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)


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


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.


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.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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