CategorySaturday Letter

A few days in Spain…

A few days in Spain…

If you are longing for a taste of simple Spanish food you’ll need to head away from the main drag – off into the back streets and out into the villages in the wooded hillside…

Malaga, the point of entry into Andalucía for many is certainly worth lingering in for a couple of days. The Picasso Museum in the town of the artist’s birth is definitely worth a gentle browse and Cathederal de la Encarnacion is properly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the Centro Pompidou either and stroll along the Pedregalejo seafront and eat the freshest fish in one of the many chiringuitos.

For breakfast, seek out crispy churros to dunk in a glass of hot chocolate. They are a specialty in Malaga and a ‘must do’ for breakfast…

For tapas, Check out Meson Iberico, on Calle San Lorenzo 27, it opens at 8.30pm. Book ahead of else be ready to queue. Be there by 8.15pm… if you want to get a seat at the counter or by the window ledge, you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and make a dash as soon as the doors are opened such is the enthusiasm of the regulars…but it’ll be worth it..

The tapas are traditional, made from superb ingredients and as a result are memorably delicious. We enjoyed a plate of wafer thin slivers of jamon Iberico from Cinco Jotas, perhaps the best pata negra in all of Spain, made from the hams of the long legged black Iberian pigs, reared in the dehesa oak forests and fattened on acorns… You can’t imagine how the delicious flavour lingers in your mouth – food for the gods. We also enjoyed tender whelks, octopus a la Gallega sprinkled with paprika and flakes of sea salt. The tiny, briny sweet clams were also memorable as were the crisp little tortilla aux Camorones (shrimp fritters). Finally, there was a plate of the tiniest little broad beans with two quails eggs and a few slivers of jamon melting over the top. There were many other temptations but by then I was defeated but Meson Iberico goes to the top of my Malaga list.

Next day, we drove out into the countryside to Gaucín, one of the prettiest of the famous Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalucia that hang precariously off the edge of the wooded hillside like a stack of tumbling sugar cubes…. The drive over the mountains from Malaga is spectacular and even more awe-inspiring from Gaucin and even more so onto Ronda. This Moorish city is teeming with tourists but it is definitely worth seeing the El Tajo Gorge under the Punta Nuevo (built in 1735). While you are there, pop into the Inglesia de Santa Maria church and check out the Royal Cavelry Bull Ring, the earliest in Spain.

Back in Gaucín, breakfast at Brena Verde was my favourite find in Guacín. Here, the cheery cook sent plate after plate after plate of tortas fritta out of the kitchen, irregular shaped squares of bubbly fried dough to enjoy drizzled with local honey….simple and so delicious….we  loved them sent lots of compliments to the kitchen so the cheery cook invited me into the kitchen to watch her making the frittas and shared the recipe. So fun to make, your children will love them too, topped with their favourite morsels.

Sleepy Guacin is about 45 minutes from the closest beach but we found several river bathing places with pools of varying depth. The grandchildren spent hours building dams, chasing dragonflies and watching little fish swimming around them in the river. Can you imagine the joy….It brought memories flooding back of swimming in the river Gaul outside the little village of Cullohill in Co Laois when I was a child….

We stayed at Molina del Carmen in Guacín, a former olive oil mill with some of the old machinery still intact. It’s now a complex of five chic interlinking apartments that can be rented individually or as a complex complete with a pool, perfect for a multi generational family holiday. The views from the terraces are jaw dropping… The rock of Gibraltar is clearly visible and Morocco a mere 35 mins ferry ride away… The village has lots of cafes , pubs and artist studios and is less than an hour from the closest sandy beach… you may even chance on a local festival or Féria as we did with fiesty prancing horses, a greasy pole competition to win a jamon and free community paella… a real and enchanting glimpse of Spanish country life…. 

Papas Bravas

Serves 10-12 as a tapa

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 red chilli, chopped (with seeds)

1 x 400g (14ozs) tin of tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon homemade tomato purée

2 teaspoons paprika

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

extra virgin olive oil

2lbs (900g) potatoes (e.g. golden wonder) peeled or unpeeled, which ever you prefer

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

sea salt

To Serve

aoili (see recipe)

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add the chopped garlic and chilli and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and paprika.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Simmer for 5-8 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch (2 1/2 cms) olive oil in a frying pan.  Dice the potatoes into 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) pieces.  Dry on kitchen paper.  Cook the potatoes in the hot oil until light golden brown in colour and tender all the way through. 

While the potatoes are cooking, liquidize the sauce and add the sherry vinegar.  Return to the pan.  When the potatoes are cooked, remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.  Season lightly with some sea salt.

Heat the sauce, taste.

Serve the potatoes on a plate, drizzle with the sauce and a good dollop of aoili.

Tortillitas à la Patata

Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, recently introduced me to this little gem.  They are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make the perfect little bites to nibble with a drink, preferably a glass of Fino or Manzilla.  This is totally brilliant way to use up leftover boiled potatoes.  The tortillitas are made in minutes and can be served as part of every meal from breakfast to supper. 

Makes 26

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) cooked potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and chives

extra virgin olive oil, for frying

Maldon sea salt, to serve

Aioli (see recipe)

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the diced potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add the herbs.

Heat about 5mm (1/4 inch) of oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning.  Correct if necessary.  

Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture for each. Cook on one side for about 1-2 minutes, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt.

Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli (see recipe).

Saffron Aioli

“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.

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

225ml (oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 175ml (6fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size

1/4 teaspoon saffron soaked in 2 teaspoons of hot water (optional)

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the crushed garlic, mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.  Finally add the saffron if using and taste for seasoning.

Churros with Cinnamon Sugar and Hot Chocolate

Makes 25 approx.

choux pastry (see recipe)

225g (8oz) caster sugar

2-4 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon

sunflower oil for deep-frying

Hot Chocolate for dipping

Make choux pastry below

Choux Pastry

150g (5oz) strong flour (Baker’s)

pinch of salt

225ml (8floz) water

100g (3 1/2 oz) butter, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes

3-5 eggs depending on size (free range if possible)

Sieve the flour with the salt onto a piece of silicone paper.  Heat the water and butter in a high-sided saucepan until the butter is melted. Bring to a fast rolling boil, take from the heat.  (Note: Prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough).  Immediately the pan is taken from the heat, add all the flour at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan to form a ball. Put the saucepan back on a low heat and stir for 30 seconds – 1 minute or until the mixture starts to furr the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat and cool for a few seconds.

Meanwhile set aside one egg, break it and whisk it in a bowl.  Add the remaining eggs into the dough, one by one with a wooden spoon, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Make sure the dough comes back to the same texture each time before you add another egg. When it will no longer form a ball in the centre of the saucepan, add the beaten egg little by little. Use just enough to make a mixture that is very shiny and just drops reluctantly from the spoon in a sheet. 

 To make the Churros

Heat the oil in a deep fry to 180°C/350°F.

Mix the cinnamon with the caster sugar and pour onto a flat plate.

Put a medium sized star shaped nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with choux pastry.

When the oil is hot, pipe strips of choux pastry, 2 1/2 inches long approx, directly into the hot oil.  They will puff up so do just a few at a time. Cook until crisp and golden brown, drain on kitchen paper.

Toss in cinnamon sugar and dunk in hot chocolate!

Honey & Co

Honey & Co Chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and broad beans for supper.  They’ve spent the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  They live in Central London, run two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey & Smoke in Fitzrovia.

Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey Middle Eastern food.  There’s something particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit & Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur flat bread or pitta.  They both love cooking and have since they were five.  They originally met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both sensational restaurants.

This is their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, they love coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how they will prepare them.  Real cooks are endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours.  They have searched the highways and byways of the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food.  Their enthusiasm is infectious, even strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate the flavours of their childhood and home country.  Honey Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve discovered I can now order online to recreate their recipes from their three books.

Honey & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their devotees favourite.  The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes, pickles, relishes & sauces.  The book is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the self-deprecating writing.

Sarit & Itamar enchanted us for a whole day, and here are a few dishes they cooked for us, the Ashtanur bread, a super quick flat bread and so worth knowing about, kids also love to make and bake it on a pan or outdoors.

The one pot chicken dish will definitely become a favourite, cracked wheat is easy to find nowadays but if you can’t source it, use long grain rice.

It’s also worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and several segments on Youtube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable way.

Honey & Co www.honeyandco.co.uk

25 Warren St., Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LZ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Spice

52 Warren St., Kings Cross, London W1T 5NJ Tel: 2073886175

Honey & Smoke

216 Great Portland Street, London W1W5QW Tel: 2073886175

Harissa and Goat’s Cheese Buns

Makes about 20

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

100g (3 1/2oz) butter (at room temperature), diced

1 egg, lightly whisked and divided into 2 small bowls

60g (2 1/4oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, divided into 2 small bowls

125g (4 1/2oz) ricotta

125g (4 1/2oz) soft, young, rindless goat’s cheese

30g (1oz/2 tablespoons) rose harissa paste

1 teaspoon sea salt or a generous pinch of table salt

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4 (Fan)

I use a mixer to make these; the dough is easy enough to make by hand, but it’s a little messy. Place the flour and butter in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and combine to a crumb-like consistency.

