Archive2021

Apples

Autumn is well and truly upon us. There is a nip in the air and the leaves of the Virginia Creeper in the courtyard have turned glorious shades – rich reds, deep orange and yellow. We’ve been foraging for hazelnuts, elderberries, damsons, harvesting apples and picking up windfalls. We’ve got a poor enough crop this year, largely due to several frosty nights during apple blossom earlier in the year.

If you didn’t manage to plant a few apple trees last year, time to dash off to your nearest garden centre to pick up a Crimson Bramley tree, the variety that makes the fluffiest apple sauce and glorious apple pies, tarts and fritters, jams and jellies.
We keep adding to our repertoire of apple cakes.
Try this apple and cardamom tart, a new favourite. Cardamom marries deliciously with apples.  Serve it with custard or softly whipped cream.

The windfalls are perfect for apple sauce. Don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite, just cut them out, give the apples a good wash but for apple jelly, don’t bother to peel. Add the stalks and seeds too, they all add extra pectin and contribute to the deliciousness.  I’ve noticed that many young people who are conditioned to seeing ‘perfect’ fruit in supermarkets, most of which have been heavily sprayed, have never seen ‘real’ fruit, larger or smaller or misshapen versions so are scared to eat anything that’s not perfect.  There is a job of education and reassurance to be done here…these fruits often taste even more delicious.

Here’s a recipe for apple and elderberry jelly, the elderberries are ripe, ready for picking and are packed full of Vitamin C and iron, just what’s needed to boost the family’s immune system for the Winter. A few rose geranium or verbena leaves will add a haunting lemony flavour. Serve a dollop on roast pork with crackling or crispy duck legs. It’ll also be delicious on scones with a blob of cream.

If you have some dessert apples, why not experiment with dried apple slices – it’s easy peasy if you have a dehydrator but that’s not at all essential. A fan oven works brilliantly but a shelf over your cooker also works well. If all that fails, spread them out on a wire rack over a tray, on the back window of your car in the sun or on a shelf in a conservatory or in your tunnel.

Choose really tasty dessert apples, we love Ard Cairn or Ergemont Russets, Pitmaston PineApple, Charles Ross…
It’s really worth having a few tubs of apple sauce in the freezer too. Add to natural yoghurt for breakfast or serve on these Dainty Almond Tartlets for tea.
Do you know about Apple Snow, this one of Myrtle Allen’s favourite recipes – just fold some stiffly beaten egg white into the sweetened apple purée – shortbread biscuits are a delicious accompaniment and finally one of my mother’s favourite recipes, Bramley apple trifle – make a big bowl and invite a few friends around to celebrate Autumn 2021 and the easing of restrictions – keep safe and well.

Bramley Apple Trifle

This delicious Bramley Apple Trifle is one I have adapted from a recipe that I believe originally came from Co. Armagh, which is famous for its Bramley Apple orchards.

Serves 8-10

A Homemade Sponge Cake

Lemon Curd

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

grated rind and juice of 2 lemons

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten together

Custard

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon caster sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

425ml (15fl oz) milk

150ml (5fl oz) cream

Topping

900g (2lbs) Bramley cooking apples

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1–2 tablespoons water

2 egg whites

300ml (10fl oz) cream

25–50g (1–2oz) toasted flaked almonds

Make a whisked sponge in the usual way.

Make the lemon curd. On a very low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the caster sugar, lemon juice and rind and then the well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools). 

Divide the sponge into two pieces, spread one piece generously with lemon curd and top with the other piece. Cut into small squares and put half into a glass serving bowl. 

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

While it is still warm, pour half over the sponge. Top with the remainder of the sponge and the rest of the custard.

Peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and cover and stew in a non-reactive saucepan with the sugar and water. When they are soft, beat into a fluff. Allow to cool. Whisk the egg whites and fold gently into the apple purée. Whip the 300ml (10fl oz) cream and fold most of it into the apple also, reserving some for decoration. Spread this on top of the custard, cover and chill.

To serve, decorate with the remaining whipped cream and sprinkle generously with toasted almonds.

Myrtle Allen’s Bramley Apple Snow

We love this simple, traditional featherlight pudding.  It’s great with shortbread biscuits or even Lady Fingers, amazingly delicious for little effort.  Windfall apples can be used, just discard any bruised bits.  This recipe has been passed down from my mother-in-law Myrtle Allen’s family.

Serves 6

450g (1lb) Arthur Turner, Lanes Prince Albert or Bramley cooking apples

approximately 50g (2oz) granulated sugar

2 organic egg whites

cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers, to serve

Peel and core the apples, cut into chunks and put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and 1-2 dessertspoons of water, cover and cook over a low, gentle heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the apples dissolve into a fluff. Rub through a nylon sieve or liquidise. Bramley apples can be very sour at the beginning of the season, taste and add a little more sugar if it seems too tart.

Whisk the egg whites until stiffly whipped, then fold in gently. Taste, pour into a pretty glass bowl, pop into the fridge and serve well chilled with cream, soft brown sugar and shortbread biscuits or Lady Fingers.

Swedish Apple and Cardamom Cake

Delicious served warm as a pudding or with a cup of coffee.

Serves 8-10

2 large eggs preferably free range and organic

175g (6oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) butter

150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

185g (6 1/2oz) plain flour

3/4 – 1 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom

3 teaspoons baking powder

2-3 Bramley Seedling cooking apples (350-400g/12-14oz approx.)

25g (1oz) caster sugar

Cardamom Sugar

20g (3/4oz) castor sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 200ËšC/400ËšF/Gas Mark 6.

1 x 23cm (9 inch) round springform tin

Grease the springform tin with a little butter and dust with flour shaking off any excess.

Whisk the eggs and the castor sugar in a bowl until the mixture is really thick and fluffy. Bring the butter and milk to the boil in a saucepan, and stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar. Sieve in the flour, add the ground cardamom and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that no lumps of flour remain. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices, arrange them overlapping on top of the batter – some will sink but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180ËšC/350ËšF/Gas Mark 4, for a further 20 – 25 minutes or until the apples are tender and the cake is well risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with cardamom sugar.  Serve with softly whipped cream or custard.

Dainty Almond Tartlets with Apple Fluff

Serves 12

110g (4oz) butter

750g (3oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) ground almonds

Filling

Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée (see recipe)

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

Garnish

mint or sweet geranium leaves

Makes 24 shallow tartlets

Cream the butter well and then just stir in the sugar and ground almonds. (Don’t over beat or the oil will come out of the ground almonds as it cooks.) Put a teaspoon of the mixture into 24 small shallow patty tins.  Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown, 10-12 minutes for tartlets or until golden brown.  The tarts or tartlets are too soft to turn out immediately so cool in tins for about 5 minutes before turning out.  Do not allow to set hard before removing to a wire rack or the butter will solidify and they will stick to the tins.  If this happens pop the tins back into the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts and then they will come out easily. 

Just before serving, spoon a blob of Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée on the base.  Decorate with a rosette of cream and a mint or sweet geranium leaf.

Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Purée

The secret of really good apple sauce is to use a heavy-based saucepan and very little water. The apples should break down into a fluff during the cooking.  This can also be served as an apple sauce with pork or duck and freezes perfectly. 

450g (1lb) Bramley seedling cooking apples

3-4 sweet geranium leaves

2 teaspoons water

50g (2oz) sugar, or more depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, then cut the quarters in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan. Add the sweet geranium leaves, sugar and water, cover and cook over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir so it’s a uniform texture and taste for sweetness.

Bramley Apple and Elderberry Jelly

Use this basic recipe as a catch all for many Autumn berries, japonica, rowan berries, sea buckthorn, sloes, damsons…

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lbs)

2.7kg (6lbs) windfall cooking apples (or crab apples)

1-2 fistfuls of ripe elderberries

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons

sugar

Wash the apples and cut into quarters, do not remove either peel or core.  Windfalls may be used, but make sure to cut out the bruised parts. Strip the elderberries off the stalks.  Put the apples into a large saucepan with the elderberries, water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 45 minutes.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow it to drip until all the juice has been extracted – usually overnight.  Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice*.  Warm the sugar in a low oven.

*We use 350g (12oz) of sugar, but if you wish to keep the jelly for 9 months or more, it may be preferable to use 425g (15oz) to each 600ml (1 pint).

Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the preserving pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Increase the heat and boil rapidly uncovered without stirring for about 8-10 minutes.  Test, skim and pot immediately.

Note

Up to half the volume of elderberries can be used (1/2 pint of elderberries works very well although it’s not essential to measure – it’s a good starting point). A sprig or two of mint or rose geranium or a cinnamon stick further enhances the flavour.

Dried Apple Slices

Choose sweet juicy apples – no need to peel, it will add flavour and extra fibre.  Remove the core and cut into thin slices.  Dip in a solution of 1 tablespoon of elderflower cordial, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 225ml (8fl oz) of water.  Drain, dry on a wire rack then transfer to a dehydrator or other chosen method.  Store in Kilner jars. 

MED Cookbook

When cookery writer Claudia Roden’s three children spread their wings and left their London home over 35 years ago, Claudia decided to leave home too and travel around the Mediterranean.  Off she went in the spirit of adventure without plans or arrangements but with her head swirling with childhood memories of the exhilarating moment when she and her siblings arrived in Alexandria by the desert road from their home in Cairo and suddenly saw the sea. She still vividly remembered the flavour of the food in the cafes along the sea front…

Back in the 1980’s, a woman travelling alone was definitely suspect but Claudia was on a mission to research and recapture flavours. This excuse allowed her to make contacts, ask for help, visit restaurant kitchens…It gave her the freedom to introduce herself to people on trains in cafes or in the sitting room of pensions…

She would start her conversation with ‘I’m an English food writer researching your cuisine, can you tell me what your favourite dishes are?’. Invariably people were happy to talk about food and so it began, Claudia continues her journey, to this day, endlessly curious, endlessly researching…

The countries around the Mediterranean Sea are all very different – with both Muslim and Christian cultures, deserts, forests, mountains, islands, yet they have much in common, a shared climate…hot, dry Summers, mild Winters and balmy evenings that encourages convivial outdoor cooking, alfresco eating, street food, bustling markets…

Every country has its own food culture and unique dishes, some of which differ from one town to another. Ingredients and utensils can be similar, clay pots to cook over fire, pestles and mortars, wood-burning ovens…

Curious, friendly people invited Claudia into their houses and cooked their favourite dishes for her while she painstakingly jotted down the recipes they shared.

On and on she went over the years – through Spain, Italy, France, Sicily, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, the Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, meandering through the Balkans and the Levant. Much of this is documented in her cookbooks which have brought so much joy to so many of us throughout the years.

Claudia, now in her 80’s, she had already written 22 books.  Nonetheless, during Covid, her agent pressed her to write yet another book.  She was reluctant at first and was convinced that ‘nobody will want another cookbook from an octogenarian’.  Fortunately she was persuaded to share the favourite recipes that she loves to cook for family and friends.  Claudia, whom I have been fortunate to know for over three decades, is a beautiful, generous home cook and a relentless entertainer. Her food is fresh and timeless and inspires and delights both home cooks and professional chefs. I feel so blessed to know her.

Here are a few of my personal favourites from MED published by Ebury Press.  Seek it out – a perfect Christmas present for friends who love to cook. 

Mozzarella Soaked in Cream with Baby Tomatoes

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press

In Italy in the 1980’s, it was fashionable to call dishes tricolore after the green, white and red Italian flag.  There was risotto tricolore and pizza tricolore.  The insalata di mozzarella e pomodori is still with us because tomatoes and basil are great with mozzarella.  In this recipe, very fresh Mozzarella di bufala is macerated in double cream for a few hours to give a magical ‘burrata’ effect.  Sautéing the tomatoes gives them a sweet and intense flavour.

