Darina’s Saturday Letter

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Connected to the Good Earth

Suddenly my potager vegetable garden is bursting with produce. The compost, well-rotted farmyard manure and seaweed have paid dividends, globe artichokes, beetroot, broad beans, sugar peas, spinach, radishes, lettuces, mustard greens, spring onions….

It’s a glorious time of the year, within a couple of weeks one goes from the ‘hungry gap’ between the end of the winter vegetables to an abundance of summer vegetables and salad leaves.
Evening after evening we go out into the vegetable garden and pick beautiful produce and feel blessed. I sit at the end of the kitchen table podding broad beans, stringing sugar peas, de-stalking spinach, trimming globe artichokes…. far from feeling rushed, I find that picking and preparing vegetables and fruit makes me relaxed and connected to the good earth and the reality of nature and the seasons.
One enjoys every mouthful even more if one plants the seed and watches it slowly grow into something delicious to eat. This gives you a quite different appreciation of food and a tremendous respect and admiration for gardeners and farmers who carefully grow lovely food for us all to enjoy.
Look out for fresh local produce in your shops and supermarkets, ask them to highlight localso you identify what comes from your own locality. It will be fresher and all the better for not having travelled hundreds of miles to and from a central distribution station.
For me it’s a joy to see huge bunches of local carrots and Ballycotton potatoes piled up outside Sean Walsh’s excellent village greengrocery in Castlemartyr. Another good spot to source local food are the Farmers’ Markets which are beginning to mushroom around the country at last. The Farmers Market in Midleton runs on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm. The Coal Quay Market in Cork City is from 9am to 1.30pm on Saturday, around County Cork there is Macroom on Tuesday from 10am to 3pm, Mitchelstown on Thursday from 8am to 3pm, Castletownbere on the first Thursday of the month from 9am to 1pm, Bantry on Friday from 9am to 3pm. In Kerry the market is in Kenmare on Wednesday mornings and Sneem on Tuesday.
Ennis is on Saturday morning and in Limerick they start early in the Milk Market at about 7.30am. Galway runs all day on Saturday as does the Temple Bar Market in Dublin – worth a detour!


Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter

Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don’t forget to scrape off the tickly ‘choke’; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce. Simply Delicious!

Serves 6
6 globe artichokes
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) water
2 teasp. salt
2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter
6 ozs (170g/12 sticks) butter
Freshly squeezed juice of 3 lemon approx.

Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring.
Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done. I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn’t continue to cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.
While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.

To Serve
Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it. Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.
Globe artichokes are also delicious served with Hollandaise Sauce


Glazed Carrots


For many people digging carrots straight from the garden won’t be an option, so at least buy fresh unwashed carrots and cook them by this method for maximum flavour.
Serves 4-6

1 lb (450g) unwashed carrots, Early Nantes and Autumn King have particularly good flavour
: oz (20g/scant 3 stick) butter
4 fl ozs (100ml/2 cup) cold water
pinch of salt
a good pinch of sugar

freshly chopped parsley or fresh mint
Cut off the tops and tips, scrub and peel thinly if necessary. Cut into slices a inch (7mm) thick, either straight across or at an angle. Leave very young carrots whole. Put them in a saucepan with butter, water, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over a gentle heat until tender, by which time the liquid should have all been absorbed into the carrots, but if not remove the lid and increase the heat until all the water has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Shake the saucepan so the carrots become coated with the buttery glaze. Serve in a hot vegetable dish sprinkled with chopped parsley or mint.


Broad Beans with Summer Savoury


Serves 8
Summer Savoury is a herb which has an extraordinary affinity with beans, it seems to make them taste more ‘beany’. If you don’t have it simply leave it out!

1 lb (450g) shelled Broad beans
3 pint (150ml/generous 2 cup) water
1 teasp. salt
sprig of summer savoury
1 oz (30g/3 stick) approx. butter
1-2 teasp. summer savory, freshly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the sea salt, broad beans and a sprig of savoury. Continue to boil very fast for 3 to 4 minutes or until just cooked. Drain immediately. Melt a little butter in the saucepan, toss in the broad beans and season with freshly ground pepper. Taste, add some more savory and a little sea salt if necessary.The first tender new season broad beans may be podded at the table and eaten raw dipped first into best quality extra virgin olive oil and then sea salt, delicious with a tangy Irish farmhouse sheep’s cheese and warm crusty bread or ciabatta.


Buttered Spinach


Serves 4-6
Here are three different basic methods of cooking spinach – all of them a huge improvement on the watery mush that frozen spinach often unfortunately ends up as!
2 lbs (900g) fresh Spinach, with stalks removed
Salt, freshly ground pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg
2-4 ozs (55-110g/2-1 stick) butter

Method 1
Melt a scrap of butter in a wide frying pan, toss in as much spinach as will fit easily, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. As soon as the spinach wilts and becomes tender, strain off excess liquid, increase the heat and add some butter and freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.
Method 2
Wash the spinach and drain. Put into a heavy saucepan on a very low heat, season and cover tightly. After a few minutes, stir and replace the lid. As soon as the spinach is cooked, about 5-8 minutes approx., strain off the copious amount of liquid that spinach releases and press until almost dry. Chop or puree in a food processor if you like a smooth texture. Increase the heat, add butter, correct the seasoning and add a little freshly grated nutmeg to taste.
Method 3
Cook the spinach uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until soft, 4-5 minutes approx. Drain and press out all the water. Continue as in method 2. Method 3 produces a brighter coloured spinach.
Creamed Spinach
Cook spinach either way and drain very well. Add 8-12 ozs (250-350ml/1-12 cups) cream to the spinach and bring to the boil, stir well and thicken with a little roux if desired, otherwise stir over the heat until the spinach has absorbed most of the cream. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Creamed Spinach may be cooked ahead of time and reheated.
Oeufs Florentine
A classic and one of the most delicious combinations.
Serve freshly poached free range eggs on top of Creamed Spinach – one of our favourite lunch or supper dishes.

River Café Cook Book Green

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers founded the phenomenally successful River Café Restaurant in London in 1987. Word spread quickly. People started arriving at their door. A woman from a local allotment began to bring her surplus sorrel in the early Spring. In April, a friend would pick stinging nettles by the bag-full from his farm in Hampshire. Other enthusiasts appeared with sea kale from the south coast beaches. Later in the year their builder exchanged the huge puffball mushrooms that grew near his house for bottles of Chianti Classico. When people realised that they were interested in fresh, unusual, wild produce, they wanted to participate.

In the introduction to their new book ‘River Café Cook Book Green’, Rose and Ruth explain how their passion for vegetables and fruit in season has been at the heart of the River Café since they first opened in 1987. Every day, outside the kitchen, they pick from their organic garden many varieties of basil, marjoram and mint, and interesting leaves such as purslane, cicoria, and treviso to use in their recipes. And the simple pleasure of all this, of fresh seasonal eating, is behind the River Café Cook Book Green, their third cookbook.
Like the others, it is heavily influenced by their love of Italy, their many visits over the years, and their growing appreciation of the glorious variety of Italian food. All the cooking starts in the market, the market reflects where you are, and the season around you. There is the joy in April when the first delicate broad beans arrive; that rich day in October when every stall is loaded with wild mushrooms gathered only that morning; the gentle sadness of biting into that last fresh cherry knowing that soon the brief season is over.
Over the years they have worked with their suppliers from the New Covent Garden, encouraging them to bring Italian market produce to London. Now lorries arrive laden with trevise from Verona, artichokes from Rome, borlotti beans from Puglia. These wonderful vegetables are slowly spreading throughout Britain and more and more greengrocers and supermarkets are selling them. Rose & Ruth suggest that if you have a garden you should experiment with growing your own. If not, try farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms and organic box schemes. But above all develop a relationship with your greengrocer, urging him to supply interesting varieties.
They thought that the moment was ripe for a book of this kind, in which they have divided the year not simply into seasons but into months. They wanted to show how specific vegetables are used in specific months for specific recipes – romanesco artichokes for deep-frying whole, the violettas for slicing finely to be eaten raw in salads; how to choose different varieties of tomatoes – cherry vines for fresh pasta sauces, plums for slow-cooked ones and the huge yellow tomatoes for rubbing on to bruschetta. There are recipes using wild ingredients, stinging nettles, sorrel and thistles – for flavouring pastas or simply combining to make a delicious insalata di campo.
Their cooking has become increasingly focused on the garden and its produce. In the summer they make fresh pasta with olives and tomatoes and a risotto of summer squash; in October when the chestnuts appear they put them in soup with celeriac; in the winter they eat salads of puntarelle with anchovies and vin santo and for Christmas they make a cake with crystallised clementines; in Spring they make a raw artichoke pesto go with homemade tagliarini.
These are not complicated recipes, and their message is simple too; good cooking is about fresh seasonal ingredients, organic whenever possible, used thoughtfully. It is something the Italians have always known and they hope that with this book you will share their pleasure in rediscovering this simple truth.
Here are some recipes from River Café Cook Book Green by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, published by Ebury Press.

Summer Herb Salad – Insalata estiva di erbe

Serves 6

100g (3½ ozs) fresh herbs (to include basil, purple basil, mint, fennel herb and wild rocket)
200g (7ozs) fresh vegetable leaves (to include small spinach leaves, red and/or green purslane, orache, rocket, landcress and small leaves from the centre of young beetroot, chard and chicory plants)
juice of 2 lemons
extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the herb and vegetable leaves.
Mix the lemon juice with four parts its volume of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss with the salad just seconds before serving.


Peach ice-cream Gelato alla pesca

Serves 10
2kg (scant 4½ lbs) ripe white peaches
1.75litres (generous 3 pints) double cream
450ml (16fl.ozs) milk
4 fresh vanilla pods, split lengthways
15 large, organic free-range egg yolks
caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon

In a large thick-bottomed saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pods into the mixture, then add the pods. Heat until just below boiling point.
Beat the egg yolks and 350g sugar together slowly for 10 minutes until pale and thick. Pour a little of the warm cream into the egg yolks and stir, then add the yolks slowly to the bulk of the cream mixture. Cook gently over a low heat, stirring constantly. It is important to concentrate, as the mixture will curdle if it gets to boiling point. Remove just before it reaches this stage. Allow to cool completely.
Skin the peaches, then cut in half and remove the stones. Smash the peaches with a fork into a thick puree and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar and the lemon juice. Add the peaches to the cream, stir and pour into an ice-cream machine to churn, or freeze in a suitable container.


Pea and Mint torte – sformato di piselli e menta

Serves 6
3 kg peas, (scant 7 lbs) podded
100g (3½ ozs) unsalted butter
200g (7ozs) Parmesan, freshly grated
250g (9 ozs) spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablesp fresh mint leaves
4 tablesp. fresh basil leaves
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g (scant 11 ozs ) ricotta cheese
4 tablesp. double cream
4 large, organic free-range eggs
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F/gas 5). Butter a 25cm spring-release tin generously, then dust equally generously with grated Parmesan.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan, add the onion, and fry gently until soft. Add the peas, stir to combine, then add half the mint and basil and 150ml hot water. Season with salt, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Put half the pea mixture into a food processor with half the ricotta and half the cream. Blend to mix, quite briefly. Add the rest of the ricotta and cream and while blending, add the eggs, one at a time.
Remove the mixture from the food processor, and put into a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and fold in the remaining peas, about 100g of the grated Parmesan and the rest of the herbs. Pour into the prepared tin, drizzle over a little olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes. The sformato will rise and become crisp and brown on top. When it is firm in the centre and pulling away from the sides, it is cooked. Remove from the oven, rest for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin on to a large serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve, warm or at room temperature.

Thousands of years of herbs

Fresh herbs have delighted cooks for not just hundreds, but thousands of years, the Roman cookery book written by Apicius around the late fourth and early fifth centuries contains numerous recipes for dishes flavoured with herbs, but even so I would hazard a guess that never at any period during history has there been such a universal interest in herbs as there is in recent times, both for healing and culinary purposes.

Fresh herbs are just a ‘cinch’ to grow, even if you are convinced that you haven’t green fingers don’t worry, they will actually grow despite you! You could say that I am a teeny bit biased but I reckon that everyone should have a little herb garden, well if not an actual garden, at least a few pots or tubs or even a window box brimming with Parsley, Thyme and Chives. I’ll tell you why, its not just the fact that a little sprinkling of fresh herbs can add magic to your cooking, there’s also the buzz you get when you make a little foray into the garden to pick a few sprigs – Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Sweet Cicely or whatever, you just feel great and somehow sort of virtuous!
A great bonus is that most of the culinary herbs are perennial so once you plant them they will re-emerge every year in early Spring in nice fat clumps ready for picking.
Each of the herbs has several uses, the leaves can of course be chopped and used to flavour a huge variety of dishes in various combinations, but the flowers are also edible, some are inconspicuous and not worth bothering with, but others make glorious garnishes and are quite delicious, particularly if eaten raw in salads, for example Sage and Chives. One can also collect and dry the seeds to use as a spice, Coriander, Fennel and Dill seeds are particularly worthwhile.
The thing that seems to baffle most people when they are starting is how many of each plant will be needed to produce a basic herb garden for an average family whatever that might be! Some herbs for example Fennel grow into a glorious feathery clump about 5 feet high while others like Parsley and Thyme are scarcely 6 inches high. Well, first and foremost I suggest that you buy herb plants rather than seeds, that will give you a head start and will also mean that you don’t have 30 or more of each variety. Most garden centres have a wide variety at present and this is the perfect time of the year to plant herbs. Choose a nice sunny spot so they are ‘kidded’ into imagining that they are in the Mediterranean where many originated.
To start off, one might buy 3 or 4 Parsley plants – 2 curly and 2 flat leaved, 2 Chives would be adequate for most people because they are ‘cut and come again’. You will also need 3 or 4 Thyme plants – say 3 common thyme and 1 lemon thyme, 2 Mint should be enough (there are about a dozen varieties) – Spearmint or Bowles mint are best for general use. Buy 2 French Tarragon also but be careful that you are not fobbed off with Russian Tarragon, this sounds rather racist but the French have, here, as in most things gastronomic the edge as far as flavour is concerned. One Sage – the common green variety, will add a bit of gizz to your stuffings and is divine with pasta. One plant of green Fennel will be plenty and though its not essential I would also have one or two Lemon Balm plants.
These are all perennial but there are a few annuals that are absolutely essential in my kitchen, so add a few of these if space and pocket permit. Don’t be without my absolute favourite which is Marjoram or Oregano, there are several varieties here, but the annual variety is by far the most fragrant. Have about 4 of these if possible and buy 1 Golden Marjoram to include in your green salad. A few Dill and Chervil plants are also a must. Dill is essential for Gravlax and Chervil just goes with everything. 2 or 3 Basil plants will need to be parked on your sunniest south-facing window ledge or better still keep them in the greenhouse if you have one or a sunny porch. Finally we are all hooked on Coriander here, this is very much an acquired taste but quickly becomes quite addictive – plant a few and start to acquire the taste.
There are two other wonderfully robust and gutsy herbs which are hardier than any of those I have mentioned so far, they are Rosemary and Bay, both need space but are tremendously useful herbs. Plant Rosemary for Remembrance and remember that it only flourishes in the house where the woman wears the pants! Bay grows easily but for a real treasure try to persuade or bribe someone to buy you a standard Bay to plant outside your back door in a pot or as the axis of your new herb garden. It will cost more than all the other plants combined but will give you an ‘oops’ in your tummy every time you look at it!
Fresh herb plants are available from most good garden centres, also Eden Plants, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, 072-54122 have a large selection.