Add half the egg and half the grated pecorino or Parmesan, along with the ricotta, goat’s cheese, harissa paste and salt. Mix together until everything forms a nice, soft, pliable dough.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each one into a log about 20cm (8 inch) long. Brush each log all over with the other half of the egg, which you set aside earlier.

Mix the remaining Pecorino or Parmesan and the cumin seeds together, and sprinkle on the work surface. Roll the logs in the cheese cumin mixture until coated all over. Place on a tray in the fridge to rest for at least an hour, and up to 48 hours.

When you are ready to bake – best done just before serving as these are great hot –Cut each log into about 10 slices, each about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, and lay them flat on a lined baking tray. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the cheese becomes golden but the buns are still soft. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

Fennel, Kohlrabi, Orange and Chilli Salad

Makes enough for 6-8 as a side of 4-6 as a starter

2 fennel bulbs

1 head of kohlrabi

1/2 teaspoon salt

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 red chilli

3 oranges (blood oranges work beautifully here)

1 small bunch of coriander

1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Halve the fennel bulbs and remove the core. Lay them flat on a chopping board and slice lengthways as thinly as you can. Place in a large bowl.

Peel the kohlrabi, cut into quarters and then cut into thin wafer-like slices (you can use a peeler, or a mandolin if you own one). Add the kohlrabi slices to the fennel, sprinkle with the salt and lemon juice, and mix.

Cut the red chilli into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Peel the oranges, slice into rounds and add these to the bowl too. Pick the coriander into sprigs and pop them into ice cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and add them to the bowl just before serving.

Dress with the orange blossom water, vinegar and olive oil. Mix well and serve.

Ashtanur – Griddle Bread

Makes 6-7 flat breads

250g (9oz) strong flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)

60ml (2 1/2fl oz) + about 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) warm water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling and rolling

Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.

Pour the foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. Drizzle with some extra oil on the top, cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.

Oil your workbench and turn the dough out, Divide into six or seven balls of approximately 50g (2oz) each and roll them in the oil, making sure each one has a nice coating of it. Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes to rest. Now is the time to set the griddle pan on the stove to heat up.

Start stretching the dough balls. The best bay is to oil your hands, then press the dough down to flatten and spread it with your hands until it is as thin as you can get it – you should almost see the work surface through it.

Lift the first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan. It will take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and remove from the pan. Put the next one on and repeat the process. Stack them while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day, freeze once cooled or eat immediately.


Chicken Braised in Spicy Matbucha and Cracked Wheat Pilaf

A gorgeous one pot dish…

Serves 3-4

1kg (2 1/4lb) chicken thighs

2 teaspoons salt

1 red chilli, thinly sliced

1/2 lemon, quartered and very thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 long red pepper, cut into thick rings

3 plum tomatoes cut into thick slices

1/2 teaspoon sugar

20 cherry tomatoes (any type will do, but a mix is nice)

1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

200g (7oz) coarse cracked wheat

Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a large saucepan or sauté pan and season with a teaspoon of the salt. Place on the stove on a low heat and allow the fat from the skin to render out — it will take about 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Then flip and cook for an extra five minutes on the other side. Carefully lift the thighs on to a plate, leaving all the fat that’s been produced in the pan. Keep the pan on the heat and add the chopped chilli, lemon slices and garlic. Sauté until a strong aroma of lemons comes from the pan — about three minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pepper rings. Sauté for another three minutes, stirring all the time, then add the tomato slices. Season with the second teaspoon of salt and the sugar and mix well. Cook for about five minutes or until the tomato slices start to fall apart and create a sauce.

Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped coriander on top. Add the water, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the lid. Stir your dish a little to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Replace the lid, but this time don’t close it entirely. Allow some steam to escape and simmer very slowly for another 15 minutes.

You can eat the dish now if you wish, but the best thing to do is to sprinkle the cracked wheat into the pot. Stir it a little, bring back to the boil and return the lid to the pot. Set aside for 15 minutes (off the heat) and then serve.

Sumac and Vanilla Shortbread

240g (8 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) icing sugar

360g (12 1/2oz) plain flour

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

For the coating

2 tablespoons sumac

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat your oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 (170°C/325°Fan)

Use a food processor or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to work the butter, icing sugar, flour, vanilla seeds and salt until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. It takes a while to come together, so don’t lose faith.

Once it has formed, turn the dough out onto the work surface. Divide into two pieces and shape each one into a log – I prefer to make it rectangular but it is tasty in any shape.

Mix the sumac and sugar on the work surface. Roll the log in the sumac-sugar to coat all over, then place in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour (or freeze it until you want to bake them)

Line two baking trays with baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut each log into 12–14 slices and place them flat on the trays.

Bake for 10–12 minutes until light golden, then remove from the oven. Leave to cool on the tray before eating.

Eurotoques Awards 2019

Ireland became a member of the European Union in 1973, within a short time a tidal wave of regulations swept over the country. Small producers, butchers, bakers, cheesemakers were often asked to comply with regulations far out of proportion to the risks involved and to spend more than the business could afford. Many long established businesses ceased to exist and many important enterprises were lost.

It was in this climate that the Europe wide Eurotoque organisation was  established, in 1986. Myrtle Allen was a founder member and the instigator of the original Eurotoques awards in 1996. She was a passionate supporter of local farmers, fishermen, artisan producers cheesemakers, fish smokers, foragers….long before local became a sexy word on the food scene.

The aim of Eurotoque was and still is to preserve Irish culinary heritage by supporting traditional cooking methods and promoting producers of local and seasonal artisan products. The members, chefs and cooks of which I am proud to be one, are part of a nurturing community who pride themselves in being custodians of Irish food culture and actively support local artisan producers. This year’s Eurotoque Food Awards honoured dedicated food producers, who make exceptionally good raw materials which enable the chefs to create their magic. I was delighted that the awards were held in Virginia Park Lodge, which gave me an excuse to visit, renowned Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s, beautiful establishment on an 18th Century country estate in the midst of acres of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens overlooking the banks of Lough Ramor in Co Cavan.

The awards were presented by Richard Corrigan himself and Caroline Hennessy under the grape vines in a tunnel in the ‘Gooseberry Garden’ with a back  drop of the Lough and Leagh mountains.

Here are a list of the awards winners who were presented under the categories Water, Craft Growers, Land, Farm, Dairy and Artisan Produce.

Water Connemara Seaweed Company

Craft Growers Ballyholey Farm, Glensallagh Gardens, Iona Farm, Gorse Farm and An Garrai Glas,

Dairy The Village Dairy,

Land Bumblebee Flower Farm

Artisan Produce went to Ballyminane Mill.

For more information on all the winners go to www.euro-toques.ie

Lunch cooked by Chef Eoin Corcoran and his team, was a celebration of Irish produce. The winners were presented with a piece of bespoke Fermoyle Pottery www.fermoylepottery.ie, each piece representing their award category. This hand thrown and hand painted pottery was new to me and an exciting discovery.

The award lunch dinner was refreshingly uncheffy, a delicious lobster cocktail, sole with asparagus and the first broad beans of the season and soft meringue with rhubarb. Richard’s chef, Eoin kindly sent the recipes to share with our readers.

Richard Corrigan’s Lobster Cocktail

Serves 4 – 6

1 lobster (600g/1 1/4lb approx.)

1 head of crunchy lettuce

1 cucumber

1 lemon

Cocktail Sauce

200g (7oz) homemade Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Horseradish Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon homemade Ketchup

1 tablespoon sherry

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon tabasco

To Serve

lemon wedges

Bring a large pot of heavily salted (seawater) to a simmer and gently place in the lobster.

Simmer for 10 mins and immediately remove into ice cold water.

Remove the tail and claws from the lobster.

Extract the meat from the tail by firmly pressing a hand until the shell cracks allowing easy removal.  Crack the claws and use a pick to remove any remaining lobster meat.

Mix all ingredients for the cocktail sauce. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.

Shred the lettuce. 

Peel and deseed the cucumber and slice into chunks.

To Serve

Assemble the lettuce and cucumber in a serving dishe.

Slice the lobster and place on top.

Spoon a generous mound of cocktail sauce to the side, serve with lemon wedges.

Dillisk Champ

Serves 4-6

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

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

110g (4oz) chopped scallions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g

chopped chives

1 – 2 tablespoons of dried seaweed – Dillisk or a mixture

350ml (10-12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Chop finely the scallions and chopped chives and place them in a saucepan.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Just as the milk is coming to the boil add the pre-soaked dillisk, drained and cut into strips. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions and seaweed, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  The mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Tomato Salad with Flowers, Za’atar and Freekeh

This is a pretty salad with lots of edible flowers from the garden and the tomatoes are particularly good. Freekeh is a Lebanese wheat. It’s picked while still under ripe and set on fire to remove the husk, which smokes and toasts the grain.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/2oz) freekeh

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

12 ripe cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons za’atar

lots of edible flowers, perhaps violas, rocket flowers, or borage (remove furry calyx from behind the flower), chive or coriander blossom to hand in the summer

Put the freekeh into a saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 4-6 minutes, depending on the freekeh (some are broken grains, others whole). It should be soft but still slightly chewy. Drain, season with salt and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

In a little bowl, whisk the pomegranate molasses with 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil to emulsify.

