ArchiveJanuary 2024

Saint Brigid’s Day

I just picked some enchanting little primroses in the garden; I literally got a OOOPS in my tummy when I saw them peeping out from behind a timber seed tray under a beech tree in the vegetable garden. I’m bringing them into the kitchen to crystallise and use them to decorate my Saint Brigid’s Day cake…it’s officially the start of Spring that we’ve been so longing for after that long, cold, wet stormy winter.
At last, after years of campaigning, the Celtic goddess, Saint Brigid has been elevated to her rightful place and has equal billing alongside Saint Patrick on the Irish calendar.
In January 2023, an official national holiday was declared to celebrate our female patron saint but ever since 2018, Irish embassies and consulates around the world have been marking the day by celebrating the remarkable creativity and achievements of women in a broad program of events worldwide.
Here in Ireland this year, we’ll celebrate the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Brigid’s passing with a special program of events nationwide. So, have you got anything planned with your friends or in your parish? I’m going to bake a cake and decorate it with the little crystallised primroses that I mentioned earlier and some little wood sorrel leaves that resemble the shape of a shamrock…a nod to Saint Patrick. I’m sharing the recipe which you may already know, but this is a keeper and I do riffs on it for Saint Patrick’s Day and for Easter Sunday as well so it’s a really good ‘master recipe’ to have in your repertoire…
Saint Brigid’s Day, or La Féile Bríde also coincides with the start of the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, one of the four major fire festivals of the year. The others in Irish folklore are Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain, celebrated by neopagans, with a variety of Celtic rituals.
Imbolc, which in old Neolithic language, translates literally to ‘in the belly’, comes halfway between the winter solstice in the spring equinox when the days  begin to lengthen,  nature wakes up and begins to leap into life and seed sowing begins.
At the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we will definitely mark the occasion by showing our students how to weave a little Saint Brigid’s Cross which they can take back to their homes all over the world. But we will hang ours over the dairy door to invoke Brigid’s blessing on our little herd of Jersey cows, who produce such beautiful rich milk and cream to make butter, cheese and yoghurt and milk kefir throughout the year. Maria Walsh, our dairy and fermentation queen and in-house herbalist will teach a Wellness Course to celebrate Saint Brigid’s Day on Thursday, 1st February here at the cookery school.  Maria will address the importance of a mindful morning practice to start your day, breath work, body self-care hacks, coffee alternatives.

She will also talk about ancestral healing modalities, hedgerow medicine focusing on seasonal Spring plants, herbal oils, tinctures, kefirs and much more….
Just as the shamrock is associated with Saint Patrick, the little woven reed or rush cross, is traditionally associated with Saint Brigid. Typically, it has four arms with a woven square in the centre, but three armed crosses are traditional in some counties. This was explained and demonstrated to me by Patricia O’Flaherty of Naomh Padraig Hand Crafts, a well-known Saint Brigid’s day cross maker at an event in the Irish Embassy in London a number of years ago.
The Saint Brigid’s cross, originally chosen by RTÉ as its logo in 1961, was dropped in 1995 in favour of a ’clean striking piece of modern design’. I personally would love to see it proudly reinstated.
So who exactly was Saint Brigid? Well, in reality, it’s difficult to differentiate between fact and myths, depending on whose research you decide to follow.
She was certainly a remarkable woman, a force to be reckoned with and one busy saint…
Dairymaids, cattle farmers, beekeepers and midwives all claim her as their patron saint as do blacksmiths, sailors, fugitives and poets….poultry keepers, scholars and travellers too. For me, Brigid was the original feminist, a trailblazer, a strong woman’s voice in a male dominated world, a feminine role model, a force to be reckoned with. Her legacy has stood the test of time, she is still widely venerated, and many lovely traditions still endure around the country, so check it out – another opportunity to get together and celebrate Mná na hÉireann.
Happy Saint Brigid’s Day.

Homemade Jersey Butter

You don’t absolutely need timber butter bats when making butter, but they do make it much easier to shape the butter into blocks. They’re more widely available than you might think, considering butter making a somewhat alternative enterprise although it’s now becoming super cool to make handmade butter. Keep an eye out in antique shops and charity shops and if you find some, snap them up. A good pair will bring you ‘butter luck’. Unsalted butter should be eaten within a few days, but the addition of salt will preserve it for two to three weeks. You can make butter with any quantity of cream (even a punnet).  Make extra and share with friends, they’ll be mightily impressed.

Darina’s Top Tips

Remember, sunlight taints butter (and milk) in a short time, so if you are serving butter outdoors, keep it covered.

Always keep butter covered in the fridge, otherwise it will become tainted by other flavours (rarely a bonus).

*This recipe may be halved for a small quantity.

  * We use 2% salt.

Makes about 1kg butter and 1 litre buttermilk

2.4 litres unpasteurised or pasteurized rich double cream at room temperature (we use our own Jersey cream)

2 tsp pure dairy salt (optional)

pair of butter bats or hands

Soak the wooden butter bats or hands in iced water for about 30 minutes so they do not stick to the butter.

