AuthorDarina Allen

Walks in the Countryside

Walks in the countryside have helped to keep many of us sane during these past few troubling months.  At this stage we know every inch of our local area intimately, those of us who live close to the sea or a woodland feel fortunate indeed to be able to breathe in sea air and gather sea beet along by the seashore.

I’m a foraging nerd and now that Spring is definitely here, a walk takes on a whole extra dimension.  I scan the hedgerows, streams, woodland and seashore for wild things to gather.  There’s an abundance of fresh growth to nibble on and the young leaves of ground elder are at their best at present, eat them raw, in salads or add to a foragers soup, cook them like melted greens or make a ground elder champ.  Gardeners regard ground elder as a pest, a perennial weed that re-emerges and spreads every year but, where others see weeds, I see dinner…

For weeks now, we’ve been enjoying both kinds of wild garlic, both ramps and the snow bells that grow along the roadside and resemble white blue bells. Allium Triquetrum or Three-Cornered leeks are named because of their triangular stem, leek like leaves and pretty white, bell like flowers.  The broader leaved ramps or ramsons unlike its namesake, grow in dappled shade, under trees or in woodlands.  The leaves come first followed by the delicious flower buds, then the pretty whitepom pom like flowers and finally the pungent green seed heads that make a feisty pickle – all delicious.

JP McMahon described wild garlic as ‘the gateway drug for the novice forager’ because of its distinct garlicky aroma which makes it easy to identify.  It’s also super versatile in the kitchen and we keep finding more and more ways to enjoy it.  Add some chopped leaves to white soda scones, dip the top in cheddar cheese and how about this spicy riff on the wild garlic pesto recipe in my Grow, Cook, Nourish book.  The perky young leaves are also delicious in salads – I particularly love them with devilled eggs but try adding some to a Alfredo sauce with strips of roast red pepper to anoint some pasta before sprinkling with a shower of the pretty white wild garlic flowers.

Do you have a clean stream closeby?  Wild watercress is almost at its peak just now, before it begins to go to flower.  For identification purposes, remember the top leaf of the cress family is always the biggest and the leaves get progressively smaller as they go down the stem whereas the opposite applies to the wild celery that always grows side by side with watercress in the stream.  Make sure the water is clean and fast flowing and wash well before you use in soups, salads or your favourite recipe. 

Ever had butterfly sandwiches?  A memory from my childhood – simply, sliced white bread, slathered generously with butter, filled with chopped watercress and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  Press down and cut into triangles, surprisingly delicious, better still, add to egg and mayo sandwiches. 

I also love to nibble the first young leaves of hawthorn, we call this ‘bread and butter’,

These are known to be good for your cardiovascular system, an old wives tale that’s now backed up by science but don’t over do it…

You’ll find wintercress or bittercress growing everywhere at present, in gravel paths, flower beds.  It grows in basals and it too has a slightly mustardy flavour.  It’s alsoone of our favourite Winter and early Spring treats.  Enjoy now because it’ll soon get leggy and go to flower.  Add it to salads or use as a garnish to embellish starter plates.  The soft new growth of spruce look like pale green tassels, gather them to make a pine flavoured syrup before they get prickly.

Finally for this article, I must mention primroses and sweet cicely.  The latter is one of the earliest perennial herbs to re-emerge in Spring.  Add it to rhubarb or simply use it as a stencil on top of a cake.  Sprinkle with icing sugar and remove it to find a delicate fernlike pattern.  Primroses also make a pretty garnish or a delightful addition to a salad but are most enchanting when crystallised to decorate Wee Primrose Buns.

Watercress Soup

Wild watercress has more depth of flavour than farmed versions, so see if you can find some.  This soup has been a favourite on the menu of Ballymaloe House since it opened in 1963.

Serves 6-8

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

150g (5oz) peeled and chopped potatoes

110g (4oz) peeled and chopped onion

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) water or homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk (1/4 cream and 3/4 milk)

225g (8oz) chopped watercress (remove the coarse stalks first)

Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan.  When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the watercress. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the watercress and boil with the lid off for 4-5 minutes approx. until the watercress is just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Wild Garlic and Cheddar Cheese Scones

Makes 9-12 depending on size

450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)

1 – 2 tablespoons finely chopped wild garlic

350-400ml (12-14fl oz) approx. sour milk or buttermilk to mix

110g (4oz) grated Cheddar cheese,

First fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients and add the chopped wild garlic.  Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once.  Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary.  The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. 

When it all comes together, turn it out onto a floured board, knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up.  Pat the dough into a square about 2.5cm (1 inch) deep, brush with egg wash, cut into 9-12 square scones.  Dip the top of each scone into the grated Cheddar cheese, place on a baking sheet. 

Bake on a hot oven for 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Mark 6, for 6-10 minutes or until cooked.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve with soup or as a snack.

Buffalo Mozzarella with Spruce Syrup and Wild Bitter Greens

We collect the soft spruce tips in April while the new growth is still soft and green, try them – they have a delicious, mild piney flavour.

Serves 4

4 handfuls of wild bitter greens – e.g. bittercress, wood sorrel, watercress, dandelion, pennywort….

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 buffalo mozzarella (we use Toonsbridge)

2 tablespoons spruce syrup (see below)

Toss the greens in the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper.

Strew on a plate, top with torn mozzarella – 1/2 a ball per person.  Drizzle 2 teaspoons of spruce syrup over each mozzarella.  Serve with crusty white bread. 

Spruce Syrup

Makes 300ml (10fl oz)

100g (3 1/2oz) of fresh spuce tips

200g (7oz) granulated sugar

150ml (5fl oz) cold water

pinch of salt

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Whizz the spruce tips in a Magimix.  Place in a saucepan with the cold water and sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 minute.  Allow to cool.  Strain through a muslin lined sieve.  Discard the solids.  Add the freshly squeezed juice of one lemon.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 months. 

Serve with cream cheese or soft goat’s cheese.

Spicy Wild Garlic Pesto

Chilli adds extra oomph to this wild garlic pesto, use 1 or 2 depending on your taste and the heat of the chilli.

Makes 3 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

110g (4oz) wild garlic leaves, destalked

50g (2oz) cashew nuts, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 – 2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

350-450ml (12-16fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

80g (3 1/4oz approx.) freshly grated Parmesan, (Parmigiano Reggiano)

sugar to taste (it can take quite a bit towards the end of the season)

Wash the wild garlic leaves.  Spin and dry very well.

Whizz in a food processer with the chopped cashew nuts, crushed garlic, chopped chilli, salt and olive oil or pound in a pestle and mortar.  Remove to a bowl and fold in the finely grated Parmesan cheese.  Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.  Store in a sterilized covered jar in the fridge.

Roast Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely  

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

4 tablespoons of sugar

4-6 leaves of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. Chop the sweet cicely and scatter over the base of an ovenproof dish.  Lay the rhubarb on top in a single layer.  Sprinkle with sugar and allow to macerate for an hour or so until the juices begin to flow. 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Cover the rhubarb with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the oven for 10–20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks, until the rhubarb is just tender. Keep a close eye on the rhubarb as it can disintegrate very quickly

Decorate with wispy bits of fresh sweet cicely and serve with softly whipped cream. 

Wee Crystallised Primrose Buns

These adorable buns or cupcakes make an enchanting present to bring cheer to a friend during the challenging times.  This is our favourite basic cupcake recipe, they can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion!

Makes 9-10 cupcakes or 16-18 buns

150g (5oz) butter (at room temperature)

150g (5oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

zest of 1/2 – 1 lemon depending on size

2 – 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 bun tins lined with 18 bun cases.

crystallised primrose to decorate

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

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processor, whizz until smooth.  Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in the bun trays or muffin tins. 

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

Meanwhile make the icing.

Put the sieved icing sugar into a bowl.  Add just enough lemon juice to mix to a spreadable consistency. 

When the cupcakes are cold, spoon over a little icing on top of each one.  Arrange a crystallised primrose at an angle on top of each cupcake – adorable. 

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 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.

Happy Easter…

Happy Easter to you all….These beautiful clear sunny days lift our spirits. The soil has warmed up in the garden, and the perennial plants are popping up again after their Winter hibernation.  Our little seedlings are growing in the garden and the greenhouses. I’ve been snipping chives to scatter over Easter egg sandwiches for a picnic on the cliffs and picking the first of the tiny pungent horseradish leaves to add to Spring salads.

This is the time to enjoy melissa or lemon balm leaves too; they are still tiny and have a haunting lemony taste. Delicious raw or in a lemon balm tisane a long time favourite after dinner infusion at Ballymaloe House but the treat from nature that really gives me a ‘Ooops in my tummy’ is sea kale. We’ve been blanching them by covering the plants with terracotta seakale pots or black plastic dustbins to exclude the light since shortly after Christmas. Now the pale yellow delicate stalks with a little frilly leaf on top are ready to eat so that will be our Easter feast. It’s so special that it needs little adornment apart from melted butter and perhaps some Hollandaise sauce, but here I pair it with a few oysters which we can still enjoy until the end of April.

I’ll cook my Easter lamb with just a sprinkle of sea salt flakes, no cumin, coriander or harissa with this sweet young lamb, just some fresh mint sauce.  I will use the first spears of fresh mint to make a simple mint sauce from Myrtle Allen’s recipe in the Ballymaloe Cookery Book.

If you don’t have a clump of spearmint, plant it now – it’s a perennial and will re-emerge every year after it’s winter snooze.

Hope you managed to make some Hot Cross Buns from the recipe in last week’s column. We’ve been making lots, they disappeared like hot cakes but any left overs make the most delicious Hot Cross Bread and Butter Pudding. Perfect for an Easter Sunday pud. If you  can’t find the time to make them, buy the best you can find from the growing number or artisan bakers around the country www.realbreadireland.org

Rhubarb is always linked to Easter in my mind and who doesn’t love a rhubarb tart (insert column date from recipe) but here’s a recipe for a Roast Rhubarb slice with Rose Geranium sugar that we’ve been enjoying here – It’s kind of a hybrid – delicious with a cup of coffee or a dessert.

If you have a food processor it’s super easy to make and this Rose geranium sugar is worth having in a jar to sprinkle over other cakes and desserts.

Happy Easter to each and everyone – good times are coming…!

Sea Kale and Oysters on Toast with Hollandaise Sauce

Cooking time depends on the freshness of the seakale. As you can imagine cooked mussels and prawns would be delicious here also. Check out the Farmers Markets at Midleton and Mahon Point for sea kale during the next few weeks.

Serves 4 – 6

600ml water

1 teaspoon salt

450g seakale

30g butter

8 – 12 Irish oysters

6 slices of toast, buttered

Hollandaise sauce (see recipe)

Garnish

A small bunch of chervil

Open the oysters and turn into a bowl.

Wash the seakale gently and trim into manageable lengths – about 10cm. Bring the water to a fast boil and add the salt. Add the seakale, cover and boil until tender – about 4 – 6  minutes. The cooking time depends on the freshness of the seakale. Just as soon as a knife will pierce the seakale easily, drain it.

Melt the butter in a pan on a gentle heat and toss in the oysters to warm through.

Serve the seakale with the oysters on hot buttered toast. Drizzle generously with Hollandaise sauce. Pop a little bunch of chervil on top of each toast and serve immediately.

