Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Competitive growing of courgettes in the allotment

growing courgettes on an allotment

Being In-Door-Barbeque season again, the unusually cold spell seems to be slowing growth particularly with my courgettes. Courgette is the French name for immature marrows also known as zucchini in Italian – I’m glad I’ve finally teased that out. Of the species Cucurbita Pepo, it is the same family as pumpkin and squashes and prone to the cucumber mosaic virus (a mildew) but resistant varieties can be bought such as the ‘Defender’ (courgette with attitude) and the ‘Supremo’ (arrogant courgette). They’re a good source of folate, potassium, the all-important fibre and vitamin C. They take up considerable space and must be planted ninety centimetres apart each way. But two or three plants are all that is required to supply the average post Celtic Tiger household in Ireland. They also come in yellow, my favourite colour.

I was discussing their slow start in an over-the-fence-chat with Jim my allotment neighbour, and if truth be told and I’m not ashamed to admit it, myself and Jim have what would be known in e-dating terms as ‘an affinity’ but as with domestic arrangements, in allotments, good fences make good neighbours. Although ours is only two strands of wire it does the job, sets the all-important boundaries that child psychologists are forever banging on about.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Caught between carrot flies and a writers festival

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carrots in our skills exchange

The Barricades Are Up! Man The Barricades!

Is the cry that can be heard all along the allotments as carrot flies approach. This is their mid-summer fest, when they paint the town red. Late May, early June to be exact so I hope the worst is over but the thing about Chamaepsila Rosae, so named by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, is that they can devastate the root and the greenery will continue to look good. I say, I hope the worst is over, because I didn’t get my barricades up. My carrots were a bit young as I planted lateish and perhaps per chance will hopefully avoid the first onslaught. But I must be ready by late August-September for the second offensive. It does seem that physical barriers are the best defence.  

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

growing confidence in his vegetables in the allotment

growing vegetables in an allotment

After the Easter break I visited the allotment and on seeing the weeds I was struck with a pang (albeit in the lumbar region) for more children. Children are great for that sort of job, low to the ground, flexible and with the uncanny ability to find Wally in a sea of red and white striped Wally’s, they would surely be able to distinguish the weeds from the produce. I know, I know, one mans weed and all that – but I have been patient and I did admire the lush crop of dandelions we had this year speckling the hedgerows in all their yellow splendour but when you have a weed posing as a carrot top and you can’t tell the difference that’s going a bit too far. That’s why loads of children would be good. Moaning aside a mere three hours total did mucho weeding and I was finally able to see the onions.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

spinach and ricotta gnocci

The word dumpling gives me an immediate shot of culinary warmth. However, the odd thing is that I am not that keen on this kind of food. Dumplings feature in many cuisines, even here in Ireland where they are made both with flour and suet and with potatoes. The northern Chinese are very partial to their dumplings and they are also to be found in Cantonese dim sum. Usually made from either flour or potatoes and some water, they are then cooked in water, soup or even in a stew. To me, regardless of what form they take, dumplings are tasteless, glutinous and stodgy. Perhaps as a food type, they reach their apogee in the South Pacific. There, I encountered a dish known as lap lap, which brought tears of joy to the eyes of the indigenous population. Made with cooking bananas, grated taro or manioc (also known as cassava) mixed with coconut milk, the sticky mass is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a ground oven. The end product is bland and has a consistency so distasteful, that starvation would be a pleasant alternative!

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

The Allotment: Day 4 and the potatoes are up

The potatoes are bursting forth already, just three weeks after planting. I planted them at 300mm centres as suggested, but I think I could have put them closer to allow for failures. So far they all seem to be coming up though. I’ve had to water a few times because the weather is dry.

Today, I’m just up to water and it’s a beautiful evening. The long evenings are what make this country special. And it’s so peaceful just ten minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city. The crows on the treetops that shelter the farmhouse are still in building mode and raucous – flying overhead from time to time with bits of sticks. Like a cut finger in a water barrel the sun is dissipating its blood red colour across the horizon. This would be bliss if it wasn’t for eternal worries like carrot fly, slugs, and small whites.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

The best recipe for almond and honey cake

When I spoke to you last, I was out there happily scratching around in my patch, and eating bowls of pasta. The sun was shinning, the weather forecast was wonderful and I believed that gardening would continue to be the order of the day for the foreseeable future. Well!  “The best laid plans of mice and men….“ and all of that. Just over two weeks ago, I knocked out my back, have been in pain and immobilised ever since and now wonder when I shall ever get back to my garden. Worst of all perhaps, I have not been able to engage in much cooking, as standing in the kitchen for any length of time brings on agonising back spasms. And so I have made good use of the pasta recipes recommended to you last month. I have also been raiding the kitchen cupboards for whatever was available, as shopping was, for a time, ruled out.  Fortunately, the freezer was well stocked, and how grateful I was that it was so.  I have survived and slowly my life is beginning to return to normal. But I have made a fervent resolution for the future. Like that proverbial squirrel, I must always have adequate food stocks in the house to withstand life’s calamities.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Allotment diary: growing sugar snaps

Lucy-may brings sugar snaps from Guatemala in her lunchbox everyday so I decided I’d like to replace them with our own. I was having an internal debate recently as to whether it was a good idea to put healthy stuff in her lunch box. She might associate this stuff with school and never eat it again. I contemplated giving her junk food with the hope of turning her off it for life but that was vetoed. Then there is this whole other issue of eating raw food; there’s a theory abroad that cooking food allowed humans to divert precious energy from the digestive process to brain development. The corollary of this can only mean that eating raw food would dim the lights somewhat. Mmmmm…I’m sure the odd sugar snap is harmless enough though.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Allotment Diary: planting the potatoes and onions

The first thing Lucy-May wanted to do when we got to the allotment was to check and see if the spuds had started growing. She wanted to water them and while she was doing that I started on the onions.
The Chief of Staff (the missus) visited the allotment to inspect and when she saw the potato ridges she asked was I digging a foundation for a house. That was an unsubtle reference to my occupation before the bust. I still think they are good ridges and hell, I’ll be able to grow monster carrots in that ground next year.

I was on the phone to my friend Oracle during the week and he said I was time enough with the spuds. “It’s time enough to have them in by Good Friday”, he said and I said, “But Good Friday is very late this year”, and he said, “It’s calculated by the moon so you go by Good Friday. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox; this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (a newmoon to you and me); and the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21. Resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25”.  I said, “Oh right, ok, I see, yeah”. And we tried to work out why was Good Friday calculated by the moon and all the other dates are fixed, Christmas for example. I heard somewhere that the calculation of Easter caused a bit of a rift between the Roman and the Celtic Church so beloved of modern day free-range Nuns.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A great Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe for pasta

Here in the West of Ireland, March was unusually kind to us. Yes, we had some rain, but we were spared the gales that one associates with this equinox month, and we had many dry, sunny days. As I grow older, I have taken to measuring the time and effort required to complete regular tasks. On this front, the garden is the focus of my attention and, for example, I am deeply aware that it takes about forty hours of reasonably hard work to tidy up my patch every spring. This imposes constraints on my life because, given the vagaries of the weather, I must take full advantage of every, passing, dry day, if the herculean chore is to be completed in a timely fashion. This in turn means that other daily tasks, like cooking, must largely be put to one side. Thus, while in recent weeks I laboured in the garden, the dogs acquired a permanently neglected look, my children began enquiring about my whereabouts, friends complained that I never answered the telephone and indoors, the rooms became shrouded in dust.  It is at times like this that I resort to one of two simple pasta dishes.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

An Allotment Diary: Day One, The spuds

I succeeded in getting the spuds in today. After mucho running and racing and dragging my daughter I finally found a long handled spade. None of these short stubby back-breakers for me. Dug three ridges about 2m long each and put in the sprouting seed potatoes. All done in about three hours, this included a tea break and gabbing with other gardeners and farmers about manure and rhubarb and the price of weddings.

“The sprout facing up daddy”, Lucy told me. This is her second year to plant spuds at school so she knows what she’s talking about. She brought home the harvest last year, one potato. Anyway, who am I to laugh? While digging dirt, she also told me what a compound word is, “A word put together with two other words Daddy, e.g. afternoon or outside”. I never knew this. She’s only six. Well, six and three-quarters.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Good auld Bacon and Cabbage

Is it not wonderful to be alive just now? The days grow longer, some warmth has returned to the air, the daffodils are blooming, the birds are nesting and green shoots are to be seen everywhere in the garden. It is a particular joy for me to see those chives peeping through the soil in the raised bed outside the back door. Soon, all the herbs will be up in the garden and we shall be back to eating salads. I love the feeling of anticipation of what is to come. Will 2011 give us the summer that we have all been waiting for or, will we once again be disappointed? Somehow this year, my spring reveries are sharper and sweeter than usual, perhaps because of an exceptionally acute longing for what summer has in store, a longing which in turn has probably been engendered by the severity of our winter just past.
St Patrick’s Day is now around the corner and, not surprisingly, my thoughts also turn to traditional Irish fare. I am not talking here of Irish stew, which I have never much liked. Rather I wish to dwell on bacon and cabbage, even though many of my readers will be disappointed that I am devoting any time to such prosaic food. Commonplace it may well be, and despised by many, but this is largely because bacon and cabbage is often badly cooked. Give the preparation of this dish some time and attention and you will be richly rewarded.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes for Turnip

Winter turnips are understandably unloved – often overgrown to the size of small balloons (a habit formed from their post war usage to bulk up jams) and a flavour that can come across rather coarse. But as we enter the final leg of winter, the soils remain frigid. Imbolc has just arrived, and with it the feast of (St.) Bri(gi)d – a possibly divine lady with many strings to her bow, among them: maternity, chicken farmers and new growth. The worst may be over but the new growth seems not yet to encompass the sprightly wild flowers, herbs and vegetables of springtime. The new growth is more likely related to the full-belly ewes of the lambing season and the coming of their new milk – oimealc – with which butter and cheese would have been both made around now. My downstairs neighbour tells me the official line for deciding whether or not spring has come depends on the weather on Imbolc itself. If sunny, as it was here in county Dublin, it foretells of a continuation of winter weather to come (generally orchestrated by the hag Cailleach so she can stock up on firewood, while others bask in false optimism). Flashes of springtime then to arouse a lust for its bounty, but we are left for a while longer with the now wearisome winter roots.

Lamb, honey, thyme and turnips

The night before rub some lamb neck with crushed garlic and thyme, lube it up with some rapeseed or olive oil and leave covered over night. An hour or so before you’re ready to eat remove the garlic and thyme and season the lamb well with salt and pepper. Sear in a really hot pan until golden brown all over, when it’s almost done drizzle in some honey and take off the heat giving the pan a shake to cover the lamb in the caramelising honey. Pop the lamb on some fresh thyme and into a low oven – round a hundred degrees. Turn it after half an hour and in another twenty minutes or so it’ll be done (at such a low temperature it’s as good as impossible to overcook it). Leave to rest for ten minutes while you prepare the turnips.

Cut the turnips into wedges and blanch in much boiling salted water until they’ve a soft resistance. Meanwhile fry some crushed almonds in good rapeseed oil until beginning to brown.

Slice the lamb fairly thin at an angle going across the grain of the mussel and sprinkle them with a little salt.

To the almonds add a little more oil and some cider vinegar, season and taste. Serve the steaming turnips alongside the lamb with a little crème fraiche and spoon over the almond dressing liberally.   

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious recipe for Caldo Verde

I have never been to Portugal, but I have eaten Portuguese food in large quantities on the other side of the world. As I have mentioned before in this column, I lived for many years in Hong Kong, which is situated on the south China coast, on the east bank of the Pearl River estuary. Just across the way, on the west bank of this great river, lies Macau which, until 1999, was a Portuguese colony. Indeed, it had been Portuguese since the 16th century. It was a place full of narrow, little streets, Baroque churches and here and there, eye-catching, ochre-coloured, public buildings. It was very different than Hong Kong with its towering skyscrapers and frenetic pace of life and during the 1990s, my wife and I often escaped there for weekends.
Macau was also seedy and run-down but it had character and, above all, it had good, Portuguese restaurants. It is there that I first encountered caldo verde, which means nothing more than, green broth. This soup probably is to Portuguese cuisine what Irish stew is to that of Ireland and I suspect that every Portuguese mammy has her own recipe for what is a national dish.
In its purest form, caldo verde contains nothing more than potatoes, garlic, couve gallego (a type of kale) and water. Over the years, other ingredients have been added to such an extent that it now sometimes bears little resemblance to its peasant progenitor. I love caldo verde for its potato flavour combined with the bitter taste of winter greens. It does not pay dividends to stray too far from its rustic origins. The recipe which follows has, I believe, the right balance. I recommend it to you as appropriate fare for these cold, winter days. As with all soups, it can be eaten as a starter but, served with good, crusty bread, it is a meal in itself.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A yummy winter jugged Beef recipe

I hope that you didn’t over-eat as much as I did during the Festive Season! However, notwithstanding my excesses, I pleasurably survived and indeed now find myself in the doldrums. January tends to be like that does it not? The weather seems to get worse, the short days more miserable and, of course, there is not even Christmas to look forward to. It is the time of year when I think of warmth by the hearth, a good book and rich, hot food.

