ArchiveMay 2024

National Food Days

Today, I took a little ramble through the Internet to check out the World, National and International Food days in May. Can you imagine there is one for virtually every day of every month of the year.
Several captured my imagination – May 13th was international Hummus Day, just missed that, but Sunday 19th is World Baking Day, Monday 20th is Quiche Lorraine Day. Fancy that and wait for it, Tuesday the 21st is National Strawberries and Cream Day, that’s the next three days sorted.
So what to bake? Well tomorrow is Sunday, so if there are kids around, how about making some cupcakes together to share. Can you believe National, Give Someone a Cupcake Day is also a thing, that was on May 8, but still it’s never too late to have fun, pass on skills and spread some delicious joy.
So how about Lemon Meringue Cupcakes? There are three elements to this recipe, just the thing to make on a wet afternoon to keep several of the family gainfully employed.
(1) The cupcake mixture, (2) lemon curd, and (3) tiny meringues. If you can’t be bothered to make the meringue. Although they are super cute and delicious the cupcakes will be delicious alone or with a little homemade lemon curd. The little bakers will have learned three skills plus the joy of gifting to grandparents, neighbours and their friends 
Can you imagine that there’s a National Quiche Lorraine Day…Well, here’s my favourite recipe for Quiche Lorraine, which I think is based on a recipe from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking from the 1960’s

Here again, there are several techniques how to make a delicious, buttery, shortcrust pastry, line a flan ring and excellent proportions for a quiche. But the secret of a memorable quiche, which has been so debased and pedestrian from overuse, is really good eggs, lots of cream and excellent streaky bacon, I like it a little smoked…. (Quiche was certainly never meant to be made with milk or ‘perish the thought’ low fat milk…
And finally, for Strawberries and Cream Day on Tuesday, how about Ballymaloe Almond Meringue with strawberries and cream. ‘This Break all the Rules’ meringue was the very first dessert I tasted from the famous sweet trolley when I arrived in Ballymaloe House in 1968. Plus, it was also the very first dessert I learned to make in the kitchen, it’s still one of my favourites. Also brilliant for entertaining and for birthdays. The discs can be stored in an airtight tin for several days and it’s a really brilliant way to showcase the first of the early Irish Strawberries.
Enjoy…

Quiche Lorraine 

Probably the most famous quiche of all, named after the Lorraine region of north-east France, this classic is delicious served with a simple green salad. Best served warm or room temperature.

Serves 6

Shortcrust Pastry

175g plain flour, sieved (spelt or sieved wholemeal flour may also be used)

pinch of salt

75g butter, chilled, 

1 egg (to bind) – 4 tablespoons liquid approx.

Filling

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

175g nice fatty streaky bacon cut into 1cm lardons

100g finely chopped onions

3 eggs and 2 egg yolks

300ml single cream

1 scant tbsp chopped parsley

1 scant tbsp chopped chives

110g Gruyère cheese, grated or 75g Gruyère and 25g grated Parmesan

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 x 23cm round tin

Make the pastry.

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg. Using a fork to stir, add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and slightly more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.

Flatten into a round, cover the pastry with parchment and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured worktop, line the tart tin and ‘bake blind’ for about 25 minutes. The base should be almost fully cooked.  Remove the parchment paper and beans, brush the base with a little beaten egg white and replace in the oven for 3-4 minutes.  This will seal the base and avoid the “soggy bottom” effect.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan and cook the bacon over a medium heat until almost crisp. Remove to a plate and cool. Add the finely chopped onions to the pan, cover and sweat gently on a low heat in the same pan for a further 5-6 minutes until soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl, add the cream, herbs, cheese, bacon and onions. Mix well and add seasoning. Taste and correct, if necessary, quiches need to be well seasoned. Otherwise, heat a frying pan, cook a teaspoon of the quiche mixture on a gentle heat for 2 or 3 minutes until it coagulates – taste and if necessary, correct the seasoning. (A bit of a faff but so worth the effort to get the seasoning right).

Stir, Pour the filling into the pastry base and return to the oven for 30–40 minutes or until the centre has just set. Serve warm with a green salad. 

Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes

These cupcakes are absolutely adorable and really delicious, the way to everyone’s heart.

