Archive2020

Cookbook Recommendations

I love that so many who have never cooked before have discovered the joy of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen during the lockdowns enforced on us during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Several of the ‘born again’ cooks I’ve spoken to are messianic about the therapeutic value of the experience and how amazed they are to find themselves actually feeling excited about getting into the kitchen and the “Oops” they get in their tummy from the reaction of their family to each new home-made dish. This experience has definitely heightened awareness of the importance of passing on each newly learned skill to the next generation.

We surely need all these little highlights to enhance the quality of our lives at any time but even more so during these tumultuous and for many, heart breaking times.

So thought I’d share five titles of new cookbooks to use up those Christmas book tokens. Alternatively order the title that appeals to you on line but I urge you to buy directly from your local book shops or from Kenny’s in Galway (www.kennys.ie) who have a huge list of titles and are super efficient and are in many cases cheaper than the well known international companies and plus your order will support an Irish firm.

Home Cookery Year from Claire Thompson, published by Quadrille is definitely worth having in your repertoire. You may even want to buy two copies, one to keep and another to gift. I found it incredibly difficult to choose just a couple of recipes. It’s divided into individual seasonal chapters, focusing on

Midweek dishes on a budget,

From the Larder.

Salads as light lunches or

Side dishes,

Treat yourself,

Leisurely Weekend cooking and Celebration feasts – You may not have heard of Claire before but, she writes regularly for The Telegraph, BBC Good Food and Olive Magazines and does quite a bit of media work. Follow her on Instagram @5oclockapron for a daily snapshot of the food she cooks at home. In the Winter chapter alone I picked out about 15 recipes that I would love to cook. I chose Buttermilk Fried Cauliflower with Jalapeno & Lime dressing and

Croque Monsieur Bread & Butter Pudding to share because I thought they could add to your repertoire of delicious ways to use up Christmas leftovers. See next week’s column for more ideas….

As Weekend Examiner readers will know, delicious home cooking has always been the most important focus for me and interestingly this year many of the books published have focussed on comforting dishes to nourish and feed our precious family and friends. Next up Clodagh’s Weeknight Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna has become, and always was, ever since I’ve known her, when she was a student here at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2000. She then went on to then work alongside Myrtle Allen in Ballymaloe House kitchens, sold paté at the Farmers Markets in Midleton every Saturday, presented several TV series, wrote 8 bestselling cookbooks, while running several restaurants….Wow, all the while oozing energy and passion for food. More recently, her daily pod cast Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen has almost 100K followers plus can this girl dance! and she keeps hens…..Seek out at your local bookshop or order at www.kennys.ie/shop/clodagh-s-weeknight-kitchen-easy-exciting-dishes-to-liven-up-your-recipe-repertoire for more.

For me one of the most meaningful books of the year is A Taste of Home, 100% of the proceeds from the sales of this really beautiful book go to support the work of The Passage’s, a British charity who for over 40 years have helped thousands of homeless people off the streets for good in the UK, among them many Irish. During 2020 their work was made even more challenging due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The original book concept was created by Kyle Cathie, my long time friend and publisher of many years, now retired. It’s packed with gorgeous recipes donated and mindfully chosen by cooks and chefs from all over the world. So many interesting ideas to try……

Finally Always Home another of my favourite books of the year, an endearing and enchantingly written memoir by Fanny Singer about growing up as the daughter of the renowned chef and founder of Chez Panise, Alice Waters. A story of food, family and the need for beauty in all aspects of life – What could be more appealing during these uncertain times. A charmed childhood for sure, beautifully written and peppered with recipes for many of her beloved childhood foods, published by Orion Publishing.  The recipes in Always Home are written in prose interwoven with stories so I haven’t included them in this article.

Just in, The Happy Health Plan yet another cracker from the two handsome chaps from Greystones, David and Stephen Flynn. Simple and tasty plant-based food to nourish your body inside and out.

Buttermilk Fried Cauliflower with Jalapeno & Lime dressing (From Home Cookery Year by Claire Thompson and published by Quadrille)

1 cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

400ml (14fl oz) buttermilk (or use natural yoghurt)

1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped

1-2 jalapeno chillies, roughly chopped

1 lime (or 2 if your limes aren’t especially juicy), halved

1 small bunch of coriander (cilantro), leaves picked and roughly chopped

½ – 1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

100g (3 ½ oz) self-raising flour

50g (1 ¾ oz) cornflour (cornstarch)

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower florets and boil for 2 minutes, until just tender, then drain well and allow to cool a little.

In the meantime, blend half the buttermilk with the garlic, chilli, salt to taste, juice from half the lime and all the coriander to make a smooth dressing and put to one side.

Mix the remaining buttermilk with the chilli powder, cumin and a ½ teaspoon of salt, then mix the drained cauliflowers florets into the buttermilk mixture until fully coated.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and cornflour (cornstarch) together with a big pinch of salt.

Coat the cauliflower in the flour mixture and place on a baking tray so that the pieces aren’t touching each other. Pour at least 3cm (1 ¼”) of oil into a wide, deep frying pan and heat to 180°C/350°F. The oil is ready for frying when you drop in a piece of cauliflower and it sizzles and floats to the surface immediately.

Working in batches of about 6 – 8 pieces at a time, fry the cauliflower florets for a few minutes, or until golden on all sides. Remove each batch with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels while you fry the remainder. Season well with salt.

Serve the fried cauliflower immediately along with the dressing and with the remaining half of the lime cut into wedges for squeezing over.

Spiced Chicken & Chickpea Curry

(From Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna and published by Kyle Books)

SERVES 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 bone-in chicken legs (thigh and drumstick), skin on

2 large onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1½ tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

400g (14oz) can chickpeas,

drained and rinsed

470ml (17fl oz) chicken

stock

150g (5½oz) baby spinach

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 To Serve

60g (2¼oz) Greek yogurt

60g (2¼oz) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

brown rice (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.

Place an ovenproof casserole dish or a large saucepan over a medium heat and warm for 30 seconds. Pour in the olive oil. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes until they are golden brown on all sides. Then transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the casserole, adding more olive oil if necessary. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes until the onions are soft and golden brown.

Stir in the garlic, ginger and spices, stirring constantly, until the spices are fragrant. Add the chickpeas and the chicken stock. Return the chicken pieces and their juices to the casserole. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 45–55 minutes or until the chicken is tender.

Remove the casserole from the oven and place over a low heat, then stir in the spinach which should only take a minute to wilt. Transfer the curry to a large, deep platter, serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, some flat-leaf

parsley and rice, if you wish.

Harvest Salad with Kale, Apple, Beetroot & Grilled Halloumi

(From Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna and published by Kyle Books)

SERVES 2

1 sweet potato, peeled and

cut into chunks

1½ tablespoons olive oil

50g (1¾oz) kale, chopped

100g (3½oz) halloumi, sliced

1 apple, quartered, cored and grated

1 beetroot, cooked, peeled and grated

160g (5¾oz) cooked wild rice

50g (1¾oz) whole almonds,

toasted and chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad Dressing

2 tablespoons balsamic

vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin

olive oil

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

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

Put the sweet potato chunks in a roasting tin, toss with ½ tablespoon of the

olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the potato chunks are roasting, steam the kale for 2 minutes, then drain and roughly chop. Set aside.

Place a griddle or frying pan over a medium heat, add the remaining

tablespoon of the olive oil and fry the halloumi for 2 minutes on each side.

Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Place the apple, beetroot, roast sweet potato chunks, kale and rice in a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing, season with salt and pepper, top with the grilled halloumi and scatter over the almonds to serve.

Claudia Roden’s Pasta with Minced Lamb and Yoghurt Sauce

(From A Taste of Home compiled by Kyle Cathie)

Serves 4

1 large onion cut in half and sliced

3 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil

400g  minced lamb

1 ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoon pomegranate molasses (optional)

200g pappardelle

25g flat leaf parsley, chopped

400g plain whole-milk yoghurt at room temperature

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Chilli pepper to taste

40g butter, melted

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

This interpretation of manti, a Turkish meat-stuffed pasta (like large tortellini) with a yoghurt sauce, is a deconstruction of one of the most sophisticated and refined of Middle Eastern dishes that was developed in the palaces of Ottoman Sultans in Constantinople – now Istanbul.

In a large frying pan, fry the onion in the oil over a medium-low heat, stirring often for about 15 minutes, until very soft and lightly coloured.

Add the minced lamb, keep crushing it with a fork and turning it over until it changes colour.

Add salt and pepper, the cinnamon and allspice and the pomegranate molasses, and cook for 5 minutes more. Then add about 150ml water and cook for 5 minutes, until much of the liquid is absorbed and the meat is very soft.

At the same time cook the pappardelle in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and pour into a serving dish.

Stir the parsley into the minced meat and mix with the pasta. Beat the yoghurt with the garlic and a little salt and pour over the dish.

Mix the chilli pepper with the melted butter and dribble over the top.

Veggie Pot Noodle with Miso

(From The Happy Healthy Plan by David & Stephen Flynn, Published by Penguin Books)

Serves 1

10g carrot

2 spring onions

¼ fresh red chilli

50g wholemeal noodles or brown rice noodles

½ teaspoon miso

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

25g frozen peas

25g baby spinach

Zest and juice of ½  a lime

1 teaspoon tamari / soy sauce

To Serve

Toasted sesame seeds

Pickled ginger

Finely grate the carrot and slice the spring onions. Finely dice the red chilli (include the seeds if you like it spicy, or leave them out if you prefer it milder). Peel and grate the fresh ginger. Put the noodles into a large jar, along with the veg stock, miso and the rest of the ingredients.

When you are ready to eat, fill and boil the kettle. Once boiled, pour boiling water into the jar until everything is covered and leave it to sit for 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted sesame seeds and pickled ginger.

Linda Tubby’s Fudgy Chocolate Cake

(From A Taste of Home compiled by Kyle Cathie)

150g 75% plain dark chocolate

85g salted butter

100g ground almonds

3 large eggs

85g golden caster sugar

Large pinch of cream of tartar

Icing sugar or cocoa to dust (optional)

This flourless chocolate cake uses whisked egg whites to create a meringue and provide volume and to give a light texture. You will need a 20cm springform tin, greased and fully lined with baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4.

Break the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the bowl. Sit the bowl over a small pan of just-simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Melt the chocolate and butter together for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir to melt completely. Mix in the almonds and set aside.

Separate the eggs into two large bowls and had half the sugar to the yolks. Add the cream of tartar to the whites and whisk until soft peaks form. Gradually add the rest of the sugar, whisking between each addition to create a stiff meringue.

Without washing the beaters whisk the yolks and sugar together until creamy and the whisk leaves a trail. Fold in the chocolate almond mixture and mix well to combine. Gently fold in the meringue and keep folding until the mixture is even in colour.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared springform tin and bake for 25 – 30 min until risen. It will still be quite soft in the middle but it firms up as it cools. When cold, if wished, dust with icing sugar or cocoa to serve.

Christmas Leftovers

Does it seem a little early to talk about using up leftovers deliciously? Well, I don’t think so. This day next week, it’ll be St. Stephen’s Day. Probably, the most tumultuous Christmas any of us have ever experienced will be over.

Despite the challenges we’ve been determined to keep cooking and carry on!

Meanwhile, you may be beginning to get a little peckish again so let’s head back in the kitchen, have a root through your fridge or pantry – There are bound to be some delicious morsels left over from the Christmas feast and maybe some forgotten ingredients hidden in there.

How about getting the family involved in a competition to think of new and creative ways to use up a variety of miscellaneous ingredients. How about you go for an exhilarating walk or put your feet up and let the others into the kitchen to have fun cooking your supper for a change.

So many options… Of course, one could just make a tasty turkey and ham pie with the nibbles left on the carcass. I’d start by sautéing off some sliced onions and mushrooms, then adding a mixture of turkey stock and cream, a generous fistful of chopped parsley and some thyme leaves or better still a little chopped tarragon. Thicken the boiling mixture with a little roux. Season well and add the coarsely chopped turkey and ham. A gorgeous Goose Pie can be made in a similar way but I’d re-crisp the skin in the oven for a few minutes to scatter over the top which could be covered with a ruff of fluffy mash, a flaky pastry lid or just a layer of cheesy buttered crumbs.

