ArchiveJanuary 2020

Our new students have arrived…

We’re back in full swing at the Ballymaloe Cookery School after our break, Students from 12 different countries are settling into life in the midst of a working organic farm close to the sea in East Cork. They’ll be with us for three months. They’ve just discovered the long sandy strand at Ballynamona, a few brave ones are joining Rachel Allen for early morning swims-BRRRRH, but they assure us its super exhilarating. Others get up early to be in the ‘Bread Shed’ by six o clock to discover the magic of making totally natural sourdough bread, a few others link up with the gardeners at 7:30 to harvest the fresh herbs, veg and salad leaves for the mornings cooking.

Already we have a few keen foragers, just met a couple of those making their way to the stone boundary wall to pick the fleshy leaves of pennywort to use as a garnish for their starter. They’ve already picked some winter cress, a few dandelion leaves and some chickweed to add to the big wooden bowl of green salad. Another couple of eager students have met up with David Cullinane to bring the small herd of Jersey cows in to be milked. Afterwards they’ll separate the thick rich cream from the milk. Some will be served with the lunchtime pudding, its Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart today and they’ll learn how to churn the remainder into homemade butter before coming into the kitchens at 9 o clock.

Just a couple of weeks ago, several of these students had never been ‘up close and personal’ with a cow in their entire lives. They might have had a vague idea that butter came from cream but no idea how the transformation occurred. They are all super excited to learn these almost ‘forgotten skills’.

Several others have gone to Penny in the Bubble Shed to learn the secret of the water kefir, that wine correspondent John Wilson told his Irish Times readers was “the best I’ve tasted” and its available on a daily basis from The Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop, just outside the village of Shanagarry. But you too can learn how to make your own Water Kefir and Kombucha on 25th February 2020 at Penny’s Fermentation workshop at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Even though the weather is still wintery we’ve got lots of seasonal vegetable and fresh herbs.

Already, the fresh green spears of chives are peeping above ground and of course there’s lots of rosemary, sage, thyme and bay, the gutsy perennials that keep on going year round and are particularly good with comforting winter stews and gratins.

We’ve got an abundance of winter vegetables, still some Brussels sprouts, lots of leeks and of course all the root vegetables, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, gorgeous white turnips, swedes and of course Jerusalem artichokes, the most exciting and nutritious veg of them all.

I’ve been enjoying lots of comforting stews and chunky soups for the past few weeks and delicious rice pudding with a golden skin on top

Now I’m about to enjoy my other almost forgotten winter pleasure – Steamed puddings – love, love, love steamed puddings. For me they evoke memories of sitting around the kitchen table in Cullohill, Co Laois, when I was a child, tucking into one of Mummy’s delicious steamed puddings with some custard or jam sauce – for those of you who have never tasted a steamed pudding – now’s the time to choose from one of these… First a suet pudding….

Valencia Pudding or Steamed Sultana Pudding

Oh my goodness, does this bring back memories or what?!  Serve a steamed pud for a Winter dinner party and everyone of ‘our’ age will dissolve into a sepia tinted haze of nostalgia!

Serves 6 ish.

75g (3oz) fat yellow sultanas or 75g (3oz) stoned Valencia, lexia or Muscatel raisins or fat yellow sultanas

110g (4oz) butter, at room temperature

110g (4oz) castor sugar

Grated rind of 1/2 unwaxed and organic lemon

2 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

175g (6oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-2 tablespoons milk

15g (1/2 oz) butter for greasing the pudding bowl

Homemade Custard

1/2 vanilla pod or a few drops pure vanilla extract

300ml (1/2 pint) rich milk

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

1 tablespoon castor sugar

12.5cm (5 inch) pudding bowl

Brush the pudding bowl with melted butter.  Press some of the sultanas or seeded and split raisins around the sides.  Cream the butter, add the sugar and lemon rind and beat until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in the flour and baking powder and enough milk to make the mixture just loose enough to drop from a spoon, add the remainder of the fruit.  Spoon into the pudding bowl.  Cover with a pleated piece of double greaseproof paper or foil and tie down.  (The paper is pleated to allow for expansion.)  Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, put in the pudding bowl, the water should come half way up the sides.  Cover and steam for 2 hours. 

Meanwhile make the homemade custard.

Put the vanilla pod (if available) into the cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.   Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl.   Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the milk onto the yolks, whisking all the time, (add the pure vanilla extract if using), return to the saucepan.   Stir over a gentle heat until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon, careful it must not boil.  Pour into a cold bowl and stir occasionally as it cools.