I was recently introduced to jugged beef. This was a new one on me. The only other time I had come across this culinary term, jugged, was in relation to hare. However, I am reliably informed that it simply means cooked slowly in a tightly covered pan and could thus apply equally well to almost any meat. Anyway, the recipe that follows requires shin beef which, although costing less than the normal stewing steaks, is absolutely right for this dish. Any other form of beef would develop that dull, fibrous quality. Shin has enough connective tissue to cook down to a silky, textured casserole with a deep flavour. 
I live in the heart of the country and while the nearby town has a number of butcher-shops, none of them do sophisticated! It was thus with some trepidation that I made a foray to purchase for the first time, the shin beef required for this dish. I sidled into the shop and started the conversation with an oblique, “You wouldn’t by any chance have any shin beef?” I nearly fell over when my enquiry elicited the bland response, “How much do you want?” I was home and dry. Do follow in my footsteps and like me, you will be rewarded. This is a truly rich, hot, comforting dish.

Jugged Beef
1kg shin beef, trimmed and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
5 tbsp wine
5 streaky rashers, chopped
30g flour
1tbsp redcurrant jelly*
Finely grated zest of half an orange
300ml beef stock
Parsley to garnish
Black pepper and salt to season

*On one occasion, I did not have any redcurrant jelly to hand and substituted it with apricot jam. It was fine.

Place the meat, oil, onion, bay leaf, wine and seasoning in a bowl and marinate for at least four hours and if possible, overnight. Preheat the oven to 170°C.  Fry the bacon in a little oil in a large casserole. Stir in the flour and then add the redcurrant jelly, the orange rind and the stock and bring gently to the boil. Add the meat and the marinade. Tightly cover the casserole dish (I cover it in tin foil before placing the lid on top) and transfer to the oven. Cook for two and a half hours, checking on it at regular intervals and adding water as necessary. Serve with a scattering of parsley on top.


Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes for onions

As we reach the heart of an extraordinary winter, the morning soil is brittle and it’s bounty sparse. Beetroot, cabbage, spuds, sprouts, parsnips and winter squash are dripping into markets, but little else; it’s a time then when edible imports are utilised more than ever.

From a couple of generations back the ramifications of a long icy winter would be as real in-side the kitchen as out-side. It’d be wrong to romanticise such times but they were at least times when the home kitchen was (necessarily) engaged with the rhythms of the changing seasons and they are a fine example of when a narrow framework can bolster the imagination. The preserves of late summer – cured fish, salt beef, pickled vegetables, jams, syrups and vinegars – gave life to the kitchen even on the leanest winter days. Now winter larders of spices, oils, garlic, pulses and tinned Italian tomatoes are a blessing, it’s as good a time as any to look abroad for culinary inspiration (and revitalise the perhaps jaded January palate).

A common January buzz seems to be ‘comfort food’. What exactly does it mean? Food that lacks pretence? Food cooked with love? Food which in cooking and eating steadies and satisfies? Aren’t these all attributes of home cooking generally? Perhaps it’s only an idea to re-engage us with the very basics of cooking – and their intrinsic emotional content. A departure from the glossy food magazine garnishes and wacky flavour combinations, towards an appreciation of the process of cooking. If so, then for me comfort food is frying onions. That is the smell that so easily wafted through the purposely shut kitchen door bringing with it hunger and curiosity and beckoned me in to first peer over the stove as a five year old. It needs those two culinary attributes – control of heat and patience – that are essential for such unadulterated alchemy.

Onions, beetroot, butter beans and sorrel

I first tried this one by cooking the onions in the embers of a fire for a day and night. Apart from the fact that there aren’t many real fires in doors left, they didn’t turn out cooked too evenly and needed a bit of touching up. An oven is of course much more reliable, but if you do have a fire its worth chucking a whole load of embers in with the onions for baking so they can impart a little bit of smokiness.

Pop the onions – whole and unpeeled – in a baking tray, cover them and put in a hot oven, after an hour turn the heat down to low and leave them in over night. They’re sugary juices will render, reduce and caramelise inside the skin, when they’re ready they should be soft to the touch all over.

Soak some butter beans overnight, you don’t need many here, just four or five per serving, but they’re versatile as can be so it’s often worth cooking more and using them for other things.

The beetroot need a shallow braise/bake in a quite high oven until tender, so pop them in a baking dish, again whole and with skins on, and fill half way with water, season well with salt and pepper and cover with tin foil. When they are ready and have cooled a little peel them with your hands and cut into quarters lengthwise.

Boil the butter beans hard in unseasoned water for twenty minutes, skim, and then simmer them until tender (some garlic, bay and rosemary in the pot too will take to them fondly). When they’re tender leave them in their liquor to cool, otherwise their skins will pop and shrivel, but season the liquor with salt and a little vinegar.

When ready to serve peel the onions and chop in half – lay each half flat-side up on the plate (this can of course be served in a big serving dish) add to them a couple off beetroot quarters, a few butter beans and a couple of fine leaves of sorrel. Sprinkle a bit of flaky salt over the onions and drizzle over it all a little bit of a light simple dressing.

Squid, pickled onions and bitter greens

Frozen squid is always a temptation – particularly the devilishly cheap packets of whole un-tampered ones in Asian supermarkets. Its worth asking your fishmonger about fresh ones if they aren’t all ready on offer as there are squids of all sizes (some almost a foot long) being caught on the west coast of and on through the year.   

Use whatever the best bitter greens you can get your hands on. Dandelion, frisee, mustard leaves and watercress would all work well. Also make sure when you’re ready to serve that their not cold straight from the fridge – the whole salad works plenty better at room temperature.  

Clean the squid, leaving the skin on if possible (perhaps your fishmonger can give you a demo) and separating the tentacles from the main body. Pop the bodies in a pot and cover with half red wine half water, add a bundle of fresh herbs and season with salt. Bring carefully to barely a simmer, skim, and let them cook very gently for half an hour.

Mean while cut off the top and bottom of your onions and then cut them into quarters. Discarding (or saving for the stockpot) the outer two layers and the core, pull apart the onion into its individual boat shaped segments. In a pot boil half water half cider vinegar seasoned with salt (with a few coriander seeds if at hand), add the onions and boil for a minute then strain. Save the pickling liquor and pour back over the onions when it’s cooled (also it’ll be fine for future salad dressings) until ready to use.

When the squid is ready let it cool take out a couple of ladlefuls of the liquor (letting the squid cool naturally in what’s left of it) add a pinch of sugar to it and reduce to a third of its volume. Mix through with some olive or rapeseed oil to make the dressing (about a 1:3 ratio), it may need a small squeeze of lemon juice.
When ready to serve, fry or griddle the tentacles (season well just before) on a crazy high heat for just long enough for them to sear brown.

Mix through the braised squid, onion segments, bitter greens and dressing very gently with your hands. Plate up and add the crispy tentacles just before serving.

Red onions, butter, rosemary and wine

A good one for some grilled lean beef and left over butter beans.

Peel and halve the onions. Cluster then into an oven proof pot, add lots of butter, plenty of rosemary ripped from its stalk, a red chilly (fresh or dried), a sliver or two of orange zest, fill a quarter of the way up with white wine and season (relative to the saltiness of the butter). With the lid on put them in a quite hot oven – 170 degrees would work well – and let them be, except for the occasional shake of the pan, for an hour (before things get too friendly inside and the onions turn mushy).
After that hour give it twenty to thirty minutes with the lid off, enough time for the wine to mostly reduce and for the smells and colours to begin to noticeably intensify.

Mashed potatoes and burnt onions

Burnt onions are a shockingly good foil for unapologetically butter-and-creamy mashed potatoes. Regular onions and leeks have both worked well but shallots probably the best.

Give them a medium/small dice – around a quarter inch, but make sure it’s fairly regular. Pour a fair deal of neutral oil in a hot pan – enough to go half way up the onions. Pop in the onions and fry, tossing/stirring now and then to make sure they cook evenly. They’re done once they’re almost black all over but before they become charcoal (they’ll still be slightly sweet in the middle). Pour the onions and oil straight through a sieve then pop the onions straight onto paper towel and season with salt.

Fold through your mash just before its time to serve, not too much but just enough so you’ll likely have one or two surprising sweet-bitter charred nuggets in most mouthfuls.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious Indian condiments: Apple, peach and apricot chutney and Raita

Since I last spoke to you, I have been to India on the trip of a life time. I had been there before. I visited Kashmir in 1977, when I spent a memorable week on a houseboat on Dal Lake. This time, I travelled extensively in north-west India calling into tourist spots such as Delhi, Shimla, Agra, Udaipur and Jaipur. This is not a travel column and so I am precluded from dwelling on many of my experiences in this wonderful country. However, I can urge you to go there, if the opportunity comes your way. India is a bewitching place, full of colour and smells and the most charming, smiling, courteous people. It is very different than Europe and yes, signs of extreme poverty confront you there and can be upsetting and yes, hygiene standards are not ours. However, these negative factors should not deter you from following in my footsteps.

I am no longer young and was, I can assure you, no back-packer in India. Indeed, I stayed in upmarket hotels and travelled first class on the wonderful railway system. (Indian Railways, the largest employer in the world, offers travellers the choice of no fewer than seven different classes!) I felt such precautions were necessary if I was to avoid gastro-enteritis, which I did. While I did not often leave the purlieus of my various hotels to eat, I rarely consumed European food. No, it was Indian all the way and usually vegetarian food. Here is a country that has a vegetarian tradition going back thousands of years and is their food good? What culinary delights the Indian cook can conjure up with aubergines, okra, cauliflowers, lentils, potatoes and spinach!

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious Brussels Sprouts recipes

Little sulphuric orbs that stand for anything and all that may be anti-climatic about Christmas with the family. Brussels sprouts, having only made their way to Britain and Ireland in the early nineteenth century, promptly forced their way on to the Christmas table – as a ‘traditional’ accompaniment to roast turkey and ham. With the multiple commitments in and outside a Christmas Day kitchen word of mouth suggests that they are often not given the love what they may deserve. Boiled to mush instead and served with a hunk of butter and a “wouldn’t be Christmas with out ‘em”. Quite. Sometimes bad is beautiful. Most of the time though, and sprouts have a long season (from first frost through to spring) as the intensely sweet, nutty staple of these lands that they are, they deserve at least more attention than does pizza, pasta or any of the many bastardised imports.

Sprouts, almonds and rosemary
Some sort of equivalent to the Italian antipasti this – best eaten before a meal proper, with a cold drink and some fingers.

Smaller sprouts near the top of the stem are ideal here. Blanch them in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes, and shock them under a cold tap, then let them dry. Bake some skinless almonds in a medium oven for ten to 15 minutes – until they begin to tan and start to release their milk and honey aromas.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious traditional homemade cake

I grew up in another age – in the 1950s and 60s. In those far off times, married women in Ireland rarely had paid employment; they cared for their homes and families full time. They worked hard but very often they also had leisure time not available to modern women, time which enabled them to call frequently on one another. I am also talking about the days before television, which put paid to a lot of casual dropping in on neighbours and friends, particularly in the countryside. These visitations, for I suppose that is what we may call them, often took place in the afternoon, but also in the evening, after small children had been put to bed. There was a bit of chat and then, inevitably, it was time for tea. This was the occasion when cake was produced and, in the house I grew up in, that cake had to be homemade. But even if visitors did not come knocking at the door, my Mother always took time off from her household work in mid-afternoon and treated herself to tea and a slice of cake. All this, of course, meant that cake-baking was one of the weekly chores. Many different cakes came out of the oven and there was great swapping of recipes and chatter about which woman made the best sponge cake, fruit cake etc.

These homemade cakes were also a measure of a woman’s worth as a cook and housekeeper, skills that I fancy were more important in the last generation than they are today. In the past, it is likewise the case that there were very few bakeries or fancy patisseries producing quality products, and homemade was thus often the order of the day, whether one liked it or not. Nowadays, cake shops abound and the modern housewife, more often than not holding down a fulltime job outside the home, is hard-pressed to find time to bake cakes for her family on any regular basis. Times change,

I have often told you before that I do not have a sweet tooth. However, I can’t say the same for my children, or indeed for the many members of my extended family who come to visit. For all of them, I try to keep some homemade cake in the freezer to be produced, if I am given warning of their arrival. Until recently, my mainstay was a chocolate cake following a recipe of Tasmin Day-Lewis. I thought, and still think, it was delicious (See recipe in May 2009 issue of Mutation) but not so my contrary daughters, who both went to the trouble of advising me that they no longer liked it. Faced with this unreasonable rebellion, I had to go looking for alternatives and after a little experimenting, came up with porter cake.

Porter Cake

This was not a cake of my youth, even though it is traditionally Irish. Indeed, I don’t think I ever tasted porter cake until a kind friend, who came to stay earlier in the year, brought me one. I loved it and after a scour through my recipe books – I have a library of them – I was making my own within weeks. What follows is an amalgam of different recipes.

450g plain flour
1 tablespoon mixed spice
225g butter
325g brown sugar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
225g raisins
225 sultanas
100g glacé cherries, halved
100g mixed peel, chopped
zest of 1 lemon, finely copped
200ml stout
4 eggs

23cm round cake tin about 9 cm deep
Preheat the oven to 160°C or gas mark 3.

Grease the tin in the normal way and line the bottom with greaseproof paper.
Brush with a little melted butter. Place the flour, spice and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and stir.
Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the mixed peel, fruit, lemon zest, sugar and beaten eggs. Gradually work in the stout before pouring the mixture into the cake tin.
Bake for 1 hour and then cover with tin foil and bake for a further 1½ hours at 150°C or gas mark 2. The cake should be a deep brown colour and firm to the touch when cooked.
Leave to cool in the tin before turning out and removing the paper.
The cake needs to mature for 3-4 days before cutting. It will keep for weeks in an airtight tin.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes using Kohlrabi

Often overlooked and left to wither on shelves and in market stalls, the kohlrabi is in fact a delicious orb – crisp, juicy-sweet and a little spicey. Its an awkward knobbly species though and it was, on my part, overlooked for so long because of its often tired and quite alien appearance, assuming that they’d been shiped over from far and mysterious pastures.  But it is in fact of the cabbage family  and is perfectly at ease in Ireland’s damp soils. If you can catch it young and still vibrant in colour and poise. The dish that won me round was prepared by a friend – young kohtrabi, unpeeled, sliced thin and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, served with a few whole skins on roasted almonds and sprigs of chervil. 

