ArchiveOctober 31, 2009


Halloween creates almost as much excitement as Christmas nowadays, for weeks shop windows have been packed with witches, broomsticks, pumpkins and scary masks to tantalise the kids. Our grandchildren and their friends can’t wait to dress up in witches attire and ghoulish rig outs to frighten the life out of their neighbours and extract a ‘trick or treat’.

Even though it’s all becoming very commercial, kids still love the old fashioned games as well as apple bobbing and pumpkin carving. Another favourite game was to arrange five saucers on the table, put some clay in one, water in another, a wedding ring in another, a rag in the fourth and a coin in the fifth. One after another we were blindfolded, and the plates were switched about before we reached out tentatively, to inevitable giggles – the water meant that you were going “on a journey”, the coin meant untold riches were coming your way, the rag signified hard times ahead, the soil was also bad news, it meant you’d be six feet under before long but the ring meant that wedding bells would soon ring, even if you were only six!

You can always lure the little witches and goblins into the kitchen to cook. They love to make popcorn and spooky sounding soups like ‘Dragons blood’ (aka tomato soup) or spicy bones (spare ribs) can keep them interested and nibbling. Spiders web buns are also a great favourite and involve icing which is always a great hit with both boys and girls – don’t worry about the mess!

Buy a couple of pumpkins and you’ll have several hours of peace, but keep an eye out while they carve and make sure to save the pulp to make a pumpkin soup.

Dragon’s Blood

Tomato Soup with Pesto Crostini

Serves 5

The soup is a scary red colour hence the name, especially for Halloween.

We worked for a long time to try and make this soup reasonably foolproof. Good quality tinned tomatoes (another must for your store cupboard), give a really good result. Homemade tomato puree although delicious can give a more variable result depending on the quality of the tomatoes.


2 x 14 oz (400g) tins of tomatoes, liquidised and sieved

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 oz (15g) butter

8 fl ozs (250ml) Bechamel sauce (see recipe)

8 fl ozs (250ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

4 fl ozs (120ml) cream

Pesto – see below

6 crostini made from 1/3 inch (5mm) thick slices of thin French bread cooked in olive oil until crisp and pale golden

Sweat the onion in the butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes plus juice, white sauce and homemade chicken stock. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Liquidise, taste, dilute further if necessary. Bring back to the boil, correct seasoning add a little cream if necessary.

Put a little blob of Pesto on 6 freshly cooked crostini and drop one into each serving.

Note: This soup needs to be tasted carefully as the final result depends on the quality of the tomato puree, stock etc.

Béchamel Sauce

1 pint (300 ml) milk

Few slices of carrot

Few slices of onion

3 peppercorns

Small sprig of thyme

Small sprig of parsley

1½ozs (45 g) roux

Salt and freshly ground pepper

This is a wonderfully quick way of making Béchamel Sauce if you have roux already made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency by whisking in roux. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Halloween Pumpkin Soup with Rosemary Oil

Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice

110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice

350g (12oz) chopped pumpkin, one-third inch dice

1.2L (2pints) homemade chicken stock or 1L (1 3/4 pints) stock and 150ml (1/4 pint) creamy milk

3 tablespoons rosemary, chopped

Rosemary Oil

4fl ozs (100ml) extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the rosemary oil:

Heat the chopped rosemary with the oil until hot but not smoking. Cool and strain.

Add the vegetables and stock to the saucepan with the potatoes and onions. Boil until soft, do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Liquidise with the chopped rosemary. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To Serve

Drizzle a little rosemary oil over each bowl of soup before serving.

Spicy Bones

Adapted from “Barbeque, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Flavour” by Eric Treuille & Birgit Erath”

Serves 8

1.8kg (4lbs) meaty preferably organic pork spare ribs

2 tablespoons sunflower

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 teaspoons of ginger, grated

175g (6ozs) finely chopped onion

125ml (4floz) pineapple juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce, Nam Pla

3 tablespoons tomato purée

4 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

6 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

Ask the butcher to cut the ribs across horizontally into two strips. Divide each piece into individual short ribs.

Put the ribs into a deep saucepan and cover with cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. Skim and then simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again, allow to cool.

Heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan and add the crushed garlic, grated ginger and chopped onion, cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the pineapple juice, fish sauce, tomato purée, lime or lemon juice, honey and 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens, then put into a large bowl and allow to cool. Add in the ribs and toss until completely coated (hands are best for this).

Place under a hot grill for 10 – 15 minutes, basting and turning frequently until golden, transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with a little more sweet chilli sauce and serve the sweet and sticky ribs. You’ll need lots of paper napkins!



Halloween Barnbrack – Gluten Free

A simple and totally delicious barnbrack – suitable for Coeliacs or those with a wheat intolerance. This loaf keeps very well and is delicious cut into slices spread with butter. Hide a ring, pea, stick or a coin in the mixture for extra excitement at Halloween.

