Darina’s Saturday Letter

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St Valentines

  1. Panna cotta 600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream 50g (2oz) castor sugar 1-2 vanilla pods, split lengthways 2 teaspoons gelatine 3 tablespoons water   Rose Water Cream chilled whipped cream rose blossom water (careful some brands a very intense) organic rose petals pistachio nuts       8 heart shaped (75-110ml (3-4fl oz), Coeur a la crème moulds, lined with cling film and brushed with non-scented sunflower oil lightly   Panna cotta Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pods and castor sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage.  Meanwhile, sponge the gelatine in the water.   Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved.  Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together.  Remove the vanilla pods, then pour into the moulds.  When cold cover and refrigerate (preferably overnight) until set.   To Serve Add the rose blossom water to taste to the cream. Sprinkle generously chopped pistachio nuts.  Decorate with rose petals.     Chocolate Carrageen Moss Pudding     Serves 4-6   ½ oz cleaned, well-dried carrageen moss (2 semi-closed fistfuls) 900ml (1 1⁄2 pints) whole milk 1 vanilla pod or 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 3 tablespoons cocoa 1 organic egg 2 tablespoons caster sugar   To Serve soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream or a compote of fruit in season   Soak the carrageen in a little bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes. It will swell and increase in size. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and the vanilla pod, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently, covered, for 20 minutes. At that point and not before, separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla extract, if using, and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrageen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. By now the carrageen remaining in the strainer will be swollen and exuding jelly. You need as much of this as possible through the strainer and whisk it into the egg and milk mixture. Blend cocoa with a little of the milk and add to the hot strained carrageen. Test for a set in a saucer as one would with gelatine. Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or fluff it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Serve chilled with caster sugar and cream.  
  2. Valentine’s Day Chocolate Almond Cake
  3. Gluten-Free Valentine’s Day Chocolate Almond Cake


V-Day is just around the corner once again. Shops are stocking up with cheesy cards, heart shaped everything and anything – from brooches and cushions to balloons and saucy underwear. Chocolatier’s  are working flat out to stock pile sweet treats for the Valentine’s day stampede and horticulturalists are coaxing their blooms to a state of perfection so there will be zillions of red roses to satisfy the love-lorn Valentines.

Everyone is in on the excitement, several bakers I know are making heart shaped loaves, “Tear and Share” ones are particular easy and fun to make at home.  Pizzaiolo’s like Philip at Saturday Pizza’s at Ballymaloe Cookery School are having fun with heart shaped pizzas …Where will it all end,  yet another commercial opportunity to capitalise on.

But instead of whinging, let’s all enter into the Valentine’s Day spirit. In my case I’ll give my patient hubby of 45 years an extra big hug and perhaps surprise him with a bowl of chocolate carrageen which he loves and I don’t necessarily share his enthusiasm for – true love comes in many guises…

Valentine’s Day was super charged when I was a teenager in an all-girl boarding school. This was a unique opportunity to impress your friends, so much depended on getting at least one Valentine card in the post. Several cards meant your status and popularity sky rocketed with your fellow classmates, wonder if it still the same…

If you haven’t booked a table for two at your favourite restaurant or one that you have been lusting after for ages it’s probably too late by now.

Nonetheless there couldn’t be a better time than St Valentine’s day to remind oneself, that a sure fire way to everyone’s heart is the same way as it always was and always will be,  through our tummies. Could be a few luscious cup-cakes, a heart shaped pavlova, a Valentine’s day chocolate cake or a romantic dinner for two in your place, a sure fire way to bring on a proposal, but consider the menu carefully, nothing too terribly extravagant or it may appear that you’ll be too expensive to keep.


Here are a few suggestions…

A comforting soup and a crusty loaf of freshly baked bread could do the trick, but oysters have always been considered to be an aphrodisiac, all that zinc does the trick… I love them au nature but if you’d prefer them warm try this version with a little horseradish cream, inspired by a dish I enjoyed at a restaurant called Fleet in Brunswick Heads near Byron Bay, Australia.

The choice of main  will depend on whether your intended loves a hunk of meat or is a veggie or vegan. Choose carefully…

Perhaps a little heart shaped goats cheese, with a green salad, Coeur De Neufchâtel, from The Pigs Back in the English Market would be delicious.
We’ve got lots of cute little heart shaped desserts, we made these delectable little panna cottas in coeur a la crème moulds. Decorated with rose water cream, rose petals and pistachio nuts – they are both adorable and delicious.

A homemade soda or cordial is also stylish, a few home-made crackers to accompany the cheese, easy to make and are mightily impressive; just serve them nonchalantly with the cheese.


Warm Oysters with Horseradish Cream and Chervil


Serves 6-8


24 Gigas oysters


Horseradish Cream (see recipe)



sprigs of chervil


First make the horseradish cream (see recipe), cover and chill.


To Serve

Preheat the oven to 250˚C/500˚F/Gas Mark 10.


Put the oysters into a baking tray on a bed of coarse salt.  Pop into the oven and cook until the shells just pop open.  Lift off the top shell.  Spoon about a dessertspoon of horseradish cream over the oyster.  Top with a sprig of chervil and serve immediately.  The oyster should be hot and the horseradish cream cold.  Serve on a bed of seaweed or coarse salt.


Horseradish Cream


Serves 8 – 10


3 – 6 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream


Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.  The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours.


“Tear and Share” Heart Bread

We use Dove’s organic white bread flour, the water quantity may vary for other brands.  This bread can be baked in loaf tins or made into plaits or rolls.


Makes 1”Tear and Share” heart

20g yeast

20g organic sugar

390g warm water

700g strong organic flour

25g butter

16g pure dairy salt


2 x loaf tins 12.5cm (5 inch) x 20cm (8 inch)

Crumble the yeast into a bowl, add the sugar and 390g of warm water (anything above 45C will kill yeast).  Mix and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.  Meanwhile, put the flour into a wide mixing bowl, add the salt, mix then rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add all the liquid ingredients to the flour and mix to a dough with your hand.  Turn out onto a clean work surface (no flour). Cover with the upturned bowl and allow to rest for 15-30 minutes.

Uncover, if it feels a little dry and tough, wet your hand, rub over the dough and knead by hand until silky and smooth – 10 minutes approximately.  Return to the bowl and cover with a damp tea-towel.  Allow to rise until double in size.


Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8

Turn out onto the work surface, knead for a minute or two and shape as desired.


Divide the dough into 4, shape 6 rolls from each piece. Shape into 32 small rolls less than 15g (1/2oz) each in weight and build into a heart shape on a baking tray.

Leave a little space between each one to allow room for rising.  Cover and allow to double in size.  Egg wash and bake in the preheated oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 10 minutes then reduce to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further 20-25 minutes.


Cool on a wire rack.




Puy Lentils, Spring Onion, Avocado, Chicory, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad


Serves 6-8


350g (12oz) puy lentils

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 chilli, finely chopped

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 head of chicory, thinly sliced

1 pomegranate

4 spring onions or scallions, sliced on the diagonal

2 ripe Hass avocados

12 walnuts, shelled

lots of flat parsley or wild Rocket leaves


Cook the lentils in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or until just tender, drain, toss in extra virgin olive oil, chopped chilli and freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Leave to cool.


Slice the chicory thinly across the grain.  Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the seeds.  Chop the spring onions on the diagonal.  Peel, stone and dice the avocado.  Add all four to the cold lentils, toss, taste and correct the seasoning.  Scatter with the shelled walnuts and lots of parsley or wild Rocket leaves.

Panna Cotta with Rose Water Cream, Rose Petals and Pistachio Nuts


Serves 8

Panna cotta

600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream

50g (2oz) castor sugar

1-2 vanilla pods, split lengthways

2 teaspoons gelatine

3 tablespoons water


Rose Water Cream

chilled whipped cream

rose blossom water (careful some brands a very intense)

organic rose petals

pistachio nuts




8 heart shaped (75-110ml (3-4fl oz), Coeur a la crème moulds, lined with cling film and brushed with non-scented sunflower oil lightly


Panna cotta

Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pods and castor sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage.  Meanwhile, sponge the gelatine in the water.


Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved.  Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together.  Remove the vanilla pods, then pour into the moulds.  When cold cover and refrigerate (preferably overnight) until set.


To Serve

Add the rose blossom water to taste to the cream. Sprinkle generously chopped pistachio nuts.  Decorate with rose petals.



Chocolate Carrageen Moss Pudding



Serves 4-6


½ oz cleaned, well-dried carrageen moss (2 semi-closed fistfuls)

900ml (1 1⁄2 pints) whole milk

1 vanilla pod or 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons cocoa

1 organic egg

2 tablespoons caster sugar


To Serve

soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream or a compote of fruit in season


Soak the carrageen in a little bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes. It will swell and increase in size. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and the vanilla pod, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently, covered, for 20 minutes. At that point and not before, separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the sugar and vanilla extract, if using, and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrageen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. By now the carrageen remaining in the strainer will be

swollen and exuding jelly. You need as much of this as possible through the strainer and whisk it into the egg and milk mixture. Blend cocoa with a little of the milk and add to the hot strained carrageen. Test for a set in a saucer as one would with gelatine.

Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or fluff it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Serve chilled with caster sugar and cream.


Valentine’s Day Chocolate Almond Cake


Bake in a heart-shaped tin for extra romance


4oz (110g) best quality dark chocolate (We use Lesmé or Val Rhona chocolate)

2 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum

4oz (110g) butter, preferably unsalted

3 1/2oz (100g) castor sugar

3 free-range eggs

1 tablespoon castor sugar

2oz (50g) plain white flour

2oz (50g) whole almonds


Rich Chocolate Icing

6oz (175g) best quality dark chocolate

3 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum

6oz (175g) unsalted butter


Rose petals


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.


Grease two x 7 inch (18 cm) heart shaped or sandwich tins and line the base of each with greaseproof paper.  Melt the chocolate with the rum on a very gentle heat, peel the almonds and grind in a liquidizer or food processor they should still be slightly gritty. Cream the butter, and then add the castor sugar, beat until light and fluffy.   Beat in the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.   Add 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of castor sugar and continue to whisk until they reach the stiff peak stage.   Add the melted chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture and then add the almonds.   Stir in 1/4 of the egg white mixture followed by 1/4 of the sieved flour.   Fold in the remaining eggs and flour alternatively until they have all been added.


Divide between the two prepared heart shaped tins and make a hollow in the centre of each cake.


IMPORTANT: Cake should be slightly underdone in the centre.  Sides should be cooked but the centre a little unset.  Depending on oven it can take between 19 and 25 minutes.


Chocolate Icing

Melt best quality chocolate with rum.  Whisk in unsalted butter by the tablespoon.   Beat occasionally until cool.  When the cake is completely cold, fill and ice with the mixture.   Pipe the remaining icing around the top and decorate with rose petals.



Gluten-Free Valentine’s Day Chocolate Almond Cake

Omit the flour and increase the whole almonds from 50g (2oz) to 110g (4oz) – proceed as in master recipe.

St Brigid


Time for St Brigid to be as big as St Patrick, after all neither of their lineages stands up to real scrutiny so no grounds for nit picking there but if what we can gleam from folklore and much repeated hearsay is to be believed Brigid was a feisty spirited entrepreneur and quite the role model for modern women. She is purported to be the patron saint of the dairy.

St Brigid’s day is still celebrated in virtually every school in Ireland; many of our local national schools also teach the children how to make the Crois Bríde or St. Brigid’s cross.

So on February the 1st, the beginning of Spring,  children’s nimble fingers wove green rushes into the little Brigid’s cross while they listen to the colourful story of Ireland’s female patron saint, Brigid, we are told, was born in 451 in Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian. It was thought that Brigid’s mother was born in Portugal but was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. The story goes that she converted a pagan chief in his last hours by explaining the story of Christianity as she wove a little cross from the reeds that were strewn on the bedroom floor (as was the custom circa 500A.D.).


The children’s St. Brigid’s crosses are stuffed into school bags and proudly brought home to bless the house and/or cow byre because this gentle saint was said to have loved her cows who gave a prodigious amount of milk which she distributed to the poor.

So this week, we will choose recipes made from milk, a magical ingredient with infinite possibilities found in everyone’s fridge. Milk be transformed into numerous products. Every country has its own traditions and Ireland was for ever famous for the quality and variety of its bán bia (or white meats, as dairy products are known in Gaelic) not surprising because in our climate we can grow rich nourishing grass pastures like virtually nowhere else in the world.


Chargrilled Lamb with Labneh, Pomegranate and Fresh Mint Leaves


Serves 1


1 slice of sourdough bread


50g (2oz) Labneh (110g, (4oz) natural yoghurt dripped overnight), seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper and freshly roasted cumin 1/4 teaspoon approximately.


110g (4oz) slice of leg of lamb or a lamb chop


1 generous tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of pomegranate seeds


fresh mint leaves, shredded


extra virgin olive oil


a few flakes of sea salt



Slice the lamb, Heat a frying pan or grill pan. Season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Cook until well seared on both sides.


Chargrill the bread, spread a generous layer of well-seasoned labneh on top. Cover with slices of the warm lamb and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.


A little shredded mint, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt complete the feast.

Chicken Poached in Milk


Cooking milk in milk produces the most delicious curdy liquid.  There is honestly no point in attempting this recipe if you cannot find a really good free-range chicken.  The lactic acid in milk has a tenderising and moistening effect on meat.  This recipe is of Italian origin where they also cook pork, veal and lamb in milk on occasions.


Serves 10-12


1.8kg (4lb) chicken (free-range and organic if possible)

a dash of extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

600ml (20fl oz/1 pint) milk approximately

thinly sliced peel from 1 lemon, unwaxed

1 teaspoon of slightly crushed coriander seeds or a small handful of fresh sage leaves

4 cloves garlic, cut in half

sprig of marjoram


Season the chicken generously with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole, large enough to fit the bird.  Brown well on all sides, remove to a plate and pour off all the oil and fat. Add the lemon peel, coriander seeds and garlic.  Return the chicken to the saucepan, add the milk, it should come about half way up the meat.  Add a sprig of marjoram or sage and bring to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours with the pan partially covered – after about an hour the milk will have formed a golden skin.  Scrape all this and what has stuck to the sides back into the milk, continue to cook uncovered.