Raspberry Jam Pudding also called Canary… don’t ask me why…

Another children’s favourite – substitute 4-6 tablespoons of handmade raspberry jam for the raisins.  Spread the raspberry jam over the sides and base of the pudding bowl, serve with a warm raspberry jam sauce.

(Thin the jam with a little water) and lots of softly whipped cream.

Marmalade Steamed Pudding with Marmalade sauce

Recipe as above but substitute the jam with 4 to 6 tablespoons of marmalade.

For almost a week during the cold January days the whole house smells of marmalade. We always looked forward to the final day when the last of the oranges had been turned into marmalade, because by tradition on that day there would be marmalade pudding for lunch.

Make and steam the pudding as above substituting marmalade for raspberry jam.

Meanwhile make the marmalade sauce


4 tablespoons water

450g (1lb) marmalade

juice of 1 lemon

sugar, to taste

To make the sauce, put the water and marmalade into a saucepan. Stir and then bring slowly to the boil for 4/5 mins. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and if necessary sweeten with a little sugar to taste. When the pudding is cooked, turn it out on to a warm serving dish and pour the sauce around it.

Delia’s Steamed Treacle Pudding

 Thank you Delia for this delicious recipe … warming winter comfort food …. like a culinary hug….

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon of black treacle

3 tablespoons of golden syrup

6oz (175g) self raising flour

1 rounded teaspoon baking powder

6oz (175g) butter softened

3 large eggs

6oz(175g) soft light brown sugar

First of all butter the inside of a 1 pint pudding bowl.

Pour 3 tablespoons of golden syrup into it.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the softened butter, eggs, sugar and black treacle. Using an electric whisk, beat the mixture for about two minutes until it is thoroughly blended. Now spoon the mixture into the pudding bowl and level the top with the back of the spoon. Cover with lid.

Steam the pudding for two hours on a gentle heat, checking the water level halfway through. To serve, loosen the pudding all round using a palette knife, turn onto a warmed plate.

Serve warm with freshly whipped cream.

New Orleans

New Orleans – The Crescent City, nestled into a bend in the Mississippi river is truly wonderful – you might want to add it to your US bucket list. I was enchanted by the architecture, the live oak lined streets, the buildings and the Creole cottages each with porches, verandas and its own unique features. I particularly loved the old French Quarter, Marigny, Burgundy and the Garden District, the vibrant art and culture scene.  The street cars date back to 1893 and of course the food.

It was a quick trip, barely two days but I packed a tremendous experience into that short time – enough to make me long to return. I didn’t get to do a proper cemetery tour, one of the star attractions of New Orleans, with their Greek and Roman Sepulchres and palatial mauseoleums. My visit didn’t actually coincide with any of the festivals that New Orleans is famed for, yet the city abounded with Jazz and Blues and the swish new airport has been called after Louis Armstrong – There were even vases of fresh flowers in the loos – there’s style for ya…!

I stayed at Hotel Peter and Paul, owned by a former Ballymaloe Cookery School student Natalie Jordi and her husband New York Times Journalist, Brett Anderson. A four year restoration of a historic New Orleans church, school house, rectory and convent, now with 71 bedrooms. I was tickled to find myself in the Mother Superior’s bedroom, complete with a king canopy bed, adorned with tassles and holy fillials. But this is a food column, so I‘ll concentrate on the many new Orleans specialities I managed to taste on my far too brief visit.

My first taste of New Orleans was at a super cool café, Molly’s Rise + Shine in the Irish Channel for a brunchy lunch before a tour of New Orleans. Loved every bite, a huge glass of fresh orange juice squeezed just moments earlier, roasted carrot yoghurt with granola and other good things, a southern biscuit (moist, tender scones to you and I) with sausage scrambled egg and pickles and Texas toast – one inch thick triangles of toasted brioche like bread with a little bowl of superb butter and jam on a speckled blue enamelled plate. Don’t miss their sister restaurant Turkey and the Wolf if you make it to New Orleans – superb sandwiches with a permanent queue.

My sojourn didn’t coincide with the famous cray fish season so I missed those but went along to an iconic Irish pub Erin Rose – with a Lill Killer Po Boy joint at the back. The name is short for Poor Boys a term apparently coined by the Martin brothers during the 1929 Street Car strike when the brothers served this kind of robust sandwich to the hungry strikers.