Makes 24

Cupcakes

225g butter (at room temperature)

225g caster sugar

225g self-raising flour

4 organic large eggs

zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Curd

50g butter

100g caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Lemon Curd Cream

110ml whipped cream

4 tbsp lemon curd (see recipe)

1 tbsp sieved icing sugar or to taste

Meringue Kisses (see recipe)

Garnish

sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena

2 muffin tins lined with 24 muffin cases

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the cupcakes.

Put all ingredients into a food processor, whizz until smooth. Add a little milk if the mixture is too thick.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in a muffin tin. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.

Meanwhile, make the lemon curd.

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, freshly grated lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To assemble

Mix the lemon curd into the whipped cream and add the sieved icing sugar.  Put into a piping bag with a medium sized plain nozzle.  Put the remainder of the lemon curd into a piping bag with a small plain nozzle.

Insert the nozzle into the top of the cupcake and squeeze in a small teaspoon of lemon curd.  Pipe a blob of lemon cream over the top.  It should almost cover the cupcake, add another teaspoon of lemon curd, then top with a meringue kiss and garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena.  Eat as soon as possible.

Meringue Kisses

Makes 30

2 egg whites

110g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

To make the meringue.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.  Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe into 4cm rosettes onto the baking sheet.   Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until set crisp.

Ballymaloe Almond Meringue with Strawberries and Cream

We use this all-in-one meringue recipe for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day, or simply for a special dessert, it’s particularly delicious with fresh strawberries, but raspberries, loganberries, peaches, nectarines, or even kiwi fruit are also very good.

Serves 6

90g whole unskinned almonds

240g icing sugar

120g egg whites, preferably free range

Filling

300ml whipped cream

225g fresh Irish strawberries in season 

Garnish

little sprigs of mint or lemon balm

6-8 crystallised rose petals (optional)

Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them up. They should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty, (you could cheat and use nibbed almonds!). Toast in a moderate oven at 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 8-10 minutes until golden. Keep an eye on them and stir occasionally. 

Mark 2 x 18cm circles on parchment paper or a prepared baking sheet.  Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.   Mix all the icing sugar with the egg whites in the bowl, whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.  Fold in the almonds quickly.  Divide the mixture between the two circles and spread evenly with a palette knife.  Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150°C/Gas Mark 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp.  Turn off the oven and allow to cool.  The meringue discs should peel easily off the parchment paper.

To Assemble

Slice the strawberries.  Sandwich the meringue discs together with the fruit and whipped cream.  Reserve a little fruit and cream for decoration. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and strawberries.  Garnish with little sprigs of mint or lemon balm and crystallised rose petals.

Note:  If you chill for an hour before serving it will be easier to cut.

The meringue discs will keep for several weeks in a tin.

Almond Meringue with Loganberries or Raspberries

Substitute 110g loganberries or raspberries for strawberries in the above recipe.

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, viola’s, 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 parchment 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.

Anna Jones Cookbook ‘Easy Wins’

Today was a joyous day! We’ve just dug the first new potatoes of the season, they were planted in the greenhouse on January 2nd, 2024 (Solist, a blight-free variety) and are now ready to enjoy.

