AuthorDarina Allen

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. 

Chinese New Year

Not sure about you but I was super happy to say goodbye to 2021 and welcome a brand-new year.  Feels like we may be edging towards a much better place than this time last year so I’m brimming with optimism and enthusiasm and I’m hatching up all sorts of plans for 2022.  I’m determined to snatch any excuse to celebrate, the birds starting to sing in the mornings, the stretch in the evenings, the first primroses…always a sign St. Bridget’s Day is around the corner.  We make a special St. Bridget’s Day cake, crystallise the primroses and decorate the top with the frosted flowers and freshly picked wood sorrel – so beautiful…you might like to make this on February 1st to celebrate our female patron saint. 

But in today’s column, we’re going to celebrate Chinese New Year, a two weeklong bonanza based on the Lunar calendar.  This year, celebrations start on the 1st of February and last until the 15th finishing with the Lantern Festival.  The Chinese Zodiac gives each year an animal sign, 2022 is the year of the Tiger – how exciting is that.  People born in the year of the Tiger, such as 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 are said to be brave, competitive, unpredictable and confident, so now you know…

There are all sorts of traditions and superstitions attached to celebrating the Chinese New Year also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival to make it more inclusive globally.  The Chinese travel, often thousands of miles, to be with their families and friends to eat, drink, cook and have fun together.   Traditionally, there’s a frenzy of spring cleaning for weeks before to have everything sparkling for the celebration.   As ever, food is at the centre of every celebration.  In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolises happiness, energy and prosperity so red lanterns, dragons, fireworks, candles, medallions are everywhere…. I love the tradition of ‘Hong Bao’, giving red envelopes with a gift of money tucked inside – such excitement for the children. 

For the past few years as a result of the pandemic, festivities have been curtailed and many families have not been able to get together to celebrate but there’s a growing optimism that 2022 may see the tentative return of parades, lion dances and family reunions. 

China is such a vast country.  Every region has different customs but all families plan an exciting New Year feast.  The traditional dishes are all symbolic – lucky foods, guaranteed to bring good fortune… 

Here are some of the favourites:

Spring rolls resembling bars of gold. 

Dumplings look like gold and silver ingots.  They are shaped like little purses, the more you eat, the richer you’ll be…

Noodles, some up to 2 feet long, symbolise longevity. 

A whole steamed fish – tender and delicious with a dipping sauce –known as ‘dayn daron’ or big fish in mandarin, suggests abundance. 

Little rice balls, filled with sweet red bean paste, signify family harmony, unity and togetherness.

There’s also a sweet glutinous rice cake – Nian gao (which can be sweet or savoury).  The word loosely translates to ‘higher up’ – obviously a positive, this is beloved by Chinese but not to everyone’s Western taste.

Fortune cookies – each crisp sugary cookie contains a piece of paper with a surprise prophecy. 

Tangerines are the most traditional citrus fruit to grace the table and gift to friends.  The Chinese characters sound like the word that means good fortune so here we are again, it’s all about good luck. 

So invite a couple of special friends around, have fun creating a little Chinese feast during the New Year celebrations and welcome better times ahead. 

Rory O’Connell’s Chinese Sliced Fish Soup

This soup is light and refreshing and the fish can be varied according to what you have available. The basic Chinese stock is essential for an authentic result. The fish in the recipe can be replaced with thin slices of chicken breast or pork fillet, so the soup is really versatile. A little finely sliced chilli may be added if heat is required. Feel free to experiment with your additions. I have on occasion eaten this soup without the fish and replaced it with lots of chopped fresh herbs and called it a herb broth. The final assembly is quick and easy.