Pour the double cream into a cold, sterilized mixing bowl. If it’s homogenised, it will still whip, but not as well. If you’re using raw cream and want a more traditional taste, leave it to ripen in a cool place, where the temperature is about 8°C (46°F), for up to 48 hours.

Whisk the cream at a medium speed in a food mixer until it is thick. First it will be softly whipped, then stiffly whipped. Continue until the whipped cream collapses and separates into butterfat globules. The buttermilk will separate from the butter and slosh around the bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixture into a cold, spotlessly clean sieve and drain well. The butter remains in the sieve while the buttermilk drains into the bowl. (The buttermilk can be used to make soda bread or as a thirst-quenching drink – it will not taste sour). Put the butter back into the clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk for a further 30 seconds to 1 minute to expel more buttermilk. Remove and drain as before. Fill the bowl containing the butter with very cold water. Use the butter bats or your clean hands to knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible. This is important, as any buttermilk left in the butter will sour and the butter will deteriorate quickly.

Note: If you handle the butter too much with warm hands, it will liquefy.

Drain off the water, cover and wash twice more, until the water is totally clear. Drain and divide the butter into 110g, 225g or 450g slabs. Pat into shape with the wet butter hands or bats.

N.B. Make sure the butter hands or bats have been soaked in ice-cold water for at least 30 minutes before using to stop the butter sticking to the ridges. Wrap in greaseproof or waxed paper and keep chilled in a fridge. The butter also freezes well.

Weigh the butter and calculate 2% of the total weight of pure salt. Spread it out in a thin layer, sprinkle evenly with the dairy salt and mix well. Mix thoroughly using the butter pats, then weigh into slabs as before.

For unsalted butter, omit the salt, cover well.  Use the unsalted butter ASAP because it deteriorates faster – salt is a preservative.

Bríde Cake Bread

Our neighbours in Cullohill used to make Bride Bread on Saint Brigid’s Day and on other celebratory days throughout the year.  Enjoy it freshly baked slathered with butter.

Makes 1 loaf (8 wedges)

450g plain white flour

30g butter

1 level tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 level tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

75g sultanas (or more if you’d like)

a generous pinch of caraway seeds (optional)

1 fresh egg

about 350 – 425ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl, dice the butter and rub into the flour.  Sieve in the bread soda, then add the salt, sugar, sultanas and caraway seeds if using. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up into your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to the finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.

Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circular movement drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.

The trick is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. As soon as it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 5cm approx. Transfer to a baking tray lightly dusted with flour.   Cut in 2 directions to create 8 wedges.   Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread.  Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.

Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Bríde bread is delicious with Cheddar cheese.

Saint Brigid’s Day Champ

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions or the first of the new season’s wild garlic greens with a blob of butter melting into the centre as you serve.

Serves 4-6

1.5kg unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g., Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

110g chopped spring onions or wild garlic greens (allium triquetrum – see Seasonal Journal)

350ml milk

50-110g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets in salted water.

Chop finely the spring onions or scallions.  Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. 

Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/Gas Mark 4. At this stage the texture needs to be a little softer than you would like because it will absorb the extra milk as it keeps warm and reheats.

Cover with parchment paper or a lid while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin and add the lump of butter just before serving.

Champ Cakes

Shape leftovers into potato cakes, cook until golden on both sides in clarified butter or butter and oil. Serve piping hot.

Saint Brigid’s Day Cake with Crystallised Primroses and Wood Sorrell

We love this super delicious cake which we organically created especially for Saint Brigid’s day, green white and gold – how naff is that…

Serves 8-10

175g soft butter

150g caster sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g self-raising flour

To Decorate

Lemon Glacé Icing (see below)

Crystallised Primroses (see recipe)

8 pieces of wood sorrel leaves

1 x 20.5cm sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the soft butter, caster sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the icing, once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

Decorate with the crystallised primroses and wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

To Lemon Glacé Icing to ice top and sides of cake

225g icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2-4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Crystallized Flowers

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

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

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

The caster sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 30 minutes approx.

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

Use Your Book Tokens

Want a little advice on how to use your Book tokens after the festive season….Before Christmas I got lots and lots of newly published cookbooks through the post, but I was so crazily busy that I just about managed to flick through them but didn’t manage to test anything from them until now. Today some thoughts on three different publications. The first one comes from Mark Moriarty, who very sweetly sent me a present of his first cookbook ‘Flavour’ with personal dedication, and a thank you for being an inspiration. How sweet is that…I was delighted to read that I was even a teensy bit of an inspiration to this super talented and thoroughly nice young man…and wait till you see the photo of him and his cute little dog on the inside cover.

The book is full of recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to try – how about Barbecued Chicken Tikka Skewers, or Yuk Sung with a Peanut Slaw. There’s a fancy Beef Wellington in there too and a super clever, Quick Pan Pizza that you and the kids will love. I was also tempted by the Beef Koftas with Tzatziki and Flatbreads and there’s lots, lots more.

