CategorySaturday Letter

Celebrating St Brigid

 The 1st of February is just around the corner…..

Time to celebrate a very special day in the Irish calendar, the feast day of our beloved patron Saint Brigid….

La Feile Bride also marks the beginning of Spring, the season of seed sowing when nature begins to spring back into life and hope is renewed, all the more reason to celebrate this year…..

Saint Brigid’s Day also coincides with the start of the festival of Imbolg, one of the four major ‘Fire’ festivals. The other three festivals in Irish folklore are Beltaine, Lughnasadh, and Samhain.

Imbolc/ Imbolg is celebrated by Neopagans with a variety of Celtic rituals.

Surely its high time to elevate St Brigid to her rightful place, to give her equal billing with Saint Patrick as our female patron saint and to declare St. Brigid’s Day a national holiday.

Depending on who or what you read, St. Brigid is the patron saint of cattle farmers, dairy maids, bee keepers, midwives, babies, blacksmiths, sailors, boatmen, fugitives, poets, poultry farmers, scholars, travellers. For me, Bridget was the original feminist, a trail blazer, a strong woman’s voice in a male dominated world, a feminine role model, a force to be reckoned with…. She was one busy saint!

She is still widely venerated and many lovely traditions still endure around the country. Possibly best known is the  tradition of weaving St.Brigid’s Crosses from reeds.  Bridget, we are told was the founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare in the fifth century. According to the legend, she was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain. While she watched over him, she bent down, picked up some rushes from the floor and wove a cross to explain the Christian story, whereupon the chieftain was promptly converted to Christianity.

Just as the shamrock is associated with St. Patrick, the little woven cross is associated with St Brigid.

Typically, it has four arms with a woven square in the centre but three armed crosses are traditional in some counties as explained to me by Saint Brigid’s Day cross maker extraordinaire Patricia O’Flaherty, whom I met at La Feile Bride celebrations at the Irish Embassy in London a number of years ago.

As I write this, I particularly remember Eileen Cowhig, a wonderful local lady who came to the Ballymaloe Cookery School for years to pass on the tradition of how to weave the St. Brigid’s Cross to students from all over the world. We would then hang a newly woven cross in both the dairy and the hen house to bless the hens and to protect our little herd of Jersey cows who produce the most delicious rich milk. She died last year and is fondly remembered by all of us. 

The St.Brigid’s Cross was proudly chosen by newly launched Telifis Eireann in 1961 as its logo and continued until 1995 when it was dropped in favour of ‘a clean striking piece of modern design’.

 Another endearing tradition is to leave a piece of cloth, a scarf or a ribbon on a bush outside  on St. Brigid’s Eve to be blessed by the saint as she passes. This is known in Irish Folklore as Bratog Brid and will cure headaches and sore throats. 

In Kerry particularly, a  Bridog doll, sometimes woven from corn was taken from house to house as this refrain was recited

‘This is Brigid dressed in white,

Give her something for the night,

She is deaf, she is dumb,

Give her money if you have some,’ ( Ref:

Over the past decade, St.Brigid’s Day celebrations have been gathering momentum around the globe.

Since 2018, the achievements of Irish women from all walks of life have been celebrated on La Feile Bride at the Irish Embassy in London. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the celebrations have gone online.

From a virtual afternoon tea in Luton to a women’s festival of female literary creativity in Berlin, and a weeklong virtual event in Vancouver.

So, how about special foods to mark St. Brigid’s Day……..

Apparently, Brigid was a wonderful butter maker, so here’s how to make a batch of homemade butter in minutes to slather over floury winter potatoes. Also a recipe for St.Brigid’s Day oatcakes.

Colcannon is another traditional favourite….. At this time of the year, I often make it with parsnips and potatoes mixed with kale – a tip from the late Gay Byrne who insisted that it was the Dublin way of making it and  the way his mother always made it. I am indebted to Gay for sharing this and remember him fondly every time we enjoy it.

Look out for the early wild garlic, tri cornered leek or snowbells 

(allium triquetrem) which romps along the roadsides at this time of the year. It resembles white bluebells but has a distinct garlic smell when the thin leaves are rubbed between the fingers. It’s also delicious added to colcannon, but here I am sharing my brother Rory O’Connell’s recipe for Wild Garlic broth, I could imagine St Brigid might have made a similar version at this time of the year. After all, it’s likely that she would have been a knowledgeable forager and was no doubt well acquainted with both the flavour and medicinal benefits of many wild plants.

La Feile Bride Cake has become a new tradition in our extended family, all of whom love to celebrate and perpetuate Irish traditions and festivals. Happy St. Brigid’s Day to each and every one. Perhaps you too can have a virtual afternoon tea and celebrate and raise awareness of our female patron saint.

How to make Homemade Butter

Everyone should be able to make butter. Let’s face it, most of us have over whipped cream from time to time, don’t dream of throwing it out, whisk for a minute or two more and you’ll have your very own butter. If there are butter bats in the house it makes it easier to shape the butter into blocks or balls but they are absolutely not essential. They’re more widely available than you might think, in kitchen shops, but also keep an eye in antique shops and if you find some, snap them up. A good pair will bring you butter luck!

Unsalted butter should be eaten within a few days, but the addition of salt will preserve it for two to three weeks. Also, you can make butter with any quantity of cream but the amount used in the recipe below will keep you going for a week or so and give you enough to share with friends (though not in my house!). Remember, sunlight taints butter (and milk) in a short time, so if you are serving butter outdoors, keep it covered.

Butter (Salted)

Makes about 1kg (2 1/4lb) butter and 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) buttermilk

2.4 litres (4 pints) unpasteurised or pasteurised double cream at room temperature

2 teaspoons dairy salt (optional)

pair of butter bats or hands

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

Pour the double cream into a cold, sterilized mixing bowl. If it’s homogenised, it will still whip, but not as well. If you’re using raw cream and want a more traditional taste, leave it to ripen in a cool place, where the temperature is about 8°C (46°F), for up to48 hours.

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

Drain the water, cover and wash twice more, until the water is totally clear. Weigh the butter into 110g (4oz), 225g (8oz) or 450g (1lb) slabs. Pat into shape with the wet butter hands or bats. Make sure the butter hands or bats have been soaked in ice-cold water for at least 30 minutes before using to stop the butter sticking to the ridges. Wrap in greaseproof or waxed paper and keep chilled in a fridge. The butter also freezes well.



St Brigids’ Day Oatmeal Scones

I’m taking a bit of poetic licence here…These oatmeal scones are cooked in the oven but one can also cook them on a griddle, on the stovetop or over an open fire if you really want to be authentic.

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

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

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

2ozs oatmeal

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

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

Dublin Parsnip Colcannon

Several Dubliners have spoken to me about a parsnip colcannon that ‘the Mammy used to make’. Threepenny or sixpenny bits were sometimes hidden in the colcannon at Hallowe’en for the children to find. The proportion of parsnips to potato varied.

Serves 8 (approximately)

450g (1lb) old potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

450g (1lb) parsnips

450g (1lb) curly kale

250–300ml (9–10fl oz) creamy milk

2 tablespoons approx. chopped scallions

55g (2oz) approx. butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub and peel the potatoes and parsnips, put them into a saucepan, cover with cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes and parsnips are cooked, strain off the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on a gentle heat and allow to steam for a few minutes, then mash.

While the potatoes and parsnips are cooking, bring a pot of well salted water to
the boil, remove the central rib from the kale and cook the leaves until tender. Drain and chop finely.

When the potatoes are almost cooked, put on the milk and bring to the boil with the scallions. While the potatoes and parsnips are still warm, stir in the chopped kale and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, use the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Add the butter and taste for seasoning. Stir over the heat and serve immediately in a hot dish with the butter melting in the centre.

Note: Colcannon may be prepared ahead and reheated later in a moderate oven (180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4) for about 20–25 minutes.

Rory O’Connell’s Wild Garlic Leaf and Flower Broth

The key to the success of this recipe is the addition of the wild garlic to the broth just a few minutes before you are going to eat it. This way the garlic will still be bright green in colour and vibrant in taste when it arrives at the table. Some times the little flowers, which I urge you to use, will float to the surface of the hot broth and sit there like little water lilies or lotus flowers. Now that’s a bonus.

Serves 6

The ingredients

  • The wild garlic when in season is readily available for those who live in the countryside and for urban dwellers is increasingly available in vegetable shops and farmers markets. Every part of the two different varieties can be used, bulbs below the ground and leaves and flowers above.
  • An optional addition of grated parmesan cheese is delicious here. Allow your guests to sprinkle a light dusting on each bowl of poured soup rather than you adding it to the cooking pot. It will taste sweeter and fresher this way. One teaspoon of parmesan is plenty on each serving.

 50g butter

 175g potatoes, peeled and cut into neat 1cm dice

 175g onions, peeled and finely chopped into ½ cm dice

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste

1.2l chicken stock

Salt and pepper

 600ml of finely chopped garlic leaves, tightly packed into the measure

 50ml garlic flowers.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and allow to foam. Add the potatoes, onions and crushed garlic. Coat in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook on a very low heat to allow the vegetables to sweat gently until barely tender. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook and allow the diced potato to collapse. Add the stock, stir gently and bring to a simmer and cook gently for a further 10 minutes. The broth should be barely bubbling. If it cooks too fast at this stage, the delicacy of flavour of the chicken stock will be lost. Taste and correct seasoning. This is the base and can be put aside until later.

To finish, bring the base back to a simmer. Add the garlic leaves and allow to just wilt. This will only take a couple of minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Finally sprinkle in the flowers, watch and marvel as they float on the surface. Serve immediately.

St Brigid’s Day Cake

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

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

To decorate:

lemon glace icing see below

8 pieces of kumquat compote – drained

8 wood sorrel leaves

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

First make the kumquat compote, see below for recipe.

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

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

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

Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

Serves 8 to 10

Lemon Glacé Icing

160g (6oz) icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

2-3tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

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

Decorate with 8 pieces of drained kumquat compote.

Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.  If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Wild Food of the Week – Wild Garlic

So love that moment when I suddenly realise that – Wow, Winter is over. One can practically hear the excitement underneath the ground. Rhubarb and chives are pushing their way up through the soil, everything is stirring. We’ve already found some wild garlic to add to salad and flavoured butters – so head how about a bit of foraging in the open air this weekend. There are two varieties allium ursinum or ramps a broad leaved bulbous plant which grows in moist woodland and allium triquetrum also known as three cornered leeks which often grows along the roadside verges. The latter has a flower that resembles ‘white’ blue bells, and pointy narrow leaves. I find that the leaves of allium ursinum are best for wild garlic pesto so wait a couple of weeks for those.  

Oyster, oysters everywhere….

What is it about an oyster that makes so many people scrunch up their faces when offered one of those delicious bivalves? Why do so many instantly decide – “No, I don’t or won’t like them”. Come on, surely you are brave enough to try an oyster, try one and then another, maybe a third, then you are hooked – a dozen isn’t enough. Those of us who like oysters don’t just like them, we really, really love them.

Oysters are a brilliant source of zinc and vitamin D and the good news is that we are smack bang in the middle of the oyster season. There are two main varieties, the indigenous Irish oyster, Ostrea edulis and Crassostrea gigas. The latter are often referred to as Pacific, Portuguese, or Rock Oysters. They have curvy shells and are less expensive because they mature in 2 to 3 years as opposed to the much prized native Irish oyster which takes at least 4 to 5 years to mature and is only in season when there is an ‘R’ in the month – September to April.

You’ll find your fresh oysters in the English Market in Cork and at several Farmers Markets in the Cork area e.g. Douglas and Mahon where you can eat freshly shucked Rossmore oysters right there and then. Rock oysters can be enjoyed all year round, ‘au naturel’ or cooked. ‘Natives’ are such a delicacy that there’s no need to ‘faff’ around with hot sauces and dressings, best enjoyed just as they are. All they need, if anything is just a little squeeze of fresh lemon. Not sure if we fully realise how much delicious and exquisite, Irish oysters are prized the world over. Nothing apart from the tiny Olympians from the North Pacific coast of America can even come close in terms of flavour. So seek them out for a real gastronomic experience but it’s also worth mentioning that Irish oyster fishermen need and would deeply appreciate our support because the restaurant industry and their overseas markets have been so severely affected by the Covid 19 pandemic and the Brexit delays at the ports.

If you can get your hands on some large gigas oysters, there’s a super variety of cooked oyster recipes. Try English Market in Cork City or contact Oyster producers around the country, Harty’s in Dungarvan, Kelly’s in Galway, Irish Premium Oysters to name a few…. Many will courier a panier of fresh oysters direct to your door overnight.

Ballymaloe House guests will fondly remember Myrtle’s, Hot Buttered Oysters on toast and the exquisite Oysters in Champagne sauce. Oysters Kilpatrick or Oyster Rockerfeller are two other classics you might like to try.

I also love crispy oysters with Wasabi Mayo and the warm oysters with Horseradish cream that I first tasted in New York.


You will need an oyster knife.

