ArchiveApril 2021

Ramadan

This week, I wanted to understand more about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which, this year starts at sunset on Monday 12th April. It follows the lunar calendar and begins and ends with the appearance of the crescent moon. Islamic tradition states that it was during Ramadan that God revealed the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book to the Prophet Mohammad as guidance for his people.

Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar marks the beginning of Sawm, the Arabic word for fasting.

Many of us would know that Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for the whole month of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, by which Muslims live their lives, along with faith, prayer (five times a day), charitable deeds and a pilgrimage to Mecca.  Fasting and hunger pangs are a stark reminder of our human fragility and how much we depend on food and those who produce it for our energy, vitality and very existence.

It clearly illustrates what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty which helps us to empathise, feel compassion and offer help to the poor and needy.

Muslims, apart from those who are vulnerable or pregnant, fast from food, drink, cigarettes and any sexual activity from dawn til dusk during Ramadan.

Fasting is not easy. At school, children find it particularly difficult while their friends are enjoying lunch and snacks. The last meal they will have eaten was Suhur before dawn and the next after sunset, will be Iftar which means breaking the fast.  First with a few dates and water, a concentrated source of energy and easy to digest.

After sunset prayers, many families invite neighbours and friends to join them to break the fast so Ramadan is also a time of sharing and celebration.  In non-Covid times, many mosques host community dinner on weekends, a wonderful break from cooking, a feast for students, the poor and everyone in the community.  Ramadan ends on the 13th May 2021, Muslims will celebrate Eid al Fitr – the Festival of the Breaking of the fast.

Traditionally, children receive presents from family and friends. There are special prayers followed by the fasting and celebrations.

I was intrigued to know what foods were traditionally enjoyed to break the fast. There are of course, many. 

Families around the world have their special favourites.  The women cook together to prepare the meal, often with recipes learnt from their mothers, mothers-in-law and sisters…. Virtually every list mentioned Moroccan Chorba, a comforting nutrient dense soup made with chickpeas or lentils, potatoes, root vegetables, lamb and spices like turmeric, ginger and saffron. There were lots of variations, try this delicious version.

Pide – Turkish handmade flat bread was another must have – you’ll love it and so will the kids.

Harira, a hearty soup of lentils is another favourite. One of the many versions of Kebabs with thick Greek yoghurt, or with a dollop of tzatziki on flat bread is another versatile irresistible speciality. Poached eggs with yoghurt and paprika oil is super delicious and really easy to whip up at home. Don’t forget to wish your Muslim friends Ramadan Kareem –Happy Ramadan.

Moroccan Lentil Chorba

This is a delicious nourishing soup filled with all sorts of good things.

Lots of vegetables to chop, the neater the dice, the better your soup will look and taste. The soup works well with either vegetable stock or chicken stock but chicken stock gives the most robust flavour.

175g (6oz) green lentils

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

pinch of salt

pinch of cayenne

1 small carrot diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 stick of celery diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 red or yellow pepper diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly roasted and ground

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground

pinch of turmeric

1 tablespoon of peeled and grated fresh ginger

4 cloves garlic, crushed

700g (1 1/2 lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 500g (18oz) tinned tomatoes

1.35 litres (48fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock (see recipe)

salt, pepper and sugar to taste

110g (4oz) vermicelli, broken into pieces

4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Rinse the lentils in cold water and place in a saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so until tender.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in another saucepan and add the onions, pinch of salt and cayenne. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the onions are soft. Add the diced vegetables and the rest of the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and stock, taste and correct seasoning and simmer gently for a further 20 minutes.  Add the vermicelli and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes or until the diced vegetables are tender. 

Strain the cooked lentils, reserving the cooking water and add the lentils to the broth. If the soup is too thick, thin out with some of the lentil cooking water. Bring to a simmer. Taste again and correct seasoning. Serve with lots of chopped fresh coriander or parsley.

Gilbir – Poached Eggs with Yoghurt, Paprika and Mint

Another favourite Turkish way to serve poached eggs – called Gilbir – you’ll love this combination with toast or flat bread.

Serves 2

4 freshly laid organic eggs

30g (1 1/4oz) butter

2 teaspoons paprika or smoked paprika

1 clove of garlic, crushed

150ml (5fl oz) natural yoghurt

4 – 6 fresh mint leaves

First poach the eggs; bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg into a cup, slip gently into the whirlpool in the centre. This avoids getting the tips of your fingers burned as you drop the egg into the water. The water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Cook for about 3–4 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still soft and runny.