Everyone’s favourite cooking Grandma, Mary Berry has published yet another book, can you imagine she has written over 75 cookbooks and pretty much all have been bestsellers. ‘Mary Makes it Easy’, the new ultimate stress-free cookbook has 120 brand new foolproof recipes.

As a home cook. Mary says she understands the pressures and challenges that come with preparing delicious meals day after day especially when you’re juggling a busy schedule in our frantic modern lives. She is determined that cooking and preparing food for friends and family shouldn’t be one of them, so she’s sharing lots of the tips and tricks that she’s learned over the years – what a woman?

I’ve chosen Humble Pie, (don’t you love the name of the recipe) to share with you from the book but I’m also looking forward to trying Friday Night Lamb Curry, Spinach Dahl, Meatball Toad in the Hole with Sage, and a one pot dish called Chicken which provides Tartiflette.

Last but certainly not least comes, ‘These Delicious Things’ by Pavilion Books, a compilation of recipes, published to raise vital funds for the charity Magic Breakfast which provides breakfast for thousands of hungry children every day. Can you imagine a more worthy cause? Over 100 cooks and chefs gladly provided a favourite recipe. The entire team who worked on the book gave their services free and 100% of the publisher’s net profits go to Magic Breakfast to try end children’s morning hunger which is a barrier to education in schools. This book is full of goodies.

Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Proper Porridge is both nourishing and delicious, Simon Hopkinson added a creamy rice pudding, Stanley Tucci shared his secret recipe for potato croquettes but there’s a myriad of super exciting spicy dishes too from the new generation of brilliant young and not so young chefs and cooks.

Last but not least…could be worth the price of the book for Nigel Slater’s Pear and Ginger Cake.

Jamie Oliver’s Proper Porridge

Recipe taken from ‘These delicious things’ published by Pavilion

One of my earliest recollections of comfort food is also one of my earliest memories, full stop.  I was about five years old and I’d been dropped off with my sister, Anna, to stay at my nan and grandad’s.  They lived in a cute little bungalow, stuck to a budget and cooked every single day.  Because me and Anna lived in a pub, there wasn’t really a routine, but over at Nan and Grandad’s, there was a real pattern to the day, starting at 7am sharp with Nan’s ritual of proper porridge-making.  There’d always be steaming cups of tea waiting for us on the table, and we’d climb into our chairs, feet swinging above the floor.

I can still picture the strange turquoise paper that lined the walls, the array of classic family photos on the mantelpiece and the retro drinks cabinet.  The radio – or the wireless as they called it – would always be on Radio 4 and we’d laugh as Grandad berated all the politicians during the news.

Nan’s porridge was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. Having researched it, hers was a classic Scottish method and it was delicious.

It was at about this time that Ready Brek launched a brilliant ad campaign where a kid went to school glowing after tucking into a bowlful.  Certainly, my nan’s porridge gave me a glow – it was on another level.

Serves 2

1 big builder’s mug of coarse rolled large oats, such as Flahavan’s

whole milk or cream, to serve

Proper porridge should take around 18 minutes from start to finish.  Pour the oats into a high-sided pan with 3 mugs of boiling water and a pinch of sea salt.  It’s important to start with water, as milk often scalds or boils over and doesn’t smell or taste great when it does.  Place the pan on a medium heat until it just starts to boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, or until thick and creamy, stirring regularly, and adding a good splash of milk or cream towards the end to make it super-luxurious.

Nan would never be rushed when she made porridge, and all those torturous minutes later it would be poured into wide soup bowls and given to Grandad, Anna and me.  We’d go to tuck in straight away, but Grandad always stopped us, so I’m going to stop you now.  It’s important to wait another 3 minutes for the residual chill of the bowl to slightly cool down the porridge from the outside in, so it remains soft, silky and oozy in the middle, but goes almost firm and jellified round the edges.

Grandad would always sprinkle his porridge with granulated brown sugar and insist you wait a minute and a half for it to pull out the moisture from the porridge and turn it into a bizarrely impressive caramelly glaze.

I loved this but couldn’t help opting for a spoonful of golden syrup instead.  What I found extraordinary was the way that over a couple of minutes, with a little jiggling of the bowl, the syrup always managed to creep down around and underneath the porridge, elevating it as if it were some sort of floating island.

We’d then marvel as Grandad got out a knife and cut the porridge into a chequerboard.  He’d then pick up a jug of cold whole milk and gently pour it to one side of the bowl, so it filled up every crack of the chequerboard like some crazy paddy-field drainage system.  Then, and only then, were we given the signal to attack.  And I have to say, that porridge was as good a breakfast as I’ve ever had. 