Baked Plaice or Sole with Herb Butter

This is a master recipe which can be used not only for plaice and sole but for all very fresh flat fish, e.g. brill, turbot, dabs, flounder and lemon sole. Depending on the size of the fish, it may be served as a starter or a main course. It may be served not only with Herb Butter but with any other complementary sauce, e.g. Hollandaise, Mousseline, Beurre Blanc, Lobster or Champagne.
Serves 4

4 very fresh plaice or sole on the bone
55-110g (2-4 ozs/4-8 tablesp.) butter
4 teasp. mixed finely-chopped fresh parsley, chives, fennel and thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5
Turn the fish on its side and remove the head. Wash the fish and clean the slit very thoroughly. With a sharp knife, cut through the skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh. Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.
Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay them in 7mm/3 inch of water in a shallow baking tin. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish. The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked. Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly-chopped herbs. Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut). Lift the fish onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them. Serve immediately.

Antony Worrall Thompson And The Scarecrow Competition

Last week Antony Worrall Thompson was guest chef at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for the fourth time. Antony came with his lovely wife Jay who was one of my students just a few years ago.

The incorrigible star of BBC Food and Drink Programme and irrepressible sparring partner of Brian Turner on Ready Steady Cook charmed the students who had come from both Ireland and the UK to see him cook.
Half way through one day’s cooking he took time off to judge the Darina Allen Scarecrow Competition. Local National Schools in East Cork had submitted incredibly creative entries. The choice of prizewinner was almost unbearable. So Antony, being totally detached and impartial, eventually settled for Millennium Millie made by the 5th & 6th classes from Castlemartyr National School. The traditional Shell and Rag Lady Scarecrow from St. John the Baptist School in Midleton tied for second place, while the beautifully woven willow scarecrow from Cloyne National School came a close third. Ziggy from Lower Aghada was runner up.
The children were all delighted when they came out to collect their prizes, they fed the pigs and chickens and gobbled up Lydia’s pizzas and enjoyed Nessa’s homemade lemonade, Charlotte’s chocolate chip cookies and Marina’s smiles.
Antony Worrall Thompson went back to the kitchen and cooked many delicious dishes, including this gorgeous Ricotta Cake, Reblochon in Puff Pastry and Potato Pakora Salad.





(Serves 8 -12)
250g (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
250g (8oz) castor sugar
8 eggs, separated
zest of 2 oranges and 3 lemons, finely grated
200g(7 oz) mixed dried fruits (Antony used whole cranberries, whole cherries, whole blueberries and chopped apricots)
125g (4 oz) roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
275g (9 oz) ricotta
75g (3 oz) plain flour


1. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one by one, beating well between each addition.
2. In a separate bowl fold the fruit zests, fruit and nuts into the ricotta. Fold the butter and egg mix into the ricotta and fruit. Sift the flour into this mix and combine.
3. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Fold in one large spoon of the egg whites into the ricotta mix, once this is amalgamated fold in the remainder carefully, ensuring that you do not lose too much of the air.
4. Grease a 9″ x 2″ spring form cake tin sparingly with vegetable oil, pour in the mixture and bake in a 180°C oven for about 45 -60 minutes or until the tip of a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
4. When the cake is cool, spike it all over with a fork and dribble with the rosemary syrup.



125g (4oz) sugar
125g (4oz) water
2 Rosemary sprigs
Add sugar and water to a pan over medium heat and reduce. Add rosemary and infuse.





Serves 4
1 whole Reblochon cheese, ripe and ready to eat
1 packet shop-bought puff pastry
1 egg yolk, mixed with a little water
8 slices garlic
8 mini branches of thyme
ground black pepper
Kirsch (optional)


Remove any plastic outer coating from the cheese. Make small slashes and push into the cheese a slice of garlic and a sprig of thyme into each cut. Sprinkle the cheese with black pepper.
Roll out the puff pastry to be slightly larger than the cheese. Completely wrap the cheese in the pastry, neatly tucking in the sides. Lightly brush with the egg yolk and water mix. Place on a non-stick baking tray and cook in a preheated 190ºC/380ºF/Gas mark 5 oven for 25-35 minutes, (you want the pastry to be golden and crisp).


To serve, cut into 4 wedges and serve immediately with warm crusty bread for an instant cheese fondue.






Serves 4
450g (1lb) potatoes, freshly cooked
85g (3 oz) besan (gram or chickpea flour)
40g (1½ oz) cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2-4 green chillies, seeded and finely chopped
115g (4 oz) green cabbage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
200-240ml (7-8 fl oz) water
sunflower oil for deep-frying
1 avocado, peeled, de-stoned and cut into ½ inch slices
Tamarind relish:
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate or 2 tablespoons tamarind juice
½-1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin
1½-2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Yogurt relish:
175g (6 oz) Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 tablespoons finely shopped fresh coriander leaves
6-8 finely chopped fresh mint leaves


Crush the potatoes lightly with a fork. Some of the potatoes should be mashed, but more should be left in small pieces.
Mix the besan, cornmeal, salt and fennel in a large bowl. Add chillies, cabbage, onion and chopped coriander. Stir in the potatoes and gradually add the water, adding enough to bind the mixture into a thick batter.
Heat the oil for deep-frying to 190°C/375°F/ or until a cube of day old bread browns in 45 seconds. Add dessertspoonfuls of the pakora batter to the hot oil, adding enough to cook a batch of pakoras in a single layer. Fry for about 5 minutes, until well browned. Drain on kitchen paper and continue cooking the remaining mixture in batches.
For the tamarind relish, dissolve the tamarind concentrate in 2 tablespoons hot water. If using tamarind juice, mix with 2 tablespoons cold water. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
For the yogurt relish, beat the yogurt with a fork and thoroughly mix in all the remaining ingredients.
To serve, arrange a portion of pakoras on a plate and top with avocado slices, then dribble over the relishes. Serve.


Antony Worrall Thompson’s latest book The ABC of AWT is published by Headline Book Publishing, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH, ISBN No 0 7472 2116 2

Letters from May 2000

A Cool start to a summer dinner

Sorbets and granitas are gorgeously refreshing and so easy to make.  One does need to think ahead a little but then the possibilities are endless – sorbets can literally be made from January to December and can of course be sweet or savoury.
A stroll through the fruit garden at the Cookery School this morning to check out the progress of the green gooseberries and elderflower was inspirational.    A little early for both of these,  but I suddenly spied the blackcurrant bushes now laden with clusters of tiny under-ripe fruit.  It’ll be at least 6 weeks before they are ready to pick but meanwhile the leaves can be used to make a delicious palate cleansing sorbet.
Peach leaves may also be used infuse custards and ice-creams with a haunting flavour and fragrance.
Sorbets can be made from all manner of flavours from tomato or carrot juice to Champagne, citrus fruit juice or even coffee.   One of my favourite after dinner teasers is an expresso granita which you can make without a sorbet machine, but of course one does need a freezer.  Serve it layered with whipped cream in little tiny glasses.
Sorbets can be served at several stages of the meal, depending on the flavour.  Fresh tastes like pink grapefruit and pomegranate, melon and lemon balm, or tomato and mint, make a light and lovely starter that simply flits across the tongue.  Champagne sorbet, or lemon verbena, or apple and Calvados, may be used as a palate cleaner after the main course in a multi-course meal, while strawberry, raspberry, loganberry, blackcurrant, or any of the summer fruits are gorgeous after dinner.
Blackcurrant leaf sorbet may be served at any stage of a meal, but hurry – blackcurrant leaves are best when they are young.

Blackcurrant leaf sorbet

We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet – substitute 4 or 5  elderflower heads  in full bloom.
2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves
8 ozs (225g /1 cup) sugar
1 pint (600ml /2½ cups) cold water
Juice of 3 lemons
1 egg white (optional)

Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely.  Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons.  Strain. 

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.
1.         Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.
2.         Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.
3.         If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white china bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.

Pink Grapefruit Sorbet

Sorbets are usually at the end of a meal, but a grapefruit sorbet can be served at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, so it is particularly versatile.
You may use ordinary yellow grapefruit, but this recipe is especially delicious if you can find pink grapefruit which are sweeter and have a pale pink juice.  Pink grapefruit look very like ordinary ones although they sometimes have a pink blush and are usually a bit more expensive.  They are at their best between November and February when the flesh is very pink inside.  If you are using ordinary grapefruit you will need to  increase the sugar to about 10 oz/300 g/1½ cups.
One and three- quarter pints/1 litre  pink grapefruit juice (10 grapefruit approx.)
8 ozs (225 g/generous 1 cup) castor sugar approx.
1 egg white (optional)

4 grapefruit cut into segments
8 chilled white side plates
Fresh mint leaves

Squeeze the juice from the grapefruit into a bowl and dissolve the sugar by stirring it into the juice.  Taste.
The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, because it will lose some of its sweetness in the freezing.
Make the sorbet in one of the ways outlined in the previous recipe for Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet
To Serve:  Chill the plates in a refrigerator or freezer.  Carefully segment the grapefruit by first cutting off all the peel and pith.  Then with a stainless steel knife remove each segment from the membrane.  Put 1 or 2 scoops of sorbet on each chilled plate, garnish with a few segments of pink grapefruit, put a little grapefruit juice over the segments and decorate with fresh mint leaves.


Pink Grapefruit and Pomegranate Sorbet

Fold 1-2 cups of Pomegranate seeds into the semi- frozen sorbet and continue to freeze.

Strawberry Sorbet with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Italian ice creams and sorbets are legendary if I had to choose just one it would have to be strawberry.

Serves 6-8
2 lbs (900g/6 cups) very ripe strawberries
Juice of 2 lemon
Juice of 2 orange
2 lb (225g/1 generous cup) castor sugar
3 pint (150ml/generous 2 cup) water
Fresh mint leaves
A few sugared strawberries

Fresh Strawberry Sauce
14 ozs (400g/2 ¾ cups) strawberries
2 ozs (55g/2 cup) icing sugar
Lemon juice

Dissolve the sugar in the water, bring to the boil simmer for 5-6 minutes, leave to cool.  Purée the strawberries in a food  processor or blender, sieve. Add the orange and lemon juice to the cold syrup. Stir into the puree.  Freeze in a sorbetiere or a covered bowl in a freezer, (stir once or twice during the freezing to break up the crystals).
Meanwhile make the coulis, clean and hull the strawberries, add to the blender with sugar and blend.  Strain, taste and add lemon juice if necessary. Store in a fridge.

To Serve
Scoop out the sorbet into a pretty glass bowl and serve with a few sugared strawberries and fresh strawberry sauce. Decorate with fresh mint leaves.

The not so lonely lonely Planet 

Lonely Planet have done it again!  The people responsible for bringing us the brilliantly researched guides for the curious traveller have now won an extra special place in my heart.   Recently they have launched  a new series of World Food Guides for “people who live to eat, drink and travel”.  These plump little pocket size guides in full colour contain a map of the country which highlights the culinary hot spots.  There’s also a well-researched introduction to the country’s cuisine which always reflects a country’s history, character and identity.
There are chapters on staples and specialities, regional variations, home cooking and traditions and celebrating with food, which highlights the diversity which still thankfully exists.
So far they have published guides to Morocco, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy and Spain, with others following.  The World Food Guide to Ireland will be published on 20th June, 2000.
Each book also has a guide to markets and shopping and a very strong section called ‘where to eat and drink’ which not only gives options in all the price ranges but also suggestions for Vegetarians and Vegans, Children, Street Food, picnics, banquets….
If you are clever you can plan your trip around local festivals by checking out the ‘Celebrating with Food’ section and then recreate some of the exotic recipes at home from the many scattered through the guides.
“Food is an integral part of the travel experience”, says Tony Wheeler, found of Lonely Planet.  “   “What you eat and drink, who you share it with and where, is the essence of discovering a new country”.
Written in Lonely Planet’s trademark entertaining and opinionated style, each World Food author is an authority on their country’s cuisine and culture.  Joe Cummings (World Food Thailand) is the author of Lonely Planet’s Thailand guides.  World Food Mexico includes an exclusive interview with Laura Esquivel, author of the best-selling Like Water for Chocolate.  Richard Sterling (World Food Vietnam and World Food Spain) has been recognised by the James Beard Foundation for his food writing and the Lowell Thomas Award for his travel literature.  Matthew Evans (WF Italy) is a qualified chef and was chosen as Australia’s best new food writer in 1999.
–         A perfect present for your hedonist friends.

Insalata Caprese from World Food Italy
This dish uses simple produce that you can buy at most alimentari.  You’ll need a sharp knife and plates.  If you don’t have plates, just put all the ingredients on really good white bread rolls. 

Serves 2 

2 large, fully ripe, vermillion-coloured tomatoes
100g (3½ ozs) mozzarella di bufala
5-6 leaves fresh basil
fine sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
drizzle extra virgin olive oil

Core the tomatoes and cut into thin wedges.  Slice the mozzarella as thinly as you can.
Arrange tomato and cheese slices, alternating between each, and slightly overlap them on the plate.  Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the top.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle generously with the olive oil.  Serve with crusty white bread, then eat with the gusto of the Neapolitans. 


Djej Msharmal (Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Olives) 

Serves 4
1½ kg (3 lb 5 ozs) chicken, cut into pieces (some may prefer to leave it whole)
2 chicken livers
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cloves garlic
1 small bunch coriander
1 large onion, peeled and grated
2 preserved lemons, peel only, rinsed and cut into strips  (see below)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon powdered saffron threads
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter.

