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Ruffage by Abra Berens

An exciting parcel arrived on my desk today, a present from a past student who wanted me to have a copy of her very first cook book – Abra Berens is the twenty eight Ballymaloe Cooking School student to write a best-selling cook book. It’s called Ruffage, published by Chronicle Books and has just been chosen by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Books of 2019 – and that’s no mean feat….

Abra did a 12 Week Certificate Course here in 2006. She’s chef at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan and a co-founder of Bare Knuckle Farm. She’s making quite the impact and strives to connect people with their food both through dinners and progressive food policy, helping to further a food policy where farmers earn a living wage, protect our environment through agriculture and waste as little food as possible…..no doubt influenced by the zero waste policy we do our best to espouse here at the Ballymaloe Cooking School.

A year and half after she left here she took up residence in a forest valley between two cherry orchards on Bare Knuckle Farm in Michigan. She plunged all her savings into the project, worked from dawn till dusk, ate brilliantly but by the end of the first year was so ‘poor and cold’ that she decided to return to Chicago to get a job that paid “in green backs” rather than green leafy vegetables. There was lots of delicious food at the pie shop where she worked but soon she was craving the carrots that seemed to get sweeter with every passing frost, the tiny kale greens that still sprouted from the stalk and the almost obscenely orange-yolked eggs. “Farming changed the way I cook”.

I too, know that feeling, when you sow and tend a seed and wait patiently for it to grow into something to eat you will cook it carefully and lovingly and use every single scrap. You will want everyone to know that you grew it…Furthermore, it gives one a far greater respect and appreciation for those who grow nourishing and wholesome food all for us.

The format of Ruffage is also interesting. It’s not a vegetarian book but Abra has chosen vegetables as the principle ingredient and gives deeply knowledgable advise on how to select, store, prepare, cook and serve them using a variety of cooking techniques. She starts with a pantry section and some essential condiments.  There are recipes for each vegetable and suggestions for 3 or 4 delicious variations, and many, many cooking methods, pan roasting, poaching, boiling, sautéing, grilling, oven roasting, braising, confit, frying, stuffed, marinated, baked, caramelized and of course raw.

Who knew, that there so many super exciting ways to serve vegetables, I love this book and plan to stock it in our Farm shop here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. We don’t have much space so I’m super fussy about what I ask Toby to stock but this is a ‘keeper’.

Here are a few treats to whet your appetite……for the tempting variations you’ll need to order Abra’s book.

Abra Berens Beet-dressed pasta w/golden raisins and poppy seeds

Generally, I use a microwave to warm up my forgotten morning coffee and for little else. But there are other uses. The beets in this recipe will purée to a significantly smoother texture if they are warm. If you have prepared a load of beets earlier in the week and want to make this sauce, simply warm them up in the micro­wave with a splash of water. Alternatively, if you are cooking loads of beets, it’s smart to make the purée when they are warm out of the oven. It will store in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for a good long time.

This pasta salad also works as a cold salad, but often needs an extra pinch of salt, since the flavours will be muted when cold.

35 g golden raisins

Juice of ½ lemon (22 ml)

2 steam-roasted beets (455 g)

60 ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cream (optional)

455 g small pasta, bow ties, orecchiette, or penne

10 g poppy seeds

Soak the golden raisins in ½ cup (120 ml) hot water with a squeeze of lemon for 10 minutes or until they are plump. Strain the raisins, saving the water.

In a food processor, purée the beets with the olive oil, raisin water, and a good pinch of salt and pepper until very smooth. If you like dairy, toss in a glug of cream.

Boil the pasta in well-salted water and drain.

Toss the pasta with the beet purée (to warm and coat), soaked raisins, and poppy seeds. Transfer to serving platter or individ­ual bowls. Drizzle with additional olive oil.

Seared duck breast w/brown sugar–vinegar cabbage, roasted potatoes, and herb salad

The richness of duck elevates the commonness of cabbage to fancy dinner status. That said, this dish would be perfectly at home with chicken, pork chops, or seared salmon. Note that if you don’t have the rendered duck fat in the pan, simply pan roast it with olive oil. Also note that if the skin softens while finishing the cabbage salad, simply kiss it in a hot pan or re-crisp under the broiler.

This brown sugar–vinegar sauce lives on my counter, close to the stove, ready to turn up the volume on anything I’m cooking that day. I love this dish because it combines a variety of tex­tures and simultaneously blends rich, comforting flavours with a bright, acidic, herby lightness. I tend to use red cabbage for the colour, but any variety will work.

910 g (or 2 to 3 potatoes per person) Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, cut into wedges

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 (170 to 230 g) duck breasts, see Hot Tips

1 head (1.4 kg) red cabbage, cut into ribbons

120 ml brown sugar–vinegar sauce

½ bunch parsley (68 g), roughly chopped

10 sprigs chives, minced (optional)

1 sprig rosemary, minced (optional)

Heat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Dress the potatoes with a glug of olive oil, a big pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Reserve, rewarming if necessary for the final steps.

Meanwhile, score the skin of the duck breast into either diamonds or slices, trying to avoid cutting the flesh, and season liberally with salt and pepper.

In a large, cold frying pan, place the duck breasts skin-side down and turn on a medium heat. As the heat builds in the frying pan, the fat will render through the cuts in the skin and crisp. Let it go longer than you might think you should. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, and the meat medium rare, about 15 minutes. Flip the breasts for 4 minutes to cook in the fat. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and let rest for 7 to 10 minutes.

Increase the heat under the frying pan to high and add the cabbage with a pinch of salt to roast in the rendered duck fat. Allow to sizzle and lightly brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the brown sugar–vinegar sauce, and toss to coat well.

Toss the warm potatoes with the dressed cabbage and the parsley, chives, and rosemary (if using).

Place the duck breasts on a serving platter next to the potato-cabbage salad, and serve.

Matchstick salad: turnip, carrots, kohlrabi, w/lemon, Parmesan, and parsley

I like this salad to have similar shaped vegetables. It doesn’t have to be matchsticks; could be wedges or half-moons, or a mix. Bottom line: don’t let the knife work dissuade you from making the salad. As long as you get the vegetables into bite-size units, you’ll be good.

For the variations, you can use the same proportion of vegetables or stick with only turnip or rutabaga. The key is to have a nice dose of fat and brightness to balance the brassica flavour

1 bunch salad turnips (455 g), cut into matchsticks

3 medium turnips or 1 large rutabaga (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

4 carrots (various colours are nice) (455 g), cut into matchsticks

2 kohlrabi (455 g), ends trimmed, peeled, cut into matchsticks

1 or 2 apples (455 g), unpeeled, cut into matchsticks

2 lemons (90 ml), zest and juice

120 ml olive oil

Big pinch of salt

1 bunch parsley (34 g), roughly chopped

55 g Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler or grater

Dress the vegetables and apples with the lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt. Toss all together, and let sit for 10 minutes to lightly marinate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the parsley to the salad, garnish with the Parmesan shavings, and serve.

(All Recipes taken from Ruffage by Abra Berens, published  by Chronicle Books. All photographs by to EE Berger)

Claire Ptak

Claire Ptak – baker to the Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magic with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter, beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and  organic flowers and herbs to embellish the cakes.

In 2005, she moved to London and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture perfect looking creations.

Somehow, people’s gut feeling told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.

Violet Café and Bakery was started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café, Claire never divulged their names or very personal cravings.

Her style is Anglo-American – her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions peach, raspberry, white chocolate…

Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter, are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot sauce inside.

Among the celebrities we now know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Megan Markle which lead to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry and Megan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000 in a few days.

There are now plans to open a second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….

Claire is passionate about the importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.

I love the idea of cakes reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections – something for everyone to enjoy.

The chocolate devil’s food cake was the vehicle to show us how to ice the cake with frothy American butter icing and decorate it with organic, fresh flowers in the nonchalant Violet way, a stunning creation for a celebration. The rhubarb, strawberry and sweet cicely pie was perfect for a family meal, sweet cicely is a herb worth growing, it’s perennial so it comes back year after year, it’s fern like leaves have a sweet, slightly anise flavor so one can reduce the amount of sugar used to sweeten the rhubarb. The tart is still delicious without it or Claire loves to use a little fresh tarragon if that’s available. The sesame and tahini cookies were a terrific find – mixed in minutes and cooked to a soft, chewy texture, they are destined to become one of our staples here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and have the bonus of being gluten free.

The honey shortcakes were fragile and tender but so delicious, Claire pairs them with a fresh apricot and chamomile compote and a dollop of whipped cream but I can imagine enjoying them with berries and cream or just a gorgeous homemade jam or Amalfi lemon curd.

Terrific response to Vera’s column on 11th May so here’s another recipe from Vera’s wish list – Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, not quite as worthy as any of the traditional carrot cake recipes.

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Carrot and Cardamom Cake

Serves 8-10

Light, tender and delicious, this carrot cake is lovely for afternoon tea, but has also been much enjoyed for dessert.   It will also keep really well for a week or more in an airtight tin.

50ml (2fl.oz) vegetable oil (we use sunflower oil)

150g (5oz) plain white flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

½ teaspoon ground cardamom (seeds about 10 pods)

2 large eggs, preferably organic and free range

100g (3½oz) castor sugar

55g (2¼oz) soft brown sugar

50ml (2fl.oz) natural yogurt

175g (6oz) finely grated carrot (1 large or 2 medium carrots approx.)

Icing

225g (8oz) icing sugar

2 tablesp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Dried rose petals (optional)

25g (1oz) pistachio nuts (optional)

20.5cm (8in) round spring-form cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Brush the tin with oil and pop a round of parchment paper in the base.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cardamom and salt into a bowl.  Whisk the eggs, sugars, yogurt and oil together until smooth.  Gently mix the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, add the carrots and pour the mixture into the tin.   Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes clean.  Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely while you make the icing.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, add enough sieved freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a thickish icing.  Pour onto the top of the cold cake. Spread quickly with a palette knife so it begins to dribble down over the sides of the cake.  Sprinkle the surface with dried rose petals and coarsely chopped pistachio nuts if available.

Claire Ptak’s Apricot, Camomile and Honey Shortcakes

makes 4 large shortcakes

For the compote

makes 1 jar

1kg just-ripe apricots, halved and pitted

½ vanilla pod

1 tbsp dried camomile flowers

½ cinnamon stick

150g caster sugar

Add all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss. Macerate for one hour to dissolve the sugar and draw the juices out of the fruit.

Turn out into a heavy saucepan or jam pot, cover with a lid. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, or until the apricots break down a bit.

Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to an airtight container.

For the shortcakes

280g plain flour

1 tbsp baking powder

2 tbsp caster sugar, plus 50g more for sprinkling

½ tsp fine sea salt

100g unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes

200g single cream

To serve

¼ batch apricot compote (from above)

300g double cream, gently whipped

A drizzle of honey

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/170Fan/gas mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter, blitzing until it resembles a coarse meal texture (or do this by hand with a pastry cutter).

Quickly add the cream, mixing until it just comes together. Be careful not to overmix.

Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, and pat into a cube shape. Rest for 10 minutes.

Once rested, roll to a 2cm thickness, then cut into hexagons, using a 7cm hexagon cutter. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rest for 10 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes until springy and golden at the edges.

To assemble, cut the shortcakes in half, spoon over the compote and a dollop of whipped cream, then drizzle with honey.

Claire Ptak’s Battenburg

Serves 8 

6 ozs (170g) butter

6 ozs (170g) castor sugar

1.5 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (170g) self raising flour

Red and yellow food colouring

Lemon zest (optional)

½ teaspoon rosewater (optional)

150g apricot jam

Icing sugar, for rolling

500g golden marzipan (almond paste, see recipe)

Preheat the oven to 170°C/335°F/gas mark 3½. Butter and line a 25cm x 30cm battenberg tin.

Beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Divide the mixture between two bowls, and dye each with different food colouring. The amount to use varies greatly depending on the quality of your colouring. Start with a small amount and go from there until you have the desired colour intensity.