Melissa Thompson’s Barbecued Pork Ribs

Recipe taken from ‘These delicious things’ published by Pavilion

Our barbecues were always different from other people’s.  Dad was in the Navy and would bring back food ideas from wherever he had been.  He was the first person I knew who used ketchup as an ingredient rather than a stand-alone sauce.  He loved feeding people and whenever the barbecue was lit, it felt like a celebration.  I remember the anticipation as the food was cooking, the excitement of having to wait.  I’ve always gravitated towards that.

Where my friends’ barbecues had burgers, bangers and chicken that was burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, we had my dad’s belly pork ribs.  To me, then uninitiated in cooking, they seemed so intriguing and complex.  For a start, they needed more cooking than everything else.  And they offered so much more texturally and flavour-wise than anything else cooked over coal.

First, there was the caramelised sticky exterior.  Then, the slight resistance on the first bite before the meat yielded, giving way to layers of fat that, rendered over the coals, almost collapsed into liquid in the mouth.  And, of course, the flavour: sweet, tangy, smoky and savoury all at the same time.  Those ribs taught me a lot about food – the importance of time, of layering flavour – and as I got into barbecuing, it was these I most wanted to perfect.

When finally, I cracked it, my family came to mine for a barbecue.  My brother took a bite, then turned to Dad and announced that my ribs had taken his top spot.  Mum nodded in agreement, while Dad took it graciously, even perhaps with a hint of pride.

My secret ingredient is crispy onions, melted into the base before it’s painted onto the ribs.  It has a deep sweetness that sings and gives the ribs a brilliant stickiness.  They are best on a barbecue, shared with loved ones, but they are also really good in an oven – I’ve given both methods here.

Serves 4

8 skinless belly pork ribs, about 3cm thick

For the baste

4 tbsp tomato ketchup

2 tbsp crispy onions

1 tbsp cider vinegar (white wine and rice vinegar also work)

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 garlic clove, grated

For the rub

1 tbsp paprika (ideally sweet, but any will do)

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder (optional)

1 tsp cumin, ground

1 tsp black pepper, ground

1 tsp salt 

Put all the baste ingredients in a saucepan and cook over a low-medium heat for 8 minutes.  If it thickens too much, add a dash of water.  Remove from the heat and blend using a stick blender or in a food processor until smooth.

Mix all the rub ingredients together, place the ribs on a tray and sprinkle the rub over them.  Ensure they are totally covered, then leave to rest while you prepare the barbecue (for how to cook in an oven, see method).

Light your barbecue for indirect cooking.  Pile between 10 and 15 medium-sized charcoal pieces to the side of the bottom grate.  Once they’re ready – white and glowing – spread them out, but still just on one side of the grate.

Place the cooking grate over the coals and sear the ribs directly over the heat for a few minutes on each side until sealed.  Then lay them on the opposite side of the grate to the heat.  Close the lid and leave for 30 minutes.  Aim for the barbecue to be about 140°C – if your barbecue doesn’t have a temperature gauge, you should be able to comfortably hold your hand 15cm about the coats for about 6-8 seconds.  Adjust the temperature using the bottom vents – to increase the temperature, open them more to allow more air in.  To reduce the heat, limit the airflow by partially closing the vents. 

With a brush, baste the ribs with the sauce.  Close the lid again and leave for 30 seconds.  Repeat at least three times, always checking the coals are still putting out enough heat.  If not, top them up, a couple of extra pieces at a time.

Once the ribs are dark and sticky – the total cooking time will be around 2 hours – remove from the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  Serve with a sharp fennel salad.

If cooking in an oven, preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/Gas Mark 6 and place the ribs in the oven on a tray.  Cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 150°C (130°C fan)/Gas Mark 2 and cook for 30 minutes.  Baste all over with the sauce and return to the oven for 30 minutes.  Repeat at least three times.  Once the ribs are dark and sticky, remove from the oven, rest and serve.

Mark Moriarty’s Yuk Sung with Peanut Slaw

Recipe taken from Flavour by Mark Moriarty published by Gill Books

Yuk Sung is a great midweek recipe for keeping people happy and fed, without slaving for too long. The pan, store cupboard and grater will do the heavy lifting for you. Depending on how hungry the crowd are, you can serve with lettuce cups and/or rice.

Serves 4

400g pork mince

4 tbsp vegetable oil

3 garlic cloves, grated

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger root, peeled and grated

1 tbsp dried chilli flakes, plus extra to garnish

1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp oyster sauce

3 spring onions, sliced

zest of ½ lime

8 iceberg lettuce cups

For the slaw

1 carrot

1 green apple

4 white cabbage leaves

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

4 tbsp roasted peanuts

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a non-stick pan over a high heat, add the pork mince and break it up using a wooden spoon so that it browns all over.  It’s very important to let the mince sit and caramelise, so don’t keep moving it.

Make a well in the middle of your pan and add the vegetable oil, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes.  Cook for a few minutes until the garlic turns golden, then stir it into the mince.

Reduce the heat slightly, then add the soy sauce and oyster sauce.  Mix to coat the pork and cook for a further minute until it becomes sticky.