Add 1 small crushed garlic clove to 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt. Remove the poached egg with a slotted spoon to a warm bowl, add a good dollop of yoghurt. Melt a little butter in a small pan, when it begins to foam, add the paprika, stir for 30 seconds, careful it doesn’t burn. Drizzle over the eggs and yoghurt. Shred 2-3 mint leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately with some Turkish bread or toast.

Spiced Vegetable Pakoras with Mango Relish

Vegetable fritters in a spicy batter, delicious to snack on or as a starter with a relish of your choice.

Serves 4-6

A selection of vegetables:

1 thin aubergine cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices or into chunks at an angle

1 teaspoon salt

2 medium courgettes, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices, if they are very large cut into quarters

12 cauliflower or Romanesco florets (walnut size approx.)

6 large flat mushrooms, cut in half

spinach leaves

Batter

175g (6oz) chickpea or plain white flour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

1 scant teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

175-225ml (6-8fl oz) iced water

vegetable oil for deep frying

Garnish

lemon wedges and coriander or parsley.

Put the aubergine wedges or slices into a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and let drain while preparing the other vegetables.

Blanch and refresh the cauliflower florets separately in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and dry well.

Rinse the aubergine slices and pat dry.

Put the flour, coriander, salt and curry powder into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, lemon juice and water until the batter is the consistency of thick cream.

Heat good quality oil to 180°C/350°F in a deep fry. Lightly whisk the batter and dip the vegetables in batches of 5 or 6.  Slip them individually into the hot oil. 

Fry the pakoras for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a moderate oven (uncovered) while you cook the remainder. Allow the oil to come back to 180°C/350°F between batches.

When all the vegetable fritters are ready, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh or deep-fried coriander or parsley. Serve at once alone or with mango relish.

Mango Relish

Mangoes are a great source of betacarotene and Vitamin C.  They aid digestion, reduce acidity in the system and help cleanse the blood. 

50ml (2fl oz) medium sherry

50ml (2fl oz) water

50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of ground mace

1 mango, peeled and diced

1 small red pepper, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put the sherry, water, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, salt and mace into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the mango, pepper, and lemon juice, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Spoon into a screw top jar and refrigerate until required.

Falafel with Tahini

Itamar and Sarit from Honey and Co in London shared their favourite Yemini falafel recipe with us. 

Makes 20 approximately (25g/1oz weight)

1/2 onion (approx. 60g/2 1/4oz)

1 clove of garlic (peeled)

250g (9oz) soaked chickpeas (125g (4 1/2oz) dried)

1 green chilli, seeds and all

3 springs of parsley, picked

1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g/1/2 – 3/4oz), leaves and top part of stems only

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons garam flour (use plain if needs be)

1 teaspoon baking powder

To make the falafel

In a food processor, start with the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and pulse them to chop roughly, then add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits.   You may need to scrape the sides down and blitz for another pulse or two to make sure that everything is evenly chopped, but do not overwork.  The best way to check whether it is done enough is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape.  If it falls apart, return it to the processor for another spin.  Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until all is combined well.

Preheat the deep fry 170°C/325°F.

Test the oil temperature by placing a small piece of bread or falafel mix in the hot oil – as soon as it starts to bubble up and float, you are ready to go.

You can shape the falafel mix in a few different ways:

Use damp hands and make little balls or torpedo shapes or you can simply drop in spoonfuls of the mixture for free-form falafel.  You want to be making them about the size of a walnut, no bigger, so that they cook through and crisp up at the same time. 

Carefully place the falafel in the oil – don’t overcrowd the pan and fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes).  Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and repeat the process until you have fried them all.  

Serve immediately with tahini (see recipe).

Tahini 

The quality of your tahini depends hugely on the type of tahini paste you use. 

We use Al-Yaman from Lebanon which is delicious, but if you are lucky enough to find any of the Palestinian varieties, especially the Prince and Dove brands, you are in for a treat.  As a rule, you are looking for something from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey.  

We make our tahini in a food processor, as it gives a smooth, airy, mousse-like texture, but you can achieve good results with a bowl, a spoon and some wrist action.

Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)

125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste 

1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced

a pinch of salt, plus more to taste

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz) water 

Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to suit your taste buds.  

Note

You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon.  As a result we think it’s best to make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.

