Great excitement here, we have just hatched out a clutch of fluffy chicks in time for Easter. Several weeks ago we put a batch of fertile eggs into the incubator, plugged it in and hoped for the best. Both students and grandchildren were agog with anticipation. Twenty one days later we heard faint cheeping and eventually a few damp little chicks pecked their way out of the eggs. After several hours they fluff up and get perky enough to be moved out under the infra-red lamp in the Palais des Poulet.
After a few weeks they will grow pin feathers and eventually proper plumage. We’ll have to wait and see which grow little tails, those will turn into fine cockerels and the others will mature into hens. We’ll fatten up the cockerels for the pot and the hens will keep us supplied with beautiful fresh eggs.
A few weeks ago I was in New York and guess what, the coolest new hobbies are still keeping chickens in your back yard and bees on your roof, can you imagine? They are even selling hens and chicken food in some of the Farmers Markets in Brooklyn.
It’s almost as big a craze as urban farming; so many people are growing a few vegetables and fruit right there in Manhattan and in the boroughs. At the Farmers Market in Union Square, several stalls are selling eggs from different types of rare breed hens, the beautiful blue green eggs of the aracanas were selling at several dollars a dozen more than the other heirloom varieties. At Dean and De Lucca, possibly the poshest food shop in Manhattan, beautiful duck eggs sell individually for 2 or 3 dollars each.
Eggs were also starring on restaurant menus, both for dinner and lunch as well as brunch, but now with the breed and provenance clearly written on the menu. There is a fast growing awareness of food issues and everyone is all aflutter to hear that butter and all good fats are not harmful after all.
We’ve just made and iced a lovely Simnel cake for Easter. I’ve topped it with eleven balls of marzipan to represent eleven of the twelve apostles. Judas doesn’t make it to the top of the cake for obvious reasons. One has to watch it like a hawk while it’s toasting because we scorched it on several occasions in the past. I have also got hot cross buns rising, how lovely is that?
This is a particularly nice recipe that we have been tweaking for a while. Try it and let me know what you think. I love hot cross buns at any time but I particularly love them toasted for breakfast on Easter Sunday.
For Easter Sunday lunch, of course its Spring lamb, sweet, succulent and tender, it needs no further embellishment. Just roast it in a moderate oven with a few flakes of sea salt sprinkled over the top. Serve it with fresh mint sauce made from the new season’s mint, lots of roast potatoes and maybe the first Irish asparagus or sea kale.
For dessert it has to be a rhubarb tart, I love my mum’s rhubarb tart but for a change I am including this delicious rhubarb crumble tart which I think you will love. Happy Easter, Spring is here at last!
Roast Leg of Spring Lamb with Sea Salt, Mint Sauce
Young Spring Lamb is sweet and succulent and needs absolutely no embellishment apart from a dusting of salt and pepper and a little fresh Mint Sauce – made from the first tender sprigs of mint from the cold frame in the Kitchen garden. Follow it with Rhubarb crumble made with the first pink spears of the season. For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter.
1 leg of Spring lamb
Maldon or Irish Atlantic Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
600ml (1 pint) lamb or chicken stock
A little roux
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sprigs of fresh mint and parsley
Mint Sauce – see recipe
If possible ask your butcher to remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb so that it will be easier to carve later, then trim the knuckle end of the leg. Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put into a roasting tin.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approximately for rare, 1 1/4 –1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size. When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a carving dish. Rest the lamb for 10 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile make the gravy. Degrease the juices in the roasting tin and add stock. Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux to thicken slightly. Taste and allow to bubble up until the flavour is concentrated enough. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring onions and lots of crusty roast potatoes.
Mint sauce is easy peasy to make it takes only minutes to make. For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture but tastes fresh and delicious.
Makes about 175ml (6fl oz);
Serves about 6
25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
110ml (4fl oz) boiling water
25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5–10 minutes, before serving.
Hot Cross Buns
Nowadays Hot Cross Buns are eaten in Ireland from Ash Wednesday to Easter and beyond.