Serves 3-6

3 x 125g (4 1/2oz) balls of mozzarella di bufala, each cut into 4 slices

150ml (5fl oz) double cream

500g (18oz) red and yellow baby Santini tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

4 tablespoons mild extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

6 basil leaves, leaves torn

salt and black pepper

Put the mozzarella in a bowl, cover with the cream and season with salt and pepper.  Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Sauté the baby tomatoes in a pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, adding the sugar and a little salt and pepper, shaking the pan and turning the tomatoes over until they soften and the skins of some of them tear.

Serve the mozzarella at room temperature with the tomatoes on the side.  Drizzle with the remaining oil and garnish with the torn basil leaves.   

Haricot Beans with Clams

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
One night on the seafront in Barcelona, I was looking for a restaurant that served zarzuela. I had eaten the extraordinary seafood stew many years before and it had left such an impression that I was desperately keen to have it again. My friend Pepa Aymami, who lives in Barcelona, only wanted clams. My zarzuela was disappointing but Pepa’s clams were delicious.

The Spanish alubias con almejas is my favourite clam recipe. Use good-quality white haricot beans from a jar or tin. The wine gives them a delicate flavour and the clams add the taste of the sea.

Serves 2

650g (1lb 7oz) clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 small fresh chilli, chopped (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g (12oz) jar small white haricot beans (or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin), drained and rinsed
125ml (4 1/2fl oz) fruity white wine or cava
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt

Throw away any clams that are chipped or broken and any open ones that do not close when you tap them on the sink or dip them in ice-cold water. Scrub them with a brush if they are dirty. Leave them in fresh cold water for 20 minutes – as they breathe, they will push out any sand that remains inside. Lift them out and rinse them in a colander under running water.

Heat the oil in a wide casserole or pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onion and the chilli, if using, and stir over a low heat until very soft and beginning to colour. Add the garlic and stir for a minute or so.

Add the beans, the wine and a little salt, mix gently and cook for 2-3 minutes. Put the clams on top, put the lid on, and cook over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes until the clams open. Throw away any that do not open. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Red Pepper and Tomato Salad

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
Inspired by Moroccan cooked salads, this one is a favourite for its glorious colour and marvellous flavours. The addition of boiled lemon, with its unique sharp taste, is my little ‘fantasia’. For this, boil an unwaxed lemon for 30 minutes until it is very soft.

Serves 4-6

3 large fleshy red peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
300g (10oz) cherry or baby plum tomatoes, such as Santini
1/2 – 1 fresh chilli, seeded and chopped, or a good pinch of ground chilli (optional)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small boiled lemon (see introduction) or 1/2 large one (optional)
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a few sprigs of coriander, leaves chopped
salt

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half through the stalks, remove the stalks, seeds and membranes and arrange them, cut-side down, on the parchment paper. Roast in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until they are soft and their skins are blistered. Put them in an empty pan with a tight-fitting lid or in a bowl with a plate on top and leave them to steam for 10 minutes, which will loosen the skins. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and cut each half into four ribbons.

While the peppers are roasting, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the tomatoes and chilli, if using. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, shaking the pan and turning the tomatoes over with a spatula until they are soft. Push them to the side of the pan, add the garlic to an empty bit of the pan and cook, stirring, until the aroma rises and the garlic just begins to colour. Add the sugar and some salt and stir well.

Add the peppers to the tomatoes. If using the lemon, cut into small pieces and add it to the pan, juice and all, but remove the pips. Stir gently over a low heat for a minute or so. Leave to cool.

Serve at room temperature, drizzled with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of coriander.

Variations
Garnish with 10 black olives and 10 anchovy fillets in oil

For Neapolitan peperoni e pomodorini in agrodolce, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml white wine vinegar, pour over the peppers and tomatoes and cook for a minute or two. Omit the sugar, boiled lemon and coriander.

Chicken and Onion ‘Pies’ with Moroccan Flavours

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press
I have often enjoyed the Moroccan festive jewel in the crown b’stilla, a pigeon pie, and have made it many times myself, with chicken encased in layers of paper-thin pancakes (warka) or more often with filo pastry. Here, I have drawn from the flavours of versions from Fez (famously sweet) and Tetouan (famously sharp and lemony). A light rectangle of puff pastry sits in for the crust. It is both sumptuous and easy.

Serves 4

320g (11oz) all-butter puff pastry sheet
1 egg yolk
2 large onions (about 430g/15oz), halved and thickly sliced
4 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate
50g (2oz) blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
6 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 boiled lemons, chopped (optional)
icing sugar, to decorate
bunch of coriander (25g/1oz), leaves chopped, to serve
salt and black pepper

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

Take the pastry out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to use it.

Unroll the pastry onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Cut it into eight rectangles. Brush the tops with egg yolk mixed with a drop of water and bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the pasty has puffed up and is golden brown.

Put the onions in a wide frying pan with the oil, put the lid on and cook over a low heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until they are very soft.

Stir in the ginger and cinnamon, then add the almonds and the chicken pieces and season with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered for 7-8 minutes, stirring and turning the chicken until it is tender and lightly browned. Add the lemon juice and orange zest, the boiled lemon, if using, and 3-4 tablespoons of water, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Lightly cover the pastry rectangles with a dusting of icing sugar and make a small lattice pattern with ground cinnamon on top.

Stir the coriander into the chicken mixture and serve hot. Place two puff pastry rectangles on the side of each plate.

Parfait Mocha Praliné

Taken from Med, A Cookbook by Claudia Roden published by Ebury Press

This very easy no-churn ice cream has the wonderful mix of coffee and praline flavours that I love and also brings back many happy memories.  The same ingredients, plus sponge fingers, were those of a cake my mother always made for my father’s birthday.  When I went back to Egypt for the first time after 30 years, I looked in the window of the old pastry shop near where I used to live and there was the French cake book open at the page with our diplomate mocha praline.  My mother had ordered it there and learnt to make it herself after she left Egypt. 

Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) blanched hazelnuts

50g (2oz) caster sugar

300ml (10fl oz) double cream

175g (6oz) sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons instant espresso coffee powder

To make the praline, in a dry frying pan (not a non-stick one) toast the hazelnuts over a medium heat, shaking the pan, until they just begin to colour.  Tip the hazelnuts onto a plate and set aside.

Put the sugar in the pan, spread it out and place over a medium heat until it becomes liquid and turns a light golden colour (watch it as it can quickly turn very dark and bitter).  Put the hazelnuts back in and turn them around until they are well coated with the liquid caramel.  When the caramel turns brown, pour it onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper (or onto an oiled baking tray).  Let it cool completely.  When it is hard and brittle, grind in a food processor.

Whisk the cream with the condensed milk and coffee powder until soft peaks form.  Fold in the praline, keeping 2 tablespoons aside to decorate.  Keep this in a little cup covered with parchment paper until you are ready to serve. 

Line a mould with parchment paper (it makes turning out easier) and pour in the cream mixture.  Cover the top with parchment paper and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Take out of the freezer 15 minutes before serving.  Dip the mould into a bowl of very hot water for a few seconds.  Remove the covering parchment paper.  Turn the mould upside down onto a serving plate and remove the remaining parchment paper.  Serve sprinkled with the reserved praline. 

Spain

Last week I wrote about our Portuguese experience and some of the delicious food we discovered including the exquisite Flor da sal from the salinas in Tavira close to Faro.

This week’s column comes to you from Andalusia in Spain.  Jamón country where the hams are made from the long-legged black Iberian pigs that have adapted to the terrain and roam freely through the dehesa (the woodland forests of cork oak, chestnut and pine trees) that cover much of the Iberian Peninsula.

The little town of Jabugo is the centre of the industry, the quality of the jamón varies dramatically so I really wanted to understand the process that determines the finest cured ham.  I arranged a tour of Cinca Jotas who arguably produce the very best acorn fed jamón.  Serrano is the generic name for Spanish cured hams just as prosciutto or Parma ham is the term for Italian ham.

As ever, the best hams start with the finest raw materials, must be 100% Iberico breed and acorn fed.  At Cinca Jotas, the pigs spend two years ranging freely in the woodland.  It’s not just the breed but also the feed and curing process that contributes to the final quality.  The finest hams come from pigs that feast on acorns throughout Autumn.  They walk an average of 14kms a day, snuffling through the undergrowth for the three different varieties of oak that thrive in the dehesa. Each contributes to the final flavour, holm oak, the sweetest, cork oak, gall oak….Pata Negra di bellota, acorn fed ham is not only delicious, but it is low in cholesterol, high in beneficial oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid) and omega 3-6-9.

At Cinca Jotas, each pig is allocated 2 hectares of woodland.

Each ham is unique, first the hams are trimmed of excess fat (which is gently rendered into superb lard), then weighed, classified, and buried in Atlantic salt from the salinas in Tavira…  1 day for every kilo of weight…   In that time, the salt will penetrate 1 – 1 1/2cm into the ham, to preserve flavour and draw out excess moisture. The salt is then brushed off and the hams are washed, hung and rotated in special curing rooms for 2-3 years. Once the hams are dried, they are stable.

The bone is porous, so pork lard is spread over the bone to seal.  Penicillium grows on the inner side, which is part of the curing process, this is painted with oil, 12-15 times over three years.

These artisanal methods have been passed from grandfather to sons and onto grandsons for centuries.   

A whole jamón can cost upwards of €500 and a small plate of wafer-thin slivers costs between €20-25 in wine bars and restaurants.  So, it’s really worth knowing what to look out for, otherwise it can be an expensive disappointment. 

After all that, how do you judge a good jamón…
Look out for: Top quality…

A Black Label – tied around the leg which indicates 100% Iberico breed and acorn fed for two seasons, plus details of age…. 

A Red Label – 50-75%, Iberico breed crossed with Duroc, must graze on a minimum of 10,000 metres of dehesa per animal and be acorn fed for 1 rather than two seasons.

A Green Label â€“ 50-70% Iberico. A combination of extensive and intensive rearing, corn and grass fed with a minimum of 100 metres space per animal.

A White Label â€“ the pigs are produced intensively, many in cages with a minimum of 2 metres per animal and are grain fed. 

The label must remain on the ham until the ham has been carved.  The hams are tested by the quality controller with a sharp horse bone (a calado) inserted close to the hip bone of the ham.  He can pick up a taint when he sniffs the bone.

The hams are hand carved in tiny wafer-thin slices (1 1/2 – 2mm).

I learned so much on the tour from Jago, the enthusiastic young guide.  We watched as he carved the jamón from left to right and explained that each part of the ham has a different flavour.  The middle and largest area of the jamón is called the maza.  Turn over the ham to find ‘la babilla’ – this is the front part of the leg, lean with no infiltration of fat – smoother in flavour. Behind the hip bone is the ‘punta’, many aficionados consider it to be the best bit but hardest to carve – the little snippets that those ‘in the know’ seek out. 

If you are fortunate to have a whole ham, attach it to a jamón stand.  Carve in tiny slivers and cover with strips of fat saved from the outside trimmings to keep moist between servings.  Eat a jamón within 1 1/2 months – I would choose little slivers of an exquisite jamón for my last meal…

Los Marinos Picadillo

On the day after the September fiesta, known as Hangover Day, the local villagers all gather in the local square.  They bring a bag of huge juicy pink mountain tomatoes, cucumber, onions and green peppers to make picadillo, a sort of chewy gazpacho.  It’s all wonderfully convivial.  Both men and women chop side by side, it all goes into a huge bowl to be served with slivers of jamón, country bread and grilled sardines. 

Moroccan Peppered Prawns (Gambas picantes de Marruecos)

We stayed at the wonderful Finca Buenvino in the oak forests in Aracena.  www.fincabuenvino.com

We enjoyed these prawns as a starter.  A super, easy recipe to serve a few friends for dinner.   