Pide (Turkish Seeded Flat Bread)

Makes 2 breads

2 teaspoons dried yeast

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

300ml (10fl oz) tepid water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

500g (1lb 2oz) strong white flour

1 teaspoon salt

egg wash, whisk 1 egg yolk with a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons nigella seeds

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of the slightly tepid water in a bowl.  Leave for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve, add the olive oil.

Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the liquid.

Add enough of the remaining water to make a firm but softish dough.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  The dough will be quite stiff initially but it will become more supple as it is kneaded. 

Coat the dough evenly with a little olive oil.  Allow to rise in a bowl,   covered with a tea towel, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.  Knock back, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal-sized pieces and roll each into a smooth ball.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece into a round 25cm (10 inch) across, and 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.  Transfer to a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 20 minutes.

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

Score the top of each round of dough with a criss-cross pattern. 

Sprinkle each with nigella seeds, and brush with egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until puffy and lightly coloured.  Wrap the breads immediately in a tea towel to keep the crusts soft and to prevent drying out.  

Enjoy with soup, kebabs…

Konafa with Orange Blossom Water and Pistachios

A favourite dessert and super delicious.  You can buy the soft white vermicelli-like dough frozen in Lebanese, Turkish and Greek stores. In Lebanon, it is called knafe here and issold by its Greek name kataifi in 400g packets; it should be defrosted for 3 hours. The quantities below will make one large pastry to serve 10 but you can also make two, half the size, one to serve fewer people and one to put in the freezer to bake at a later date. It freezes well uncooked.   This version is called osmaliyah. 

Serves 10

For the syrup

350g (12oz) sugar

250ml (9fl oz) water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the filling

500g (18oz) mozzarella cheese, grated

250g (9oz) ricotta

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the pastry

400g (14oz) kataifi (knafe) pastry, defrosted

200g (7oz) unsalted butter, melted

Garnish

100g (3 1/2oz) pistachios, chopped

Make the syrup first. Boil the sugar with the water and the lemon juice over a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Another way to test it is to pour a drop onto a cold plate and if it does not spread out like water, it is ready. Stir in the orange blossom water and cook a moment more. Let it cool then chill in the refrigerator. (If you have overcooked the syrup and it becomes too thick to pour when it is cold, you can rescue it by adding a little water and bringing it to the boil again.) 

For the filling, in a bowl, mix the grated Mozzarella cheese with the ricotta, sugar and orange blossom water.

Put the kataifi pastry in a large bowl. With your fingers, pull out and separate the strands as much as possible. Melt the butter and when it has cooled slightly, pour it over the pastry and work it in very thoroughly with your fingers, pulling out and separating the strands and turning them over so that they do not stick together, and are entirely coated with butter.

Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a large round cake tin or pan, measuring 28-30cm (11-12 inches) in diameter. Spread the filling over it evenly and cover with the rest of the pastry. Press down firmly and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for about 45 minutes. Some like to brown the bottom – which comes out on top when the pastry is turned out – by running it over heat on a hob for a brief moment only. Others prefer the pastry to remain pale.

Just before serving, run a sharp knife round the edges of the osmaliyah to loosen the sides, then turn it out onto a large serving dish. Pour the cold syrup all over the hot pastry and sprinkle the top lavishly with the chopped pistachios.  

Alternatively, you can pour only half the syrup over the pastry and pass the rest around in a jug for everyone to help themselves to more if they wish.  Serve hot.

Walks in the Countryside

Walks in the countryside have helped to keep many of us sane during these past few troubling months.  At this stage we know every inch of our local area intimately, those of us who live close to the sea or a woodland feel fortunate indeed to be able to breathe in sea air and gather sea beet along by the seashore.

I’m a foraging nerd and now that Spring is definitely here, a walk takes on a whole extra dimension.  I scan the hedgerows, streams, woodland and seashore for wild things to gather.  There’s an abundance of fresh growth to nibble on and the young leaves of ground elder are at their best at present, eat them raw, in salads or add to a foragers soup, cook them like melted greens or make a ground elder champ.  Gardeners regard ground elder as a pest, a perennial weed that re-emerges and spreads every year but, where others see weeds, I see dinner…

For weeks now, we’ve been enjoying both kinds of wild garlic, both ramps and the snow bells that grow along the roadside and resemble white blue bells. Allium Triquetrum or Three-Cornered leeks are named because of their triangular stem, leek like leaves and pretty white, bell like flowers.  The broader leaved ramps or ramsons unlike its namesake, grow in dappled shade, under trees or in woodlands.  The leaves come first followed by the delicious flower buds, then the pretty whitepom pom like flowers and finally the pungent green seed heads that make a feisty pickle – all delicious.

