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     As soon as the Christmas decorations are down it's time to start thinking about Marmalade!  In January Seville oranges come to Ir...


Christmas drinking!

"A refreshing long drink for the drivers!"

Ginger Syrup 

Not just a refreshing drink for those who do not wish to drink, but a tummy settler after too much good food and a welcome sweetener for a 'lemsip'.

225g sugar
300ml water
2 lemons un-waxed or organic
1cm slice of ginger

Put the sugar and water to a saucepan.
Finely grate the zest from the lemons into the saucepan.
Grate the ginger and add to the saucepan.
Put the saucepan on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.
Cover the pan with a lid or cling film and leave overnight.
Next day cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the saucepan.
Strain the contents of the pan through a sieve and into a sterilised bottle. Dilute to taste with still or sparkling water.


"Helpful Hints for Christmas Food"

I am going to post a series of thoughts and photos over the next while under this title. I am starting the post with these notes which formed the basis of a cookery demonstration I did for my parish last Monday. 

Christmas cookery notes
         Start clearing the freezer this week!

This will give you an opportunity to see what fruit you have in there and turn it into jam or chutney to give away as presents.

When it comes to the "Christmas Dinner" plan your cooking schedule and delegate!

Work back from the time you plan to sit down to dinner and plan what has to be done from the time the roast goes into the oven onwards. Write a timetable and stick it on the fridge. If you can keep a copy with you!

In some families it is usual to descend on one household for Christmas dinner, if that is your house do not be afraid to DELEGATE. Spend a little time working out what your guests are good at and ask them well in advance to do something small that will help you enormously and if they are forgetful a quick text a day or two before reminding them how much you are looking forward to their contribution will nudge their memory!

It could be to bring a bag of logs because they have access to them or a dessert because they make the best one you've tasted. Flattery will get you places!

         If you have children in the house who are use to eating at a particular time and you'll be eating later feed them something small, but sustaining at their usual meal time so that hunger does not fray their tempers & yours!

Do not attempt to have *deep breath* prawn cocktail/smoked salmon, soup, turkey, ham, spiced beef, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, red cabbage, cranberry sauce, gravy, Christmas pudding, Brandy butter, trifle, mince pies, tea/coffee and Christmas cake! all at the one meal!

         Choose the elements that you and your family will enjoy! If you want to have all the trimmings have them as elements of the different main meals over the festive period.

Nothing bad will happen if you don't have Brussels sprouts on Christmas day!

Consider portion size, less is definitely more on Christmas day.


         The day after boxing/Stephan's day strip the turkey carcass and make stock. Freeze the meat in manageable amounts and label them. Do the same with the ham and spiced beef. Freeze the stock, I use ice cream tubs. Don't forget to label them.

Most of all try to remember to enjoy yourself! Happy Christmas :) 


Bread, The Staff of Life?

The two finished loaves.

           I love bread! Sadly bread does not love me, I won't go into details but I find it has an unpleasant effect on my lower gut.

          I have been fascinated with it since doing the Bible story of the Passover and the Israelites not having time to let the bread rise. Unleavened bread became my goal what did it taste like and how was it made? 
I found a sort of an answer in a remaindered copy of 'The Royal Cook Book" a collection of recipes from the Royal houses around the world. It was a recipe for Poori or Puri a deep fried Indian bread.
I got quite good at making these and was given a little book on breads by some visitors we had staying at the time. My attempts at making yeast breads from the little book were not so successful. It did give me a life long interest in bread and all things bread related.

The dough ready for it's ten minute kneading!

           Over the years I have experimented with different breads, both yeast and soda. Earlier this year I went on a course to learn how to make a Pizza oven and that re-sparked my bread interest. Even though I was eating less and less of the stuff.
          I have always liked the breads from Declan and Patsy Ryan's Arbutus Bread started in Cork in 1999. They also run a four part bread course and last Wednesday I did part  three and was given a portion of the sour dough starter they use.
          Declan explained to us on the first night how using sour dough makes the loaves more digestible that even some coeliacs can eat it. This got me thinking....
Spelt, I knew is an old form of wheat with lower levels of gliadin, a protein that effects the gut.
          Could I combine the sour dough starter and spelt to make a loaf I can eat?
The starter is based on wheat flour, but over time feeding it with spelt it will become almost all spelt.
It was worth a try.

The round loaf just before it went into the oven.

         So, yesterday I used some of it to make my first seeded spelt sour dough loaves! As I was a bit hazy on the quantities and method so I used Patrick Ryan's "Bread Revolution" recipe.
          I made two small loves the round about 180g of dough only got one very long prove the other had seeds added to it. It was about 400g of dough and it had two provings, the second in a loaf tin.
The double proving was more successful with a slightly deeper flavour and seemed a little lighter.
I do not expect to get super light and airy loves from spelt, but if I can get a more digestible loaf I will be very happy.  