For many transforming, leftovers into another equally delicious meal is a ‘forgotten skill’, perhaps it was my 50s and 60s upbringing but for me it’s a way of life. It may be difficult to understand that back then ’food waste’ was simply unthinkable, shameful, absolutely not an option. It doesn’t make any sense any time, it’s like tearing up pound notes and floating them down the river and most people don’t even have a few hens to eat up the scraps and convert them into eggs a few days later…..

Nowadays, there are so many exciting new ingredients and flavour options on the shelves of virtually every shop and supermarket in the country. It’s an opportunity to be creative and to add the flavours of the East, Far East, Mexico, the Caribbean… to what might otherwise be boring leftovers.

So here are a few suggestions… Communal activities are the most fun and are a brilliant way to use up leftovers. All kinds of fillings can be enclosed in samosas, pasties, empanadas or filo triangles.

Chinese Turkey with Spicy Glaze and Toasted Peanuts

Serves 4

900g (2lb) leftover turkey or chicken

1 tablespoon sunflower oil but I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Glaze

50g (2oz) pale soft brown sugar

35ml (scant 1 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

1 teaspoons Hoisin sauce

1 dessertspoon sweet chili sauce

1/2cm (1/4 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated

pinch of chilli flakes

juice of 1/2 lime

Garnish

2 tablespoons  sesame seeds

25g (1oz) peanuts, peeled and roasted (optional)

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

If the chicken breasts are large, divide in half at an angle.

Heat the oil in a sauté or frying pan.

Season the turkey or chicken meat with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss over a medium heat until golden for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile put all the ingredients for the glaze in a small stainless steel saucepan, stir well, bring to the boil over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

Pour over the turkey or chicken in the sauté or frying pan, allow to bubble for a minute or two.

Spoon into a warm serving dish. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, coarsely chopped peanuts and sliced spring onions.

Serve immediately with some boiled rice and a salad of organic leaves.

How to Roast Peanuts

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

Spread the peanuts over a roasting tray, roast for about 15 minutes, shaking once or twice.  Take the tray out doors and blow off the loose skins, sounds very odd but it’s exactly what everyone does in Asia.  Return to the oven if they are not already golden brown all over.  Chop coarsely.

Roasted Carrot Salad with Chamoy

Inspired by a Ottolenghi recipe from Flavour

This recipe is a great way to use up the extra carrots you may have in your fridge from your Christmas grocery shop.

Serves 4 -6

The Chamoy recipe keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. Use this Mexican sauce as a marinade or condiment for roasted vegetables, chicken or pork. Serve as a starter or as an accompaniment with pork belly or duck breasts.

1 kg carrots cut into quarters, lengthwise

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 ½ tablespoons to serve

1 ½ tablespoons of maple syrup or runny honey

70g (approx. 8) dried apricots, finely sliced

30g roast salted almonds, split lengthwise

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chamoy

50g apricots

1 teaspoon maple syrup

2 teaspoon sumac

45ml lime juice, plus 2 teaspoons to serve

1 ½ teaspoons Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ teaspoon of regular chilli flakes)

1 small garlic clove

2 tablespoons olive oil

10g mint leaves

5g dill, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 240°C/450°F/Mark 8.

Toss the carrots in a large bowl with the olive oil, maple syrup/ honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Spread out in a single layer on two large parchment-lined baking trays. Roast for 15 – 18 minutes, tossing the carrots every now and then and continue to cook until nicely browned but still retain bite.

Meanwhile, whizz all the ingredients for the Chamoy with ¼ teaspoon of salt in a food processor until smooth. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons of water to the Chamoy if too thick.

When the carrots are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl. Pour over the Chamoy, toss to coat the roast carrots. Leave for 15 – 20 minutes to meld the flavours together.

Lay a bed of rocket leaves on a serving platter. Top with the roasted carrots, sprinkle with the sliced apricots and dill sprigs. Finish with some shredded mint leaves and the toasted almonds.

Serve at room temperature.

A Cheesy Gratin of Leeks and Brussel Sprouts

Serves 8

Everyone in our house loves a hot bubbly gratin, a yummy comforting supper dish, I sometimes wrap each leek in a slice of ham before coating in the cheesy Mornay Sauce. Use up the little ends of cheese – a mixture can be delicious but taste carefully.

8 medium sized leeks or 1 ½ lbs plus ½ lbs quartered, blanched and refreshed sprouts

600mls whole milk

A few slices of carrot and onion

3 or 4 peppercorns

A sprig of thyme or parsley

175g grated Cheddar cheese or a mixture of grated Cheddar,  Parmesan and Gruyère

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Buttered crumbs (see recipe below)

Trim most of the green part off the leeks (use to make soup or pop into the stock pot).  Leave the white parts whole, slit the top and wash well under cold running water.  Cook in a little boiling salted water in a covered saucepan until just tender, 15 minutes approx.

Meanwhile put the cold milk into a saucepan with a few slices of carrot and onion, 3 or 4 peppercorns and a sprig of thyme or parsley.  Bring to the boil, simmer for 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 with roux to a light coating consistency.  Add the mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheese, keep the remainder of the cheese for grating over the top.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

Drain the leeks well, slice into chunks, mix with the blanched Brussel sprouts. Arrange in an ovenproof serving dish, season well, coat with the sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese mixed with a few buttered crumbs. Reheat in a moderate oven 180˚C (gas mark 4), until golden and bubbly – about 15 minutes.

Buttered Crumbs

A great way to use up stale bread. Whizz into crumbs and store in the freezer for stuffings or crumbles.

2 ozs (50g) butter

4 ozs (110g) soft white breadcrumbs

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool. Use what you need and store the remainder in a box in the fridge to scatter over gratins or fish pies.

Cheddar Cheese and Ham Strata

A Strata is a savoury bread and butter pudding. Try this one, even just with cheese, but if you have a little cooked leftover ham or bacon it’s even better. A few morsels of cooked turkey wouldn’t go astray either or a little dice of chorizo which everyone seems to have in their fridge these days – careful not to add too much, it can be overpowering.

Serves 6

50g (2oz) very soft butter (for buttering the bread and greasing the dish)

6 slices of good white bread (1-2cm/½-¾ inch thick approx), crusts removed – about 100g (3½oz) prepared weight

110g (4oz) mature Cheddar, (or a mixture of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan) coarsely grated

175- 225g (6-8oz) cooked ham or bacon, diced in 7mm (⅓ inch) cubes approx..

3 medium free-range eggs

450ml (16fl oz) milk (or 8floz of milk and 8floz of cream)

3-4 teaspoons thyme leaves, chopped

A generous pinch of mace

1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

salt and freshly ground black pepper

A little extra grated cheese for sprinkling

1 litre (1¾ pint) ovenproof soufflé dish.

Grease the soufflé dish with soft or melted butter.

Then butter slices of bread and cut into roughly 2.5cm (1inch) squares.  Put into the dish, add the grated cheese and ham and toss to combine.

Whisk the eggs well.  Add the milk, thyme leaves, mace and Dijon mustard, continue to whisk for a minute or two.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Pour over the bread, cheese and ham mixture.  Cover and pop in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or even overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top and bake the Strata for 40 minutes or until puffed up and golden like a soufflé.

Serve with a salad of organic leaves.

Chocolate Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 8-12 approx.

Panettone is now readily available, it is a rich fruit bread traditionally eaten at Christmas in Italy. If you have some leftover this is a brilliant way to use up the leftovers – use a yeast barm brack for a similarly delicious result.

1 panettone, sliced 2 inch (1cm) thick

220g (7 ozs) good quality plain chocolate, grated

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) cream

5 egg yolks, preferably free-range

100g (3 ½ ozs) sugar

110g (4oz) best quality chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

brown demerara sugar, Moscavado (to sprinkle over at the end)

Softly whipped cream to serve.

8 inch x 2 inch deep oval or rectangular oven-proof dish

Melt the chocolate in the cream in a basin over boiling water.  In a separate bowl beat together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture pales slightly.   Pour the chocolate into the egg mixture and put it back over the pan of boiling water.  Lower the heat and stir continuously, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  If the mixture is cooked for too long or at too high a temperature, it will curdle, it is ready as soon as steam starts to rise from the surface.

Pour a little of the mixture into the oven dish, then add a layer of sliced panettone.  Scatter in a few chocolate chips. Continue doing this until the dish is full, ensuring that the top layer absorbs enough of the custard to remain moist.  Allow to sit for 1 hour or longer if you have time.

Place the dish in a roasting tin and add boiling water until the dish is half submerged.  Bake at 150°C/300°F/Regulo 2. for approx. 20 minutes or until hot throughout.  (It took 30-35 minutes in my oven.)

Cover the pudding with a generous layer of brown sugar and put under a hot grill until the sugar starts to bubble.  Leave for a few minutes before serving to allow the sugar to set.  Serve with clotted cream or softly whipped cream.

Crêpes with Plum Pudding and Brandy Butter

 

Makes 12 approximately

Pancake Batter

175g (6ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

a good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

scant 450ml (15fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoons melted butter

6 – 8oz Leftover plum pudding

Brandy Butter

Softly whipped cream to serve

Mrs Hanrahan’s Sauce (optional) (date this was featured need to insert)

8 inch (20.5cm) non-stick crêpe pan

First make the batter.

Sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).

Let the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons (6-8 American tablespoons) melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

To cook the crêpes or pancakes.

Heat the pan to very hot, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

A small ladle can also be very useful for this.  Loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.

They will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

To Serve: Melt a couple of tablespoon of brandy butter in a pan over a medium heat. Crumble in the plum pudding, toss gently until heated through.

Put a crepe onto a hot pan, spoon a couple of tablespoons of the buttery plum pudding over half the crepe. Fold the other half over, add a little more plum pudding mixture, fold the crepe into a fan shape, repeat with another. Serve on hot plates.

Add a dollop of softly whipped cream and a drizzle of Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce if available.

A Trip Down Christmas Memory Lane…

A trip down memory lane this Christmas I’ve been racking my brains to think of ways to add extra meaning to what for many, may be a long, lonely, cheerless Christmas. Pick up a pen, let our minds drift, dredge up memories of Christmas’s past, happy or perhaps tinged with sadness, anticipation, longing, disappointment…. Don’t worry if the memories seem disjointed. Snippets of family get-togethers. Raw, funny, poignant… – just get it down on paper.

The lets sit by the fire, share and while away a few nostalgic hours recounting memories that may have been un-consciously buried for many years.

Memories come flooding back. Christmas baking started in November in our house too. This took two whole afternoons – we would look forward to it for weeks. Mum would specially wait until we came home from the village school so we could all get involved – washing the glacé cherries, deseeding muscatel raisins, chopping and peeling – everything had to be done from scratch then, and of course it was an advantage to have a few more hands around to help to cream the butter, line the cake tin and stir the plum pudding. That was super exciting because we each had to make a wish, eyes tightly shut, before the fruity mixture flecked with suet was packed into white Delph bowls and covered with greaseproof paper, “don’t forget to overlap it in the centre to allow the pudding to expand”. Little fingers held the knot to secure the twine handle tightly. Best of all the tradition in our house was to eat the first plum pudding on the night it was made. The Christmas season had begun and without doubt my mother’s plum pudding recipe (inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother) is the best any of us have ever tasted and I’m not just being nostalgic. If you don’t believe me, try it this year and I’ll be expecting a flood of cards and emails after Christmas.

And then there was the trifle, Mum’s trifle was legendary – when I was little it was made with dried rusk like trifle sponges that appeared in the village shop before Christmas every year. Mum had a generous hand with the Bristol cream – we split them in half, then sandwiched them with homemade raspberry jam, we layered them up with homemade custard (no not Birds) in two special cut glass trifle bowls retrieved from the top shelf of the pantry where they sat from one festive season to the next. I have to share this recipe with you I can confidently say that it’ll be the best trifle you’ll ever, ever taste. But there was ‘trifle drama’ in our house every year… Everyone loved the trifle. So Mummy had to hide the trifles every year because my crafty brothers would search the house to find it when they arrived home from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Once they found it in the oven of the gas cooker, eventually she resorted to hiding the trifle under her bed to save them for Christmas Day…

I’ve also included a recipe for Mum’s Chapel Window Cake and Myrtle Allen’s Spiced Beef, perennial favourites in both our families.

Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle

Serves 8-10

450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (see recipe)

(trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam (see recipe)

600ml (1 pint) custard made with:

5 eggs, organic and free-range if possible 

1 1/4 tablespoons castor sugar

1/2teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750ml (1¼ pint) rich milk

150-175ml 5-6 fl.oz) best quality sweet or medium sherry

 – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry.

Garnish

600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds

1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. 

Next make the egg custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract.  Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along.   Pour in some homemade egg custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the remainder of the sherry.  Spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.

Note

For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of swiss roll.

Great Grandmother’s Victoria Sponge

Who doesn’t love a buttery Victoria sponge – this recipe keeps really well for at least 5 or 6 days but omit the cream if you plan to keep for a few days.

Serves 10

175g (6oz) flour

175g (6oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

125g (4½ oz) butter

1 tablespoon milk

5g (1 teaspoon) baking powder

Filling

110g (4oz) homemade raspberry jam (see recipe)

300ml (10 fl.oz) whipped cream

caster sugar to sprinkle

2 x 18cm (7 inch) sponge cake tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Grease the tine with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Chapel Window Cake

When we were little this was part of the Christmas baking tradition in our house. We gathered round the kitchen table like little birds in a nest to watch Mummy assemble it, waiting for titbits and trimmings. It’s called a Chapel Window Cake because the different colours in the cake resemble stained glass. It’s definitely a bit of a fiddle to make but the end result is worth the effort.

Serves 10–12

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

zest of 1⁄2 organic lemon

1⁄4 teaspoon pink colouring and drop of pure almond extract

25g (1oz) drinking chocolate powder

A little milk (optional)

225g (8oz) Almond Paste or Marzipan

3⁄4 pot homemade Raspberry Jam

caster sugar

three 19 x 11cm (71⁄2 x 41⁄2 in) tins, lined on the base and sides with greaseproof paper

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

Cream the butter well, add the caster sugar and whisk until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, whisking well between each addition. Then stir in the sieved flour and baking powder.

Divide the cake mixture into 3 equal parts. Flavour one part with the lemon zest, the next with almond extract and pink colouring. Stir the drinking chocolate into the last portion and add a few drops of milk if it becomes too thick.

Spoon into the prepared tins and bake for 15–20 minutes. Turn out and leave to cool on a wire rack. Remove the paper.

Meanwhile, make the almond paste and wrap in silicone paper until needed.

To assemble, trim the edges of the cakes and cut each one lengthways into three equal strips. Spread a little jam over all of the sides of each strip, a sticky business… Assemble the strips into a 3 x 3 block so that the colours are mixed up. Press all the pieces firmly together and trim the edges if necessary to ensure a uniform shape.

Sprinkle a little caster sugar on the worktop. Roll out the almond paste to a thickness of a scant 5mm (1⁄4in). Brush the base of the cake with a little more jam. Lay it on top of the almond paste. Brush the sides of the cake with a little more jam. Wrap the paste around the cake. Press the edges together to seal. Smooth the surface with a palette knife if necessary. Score the top into a diamond pattern, pinch the edges and dredge with caster sugar.

Note: if you follow the instructions above, the two ends of the cake are left un-iced, so you can see the ‘chapel window’. However, if you want to seal the cake entirely so it will keep for longer, roll out thinly an extra 110g (4oz) of almond paste and seal the ends. If you can resist, it keeps perfectly for 4–5 weeks.

Ballymaloe Spiced Beef

There are lots of recipes for spiced beef, traditionally eaten at Christmas, and many of them ‘corn’ or brine the beef first. This recipe, which has been handed down in Myrtle Allen’s family, is for dry-spiced beef. Initially, the recipe called for silverside, but I prefer to use flap (also known as flank) a less expensive cut with a little more fat. The recipe also includes saltpetre, which should only be used in moderation. If you can’t find it, just leave it out (ask your local pharmacist). The meat will be slightly greyer in colour rather than the rosy pink that comes from the saltpetre cure. The recipe below makes enough spice to cure five flanks of beef, about 1.8kg (4lb) each in size. Spiced beef keeps for immeasurably longer than ordinary cooked or roast beef. Store the spice mix in a screw-top jar. It will keep for months, so make the full quantity even if it is more than you need at a particular time. To serve, cut it into thin slices and serve in sandwiches or with freshly made salads and homemade chutneys.

Top tip: Tom Durcan in the English Market in Cork is famous for his spiced beef – also available sliced on tomdurcanmeats.ie or call 021 4279141.

Serves 12–16

1.8kg (4lb) lean flank of beef

Ballymaloe Spice for Beef

225g (8oz/1 cup) Demerara sugar

350g (12oz) salt

10g (1⁄2 oz) saltpetre (potassium nitrate)

75g (3oz) whole black pepper

75g (3oz) whole allspice (pimento, Jamaica pepper)

75g (3oz) whole juniper berries

Grind all the spice ingredients (preferably in a food-processor) until fairly fine.

Remove the bones from the flank and trim away any unnecessary fat. Rub a little spice well over the surface of the beef and into every crevice. Put into an earthenware dish and leave in a fridge or cold larder for 3–7 days, turning occasionally. (This is a dry spice, but after a day or two some liquid will come out of the meat.) The longer the meat is left in the spice, the more spicy the flavour and the longer it will last.

Just before cooking, remove the spiced beef from the earthenware dish. The salt and sugar will have extracted some liquid. Discard this spice mixture. Roll and tie the joint neatly with cotton string into a compact shape. Put it into a deep saucepan, cover generously with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 3–4 hours or until soft and fully cooked. If it is not to be eaten hot, then press the meat by putting it on a flat tin or into an appropriate sized bread tin and covering with a board and weight. Leave it for 12 hours in a fridge or cold larder. Spiced beef will keep for 3–4 weeks in a fridge. Serve thinly sliced with Ballymaloe Relish, Horseradish Cream or slices of ripe avocado, hazelnuts and fresh watercress leaves.

Christmas Dinner with All The Trimmings

What a rollercoaster it’s been for the past few weeks, hopes raised hopes dashed, then raised again. I eventually decided to carry on regardless and respond to reader’s requests for recipes for the traditional Christmas feast that so many happy memories are made of. This year of all years, we are nostalgic for the past and crave a comforting family Christmas.

Hopefully, your nearest and dearest will be gathered around you and our hearts go out to those who have also lost loved ones during this extraordinarily challenging year.

Here are all the favourite Christmas recipes you requested. A fine roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings, lots of gravy, roasties, Brussels sprouts and our house recipe for creamed celery (sounds so old-fashioned, there’s a ring of the Grand Hotel about it) but so good with the roast turkey particularly as it can of course be cooked several days ahead. Keep it covered in the fridge or pop into the freezer, and just reheat. Christmas is definitely a ton of work particularly for those who don’t normally spend much time in the kitchen.

So let’s make a plan so it’s easier and less stressful. I’m like a broken record about making lists. Lots of them are the way to go, allocate some fun roles to as many family as you can cajole or shame into helping but steady on, we often overestimate the amount of food we need.

If there are just two or four people, ask yourself do you really need a turkey, how about a beautiful organic chicken or a fat free-range duck. You can use the same stuffing as for the turkey or goose.

If it’s just the two of you, you may want to choose a beautiful organic chicken from Mary Regan in Enniscorthy (www.reganorganicfarm.ie) or maybe try this delicious Turkey crown marinated in buttermilk, it’s juicy, tender and delicious. Half the crown will be plenty for your Christmas feast and you’ll still have lots to enjoy in your favourite turkey sandwich on Christmas evening. Could be just roasted but marinating in buttermilk is a revelation.

For me a well hung pheasant with game chips (homemade potato chips) is another of my favourite feasts. Bread sauce and Cranberry sauce are the traditional accompaniments and the buttery herb stuffing is perfect here too.

If like me, brown meat is your favourite, why not roast the turkey thighs. The drumsticks are quite sinewy in a bird that has been allowed to range freely but the flavour will be far superior to an intensively produced bird, reared in confinement. Internal temperature of legs or thighs will be 165°C (breast 105°C) when cooked, allow to rest 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

Try this Christmassy riff on Brussels sprouts – with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, and a few crunchy walnuts.

But here’s the ‘pièce de résistance’, I promised in last week’s column All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish – This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual Hunt Ball in Ballymaloe before Christmas every year. They wanted the ‘whole works’ so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated for the large gathering. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

Whenever you decide to choose, I wish you a happy, joyful and meaningful Christmas and so hope that you will be able to connect with your loved ones over the festive season, either in person or by Zoom. Good times will come again….We’ll just keep cooking and carry on!

 A special thank you to all our readers and Happy, happy Christmas.

Traditional Christmas Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

More than ever this year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all long for the comfort of familiar flavours.This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour from the fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given. However, my top tip is to brine the turkey ahead it greatly enhances the flavour, and reduces the overall cooking time.

Serves 10-12

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets

Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz/3/4 stick) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft white breadcrumbs (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, annual marjoram, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Stock – the base for a big jug of gravy

Turkey giblet, neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey

225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter

large square of muslin (optional)

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)

Traditional Bread Sauce (see recipe)

Garnish

large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end. 

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2 3/4-3 1/4 hours depending on the weight and whether the turkey has been brined. Brined turkey cook considerably faster – be careful not to overcook.  There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with dampened parchment paper.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word. 

The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear.

To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear.  Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.   .

The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast

potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.

Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Basic Brine for Turkey, Chicken, Duck or Pork

Brining greatly enhances the flavour of chicken, duck or pork.  We brine whole turkeys (48 hours), chickens and ducks (5-6 hours), chicken breast (30-40 minutes depending on size).

Soak the bird or joint in a brine mixture of salt and water.  The electrically charged ions of the salt plump up the muscle fibres, allowing them to absorb water. This changes the structure of the proteins, preventing the water from escaping during cooking. In addition to keeping the meat moist, the salt intensifies flavour.

To make basic brine, mix together 40fl oz (2 pints/5 cups) water and 3 3/4oz (105g/1/4 cup) salt in a suitable size container with a cover (stainless steel, plastic or enamel are ideal). A little sugar may be added to the brine, even a few spices. Add the bird or joint, cover and chill in a refrigerator or keep in a cool place and brine for chosen time.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Cloves and Pineapple

I know this sounds a bit old hat, but of all of the glazes that I do, this is the one that I keep coming back to. Or you could just use marmalade. You’ll know when the ham is cooked when the rind comes off the fat easily. I like to buy my ham with the bone in but order a boned ham if carving becomes a challenge. Don’t forget how delicious a piece of glazed streaky bacon can be and a fraction of the price.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of sweet fat)

30 or more whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) brown Demerara sugar

a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice from a small tin of pineapple

If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight and discard the water the next day. Cover the ham with fresh, cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty, there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water, put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of ham (usually about 4 hours, but depends on the size of the ham). When the ham is fully cooked the rind will peel off easily and the small bone at the base of the leg will feel loose.

To glaze the ham: preheat the oven to 250ºC/ 500ºF/gas mark 9.

While still warm, peel the rind from the cooked ham, score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Transfer the ham to a roasting tin just large enough to take the joint.

Spread the thick glaze over the entire surface of the ham, but not underneath. Bake it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until it has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste the ham regularly with the syrup and juices.

Then toss the pineapple slices in the glaze and arrange on top for extra glam.

Serve hot or cold with Cumberland sauce.

Variation

Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

Both of these cuts are delicious glazed as above. The latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious.