JP McMahon described wild garlic as ‘the gateway drug for the novice forager’ because of its distinct garlicky aroma which makes it easy to identify.  It’s also super versatile in the kitchen and we keep finding more and more ways to enjoy it.  Add some chopped leaves to white soda scones, dip the top in cheddar cheese and how about this spicy riff on the wild garlic pesto recipe in my Grow, Cook, Nourish book.  The perky young leaves are also delicious in salads – I particularly love them with devilled eggs but try adding some to a Alfredo sauce with strips of roast red pepper to anoint some pasta before sprinkling with a shower of the pretty white wild garlic flowers.

Do you have a clean stream closeby?  Wild watercress is almost at its peak just now, before it begins to go to flower.  For identification purposes, remember the top leaf of the cress family is always the biggest and the leaves get progressively smaller as they go down the stem whereas the opposite applies to the wild celery that always grows side by side with watercress in the stream.  Make sure the water is clean and fast flowing and wash well before you use in soups, salads or your favourite recipe. 

Ever had butterfly sandwiches?  A memory from my childhood – simply, sliced white bread, slathered generously with butter, filled with chopped watercress and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  Press down and cut into triangles, surprisingly delicious, better still, add to egg and mayo sandwiches. 

I also love to nibble the first young leaves of hawthorn, we call this ‘bread and butter’,

These are known to be good for your cardiovascular system, an old wives tale that’s now backed up by science but don’t over do it…

You’ll find wintercress or bittercress growing everywhere at present, in gravel paths, flower beds.  It grows in basals and it too has a slightly mustardy flavour.  It’s alsoone of our favourite Winter and early Spring treats.  Enjoy now because it’ll soon get leggy and go to flower.  Add it to salads or use as a garnish to embellish starter plates.  The soft new growth of spruce look like pale green tassels, gather them to make a pine flavoured syrup before they get prickly.

Finally for this article, I must mention primroses and sweet cicely.  The latter is one of the earliest perennial herbs to re-emerge in Spring.  Add it to rhubarb or simply use it as a stencil on top of a cake.  Sprinkle with icing sugar and remove it to find a delicate fernlike pattern.  Primroses also make a pretty garnish or a delightful addition to a salad but are most enchanting when crystallised to decorate Wee Primrose Buns.

Watercress Soup

Wild watercress has more depth of flavour than farmed versions, so see if you can find some.  This soup has been a favourite on the menu of Ballymaloe House since it opened in 1963.

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

225g (8oz) chopped watercress (remove the coarse stalks first)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan.  When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the watercress. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the watercress and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the watercress is just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Wild Garlic and Cheddar Cheese Scones

Makes 9-12 depending on size

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

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

1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped wild garlic

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

110g (4oz) grated Cheddar cheese,

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

Sieve the dry ingredients and add the chopped wild garlic.  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 floured board, knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up.  Pat the dough into a square about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, brush with egg wash, cut into 9-12 square scones.  Dip the top of each scone into the grated Cheddar cheese, place on a baking sheet. 

Bake on a hot oven for 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Mark 6, for 6-10 minutes or until cooked.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve with soup or as a snack.

Buffalo Mozzarella with Spruce Syrup and Wild Bitter Greens

We collect the soft spruce tips in April while the new growth is still soft and green, try them – they have a delicious, mild piney flavour.

Serves 4

4 handfuls of wild bitter greens – e.g. bittercress, wood sorrel, watercress, dandelion, pennywort….

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 buffalo mozzarella (we use Toonsbridge)

2 tablespoons spruce syrup (see below)

Toss the greens in the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper.

Strew on a plate, top with torn mozzarella – 1/2 a ball per person.  Drizzle 2 teaspoons of spruce syrup over each mozzarella.  Serve with crusty white bread. 

Spruce Syrup

Makes 300ml (10fl oz)

100g (3 1/2oz) of fresh spuce tips

200g (7oz) granulated sugar

150ml (5fl oz) cold water

pinch of salt

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Whizz the spruce tips in a Magimix.  Place in a saucepan with the cold water and sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 minute.  Allow to cool.  Strain through a muslin lined sieve.  Discard the solids.  Add the freshly squeezed juice of one lemon.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 months. 

