ArchiveJanuary 2022

Chinese New Year

Not sure about you but I was super happy to say goodbye to 2021 and welcome a brand-new year.  Feels like we may be edging towards a much better place than this time last year so I’m brimming with optimism and enthusiasm and I’m hatching up all sorts of plans for 2022.  I’m determined to snatch any excuse to celebrate, the birds starting to sing in the mornings, the stretch in the evenings, the first primroses…always a sign St. Bridget’s Day is around the corner.  We make a special St. Bridget’s Day cake, crystallise the primroses and decorate the top with the frosted flowers and freshly picked wood sorrel – so beautiful…you might like to make this on February 1st to celebrate our female patron saint. 

But in today’s column, we’re going to celebrate Chinese New Year, a two weeklong bonanza based on the Lunar calendar.  This year, celebrations start on the 1st of February and last until the 15th finishing with the Lantern Festival.  The Chinese Zodiac gives each year an animal sign, 2022 is the year of the Tiger – how exciting is that.  People born in the year of the Tiger, such as 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 are said to be brave, competitive, unpredictable and confident, so now you know…

There are all sorts of traditions and superstitions attached to celebrating the Chinese New Year also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival to make it more inclusive globally.  The Chinese travel, often thousands of miles, to be with their families and friends to eat, drink, cook and have fun together.   Traditionally, there’s a frenzy of spring cleaning for weeks before to have everything sparkling for the celebration.   As ever, food is at the centre of every celebration.  In Chinese culture, the colour red symbolises happiness, energy and prosperity so red lanterns, dragons, fireworks, candles, medallions are everywhere…. I love the tradition of ‘Hong Bao’, giving red envelopes with a gift of money tucked inside – such excitement for the children. 

For the past few years as a result of the pandemic, festivities have been curtailed and many families have not been able to get together to celebrate but there’s a growing optimism that 2022 may see the tentative return of parades, lion dances and family reunions. 

China is such a vast country.  Every region has different customs but all families plan an exciting New Year feast.  The traditional dishes are all symbolic – lucky foods, guaranteed to bring good fortune… 

Here are some of the favourites:

Spring rolls resembling bars of gold. 

Dumplings look like gold and silver ingots.  They are shaped like little purses, the more you eat, the richer you’ll be…

Noodles, some up to 2 feet long, symbolise longevity. 

A whole steamed fish – tender and delicious with a dipping sauce –known as ‘dayn daron’ or big fish in mandarin, suggests abundance. 

Little rice balls, filled with sweet red bean paste, signify family harmony, unity and togetherness.

There’s also a sweet glutinous rice cake – Nian gao (which can be sweet or savoury).  The word loosely translates to ‘higher up’ – obviously a positive, this is beloved by Chinese but not to everyone’s Western taste.

Fortune cookies – each crisp sugary cookie contains a piece of paper with a surprise prophecy. 

Tangerines are the most traditional citrus fruit to grace the table and gift to friends.  The Chinese characters sound like the word that means good fortune so here we are again, it’s all about good luck. 

So invite a couple of special friends around, have fun creating a little Chinese feast during the New Year celebrations and welcome better times ahead. 

Rory O’Connell’s Chinese Sliced Fish Soup

This soup is light and refreshing and the fish can be varied according to what you have available. The basic Chinese stock is essential for an authentic result. The fish in the recipe can be replaced with thin slices of chicken breast or pork fillet, so the soup is really versatile. A little finely sliced chilli may be added if heat is required. Feel free to experiment with your additions. I have on occasion eaten this soup without the fish and replaced it with lots of chopped fresh herbs and called it a herb broth. The final assembly is quick and easy.

1.2 litres (2 pints) Chinese stock (see below)

225g (8oz) lemon sole or plaice or turbot or brill fillets, skinned

18 – 24 prawns or shrimps or mussels, cooked and shelled

1 head of Iceberg or Cos lettuce

2 spring onions or scallions, finely sliced at an angle

2 tablespoons of coriander leaves

salt and pepper

Cut the filleted fish into pieces, about the side of a large postage stamp. Quarter the lettuce and remove any tough core. Finely slice the remaining quarters against the grain. Place the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the fish pieces and after 1 minute the prepared shellfish. Simmer for a further minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place some of the shredded lettuce in hot soup bowls. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cooked fish and shellfish between the bowls and ladle in the hot broth. Garnish each bowl with spring onions and coriander leaves and serve immediately.

Basic Chinese Stock

1.5kg (4lbs) chicken bones or pork spareribs, or a mixture

6 slices of un-peeled fresh ginger root, about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick

8 large scallions or spring onions

cold water

Place the bones, ginger and onion in a saucepan that they fit snugly into. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim off any froth that rises to the surface. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer gently for about 2 hours. Taste and if you are not happy with the flavour, allow it to cook for longer. Do not cover the stock during the cooking. Do not allow it to boil as the stock will reduce and become too strong. When happy with the flavour, strain, cool and refrigerate until needed. Remove any solidified fat from the surface of the stock before using. The stock will keep in the fridge for a few days or may be frozen. 

Fran’s Chinese Beef Dumplings

Dumplings can have a myriad of fillings.  I also love a mixture of shrimp and pork but try these delicious beef dumplings given to me by a past student Fran Borrill. 

Makes 40

1-2 packs gyoza/dumpling wrappers

1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) boiling water

900g (2lb) minced beef (15% fat)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

1 bunch spring onions, minced

3 Chinese cabbage leaves

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1 red chilli, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Dipping Sauce

2 teaspoons chilli oil (taste to see how hot it is before adding)

3 tablespoons  hoisin sauce

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) soy sauce

4 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon caster sugar (optional)

3 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

2 tablespoons spring onion, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

To make the Dipping Sauce, put all the ingredients into a jam jar and shake.

Next, make the dumplings.

Place the Sichuan peppercorns and boiling water into a heatproof jug and allow them to soak for 10-15 minutes.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl (by hand is best) until they are well combined.

Strain the Sichuan peppercorns and retain the liquid.

Pour half the water into the beef mixture and stir until it has absorbed.  Repeat with the remaining water.

Put a scant teaspoon of the mixture into the middle of a dumpling skin, wet the outer edge with water and fold the dumpling together (into a half-moon shape) by pleating one edge against the other.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a frying pan or wok.  Fry the dumplings until one side is brown and crisp, 2-3 minutes.

Then add 2 tablespoons of water to the pan/wok (please note that the oil will split due to water being added) and cover immediately with a lid for 5-6 minutes to allow the dumplings to steam.

Serve immediately with the dipping sauce and enjoy.