The liquid should simmer very gently all the time.  The whole object of this exercise is to allow the milk to reduce and form delicious, pale coffee-coloured “curds” and a golden crust while the meat cooks.  When the chicken is cooked slice the meat and carefully spoon the precious curds over the top.


Old-Fashioned Milk Rice Pudding

A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold winter’s day. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School. It’s always the absolute favourite pudding at my evening courses.


Serves 6–8


100g (31⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)

40g (1 1/2oz) sugar

small knob of butter

850ml (1 1/2 pints) milk


1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish


Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.


Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 1/4–1 1/2 hours approximately (usually the latter but keep checking). The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have absorbed up the milk, but the rice pudding should still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time it so that it’s ready for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.


Three good things to serve with rice pudding:

  • Softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar
  • Compote of Apricots and Cardamom (see recipe)
  • Compote of Sweet Apples and Rose Geranium (see recipe)
  • Spiced Fruit (see recipe)



Melktert (Milk Tart)

Alicia Wilkinson from the famous Silwood Cooking School in Capetown generously shared this recipe with us.

 Serves 12

 For the crust:

125g (4 1/2oz) butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg

185g (6 1/2oz) flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence


For the filling:

35g (1 1/2oz) flour

3 tablespoons cornflour

2 tablespoons custard powder

1.2 litres (2 pints) milk

150g (5oz) white granulated sugar

2 eggs, separated

1 vanilla bean, split in half

2 teaspoons butter

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon


28cm (11 inch) fluted tart tin

baking beans


To make the crust, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.

Add the egg, flour, baking powder and vanilla and mix until combined.

Press the pastry into the tart tin and chill for 45 minutes.


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


Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper inside the pastry case so that the edges come over the rim and fill with the baking beans.

Bake the pastry case for 15 minutes or until the sides begin to colour.

Remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper and continue cooking the pastry case for 5 minutes to dry out the base.


To make the filling, mix together the flour, cornflour and custard powder, adding a little of the milk to form a smooth paste.

Place the remaining milk in a saucepan with the sugar, egg yolks, vanilla bean and the cornflour paste.  Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and baking powder and set aside.  Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Fold the whites into the custard mixture, then spoon into the pastry case, discarding the vanilla bean.

In a small bowl, stir together the caster sugar and cinnamon then sprinkle the mixture over the custard filling.


Place the tart in the refrigerator to set.




St Brigid’s Day Cake

We love this super delicious cake which we created especially for St Brigid’s day, green white and gold – how naff.

Serves 8


175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour


To decorate:

lemon glace icing

candied kumquat

wood sorrel leaves


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


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


First make the kumquat compote, see below.


Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.


Meanwhile make the icing, once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves.

Serve on a pretty plate.

Serves 8 to 10

Candied Kumquats


440g (15 3/4oz) caster sugar

500ml (18fl oz) orange juice or water

1kg (2 1/4lb) kumquats


We are big fans of kumquats, and when Maggie Beer was with us for the Ballymaloe Literary Festival in 2014 she demonstrated this delicious recipe.


To prepare the kumquats, bring the caster sugar and orange juice to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add the kumquats and bring back to the boil.  Simmer until the syrup is thick and the kumquats have collapsed and appear slightly translucent.  Store in glass jars in the fridge they should keep for a month or so and you’ll find lots of delicious ways to use them.


Lemon Glacé Icing


160g (6oz) icing sugar

finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon

2-3tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.


Buttermilk Pots with Primroses

from Darina’s new book Grow Cook Nourish


These buttermilk creams are also delicious with roast peaches, apricots, nectarines, or rhubarb in season.


Serves 6


2 sheets of gelatine (use 3 sheets of gelatine if you plan to unmould each one)

350ml organic buttermilk

60g caster sugar

1/2 vanilla pod

250ml cream



Fresh mint leaves


6 x 110ml glasses or white china pots


Soak the sheets of gelatine in cold water.


In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring 100ml of the buttermilk to the boil with the sugar and a vanilla pod.


Drain the softened gelatine sheets and discard the water.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the gelatine to the buttermilk and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool and whisk in the remaining buttermilk and cream.


Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the cream. Mix well. Pour into 6 small pots or moulds.  Cover and refrigerate until set.


To serve:

Sprinkle each little pot with primroses and a few fresh mint leaves.   Alternatively, unmould into a deep soup plate and garnish as above.








Jerusalem Artichokes



This is becoming a habit – a few weeks ago I wrote an entire column on the swede turnip, a humble inexpensive and ridiculously versatile Winter root. It got a tremendous response so this week I’m going to continue in the same vein and showcase Jerusalem artichokes. I know this is a vegetable that some may not have heard of but it’s really worth seeking out, better still plant some in your own garden. It’s a kind of a miracle veg; you plant one this year there will be at least ten or twelve next year. They look like knobbly  potatoes; they remain in the ground all winter and vary in colour from white to golden to purple.

Jerusalem artichokes are members of the sunflower family, Helianthus Tuberosus. Their US name is “sunchoke”. The foliage grows to a 2 metre and is often used as a hedge, windbreak or even a maze. It has a pretty yellow flowers in August brilliant for flower arrangements or scattered in a salad bowl.

But in this column we are concentrating on their culinary uses. Look out for them in greengrocers. We can’t seem to find the name of the heirloom variety we have grown at Ballymaloe for over half a century, it has an excellent flavour, children love their uneven shapes they look like strange creatures so cause lots of amusement and curiosity. They love them roasted, crisp and golden at the edges or in their skins. Like the humble swedes I wrote about a few weeks ago they are super versatile. They make a silky puree alone or mixed with mashed potato or a sweet apple puree that pairs deliciously with all sorts of things, particularly pheasant or venison or use as a base of a vegetarian dish and top with rainbow chard stalks and leaves, and some chunks of sautéed mushrooms, crisp slivered garlic, a sprinkling of nutty Coolea farmhouse cheese.  Despite their name, Jerusalem artichokes are not artichokes at all,  neither do they come from Jerusalem, their curious nutty flavour is reminiscent of an artichoke heart which has a wonderful affinity with fish particularly mussels and scallops.

They also mix deliciously with other winter roots either in a medley of roast vegetables. Peeled and cut into chunks, mix them with carrots, parsnip, celeriac, turnips… Toss in extra virgin olive oil  or even more delicious some duck or goose fat left over from Christmas. They also absorb the gutsy flavour of herbs like   rosemary and thyme, bay, sage and spices like cumin, coriander and garam masala. I’ve also included a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke soup – easy peasy to make and everyone will love it, if you have pernickty eaters in your family who are put off by the sound of something  odd or unfamiliar – just call it Winter vegetable soup and maybe up the quantity of the potato.

For a dinner party you can embellish it with chorizo crumbs (see my column of Saturday January 13th)  or a few slices of scallop or a few fat mussels as a garnish.

I’m crazy about Hugh Maguire’s smoked black pudding and found it pairs deliciously with slices of roast artichoke and some buttered leeks and a dice of sweet apple.


Just in case it comes as a surprise I should mention that they are hugely flatulent so very good for your gut biome. Peeling the older varieties can try your patience but the newer varieties are much smoother, I don’t bother to peel them at all when freshly dug or when  I decide to roast them, just cut lengthways or into thick rounds.

One other thing to know,  like artichokes  and celeriac they oxidise quickly when peeled so pop them into a bowl of acidulated water (add a squeeze of lemon juice) until ready to cook.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa


Serves 8-10


Jerusalem artichokes were a sadly neglected winter vegetable, but many people have discovered them in recent years.  We love the flavour and of course they are brilliantly nutritious – packed with inulin. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardeners point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!


50g (2oz) butter

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.



Avocado and Roast Hazelnut Salsa


1 ripe avocado, halved, stone removed, peeled and diced into neat scant 1 cm dice

3 tablespoons of hazelnuts, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons of hazelnut or olive oil

1 tablespoon of chopped flat parsley

Flaky  sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.


Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with avocado and roast hazelnut salsa.


To make the Salsa

Mix the ingredients for the avocado and hazelnut garnish. Taste and correct seasoning. This mixture will sit quite happily in your fridge for an hour as the oil coating the avocado will prevent it from discolouring.


Other good things to serve with Jerusalem Artichoke Soup


Chorizo Crumbs see my column on Saturday 13th January for the recipe

Artichoke Crisps

A few mussels or slices of scallop and a sprig of chervil, dice of smoked salmon and sprigs or flat parsley or chervil


Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

The winter vegetable is particularly good with goose, duck or pheasant. Here we half the tubers but they also work brilliantly cut into thick slices – more delicious caramelized surface to enjoy


Serves 4 to 6


450g (1 lb) Jerusalem artichokes, well scrubbed.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

a few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional


Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Cut the well-scrubbed artichokes in half lengthways. Toss them with the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt. Transfer to a roasting tin and cook cut side down for 20–30 minutes, when golden, flip over and continue to cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Test with the tip of a knife – they should be mostly tender but offer some resistance. Sprinkle with thyme or rosemary sprigs, season with pepper and serve.


Jerusalem Artichoke Purée with Chard, Garlic and Coolea Farmhouse Cheese


This smooth and creamy purée is excellent with pan-fried or grilled scallops.  It can also be used with game such as venison, pheasants and wild duck.  The trick to get a light and refined purée is to blend the vegetables while still hot.  Keep some of the strained cooking water which may be added to the vegetables when blending.

Serves 6 to 8

450g (1lb) Jerusalem artichokes (weighed after peeling)

450g (1lb) potatoes, scrubbed clean

25g (1oz) butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper

12-24 rainbow chard stalks, depending on size

8 garlic cloves or better still smoked garlic

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

3 to 4 dessert apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont, Russet or Romano

50 to 75gr (2-3ozs) Coolea or Pecorino cheese

flat parsley sprigs or fresh watercress


First make the purée.

Cook the artichokes and potatoes separately in boiling salted water until tender and completely cooked through.  Peel the potatoes immediately and place them with the hot artichokes in a food processer.  Add the cream and butter and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Blend until a silky consistency is achieved.  Taste and correct seasoning.


Peel and slice the garlic into thin slivers, cook until crisp and golden  in hot oil in a frying pan, drain on kitchen paper.

Prepare the chard, rinse under cold water and chop into stalks of 7 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inch) lengths.  Cook in well salted boiling water for just a few minutes until tender when the stalk is pierced with a knife. Drain, toss in extra virgin olive oil and keep hot.


Peel core and dice the apples into 1cm (1/3 inch) pieces, cook in a little melted butter over a medium heat, tossing until golden and tender.


To serve

Choose  deep bowls, put 3 to 4 tablespoons of hot velvety artichoke purée on the base.

Top with a few pieces of chard plus leaves (3/4).

Sprinkle with apple dice, crisp garlic slivers and some coarsely grated Coolea.

Scatter a few flat parsley leaves or watercress sprigs over each dish and serve ASAP


Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Smoked Almonds and Preserved Lemon Dressing

Once can also use roast slices here instead of a raw artichoke.

Serves 4



4 good handfuls of perky bitter lettuce leaves

2 small Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean

a little freshly squeezed lemon juice

110g (4oz) of smoked almonds, rough chopped *(see note at end of recipe)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup

a good pinch of sea salt

1/2 preserved lemon, seeds removed and finely chopped


Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together, add the preserved lemon.


Wash and dry the salad leaves.


Next, use a mandolin to slice the artichokes paper thin – otherwise slice with a very sharp knife.  Squeeze a little lemon juice over the artichokes to prevent them from discolouring whilst also adding some flavour.


Put the salad leaves into a bowl, add the artichoke slices and roughly chopped almonds.  Pour over enough of the dressing and toss to coat the leaves.  Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve immediately.


To Smoke Almonds

We hot smoke a lot of different ingredients in a biscuit tin over a gas jet.  Just scatter 2 heaped tablespoons of apple wood chips on the bottom of the tin.  Put a rack on top.  Place the almond on top of the wire rack.  Pop on top of the gas on a high heat until the wood chips start to smoke and cover the box.  Lower the heat and smoke for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and continue to smoke for a further 1 minute.


Braised Jerusalem Artichokes

The most basic and delicious way to cook artichokes. Serve with pheasant, chicken, pork, lamb…

Serves 4

675g (1½ lbs) Jerusalem artichokes

25g (1 oz) butter

1 dessertspoon water

salt and freshly-ground pepper

chopped parsley


Peel the artichokes thinly and slice 1/4 inch (5mm) thick.  Melt the butter in a cast-iron casserole, toss the artichokes and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper.  Add water and cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid.  Cook on a low heat or put in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, until the artichokes are soft but still keep their shape, 15-20 minutes approx.  (Toss every now and then during cooking.)

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.


* If cooking on the stove top rather than the oven turn off the heat after 10 minutes approx. – the artichokes will continue to cook in the heat & will hold their shape.






What’s Hot And What’s Not


So what’s hot and what’s not on the 2018 food scene. Much energy and investment goes into predicting up-coming trends in the many areas of food production. From multinational companies to artisan producers and supermarket chains, all have a vested in having their finger on the pulse. Chefs too are keen to keep on top of emerging trends.  So let’s have a look at what’s coming down the line.

There appear to be several strong general trends. Even though there’s a definite backlash against clean eating, veganism is still on the rise.

Uber Eats reported a 400% rise in vegan searches in 2017and sales of vegan cheese increased by 300% in Sainsbury’s in the same period. Requests for meat free veggie burgers (that bleed from beetroot juice!) continue to rise. The flavour is apparently great and it ticks all the boxes for the growing demand for “cruelty free protein”. Vegetables are set to be the “new meat”.