It’s wise to protect your hand with a folded tea towel when opening oysters.  Wrap the tea towel round your hand, then lay the deep shell on the tea towel with the wide end pointing inwards.   Grip the oyster firmly in your protected hand while you insert the tip of the knife into the hinge, twist to lever the two shells apart; you’ll need to exert quite a lot of pressure, so it’s foolhardy not to protect your hand well.   Then, slide the blade of the knife under the top shell to detach the oyster from the shell. Discard the top shell, then loosen the oyster from the deep shell, flip over to reveal the plump side, don’t lose the precious briny juice. 

Hot Buttered Oysters on Toast

Delicious on toast but if you choose to serve these wonderfully curvaceous oysters in their shells they tend to topple over maddeningly on the plate so that the delicious juices escape.  In the restaurant we solve this problem by piping a little blob of mashed potato on the plate to anchor each shell.

12 Pacific (Gigas) oysters

25g (1oz) butter

1 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped (for second option)

To Serve

4 segments of lemon

4 ovals or rectangles of hot buttered white toast

Sprigs of fresh chervil, if available.

Open the oysters, remove from the shell and keep aside. Melt the butter in a pan until it foams.  Toss the oysters in the butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps.  Spoon the oysters onto the hot buttered toast. The toast will soak up the juices, serve immediately with a wedge of lemon and a sprig of chervil on top. Simply delicious!

Hot Buttered Oysters in their Shells

Alternatively, open the oysters and detach completely from their shell, disgard the top shell but keep the deep shell and reserve the liquid. Put the shells into a low oven to heat through. Melt half the butter in the pan until it foams. Toss the oysters in butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps. Spoon a hot oyster into each of the warm shells. Pour the reserved oyster liquid into the pan and boil up, whisking in the remaining butter and the finely chopped parsley. Spoon the hot juices over the oysters and serve immediately on hot plates with a wedge of lemon.

Hot Oysters with Champagne Sauce

Don’t just fip over this recipe. The flavour is sublime – a real treat and worth the effort.

Serves 4

16 Rock or Japanese Oysters

Champagne Sauce

This sauce is also excellent with baked fish, i.e. turbot, black sole and brill.

Half bottle of Champagne or sparkling white wine

1oz (25g/1 tablespoon) chopped shallot

4 large egg yolks

8ozs (225g) of butter

1/2 pint (300ml) whipped double cream

First make the champagne sauce.

Boil the champagne with the shallot, reducing to 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon).  Remove from the heat and beat in the yolks.  Return to a very low heat and add the butter bit by bit as for Hollandaise sauce. When all the butter has melted fold in the whipped cream.

Scrub the oysters well.  Just before serving put into a hot oven 250°C/475°F/regulo 9 until they just start to open and release their juices. Using an oyster knife remove and discard the top shell, place a little champagne sauce on top of each oyster and put under a hot grill until golden.  Serve immediately and garnish with fennel and a lemon wedge.

Da Fiore Crispy Oysters

This recipe comes from my favourite fish restaurant in Venice.

Serves 6-8

24 Pacific Oysters


Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)

Bamboo Cocktail sticks

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

125 g (5ozs) butter cut into dice

1 dessertspoon cold water

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

Tempura Batter

4 tablesp flour

1 tablesp cornflour

 ½ teasp gluten free baking powder

800 ml ice cold water

1 large egg white

pink pepper corns

roughly chopped chervil sprigs

Oil for deep frying

First make the Hollandaise Sauce.Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water.  Add water and whisk thoroughly.  Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time.  As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece.  The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary.  Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made.  Finally add the lemon juice to taste.  If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low.  Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency. 

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage.  If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on).  A thermos flask is also a good option.

Open the oysters and save and strain the liquid and the shells. Make the tempura batter. Sieve the flour, cornflour and baking powder into a bowl.  Add the water and whisk just enough to barely combine, don’t over-mix.  Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl; fold into the batter with a little salt.

To serve: warm the oyster shells in the oven. Heat the oil in a deep fryer. Whisk the 4 tablespoons of oyster liquid into the hollandaise, taste and add more if necessary. Dip the oysters one at a time into the batter, fry for a minute or two until crispy. Meanwhile put a generous teaspoon of sauce into each shell, spear each crispy oyster with a bamboo stick and lay one on top of each shell. Garnish with a little chervil and sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt and some roughly ground pink peppercorns on the plate.

Tempura Oysters with Wasabi Mayo

Follow the recipe above but serve with Wasabi Mayo rather than Hollondaise.

Wasabi Mayo

125g (4 1/2oz) homemade Mayonnaise

1 – 2 tablespoons wasabi paste or to taste

coarsely chopped parsley

Simply mix all the ingredients together to make your mayonnaise and serve with crispy tempura oysters.

Warm Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Chervil

Serves 6-8

24 Gigas oysters

Horseradish Cream (see recipe)


sprigs of chervil

First make the horseradish cream (see recipe), cover and chill.

To Serve

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10. 

Put the oysters into a baking tray on a bed of coarse salt.  Pop into the oven and cook until the shells just pop open.  Lift off the top shell.  Spoon about a dessertspoon of horseradish cream over the oyster.  Top with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.  The oyster should be hot and the horseradish cream cold and fluffy.  Serve immediately on a bed of seaweed or coarse salt.

Horseradish Cream

Serves 8 – 10

3 – 6 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

110mls (4fl oz) cream

110mls (4fl oz) milk

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the cream and milk. Whisk to froth up.

Wild Food of the Week

Alexander, horse parsley (Smyrnium olusatrum)

Time to go foraging again….Alexander’s grow in profusion along the cliffs, roadsides and hedges near the sea in the south of Ireland. For the purpose of identification, they are an umbelliferous plant so they look a bit like cow parsley but with paler green leaves. They are in season now and are brilliant to pick from now until March or April when they begin to flower, depending on the weather. It’s a Mediterranean plant that was introduced to these islands by the Romans and was originally planted as a vegetable. The flavour is delicate and delicious; in fact the taste is slightly like sea kale. The young leaves are good in salads and the peeled stalks make a tasty vegetable. They are best harvested just before the buds burst into flower. Otherwise, like many plants, they become bitter.

Foods to Boost Your Immune System

As I write this column Covid 19 numbers are escalating in leaps and bounds. We’re back in strictest Level 5 lockdown and virtually everyone’s life is on hold. We have postponed the start of our Spring 12 Week Course. Students who have been looking forward to joining us are biting their nails wondering when they will be able to start the course they have so looked forward to, in some cases for several years. C’est la vie at present….

Little Christmas has come and gone….this year the women of Ireland could not get together to celebrate but those of us who are fortunate to be still well can concentrate on counting our blessings and focus on boosting our gut biome, mental health and immune systems with nourishing, wholesome food.

Many factors affect our immune system, our lifestyle, sleep habits, stress levels, environment, genes….

We can’t do anything about our genes, we are what we became at the moment of our conception. Exercise helps, adequate sleep does too, we all know how much easier it is to pick up a cold or flu when we are exhausted after a long period of stressful work.

But like any army our immune system marches on it’s stomach, scientists acknowledge that those who live in poverty and are malnourished are more likely to succumb to infectious diseases. Despite that there are still relatively few studies on the effect of nutrition on the immune system of humans.

You don’t have to be a doctor or nutritionist to know that the type of food we eat impacts on our wellbeing.  Covid 19, particularly this mutant strain is unquestionably highly contagious. One certainly can’t say for sure that lots of nutritious food will protect us but it can’t hurt to eat delicious vitamin and mineral rich food. Vitamin A and D are known to support our immune systems and work together like twins. Vitamin D comes from sunlight, so dash out and lap up as much winter sun as you can – it’s much more effective than taking Vitamin D pills.

Vitamin A comes principally from liver and pure fermented cod liver oil but also egg yolks and unpasteurised dairy products. Each and every one of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements are crucial in their own particular way.

I’m a big believer in the power and the nourishment of broth. Any bone broth really but particularly chicken broth so soothing and restorative. It’s super easy to make particularly if you have a slow cooker.

Making bone broth is a way of working, instead of chucking things out, collect all the vegetable peelings, herb stalks poultry carcasses, bones and giblets in a ‘stock box’ in your freezer. When it’s full to the brim, make a celebration pot of stock. Then strain and degrease if necessary, cool and refrigerate or freeze to enjoy the next time you feel like a pick-me-up.

Broth is concentrated stock, the French word for stock is Fond which means foundation in English. Chicken broth is probably the most useful but fantastic broth but can also be made from beef, lamb and game bones.

A turkey carcass also makes a delicious stock but no doubt that’s long gone now so if you didn’t use it this time make a mental note to make fine big pot of broth next time round. It’s well worth reminding ourselves that back as far as the mid 400’s BC, Greek Physician Hippocrates (who apparently lived to the ripe old age of 90) stated “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

At the APC (Alementary Pharambotic Centre) microbiome Institute at UCC Professor Cryan & Professor Dinan and their team have been investigating the link between gut health and mental health for almost a decade now, with fascinating results.

Not surprisingly, heavily processed foods, sweeteners and emulsifiers have a negative effect on the biodiversity of our gut biome. It may sound boring and passé but all we need is real living food, lots of fibre and green vegetables and if you fancy some green tea and dark chocolate. Fermented foods are super important also so seek out natural sourdough bread (beware there’s a lot of faux sourdough around), sauerkraut, kimchi, water and milk kefir, better still make it yourself. Here are some easy recipes to get you started, virtually nothing you buy will be as good and I guarantee you’ll feel the better of it.

Chicken Stock

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets (if you can get chicken feet, they will add lots of collagen and flavour). Then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5–6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints)

2–3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck,         heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

4 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

2 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 black peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints/17 1/2 cups) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3–4 hours. Taste, strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.


For a more intense flavour, boil down the liquid in an open pan until it reduces to about half of the original volume. Taste and add salt.


Pheasant or guinea fowl stock is also made on the same principle as chicken stock. Use appropriately in game dishes.


Goose or duck stock may be made in the same manner as chicken stock. However, some chefs like to brown the carcasses first for a richer flavour and darker stock. Use for goose and duck recipes such as Duck, Ginger and Noodle Broth

Duck, Ginger and Noodle Broth

Serves 6 – 8

350-450g (12 – 16ozs) cooked duck meat, shredded

1.8 litres (3 pints) duck stock

2 1/2 inch (6cm) piece ginger, thinly sliced

3 star anise

4-6 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

100g (3 1/2 ozs) rice noodles

2 tablespoons nam pla (fish sauce)

4ozs (110g) Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced or 8ozs (225g) sprouting broccoli

6 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves

OR Thai basil leaves

2 red chillies, thinly sliced

crispy shallots

Bring the duck stock slowly to the boil with the ginger, star anise, spring onions and peppercorns.  Simmer gently for 30 minutes.  Strain the broth.  Add the fish sauce to the strained broth.

Pour the boiling water over the noodles. Bring the stock to the boil, add the cabbage or broccoli and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes.  Strain the noodles.  Divide them between the serving bowls, top with the duck pieces.  Taste and correct seasoning of the broth.  Ladle the broth and cabbage or broccoli over the noodles and duck.  Top with coriander leaves or Thai basil leaves.  Scatter with thinly sliced chilli and crispy shallots if you can find them.

Serve as soon as possible.


Thank you @pennyportous for these delicious kimchi and sauerkraut recipes from The Fermentation HQ at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Makes 2 litres approx.

1kg (2 1/4lbs) Chinese cabbage, roughly chopped

1 carrot, chopped

12 spring onions

8 garlic cloves

5 chillies

6 tablespoons ginger

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 Litre Kilner Jar

Make a brine of 2 litres of water with 8 tablespoon sea salt.  Cover the cabbage and carrots with the brine in a big bowl and put a weight on top to keep them submerged.  Leave overnight or for a few hours at least.

Put the spring onions, garlic, chillies, ginger and fish sauce into a food processer and chop finely. 

Drain the cabbage, keeping some of the bring solution. 

Mix the onion paste into the cabbage.  Stuff tightly into a 2 litre (3 1/2 pints) Kilner jar.  Use a small jar to weigh everything down the mixture.  Top up with small bit of brine to keep submerged. 

Ballymaloe Sauerkraut

At its basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice.  It has existed in one form or another for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content.  Try to use organic vegetables if available.

800g (1 3/4lb) of cabbage


500g (18oz) of cabbage plus

300g (10oz) of mixture of any of the following: grated carrot, turnip, celeriac, onion

3 level teaspoons sea salt

1 x 1 litre Kilner jar or similar

Small jam jar to act as a weight inside the lid of the 1 litre jar

Wash the cabbage if it’s muddy. Take off any damaged outside leaves. Quarter the cabbage, core it and then finely shred each quarter.

Mix the cabbage and the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using your hands, scrunch cabbage and other vegetables with the salt until you begin to feel the juices being released.  Continue for a few minutes. Pack a little at a time you’re your Kilner jar and press down hard using your fist – this packs the kraut tight and helps force more water out of the vegetables.  Fill the Jar about 80% full to leave room for liquid that will come out of the vegetables as it starts to ferment.

Place a clean weight on top of cabbage (a small jar or container filled with water works well).  This weight is to keep the vegetables submerged under the brine. This is the most important thing to get your ferment off to the right start. (Under the brine, all will be fine!)