To make a New Orleans Po Boy, split a French bread roll, crackly crust and soft fluffy interior, slather with a spicy mayo, add pickles and shredded salad, maybe some freshly chopped herbs or tomatoes and a topping of roast beef or fried sea food. Ours was packed with shrimps and was almost a cross between a Po Boy and a Banh mi – a meal in itself and quite the challenge at 10am in the morning but I take my research very seriously so I tucked in with gusto. Next stop Congregation Coffee and cool café, superb pastries and a tempting potato and turnip soup with horseradish dill and mushroom and a braised rabbit sandwich with blue cheese and watercress.

Christina Balzebre’s, Levee artisan bakery just off Magazine Street was also exceptional, superb naturally leavened bread, and handmade pastries. I bought a crusty baguette and some other tempting confections for my picnic on the plane and then headed over to St James’s Cheese Company for cured meats, Vermont cultured butter and some farmstead cheese.
Lunch was at Peche, a James Beard award winning restaurant where I tasted Hush Puppies with honey butter.

After an intriguing tour through New Orleans, dinner that night was at Apolline where chef, Michael Shelton, cooks contemporary American food. I got to taste okra in New Orleans, one of the many good things I ate there. My final meal was at the iconic Upperline Restaurant on Upperline Street, classic New Orleans dishes, contemporary Creole cooking and a warm welcome from the utterly charming, feisty 80 year old hostess JoAnne Clevenger – definitely the ‘hostess with the mostest’ in the whole of New Orleans – Described variously as ‘a girl scout with gumption’ and ‘the one dress hostess’.

I tasted so many classic New Orleans dishes, fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade, turtle soup, gumbo, and Upperline’s famous pecan bread pudding with toffee sauce – all so delicious….

I really long to go back to New Orleans and next visit maybe I’ll have time to taste the famous Beignets from Café du Monde….

Southern Hush Puppies

Inspired by a recipe in Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

Serves 6

280g cornmeal

1 tablespoon white flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons green onions, finely chopped

270ml buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Vegetable oil or pure olive oil for frying

Sieve flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl, add the cornmeal.  Add the onions, buttermilk and egg, stir until thoroughly mixed. Heat the oil to 375°F and drop the batter by spoonful (about 2 teaspoons each) in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 3-5 mins.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

At Peche Restaurant they served the hush puppies with honey butter.

Honey Butter

110g (4oz) butter

2 good heaped tablespoons fresh honey

Cream the butter in a bowl.  Add the honey and stir with a spoon to evenly distribute the honey through the butter.

New Orleans Beignets

12 Servings

170mls  lukewarm water

1 7g sachet of dried fast acting yeast

115ml  evaporated milk

70g sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

400g – 450g plain flour

3 tablespoons melted butter

Corn oil or any flavourless oil for frying

Icing sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine lukewarm water and yeast, let it sit until it dissolves for about 5 minutes. Lightly whisk evaporated  milk, sugar, salt, egg and vanilla extract. Add it to the yeast mixture.

Mix in about half of flour and continue mixing with hand or dough mixer. If using a stand mixer, mix for about a minute or 2.

Finally add the melted butter, mix until dough is sticky but smooth. Add in additional flour (if needed) to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 – 2 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough. Cover loosely with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Once risen, punch the dough down and remove from the bowl. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a long piece until approx.. ¼ – 1/3 thickness. Cut the dough into 1 ½ or 2 inch squares, you can use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before frying.

Working in batches so as not to crowd the oil, fry the dough squares until they are puffy and golden brown. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels briefly and immediately dust with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Brioche Pecan Bread Pudding with Toffee sauce

Serves 6-8

8 brioche buns or very good bread sliced

50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted

3oz plump sultanas

4 oz pecans, very coarsely chopped

450ml (16fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

2 tsp grated ginger

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling

pinch of salt

Toffee Sauce – see recipe

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) square pottery or ovenproof  china dish.

Slice the brioche into 1/3 inch thick slices. Butter and arrange buttered side down, in a single layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle with half the pecans and half the sultanas and then arrange another layer of brioche, buttered side down, over the nuts and fruit, sprinkle the remaining nuts and fruit on top. Cover with the remaining bread, again, buttered side down. (Make sure the fruit is fully covered or it will shrivel up).

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Stir in the grated ginger and pour evenly over the pudding. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

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

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Meanwhile make the toffee sauce.

Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream and toffee sauce

Note: This bread and butter pudding reheats perfectly.

