ArchiveFebruary 2011

Sri Lanka

For many people getting out the kitchen for a couple of weeks is the sweetest part of a holiday – well away from the tyranny of having to cook every day. Of course I love eating out but I also love to cook particularly when I am in a place where the food and culture is different.

I’m intrigued by food markets and always seem to gravitate towards the nearest one wherever I wander. I particularly love to learn about strange looking ingredients and plague stall holders with questions desperately searching around for someone with a few words of English to translate and give me cooking instructions on how to prepare and cook unfamiliar produce. On a recent trip to Sri Lanka I found a soul-sister in Skye Gyngell who cooks such beautiful food at Petersham Nurseries Café in Richmond. She had been in Galle for the Literary Festival and stayed on for a few days. We were guests at the Beach House near Tangella. It’s right on a coconut palm edged beach with waves lapping gently while you sleep.

I woke early on the first morning and strolled out into the beach to find local fishermen hauling in their coconut string nets from the shore – the whole procedure takes about an hour and half.

First, the narrow Orru boat having returned after a nights fishing sails as close to the shore as possible, two of the locals swim out and catch the ropes at the two sides of the net  , They gradually pull the ropes inching the net  in a little further with each new wave.

When it is within a couple of yards of the shore, the fishermen on the narrow boat dive into the water and help to pull the ropes – I counted 13 or 14 men on each side. They read the waves with deadly accuracy and eventually haul the horseshoe shaped net in onto the beach.

It seemed to us that there was a very small catch but one of the fishermen told us in pigeon English that is was above average. There were lots of tiny little white bait like fish, less of a larger species called hurulla which looked like sprats and a few larger fish.

 This community are still fishing in the time honoured way – totally sustainable. One of these narrow  traditional boats with an out rigger on one side sustains 80 families.¡ A couple of the fishermen separated the catch into little piles of the different specie., I n the midst of it all was a disgruntled leather back turtle with three barnacles firmly attached to it’s shell. The fishermen gently coaxed it out of the net and let it waddle back down to the sea.

We bought a beautiful seer fish and a kilo of white bait and headed for the kitchen to chat to the local chefs.  We tossed ideas back and forth and then summoned a tuc-tuc to take us to the local market. The covered market just off the main street in Tangalle was a lively, colourful affair with lots of banter and haggling.

Markets are the very best place to really get a glimpse of local food culture. There were lots of familiar fruit and vegetables but tons of exciting produce that we vaguely recognised but I certainly didn’t know what to do with and then several greens that we’d never seen before. Our tuc -tuc driver turned ‘interpreter’ extracted recipes and advice from the stallholders and their extended family. We bought bitter gourd, a green knobbly vegetable, wing beans, pandanus leaves, slim purple and cream aubergines, a fine pumpkin and two greens we’d never come across before and of course lots of onions, garlic, ginger and chillies, and fresh curry leaves, the base of so many Sri Lankan dishes.

When we returned to the kitchen we had a ‘pow wow’ with Suresh and Sasira and decided on our menu. They salted and deep fried the white bait and fresh anchovies until crispy. We ate them whole, ‘skin and all’ with an Aoili and they were amazing.

We decided to cook the seer fish whole. When it was gutted, we slashed the skin, filled the slits with chopped garlic and ginger and the cavity with fresh curry leaves and baked it in the oven with coconut gravy. We served it with aubergine pahi a Sri Lankan favourite.

The greens were identified as kankun or morning glory and gatukola (good for the brain) The gatukola was chopped and added to some freshly grated, coconut to make a sambal. The morning glory was soaked in salted water to purify it and then tossed quickly in a wok with lots of ginger and garlic- delicious.

The strange looking bitter gourds were thinly sliced, soaked in brine for about 30 minutes, drained, dried and fried and then made into another delicious sambal. I also learned that sambal always has finely chopped onion and tomato added.

Here are some of the dishes Skye and I cooked with lots of guidance from Suresh and Sasira, the brilliant Beach House chefs.

Aubergine Pahi

Sasira was very knowledgeable about the medicinal value of each ingredient; aubergines are apparently good for our kidneys.

Serves 8 as a side dish

 450g (16ozs) small slim aubergines

2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 small ‘thumb’ of ginger peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 medium red onion cut into eighths

A shake of wine vinegar (I used coconut vinegar)

5 – 10 chillies whole

2 teaspoons mango chutney

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

3 ripe tomatoes, quartered

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the aubergine into thin strips about 6cm (2 ½ inches) long by 5mm (¼ inch) wide. Season with salt, toss and leave for about 30 minutes.

Dry and deep fry in batches in hot oil until deep golden (Suresh let them get quite dark). Drain.