Hollandaise Sauce

Serves 4-6, depending on what it is to be served with

Hollandaise is the mother of all the warm emulsion sauces.  The version we use here is easy to make and quite delicious with fish.  Like Mayonnaise it takes less than 5 minutes to make and transforms any fish into a feast.  Once the sauce is made it must be kept warm: the temperature should not go above 70-80C or the sauce will curdle.  A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale, otherwise put the Hollandaise Sauce into a delph or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot but not simmering water.  Hollandaise Sauce cannot be reheated absolutely successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need.  If however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potato.

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range and organic

110g butter cut into dice

1 dessertspoon cold water

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

Put the egg yolks in a heavy stainless saucepan on a low heat, or in a bowl over hot water.  Add water and whisk thoroughly.  Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time.  As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece.  The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water if necessary.  Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made.  Finally add the lemon juice to taste.  If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low.  Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency. 

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage.  If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

Keep the sauce warm until service either in a pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water (do not have gas jet on).  A thermos flask is also a good option.

Myrtle’s Mint Sauce for Easter Lamb

Traditional mint sauce, made with tender young shoots of fresh mint, takes only minutes to make. For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture.

Makes about 175ml (6fl ozup)

Serves about 6

25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

110ml (4fl oz) boiling water

25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5–10 minutes, before serving.

Easter Devilled Eggs

Makes 8 – Serves 4

4 free range eggs

2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chives

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 box anchovies

Garnish

Watercress and chervil

For the egg mayonnaise, hard boil the eggs for 10 minutes in boiling water, drain and put immediately into a bowl of cold water. (Eggs with a black ring around the yolk have been overcooked). When cold, shell, slice in half lengthways and sieve the yolks, mix the sieved yolk with mayonnaise, add chopped chives, 2 mashed anchovy fillets and salt and pepper to taste. Fill in to a piping bag and pipe into the whites. Garnish with a whole wiggly anchovy and a sprig of chervil over the top.

Serve with thinly sliced brown yeast bread and a few sprigs of watercress if available.

Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding

A great way to use up left over Hot Cross buns and of course this recipe can be adapted for scones, Panetonne, even spotted dog or barmbrack. 

Serves 6-8

6 – 8 Hot-Cross buns (depending on size)

50g (2oz) butter, preferably unsalted

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice

25g raisins

25g candied peel

450ml (16fl oz) cream

225ml (8fl oz) milk

4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) sugar

pinch of salt

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) square pottery or china dish

Split the hot cross buns in three horizontally, butter each side, but not the top of the buns. Arrange the base, in one layer in the dish. Sprinkle the buns with half the spice and half the raisins and candied peel, arrange the next layer of buns. Sprinkle the remaining nutmeg, raisins and candied peel. Cover with the tops of the hot cross buns.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the buns. Let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

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

Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve warm with some softly whipped cream.

Good to know: This pudding reheats perfectly.

Roast Rhubarb and Sweet Geranium Sugar Cake

You’ll find yourself reaching for this recipe over and over again. Here I use rhubarb with sweet geranium, but I also love it with green gooseberries and elderflower, or plums or blackberries and apples. I enjoy arranging the rhubarb in neat lines, but if you are super busy just sprinkle them it the top of the sponge base.   

Serves 10-12

Roast Rhubarb

1kg (2 1/4lb) red rhubarb

200–250g (7-9oz) granulated sugar

8–12 lemon geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)

For the Sponge Base

225g (8oz) softened butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

275g (9ozups) self-raising flour

3-4 organic, free-range eggs

6-8 sweet geranium leaves

Sweet Geranium Sugar

2 large or 4 smaller sweet geranium leaves

50g (2oz) caster sugar

To Serve

crème fraîche or softly whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3.

First roast the rhubarb.

Trim the rhubarb stalks if necessary. Slice the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a 45 x 30cm (18 x 12 inch) non-reactive ovenproof dish. Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and leave to macerate for 1 hour or more, until the juices start to run.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Cover the rhubarb with a sheet of parchment paper and roast in the oven for 10 minutes – remove the paper and continue to roast for 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks, until the rhubarb is just tender. Keep a close eye on the rhubarb as it can disintegrate very quickly, it may only take 10 minutes in total. Cool.

Line the base of a 30 x 20.5 x 2cm (12 x 8 x 3/4 inch) cake tin with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides.  If available, arrange 6–8 sweet geranium leaves over the base – these give the sponge a haunting lemony flavour.

To make the sponge base, combine the soft butter, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon the mixture over the base of the tin as evenly as possible (over the sweet geranium leaves). Arrange the rhubarb carefully over the sponge mixture, there should be enough to cover it generously. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Sweet Geranium Sugar

Meanwhile, whizz the sweet geranium leaves with caster sugar in a food processor. Spread over a baking tray and set aside at room temperature to dry out.

When the cake is fully cooked, the centre of the cake should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the tin.  Leave to rest in the tin for 4–5 minutes, sprinkle with sweet geranium sugar and cut in portions. 

Serve with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.

Spring Lamb’s Liver with Harissa Mayo and Wild Garlic Pesto

Lambs liver is delicate and tender, ask your butcher to tell you when they have spanking fresh liver.

Serves 4

500g Spring lamb liver

Flour, well seasoned with salt and freshly cracked pepper

Clarified butter or extra virgin olive oil

Harissa Mayo

Wild garlic pesto

Wild garlic flowers if available for garnish

First make the harissa and add ½ – 1 tablespoon to 5flozs  of mayo. Make or buy a jar of wild garlic pesto. Put into 2 squeezy bottles, if available.

Wash the liver, slice thinly dry in kitchen paper. Dip the liver in the well-seasoned flour. Melt the butter or heat the olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cook the liver in batches 1 – 2 minutes on one side then flip over onto the other side, careful not to overcook. Transfer to hot plates. Drizzle with harissa mayo and a little wild garlic pesto and serve immediately.

Harissa

Serve with grilled meat, fish and vegetables and in soups

6 chillies, roasted, seeded and peeled

1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato purée

8 cloves of garlic crushed

3 teaspoons of ground and roasted cumin seeds

3 teaspoons of ground and roasted coriander

6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaf

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

Place the chillies on a small roasting tray and roast for about 20 minutes. The skins will be blackening and blistering and coming away from the flesh. Place the roasted chillies in a bowl, seal tightly with cling film and allow to cool. When cool, peel off the skins and slit the chillies to remove the seeds. You just want the roasted flesh of the chilli for the harissa.

Place the chillies in a food processor or use a pestle and mortar. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and ground spices and process to a smoothish purée. Gradually add in the oil and vinegar. Add the chopped coriander leaves and season to taste, adding a tiny pinch of sugar if you feel the flavour needs a lift. The taste should be strong, hot and pungent.

Store in a covered container such as a jam jar in the fridge.

The harissa will keep perfectly like this for several months.

Wild Food of the Week – Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm, a perennial herb might not be in your top ten of ‘must haves’ but I just adore it and so do the bees. It’s also called bee balm and our bees love the tiny white flowers. Given half a chance, lemon balm or melissa as it’s also known hops around and is given to tucking itself in here and there in between plants.  It can become invasive but the roots are shallow so it’s easy to pull up, unlike horseradish. Lemon balm was dedicated to the Roman Goddess Diana by the ancient Greeks and used medicinally by them for over 2000 years – it’s known to be an aid to digestion and helps to ease colic and flatulence and can help those suffering with insomnia.

Easter Baking

The weeks are whizzing by Easter is virtually upon us. We’ve just made our Simnel Cake, and wrapped it up to marzipan and ice closer to the feast day. Easter is particularly early this year so it’ll be more difficult to get milk fed lamb but if you contact your local family butcher they will hopefully be able to source it for you. It’s so worth making the effort for the sweet delicate flavour and melting texture but there’s still time to make the Simnel cake, with a delicious layer of moist almond marzipan in the centre.

I’m sharing my favourite recipe for hot cross buns too. They take time to make but the anticipation and satisfaction are so worth it. We’ve also discovered that they freeze well, both cooked and uncooked and will taste miles better then virtually anything you can buy.

We’ve also experimented with a hot cross bun loaf which is fun to make in a tin or a tear and share version. I’ve also ordered a mould to  make Flores Fritas, the crackly rose shaped fritters so beloved of Spaniards for Semana Santa at Easter time. The batter is super simple to make, then simply dip the hot mould into the batter, cook in hot oil until it crisps. When it slips off the mould continue cooking, we’re only talking seconds until evenly golden. Drain on kitchen paper, dredge with icing or vanilla sugar. Enjoy immediately, the problem is where to stop – everyone loves them! Another simple way to bring joy into our Covid 19 world.

Finally, for this week , Torrejas, another Spanish Easter speciality for Holy Week that’s also eaten all over Latin America, can be enjoyed year round. It’s the Spanish version of French Toast. Sliced, slightly stale bread, dipped in a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar and occasionally a splash of wine or better still sherry, preferably soaked overnight so the stale bread absorbs the maximum amount of liquid. A rich bread like Brioche gives best results. Apparently this simple treat dates back to Roman times. It differs from French Toast principally because its cooked in olive oil. It’s easy to see how it became popular, especially in households where money was scarce, a delicious way to transform leftover bread into an inexpensive dessert. In the middle ages it became common to eat Torrejas during Lent, particularly during Semana Santa (Holy Week) to compensate for the absence of meat and wine. Traditionally eaten with a glass of wine, the combination was said to represent the body and blood of Christ – not exactly a penance in my book….

Torrejas still feature on traditional Menu del Dia all over Spain as an affordable workers lunch. It was in fact a legal requirement in Spain for decades. One way or another this recipe will become a favourite in your repertoire of ‘go to’ dishes loved by all the family. Get going on your symbolic Easter Simnel cake  –  to decorate with marzipan ice and the 11 of the 12 apostles to enjoy on Easter Sunday but meanwhile have fun making Torrejas with your little ones, who’ll no doubt want to drizzle them with chocolate spread rather than traditional honey.

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top.  The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.

8oz (225g) butter

8oz (225g) pale, soft brown sugar

6 eggs, preferably free range

10oz (275g) white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

2 1/2fl oz (35ml) Irish whiskey

12oz (350g) best quality sultanas

12oz (350g) best quality currants

12oz (350g) best quality raisins

4oz (110g) cherries

4oz (110g) homemade candied peel

2oz (50g) whole almonds

2oz (50g) ground almonds

rind of 1 lemon

rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

1lb (450g) ground almonds

1lb (450g) castor sugar

2 small eggs

3 of 4 drops of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or an 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next make the almond paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 3 or 4 drops of pure almond extract (careful it’s really easy to put in too much), then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

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

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8 1/2 inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper. 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3 – 3 1/2 hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

NOTE: When you are testing do so at an angle into the cake mixture because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of parchment paper until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chickens and flowers if you fancy. Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake.  You will need half the quantity of almond paste again.

