover with fresh water, about 1.4 litres, add the lard or butter and onion but not the salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1-2 hours depending on the beans – about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the salt and the sprig of epazote if you have it.  Keep an eye on the beans while they cook, they should always be covered with liquid, if you see the beans peeping through cover with boiling water by about 1cm.  When they are cooked the beans should be completely soft and the liquid slightly thickish and soupy (reserve the cooking liquid if making Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans). 

Frijoles Refritos – Refried Beans

Refried beans with their thick coarse texture accompany numerous snacks including Mexican scrambled eggs.

50-75g best quality pork lard or butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

225g Frijoles de Olla (see previous recipe)

Heat the lard or butter in a heavy frying pan, cook the onion until soft and brown, increase the heat and add about a third of the beans and their broth to the pan and cook over a high heat mashing them as you stir with a wooden spoon, or you could even use a potato masher, gradually add the rest of the beans little by little until you have a thick coarse purée.  Taste and season with salt if necessary.   Although this sounds as though it might be a lengthy business, it only takes about 8 or 9 minutes.  The beans are ready when the thick purée begins to dry out and sizzle at the edges.

Frijoles Refritos keep well and may be reheated many times.

Rare Tea Company Earl Grey Martini

A traditional Earl Grey blended with pure bergamot oil from the ancient orchards of Calabria. This is a classic British tea made to exacting standards. A clean and exceptionally bright infusion with exhilarating citrus notes. 

Infuse 15g of Earl Grey in 1 litre of gin for 3-5 minutes.

Strain and stir over ice to serve.

Rare Tea Company Jasmine Silver Tip Martini

Jasmine Silver Tip tea is not flavoured but carefully scented over six consecutive nights with fresh Jasmine flowers. Once the preserve of the Chinese Imperial family. A deep and heady aroma with a light and gentle flavour.

Infuse 25g of Jasmine in 1 litre of gin for 15 minutes.

Strain and stir over ice to serve. A delicious cocktail…

Clear Out Those Cupboards

Wow, it’s February already, and the January blues have lifted at last. Was it my imagination or did that just whizz by in a blur of lashing rain, gales, a rainbow of weather warnings and dreary grey skies… I remember an occasional bright sunny day when I had a rush of blood to the head and wanted to fill a flask with some hot sausages to nibble with a mug of steaming broth after a walk across the bog or along the coast at Ballyandreen…
Saint Bridget’s Day has also come and gone with some memorable, joyous celebrations. At last we are celebrating our female patron saint with gusto.
Next up, Saint Valentine’s Day, yet another excuse to dream up lot’s of little surprise treats and you know it doesn’t have to be something extravagant, could be an especially loving gesture, a favourite roast dinner with all the bells and whistles or just hide a few normally forbidden homemade cookies under the pillow…
If you do manage to snag a table in your favourite restaurant, don’t forget to send a big hug to the cooks and a big thank you to all the team who have given their Valentine’s Day so you can have fun.
Apart from all of that, I’ve been poking around in my fridge and pantry and I’m on a mission to use up as many half used  packets of this and that, to make a whole host of super nutritious and delicious Kitchen Suppers…Set yourself a challenge, you may be  amazed by how many good things you can make without ever making a trip to the shops.
Beans, chickpeas and lentils, inexpensive and packed with protein, create endless possibilities, perk them up with some of those spices and wisendy chillies or chilli flakes… While you are at it, make a double batch so you can freeze some for another meal
No house should be without a bottle of fish sauce (nam pla). It’s an incredible flavour enhancer for soups, stews, stir fries…  gives you so much bang for your buck. Squid Brand is good, soy sauce too of course.
Black rice vinegar from China and a jar of doubanjaing was put to good use in the super tasty chicken noodle soup, you’ll find these ingredients in a good Asian shop or substitute as suggested….
I found some boudoir biscuits in a packet and thought, I know exactly what to do with those, I’ll make a tiramisu which means ‘pick me up’. just the thing to cheer us up in February. I love the mixture of rum and sherry, but you could play around with other booze if you don’t have those to hand, The biscuits were a bit stale, but it doesn’t matter for tiramisu because they’re soaked in the boozy coffee anyway…and who doesn’t love tiramisu….
Lay the table, pop a few little flowers or even some foliage into a little pot.  I’m loving the snowdrops, primroses, violets and the first of the crocus at present. How about a couple of candles….  Suddenly your kitchen supper will be transformed.

For me, every meal is a special occasion, a celebration of the work of the farmers and growers who toil to produce the ingredients, and the cooks and chefs who transform the produce into magical meals. Enjoy every bite and the satisfaction of using up all those forgotten ingredients in your kitchen cupboards and pray for peace and plenty for all in our times….

Chicken Noodle Soup

Oh my goodness, this soup is so comforting and delicious just what’s needed to chase away the winter blues on a cold and blustery evening, pretty much a meal in a bowl. I used up some chicken thighs from the freezer and lots of odds and ends of noodles from my pantry. I also found some black rice vinegar that I brought back from Chengdu in China a couple of years ago. It’s called Chinkiang vinegar and it’s really worth knowing about, it’s got fantastic deep flavour and is a fraction of the price of good balsamic vinegar. Seek it out in good Asian shops, many now stock it.
You could also use as I did, a little doubanjiang instead of the chilli oil, it’s made from fermented soybeans with hot chilli peppers and is the quintessential taste of China…I love it.

Serves 6

1 .5kg of chicken thighs (use free-range and organic for best flavour)
3 Irish garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 x 7.5cm piece of ginger (75g approx.), peeled and finely chopped
1 large bunch of scallions, about 225g, thinly sliced
4 tsp of pure salt, (sounds a lot but you’ll need it…)
lots of freshly ground pepper
2.4 litres of water or light chicken stock

225g noodles, could be curly or Ramen style noodles or even tagliatelle
250g carrot

Topping
50ml Chinese black rice vinegar
50ml soy sauce
½ – 2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
Doubanjiang or chilli oil to taste

Put the chicken thighs into a deep saucepan with the garlic, ginger and the white part of the scallions. Add salt and pepper. Cover with water, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the chicken is tender and fully cooked through, 35-40 minutes approx. depending on the type of chicken you use (could be less if it is an intensively reared chicken).

Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and as much doubanjiang or chilli oil as you fancy together in a little bowl. Keep aside until later to top the soup.

When the chicken is tender, remove from the pot, add the noodles and carrot julienne to the broth and cook until the noodles are al dente.

Meanwhile, tear the skin off the thighs and remove the meat from the bones. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces.
When the noodles are cooked, return the chicken to the pot of hot broth. Stir gently, taste, and tweak the seasoning if necessary.

Divide the hot broth between 6 or 8 bowls, scatter each with sliced green scallions and spoon a generous tablespoon of perky oil over the top. Serve the remainder separately in case anyone wants a little more. Eat with a spoon and chopsticks.

Note
I added the chicken skin to a stock pot, cracked the thigh bones with the back of my chopping knife and added them too for extra flavour and collagen. Otherwise add them to your ‘Stock Bits’ box in the freezer for another time.