Sit the jar on a plate just in case some brine escapes while it is fermenting. Place on a counter top and allow to ferment for at least 5 days. Ideally leave it for 10 days to 2 weeks.  As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well.  It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time. Once you have opened it, it’s best to keep it in the fridge where it will last for months.

Penny Allen’s Water Kefir

Water kefir is a superfast fermented drink made using a starter culture or “grains”. These grains are essentially a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). These cultures convert sugar water into a probiotic, enzyme-rich refreshing drink filled with friendly microorganisms that can help bring balance to your microbiome. It’s very easy to make at home and at its most basic it’s just fermented sugar and water, ready to drink in just a couple of days!

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) water kefir grains 

70g (scant 3oz) organic sugar – the less sugar you add the quicker it will take to ferment

2 organic apricots or equivalent of other dried fruit – such as figs, dates, prunes, raisins

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) of water – filtered or dechlorinated  

slice of organic unwaxed lemon or lime

1 x 1 1/2 litre (2 1/2 pints) Kilner jar 

Making Water Kefir for the first time

Put the sugar into the 1.5 litre Kilner jar. Pour in the filtered or dechlorinated water and stir well with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved into the water. 

Now strain your starter jar of water kefir, catching the grains in a sieve and discard the liquid they have been in. 

Tip these grains into the sugar water in the Kilner jar. Add the dried fruit and slice of lemon and secure the lid.

Leave out on a countertop to ferment at room temperature for 2-4 days. After day 2 start to taste the kefir to see if it’s to your liking – you decide when it’s ready – the longer it ferments, the less sweet it will be, the sugar being converted into beneficial organic acids.

When the kefir acquires the flavour that suits you, lift out the dried fruit and lemon (which should be floating on the surface). Strain the liquid through a sieve, catching the kefir grains in the sieve. Pour the liquid into a bottle – secure with a lid and store in the fridge – it will carbonate nicely in the fridge – just be careful when opening! The kefir can be enjoyed as is or you might choose to flavour it – we call this the second fermentation – see below.

Now make your next batch.

Water kefir wants to be made over and over again. You have your grains in a sieve so just put more sugar into the 1.5 litre Kilner jar and add 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) of filtered/dechlorinated water. Stir once again until the sugar has dissolved into the water and add grains to jar. Add a new slice of lemon and 2 pieces of dried fruit. Secure the lid and leave to ferment once again on the countertop for 2-4 days, tasting each day until it’s to your liking.

Grains might gradually multiply over time. You can divide them and give some away or you can make larger quantities of water kefir in larger jar. 

If you want to take a break from making water kefir you can feed the grains extra sugar- perhaps double the amount you usually add and then it can be left on the counter for a week – maybe two. Some people put the jar into the fridge to really slow down fermentation but I would suggest that a week in the fridge is the most you should do cos the grains will become too dormant and difficult to revive.

Second Fermentation

After transferring your water kefir into a bottle add a handful of one of the following to your taste.

fresh or frozen raspberries/blackberries

fresh or frozen strawberries

mango, pineapple and lime 

3-4 small pieces of Crystallised Ginger sliced thinly

several crushed mint leaves and juice of 1 lemon

splash of rosewater and some crushed cardamom seeds

1/2 tablespoon elderberries, 1 tablespoon rosehips and zest from 1 orange

1 vanilla pod (which can be reused many times)

Milk Kefir – Penny Allen

Milk kefir is a probiotic drink, a bit like a slightly effervescent yoghurt.

It is made with kefir grains and milk. The grains can be used again and again and will multiply if well looked after. The grains are not related to cereal grains and neither are they related to water kefir grains. The grains are  a bio-matrix made by yeasts and bacteria. There are many ways to enjoy kefir. It can be added to smoothies, used as you would buttermilk, great as a marinade to tenderise meat or add spices to make lassi.

Basic Recipe

1 tablespoon milk kefir grains

250ml (9fl oz) milk

Put your grains into a glass jar.

Add the milk and stir gently with a non-metal spoon.

Cover the jar with a clean cloth and put somewhere out of direct sunlight.

Let it sit for 12-24 hours until it reaches the desired sourness.  Stir from time to time. This helps it to ferment evenly. Taste it after 12 hours.

When the kefir has reached the desirable taste, strain the kefir through a plastic sieve into a bowl. You might need to help it through with a plastic spoon. You will be left with the kefir grains in the sieve, ready to be reused. Don’t be tempted to wash them.

You can now make the basic recipe again. As the grains multiply you can make larger batches.

To the strained kefir you can now add something like a vanilla pod and honey or spices to add flavour.

If you want to take a break from brewing kefir just put the grains into a fresh cup of milk and put it in the fridge. This will slow down fermentation for a few days.

Coconut Milk Kefir

Use 2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains and replace the milk with 1 can of coconut milk and proceed as in master recipe. 
Note: The original grains need to be feed with milk every week or every three or four batches as they need lactose to keep active.  The lactose is digested by the kefir so it’s still suitable for those intolerant to lactose. 

Showcasing Irish Halloumi

Many of you already know halloumi, a semi soft, brined cheese traditionally associated with Cyprus, Turkey and Greece but now there are several delicious versions made here in Ireland. Traditionally it is made all over the island of Cyprus by both the Greek Orthodox and Muslim communities from raw goat or sheep’s milk or a mixture. Halloumi can also be made from cow’s milk. It’s a brilliant, cooking cheese because it has a very high melting point. It holds its shape and is brilliant to add to stews or salads, just fried, grilled or barbequed.

It’s super salty, zesty flavour perks up all kinds of dishes that might otherwise be lack lustre. Once you discover halloumi, you’ll probably want to keep a pack permanently in your fridge for a regular halloumi fix. My grandchildren call it ‘squeaky cheese’. Usually, it comes in a block in packages or sliced with a little brine to preserve it – consequently the shelf life can be six months or more.  

Sadly the imported halloumi is a long way from the original artisan product made by grandmothers and small farmers on the island of Cyprus. Since global demand has skyrocketed, halloumi is now largely mass produced on an industrial scale so as ever the quality and texture is altogether different.

Halloumi is now widely available in supermarkets, discounters and fast food restaurants who were quick to recognise its appeal and versatility. Think halloumi fritters, burgers, kebabs and fries…. So where to find a more artisan product? From February to October on Ballyhubbock Farm in Glen-of-Imaal in the Wicklow mountains, artisan cheesemakers George Finlay and Hanna Sheerin make halloumi in the time honoured way from the milk of their flock of Freisland sheep,, 083 054 1983.

They make the halloumi two to three times a week, it has a shelf life of 8-9 months so during the season they can make enough to supply their devotees throughout the year.

A delicious cow’s milk version come from Toonsbridge Dairy in West Cork where Toby Simmons and his brilliantly talented innovative team of cheesemakers make halloumi from cow’s milk at present but plans are underway to add some buffalo and sheep’s milk before too long. Check out their brilliant new Toonsbridge Food Store and deli on George’s Street in Dublin, it caused quite the stir when it opened in June 2020 – As the saying goes, ‘Let’s back brave’ – they sure deserve our support, as do all the cheesemakers.

Two more hugely skilled cheese makers, Frank and Gudrun Shinnick of the Fermoy Natural Cheese Company, make a wide range of cheese styles but recently gave me some of their cow’s milk halloumi to taste which I loved and incorporated into many dishes. Once again, made from the beautiful rich milk of their own herd of Friesian cows, pasture fed on organic feed and tested glyphosate free.

I discovered yet another halloumi at the Ballinrostig Cheese stall at the Midleton Farmer’s Market. This one is made from organic Jersey Cow milk and firmer in texture –They also offer a delicious smoked option

So lots of choice, here are some of the ways we enjoy halloumi. It’s a rich source of protein, a brilliant meat substitute for vegetarians. Kids and teenagers love it too – encourage them to come up with delicious ways to serve it.

Saganaki – Greek Fried Cheese

Serves 6

A meal in minutes – Fried Halloumi cheese cooked in a little round aluminium frying pan called Saganaki, is a Greek speciality.

It must be served piping hot, Greek waiters occasionally run to get it to the customer while it is still bubbling.

225g (8 ozs) hard cheese, or Halloumi

butter or olive oil

freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly ground pepper

Cut the cheese into slices, about 1/2 inch (1cm) thick.  Have some white crusty bread ready on the table.  Melt a little butter or olive oil in a small frying pan, put in a few slices, reduce the heat and let the cheese cook for 1 or 2 minutes until it begins to bubble.  It should not brown, sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice and some freshly cracked pepper, rush to the table and eat with crusty white bread.  Follow with a good green salad.

Halloumi with Lemon Zest, Honey and Marjoram or Oregano

Serves 4

4 pieces of Halloumi 

extra virgin olive oil

zest of 1 organic lemon

salt and freshly ground black pepper 

honey – you’ll need about 4 teaspoons

2-3 teaspoons marjoram or dried oregano

Just before serving, slice the Halloumi into 7mm (1/3 inch) thick slices.  

Heat a little oil in a pan or pan-grill.  Season the cheese with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Arrange the Halloumi in a single layer on the pan and allow to sizzle for a couple of minutes on both sides.  Sprinkle with coarsely chopped marjoram or dried oregano.  Transfer each piece onto a warm plate.  Drizzle with a little honey, grate on some lemon zest.  Sprinkle with a few fresh marjoram leaves and serve as soon as possible with crusty bread.

Halloumi Fritters with Kumquats and Rocket leaves

Serves 2

150grams Ballyhubbock Farm artisan halloumi

Flour seasoned with freshly ground pepper (no salt)

1 beaten egg

100grams white bread crumbs

Extra virgin Olive Oil

To Serve

Kumquat compote (see recipe)

Rocket leaves

Heat the oil in a deep fryer or 1 inch of oil in a frying pan. Cut the halloumi into 8 fingers, toss in seasoned flour, beaten egg and breadcumbs. Cook for 3 – 4 minutes in the hot oil until crisp and golden.

Toss the rocket leaves in extra virgin olive oil. Divide between 2 plates. Lay 4 fritters on top, drizzle with a little runny honey or serve with kumquat compote.

Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.  If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Rory O’Connell’s Carrot, Halloumi and Dill Cakes with Tahini Sauce and Sumac

These are light and fresh tasting little cakes suitable to serve with a drink, as a starter or indeed would make a lovely accompaniment with their sauces to a platter of grilled lamb chops. The cakes and sauces can be made and kept chilled ahead of time but I do like to serve the cakes as soon after they come off the pan as possible. The different textures here add to the pleasure of eating the dish. The cakes are somewhat firm, that firmness coming mainly from the halloumi. The tahini sauce has the consistency of softly whipped cream and the pomegranate seeds in the minted yoghurt add a little crunch.

Serves 6 as a starter or makes 30 bite sized pieces

250g (9oz) carrot coarsely grated

250g (9oz) halloumi coarsely grated

1 beaten egg

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) chopped dill

60g (2 1/2oz/1/2 cup) plain flour

1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and coarsely ground

1 teaspoon paprika

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil for frying

To Serve

Tahini Sauce (see recipe)


Place the carrot, halloumi, egg, dill, flour, cumin and paprika in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Taste to ensure the seasoning is correct.  Measure out 20g (3/4oz) pieces of the mixture and form into little cakes. Place on a parchment paper lined tray and chill until ready to cook.

Heat a little oil in a sauté pan and fry the cakes until golden brown on both sides. Keep warm if necessary for a short time in an oven preheated to 100°C/210°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

To serve, place the cakes on a heated flat plate and top each cake with a little dollop of tahini sauce and a light sprinkling of sumac. Serve as soon as possible passing the minted yoghurt separately with a little spoon for guests to serve themselves.

Tahini Sauce

Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)

125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste 

1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced

a pinch of salt, plus more to taste

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) water 

Place the tahini, garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor; add half the water and mix. The mixture will thicken – just continue cautiously adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. You want the sauce to hold its shape on top of the cakes and not to dribble down over the edges. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can bring it back to the correct consistency with a little extra tahini paste. Correct seasoning adding more lemon juice.  


You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon.  Best made and eaten on same day.

Minted and Pomegranate Yoghurt

250ml natural yoghurt

2 tablespoons chopped mint

1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds

½ teaspoon roasted and ground cumin seed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the ingredients together. Taste and correct seasoning.

Kale and Halloumi Salad

Serves 10 – 12

450g (1lb) curly kale (225g (8oz) when destalked

lemon, finely grated zest and juice of one lemon

25g (1oz) sugar

250ml (9oz) cream

sea salt – scant teaspoon or to taste

150g Halloumi, ½ inch dice

Strip the kale off the stalks, chop the leaves fairly finely and massage well to release the juices. Toss in a bowl. Grate the zest of the lemon directly onto the salad. Add the freshly squeezed juice, a good sprinkling of sugar and some sea salt. Toss, pour over the cream and toss again.

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil on a pan over a high heat, toss the halloumi cubes until golden on all sides. Scatter over the salad and serve – totally delicious.