Beat the eggs together with the vanilla in separate bowl. Divide this between the yellow and pink mixtures. If using, add lemon zest to the yellow mixture and rosewater to the pink mixture, beating to combine.

Sift the flour twice. Divide the flour between the bowls and fold it into the mixtures.

Spread the mixture into the prepared tin or tins accordingly. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cakes spring back to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool in the tin(s).

Remove the cakes from the tin. If you’re using a battenberg tin, simply remove the four pieces and trim, if needed, to make four even bars. If you’re using two loaf tins, slice each slab in half lengthways and trim likewise to make four neat bars.

Heat the apricot jam in a small pan. Brush all the long sides of the cake pieces with jam, then press them together in a checkerboard fashion.


Lightly dust a work surface with the icing sugar. Roll the block of marzipan out and trim to 25cm x 30cm. With a clean, dry pastry brush, dust away as much icing sugar from the marzipan as you can. Then check for the smoothest side (it may be the underneath side) and have that facing down.

Brush the top of the marzipan with melted apricot jam. Place the block of cake on the left-hand side of the marzipan and roll to the right until it is encased. Rest for 30 minutes for the jam to set and glue it all together, then slice and serve. This keeps well in a tin for up to a week.

Almond Paste

450g (1lb) castor sugar

450g (1lb) ground almonds

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond extract, 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.

Claire Ptak’s Chocolate Devils Food Cake with Violet Icing

 Serves 12

220g plain flour

100g cocoa powder

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp baking powder

450g caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g  buttermilk or plain yoghurt

100g vegetable oil

225g hot water

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C(fan)/gas mark 3. Butter and line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with paper.

Measure the dry ingredients, including the caster sugar, into a  large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water). Once they are well mixed together, slowly whisk in the hot water.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in half of the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Resist the temptation to switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps of dry ingredients. Gradually add the remaining wet ingredients until you have a smooth, liquid batter.

Pour the batter into your tin right away and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove the cake from its tin by running a small paring knife along the inside of the tin to release the cake. Or, if you have used a loose bottom tin, set the base of the tin on top of a tin of tomatoes, or similar, and gently push the sides of the cake tin down. Wash and dry your cake tin well, then line with cling film with plenty lapping over the sides and set aside.

Using a serrated bread knife (the longest one you have), score a horizontal line half of the way up the side of the cake and then slowly cut the cake into three layers.

Slide the bottom layer of sponge into the lined cake tin. Pipe a border of icing around the edges of the sponge, and then fill the center with a little more icing. Add the next layer of cake and continue to ice as before. Top with the remaining sponge, then pull up the sides of cling film and wrap up the cake tightly. You may want to cover with another layer of cling film to ensure it’s airtight. Place in the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. Leave any remaining icing at room temperature.

If you have left the cake to chill overnight, you may want to re-whip the icing. The icing will naturally deflate ever so slightly and benefits from a second whipping.

Once you have taken the cake out of the fridge remove it from its tin, set on a cake stand and peel off the cling film. Use a palette knife to ice the sides and top of the cake. Scatter flowers over the top, and serve.

(Tip: the cake batter can hold in the fridge for days and can be used for cupcakes)

Violet Icing

100g whole milk

1 tbsp violet syrup

190g unsalted butter, softened

750g icing sugar very well sieved (divide into 3 x 250g portions)

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Measure out the whole milk into a bowl and stir in the violet syrup.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 250g of the icing sugar until smooth. Gradually add the milk mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed, this is an important step.  Add another 250g of icing sugar and mix on a low speed for at least 3 minutes (set your timer). Add the lemon juice, if required, adding the remaining icing sugar and beat on medium- high for 3 minutes.

Claire Ptak’s Sesame Halva Cookies

Makes 15

100g tahini paste

125g unsalted butter, softened

125g golden caster sugar

½ tsp fine sea salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 egg

250g rice flour

¾ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

200g halva, broken into pieces

150g white chocolate, broken into pieces

2 tablespoon sesame seeds, for topping

1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt for topping

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°Fan/350F/gas mark 4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the tahini, butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the salt and vanilla extract, and then beat in the egg. Add the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)

Add the halva and white chocolate pieces, and mix these through the dough. Using an ice-cream scoop, portion on to your prepared trays and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt. Bake in the oven for 15‑18 minutes.

(Tip: These can be made as far as placing the mixture on the baking tray and frozen (uncooked) and then removed and cooked from frozen when needed)

Claire Ptak’s Slab Pie

serves 12

560g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp fine sea salt

340g unsalted butter, cold

8 tablespoons iced water

4 tablespoons cream, for brushing

4 tablespoons caster sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling:

500g rhubarb cut into 1cm pieces

600g strawberries (quartered)

½ teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped for vanilla beans

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

150g light, soft brown sugar

50g castor sugar

5 tablespoons cornflour

20g Sweet Cicely chopped

Whisk together the flour and salt. Add half the butter. Combine well using a cutting motion. Add the second half of the butter and rub in until your mix forms roughly pea-sized pieces.

Sprinkle over the iced water (holding back the ice) and toss it through the mix as you go. The dough should start to become raggedy and eventually, when all the water is added, it will come together into a ball. Divide the ball in half, wrapping each piece in cling film. Flatten them into squares and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours – any longer than this, put it in the freezer.

Next make your fruit filling. Mix all the ingredients together well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190°CFan. Butter, flour and line with parchment paper the base a baking sheet that measures 23 x 33cm.

Roll out one square of pastry on a lightly floured surface to roughly 28 x 38cm, pastry needs to be larger than the tin. Press the pastry down into the prepared sheet, then chill in the fridge while you roll out the other piece. The second pastry sheet (which will form the top of the pie) can be rolled out to 23 x 33cm.

Remove the chilled pastry and carefully fill it with the fillingmixture. It can come right up to about 2mm shy of the top of the tin but don’t let it overflow. Roll the top layer of pastry over the pie. Brush the pastry with cream. Fold or roll over the excess pastry and pinch to seal. Use a knife to pierce the top of the pie a few times. Put in your freezer or fridge for 20 minutes.

Brush the edge of the pie with the cream and sprinkle with caster sugar. Place some parchment paper underneath to catch the drips, and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 160°CFan/180°C/350F/gas mark 4 for another 35-45 minutes or until golden and the bubbles of filling coming through are thick. Cool for at least 3 hours before slicing.

Sri Lanka

It came as quite a surprise to many to discover that one of the several ‘hats’ I wear is Honorary Council General for Sri Lanka to Ireland…

The 3,000 plus Sri Lankan community in Ireland are of course aware but it wasn’t until the tragic events in late April when I attended mass in the St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, celebrated by Archbishop Martin for the victims of the massacre that my connection became more public.

I accepted the honorary role in November 2017 on the invitation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe…. who visited Ireland and Ballymaloe Cookery School over Christmas period in 2015.

I’ve visited Sri Lanka many times, an astoundingly beautiful country, lush, green and fertile with delicious food and warm and friendly people who have endured  many years of turbulence but had recently become accustomed to a more peaceful era.

Sri Lankan tea is some of the finest in the world. I’ve visited the tea plantations and seen at first hand the care and dedication that is involved, from the hand picking of the ‘tips’ of the Camellia Sinensis, tea bush to the drying, withering, grading….

It is important that the Sri Lankan tea industry remains glyphosate free at a time when there is a growing concern worldwide among scientists and the general public about the toxic effects of pesticides.

Cinnamon is another top quality Sri Lankan ingredient that few other countries can equal.

True cinnamon is native to the lush tropical forests of southern Sri Lanka. The gentle coastal hills are especially suited to the growth of cinnamon. Wars have been fought over this spice. In 1505 the Portuguese sailed to that part of the world in search of cinnamon so they could cut out the Arab middlemen. In those days it was gathered from wild trees but when the Dutch succeeded the Portuguese the first plantations were sown and cinnamon has been flourishing ever since.

On my last trip to Sri Lanka I wanted to see the process of cinnamon production for myself so I visited Mirissa Hills, a working cinnamon Estate with 360 degree views over Weligama Bay. Thilak the general manager, showed us around the estate which grows both cinnamon and galangal and explained the whole process. On our way to the plantation we passed the little temple to Pathini, The Buddhist God of cinnamon. The air was filled with the scent of cinnamon.

The cinnamon is still harvested and peeled in the same time honoured way by the skilled Salagama caste. It cannot be mechanised and the process has survived virtually unchanged since ancient times.

The cinnamon peelers go into the fields early in the morning. They choose twigs about 5 feet long and about 1 ½ inches thick –  straighter are easier to peel.  Shoots or leaves are trimmed with a sharp curved machete. The skill has been passed down from generation to generation over the centuries. The peelers sit cross legged on hessian sacks on the floor in the peeling shed with their bundle of cinnamon sticks by their side. They need just three tools, a curved peeler, a brass rod and a small sharp knife called a kokaththa.

First the outer dark leathery layer is shaved off; this is returned to the cinnamon fields for compost.

When the peelers have several layers of precious inner bark they carefully layer them inside each other, over lapping to create a four foot quill.

These are carefully laid on strings of coconut coir hanging beneath the tin roof. It takes eight days, away from sunlight for them to curl and dry. They will then be rolled tightly, and allowed to dry for a further ten days. The cinnamon ‘quills’ are then tied into large bundles to sell in the market where they will be precisely cut into the cinnamon sticks we know.

Real cinnamon is known to be a natural ‘cholesterol buster’, unlike it’s inferior and cheaper relation cassia, which is often passed off as cinnamon.

How to know the difference….true cinnamon comes from the thin pliable bark of the Cinnamomum Verum trees. This cinnamon is softer, flakier and paler than cassia which too has it’s place but the flavour is more acrid than sweet, gentle and aromatic. This is the Sri Lankan cinnamon, which I use at Ballymaloe Cookery School,  perfumes for both sweet and savoury dishes.

Hard quills or ‘bark like’ pieces are more likely to be cassia so save those for vegetarian curries if you don’t have true cinnamon. Always try to buy cinnamon whole and grind it yourself, ready ground cinnamon is regularly cut with the less expensive cassia. So it’s darker in colour and has a more aggressive flavour. I’ve had many questions about Sri Lankan food, is it similar to Indian food, hotter, spicier…..? In fact it is a wonderful melange of Indian, Indonesian and Dutch flavours reflecting the countries history as a spice producer and trading post over several centuries.

In this column I will introduce you to some of my favourite Sri Lankan dishes.

Sri Lankan Beetroot Curry

Serves 4

2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

50g (1¾oz) red onion, chopped

5 Curry leaves

8cm (3inch) piece of cinnamon stick

500g (1lb 2oz) beetroot, peeled and cut into 4cm (1½in) cubes

1½ teaspoon untoasted curry powder

10 fenugreek seeds

5 green chillies

225ml (8fl.oz) coconut milk, whisked

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Put oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat, add the chopped garlic, onion, curry leaves, curry powder and cinnamon to the pan, stir and cook for 2 minutes.   Then add the beetroot, stir and add the fenugreek seeds,  chillies and some salt.   Bring to the boil, add the coconut milk, and continue to cook for about 20 minutes or until the beetroot is tender.  Season to taste. 

Sri Lankan Carrots with Shallots and Green Chilli

Shallots add extra sweetness to this simple spiced carrot dish which can be fully prepared ahead and gently heated later.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil

60g shallots peeled and chopped

450g medium carrots peeled and cut into 2cm dice

½ green chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

½ teaspoon freshly ground fennel seeds

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper (a few grinds)

175ml coconut milk, from a well-shaken can.

Put the oil into a heavy, low sided pan and set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and green chilli. Stir and fry for about 2 minutes or until the shallots have softened a bit. Add the carrots, cumin, coriander, fennel, cayenne pepper, turmeric, salt and pepper and continue to fry, stirring at the same time, on a medium heat for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer very gently for 15- 20 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.