Serve with cream cheese or soft goat’s cheese.

Spicy Wild Garlic Pesto

Chilli adds extra oomph to this wild garlic pesto, use 1 or 2 depending on your taste and the heat of the chilli.

Makes 3 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

110g (4oz) wild garlic leaves, destalked

50g (2oz) cashew nuts, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 – 2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

350-450ml (12-16fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

80g (3 1/4oz approx.) freshly grated Parmesan, (Parmigiano Reggiano)

sugar to taste (it can take quite a bit towards the end of the season)

Wash the wild garlic leaves.  Spin and dry very well.

Whizz in a food processer with the chopped cashew nuts, crushed garlic, chopped chilli, salt and olive oil or pound in a pestle and mortar.  Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.  Store in a sterilized covered jar in the fridge.

Roast Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely  

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

4 tablespoons of sugar

4-6 leaves of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. Chop the sweet cicely and scatter over the base of an ovenproof dish.  Lay the rhubarb on top in a single layer.  Sprinkle with sugar and allow to macerate for an hour or so until the juices begin to flow. 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Cover the rhubarb with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the oven for 10–20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks, until the rhubarb is just tender. Keep a close eye on the rhubarb as it can disintegrate very quickly

Decorate with wispy bits of fresh sweet cicely and serve with softly whipped cream. 

Wee Crystallised Primrose Buns

These adorable buns or cupcakes make an enchanting present to bring cheer to a friend during the challenging times.  This is our favourite basic cupcake recipe, they can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion!

Makes 9-10 cupcakes or 16-18 buns

150g (5oz) butter (at room temperature)

150g (5oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

zest of 1/2 – 1 lemon depending on size

2 – 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 bun tins lined with 18 bun cases.

crystallised primrose to decorate

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

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processor, whizz until smooth.  Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in the bun trays or muffin tins. 

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.

Meanwhile make the icing.

Put the sieved icing sugar into a bowl.  Add just enough lemon juice to mix to a spreadable consistency. 

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon over a little icing on top of each one.  Arrange a crystallised primrose at an angle on top of each cupcake – adorable. 

Crystallized Flowers

Flowers and leaves crystallized with sugar will keep for months, although they may lose their initial vibrant colour. This is what we call a high-stool job – definitely a labour of love and not something suited to an impatient, Type A personality. The end result is both beautiful and rewarding and many family and staff wedding cakes have been embellished with crystallized flowers over the years.

Flowers and leaves must be edible and are all worth doing.

Smaller flowers are more attractive when crystallized e.g. primroses, violets, apple blossom, viola’s, rose petals….We crystallize lots of leaves as well as flowers so one can make attractive arrangements.  Use fairly strong textured leaves – e.g. mint, lemon balm, sweet cicely, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves.

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx. Break up the egg white slightly in a little bowl with a fork. Using a child’s paintbrush, paint the egg white very carefully over each petal and into every crevice. Pour the caster sugar over the flower with a teaspoon. Arrange the crystallized flowers carefully on silicone paper so that they retain a good shape. Leave to dry overnight in a warm, dry place such as close to an Aga, over a radiator or in an airing cupboard. When properly crystallized, these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box with an airtight lid.

Happy Easter…

Happy Easter to you all….These beautiful clear sunny days lift our spirits. The soil has warmed up in the garden, and the perennial plants are popping up again after their Winter hibernation.  Our little seedlings are growing in the garden and the greenhouses. I’ve been snipping chives to scatter over Easter egg sandwiches for a picnic on the cliffs and picking the first of the tiny pungent horseradish leaves to add to Spring salads.

This is the time to enjoy melissa or lemon balm leaves too; they are still tiny and have a haunting lemony taste. Delicious raw or in a lemon balm tisane a long time favourite after dinner infusion at Ballymaloe House but the treat from nature that really gives me a ‘Ooops in my tummy’ is sea kale. We’ve been blanching them by covering the plants with terracotta seakale pots or black plastic dustbins to exclude the light since shortly after Christmas. Now the pale yellow delicate stalks with a little frilly leaf on top are ready to eat so that will be our Easter feast. It’s so special that it needs little adornment apart from melted butter and perhaps some Hollandaise sauce, but here I pair it with a few oysters which we can still enjoy until the end of April.