Turn off the heat completely and garnish with the spring onions, some more chilli flakes and the lime zest.

To make the slaw, begin by grating the carrot and apple into a bowl, using a box grater, or else slice thinly with a knife.

Next, slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and add this into the bowl.

For the dressing, whisk together the peanut butter, mustard, vinegar and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour this into the slow mix and dress.  Top with the toasted peanuts before serving up with the mince and the lettuce cups.

Mary Berry’s Humble Pie

Recipe taken from Mary Makes It Easy published by Penguin Random House UK

Hearty, warming and a real treat!

This pie can be made, left unglazed and kept covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours ahead.  Not suitable for freezing.

Serves 6

1 large cauliflower

2 leeks, trimmed and cut into 2cm slices

115g frozen petits pois

1 x 375g packet ready-rolled puff pastry

knob of butter

200g button mushrooms, halved

1 egg, beaten

Cheese Sauce

55g butter

55g plain flour

450ml hot milk

2 tsp Dijon mustard

115g mature Cheddar, coarsely grated

55g Parmesan, coarsely grated

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/Gas Mark 6.

You will need a fairly deep 28cm diameter dish or a 3-pint dish.

Break the cauliflower into fairly small, even-sized florets.  Some of the smaller leaves can be chopped into pieces.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the leeks and boil for 4 minutes.  Add the cauliflower florets and leaves and bring back to a boil for 3 minutes until just tender.  Drina and run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain well and set aside.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.  Gradually add the hot milk, whisking until thickened.  Stir in the mustard, Cheddar and Parmesan, and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

Heat the butter over a high heat, pan fry the mushrooms for 3 minutes until golden and season with salt and pepper, set aside to cool.  Add all the cold vegetables and frozen peas to the cheese sauce, stir and check the seasoning.  Spoon into the pie dish.

Unroll the pastry and remove a 7cm strip from the short side and chill in the fridge.  Roll out the remaining pastry to slightly bigger than the top of your pie dish.  Brush beaten egg around the edge of the dish, then place the pastry on top and press down on the edges to seal.  Trim any excess pastry with a sharp knife and make a small slit in the centre for the steam to escape.  Brush the top with beaten egg.

Roll out the reserved strip of pastry to be a bit thinner, then roll it up tightly. Using a sharp knife, slice to make long thin strips.  Unravel and dip them into the egg wash, then arrange on top of the pie, in a random pattern.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.

Winter Walks

Ireland has so many exciting walks to choose from through the forest and woodlands, over the hills, by the seashore…
Songs have been sung and poems have been written about the joy of a winter walk through the frosty countryside. I love John Clare’s poem and Thoreau’s Winter Walk essay and then there’s the Canadian poet Lynette Robert’s ‘Winter Walk’ and Christina Umpfenbach’s poem of the same name.
When it’s frosty and cold outside, it’s tempting just to curl up by the fire, but good to remember that exposure to the cold conditions can actually boost the immune system and makes us more resilient to seasonal colds and flu provided we are well wrapped up, pull out those mitts and woolly hat…
Nature has a calming effect – I’m sure you’ve noticed how a good walk lifts your mood, boosts energy and appetite, and combats Winter blues…it’s a natural antidote to winter melancholy. And hey, think of all the calories we burn off, while our body works even harder to keep warm, no bad thing after Christmas. So, don’t let the cold deter you, let’s embrace the winter chill!
Grab your rucksack, pack a little picnic, how about filling a flask with something hot and comforting, could be a chunky soup or how about mulled wine or spicy mulled apple juice. I’ve got a simple formula, pour a 700ml bottle of pure apple juice into a stainless steel saucepan, followed by 750ml of water. Add thin strips of rind from an orange, preferably organic. Toss in 8 whole cloves, 3 small cinnamon sticks, 75g of golden caster sugar, 6 allspice of pimento berries, and a half teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg. Warm gently, taste, it may need a little more sugar – pour it into a hot flask and off you go.  Leftovers will keep in the fridge and can of course be reheated for up to a week, but you’ll have drunk it by then!  Enjoy.
But now we also want something to look forward to when we arrive home, maybe chilled and ravenous from a bracing walk.
Here are three chunky one pot stews to look forward to, each benefit from being cooked ahead so you can also invite a few of your walking buddies to join you for a convivial supper around the kitchen table….

Lamb and Pearl Barley Stew and Fresh Herb Gremolata 

Just the thing to warm the cockles of your heart after a frosty walk. A substantial pot of stew fortified with pearl barley, this is really good with lots of gremolata sprinkled over the top. It is a variation of Irish stew, which is the quintessential one-pot dish – the pearl barley doesn’t just ‘spin out’ the stew but it also boosts the nutrient levels and the goodness. The recipe for the original Ballymaloe version can be found in my Forgotten Skills of Cooking book.