Kohlrabi, burnt scallions, horseradish and honey
Trim a couple of inches off the top and the outside layer of the scallions. Sear them whole (and season them) with a neutral oil in a hot pan until the outside begins to blacken. Slice the kohlrabi (on a mandolin if you have one) thinly across its diameter. If it’s on the big side (tennis ball upwards) then best to give it a quick blanch and shock in icy water at this point. Toss the kohlrabi with a little salt and olive oil. Layer the slices across the plate, scatter over some chopped burnt scallions, drizzle a little honey, grate some horseradish, squeeze some lemon juice and maybe a bit more salt and olive oil.  

Kohlrabi and braised mustard seeds
In some water, white wine vinegar, salt and sugar. Braise some black and yellow mustard seeds until swollen, plump and juicy. Stalks off and peel the kohlrabi. Cut it into irregular, edgy chunks and steam them until tender. Smear some crème fraiche or soured cream onto a plate and then arrange your still hot kohlrabi on top. Pop your mustard seed in a pot with some melted butter, heat and spoon over the kohlrabi.   

Pouched chicken, kohlrabi, milk and walnuts
First off, the kohlrabi puree, peel it and cut into chunks. Steam or simmer in water until tender. Once drained, pop the kohlrabi in the oven, just for a minute, to dry it of excess water or the puree will be too…watery. Mash and put through a sieve, then season with salt. Best  to use a whole chicken here, even if cooking for one or two – there’ll be much fun to be had with leftovers over the days ahead. With the skin – which you’ll be pouching the chicken with but not serving it with – let it dry on a tea towel and then leave in the fridge until ready to use. Fry it in oil until golden brown, sprinkle with salt and have immediately in a sandwich with mayonnaise and pickles.

Season your chicken by rubbing salt under its skin half an hour before you’re ready to poach it. Take the legs and thighs off the main body together. Poach everything in very lightly seasoned water with half a lemon, some peppercorns and bay. Bring it to boil and keep it just below a simmer. After half an hour take out the main body and leave the legs in for another half hour. When rested take the skin off and cut down with your heaviest knife to serving sized pieces – each thigh into two, each leg into two, cut off the wings, eat the oysters and rip the breasts into four or five.  As the chicken is poaching bring some garlic cloves up to the boil in milk and simmer gently, stiring occasionally so the milk doesn’t burn, for five minutes. Drain the milk, cover again with fresh milk and repeat the process. And then once more. The astringency will have dissapeared and in its place a warm sweetness. 
In a pestle and morter ideally (or a blender of some sort minus the textural and tactile joy) crush some capers and parsley and flakey salt, add the garlic, then some baked walnuts, then trickle in some olive oil. It should be a course, stiff-ish paste, then trickle in some milk as you pestle away to loosen a little. 

When ready to serve heat the chicken pieces slowly back up in their by now light and fragrant poaching liquor. Pop a big spoonful of the kohlrabi puree in each eating vessel, then the chicken on top – some brown some white – with a little of its liquor, and then spoon over the walnut and milk paste. And a grind of pepper.

Kohlrabi, egg and turnip tops
Boil an egg (per person + a couple for tits up peeling) for 5 minutes and ten seconds and then shock in ice water. When cooled,  give it a little bash top and bottom and all around and peel carefully under the water (so that the water may get underneath the skin to help the process along).
Puree the kohlrabi as for the chicken above.
Take the turnip top off from the tip of the turnip. Seperate the stalk from the leaves. Cut the stalks into 2/3 inch lengths. Boil in salty water for a moment then toss in a pan with a little oil, honey and white wine vinegar. Serve the egg alongside a soon full of the kohlrabi. Ontop with the stalks and on top with the leaves. Finish with some extra virgin rapeseed oil. And eat with some bread to help clean up the mess

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Three delicious recipes for celery

Celery seems to be a unanimously unglamorous vegetable. It’s as cheap as the common spud and sold year round. Its not ignored, indeed there’s barely a kitchen that it doesn’t pass through on its way to forming the base of stews and braises, but is its deliciousness often fully engaged with? Stripped of its tough outer stalks its heart has no less to say than an artichoke – sweet, creamy, nutty and a textural joy. It’s this time of year when the good stuff seems happiest coming out of the soil and it’s well worth tracking down that good stuff and giving it a stage to swagger.

Celery and cream
 Using all the stalks but not the heart, trim them of their leaves and peel the outside of the bigger stalks with tough stringy skins (well worth holding on to for a if there’s a stock on the horizon).  Blanch them in a big pot of salted, boiling water just for half a minute to a minute, to help tenderise them, and shock them in iced water. Then over a fire or a griddle pan grill them until well charred.  Slice into thirds lengthwise. Shmear a spoonful of thick yellow cream onto a plate and pile some celery alongside it. Serve as is or with some fried chicken livers.

Oxtail, celery and fried bread
Have your butcher chop your oxtail into 1 inch pieces. There tends to be too much fat in proportion to meat on an oxtail, so you can trim some off, render it and use it to fry the bread. Season your oxtail generously with salt and pepper and a little flour. Fry to mahogany brown on all sides in a violently hot pan.
In a pot sweat down lots of finely diced onion, carrot and celery with olive oil until its completely tender – almost a mush – this will then take charge of the stews textural body. Add some bay and a bundle of herbs (heavy on the thyme). Then pour in lots of white wine, let it simmer for five minutes or so to banish the bitter alcoholic aromas. Then pop in the oxtail and a little light broth or water. Check for seasoning. Bring it gently to a tremble, lid on and into an oven of 120 degrees.
It’ll be ready when the meat falls from the bone with a mere nudge – 5-7 hours.  Pop you nose in every now and then, check for tenderness, see if you need to adjust the oven temperature and give it a stir to let the fat circulate through the meat rather than all rendering, rising and staying at the top.
 When it’s an hour of or so.  Sizzle some crushed coriander seeds in some rapeseed or olive oil. Then add some celery sliced at an angle, fairly thin but still with some bite. Season and fry for a minute or two then add to the stew for the home stretch.
As with any long-cooked stew, a day or two in the fridge once cooked will play an important part in it’s becoming. Just before that, while its still warm is the best time to take the meat of its bone.
When ready to serve, slice some sourdough bread, taking the crust off, and fry in your oxtail dripping (or goose/duck/pork fat) until golden. Heat the stew up gently and ladle on top of a couple of slices of the fried bread each. Garnish with, celery heart and parsley sliced thin, grated horseradish and lemon peel.
Poached Halibut, celery heart and chervil
Halibut are some of the biggest of Neptune’s bounty – from around these shores – that find their way to the fishmongers stalls, its gets up to six feet in length. Fishmongers tend to take off and throw out their wings, head and tail and sell them in more manageable steaks, which have a tendency to dryness. Ask sweetly and they’ll likely be yours for next to nothing. They’ll make a very special stock – and the meat that you prize from them is gelatinous and tender. 
In a pot sweat some onions, celery and fennel with some coriander seeds and a bundle of herbs (thyme, parsley stalks and bay). Fill your pot with half white wine half water and let simmer for twenty minutes. Check the seasoning and bring it to a consistent temperature that’s just below a simmer. Poach the halibut until its tender through to the bone. Take it out and when cool enough to touch work away at taking all the meat you can off the bone. The wings are especially picky, sticky work. If you’re happy enough with your yield I’d recommend a spot of cheek scoffing – scooping one out with a spoon and adding a very little bit of flakey sea salt. It arguably beats the thrill even of a roasted chicken’s oyster.
Pop the bones back into your pot and let simmer away gently for half an hour more. In that you’ll have a rich seasoned broth that’s the perfect base for a chowder.

With the halibut in a mixing bowl, add celery heart (sliced to something like matchsticks) and leaves (only the yellow ones), some capers, boiled egg(s) cut into quarters, chervil (kept in fairly big pieces), dress lightly with some fruity (rather than course and prickly) olive oil, some flaky sea salt and just a whisper of acid – in the form of lemon juice

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

The best oatcake recipe

How do you react to those shots – sometimes an advertisement – on your TV screen of a group of Italians eating in a garden under the shade of a vine arbour? The table is groaning under the weight of succulent-looking dishes, as a beaming Mama carries yet another platter of food towards her laughing family. My reaction to such scenes is one of intense envy and fond memories come to mind of a tree-filled garden on the banks of the Rhône, where I spent many months as a child. What a pleasure it is to eat en famille outside and indeed how pleasurable it is to share a prolonged meal with one’s adult family. Sadly, I derive little joy from eating with small children. My experience has been that such meals are transformed into a mini battlefield as parents, seeking to get the little ones to eat and to acquire table manners, face persistent resistance, and invariably both sides emerge seriously bruised from the encounter.

No, I talk here of the meal, where one lingers at the table over a few bottles of wine. My children – long grown up – love such get-togethers, which often generate noisy debates, but also that glow of contentment, which is part of family life. I am fortunate in that I have a very large conservatory full of flowering plants and that is where we eat. I usually do the cooking; they set the table in accordance with exacting instructions and do the wash up. More often than not, we forego a starter, confining ourselves to a main course, pudding and cheese. On high days and very special holidays, the latter might be washed down with a desert wine and, or, port.

The majority of my children insist on the cheese being served with water biscuits. They argue that any accompaniment to cheese must be neutral; nothing must interfere with the flavour of the individual cheeses. My older daughter, who has picked up continental habits, insists on having bread. I favour oatcakes. I love their gentle crunch, their crumbly consistency and that taste of oats and butter. For me, they enhance the pleasure of eating cheese with a glass of wine to hand.

In the 1970s, we lived amongst the French in the South Seas and we sometimes had to entertain them. Have you ever had to do that – entertain the French? It is an ordeal. When served his food, your French guest will nibble it cautiously with his front teeth until he is satisfied that he is not being poisoned. If the dish passes muster, you will hear the sigh of pleasure. Then back teeth come into play in the normal way and the ensuing relief for the stress-filled host/hostess is immense. I recall a dinner party at which my wife served oatcakes with the cheese. There was a murmur around the table of “Ah, ces petits biscuits!”, as if they were little blocks of rat poison. My wife was seriously rattled. Then came the cautious tasting and a chorus of, “Qu’ils sont bons”! My wife beamed down at her guests. They were right of course. Those oatcakes were delicious but sadly I have not been able to find the recipe. However, I have experimented with different ingredients and what follows is the result – the recipe for the perfect oatcake.

(Makes 24-30 biscuits 6cm in diameter)

150g white flour
150g oats
1tsp baking powder
75g butter
75ml/6tbp milk

Mix the dry ingredients together and rub in the butter with your fingers.  Add sufficient milk to produce a moist dough. (You may not need all of the 75ml.) Roll out thinly on a floured surface, cut out the biscuits with a cutter or glass and prick them with a fork. Bring the remaining scraps of dough together and knead them into a ball before repeating the rolling and cutting process again. Repeat until all the dough is used. Place the biscuits on a lightly greased oven tray and cook for 12 minutes in a preheated oven at 180°C.

The above recipe can be varied by adding 25g sugar and/or adding a tsp of curry powder and/or substituting the white flour with brown.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A comforting Butter Bean Soup

Have you ever wondered what the famous cooks of the world eat at home? Do they really spend hours every day preparing food on the lines of their recipes or, like you and me, do they sometimes snuggle down happily to a boiled egg and toast?  Now, let us be honest. I am an unrepentant foodie and I suspect I spend more time than most deciding what I am going to eat, shopping for the ingredients and then preparing the dish of choice. I am eternally combing magazines and newspapers for new recipes, even though my kitchen shelves groan under the weight of cookery books of all descriptions. When travelling abroad, there is nothing I like more than visiting the local shops and supermarkets on the hunt for new and interesting ingredients and, when the humour is on me, I can happily spend hours in the kitchen preparing food.

As I have told you before, I live alone. That would present particular problems in determining what to eat, were it not for the freezer. When so moved, I cook large quantities of whatever and pack it into small, plastic containers before storing them in serried ranks in the drawers of my upright freezer. I also always have items like fresh vegetables, steaks, chops or fish fillets to hand. Indeed, my eldest son has been known to say that I am in eternal readiness to withstand a prolonged siege! Be that as it may, the biggest decision of my day centres on the choice of food for the evening meal. In making that all-important decision, I exclude all instant or processed food. It is not that I am disdainful of such fare; it is simply the case – and I often feel disgruntled about this – that I have never found a fast or pre-prepared product that I actually liked. Thus, the option facing me is either to cook some meat or fish from the fridge or freezer together with a starch and vegetables or, to consume one of my own frozen meals. However, very occasionally, I simply do not feel like cooking and then, if I am also not particularly hungry, I eat nothing at all. This is what I call my favourite supper and I jest not. If you cook for yourself every day, it is strangely liberating simply to forego all food and pass an evening without it. Apart from giving you an extra hour or so – remember there is a fallout in the form of no wash up – a mini-fast also gives one’s digestive system a rest and purges the body a little for twelve hours or so. This must be to one’s good. Do try it sometime. You will find it works.