 Toffee Sauce

110g (4oz) butter

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

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

300g (10oz) golden syrup

225ml (8fl oz) cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the butter, sugars and golden syrup into a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir as it melts gently on a low heat. Simmer for 4 or 5 minutes, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the cream and the vanilla extract. Put back on the heat and stir for 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce is absolutely smooth.

Egg and Sausage, Melted Gouda and Hot Sauce in a Brioche Bun 

Serves 8

8 brioche buns with poppy seeds sprinkled on top

8 sausage patties

8 organic eggs, (1 egg omelette per bun)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

100g to 175g (4oz-6oz) Gouda, grated

Hot chili sauce

Homemade Sausage Patties:

(Makes 8 large patties)

225g (1/2 lb) good, fat streaky pork (rindless)

1 tablespoon mixed fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram,  and a little rosemary)

30g (1 1/4oz) soft white breadcrumbs

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small organic egg (optional – helps to bind – reduce breadcrumbs to 50g/2oz if omitting egg)

dash of oil for frying

First make the sausage patties:

Mince the pork at the first or second setting, depending on the texture you like. Chop the herbs finely and mix through the breadcrumbs. Crush the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Whisk the egg, and then mix into the other ingredients thoroughly. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Fry off a little knob of the mixture to check the seasoning. Correct if necessary. Divide in 8 and flatten into patties. Keep covered and chilled.

To serve, split the brioche bun in half but keep attached at one side.

Fry the pork patty in a hot pan in a little extra olive oil while you quickly make a 1 egg omelette.

Heat a small frying pan over a high heat. Whisk the egg, add a little dash of milk, flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little clarified butter to the pan, when sizzling add the egg, tilt the pan and quickly make an omelette and fold.

Sprinkle a layer of grated cheese onto the base of the bun and pop under a grill. When the cheese has melted top with the pork patty and the omelette. Drizzle generously with the hot sauce, fold over the brioche and serve ASAP on a square of parchment.

 Tomato and Chilli Sauce

30g (1oz) green chillies, deseeded and chopped, or 2-3 depending on size

1 red pepper, deseeded and cut in 1 inch (2cm) dice.

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

1 clove of garlic , crushed

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

1 dessertspoon soft brown sugar

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablepsoons water

First make the sauce.  Put the chillies, pepper, tomatoes and garlic into a stainless steel saucepan with the sugar, vinegar and water.  Season and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced by half.

Weston A Price

Recently, I attended a Weston A Price conference in Dallas, Texas. Many inspirational speakers spoke on a variety of topics linked to optimum health, almost 1,000 people attended from countries around the world, many clinging desperately to the Weston A Price guidelines for optimum nutrition in an effort to recover their health after being on a variety of ‘diets’.

Have you heard of the Weston A Price Foundation? – I hadn’t either until I was asked to speak at a regional WAPF conference here in Ireland in Co Limerick in 2015. At the time I was spearheading a campaign with several others to protect people’s right to sell and buy raw milk should they so choose to do so for any number of health and culinary reasons.

I was invited to speak and so met Sally Fallon Morell MA who is Director of the WAPF and heard about Dr Weston A Price, a Cleveland dentist who died in the late 1940’s.
America was the first to introduce processed food into the market, so the impact of the change in diet on people’s health became evident sooner over there. Dr. Weston A Price observed the dramatic decay in his patients teeth. He suspected it was connected to the increased sugar and ultra-processed foods in their diets and began his lifelong research and documentation of his observations.

For over 10 years he travelled widely to study the diets of isolated, primitive and indigenous people. Comparing the food and culture of aborigines, the New Zealand Maori, Inuits, several African tribes, Polynesians, Pygmies, Lotschueld in Switzerland and the Native American Indians. He had planned to help with their teeth problems but found little decay…. Even though each group were eating very diverse foods he observed definite similarities between each one. All were eating an ancestral diet, none included ultra- processed, refined and denatured foods.

The 11 principals for the Weston A Price optimum nutrition were based on these observations.

I was intrigued to find an organisation that espouses similar values around nutrition to my own particularly their advice around fat consumption at a time when the received wisdom was that low fat was detrimental to our health 

Despite the fact that it now appears that there was not a jot of scientific evidence to link butter or any good natural fat to cardiovascular disease, rather the opposite.

