ArchiveMarch 2020

Response to Covid-19

How our lives and perspective have changed in the past few weeks, as Covid-19 continues to barrel around the globe. Everything has been turned upside down. Suddenly we realize how vulnerable we are, day to day life as we know it can no longer be taken for granted. For many, the realisation of how deskilled we have allowed ourselves to become is a wake-up call – we take for granted that others will provide for our basic needs.

Limiting our social interaction and staying at home can be boring for sure but is probably the surest way to delay and beat this virus and speed up the journey to ‘normal life’ again. Meanwhile, let’s just use this time to catch up on lots of projects that we haven’t been able to reach in our busy lives. As far as possible self-isolate at home, you might want to binge watch all those films and TV shows or cook some of those new dishes you’ve been wanting to try… Let’s not fight the containment measures, there is no point in whinging. Let’s just keep calm, stay safe, follow the advice from reputable sources and avoid public places, especially crowded indoor venues.  

When one finds oneself in voluntary isolation, who will fix the heating, a burst pipe, the washing machine or dryer, the cooker….

Many of us are no longer ‘handy’, here’s where DIY skills really come in to their own. If you haven’t already put contingency plans into operation, time for a Plan B and where better than the kitchen.

A slow cooker is a brilliant bit of equipment. A separate electric or gas hob depending on what you already have is another fantastic standby at any time, even during power cuts or breakdowns.

Don’t forget the barbeque, another fantastically versatile bit of equipment that will see you through. I can turn out irresistible pizzas and flat breads on my covered Barbeque as well as succulent roasts and grills.

In the current situation, those who can’t cook are feeling extra vulnerable. If Deliveroo stops delivering and the ready meals are scarce or unavailable, what then?

It’s back to basic ingredients and what to do. If you haven’t already done so, stock up your cupboard or larder with nourishing wholesome non-perishable ingredients (see suggested list).

Basic Store Cupboard:

  • Porridge
  • Potatoes, onions, garlic
  • White and brown flour
  • Rice
  • Tinned tomatoes
  • Bread soda
  • Eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil / butter
  • Honey
  • Cannellini beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Haricot beans
  • Tuna
  • Salami, chorizo
  • Cheddar Cheese. ..

Next find a cook book with clearly written basic recipes and if you haven’t already got it, buy some basic kitchen kit . . .see Hot Tips.

Don’t care if you’ve never cooked a thing in your life. Everyone CAN make this simple loaf of bread, just measure, mix, pour into a greased tin and bake in a preheated oven – enjoy!

A little White Soda Bread Loaf

We bake this in a loaf tin which is more convenient for slicing or sandwiches, but one can shape it into the traditional round loaf if that is your preference.

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon/ salt

1 level teaspoon breadsoda

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 15 fl ozs (425 ml) approx

oatmeal, sesame seeds or kibbled wheat (optional)

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.  Scoop it into the oiled tin, sprinkle with oatmeal and sesame or kibbled wheat seeds if you enjoy them. Place in the hot oven immediately turning down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 45 minutes. Remove from the tin and return the bread to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes or until fully cooked.  If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).


Multi-seed Brown Soda Bread

Everyone loves this bread, the amaranth seeds give it an additional crunch.

A modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. 

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

350g wholemeal flour of your choice

50g white flour, preferably unbleached

25g amaranth seeds

25g pumpkin seeds

10g sesame seeds

10g sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

425ml buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

Amaranth and pumpkin seeds for sprinkling on top (optional)

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm. Small tin 15x7cm (6x3inches).

Preheat oven to 200ºC/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins. Sprinkle some amaranth or pumpkin seeds on the top if using.

Bake for 60 minutes approximately, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.


The quantity of buttermilk can vary depending on thickness.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cream to low-fat buttermilk (optional).

Put the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish.  Scatter a mixture of buttered crumbs and grated cheese over the top and put into a hot oven or flash under a grill until crisp and golden on top.

Spicy Tomato Fondue with many good things

This is one of my ‘go-to’ recipes to feed a group of hungry friends. You can replace the chicken with chorizo, cooked sausages, leftover lamb, game, cooked fish or shellfish if you wish – monkfish works particularly well. Just think of the tomato fondue as a base for many good things.

