AuthorDarina Allen

Easter Baking

For intrepid and enthusiastic bakers, Easter is a super exciting time of the year.  Every country around the world has its Easter baking traditions – from Finland to Greece, Spain to Romania, Italy, Ukraine and indeed Russia too!

Many of the Nordic and Eastern countries have elaborate egg painting traditions, and dyed hard-boiled eggs are incorporated into enriched braided yeast breads in Greece, Italy and Spain.  Using up as many of the surplus eggs accumulated during the Lenten session was definitely a priority in country households. 

All manner of celebration cakes were baked, not just to mark Easter itself but also the arrival of Spring, Our Lord’s resurrection and in Finland, Pääsiäisleipä, a festive cylindrical bread flavoured with orange, lemon, lots of dried fruit and cardamom, traditionally baked in milking pails was made to celebrate the arrival of new calves!

Germany and Austria still have a rich baking tradition.  Families bake a wide variety of delicious Easter biscuits to share with family and friends.  I first tasted a variety of these little biscuits in the late 1960’s when I was invited to my first ever Easter Bunny hunt by Irene Bauer, she and her mother, refugees from the Second World War lived at Ballymaloe for over 20 years.  They brought their cherished traditions and customs with them from their native Bavaria and shared the recipes with us.  Everyone had their favourites, I remember loving Terrassen (triple butter shortbread cookies sandwiched with jam) and Haselnussmakronen (hazelnut macaroons) too.  The latter are naturally dairy and gluten-free – made just from egg whites, ground hazelnuts, a little cinnamon and sugar.  I also remember butter cookies which had sprinkles on top.  They could be made in a variety of shapes including bunnies for Easter and fir trees for Christmas.

Our Easter traditions are Simnel Cake, a gorgeous rich fruit cake iced with toasted marzipan with an extra layer of marzipan baked into the centre and of course hot cross buns.  The children make chocolate Rice Krispie nests and fill them with speckled eggs and lots and lots of Easter bunny biscuits to hide in the garden and share with their friends.  Making Easter biscuits is time consuming but fun when it becomes a family activity, that’s what memories are made of…Let’s keep all the customs going and pass both traditions and recipes onto the next generation. 

* All these biscuits keep for several weeks in an airtight container if you can resist them. 

Easter Butter Biscuits (Buttergebad)

These biscuits can be made into any shape you fancy – bunnies, Easter eggs….

Makes 60-70 biscuits

400g (14oz) soft butter

200g (7oz) sugar

5 egg yolks – save the egg whites for macaroons

500g (18oz) plain white flour

Glaze

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons cream

sprinkles

Line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, cream the butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Sieve and stir in the flour, turn out onto a board and knead the mixture until it comes together.  Rest for 30 minutes in a fridge to firm up. 

Mix the egg yolk and cream together for the glaze.

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Roll out the dough into scant 5mm (1/4 inch) approx. thick and stamp out into Easter shapes – bunnies etc. 

Brush the top with glaze and scatter with sprinkles.  Put on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes approx. making sure to keep an eye on them.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Mrs Bauer’s Terrassen Biscuits

The Bauer’s were a German refugee family that my father-in-law gave a home and a job to in 1947.

Makes 10 – 15

You will need three different size biscuit cutters: 6cm (2 1/2 inch), 5cm (2 inch), 4cm (1 1/2 inch) of the same shape – bunnies, hearts, stars, teddy bears or whatever is your fancy

350g (12oz) white flour

110g (4oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) cold butter

raspberry jam

icing sugar for dusting

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

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl; rub in the cold butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Cut into biscuits of whatever shape you choose of equal numbers.  Bake in the preheated oven until they are pale brown, 10 – 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack.

You may need to gather the pastry together a couple of times and reroll it after each cutting.

When the biscuits are cold place the largest one on a sheet of parchment paper, take the medium-size biscuit and butter some jam on the base, then place down in the centre of the larger biscuit, then take the smallest biscuit and butter some jam on the base of that and places carefully into the centre of the medium size biscuit then dust with icing sugar.  Repeat with the rest of your biscuits.

Easter Almond Crisps

Makes 30 biscuits

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

pinch of salt

50g (2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) butter, diced

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

Icing

1 egg white, preferably free-range and organic

110g (4oz) icing sugar, sieved

Decoration

40g (1 1/2oz) almonds, roughly chopped

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and add the caster sugar.   Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the egg yolks and mix to a firm dough. Wrap in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes.

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

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured worktop or between 2 pieces of parchment paper.  Cut the pastry with a floured 5cm (2 inch) round fluted cutter.  Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheets.

To make the icing, whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and gradually add in the icing sugar.  Put a small teaspoon of icing in the centre of each biscuit, smooth it slightly and sprinkle the chopped almonds on top of the biscuits. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, until light golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Hazelnut Macaroons

Makes 50 approx.

250g (9oz) hazelnuts

250g (9oz) vanilla sugar

a pinch of pure cinnamon (optional)

4 egg whites, preferably free-range and organic

50 whole hazelnuts, toasted for garnish

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

Cover 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone paper.

Place the whole hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the skins loosen (keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn).  Remove from the oven and rub off the skins in a tea towel.  Grate the peeled hazelnuts in a nut mill or whizz with a little of the sugar in a food processor until quite fine – add cinnamon if using.

Whisk the egg with the caster sugar until they hold a stiff peak.

Fold in the grated hazelnuts.  Drop a teaspoon of the mixture onto the baking sheets and top each one with a toasted whole hazelnut.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Coconut Meringues

Easy peasy to make, can be tiny bites or adapted to make two x 18cm (7 inch) coconut meringue discs for a delectable pudding (bake the meringues for 45 minutes or until set and crisp and allow to cool).  I’ve also made these with frozen desiccated coconut, even more delicious – reduce the coconut to 50g (2oz). 

Makes 30 approx.

2 egg whites, preferably free-range and organic

125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla castor sugar

75g (3oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut

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

Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone. 

Whisk the egg whites with the vanilla sugar until very stiff and gently fold in the desiccated coconut gently.  Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx. 

Cool on a wire rack. 

Easter Hazelnut Sticks

This is another hazelnut biscuit but quite different to the macaroons.

Makes 45 approx. 

150g (5oz) plain flour 
125g (4 1/2oz) cold butter
125g (4 1/2oz) ground hazelnuts
125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla caster sugar 

Glaze
1 egg white, preferably free-range and organic 
75g (3oz) icing sugar, sieved 

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Grate the cold butter into tiny pieces and toss in the flour so they won’t stick together. Mix in the ground hazelnuts and vanilla caster sugar and knead until it forms a dough. Cover and leave to rest in a fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Line 2 or 3 baking trays with parchment paper.

Divide the dough in half.  Roll on parchment paper to 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Transfer to a baking sheet.  Cut into strips 2cm (3/4 inch) wide and 7.5cm (3 inch) long.  Space apart to allow enough room for expansion. 

Repeat with the rest. 

Whisk the egg white lightly and stir into the icing sugar. Spread the glaze over the dough. 

Bake for approximately 20 minutes until the glaze is pale, coffee colour.  Cool on a wire rack.

Easter Egg Nests

Super easy and fun to make – decorate with fluffy Easter chicks.

Makes 24

4ozs (110g) Rice Krispies or Cornflakes

6ozs (175g) Chocolate

72 speckled mini eggs

cupcake papers or ring moulds

Put the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Bring just to the boil, turn off the heat immediately and allow to melt in the bowl.  Stir in the Rice Krispies or Cornflakes.

Spoon into cupcake cases.  Flatten a little and make a well in the centre.  Fill with three speckled chocolate mini eggs.  Allow to set. 

World Health Day

World Health Day is on Thursday, 7th April this year.  There’s a special day for virtually everything nowadays but it’s definitely worth reflecting on the source of good health.

It may come as a surprise to many but the reality is our health comes from the soil, from healthy living soil, not from labs, factories or anywhere else.  We are what we are from the moment of conception, a mixture of genes from our ancestors, an accident of birth that we have no control over but we can certainly influence our health and wellbeing by nourishing ourselves with vital living chemical-free food rather than with ultra-processed food that we now know damages our health and, in many cases, causes disease.   

Every bite of food we eat has consequences, not just on our health but also the environment and the livelihood of our farmers and food producers.  I trawled through the references on the World Health Day website and Wikipedia but I failed to find any reference to the importance of the soil.  Perhaps I missed something but I so wish this basic fact could be better understood and highlighted.  We are totally dependent on the varying layer of topsoil around the world for our very existence.  Sadly much of that soil is now seriously degraded.  Here in Ireland where we are fortunate overall to have a high percentage of good land, a recent Teagasc report concluded that 90% of Irish soils are deficient in one or more main soil nutrients.   Minerals come from the earth’s crust, if they are not there, they cannot be in our food.  The ‘green’ revolution unintentionally damaged the soil and contributed to the decrease in mineral density in many crops, not just wheat.

Numerous peer reviewed studies in the US, Canada and UK clearly show the steady decline in nutrient density in a wide variety of conventionally grown fruit and vegetables since the mid 1900’s. At present because of the ‘cheap food policy’, the price at farm gate is rarely enough to enable the farmers to produce the kind of healthy wholesome food we say we want. Farmers are paid for volume and yield rather than nutrient levels.  If this emphasis were to change and it urgently needs to , it would be a complete game changer – better to pay the farmers to keep us healthy than have to pay the doctors for a cure.

Agribusiness is called agribusiness for a reason; the primary focus is on making money…New varieties are bred and selected for particular characteristics that impact the bottom line.  Cultivars are chosen for disease resistance, high yields and physical appearance rather than maximum nutrient density.  Intensive farming methods strip the soil of nutrients, chemical pesticides are formulated to kill specific weeds and/or pests but they also kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil.  Microbes recycle and release nutrients into the soil, they are crucial to nutrient density.  Just as our health depends on what we eat, vegetables and plants depend on what they absorb from the soil – so in the words of Lady Eve Balfour whom I have quoted many times in this column ‘The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.’ 

Nutritionally deficient food, and that applies to much of the food we consume nowadays unless we are fortunate to have access to organic or chemical-free food, grown on rich, fertile soil, does not satisfy…This may well explain why even after eating big portions of food, one still feels hungry and can crave more contributing to the growing obesity problem…

Someone recently asked, ‘Why do I still feel hungry when I eat four pieces of sliced pan but when I eat one slice of natural sourdough made from organic wheat, I somehow feel satisfied?’  I don’t have to spell out the answer…

Many studies confirm that we are fortunate if fruit or veg contain 50% of the nutrients they did in the 1950’s.  Apparently, one needs to eat 7 or 8 oranges nowadays to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals one did several decades ago.  

So what to do…?

1. Seek out and support the small farmers and food producers at your local Farmers’ Market

2. Join an organic box scheme – Check your local area first but Green Earth Organics based in Co. Galway deliver to every county in Ireland.

3. Join your local branch of NeighbourFood.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one.  Founders Jack Crotty and Simone Crotty will generously share the model information with you – contact details,  jack@neighbourfood.ie

4. Incorporate some wild and foraged foods that contain far more vitamins, minerals and trace elements into your diet – they are more nutritionally complex than many cultivated foods.

5. So as we move closer to the growing season, let’s redouble our efforts to grow some of our own food, even if it’s just one or two items. Get together with your pals and make a plan – you grow beets and scallions,  someone else grows tomatoes, cucumber, courgettes…Everyone grows salad leaves and radishes then share…

Listen to the excellent BBC Food Programme Podcast on the True Price of Food – unmissable and thought provoking. 

Check out the Sustainable Food Trust podcasts… inspirational… 

The food is medicine movement has been around for decades advocating that healthy, wholesome foods could be prescribed in many instances to prevent, limit or even reverse illness by changing people’s diets.  However, many doctors feel that they are not being equipped at medical school with the knowledge on nutrition they need to advise their patients to change their diet rather than resort to supplements. 

Here are a few inexpensive and delicious recipes to boost your family’s immune system and spread joy.