This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

Names of the Apostles

(1).   Simon (also known as Peter)

(2).   Andrew (Simon Peter’s brother)

(3).   James

(4)     John (James’s brother)

(5).   Philip

(6).   Bartholomew

(7).   Thomas

(8).   Matthew (tax collector)

(9).   James

(10). Thaddaeus

(11). Simon the Cananaean

(12).           Matthia

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns were traditionally eaten in Ireland only on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday but nowadays they are available right through Lent. This practice would have been frowned on in the past when these were several black fast days and the people would scarcely have had enough to eat, not to mention spicy fruit filled buns. Buns can be made larger if desired.

Makes 22 (50g/2ozs dough)

25g (1oz) fresh yeast

110g (4oz) castor sugar

450g (1lb) bakers flour

75g (3oz) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2-3 teaspoons mixed spice, depending how fresh it is

1 level teaspoon of salt (important to add)

2 organic eggs

225-300ml (8-10 fl oz) tepid milk

75g (3oz) currants

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

egg wash made with milk, sugar, 1 organic egg yolk, whisked together

Liquid Cross

50g (2oz) white flour

1 tablespoon melted butter

4-5 tablespoons cold water

Bun Wash

Put 600ml (1 pint) water and 450g (1 lb) sugar into a pan and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven to give them a sweet, sticky glaze. This makes a large quantity of bun wash but it keeps very well.

To Make the Hot Cross Buns.

Dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a little tepid milk.

Put the flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, a pinch of salt and the remainder of the sugar.  Mix well. Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, adding a little more milk if necessary.

Cover and leave to rest for 2 or 3 minutes then knead by hand or in a food processor until smooth.  Add the currants, sultanas and mixed peel and continue to knead until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.

“Knock back”, by kneading for 3 or 4 minutes, rest for a few minutes.  Divide the mixture into 14 balls, each weighing about 50g (2oz). Knead each slightly and shape into buns.  Place on a lightly floured tray.  Egg wash and leave to rise. 

If using shortcrust, arrange a cross of pastry on each one.  Leave to rise until double in size.  Then egg wash a second time carefully.

We tend to decorate with what we call a “liquid cross”.  To make this, mix the flour, melted butter and water together to form a thick liquid.  Fill into a paper piping bag and pipe a liquid cross on top of each bun.

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 6.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for a further 10 minutes or until golden.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.  Split in two and serve with butter.

Alternatively, brush each one with bun wash while still warm.

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Brush the bottom and sides of the loaf tin (13x20cm (5x8inch) approx.) with oil. Make the dough in the usual way – Knock back.

Roll 8 x 50g/2ozs balls of dough and arrange in the tin. Egg wash, cover and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230°C, just before baking brush with egg wash, pipe a liquid cross on each bun.

Bake for 10 minutes at 230°C reduce temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, paint with the bun wash. Cool on a wire rack and pull apart and eat slathered in butter.

Hot Cross Tear & Share

Brush the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round spring form tin with oil. Arrange 12 – 14, 50g/2oz balls of dough almost side by side in the tin, egg wash and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size. Egg wash again, pipe a liquid cross onto the top of each bun. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 190°C for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and brush with bun wash while still warm. Cool on a wire rack.

Torrejas

A speciality for Semana Santa – Holy Week in Spain but enjoyed year round. It’s a brilliant way to use up any leftover bread deliciously. Cook in olive oil rather than butter.

Makes 8 pieces

8 slices Baguette, challah or brioche

175ml (6 floz) Milk

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Cook:

Olive oil

For Sprinkling:

Cinnamon sugar, honey or icing sugar

Slice the bread approx. 1” thick slices, whisk the eggs, milk and sugar well together and pour into a gratin dish. Dip the slices in the liquid and flip over. Leave to soak, for at least an hour. In Spain they sometimes soak overnight.

To cook, heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wide frying pan over a medium heat. Cook until golden 3 – 4 minutes on each side.  Sprinkle with icing sugar, cinnamon sugar or drizzle with honey. I love Torrejas warm with a dollop of crème fraiche but it’s usually served cold or at room temperature in Spain as a dessert or a nibble with a cup of strong coffee.

Magnificent Mussels…

Prawns, oysters, lobsters are all highly prized on the shellfish popularity stakes but it baffles me why mussels don’t seem to be revered in the same way. This week, at my local fishmonger, Ballycotton Seafood, a 1 kilo net bag of spanking fresh Glenbeigh mussels for €5.00. So few euros for such a burst of deliciousness plus mussels have the most impressive nutrient profile of all shellfish.

They boost our immune system and are properly sustainable. They are cultivated on ropes suspended from floating rafts in the clean waters of various bays around the Irish coastline. They appear to be environmentally benign and some research seems to indicate that their cultivation has a beneficial effect on the marine eco system.

Of course there are wild populations too, but for most, the sweet plump cultivated mussels are easier to come by. Cheap and super easy to cook, plus they take on flavours from every continent around the globe. Mussels are the quintessential fast food; from fridge to table in less than 5 minutes…..A simple supper of warm freshly steamed mussels with a bowl of mayo and some brown soda bread is one of my all-time favourites. I still dream of those large green tipped mussels I enjoyed over and over again in New Zealand.

But first a few basics…

Mussels must be fresh – each shell should be tightly shut, if it is open, tap the mussel lightly on the worktop. If it reacts and begins to close it is obviously still fresh and alive – “but if in doubt throw it out”. Mussels like clams, roghans, cockles, palourdes are all bivalves they filter the water so the water needs to be unpolluted. All mussels you buy will have been purified as a precaution, so no need to be apprehensive. Store them in your fridge and enjoy while they are fresh and plump.

How to cook….

Pick over the shells, if there are any open ones that don’t close after a gentle tap, discard. Run under cold water, drain, at it’s most basic put in a sauté or a heavy frying pan or a  saucepan in a single layer over a medium heat. One can add a dash of white wine, chopped shallots and herbs, depending on the recipe. Cover with a lid, in two or three minutes the mussels will start to open. Lift out with a perforated spoon. Remove the beard, the beard is the little tuft of tough hair that attaches the mussel onto the rock or rope that it grows on, it’s not good to eat but is not dangerous. The mussels will exude lots of delicious briny juice which can be the basis of a sauce or chowder.

In Belgium, moules frites are the ‘must have’ dish in every bistro. Sitting around a table, tucking into crispy chips with a big bowl of freshly opened mussels and some mayo is a quintessential Belgian experience. In France, Moules Marinière in a richer sauce are equally irresistible. Moules Provençal or garlic mussels in English are universally loved by everyone from toddlers upwards.

Mussels take on Asian flavours deliciously so here is a recipe for Thai mussels in a spicy coconut broth – completely irresistible. And then how about mussels in the Goan style from South India and how about  mussels with Mexican flavours that will include Jalapeno, chorizo and maybe tequila. Chinese mussels will be steamed open with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce with lots of ginger, chillies and spring onions and maybe oyster sauce. Japanese mussels will also be teased open in Saki, but try Dynamite mussels which seem to pop up everywhere in Japan. The name refers to the burst of flavour from the topping. These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Pick up some Irish mussels next time you go shopping and start to experiment with recipes from around the world. Here are a few to get your started.

Moules Mariniere

Serves 4

Curnonsky, France’s Prince of Gastronomes, declared that Brittany is a paradise for concylliophages. Apparently that unpronounceable word means shellfish eaters. Ever since I discovered the word I’ve been longing to use it but haven’t managed to get my tongue around it yet! The legendary mussel dish, Moules Mariniere can now be found not only in this area but all over the world – anywhere mussels are produced.

1.8kg (4 lbs) scrubbed mussels, weighed in their shells

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped spring onions

1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

1 teaspoon chopped chives

2 teaspoons chopped fennel

225ml (8 fl ozs) dry white wine

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)

Garnish

freshly chopped parsley

Check that all the mussels are tightly closed and wash well in several changes of water. Steam open on a medium heat with the wine, herbs. and spring onions. Take the mussels out of the pan just as soon as the shells open. Remove the ‘beard’ and one shell from each.  They can be kept at this stage for some time, even for a day or two in the fridge, as long as they sit in the cooking liquid.

To Serve

Heat the cooking juices. When boiling, add the mussels, allowing them to heat through but not to cook any more. Remove from the heat and stir in the Hollandaise Sauce. Serve at once in deep old-fashioned soup bowls, sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley.

Mussels in the Goan Style

This is a great recipe in that most of the work can be done early in the day or even the day before.

The mussels can be replaced with clams, shrimp or monkfish and a combination of fish and shellfish may be used. Thick pieces of pollock also work well as do salmon and mackerel.

Plain boiled rice can be served with this dish or just crusty bread to mop up the delicious broth.

Serves 6

72 mussels

a 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

8 cloves of peeled garlic

110ml (4fl oz) of water

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

200g (7oz) onion, peeled and chopped

1-2 fresh chilies, sliced into fine rounds

1/2 teaspoon of turmeric

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 1/2 tins (1 pint/600ml) of coconut milk

salt

fresh coriander leaves

Wash the mussels, removing any loose beards. Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender and blend to a smooth purée.

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions. Cook until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic purée, chillies, turmeric and cumin. Stir and cook for a minute. Add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. This broth can now be put aside for later.

When you want to serve the dish, put the mussels into the pan with the broth. Cover and place on a moderate heat and allow to come to the boil. Shake the pan occasionally and cook for approx.6 minutes. Check to see that all the mussels have popped open. Serve immediately with lots of fresh coriander leaves.

If using monkfish, bring the broth to the boil and add the collops of monkfish.  If using any of the other suggested fish, cut into 5cm (2 inch) pieces. Cover and simmer gently for approximately 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. It will no longer look opaque but will have a white and creamy appearance.  Serve in deep bowls garnished with coriander leaves.

Moules Provençale

Mussels are a perennial favourite; don’t skimp on the garlic in this recipe or they will taste rather dull and ‘bready’.

Serves 6-8

48 mussels, approx. 600g (1 1/4lbs)

Provençale Butter

75g (3oz) soft butter

2 large cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon olive oil

fresh, white breadcrumbs

Check that all the mussels are closed. If any are open, tap the mussel on the work top, if it does not close within a few seconds, discard. (The rule with shellfish is always, ‘If in doubt, throw it out’.) Scrape off any barnacles from the mussel shells. Wash the mussels well in several changes of cold water. Then spread them in a single layer in a pan, covered with a folded tea towel or a lid and cook over a gentle heat. This usually takes 2-3 minutes, the mussels are cooked just as soon as the shells open. Remove them from the pan immediately or they will shrink in size and become tough.

Remove the beard (the little tuft of tough ‘hair’ which attached the mussel to the rock or rope it grew on). Discard one shell. Loosen the mussel from the other shell, but leave it in the shell. Allow to get quite cold.

Meanwhile make the Provençale Butter. Peel and crush the garlic and pound it in a mortar with the finely chopped parsley and olive oil. Gradually beat in the butter (this may be done either in a bowl or a food processor). Spread the soft garlic butter evenly over the mussels in the shells and dip each one into the soft, white breadcrumbs. They may be prepared ahead to this point and frozen in a covered box lined with parchment paper.

Arrange in individual serving dishes. Brown under the grill and serve with crusty white bread to mop up the delicious garlicky juices.

Mussels with Thai Flavours

We love this recipe.   Use some of your precious fresh lime leaves to enhance the flavour.   Cockles, clams or collops of monkfish can also be used.