For a bean stew add a can or two of cannellini or haricot beans and a couple of tablespoons of chopped rosemary.

Serves 6

For the Spicy Tomato Fondue

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

110g (4oz) onions, sliced

1–2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 garlic clove, crushed

900g (2lb) very ripe tomatoes in summer, peeled (see note), or 2 x 400g (14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes in winter

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar, to taste

Spicy Tomato Fondue with Chicken and Potato

700–900g (1 1/2 – 2lb) cooked chicken, cut into approx. 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

6 cooked potatoes, cut into approx. 2cm (3/4 inch) dice

lots of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander

First make the tomato fondue. Heat the oil in a large stainless-steel sauté pan or casserole over a gentle heat. Add the sliced onions, chopped chillies, ground cumin and garlic, and stir well to coat everything in the oil. Cover the pan with a lid and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft, but not coloured. It is vital that the onions are completely soft before you add the tomatoes.

Slice the peeled fresh tomatoes and add to the pan with their juices (if you are using tinned tomatoes, you can tip them straight in). Season with salt, pepper and sugar; tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity. Cover and cook for a further 10–20 minutes until the tomato softens, uncovering for the last 5 minutes or so to reduce the sauce a little. Fresh tomatoes need a shorter cooking time than tinned ones to preserve their lively fresh flavour. Depending on how you plan to use your fondue, you might want to reduce it a bit further.

Add the cooked chicken and potatoes, bring to the boil and bubble away for 4–5 minutes. Season to taste and scatter with parsley or coriander.

Serve with a salad of organic green leaves.


To Peel Fresh Tomatoes

Scald the tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds, then pour off the water and slip off the skins.

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Fish and Chervil

Serves 2

Scrambled eggs are my go to recipe for a breakfast or supper, made in minutes and embellished with lots of tasty morsels from the fridge. Use the best quality eggs you can get, ideally really fresh and free range. I love the combination of softly scrambled eggs with smoked fish but even grated cheddar cheese and chives.

Neagh smoked eel and softly scrambled eggs, but smoked mackerel or wild smoked salmon also work beautifully.

4 organic, free-range eggs

2 tablespoons creamy milk or single cream

a knob of butter

225g Irish smoked salmon, mackerel or eel, cut into 2cm dice

1 tablespoon chopped chervil, plus a few extra sprigs to garnish

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Break the eggs into a bowl, add the milk or cream and season with salt and pepper. Whisk thoroughly until the whites and yolks are well mixed.

Put a blob of butter into a cold 22cm (9cm) low-sided, heavy-based saucepan, pour in the egg mixture and stir continuously over a low heat, preferably with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, until the eggs have scrambled into soft creamy curds. Carefully fold in the smoked fish and chopped chervil.

Serve immediately on warm plates with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a few sprigs of fresh chervil on top. Accompany with lots of hot buttered sourdough toast or fresh soda bread.

(Note: If the plates are too hot, the scrambled egg can actually overcook between the hob and the table.)

Delicious morsels to add to scrambled eggs

Fines Herbes

Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with 1 tablespoon of mixed fresh herbs, such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, basil, chervil, coriander, dill or tansy.

Chilli or harissa

Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with ½–1 teaspoon of diced or sliced red chilli, or harissa and a herb of your choice.


Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with ½–1 teaspoon of ground cumin and ½–1 teaspoon of ground coriander. Add or omit the sprinkling of Parmesan as you wish.


Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with 2–4 tablespoons of grated cheese, such as Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gruyère, Parmesan or Pecorino.

‘nduja, Chorizo or Bacon

Cut 50g bacon or chorizo into 5mm dice and fry gently until the oil begins to release. Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish with the ‘nduja, fried bacon or chorizo (the ‘nduja doesn’t need to be cooked). Add or omit the Parmesan as you wish.

Spring Onions or Chives

Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with 2 tablespoons of chopped spring onions or chives.

Sorrel, Spinach or Kale

Blanch 225g sorrel, spinach or kale in boiling water for 2–3 minutes, refresh under cold running water, drain thoroughly and finely chop. Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with the sorrel, spinach or kale.