Stir-Fried Prawns and Pork with Crispy Noodles

Recipe taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books (2021)

Super-fast and delicious and fun to do.  I love the contrast and textures of sweet, sour, sharp and salty flavours.  We love to pile the crispy noodles into lettuce leaves or wraps.

Serves 4

100g (3 1/oz) rice vermicelli

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

6 garlic cloves, finely sliced

1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)

400g (14oz) minced pork

200g (7oz) cooked prawns or shrimps, cut into 8mm (1/3 inch) chunks

a large handful of beansprouts or 80g (3 1/4oz) spring onions, cut at an angle

1 – 2 tablespoons light soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons mirin

a large handful of coriander leaves

juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges to serve

For this recipe, break the vermicelli into shortish lengths about 10 – 12.5cm (4-5 inch).

Deep-fat fryers vary in size so fill the fryer up to the recommended line and heat the oil to 180˚C (350˚F).  Alternatively, fill a deep saucepan with 5 – 7.5cm (2-3 inch) depth of oil. 

Cook the noodles in batches until crisp – they puff up like magic in just a few seconds. Drain on kitchen paper.

Heat 3cm (1 1/4 inch) oil in a wok over the highest heat, add the shallots and stir-fry for 1 minute.   Add the garlic, chilli flakes and pork and continue to stir-fry for a further 2 minutes or until the pork is almost cooked.  Add the prawns, beansprouts, sugar, fish sauce and mirin and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes or until the prawns are heated through.  Add the coriander. Toss, taste and add more fish sauce, mirin or sugar if necessary.  Add the lime juice.

Spoon the pork and prawn mixture over the drained noodles.  Serve with lime wedges on the side.  Alternatively, pile into lettuce leaf wraps. 

Deh-Ta Hsiung’s Steamed Grey Sea Mullet

Deh-Ta Hsiung, a Chinese chef who came to the school on several occasions to give us a “Taste of China”, was so excited by the flavour of grey sea mullet  that he almost emigrated to Ireland! I give you his delicious recipe for steamed fish with his permission. 

Serves 4 as a main course

1 grey sea mullet weighing approx. 700-900g (1 1/2 – 2lbs) (sea bass could be used instead)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sesame seed oil

4 spring onions

2-3 dried mushrooms, soaked and thinly shredded

50g (2oz) pork fillet or cooked ham, thinly shredded

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry

4cm (1 1/2 inch) piece peeled ginger root, thinly shredded

2 tablespoons oil

Scale and gut the fish (if not already done), wash it under the cold tap and dry well both inside and out with a cloth or kitchen paper. Trim the fins and tail if not already trimmed, be careful and use strong scissors and watch out for the very sharp spines. 

Slash both sides of the fish diagonally as far as the bone at intervals of about 1cm (1/2 inch) with a sharp knife.  In case you wonder why it is necessary to slash both sides of the fish before cooking, the reason is twofold: first, if you cook the fish whole, the skin will burst unless it’s scored and secondly slashing allows the heat to penetrate more quickly and at the same time helps to diffuse the flavours of the seasoning and sauce, also as the Chinese never use a knife at the table, it is much easier to pick up pieces of flesh with just a pair of chopsticks.

Rub about half the salt and all the sesame seed oil inside the fish and place it on top of 2-3 spring onions on an oval-shaped dish.

Mix the mushrooms and pork with the remaining salt, a little of the soy sauce and wine.  Stuff about half of this mixture inside the fish and rest on top with the ginger root.  Place in a hot Chinese steamer over a wok and steam vigorously for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, thinly shred the remaining spring onions and heat the oil in a little saucepan until bubbling.  Remove the fish dish from the steamer, arrange the spring onion shreds on top, pour the remaining soy sauce over it and then the hot oil from head to tail.  Serve hot.

If you don’t possess a steamer big enough to hold a whole fish, it can be wrapped in silver foil and baked in the oven at 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 for 20-25 minutes. 

Fortune Cookies

It’s such fun to make Chinese fortune cookies, each one has a strip of paper hidden inside with a Chinese wish or proverb. They are made from a simple tuile batter. Spread them really thinly and mould as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise, they become brittle and crumbly. Have your little wishes ready to pop in.

Makes 30-32

140g (scant 5oz) butter

4 egg whites

210g (7 1/2oz) caster sugar

155g (5 1/4oz) white flour, sieved

3 tablespoons cream

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

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

Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Melt the butter gently and allow to cool a little.

Put the egg whites and sugar into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk for a few seconds. Fold in the flour and mix. Add the melted butter, cream and almond extract. Mix until well combined.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of batter onto a prepared baking sheet, spread with the back of a spoon into a thin even 10cm (4 inch) round.  Allow room for spreading and don’t attempt to cook more than 3 or 4 at a time, otherwise it will be difficult to shape  them quickly enough.  Bake until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown, 6-8 minutes.

Have all your Chinese proverbs ready. Lift one of the cookies off the baking tray with a spatula. Lay the strip of paper across the centre, fold the cookie into a semi-circle and pinch the rounded edges gently together.  Insert your thumb and index finger into the  open ends and fold them down to meet underneath.  This whole process should only take about 10 seconds. Cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the others and eat within a couple of hours or store in an airtight container with a (silica crystal packet).  Happy Chinese New Year!


It’s that time of the year again, the air is fragrant with the smell of marmalade bubbling away in pots throughout the Ballymaloe Cookery School.  Such a joy to be able to welcome students back to start the Spring Program.  Seven nationalities this time, all super excited and eager to learn and determined to pack as much as possible into the next 12 weeks.

Many, in fact most have never made marmalade before, so they are delighted to discover how easy and rewarding it is.  They are so proud of their jars, carefully lined up on the shelf side by side with the raspberry jam they learned how to make in the first week to slather onto Sweet Crunchy Scones. 

So how about a marmalade making session this week.  The Seville oranges are in season, you’ll find them in your local greengrocer, Catriona Daunt and Willi Doherty of Organic Republic will have organic oranges on their stalls at Midleton, Bantry, Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets – so worth the little extra they cost – see organic_republic on Instagram.  Blood oranges have just arrived into the shops too, as have bergamots, how exotic do they sound and they also make a delicious marmalade.

Jam making doesn’t appeal much to lads but marmalade gets some chaps really excited – older men particularly have very fixed ideas on what perfect marmalade should taste like.  Some like it bitter and dark, others prefer a fresh citrusy flavour, a dash of Irish whiskey or a couple of dollops of black treacle for extra depth of flavour.  I’m loving our blood orange and Campari marmalade, a twist on one of my favourite aperitif combos.  Oranges are not the only citrus that make good marmalade, three-fruit marmalade can be made at any time of the year, e.g. orange, lemon and grapefruit.  Kumquat marmalade is also a super delicious luxurious treat and don’t forget clementine, mandarin or tangerine marmalade all made in a similar way and now in season too. 