Heat 2 -3 tablespoons sunflower oil in a wok over a medium heat, add the chopped garlic and ginger, toss and cook for a minute or so. Add the mustard and the onion and a dash of vinegar and 10 chillies or less if you like. Toss, add the mango chutney and a generous tablespoon of tomato ketchup and the quartered tomatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

The onion should be still slightly crunchy and the tomato still raw.

Finally add the aubergine, toss, taste and correct seasoning. Serve as an accompaniment.

A Whole Seer Fish with Coconut Gravy

Serves 8

1 whole fish (gutted) we used seer fish but a halibut would also be great

4 garlic cloves finely chopped

2 teaspoons ginger finely chopped

1-2 tabs vinegar

Coconut Gravy

300ml (½ pint) coconut milk

5 small or 3 large garlic cloves

5 chillies, roughly chopped,

3 tablespoons fish sauce, nampla

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons salt

juice of 1 lime

Lay the fish on a large baking tray with sides. Slash both sides of fish 3 or 4 times. Fill the cuts with chopped garlic, ginger and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.. Leave for 15 minutes or more while you prepare the coconut gravy. Whizz all the ingredients for the gravy in a blender, pour over the fish. Preheat the oven to180°C/350°F/Mark 4.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until just cooked. Serve at the table with coconut gravy and juices and several sambals – a good green salad would also be a welcome accompaniment.

Bitter Gourd Sambal

I was really excited to learn a way to use and cook bitter gourd – a small knobbly gourd with a sour, bitter taste. Again it has many medicinal qualities, reduces cholesterol and is good for blood pressure and diabetes sufferers.

500g (8oz) bitter gourd

1 small red onion chopped

2 ripe tomatoes chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper

lime juice

1 – 2 teaspoons dried Maldives fish, finely shredded or chopped, not easy to find at this side of the world, use a good dash of fish sauce instead, available from Asian shops and some supermarkets.

Slice the bitter gourd thinly, almost paper thin. Cover in highly salted water and soak for ten minutes to extract some of the bitterness. Drain and dry. Deep fry for a couple of minutes until pale and golden and crisp. Add chopped onion and tomato. Just before eating, add about1-2 teaspoons chopped Maldives fish, taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lime juice to taste.


Suresh’s Pumpkin Curry

There are still lots of pumpkin about, fresh curry leaves are more readily available nowadays from Asian suppliers, Try Mr Bell’s stall in the English Market in Cork 021 4270531 otherwise use dried. They may also have pandanus leaves which make a terrific ice cream and custard also. If you can’t get pandanus leaves just omit them. It will still be delicious.

Serves 8

3 – 4 tablespoons sunflower oil

500g (8oz) prepared pumpkin – cut into 4cm (1 ½ inch) squares

1 red onion chopped

4 garlic cloves chopped

1tablspoon black mustard seeds

2 ½ cm (1 inch) chopped ginger

10 fresh curry leaves

I pandanus leaf coarsely chopped

1 dessertspoon of coriander seeds – roasted on a dry pan for 2-3 minutes then ground

1 teaspoon cumin seed

½ teaspoon turmeric

450ml (16fl oz) coconut milk

1 small cinnamon stick

5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed,

salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan over a medium heat, add garlic, ginger and mustard seeds, stir and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until the mustard almost stops popping. Add the chopped onion, crushed coriander pods, chopped pandanus and curry leaves, toss, add pumpkin cubes, cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Add freshly roasted and ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon and turmeric. Stir and add thick coconut milk, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir and cook over a medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin is just soft. Taste and correct seasoning. It may need a squeeze of lime. Serve with lots of rice.

Anoma’s Coconut Sambal

Delicious served with egg hoppers for a Sri Lankan breakfast. (Egg hoppers are basically egg-filled crepes made from rice flour and coconut milk batter. A ladleful of batter is swirled in a small, lidded wok. The wok gives hoppers their distinctive shape. Then a whole raw egg is placed in the centre of the cooking crepe. Another ladle of batter is poured over the egg to cover it, and the whole hopper is then cooked until the egg is set.)

Serves 6 as a accompaniment,

150grams (5oz) freshly grated coconut,

2 small green chillies,

1 small red shallot,

2 small cloves garlic, chopped finely,

1 med ripe tomato, finely chopped,

2 teaspoons Maldives dried fish, finely sliced,

1/2 teaspoon salt,

1 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes,

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper,

Put salt, chilli flakes and freshly ground pepper into a mortar, Pound with a pestle for 2 minutes or so, Add dried fish, continue to pound for about a minute. Add green chilli, onion and garlic, Anoma used the pestle in a circular movement for another 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut, we would need to add a little water if the coconut is not fresh. By now the mixture looks slightly pale orange, (she added an extra 1/2 teaspoon chilli) Pound for one .minute, add tomato, pound gently just for a second. Add a few drops of lime juice to taste.