Potato and Wild Garlic Soup

At present,  the air in our local woods  is heavy with the smell of wild garlic. Both the bulbs and leaves of wild garlic are used in this soup and the pretty flowers are divine, sprinkled over the top of each soup bowl. Gather some on your next walk… 

Serves 6

45g (scant 2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or home-made chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

125g (4 1/2oz) chopped wild garlic leaves, (Allium ursinum)

Garnish

wild garlic flowers

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the wild garlic leaves. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the stock and milk, bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes with the lid off approximately until the wild garlic is cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.

Everyday Dahl

Taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen published by Kyle Books

This truly delicious dahl comes from Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar, one of my favourite places to stay and eat in all of India.  They call it Usha Mem Sahib’s dahl.  A delicious vegetarian option or serve with pan grilled fish or a lamb chop or just with flatbreads…

Serves 6

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water

200g (7oz) split red lentils

3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced on a mandolin

1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped

110g (4oz) finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons tamarind water (see method in recipe)

3 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons fresh coriander, coarsely chopped

To Serve

natural yoghurt and cooked rice

Tamarind Water

40g (1 1/2oz) tamarind

150ml (5fl oz) warm water

Tempering

50g (2oz) clarified butter or ghee

3 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 dried red chilli, broken into 5mm (1/4 inch) pieces, or 1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1/4 teaspoon, ground coriander

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons fresh coriander, coarsely chopped

natural yogurt

To make the tamarind paste, soak the tamarind in the warm water for at least 30 minutes or several hours or overnight if possible, until softened.  Push through a sieve and discard the pips.  Save any leftover tamarind water in a covered jar in the fridge for another recipe – it keeps for up to 3 months.

Put the water, lentils, garlic, tomato, onion, tamarind water, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt into a saucepan on a medium heat.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook for 18-20 or until the lentils are completely soft. 

For the tempering.

Melt the clarified butter in a pan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds.  When the cumin pops, add the chilli and cook for a minute. Stir in the ground coriander.

Carefully pour the tempering over the lentils as it will sizzle and splash. Cook over a low heat for 3 minutes, add the lemon juice, sugar and chopped coriander and season to taste.  Serve with a dollop of natural yogurt on top and some rice alongside.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom

If you have a few wild mushrooms e.g. chanterelles or field mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this gratin. If you can find flat mushrooms, all the better, one way or the other the gratin will still be delectable on its own or as a side… Mushrooms are super nutritious. 

Serves 6

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

225g (8oz) mushrooms or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, brown mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitake

butter

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

300ml (10fl oz) light cream (200ml (7fl oz) of cream and 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of milk)

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), or Irish mature Cheddar cheese

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

Slice the mushrooms. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices.   Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Add the potato slices to the boiling water.  As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes.  Refresh under cold water.  Drain again and arrange on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. 

Grease a shallow gratin dish generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over it. Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes.

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

This gratin is terrifically good with a pan-grilled lamb chop or a piece of steak.

Slow-Cooked Lamb with Cannellini Beans, Tomatoes and Rosemary

Bean stews make the perfect one-pot meal – comforting, filling and inexpensive. Gremolata is a fresh-tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. I use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious! If you’re short of time, you could replace it with some
chopped parsley instead.

Serves 6

500g (18oz) boned shoulder of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) cubes

plain flour, for dusting

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225g (8oz) carrots, finely diced

1 stick of celery, finely diced

2 bay leaves

a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of Italian tomatoes, chopped

300ml (10fl oz) white wine

300ml (10fl oz) homemade lamb stock or water

2 x 400g (14oz) tins of cannellini beans, rinsed in cold water and drained (*see note at end of recipe)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

flaky sea salt, to taste

Dust the cubes of lamb with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a casserole and fry the lamb in batches until brown. Remove the lamb to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery to the casserole and cook over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes until the onions are beginning to soften and are slightly golden. Add the lamb.

Reduce the heat to low and put in the bay leaves, rosemary, tomatoes, white wine and lamb stock or water. Bring slowly to the boil, cover the pan with a lid and simmer very gently for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender. Add the cannellini beans 15 minutes before the end.  Remove the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves from the lamb and check the seasoning.

To make the gremolata, mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl, season to taste with salt and serve soon.

Serve sprinkled with the gremolata and a big bowl of buttery scallion champ. 

*Note

If time isn’t a problem, soak 400g (14oz) of cannellini beans in lots of water overnight, they will double in volume.  Drain, add to the pot with the tomatoes, wine and stock and continue to cook until both the beans and lamb are fully cooked.

Scallion Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions with a blob of butter melting in the centre, add the butter just before serving so it melts into the centre. ‘Comfort’ food at its best.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg (3lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g (scant 2oz) chopped chives

350ml (10-12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives.  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/350°F/Gas Mark 4. * Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Darina’s Favourite Rhubarb Tart with Custard

This is a gem of a recipe – a real keeper. The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.

Serves 8-12

Pastry

225g (8oz) soft butter

50g (2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling

900g (2lbs) sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)

200g – 370g (7 – 12oz) granulated sugar depending on whether you are using forced or garden rhubarb

egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados/soft dark brown sugar

custard

tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 3mm (1/8 inch) thick approx. and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar and/or with lots and lots of custard.

Crème Anglaise (Custard Sauce)

This basic sauce is usually flavoured with vanilla but can be made with any number of other ingredients, such as lemon or orange rind or mint.  It is used in many recipes including ice-cream, though in that case the proportion of sugar is much higher than usual because unsweetened cream is added during the freezing. 

600ml (1 pint) milk

vanilla pod or other alternative flavouring

6 egg yolks

50g (2oz) sugar

Bring the milk almost to the boil with the vanilla pod.  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 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, cover tightly and chill.  The custard can be kept for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. 

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

Ukraine

Not sure about you but I can scarcely enjoy a meal without feeling guilty at present.  I feel so fortunate and thank the good Lord to be able to wake up in the morning in my warm bed secure in the thought that it is unlikely that our house will be bombed before nightfall – I can’t get the images out of my head….  Cold and hungry people trudging towards the border with the few possessions they can carry in sub-zero temperatures clutching a shivering cat or a terrified child. 

No doubt, like you too, we were desperate to do something to help in some way so Rory, Rachel and I did an online cookery demonstration and raised over €13,000 for the Irish Red Cross Ukraine Appeal.  One of our students, Grainne O’Higgins baked brownies, invited people to help themselves and perhaps donate – her little project raised €128.00.  Tessa Lomas who has spent many years on the south coast of Sri Lanka showed her fellow students how to make Sri Lankan roti filled with curried mince or cheese and tomato as well as tasty hoppers and several sambals.  They were all super delicious and once again raised just over €200 for the Irish Red Cross.  Let’s all ask ourselves what we can do.  Every little helps, companies all over the country are donating food.  Ballymaloe Relish has sent a palette of pasta sauce to Ukraine.  The Sheridan brothers have mobilised the cheesemakers and cheese factories who have generously donated tons of cheese, Flahavan’s porridge oats and a palette of Barry’s tea is also winging its way to the Ukraine.  Many of us didn’t even know where Ukraine was until a few weeks ago, now we know the names of all its major cities, the colour of its flag and the sound of its national anthem…get the kids involved as well – they’ll come up with lots of ideas.

We have learned so much about the food of Ukraine, thanks to Olia Hercules, the beautiful, young Ukrainian cook living in London whose parents and brother are trapped in Kyiv at present.  For the cookery demonstration, Rachel cooked Ukrainian ‘Angel Wings’ with Black Cardamom and homemade dulce de leche (called Anna’s Sweet Milk).  Rory cooked Spatchcock Chicken with Blackberry and Grape Sauce served with Olia’s Roast Beetroot and Plums with Radicchio and Soft Herbs.  Both Rory and Rachel’s recipes were inspired by Olia’s cookbooks ‘Mamushka’ and ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ published by Mitchell Beazley. I myself cooked Chicken Kyiv and Pancakes with Ricotta and Dill, both delicious.  Chicken Kyiv is definitely having its moment once again.  Most of us hadn’t had it for years and had forgotten how delicious it was.  Here’s my recipe from the early 80’s but it’s just as delicious as ever…

Chicken Kyiv

A long-time favourite – having a poignant moment once again…

Serves 6

3 whole chicken breasts

110g (4oz) softish butter

2 garlic cloves, peeled and made into a paste

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil or tarragon or thyme

2 beaten eggs

110g (4oz) flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper

75-110g (3-4oz) fine breadcrumbs

oil for deep frying

Blend the butter with the garlic and herbs, either by beating them together with a wooden spoon or by putting everything in the food processor and processing until thoroughly mixed. Divide the seasoned butter into 6 equal pieces, shape them into long, tapered fingers and put into the freezer covered with parchment paper, until frozen hard.

Skin each breast and cut in half lengthwise, so you have 6 half breasts. Put the chicken breasts between sheets of parchment paper and flatten with a meat pounder, pushing down and outwards as you pound. The chicken must be almost translucent. Put a finger of frozen butter in the centre of each pounded breast.  Roll the chicken around the butter, tucking in the ends, so the rolled-up breast makes a neat sausage shaped package. The butter must be completely sealed in so that it cannot leak out during the cooking.

Dip the rolled breasts first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg and finally roll in fine breadcrumbs. Arrange on a parchment covered baking tray.  Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Alternatively, make them the day before you plan to serve them and chill until ready to fry.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190˚C/375˚F.

Fry the chicken Kyiv rolls, two or three at the time, until golden brown, 4-5 minutes depending on size*. Drain on kitchen paper, serve immediately with a salad of Winter leaves.

* Alternatively, shallow fry in a little clarified butter over a medium heat until golden on both sides.

Spatchcock Chicken with Blackberry and Grape Sauce

Serves 6-8

1 whole free-range organic chicken

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

chopped rosemary or thyme leaves

extra virgin olive oil or butter

a few cloves of garlic

Blackberry and Grape Sauce

100g (3 1/2oz) seedless grapes

300g (10oz) blackberries

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon chopped marjoram

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves and stalks

pinch of chopped dill

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra sprigs of coriander and dill for garnish

Insert a heavy chopping knife into the cavity of the chicken from the back end to the neck. Press down sharply to cut through the backbone. Alternatively place the chicken breast side down on the chopping board, using poultry shears cut along the entire length of the backbone as close to the centre as possible.

Open the bird out as much as possible.  Slash each chicken leg two or three times with a sharp knife. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with chopped rosemary or thyme and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


Transfer to a roasting tin. Turn skin side upwards and tuck the whole garlic cloves underneath. Roast on the barbeque or in a preheated oven 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 for 40 minutes approximately. Check the colour of the juices between the thigh and the breast – they should run clean if the chicken is cooked.

To make the sauce.

Place the grapes and blackberries in a blender and render to a smooth purée. Pass through a sieve and place in a small saucepan. Add the pomegranate molasses, season with salt and pepper and bring to a bare simmer. Add in the garlic, cayenne and marjoram and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes. Finally add the coriander and dill. Taste and correct seasoning.

To Serve

Serve the sauce hot with the carved chicken and its cooking juices and sprinkled with  a few sprigs of coriander and dill.

Roast Beetroot and Plums with Radicchio and Soft Herbs

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (18oz) beetroot, peeled, halved and cut into wedges

5 plums, stoned and quartered

pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.

150g (5oz) radicchio

1/2 – 1 red chilli, seeds in and sliced

2 teaspoons honey

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

a small handful of soft herbs such as dill and coriander

sea salt

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

Put the oil, beetroot and plums in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to mix. Transfer to a roasting tray spreading them out in a single layer. Sprinkle on the vinegar, cover with a sheet of dampened and squeezed parchment paper and put in the oven to roast for 30 – 40 minutes. The beets should be nearly cooked by now and if not, allow to cook for longer before adding the remaining ingredients.

Cut the radicchio into wedges, retaining the stalk to hold the pieces together. Add them to the beetroot tray along with the chilli and the honey drizzled over. Stir to gently mix the ingredients and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Add in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven and carefully transfer the vegetables, fruit and cooking juices to a serving dish.  sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

Serve immediately or while still warm with a scattering of sprigs of dill and coriander.