There were similarities common to each culture. Each ate natural fats, offal, from healthy pasture fed animals and poultry and prized them above other meat, drank gelatine rich bone broths, raw milk, and ate fermented foods…

Here are the Weston A Price 11 Principals of optimum nutrition:

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialised peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or low fat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colourings.
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed—muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred.
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialised peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet.
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw.
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments.
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid.
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt.
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

Source as much chemical free food as you can find and afford. You’ll easily save the extra cost on supplements and added vitamins and minerals.

Finally, the big new thing in the US is – Real Food – everyone I spoke to was desperately trying to source real unadulterated food. We still have wonderful produce but even here in Ireland it takes more and more of a concerted effort to find unadulterated, nourishing, wholesome food but it’s certainly worth it. Recipes are based on the Weston A Price Foundation principals….

Roast Fish with Winter Herb Butter

A delicious ‘master recipe’ for all very fresh flat fish e.g. brill, turbot, plaice, sole, dabs, flounder and lemon sole. Depending on the size of the fish, it can be a starter or a main course.

1 large, fresh, flat fish or a couple of smaller ones

Winter Herb Butter

110g (4ozs) butter

4 teaspoons mixed finely chopped fresh parsley, chervil and thyme leaves

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/regulo 5.

I like to leave the head on, but if you’d rather not, turn the fish on its side and remove the head.  Wash the fish and clean the slit by the throat very thoroughly.  With a sharp knife, cut through the dark skin right round the fish, just where the ‘fringe’ meets the flesh.  Be careful to cut neatly and to cross the side cuts at the tail or it will be difficult to remove the skin later on.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and freshly-ground pepper and lay in 1cm (1/2 inch) of water in a shallow baking tin.   Roast in a moderately hot oven for 20-30 minutes according to the size of the fish.  The water should have just evaporated as the fish is cooked.  Check to see whether the fish is cooked by lifting the flesh from the bone at the head; it should lift off the bone easily and be quite white with no trace of pink.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the freshly-chopped herbs.  Just before serving catch the skin down near the tail and pull it off gently (the skin will tear badly if not properly cut).  Lift the fish fillets onto hot plates and spoon the herb butter over them.  Serve immediately.

Devilled Lambs Kidneys on Toast

Serves 2

4 lamb’s kidneys, cut each into quarters

A little extra virgin olive oil

A good shake of Worcestershire sauce

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon English mustard

2 tablespoons cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wild watercress sprigs

Coarsely chopped parsley to garnish

4 slices of lathered toast or chargrilled sourdough

Cut the kidneys in half, remove the “plumbing” and cut each one into four pieces.

Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a small frying pan, add the kidneys and cook for a minute or two, tossing them occasionally. Add a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce and a generous pinch of pepper, and some English mustard. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Add the cream and bubble for another minute or two, shaking the pan occasionally until the sauce is slightly reduced. Taste and add more black pepper if you like.

Serve on toast or char-grilled sourdough bread with some sprigs of watercress. For a more substantial supper dish, serve with plain boiled rice and a crisp green salad. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Penny’s (Sauerkraut) Kraut-Chi

At its most basic sauerkraut is chopped or shredded cabbage that is salted and fermented in its own juice.  It has existed in one form or another as ancestral food for thousands of years and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy because of its high Vitamin C content.  The basic recipe for sauerkraut is 2 tsp of pure flaky sea salt to 450g (1lb) of cabbage.  Any other vegetables in season can be added once they are finely sliced or chopped.  Avoid potatoes as they can become toxic when fermented.  Weigh the vegetables after slicing and calculate the amount of salt needed.  Below is a recipe we enjoy.

Makes 1 litre/900g (2lbs) approximately

500g (18oz) organic cabbage – red, green or a mixture, finely sliced

150g (5oz) onion, finely sliced

2 green peppers, finely sliced

150g (5oz) carrots, grated on a coarse grater

1 chilli, finely chopped

4 teaspoons pure flaky (or similar) seasalt

1 x 1.5 litre (2 1/2 pints) Kilner jar or crock

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.  Pack into a large jar or crock.  Pack a little at a time and press down hard using your fists, this packs the kraut tight and helps force water out of the vegetables. 

Cover the kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the jar or crock.  Place a clean weight on top (a jug or container filled with water works well).  This weight is to force water out of the vegetables and keep them submerged under the brine.  Cover the top with muslin or a light cloth to keep out flies and dust.  Press down on the weight ever few hours to help extract more liquid from the vegetables.  The liquid should rise above the vegetables.  If the liquid doesn’t rise above the plate level by next day, add some salt water (a basic brine is 2 teaspoons of salt mixed in 600ml/1 pint/2 1/2 cups of water) to bring the level above the plate. 