The concept of Meat Free Monday is gradually becoming more mainstream, though I have to say I can’t see the Irish chaps abandoning their beef habit in favour of a char-grilled cauliflower steak anytime soon.


The supercool brunch boom continues to build and the avocado toast craze is undimmed even as the avocado farmers struggle to supply the phenomenal demand.


The health and fitness trend continues to drive market share and foods that promise better or brain function and enhanced performance are still vaporising off shelves.


The growing body of research linking our gut health with our mental and physical wellbeing has piqued peoples interest, consequently foods that promise to improve gut and digestive health are a huge trend. Pickled, preserved and fermented foods are filling up fridges and making your own sauerkraut and kimchi is becoming mainstream among the young health conscious. Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we now have a “Bubble Shed” where all the fermented foods are made and on-going experiments and classes are conducted see www.cookingisfun.ie for details of our next Fermentation course.

Foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome, natural, organic and biodynamic foods, farmhouse cheeses and organic raw  B2 milk from a small herd of heritage breeds. Seek out Dan and Anne Aherne’s beautiful creamy milk at Mahon Point Farmer’s Market (Thursdays) and Midleton Farmers Markets (Saturdays), or visit the Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm Shop for raw milk from our small herd of Jersey cows.


There’s  a growing awareness and reaction to “food waste” issues. Chefs are now proudly boasting about serving the underused cuts of meat, so expect to see more oxtail, tongue, pigs ears, crubeens (pigs feet) and a  further interest in “nose to tail eating” and “root to shoot”,  where every scrap of vegetable is used rather than just the familiar section offered on the supermarket shelf.


Watch the “grow some of your own super-food movement” gather momentum in both urban and rural areas, not just for economic, social and lifestyle reasons but for mind-blowing fabulous nutrition. Check out GIY www.giy.ie, Good Food Ireland www.goodfoodireland.ie  or treat yourself to a copy of Grow Cook Nourish, my latest tome, which was originally called  “For God’s Sake Grow Some of Your Own Food”.

It may surprise you to learn that more health conscious millennials are limiting their alcohol consumption. The rise in booze free, homemade  mocktails, fruity cordials and fizzy sodas reflects this definite super cool trend.

Chefs are buying land, growing fresh produce on their roofs or in their backyards and buying directly from local farmers and artisan food producers, will use local coast, grocers within walking distance….


Amazon has taken over Wholefoods, watch this space….


Foods to watch out for in 2018

  1. Street food inspired dishes, dosa, tacos, toastadas, falafel, shawarma, bánh mì, gyros, arepas, satay, empanadas, ramen, pupusas, noodle dishes…
  2. Veggie carb substitutes, zoodles (zucchini noodles), cauliflower rice is still up there.
  3. Homemade or housemade condiments, artisan pickles, mustard, ketchup…
  4. Buddha bowls – a bowl of greens, beans, veggies, grains, nuts and seeds with a dressing or favourite sauce – eat mindfully…
  5. Chinese dumplings, wontons, steamed buns….
  6. Poke, bowls of sushi rice, essentially sushi without the fuss, a raw fish salad with lots of yummy toppings on top (everyday food in Hawaii).
  7. Ancient grains, farro, spelt, and quinoa of course, but also kamut, emmer, teff, sorghum, freekeh in salads, breads, biscuits….
  8. Jackfruit- a hot new vegan ingredient, the largest tree fruit on the planet, nutritious, delicious with a texture and flavour of pulled pork when cooked.
  9. Smoked absolutely everything, black pudding, tomato, tofu…
  10. Goat meat, wild boar, more wild game in season.
  11. Seaweed – all type of algae, sprinkled on, and added to, almost everything from salad and bread to ice-cream.
  12. Wild and foraged foods. Look out for Winter cress, pennywort, watercress, all in season now.
  13. Ethnic dips and spreads and condiments beyond sriracha, zhug, harissa, peri peri, sambal, shichimi togarashi, pixian chilli bean paste, jocguang…
  14. Savoury jams and jellies not just bacon jam, try tomato jam, carrot jam, apple and seaweed jelly.
  15. Heirloom fruit and vegetables, not just tomatoes and potatoes….
  16. Imperfect, ugly produce, organically produced, “root to shoot eating”.
  17. Bone broths still huge
  18. Mushrooms are morphing into a superfood, even being added to coffee
  19. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Jerusalem artichokes, another brilliant super delicious and a versatile winter root, highest in inulin of all vegetables and certainly on trend.
  20. We’ll hear more of lesser known herbs, borage, sweet cicely, chervil, hyssop, lemon balm, lemon verbena, papalo and also here to fore unknown edible flowers: forget-me-not, dahlias, crysthanamums, cornflowers, daylilies…..
  21. Activated charcoal and green dusts – think matcha, ras el hanout,
  22. Ethnic kids dishes, sushi, teriyaki, tacos, tostadas.
  23. Mac and cheese, porridge, scrambled eggs and French fries are all getting a makeover, perfect bases for all manner of toppings and additions.
  24. Turmeric – the super charged anti-inflammatory, both fresh and in dried form in everything and anything.
  25. Homemade charcuterie, sausages, guanciale, blood puddings.
  26. Mill you own flour and heritage grains.
  27. Eggs from rare breed chickens and non-traditional breeds of poultry. Blue/green shelled eggs from Aracuna hens, Marrans, Leghorns, Light Sussex’s, Speckledeys, Hebden black hens

Here are a few recipes using some of these on-trend ingredients…



Rory O’Connell’s Homemade Tomato Ketchup


It’s easy to make homemade tomato ketchup, everyone will love it.  We used Cox’s orange pippin apples and had exactly the same maddening consistency as the real thing. The result is irresistibly delicious.


Makes 5 – 6 bottles (8fl ozs per bottle)


1.6kg (3½ lb) tomatoes, peeled and chopped

450g (1lb) eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped (weigh after peeling and coring)

450g (1lb) peeled onions, chopped

450g (1lb)  sugar

450ml(16fl oz) cider vinegar

1 level tablespoon Maldon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

6 black peppercorns

6 allspice/pimento berries

6 cloves


Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan.  Bring to a boil and simmer for approx. 1 hour or until it has the consistency of a regular ketchup.  Stir regularly as it cooks to avoid sticking.  Allow to cool for 4-5 minutes.  Liquidise to a smooth puree.    If the consistency is a bit thin, return to the saucepan and cook to reduce a bit further.  Remember it will thicken as it cools.


Pour into sterilised glass bottles and store chilled.


Foragers Soup


Throughout the seasons you can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside. Arm yourself with a good well illustrated

guide and be sure to identify carefully, and if in doubt, don’t risk it until you are quite confident.


Serves 6


50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

250g (9ozs) chopped greens – alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk


75g (3ozs) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon

extra virgin olive oil

wild garlic flowers if available


Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk.  Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.


Heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Sprinkle over the soup as you serve.  Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.

Recipe taken from Grow, Cook, Nourish by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books. Photography by Clare Winfield and Tim Allen.


Pan Fried Haddock with Slivered Garlic, Fresh Turmeric, Chilli and Spring Onions

Serves 4


4 x 110g (4oz) portions of fresh haddock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly slivered

1 thumb sized piece of turmeric, peeled and julienned

4 spring onions – 4 heaped teaspoons approx., separate the white and the green.

Worcestershire sauce

1 green chilli, seeded and thinly sliced


To serve

4 segments of lime

1- 2 tablespoons coriander, shredded



Season the fish with the salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Heat a little oil in a wide frying pan, over a medium heat. Cook the fish on the flesh side until golden. Flip over and cook until crisp and golden on the skin side.


Meanwhile heat a little oil in a second pan. Add the slivered garlic, turmeric, sliced chilli and white part of the spring onion. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, until tender and golden at the edges. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Add the green parts of the spring onions. Toss for a couple of seconds.


To serve

Transfer the fish on to four hot plates. Divide the mixture between the plates. Sprinkle with the shredded coriander and add a segment of lime. Enjoy immediately.


Dilisk Bread

One can make a loaf or divide the dough into scones, one can also use a mixture of dried seaweeds.



450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda

15-25g (1/2-1oz) dilisk

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


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



Sieve the dry ingredients into a wide bowl. Chop the dilisk and add to the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface.


Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.


Masala French Fries

The Perfect Chip


  1. Good quality ‘old’ potatoes eg. Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pinks
  2. Best quality oil, lard or beef fat for frying. We frequently use pure olive oil because its flavour is so good and because when properly looked after it can be used over and over again. Avoid poor quality oils which have an unpleasant taste and a pervasive smell.
  3. Scrub the potatoes well and peel or leave unpeeled according to taste. Cut into similar size chips so they will cook evenly.
  4. Rinse quickly in cold water but do not soak. Dry meticulously with a damp tea towel or kitchen towel before cooking otherwise the water will boil on contact with the oil in the deep fry and may cause it to overflow.


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 cook the first two types: Fry quickly in oil at 195ºC/385ºC until completely crisp.


Masala Fries

This simple but totally irresistible recipe comes from the chefs in Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar in India.


Serves 2-3


500g  (18 oz) potatoes, peeled. We use Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pink

1 heaped teaspoon garam masala

flaky sea salt


Heat the oil in deep fry to 120 C

Peel the potatoes, cut into medium size chips.

Blanch in the hot oil for 7 minutes approx.

Remove the basket. Increase the temperature of the oil to 160C . Continue to cook the fries until golden, 4-5 minutes.

Drain briefly on kitchen paper, transfer to a bowl. Sprinkle with a generous teaspoon of garam masala and some salt. Toss well to coat. Taste, correct the seasoning and serve immediately.



Penny Allen’s Kombucha


Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweet tea.  It is said to have many health benefits when consumed regularly.


750ml (1 pint 15fl oz/scant 4 1/2 cups) boiling water

2 teaspoons loose leaf tea or 2 teabags (green, white or black -organic is best)

150g (5oz) organic caster sugar

1.25 litres (2 pints) filtered water

250ml (9fl oz) Kombucha

1 Kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast)


Equipment – 3 litres (5 1/4 pints/generous 13 cups) Kilner jar or large Pyrex bowl or similar. Measuring jug

(Don’t use a metal container when brewing kombucha)



Make the tea with 750ml of boiling water in teapot or bowl. Let this sit for a few minutes to infuse.  Strain the tea into your brewing vessel.


Add the caster sugar and stir to dissolve.


Add the filtered water and stir again. The temperature of the sweetened tea should now be tepid and you should have just over 2 litres of liquid.


Add 250ml (9fl oz/generous 1 cup) of kombucha and the Scoby.


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


Put in a warmish place for a week to ten days. It should be out of direct sunlight and somewhere it won’t have to be moved. Use a plastic spoon to take a taste each day and after about day 7 it should be almost ready. The taste you are looking for is a pleasing balance between sweet and sour.



Lift off the Scoby and put it in a bowl with 250ml (9fl oz/generous 1 cup) of your just brewed Kombucha and cover this with a plate or bowl while you bottle the rest.


Pour the brewed Kombucha into bottles through a funnel (makes 2 1/2 x 750ml bottles), or into another large Kilner jar. You can then store this in the fridge and enjoy as it is, or you can do a second ferment to add flavour and extra nutritional benefits!


Second Fermentation


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

  • Fresh or frozen (defrosted) raspberries.
  • Fresh or frozen (defrosted) strawberries and 1 teaspoon raw cacao
  • 1/2 apple and a small beetroot chopped
  • 1 ripe peach sliced


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

January Blues


Suffering from January blues? Here’s the cure – a big pot of bubbling stew and even if you never cooked a thing in your life you can do this. Funds are probably low, it’s so easy to overspend both before Christmas and in the January sales so in this column I’ll focus on how to make several yummy meals from one of the least expensive seasonal ingredients – the humble swede turnip. All root vegetables are at their very best in Winter. Parsnips, carrots, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and swede turnip all become even more delicious after a few nights frost where the low temperatures transform the starches into sugars. Same happens with fancy salsify and scorzonera and we’ve also been enjoying both oca and yakón – root vegetables that you can easily grow yourself if you can source the tubers. Contact the The Organic Centre in Leitrim www.theorganiccentre.ie.

But never mind, we’ll focus on a vegetable that can be bought from any village shop or Farmers’ market. Try if you can to source local and fresh. Sorry to keep harping on about this but if we continue down the route of below cost selling the few remaining Irish vegetable growers who are hanging on by their finger-tips will not be able to survive. We are totally sleepwalking into a crisis where unless you grow your own, fresh Irish produce will be virtually unobtainable. Can’t imagine how a turnip that spends up to 5 months in the ground can be sold for as little as 49 cents. Well, enjoy while you can, all that nourishment and deliciousness for just a few cent. The versatile swede turnip was first introduced into Ireland in the 1800’s. It was a very important agricultural development, a vegetable sown in Winter that could stay in the ground until needed. Turnips grow on top of the ground so could be harvested easily, and didn’t need to be stored in a shed plus the farmer could nourish and feed both his family and his livestock with this inexpensive vegetable which originally grew wild in Sweden, hence the name.

From the cooks point of view, swede turnips are super versatile. They can be boiled, steamed or fried, made into soups or purees or gratins. Cut them into cubes to bulk out a casserole or stew. They benefit from the addition of herbs and spices or can be combined with other root vegetables in a myriad of ways. It keeps for months, use a quarter or half and store the rest in a cool place to use in another dish or at a later date.


Winter Irish Stew

The swede turnip adds more substance and flavour, don’t forget to season well. If you’d like a whole meal in a pot cover the top of the stew with whole peeled potatoes, cover and cook as below.


Serves 6-8


1.3kg  (3lbs) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)

450g  (1lb) (8 medium or 12 baby carrots)

450g  (1lb) (8 medium or 12 baby onions)

450g  (1lb) swede turnip, cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes

10 -12 potatoes, or more if you like

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 litre (1¾ pints stock)  (lamb stock if possible) or water

1 sprig of thyme

1 tablespoon roux, optional



1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.