Fool Proof Food


Homemade Limeade

5 limes

750ml (1 1/4 pint) water

300ml (10fl oz) stock syrup

ice cubes

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



sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm


Stock Syrup

Makes 825ml (28fl ozs)

450g (1 lb) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.  This quantity is enough for several batches of limeade. Measure the correct amount of syrup carefully for the lemonade. It is not necessary to use the all the stock syrup made.




Time to get moving on your gardening this year, here are some half day and day courses to inspire you…

Growing Vegetables at Barry’s Garden Centre in Killeagh, Co Cork on Wednesday 2nd and Saturday 5th March – sowing and planting potatoes, parsnips, peas, lettuce, onions, carrots. Learn about plant rotation to ensure there is always something fresh to eat from the garden. €25.00 for both days 10am to 12:30pm – to book 086 814 1133

I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend a Sunday than at Glebe Gardens in Baltimore West Cork on Sunday 13th March 2011 learning how to get the best from your polytunnel/greenhouse on their one day Growing Under Cover gardening course – 10am-4pm for €60 including lunch. To book phone 02820232

Organic Gardening for Beginners – Grow your Own Food with Denis Hawke at the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim 10am – 5pm. The day includes planning your garden, rotation, soil fertility and composting. There will be practical sessions on ground preparation, sowing and propagation. €79.00 includes lunch and seed trays 071 9854338 or 

Winter Pruning of Soft Fruit at Ballymaloe Cookery School Tuesday 8th March 9:00am to 2:00pm Designing the garden layout, looking at the aspect, spacing, and plant training structures and protection from birds. Choosing fruit varieties. Creating fans, cordons and bushes with gooseberries, red currants, white currants and jostaberries. Understanding the general principles behind pruning. Pruning blackcurrant bushes, loganberries tayberries. 021 4646785 or

Take a Leaf from These

Bet lots of you have a book token or two or tucked away somewhere since Christmas so before they get lost here are a few suggestions for cookery books that have caught my fancy in the past few months.

One of my best new finds is Five Fat Hens the Chicken and Egg cookbook. It’s engagingly written by an author I have never even heard of before – Tim Halket.

“A love of eating and good ingredients led Tim to build a hen house in the corner of his garden for a daily harvest of fresh eggs. His take on the role of keeping chickens is amusing and insightful but this book is more than just a DIY guide to keeping a few free range birds, or a new slant on a chicken themed cookbook. It takes the reader through an entire year, month by month, skilfully combining the author’s passion for cooking in diary form interwoven with his recipes, his thoughts and observations and with the premise that even the smallest garden can be home to a supply of the freshest eggs imaginable. Tim is neither a trained chef nor a small-holding farmer, his recipes draw on his real experience in the kitchen and he reproduces food that he enjoys cooking on a daily basis for his family and friends. He ranges from the highly original such as Duelos y Quebrantos and Persian Chicken Supper through variations on everyday Italian or French classics to simple comforting nursery food.”

Another really exciting book for me, The Best of Elizabeth David – South Wind Through the Kitchen, is a collection compiled by one of the editors I most admire, Jill Norman. I have all of Elizabeth David’s books, some both in hard and paper back but I love this collection and bought several copies to give to friends. Before Elizabeth David died in 1992 she and her editor Jill Norman began work on a volume of ‘The Best of’ but then her health deteriorated and the project was shelved. The idea was revived in 1996 when chefs and writers and Elizabeth’s many friends, were invited to select their favourite articles and recipes. Some sent notes explaining their choice, others provided an anecdote or a recollection about her and others sent lists of recipes they had been using for years.

South Wind Through the Kitchen is the fruit of that harvest of recommendations, and the names of the contributors – who number among them some of our finest food writers such as Simon Hopkinson, Alice Waters, Sally Clarke, Richard Olney, Paul Levy and Anne Willan – appear after their pieces they had chosen along with their notes.

The extracts and recipes which make up South Wind Through the Kitchen are drawn from all Elizabeth David’s books, including A Book of Mediterranean Food, Summer Cooking, French Provincial Cooking, An Omelette and Glass of Wine, and Harvest of the Cold Months.

Another of my favourite books Rosemary Barron’s Flavours of Greece has been republished by Grub Street Press, beautifully researched and well tested recipes – a must for those of you who love Greece. I’m also enjoying The Perfectly Roasted Chicken by Minty Fox published by Kyle Cathie, another little gem which includes 20 mouth-watering ways to roast a chicken.

Two others that are worth trading in your book tokens for are Green and Blacks Ultimate Chocolate Recipes and Italian Comfort Food by Julia Della Croce both published by Kyle Cathie.

Finally two Irish publications slipped onto the shelves before Christmas and have become firm favourites.  Ireland for Food Lovers by Georgina Campbell and A Passion for Food – Superquin Cookbook. These are some of the recipes for February.



