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Guest Chef Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes

We were all super excited at Ballymaloe Cookery School this week, we’ve just had our first guest chef for almost two years.

Claire Ptak from Violet Cakes and Café on London’s Wilton Way taught a sparkling class for the current 12 Week Course students and it was beamed out to her many fans all over the world on Ballymaloe Cookery School Online.

Claire, who comes from California, started her career on a market stall in Broadway Market in Hackney. This was in 2005, soon she became known as the Cupcake Queen. People flocked to buy her adorable mini cupcakes in many flavours, made with beautiful, mostly organic ingredients. All were cooked in her tiny home kitchen but in 2010 Violet Bakery and Café was born. Claire baked a range of beautiful cakes with exquisitely pure ingredients, best Madagascar vanilla pods, pure cane molasses, Valrhona chocolate and limited-edition buttercream flavoured with freshly brewed espresso, homemade fruit cordials and dark caramel with sea salt. The flavours of the cakes reflect the season.  She constantly experiments with flavour combinations as new foods become available.

Claire has a very unique flamboyant icing style which looks effortlessly rustic but is quite difficult to achieve. She is the acknowledged master of the delicious ‘imperfect cake’ – no fondant icing here…!

Claire didn’t just ‘pop-up’. She’s been obsessed with baking since she was little, she had her first holiday job at a local bakery in Point Reyes in California when she was just 14.  Some years later, when Alice Waters tasted her baking, she offered her a job on the spot and so Claire became pastry chef at the iconic Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.  Here, she was intrigued by the variety of exquisite seasonal berries and peaches, five different types of limes, and the nuanced flavours that influenced the food.

Word of the flavour of Claire’s cakes and café food spread around London like wildfire. She developed a cult following but it wasn’t until she was chosen to make Harry and Meaghan’s cake that her fame went global.

Claire introduced us to several new ingredients in her class.  She used blonde chocolate from Valrhona to make her Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies – it tastes like caramelised white chocolate – a new flavour for me but destined to become a new favourite…

She loves to use spelt and kamut flour and dark brown sugar for some of her cakes and is really into sheet pan cakes at present. Sheet pan cakes are made in a rectangular tin with approx. 5cm (2 inch) and are brilliant for portioning and icing. Try this bubble cake that blew everyone away at the class. The Roast Quince and Mascarpone Cake took quite a bit of making but was so worth the effort for a really special cake. You’ll also love the Autumn Carrot Cake with prunes and walnuts and the killer Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies.

If you’d like to watch Claire’s class, you can sign up on the website to view the recording via ballymaloecookeryschool.online or call the Cookery School on 021 4646785 for more information.

Meanwhile, check out Violet Cakes on Instagram – @violetcakeslondon

Chocolate Bubble Cake

Makes one layer 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch) deep rectangular cake tin.

Serves 20-24

For the cake

330g (generous 11 1/2oz) plain flour

150g (5oz) cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 1/4 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

520g (scant 1.1lbs approx.) caster sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

300g (10oz) plain yoghurt

150g (5oz) vegetable oil

340g (scant 12oz) hot water

For the marshmallow icing

5 egg whites (200g/7oz)

340g (scant 12oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) golden syrup

a pinch of fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


gold leaf (optional)

fresh flower petals for example Marigolds and/or Johnny Jump Ups

Preheat the oven to 160˚C/320˚F/Gas Mark 3/ (Fan – 140˚C/275˚F/Gas Mark 1). Butter and line your cake tin with enough greaseproof paper to come up the sides of the tin, this will help to remove the cake later.

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

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water).

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Don’t switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps. Gradually whisk together until you have a smooth but thick batter.

Whisk in the hot water until smooth.

Pour the batter into your pan right away and bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin.

Once the cake has cooled, prepare the marshmallow. Have ready your mixer with a whisk attachment.

Measure all of the ingredients into a metal bowl and place over a saucepan of boiling water (do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will cook the egg whites). Whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is very warm to the touch. Use a thermometer and whisk continuously until it reads 72°C or 70°C (162˚F or 158˚F) for two minutes, whichever comes first. Transfer the mix into the bowl of your electric mixer and whisk on high speed until nearly stiff peaks form.

Put the icing into a piping bag with a large round nozzle and pipe 20-24 big bubbles in rows over the top of the cooled cake. Use a tiny sieve to dust a strip of cocoa powder lengthwise across the cake.  Decorate with flakes of gold leaf and a scattering of fresh flower petals.

Quince and Mascarpone Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream

All Claire’s cakes at Violet are based on the seasons, this luscious confection could also be served as a dessert.

Serves 12-14

For the Roasted Quince

2 quinces

150g (5oz) sugar

4 tablespoons water

100g (3 1/2oz) fresh orange juice

peel from 2 oranges

8 cardamom pods, pounded open to release the black seeds

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, scraped

For the Sponge

500g (18oz) caster sugar     

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, softened   

100g (3 1/2oz) sunflower oil/vegetable oil   

4 eggs (240g/8 1/2oz in weight)  

320g (generous 11 1/2oz) milk    

1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

500g (18oz) plain flour        

1 tablespoon baking powder        

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

For the Mascarpone Filling

400g (14oz) mascarpone cheese

200g (7fl oz) double cream

60g (2 1/2oz) icing sugar, sifted

For the Buttercream (can be frozen)

1 vanilla bean

9 egg whites (350g/12oz in weight)

600g (1 1/4lbs) dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

900g (2lbs) unsalted butter

3 x 23cm (9 inch) cake tins

Preheat the oven to 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7.

Peel the quince and cut them into wedges by cutting them in half from top to tail and then cutting each half into three. Spread the wedges out in a single layer in a large, heavy-bottomed gratin or roasting dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and cover with water and orange juice. Add the zest, cardamom seeds and pods, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Toss all the ingredients together in the roasting tin to make sure the quince is nicely coated in the spices. Cover tightly with a lid or upturned tin.  Roast in the preheated oven for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until a deep pinky-orange and tender to the touch. If it’s still firm, leave it in a little longer. Cool completely in the tin.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150˚C/300˚/Gas Mark 2). Grease and line three 23cm (9 inch) cake tins.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time until combined.

In a jug weigh out milk and vanilla and set aside. Add half of the dry flour mix to the butter mix and combine. Then add half of the milk mixture, mix well, scrape down thoroughly. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix. Add the remaining milk mixture and combine.

Divide the batter between the cake tins.  Tap gently on the worktop to release the air bubbles and bake for 25-28 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the cake is baking, make the mascarpone filling. Whisk all the ingredients together until fluffy, being careful not to overmix. Keep this in the fridge until ready to use.

Next prepare your icing.

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft and pale, set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, sugar and salt over a bain-marie until the sugar is dissolved, the mixture is frothy and it reaches 75°C/167˚F.

Fit the bowl to your mixer and whisk until cool and peaks form. Add the soft butter in batches, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk until smooth, it may break but it will come together again, whisk until stiff.

Once the cakes are completely cool you can begin to assemble the cake. Use a paring knife to remove the core of the quince and thinly slice the quince. Line a deep 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with parchment paper, place one layer of sponge inside the lined tin and drizzle with some of the sieved roasting liquid from the quinces.  With a round nozzle, pipe a ring of Swiss meringue buttercream around the edge of the cake and then Put a thin layer of the sliced roasted quince within the centre. Spoon half the mascarpone filling over the cake. Repeat with the second layer of sponge, border of icing, fruit and mascarpone.

Place the final layer of cake into the tin and bring the sides of the parchment paper up. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour, this will make it much easier to ice.

Remove the cake from the fridge and place on to a plate or stand and ice the top and sides with the rest of your Swiss meringue buttercream. Chill or serve right away.

Autumn Carrot Cake with Prunes and Walnuts

A delicious riff on the usual carrot cake.

1 Sheet Cake – serves 12

For the cake

4 eggs, separated plus 1 whole egg

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted butter, softened

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (18oz) grated carrots (700g/1 1/2lbs before peeling)

150g (5oz) walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

150g (5oz) Armagnac-soaked prunes, turn into quarters

zest of 1 orange

315g (10 1/2oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Ras el Hanout

For the frosting

375g (13oz) unsalted butter, softened

600g (1 1/4lbs) cream cheese, brought to room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

200g (7oz) icing sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 walnuts for decoration (untoasted)

Butter and line a deep baking tin (24cm x 32cm/9 1/2 x 11 3/4 inch) and heat the oven to 170°C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 (Fan – 150°C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2).

Separate your eggs. Put the whites aside to whip up later with the 100g (3 1/2oz) of caster sugar.

In another bowl, add the yolks, whole egg, brown sugar, soft butter, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk well together and to this add your grated carrots, toasted chopped walnuts, torn prunes and orange zest. Mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.

In a large bowl, weigh out the remaining dry ingredients and whisk them together well. To this add your wet mixture. Mix together well.

Finally whip your egg whites with the caster sugar into lovely soft peaks. Fold this mixture into the cake mixture until fully combined. Spoon into your prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake has some spring. Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.

To make the icing, whip together the very soft butter and cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffy.    Cover the cake with the frosting. Decorate with grated walnuts.  Alternatively, with a sharp serrated knife, slice the cake into 12 squares before frosting and pipe a wiggle of cream cheese icing diagonally with a petal tip or your favourite nozzle.  Then grate a little fresh walnut over the top with a fine microplane zester.  Serve on flatted cupcake cases if desired. 

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

Crisp outside, gooey inside…these might just be the ultimate choc chip cookies – plus they can be cooked from frozen.

Makes 21

200g (7oz) light brown sugar

150g (5oz) caster sugar

350g (12oz) plain flour

100g (3 1/2oz) cocoa powder (Dutch)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

250g (9oz) unsalted butter, soft

350g (12oz) blonde (caramelised white chocolate)

OR USE 180g (6 1/4oz) blonde Valrhona chocolate (caramelised white chocolate) or white chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)  

AND 180g (6 1/4oz) milk chocolate (Valrhona is our favourite)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Maldon sea salt for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 (Fan – 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3).

Combine the dry ingredients in your mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment fitted, don’t overmix.

Add the soft butter and mix until a sandy texture forms.

Add the chocolate discs, eggs and vanilla extract and mix until a dough forms.

Use a cookie scoop to scoop the dough into balls.

You can bake right away or from frozen.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Arrange just 6 cookies on the tray to allow them to spread during cooking.  Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, tapping the tray on the oven rack twice during the baking time. This helps the cookie to flatten and the chocolate to spread, whilst remaining gooey in the middle.  Leave to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve chocolate chip cookies warm or a room temperature

Note: Uncooked dough keeps for up to 3 months in the freezer.

Food On The Edge

Recently, I spent an amazing two days at Food On The Edge, meeting and listening to an inspirational group of chefs, food activists, artisan bakers, millers, heirloom seed producers, food archaeologists and leading thinkers chosen for their passion and drive and their ability to inspire chefs around the world.  The theme this year was Social Gastronomy. 

Some speakers like Bill Schindler, Arlene Stein from Canada, Gísli Matt from Iceland, Petra and Paul Moinea from Romania and Anissa Helou were present in person.  Others like Bertrand Grébaut and Théophile Pourriat flew in from Septime in Paris to deliver their presentations while others like Alice Waters from Chez Panisse delivered their fifteen-minute talk virtually from San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ghana, India, Peru and London…The Happy Pear twins, Stephen and David Flynn were there, exuding energy as ever, living examples of the benefits of eating real food and living the good life, while spreading the message of a plant-based diet. 