Another Glaze for Ham or Bacon

Mix together 225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) of apricot jam, 225g (8oz/1 cup) of sifted golden caster sugar, 3 tablespoons (scant 4 American tablespoons) of whole grain mustard with honey and the juice of 1 orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Ginger Glazed Ham or Bacon

Glaze

5 tablespoons (6 American tablespoons) brown sugar

1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) mustard powder

1 teaspoon grated ginger

grated zest of half an organic orange

20ml (3/4fl oz/scant 1/8 cup) orange juice

Mix together the brown sugar, mustard powder, grated ginger with the zest and juice of the orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Roast Buttermilk Brined Turkey Breast

Inspired by Samin Nosrat

Serves 4-6

1 half turkey crown (breast) about 2 ½ lbs (1.1kg)

500ml (16 fl oz) buttermilk

1 ½ tbsp (33g) salt

24-48 hours before you plan to enjoy the turkey, pour the salted buttermilk into a large heavy resealable plastic bag. Put the turkey breast inside, seal carefully, expelling as much air as possible. Squish the bag a little to make sure the turkey is well covered with the buttermilk. Pop it into the fridge in a gratin dish for 24-36 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove the turkey about 2 hours before cooking, lay on a wire rack over a roasting tray to drain off the excess buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lay the rack on a baking sheet, roast until the turkey breast is fully cooked through, 40 minutes approximately for a boneless breast. It will register 150°C on a meat thermometer. Keep an eye and cover with parchment if it is browning too much.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with your favourite traditional or non-traditional accompaniments.

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. Add a spoonful of port and quarter teaspoon of finely grated orange zest for a change but I love the clean taste of the original.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.

Note: Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Note:  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Traditional Bread Sauce

I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!  Serve with roast chicken, turkey and guinea fowl.

Serves 6-8

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

75-110g (3 – 4oz) soft white breadcrumbs (see recipe)

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

35 – 50g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75-110ml (3-4 fl oz) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Taste, correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days and can be reheated, add a little extra cream or milk if it’s too thick.

Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.

Quatre Epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

Roast Potatoes

A big roasting tin of crusty roast potatoes always invokes a positive response. Everyone loves them. They are easy to achieve but I still get asked over and over for the secret of crunchy golden roasties. So here are my top tips:

•        Grow or seek out good-quality dry, floury potatoes such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks. New potatoes do not produce good roast potatoes.

•        For best results, peel the potatoes just before roasting. Resist the temptation to soak them in water, or understandably they will be soggy, due to the water they absorb. This has become common practice when people want to prepare

ahead, not just for roasting, but also before boiling.

•        After peeling, dry the potatoes meticulously with a tea-towel or kitchen paper. Otherwise, even when tossed in fat or oil, they will stick to the roasting tin. Consequently, when you turn them over as you will need to do halfway through the cooking, the crispy bit underneath will stick to the tin.

•        If you wish to prepare potatoes ahead, there are two options. Peel and dry each potato carefully, toss in extra virgin olive oil or fat of your choice, put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Alternatively, put into a plastic bag, twist the end, and refrigerate until needed. They will keep for 5 or 6 hours or overnight without discolouring.

Roast potatoes may be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, top-quality sunflower oil, duck fat, goose fat, pork fat (lard) or beef dripping. Each gives a delicious but different flavour. Depending on the flavour and texture you like, choose from the following cooking methods:

1       Toss the potatoes in the chosen fat and cook.

2       If you prefer a crunchier crust, put the peeled potatoes into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2–4 minutes only and drain. Dry each blanched potato and score the surface of each one with a fork. Then toss in the chosen oil or fat, season with salt and cook in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan in a preheated oven at 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

3       Drain the blanched potatoes, then put the saucepan with the potatoes inside over a medium heat, and shake the pot to dry the potatoes and fluff the blanched surface. Toss in your chosen oil or fat, season with salt and roast as above.

Note: some cooks, to create an even crunchier crust, like to toss the potatoes in a little flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika.

Variation

Rustic Roast Potatoes

For a more nutritious rustic roast potato, scrub the potato well, cut the unpeeled potatoes into wedges, toss in olive oil, dripping or duck or goose fat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook until soft in the centre and crusty on the outside, about 20–30 minutes.

Pan Roasted Parsnips

I have a real passion for pan roasted parsnips – we eat them three or four times a week during the parsnip season.  Buy them unwashed if possible. Roast Jerusalem artichokes are also super delicious. Scrub, no need to peel, half and cook in the same way.

Serves 6-8

4 parsnips

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the parsnips, peel and cut them into quarters – the chunks should be quite large. Roast in olive oil in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, turning them frequently so that they do not become too crusty. We often roast them in the same pan as Rustic Roast Potatoes, see recipe. Cooked this way they will be crisp outside and soft in the centre.

Best Brussels Sprouts Ever

Not surprisingly many people loathe Brussels sprouts because so often they are over cooked.

The traditional way to cook sprouts was to cut a cross in the stalk so that they would, hopefully, cook more evenly. Fortunately I discovered quite by accident when I was in a mad rush one day, that if you cut the sprouts in half lengthways, or better still quarters, they cook much faster and taste infinitely more delicious so with this recipe I’ve managed to convert many ardent brussels sprout haters!

Top tip: they can be blanched, refreshed and drained and refrigerated the day before.

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, (cut lengthways top to bottom)

600ml (1 pint) water 

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose even medium sized sprouts. Trim the outer leaves if necessary and cut them in half or quarters lengthways – cut into quarters if they are very large. Salt the water (its really important to add enough salt) and bring to a fast rolling boil. Toss in the sprouts, cover the saucepan just for a minute until the water returns to the boil, then uncover and continue for 5 or 6 minutes or until the sprouts are cooked through but still have a slight bite. Drain very well.

Melt a little butter or extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, roll the sprouts gently in the butter, season with lots of freshly ground pepper and salt. Taste and serve immediately in a hot serving dish.

Note * If the sprouts are not to be served immediately, drain and refresh them under cold water just as soon as they are cooked. Just before serving, drop them into boiling salted water for a few seconds to heat through. Drain and toss in the butter, season and serve. This way they will taste almost as good as if they were freshly cooked: certainly much more delicious than sprouts kept warm for half an hour in an oven or a hostess trolley.

Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds and Walnuts

Cook the sprouts in the usual way.  Meanwhile melt 25-50g butter in a frying pan, toss in about 25g (1oz) coarsely chopped walnuts. As soon as the sprouts are cooked, drain and toss in the walnut butter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a little chopped parsley and serve.

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Crispy Bacon or Chorizo

Add 2-4oz (50-110g) of crispy bacon lardons or chorizo and 50g (2oz) of toasted and chopped hazelnuts to the above recipe and serve immediately.

Retro Celery

How retro does creamed celery sound but it’s really delicious and a much loved part of our Christmas dinner. It can also be cooked ahead and reheated. Florence fennel also tastes good cooked this way.

Serves 4 – 6

1 head of celery

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

4-6fl oz (120-175ml) cream or creamy milk

Garnish

chopped parsley

Pull the stalks off the head of celery. If the outer stalks seems a bit tough, peel the outer strings off with a swivel top peeler or else use these tougher stalks in the stockpot. Cut the stalks into 1 inch (2.5cm) chunks.

Bring 1/4 pint of water to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped celery, cook gently for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until a knife will go through with ease. Remove celery to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. Thicken the remaining liquid with the roux, add the enough cream to make sufficient sauce to coat the celery. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, pour over celery, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate when cool and reheat later.

Get Ahead of Christmas..

My heart goes out to all who are hoping against hope that travel restrictions will be lifted so children, grandchildren and dear friends can make it home for Christmas. We’re all craving a time when we can sit round the kitchen table together and enjoy a meal and maybe a little singsong without worrying about social distancing. It truly is heart breaking…..

So let’s keep positive and try to focus on happier times. None of us can predict what’s ahead so let’s plan regardless. Pour yourself a glass of something delicious to sip on, make a soothing pot of tea. Grab a pad and write some lists, plan a week of delicious Christmas meals and treats. Then tick off what can be made ahead and frozen or pickled, so if all goes well you can spend as much precious time with the loved ones you’ve been yearning to see.

In the worst case scenario, you can enjoy some delicious comforting food after Christmas. There are so many good things that can be happily be made ahead without suffering in any way. I’ll be making lots of soups and freezing them in recycled containers. Quarter, half and one litre milk cartons work brilliantly, stack neatly in the freezer and can be defrosted quickly. I’m loving root vegetable soups at present. Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil costs just pennies to make. I’m also loving Jerusalem Artichoke soup with Avocado and Crispy Croutons, Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup……Curried Parsnip Soup is a favourite as is the combination of Parsnip and Fennel Soup.

Recipes for both Bread Stuffing and Potato Stuffing freeze perfectly and will be brilliant to stuff a chicken, pheasant, turkey, goose and duck. Apple sauce and Red Cabbage complete that meal but the pièce de résistance is this All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish – This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual ball in Ballymaloe every year before Christmas. They wanted the whole works so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

You’ll need something fresh tasting to flit across the tongue after that deeply satisfying meal. Who wouldn’t love a clean and fresh tasting citrusy Tangerine Sorbet or Compote of Pears with Saffron to round off a Christmas feast.

Have a wonderful joyful Christmas counting our blessings.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk to taste

Parsley Oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) parsley, chopped

Garnish

fried diced bacon

tiny croutons

flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley

First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) butter

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

Garnish

freshly chopped parsley

crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions 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.

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup

Serves 6

425g (15oz) celeriac, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

150g (5oz) potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

40-50g (1 1/2-2oz) butter

1.1L homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

100-225ml (3 1/2 – 8fl oz) creamy milk (optional)

Garnish

2 tablespoons 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, onions and celeriac 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 hot chicken stock and cook until the celeriac is soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Liquidize 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, 200°C/gas mark 6, on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes or until the skins loosen.  Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts in the corner of a tea towel.  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.

Curried Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Crisps

A fantastic recipe which transforms parsnip soup to a gourmet meal.

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) chopped onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

375g (13oz) parsnip, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 – 1 teaspoon curry powder

1.1L (2 pint) chicken stock or vegetable stock

150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

Garnish

crispy croutons or parsnip crisps (see below)

snipped chives or parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onion, garlic and parsnip, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss until well coated.  Cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the flour and curry powder and gradually incorporate the hot chicken stock.  Simmer with the lid on until the parsnip is fully cooked, liquidize, taste and correct the seasoning, add creamy milk to taste (the soup should not be too thick).   Serve with crispy croutons and sprinkle with finely chopped chives or parsley. 

Parsnip Crisps

Serves 6 – 8

1 large parsnip

sunflower oil

salt

Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Scrub and peel the parsnips.  Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler.   Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Fresh Herb Stuffing

This quantity is for a 12lb turkey or 3 chickens, pheasant or guinea fowl.

170g (6ozs) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16ozs) approx. soft breadcrumbs made from good bread.  (check that the bread is non GM) (or approximately 1lb 4ozs of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., on a low heat, then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end, or you may decide to do a different stuffing.  Either way tuck the remaining neck flap underneath the bird and secure with the wing tip.

 Traditional Potato Stuffing (for goose or duck)

25g (1 oz) butter

150g (5oz) chopped onions

150g (5oz) cooking apples e.g. Bramley Seedling, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

300g (10oz) potatoes

1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind

salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice.  Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy.  Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture.  Add the orange rind and seasoning.  Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the turkey.

Bramley Apple Sauce

Make ahead and freeze in tubs to serve with Roast Duck, Goose or Pork.

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.  Serve warm.

Red Cabbage

Serves 8 – 10

1 lb (450g) red cabbage (Red Drummond if possible)

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

1 tablespoon approx. wine vinegar

4 fl ozs (120ml) water

1 level teaspoon salt

2 heaped tablespoons approx. sugar

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine and clean it if necessary. Cut in quarter, remove the core and slice the cabbage finely across the grain. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a cast iron casserole or stainless steel saucepan. Add the cabbage and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters (no smaller). Lay them on top of the cabbage, cover and continue to cook gently until the cabbage is tender, 30-50 minutes approx. Do not overcook or the colour and flavour will be ruined. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar if necessary.

Serve in a warm serving dish.

Note: Some varieties of red cabbage are quite tough and don’t seem to soften much, even with prolonged cooking. Our favourite variety, Red Drummond, gives best results.