25g (1oz) fresh yeast
75-110g (3-4oz) castor sugar
450g (1lb) bakers flour
75g (3oz) butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2-3 teaspoons mixed spice, depending how fresh it is
1 level teaspoon of salt
2 organic eggs
225-300ml (8-10 fl oz) tepid milk
75g (3oz) currants
50g (2oz) sultanas
25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped
egg wash made with milk, sugar, 1 organic egg yolk, whisked together
50g (2oz) white flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
4-5 tablespoons cold water
To Make the Hot Cross Buns
Dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a little tepid milk.
Put the flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, a pinch of salt and the remainder of the sugar. Mix well. Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, adding a little more milk if necessary.
Cover and leave to rest for 2 or 3 minutes then knead by hand or in a food processor until smooth. Add the currants, sultanas and mixed peel and continue to knead until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.
“Knock back”, by kneading for 3 or 4 minutes, rest for a few minutes. Divide the mixture into 14 balls, each weighing about 50g (2oz). Knead each slightly and shape into buns. Place on a lightly floured tray. Egg wash and leave to rise.
If using short crust, arrange a cross of pastry on each one. Leave to rise until double in size. Then egg wash a second time carefully.
We tend to decorate with what we call a “liquid cross”. To make this, mix the flour, melted butter and water together to form a thick liquid. Fill into a paper piping bag and pipe a liquid cross on top of each bun.
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 6.
Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for a further 10 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Split in two and serve with butter.
Crunchy Rhubarb Crumble Tart
6 ozs (175g) plain white flour
3 ozs (75g) butter
1 dessertspoon castor sugar
1 beaten egg, approximately
5-6 stalks of red rhubarb
3 ozs (75g) unsalted butter
3 ozs (75g) plain white flour
6 ozs (175g granulated sugar from the vanilla pod jar
3 ozs (75g) chopped almonds (unpeeled)
9 – 10 inch (23-25.5cm) tart tin or 6 x 10cm (4 inch) tartlet tins
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
softly whipped cream
First make the pastry.
Sieve the flour and sugar into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.
Whisk the egg. Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven.
The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, ‘shorter’ crust. Cover and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Line the tart or tartlet tins with pastry. Chill. Bake blind in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes approximately until the pastry is three quarters cooked, remove from the oven. Take out the baking beans, brush with beaten egg wash and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
Fill with chopped rhubarb and sprinkle generously with 75-110g (3-4oz) sugar before adding the crumble topping.
Next make the crumble.
Rub the butter into the flour and sugar to make a coarse crumble. Add chopped almonds. Spread the crumble over the top of the rhubarb.
Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4 until fully cooked – 45-50 minutes.
Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.
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) butter
8 ozs (225g) pale, soft brown sugar
6 eggs, preferably free range
10 ozs (275g) white flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 1/2 fl ozs (35ml) Irish whiskey
12 ozs (350g) best quality sultanas
12 ozs (350g) best quality currants
12 ozs (350g) best quality raisins
4 ozs (110g) cherries
4 ozs (110g) homemade candied peel
2 ozs (50g) whole almonds
2 ozs (50g) ground almonds
rind of 1 lemon
rind of 1 orange
1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated
1 lb (450g) ground almonds
1 lb (450g) castor sugar
2 small eggs
a drop of pure almond extract
2 tablespoons 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 180°C/350°F/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 8 1/2 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 160°C/325°F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3 – 3 1/2 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 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk; stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/regulo 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chicken. Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.
NB: 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.
Growing Unusual Vegetables with Klaus Laitenberger at The Organic Centre in Rossinver on Saturday 26 April. There are hundreds of plants you could grow for food, but Klaus will concentrate on a few unusual crops like Kohlrabi, Scorzonera, Celeriac, Oca, Mashua, Yacon, Lentils, Amaranth, Quinoa as well as some unusual fruits such as Sea Buckthorn, Aronia, and Rosehips. Klaus will teach you how to source, sow, plant, and look after them. Price: €65.00 – www.theorganiccentre.ie
Date for your Diary – The 8th Burren Slow Food Festival Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th May 2014. Pavilion Theatre Complex, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare. The three day event packs in the best of food culture in Clare, featuring produce from local growers, food producers and traders. Events include a large indoor and outdoor farmers market, Burren walks, wild foods, seaweed foraging, beer tasting… Look out for special offers at local restaurants and hotels too – www.slowfoodclare.com