1.2 litres (2 pints) Chinese stock (see below)

225g (8oz) lemon sole or plaice or turbot or brill fillets, skinned

18 – 24 prawns or shrimps or mussels, cooked and shelled

1 head of Iceberg or Cos lettuce

2 spring onions or scallions, finely sliced at an angle

2 tablespoons of coriander leaves

salt and pepper

Cut the filleted fish into pieces, about the side of a large postage stamp. Quarter the lettuce and remove any tough core. Finely slice the remaining quarters against the grain. Place the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the fish pieces and after 1 minute the prepared shellfish. Simmer for a further minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place some of the shredded lettuce in hot soup bowls. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cooked fish and shellfish between the bowls and ladle in the hot broth. Garnish each bowl with spring onions and coriander leaves and serve immediately.

Basic Chinese Stock

1.5kg (4lbs) chicken bones or pork spareribs, or a mixture

6 slices of un-peeled fresh ginger root, about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick

8 large scallions or spring onions

cold water

Place the bones, ginger and onion in a saucepan that they fit snugly into. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim off any froth that rises to the surface. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer gently for about 2 hours. Taste and if you are not happy with the flavour, allow it to cook for longer. Do not cover the stock during the cooking. Do not allow it to boil as the stock will reduce and become too strong. When happy with the flavour, strain, cool and refrigerate until needed. Remove any solidified fat from the surface of the stock before using. The stock will keep in the fridge for a few days or may be frozen. 

Fran’s Chinese Beef Dumplings

Dumplings can have a myriad of fillings.  I also love a mixture of shrimp and pork but try these delicious beef dumplings given to me by a past student Fran Borrill. 

Makes 40

1-2 packs gyoza/dumpling wrappers

1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) boiling water

900g (2lb) minced beef (15% fat)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 bunch spring onions, minced

3 Chinese cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1 red chilli, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Dipping Sauce

2 teaspoons chilli oil (taste to see how hot it is before adding)

3 tablespoons  hoisin sauce

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

4 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon caster sugar (optional)

3 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

2 tablespoons spring onion, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

To make the Dipping Sauce, put all the ingredients into a jam jar and shake.

Next, make the dumplings.

Place the Sichuan peppercorns and boiling water into a heatproof jug and allow them to soak for 10-15 minutes.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl (by hand is best) until they are well combined.

Strain the Sichuan peppercorns and retain the liquid.

Pour half the water into the beef mixture and stir until it has absorbed.  Repeat with the remaining water.

Put a scant teaspoon of the mixture into the middle of a dumpling skin, wet the outer edge with water and fold the dumpling together (into a half-moon shape) by pleating one edge against the other.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a frying pan or wok.  Fry the dumplings until one side is brown and crisp, 2-3 minutes.

Then add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan/wok (please note that the oil will split due to water being added) and cover immediately with a lid for 5-6 minutes to allow the dumplings to steam.

Serve immediately with the dipping sauce and enjoy.

Stir-Fried Prawns and Pork with Crispy Noodles

Recipe taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books (2021)

Super-fast and delicious and fun to do.  I love the contrast and textures of sweet, sour, sharp and salty flavours.  We love to pile the crispy noodles into lettuce leaves or wraps.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/oz) rice vermicelli

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

6 garlic cloves, finely sliced

1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)

400g (14oz) minced pork

200g (7oz) cooked prawns or shrimps, cut into 8mm (1/3 inch) chunks

a large handful of beansprouts or 80g (3 1/4oz) spring onions, cut at an angle

1 – 2 tablespoons light soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons mirin

a large handful of coriander leaves

juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges to serve

For this recipe, break the vermicelli into shortish lengths about 10 – 12.5cm (4-5 inch).

Deep-fat fryers vary in size so fill the fryer up to the recommended line and heat the oil to 180˚C (350˚F).  Alternatively, fill a deep saucepan with 5 – 7.5cm (2-3 inch) depth of oil. 

Cook the noodles in batches until crisp – they puff up like magic in just a few seconds. Drain on kitchen paper.

Heat 3cm (1 1/4 inch) oil in a wok over the highest heat, add the shallots and stir-fry for 1 minute.   Add the garlic, chilli flakes and pork and continue to stir-fry for a further 2 minutes or until the pork is almost cooked.  Add the prawns, beansprouts, sugar, fish sauce and mirin and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the prawns are heated through.  Add the coriander. Toss, taste and add more fish sauce, mirin or sugar if necessary.  Add the lime juice.

