ArchiveFebruary 27, 2022

Guest Chef Mary Jo McMillin

It all happened so suddenly in the end – not sure about you but I’m still trying to come to terms with the ‘new normal’.  I seem to be holding my breath, afraid that if I wake up, I’ll find that we are still in the midst of the pandemic and ‘opening up’ is just a dream…

In fact, those two years have almost become a blur, I seem to have blocked out the roller coaster of experiences we endured to keep our business going and our team employed.  I’m having to make a list of all the extra things we did here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School pre-Covid – afternoon demonstrations were open to the public, school tours to visit artisan producers, guests for lunch, garden and kitchen interns, gap year students, Slow Food events, garden tours, children’s farm walks, guest chefs, Pop-Up dinner, Ballymaloe Lit Fest, oh and I almost forgot the long table dinner in the glasshouses…

I long to get all of those things underway again but to my astonishment, I find that I am not quite brave enough to launch into each one immediately.  I need to ease back in gradually and I’m still wary enough of big crowds.

However, we’re gradually getting things underway.  A dear friend of Ballymaloe for over 40 years, Mary Jo McMillin hopped onto a plane in Chicago and made her way to Cork via Dublin.  Mary Jo has been coming to Ballymaloe, first to Ballymaloe House and then the Ballymaloe Cookery School for over 40 years.  For many decades, her idea of a holiday from her busy restaurant kitchen was to come to Ballymaloe kitchen to work during her precious break to learn and share.  Now in her 80’s, she’s like a 40-year-old, super fit, she exercises and stands on her head for 20 breaths every day!  She cooks from scratch and eats fresh, delicious food daily knowing how important it is for her wellbeing.  She’s a joy to have as a house guest, for many reasons not least that she trawls through the fridges, wanders through the gardens and glasshouse, picking salad leaves and edible greens and then cooks endless, delicious meals for all of us.  The students love her and she loves passing on her skills and tips to them during the few short weeks that she’s with us. 

On every trip, she teaches a special cooking class to the students – here are some of the recipes she shared this time…

Moroccan Lamb Shanks

A robust, inexpensive, deliciously spiced lamb stew that reheats brilliantly – you may want to double the recipe and freeze some for another easy meal.

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 heaped tablespoon grated fresh ginger (use a pestle and mortar)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

1 medium cinnamon stick

1/2 to 1 preserved lemon, rinsed and diced

4 – 6 prunes

1 x 400g (14oz) tinned tomatoes, crushed or chopped

salt to taste

lemon or lime (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3.

Brown the lamb shanks in the little olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Remove to a heavy, casserole dish – pour off the excess fat.  Add the sliced onion to the lamb fat and sauté gently until soft and golden.  Add the garlic, ginger and sauté until fragrant.  Add the cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper and sauté for a few seconds more.  Add the cinnamon stick, preserved lemon and prunes to the casserole dish with the lamb.  Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture.  Bring to a simmer and pour over the lamb.  Deglaze the frying pan with 2-4 tablespoons of water and pour over the stew.  Add salt to taste.  Cover with parchment paper and the lid of the casserole dish and cook slowly in the preheated oven for 1-3 hours or until tender.  Thin the sauce, if necessary, with water or stock.  Taste for seasoning and tweak if necessary.  Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if desired. 

Serve with steamed rice or potatoes. 

Fragrant Rice

Serves 4-6

200g (7oz) Basmati rice

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 shard cinnamon stick

pinch coriander seeds (optional)

1/2 bay leaf (optional)

110g (4oz) chopped onion

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (optional)

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon garam masala (optional)


350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water

Place the rice in a deep bowl, cover with cool water and swirl gently with your fingertips until the water grows cloudy. Pour off the water and repeat the rinsing process twice more. Cover the rinsed rice with cool water and soak while preparing the base.

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy pot with tight-fitting lid. Add the cinnamon stick, coriander and bay leaf, along with the chopped onion. Sauté gently until onion is translucent. Add the turmeric, garam masala and salt. Drain the rice reserving 350ml (12fl oz) of the soaking water.  Tip the rice into the sautéed base. Stir to combine with the seasonings. Add the measured water, salt and stir again making sure all the grains of rice are covered with water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to the lowest heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and steam with the lid on for at least 10 minutes. Place a tea-towel over the top of the pot and replace with the lid until ready to serve.  Fluff with a fork before serving. 

Beetroot with Yogurt

Another of Mary Jo’s delicious recipes – she likes to serve it as a dip with flat brad – a brilliant way to use up Winter beets. 

Serve as a side with pork, chicken or even sausages. 

Serves 6-8

2-3 small beets, roasted or boiled, peeled and grated or diced

350g (12oz) thick yogurt

1 garlic clove, mashed with salt

2 tablespoons chopped mint (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt to taste

1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onion) (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together, taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary.    Mary Jo likes this quite sharp and perky but one could add a little honey to taste in Winter when the beets are less sweet.