Smoky Chana Dahl

A particularly delicious recipe for orange lentils with a haunting smoky flavour from the ancient dhungar technique. There are hundreds of recipes for dahls, maybe even thousands. Many Indians eat a version of dahl every day, delicious, comforting, nourishing food and brilliant for a kitchen supper with friends. Serve with a bowl of fluffy Basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

200g chana dahl – orange lentils     
600ml water
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp pure salt

Masala
4 cloves of garlic
4cm piece of fresh ginger (25g approx.), peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp of cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
2 green cardamom
a few scraps of cinnamon stick
1 medium red onion, chopped (75g approx.)
250g ripe tomatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

1 tsp Kasuri Methi, dried fenugreek leaves

¼ tsp of garam masala

½ tsp of coriander powder
2 tbsp of chopped coriander

175ml approx. water

Tarka – The Spicy Topping
1 tbsp ghee or oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 whole dried red chilli cut into a few pieces

For the Dungar
1 lump of charcoal
2 tsp ghee

1 clove, optional

Wash and drain the dahl, put into a heavy saucepan with the water, turmeric and salt. Stir, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until tender.


Meanwhile, chop the cloves of garlic, ginger and chilli roughly, transfer to a pestle mortar and pound to a coarse texture, keep aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole, add the cumin seeds, whole cloves, barely crushed cardamom pods, a few scraps of cinnamon, Stir over the heat for a few seconds. Add the chopped red onion, continue to stir and cook for 3-4 mins then add the garlic/ginger/chilli mixture for another 2-3 mins until the raw smell evaporates.
Add the chopped tomatoes.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover, continue to cook over a gentle heat for 7-8 mins until soft and melting.
Now it’s time to add the rest of the spices – red chili powder, dried fenugreek, garam masala, coriander powder and fresh coriander. Stir and cook for a few seconds then add the cooked chana dahl and 175ml water or more if you would like it looser. Cover and simmer gently for 5-6 mins. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, make the tarka to spoon over the dahl. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the small saucepan, add the chopped garlic and chilli, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. When the garlic just begins to colour, spoon over the hot dahl for extra flavour. Serve immediately with basmati rice or for a really special smoky version, heat a piece of charcoal over a gas flame until glowing, meanwhile keep the dahl hot and covered. Sit a little stainless steel bowl on top of the dahl. With a tongs, drop the coal into the bowl, spoon a couple of teaspoons of ghee or oil and a crushed garlic clove (optional) on top, it will start to smoke instantly so cover the saucepan and allow the dahl to absorb the smoky aroma, 3-5 mins should be ample time – super delicious, a traditional Rajasthani nomad technique called the dhungar method.

Tiramisu

The name means pick-me-up and not surprisingly either, considering the amount of booze! How about making it in a heart-shaped dish or dishes for St. Valentine’s Day.

Serves 8

225ml strong espresso coffee (if your freshly made coffee is not strong enough, add 1 tsp instant coffee)

4 tbsp brandy

2 tbsp Jamaica rum

75g dark chocolate

3 eggs, separated – preferably free-range

4 tbsp caster sugar

250g Mascarpone cheese

38-40 boudoir biscuits

1 dish 20.5 x 25.5cm with low sides or 8 individual heart-shaped dishes

Mix the coffee with the brandy and rum.

Roughly grate the chocolate (we do this in a food processor with the pulse button).

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the ‘ribbon’ stage and is light and fluffy, then fold in the Mascarpone one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the cheese mixture. Now you are ready to assemble the Tiramisu.

Dip each side of the boudoir biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture and arrange side by side in the dish. Spread half the Mascarpone mixture gently over the biscuits, sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the top, then another layer of soaked biscuits and finally the rest of the Mascarpone. Cover the whole bowl carefully and refrigerate for at least 6 hours – I usually make it the day before I use it.

Just before serving, scatter the remainder of the chocolate over the top and serve.

Tiramisu will keep for several days in a fridge but make sure it is covered, otherwise it may pick up ‘fridge’ tastes.

Winter Warmers

Rory O’Connell

My goodness, the weather has been particularly unpleasant this winter and despite the tiny little “stretch” in evening light, it feels that we are sometime away from bright spring days. Having said that, I have spotted some daffodils blooming in my garden – much too early if you ask me, and my spring bulbs in pots are bravely pushing up through the cold and damp soil. Little glimmers of hope.

However, while we await those joyous moments of spring, I feel the need for comforting and warming dishes to soothe body and soul, so I am suggesting three dishes to fulfil that need.

Lentil and Kale Soup is a hearty and robust offering which I find deeply nourishing and despite its rather rustic appearance has a really sophisticated flavour. I serve this in the “Italian style”, so thick and soupy at the same time. You can indeed loosen the consistency with a little more stock to achieve a thinner soup or at least one that is less thick, but the porridge type consistency is part of the charm. If you can manage to find a bottle of “new seasons” extra virgin olive oil, a little drizzle of that on the soup is marvellous. The “new seasons” oil is from olives pressed last autumn or early winter, so I suppose the most recent olive oil. I love the oils from Tuscany in Italy which generally have a freshness and flavour that is described as grassy. It is an ingredient that I look forward to every year and though it is expensive, a little goes a long way and the rich green oil elevates the ordinary to the very special. If you do buy a bottle, drizzle a little on a cooked grilled steak or fish, cooked fresh pasta, tender cooked cauliflower or broccoli and even over humble mashed swede turnips with a grating of Coolea or Parmesan cheese. Marvellous.

Casserole Roast Chicken with Indian Spices will also warm the cockles. The green chilli that is secreted in the pot with the bird and the spices is the heat source here. The technique for cooking the bird in a heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid is endlessly useful and can be used for other birds such as pheasant, guinea fowl and even a turkey, though that will require an extra-large pot. The beauty of preparing a bird in this way, is that once it is cooked, the juices that have been trapped in the tightly sealed casserole can simply be the sauce. In this recipe, I de-grease the cooking juices and add a little cream though that could be optional. Other than the fresh tasting green chilli, the remaining spicing here is gentle. I serve this with plain boiled rice. A crispy poppadom would be a charming addition.

The Winter Chocolate Apple Pudding to finish the meal is a personal favourite and the addition of a little mincemeat leftover from Christmas past is somehow a way of putting a little of the winter to bed or at least to good use – perhaps that is wishful thinking. This comforting dish should be served warm and ideally on hot plates with cold softly whipped cream to accompany. The combination of rich chocolate, refreshing apple and fruity mincemeat is delicious and the contrast between warm pudding and icy cold cream is a delight.

Lentil and Kale Soup

Serves 6 -8

250g green lentils

1 red chilli

1 bay leaf

3 cloves of unpeeled garlic

branch of thyme

1 onion halved

1 – 1.2 litres chicken stock

500g curly kale, weighed after the tough stalks have been removed

150ml cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the lentils, chilli, bay leaf, garlic, thyme, onion and chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook very gently until the lentils are tender. Do not allow the lentils to become overcooked and mushy but at the same time they do need to be completely cooked all the way through. I add a good pinch of salt to the cooking lentils 5 minutes before they are cooked.