Trim off the excess fat from the chops.  Remove the bones and cut into generous 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes, you should have a minimum of 1.1kg  (2½lbs) lamb. Set aside. Render down the fat on a gentle heat in a heavy pan (discard the rendered down pieces).


Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole.  Peel the turnip and cut into cubes


Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole (add the bones also but discard later). Quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots, onions and turnip up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1 1/2 hours approx.., depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.  (If the potatoes are small, use twice as many and add half way through cooking)


When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan.  Discard the bones. Thicken slightly by whisking in a little roux. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot, in a large pottery dish or in individual bowls.



A Bubbly Gratin of Swede Turnips and Potatoes with Thyme Leaves, Smoked Bacon and Parmesan


This is a robust warming gratin made with one of my favourite winter vegetables, the cheap and cheerful swede turnip. This brassica, the least glamorous of the turnip family brings back happy childhood memories. I remember as a child going to our nearest  farm owned by Bill and Mary Walsh and grabbing the raw sliced turnips from the slicer before they were taken out the fields to be spread as winter feeding for the sheep when the grass had become scarce. We would dip the slightly muddy shards of turnip in the nearest churn of water, so cold it turned our little hands purple, give them a cursory rinse and then munch away with relish. That sweet and peppery flavour has stayed with me and I still think that this purple skinned and golden fleshed root is a thing of beauty.


Serves 8-10


450g (1lb) swede turnip, peeled and sliced into 4 mm slices

450g (1lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced into 3mm thick slices

110g (4oz) lardons of smoked or unsmoked bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

110g (4oz) grated Parmesan or even cheddar

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

350ml (12fl oz) cream or chicken stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 x 1.5 litre ovenproof gratin dish


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


Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt. Drop in the sliced turnips, bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. The turnips will have tenderized slightly but will not be fully cooked. Strain out the turnips, reserving the water for cooking the potatoes. Place the turnips on a tray lined with a tea towel.

Bring the water back to the boil and add the sliced potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute only. Strain and rinse under the cold tap and place on a tray lined with a tea towel like the turnips.


Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon lardons. Cook stirring until the bacon is crisp and golden.  Strain out the bacon and place on a piece of kitchen paper towel to drain.


To assemble the gratin, grease the gratin dish with a light smear of butter. Place on a layer of the turnips and potatoes, followed by a sprinkle of thyme leaves, a sprinkle of lardons of bacon and a sprinkle of the grated parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Splash on a little of the cream. Repeat the process finishing the gratin with a final sprinkle of the cheese.


Place the gratin in a bain-marie in the preheated oven and cook for 60-80 minutes. After 60 minutes, test the gratin with a skewer to see if the potatoes and turnips are tender. The skewer should go through the vegetables with no resistance and the top of the gratin should be a rich golden colour. The cooked gratin will sit happily in the oven for an hour before serving with the temperature reduced to 50°C/120°F/Gas Mark 1/4.



Swede Turnip Soup with Pancetta and Parsley Oil


A poshed-up version of turnip soup, with some parsley oil dribbled on top and some crispy pancetta to nibble.


Serves 6-8


350g Swede turnips, diced

1 tablespoon sunflower or arachide oil

110g (4oz) onions, chopped

150g (5oz) potatoes, diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

900ml (1½ pints) homemade chicken stock

cream or creamy milk to taste



8 slices pancetta


Parsley Oil

50ml extra virgin olive oil

50g parsley, chopped


First make the Parsley Oil.

Whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.  Push through a nylon sieve.


Next, make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan.  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.


Spread the slices of pancetta on a wire rack over a baking tray.  Cook under a grill for 1 – 2 minutes or until crisp.


Serve in bowls, drizzle each with parsley oil and lay a slice of crispy pancetta on top.


Those of you dislike puréed soups or may not have access to a blender, can of course serve this soup in its chunky form – also delicious.



Swede Turnips with Chorizo Crumbs and more


Best in winter and early spring, a little frost sweetens the flesh.

The humble swede is having its moment once again, and how …..it only costs a euro or two, keeps for months and can be used in soups, stews, gratins, mashes,


Serves 6 approx.


900g swede turnips

salt and lots of freshly ground pepper

50-110g butter



Chorizo crumbs

finely chopped parsley


Peel the turnip thickly in order to remove the thick outside skin.  Cut into 2cm cubes approx.  Put into a high sided saucepan.  Cover with water.  Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft – this can take between 30- 45 minutes.  Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter.  Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt if necessary. Garnish with parsley, sprinkle with chorizo crumbs and serve.


Chorizo Crumbs


Chorizo Crumbs are delicious used in so many ways.  We like to scatter them over potato, celeriac, Jerusalem artichoke or watercress soup.  They are particularly good sprinkled over cauliflower or macaroni cheese.  Keep in a box for several weeks and scatter when you fancy!


Makes 175g (6oz)


4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

125g (4 1/2oz) chorizo, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice

100g (3 1/2oz) coarse breadcrumbs


Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp.  Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan.


Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden.  Drain and add to the chorizo.


Vegetable Stew with Yogurt and Curry Spices


Fresh spices perk up the root vegetables here, parsnips and or celeriac could also be added, delicious meal served just with an accompanying green salad.  Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, most are just spices, so it’s just a question of adding a little of this and that……


Serves 6


900g medium sized potatoes

450g swedes, cut into 2.5cm cubes

225g carrots

675g very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped  or 1½ cans tomatoes,

2½ teaspoon cumin seed

3 teaspoon coriander seed

2.5cm piece cinnamon bark

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

8 cloves

¼ teaspoon black peppercorns

15g butter or ghee plus extra for cooking

225g onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

45g ginger root, peeled and crushed

¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon sugar

175ml yogurt

120ml light cream


1-2 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped or flat parsley (but it will taste quite different)

Garnish: sprigs of fresh coriander or flat parsley


Boil the scrubbed but unpeeled potatoes until just cooked.  Pull off the peel and cut into 1cm thick slices. Peel and cube the swedes, cook in boiling salted water until tender.

Meanwhile scrub the carrots, if they are small leave them whole, otherwise cut into slices about 1cm thick. Cook in a covered saucepan in a very little boiling salted water with a pinch of salt and sugar and a blob of butter until just tender.  Grind all the spices to a powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.  Melt about ½ oz (15g) of butter in a wide heavy bottomed saucepan, add the chopped onions and sweat until tender and golden, then stir in the garlic, ginger, ground spices, grated nutmeg, turmeric and sugar, cook for a minute or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and yogurt.

Put the sliced potatoes, cooked swedes and carrots into this mixture and stir carefully to cook with the mixture, cover and simmer until the vegetables have finished cooking 5-10 minutes approx. Remove the lid, then add the cream or creamy milk, reduce until the sauce is the consistency you like. Taste and correct the seasoning, stir in the chopped coriander. Turn into a hot serving dish.  Garnish with lots of fresh coriander.

Ballymaloe Sweet Trolley

Here it comes, The Ballymaloe House ‘sweet trolley’ is legendary indeed. For over 50 years, now it has been wheeled around the dining rooms at Ballymaloe House piled high with tempting desserts to tantalize guests at the end of their meal. The first cart was made in the 1960’s by the carpenter, Danny Power, in his farm workshop to Myrtle Allen’s specifications. A shelf on top with a little ledge around the edge to hold the array of desserts and another underneath for plates, serving utensils and top ups. Ever since it has delighted diners. The “trolley dolly”  as the server is affectionately known is usually greeted with a whoop of delight or at least an appreciative murmur when they wheel their cart up to the table. All conversation ceases as the entire table listens to the description of the temptations on offer, home-made Ballymaloe ice-cream served in an ice bowl, a meringue cake or a pretty fluted dish piled high with little “kisses” sandwiched together with a tangy homemade lemon curd and always a compote of fruit in season. Tonight it’s poached pears in a saffron and cardamom syrup. Always a tart of some kind too, made with buttery puff pastry or perhaps a chocolate and hazelnut or almond tart in a buttery short crust.

There may be a fruit fool, tonight it’s blackcurrant from the Ballymaloe walled garden in the Summer and served with JR’s heart shaped shortbread biscuits, a recipe passed on from 1950’s in Ballymaloe kitchen. Many of the recipes have a story. Tonight panna cotta is served in glass pedestal bowls with an espresso jelly made with the coffee beans roasted on the farm by Mark Kingston of The Golden Bean, who sources his ethically produced beans from single estates around the world.

The coffee jelly lightens the rich panna cotta deliciously. This is JR’s inspired version of the Italian dessert which is every bit as unctuous as a crème brûlée, another Ballymaloe sweet trolley favourite served with a thin layer of caramel on top rather than torched as is more the norm nowadays. JR Ryall, is head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House and has been for over 10 years. He came to work with Mrs Allen during his school holidays when he was just 14, he joined the team permanently when he finished his education and has only left for short periods ever since when he travels all round the world, always on the look out for something new to add to his recipe repertoire. However both he and all of us still love the original recipes that Myrtle Allen first served from the first evening in 1965 when she and Ivan decided to open the doors at Ballymaloe House to welcome guests “to dine in a country house”. The plan was never to have more than 20 people …. An extraordinary thing to do at that time when restaurants and hotels were in cities and towns and certainly not out in the centre of a farm – unthinkable,  the rest is history. The sweet trolley was very 1960’s – Arbutus Lodge in Cork also had a wonderful sweet trolley that we all enjoyed. I particularly  remember the oeufs à la neige or floating islands of feather light meringue and the boozy rum babas.

And now the sweet trolley so beloved of Ballymaloe guests and considered in the 80’s and 90’s to be a bit passé is once again having its moment and are reappearing as a special feature in trendy restaurants.

The selection changes every evening and of course reflects the season and JR’s excitement.   Myrtle has always loved to incorporate little tastes of our local and traditional food into her menu.

Carrigeen Moss pudding, so much part of our traditional food culture is also a much loved feature of the Ballymaloe, little pots of the light delicate mousse with fluffy tops are still found on the Ballymaloe sweet trolley every evening.

The homemade ice-cream or granitas are chosen from a selection of 12 or 14 that JR makes, and continues to add to. The sorbets are made with the ripe berries from the garden. The ice-cream was originally made from the rich Jersey cream from Ivan Allen’s herd of purebred Jersey cows. Tonight there are also a chocolate marjorlaine and pistachio tuiles to enjoy with the fool – all impossibly tempting and delicious.

Ballymaloe Praline Ice-Cream with Praline Brittle

The praline can be made from almonds, hazelnuts or pecans.


Serves 6 – 8

110g (4oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.2 litres (2 pints) softly whipped cream



110g (4oz) unskinned almonds

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues).  Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan, stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, 106-113°C (223-236°F). It will look thick and syrupy; when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form thin threads.  Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Add vanilla extract and continue to whisk until it becomes a thick creamy white mousse. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze. Meanwhile make the praline.  Put the unskinned almonds with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour, DO NOT STIR, when this stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel.  When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin or marble slab. Allow to get quite cold, when the praline is quite hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be quite coarse and gritty.


After about 1 1/2 hours when the ice cream is just beginning to set, fold in the 4 tablespoons of praline powder and freeze again. If you fold in the praline too early it will sink to the bottom of the ice cream. To serve, scoop out into balls with an ice cream scoop. Serve in an ice bowl, sprinkle with the remainder of the praline powder.

Hazelnut Praline Ice-Cream

Substitute skinned hazelnuts for almonds in the above recipe and proceed as above.



Gateau Marjolaine

This is a definitely one of JR Ryall’s iconic desserts. It’s a bit of a mission to make but so worth it.

Makes 2 gateau, serves 20-24


Nut Meringue

8 egg whites

225g (8oz) sugar

175g (6oz) ground hazelnuts

200g (7oz) ground almonds


Beat the egg whites, gradually add sugar and continuing to beat until mixture is a stiff meringue. Fold in the ground nuts. Spread 8mm thick (1/3 inch) onto 2 lined rectangular tray and bake for 5 minutes in a preheated oven, 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7, until light golden brown and soft to the touch. When cold, cut each in half.


Chocolate Cream

360g (12oz) dark chocolate in small pieces

360g (12oz) soft unsalted butter


Melt the chocolate. Add the butter and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool until it becomes spreading consistency.


Butter Cream

75ml (3fl oz) milk

75g (3oz) sugar

2 egg yolks

225g (8oz) soft unsalted butter

75g (3oz) praline powder

2 tablespoons (kirsch


Bring milk and half the sugar to the boil. Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and pour the boiling milk onto them. Stir over a low heat, until the mixture thickens. Strain into a bowl through a fine sieve. Beat using an electric mixer until the mixture has cooled. Fold in the butter. Divide between two bowls. Stir the praline into one half of the butter cream add the kirsch into the other.


To Assemble

Spread the first layer of meringue with one third of the chocolate cream, allow to set. Cover with the next layer of meringue and spread with the praline cream, then another layer of meringue and the kirsch cream and then the final meringue. Use a knife to neaten the sides and cut in half. Spread the remaining chocolate cream over each gateau.



Almond Tart with Kumquats and Mint

This gorgeous tart is deliciously rich and moist, we serve it with many fruits in season, strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, cherries, roast rhubarb……….

Serves 10-12



225g (8oz) flour

25g (1oz) castor sugar

110g (4oz) unsalted butter

1 egg


Almond Filling

285g (10oz) soft butter unsalted

225g (8oz) castor sugar

285g (10oz ) whole almonds

3 eggs

1 dessertspoon Amaretto or Rum or Kirch or Calvados

1 tablespoon of flour (optional)


Kumquat Compote (see recipe)

lots of fresh mint sprigs


1 x 30.5cm (12 inch) tart tin with ‘pop-up base


First make the pastry.

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


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


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


Meanwhile, make the kumquat compote (see recipe).


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


Line the flan ring and bake blind for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile make the almond filling. Blanch the almonds in boiling water, remove the skins and grind in a liquidiser or food processor.