Spoon the pork and prawn mixture over the drained noodles.  Serve with lime wedges on the side.  Alternatively, pile into lettuce leaf wraps. 

Deh-Ta Hsiung’s Steamed Grey Sea Mullet

Deh-Ta Hsiung, a Chinese chef who came to the school on several occasions to give us a “Taste of China”, was so excited by the flavour of grey sea mullet  that he almost emigrated to Ireland! I give you his delicious recipe for steamed fish with his permission. 

Serves 4 as a main course

1 grey sea mullet weighing approx. 700-900g (1 1/2 – 2lbs) (sea bass could be used instead)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sesame seed oil

4 spring onions

2-3 dried mushrooms, soaked and thinly shredded

50g (2oz) pork fillet or cooked ham, thinly shredded

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry

4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece peeled ginger root, thinly shredded

2 tablespoons oil

Scale and gut the fish (if not already done), wash it under the cold tap and dry well both inside and out with a cloth or kitchen paper. Trim the fins and tail if not already trimmed, be careful and use strong scissors and watch out for the very sharp spines. 

Slash both sides of the fish diagonally as far as the bone at intervals of about 1cm (1/2 inch) with a sharp knife.  In case you wonder why it is necessary to slash both sides of the fish before cooking, the reason is twofold: first, if you cook the fish whole, the skin will burst unless it’s scored and secondly slashing allows the heat to penetrate more quickly and at the same time helps to diffuse the flavours of the seasoning and sauce, also as the Chinese never use a knife at the table, it is much easier to pick up pieces of flesh with just a pair of chopsticks.

Rub about half the salt and all the sesame seed oil inside the fish and place it on top of 2-3 spring onions on an oval-shaped dish.

Mix the mushrooms and pork with the remaining salt, a little of the soy sauce and wine.  Stuff about half of this mixture inside the fish and rest on top with the ginger root.  Place in a hot Chinese steamer over a wok and steam vigorously for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, thinly shred the remaining spring onions and heat the oil in a little saucepan until bubbling.  Remove the fish dish from the steamer, arrange the spring onion shreds on top, pour the remaining soy sauce over it and then the hot oil from head to tail.  Serve hot.

If you don’t possess a steamer big enough to hold a whole fish, it can be wrapped in silver foil and baked in the oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 for 20-25 minutes. 

Fortune Cookies

It’s such fun to make Chinese fortune cookies, each one has a strip of paper hidden inside with a Chinese wish or proverb. They are made from a simple tuile batter. Spread them really thinly and mould as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise, they become brittle and crumbly. Have your little wishes ready to pop in.

Makes 30-32

140g (scant 5oz) butter

4 egg whites

210g (7 1/2oz) caster sugar

155g (5 1/4oz) white flour, sieved

3 tablespoons cream

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

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

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Melt the butter gently and allow to cool a little.

Put the egg whites and sugar into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk for a few seconds. Fold in the flour and mix. Add the melted butter, cream and almond extract. Mix until well combined.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of batter onto a prepared baking sheet, spread with the back of a spoon into a thin even 10cm (4 inch) round.  Allow room for spreading and don’t attempt to cook more than 3 or 4 at a time, otherwise it will be difficult to shape  them quickly enough.  Bake until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown, 6-8 minutes.

Have all your Chinese proverbs ready. Lift one of the cookies off the baking tray with a spatula. Lay the strip of paper across the centre, fold the cookie into a semi-circle and pinch the rounded edges gently together.  Insert your thumb and index finger into the  open ends and fold them down to meet underneath.  This whole process should only take about 10 seconds. Cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the others and eat within a couple of hours or store in an airtight container with a (silica crystal packet).  Happy Chinese New Year!

