ArchiveFebruary 2024

Reboot The System

A recent encounter with antibiotics has set me thinking about the very best way to replenish my gut biome with oodles of good microbes after a course of essential antibiotics. In their quest to kill off all the pathogenic bacteria, many of the beneficial as well as the harmful microbes are extinguished, that’s just the way it is.
From a growing body of research, we all know just how important it is to maintain a healthy gut biome and not just for physical, but also for our mental health.
Good bacteria don’t just facilitate digestion but also help to keep harmful bacteria in check so it’s vital to be proactive and rebuild the gut biome as soon as possible. It’s worth knowing that it can take several weeks, even months to restore gut health after a course of antibiotics.
So how best to go about it? For me as a non-medic there are just two P words to remember – probiotics and pre-biotics.
PROBIOTICS are foods, (or supplements) containing live microorganisms, principally, lactobacillus, and bifidobacterium (healthy bacteria) and saccharomyces boulardi (a type of yeast). Probiotics have a beneficial influence on the immune system.
Prebiotics come from high fibre foods, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans. They provide nourishment for good bacteria in the gut, help to restore gut flora and slow down the growth of harmful bacteria.
Fermented foods like yoghurt, natural cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and particularly milk kefir are also brilliant to restore a healthy gut biome.
Make your own for extra complexity, see how easy it is to make your own ferments and yoghurt, but do use organic ingredients when possible.
I’m a big fan of BONE BROTH, it’s all about collagen to strengthen the gut lining. It also helps to rebuild the intestinal barrier, repair connective tissue and the intestinal wall, particularly relevant for those with diverticulitis. Apparently 65% of people over 60 have the condition though some are not bothered by it.
Lots of rest, keep stress to the minimum and get as much really good sleep as you possibly can.
So here’s my not altogether comprehensive list of nourishing foods to put the pep back into our step…
Probiotics like pure natural organic yoghurt, raw milk kefir and raw milk from a small organic dairy herd (your choice). Fermented products mentioned above plus miso, real cheese, fresh fish, avocados, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, the highest inulin content of any vegetable, a superstar for building back diversity in the gut, Winter greens and turmeric, bananas – lots there to keep you sated.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and delicious Spring…

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes (Slices)

Jerusalem artichokes are superstars for reintroducing beneficial bacteria into the gut. They have the highest insulin content of any vegetable; Jerusalem Artichoke soup is delicious (see column 9th December ‘sleepwalking in a food security crisis) but this is a totally brilliant way to cook Jerusalem artichokes. Great as a vegetable accompaniment of course, but also super delicious in warm salads, starters or with any meat particularly goose, duck, pheasant…

Serves 4 to 6

450g Jerusalem artichokes, well-scrubbed

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7.

Slice the well-scrubbed artichokes into 7mm rounds or lengthwise. Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with the extra virgin olive oil.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Arrange in a single layer on silicone paper on a roasting tin.  Roast for 10 minutes or until golden on one side then flip over and cook on the other side until nicely caramelised.   Test with the tip of a knife – they should be tender.  One could sprinkle with a little thyme or rosemary, but they are perfectly delicious without any further embellishment. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve.

Homemade Yoghurt

It is so simple to make your own yoghurt – the higher the quality the milk, the better the end result will be.

We use organic Jersey milk and ingredients where possible.

600ml fresh milk

2-3 tsp live natural yoghurt

Heat the milk to 90°C in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Allow to cool to 42°C.  Gently whisk in the yogurt. Leave in the saucepan or pour into a deep terracotta bowl, cover and put into a warm draught-free place until set.  This usually takes about 14 hours.  The cooler the temperature, the longer the yogurt will take to set, but too high a temperature (over 50°C) will kill the bacillus and the yogurt will not form, 43-44°C is the ideal temperature

Yoghurt can be set in a warm airing cupboard or boiler room, a vacuum flask with a wide neck or an insulated ice bucket

To keep the yoghurt warm, an earthenware pot with a lid, wrapped up in a warm blanket, put close to a radiator will also do the job.  The simple aim is to provide steady even warmth to allow the bacillus to grow.  Remember to keep back 2 tablespoons of your bowl of yoghurt as the starter of the next lot.


On a trip to Turkey, I came across Ayran – a drinking yoghurt which is not only brilliantly healthy but becomes addictive.  It’s almost a national drink in Turkey and is an excellent way to build up a healthy gut flora.