I’ll cook my Easter lamb with just a sprinkle of sea salt flakes, no cumin, coriander or harissa with this sweet young lamb, just some fresh mint sauce.  I will use the first spears of fresh mint to make a simple mint sauce from Myrtle Allen’s recipe in the Ballymaloe Cookery Book.

If you don’t have a clump of spearmint, plant it now – it’s a perennial and will re-emerge every year after it’s winter snooze.

Hope you managed to make some Hot Cross Buns from the recipe in last week’s column. We’ve been making lots, they disappeared like hot cakes but any left overs make the most delicious Hot Cross Bread and Butter Pudding. Perfect for an Easter Sunday pud. If you  can’t find the time to make them, buy the best you can find from the growing number or artisan bakers around the country www.realbreadireland.org

Rhubarb is always linked to Easter in my mind and who doesn’t love a rhubarb tart (insert column date from recipe) but here’s a recipe for a Roast Rhubarb slice with Rose Geranium sugar that we’ve been enjoying here – It’s kind of a hybrid – delicious with a cup of coffee or a dessert.

If you have a food processor it’s super easy to make and this Rose geranium sugar is worth having in a jar to sprinkle over other cakes and desserts.

Happy Easter to each and everyone – good times are coming…!

Sea Kale and Oysters on Toast with Hollandaise Sauce

Cooking time depends on the freshness of the seakale. As you can imagine cooked mussels and prawns would be delicious here also. Check out the Farmers Markets at Midleton and Mahon Point for sea kale during the next few weeks.

Serves 4 – 6

600ml water

1 teaspoon salt

450g seakale

30g butter

8 – 12 Irish oysters

6 slices of toast, buttered

Hollandaise sauce (see recipe)

Garnish

A small bunch of chervil

Open the oysters and turn into a bowl.

Wash the seakale gently and trim into manageable lengths – about 10cm. Bring the water to a fast boil and add the salt. Add the seakale, cover and boil until tender – about 4 – 6  minutes. The cooking time depends on the freshness of the seakale. Just as soon as a knife will pierce the seakale easily, drain it.

Melt the butter in a pan on a gentle heat and toss in the oysters to warm through.

Serve the seakale with the oysters on hot buttered toast. Drizzle generously with Hollandaise sauce. Pop a little bunch of chervil on top of each toast and serve immediately.

Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with

Hollandaise is the mother of all the warm emulsion sauces.  The version we use here is easy to make and quite delicious with fish.  Like Mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a feast.  Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 70-80C or the sauce will curdle.  A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale, otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water.  Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need.  If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potato.

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

110g butter cut into dice

1 dessertspoon cold water

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water.  Add water and whisk thoroughly.  Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time.  As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece.  The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary.  Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made.  Finally add the lemon juice to taste.  If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low.  Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency. 

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage.  If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on).  A thermos flask is also a good option.

Myrtle’s Mint Sauce for Easter Lamb

Traditional mint sauce, made with tender young shoots of fresh mint, takes only minutes to make. For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture.

Makes about 175ml (6fl ozup)

Serves about 6

25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

110ml (4fl oz) boiling water

25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5–10 minutes, before serving.

Easter Devilled Eggs

Makes 8 – Serves 4

4 free range eggs

2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 box anchovies

Garnish

Watercress and chervil

For the egg mayonnaise, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes in boiling water, drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water. (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, slice in half lengthways and sieve the yolks, mix the sieved yolk with mayonnaise, add chopped chives, 2 mashed anchovy fillets and salt and pepper to taste. Fill in to a piping bag and pipe into the whites. Garnish with a whole wiggly anchovy and a sprig of chervil over the top.

Serve with thinly sliced brown yeast bread and a few sprigs of watercress if available.

Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding

A great way to use up left over Hot Cross buns and of course this recipe can be adapted for scones, Panetonne, even spotted dog or barmbrack. 

Serves 6-8

6 – 8 Hot-Cross buns (depending on size)

50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice

25g raisins

25g candied peel

450ml (16fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) sugar

pinch of salt

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

Split the hot cross buns in three horizontally, butter each side, but not the top of the buns. Arrange the base, in one layer in the dish. Sprinkle the buns with half the spice and half the raisins and candied peel, arrange the next layer of buns. Sprinkle the remaining nutmeg, raisins and candied peel. Cover with the tops of the hot cross buns.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the buns. Let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

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

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve warm with some softly whipped cream.

Good to know: This pudding reheats perfectly.