Foraged Greens

Follow the recipe above, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with 225g chopped wild garlic, sorrel, dandelion or watercress, or
a mixture.

Chanterelles or Yellow Leg Mushrooms

Fry 110g mushrooms in 1/2–1 tablespoon of butter and season well. Follow the main recipe, replacing the smoked fish and chervil with the mushrooms.

Masala Scrambled Egg

Heat the butter over a medium heat. Add 50g finely diced onion and ½ teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and sauté until the onion is soft. Add ½–1 diced red chilli, 2 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander,  1/8 teaspoon of ground turmeric and stir for a few seconds. Reduce the heat right down, add the whisked eggs and scramble as before. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh coriander.

Chargrilled Pizza Margherita – on the Barbeque

Serves 6 – 8

150g (5oz) pizza dough (see recipe)

175g (6oz) grated Mozzarella cheese

3 tablespoons olive oil

10floz tomato fondue (see recipe)

2 tablespoons freshly chopped annual marjoram

1 tablespoon parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano is best), freshly grated.

6ozs thinly sliced pepperoni (optional)

Sprinkle the grated Mozzarella with extra virgin olive oil. This hugely enhances the flavour of ordinary mozzarella.

Heat a Weber style Barbeque to medium hot.

Roll the pizza dough into a 30cm (12-16  inch) rectangle, about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.

Lay the rectangle of dough on the hot rack. Cover and cook for 4 – 5 mins until nicely cooked and marked on the underside. FLIP OVER. Spread an even layer of warm tomato fondue (see recipe) on the cooked surface. Sprinkle with chopped annual marjoram and a few slices of pepperoni (optional). Sprinkle generously with a mix of grated mozzarella and Parmesan. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and some cracked pepper, drizzle with olive oil. Cover the barbeque and continue to cook for 5 – 6 minutes or until the topping is bubbling and the pizza base is fully cooked.

Transfer to a chopping board, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, drizzle with a little more olive oil, cut into squares and serve immediately.


Garden Café Pizza Dough

The beauty of this recipe is that it is so quick and easy, using this fast acting yeast does away with the first rising.  By the time your tomato sauce is bubbling in the oven your pizza base will be ready for its topping! 

Makes 8 x 25cm 10inch pizzas

680g (1 1/2lbs) strong white flour or 600g (1 1/4lb) strong white flour and 110g (4oz) rye flour

50g (2oz) butter

1 packet fast acting yeast

2 level teaspoons salt

15g (1/2oz) sugar

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

450 – 500ml (16-18 floz) lukewarm water – more if needed

 In a large wide mixing bowl sieve the flour and add in the salt, sugar, rub in the butter and fast acting yeast, mix all the ingredients thoroughly.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the oil and most of the luke warm water.  Mix to a loose dough.  You can add more water or flour if needed.

Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work top, cover and leave to relax for about five minutes. 

Then knead the dough for about ten minutes or until smooth and springy (if kneading in a food mixer with a dough hook, 5 minutes is usually long enough).

Leave the dough to relax again for about ten minutes.  Shape and measure into 8 equal balls of dough each weighing approximately 150g (5oz).  Lightly brush the balls of dough with olive oil.

If you have time, put the oiled balls of dough into a plastic bag and chill.  The dough will be easier to handle when cold but it can be used immediately. 

On a well floured work surface roll each ball in to about 25cm (10inch) disk.  I find it convenient to pop a few rolled out uncooked pizza bases into the freezer.  You can take one out, put the topping on and slide it straight into the oven.  What could be easier!

This dough also makes delicious white yeast bread which we shape into rolls, loaves and plaits.

An Irresistible Rice Pudding with Soft Brown Sugar and Cream

A creamy rice pudding is super easy to make, comforting and delicious. You’ll need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding but everybody loves it. If your oven doesn’t work just cook it in a pot.

 Serves 6–8

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

50g (2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

1. 2 litres (2 pints) milk

Accompaniment: Soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream.

1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish (it’s important to have the correct size dish)

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

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

Mothers Day

If ever a celebration was warranted, it’s Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis from Virginia in the US originally initiated the special day to honour her own mother who lost nine of her thirteen children before they reached adulthood. Later, she was deeply saddened and totally disenchanted that the day she intended to devote to mothers became a means of ‘profiteering’ and a ‘Hallmark holiday’, after the company who first released Mother’s Day cards in 1920.