Simply dilute best quality natural yoghurt with cold iced water, approximately one third water to yoghurt depending on quality and thickness of the original, it should have a frothy top – it’s best to whisk in the water. 

Penny’s Kombucha from the Ballymaloe Fermentation Shed

Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweet tea.  It is said to have many health benefits when consumed regularly. It’s super easy to make, don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar terms like scoby.

Link in with your local fermentation hub to source a scoby and kombucha to get going – there are various active groups on Facebook and Instagram.

The following websites are also worth checking out:

750ml boiling water

2 tsp loose leaf tea or 2 tea bags (green, white or black – organic is best)

150g organic caster sugar

1.25 litres dechlorinated water

250ml Kombucha

1 Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast)

Equipment – 3 litre Kilner jar or large Pyrex bowl or similar. Measuring jug

*Don’t use a metal container when brewing kombucha

Pour the cold water into the Kilner jar.

Make the tea with 750ml of boiling water in a teapot or bowl. Let this sit for a few minutes to infuse.  Add the caster sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain the sweet tea into the cold water in the jar. 

The temperature of the sweetened tea should now be tepid and you should have just over 2 litres of liquid.

Add 250ml of Kombucha and the Scoby.

Cover the jar or bowl with a clean cloth tied around with string or an elastic band. Don’t be tempted to put a lid on it because the Kombucha Scoby needs air to thrive.

Put in a warmish place for 10-14 days. It should be out of direct sunlight and somewhere it won’t have to be moved.  Taste after 10 days and decide if it’s to your liking and if not, leave a little longer – the taste you are looking for is a pleasing balance between sweet and sour.


Lift off the Scoby (which looks like a jelly) and put it in a bowl with 250ml of your just brewed Kombucha and cover this with a plate or bowl while you bottle the rest.

Pour the brewed Kombucha into bottles through a funnel (makes 2 x 1 litre bottles), or into another large Kilner jar. You can then store this in the fridge and enjoy as it is, or you can do a second ferment to add flavour and extra nutritional benefits!

Second Fermentation

To each bottle you can add a handful of any of the following:

  • fresh or frozen (defrosted) raspberries.
  • fresh or frozen (defrosted) strawberries and 1 tsp raw cacao
  • ½ apple and a small beetroot chopped
  • 1 ripe peach sliced

Let this sit for 24-48 hours at room temperature with a lid on and then strain out the fruit (or vegetables) and bottle. Store in the fridge and enjoy. Delicious!

Mexico City

A tempting wedding invitation gave us the excuse we needed to spend a very enjoyable interlude in Mexico recently.

Over a year ago, two of our lovely middle aged friends, upped sticks and moved lock, stock and barrel from the UK and Denmark to Mexico City, now considered to be one of the coolest places to live anywhere in the world, there and Margate on the south coast of England….

Richard is a baker of some considerable renown.

Having started the now world famous Mecca of sourdough, Tartine in San Francisco with Chad Robertson, he was later invited by René Redzepi of Noma to Copenhagen where he established his own Hart Bageri in Frederiksberg. Plans are currently underway to establish yet another artisan bakery to introduce his deeply flavourful natural sourdoughs and viennoiserie to the eager expat hipsters in the leafy La Condesa and Roma area of Mexico City.

His paramour, Henrietta Lovell, aka The Rare Tea Lady plans to run her exquisite, rare tea business sourced from tiny tea gardens around the world from Mexico City and the original headquarters in London.

The wedding in a beautiful venue called Salón Barcelona was further embellished with brightly coloured pinatas. The bride wore a flowing hand printed silk dress in shades of whisper pink with a pale yellow ruff on the hem and carried a bouquet of heritage wheat tied with a pink velvet bow. This was carried all the way from Italy by the farmer, who grows the wheat for Richard’s slowly fermented sourdough loaves. How romantic was that?

Flamboyantly dressed friends travelled from all over the world to celebrate the joyous occasion. Tea cocktails laced with mescal and tequila flowed, Mexican street food, quesadillas, tacos, elotes, esquites, tamales were served at intervals throughout the evening. Live music and dance and a selection of refreshing ice creams, homemade in small batches from ripe mangoes, sapote, and other seasonal fruits, what a fun party.