Serves 4 – 6

2 kg mussels

2 tablespoon sunflower oil

6 cloves garlic

1-2 Thai red chillies

1 stalk lemon grass, chopped

3 kaffir lime leaves

1 tablespoon fish sauce, nam pla

3-4 tablespoons chopped coriander

Check the mussels carefully, discard any broken or open shells.  Wash well, drain.  Crush the garlic and chop the chillies finely.  Heat a little oil on a medium heat, add the garlic and chilli and lemon grass and fry for a minute or two.

Add the nam pla and kaffir lime leaves and then the mussels.  Cover with a folded tea-towel or the lid of the pan.  The mussels will open in just a few minutes.

Add the chopped coriander to the mussel juices.  Divide the mussels between four hot plates, pour the hot juices over the shellfish and serve immediately.

Gok’s Chinese Mussels with Black Bean Sauce

Serves 4

2 tablespoons groundnut oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

2 sticks of celery, finely sliced at an angle

3 spring onions, finely sliced into rounds

1.5kg fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

75ml Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons black beans, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

Heat the groundnut oil in a wok or saucepan with a tight fitting lid over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, celery and spring onions. Stir-fry these vegetables for 1 – 2 minutes until they are soft and beginning to colour.

Increase the heat to maximum and add the mussels, stirring so they are coated with the rest of the ingredients. Once they are combined, pour in the Shaoxing rice wine and immediately cover the wok with a lid.

Leave the mussels to cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Mussels are cooked when they have opened to reveal the coral-coloured flesh on the inside. Do not eat any that remain closed. As soon as they mussels are opened, tip the entire contents of the wok into a sieve set over a bowl, shaking they mixture to make sure all the liquid has drained through.

Place the wok back on the heat over a low flame, then pour the sieved liquid back into the wok and bring back to the boil. Once it’s bubbling, add the black beans, oyster and soy sauce. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes to reduce the mixture by a quarter.

Put the mussels back in the wok, along with all the other ingredients gathered in the sieve. Heat through and serve immediately.

Recipe from Gok Wan’s Gok Cooks Chinese Published by Penguin)

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I’ve just been re-reading my Examiner column for St Patrick’s Day 2020. There was general consternation around the country because parades were cancelled …. Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine that a year later the possibility of St Patrick’s Day parades wouldn’t even be discussed…..

I had just cancelled my annual trip to New York to promote Ireland and Irish food. This year despite the Covid 19 pandemic , there have still been numerous interview requests from radio, TV and print media. The continuing interest is due to Tourism Ireland and Bord Failte, who over the years have very successfully used St Patricks Day to focus the world’s attention on Ireland.  Whenever I get the opportunity, I love to wax lyrical about the creativity of Irish chefs and cooks to the Americans who heretofore had certainly not associated Ireland with a vibrant contemporary food scene.

Friends who live in New York tell me that there has actually been a construction boom there recently – No, they are not building more sky scrapers….. But thanks to the Mayor’s decision to allow the cities restaurants to remain open for outdoor dining, architects and designers are putting their energy into creating a combination of street dining options, restaurants have scrambled to keep going in novel ways despite the cold. Dotted all along the sidewalks are a combination of canvas or plastic tents,  wooden sheds, yurts, booths and Kotatsus (Japanese heated tables) and a variety of heaters.

Not an option here at present, the restaurants who have managed to ‘pivot’ to offer take-outs and/or meal kits for collection will hopefully be able to capitalise on St Patricks Day, to entice us to mark our national feast day make the day and celebrate at home.

 Every sector is hurting but a huge thank you to all of you who are making a determined effort to support the local businesses and small shops, farmers markets, butchers, bakers, fish smokers, cheesemakers… who are still open. Each and every decision we make,  can manage to sustain someone in our community for another few weeks, every euro really matters at present…

So what shall we cook for St Patricks Day? I feel drawn to something comforting and traditional. Personally I just love boiled bacon, cabbage and parsley sauce followed by a juicy rhubarb tart (see previous articles for these recipes) but I have chosen a gorgeous riff on a Kerry Pie for you to enjoy. It can certainly be made ahead and reheats and freezes brilliantly.

If the weather is still a bit frosty how, about Irish Scallion Champ soup – a hug in a bowl and of course some little soda bread shamrocks with crunchy oatmeal tops…how naff is that but sure it’s just a bit of fun and they are properly delicious.

For dessert it has to be carrageen moss pudding with Irish whiskey sauce or how about this St Patrick’s Day cake.  I’ve been out picking wood sorrel…the delicious shamrock shaped leaves have a tart lemony flavour and are just the thing to decorate my special convection.

For the past 11 years Tourism Ireland have worked to ‘Green’ iconic buildings around the World from Sydney Opera House to the Pyramids, to focus attention on Ireland. At home in Ireland, an increasing number of us including, Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School have been enthusiastically joining in and will continue to do so for the 4th year in 2021. Why not join in, and share the images with friends worldwide to encourage them to think about planning a post Covid visit to Ireland but meanwhile Happy St Patricks Day and spread the love.

Irish Scallion Champ Soup with Shamrock Scones

Serves 6

Most people would have potatoes and onions in the house even if the cupboard was otherwise bare so one could make this simply delicious soup at a moment’s notice. While the vegetables are sweating, pop a few white soda scones or cheddar cheese scones into the oven and wow, won’t they be impressed.

50g (2oz) butter

550g (20oz) peeled diced potatoes, one-third inch dice

110g (4oz) diced scallion, use green and white parts of the plant

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

100ml (4fl oz) creamy milk

freshly chopped herbs and herb flowers, optional

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and scallions and toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil, when the vegetables are soft but not coloured add stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thin with creamy milk to the required consistency.

Serve sprinkled with a few freshly-chopped herbs and a few wild garlic flowers of available.

Shamrock Soda Scones

The soda bread dough only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20 – 40 minutes to bake depending on how you decide to serve it.. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses.

Makes 12 approx. depending on size of cutter

1lb (450g/4 cups) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoonsalt

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/bread soda

sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14fl oz (350-400ml) approx.

4oz (110g) grated mature Cheddar cheese and/or flaked oatmeal

A Shamrock ‘cookie’ cutter. Mine is roughly 7cm long and 6cm wide.

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8.

Sieve the flour into a large bowl. Carefully measure the salt and bicarbonate of soda. Sieve into the bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. 

WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS

Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/4 inches (3cm) deep. Dip the cutter in flour in between cutting each scone to avoid the mixture sticking. Stamp out shamrock shaped scones.

Brush the top with buttermilk or egg wash and dip in oatmeal or a mixture of rolled oats and grated Cheddar cheese.

Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 5 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 10 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the scones: when they are cooked they will sound hollow.

Kerry Lamb Pie

Serves 6

450g (1lb) boneless lamb or mutton (from the shoulder or leg; keep bones for stock)

250g (9oz) chopped onions

250g (9oz) chopped carrots

2 good teaspoons cumin seed (the amount will depend on how fresh the seeds are)

300ml (10fl oz) mutton or lamb stock (or even chicken stock)

2 tablespoons flour

salt and freshly ground pepper

Stock

lamb bones from the meat

1 carrot

1 onion

outside stalk of celery

a bouquet garni made up of a sprig of thyme, parsley stalks

a small bay leaf

Pastry

350g (12oz) white flour

175g (6oz) butter

110ml (4fl oz) water

a pinch of salt

Egg Wash

1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt to glaze

1 tin – 18cm (7 inch) in diameter, 2 1/2 cm (1 inch) high with a pop up base.

If no stock is available, put the bones, carrots, onions, celery and bouquet garni into a saucepan.  Cover with cold water and simmer for 3-4 hours to make a stock.  Cut all the surplus fat away from the meat and then cut the meat into small, neat pieces about the size of a small sugar lump.  Render down the scraps of fat in a hot, wide saucepan until the fat runs.  Discard the pieces.  Cut the vegetables into slightly smaller dice and toss them in the fat, leaving them to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Remove the vegetables, set aside, and toss the meat in the remaining fat over a high heat until the colour turns.

Heat the cumin seed in a dry frying pan, stir for a minute or two until it smells aromatic, careful not to burn.  Stir the flour and cumin seed into the meat.  Cook gently for 2 minutes and blend in the stock gradually.  Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.  Add back the vegetables, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and leave to simmer in a covered pot until tender.  If using young lamb, 30 minutes will be sufficient; an older animal may take up to 1 hour. 

Meanwhile, make the pastry.  Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.  Dice the butter, put it into a saucepan with the water and bring to the boil.  Pour the liquid all at once into the flour and mix together quickly; beat until smooth.  At first the pastry will be too soft to handle but as soon as it cools it may be rolled out 3mm (1/8 inch) thick, to fit the tin.  The pastry may be made into individual pies or one large pie.  Keep back one-third of the pastry for lids.

Fill the pastry-lined tins with the cool meat mixture.  Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash and put on the pastry lids, pinching them tightly together.  Roll out the trimmings to make pastry leaves or twirls to decorate the tops of the pies; make a hole in the centre, egg-wash the lid and then egg-wash the decoration also.

Bake the pies for 40 minutes approx. at 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 until golden on top and bubbling hot in the centre.  Serve with a good Green Salad.

Myrtle Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding with Irish Whiskey Sauce

Carrageen moss is a little seaweed that grows on rocks all around our coast, collecting it after Spring tide is part of our traditional food culture. Many people have less than fond memories of Carrageen Moss, partly because so many recipes call for far too much carrageen. It is a very strong natural gelatine so the trick is to use little enough. Because it is so light it is difficult to weigh, we use just enough to fit in my closed fist, a scant 8g (1/4oz). 

This recipe given to me by Myrtle Allen is by far the most delicious I know. Nowadays more chefs are using carrageen, but often they add stronger flavours such as treacle or rosewater, which tend to mask the delicate flavour of the carrageen itself. When Ballymaloe House is open Carrageen Moss pudding is served on the famous Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley every evening.

Serves 6

8g (1/4oz) cleaned, well dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)

900ml (1 1/2 pints) milk

1 vanilla pod or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, preferably free-range

1 tablespoon caster sugar

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Sauce (see recipe)

Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and vanilla pod, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point, and not before, separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla extract (if you are using it) and whisk together for a few seconds. Pour the milk and carrageen through a strainer on to the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub all this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the liquid. Test for a set in a cold saucer: put it in the fridge and it should set in a couple of minutes. Rub a little more through the strainer if necessary. Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Leave to cool. Serve with Irish lots of softly whipped cream and Irish Whiskey sauce.

Irish Whiskey Sauce

Makes 8 floz (1 x 230ml jar)

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

3 fl ozs (80ml) cold water

3- 4 tablesp. Irish whiskey

4 fl ozs (120ml) hot water

Put the castor sugar into a saucepan with water, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and syrup comes to the boil. Remove the spoon and do not stir. Continue to boil until it turns a nice chestnut-brown colour. Remove from the heat and immediately add the hot water. Allow to dissolve again and then add the Irish whiskey. Serve hot or cold.

St Patrick’s Day Cake with Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel with it’s tart lemony flavour and resemblance to shamrock makes the perfect decoration for our celebration cake.