Serves 8-10

350g piece of green streaky bacon (blanched if salty)

1.8kg gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb, not less than 2.5cm thick

well-seasoned plain flour, for dusting

a little extra virgin olive oil, for frying

350g mushrooms, thinly sliced

700g whole, small onions – baby ones are nicest

350g carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

150g parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced

350-400g pearl barley

approx. 2.8 litres homemade lamb or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil and mint

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous tsp grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

flaky sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the stew. Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. 1cm cubes. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in the well-seasoned flour.

Heat a little oil in a 25cm (3.2-litre casserole) over a medium heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate. Sauté the mushrooms, season well and set aside. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, with a little more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until golden. Heat control is crucial here: the pan mustn’t burn, yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If the pan is too cool, the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Remove the lamb to a plate. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips until golden. Return the bacon and lamb to the casserole, together with the pearl barley. Season well, pour in the stock, add the thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1-1 ¼ hours until meltingly tender; the cooking time will depend on the age of the lamb and how long it was sautéed for. Add the mushrooms about 30 minutes before the end.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Mix together the chopped herbs and garlic in a small bowl, add the lemon zest and season to taste with a little flaky salt.

Once the casserole is cooked, remove the thyme and season to taste. Leave the casserole to sit for 15-30 minutes to allow the pearl barley to swell. (If necessary, the casserole can be reheated later in the day, or the next day.) Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with the gremolata.

Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

A gorgeous pot of bean stew, so warm and comforting for an autumn or winter supper. Use your favourite juicy heritage pork sausages

Serves 4-6

225g dried haricot, cannellini or flageolet beans (or 2 x 400g tins of cooked beans)

bouquet garni

1 carrot, peeled

1 onion, peeled

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying

450g fennel and chilli pork sausages or best pork sausages 

175g chopped onion

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes, chopped

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

flat-leaf parsley or chervil, to serve

Soak the beans overnight in a large pan with plenty of cold water. Next day, strain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and return them to the pan. Cover with fresh cold water and add the bouquet garni, carrot and onion. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes – 1 hour until the beans are soft, but not mushy. Just before the end of cooking, season with salt. Remove the bouquet garni and vegetables from the pan and discard. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.

Fry the sausages in a few drops of oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured and remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the oil over a lowish heat in the same saucepan and cook the chopped onion for 7-8 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two before adding the chopped tomatoes and their juice, the cooked beans and the rosemary. Add the sausages and simmer for 5-6 minutes, adding some of the bean liquid if the sauce starts to dry out. Season well with salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar. Cook for a further 5-6 minutes or until the sausages are heated through. The mixture should be juicy, but not swimming in liquid ­­­- if it starts to dry out, add more of the bean liquid.

To serve, scatter with plenty of parsley and accompany with a salad of organic leaves or crusty bread, if you wish.

Riffs on this delicious stew…. 

Gratin of Sausage, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary

Spoon the finished stew into a shallow ovenproof dish and scatter over 50g breadcrumbs mixed with 25g butter and 50g grated Cheddar cheese. Flash under the grill until crisp and golden on top.

Chorizo, Haricot or Flageolet Beans with Tomato and Rosemary with Chorizo or ‘Nduja

Omit the sausages and add 125g sliced chorizo or pieces of ‘nduja to the tomato base with the beans and rosemary.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

This stew becomes even more delicious and unctuous if you cook it the day before and reheat it the next day – as well as enhancing the flavour, cooking the venison in advance ensures that it is meltingly tender. If you are racing against the clock, just mix all the ingredients in the casserole, bring to the boil and simmer slowly until cooked. Baked potatoes work brilliantly with venison stew, but a layer of potatoes on top provides a wonderfully comforting meal in one pot. Scatter lots of fresh parsley over the potatoes before tucking in.

Serves 8-12

1.3kg shoulder of venison, trimmed and cut into 4cm cubes

50g plain flour, for dusting

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

225g piece of fatty salted pork or green streaky bacon, cut into 4cm cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 large parsnips, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

450ml homemade beef stock

bouquet garni

8-12 medium potatoes, peeled (optional)

a squeeze of organic lemon juice

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


300-350ml gutsy red wine

1 medium onion, sliced

3 tbsp brandy

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

bouquet garni

Horseradish Sauce (optional)

To Serve

lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley

green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage

First marinate the meat.

Season the cubes of venison with salt and pepper. Combine all of the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl, add the venison and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, or better still overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Drain the meat, reserving the marinade, and pat dry with kitchen paper. Tip the flour onto a plate and season well. Turn the cubes of venison in the seasoned flour to coat on all sides.

Heat the oil in a 25cm (3.2 litre) casserole pan over a low heat, add the salted pork or bacon and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until it starts to release its fat. Increase the heat to medium and fry the salted pork or bacon until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the venison to the casserole in batches and fry over a medium heat until nicely coloured on all sides. Avoid the temptation to increase the temperature or the fat will burn. Remove and set the batch aside while you colour the rest.