Easy Chicken with Lemon – Taken from Five Fat Hens by Tim Halket

This is brilliant. An easy option, a concept really (not that I’m suggesting it’s concept food), for making a quick dinner in about thirty or forty minutes. No fuss, very little trouble.

A whole chicken jointed into eight pieces, or sufficient pieces to feed four

One lemon

Olive oil

A handful of herbs of your choice, see note below

Take the chicken pieces and place them in a roasting tray. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over the chicken. Add the exhausted lemon halves to the pan. Dribble a little olive oil over the whole lot – just enough to coat everything. Add some seasoning. Rub everything together to make sure all the flavourings are evenly distributed. Place in the preheated oven, at 200C/400F/gas 6, and roast for twenty-five minutes. Remove and add the herbs. Return to the oven for a further ten minutes.

The chicken is ready when it is well browned, and the sauce (such as it is) is a sticky, unctuous mess underneath the chicken – add a splash of water if it’s too dry. Use a skewer to check the legs are done if you are at all nervous or unsure.

Herbs: the above recipe is perfect for summer’s delicately leaved herbs, such as basil or tarragon. The more wintry herbs such sage, thyme and rosemary can all be added at the beginning. Use basil, tarragon or thyme separately. Use sage and rosemary either alone, or combine the two together. Fresh bay is a good lonesome choice too. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, don’t use dried. Sparingly add a few fennel seeds and flaked dried chillies. For a south side of the Med feel, try a little ground cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey at the end.


Port And Spinach Terrine – Taken from The Best of Elizabeth David – South Wind Through the Kitchen


Pates and terrines have become, during the past decade, so very much a part of the English restaurant menu as well as of home entertaining that a variation of formula would sometimes be welcome.

At Orange, that splendid town they call the gateway to Provence, I once tasted a pate which was more fresh green herbs than meat. I was told that this was made according to a venerable country recipe of Upper Provence.

The pate was interesting but rather heavy. I have tried to make it a little less filling. Her is the result of my experiments:

1lb (450g) uncooked spinach, spinach beet or chard,

1lb (450g) freshly-minced fat pork,

seasonings of salt, freshly milled pepper, mixed spices.

Wash, cook and drain the spinach. When cool, squeeze it as dry as you can. There is only one way to do this – with your hands. Chop it roughly.

Season the meat with about 3 teaspoons of salt, a generous amount of freshly-milled black pepper, and about ¼ teaspoon of mixed ground spices (mace, allspice, cloves).

Mix meat and spinach together. Turn into a pint-sized (550ml) earthenware terrine or loaf tin. On top put a piece of buttered paper. Stand the terrine or tin in a baking dish half filled with water.

Cook in a very moderate over (170°C/ 330°F/ Gas Mark 3) for 45 minutes to an hour. Do not let it get overcooked or it will be dry.

This pate can be eaten hot as a main course, but I prefer it cold, as a first dish, and with bread or toast just as a pate is always served in France.

The interesting points about this dish are its appearance, its fresh, uncloying flavour and its comparative lightness, which should appeal to those who find the better-known type of pork pate rather heavy. You could, for example, serve a quite rich or creamy dish after this without overloading anybody’s stomach.


Winter Roast Chicken Salad With Fennel, Blood Orange And Pistachio

Taken from The Perfectly Roasted Chicken by Mindy Fox


This salad is evidence that beauty and simplicity can come together on a plate in a matter of minutes. This dish is best with a tart-sweet citrus; if blood oranges aren’t available, try red naval oranges or pink grapefruit instead.

Serves 4

3 blood oranges

2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and fronds reserved

225g medium shreds roast chicken

31/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

flaky coarse sea salt

3 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

Using a sharp paring knife, trim off the tops and bottoms of the oranges. Stand one orange on end and carefully cut the peel and pith from the flesh, following the curve of the fruit from the top to the bottom. Cut each section away from the membranes and place in a large bowl. Squeeze any juice from the membranes into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining orange.

Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthways and very thinly slice. Add the fennel, chicken, vinegar and oil to the bowl with the orange sections, then gently toss the mixture together.

Coarsely chop some of the fennel fronds. Arrange the salad on a platter.


Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

Taken from Green & Black’s Ultimate edited by Micah Carr-Hill

Makes 24

300g unsalted butter

300g dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate, broken into pieces

5 large free-range eggs

450g granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon salt

An Ultimate Chocolate Recipes book would not be complete without an Ultimate Chocolate Brownie recipe.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4. Line the baking tin 30 x 24 x 6cm with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together in a bowl until the mixture is thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Once the butter and the chocolate have melted, remove from the heat and beat in the egg mixture. Sift the flour and salt together, then add them to the mixture, and continue to beat until smooth.