Shredded Chicken and Toasted Coconut Salad

Salad


500g (18 oz) shredded free range chicken
3 tablespoons finely shaved coconut flesh
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 red chilli
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
3 tablespoons mint leaves, shredded
2 tablespoons coriander leaves
3 finely sliced shallots
5 kaffir lime leaves, very finely shredded
6 shallots fried

Dressing

100ml (3½ fl oz)  coconut cream
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
3tablespoons lime juice
1 red chili,  thinly sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves,  thinly chopped

For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together except the fried shallots. Adjust the seasoning to taste with more fish sauce or lime juice accordingly.
Salad, mix together all the ingredients with some of the dressing, pile in a bundle on the plate then sprinkle the fried shallots and some more coconut shavings. Finish with a drizzle of the dressing and serve immediately.

Cinnamon Swirls

For cinnamon scones, just roll out the dough to 1 inch (2.5cm) thick and stamp or cut into scones and dip the egg – washed tops in cinnamon sugar.

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

Egg Wash (see recipe)

Cinnamon Sugar

2oz (50g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon for the top of scones

Cinnamon Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.

First make the Cinnamon Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon together and beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best

hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick. 

Spread the soft cinnamon butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 2 inches (5cm) thick.

Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in cinnamon sugar.  Put onto a baking sheet fairly close together.

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven. 

Ahilya Iced Tea

Makes

2 litres (3 1/2 pints) of water

2 small pieces cinnamon or cassia slivers

2 black cardamom

25 cloves

230g (8 1/4oz) granulated sugar

2 English breakfast tea bags

juice of 7 limes (200ml/7fl oz approx.)

In a saucepan, bring the water to the boil with the spices, sugar and tea bags.  Remove the tea bags.  Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, add the juice of 7 limes or less depending on size.

This iced tea can last for 5 days. Serve chilled with 2 mint leaves in each glass of iced tea.

Orange Blossom Iced Tea 

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/6 1/4 cups) water
2 Earl Gray tea bags

225-300ml (8-10fl oz) base sugar syrup 
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
4 springs of fresh mint
1 orange, cut in thin slices, skin and all

Bring the water to a boil in a pan, add the tea bags and stir around. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for 15 minutes.

Remove the tea bags, add the sugar syrup and blossom water and stir to mix. Decant into a bottle or jug and push in the mint sprig and orange slices. Place in the fridge to cool entirely. Serve with loads of ice.

Pimp your tea – crush some fresh mint leaves at the bottom of a lowball glass, add a shot or two of rum, top up with ice and iced tea and lots of ice.

Sugar Syrup

200g (7oz) sugar

200ml (7fl oz) water

1 tablespoon glucose or honey 

Mix everything together in a small pan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes.  Leave to cool, then transfer to a clean bottle or other container and store in your fridge for up to a week.

Cinnamon Meringue with Plums and Cream

If the plums are ripe and juicy there’s no need to poach them, just stone and dice.

Serves 6

2 egg whites, preferably free range

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1/2 scant teaspoon of powdered cinnamon

Filling

300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream

225g (8oz) poached plums, drained (see recipe)

Garnish

little sprigs of mint or lemon balm

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease.

Mark 2 x 7 inch (19cm) circles on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet.  Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Add all the icing sugar except 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons). Whisk until the mixture stands in firm dry peaks. It may take 5-8 minutes. Sieve the cinnamon and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.

Divide the mixture between the two circles and spread evenly with a palette knife.  Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until set and crisp.  Allow to cool.

For this recipe poach the plums for 20 mins approximately.  Allow to get cold, then drain (save the syrup for a plum jelly or use as a base for ‘plumade’.  (Note: half the poached plum recipe will be adequate (see recipe below).

To assemble

Sandwich the meringues together with the drained poached plums and whipped cream, reserving a little fruit and cream for decoration.    Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream.  Garnish with little sprigs of mint or lemon balm.

Note

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

Poached Plums

Poach the plums whole, they’ll taste better but quite apart from that you’ll have the fun of playing – He loves me – he loves me not!  You could just fix it by making sure you take an uneven number!  Greengages are delicious cooked in this way also.

Serves 4

350g (12oz) sugar

450ml (16fl oz) cold water

900g (2lbs) fresh Plums, Victoria, Opal or those dark Italian plums that come into the shops in Autumn

Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, bring slowly to the boil. Tip in the plums and poach, cover the saucepan and simmer very gently until they are about to but not quiet beginning to burst.  Turn into a bowl, serve warm with a blob of softly whipped cream.  Divine!

*The poached plums keep very well in the fridge and are delicious for breakfast without the cream!

Note: If plums are sweet use less sugar in syrup

Irish Tea Barmbrack

This is a more modern version of barmbrack, now commonly called a ‘tea brack’ because the dried fruit is soaked in tea overnight to plump it up (rather than boiled as in the recipes above). This little gem of a recipe is much easier to make at home than the Halloween Barmbrack (see recipe).

Even though it is a very rich bread, in Ireland it is traditionally served sliced and buttered.

Yields about 12 slices (eat the crusts, too!)

110g (4oz) sultanas

110g (4oz) raisins

110g (4oz) currants

50g (2oz) natural glace cherries, halved or quartered

300ml (10fl oz) hot tea

1 organic egg, whisked

175g (6oz) soft brown sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1 level teaspoon mixed spice

50g (2oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

450g (1lb) loaf tin – 12.5 x 20cm (5 x 8in) OR 3 small loaf tins 15 x 7.5cm (6 x 3in)

Put the dried fruit and cherries into a bowl. Cover with hot tea and leave to plump up overnight.

Next day, line the loaf tin with silicone paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Add the whisked egg, soft brown sugar, flour and mixed spice to the fruit and tea mixture. Stir well. Put the mixture into the lined loaf tin.

Cook in for about 1 1/2hours or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Keeps very well in an airtight tin.

World Bee Day…

Monday next, May 20th, is World Bee Day, so a whole column this week on honey, nature’s most delicious, interesting and bio diverse sweetener.

Honey has long been prized for its medicinal properties, now backed up by modern medicine and a growing body of scientific research. I’m a big honey aficionado….

Ancient Ireland was known as the Land of Milk and Honey and coincidently the name Ballymaloe means the Townland of Sweet Honey. The anglicized version of the Irish Baile Meal Luadh – meal means honey and luadh means soft or sweet. These names entered into the language over 2,000 years ago and would always have reflected a particular attribute of that place. So Ballymaloe must have been well known for the quality of the honey from surrounding the area.

Here at Ballymaloe Cookery School we have some hives in the pear and apple orchard looked after by our local bee keeper… beautiful honey…

Both honey and bees are utterly intriguing, the colour, flavour and aroma of honey reflects the flora from which the bees collect the nectar. Heather honey tastes and smells quite different from mixed flower or apple blossom, ivy, rapeseed…..

Honeys from further afield have their own distinctive taste. Lavender honey captures the aromatic essence of the lavender plant as does chestnut, orange or acacia blossom. Honey from pine forests which I also love, tends to be more resinous and a deeper amber colour.

The New Zealanders did a brilliant marketing job on Manuka honey when they discovered that is was most effective in killing antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA. But it’s not the only honey with these and many other healing attributes. Raw honey is increasingly being used to treat, difficult to heal, wounds and burns. Other studies have shown its efficacy as a cough soother.

Raw honey is the term used for honey that has not been heat treated to extract the honey from the combs. It still has its full complement of antioxidants, enzymes and antibacterial properties. It looks paler in colour, and sets almost solid in the jar. Here in Ireland we have an astonishingly wide range of honeys. Check out the local bee keeper/s in your parish. I seem to favour honey from small local producers. Talk to the beekeeper, hear the story, each honey will taste different and contain the antibodies and enzymes of the area, which help to counteract eczema and hay fever. Look out for city bee keepers too. The Dublin Honey Project is intriguing as is Belfast Bees;  there are similar projects in London, Paris, New York, Sydney ….

How about keeping bees yourself? It’s really thrilling to have your own honey. It’ll be slightly different every year depending on what the bees are feeding on and the prevailing weather. If the idea of doing the bee keeping yourself doesn’t appeal, contact your local bee keeper, they are often delighted to have few more hives. Particularly in an organic garden or on a rooftop in an urban or rural area where there are little or no pesticides…. Scientists are now convinced that neonicotinoids have been damaging vital bee colonies and have a dramatic impact on eco systems that support food production and wild life.

The EU banned the use of neonicotinoids in 2018 after a major report from EFSA concluded that the widespread use of these chemicals is in part responsible for the plummeting number of pollinators, vital for global food production – they pollinate ¾ of all crops. Finally,  governments appear to be listening to their citizens concerns, so hopefully the bee numbers will begin to recover. Nature given half a chance has an amazing ability to heal and regenerate.

Honey is not only brilliant lathered on toast, I regularly add a spoonful to savoury dishes, dressings and salads to balance acidity and add a sweet- sour element. Chefs are caramelizing honey to add a bitter note to some desserts….Have several types in your pantry, so you can experiment with different characteristics. We love to have a whole honey comb for our guests at breakfast and if you’re crafty you can make a candle from the left over wax….

Here are a few suggestions for some of my favourites…

Toasted Granola

A toasted grain cereal

Serves 20

12oz (350g) honey

8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower

1lb 1oz (470g) jumbo organic oat flakes

7oz (200g) organic barley flakes

7oz (200g) organic wheat flakes

3 1/2oz (100g) organic rye flakes

5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas

5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted

2 3/4oz (70g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes

2oz (50g) chopped apricots, (chopped dates are nice too)

toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious

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

Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!

Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.

Salad of Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Rocket Leaves and Local Honey

Such a simple combination but surprisingly delicious.

Serves 4

4 handfuls rocket leaves

2 soft Ardsallagh Goats cheeses

1 tablespoon best quality local honey

maldon sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

olive oil

1 lemon

Divide the rocket leaves between 4 large plates or 1 large flat serving plate.  Slice or dice the goat’s cheese and sprinkle on rocket leaves.  With a teaspoon, drizzle the honey over the rocket and cheese in a grid pattern.  Drizzle the salads with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Finally, season with sea salt and black pepper and serve.

Kinoith Garden Salad with Mustard and Honey Dressing

The herb and vegetable gardens beside the Ballymaloe Cookery School are bursting with a myriad of lettuce and salad leaves and edible flowers. The gardens are open to the public every day except Sundays.

A selection of fresh lettuces and salad leaves:

eg. Butterhead lettuce

Oakleaf lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

Lollo Rosso

Frisee

Mesclum or Saladisi

Red Orah

Rocket (Arugula)

Edible chrysanthemum leaves

Wild sorrel leaves or buckler leaf sorrel

Wild garlic leaves

Salad Burnet

Pennywort

Borage or Hyssop flowers

Young Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Marigold Petals

Chive or wild garlic flowers

Herb leaves eg. lemon balm, mint, flat parsley, golden marjoram, annual marjoram, tiny sprigs of dill, tarragon or mint.

Green Pea Shoots or Broad Bean tips

Tiny Chard & Beetroot leaves

Mustard and Honey Dressing

150ml extra virgin olive oil

50ml white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons honey

2 heaped teaspoons wholegrain honey mustard

2 cloves garlic crushed

First make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.

Wash and dry the lettuce and salad leaves.  If large, tear into bite sized bits. Put in a deep salad bowl, add the herb sprigs and edible flowers.  Toss, cover and chill in a refrigerator until needed.   Just before serving toss the salad in just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten, save the remainder of the dressing for another day.

Salad of Beetroot with Raspberries, Honey and Mint

Serves 4

2 cooked beetroot, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandolin

24 raspberries

16 small mint leaves

honey

extra virgin olive oil

lemon juice

Maldon sea salt

cracked black pepper

Divide the sliced beetroot between 4 white plates.

Cut some of the raspberries in half lengthways and some in cross section slices, and scatter over the beets. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Dress the salads evenly with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle on the tiny tender mint leaves and serve.

Note

I sometimes place a few teaspoons of thick yoghurt or labne on the salad when assembling.