But what happens if I don’t feel like cooking and am hungry? No, I don’t rush out to the nearest restaurant. I might have an omelette and salad, but just recently, I have been having bean soup with a large wedge of my own bread, followed by fried eggs. I am a devotee of the humble egg (particularly when it comes from a happy run-around hen, as do mine for most of the year) and especially in its fried form. For a change, try frying your eggs in butter or in olive oil with a generous quantity of freshly ground pepper on top. If you have not been there before, a culinary experience awaits you! But what of the bean soup? It, of course, comes out of the freezer and all I have to do is heat it, something I can just about manage to pull off when in non-cooking mode. Now that the chill of autumn is tightening its grip, I felt this would be a good time to share with you my recipe for this tasty and nutritious dish.

500g butter beans
2 onions chopped
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 large lemon, juiced
4 tbsp olive oil
A large bunch of parsley, chopped
2l strong vegetable or beef stock*
Freshly ground black pepper and salt

*I sometimes use ham water if I have any. Alternatively, I recommend Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon

Steep the beans in water overnight and then cook them in a generous amount of water for about an hour or until they are soft. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan and throw in the chopped onions, potatoes and carrot. Sweat for about 20 minutes and then stir in the cumin. Add the beans and stock and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Throw in the chopped parsley and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and simmer for a few more minutes or until the vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Allow to cool a little and then blend until smooth. (I have only recently acquired a hand blender and what a boon this piece of equipment is for making soups; my life has been transformed.) I like to serve with a little virgin olive oil drizzled on top.


Recipes from a mutant kitchen

two delicious recipes: Jansson’s Temptation and Parmigiana di Melanzane

Have you ever been asked while abroad to share with someone what Irish food is like? Have you ever given thought to what Irish food is? My older daughter, who has lived in Greece for many years, tells me that it doesn’t exist, that all we have is borrowed dishes from here and there but little that is authentically our own. For once, I think she may be right, even if many of our food writers do refer constantly to our traditional cuisine. Of course, we have some Irish dishes like, boxtie, colcannon, Irish stew, barn brack, soda bread, etc. However, the list is anything but endless and hardly constitutes a cuisine which can be compared with that of our European neighbours like France, Spain, Italy or dare I say, the Nordic countries.
I have mentioned before that the food eaten in Ireland 50 years ago was, by and large, bland and uninteresting. Turn the clock back a hundred years and  the mass of the population subsisted largely on potatoes and soda bread interspersed with a little bacon or fish, (if you lived near the coast) cabbage and root vegetables. Only the well-to-do, and they formed a very small part of the population, had regular access to beef or lamb and a whole range of foods that may be commonplace today, but were luxuries a few generations ago. How our food has changed and how grateful we should be for the many foreign influences that have turned eating in Ireland in the 21st century into such a pleasure!

This month I want to share with you two recipes, which come from two different European countries very far apart in every sense of that word. The first, Jansson’s Temptation, a dish of potatoes, anchovies and cream, hails from Sweden and was recently brought to my attention by my youngest son’s girl-friend; it is simply scrumptious and, given how well known it is in Sweden and Finland, I am astonished it never came my way before. The second, Parmigiana di Melanzane (sometimes erroneously called egg plant Parmesan in American cookery books) is an aubergine, cheese and tomato gratin of Sicilian origin and one of the worst kept secrets of Italian cuisine. I have loved it for years but this particular recipe only came to hand in the last few weeks and then thanks to a cousin of my wife, who lives in the south-east of England. Both of these dishes are eminently suitable for non-meat eaters, but can be served to great effect with grilled meat or fish. They could also form part of a smorgasbord or buffet-style supper.

Jansson’s Temptation

This dish should be made with salt-sweet Swedish anchovies which, I am told, are available in IKEA. The brand is Abba. If these are unavailable to you, ordinary tinned anchovies drained and rinsed will do. However, do not add any of the juice from the tins as indicated in the recipe below. The outcome will still be very good, if inauthentic.

Serves 3-4 for a light meal
60g softened butter
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2X125g tins of Swedish anchovies, drained (keep the juice of one of the tins)
6 medium sized potatoes peeled and cut into julienne strips
400ml whipping cream
2tbsp white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5

Grease a shallow ovenproof dish with half the butter. Fill the base with the onions. Using a pair of scissors, snip the anchovies into four and distribute them over the onions. Pour over the juice from one of the tins. Cover with the prepared potatoes. Press the potatoes down lightly and season. Pour over the cream and then quickly tap the dish a couple of times on a wooden surface to settle the assembly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the surface and dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 40 minutes or until crusted and golden and bubbling at the edges.
If you do not favour strong flavours, cook the onions in a little oil beforehand and if you are put off by that amount of cream, substitute half of it with either milk or beer.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Serves 6 for a light meal

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1kg passata
2tbsp torn basil leaves plus a few extra to serve
Sunflower oil for frying
3 eggs beaten
Plain white flour for dipping
3 aubergines, ends removed and thinly sliced (about 1kg)
2 cow’s milk mozzarella, drained and sliced
80g freshly grated parmesan, plus a little extra to serve

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and fry briefly until fragrant. Add the passata and 250ml of water, the torn basil and a little salt. Bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat for about 45 minutes until you have a thick pouring sauce.
At the same time, fry the aubergines. Heat about 1cm oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Have a couple of dinner plates at the ready with the beaten egg in one and the flour in the other. Dip the aubergine slices into the flour and then into the egg and fry until crispy and lightly golden on both sides. Drain on some kitchen paper. It is this dipping process that marks the difference between this recipe and all others I have seen for this dish.  The result is that your parmigiana is less oily.

Line the base of a 35X25cm roasting time or baking dish with a thin layer of the tomato sauce and arrange a layer of aubergines lengthways on top so that they overlap slightly. Add another thin layer of sauce, a couple of tablespoons of the grated parmesan and half the mozzarella. Repeat this exercise now laying the aubergines crosswise and repeat with a final layer of aubergines again lengthways. Finish with a more generous layer of tomato sauce so that the aubergine is liberally coated. Cover with foil.

Heat the over to 200°C/Gas 6 and bake the parmigiana for 45 minutes before uncovering and baking it for a further 25-30 minutes until lightly golden brown. Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, scatter with a little more Parmesan and decorated with a few basil leaves.

I have frozen this gratin with reasonable success.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Four delicious recipes with cucumbers

Crisp, juicy and mild, the cucumber – having arrived some time ago from India – is now sold in Europe throughout the year. But the long, slim plastic wrapped (so that their skins can remain unwaxed) slicing variety more often do a good job. There are also the slightly more acidic, thick skinned and warty variety sold in polish stores that are perfect for the pickling the pickling jar. It’s with some sun on its back that it’s happiest growing and so summertime generally offers up some more exciting varieties. Sometimes with delicious flowers even, like its seedy sibling the courgette.

Cucumber, gin and honey

Cucumber does a fine job here of opening up the naturally floral and piney aromas of gin.
Either juice the peeled cucumber or blitz it up and strain through a sieve. Either way once done, heat it up in a pot until it comes to a boil and take it off the heat – this will help the impurities separate from the good stuff. Then put it through a coffee filter and season your nectar lightly with honey. Drink half juice-half gin, cold and with a little ice and a sliver of lime zest.

Rye, curd and cucumber

Peel your cucumber and cut it into halves or thirds depending on its length. Boil it briefly in plenty of boiling salty water – no more than five minutes, and then shock it in cold running water. When the cucumbers cool and dry and you’re almost ready to eat cut into quarters lengthwise, rub with oil and then season well with salt. Griddle over a piping hot pan. When nicely charred on all three sides serve on top of slices of baked rye shmeared with goat or sheep’s curd and finished with a grind of black pepper.
Makes a fine companion to a bottle of white wine.

Cucumber, beetroot, frisee and egg

The beetroot can be cooked to good effect in one of two different ways here. Baked till tender in a hot oven, then peeled and sliced. Or else sliced thin and grilled over fire. Either way, peel and dice some cucumber, throw into a hot pan with some oil and season generously with salt. Toss, and after a minute add a good splash of cider vinegar, take off the heat, and toss again.
Build the salad, as suits, with a spoonful of seasoned yogurt, the sliced beetroot, cucumber, frisee and a poached egg.
Strawberries, sweet pickled cucumber, mint and cream cheese

To make the pickle blitz up some cider vinegar with a little chopped peeled cucumber, seedless white grapes or melon and a glug of white wine. Strain through a coffee filter and then heat up with some a couple of stalks of tarragon and some sugar and a pinch of salt to taste. On the other hand a simple cider vinegar, sugar and pinch of salt mixture will do fine.
Peel your cucumbers and cut them into inch and a half lengths. Then cut them in half lengthwise, then into fairly thin wedges.
When the pickle is warm pour it over the cucumber and leave it in the fridge for a week or so.
Give your strawberries a quick wash in cold water, then take off their stalk and cut into halves, quarters or leave whole, depending on size.
For the cream cheese, add some cream and a little bit of honey to curd (when room temperature) and beat until smooth with a wooden spoon. Let it cool and stiffen a little in the fridge and when ready to serve and spoon on to each plate, with the strawbs cucumber and mint (some sorrel too perhaps if there’s any still growing near by) tossed in a little of the pickling liquor resting alongside.

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Roast Hake with salsa verde

The relationship of the Irish people with fish has been marred by the years of Friday abstinence imposed by the Catholic Church as a consequence of which, fish acquired a penitential label and as such was avoided, or rarely eaten when meat was also on offer. I grew up in a town in the West of Ireland and I can safely say that almost no fish was consumed there. There were, of course, some exceptions to this general rule. On Fridays, a vegetable shop did a sideline with a small supply of frozen cod and plaice which, although we lived only a few miles from the coast, came down from Dublin. It was from this source that my Mother obtained our Friday dinner. Plaice fried in breadcrumbs always appeared on days of abstinence. But even then, my grandfather, who originally hailed from rural West Limerick and presumably had never known or eaten fish, was served a fried egg. Not for him, my mother’s humble offerings from the sea! And I must not forget the local fishermen. In the summer months, they provided a ready supply of wild salmon, sometimes caught by nefarious means, and when the mayfly came up on the nearby lakes, the town emptied, as everyone tried their hand at fishing and suddenly there was a glut of fresh trout. Then, and only then, would fish be eaten on days apart from Friday. Those who belonged to other faiths did not feel the same way about fish. My father-in-law, for example, was a Scottish Presbyterian and he certainly did not confine his fish-eating to Fridays ! Nor did he see it as a penance to consume large quantities of smokies – small smoked haddock – which he used to order specially from Arbroath in his native Scotland.

This attitude towards fish was not confined to the West of Ireland; it was prevalent throughout the country. Last month, in writing about vegetarian food, I dwelt on how our eating habits had changed so much in the last fifty years.
These changes have also affected our views on fish, the consumption of which has been rising. But historic attitudes are slow to die and I feel that many of us cooks have drawn lines in the sand about cooking fish at home. A modern day deterrent, of course, is the cost and there is no doubt that fish has become expensive, but that is not the only reason why we are deterred from making it part of our regular diet.
We appear to think there is something complicated about cooking it, but nothing could be further from the truth. This misconception is probably due to the failure of past generations to transmit cooking skills in this area, skills which they did not posses because they did not cook fish. Neither do we have role models n the form of a parent buying fish in a fishmonger and taking it home to cook and feed her/his family.
Compare our experiences with that of our near neighbours across the water, where fish and its consumption is an integral part of the national culinary fabric. For example, who has not met that Englishman, who drooled at the thought of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, a culinary experience that has never gained popularity in this country ? I confess that I came to like fish rather late in life and it is only in recent years that I have begun to cook it on a regular basis.

I am fortunate that not only is there a fish counter in my local supermarket, we also have an excellent fishmonger, who is always ready to help his customers with advice about how particular fish should be cooked. I live alone and so it is very easy to bung a bit of plaice on to a pan. I usually just coat it with a bit of flour, but if I feel more energetic, I sometimes do it in egg and breadcrumbs. Lemon sole gets the same treatment. I also sometimes treat myself to a thick slice of sword fish or tuna. These lend themselves to barbequing, but can also be cooked on the pan. All of these should be served with wedges of lemon and/or a piquant sauce of some kind. In my youth, the ubiquitous accompaniment to fish was tartare sauce, which consists of nothing more than a little chopped parsley, capers and gherkins added to mayonnaise.

If cooking for large numbers and I have more time, I resort to kedgeree, a dish inherited from British India, which uses smoked haddock, or a fish pie, into which one can put almost any kind of fish. Perhaps because I was spoilt when young, I do not much like farmed salmon; I find it distastefully oily as compared to its wild counterpart. It does not therefore form part of my diet. Finally, fish can be baked in the oven and this month, I want to share with you such a recipe. In doing so, I hope that I can persuade you that cooking fish is a doddle. I came across this simple recipe in the Sunday Tribune last year and since then it has become a fixture in my repertoire.

Roast hake with salsa verde
Serves 4

4 thick hake steaks or fillets about 250g each

For the salsa verde
3 tbsp roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint
3 tbsp capers
6 anchovy fillets
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Juice of ½ lemon
120m extra virgin olive oil
1/2/ tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 230°C/gas 8. Brush the fish with olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper. Roast in an oiled dish for about 10 minutes, bearing in mind that overcooking really does destroy the texture of fish. Blend all the ingredients for the salsa verde together in a food processor or mortar and pestle. This dish of baked hake and salsa verde can be served with puy lentils or, as I prefer, with the more traditional potato chips.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious courgette recipes

Courgettes are the prudes of the summer bounty, delicate souls whose whispering flavour can present somewhat of a problem to extract. If their quality is suspect then cooking them to a fatty mush and slapping them around with some wilder flavours is no bad thing. However, if you find yourself with a particularly savage crop then whatever you chose to do with them be conscious not to tend towards over treatment, rather, make space for their sweet, grassy, peppery whisper.