But Mexico City has so much more. It’s a really hot food city with some of the very best food I’ve eaten anywhere and markets to make you swoon. Before I start to wax lyrical about the food. I must mention that Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world apart from London. The National Museum of Anthropology located within Chapultepec Park is not to be missed and I would also say that Museo de Arte Popular and Museo de Arte Contempóraneo also be on your absolutely ‘must see’ list. Both are in the Centro Historico, so pop your head into the awe inspiring Catedral Metropolitana. Make time, if possible, to see Diego Rivera’s Mural Museum and if you can make it to the Mescal and Tequila Museum, do so. Museo Frida Kahlo needs to be booked months ahead but it’s sooooo worth it.

There are many beautiful markets but at least try to get to the Flower Market and the huge Mercado San Juan just a few steps southwest of the historic centre. There’s a wonderful communal eating area where paper thin slices of beef cecina are flashed over charcoal barbecues then eaten with black beans, avocado and a selection of fiery and mild salsas. Visit the butchery areas where not a scrap of meat or bone or intestines is wasted but continue to wander on until you find the exotic meat stalls selling indigenous delicies, a mesmerising selection armadillo, crocodile, iguana, turtle, snake, skunk, wild boar, deer and buffalo, even lion and tiger…Apart from Mexican, traditional foods, there are excruciatingly expensive exotic imports like the finest caviar, Iberico ham and Parmigiana Reggiano.

Most intriguing of all is the area where they sell the staple of the pre-Hispanic diet, a vast selection of insects – crickets, grasshoppers, ants, spiders, tarantulas, grubs, maguey cactus worms, scorpions, can now be found not just in markets and street stalls but also on virtually every high-end restaurant menu.

They are super high in protein, the Aztecs, Mixtecs and other civilisations flourished for millennia on a diet rich in crickets, grubs, grasshoppers and other edible invertebrates. They have been rediscovered and mark my word; they will be coming our way soon.
A favourite way to eat crunchy chapulines in Oaxaca is on tacos with a dollop of guacamole, a sprinkling of finely diced white onion, crumbled queso fresco, chopped coriander and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Insects, worms and ant eggs are frequently added to omelettes or sprinkled over frittatas and snacks. I greatly enjoyed an ant egg omelette at Cardenal in Mexico City, they are crunchy like popcorn!

They are already being farmed by ‘sustainable entrepreneurs’ and the UN describe them as a ‘promising source of sustainable protein’

I simply didn’t have enough meal slots to get to every restaurant, café, bakery, taqueria, and fonda that I wanted to visit in Mexico City but here is a list of a few that I particularly loved.

Rosetta, owned by the celebrated Mexican woman chef Elena Reygades who spoke at Food on the Edge in 2023, is ranked 49th in the world’s top 50 restaurants, I would put her much higher on the list, the food was memorably delicious.

Panderia, her café/bakery is also superb as is Lardo where we returned a second time – don’t miss the guava pastries and superb brunch dishes.

Máximo, owned by Chef Eduardo Garcia and his wife Gabrielle is also superb and ranked 28th in the world’s top 50 restaurants.

El Cardenale, for breakfast, has several branches in Mexico City, all really good but my favourite is in the Hilton Hotel in Alameda, close to the Centro Historico. I loved everything but particularly enjoyed the escamole (crunchy ant eggs) omelette and of course dipping the soft squishy conchas in their hot chocolate.

Expendio de Maiz in Roma is a very cool, very basic café where they have no menu, but keep on bringing food until you’re feeling deliciously satiated.

Mendl and Maque are two other breakfast spots in the La Condesa area. There’s so much more, but I’ve run out of space…

Burrata with Kumquats and EVO

This simple combination served at Lardo in Mexico City was super delicious with flat bread straight from the oven – kumquats are at their very best just now.  The poached fruit will keep in the fridge for weeks and is also delicious with ice cream, pancetta, roast pork, duck…a leaf or two of rocket embellishes this even further.

Serves 1 as a substantial starter or a small plate

1 burrata (cut in half if too large)

Poached Kumquats

235g kumquats

200ml water

110g sugar

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

First poach the kumquats.

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender when pierced with a knife.  Time may vary depending on the batch of citrus. 

Cool and store until needed.