Cut the tomatoes into wedges. Season with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil. Lay the tomatoes on a plate, scatter with the freekeh, then sprinkle over the za’atar and edible flowers. Finish the plate by drizzling with the pomegranate molasses mixture.  Taste and add a few more flakes of sea salt if necessary.

Note

Freekeh cooking times vary quite dramatically depending on the type and age of the freekeh.

Crispy Irish Snails with Garlic Mayo

Gaelic Escargot in Co Carlow are Ireland’s first snail farm, check them out on www.gaelicescargot.com

250 Pre cooked snails

100g Rice flour + a little for dusting the snails

 2 red chilli

1 tsp crushed black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

2 tsp iced water or more if needed

Heat a pan or deep fat fryer of oil to 180˚C.

Finely chop the chilli and mix with the rice flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Whisk in the iced water to form a light batter.

Just before cooking, drain and dry the snails, dust with a little flour.

Coat each snail with the batter and fry in very hot oil until crisp and golden.

To serve, provide cocktails sticks and a bowl of garlic mayonnaise for dipping.

Ballyminane Brown Soda Bread

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. If you can, source the flour from one of the winners, Ballyminane Mill, based in Co Wexford and established in 1832, it is the last working water-powered flour mill in Ireland www.ballyminanemills.com

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) Ballyminane stone ground wholemeal flour or other flour of your choice

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon  sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Note

The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).

Meringue Roulade with Roast Rhubarb, Rosewater Cream and Crystallised Rose Petals

Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) castor sugar

Filling

300ml (10floz) softly whipped cream flavoured with 1-2 teaspoons rose water

Roast Rhubarb (see recipe)

Garnish

sprigs of mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely

Accompaniment

Crystallised Rose Petals (see recipe)

Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm) or 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23cm) for a thinner roulade

Preheat the oven to 180ºC\350ºF\Gas Mark 4.

First make the Roast Rhubarb (see recipe).

Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer.  Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together.  Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff peak, 10 minutes approx.

Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with parchment paper, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (e.g. sunflower oil).

Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. 

Put a sheet of parchment paper on the work top and turn the roulade onto it.  Remove the base paper and allow to cool in the tin.

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and drained roast rhubarb over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes along the top of the roulade, decorate as you wish with crystallised rose petals and mint leaves.  Serve, cut into slices about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.

Note:  This roulade is also very good filled with fresh raspberries, loganberries, sliced ripe peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.

Roast Rhubarb

A dish of roasted fruit couldn’t be simpler – rhubarb, plums, greengages, apricots, peaches, apples, pears.  Once again I love to add some freshly chopped herbs, e.g. rose geranium or verbena to the sugar or the accompanying cream.  

I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb

Serves 6

1kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb

200-250g (7-9oz) sugar

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/Gas Mark 6.

Stainless steel or non-reactive ovenproof dish, 45cm x 30cm (18 inch x 12 inch) (size depends slightly on the thickness of the rhubarb)

Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary.

Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in an oven proof dish.  Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for an hour or more, until the juice starts to run. Cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks – until the rhubarb is just tender. 

Serve alone or with ice-cream, panna cotta, labneh or thick Jersey cream……

Good to know….uncover the rhubarb after 10 minutes for more caramelisation

Coombeshead Farm

A few weeks ago we flew from Cork Airport to Bristol, hired a car and headed for Devon and Cornwall. I’d forgotten how beautiful the English countryside can be, the abundance of wildflowers in the hedgerows and so many beautiful mature trees.  One can’t but draw comparison to our Irish countryside, so often denuded of hedgerows and with so few mature trees.  Of course it depends on the area in both countries but I’m becoming ever more alarmed at the wanton disregard for the environment.

We had booked a few nights stay at Coombeshead Farm near Lewannick, a ‘farm to fork’, guest house with just five bedrooms owned by chefs Tom Adams and his partner April Bloomfield. We arrived tired and hungry and felt instantly at home. The bedrooms are small by most hotel standards but charmingly decorated with a homemade soap made from the lard of their own pigs, a little decanter of mint vodka to sip and two pieces of homemade toffee to share or argue over. The house is surrounded by organic gardens in a working farm with vegetable and herb gardens and a flock of heritage chickens.

The farmhouse is in the midst of 66 acres of woodlands and meadows grazed by sheep, there are beehives and a wood burning oven and a fire pit. Curly haired Mangalitsa pigs romping and rooting around the fields underneath the oak spinney behind the house. The bread is made in the ‘state of the art’ bakery in the barn by Ben Glazer, beautiful dark crusty loaves of natural sour dough that also make their way to some of the top restaurants in London.

The food is super delicious, we stayed for three nights and looked forward to each and every meal with eager anticipation. The atmosphere feels like a house party, comfy sofas, crackling fires – guests tend to congregate in the kitchen around the stove. Breakfast each day was a simple feast, dark crusty sourdough bread with homemade Guernsey butter, compote of seasonal fruit -rhubarb, apple, gooseberry with elderflower, raw honey, homemade jams, granola, bircher muesli, gut boosting water kefir, kombucha and gorgeous unctuous yoghurt . A most fantastic slab of fine home cured streaky bacon and homemade sausages from the happy rare breed Mangalitsa pigs with a soft flowing scramble of their own eggs.

Lots of pickling, fermenting, curing and preserving. Small plates of creative, flavourful real food. No silly foams, gels or skid marks on plates.

Here these young people are really ‘walking the walk’, not just ‘talking the talk’ as so many places do, skilled, accomplished earthy organic food, locally sourced and seasonal.

The menus sang of the season and the produce picked at its peak from the vegetable garden and hedgerows – zero miles food. I’m licking my lips remembering some of the flavours still so vibrantly fresh in my mind Country loaf and Guernsey butter, new seasons asparagus wrapped in crispy filo parcel, Garlic scapes and Jack of the Hedge, Pickled ramson and cabbage terrine, curds and nettle, Mangalitsa loin and turnip, hazelnut tart with fresh cream…..you’ll just have to go there yourself to experience the magic!

Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick, Cornwall

www.coombesheadfarm.co.uk  

Coombeshead Farm Giardiniera

110g (4oz) salt

200g (7oz) heritage carrots chopped into irregular shapes

230g (8 1/4oz) Cauliflower or broccoli, small florets

200g (7oz) radishes, halved

1 red onion, cut into small wedges

10 frigitelli peppers halved

2 red peppers cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

1 head of garlic, cut in half

2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced

400ml (14fl oz) water

900ml (1 1/2 pints) cider vinegar

30g (1 1/4oz) castor sugar

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

110ml (4fl oz) organic rapeseed oil

10g (1/3oz) dried oregano

3g chilli flakes

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

10g (1/3oz) black peppercorns

Prepare the vegetables and put into a stainless steel saucepan or Delph crock pot. Sprinkle with salt. Add enough water to cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Drain the vegetables, rinse well and check for salinity, pat dry.

Heat the sugar and water in a pan until just dissolved and transfer to a large bowl. Add the herbs, peppercorns, chilli flakes, vinegar and oil together. Add the vegetables and store in airtight containers for a minimum of 2 weeks until ready.

This pickle is perfect served with grilled meats, charcuterie, cheeses….

Coombeshead Farm Bircher Muesli

This recipe is quite adaptable depending on seasonality – the below is the base for quantities but for example at the moment Coombeshead Farm are using semi dried rhubarb rather than prunes as that is in season on the farm at the moment.

Serves 4 – 6

500g (18oz) rolled spelt/rye grains (can be good quality barley oats or normal oats or even seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

100g (3 ½ oz) pitted prunes or semi dried fruit of choice cut into bite size pieces

750ml (1 ¼ pints)good quality apple juice or red/white grape juice 

  • Completely submerge the grains and prunes in the juice by at least 3cm and leave for 24 hours minimum to allow the phytic acid to break down.
  • Finish with toasted seeds or nuts.

Serve to your liking, perhaps some farmhouse yoghurt, fresh seasonal fruits or berries and some local honey, a perfect breakfast.

Asparagus in Filo

Serves 12 (makes approximately 30)

12 sticks asparagus in season

12 sheets of filo pastry

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, melted

150g (5oz) Parmesan, finely grated

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus.  Put into a saucepan of boiling salted water, just enough to cover, bring back to the boil and simmer until tender, 3-4 minutes depending on size. Remove from the heat, strain and allow to cool.  Cut into 10-12.5cm (4-5 inches) pieces.

Alternatively, toss in a little extra virgin olive oil and pan grill on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, they should retain a nice bite.

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

Lay a sheet of filo on the worktop, cut into four pieces, brush with melted butter. Sprinkle it evenly with finely grated Parmesan, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the asparagus in the middle. Tuck in the edges and roll up tightly. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray, brush with melted butter and refrigerate.  Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese before it goes into the oven.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are crisp and golden all over.

Serve piping hot, sprinkled with a little more Parmesan.