Marmalade

It’s that time of the year again, the air is fragrant with the smell of marmalade bubbling away in pots throughout the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  Such a joy to be able to welcome students back to start the Spring Program.  Seven nationalities this time, all super excited and eager to learn and determined to pack as much as possible into the next 12 weeks.

Many, in fact most have never made marmalade before, so they are delighted to discover how easy and rewarding it is.  They are so proud of their jars, carefully lined up on the shelf side by side with the raspberry jam they learned how to make in the first week to slather onto Sweet Crunchy Scones. 

So how about a marmalade making session this week.  The Seville oranges are in season, you’ll find them in your local greengrocer, Catriona Daunt and Willi Doherty of Organic Republic will have organic oranges on their stalls at Midleton, Bantry, Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets – so worth the little extra they cost – see organic_republic on Instagram.  Blood oranges have just arrived into the shops too, as have bergamots, how exotic do they sound and they also make a delicious marmalade.

Jam making doesn’t appeal much to lads but marmalade gets some chaps really excited – older men particularly have very fixed ideas on what perfect marmalade should taste like.  Some like it bitter and dark, others prefer a fresh citrusy flavour, a dash of Irish whiskey or a couple of dollops of black treacle for extra depth of flavour.  I’m loving our blood orange and Campari marmalade, a twist on one of my favourite aperitif combos.  Oranges are not the only citrus that make good marmalade, three-fruit marmalade can be made at any time of the year, e.g. orange, lemon and grapefruit.  Kumquat marmalade is also a super delicious luxurious treat and don’t forget clementine, mandarin or tangerine marmalade all made in a similar way and now in season too. 

How To Make:

Marmalade is usually made over two days.  Juice and slice the oranges and leave them to steep overnight in a little muslin bag with the pips.  Cook until the peel is tender.  Heat the sugar but be really careful not to add it until the peel is really soft and the original liquid has reduced to between one-third and half of its original volume.  If the sugar is added too early, it will harden the peel, resulting in a chewy marmalade – quite the challenge early in the morning. 

Enjoy the process, make a cup of coffee, turn on some music and have fun slicing the rind – Yes, I know it’s easier to put it into a blender but the end result will be sludgy – it’s your call and of course will depend on your preference and your time.  Either way, enjoy, you may even want to enter a pot of your marmalade into The Marmalade Awards before February 11th, 2022.  Check out marketing@dalemain.com

Meanwhile, here are some recipes to get your started.

Classic Seville Orange Marmalade

The bitter Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-5 weeks.

Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lbs)

900g (2lbs) of Seville oranges, organic if possible

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

1 organic lemon

1.45kg (3 1/4lbs) granulated sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil.  Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.). Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is reached, 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104˚C/220˚F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen the peel and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Whiskey Marmalade

Add 6 tablespoons of whiskey to the cooking marmalade just before potting.

Seville Orange and Treacle Marmalade

Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-5 weeks.

Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lbs)

900g (2lbs) of Seville oranges, organic if possible

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

1 organic lemon

1.45kg (3 1/4lbs) granulated sugar

175ml (6fl oz) treacle

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel fairly coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil.  Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.).  Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is almost reached, 5-6 minutes approx.  Stir in the treacle, bring back to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes or until a set is reached.

Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104˚F/220˚F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Seville Whole Orange Marmalade

Makes 5.9 – 6.6kg (13-15lbs) approx.

When the Seville and Malaga oranges in the shops for just a few short weeks after Christmas. Buy what you need and make the marmalade while the oranges are fresh, if possible. If not just pop them into the freezer, this recipe works brilliantly for frozen oranges, it’s not even necessary to defrost them.

Some recipes sliced the peel first but the majority boiled the whole oranges first and then sliced the peel.

With any marmalade its vital that the original liquid has reduced by half or better still two-thirds before the sugar is added otherwise it takes ages to reach a set and both the flavour and colour will be spoiled.  A wide low-sided stainless-steel saucepan is best for this recipe, say 35.5 x 40.5cm (14- 16 inch) wide. If you don’t have one approx. that size cook the marmalade in two batches.