To Serve

Place a ball of burrata on a plate, slice almost in half perpendicularly.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of poached kumquats into the centre so it spills out on either side.  Season with freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkle of sea salt then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Serve immediately with flatbread 

Fried Eggs on a Hoya Santa Leaf

Hoya santa, Piper auritum. Pronounced hah SAN -tah is a leafy herb in the piperaceae (pepper) family.
It is sometimes referred to as the pepper leaf or sacred pepper and has large floppy heart shaped leaves with a velvety texture. The plant grows to a metre tall and can be grown in a greenhouse here in Ireland. Hoya Santa leaves have a peppery, herbaceous flavour and are also used to wrap fish, meat, cheese and sometimes as the wrapping for tamales

A beautiful breakfast for one.

1 fresh hoya santa leaf
a dash of oil
1 freshly laid egg
flaky sea salt

queso fresco
black beans (see recipe)

Heat a griddle or an iron frying pan. Turn the leaf over and over on the hot pan for a few seconds. Remove, drizzle a little oil over the base of the pan, lay the leaf on top. Crack an egg onto the leaf, put a cover on the pan.  Allow to cook until the albumin is set, but the yolk is still runny.

Slide onto a warm plate, egg upwards. Sprinkle with a few grains of flaky sea salt and serve with a little piece of queso fresco to crumble over the top and a side of black beans.
Enjoy the most delicious breakfast.

Frijoles de Olla – Mexican Beans

Beans cooked simply like this and the Frijoles Refritos (refried beans) that are made from them are virtually a staple in Mexico, served at almost every meal including breakfast.  In Mexico, the markets are often divided into two sections, the regular stalls serving all manner of things and the eating side where people eat simply and cheaply at large tables covered in colourful oil cloth.  Hundreds of people eat these beans every day in simple market ‘fondas’ with some coarse salt, some hot green chillies and a stack of tortillas and maybe a few small pieces of creamy cheese melting over them.  They keep well and taste even better the next day or the day after.

Serves 6-8 depending on how they are served

450g dried or canned black beans or red kidney or pinto beans

1-2 tbsp good quality lard or butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp salt approx. (may take more depending on the beans)

1-2 sprigs of epazote (optional)

The day before.  

Cover the beans generously with cold water and soak overnight.   Alternatively, if you are in a hurry, bring the beans to the boil for 3 or 4 minutes, then take off the heat and leave aside for an hour or so.

Either way – drain the beans, cover with fresh water, about 1.4 litres, add the lard or butter and onion but not the salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1-2 hours depending on the beans – about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time add the salt and the sprig of epazote if you have it.  Keep an eye on the beans while they cook, they should always be covered with liquid, if you see the beans peeping through cover with boiling water by about 1cm.  When they are cooked the beans should be completely soft and the liquid slightly thickish and soupy (reserve the cooking liquid if making Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans). 

Frijoles Refritos – Refried Beans

Refried beans with their thick coarse texture accompany numerous snacks including Mexican scrambled eggs.

50-75g best quality pork lard or butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

225g Frijoles de Olla (see previous recipe)

Heat the lard or butter in a heavy frying pan, cook the onion until soft and brown, increase the heat and add about a third of the beans and their broth to the pan and cook over a high heat mashing them as you stir with a wooden spoon, or you could even use a potato masher, gradually add the rest of the beans little by little until you have a thick coarse purée.  Taste and season with salt if necessary.   Although this sounds as though it might be a lengthy business, it only takes about 8 or 9 minutes.  The beans are ready when the thick purée begins to dry out and sizzle at the edges.

Frijoles Refritos keep well and may be reheated many times.

Rare Tea Company Earl Grey Martini

A traditional Earl Grey blended with pure bergamot oil from the ancient orchards of Calabria. This is a classic British tea made to exacting standards. A clean and exceptionally bright infusion with exhilarating citrus notes. 

Infuse 15g of Earl Grey in 1 litre of gin for 3-5 minutes.

Strain and stir over ice to serve.

Rare Tea Company Jasmine Silver Tip Martini

Jasmine Silver Tip tea is not flavoured but carefully scented over six consecutive nights with fresh Jasmine flowers. Once the preserve of the Chinese Imperial family. A deep and heady aroma with a light and gentle flavour.

Infuse 25g of Jasmine in 1 litre of gin for 15 minutes.