If the mint leaves are a bit coarse as they sometimes are in late Summer, remove the spine, roll and slice into a chiffonade instead.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes and Honey

Serves 4

This wonderful Moroccan dish, which Claudia Roden gave us, derives its special flavour from the tomatoes in which it cooks ( there are mountains of them which reduce to a thick sauce ) and from the honey which comes in at the end.

1 free-range chicken

3 tablespoons butter or oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 onion, grated

1 clove garlic , crushed

1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼  teaspoon ginger

A pinch of saffron (optional )

1 ½  kg ( 3lb ) very ripe tomatoes , skinned and cut into pieces or 3 tins x 14ozs

2 tablespoons honey (with a good perfume like Hymettus )

For the garnish

50g ( 2oz ) blanched almonds ( optional)

oil (optional)

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

It is considered more elegant to cook and serve the chicken whole but more sensible to cut it into pieces . Claudia prefers to cut it into quarters as this ensures that the flesh is impregnated with the sauce at all times .

Put the pieces in a large pot with the butter or oil, salt, pepper onion, garlic and spices , and the tomatoes Cook gently , covered, stirring and turning the chicken over frequently until it is so tender that it can be easily pulled off the bone.

Remove the chicken and reduce the tomato sauce further to a thick cream

which sizzles in the separated fat. Stir often and take care that the bottom does not stick or burn when the tomatoes begin to caramelize. Then stir in the honey and put the chicken back to heat it through.

Fry the almonds in oil or toast them and toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan or under the grill.

Serve the chicken hot covered with the sauce and garnish with almonds and sesame seeds.

Rachel’s Date and Almond Honey Cake

This fantastically dense, moist cake has echoes of sticky toffee pudding. It contains no refined sugar, all the sweetness coming from the honey and dates, while the wholemeal flour imparts its lovely nutty flavour.

Serves 6–8

100g (3oz) chopped dates


200g (7oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

200g (7oz) honey, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling

3 eggs

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

125g (4 1/2oz/generous 1 cup) wholemeal flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

20cm (8 inch) diameter cake tin with 6cm (2 1/2 inch) sides

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, then butter the sides of the cake tin and line the base with a disc of baking parchment.

Place the tin on a baking sheet, as some butter may seep out during cooking if you are using a spring-form cake tin.

Place the dates in a saucepan and pour in 50ml (2fl oz) of water. Set over a high heat and cook for 2–3 minutes or until soft, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Cream the butter and the 200g (7oz) of honey until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds until just mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter and honey mixture, beating all the time.

Stir in the cooked dates, along with any remaining cooking liquid, followed by the ground almonds, then add the flour and baking powder and fold in gently to incorporate. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the surface gently with a palette knife, then scatter the flaked almonds evenly over the top.

Place in the oven and bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. It will be quite dark-looking, but don’t worry – the cake will be perfectly moist inside.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cake from the tin before transferring to a cake stand or plate.

Use a skewer to pierce a few holes in the top of the cake, then drizzle over the 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of honey and allow to cool before cutting into slices to serve.

A Response to Vera…

A few weeks ago I got a letter from a regular reader who hails from County Kerry – a busy ‘working’ Mum, who tells me that she loves many of my simple recipes but complained that of late, the recipes were a bit ‘cheffy’ and not for the average working family with ravenously hungry teenagers returning home from college. “They want plenty of delicious, home cooked meals, not tiny exotic dishes”.

By coincidence, the week before the recipes were from the Guild of Irish Food Writers Awards so were indeed ‘cheffy’ and time consuming. Vera gave me a nice ‘long wish list’ of suggestions – a healthy brown loaf, a nice saucy casserole, a few one pot dishes, a large, easy chocolate cake, a few tray bakes and tasty ways to cook Irish grown vegetables.

How about swede turnips, cabbage and carrots? Good girl yourself, Vera – love to hear people wanting to go out of their way to buy Irish produce.

“How about a savory bread and large quiche, a tasty lasagna and salads?” she asks…..

There were more than enough requests to keep me going for several columns. I love to get letters like this, it stops me in my tracks and reminds me to include more delicious simple recipes in my column – almost back to my Simply Delicious days – Thank you Vera…..

By coincidence, I had just sent the final proofs of a new book, that should be in the shops next September, into my publishers, One Pot Feeds All – I wrote this book especially for all of you super busy people who dash home through the traffic, tired and exhausted from work, pick up a bag of groceries but still want to cook a wholesome meal from scratch or your family.

So there are 130 delicious lunch recipes for one pot, one casserole, one roasting tin, coming your way later this year. Home cooking is by far the most important in the end.  Meanwhile I’ll get started on Vera’s list which I hope many other readers will also enjoy….

Brown Soda Bread in a Tin

This is a more modern version of Soda Bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin.  This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted. We use Howard’s One Way flour for this but seek out Macroom and Dunany Organic Flour also, each have their own unique flavour.

Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g (14ozs) stone ground wholemeal flour or a wholemeal flour of your choice

75g (3ozs) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon salt

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

1 egg, preferably free range

1 tablespoon arachide or sunflower oil, unscented

1 teaspoon honey or treacle

425ml (15fl ozs) buttermilk or sourmilk approx.

sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Loaf tin 23×12.5x5cm (9x5x2in) OR 3 small loaf tins 5.75 inches (14.6cm) x 3 inches (7.62cm)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey and buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins – using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top. Bake for 60 minutes approximately (45-50 minutes for small loaf tins), or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

Swedes and turnips are ridiculously cheap and super versatile, this soup is filling, nutritious and super delicious. Drizzle it with parsley or wild garlic oil and you’ve got a chic starter worthy of a posh dinner party.

 Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

110g (5oz) potatoes, diced

350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk to taste

Parsley Oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50g (2oz) parsley, chopped

Garnish

fried diced bacon or chorizo

tiny croutons

flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley

First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

 Next make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked.  Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. 

 To Serve.

Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Super Quick Buttered Cabbage

 This method takes only a few minutes to cook but first the cabbage must be carefully sliced into fine shreds.  It should be served the moment it is cooked.

1 lb (450 g) fresh Savoy cabbage

1-2 oz (25-50g/1/4-1/2 stick) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

a knob of butter

Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage.  Divide into four, cut out the stalks and then cut into fine shreds across the grain.  Put 2-3 tablespoons (2-3 American tablespoons + 2-3 teaspoons) of water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt.  Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes.  Toss again and add some more salt, freshly ground pepper and a knob of butter.  Serve immediately.

Chicken Paprikash

In Hungary, Paprikash would be served with nokedli, similar to German spaetzle but pasta or mashed potato works well also.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons lard (traditional) or clarified butter

1.8 Kgs organic, free range chicken thighs and drumsticks (bone in for extra flavour)

250g (9oz) onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

500g (1 lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

250g (9oz) large red pepper, seeded and diced (approx. ½ inch)

450 mls (16 floz) chicken stock

3 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika or 2 tablespoons sweet paprika and one of smoked paprika

Generous teaspoon of salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper

250g tub sour cream (crème fraiche)

2 floz double cream

60-80g (2 – 3oz) Roux

Flat leaf parsley, coarsely snipped

Melt the lard or clarified butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Brown the chicken pieces in batches on all sides, transfer to a casserole. Add the diced onion, garlic, tomato and pepper to the frying pan, toss for 2 – 3 minutes, add the paprika, salt and freshly ground black pepper ( careful not to burn the paprika or it will be bitter).

Add to the chicken in the casserole. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock. Stir and bring to the boil to dislodge all the flavour from the pan. Pour into the casserole, bring back to the boil and simmer for 40 -50 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Strain the liquid off the Paprikash, add the crème fraiche and cream, bring back to the boil thicken with roux to a light coating consistency. Pour over the chicken, return to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with snipped flat leaf parsley and serve with pasta or mashed potato.

Note: this stew becomes even better when made a day or two ahead and reheats brilliantly.

Cynthia’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

From the Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen.

In 1945 the young Farmers’ club of America – the ‘4H  Clubs’ inaugurated the International Farm Youth Exchange scheme (IFYE).  They sent young delegates to stay with farming families in Western European countries and too young European farmers back in exchange.  These young people are always well informed and skilled in the crafts of the farm and farm home.

In 1955, a young American girl called Cynthia Recird came to stay with us at Ballymaloe under this scheme.

One day she undertook to cook family lunch and produced her ‘Cocoa Cake’ for sweet which became standard fare in Ballymaloe.

Makes 36 bites/19 squares/12 slices

225g (8ox/1 3/4 cups) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch of salt 

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

50g (2oz) cocoa

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) sugar

110g (4oz/1 stick) softened butter

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) sour milk or buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

2 organic eggs 

Chocolate Icing 

300g (10oz/2 1/4 cups approx) icing sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa

2 teaspoons melted butter 

35ml (1 1/3fl oz/scant 1/4 cup) coffee

cocoa for dusting 

300ml (10fl oz softly whipped cream)

Line a 22.5cm (9 inch) square tin or

3 x 17.5cm sandwich tins with parchment paper

Sieve the dry ingredients together into the bowl of a food mixer.  Add the soft butter, buttermilk and vanilla extract.  Beat for two minutes.  Add the eggs one by one.  Beat for a further 2 minutes.  Fill into the prepared tin or tins.  Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  

Sieve the sugar and cocoa together.  Beat in the butter and moisten with coffee to a spreading consistency. 

Ice the top and sides of the cake or sandwich the two rounds together with the icing.  Cut into squares or slices.

Serve with softly whipped cream.

Lemon Drizzle Squares

Who doesn’t love lemon drizzle – problem here Vera, they’ll snaffle them far too fast!

 Makes 24

 6oz (175g) really soft butter

5oz (150g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6oz (175g) self-raising flour

Lemon Drizzle

freshly grated rind of 1 lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1-2 lemons

4oz (110g) castor sugar

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) swiss roll tin, well-greased or lined with parchment paper

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

 Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well buttered tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. Meanwhile mix the ingredients for the glaze. As soon as the cake is cooked, pour the glaze over the top, leave to cool. Cut into squares.

Note

In Winter when the butter is harder to cream, we add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to lighten the mixture and texture.

Sustainable Food

The word sustainable is quite the buzzword nowadays, endlessly bandied about in conversations about climate change, food security, the state of the oceans, farming and food but what exactly do we mean by sustainable food….and where can we source it?

Food is unquestionably the crucial issue of our time. Some forms of food production are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for 1/5 of all global carbon emissions.

It’s a key driver of resource depletion, species and bio diversity loss. Food production slurps up 70% of all fresh water.

At present, the priority in agribusiness is rarely to produce healthy wholesome food to nourish the nation, more often the primary focus is to produce the maximum amount of food at the minimum cost with maximum profit to the processor and retailer but rarely the primary producer.

Consequently, one in nine go hungry at a time in history when over 2 billion people are obese and half of all the food produced is wasted – an estimated 10 million tons….

Almost 2 million tons never even make it to the market as a result of the demands of supermarkets for uniformity and cheap food. That’s bad enough but it’s even more shocking to learn that 7 million tons are wasted in our homes. We appear to have far less regard or respect for food when it’s cheap. Easy come easy go in the rich world….whereas the poor count every grain of rice….

There are many reasons for these statistics, industrialisation has resulted in cheap food – ultra processed, convenient, time saving….but at considerable cost in health, socio economic and environmental terms.

The reality is that unless we are engaged in farming or food production, we have little understanding of the work that goes into growing or producing food. To many, it comes as quite a shock to realise that it takes at least three months to grow carrots, beets, or broccoli. Ask yourself, how can they possibly be sold for less than €1.00 a bunch? The answer is, it’s not possible to produce nourishing, wholesome, chemical free food for the price the farmers are being paid at present, We now imagine that cheap food is our right… a major problem, unrealistic and totally unsustainable yet everyone needs and deserves healthy wholesome food….

 Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but I really feel there’s a shift in consciousness.  Could it be that we are on the cusp of change ? Some millennials, at least seem more interested and prepared to spend a greater proportion of their income on healthy produce and are beginning to grow some of their own food….