Ukrainian Kuchmachi

Taken from ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

Serves 2

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

200g (7oz) chicken hearts, trimmed

200g (7oz) chicken gizzards, trimmed (trimmed weight)

1 large onion, sliced

1 large garlic clove, sliced

30g (1 1/4oz) hazelnuts or walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried wild thyme or za’atar herb (optional)

1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

seeds of 1/4 pomegranate

sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan until very hot.  Add the hearts and gizzards and leave to cook for about 2 minutes on each side until caramelized, meaning that it’s important not to stir them too often.  When a lovely golden crust has formed, take them out of the pan.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and then the onion and cook over a medium-low heat for about 10-15 minutes until softened and started to turn golden.  Add the garlic, nuts, spices and herbs and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Return the meat to the pan, add the pomegranate molasses, a splash of water and season well with salt and pepper, then cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until the meat is as soft as you like it (I don’t mind it being a tiny bit chewy, so I only cook it for 15 minutes). 

Stir through the pomegranate seeds and serve with some rice or bread.

Tip

You can also add some chicken livers – fry them in the pan with everything else, but only add them back in to braise for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time so that they don’t become too dry and chalky. 

Pancakes with Ricotta and Dill

As in many countries, pancakes are served with sweet and savoury fillings – this is a particularly delicious savoury version.  In Ukraine, they also love to drizzle pancakes with pine honey (see note at end of recipe). 

Makes 12 crêpes

Serves 6

Crêpe Batter

175g (6oz) white flour

good pinch of salt

2 large organic eggs and 1 – 2 egg organic egg yolks, lightly beaten

450ml (16fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate crêpes, half milk and half water

1-2 tablespoons melted butter

175g-225g (6-8oz) Urdu or fresh ricotta

caster sugar, to taste

1-2 tablespoons dill, chopped

4-5 tablespoons dill flowers and sprigs

lemon wedges, to serve

First make the batter.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. Cover and leave in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes, stir in the melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta with sugar to taste and stir in the chopped dill.

Heat a 28cm (11 inch) heavy cast-iron crêpe pan or a non-stick pan until very hot, then pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.  Loosen the crêpe around the edge, flip over with a spatula, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

To serve, spread the ricotta and dill filling onto a pancake, leaving a 5mm border around the edge. Lay another pancake on top. Press down gently and cut into quarters. Decorate with dill flowers and sprigs (if using) and serve at room temperature.

Alternatively, spread one pancake with the ricotta and dill filling, fold into quarters, garnish and serve with lemon wedges.

Note: The unfilled pancakes will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it is probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

Pine Honey

Good to make later in the year. 

Use equal weight of young pine cones (flower buds – Pinaecae) and wild-flower honey

Mince or finely chop the young pine cones.  Half fill one or two jars and top with honey.  Cover and store in a cool place for a few weeks before using.  Drizzle the honey over crêpes, pancakes, crumpets, choux…

‘Angels Wings’ – Ukrainian Fried Pastries with Black Cardamom

Taken from ‘Mamushka’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

These are Ukrainian ‘angel wing’ pastry crisps.  Originally, they used to be fried in lard (think of Portuguese pastel de nata lard pastry).  I add some ground black cardamom seeds to the sugar, but feel free to use vanilla sugar instead.

Makes 40 pasties

250g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) butter, cubed and chilled

1 egg

1 egg yolk

25g (1oz) caster sugar

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

50g (2oz) soured cream

1 tablespoon vodka

pinch of salt

250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil

50g (2oz) icing sugar, sifted

5 black cardamom pods, crushed and seeds extracted, then ground into a powder

dulce de leche or chocolate sauce, to serve

To make the dough, mix the flour and bicarbonate of soda together, then run in the butter with your fingertips until well combined.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the egg, egg yolk, sugar, vinegar, soured cream, vodka and salt, then mix well into a firm pastry dough.

Flour your work surface really well and divide the dough into two pieces.   Roll one piece of dough out as thinly as you can.  Slice the dough into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) strips and then diagonally across so that you end up with 20 diamonds.  Make a 3cm (1 1/4 inch) slash in the centre of each diamond and pull one of the ends through the slash.  Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Heat the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan until very hot – be very careful with hot oil, placing it at the back of the hob if you have kids or crazy pets.  Line a large plate with some kitchen paper.

Drop the diamonds in carefully and fry them briefly until they float to the surface.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the kitchen paper.

Mix the icing sugar with the cardamom and sprinkle over the pastries.  I also like to treat these as nicely as I treat churros, dipping them into dulce de leche or chocolate sauce before devouring. 

Anna’s Sweet Milk

Taken from ‘Kaukasis The Cookbook’ by Olia Hercules published by Mitchell Beazley

A lady I met called Zhuzhuna Bardzimadze from Akhaltsikhe had the kindest face and tastiest pickles.  She lives, like so many others in Georgia, with her son and Kakhetian daughter-in-law Anna.  Anna makes the sweetest milk – a proper homemade dulche de leche, and by that I don’t mean boiling shop-bought condensed milk!  This is the real deal.  I loved that she knew that the amount the recipe made would vary depending on the season, due to the difference in the fat content of the milk.  In August, for instance, her yield was always bigger, as the milk is fattier.  The Georgians make cakes with this or just eat it spread on a bit of bread.  

Makes approx. 700ml (1 1/4 pints)

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) cows’ milk or goats’ milk

350g (12oz) cater sugar

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Bring the milk and sugar to the boil in a large saucepan (it needs to be a tall saucepan, as the milk will rise and froth once the soda is added).

Take the pan off the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda.  Stir it and it will start to foam and rise rapidly (tap the base of the pan with a wooden spoon to stop it).

When it calms down, put the pan back on the heat and continue to boil over a low heat, stirring from time to time to ensure it doesn’t catch on the bottom, and taking care not to let it boil or the milk can curdle.  Cook for 30-40 minutes until the milk turns darker in colour (it should look like café au lait colour at this point).  When the mixture thickens and is the consistency of double cream, really watch it and start whisking continuously to prevent curdling.  As it thickens, keep whisking until it reduces right down.  Once the mixture has become viscous and brown like toasted hazelnuts, it’s ready.

Tip

If the mixture looks curdled, it can be saved by reheating and whisking in a couple of tablespoons of milk. 

Morocco

Morocco is mesmerising, the closest country where the culture is intriguingly different.  So tempting for those craving a change after almost two years of isolation – barely 3 1/2 hours by plane and 1-hour time change…

Where to go?  Castleblanca, Rabat, Fez, Essaouira, Tangiers…The latter though charming is still pretty nippy at this time of the year, so how about Marrakech with its date palms and cactus, souks and bazaars and the incomparable Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the heart of the medina, a magnet for both Moroccans and visitors flocking to be fed, watered and entertained.  Drink freshly squeezed juices (no alcohol) and watch hypnotic musicians like swirling dervishes, swirling jugglers, snake charmers…Have a pic taken with a monkey on your shoulder or with colourful tea sellers who make more money from having photos taken than by selling tea.  Donkeys weave in and out through the narrow lanes of the medina with carts full of oranges.

There are henna artists, soothsayers, a frenzy of merchants selling their wares from sparklers and balloons to little bowls of snails in broth and a selection of false teeth should you need them…  At night, local cooks and chefs set up long tables on the side of the square selling steaming bowls of harira with fresh dates, grilled fish, tagines, every conceivable type of offal.   A wonderfully convivial experience and the food overall is above average.

But my absolute favourite is mechoi, the meltingly tender milk-fed lamb, cooked slowly for hours in underground clay ovens until the succulent meat is virtually falling off the bones.  You’ll find it from noon to about 4pm along Mechoi Alley – a little lane on the east side of the square.  Look out for Haj Mustapha, he was the last Hassan’s (Kings) private chef who now owns Chez Lamine and several stalls selling not just mechoi but also goat’s heads, and tangia, a lamb stew in a clay pot, traditionally cooked in the ashes of the fire that heats the water for the hammans.  I even tasted karaein – cow’s hooves with chickpeas.  Been there, done that – don’t need to do it again…

The medieval city of Marrakech with its ten kilometres of ochre coloured adobe, ramparts and seven awe-inspiring ornamental gates has many landmarks.  The minarat of the Koutoubia Mosque dominates the city.  Like most mosques in Morocco, it’s closed to non-muslims but is still a mightily impressive building.  

Marrakech was the destination for merchants, camel traders and caravans who had crossed the desert and the snow-capped Atlas mountains with their wares.  It’s steeped in history…and if you only eat in one restaurant, it has to be Al Fassia, the women’s restaurant in Gueliz and how about Al Baraka, a petrol station on Rue de Fez, about 15 minutes outside Marrakech – inexpensive but delicious food. 

The highlight of my trip was a morning food tour with Plan-It Morocco.  And even though I’ve been to Marrakech many times, I discovered many new places with Bilal, my deeply knowledgeable guide.  We started at the Kasbah, originally a posh neighbourhood close to the royal palace, now a commercial area with lots of little shops, bakeries and stalls.  First stop – a little stall selling sfeng, the famous deep-fried breakfast doughnuts eaten plain or sometimes with an egg in the centre and a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt and cumin.  Actually these doughnuts are served all day but are sprinkled with sugar in the afternoon.  We wandered through the narrow alleys and watched women making a variety of different breads.  Every neighbourhood has an underground wood-fired oven which doubles up as a community bakery.  Women bake traditional round flat breads in their homes, lay them on a cloth covered board to rise.  It’s bought through the streets to be baked in the oven when the baker has finished cooking his daily loaves.  In Morocco, there are more than seven types of Moroccan bread – all delicious.

Stalls were piled high with beautiful fresh vegetables and fruit, I watched a beautiful old lady in a patterned black and white kaftan removing the fibres from long cardoon stalks.  First with a knife and then a coarse nylon brush.  I bought a bag back to Tarabel Riad and asked the cook to prepare them for my dinner in a delicious tagine of cardoons and potatoes.  

In the Jewish quarter, we sat at a little tin table to have another traditional Moroccan breakfast – Bissara, a thick bean soup sprinkled with cumin and chilli pepper, drizzled with olive oil. It comes with a basket of bread for dipping.

I could write several columns on the bread alone.

On past the once famous Sugar Market to watch the warka makers working at the speed of knots, dabbing the dough onto hot saucepan lids over boiling water to make the paper-thin sheets of warka used for chicken and pigeon pastilla and a myriad of other pastries. 

Next stop, Belkabir, the most famous pastry shop in the medina with 40 or more sticky sugar laden pastries from horns de gazelle to briwat (triangle shaped pastries filled with marzipan, deep-fried and dipped in honey). 

We continued to meander through the souks, with its stalls piled high with everything from Moroccan slippers, fake bags and ‘designer’ clothes, metal work, hand carved wooden spoons and boards, brassy trinkets, hand blown glass…and finally into a little secret corner called Talaa, to Chez Rashid, a favourite haunt of the locals.  I loved their sardine ‘meat balls’ with cumin and coriander – so delicious with chopped raw onion or with tomato sauce. 

We continued to walk through the souk – then back to the beautiful Tarabel Riad where Kahil picked oranges from the trees in the inner courtyard to make some freshly squeezed orange juice to quench my thirst…Sure where would you get it but in lovely Morocco.

Rory O’Connell’s Moroccan Harira Soup

In Morocco this soup is traditionally served with dates to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan which starts on the 2nd April 2022.  There are thousands of different recipes for the soup, with each household adding their own particular twist to suit tastes and preferences. Chickpeas, lentils and sometimes beans, meat, either beef or lamb, vegetables, herbs and spices are the basic ingredients.

Serves 8

100g (3 1/2oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

110g (4oz) Puy lentils

450g (1lb) lamb, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each of ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika

salt and pepper

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) long grain rice

4 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

4 tablespoons chopped flat leaved parsley

lemon wedges to serve with the soup

Drain the chickpeas and discard the soaking water. Place in a saucepan with the lentils. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron and paprika. Cover with 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) of water and stir gently to mix. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and skim off any froth that rises to the surface. Add in half of the butter.

Turn the heat down and simmer the soup covered, for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until the chickpeas are tender. Keep an eye on the level of liquid in the pan and add a little more water if necessary.

Towards the end of cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) water to the boil in a saucepan. Add the rice, stir gently and cook until tender. Drain the rice, reserving the cooking liquid.