The seventh edition of FOTE, the brainchild of Michelin chef, JP McMahon was appropriately held at Airfield Estate, a working urban farm of 38 acres in Dundrum.  A superb educational facility with a mission ‘to inspire and enable people to make food choices that benefit people, planet and pockets’.  Much of the delicious food for the event came directly from the farm and gardens and was curated by Luke Matthews in conjunction with Gather and Gather.

Virtually all the speakers referred to the lessons learnt during the Pandemic by a sector that hitherto considered itself to be ‘unshakeable’.  There was a realisation that much of the current staff shortage crisis had been brought on by the industry itself over many years of unacceptable kitchen culture and poor conditions.   A chastened industry is now determined to create optimum working conditions for our ‘second family’, so they feel valued and fulfilled!  ‘The job must be rebooted – it’s all about the team’.  Other speakers shone a light on the challenges for women chefs, the ‘Me Too’ movement and LGBT issues.

There was an emphasis on sharing and exchanging knowledge.  Chefs were also focusing on reducing food waste in restaurant kitchens.  Joshua Evans of the Novel Fermentations Research Group and senior researcher at the Danish Technical University’s Center for Biosustainability in Copenhagen urged chefs to be leaders and rethink waste – ‘No such thing as waste, just another product’.  Joshua, along with his colleagues at The Nordic Food Lab has spent years researching and relearning and experimenting with fermentation techniques, preserving and enhancing the nutrient value of what many would hitherto consider to be waste food. 

Incorporating wild foraged and fermented foods into menu’s is an exciting ‘new’ area for a growing number of cool chefs. 

Ellie Kisyombe and Michelle Darmody who created the ‘My Table’ project where refugees and asylum seekers can cook and share their food, focused on the importance of creating cooking facilities in direct provision centres so residents can cook their indigenous food for their children and themselves.  Dee Laffan, Mei Chin and Blanca Valencia of ‘Spice Bags’ also highlighted the not to be missed opportunity for the sharing of food cultures with the ‘new Irish’ and the conditions needed for that to become a reality.

Several other speakers including myself focused on the vital importance of teaching children to cook from an early age so they experience the joy of delicious food and are equipped with the practical life skills to feed themselves properly.

Others like Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills in South Carolina were making valiant efforts to recover heirloom and landrace varieties of grains and seeds that withstand the rapidly changing conditions as climate change accelerates. 

There was so much more – 40 speakers in total, all the presentations will be online shortly – https://foodontheedge.ie/

Baked Goat Cheese with Garden Salad

This recipe has stood the test of time – it’s been on the menu at Chez Panisse since it opened and comes from ‘Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook’ published by Random House Inc. now a collector’s item.

Serves 4

3-4 x 6cm (2 1/2 inch) rounds of fresh goat’s cheese, each about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick

175ml (6fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried thyme

110g (4oz) approx. fine dry breadcrumbs

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

16 garlic croutons

about 4 handfuls garden lettuces (rocket, lamb’s lettuce, small oak leaf and red leaf lettuces, chervil)

Marinate the goat cheese in 50ml (2fl oz) of the extra virgin olive oil with the sprigs of fresh thyme for 24 hours.  Mix the dried thyme with the breadcrumbs.

Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking the remaining olive oil into 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar until the vinaigrette is balanced and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Wash and dry the lettuces.  Make the garlic croutons.

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

To bake the goat cheese, remove from the olive oil marinade and then dip them in the breadcrumbs.  Put the cheese on a lightly oiled baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is lightly bubbling and golden brown.

Meanwhile, toss the lettuces with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat them and arrange them on round plates.  Place the cheese in the centre of the plates with the browner side up and arrange the croutons around the cheese.

Garlic Croutons

1 baguette cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices

50ml (2fl oz) melted butter

2-3 cloves of garlic

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

To prepare the croutons, brush each slice of baguette with melted butter and bake in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes until the croutons are light golden brown.  Rub each crouton with a cut clove of garlic while they are still warm. 

Crab with Smoked Cheese Custard

Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon

Serves 4

250g (9oz) crabmeat

extra virgin rapeseed oil

zest and juice of 1 lemon

sea salt

For the Cheese Custard

150ml (5fl oz) double cream

150ml (5fl oz) milk

100g (3 1/2oz) Irish smoked cheese, grated

4 egg yolks

chopped chives and seaweed powder, to garnish (optional)

To make the custard, add the cream, milk and cheese to a medium pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a separate medium pan of water to the boil.

Add the egg yolks to a large heatproof bowl and gradually pour the hot cream mixture over the eggs, whisking all the time to avoid scrambling.  Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and cook for about 20 minutes until the custard thickens.

Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.  Season to taste.

Pick through the crabmeat for shell and season with the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt.  Place the crab in the bottom of four bowls and pour the custard over the top.  Refrigerate for 2 hours until set.

Serve garnished with chopped chives and seaweed powder if you wish.

Squash and Oyster Mushrooms

Recipe taken from The Irish Cook Book By JP McMahon published by Phaidon

Serves 4

2 small pumpkins or butternut squash

rapeseed oil

a few sprigs of thyme

150g (5oz) oyster mushrooms, thickly sliced and scored

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

edible flowers and fresh herbs such as parsley, fennel, sage or thyme, to serve (optional)

sea salt

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

Halve the squash horizontally and scoop out the seeds.  In a roasting pan, coat the squash with oil, season with salt and add the thyme. Put into the preheated oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a frying pan (skillet) over a medium heat and fry the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Add the butter towards the end of the cooking time and finish with parsley.  Place the mushrooms in the centre of each piece of squash.  Garnish with some fresh herbs and serve.

Vietnamese Coconut and Tempeh Curry

Taken from The Happy Health Plan by David & Stephen Flynn published by Penguin Life

This is a deliciously simple curry!  Tempeh is a fermented soy bean block, originally from Indonesia.  We know it’s not a very appealing description, but when prepared right, this dish is packed with flavour and really filling.  Tempeh is not as readily available as tofu, but it can be found in most good health stores.  If you can’t find it, just replace it with tofu.  We like to serve this curry with short-grain brown rice.

Serves 4

300g (10oz) sweet potatoes

400g (14oz) potatoes

1 teaspoon salt

a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger

220ml (scant 8fl oz) full-fat coconut milk

400ml (14fl oz) water

juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

2 tablespoons curry powder

4 tablespoons tamari/soy sauce (make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce if you need to avoid gluten)

1 x 300g (10oz) pack of tempeh (if not available, substitute firm tofu/oyster mushrooms)

1/2 a head of pak choi

ground black pepper  

To Serve

a small bunch of spring onions/scallions (green part only)

a bunch of fresh coriander

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6 (180˚C fan)

Chop the sweet potatoes and regular potatoes into bite-size pieces (leaving the skin on).  Put on a baking tray with a generous pinch of salt, mix well and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.  Peel and finely dice the ginger.

To make the dressing, put the coconut milk, water, ginger, lime juice, maple syrup, curry powder and tamari/soy sauce into a blender and whizz until smooth.

Cut the tempeh/tofu into small cubes (around 1 1/2cm/2/3 inch) – the smaller they are, the more flavour each piece will have.  Put on a baking tray and dress with about half the dressing.  It’s important to mix the tempeh and the sauce well, to make sure each piece is full of flavour, and also to make sure that the tempeh is well spread out on the baking tray.  Put into the oven alongside the potatoes and bake for 20 minutes.  After 10 minutes, stir the tempeh to ensure that the dressing is well distributed.

Meanwhile, pour the other half of the dressing into a large pan – this will become the sauce for the dish, along with any remaining sauce from the baked tempeh.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer.

Once the tempeh and potatoes are done, transfer them into the pan of simmering sauce and mix well.  Finely chop the pak choi, removing the rub at the end, and add to the pan.

Remove from the heat, taste and season.  Finely slice the spring onions/scallions (make sure you just use the green tops) and fresh coriander and sprinkle them over the dish when serving.   

Heavenly Coconut Bars

Taken from The Happy Pear, Recipes for Happiness by David & Stephen Flynn published by Penguin Ireland

Growing up, Bounty Bars were always Dave’s favourite chocolate bars, so it was important that we created something equally delicious!  These are really easy to make, and as they are dairy and gluten-free, they’re perfect for everyone.  This recipe makes about 18 small bars, which might seem like a lot, but you’ll be surprised how quickly they disappear!

Makes 18 small bars

3 tablespoons coconut oil

4 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g (7oz) desiccated coconut

75g (3oz) ground almonds

a small pinch of sea salt

250g – 300g (9-10oz) dark chocolate

Put a medium-size saucepan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Heat until the coconut oil has melted, ensuring the liquid does not boil.

Put the desiccated coconut, ground almonds and salt into a mixing bowl and mix well.  Once the coconut oil has melted, add the heated liquid to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

Place some baking parchment on a baking tray and spread the coconut mixture over it.  Shape the mixture into a square shape roughly 20cm x 20cm x 2 1/2cm thick (8 inch x 8 inch x 1 inch thick).

Place the baking tray in the freezer for 20 minutes, for the mixture to harden.  After 20 minutes, the coconut bars should be firm enough to cut into sold bar shapes.  You should get about 18 small bars.

Next place the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and melt it over a saucepan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally until it fully melts.  Remove from the heat.

We have found the best way to cover the coconut bars with chocolate is to place a bar on a palette knife or large knife and pour the chocolate over the bar with a spoon or ladle until fully coated.  Try to avoid dropping the coconut bars into the chocolate, as they will melt and make your chocolate lumpy with coconut.  Put a little chocolate on the bottom, repeat and leave to harden.  If you want ridged lines on the top of the bars, use a fork when the chocolate is still soft.  It will most likely take a few goes to get this right, but it is fun to practice!

Place the now coated bars on fresh parchment paper on a baking tray and pop them into the fridge for 10-15 minutes, to allow the chocolate to cool and harden.  

Scary Halloween

Wow, Halloween is back with a vengeance this year. Now that restrictions have eased, much of that pent up excitement can be channelled into Halloween celebrations and rowdy trick or treating.

I’ve come full circle, from memories of childhood Halloweens with neighbours recounting ghost spooky stories, scaring the living daylights out of us children with ‘true stories’ of banshees waiting in graveyards and haunted houses to resentment of corporate marketing and the commercialisation of Halloween on a par with Christmas.

But, I’ve decided to lighten up and enter into the spooky spirit with the enthusiastic help of my grandchildren.  Who can resist the excitement of the little dotes who have been decorating their houses and planning their costumes for weeks, no longer having to suppress the glee, so I too have embrace the whacky bandwagon…while quietly doing my utmost to suggest riffs on delicious recipes with a spooky Halloween slant, so embrace your inner ghoul and let’s have a wild Halloween party.

Get the kids involved in decorating the house outrageously and the cooking too – so there is something for everyone coming up.
Pumpkin carving is definitely a must do, it keeps everyone happily amused for hours and the flesh can be used for a pumpkin soup. The giant pumpkins are principally grown for size. They are bred to have thin walls for easy carving. They are fun to carve but tend to have pale watery flesh with little flavour. One can use it for soup but you’ll need to use a really tasty stock and lots of herbs and spices to add flavour. Better still, choose a smaller pumpkin with deep orange flesh.

Pumpkin and squash seeds are edible so don’t bin the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of protein, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.  The hulls tend to be tough so do your best to shell them first which can be quite a mission but I prefer to roast and crunch.

On a more sombre note, if you have lost loved ones this year, perhaps you might like to create an offenda, a family altar with lots of photos, nostalgic items and keepsakes to remember them by. Gather around and remember them joyfully, tell stories and eat some of their favourite foods as they do in Mexico on The Day of the Dead.

Green Slime with Nachos 

Makes 16 approx. depending on size

Serve 3-4 as a starter garnished with a red chilli or serve as a dip.