Toss the vegetables in the casserole, stir in the garlic and then add the pork or bacon and venison.

Pour off any surplus fat from the casserole and remove the meat and veg and set aside. Deglaze the casserole by pouring in the strained marinade. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the crusty bits on the base, add the pork or bacon and vegetables back in.

Pour over enough stock to cover the meat and vegetables and put in the bouquet garni. Bring the casserole to a gentle simmer on the hob, then cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 ½ hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven and cover the surface of the stew with the peeled whole medium potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the potatoes with a circle of greaseproof paper, and then the lid of the saucepan. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further 1 hour or until both the venison and potatoes are cooked.

Season to taste. As well as adding salt and pepper, I find it often needs a bit of acidity in the form of lemon juice or crab apple jelly, if available.

Scatter with lots of freshly chopped parsley and serve with a nice big dish of Brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage and some homemade horseradish sauce.

Venison and Parsnip Pie

This makes a delicious pie. Fill the cooked stew into one or two pie dishes. Cover with a generous layer of mashed potato or puff pastry.

Cauliflower Cheese Soufflé

From The Secret of Cooking by Bee Wilson published by 4th Estate

The food writer Elizabeth David described ‘an omelette and a glass of wine’ as an ideal solitary meal.  She was right (she usually was).  But on days you feel like some gentle kitchen therapy, a soufflé and a glass of wine is even better.  It’s far less work than you imagine (assuming you have a cheap electric hand whisk) but the ethereal airiness of soufflé makes dinner for one feel like a grand occasion.  Adding cauliflower to a cheese soufflé makes it a meal in one, but it’s even better with a green salad and some baguette.  I like to make this in a little 20cm Falcon enamelware pie dish, but if you have a small soufflé dish that would also work. Soufflé sounds posh but it is actually no pricier or trickier to make than a macaroni cheese.

Serves 1 

butter for greasing the dish, plus 10g more 

100g cauliflower (white parts only), cut into very small florets 

1 tbsp plain flour

80ml milk 

1 bay leaf (optional)

40g any strong hard cheese such as Parmesan, Gouda, Cheddar or Gruyère, grated 

a grating of nutmeg 

a pinch of cayenne 

1 egg yolk 

2 egg whites 

a few black sesame seeds (optional)

Rub butter around the inside of your pie or soufflé dish.  

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

Cook the cauliflower in boiling salted water for 8 minutes, or until soft and slightly overdone.  As soon as the cauliflower has gone into the water, melt the 10g of butter in another small saucepan over a lowing heat and stir in the flour using a balloon whisk.  Cook for around 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Off the heat, whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, still whisking thoroughly.  It will look lumpy but have faith.  If you give it time and enough whisking, the lumps should smooth away.  Return to a low heat, add the bay leaf (if using) and simmer for a minute, stirring constantly until it is thick.  Stir in the cheese until melted and season quite strongly with salt, nutmeg and cayenne. Soufflé mix always needs to be seasoned a tiny bit more than you think because the flavour will dilute when you add the whites.  Fish out the bay leaf.

Drain the cooked cauliflower and mash it into the sauce with a fork – a few pieces of cauliflower are nice.  Mix the yolk into the sauce.  In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the whites with a hand-held electric whisk until they are white and snowy.  Add a dollop of the whisked whites into the sauce to lighten it.  Now fold in the rest of the whites, using a large metal spoon or silicone spatula.  Pile the mixture into your prepared dish; sprinkle with a few sesame seeds (if using) and bake for 15 minutes, or until nicely risen and browned.  You can cut it in the middle to check if it is done but know that a perfect cheese soufflé will always look a little wet (but not sloshing) in the middle. Eat with a green salad and good bread or toast. 

Vegetarian Dishes

You’re not alone if you suddenly feel stumped when you find you have unexpected vegetarians or a vegan for lunch or supper. No need to fly into a panic though, there are lots of good things that can be whizzed up in minutes if you have a well-stocked larder. A tin of chickpeas can be transformed into a silky hummus in no time. Season generously, sharpen well with lemon juice, add lots of freshly roasted cumin and drizzle with a slick of fruity extra-virgin olive oil. If you happen to have a pomegranate, sprinkle on a few seeds and scatter some coriander or even flat parsley leaves over the top and hey presto, you have a delicious bowl of yumminess to dunk some warm pitta bread. (keep a few in the freezer as a standby).
A little salad of coarsely grated carrot and apple, tossed in a simple dressing of runny honey and a good white wine vinegar, makes a fresh and delicious starter. Add a few toasted hazelnuts or walnuts for extra oomph (Forum Chardonnay vinegar is one of my favourites).
It can be dressed up or down, served as a starter, a side or makes a perfect little bite on a crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaf.
Lentils of every colour are another brilliant must have. Red lentil soup cooks really fast and is deeply satisfying but for a substantial main course, it’s a brilliant idea to make one or other of these recipes and freeze some single portions so you are never caught unawares. These chunky bean stews can be also be used as a side for those who would love a lamb chop or a few slices of pan grilled chicken or duck breast.
I never seem to tire of a lightly spiced black eyed bean stew with chunks of squash or pumpkin, It freezes brilliantly, and you can swap out the pumpkin for cauliflower or broccoli florets or even cubes of cooked potato…
And how about Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpeas Stew with Coconut and Turmeric, you may well find that this also becomes a firm favourite and you’ll always want to have some in your fridge.  Last but certainly not least, a tomato fondue base is a godsend to have close to hand to use as a filling for an omelette or crêpes, topping for a pizza or a frittata, sauce for grilled halloumi or as a base to add a myriad of other chunky vegetables, spices and chilli and to do your own riffs on for a substantial main course.  Omit the eggy additions and it’s vegan too…I’m never without tomato fondue or peperonata and regular devotees of this column will know those two recipes well.
Hope all of the above will be part of your permanent recipe repertoire from now on. Enjoy…