‘It is usually simple to get frozen raw prawns in Spain.  Most towns have a ready supply of fish, even if they are a long way from the sea.  Aracena is no exception, and it boasts two fish shops and two market stalls.  Unlike most of our recipes, this dish uses butter rather than olive oil.’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

1kg (2 1/4lb) medium-sized raw frozen tiger prawns (allow 6-8 per person)

100g (3 1/2oz) unsalted butter

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

leaves from 1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon smoked hot paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground black pepper

lemon wedges, to serve

Allow the prawns to thaw in a colander in the sink, covered with a tea towel.

Shell and devein the prawns, remove the heads and leave on the tails.  Jeannie finds it easier to peel them when they are still slightly frozen.

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat.  Add all the ingredients except the lemon wedges, with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook over a low heat for five minutes.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges. 

Fried Padrón Peppers

‘These small green peppers, originally grown in Galicia around the town of Padrón, just south of Santiago de Compostela, are now more widely cultivated and have become very popular all over the country and further afield.  We know them as Russian roulette: although most of them are sweet, every now and then one will blow your socks off with its heat!’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

250g (9oz) Padrón peppers

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt, to serve

Wash the dust of the fields off the peppers and dry them carefully with a tea towel so they don’t spit when you add them to the pan.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan that has a lid and, when warm, add the peppers.  When the oil is hot and the peppers are frying, cover the pan.  Allow to cook for two minutes, shaking from time to time.  The peppers should not be browned all over, only softened.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sea salt to serve.

Meatballs in Tomato and Orange Sauce (Albóndigas con tomate)

We ate the leftovers with pasta the next day – so, so delicious!

‘These tasty meatballs can be made with minced beef or pork or a mixture of chicken and pork.  We like to use Iberian pork because it is readily available in the Sierra de Huelva and the quality can be relied upon.  Have the butcher mince the meat in front of you.’   Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 8 as part of a mixed tapas

4 spring onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

225g (8oz) minced beef or pork or a mixture of chicken and pork

2 tablespoons grated Manchego cheese

2 teaspoons thyme leaves, plus more to serve (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons more to thicken (optional)

4 tomatoes, chopped

200ml (7fl oz) red wine

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary leaves

1/2 teaspoon caster sugar

a little freshly grated orange zest, plus juice of 1 orange

2 teaspoons cornflour (optional)

chopped black olives (optional)

Mix the spring onions and garlic with the meat, cheese and thyme in a bowl and season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Mould into little meatballs with the palm of your hand, then fry gently in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a deepish pan, turning frequently until browned all over.  Remove the meatballs, set on kitchen paper, and keep them warm in a low oven.

Add the tomatoes to the pan with the wine, rosemary, sugar, orange zest and juice and season with salt and pepper.  Cook gently for 15 minutes or so.

If the sauce is too thin, mix the cornflour with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to make a paste.  Whisk 1 tablespoon of the paste into the sauce and bring it to the boil.  Cook out until the sauce is thick and smooth (you probably won’t need the rest of the paste but keep it in case you want the sauce even thicker).  Replace the meatballs and cook gently until warmed through.

Serve sprinkled with chopped black olives or more thyme. 

Citrus and Honey Cake

‘This is an Eastern Mediterranean cake which is perfectly in tune with Spanish ingredients.’  Recipe taken from The Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie & Sam Chesterton.

Serves 12

For the cake:
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
plain flour, for the tin
1 orange, washed
1 thin-skinned waxed lemon, washed
25g (1oz) roasted hazelnuts, plus 12 whole hazelnuts to decorate (optional)
110g (4oz) almonds
175g (6oz) Demerara sugar
3 large free-range eggs
250g (9oz) semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the sauce:
225ml (8fl oz) runny honey, ideally orange blossom honey
4cm (1 1/2 inch) cinnamon stick
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
creme fraiche, or a mixture of whipped cream with yoghurt, to serve (optional)

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

Butter a 25cm (10 inch) springform cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Butter the paper too, then dust with plain flour, turning to coat the tin and tapping out the excess.

Cut the orange and lemon into quarters and remove all the pips.

Grind up the nuts in a food processor, then add the citrus fruit and process together. It’s good to leave some of the nuts slightly coarse, as it lends texture to the cake, and it’s also not bad to encounter the odd bit of roughly chopped peel, so don’t worry if it is not entirely smooth.

Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, semolina and baking powder until you have a smooth mix. Stir in the fruit and nut purée.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, place on a central oven shelf and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 45 minutes.

Remove the cake and cook for five minutes. If you have buttered and floured your tin properly, it should come away easily from the sides when you unclip them. Remove the papers and place the cake on a wire rack over a wide plate.

Make a flavoured syrup by simmering the honey with 5 tablespoons of water and the cinnamon stick for five minutes. Fish out the cinnamon stick and add the citrus juices.

Prick the cake all over and pour the syrup on to it, distributing it as widely as possible, as you want the whole cake to be dampened. Any juice which goes straight through on to the plate can be spooned back over when the cake is cold and on its serving dish.

Have ready in a bowl some creme fraiche, or a mixture of whipped cream and yoghurt and, just before serving, spread a thin layer on top of the cake and decorate with the roasted hazelnuts, split in half, if you like. Cut the cake at the table and hand around the rest of the cream in a bowl with a small spoon or sauce ladle.

Sam’s Pickled Anchovies with Parsley

A perfect tapa to serve with a dry sherry.

Debone the anchovies, remove the guts and open out.

Sprinkle with wine vinegar, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, thinly sliced scallion, salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Allow to macerate for a couple of hours. Rinse, add freshly chopped coriander and serve.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve with lots of crusty bread.

Purple Figs with Quesa Fresca and Mint

A super simple, truly delicious starter.  One day, we didn’t have mint so we used some torn basil leaves, also very good.

Serves 4

10 purple or green perfectly ripe figs
75-110g (3-4oz) quesa fresca (cheese)
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper
fresh mint
extra virgin olive oil

Just before serving, split the figs in half. Arrange on a platter. Top the figs with 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices of quesa fresca. Season with Flor da sal or flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Sprinkle generously with torn mint leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Portugal

What do you know about Portuguese food?  Those of you who pop over to Faro from time to time will be familiar with the spanking fresh seafood on the Algarve but I’d only been to Portugal once before – a little foray over the border from Spain for a couple of hours so my knowledge was limited… it’s been a wonderful adventure… 

We rented a little house in the old town of Olhão, a little fishing port not far from Faro with some friends who also love to cook.  We filled our baskets at the markets with local food and vegetables, bunches of purslane, verbena and coriander…..

The red brick fish market close to the sea front had a mesmerising selection of fish and shellfish…. octopus, cuttlefish, clams, tiny conquilhas, mussels, razor clams, shrimps, and gorgeous silver scabbard fish. Corvina, new to me, gurnard, sole, sea bass…Beautiful little anchovies, whole or already gutted, ready to be pickled or fried and of course mounds of fresh sardines.

Olhão was the centre of the sardine canning industry in Portugal famous for quality.  Sadly, since the mid 1979’s the action has moved to Morocco so the seaside town is now almost fully dependent on tourism.

Umpteen sandbanks appear and disappear with the tides.  We visited several tiny islands off the coast, Coulatra, Isla de Cabanas, Armona…One day we took a boat and a picnic over to Ilsa Deserta, an idyllic desert island where we collected beautiful seashells and swam and swam in the crystal clear waters. 

At low tide, one can shuffle through the golden sand on all the local beaches and collect tiny conquilhas between one’s toes.  Local fishers harvest clams, oysters and mussels at low tide as they have done for generations and take them home or sell them at the local fish market.

Twenty kilometres further along the coast in Tavira, I visited the salinas where the most exquisite flor da sal is harvested in the same time-honoured way that it has been for hundreds of years and surprise, surprise, there’s an Irish connection… Rui Simeao, the 86 year-old owner who lived through the end of the second World War told me proudly that an Irishman called Anthony Creswell uses Tavira Flor da Sal for his multi-award winning Ummera smoked salmon – a small world…. 

On Saturday, local farmers and their wives pour into the Olhão Market and set up stalls along the water’s edge to sell their homegrown fruit and vegetables.  Lots of beautifully ripe green and purple figs and many intriguing products made from the dried fruit. Little rolls and tiny cakes sweetly decorated with slivered locally grown almonds.  Beekeepers were out in force with their new seasons honey, orange blossom, carob, rosemary, and little wedges of honeycomb.  Another stall, sold dried beans and lentils and both barley and wheat to grind at home for beer and bread making.

I bought a verbena plant from a lady on a flower stand and queued for piping hot, crisp golden churros tossed in cinnamon sugar. 

The white peaches were at their best too as were the huge juicy heritage tomatoes.  One old lady was selling sweet potato greens and another, long strands of chilli peppers, multi-coloured, some mild, others like scud missiles – a kind of Russian roulette…

We were so torn between cooking in our little house and eating in local restaurants and cafes.  We grilled sardines over charcoal on the little barbeque in the courtyard, steamed open conquilhas with slivered garlic, chilli and coriander, ate mussels with Portuguese spinach and made escabeche from the leftovers.  Coriander is a favourite herb in Portugal, much more widely used than parsley.

Breakfast was a feast of fresh fruit, local cheese, honey and bread from the little bakery a few cobbled streets away. I also loved the pork with bay leaves and clams which I ordered twice at Sabores de Rio in the main square.  Also loved riso con Lingueirão (razor clam rice) and love the sound of riso e pato – rice with duck.  Many of these dishes are easy to reproduce at home.  Make a trip to the fish stalls in the English Market in Cork, Ballycotton Seafood or your local fish shop.  I use leftover roast duck for the riso e pato and have a feeling it will become a favourite.  

There were lots of insanely sweet eggy desserts but my favourite by far are pastéis de nata… the little flaky custard tarts … dusted with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Conquilhas with Garlic, Coriander and Chilli

Conquilhas are sweet little, tiny clams, the size of a fingernail.  Cockles, mussels or palourdes could also be used.

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) conquilhas
4 garlic cloves, slivered
1 scallion, chopped
1 tiny hot chilli
60ml (2 1/2fl oz) white wine
50g (2oz) butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2-3 tablespoons coriander, chopped

First soak the conquilhas in lots of well salted water for 3-4 hours.

Melt the butter and extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the slivered garlic, chopped scallion, a small whole chilli.  Sweat on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

Add the white wine and bubble for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is soft.

Increase the heat.  Add the purged, drained shellfish, cover and shake and cook for 5-6 minutes or until all the conquilhas pop open. Add the coriander and shake again.

Turn into a serving dish.  Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the juice.


Pork with Clams and Bay Leaves

If you have a cataplana (a saucepan with a hinged lid), use it, otherwise choose a lid that fits the pan tightly so the clams will steam open.  A delicious combination of flavours, suppose you could call is surf and turf. 


Serves 4

1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) clams
1 x pork fillet (500g/18oz approx.)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

3-4 bay leaves
coriander, chopped

Soak the clams in well salted water for several hours to get rid of any sand. Wash the clams in several changes of cold water.

Trim and slice the pork fillet into 2 – 2.5cm (3/4 – 1 inch) slices. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 


Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the slivered garlic and bay leaves, toss and cook for 2-3 minutes until tender. 

Add the pork slices, a few at a time. Cook just until they change colour.  Add the clams, cover the pan and steam until the clams have opened.  Add the coriander, toss well (if you have a cataplana, use it).  Taste and serve ASAP with lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Portuguese Steamed Clams with Coriander

Serves 4

1kg (2 1/4lb) clams
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons dry white wine
squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
a handful of coriander, chopped

Wash the clams in several changes of cold water, discard any with damaged or broken shells.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide sauté pan, add the garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the white wine and a generous squeeze of lemon juice, bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes and freshly ground pepper.