The day before cooking, pound the sea salt and garlic together to make a paste.  Rub the paste over the chicken and then rinse.
Combine the ginger, pulp of lemon and oil. Rub it over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge, covered, overnight.  (If you don’t have a fridge, just rub the salt and garlic paste into the chicken, rinse it, and place it in a pot with all the spices, herbs and onion.)
Place the chicken and livers in a pot with the onions, saffron and coriander and cover with water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour.  Remove and mash the livers, then return them to the sauce.
Add the preserved lemon peel and olives (which you may pit if you want) and let the chicken cook for a further 15 minutes or so.
Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.  Reduce the sauce by boiling until it is a thick gravy.  Remove the coriander sprigs and pour the sauce over the chicken. Decorate with lemon peel and olives.

Preserving Lemons

Lemons are preserved in the Moroccan Spring when they are at their ripest and sweetest, and providing that the process is followed meticulously, they are quite easy to prepare.
The lemons should be washed thoroughly, and if the skins are thick, left to soak in water for up to three days.  Each lemon should be cut into quarters but not all the way through, so that the quarters remain joined at the base of the fruit.  Stuff salt into the interior and squeeze together.  Put them in a sterilised glass or terracotta jar and push down to release some of the juice.  Fill the jar with water so that all the lemons are covered and seal the jar.  They can be used after one month.
Don’t worry if the lemons develop a stringy white substance, its harmless.  Remove the lemons from the jar with a wooden spoon and rinse before cooking.  Usually only the rind is used, but some cooks like to use the pulp – removing the pips first – for extra flavour.
Some cooks – especially from the region around Safi – add cinnamon sticks, cloves and coriander seeds for a slightly different taste.

Lonely Planet World Food Guides published by Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. A.C.N.  005 607 983,  192 Burwood Rd. Hawthorn, Victoria 3122, Australia.


The Fast Food Movement To Slow Food

The more frenzied all our lives become the more we fantasise about another age, an era before we became enslaved
by technology,  and martyrs to the mobile phone and instant gratification.  As everything,  from cars to computers to food,  becomes faster and faster, the sale of self-help manuals, videos, books and magazines on how to reduce stress and put some balance into our lives skyrockets.
The Slow Food Movement was started in Italy 15 years ago by a group of leftist intellectuals, as an antidote to the growing fast food trend.  The movement started as a result of Carlo Petrini’s outrage when he encountered the smell of mass produced French fries wafting from the first McDonalds in Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
What started as a single group of disenchanted Italians who were passionate about saving endangered foods, farmhouse cheeses, salamis, old seed varieties, has developed into a vibrant international movement with more than 100,000 members in 40 countries.
In Ireland there are three Convivia so far, one in Cork and two in Dublin.   On Palm Sunday 16th April, the West Cork Convivium held its second Slow Food Celebration of Taste at the West Cork Natural Cheese Farm.  The weather forecast was appalling, yet about 100 like-minded people made their way up the winding lane to Bill Hogan’s farm where the legendary Gabriel and Desmond Farmhouse Cheeses are made.
The sun shone all afternoon on the merry band of food producers and bon viveurs.  The gathering was like a Who’s Who of the artisanal food scene.  Many of the farmhouse cheesemakers were there with their cheeses, Durrus, Gubbeen, Coolea, Carrigaline.  JJ Walsh brought Dubliner cheese from Carbery and Breda Maher journeyed down from Tipperary with her Cooleeney Camembert.   Barra McFeely who used to make the Dunbarra cheese has now joined Superquinn to train their sales team and create an awareness of how to care for farmhouse cheeses, so their customers can taste them in optimum condition, (other shops and supermarkets please follow).
Jean Perry brought a salad of her organic leaves and fresh herbs from her garden at Glebe House in Baltimore, she also provided gorgeous crusty flower pot breads to eat with the cheese.  Adele’s and the Courtyard in Schull also supplied some delicious breads and Kalbos in Skibbereen brought some of their terrific Italian Breads.
William and Aisling O’Callaghan from Longueville House in Mallow brought along their homemade prosciutto for us all to taste.  Ingrid and Aloys Basler came all the way from Sligo with some of their organic pasta.
Fish smokers extraordinaire Frank Hederman, Anthony Cresswell from Ummera, and Sally Barnes from the Woodcock Smokery in Castletownshend were there. Sally brought along the first of her marinated tuna to gauge the consumer reaction.
Rosarie Byrne of West Cork Herb Farm brought some of the newest additions to her range of marinades, preserves, and sauces, including a delicious Mint and Apple jelly, she’s also very excited about a new experiment with Cranberry and Sweet Cicely.
Fran Frazer from Doneraile brought an amazing selection of their organically grown mushrooms – skiitake, oysters .
Rosemary and Declan Martin displayed a selection of their vegetables from Waterfall Farm.   Bob Allen, a local organic farmer was also there.
Even John and Elmary Desmond,  whose tiny restaurant Island Cottage on Heir Island is one of my favourite dining experiences were enticed away from their paradise for the afternoon.
Michael and Hazel Knox-Johnson from Inchadoney Lodge and Spa came and we chatted about their terrific facility with health orientated kitchen.   Also there were Marie and Billy O’Shea of Grove House in Schull, their family run guesthouse.
Tony and Alicia Chettle of Bunalun Organic Farms brought along their brand new baby girl Fern, to introduce her to the throng of hedonists.
Edward Twomey from Clonakilty who was single-handedly responsible for the revival of one of our most traditional foods, black pudding, was his usual mischievous, irrepressible self, always a delight to encounter.
The party took place indoors, outdoors, upstairs and downstairs,  Bill just threw his gates and doors open and delightedly welcomed the eager foodies.  Out in the yard, Fingal Ferguson, son of cheesemakers Tom and Giana, who make the much loved Gubbeen Cheese had set up a beautiful stall and was busy cooking slices of his delicious home cured smoked bacon.  If you long for a rasher like it used to be,  pick up the phone right now and contact Fingal at the Gubbeen Smokehouse, 028-28231, unquestionably one of the most exciting new developments on the Irish food scene.
Mary and Ivan Pawle brought along some terrific organic wines from the Mary Pawle wine list, and Bill’s friend Gabriel from Luxembourg gave us a taste of Luxembourg bubbly and Riesling,  and there was more.   Frank Krawczyk who lives just down the road from Bill Hogan brought a selection of his home cured salami and Westphalian ham.
The flavours of these artisanal foods were simply a joy, and as John McKenna said in his talk on the ‘Philosophy of Taste’  – each food in its own way reflected the personality and passion of its producer.
We had a wonderful convivial afternoon, the sun shone, the birds sang,  Liam and Geraldine Kenneally from Ballydehob played traditional music with Vinnie on the mandolin, while we ate, drank and were very merry.
If you would like to know more about the Slow Food Movement contact the Cork Convivium at gubbeen@eircom.net or send  a sae to Giana Ferguson, Gubbeen, Schull, Co Cork.
The website address of the International Slow Movement is www.slowfood.com or e-mail international@slowfood.com.


Coolea Cheese and Leek Fritters


Helene Willems cooked these little fritters over a camp stove in the open air at the Slow Food Convivium.  They smelled tantalising and tasted delicious.

Makes 25 approx. depending on size.
400g (14oz) leek, very thinly sliced
25g (1oz) butter
200g (7oz) flour
2 free-range eggs
250ml (scant 8 fl ozs) milk
200g (7oz) mature Coolea farmhouse cheese, freshly grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
chilli pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
Melt the butter, add the thinly sliced leeks, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, 5 minutes approx. Cool.
Put the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, add in the eggs, break up with a whisk.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  Add the cooled leeks and the grated cheese.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, chilli pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Heat a frying pan, preferably non-stick, on a medium heat.  Drop a small spoonful of the batter onto the pan, allow to cook until golden on one side, flip over onto the other and cook for a minute or two more.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Cook the remainder in the same way.  Serve hot on their own or with a little Tomato and Chilli Sauce or Tomato Fondue.



Letters from April 2000

A Scottish Daughter-in-law

Tartan kilts swirled, sporrans bobbed up and down as we danced and swung to the lively tunes of the Gallivanters Ceilidh Band .  This exuberant Scottish Ceilidh was held in the Caledonian Hall of the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to celebrate the wedding of our second son Toby and his lovely Scottish lass Penny.  As ever food played a part in this event.  Toby and Penny met in Verbier in Switzerland in the Winter of 1997 where they were both cooking in separate ski chalets for the Winter season.  For Toby it was love at first sight, Penny soon came round to the idea. Their relationship stood the test of a trip around Australia, Toby followed Penny to Edinburgh and proposed in the Botanic Gardens hence the romantic and nostalgic return visit. Toby looked unusually formal in a black suit with a Nehru collar and a rust coloured Irish linen shirt underneath.  Penny looked utterly lovely with two beautiful shawls draped over a copper coloured raw silk dress embroidered with little flowers which was made for her by a friend who makes theatrical costumes

Penny’s Mum made the wedding cake, three tiers of Walnut cake with soft white frosting.
The reception was held in the trendy Malmaison Hotel overlooking the harbour where the Royal yacht Britannia is in its final resting place.

We ate a delicious meal of Seafood Chowder, Chicken Liver Pate, Roast Cod with Pea Puree, Duck Confit on a Beetroot Rosti with Roast Parsnips and Frites.    The desserts included a luscious Chocolate and Amaretto Cheesecake and a lovely Fresh Fruit Salad.
We then  made our way to the Botanic gardens through the spectacular East Gates to the  Caledonian Hall at the Royal Botanic Gardens where many more friends joined the party.  The Scottish  Ceilidh dances are wild and exuberant and seem to involve hundreds of people swinging and swirling for ever and ever.  We danced the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Flying Scotsman, Strips of Willow, Irish and Scottish 8 hand reels and a Canadian Barn Dance which Penny’s Mum remembered dancing during her summer holidays on one Scotland’s western isles to the gramophone of Dougie the Boatman!  We had the best fun and partied into the early hours.

Here are some of the recipes we enjoyed from the kitchen team at Malmaison –  Roy Brett Executive Group Chef,  Chef Paul Ryan who hails from Cork and Pastry Chef Clair Marwick who shared her delicious cheesecake recipe with us.

Malmaison Hotel,  The Shore, Leith, Edinburgh. Tel. 0044 131 468 5000


Malmaison Mussel and Sweetcorn Chowder

Serves 20

I kg (2.2lbs) mussels
50g (2 ozs) shallot or onion, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
8-10 parsley stalks
small bay leaf
1 litre (1¾ pints) of  dry white wine

250g (9ozs) flour
250g (9ozs) butter
25g (1oz) butter
1 tablesp. olive oil
200g (7 ozs) onion, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs ) celery, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs ) leeks, in scant ¼ inch dice
200g (7ozs) carrots, in scant ¼ inch dice
30g (1 bulb) garlic, crushed
100g (3½ ozs) flat parsley
400g (14ozs) sweetcorn
500ml (scant 18 fl.ozs) double cream
salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the mussels in several changes of cold water.  Put into a saucepan with the dry white wine, thyme, parsley stalks and bay leaf. Cook over a medium heat until the mussels open, 6-8 minutes.  Scoop out the mussels, remove the beards, discard the shells and save the mussels.  Strain the mussel liquor and keep aside.
Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the strained mussel liquor.
Meanwhile, melt 25g(1oz) butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan.   Add the diced onion, celery, leek, carrot and crushed garlic.  Cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4 or 5 minutes.
Add to the base with the mussels, sweetcorn, cream and most of the chopped parsley.   Bring to the boil, season, taste and correct if necessary.
Serve with a little extra snipped flat parsley sprinkled over the top.


Malmaison Amaretto Cheesecake

Makes 2 x 12 (30.5cm) inch cheesecakes
Serves 24
250g (9ozs) butter
200g (7 ozs) castor sugar
200g (7 ozs) plain flour
200g (7 ozs) ground almonds
600g (1lb 5 ozs) best quality chocolate (64% cocoa solids)
675g (1½ lb) Mascarpone cheese
3 eggs
75g (generous 2½ ozs) castor sugar
4-6 tablesp. Amaretto
2 x 12 inch (30.5cm) loose bottomed tins, lined and greased

Preheat the oven to 150C /300F/regulo 2

Melt the butter, add sugar, flour and almonds.  Mix well.
Divide the mixture between the two tins and press into the base of the tins.  Cook until golden, 20 minutes approx.  Cool and spoon 2-3 tablespoons Amaretto over each base. Allow to soften.
Melt the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over barely simmering water.   Warm the Mascarpone slightly.
Whisk the eggs and castor sugar until light and creamy. Gently fold in the Mascarpone and finally fold in the melted chocolate.
Divide between the two bases,  cover and allow to set in the fridge for 30 minutes. Do not keep in the fridge for a long period as it will harden too much.
Remove from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving to allow to come to room temperature.  Serve with softly whipped cream

Walnut Cake with American Frosting

Serves 8
7ozs (200g/generous 1 cup) plain white flour
2½ level teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
3ozs (85g/three quarters stick) butter
½ level teaspoon pure Vanilla essence
8ozs (225g/generous 1 cup) castor sugar
3ozs (85g/scant 1 cup) very fresh walnuts
4 fl ozs (100ml/½ cup) milk
2 eggs

2ozs (55g/½ stick) butter
4ozs (110g/1 cup) icing sugar
A few drops of pure Vanilla essence

American Frosting
1 egg white
8ozs (225g/1 generous cup) granulated sugar
4 tablespoon (5 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) water

3 x 7 inch (7.5 x 18cm) round tins

5 or 6 walnut halves

Meanwhile make the filling
Cream the butter and add the sieved icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence.  When the cake is cold, sandwich together with the three layers together with butter cream.
Next make the frosting: This delicious icing is just a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly.  Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be used immediately.  Bring a saucepan of water large enough to hold a pyrex mixing bowl to the boil.  Whisk the egg white until very stiff in a pyrex or pottery bowl.  Dissolve the sugar carefully in water and boil for 10 minutes approx.  until the syrup reaches the ‘thread stage’, 106º-113ºC/223º-236ºF.  It will look thick and syrupy when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form a thin thread.  Pour this boiling syrup over the stiffly-beaten egg white, whisking all the time.  Sit the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water.  Continue to whisk over the water until the icing is snow white and very thick (this can take up to 10 minutes).
Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife.  It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.  Decorate with 5 or 6 walnut halves.


Breads and cakes for Easter

Baking breads and cakes for Easter is a tradition that has endured for centuries. Many countries and ethnic groups have their own specialities, which have stood the test of time. Most involve eggs and fruit. The eggs would have accumulated during the Lenten fasting period and they also symbolised Spring and rebirth.  Sultanas, raisins, and spices were always considered a luxury so they too would have been included in many celebration cakes. Greece, Cyprus and Crete particularly have many special Easter specialities and both sweet and savoury breads play a central role in Greek religious life as part of Orthodox ritual and as celebration food. The Lenten fast is broken by the sharing of this rich Easter bread.
A handsome Italian from Siena called Riccardo Chianella, a student on the last 12 week course gave me this recipe which his grandmother cooked every Easter in the Foligno area of Italy.
The Easter bunny biscuits are simple to make, they will delight both young and slightly older Easter revellers, perhaps you might like to hide them in the garden for a bunny hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Have fun !