Mint Vodka

1.3 litres (2 1/4 pints) vodka

175oz (6oz) picked freshly picked mint leaves (no stalks)

150g (5oz) sugar

1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) Kilner Jar

Put the mint leaves into a Kilner jar.  Add the sugar and cover with the vodka.  Seal the jar, invert every couple of days to dissolve the sugar.  Taste after a week or two, best to drink sooner rather than later – delicious on its own or with soda water or tonic and lots of ice. 

Gooseberries…the forgotten fruit

This evening we had compote of gooseberries with elderflower after supper with a few friends, a simple dessert, just stewed gooseberries really but it blew everyone away. Most of our friends hadn’t tasted gooseberries for years – They had virtually forgotten about them. The intense flavour sent them into a spin of nostalgia many called them Goosegogs when they were children. They reminisced about the gooseberry bushes in Granny’s garden, picking gooseberries from the prickly bushes, top and tailing them around the kitchen table for gooseberry jam, and the dire warnings not to eat them before they were ripe or “you’d get a pain where you never had a window”.

Wonderful how  a flavour brings memories flooding back, one mouthful and I was back in our little vegetable garden in Cullohill, picking tart green berries into an enamel bowl, so hard they sounded like stones against the side of the bowl.

Mummy usually made red gooseberry jam from the riper fruit, but years later I discovered the magic of green gooseberry and elderflower jam from Jane Grigson’s Good Things cookbook published in 1971.

She also introduced me to the magical combination of green gooseberry and elderflower. Ever since, as soon as I see elderflower blossoms in the hedgerows, I know it’s time to dash down the garden to rummage through the prickly branches of the gooseberry bushes to pick the hard green bitter marble sized berries.

It’s difficult to imagine that they are ready to eat but believe me they make the best jams and compotes at this stage and also freeze brilliantly.

If you don’t have a gooseberry bush in your garden, dash out and buy at least one now, better still three, at least one should be Careless, Invicta  is another delicious variety which is somewhat resistant to mildew.

Unless you live close to a good Country or Farmers Market you are not likely to find fresh gooseberries. Unlike strawberries and raspberries which are available ad nauseam all year round, fresh gooseberries are rarely to be found on a supermarket shelf.

We grow several varieties of gooseberries; some in bush form. We train others as cordons or in a fan shape along a wall. The latter are a brilliant discovery, so much easier to pick. Gooseberries are deciduous and the fruit is high in Vitamin C.

Only today, I discovered the origin of the word gooseberry or spíonán in Irish, apparently they were so named because they were used to make a sauce for roast goose to cut the richness – Can you imagine how delicious that combination would be?

www.cookingisfun.ie

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Green Goosegog Crumble

Serves 6-8

When we were little,  we always called gooseberries goosegogs. 

Crumbles are the quintessential comfort food, this is a brilliant master recipe, just vary the fruit according to the season.

675g  green gooseberries

45-55g soft dark brown sugar

1-2 tablespoon water

Crumble

110g plain white flour, preferably unbleached

50g butter

50g castor sugar

Elderflower Cream for serving (optional)

1.1L capacity pie dish

First stew the gooseberries gently with the sugar and water in a covered casserole or stainless steel saucepan just until the fruit bursts.

Then taste and add more sugar if necessary. Turn into a pie dish. Allow to cool slightly while you make the crumble.

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar. Sprinkle this mixture over the gooseberries in the pie dish. Scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.

Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with cream flavoured with elderflower cordial or just softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar

Variation: Gooseberry and Elderflower

Stew the gooseberries with white sugar, add 2 elderflower heads tied in muslin while stewing, remove elderflowers and proceed as above.

Variations on the Crumble

30g oatflakes or sliced hazelnuts or nibbed almonds can be good added to the crumble.

Gooseberry Frangipane Tart

This is certainly one of the most impressive of the French tarts, it is wonderful served warm but is also very good cold and it keeps for several days.

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) green gooseberries

Stock Syrup made with:

150ml (5floz) water

60g (2oz) sugar

Boil sugar and water until all the sugar is dissolved and cool. Stock Syrup can be kept in the refrigerator until needed.

Shortcrust Pastry

200g (7oz) flour

110g (4oz) cold butter

1 egg yolk, preferably free range and organic

3-4 tablespoons cold water

Frangipane

100g (31/2oz) butter

75g (3oz) castor sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 egg yolk, preferably free range

110g (4oz) whole blanched almonds, ground or 1/2ground almonds and 1/2 blanched and ground

25g (1oz) flour

To Finish

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

To Serve

Elderflower Cream (flavour softly whipped cream with elderflower cordial to taste)

23cm (9inch) diameter flan ring or tart tin with a removable base

First make the shortcrust pastry,

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop. Whisk the egg yolk and add the water.

Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper shorter crust.

Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes or better still 30 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

Meanwhile, top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to a boil and simmer until the gooseberries just begin to burst.  Cool. 

Next make the frangipane.

Cream the butter, gradually beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and soft. Gradually add the egg and egg yolk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the ground almonds and flour.  Spread the frangipane over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds.

Turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Bake the tart for 15 minutes. Turn down the oven heat to moderate 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the frangipane is set in the centre and nicely golden.

Serve with Elderflower Cream.

Green Gooseberry and Elderflower Jam

Makes 6 x 450g (1lb) pots

It’s worth growing a gooseberry bush just to make this jam alone.

The gooseberries should be green and tart and hard as hail stones – as soon as the elderflowers are in bloom in the hedgerows search for the gooseberries under the prickly bushes or seek them out in your local greengrocer or Farmers Market.

1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) tart green gooseberries

freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons plus enough water to measure 300ml (10fl oz) in total

5-6 elderflower heads

900g (2lbs) sugar

Top and tail the gooseberries and put into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the water and elderflowers tied in muslin. Simmer until the gooseberries burst. Remove the elderflowers and add the warm sugar, stirring until it has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached (220°F on a jam thermometer). Pour into hot clean jars, cover and store in a dry airy cupboard.

This jam should be a fresh green colour, so be careful not to overcook it.

Torched Mackerel with Green Gooseberry Sauce

Serves 4

4 large mackerel fillets, bones removed and filleted in half

Salt for curing

Sprig of fennel for serving

Green Gooseberry Sauce

Equipment: Blowtorch

First make the Green Gooseberry sauce see below.

This simple sauce is so much more than the sum of its parts, we love it with pan-grilled mackerel, goose, pork and other rich fatty meats.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests adding a tablespoon of chopped sage, I tried it recently and it was very good.

If you are stuck for a pudding just fold in some softly whipped cream and hey presto you have gooseberry fool.

275g (9 1/2oz) fresh green gooseberries

stock syrup to cover (see previous recipe) – 175ml (6fl oz) approximately

a knob of butter (optional)

Top and tail the gooseberries, put into a stainless steel saucepan, barely cover with stock syrup, bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit bursts.  Taste.  Stir in a small knob of butter if you like but it is very good without it.

Lay the mackerel fillets, skin side down on a baking tray. Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit and cure slightly for 15 minutes.

Take the tray of salted mackerel and char with skin with a blow torch. The heat will refract from the tray underneath, allowing the fish to cook from both sides, leaving it slightly pink in the middle. Alternatively, you can use a grill or a pan grill.

To serve, arrange the fish on hot plates with a dollop of Green Gooseberry sauce and a sprig of fennel.

Ann Marie’s Gooseberry, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

Makes a 22cm (9 inch) diameter round cake

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar plus 20g (3/4oz) for the topping

90g (3 1/4oz) light brown sugar

180g (6 1/4oz) ground almonds

30g (1 1/4oz) ground pistachio

45g (1 3/4oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2oz/1/2 cup) self-rising flour

a pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of Elderflower cordial (optional)

150g (5oz) butter – melted

3 eggs 

250g (9oz) gooseberries, halved

1oz pistachio nuts coarsely chopped

Icing sugar to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 (160C fan).

Lightly grease the cake tin with butter.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs, spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down. 

Drop the halved gooseberries onto the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g (3/4oz) of sugar.  Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes, then turn the cake around and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until the cake between the gooseberries goes all golden.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges.  Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening), but for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating. To serve sprinkle with some coarsely chopped pistachio nuts and dredge with a little icing sugar.

Ruffage by Abra Berens

An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the twenty eight Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….

Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible…..no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.

A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.

I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it…Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.

The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments.  There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.

Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.

Here are a few treats to whet your appetite……for the tempting variations you’ll need to order Abra’s book.

Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta w/golden raisins and poppy seeds

Generally, I use a microwave to warm up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But there are other uses. The beets in this recipe will purée to a significantly smoother texture if they are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to make this sauce, simply warm them up in the micro­wave with a splash of water. Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets, it’s smart to make the purée when they are warm out of the oven. It will store in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for a good long time.

This pasta salad also works as a cold salad, but often needs an extra pinch of salt, since the flavours will be muted when cold.

35 g golden raisins

Juice of ½ lemon (22 ml)

2 steam-roasted beets (455 g)

60 ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cream (optional)

455 g small pasta, bow ties, orecchiette, or penne

10 g poppy seeds

Soak the golden raisins in ½ cup (120 ml) hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or until they are plump. Strain the raisins, saving the water.

In a food processor, purée the beets with the olive oil, raisin water, and a good pinch of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of cream.