How To Make:

Marmalade is usually made over two days.  Juice and slice the oranges and leave them to steep overnight in a little muslin bag with the pips.  Cook until the peel is tender.  Heat the sugar but be really careful not to add it until the peel is really soft and the original liquid has reduced to between one-third and half of its original volume.  If the sugar is added too early, it will harden the peel, resulting in a chewy marmalade – quite the challenge early in the morning. 

Enjoy the process, make a cup of coffee, turn on some music and have fun slicing the rind – Yes, I know it’s easier to put it into a blender but the end result will be sludgy – it’s your call and of course will depend on your preference and your time.  Either way, enjoy, you may even want to enter a pot of your marmalade into The Marmalade Awards before February 11th, 2022.  Check out

Meanwhile, here are some recipes to get your started.

Classic Seville Orange Marmalade

The bitter Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-5 weeks.

Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lbs)

900g (2lbs) of Seville oranges, organic if possible

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

1 organic lemon

1.45kg (3 1/4lbs) granulated sugar

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil.  Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.). Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is reached, 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104˚C/220˚F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen the peel and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Whiskey Marmalade

Add 6 tablespoons of whiskey to the cooking marmalade just before potting.

Seville Orange and Treacle Marmalade

Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-5 weeks.

Makes approx. 3.2kg (7lbs)

900g (2lbs) of Seville oranges, organic if possible

2.3 litres (4 pints) water

1 organic lemon

1.45kg (3 1/4lbs) granulated sugar

175ml (6fl oz) treacle

Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips and tie them in a piece of muslin. Slice the peel fairly coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.

Next day, bring everything to the boil.  Cover and simmer gently for about 1 1/2 hours until the peel is really soft. Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume (30 minutes approx.).  Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is almost reached, 5-6 minutes approx.  Stir in the treacle, bring back to the boil and cook for 4-5 minutes or until a set is reached.

Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 104˚F/220˚F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.

Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.

N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Seville Whole Orange Marmalade

Makes 5.9 – 6.6kg (13-15lbs) approx.

When the Seville and Malaga oranges in the shops for just a few short weeks after Christmas. Buy what you need and make the marmalade while the oranges are fresh, if possible. If not just pop them into the freezer, this recipe works brilliantly for frozen oranges, it’s not even necessary to defrost them.

Some recipes sliced the peel first but the majority boiled the whole oranges first and then sliced the peel.

With any marmalade its vital that the original liquid has reduced by half or better still two-thirds before the sugar is added otherwise it takes ages to reach a set and both the flavour and colour will be spoiled.  A wide low-sided stainless-steel saucepan is best for this recipe, say 35.5 x 40.5cm (14- 16 inch) wide. If you don’t have one approx. that size cook the marmalade in two batches.

2.2kg (4 1/2lbs) Seville or Malaga oranges (organic if possible)

5.1 litres (9 pints) water

3.6kg (8lbs) sugar

Wash the oranges.  Put them in a stainless-steel saucepan with the water.  Put a plate on top to keep them under the surface of the water.  Cover with the lid of the saucepan, simmer gently until soft, 2 hours approx. cool and drain, reserving the water. (If more convenient, leave overnight and continue next day.) Put your chopping board onto a large baking tray with sides so you won’t lose any juice.   Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the soft centre.  Slice the peel finely. Put the pips into a muslin bag.

Put the escaped juice, sliced oranges and the muslin bag of pips in a large wide stainless-steel saucepan with the reserved marmalade liquid.  Bring to the boil, reduce by half or better still two-thirds, add the warm sugar, stir over a brisk heat until all the sugar is dissolved.  Boil fast until setting point is reached. Pot in sterilized jars and cover at once.  Store in a dark airy cupboard.

With any marmalade its vital that the original liquid has reduced by half or better still two-thirds before the sugar is added otherwise it takes ages to reach a set and both the flavour and colour will be spoiled.  A wide low-sided stainless-steel saucepan is best for this recipe, say, 35.5 – 40.5cm (14-16 inch) wide.   If you don’t have one around that size, cook the marmalade in two batches.

Pam’s Bergamot Lemon Marmalade

One of our senior tutors, Pamela Black has a passion for bergamots – this is her recipe…tart and delicious!

6 – 8 pots

1kg (2 1/4lbs) un-waxed Bergamot lemons

1 3kgs (3lbs) granulated sugar

2 1/2 litres (4 1/4 pints) cold water

Scrub the skin of the lemons in warm water with a soft brush. Put into a deep stainless-steel saucepan with the water. Cover and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 2 hours until the lemons are soft and tender.

Remove the lemons and allow to cool.  Bring back the liquid to the boil and reduce the liquid to 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints). 

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cut the lemons in half, save the pips and tie with the soft membrane in a little muslin bag. Chop the peel and put into a stainless-steel saucepan with the reduced juice, liquid and the bag of pips. Put back on the heat, add the sugar, bring to the boil and cook to a setting point – 15-20 minutes approx. Test for a set in the usual way.

Allow to cool in the saucepan for 15 minutes. Pot into sterilised jars, cool and store in a dark dry cupboard.

Blood Orange Marmalade

Makes 4 jars approximately

4 blood oranges (1 1/2lbs approx.)

1.2 litres (2 pints)

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

570g (1lb 4 1/2oz) granulated sugar, or more to taste

2 tablespoons Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

Wash the fruit, cut in half around the ‘equator’ and squeeze out the juice.  Remove the membrane with a sharp spoon, keep aside. Cut the peel in quarters and slice the rind across rather than lengthways.  Put the juice, sliced rind and water in a stainless-steel saucepan. Put the pips and membrane into a muslin bag and add to the saucepan.  Leave overnight. 

The following day. 

Add the zest and juice of the lime to the saucepan and simmer with the bag of pips for 40-60 minutes until the peel is really soft.  (Cover for the first 30 minutes).  Then cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 – 1/2 of the original volume. 

Remove the muslin bag and discard the pips and membrane.  They have already yielded their pectin to the marmalade.  Add the warmed sugar to the soft peel, stir until the sugar has dissolved: boil until it reaches setting point (104˚C/220°F) on a sugar thermometer), about 8-10 minutes. 

Stir in the Cointreau (use Blood Orange Cointreau if you can source it) or Grand Marnier if you are using it.

Note: If the sugar is added before the rind is really soft, the rind will toughen, and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Use the ‘wrinkle test’ to double-check for a firm set. 

Allow to stand in the saucepan for 5 minutes before ladling into hot, sterilized jam jars leaving 5mm (1/4 inch) of headspace.  Seal.  Store in a cool, dark place.