Easter Bread

This almond-topped bread is from Rosemary Barron’s book ‘Flavours of Greece’ published by William Morrow & Co. New York. This bread which breaks the Lenten fast has pride of place on the Easter Sunday table. Rich in eggs and butter (foods forbidden during Lent), these shiny loaves display all the baker’s artistry with their splendid decorations of spring flowers, leaves, or berries shaped in dough. Many of these Easter breads are so beautifully crafted that they are used as wall decorations throughout the year. Red eggs, signifying both rebirth and the blood of Christ, are an important part of the decoration – they delight the children but, unlike our traditional Easter eggs, are never eaten.

6 white eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons red food colouring
a few drops of blue food colouring
1 tablesp. Olive oil

For the Bread dough:
4½ ozs (125g/three-quarter cup packed) light brown sugar
4 fl.ozs (100ml) tepid (110F) water
1½ tablesp (2 American tablesp.) active dry yeast
15 ozs (425g/3 cups) plain white flour
12-15ozs (340-425 g/2½-3 cups) strong white flour
4 fl ozs (100ml) + 1½ tablesp. milk, heated to tepid (110F)
2 tablesp. olive oil
5 free-range eggs
Juice of ½ orange
2 tablesp. finely grated orange zest, briefly dried in a low oven and pulverized in a mortar with ½ teasp. sugar or 1½ tablesp. orange extract
½ teasp. Vanilla extract
1 teasp. fine-grain sea salt
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) unsalted butter, melted
1egg yolk
1 tablesp. honey
2 ozs (50g/½ cup) blanched slivered almonds

Half fill a stainless steel saucepan with water, bring to a boil, and add the food colourings. Gently boil the eggs for 20 minutes; add a little more colouring if necessary to produce deep crimson eggs.  Let the eggs cool in the water, remove them, and set aside to dry. Dip a paper towel in the olive oil, and rub each egg all over with it.
To make the bread dough:
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar in the water and sprinkle the yeast over. Set aside in a warm place until foamy, about 10 minutes.  Sieve 10 ozs (285g/2 cups) of the plain flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre, and pour in the yeast mixture. Knead and gradually add the 4 fl.ozs (120ml) milk, remaining plain flour and 7½ ozs (210g/1½ cups) of the strong flour, or enough to make a light, smooth, and elastic dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and brush with olive oil. Cover with a warm damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm draft-free place for 1 hour, or until at least doubled in bulk.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until light and frothy and beat in the remaining brown sugar, the orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and salt. Add to the dough with 2½ tablesp. of the melted butter and knead in enough of the remaining strong flour to make a soft dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 minutes.
Form the dough into 2 braided or round loaves on buttered baking sheets; if making round loaves reserve a little of the dough for decoration. Roll the reserved dough into thin ropes with the palms of your hands and break off small pieces to make into spring symbols, such as flowers, leaves or berries. Decorate the tops of the round loaves with these shaped. Set the loaves aside for 2 hours in a warm draft-free spot t rise. Heat the oven to 400F/200C/regulo 6.  Place the eggs either around the centres of the round loaves or between the decorations, or arrange the eggs between the briads. Brush with the egg and honey glaze, sprinkle with the almonds and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F/180c/Regulo 4 and bake 20 minutes longer, or until golden brown, transfer to racks to cool.  Discard the eggs once the bread is cut.


Easter Bunny Biscuits

These are rather fun to make for Easter – the kids can make them too.
6 oz (170g) plain white flour or 5½ oz (155g) white flour and ½ oz (15g) ground rice
4 oz (110g/1 stick) butter
2 oz (55g) castor sugar
For Decoration
icing, raisins, tiny speckled eggs
rabbit shaped biscuit cutter

Mix the flour, ground rice (if used) and castor sugar in a bowl, rub in the butter and continue to work until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Roll into a one-eighth inch (3mm) thick sheet on a floured board. Stamp into ‘bunny’ shapes with a cutter. Bake in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 14-15 minutes or until pale and golden in colour. Cool on a wire rack.
Decorate with icing, raisins or speckled tiny chocolate eggs where appropriate.

Pizza Pasquale (Easter Cheese Bread)

Originally from Umbria in Italy, this particular recipe comes from Foligno. It is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday, together with a brunch composed of Italian salami, hard boiled eggs etc. which has been blessed by the priest at the church.
5 eggs
5 pinches of salt
1 tablesp. of Extra Virgin olive oil
1 tablesp. of milk
7 ozs (200g) of mixed cheese (Parmesan cheese and Pecorino (hard sheep cheese) or
3½ ozs (100g) Parmesan cheese and 3½ ozs (100g) Cheddar cheese grated
White flour
30g Pizzaiolo baking powder

Beat the eggs with the salt, oil and milk. Add the cheese, mix. Add the flour until you reach a consistency of a very wet dough. Add the baking powder. Mix and pour on an oiled tin lined with paper. Bake at 160C/325F/Regulo 3 in a conventional oven for 45 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and eat when cold.  Note: Tin must be filled no more than half as this mixture will rise more than double.  The dough must be very wet (add milk or oil). If using baking powder reduce by half as it leaves a bitter taste..

Simnel Cake

Warm, freshly baked Simnel Cake is just about my favourite festive cake of the year, it’s the traditional Easter Cake in our family, rich and juicy with plump fruit. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The cake is decorated with eleven balls of almond paste, which represent eleven of the twelve apostles. Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.  There’s still time to make it for Easter. We love to eat it on Easter Monday when we take a picnic to the woods at Glenbower and eat it beside the stream in the midst of wood anemone and wild garlic.


Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.
8 ozs (225g/2 stick) butter
8 ozs (225g/1 cup) pale, soft brown sugar
6 eggs, preferably free range
10 ozs (285g/2 cups) white flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 ½ fl ozs (35ml/generous ¼ cup) Irish whiskey
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality sultanas
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality currants
12 ozs (340g/2 generous cups) best quality raisins
4 ozs (110g/½ cup) cherries
4 ozs (110g/½ cup) home made candied peel
2 ozs (55g/scant ½ cup) whole almonds
2 ozs (55g/generous ½ cup) ground almonds
Rind of 1 lemon
Rind of 1 orange
1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated
Almond Paste
1 lb (450g/4¾ cups) ground almonds
1 lb (450g/4 cups) castor sugar
2 small eggs
A drop of pure almond essence
2 tablesp. (50ml/¼ cup) Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or a 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper. Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
Next make the almond paste. Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).  Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8½ inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper.
Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3-3½ hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.  NOTE: When you are testing do so at an angle because the almond paste can give a false reading.  Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.
When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1½ inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg or egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220C/425F/regulo 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden, Decorate with an Easter Chicken. Cut while warm or allow to get cold, or store for several weeks covered or in an airtight tin.  
: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake. You will need half the almond paste again.  This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

Chef of the Year

Jean Georges Vongerichten – Named Chef of the Year by Esquire, New Yorker Magazine and Time Out New York. Recipient of three James Beard Foundation Awards – best chef in New York City, best new restaurant and best chef in America – all that and 4 stars from The New York Times, the highest accolade that prestigious newspaper bestows.  The cooking of Jean-Georges Vongerichten with its French and Asian influences, sophisticated, yet startlingly uncomplicated, has earned him endless rave reviews. The flavours of his food are instantly appealing. Vongerichten has created a culinary style that is highly creative and intensely flavourful, yet remarkably simple.  Most of his recipes use very few ingredients and his books, unlike most chefs’ tomes are very workable for the dedicated home cook.
Jean Georges who was born in rural Alsace in North Eastern France, grew up eating traditional food cooked by his mother and grandmother. As a teenager he was passionate about food and went to cooking school. By the tender age of 16 he was cooking at L’Auberge de L’lll, a 3 star Michelin restaurant considered to be the best in Alsace. He later went to work with luminaries like Paul Bocuse, Eckhart Witzigmann (Munich), and finally Louis Outhier of L’Oasis on the French Riviera.  It was he who sent Jean Georges to the US and Asia where he discovered the flavours of lemongrass, ginger, galangal, cilantro and coconut milk. This was in the early eighties, when no French chef would dream of blending Asian flavours with classical French. In fact it is still considered by many to be little short of heresy.  In 1991 he opened Jo Jo in New York, Vong opened a year later, (there are now Vongs in London and Hong Kong) , and then Jean Georges which earned a rare four star rating.  In New York last week I visited one of his newest ventures the Mercer Kitchen, in the basement of the trendy Mercer Hotel in Soho. I started with a Rocket Leaf Salad with Shaved Fennel and Parmesan, light and delicious. Then Roasted Beets with a blob of soft goat cheese, earthy & gorgeous. A delicious thin crust pizza topped with raw tuna and wasabi mustard was also inspired.
The main course was Grilled Lamb Steak with Flageolets and Sun chokes. Understandably by this stage I was struggling but I still managed to taste a couple of desserts all in the way of research.  Jean Georges’ Undercooked Chocolate Cake, originally a mistake, has been one of the most popular and copied desserts in New York.  When you cut into the brownie-like crust with a spoon the warm centre oozes out, this brings out the kid in everyone. Its best served with a blob of softly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef
By Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman, published by Broadway Books, New York 1998.
Mercer Hotel, very trendy, lots of Europeans stay there. (Mercer) Kitchen in basement, 99 Prince St, Soho, New York, Tel. 212 966 5454.

Letters from March 2000

St Patrick’s Day

Really, St Patrick’s Day has an extraordinary impact worldwide, it just occurred to me that it is the only national day that is celebrated virtually all over the globe with parades, from Sydney to New York, Macroom to Lanesboro. This year I was in America yet again. The Aer Lingus plane from Dublin to JFK Airport was bulging at the seams with politicians from North and South, musicians of every hue, brass bands, journalists, radio and television personalities and a myriad of people going over for the premiere of Riverdance on Broadway.  When we arrived in New York it was on a Wednesday afternoon, it was warm and summery and over 50º Centigrade, but by St Patrick’s Day however, the temperature had plummeted. Nothing however seems to dampen the spirits of the St Patrick’s Day crowds. The parade doesn’t start until 11am, yet thousands of cheery revellers of all ages, colour and creed were lining the streets by 8.30am. They seemed totally oblivious to the falling snowflakes as they waved to the television cameras with their faces painted 40 shades of green, green rig-outs, whacky hats, green hair and colourful banners with good wishes for St Patrick’s Day or for relatives at home. One eager chap frantically waved his banner saying MARRY ME MELISSA any time the cameras came anywhere close – Hope Melissa saw it!  The New York Police were out in force, so many had Irish names, often second or third generation. Everyone was good humoured despite the freezing cold, great badges everywhere, VIP stood for Very Irish Person, HIP for Honorary Irish Person, RIP Real Irish Person, GIP Genuine Irish Person. Many had never actually been to Ireland – some didn’t even have a drop of Irish blood but wanted to join in the celebrations with their Irish friends.  The shops were decorated in shades of green, white and gold. Everything that could possibly be made in the shape of a shamrock from candies to pasta was there.
Everything that could possibly be dyed green was transformed for the festival, from beer to muffins to yummy meals. Even Aer Lingus gave their lady passengers green carnations.  I was over in New York to appear on Sara Moulton’s ‘Cooking Live’ programme on the Food Network. Sara chose Bread as the theme so I made White Soda Bread and variations, Orange Scones with Orange Butter and Rhubarb Bread and Butter Pudding, all simple but delicious recipes. The response was phenomenal, the phone lines were jammed, Kitchen Arts and Letters, New York’s most famous bookshop sold out of books at the book signing next day, and we got masses and masses of e-mails from people who said they had thought they couldn’t cook but now felt they would have a go. The response really delighted me and made me realise yet again that whether we live in New York or Shanagarry, that what most of us want most of the time are simple and delicious recipes that are quick to make and look terrific.


White Soda Bread and Scones

Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g/3¼ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon breadsoda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up, flip over. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).

White Soda Bread with Herbs

Add 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped herbs eg. rosemary or sage, thyme, chives, parsley, lemon balm to the dry ingredients and continue as above. Shape into a loaf or scones and bake as for soda bread.
Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones
Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.
Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Egg wash
Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.
Rosemary and Olive Scones
Add 1½ tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Rosemary and Sundried Tomatoes
Add 1-2 tablespoons (1½ – 2½ tablespoons) of chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of chopped sundried tomatoes to the flour and continue as in the basic recipe. Form into a loaf of bread or scones.
Olive Scones
Make a white soda bread dough with or without herbs. Flatten into a 1 inch square. Dot the top with whole olives. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut into square scones and bake as above.

Rhubarb Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 6-8
We’ve been having fun ringing the changes with our recipe. Bread and Butter Pudding is also delicious with apple and cinnamon or even mixed spice. I can’t wait to try gooseberry and elderflower as soon as they come back into season.
12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
55g (2oz/½ stick) butter, preferably unsalted
450g (1 lb) red rhubarb
450ml (16 fl oz/2 cups) cream
230ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) milk
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
175g (6oz/¾ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding

Softly-whipped cream
1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish
Slice the rhubarb in pieces, put into a dish and sprinkle with sugar leave to macerate for an hour.  Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the rhubarb, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the rhubarb. Cover with the remaining bread, buttered side down.  In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence and sugar. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
Bake in a bain-marie – the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.

Crunchy Orange Butter Scones

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (7½ cm) cutter
2 lbs (900 g) plain white flour
6 ozs (170 g/1½ sticks) butter
Pinch of salt
2 ozs (55 g) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
Rind of one orange
3 free-range eggs
15 fl ozs (450 ml/scant 2 cups) approx. full cream milk to mix
Egg wash (see below)
2 ozs (55 g) granulated sugar for top of scones
Orange Butter
3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind
6 ozs (170 g) butter
7 ozs (200 g) icing butter
Preheat the oven 250C/475F/regulo 9.

First make the Orange butter.  Cream the butter with the finely grated orange rind. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.
Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, 3 heaped teaspoons of baking powder and castor sugar. Grate the rind of one orange on the finest part of the grater over the dry ingredients in the bowl. Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.  Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre. With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl. This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the floured board. Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point. Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about ¾ inch (2cm) thick.  Spread the soft orange butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 1¼ inch (3cm) thick.  Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in granulated sugar. Put onto a baking sheet.  Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Egg Wash
Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk. This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven.
Practical Tip
Scone mixture may be weighed up ahead – even the day before. Butter may be rubbed in but do not add raising agent and liquid until just before serving.