16 warm tortillas, 2 1/2 inch (6cm) approx.

450g (1lb) podded fresh or frozen peas

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

1/2 fresh chilli, finely chopped (seeds removed)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt, approx. and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the peas in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. Refresh under cold water and drain. Whizz the olive oil with the lime juice, coriander and chilli in a food processor, blend for 1 minute. Add the peas, cumin, coriander, parsley and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and blend until smooth and slimy. Taste, correct the seasoning, put into a bowl and cover until needed.

Serve with tortilla chips or nachos.

Witches Brew with Wiggly Worms 

Sounds scary but tastes delicious…

Serves 6-8

25g (1oz) lean bacon

15g (1/2oz) butter

2 medium spring onions, chopped

1.2 litres (2 pints) light homemade chicken stock or water

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

700g (1 1/2lb) podded peas, fresh or frozen

outside leaves of a head of lettuce, shredded

a sprig of mint

2 tablespoons thick cream

‘Wiggly Worms’

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) of streaky bacon lardons


whipped cream

freshly chopped mint

Heat the chicken stock.

Cut the bacon into fine shreds. Melt the butter and sweat the bacon for about 5 minutes, add the spring onion and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Then add the hot chicken stock or water. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil with the lid off, add the peas, lettuce and sprig of mint, cook for 3-4 minutes approximately or until the vegetables are just tender.   Fry the lardons in olive oil over a medium heat until they plump up and look like crisp worms.

Remove the mint, liquidise and add a little cream to taste. Serve hot scattered with ‘the worms’. 


Be really careful not to overcook this soup or you will lose the fresh taste and brightgreen colour.  Add a little extra stock if the witches brew is too thick.

Rory O’Connell’s Pumpkin Soup with Herb Oil and Crisped Pumpkin Seeds

We have a lot of pumpkin soups, Rory O’Connell’s recipe is the latest one in our repertoire.

Be careful when peeling the pumpkin as the skin can be tough and cause your knife to slip, so make sure your knife is always pointing away from you when you are preparing the vegetable.

Serves 6-8

50g (2oz) butter or 4 tablespoons of olive oil

450g (1lb) pumpkin, weighed after peeling, and cut into small dice, approx. 2cm (3/4 inch)

225g (8oz) onions, peeled and sliced

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.2 liters (2 pints) chicken stock or 800ml (1 3/4 pints approx.) for a thicker soup

225ml (8fl oz) creamy milk (optional)


4 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds toasted on a dry pan until crisp

Herb Oil (see recipe)

Melt the butter or heat the oil in a saucepan. Allow the butter to foam or the oil to get quite hot. Add the pumpkin, onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and coat the vegetables in the fat. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat the vegetables on a very low heat. After 15 minutes the vegetables should be starting to collapse at the edges.   Now add the stock. Replace the lid and simmer for approx. 20 minutes or until the vegetables are completely soft.

Purée the soup in a liquidizer or with a handheld blender. Taste and correct seasoning and if the consistency is a little thick, thin out with some creamy milk or more stock.

Serve in hot bowls with a drizzle of herb oil and a scattering of toasted pumpkin seeds on each serving.

Herb Oil

This oil is also delicious on simple grilled lamb, beef, pork or fish and will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

4 tablespoons of olive oil

4 tablespoons of chopped herbs; parsley, chives, marjoram, sage or rosemary.

(Use just one of the herbs or a combination of what is available to you)

zest of 1/4 of a lemon

1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the oil, chopped herbs, lemon zest, chilli and garlic and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are super delicious and bouncing with nutrients.  Roast with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads, salads, or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seeds and save for next year’s crop.

pumpkin seeds

sea salt

Split the pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and wash off the fibres.

Bring the pumpkin seeds to the boil in a saucepan of salted water (1 teaspoon for every 1.2 litres (2 pints) of water.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/Gas Mark 1⁄2.

Drain the seeds, dry, toss in a tiny amount of oil, 1/2 – 1 teaspoon is enough for 1 pumpkin.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, toss again.

Spread in a single layer on a baking tray.  Dry roast for 30–35 minutes, then check after 30 minutes, they should be nice and crunchy.

Cool and store in an airtight jar, they will keep up to three months at room temperature and longer in the fridge.  They can also be tossed in a mixture of spices, such as cumin and coriander, or a mixture of sugar and cinnamon or ginger before roasting.

Halloween Meringue Pumpkins and Spooky Ghosts 

For the meringue:

120g (scant 4 1/2oz) egg whites

pinch of cream of tartar (optional)

180g (6 1/4oz) caster sugar

orange, green, red and black gel food dyes (or use your favourite colours)
edible glue (or a paste made of icing sugar and water)
edible eyes and sprinkles

Add the egg white into a bowl of a food-processor.  Mix on a high speed until you have soft peaks, whisk in the cream of tartar, then add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking for about 30 seconds to a minute after each addition. It is important to add the sugar very slowly so that it all dissolves.

When all the sugar has incorporated (the mixture should feel smooth between your fingers), divide the meringue between different bowls depending on how many colours you want to make. Stir the gel food dye into each bowl until evenly distributed.

For the pumpkins, slip a piping nozzle with lots of open teeth into your piping bag before spooning in orange-coloured meringue. When you pipe, it will look like the ridges on a pumpkin. Pipe a small amount of green meringue for the stalk (just snip the end of a piping bag for this). For the ghosts, fill a piping bag with white meringue (you can use other colours, too), cut a medium tip and pipe meringue kisses. You can also use your fingers to pinch the sides to create little arms, or pipe on little arms. For the tall ghosts with a rippled effect, alternate between squeezing and stopping squeezing your piping bag while working your way upwards. Play about with other shapes and effects.

Bake for 45-60 minutes at 120ËšC (100ËšC Fan)/250ËšF/Gas Mark 1/2 for meringues that are gooey in the centre. For completely crisp and dry meringues, bake for 1 1/2 hours and then switch off the oven and leave the oven door closed for a few hours and allow to cool.

To decorate, use red gel food dye for blood (you can thin this with a little water) and black gel food dye for other details. Use edible glue to stick on edible eyes and sprinkles (e.g. bones).

Witches Black Cat Cake 

We also do a scary spider web on top of this cake – have fun experimenting….

Makes 36 bites/19 squares/12 slices

225g (8oz) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt 

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) cocoa

350g (12oz) sugar

110g (4oz) softened butter

225ml (8fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

2 organic eggs 

Chocolate Icing 

300g (10oz) icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa

2 teaspoons melted butter 

35ml (1 1/3fl oz) coffee

cocoa for dusting 

300ml (10fl oz softly whipped cream)

Line a 22.5cm (9 inch) square tin or

3 x 17.5cm (6 3/4 inch) sandwich tins with parchment paper

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

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

To make the chocolate icing.

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

Ice the top and sides of the cake or sandwich the two rounds together with the icing.  Decorate the top of the cake with a scary cat face using white chocolate icing.

Cut into squares or slices and serve with softly whipped cream.

Vampire Lemonade with Vampire Teeth Ice Cubes

Store the stock syrup in the fridge until needed.  This quantity is enough for several batches of lemonade.

4 ruby grapefruit

350ml (12fl oz) approx. stock syrup made with 350g (12oz) sugar and 600ml (1 pint) of water. Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool.

1.4 litres (2 1/2 pint) approx. sparkling or still water

Vampire teeth ice cubes (freeze halved almonds in ice cubes with a drop of edible red food colouring).

Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste.  Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.


Autumn is well and truly upon us. There is a nip in the air and the leaves of the Virginia Creeper in the courtyard have turned glorious shades – rich reds, deep orange and yellow. We’ve been foraging for hazelnuts, elderberries, damsons, harvesting apples and picking up windfalls. We’ve got a poor enough crop this year, largely due to several frosty nights during apple blossom earlier in the year.

If you didn’t manage to plant a few apple trees last year, time to dash off to your nearest garden centre to pick up a Crimson Bramley tree, the variety that makes the fluffiest apple sauce and glorious apple pies, tarts and fritters, jams and jellies.
We keep adding to our repertoire of apple cakes.
Try this apple and cardamom tart, a new favourite. Cardamom marries deliciously with apples.  Serve it with custard or softly whipped cream.

The windfalls are perfect for apple sauce. Don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite, just cut them out, give the apples a good wash but for apple jelly, don’t bother to peel. Add the stalks and seeds too, they all add extra pectin and contribute to the deliciousness.  I’ve noticed that many young people who are conditioned to seeing ‘perfect’ fruit in supermarkets, most of which have been heavily sprayed, have never seen ‘real’ fruit, larger or smaller or misshapen versions so are scared to eat anything that’s not perfect.  There is a job of education and reassurance to be done here…these fruits often taste even more delicious.

Here’s a recipe for apple and elderberry jelly, the elderberries are ripe, ready for picking and are packed full of Vitamin C and iron, just what’s needed to boost the family’s immune system for the Winter. A few rose geranium or verbena leaves will add a haunting lemony flavour. Serve a dollop on roast pork with crackling or crispy duck legs. It’ll also be delicious on scones with a blob of cream.

If you have some dessert apples, why not experiment with dried apple slices – it’s easy peasy if you have a dehydrator but that’s not at all essential. A fan oven works brilliantly but a shelf over your cooker also works well. If all that fails, spread them out on a wire rack over a tray, on the back window of your car in the sun or on a shelf in a conservatory or in your tunnel.

Choose really tasty dessert apples, we love Ard Cairn or Ergemont Russets, Pitmaston PineApple, Charles Ross…
It’s really worth having a few tubs of apple sauce in the freezer too. Add to natural yoghurt for breakfast or serve on these Dainty Almond Tartlets for tea.
Do you know about Apple Snow, this one of Myrtle Allen’s favourite recipes – just fold some stiffly beaten egg white into the sweetened apple purée – shortbread biscuits are a delicious accompaniment and finally one of my mother’s favourite recipes, Bramley apple trifle – make a big bowl and invite a few friends around to celebrate Autumn 2021 and the easing of restrictions – keep safe and well.

Bramley Apple Trifle

This delicious Bramley Apple Trifle is one I have adapted from a recipe that I believe originally came from Co. Armagh, which is famous for its Bramley Apple orchards.

Serves 8-10

A Homemade Sponge Cake

Lemon Curd

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten together


4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon caster sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

425ml (15fl oz) milk

150ml (5fl oz) cream


900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1–2 tablespoons water

2 egg whites

300ml (10fl oz) cream

25–50g (1–2oz) toasted flaked almonds

Make a whisked sponge in the usual way.

Make the lemon curd. On a very low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the caster sugar, lemon juice and rind and then the well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools). 

Divide the sponge into two pieces, spread one piece generously with lemon curd and top with the other piece. Cut into small squares and put half into a glass serving bowl. 

Make the egg custard.  Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and lemon rind.  Heat the milk and cream 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.

While it is still warm, pour half over the sponge. Top with the remainder of the sponge and the rest of the custard.

Peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and cover and stew in a non-reactive saucepan with the sugar and water. When they are soft, beat into a fluff. Allow to cool. Whisk the egg whites and fold gently into the apple purée. Whip the 300ml (10fl oz) cream and fold most of it into the apple also, reserving some for decoration. Spread this on top of the custard, cover and chill.

To serve, decorate with the remaining whipped cream and sprinkle generously with toasted almonds.