Serves 8-10

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

To Decorate

Lemon Icing (see below)

Wood sorrel Leaves (oxalis acetosella)

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, castor 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 (see recipe). Once the cake is cool, pour the icing onto the top and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

Decorate with the lots of wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

Lemon Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1 lemon

2-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Edible green colouring (optional)

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.  Add a few drops of green food colouring (optional) Add the lemon zest and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Happy International Women’s Day

International Women’s day is a global celebration of the social, cultural, and political achievements of women. It’s also a “call to action” to accelerate women’s equality.

Every year, thousands of women and their supporters courageously gather in cities across the world, often risking their lives to protest for women’s rights and protection against violence. They are often met with riot police and counter demonstrations.

This year events are, of course, virtual. But I found a list of over 300 events on www.internationalwomensday.com .  

How fortunate are we to have been born into a society where overall, women are considered equal to men and a girl child is welcomed with the same joy as a boy.

It has certainly taken a while…..

When I was a child I distinctly remember overhearing ‘shocked’ conversations about some man in the parish who was spotted pushing a pram, with several of his own children….. it was almost a scandal – that was considered women’s work…

My father had an innate respect and admiration for women. He was so proud of Mummy, a mother of nine by any standard a wonderful homemaker, who dedicated her early life solely to looking after all of us and my father whom she adored. (I don’t use that term loosely). Looking back she was a totally liberated woman. How fortunate were we that she loved cooking and saw it not only as a way of nourishing us all, but bringing joy and excitement into our lives on a daily basis. Later, when my father died she took over the running of the business despite having no training.

Looking back, her skill set was pretty awe-inspiring. She made most of our clothes, wonderful dresses for me, serge dungarees for all of us boys and girls for after school play. I always remember a tartan circular skirt she made for one of my birthdays. I was the envy of all my school friends…

And then there were the fluffy angora boleros, doubt if any if you know what I am talking about! She taught me how to sew and embroider, lazy daises, French knots and chain stitch onto tray cloths, how to use a sewing machine, how to sow seeds and fill hanging baskets. The kitchen garden produced vegetables year round, currants and berries in summer, and several varieties of apple in the Autumn. Daddy made sure she had help in both the house and garden. I remember, local people spoke about how lucky those girls and lads were to be working alongside Mummy.

As a child this was my norm. We also had a flock of hens, chickens were reared for the table and a Kerry cow produced raw milk for the house. I’ve just remembered that she also made hand-made floor rugs, did tapestry fire screens and candlewick bed-spreads which were all the rage at that time. Even though there was no TV, I still marvel at how she did it. In the midst of all this, she taught me how to knit Aran patterns, diamond, blackberry, zig zag, honeycomb, multiple cable and basket stitches.

A wonderful trip down memory lane, as I write, I realise how fortunate I was not only to have my own mother as a role model but to marry into a family with an innate respect and appreciation of women and a culture of encouragement and ‘can do’!  I’ve never experienced a ‘glass ceiling’, the idea abhors me. I feel so proud that so many women have broken through in recent years, both in Ireland and internationally, so much so that a friend recently said to me “You’d almost begin to feel sorry for the men”.

It’s certainly not about either /or, it’s about equal opportunity. But watch out, cultural attitudes can be very deep seated. If your partner thinks that sexist remarks are hilariously funny, be wary, very wary… Though you may be able to laugh it off, it may not really be a joke, but may be a hint of a hidden but deeply held cultural belief which would not bode well for the future.

Covid has resulted in a huge increase in domestic violence- a very worrying situation. In Ireland today, there are numerous examples of gender imbalance and women being paid less for identical work.

As parents, we can all play our part by our example, encouraging our children to reach their full potential with their unique talents. Our educational system would do well to emulate the Finnish Model Vihti where both boys and girls learn essential life skills- basic carpentry, first aid, how to wire a plug, sew, grow, cook, save seeds…

Since the 1960’s here in Ireland, our educational system has primarily focused on a set of academic skills, often to the detriment of practical skills. Consequently, several generations have left school with top grades, but without the basic skills to feed themselves properly and a mis-guided notion that practical skills are of lesser value than academic skills.

During this pandemic, thousands of hugely competent women who could ‘run the country’ found themselves feeling utterly out of their depth and helpless in the first Lockdown when they were confined to home with no backup and a family to feed- 7 days a week, 3 meals a day….

Once again, it’s not either/or, it’s as well as and remember in the end the way to everyone’s heart in through their tummy…!

It could be said that some early feminists did women a grave dis-service by making them feel that cooking was beneath them- drudgery to be avoided at all costs. Learning cooking skills is not a sign of weakness, but it is a sign of strength and self-sufficiency.

Happy International Women’s Day, a celebration of all women particularly those who succeed against the odds in every area of life!

Here are some of Mum’s favourite recipes:

Mummy’s Brown Soda Bread

Makes 1 loaf

340g (3/4lb) wholemeal flour (Howard’s-one-way)

110g (1/4lb) plain white flour

15g (1/2 oz) butter

Barely rounded teaspoon bread soda

Level teaspoon salt

1 egg and 415ml (14fl oz) buttermilk

OR

470ml (16fl oz) buttermilk *

Add two tablespoons of cream if the buttermilk is low fat

Preheat the oven to 230ºC/445ºf/gas mark 8.

Mix the flours in a large bowl, rub in the butter. Add the salt and sieved bread soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the salt and bread soda.

Add the beaten egg (if using) to the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre and pour in all the liquid. With your fingers stiff and outstretched, stir in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later the dough should be made.

Sprinkle a little wholemeal flour on to the worktop.

Turn the dough out onto the flour. WASH and dry your hands. (Fill the bread bowl with cold water so it will be easy to wash later.)

Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Gently tidy the dough around the edges and flip onto the flour. Tuck the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands, gently pat the dough with your fingers into a loaf about 4cm (1 ½ in) thick.

Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called ‘Blessing the bread’ and then prick it in the centre of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread).

Transfer to a floured baking tray.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for the remaining 25-30 minutes. Turn the bread upside down after approximately 30 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Scalloped Potatoes with Beef and Kidney

Serves 4-6

This filling and economical dish often cooked by my mother was one of our favourites for a cold Winter’s evening. We all loved beef kidney and it was excuse to eat lots of butter on the scalloped potatoes.

3 1/2 lbs (1.5 kg) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonder, or Kerrs Pinks

1 lb (450g) stewing beef

1 beef kidney

1 lb (450 g) chopped onions

2 ½ -3 ozs (70-85 g) butter

13-15 fl ozs (375-450ml) stock or water

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned flour

1 oval cast-iron casserole (4 pint/2.3 l) capacity

Wash the beef kidney, remove the core and cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes, sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water.

Cut the stewing beef into 1/2 inch (1 cm) cubes.

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) thick slices, put a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the casserole.  Drain the kidney pieces and dry with kitchen paper, toss the beef and kidney in seasoned flour and scatter some over the potatoes with approx. one-third of the chopped onions and a few knobs of butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add another layer of potatoes, then meat, onions, and so on up to the top of the casserole, putting some knobs of butter between each layer and ending with a neat layer of overlapping slices of potato.  Season each layer carefully otherwise it may taste bland.  Top with a few knobs of butter, pour in the boiling stock, cover and cook in a low oven, 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 2 ½  hours approx.   Serve on hot plates.

This reheats very well.

Marmalade Pudding

For almost a week during the cold January days the whole house smells of marmalade as we lay down our store for the coming year.  My father-in-law, Ivan Allen adored marmalade pudding.

Serves 6

110g (4oz) plain white flour

110g (4oz) minced beef suet

110g (4oz) breadcrumbs

110g (4oz) sugar

1 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg, preferably free range

2 tablespoons homemade Marmalade chopped

Marmalade Sauce

2 tablespoons water

450g (1lb) homemade Seville Marmalade

freshly squeezed juice of 2-3 lemons

To Serve

softly whipped cream

bowl – capacity (5 inches/12.5cm)

Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add beaten egg, marmalade and a little milk to moisten if necessary (the mixture should have the consistency of plum pudding.)  Fill into a pudding bowl.  Cover with a double sheet of greaseproof paper with a pleat in the centre.  Tie firmly and steam in a covered saucepan for 2-3 hours.  Check regularly and top up with hot water if necessary (the water level should be 3/4 ways up the bowl).

To make the Sauce

Put the water and marmalade into a saucepan.  Warm gently, boil 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice.  Taste.

To Serve

When the pudding is fully cooked, turn out onto a hot plate.  Spoon some sauce over and around the puddings.  Serve on very hot plates with lots of softly whipped cream and the remaining sauce.

Mum’s Victoria Sponge

This buttery sponge, the best you’ll ever taste is still my favourite to serve with afternoon tea. The best sponge cake you’ll ever taste. It keeps brilliantly and it’s even more delicious if you add some softly whipped cream and fresh raspberries in season as well as the jam.

4 1/2oz (125g) butter

6oz (175g) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

6oz (175g) flour

1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

Filling

4oz (110g) homemade Raspberry Jam

10fl oz (300ml/1/2 pint) whipped cream

castor sugar to sprinkle

2 x 7 inch (18cm) sponge cake tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Grease the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of milk to moisten.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

Queen of Puddings

Another pud that conjures up child-hood memories. Mummy loved to cook this Queen of Pudding’s for us as an occasional treat when we came home from school.

Serves 6

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

50g (2oz) butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

150g (5oz) white breadcrumbs

grated zest of 1 lemon

25g (1oz) caster sugar

3 organic eggs, separated

110g (4oz) caster sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling

3 tablespoons raspberry jam

1 x 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease the pie dish.

Put the milk and butter into a saucepan, bring almost to boiling point, and add the vanilla extract. Mix the breadcrumbs with the lemon zest and sugar. Stir in the hot milk, leave for about 10 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one. Pour into the pie dish and bake for about 25 minutes or until just set.

Remove from the oven. Whisk the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, grease-free bowl. When it is just becoming fluffy, add half the sugar. Continue to whisk until it holds a stiffish peak. Fold in the rest of the sugar. Warm the jam slightly. Spread very gently over the surface of the custard. Pile the meringue on top in soft folds. Sprinkle sugar over the top. Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the meringue is pale gold and crisp on top. Serve with pouring cream.

The Joy of Winter Rhubarb

I’ve just had my first rhubarb of the year, a sublime bowl of roast rhubarb drizzled with Jersey pouring cream – 

Every year in January and February, I crave the flavour of the first rhubarb after the ‘fruitless’ winter months…. Yes, I know that the shops are full of fruit but most apart from beautiful citrus, are under ripe, out of season fruits from the other side of the world with a fraction of the flavour they have in Summer, I certainly can’t be bothered to spend money on strawberries in February…?

I used to be frightfully ‘sniffy’ about the early forced rhubarb but this year when I found some in the brilliant Village Green Grocer in Castlemartyr, I fell on it and practically whopped with delight. 

I scooped up the pale pink petioles…. I’ve just learned that beautiful word petioles, apparently it’s the correct term for what you and I call stalks…. 

 Despite Brexit it had come all the way from the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire where it is lured out of its natural Winter hibernation in long dark forcing sheds, principally around Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. 