Add the roughly chopped coriander and clams. Cover and allow to steam for 4-5 minutes or until the clams pop open.
Turn into a serving dish, scatter with a little more coriander. Serve with good crusty bread to mop up the juices.


Mussels with Saffron and Spinach

In Portugal and Spain, there are many recipes for shellfish (or snails) with spinach or chard.  Some are muddied with tomato puree, others flavoured with cloves.  Often there is a handful of rice or some beans thrown in.  This is a beautiful dish with golden creamy sauce and bright green spinach leaves contrasting wonderfully with the black and orange of the mussels.  This recipe comes from Sam and Jeannie Chesterton’s ‘The Buenvino Cookbook’  

Serves 4-6 as part of a mixed tapas

150g (5oz) spinach

extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons dry white wine

2 sweet white onions, finely chopped

4 bay leaves

1 celery stick, finely chopped (optional)

a few sprigs of thyme

10 black peppercorns

1kg (2 1/4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 pinches of saffron strands

250g (9oz) crème fraîche

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the spinach, drain and then wilt it in a pan with a little olive oil.  Don’t overcook it.  Set aside.

Pour the wine into a large heavy-based pan with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the onions, bay leaves, celery (if using), thyme and peppercorns and bring to a simmer.

Now tip in the mussels and cover the pan, keeping it over a low heat.  Shake the pan now and then to distribute the shellfish.  Check to see that the mussels have opened and, when they are all open, tip the lot into a colander set over a bowl to catch the stock.  Remove the flesh from some of the mussels and discard these shells.  Discard any mussels that have refused to open.

Wipe the pan and return it to the heat.  Melt the butter and add the saffron, crème fraiche and the mussel liquor.  Check for seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper.  It’s just possible you will also need salt, but mussel stock is usually salted enough.  Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, then return the spinach and the mussels.  Cook for a minute to warm the mussels through, then serve immediately in warmed bowls with crusty bread.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

This is our recipe for Pasteis de Nata, the famous Portuguese Custard tarts – we use homemade puff pastry to make these delicious tarts, they make a much more complicated pastry. 

Makes 24

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g (4oz) golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

400ml (14fl oz) whole milk

zest from 1 lemon or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

900g (2lb) puff pastry

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Put the egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and lemon zest if using and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract if using.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool.  Cover with parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs.  Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top.  Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.  Sprinkle with a little freshly ground cinnamon.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

How to Cook

My latest book written during the Pandemic is called ‘How to Cook’, but the working title has always been ‘Recipes No Kids Should Leave School Without Being Able to Cook’ however my publishers were adamant that ‘kid’ was not PC so here we are with a title that doesn’t get the same spontaneous response that the original title engendered when I announced what was in the pipeline in answer to the question.

However, it’s all in there, 100 recipes and lots more variations on the originals to get everyone excited about how easy it is to cook simple and delicious dishes and do lots of contemporary riffs on time-honoured favourites.

How crazy is it that only a tiny percentage of our children learn how to cook at home or in our schools…What are we like…to have now let at least two generations out of our houses and schools without equipping them with the basic life skills to feed themselves properly or for that matter letting them experience the magic of sowing a seed and watching it grow into something delicious and super nutritious to eat.

Since the 1950’s, the main focus in education has been acquiring academic skills – mastering the STEM subjects.  The subliminal message to all students has been that practical skills like cooking or growing are of much lesser value – unnecessary in today’s world where one can pop into the local supermarket and choose from an endless variety of ready-made and ultra-processed goods to save time and the ‘drudgery’ of cooking it yourself.

So why is it important to be able to cook – a fundamental question that sometimes stumps people…well at the very least to feed oneself nutritiously and deliciously and to take control of one’s own health.  With a few basic cooking skills, one can whip up a spontaneous meal with a few inexpensive ingredients at a moment’s notice and bring joy to those around you.  It’s one of the easiest ways to win friends and influence people plus one can travel anywhere in the world and get a job.  Chefs and cooks are welcomed with open arms everywhere but in the end, home cooking is the most important skill of all..

When you teach someone how to cook, you give them a gift that will forever enhance their lives, it becomes increasingly evident that our food choices affect our energy, vitality, ability to concentrate and both our mental and physical health.  So this book that I was determined to write before I hang up my apron has 100 basic recipes for you to cook your way through.  For virtually every recipe, I suggest variations on the original.  For example, when you make a basic Irish soda bread, one of the simplest and most delicious breads of all, it can be white or brown, seedy or plain, flecked with seaweed or fresh herbs.  Baked in a loaf tin or in a traditional round, marked with a cross – the traditional blessing and pricked in the four quadrants to let the fairies out of the bread. 

Scones or teeny weenies made from the same dough can be dipped in grated cheese or toasted nuts, they can be sweet or savoury – spotted dog or stripy cat…. Gently, roll the dough into a rectangle, slather with chocolate spread.  Roll up, cut and dip the twirls into coarsely chopped hazelnuts…Change tack, place a rectangle of dough into a well-oiled ‘Swiss roll’ tin.  Top with tomato sauce, slivers of pepperoni, a scattering of chopped spring onion and grated Cheddar – now you have a deep-pan pizza and on and on it goes…

Same with an omelette, the quintessential fast-food made in minutes.  So many delicious fillings to add, slip it into a crusty baguette for an omelette sambo… Cut in strips to add to a salad or soup or cook the well flavoured mixture in muffin tins to make mini frittatas. 

This book is not just for kids, teenagers and college grads, it’s for anyone and everyone who wants to whip up something delicious for themselves or for family and friends. 

So back to our educational system which many rightly believe has failed in our duty of care to fully educate our young people… so let’s raise our voices and pick up our pens to demand that our Government and Department of Education re-embed practical cooking and growing in our national curriculum for the future health and happiness of the nation.

Let’s start here…

Special thanks to my daughter Lydia Hugh Jones whose drawings greatly enhance How to Cook…. 

Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Quinoa Chilli

Quinoa is a super nutritious grain that originally comes from the Andean region of South America. It is full of protein and has more vitamins and minerals than virtually any other grain, so it’s a brilliant option for vegetarians and vegans. Pumpkin or yam may be substituted for the sweet potato in this recipe.

Serves 4 (vegetarian if using vegetable stock)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

750g (1lb 10oz) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) dice

450g (1lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes

100g (3 1/2oz) quinoa

500ml (18fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock

200g (7oz) black beans, soaked overnight and cooked for 1 – 1 1/2 hours (depending on the age of the beans) until just tender or 400g (14oz) can

black beans, drained and rinsed

a pinch of brown sugar (optional)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

natural yogurt or labneh

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium heat, add the onion, garlic and chilli flakes and toss together. Reduce the heat, cover and sweat for 5–6 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the cumin and coriander and season well with salt and pepper.

Add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, quinoa and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black beans and continue to simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the sweet potato and quinoa are tender.  Season to taste, you may need to add a little brown sugar if using canned tomatoes.

Serve in a warm bowl scattered with lots of fresh coriander and a dollop of yogurt or labneh.

Basic Beefburgers and variations

The secret of really good beefburgers is the quality of the mince, it doesn’t need to be an expensive cut but it is essential to use the freshly minced beef. A small percentage of fat in the mince will make the burgers sweet and juicy – between 20-25 per cent.  One or two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes, 1-2 tablespoons of sambal oelek, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1-2 teaspoons of ground cumin or coriander can be added according to your taste but the recipe below gives a delicious basic burger.  If you’re looking to eat less but better meat, try the variation with mushrooms – you’ll never to back…

Serves 4

15g (1/2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped (optional)

450g (1lb) freshly minced beef – flank, chump or shin would be perfect

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

To Serve (optional)

burger or brioche buns

lettuce

sliced ripe tomatoes

sliced red onion

crispy bacon

avocado slices or a dollop of Guacamole

fried onions

roast or piquillo peppers

kimchi, pickled slaw or pickles

spicy mayo, spicy tomato sauce,

barbecue sauce, hot sauce, bacon jam or relish of your choice

Melt the butter in a saucepan, toss in the onions, if using, cover and sweat over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Set aside to get cold. 

Meanwhile, mix the beef mince with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.  Then add the cooled onions and mix well.  Fry off a tiny bit of the mixture in the pan to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. 

With wet hands, shape the mixture into four burgers, or more depending on the size you require.  Chill until needed.

Cook to your taste in a little oil in a medium-hot frying or griddle pan, turning once.  For rare, cook for 2 minutes each side, for medium 3 minutes and for well done 4 minutes.  If you’re cooking the burgers in batches, make sure to wash and dry the pan between batches.  Burgers can plump up in the centre while being cooked; to avoid this, make an indentation in the centre of each raw burger with your thumb.  Serve with any of the serving suggestions above, or try one of the variations.

*Cheeseburgers

Lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger and pop under the grill until the cheese begins to melt.  Serve as in the main recipe.

*Beef & Mushroom Burgers

Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin oil in a pan over a high heat.  Add 225g (8oz) finely chopped flat or chestnut mushrooms, season well with salt and pepper and cook over a high heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed.  Season to taste, transfer to a plate and leave to get cold. Once cooled, mix the mushrooms with 450g (1lb) minced beef.

(You should have about one-quarter mushrooms to three-quarters beef by volume.)  Fry off a little morsel to check the seasoning.  Shape into four

burgers.  Cook as in the main recipe and serve with your favourite accompaniments.

*Beefburgers with ginger mushrooms

Melt 15–25g (1/2–1oz) butter in a heavy–bottomed saucepan until it foams. Add 75g (3oz) finely chopped onions, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5–6 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile, slice and cook 225g (8oz) flat or chestnut mushrooms in a hot frying pan, in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add 125ml (4fl oz) double cream, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, 20g (3/4oz) nibbed, lightly toasted almonds, if you wish, and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season to taste, then add 1–2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley and 1/2 tablespoon of freshly chopped chives, if you wish. Set aside.

*To make Buffalo chips.

Scrub 4 large potatoes and cut them into wedges from top to

bottom – they should be about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick and at least 6.5cm (2 1/2 inch) long. If you like, rinse the chips quickly in cold water but do not soak.  Dry them meticulously with a tea towel or kitchen paper before cooking. Deep-fat fryers vary in size so fill the fryer up to the recommended line. Heat dripping or olive oil, or a mixture of olive and sunflower oil, in a deep-fat fryer to 160°C (325°F).  Fry twice, once at 160ËšC (325°F) until they are soft and just beginning to brown, the time will vary from 4–10 minutes depending on the size of the chips.  Drain, increase the heat to 190ËšC (375ºF) and cook for a further 1–2 minutes or until crisp and golden. Shake the basket, drain well, toss on to kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, turn into a hot serving dish and serve immediately.

Alternatively, fry in a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of olive oil.  Cook the burgers as in the main recipe, transfer on to hot plates, spoon some ginger mushrooms over the burgers and pile on the crispy buffalo chips.

*Smashburger (Serves 4)

Heat a frying pan or griddle pan over a high heat. Melt 1–2 tablespoons of beef dripping. Divide 450g (1lb) freshly minced beef (20% fat) into four balls. Flatten each down with a spatula or whatever implement you find handy. Smashburgers get their name ’cos you get to smash them flat.

Season with sea salt and flatten so the edges are lacy.  Cook for a minute or two and when the surface is well browned, flip over.  Season the surface with salt and pepper.  Lay a slice of American cheese on top of each burger, then cover the pan with a lid so the cheese starts to melt.  Meanwhile, split 4 burger buns in half, slather the surface of each with hot mayonnaise (mayo and tomato ketchup mixed with a dash of hot sauce or Tabasco). Top the base with the smashburger, add a couple of slices of pickled gherkin, maybe some shredded lettuce and a couple of slices of tomato, or whatever you fancy.  Top with the other half of the bun. Enjoy right away.