Boil the pasta in well-salted water and drain.

Toss the pasta with the beet purée (to warm and coat), soaked raisins, and poppy seeds. Transfer to serving platter or individ­ual bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil.

Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad

The richness of duck elevates the commonness of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.

This brown sugar–vinegar sauce lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety of tex­tures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright, acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any variety will work.

910 g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, cut into wedges

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 (170 to 230 g) duck breasts, see Hot Tips

1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons

120 ml brown sugar–vinegar sauce

½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped

10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)

1 sprig rosemary, minced (optional)

Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.

Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar sauce, and toss to coat well.

Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley, chives, and rosemary (if using).

Place the duck breasts on a serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.

Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi, w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley

I like this salad to have similar shaped vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix. Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.

For the variations, you can use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga. The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica flavour

1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks

3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

4 carrots (various colours are nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks

2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks

2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice

120 ml olive oil

Big pinch of salt

1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped

55 g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grater

Dress the vegetables and apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together, and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.

(All Recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra Berens, published  by Chronicle Books. All photographs by to EE Berger)

Claire Ptak

Claire Ptak – baker to the Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magic with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter, beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and  organic flowers and herbs to embellish the cakes.

In 2005, she moved to London and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture perfect looking creations.

Somehow, people’s gut feeling told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.

Violet Café and Bakery was started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café, Claire never divulged their names or very personal cravings.

Her style is Anglo-American – her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions peach, raspberry, white chocolate…

Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter, are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot sauce inside.

Among the celebrities we now know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Megan Markle which lead to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry and Megan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000 in a few days.

There are now plans to open a second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….

Claire is passionate about the importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.

I love the idea of cakes reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections – something for everyone to enjoy.

The chocolate devil’s food cake was the vehicle to show us how to ice the cake with frothy American butter icing and decorate it with organic, fresh flowers in the nonchalant Violet way, a stunning creation for a celebration. The rhubarb, strawberry and sweet cicely pie was perfect for a family meal, sweet cicely is a herb worth growing, it’s perennial so it comes back year after year, it’s fern like leaves have a sweet, slightly anise flavor so one can reduce the amount of sugar used to sweeten the rhubarb. The tart is still delicious without it or Claire loves to use a little fresh tarragon if that’s available. The sesame and tahini cookies were a terrific find – mixed in minutes and cooked to a soft, chewy texture, they are destined to become one of our staples here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and have the bonus of being gluten free.

The honey shortcakes were fragile and tender but so delicious, Claire pairs them with a fresh apricot and chamomile compote and a dollop of whipped cream but I can imagine enjoying them with berries and cream or just a gorgeous homemade jam or Amalfi lemon curd.

Terrific response to Vera’s column on 11th May so here’s another recipe from Vera’s wish list – Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, not quite as worthy as any of the traditional carrot cake recipes.

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Carrot and Cardamom Cake

Serves 8-10

Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, but has also been much enjoyed for dessert.   It will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight tin.

50ml (2fl.oz) vegetable oil (we use sunflower oil)

150g (5oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds about 10 pods)

2 large eggs, preferably organic and free range

100g (3½oz) castor sugar

55g (2¼oz) soft brown sugar

50ml (2fl.oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) finely grated carrot (1 large or 2 medium carrots approx.)

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablesp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Dried rose petals (optional)

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts (optional)

20.5cm (8in) round spring-form cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Brush the tin with oil and pop a round of parchment paper in the base.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl.  Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil together until smooth.  Gently mix the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into the tin.   Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes clean.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough sieved freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a thickish icing.  Pour onto the top of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble down over the sides of the cake.  Sprinkle the surface with dried rose petals and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts if available.

Claire Ptak’s Apricot, Camomile and Honey Shortcakes

makes 4 large shortcakes

For the compote

makes 1 jar

1kg just-ripe apricots, halved and pitted

½ vanilla pod

1 tbsp dried camomile flowers

½ cinnamon stick

150g caster sugar

Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss. Macerate for one hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the fruit.

Turn out into a heavy saucepan or jam pot, cover with a lid. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots break down a bit.

Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container.

For the shortcakes

280g plain flour

1 tbsp baking powder

2 tbsp caster sugar, plus 50g more for sprinkling

½ tsp fine sea salt

100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes

200g single cream

To serve

¼ batch apricot compote (from above)

300g double cream, gently whipped

A drizzle of honey

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/170Fan/gas mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture (or do this by hand with a pastry cutter).

Quickly add the cream, mixing until it just comes together. Be careful not to overmix.

Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, and pat into a cube shape. Rest for 10 minutes.

Once rested, roll to a 2cm thickness, then cut into hexagons, using a 7cm hexagon cutter. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges.

To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half, spoon over the compote and a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle with honey.

Claire Ptak’s Battenburg

Serves 8 

6 ozs (170g) butter

6 ozs (170g) castor sugar

1.5 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (170g) self raising flour

Red and yellow food colouring

Lemon zest (optional)

½ teaspoon rosewater (optional)

150g apricot jam

Icing sugar, for rolling

500g golden marzipan (almond paste, see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F/gas mark 3½. Butter and line a 25cm x 30cm battenberg tin.

Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Divide the mixture between two bowls, and dye each with different food colouring. The amount to use varies greatly depending on the quality of your colouring. Start with a small amount and go from there until you have the desired colour intensity.

Beat the eggs together with the vanilla in separate bowl. Divide this between the yellow and pink mixtures. If using, add lemon zest to the yellow mixture and rosewater to the pink mixture, beating to combine.

Sift the flour twice. Divide the flour between the bowls and fold it into the mixtures.

Spread the mixture into the prepared tin or tins accordingly. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cakes spring back to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the tin(s).

Remove the cakes from the tin. If you’re using a battenberg tin, simply remove the four pieces and trim, if needed, to make four even bars. If you’re using two loaf tins, slice each slab in half lengthways and trim likewise to make four neat bars.

Heat the apricot jam in a small pan. Brush all the long sides of the cake pieces with jam, then press them together in a checkerboard fashion.


Lightly dust a work surface with the icing sugar. Roll the block of marzipan out and trim to 25cm x 30cm. With a clean, dry pastry brush, dust away as much icing sugar from the marzipan as you can. Then check for the smoothest side (it may be the underneath side) and have that facing down.

Brush the top of the marzipan with melted apricot jam. Place the block of cake on the left-hand side of the marzipan and roll to the right until it is encased. Rest for 30 minutes for the jam to set and glue it all together, then slice and serve. This keeps well in a tin for up to a week.

Almond Paste

450g (1lb) castor sugar

450g (1lb) ground almonds

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Claire Ptak’s Chocolate Devils Food Cake with Violet Icing

 Serves 12

220g plain flour

100g cocoa powder

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp baking powder

450g caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g  buttermilk or plain yoghurt

100g vegetable oil

225g hot water

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C(fan)/gas mark 3. Butter and line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with paper.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the caster sugar, into a  large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water). Once they are well mixed together, slowly whisk in the hot water.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in half of the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Resist the temptation to switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps of dry ingredients. Gradually add the remaining wet ingredients until you have a smooth, liquid batter.

Pour the batter into your tin right away and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove the cake from its tin by running a small paring knife along the inside of the tin to release the cake. Or, if you have used a loose bottom tin, set the base of the tin on top of a tin of tomatoes, or similar, and gently push the sides of the cake tin down. Wash and dry your cake tin well, then line with cling film with plenty lapping over the sides and set aside.

Using a serrated bread knife (the longest one you have), score a horizontal line half of the way up the side of the cake and then slowly cut the cake into three layers.

Slide the bottom layer of sponge into the lined cake tin. Pipe a border of icing around the edges of the sponge, and then fill the center with a little more icing. Add the next layer of cake and continue to ice as before. Top with the remaining sponge, then pull up the sides of cling film and wrap up the cake tightly. You may want to cover with another layer of cling film to ensure it’s airtight. Place in the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Leave any remaining icing at room temperature.

If you have left the cake to chill overnight, you may want to re-whip the icing. The icing will naturally deflate ever so slightly and benefits from a second whipping.

Once you have taken the cake out of the fridge remove it from its tin, set on a cake stand and peel off the cling film. Use a palette knife to ice the sides and top of the cake. Scatter flowers over the top, and serve.

(Tip: the cake batter can hold in the fridge for days and can be used for cupcakes)

Violet Icing

100g whole milk

1 tbsp violet syrup

190g unsalted butter, softened

750g icing sugar very well sieved (divide into 3 x 250g portions)

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Measure out the whole milk into a bowl and stir in the violet syrup.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 250g of the icing sugar until smooth. Gradually add the milk mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed, this is an important step.  Add another 250g of icing sugar and mix on a low speed for at least 3 minutes (set your timer). Add the lemon juice, if required, adding the remaining icing sugar and beat on medium- high for 3 minutes.

Claire Ptak’s Sesame Halva Cookies

Makes 15

100g tahini paste

125g unsalted butter, softened

125g golden caster sugar

½ tsp fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 egg

250g rice flour

¾ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

200g halva, broken into pieces

150g white chocolate, broken into pieces

2 tablespoon sesame seeds, for topping

1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt for topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°Fan/350F/gas mark 4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the tahini, butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract, and then beat in the egg. Add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

Add the halva and white chocolate pieces, and mix these through the dough. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion on to your prepared trays and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt. Bake in the oven for 15‑18 minutes.