United Hunt Turkey

A Christmas Dinner on a Platter 

Serves 30

1 x 12-14 lbs (5.5-6.5kg) free range turkey, preferably a bronze turkey

1 x 8-10 lbs (3.4-4.5kg) ham or loin of bacon, (unsmoked, soaked overnight in cold water if salty)

chicken or turkey stock

dry white wine

2 carrots

1 large sliced onion

2 sticks celery

bouquet garni

a few peppercorns

50g (2oz) chopped parsley

2 tablespoons other fresh herbs, eg. tarragon, thyme, chives, lemon balm

3-4 egg yolks

600ml (1 pint) cream

85g (3oz) roux

Duchesse potato made with 5.5-6.5kg (12-14lb) potato, for piping around the dishes

Mushroom with fresh herbs and cream

85-100g (3-4oz) butter

1.2kg (2½lb) sliced mushrooms

180 ml (6fl.oz) cream

4 tablesp. fresh herbs, eg. parsley, thyme, chives

425g (15oz) onions, finely chopped

Roux as needed (equal quantities of melted butter and flour cooked together for 2 – 3 mins)

lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 – 4 serving platters

Cover the ham with cold water, bring it slowly to the boil and discard the water, cover again with hot water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the ham is cooked, 2½ hours approx. (calculate 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) as a rough guide). The skin will peel off easily when the ham is cooked.

Meanwhile, season the turkey and put it into a large saucepan with about 12.5-15cm (5-6 inches) of water or chicken stock and white wine.  Add 1 large sliced onion, 2 sticks of celery, 2 large carrots cut in chunks, a bouquet garni and a few black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, cover closely and simmer for 2 hours approx. either on top of the stove or in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

While the turkey and ham are cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a wide heavy bottomed saucepan.  When it sizzles add the chopped onions, cover and sweat over a low heat until soft but not coloured. Meanwhile in a hot frying pan, fry off the mushrooms a few at the time in a little butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add them to the softened onions. Add more butter if necessary, but never too much, add the freshly chopped herbs, cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for seasoning. Bring to the boil and thicken with enough roux to thicken lightly. Set the mushroom a la crémè aside until you are ready to assemble the dish.

When the turkey is cooked the legs will feel loose in their sockets, remove it from the casserole and de-grease the cooking  liquid. Bring it to the boil and reduce by half. Add 300-450ml (10-15fl.oz) cream, I know that sounds shocking but this recipe makes 30 helpings and you are not going to eat it all yourself!  Bring back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency with roux. Taste for seasoning.

Skin the turkey, the skin from a poached turkey is soft rather than crisp, so I don’t use it in this dish. Chop up the brown turkey meat from the legs and the white meat from the wings into smallish pieces and mix with the mushroom a la créme. Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 dessertspoon thyme, chives and lemon balm if available.

Spread a layer of the creamy sauce on the serving dishes. Carve a nice slice of bacon or ham for each serving and place at regular intervals on top of the sauce. Spoon some of the brown meat and mushroom mixture on top. Carve the turkey breast into thin slices and place 1 slice per serving on top of the mushrooms and ham, making individual complete sandwiches.

Whisk 3-4 egg yolks with 150ml (5fl.oz) cream to make a liaison, blend well and stir this into the remainder of the cream sauce. (It should be a coating consistency.) Coat the pieces of turkey with this sauce.  Cool and refrigerate.   If serving on the day, pipe a generous border of Duchesse potato all around the edge of the dishes. Cool the dishes quickly, cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Reheat in a moderate oven 180C-190C/350-375F/regulo 4-5, for 30 minutes approx. until it is bubbling and golden on top. If necessary, flash under the grill to brown the edges of the Duchesse potato.

Garnish with generous sprigs of flat leaf resh parsley and serve.

Top Tip:

If freezing the dishes with a potato border around the edge, freeze first and then cover tightly with strong cling film to prevent the potato from getting squashed.

However, for best results, freeze without the potato, but pipe it on just before reheating.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) 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.

Duchesse Potato

Serves 4

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

300ml (10fl ozs) creamy milk

1-2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk

25-50g (1-2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a generous pinch of salt, 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, put through a ricer or mouli legume 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 300ml (10fl oz//1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Beat the eggs into the hot mashed potatoes, and 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.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the Duchesse potato will be lumpy and gluey. If you only have egg whites they will be fine and will make a deliciously light mashed potato also.

Tangerine Sorbet

The quantity of ice below is enough to fill 10-18 tangerine shells. Clementines, mandarins or satsumas may also be used in this recipe – Deliciously refreshing after a rich Christmas feast.

Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2

Syrup

175g (6oz) sugar

juice of 1/4 lemon

150ml (5fl oz) water

20-28 tangerines

juice of 1/2 lemon

icing sugar (optional)

Garnish

Lemon Verbena or bay leaves

First make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool. Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines, and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and them press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidize the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) juice. Add the grated zest, the lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm.

Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer, fill them with the frozen water ice. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day. Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.

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.

Pears Poached in a Saffron Syrup

This delicious compote will keep for 1 ½ to 2 weeks in a covered container in your fridge. Serve icy cold….

Serves 4

200 g (7oz) sugar

450ml (15fl oz) water

6 whole cardamom pods

1/4 teaspoon good quality saffron (the threads)

45 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 firm pears

Put the sugar, water, lightly crushed cardamom pods, saffron and lemon juice into a shallow, wide pan: we use a stainless steel sauté pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile peel the pears, half and core them. As you cut them put then into the simmering syrup cut side uppermost.

Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the pan, cook gently for 20-30 minutes, spooning the syrup over them every now and then. Carefully take the pears out and arrange them in a serving dish in a single layer, cut side downwards. Pour the syrup over the pears or reduce first (see below). Serve chilled with some of the juice.

This compote keeps for several weeks covered in the fridge.

Tip: For a most concentrated flavour the syrup may be reduced a little after the pears have been removed to a serving dish. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the syrup will caramelize.

The Joy of Food by Rory O’Connell

‘The Joy of Food’, Rory O’Connell’s excellent third book was published by Gill Books at the beginning of October. My signed copy arrived in the post, beautifully wrapped with a limited edition linen tea towel from Stable. That’s the gorgeous shop in Westbury Hall, off Dublin’s Grafton Street where I want to buy absolutely everything in the shop. The package also included several post cards of Rory’s line drawings that illustrate the pages of this enchanting book. All so beautifully chic and stylish.

I know what you’re thinking – Well, She would say that wouldn’t she? After all, Rory is Darina’s brother who co-founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School with her in 1983… True, but many of you who have been watching the accompanying series, The Joy of Food on RTE, will have realised that Rory is an exceptional talent….A curious chef with his own unique style, who not only loves to cook but also loves to share his knowledge, making him a much-loved teacher here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork.

For me, as his older sister, it’s a trip down memory lane, an extra fascinating element. We were both brought up in the little village of Cullohill in the rural midlands of Co.Laois by a mother (our Dad died when I was 14) who loved to cook yummy meals for us every single day. Simple but truly delicious comforting food, vegetables and fruit and berries from the kitchen garden. Chickens and eggs from our own hens, milk from the Kerry cow, meat from the local butcher, wild food in season…..This was our norm and was unquestionably where we learned to cook but also to appreciate the magic of food and its ability to enhance both our family life and the experience of friends and the students we share with.

The evocative introduction to the chapters in this new book gave me an even  deeper insight into my brothers psyche, his passion for good food, and superb ingredients in season. Memories of family picnics, foraging expeditions up Cullohill ‘mountain’ to gather hazelnuts, the importance of laying a beautiful table and lighting a candle, even when dining alone. Read about the difference a little bunch of flowers makes, I also loved his homage to the pestle and mortar, his musings on the joy of owning a few hens and was intrigued to read how much Jane Grigson’s book ‘Good Things’ meant to him because it’s my favourite too.

It’s packed with delicious sounding recipes, special tips and insight into how to use some less familiar ingredients e.g. sumac, perilla, shiso…..

I’ve chosen a few of my favourite seasonal recipes to tempt you. Don’t miss the Pantry and Preserving section towards the end of the book – a personalised copy would make a brilliant Christmas present.

Eggs stuffed with Mayonnaise and Nasturtium

Serves 4

4 eggs

3 tablespoons Homemade Mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped nasturtium leaves and flowers

2 green olives, stoned and halved or quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To decorate

8-16 small nasturtium leaves

8 nasturtium flowers

8 slivers of green olive (2 olives will easily yield this)

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and add a good pinch of salt. Drop in the eggs carefully and boil for exactly 10 minutes. Remove immediately and chill in cold water.

Peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthways. Remove the hard yolks and place in a sieve over a bowl. Push the yolks through the sieve and then scrape the bottom of the sieve to ensure you have not wasted any. Add in the mayonnaise and chopped nasturtiums and mix well with a wooden spoon. Taste and correct seasoning. I find it is easy to over season stuffed eggs as the eggs have been salted in the cooking and the mayonnaise will have been salted in the making, so proceed with caution.

Use a teaspoon to drop and divide the egg yolk mixture into the hollowed out egg white. You could also use a piping bag fitted with a large plain or star nosel. Decorate each egg with a nasturtium flower and leaf. Finally place the sliver of green olive in a prominent place so that its sharp flavour does not come as a surprise to diners. By now the eggs embellished with flower and leaf should look like the smartest hat ready for the Chelsea Flower show or a day at the races.

Rory O’Connell’s Casserole Roast Pheasant with Jerusalem Artichokes and Indian Spices

Jerusalem artichokes have just come back into season.

Serves 4 -6

2 Pheasants oven ready

20g butter at room temperature

650g Jerusalem Artichokes, scrubbed and sliced in half lengthways

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

Spice paste

1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, lightly roasted and finely ground

1 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 180°c/ 350°f/ gas 4

Mix all of the ingredients for the spice paste and reserve.

Heat a heavy casserole large enough for the two birds on a gentle heat until quite hot. Dry the skin of the birds and smear the butter over the breasts and legs and place them breast side down in the heated casserole. The breasts should sizzle on contact with the casserole, if they do not, remove and allow the casserole to become hotter. Equally you don’t want to burn the birds so make sure your heat is not too high. Allow the breasts to become a golden brown colour and then remove from the casserole and turn off the heat. Do not wash out the casserole at this point unless it has over-heated while browning the birds. Place half of the artichokes in the casserole and season with salt and pepper. Smear half of the spice paste over the breasts and legs of the birds and also a little into the cavity. Reserve the rest of the spice paste for another use. It will keep covered in the fridge for a week or freezes well. Place the remaining artichokes around the birds, season and cover with a tight fitting lid.

Place the casserole in the oven and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Test to see if the birds are cooked by checking to see if the juices are clear between the thigh and the breast. I loosen the leg a little and push in a teaspoon to get some of the juices and then can accurately judge the colour of the juices. If they are a little pink, I usually pop the covered casserole back into the oven for another 10 minutes and test it again.

The dish is now finished and ready to serve with tender artichokes and delicious cooking juices that are the sauce. If you wish you can spoon off the small amount of fatty juices from the surface of the sauce.

I often leave them on the sauce. Carve the birds on to hot plates or a serving dish. Surround with the artichokes and pour over the bubbling hot juices and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Notes; I love to serve simple boiled green cabbage or curly kale with this dish. York is a wonderful variety of winter cabbage.

Rory O’Connell’s Roast Plums with Pomegranate Molasses and Crème Fraiche

Serves 4-6

8 blood plums

110g caster sugar

1 lemon

Pomegranate molasses

Crème Fraiche

Preheat oven to 180°c

Halve the plums leaving the stones intact in some of the halves and place in a close fitting baking dish. With a swivel top peeler, peel 5 strips of peel off the lemon and push in around the plums. Scatter on the sugar and squeeze over the lemon juice. Wet a piece of parchment paper under a tap and then squeeze out the excess moisture. Spread the dampened paper over the dish and down to cover the sides. Place in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the plums as the cooking times of plums will vary depending on the ripeness and the variety of plum being used. You want the plums to be perfectly soft but also still holding their shape. There should be beautiful burgundy coloured juices surrounding the cooked plums.