Spring is here at last

Rhubarb – Spring at last. The fruit garden which is underneath the dining room of the cookery school has been specially under-planted with Spring bulbs to cheer us up in late Winter and early Spring. First theWinter Snowflakes (Leucojum) come and then a carpet of snowdrops and violets, followed soon by hellebores and drifts of little daffs.  All of this is a delight but it’s the gradual unfurling of the rhubarb and the emergence of the tender pink spears which brings most joy to my heart.  I adore rhubarb, its clean sharp fresh taste seems the perfect antidote after heavy winter meals. Waiting for it to be ready to pick requires infinite patience on my part, almost unbearable, so I often nip across the road to Walshs farm to get a bunch of theirs which year in year out seems to be ahead of ours and so delicious.
We’ve just made our first rhubarb tarts, we’ve got several we love and usually add a variation each year. Apart from tarts or compotes, a rhubarb sauce is delicious with roast pork, just stew the rhubarb with a little sugar and a tiny drop of water, as soon as it disintegrates it is ready. The acidity counterbalances the richness of the pork beautifully. Here are several of our favourite rhubarb recipes.

Rhubarb & Raspberry Jam


Makes 3 pots approx.
18 oz (500g) rhubarb
11oz (300g) raspberries (use frozen fruit when not in season)
1lb 12 oz (800g) sugar
Chop the rhubarb, put in a bowl, cover with sugar and leave overnight to extract the juices.  Next day, heat the raspberries in a stainless steel saucepan until juicy and boiling.  Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a stainless steel saucepan, place on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the raspberries. Bring to a quick boil and boil for 8-10 minutes until setting point is reached. Test by putting a teaspoon of jam onto a cold plate, wait for a few seconds. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger.
Fill into sterilised jars and cover with tightly fitting lids. Store in a cool dark place.


Rhubarb Sauce

This bitter sweet sauce is delicious served with roast pork instead of Bramley Apple Sauce
Serves 6 approx
1 lb (450g) red rhubarb cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces
4 oz (110g) sugar
Put the rhubarb into a stainless steel saucepan, add the sugar and toss around, leave for 5 or 10 minutes until the juice from the rhubarb starts to melt the sugar. Then, cover the saucepan and put on a gentle heat, cook until soft. Taste and add a little more sugar if necessary. It should not be too sweet but should not cut your throat either. If you have a spoonful of really good redcurrant jelly stir it in at the end, otherwise leave it out. Serve warm with roast pork.

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

This pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
Serves 8-12
8 ozs (225g/2 sticks) butter
2 ozs (55g/1/3 cup) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (340g/2½ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
16 ozs (450g) sliced red rhubarb (about ½ inch thick)
6½ – 7 ozs (185-200g) sugar, approx.
Castor sugar for sprinkling
To Serve
Softly whipped cream
Barbados sugar
Rectangular tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes, it may look curdled but don’t worry. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 1 hour otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Put the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the rhubarb is tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked sprinkle lightly with castor sugar. Serve cut into squares with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Rhubarb & Almond Tart

Serves 8

5 oz (140g) butter, diced
12 oz (340g) plain flour
4 tablesp. castor sugar
1 tablesp. flaked almonds
5 tablesp. cold water
3½ ozs (100g) butter
3½ ozs (100g) castor sugar
3½ ozs (100g) ground almonds
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
12-16 ozs (340-450g) rhubarb
9 inch (23cm) flan tin with a removable base.
First make the pastry.
Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and separate out 3 ozs (85g) of the mixture. Add 1 tablespoon flaked almonds to this portion and set aside for the topping. Finish the pastry by gradually adding the water to the remainder of the mixture until the dough binds. Rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.  Roll out the pastry and line the tin, cover with kitchen paper, fill with baking beans, then bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the baking beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack
Meanwhile make the filling.  Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs and yolks, then the almonds. Spread on the bottom of the pastry case.  Cut the rhubarb into ¾ – 1¼ inch (2-3cm) pieces and scatter on top of the filling, you may need to add a little sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven. Sprinkle over the reserved topping.  Reduce the heat to 180C/350F/regulo 4 and bake for a further 35 minutes.  Cool slightly. Dredge icing sugar over the top and serve.

Greetings from Shanagarry

The term has whizzed by and already we are into week ten of the January 12 Week Certificate course. The students from ten different nationalities are a bright and lively bunch. They are cooking well and several are enjoying cooking in the wood burning oven.
Haulie’s latest excitement on the farm is a new litter of saddleback pigs born in the field behind the Garden Cafe. They are adorable and now beginning to emerge from the shelter to delight the students who can’t bear to think of them eventually turning into sweet juicy pork.
Eileen, Kay and Charlie are racing against time to get the seeds planted and to get the gardens clipped into shape before Easter.The fruit garden under the dining room window which has been under planted with spring bulbs is just gorgeous this year. Huge beds of little daffodils, Iris, wintered snowdrops and hellebores are all in bloom at present and the first of the new season rhubarb.
We’ve had some lovely spring days so it has been possible to sit outside after lunch. Norbert Platz, the basket maker extraordinaire from West Cork came over last weekend to put new wings on the willow dragon and to prune the living willow tunnel beside the palis des poulets.
Lydia and Emily our two wandering daughters are now travelling around New Zealand. They say it is utterly beautiful and have visited Colleen Blackers sister and plan to look up past student Mark Woller and his Waterford born wife Tia.
They hope to be home for Toby and Penny’s wedding at the beginning of April. Penny is an adorable Scottish girl whom Toby met when he was cooking in a ski chalet in Verbier. The wedding will be in Edinburgh and apparently the Scots have organised a Ceidli for us also.
The social event of the past week was the world premier of the Alistair Mc Gucians musical ‘The Halfpenny Bridge’ at the Opera House in Cork. A very glamorous evening with Corks glitterati out in force. The performance was vibrant and exciting with memorable songs and dance. After the show 180 people dined at the Crawford Cafe.
On Tuesday I was in London to do a demonstration at Fortnum and Mason to promote Irish food for Bord Bia. It was enormously well received and over subscribed. Fortnum and Mason have been very supportive of artisanal producers.
Altogether this is quite a hectic week cos Wednesday morning I am off to New York to do Sara Mottous TV show on the Food Network for St Patrick’s Day. It will be a flying trip but I am hopping to touch base with Zanne Stewart and Madhur Jaffery while I am over, catch up on all the latest excitement on the New York food scene! Keep in touch. More news soon……………….

   The great café culture

The sunny Australian climate lends itself to a great café culture. Many restaurants have outdoor tables on balconies, verandahs, or just on the sidewalk with great big canvas awnings or umbrellas shading the diners from the sun.  Décor is often bright and funky or minimalist but always fun and relaxed. The Asian influence is apparent everywhere and the fusion of Eastern and Western flavours and cooking techniques is evident on virtually every menu. Italian and Mediterranean are still there and nestled among them are the old favourites like Spicy Potato Wedges with sour Cream and Sweet Chilli Sauce.  Turkish bread was served everywhere with various dips, from Tzatsaki, Roast Red Pepper Puree and Dukkah, Seared meat and vegetables, Baba Ganoush, Spiced Crusted Fish, Thai Chicken Salads, Hoisin Duck with Pancakes, Chicken Satay with fragrant Rice and lots of fresh coriander. Sushi and Snow Pea Sprouts were everywhere.
Desserts were a luscious and irresistible mix of familiar favourites like Crème Brulee, Chocolate and Honeycomb Cake, Sticky Rice and Mango and Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding.. Melting Moments, unquestionably the flavour of the month were my absolute favourites and a Tira Misu Cake, a twist on the Italian original was a discovery from the Valley Cafe outside Margaret River.

Crispy Potatoes with Sweet Chilli Sauce & Sour Cream


All the rage in Oz.
Serves 4
1½lbs (680g) potatoes
Sweet Chilli Sauce
Sour cream
Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Cool. Cut into wedges
To serve
Deep fry the wedges in hot oil until crisp and golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Season with salt .
Serve immediately with a bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.
You can buy Sweet Chilli Sauce in specialist outlets such as Mr Bell’s stall in the English Market in Cork or make this Tomato and Chilli Jam.


Tomato and Chilli Jam


This zingy jam is great with everything from fried eggs to cold meat. Terrific on a piece of chicken breast or fish or spread on bruschetta with goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.
500 g (18 ozs) very ripe tomatoes
2-4 red chillies
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 thumbs of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
30 ml (1 fl oz/scant ¼ cup) Fish sauce (Nam Pla)
300 g (11 ozs/1½ cups) golden castor sugar
100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) red wine vinegar

Purée half the tomatoes, the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce in a blender. Skin the remainder of the tomatoes and chop into ½ inch dice. Put the purée, sugar and vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer. Cook gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent sticking.  When cooked pour into warmed, sterilized glass jars. Allow to cool. Store in the fridge.


Melting Moments

Flavour of the month in Australia at present.
Makes 16 biscuits approx. depending on size
9 ozs (250g) unsalted butter, softened
3 ozs (85g) icing sugar
2½ ozs (70g) cornflour
6½ ozs (185g) plain flour
6½ ozs (185g) icing sugar
3 ozs (85g) butter, softened
3 teasp. pure vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/regulo 3
Line a baking sheet with Bakewell Paper.
Cream the butter with the icing sugar, gradually beat in the cornflour and flour. Mix well. The dough will be very soft so roll into balls about the size of a walnut or pipe into rosettes. Leave room for them to spread.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and firm.  Cool on a wire rack.
To make the icing  Cream the butter and icing sugar together until soft and fluffy and add the vanilla essence. Sandwich two biscuits together and repeat until all the biscuits are paired.


Tiramisu Cake


Tiramisu is all the rage, this luscious cake looks stunning and is very easy to serve.
Serves 8
2½ packets of Boudoir Biscuits.
1 pint approx.(570ml/2½ cups) strong espresso coffee (if your freshly made coffee is not strong enough, add 1 teaspoon of instant coffee)
4 tablesp. (5 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) brandy
4 tablesp. (5 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) Jamaica rum
6 ozs (170g) dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated, preferably free range
6 ozs (170g) castor sugar
18 ozs (500g) Mascarpone cheese
Unsweetened cocoa
4 ozs (110g) toasted hazelnuts, chopped
9½ inch (24cm) round spring form angel cake tin
Line the bottom and sides of the tin with Bakewell paper.
Mix the coffee with the brandy and rum. Roughly grate the chocolate (we do it in the food processor with the pulse button.) Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the ‘ribbon’ stage and is light and fluffy, then fold in the Mascarpone, a tablespoon at a time.  Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the cheese mixture. Now you are ready to assemble the Tira Misu.
Dip each side of the boudoir biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture and arrange side by side in the tin. Spread half the mascarpone mixture gently over the biscuits, sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the top, then another layer of soaked biscuits and finally the rest of the mascarpone. Cover the whole tin carefully with cling film or better still slide it into a plastic bag and twist the end. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours – I usually make it the day before I use it.  Unmould on to a serving plate and pat the toasted hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.  The Tiramisu Cake will keep for several days in a fridge, but make sure its covered so that it doesn’t pick up ‘fridgie’ tastes.


Chicken/Prawn Satay – Malaysian Barbequed Chicken

This is one of the delicious Malaysian recipes that Naranajan Kaur McCormack who  lives near Fermoy shares with us when she demonstrates to our students. They love it. There are endless “satay” variations, using different meat and marinade combinations. Try to include a little fat with each piece of meat, or the satay will become dry when cooked. For the most authentic and optimum flavour, cook the satay on a charcoal barbeque. Satay is usually served with rice, eaten as a snack with drinks (the many fruit drinks available or chilled beers) or served with cucumber salad and “longtong” (compressed rice). This is a very popular “hawker” food. Street traders selling food from kiosk-like stalls are a very popular feature in Malaysia. Naranjan says that  this is an all time favourite summertime barbeque dish with her family and friends. She has found that the chicken satay is by far the most popular of meat satays. The marinade helps to tenderise the meat hence the chicken meat seems to simply melt in your mouth!

1 lb (450 g) skinned and boned chicken meat
20 bamboo skewers (soaked overnight to prevent them burning on the barbeque)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Cut up the chicken into small pieces roughly to about one inch by one inch cubes. Place the cubed chicken into a bowl and season with the marinade. Leave to marinade for about 6-8 hours or preferably overnight.  Heat the grill on a high heat for a few minutes. Skewer pieces of chicken onto the bamboo skewers. Thread the meat until the skewer holds about 3 inches of meat at its pointed end. Grill the skewered pieces of chicken on the hot grill for about 15-20 minutes turning the skewers to ensure even cooking.  Serve with a peanut sauce, a side salad and the “longtong” (compressed rice)


Peanut Sauce

6 ozs (170 g/generous 1 cup) unsalted peanuts
2 ozs (55 g/scant ½ cup) chopped onion
2 ozs (55 g/generous ¼ cup) demerara sugar
1 rounded teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) cornflour mixed into ½ pint
(10 fl oz) water
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) peanut oil
Juice of 1 lemon
A piece of tamarind the size of a golf ball dissolved into 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) water (Using the tips of your fingers dissolve the tamarind pieces into the water and strain the liquid through a sieve. Retain this mixture (tamarind water)  Fry the peanuts in a dry pan till lightly brown. Leave the peanuts aside to cool, then peel off the brown skins and discard the skins. (Place the peanuts on a tray and when cool, rub off the skins between your thumbs and fingers and “blow away” the loose skins).
NB: Peanuts retain the heat for quite a long time and you can obtain a nasty burn from hot peanuts!  Then pureé the peanuts in a food processor and when the peanuts resemble biscuit crumbs, add the chopped onion, garlic, chilli powder and salt and liquidise together until well mixed together.  Heat the peanut oil in a shallow frying pan and add all the liquidised ingredients into the frying pan and fry on a medium heat. Add the strained tamarind water, the lemon juice and the brown sugar and mix well together. Then add the cornflour mixture and simmer until the sauce thickens.
Serve with an assortment of Satay and a side salad. Can be served hot or cold.