Digging potatoes, fresh from the soil, is for me one of life’s great pleasures, a magic moment. Where we planted just one potato back then, there are now anything from eight to twelve potatoes under each green leafy stalk. Once again, Mother Nature’s gift to all of us.
The hungry gap is almost over. The first of our beets are ready as is asparagus.
We spied the first tomato flower yesterday in the greenhouse, another exciting moment… a harbinger of deliciousness to come. We’ve planted twenty-three varieties this year, they’ll be available in small quantities in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop and our stall at the Midleton Farmers Market from about mid-July onwards with other new seasons organic vegetables and herbs as they become ready for harvesting. We only sell what we grow on the farm.
Look out for new seasons produce at your local farmers markets and indi shops and the growing number of farm stalls around the country.
Meanwhile, guess what’s just landed on my desk, Anna Jones new book, ‘Easy Wins’. This is Anna’s fifth book, she also wrote ‘One Pot, Pan, Planet’, ‘A Modern Way to Eat’, ‘A Modern Way to Cook’ and the ‘Modern Cooks Year’. Her books are sold in ten countries, have been translated into five languages and have won many awards, including James Beard, Fortnum and Mason and André Simon. Definitely a shining light on the culinary writer’s firmament – she’s the voice of modern vegetarian cooking. Anna believes  that vegetables should be put at the centre of every table.
I’m hoping that you’ll have access to beautiful fresh local produce by now, even better if some comes from your own garden, then you really ‘get’ the magic of fresh vegetables, You’ll want everyone to know you grew them and you won’t want to waste a scrap.
Anna’s new book is genius, she gives her golden rules for easy wins in the kitchen, super simple recipes, bursting with flavour and kind to both the planet and mindful of our crazy busy schedules. What’s not to like?
There’s practical advice on how to season your dishes, plus plenty of invaluable ideas for vegetarian swaps, as well as how to reduce waste and use less energy when cooking.
Her 12 ‘hero’ pantry ingredients all last a long time, are relatively affordable and easily available.
 As in all Anna’s books, the recipes are choreographed and carefully thought out so that they take the least time possible. Also dotted through the book are recipes from some of her friends and favourite cooks – I love that.
It was very difficult to pick just three recipes, but here are a few to tempt you to dash into the kitchen.

Tortilla Español with Herbs and Shallots

Recipe from ‘Easy Wins’ by Anna Jones published by 4th Estate.

Tortilla is one of my favourite things in the world to eat. A Spanish friend, Carolina, used to make it for us. She’d make a huge panful and we’d eat it for dinner warm and then cold the next day with vinegary tomato salad or in bocadillos. To me a tortilla is the perfect olive oil recipe, as frying the potatoes and onions in a generous amount of oil is key. The oil can be strained and kept for your next tortilla or any other savoury dish. A special mention here to my friend Kitty, who lent me her tortilla knowledge.

2 large onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

400ml extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp

6 medium waxy potatoes (650g), peeled and cut into 3mm­ thick slices

8 medium organic eggs

1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced

1 tbsp red wine vinegar 1 stick of celery, finely sliced

a small bunch of parsley (25g), leaves picked

Serves 4

Cook the onions.

Peel, halve and thinly slice 2 large onions. You want the slices to be equally thin, so they all cook at the same time. In a small, non-stick round pan (about 24cm) heat 400ml of your best extra virgin olive oil on a medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring every so often, for 5 minutes until they are soft and slightly golden. Remove the onions from the oil with a slotted spoon to a mixing bowl and set aside.

Cook the potatoes.

Cut 6 medium waxy peeled potatoes into thin 3mm-thick slices, again making sure they are the same size, so they cook evenly. Add them to the same hot oil and cook for 8-10 minutes, until they are soft, and a knife goes through with no resistance.

Drain the potatoes, keeping the oil in a heatproof bowl or jug for later. Add the potatoes to the bowl with the onions. No need to wash the pan as you will use it later.

Whisk and add the eggs.

Lightly whisk 8 medium organic eggs in a small bowl, then pour them over the warm potatoes and onions and stir gently to bring everything together. Season well with a good pinch of flaky sea salt, then cover with a plate that snugly fits over the bowl to rest for 10-15 minutes. This is a really important stage, as it makes everything thicken up, meld together and cook evenly.

Cook the tortilla.

Once the mixture is rested, heat the same pan on a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of the oil you used earlier. Pour the egg mix into the pan and turn the heat down to the lowest setting for 1-2 minutes. Run a spatula around the edges a few times to make sure it’s not sticking, then leave to cook for around 4-6 minutes until you can see that the bottom and edges are setting.

Flip the tortilla.

Give the pan a shake to make sure the bottom hasn’t stuck, then place a plate that’s larger than the pan over the tortilla, cover your hand with a tea towel and carefully but confidently and quickly flip the tortilla on to the plate.

Slide the tortilla back into the pan, tucking in its edges with a spatula to get the characteristic rounded shape. Continue to cook over a low heat for a further 4-6 minutes until just set around the edges but still a little soft in the middle. Slide the tortilla out on to a plate, then leave to cool while you make the salad.

Make the parsley salad

Put 1 small finely diced shallot in a bowl with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons olive oil

and mix until the shallot is coated. Add 1 finely sliced stick of celery and the leaves from 25g parsley, toss together once more and pile on the tortilla.