Myrtle Allen’s Bramley Apple Snow

We love this simple, traditional featherlight pudding.  It’s great with shortbread biscuits or even Lady Fingers, amazingly delicious for little effort.  Windfall apples can be used, just discard any bruised bits.  This recipe has been passed down from my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen’s family.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) Arthur Turner, Lanes Prince Albert or Bramley cooking apples

approximately 50g (2oz) granulated sugar

2 organic egg whites

cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers, to serve

Peel and core the apples, cut into chunks and put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and 1-2 dessertspoons of water, cover and cook over a low, gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the apples dissolve into a fluff. Rub through a nylon sieve or liquidise. Bramley apples can be very sour at the beginning of the season, taste and add a little more sugar if it seems too tart.

Whisk the egg whites until stiffly whipped, then fold in gently. Taste, pour into a pretty glass bowl, pop into the fridge and serve well chilled with cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers.

Swedish Apple and Cardamom Cake

Delicious served warm as a pudding or with a cup of coffee.

Serves 8-10

2 large eggs preferably free range and organic

175g (6oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) butter

150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

185g (6 1/2oz) plain flour

3/4 – 1 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom

3 teaspoons baking powder

2-3 Bramley Seedling cooking apples (350-400g/12-14oz approx.)

25g (1oz) caster sugar

Cardamom Sugar

20g (3/4oz) castor sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 200ËšC/400ËšF/Gas Mark 6.

1 x 23cm (9 inch) round springform tin

Grease the springform tin with a little butter and dust with flour shaking off any excess.

Whisk the eggs and the castor sugar in a bowl until the mixture is really thick and fluffy. Bring the butter and milk to the boil in a saucepan, and stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar. Sieve in the flour, add the ground cardamom and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that no lumps of flour remain. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices, arrange them overlapping on top of the batter – some will sink but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180ËšC/350ËšF/Gas Mark 4, for a further 20 – 25 minutes or until the apples are tender and the cake is well risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with cardamom sugar.  Serve with softly whipped cream or custard.

Dainty Almond Tartlets with Apple Fluff

Serves 12

110g (4oz) butter

750g (3oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) ground almonds


Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée (see recipe)

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream


mint or sweet geranium leaves

Makes 24 shallow tartlets

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small shallow patty tins.  Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown, 10-12 minutes for tartlets or until golden brown.  The tarts or tartlets are too soft to turn out immediately so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before turning out.  Do not allow to set hard before removing to a wire rack or the butter will solidify and they will stick to the tins.  If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts and then they will come out easily. 

Just before serving, spoon a blob of Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée on the base.  Decorate with a rosette of cream and a mint or sweet geranium leaf.

Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée

The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking.  This can also be served as an apple sauce with pork or duck and freezes perfectly. 

450g (1lb) Bramley seedling cooking apples

3-4 sweet geranium leaves

2 teaspoons water

50g (2oz) sugar, or more depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan. Add the sweet geranium leaves, sugar and water, cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a uniform texture and taste for sweetness.

Bramley Apple and Elderberry Jelly

Use this basic recipe as a catch all for many Autumn berries, japonica, rowan berries, sea buckthorn, sloes, damsons…

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lbs)

2.7kg (6lbs) windfall cooking apples (or crab apples)

1-2 fistfuls of ripe elderberries

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons


Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core.  Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Strip the elderberries off the stalks.  Put the apples into a large saucepan with the elderberries, water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 45 minutes.

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

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

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


Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

Dried Apple Slices

Choose sweet juicy apples – no need to peel, it will add flavour and extra fibre.  Remove the core and cut into thin slices.  Dip in a solution of 1 tablespoon of elderflower cordial, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 225ml (8fl oz) of water.  Drain, dry on a wire rack then transfer to a dehydrator or other chosen method.  Store in Kilner jars. 

MED Cookbook

When cookery writer Claudia Roden’s three children spread their wings and left their London home over 35 years ago, Claudia decided to leave home too and travel around the Mediterranean.  Off she went in the spirit of adventure without plans or arrangements but with her head swirling with childhood memories of the exhilarating moment when she and her siblings arrived in Alexandria by the desert road from their home in Cairo and suddenly saw the sea. She still vividly remembered the flavour of the food in the cafes along the sea front…

Back in the 1980’s, a woman travelling alone was definitely suspect but Claudia was on a mission to research and recapture flavours. This excuse allowed her to make contacts, ask for help, visit restaurant kitchens…It gave her the freedom to introduce herself to people on trains in cafes or in the sitting room of pensions…

She would start her conversation with ‘I’m an English food writer researching your cuisine, can you tell me what your favourite dishes are?’. Invariably people were happy to talk about food and so it began, Claudia continues her journey, to this day, endlessly curious, endlessly researching…

The countries around the Mediterranean Sea are all very different – with both Muslim and Christian cultures, deserts, forests, mountains, islands, yet they have much in common, a shared climate…hot, dry Summers, mild Winters and balmy evenings that encourages convivial outdoor cooking, alfresco eating, street food, bustling markets…

Every country has its own food culture and unique dishes, some of which differ from one town to another. Ingredients and utensils can be similar, clay pots to cook over fire, pestles and mortars, wood-burning ovens…

Curious, friendly people invited Claudia into their houses and cooked their favourite dishes for her while she painstakingly jotted down the recipes they shared.

On and on she went over the years – through Spain, Italy, France, Sicily, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, the Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, meandering through the Balkans and the Levant. Much of this is documented in her cookbooks which have brought so much joy to so many of us throughout the years.

Claudia, now in her 80’s, she had already written 22 books.  Nonetheless, during Covid, her agent pressed her to write yet another book.  She was reluctant at first and was convinced that ‘nobody will want another cookbook from an octogenarian’.  Fortunately she was persuaded to share the favourite recipes that she loves to cook for family and friends.  Claudia, whom I have been fortunate to know for over three decades, is a beautiful, generous home cook and a relentless entertainer. Her food is fresh and timeless and inspires and delights both home cooks and professional chefs. I feel so blessed to know her.

Here are a few of my personal favourites from MED published by Ebury Press.  Seek it out – a perfect Christmas present for friends who love to cook. 

Mozzarella Soaked in Cream with Baby Tomatoes

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press

In Italy in the 1980’s, it was fashionable to call dishes tricolore after the green, white and red Italian flag.  There was risotto tricolore and pizza tricolore.  The insalata di mozzarella e pomodori is still with us because tomatoes and basil are great with mozzarella.  In this recipe, very fresh Mozzarella di bufala is macerated in double cream for a few hours to give a magical ‘burrata’ effect.  Sautéing the tomatoes gives them a sweet and intense flavour.

Serves 3-6

3 x 125g (4 1/2oz) balls of mozzarella di bufala, each cut into 4 slices

150ml (5fl oz) double cream

500g (18oz) red and yellow baby Santini tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

4 tablespoons mild extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

6 basil leaves, leaves torn

salt and black pepper

Put the mozzarella in a bowl, cover with the cream and season with salt and pepper.  Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Sauté the baby tomatoes in a pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, adding the sugar and a little salt and pepper, shaking the pan and turning the tomatoes over until they soften and the skins of some of them tear.

Serve the mozzarella at room temperature with the tomatoes on the side.  Drizzle with the remaining oil and garnish with the torn basil leaves.   

Haricot Beans with Clams

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
One night on the seafront in Barcelona, I was looking for a restaurant that served zarzuela. I had eaten the extraordinary seafood stew many years before and it had left such an impression that I was desperately keen to have it again. My friend Pepa Aymami, who lives in Barcelona, only wanted clams. My zarzuela was disappointing but Pepa’s clams were delicious.

The Spanish alubias con almejas is my favourite clam recipe. Use good-quality white haricot beans from a jar or tin. The wine gives them a delicate flavour and the clams add the taste of the sea.

Serves 2

650g (1lb 7oz) clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 small fresh chilli, chopped (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g (12oz) jar small white haricot beans (or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin), drained and rinsed
125ml (4 1/2fl oz) fruity white wine or cava
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Throw away any clams that are chipped or broken and any open ones that do not close when you tap them on the sink or dip them in ice-cold water. Scrub them with a brush if they are dirty. Leave them in fresh cold water for 20 minutes – as they breathe, they will push out any sand that remains inside. Lift them out and rinse them in a colander under running water.

Heat the oil in a wide casserole or pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and the chilli, if using, and stir over a low heat until very soft and beginning to colour. Add the garlic and stir for a minute or so.

Add the beans, the wine and a little salt, mix gently and cook for 2-3 minutes. Put the clams on top, put the lid on, and cook over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes until the clams open. Throw away any that do not open. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Red Pepper and Tomato Salad

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
Inspired by Moroccan cooked salads, this one is a favourite for its glorious colour and marvellous flavours. The addition of boiled lemon, with its unique sharp taste, is my little ‘fantasia’. For this, boil an unwaxed lemon for 30 minutes until it is very soft.

Serves 4-6

3 large fleshy red peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
300g (10oz) cherry or baby plum tomatoes, such as Santini
1/2 – 1 fresh chilli, seeded and chopped, or a good pinch of ground chilli (optional)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small boiled lemon (see introduction) or 1/2 large one (optional)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a few sprigs of coriander, leaves chopped

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half through the stalks, remove the stalks, seeds and membranes and arrange them, cut-side down, on the parchment paper. Roast in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until they are soft and their skins are blistered. Put them in an empty pan with a tight-fitting lid or in a bowl with a plate on top and leave them to steam for 10 minutes, which will loosen the skins. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and cut each half into four ribbons.

While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the tomatoes and chilli, if using. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, shaking the pan and turning the tomatoes over with a spatula until they are soft. Push them to the side of the pan, add the garlic to an empty bit of the pan and cook, stirring, until the aroma rises and the garlic just begins to colour. Add the sugar and some salt and stir well.

Add the peppers to the tomatoes. If using the lemon, cut into small pieces and add it to the pan, juice and all, but remove the pips. Stir gently over a low heat for a minute or so. Leave to cool.

Serve at room temperature, drizzled with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of coriander.

Garnish with 10 black olives and 10 anchovy fillets in oil

For Neapolitan peperoni e pomodorini in agrodolce, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml white wine vinegar, pour over the peppers and tomatoes and cook for a minute or two. Omit the sugar, boiled lemon and coriander.

Chicken and Onion ‘Pies’ with Moroccan Flavours

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
I have often enjoyed the Moroccan festive jewel in the crown b’stilla, a pigeon pie, and have made it many times myself, with chicken encased in layers of paper-thin pancakes (warka) or more often with filo pastry. Here, I have drawn from the flavours of versions from Fez (famously sweet) and Tetouan (famously sharp and lemony). A light rectangle of puff pastry sits in for the crust. It is both sumptuous and easy.

Serves 4

320g (11oz) all-butter puff pastry sheet
1 egg yolk
2 large onions (about 430g/15oz), halved and thickly sliced
4 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
50g (2oz) blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
6 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 boiled lemons, chopped (optional)
icing sugar, to decorate
bunch of coriander (25g/1oz), leaves chopped, to serve
salt and black pepper

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

Take the pastry out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to use it.

Unroll the pastry onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Cut it into eight rectangles. Brush the tops with egg yolk mixed with a drop of water and bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the pasty has puffed up and is golden brown.

Put the onions in a wide frying pan with the oil, put the lid on and cook over a low heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until they are very soft.

Stir in the ginger and cinnamon, then add the almonds and the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered for 7-8 minutes, stirring and turning the chicken until it is tender and lightly browned. Add the lemon juice and orange zest, the boiled lemon, if using, and 3-4 tablespoons of water, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Lightly cover the pastry rectangles with a dusting of icing sugar and make a small lattice pattern with ground cinnamon on top.

Stir the coriander into the chicken mixture and serve hot. Place two puff pastry rectangles on the side of each plate.