Pour into the baking tin, ensuring the mixture is evenly distributed in the tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the whole of the top has formed a light brown crust that has started to crack. This giant brownie should not wobble, but should remain gooey on the inside.

Leave it to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into large squares while still in the tin. The greaseproof paper or baking parchment should peel off easily.


~ Add a handful of your favourite nuts or dried fruits to the mixture before you transfer it to the baking tin. You can cut them up or leave them whole, as you prefer.

~ Always taste the mixture raw to check for your preferred vanilla and salt levels, ensuring you leave some of the mixture to bake, of course.

Fool Proof Food

Elizabeth David’s Maionese Tonnata

(Tunny Fish Mayonnaise) –


Make a stiff mayonnaise with 2 yolks of eggs, a little salt, 4 fl oz (120ml) olive oil, and a very little lemon juice.

Pound or put through a sieve about 2 oz (60g) tinned tunny fish in oil. Incorporate the puree gradually into the mayonnaise. Excellent for al kinds of cold dishes, particularly chicken or hard boiled eggs, for sandwiches, or for filling raw tomatoes for an hor-d’oeuvre.



Two 4th Year Mini Company projects that caught our attention – The Chuck Chucks of Schull Community College – Ciara Sheehan, Sean O’Donovan, Sean O’Driscoll, Jamie O’Driscoll produced – The Essential Guide to Growing Green 2011 Calendar with month by month advice and tips on gardening with lovely photos to match each season – available in Centra in Schull or telephone 028 35509.

Seaweed Sensations from The Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty have produced a little booklet called ‘Sea the Benefits a Nutritional Information-Beauty-Cookbook.’ Lots of healthy recipes including Seaweed Pizza a section on the six most common types of seaweed and their benefits and some homemade beauty treatments. Booklets can be ordered by emailing

Going back to Basics

The future is unquestionably rosy for Irish farmers and food producers. As we hear more about the challenges of sustainable food production and the need for food security, we begin to realise the fantastic opportunities we have in this country.

As the recent Harvard Report ‘Pathways for Growth’ for Bord Bia reminded us. “Ireland has an enviable agricultural situation that almost every other country would kill for. It has abundant fertile land, lots of water, and miles of coastline all situated in close proximity to a collection of 400 million affluent people. It is one of Europe’s largest dairy and beef exporters, and home to several world-class firms and hundreds of food artisans. All this comes at a time when the global demand for food is projected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years. The affluent world is demanding locally grown, non-polluting, traceable, transparent food. It rebels against “multinationals” who they think are adulterating the food we eat. Yet, of course, it wants that food at an affordable price.”

Thus recognising the opportunities for Ireland Inc., we need to encourage the brightest and best to pursue a career in all aspects of food production, distribution and marketing to drive the Irish food industry into the future.

Many would argue that there is a serious skills deficit in the food business at present. A mind set still prevails in education that a career in food production or the restaurant business is somehow of lesser value than an academic career. This attitude dates right back to the late fifties and early sixties when I was at school. The valiant nuns who educated me did their best to encourage ‘us girls’ to have a proper career – study law, medicine, architecture, the sciences… I sensed that my preference for cooking or horticulture was definitely a secondary career. The subliminal message was ‘why would you want to learn how to cook, sure you’re never really need that.” Furthermore, in the mid 60s, long before the era of celebrity chefs, cooks and chefs had little status. How things have changed and now many people who concentrated solely on a set of academic skills find themselves in changed circumstance and realise that they can’t even scramble a couple of eggs.

Shame on the Mammies of Ireland for letting so many of our little dotes out of our houses, helpless, without basic life skills. It was all grand and dandy during the decadent decade but now it’s all about austerity and thrift. However it’s difficult to be thrifty if one has no DIY skills.

In this weeks column I’ll concentrate on a few very basic skills but first you’ll need to buy a few bits of ‘kitchen kit.’

A couple of sharp knives and a sharpening steel. A box grater, a Microplane or a Cuisine Pro, a vegetable peeler, a nice big timber chopping board, a couple of heavy bottomed saucepans (good ones are definitely not cheap but will last a lifetime) a cast iron frying pan, a blender mixer or if your budget can reach on it a food mixer with a blender and spice grinding attachment. If you’d like to make the Lemon Drizzle Squares you will also need a Swiss roll tin but it can also double up as a small roasting tin or oven tray.

You can access the full list of Essential Kitchen Kit on the Ballymaloe Cookery School Website

Mornay Sauce or Cheddar Cheese Sauce


This cheese sauce is a brilliant basic, add some cooked pasta or macaroni and you have a macaroni cheese. It’s also good to spoon over cooked cauliflower, broccoli, leeks or chicory. It’s also an essential part of a good lasagne and if you omit the cheese and add lots of chopped parsley – hey presto you have delicious parsley sauce to serve with ham or bacon.