Courgette soup with egg and sapphire
First make a summery vegetable stock. White onions, leeks, celery, garlic, parsley stalks, fresh bay and a few peppercorns are essentials. Fennel, carrots and kohlrabi are welcome additions. For this particular stock some mint and lemon balm thrown in on their stems would be ace. Whatever you use make sure it is as fresh as possible, an old onion for example will lend an overpowering bitterness. Slice all the vegetables thinly, pop everything in a pot, lightly fry for five minutes and then fill with water and bring to a boil. As soon as it reaches a boil adjust the heat to keep it at a steady simmer, skim, and after 20 minutes turn off the heat. Leave to cool naturally for an hour or two, then strain.

Slice your courgettes thinly but most importantly evenly, bring a little more than enough stock to cover the courgettes to a simmer, season, add the courgettes (and a leaf or two of mint and lemon balm if you have it) and simmer until they’re completely tender. Give the courgettes a mega blitz, using just enough stock to bring it all to a double cream consistency. Season to taste with salt and a little bit of pepper.

Give some eggs (one for every two portions) a soft hard boil. Pop them in boiling water and take off the heat immediately. Leave them for twenty minutes, then cool in ice water, peel and slice lengthwise into sixths (the white of the egg won’t have bound in as a normally boiled egg would, though cooked through it will be a little custardy, you may find it easier to spoon it out of its shell and to crush and spoon it over the soup).

When you’re ready to serve and the soup (slightly cooler than room temperature) is in its bowls prepare the sapphire. Chop it into inch/inch-and-a-half lengths and fry and season in some butter and a drop of rapeseed oil (so the butter doesn’t burn much) for a minute of two then finish with a squeeze of lemon juice or some white wine vinegar. Then garnish the soup with the egg and sapphire.

Courgettes, yogurt and mustard leaves
In a baking tray or a heavy bottomed pan-fry some whole courgettes (smallish and irregularly sized ones are ideal here) in olive oil, seasoning them with salt and pepper. When they begin to colour add a splash of water, cover them with water and pop in a hot oven. Give them a shake every so often and bake for three quarters of an hour or so. Have a peak half way through and give them another splash of water if you think they’re likely to stick and burn in parts. Take the foil off and give them another ten minutes, with regular shakes. Let them cool – their skins should be dark brown and blistered with a creamy interior. Serve whole with some yogurt spooned over, a grind of pepper and some lightly dressed mustardy leaves.

Courgette and oat biscuits
A simple idea this but a little complicated to execute. There are five ingredients: courgette, oats, honey, butter and sea salt. The difficulty is twofold – one, in bringing out the taste of courgette to the forefront and secondly in giving the biscuits a biscuity feel (rather than a cakey feel) despite the very high water content of the courgettes. An ideal solution is to chop some courgettes and half dehydrate them in the oven (at no higher than 70c for about six hours, giving them an occasional jig around) as well as juicing the rest of your courgettes and reducing the juice to a thick syrup. If you don’t have a juicer you can chop them up, blitz them and then squeeze through muslin to extract the equivalent juice.

Half bake the oats dry in a medium oven. Then when cool you can make the biscuits, mixing the oats and chopped courgettes, and enough melted butter (leaving the milky mumbo-jumbo at the bottom of the pot) to just bind them. Then some honey to taste and at the last moment fold through the courgette syrup. Form biscuits in your hand, pop onto to lightly greased baking paper, sprinkle with a tiny bit of flaky sea salt and pop straight in a medium-hot oven, baking until it begins to shine gold.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Courgette gratin and posh cauliflower cheese

I often muse over the changes in Irish eating habits in recent times. I don’t have the statistics to hand, but I assume, for example, that the consumption of potatoes has fallen dramatically. Certainly, no meal of my youth was complete without potatoes, while nowadays they so often appear on menus as an optional extra. In Ireland of fifty years ago, piazza and pasta were also unheard of and Chinese and Indian cuisine smacked of the exotic. Today, together with many other foreign inputs, they form part of our regular food intake and we should rejoice in this development. By and large, the food of the past on this island was bland to the taste, lacked variety and was poorly cooked. Eating out was also not part of our culture. Yet in the space of one generation, all that has changed. Even in remote parts, supermarket shelves speak volumes about the huge variety to our diet and every town in the country now boasts at least one or two restaurants.

All that said, perhaps the most remarkable transformation to have taken place lies in our attitude to vegetarian food. In the 1950s and 1960s, a decision to forego the eating of meat would have been looked upon by many as “cranky” and scratch my head though I have, I cannot recall ever having met a vegetarian while I was growing up. Now, it is commonplace to encounter people who are to one degree or another vegetarian. For example, I had a daughter who didn’t eat meat (she later lapsed and reverted to being a full-blown carnivore!) and my daughter-in-law doesn’t eat red meat. For cooks of my mother’s generation, nothing was more terrifying than catering for guests, who didn’t partake of meat and indeed, I still find it challenging, as my repertoire is limited.

This month I propose to share with you my two favourite vegetarian recipes. Both were culled from newspapers many years ago and although an unrepentant carnivore, I regularly cook them for myself.

Courgette gratin
Serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
450g small courgettes, cut coin thin
Handful of flat-leaf parsley
60g long-grain rice
3 eggs
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère
Salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 180C°. Gently sauté the onion in the oil until softened and translucent, adding the garlic midway through the process.
Toss in the courgettes and chopped parsley (and some tarragon, if you like) and continue to cook gently until the courgettes have softened but still retain some texture.
Throw in the rice and stir, allowing it to absorb the liquid and cook for 10 minutes. Season, add the eggs (beaten with the cheese) and turn into an oiled earthenware dish.
Bake in the oven until bronzed and bubbling (30 minutes), then allow to cool before eating. As with so many of my dishes, I serve this with a crisp green salad.

Lancashire cauliflower cheese
Serves 4

I suppose this recipe could be described as a posh cauliflower cheese. I love it, both because of the flavour given by the two cheeses and because the cauliflower is always al dente. It is a far remove from the soggy dish, which I associate with poor cooks of the 1970s !

800g cauliflower, broken into florets
350ml milk
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 heaped tbsp butter
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
30g Parmesan cheese, grated

Blanche the cauliflower florets in boiling water for about five minutes and drain. Refresh with cold water.
Heat the milk to boiling point with nutmeg and bay leaf. In another pan, melt the butter, add the flour and cook until the texture becomes sandy.
Add the hot milk in a steady stream, whisking.
Continue to whisk until the mixture boils and thickens. Add the Cheddar cheese and season with salt to taste. Fold in the cauliflower and transfer to an oiled gratin dish. Scatter the grated Parmesan on top and bake until golden on top (about 25 minutes).I often prepare this dish in advance and just pop it into the oven half an hour before eating.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Recipes with elderflowers

Red faces, roof-top picnics, fires and sea swims. Early summer often enough seems to bring with it a spirit of decadence. Reaching beyond one’s means to celebrate and indulge, before…well, no need to look ahead when the fleeting sun shines.
This will be my final early summer within the academic calendar – one that admittedly does so much to heighten the sense of release, perhaps beyond that experienced in the early summers of the muggle world of constant responsibility. Summer day-dreams having become vivid enough to burst, the damp inhibitions of school are flung off with a blind eye.

Elderflower Cordial

Make sure to pick your elder on a dry day and to avoid any growing on busy roadsides.
For the lovely elderflower cordial, which brings with it endless possibilities:
For a litre of water use 20-25 elderflower heads, a kilogram of sugar and two lemons.
Give the flowers a check for any lingering insects.
Heat the water and the sugar to a syrup. When at a boil pour over the elder. Add slivers of the zest of one of the lemons (if its not unwaxed give it a good wash in hot water). Leave to infuse for 24 hours, giving it the occasional stir.
Then add the juice of the two lemons. Have a taste at this point, to check that it couldn’t do with more lemon juice (their acidity is irregular). Then strain and bottle.

Three decadent recipes for early summer:

Oyster, cucumber and elderflower fritter

Use big and freshly picked elderflower heads, give them a quick bug check but be real delicate with them so to keep all the fragrant pollen in the flower.

For enough batter for about ten fritters mix 125g of flour with a pinch of salt, two tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of rum or kirsch. Then whisk in water – just enough to bring it to the consistency of thick paint – and let it stand for at least half an hour in the fridge.

Peel a cucumber and cut it into inch-and-a-half lengths. Doing the best you can, cut into shapes of matchsticks discarding the seeds.

Heat a couple of inches of oil in a pan.

Meanwhile, open your oysters and pour out the initial juice (they say the secondary juice is plenty sweeter), sever them from their shells and flip them over so their smooth side is facing up.

When a small cube of white bread turns golden in a minute in the oil then the temperature is good. When ready, turn down the heat to steady the temperature.

Whisk two egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently fold through the batter. Carefully dip in the elderflower heads in, let any excess batter drip off and fry three at a time. When puffy and golden, take them out onto kitchen paper, lightly salt, and leave in a very low oven until all have been fried.

Serve the oysters in their shells, with a little squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of the cucumber matchsticks and a elderflower fritter.

Raw halibut, courgette, elder and sun flower dressing

The first Irish courgettes of the season will be emerging in their polytunnels early June and being picked for market. They’re used raw here, so small ones, which are especially nutty and sweet, will be best.

Pour just a little boiling water over plenty of elderflowers. Give them a shake and leave to infuse overnight and then strain. The dressing should be about one part lemon juice, two parts elderflower water to four parts extra virgin sunflower oil. Also shake a little of the buds and pollen of some elderflowers in. Water and oil don’t emulsify but this dressing seems to work well here as a ‘split’ one – giving soft, varying bursts.

Ask the fishmonger for some boneless halibut fillet rather than the usual steaks. Slice at a bias half an inch thick. Then put the portions in between baking paper and bash them gently with a hammer (or the back of a small pan) somewhat evenly, until they are half their original width. This will give them a more playful texture in the mouth and will give the dressing something more to cling too.

(If you’re preparing halibut in advance, give it a couple of minutes outside the fridge before serving. No matter how fresh, it has got little to say when it’s cold.)

Slice the courgettes as thinly as possible, though some being thinner than others is no bad thing.
When ready to eat, sprinkle some flakey salt over the halibut, then some courgette slices and then the dressing.

Elderflower, champagne jelly and mint

First of all make the jelly. Whether using gelatine in powder or sheet form, the ratio needed to make jelly will be on the packet. Use half of the suggested appropriate amount of gelatine so to end up with a quivering mess of a jelly that will melt instantly in the mouth. Use just a little of your champagne to dissolve the gelatine in, give it a good whisk and then mix gently through the rest of the champers so that it stays thoroughly bubbly – and so they will eventually pop in mouths. Let the jelly set in the fridge in one big bowl or portion it into smalls bowls.

For the elderflower, mix some cordial and water half and half.
When ready to eat, plate the jelly, either taking big spoonfuls from the big bowl or overturning the small bowls. Roughly make a crater in the jelly with the back of the spoon, pour over the elderflower, and sprinkle some small or sliced mint leaves.

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Lemon meringue pie and fragrant stewed apricots


I have told you before that I do not have a sweet tooth but yet, I am not averse to a fruit pudding of any kind, particularly if it is served with lots of cream. Whipped cream is a great weakness of mine, and I blithely ignore all warnings about the impact it may have on my troublesome cholesterol levels. Indeed, my children have often remarked that it seems to them that I just use a spoon of pudding as an excuse to ladle on the cream ! Anyway, this month I propose to share two fruit pudding recipes with you. The first, lemon meringue pie, has long been a family favourite, while the second, fragrant stewed apricots, although only recently introduced, has found great favour.

Lemon Meringue Pie
I owe a debt of gratitude to Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe-fame for this recipe. She inspired it in a recipe that she published somewhere more years ago than I care to remember. For decades, lemon meringue pie was served in this house, either as a hangman’s pudding for the children departing to boarding-school or, as a treat on the first day of their return on holidays. It is a bit fiddly to make but trust me when I say, it is worth the time and effort and, for those of you who duck all recipes involving pastry, can I urge you to overcome this irrational fear and take the plunge?

There is nothing complicated or particularly skilful about pastry-making. There is also a feature of this recipe, which should particularly appeal to those of you who, like me, hate waste in the kitchen. Four eggs are separated but all the yolks and whites are used! One is thus spared the bad conscience usually associated with the making of meringue, when egg yolks have to be disposed of down the kitchen sink. (I don’t know about you, but faced with this situation, I never opt for the alternative course of action, which would have one making mayonnaise one didn’t really want!)

For the pastry shell
200g plain white flour
150g butter
1tbsp sugar
1 large egg yolk beaten lightly
3-4 tbsp iced water

For the filling
100g caster sugar
50g butter
½ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp grated lemon rind
2 large whole eggs and1 large egg yolk beaten lightly

For the meringue
2 large egg whites
100g caster sugar
Pinch of salt.

You will require a 9-inch flan tin with a removable bottom.
Make the short crust pastry in the usual way and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Roll out the pastry and use it to line the flan tin. Return to fridge for a further 30 minutes. (Keeping the pastry cold in this way avoids subsequent shrinking) Preheat the oven to 170°C and bake the pastry blind for about 15 minutes using baking beans to hold it in shape. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Now make the filling. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a low heat. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and rind and then add the beaten egg mixture. Stir constantly until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; do not let it boil. Transfer to a bowl, where it will thicken as it cools. When cold, spread it on the pastry shell.
Next make the meringue. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they are frothy. Add the sugar a little at a time and beat until the mixture can stand in stiff peaks. Spread over the filling and bake the pie in the upper third of the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Serve cold with large dollops of fresh whipped cream.