Remove the bay leaf, thyme and onion and discard. Peel the skin off the chilli and discard the skin. Split it in half lengthways and remove and discard the seeds. Chop the chilli flesh finely and add back into the lentils. Press the flesh out of the cooked garlic and discard the skins. Stir the soft garlic into the lentils. Taste and correct seasoning.

Bring 3 litres of water to a boil in a large saucepan and season well with salt. Add the kale leaves and cook uncovered until completely tender. Strain off all of the water and place the leaves in a food processor. Purée briefly, add the cream and continue to puree to a smooth consistency. Taste and correct seasoning making sure to add some freshly ground black pepper. Both elements of the soup can be put aside now for reheating later.

When ready to serve the soup, Heat the lentils and kale in separate saucepans. When both mixtures are simmering, add the kale to the lentil saucepan and gently fold through. The soup can look streaky at this stage and that is the way I prefer to serve it. Ladle into hot soup bowls and drizzle each serving with olive oil. Serve immediately

Serve with new season extra virgin olive oil.

Casserole Roast Chicken with Indian Spices

Sometimes when I want a spiced chicken dish, I want a no-holds-barred, hot and aromatic experience. Other times, I am in the mood for tender and succulent slices of chicken with a lightly spiced, thin cream or juice to accompany it. This recipe is the latter.

Serves 6

1 free-range chicken, about 1.3kg

20g soft butter

1 heaped tsp coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground

¼ tsp turmeric powder

pinch of chilli powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

4 green chillies

225ml cream

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaf

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Mix the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder with a pinch of salt. Mix this spice mix into half of the butter.

Heat a heavy casserole on a gentle heat. Rub the breasts of the chicken dry with some kitchen paper. Smear the remaining half of the soft butter on the breasts. Place the chicken, breast side down into the heated casserole. The butter should sizzle a bit and that tells you the casserole is hot enough. If it doesn’t sizzle, whip out the chicken immediately and allow the casserole to get hotter.  Allow the chicken breasts to become golden brown, making sure the casserole doesn’t get so hot that it actually burns the butter. This will involve a bit of manoeuvring, perhaps sitting the chicken on its side and so on. Season the coloured chicken breasts with a pinch of salt and pepper. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then smear the spiced butter all over it. Place the chicken back in the casserole, breast side up. Pop the chillies around the chicken and sprinkle over the lemon juice.  Cover with greaseproof paper and a tight fitting lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 90 minutes. 

Remove the casserole from the oven and check to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked.  This can be done in several ways. One way, the best in my opinion, is to insert a metal skewer in between the leg and the breast. This is the last place to cook in the chicken so it is the best place to check. Count to ten seconds. Remove the skewer and test the temperature of the skewer on the back of your hand. If it doesn’t feel so hot as to make you immediately pull the skewer away from your hand with a start, then the chicken probably is not cooked. The other way to test is to endeavour to extract a little juice from the same place, between the breast and the leg to see if it is completely clear. If it is not clear and if there is any trace of pink in the juice, then it is not cooked. If this is the case put the chicken back in the oven for a further 10 minutes and repeat the test.

Remove the cooked chicken and the chillies, which by now will be collapsed and a bit sad looking, from the casserole and keep warm in the oven with the temperature reduced to 50°C/Gas Mark 1/2. Allow the chicken at least 15 minutes to rest before carving.

Strain out all of the cooking juices into a bowl and allow it to settle for a minute or two. The butter and chicken fat will rise to the surface of the liquid. Spoon off the buttery fat, now full of the flavour of the spices, and save it for roasting vegetables. It is particularly good with parsnips or for tossing into crushed new potatoes.

Place the degreased juices back in the casserole and add the cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is lightly thickened. Add the chopped coriander leaves. Taste and correct seasoning. Carve the chicken neatly and serve with the sauce. The chillies should be used to garnish the dish and the heat fiends will find them delicious to eat.

Winter Chocolate Apple Pudding

This is a variation of the classic apple betty, which is a simple pudding that I love.

Serves 4

1kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into large chunks

30g butter

2 tbsp water

For the crumb layer

150g mincemeat

125g soft white breadcrumbs

75g light soft brown sugar

50g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped

75g butter

3 tbsp golden syrup

To serve

chilled softly whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5.

Put the apples in a pan and toss with the butter and water over a gentle heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the apples start to soften and are collapsing just a little at the edges but still generally keeping their shape. Tip them into a 1.5 litre baking dish.

Mix together the mincemeat, breadcrumbs, sugar and chocolate and cover the apples loosely with this topping. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a small saucepan and pour it over the crumbs, making certain to soak them all.

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until the apple is soft, and the crumbs are golden and crisp. Allow to cool slightly, then serve in heated bowls with chilled softly whipped cream.

Saint Brigid’s Day

I just picked some enchanting little primroses in the garden; I literally got a OOOPS in my tummy when I saw them peeping out from behind a timber seed tray under a beech tree in the vegetable garden. I’m bringing them into the kitchen to crystallise and use them to decorate my Saint Brigid’s Day cake…it’s officially the start of Spring that we’ve been so longing for after that long, cold, wet stormy winter.
At last, after years of campaigning, the Celtic goddess, Saint Brigid has been elevated to her rightful place and has equal billing alongside Saint Patrick on the Irish calendar.
In January 2023, an official national holiday was declared to celebrate our female patron saint but ever since 2018, Irish embassies and consulates around the world have been marking the day by celebrating the remarkable creativity and achievements of women in a broad program of events worldwide.
Here in Ireland this year, we’ll celebrate the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Brigid’s passing with a special program of events nationwide. So, have you got anything planned with your friends or in your parish? I’m going to bake a cake and decorate it with the little crystallised primroses that I mentioned earlier and some little wood sorrel leaves that resemble the shape of a shamrock…a nod to Saint Patrick. I’m sharing the recipe which you may already know, but this is a keeper and I do riffs on it for Saint Patrick’s Day and for Easter Sunday as well so it’s a really good ‘master recipe’ to have in your repertoire…
Saint Brigid’s Day, or La Féile Bríde also coincides with the start of the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, one of the four major fire festivals of the year. The others in Irish folklore are Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain, celebrated by neopagans, with a variety of Celtic rituals.
Imbolc, which in old Neolithic language, translates literally to ‘in the belly’, comes halfway between the winter solstice in the spring equinox when the days  begin to lengthen,  nature wakes up and begins to leap into life and seed sowing begins.
At the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we will definitely mark the occasion by showing our students how to weave a little Saint Brigid’s Cross which they can take back to their homes all over the world. But we will hang ours over the dairy door to invoke Brigid’s blessing on our little herd of Jersey cows, who produce such beautiful rich milk and cream to make butter, cheese and yoghurt and milk kefir throughout the year. Maria Walsh, our dairy and fermentation queen and in-house herbalist will teach a Wellness Course to celebrate Saint Brigid’s Day on Thursday, 1st February here at the cookery school.  Maria will address the importance of a mindful morning practice to start your day, breath work, body self-care hacks, coffee alternatives.