Makes 600ml (1 pint)

600ml (1 pint) milk

a few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

a sprig of thyme and parsley

50g (2oz) approx. Roux, (see recipe)

50g (2oz) grated Gruyere and 15g (½oz) grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon mustard preferably Dijon mustard but English mustard is also terrific

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes if you have enough time.

Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken by whisking in the roux to a light coating consistency. Add the grated cheese and mustard. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Substitute 110g (4oz) mature Cheddar cheese for Gruyere and Parmesan in the recipe above.




A brilliant stand by to have in your fridge – use it to thicken a sauce or gravy, can be fish meat or vegetable. It will keep in a covered box in the fridge for a month or more. The liquid must be boiling when the roux is added otherwise the roux will not thicken the liquid.

110 g (4 ozs) butter

110 g (4 ozs) flour

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


A Basic French Dressing

All you need for a good salad dressing is really good extra virgin oil and really good wine vinegar. Just whisk them together with a little seasoning and use it to drizzle over a salad or a mixture of leaves. If you want to add extra flavourings, a little mustard, some honey, maybe a few fresh herbs and a judicious amount of crushed garlic will add extra oomph – see below.

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together just before the salad is to be eaten.

Ballymaloe French Dressing


2 fl ozs (55ml) Wine vinegar

6 fl ozs (150ml) olive oil or a mixture of olive and other oils. eg. sunflower and arachide

1 level teaspoon mustard (Dijon or English)

1 large clove of garlic

1 scallion or small spring onion

Sprig of parsley

Sprig of watercress

1 level teaspoon

Few grinds of pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender and run at medium speed for 1 minutes approx. or mix oil and vinegar in a bowl, add mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and mashed garlic. Chop the parsley, spring onion and watercress finely and add in. Whisk before serving.

Basic Vegetable Soup Technique


Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula. Doesn’t matter what you use to measure as long as you use the same for each ingredient – a cup or mug would be fine.

Serves 6

1 part onion

1 part potato

3 parts any vegetable of your choice, or a mixture

5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed


Water, chicken or vegetable stock may be used. Season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

So one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what’s fresh, in season and available.

If potatoes and onions are the only option, it’s still possible to make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs.  We have even used broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.


50g (2ozs) butter

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

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

3 cups or 340g (12oz) chopped vegetables of your choice, one-third inch dice

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

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 with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock, bring back to the boil and continue to cook until soft, liquidise, sieve or put through a mouli. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning. Couldn’t be simpler.

Ballymaloe Beef Stew


A good gutsy stew which can be made in large quantities – it reheats and freezes brilliantly.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.35kg (3 lb) well hung stewing beef or lean flank

2 large carrots cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) slices

285g (10 ozs) sliced onions

1 heaped tablespoon flour

150ml (5fl oz) red wine

150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock

250ml (8fl oz) homemade Tomato Purée, otherwise use best quality tinned tomato -pureed and sieved

175g (6 oz) sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the meat of any excess fat, then prepare the vegetables. Cut the meat into 4cm

(1 1/2 inch) cubes. Heat the olive oil in a casserole; sweat the sliced onions and carrots on a gentle heat with a lid on for 10 minutes. Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan until almost smoking.  Sear the pieces of meat on all sides, reduce the heat, stir in flour, cook for 1 minutes, mix the wine, stock and tomato puree together and add gradually to the casserole. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook gently. Cook gently for 2 1/2-3 hours in a low oven, depending on the cut of meat, 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms and add with the parsley to the casserole, 30 minutes approx. before the end of cooking.  Serve with Polenta, mashed potatoes or noodles and a good green salad.

Lemon Drizzle Squares


Everybody loves these, they are great with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with berries or bananas in lime syrup, see recipe.

Makes 24


6 ozs (175g) soft butter

6 ozs (175g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour


freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1-2 lemons

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well greased

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

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

Remove the biscuits from the tin if keeping for a few days unless the tin is coated with Teflon.


Fool Proof Food


Bananas in Lime Syrup


Serves 4

3 bananas

2 ozs (50g) sugar

4 fl ozs (110ml) water

1 lime

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, allow to cool.

Peel the mango and slice quite thinly down to the stone. Peel the banana into cut rounds.  Put the slices into a bowl and cover with cold syrup.

Meanwhile remove the zest from the lime either with a zester or a fine stainless steel grater and add to the syrup with the juice of the lime.  Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Serve chilled.