Fragrant Stewed Apricots
This recipe came from Matilda, who is carving out a reputation for herself as a cookery writer in London. She was for a time the special person in the life of my youngest son. I am sure that we shall hear more about her in coming years, as her stellar qualities as a cook and writer bring her the fame she richly deserves.

450g unsulphured dried apricots*
3 tbsp sugar
1 lemon
10 black peppercorns, 6 cardamoms or cinnamon bark

*I can purchase these in my local supermarket. If you do not have a large supermarket to hand, you may have to resort to a health food shop.

To serve
a handful of toasted flaked almonds or pine nuts
crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt

Remove any grit from the apricots. In a mixing bowl, cover them generously with water and soak in the fridge overnight. The following morning, drain the liquid from the apricots into a pan. Spread the fruit out in an ovenproof dish. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice, the spices and the sugar to the liquid. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve. Strain and pour over the apricots. Bake for one hour or until the apricots are plump and cooked in the fragrant syrup. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Refrigerate before serving with the toasted nuts and crème fraîche.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Recipes with Sorrel


The three leafed wood sorrel, found throughout Ireland, begins to sprout its delicate white and purple flowers in April and May. It can often be found in shaded spots near the sea and sloping tree-sheltered banks. French or garden sorrel, with its long single leaves and reddish-green flowers (June and July) is that which will be found cultivated but grows wild also and will usually be juicier and with a little less of an acidic kick than wood sorrel. Whatever your source, the recipes below all use sorrel raw, more as a herb than a vegetable, and so will be better suited to the younger, more tender and succulent leaves.

Much of sorrel’s attention down the years has been thanks to its perceived medicinal qualities (as a vegetable or herb it has in fact often been quite disregarded). The prolific 17th century horticulturalist John Evelyn notes its tendency to “sharpen the appetite, assuage heat, cool the liver and strengthen the heart”. As such it helps to make an ideal tonic for a summer’s evening.
You could simmer it in water with some barley for half an hour, strain and infuse with some more sorrel (bashed up with the back of a wooden spoon), honey and lemon zest, leave to cool and then strain again. Or you could simmer some sorrel for twenty minutes in water (no barley) with a little ginger, strain and infuse with more sorrel, brown sugar and few mint leaves.

Garlic, milk and sorrel
If the garlic cloves aren’t pretty fresh, it’s best to cut them in half lengthwise and take out the stem running up the middle – it grows bitter with age. In a pan cover the garlic with milk, bring to a low simmer for five minutes. Strain and repeat with a new batch of milk. And again with another. The garlic should be very tender, if not keep the third simmer of milk going until it is.
Mush to as smooth a paste as you can and season lightly with salt.
If you can find some brilliantly fresh wild salmon it’s a shame not to eat some of it raw. Fillet and skin it at the last minute and slice portions an inch across the width of the fillet. Serve with a spoonful of the milk-poached garlic puree, some sorrel leaves and a drizzle of olive oil – creamy, prickly and fruity.

Carrots, buttermilk yogurt, almonds, chervil and sorrel
If you’re in the habit of making your own yogurt (once you’ve done it is a pretty simple game and, given the price of milk, a pretty cheap one too) and have a good source of buttermilk then bob’s your uncle, but muggle yogurt will certainly be kosher.
Get hold of the best carrots you can find. Wash and peel them, leaving a little of the stalk. Cut the thicker ones in half lengthwise. Steam them until tender. Mix with a little salt and rapeseed oil and let cool to room temperature.
Roast some almonds in a medium oven for fifteen minutes and give them a bash when cooled. When ready then, start with the yogurt on the plate and then the carrot and then a long side the carrots the sorrel and then the chervil – be generous with both. Finish with a little rapeseed oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some ground black pepper.
(A raw quail’s egg yolk does a fine job at bringing all the flavours together, so if you’re preparing the dish in a push-the-boat-out sort of mood then it’ll be worth the effort. Separate them from the egg white, pop them in a oiled dish and into low oven for just a minute of two and then onto the yogurt when you dish up – a yummy dressing will form at the bottom of the plate as you eat – a mingling of the yogurt, rapeseed oil, lemon juice and yolk.)

Honey and brown butter sponge cake with apple, mint and sorrel
For the sponge cake:
175 g butter
175 g honey
175 g flour
3 eggs
1 tbs milk
1 tsp baking powder

Pop the butter in a small pot and heat with the occasional shake until it reaches a nutty brown.
Then pour it from the pot leaving (and then discarding) the milky, dense slightly burnt residue that settles at the bottom. When the butter has cooled to room temperature put it in a mixing bowl and beat it with a spatula. Add the honey (warm it slightly first so that it mixes fine) and continue beating for a couple of minutes. Then, forearm bulging, beat in an egg at a time. Sieve in
the flour and baking powder and stir through gently. When incorporated stir through the milk and then she is ready to bake.
Put into a couple of greased and floured cake tins and bake in a medium hot oven. It’s ready when you push down on it gently with your finger and it springs back up. About 20-25 minutes. Let cool in its tins.

Peel and core some apples and cut them into thumb nail sized cubes. Pop in a pot with about a tablespoon of water per apple, a little vanilla pod and some sugar if the apples are tart. Bring to a simmer and cook gently with a lid on for a quarter of an hour and then with the lid off for ten minutes or so. By which time they should be tender through and they’ll just need a rough mash. Let cool.
Pick out the youngest leaves from a bunch of mint and have your sorrel leaves plunged in ice water and dried.
When ready to eat rip up the cake into random pieces and serve a few pieces of it on each plate alongside the mashed apple and some sorrel and mint leaves.

Giles Clark

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

All about lamb


My mother used to say that there was nothing to beat Irish lamb and she was right. It is simply delicious and, of course, it comes to mind at this time of year, as Easter is upon us. When I was young, lambing took place earlier than it does now, the supply of the meat in March/April was consequently greater and this presumably explains why in recent years, it is so much more expensive at Easter time than it used to be. Indeed, it is so expensive that I baulk at the price and buy year old lamb. I still find it mouth-watering and am immediately swept back to childhood and the haunches of lamb that used to grace the table on Easter Sunday.

There are obviously many ways of serving lamb. I live alone and often resort to chops, which I leave sitting for a few hours in a marinade of crushed garlic, rosemary, salt and olive oil before grilling them. I also cook various stews and then divide them into single portions and freeze them. A roast leg of lamb is a family favourite but this is hardly a dish suitable for one or two people, especially if you are like me, and don’t particularly like cold lamb the following day. However, this consideration should not deter you completely from choosing the roasting option. If you live alone or there are only two of you, why not roast a small rack of lamb ? My butcher is quite happy to sell me a rack with say, six chops. I just pop it into a pre-heated hot oven and roast it for about 20 minutes. Served simply with mint sauce, it is to die for.

In the Orthodox Church, Easter is the main feast day of the year and even more so than here, lamb is traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. I recall being on the Greek Island of Cos for Easter many years ago and that memory is redolent with the smell of roasting lamb on spits. But there is another lamb dish that is forever associated with Greek cuisine and that, of course, is moussaka, made with minced lamb, aubergines and cheese. I first ate it as a student in Athens and in the process of wooing my wife, it was the first dish I cooked for her. In the late 1960s in Ireland, this was seriously sophisticated cuisine, she was suitably impressed and, as it advanced my cause, I have always retained a special affection for it. Rachel Allen largely inspired this recipe for moussaka.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
675g minced lamb
1 glass of white wine
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
Good pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground allspice
1 generous tbsp marjoram, chopped
1tsp thyme, chopped
1 large bay leaf
Approx 6 tbsp olive oil
3 aubergines, cut into 1cm-thick round slices

For the Topping

75g butter
75g flour
850ml milk
50g parmesan cheese, grated
150g gruyère cheese, grated
3 egg yolks

You will need an oven-proof lasagne dish about 30x20cm in size.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan.
Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes or until the onion is soft.
Add the minced lamb and continue cooking until browned. Add the wine, bring to the boil and then add the tomatoes, spices and herbs. Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat, put on the lid and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes. Then remove the lid and increase the heat for a further 15 minutes or so, watching it carefully as you do. The mixture should then have very little liquid left.
While the mixture is simmering, you can get on with preparing the aubergines.
Dry the aubergine slices with kitchen towel and then brush lightly with olive oil before placing them under the grill.
Cook on both sides for about a total of 8-10 minutes and then set aside.
Then to the topping, which involves making a cheese sauce.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Stir on the heat for a couple of minutes and then gradually whisk in the milk. Continue to whisk to get rid of any lumps and cook on the heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat, stir in the parmesan and half the gruyère cheese and season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool for a minute or so and then beat in the egg yolks. Set aside until you are ready to assemble the moussaka.
Cover the base of the oven proof dish with a third of the mince mixture and then cover with half the aubergine slices. Repeat the layers, ending with the last of the mince. Then pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the remaining gruyère cheese.

The moussaka is now ready but if you wish, you can slip it into the fridge for up to a day or two. Thus, although like lasagne, moussaka is a bit fiddly, it has the advantage that it can be prepared well in advance. – When you are ready to cook it, just place in an oven preheated to 180°C for 50-60 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Sit for five minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Wherever you are at Easter enjoy yourself and if you are eating lamb, let me leave you with a final word of advice. My wife’s Scottish grandmother was a friend of Queen Victoria’s housekeeper in Balmoral. She it was who revealed that Victoria, that queen of decorum and of all that is right and proper, always ate her lamb chops in her fingers. Go for it !

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen



The keen, savoury scent of garden thyme makes it a fine collaborator with most of the Irish kitchen’s staples. It hits an understated and invaluable note of harmony to many a braise – acting as a steadying reference point to accompanying flavours. It has a spiciness though and, hopefully at this time of year, a slight sweetness that leaves it equally comfortable embracing melody.

A thyme, orange, butter and peppercorn dressing
Maybe try with some goats curd and red onions roasted with red wine. Or some slow braised pork belly and white beans. Or some liver with mashed potatoes and green garlic.
Use a stalk of thyme per plate and the same again of leaves. Slowly heat the butter in a small pot with the thyme and slivers of orange zest. Let it come to the boil and lightly brown.
Take it off the heat but, if possible, leave it at a warm temperature so the infusion can continue. When ready to use bring it back to the boil, add some crushed black pepper, some salt (if the butter is unsalted) and squeeze in some orange juice. Taste, adjust – a couple of drops of cider vinegar might be appropriate –  and serve.
Or perhaps leave out the salt, go lighter on the pepper and try it with something sweet. A golden sponge cake with poached pears…a sweet curd tart…a pine nut and honey tart.

Lamb, thyme and fire
Soak a bunch of thyme for a couple of hours. When the embers are at the peak of their heat sear the loin until it’s crispy and brown all over. Take the loin and the grill off and pop the thyme – shaking off any excess water – across the fire.
With some haste, pop the grill back on (as low as it will go) the loin and a pot (already heated) over the loin. The pot will initiate a half bubble of thymy smoke for the lamb to hover in. It will cook through slowly as it smokes – varying on the heat of the fire and wetness of the thyme.
Let the loin rest for ten minutes or so. Slice thin – and if possible at an angle running against the grain of the muscle – and sprinkle a little salt on the cut surface before serving. If not by itself perhaps serve with some roasted carrots and cress. Or on a little mashed parsnips (boil them in milk) with a drizzle of rapeseed oil.

Pears, yoghurt and thyme honey
Another one for the fire.
Thyme infused honey is a Greek trick where the wild thyme bursts into flower mid April. With the flowers come the bees, and so this cheeky combination. If you’ve no fire then you could bake the pears with some white wine. Covered in a hot oven for ten minutes and then turn the pears over, lower the heat a little and bake uncovered until the wine is almost reduced.

Pour a jar of honey into a pot and heat slowly with half a bunch of thyme. Give it a shake as it heats to immerse the thyme and when the honey begins to simmer take it off the heat. Let it cool slightly and then pour it all, thyme included, back into the jar. If possible then leave the jar on the windowsill for a couple of days before using. (You could also use some of it with roasted carrots or baked apples and brown butter).

Halve the pears and scoop out the core. Pop, flat-side down, on a grill over a fire or griddle pan. In less than a minute it should be well charred. Carefully turn over with the back of a spatula and cook the other side. Let the pears cool a little and then serve each half on some yogurt with a few bashed up almonds and a generous spoonful’s drizzle of thyme honey.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Memorable meals with aubergines


Do you have memories of any great meals eaten in the past and if so, have you ever tried to recreate them in your own kitchen? My answer to both these questions is, yes, but my attempts to reproduce that dish eaten, say on a foreign holiday, have invariably been unsuccessful and I never know why.

I recall, for example, a May evening when I was swept off my feet by a spaghetti alle vongole served to me in a trattoria on a Roman street. Try as I might, I have never been able to recreate that dish, as I remember it. You may argue that the difference really lies in the ambience, the noise of Rome, the smells of Italian food, the warmth of the summer air, the smooth service of that Italian waiter. Of course, I cannot reproduce the Roman backdrop in my small kitchen but I do have all the ingredients that delivered that dish to me, and logic suggests, does it not, that I should therefore be able to replicate it exactly, here in the West of Ireland? I shall continue trying.