I like to serve the plums still slightly war, though they are also delicious served chilled. If plating them individually, serve with plenty of the cooking juices, a dessertspoon of crème fraiche and a drizzle of the pomegranate molasses. If serving family style, serve the crème fraiche and pomegranate molasses separately and ensure all diners also spoon lots of the delicious cooking juices over the plums.

Rory O’Connell’s Homemade Stem Ginger and Chocolate and Ginger Mendiants

Learn how Rory makes his own stem ginger from The Joy of Food and then make these delicious treats.

225g dark chocolate, 62% cocoa solids

50g stem ginger

Place the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl and sit over a saucepan of cold water. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water. Heat the water to a simmer and turn off the heat immediately. The chocolate will not be fully melted at this stage but the residual heat in the saucepan will melt the chocolate perfectly. Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula. 

Remove the ginger from its syrup and dry well on kitchen paper. Cut into c 3ml dice.

 Lay a sheet of parchment or silicone paper on a baking tray. Spoon small blobs of the melted chocolate on to the paper – about the size of a 2 euro coin. Leave a little space between the chocolate blobs as they will expand slightly. Carefully scatter little dice of the ginger on to the chocolate. Allow to chill and set. 

Peel the mendiants off the paper and serve. 

Rory O’Connell’s Ginger, Lemon and Turmeric Cake

175g butter at room temperature

3 eggs

175g self-raising flour

150g caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

30g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

Icing

45g butter at room temperature

55g cream cheese

80g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of finely grated peeled fresh turmeric

2 teaspoons lemon juice

50g stem ginger, chopped into 1/3 cm dice

1 x 22cm cake tin

Preheat oven to 180°c. 

Brush the cake tin with a little melted butter and line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper. Dust the sides of the tins with a little flour and tap the tins to remove any excess. 

Place the butter, eggs, flour, sugar, lemon zest and ginger in a food processor. Using the pulse button, process the ingredients very briefly to achieve a creamy consistency. This may take as little as twenty seconds. Ensure that all of the flour from the base and sides of the processor are amalgamated evenly into the mixture.

Spread the mixture into the lined tin as evenly as possible. Place in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the cake is risen, richly coloured and just barely starting to come away from the edges of the tin. Test that the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the cake and retracting it. The skewer should come out of the cake clean.

Place the cake still in the tin on a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes before carefully removing from the tin and replacing on the wire rack.

To make the icing, place the butter, cream cheese and sieved icing sugar in a bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until a creamy and fluffy consistency is achieved. Add the turmeric and lemon juice and mix in gently. Chill the icing until you are ready to ice the cake. 

When the cake has completely cooled, remove the parchment paper and place on a flat serving plate. Spread the icing over the top of the cake achieving a gentle and swirly finish. Scatter the diced stem ginger over the icing as evenly as possible.

Serve the cake with crème fraiche or softly whipped cream.

Edible Christmas Gifts

Who knows what kind of Christmas we’ll have this year. Will we be able to get together and celebrate with our family and loved ones or will we be forced to wish our children, grandchildren and grandparents a Happy Christmas through tears of loneliness on Zoom?

The answer is in the lap of the God’s at present so let’s use the intervening weeks having fun, making edible Christmas gifts. If necessary they can be beautifully ribboned and wrapped and couriered a few days ahead.

There are so many options, I could write five or six columns without running out of ideas. There’s still time to make lots of chutneys, pickles and relishes. I particularly love this Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney.

The last of the Summer tomatoes refuse to ripen as the days get dramatically shorter so we have lots of green under ripe tomatoes, can’t bear to waste even one. We’ve been really enjoying them sliced and fried in a corn meal coating as they do in the US, with a dollop of Remoulade sauce but for the purpose of this article how about the more unusual and super delicious Jane’s Green Tomato Jam as opposed to the more predictable chutney. It’s equally great with goats cheese, cold meat or slathered on scones.

This Beetroot and Ginger Relish is another winner. Particularly good with pate’s or coarse terrines as is Confiture d’oignons or Onion Marmalade. All of these keep for months. I’d pot them in small rather than large glass jars or better still keep an eye on local charity and junk shops for earthen ware jars which add an extra dimension to your pressies.

We’re bang in the middle of the citrus fruit season. Kumquats are back in the shops, time to make a few jars of luxurious Kumquat Marmalade, the most delicious of all.

I found some Bergamots on Rebel Organics stall at the Midleton Farmer’s Market last week so we made a batch of Bergamot marmalade, deliciously tart and bitter. I also found green Verdelli lemons, a new one on me so I’ll experiment with those during the week.

Sweet sauces also make great little pressies. Why not try, Dark Chocolate sauce, a Butterscotch sauce and a Salted Caramel – now wouldn’t those three make a cute little hamper and maybe add an Irish Whiskey Sauce for good measure.

That’s probably enough to keep you and your family having fun in the kitchen for this week. The less than enthusiastic cooks can help with the labelling and wrapping, perhaps they can source some ribbons and pretty twines. Jar covers, can be as simple as newspaper, parchment or fancy wrapping paper. Sprigs of rosemary tucked into the twine look great and last well. Keep a good look out for little baskets and containers to pack your goodies into. More ideas next week. Meanwhile, have fun…

Red Pepper, Tomato and Lemongrass Chutney

Makes 3–5 jars, depending on size

225g (8oz) onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

450g (1lb) very ripe red peppers, seeded and diced

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon allspice

1⁄2 teaspoon mace

1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg

1⁄2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated

1 stalk of lemongrass, finely chopped

450g (1lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

110g (4oz) raisins

1 garlic clove, chopped

225g (8oz) white sugar

150ml (1⁄4 pint) white wine vinegar

Sweat the onions in the olive oil in a stainless-steel saucepan. Add the peppers, salt, spices, grated ginger and lemongrass. After 10 minutes, add the tomatoes, raisins, garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 11⁄2 hours, until it looks thickish. Pour into sterilised glass jars, cover with non-reactive lids and store in a cool, dry place.

Janie’s Green Tomato Jam

A change from Green Tomato Chutney, delicious on toast as well as drizzled on goats cheese or mozzarella.

Makes 2 small jars

500g (18oz) green tomatoes

450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) water

300g (10oz/1 1/4 cups) granulated sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

Boil rapidly for 10 –12 minutes or until setting point is reached.

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

Serve with coarse terrines, pâtés and cheese.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately)

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons  sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

Onion Marmalade  – Confiture d’Oignons

Once again, delicious with pâtés and terrines.

Makes 450ml (16fl oz)

675g (1 1/2lb) onions

50g (2oz) butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground

150g (5oz) castor sugar

7 tablespoons sherry vinegar

250ml (9fl oz) full bodied red wine

2 tablespoons crème de cassis

Peel and slice the onions thinly.  Melt the butter in the sauté pan and hold your nerve until it becomes a deep nut brown colour – this will give the onions a delicious rich flavour but be careful not to let it burn. Toss in the onions and sugar, add the salt and freshly ground pepper and stir well. Cover the saucepan and cook for 30 minutes over a gentle heat, keeping an eye on the onions and stirring from time to time with a wooden spatula.

Add the sherry vinegar, red wine and crème de cassis. Cook for a further 30 minutes uncovered, stirring regularly. This onion jam must cook very gently (but don’t let it reduce too much).

Kumquat Marmalade

A read luxury, my favourite marmalade of all.

Makes 3 x 400g pots

1 kg kumquats

1¾ litres (56fl oz) water

1¾ kg (3 lb 1oz) sugar

Slice kumquats thinly crossways.  Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml (8fl oz) of the water, allow to stand overnight.  Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.

Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.

Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender.

Add the warm sugar and stir until fully dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes. Test for a set, put a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold saucer, it should barely wrinkle when pressed with a finger.

Remove the pan from the heat while testing.

Pour into hot sterilised jars. Cover and seal and store in a cool dry place.

Pam’s Bergamot Lemon Marmalade

6 – 8 pots

1kg (2.4lb) un-waxed Bergamot lemons

1 3kgs (3lb/6 cups) granulated sugar

2 1/2 litres (4 1/4 pints/generous 10 1/2 cups) cold water

Scrub the skin of the lemons in warm water with a soft brush. Put into a deep stainless steel saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2 hours until the lemons are soft and tender.

Remove the lemons and allow to cool.  Bring back the liquid to the boil and reduce the liquid to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups). 

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cut the lemons in half, save the pips and tie with the soft membrane in a little muslin bag. Chop the peel and put into a stainless steel saucepan with the reduced juice, liquid and the bag of pips. Put back on the heat, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook to a setting point – 15-20 minutes. Test for a set in the usual way.

Allow to cool in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Pot into sterilised jars, cool and store in a dark dry cupboard.

Dark Chocolate Sauce

Brilliant to have some chocolate sauce to drizzle over ice cream, profiteroles or on crépes.

Makes 16fl ozs (450mls) – 2 – 3 small jars

8ozs (225g) best quality dark chocolate (semi sweet or bittersweet)

8fl oz (225ml) cream

1 tablespoon dark rum or orange liqueur or strong coffee or ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  It will seem curdled at first but don’t worry, keep on stirring and it will become smooth and glossy.  Add the chosen flavouring if using.   Serve warm or at room temperature.

Butterscotch Sauce

Serves 12 approximately. 

This delicious sauce keeps for months, can be served with any ice-cream, crépes or over sticky toffee pudding.

4oz (110g) butter

5oz (150g) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

3oz (75g) granulated sugar

10oz (285g) golden syrup

8fl oz (225ml) cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt gently on a low heat.  Simmer for about 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract.  Put back in the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth. 

Serve hot or cold. 

Note: This sauce will keep for several weeks stored in a screw-top jar in the fridge. 

Salted Caramel Sauce

Once again, salted caramel sauce is irresistible drizzled over crépes, ice cream or bananas and keeps for weeks in a jar in the fridge.

600ml (3x 200g jars)

450g (16oz) caster sugar

125g (4 1/2oz) unsalted whole butter (diced)

250ml (9fl oz) double cream

10g (1/2oz) Fleur de Sel from Brittany (literally flower of the salt, the very mineral and not too salty top layer) or Irish Sea salt

Put the caster sugar into a large pan over a medium heat and stir continuously until it turns into a rich caramel. You need to do this by eye, but aim for a dark mahogany colour. If it is too light, the butter and cream will dilute any caramel flavour and it will lack that slightly burnt sugar taste that makes this sauce so good.

When you are happy with the caramel, very carefully whisk in the cream to stop the cooking. Be really careful not to do it too quickly as the caramel has a tendency to spit. When you have whisked in the cream, add the butter bit by bit until it’s all incorporated and you have a smooth rich caramel.

Allow to cool to 37°C and then stir in the fleur de sel and mix so you get an even distribution. Ed says it is very important to allow the caramel to cool before doing this so that the salt crystals do not dissolve and you then get that lovely crunch.

Irish Whiskey Sauce

We love this sauce to serve with glazed ham or bacon chop, as well as drizzled over crépes or ice cream.

Makes 1 small jar of 230ml (8fl oz)

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water

3- 4 tablespoon Irish whiskey

4fl ozs (120ml) hot water

Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a nice chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish whiskey. Serve hot or cold.

Some new cookbooks to add to your list for Christmas

Planning for Christmas?

Wondering how to get some of those pressies ticked off your list early without having to worry about the risk of another pre-Christmas lockdown.

Well how about a great cook book for the foodie or budding cooks and chefs in your life. I’ve recently got lots of new titles, which I am really enjoying, all very different. One of course is ‘The Joy Of Food’ by my brother Rory O’Connell which I love but will write about later.

Meanwhile, let me mention some of the others that particularly appeal to me. One is ‘Towpath’ by Lori de Mori, who has the most enchanting little café in four canal keeper’s stores along the banks of the Regent Canal in East London. Towpath is one of the secret hidden gems in the middle of London, one of the busiest and most sophisticated cities in the entire world. Lori, who trained at Rochelle Canteen and her partner Laura Jackson have a passion for seasonal food.