Join Debbie Shaw and Linn Thorstennson, qualified nutritionists and a Ballymaloe Chef for their 5 week Wellness Programme at the Fermoy Youth Centre, Tuesday nights, 7.30pm starting February 22nd, 2011. The course includes: healthy eating for permanent weight loss, spring detox, self motivation and relaxation and simple healthy recipes with yummy tastings. €80 handouts, recipes and tastings included. Booking essential

086-785 58 68 or email:

Penfold’s Winemaker visits Dublin & Cork

Tom Portet the Winemaker with Australian winery Penfolds will visit Ireland to host two wine dinners in Dublin and Cork. The venues are The Restaurant at Donnybrook Fair on Wednesday 23rd February at 7.45pm – €60 per person / €100 per couple. To book…01 6144849 and Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork on Thursday 24th February at 8pm – €75 per person. To book 021 4652531   

Spring Planting and Cooking Class Saturday March 5th – 10am to 3pm

Karen Austin and Joy Larkom – author of Creative Vegetable Gardening and Grow Your own Vegetables are teaching this one day course that begins in the garden with information to inspire you to plant your own seeds and how to nurture the seedlings. The class will continue in the kitchen, cooking the spring vegetables that are beginning to appear. Lunch is included in the course price of €95.00. Phone 023 8836938 or 0238846251 to book

Get off to a Healthy Start

I have just read something totally shocking; a recent study conducted at the Wayne State University in Detroit found that 32% of 9 month old babies are already obese or overweight. According to the survey many babies are being fed too much formula to induce them to sleep for longer and or being weaned too early onto a diet of fatty sugary food, pureed chips or the remains of a Chinese takeaway – almost beyond belief but sadly true and there’s no point in us feel smug – similar findings are emerging elsewhere.

Obesity is unquestionably the greatest public health challenge facing the affluent world – a time bomb ticking away – and an increasing strain on every Health Service. Current figures in Ireland reveal that there are 327,000 over weight children with numbers predicted to grow by 11,000 every year. Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise dramatically. An Irish study by Dr Aileen McGloin in 2007 came up with yet another shocking statistic; 52% of Irish mothers of obese children and 86% of mothers of over weight children thought their weight was totally normal for their age.

Blaming parents is far too simplistic; there are a multitude of reasons why we have arrived at this situation. Much of the food available fills rather than nourishes – many children are allowed to nibble from morning to night, unlike the strict no food between meals policy of earlier years. Portion sizes continue to increase as we embrace the ‘grab, gobble and go,’ culture of the US. Many parents have no basic cooking skills so are incapable of anything more challenging than reheating chips or popping a pizza or a burger into the microwave. They simply don’t have the skills to cook a fresh vegetable or roast a chicken and make a nourishing stew. But most seriously of all the food industry is allowed to go virtually unchecked as they target young people through every clever method at their disposal. So it becomes a Catch 22 situation. A myriad of studies have been conducted so now there is ample evidence and a ton of statistics. We don’t need any more research we need action. At government level there has been unforgivable apathy. The National Task on Obesity published in 2005 made 93 recommendations and despite the fact that no-one in the Government Department of Health or the food industry can argue that we don’t know the risks little more than 20% have been implemented. There appears to be no real urgency or commitment to tackle the vested interest in the multinational food industry. We don’t need more studies we need action now the food industry must only produce food that nourished rather than food that just fills their pockets. Perhaps the incoming government will be more visionary in their approach. A virtuous triangle of cooperation between the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Department of Education working together in a preventative way for our children’s future.

In Australia, they are taking drastic measures to shock the public and the powers that be into action. In a TV advert a mother walks into a kitchen with a brown bag under her arm, ties a tourniquet around her child’s arm and tucks a napkin under his chin. She takes out a syringe and carefully unfolds some heroin from a strip of silver foil. Suddenly the scene changes to a child sitting at a table eating a hamburger – the following question appears on the screen… ‘You wouldn’t inject your child with junk – so why are you feeding it to them?” It caused uproar but certainly got people thinking – after all every culture in the world has a saying ‘we are what we eat’.

Meanwhile a few simple foods to wean your baby onto so no-one needs to resort to pureed chips.

Having said that, a liquidiser or a little ‘Mouli Legume’ is a terrific help for those of you who are determined to make homemade food for their. Be guided by your health nurse for when to introduce solid food.

Potato Soup

Serves 6

Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboard was otherwise bare so one could make this simply delicious soup at a moment’s notice. It’s perfect for babies but is equally delicious for the rest of the family, enough for 6 portions but can also be frozen in little pots as a standby. Go easy on the seasoning for babies.

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

550g (20oz) peeled diced potatoes, one-third inch dice

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

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

100ml (4fl oz) creamy milk

For grownups serve freshly chopped herbs and herb flowers, optional

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil, when the vegetables are soft but not coloured add stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and herb flowers if available.

Carrageen Moss Pudding

Magic food – all our babies were weaned onto Carrageen mosses. The dried Carrageen moss can be found easily in health food shops and keeps almost indefinitely in its dried form.