Campari and Blood Orange Marmalade

Add 1-2 tablespoons of Campari to the marmalade 1-2 minutes before end of cooking, taste, pot and seal ASAP.

Sweet Crunchy Scones with Marmalade and a blob of cream

Makes 9-10 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3 inch) cutter

450g (1lb) plain white flour

75g (3oz) butter

2 small free-range eggs

pinch of salt

25g (1oz) castor sugar

1 heaped teaspoon plus 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder (25g/1oz approx.)

200ml (7fl oz) approx. milk to mix


Egg Wash (see below)

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

To Serve

your favourite marmalade

softly whipped cream

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

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs, put into a measure and add milk to bring the liquid up to 300ml (10fl oz), add all but 2 tablespoons (save to egg wash the top of the scones to help them to brown in the oven) to the dry ingredients in one go and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured worktop.  Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round.  Roll out to about 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in crunchy Demerara or coarse granulated sugar.

Put onto a baking tray – no need to grease. 

Bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half.  Top with homemade marmalade and a blob of softly whipped cream.

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


Last year our Indian holiday had to be cancelled for all the reasons we are now familiar with, so rather than ask for a refund, we deferred our booking for 12 months so we had something really to look forward to throughout the ups and downs of the last year.

In November 2021, India reopened for travel and one could get a month-long visa so rather than hop from one place to another, we decided to go directly to Ahilya Fort, an enchanting heritage property perched high above the sacred Narmada River in Maheshwar where there’s always a gentle breeze. 

It’s quite a mission to get there, Cork to Amsterdam and onto Delhi and then a domestic flight to Indore.  A driver from the hotel welcomes you at the airport with a picnic to sustain you for the almost two-hour journey to the exquisitely restored fort, originally the home of Ahilya Bai, the warrior Queen who ruled Indore from 1765 – 1796.   The driving force behind the restoration project was Prince Richard Holkar, descendant of Queen Ahilya Bai.  He and his original wife Sally Holkar also re-established the almost extinct hand weaving industry for which Maheshwar was justly famous and is now once again thriving.  Women now come from all over India to choose a much-coveted Maheshwar silk sari.

The balcony of our bedroom overlooked the ghats (steps), temples and chattris on the riverbank where there is endless activity from sunrise to sunset.  It’s a riot of colour.  Before dawn, local women come to wash their clothes in the river.  Hundreds of pilgrims, some of whom have walked for over 150kms with their little bundle of possessions, pour onto the ghats to perform their pujas and bathe in the sacred river to wash away their sins.  Others chant, sing, pray… Children fly homemade kites, feed the sacred river fish and sell brightly coloured baubles to Indian tourists on day trips…There’s street food galore, poha, pingers, poppodums, sugar cane juice, guavas…The women bathe in their beautiful saris and then spread them out on the ghats to dry…Little boats, all gaily painted, ferry devotees backwards and forwards across the km wide river to the myriad of temples on both riverbanks…From the poorest to the most affluent…everyone is so devout…it’s incredibly moving.

The little town is bustling with activity too, lots of tiny shops, selling everything from garlands of marigolds and roses to embellish the Gods or welcome visitors.  Intriguing hardware shops, tailors busy on their Singer sewing machines, jewellers hand beating silver, stalls piled high with spanking fresh vegetables and fruit, bananas, carrots, water chestnuts, papayas, watermelons, pomegranates…A host of Indian sweets and namkeen shops.  Halfway downtown, close to the ATM machine, there’s a barber with an open-air shop front trimming hair, beards and soaping up chins ready for shaving.  Around the corner, a man meticulously irons piles of clothes with a big heavy iron like one might find in an antique shop.  Others sell colourful pictures of the Indian Gods, incense and much sought-after Shiva lingam from the river, and other essentials for puja’s (special prayers) – so beautiful and intriguing, it’s like walking through a Bollywood movie…

From early morning to late at night, the air is fragrant with the smell of food from the numerous street stalls, katchori, pakoras, bright orange jalebi, poha, robori and a wonderful fluffy saffron milk bubbling in a large kari (iron wok).  

By now you can tell that I love India.  Everyday there’s another adventure, somewhere new to explore.

I had several wonderful cooking classes in Indian homes, usually from grandmothers who still do everything from scratch and cook over an open fire with wood and dried cow dung patties.  The latter may sound very strange to us but in fact, it’s very common in rural India.  Food cooked over dried dung fires tastes delicious.  They don’t smell at all, it’s a brilliant way of recycling and Guess What…you can buy Indian cow patties (gotha) via Amazon.  They are also used in some religious ceremonies.

How about the food at Ahilya Fort? 

All meals are included in the room rate plus afternoon tea and non-alcoholic cocktails from 7-8pm.  Much of the produce is home-grown in the organic gardens, on the farm or comes beautifully fresh from local markets. 

Memorable, long lazy breakfasts with deliciously ripe fresh fruit and juices, homemade yoghurt (curd), jams made by Prince Richard Holkar himself, freshly baked breads…I made kumquat marmalade from the fruit in the garden and picked the lemons from the lemon tree to make a zesty lemon curd.  There’s an Indian speciality every day, dosa with sambal, idli, uppam, masala omelette or Maheshwari scrambled eggs…

Lunch is mostly western vegetarian food but for dinner a different Thali every night, with 6 or 7 little bowls of delicious Indian food and fresh crunchy vegetables with a segment of lime and salt. 

Some of the recipes come from Prince Richard Holkar’s book, the Food of the Maharajas, others have been brought to Ahilya Fort by the cooks from their family homes. 

Many in India are vegetarian, so there’s a ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’ option at every meal and an Indian dessert – perhaps carrot or guava halwa, lemongrass kheer, gulab jamum, lapsi…Not all Indian food is spicy but I looked forward to every meal at Ahilya Fort.  Here are a few recipes for some of the food I enjoyed.

Check it

Ahilya Fort Chicken Survedar

Another of my favourite recipes from ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’.

Serves 4-6

1kg (2 1/4lb) organic chicken

6 tablespoons clarified ghee/butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons ginger paste

2 tablespoons garlic paste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/4 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

450ml (16fl oz) coconut milk

10 – 12 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped

fresh coriander

Heat the clarified ghee or butter in a pan.  Add the chopped onion, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic paste, poppy seeds and turmeric.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the freshly ground black pepper and salt and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, add the chicken pieces and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cook until the chicken is tender.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Before serving add the coarsely chopped cashew nuts and lots of fresh coriander. 