In the pitch dark warm atmosphere the stalks grow faster than usual as the plant searches for the light it desperately needs to make chlorophyll. The sweet glucose produced in the plant, normally used to grow those large rhubarb leaves remains in the stalks resulting in a less sour flavour and a tender less fibrous texture than their semi feral cousin that is still struggling, valiantly to emerge from the cold winter soil in my garden.  

I am looking forward to that too, but it’ll be at least a month before the stalks are mature enough to harvest.  

Meanwhile, I’m loving the delicate less assertive flavour of forced rhubarb, grown in darkness and hand harvested by candlelight as they leaves unfurl in long low barn like sheds, often by families who have passed the skill from one generation to another since the early eighteen hundreds.  

Rhubarb is not the only vegetable (yes technically it is a vegetable), to benefit from early forcing, white asparagus, sea kale, chicory, and even dandelions are other examples. 

Too late for this year, but you can actually do this in your own garden, by covering a couple of rhubarb ‘stools’ with a black plastic dustbin to exclude the light when the plant starts to emerge from the ground in December. Either way if you don’t have a rhubarb plant, order a couple from your local garden centre and pop them into your garden or even your flower bed, or a half barrel…. 

Back to the kitchen again, so what to do with this beautiful rare treat?

Roast rhubarb is a revelation, super easy and super delicious. Remember this Winter rhubarb is sweeter, and I also think it cooks faster than the main crop, so you can reduce both sugar and cooking time.  

I’ve also included a winter rhubarb crumble recipe, my favourite rhubarb pie, rhubarb muffins, rhubarb and custard tart with a scattering of pistachio nuts. 

Roast rhubarb also makes a delicious filling for scones or a sponge with lots of softly whipped rosemary flavoured cream or how about a rhubarb Eton mess, with chunks or meringue, roast rhubarb and lots of rosewater cream, and then there’s rhubarb fool… Too many suggestions for one article – almost need to do another piece. Perhaps when my garden rhubarb is ready to pick… 

Meanwhile, dash out and buy some Winter rhubarb while the season lasts.  

Roast Rhubarb with Jersey Cream

Serves 6 

 Years ago. I always just stewed rhubarb but I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb plus there’s less chance of ending up with a pot of rhubarb sauce if you overcook it…

900g (2lb) rhubarb 

200-250g (7-8oz) sugar  

Jersey Cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400F/Gas Mark 6. 

Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a medium size oven proof dish or sauté pan.  Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for a little while until the juice starts to run. Cover with the lid or a sheet of  parchment and roast in the pre-heated oven for about 10 min, remove the covering and continue to roast for a further 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks – until the rhubarb is just tender, careful it doesn’t overcook.  

Serve alone or with thick Jersey cream……

Rhubarb and Custard Tart with Pistachios

Serves 10-12 

Pastry 

225g (8ozs) plain flour 

175g (6oz) butter 

pinch of salt 

1 dessertspoon icing sugar 

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind 

Filling 

600g (1 1/4lb) or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces 

1-2 tablespoons castor sugar 

300ml (10fl ozs) cream 

2 large or 3 small eggs 

3 tablespoons caster sugar  

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

45 grams, 1.1/ 2 ozs coarsely chopped pistachio nuts

1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins 

Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe) and leave to relax in a fridge for 1 hour. Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.   

Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly inside the tart shell.  Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons caster sugar.  

Whisk the eggs well, with the 3 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the rhubarb is fully cooked. Scatter with coarsely chopped pistachios.  Serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream. 

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

This is a gem of a recipe – a real keeper. The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.

Serves 8-12

Pastry

225g (8oz) soft butter

50g (2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling

900g (2lbs) sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)

370g (7 – 12oz) granulated sugar depending on whether you are using forced or garden rhubarb

egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados/ soft dark brown sugar

tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 3mm (1/8 inch) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Rhubarb Crumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are everyone’s favourite comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 1/2 lbs (700g) Rhubarb

4ozs (110g) granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

Crumble

4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Slice the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces, place into a pie dish and sprinkle with the sugar.

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the rhubarb in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar. 

Rhubarb Polenta Muffins 

Makes 20 – 22 muffins 

Half Roasted rhubarb… 40  -44 pieces in 2 in lengths.. see recipe 

250g (9oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

440g (15 3/4oz) almond paste or marzipan broken into pieces

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar 

zest of 1 orange 

3 eggs 

1 teaspoons baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

225g (8oz) polenta flour 

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 

Double line a 12 cup muffin tray with paper cases. (Use two cases per muffin because the fruit makes these particularly juicy.) 

In an electric mixer, cream the butter, almond paste, sugar and orange zest until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt and polenta flour. Add this to the butter mixture and mix well. Scoop into the paper cases filling 2/3 full and gently press the pieces of fruit on top of the muffins. 

Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean and tops of the muffins spring back to the touch. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from tray. These keep well for up to 4 days in an airtight container. 

Dishes From Around The World in my Kitchen

Doesn’t this Lockdown seems like an eternity – even the most resilient of us are really struggling to keep our spirits up and remain positive and optimistic for the sake of those around us.

Like many of you, I SOO miss travelling….

I have had to content myself with skimming through photos and little videos on my iPhone, reliving and experiencing heady trips down memory lane.

I miss so many things – the blast of heavy spicy air that greets me as I disembark after a long haul flight to India. Walking out of the airport a riot of colour everywhere, the crazy traffic, honking of horns and the frenzy of cars, tuk tuks, rickshaws, bikes, scooters and cows ambling nonchalantly through the mix .

I miss my trips to London, and silly little things like sitting in the Quiet Zone in the Paddington Express on my way into the city, drawing up my list of restaurants, cafés, Farmers Markets, theatre and exhibitions that I’m hoping to squash into two or three days.

I‘m LONGING to sit sipping a glass of wine at a café table on a sidewalk in Paris, Rome or Barcelona watching the glamorous world go by. I’m aching, to wander around Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan and feeling the irresistible buzz of New York under my feet. Or once again experience the craziness of Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh after sunset.

Most of all, I MISS THE FOOD…..

New flavours, new ingredients, the flutter of excitement generated by a new discovery, the comforting feeling of revisiting old haunts…

And how I MISS STREET FOOD!

Hainanese chicken and rice or a steaming bowl of Laksa from a hawker stand in Singapore. A fatty pork stew from an open air eatery in Myanmar, a glass of frothy turmeric latte, a flaky samosa or pakora from my favourite ‘hole in the wall’ in Maheswar….A handmade, masa harina quesadilla from an indigenous Mayan woman in an exquisitely embroidered blouse on a street stall in the zocala (zocala really stands for central square) in Oaxaca.

I can but dream, travel is still out for virtually all of us at present, and there is no end in sight. There is a relentless sameness to most of our days. So many, are either Zoomed out working from home, out of work altogether or demented by home schooling.

Some of us are crazy busy, others are creeping up and down the walls from boredom – not much in the way of a happy medium.

So difficult to make an effort to keep motivated, to resist the lure of the sofa but we CAN’T have that…

I found a clump of snowdrops and crocuses under the mulberry tree in the garden, and then joy of joys a few spindly stalks of rhubarb to cheer me up. Apart from getting super excited, my personal solution is to ‘travel’ in my own kitchen. I’ve been doing just that through favourite recipes from my reconnaissance trips around the world. It prompts me to forget the misery and give thanks for how fortunate I’ve been to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I did.

So, here are some favourite dishes that my happy memories are made of, to cheer us all up until we can travel once more.

Keep safe and well and meanwhile Happy Cooking!

Singapore Chicken and Coconut Laksa

Serves 6-8 as a starter

150g (5oz) fine rice noodles (eight of an inch/3mm)

2 red chillies, chopped with seeds

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2,5cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

150g (5oz) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks coarsely chopped

juice of 1-2 limes

50ml (2fl ozs) toasted sesame oil

1 chicken breast, free range (cut into very thin shreds) (250g/8oz)

2 x 400ml (2 x 14ozs) tins coconut milk

generous 700ml (1 1/4pints) homemade chicken stock

1 tablespoon Nam Pla, fish sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

Fresh coriander leaves

Pour boiling water over the bowl of rice noodles and allow to soak until soft – 10 minutes approximately. Drain and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths. Put the chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and juice of one lime into a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste.

Cut the chicken breast in half lengthwise and then thinly slice at an angle (1/8 inch wide) and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan and fry the chilli paste for 3 minutes. Add the whisked coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the thinly shredded chicken, bring back to the boil and barely simmer for a further 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the fish sauce (Nam Pla) and taste and add more lime juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls, ladle in the hot soup and garnish with spring onion and coriander leaves.

Note

Do not allow the soup to boil once the chicken is added, otherwise the meat may toughen. 

David Tanis’ Pakistani Potato Samosas

If you don’t have the inclination or you can’t spare the time to make the dough, filo pastry could be used though it’s not traditional!

Makes 20 small samosas approximately

Samosas are popular snacks in Pakistan, India and elsewhere. The delicious fried parcels are often sold on the street, but the best ones are made at home. You can make the flavourful potato filling in advance if you wish. The highly seasoned potatoes can be served on their own as a side dish. Ajwain seed, a spice with a thyme-like flavour, is available from south Asian groceries or online spice merchants.

Dough

300g (10oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ajwain or cumin seeds

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) cold water

Filling

700 (1 1/2lbs) russet potatoes, peeled, in 1-inch cubes

3 medium carrots, chopped, optional

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus about 3 cups more for frying

1 chopped onion, about 1 cup

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon grated garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 Serrano chillies, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup chopped cilantro, tender stems and leaves

Make the dough: Put flour, salt and ajwain seeds in a medium bowl. Drizzle in oil and work into flour with fingers until mixture looks mealy. Add water gradually, stirring until a soft dough has formed. If dough seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water; if it seems wet, add a tablespoon of flour. Knead for 1 minute and form into a ball. Wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: Simmer the potatoes and carrots in well-salted water until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Put 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Put 3/4 tablespoon oil in a very small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add cumin and mustard seeds. When seeds are fragrant and beginning to pop, stir in garlic, ginger, chillies, turmeric and garam masala. Allow to sizzle for a minute, then add the contents to the onions.

Add reserved potatoes and carrots and stir well to coat. Check seasoning and adjust salt. Remove mixture to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. When cool, add lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Mix well, smashing the potatoes a bit in the process.

Make the samosas. Portion the dough into 20 pieces, each weighing 40g (1 1/2oz). Form each piece into a ball and place on a large plate. Cover with a damp napkin.

Roll each dough ball into a thin disc about 15cm (6 inches) in diameter, as if rolling out pie dough. Cut each disc exactly in half, leaving 2 pieces with a straight side and a round side.

Form each half-disc into a cone by folding it over and pinching the straight sides together. Put 2 1/2 tablespoons filling in the opening on the round side, then pinch closed to make a stuffed triangle. Form the rest of dough balls into samosas.

Heat about 5cm (2 inches) of oil in the bottom of wok over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain the oil at 350 degrees. Slip samosas 4 at a time into the hot oil and let fry on one side until golden, a minute or so, then flip and cook other side. Lift from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve samosas hot or at room temperature, accompanied by your favourite chutney.