The inside of the round loaf.

          The experiment has begun, I need to refine the recipe and keep feeding the starter. When it all comes together I'll let you know.

Thanks for reading and please do leave a comment.


Mushrooms and other Fungi

         It has been a good year for mushrooms. I even made a batch of mushroom ketchup from field mushrooms growing in our fields. Some of the ones in the basket below went into it. This salty and spicy liquid is a flavour enhancer when added to soups and stews. We made it in a large glazed crock at home.

Field Mushrooms.

         It has also been a good year for non edible fungi too I found this candlewick fungus growing in the yard.

Candlewick fungus.

         The best bit has been eating all the tasty ones we can eat, but as always do not eat anything from the wild unless you are 110% sure you know that it is safe to eat.

 In the pan!

        I also took a chance and sowed some Padron pepper seeds from one if the riper peppers and they came up. Hopefully that will put us a head for next year.

Padron pepper seedlings.


Mint Chocolate Brownies


I promised to put the mint chocolate brownies on the blog and here they are!
I used Tesco "Dark Chocolate Mint Thins"  which are a bit like "After Eights" .
Both of which work really well.
I have used 100g of walnuts or pecans or grated beetroot or white chocolate chips in stead of the mints. To make various sorts of brownies.
This recipe also works perfectly with gluten free flour too.

Folding in the mints!

 Mint Chocolate Brownies

100 g butter
100 g dark chocolate
225 g caster sugar
100 g plain flour
1 level tsp of baking powder

2 eggs
100g wafer thin mints (After Eights)

Set the oven to GM 4, 150˚C.
Line a 20 by 30 cm baking tin with baking parchment.
Break up the dark chocolate into a bowl and add the butter. Put the bowl into a pot with 4 cm of hot water in it and put the pot onto a low heat. When the chocolate has melted, take the bowl off the heat and sift in the flour and baking powder.
Add the sugar, eggs and broken up mints. Stir them together to mix well and spoon into the baking tin and bake for 30 minutes.
Let them cool in the tin for 10 minutes and cut them into squares and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Ready for the oven.


Spicing it up at Ballymaloe

      Yesterday was a beautiful late Summer's day and I was lucky to spend it at the Ballymaloe Fest  My husband Tom and I had been asked to give a talk on growing and cooking stuff from out garden. As we, and most people who grow veg have an abundance of courgettes at the moment we thought that using them would be useful.
     There was some discussion as to whether we were making pakoras or bhajis, but we found an expert who explained the difference. Bhajis are larger, round and mainly onion.
     We used a brand of curry powder which we like, but do play around with the spicing until you find a mixture that you like. If you are looking for spices have a look at our local spice company Green Saffron 

Spicy Sesame Salad 
  This salad is a favourite of ours, we sometimes have it as an accompaniment or we will add noodles and a some spicy grilled meat to make a main course of it.

1tsp soy sauce
1tsp nam pla/fish sauce
juice of half a lime or 1tbs rice or cider vinegar
1cm piece of ginger grated
1 clove of garlic grated
½ a chilli chopped
1tbs sesame oil
4tbs sunflower oil

3tbs sesame seeds
4 handfuls of rocket
4 handful coriander leaves
12 large basil leaves
20 mint leaves
½ a cucumber
3 scallions or a shallot

To make the dressing put the soy sauce, nam pla/fish sauce, lime juice, grated ginger, crushed garlic and chopped chilli* into a screw top jar. Put the lid on the jar and give it a good shake. Add the oils to the jar and cover and shake well again.
Toast the sesame seeds on a dry pan until darker and beginning to release their aroma, leave to cool.
Wash the rocket and coriander and put them in to a large bowl.
Tear the basil leaves and finely slice the mint leaves and add them to the bowl.
Using a julienne peeler or a swivel peeler shred the half cucumber.
Trim and slice the scallions or shallot and add to the salad.
Mix together the salad and add the dressing and the toasted sesame seeds. Taste, season and serve.
*If you don't want the full spiciness of the chilli just put a slice of chilli into the dressing jar and bruise it with the blunt end of a wooden spoon and shake the dressing well and remove the slice of chilli before serving.