Aubergine Wrapped Halloumi with Pomegranate Labneh

Serves 8

2 aubergines, cut lengthways into ½-1 cm slices (you’ll need 8 slices in all)

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

500g of halloumi, sliced into 8 lengthways

Juice of ½ lemon

4 teaspoons of annual majoram

Pomegranate seeds

 Fresh mint leaves

Labneh (see recipe)

Handful of rocket leaves

For the Pomegranate and Molasses Dressing

1 garlic clove, crushed

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Dash of red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Sea salt and black pepper

Brush each slice of aubergine with the extra virgin olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Preheat a pan over a medium heat, cook slices in batches until golden and tender. Set aside to cool. Place a piece of halloumi at the end of each aubergine slice. A tiny squeeze of  lemon juice, sprinkle with chopped marjoram. Roll each aubergine slice up to enclose the halloumi and place on a baking tray. Heat the parcels under a hot grill or in a hot oven until the cheese begins to soften.

Whisk all the ingredients together for the pomegranate dressing with 1 tablespoon water until emulsified.

Serve the parcels on a few rocket leaves, drizzled with the pomegranate dressing. Scatter a few pomegranate seeds and some fresh mint leaves over the top with a blob of labneh on the side.


for the labneh (makes 500g/18oz)

1kg natural yogurt

To make the labneh, line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend the bag of yogurt over a bowl.

Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Jersey milk yogurt is thicker and needs only 2–3 hours to drip. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens or used for fermented dishes and in whey lemonade.

Comfort Food to Beat the January Blues

Well here we are at last in 2021, full of hope and expectations and good riddance to 2020. It’s been quite the upheaval for each and everyone. The Covid 19 Pandemic has forced us to rethink so many aspects of our lives, our values, our global food and distribution systems…

It has shown just how vulnerable we are and taught us many valuable lessons on how to be better prepared for future crisis. Almost overnight back in March, the entire world was plunged into uncharted waters, everyone from governments, the entire medical system, multinational food companies, artists, musicians, teachers, publicans, chefs…. all scrambled to cope with unprecedented challenges. The shock of coping with the heartbreak of bereavements, the prospect of loosing a job, racking our brains to think of other income streams to survive – our lives changed beyond recognition.

This experience has forced us to pause and to readjust our priorities, to realise how futile it is to waste our lives embroiled in never ending battles for wealth, status and power.

The brilliant thing is that even in a pandemic we all need to eat.

Restaurants have reinvented themselves offering Take Outs, meal kits and family suppers. Food trucks are popping up everywhere, from Ballynamona Strand to Inishowen serving everything from fish and chips to ramen and fajitas.

Farmers Markets have quite rightly been declared an essential service. Branches of NeighbourFood, the online Farmers Market started by Jack Crotty in Barrack Street in Cork in early 2019 are popping up all over the country and now also in the UK.

Newspapers, On-line websites, Click and Collect options continue to be introduced by locally owned Irish businesses. The ongoing crisis has also created a myriad of opportunities for people to start little businesses at home in their spare room, garden shed, garage or kitchen. Many have discovered entrepreneurial genes they never realised they had, desperation has fuelled creativity.

Buying local has turned into a mainstream trend. Lockdown has forced us to explore what’s available in our local area and Wow, what treasures we have discovered. Local butchers, bakers, farmers, fish smokers, artisan preservers, honey producers….

So over Christmas, many people were on a mission to buy only local produce and crafts. The penny has really dropped that money spent in small local shops, saves jobs, creates opportunities and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than giant retailers flying products in from all over the world. More than 2/3 of the €5 billion we spend on- line every year disappears overseas, whereas every €100 spent in the local shop is worth €500 in real terms to the local community, how good does that feel?

So let’s continue this collective mind-set and be proud of the difference our contribution can make to Ireland. Meanwhile, a column of comforting food this week – family favourites that put a smile on everyone’s face and help beat those January blues….. Don’t forget to order a seed catalogue so we can plan to grow some of our own veggies and herbs this year.

Traditional Roast Stuffed Organic Chicken with Gravy

Serves 6

Who doesn’t love a roast chicken dinner with lots of gravy and delicious roasties. A traditional roast stuffed chicken with lots of gravy is a forgotten flavour for many people, partly because unless you have access to a really good bird the smell and flavour will be quite different to one’s childhood memory.  People often feel that making stuffing is too bothersome but if you keep some breadcrumbs in the freezer it can literally be made in minutes. 

Should I cook the stuffing inside the bird or cook the stuffing separately? 

The best place for the stuffing is inside the bird where it absorbs lots of delicious juices as it cooks.  Do not overfill the bird otherwise the heat may not penetrate fully.  This is particularly important if you are using an intensively reared bird which may be infected with salmonella and/or campylobacter. Wet or dry brining the chicken even for a few hours ahead hugely enhances the flavour and reduces the cooking time by 15 – 20 minutes (see below).

‘Dry’ brining, just rub dry salt all over the bird and slip it into a resealable bag, leave for 7 or 8 hours, pat dry before roasting.

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

Giblet Stock

Giblets (keep the liver for a chicken liver pate), and wish bone

1 thickly sliced carrot

1 thickly sliced onion

1 stick celery, sliced

a few parsley stalks and a sprig of thyme


1 1/2oz (45g) butter

3oz (75g) chopped onion

3-3 1/2oz (75-100g) soft white breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons) finely chopped fresh herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives and annual marjoram

salt and freshly ground pepper

a little soft butter


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


sprigs of flat parsley

Basic Brine for Chicken, Duck or Pork (optional)

Brining greatly enhances the flavour of chicken, duck or pork.  We brine whole turkeys (48 hours), chickens and ducks (5-6 hours), chicken breast (30-40 minutes depending on size).

To make basic brine, mix together 40fl oz (2 pints/5 cups) water and 3 3/4oz (105g/1/4 cup) salt in a suitable size container with a cover (stainless steel, plastic or enamel are ideal). A little sugar may be added to the brine, even a few spices. Add the bird or joint, cover and chill in a refrigerator or keep in a cool place and brine for chosen time.

Drain well and dry before cooking.

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

Next make the stuffing, sweat the onions gently in the butter in a covered saucepan until soft, 10 minutes approx. then stir in the white bread crumbs, the freshly chopped herbs, a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold unless you are going to cook the chicken immediately. If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half fill with stuffing. Season the breast and legs, smear with a little soft butter.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Weigh the chicken and allow about 20 minutes to the lb and 20 minutes over – put on middle shelf in oven. Baste a couple of times during the cooking with the buttery juices. The chicken is done when the juices are running clear.

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

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

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

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

Use the cooked carcass for stock. 

Best Fluffy Potato Mash Ever

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk

1 whole egg

1-2oz (25-50g) butter

4 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs e.g parsley, chives, tarragon, lemon balm (optional)

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Add the egg into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the freshly chopped herbs and then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.


If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey.

Classic Fish Pie

It is difficult to write a hard and fast recipe for fish pie because it depends on what kind of fish you have access to. But make sure the fish is fresh, there is plenty of sauce and you have lots of fluffy mashed potato on top.  hard-boiled eggs to the fish pie to spin out the fish. A little smoked haddock and a few sautéed mushrooms is a nice addition to this recipe, but don’t use more than 110g (4oz) unless you want the flavour to predominate.

Serves 6–8

1.1kg (21⁄2lb) fillets of cod, haddock, ling, hake, salmon or pollock or a mixture, skinned

salt and freshly ground pepper

18 cooked mussels (optional)

150g (5oz) onion, chopped

10g (1⁄2oz) butter

225g (8oz) sliced mushrooms, preferably flat

600ml (1 pint) full-cream milk

1 fresh bay leaf

Roux (see recipe)

a little cream (optional)

1 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

110g (4oz) peas, fresh or frozen (if they’re fresh, they’ll need to be blanched)

900g (2lb) fluffy Mashed Potatoes

To Serve

Parsley Butter  or Dill Butter (optional)

1 large pie dish (1.2 litres) or 6–8 small ones

Cut the fish into 150g (5oz) chunks and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Wash the mussels, if using, and put into a shallow pan in a single layer. Cover and cook for about 3–4 minutes over a medium heat, just until the shells open. Cool, pull out the beard and remove from the shells.

Sweat the onion in a little melted butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, remove to a plate. Increase the heat, add a little more butter, sauté the sliced mushrooms in batches in the hot pan. Season with salt and pepper and add to the onions.

Put the fish into a wide sauté pan or frying pan in a single layer, cover with the milk and add a fresh bay leaf. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer gently until the fish is just cooked, about 3–4 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the fish to a plate with a slotted spoon, and carefully remove any bones or skin. Discard the bay leaf.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4.

Bring the cooking liquid to the boil and thicken it by whisking in the roux. Add a little cream, if using, and the chopped thyme and parsley, mushrooms, onions, chunks of fish, mussels and frozen or blanched fresh peas. Stir gently, taste and correct the seasoning. Spoon into a single large or 6–8 small dishes and pipe fluffy Duchesse potatoes on top. The pie may be prepared ahead to this point.

To finish cooking, cook in the oven for 10–15 minutes if the filling and potato are warm, or for 30 minutes if reheating the dish later. Flash under the grill if necessary to brown the top. Serve with dill or parsley butter.

Cullohill Apple Pie

This is my most requested apple pie recipe, made with this brilliant break-all-the-rules pastry. It’s made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter. Although a simple apple pie is a top comfort food for most of us – one can of course, add a few plums or blackberries from the freezer or how about adding a little left over mincemeat…

Serves 8-12


225g (8oz) butter

40g (1 1/2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) white flour, preferably unbleached


675g (1 1/2 lbs) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

150g (5oz) sugar

2-3 cloves

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

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados sugar (a sprinkling of this sugar makes the apple pie into something totally mind-blowing)

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

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

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

To make the tart

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

Winter Fruit Salad with Sweet Geranium Leaves

A brilliant way to use up a selection of frozen fruits.  Sweet geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) and many other varieties of scented geraniums are every present on our windowsills here at Ballymaloe.  We use the delicious lemon scented leaves in all sorts of ways, occasionally we use the pretty purple flowers also to enliven and add magic to otherwise simple dishes.  The crystallized leaves, all frosty and crinkly are wonderful with fresh cream cheese and fat juicy blackberries.

Serves 8-10

A mixture of any of the following frozen berries.

110g (4oz) raspberries

110g (4oz) loganberries

110g (4oz) redcurrants

110g (4oz) blackcurrants

110g (4oz) small Strawberries

110g (4oz) blueberries

110g (4oz) fraises du bois or wild strawberries 

110g (4oz) blackberries


325g (11oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) water

6-8 large sweet geranium leaves

Put all the freshly picked berries into a white china or glass bowl.  Put the sugar, water and sweet geranium leaves into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to

the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Boil for just 2 minutes.   Pour the boiling syrup over the frozen fruit and allow to macerate for several hours.  Remove the geranium leaves.  Serve chilled, with softly-whipped cream or Vanilla Ice-cream or alone.  Garnish with a few fresh sweet geranium leaves.

Winter Berry Jelly with Sweet Geranium Leaves with Sweet Geranium Cream

Sometimes when we have a berry salad left over, particularly if there is more juice than fruit we make it into a jelly.  Use 4 teaspoons of gelatine to each 600ml (1 pint) of liquid.  Pour into a bowl or individual bowls (we use Ikea glass tea light holders). When set serve with softly whipped cream or sweet geranium cream (see recipe) and decorate with geranium leaves.   

Sweet Geranium Cream

4-5 sweet geranium leaves approx.

1 tablespoon lemon juice

150ml (6fl oz) cream

sugar to taste, optional

Crush the leaves in a pestle and mortar with the lemon juice, add the cream and stir, (the lemon juice will thicken the cream, if the cream becomes too thick add a little water.)

Taste, if too bitter add a little sugar, remember the sauce should be tart.

Best Ever Rice Pudding

We absolutely love a creamy rice pudding it’s one of the greatest treats on a cold winter’s day. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. It’s almost a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School.

Serve with softly whipped cream a sprinkling of dark brown sugar – the same one that I serve with the Cullohill Apple Pie, no house should be without a packet of that soft dark sugar…

Serves 6–8

100g (3 1/2fl oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

40g (1 1/2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

850ml (1 1/2 pints) milk

 To serve

Softly whipped cream

Soft dark sugar (Barbados)

1 x 1. 2 litre capacity pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4.

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours approximately (usually the latter but keep checking). The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have absorbed up the milk, but the rice pudding should still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time so that it’s ready for pudding.  If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Serve with softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of soft dark brown sugar and maybe a compote of poached fruit.

Cookbook Recommendations

I love that so many who have never cooked before have discovered the joy of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen during the lockdowns enforced on us during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Several of the ‘born again’ cooks I’ve spoken to are messianic about the therapeutic value of the experience and how amazed they are to find themselves actually feeling excited about getting into the kitchen and the “Oops” they get in their tummy from the reaction of their family to each new home-made dish. This experience has definitely heightened awareness of the importance of passing on each newly learned skill to the next generation.

We surely need all these little highlights to enhance the quality of our lives at any time but even more so during these tumultuous and for many, heart breaking times.

So thought I’d share five titles of new cookbooks to use up those Christmas book tokens. Alternatively order the title that appeals to you on line but I urge you to buy directly from your local book shops or from Kenny’s in Galway ( who have a huge list of titles and are super efficient and are in many cases cheaper than the well known international companies and plus your order will support an Irish firm.