Mother’s Day evokes so many memories chatting to some friends, we agreed that most of us were total pests at some stage during our teens. In later years one looks back with regret for the torment and annoyance we caused our long suffering parents and hopefully we have found the courage and humility and the right moment to tell them how sorry we are for the hoops we put them through.  Invariably we don’t remember just how abominable and unreasonable we were until our children are going through the same phase.

Mother’s Day gives us all, young and old, the opportunity to let actions speak louder than words. 

If cooking isn’t your forte, you could treat your Mum to a slap up meal in anything from a ritzy restaurant to the local cafe depending on the finances.  If you are broke as well as culinarily challenged, then it’s time to get creative and offer your services.   How about a practical ‘gift token’ to wash and valet the car or clean out the fridge.

If you have green fingers, a pledge to weed the flower bed or dig the vegetable patch will be greeted enthusiastically.  You might even manage to buy a few fresh herbs to plant into a tub or hanging baskets.  An offer to do the washing up every evening for a week, or even once would win you serious brownie points. Most Mums loathe ironing with a passion, so that’s definitely another way to show your devotion, if you hate ironing then grit your teeth and cheer yourself up that you are developing life skills – that’s the sort of Mumsie remark that my daughters hate!  I am one of the rare people who love ironing but rarely do it.

If you have the cash, newspapers, magazines and the internet are bursting with ideas for special Mother’s day gifts over and above the usual cards and flowers – a voucher for a Spa treatment . . . a ticket to her favourite retro gig, a Louis Vuitton bag. . . .

And NO I don’t want an expensive tub of anti-aging cream. I’m totally happy with my wrinkles – honourable scars built up over the years. If I could make a wish it would be that all mothers could be released from the beauty industry’s insistance that we must look ‘forever young’. So let go of ‘aging anxiety’ and embrace your natural beauty.

Flamboyant gifts are all very fine but this is a cooking column so some of my late Mother’s delicious recipes. How fortunate were we that she loved to cook, this is what memories are made of. 

 Mummy’s Sweet White Scones

Tender and delicious scones with crunchy sugary tops – one bite transports me back to the kitchen of my childhood

Makes 18-20 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3inch) cutter

900g (2lb) plain white flour

175g (6oz) butter

3 free-range eggs

A good pinch of salt

50g (2oz) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

450ml (15floz) approx. rich milk to mix


Egg Wash (see below)

Crunchy Demerara sugar or coarse granulated sugar for coating the top of the scones

First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 1/2cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease.  Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in crunchy Demerara or coarse granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with homemade jam and a blob of whipped cream or just butter and jam.

Egg Wash

Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

* Top Tip – Stamp them out with as little waste as possible, the first scones will be lighter than the second rolling.

Fruit Scones

Add 110g (4oz) plump sultanas to the above mixture when the butter has been rubbed in. Continue as above.

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

My mother’s break-all-the-rules pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter – it makes a gorgeous tart, use whatever seasonal fruit is best

Serves 8-12


8 ozs (225g) butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

12 ozs (300g) white flour, preferably unbleached


2lbs (900g) sliced red rhubarb (about 1/2 inch thick)

13 ozs (370g) -14ozs (400g) sugar.

2-3 cloves

egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados sugar

tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep

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

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar and add the cloves. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Scalloped Potatoes

This was the dish we all asked mummy to make when we came home from college at weekends. We all love beef kidney but if you are not a fan use all beef but it won’t be quite as delicious.

This filling and economical dish was one of our favourites for a cold winter’s evening.

Serves 4-6

3.3lbs (1.46 kg) ‘old’ potatoes, eg Golden Wonder, or Kerrs Pinks

1 lb (450g) stewing beef

1 beef kidney

1 lb (450 g) chopped onions

2-3 ozs (60 -75 g) butter

13-15 fl ozs (375-450ml) stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned flour

1 oval cast-iron casserole (4 pint/2.3 l) capacity

Wash the beef kidney, remove the core and cut into 2 inch (1 cm) cubes, sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water.