Roast Rhubarb and Sweet Geranium Sugar Cake

You’ll find yourself reaching for this recipe over and over again. Here I use rhubarb with sweet geranium, but I also love it with green gooseberries and elderflower, or plums or blackberries and apples. I enjoy arranging the rhubarb in neat lines, but if you are super busy just sprinkle them it the top of the sponge base.   

Serves 10-12

Roast Rhubarb

1kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb

200–250g (7-9oz) granulated sugar

8–12 lemon geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)

For the Sponge Base

225g (8oz) softened butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

275g (9ozups) self-raising flour

3-4 organic, free-range eggs

6-8 sweet geranium leaves

Sweet Geranium Sugar

2 large or 4 smaller sweet geranium leaves

50g (2oz) caster sugar

To Serve

crème fraîche or softly whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3.

First roast the rhubarb.

Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary. Slice the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a 45 x 30cm (18 x 12 inch) non-reactive ovenproof dish. Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and leave to macerate for 1 hour or more, until the juices start to run.

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

Cover the rhubarb with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the oven for 10 minutes – remove the paper and continue to roast for 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks, until the rhubarb is just tender. Keep a close eye on the rhubarb as it can disintegrate very quickly, it may only take 10 minutes in total. Cool.

Line the base of a 30 x 20.5 x 2cm (12 x 8 x 3/4 inch) cake tin with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides.  If available, arrange 6–8 sweet geranium leaves over the base – these give the sponge a haunting lemony flavour.

To make the sponge base, combine the soft butter, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon the mixture over the base of the tin as evenly as possible (over the sweet geranium leaves). Arrange the rhubarb carefully over the sponge mixture, there should be enough to cover it generously. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Sweet Geranium Sugar

Meanwhile, whizz the sweet geranium leaves with caster sugar in a food processor. Spread over a baking tray and set aside at room temperature to dry out.

When the cake is fully cooked, the centre of the cake should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the tin.  Leave to rest in the tin for 4–5 minutes, sprinkle with sweet geranium sugar and cut in portions. 

Serve with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

Spring Lamb’s Liver with Harissa Mayo and Wild Garlic Pesto

Lambs liver is delicate and tender, ask your butcher to tell you when they have spanking fresh liver.

Serves 4

500g Spring lamb liver

Flour, well seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper

Clarified butter or extra virgin olive oil

Harissa Mayo

Wild garlic pesto

Wild garlic flowers if available for garnish

First make the harissa and add ½ – 1 tablespoon to 5flozs  of mayo. Make or buy a jar of wild garlic pesto. Put into 2 squeezy bottles, if available.

Wash the liver, slice thinly dry in kitchen paper. Dip the liver in the well-seasoned flour. Melt the butter or heat the olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cook the liver in batches 1 – 2 minutes on one side then flip over onto the other side, careful not to overcook. Transfer to hot plates. Drizzle with harissa mayo and a little wild garlic pesto and serve immediately.

Harissa

Serve with grilled meat, fish and vegetables and in soups

6 chillies, roasted, seeded and peeled

1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato purée

8 cloves of garlic crushed

3 teaspoons of ground and roasted cumin seeds

3 teaspoons of ground and roasted coriander

6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaf

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Place the chillies on a small roasting tray and roast for about 20 minutes. The skins will be blackening and blistering and coming away from the flesh. Place the roasted chillies in a bowl, seal tightly with cling film and allow to cool. When cool, peel off the skins and slit the chillies to remove the seeds. You just want the roasted flesh of the chilli for the harissa.

Place the chillies in a food processor or use a pestle and mortar. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and ground spices and process to a smoothish purée. Gradually add in the oil and vinegar. Add the chopped coriander leaves and season to taste, adding a tiny pinch of sugar if you feel the flavour needs a lift. The taste should be strong, hot and pungent.

Store in a covered container such as a jam jar in the fridge.

The harissa will keep perfectly like this for several months.

Wild Food of the Week – Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm, a perennial herb might not be in your top ten of ‘must haves’ but I just adore it and so do the bees. It’s also called bee balm and our bees love the tiny white flowers. Given half a chance, lemon balm or melissa as it’s also known hops around and is given to tucking itself in here and there in between plants.  It can become invasive but the roots are shallow so it’s easy to pull up, unlike horseradish. Lemon balm was dedicated to the Roman Goddess Diana by the ancient Greeks and used medicinally by them for over 2000 years – it’s known to be an aid to digestion and helps to ease colic and flatulence and can help those suffering with insomnia.

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