Carrot and Apple Salad with Honey and Vinegar Dressing

This delicious, zingy salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have easily to hand but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead or the apple will discolour. It’s vegetarian of course, I sometimes add a few toasted hazelnuts or pecans for extra deliciousness. Serve either as a starter or as an accompanying salad for ham or pork with crackling. 

Serves 6

225g coarsely grated carrot

285g unpeeled coarsely grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

salt and freshly ground pepper


2 good tsp pure Irish honey

1 tbsp white wine vinegar


a few leaves of lettuce

sprigs of watercress or parsley

chive flowers if you have them

Dissolve the honey in the wine vinegar.  Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together and toss in the sweet and sour dressing.  Taste and add a bit more honey or vinegar as required, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Take 6 large side plates, white is best for this.   Arrange a few crisp lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates.  Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

Red Lentil Soup with Turmeric, Masala Yoghurt, Toasted Seeds and Coriander

This soup was inspired by a soup I ate and loved at the Little Fox in Ennistymon in County Clare. I’m not sure how they made it, but here is my interpretation, which I love. It’s made in minutes, really sustaining and super-delicious.

Serves 6

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter

225g onions, chopped

2 tsp peeled and grated fresh turmeric

225g red lentils

1.2 litres homemade vegetable or chicken stock

2 tsp pumpkin seeds

2 tsp sunflower seeds

1 tsp each of black and white sesame seeds

a squeeze of organic lemon juice, to taste

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

coriander leaves, to garnish

For the Masala Yoghurt

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

6 tablespoons natural yoghurt

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 22cm (3.3 litre) heavy-based saucepan. Stir in the onions, then cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes until soft but not coloured.

Add the fresh turmeric and cook for a minute or two before stirring in the lentils. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour in the stock, bring back to the boil and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the lentils are soft.

Meanwhile, mix the pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds in a small bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

To make the masala yoghurt, combine the freshly roasted cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Stir into the natural yoghurt in a bowl and season with salt, to taste.

Whizz the soup to a coarse purée in a blender or food processor. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice and some more salt and pepper, if needed.

Ladle the soup into wide soup bowls, drizzle some masala yoghurt over the top and sprinkle with the seeds. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve as soon as possible.

Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric

One of my absolute favourites – Alison is one of my all time special cooking writers – check her out….

Serves 4 – 6

50ml of olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

225g onion, diced

1 x 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric, plus more for serving

½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes, plus more for serving

2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 x 400g tin of full fat coconut milk

250ml vegetable or chicken stock

350g of Swiss chard, kale or collard greens torn into bite-size pieces, stalks chopped and added


handful of fresh mint leaves

yoghurt (for serving, optional)

toasted pitta bread, lavash or other flatbread for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add garlic and onion. Season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent and starts to brown a little around the edges, 3-5 minutes. Add ginger and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Add turmeric, chilli flakes and chickpeas, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, so the chickpeas sizzle and fry a bit in the spices and oil, until they’ve started to break down and get a little browned and crisp, 8-10 minutes.

Using a potato masher or spatula, further crush the remaining chickpeas slightly to release the starchy insides (this will help to thicken the stew).

Add the coconut milk and stock to the pot, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stew has thickened and flavours have started to come together, 30-35 minutes. (Taste a chickpea or two, not just the liquid, to make sure they have simmered long enough to taste as delicious as possible).

If after 20 minutes you want the stew a bit thicker, keep simmering until you have reached your desired consistency. Determining perfect stew thickness is a personal journey!

Add green stalks and cook until nearly tender, then add the leaves and stir, making sure they’re submerged in the liquid. Cook a few minutes so they wilt and soften, 3-7 minutes, depending on what you’re using. (Swiss chard and spinach will wilt and soften much faster than kale or collard greens). Season again with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide among bowls and top with mint, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and a good drizzle of olive oil. Serve alongside yoghurt and toasted pitta if using; dust the yoghurt with turmeric if you wish.


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