Cream the butter with the sugar until soft and fluffy, add the freshly ground almonds, flour, eggs and amaretto if available. Pour into the pastry case, reduce the temperature to 160ºC/325°F/Gas Mark 3, and bake for 45-60 minutes.


Remove from the tin onto a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely.


Just before serving, drain the kumquats and arrange on top.  Tuck some little sprigs of fresh mint here and there between fruit or alternatively just serve with a slice of almond tart and serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream.


Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 12-40 depending on how it is served


470g (17oz) kumquats

400ml (14fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar


Slice the kumquats into four or five round depending on size, remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.



Irish Coffee Meringue

Another gem with an Irish twist.


Serves 6-8

2 egg whites

110g (4oz) icing sugar

2 teaspoons instant coffee powder (not granules)



300m (10fl oz) whipped cream

2 tablespoons approx. Irish whiskey



chocolate coffee beans

parchment paper


Draw 2 x 7½ inch (18cm) circles onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then turn them over so the pencil or pen doesn’t mark the meringue.


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 10-15 minutes. Sieve the coffee and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.


Spread the meringue carefully with a palette knife onto the circles on the parchment paper.  Bake in a very low oven 150°C\300°F\Gas Mark 2 for approx. 1 hour or until crisp. The discs should peel easily from the paper.  Allow to get quite cold.

Add the whiskey to the whipped cream.


Sandwich the meringue discs together with Irish whiskey flavoured cream. Pipe 5 rosettes of cream on top. Decorate with chocolate coffee beans if available.


Irish Coffee Meringue Roulade

Ingredients as above x 2

Irish Coffee Sauce (see recipe)


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


Meanwhile, line a swiss roll tin with parchment paper, brush lightly with a non scented oil (eg. sunflower or arachide)


Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.


Put a sheet of parchment paper on the work – top and turn the roulade onto it, remove the base tin foil and allow the meringue to cool.


To Assemble

Spread the whiskey cream over the meringue, roll up from the long side and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes along the top of the roulade, decorate with chocolate coffee beans.


Serve, cut into slices about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick accompanied by Irish Coffee Sauce.


Irish Coffee Sauce
This irresistible sauce keeps for several months and you’ll find yourself drizzling it over ice-cream, crêpes and even French toast.


175g (6oz) sugar

75ml (3fl oz) water

225ml (8fl oz) coffee

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey


Put the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; stir until the sugar dissolves and the water comes to the boil.  Remove the spoon and do not stir again until the syrup turns a chestnut caramel.  Then add the coffee and put back on the heat to dissolve.  Allow to cool and add the whiskey.



JR’s Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly

This is a delicious variation on a classic Panna Cotta. Serve with wafer thin Langue de Chat biscuits for a special treat.
Serves 6-8 people

600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream
50g (2oz) castor sugar
1 vanilla pods, split lengthways
2 gelatine leaves (or 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine)
cold water for soaking gelatine leaves (or 3 tablespoons water if using powdered Gelatine)

1 x espresso jelly recipe (see below)

1 pedestal glass bowl

Panna cotta
Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pod and castor sugar.  Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft. Squeeze excess water from the leaves, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the vanilla pod (rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for later). Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pouring into the pedestal bowl. To save time the hot cream mixture can be stirred over an ice bath to cool it faster. Place in the fridge and allow to set. Carefully spoon over the cooled, but not yet set, coffee jelly. Return to the fridge and allow to set.

If using powdered gelatine: Sponge the gelatine in 3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) water. Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved.  Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together.  Remove the vanilla pod and continue as above.

Espresso Jelly

very strong hot coffee
45g (1½ oz) castor sugar
1¼gelatine leaves (1¼ teaspoon powdered gelatine)

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft. Meanwhile, place sugar in a measuring jug and add enough coffee until there is 200ml (7fl oz) in total, stir to dissolve. Squeeze excess water from the gelatine leaves, add to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.

Note: Allowing the Panna cotta mixture to cool before decanting into the glass serving dish will prevent vanilla seeds from pooling in the bottom of the bowl. Instead, they stay in suspension and look much prettier.

Variation: To make a more special version of this dessert the panna cotta can be layered in a glass bowl with the jelly. For a good result make 3 x espresso jelly recipe and set the panna cotta in 3 layers, each separated with a layer of the jelly. Each layer must be allowed to set completely before the next layer is poured over. The resulting dessert is both eye catching and delicious.


Rory O’Connell’s Pistachio Langues de Chat

These thin biscuits are so called as they are supposed to resemble the shape of cats tongues. Rory likes to shape these into long and skinny biscuits so perhaps more like a lizards tongue, but that name would not really sell them very well. Regardless of the length, they should be quite thin and delicate. He serve them with mousses, fools, soufflés, ices of all sorts and of course with a cup of tea or coffee. The flavouring here is vanilla but orange or lemon zest or ground sweet spices such as cinnamon or star anise also works well. Finely chopped nuts such as pistachio, almond, pecan or brazil nuts can be scattered over the shaped and uncooked batter to give a lovely crunchy and flavoursome finish.

Serves 8


125g (4½ oz) soft butter

125g (4½ oz)caster sugar

4 egg whites

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

175g (6oz) plain flour

110g (4oz) pistachio, finely chopped


Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/ gas 4

Line a flat baking tray with parchment paper

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously until pale and fluffy.

Add the sifted flour, vanilla extract and egg whites and fold gently with a spatula until the mixture is combined. It will look like a thick batter.

Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with 1cm nozzle or use a “disposable”  plastic piping bag and just snip off the top with a scissors to give exactly the size needed. I wash and dry the bag and keep it for the next time.

Pipe onto to baking tray in long thin rows 1cm thick and 10cm long.

Scatter the finely chopped pistachio on top of the batter.

Bake for 12 minutes by which time they will have coloured generously around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool still on the parchment lined baking tray. When cool remove to wire rack and store in an airtight box lined with kitchen paper.

Nollaig na mBan

I just love that the tradition of celebrating Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan, as it was known, has once again become super cool. Why wouldn’t it? The 12th day of Christmas is the special day when all the hardworking Mammies, Grannies and Aunties who have lovingly laboured to create a fun, delicious and hopefully carefree Christmas for all the family get to enjoy time off, kick up their heels and get out to celebrate and feast and have fun together.

The tradition is particularly strong in Cork, Kerry, the West of Ireland and the Gaeltacht areas but the custom is enjoying a popular revival all around the country, a welcome excuse for us girls to get together. The tradition where the men and women swopped roles and the men did the chores was passed on orally from one generation to another.

Originally, several women from around the parish would gather around the fire in each other’s houses drinking tea, with currant cake or spotted dog and sharing little dainties. On some of the islands there was a custom of lighting candles in every room in the house on the twelfth night, the night of the Epiphany. Nowadays we don’t necessarily stick to drinking tea! Originally the custom was little known in urban areas but nowadays some Dublin friends meet for breakfast, others lunch, a leisurely chatty afternoon tea is also a favourite way to celebrate and of course a get together dinner.

Hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafés have recognised the opportunity so it could be worth watching this space – see how Halloween has gathered momentum.

Women of all ages who get together to celebrate Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas say there’s a different quality about the get together, almost a celebration of sisterhood – an Irish version of International Women’s Day.

In France, they celebrate the Feast of the Kings with the traditional Galette du Rois. Every  boulangerie has its own version of this recipe but this one is hard to beat and is easy to make, so one can start the tradition in your home.

So how about organising a Nollaig na mBan celebration with all your friends? It could always be afternoon fizz, I do love a nice cup of tea though.

Galette du Roi


Serves 8

Puff Pastry made with:

225g (8ozs) flour

225g (8ozs) butter

pinch of salt

water, 150ml (¼ pint) approx.


75g (3ozs) ground hazelnuts toasted, freshly ground

25g (1oz) ground almonds

110g (4ozs) castor sugar

45g (1½ozs) melted butter

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

2 tablespoons double cream

1 dessertspoon rum (optional)

Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt


Icing sugar


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

Put the hazelnuts onto a baking tray.  Bake until the skins loosen.

Remove nuts from oven and place in a tea towel.  Rub off the loose papery skins.  Let cool.  Grind the nuts in a nut grinder or chop in a food processor.

Increase oven temperature to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8.

Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into 2 circles approx. 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter.  Put one onto a damp baking sheet, chill and chill the other piece also.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl until smooth. Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge.  Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges.

Make a small hole in the centre brush with egg wash and leave for 5 minutes in the refrigerator. With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect. Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry just score it.


Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for 30 minutes approx. While still hot dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (Do Not Leave the Grill) – the sugar will melt and caramelize to a dark brown glaze. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Note: Galette du Roi is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated


Curnie Cake (Currant Cake)

Makes 1 loaf


450g (1lb) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 level teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

75g (3oz) sultanas (or more if you’d like)

1 organic egg

about 350 – 425ml (12-14fl oz) buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7.


In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up in to your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread. Now make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14fl oz) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.


Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.


The trick with currant cake like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. With floured fingers, roll the dough lightly for a few seconds – just enough to tidy it up. Then pat the dough into a round, about 6cm (2½ inches) deep. Transfer to a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross on it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with knife at the four triangles. Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.


Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Currant Cake is also really good eaten with Cheddar cheese.


Chocolate Brownie with Pistachio and Rose Petals

This version is based on a delicious spelt brownie recipe created by super baker Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes in London.  We’ve gilded the lily by adding a drizzle of ganache and by sprinkling some coarsely chopped pistachio and some rose petals on top.


Makes 10 brownies


175g (6oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

350g (12oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces (60-70%) (we use Valrhona)

50g (2oz) cocoa powder

225g (8oz) white spelt flour

½  teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (3/4 teaspoon if using Sea salt)

400g (14oz) caster sugar

4 medium eggs (about 200g)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


Chocolate Ganache

110g (4oz) dark chocolate

125ml (4 floz) cream


50g (2oz) Pistachios, chopped

3 teaspoons dried rose petals


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.


Butter and line a 20 x 30cm baking dish with parchment paper.


In a heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate over water that has been brought to the boil and then taken off the heat.  Allow the mixture to rest, stirring occasionally as it melts.


In another bowl, sift together the cocoa, spelt flour and baking powder.  Sprinkle over the salt.


In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture followed by the dry ingredients and pour into the prepared baking dish.


Baked in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.  The brownies should be set but with a slight wobble.


Meanwhile, make the ganache

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate.  With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.  Transfer the chocolate cream to the bowl of a food mixer and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Slather a little chocolate ganache on top. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios and rose petals.  Cut the brownies into squares and enjoy.


Lemon Curd Meringue Cake

This cake would not necessarily win prizes in a beauty contest but is one of the most delicious confections you’ll ever eat.


Serves 8 – 10


150g (5ozs) butter

225g (8ozs) flour

225g (8ozs) caster sugar

4 eggs, organic and free-range

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk


Lemon Curd

50g (2 ozs) butter

100g (3½ ozs) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

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



2 egg whites

110g (4 ozs) caster sugar


2 x 25cm (2 x 10 inch) sponge cake tins


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


Grease the tins with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper.

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


Meanwhile mix all the caster sugar together with the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.


Divide the cake mixture evenly between the 2 tins, spread a layer of meringue evenly over the top of each.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked.


Next make the lemon curd, melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.  Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it.  Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken further as it cools.)


When the cake is cooked, allow to cook for a few minutes, run a knife around the edge of the tin, then slide onto a wire rack.


To assemble

When completely cold, sandwich together with a layer of lemon curd.

For extra oomph make double the lemon curd and put another lay on the top.

Serve with softly whipped cream or crème fraîche.



Makes about 24


135g (4 3/4oz) butter, plus extra for greasing tray

2 tablespoons floral honey

1 tablespoon orange flower water

3 eggs

125g (4 1/2oz/) caster sugar

135g (4 3/4oz/) self-raising flour or 135g (4 3/4oz) plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted

plus extra flour for dusting


Melt the butter with the honey, then pour in the orange flower water and set aside to cool. Whisk the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer for 10 minutes or so, until they are really fluffy and double in size.  Fold in the flour, then the butter and honey mixture.


Pour into a container and leave the batter to rest for at least 3 hours in the fridge, or overnight is fine too.


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


Butter a madeleine tray (you can also do this in a small muffin tray), then dust with flour and shake off the excess. Fill the moulds two-thirds full, then bake for 10 minutes or so until golden brown and firm to the touch.



Coconut Kisses


Easy peasy to make, can be tiny bites or adapted to make a delectable pudding. This recipe also makes two 18cm (7 inch) meringue discs which can be sandwiched together with chunks of fresh mango or pineapple and cream.


Makes 30 approximately


2 egg whites

125g (4 1/2oz) vanilla castor sugar

75g (3oz) desiccated coconut


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


Cover 2 or 3 baking sheets with silicone paper.  Whisk the egg whites with the vanilla sugar until very stiff and fold in the desiccated coconut gently.  Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheets and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes approx.

Cool on a wire rack.

These biscuits may be stored in an airtight tin for 3-4 weeks.

Delicious Leftovers

All set for Christmas… hope so but if you’re not, let me cheer you up… neither am I  and despite  all my good advice I’m still whizzing around gathering up bits and pieces and trying to wrap some last minute pressies. It’s the wrapping that usually scuppers me in the end. Once again this brings memories flooding back, Mummy always waited until everyone else had shared their presents on Christmas, then she’d gather up all the wrapping paper and ribbons and disappear to embellish her gifts.

Only two sleeps away now from that ‘phew’ moment when Christmas is over for another year. Love that huge sense of relief that washes over me, pressure is off and expectations revert to more or less normal, and better still I get to have fun transforming the leftovers into innovative deliciousness. It’s scary to think that 30% of all the food bought over Christmas is likely to end up in the bin at a time when so many people not far away from any of us are homeless or in need. Don’t want to pile on the guilt but at least we can use up every scrap, there are a million ways to do this, often by adapting familiar recipes. Concentrate on the fresh and perishable foods first. Leftover cranberry sauce keeps for at least several weeks, if not months, fresh berries can of course be frozen, even if they were already frozen (it won’t improve them but they won’t be a health hazard), alternatively throw a fistful in muffins or scones, a pound cake or add to salads.