But not all my efforts to recapture the magic of food from the past have ended in failure, and this month I propose to share with you two very different recipes, which evoke for me exceptional culinary memories. In sharing them with you, I also have in mind people who, like me, live alone. Cooking for oneself is always a challenge and I realise that since taking over this column, I have not catered for this category of person. As it happens, both recipes will also be of interest to vegetarians.

Baba Ganoush
In the mid-1980s, my wife and I took the family to Crete on a holiday. At that stage, both of us had been to Greece many times before and were in agreement that it was not a country one would visit for its food. Before leaving, a friend had recommended a taverna near the famous Minoan ruins at Knossos; we were told to order mezédhes, similar to the Spanish tapas or the Italian antipasto. As the holiday neared its end, we remembered that we had a wedding anniversary to mark and off we went to the Knossos restaurant. As instructed, and with no great expectation, we ordered the mezédhes. We were blown over; this was a truly memorable meal. Amongst the many dishes served was baba ganoush but, being then simple culinary folk, we did not recognize it. Identification of this dish came many years later and on the other side of the world.

We were living in Hong Kong and a dear friend invited me to have lunch with her in a Lebanese restaurant in Wanchai. It was a tiny place in a back street run by a middle-aged Lebanese couple. Being a foodie and an Australian, Arja knew her way around ethnic fare and she did the ordering. Down on the table came mezze, like its Greek counterpart, an assortment of different foods, and there again was this mysterious dish that tasted divine. This time, I was told it was baba ganoush and that it was made principally of mashed aubergines. I have since made this dish and it is the exception to the general rule. Made by me, it tastes just as good as it did in Crete and Hong Kong. I owe the Observer Food Monthly a debt of gratitude for this recipe.

2 aubergines, about 600-650g
Juice of ½ lemon
1½ tbs tahini paste
2 tbs natural yoghurt
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 sprig of thyme, leaves picked
Salt and pepper

To serve

Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle A few pinches of sumac, or a little chopped flat-leaf parsley, to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/Gas 7. Prick each aubergine several times with the tip of a sharp knife and place both on a lightly oiled baking dish.

Roast in the hot oven for about 40 minutes until the skins are wrinkly and the aubergines feel soft when lightly pressed. Leave the aubergines until they are cool enough to handle, then peel away the blackened skins and put the flesh into a colander.

Press with the back of a ladle to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Blitz the aubergine flesh in a blender. Add the lemon juice, tahini, yoghurt, garlic, thyme leaves and seasoning. Blitz briefly, check for seasoning, tip into a bowl, cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

When cold, spoon the baba ganoush into a serving dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, sprinkle with sumac or the chopped parsley and serve with warm flatbreads

Welsh Rarebit
Apart from being much less exotic, the second recipe has origins closer to home. When I was a student in Dublin light years ago, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association operated a restaurant on the north side of Stephen’s Green, between the Shelbourne Hotel and the top of Dawson Street. It was divided into two sections. In one, you could have a regular three course lunch and in the other, delicious snacks.

Wholesome and plain was how one would describe all the food served in the Country Shop, as the restaurant was called. Now, not many men penetrated this establishment but I had a male friend, who was much addicted to its fare, and so we were often to be seen in the snack section. I expect that the three course lunch on offer would have been beyond our slender means. Our favourite dish by far was Welsh Rarebit and one day, I had the temerity to ask for the recipe, which is now reproduced below. It is truly authentic and delivers exactly the delicious flavour of that Country Shop dish.

Serves 1

110g cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbs flour
1 tbs butter
2 tbs milk
1 slice of bread, lightly toasted

Preheat a grill to a medium temperature – 3-4 on a scale of 1-5

First make a roux. In a saucepan over a low heat, melt the butter and combine with the flour. Add the milk to the roux, stir in vigorously and you should then have a very thick paste.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese, combine thoroughly with the paste and spread evenly over the toasted bread, making sure that you cover the bread completely. Place under the grill and cook until the top is golden brown and bubbling – about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

While the above is the original recipe as given to me orally, you could vary it by adding a small amount of mustard or a few drops of Worcesteshire Sauce. If you wanted to be a little more daring, you could also substitute beer for the milk. I serve Welsh Rarebit with sausages (as they did in the County Shop, as an optional extra !) and a tomato salad with lots of mustard in the dressing.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Cauliflower recipes


Cauliflower is especially plentiful and delicious this time of year. It grows enclosed in its swirling green leaves – and so the head and its undeveloped flowers remain pale (unlike its tan sibling broccoli who grows up near naked). It’s rich in those classically autumnal tastes – milkyness and nuttiness  – but is spearheaded by a sweetness which keeps it relevant through spring. If it’s overcooked on the boil or in the steamer though, the school-lunch bitter aromas become prevalent. The thick white stalks of the leaves – aka ‘poor man’s asparagus’ – can be boiled until tender and eaten straight away with melted butter, lemon and salt. Like all vegetables the flavour becomes flat with age (that is the stage before it starts to rot) so make sure it looks in fine fettle – springy, bright green leaves and an unblemished, radiant head.

Cauliflower soup and quail’s egg
It’s presumably not that often that one has surplus quail’s eggs lying around and needing eating. I once did, and quite a lot of them. I soft boiled them and peeled them. Having softened some white onions in butter and oil and then with them some thinly sliced cauliflower and then shallow braising with some cream, I popped in the quails eggs, each ripped in half.
I added some milk to cover and simmered oh-so gently for five to ten minutes until the cauliflower was tender. Then a mega blitz in the blender and through a sieve so to make it as smooth as possible. It was served and eaten hot (not piping) and the garnish was a grind of pepper.

The decadence in preparation carried through and made for an enriching harmony but without a repeat in quails’ egg surplus no such combination has been repeated. Recently the soup was revisited but with a more humble supply of eggs their presence was made more tangible.

The soup was made similarly to above but eggless. The eggs were soft boiled, peeled and then two or three slightly crushed were popped on top as a garnish two or three to each bowl) with a grind of pepper. Thin golden ribbons of yolk running through the soup as its eaten.

Another, slightly jazzier, way to garnish would be to boil some of the smallest leaves from the cauliflower (those that are creamy coloured and tender). Mix them through with a little sliced wild garlic (which is all of a sudden all abundant) and the crushed quail’s eggs with a drop of olive oil. 

Black pudding, pickled cauliflower stalk and mustardy leaves
Cauliflower stalks, as in the two recipes below, often don’t make the final cut in dishes given their difference in texture and cooking time to the flowers. They are perfectly delicious though and if you are taking on a couple of heads at the same time its worth keeping them and giving them a pickle.

First make your pickling liquor. Roast some spices in a dry pot – clove, coriander seed, mace blade and mustard seeds (adding the latter a little later). When aromas start drifting and the mustard seed begin flying add some cider vinegar. Bring to a boil, take of the heat and add a little sugar and salt to taste. You needn’t peel the stalk; slice it at a bit of an angle and about 6mm in width.

Pop in an appropriate sterilised (washed in hot soapy water and dried in a low oven just before using) jar and pour the tepid vinegar over to cover. It’ll be best when it’s been given from three to four weeks to pickle (in the fridge).

Slice the black pudding a little under an inch and fry in dripping or butter until browned and crisp. Make a dressing with a little of the pickling liquor and some olive oil. You can serve the three components together either as a salad or as little nibble  – each slice of black pudding topped by a couple of slices of cauliflower stalk and two or three dressed, mustardy leaves. 

Cauliflower mash, kidneys, bay and lemon
Pop some unsalted butter in a small pot, with lots of fresh bay leaves and some slivers of lemon zest. On a low heat let the butter melt and come to a simmer, then turn the heat off but leave it on the hop to continue infusing. Slice your cauliflower, removing the leaves and the main stalk. Fry for a couple of minutes in some butter on a medium heat.

Add some cream to fill half way up the cauliflower, season with salt and simmer gently with a lid on. Give the cauliflower an occasional stir and as soon as its tender through its ready. Pour out some of the remaining cream and mash quite roughly, season, add a drop of something acidic (cider vinegar would be ideal) and any of the cream it cooked in to bring it to a desirable looseness.

Peel off from each kidney the thin membrane and any connecting tissue or suet. Cut them in half lengthwise and cut out the fatty core. Season well with salt and pepper, fry at a fair heat in dripping, flat side down first, turning when browned. Its pretty important to have them at room temperature before cooking them so that they can cook through relatively evenly, without the centre remaining pink while the outside is over. Let them rest for a couple of minutes (during which time they will continue to cook through slightly).

Bring the cauliflower and the butter back up to heat and add a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some cauliflower on to each of your warmed plates, then two or three kidney halves and then spoon over the butter with a couple of the bay leaves for each plate. 

Cauliflower, red onion and fried granary bread
Cut florets of cauliflower from the head; keep them relatively similar in size – if you are trying to half one then cut down the stalk then break apart with your hands so that the flowers keeps their admirable natural shapes. Boil in seasoned milk. Drain (leaving the milk for a soup) just before they are tender through (like the kidneys, they will continue cooking as they cool down) and give them a little bash around in the pot to ruffle up some of the corners as you would roast potatoes.
Pop in a bowl, add some thinly sliced red onion rings, olive oil, salt, a little dollop of Dijon mustard if you have some, and red wine vinegar. Mix and taste. As the cauliflower cools slice some granary bread for frying – cut off the crust and into 1 by 2 cm pieces. Fry in hot oil until golden all over, drain, sprinkle with salt, and add a few to each helping of cauliflower salad. 

Giles Clark

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Almond Cake + Apricot bread


As part of my activities in the garden, I love propagating plants. I do this from both seeds and cuttings. However, more often than not, I end up with more plants than I need and I then give away the surplus. This gives me joy, as does the reverse. I love walking around the garden and taking note of the different plants and shrubs that have been given to me over the years. With a rush of pleasure, thoughts of the donor friends and relatives come to mind. Recipes have the same effect on me. When I try a new one and it is a success, I immediately think of who I should share it with. I also love to be given recipes by others and again I think fondly of the donor when I subsequently eat the dish, which is the subject of the recipe. And is it not the ultimate accolade for the cook to be asked by a guest for the recipe of whatever it is, he or she has just served?  These days, it is principally my children who pass on recipes to me; they know what their crusty old father likes to eat.  My sisters also come into the frame. This month, I have decided to pass on two recipes which have come to me from these two different sources.

However, before moving on to give you the particulars, I want to raise another matter with you.
In keeping with the spirit of the interactive media age in which we live, I really would like to have comments/questions from you on this column. It is not easy to keep on writing into a void with never a word of criticism or praise from readers on what one has to say. So do click on that comment icon and let me have your views.

Almond Cake
This recipe, obviously Italian, was passed on to me by my youngest son, who is a very enthusiastic cook. Apart from being easy to make, it has another advantage. It may be served either as a cake or a pudding.

150ml olive oil
165g light brown sugar
4 eggs beaten
200g whole almonds,
100g flour
1½ tblsp honey
Juice of half lemon
1tblsp of chopped rosemary

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Place the almonds in a blender and whizz briefly. You want to end up with a rough mixture, which still contains small pieces of almond. Grease a 10in cake tin. Mix the oil and sugar in a bowl, add the beaten eggs and fold in the flour, followed by two-thirds of the almonds. Pour into the cake tin and scatter the remaining almonds on top. Place in the heated oven for about 25 minutes.  

When the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven. While it is cooling, prepare the syrup. Put the honey, lemon juice and chopped rosemary into a small pot and, stirring constantly, bring slowly to the boil. Then, pour the hot syrup over the top of the cake. If eating as a pudding, serve with crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt.

Apricot Bread
In another context, I have spoken of my great love of apricots. This recipe was given to by my oldest sister, who serves the most wonderful food. She is a natural cook and her dishes are always both tasty and exciting. She is also a troglodyte and a technophobe. Thus for you, I have had to convert into metric, the imperial measurements of her original recipe. Although described as a bread, this is what I would call a tea cake. Again it has the advantage of being very simple to make.

200g self-raising flour
100g dried apricots
50g chopped almonds
50g light brown sugar
50g butter
4 level tbls golden syrup
1 egg beaten
5 tbls milk

Pour boiling water over the apricots and leave to soak for 1 hour. Drain and chop. Place the apricots, flour, nuts and sugar in a mixing bowel. Melt the butter and syrup together, add the beaten egg and milk and stir into the dry ingredients. Pour into a greased and lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 160C for 40-45 minutes.

Think kindly of me when you bake and eat these cakes!

If you like these recipes you might want to check out stories about one ingredient 

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes for Savoy cabbage


Since the agricultural boom of the early 19th century, cabbage had been one of Ireland’s firmest of edible friends – an easy grower more or less year round and a fine accompaniment to the potato. There are several varieties that appear through the year and during winter time it’s the black cabbage and Savoy cabbage that reign. The recipe ideas below involve the rather unglamorous latter.

The tough, dark, wrinkly leaves on its outside cover what is infact a quite clean flavoured cabbage. However if it is cooked at a high temperature for too long it does, like all cabbage,  have a habit of releasing fairly sinful tastes and smells. In fact the Savoy cabbage is as appropriate as any to eat uncooked. Try it in a salad sliced thin, with some shaved salsify and horseradish. Or slice it thin and blitz it up with some vegetable stock, a little cider vinegar and seasoning and then put it through a sieve for most refreshing soup with a drizzle of virgin sunflower oil. When cooked though, unlike the majestic little spring cabbages that need only a toss in butter and herbs, Savoy cabbage is often better off with rather sterner encouragement. 