Place in a cool area and allow to ferment for 4-5 days.  At this stage the kraut is ready to eat.  As you eat the kraut make sure the remainder is well covered in brine by pushing the vegetables under the brine and sealing well.  It will keep for months, the flavour develops and matures over time.

April Bloomfield’s Chopped Chicken Liver on Toast

“A staple at the Spotted Pig, this creamy, still slightly chunky mash of lovely, iron-y livers on toast makes a fine snack, but it’s substantial enough to hold you over while you wait for a friend or a table.  Just the thing, too, with a glass of wine. The liver mixture is a touch sweet from the port and the browned garlic and shallots, with a whisper of acidity from the Madeira. Best of all, it takes just a moment to make. Be sure you get a nice colour on the livers when you cook them. (I like them slightly pink on the inside for this dish; anyone who doesn’t can cook them a bit longer.) Be sure to take in the aroma as they cook – toasty browning liver is one of my favourite smells.”

Makes 4 toasts

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

40g (1 1/2oz) finely chopped shallots

1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tablespoons dry Madeira

1 1/2 tablespoons ruby port

225g (8oz) chicken livers, trimmed and separated into lobes

Maldon or another flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a small handful of small, delicate flat-leaf parsley sprigs

4 thick slices crusty bread, or 2 large slices, cut in half

Pour 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large sauté pan and set it over high heat.

When it’s hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until they’re golden brown, about a minute. Add the Madeira and port to the pan and give it a good shake, then scrape the mixture into a small bowl and set aside. Rinse the pan and wipe it out well with kitchen paper, then set it over high heat and add one tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil just begins to smoke, pat the livers dry and add them to the pan. Cook until the undersides are golden brown, 1 1/2 minutes or so. Carefully turn them over and sprinkle on about 1 teaspoon salt, then give the pan a little shake. Cook the livers just until they feel bouncy, like little balloons, about 30 seconds more. You want them slightly pink inside, not rare. Turn off the heat and add the shallot mixture, liquid and all, to the pan.

Winter Warmers

Love these crisp frosty mornings, fortunately my commute is just two or three minutes across the courtyard to the converted apple barn that has housed the Ballymaloe Cookery School for over 20 years now so I don’t have to worry about icy roads. Instead I day dream about the unctuous stew or casserole I’ll make for supper so this week I thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Can you imagine anything better to look forward to than a bubbling pot of deliciousness, if you have a magic slow cooker or crock pot the aroma will greet you when you arrive home, battle weary after a day’s work – what could be more comforting?

There are a couple of golden rules to making a really good stew, choose the less expensive, cuts of meat more muscular such as shoulder or breast of lamb that benefit from slow cooking, flank or shin or beef, chicken thighs rather than breast which dries out easily. Some cubes of fat streaky bacon, or pickled pork add richness and a base of aromatic vegetables add sweetness. Onions, carrots, celery, perhaps a few cloves of garlic or a sprig or two of woody herbs.

Keep both the vegetables and the meat nice and chunky so they don’t disintegrate during the long slow cooking.

Sear the cubes of meat in a little goose fat of olive oil on a hot pan to start with. This simple step caramelizes the meat juices and add extra flavour, then toss the vegetables in the pan before adding to the stew pot or casserole, stock will add so much more flavour than water but a dash of wine, cider or beer, though not essential, add complexity. The seasoning is all important; a generous sprinkling of good salt and freshly ground black pepper early on will be absorbed in to the dish. You can taste and correct the seasoning at the end but it’s difficult to get it right if you’ve forgotten to season earlier.

For stewing and braising the cooking temperature is crucial, it must be slow cooking, reduce the heat the moment the liquid comes to the boil, cover the pot and keep it at a mere simmer until the meat is meltingly tender, 80°C is perfect – What food writer, Jane Grigson called “a mummer” with the liquid swirling gently but only bubbling now and then. Boiling ruins a stew!

Remember traditionally only the meat from older more mature animals was used for stewing. The flavour was richer and during long slow cooking the connective tissue dissolves into gelatine which adds a silky texture to the finished dish.

I also like to include some bone in the stew, it adds an extra depth of flavour – ask your butcher for a couple of slices of marrow bone to add to a beef stew it adds really magic. Now at last we can get more mature animals, chat to your family craft butcher they’ll know the provenance of the meat.