Burmese Pork and Potato Curry   

Serves 4-6

We found a version of this dish in virtually every local eatery in Burma, the pork was always fat and succulent.   I found this version at a cooking class at the Thiripyitsaya Bagan Sanctuary Resort, in Myanmar.  The chef used water and included a teaspoon of ‘chicken seasoning’ but I have substituted some homemade chicken stock instead.   I have also reduced the chilli powder from 1½ teaspoon to ¾ of a teaspoon over all, but you can use the maximum amount if you like it super hot.

The sauce is packed with flavour, it reheats brilliantly and even a little will electrify a bowl of rice.

450g (1lb) fat streaky Heritage pork with rind on.

Marinade for pork

½ – 1 teaspoon chilli powder

2 teaspoons fish sauce, Nam Pla

½ teaspoon Indian masala (see recipe below)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon white sugar

350g (12oz) potato, peeled and diced (1 large potato)

Marinade for potato:

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2.5cm (1in) piece of ginger peeled and grated – (1 dessertspoon)

1 large ripe tomato, or 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped

½ teaspoon turmeric

½-1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 tablespoon fish sauce

½ teaspoon Indian masala (see recipe below)

125ml (4fl.oz) homemade chicken stock

1.2 l (2 pints) homemade chicken stock

Indian Masala

Makes 1 dessertspoon

2 bay leaves,

2.5cm (1 inch) piece cinnamon

1 whole star anise

3 cloves, crushed

To make the Indian Masala – whizz the ingredients together in a spice grinder or crush in a pestle and mortar and mix together.

Pork:

Cut the fat streaky pork into 2cm (¾in) strips.   Mix the marinade ingredients and rub all over the pork with your fingers.  Leave to marinade for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Potato:

Cut the potato into 2cm (¾inch) cubes.

Put into a bowl and add turmeric, chilli powder and fish sauce.     Toss to mix.  The turmeric stops the potato from blackening.

To cook:

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or sauté pan.   Add the chopped onion, cook for 3-4 minutes, add the crushed garlic, grated ginger, chopped tomatoes, turmeric, chilli powder, fish sauce and Indian masala.  

Stir well, add 125ml (4fl.oz) chicken stock.   Cook until all the liquid has evaporated – 2 -3 minutes.   Add the pork pieces and enough of the remaining chicken stock to almost cover.   Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours until the pork is almost tender. 

 Remove the lid and add the cubed potatoes, cook uncovered, for a further 20-30 minutes.    Taste and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with sticky rice or Basmati rice.

Note:  The cooking time will depend on the type of pork and may be much less for the heritage pork we use.

Moroccan Harira Soup

In Marrakesh steaming bowls of Haria are ladled into large bowls every evening in Djemaa el-Fna. It is also an important part of the festivities of Ramadan. It’s the traditional soup to break the fast.  My brother Rory O’Connell shared this particularly delicious version with us and everyone loves it.

Serves 6-8

110g (4oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

110g (4oz) Puy lentils

450g (1lb) leg or shoulder of lamb, diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) cubes

175g (6oz) onion, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) long grain rice

4 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

lemon quarters, to serve

Tip the chickpeas and lentils into a large saucepan. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron strands and paprika, then pour in 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) water. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Bring to the boil, skimming all the froth from the surface as the water begins to bubble, then stir in half the butter. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until the chickpeas are tender, adding a little more water from time to time as necessary – it can take up to 900ml (1 1/2 pints) more water or stock, it should be soupy in texture.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) water to the boil in a saucepan, sprinkle in the rice, the rest of the butter and salt to taste. Cook until the rice is tender. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the liquid.

To Finish

Cook the chopped tomato in the reserved rice cooking water, seasoning it with salt, pepper and sugar. It should take about 5 minutes or until the tomato is “melted”. Add this and the drained rice to the pot and simmer for a further 5 minutes to allow the flavours to mix. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper and perhaps a pinch of salt. Add the chopped herbs, stir once or twice and serve accompanied by lemon quarters.

Tumeric Latte

One serving

350mls (12floz) whole milk or almond milk

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

sugar or honey to taste

a grind of black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and whisk constantly over a gentle heat until it comes to the boil. When hot, pour the frothy latte into a heavy glass and enjoy. 

Pancake Party for Valentines

This year, Valentine’s Day and Shrove Tuesday almost coincide so let’s have some fun with both. It’s unlikely that young lovers will be able to celebrate in restaurants, so how about a ‘pancake party’ at home? Rather than staring into each other’s eyes and whispering sweet nothings over a glass of bubbles, let’s make pancakes ….you can still sip fizz!

Show me anyone young or old who doesn’t love pancakes? All my children adore them. When they were little, they queued up by the Aga waiting for the speckled pancakes to come off the pan. They brushed them with melted butter, sprinkled on some caster sugar, then a squeeze of lemon, rolled them up and ate them out of their hands as they joined the end of the queue for the next one.

Pancakes or crepes (as they are now more grandly called) were always my ‘go-to’ recipe when we arrived home from a drive with a car full of squabbling hungry children.  I’d dash into the kitchen, put the pan on the Aga, the batter was made in minutes in a blender, melt a bit of butter, grab a bowl of caster sugar and a couple of lemons.

Add a couple tablespoons of the melted butter to the batter so the pancakes wouldn’t stick annoyingly to the pan. Start to film the base of the hot pan with some batter, run a palette knife around the edge, flip over and hey presto, the first was off the pan and onto a hot plate in seconds. Soon peace was restored, as they gradually filled up with yummy pancakes, all those protein filled eggs, milk and butter….so nourishing.

My grandchildren love them too, but more often than not, they ‘pooh pooh’ lemon and sugar in favour of chocolate spread or banana and jam or peanut butter….

They also love buttermilk pancakes for breakfast or tiny silver dollars with honey or maple syrup. Bramley apple slices dipped in batter are also a hit. They are fritters really, but my granddaughter Ottilie christened them ‘Scary little monsters’ because of the funny weird shapes they assume as they cook on the pan, and I have to tell you that it is not just the kids who love all these treats. We all love them, and the best thing about batter is that it really is the great ‘convertible.’ A trillion variations can be made on the theme with ingredients you will virtually always have to hand, and who is to say it wouldn’t bring on a proposal just as fast as hot buttered lobster (too extravagant) or chocolate mousse cake (too fattening). After all, someone who can whip up something tasty, delicious and nutritious in minutes, that doesn’t cost a fortune is worth having around!

If you really want to go all out, try these Japanese soufflè pancakes, they definitely take much more effort and tweaking than ordinary crepes, but Boy are they good plus, they are so ‘on trend’. Can’t wait for someone to start making them over here. So get started and let me know if it brings on a proposal….meanwhile, Bon Appetit…..

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes – Comfort Dish of the Week

Pancakes/crepes can be rolled, folded into fan shapes or slathered or stuffed with your favourite filling.

Serves 6 – makes 12 approximately

6oz (175g) white flour, preferably unbleached

a good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

scant 15floz (450ml) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoons melted butter

Castor sugar and lemons to serve

8 inch (20.5cm) non-stick crêpe pan

First, make the batter. Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender or a food processor.

Alternatively, sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).

In an ideal world allow the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm, but if you are in a hurry start to cook the pancakes straight away.

Just before you cook the crêpes, stir in 3-4 dessertspoons melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Serve immediately on hot plates with butter, castor sugar and lemon or your favourite topping.

Posh Crêpes with Orange Butter

This crêpe recipe is very nearly as good as those Crêpes Suzette they used to serve with a great flourish in posh restaurants when I was a child. These crêpes are half the bother and can be made for a fraction of the cost.

Pancake Batter as above.

Orange Butter

6oz (175g) butter

3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind

6oz (175g) icing sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 5-6 oranges

First make and rest the batter. Cook the pancakes and stack one on top of another.

Next make the orange butter.

Cream the butter with the finely grated orange rind. Then add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.

Make the crêpes in the usual way. Heat the pan over a high heat until really hot.  Grease lightly with butter and pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

* A small ladle can also be very useful for this, loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.  The greasing of the pan is only necessary for the first two or three crêpes.

Good to Know: Crêpes will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

To Serve

Melt a blob of the orange butter in the pan, add some freshly squeezed orange juice, toss the crêpes in the foaming orange butter. Fold in half and then in quarters (fan shapes). Serve 2 or 3 per person on warm plates.  Spoon the buttery orange juices over the top. Repeat until all the crêpes and butter have been used.

Scary little monsters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these apple fritters for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity and many squabbles. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour.

Serves 6–8

Batter

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

Cinnamon Sugar

4oz (110g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Alternatively, sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C (375°F).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄3 inch). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off a little. Drop a few at a time into the hot fat. Fry until the batter is golden brown and the apple is tender.  Drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar. (Note: Eat immediately while still crisp. If the fritters are left sitting around they will soften and become less delicious). Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.

Fritters can also be cooked on a frying pan in about ¾ inch hot oil.

 

American Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup

Serves 4-6 depending on the size or helping

Makes 14 – 3” pancakes

We love to cook American pancakes on my ancient Aga for Sunday brunch – it’s so difficult to know when to stop!

250ml (8 flozs) buttermilk

1 free-range egg, preferably organic

15g (1/2 oz) butter, melted

150g (5oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bread soda

To Serve

butter

12-18 pieces crispy bacon

Maple syrup or Irish honey

Mix the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a large bowl, until smooth and blended.  Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda together, stir into the buttermilk until the ingredients are barely combined, don’t worry about the lumps. Do not over mix or the pancakes will be heavy.

Heat a heavy iron or non-stick pan until medium hot.  Grease with a little clarified butter.  Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of batter onto the pan, spread slightly with the back of the spoon to a round about 7.5cm (3inch) across.  Cook until the bubbles rise and break on the top of the pancake (about a minute).  Flip over gently.  Cook until pale golden on the other side.  Spread each with butter.

Serve a stack of three with crispy streaky bacon and maple syrup.

OR:

Loganberry jam, sour cream and sausages

Serve pancakes with loganberry jam, sour cream and sausages

Cornmeal Pancakes

Substitute 25g (1 oz) of cornmeal for 25g (1 oz) of flour in the above recipe.

 

Crêpes with Chocolate Spread, Toasted Hazelnuts and Cream

Spread a little chocolate spread in the middle of the crêpe, top with a blob of cream and sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Kumquat is also a delicious addition.

Silver Dollars

Makes 50 – 60 – enough to have real feast!

4 Eggs

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

30grams (1oz) plain white flour

475mls (16 flozs) sour cream

2 – 3 tablespoons castor sugar

Icing sugar for dusting

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender. Alternatively, put the eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream and sugar. Mix well. Heat a frying pan until it is good and hot, add clarified butter to the pan and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the pan – just enough to spread to an approximately 2 ½ inch round. When a few bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes flip them over and cook briefly.

Enjoy with a dusting of icing sugar.

Japanese Soufflè Pancakes with Peanut Butter Cream

Makes 5 – 6

Soft, pillowy and delicious….the batter for these soufflé pancakes need to be cooked in moulds so they are contained as they rise.

8 – 9 cm rings are fine.

2 large free range eggs

A generous pinch of salt

60g plain white flour, sieved

1tbsp of cream

1 tbsp of milk

60g castor sugar, sieved

Melted butter to grease the pan

Raw runny honey, maple syrup or peanut butter cream

Peanut Butter Cream

100ml cream

35g smooth peanut butter

10 – 15g dark soft brown sugar

5 – 6  8cm-9cm rings (Darina is it cm or inches? See above). We use a 10” sautè pan but use whatever you have and cook in batches if necessary.