She will also talk about ancestral healing modalities, hedgerow medicine focusing on seasonal Spring plants, herbal oils, tinctures, kefirs and much more….
Just as the shamrock is associated with Saint Patrick, the little woven reed or rush cross, is traditionally associated with Saint Brigid. Typically, it has four arms with a woven square in the centre, but three armed crosses are traditional in some counties. This was explained and demonstrated to me by Patricia O’Flaherty of Naomh Padraig Hand Crafts, a well-known Saint Brigid’s day cross maker at an event in the Irish Embassy in London a number of years ago.
The Saint Brigid’s cross, originally chosen by RTÉ as its logo in 1961, was dropped in 1995 in favour of a ’clean striking piece of modern design’. I personally would love to see it proudly reinstated.
So who exactly was Saint Brigid? Well, in reality, it’s difficult to differentiate between fact and myths, depending on whose research you decide to follow.
She was certainly a remarkable woman, a force to be reckoned with and one busy saint…
Dairymaids, cattle farmers, beekeepers and midwives all claim her as their patron saint as do blacksmiths, sailors, fugitives and poets….poultry keepers, scholars and travellers too. For me, Brigid was the original feminist, a trailblazer, a strong woman’s voice in a male dominated world, a feminine role model, a force to be reckoned with. Her legacy has stood the test of time, she is still widely venerated, and many lovely traditions still endure around the country, so check it out – another opportunity to get together and celebrate Mná na hÉireann.
Happy Saint Brigid’s Day.


Homemade Jersey Butter

You don’t absolutely need timber butter bats when making butter, but they do make it much easier to shape the butter into blocks. They’re more widely available than you might think, considering butter making a somewhat alternative enterprise although it’s now becoming super cool to make handmade butter. Keep an eye out in antique shops and charity shops and if you find some, snap them up. A good pair will bring you ‘butter luck’. Unsalted butter should be eaten within a few days, but the addition of salt will preserve it for two to three weeks. You can make butter with any quantity of cream (even a punnet).  Make extra and share with friends, they’ll be mightily impressed.

Darina’s Top Tips

Remember, sunlight taints butter (and milk) in a short time, so if you are serving butter outdoors, keep it covered.

Always keep butter covered in the fridge, otherwise it will become tainted by other flavours (rarely a bonus).

*This recipe may be halved for a small quantity.

  * We use 2% salt.

Makes about 1kg butter and 1 litre buttermilk

2.4 litres unpasteurised or pasteurized rich double cream at room temperature (we use our own Jersey cream)

2 tsp pure dairy salt (optional)

pair of butter bats or hands

Soak the wooden butter bats or hands in iced water for about 30 minutes so they do not stick to the butter.

Pour the double cream into a cold, sterilized mixing bowl. If it’s homogenised, it will still whip, but not as well. If you’re using raw cream and want a more traditional taste, leave it to ripen in a cool place, where the temperature is about 8°C (46°F), for up to 48 hours.

Whisk the cream at a medium speed in a food mixer until it is thick. First it will be softly whipped, then stiffly whipped. Continue until the whipped cream collapses and separates into butterfat globules. The buttermilk will separate from the butter and slosh around the bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixture into a cold, spotlessly clean sieve and drain well. The butter remains in the sieve while the buttermilk drains into the bowl. (The buttermilk can be used to make soda bread or as a thirst-quenching drink – it will not taste sour). Put the butter back into the clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk for a further 30 seconds to 1 minute to expel more buttermilk. Remove and drain as before. Fill the bowl containing the butter with very cold water. Use the butter bats or your clean hands to knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible. This is important, as any buttermilk left in the butter will sour and the butter will deteriorate quickly.

Note: If you handle the butter too much with warm hands, it will liquefy.

Drain off the water, cover and wash twice more, until the water is totally clear. Drain and divide the butter into 110g, 225g or 450g slabs. Pat into shape with the wet butter hands or bats.

N.B. Make sure the butter hands or bats have been soaked in ice-cold water for at least 30 minutes before using to stop the butter sticking to the ridges. Wrap in greaseproof or waxed paper and keep chilled in a fridge. The butter also freezes well.

Weigh the butter and calculate 2% of the total weight of pure salt. Spread it out in a thin layer, sprinkle evenly with the dairy salt and mix well. Mix thoroughly using the butter pats, then weigh into slabs as before.

For unsalted butter, omit the salt, cover well.  Use the unsalted butter ASAP because it deteriorates faster – salt is a preservative.

Bríde Cake Bread

Our neighbours in Cullohill used to make Bride Bread on Saint Brigid’s Day and on other celebratory days throughout the year.  Enjoy it freshly baked slathered with butter.

Makes 1 loaf (8 wedges)

450g plain white flour

30g butter

1 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 level tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

75g sultanas (or more if you’d like)

a generous pinch of caraway seeds (optional)

1 fresh egg

about 350 – 425ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, dice the butter and rub into the flour.  Sieve in the bread soda, then add the salt, sugar, sultanas and caraway seeds if using. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to the finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circular movement drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.

The trick is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. As soon as it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm approx. Transfer to a baking tray lightly dusted with flour.   Cut in 2 directions to create 8 wedges.   Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread.  Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Bríde bread is delicious with Cheddar cheese.

Saint Brigid’s Day Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions or the first of the new season’s wild garlic greens with a blob of butter melting into the centre as you serve.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g., Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g chopped spring onions or wild garlic greens (allium triquetrum – see Seasonal Journal)

350ml milk

50-110g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets in salted water.

Chop finely the spring onions or scallions.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. 

Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/Gas Mark 4. At this stage the texture needs to be a little softer than you would like because it will absorb the extra milk as it keeps warm and reheats.

Cover with parchment paper or a lid while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Champ Cakes

Shape leftovers into potato cakes, cook until golden on both sides in clarified butter or butter and oil. Serve piping hot.

Saint Brigid’s Day Cake with Crystallised Primroses and Wood Sorrell

We love this super delicious cake which we organically created especially for Saint Brigid’s day, green white and gold – how naff is that…

Serves 8-10

175g soft butter

150g caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g self-raising flour

To Decorate

Lemon Glacé Icing (see below)

Crystallised Primroses (see recipe)

8 pieces of wood sorrel leaves

1 x 20.5cm sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the icing, once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

Decorate with the crystallised primroses and wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

To Lemon Glacé Icing to ice top and sides of cake

225g icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2-4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Crystallized Flowers

Flowers and leaves crystallized with sugar will keep for months, although they may lose their initial vibrant colour. This is what we call a high-stool job – definitely a labour of love and not something suited to an impatient, Type A personality. The end result is both beautiful and rewarding and many family and staff wedding cakes have been embellished with crystallized flowers over the years.

Flowers and leaves must be edible and are all worth doing.

Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized e.g., primroses, violets, apple blossom, violas, rose petals…. We crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements.  Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g., mint, lemon balm, sweet cicely, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves.