Here are a few of my favourite winter warmers ideal for batch cooking, for you, your family and friends to enjoy. Happy New Year!

Vegetable and Tofu Curry

You’ll love this curry, even ardent curry haters can’t get enough of this deliciously spiced dish.  It’s also an excellent base for other additions such as chunks of cooked potato.

Serves 4 -6

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 – 2 chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped

zest of 1 organic lemon or 2 limes

110g (4oz) coriander leaves and stalks (coarsely chopped) plus extra to serve

60g (2 1/2oz) cashew nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

400ml (14fl oz) homemade vegetable stock

500g (18oz) pumpkin or sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

1 small cauliflower, weighing approx. 350g (12oz), broken into small florets

225g (8oz) firm tofu, cut into approx. 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

225g (8oz) French beans, green or a mixture of green and yellow

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

organic lemon or lime wedges, to serve

Combine the garlic, chilli, citrus zest, roughly chopped coriander leaves and stalks, cashew nuts, ginger, turmeric, cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt in a food processor and whizz to a chunky or smooth purée, depending on your preference.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the garlic and ginger purée and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring. Whisk in the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 8–10 minutes.

Add the chunks of sweet potato or pumpkin and return to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and tofu chunks and bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the French beans and simmer for a further 2–3 minutes, uncovered, until all of the vegetables are cooked through.

Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze over a little lemon or lime juice, to taste. Sprinkle with lots of coriander and serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

If time allows, get this started the day before, the flavour will be even better, but ‘needs must’ if you are racing against the clock just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and cook gently until the venison is tender and unctuous.

Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew but a layer of potatoes on top provide a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot.   Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the top.

Serves 10

1.3kg shoulder of venison, trimmed and diced – 4cm


300-350ml gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, lightly crushed black pepper

Bouquet garni

Seasoned flour

225g fat salt pork or green streaky bacon, diced -4cm

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g small mushrooms, preferably wild ones, but flats have lots of flavour

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large clove garlic, crushed

450ml beef or venison stock

Bouquet garni

Extra butter

Lemon juice

Salt, pepper sugar

8-12 potatoes


Lots of freshly chopped parsley

To serve

Green vegetable – eg Brussels sprouts, calabrese, cabbage

Horseradish sauce – optional

Season the venison well and soak in the marinade ingredients for at least an hour or better still overnight. Drain the meat well, pat it dry on kitchen paper and turn in seasoned flour.

Meanwhile, brown the pork or bacon in olive oil in a heavy casserole, cooking it slowly at first to persuade the fat to run, then raising the heat. Transfer to a large bowl.  Next sauté the mushrooms in batches on a high heat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and transfer to a plate, keep aside to be added later.

Add a little more olive oil to the casserole, brown the venison in batches and add to the  bacon.  Add the onion, carrot, parsnip and garlic to the casserole, with a little more olive oil if necessary, toss and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add to the bacon and venison in the bowl. Do not overheat or the fat will burn. Pour off any surplus fat, deglaze the casserole with the strained marinade, bring to the boil. Add back in the venison, bacon, vegetables and garlic and enough stock to cover the items in the casserole. Put in the bouquet garni, bring to a gentle simmer on top of the stove.  Cover tightly with the lid of the casserole.   Transfer to the oven and cook until the venison is tender.

Test after 1½ hours, cover the entire stew with the peeled potatoes.   Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover with a paper lid and the lid of the casserole and continue to cook for another hour approx. until both the venison and potatoes are cooked. Add back in the cooked mushrooms, return to the boil for 2-3 minutes.

Finally taste the sauce, it will need seasoning and perhaps a little acidity, use lemon juice or a couple of spoons full of crab apple jelly.

Serve with a nice big dish of brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage and some horseradish sauce.

Scatter with lots of freshly chopped parsley.

Good to know –  For the best results, cook this kind of dish one day and then reheat the next, this improves the flavour and gives you a chance to make sure that the venison is really tender.

Venison Pie

Recipe as above.



340g Puff or Flaky pastry

egg wash

Follow and cook the recipe as above.  Fill the stew into a large pie dish and cover with puff pastry.  Flute the edges, egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves.

Bake in a hot oven 250C/Gas mark 9 for 10 minutes and then reduce heat for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is crisp and golden and pie is bubbling.