Makes 1 loaf

75g (3oz) sultanas

75g (3oz) raisins

75g (3oz) currants

40g (1½oz) cherries, halved

40g (1½oz) candied peel, chopped (preferably homemade)

200ml (7fl oz) tea

1 egg, lightly beaten, preferably free-range

150g (5oz) soft brown sugar

175g (6oz) rice flour

50g (2oz) cornflour

1½teaspoon gluten-free baking powder

1 level teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon mixed spice

3 tablespoons milk

3-4 tablespoons Stock Syrup – boil 2 tablespoons sugar with 2 tablespoons water

1 x 1kg (2lb) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper

Soak the fruit in cold tea overnight


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

Next day, add the lightly beaten egg and sugar to the fruit and tea and stir together well. Sift the rice flour, cornflour, gluten-free baking powder, xanthan gum and mixed spice together. Add to the fruit mixture and stir well.

Wrap the charms individually in greaseproof paper and hide in the mixture.

Gently mix in the 3 tablespoons of milk and pour into the prepared loaf tin. Cook in the preheated oven for 11/4 hours approximately until a skewer comes out of the loaf clean. Brush with stock syrup (if using) so the top and sides are sticky and delicious. Cool on a wire rack. Serve out in slices with a little butter.


Chocolate Spider Web Buns


Makes 24


225g (8 oz) butter, chopped

225g (8oz) castor sugar

225g (2oz) cocoa powder or drinking chocolate

285g (10oz) white flour

4 eggs, free range and organic

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract


Dark Chocolate Icing


170g (6oz) icing sugar

55g (2oz) cocoa powder

85g (3oz) butter

70ml (3fl oz) water

110g (4 oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) white chocolate


2 bun trays


Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Chop up the butter into small dice, it should be reasonably soft. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and whizz for about 30 seconds. Clear the sides down with a spatula and whizz again until the consistency is nice and creamy, 30 seconds approximately. Put into greased and floured bun trays or paper cases and bake in the hot oven. Reduce the temperature to 190C/375F/gas mark 5 as soon as they begin to rise. Bake for 20 minutes in total approximately. Cool on a wire rack and decorate as desired.


Meanwhile, make the chocolate icing. Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

Melt the white chocolate gently in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water. Ice the top of each bun with chocolate icing. Pipe a circle of white chocolate on top of the dark chocolate icing, then pull the icing up and down with the tip of a cocktail stick so the pattern resembles a spiders web.



Witches’ Toffee Popcorn


3 tablespoons sunflower oil

75g (3oz) popcorn

25g (1oz) butter

25g (1oz) brown sugar

1 generous tablespoon golden syrup

pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the popcorn and swirl the pan to coat the popcorn in oil. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and the corn should start to pop in a couple of minutes. Make the toffee coating by melting 25g (1oz) butter in a small saucepan. Then add 25g (1oz) brown sugar and 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup and stir over a high heat for ½ to 1 minute until thick. As soon as the popcorn starts popping (after 5 – 7 minutes) take the saucepan off the heat. Pour the toffee over the popcorn, put the lid on the pan and shake to mix. Pour out into little bowls and cool before serving.


Thrifty Tip

Keep the scooped out pulp from carving Halloween pumpkins to make soup.

Continuing Our Countdown to Christmas.

Last week I used my mother’s Christmas cake recipe, this week I will use my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen’s recipe. Closer to the big day I will give you a recipe for a lighter Christmas cake that can be made a few days before.

Myrtle Allen’s Christmas Cake

Approximately 20 slices

The first Christmas cake is rich and moist, it keeps until Easter anyway, I can tell you that, but there my experiment ended!


1 cup/225g (8oz) butter softened

1 cup/225g (8oz) brown sugar

1 ¾ cup/225g (8oz) flour

4 eggs preferably organic free-range

½ cup / 55g (2oz) almonds

¼ cup / 60ml rum or brandy

1 ½ cups / 225g (8oz) currants

1 ½ cups / 225g (8oz) sultanas

¾ cup /100g (3 ½ oz) raisins

¾ cup / 100g (3 ½ oz) glace raisins

¾ cup / 100g (3 ½ oz) chopped candied peel

1 lemon

1 orange


Blanch, peel and chop almonds. Grate orange and lemon rinds very finely without any white pith. Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and white. Add the sifted flour and eggs alternately, beating well then add fruit and other ingredients. Put into a greased and lined tin. Bake for ½ an hour in a moderate oven 170°/325°F/Mark 3. Then reduce to 150°C/300°F/Mark 2 and bake for a further 3 hours approximately watching carefully towards the end. Keep in a tight tin in a larder or unheated room until about 12 days before Christmas when you can ice the cake.





Hot Tips

Pumpkins galore

– if you want to find a pumpkin David and Siobhan Barry, Ballintubber Farm have a terrific selection at the Midleton Farmers Market today. Contact 086 8238187.The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore

, Co Waterford is hosting a wine tasting dinner with Rocca delle Macie from Tuscany, Italy on Friday 6th November 2009 to book a wine tasting dinner, bed and breakfast package or just the dinner phone 024 87800 or visit

A new Farmers Market has opened in Limerick

contact Gareth Granville 0868069605

www.thecrescentfarmersmarket.comHow about an early Christmas presie

– learn how to choose, serve and get the most from your wine at a one Day ‘Wine Course for the Festive Season’ with John McDonnell & Colm McCan on Saturday 5th December at Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry – to book 021 4652531 at the Crescent Shopping Centre -every Wednesday from 9:30am to 2:30pm. Over 20 exciting stalls to choose from.


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