Cook the chopped tomatoes in 3 tablespoons  of the rice cooking water.  Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. The tomatoes should have a “melted” appearance. Add the cooked rice, tomatoes and the remainder of the butter to the soup and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning, if necessary, adding some of the reserved rice cooking water to thin out the soup a little. Add the chopped herbs and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Moroccan Semolina Bread

A traditional disc-shaped flat bread can be white or have some wholemeal added.  I use Raglan Irish organic semolina flour from Monaghan and get delicious results.  www.irishorganicmill.ie

This version was given to me by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno from their cookbook ‘Bread’.

Makes 2 loaves

2 teaspoons dried yeast

175ml (6fl oz) water

250g (9oz) semolina

250g (9oz) strong white flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

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

egg glaze, beat 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon (of water and a pinch of salt

4 tablespoons sesame seeds

Sprinkle the yeast into 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of the water in a bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve.  Mix the semolina, flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeasted liquid and the olive oil.

Mix in the flour.  Stir in the remaining water, as needed to form a stiff, sticky dough.

Turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. 

Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise until doubled in size, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  Knock back, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into two pieces.  On a lightly floured work surface, shape each piece into a flattened round, 18cm (7 inch) across and 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.

Place the dough rounds onto oiled baking trays, then cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise until doubled in size, about 30-45 minutes.

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

Brush the top of the dough rounds with the egg glaze and sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds.  Prick gently all over with a skewer to prevent air bubbles.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden brown – it should sound hollow when tapped underneath.  Cool on a wire rack.

Lamb Tagine with Cardoons, Lemon and Olives

Taken from The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert published by Bloomsbury

Cardoons are domesticated thistles found in markets all over Marrakech, Italy and other parts of Europe.  We grow them here in our garden in Shanagarry.  They have a taste similar to globe artichokes and an appearance similar to that of celery. 

Serves 6

1kg (2 1/4lbs) boneless lamb shoulder chops, trimmed of excess fat

2 garlic cloves, peeled

salt

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons saffron water * (see note at end of recipe)

115g (generous 4oz) grated red onion

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

20g (3/4oz) flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

3 bundles cardoons (about 15-18 tender stalks)

juice of 2 lemons

1 1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed, rind rinsed and divided into 6 wedges

12 green-ripe, midway or red olives, rinsed and pitted

About 5 hours before serving, rinse the lamb chops, cut each into six pieces and place in a 28 – 30cm (11 – 12 inch) tagine.  Crush the garlic to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the ginger, turmeric, saffron water, grated onion and oil and turn to coat the lamb on all sides.  Leave to marinate for 2 hours.

Set the tagine on a heat diffuser over a medium-low heat and slowly cook the meat for about 15 minutes or until it turns golden brown.  Add 180ml (generous 6fl oz) hot water and the parsley, raise the heat to medium and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low again, cover and simmer for 2 hours, turning the lamb often in the sauce.

Meanwhile, separate the cardoon stalks and cut away the tough bottom parts and the leaves.  Wash the inner stalks well.  With a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the strings.  Cut the stalks into 7.5cm (3 inch) lengths and keep in acidulated water (with vinegar or lemon juice) to prevent discolouration.

After the lamb has cooked for 2 hours, push the meat to one side and slide in the rinsed and drained cardoons.  Add enough hot water to cover them.  (For the first 15-20 minutes of cooking, the cardoons must be covered by liquid).  Place the lamb pieces side by side on top of the cardoons and cook for a further 40 minutes. 

Add 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice to the sauce.  Then continue adding the lemon juice by the tablespoon, tasting before adding more each time.  Simmer gently, uncovered, to allow the sauce to reduce and the flavours to blend.  If there’s a lot of liquid left when the meat is cooked, tilt the tagine, spoon the liquid into a saucepan and boil rapidly to reduce the liquid to a sauce with a coating consistency.

Rearrange the pieces of lamb and cardoons in the tagine so the meat is completely covered with the cardoons.  Garnish with the preserved lemon rind wedges and the olives.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more lemon juice, if you like.  Serve at once. 

*Saffron Water

Dry 1/2 teaspoon crumbled saffron strands in a warm (not hot) pan.  Crush again, then soak in 240ml hot water and store in a small jar in the refrigerator.  This will keep for up to a week. 

Deglet Noor Date, Almond and Goat Cheese Salad

One of the many delicious salads from L’Hôtel Marrakech – a favourite Riad on the edge of the medina.

Serves 4

50g (2oz) toasted hazelnuts, very coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

salt and freshly ground black pepper

110g (4oz) Delget Noor dates, chopped

4 handfuls of mixture of fresh leaves – rocket, spinach, flat-parsley

75-110g (3-4oz) soft goat’s cheese – St. Tola

First toast the unskinned almonds in a preheated oven 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4 for 10-15 minutes and chop coarsely lengthwise.

Whisk the extra virgin olive oil together with the pomegranate molasses, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stone the dates and cut each in three so the pieces are still chunky.

Put the fresh leaves into a bowl, drizzle with dressing, toss to coat the leaves.  Add the dates to the leaves with the almonds and toss again gently.

Divide between 4 wide salad bowls.  Put a few blobs of goat cheese on each one.  Drizzle a little more dressing on top.  Taste, sprinkle with a few grains of flaky sea salt and enjoy.

Moroccan Snake

One of the glories of Moroccan confectionery, great for a party.  Individual “snakes” can be made with a single sheet of filo.

Serves 10-15 people

1 packet best quality filo pastry

75-110g (3-4oz) melted butter

Filling

450g (1lb) ground almonds

325g (11oz) castor sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

75-110ml (3-4fl oz) orange flower water

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.

To Assemble

Lay one sheet of filo on the work top, brush with melted butter. Take a fist full of the paste and make into a snake about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick. Lay this along the long side of the sheet of filo, about 2.5cm (1 inch) in from the edge. Roll up and bend into an accordion shape and then roll up into a ‘snail’. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking sheet and lay the snail on top, continue with the rest of the filo and paste. Press the ends together to seal the joining and continue to make the snake. Brush with egg wash and then with melted butter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for approx. 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool.

Dust with icing sugar and perhaps a little sweet cinnamon.

Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life

Food On The Edge held in October last year at Airfield Estate in Dublin was a beacon of light and hope in a deeply challenging year.  Chef JP McMahon from Anair and Tartare in Galway gathered an impressive line-up of speakers from around the world to encourage and inspire us.  The theme was Social Gastronomy with the stated aim of gathering ‘a network of like-minded chefs together to build long term partnerships around the world using the power of food as a vehicle for change and development at a grass roots level’.

In an open sided tent on the Airfield Estate in Dundrum, I heard many inspirational speakers.  Some were online, others there in person, shared their pandemic experiences, insights and hopes for the future.  Many iconic names such as Alice Waters, Anissa Helou, David and Stephen Flynn of The Happy Pear, Eoin Clusky of Bread 41, Joshua Evans, May Chow…and also a couple of speakers whose names I had not been familiar with previously.  I particularly remember Martin Ruffley and Anna King who shared the stage and gave a riveting talk.  Anna has a doctorate in Philosophy (ethnography from NUI in Galway and a lifelong interest in mindful meditation.  She became hooked on the healing benefits of eating seasonal, natural foods, she has lived and studied on a number of organic farms, both in the UK and France, who follow the philosophy of Mahatma Gandi and Rudolf Steiner.

Martin Ruffley, a recovering alcoholic, spoke with enormous courage about his lifelong struggle with addiction and his long and convoluted journey from ‘dark to light’.  He told how cooking and sharing food became a vitally important part of a cathartic process of exorcising his demons and finding peace.  Martin, now a chef lecturer at NUI Galway, has travelled and ‘staged’ in top restaurants around the world, fuelling his passion and honing his craft in pursuit of culinary excellence.  In 2020 he received the prestigious President’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  He spoke humbly and honestly, the audience were riveted, there was scarcely a dry eye in the tent and at the end there was a unanimous standing ovation.

Fast forward to March 2022, he and Anna King have collaborated to produce a cookbook entitled ‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ – it is dedicated to all those still struggling with addiction…. ‘May the light of loving kindness illuminate your path, and the darkness of the night inspire your wildest dreams’.

Anna and Martin hope that this collaboration will inspire anyone who reads their book to cook.  ‘The recipes offer home-cooks, amateurs and seasoned chefs alike an opportunity to experiment with both new and old techniques, through easy-to-follow, concise instructions that will really ‘up anyone’s game’ in the kitchen.  ‘You will learn how to create some magical dishes, as well as discover invaluable insider tips that will transform a meal from the ordinary to the exceptional’.    The title is a combination of Anna’s beautiful prose and Martin’s eclectic recipes gleaned from 40 years of experience and his travels around the world.  Martin believes as I do that travel is an essential element of any chef’s education – I’ve chosen to share some recipes that are accessible to home cooks but there are also many tantalising recipes for professional chefs between the black covers of this unique cookbook – from darkness to light. 

‘Rekindling the Fire, Food and the Journey of Life’ published by Austin MaCauley Publishers

Goi Cuon: Spring Roll with Pork Belly

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) pork belly

4 baby gem lettuce leaves

a few mint leaves

1 tablespoon chives

1 pack of rice paper wrappers

10g (scant 1/2oz) mooli (julienne)

10g (scant 1/2oz) carrot (julienne)

Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

a dash of sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste

6 tablespoon hoisin sauce

2-3 tablespoons peanut butter

a splash of water

1 red chilli, finely diced

Slow roast the pork belly for 3 hours at 140˚C.

To construct the roll.

Soak the rice paper in cold water for a few seconds until it is soft and

pliable.

Lay out the rice paper and add your prepared ingredients and the

sliced pork.  Don’t be tempted to add too many ingredients because

it will be harder to roll.

For the dipping sauce, add all the ingredients except the water.  Check for consistency, then add water to achieve the desired consistency.  It should be thick enough so that it adheres to the Goi Cuon.

To Serve

Place the spring rolls onto a plate and serve the dipping sauce on the side.

Note

The traditional Goi Cuon includes pork and shrimp.  However, you can construct your own versions with different ingredients. 

Beetroot Risotto

Serves 4

200g (7oz) Arborio rice

1kg (2 1/4lb) beetroot

1 litre beetroot stock/juice

70g (scant 3oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) shallots, finely diced

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) Smoked Gubbeen Cheese

salt and pepper

Bake one whole beetroot (*see Darina’s top tip at end of recipe) and juice the remaining beetroot.

Add some of the butter to a suitable pan and sweat the diced shallot until slightly translucent.  Add the rice and stir until each grain of rice has been coated in the butter.  Add a ladle full of hot beetroot juice into the rice until the rice has absorbed the beetroot juice.

Repeat this procedure until the rice has swollen and is almost tender.

The rice should be soft but not chalky.  It is usually cooked in 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the diced beetroot, butter and half of the grated Gubbeen.  Check for seasoning, cover and allow to rest for 3-4 minutes.

Eat immediately with some grated Gubbeen on the side.

*Darina’s Top Tip: Bake the beetroot in a preheated oven 200˚C for 1 hour approx., by which time the skin will rub off easily.

Grilled Spiced Chicken

The Lebanese are a very hospitable people and would often welcome us into their homes.  This recipe is a take on a dish that I had in the village of As Sultaniyah, just north of Tibnine, where we were treated to an excellent lunch of chicken cooked on a charcoal grill with salad, followed by a glass of chai on the veranda. 

Serves 4

12 chicken thighs

zest and juice of 2 lemons

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) olive oil

4 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

5g (scant 1/4oz) cumin seeds

5g (scant 1/4oz) coriander seeds

10 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

300g (10oz) Greek or plain yoghurt

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds on a dry pan to release the oils and pass through a spice grinder.  Alternatively, pound in a pestle and mortar.

Grate and juice the 2 lemons.

Transfer the chicken pieces into a bowl (or a zip lock bag) with the lemon juice and zest, olive oil and all the dry ingredients.  Mix well and refrigerate overnight.

To Cook

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking.  The chicken pieces can be skewered and grilled on a BBQ or can be transferred to a suitable dish and roasted in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes.