Courgette Pakoras

The amount of chickpea flour you need depends on how watery the courgettes are.
2-3 courgettes
1 onion
0.5cm ginger
1 large clove of garlic
2-3tsp curry powder
3-4tbs chickpea flour also called gram flour
salt & pepper
vegetable oil for deep frying

Grate the courgettes into a bowl. Peel the onion ginger and garlic and grate them into the bowl onto the courgettes.
Sprinkle on the curry powder, using as much or as little as you feel like. Stir well.
Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of chickpea flour and mix it in add some salt and pepper. The mixture should be fairly thick. If it isn't add more chickpea flour until it is.
Heat a pan with about 5cm of oil in it.
Test the oil with a cube of bread to see if it is hot enough. When it is cook dessert spoonfuls of the pakora mixture in it until golden.
Drain them on kitchen paper and serve with a cucumber raita. 
If you fancy some more heat, use a hot curry powder and add a finely chopped chilli.



Chocolate Crunch! circa 2013!

Chocolate biscuit cake

150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
150g butter
2tbs golden syrup
250g rich tea biscuits
12 marshmallows

Line a 30cmx18cm Swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
Break the chocolate into pieces and put them into a glass or metal bowl.
Put 6 cm of hot water in to a saucepan, put the saucepan on to a low heat and place the bowl on top.
Stir the chocolate, butter and syrup until they have melted together. Turn off the heat.
Put the biscuits into a plastic bowl and crush them with a rolling pin, not too fine leave some large pieces.
Stir the broken biscuits and marshmallows into the melted chocolate mix.
Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin and smooth the mixture out to fill the tin.
 Decorate with 50g of melted dark, 50g of melted milk & 50g of melted white chocolate a la Jackson Pollock!
Chill till cold and cut into slices.

Add the butter cut into chunks and the golden syrup. 

Put 6 cm of hot water in to a saucepan, put the saucepan on to a low heat and place the bowl on top.
Stir the chocolate, butter and syrup until they have melted together. Turn off the heat.

Stir the broken biscuits and marshmallows into the melted chocolate mix.
Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin and smooth the mixture out to fill the tin.

Stir the broken biscuits and marshmallows into the melted chocolate mix.
Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin and smooth the mixture out to fill the tin.

Slightly out of focus!

 Decorate with 50g of melted dark, 50g of melted milk & 50g of melted white chocolate a la Jackson Pollock!
Chill till cold and cut into slices! 


Roll on Summer!

               I made these bread rolls today as an experiment for the Cookery Camps I'll be teaching over the Summer. They are soft 'White Dinner Rolls'. Great with soup, salads or as a breakfast roll.

Last of the rolls!

Sesame Bread Rolls

350g plain flour
1 sachet fast action yeast
200ml warm water
1tsp salt
2tbs olive oil
1tbs vegetable oil
beaten egg
1tbs sesame seeds

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the yeast from the sachet.
Dissolve the salt in the warm water and add to the flour and yeast. Add the olive oil and mix it all together to make a dough.
Knead the dough on the table, dust the table with flour if the dough is sticky.
Knead the dough until smooth and springy.
Coat the dough in the vegetable oil and place in the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and put in a warm place for 30-45 minutes until doubled in size.
Grease a Swiss roll tin.
Take the dough out and knead again until springy. Divide into 8 or 9 pieces and shape them into rolls, place them onto a Swiss roll tin, leaving space in between them.
Cover with cling film and a tea towel and put them back into the warm place for 30 minutes, until they get bigger and start to touch each other.
Heat the oven to 220˚C, GM 7.
Take the tea towel and film off the rolls, brush the rolls with egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.
Bake in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes.They will be golden and will sound hollow when wrapped with a knuckle underneath. Cool on a wire rack.


Waste not want not!

       The first of the summer peas are the sweetest, long waited for and very special. Podding them takes time, but it is one job where you have to sit and do it. A cup of tea and someone to help you is pleasant. Or with a glass of wine while someone else prepares the rest of the meal is an excellent way to relax at the end of the working day. Even better & the sun shines and you can sit outside.
      As the pile of pods grows the small mound of peas grows too. The mound of peas seems disappointingly small compared to the pile of pods.
      When the peas are cooked and enjoyed, so sweet, so tasty, so quickly gone.
The pile of pods remains. Compost? Give them to the horses or hens?
Or soup?

      Pea-pod soup has a long and honourable history amongst thrifty cooks and it has a sweet refreshing flavour. The mint helps cut the sweetness.
      You can skip the blending part of the recipe, but you must strain the soup through the 'mouli' or a sieve or it becomes a very high fiber soup!
      I've always wondered why we 'eat' soup even though it is a liquid!


                                                       Pea Pod Soup                                                                                    
1 onion chopped
1 stick of celery chopped
1 small clove of garlic chopped
large knob of butter
1 med potato peeled & chopped small
300g pea-pods
3 sprigs of mint
Pepper & salt
1l stock
Whipped cream & chopped mint to serve

Chopped garlic, onion & celery

Chopped potato, mint and stock

Heat the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and soften the onion celery and garlic in it.
Add the potato, pea-pods, mint and the stock and bring to the boil.
Taste the stock and season with pepper and salt. Turn the heat down and simmer until the pods are soft and the potato cooked, about 10 - 15 minutes.