Parfait Mocha Praliné

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press

This very easy no-churn ice cream has the wonderful mix of coffee and praline flavours that I love and also brings back many happy memories.  The same ingredients, plus sponge fingers, were those of a cake my mother always made for my father’s birthday.  When I went back to Egypt for the first time after 30 years, I looked in the window of the old pastry shop near where I used to live and there was the French cake book open at the page with our diplomate mocha praline.  My mother had ordered it there and learnt to make it herself after she left Egypt. 

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) blanched hazelnuts

50g (2oz) caster sugar

300ml (10fl oz) double cream

175g (6oz) sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee powder

To make the praline, in a dry frying pan (not a non-stick one) toast the hazelnuts over a medium heat, shaking the pan, until they just begin to colour.  Tip the hazelnuts onto a plate and set aside.

Put the sugar in the pan, spread it out and place over a medium heat until it becomes liquid and turns a light golden colour (watch it as it can quickly turn very dark and bitter).  Put the hazelnuts back in and turn them around until they are well coated with the liquid caramel.  When the caramel turns brown, pour it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper (or onto an oiled baking tray).  Let it cool completely.  When it is hard and brittle, grind in a food processor.

Whisk the cream with the condensed milk and coffee powder until soft peaks form.  Fold in the praline, keeping 2 tablespoons aside to decorate.  Keep this in a little cup covered with parchment paper until you are ready to serve. 

Line a mould with parchment paper (it makes turning out easier) and pour in the cream mixture.  Cover the top with parchment paper and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Take out of the freezer 15 minutes before serving.  Dip the mould into a bowl of very hot water for a few seconds.  Remove the covering parchment paper.  Turn the mould upside down onto a serving plate and remove the remaining parchment paper.  Serve sprinkled with the reserved praline. 


Last week I wrote about our Portuguese experience and some of the delicious food we discovered including the exquisite Flor da sal from the salinas in Tavira close to Faro.

This week’s column comes to you from Andalusia in Spain.  Jamón country where the hams are made from the long-legged black Iberian pigs that have adapted to the terrain and roam freely through the dehesa (the woodland forests of cork oak, chestnut and pine trees) that cover much of the Iberian Peninsula.

The little town of Jabugo is the centre of the industry, the quality of the jamón varies dramatically so I really wanted to understand the process that determines the finest cured ham.  I arranged a tour of Cinca Jotas who arguably produce the very best acorn fed jamón.  Serrano is the generic name for Spanish cured hams just as prosciutto or Parma ham is the term for Italian ham.

As ever, the best hams start with the finest raw materials, must be 100% Iberico breed and acorn fed.  At Cinca Jotas, the pigs spend two years ranging freely in the woodland.  It’s not just the breed but also the feed and curing process that contributes to the final quality.  The finest hams come from pigs that feast on acorns throughout Autumn.  They walk an average of 14kms a day, snuffling through the undergrowth for the three different varieties of oak that thrive in the dehesa. Each contributes to the final flavour, holm oak, the sweetest, cork oak, gall oak….Pata Negra di bellota, acorn fed ham is not only delicious, but it is low in cholesterol, high in beneficial oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid) and omega 3-6-9.

At Cinca Jotas, each pig is allocated 2 hectares of woodland.

Each ham is unique, first the hams are trimmed of excess fat (which is gently rendered into superb lard), then weighed, classified, and buried in Atlantic salt from the salinas in Tavira…  1 day for every kilo of weight…   In that time, the salt will penetrate 1 – 1 1/2cm into the ham, to preserve flavour and draw out excess moisture. The salt is then brushed off and the hams are washed, hung and rotated in special curing rooms for 2-3 years. Once the hams are dried, they are stable.

The bone is porous, so pork lard is spread over the bone to seal.  Penicillium grows on the inner side, which is part of the curing process, this is painted with oil, 12-15 times over three years.

These artisanal methods have been passed from grandfather to sons and onto grandsons for centuries.   

A whole jamón can cost upwards of €500 and a small plate of wafer-thin slivers costs between €20-25 in wine bars and restaurants.  So, it’s really worth knowing what to look out for, otherwise it can be an expensive disappointment. 

After all that, how do you judge a good jamón…
Look out for: Top quality…

A Black Label – tied around the leg which indicates 100% Iberico breed and acorn fed for two seasons, plus details of age…. 

A Red Label – 50-75%, Iberico breed crossed with Duroc, must graze on a minimum of 10,000 metres of dehesa per animal and be acorn fed for 1 rather than two seasons.

A Green Label â€“ 50-70% Iberico. A combination of extensive and intensive rearing, corn and grass fed with a minimum of 100 metres space per animal.

A White Label â€“ the pigs are produced intensively, many in cages with a minimum of 2 metres per animal and are grain fed. 

The label must remain on the ham until the ham has been carved.  The hams are tested by the quality controller with a sharp horse bone (a calado) inserted close to the hip bone of the ham.  He can pick up a taint when he sniffs the bone.

The hams are hand carved in tiny wafer-thin slices (1 1/2 – 2mm).

I learned so much on the tour from Jago, the enthusiastic young guide.  We watched as he carved the jamón from left to right and explained that each part of the ham has a different flavour.  The middle and largest area of the jamón is called the maza.  Turn over the ham to find ‘la babilla’ – this is the front part of the leg, lean with no infiltration of fat – smoother in flavour. Behind the hip bone is the ‘punta’, many aficionados consider it to be the best bit but hardest to carve – the little snippets that those ‘in the know’ seek out. 

If you are fortunate to have a whole ham, attach it to a jamón stand.  Carve in tiny slivers and cover with strips of fat saved from the outside trimmings to keep moist between servings.  Eat a jamón within 1 1/2 months – I would choose little slivers of an exquisite jamón for my last meal…

Los Marinos Picadillo

On the day after the September fiesta, known as Hangover Day, the local villagers all gather in the local square.  They bring a bag of huge juicy pink mountain tomatoes, cucumber, onions and green peppers to make picadillo, a sort of chewy gazpacho.  It’s all wonderfully convivial.  Both men and women chop side by side, it all goes into a huge bowl to be served with slivers of jamón, country bread and grilled sardines. 

Moroccan Peppered Prawns (Gambas picantes de Marruecos)

We stayed at the wonderful Finca Buenvino in the oak forests in Aracena.  www.fincabuenvino.com

We enjoyed these prawns as a starter.  A super, easy recipe to serve a few friends for dinner.   

‘It is usually simple to get frozen raw prawns in Spain.  Most towns have a ready supply of fish, even if they are a long way from the sea.  Aracena is no exception, and it boasts two fish shops and two market stalls.  Unlike most of our recipes, this dish uses butter rather than olive oil.’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

1kg (2 1/4lb) medium-sized raw frozen tiger prawns (allow 6-8 per person)

100g (3 1/2oz) unsalted butter

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

leaves from 1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon smoked hot paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground black pepper

lemon wedges, to serve

Allow the prawns to thaw in a colander in the sink, covered with a tea towel.

Shell and devein the prawns, remove the heads and leave on the tails.  Jeannie finds it easier to peel them when they are still slightly frozen.

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat.  Add all the ingredients except the lemon wedges, with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook over a low heat for five minutes.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges. 

Fried Padrón Peppers

‘These small green peppers, originally grown in Galicia around the town of Padrón, just south of Santiago de Compostela, are now more widely cultivated and have become very popular all over the country and further afield.  We know them as Russian roulette: although most of them are sweet, every now and then one will blow your socks off with its heat!’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

250g (9oz) Padrón peppers

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt, to serve

Wash the dust of the fields off the peppers and dry them carefully with a tea towel so they don’t spit when you add them to the pan.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan that has a lid and, when warm, add the peppers.  When the oil is hot and the peppers are frying, cover the pan.  Allow to cook for two minutes, shaking from time to time.  The peppers should not be browned all over, only softened.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sea salt to serve.

Meatballs in Tomato and Orange Sauce (Albóndigas con tomate)

We ate the leftovers with pasta the next day – so, so delicious!

‘These tasty meatballs can be made with minced beef or pork or a mixture of chicken and pork.  We like to use Iberian pork because it is readily available in the Sierra de Huelva and the quality can be relied upon.  Have the butcher mince the meat in front of you.’   Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

4 spring onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225g (8oz) minced beef or pork or a mixture of chicken and pork

2 tablespoons grated Manchego cheese

2 teaspoons thyme leaves, plus more to serve (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons more to thicken (optional)

4 tomatoes, chopped

200ml (7fl oz) red wine

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary leaves

1/2 teaspoon caster sugar

a little freshly grated orange zest, plus juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons cornflour (optional)

chopped black olives (optional)

Mix the spring onions and garlic with the meat, cheese and thyme in a bowl and season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Mould into little meatballs with the palm of your hand, then fry gently in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a deepish pan, turning frequently until browned all over.  Remove the meatballs, set on kitchen paper, and keep them warm in a low oven.

Add the tomatoes to the pan with the wine, rosemary, sugar, orange zest and juice and season with salt and pepper.  Cook gently for 15 minutes or so.

If the sauce is too thin, mix the cornflour with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make a paste.  Whisk 1 tablespoon of the paste into the sauce and bring it to the boil.  Cook out until the sauce is thick and smooth (you probably won’t need the rest of the paste but keep it in case you want the sauce even thicker).  Replace the meatballs and cook gently until warmed through.

Serve sprinkled with chopped black olives or more thyme. 

Citrus and Honey Cake

‘This is an Eastern Mediterranean cake which is perfectly in tune with Spanish ingredients.’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 12

For the cake:
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
plain flour, for the tin
1 orange, washed
1 thin-skinned waxed lemon, washed
25g (1oz) roasted hazelnuts, plus 12 whole hazelnuts to decorate (optional)
110g (4oz) almonds
175g (6oz) Demerara sugar
3 large free-range eggs
250g (9oz) semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the sauce:
225ml (8fl oz) runny honey, ideally orange blossom honey
4cm (1 1/2 inch) cinnamon stick
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
creme fraiche, or a mixture of whipped cream with yoghurt, to serve (optional)

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

Butter a 25cm (10 inch) springform cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Butter the paper too, then dust with plain flour, turning to coat the tin and tapping out the excess.

Cut the orange and lemon into quarters and remove all the pips.

Grind up the nuts in a food processor, then add the citrus fruit and process together. It’s good to leave some of the nuts slightly coarse, as it lends texture to the cake, and it’s also not bad to encounter the odd bit of roughly chopped peel, so don’t worry if it is not entirely smooth.

Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, semolina and baking powder until you have a smooth mix. Stir in the fruit and nut purée.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, place on a central oven shelf and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 45 minutes.

Remove the cake and cook for five minutes. If you have buttered and floured your tin properly, it should come away easily from the sides when you unclip them. Remove the papers and place the cake on a wire rack over a wide plate.

Make a flavoured syrup by simmering the honey with 5 tablespoons of water and the cinnamon stick for five minutes. Fish out the cinnamon stick and add the citrus juices.

Prick the cake all over and pour the syrup on to it, distributing it as widely as possible, as you want the whole cake to be dampened. Any juice which goes straight through on to the plate can be spooned back over when the cake is cold and on its serving dish.

Have ready in a bowl some creme fraiche, or a mixture of whipped cream and yoghurt and, just before serving, spread a thin layer on top of the cake and decorate with the roasted hazelnuts, split in half, if you like. Cut the cake at the table and hand around the rest of the cream in a bowl with a small spoon or sauce ladle.

Sam’s Pickled Anchovies with Parsley

A perfect tapa to serve with a dry sherry.

Debone the anchovies, remove the guts and open out.

Sprinkle with wine vinegar, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, thinly sliced scallion, salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Allow to macerate for a couple of hours. Rinse, add freshly chopped coriander and serve.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve with lots of crusty bread.