To Serve

Drizzle with yoghurt and serve with manoushi bread or pitta bread.

Note

Chicken breast can also be used.  Butterfly the chicken breast and bat it out, then marinade (as above).  This will cook on a grill in 8 to 10 minutes. 

Watermelon and Rosewater Ice with Barazek

This dish is inspired by the generous nature of the locals, who so kindly gave us watermelon to quench the thirst from the hot summer sun while on checkpoint duty at Tibnine Bridge.  To this day, I have never tasted a watermelon as sweet.

And of course barazeks are wonderful biscuits that are found all over Lebanon.  They are utterly delicious.

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) watermelon

150g (5oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) glucose

a dash of rosewater (can be purchased in any Middle-Eastern store)

juice of 2 lemons

5g (scant 1/4oz) watermelon seeds

Chop the watermelon and put the seeds aside. 

Blitz the watermelon to a purée.

Add the sugar to a pan with the glucose and heat gently until dissolved.  Cool down and all the watermelon purée.

Add rosewater and lemon juice to taste.

Churn in an ice-cream machine or place into a container and cover with a lid and freeze.

To Serve

Transfer into a cocktail glass or bowl, sprinkle with watermelon seeds and serve with barazeks (see recipe).

Barazek Sesame and Pistachio Biscuits

Yields 20 to 25 biscuits

20g (3/4oz) brown sugar

20g (3/4oz) icing sugar

75g (3oz) unsalted butter

1 medium egg

a few drops of vanilla essence

100g (3 1/2oz) flour

20g (3/4oz) pistachio nuts

20g (3/4oz) sesame seeds

Cream the butter, icing sugar and brown sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla essence and slowly add the beaten egg and then the flour.  Scale into small pieces and mould with your hand into little balls.  Shape into discs 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.  Press one side of the biscuit into sesame seeds and the other side onto the finely chopped pistachios.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a hot oven at 180˚C.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve. 

London

Just had a ‘delicious’ long weekend in London. I’d forgotten how much I missed London and how much fun and excitement one can cram into a few days in one of the most exciting and innovative food cities in the world. And not just food…we also got to the Francis Bacon exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, a must see for those of you who, like me, were tormented  and baffled by Bacon’s work heretofore. By the way, Bacon was Irish and of course thanks to Barbara Dawson, his studio is now on display in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. We were so longing for an injection of culture so we popped into many galleries and exhibitions.  Unfortunately time ran out so we didn’t make it to the revamped Courtauld Institute of Art to see the Van Gough Exhibition – it’s on until the 8th May so hopefully next time but we did manage to get tickets to the glorious Theodore production at The Royal Opera House, much of which was set in a kitchen, four glorious hours with some of the best voices in the world – DiDonato, Orlinski, Julia Bullock…

Too late for dinner that night but we did have a super tasty tapa lunch at the new José Pizarro restaurant in the Royal Academy of Art after the Bacon Exhibition, definitely worth seeking out.

The Thursday evening flight from Cork Airport.  (Am I biased or is it the friendliest little airport in the world?) brought us into London in time to have dinner at Quo Vadis on Dean Street, I love Jeremy Lee’s food and there’s no deafening music in the dining room.  Right next door is Barrafina, another of my favourite restaurants and is a must if you don’t mind queuing. 

I love to wander through a Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. You could and should visit Borough Market particularly if you haven’t been before but I headed for Maltby Street Market under the railway arches and made my way through the little passages to Spa Terminus to find some of the very best ingredients in London – Neal’s Yard Dairy and Mons for best artisan cheese, exceptional salami and cured meats @Ham and Cheese, fruit and veg @Natoora, honey, jams, beers, fantastic bread and pastries @DustyKnuckle pop-up.  Pick up a custard doughnut @StJohn’s Bakery and coffee @Monmouth. Both 40 Maltby St. Wine Bar and Flor are still not doing dine-in but you can pick up a picnic or takeout.

Then into a cab over to Brawn in Shoreditch, located at the end of Columbia Rd for a superb lunch (and I don’t use that word lightly) lunch. Wesley, the maître d’ of 7 years is from Cork so we got a warm Cork welcome.
Oren in Dalston is one of the names on all ‘foodies’ top recommendations at present, a wide Mediterranean menu and ear-splitting music but many delicious middle-eastern influences. Put Dishoom on your list too. We went to the Derry Street location in Kensington, an art deco Mecca. There are many, many good things on the menu but don’t miss the iconic Bacon Naan, reminiscent of the Iranian cafés in Mumbai, street food at its irresistible best. We had lunch at Café Cecilia, Max Rocha’s hopping new restaurant in Hackney, just across the road from Regent’s Canal. It and Fallow on 2 St. James’s Market where we had dinner are the hottest tickets in town and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I particularly loved the calcots with Romesco and the deep-fried bread and butter pudding. Haven’t even mentioned the shops but this is a food column. Fortum and Mason is just opposite the Royal Academy of Art so worth wandering into – just saying!
If you are in Kensington High St, check out Sally Clarke’s lovely restaurant and food shop… and on and on it goes…
Café Deco is definitely on the list for my next trip, brilliant reports.

Here are some of the many good things I enjoyed.

Cauliflower Fritters with Aioli

Cauliflower is definitely having a moment.  These are addictive and make a delicious nibble, a starter or a side.  Florets of Romanesco, calabrese or broccoli also work well here.  A plain flour batter with a sprinkle of chilli flakes would be delicious too. 

Serves 4 – 6

1 small to medium cauliflower, Romanesco or Calabrese (about 550g/1lb 3/2oz when trimmed) – we allow 75g (3oz) of florets per person

For the batter:

225g (8oz) gram flour (chickpea) or besan

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon salt

300ml (10fl oz) water

olive oil for deep-frying

To Serve

Aioli

Trim the cauliflower florets if necessary.

Blanch in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes, drain well and refresh.

Sift the flour into a bowl.  Add the chilli, turmeric and freshly roasted cumin seeds and a half teaspoon of salt.   Whisk in enough water to make a batter with a light coating consistency.

Heat the oil in a deep fry (180°C).  

Dip one floret into the batter, shake off excess and cook in the hot oil until crisp and golden.  Taste, add more seasoning or spice to the batter if necessary.   Cook the rest.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve each portion with a little bowl of aioli.

Aioli – Garlic Mayo

‘Aioli’ refers not only to the sauce made with garlic, egg yolks and olive oil, but also to a complete dish where the sauce is served with boned salt-cod, hard-boiled eggs, squid or snails and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, artichokes and green beans.

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1-3 cloves of garlic, depending on size

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the mayonnaise. Finally add the chopped parsley and taste for seasoning.

Smoked Eel and Horseradish Sandwich with Pickled Onion

This iconic sandwich from Quo Vadis is one of London’s must haves.

Serves 1

2 rectangular pieces of sourdough bread

extra virgin olive oil

smoked eel from Lough Neagh

horseradish sauce

Pickled Red Onions

vinegar

Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat.  Fry the bread until golden on both sides.  Slather a generous smear of horseradish sauce on both pieces.  Arrange 6-8 pieces of smoked eel on its side on the base.  Top with the other slice of bread.

Serve warm with a tangle of pickled onion. 

For the Pickled Red Onions

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

25g (1oz) granulated sugar

pinch of salt

110g (4oz) red onions, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandolin

Put the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small heavy-bottomed pan and bring to the boil.  Add the sliced onions and simmer for 2–3 minutes or until they turn pink and wilt. Lift out the cooked onions with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a sterilised jam jar with a non-reactive lid.  Top up the jar with the hot vinegar, cover and cool.  Once cold, store in the fridge.

Dishoom Bacon Naan

The Naan breakfast roll from Dishoom in London is justifiably famous, this is my interpretation.

Serves 1

1 naan bread

2-3 smoked streaky bacon rashers

cream cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

a few sprigs of fresh coriander

To Serve

Tomato and Chilli Jam

Fry the bacon until golden and pop on some kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat. 

Warm the naan on a dry pan. 

Slather the surface of the warm naan with cream cheese, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Lay the slices of bacon side by side on one half.  Add a couple of coriander sprigs.   Fold over.  Cut in half crossways.  Serve on a warm plate with a little bowl of tomato and chilli jam.

Alternatively, drizzle the tomato and chilli jam generously over the bacon before folding the naan.  

Tomato and Chilli Jam

Makes 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

This zingy tomato and chilli jam is a hit with everything from fried eggs to cold meat.  Terrific on chicken paillarde or pan-grilled fish or spread on bruschetta with goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.

1kg (2 1/4lbs) very ripe tomatoes

4-8 red chillies

8 cloves of garlic, peeled

about 5cm (2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

50ml (2fl oz) fish sauce (Nam Pla)

500g (18oz) golden castor sugar

200ml (7fl oz) red wine vinegar

Peel the tomatoes and chop into 1cm dice. Purée the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce in a blender.  Put the purée, sugar and vinegar into a stainless-steel saucepan, add the tomatoes and bring to the boil slowly, stirring occasionally.  Cook gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. 

When cooked, pour into warmed, sterilized glass jars.  Allow to cool.  Store in a cool place.

Charred Calcots with Romesco 

Max Rocha of Café Cecilia kindly shared this recipe with me – it’s delicious and worth seeking out on your next trip to London!

Romesco Sauce

15 blanched almonds

15 hazelnuts

10 cherry tomatoes

2 red peppers

1 red chilli

1 clove garlic

100g (3 1/2oz) stale bread

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) good quality olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

salt

3 calcots onions

white wine

1/2 head of garlic

1 red chilli

olive oil

salt

To Serve

crème fraiche

For the Romesco

Toast the nuts in a 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Set aside.

Place the tomatoes (cut in half), the peppers (cut in half and seeds removed), the whole chilli and the garlic on a baking tray.  Coat with olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

Bake in the preheated oven until the peppers and tomatoes are completely cooked (around 40 minutes).

Allow all ingredients to cool. Then blitz the nuts and bread in a food processor to a chunky consistency.

Add your roasted vegetables and blitz to your required consistency. Add the paprika and the olive oil.  Add all the roasting juices from the pan.  Season with salt to taste and set aside.

For the leeks/calcots.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, once boiling turn down to a low – medium heat.

To the water, add a splash of white wine, half a head of garlic, a fresh chilli, a splash of olive oil and some salt.  Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Poach the onions/leeks in liquor until tender, roughly 5 minutes.  This can be done ahead of time and kept at room temperature.

When ready to serve, heat up a warm griddle pan and char the leeks on both sides.  Arrange in an organic tumble on the plate, with a nice spoonful or romesco and a teaspoon of crème fraiche.

Pear, Crozier Blue, Membrillo and Walnut Salad

A delicious combination of texture and flavour inspired by a salad I enjoyed at Quo Vadis on Dean Street.

Serves 4

A mixture of Winter salad leaves – castlefranco, endive, radicchio…

2-3 ripe but firm pears

50g (2oz) Crozier blue cheese, crumbled (Jeremy used Stichelton)

75g (3oz) membrillo, 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

75g (3oz) fresh walnut halves,  lightly roasted and coarsely chopped

Dressing

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Forum Chardonnay vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 clove of garlic, grated

1/2 teaspoon honey

Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together.

Half and core the pear, cut into wedges.

Put the salad leaves into a wide bowl, add the pears, crumbled cheese and membrillo dice.  Drizzle with the dressing, toss gently to coat all the leaves.  Add the chopped walnuts, toss again and taste.  Divide between 4 plates and eat immediately – a gorgeous combination.

Dark Chocolate Mousse with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt

This rich chocolate mousse recipe comes from Rory O’Connell who loves to serve it with pouring cream.  A little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling of flaky sea salt is heavenly…

Serves 6

225g (8oz) chocolate chopped into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces (62% or 70%)

50g (2oz) butter diced

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

225g (8oz) granulated or caster sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

To Serve

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

Place the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of cold water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl and place the pan on the heat. Bring the water to a simmer and immediately turn off the heat, allowing the butter and chocolate to melt gently in the bowl.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a spotlessly clean bowl for whisking later.  Whisk the yolks to a pale mousse.