Apple and Blackberry Pie

Apple pie is virtually everyone’s favourite pudding. My famous break-all-the-rules pastry taught to me by my mum 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.  I make this pie year-round with whatever fruits are in season: rhubarb, green gooseberries and elderflower, a mixture of stone fruit, such as apricots, peaches and nectarines… Enjoy all with a blob of softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar, it’s obligatory!

Serves 8-12 (vegetarian)

Break-all-the-Rules Pastry

225g (8oz) butter, softened

40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

2 organic, free-range eggs

350g (12oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 organic, free-range egg, beaten with a dash of milk

Filling

600g (1lb 5oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice

110g (4oz) blackberries

150g granulated sugar

To Serve

softly whipped cream

dark soft brown sugar

1 x 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm deep square tin or 1 x 22.5cm round tin

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

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food processor.  Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce the speed and mix in the flour slowly.  Turn out on to a piece of floured baking parchment, flatten into a round, then wrap and chill.  This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle – better still, make it the day before.

Roll out the pastry to about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, then use about two-thirds of it to line a 18 x 30 x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) square tin or a 22.5cm (8 3/4 inch) round tin.

Fill the pie to the top with the apples and blackberries and sprinkle with the sugar.  Cover with a lid of pastry, press the edges together to seal.  Decorate with pastry leaves, brush with the beaten egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour until the apples are tender.  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, cut into pieces and serve with softly whipped cream and sugar.

Variations

* Classic Apple Pie

Use 675g (1lb 8oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cut into large dice, 2–3 cloves and 150g (5oz) granulated sugar for the filling.

* Apple & Raspberry Pie

Use 450g (1lb) Bramley cooking apples and approx. 225g (8oz) raspberries.

* Rhubarb Pie

Use approx. 900g (2lb) red rhubarb, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces and 175–225g (6–8oz) sugar.

* Apricot, Peach & Nectarine Pie

Use a total 1kg (2lb 4oz) fruit and 225g (8oz) granulated sugar.

* Green Gooseberry & Elderflower Pie

Use approx. 700g (1 1/2lb) gooseberries, 250g (9oz) brown sugar and 3 elderflowers.

* Cherry Pie

Use 1kg (2lb 4oz) cherries.

Inis Meáin

I’ve just eaten a delicious mouthful of dill pickled herring with cream cheese on a slice of freshly baked soda bread for breakfast – sublime…  I’m back on Inis Meáin for the second time this Summer, how fortunate are we to have benefited from the misfortune of some other guests who couldn’t take up their booking at Inis Meáin Suites.  There are just five rooms so one feels super fortunate.

Our bedroom overlooks the extraordinary Inis Meáin landscape, little fields surrounded by high dry stone walls, a few cattle here and there, Coilumin’s rectangular garden along the road is bursting with cabbages, ripe onions, beets, rhubarb, potatoes…He has harvested the rye since the last time we were here, tied it in sheaves, threashed it against a standing stone on the limestone pavement below his field.  He’ll save the precious seed for next year’s crop and the long straw can be used for thatching, I wondered if he made rye bread but apparently it’s not part of the island tradition.

On a fine day, one can see across Galway Bay to the 12 Pins, and the Clare coast to the south but this morning, a thick mist is swirling in from the sea, enveloping the white washed buildings of the Inis Meáin Knitwear factory.  It’s a hive of activity around the clock, lovingly turning out the most beautiful knitwear from the finest wool, cashmere, linen and cotton yarns for export to a few carefully chosen shops around the world.

The fluffy grey mist ebbs and flows and I can’t help being secretly pleased that it’s likely that our flight to the mainland in the tiny Aer Arann plane will be somewhat delayed…so I can relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

So let me tell you about this delicious repast â€“ Breakfast at Inis Meáin Suites is no ordinary breakfast.  It’s delivered into the bedroom porch in a handmade iroko timber box tray around 8.30am ish.  Lift off the lid, inside you’ll find a feast… 10-12 little jars and Bec containers are tucked into thick polystyrene moulds…freshly squeezed orange or apple juice, homemade granola, seasonal fresh fruit, thick unctuous yoghurt…  There are several slices of both brown and white soda bread tucked into a little box beside two slices of poppy seed banana bread.  Two fresh hardboiled eggs from their little flock of happy hens are covered in little hand knit Aran egg cosies – how cute and practical is that!  But that’s not all, there’s also a little pot of pickled herrings and a gutsy liver pâté and just in case we have a craving – two little pots of the most sublime chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted with a pot of crème fraîche.  We made a pot of coffee from the freshly ground beans. There’s a minimum two night stay, and other choices for breakfast the next day.

Each room comes with walking sticks, two bikes, fishing rods, two deck chairs and lest you need it, an umbrella.  Wandering or cycling around the island is a joy, fields full of wild flowers…hare bells, fuchsia, loosestrife, heather, honeysuckle… A few cattle here and there and there’s certainly one donkey and maybe more.  Don’t miss the Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows in the chapel of Saint John and Immaculate Mary.  Check if Millington Synge’s little thatched cottage is open and climb up the steps to at least one of the stone forts.  You’ll probably be alone to ponder how these extraordinary ruins were built between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago…

Inis Meáin is possibly the quietest and the least visited of the three Aran Islands – there’s one shop and one pub with lots of outdoor seating.  Depending on the time of the year, there’s one or two cafés and a quirky craft shop but don’t leave the island without visiting Inis Meáin Knitwear.  No ‘fast fashion’ here – beautifully crafted pieces that you’ll treasure for a lifetime…

I almost forgot to mention dinner, always a surprise – Ruairí de Blacam’s food reflects seasonal organic produce from their garden and polytunnel, fresh catch of fish and shellfish from local fishers and occasionally wild and foraged food from the island.  The wine list chosen by Ruairí’s wife Marie-Thérèse is also exceptional.  This place is one of Ireland’s hidden gems, check it out and put your name on a cancellation list – www.inismeain.com

Thank you Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse (who hails from East Cork) for sharing your recipes.

Cáca Treacle (Treacle Bread)

Makes 2 x 450g (1lb) loaves

160g (5 1/2oz) self-raising flour

320g (scant 11oz) wholemeal flour

40g (1 1/2oz) wheatbran

40g (1 1/2oz) mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and linseed)

1 level teaspoon bread soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

400 – 450ml (14 -16fl oz) buttermilk

1 dessertspoon treacle 

2 x 450g (1lb) or 1 x 900g (2lb) loaf tins

Preheat the oven to 210ËšC/410ËšF/Gas Mark 6 1/2 and grease the bread tins.

Mix the dry ingredients together by hand in a big bowl and make well in the centre.

Mix the egg, buttermilk and treacle together, pour half of the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix lightly by hand.  Pour the remainder of the liquid in and continue to mix very lightly.  Turn the mixture into the prepared bread tins and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approximately, remove from the tin and pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked, it will sound hollow. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Aubergine with Feta and Mint

We enjoyed this as a starter but you can imagine how good it would be as a salad or side also.

Slice aubergines 1cm (1/2 inch) thick, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill on a cast iron griddle on a high heat until cooked through and nicely charred.  Serve three slices per person for a starter portion.

Crumble good quality feta cheese over the aubergine slices with torn mint leaves, aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Note: good quality piquillo peppers can be an optional extra.

Monkfish Roasted on the Bone with Garden Carrots, Tzatziki and a Lemon Chilli Dressing

A delicious combination – typical of Ruairí de Blacam’s simple, inspired dishes at Inis Meáin Suites.

Serves 4

Skin and trim a 1.6kg (3 1/2lbs) monkfish tail (bone in), season generously with Maldon sea salt

Melt 50g (2oz) of butter in the oven on a baking tray until bubbling
Roll the monkfish tail in the butter until completely coated.

Roast for 12 minutes at 225°C in a fan oven.

On a separate tray with another 50g (2oz) of butter and seasoning, repeat the process with 6 medium garden carrots split lengthwise. These will need to go into the oven 5 minutes before the monkfish.

Add a good fistful of fresh thyme at the end and toss.

For the tzatziki, grate a whole cucumber on a rough grater. Salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze to remove the water. Stir into 500g (18oz) Greek yogurt and a generous amount of chopped dill.

Serve with the fish and carrots.

A mixture of lemon juice, good quality harissa and extra virgin olive oil is a great dressing with this dish. Quantities will depend on how spicy you wish to make it….

Broccoli with Anchovy Dressing

1 average head of broccoli will yield 5-6 starter portions

Cut the vegetable up into equal sized florets. Bring 3 litres (5 1/4 pints) of properly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli for 60 seconds, strain and plunge into ice water to arrest the cooking. Strain and set aside. 

For the anchovy dressing put 250ml (9fl oz) sunflower oil and 50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin in a hand blender vessel. Add 2 whole free range eggs, 6 Ortiz anchovies, 1 crushed clove of garlic and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Emulsify with the blender and finish off with the juice of half a lemon. Salt to taste.

Gently sweat 200g (7fl oz) of Beluga lentils & mirepoix of vegetables for 2 – 3 minutes. Add 1/2 bottle of Madeira, burn off the alcohol and reduce by half.  Add the beef stock and cook until al dente for a further 7 – 10 minutes. 

To Serve

Reheat the broccoli with boiling water from the kettle. Put a good blob of anchovy dressing on a serving plate, add the broccoli florets and a tablespoon of the lentils, dress with a chilli, garlic and olive oil…

Chocolate Pots

These exquisite little chocolate pots are served as part of the breakfast tray at Inis Meáin Suites.  I can’t do chocolate for breakfast so I tuck them into the fridge and enjoy them later for my picnic lunch of homemade soup and onion focaccia with the accompanying pot of crème fraîche.

Makes 1 litre to pour into ovenproof single serve containers

325ml (11fl oz) cream

250ml (9fl oz) milk

250g (9oz) chocolate (70%)

6 egg yolks

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar

 Melt the cream, milk and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.  Beat the egg yolks and the caster sugar together and combine with the chocolate mixture.  Pour into individual small oven-proof containers (ramekins or Weck jars).

Place these in a bain-marie in a deep baking tray, filled with hot tap water two thirds up the sides of the small containers.

Cook at approximately 130°C for 30 minutes approx., until a slight dome shape appears on the surface.

Leave to cool and then refrigerate. 

Note: if you can resist them, they keep brilliantly for up to a week.

Blackberries

For foraging nerds like me, there are treasures to be found year round.  We found a few wild mushrooms in the fields – our buckthorn berries are ripening and I’ve picked lots of rowan berries to make jelly to serve with pork, lamb or game when it comes into season. 

There are oodles of wild blackberries this year so you can satisfy your inner ‘hunter gatherer’ or just have a trip down memory lane.

We have tons on the briars in the hedgerows around the school, an extra bonus from rewilding areas on the farm to provide extra habitats for birds, wild animals, bees and other pollinating insects.  This year they are really fat and juicy, with a more intense tart flavour than the cultivated blackberries, and of course they are free.  Organise a bramble picking expedition with your children and grandchildren.  You will need to show them how to pick the best ones and how to judge if they are infested with tiny maggots – the core will be stained with blackberry juice rather than pale creamy green centre.

We buy kilos of blackberries for jam from local children who love to earn some pocket money and continue the tradition that has endured in many families for generations. 

Blackberries freeze brilliantly – they also dry well.  If you have a dehydrator, it’s really worth experimenting with blackberries – add them to scones, muffins, muesli.  Try folding some into Champ or Colcannon to serve with roast duck…

They are at their best at present but will gradually deteriorate depending on the weather.   Older people used to tell us children not to pick blackberries after Halloween, some say Michaelmas (29th September) ‘cos the ‘púca’ will have spit on them’.  This was a brilliant deterrent to stop hungry kids from eating over ripe blackberries years ago.