(Tip: These can be made as far as placing the mixture on the baking tray and frozen (uncooked) and then removed and cooked from frozen when needed)

Claire Ptak’s Slab Pie

serves 12

560g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp fine sea salt

340g unsalted butter, cold

8 tablespoons iced water

4 tablespoons cream, for brushing

4 tablespoons caster sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling:

500g rhubarb cut into 1cm pieces

600g strawberries (quartered)

½ teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped for vanilla beans

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

150g light, soft brown sugar

50g castor sugar

5 tablespoons cornflour

20g Sweet Cicely chopped

Whisk together the flour and salt. Add half the butter. Combine well using a cutting motion. Add the second half of the butter and rub in until your mix forms roughly pea-sized pieces.

Sprinkle over the iced water (holding back the ice) and toss it through the mix as you go. The dough should start to become raggedy and eventually, when all the water is added, it will come together into a ball. Divide the ball in half, wrapping each piece in cling film. Flatten them into squares and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours – any longer than this, put it in the freezer.

Next make your fruit filling. Mix all the ingredients together well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190°CFan. Butter, flour and line with parchment paper the base a baking sheet that measures 23 x 33cm.

Roll out one square of pastry on a lightly floured surface to roughly 28 x 38cm, pastry needs to be larger than the tin. Press the pastry down into the prepared sheet, then chill in the fridge while you roll out the other piece. The second pastry sheet (which will form the top of the pie) can be rolled out to 23 x 33cm.

Remove the chilled pastry and carefully fill it with the fillingmixture. It can come right up to about 2mm shy of the top of the tin but don’t let it overflow. Roll the top layer of pastry over the pie. Brush the pastry with cream. Fold or roll over the excess pastry and pinch to seal. Use a knife to pierce the top of the pie a few times. Put in your freezer or fridge for 20 minutes.

Brush the edge of the pie with the cream and sprinkle with caster sugar. Place some parchment paper underneath to catch the drips, and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160°CFan/180°C/350F/gas mark 4 for another 35-45 minutes or until golden and the bubbles of filling coming through are thick. Cool for at least 3 hours before slicing.

Sri Lanka

It came as quite a surprise to many to discover that one of the several ‘hats’ I wear is Honorary Council General for Sri Lanka to Ireland…

The 3,000 plus Sri Lankan community in Ireland are of course aware but it wasn’t until the tragic events in late April when I attended mass in the St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Martin for the victims of the massacre that my connection became more public.

I accepted the honorary role in November 2017 on the invitation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe…. who visited Ireland and Ballymaloe Cookery School over Christmas period in 2015.

I’ve visited Sri Lanka many times, an astoundingly beautiful country, lush, green and fertile with delicious food and warm and friendly people who have endured  many years of turbulence but had recently become accustomed to a more peaceful era.

Sri Lankan tea is some of the finest in the world. I’ve visited the tea plantations and seen at first hand the care and dedication that is involved, from the hand picking of the ‘tips’ of the Camellia Sinensis, tea bush to the drying, withering, grading….

It is important that the Sri Lankan tea industry remains glyphosate free at a time when there is a growing concern worldwide among scientists and the general public about the toxic effects of pesticides.

Cinnamon is another top quality Sri Lankan ingredient that few other countries can equal.

True cinnamon is native to the lush tropical forests of southern Sri Lanka. The gentle coastal hills are especially suited to the growth of cinnamon. Wars have been fought over this spice. In 1505 the Portuguese sailed to that part of the world in search of cinnamon so they could cut out the Arab middlemen. In those days it was gathered from wild trees but when the Dutch succeeded the Portuguese the first plantations were sown and cinnamon has been flourishing ever since.

On my last trip to Sri Lanka I wanted to see the process of cinnamon production for myself so I visited Mirissa Hills, a working cinnamon Estate with 360 degree views over Weligama Bay. Thilak the general manager, showed us around the estate which grows both cinnamon and galangal and explained the whole process. On our way to the plantation we passed the little temple to Pathini, The Buddhist God of cinnamon. The air was filled with the scent of cinnamon.

The cinnamon is still harvested and peeled in the same time honoured way by the skilled Salagama caste. It cannot be mechanised and the process has survived virtually unchanged since ancient times.

The cinnamon peelers go into the fields early in the morning. They choose twigs about 5 feet long and about 1 ½ inches thick –  straighter are easier to peel.  Shoots or leaves are trimmed with a sharp curved machete. The skill has been passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. The peelers sit cross legged on hessian sacks on the floor in the peeling shed with their bundle of cinnamon sticks by their side. They need just three tools, a curved peeler, a brass rod and a small sharp knife called a kokaththa.

First the outer dark leathery layer is shaved off; this is returned to the cinnamon fields for compost.

When the peelers have several layers of precious inner bark they carefully layer them inside each other, over lapping to create a four foot quill.

These are carefully laid on strings of coconut coir hanging beneath the tin roof. It takes eight days, away from sunlight for them to curl and dry. They will then be rolled tightly, and allowed to dry for a further ten days. The cinnamon ‘quills’ are then tied into large bundles to sell in the market where they will be precisely cut into the cinnamon sticks we know.

Real cinnamon is known to be a natural ‘cholesterol buster’, unlike it’s inferior and cheaper relation cassia, which is often passed off as cinnamon.

How to know the difference….true cinnamon comes from the thin pliable bark of the Cinnamomum Verum trees. This cinnamon is softer, flakier and paler than cassia which too has it’s place but the flavour is more acrid than sweet, gentle and aromatic. This is the Sri Lankan cinnamon, which I use at Ballymaloe Cookery School,  perfumes for both sweet and savoury dishes.

Hard quills or ‘bark like’ pieces are more likely to be cassia so save those for vegetarian curries if you don’t have true cinnamon. Always try to buy cinnamon whole and grind it yourself, ready ground cinnamon is regularly cut with the less expensive cassia. So it’s darker in colour and has a more aggressive flavour. I’ve had many questions about Sri Lankan food, is it similar to Indian food, hotter, spicier…..? In fact it is a wonderful melange of Indian, Indonesian and Dutch flavours reflecting the countries history as a spice producer and trading post over several centuries.

In this column I will introduce you to some of my favourite Sri Lankan dishes.

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

Serves 4

2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

50g (1¾oz) red onion, chopped

5 Curry leaves

8cm (3inch) piece of cinnamon stick

500g (1lb 2oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm (1½in) cubes

1½ teaspoon untoasted curry powder

10 fenugreek seeds

5 green chillies

225ml (8fl.oz) coconut milk, whisked

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add the chopped garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes.   Then add the beetroot, stir and add the fenugreek seeds,  chillies and some salt.   Bring to the boil, add the coconut milk, and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or until the beetroot is tender.  Season to taste. 

Sri Lankan Carrots with Shallots and Green Chilli

Shallots add extra sweetness to this simple spiced carrot dish which can be fully prepared ahead and gently heated later.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil

60g shallots peeled and chopped

450g medium carrots peeled and cut into 2cm dice

½ green chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper (a few grinds)

175ml coconut milk, from a well-shaken can.

Put the oil into a heavy, low sided pan and set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and green chilli. Stir and fry for about 2 minutes or until the shallots have softened a bit. Add the carrots, cumin, coriander, fennel, cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt and pepper and continue to fry, stirring at the same time, on a medium heat for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer very gently for 15- 20 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

Shredded Chicken and Toasted Coconut Salad

Salad


500g (18 oz) shredded free range chicken
3 tablespoons finely shaved coconut flesh
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 red chilli
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
3 tablespoons mint leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
3 finely sliced shallots
5 kaffir lime leaves, very finely shredded
6 shallots fried

Dressing

100ml (3½ fl oz)  coconut cream
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
3tablespoons lime juice
1 red chili,  thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves,  thinly chopped

For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together except the fried shallots. Adjust the seasoning to taste with more fish sauce or lime juice accordingly.
Salad, mix together all the ingredients with some of the dressing, pile in a bundle on the plate then sprinkle the fried shallots and some more coconut shavings. Finish with a drizzle of the dressing and serve immediately.

Cinnamon Swirls

For cinnamon scones, just roll out the dough to 1 inch (2.5cm) thick and stamp or cut into scones and dip the egg – washed tops in cinnamon sugar.

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

Egg Wash (see recipe)

Cinnamon Sugar

2oz (50g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon for the top of scones

Cinnamon Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.

First make the Cinnamon Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon together and beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best

hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick. 

Spread the soft cinnamon butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 2 inches (5cm) thick.

Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in cinnamon sugar.  Put onto a baking sheet fairly close together.

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven. 

Ahilya Iced Tea

Makes

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) of water

2 small pieces cinnamon or cassia slivers

2 black cardamom

25 cloves

230g (8 1/4oz) granulated sugar

2 English breakfast tea bags

juice of 7 limes (200ml/7fl oz approx.)