But, how to create a sustainable food system….,it’s abundantly clear that business as usual is no longer an option….. Farmers are doing their best to respond and move to sustainable farming systems but a paradigm shift in thinking and methodology is required. They urgently need both financial support and knowledgeable advice…… Brussels and DAF urgently need to dramatically increase independent research into organic food production and regenerative farming methods which already tick all the boxes for both sustainable and healthy food production.

The current debate on what we should and should not eat and the trend towards veganism has further added to the confusion. Neither the FAO or Lancet Reports differentiated between organic, free range and intensively managed livestock and  poultry  which needs to be phased out. It is clear that we urgently need to replace farming systems that have destroyed the fertility of the soil since the post war period, rebuild biodiversity and create conditions to bring nature in the form of birds, wild life and pollinating insects back onto farms. We need to re-embrace mixed farming systems…..ruminants are the only animals that can turn cellulose into something we can eat and are essential for fertility building and a healthy diet.

Farmers, who want to move towards sustainable food production systems, will produce healthy, free range chicken, juicy and flavourful and free of chemical residues. These chickens will cost considerably more to produce  so inevitably chicken will become an occasional treat rather than the cheap commodity it is today…. Pork too will need to come from pigs that root outdoors and are fed on whey and antibiotic free food, delicious, tasty meat that we can, once again consume with a clear conscience, without worrying about animal welfare issues.

 In the UK, 50% of pigs are reared outdoors compared with 1% over here.

The reality is, if we don’t change our food production system we won’t have a planet that’s fit for our children and grandchildren to live on.

Education is a crucial part of the solution. Practical cooking must be a CORE subject in the national curriculum – it’s an essential life skill which no child should be allowed to leave school without being proficient in. At present our educational system is failing our young people in this area, it is not enabling our kids to make sense of the world they find themselves in or equipping them with the information – they need to know what to do about it. Education can change habits and attitude to food… It’s an uphill battle now but an urgent and essential consideration for the survival of the planet.

Everyone agrees we are in the midst of a crisis, so how can we be part of the solution? Each and every one of us can make a difference depending on how we decide to spend out food euros. Shop mindfully – seek out and buy food from farmers and food producers who are farming sustainably in a way that enriches rather than diminishes the fertility of the soil. Grow some of your own food and pass on your growing skills to your children and their friends.

Buy seasonal food directly from the producers at Farmers Markets. Join an organic vegetable box scheme.

Buy meat and poultry direct from the growing number of small farmers who are selling boxes of well hung, heritage breed beef, lamb and poultry. For contacts http://www.irishorganicassociation.ie/www.organictrust.iewww.neighbourfood.ie

 It doesn’t occur to most people to use the inexpensive humble cabbage for soup, yet of all the soups we make, the flavour of cabbage soup surprises many – it is unexpectedly delicious.  We use Greyhound or Hispi cabbage but crinkly Savoy cabbage works brilliantly later in the year.

Spring Cabbage Soup  

Serves 6

115g onions, chopped

130g potatoes, peeled and diced

250g spring cabbage leaves, shredded and chopped (stalks removed, grate stalks for coleslaw)

55g butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

850ml light chicken stock

50-125ml cream or creamy milk

Chorizo crumbs or Gremolata (optional for serving)

First prepare all the vegetables, then melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, toss them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a cartouche and the lid of the saucepan, sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes until soft but not coloured.. Add the hot stock and boil until the potatoes are tender.  Add the cabbage and cook uncovered until the cabbage is just cooked – a matter of 4 or 5 minutes. Keep the lid off to preserve the bright green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour.

Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk before serving.  Serve alone or with sprinkling of chorizo crumbs or gremolata over the top (optionl).

If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling will spoil the colour and flavour.

Here again, one has the option of serving a chunky version of the Spring Cabbage Soup.

Freezing

Freezes perfectly for 2-3 months, but use sooner rather than later.

 Wild Garlic Tortillitas à la Patata

Sam and Jeannie Chesterton of Finca Buenvino in Andalucia, introduced me to this little gem.  I keep wondering why it never occurred to me before, they are so easy to make and completely addictive – kids also love them and they make perfect little starter snack or bites to nibble with a drink. If you don’t have wild garlic, a mixture of chives and parsley is also delicious.

Makes 26 (Serves 5 – 6)

4 eggs, free range and organic

225g cooked potatoes in 5mm dice

3 tablespoons finely chopped wild garlic

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Aoili (see recipe)

Extra virgin olive oil for frying, you will need about 5mm in the frying pan.

Maldon Sea salt for sprinkling.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the potato dice, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the freshly chopped wild garlic.

Heat about 5mm extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan on a high heat, cook a teaspoonful of mixture and taste for seasoning.

Correct if necessary.  

Continue to cook the mini tortillas as needed, using a scant dessertspoon of the mixture. Allow to cook on one side for about seconds, flip over and continue to cook on the other side for a similar length of time, or until slightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle with a few flakes of sea salt and wild garlic flowers if you have them.

Serve hot, or at room temperature with a blob of Aioli.  

Wild Garlic Aoili

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

8 fl ozs (225ml) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 6 fl ozs (175ml) arachide oil and 2 fl ozs (50ml) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

2 tablespoons of freshly chopped wild garlic leaves  Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, garlic salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil

Six Ways with One Chicken…

Big fuss on Prime Time recently when An Taisce’s Green Schools Programme with support from the National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme recommended that schools implement ‘Meatless Mondays’ and encourage children to eat less meat and dairy. The IFA were up in arms and the ensuing debate only served to confuse viewers even further.

So what to do……there’s no denying climate change, it’s a blatantly obvious reality in all our lives and each and every one of us has a responsibility to play our part to mitigate it in our own little way. Cooks and chefs can combat climate change by actively sourcing their product from farmers and food producers who farm sustainably in harmony with nature and by working towards a zero waste policy. The same principals apply to the rest of us, but back to the furore. The farming community overall are responding positively to the challenge and are doing their best to move to more sustainable farming systems but meanwhile there’s nothing to be gained from ‘shooting the messenger’. Best to concentrate on producing the very best meat and dairy products, delicious, nutrient dense food that consumers can truly trust, grass fed, chemical free and free from residues of antibiotics. I’m often asked what exactly is the definition of grass fed? Difficult to get an answer…..

Nonetheless, whether we like it or not it’s time to accept that reduced meat consumption is a trend that is definitely here to stay. Note that multi millions of dollars are being invested in the meat substitute industry. That is not going to change anytime soon so let’s put our efforts here in Ireland into producing REAL quality not quantity and charge enough for it. One can of course be super healthy on a vegetarian diet provided one can source nutrient dense organic vegetables and grains.

I myself am, what’s nowadays termed as a flexitarian and a very happy one at that. I love vegetarian dishes and also eat lots of ‘accidently vegan’ food but love good meat, poultry and fish. However I’m super careful about the quality of the meat and fish I eat. I go to considerable lengths to source organic, free range chicken – considerably more expensive but cheaper in the end because I can get six meals from one plump chicken and a fine pot of broth which in itself is ‘super food’. I also try to find lamb from a local butcher who can find a sheep farmer who finishes his lambs on grass rather than concentrates, the difference in the sweetness of the meat is palpable.

I search for beef from our native breeds, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Poll Angus, Shorthorn, Dexter or Moilie. I’m looking for a rich beefy flavor when I enjoy a small steak, a stew and indeed the crucially important offal or organ meats as they are referred to by the excellent Weston A Price Foundation, whose Wise Traditions podcasts and guidelines for optimum nutrition are worth checking out. https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/

However, it’s really important to remember our farmers who labour day in day to produce the food that nourishes us….. Many are having a really tough time at present, struggling to meet the challenges coming from all directions – the uncertainty caused by Brexit, rising production costs coupled with lower and lower prices at farm gate as the supermarkets force the prices ever lower to provide their customers with cheaper and cheaper food.

We urgently need ‘true cost accountancy’ so consumers understand that cheap food is a myth in health terms and socio economic terms. As tax payers we pay many times over to provide subsidies to support what are in many instances unsustainable systems, to clean up the environment, and our rivers and lakes and to fund the health service.

So the real price of the item is invariably 4 or 5 times the price on the shelf. The biggest threat to our health and food security is the low price of food at the farm gate. Famers, particularly small farmers, are leaving the land in droves all over the world, sad and disheartened because they simply cannot produce the nourishing wholesome food, we say we want for the price they are being paid for it. We are sleep walking into a gargantuan crisis. The non-farming communities  are generally unaware that farmers are fortunate to get 1/3 of the retail price and lucky to be paid months later. What other section is expected to sell their product or services below an economic level and survive…..

I happen to believe that dairy products and good meat and fish are vitally important elements in our children’s diets and am a great fan of butter and organic raw milk from a small dairy herd. It’s interesting to note that the demand for raw milk is growing steadily as people become aware of it’s extra nutritional elements and flavour. Despite the perception it is not illegal to sell raw milk in Ireland, it is available at several Farmers Markets and small shops. Check out Mahon Point Farmers Market, Midleton Farmers Market and Neighbourfood to name a few……

However, in this column I’ll try to persuade you to invest in a beautiful, plump, organic chicken and here’s how to get superb value and 6 delicious meals for two people from it…..

www.cookingisfun.ie

https://www.instagram.com/darina_allen
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How to joint a chicken into four pieces:

Use a filleting or boning knife, and put your index finger along the back of the blade. Use the thumb of your opposite hand as a guide so you can feel where to cut.

•        Put the chicken on a chopping board with its legs away from you.

•        Remove the wishbone from the neck end (add to the stockpot).

•        Turn the chicken around with the legs and cavity towards you.

•        Cut through the loose skin between the left leg and the breast.

•        Push the left leg down with your thumb and upwards with your four fingers to break the ball-and-socket joint.

•        Turn the bird onto its side and cut around the oyster piece so it remains attached to the leg. Ideally remove the drumstick, thigh and oyster in one piece, leaving as little meat as possible on the carcass.

•        Cut along the edge of the left side of the breastbone to loosen the white meat. Using long, sweeping movements, remove the breast in one piece with the wing attached. (Alternatively use a poultry shears to cut through the breastbone and ribs. This adds extra flavour – particularly for a casserole.)

•        Chop off the pointed wing tips and discard if the chicken has been intensively reared; otherwise use in the stockpot or use for a chicken wing recipe.

•        Cut off the pinion at the first joint and keep for the stockpot.

•        Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side.

•        Chop the carcass and put into the stockpot.

How to joint a chicken into eight pieces:

•        Joint the chicken as per the above instructions.

•        Put one leg skin-side down on a chopping board.

•        Divide the leg into two by cutting through the line of fat at the knuckle between the thigh and drumstick. Repeat with the other leg.

•        Cut the wing from the breast.

•        If desired, detach the skin from the breast by pulling it gently away from the flesh.

•        Cut the breast into two pieces at an angle.

•        Repeat with the second breast.

To prepare a chicken breast

Detach the fillet and cook it separately or use it for another recipe, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish. If the chicken breast is to be pan-fried, you may want to remove the skin; however, if the chicken is free-range and organic the skin is delicious when slowly cooked in a low oven for 20 minutes or so, until crisp.

To prepare chicken wings

If still attached to the carcass, cut the entire wing off the chicken. With the blade of the knife at an angle, cut through the cartilage and joint between the third and second joint. Detach the first joint pinion from the middle joint with a quick chop and add it to the stockpot.

To make Chinese drumsticks or buffalo wings use the wing piece closest to the body. If you have a chopper, chop the end off the narrow bone. Alternatively, cut through the skin around the narrow end of the bone (closest to the middle joint). Push the flesh back down along the bone with the back of your knife, and turn it inside out so it covers the bone at the other end. Marinate and cook as desired.

Sticky Chicken Wings with Fresh Mint

Who doesn’t love chicken wings, use the tips in the stock pot.

Serves 4

16 organic chicken wings

Marinade

2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

6 tablespoons Soy Sauce

1 generous tablespoon honey

a drizzle of olive or sunflower oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8-10 fresh mint leaves

Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl, add the chicken wings and toss well, allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.

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

Spread the wings on a baking tray just large enough to take them.