Have fun with blackberries…Once again, they are deliciously versatile, think of adding them to both sweet and savoury dishes as well as scattering over breakfast granola, muesli, yoghurt…Pop one into an ice cube with a mint leaf to add to cordials and aperitifs.

They are packed with Vitamin C and are supposed to improve both motor and cognitive functions and couldn’t we all do with that.  They also make delicious wine if you are into home brewing but crème de mûre is even easier – try this recipe which I originally  came across in one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’.  It’s a brilliant base for a cordial or a blackberry Kir.

All of the hedgerows around us here are still full of fluffy meadowsweet so hope you’ve been picking some and experimenting with the fragrant blossoms – see my article of 7th August 2021.

Medallions of Venison with Blackberry Sauce

A taste of Autumn, if the wild blackberries are frozen they may need a sprinkling of sugar.

Serves 4

4 medallions of venison

225g (8oz) wild blackberries

450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock

75ml (3fl oz) port

4 tablespoons sloe gin or brandy

salt and freshly ground pepper

Purée or liquidise and sieve the blackberries. Put the stock and port into a stainless steel saucepan and boil and reduce for a few minutes, add the brandy and fruit and boil until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile season the medallions of venison, fry in a very little butter on a hot pan for 2 minutes each side.

Sharpen the sauce with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, taste and correct the seasoning. Put the medallions onto a hot plate spoon over a little sauce, garnish with a few fresh blackberries if available and a few sprigs of fresh herbs.

Serve immediately with Gratin Dauphinois and a good green salad.

Crème de Mûre (Blackberry Liqueur)

Makes 2 litres (3 1/2 pints)

This recipe can also be made using blackcurrants in which case the name would change to ‘Crème de Cassis’.

Drink within 6 weeks.

1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) ripe blackberries

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) red wine

800g (1 3/4lbs) granulated sugar, possibly more to taste

70cl (700ml/1 1/4 pints) brandy or vodka (unflavoured)

Pick over the blackberries, carefully removing bits of leaf or twig.  Put into a stainless steel bowl. 

Crush the fruit well with a potato masher.  Pour on the red wine and stir well.  Cover and leave to macerate for 48 hours, stirring from time to time.

Strain through a muslin bag into a stainless steel preserving pan.  Squeeze the bag well to get the last of the liquid out.

Add the sugar and heat up gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is almost boiling.  Simmer uncovered for about an hour until the liquid thickens and turns slightly syrupy.  Stir occasionally.

Taste, and add a little more sugar if necessary.  Allow to cool.

Add the spirit, stir well and pour into sterilised bottles.  Seal and store in a cool place.

Serve well chilled in small glasses or with sparkling water and lots of ice.

Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam

Blackberries rot on the hedgerows all over the countryside every year.  Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made – so full of Vitamin C!  This year, organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic.  You’ll find it’s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam.  The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like “Lydia’s Jam – keep off”!, or “Grandma’s Bramble Jam”. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea.

Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the tart Bramley apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.

Makes 9-10 x 450g (1lb) jars approx.

2.3kg (5lbs) blackberries (wild or cultivated)

900g (2lbs) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling in season)

1kg – scant 1.1kg (2lbs 4oz – 2lbs 6oz) granulated sugar

8-10 sweet geranium leaves (optional), alternatively use the finely grated zest and juice of an organic lemon

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples.  Stew them until soft with 300ml (10fl oz) of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 150ml (5fl oz) of water (or water and lemon juice) if the berries are dry.  If the blackberries are frozen, omit the water.

Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and heated sugar. Destalk and chop the sweet geranium leaves (or zest of the lemon if using) and add to the fruit.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. 

Boil steadily for about 15 minutes approximately.  Skim the jam, test for a set and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars. Seal, store in a dark place or share with friends.

Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry and Mint Pavlova

Pavlova, the dessert named after prima ballerina Anna Pavlova has to be in here – a base for so many delicious ripe berries and fruit.  Once again, we can have some fun with flavoured creams and seasonal fruits or lemon curd or strained fruit compote…

Serves 6 – 8

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the zest of 1 lemon

Filling

300ml (10fl oz) cream

400 – 450g (14oz – 1lb) mixture of whole and sliced blackberries, raspberries, blueberries mixed with fresh mint

Garnish

fresh mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Check that your bowl and whisk are dry and free of grease or any residue of detergent. Using a food-processor, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add in half the caster sugar, continue to whisk until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the rest of the caster sugar with the cornflour, vinegar, vanilla extract or lemon zest.

Spread the meringue mixture onto a 23cm (9 inch) round or oval on the silicone paper.  Make a well in the centre and push the mixture to the side to form ‘walls’.  Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for 1- 1 1/4 hours or until very pale brown, crisp on the outside and dry underneath but soft and marshmallow in the centre. 

Remove from the oven, turn the pavlova upside down on a wire rack and peel off the paper. If it’s still a little sticky in the centre, replace in the oven for 5-10 minutes longer.  Allow to get quite cold.

To Serve

Transfer the pavlova carefully onto a serving plate.  Whip the cream softly, fill the centre of the pavlova with cream and berries.  Garnish with fresh mint.

Note:  This quantity makes 6 individual 10cm (4 inch) pavlovas which take 20 minutes to cook.

Blackberry, Apple and Hazelnut Crumble

Crumbles vie with apple pies as the comfort food of all ages, vary the fruit according to the season.  Hazelnuts will be ripe from mid-October, so keep an eye out for hazel trees if you are walking on the hills or mountain, they are indigenous to Ireland.

Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

225g (8oz) fresh blackberries

45-50g (1 3/4 – 2oz) granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

Crumble

110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

50g (2oz) cold butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

25g (1oz) chopped hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish or whatever you have!

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.  Turn into a pie dish with the blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles really coarse breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar. 

Lemon Curd Cream with Wild Blackberries, Toasted Almonds and Mint

A delicious combination of flavours and textures – combined in minutes.

Serves 4

4 tablespoons homemade lemon curd (see recipe)

3-4 tablespoons of softly whipped cream

175g (6oz) wild blackberries

a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice

a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of honey (optional)

2 tablespoons of toasted flaked almonds

shredded mint leaves plus a couple of whole mint leaves for garnishing

Taste the blackberries, if they are very tart, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of sugar or honey.  Allow to macerate for 4-5 minutes.

Fold the whipped cream into the lemon curd.  Taste and add a more of either depending on the intensity of the lemon curd.

Toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan to a rich golden colour (watch them as they burn really easily) and cool.

To Serve

Put two generous tablespoons of lemon curd cream into each shallow bowl.  Spoon some of the macerated blackberries over the cream.  Scatter with flaked almonds and sprinkle on some shredded mint plus a few fresh mint leaves for garnish. 

Lemon Curd

Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge.  It is best eaten within a fortnight.

Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)

Cover when cold and refrigerate. 

Going Back to School (Part 2)

I ran out of space last week so here we go again, more ideas for school lunches.  As mentioned in my previous column, good nutrition is a vital part of every child’s development – so fill that lunch box with lots of real food – totally exclude all ultra-processed food and anything that purports to be healthy, it probably isn’t.  Invest in real stuff – you’ll spend less on ‘meds’ in the end

Building on last week’s suggestions.  How about sushi balls, also great and really easy to make.  Put a little surprise into the centre, younger children may not love pickled ginger and wasabi but teenagers definitely love sushi.

One batch of sushi rice will make lots but you could do scattered sushi in a bowl the next day.   They also love tacos and tostados, use corn tortillas – they are much more nutritious, easy to eat and fun to top with favourite tasty morsels plus they can be vegetarian or vegan.  Spring rolls made with rice paper wrappers are also fun for teenagers to make.  They can ‘roll their own’ around the fillings of their choice, julienne of veggies, vermicelli noodles, maybe a shrimp or two, Budda bowls with a mixture of rice, prawns, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots with a perky dressing. 

Mexican wraps are also brilliant with crunchy lettuce, strips of roast chicken, lamb or beef with crisp cucumber and tomato, add a dash of chilli sauce – for those who like it hot and more and more do.

Half or a whole avocado is the perfect lunch box food, super nutritious, easy to digest.  A spoon and a little phial of flaky sea salt is all that’s needed, a few cherry tomatoes are perfect for a pop of juicy flavour. 

An occasional hard-boiled egg – great protein, easy to peel and once again delicious with a sprinkling of sea salt or a dollop of mayo mixed with Ballymaloe Relish.  Draw a funny face or write a name on the shell if you have the energy at 7.30am in the morning!

A little pot of chive or scallion potato salad is great on its own but also a perfect base to add a dice of bacon, chicken, chorizo or cucumber. 

Mini muffuletta with layers of roast peppers, cured meat, cheese – lunch sorted in one bun.

Cheese is of course another valuable protein – Cheddar seems to be most children’s favourite, batons are easy to eat.  Add a few crackers, a slice of brown yeast or soda bread and a little chutney or relish.

Pasta or noodles with a peanut sauce are also a winner and can be a basis for lots of other additions.

Try to include some fruit, a few cherries for a treat or a squashed donut peach when they are in season and of course an organic banana is a worthwhile source of potassium, iron, fibre, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C, all in one easy package.

A slice of really good brown bread and raspberry jam couldn’t be simpler but it’s delicious and loved by everyone.

I should also mention lettuce wraps – easy to eat and particularly delicious with sticky pork and matchsticks of cucumber and carrot – try this recipe.

And finally, don’t forget dates, a brilliant snack.  One or two juicy Medjool or Deglet Noor dates are a rich source of magnesium, calcium, potassium and fibre.  Dried apricots or mango slices and fruit kebabs for a fun and tasty nibble – just thread cubes of fresh and/or dried fruit on a stick.

A wedge of water melon on a lollipop stick is another easy peasy lunchbox treat.

Sausage or frankfurter rolls.

Crumpets and drop scones are all made in minutes, slather with a little butter or peanut butter and honey.

So hopefully there’s lots of ideas in all those suggestions to keep your little dotes nourished and whet their appetites…

Basic Sushi Rice

Easy to do but just follow the instructions.

450g (1lb) sushi rice “No 1 Extra Fancy”

600ml (1 pint) water

Vinegar Water

50ml (2fl oz) rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse the rice for 8-10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.

‘Wake up’ the rice by sitting it in 600ml (1pint) cold water for 30 to 45 minutes.   In the same water, bring to the boil and then cook for 10 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  Do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off.  Remove the lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace the lid and sit for 20 minutes.

Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together in a bowl until dissolved.  Turn the rice out onto a big flat plate (preferably wooden).  While the rice is still hot, pour the vinegar solution over the rice and mix the rice and vinegar together in a slicing action with the aid of a wooden spoon.  Don’t stir.  You must do it quickly preferably fanning the rice with the fan.  This is much easier if you have a helper.  Allow to cool on the plate, cover with a tea towel and use as desired.  (It will soak up the liquid as it cools.)

Sushi Balls

Makes 20-30 pieces

sprig of dill or chervil or coriander

1/2 quantity prepared sushi rice

25g (1oz) smoked salmon, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) squares

or

10 cooked prawns or shrimps

or

1/2 cucumber, sliced wafer thin and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

or

25g (1oz) roast beef, thinly sliced and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces

Lay a piece of parchment paper, about 10cm (4 inch) square, on a clean work surface and place a sprig of chervil or coriander face down and then a piece of smoked salmon at the centre of it.  Put a teaspoonful of sushi rice on top of it.

Pick up all four corners of the parchment paper and gather them in the middle.  Twist the paper to compact the rice and form a small ball.  Repeat the process with the other toppings.