Lamb and Pearl Barley Stew and Fresh Herb Gremolata 

A substantial pot of stew fortified with pearl barley, this is really good with lots of gremolata sprinkled over the top. It is a variation of Irish stew, which is the quintessential one-pot dish – the recipe for the original Ballymaloe version can be found in my Forgotten Skills of Cooking book.

Serves 8-10

350g (12oz) piece of green streaky bacon (blanched if salty)

1.8kg (4lb) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb, not less than 2.5cm (1 inch) thick

well-seasoned plain flour, for dusting

a little extra virgin olive oil, for frying

350g (12oz) mushrooms, thinly sliced

700g (1 1/2lbs) whole, small onions – baby ones are nicest

350g (12oz) carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

150g (5oz) parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced

400g (14oz) pearl barley

approx. 2.8 litres (4 3/4 pints) homemade lamb or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) chopped mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil and mint

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

flaky sea salt, to taste

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

First make the stew. Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in the well-seasoned flour.

Heat a little oil in a 25cm (10 inch)/3.2-litre casserole over a medium heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate. Sauté the mushrooms, season well and set aside. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, with a little more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until golden. Heat control is crucial here: the pan mustn’t burn, yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If the pan is too cool, the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Remove the lamb to a plate. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips until golden. Return the bacon and lamb to the casserole, together with the pearl barley. Season well, pour in the stock, add the thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1–1 1/4 hours until meltingly tender; the cooking time will depend on the age of the lamb and how long it was sautéed for. Add the mushrooms about 30 minutes before the end.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Mix together the chopped herbs and garlic in a small bowl, add the lemon zest and season to taste with a little flaky salt.

Once the casserole is cooked, remove the thyme and season to taste. Leave the casserole to sit for 15–30 minutes to allow the pearl barley to swell. (If necessary, the casserole can be reheated later in the day, or the next day.) Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with the gremolata.

Beef and Agen Prune Stew

Serves 6 – 8

This is a rich and delicious stew that just gets better and better. The flavour deepens when made the day before. Serve with polenta, tagliatelle or some fluffy mashed potato and a tasty green salad, as you wish.

18 Agen mi-cuit or semi-soft prunes, stoned

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

400g (14oz) carrots cut into 1cm slices

285g (9 1/2oz) onions, sliced

1.35kg (3lb) well-hung stewing beef or lean flank, trimmed of fat and cut into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

150ml (5fl oz) red wine

150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock (see recipe)

1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

8 medium potatoes, washed and peeled at the last minute

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a good green salad and some polenta, tagliatelle or mashed potatoes, to serve (optional)

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

Place the prunes in a bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside to soak.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 25cm (10 inch)/3.2 litre (5 1/2 pint) casserole over
a gentle heat and cook the sliced carrots and onions for 10 minutes, covered, until soft. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the casserole over a medium heat until almost smoking. Add the pieces of beef and sear on all sides in the hot fat. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the wine, stock and chopped tomatoes and bring slowly to the boil, stirring. Add the onions and carrots back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours.

Arrange the whole peeled potatoes on top of the meat and vegetables and replace the lid. Return the casserole to the oven and continue to cook for a further 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Add the whole drained prunes and chopped parsley about 15 minutes before the end.

Serve with a green salad and some tagliatelle, polenta or mashed potatoes, if you like.

Sausage and Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

A gorgeous pot of bean stew, so warm and comforting for an autumn or winter supper.

Use your favourite juicy heritage pork sausages.

Serves 4-6

450g homemade or very best quality fennel and chilli pork sausages

550g dried haricot, cannellini or flageolet beans

Bean cooking water or chicken stock (if necessary)

3 tablespoons olive oil

175g chopped onion

4 large cloves garlic, crushed

1 x 400g tin tomatoes

1 large sprig rosemary chopped, approx 1 tablespoon

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar


flat parsley

Drain the beans and save the cooking water if you have cooked them yourself.

Meanwhile, sweat the chopped onion gently in olive oil in a wide saucepan until soft but not coloured, approx. 7-8 minutes add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, add the chopped tomato and their juice, add the cooked beans, and chopped rosemary. Simmer for 5-6 minutes add some of the bean liquid if necessary and season well with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Meanwhile fry the sausages in a few drops of olive oil, on a medium heat, when coloured on all sides, add to the bean stew.  Continue to cook for 5-6 minutes or until the sausage is hot through. (Chorizo does not need to be cooked ahead).  Scatter with lots of flat parsley and chervil and serve with a salad of organic leaves.

Note: The mixture should be juicy but not swimming in liquid.


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