Virgin Chicken

Not sure how this recipe got its name but the end result is intriguing and delicious.  Serve with Basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons seeds only of whole dried red chilli peppers

1 tablespoon scraped and minced ginger

1 tablespoon salt

110ml (4fl oz) natural yoghurt

110ml (4fl oz) cream

Drop the chilli seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz to a smooth purée.

50ml (2fl oz) clarified ghee/butter

450g (1lb) chicken pieces, preferably skinned, cut into 5cm (2 inch) piece with bone in, if possible

225ml – 450ml (8-16fl oz) hot water

Pour the clarified butter into a medium saucepan.  As it begins to heat, stir in the chicken pieces and the blended mixture.  Mix thoroughly.  Add 225ml (8fl oz) of hot water and simmer uncovered until tender (add extra water as necessary).

1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds

50g (2oz) dried coconut

14 almonds, peeled and coarsely chopped

110ml (4fl oz) whole milk

Meanwhile, put the poppy seeds into the blender and blitz.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Blend to a smooth purée.  Add this purée to the chicken ten minutes before serving.  Heat through, stirring gently. 

1 – 2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

1 tablespoon lime juice

Basmati rice to accompany

Just before serving, stir in the remaining ingredients.  Serve on a mound of Basmati rice to absorb the abundant sauce.  Garnish with lime wedges. 

Ahilya Fort Lobia Beans

Fresh lobia beans look like French beans, the dried beans are also used in many dishes – but use the fresh beans for this recipe.  I hadn’t come across white chilli powder before but it can be sourced in an Indian food store.

Serves 4-6

500g (18oz) French beans

1 tablespoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1/4 tablespoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

3 tablespoons Thai basil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon white chilli powder (or use a combination of ground white pepper and chilli powder)

pinch of asafoetida 

1/4 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons grated coconut

Cut the beans into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.  Grind the garlic, ginger and basil to a paste in a pestle and mortar.  Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the ginger, garlic paste into the oil.  Add the French beans, stir and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk, white chilli powder and cook for another 5 minutes.  Then add a pinch of asafoetida and mustard seeds and salt.  Cook until it splatters.  They can be reheated.

Just before serving, garnish with fresh coconut. 

Cauliflower and Tomato Stew

I love this combination – delicious alone or with chicken, lamb or beef.

Serves 4-6

5 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 onions, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic paste (peeled and crushed garlic)

1 teaspoon ginger paste (peeled and crushed fresh ginger)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chilli powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

500g (18oz) cauliflower, cut into small florets

5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and diced

lots of fresh coriander to serve

Heat the oil in a kari (iron wok), add the mustard and cumin seeds, then the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add the garlic and ginger paste and cook and stir for a further 5 minutes.  Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and salt to taste.  Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.  Add the cauliflower florets.  Stir and cook for 5 – 8 minutes or until just cooked.  Add the tomato dice and cook for 3 minutes.  Taste and serve with lots of fresh coriander. 

Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

I made this recipe at Ahilya Fort, based on a delicious brownie recipe created by super baker Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes, in London.  It was a BIG success.  We’ve gilded the lily by adding a drizzle of ganache and by sprinkling some coarsely chopped pistachio and a few rose petals on top – I used fresh rose petals from the organic flower garden at Ahilya Fort.

Makes 10 brownies

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing

350g (12oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces (approx. 60-70% cocoa solids) (we use Valrhona)

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white flour or spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using sea salt)

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs (about 200g/7oz)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) cream

110g (4oz) dark chocolate, chopped into pieces


50g (2oz) pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals

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

Butter and line a 20 x 30cm (8 x 11 inch)  baking dish with parchment paper.

In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over water that has been brought to the boil and then taken off the heat.  Leave the mixture to rest, stirring occasionally as it melts.

In another bowl, sift together the cocoa, spelt flour and baking powder.  Sprinkle over the salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture, followed by the combined dry ingredients and pour into the prepared baking dish.  Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes – the brownies should be set but with a slight wobble.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed stainless-steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  Leave it to cool to room temperature.

Slather a little chocolate ganache on top of the brownies. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and rose petals.  Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy.

Tangerines with a hint of Jasmine Syrup

This deliciously refreshing recipe also comes from Ahilya Fort.  A simple gem so good after a rich main course.  Scatter with a few jasmine flowers in season. 

Serves 6

6 clementine, mandarin or satsumas

Jasmine Syrup (available to buy in Asian food stores)

fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season

Peel the citrus, removing all the pith.  Cut into approx. 7mm (1/3 inch) slices around the equator.  Lay 3-6 slices on cold plates, depending on the size of the fruit.  Sprinkle with a little jasmine syrup (just a few drops). 

Scatter a few fresh mint leaves and jasmine flowers in season over the top.

Climate Change

By now there can scarcely be a person on the planet who is unaware of climate change and the imminent threat to natural ecosystems and life as we know it.  It’s difficult not to feel helpless in the face of the terrifying statistics but there are over 7.5 billion of us on planet Earth and think of the collective difference everyone of us doing our bit could make…  I’m convinced that we all want to but where to start?  You’ll have lots of ideas and suggestions yourself and let’s share…Send me yours and I’ll put them in ‘My little hot tip to save the planet’ every week for 2022.  So to get us started….

Everyone’s situation is different but here are a few suggestions for lots of little actions we can make at home in our own lives.  based on the time-honoured soundbite – reduce, reuse, recycle….

1. Let’s start with our grocery shopping – make a list, scrutinise each item and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?  Do I need this much? Is it produced sustainably?  Can I do without it?’

2. Breakfast cereals…Most have virtually no nutritional value but lots of sugar, salt and air miles…Yes, they are convenient, an easy option when you and everyone around you is bleary-eyed in the morning but how about organic porridge oats – can be cooked in minutes or better still, the night before and reheated in the morning.  Serve with a drizzle of honey, whole milk or Jersey cream, peanut butter, maple syrup….feel good and bounce with energy.

Flahavan’s or Kilbeggan sustainable organic rolled oats are cooked in minutes but try making a fine pot of Macroom oatmeal once or twice a week – Wow!  You’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier.

3.  Make twice or three times soup or stew recipes.  Takes a little more prep time but saves on cooking time.  Freeze surplus in recycled plastic containers.

4. Buy an organic chicken – 100% sustainable or at least a free-range bird (a pretty elastic term) and get 6 meals from one chicken including a pot of stock from the carcass and giblets and a delish chicken liver parfait from the livers…Very cheap chicken very often has antibiotics, hormones, growth protomers, bone strengtheners and antidepressants in every feed – NOT GOOD, unsustainable comes from the other side of the world, not to mention the welfare issues…

5. Save all your bones, cooked or raw plus trimmings of vegetables and herb stalks.  Store in a large ‘Stock Box’ in your freezer.  When the box is full to the brim, make a celebration pot of stock, same cooking time for a large pot as a tiny saucepan.  Strain, cool and freeze in recycled litre milk bottles.  Use for soups, stews, tagines or reduce to make a nourishing broth.