Turn the heat off and leave till cool enough to blend in a processor or with a stick blender. Blend and then put through a 'mouli' or a sieve, return to a clean pan and reheat.
Serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of chopped mint. 

A plate of soup for eating


Finding a box of memories.

        When I was growing up in the kitchen drawer there was a knife known as "The knife"!
It had been a carbon steel dinner knife, but over the years it had been sharpened so much the blade had worn away to about 3 inches. It was very easy to sharpen and when just sharpened you could have shaved with it.
        I had forgotten about it until the other week when I was passing a local second hand shop. There were some boxes outside and one was marked everything '50c'! How could I resist a rummage? So I delved in and found an old carving fork, a carbon steel bread knife with the word "Bread" carved into the handle similar to one that we'd had at home, and then down at the bottom of the box I spotted a bone handle and a blade that looked very familiar. It was a "The knife"!
         Lots of memories came flooding back of home, learning to cook and the wonderful Delia who helped Mum and was always there too. 
         I brought the three pieces into the shop and happily handed over my €1.50.
I've given the three of them a good clean and now the have pride of place in my kitchen drawer.
                                           Did "The knife" sharpen up well? Yes!

"The Knife mark 2"


Cucumber Pickle

Sugar, vinegar, onion, cucumber and salt. All you need for this pickle.

Mary's Cucumber Pickle
Mary works with me in my day job and is a keen gardener growing lots of vegetables with her husband in their garden and poly-tunnel. This pickle is one of her ways of making the cucumbers last longer. It is great with cold meat and salad or with oily fish such as salmon or mackerel.

3 cucumbers
1 large onion
¾ a cup of white wine vinegar
1 ½ cups sugar
2tbs salt

If the skins on the cucumbers are very tough peel them. Slice the cucumbers into rounds or using a swivel peeler shred them into long thin ribbons, discarding the seeds if they are very watery.
Peel and slice the onion very thinly.
In a large bowl mix together the vinegar, sugar and salt add the cucumber and onion.
Stir everything round to mix well. Cover the bowl and leave overnight in the fridge.
Pack into clean sterilised jars the next day sharing out the pickle between the jars.
This pickle will keep for up to 6 months in the fridge.

This is what it looks like 6 months later.


Easter Cake

The top of our Easter 'cake'.

 I finished another icing course just before Easter and here is the 'cake' I decorated. The colours are a bit paler than I hoped they'd be.

The front with a 'run out' swallow.

The swan side.

The butterfly side.

The top showing the cage work.

The view from above.


Wild Garlic

The wild garlic season is here, the leaves have been up for a while and the flowers are just starting to come out. I love having a crop that just appears in our woods and we can use it when it's there. Then it goes and we have to wait for next year. Makes a change from all year round supplies of so many treats these days.
        Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate being able to get so many things all year, but some things just taste so much better in season.
I made the tart for lunch the other day, and the pesto was for a cookery class I gave a week or so back.
       The picture of the pesto is from a teens cookery camp I taught during the Easter break, they also made fresh pasta. That got the biggest wow! from one participant.

Wild garlic & ricotta tart

Wild garlic and ricotta tart

300g  short crust pastry
1 tub ricotta
3 eggs
125g smoked bacon bits
1 red onion sliced
bunch of wild garlic chopped
grated Parmesan to sprinkle over the top

Set the oven to 190˚C, GM 5
Line the large 23cm loose-bottomed tin with the pastry & bake blind for about 20 minutes.
Fry the bacon pieces and onion in a spoonful of oil, until the bacon starts to brown and the onion is soft. Put the onion and bacon into a bowl and add the wild garlic and the ricotta. Mix well and add the eggs and some black pepper and mix again.
Fill the pastry shell with the mixture and sprinkle grated Parmesan over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Check the tart after 15 minutes to make sure the edges of the pastry aren't burning, turn down the heat to 180˚C, GM 4 if they are, or cover them with foil. Pop the plain cold shelf in if using an aga.
Test for doneness with a skewer or knife. the top will rise and go golden.Take out of the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and serve with a salad.

Wild Garlic Pesto

60g wild garlic
60g pine nuts
half a tsp of salt
1tbs lemon juice
60g grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil

Pound the wild garlic, pine nuts and salt together in a mortar or whiz in the food processor. Stir in the lemon juice and grated Parmesan. Thin the mixture with olive oil to a thick paste.

Pesto making!