2.2kg (4 1/2lbs) Seville or Malaga oranges (organic if possible)

5.1 litres (9 pints) water

3.6kg (8lbs) sugar

Wash the oranges.  Put them in a stainless-steel saucepan with the water.  Put a plate on top to keep them under the surface of the water.  Cover with the lid of the saucepan, simmer gently until soft, 2 hours approx. cool and drain, reserving the water. (If more convenient, leave overnight and continue next day.) Put your chopping board onto a large baking tray with sides so you won’t lose any juice.   Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the soft centre.  Slice the peel finely. Put the pips into a muslin bag.

Put the escaped juice, sliced oranges and the muslin bag of pips in a large wide stainless-steel saucepan with the reserved marmalade liquid.  Bring to the boil, reduce by half or better still two-thirds, add the warm sugar, stir over a brisk heat until all the sugar is dissolved.  Boil fast until setting point is reached. Pot in sterilized jars and cover at once.  Store in a dark airy cupboard.

With any marmalade its vital that the original liquid has reduced by half or better still two-thirds before the sugar is added otherwise it takes ages to reach a set and both the flavour and colour will be spoiled.  A wide low-sided stainless-steel saucepan is best for this recipe, say, 35.5 – 40.5cm (14-16 inch) wide.   If you don’t have one around that size, cook the marmalade in two batches.

Pam’s Bergamot Lemon Marmalade

One of our senior tutors, Pamela Black has a passion for bergamots – this is her recipe…tart and delicious!

6 – 8 pots

1kg (2 1/4lbs) un-waxed Bergamot lemons

1 3kgs (3lbs) granulated sugar

2 1/2 litres (4 1/4 pints) cold water

Scrub the skin of the lemons in warm water with a soft brush. Put into a deep stainless-steel saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2 hours until the lemons are soft and tender.

Remove the lemons and allow to cool.  Bring back the liquid to the boil and reduce the liquid to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints). 

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cut the lemons in half, save the pips and tie with the soft membrane in a little muslin bag. Chop the peel and put into a stainless-steel saucepan with the reduced juice, liquid and the bag of pips. Put back on the heat, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook to a setting point – 15-20 minutes approx. Test for a set in the usual way.

Allow to cool in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Pot into sterilised jars, cool and store in a dark dry cupboard.

Blood Orange Marmalade

Makes 4 jars approximately

4 blood oranges (1 1/2lbs approx.)

1.2 litres (2 pints)

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

570g (1lb 4 1/2oz) granulated sugar, or more to taste

2 tablespoons Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

Wash the fruit, cut in half around the ‘equator’ and squeeze out the juice.  Remove the membrane with a sharp spoon, keep aside. Cut the peel in quarters and slice the rind across rather than lengthways.  Put the juice, sliced rind and water in a stainless-steel saucepan. Put the pips and membrane into a muslin bag and add to the saucepan.  Leave overnight. 

The following day. 

Add the zest and juice of the lime to the saucepan and simmer with the bag of pips for 40-60 minutes until the peel is really soft.  (Cover for the first 30 minutes).  Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume. 

Remove the muslin bag and discard the pips and membrane.  They have already yielded their pectin to the marmalade.  Add the warmed sugar to the soft peel, stir until the sugar has dissolved: boil until it reaches setting point (104˚C/220°F) on a sugar thermometer), about 8-10 minutes. 

Stir in the Cointreau (use Blood Orange Cointreau if you can source it) or Grand Marnier if you are using it.

Note: If the sugar is added before the rind is really soft, the rind will toughen, and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Use the ‘wrinkle test’ to double-check for a firm set. 

Allow to stand in the saucepan for 5 minutes before ladling into hot, sterilized jam jars leaving 5mm (1/4 inch) of headspace.  Seal.  Store in a cool, dark place.

Campari and Blood Orange Marmalade

Add 1-2 tablespoons of Campari to the marmalade 1-2 minutes before end of cooking, taste, pot and seal ASAP.