Strain and stir over ice to serve. A delicious cocktail…

Clear Out Those Cupboards

Wow, it’s February already, and the January blues have lifted at last. Was it my imagination or did that just whizz by in a blur of lashing rain, gales, a rainbow of weather warnings and dreary grey skies… I remember an occasional bright sunny day when I had a rush of blood to the head and wanted to fill a flask with some hot sausages to nibble with a mug of steaming broth after a walk across the bog or along the coast at Ballyandreen…
Saint Bridget’s Day has also come and gone with some memorable, joyous celebrations. At last we are celebrating our female patron saint with gusto.
Next up, Saint Valentine’s Day, yet another excuse to dream up lot’s of little surprise treats and you know it doesn’t have to be something extravagant, could be an especially loving gesture, a favourite roast dinner with all the bells and whistles or just hide a few normally forbidden homemade cookies under the pillow…
If you do manage to snag a table in your favourite restaurant, don’t forget to send a big hug to the cooks and a big thank you to all the team who have given their Valentine’s Day so you can have fun.
Apart from all of that, I’ve been poking around in my fridge and pantry and I’m on a mission to use up as many half used  packets of this and that, to make a whole host of super nutritious and delicious Kitchen Suppers…Set yourself a challenge, you may be  amazed by how many good things you can make without ever making a trip to the shops.
Beans, chickpeas and lentils, inexpensive and packed with protein, create endless possibilities, perk them up with some of those spices and wisendy chillies or chilli flakes… While you are at it, make a double batch so you can freeze some for another meal
No house should be without a bottle of fish sauce (nam pla). It’s an incredible flavour enhancer for soups, stews, stir fries…  gives you so much bang for your buck. Squid Brand is good, soy sauce too of course.
Black rice vinegar from China and a jar of doubanjaing was put to good use in the super tasty chicken noodle soup, you’ll find these ingredients in a good Asian shop or substitute as suggested….
I found some boudoir biscuits in a packet and thought, I know exactly what to do with those, I’ll make a tiramisu which means ‘pick me up’. just the thing to cheer us up in February. I love the mixture of rum and sherry, but you could play around with other booze if you don’t have those to hand, The biscuits were a bit stale, but it doesn’t matter for tiramisu because they’re soaked in the boozy coffee anyway…and who doesn’t love tiramisu….
Lay the table, pop a few little flowers or even some foliage into a little pot.  I’m loving the snowdrops, primroses, violets and the first of the crocus at present. How about a couple of candles….  Suddenly your kitchen supper will be transformed.

For me, every meal is a special occasion, a celebration of the work of the farmers and growers who toil to produce the ingredients, and the cooks and chefs who transform the produce into magical meals. Enjoy every bite and the satisfaction of using up all those forgotten ingredients in your kitchen cupboards and pray for peace and plenty for all in our times….

Chicken Noodle Soup

Oh my goodness, this soup is so comforting and delicious just what’s needed to chase away the winter blues on a cold and blustery evening, pretty much a meal in a bowl. I used up some chicken thighs from the freezer and lots of odds and ends of noodles from my pantry. I also found some black rice vinegar that I brought back from Chengdu in China a couple of years ago. It’s called Chinkiang vinegar and it’s really worth knowing about, it’s got fantastic deep flavour and is a fraction of the price of good balsamic vinegar. Seek it out in good Asian shops, many now stock it.
You could also use as I did, a little doubanjiang instead of the chilli oil, it’s made from fermented soybeans with hot chilli peppers and is the quintessential taste of China…I love it.

Serves 6

1 .5kg of chicken thighs (use free-range and organic for best flavour)
3 Irish garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 x 7.5cm piece of ginger (75g approx.), peeled and finely chopped
1 large bunch of scallions, about 225g, thinly sliced
4 tsp of pure salt, (sounds a lot but you’ll need it…)
lots of freshly ground pepper
2.4 litres of water or light chicken stock

225g noodles, could be curly or Ramen style noodles or even tagliatelle
250g carrot

50ml Chinese black rice vinegar
50ml soy sauce
½ – 2 tbsp of toasted sesame oil
Doubanjiang or chilli oil to taste

Put the chicken thighs into a deep saucepan with the garlic, ginger and the white part of the scallions. Add salt and pepper. Cover with water, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the chicken is tender and fully cooked through, 35-40 minutes approx. depending on the type of chicken you use (could be less if it is an intensively reared chicken).

Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and as much doubanjiang or chilli oil as you fancy together in a little bowl. Keep aside until later to top the soup.

When the chicken is tender, remove from the pot, add the noodles and carrot julienne to the broth and cook until the noodles are al dente.

Meanwhile, tear the skin off the thighs and remove the meat from the bones. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces.
When the noodles are cooked, return the chicken to the pot of hot broth. Stir gently, taste, and tweak the seasoning if necessary.

Divide the hot broth between 6 or 8 bowls, scatter each with sliced green scallions and spoon a generous tablespoon of perky oil over the top. Serve the remainder separately in case anyone wants a little more. Eat with a spoon and chopsticks.

I added the chicken skin to a stock pot, cracked the thigh bones with the back of my chopping knife and added them too for extra flavour and collagen. Otherwise add them to your ‘Stock Bits’ box in the freezer for another time.

Smoky Chana Dahl

A particularly delicious recipe for orange lentils with a haunting smoky flavour from the ancient dhungar technique. There are hundreds of recipes for dahls, maybe even thousands. Many Indians eat a version of dahl every day, delicious, comforting, nourishing food and brilliant for a kitchen supper with friends. Serve with a bowl of fluffy Basmati rice.

Serves 4-6

200g chana dahl – orange lentils     
600ml water
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp pure salt

4 cloves of garlic
4cm piece of fresh ginger (25g approx.), peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp of cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
2 green cardamom
a few scraps of cinnamon stick
1 medium red onion, chopped (75g approx.)
250g ripe tomatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

1 tsp Kasuri Methi, dried fenugreek leaves

¼ tsp of garam masala

½ tsp of coriander powder
2 tbsp of chopped coriander

175ml approx. water

Tarka – The Spicy Topping
1 tbsp ghee or oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 whole dried red chilli cut into a few pieces

For the Dungar
1 lump of charcoal
2 tsp ghee

1 clove, optional

Wash and drain the dahl, put into a heavy saucepan with the water, turmeric and salt. Stir, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, chop the cloves of garlic, ginger and chilli roughly, transfer to a pestle mortar and pound to a coarse texture, keep aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole, add the cumin seeds, whole cloves, barely crushed cardamom pods, a few scraps of cinnamon, Stir over the heat for a few seconds. Add the chopped red onion, continue to stir and cook for 3-4 mins then add the garlic/ginger/chilli mixture for another 2-3 mins until the raw smell evaporates.
Add the chopped tomatoes.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover, continue to cook over a gentle heat for 7-8 mins until soft and melting.
Now it’s time to add the rest of the spices – red chili powder, dried fenugreek, garam masala, coriander powder and fresh coriander. Stir and cook for a few seconds then add the cooked chana dahl and 175ml water or more if you would like it looser. Cover and simmer gently for 5-6 mins. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, make the tarka to spoon over the dahl. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the small saucepan, add the chopped garlic and chilli, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. When the garlic just begins to colour, spoon over the hot dahl for extra flavour. Serve immediately with basmati rice or for a really special smoky version, heat a piece of charcoal over a gas flame until glowing, meanwhile keep the dahl hot and covered. Sit a little stainless steel bowl on top of the dahl. With a tongs, drop the coal into the bowl, spoon a couple of teaspoons of ghee or oil and a crushed garlic clove (optional) on top, it will start to smoke instantly so cover the saucepan and allow the dahl to absorb the smoky aroma, 3-5 mins should be ample time – super delicious, a traditional Rajasthani nomad technique called the dhungar method.


The name means pick-me-up and not surprisingly either, considering the amount of booze! How about making it in a heart-shaped dish or dishes for St. Valentine’s Day.

Serves 8

225ml strong espresso coffee (if your freshly made coffee is not strong enough, add 1 tsp instant coffee)

4 tbsp brandy

2 tbsp Jamaica rum

75g dark chocolate

3 eggs, separated – preferably free-range

4 tbsp caster sugar

250g Mascarpone cheese

38-40 boudoir biscuits

1 dish 20.5 x 25.5cm with low sides or 8 individual heart-shaped dishes

Mix the coffee with the brandy and rum.

Roughly grate the chocolate (we do this in a food processor with the pulse button).