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx.

Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on silicone paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box with an airtight lid.

Use Your Book Tokens

Want a little advice on how to use your Book tokens after the festive season….Before Christmas I got lots and lots of newly published cookbooks through the post, but I was so crazily busy that I just about managed to flick through them but didn’t manage to test anything from them until now. Today some thoughts on three different publications. The first one comes from Mark Moriarty, who very sweetly sent me a present of his first cookbook ‘Flavour’ with personal dedication, and a thank you for being an inspiration. How sweet is that…I was delighted to read that I was even a teensy bit of an inspiration to this super talented and thoroughly nice young man…and wait till you see the photo of him and his cute little dog on the inside cover.

The book is full of recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to try – how about Barbecued Chicken Tikka Skewers, or Yuk Sung with a Peanut Slaw. There’s a fancy Beef Wellington in there too and a super clever, Quick Pan Pizza that you and the kids will love. I was also tempted by the Beef Koftas with Tzatziki and Flatbreads and there’s lots, lots more.

Everyone’s favourite cooking Grandma, Mary Berry has published yet another book, can you imagine she has written over 75 cookbooks and pretty much all have been bestsellers. ‘Mary Makes it Easy’, the new ultimate stress-free cookbook has 120 brand new foolproof recipes.

As a home cook. Mary says she understands the pressures and challenges that come with preparing delicious meals day after day especially when you’re juggling a busy schedule in our frantic modern lives. She is determined that cooking and preparing food for friends and family shouldn’t be one of them, so she’s sharing lots of the tips and tricks that she’s learned over the years – what a woman?

I’ve chosen Humble Pie, (don’t you love the name of the recipe) to share with you from the book but I’m also looking forward to trying Friday Night Lamb Curry, Spinach Dahl, Meatball Toad in the Hole with Sage, and a one pot dish called Chicken which provides Tartiflette.

Last but certainly not least comes, ‘These Delicious Things’ by Pavilion Books, a compilation of recipes, published to raise vital funds for the charity Magic Breakfast which provides breakfast for thousands of hungry children every day. Can you imagine a more worthy cause? Over 100 cooks and chefs gladly provided a favourite recipe. The entire team who worked on the book gave their services free and 100% of the publisher’s net profits go to Magic Breakfast to try end children’s morning hunger which is a barrier to education in schools. This book is full of goodies.

Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Proper Porridge is both nourishing and delicious, Simon Hopkinson added a creamy rice pudding, Stanley Tucci shared his secret recipe for potato croquettes but there’s a myriad of super exciting spicy dishes too from the new generation of brilliant young and not so young chefs and cooks.

Last but not least…could be worth the price of the book for Nigel Slater’s Pear and Ginger Cake.

Jamie Oliver’s Proper Porridge

Recipe taken from ‘These delicious things’ published by Pavilion

One of my earliest recollections of comfort food is also one of my earliest memories, full stop.  I was about five years old and I’d been dropped off with my sister, Anna, to stay at my nan and grandad’s.  They lived in a cute little bungalow, stuck to a budget and cooked every single day.  Because me and Anna lived in a pub, there wasn’t really a routine, but over at Nan and Grandad’s, there was a real pattern to the day, starting at 7am sharp with Nan’s ritual of proper porridge-making.  There’d always be steaming cups of tea waiting for us on the table, and we’d climb into our chairs, feet swinging above the floor.

I can still picture the strange turquoise paper that lined the walls, the array of classic family photos on the mantelpiece and the retro drinks cabinet.  The radio – or the wireless as they called it – would always be on Radio 4 and we’d laugh as Grandad berated all the politicians during the news.

Nan’s porridge was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. Having researched it, hers was a classic Scottish method and it was delicious.

It was at about this time that Ready Brek launched a brilliant ad campaign where a kid went to school glowing after tucking into a bowlful.  Certainly, my nan’s porridge gave me a glow – it was on another level.

Serves 2

1 big builder’s mug of coarse rolled large oats, such as Flahavan’s

whole milk or cream, to serve

Proper porridge should take around 18 minutes from start to finish.  Pour the oats into a high-sided pan with 3 mugs of boiling water and a pinch of sea salt.  It’s important to start with water, as milk often scalds or boils over and doesn’t smell or taste great when it does.  Place the pan on a medium heat until it just starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, or until thick and creamy, stirring regularly, and adding a good splash of milk or cream towards the end to make it super-luxurious.

Nan would never be rushed when she made porridge, and all those torturous minutes later it would be poured into wide soup bowls and given to Grandad, Anna and me.  We’d go to tuck in straight away, but Grandad always stopped us, so I’m going to stop you now.  It’s important to wait another 3 minutes for the residual chill of the bowl to slightly cool down the porridge from the outside in, so it remains soft, silky and oozy in the middle, but goes almost firm and jellified round the edges.

Grandad would always sprinkle his porridge with granulated brown sugar and insist you wait a minute and a half for it to pull out the moisture from the porridge and turn it into a bizarrely impressive caramelly glaze.

I loved this but couldn’t help opting for a spoonful of golden syrup instead.  What I found extraordinary was the way that over a couple of minutes, with a little jiggling of the bowl, the syrup always managed to creep down around and underneath the porridge, elevating it as if it were some sort of floating island.

We’d then marvel as Grandad got out a knife and cut the porridge into a chequerboard.  He’d then pick up a jug of cold whole milk and gently pour it to one side of the bowl, so it filled up every crack of the chequerboard like some crazy paddy-field drainage system.  Then, and only then, were we given the signal to attack.  And I have to say, that porridge was as good a breakfast as I’ve ever had. 

Melissa Thompson’s Barbecued Pork Ribs

Recipe taken from ‘These delicious things’ published by Pavilion

Our barbecues were always different from other people’s.  Dad was in the Navy and would bring back food ideas from wherever he had been.  He was the first person I knew who used ketchup as an ingredient rather than a stand-alone sauce.  He loved feeding people and whenever the barbecue was lit, it felt like a celebration.  I remember the anticipation as the food was cooking, the excitement of having to wait.  I’ve always gravitated towards that.

Where my friends’ barbecues had burgers, bangers and chicken that was burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, we had my dad’s belly pork ribs.  To me, then uninitiated in cooking, they seemed so intriguing and complex.  For a start, they needed more cooking than everything else.  And they offered so much more texturally and flavour-wise than anything else cooked over coal.

First, there was the caramelised sticky exterior.  Then, the slight resistance on the first bite before the meat yielded, giving way to layers of fat that, rendered over the coals, almost collapsed into liquid in the mouth.  And, of course, the flavour: sweet, tangy, smoky and savoury all at the same time.  Those ribs taught me a lot about food – the importance of time, of layering flavour – and as I got into barbecuing, it was these I most wanted to perfect.

When finally, I cracked it, my family came to mine for a barbecue.  My brother took a bite, then turned to Dad and announced that my ribs had taken his top spot.  Mum nodded in agreement, while Dad took it graciously, even perhaps with a hint of pride.