First, make the peanut butter cream. Put 70ml of cream into a saucepan with the peanut butter and sugar. Stir over a low heat until combined. Cool, then add the remaining cream and whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to a bowl.

Put a heavy cast iron frying pan, sautè pan or griddle on the lowest heat.

Separate the eggs, put the yolks into one bowl, add a pinch of salt. Whisk in the cream, milk, then the sieved flour the make a smooth paste.

Whisk the egg whites with the sieved castor sugar in another spotlessly clean, dry bowl, until light and fluffy. Carefully stir a third of the whisked egg whites into the egg yolk mixture then fold in the remainder a third at a time until fully combined.

Arrange the rings on the preheated pan. Brush the inside and the base underneath each ring evenly and generously with melted butter.

Divide the mixture between the rings, it should come about two thirds of the way up the sides. Cook for about 6 minutes, still over a low heat.

Meanwhile, preheat a grill to a medium heat and continue to cook the soufflé pancakes, not too close to the elements for a further 5 minutes approximately or until fully risen and golden brown on top.

To serve: carefully, run a knife around the edge of the rings.  Turn a soufflé pancake onto a warm plate. They will sink a little but don’t worry, they will still be delicious. Serve drizzled with honey, maple syrup or this delicious peanut cream –Enjoy immediately.

Chinese New Year

This week, let’s take a break from Covid 19 and the dawning realisations of the unexpected implications of Brexit on our lives. Life seems to be full of ‘Aaaaaah’ and ‘Ah Ha’ moments at present….

So, I thought I’d concentrate on the Chinese New Year coming up on Friday February the 12th 2021.  Festivities have already begun to celebrate the beginning of a New Year on the traditional lunar calendar. In China and East Asian countries the festival is commonly referred to as Spring Festival . Chinese New Year marks the transition between zodiac signs but this year, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. 2020 was the year of the Rat and 2022 will be the year of the Tiger.

It’s a fantasticly colourful and flamboyant festival with lion and dragon dances, fireworks, family gatherings and special foods.

Red is the auspicious colour. The Nian Dragon doesn’t like red so look out for lots of red lanterns to scare him away. Red envelopes are another endearing part of the celebrations, these have a monetary gift inside and are also gifted for special occasions such as weddings and graduations. Have you heard of Chunlian couplets? Me neither, I have no idea but Google came to my rescue. They are Chinese decorations ‘fai chun’, that people frequently hang in doorways during Chinese new year “to create a jubilant festive atmosphere”.

Celebrations last up to 16 days, the first seven are considered a public holiday where Chinese travel home to their families – not much chance of that this year! If they truly can’t travel home, a spot will be laid and left empty for them at the New Year’s Eve dinner.

Chinese New Year officially begins on February the 12th 2021 and ends on February the 22nd 2021. Then guess what…..preparations start for Lantern Festival on February 26th – enough festivities to distract minds from Covid 19.

There are a myriad of customs and taboos to be taken into consideration. Words with negative connotations are forbidden, they could jinx your good fortune, including death, pain, empty, poor, sick and presumably Covid 19 is added to the list this year. Avoid breaking glass or ceramic, it shatters your chance of prosperity and good fortune. However, a handy tip, immediately wrap the shards in red paper and throw them into a lake or river after Chinese New Year.

Sweeping during the actual day of celebration apparently also causes problems, so only on the designated cleaning day otherwise you may sweep away or throw out your good luck. No showering on Chinese New Year’s day either…

Sharp objects can cut your streams of wealth and success. In olden times this was to give women a well deserved break from chopping, cooking and sewing …..Hair cutting is also taboo and forbidden till festivities are over – double Covid 19!!!!!

Don’t borrow money or demand debt repayment or you could end up having to borrow all year long. No fighting or crying otherwise there could be a turbulent year ahead!

Try not to take medicine during the Spring festival. Not sure about that, could be wiser to follow your doctors instructions….and there is also a taboo about giving people a blessing in bed – allow them to get out of bed first otherwise they could be bedridden. There are a myriad of taboos about gift giving – it’s a mindfield but this is a cooking column so back to the kitchen.

Chinese take enormous pride in their food – it is after all one of the great cuisines of the world. Each family will have their own traditions but there are some dishes that may be found on virtually every table.

Spring rolls – to celebrate the coming of Spring.

Dumplings – many different types, apparently they are shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots. After eating these you will live a wealthy and prosperous life. I adore Chinese dumplings and the tradition that all members of the family must participate in making them.

Noodles – for Chinese New Year people like to eat long noodles, the longer the noodle the longer the life – this calls for a lot of slurping!

Steamed fish, chicken, rice cakes, vegetable stir frys, hot pots….all are symbolic, and bring luck and good fortune, are truly delicious and nourishing and comforting. Just what we need to cheer us up during this super challenging time. Keep safe and well and enjoy.

Siu Mai Pork, Bacon and Ginger Dumplings

Makes about 20

500g fresh prawn meat

250g streaky pork, minced

3 cloves garlic, crushed finely

1 x 5cm piece ginger, grated

2 eggs whites

2 teasp. cornflour

Juice of half lemon

1 tablesp. Oyster sauce (optional)

1 tablesp. Soy sauce plus extra for dipping

1 tablesp. Sesame oil

¼ teasp. salt, approx.

¼ teasp. freshly ground pepper

Hong Kong style, round wonton wrappers

Oil for brushing the steamer

Cabbage leaves for lining the steamer

25cm Bamboo steamer

Put all the ingredients into a wide bowl. Season well and evenly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix very thoroughly, better still pulse in a food processor, it shouldn’t be too smooth, a little texture is perfect.

Next assemble the dumplings. Hold the wonton wrapper in your hand between your thumb and cupped fingers. Dip a spoon into cold water, then drop a blob about (2 teasp.) into the centre of each wrapper. Gather the edges of the wrapper up around the filling and squeeze the sides slightly with your fingers, leaving the filling slightly exposed, the sides pleat a little.

Tap the base on the worktop so the bottom will be flat and the dumplings won’t topple over in the steamer. Continue until all the filling is used up. Cook or cover and keep refrigerated.

To Cook:

Brush the slats of the steamer with a little oil. Line the base loosely with cabbage leaves. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer with a little space between each one to allow the steam to circulate – 12 siu mai should fit comfortably into a 25cm bamboo steamer. Cover.

Bring approx. 5cm of water to boil in a pot or wok. Place the steamer over the pot, cover with the lid and steam for 10-12 minutes or until the filling feels firm to the touch and is fully cooked through. Serve the dumpling immediately in the steamer with a bowl of soy sauce for dipping.

Good to know: I like to steam just one or two at first to test the seasoning. Excess dumplings will freeze brilliantly for 2-3 weeks.

Chinese Garlic Chive Omelette

We love this simple omelette, super tasty and easy to make. I’ve been using the chopped leaves of the early wild garlic called Snowbells (see Wild food of the Week last week, allium triquetrium). The pretty white flowers as a garnish.

Serves 2

5 organic eggs

40-50g Chinese or garlic chives or wild garlic

¼ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon fish sauce

½ – 1 teaspoon oyster sauce

Generous tablespoon olive oil or peanut oil

Accompaniment

Soy sauce, optional

Slice the chives into 5mm pieces. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the other ingredients. Add the chopped chives and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Heat a wok or a 25cm frying pan over a high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Drop in a teaspoon full of the mixture to test the seasoning. Taste and tweak if necessary.

Pour the egg mixture into the hot wok or pan, swirl to coat the base evenly.

Cook for a couple of minutes to brown the base lightly. Flip over to cook the other side. When almost set, – 2-3 minutes slide out onto a hot serving plate. Divide into quarters sprinkle with garlic chive flowers and serve with soy sauce.

Alternatively make 2 smaller omelettes.

Stir Fried Pork and Ginger Noodles with Peanuts.

Serves 4 – 6

200g Egg noodles

1tbsp olive oil (More usual to use peanut oil but I prefer a light olive oil)

450g pork fillet , cut into strips

2cm of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated

2 cloves of garlic peeled and freshly grated

1 tbsp shrimp paste

1 tbsp soy sauce

D1 tbsp fish sauce

2 – 3 tbsp water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

60g toasted peanuts (optional)

1 carrot (approx. 5oz) cut into fine julienne

2 spring onions sliced at an angle into ‘horses ears’

1 – 2 tsps Chinese sesame oil

First prepare the carrots and onions. Then cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet, they should still have a slight bite.

Ready to Eat….

Line up all the ingredients beside the cooker. Heat a wok over a medium/ high heat. Add a dash of oil and the pork strips. Stir and fry for a minute or two, careful it’s really easy to overcook the pork. Turn out onto a plate.

Increase the heat, add another dash of oil if necessary, Toss in the peanuts, ginger and garlic, stir and fry to 20 – 30 seconds. Next add the shrimp paste, stir and fry for another 30 seconds until aromatic, then add the soy and fish sauces and a couple of tablespoons of water to create steam.

Toss in the well-drained noodles and pork. Toss to coat, sprinkle over the sesame oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste and correct if necessary.

Turn out onto a hot serving plate or plates. Sprinkle with some grated carrot julienne and spring onions. Serve immediately.

Gok’s Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers

Not sure if you know about Gok. My daughters are huge fans but I’ve only ‘discovered’ him recently. He is super cool and does a TV series on Channel 4 on fashion as well as food. First I borrowed his book, Gok Cooks Chinese from my daughter and then ordered my very own copy. Published by Penguin and Michael Joseph – full of fabulously simple Chinese dishes.

Serves 2 – 4

200g minced chicken

2 tbsps leek, very finely chopped

1 spring onion finely chopped

1-2cm piece of root ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg separated

Cornflour, for dusting

12 round white wonton wrappers

Tablespoon of groundnut oil

For the Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons of runny honey

1 tablespoons of light soy sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

150ml water

Put the chicken, leek, spring onion and ginger into a bowl or on to a board, and mix together well, adding the sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a little egg white if the mixture needs binding together.

Dust a work surface with cornflour and lay out the wonton wrappers. Place a small spoonful of the chicken mixture in the middle of a wrapper and brush the outside rim lightly with egg white.

Fold over the wrapper to make a half-moon shape, enclosing the filling inside. Press out any air bubbles and seal the join, pinching the ends to shut at the rim. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers and chicken mixture.

Heat a non-stick frying pan with deep sides, or a wok, over a medium to high heat. Add a glut of oil and place the dumplings in the pan. If using a wok, arrange them around the bottom and lower sides. Cook for 30 – 60 seconds over a medium heat until crisp and dark golden on the base. Then pour in enough water to create steam around the dumplings (about 200ml) at the base of the wok or pan. Cover the pan and steam the dumplings for 5 – 8 minutes (topping up the water if the pan is drying out) or until the filling is cooked through.

To make the dipping sauce mix together the honey and soy sauce in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the chives to garnish.

Remove the pot stickers from the pan and serve coloured side up with the dipping sauce on the side. Serve immediately.

Letters

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