Home Cookery Year from Claire Thompson, published by Quadrille is definitely worth having in your repertoire. You may even want to buy two copies, one to keep and another to gift. I found it incredibly difficult to choose just a couple of recipes. It’s divided into individual seasonal chapters, focusing on

Midweek dishes on a budget,

From the Larder.

Salads as light lunches or

Side dishes,

Treat yourself,

Leisurely Weekend cooking and Celebration feasts – You may not have heard of Claire before but, she writes regularly for The Telegraph, BBC Good Food and Olive Magazines and does quite a bit of media work. Follow her on Instagram @5oclockapron for a daily snapshot of the food she cooks at home. In the Winter chapter alone I picked out about 15 recipes that I would love to cook. I chose Buttermilk Fried Cauliflower with Jalapeno & Lime dressing and

Croque Monsieur Bread & Butter Pudding to share because I thought they could add to your repertoire of delicious ways to use up Christmas leftovers. See next week’s column for more ideas….

As Weekend Examiner readers will know, delicious home cooking has always been the most important focus for me and interestingly this year many of the books published have focussed on comforting dishes to nourish and feed our precious family and friends. Next up Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna has become, and always was, ever since I’ve known her, when she was a student here at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2000. She then went on to then work alongside Myrtle Allen in Ballymaloe House kitchens, sold paté at the Farmers Markets in Midleton every Saturday, presented several TV series, wrote 8 bestselling cookbooks, while running several restaurants….Wow, all the while oozing energy and passion for food. More recently, her daily pod cast Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen has almost 100K followers plus can this girl dance! and she keeps hens…..Seek out at your local bookshop or order at for more.

For me one of the most meaningful books of the year is A Taste of Home, 100% of the proceeds from the sales of this really beautiful book go to support the work of The Passage’s, a British charity who for over 40 years have helped thousands of homeless people off the streets for good in the UK, among them many Irish. During 2020 their work was made even more challenging due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The original book concept was created by Kyle Cathie, my long time friend and publisher of many years, now retired. It’s packed with gorgeous recipes donated and mindfully chosen by cooks and chefs from all over the world. So many interesting ideas to try……

Finally Always Home another of my favourite books of the year, an endearing and enchantingly written memoir by Fanny Singer about growing up as the daughter of the renowned chef and founder of Chez Panise, Alice Waters. A story of food, family and the need for beauty in all aspects of life – What could be more appealing during these uncertain times. A charmed childhood for sure, beautifully written and peppered with recipes for many of her beloved childhood foods, published by Orion Publishing.  The recipes in Always Home are written in prose interwoven with stories so I haven’t included them in this article.

Just in, The Happy Health Plan yet another cracker from the two handsome chaps from Greystones, David and Stephen Flynn. Simple and tasty plant-based food to nourish your body inside and out.

Buttermilk Fried Cauliflower with Jalapeno & Lime dressing (From Home Cookery Year by Claire Thompson and published by Quadrille)

1 cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

400ml (14fl oz) buttermilk (or use natural yoghurt)

1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped

1-2 jalapeno chillies, roughly chopped

1 lime (or 2 if your limes aren’t especially juicy), halved

1 small bunch of coriander (cilantro), leaves picked and roughly chopped

½ – 1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

100g (3 ½ oz) self-raising flour

50g (1 ¾ oz) cornflour (cornstarch)

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower florets and boil for 2 minutes, until just tender, then drain well and allow to cool a little.

In the meantime, blend half the buttermilk with the garlic, chilli, salt to taste, juice from half the lime and all the coriander to make a smooth dressing and put to one side.

Mix the remaining buttermilk with the chilli powder, cumin and a ½ teaspoon of salt, then mix the drained cauliflowers florets into the buttermilk mixture until fully coated.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and cornflour (cornstarch) together with a big pinch of salt.

Coat the cauliflower in the flour mixture and place on a baking tray so that the pieces aren’t touching each other. Pour at least 3cm (1 ¼”) of oil into a wide, deep frying pan and heat to 180°C/350°F. The oil is ready for frying when you drop in a piece of cauliflower and it sizzles and floats to the surface immediately.

Working in batches of about 6 – 8 pieces at a time, fry the cauliflower florets for a few minutes, or until golden on all sides. Remove each batch with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels while you fry the remainder. Season well with salt.

Serve the fried cauliflower immediately along with the dressing and with the remaining half of the lime cut into wedges for squeezing over.

Spiced Chicken & Chickpea Curry

(From Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna and published by Kyle Books)


2 tablespoons olive oil

6 bone-in chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), skin on

2 large onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1½ tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

400g (14oz) can chickpeas,

drained and rinsed

470ml (17fl oz) chicken


150g (5½oz) baby spinach

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 To Serve

60g (2¼oz) Greek yogurt

60g (2¼oz) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

brown rice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.

Place an ovenproof casserole dish or a large saucepan over a medium heat and warm for 30 seconds. Pour in the olive oil. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes until they are golden brown on all sides. Then transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the casserole, adding more olive oil if necessary. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes until the onions are soft and golden brown.

Stir in the garlic, ginger and spices, stirring constantly, until the spices are fragrant. Add the chickpeas and the chicken stock. Return the chicken pieces and their juices to the casserole. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 45–55 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the casserole from the oven and place over a low heat, then stir in the spinach which should only take a minute to wilt. Transfer the curry to a large, deep platter, serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, some flat-leaf

parsley and rice, if you wish.

Harvest Salad with Kale, Apple, Beetroot & Grilled Halloumi

(From Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna and published by Kyle Books)


1 sweet potato, peeled and

cut into chunks

1½ tablespoons olive oil

50g (1¾oz) kale, chopped

100g (3½oz) halloumi, sliced

1 apple, quartered, cored and grated

1 beetroot, cooked, peeled and grated

160g (5¾oz) cooked wild rice

50g (1¾oz) whole almonds,

toasted and chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad Dressing

2 tablespoons balsamic


6 tablespoons extra virgin

olive oil

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

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

Put the sweet potato chunks in a roasting tin, toss with ½ tablespoon of the

olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the potato chunks are roasting, steam the kale for 2 minutes, then drain and roughly chop. Set aside.

Place a griddle or frying pan over a medium heat, add the remaining

tablespoon of the olive oil and fry the halloumi for 2 minutes on each side.

Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Place the apple, beetroot, roast sweet potato chunks, kale and rice in a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing, season with salt and pepper, top with the grilled halloumi and scatter over the almonds to serve.

Claudia Roden’s Pasta with Minced Lamb and Yoghurt Sauce

(From A Taste of Home compiled by Kyle Cathie)

Serves 4

1 large onion cut in half and sliced

3 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil

400g  minced lamb

1 ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses (optional)

200g pappardelle

25g flat leaf parsley, chopped

400g plain whole-milk yoghurt at room temperature

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Chilli pepper to taste

40g butter, melted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

This interpretation of manti, a Turkish meat-stuffed pasta (like large tortellini) with a yoghurt sauce, is a deconstruction of one of the most sophisticated and refined of Middle Eastern dishes that was developed in the palaces of Ottoman Sultans in Constantinople – now Istanbul.

In a large frying pan, fry the onion in the oil over a medium-low heat, stirring often for about 15 minutes, until very soft and lightly coloured.

Add the minced lamb, keep crushing it with a fork and turning it over until it changes colour.

Add salt and pepper, the cinnamon and allspice and the pomegranate molasses, and cook for 5 minutes more. Then add about 150ml water and cook for 5 minutes, until much of the liquid is absorbed and the meat is very soft.

At the same time cook the pappardelle in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and pour into a serving dish.

Stir the parsley into the minced meat and mix with the pasta. Beat the yoghurt with the garlic and a little salt and pour over the dish.

Mix the chilli pepper with the melted butter and dribble over the top.

Veggie Pot Noodle with Miso

(From The Happy Healthy Plan by David & Stephen Flynn, Published by Penguin Books)

Serves 1

10g carrot

2 spring onions

¼ fresh red chilli

50g wholemeal noodles or brown rice noodles

½ teaspoon miso

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

25g frozen peas

25g baby spinach

Zest and juice of ½  a lime

1 teaspoon tamari / soy sauce

To Serve

Toasted sesame seeds

Pickled ginger

Finely grate the carrot and slice the spring onions. Finely dice the red chilli (include the seeds if you like it spicy, or leave them out if you prefer it milder). Peel and grate the fresh ginger. Put the noodles into a large jar, along with the veg stock, miso and the rest of the ingredients.

When you are ready to eat, fill and boil the kettle. Once boiled, pour boiling water into the jar until everything is covered and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted sesame seeds and pickled ginger.

Linda Tubby’s Fudgy Chocolate Cake

(From A Taste of Home compiled by Kyle Cathie)

150g 75% plain dark chocolate

85g salted butter

100g ground almonds

3 large eggs

85g golden caster sugar

Large pinch of cream of tartar

Icing sugar or cocoa to dust (optional)

This flourless chocolate cake uses whisked egg whites to create a meringue and provide volume and to give a light texture. You will need a 20cm springform tin, greased and fully lined with baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4.

Break the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the bowl. Sit the bowl over a small pan of just-simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Melt the chocolate and butter together for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir to melt completely. Mix in the almonds and set aside.

Separate the eggs into two large bowls and had half the sugar to the yolks. Add the cream of tartar to the whites and whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the sugar, whisking between each addition to create a stiff meringue.

Without washing the beaters whisk the yolks and sugar together until creamy and the whisk leaves a trail. Fold in the chocolate almond mixture and mix well to combine. Gently fold in the meringue and keep folding until the mixture is even in colour.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared springform tin and bake for 25 – 30 min until risen. It will still be quite soft in the middle but it firms up as it cools. When cold, if wished, dust with icing sugar or cocoa to serve.

Christmas Leftovers

Does it seem a little early to talk about using up leftovers deliciously? Well, I don’t think so. This day next week, it’ll be St. Stephen’s Day. Probably, the most tumultuous Christmas any of us have ever experienced will be over.

Despite the challenges we’ve been determined to keep cooking and carry on!

Meanwhile, you may be beginning to get a little peckish again so let’s head back in the kitchen, have a root through your fridge or pantry – There are bound to be some delicious morsels left over from the Christmas feast and maybe some forgotten ingredients hidden in there.

How about getting the family involved in a competition to think of new and creative ways to use up a variety of miscellaneous ingredients. How about you go for an exhilarating walk or put your feet up and let the others into the kitchen to have fun cooking your supper for a change.

So many options… Of course, one could just make a tasty turkey and ham pie with the nibbles left on the carcass. I’d start by sautéing off some sliced onions and mushrooms, then adding a mixture of turkey stock and cream, a generous fistful of chopped parsley and some thyme leaves or better still a little chopped tarragon. Thicken the boiling mixture with a little roux. Season well and add the coarsely chopped turkey and ham. A gorgeous Goose Pie can be made in a similar way but I’d re-crisp the skin in the oven for a few minutes to scatter over the top which could be covered with a ruff of fluffy mash, a flaky pastry lid or just a layer of cheesy buttered crumbs.

For many transforming, leftovers into another equally delicious meal is a ‘forgotten skill’, perhaps it was my 50s and 60s upbringing but for me it’s a way of life. It may be difficult to understand that back then ’food waste’ was simply unthinkable, shameful, absolutely not an option. It doesn’t make any sense any time, it’s like tearing up pound notes and floating them down the river and most people don’t even have a few hens to eat up the scraps and convert them into eggs a few days later…..

Nowadays, there are so many exciting new ingredients and flavour options on the shelves of virtually every shop and supermarket in the country. It’s an opportunity to be creative and to add the flavours of the East, Far East, Mexico, the Caribbean… to what might otherwise be boring leftovers.

So here are a few suggestions… Communal activities are the most fun and are a brilliant way to use up leftovers. All kinds of fillings can be enclosed in samosas, pasties, empanadas or filo triangles.

Chinese Turkey with Spicy Glaze and Toasted Peanuts

Serves 4

900g (2lb) leftover turkey or chicken

1 tablespoon sunflower oil but I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


50g (2oz) pale soft brown sugar

35ml (scant 1 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

1 teaspoons Hoisin sauce

1 dessertspoon sweet chili sauce

1/2cm (1/4 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated

pinch of chilli flakes

juice of 1/2 lime


2 tablespoons  sesame seeds

25g (1oz) peanuts, peeled and roasted (optional)

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

If the chicken breasts are large, divide in half at an angle.

Heat the oil in a sauté or frying pan.

Season the turkey or chicken meat with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss over a medium heat until golden for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile put all the ingredients for the glaze in a small stainless steel saucepan, stir well, bring to the boil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

Pour over the turkey or chicken in the sauté or frying pan, allow to bubble for a minute or two.

Spoon into a warm serving dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, coarsely chopped peanuts and sliced spring onions.

Serve immediately with some boiled rice and a salad of organic leaves.

How to Roast Peanuts

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

Spread the peanuts over a roasting tray, roast for about 15 minutes, shaking once or twice.  Take the tray out doors and blow off the loose skins, sounds very odd but it’s exactly what everyone does in Asia.  Return to the oven if they are not already golden brown all over.  Chop coarsely.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Chamoy

Inspired by a Ottolenghi recipe from Flavour

This recipe is a great way to use up the extra carrots you may have in your fridge from your Christmas grocery shop.