To make the caramel, put the sugar and 125ml (4 1/2fl oz) of water into a heavy-based saucepan and place on a low heat. Stir occasionally to encourage the sugar to dissolve before the liquid comes to a boil. Once it boils and has become a syrup, remove the spoon and do not stir again. Allow the syrup to become a dark chestnut coloured caramel. If it is colouring unevenly in the saucepan, tilt the pan gently to and fro to get it to even out by running the dark caramel into the paler syrup. Do not be tempted to stir as if you put a cold spoon into the caramel, it will “block” and go solid- a disaster. Keep going until the caramel is a deep chestnut colour and almost burnt.* Then immediately and quickly add the remaining 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of water, hot, if possible, to prevent less spluttering.

*For safety, place the saucepan sitting in the dry sink before adding that 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of water as it is in a deeper place and the spluttering caramel just splashes onto the sides of the sink rather than the work top.

Now the caramel will look a bit odd, but once you put the saucepan back on the heat it will cook out to a single consistency again. Cook it until it thickens again – when you dip a spoon into the caramel and allow it to drop off, it will fall in a thickish thread.  Pour this gradually on to the whisked egg yolks, whisking all of the time. A food mixer with a whisk attachment or a hand-held electric whisk will do this job perfectly. The mixture will whisk to a mousse in a matter of minutes.  Stir the melted chocolate and the vanilla extract into the mouse. You may need to be a little vigorous with the stirring.

Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak. Do not allow them to over-whip and become grainy.  Stir a quarter of the egg white into the mousse to soften it and then fold in the remaining three quarters lightly yet thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into a shallow serving dish. There will not be a lot of mousse, but it is rich so the servings should be small.

Place the mousse in the fridge to chill for 4 hours.

Serve a quenelle of mousse on a cold plate, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few grains of flaky sea salt… sublime!

Guest Chef Mary Jo McMillin

It all happened so suddenly in the end – not sure about you but I’m still trying to come to terms with the ‘new normal’.  I seem to be holding my breath, afraid that if I wake up, I’ll find that we are still in the midst of the pandemic and ‘opening up’ is just a dream…

In fact, those two years have almost become a blur, I seem to have blocked out the roller coaster of experiences we endured to keep our business going and our team employed.  I’m having to make a list of all the extra things we did here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School pre-Covid – afternoon demonstrations were open to the public, school tours to visit artisan producers, guests for lunch, garden and kitchen interns, gap year students, Slow Food events, garden tours, children’s farm walks, guest chefs, Pop-Up dinner, Ballymaloe Lit Fest, oh and I almost forgot the long table dinner in the glasshouses…

I long to get all of those things underway again but to my astonishment, I find that I am not quite brave enough to launch into each one immediately.  I need to ease back in gradually and I’m still wary enough of big crowds.

However, we’re gradually getting things underway.  A dear friend of Ballymaloe for over 40 years, Mary Jo McMillin hopped onto a plane in Chicago and made her way to Cork via Dublin.  Mary Jo has been coming to Ballymaloe, first to Ballymaloe House and then the Ballymaloe Cookery School for over 40 years.  For many decades, her idea of a holiday from her busy restaurant kitchen was to come to Ballymaloe kitchen to work during her precious break to learn and share.  Now in her 80’s, she’s like a 40-year-old, super fit, she exercises and stands on her head for 20 breaths every day!  She cooks from scratch and eats fresh, delicious food daily knowing how important it is for her wellbeing.  She’s a joy to have as a house guest, for many reasons not least that she trawls through the fridges, wanders through the gardens and glasshouse, picking salad leaves and edible greens and then cooks endless, delicious meals for all of us.  The students love her and she loves passing on her skills and tips to them during the few short weeks that she’s with us. 

On every trip, she teaches a special cooking class to the students – here are some of the recipes she shared this time…

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

A robust, inexpensive, deliciously spiced lamb stew that reheats brilliantly – you may want to double the recipe and freeze some for another easy meal.

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 heaped tablespoon grated fresh ginger (use a pestle and mortar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

1 medium cinnamon stick

1/2 to 1 preserved lemon, rinsed and diced

4 – 6 prunes

1 x 400g (14oz) tinned tomatoes, crushed or chopped

salt to taste

lemon or lime (optional)

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

Brown the lamb shanks in the little olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Remove to a heavy, casserole dish – pour off the excess fat.  Add the sliced onion to the lamb fat and sauté gently until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, ginger and sauté until fragrant.  Add the cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper and sauté for a few seconds more.  Add the cinnamon stick, preserved lemon and prunes to the casserole dish with the lamb.  Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture.  Bring to a simmer and pour over the lamb.  Deglaze the frying pan with 2-4 tablespoons of water and pour over the stew.  Add salt to taste.  Cover with parchment paper and the lid of the casserole dish and cook slowly in the preheated oven for 1-3 hours or until tender.  Thin the sauce, if necessary, with water or stock.  Taste for seasoning and tweak if necessary.  Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if desired. 

Serve with steamed rice or potatoes. 

Fragrant Rice

Serves 4-6

200g (7oz) Basmati rice

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 shard cinnamon stick

pinch coriander seeds (optional)

1/2 bay leaf (optional)

110g (4oz) chopped onion

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (optional)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

salt

350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water

Place the rice in a deep bowl, cover with cool water and swirl gently with your fingertips until the water grows cloudy. Pour off the water and repeat the rinsing process twice more. Cover the rinsed rice with cool water and soak while preparing the base.

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy pot with tight-fitting lid. Add the cinnamon stick, coriander and bay leaf, along with the chopped onion. Sauté gently until onion is translucent. Add the turmeric, garam masala and salt. Drain the rice reserving 350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water.  Tip the rice into the sautéed base. Stir to combine with the seasonings. Add the measured water, salt and stir again making sure all the grains of rice are covered with water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to the lowest heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and steam with the lid on for at least 10 minutes. Place a tea-towel over the top of the pot and replace with the lid until ready to serve.  Fluff with a fork before serving. 

Beetroot with Yogurt

Another of Mary Jo’s delicious recipes – she likes to serve it as a dip with flat brad – a brilliant way to use up Winter beets. 

Serve as a side with pork, chicken or even sausages. 

Serves 6-8

2-3 small beets, roasted or boiled, peeled and grated or diced

350g (12oz) thick yogurt

1 garlic clove, mashed with salt

2 tablespoons chopped mint (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion) (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together, taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.    Mary Jo likes this quite sharp and perky but one could add a little honey to taste in Winter when the beets are less sweet.

Mary Jo’s Date and Coffee Loaf

We are loving this date and coffee loaf, which keeps in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.

Yields 12-14 slices

250g (9oz) stones dates

225g (8oz) strong coffee

1 level teaspoon bread soda

25g (1oz) soft butter

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 level teaspoon salt

110g (4oz) pecans or walnuts

1 x 20.5 x 10cm (8 x 4 inch) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper

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

Dice the stoned dates.  Cover with hot coffee, cover and allow to soak until soft.  Sprinkle with bread soda. 

Cream the soft butter and sugar in a bowl; beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix in the sifted flour, salt, nuts and date mixture. Place in the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Cool in the tin, slice when fully cold – better on the second day and is delicious eaten with butter.

Almond Dacquoise with Praline Buttercream

Mary Jo says these are particularly lovely for a Summer afternoon tea party but the students polished them off as soon as she made them and begged for more…Best make the day before, so brilliant for entertaining or catering. 

Serves 20-40

Makes 40 sandwiched pieces

175g (6oz) icing sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

45g (scant 2oz) corn flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large egg whites

130g (generous 4 1/2oz) castor sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Praline Butter (see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 120˚C/250˚F/Gas Mark 1/2 (Fan)

Mix the sieved icing sugar, ground almonds and corn flour together.

In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with salt gradually adding castor sugar and beat to a stiff meringue. Fold in almond extract and the ground almond mixture. Pipe small rounds onto two parchment lined baking trays. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until they lift off the parchment paper.  Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the oven until dry.

Sandwich two almond dacquoise with praline butter cream and roll the edge in additional crushed praline. Store in a tin in a cool place overnight to soften.  Serve in small petit fours cases. 

Praline Butter

150g (5oz) sugar 

50ml (2fl oz) water

2 teaspoons light corn syrup (glucose syrup) or pinch cream of tartar (optional)

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

350 (12oz) butter at room temperature – I use 225g (8oz) unsalted and 110g (4oz) salted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla plus 1/2 – 1 teaspoon coffee essence or rum

In a small saucepan swirl the sugar, water and syrup together. Cover and cook over a moderately high heat swirling to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Leave on the cover until all the sugar crystals are steamed off the side of the pan. Uncover and rapidly boil to the strong thread stage (106 – 112˚C/223 – 234˚F).

Meanwhile beat the eggs and yolk in a large mixing bowl (or use a stand mixer). When the sugar is ready, immediately pour the syrup slowly into the beaten eggs continuing to whisk all the time.

Beat the egg custard until it lightens and cools to lukewarm.  (At this point, make sure the butter and the custard are approximately the same temperature.)

Beat the butter into the custard, 1 1/2 tablespoons  at a time. The cream may be stiff enough with 300g (10oz) of butter, and it will easily absorb 350g (12oz).  Flavour with vanilla and coffee essence or rum.

Praline

Makes approximately 190g (6 1/2oz)

110g (4oz) whole almonds

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the unskinned almonds with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour. Stir if necessary. When the caramel stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel.  When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin. Allow to get quite cold. When the praline is hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be coarse and gritty

To assemble the praline butter.

Add 6 tablespoons of praline to the buttercream and beat well to combine.    

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Butter Icing

The brown butter icing is a real find.

Serves 6-8

400g (14oz) cooking apples, peeled and grated

75g (3oz) butter (6 tablespoons)

250g (9oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon baking soda

2 rounded teaspoons cinnamon

grating fresh nutmeg

50g (2oz) lightly toasted walnuts, optional

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round cake tins OR 1 x 20.5cm (8inch) wide x 5cm (2 inch) deep genoise tin

First, prepare the baking tins.

Line the tins with parchment paper.  Brush with melted butter or sunflower oil.  Sprinkle with flour and tip out excess flour.

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

Peel the apples, grate on the large holes of a box grater.

Mix the flour, salt, sieved bread soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Whisk in eggs one at a time and whip to a soft, billowy mixture. If using a food mixer, remove the bowl from the stand. Using a flexible spatula, fold the grated apples and walnuts alternately with the flour into the creamed mixture.  

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the prepared tins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size, or until they are nicely browned – a skewer inserted into the cakes should come out clean when cooked.  

Cool for 5 minutes in the tins before turning onto a cooling rack. 

Meanwhile, make the Brown Butter Icing.

Brown Butter Icing

75g (3oz) butter

175g (6oz) icing sugar, sieved

3-4 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter and simmer until it turns very lightly brown and smells nutty, remove from the heat.  Add in the icing sugar, stirring well to combine.  Thin with milk to a spreading consistency – reheat and add drops of water to maintain emulsion if necessary.  Finally add the vanilla extract and spread over the apple cake when cold.  

Winter Roots (Savoury)

You are loving those root veggie cakes in last week’s column, so staying with those delicious Winter roots this week, some savoury recipes…Several are new discoveries; others are old favourites.

Thinking about what to include made me realise just how much we rely on root vegetables as a foundation for so many dishes.  Potatoes are, of course, a powerhouse of nutrients, but also carrots, parsnips and swedes are inexpensive and produce so many delicious, nutritious and Wow-making dishes.  Not just comforting favourites – after all, who doesn’t love a time-honoured carrot and parsnip mash with lots of chopped parsley and a big dollop of butter. 

But have you been roasting your carrots?  This has been a revelation for me since I first tasted a delicious roast carrot, labne, pistachio and watercress dish at a restaurant in New York a couple of years ago.  Since then, I’ve been roasting roots in a myriad of different ways, not just a tray of diced vegetables, delicious as they can be when flavoured with gutsy Winter herbs, anointed with a good olive oil, and most importantly, served immediately.  Wizendy roast vegetables lose their charm very quickly when left in a warming oven.