A Chinese meal

Chinese restaurants have long been favourites on the Irish food scene, always there as a standby or treat when one was too busy to cook or felt like something sweet and sour or spicy as a change from the interminable meat and two veg, Some were simple, others opulent establishments serving everything from irresistible Dim Sum to veritable Chinese banquets. Despite the familiarity with the local Chinese restaurant, many of us know very little about real Chinese food.
What distinguishes Chinese cooking from other food cultures lies not only in the preparation and cooking, but also the way the food is eaten. A Chinese meal doesn’t follow the conventional Western sequence of soup, fish, meat, cheese and dessert. An everyday Chinese meal, served at home or in a restaurant, is like a buffet, with all the dishes (including soup) arranged together in the centre of the table. Everyone just helps themselves to whatever they like, not from every dish on the table, but from one or two dishes at a time. Each person will be given a bowl of rice to accompany these dishes. Only on formal occasions are the dishes served course by course. Even then they will appear in groups rather than singly, soup is the only course served in an individual dish.
The sequence of courses for a formal dinner or banquet will be more or less the following:
Assorted cold starters, 4-6 hot starters, soup, 4-6 main dishes, rice or noodles, desserts (both sweet and savoury). According to Deh-ta-Hsiung in ‘The Chinese Kitchen’, the reason for serving Chinese food this way is the Chinese division between fan, grains and other starch foods known as staples, and cai, cooked meat and vegetable dishes. Grains in the various forms of rice or wheaten flour (bread, pancakes, noodles or dumplings), make up the fan part of the meal; vegetables and meats, cut up and mixed in various combinations into individual dishes constitute the cai part. It is in the successful combining of various ingredients and the blending of different flavours for the preparation of the cai that the fine art and skill of Chinese cookery, its haute cuisine lie.
While an everyday meal must be equally balanced between fan and simply prepared cai dishes, for a formal banquet the emphasis is shifted very much on to the cai dishes which are mostly lavish and elaborate. The rice at a formal banquet is only served at the end of the meal as a token offering, because by then, everyone is too full to want any starchy food.
To achieve the perfect balance in a Chinese meal requires the harmonious blending of five elements – colour, aroma, flavour, texture and shape, – a principle which applies to the making of each individual dish as much as to the meal as a whole.
One of the long-standing Chinese beliefs about food is the close relationship it has with the state of one’s health. The Taoist school of philosophy (which has run side by side with Confucianism for many years) developed an entire nutritional science of food, which was based on familiar yin-yang principles.
This Taoist approach classifies all foods into those that possess the ‘yin’, meaning cool quality, and those that possess the ‘yang’, or hot quality. When the yin-yang forces in the body are not balanced, illness results. To combat this disorder, it is necessary to eat the foods that will redress the balance. This belief was documented in the third century BC at the inception of herbal medicines and the links between nutrition and health, and it is still a dominant concept in Chinese culture today.
Whether amateur or professional, every cook works to the yin-yang principle – a dish must have a harmonious balance and/or contrast of colours, aromas, flavours and textures. So we find one of the best manifestations of the yin-yang principle in Chinese cooking in the way we blend seasonings in complementary pairs: salt (yin) with pepper (yang); sugar (yin) with vinegar (yang); spring onion (yin) with ginger (yang); soy (yin) with wine (yang) and so on. No rules can be set for the exact yin-yang combination, since it is all done by subtle intuition and a feel for the whole process – an experienced cook knows by instinct what does and does not go together to achieve a balance.
The following recipes are from ‘The Chinese Kitchen’ by Deh-Ta-Hsiung – a book of essential ingredients with over 200 authentic recipes, published by Kyle Cathie, London 1999.


Spring Roll Pancakes


Popular in northern China, these savoury pancakes can be served on their own as a snack, or as the fan part of a meal with othercai dishes.
Makes 10-12
Preparation time 30-35 minutes plus 30 minutes standing time.
Cooking time 45-50 minutes.
450g (1lb) plain flour
300ml (½ pint) boiling water
about 50ml (2 fl.oz) cold water
dry flour for dusting
4-5 spring onions, coarsely chopped
1 tablesp. large grain sea salt
100g (3½oz) lard or shortening
3-4 tablesp. vegetable oil

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and gently pour in the boiling water. Stir for 5-6 minutes, then add the cold water and knead to a firm dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to stand for 25-30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a sausage and divide it into 10-12 sections. Roll each section into a flat pancake about 20cm (8in) in diameter. Sprinkle each pancake evenly with the chopped spring onions, salt and lard or shortening. Fold up the pancake from the sides, then roll again to make a 5mm (¼ in) thick pancake.
Heat the oil in a pre-heated frying-pan and fry the pancakes, one at a time, over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, turning over once. They should be golden brown and crispy on both sides. Shake and jiggle the pan while cooking so you have a flaky pastry finish.
Serve hot. Cut each pancake into small pieces, or tear into pieces and eat with your fingers. The pancakes should have a strong spring onion flavour, with the occasional sharpness of the salt crystals – absolutely delicious.


Cold Tossed Noodles


The dressing for this dish can be varied according to season and personal taste. The basic seasonings are ginger, soy, vinegar, spring onions and sesame oil.
Serves 4
Preparation time 10-15 minutes plus soaking and cooling time.
Cooking time 3-4 minutes.

2 tablesp. dried shrimps
3 tablesp. rice wine
3 tablesp. light soy
2 tablesp. rice vinegar
1 teasp. chilli sauce
2 spring onions
450g (1lb) fresh egg noodles or 350g (12oz) dried noodles
1 tablesp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablesp. Chinese Preserved Vegetables (a canned Chinese mustard pickle)
1 teasp. sesame oil

Soak the dried shrimps in warm water for 10-15 minutes, drain, coarsely chop, then soak in the rice wine for a further 15 minutes.  Mix the soy, vinegar and chilli sauce. Finely shred the spring onions.  Cook the noodles in a pan of lightly salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water. Spread the noodles on a serving dish.  Evenly sprinkle the preserved vegetables, shrimps, the soy mixture and ginger. Garnish with spring onions and sesame oil. Mix and toss at the table before serving.


Rapid –Fried Lamb with Spring Onions


This recipe originated in Shandong. The rapid cooking method known as bao means ‘explosion’ and is even quicker than standard stir-frying.

Serves 4
Preparation time 10-15 minutes plus marinating time.
Cooking time 5 minutes.

350g (12oz) leg of lamb fillet
about 600ml (1 pint) oil
6-8 spring onions, cut into short sections
3-4 small bits of fresh ginger
1 tablesp yellow bean sauce
1 tablesp Worcestershire sauce

For the marinade:
½ teasp sugar
pinch of ground white pepper
1 tablesp. dark soy
1 tablesp rice wine
2 teasp cornflour paste
1 teasp sesame oil
Cut the lamb across the grain into slices the size of large postage stamps, then marinate for several hours.  Heat the oil in a preheated wok until smoking. Stir-fry the lamb in the oil for about 30-40 seconds until the meat changes colour. Then remove the slices and drain.  Pour off the excess oil, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the wok. Stir-fry the spring onions and ginger with the yellow beans for about 30 seconds, then return the lamb to the wok, blend well and add the Worcestershire Sauce. Stir-fry for about another minute and serve hot.
Note: The timing and temperature are vitally important in this dish: the heat must be very high at all times and the cooking should be extremely rapid!


Crispy Spring Rolls

Makes about 20 rolls
Preparation time – about 1 hour, plus soaking, marinating and cooling time.
Cooking time – about 10minutes.

6-8 dried Chinese mushrooms
225g(8oz) pork or chicken fillet
1½ tablesp. light soy
1 teasp. rice wine
1 teasp. cornflour
125g (4½oz) bamboo shoots, drained
175g (6oz) tender young leeks or spring onions
2-3 tablesp. oil
100g (3½oz) peeled and cooked prawns
½ teasp. salt
1 teasp. sugar
20 sheets ready-made spring roll skin
1 tablesp. cornflour paste
dry flour for dusting
oil for deep frying

Soak the mushrooms in warm water for about 40-50 minutes, or in cold water for 4-5 hours. Squeeze dry and discard any hard stalks. Cut into matchstick-size shreds.  Thinly shred the meat and marinate with about 2 teaspoons soy, the rice wine and cornflour for 25-30 minutes. Thinly shred the bamboo shoots and leeks or spring onions so they are the same size as the mushrooms and meat.  Heat the oil in a preheated wok. Stir-fry the leeks or spring onions with the shredded meat for about 1 minute, then add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots and prawns. Stir-fry for another minute or so. Add the salt and sugar with the remaining soy, blend well and cook for a further minute. Remove from the heat, drain off any excess liquid and leave to cool.
Peel off the skins one at a time and lay diagonally on the worktop. Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling on each one. Shape the filling into a sausage running from  your left to right. Lift the corner of the skin nearest you, fold over the filing and roll once away from you. Fold in both ends loosely and roll again – this is an important point, for if you fold the ends too tightly, the roll will not be very crispy when cooked. Brush the last corner with the cornflour paste and roll into a neat package.  Lightly dust a tray with dry flour and place the spring rolls in rows with the flap sides down. Repeat the wrapping process until all the filling is used up. Do not cook the spring rolls until a few minutes before serving in order to retain their crispiness. Finished rolls can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two, or they can be frozen for several months and then cooked from frozen.
To cook: heat the oil in a wok or deep-fryer until smoking a little, then reduce the heat and fry the rolls in batches (3-4 at a time) for 2-3 minutes or until crispy and golden. Remove and drain. They should stay crispy for 15-20 minutes, and in a warm oven will stay crispy for up to 45 minutes before serving.  Serve hot with a dip such as soy, rice vinegar, chilli sauce or plum sauce.

Letters from February 2000


Its been over two years now since I spent a few memorable days in Finland. Last time it was the end of September and the Autumn colour was at its most intense – gorgeous bright oranges, reds, yellows and dusty russets. The countryside was still green and vivid, the little dark red timbered houses silhouetted against the hills and the forests so beloved of the Finns. The temperature was higher than in Ireland and it was difficult to believe that quarter of this country lies north of the Arctic Circle. This time there was no difficulty remembering. There was snow, ice and sleet. The naturally shy Finns were muffled up against the cold, everywhere seemed dark and overcast and still, and I could well understand how these gloomy days must affect the national mood during Winter. This year the weather has been relatively mild in comparison to last year when the temperature dropped to below –53C for almost two weeks.
Nonetheless I got a warm welcome from Finnish friends at the Haaga Perrho Institute and a former student Jukka Oresto. He took me out into the country to visit Tuula Sorainen, who has a charming farm guesthouse in Saukkola. When we arrived it looked like a winter wonderland surrounded by Christmas trees – a collection of traditional Finnish houses, with the smoke curling up into the sky. There’s an ancient mill, a traditional Finnish storehouse where Tuula still stores her crispbread, sausages and grain and of course a sauna just beside the river so you can take a refreshing plunge into the cold water when the heat becomes too much.
The house and mill were full of beautiful antiques which Tuula has been collecting for years. The bedrooms are simple and traditional. In summer one friend weaves on the old loom while another makes traditional Finnish rag rugs and pottery for visitors to buy. Tuula cooked me a wonderful Finnish meal , all made from home grown and local ingredients – Jerusalem artichoke soup, Moose stew with roast potatoes, pickled cucumbers, a crisp lettuce, apple and dill salad. The crisp bread and sweet cardamom flavoured pulla were baked in the ancient wood burning oven.
The snow fell outside the house , the fire blazed in the grate and like all Finnish houses it was warm and cosy.  Tuula Sorainen also hosts small conferences in her old mill house as well as special parties. It must be a wonderfully relaxing place to recharge the batteries, particularly in summer when one can also canoe on the river and walk though the forest.
Tuula Sorainen, Myllyniemi, 09430 Saukkola, Finland. Tel 00 358 19 371 215  Fax 00 358 19 371 745
When I left Helsinki enroute to Heathrow Airport there was several feet of snow, nonetheless it was business as usual. Ironically, when I got to London, there was a delay of several hours because Cork airport was snowbound.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

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

Serves 8 – 10
2 ozs (55g/2 stick) butter
13 lbs (560g/3: cups) onions, peeled and chopped
13 lbs (560g/3: cups) potatoes, peeled and chopped
22 lbs (1.15kg) artichokes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) light chicken stock
1 pint (600ml/22 cups) creamy milk approx.
Freshly chopped parsley
Crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions, potatoes and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.
Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.
Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Bacon Croutons

Cut 2 ozs (55g) streaky bacon into lardons, fry in a little oil until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper, mix with the croutons and add to the soup just before serving.

Spring Fair in Birmingham

The Garden Café and Shop beside the school will reopen for the Summer season at Easter, so at present we’re sourcing stock for the shop. We tramped around Showcase in Dublin a few weeks ago and headed for the Spring Fair in Birmingham this week. Trade Fairs are an endurance test at the best of times but at this one there are 20 huge halls. By lunch on the first day we’d just about managed to get through one section, so most people would need to stay at least overnight and therein lies the dilemma. The National Exhibition Centre is just beside the Airport so one can choose to stay in one of the hotels beside the complex or else commute in and out of Birmingham. Having queued for hours for shuttle buses and taxis in previous years we opted for the former. Although the rooms are barely large enough to move around, with no frills attached, they are excruciatingly expensive.
It’s a captive market so that’s the name of the game.  We needed to fortify ourselves with a good breakfast for a strenuous day, one easily walks miles and miles, I wasn’t too keen to indulge in a big fry-up for breakfast, so I asked for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The waitress looked a little panicky and then asked whether I realised it would cost £5.20 sterling, no thanks. So I went back to the breakfast buffet and got two oranges from the fruit bowl and squeezed them myself.  Moments later the sweet little waitress came to our table with a toast rack with at least ten pieces of toast. We explained that we only wanted one piece each and pleaded with her to give it to someone else, rather than leaving it on or table to be wasted. She said we might as well have it because it would just be thrown out anyway. A single gentleman close to us also got ten pieces of toast, no wonder a glass of orange juice costs £5.20, they need to make up the profit somewhere.
In complete contrast we recently visited one of the newest additions to the Cork food scene – The Waters Edge Hotel and Jacobs Ladder Restaurant in Cobh.. Michael and Maggie Whelan have converted the site where they ran their very successful salvage tug boat company for years into a charming 19 bedroom hotel overlooking the harbour. At present bed and breakfast costs just £35 in one of the bedrooms with one of the loveliest views in Cork Harbour.
When we dropped in the other day, we had these delicious Madeleines with a cup of coffee as we watched the boats sailing up and down the harbour – must be one of the most beautiful situations for a restaurant in the Cork area – check it out. Tel. 021-815566.




Waters Edge Chef Martial Marin from La Roche Bernard in Brittany shared his recipe for ‘Madeleines de la Magdalene’ with us.
Makes 20 approx.
5 eggs
180g castor sugar
180g butter
200g plain flour
1 teasp. of pure vanilla essence
2 teasp. of baking powder

Melt the butter and allow to cool. Sieve the flour. Whisk the eggs, add the sugar, vanilla essence, baking powder, and cooled butter. Then add the flour slowly. Spoon the mixture into lightly greased madeleine moulds, Martial used small moulds which held 2 tablesp. of the mixture. You could also use a bun tray.
Bake at 200C (400F/regulo 6) for 10-15 minutes.