Towpath opens from Spring to late November. It has become a unique and beloved destination for so many. I totally include myself in the many who dream about whittling away a few hours at a table alongside the canal enjoying the delicious food while watching the swans glide past, the mallard chasing each other and the cootes and waterhens skittering across the water. If I lived in London I would want to ramble along to Towpath every single day, no website, no phone and no Take-Away, such joy and now Lori and Laura her partner share their recipes and the stories.

Next up, Neven Maguire’s ‘Mid Week Suppers’. For many, Neven is Ireland’s most trusted and best loved chef. He writes a weekly column in the Irish Farmer’s Journal where he has a loyal and devoted following. His restaurant, Macnean’s in Blacklion is permanently booked out. Yet, he finds time to do regular cooking videos from his home kitchen to encourage people to cook nourishing food for family and friends during the pandemic. Exciting Midweek Meals to share around the kitchen table.

Another gem –  – ‘Sourdough Mania’ is by passionate self-taught baker and teacher, Anita Šumer. Based in Slovenia she has become an international success and now has over 70,000 followers on Instagram @sourdough_mania.

Sourdough Mania gives us both simple-to-make and more ambitious recipes for more festive occasions. Every stage is fully illustrated with step by step photography on weighing, mixing, kneading, shaping, scoring and baking. Just what all the Covid-19 sourdough bread bakers are yearning for.

John and Sally McKenna’s latest book is entitled ‘MILK’ and tells the story of Ireland’s dairy producers and the importance of pasture fed cows to the quality and reputation of our milk, butter, cream, yoghurt… ‘MILK’ also looks at the scientific understanding of the liquid and explores its unique cultural power and resonance in the history of Ireland. It features brand new recipes featuring fresh dairy products from the new generation of Irish chefs, Niamh Fox, Takashi Miyazaki, Ahmet Dedc, Darren Hogarty, Mark Moriarty, Caitlin Ruth, Lily Higgins, Clodagh McKenna..

Niamh Fox – Ireland’s Beloved Jambon

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Niamh Fox cooks like an angel – sadly her restaurant ‘Little Fox’ in Ennistymon closed recently but watch that space…!

Makes 12

2 sheets puff pastry

Roasted red onion:

2 red onions, cut into quarters, then sliced

Splash of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Sprig of thyme, picked

Small sprinkling of brown sugar

Cheesy sauce:

25g butter

25g plain flour

250ml full fat milk

250g cheese, grated (Templegall, Gubbeen, Coolea, a good creamery Cheddar or bits and bobs from your fridge too.) Reserve a little to sprinkle.

Pinch of nutmeg

Pepper and sea salt to taste

200g of the best free-range ham you can get your hands on, cut into little cubes

1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk

To make the caramelised onions: mix together the onions, oil, seasoning and sprinkle with sugar. Pop in an ovenproof casserole, set around 200°C for 30 minutes, then mix and cover and continue to cook for 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

To make the cheesy sauce: melt butter at low heat, stir in the flour and mix well until a dough starts to form. Gradually pour in the milk, mixing really well so that there are no lumps in the sauce. Once all the milk has been added, add the grated cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg, pepper and salt. Mix well until you get a thick cheesy sauce. Add the finely cubed ham to the sauce, allow the mixture to cool.

To assemble the jambon: roll out the pastry, and cut each sheet into 6 squares.

Put a scoop of the cheese mixture in the centre of each square and a little of the caramelised onion, on top. Fold the corners to the centre and make sure they overlap (to avoid the ham and cheese from pouring out of the pastry). Pinch together the edges where needed. Brush the egg mix over the pastry and sprinkle the final bit of cheese on top and repeat for the other squares.

Place on oven tray and bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until golden-brown.

Buttermilk Lemonade

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Serves 3-4

Juice of 1 lemon

15ml (1 tbsp) caster sugar

500ml buttermilk

Combine the lemon juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the buttermilk, whisking, so everything is smoothly combined.

Neven Maguire’s Char Sui Pork Ribs with Slaw

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serve 4-6

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tbsp clear honey

3 tbsp light muscovado sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp hoisin sauce

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp freshly grated root ginger

1.3-2kg (3lb 5oz – 4 1/2lb) meaty pork ribs

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water

20g (3/4oz) fresh coriander

For the slaw

100g (4oz) red cabbage, cored and finely shredded

100g (4oz) white cabbage, cored and finely shredded

1 large carrot, grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

To Garnish

Spring onion curls (optional)

Mix the garlic in a bowl with the honey, muscovado sugar, soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine vinegar and ginger. Spoon 4 tablespoons of the marinade into the slow cooker (reserving the remainder) and add the ribs. Top up with the water, mixing to combine. Strip the leaves off the coriander and set them aside for the slaw, then put the stalks into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7). Line a large baking tray with foil.

Remove the ribs from the slow cooker using a slotted spoon or tongs. Handle them carefully, as the meat will be tender and may start to fall off the bone. Baste with the reserved marinade and lay on the foil-lined tray. Cook in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until starting to crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile, to make the slaw, mix the red and white cabbage with the carrot and reserved coriander leaves. Put the rapeseed oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and salt in a screw-topped jar and shake until evenly combined, then use to dress the slaw.

If making the spring onion curls, cut the spring onions into very thin slices, then put in a bowl of ice-cold water to curl. Drain well and lightly pat dry on kitchen paper before using.

Arrange the slaw on plates with the char sui pork ribs and garnish with the spring onions curls (if using).

Neven Maguire’s Pork Tacos al Pastor

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serves 6-8

1 x 1.8kg (4lb) pork butt roast (ask your butcher for the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg)

1 x 200g (7oz) tin of crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained

1 small onion, chopped

15g (1/2oz) fresh coriander

Juice of 1 small orange

2 tbsp granulated garlic

2 tbsp chipotle paste (or use 1 tbsp smoked paprika and 1 tbsp Tabasco instead)

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

4 tbsp water

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

Small warm soft corn tortillas

Thinly sliced radishes

Fresh coriander leaves

Salsa verde (shop-bought)

Lime wedges

Place the pork in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until it’s firm enough to cut.

Meanwhile, to make the marinade, place the rest of the ingredients except the oil and water in a food processor, season generously with salt and pepper and blitz to purée.

Take the pork out of the freezer and place on a chopping board, fat side up. Cut into slices 1cm (1/2in) thick, almost but not quite all the way through. Slather the marinade between each layer, then tie the roast back together with butcher’s string. Place in a shallow non-metallic container and cover loosely with cling film. Place in the fridge overnight to marinade.

The next day, bring the pork back to room temperature, then preheat your slow cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your slow cooker has a sauté option, you can use this; if not, use a large sauté pan on the hob over a medium heat. Heat the oil, then add the pork and cook until lightly browned and sizzling. Place in the slow cooker, fat side up (if you have used a separate pan), along with the juices and the water. Cover and cook on low heat for 7 hours, until the pork is tender.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker and cover with tin foil, then leave to rest for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut the meat up into small pieces and place in a bowl, moistening with some of the juices. Fill the tortillas with the pork, then top with the radishes, coriander and salsa verde. Arrange on plates and serve with the lime wedges.

The Benefits of Sourdough Bakes Explained by Anita Sumer

(from Sourdough Mania by Anita Šumer, published by Grub Street Publishing)

We now know what happens when sourdough ferments and why dough prepared with this leavening agent rises. This section explains why this method of baking is beneficial for our health and a good intestinal flora, and why it tastes incomparably better than bakes made with baker’s yeast.

Easier digestibility

Bakery products prepared with sourdough are already partially digested, because much of the work is done for us by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, which partially breaks down the starch.

Reduced gluten content

The longer preparation and fermentation process makes wheat flour more easily digestible by reducing the amount of gluten since lactic acid bacteria break down gliadin and glutenin, which together form gluten. This, of course, does not mean that sourdough bread does not contain gluten at all, but in such a fermented form, it is better for the body and easier to digest.

Useful compounds for the body

In the fermentation process and also during baking, compounds useful for the body are formed: antioxidants, peptides (lunasin, which acts against cancer cells) and various anti-allergenic substances.

Lower glycaemic index

We are familiar with the claim ‘bread is fattening’, which is why bread is generally avoided by people with a tendency to be overweight. The fact that white bread made from ordinary baker’s yeast leads to weight gain is true. However, sourdough products have a lower glycaemic index due to organic acids that react with heat and consequently reduce starch availability. This index is lower for wholemeal bread types and bread made with sprouted grain flour. Sourdough bread is therefore more filling, and instead of two or three slices, one is often enough. However, due to its excellent taste, it is difficult to stop after just one slice!

Bread stays fresh longer

The acetic acid produced by lactic acid bacteria ensures that sourdough products stay fresh and can be kept for longer, do not crumble and age better. Sourdough bread is still good after a few days, especially rye bread, which gains flavour with time. These naturally occurring acids also prevent mould and fuzzy growth on bread.

A softer crumb

Sourdough gives the crumb a more uniform and compact structure, which is preserved for several days after baking; it is also softer, thanks to lactic acid bacteria.

Better taste

Lactic acid bacteria, and to a lesser extent wild yeast, provides a rich, savoury taste and aroma. During the fermentation process, various aromatic compounds are produced that make sourdough products more palatable.

Better use of nutrients and minerals

Cereals contain naturally occurring phytic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. By using a sourdough starter and prolonged fermentation, this acidity is neutralised so our body can use the minerals present in the flour. Rye flour and wholemeal flour contain the most phytic acid.

No time limit

One advantage of baking with sourdough is that you don’t need to stand by the dough while it’s proving as you do with commercial yeast due to its fast reaction. This gives you plenty of time to choose the right time for baking and all the other preparation steps, because wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria have a slow metabolism, so the dough rises slowly. While the microorganisms are active, you can do your household chores, go to work, run errands, sleep…

Towpath’s Olive Oil Cake

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Serves 12

Butter, for greasing

3 eggs

300g/10 ½ oz caster sugar

175ml/6 fl oz best quality olive oil

180ml/ 6 ¼ fl oz full-fat milk

1 orange, zested and juiced

325g/ 11 ½ oz self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan /350°F/gas mark 4.

Line, butter and flour a 24cm/9 ½ in cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Towpath’s Beetroot Borani

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

We use the last of the season’s beetroot for this delicious thick unctuous soup

Serves 4

8 medium beetroot, washed and scrubbed, boiled until tender, peeled then returned to their cooking water

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon merlot red wine vinegar (or a red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar added)

2 pinches of sugar (if the beetroot is not that sweet)

200ml/ 7 fl oz Greek or natural yoghurt

75ml/3 fl oz olive oil

160g/5 ¾ oz feta

80g/3oz walnuts, toasted

8 sprigs dill, leaves picked

Best olive oil, to drizzle

Chop the beetroot into chunky dice. Place in a liquidiser with a ladleful of cooking liquid, blitz until thick and smooth – you may need to add in a bit more liquid if it is thicker than the thickest of yoghurts.

Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth – you are aiming for the consistency of thick yoghurt. Season to taste.

To serve, ladle the borane into a bowl, crumble the feta over the top, scatter with toasted walnuts and sprigs of dill and drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with flatbread or sourdough bread.

Time to start the Christmas prep

It’s extraordinary in these uncertain times to think that it’s only eight weeks to Christmas. Already some of us are storming the shops to find presents for our loved ones or to secure a longed for toy for our little dotes.

Who knows what level of restrictions will be in place by then, impossible to predict. We can just plan for the worst and hope for the best. Meanwhile, let’s get cooking, we’ve already started to make plum puddings, and have early orders on the board. We’re fortunate to have two really good recipes – one is my Mother’s passed down through several generations and the other is my late Mother-in-law’s Myrtle Allen’s, both are fruity and delicious and benefit from being made ahead and left to mature. Both are super easy to make, just mix and boil. Mincemeat is even easier .. put all the ingredients into a bowl, add a good slosh of whiskey, then fill it into sterilised jars. Cover and label for presents and Christmas hampers.

Lots of other edible presents can be made during the next few weeks, little jars of Kumquat Marmalade, Cranberry Sauce, Green Tomato Jam.