Mary Jo’s Date and Coffee Loaf

We are loving this date and coffee loaf, which keeps in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.

Yields 12-14 slices

250g (9oz) stones dates

225g (8oz) strong coffee

1 level teaspoon bread soda

25g (1oz) soft butter

60g (scant 2 1/2oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

150g (5oz) plain flour

1 level teaspoon salt

110g (4oz) pecans or walnuts

1 x 20.5 x 10cm (8 x 4 inch) loaf tin, lined with parchment paper

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

Dice the stoned dates.  Cover with hot coffee, cover and allow to soak until soft.  Sprinkle with bread soda. 

Cream the soft butter and sugar in a bowl; beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Mix in the sifted flour, salt, nuts and date mixture. Place in the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Cool in the tin, slice when fully cold – better on the second day and is delicious eaten with butter.

Almond Dacquoise with Praline Buttercream

Mary Jo says these are particularly lovely for a Summer afternoon tea party but the students polished them off as soon as she made them and begged for more…Best make the day before, so brilliant for entertaining or catering. 

Serves 20-40

Makes 40 sandwiched pieces

175g (6oz) icing sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

45g (scant 2oz) corn flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large egg whites

130g (generous 4 1/2oz) castor sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Praline Butter (see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 120˚C/250˚F/Gas Mark 1/2 (Fan)

Mix the sieved icing sugar, ground almonds and corn flour together.

In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with salt gradually adding castor sugar and beat to a stiff meringue. Fold in almond extract and the ground almond mixture. Pipe small rounds onto two parchment lined baking trays. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until they lift off the parchment paper.  Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the oven until dry.

Sandwich two almond dacquoise with praline butter cream and roll the edge in additional crushed praline. Store in a tin in a cool place overnight to soften.  Serve in small petit fours cases. 

Praline Butter

150g (5oz) sugar 

50ml (2fl oz) water

2 teaspoons light corn syrup (glucose syrup) or pinch cream of tartar (optional)

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

350 (12oz) butter at room temperature – I use 225g (8oz) unsalted and 110g (4oz) salted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla plus 1/2 – 1 teaspoon coffee essence or rum

In a small saucepan swirl the sugar, water and syrup together. Cover and cook over a moderately high heat swirling to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Leave on the cover until all the sugar crystals are steamed off the side of the pan. Uncover and rapidly boil to the strong thread stage (106 – 112˚C/223 – 234˚F).

Meanwhile beat the eggs and yolk in a large mixing bowl (or use a stand mixer). When the sugar is ready, immediately pour the syrup slowly into the beaten eggs continuing to whisk all the time.

Beat the egg custard until it lightens and cools to lukewarm.  (At this point, make sure the butter and the custard are approximately the same temperature.)

Beat the butter into the custard, 1 1/2 tablespoons  at a time. The cream may be stiff enough with 300g (10oz) of butter, and it will easily absorb 350g (12oz).  Flavour with vanilla and coffee essence or rum.


Makes approximately 190g (6 1/2oz)

110g (4oz) whole almonds

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the unskinned almonds with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour. Stir if necessary. When the caramel stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel.  When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin. Allow to get quite cold. When the praline is hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be coarse and gritty

To assemble the praline butter.

Add 6 tablespoons of praline to the buttercream and beat well to combine.    

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Butter Icing

The brown butter icing is a real find.

Serves 6-8

400g (14oz) cooking apples, peeled and grated

75g (3oz) butter (6 tablespoons)

250g (9oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon baking soda

2 rounded teaspoons cinnamon

grating fresh nutmeg

50g (2oz) lightly toasted walnuts, optional

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) round cake tins OR 1 x 20.5cm (8inch) wide x 5cm (2 inch) deep genoise tin

First, prepare the baking tins.

Line the tins with parchment paper.  Brush with melted butter or sunflower oil.  Sprinkle with flour and tip out excess flour.

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

Peel the apples, grate on the large holes of a box grater.

Mix the flour, salt, sieved bread soda, cinnamon and nutmeg together.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Whisk in eggs one at a time and whip to a soft, billowy mixture. If using a food mixer, remove the bowl from the stand. Using a flexible spatula, fold the grated apples and walnuts alternately with the flour into the creamed mixture.  

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the prepared tins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size, or until they are nicely browned – a skewer inserted into the cakes should come out clean when cooked.  

Cool for 5 minutes in the tins before turning onto a cooling rack. 

Meanwhile, make the Brown Butter Icing.

Brown Butter Icing

75g (3oz) butter

175g (6oz) icing sugar, sieved

3-4 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter and simmer until it turns very lightly brown and smells nutty, remove from the heat.  Add in the icing sugar, stirring well to combine.  Thin with milk to a spreading consistency – reheat and add drops of water to maintain emulsion if necessary.  Finally add the vanilla extract and spread over the apple cake when cold.  


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