Cook for 20 to 30 minutes turning occasionally until cooked through, golden and sticky.  Add some of the marinade to the try.  Put the remainder in a saucepan, reduce to a thick glaze – add the chicken wings and toss.  Sprinkle with shredded fresh mint leaves and serve warm, alone or with a green salad.

Real Chicken Nuggets

Everyone loves these crispy chicken nuggets made from local free-range or organic chicken, so much more nutritious. Get the children to help you make them – they love tossing the chicken in a bag of breadcrumbs. Serve with some home-made tomato sauce or relish.

Serves 4                                          

225g (8oz) bread (brown or white)        

1 organic or free range egg                              

125ml (4floz) whole milk                                 

450g (1 lb) organic chicken breast or boneless thighs cut into nuggets

150 g (6 ozs)   flour, seasoned with salt and pepper                  

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6

Cut the crusts off the bread. Break into pieces and whizz to fine crumbs in a blender or food processor. Put the breadcrumbs onto a flat plate or into a recycled plastic bag.

Whisk the egg in a large bowl with the milk. Put the well-seasoned flour onto another flat dish. Take one piece of chicken at a time and toss in seasoned flour, then coat with beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Repeat with all the chicken pieces.

Arrange the crumbed chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until browned and crisp and cooked through.

Chicken Breasts with Parmesan

Serves 6

This recipe is simplicity itself but everyone loves it.  It’s also delicious if you smear a little mustard over the chicken breasts before covering them with cheese. It’s also good plain.  You might like to drizzle a little cream on top too for extra wickedness!

3-6 boneless organic chicken breasts (depending on size fillet removed)

milk

a little Dijon mustard

50-75g (2-3oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Coolea Farmhouse Cheese from West Cork is also delicious)

25-40g (1/4 – 1/3 stick) melted butter

Piperonata (see recipe)

If there is enough time soak the chicken breasts in milk overnight – this will make them wonderfully tender and juicy.  Next day drain and dry on kitchen paper (use the milk for a parsley sauce).

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Brush an ovenproof dish with a little melted butter. Spread a little mustard over each chicken breast.  Arrange in a single layer in the dish and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cover with Parmesan cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden on top and just cooked through in the centre. 

Serve immediately with Piperonata and a good green salad.

The chicken breasts from Mary Regan’s Organic chickens are so large that I cut them in half at an angle crossways and get two fine helpings from each.

Piperonata

This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.

Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, sliced

a clove of garlic, crushed

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares.  Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Sticky Chicken Thighs with Soy and Ginger Sauce

Spiced drumsticks are also lip smackingly good.

Serves 10

Marinade

225ml (8fl oz) soy sauce

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

3 tablespoons  honey

3 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 chillies finely chopped

10 free-range and organic chicken thighs

Accompaniment

cucumber wedges

green salad

sweet chilli sauce

lime wedges

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl or pie dish.  Slash the skin of the chicken thighs.  Put into a pie dish, cover with the marinade and turn well to coat.  Cover and keep refrigerated for at least an hour or even overnight.

To Serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F/gas mark 4.  Drain the chicken pieces and save the marinade for basting.  Arrange skin side up in a roasting tin.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approximately and then baste every 10 minutes or so with some of the extra marinade.

Serve with cucumber wedges about 6cm (2 1/2 inches) long and cut at an angle, green salad, lime wedges and a bowl of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Stevie Parle’s Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups

A past pupil of the Ballymaloe Cookery School now a famous London chef shared this recipe, one of his family’s favourites. This is a super recipe for minced chicken (or turkey). We love this way of eating – wrap some of the spicy chicken in a lettuce leaf and enjoy, so moreish.

A great starter or canapé

Serves 4-6

50g/2oz of vermicelli rice noodles

Vegetable oil

4oz (50g) red onion, chopped

1 red chili, deseeded and sliced

½ small bunch of coriander, roots chopped and leaves separated

1oz (25g) ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

350g/12oz chicken mince

½ teaspoon of crushed white pepper

2 tablespoon hoisin

1 tablespoon soy

3 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 Castelfranco or Butterhead lettuce, separated into leaves

3 spring onions, shredded

2 handfuls of peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Bring a pan of water to the boil, pour over the vermicelli and leave to soak for five minutes. Pour into a sieve and rinse under cold water. Chop into small lengths and put to one side.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the onion, chilli, coriander roots, ginger and garlic and stir fry until softened. Remove from the pan, then add another small splash of oil to the pan and turn up the heat.

Lightly season the chicken or pork, then add to the hot pan and fry for a few minutes until cooked through. Return the ginger, etc, to the pan and add the noodles, white pepper, hoisin, soy, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil.

Cook for another minute, then take off the heat and stir in the coriander leaves. Check the seasoning and adjust to suit your tastes. Place a heaped tablespoonful into the centre of each lettuce leaf, then top with the spring onions and peanuts.

Crispy Chicken Skin with Plum or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce

This recipe is only worth doing with an organic chicken. The idea of eating chicken skin may frighten some, but it’s soooo yummy. You’ll soon become addicted – just don’t live on it!

skin from organic chicken breasts

sea salt

Plum Sauce

or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce (mix Sweet Chilli Sauce with freshly squeezed lime juice to taste)

Peel the skin off the chicken breasts. Cut the skin into pieces about the size of a business card (if the pieces are reasonably even they will be more manageable to eat later). 

Preheat the oven to 120Cº/250ºF/Gas Mark 1/2.

Spread the chicken skin upwards on a wire cooling rack on a baking tray. Cook for 25–30 minutes, until the skin is irresistibly crisp and the fat has rendered out. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with a little bowl of plum or lime and sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Madhur Jaffery’s Creamy Chicken Korma with Almonds

Serves 4

“I happen to like dark meat so, given a choice, I would use only chicken thighs for this recipe.  However, many people prefer light meat, including two members of my own family.  Whatever chicken parts you choose, all legs must be cut into two parts (leg and thigh) and each breast must be cut across the centre into two parts.  You could also use a whole chicken, cut into serving pieces and then skinned.”

5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 inch (2½ cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2oz (50g) blanched, slivered almonds

5 tbsp olive or canola oil

2 bay leaves

8 cardamom pods

4 cloves

1 inch (2½ cm) cinnamon

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp ground coriander

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp tomato puree

3lbs (1½kg) chicken pieces, skinned and cut into serving portions

1¼ tsp salt

3 tbsp single cream

½ tbsp garam masala (see recipe)

Put the garlic, ginger, almonds and 6 tablespoons water into an electric blender and blend until you have a smooth paste.  Put the oil in a wide pan set over medium-high heat.  When very hot, put in the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon.  Stir for 10 seconds.  Put in the onion.  Stir and fry until the onion pieces turn brown.  Turn the heat to medium and add the paste from the blender as well as the cumin, coriander and cayenne.  Stir and fry for 3-4 minutes.  Add the tomato puree and stir for a minute.  Add the chicken pieces, salt, cream, garam masala and 150ml (5fl oz/¼ pint) water.  Cover and bring to a simmer.   Turn heat to low and simmer gently for 25 minutes.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you all! What extraordinary weather we’re having as we spring into Summer and back into Winter again. Just a few mornings ago there was a bitter frost and then a glorious Summer day…..The leaves of my poor little beetroot seedlings got frizzled in the garden so I hope they’ll recover…

This weather ‘roller coaster’ is kinda spooky…Normally the pale yellow stalks of sea kale are in season in April but this year we’ve been harvesting them from under the cloches for over a month, in fact the crop is almost finished. Even more extraordinary is our asparagus crop usually in season in May. This year we ate the first meal at the end of February and have had several cuttings since.

Super charged, climate change whether cyclical or man-made or a combination of both is a terrifying reality, however as a consequence, this Easter we can enjoy not just the first of the rhubarb but both Irish asparagus and the last of the seasons sea kale.

In every village shop and on the high street, the shelves are groaning with Easter eggs, ever cheaper and if the truth be known, less good chocolate in many. As we scramble for the cheaper and cheaper food, I can’t help thinking about the poor cocoa bean farmers, who are forced to take less and less for their raw materials – price takers, not price makers…

As with Christmas, the blatant excess and consumerism makes me deeply uneasy and almost feel queasy. Somehow it makes me focus even more on the true meaning of the Feast of Easter, I vividly remember a time when we all fasted throughout Lent and took on a penance of our choice. We ‘gave up’ sweets or ‘the drink’ or some other secret obsession….and then there was the satisfaction of having kept to our resolution and the joy of the first bite of an Easter egg on Easter Sunday after Mass or Church – one lovely little chocolate egg that we ate morsel by morsel often over several days.

The hens in our ‘Palais de Poulets’ have gone into overdrive, they hate the cold, wet Winter days, and only lay haphazardly but coming up to Easter they start to lay again with gay abandon so if you have a few hens and I hope I’ve managed to persuade you by now to have a little moveable chicken coup on your lawn – you can enjoy dipping those tender asparagus spears into a freshly boiled egg or try this Easter Sunday Benny….

Pam has already made the traditional Simnel Cake with a layer of marzipan in the centre and 11 balls on top to symbolise the apostles. Yes, I know there were 12 but Judas doesn’t make it to the top of the cake…

We’ll roast a shoulder of sweet succulent Easter lamb and enjoy it with the already prolific spearmint in the herb garden and then of course there will be a juicy rhubarb tart. This year I’m using the Ballymaloe cream pastry recipe, it sounds super decadent and is but it’s extraordinarily good and super easy to make so don’t balk at the ingredients – just try it!

Easter Eggs Benedict with Asparagus

This recipe is a combination of two forgotten skills: poaching eggs and making Hollandaise sauce (which also involves eggs). It is the perfect breakfast for a lazy weekend.

Serves 4

Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)

4 – 8 organic eggs

4 slices good sourdough bread a homemade yeast bread

butter

12 stalks of asparagus

First, make the Hollandaise sauce and keep it warm. Poach the eggs. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slather a little butter on the hot bread and lay 3 slices of cooked asparagus on the base. Prop a beautifully poached egg on top and coat generously with the Hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

A classic Hollandaise is based on a reduction of dry white wine, vinegar and finely chopped shallots. In the version we make at the Cookery School we simply emulsify rich butter with egg yolks by whisking and then sharpen with a little lemon juice. Unless you have a heavy-based saucepan, don’t attempt this recipe without a bain-marie. Even on the lowest heat, cooking a Hollandaise sauce in a pot that isn’t heavy-based may scramble the eggs.

Once the sauce is made, it must be kept warm, though the temperature should not go above 80ºC (180ºF), or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale; otherwise put the sauce into a Pyrex jug in a saucepan of hot, but not simmering, water. Hollandaise sauce cannot be reheated very 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 potatoes. When it solidifies, it makes a delicious Hollandaise butter to melt over fish.

Serves 4–6

2 organic egg yolks

125g (4 1/2oz/scant 1 1/4 sticks) cold butter, cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the egg yolks in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan on a low heat or in a bowl over hot water. Add 2 teaspoons 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 to cool it quickly. 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, then 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 base of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

To prepare and cook the asparagus:

Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do.

To boil:

Tie similar sized bundles of asparagus in bundles with raffia.  Choose a tall saucepan.

Cook in about 2.5cm of boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt to every 600ml) in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily.  Drain and serve immediately as above.

Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb with Wild Garlic Champ & Myrtle’s Mint Sauce

Shoulder of lamb is easily available and here the shoulder is cooked whole with just a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. If the shoulder is excessively fatty, as may be the case later on in the lamb season, trim some of it off, or ask your butcher to do it for you.

Serves 8-10

1 whole shoulder of lamb on the bone, weighing 3.6kg (8lbs)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

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

Place the lamb shoulder in a wide roasting tin or oven tray with the skin side up. Score the skin several times to encourage the fat to run out during the cooking and to crisp up the skin. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes before turning the temperature down to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 for a further 3 1/2 hours.

To test if the lamb is cooked to a melting tenderness, pull the shank bone and it and some of the meat should come away easily from the bone.