Cut the stewing beef into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes.

Peel the potatoes and cut into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices, put a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the casserole.  Drain the kidney pieces and dry with kitchen paper, toss the beef and kidney in seasoned flour and scatter some over the potatoes with approx. one-third of the chopped onions and a few knobs of butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add another layer of potatoes, then meat, onions, and so on up to the top of the casserole, putting some knobs of butter between each layer and ending with a neat layer of overlapping slices of potato.  Season each layer carefully otherwise it may taste bland.  Top with a few knobs of butter, pour in the boiling stock, cover and cook in a low oven, 150C/Gas mark 2 for 2 ½ hours approx.   Serve on hot plates.

This reheats very well.

Farmhouse Chicken

Serves 8

A whole meal in a dish, this was and still is, a favourite family supper in our house.  We used to serve it in a big black roasting tin.

1 x 31/2lb (1.575kg) free-range organic chicken

white flour, well-seasoned with salt & pepper

11/4lb (560g) streaky bacon in one piece

2 tablespoon sunflower or arachide oil

14oz (400g approx.) onion, finely sliced or chopped

12oz (340g) carrots, thinly sliced

5lb (2.3kg) large ‘old’ potatoes approx.

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 pint (1.1L) chicken stock, made from the giblets and carcass


1 tablespoon or more coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Deep roasting tin (15 inch/38cm) square approx..

Preheat the oven to 230ËšC/450ËšF/Gas Mark 8

Joint the chicken into 8 pieces; separate the wing joints so they will cook evenly.  Cut the rind off the bacon; cut (8oz/225g) into lardons and the remainder into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices.  If salty, blanch, refresh and dry on kitchen paper.  Heat the oil in a wide frying pan and cook the lardons until the fat begins to run and they are pale golden; transfer to a plate.  Toss the chicken joints in seasoned flour, sauté in the bacon fat and oil until golden on both sides, remove from the pan and put with the bacon.   Finally toss the onions and carrots in bacon fat for 1-2 minutes.

Peel the potatoes and slice a little less than half into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds.  Bring the stock to the boil Arrange a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the deep roasting tin.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Top with a layer of seasoned chicken joints. Cut the remaining potatoes into thick slices lengthways, 11/2 inch (4cm) approx., and arrange cut side up on top of the chicken (the whole top of the dish should be covered with potato slices). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour the boiling stock into the roasting tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour approx.  After 30 minutes put the strips of bacon on top so they get deliciously crisp with the potatoes.  Test after 1 hour – it may take a little longer. If it is getting too brown near the end of cooking, cover loosely with parchment paper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

St Patrick’s Day

This year I’ll be in Ireland instead of New York for St Patricks Day, 17th March and I’m all set to celebrate, right here in Shanagarry. Remember St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland so we’ll have our annual snake hunt around the garden!

We’ve got students from all over the world here at present and they too are all determined to enter into the spirit. They’re planning to rummage around in their wardrobes and cases to bedeck themselves in forty shades of green.

To celebrate Lá Fhéile Padraig, both Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School will be illuminated in green as they have been for the past four years to participate in Tourism Irelands Global Greening Project, a brilliant initiative where iconic buildings around the world are lit up in green to focus attention on Ireland on St Patricks day, which in turn promotes tourism and raises awareness of Ireland and all things Irish.

This year the Liffey will be dyed green to celebrate our National day. Take the family along, the St Patrick’s Day parades get more exciting and exotic every year.

Then have a feast of our traditional Irish dishes. Last year, it was Parsley sauce with Bacon and Cabbage but this time I’m looking forward to a big pot of Irish Stew. It’s a wonderfully comforting meal in a pot, beloved by all the family. I often serve it when friends come round for supper and they just love to tuck into a big bowl of stew and have a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  

Songs have been sung and poems have been written about champ and colcannon…

In the US its corned beef and cabbage for everyone and soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds, really an emigrants version but so good.