A Christmas cake, stored in an airtight container will keep for weeks, and if you get fed up of it crumble a bit into vanilla ice-cream or try frying a slice gently in butter, like left over plum pudding. Eat it with a dollop of brandy butter, melting over the top. The latter keeps for ages and is delicious slathered onto warm scones or over mincemeat and Brambly apple tart.

Mincemeat also has a long shelf life so no urgency there either. Wait until a frosty day in February to make a mincemeat bread and butter pudding.

So I’ll concentrate on the non-perishable items that need to be enjoyed within a couple of days and suggest a few comforting dishes.

Sprouts certainly need to be used up and be sure to save the turkey carcass for a fine pot of stock to use for the best turkey broth ever.


Turkey, Ham and Chickpea Stew with Fresh Spices


Serves 6 to 8


A few little jars of fresh spices add magic and exotic flavours to leftovers.


450g (1lb) chickpeas (cover and soak overnight in cold water)
or 2 x 400g (14oz) tins

2 fresh green chillies

5cm (2inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

225g (8oz) onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, crushed

8 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 11/2 tins of 400g (14oz) tomatoes

225g (8oz) cooked turkey, chopped

225g (8oz) cooked ham, chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander leaves

1 fresh mint leaves



To Serve

Tomato and Coriander Salsa



Drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and cook until tender, this can take anything from 30-60 minutes depending on the quality. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Meanwhile remove the seeds from the chilli and grind to a paste in a pestle and mortar or food processor with the ginger and garlic.


Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan, sweat the onion until soft but not coloured, add the chilli paste together with the crushed cumin and the coriander seeds. Cook for a minute or two, then add the peeled and chopped or tinned tomatoes, the drained chickpeas and a little of the cooking liquid (save the rest for soup). Simmer gently for about 50 minutes until the flavours have mingled, add the chopped cooked turkey and ham and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes or until hot. Taste, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with lots of freshly chopped coriander and mint and serve immediately. Delicious served either with plain boiled rice and Tomato, Red Onion and Coriander Salsa or cold with yoghurt, crème fraîche and lots of fresh coriander and mint leaves.



Tomato and Coriander Salsa

2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tablespoon red onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ – 1 chilli, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

freshly squeezed fresh lime juice to taste

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar


To make the salsa, mix all the ingredients together.  Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.



Irresistible Cheese Croquettes


A brilliant way to use the scraps of cheese you find in the drawer of your fridge – you can use a little blue but not too much, cheddar and harder cheese are best. Everyone including the kids will be begging for more, but they are also a huge success when served as a hot and tasty bite at a drinks party.


Makes 25 – 30, depending on size


450ml (15fl oz) milk

few slices of carrot and onion

1 small bay leaf

sprig of thyme

4 parsley stalks

200g (7oz) roux

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

225g (8oz) grated mature Irish Cheddar cheese

a pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached

beaten egg

fine dried white breadcrumbs



Ballymaloe Country Relish or the Tomato and Red Pepper and Tomato Chutney from my column last week.

Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion and herbs, bring slowly to the boil, simmer for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes if you have enough time.  Strain the flavourings, rinse them and add to a stock if you have one on the go.  Bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux bit by bit; it will get very thick but persevere.  (The roux always seems like a lot too much but you need it all so don’t decide to use less).


Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on a gentle heat, then remove from the heat, stir in the egg yolks, cheese, pinch of cayenne, mustard and optional chives.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Spread out on a wide plate to cool.


When the mixture is cold or at least cool enough to handle, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or 25g (1oz) approx.  Roll first in seasoned flour, then in beaten

egg and then in fine breadcrumbs.  Chill until firm but bring back to room temperature before cooking otherwise they may burst.  Just before serving, heat a deep fry to 150°C/300°F and cook the Cheese Croquettes until crisp and golden.  Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with a green salad and perhaps some Ballymaloe Country Relish.


Note: Cooked Croquettes can be kept warm in an oven for up to 30 minutes. They can also be frozen and reheated in an oven.


A posh variation:

Cheese and Truffle Croquettes

Add 1-2 tablespoons of white truffle oil to the mixture with the cheese and proceed as in master recipe.




Cranberry Scones with Blue Cheese Butter

A delicious way to use the scraps of blue cheese in your fridge, this blue cheese butter is also great melting over a steak.

Fresh cranberries can also be added to sweet scones but increase the sugar by 25g (1oz).


450g (1lb) white flour, preferably unbleached

1 level teaspoon salt

1 level teaspoon bread soda

110g (4 oz) cranberries, fresh or frozen

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


Blue Cheese Butter


110g (4 oz) unsalted butter

3-4oz (75-110g) Cashel Blue or Crozier Blue cheese depending on strength of cheese

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley, optional



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


To  make the blue cheese butter:

Crumble the blue cheese, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Form into a roll in tin foil or pure cling film, tighten the ends.  Chill or freeze until needed.


Sieve the dry ingredients. Add the cranberries. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.  Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.



Surprise Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Serves 6


Macaroni cheese is a terrific base for extra bits. Here we add a dice of smoked mackerel or salmon but leftover turkey or ham are also delicious added to a bubbly macaroni.


225g (8ozs) macaroni

3.4 litres (6 pints) water

2 teaspoons salt

50g (2ozs) butter

50g (2ozs) white flour

850ml (1½ pints) boiling whole milk

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon) freshly chopped parsley, (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

150g (5ozs) grated mature Cheddar cheese, Derg or Coolattin

25g (1oz) grated Cheddar for sprinkling on top

225g (8oz) diced smoked mackerel or salmon

1.1 litre (1 x 2 pint) capacity pie dish


Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approx. drain well.


Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually; bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil, stir in the smoked fish, taste, correct seasoning and serve immediately.


Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place.  Turn into a pie dish, sprinkle grated cheese over the top.  Reheat in a preheated moderate oven – 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. It is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.


Top Tip: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce.  Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.


Pickled Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apricots and Hazelnuts

A delicious simple salad to use left-over red cabbage and sprouts.


Serves 10


¼ red cabbage

225g (8ozs) Brussels sprout, trimmed and shredded

175 g (6ozs) dried apricots, sliced

a fistful of flat-parsley sprigs

2 tablespoons preserved lemon, diced (optional)

50g (2oz) hazelnuts, toasted
Honey and Vinegar Dressing

45 ml (3 good tablespoons) pure Irish honey

90 ml (6 tablespoons) white wine vinegar


Salt and freshly ground pepper


First make the dressing. Mix the honey and vinegar together.  Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into shreds across the grain. Trim and shred the sprouts. Dice the preserved lemon, if using.   Put into a bowl and toss in the dressing, add the sliced apricots and lots of flat parsley. Toss again.  Taste and correct the seasoning. Tumble into a serving bowl. Scatter with toasted hazelnuts and enjoy.



Goose or Duck Tacos with Guacamole


Serves 6 approx.


2 roast duck legs or confit, or leftover pieces from the carcass with some crispy skin

12 small corn tortillas

1 red onion, finely sliced


fresh coriander, chopped

Chipotle Mayonnaise

225ml (8fl oz) homemade mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons pureed chipotle chillies in adobo

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chopped coriander

pinch of salt



Remove the hot meat and crispy skin from the bone, chop in small pieces or reheat in a little duck or goose fat.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.


Warm the tortillas, on a dry hot pan for a few seconds.  Put a little mound of seasoned duck or goose on each with some folded tortillas.


Serve guacamole, finely sliced onion, freshly chopped coriander and chipotle mayo as an accompaniment.  Each diner makes and rolls up their own tacos.


Chipotle Mayonnaise

Make the mayonnaise in the usual way.

Add the chilli adobe, lime juice and coriander.



The avocado must be really ripe for guacamole


1 ripe avocado (Hass if available)

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander or flat parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper


Scoop out the flesh from the avocado.  Mash with a fork or in a pestle and mortar, add lime juice, olive oil, chopped coriander, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.  Otherwise, cover the surface of the guacamole with a sheet of plastic to exclude the air.  Cover and keep cool until needed.


A little finely diced chilli or tomato may be added to the guacamole.



Christmas Memories

  1. A Plate of Irish Charcuterie and Cured Meats
  2. Gravadlax with Cucumber Ribbon Salad and Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise
  3. Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Salsa
  4. This is our new favourite an excellent way to use up any stray pumpkin leftover from Halloween. This comes to us from the Autumn Certificate Course students who created this version to serve at the Slow Food Pop-up dinner in aid of the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project which teaches kids in nine local schools to grow and cook their own food. This is gluten free, Serves 6   700g (1 1/2lbs) pumpkin or butternut squash (see below) 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1/2 red chilli, chopped (depending how spicy it is) 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 1 heaped teaspoon of grated ginger 4 kaffir lime leaves (small ones), roughly chopped 1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and finely chopped 1 teaspoon chana masala 1 scant teaspoon tamarind paste (soak it in hot water and press through the sieve) 2 tablespoons fish sauce (Nam Pla) 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice 400ml (14fl oz) homemade chicken stock, a little more if too thick 350ml (12fl oz) coconut milk (we use Thai Gold) salt to taste   Coriander Salsa 25g (1oz) fresh coriander 3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds 75 ml (3fl oz) olive oil salt to taste   To Serve 2 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds, crushed   Preheat the oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.   First roast the pumpkin or butternut squash. Remove the outer skin and seeds from the pumpkin and cut it into slices 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes depending on the size, turn occasionally during cooking. The pumpkin is cooked when the tip of a knife inserts easily into the thickest part of the wedge.   Fry the chopped chilli, garlic, ginger and lime leaves for a few minutes.  Add the roasted pumpkin and chana masala to the spices and continue to cook stirring occasionally over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes.  Add the tamarind paste, lime juice, fish sauce and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil.  Add the coconut milk, stir and reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for further ten minutes.  Blitz in a liquidiser and sieve to make the soup really smooth. Taste and add salt if needed.   Best to prepare in advance in order for all the flavours to blend.  To make the coriander salsa: Roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 5-8 minutes until golden at the edges. Allow to cool. Put all the salsa ingredients into a food processor. Purée until smooth. The salsa should have a loose-ish texture. Taste and correct the seasoning.   To Serve: Serve the hot soup with a blob of crème fraîche and a drizzle of coriander salsa, sprinkle a few crushed roasted pumpkin seeds over the top of each bowl.     Succulent Glazed Loin or Streaky Bacon
  5. Ballymaloe Spiced Beef
  6. Old-fashioned Roast Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Traditional Bread Sauce
  7. Turkey Stock
  8. Best Brussels Sprouts Ever
  9. Rory’s Scrambled Eggs with Lobster and Chives
  10. Celeriac Fritters with Pears, Walnuts, Radicchio and Caper Mayonnaise
  11. Tart of Macroom Buffalo Ricotta with Roasted Red Onions,
  12. Mushrooms, Thyme and Marjoram

Memories of my childhood Christmas come flooding back at this time of year. How on earth did my beautiful mother manage to create such a wonderful Christmas for all of us, Rory and I have five brothers and two sisters. The excitement built from mid-November onwards when Mummy would start to plot and plan. The Christmas cakes and puddings were made, this took two whole afternoons – she’d specially wait until we came home from the village school so we could participate, washing and chopping cherries, deseeding moscatel raisins, chopping and peeling – everything had to be done from scratch then, and of course it was an advantage to have a few more hands around to help cream the butter and line the cake tin and stir the plum pudding. That was super exciting because we each had to make a wish, eyes tightly shut, before the fruity mixture flecked with suet  was packed into white delph bowls and covered with grease proof paper, “don’t forget to overlap it in the centre to allow the pudding to expand”. Little fingers held the knot to secure the twine handle tightly. Best of all the tradition in our house was to eat the first plum pudding on the night it was made. The Christmas season had begun and without doubt my mother’s plum pudding recipe (inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother) is the best recipe any of us have ever tasted and I’m not just being nostalgic. If you don’t believe me, try it this year and I’ll be expecting a flood of cards and emails after Christmas.


So Christmas is all about tradition, few want surprises on Christmas day. Everyone, particularly those who are coming home for the festive season, look forward to the same delicious Christmas dinner, a fine roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings, lots of gravy, roasties, Brussels sprouts and in our house creamed celery (sounds old-fashioned, there’s a ring of the Grand Hotel about it) but so good with the roast turkey particularly and it’s cooked several days ahead. Keep covered in the fridge or pop it into the freezer, and just reheat. Christmas is definitely a ton of work particularly for those who don’t normally spend much time in the kitchen.

So let’s make a plan so it’s easier and less stressful. Lists and lots of them are the way to start, allocate some fun roles to as many family and friends as you can cajole or shame into helping. Start with a two week planner; fill in the basics and your social engagements.

We often overestimate the amount of food we need. Next a list of jobs, dishes, a shopping list, what can be done ahead. Have the turkey, goose or ham been ordered? The best organic and free-range turkeys get snapped up early so hurry, hurry…

If there’s just two or four people, ask yourself do you really need a turkey, how about a beautiful organic chicken or a fat free range duck. Decide if you would like a rich Christmas cake – bake it right away, wrap it well and store it in a cool dry cupboard, wonderful for cutting into fingers to share when friends or neighbours drop by with a glass of port or a cup of tea.


Maybe you’d prefer a lighter cake, I love it baked in a low sided rectangular tin and cut into small squares and there’s also a white Christmas cake iced with meringue frosting in my Darina Allen’s Christmas book.  One way or another it’s time to get cracking if you want to have the satisfaction of ticking off some of the “to do” items on your list.

Most of the accompaniments and sauces both sweet and savoury can be made weeks ahead, make more than you need as gifts for  your friends, cranberry sauce, brandy butter and lots of chutneys and relishes.