When the lamb is cooked, remove from the oven. There will be plenty of fatty cooking juices. Strain these off the roasting tin through a sieve into a bowl. Keep the lamb warm in the oven with the temperature reduced to 100°C/200°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

When the fat has risen to the surface of the lamb cooking juices, skim off the fat carefully and thoroughly with a large spoon.

Bring the juices to a simmer and taste and correct seasoning.

To serve the lamb, a tongs or serving fork and spoon is the best way to remove the meat from the bones.  Prise largish pieces off the bones and serve on hot plates with some of the hot cooking juices.

Wild Garlic Champ

Serves 4-6

A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with wild garlic leaves and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best.

1.5kg (3lb) unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

Add 50-75g (2-3oz) roughly chopped wild garlic leaves

350ml (10-12fl oz) milk

50-110g (2-4oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.

Pour the milk into a pot and bring slowly to the boil.  Add the wild garlic leaves to the milk just as it comes to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.  Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and wild garlic, beat in the butter.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre.  The mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.  Cover with parchment paper while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin.

Mint Sauce

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 oz)

Serves about 6

25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

110ml (4fl oz1) 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 Rhubarb Tart

Serves 8-12

Ballymaloe Cream Pastry

This pastry keeps in the fridge for up to 6 days.

110g (4oz) cold salted butter

110g (4oz) plain flour

150ml (5floz) cold cream


Filling

680g (1 1/2lb) red rhubarb

275-340g (10-12 oz) sugar approximately

 

Egg Wash

1 beaten free-range organic egg with a little milk, to glaze

1 x 23cm (9 inch) tin with 4cm (1 ½ inch) sides

First make the pastry. Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric food mixer. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour using the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a coarse texture (slow speed and then a little faster).  (DO NOT over mix, if you do the mixture will form a shortbread like ball! Pour the cold cream into the coarse mixture and mix on a low speed until a smooth pastry forms. Wrap the pastry in parchment paper and chill overnight.

Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle! Roll out half the pastry to about 3mm(1/2 inch) thick and line a round tin measuring 20.5 x 30.5cm (8 x 11.5 inches).

Slice the rhubarb into 1 cm rounds, fill the tart and sprinkle with the sugar.

Roll the remaining pastry, cover the rhubarb and seal the edges.  Decorate with pastry leaves. Paint with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 until the tart is golden and the rhubarb is soft (45 minutes to 1 hour).  When cooked, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Note: This tart can also be filled with Bramley apples, gooseberries and elderflower, Worcesterberries, damsons, plums, blackberry and apples, peaches and raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries as they come into season.

Easter Egg Nests

These are a lovely simple fun recipe to make with the children or grandchildren over the Easter holidays.

Makes 24

4ozs (110g) Rice krispies

6ozs (175g) Chocolate

72 mini eggs

cup cake papers or ring moulds

Put the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Bring just to the boil, turn off the heat and allow to melt in the bowl.  Stir in the rice krispies.

Spoon into cup cake cases.  Flatten a little and make a well in the centre.  Fill with three speckled chocolate mini eggs.  Allow to set. 

Where to Eat in New York….

I spent a week in New York over the St Patricks’ Day festival. Even though the primary reason was to do events and interviews to promote Ireland and my latest book, Darina Allen, Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection, (quite a mouthful!), so it was also a brilliant opportunity to check out the New York and Brooklyn food scene. I am regularly asked to share my New York list so here are some of my favourite spots and new finds.

Brooklyn, just over the bridge from Manhattan has many tempting options, one could spend ones entire week checking out different exciting spots. I love Roman’s, Marlow & Sons, The Diner, Hometown Bar B Que and I also hear good things about Ugly Baby but we chose Chez Ma Tante this time, and had a super delicious Sunday brunch, in fact so good that I and wished I’d been able to get back for dinner. We particularly loved the oysters with parsley oil and yuyu, a 3 inch high kale quiche with a bitter leaf salad, chips with aioli, stracciatella with toasted almonds, raisins, preserved lemons and marjoram with sourdough toast, but the stand out dish was their craggy meltingly rich corn pancakes with maple butter. There are pancakes and there are pancakes but these were by far the best I ever tasted, sweet, salty, crisp and buttery on the outside, soft melting and irresistibly gritty inside. Definitely one of the highlights of the week with pure Vermont maple butter melting over the top.

Chez Ma Tante, 90 Calyer Street, Brooklyn.

Tiny, Japanese panelled restaurant called Hall is another little gem in the Flatiron. The juicy Washu (not wagyu) beef burger served deliciously pink on a brioche bun was particularly delectable and only $5.99.

You also need to know about Superiority Burger, a tiny cult café on 430 East 9th Street, in the East Village. It’s a veggie burger spot and to quote the forthright chef owner Brooks Headley “occasionally vegan by accident”! In this kitchen the produce is superb, don’t miss the must-get Superiority burger. Different specialities every day including homemade gelato and sorbet. There’s very little seating and often a queue but worth it. Unquestionably one of the best restaurants in lower Manhattan and surprisingly cheap for the quality.

I Sodi and Via Carota in the West Village are two of my enduring favourites. I love the simple rustic but always edgy food that much loved chefs, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams offer. Their version of cacio e pepe, the creamy peppery Roman pasta dish, is the best in New York and here’s the spot to also enjoy  a homey plate of braised tripe. No reservations at Via Carota, it’s open till midnight so is particularly worth remembering for late night dining.

King on King’s Street is wowing New Yorkers with their seasonal Italian menu – home style cooking with a daily changing menu. The light is particularly wonderful at lunch time in the chic but cosy dining room with the bonus of beautiful art on the walls.

La Mercerie Café and Roman and William’s Guild is a café on 53 Howard Street in Soho and a luxury design store, super chic, expensive but worth checking out.

I also returned to both Café Altro Paradiso and Cervo’s, another favourite with lots of small plates, great salads and cocktails. I particularly loved the tortilla with butter beans and chorizo.

Daily Provisions on East 19th is my all-time favourite breakfast or brunch spot, certainly the very best house-cured bacon and egg sandwich in New York. They serve it in a brioche bun, both the texture and flavour are totally delicious. Don’t miss the gougère filled with mushrooms or spinach scrambled eggs. The lively little Parisian style café, Buvette, on 42 Grove Street is also top of my list. Super coffee, viennoiserie and little plates and then there’s Maialino for many good things but if you haven’t already had their cacio et pepe scrambled eggs with sourdough toast put it on your bucket list.

This time I sat at the counter and had a few little snacks, loved the grilled organic chicken hearts on rosemary skewers and the white bean puree with sage pesto, espelette pepper and carta musica. www.maialinonyc.com

La Mercerie Café, 53, Howard Street, in Soho.

There’s lots more but all of the above are favourites of mine….For upcoming courses and events at Ballymaloe Cookery School check out…

Cacio e Pepe Scrambled Eggs

Inspired by the delicious cacio e pepe scrambled eggs at Maialino.

Serves 4 

15g (1/2oz) butter

8-10 organic eggs 

50ml (2fl oz/1/4 cup) milk and cream, mixed

50g (2oz/1/2 cup) Pecorino, grated

1 tablespoon (1 1/4 American tablespoons) freshly cracked best quality black pepper 

salt 

chargrilled sourdough bread or toast 

Whisk the eggs with the milk/cream and salt.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan.  Pour in the egg and cook over a medium hear stirring continually with a straight ended wooden spoon.  As soon as it begins to scramble, add the cracked pepper and grated Pecorino.

Continue to cook for another couple of minutes until cooked to a soft loose scrabble.  Taste, adjust the seasoning.

Turn out onto warm plates, sprinkle with a little more Pecorino and serve with grilled bread or toast.

Stracciatella with Raisins, Toasted Almonds, Preserved Lemons and Marjoram

Stracciatella is soft creamy cheese made from Buffalo milk in Bergamot near Puglia. It has a similar texture to the centre of Burrata.*

Serves 6

110g (4oz) toasted almonds, coarsely and unevenly chopped

110g (4oz) plump raisins

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

35-50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) preserved lemon, coarsely diced (see recipe)

Espelette or Aleppo pepper

225g (8oz) stracciatella

flaky sea salt

fresh annual marjoram leaves

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

Blanch and peel the almonds, spread out on a baking tray and toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. (You can also do this in a frying pan on a medium heat.) Set aside to cool, then chop coarsely and unevenly.

Put the raisins into a little bowl, cover with boiling water and allow to plump up for 10 – 15 minutes.

Drain and dry the raisins, put into a bowl with the toasted almonds and diced preserved lemon. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, toss gently.

To serve, put a couple of tablespoons of stracciatella onto a serving plate, spoon some of the raisin, almond and preserved lemon mixture on top. Scatter with annual marjoram leaves. Sprinkle with a little pinch of Espelette or Aleppo pepper and flaky sea salt. Serve with a few pieces of sourdough toast. Repeat with the other plates.

*Note: If stracciatella is difficult to source, buy the best mozzarella you can find, coarsely chop and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of rich cream. Marinade for an hour or so.

Superiority Burger

Makes 8 – 10 patties

200g (7oz) of red quinoa

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

2 teaspoons ground toasted fennel seeds

1 teaspoon chilli powder

200g of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

150g (5oz) diced carrots

25g (1oz) coarse breadcrumbs

75g (3oz) walnuts, toasted and crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon hot chilli sauce

2 tablespoons non-modified potato starch

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for frying patties

To Serve

Toasted Buns, shredded lettuce, roasted tomatoes, pickles, Muenster cheese (if you like sauces honey, mustard, or a sauce of your choice.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F)

Cook the quinoa in 300mls (10floz) of salted water until fluffy, about 45 minutes, cool and reserve.

In a separate pan, sauté the onion until translucent and browned, and season with salt and pepper, the fennel seeds and chilli powder.

Add the chickpeas and keep on the heat for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Deglaze the hot pan with the white wine vinegar and scrape everything stuck to the bottom of the pan back into the mix.

Using a potato masher, roughly smash the onion-chickpea mixture. Mix the chickpea mash by hand with the cooled quinoa.

Roast the carrots in the oven until dark around the edges and soft, about 25 minutes.

Add the carrots to the chickpea-quinoa mixture. Add the breadcrumbs, walnuts, lemon, parsley, and chilli sauce and season again with salt and pepper, until it tastes sharp.

Mix the potato starch with 1 tablespoon of water to create a cloudy, thick slurry. Fold the slurry into the burger mix as the binding agent.

Form the mixture into 8 to 10 patties and sear in oil in a hot frying pan or cast iron skillet until fully browned, about 3 minutes on each side.

To serve, place each patty on a toasted bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, Roasted Red Tomatoes, 2 pickle slices, Muenster cheese (if you like), and sauces such as honey mustard or of your choice.

Taken from Superiority Burger Cookbook by Brooks Headley

Thrice Cooked Chips with Aioli

 Almost everyone who ate at Chez ma Tante in Brooklyn ordered these chips, they come piled high on a plate, piping hot and crisp with a bowl of garlic aioli for dipping on the side.

Serves 4-6

4 -6 large potatoes (Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks)

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until almost fully cooked.  Peel, cut into chips to desired size.

Heat dripping or good quality oil to 160ºC/320°F. 

Cook the chips in batches until golden, drain well.

Note: (do not overload the basket, otherwise the temperature of the oil will be lowered, consequently the chips will be greasy rather than crisp. Shake the pan once or twice, to separate the chips while cooking).

To Serve

Heat the oil to 190ºC/375ºF and fry once more until crisp and a deep golden colour.  Shake the basket, drain well, toss onto kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, pile high on a serving plate and serve with a bowl of aioli on the side for delicious dipping.

Variation

Dripping Chips

Cook the chips in dripping rather than oil.

Note: make sure the deep-fry has plenty of dripping. 

Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise)

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

8 fl ozs (225ml/1 cup) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 6 fl ozs (175ml/3/4 cup) arachide oil and 2 fl ozs (50ml/1/4 cup) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1

2 teaspoons of freshly chopped parsley (optional)

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, garlic salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Add the chopped parsley. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

If the aioli curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons  of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled aioli, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.