Keep each piece of sushi wrapped in the parchment until just before serving.  Serve with a little wasabi paste or pickled ginger depending on your children’s taste

Scattered Sushi

For scattered Sushi, put some sushi rice into a bowl, scatter with toppings of your choice for example cherry tomatoes, Mozzarella, beef and spring onion, smoked salmon or tuna, spring onions and strips of cucumber…

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Gary Masterson, one of our tutors here at Ballymaloe Cookery School shared this recipe with us, everyone loves it.

The spices transform the mince into something irresistible, to scoop up with fresh lettuce leaves. Minced chicken can also be used; I prefer the brown meat but, of course, white meat is delicious too – just bear in mind that it needs a shorter cooking time.  Use less rather than more chilli for children.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin or vegetable oil

30g (1 1/4oz) fresh ginger, grated

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped

500g (18oz) minced chicken or pork (I use brown meat, but use white if you prefer)

4 makrut lime leaves, shredded

50g (2oz) palm sugar or soft light brown sugar

juice of 1 organic lime

2 tablespoons fish sauce

Accompaniments

3–4 handfuls of Iceberg lettuce or butterhead leaves

a good handful of mint leaves

a handful of coriander leaves

2–3 spring shallots, finely sliced on the diagonal

a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, roughly chopped

1 organic lime, cut into wedges

Heat the oil over a high heat in a large (26cm/10 1/2 inch) frying pan. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and stir-fry for a minute or two to release their flavours. Add the minced chicken or pork and cook over a high heat until it starts to colour, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go.

Add the shredded makrut lime leaves, sprinkle in the sugar, squeeze in the lime juice and add 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce. Reduce the heat and cook everything down for 5–10 minutes until the mince is sticky and delicious. Season to taste with the remaining fish sauce, if necessary.


Transfer the mince to a lunch box with accompaniments, add lettuce, herbs, shallots, peanuts or cashews and lime wedges so that they can assemble their own little parcels.

Pizza Rolls

A delicious tasty bite – perfect for school lunches or a picnic.  The filling can be as simple as grated cheese or a mixture of tomato sauce, chorizo, pesto, spring onion…

This makes approx. 9 rolls but they freeze well for future lunches.

225g (8oz) pizza dough

Filling

175-225ml (6-8fl oz) concentrated tomato sauce or Tomato Fondue

1 teaspoon chopped annual marjoram

a good pinch pepper flakes (optional)

300g (10oz) diced pepperoni, tiny dice

75g (3oz) grated Mozzarella

25g (1oz) Parmesan or Cheddar cheese

Egg Wash, beaten egg with a generous pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or use a fan oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough into a 1cm (1/2 inch) thick rectangle on a floured board. It should be roughly about 23cm long x 17cm wide (9 inches by 6 1/2 inches) but no need to reach those exact dimensions).

Spread the well-seasoned tomato sauce evenly over the dough keeping it in 2.5cm (1 inch) from the long side.  Sprinkle with marjoram, red pepper flakes (if using) evenly over the sauce.  Brush the edge with egg wash.  Sprinkle the diced peperoni and cheese in an even layer over the sauce.

Roll the dough from the long side into a tight spiral. Transfer the dough to a baking tray and refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Brush with egg wash.

Use a serrated knife to slice the chilled dough into 9 even rolls (about 2-2.5cm/3/4 – 1 inch wide). Transfer to the prepared baking tray allowing a little space between each one for expansion.

Bake in the preheated oven until the rolls are golden and the filling is bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm or wrap in parchment for school lunches.

Mini Muffuletta

The New Orleans speciality makes a perfect chunky sandwich. One can vary the fillings but there should be lots of it.

1 round rustic bun or brioche

Filling of your choice – could be…

pesto or Ballymaloe Relish

lettuce or a mixture of salad leaves and rocket

red and/or yellow pepper (roasted, peeled and roughly cut into chunks)

salt and freshly ground pepper

slices of cheese

salami, ham or chorizo, thinly sliced (approximately)

Cut a lid off the top of the little round loaf or bun.  Remove the soft crumb and keep for breadcrumbs.

Smear the pesto or Ballymaloe Relish over the base and the under-lid of each loaf.  Then arrange layers of salad leaves, roasted peppers, cheese and salami, ham or chorizo.

Pop the lid on, wrap tightly with parchment paper, keep chilled until you pop into the lunchbox.  Divide each muffuletta into five or six wedges.

Rice Bowl and lots of good things

Rice bowls, buddha bowls, poke are all riffs on a theme, a delicious little meal in a bowl.  A rice bowl will have a base of cooked rice, could be white, brown, topped with many good things, raw, cooked or a mixture flavoured with a well flavoured dressing.   They can be vegetarian, vegan or include meat, fish, game… other pulses can also be used – bulgur, freekah, pearl barley, farro, quinoa, lentils, pulses – all make a delicious and super nutritious base for a variety of toppings.  Make sure the rice is well seasoned otherwise the end result be bland and boring.

You can do infinite variations on the theme depending on the child’s taste. Thin slices of chicken or duck breast, rare beef, cured or smoked fish, vegetables, raw or roast, greens, spring onions, sliced omelette, avocado, pickled ginger.  Occasionally some mango or apple slices.  A poached, fried or hard-boiled egg for extra protein. 

Occasionally add a crispy element, a few tortilla chips, prawn crackers, crispy chickpeas….

A tasty dressing or maybe tahini, teriyaki, rayu or satay sauce is pretty essential to liven up the bowl and maybe a sprinkling of seeds, sesame, sunflower or toasted nuts.

Rachel’s Drop Scones

This is Rachel’s brilliant recipe for drop scones.  The children can easily make the batter and cook them.

Makes 12

110g (4oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

25g (1oz) caster sugar

pinch of salt

1 egg

110ml (4fl oz) milk

drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix.  Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge.  Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat.  Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.

Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or if you are like my children, chocolate spread! (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)

Going Back to School (Part 1)

What a year our children have had to endure.  It’s been difficult for everyone in a myriad of ways but the poor little dotes have been deprived of interaction with their friends, sport and much of their natural behaviour for months on end.  Consequently, many are displaying signs of anxiety and mental illness.  Parents did their very best while they themselves battled to keep going often in a haze of confusion. 

Now it’s back to school time again in a mixture of excitement, apprehension and the extra challenge of providing healthy, wholesome, exciting school lunches every day.  We are all aware that it’s more important than ever to boost our young people’s immune system – it’s all about yummy healthy wholesome, nutrient dense food, our secret weapon to help them resist viruses, colds, flu and to cope with anxiety. 

So let’s do everything we can to source chemical-free, organic food.  The investment will be well worth the effort and occasional extra expense.  A growing body of research indicates beyond a shadow of doubt that the less we spend on nourishing wholesome food, the more we spend on meds and supplements.

Once again, I repeat the mantra ‘our food should be our medicine’ and when I say food, I don’t mean the ultra-processed food that is undoubtedly damaging our health. 

All very fine but it all takes thought, time and effort.  So here are a few suggestions…get the kids involved as soon as possible. 

If lunch is to include a sandwich – good bread is vital.  Soda bread, teeny weeny loaves, scones or bunnies are made in minutes and take only 10-15 minutes to cook.  Most 10 year olds could master it easily and enjoy the fun.  Ideally every lunch should include protein, carbs and fats.  Lots of options but how about an egg and chive mayo, a delicious sandwich filler but could also be a dip or a salad.  Ring the changes by adding a dice of cucumber or a sprinkling of smoked salmon, mackerel as an extra nourishing bounce.

Good nutrition is a vital part of a child’s development. 

Easy pop-ins:

1. A little jar of natural yoghurt – add some stewed fruit or berries occasionally or add a teeny pot of honey.  Those little mini glass pots are brilliantly useful – one can be refilled all year with a relish, sauces, jam or a dip.

2. Peanut butter or a mix of peanut butter and honey to slather over cold toast – yes believe me, it’s delicious.

3. Pitta Pockets are also a favourite, fill them with a mixture of veggie and maybe a few slices of salami and perhaps a sliver or two of cheese.

4. Hummus in its many reincarnations is also a popular choice for vegetable stick dippers. Chickpeas, beetroot, white bean and pea are all delicious…

It’s also worth making a batch of crispy chickpeas – a delicious little nibble as are nourishing nuts, make your own ‘trail mix’ and add some raisins to the nuts, maybe add some sunflower seeds too.

5. Swap out water kefir or kombucha for coke – the super cool fizzy drink for cool kids. 

6. Chips and dips are also a hit, tortilla chips, made from corn are certainly nutritious.  You can make your own for a fraction of the price.  Same with potato crisps, a few slivered potatoes will make a carrier bag full.  Steer well away from the commercial crisps with lots of phony flavours.

7. Chicken drumsticks or wings are also a great favourite to nibble.  Add a little spice if your kids enjoy Asian flavours or add a little pot of Ballymaloe Relish mixed with mayo. 

8. When the weather gets chillier, our kids love a little flask of soup and they are also enthusiastic broth guzzlers.  Save all your bones, vegetable scraps and herb stalks and keep a slow cooker bubbling – it’s magic stuff full of collagen to build healthy bones and teeth.

9. A batch of energy balls are also perfect to pop into a lunch box and we still love flapjacks or oatmeal biscuits – they keep really well, taste delicious and can be drizzled with chocolate occasionally for a special treat.

There’s so much more but I’ve run out of space.  I’ll have to do another column very soon, meanwhile, here are a few tasty bites to try out – let me know what reaction you get and don’t forget to pop in a little piece of fruit…

Teeny Weeny Soda Scones

The soda bread base only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make. Teeny weenie brown or white scones take just 10 – 15 minutes to bake, depending on size and are irresistible to children and adults alike.  Maybe brush the top with buttermilk or egg wash and dip in grated cheese or a mixture of seeds.

Makes approximately 40 teeny weenies but one could make a mixture of shapes or half the recipe

1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon teaspoon of salt

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

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 350 – 400ml (12-14fl oz) approx.

4cm (1 1/2 inch) cutter approximately

First fully preheat your oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. 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, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured board.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up then flip it over. Flatten the dough into a round, about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and stamp out into teeny weeny scones. Bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes (approx.) or until cooked through. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Cool on a wire rack.

Chopped fresh herbs e.g.; rosemary, thyme or olives may be added to the dry ingredients to make delicious little herb scones.

Brush the tops with egg wash and dip in grated cheddar cheese for yummy cheddar teeny weenies.

Blathnaid’s Energy Balls

Special thanks to my highly energetic sister Blathnaid Bergin who shared this recipe with me.  A batch of these will keep for several weeks and can be popped into lunch boxes on a whim.

Makes 24 x 50g (2oz) balls

280g (9 3/4oz) cocoa butter or chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (64%)

85g (3 1/4oz) cocoa powder

160g (5 1/2oz) peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

8 tablespoons of honey or 12 tablespoons maple or agave syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Filling

260g (9 1/4oz) – use 1 or a mixture of cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, roughly chopped

60g (2 1/2oz) raisins or dried raspberries

100g (3 1/2oz) dried apricots, preferably unsulphered, roughly chopped

40g (1 1/2oz) Medjool dates, roughly chopped

100g (3 1/2oz) dried figs, finely chopped

pinch of salt

1 x loaf tin – 24cm (9 1/2 inch) lined with parchment paper

Half fill a large saucepan with cold water, bring to the boil and turn it off.  Melt the cocoa butter or chocolate in a bowl over the simmering water, stirring every now and then.  Add the cocoa powder, peanut butter, honey (or maple or agave syrup), vanilla extract and mix well.

Add the chopped nuts and fruit mixture to the melted cocoa butter and stir well.  Pour immediately into the prepared tin.  Allow to set in a cool place and chill in the fridge.  Cut into squares or roll into balls.

If you like you can roll the balls in a little desiccated coconut. 

Store in an airtight box in the fridge.