We’d hoped to have the first rhubarb tart of the year on St Patrick’s Day but I was over optimistic, our rhubarb is barely above the ground and it feels like cheating to use the pale pink forced rhubarb from the Yorkshire triangle in the UK where one can literally hear the rhubarb leaves unfurling in the forcing tunnels. Instead, we’ll make our special St Patricks Day cake, decorated with orange kumquats and tart green wood sorrel leaves (oxalis) which resemble shamrock but are edible. It’s a super cake, really fast to make and fun to share with friends on St Patricks Day. Alternatively how about a bowl of fluffy carrageen moss pudding with softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar – check out last week’s examiner column for the recipe.

Irish Colcannon Soup

Serves 6

Colcannon is one of Irelands best loved traditional potato dishes.  Fluffy mashed potato flecked with cooked cabbage or kale.  This soup uses identical ingredients to make a delicious soup

50g (2oz) butter

425g (15oz) peeled diced potatoes

110g (4oz) diced onions

salt and freshly ground pepper

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

450g (1lb) Savoy cabbage

25g (1oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

110ml (4 fl oz) creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 6-10 minutes.   Add the stock, increase the heat, and cook until the vegetables are soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile cook the cabbage

Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage.  Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain.  Put 2-3 tablespoons of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt.  Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes.  Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter.

Purée in a blender or food processor, add the cabbage to the soup. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Note: Cabbage may be pureed with the soup if you would rather a smoother texture.

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

Serves 6- 8

Another traditional classic, a one-pot dish – the recipe varies from region to region – in Cork, carrots are a quintessential addition, not so in parts of Ulster.   Pearl barley is a favourite addition, originally added to bulk up the stew.

2 1/2 – 3lbs (1.1 – 1.35kg) lamb chops (gigot from the shoulder of lamb) not less than 1 inch (2.5cm) thick

8 medium or 12 baby carrots

8 medium or 12 baby onions

8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2-1 3/4 pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon roux, optional (see recipe)


2 tablespoon coarsely snipped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives

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

Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render the lamb fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).

Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you may want to leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, when small they are best left whole.

Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. Degrease the pan with lamb stock, bring to the boil and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1- 1 1/2 hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.

When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish sprinkled with herbs.


4oz (110g) butter

4oz (110g) 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.

Spotted Dog with Caraway Seeds

Caraway seeds and sultanas were added to soda bread in Ireland long ago, but the tradition went by the wayside. Not so in America, where soda bread often has caraway seeds and sultanas in it. Usually when I go to the US I take Irish recipes there, but I was delighted to bring this one back to Ireland! Simply add 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds to the Spotted Dog recipe and proceed as above.

Makes 1 loaf

450g (1lb) plain white flour

1–2 tablespoons  sugar

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), sieved

2 teaspoons of caraway seeds

75–110g (3–4oz) sultanas, raisins or currants

300ml (10fl oz) sour milk or buttermilk

1 egg, free-range if possible (optional – you may not need all the milk if you use the egg)

Preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl, add the caraway seeds and dried fruit, mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour most of the milk in at once with the egg. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead it lightly for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm (1 1/2 inch) deep and cut a deep cross on it. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 and continue to cook for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom: if it is cooked, it will sound hollow.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and generously slathered with butter. Simply delicious!

St Patrick’s Day Cake

This cake is very special, it’s super easy to make and is decorated with a lemony icing, kumquats and wood sorrel leaves – green, white and gold, to celebrate our national day……!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

1-2 tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice


8 pieces of kumquat compote – drained

8 wood sorrel leaves

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.

Make the Lemon Glacé Icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

To decorate:

Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley Pop-Up

At a glitzy event at Palais Brongniart in Paris in February 2019, Ballymaloe House won Trolley of the Year Award at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards for its iconic ‘Sweet trolley’ as it’s affectionately known. Over 100 chefs from 37 countries made up the panel of judges for 8 different categories of the restaurant experience… Ballymaloe House had first, been long listed, then short listed, the tension was nail-biting and then at last the announcement. The iconic dessert trolley that Myrtle Allen had introduced at Ballymaloe House when she opened her own dining room as a restaurant in 1965 had won the top award… super exciting… 

The original timber trolley was made by the late Ballymaloe farm carpenter, Danny Power who was well known for his ‘tasty woodwork’

Every evening, Myrtle piled it high with an ever changing selection of her favourite seasonal desserts. Always a homemade ice-cream made from the rich Jersey cream of the farm’s pedigree herd. This was, as it still is, served in a bowl of ice that Myrtle created to keep the ice cream chilled throughout the evening. A meringue gateau of some kind, a compote of fresh seasonal fruit from the walled garden. Rhubarb perhaps, or green gooseberry and elderflower followed by currants and berries in Summer and Autumn. Perhaps an orange or silky chocolate mousse, creme brûlée or her favourite carrageen moss pudding with soft brown sugar and cream or Irish Coffee sauce.