Serves 4 -6

The Chamoy recipe keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. Use this Mexican sauce as a marinade or condiment for roasted vegetables, chicken or pork. Serve as a starter or as an accompaniment with pork belly or duck breasts.

1 kg carrots cut into quarters, lengthwise

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 ½ tablespoons to serve

1 ½ tablespoons of maple syrup or runny honey

70g (approx. 8) dried apricots, finely sliced

30g roast salted almonds, split lengthwise

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


50g apricots

1 teaspoon maple syrup

2 teaspoon sumac

45ml lime juice, plus 2 teaspoons to serve

1 ½ teaspoons Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ teaspoon of regular chilli flakes)

1 small garlic clove

2 tablespoons olive oil

10g mint leaves

5g dill, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F/Mark 8.

Toss the carrots in a large bowl with the olive oil, maple syrup/ honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Spread out in a single layer on two large parchment-lined baking trays. Roast for 15 – 18 minutes, tossing the carrots every now and then and continue to cook until nicely browned but still retain bite.

Meanwhile, whizz all the ingredients for the Chamoy with ¼ teaspoon of salt in a food processor until smooth. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of water to the Chamoy if too thick.

When the carrots are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl. Pour over the Chamoy, toss to coat the roast carrots. Leave for 15 – 20 minutes to meld the flavours together.

Lay a bed of rocket leaves on a serving platter. Top with the roasted carrots, sprinkle with the sliced apricots and dill sprigs. Finish with some shredded mint leaves and the toasted almonds.

Serve at room temperature.

A Cheesy Gratin of Leeks and Brussel Sprouts

Serves 8

Everyone in our house loves a hot bubbly gratin, a yummy comforting supper dish, I sometimes wrap each leek in a slice of ham before coating in the cheesy Mornay Sauce. Use up the little ends of cheese – a mixture can be delicious but taste carefully.

8 medium sized leeks or 1 ½ lbs plus ½ lbs quartered, blanched and refreshed sprouts

600mls whole milk

A few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

A sprig of thyme or parsley

175g grated Cheddar cheese or a mixture of grated Cheddar,  Parmesan and Gruyère

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Buttered crumbs (see recipe below)

Trim most of the green part off the leeks (use to make soup or pop into the stock pot).  Leave the white parts whole, slit the top and wash well under cold running water.  Cook in a little boiling salted water in a covered saucepan until just tender, 15 minutes approx.

Meanwhile put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme or parsley.  Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.  Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken with roux to a light coating consistency.  Add the mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for grating over the top.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Drain the leeks well, slice into chunks, mix with the blanched Brussel sprouts. Arrange in an ovenproof serving dish, season well, coat with the sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese mixed with a few buttered crumbs. Reheat in a moderate oven 180˚C (gas mark 4), until golden and bubbly – about 15 minutes.

Buttered Crumbs

A great way to use up stale bread. Whizz into crumbs and store in the freezer for stuffings or crumbles.

2 ozs (50g) butter

4 ozs (110g) soft white breadcrumbs

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. Use what you need and store the remainder in a box in the fridge to scatter over gratins or fish pies.

Cheddar Cheese and Ham Strata

A Strata is a savoury bread and butter pudding. Try this one, even just with cheese, but if you have a little cooked leftover ham or bacon it’s even better. A few morsels of cooked turkey wouldn’t go astray either or a little dice of chorizo which everyone seems to have in their fridge these days – careful not to add too much, it can be overpowering.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) very soft butter (for buttering the bread and greasing the dish)

6 slices of good white bread (1-2cm/½-¾ inch thick approx), crusts removed – about 100g (3½oz) prepared weight

110g (4oz) mature Cheddar, (or a mixture of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan) coarsely grated

175- 225g (6-8oz) cooked ham or bacon, diced in 7mm (⅓ inch) cubes approx..

3 medium free-range eggs

450ml (16fl oz) milk (or 8floz of milk and 8floz of cream)

3-4 teaspoons thyme leaves, chopped

A generous pinch of mace

1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground black pepper

A little extra grated cheese for sprinkling

1 litre (1¾ pint) ovenproof soufflé dish.

Grease the soufflé dish with soft or melted butter.

Then butter slices of bread and cut into roughly 2.5cm (1inch) squares.  Put into the dish, add the grated cheese and ham and toss to combine.

Whisk the eggs well.  Add the milk, thyme leaves, mace and Dijon mustard, continue to whisk for a minute or two.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Pour over the bread, cheese and ham mixture.  Cover and pop in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or even overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top and bake the Strata for 40 minutes or until puffed up and golden like a soufflé.

Serve with a salad of organic leaves.

Chocolate Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 8-12 approx.

Panettone is now readily available, it is a rich fruit bread traditionally eaten at Christmas in Italy. If you have some leftover this is a brilliant way to use up the leftovers – use a yeast barm brack for a similarly delicious result.

1 panettone, sliced 2 inch (1cm) thick

220g (7 ozs) good quality plain chocolate, grated

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) cream

5 egg yolks, preferably free-range

100g (3 ½ ozs) sugar

110g (4oz) best quality chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

brown demerara sugar, Moscavado (to sprinkle over at the end)

Softly whipped cream to serve.

8 inch x 2 inch deep oval or rectangular oven-proof dish

Melt the chocolate in the cream in a basin over boiling water.  In a separate bowl beat together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture pales slightly.   Pour the chocolate into the egg mixture and put it back over the pan of boiling water.  Lower the heat and stir continuously, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  If the mixture is cooked for too long or at too high a temperature, it will curdle, it is ready as soon as steam starts to rise from the surface.

Pour a little of the mixture into the oven dish, then add a layer of sliced panettone.  Scatter in a few chocolate chips. Continue doing this until the dish is full, ensuring that the top layer absorbs enough of the custard to remain moist.  Allow to sit for 1 hour or longer if you have time.

Place the dish in a roasting tin and add boiling water until the dish is half submerged.  Bake at 150°C/300°F/Regulo 2. for approx. 20 minutes or until hot throughout.  (It took 30-35 minutes in my oven.)

Cover the pudding with a generous layer of brown sugar and put under a hot grill until the sugar starts to bubble.  Leave for a few minutes before serving to allow the sugar to set.  Serve with clotted cream or softly whipped cream.

Crêpes with Plum Pudding and Brandy Butter


Makes 12 approximately

Pancake Batter

175g (6ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

a good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

scant 450ml (15fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoons melted butter

6 – 8oz Leftover plum pudding

Brandy Butter

Softly whipped cream to serve

Mrs Hanrahan’s Sauce (optional) (date this was featured need to insert)

8 inch (20.5cm) non-stick crêpe pan

First make the batter.

Sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).

Let the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons (6-8 American tablespoons) melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

To cook the crêpes or pancakes.

Heat the pan to very hot, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

A small ladle can also be very useful for this.  Loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.

They will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

To Serve: Melt a couple of tablespoon of brandy butter in a pan over a medium heat. Crumble in the plum pudding, toss gently until heated through.

Put a crepe onto a hot pan, spoon a couple of tablespoons of the buttery plum pudding over half the crepe. Fold the other half over, add a little more plum pudding mixture, fold the crepe into a fan shape, repeat with another. Serve on hot plates.

Add a dollop of softly whipped cream and a drizzle of Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce if available.

A Trip Down Christmas Memory Lane…

A trip down memory lane this Christmas I’ve been racking my brains to think of ways to add extra meaning to what for many, may be a long, lonely, cheerless Christmas. Pick up a pen, let our minds drift, dredge up memories of Christmas’s past, happy or perhaps tinged with sadness, anticipation, longing, disappointment…. Don’t worry if the memories seem disjointed. Snippets of family get-togethers. Raw, funny, poignant… – just get it down on paper.

The lets sit by the fire, share and while away a few nostalgic hours recounting memories that may have been un-consciously buried for many years.

Memories come flooding back. Christmas baking started in November in our house too. This took two whole afternoons – we would look forward to it for weeks. Mum would specially wait until we came home from the village school so we could all get involved – washing the glacé cherries, deseeding muscatel raisins, chopping and peeling – everything had to be done from scratch then, and of course it was an advantage to have a few more hands around to help to cream the butter, line the cake tin and stir the plum pudding. That was super exciting because we each had to make a wish, eyes tightly shut, before the fruity mixture flecked with suet was packed into white Delph bowls and covered with greaseproof paper, “don’t forget to overlap it in the centre to allow the pudding to expand”. Little fingers held the knot to secure the twine handle tightly. Best of all the tradition in our house was to eat the first plum pudding on the night it was made. The Christmas season had begun and without doubt my mother’s plum pudding recipe (inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother) is the best any of us have ever tasted and I’m not just being nostalgic. If you don’t believe me, try it this year and I’ll be expecting a flood of cards and emails after Christmas.

And then there was the trifle, Mum’s trifle was legendary – when I was little it was made with dried rusk like trifle sponges that appeared in the village shop before Christmas every year. Mum had a generous hand with the Bristol cream – we split them in half, then sandwiched them with homemade raspberry jam, we layered them up with homemade custard (no not Birds) in two special cut glass trifle bowls retrieved from the top shelf of the pantry where they sat from one festive season to the next. I have to share this recipe with you I can confidently say that it’ll be the best trifle you’ll ever, ever taste. But there was ‘trifle drama’ in our house every year… Everyone loved the trifle. So Mummy had to hide the trifles every year because my crafty brothers would search the house to find it when they arrived home from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Once they found it in the oven of the gas cooker, eventually she resorted to hiding the trifle under her bed to save them for Christmas Day…

I’ve also included a recipe for Mum’s Chapel Window Cake and Myrtle Allen’s Spiced Beef, perennial favourites in both our families.

Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (see recipe)

(trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam (see recipe)

600ml (1 pint) custard made with:

5 eggs, organic and free-range if possible 

1 1/4 tablespoons castor sugar

1/2teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750ml (1¼ pint) rich milk

150-175ml 5-6 fl.oz) best quality sweet or medium sherry

 – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry.


600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds

1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. 

Next make the egg custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract.  Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along.   Pour in some homemade egg custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the remainder of the sherry.  Spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.


For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of swiss roll.

Great Grandmother’s Victoria Sponge

Who doesn’t love a buttery Victoria sponge – this recipe keeps really well for at least 5 or 6 days but omit the cream if you plan to keep for a few days.

Serves 10

175g (6oz) flour

175g (6oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

125g (4½ oz) butter

1 tablespoon milk

5g (1 teaspoon) baking powder


110g (4oz) homemade raspberry jam (see recipe)

300ml (10 fl.oz) whipped cream

caster sugar to sprinkle

2 x 18cm (7 inch) sponge cake tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Grease the tine with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Chapel Window Cake

When we were little this was part of the Christmas baking tradition in our house. We gathered round the kitchen table like little birds in a nest to watch Mummy assemble it, waiting for titbits and trimmings. It’s called a Chapel Window Cake because the different colours in the cake resemble stained glass. It’s definitely a bit of a fiddle to make but the end result is worth the effort.

Serves 10–12

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

zest of 1⁄2 organic lemon

1⁄4 teaspoon pink colouring and drop of pure almond extract

25g (1oz) drinking chocolate powder

A little milk (optional)

225g (8oz) Almond Paste or Marzipan

3⁄4 pot homemade Raspberry Jam

caster sugar

three 19 x 11cm (71⁄2 x 41⁄2 in) tins, lined on the base and sides with greaseproof paper

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

Cream the butter well, add the caster sugar and whisk until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, whisking well between each addition. Then stir in the sieved flour and baking powder.

Divide the cake mixture into 3 equal parts. Flavour one part with the lemon zest, the next with almond extract and pink colouring. Stir the drinking chocolate into the last portion and add a few drops of milk if it becomes too thick.

Spoon into the prepared tins and bake for 15–20 minutes. Turn out and leave to cool on a wire rack. Remove the paper.

Meanwhile, make the almond paste and wrap in silicone paper until needed.

To assemble, trim the edges of the cakes and cut each one lengthways into three equal strips. Spread a little jam over all of the sides of each strip, a sticky business… Assemble the strips into a 3 x 3 block so that the colours are mixed up. Press all the pieces firmly together and trim the edges if necessary to ensure a uniform shape.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar on the worktop. Roll out the almond paste to a thickness of a scant 5mm (1⁄4in). Brush the base of the cake with a little more jam. Lay it on top of the almond paste. Brush the sides of the cake with a little more jam. Wrap the paste around the cake. Press the edges together to seal. Smooth the surface with a palette knife if necessary. Score the top into a diamond pattern, pinch the edges and dredge with caster sugar.

Note: if you follow the instructions above, the two ends of the cake are left un-iced, so you can see the ‘chapel window’. However, if you want to seal the cake entirely so it will keep for longer, roll out thinly an extra 110g (4oz) of almond paste and seal the ends. If you can resist, it keeps perfectly for 4–5 weeks.