My secret ingredient is crispy onions, melted into the base before it’s painted onto the ribs.  It has a deep sweetness that sings and gives the ribs a brilliant stickiness.  They are best on a barbecue, shared with loved ones, but they are also really good in an oven – I’ve given both methods here.

Serves 4

8 skinless belly pork ribs, about 3cm thick

For the baste

4 tbsp tomato ketchup

2 tbsp crispy onions

1 tbsp cider vinegar (white wine and rice vinegar also work)

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 garlic clove, grated

For the rub

1 tbsp paprika (ideally sweet, but any will do)

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder (optional)

1 tsp cumin, ground

1 tsp black pepper, ground

1 tsp salt 

Put all the baste ingredients in a saucepan and cook over a low-medium heat for 8 minutes.  If it thickens too much, add a dash of water.  Remove from the heat and blend using a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth.

Mix all the rub ingredients together, place the ribs on a tray and sprinkle the rub over them.  Ensure they are totally covered, then leave to rest while you prepare the barbecue (for how to cook in an oven, see method).

Light your barbecue for indirect cooking.  Pile between 10 and 15 medium-sized charcoal pieces to the side of the bottom grate.  Once they’re ready – white and glowing – spread them out, but still just on one side of the grate.

Place the cooking grate over the coals and sear the ribs directly over the heat for a few minutes on each side until sealed.  Then lay them on the opposite side of the grate to the heat.  Close the lid and leave for 30 minutes.  Aim for the barbecue to be about 140°C – if your barbecue doesn’t have a temperature gauge, you should be able to comfortably hold your hand 15cm about the coats for about 6-8 seconds.  Adjust the temperature using the bottom vents – to increase the temperature, open them more to allow more air in.  To reduce the heat, limit the airflow by partially closing the vents. 

With a brush, baste the ribs with the sauce.  Close the lid again and leave for 30 seconds.  Repeat at least three times, always checking the coals are still putting out enough heat.  If not, top them up, a couple of extra pieces at a time.

Once the ribs are dark and sticky – the total cooking time will be around 2 hours – remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  Serve with a sharp fennel salad.

If cooking in an oven, preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/Gas Mark 6 and place the ribs in the oven on a tray.  Cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 150°C (130°C fan)/Gas Mark 2 and cook for 30 minutes.  Baste all over with the sauce and return to the oven for 30 minutes.  Repeat at least three times.  Once the ribs are dark and sticky, remove from the oven, rest and serve.

Mark Moriarty’s Yuk Sung with Peanut Slaw

Recipe taken from Flavour by Mark Moriarty published by Gill Books

Yuk Sung is a great midweek recipe for keeping people happy and fed, without slaving for too long. The pan, store cupboard and grater will do the heavy lifting for you. Depending on how hungry the crowd are, you can serve with lettuce cups and/or rice.

Serves 4

400g pork mince

4 tbsp vegetable oil

3 garlic cloves, grated

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger root, peeled and grated

1 tbsp dried chilli flakes, plus extra to garnish

1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

3 spring onions, sliced

zest of ½ lime

8 iceberg lettuce cups

For the slaw

1 carrot

1 green apple

4 white cabbage leaves

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

4 tbsp roasted peanuts

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a non-stick pan over a high heat, add the pork mince and break it up using a wooden spoon so that it browns all over.  It’s very important to let the mince sit and caramelise, so don’t keep moving it.

Make a well in the middle of your pan and add the vegetable oil, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes.  Cook for a few minutes until the garlic turns golden, then stir it into the mince.

Reduce the heat slightly, then add the soy sauce and oyster sauce.  Mix to coat the pork and cook for a further minute until it becomes sticky.

Turn off the heat completely and garnish with the spring onions, some more chilli flakes and the lime zest.

To make the slaw, begin by grating the carrot and apple into a bowl, using a box grater, or else slice thinly with a knife.

Next, slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and add this into the bowl.

For the dressing, whisk together the peanut butter, mustard, vinegar and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour this into the slow mix and dress.  Top with the toasted peanuts before serving up with the mince and the lettuce cups.

Mary Berry’s Humble Pie

Recipe taken from Mary Makes It Easy published by Penguin Random House UK

Hearty, warming and a real treat!

This pie can be made, left unglazed and kept covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours ahead.  Not suitable for freezing.

Serves 6

1 large cauliflower

2 leeks, trimmed and cut into 2cm slices

115g frozen petits pois

1 x 375g packet ready-rolled puff pastry

knob of butter

200g button mushrooms, halved

1 egg, beaten

Cheese Sauce

55g butter

55g plain flour

450ml hot milk

2 tsp Dijon mustard

115g mature Cheddar, coarsely grated

55g Parmesan, coarsely grated

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/Gas Mark 6.

You will need a fairly deep 28cm diameter dish or a 3-pint dish.

Break the cauliflower into fairly small, even-sized florets.  Some of the smaller leaves can be chopped into pieces.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the leeks and boil for 4 minutes.  Add the cauliflower florets and leaves and bring back to a boil for 3 minutes until just tender.  Drina and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain well and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.  Gradually add the hot milk, whisking until thickened.  Stir in the mustard, Cheddar and Parmesan, and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Heat the butter over a high heat, pan fry the mushrooms for 3 minutes until golden and season with salt and pepper, set aside to cool.  Add all the cold vegetables and frozen peas to the cheese sauce, stir and check the seasoning.  Spoon into the pie dish.

Unroll the pastry and remove a 7cm strip from the short side and chill in the fridge.  Roll out the remaining pastry to slightly bigger than the top of your pie dish.  Brush beaten egg around the edge of the dish, then place the pastry on top and press down on the edges to seal.  Trim any excess pastry with a sharp knife and make a small slit in the centre for the steam to escape.  Brush the top with beaten egg.

Roll out the reserved strip of pastry to be a bit thinner, then roll it up tightly. Using a sharp knife, slice to make long thin strips.  Unravel and dip them into the egg wash, then arrange on top of the pie, in a random pattern.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

Winter Walks

Ireland has so many exciting walks to choose from through the forest and woodlands, over the hills, by the seashore…
Songs have been sung and poems have been written about the joy of a winter walk through the frosty countryside. I love John Clare’s poem and Thoreau’s Winter Walk essay and then there’s the Canadian poet Lynette Robert’s ‘Winter Walk’ and Christina Umpfenbach’s poem of the same name.
When it’s frosty and cold outside, it’s tempting just to curl up by the fire, but good to remember that exposure to the cold conditions can actually boost the immune system and makes us more resilient to seasonal colds and flu provided we are well wrapped up, pull out those mitts and woolly hat…
Nature has a calming effect – I’m sure you’ve noticed how a good walk lifts your mood, boosts energy and appetite, and combats Winter blues…it’s a natural antidote to winter melancholy. And hey, think of all the calories we burn off, while our body works even harder to keep warm, no bad thing after Christmas. So, don’t let the cold deter you, let’s embrace the winter chill!
Grab your rucksack, pack a little picnic, how about filling a flask with something hot and comforting, could be a chunky soup or how about mulled wine or spicy mulled apple juice. I’ve got a simple formula, pour a 700ml bottle of pure apple juice into a stainless steel saucepan, followed by 750ml of water. Add thin strips of rind from an orange, preferably organic. Toss in 8 whole cloves, 3 small cinnamon sticks, 75g of golden caster sugar, 6 allspice of pimento berries, and a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Warm gently, taste, it may need a little more sugar – pour it into a hot flask and off you go.  Leftovers will keep in the fridge and can of course be reheated for up to a week, but you’ll have drunk it by then!  Enjoy.
But now we also want something to look forward to when we arrive home, maybe chilled and ravenous from a bracing walk.
Here are three chunky one pot stews to look forward to, each benefit from being cooked ahead so you can also invite a few of your walking buddies to join you for a convivial supper around the kitchen table….