Purple Figs with Quesa Fresca and Mint

A super simple, truly delicious starter.  One day, we didn’t have mint so we used some torn basil leaves, also very good.

Serves 4

10 purple or green perfectly ripe figs
75-110g (3-4oz) quesa fresca (cheese)
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper
fresh mint
extra virgin olive oil

Just before serving, split the figs in half. Arrange on a platter. Top the figs with 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices of quesa fresca. Season with Flor da sal or flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Sprinkle generously with torn mint leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.


What do you know about Portuguese food?  Those of you who pop over to Faro from time to time will be familiar with the spanking fresh seafood on the Algarve but I’d only been to Portugal once before – a little foray over the border from Spain for a couple of hours so my knowledge was limited… it’s been a wonderful adventure… 

We rented a little house in the old town of Olhão, a little fishing port not far from Faro with some friends who also love to cook.  We filled our baskets at the markets with local food and vegetables, bunches of purslane, verbena and coriander…..

The red brick fish market close to the sea front had a mesmerising selection of fish and shellfish…. octopus, cuttlefish, clams, tiny conquilhas, mussels, razor clams, shrimps, and gorgeous silver scabbard fish. Corvina, new to me, gurnard, sole, sea bass…Beautiful little anchovies, whole or already gutted, ready to be pickled or fried and of course mounds of fresh sardines.

Olhão was the centre of the sardine canning industry in Portugal famous for quality.  Sadly, since the mid 1979’s the action has moved to Morocco so the seaside town is now almost fully dependent on tourism.

Umpteen sandbanks appear and disappear with the tides.  We visited several tiny islands off the coast, Coulatra, Isla de Cabanas, Armona…One day we took a boat and a picnic over to Ilsa Deserta, an idyllic desert island where we collected beautiful seashells and swam and swam in the crystal clear waters. 

At low tide, one can shuffle through the golden sand on all the local beaches and collect tiny conquilhas between one’s toes.  Local fishers harvest clams, oysters and mussels at low tide as they have done for generations and take them home or sell them at the local fish market.

Twenty kilometres further along the coast in Tavira, I visited the salinas where the most exquisite flor da sal is harvested in the same time-honoured way that it has been for hundreds of years and surprise, surprise, there’s an Irish connection… Rui Simeao, the 86 year-old owner who lived through the end of the second World War told me proudly that an Irishman called Anthony Creswell uses Tavira Flor da Sal for his multi-award winning Ummera smoked salmon – a small world…. 

On Saturday, local farmers and their wives pour into the Olhão Market and set up stalls along the water’s edge to sell their homegrown fruit and vegetables.  Lots of beautifully ripe green and purple figs and many intriguing products made from the dried fruit. Little rolls and tiny cakes sweetly decorated with slivered locally grown almonds.  Beekeepers were out in force with their new seasons honey, orange blossom, carob, rosemary, and little wedges of honeycomb.  Another stall, sold dried beans and lentils and both barley and wheat to grind at home for beer and bread making.

I bought a verbena plant from a lady on a flower stand and queued for piping hot, crisp golden churros tossed in cinnamon sugar. 

The white peaches were at their best too as were the huge juicy heritage tomatoes.  One old lady was selling sweet potato greens and another, long strands of chilli peppers, multi-coloured, some mild, others like scud missiles – a kind of Russian roulette…

We were so torn between cooking in our little house and eating in local restaurants and cafes.  We grilled sardines over charcoal on the little barbeque in the courtyard, steamed open conquilhas with slivered garlic, chilli and coriander, ate mussels with Portuguese spinach and made escabeche from the leftovers.  Coriander is a favourite herb in Portugal, much more widely used than parsley.

Breakfast was a feast of fresh fruit, local cheese, honey and bread from the little bakery a few cobbled streets away. I also loved the pork with bay leaves and clams which I ordered twice at Sabores de Rio in the main square.  Also loved riso con Lingueirão (razor clam rice) and love the sound of riso e pato – rice with duck.  Many of these dishes are easy to reproduce at home.  Make a trip to the fish stalls in the English Market in Cork, Ballycotton Seafood or your local fish shop.  I use leftover roast duck for the riso e pato and have a feeling it will become a favourite.  

There were lots of insanely sweet eggy desserts but my favourite by far are pastéis de nata… the little flaky custard tarts … dusted with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Conquilhas with Garlic, Coriander and Chilli

Conquilhas are sweet little, tiny clams, the size of a fingernail.  Cockles, mussels or palourdes could also be used.

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) conquilhas
4 garlic cloves, slivered
1 scallion, chopped
1 tiny hot chilli
60ml (2 1/2fl oz) white wine
50g (2oz) butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2-3 tablespoons coriander, chopped

First soak the conquilhas in lots of well salted water for 3-4 hours.

Melt the butter and extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the slivered garlic, chopped scallion, a small whole chilli.  Sweat on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

Add the white wine and bubble for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is soft.

Increase the heat.  Add the purged, drained shellfish, cover and shake and cook for 5-6 minutes or until all the conquilhas pop open. Add the coriander and shake again.

Turn into a serving dish.  Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the juice.

Pork with Clams and Bay Leaves

If you have a cataplana (a saucepan with a hinged lid), use it, otherwise choose a lid that fits the pan tightly so the clams will steam open.  A delicious combination of flavours, suppose you could call is surf and turf. 

Serves 4

1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) clams
1 x pork fillet (500g/18oz approx.)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

3-4 bay leaves
coriander, chopped

Soak the clams in well salted water for several hours to get rid of any sand. Wash the clams in several changes of cold water.

Trim and slice the pork fillet into 2 – 2.5cm (3/4 – 1 inch) slices. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the slivered garlic and bay leaves, toss and cook for 2-3 minutes until tender. 

Add the pork slices, a few at a time. Cook just until they change colour.  Add the clams, cover the pan and steam until the clams have opened.  Add the coriander, toss well (if you have a cataplana, use it).  Taste and serve ASAP with lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Portuguese Steamed Clams with Coriander

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) clams
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons dry white wine
squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
a handful of coriander, chopped

Wash the clams in several changes of cold water, discard any with damaged or broken shells.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide sauté pan, add the garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the white wine and a generous squeeze of lemon juice, bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes and freshly ground pepper.

Add the roughly chopped coriander and clams. Cover and allow to steam for 4-5 minutes or until the clams pop open.
Turn into a serving dish, scatter with a little more coriander. Serve with good crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Mussels with Saffron and Spinach

In Portugal and Spain, there are many recipes for shellfish (or snails) with spinach or chard.  Some are muddied with tomato puree, others flavoured with cloves.  Often there is a handful of rice or some beans thrown in.  This is a beautiful dish with golden creamy sauce and bright green spinach leaves contrasting wonderfully with the black and orange of the mussels.  This recipe comes from Sam and Jeannie Chesterton’s ‘The Buenvino Cookbook’  

Serves 4-6 as part of a mixed tapas

150g (5oz) spinach

extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons dry white wine

2 sweet white onions, finely chopped

4 bay leaves

1 celery stick, finely chopped (optional)

a few sprigs of thyme

10 black peppercorns

1kg (2 1/4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 pinches of saffron strands

250g (9oz) crème fraîche

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the spinach, drain and then wilt it in a pan with a little olive oil.  Don’t overcook it.  Set aside.

Pour the wine into a large heavy-based pan with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the onions, bay leaves, celery (if using), thyme and peppercorns and bring to a simmer.

Now tip in the mussels and cover the pan, keeping it over a low heat.  Shake the pan now and then to distribute the shellfish.  Check to see that the mussels have opened and, when they are all open, tip the lot into a colander set over a bowl to catch the stock.  Remove the flesh from some of the mussels and discard these shells.  Discard any mussels that have refused to open.

Wipe the pan and return it to the heat.  Melt the butter and add the saffron, crème fraiche and the mussel liquor.  Check for seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper.  It’s just possible you will also need salt, but mussel stock is usually salted enough.  Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, then return the spinach and the mussels.  Cook for a minute to warm the mussels through, then serve immediately in warmed bowls with crusty bread.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

This is our recipe for Pasteis de Nata, the famous Portuguese Custard tarts – we use homemade puff pastry to make these delicious tarts, they make a much more complicated pastry. 

Makes 24

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g (4oz) golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

zest from 1 lemon or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

900g (2lb) puff pastry

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

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

Put the egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and lemon zest if using and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract if using.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool.  Cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs.  Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top.  Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.  Sprinkle with a little freshly ground cinnamon.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

How to Cook

My latest book written during the Pandemic is called ‘How to Cook’, but the working title has always been ‘Recipes No Kids Should Leave School Without Being Able to Cook’ however my publishers were adamant that ‘kid’ was not PC so here we are with a title that doesn’t get the same spontaneous response that the original title engendered when I announced what was in the pipeline in answer to the question.

However, it’s all in there, 100 recipes and lots more variations on the originals to get everyone excited about how easy it is to cook simple and delicious dishes and do lots of contemporary riffs on time-honoured favourites.

How crazy is it that only a tiny percentage of our children learn how to cook at home or in our schools…What are we like…to have now let at least two generations out of our houses and schools without equipping them with the basic life skills to feed themselves properly or for that matter letting them experience the magic of sowing a seed and watching it grow into something delicious and super nutritious to eat.

Since the 1950’s, the main focus in education has been acquiring academic skills – mastering the STEM subjects.  The subliminal message to all students has been that practical skills like cooking or growing are of much lesser value – unnecessary in today’s world where one can pop into the local supermarket and choose from an endless variety of ready-made and ultra-processed goods to save time and the ‘drudgery’ of cooking it yourself.

So why is it important to be able to cook – a fundamental question that sometimes stumps people…well at the very least to feed oneself nutritiously and deliciously and to take control of one’s own health.  With a few basic cooking skills, one can whip up a spontaneous meal with a few inexpensive ingredients at a moment’s notice and bring joy to those around you.  It’s one of the easiest ways to win friends and influence people plus one can travel anywhere in the world and get a job.  Chefs and cooks are welcomed with open arms everywhere but in the end, home cooking is the most important skill of all..

When you teach someone how to cook, you give them a gift that will forever enhance their lives, it becomes increasingly evident that our food choices affect our energy, vitality, ability to concentrate and both our mental and physical health.  So this book that I was determined to write before I hang up my apron has 100 basic recipes for you to cook your way through.  For virtually every recipe, I suggest variations on the original.  For example, when you make a basic Irish soda bread, one of the simplest and most delicious breads of all, it can be white or brown, seedy or plain, flecked with seaweed or fresh herbs.  Baked in a loaf tin or in a traditional round, marked with a cross – the traditional blessing and pricked in the four quadrants to let the fairies out of the bread. 

Scones or teeny weenies made from the same dough can be dipped in grated cheese or toasted nuts, they can be sweet or savoury – spotted dog or stripy cat…. Gently, roll the dough into a rectangle, slather with chocolate spread.  Roll up, cut and dip the twirls into coarsely chopped hazelnuts…Change tack, place a rectangle of dough into a well-oiled ‘Swiss roll’ tin.  Top with tomato sauce, slivers of pepperoni, a scattering of chopped spring onion and grated Cheddar – now you have a deep-pan pizza and on and on it goes…

Same with an omelette, the quintessential fast-food made in minutes.  So many delicious fillings to add, slip it into a crusty baguette for an omelette sambo… Cut in strips to add to a salad or soup or cook the well flavoured mixture in muffin tins to make mini frittatas. 

This book is not just for kids, teenagers and college grads, it’s for anyone and everyone who wants to whip up something delicious for themselves or for family and friends. 