6. Save all your citrus peels, one could make candied peel to use in cakes, plum puddings, garnishes etc.  Otherwise, dry and use for firelighters.  I use the bottom oven of my ancient Aga to dry the peels but could be near a radiator or close to a heater.  They keep for ages, spark deliciously and smell of caramelised oranges and provide tonnes of virtuous feelings…

7. Mindful tea and coffee, let’s think before we fill the kettle every time. Do we just want a small pot of coffee or just one mug of tea? Let’s just boil enough water for our needs and save energy – again this is something we can become mindful about…

8. Eliminate ‘tin-foil’ totally from the kitchen, you can do without it altogether – YES you can…I banned it from the Ballymaloe Cookery School years ago for a variety of reasons (not least the possibility of particles of aluminium in our food – not good). Clingfilm is more of a challenge but I’m on a mission to eliminate that also, particularly as I remember life before clingfilm. It’s best to remember to cover bowls with plates and plates with upturned bowls where possible.  However, this can create a space challenge in the fridge and coldroom….
Beeswax wrappers are a good solution in domestic settings but a challenge in restaurants and commercial situations. Store leftover food in recyclable plastic boxes (get them free from your local sweet shops).

9. Kitchen paper towels have become another ‘must have’ in our homes. Now let’s look at this – actually, it’s totally unnecessary, spills can be mopped up with a damp dish cloth in the time-honoured way. Reusable dish cloths can be made from old towels or distressed tea towels, Certified FSC cellulose cloths are worth exploring. They absorb lots of liquid, apparently replace 17 rolls of kitchen paper and last for over nine months and endure over 200 constant washes.
No prizes for knowing that kitchen paper and paper napkins have huge environmental impacts from deforestation and water consumption to the pollution associated with pulping and bleaching, not to speak of the waste created by these throw-away products.
According to the Environment Protection Agency, Ireland has increased its waste right across the board.  An 11% increase in packaging waste alone.  Each and everyone of us creates 628kgs of waste each year. How shocking is that but not surprising considering all the extra packaging generated by everything having to be wrapped during Covid and all those paper cups…So what can we do?  An easy one is to keep a glass or mug in your bag or car at all times for those take-away coffees and teas…

10. Save all your leftover bread and crusts to make breadcrumbs – just whizz up in a blender or food processor or grate on a box grater in the time-honoured way (careful of your fingers…)
Freeze for stuffings, crumbles, gratins, crumbing, pangrattato, migos…

11.Wash-up liquid – we really need to think about this.  At the very least, buy a well-established eco brand (plant rather than petroleum  based).  Many contain phosphate which contributes to eutrophication of water in rivers and lakes. If possible, buy in bulk and refill your plastic bottles.

12. If it is an option, trade up and buy a dishwasher with a 10-12 minute cycle, uses less water and in my experience cleans non-greasy dishes perfectly without any dishwasher tablet. Think before you add the tablet, perhaps you can save 4 or 5 a week….

13. Use natural cleaning products, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice are some of the most effective. Totally illuminate all ‘fresh airs’, detox products from your home…they are expensive and may damage your health. Open the windows and how about lots of scrubbing brushes and elbow grease…

14. Save apple peels and cores to make apple jelly. Keep in a freezer box.

15. Best thing ever, get a few hens, four in a chicken coop on the lawn are plenty for an average household. Feed them the food scraps and get delicious fresh eggs in return a few days later – best recyclers ever – plus the chicken poo will fertilise your lawn or activate your compost heap. Your kids will love them, give a present of a few eggs occasionally to your neighbours in exchange for scraps and looking after hens when you are on your hols!

Ballymaloe Granola

A million times more delicious, nutritious and satisfying cereal than virtually anything you can buy.  Remove breakfast cereals except porridge entirely from your shopping list – sounds horribly bossy but yes you can!

Serves 20

350g (12oz) local runny honey

225g (8fl oz) light olive or grapeseed oil

470g (1lb 1oz approx.) oat flakes

200g (7oz) barley flakes

200g (7oz) wheat flakes

100g (3 1/2oz) rye flakes

150g (5oz) seedless raisins or sultanas

150g (5oz) peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds or cashew nuts split and roasted

70g (2 3/4oz) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

50g (2oz) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, berries in season, milk and/or natural yoghurt.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stone-ground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

Serves 4

155g (5 1/4oz) Macroom oatmeal

1.4 litres (scant 2 1/2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

soft brown sugar

Bring the water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with Jersey cream or whole (preferably raw) milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top or any other favourite toppings of your choice.

Leftover porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day but will need some extra water added.


If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Ballymaloe Chicken Liver Pâté with Croutini

Chicken livers are loaded with Vitamin A – a vitally important nutrient at this time.  This recipe has been a timeless favourite in Ballymaloe since the opening of the restaurant in 1965.  Its success depends upon being generous with good Irish butter.  Thin crisp croutini are made from stale bread, yet another way to use up every scrap…

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.

225g (8oz) fresh organic chicken livers

2 tablespoons brandy

225-350g (8-12oz) butter (depending on how strong the chicken livers are)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper

Clarified Butter (melted and skimmed butter), to seal the top.

Wash the livers in cold water and remove any membrane or green tinged bits. Dry on kitchen paper.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan; when the butter foams add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat.  Be careful not to overcook them or the outsides will get crusty; all traces of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then de-glaze the pan with brandy, allow to flame or reduce for 2-3 minutes. Scrape everything with a spatula into a food processor.  Purée for a few seconds.  Allow to cool.

Add 225g (8oz) butter. Purée until smooth.  Season carefully, taste and add more butter, cut into cubes if necessary.

This pâté should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots or into one large terrine.   Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.  Serve with croutini.   This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.


Another brilliant way to use up every leftover scraps bread deliciously. 

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

Slice staleish baguette diagonally into the thinnest slices possible and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray.  Dry in a low oven until crisp and dry, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pâtés, cheese or just as a snack slathered with something delicious, or with soup.

Leek, Sprout and Macaroni Bake

Recipe taken from ‘How To Cook’ by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books.

This gratin can be cooked ahead, refrigerated for several days or frozen, so it’s a good standby option. Try adding some little morsels of bacon, chorizo, merguez or Toulouse sausage…Use breadcrumbs (can be frozen) for the crumble topping with grated cheese from the last little scraps in your fridge.