The best juiciest plum puddings are made with beef suet so go along to your local butcher, ask for the suet from around the beef kidney. It’s easy to prepare and can be frozen in batches for plum puddings and mincemeat.

Buy the best quality dried fruit and how about making a batch of homemade candied peel. It will hugely enhance the flavour of your Christmas Cake and Puddings and can also made into sweetmeats.

Our seasonal tomato crop is coming to an end but we still have lots of green tomatoes so we’ve been making a delicious green tomato jam and green tomato chutney to add to Christmas hampers.

Try this beetroot and ginger relish too. The remainder of the beets can be left in the ground but they just become woodier as the weeks pass, so best to whip them up, cook and pickle or freeze for Winter meals.

So these are a few suggestions…..

Christmas Cake

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well.  It can either be made months ahead or if you are frenetically busy it will still delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!   This cake, now a classic, was originally published in 1989 in A Simply Delicious Christmas, it’s still my favourite rich Christmas Cake.  Source the best ingredients you can, including moist plump dried fruit.

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar

6 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

285g  (9oz) flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

65 ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) Irish whiskey

350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best- quality currants

350g (12oz) best-quality raisins

110g (4oz) real glacé cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

50g (2oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) whole almonds

rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon

rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20.5cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper.  Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.  Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.

Wash the cherries and dry them gently.  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.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2.

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 cooking apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).  You can of course use a food mixer if one is available but the same principle applies.

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.

Lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat.  Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 after 1 hour.  Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean after a further 2 1/2 hours approximately in total. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

Next day remove from the tin.  Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of greaseproof paper and brown paper until required.  Store in a cool dry place, the longer the cake is stored the more mature it becomes.

Close to Christmas, ice and decorate as desired.

Ballymaloe Famous Homemade Mincemeat

Here are two delicious options, the first is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  Of course it contains suet so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot in pies and tarts.

The second, Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat is vegetarian, it doesn’t include suet or butter and is also gluten-free.

Makes 3.2 kilos approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots.

2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling

2 organic lemons

450g (1lb) finely minced beef suet

pinch of salt

110g (4oz) candied citrus peel (preferably homemade)

2 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade

225g (8oz) currants

450g (1lb) sultanas

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp.  Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.  Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.

Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat (Vegetarian)

This delicious mincemeat is suet free and suitable for vegetarians.

Makes 6 pots

700g (1½lb) cooking apples, peeled and chopped

1 orange, rind and juice

1 lemon, rind and juice

330ml (11fl.oz)  cider or apple juice

500g (18 oz) Barbados sugar

500g (18 oz) sultanas

250g (9oz) currants

125g (4½ oz) mixed candied peel

100ml (3½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon mixed spice

Place the apples, orange and lemon juice and rind and cider in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apple has cooked.  Stir in the sugar, mixed spice, mincemeat, sultanas, currants and candied peel.    Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer for a further 15 minutes.   Remove from the heat, allow to cool.  Stir in the whiskey and pot into sterilized jars.

Elizabeth O’Connell’s Plum Pudding

It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   As children we could hardly contain ourselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seemed all the more delicious because it was our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding was usually made about mid-November and everyone in the family had to stir so we could make a wish – I now know that it helped to mix it properly.  This is quite simply the best plum pudding I’ve ever tasted and everyone who tastes it seems to agree wholeheartedly.

It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.

This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. 

The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8.

350g (12oz) raisins

350g (12 ozs) sultanas

350g (12 ozs) currants

350g (12 ozs) brown sugar

350g (12 ozs) good quality white breadcrumbs (non GM)

350g (12 ozs) finely-chopped suet

110g (4 ozs) candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

rind of 1 unwaxed lemon

3 whole cloves pounded (not ground cloves)

a pinch of salt

6 organic eggs

62ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) dark Jamaica Rum (not Bacardi)

110g (4oz) chopped peeled almonds (finer than nibbed)

Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine,  making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 6 hours, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, you will need to steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with  Brandy Butter.

Myrtle Allen’s Plum Pudding

Serves 8-10

Making the Christmas Puddings (from The Ballymaloe Cook Book by Myrtle Allen)

The tradition that every member of the household could have a wish which was likely (note, never a firm promise) to come true, was, of course, a ruse to get all the children to help with heavy work of stirring the pudding.  I only discovered this after I was married and had to do job myself.  This recipe, multiplied many times, was made all at once.  In a machineless age, mixing all those expensive ingredients properly was a formidable task.  Our puddings were mixed in an enormous china crock which held the bread for the house hold for the rest of the year.  My mother, nanny and the cook took it in turns to stir, falling back with much panting and laughing after a few minutes’ work.  I don’t think I was really much help to them. 

Christmas puddings should be given at least 6 weeks to mature.  They will keep for a year.  They become richer and firmer with age, but one loses the lightness of the fruit flavour.  We always eat our last plum pudding at Easter.

If possible, prepare your own fresh beef suet – it is better than the pre-packed product. 

6ozs (175g) shredded beef suet

6 ozs (175g) sugar

7ozs (200g) soft breadcrumbs

8ozs (225g) currants

8 ozs (225g) raisins

4 ozs (110g) candied peel

1-2 teaspoons mixed spice

a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons flour

2 fl ozs (50ml) flesh of a baked apple

3 eggs

2 fl ozs (50ml) Irish whiskey

1 x 3 pints (1.75 L) capacity pudding bowl

Mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Whisk the eggs and add them, with the apple and whiskey.  Stir very well indeed.  Fill into the greased pudding bowl.  Cover with a round of greaseproof paper or a butter-wrapped pressed down on top of the pudding.  Put a large round of greaseproof or brown paper over the top of the bowl, tying it firmly under the rim. 

Place in a saucepan one-third full of boiling water and simmer for 10 hours, we now do six.  Do not allow the water to boil over the top and do not let it boil dry either.  Store in a cool place until needed.

Boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours before serving.  Left-over pudding may be fried in butter.

Serve with Whiskey Cream or Brandy butter.

Homemade Candied Peel

Fruit should be organic if possible, otherwise scrub the peel well.

5 organic unwaxed oranges

5 organic unwaxed lemons

5 organic unwaxed grapefruit   (or all of one fruit)

water

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2lbs (1.1kg) sugar

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve the juice for another use, perhaps homemade lemonade. Put the peel into a large bowl (not aluminium), add salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours. Next day throw away the soaking water, put the peel in a saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil cover and simmer very gently until the peel is soft, 3 hours approx. Remove the peel and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membranes from inside the cut fruit, leaving the white pith and rind intact. (You could do the next step next day if that was more convenient).

Slice the peel into nice long strips.  Alternatively cut each half in half.

Dissolve the sugar in 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) water, bring it to the boil, add the peel and simmer gently until it looks translucent, 30 – 60 minutes and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove the peel with a slotted spoon, fill the candied peel into sterilised glass jars and pour the syrup over, cover and store in a cold place or in a fridge. It should keep for 6-8 weeks or longer under refrigeration.

Alternatively spread on a baking tray or trays and allow to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour to cool. Toss in castor sugar and store in covered glass jars until needed.

Janie’s Green Tomato Jam

A recipe given to me by Janie Suthering.  We always have masses of green tomatoes when it becomes colder in the Autumn and the tomatoes ripen more slowly. Delicious with cold meats and pâté.  We use the green fruit for chutneys for predictable things like fried green tomatoes and chutneys.

Makes 2 small jars

500g (18oz) green tomatoes

450ml (16fl oz) water

300g (10oz) granulated sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

Boil rapidly for 10 –12 minutes or until setting point is reached.

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

A delicious combination, this relish complements goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

Halloween Cooking Session for all the family…

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year, I love how kids all over the all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry…Can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year…Poor little dotes….Robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid 19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this, amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride, perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV…..hard to avoid it…

Well how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games. We definitely have to have a barmbrack – soak the fruit in strong Barry’s tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter. If you find a ring in your slice – you’ll be married within the year. The Stick – a bad sign, your partner will beat you. A Rag – bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty. A Coin – is a promise of riches. These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish – a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.

As children we had a variety Halloween games. Apple bobbing was a favourite, many involved divination and being blindfolded, and then there was the Three Saucers, arranged in a line, one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated matrimony was nigh….but now for fun in the kitchen.

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour. Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts….Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake. Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have  hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh, seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast, have a safe and happy Halloween….

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup potato, chopped

3 cups of pumpkin, chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves, optional

5 cups of chicken or veg stock, or stock and milk mixed

Flaky sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of chilli flakes if you fancy

Roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipe)

Served in a hollowed out pumpkin

One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

Choose a large pumpkin. Carefully remove the lid, preferably with the stump attached. First scoop out all the seeds and filaments. Separate the seeds and toast as below. Scoop out the flesh being careful not to damage the shell. Chop the flesh and use to make the pumpkin soup.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and pumpkin and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock. Boil until soft and liquidise. Do not overcook or the pumpkin will lose its flavour. Adjust seasoning. Pour the boiling soup in to the pumpkin shell. Cover with the lid and serve hot with some toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roast pumpkin seeds with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seed and save for next year’s crop.

Pumpkin seeds

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/gas mark 1⁄2.

Remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single layer on a baking tray and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt.

Dry roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, by which time the seeds should be nice and crunchy.

Halloween Colcannon

Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like Champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. It was traditionally eaten at Halloween and shared with the fairies to keep evil spirits away. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition.

Serves about 4-6

450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

Dragon’s Eggs

Makes 8

Pickled Beetroot Juice (see recipe)

8 eggs, hard boiled

Homemade Mayo

Watercress

First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil, lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water, ten minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

Serve with mayonnaise on a bed of watercress.

Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

Halloween Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see below)

8oz (225g/1 cup) sugar

16fl oz (475ml/2 cups) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

Leave 2 inches (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Dracula’s Cheesy Brains

Flavour popcorn with grated Parmesan or Cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper, then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread.

Enough for 12 ish

1 ½ tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping.

125g (4 1/2 oz) popcorn

400g (14oz) finely grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheese

Few pinches cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or do in two batches). Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops to pop, about 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

Mix finely grated  Parmesan, Cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toss over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

These can be made a few hours before serving.

Spooky Meringue  Púcas

A Púca means ghost or spirit in Gaelic – primarily a creature of Celtic folklore, so easy and fun to make.

Serves 4-6

2 egg whites

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) castor sugar

You will need a piping bag with a plain ‘éclair nozzle’.

Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry.  Fold in half the sugar.  Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak.  Fold the remaining sugar in carefully.  Fill into the piping bag.  Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pipe a small blob of the meringue onto the paper pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a willowy point.     

Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/Gas Mark 1/4 for 4 hours approx.  Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt some chocolate and fill into a paper piping bag.  Decorate the meringues by piping little dots for eyes and a little oval for a scary mouth. Arrange on an appropriate plate, maybe on a bed of edible soil (see recipe below) with wood sorrel dotted here and there.

Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream. 

Chocolate Soil… sounds scary but it tastes delicious

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135C. If you don’t have a thermometer the mixture will start to turn a golden brown.

At this stage you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to soil almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

Scary Strawberry Ghosts

Another simple recipe to make with the kids for their Halloween feast.

Makes 20

20 Large strawberries

100g best quality white chocolate

100g dark chocolate

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a tray. Put the white chocolate into a small pyrex bowl over a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat immediately (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Allow to site until the chocolate melts.

Catch each strawberry by the calyx and dip in the melted chocolate until the fruit is almost fully submerged. Allow to develop a drip at the base, then lay each on its side on the parchment paper.

Meanwhile melt some dark chocolate also. Fill into a parchment piping bag, decorate each strawberry with eyes and a smile or a frown – can be a happy, sad or scary face, all part of the fun….

Good to know: a toothpick dipped in the dark chocolate also works well to create the expressions. Enjoy!

Spider Web Cake

Lovely and delicious as it is, but even spookier if you top it with pucas and spiders…!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Chocolate Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Next 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.

For the lemon glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glace icing, fold over the top, snip off the point to make a writing pipe.

Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

Decorate with spiders and púcas if available and serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.

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