Ballymaloe Spiced Beef

There are lots of recipes for spiced beef, traditionally eaten at Christmas, and many of them ‘corn’ or brine the beef first. This recipe, which has been handed down in Myrtle Allen’s family, is for dry-spiced beef. Initially, the recipe called for silverside, but I prefer to use flap (also known as flank) a less expensive cut with a little more fat. The recipe also includes saltpetre, which should only be used in moderation. If you can’t find it, just leave it out (ask your local pharmacist). The meat will be slightly greyer in colour rather than the rosy pink that comes from the saltpetre cure. The recipe below makes enough spice to cure five flanks of beef, about 1.8kg (4lb) each in size. Spiced beef keeps for immeasurably longer than ordinary cooked or roast beef. Store the spice mix in a screw-top jar. It will keep for months, so make the full quantity even if it is more than you need at a particular time. To serve, cut it into thin slices and serve in sandwiches or with freshly made salads and homemade chutneys.

Top tip: Tom Durcan in the English Market in Cork is famous for his spiced beef – also available sliced on or call 021 4279141.

Serves 12–16

1.8kg (4lb) lean flank of beef

Ballymaloe Spice for Beef

225g (8oz/1 cup) Demerara sugar

350g (12oz) salt

10g (1⁄2 oz) saltpetre (potassium nitrate)

75g (3oz) whole black pepper

75g (3oz) whole allspice (pimento, Jamaica pepper)

75g (3oz) whole juniper berries

Grind all the spice ingredients (preferably in a food-processor) until fairly fine.

Remove the bones from the flank and trim away any unnecessary fat. Rub a little spice well over the surface of the beef and into every crevice. Put into an earthenware dish and leave in a fridge or cold larder for 3–7 days, turning occasionally. (This is a dry spice, but after a day or two some liquid will come out of the meat.) The longer the meat is left in the spice, the more spicy the flavour and the longer it will last.

Just before cooking, remove the spiced beef from the earthenware dish. The salt and sugar will have extracted some liquid. Discard this spice mixture. Roll and tie the joint neatly with cotton string into a compact shape. Put it into a deep saucepan, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3–4 hours or until soft and fully cooked. If it is not to be eaten hot, then press the meat by putting it on a flat tin or into an appropriate sized bread tin and covering with a board and weight. Leave it for 12 hours in a fridge or cold larder. Spiced beef will keep for 3–4 weeks in a fridge. Serve thinly sliced with Ballymaloe Relish, Horseradish Cream or slices of ripe avocado, hazelnuts and fresh watercress leaves.

Christmas Dinner with All The Trimmings

What a rollercoaster it’s been for the past few weeks, hopes raised hopes dashed, then raised again. I eventually decided to carry on regardless and respond to reader’s requests for recipes for the traditional Christmas feast that so many happy memories are made of. This year of all years, we are nostalgic for the past and crave a comforting family Christmas.

Hopefully, your nearest and dearest will be gathered around you and our hearts go out to those who have also lost loved ones during this extraordinarily challenging year.

Here are all the favourite Christmas recipes you requested. A fine roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings, lots of gravy, roasties, Brussels sprouts and our house recipe for creamed celery (sounds so old-fashioned, there’s a ring of the Grand Hotel about it) but so good with the roast turkey particularly as it can of course be cooked several days ahead. Keep it covered in the fridge or pop into the freezer, and just reheat. Christmas is definitely a ton of work particularly for those who don’t normally spend much time in the kitchen.

So let’s make a plan so it’s easier and less stressful. I’m like a broken record about making lists. Lots of them are the way to go, allocate some fun roles to as many family as you can cajole or shame into helping but steady on, we often overestimate the amount of food we need.

If there are just two or four people, ask yourself do you really need a turkey, how about a beautiful organic chicken or a fat free-range duck. You can use the same stuffing as for the turkey or goose.

If it’s just the two of you, you may want to choose a beautiful organic chicken from Mary Regan in Enniscorthy ( or maybe try this delicious Turkey crown marinated in buttermilk, it’s juicy, tender and delicious. Half the crown will be plenty for your Christmas feast and you’ll still have lots to enjoy in your favourite turkey sandwich on Christmas evening. Could be just roasted but marinating in buttermilk is a revelation.

For me a well hung pheasant with game chips (homemade potato chips) is another of my favourite feasts. Bread sauce and Cranberry sauce are the traditional accompaniments and the buttery herb stuffing is perfect here too.

If like me, brown meat is your favourite, why not roast the turkey thighs. The drumsticks are quite sinewy in a bird that has been allowed to range freely but the flavour will be far superior to an intensively produced bird, reared in confinement. Internal temperature of legs or thighs will be 165°C (breast 105°C) when cooked, allow to rest 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

Try this Christmassy riff on Brussels sprouts – with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, and a few crunchy walnuts.

But here’s the ‘pièce de résistance’, I promised in last week’s column All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish – This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual Hunt Ball in Ballymaloe before Christmas every year. They wanted the ‘whole works’ so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated for the large gathering. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

Whenever you decide to choose, I wish you a happy, joyful and meaningful Christmas and so hope that you will be able to connect with your loved ones over the festive season, either in person or by Zoom. Good times will come again….We’ll just keep cooking and carry on!

 A special thank you to all our readers and Happy, happy Christmas.

Traditional Christmas Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

More than ever this year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all long for the comfort of familiar flavours.This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour from the fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given. However, my top tip is to brine the turkey ahead it greatly enhances the flavour, and reduces the overall cooking time.

Serves 10-12

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets

Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz/3/4 stick) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft white breadcrumbs (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, annual marjoram, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Stock – the base for a big jug of gravy

Turkey giblet, neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey

225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter

large square of muslin (optional)

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)

Traditional Bread Sauce (see recipe)


large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end. 

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2 3/4-3 1/4 hours depending on the weight and whether the turkey has been brined. Brined turkey cook considerably faster – be careful not to overcook.  There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with dampened parchment paper.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word. 

The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear.

To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear.  Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.   .

The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast

potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.

Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Basic Brine for Turkey, Chicken, Duck or Pork

Brining greatly enhances the flavour of chicken, duck or pork.  We brine whole turkeys (48 hours), chickens and ducks (5-6 hours), chicken breast (30-40 minutes depending on size).

Soak the bird or joint in a brine mixture of salt and water.  The electrically charged ions of the salt plump up the muscle fibres, allowing them to absorb water. This changes the structure of the proteins, preventing the water from escaping during cooking. In addition to keeping the meat moist, the salt intensifies flavour.

To make basic brine, mix together 40fl oz (2 pints/5 cups) water and 3 3/4oz (105g/1/4 cup) salt in a suitable size container with a cover (stainless steel, plastic or enamel are ideal). A little sugar may be added to the brine, even a few spices. Add the bird or joint, cover and chill in a refrigerator or keep in a cool place and brine for chosen time.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Cloves and Pineapple

I know this sounds a bit old hat, but of all of the glazes that I do, this is the one that I keep coming back to. Or you could just use marmalade. You’ll know when the ham is cooked when the rind comes off the fat easily. I like to buy my ham with the bone in but order a boned ham if carving becomes a challenge. Don’t forget how delicious a piece of glazed streaky bacon can be and a fraction of the price.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of sweet fat)

30 or more whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds

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

a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice from a small tin of pineapple

If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight and discard the water the next day. Cover the ham with fresh, cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty, there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water, put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of ham (usually about 4 hours, but depends on the size of the ham). When the ham is fully cooked the rind will peel off easily and the small bone at the base of the leg will feel loose.

To glaze the ham: preheat the oven to 250ºC/ 500ºF/gas mark 9.

While still warm, peel the rind from the cooked ham, score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Transfer the ham to a roasting tin just large enough to take the joint.

Spread the thick glaze over the entire surface of the ham, but not underneath. Bake it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until it has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste the ham regularly with the syrup and juices.

Then toss the pineapple slices in the glaze and arrange on top for extra glam.

Serve hot or cold with Cumberland sauce.


Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

Both of these cuts are delicious glazed as above. The latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious.

Another Glaze for Ham or Bacon

Mix together 225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) of apricot jam, 225g (8oz/1 cup) of sifted golden caster sugar, 3 tablespoons (scant 4 American tablespoons) of whole grain mustard with honey and the juice of 1 orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Ginger Glazed Ham or Bacon


5 tablespoons (6 American tablespoons) brown sugar

1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) mustard powder

1 teaspoon grated ginger

grated zest of half an organic orange

20ml (3/4fl oz/scant 1/8 cup) orange juice

Mix together the brown sugar, mustard powder, grated ginger with the zest and juice of the orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Roast Buttermilk Brined Turkey Breast

Inspired by Samin Nosrat

Serves 4-6

1 half turkey crown (breast) about 2 ½ lbs (1.1kg)

500ml (16 fl oz) buttermilk

1 ½ tbsp (33g) salt

24-48 hours before you plan to enjoy the turkey, pour the salted buttermilk into a large heavy resealable plastic bag. Put the turkey breast inside, seal carefully, expelling as much air as possible. Squish the bag a little to make sure the turkey is well covered with the buttermilk. Pop it into the fridge in a gratin dish for 24-36 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove the turkey about 2 hours before cooking, lay on a wire rack over a roasting tray to drain off the excess buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lay the rack on a baking sheet, roast until the turkey breast is fully cooked through, 40 minutes approximately for a boneless breast. It will register 150°C on a meat thermometer. Keep an eye and cover with parchment if it is browning too much.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with your favourite traditional or non-traditional accompaniments.

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. Add a spoonful of port and quarter teaspoon of finely grated orange zest for a change but I love the clean taste of the original.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

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

Serve warm or cold.

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

Note:  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Traditional Bread Sauce

I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!  Serve with roast chicken, turkey and guinea fowl.

Serves 6-8

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

75-110g (3 – 4oz) soft white breadcrumbs (see recipe)

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

35 – 50g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75-110ml (3-4 fl oz) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

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

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Taste, correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days and can be reheated, add a little extra cream or milk if it’s too thick.

Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.

Quatre Epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

Roast Potatoes

A big roasting tin of crusty roast potatoes always invokes a positive response. Everyone loves them. They are easy to achieve but I still get asked over and over for the secret of crunchy golden roasties. So here are my top tips:

•        Grow or seek out good-quality dry, floury potatoes such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks. New potatoes do not produce good roast potatoes.

•        For best results, peel the potatoes just before roasting. Resist the temptation to soak them in water, or understandably they will be soggy, due to the water they absorb. This has become common practice when people want to prepare

ahead, not just for roasting, but also before boiling.

•        After peeling, dry the potatoes meticulously with a tea-towel or kitchen paper. Otherwise, even when tossed in fat or oil, they will stick to the roasting tin. Consequently, when you turn them over as you will need to do halfway through the cooking, the crispy bit underneath will stick to the tin.

•        If you wish to prepare potatoes ahead, there are two options. Peel and dry each potato carefully, toss in extra virgin olive oil or fat of your choice, put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Alternatively, put into a plastic bag, twist the end, and refrigerate until needed. They will keep for 5 or 6 hours or overnight without discolouring.

Roast potatoes may be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, top-quality sunflower oil, duck fat, goose fat, pork fat (lard) or beef dripping. Each gives a delicious but different flavour. Depending on the flavour and texture you like, choose from the following cooking methods:

1       Toss the potatoes in the chosen fat and cook.

2       If you prefer a crunchier crust, put the peeled potatoes into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2–4 minutes only and drain. Dry each blanched potato and score the surface of each one with a fork. Then toss in the chosen oil or fat, season with salt and cook in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan in a preheated oven at 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

3       Drain the blanched potatoes, then put the saucepan with the potatoes inside over a medium heat, and shake the pot to dry the potatoes and fluff the blanched surface. Toss in your chosen oil or fat, season with salt and roast as above.

Note: some cooks, to create an even crunchier crust, like to toss the potatoes in a little flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika.


Rustic Roast Potatoes

For a more nutritious rustic roast potato, scrub the potato well, cut the unpeeled potatoes into wedges, toss in olive oil, dripping or duck or goose fat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook until soft in the centre and crusty on the outside, about 20–30 minutes.

Pan Roasted Parsnips

I have a real passion for pan roasted parsnips – we eat them three or four times a week during the parsnip season.  Buy them unwashed if possible. Roast Jerusalem artichokes are also super delicious. Scrub, no need to peel, half and cook in the same way.

Serves 6-8

4 parsnips

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the parsnips, peel and cut them into quarters – the chunks should be quite large. Roast in olive oil in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, turning them frequently so that they do not become too crusty. We often roast them in the same pan as Rustic Roast Potatoes, see recipe. Cooked this way they will be crisp outside and soft in the centre.

Best Brussels Sprouts Ever

Not surprisingly many people loathe Brussels sprouts because so often they are over cooked.

The traditional way to cook sprouts was to cut a cross in the stalk so that they would, hopefully, cook more evenly. Fortunately I discovered quite by accident when I was in a mad rush one day, that if you cut the sprouts in half lengthways, or better still quarters, they cook much faster and taste infinitely more delicious so with this recipe I’ve managed to convert many ardent brussels sprout haters!

Top tip: they can be blanched, refreshed and drained and refrigerated the day before.

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, (cut lengthways top to bottom)

600ml (1 pint) water 

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose even medium sized sprouts. Trim the outer leaves if necessary and cut them in half or quarters lengthways – cut into quarters if they are very large. Salt the water (its really important to add enough salt) and bring to a fast rolling boil. Toss in the sprouts, cover the saucepan just for a minute until the water returns to the boil, then uncover and continue for 5 or 6 minutes or until the sprouts are cooked through but still have a slight bite. Drain very well.