Fast forward to now. JR Ryle, the young pastry chef who came to work with Myrtle in 2004 accepted the prestigious award on behalf of Ballymaloe. He continues to work his magic with his equally passionate team in the Ballymaloe pastry kitchens but now he’s also in demand to do Sweet Trolley Pop Ups…. 

He’s just been to New York to do the first US Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley ‘Pop Up’. King on King Street in Manhattan was the venue; it was a roaring success, totally oversubscribed….

I spoke to co-owner of King, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Claire De Boer who with her friend Jess Shadbolt opened King on King St in September 2016.

“Something magical happened, it felt like a house party, everyone was chatting to the next table and having fun”

The pastry chef at King also trained at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the River Café. Brian McGin of Netflix flew in from Australia on his way to L.A and Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes came from London, Food Journalist, Christine Muhlke  of Bon Appetit, a big fan of King came to the rescue when JR was having difficulty sourcing a Trolley in New York.

David Tanis was there from the New York Times, four people from the prestigious Prior Travel Club. Clare De Boer told me that full capacity for Sunday lunch is 40 guests but due to the overwhelming demand they decided to do two sittings and stopped the bookings at 80 plus.

Special Silverwood tartlet tins had been flown out to New York two weeks earlier.  Jerpoint glass in Kilkenny was commissioned to make the hand blown glass bowls for the compote and pannacotta….. they arrived just two days before the event… nail biting stuff… Stable, that shop in Westbury Mall in Dublin provided the beautiful linen for the trolley but sadly the hand thrown Fermoyle Pottery didn’t arrive from Ballinskelligs until after the event – next time!

Watch this space for news of future Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley Pop Ups…..meanwhile here are some of the the desserts that wowed the New Yorkers…. 

 February Citrus fruit Salad

Myrtle always included a compote of seasonal fruits or berries but in Winter, many fruits have abysmal flavour, however citrus are at their best. This delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of the ever expanding citrus family.   It’s particularly delicious when a few blood oranges are included.   Ugli fruit, pomelo, tangelos, sweeties, all add excitement and extra zing. This salad will keep for 3 or 4 days in your fridge.

Serves 10 approx.

225g (2lb) Kumquats

350ml (12 floz) water

200g (7oz) sugar

1 lime – may need more

225g (2 lb) clementines

115-225g (1-3 lb) Tangerines or Mandarins

2 blood oranges

1 ruby grapefruit

lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into 3 inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats.  Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of 3 inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled. 

Note: If the juice is too intense simply dilute with a little cold water to taste.

Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly

JR Ryle’sdelicious variation on a classic Panna Cotta. He likes to serve it with wafer thin Langue de Chat biscuits for a special treat – it was a huge hit at the ‘Ballymaloe Pop-Up’ in New York. The espresso jelly cuts the richness of the panna cotta deliciously.

Serves 6-8 people

600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream
50g (2oz/) castor sugar
1 vanilla pods, split lengthways
2 gelatine leaves (or 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine)
cold water for soaking gelatine leaves (or 3 tablespoons water if using powdered Gelatine)

1 x espresso jelly recipe (see below)

1 pedestal glass bowl

Panna cotta
Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pod and castor sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft. Squeeze excess water from the leaves, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the vanilla pod (rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for later). Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pouring into the pedestal bowl. To save time the hot cream mixture can be stirred over an ice bath to cool it faster. Place in the fridge and allow to set. Carefully spoon over the cooled, but not yet set, coffee jelly. Return to the fridge and allow to set.

If using powdered gelatine: Sponge the gelatine in 3 tablespoons water. Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved.  Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together.  Remove the vanilla pod and continue as above.