Lamb and Pearl Barley Stew and Fresh Herb Gremolata 

Just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart after a frosty walk. A substantial pot of stew fortified with pearl barley, this is really good with lots of gremolata sprinkled over the top. It is a variation of Irish stew, which is the quintessential one-pot dish – the pearl barley doesn’t just ‘spin out’ the stew but it also boosts the nutrient levels and the goodness. The recipe for the original Ballymaloe version can be found in my Forgotten Skills of Cooking book.

Serves 8-10

350g piece of green streaky bacon (blanched if salty)

1.8kg gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb, not less than 2.5cm thick

well-seasoned plain flour, for dusting

a little extra virgin olive oil, for frying

350g mushrooms, thinly sliced

700g whole, small onions – baby ones are nicest

350g carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

150g parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced

350-400g pearl barley

approx. 2.8 litres homemade lamb or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil and mint

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous tsp grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

flaky sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the stew. Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1cm cubes. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in the well-seasoned flour.

Heat a little oil in a 25cm (3.2-litre casserole) over a medium heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate. Sauté the mushrooms, season well and set aside. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, with a little more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until golden. Heat control is crucial here: the pan mustn’t burn, yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If the pan is too cool, the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Remove the lamb to a plate. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips until golden. Return the bacon and lamb to the casserole, together with the pearl barley. Season well, pour in the stock, add the thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1-1 ¼ hours until meltingly tender; the cooking time will depend on the age of the lamb and how long it was sautéed for. Add the mushrooms about 30 minutes before the end.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Mix together the chopped herbs and garlic in a small bowl, add the lemon zest and season to taste with a little flaky salt.

Once the casserole is cooked, remove the thyme and season to taste. Leave the casserole to sit for 15-30 minutes to allow the pearl barley to swell. (If necessary, the casserole can be reheated later in the day, or the next day.) Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with the gremolata.

Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

A gorgeous pot of bean stew, so warm and comforting for an autumn or winter supper. Use your favourite juicy heritage pork sausages

Serves 4-6

225g dried haricot, cannellini or flageolet beans (or 2 x 400g tins of cooked beans)

bouquet garni

1 carrot, peeled

1 onion, peeled

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying

450g fennel and chilli pork sausages or best pork sausages 

175g chopped onion

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

flat-leaf parsley or chervil, to serve

Soak the beans overnight in a large pan with plenty of cold water. Next day, strain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and return them to the pan. Cover with fresh cold water and add the bouquet garni, carrot and onion. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes – 1 hour until the beans are soft, but not mushy. Just before the end of cooking, season with salt. Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables from the pan and discard. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Fry the sausages in a few drops of oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured and remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the oil over a lowish heat in the same saucepan and cook the chopped onion for 7-8 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two before adding the chopped tomatoes and their juice, the cooked beans and the rosemary. Add the sausages and simmer for 5-6 minutes, adding some of the bean liquid if the sauce starts to dry out. Season well with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar. Cook for a further 5-6 minutes or until the sausages are heated through. The mixture should be juicy, but not swimming in liquid ­­­- if it starts to dry out, add more of the bean liquid.

To serve, scatter with plenty of parsley and accompany with a salad of organic leaves or crusty bread, if you wish.

Riffs on this delicious stew…. 

Gratin of Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

Spoon the finished stew into a shallow ovenproof dish and scatter over 50g breadcrumbs mixed with 25g butter and 50g grated Cheddar cheese. Flash under the grill until crisp and golden on top.

Chorizo, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary with Chorizo or ‘Nduja

Omit the sausages and add 125g sliced chorizo or pieces of ‘nduja to the tomato base with the beans and rosemary.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

This stew becomes even more delicious and unctuous if you cook it the day before and reheat it the next day – as well as enhancing the flavour, cooking the venison in advance ensures that it is meltingly tender. If you are racing against the clock, just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and simmer slowly until cooked. Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew, but a layer of potatoes on top provides a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot. Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the potatoes before tucking in.

Serves 8-12

1.3kg shoulder of venison, trimmed and cut into 4cm cubes

50g plain flour, for dusting

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

225g piece of fatty salted pork or green streaky bacon, cut into 4cm cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450ml homemade beef stock

bouquet garni

8-12 medium potatoes, peeled (optional)

a squeeze of organic lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Marinade

300-350ml gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tbsp brandy

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

bouquet garni

Horseradish Sauce (optional)

To Serve

lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley

green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage

First marinate the meat.

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

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Pour over enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables and put in the bouquet garni. Bring the casserole to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 ½ hours.

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

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

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

Venison and Parsnip Pie

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

Cauliflower Cheese Soufflé

From The Secret of Cooking by Bee Wilson published by 4th Estate

The food writer Elizabeth David described ‘an omelette and a glass of wine’ as an ideal solitary meal.  She was right (she usually was).  But on days you feel like some gentle kitchen therapy, a soufflé and a glass of wine is even better.  It’s far less work than you imagine (assuming you have a cheap electric hand whisk) but the ethereal airiness of soufflé makes dinner for one feel like a grand occasion.  Adding cauliflower to a cheese soufflé makes it a meal in one, but it’s even better with a green salad and some baguette.  I like to make this in a little 20cm Falcon enamelware pie dish, but if you have a small soufflé dish that would also work. Soufflé sounds posh but it is actually no pricier or trickier to make than a macaroni cheese.

Serves 1 

butter for greasing the dish, plus 10g more 

100g cauliflower (white parts only), cut into very small florets 

1 tbsp plain flour

80ml milk 

1 bay leaf (optional)

40g any strong hard cheese such as Parmesan, Gouda, Cheddar or Gruyère, grated 

a grating of nutmeg 

a pinch of cayenne 

1 egg yolk 

2 egg whites 

a few black sesame seeds (optional)

Rub butter around the inside of your pie or soufflé dish.  

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

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water for 8 minutes, or until soft and slightly overdone.  As soon as the cauliflower has gone into the water, melt the 10g of butter in another small saucepan over a lowing heat and stir in the flour using a balloon whisk.  Cook for around 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Off the heat, whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, still whisking thoroughly.  It will look lumpy but have faith.  If you give it time and enough whisking, the lumps should smooth away.  Return to a low heat, add the bay leaf (if using) and simmer for a minute, stirring constantly until it is thick.  Stir in the cheese until melted and season quite strongly with salt, nutmeg and cayenne. Soufflé mix always needs to be seasoned a tiny bit more than you think because the flavour will dilute when you add the whites.  Fish out the bay leaf.

