ArchiveFebruary 11, 2024

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.


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