Jerusalem artichokes are a ‘must have’ Winter root – if you haven’t already planted them in your garden or veg patch, do!  Anyone and I mean, anyone can grow them.  Where you plant one this year, you’ll dig up 8 or 10 next year.  Meanwhile, check out your Farmers Market or greengrocer or ask your supermarket to stock them and start to experiment.  They make delicious soups, gratins, purées and are sublime roasted.  Furthermore, they are magic from the nutritional point of view – the highest inulin of any vegetable so they stimulate beneficial microbes in your gut-biome – brilliant for both your physical and mental health…and that’s not a myth…

And don’t forget the humble Swede, many of our recipes elevate this ridiculously inexpensive Winter root to new heights.  Rory O’Connell slathers a delicious puree of Swedes with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan.  We also love a gratin of Swedes with Thyme Leaves and Bacon and how about Persian Chickpea Stew which includes the aquafaba (cooking liquid from the tin) which gives the bean stew a delicious texture. 

Add some chunks to an Irish stew to up the vegetable content and boost the flavour even further.

Let’s not forget parsnips, now even sweeter after those few nights of frost – a simple salad of grated parsnips, dressed with lemon and honey is a revelation, fresh tasting and delicious and made in minutes.  We also love them roasted as a side or in combination with other vegetables, peppery rocket and winter greens in a salad.  Split them in half lengthways, then into manageable size pieces for extra impact. 

The possibilities are endless – here are a few suggestions and there are lots more in many of my cookbooks.  Have you come across my latest book ‘How To Cook’?  It’s got 100 simple recipes everyone should know and is getting lots of very positive feedback – thank you all.

Roast Carrots with Labneh, Pistachio and Watercress

Roast the carrots.  This salad is a game changer, inspired by a dish I enjoyed during my last visit to New York…

Serves 6

600g (1 1/4lbs) whole young carrots

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a generous tablespoon of honey

1 teaspoon cumin, roasted and coarsely ground

1 teaspoon coriander, roasted and coarsely ground

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper

75-175g (3-6oz) Labneh (see recipe)

watercress or rocket leaves

50-75g (2-3oz) pistachio nuts, very coarsely chopped

sea salt flakes

extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8

Scrub the carrots, dry, split in half lengthwise, if too big.  Put into a large bowl.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and honey.   Mix the roast and coarsely ground cumin and coriander together.  Sprinkle over the carrots.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss gently to coat evenly.  

Spread out in a roasting tin.   As soon as you put the trays into the oven reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the carrots are almost tender and caramelized at the ends and edges.

Remove from the oven.  Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper and toss.

To Serve

Put a few watercress springs on a plate.  Top with 3-5 pieces of roast carrot.  Add a few blobs of labneh and scatter with a sprinkling of coarse pistachio nuts, a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve soon, best when the carrots are still slightly warm.

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labneh

This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East is so easy to make and so wonderfully smooth that your friends will be mightily impressed if you produce it for a dinner party. This is an old recipe. I believe that dairy items like these were once made everywhere in Europe and elsewhere over many centuries and then forgotten at some stage, probably during industrialisation, so I have borrowed from those places where the traditions survived. Labneh is a real treat and an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking. It is also much-loved by children and is a good way for you to pass on your knowledge of old skills to them. It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.

1kg (2 1/4lbs) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens.

Note

The labneh should be like softly whipped cream.  If thicker, simply stir back in some whey. 

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Roasted Hazelnuts

Jerusalem artichokes are a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) butter

1.1kg (2 1/2lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

600g (1 1/4lbs) onions, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2L (2 pints) light chicken stock (you may need a little more)

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

Garnish

2 avocados, peeled and diced

4 tablespoons chopped roasted hazelnuts

4 tablespoons hazelnut oil

4 tablespoons chopped chives

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

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Season the diced avocados with salt and pepper, then sprinkle the diced avocado and chopped roasted hazelnuts over the soup. Drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and chopped chives and serve.

Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa

1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.

Persian Chickpea Stew

A veggie take on Khoresh Gheymeh which is usually made with beef.

Serves 4-6

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

400g (14oz) onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin, finely roasted and ground

1 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

400g (14oz) very ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes in Winter

2 x 400ml (14fl oz) coconut milk

200ml (7fl oz) vegetable stock

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) aquafaba (liquid from tin of chickpeas)

175g (6oz) swede turnip, diced into 2cm (3/4 inch)

100g (3 1/2oz) potato, diced into 2cm (3/4 inch)

50g (2oz) sultanas

a generous pinch of saffron

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chickpeas

salt and freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

Garnish

1 large ripe tomato, deseeded and diced

50g (2oz) almonds, toasted and halved

100g (3 1/2oz) frozen desiccated coconut

1 generous handful of fresh coriander sprigs

Heat the extra virgin olive oil.  Add the onion and cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat until it starts to caramelize.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add all of the spices except the saffron and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes.  Cook for 5 minutes then add the coconut milk, stock and aquafaba.  Bring to the boil, add the swede turnip and diced potatoes, sultanas and saffron.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.  Add the chickpeas.  Bring back to the boil and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar.  Taste, correct the seasoning and add the juice of 1 lime or more to taste.  Garnish with the diced fresh tomato, toasted flaked almonds, frozen desiccated coconut and lots of fresh coriander.

Rory O’Connell’s Gratin of Swede Turnips, Potatoes, Thyme Leaves and Bacon Gratin

This is a robust warming gratin made with one of my favourite winter vegetables, the cheap and cheerful swede turnip.

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) swede turnip, peeled and sliced into 4 mm slices

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3mm thick slices

110g (4oz) lardons of smoked or unsmoked bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

110g (4oz) grated parmesan

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

350ml (12fl oz) cream or chicken stock (see recipe)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 x 1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) ovenproof gratin dish

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

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt. Drop in the sliced turnips, bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. The turnips will have tenderized slightly but will not be fully cooked. Strain out the turnips, reserving the water for cooking the potatoes. Place the turnips on a tray lined with a tea towel.

Bring the water back to the boil and add the sliced potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute only. Strain and rinse under the cold tap and place on a tray lined with a tea towel like the turnips.

Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon lardons. Cook, stirring until the bacon is crisp and golden.  Strain out the bacon and place on a piece of kitchen paper towel to drain.

To assemble the gratin, grease the gratin dish with a light smear of butter. Place on a layer of the turnips and potatoes, followed by a sprinkle of thyme leaves, a sprinkle of lardons of bacon and a sprinkle of the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Splash on a little of the cream. Repeat the process finishing the gratin with a final sprinkle of the cheese.

Place the gratin in a bain-marie in the preheated oven and cook for 60-80 minutes. After 60 minutes, test the gratin with a skewer to see if the potatoes and turnips are tender. The skewer should go through the vegetables with no resistance and the top of the gratin should be a rich golden colour. The cooked gratin will sit happily in the oven for an hour before serving with the temperature reduced to 50°C/120°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Roast Parsnip, Apple and Toasted Hazelnut Salad

Roast walnuts or pecans are also a good combination if hazelnuts are not available.  Swap out roast parsnips for Jerusalem artichokes here – also a delicious combo.

Serves 8

2 large or 4 medium sized parsnips

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil

4 dessert apples, cut into eighths, cores removed

6 good handfuls of salad – tiny beetroot and kale leaves

75g (3oz) lightly toasted hazelnuts

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dressing

1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a little salt

1 teaspoon English mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Peel and quarter the parsnips, remove the woody cores, then chop them into roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces.

Put the parsnips on a large roasting tray in a single layer. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat them. Roast for 10 minutes, take them out of the oven and add the apple pieces and return to the oven for about 15 minutes or until everything is tender, golden and slightly caramelised.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together. 

When the parsnip and apple pieces are fully cooked, transfer them to a salad bowl and toss them in the dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Arrange a pile of salad leaves on a plate, top with the warm, dressed parsnip and apple.  Scatter with roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts.  Serve with crusty bread.

Valentine’s Day

Who doesn’t get an Oops in their tummy at the thought of Valentine’s Day even if it’s just a trip down memory lane!  Back to boarding school, when one waited for days in a mixture of apprehension and excitement for the post to be delivered on Valentine’s Day hoping for at least one card to giggle about and muse over who the anonymous sender might be?  One year, I got several Valentine’s cards, my class were mightily impressed and a touch jealous, I was the envy of all my pals, a very sweet memorable moment!

No question of romantic dinners or Valentine’s Day Balls on Valentine’s Day last year, we were in the midst of Lockdown.  So this year, let’s ramp up the excitement.  I love bunting and it’s so easy to make (or buy) a few strands to drape across the office or kitchen, add a few balloons and sparklers and you’ve already created the vibe and livened up everyone’s day. 

How about making a few heart-shaped cookies or maybe a gorgeous cake to share at work.  That’ll get everyone’s attention, it’s all about the fun…

If you are short of ideas, just take to the internet to be inspired and amused – there are a million suggestions…whatever ‘floats your boat’…how about a romantic hill hike or cycle and a picnic.  Maybe ice skating or whale watching followed by cocktails and a romantic dinner for two!

If you haven’t already booked a special table at your favourite restaurant or café, it’s probably too late now but how about a Valentine’s Day Cook-in with a group of friends, I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be all about couples but first the fun and laughs, the romance can come a little later.  So into the kitchen for a bit of communal cooking.  The ‘refusers’ can make the cocktails and pour the fizz, then lay the table and sprinkle on the confetti (bit early) or sparklers. 

Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac, all that zinc does the trick…it’s so fun opening them and if you’ve never tried one, now’s the time.

I’m also going to suggest a chunky vegetable soup as a starter, it’s super delicious, comforting.  A few friends working together will make short work of all the vegetable chopping.  Add a can of cannellini beans and a few rounds of chorizo to make it even more substantial and delicious, and a slick of parsley oil for a ‘cheffy’ touch. 

Definitely, make some bread, even a few cheesy scones, everyone will love the magic and they are made in minutes.  For the main course, I’m going to suggest roast chicken, who doesn’t love roast chicken and even total beginners can slather a bit of herbs or spices over the breast and legs and pop it into the oven.  Chop a few potatoes into wedges and maybe sprinkle them with smoked paprika or some gutsy Winter herbs and a pinch of chilli for extra excitement.  Add a few chunks of carrot, parsnip and Jerusalem artichokes (or maybe not!) for a one-dish side.  All you’ll need then, is a good green salad to make way for some sweet treats.  Radicchios are all the rage on New York and London menus so look out for some pink radicchio, tardivo and some bitter leaves to add to your salad. 

For pudding, I’m going to break all my rules, around season and suggest a raspberry fool with some heart-shaped cookies.  It’s so easy to make, beyond delicious even when made with Winter raspberries and you can ‘zhuzh’ it up in lots of cute ways – it will become a favourite ‘go to’ dessert. 

And finally, how about a little heart-shaped cheese.  Pop along to Sheridans Cheesemongers or On The Pig’s Back in the English Market to pick up a Coeur de Neufchâtel, an adorable, soft heart-shaped goat cheese from Normandy in France.  Sit around the table and tuck in. 

What fun you’ll have and yet again you’ll find, there’s something in the old saying ‘the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy’…

But, if you’re not wanting to be ‘coupled up’ why not spread the joy, drop a Valentine’s card or a bunch of flowers into a family member or a lonely neighbour to bring a smile to their day.  Happy Valentine’s Day to you all….

Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette

Even though Pacific oysters are available year-round, they are best in winter.  I love native oysters au nature just with a squirt of lemon juice but this dressing really adds excitement to the gigas oysters. 

Serves 4-6 as a starter

24 Pacific oysters

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon freshly ginger, grated

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

1 teaspoon red chilli, cut at an angle

3 tablespoons sesame oil

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

To Serves

fresh seaweed (if available)

segments of lime

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 4-5 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one.  Serve on a bed of seaweed with  segments of lime.

Top Tip

If you can find some fresh seaweed e.g. bladderwrack, dip the fonds into boiling water for a second or two, they will turn bright green. Drop it straight into a bowl of iced water to prevent it cooking and to set the colour.  It will make an attractive garnish, which you could eat if you were very hungry but it doesn’t taste delicious!  Use it soon otherwise it will go slimy.

Chunky Valentine’s Vegetable Bean and Sausage Soup

Have fun chopping together, you’ll love tucking into this chunky soup.