Drain the cooked cauliflower and mash it into the sauce with a fork – a few pieces of cauliflower are nice.  Mix the yolk into the sauce.  In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the whites with a hand-held electric whisk until they are white and snowy.  Add a dollop of the whisked whites into the sauce to lighten it.  Now fold in the rest of the whites, using a large metal spoon or silicone spatula.  Pile the mixture into your prepared dish; sprinkle with a few sesame seeds (if using) and bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely risen and browned.  You can cut it in the middle to check if it is done but know that a perfect cheese soufflé will always look a little wet (but not sloshing) in the middle. Eat with a green salad and good bread or toast. 

Vegetarian Dishes

You’re not alone if you suddenly feel stumped when you find you have unexpected vegetarians or a vegan for lunch or supper. No need to fly into a panic though, there are lots of good things that can be whizzed up in minutes if you have a well-stocked larder. A tin of chickpeas can be transformed into a silky hummus in no time. Season generously, sharpen well with lemon juice, add lots of freshly roasted cumin and drizzle with a slick of fruity extra-virgin olive oil. If you happen to have a pomegranate, sprinkle on a few seeds and scatter some coriander or even flat parsley leaves over the top and hey presto, you have a delicious bowl of yumminess to dunk some warm pitta bread. (keep a few in the freezer as a standby).
A little salad of coarsely grated carrot and apple, tossed in a simple dressing of runny honey and a good white wine vinegar, makes a fresh and delicious starter. Add a few toasted hazelnuts or walnuts for extra oomph (Forum Chardonnay vinegar is one of my favourites).
It can be dressed up or down, served as a starter, a side or makes a perfect little bite on a crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaf.
Lentils of every colour are another brilliant must have. Red lentil soup cooks really fast and is deeply satisfying but for a substantial main course, it’s a brilliant idea to make one or other of these recipes and freeze some single portions so you are never caught unawares. These chunky bean stews can be also be used as a side for those who would love a lamb chop or a few slices of pan grilled chicken or duck breast.
I never seem to tire of a lightly spiced black eyed bean stew with chunks of squash or pumpkin, It freezes brilliantly, and you can swap out the pumpkin for cauliflower or broccoli florets or even cubes of cooked potato…
And how about Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpeas Stew with Coconut and Turmeric, you may well find that this also becomes a firm favourite and you’ll always want to have some in your fridge.  Last but certainly not least, a tomato fondue base is a godsend to have close to hand to use as a filling for an omelette or crêpes, topping for a pizza or a frittata, sauce for grilled halloumi or as a base to add a myriad of other chunky vegetables, spices and chilli and to do your own riffs on for a substantial main course.  Omit the eggy additions and it’s vegan too…I’m never without tomato fondue or peperonata and regular devotees of this column will know those two recipes well.
Hope all of the above will be part of your permanent recipe repertoire from now on. Enjoy…

Carrot and Apple Salad with Honey and Vinegar Dressing

This delicious, zingy salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have easily to hand but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead or the apple will discolour. It’s vegetarian of course, I sometimes add a few toasted hazelnuts or pecans for extra deliciousness. Serve either as a starter or as an accompanying salad for ham or pork with crackling. 

Serves 6

225g coarsely grated carrot

285g unpeeled coarsely grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

salt and freshly ground pepper

Dressing

2 good tsp pure Irish honey

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Garnish

a few leaves of lettuce

sprigs of watercress or parsley

chive flowers if you have them

Dissolve the honey in the wine vinegar.  Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together and toss in the sweet and sour dressing.  Taste and add a bit more honey or vinegar as required, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Take 6 large side plates, white is best for this.   Arrange a few crisp lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates.  Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric, Masala Yoghurt, Toasted Seeds and Coriander

This soup was inspired by a soup I ate and loved at the Little Fox in Ennistymon in County Clare. I’m not sure how they made it, but here is my interpretation, which I love. It’s made in minutes, really sustaining and super-delicious.

Serves 6

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter

225g onions, chopped

2 tsp peeled and grated fresh turmeric

225g red lentils

1.2 litres homemade vegetable or chicken stock

2 tsp pumpkin seeds

2 tsp sunflower seeds

1 tsp each of black and white sesame seeds

a squeeze of organic lemon juice, to taste

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

coriander leaves, to garnish

For the Masala Yoghurt

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

6 tablespoons natural yoghurt

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 22cm (3.3 litre) heavy-based saucepan. Stir in the onions, then cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes until soft but not coloured.

Add the fresh turmeric and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the lentils. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour in the stock, bring back to the boil and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the lentils are soft.

Meanwhile, mix the pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds in a small bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

To make the masala yoghurt, combine the freshly roasted cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Stir into the natural yoghurt in a bowl and season with salt, to taste.

Whizz the soup to a coarse purée in a blender or food processor. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice and some more salt and pepper, if needed.

Ladle the soup into wide soup bowls, drizzle some masala yoghurt over the top and sprinkle with the seeds. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve as soon as possible.

Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

One of my absolute favourites – Alison is one of my all time special cooking writers – check her out….

Serves 4 – 6

50ml of olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

225g onion, diced

1 x 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric, plus more for serving

½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes, plus more for serving

2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 x 400g tin of full fat coconut milk

250ml vegetable or chicken stock

350g of Swiss chard, kale or collard greens torn into bite-size pieces, stalks chopped and added

Garnish

handful of fresh mint leaves

yoghurt (for serving, optional)

toasted pitta bread, lavash or other flatbread for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add garlic and onion. Season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent and starts to brown a little around the edges, 3-5 minutes. Add ginger and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Add turmeric, chilli flakes and chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, so the chickpeas sizzle and fry a bit in the spices and oil, until they’ve started to break down and get a little browned and crisp, 8-10 minutes.

Using a potato masher or spatula, further crush the remaining chickpeas slightly to release the starchy insides (this will help to thicken the stew).

Add the coconut milk and stock to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stew has thickened and flavours have started to come together, 30-35 minutes. (Taste a chickpea or two, not just the liquid, to make sure they have simmered long enough to taste as delicious as possible).

If after 20 minutes you want the stew a bit thicker, keep simmering until you have reached your desired consistency. Determining perfect stew thickness is a personal journey!

Add green stalks and cook until nearly tender, then add the leaves and stir, making sure they’re submerged in the liquid. Cook a few minutes so they wilt and soften, 3-7 minutes, depending on what you’re using. (Swiss chard and spinach will wilt and soften much faster than kale or collard greens). Season again with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide among bowls and top with mint, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and a good drizzle of olive oil. Serve alongside yoghurt and toasted pitta if using; dust the yoghurt with turmeric if you wish.

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.


MENU

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

Makes12 

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

Garnish

chervil

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.

Meringue

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)

Garnish

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)

Garnish

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.

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