February Citrus fruit Salad

In the winter when many fruits have abysmal flavour the citrus fruit are at their best, this delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of that ever expanding family. Its particularly good with blood oranges which appear in the shops for only a few weeks, so make the most of them. Ugli fruit, Pomelo, Tangelos, Sweeties or any other members of the citrus family may be used in season.
Serves 6 approx.

½lb (225g) Kumquats
12 fl ozs (350ml/1½ cups) water
7 ozs (200g/1 cup) sugar
1 lime
½ lb (225g) Clementines
¼-½ lb (110g-225g) Tangerines or Mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats. Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of ¼ inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled

Valentine’s Day 

If you haven’t managed to secure a restaurant booking for Valentine’s Day to wine and dine your sweetheart, its probably too late by now. There are after all a finite number of restaurant tables. Surprisingly many restaurateurs hate Valentine’s Day with a passion because all their customers want tables for two and they don’t want to be rushed, so second sittings aren’t always an option. Others complain that the atmosphere, far from being electric and buzzy, is often strained and subdued, particularly if they get a high proportion of older married couples who have run out of chit chat and don’t need to inquire about their date’s favourite film or singer, or how their team is doing in the league.
They are more likely to be discussing how to re-mortgage, or what to do about their saucy out of control teenagers. What a gloomy picture they paint, where has all the romance disappeared to?
Little unexpected gestures can be such a delight. Breakfast in bed with a little posy of snowdrops on the tray, lots of tiny heart shaped choccies hidden in unexpected places, under the pillow, in her bag or tucked into his wallet, or in less likely places like the fridge or on the ironing board or beside the hoover!
Little notes with secret messages tucked in beside his credit cards or behind the sun shade in the car or even into a shoe will give most people an ‘oops in their tummy’ or at least a giggle.
If all else fails to thrill, remember that the way to a chap or chic’s heart is still the same way as it always was and always will be. So how about wooing your partner by cooking something or indeed anything as a surprise. Could be hot buttered Rossmore oysters on toast, a Passion Fruit starter might be appropriate or a gorgeous pud. Comfort food like apple or rhubarb tarts are high on the list of favourites. The new season’s rhubarb is just appearing in the shops. Almond Meringue hearts with Chocolate and Rum cream might just impress also or even tiny heart-shaped shortbread with kumquat compote. For extra excitement, light a sparkler on top to get the message across.


Crispy Wontons with Passion Fruit and Mango


Wontons needn’t necessarily be just savoury, they make a terrific dessert in minutes.
Vary the toppings depending on what you find in season.
Serves 20
20 wonton wrappers *
fromage blanc or cream cheese or whipped cream
1 ripe mango
2 passion fruit
a little lime juice
Sugar if necessary
icing sugar for dusting

Heat some sunflower or peanut oil in a pan or deep fry to 180°C/350°F
Fry the wonton wrappers in batches until golden about 30 seconds. Drain on kitchen paper. Peel and slice or dice the mango, scoop the seeds and juice from the passion fruit and add the mango, taste and add some freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar if necessary.
To serve
Dust each wonton with icing sugar. Put a little blob of fromage blanc or cream cheese or cream on each one . Top with some mango and passion fruit.
Garnish with a sprig of sweet cicely, mint or lemon balm and serve immediately.

*Available from Mr. Bell’s stall in the English Market


Valentine’s Day Hot Buttered Oysters on Toast


These wonderfully curvaceous oyster shells tend to topple over maddeningly on the plate so that the delicious juices escape. In the restaurant we solve this problem by piping a little blob of mashed Duchesse potato on the plate to anchor each shell.

12 Pacific (Gigas) oysters
1 oz (30 g/¼ stick) butter
½ teaspoon parsley, finely chopped

To Serve
4 segments of lemon
4 heart-shaped pieces of hot buttered toast (optional)

Open the oysters and detach completely from their shells. Discard the top shell but keep the deep shell and reserve the liquid. Put the shells into a low oven to heat through. Melt half the butter in a pan until it foams. Toss the oysters in the butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps.  Put a hot oyster into each of the warm shells. Pour the reserved oyster liquid into the pan and boil up, whisking in the remaining butter and the parsley. Spoon the hot juices over the oysters and serve immediately on hot plates with a wedge of lemon.  Alternatively discard the shells and just serve the oysters on the heart-shaped buttered toast. The toast will soak up the juice – Simply Delicious!


Almond Meringue with chocolate and rum cream

Serves 6

12 ozs (45g/3 cup) almonds
2 egg whites
42 ozs (125g/1 cup approx.) icing sugar
1 oz (30g) good quality dark chocolate
2 oz (15g) unsweetened chocolate
2 pint (300ml/13 cups) whipped cream
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) rum
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) single cream
5 toasted almonds

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease. Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them up. They should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty. Mark two 72 inch (19cm) circles or heart shapes on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Fold in the almonds. Divide the mixture between the 2 circles or heart shapes and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp they should peel off the paper easily, turn off the oven and allow to cool.
To make the filling  Melt the chocolate with the rum and single cream very gently in a very cool oven, or over hot water. Cool and then fold the mixture into the whipped cream.
To assemble  Sandwich the meringues together with the filling. Decorate with rosettes of chocolate and rum cream stuck with halved toasted almonds.

Kumquat Compote

Serves 6-8
3½lbs./1.5kg Kumquats
1¾ pints/1 litre water
1lb.2oz/500g sugar

One or two hours in advance, cut the kumquats into four lengthways and remove the pips. Put the kumquats in a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, uncovered for half an hour.
Finishing and Serving: Leave the kumquats in a pretty fruit dish to cool for an hour or two. Serve with heart-shaped shortbread biscuits and some softly whipped cream.

Winter Root Vegetables 

Winter root vegetables have long been regarded as the poor relations of the more socially acceptable greens like Broccoli, Sugar Peas and French Beans. These, oft imported out of season vegetables are served ad nauseam in restaurants from January to December. Well, at last the time has come for the country cousins, the humble parsnip, carrots and swedes have become wildly fashionable. On a recent trip to New York, Potato and Parsnip Mash was the hottest item on a trendy restaurant menu in Manhattan.  Carrots, hitherto boiled or worse still, turned into little barrel shapes by some hapless commis are now being oven-roasted to a rich sweetness with parsnips, turnips and crispy potato wedges.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California who has managed to give a new respectability to many forgotten foods, gives special mention to rutabagas (known to us as swede turnips), in her book on vegetables. This was music to my ears – I=ve always loved the sweet flavour of mashed swedes in late Autumn and Winter after they=ve been mellowed by a touch of frost. Left over puree whizzed up with some sweated onion, chicken stock and maybe a touch of creamy milk, makes a delicious Winter soup. A few lardons of crispy bacon, some croutons and a scattering of parsley will transform it into a dinner party recipe.

Scatter piles of parsnip and celeriac crisps over your salads or serve them with a plump roast pheasant as well as or as an alternative to Game Chips.  Add some fresh spices to a medley of root vegetables to make an exciting Indian vegetable stew. Search out the old-fashioned Jerusalem artichokes now appearing in the shops, these gnarled and knobbly roots are maddening to peel but are well worth the effort for their delicious flavour. We love them in soups or slow cooked in their own juices with a little butter. Their flavour is particularly great with sweet juicy scallops and game. Thick slices of Jerusalem artichoke tossed while still warm with a hazelnut oil dressing and few toasted hazelnuts make a delicious starter salad. They are also incredibly easy to grow, so if you are even remotely interested in gardening, buy a few extra at the end of the season and keep them in a dark place. As soon as Spring comes round pop them into the ground about 6 inches apart and 12 inches deep. The foliage will grow about 5 feet tall, so plant them at the back of a bed or use as a screen to hide your compost heap.

Celeriac or root celery is another great winter vegetable, keeps for ages in a cool larder or even the garage. Its mild celery flavour is great in salads, soups, gratins, stews or just as a vegetable – it also makes great crisps. Just like Jerusalem Artichokes, it discolours quickly once peeled however, so drop it into a bowl of acidulated water while you peel the remainder.  As a general rule buy your root vegetables unwashed, they keep better and have much more flavour – well worth the extra few minutes of scrubbing!

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup

Celeriac, relatively new in our shops; is in fact a root celery which looks a bit like a muddy turnip. Peel it thickly and use for soups or in salads, or just as a vegetable.
Serves 6
15 ozs (425 g/3 cups) celeriac, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
4 ozs (110 g/1 cup) onions, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
5 ozs (140 g/1 cup) potatoes, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
1½-2 ozs (45-55 g/¼-½ stick) butter
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) home made chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4-8 fl ozs (100-225 ml/½-1 cup) creamy milk (optional)
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped
A few tablespoons whipped cream
Sprigs of chervil or flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until evenly coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid, and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid. Add the celeriac and chicken stock and cook until the celeriac is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Liquidise the soup; add a little more stock or creamy milk to thin to the required consistency. Taste and correct seasoning.
To prepare the hazelnuts: Put the hazelnuts into an oven, 200C/400F/regulo 6, on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes or until the skins loosen. Remover the skins by rubbing the nuts in the corner of a teatowel. If they are not sufficiently toasted, return them to the oven until they become golden brown. Chop and keep aside to garnish.
Serve the soup piping hot with a little blob of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chervil or flat parsley.


Oven-Roasted Winter Root vegetables

About equal volume of:
Swede Turnips
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Freshly chopped winter herbs – Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.
Peel the vegetables and cut into similar sized pieces – ½ inch (1cm) cubes are a good size. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Spread them in a single layer on one or several roasting tins. Roast, uncovered, stirring occasionally until they are fully cooked and just beginning to caramelize. Be careful, a little colour makes them sweeter, but there is a narrow line between caramelizing and burning. If they become too dark they will be bitter.  Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped Winter herbs, eg. Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley.

Swede Turnips with Caramelised Onions

Serves 6 approx.
2 lbs (900g) swede turnips
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
2-4 ozs (55-110g/ ½-1 stick) butter
Finely chopped parsley
Peel the turnip thickly in order to remove the thick outside skin. Cut into three-quarter inch (2cm) cubes approx. Cover with water. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft. Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter. Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt if necessary. Garnish with parsley and serve piping hot.
Caramelised Onions
1 lb (450g) onions, thinly sliced
2-3 tablesp. (2-4 American tablesp.) olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Toss in the onions and cook over a low heat for whatever length of time it takes for them to soften and caramelize to a golden brown, 30-45 minutes approx.

Warm Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Hazelnut Oil Dressing

Serves 4
White turnips or KohlRabi are also delicious cooked and served in exactly the same way.
12 ozs (340g) Jerusalem Artichokes, very carefully peeled to a smooth shape
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ oz (15g) hazelnuts, tosted and sliced
a few leaves oakleaf lettuce
sprigs of chervil
Hazelnut Oil Dressing
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp. ) hazelnut oil or
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) hazelnut oil and
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) sunflower oil
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) white wine vinegar
¼ teasp. Dijon mustard
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
Slice the artichoke about one-third inch thick. Bring 4 fl ozs (110ml) water and ¼ oz butter to the boil in a heavy saucepan and add in the sliced artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put a lid on the saucepan and cook gently until they are almost cooked. Turn off the heat and allow to sit in the covered saucepan until they are almost tender. The maddening thing about artichokes is that they cook unevenly so it will be necessary to test them with a skewer at regular intervals, they usually take at least 15 minutes.  While the artichokes are cooking, prepare the Hazelnut dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. Slice the hazelnuts and reserve for garnish.  When the artichokes are cooked carefully remove from the saucepan, making sure not to break them up. Place on a flat dish in a single layer. Spoon over the hazelnut dressing and toss while still warm. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
To assemble the salad.
Divide the sliced artichokes between 4 plates. Put a little circle of lettuce around the vegetables and sprinkle some of the dressing over the lettuce. Garnish with the toasted hazelnuts and chervil sprigs. This salad is best when the artichokes are eaten while still warm.

Consuming Passions and Food Trends

Consuming Passions, that five minute Aussie TV Cook Show with incorrigible host Ian Parmenter, makes compulsive watching.

I met Ian and his lovely partner Ann on their home turf recently and discovered that the irreverent and irrepressible chef with the shiny pate and frizzy grey hair is not in fact an Aussie at all.
A London journalist who worked with Haymarket Publishing on business magazines for years, he headed for Oz in 1971 attracted by the drier sunnier climate and less ‘stitched-up’ lifestyle. In Perth he went into PR and then worked behind the scenes in ABC TV, mostly on sports programmes. It was 15 years before he was discovered and virtually ordered to present a trial cookery slot.
He dashed off the pilot in irreverent mode acting the larriken as they say in Oz and instead of saying – you’re off, the talent scouts said – Bad luck you’re on! Ian figured he’d give it a shot for a year, now 9 years and 4-5 programmes later, Consuming Passions has been shown in 12 countries, including Ireland. He has written ten cookbooks and in 1995 he won the prestigious Prix de la Profession at the ‘Festivale Internationale de Télé Gourmande’ in Deauville , France.
Two years later he initiated ‘Tasting Australia’ a biennial food and drink festival in Adelaide. He is also Chairman of the World Food Media awards held in Australia. The last event attracted 330 entries and they hope to take the awards to Dublin in 2002.
Ian and Ann have just moved into their newly built house just outside Margaret River in Western Australia. Heroically they welcomed us as their very first house-guests just three days after they moved in.Ian and Ann love Ireland and his new book ‘Cooking with a Passion’ published by ABC Books, includes a very complimentary chapter on Irish food. To bring back happy memories and to appease their nostalgia for Ireland and all things Irish, I made a soda bread and christened their new oven. The recipe worked brilliantly with Australian flour and buttermilk.
The following morning I woke early and sipped my tea on the balcony overlooking the vineyard and watched the 28’s and rosetta parrots and magpies playing in the Eucalyptus trees and through the vines. Ian and Ann planted 6 acres of Chardonnay about 5 years ago and now made a crisp, dry and delicious white wine called ‘Artamus’, called after the wood swallow who live in the vineyard.
Ann, whose beautifully healthy vines have confounded local growers, has plans to expand the vineyard and to plant some red varieties as soon as they get settled in.
Ian Parmenter’s new book ‘Cooking with Passion’ is available from Amazon.com.