Rory has shared several recipes from his new lovely book, “Cook Well, Eat Well”, which has just won the “Eurospar Cookbook of the Year Award” at the recent Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.


A Plate of Irish Charcuterie and Cured Meats


One of my favourite easy entertaining tricks is to serve a selection of Irish artisan charcuterie from inspired producers like Fingal Ferguson from Schull, West Cork and James McGeough from Oughterard, Co. Galway, Jack McCarthy from Kanturk, Co Cork, Patrick Mulcahy from Ballinwillin, Mitchelstown, Co Cork,  and Eoin Bird from The Wodded Pig in Tara, Co Meath.

The quality is so wonderful that I’m always bursting with pride as I serve it.


A selection of cured meats:

Air dried smoked Connemara lamb

Smoked venison

Gubbeen Prosciutto and Chorizo

Woodside Farm Salami and Chorizo

Dunmanus Castle beef salami

Pepper and Caraway salami

Three Castle Pastrami

West Cork Kassler

Rillettes, brawn


A selection of:

Crusty country breads, sour dough, yeast and Irish soda bread.

Tiny gherkins or cornichons

Fresh radishes, just trimmed but with some green leaf attached

A good green salad of garden lettuce and salad leaves


Arrange the meats and potted meat on a large platter, open a good bottle of red and tuck in!


Gravadlax with Cucumber Ribbon Salad and Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

A delicious light starter and also gluten free.

Serves 8


225-350g (8-12oz) Gravadlax


For the pickled cucumber strips,

1 cucumber

2 teaspoons salt

110g (4oz) sugar

75ml (3fl oz) cider vinegar


Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range

2 tablespoons French mustard

1 tablespoon white sugar

5fl oz (150ml) ground nut or sunflower oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon  dill, finely chopped

salt and white pepper


To serve

sprigs of dill,

freshly cracked black pepper




Two or three days before, prepare the gravlax.

On the day of serving: Make the cucumber pickle. Cut the cucumber in half, then cut into strips using a potato peeler. Put the cucumber into a deep bowl, add the sugar, salt and cider vinegar. Toss gently, leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes.


To make the Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise: Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.


To assemble: Unwrap the gravadlax, cut down to the skin in thin slices. Arrange the drained cucumber strips and the gravadlax in a haphazard way on each serving plate. Drizzle with Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise. Garnish with tiny sprigs of dill and chive or wild garlic flowers.


Finally add a little freshly cracked black pepper over each serving. Serve with Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread.



Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Salsa

This is our new favourite an excellent way to use up any stray pumpkin leftover from Halloween. This comes to us from the Autumn Certificate Course students who created this version to serve at the Slow Food Pop-up dinner in aid of the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project which teaches kids in nine local schools to grow and cook their own food. This is gluten free,
Serves 6


700g (1 1/2lbs) pumpkin or butternut squash (see below)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red chilli, chopped (depending how spicy it is)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon of grated ginger

4 kaffir lime leaves (small ones), roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon chana masala

1 scant teaspoon tamarind paste (soak it in hot water and press through the sieve)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (Nam Pla)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
400ml (14fl oz) homemade chicken stock, a little more if too thick
350ml (12fl oz) coconut milk (we use Thai Gold)
salt to taste


Coriander Salsa
25g (1oz) fresh coriander
3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds
75 ml (3fl oz) olive oil
salt to taste


To Serve
2 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds, crushed


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


First roast the pumpkin or butternut squash.

Remove the outer skin and seeds from the pumpkin and cut it into slices 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes depending on the size, turn occasionally during cooking. The pumpkin is cooked when the tip of a knife inserts easily into the thickest part of the wedge.


Fry the chopped chilli, garlic, ginger and lime leaves for a few minutes
Add the roasted pumpkin and chana masala to the spices and continue to cook stirring occasionally over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. 
Add the tamarind paste, lime juice, fish sauce and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil.  Add the coconut milk, stir and reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for further ten minutes.  Blitz in a liquidiser and sieve to make the soup really smooth.
Taste and add salt if needed.


Best to prepare in advance in order for all the flavours to blend. 

To make the coriander salsa:

Roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 5-8 minutes until golden at the edges. Allow to cool.

Put all the salsa ingredients into a food processor. Purée until smooth. The salsa should have a loose-ish texture. Taste and correct the seasoning.


To Serve:

Serve the hot soup with a blob of crème fraîche and a drizzle of coriander salsa, sprinkle a few crushed roasted pumpkin seeds over the top of each bowl.



Succulent Glazed Loin or Streaky Bacon

A ham is traditional at Christmas but I prefer a piece of succulent streaky bacon or loin, less expensive, just as delicious and so easy to carve.


Serves 12-15


1.8-2.25kg (4-5lbs) streaky or loin of bacon, either smoked or unsmoked

400g (14oz) 1 small tin of pineapple -use 3-4 tablespoons approx. of the juice

350g (12oz) brown Demerara sugar

whole cloves 20-30 approx.


Cover the bacon in cold water and bring slowly to the boil, if the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in this case it is preferable to discard this water. It may be necessary to change the water several times depending on how salty the bacon is, finally cover with hot water and simmer until almost cooked, allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb.  Remove the rind, cut the fat into a diamond pattern, and stud with cloves.  Blend brown sugar to a thick paste with a little pineapple juice, 3-4 tablespoons approx., be careful not to make it too liquid.  Spread this over the bacon.  Bake in a fully preheated hot oven 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until the top has caramelized.


Ballymaloe Spiced Beef

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in these parts without spiced beef. Although Spiced Beef is traditionally associated with Christmas it’s available all year round in the English Market.   It may be served hot or cold and is a marvellous stand-by, because if it is properly spiced and cooked it will keep for 3-4 weeks in a fridge.  Butchers have their own secret recipe but this superb recipe has been passed down in the Allen family of generations,


Serves 12-16


1.35kg-1.8kg (3-4lb ) lean flap of beef or silverside


Ballymaloe spice for beef

This delicious recipe for Spiced Beef has been handed down in Myrtle Allen’s family and is the best I know.  It includes saltpetre, nowadays regarded as a health hazard, so perhaps you should not live exclusively on it!  Certainly people have lived on occasional meals of meats preserved in this way, for generations. This recipe is also gluten free.

The recipe below makes enough spice to cure 5 flanks of beef, each 1.8kg (4lbs) approx. in size and can also be used to spice beef tongues.


225g (8oz) demerara sugar

350g (12oz) salt

15g (½oz) saltpetre (available from chemists)

75g (3oz) whole black pepper

75g (3oz) whole allspice (pimento, Jamaican pepper)

75g (3oz) whole juniper berries


Grind all the ingredients (preferably in a food processor) until fairly fine.  Store in a screw-top jar; it will keep for months, so make the full quantity even if it is more than you need at a particular time.


To prepare the beef:  If you are using flank of beef, remove the bones and trim away any unnecessary fat.  Rub the spice well over the beef and into every crevice.   Put into an earthenware dish and leave in a fridge or cold larder for 3-7 days, turning occasionally.   (This is a dry spice, but after a day or two some liquid will come out of the meat.).  The longer the meat is left in the spice, the longer it will last and the more spicy the flavour.

Just before cooking, roll and tie the joint neatly with cotton string into a compact shape, cover with cold water and simmer for 2-3 hours or until soft and cooked.  If it is not to be eaten hot, press by putting it on a flat tin or into an appropriate sized bread tin; cover it with a board and weight and leave for 12 hours.


Spiced Beef will keep for 3-4 weeks in a fridge.


To Serve

Cut it into thin slices and serve with some freshly-made salads and home-made chutneys, or in sandwiches.


Other good things to serve with Spiced Beef  are horseradish Sauce and Cucumber Pickle or warm potato, hard-boiled eggs and scallion salad or avocado, rocket leaves, tomato and chilli jam.


Old-fashioned Roast Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Traditional Bread Sauce


Serves 10-12


This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but it’s moist and full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.


(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets


Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16ozs) approx. soft breadcrumbs (check that the bread is non GM) (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Turkey Stock

neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey (save the liver for a pâte)

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns


For self-basting the turkey

225g (8ozs/2 sticks) butter

large square of muslin (optional)


Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)

Bread Sauce (see recipe)


To brine the turkey

6 litres (10½ pints) water

600g (1¼ lb) salt



large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress


Brine the turkey the night before, not essential but it makes for moist, tender and flavourful meat.


Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Put the turkey into a clean stainless steel saucepan, plastic bucket or tin.   Cover with the brine and a lid and chill for 24 hours.  Drain and dry well.  This is of course optional, but it hugely enhances the flavour of the turkey.


The next day, remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.


To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end.


Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2¾ -if brined) to 3¼ hours.  There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with tin foil.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word.



To test the turkey is done the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy. Easier said than done when oven space is at a premium, so cover with a large sheet of parchment, (I’m not keen on tin foil) and then wrap the whole thing snugly with a warm bath towel. It will keep hot while you make the gravy.


To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.


Present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crisp roasties. Garnish with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.


Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce and lots of gravy.



Traditional Bread Sauce


I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!  It’s good with roast chicken and guinea fowl as well as turkey. Use gluten free bread for a gluten free version – you may need more breadcrumbs.


Serves 6-8


600ml (1 pint) whole milk

110g (4½ oz) soft white breadcrumbs

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 or more cloves

35 – 50g (1½  – 2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75-110ml (2-3fl oz) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices (a French spice, equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.)


Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.


Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.


Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.


Best Brussels Sprouts Ever

Not surprisingly many people loathe Brussels sprouts because invariably they are over cooked.

The traditional way to cook sprouts was to cut a cross in the stalk so that they would, hopefully, cook more evenly. Fortunately I discovered quite by accident when I was in a mad rush one day, that if you cut the sprouts in half lengthways, or better still quarters, they cook much faster and taste infinitely more delicious so with this recipe I’ve managed to convert many ardent Brussels sprout haters! This recipe is also gluten free.

Serves 4-6


450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, (cut lengthways top to bottom)

600ml (1 pint) water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

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

salt and freshly ground pepper


Choose even medium sized sprouts. Trim the outer leaves if necessary and cut them in half or quarters lengthways – cut into quarters if they are very large. Salt the water (its really important to add enough salt) and bring to a fast rolling boil. Toss in the sprouts, cover the saucepan just for a minute until the water returns to the boil, then uncover and continue for 5 or 6 minutes or until the sprouts are cooked through but still have a slight bite. Drain very well.


Melt a little butter or extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, roll the sprouts gently in the butter, season with lots of freshly ground pepper and salt. Taste and serve immediately in a hot serving dish.


Note * If the sprouts are not to be served immediately, drain and refresh them under cold water just as soon as they are cooked. Just before serving, drop them into boiling salted water for a few seconds to heat through. Drain and toss in the butter, season and serve. This way they will taste almost as good as if they were freshly cooked: certainly much more delicious than sprouts kept warm for half an hour in an oven or a hostess trolley.


Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Crispy Bacon or Chorizo

Add 2-4oz (50-110g) of crispy bacon lardons or chorizo and 50g (2oz) of toasted and chopped hazelnuts to the above recipe and serve immediately.



















Rory’s Scrambled Eggs with Lobster and Chives


Cooked lobster is now so much easier to find – so this treat can be made without having to cook the lobster yourself.


Serves 4 as a starter or 30 as a canapé


225g cooked lobster, chopped into 2cm pieces

4 tablespoons cream

8 free-range eggs

sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

25g butter

grilled sourdough bread


to serve

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons finely chopped

fresh chives

1 tablespoon chive flowers (optional)


This is a delicious combination that can be served as a starter or canapé on grilled bread or melba toast. Shrimp or crayfish could replace the lobster in the recipe. The addition of cream to the cooked eggs prevents the mixture from solidifying, making it an ideal dish to prepare in advance. I hold the cooked mixture at room temperature for a couple of hours and serve it on hot grilled or toasted bread.

The optional chive flowers make a pretty and delicious garnish, but they could be replaced another time with garlic, kale or fennel flowers.


Place the lobster and cream in a small saucepan and gently heat to a bare simmer, then remove from the heat.


Beat the eggs with a good pinch of salt and pepper.


Melt the butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the beaten eggs and cook over a gentle heat, stirring all the time with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon. When the eggs are just beginning to scramble, add the lobster and cream and keep cooking for a few more minutes, until the eggs are a creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and transfer from the saucepan to a bowl. The eggs will not set hard like cold scrambled eggs, but will retain their lovely softness. The eggs are best served barely warm but are also good at room temperature.


When ready to serve, spread the scrambled eggs over the hot grilled bread. Grate over the lemon zest and finish with a sprinkling of chives and chive flowers (if using).

Serve immediately.


From Rory O’Connells “Cook Well, Eat Well” published by Gill Books, photographs by Joanne Murphy




Celeriac Fritters with Pears, Walnuts, Radicchio and Caper Mayonnaise


sunflower oil, for deep frying

120g (4¼ oz) celeriac (weight after peeling), peeled and cut into fine julienne, like long matchsticks

12 watercress sprigs

12 radicchio leaves

1 ripe pear, cut in quarters lengthways, cored and thinly sliced

16 walnut halves

4 generous teaspoons homemade mayonnaise 28 capers


140g (4¾ oz)plain flour

pinch of salt

1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

100ml (3½fl oz) water

1 large egg white, beaten until quite stiff


6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon honey

sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

Celeriac, or root celery, as it is sometimes called, is a terrific vegetable. It make a marvellous soup, is great roasted or as a purée and is the essential ingredient in the classic remoulade, in which case it is eaten raw. The flavour of celeriac is milder and sweeter than the green celery we are more familiar with. These crisp fritters are served here as a main course but would also be very good as a starter, in which case the recipe would serve eight people. I use peppery watercress sprigs and radicchio leaves here, but you could substitute a mixture of leaves.