So back to our educational system which many rightly believe has failed in our duty of care to fully educate our young people… so let’s raise our voices and pick up our pens to demand that our Government and Department of Education re-embed practical cooking and growing in our national curriculum for the future health and happiness of the nation.

Let’s start here…

Special thanks to my daughter Lydia Hugh Jones whose drawings greatly enhance How to Cook…. 

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Quinoa Chilli

Quinoa is a super nutritious grain that originally comes from the Andean region of South America. It is full of protein and has more vitamins and minerals than virtually any other grain, so it’s a brilliant option for vegetarians and vegans. Pumpkin or yam may be substituted for the sweet potato in this recipe.

Serves 4 (vegetarian if using vegetable stock)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

750g (1lb 10oz) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

450g (1lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes

100g (3 1/2oz) quinoa

500ml (18fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock

200g (7oz) black beans, soaked overnight and cooked for 1 – 1 1/2 hours (depending on the age of the beans) until just tender or 400g (14oz) can

black beans, drained and rinsed

a pinch of brown sugar (optional)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

natural yogurt or labneh

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and toss together. Reduce the heat, cover and sweat for 5–6 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the cumin and coriander and season well with salt and pepper.

Add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, quinoa and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black beans and continue to simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the sweet potato and quinoa are tender.  Season to taste, you may need to add a little brown sugar if using canned tomatoes.

Serve in a warm bowl scattered with lots of fresh coriander and a dollop of yogurt or labneh.

Basic Beefburgers and variations

The secret of really good beefburgers is the quality of the mince, it doesn’t need to be an expensive cut but it is essential to use the freshly minced beef. A small percentage of fat in the mince will make the burgers sweet and juicy – between 20-25 per cent.  One or two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes, 1-2 tablespoons of sambal oelek, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1-2 teaspoons of ground cumin or coriander can be added according to your taste but the recipe below gives a delicious basic burger.  If you’re looking to eat less but better meat, try the variation with mushrooms – you’ll never to back…

Serves 4

15g (1/2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped (optional)

450g (1lb) freshly minced beef – flank, chump or shin would be perfect

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

To Serve (optional)

burger or brioche buns


sliced ripe tomatoes

sliced red onion

crispy bacon

avocado slices or a dollop of Guacamole

fried onions

roast or piquillo peppers

kimchi, pickled slaw or pickles

spicy mayo, spicy tomato sauce,

barbecue sauce, hot sauce, bacon jam or relish of your choice

Melt the butter in a saucepan, toss in the onions, if using, cover and sweat over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Set aside to get cold. 

Meanwhile, mix the beef mince with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.  Then add the cooled onions and mix well.  Fry off a tiny bit of the mixture in the pan to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

With wet hands, shape the mixture into four burgers, or more depending on the size you require.  Chill until needed.

Cook to your taste in a little oil in a medium-hot frying or griddle pan, turning once.  For rare, cook for 2 minutes each side, for medium 3 minutes and for well done 4 minutes.  If you’re cooking the burgers in batches, make sure to wash and dry the pan between batches.  Burgers can plump up in the centre while being cooked; to avoid this, make an indentation in the centre of each raw burger with your thumb.  Serve with any of the serving suggestions above, or try one of the variations.


Lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger and pop under the grill until the cheese begins to melt.  Serve as in the main recipe.

*Beef & Mushroom Burgers

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin oil in a pan over a high heat.  Add 225g (8oz) finely chopped flat or chestnut mushrooms, season well with salt and pepper and cook over a high heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed.  Season to taste, transfer to a plate and leave to get cold. Once cooled, mix the mushrooms with 450g (1lb) minced beef.

(You should have about one-quarter mushrooms to three-quarters beef by volume.)  Fry off a little morsel to check the seasoning.  Shape into four

burgers.  Cook as in the main recipe and serve with your favourite accompaniments.

*Beefburgers with ginger mushrooms

Melt 15–25g (1/2–1oz) butter in a heavy–bottomed saucepan until it foams. Add 75g (3oz) finely chopped onions, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5–6 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile, slice and cook 225g (8oz) flat or chestnut mushrooms in a hot frying pan, in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add 125ml (4fl oz) double cream, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, 20g (3/4oz) nibbed, lightly toasted almonds, if you wish, and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season to taste, then add 1–2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley and 1/2 tablespoon of freshly chopped chives, if you wish. Set aside.

*To make Buffalo chips.

Scrub 4 large potatoes and cut them into wedges from top to

bottom – they should be about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick and at least 6.5cm (2 1/2 inch) long. If you like, rinse the chips quickly in cold water but do not soak.  Dry them meticulously with a tea towel or kitchen paper before cooking. Deep-fat fryers vary in size so fill the fryer up to the recommended line. Heat dripping or olive oil, or a mixture of olive and sunflower oil, in a deep-fat fryer to 160°C (325°F).  Fry twice, once at 160ËšC (325°F) until they are soft and just beginning to brown, the time will vary from 4–10 minutes depending on the size of the chips.  Drain, increase the heat to 190ËšC (375ºF) and cook for a further 1–2 minutes or until crisp and golden. Shake the basket, drain well, toss on to kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, turn into a hot serving dish and serve immediately.

Alternatively, fry in a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of olive oil.  Cook the burgers as in the main recipe, transfer on to hot plates, spoon some ginger mushrooms over the burgers and pile on the crispy buffalo chips.

*Smashburger (Serves 4)

Heat a frying pan or griddle pan over a high heat. Melt 1–2 tablespoons of beef dripping. Divide 450g (1lb) freshly minced beef (20% fat) into four balls. Flatten each down with a spatula or whatever implement you find handy. Smashburgers get their name ’cos you get to smash them flat.

Season with sea salt and flatten so the edges are lacy.  Cook for a minute or two and when the surface is well browned, flip over.  Season the surface with salt and pepper.  Lay a slice of American cheese on top of each burger, then cover the pan with a lid so the cheese starts to melt.  Meanwhile, split 4 burger buns in half, slather the surface of each with hot mayonnaise (mayo and tomato ketchup mixed with a dash of hot sauce or Tabasco). Top the base with the smashburger, add a couple of slices of pickled gherkin, maybe some shredded lettuce and a couple of slices of tomato, or whatever you fancy.  Top with the other half of the bun. Enjoy right away.

Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum is made by the creaming method, so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: rhubarb, green gooseberries and elderflower, a mixture of stone fruit, such as apricots, peaches and nectarines… Enjoy all with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12 (vegetarian)

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk


600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) blackberries

150g granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out on to a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line a 18 x 30 x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) square tin or a 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.


* Classic Apple Pie

Use 675g (1lb 8oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice, 2–3 cloves and 150g (5oz) granulated sugar for the filling.

* Apple & Raspberry Pie

Use 450g (1lb) Bramley cooking apples and approx. 225g (8oz) raspberries.

* Rhubarb Pie

Use approx. 900g (2lb) red rhubarb, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces and 175–225g (6–8oz) sugar.

* Apricot, Peach & Nectarine Pie

Use a total 1kg (2lb 4oz) fruit and 225g (8oz) granulated sugar.

* Green Gooseberry & Elderflower Pie

Use approx. 700g (1 1/2lb) gooseberries, 250g (9oz) brown sugar and 3 elderflowers.

* Cherry Pie

Use 1kg (2lb 4oz) cherries.

Inis Meáin

I’ve just eaten a delicious mouthful of dill pickled herring with cream cheese on a slice of freshly baked soda bread for breakfast – sublime…  I’m back on Inis Meáin for the second time this Summer, how fortunate are we to have benefited from the misfortune of some other guests who couldn’t take up their booking at Inis Meáin Suites.  There are just five rooms so one feels super fortunate.

Our bedroom overlooks the extraordinary Inis Meáin landscape, little fields surrounded by high dry stone walls, a few cattle here and there, Coilumin’s rectangular garden along the road is bursting with cabbages, ripe onions, beets, rhubarb, potatoes…He has harvested the rye since the last time we were here, tied it in sheaves, threashed it against a standing stone on the limestone pavement below his field.  He’ll save the precious seed for next year’s crop and the long straw can be used for thatching, I wondered if he made rye bread but apparently it’s not part of the island tradition.

On a fine day, one can see across Galway Bay to the 12 Pins, and the Clare coast to the south but this morning, a thick mist is swirling in from the sea, enveloping the white washed buildings of the Inis Meáin Knitwear factory.  It’s a hive of activity around the clock, lovingly turning out the most beautiful knitwear from the finest wool, cashmere, linen and cotton yarns for export to a few carefully chosen shops around the world.

The fluffy grey mist ebbs and flows and I can’t help being secretly pleased that it’s likely that our flight to the mainland in the tiny Aer Arann plane will be somewhat delayed…so I can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

So let me tell you about this delicious repast â€“ Breakfast at Inis Meáin Suites is no ordinary breakfast.  It’s delivered into the bedroom porch in a handmade iroko timber box tray around 8.30am ish.  Lift off the lid, inside you’ll find a feast… 10-12 little jars and Bec containers are tucked into thick polystyrene moulds…freshly squeezed orange or apple juice, homemade granola, seasonal fresh fruit, thick unctuous yoghurt…  There are several slices of both brown and white soda bread tucked into a little box beside two slices of poppy seed banana bread.  Two fresh hardboiled eggs from their little flock of happy hens are covered in little hand knit Aran egg cosies – how cute and practical is that!  But that’s not all, there’s also a little pot of pickled herrings and a gutsy liver pâté and just in case we have a craving – two little pots of the most sublime chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted with a pot of crème fraîche.  We made a pot of coffee from the freshly ground beans. There’s a minimum two night stay, and other choices for breakfast the next day.

Each room comes with walking sticks, two bikes, fishing rods, two deck chairs and lest you need it, an umbrella.  Wandering or cycling around the island is a joy, fields full of wild flowers…hare bells, fuchsia, loosestrife, heather, honeysuckle… A few cattle here and there and there’s certainly one donkey and maybe more.  Don’t miss the Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows in the chapel of Saint John and Immaculate Mary.  Check if Millington Synge’s little thatched cottage is open and climb up the steps to at least one of the stone forts.  You’ll probably be alone to ponder how these extraordinary ruins were built between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago…

Inis Meáin is possibly the quietest and the least visited of the three Aran Islands – there’s one shop and one pub with lots of outdoor seating.  Depending on the time of the year, there’s one or two cafés and a quirky craft shop but don’t leave the island without visiting Inis Meáin Knitwear.  No ‘fast fashion’ here – beautifully crafted pieces that you’ll treasure for a lifetime…

I almost forgot to mention dinner, always a surprise – Ruairí de Blacam’s food reflects seasonal organic produce from their garden and polytunnel, fresh catch of fish and shellfish from local fishers and occasionally wild and foraged food from the island.  The wine list chosen by Ruairí’s wife Marie-Thérèse is also exceptional.  This place is one of Ireland’s hidden gems, check it out and put your name on a cancellation list – www.inismeain.com

Thank you Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse (who hails from East Cork) for sharing your recipes.

Cáca Treacle (Treacle Bread)

Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves

160g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour

320g (scant 11oz) wholemeal flour

40g (1 1/2oz) wheatbran

40g (1 1/2oz) mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and linseed)

1 level teaspoon bread soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

400 – 450ml (14 -16fl oz) buttermilk

1 dessertspoon treacle 

2 x 450g (1lb) or 1 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins

Preheat the oven to 210ËšC/410ËšF/Gas Mark 6 1/2 and grease the bread tins.

Mix the dry ingredients together by hand in a big bowl and make well in the centre.