 Food Trends

So what are the food trends as we enter the new Millennium?
Murdoch Magazines commissioned a recent study on eating habits which was in some instances predictable, but in others surprising.
The growing demands on our time have increased the importance of convenience foods – 63% of those questioned used fast food at least once a month.
Traditional cooking skills are being replaced by meal assemblage skills because availibility of semi or fully prepared meals has made meal preparation in the home easier.  Food integrity is a major concern, people are becoming more aware of chemicals and artificial ingredients, nutritional value, storage time, food safety and genetic engineering.  The demand for ‘real food’ is growing, real food is perceived to be fresh, naturally produced, local, perhaps organic.  Free range is becoming a buzz word, not only for eggs, but also for meat, particularly poultry.
The growth in the demand for organic produce in both the UK and US was over 40% last year. At present the demand outstrips the supply, even in Ireland where the population in general seems to be slower to embrace the organic way.  Our health concerns have grown beyond, weight, cholestrol and heart disease. The increase in food allergies, diabetes, gastric problems, cancer and asthma has caused universal unease.
A majority now accept that diet impacts on both physical and emotional health. The number of people with vegetarian leanings is increasing and meat intake is decreasing with each new food scare. The BSE, Salmonella and Dioxin scandals have all served to concentrate people’s minds on the type of food we eat and how it is produced. A high percentage of people are still paranoid about fat intake, although surveys indicate that they don’t necessarily practise what they preach.  Recent articles in the US have questioned the validity of the low fat nutritonal advice as the number of obese people has grown steadily and alarmingly through the years that low fat food was consumed. Changes in diet currently focus on reducing fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and junk food.
Food tastes are gradually changing too, and currently are in a state of flux between the ‘old’, eg. chops and mince, and the ‘new’ – pasta, pizza, stirfries……
Newer ethnic style cuisine has not yet taken over from Anglo Celt traditions but currently accounts for a growing percentage of meals. Most popular food styles are Italian, Mediterranean, Californian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, with Japanese and Vietnamese likely to grow. Interest in French as we know it is waning.
Fusion food is the newest buzz word, replacing Nouvelle Cuisine and just as misunderstood – dubbed Confusion by many food critics and restaurant writers.
Best fusion food is cooked by chefs and cooks who really understand the ingredients of both the East and West.
There is a general feeling that the best fusion food is to be found in Australia, California and London, where many Australian and New Zealand chefs are heading up the most successful restaurants.
Newer types of products such as soy sauce, marinade, curry paste, pesto and sundried tomatoes, are prevalent cooking ingredients.
Food is coming of age and is now considered to be an acceptable lifestyle interest and a way of expressing one’s creativity. A growing number of people like reading about food, see themselves as foodies, enjoy TV food shows. The sales of cook books and wine books has increased dramatically.
Multi culturalism has been a major influence. In urban areas particularly, eating out has an increasing role in socialising, no longer reserved for special occasions and in some cases replacing home entertaining. Although traditional eating habits are still followed in many homes, eating on the run is increasing and fewer families eat together on a regular basis.
Meals that are eaten at home are often eaten in front of the TV or with the TV on in the room.
Microwave cookers are a fixture in most homes. The ready-cooked meal market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food business with more and more variety on offer. Yet, a growing number of upwardly mobile young people see cooking as a hobby and method of relaxation, particularly at weekends. A recent report in the UK indicated that more people are now growing their own vegetables, fruit and herbs than at any time since the last world war. Seed companies have reported record sales of vegetable seeds.
The trendiest young people are buying their food in markets, growing some of their own and giving dinner parties where they serve their own produce fresh from the garden. So for the new Millennium send away for some seed catalogues, polish up your cooking skills and invite a few friends around to share the bounty of your garden.


Noodle Soup


Serves 6
5½ ozs (155 g) somen or other very thin noodles, such as angel hair, cooked until just tender, rinsed under warm water and drained
1 lb (450 g) shrimps cooked and peeled
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Chinese rice wine or sake
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon sunflower or arachide oil
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) chopped shallots (white part only)
2 teaspoons garlic, crushed
½ lb (225 g) pea shoots, sugar snaps or iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
2½ fl ozs (63 ml/¼ cup) Chinese rice wine or sake
2¼ pints (1.3L/5½ cups) homemade chicken stock
1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
Coriander leaves
Divide the noodles equally among six soup bowls.
Mix the shrimps in a bowl with the rice wine and ginger, toss lightly to coat. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the scallions and garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the pea shoots, sugar snaps or iceberg lettuce and rice wine. Increase the heat to the highest and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock and salt and bring to the boil. Add the shrimps and simmer for about 1½ minutes, until they turn pink, skimming the soup to remove any foam or impurities. Divide the noodles between six bowls, ladle the soup over them, garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately.


Grilled Mexican Club Wrap


Serves 4
2 large chicken breasts
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Extra Virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices streaky bacon
1 ripe avocado (preferably Haas)
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) Mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
¼ cup chopped coriander
1 Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped
4 x 10 inch (25 cm) flour tortillas
8 thin slices smoked cheese eg. Gubbeen
8 thin slices very ripe tomato
4 lettuce leaves
Remove fillets from the chicken. Pound chicken breasts thin and cut into strips like the fillets. Marinate in olive oil, garlic, cumin, and pepper for ½ hour. Season with salt. Pan-grill on both sides until cooked through – about 5 minutes. Reserve.  Grill bacon until crisp. Drain well.
Next make the Guacamole Mayonnaise.
Mash the avocado and add to the Mayonnaise with coriander and finely chopped chilli.
To make the wraps
Place a tortilla on the work surface. Spread with about 2 tablespoons of Guacamole Mayonnaise. Place 2 slices of cheese on the tortilla, just below the middle. Top with a few chicken strips and crispy bacon. Season the tomato slices with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Place a few on top and then some lettuce. Fold in the edges and roll up tightly.  Either wrap in aluminium foil and warm up in a 180C/350F/regulo 4 oven for 10 minutes or grill just 2 minutes per side.


Spring Rolls with Thai Dipping Sauce


Makes 20-40 depending on size
Note: Thai or Chinese spring roll wrappers may be used. For tiny spring rolls, cut the large ones into 4 inch squares.
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) dried black fungus (woodears)
8 dried Chinese mushrooms, Shiitake
½ oz (15 g) cellophane noodles
1 spring onion or scallion
1½ oz (40 g) onion
4 oz (100 g) lean pork, minced
4 oz (100 g) cooked white crab meat, shredded
½-1 teaspoon ginger, peeled and grated
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 egg, preferably free-range
1 large head soft lettuce
1 good sized bunch fresh mint sprigs
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) plain white flour
Vietnamese rice papers or Chinese spring roll wrappers
Oil for deep-frying
Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)
Soak the black fungus in 10 fl oz (300 ml) hot water for 30 minutes. Lift the fungus out of the water and rinse it under cold running water. Feel for the hard ‘eyes’ and cut them off. Chop the fungus very finely. You should have about 4 tablespoons. Soak the dried mushrooms in a separate 10 fl oz (300 ml) hot water for 30 minutes or until they are soft. Lift them out of the liquid and cut off the hard stems. Chop the caps finely. Soak the cellophane noodles in a large bowl of hot water for 15-30 minutes or until they are soft. Drain and cut them into ½ inch (1 cm) lengths.  Finely chop the spring onion. Peel the onion and chop it finely. Put the pork with the crab meat, ginger, black fungus, mushrooms, cellophane noodles, spring onion, onion,  salt, black pepper and egg into a bowl and mix well. Put a spring roll wrapper onto the work top.  Put a heaped tablespoon of the pork-crab mixture roughly in the centre, but closer to the edge nearest you. Spread the mixture into a sausage shape. Fold the side nearest the filling over it. Then fold the two adjacent sides over to the centre. Now roll the parcel away from you and seal.
Make all the spring rolls in the same way and set them aside on a plate.  Heat the oil in a wok or deep-fat fryer over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, fry a few spring rolls at a time until they are golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.   Arrange the spring rolls on a plate. Serve the lettuce leaves and mint leaves on another plate. Put a small bowl of Thai Dipping Sauce near each diner. To eat, take a lettuce leaf, or part of one, and put a spring roll and a few mint sprigs on it; roll it up and dip into the sauce.


Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.
Serves 4
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) Nam pla, fish sauce
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
2 tablesp. (2 American tablesp. + 2 teasp.) sugar or more to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
3-4 fresh hot red or green chillies

Combine the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water in a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

Potato Tart with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Crispy Capers

Serves 6
2 lbs (900 g) potatoes, peeled
1-2 ozs (15-30 g/¼-½ stick butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
18-24 capers
¼ pint/150 ml/generous ½ cup creme fraiche, approx.
1-2 tablespoons (1-2 American tablespoons + 1-2 teaspoons) chives
10-12 ozs/285-340 g smoked salmon
Rocket leaves

First make the Potato tart. Cut the peeled potatoes into julienne strips and dry well. Rub a thick even coating of butter over the base and sides of a heavy 10 inch (25.5 cm) pan. Press half the potatoes into a thick layer to cover the base of the pan. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the rest of the potatoes, season again. Add a few knobs of butter. Cover with butter wrapper and a close fitting lid. Cook on a gentle heat for about 15-20 minutes.  Dry the capers. Deep fry quickly in hot oil until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.  When the potatoes are cooked through, crisp and golden on the base, invert onto a hot serving plate. Spread generously with creme fraiche and sprinkle with chopped chives.
Top with slices of smoked salmon, make a nest of Rocket leaves in the centre. Sprinkle with crispy capers and serve immediately.

Seared Spice Crusted Salmon with Red Lentil and Chilli Risotto

Serves 6

6 pieces of unskinned fresh salmon 5-6 ozs (140-170g) in weight
2 teasp. each of freshly roasted and ground cumin, coriander and fennel seeds
1 teasp. sea salt
Extra Virgin olive oil


Red lentil and Chilli Risotto


½ – 1 tablesp. (½ American tablesp. ½ teasp.) sunflower or peanut oil
2 teasp cumin
1 clove garlic crushed
1 teasp grated ginger
½ chilli sliced
6ozs(170g) red lentils
12fl ozs (1½ cups) Home made chicken stock
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.)freshly chopped mint
1 tablesp.(1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) freshly chopped coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper
Rocket leaves
First make Red Lentil Risotto
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the cumin, crushed garlic, grated ginger. Add the sliced chilli cook for 3 or 4 minutes , add the lentils and cook for a minute or two, add a ladle full of hot stock. When it has been almost absorbed, add some more and continue until all the stock has been absorbed – about 20 minutes, Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the freshly chopped mint and coriander. Taste and correct the seasoning, add a little lime juice if necessary.  Mix the ground spices and sea salt in a bowl.
Dip the salmon in olive oil and then into the spice mixture. Heat a frying pan, when hot, add a tiny drop of olive oil. Cook the salmon skin side down for 4 or 5 minutes on a medium heat, reduce the heat, flip over for a few minutes on the flesh side.
Serve immediately on a bed of Red Lentil and Chilli risotto.
Garnish rocket leaves and serve.


Breakfast Smoothie

Serves 2-4
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup milk
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup yoghurt
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) crushed ice
½-1 tablespoon (½ American teaspoon/1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) honey
1 banana
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons ) fresh raspberries (optional)
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) wheatgerm
Put all the ingredients into the blender and whizz. Taste and serve immediately.

Citrus Fruits

Have you noticed how delicious the oranges are at present, so full of sweet juice – I particularly love the navels from Spain and Morocco, partly because of the little baby orange tucked inside. I also love the exquisitely sweet Spanish oranges that appear in the shops for a short time in January. What a happy arrangement of nature that the citrus family are at their very best during mid-Winter when we have the greatest need for Vitamin C and when many other fruits are out of season or sad tasteless versions of their Summer glory.

Every year the citrus fruit family seems to expand a little further as more and more hybrids come on stream. They range from the tiny kumquats which can be eaten ‘skin and all’ like the Corkman eats his spuds, to the giant pomelo with a flavour reminiscent of green grapes.

The clean fresh taste of oranges is doubly welcome after the excesses of Christmas. Watch out for the marmalade oranges from Malaga or Seville, they are just appearing in the shops now and will be around for about a month only. Choose bright unblemished fruit, if there’s even one tiny soft spot the whole orange will be tainted, so don’t imagine you are getting a bargain.

I adore making marmalade, there’s something about the smell which is so comforting, and the result is so rewarding. The jars of marmalade with chunks of bitter peel shining through the jelly make me long for toast and butter to spread it on.

Here we have four of my favourite recipes, remember it is crucial to cook the peel until really soft before adding the sugar, otherwise no amount of cooking will soften it. By the time the peel is soft the liquid should be reduced to between a third and half of its original volume, otherwise the marmalade will take ages to come to boiling point and lose its fresh taste.


Old Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade



Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for just 4-5 weeks.
Makes approx. 7 lbs (3.2kg)
2 lbs (900g) Seville oranges
4 pints (2.3L) water
1 lemon
4 lbs (1.8kg) granulated sugar
Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips, tie them in a piece of muslin and soak for 2 hour in cold water. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.
Next day, bring everything to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours until the peel is really soft and the liquid is reduced by half. Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.
Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil, boil rapidly until setting point is reached 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 220F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.
Stir well and pot immediately into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.
N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will become very hard and no amount of boiling will sofen it.

Seville Marmalade made with Whole Oranges

Marmalade oranges may be frozen whole, so this recipe is particularly useful in that instance. It works really well for frozen fruit as well as fresh.
Makes 13-15 lbs (6-7kg) approx.
42 lbs (2.2kg) Seville or Malaga oranges
9 pints (5.1L/222 cups) water
9 lbs (4kg/18 cups) sugar

Wash the oranges. Put them in a stainless steel saucepan with the water. Put a plate on top to keep them under the surface of the water. Simmer very gently until soft (2 hours approx.). Cool and drain, reserving the water. (If more convenient, leave overnight and continue next day.)
Warm the sugar in a low oven. Put your chopping board on to a large baking tray with sides so that you won’t lose any juice.
Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the soft centre with a teaspoon. Slice the peel finely. Put the pips into a muslin bag.
Put the escaped juice, reserved liquid, sliced oranges and the muslin bags of pips into a large wide stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil and add 9 lbs of warm sugar, stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Boil fast until setting point is reached. Pot in sterilized jars and cover at once. Store in a dark airy cupboard.

Julia Wight’s Orange Marmalade

A dark marmalade for those who enjoy a more bitter tasting preserve.
Makes 10 lbs approx.
3 lbs (1.35kg) Seville oranges
juice of 2 lemons
4½ lbs (2kg) white sugar
½ lb (225g) soft brown sugar
Scrub the fruit. Place in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until tender, approx. 2 hours. Cut the fruit in half. Put pips and fibrous bits from the centre aside. Cut the peel into strips (Julia suggests about a ¼ inch (5mm) thick. Put the pips in a small pan with some of the water and boil for 10 minutes.
Strain the water back into the preserving pan , making up to 2¾ pints (1.6L) with the rest of the water. Add the sliced peel and freshly squeezed lemon juice, bring to boiling point. Add warmed white and brown sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring, and cook rapidly until setting point is reached, about 20 minutes. Skim and allow to stand for 20 minuts. Pot in clean sterilized jars. Cover and store in a cool dry place.



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