Serves 8-10

110g (4oz) macaroni

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, weighed after trimming, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) butter

450g (1lb) leeks (white and green parts sliced in 7mm (1/3 inch) slices at an angle)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

green salad, to serve

For the Cheddar Cheese Sauce

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) plain flour

900ml (1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

150g (5oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese

25g (1oz) grated Parmesan cheese

For the Buttered Crumbs

15g (1/2oz) butter

25g (1oz) white breadcrumbs

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar cheese

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

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook for 10–15 minutes until just soft. Drain well.

Bring 600ml (1 pint) water to the boil and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Add the sprouts and cook for 2–3 minutes. Strain and refresh under cold water.  Drain well.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sliced leeks, season with salt and pepper, toss, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 3–4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the leeks to continue to cook in the residual heat while you make the sauce.

To make the Cheddar cheese sauce, melt the butter, add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley (if using) and cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and season to taste.

To assemble, spread one-third of the macaroni in the base of a 30 x 20.5 x 6cm (12 x 8 x 2 1/2 inch) gratin dish. Top with the well-drained sprouts, another third of macaroni, then the leeks (add the juices to the remaining sauce) and spread the remaining macaroni evenly over the top.

To make the buttered crumbs, melt the butter, turn off the heat, add the breadcrumbs and leave to cool. Stir through the grated cheese and sprinkle evenly over the gratin. Cook for 15–20 minutes until golden on top and bubbling. Flash under a grill for a few minutes if necessary. Serve with a green salad.

Bramley Apple Peel Jelly

Save your apple peels and cores in a box in the freezer, then top up with cooking apples to make an apple jelly of your choice.

Makes 2.7-3kg (6-7lb)

apple peels, cores and Bramley apples to make 2.7kg (6lb in weight)

2.7 litres (4 3/4 pints) water

2 unwaxed lemons


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. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared rind of the lemons, cook until reduced to a pulp, approx. 3/4 hour.

Turn the pulp into a jelly bag* and allow 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.

Flavour with sweet geranium or rosemary as desired (see below). 

Apple and Sweet Geranium Jelly

Add 6-8 large leaves of sweet geranium while the apples are stewing and put a fresh leaf into each jar as you pot the jelly.  Delicious on scones or with roast lamb or pork. 

Apple and Rosemary Jelly

Add 2 sprigs of rosemary to the apples as they stew and put a tiny sprig into each pot.  Serve with lamb or pork.

Food Trends 2022

As we gear up for a New Year, I’ve been doing some crystal ball gazing in an effort to predict food trends for 2022. During the past year we’ve seen a considerable pandemic related shift on grocery buying habits as we adjusted to spending more time at home.

There’s been a well-documented rise in the food to go and meal kit area and considerable innovation as the restaurant sector struggled to pivot.  Food truck numbers increased exponentially and these days it’s more usual to see a coffee machine in a horse box than a horse…

On the other end of the scale, Forbes predicts a rise in cooking robots and automation in the dining industry fuelled by labour shortages.

Expect to see more food ATM’s and vending machines. Meanwhile, anyone living in a city or big town can’t have failed to notice the stratospheric rise in delivery bikes – akin to London or LA.  After an initial rise in home cooking, cooking fatigue appears to have set in.

Nonetheless, my new book, ‘How to Cook’ – 100 essential recipes everyone should know is getting a tremendous response from people who think they can’t cook but would love to…!  I’m always happy to write a personal message on request…

There’s a definite rise in the number of people prioritising food and drink products that promise additional health and well-being benefits.  It’s difficult to get up-to-date figures on the number of vegans and vegetarians in Ireland but the increasing number of menu options and products on supermarket shelves acknowledges the growth in these areas.  Plant-based ‘meats’ like the Impossible Burger and Moving Mountains Burger that sizzle and bleed continue to gain fans.

This year, reductarianism is the new buzz word.  It has been dubbed one of the top 10 trends: Reductarians are “Not ready to go full vegan but want to significantly reduce consumption of meat”. This group are determined to make more sustainable life choices and restore the ecosystem.  They seek out high quality pasture fed meat produced to high-welfare standards and want to be reassured of environmentally friendly production methods.  The plant-based sector and the number of ‘plant-curious’ eaters is growing exponentially.  The growing number of environmentally aware consumers want to hear that farmers are making an increased effort to protect wildlife and restore ecosystems.

According to Waitrose, nearly 70% of shoppers are going the extra mile to reduce their carbon footprint in some way or another. Research confirms that environmental awareness amongst consumers has surged during the past year with 85% of us making more sustainable life choices.

Trend forecasters have also noted that those working from home are eating bigger and enjoying more experimental breakfasts.

There’s been a spike in the sale of eggs, bacon and demand for all manner of exotic mushrooms is way up.  Kits to cultivate oyster and lion mane mushrooms at home are all the rage.  Post cereal’ snack packs to munch during the day and frozen sandwiches are emerging as lunch solutions.   

Pet food sales have gone through the roof.

Urban hydroponic farming is a huge trend in cities all over the world. Everything from salad greens to exotic mushrooms.  Innovation in indoor farming and growing some of our own food has skyrocketed.  Some vegetable seeds were in short supply last year so order early for 2022.  Supermarkets are using roof space to grow both indoors and outdoors. Hydroponics is creating a new interpretation of locally grown – Hyper local…

Millennials and generation-Z-ers are dabbling with ‘drysolation’.

Buzz less spirits, bottled cocktails and ready to drink cans are revolutionising the bar experience.  Definitely one of the top trends and here to stay.  Functional fizz infused with probiotics and botanicals to boost immunity and benefit gut health and heart health are all the rage.  Water kefir, kombucha, tinctures are mainstream. It’s no surprise that turmeric, with its many health-giving properties, is popping up everywhere, not just in fermented foods. Sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles continue to gain market share.

Our love affair with coffee continues unabated.  Cold coffee is trending. Look out for Amazake-Japanese coffee, Vietnamese iced coffee.  Plant based dairy sales are up.  Potato milk is the next big thing, it will be in a coffee shop near you before too long.

Japanese, Korean and Chinese flavours are trending. Sales of umami paste are gathering momentum.  Food of the Caucasus and the Levant are also on foodie’s radar.  Spicy foods are here to stay from Indian garam masala to Mexican tajini (a mixture of dehydrated dried chillies, lime juice and sea salt), Indonesian sambal oleck, BBQ rubs, Japanese gochujang – all add a pop of flavour.

Pomegranate molasses, Turkish Urfa, chilli flakes and feta are flying off shelves.  Every list includes Yuzu, the sour tart tangerine sized citrus from Japan, Korea and China that’s taking the culinary world by storm. Use it in drinks, cocktails, vinaigrettes, mayo, ponzu sauce, desserts… mostly available so far as a juice or a bottled sauce.  There’s also a craving for old-fashioned flavours that bring back memories of happier more carefree times.