Mix the egg, buttermilk and treacle together, pour half of the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix lightly by hand.  Pour the remainder of the liquid in and continue to mix very lightly.  Turn the mixture into the prepared bread tins and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approximately, remove from the tin and pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked, it will sound hollow. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Aubergine with Feta and Mint

We enjoyed this as a starter but you can imagine how good it would be as a salad or side also.

Slice aubergines 1cm (1/2 inch) thick, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill on a cast iron griddle on a high heat until cooked through and nicely charred.  Serve three slices per person for a starter portion.

Crumble good quality feta cheese over the aubergine slices with torn mint leaves, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Note: good quality piquillo peppers can be an optional extra.

Monkfish Roasted on the Bone with Garden Carrots, Tzatziki and a Lemon Chilli Dressing

A delicious combination – typical of Ruairí de Blacam’s simple, inspired dishes at Inis Meáin Suites.

Serves 4

Skin and trim a 1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) monkfish tail (bone in), season generously with Maldon sea salt

Melt 50g (2oz) of butter in the oven on a baking tray until bubbling
Roll the monkfish tail in the butter until completely coated.

Roast for 12 minutes at 225°C in a fan oven.

On a separate tray with another 50g (2oz) of butter and seasoning, repeat the process with 6 medium garden carrots split lengthwise. These will need to go into the oven 5 minutes before the monkfish.

Add a good fistful of fresh thyme at the end and toss.

For the tzatziki, grate a whole cucumber on a rough grater. Salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze to remove the water. Stir into 500g (18oz) Greek yogurt and a generous amount of chopped dill.

Serve with the fish and carrots.

A mixture of lemon juice, good quality harissa and extra virgin olive oil is a great dressing with this dish. Quantities will depend on how spicy you wish to make it….

Broccoli with Anchovy Dressing

1 average head of broccoli will yield 5-6 starter portions

Cut the vegetable up into equal sized florets. Bring 3 litres (5 1/4 pints) of properly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli for 60 seconds, strain and plunge into ice water to arrest the cooking. Strain and set aside. 

For the anchovy dressing put 250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin in a hand blender vessel. Add 2 whole free range eggs, 6 Ortiz anchovies, 1 crushed clove of garlic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Emulsify with the blender and finish off with the juice of half a lemon. Salt to taste.

Gently sweat 200g (7fl oz) of Beluga lentils & mirepoix of vegetables for 2 – 3 minutes. Add 1/2 bottle of Madeira, burn off the alcohol and reduce by half.  Add the beef stock and cook until al dente for a further 7 – 10 minutes. 

To Serve

Reheat the broccoli with boiling water from the kettle. Put a good blob of anchovy dressing on a serving plate, add the broccoli florets and a tablespoon of the lentils, dress with a chilli, garlic and olive oil…

Chocolate Pots

These exquisite little chocolate pots are served as part of the breakfast tray at Inis Meáin Suites.  I can’t do chocolate for breakfast so I tuck them into the fridge and enjoy them later for my picnic lunch of homemade soup and onion focaccia with the accompanying pot of crème fraîche.

Makes 1 litre to pour into ovenproof single serve containers

325ml (11fl oz) cream

250ml (9fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) chocolate (70%)

6 egg yolks

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

 Melt the cream, milk and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.  Beat the egg yolks and the caster sugar together and combine with the chocolate mixture.  Pour into individual small oven-proof containers (ramekins or Weck jars).

Place these in a bain-marie in a deep baking tray, filled with hot tap water two thirds up the sides of the small containers.

Cook at approximately 130°C for 30 minutes approx., until a slight dome shape appears on the surface.

Leave to cool and then refrigerate. 

Note: if you can resist them, they keep brilliantly for up to a week.


For foraging nerds like me, there are treasures to be found year round.  We found a few wild mushrooms in the fields – our buckthorn berries are ripening and I’ve picked lots of rowan berries to make jelly to serve with pork, lamb or game when it comes into season. 

There are oodles of wild blackberries this year so you can satisfy your inner ‘hunter gatherer’ or just have a trip down memory lane.

We have tons on the briars in the hedgerows around the school, an extra bonus from rewilding areas on the farm to provide extra habitats for birds, wild animals, bees and other pollinating insects.  This year they are really fat and juicy, with a more intense tart flavour than the cultivated blackberries, and of course they are free.  Organise a bramble picking expedition with your children and grandchildren.  You will need to show them how to pick the best ones and how to judge if they are infested with tiny maggots – the core will be stained with blackberry juice rather than pale creamy green centre.

We buy kilos of blackberries for jam from local children who love to earn some pocket money and continue the tradition that has endured in many families for generations. 

Blackberries freeze brilliantly – they also dry well.  If you have a dehydrator, it’s really worth experimenting with blackberries – add them to scones, muffins, muesli.  Try folding some into Champ or Colcannon to serve with roast duck…

They are at their best at present but will gradually deteriorate depending on the weather.   Older people used to tell us children not to pick blackberries after Halloween, some say Michaelmas (29th September) ‘cos the ‘púca’ will have spit on them’.  This was a brilliant deterrent to stop hungry kids from eating over ripe blackberries years ago.

Have fun with blackberries…Once again, they are deliciously versatile, think of adding them to both sweet and savoury dishes as well as scattering over breakfast granola, muesli, yoghurt…Pop one into an ice cube with a mint leaf to add to cordials and aperitifs.

They are packed with Vitamin C and are supposed to improve both motor and cognitive functions and couldn’t we all do with that.  They also make delicious wine if you are into home brewing but crème de mûre is even easier – try this recipe which I originally  came across in one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’.  It’s a brilliant base for a cordial or a blackberry Kir.

All of the hedgerows around us here are still full of fluffy meadowsweet so hope you’ve been picking some and experimenting with the fragrant blossoms – see my article of 7th August 2021.

Medallions of Venison with Blackberry Sauce

A taste of Autumn, if the wild blackberries are frozen they may need a sprinkling of sugar.

Serves 4

4 medallions of venison

225g (8oz) wild blackberries

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock

75ml (3fl oz) port

4 tablespoons sloe gin or brandy

salt and freshly ground pepper

Purée or liquidise and sieve the blackberries. Put the stock and port into a stainless steel saucepan and boil and reduce for a few minutes, add the brandy and fruit and boil until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile season the medallions of venison, fry in a very little butter on a hot pan for 2 minutes each side.

Sharpen the sauce with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, taste and correct the seasoning. Put the medallions onto a hot plate spoon over a little sauce, garnish with a few fresh blackberries if available and a few sprigs of fresh herbs.

Serve immediately with Gratin Dauphinois and a good green salad.

Crème de Mûre (Blackberry Liqueur)

Makes 2 litres (3 1/2 pints)

This recipe can also be made using blackcurrants in which case the name would change to ‘Crème de Cassis’.

Drink within 6 weeks.

1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) ripe blackberries

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) red wine

800g (1 3/4lbs) granulated sugar, possibly more to taste

70cl (700ml/1 1/4 pints) brandy or vodka (unflavoured)

Pick over the blackberries, carefully removing bits of leaf or twig.  Put into a stainless steel bowl. 

Crush the fruit well with a potato masher.  Pour on the red wine and stir well.  Cover and leave to macerate for 48 hours, stirring from time to time.

Strain through a muslin bag into a stainless steel preserving pan.  Squeeze the bag well to get the last of the liquid out.

Add the sugar and heat up gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is almost boiling.  Simmer uncovered for about an hour until the liquid thickens and turns slightly syrupy.  Stir occasionally.

Taste, and add a little more sugar if necessary.  Allow to cool.

Add the spirit, stir well and pour into sterilised bottles.  Seal and store in a cool place.

Serve well chilled in small glasses or with sparkling water and lots of ice.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam

Blackberries rot on the hedgerows all over the countryside every year.  Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made – so full of Vitamin C!  This year, organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic.  You’ll find it’s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam.  The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like “Lydia’s Jam – keep off”!, or “Grandma’s Bramble Jam”. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea.

Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the tart Bramley apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.

Makes 9-10 x 450g (1lb) jars approx.

2.3kg (5lbs) blackberries (wild or cultivated)

900g (2lbs) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling in season)

1kg – scant 1.1kg (2lbs 4oz – 2lbs 6oz) granulated sugar

8-10 sweet geranium leaves (optional), alternatively use the finely grated zest and juice of an organic lemon

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples.  Stew them until soft with 300ml (10fl oz) of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 150ml (5fl oz) of water (or water and lemon juice) if the berries are dry.  If the blackberries are frozen, omit the water.

Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and heated sugar. Destalk and chop the sweet geranium leaves (or zest of the lemon if using) and add to the fruit.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. 

Boil steadily for about 15 minutes approximately.  Skim the jam, test for a set and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars. Seal, store in a dark place or share with friends.

Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry and Mint Pavlova

Pavlova, the dessert named after prima ballerina Anna Pavlova has to be in here – a base for so many delicious ripe berries and fruit.  Once again, we can have some fun with flavoured creams and seasonal fruits or lemon curd or strained fruit compote…

Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the zest of 1 lemon


300ml (10fl oz) cream

400 – 450g (14oz – 1lb) mixture of whole and sliced blackberries, raspberries, blueberries mixed with fresh mint


fresh mint leaves

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

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Check that your bowl and whisk are dry and free of grease or any residue of detergent. Using a food-processor, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add in half the caster sugar, continue to whisk until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the rest of the caster sugar with the cornflour, vinegar, vanilla extract or lemon zest.

Spread the meringue mixture onto a 23cm (9 inch) round or oval on the silicone paper.  Make a well in the centre and push the mixture to the side to form ‘walls’.  Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for 1- 1 1/4 hours or until very pale brown, crisp on the outside and dry underneath but soft and marshmallow in the centre. 

Remove from the oven, turn the pavlova upside down on a wire rack and peel off the paper. If it’s still a little sticky in the centre, replace in the oven for 5-10 minutes longer.  Allow to get quite cold.

To Serve

Transfer the pavlova carefully onto a serving plate.  Whip the cream softly, fill the centre of the pavlova with cream and berries.  Garnish with fresh mint.

Note:  This quantity makes 6 individual 10cm (4 inch) pavlovas which take 20 minutes to cook.

Blackberry, Apple and Hazelnut Crumble

Crumbles vie with apple pies as the comfort food of all ages, vary the fruit according to the season.  Hazelnuts will be ripe from mid-October, so keep an eye out for hazel trees if you are walking on the hills or mountain, they are indigenous to Ireland.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

225g (8oz) fresh blackberries

45-50g (1 3/4 – 2oz) granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons water


110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) cold butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

25g (1oz) chopped hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish or whatever you have!

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.  Turn into a pie dish with the blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really coarse breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar. 

Lemon Curd Cream with Wild Blackberries, Toasted Almonds and Mint

A delicious combination of flavours and textures – combined in minutes.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons homemade lemon curd (see recipe)

3-4 tablespoons of softly whipped cream

175g (6oz) wild blackberries

a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice

a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of honey (optional)

2 tablespoons of toasted flaked almonds

shredded mint leaves plus a couple of whole mint leaves for garnishing

Taste the blackberries, if they are very tart, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of sugar or honey.  Allow to macerate for 4-5 minutes.

Fold the whipped cream into the lemon curd.  Taste and add a more of either depending on the intensity of the lemon curd.

Toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan to a rich golden colour (watch them as they burn really easily) and cool.

To Serve

Put two generous tablespoons of lemon curd cream into each shallow bowl.  Spoon some of the macerated blackberries over the cream.  Scatter with flaked almonds and sprinkle on some shredded mint plus a few fresh mint leaves for garnish. 

Lemon Curd

Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge.  It is best eaten within a fortnight.

Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Cover when cold and refrigerate. 


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