Makes 4


Make the batter for frying the fritters first. Place the flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and whisk in enough water to form a smooth batter the consistency of thick cream. Chill for 30 minutes, then fold in the stiffly beaten egg white.


Whisk all the dressing ingredients together. Taste and correct the seasoning.


When ready to cook the fritters, heat 10cm of sunflower oil in a heavy-bottomed cast iron or stainless steel saucepan until it reaches 180°C, or if you have a deep fat fryer, that will work perfectly.


Mix the celeriac through the batter. Gently drop four large spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and cook until crisp and golden brown on both sides, which should take about 10 minutes in total. Remove from the oil, drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven. They will remain crisp for 20 minutes or so.


To serve, place the salad leaves, sliced pear and walnuts in a large bowl and dress with the well-mixed dressing. Divide between four plates and place a fritter on top of each salad. Drop 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise on top of the fritters and scatter on the capers. Add a few grains of sea salt and serve immediately.

From Rory O’Connells “Cook Well, Eat Well” published by Gill Books, photographs by Joanne Murphy


Tart of Macroom Buffalo Ricotta with Roasted Red Onions,

Mushrooms, Thyme and Marjoram

250g puff pastry

2 medium red onions, peeled and each onion cut into 8 even-sized wedges

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

2 large sprigs of fresh thyme

sea salt and freshly ground black


100g buffalo or sheep’s milk ricotta

25g Parmesan, grated

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large flat mushroom

2 teaspoons fresh marjoram leaves

To serve

salad of mixed leaves

I am delighted to be able to use Irish ricotta that comes from

Macroom in County Cork, where the buffalos that produce the milk for the cheese are happily grazing on Irish grass. I find these sort of sustainable developments in Irish food production quite thrilling and I congratulate all involved who had the vision and energy to run with an idea that may have sounded hare-brained to many.


The tart can be served as a starter or as a main course and I always serve a salad of mixed leaves with a simple olive oil dressing to accompany it. The quality of the puff pastry you are using is really important for a fresh-tasting result that isn’t greasy. I always make my own puff pastry and freeze a few pieces so that I have it to hand when I need it. If you are buying puff pastry, make sure it is made with butter. The technique used here for creating a tart using puff pastry is one that can be repeated over and over again with other vegetables and fruit.


The mushroom in the recipe is one of those big flat mature mushrooms that has dark brown gills rather than the smaller ones with pink gills. The more deeply flavoured mushroom that I favour here stands up well to the robust flavour of the roasted onions and pairs well with the delicate ricotta. Serves 4


Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.


Roll the pastry out and cut into a neat 22cm circle, saving the pastry trimmings for another day. Place on the lined baking sheet. To achieve a rim on the cooked tart, cut another circle 1cm in from the edge of the pastry. Your knife should pierce the pastry about 1mm deep and should be an obvious cut, not just a mark. This 1cm rim will be the risen edge of the cooked tart and will hold the vegetables in place.


Now pierce the pastry inside the 1cm rim all over with a normal table fork, making sure you feel the tines of the fork hitting the baking sheet. Do no pierce outside of the 1cm ring with your fork. The somewhat alarming holes you have created will close and reseal when it cooks. Chill the pastry until you are ready to assemble the tart.


Toss the onions in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, add the thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper. Tip into a roasting tray and cook in the oven for 30 minutes, until tender. Cool completely.


Mix the ricotta with the Parmesan, thyme leaves and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.


To assemble the tart, spread the ricotta mixture over the base, making sure not to go onto the pastry rim. Arrange the roasted onions on top. Cut the mushroom into slices 1cm thick and place cap side down, stalk side up, in a circle on top of the onions. Season the mushroom slices. If the thyme sprigs still look reasonable respectable, I pop these on top as well as I love their roasted appearance.


Cook in the oven for 30 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and cooked through. Add a final few grains of sea salt and the marjoram leaves and serve as soon as possible.

Christmas Presents

How do we keep the magic of Christmas alive at a time in history when we are all being mercilessly manipulated by commercial interests. Resentment is mounting, particularly among Mná na h’Éireann, the mothers, grandmothers, aunties who are feeling intense pressure to deliver on the unrealistic expectations built up by constant advertising and clever marketing. Several people recently told me that they have to resist the urge to run and hide “until it’s all over” and what they are really looking forward to most is that delicious moment after Christmas when they can punch the air and say, Hooray- thank goodness that’s over for another year – how sad is that – but hardly surprising that we feel completely frazzled instead of festive.

Some feel like screaming when they hear, yet again, the words “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday”. How many more shopping days to Christmas …such pressure, we can’t stop the clock or halt the relentless advertising.

We all know shopping doesn’t do it….so let’s just snuggle up together, make some lists and start to cook some yummy things that we can share with family and friends. It’s really is a good feeling to know that much of the preparation is done and tucked neatly into the freezer or preserved in bottles and jars, ready for the off.  I love to have lots of soup in the freezer to defrost at a moment’s notice or to give as pressies. So I’ve chosen a variety of recipes that can be used as gifts or to enhance you and your family’s Christmas.









Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

This unusual jam is super delicious with ham or roast pork.

600g (1 1/4lbs) carrots

500g (18oz/2 1/4 cups) caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split


Trim and scrape the carrots.  Grate on a medium sized grater.  Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods.  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick.

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly.



Pear or Nashi Chutney with Lemon Verbena

Makes 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars


2 large onions, chopped

1 organic lemon, quartered and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fennel seed

175g (6oz) sugar

2 cloves garlic, chopped

200ml (7fl oz) white wine vinegar

6 Conference or Nashi pears (700g/1 1/2lb) peeled and diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)

60g (2 1/2oz) sultanas

1 tablespoon lemon verbena


Put the onions into a stainless steel saucepan, add the lemon, fennel seed, sugar, garlic and white wine vinegar.

Peel, core and chop pears and add to the saucepan with the sultanas.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently stirring occasionally for 25 minutes approximately until reduced by more than half its original volume.  Add the lemon verbena and continue to cook for a further 4-5 minutes.

Pour into sterilized jars and cover.

Allow to mellow for 2 weeks before serving.  Keeps for 6 months or more.


Marie and Gustav Mandelmann’s Green Tomato Marmalade with Chilli


You may not have green tomatoes at this time of year but this recipe transforms the under-ripe Winter tomatoes into something totally delicious.   We always have masses of green tomatoes at the end of the season when it becomes colder in the Autumn and the tomatoes ripen more slowly. Really good with cold meats and pâté.



1 kg (2¼ lbs) green tomatoes

3 organic lemons

1 chilli

500 g (18 oz) sugar


Blend the tomatoes roughly, slice the lemons thinly and finely chop the chilli. Mix all the ingredients and stir in the sugar. Leave overnight. The next day bring it to the boil until it is the perfect consistency, approximately 1 hour. Put into clean sterilise jars.

Red Pepper and Tomato Chutney

Good with spiced beef, cold meats and coarse pâtes and terrines.


Makes 3 – 5 jars depending on size


8oz (225g) onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1lb (450g) very ripe red peppers, seeded and chopped into 1/4 inch (5mm) dice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

4oz (110g) raisins

1 clove garlic, chopped

7oz (200g) white sugar

5fl oz (150ml) white wine vinegar


Sweat the onions in the olive oil in a tall narrow stainless steel saucepan, add the chopped peppers, salt and spices. After 10 minutes, add the tomatoes, raisins, chopped garlic, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 1 1/3 hours or until it looks thickish. Pour into small sterilized glass jars and store in a cool dry place.

Christmas Mustard

Pot into tiny pots and label creatively

Makes about 175ml (6fl oz)


1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1 dessert brown mustard seeds (optional)

175ml (6fl oz) boiling water

1-2 teaspoons freshly chopped herbs: dill, tarragon, chives, parsley, chervil or a combination

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar


Grind the mustard seeds in a spice grinder or a food processor until fine.  Put into a small heavy bottomed saucepan with the boiling water, stir well over a low heat and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes.  It will thicken gradually.

Remove to a bowl, add the herb, seasoning and vinegar to taste.  Store in glass jars with screw tops.  Allow to mature for a few days before using.


Cheese Sablées with Sesame Seeds

A brilliant recipe for using up left over bits of cheese, add a little blue cheese if available.

Any bits of left over cheese eg. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gruyére, Coolea, Cashel Blue … a little soft cheese may also be added but you will need some hard cheese to balance the flavour.


Weigh cheese then use equal amounts of butter and plain white flour.

Grate the cheese – rinds and all. Dice the butter.  Cream the butter and stir in the flour and grated cheese, form into a roll like a long sausage, about 4cm (1 1/2 inches) thick.

Roll in sesame seeds to coat the exterior.

Alternatively whizz in a food processor until it forms a dough, shape using a little flour if necessary. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 -2 hours until solid.

Slice into rounds – about 7mm (1/3 inch) thick.  Arrange on a baking tray, cook in a preheated oven 250ºC/475ºF/regulo 9 for approximately 5 minutes until golden brown.

Leave to cool for a couple of seconds then transfer to a wire rack.   Best eaten warm on the day they are made as they soften quite quickly.


Charlotte’s Swedish Seed Crackers

Delicious, just with butter, cheese or smoked salmon and perfect for a present I pop some into cellophane wrap and tie them with a tartan ribbon and a sprig of holly, alternatively put them in an airtight tin and include it in the present.


Makes 48 approx.

200g (7oz) sunflower seeds

130g (4 1/2oz) pumpkin seeds

70g (2 3/4oz) flax seeds

70g (2 3/4oz) sesame seeds

2 tablespoons psyllium husk

2 tablespoons almond flour

1 teaspoon salt

450ml (15fl oz) water


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

Line the two baking trays with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together (should be the consistency of watery porridge).

Divide in half and spread as thinly as possible on parchment paper.

Sprinkle with sea salt and poppy seeds on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 70 minutes approximately until dry.

Store in pieces in an air-tight tin.  Keep dry, pop into a hot oven for a few minutes before serving to crisp them up.

Delicious, just with butter, cheese or smoked salmon.


Lily O’Connell’s Best Ever Plum Pudding with Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce


It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.


It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.  Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.


This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings.  The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.


12oz (350g) raisins

12oz (350g) sultanas

12oz (350g) currants

10oz (300g) soft brown sugar

12oz (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)

12oz (350g) finely-chopped beef suet

4oz (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4oz (110g/) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2 1/2 fl oz (62ml) Jamaica Rum


Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.


Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.


On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with

Brandy Butter.


You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire – as well as the pudding! Love to use sparklers too.



Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce

This recipe is so delicious that people ask to have more Plum Pudding just so that they can have an excuse to eat lots of sauce.  This makes a large quantity but the base will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can use a little at a time, adding whipped cream to taste.


110g (4oz) butter

200g  (7oz) Barbados sugar * (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

1 organic free-range egg

62ml (2½fl oz) medium sherry

62ml (2½fl oz) port

1.3-1.4litres (2 ¼  -2½pints) lightly whipped cream

Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow to cool slightly.  Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port.  Refrigerate.

When needed, add the lightly whipped cream to taste.

This sauce is also very good with mince pies and other tarts.






Another irresistible present that lasts for months.


Makes 2 cakes


sunflower oil, for greasing

100g (3 1/2oz) blanched almonds – toasted

100g (3 1/2oz) blanched hazelnuts – toasted

100g (3 1/2oz) unsalted shelled pistachios

50g (2oz) whole sour cherries

50g (2oz) Lexia raisins

50g (2oz) Medjool dates, roughly chopped

50g (2oz) figs, roughly chopped

50g (2oz) dried apricots, roughly chopped

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

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch ground cloves

pinch freshly grated nutmeg

100g (3 1/2oz/scant 1 cup) plain flour

pinch of salt

200g (7oz) clear honey

200g (7oz) granulated sugar

icing sugar, to serve


2 x 18cm (7 inch) round tins


Line the base of each tin with rice or parchment paper.


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


Mix the toasted almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios in a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix together the spices, flour and salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix until thoroughly combined.

Combine the honey and sugar in a medium-sized pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 115°C/240°F on a sugar thermometer.


Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and mix well. Spoon into the prepared tin and spread level.


Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 45–50 minutes, until firm. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin and carefully ease out the panforte. Dust with icing sugar to serve.


*Stored in an airtight container, panforte keeps for weeks even months but gradually gets harder!.



Mead is a honey wine and it’s super easy to make. Use raw local fresh honey.

The process of yeasts fermenting sugars into alcohol is a natural phenomenon.  It happens easily with overripe fruits, or in the case of mead, when honey is diluted in water. Use pure water

Makes  1.25 litres (2 pints)

1 part raw honey

4 parts water

Mix the honey with the water in a jar.  Stir vigorously creating a vortex in the middle.


Cover the jar with a piece of muslin or a cotton handkerchief to keep out flies and dust.  Stir vigorously several times a day.  After a few days of frequent stirring, you will notice that the honey water has bubbles on the surface.  Keep stirring, on and off,  for a few more days until the bubbles increase.  After a week or 10 days the bubbling begins to subside.  The mead is ready to drink at this stage but it will better at 3 weeks.


The quality of water is very important here so avoid chlorinated tap water.  Tap water can be de-chlorinated by simply allowing it to sit uncovered in a wide rimmed bowl overnight.










Christmas Biscuits

This dough can be used for all kinds of shapes, round, square, rectangles, stars, hearts, teddy bears, animals, birds……


Makes 20-30


175g (6oz) flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1/2 – 1 egg, free-range and organic


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


Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Rub in the butter, add the caster sugar and mix well.  Beat the egg.  Mix the dry ingredients to a stiff dough with the beaten egg.

Turn out on to a floured board and roll out to a scant 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness.  Cut the biscuits with the cutter of your choice.  Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes depending on thickness.  Cool on a wire rack.

When cold, decorate as desired. Alternatively ice them together with butter cream or jam, or a simple dusting of icing sugar.


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All Darinas Letters are published each week in The Examiner

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  • Recipes