A Food Lovers Weekend in Paris

The Paris restaurant scene has sprung back into life. That may sound like a bizarre observation considering its reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world. However, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Paris sat haughtily on its laurels, ignoring the food revolution that was taking place from Sydney to LA. The Michelin starred establishments continued to hike up their prices serving predictable food with lots of foams, gels and ‘skid marks’ on the plates, plus liquid pearls, powders, swirls and fronds unaware or un-phased by the change in millennial eating habits and taste.

Then Daniel Rose opened Spring in 2006 and Greg Marchand followed in 2009 with Frenchie on Rue-de-Nel –  a breath of fresh air, simple fresh contemporary food made with superb ingredients. The media and customers flocked eager for change and the revolution was born and so it continues.

As criticism grows about the astronomical prices and poor value for money offered by many of the Michelin starred restaurants, a whole plethora of tiny restaurants, bistros, cafés and coffee bars have sprung up all over the city, serving small plates and sharing platters of simple delicious food. I squashed into as many as possible over a busy weekend in Paris recently – most don’t take reservations so you’ll need to be prepared to queue but all of the following are worth the wait.

Here are my top picks:

La Buvette on Rue Saint-Maur, not to be confused with another of my favourites, Buvette in Manhattan. This tiny restaurant chalks up the menus on a mirror on the wall – close to the tiny open kitchen. I loved the huge meltingly tender white haricot beans with cedre zest and extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt. This was followed by a tiny burrata rolled in mandarin dust and a super coarse terrine with pickled pears and some sourdough bread. I still had room for the pickled egg with black sesame and bonita flakes. I love this kind of food, edgy and delicious but possible to recreate at home.

Sometimes you only need to be famous for just one thing….In the case of tiny Comme à Libonne on Rue du Roi de Sicile in Le Marais it’s their Portuguese custard tart. There will be a queue all along the sidewalk. They bake just 24 tarts at a time…they are snapped up like the proverbial hotcakes. If you are lucky there may be space along a tiny shelf in the shop to enjoy with a cup of espresso with your little treat.

Fed up and disheartened by ‘no shows’, many of the chicest places no longer take bookings. There was an hour and a half wait for Clamato, a seafood restaurant on Rue de Charonne. So we had a little plate of some saucisson and a couple of glasses of natural wine  from their superb list at Septime, a tiny wine bar across the road.

Eventually we gave up on Clamato and had dinner at Semilla, a much talked about and now super busy restaurant serving modern French food.

Veal sweetbreads with salsify confit was the stand out dish rather better than some of the more bizarre combinations e.g. sea urchins with coffee mousse.

Watch Parisians shop, there are numerous markets around Paris, check out the nearest Farmers Markets to where you are staying by searching for Farmers Markets on Google Maps. On Sunday, the organic market on Rue Raspail is worth an amble although, quality didn’t seem as good as hitherto.

There are many coffee bars serving superb brews. Try Télescope on 5 Rue Villedo but it’s closed on Sunday. Farine & O on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoin  and Ten Belles on Rue de la Grange aux Belles are also worth a detour. As is Boot Café, a hole in the wall on Rue du Pont aux Choux.

Mokonuts, on Rue Saint-Bernard is a definite favourite, can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch or dinner. It’s a tiny café run by Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem. Loved the labneh on toast with olives and the flatbread with sumac and melted scarmosa on top. They also make what is perhaps the best chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie I have ever eaten, plus superb coffee.

E Dehillerin on Rue Coquillière is like Hamleys or Smyths Toys for cook and chefs. Every time I visit, I feel like a kid in a candy shop surrounded by tempting cookware and gadgets in this ‘no frills’ store which has remained pretty much the same  since it first opened in 1820, narrow aisles, wooden shelves and  metal  canisters full of superb quality utensils. Just around the corner on Rue Montmartre, you’ll find M.O.R.A., another iconic cook and bakeware store, that also sells a huge range of cake decorations and baubles for pastry chefs  Both shops are geared towards culinary professionals but also welcome keen cooks.

Paris is full of exciting patisserie; swing by Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie, Courou in the Marais and La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet on Rue de Castiglione

L’As du Fallafel on rue des Roses is justly famous for its falafel.

Sunday brunch was at Racines, a bistro in the charming Passage des Panoramas Arcade

A whole series of little plates of real food from the chalk board, the least ‘cheffie’ but elegantly earthy comfort food. Loved his winter tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil or the pan grilled scallops on mashed potato and dill. No swirls, pearls, powder or fronds here, just real food and a suberb natural wine list.

Breizh Café on Rue Vieille du Temple, is another good spot for breakfast or lunch….

A long weekend is nowhere long enough and I haven’t even mentioned chocolatiers, cheese shops or cocktail bars. Daily flights to Paris from Cork, Dublin, Shannon….

 

 

Yemeni Style Falafel 

Sarit and Itamar shared this recipe with us at a recent visit to Ballymaloe Cookery School. They are returning this summer, see hot tips below for details…

Itamar is a quarter Yemeni on his grandfather’s side.  This falafel is a tribute to that heritage, and it is great – the traditional Yemeni combo of coriander, cardamom and garlic makes it super-vibrant in colour and flavour.

Makes 20 approximately (25g/1oz weight)

1/2 onion (approx. 60g/2 1/4oz)

1 clove of garlic (peeled)

250g (9oz) soaked chickpeas (125g (4 1/2oz) dried)

1 green chilli, seeds and all

3 springs of parsley, picked

1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g/1/2 – 3/4oz), leaves and top part of stems only

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom pods

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons garam flour (use plain if needs be)

1 teaspoon baking powder

 

To make the falafel

If using a meat grinder.

Use the coarse grinder blade if you have one we find it gives the best texture.  Cut the onion and garlic into dice so that you can easily feed them through the grinder.  Mince the chickpeas, onions, garlic, chilli and herbs into a bowl.

Add all the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix well to a very thick mass.

 

If using a food processor.

Start with the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and pulse them to chop roughly, then add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits.   You may need to scrape the sides down and blitz for another pulse or two to make sure that everything is evenly chopped, but do not overwork.  The best way to check whether it is done enough is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape.  If it falls apart, return it to the processor for another spin.  Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until all is combined well.

Preheat the deep fry 170C/325F.

Test the oil temperature by placing a small piece of bread or falafel mix in the hot oil – as soon as it starts to bubble up and float, you are ready to go.

You can shape the falafel mix in a few different ways:

Use damp hands and make little balls or torpedo shapes or you can simply drop in spoonfuls of the mixture for free-form falafel.  You want to be making them about the size of a walnut, no bigger, so that they cook through and crisp up at the same time.

Carefully place the falafel in the oil – don’t overcrowd the pan and fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes).  Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and repeat the process until you have fried them all.

Serve immediately with tahini (see recipe).

Tahini 

The quality of your tahini depends hugely on the type of tahini paste you use.

We use Al-Yaman from Lebanon which is delicious, but if you are lucky enough to find any of the Palestinian varieties, especially the Prince and Dove brands, you are in for a treat.  As a rule, you are looking for something from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey.

We make our tahini in a food processor, as it gives a smooth, airy, mousse-like texture, but you can achieve good results with a bowl, a spoon and some wrist action.

Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)

 

125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste

1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced

a pinch of salt, plus more to taste

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) water

Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to suit your taste buds.

Note

You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon.  As a result we think it’s best to make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.

Recipe courtesy of ‘Honey & Co – Food from the Middle-East’.

 

Scallops with Dill Mash and Beurre Blanc

A delectable combination, scallops are really good at the moment.

 

Serves 4

10 scallops

Clarified butter

900g (2 lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

300ml (10fl oz) creamy milk approx.

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

4 – 6 tablespoons freshly chopped dill

Beurre Blanc see recipe below.

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh dill and dill flowers.

Slice the scallops in half and keep the corals aside, cover and chill.

First make the dill mash. Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz/1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Add enough boiling creamy milk into the hot mashed potato to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the freshly chopped dill and then beat in the butter or olive oil, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Keep hot. Next make the beurre blanc.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey.

To Serve:

Heat a non stick pan. Sprinkle the scallops with a little flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook the scallops for 1 minute on each side, until they are barely coloured.

Spoon a dollop of hot dill mash on each plate. Scatter 5 – 6 pieces of scallop and 2 pieces of coral on top of the mash.

Drizzle some Beurre Blanc over the top and around the edge, add a few sprigs of dill and dill flowers if you have them and serve.

Beurre Blanc Sauce

Makes about 250ml (8fl oz)

Beurre blanc is super rich, however a little served with freshly poached fish is exquisite.

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

pinch of ground white pepper

1 tablespoon cream

175g (6oz) unsalted butter, diced

salt, freshly ground pepper

freshly squeezed lemon juice

 

Put the first four ingredients into a heavy stainless steel saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and reduce down to about a tablespoon.  Add 1 generous tablespoon of cream and reduce again until the cream begins to thicken. Whisk in the chilled butter a couple of piece at a time, keeping the sauce just warm enough to absorb the butter.  Season with salt, taste and add a little lemon juice if necessary.  Strain through a fine sieve.  Transfer to a pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. Keep warm until needed.

Useful Tip

Keep warm in a flask until needed. Beurre Blanc can curdle if the pan gets too hot.  If this should happen put 1-2 tablespoons of cream into a clean saucepan, reduce to about half, then vigorously whisk in the curdled mixture, little by little.  Serve as quickly as possible.  The flavour will be a little ‘softer’ so a little more lemon juice may be needed to sharpen it up and cut the richness.

 

Labneh on Sourdough Toast with Za’atar and Olives

This is my interpretation of the delicious Labneh Toast at Mokonuts in Paris.

Serves 2

 

2 slices of sourdough bread

1 large clove of garlic

4 tablespoons of Labneh (dripped natural yoghurt) (see recipe below)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons za’atar

4 black Kalamata olives, halved and stoned

Pinch of Aleppo pepper

1 generous teaspoon chopped pistachio nuts

 

First mix the za’atar, with the oil, chopped pistachio nuts, a pinch of Aleppo pepper and a little flaky sea salt.

Toast or pan grill the sourdough bread, rub with a cut clove of garlic. Spread with a generous layer of labneh, drizzle with the za’atar oil, add 4 black olive halves. Serve immediately.

 

Labneh (dripped natural yoghurt)

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

 

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.

 

1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt

 

To make the labneh, line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend the bag of yogurt over a bowl.

Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Jersey milk yogurt is thicker and needs only 2–3 hours to drip. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens or used for fermented dishes and in whey lemonade.

 

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Makes 24

 

1 large egg

2 egg yolks

115g golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

400ml whole milk

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

900g (2lb) puff pastry

 

Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

 

Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.

Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.

Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool.  Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs.  Press into the muffin tins.

Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top.  Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

 

Mokonuts’ Cookies

Dorie Greenspan managed to discover the secret of these cookies and shared it in the New York Times so here you go.

Makes approx. 20 cookies

Once the dough is made and formed into balls, it should be refrigerated overnight before baking. Fresh from the oven, the cookies are fragile; they firm as they cool. They’ll keep for about three days at room temperature or they can be frozen for up to two months; in either case, they should be wrapped well.

130g medium rye flour

85 all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon sea salt (grind in a pestle)

½ teaspoon baking soda

140g butter

100g sugar

100g light brown sugar

1 large egg

50g poppy seeds

80g moist, plump dried cranberries (plump in hot water)

110g bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (62%)

flaky sea salt

 

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

 

Mix the rye flour, plain white flour, baking powder, fine sea salt and baking soda in a bowl.

Cream the soft butter and both sugars together in a food mixer.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat well for a minute or two. Reduce the speed, add the dry ingredients, then mix until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 15 – 20 pieces, roll each piece into a ball (40g approx.) and arrange on the baking sheet leaving space for expansion, about 5cm (2 inch).

Note: Cover, and refrigerate the dough for an hour or better still overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)

Sprinkle each cookie with a little flaky salt.

Bake for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.

Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.

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