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the ‘ribbon’ stage and is light and fluffy, then fold in the Mascarpone one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the cheese mixture. Now you are ready to assemble the Tiramisu.

Dip each side of the boudoir biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture and arrange side by side in the dish. Spread half the Mascarpone mixture gently over the biscuits, sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the top, then another layer of soaked biscuits and finally the rest of the Mascarpone. Cover the whole bowl carefully and refrigerate for at least 6 hours – I usually make it the day before I use it.

Just before serving, scatter the remainder of the chocolate over the top and serve.

Tiramisu will keep for several days in a fridge but make sure it is covered, otherwise it may pick up ‘fridge’ tastes.

Winter Warmers

Rory O’Connell

My goodness, the weather has been particularly unpleasant this winter and despite the tiny little “stretch” in evening light, it feels that we are sometime away from bright spring days. Having said that, I have spotted some daffodils blooming in my garden – much too early if you ask me, and my spring bulbs in pots are bravely pushing up through the cold and damp soil. Little glimmers of hope.

However, while we await those joyous moments of spring, I feel the need for comforting and warming dishes to soothe body and soul, so I am suggesting three dishes to fulfil that need.

Lentil and Kale Soup is a hearty and robust offering which I find deeply nourishing and despite its rather rustic appearance has a really sophisticated flavour. I serve this in the “Italian style”, so thick and soupy at the same time. You can indeed loosen the consistency with a little more stock to achieve a thinner soup or at least one that is less thick, but the porridge type consistency is part of the charm. If you can manage to find a bottle of “new seasons” extra virgin olive oil, a little drizzle of that on the soup is marvellous. The “new seasons” oil is from olives pressed last autumn or early winter, so I suppose the most recent olive oil. I love the oils from Tuscany in Italy which generally have a freshness and flavour that is described as grassy. It is an ingredient that I look forward to every year and though it is expensive, a little goes a long way and the rich green oil elevates the ordinary to the very special. If you do buy a bottle, drizzle a little on a cooked grilled steak or fish, cooked fresh pasta, tender cooked cauliflower or broccoli and even over humble mashed swede turnips with a grating of Coolea or Parmesan cheese. Marvellous.

Casserole Roast Chicken with Indian Spices will also warm the cockles. The green chilli that is secreted in the pot with the bird and the spices is the heat source here. The technique for cooking the bird in a heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid is endlessly useful and can be used for other birds such as pheasant, guinea fowl and even a turkey, though that will require an extra-large pot. The beauty of preparing a bird in this way, is that once it is cooked, the juices that have been trapped in the tightly sealed casserole can simply be the sauce. In this recipe, I de-grease the cooking juices and add a little cream though that could be optional. Other than the fresh tasting green chilli, the remaining spicing here is gentle. I serve this with plain boiled rice. A crispy poppadom would be a charming addition.

The Winter Chocolate Apple Pudding to finish the meal is a personal favourite and the addition of a little mincemeat leftover from Christmas past is somehow a way of putting a little of the winter to bed or at least to good use – perhaps that is wishful thinking. This comforting dish should be served warm and ideally on hot plates with cold softly whipped cream to accompany. The combination of rich chocolate, refreshing apple and fruity mincemeat is delicious and the contrast between warm pudding and icy cold cream is a delight.

Lentil and Kale Soup

Serves 6 -8

250g green lentils

1 red chilli

1 bay leaf

3 cloves of unpeeled garlic

branch of thyme

1 onion halved

1 – 1.2 litres chicken stock

500g curly kale, weighed after the tough stalks have been removed

150ml cream

salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the lentils, chilli, bay leaf, garlic, thyme, onion and chicken stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook very gently until the lentils are tender. Do not allow the lentils to become overcooked and mushy but at the same time they do need to be completely cooked all the way through. I add a good pinch of salt to the cooking lentils 5 minutes before they are cooked.

Remove the bay leaf, thyme and onion and discard. Peel the skin off the chilli and discard the skin. Split it in half lengthways and remove and discard the seeds. Chop the chilli flesh finely and add back into the lentils. Press the flesh out of the cooked garlic and discard the skins. Stir the soft garlic into the lentils. Taste and correct seasoning.