Tortilla Chips

Corn tortilla chips are full of goodness and make an excellent alternative to crisps, they will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Serves 4

6-8 corn tortillas

oil for deep frying

1 teaspoon salt

Cut the tortillas into eighths.

Heat the oil to 200°C/400°F. 

Fry the pieces until they are pale golden.  Stir occasionally to ensure that all the tortilla chips colour evenly.  Drain on absorbent paper, season and toss with the salt.   

Totopos

Proceed as above, toss with 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) and/or 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne if required. 

Nibble as they are or use to scoop up a dip.   

Chips and Dips

Children love dips, there are lots of options, tomato salsa, guacamole, satay sauce, hummus but you might like to try this spicy dip. 

Spicy Peanut Dip

Use batons of carrots, cucumber, peas in the pod, roast sweet potato wedges, potato crisps, tortilla chips…

Makes 600ml (1 pint approx.)

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1-2 tablespoons red curry paste

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

140g (scant 5oz) creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon fish sauce, Nam Pla

1-2 tablespoons honey

salt

Gently heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the curry paste, stir and cook until the paste begins to stick to the base of the saucepan, 2–3 minutes.

Whisk in the coconut milk and continue to cook, until the mixture turns a shade darker and reduces slightly, about 3 minutes.  Take off the heat, whisk in the peanut butter, vinegar, fish sauce and honey. Season to taste with salt and add a little more honey if necessary.  Cool and store in the fridge – it will keep for 5-6 days. 

Homemade Potato Crisps

Making crisps at home is definitely worthwhile – a few potatoes produce a ton of crisps and nothing you buy in any shop will be even half as delicious. A mandolin is well worth buying for making chips – but mind your fingers! 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes

extra virgin olive oil or beef dripping for deep-fat frying

salt

Wash and peel the potatoes. For even-sized crisps, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth. Slice them very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together). Drain off the water and dry well.

In a deep-fat fryer, heat the oil or dripping to 180°C/350°F.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat until they are all cooked.

Roast Sweet Potato Wedges

Serves 4

Quick and easy and super nutritious and once again terrifically versatile – a delicious little snack or starter or use as a dipper.

Pumpkin wedges can be swapped for sweet potatoes.

2 sweet potatoes (approximately 450g/1lb in weight) (orange fleshed, if possible)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon freshly roasted ground cumin and coriander

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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

Wash the sweet potatoes and cut them into quarters lengthwise.  Pop into a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with the chopped herbs or chosen spices. Season with sea salt and toss into a roasting tin.   Bake for 10-15 minutes turning once until completely tender and lightly golden.

Egg and Chive Mayonnaise

I can’t resist egg sandwiches.  I love them with lots of chives or spring onions but many kids are wary of green bits in their food so just leave them out if that’s the case.

Serves 2-4

4 free range eggs

3-4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

1 tablespoon of finely chopped chives or spring onions

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Lower the eggs gently into boiling salted water, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 10 minutes.  Drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water.  (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, and chop coarsely.  Mix with the mayonnaise and chives or spring onions.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Flapjacks

These nutritious biscuits keep very well in an airtight tin.  Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.

Makes 24-32

450g (1lb) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

350g (12oz) butter

1 tablespoon golden syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

175g (6oz) castor sugar

Swiss roll tin, 25.5cm (10 inch) x 38cm (15 inches) lined with a strip of parchment with overhang at each end

Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla extract, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven (on low shelf), 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm.

Note: Make half the recipe if a 23cm (9 inch) x 33cm (13 inch) Swiss roll thin is used.

Watermelons

We’ve had the most gorgeous watermelons recently – huge, pot-bellied orbs of sweet juiciness, just what we love to relish during these long Summer days. Watermelons have a high water content so try to find organic fruit if you can.

Apparently there are over 1,000 varieties of watermelon cultivated worldwide and have been for centuries.  The seeds of wild watermelons have been found in the tombs of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. There used to be an annoying number of seeds in the fruit, but in recent times virtually seedless varieties have been developed which add greatly to my personal enjoyment of the fruit…. (although my grandchildren greatly enjoy a seed spitting competition!).

I love to keep a watermelon in my pantry, it’s super versatile, I use it for both sweet and savoury dishes and it’s a must-have for a Summer picnic.  Pop a chunk into a cold box surrounded by lots of ice and then produce a chilled slice as a thirst quencher after a swim – that’s what memories are made of. For a more grown up version, how about injecting a watermelon with vodka…so fun and delicious…check out spruce…. https://www.thespruceeats.com/vodka-watermelon-recipe-4175568

Save the rind – both the flesh and rind are edible. Americans particularly love watermelon rind pickle.  Bravo to the person who experimented with that originally. Here is a simple recipe from eco-chef Tom Hunt who writes a regular column in the Guardian Feast magazine every Saturday on Food Waste…
Deliciously refreshing, watermelon juice is made in minutes, great in cocktails too, popsicles, smoothies or as a boozy watermelon slushie.
Grilled watermelon slices are surprisingly delicious. Add watermelon to gazpacho for a delicious Summer starter and we love little chilled cubes with a piece of salty feta shredded over the top… they make an irresistible bite.


How about watermelon jellies or a granita. Watermelon and tomato are another irresistible combination in a salad, add some thinly sliced chilli for extra oomph.

Apart from the time-honoured combination of juicy watermelon and salty feta, both crab and shrimp partner deliciously too.

Finally, a few tips when buying a watermelon. Although you may not have much choice. Look out for a melon that has a strong consistent pale yellow stripe pattern, it should feel heavy for its size. Choose a watermelon where the skin is slightly dull rather than shiny, it’s likely to be riper and sweeter. Often the really ripe ones have a creamy yellow splodge where the melon touched the ground and have a deep hollow sound when tapped on the base

Here are a few recipes to get you started, have fun and enjoy…

Watermelon Bites

watermelon

feta

spearmint leaves

Cut the watermelon flesh into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) cubes, arrange on a platter, cover and chill. 

To Serve

Put a little piece of feta on top of each watermelon cube, top with a sprig of mint, secure with a cocktail stick.

Pan-fried Fillets of John Dory with Watermelon and Chilli Salsa

Watermelon is also a delicious foil for mackerel but they have been so scarce this Summer that you may want to use another fresh fish – John Dory, haddock, hake…

Serves 6

450g (1lb) watermelon

zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

1 not too hot red chilli, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

75-110ml (3-4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

6 x 225g (8oz) fillets of John Dory

flaky sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

To Serve

wedges of lemon

sprigs of fresh coriander

Cut the watermelon flesh into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice, removing the seeds as you do so.

Pop the diced melon into a bowl with the zest and juice of the lime, the chopped red chilli and tablespoon of freshly chopped coriander.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar to taste.

Season the fillets of John Dory with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pan-grill on a hot pan with a little extra virgin olive oil until golden on both sides. 

Serve on hot plates with the salsa, wedge of lime and a few sprigs of fresh coriander. 

Roast Pork with Watermelon, Ginger and Chilli Salad

Serves 4

For the pork belly

1kg (2 1/4lbs) pork belly with rind attached

1 tablespoon sea salt

2 teaspoons of freshly chopped rosemary

2 garlic cloves, crushed

extra virgin olive oil

Watermelon Salad

450g (1lb) watermelon

1 heaped tablespoon of pickled ginger, chopped

1 small mild chilli, deseeded and chopped 

flaky sea salt and a little sugar

fresh mint leaves

fresh basil leaves

8 – 12 black Kalamata olives, stones in.

Garnish

sprigs of mint and basil leaves

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

Score the rind of the pork belly.

Put the sea salt, rosemary, crushed garlic in a bowl and mix well.

Rub the rosemary mixture into the scored skin.

Lay the joint of pork on a rack in a roasting tin, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Roast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes to allow the crackling to form, then reduce the temperature to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3 and cook for a further hour or until fully cooked and the juices run clear.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the watermelon and cut the flesh into approx. 2cm (3/4 inch) dice, removing the seeds. Fold the chopped pickled ginger and chilli into the watermelon, season with salt and a little sugar to taste.

Carve the pork into 2cm (3/4 inch) thick slices approx.

Add mint and basil leaves and black olives to the watermelon.

Serve the pork with a side of watermelon and olive salad.  Garnish with sprigs of mint and basil. 

Watermelon, Rosewater and Maftoul Salad

Maftoul – Palestinian or Pearl couscous sounds very exotic but it’s now widely available and so worth keeping in your store cupboard. 


Serves 6

500g (18oz) watermelon, 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes
1-2 teaspoons rosewater, depending on intensity

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
225g (8oz) Maftoul or Pearl couscous
seeds of 1 pomegranate
50g (2oz) pistachio, coarsely chopped
1 handful of mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1 handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
1-2 teaspoons sumac
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
60ml (scant 2 1/2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
125g (4 1/2oz) feta

Sprinkle the rosewater over the watermelon cubes (careful not to use too much).  Allow to macerate. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, add the couscous and stir for 3 or 4 minutes until coated and toasted.    Transfer the maftoul to a stainless-steel saucepan of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, drain and cool.

Meanwhile, flick the seeds out of the pomegranates and save the juice too.

To Serve
Mix the pomegranate seeds with the watermelon and chopped pistachio nuts. Add the mint leaves and parsley. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and sumac.

Whisk the pomegranate molasses with the extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle over the feta, toss gently and add with a shower of crumbled feta to the salad. Taste and tweak if necessary.
Enjoy soon.

Watermelon Limeade

Enjoy as a drink or freeze as a granita or popsicles.

Lemon juice can be substituted for lime – taste and tweak.

Serves 4-6

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water

5-6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 large watermelon (2.2kg/5lb flesh)

juice and zest of 2 limes

sparkling water to taste

sprigs of fresh mint

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil.  When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat.  Cut the rind off the watermelon, then cut the flesh into 5cm (2 inch) chunks, flick out the seeds and purée the chunks in batches in a food processor.  Stir in the syrup, lime juice and zest into the melon purée.  Dilute with sparkling water to taste, add a few ice cubes and a sprig of fresh mint to each glass.

Watermelon Popsicles

Proceed as above but omit the sparkling water – the mixture should taste a little sweeter than you’d like it because it will lose a little of its intensity in the freezing.  Pour into popsicle moulds and freeze for 3-4 hours.

Watermelon Granita

Proceed as above.  Freeze the watermelon liquid in a sorbetière in the usual way – the texture should be slushy.  Serve in chilled glasses with a sprig of mint.  

Grilled Watermelon

Super easy to do, delicious either as a sweet or savoury dish.  Love it with crispy roast pork with crackling or a pan-grilled heritage pork chop.

watermelon

salt

extra virgin olive oil

Top and tail the watermelon.  Cut into quarters lengthways and slice into 2.5 – 3cm (1 – 1 1/4 inch) pieces.  Sprinkle lightly with salt on both sides (careful not too much).  Lay in a single layer on a wire rack over a platter for 15-20 minutes to draw out excess moisture. 

Preheat a pan-grill or barbeque on a high heat.

Dab dry the watermelon with a cloth or kitchen paper.

Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and grill until nicely charred on both sides, 5-6 minutes. 

Transfer to a serving platter, serve sprinkled with

1 Crumbled feta and shredded mint.

2. Freshly squeezed lime juice, drizzle with new season’s honey and sprinkle with a chiffonade of fresh mint.

Tom Hunt’s Pickled Watermelon Rind

Take 400g (14oz) watermelon rind with a little flesh still attached, peel off the hard skin and cut into 3cm (1 1/4 inch) pieces. Put 275ml (9 1/2fl oz) water, 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) vinegar, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, four teaspoons of salt and 100g (3 1/2oz) sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, add the rind, return to a boil and turn off the heat. Fill a clean jam jar with the pickled watermelon and juice, top with a few slices of green chilli and screw on the lid. They’re ready to eat once cooled, and will keep in the fridge for a month or longer.

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