Serves 8

225g (8oz) rindless streaky bacon, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) lardons

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onions, chopped

300g (10oz) carrot, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

215g (7 1/2oz) celery, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

125g (4 1/2oz) parsnips, chopped into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

200g (7oz) white part of 1 leek, 5mm (1/4 inch) slices thick approx.

1 Kabanossi sausage, cut into 3mm (1/8 inch) thin slices

400g (1 x 14oz) can of tomatoes, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1.7 litres (3 pints) good homemade chicken stock,

225g (8oz) haricot beans, cooked * (see recipe) or use a 400g (14oz) can

Garnish

2 tablespoons parsley, freshly chopped

extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Prepare the vegetables. Put the olive oil in a saucepan, add the bacon* (see note at bottom of recipe) and sauté over a medium heat until it becomes crisp and golden, add the chopped onion, carrots and celery. Cover and sweat for five minutes, next add the parsnip and finely sliced leeks. Cover and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Slice the Kabanossi sausage thinly and add. Chop the tomatoes and add to the rest of the vegetables and the beans. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar, add the chicken stock. Allow to cook until all the vegetables are tender, 20 minutes approx. Taste and correct the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, serve with lots of crusty bread.

* Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water.  Next day, strain the beans and cover with fresh cold water, add a bouquet garni, carrot and onion, cover and simmer until the beans are soft but not mushy – anything from 30-60 minutes.  Just before the end of cooking, add salt.  Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables and discard.

Cheddar Cheese Scones

These cheddar cheese scones are delicious served as an accompaniment to soup and made in minutes!

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda/baking soda)

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350-375ml (12-13fl oz) approx.

egg wash

110g (4oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once.  Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary.  The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.  When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board, knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up.  Pat the dough into a square about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, brush with egg wash, cut into 12 square scones.  Dip the top of each scone into the grated cheddar cheese, place on a baking sheet.  Bake in a hot oven for 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6, for 5-10 minutes or until cooked.  Serve with soup as a snack.

A Roast Chicken with Winter Herbs and Gravy

Buy a gorgeous organic chicken for a treat, slather the breast and legs with a gutsy Winter herb or spice butter and tuck in. 

Serves 4-6

1.5 – 2.3kg (4 1/2 – 5lbs) free range chicken, preferably organic

1 lemon, cut into slices

sprig of thyme (optional)

75g (3oz) butter

2 teaspoons smoked paprika and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary

Gravy

600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) of stock from giblets or chicken stock

Garnish

sprigs of flat parsley

First remove the wishbone from the neck end of the chicken, this is easily done by lifting back the loose neck, skin and cutting around the wishbone with a small knife – tug to remove, this isn’t at all essential but it does make carving much easier later on. Tuck the wing tips underneath the chicken to make a neat shape. Put the wishbone, giblets, carrot, onions, celery and herbs into a saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, skin and simmer gently while the chicken is roasting.  This is the basis of the gravy.

Pop the lemon slices and sprig of thyme into the cavity of the chicken.

Mix the soft butter with the freshly chopped herbs or smoked paprika and chopped parsley.  Slather over the breast and legs.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Weigh the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) and 20 minutes over – put it on middle shelf in the oven. Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear or when the internal temperature reaches 75 – 80°C (165 – 175°F) on a meat thermometer.

Alternatively, to test prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh, hold a spoon underneath to collect the liquid, examine the juices – they should be clear.

Remove the chicken to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, tilt the roasting tin to one corner and spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml (1 – 1 1/2 pints) depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.

Pop the chicken onto a nice carving dish surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and vegetables and a few sprigs of flat parsley, arm yourself with a sharp knife and bring it to the table. Carve as best you can and ignore rude remarks if you are still practicing but do try to organise it so that each person gets some brown and some white meat. Serve with the delicious gravy.

Autumn Raspberry Fool with Shortbread Biscuits

A Valentine’s Day present from Rory O’Connell, so easy to make even kitchen ‘newbies’ will be thrilled with the result of their efforts.  Any leftovers can be frozen to make a delicious raspberry ice-cream. 

Serves 4-5


250g (8oz) raspberries, fresh or frozen
60-75g (2 1/2 – 3oz) caster sugar
300ml (10fl oz) of whipped cream

Valentine’s Biscuits


Lay the raspberries out flat on a dish. Sprinkle on the caster sugar and allow to macerate for 1 hour. If you are using frozen berries this should be long enough for them to defrost. Puree the fruit in a liquidiser or blender. Pass the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Gently fold in the whipped cream. If you wish to create a “swirly” effect, just be a little light handed with the folding in of the cream. The fool is now ready to be served or can be chilled for serving later.  Serve with shortbread biscuits.

Valentine’s Biscuits

Note: This recipe was originally in imperial measurements, to get best results, weigh in oz.

Makes 12 approx.

3oz (75g) white flour or spelt flour

2oz (50g) butter

1oz (25g) caster sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.  Cut into rounds with a 6cm (2 1/2 inch) cutter or into heart shapes.  Bake in a moderate oven 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 to pale brown, 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.  Sprinkle with caster or icing sugar.

Delicious biscuits to nibble but we also serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice-creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.

However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy.  Cool on a wire rack.

Winter Roots (Sweet)

A few days ago, someone asked me, out of the blue, how we managed for homegrown vegetables in Winter – was there anything in season in the garden or greenhouse?  Somehow the perception is that there’s nothing to enjoy during the Winter season – well how about all the wonderful Winter roots – carrots, parsnips, swede’s, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes and beetroots,  they all grow underground and are packed with the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need to get us through the Winter…I haven’t even mentioned the greens such as kale, leeks, chard….

Nature always provides what we need in season.  A touch of frost concentrates the sugars and sweetens them further.  Sweet potatoes usually imported although they will grow in Ireland are packed with Vitamin A and beta-carotene.  They are a powerful antioxidant, lots of Vitamin B too and of course lots of fibre as do all the root vegetable.  Fibre is super important to keep our digestive systems functioning and to save us from constipation….

Virtually all the root vegetables can be used in sweet as well as savoury dishes.  Think of your favourite carrot cake, ‘angel hair’ (carrot) jam, then there’s parsnip cake with a cream cheese and maple syrup icing and parsnip crisps – always a surprise.  Grated beetroots make a morish little loaf that disappears in a flash, I even tried a Jerusalem artichoke cake recipe I found recently online.  Sweet potatoes too are all delicious roasted and paired with cinnamon and honey or how about a favourite American Thanksgiving combo sweet potato and marshmallow – now that’ll take a leap of faith but best to keep an open mind – all in the way of research!

This week, I’ve decided to include sweet Winter root recipes but next week, I’ll share some of my favourite savoury root vegetables dishes.  Meanwhile, look out for knobbly Jerusalem artichokes at your local Farmers Market or greengrocers – they are the most exciting Winter vegetable of all, in fact, they deserve a whole column to themselves…

Parsnip and Maple Syrup Cake with Parsnip Crisps

The cutest cake and also delicious with parsnip crisps piled on top.

Serves 8

175g (6oz) butter, plus extra for greasing

110g (4oz) Demerara sugar

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) maple syrup or honey

3 large organic eggs

250g (9oz) self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons mixed spice

175g (6oz) parsnips, peeled and grated

1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and grated

50g (2oz) pecans or hazelnuts, roughly chopped

zest of 1 small orange

1 tablespoon orange juice

Garnish

parsnip crisps

icing sugar, to serve

Filling

300g (10oz) cream cheese

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 x 20cm (8 inch) deep sandwich tins buttered and lined with parchment paper

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

Melt the butter, sugar and maple syrup in a pan over a gentle heat, then cool slightly.  Whisk the eggs into the mixture, then stir into the flour, baking powder and mixed spice.   Next add the grated parsnip, apple, chopped pecans, orange zest and freshly squeezed juice.  Divide between the two tins or pour into the loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until just starting to shrink from the sides of the tin.

Cool on a wire rack. 

Just before serving, mix the cream cheese and maple syrup together.  Spread over the base of one cake and top with the other.  Alternatively, if making in a loaf tin, spread icing  over the top of the cake to decorate.

Garnish with parsnip crisps.  Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Parsnip Crisps

Here I pile them onto a cake but we also serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for roast pheasant or guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup.  Also a welcome school lunch snack.

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

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip

sunflower oil

salt

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

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

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

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

Beetroot and Walnut Cake

This recipe comes all the way from the Sun House in Galle on the south coast of Sri Lanka.  I’ve adapted it slightly for our ingredients (dairy-free).

Serves 10

3 free-range organic eggs

150ml (5fl oz) sunflower oil

25g (1oz) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) white or spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt

100g (3 1/2oz) beetroot, grated

60g (2 1/4oz) sultanas

60g (2 1/4oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped

Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice to bind

To Decorate

deep-fried beetroot (see end of recipe)

toasted pumpkin seeds

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

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

Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment. 

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth.   Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.  Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts.   Pour into the prepared tin.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

Next, make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar, add the lemon juice gradually to a stiff but spreadable consistency. Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds and a little grated lemon zest.

To Deep-fry Beetroot

Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.  Using a peeler, slice thin rounds off the beetroot.  Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes.  Deep-fry until crispy (no higher than 150°C/300°F).  Dry on kitchen paper. 

‘Angel Hair’ Jam

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

600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots

500g (18oz) caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

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

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly. 

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

Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Casserole

Jared Batson, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni from Chicago shared this recipe from Prairie Grass Café. They piped a meringue mixture on the top of individual ramekins for each guest during Thanksgiving time. They loved it…

Serves 8-10

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) sweet potatoes, washed with skin on (OR use half sweet potatoes and half butternut squash)

2 eggs

75g (3oz) butter (melted)

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground clove

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups miniature marshmallows

25g (1oz) pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

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

20.5cm x 20.5cm (8 x 8 inch) baking dish

Pierce the skins of the sweet potatoes with a fork. Bake sweet potatoes (whole) (and squash flesh side down if using) on a baking tray with parchment paper for 45-60 minutes or until a small knife easily pierces through the flesh without resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lower the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature. Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes being careful not to include any parts of the skins. Pass through a mouli and whip in the beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar and spices. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with the marshmallows and then with chopped pecans if desired. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and the mixture is nice and hot. Serve immediately.

Jerusalem Artichoke Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

This cake keeps really well.  The crisps softened but it was still moist and delicious almost a week after it was made.  One could of course omit the Jerusalem artichokes crisps but they’re delicious when the cake is freshly made. 

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons brandy

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) sultanas

80g (3 1/4oz) hazelnuts

200g (7oz) Jerusalem artichokes – scrubbed & peeled

150g (5oz) unsalted butter

150g (5oz) light Muscovado sugar

3 large eggs

200g (7oz) plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

large pinch of sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

good grating of nutmeg – about 1/2 teaspoon

50g (2oz) milk chocolate drops – 36% cocoa

3 tablespoons milk

Cream Cheese Icing

180g (6 1/4oz) cream cheese

40g (1 1/2oz) light Muscovado sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 1 organic lemon

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary, optional

Garnish

Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps (see recipe)

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round spring-form tin

Line the tin on the base and sides with parchment paper.

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

Soak the sultanas in the brandy in covered bowl for at least one hour, but better still overnight.

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for a few minutes until the nuts brown a little and the skins loosen.  Allow to cool, rub the nuts in a piece of kitchen towel to remove the skins then roughly chop.

Grate the Jerusalem artichokes.

Cream the soft butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy, add in the plumped-up sultanas.  Beat in the eggs, one by one, alternating with a little of the flour.  Sieve in the remainder of the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, stir gently into the mixture, add the nuts and chocolate then fold in the artichokes.  Add 2 tablespoons of milk to make a dropping consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin.  Bake for 50 minutes approx. until well risen.  A skewer inserted into the cake will come out almost clean when cooked.

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Icing

Whip the cream cheese and sugar together.  Grate in the lemon zest and nearly half of the freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Add the chopped rosemary, stir and beat it all together then slather over the top of the cooled cake.

Decorate with artichoke crisps (see recipe) and sprigs of rosemary. 

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