Bring 3 litres of water to a boil in a large saucepan and season well with salt. Add the kale leaves and cook uncovered until completely tender. Strain off all of the water and place the leaves in a food processor. Purée briefly, add the cream and continue to puree to a smooth consistency. Taste and correct seasoning making sure to add some freshly ground black pepper. Both elements of the soup can be put aside now for reheating later.

When ready to serve the soup, Heat the lentils and kale in separate saucepans. When both mixtures are simmering, add the kale to the lentil saucepan and gently fold through. The soup can look streaky at this stage and that is the way I prefer to serve it. Ladle into hot soup bowls and drizzle each serving with olive oil. Serve immediately

Serve with new season extra virgin olive oil.

Casserole Roast Chicken with Indian Spices

Sometimes when I want a spiced chicken dish, I want a no-holds-barred, hot and aromatic experience. Other times, I am in the mood for tender and succulent slices of chicken with a lightly spiced, thin cream or juice to accompany it. This recipe is the latter.

Serves 6

1 free-range chicken, about 1.3kg

20g soft butter

1 heaped tsp coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground

¼ tsp turmeric powder

pinch of chilli powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

4 green chillies

225ml cream

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaf

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Mix the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder with a pinch of salt. Mix this spice mix into half of the butter.

Heat a heavy casserole on a gentle heat. Rub the breasts of the chicken dry with some kitchen paper. Smear the remaining half of the soft butter on the breasts. Place the chicken, breast side down into the heated casserole. The butter should sizzle a bit and that tells you the casserole is hot enough. If it doesn’t sizzle, whip out the chicken immediately and allow the casserole to get hotter.  Allow the chicken breasts to become golden brown, making sure the casserole doesn’t get so hot that it actually burns the butter. This will involve a bit of manoeuvring, perhaps sitting the chicken on its side and so on. Season the coloured chicken breasts with a pinch of salt and pepper. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then smear the spiced butter all over it. Place the chicken back in the casserole, breast side up. Pop the chillies around the chicken and sprinkle over the lemon juice.  Cover with greaseproof paper and a tight fitting lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 90 minutes. 

Remove the casserole from the oven and check to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked.  This can be done in several ways. One way, the best in my opinion, is to insert a metal skewer in between the leg and the breast. This is the last place to cook in the chicken so it is the best place to check. Count to ten seconds. Remove the skewer and test the temperature of the skewer on the back of your hand. If it doesn’t feel so hot as to make you immediately pull the skewer away from your hand with a start, then the chicken probably is not cooked. The other way to test is to endeavour to extract a little juice from the same place, between the breast and the leg to see if it is completely clear. If it is not clear and if there is any trace of pink in the juice, then it is not cooked. If this is the case put the chicken back in the oven for a further 10 minutes and repeat the test.

Remove the cooked chicken and the chillies, which by now will be collapsed and a bit sad looking, from the casserole and keep warm in the oven with the temperature reduced to 50°C/Gas Mark 1/2. Allow the chicken at least 15 minutes to rest before carving.

Strain out all of the cooking juices into a bowl and allow it to settle for a minute or two. The butter and chicken fat will rise to the surface of the liquid. Spoon off the buttery fat, now full of the flavour of the spices, and save it for roasting vegetables. It is particularly good with parsnips or for tossing into crushed new potatoes.

Place the degreased juices back in the casserole and add the cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is lightly thickened. Add the chopped coriander leaves. Taste and correct seasoning. Carve the chicken neatly and serve with the sauce. The chillies should be used to garnish the dish and the heat fiends will find them delicious to eat.

Winter Chocolate Apple Pudding

This is a variation of the classic apple betty, which is a simple pudding that I love.

Serves 4

1kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into large chunks

30g butter

2 tbsp water

For the crumb layer

150g mincemeat

125g soft white breadcrumbs

75g light soft brown sugar

50g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped

75g butter

3 tbsp golden syrup

To serve

chilled softly whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5.

Put the apples in a pan and toss with the butter and water over a gentle heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the apples start to soften and are collapsing just a little at the edges but still generally keeping their shape. Tip them into a 1.5 litre baking dish.

Mix together the mincemeat, breadcrumbs, sugar and chocolate and cover the apples loosely with this topping. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a small saucepan and pour it over the crumbs, making certain to soak them all.

Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, until the apple is soft, and the crumbs are golden and crisp. Allow to cool slightly, then serve in heated bowls with chilled softly whipped cream.


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