Nut allergies have accelerated the popularity of sunflower seeds – they are trending also and are great for people who have allergies to other nuts.

CBD food products, both food and drink are moving mainstream. Hibiscus, the red flowers of a colourful shrub, has been dried and used in tea and drinks around the world from Mexico to South Africa for years but are now included in a myriad of foods, ice-cream, cakes – high in vitamin C.  Hibiscus tea is the new matcha. 

Moringa from the drumstick tree is being hailed as a new super food and tastes a bit like dried cherries.

Artisan bakers are burgeoning, virtually every small town in Ireland will soon have an artisan bakery and a range of viennoiseries offering natural sourdough. Market leaders are liaising directly with farmers to grow heritage grain varieties and using freshly milled flour for their loaves.

Sales of herbs and spices are up over 40% since 2020.

By no means a comprehensive list, and it’s always interesting to keep an eye on what is trending in the US. It’ll be coming our way before too long. There’s more genuine concern about food waste. Labelling is becoming more ‘homey’ with terms like 100% grown on American soil and regionally grown produce – watch that space…

Happy New Year to all our readers, continue to buy seasonal, Irish produce.  We can all make a difference to local farmers and food producers with how we choose to spend our food Euro.

Apple and Hibiscus Soda

A super nutritious and refreshing drink, flavoured by the Mexicans….

Serves 6 approx.

1 bottle (750ml/generous 1 1/4 pints) of apple juice

15g (1/2oz) dried hibiscus flowers

1/2 – 1 bottle (1 – 2 litre/1 3/4 – 3 1/2 pints) sparkling water


Put the dry hibiscus flowers down the neck of the bottle of apple juice.  Screw on the lid.  Shake the bottle and allow to macerate overnight.

Next day, half fill glasses, add a couple of ice cubes.  Top up with sparkling water and enjoy.

Exotic Mushroom Risotto

Everyone needs to be able to whip up a risotto, comfort food at its best and a base for so many good things, from exotic mushrooms, crispy pork lardons or kale to foraged nettles. 

Serves 6

1 – 1.3 litres (1 3/4 – 2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock

50g (2oz) butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

400g (14oz) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano

50g (2oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or a mixture of Parmesan and Pecorino

sea salt

225–350g (8–12oz) a selection of sliced and sautéed mushrooms (lion’s mane, chestnut, oyster, porcini, chanterelles…)

First bring the stock to the boil, reduce the heat and keep it at a gentle simmer.  Melt half the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the oil, add the onion, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 4–5 minutes until soft but not coloured.  Add the rice and stir until well coated.  Cook for a minute or so and then add 150ml (5fl oz) of the simmering stock, stir continuously, and as soon as the liquid is absorbed add another 150ml (5fl oz) of stock.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly.  The heat should be brisk, but on the other hand if it’s too hot the rice will be soft outside but still chewy inside.  If it’s too slow, the rice will be gluey.  It’s difficult to know which is worse, so the trick is to regulate the heat so that the rice bubbles continuously.

The risotto should take 25–30 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, add the stock about 4 tablespoons at a time.  I use a small ladle. Watch it very carefully from there on.  The risotto is done when the rice is cooked but is still ever so slightly al dente.  It should be soft and creamy and quite loose, rather than thick.  The moment you are happy with the texture, add in the well-seasoned hot sautéed mushrooms, stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan, taste and add more salt if necessary.  Serve immediately on hot plates.

Alternatively, you can pre-cook the rice for finishing later.  After about 10 minutes of cooking, taste a grain or two between your teeth.  It should be firm, slightly gritty, definitely undercooked but not completely raw.  Remove the risotto from the saucepan and spread it out on a flat dish to cool as quickly as possible.  The rice can be reheated later with some of the remaining stock and the cooking and finishing of the risotto can be completed.  Risotto does not benefit from hanging around – the texture should be really soft and flowing.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is spicy Indonesian chilli paste – hugely popular condiment – in Malaysian and Thai dishes.  If you are not a fan already, buy a little jar and start to experiment.  It really adds a pop of flavour to a myriad of curries, dishes from soups and stews to scrambled eggs.   Serve with sausages, hot dogs, cold chicken, turkey, burgers, pork…

Prawns with Sambal Oelek Mayo

I predict that this sambal oelek mayonnaise will become a new favourite in your kitchen for 2022.

Serves 30

30 cooked prawns in their shells

Sambal Oelek Mayo

300ml (10fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sambal oelek

1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar or best white wine vinegar

flaky sea salt

coriander sprigs

Mix the mayonnaise with the sambal oelek and vinegar to taste.  Add a little flaky sea salt if necessary.  Use as you fancy.  Store covered in the fridge for 8-10 days or more.

To Serve

Serve five fat cooked prawns in their shell per person.  Add a dollop of sambal oelek mayo and a few sprigs of fresh coriander.

Sambal Oelek Chicken Skewers

Another delicious way to use your new ‘best friend’ sambal oelek…

Makes 8

110g (4oz) light brown sugar

110ml (4fl oz) unseasoned rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sambal oelek or hot chili paste

50ml (2fl oz) fish sauce (nam pla)

50ml (2fl oz) Sriracha

1-2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger

700g (1 1/2lb) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 4-5cm (1 1/2 – 2 inch) pieces

12 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water at least 1 hour

Whisk the brown sugar, vinegar, chilli paste, fish sauce, Sriracha, and ginger in a bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat.

Allow to marinate for 15-30 minutes.

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

Drain the chicken.  Thread 4 or 5 pieces onto each skewer.  Pour the leftover marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, simmer until reduced by almost half, 7–10 minutes.

Transfer the chicken skewers to a baking tray.  Cook in the preheated oven, turning and baste often with the reduced marinade, cook through, 8–10 minutes approx. 

Serve drizzled with a little marinade on a bed of salad leaves.  Sambal oelek mayo would be a delicious accompaniment. 

Yuzu Curd

Tangy delicious yuzu 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.

Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

50g (2oz) butter

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 yuzu or 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, yuzu 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, refrigerate and use as you fancy. 

Winter Mocktail

When it comes to Winter cocktails or mocktails, it’s all about citrus.  The blood orange season is now in full swing so have fun.

4 freshly squeezed blood oranges

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon honey or sugar syrup or more if required

Sparkling water

Mix the freshly squeezed juices with honey to taste.  Add sparking water.  Pour into a cocktail glass.  Top with a sprig of mint and a thin slice of thin blood orange.  Enjoy immediately.

Fizz can of course be substituted for sparkling water…


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