In a saucepan, bring the water to the boil with the spices, sugar and tea bags.  Remove the tea bags.  Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, add the juice of 7 limes or less depending on size.

This iced tea can last for 5 days. Serve chilled with 2 mint leaves in each glass of iced tea.

Orange Blossom Iced Tea 

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/6 1/4 cups) water
2 Earl Gray tea bags

225-300ml (8-10fl oz) base sugar syrup 
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
4 springs of fresh mint
1 orange, cut in thin slices, skin and all

Bring the water to a boil in a pan, add the tea bags and stir around. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for 15 minutes.

Remove the tea bags, add the sugar syrup and blossom water and stir to mix. Decant into a bottle or jug and push in the mint sprig and orange slices. Place in the fridge to cool entirely. Serve with loads of ice.

Pimp your tea – crush some fresh mint leaves at the bottom of a lowball glass, add a shot or two of rum, top up with ice and iced tea and lots of ice.

Sugar Syrup

200g (7oz) sugar

200ml (7fl oz) water

1 tablespoon glucose or honey 

Mix everything together in a small pan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes.  Leave to cool, then transfer to a clean bottle or other container and store in your fridge for up to a week.

Cinnamon Meringue with Plums and Cream

If the plums are ripe and juicy there’s no need to poach them, just stone and dice.

Serves 6

2 egg whites, preferably free range

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1/2 scant teaspoon of powdered cinnamon

Filling

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

225g (8oz) poached plums, drained (see recipe)

Garnish

little sprigs of mint or lemon balm

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

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.

Mark 2 x 7 inch (19cm) circles on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet.  Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Add all the icing sugar except 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons). Whisk until the mixture stands in firm dry peaks. It may take 5-8 minutes. Sieve the cinnamon and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.

Divide the mixture between the two circles and spread evenly with a palette knife.  Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until set and crisp.  Allow to cool.

For this recipe poach the plums for 20 mins approximately.  Allow to get cold, then drain (save the syrup for a plum jelly or use as a base for ‘plumade’.  (Note: half the poached plum recipe will be adequate (see recipe below).

To assemble

Sandwich the meringues together with the drained poached plums and whipped cream, reserving a little fruit and cream for decoration.    Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream.  Garnish with little sprigs of mint or lemon balm.

Note

The meringue discs will keep for several weeks in a tin.

Poached Plums

Poach the plums whole, they’ll taste better but quite apart from that you’ll have the fun of playing – He loves me – he loves me not!  You could just fix it by making sure you take an uneven number!  Greengages are delicious cooked in this way also.

Serves 4

350g (12oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) cold water

900g (2lbs) fresh Plums, Victoria, Opal or those dark Italian plums that come into the shops in Autumn

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil. Tip in the plums and poach, cover the saucepan and simmer very gently until they are about to but not quiet beginning to burst.  Turn into a bowl, serve warm with a blob of softly whipped cream.  Divine!

*The poached plums keep very well in the fridge and are delicious for breakfast without the cream!

Note: If plums are sweet use less sugar in syrup

Irish Tea Barmbrack

This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack (see recipe).

Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.

Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)

110g (4oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) currants

50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered

300ml (10fl oz) hot tea

1 organic egg, whisked

175g (6oz) soft brown sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)

Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.

Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.

Cook in for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Keeps very well in an airtight tin.

World Bee Day…

Monday next, May 20th, is World Bee Day, so a whole column this week on honey, nature’s most delicious, interesting and bio diverse sweetener.

Honey has long been prized for its medicinal properties, now backed up by modern medicine and a growing body of scientific research. I’m a big honey aficionado….

Ancient Ireland was known as the Land of Milk and Honey and coincidently the name Ballymaloe means the Townland of Sweet Honey. The anglicized version of the Irish Baile Meal Luadh – meal means honey and luadh means soft or sweet. These names entered into the language over 2,000 years ago and would always have reflected a particular attribute of that place. So Ballymaloe must have been well known for the quality of the honey from surrounding the area.

Here at Ballymaloe Cookery School we have some hives in the pear and apple orchard looked after by our local bee keeper… beautiful honey…

Both honey and bees are utterly intriguing, the colour, flavour and aroma of honey reflects the flora from which the bees collect the nectar. Heather honey tastes and smells quite different from mixed flower or apple blossom, ivy, rapeseed…..

Honeys from further afield have their own distinctive taste. Lavender honey captures the aromatic essence of the lavender plant as does chestnut, orange or acacia blossom. Honey from pine forests which I also love, tends to be more resinous and a deeper amber colour.

The New Zealanders did a brilliant marketing job on Manuka honey when they discovered that is was most effective in killing antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA. But it’s not the only honey with these and many other healing attributes. Raw honey is increasingly being used to treat, difficult to heal, wounds and burns. Other studies have shown its efficacy as a cough soother.

Raw honey is the term used for honey that has not been heat treated to extract the honey from the combs. It still has its full complement of antioxidants, enzymes and antibacterial properties. It looks paler in colour, and sets almost solid in the jar. Here in Ireland we have an astonishingly wide range of honeys. Check out the local bee keeper/s in your parish. I seem to favour honey from small local producers. Talk to the beekeeper, hear the story, each honey will taste different and contain the antibodies and enzymes of the area, which help to counteract eczema and hay fever. Look out for city bee keepers too. The Dublin Honey Project is intriguing as is Belfast Bees;  there are similar projects in London, Paris, New York, Sydney ….

How about keeping bees yourself? It’s really thrilling to have your own honey. It’ll be slightly different every year depending on what the bees are feeding on and the prevailing weather. If the idea of doing the bee keeping yourself doesn’t appeal, contact your local bee keeper, they are often delighted to have few more hives. Particularly in an organic garden or on a rooftop in an urban or rural area where there are little or no pesticides…. Scientists are now convinced that neonicotinoids have been damaging vital bee colonies and have a dramatic impact on eco systems that support food production and wild life.

The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids in 2018 after a major report from EFSA concluded that the widespread use of these chemicals is in part responsible for the plummeting number of pollinators, vital for global food production – they pollinate ¾ of all crops. Finally,  governments appear to be listening to their citizens concerns, so hopefully the bee numbers will begin to recover. Nature given half a chance has an amazing ability to heal and regenerate.

Honey is not only brilliant lathered on toast, I regularly add a spoonful to savoury dishes, dressings and salads to balance acidity and add a sweet- sour element. Chefs are caramelizing honey to add a bitter note to some desserts….Have several types in your pantry, so you can experiment with different characteristics. We love to have a whole honey comb for our guests at breakfast and if you’re crafty you can make a candle from the left over wax….

Here are a few suggestions for some of my favourites…

Toasted Granola

A toasted grain cereal

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey

8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower

1lb 1oz (470g) jumbo organic oat flakes

7oz (200g) organic barley flakes

7oz (200g) organic wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) organic rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

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

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

2oz (50g) chopped apricots, (chopped dates 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, milk or yoghurt.

Salad of Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Rocket Leaves and Local Honey

Such a simple combination but surprisingly delicious.

Serves 4

4 handfuls rocket leaves

2 soft Ardsallagh Goats cheeses

1 tablespoon best quality local honey

maldon sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

olive oil

1 lemon

Divide the rocket leaves between 4 large plates or 1 large flat serving plate.  Slice or dice the goat’s cheese and sprinkle on rocket leaves.  With a teaspoon, drizzle the honey over the rocket and cheese in a grid pattern.  Drizzle the salads with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Finally, season with sea salt and black pepper and serve.

Kinoith Garden Salad with Mustard and Honey Dressing

The herb and vegetable gardens beside the Ballymaloe Cookery School are bursting with a myriad of lettuce and salad leaves and edible flowers. The gardens are open to the public every day except Sundays.

A selection of fresh lettuces and salad leaves:

eg. Butterhead lettuce

Oakleaf lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

Lollo Rosso

Frisee

Mesclum or Saladisi

Red Orah

Rocket (Arugula)

Edible chrysanthemum leaves

Wild sorrel leaves or buckler leaf sorrel

Wild garlic leaves

Salad Burnet

Pennywort

Borage or Hyssop flowers

Young Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Marigold Petals

Chive or wild garlic flowers

Herb leaves eg. lemon balm, mint, flat parsley, golden marjoram, annual marjoram, tiny sprigs of dill, tarragon or mint.

Green Pea Shoots or Broad Bean tips

Tiny Chard & Beetroot leaves

Mustard and Honey Dressing

150ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons honey

2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey mustard

2 cloves garlic crushed

First make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.

Wash and dry the lettuce and salad leaves.  If large, tear into bite sized bits. Put in a deep salad bowl, add the herb sprigs and edible flowers.  Toss, cover and chill in a refrigerator until needed.   Just before serving toss the salad in just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten, save the remainder of the dressing for another day.

Salad of Beetroot with Raspberries, Honey and Mint

Serves 4

2 cooked beetroot, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin

24 raspberries

16 small mint leaves

honey

extra virgin olive oil

lemon juice

Maldon sea salt

cracked black pepper

Divide the sliced beetroot between 4 white plates.

Cut some of the raspberries in half lengthways and some in cross section slices, and scatter over the beets. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Dress the salads evenly with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle on the tiny tender mint leaves and serve.