Sweet Crunchy Scones with Marmalade and a blob of cream

Makes 9-10 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3 inch) cutter

450g (1lb) plain white flour

75g (3oz) butter

2 small free-range eggs

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 heaped teaspoon plus 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder (25g/1oz approx.)

200ml (7fl oz) approx. milk to mix

Glaze

Egg Wash (see below)

crunchy Demerara sugar or coarse granulated sugar for coating the top of the scones

To Serve

your favourite marmalade

softly whipped cream

First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs, put into a measure and add milk to bring the liquid up to 300ml (10fl oz), add all but 2 tablespoons (save to egg wash the top of the scones to help them to brown in the oven) to the dry ingredients in one go and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured worktop.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in crunchy Demerara or coarse granulated sugar.

Put onto a baking tray – no need to grease. 

Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half.  Top with homemade marmalade and a blob of softly whipped cream.

* Top Tip – Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.

India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about the food at Ahilya Fort? 

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

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

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

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

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

Check it outwww.ahilyafort.com

Ahilya Fort Chicken Survedar

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

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) organic chicken

6 tablespoons clarified ghee/butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ginger paste

2 tablespoons garlic paste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/4 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

450ml (16fl oz) coconut milk

10 – 12 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh coriander

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


Virgin Chicken

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

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons seeds only of whole dried red chilli peppers

1 tablespoon scraped and minced ginger

1 tablespoon salt

110ml (4fl oz) natural yoghurt

110ml (4fl oz) cream

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

50ml (2fl oz) clarified ghee/butter

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

225ml – 450ml (8-16fl oz) hot water

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

1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

50g (2oz) dried coconut

14 almonds, peeled and coarsely chopped

110ml (4fl oz) whole milk

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

1 – 2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

Basmati rice to accompany

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

Ahilya Fort Lobia Beans

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

Serves 4-6

500g (18oz) French beans

1 tablespoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

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

3 tablespoons Thai basil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) coconut milk

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

pinch of asafoetida 

1/4 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons grated coconut

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

Just before serving, garnish with fresh coconut. 

Cauliflower and Tomato Stew

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

Serves 4-6

5 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 onions, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1 teaspoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

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

5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and diced

lots of fresh coriander to serve

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

Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

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

Makes 10 brownies

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

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

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white flour or spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

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

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs (about 200g/7oz)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

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

Garnish

50g (2oz) pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, make the ganache.

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

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

Tangerines with a hint of Jasmine Syrup

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

Serves 6

6 clementine, mandarin or satsumas

Jasmine Syrup (available to buy in Asian food stores)

fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season

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

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

Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballymaloe Granola

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

Serves 20

350g (12oz) local runny honey

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

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

200g (7oz) barley flakes

200g (7oz) wheat flakes

100g (3 1/2oz) rye flakes

150g (5oz) seedless raisins or sultanas

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

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

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

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

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

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

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

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

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

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

Serves 4

155g (5 1/4oz) Macroom oatmeal

1.4 litres (scant 2 1/2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

soft brown sugar

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

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

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

Note

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

Ballymaloe Chicken Liver Pâté with Croutini

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

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.

225g (8oz) fresh organic chicken livers

2 tablespoons brandy

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

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper

Clarified Butter (melted and skimmed butter), to seal the top.

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

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

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

This pâté should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots or into one large terrine.   Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.

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

Croutini

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

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

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

Leek, Sprout and Macaroni Bake

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

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

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) macaroni

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

25g (1oz) butter

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

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

green salad, to serve

For the Cheddar Cheese Sauce

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) plain flour

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

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

150g (5oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan cheese

For the Buttered Crumbs

15g (1/2oz) butter

25g (1oz) white breadcrumbs

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bramley Apple Peel Jelly

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

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lb)

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

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

sugar

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

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

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

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

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

Apple and Sweet Geranium Jelly

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

Apple and Rosemary Jelly

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

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