Melt a little butter or extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, roll the sprouts gently in the butter, season with lots of freshly ground pepper and salt. Taste and serve immediately in a hot serving dish.

Note * If the sprouts are not to be served immediately, drain and refresh them under cold water just as soon as they are cooked. Just before serving, drop them into boiling salted water for a few seconds to heat through. Drain and toss in the butter, season and serve. This way they will taste almost as good as if they were freshly cooked: certainly much more delicious than sprouts kept warm for half an hour in an oven or a hostess trolley.

Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds and Walnuts

Cook the sprouts in the usual way.  Meanwhile melt 25-50g butter in a frying pan, toss in about 25g (1oz) coarsely chopped walnuts. As soon as the sprouts are cooked, drain and toss in the walnut butter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a little chopped parsley and serve.

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Crispy Bacon or Chorizo

Add 2-4oz (50-110g) of crispy bacon lardons or chorizo and 50g (2oz) of toasted and chopped hazelnuts to the above recipe and serve immediately.

Retro Celery

How retro does creamed celery sound but it’s really delicious and a much loved part of our Christmas dinner. It can also be cooked ahead and reheated. Florence fennel also tastes good cooked this way.

Serves 4 – 6

1 head of celery

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

4-6fl oz (120-175ml) cream or creamy milk


chopped parsley

Pull the stalks off the head of celery. If the outer stalks seems a bit tough, peel the outer strings off with a swivel top peeler or else use these tougher stalks in the stockpot. Cut the stalks into 1 inch (2.5cm) chunks.

Bring 1/4 pint of water to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped celery, cook gently for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until a knife will go through with ease. Remove celery to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. Thicken the remaining liquid with the roux, add the enough cream to make sufficient sauce to coat the celery. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, pour over celery, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate when cool and reheat later.

Get Ahead of Christmas..

My heart goes out to all who are hoping against hope that travel restrictions will be lifted so children, grandchildren and dear friends can make it home for Christmas. We’re all craving a time when we can sit round the kitchen table together and enjoy a meal and maybe a little singsong without worrying about social distancing. It truly is heart breaking…..

So let’s keep positive and try to focus on happier times. None of us can predict what’s ahead so let’s plan regardless. Pour yourself a glass of something delicious to sip on, make a soothing pot of tea. Grab a pad and write some lists, plan a week of delicious Christmas meals and treats. Then tick off what can be made ahead and frozen or pickled, so if all goes well you can spend as much precious time with the loved ones you’ve been yearning to see.

In the worst case scenario, you can enjoy some delicious comforting food after Christmas. There are so many good things that can be happily be made ahead without suffering in any way. I’ll be making lots of soups and freezing them in recycled containers. Quarter, half and one litre milk cartons work brilliantly, stack neatly in the freezer and can be defrosted quickly. I’m loving root vegetable soups at present. Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil costs just pennies to make. I’m also loving Jerusalem Artichoke soup with Avocado and Crispy Croutons, Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup……Curried Parsnip Soup is a favourite as is the combination of Parsnip and Fennel Soup.

Recipes for both Bread Stuffing and Potato Stuffing freeze perfectly and will be brilliant to stuff a chicken, pheasant, turkey, goose and duck. Apple sauce and Red Cabbage complete that meal but the pièce de résistance is this All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish – This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual ball in Ballymaloe every year before Christmas. They wanted the whole works so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

You’ll need something fresh tasting to flit across the tongue after that deeply satisfying meal. Who wouldn’t love a clean and fresh tasting citrusy Tangerine Sorbet or Compote of Pears with Saffron to round off a Christmas feast.

Have a wonderful joyful Christmas counting our blessings.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

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


fried diced bacon

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. 

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

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) butter

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.


freshly chopped parsley

crisp, golden croutons

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

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.

Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup

Serves 6

425g (15oz) celeriac, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

150g (5oz) potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

40-50g (1 1/2-2oz) butter

1.1L homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

100-225ml (3 1/2 – 8fl oz) creamy milk (optional)


2 tablespoons hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped

a few tablespoons whipped cream

sprigs of chervil or flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; when it foams, add the potatoes, onions and celeriac and toss them in the butter until evenly coated.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid, and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.  Discard the paper lid.  Add the hot chicken stock and cook until the celeriac is soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Liquidize the soup; add a little more stock or creamy milk to thin to the required consistency.  Taste and correct seasoning.

To prepare the hazelnuts: Put the hazelnuts into an oven, 200°C/gas mark 6, on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes or until the skins loosen.  Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts in the corner of a tea towel.  If they are not sufficiently toasted, return them to the oven until they become golden brown.  Chop and keep aside to garnish.

Serve the soup piping hot with a little blob of whipped cream on top.  Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chervil or flat parsley.

Curried Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Crisps

A fantastic recipe which transforms parsnip soup to a gourmet meal.

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) chopped onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

375g (13oz) parsnip, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 – 1 teaspoon curry powder

1.1L (2 pint) chicken stock or vegetable stock

150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk


crispy croutons or parsnip crisps (see below)

snipped chives or parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onion, garlic and parsnip, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss until well coated.  Cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour and curry powder and gradually incorporate the hot chicken stock.  Simmer with the lid on until the parsnip is fully cooked, liquidize, taste and correct the seasoning, add creamy milk to taste (the soup should not be too thick).   Serve with crispy croutons and sprinkle with finely chopped chives or parsley. 

Parsnip Crisps

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip

sunflower oil


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

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

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

Fresh Herb Stuffing

This quantity is for a 12lb turkey or 3 chickens, pheasant or guinea fowl.

170g (6ozs) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16ozs) approx. soft breadcrumbs made from good bread.  (check that the bread is non GM) (or approximately 1lb 4ozs of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., on a low heat, then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end, or you may decide to do a different stuffing.  Either way tuck the remaining neck flap underneath the bird and secure with the wing tip.

 Traditional Potato Stuffing (for goose or duck)

25g (1 oz) butter

150g (5oz) chopped onions

150g (5oz) cooking apples e.g. Bramley Seedling, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

300g (10oz) potatoes

1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind

salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice.  Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy.  Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture.  Add the orange rind and seasoning.  Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the turkey.

Bramley Apple Sauce

Make ahead and freeze in tubs to serve with Roast Duck, Goose or Pork.

1 lb (450g) cooking apples, (Bramley Seedling)

1-2 dessertspoons water

2 ozs (50g) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast iron saucepan, with the sugar and water, cover and put over a low heat, as soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness.  Serve warm.

Red Cabbage

Serves 8 – 10

1 lb (450g) red cabbage (Red Drummond if possible)

1 lb (450g) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling)

1 tablespoon approx. wine vinegar

4 fl ozs (120ml) water

1 level teaspoon salt

2 heaped tablespoons approx. sugar

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine and clean it if necessary. Cut in quarter, remove the core and slice the cabbage finely across the grain. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a cast iron casserole or stainless steel saucepan. Add the cabbage and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters (no smaller). Lay them on top of the cabbage, cover and continue to cook gently until the cabbage is tender, 30-50 minutes approx. Do not overcook or the colour and flavour will be ruined. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar if necessary.

Serve in a warm serving dish.

Note: Some varieties of red cabbage are quite tough and don’t seem to soften much, even with prolonged cooking. Our favourite variety, Red Drummond, gives best results.

United Hunt Turkey

A Christmas Dinner on a Platter 

Serves 30

1 x 12-14 lbs (5.5-6.5kg) free range turkey, preferably a bronze turkey

1 x 8-10 lbs (3.4-4.5kg) ham or loin of bacon, (unsmoked, soaked overnight in cold water if salty)

chicken or turkey stock

dry white wine

2 carrots

1 large sliced onion

2 sticks celery

bouquet garni

a few peppercorns

50g (2oz) chopped parsley

2 tablespoons other fresh herbs, eg. tarragon, thyme, chives, lemon balm

3-4 egg yolks

600ml (1 pint) cream

85g (3oz) roux

Duchesse potato made with 5.5-6.5kg (12-14lb) potato, for piping around the dishes

Mushroom with fresh herbs and cream

85-100g (3-4oz) butter

1.2kg (2½lb) sliced mushrooms

180 ml (6fl.oz) cream

4 tablesp. fresh herbs, eg. parsley, thyme, chives

425g (15oz) onions, finely chopped

Roux as needed (equal quantities of melted butter and flour cooked together for 2 – 3 mins)

lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 – 4 serving platters

Cover the ham with cold water, bring it slowly to the boil and discard the water, cover again with hot water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the ham is cooked, 2½ hours approx. (calculate 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) as a rough guide). The skin will peel off easily when the ham is cooked.

Meanwhile, season the turkey and put it into a large saucepan with about 12.5-15cm (5-6 inches) of water or chicken stock and white wine.  Add 1 large sliced onion, 2 sticks of celery, 2 large carrots cut in chunks, a bouquet garni and a few black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, cover closely and simmer for 2 hours approx. either on top of the stove or in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

While the turkey and ham are cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a wide heavy bottomed saucepan.  When it sizzles add the chopped onions, cover and sweat over a low heat until soft but not coloured. Meanwhile in a hot frying pan, fry off the mushrooms a few at the time in a little butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add them to the softened onions. Add more butter if necessary, but never too much, add the freshly chopped herbs, cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for seasoning. Bring to the boil and thicken with enough roux to thicken lightly. Set the mushroom a la crémè aside until you are ready to assemble the dish.

When the turkey is cooked the legs will feel loose in their sockets, remove it from the casserole and de-grease the cooking  liquid. Bring it to the boil and reduce by half. Add 300-450ml (10-15fl.oz) cream, I know that sounds shocking but this recipe makes 30 helpings and you are not going to eat it all yourself!  Bring back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency with roux. Taste for seasoning.

Skin the turkey, the skin from a poached turkey is soft rather than crisp, so I don’t use it in this dish. Chop up the brown turkey meat from the legs and the white meat from the wings into smallish pieces and mix with the mushroom a la créme. Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 dessertspoon thyme, chives and lemon balm if available.

Spread a layer of the creamy sauce on the serving dishes. Carve a nice slice of bacon or ham for each serving and place at regular intervals on top of the sauce. Spoon some of the brown meat and mushroom mixture on top. Carve the turkey breast into thin slices and place 1 slice per serving on top of the mushrooms and ham, making individual complete sandwiches.

Whisk 3-4 egg yolks with 150ml (5fl.oz) cream to make a liaison, blend well and stir this into the remainder of the cream sauce. (It should be a coating consistency.) Coat the pieces of turkey with this sauce.  Cool and refrigerate.   If serving on the day, pipe a generous border of Duchesse potato all around the edge of the dishes. Cool the dishes quickly, cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Reheat in a moderate oven 180C-190C/350-375F/regulo 4-5, for 30 minutes approx. until it is bubbling and golden on top. If necessary, flash under the grill to brown the edges of the Duchesse potato.

Garnish with generous sprigs of flat leaf resh parsley and serve.

Top Tip:

If freezing the dishes with a potato border around the edge, freeze first and then cover tightly with strong cling film to prevent the potato from getting squashed.

However, for best results, freeze without the potato, but pipe it on just before reheating.


110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

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

Duchesse Potato

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

300ml (10fl ozs) creamy milk

1-2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk

25-50g (1-2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a generous pinch of salt, bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, put through a ricer or mouli legume while hot. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz//1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Beat the eggs into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the Duchesse potato will be lumpy and gluey. If you only have egg whites they will be fine and will make a deliciously light mashed potato also.

Tangerine Sorbet

The quantity of ice below is enough to fill 10-18 tangerine shells. Clementines, mandarins or satsumas may also be used in this recipe – Deliciously refreshing after a rich Christmas feast.

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


175g (6oz) sugar

juice of 1/4 lemon

150ml (5fl oz) water

20-28 tangerines

juice of 1/2 lemon

icing sugar (optional)


Lemon Verbena or bay leaves

First make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool. Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines, and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and them press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidize the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) juice. Add the grated zest, the lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm.

Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer, fill them with the frozen water ice. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day. Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

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

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

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

Pears Poached in a Saffron Syrup

This delicious compote will keep for 1 ½ to 2 weeks in a covered container in your fridge. Serve icy cold….

Serves 4

200 g (7oz) sugar

450ml (15fl oz) water

6 whole cardamom pods

1/4 teaspoon good quality saffron (the threads)

45 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 firm pears

Put the sugar, water, lightly crushed cardamom pods, saffron and lemon juice into a shallow, wide pan: we use a stainless steel sauté pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile peel the pears, half and core them. As you cut them put then into the simmering syrup cut side uppermost.

Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the pan, cook gently for 20-30 minutes, spooning the syrup over them every now and then. Carefully take the pears out and arrange them in a serving dish in a single layer, cut side downwards. Pour the syrup over the pears or reduce first (see below). Serve chilled with some of the juice.

This compote keeps for several weeks covered in the fridge.

Tip: For a most concentrated flavour the syrup may be reduced a little after the pears have been removed to a serving dish. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the syrup will caramelize.


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