Serves 4-6

1 semi-closed fistful (1/4 oz /8g) cleaned, well dried Carrageen Moss

1 1/2 pints (900ml) milk

1 tablespoon castor sugar

1 egg, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or a vanilla pod

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with milk and vanilla pod if used. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point and not before separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla essence and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrageen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub all this jelly through the strainer and whisk this also into the milk with the sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract if used. Test for a set in a saucer as one would with gelatine. Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or fluff it in gently. It will rise to make a fluffy top. Serve chilled with soft brown sugar and cream and or with a fruit compote eg. poached rhubarb.

Mashed Potato

Cooking the potatoes in their jackets keeps in the flavours.  They are also easier and less wasteful to peel. This makes lots, again a terrific standby for babies either alone or mixed with a little chicken, beef or lamb gravy. Or a little cooked fish, mashed or pureed carrot.

Serves 4

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

1/2 pint (300ml) creamy milk

1-2 ozs (25-50g) butter

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

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 1/2 pint (300ml) of milk to the boil.  (Use a two pronged carving fork so they don’t break and gently pull off the skin so there is minimum waste – we feed the skins to the hens). Add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bramley Apple Sauce

Brilliant on its own or with a little natural yoghurt. It’s also a good standby to have in the fridge or freezer.

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

1-2 dessertspoons water

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

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

Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

Another favourite for children. A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold winter’s day. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely an almost forgotten pudding loved by children of all ages. Puree for babies.

Serves 6–8

100g (31⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish

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

Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1–1 1⁄2 hours. The skin should be golden; the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk, but still be soft and creamy. Time it so that it’s ready just in time for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Easy Homemade Yogurt

Homemade yoghurt is easy to make and much more delicious than much of what is available to buy.

2 litres (3 1⁄2 pints) full-cream milk

50g (2oz) skim-milk powder

2 teaspoons very fresh, live natural yogurt

Heat the milk in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan. When it is lukewarm, stir in the skim-milk powder. Continue to heat until the milk begins to froth, at about 90ºC (194ºF).

Turn off the heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes, by which time the mixture should have cooled to about 40–42ºC (104–108ºF). Having a dairy thermometer takes the guesswork out of this, but alternatively you can test it in the time-honoured way, by inserting a clean finger into the milk. You should be able to leave your finger for a count of 10 without it getting too hot. At this point, stir in the live yogurt and then transfer the mixture into a heavy earthenware bowl.

Wrap the entire bowl in a towel and keep it in a warm place until the milk coagulates a minimum of 5 hours or, better still, overnight.

One way or another, you need to keep the bowl warm. The optimum temperature should be around 40ºC (104ºF), but if it’s a bit cooler than that it doesn’t matter; it will just take longer to coagulate. The longer the mixture is kept warm, the better the flavour.

When the yogurt is set, transfer to the fridge and use as required.

Fool Proof Food

Three Bears Porridge

Pinhead oatmeal make the yummiest porridge, a big bowl kept the three bears and goldilocks happy all morning and their tummies didn’t rumble again until noon.  If you would like to eat a bowl of porridge in a few minutes buy some speedicook oatmeal instead.  Bring the water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, stirring all the time.  Cook for 4 – 5 minutes on a medium heat, add salt the taste.  Pour into a bowl and eat as above. Porridge is brilliant food for toddlers and young children and everyone. Puree for babies. Our grandchildren enjoy and enjoyed a little porridge from six months onwards.

Serves 8

310g (11oz) pinhead oatmeal

950ml (32fl oz) water

1/2 teaspoon salt (or less for babies)

If you think of it the night before, soak the oatmeal in 225ml (8fl oz) cold water in a saucepan.

On the day, bring 725ml (24fl oz) water to the boil and add to the oatmeal. Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes back to the boil.  Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the salt. Cover again and leave aside overnight, the oatmeal will absorb all the water.

Next day, reheat adding a little more water if necessary; serve with milk and soft brown sugar.


Louise O’Brien past student of Ballymaloe has opened The Tea Room at Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre, Bury Quay, Co Offaly and is doing gorgeous food – the Red Pepper Goats’ Cheese and Spinach Roulade is delicious. The Tea Room is situated a tiny way off the main street but well worth meandering there for the freshly baked cookies and cakes – contact Louise on +353 (0) 86 2079654.

Alice’s Cookbook – I love this little cook-book, one of the New Voices in Food Series published by Quadrille in 2010. It’s packed with super little recipes from a confident creative chef still only in her 20s. As well as being a chef Alice Hart was the youngest ever food editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated and has run a pop-up restaurant ‘The Hart and Fuggle’ in London and a Vietnamese restaurant is underway. Watch out, this girl is definitely a rising star.


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