Note

I sometimes place a few teaspoons of thick yoghurt or labne on the salad when assembling.

If the mint leaves are a bit coarse as they sometimes are in late Summer, remove the spine, roll and slice into a chiffonade instead.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes and Honey

Serves 4

This wonderful Moroccan dish, which Claudia Roden gave us, derives its special flavour from the tomatoes in which it cooks ( there are mountains of them which reduce to a thick sauce ) and from the honey which comes in at the end.

1 free-range chicken

3 tablespoons butter or oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 onion, grated

1 clove garlic , crushed

1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼  teaspoon ginger

A pinch of saffron (optional )

1 ½  kg ( 3lb ) very ripe tomatoes , skinned and cut into pieces or 3 tins x 14ozs

2 tablespoons honey (with a good perfume like Hymettus )

For the garnish

50g ( 2oz ) blanched almonds ( optional)

oil (optional)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

It is considered more elegant to cook and serve the chicken whole but more sensible to cut it into pieces . Claudia prefers to cut it into quarters as this ensures that the flesh is impregnated with the sauce at all times .

Put the pieces in a large pot with the butter or oil, salt, pepper onion, garlic and spices , and the tomatoes Cook gently , covered, stirring and turning the chicken over frequently until it is so tender that it can be easily pulled off the bone.

Remove the chicken and reduce the tomato sauce further to a thick cream

which sizzles in the separated fat. Stir often and take care that the bottom does not stick or burn when the tomatoes begin to caramelize. Then stir in the honey and put the chicken back to heat it through.

Fry the almonds in oil or toast them and toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan or under the grill.

Serve the chicken hot covered with the sauce and garnish with almonds and sesame seeds.

Rachel’s Date and Almond Honey Cake

This fantastically dense, moist cake has echoes of sticky toffee pudding. It contains no refined sugar, all the sweetness coming from the honey and dates, while the wholemeal flour imparts its lovely nutty flavour.

Serves 6–8

100g (3oz) chopped dates


200g (7oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

200g (7oz) honey, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling

3 eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

125g (4 1/2oz/generous 1 cup) wholemeal flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

20cm (8 inch) diameter cake tin with 6cm (2 1/2 inch) sides

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, then butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment.

Place the tin on a baking sheet, as some butter may seep out during cooking if you are using a spring-form cake tin.

Place the dates in a saucepan and pour in 50ml (2fl oz) of water. Set over a high heat and cook for 2–3 minutes or until soft, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Cream the butter and the 200g (7oz) of honey until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds until just mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter and honey mixture, beating all the time.

Stir in the cooked dates, along with any remaining cooking liquid, followed by the ground almonds, then add the flour and baking powder and fold in gently to incorporate. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface gently with a palette knife, then scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.

Place in the oven and bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. It will be quite dark-looking, but don’t worry – the cake will be perfectly moist inside.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cake from the tin before transferring to a cake stand or plate.

Use a skewer to pierce a few holes in the top of the cake, then drizzle over the 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of honey and allow to cool before cutting into slices to serve.

A Response to Vera…

A few weeks ago I got a letter from a regular reader who hails from County Kerry – a busy ‘working’ Mum, who tells me that she loves many of my simple recipes but complained that of late, the recipes were a bit ‘cheffy’ and not for the average working family with ravenously hungry teenagers returning home from college. “They want plenty of delicious, home cooked meals, not tiny exotic dishes”.

By coincidence, the week before the recipes were from the Guild of Irish Food Writers Awards so were indeed ‘cheffy’ and time consuming. Vera gave me a nice ‘long wish list’ of suggestions – a healthy brown loaf, a nice saucy casserole, a few one pot dishes, a large, easy chocolate cake, a few tray bakes and tasty ways to cook Irish grown vegetables.

How about swede turnips, cabbage and carrots? Good girl yourself, Vera – love to hear people wanting to go out of their way to buy Irish produce.

“How about a savory bread and large quiche, a tasty lasagna and salads?” she asks…..

There were more than enough requests to keep me going for several columns. I love to get letters like this, it stops me in my tracks and reminds me to include more delicious simple recipes in my column – almost back to my Simply Delicious days – Thank you Vera…..

By coincidence, I had just sent the final proofs of a new book, that should be in the shops next September, into my publishers, One Pot Feeds All – I wrote this book especially for all of you super busy people who dash home through the traffic, tired and exhausted from work, pick up a bag of groceries but still want to cook a wholesome meal from scratch or your family.

So there are 130 delicious lunch recipes for one pot, one casserole, one roasting tin, coming your way later this year. Home cooking is by far the most important in the end.  Meanwhile I’ll get started on Vera’s list which I hope many other readers will also enjoy….

Brown Soda Bread in a Tin

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. We use Howard’s One Way flour for this but seek out Macroom and Dunany Organic Flour also, each have their own unique flavour.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour or a wholemeal flour of your choice

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

Swedes and turnips are ridiculously cheap and super versatile, this soup is filling, nutritious and super delicious. Drizzle it with parsley or wild garlic oil and you’ve got a chic starter worthy of a posh dinner party.

 Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk to taste

Parsley Oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) parsley, chopped

Garnish

fried diced bacon or chorizo

tiny croutons

flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley

First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

 Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

 To Serve.

Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Super Quick Buttered Cabbage

 This method takes only a few minutes to cook but first the cabbage must be carefully sliced into fine shreds.  It should be served the moment it is cooked.

1 lb (450 g) fresh Savoy cabbage

1-2 oz (25-50g/1/4-1/2 stick) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

a knob of butter

Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage.  Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain.  Put 2-3 tablespoons (2-3 American tablespoons + 2-3 teaspoons) of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt.  Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes.  Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter.  Serve immediately.

Chicken Paprikash

In Hungary, Paprikash would be served with nokedli, similar to German spaetzle but pasta or mashed potato works well also.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons lard (traditional) or clarified butter

1.8 Kgs organic, free range chicken thighs and drumsticks (bone in for extra flavour)

250g (9oz) onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

500g (1 lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

250g (9oz) large red pepper, seeded and diced (approx. ½ inch)

450 mls (16 floz) chicken stock

3 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika or 2 tablespoons sweet paprika and one of smoked paprika

Generous teaspoon of salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper

250g tub sour cream (crème fraiche)

2 floz double cream

60-80g (2 – 3oz) Roux

Flat leaf parsley, coarsely snipped

Melt the lard or clarified butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Brown the chicken pieces in batches on all sides, transfer to a casserole. Add the diced onion, garlic, tomato and pepper to the frying pan, toss for 2 – 3 minutes, add the paprika, salt and freshly ground black pepper ( careful not to burn the paprika or it will be bitter).

Add to the chicken in the casserole. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock. Stir and bring to the boil to dislodge all the flavour from the pan. Pour into the casserole, bring back to the boil and simmer for 40 -50 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Strain the liquid off the Paprikash, add the crème fraiche and cream, bring back to the boil thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Pour over the chicken, return to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with snipped flat leaf parsley and serve with pasta or mashed potato.

Note: this stew becomes even better when made a day or two ahead and reheats brilliantly.

Cynthia’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

From the Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen.

In 1945 the young Farmers’ club of America – the ‘4H  Clubs’ inaugurated the International Farm Youth Exchange scheme (IFYE).  They sent young delegates to stay with farming families in Western European countries and too young European farmers back in exchange.  These young people are always well informed and skilled in the crafts of the farm and farm home.

In 1955, a young American girl called Cynthia Recird came to stay with us at Ballymaloe under this scheme.

One day she undertook to cook family lunch and produced her ‘Cocoa Cake’ for sweet which became standard fare in Ballymaloe.

Makes 36 bites/19 squares/12 slices

225g (8ox/1 3/4 cups) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt 

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) cocoa

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) sugar

110g (4oz/1 stick) softened butter

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) sour milk or buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

2 organic eggs 

Chocolate Icing 

300g (10oz/2 1/4 cups approx) icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa

2 teaspoons melted butter 

35ml (1 1/3fl oz/scant 1/4 cup) coffee

cocoa for dusting 

300ml (10fl oz softly whipped cream)

Line a 22.5cm (9 inch) square tin or

3 x 17.5cm sandwich tins with parchment paper

Sieve the dry ingredients together into the bowl of a food mixer.  Add the soft butter, buttermilk and vanilla extract.  Beat for two minutes.  Add the eggs one by one.  Beat for a further 2 minutes.  Fill into the prepared tin or tins.  Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  

Sieve the sugar and cocoa together.  Beat in the butter and moisten with coffee to a spreading consistency. 

Ice the top and sides of the cake or sandwich the two rounds together with the icing.  Cut into squares or slices.

Serve with softly whipped cream.

Lemon Drizzle Squares

Who doesn’t love lemon drizzle – problem here Vera, they’ll snaffle them far too fast!

 Makes 24

 6oz (175g) really soft butter

5oz (150g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6oz (175g) self-raising flour

Lemon Drizzle

freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1-2 lemons

4oz (110g) castor sugar

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper

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

 Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the glaze. As soon as the cake is cooked, pour the glaze over the top, leave to cool. Cut into squares.

Note

In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, we add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.

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