Roast Spring Vegetables with Mustard Cheese Sauce

Recipe from ‘Easy Wins’ by Anna Jones published by 4th Estate.

This is a plate of everything that I find comforting. Roast broccoli with its crispy roasted flowery ends, and roasted spring peas and asparagus with a cheesy mustard sauce that brings it all together. The mustard lifts the flavour and puts a bit of punch into the plate of comfort. Some roast herbs add texture and fresh dimension.

Serves 4

a bunch of purple sprouting or Tenderstem broccoli (200g)

1 bunch of asparagus

150g fresh, unpodded peas 4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp fennel seeds a few sprigs of thyme (5g), leaves picked

300g creme fraiche or oat creme fraiche

50ml whole milk or oat milk

175g mature Cheddar or vegan Cheddar-style cheese, grated

2 tbsp Dijon mustard 10g unsalted butter or vegan block

½ a bunch of parsley (15g), leaves picked

½ a bunch of sage (15g), leaves picked

½ a bunch of tarragon (15g), leaves picked

extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Prepare the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 240°C (220°C fan).

Cut 200g purple sprouting or Tenderstem broccoli into florets, then trim any tough bits from the stalk and slice the stalk into 1-2cm thick pieces. Trim the tough ends from 1 bunch of asparagus.

Roast the vegetables.

Put the broccoli, asparagus and 150g of unpodded peas into a large roasting tray with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds and the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then toss together so the vegetables are all evenly coated. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

Make the sauce.

Meanwhile, put 300g creme fraiche and 50ml milk in a small saucepan and bring to a low simmer over a medium heat. Turn off the heat, add 175g grated Cheddar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 10g unsalted butter and stir until the cheese is melted and you have a cheesy, mustardy sauce.

Roast the herbs.

Remove the broccoli and asparagus from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. On a low-sided/flat baking tray, mix the leaves from ½ a bunch each of parsley, sage and tarragon with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then spread them out on the tray so they are all in one even layer, with no leaves overlapping. Bake in the oven for 2-3 minutes, until the herbs have crisped up but are still green. Keep a close eye on them as they can overcook and turn brown very quickly.

Bring everything together.

Spoon the cheese sauce on to the base of a large serving platter or on 4 plates, top with the roast vegetables, the crispy herbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with bread for mopping up the sauce.

Miso Maple Beetroot with Goat’s Curd

Recipe from ‘Easy Wins’ by Anna Jones published by 4th Estate.

We so often think of miso for Japanese dishes, bur miso is such a versatile flavour that I have found it works incredibly well in lots of other countries’ cuisines, from satay sauces to salad dressings. Here, miso pairs with some classically British ingredients. Roasting beetroot in this maple, miso, lime and mustard dressing creates a crispy, crunchy, caramelised umami-sweet coating to the beetroot which counters the earthy character inside. Paired with a crunchy celery and apple salad and served with crumbled goat’s curd or cheese, this plate has got all the textures and flavours in one place.

Serves 4

2 tbsp maple syrup or runny honey

3 tbsp white miso paste

3 tsp wholegrain mustard

2 unwaxed limes

4 raw beetroot, peeled and quartered

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 sharp, crunchy apple, halved, cored and thinly sliced

3 sticks of celery, finely sliced, and some leaves if possible

200-300g goat’s cheese or curd sourdough bread, to serve

(optional)

Make the miso maple dressing.

In a small bowl, mix together:

2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey, 3 tablespoons white miso paste, 3 teaspoons wholegrain mustard and the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lime.

Roast the beetroot.

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Quarter 4 peeled raw beetroot and put them into a shallow baking tray. Pour over 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss in the miso maple dressing, making sure all the beetroot pieces are evenly coated. Return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

Make the celery and apple salad.

Halve, core and thinly slice 1 sharp, crunchy apple. Put in a bowl with

3 finely sliced sticks of celery, the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lime,

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of flaky sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Add the celery leaves too if you have some.

To serve

Serve the beetroot with 200-300g soft goat’s curd, a pile of the celery and apple salad and, if you like, some toasted sourdough for scooping things up.

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