Espresso Jelly

very strong hot coffee
45g (1 1/2oz/) castor sugar
1 1/4 gelatine leaves

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft. Meanwhile, place sugar in a measuring jug and add enough coffee until there is 200ml (7fl oz) in total, stir to dissolve. Squeeze excess water from the gelatine leaves, add to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

Note: Allowing the Panna cotta mixture to cool before decanting into the glass serving dish will prevent vanilla seeds from pooling in the bottom of the bowl. Instead, they stay in suspension and look much prettier.

Variation: To make a more special version of this dessert the panna cotta can be layered in a glass bowl with the jelly. For a good result make 3 x espresso jelly recipe and set the panna cotta in 3 layers, each separated with a layer of the jelly. Each layer must be allowed to set completely before the next layer is poured over. The resulting dessert is both eye catching and delicious, a huge hit in New York.

Myrtle Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding

Myrtle taught all of us how to harvest Carrageen Moss, a seaweed which can be gathered off the south and west coasts of Ireland. It is rich in iodine and trace elements and is full of natural gelatine. Carageen means ‘little rock’ in Gaelic. She spent ages working on this recipe and I believe it’s her most delicious of all the carrageen recipes.

Serves 4-6

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

1 1/2 pints (900ml) milk

1 tablespoon castor sugar

1 egg, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or a vanilla pod

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

Langues de Chat

These thin biscuits are so called as they are supposed to resemble the shape of cat’s tongues. JR likes to shape these into long and skinny biscuits so perhaps more like a lizards tongue, but that name would not really sell them very well. Regardless of the length, they should be quite thin and delicate.

Serves 8


125g soft butter

125g caster sugar

175g plain flour

4 egg whites

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons finely chopped pistachio nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180c / 350f / gas 4

Line a flat baking tray with parchment paper

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously until pale and fluffy.

Add the sifted flour, vanilla extract and egg whites and fold gently with a spatula until the mixture is combined. It will look like a thick batter.

Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with 1cm nozzle or use a “disposable” plastic piping bag and just snip off the top with a scissors to give exactly the size needed. I wash and dry the plastic bag and keep it for the next time.

Pipe onto to the lined baking tray in long thin rows 1cm thick and 10cm long. Leave a 3cm gap between the biscuits to allow them to spread a little when cooking. If using the pistachio nuts, sprinkle them on to the uncooked biscuits now.

Bake in the oven for 12 minutes by which time they will have coloured generously around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool still on the parchment lined baking tray. When cool remove to wire rack and store in an airtight box lined with kitchen paper.

JR’s Rhubarb Tartlets

Makes 36 tartlets approximately

JR’s Rhubarb Tartlets are truly delicious, best served warm for afternoon tea or pudding. 

cold Cream Pastry (see recipe)

450g (1lb) thinly sliced pink rhubarb

Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge – it must be well chilled. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle.

Using plenty of flour, roll the cold pastry to a thickness of 2mm (1/8 inch). Cut the pastry with a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cutter and use the discs of pastry to line 3 standard shallow bun trays.

Arrange thin slices of rhubarb on each disc of pastry . Spread a rounded teaspoon of Demerara sugar on top of the fruit in each tartlet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the sugar begins to caramelise and the pastry is a golden brown colour. Use a palette knife to remove the tartlets from the bun tray while still hot. Place on baking parchment which has been sprinkled with caster sugar.

Cream Pastry

This pastry is super delicious and really easy to make, even for those who are convinced they have hot hands.

Best made on the day before so it’s well chilled and easier to roll out.

This pastry keeps in the fridge for up to 6 days.

150g (5oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

150g (5oz) fridge cold salted butter

150ml (5fl oz) cold cream

Sift the flour into the bowl of an electric food mixer. Cut the butter into 5mm (1/4 inch) small cubes and rub into the flour using the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a coarse texture (slow speed and then a little faster).  (DO NOT overmix, if you do the mixture will form a shortbread-like ball! Pour the cream into the coarse mixture (it will resemble a sloppy mess) and mix on a low speed until a smooth pastry forms – it will come away from the sides of the bowl.

Wrap the pastry sprinkled with flour in parchment paper and chill overnight.


Past Letters