Cabbage, roasted onions and butter beans
Soaking and cooking the beans is quite a long process. It might be worth making more than they need as they keep fine in their cooking liquor in the fridge. Maybe make a dip out of some, or use some for a spicy, citrus, aromatic soup with cabbage and pork extremities. Plenty of options to express oneself besides.

Soak the butter beans in water in the fridge for two nights. (Unless your paying big money for the finest butter beans on the market, they are usually not last season’s beans but where dried a couple of years ago and have no hope of tenderness unless they’re given quite a long soak)

Pop them in a pan with plenty of water and whatever aromatics you have to hand (bay, rosemary, half an onion and a few cloves of garlic for example), a generous swig of olive oil will go a long way for the texture and richness of the beans, no salt and bring them to a boil. Keep half an eye on them as they simmer gently away – skimming and then stirring (so they cook evenly). When they’re proper tender (could be a couple of hours or more) don’t drain them as air will break their skins, leave them to cool, bathing in their liquor)

Try and get hold of some quite small onions (they tend to have stronger concentration of sugar and will work well size-wise for this salad). Pop the onions in a roasting tray with some olive oil, water and salt and cover with tin foil. Pop in the oven at about 160 degrees and roast from three to four to five hours (or if you’ve not the time, a piping hot oven for a little under an hour).

Let them cool and then you should be able to chop of the stem (with you fingers) and give just a satisfying squeeze to release the soft, dark onion what’s been roasting slowly inside its skin.

Its best served cool so that it doesn’t become a stew but rather the flavours stay distinct – though you could perfectly well serve it warm along side some braised lamb. When you’re ready for action cut the Savoy cabbage leaves into quarters, discarding the thick stems running up the middle.

Boil them in lots of salted water until almost completely tender. Drain them and then run some cold water over them, just enough so you can handle them to squeeze the excess water out of them. Then toss the leaves with some red wine vinegar and olive or rapeseed oil and salt. Slowly heat up some beans in some of their liquor, now you can season them with salt and a splash of vinegar, show them just a bit of heat so to soften them and to help the seasoning process. When the cabbage has cooled pop in the butter beans and roasted onions, also slice some lovage leaves and add to the mix (or parsley if you cant get hold of any), add a good bit of Dijon mustard and a some ground pepper (and if you’re feeling excitable maybe a smidgen of crushed anchovy and garlic). Give it a good toss and taste and adjust until you’re happy.

Cabbage soup
Cabbage soup has perhaps a slightly penitential ring to it. Images of young monks sitting round the convent dining table struggling through their daily bowl of cabbage and water. The French and Germans tend to accommodate by making cabbage soups with shins of beef or smoked pork bones. This recipe is somewhat unadulterated – not going much further than the cabbage, onions and water – careful cooking and the best cabbage and onions you can get will let that be a good thing though.    

Thinly slice some onion – about a third of however much cabbage you use. Gently fry it in a pot with some dripping, a garlic clove or two and a sprig of rosemary. Before too long, add your cabbage, sliced similarly to the onions. Season and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for twenty minutes or until the cabbage and onion softens and begins to colour. Then add a little white wine, let it reduce and then some water, barely to cover. Simmer gently and stir until the cabbage is tender. The cabbage will have absorbed most of the water and so it will be more of a stew than a soup perhaps. Serve with some crusty bread, rapeseed oil and a grind of pepper.

Pork belly, pickled cabbage and walnuts
The cabbage will need a months pickling before its ready to use. It’s worth making a big jar’s worth though as it will keep for a year. Put some star anise, peppercorns, coriander seed and a little fennel seed in a pot. Heat the pot and begin to dry roast the spices.

Then add cider vinegar, enough for what you think you’ll need to fill the jar with cabbage in it. Season to taste with a little salt and sugar, bring to a boil and then leave to cool. Cut the cabbage leaves into bigger-than-bite-sized wedges, discarding the thick stems. Fill a sterilised jar with the cabbage then pour over the vinegar when its still a little warm. Make sure it covers the cabbage completely, seal and leave in the fridge. 

If your belly hasn’t been brined when you buy it then pop it into a brine for three days.
You could now roast your belly for an hour and a half in a hot oven however, there’s a longer way round though that leaves you with an especially tender belly –  a worthy preparation in this dish given the accompanying crisp cabbage and walnuts. So give the belly a good rinse and cover it in a pot with unsalted water. Pop in an onion, celery and herbs and bring to the boil. It can be a struggle with hobs, particularly electric ones, to get things to the right temperature and keep them there.

Best I think just to skim, cover and pop it in an oven of 120 degrees.  Slow and steady then, it can be forgotten about for four hours. When its cooled just enough to handle, take the belly out and carefully remove any bones. Leave it to cool in the fridge with a flat weight on top (a baking dish with a few cans init for example).

When you’re ready to eat cut your cold flat belly into portions, lightly salt and fry in dripping or oil in a very hot pan so that it browns quickly on each side. Then serve with the pickled cabbage and gently bashed up walnuts. Maybe also a little dressing made with some of the pickling liquor and some olive oil. A fine combination for a warm sandwich also.

Giles Clark

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious recipe for split pea soup


You will be reading this well after Christmas is over. However, I write in its wake, the season of the most delicious leftovers of the year. How I love them and next year, I promise to give you some timely hints about what can be done to convert the detritus of your Christmas dinner into mouth-watering culinary delights.

Last year, I shared thoughts with you on pulses. In February, there was a recipe for dhal and in July I suggested how you might make a lentil salad. Here, I am going to talk about split peas, yet another member of the pulse family but one, I suspect that is no longer much in fashion. In any case, I find that I cannot obtain them in my local supermarket and have to go further afield to a delicatessen. Dried peas are a food with an impressive history.  They have been consumed since prehistoric times; their fossilized remains have been found at archaeological sites in Swiss lake villages. Peas are mentioned in the Bible and were prized in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Strangely, for thousands of years, dried peas were mainly eaten in dried form. It was not until the 16th century, when cultivation techniques created more tender varieties of the garden pea, that people began to consume them in their fresh, rather than in their dried, state. They are highly nutritious and are rich in both protein and dietary fibre. In these trying times, it is also worth emphasising that they are cheap to buy! Have I sold them to you? I hope so. There are many variations of the recipe for split pea soup. Here is mine.

Split Pea Soup
125 ml olive oil
2 medium sized onions, finely chopped
2 medium sized green peppers, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
500g split peas
1.5l ham water
2 bay leaves
350 g sliced chorizo (optional).
2-3 tablespoons vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
paprika to garnish

Sauté the onions and peppers in the oil for 10 minutes.
Add the potatoes and toss to coat in the oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the garlic and split peas and stir.
Pour in the ham water. Bring to the boil, reduce to medium heat, add the bay leaves and simmer for 1½ – 2 hours, until the peas have disintegrated.
Season with salt and pepper during the last hour of cooking. Grill or griddle the chorizo slices for 6 minutes, if using. (Chorizo is fatty. If wary of animal fat, you could throw away the resultant fat at this stage. I confess that I always add it to the soup!) Remove the bay leaves, purée the soup in a blender and stir in the vinegar.

Serve in bowels with the chopped chorizo – if you are using it – and a sprinkling of paprika on top. This is a thick soup that will warm and comfort you.


Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes using beetroot


Beetroot is perhaps the most outrageously delicious of the vegetables available from Irish soils this month or any. Recent near hysteria has replaced a childhood spent sticking my nose up at the some what intimidating deep purple orbs.
Much beetroot is to be found pre-cooked in jars or plastic on shop shelves – boiled to release all but enough flavour to let them taste stale and musty with age.
The root, when baked in its skin to keep in tact its flavour and colour, somehow tastes sweet and at the same of earth – flamboyant while direct.
Check for freshness by the perkiness of the leaves.

Beetroot Soup

Chop some leeks and fry slowly in a pot, with olive oil and a little salt. Tie up some thyme, parsley stalks, bay and slivers of orange zest in string and pop in with the leeks. Peel and coarsely grate your beetroot and add to the pot. Stir over a medium heat for a couple of minutes and then add water – enough to cover and more. Season again to taste and simmer gently until all is tender – three quarters of an hour or so. Then leave to cool for a little, chuck out the aromatic bundle, and blend the soup, squeezing in some juice from the orange also. Serve the soup slightly cool garnished with a dollop of yogurt, the smallest green beet leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and some ground black pepper.

Beetroot, beet leaves, curly endive and almond

Wash the beetroot and put them into a baking dish with a centremetre of water, a little oil, salt and pepper. Cover with tin foil and pop in a hot oven. They will be ready when you can slit a knife through them with no resistance, it will take one to two hours. They’ll be easily peeled when still warm. When peeled cut them lengthwise half an inch thick.
Bake the almonds for a quarter of an hour in a medium oven.

Boil the beet leaves and mean while heat a pan. When the leaves are tender drain them, add some olive oil to the pan and then add the leaves, toss and add some sherry vinegar. Let the vinegar half reduce with the leaves and then take them of the heat.

Serve the beetroot flat down on each plate with the leaves on top, and on top of the root and leaves and the curly endive (frisee lettuce) lightly dressed and the whole baked almonds.

Beet leaves and curd

Beet leaves are presumably a sibling of summer’s chard, similarly magnificent in colour and flavour, and certainly well capable of standing on their own two feet. The leaves from one to two beets should be enough for this dish (you can use the roots for the leafless recipe below).

Infuse a little orange and lemon zest in some wine vinegar and then use to make a dressing with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Boil the beet leaves, when tender drain and dress and serve alongside a spoon full of goat or sheep’s curd.

Leeks, beetroot, butter and thyme

Bake the beet as above and then peel a cut into wedges. Pop quite a lot of butter in a pot with a drop of olive oil and plenty of sprigs of thyme. Let the butter melt and sizzle a little then take it off the heat and leave to infuse. Bake some hazelnuts as with the almonds, and then give them a rough crush.
When ready to serve boil the leeks (as a general rule the smaller the tastier) in salty water. As they are boiling heat a pan and add the beetroot wedges and then the thyme butter. Give them a toss over a fair heat and add a good squeeze of lemon juice, let it sizzle and then another toss and off the heat. Drain the leeks as soon as tender, cut in half lengthwise and lay straight on each plate. Spoon the buttery leeks over one half of the leeks, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the crushed hazelnuts and serve.

Giles Clark

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Pumpkin for supper


One can get a bit lost in the long, indulgent, sweetness of an unadulterated roast pumpkin. The more intense and delicious the flavour, the closer I find, it can err towards a sort of sickliness (of which downing a jug of honeyed coconut cream might be the extreme). A companion of earthy and prickly qualities keeps ones taste buds in check. The rosemary and lemon juice share that companions role in the first course, and the endive, duck, and jasmine in the others.

Pumpkin, bread, brown butter and almond salad
Bake some skinned, whole almonds in a not-very-hot oven. Don’t let them brown. When they have cooled give them half a bash so that some get splintered, some remain whole.

Chop the pumpkin into thick wedges, toss in oil, salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven with some cinnamon bark and a sprig of rosemary.

Use a day or two old loaf. Take off the crust and cut into inch squared chunks. It’ll need baking too – toss it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and pop it in the same oven as the pumpkin (if goes in about ten minutes after the pumpkin they should be ready around the same time).

Meanwhile, cook some butter to a light brown with a just a little bit of crushed fennel seeds.
When the pumpkin has begun to take on a dark brown in places it is ready, the bread likewise.  When the pumpkin is no longer hot but warm, toss it with the crispy bread and the almonds, and check for seasoning. Serve on warmed plates and spoon over the hot browned butter and a give each a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Scallops, pumpkin and curly endive
The corrals of the sea scallops aren’t used for this dish as the pumpkin would cancel them out some what. Try poaching them and then bashing them up with some lemon zest, garlic, black pepper, curly parsley, red wine vinegar, and butter.

Have it smeared over toast and grilled, or stirred through a fish soup for some last minute oomph.
Steam of boil the pumpkin. Then mash it (put it through a ricer if you have one) to as smooth a puree as possible and beat in butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Add oil to a hot – near smoking – heavy pan. Season the scallops with salt and drop into the pan. Don’t move them; let them cook until dark and golden brown on both sides.
Serve the scallops – perhaps three a person – on hot plates with a bowl of hot pumpkin and a bowl of curly endive (dressed with best oil, salt and cider vinegar) to share.

Poached mallard and pumpkin
There are more and more ducks being reared in Ireland. The variety in quality is extreme. Many never even get to see a pond or river –  Dunnes stores are selling them for €4 a bird. Though duck can seem a bit of a treat, its best to give it a miss unless you’ve reason to be confident about the duckishness of your duck. Wild duck (of which mallard is the most common variety) can be a bit pyoony and lean for roasting but it has a good guarantee of flavour and works well with this preparation. When you’ve finished, add the carcass back to the remaining broth and simmer for another hour. You could serve it maybe with peeled crushed potatoes, kale, carrots, parsley and rapeseed oil.

Season your mallard with salt inside and out (and below the breast skin) for four hours or so before you cook it.
Pop your bird (breasts facing up) in a suitably sized pot and fill to cover with water. Add a couple of sliced onions and a couple of celery stalks, lots of thyme, a few peppercorns, blades of mace, coriander seeds, bay leaf, salt and a smashed head of garlic.  You may have to weigh it down with a plate to keep it submerged. Bring the water to a simmer – simmer it for half an hour and then turn of the heat. Let the mallard cool and continue to slowly cook in its broth.

Heat some butter in a small pot, when it starts bubbling add some sherry vinegar and a some  salt and pepper to taste – this will be your hot dressing for the pumpkin.

Slice some pumpkin thin. Toss in a little oil, salt and pepper. Roast for a few minutes in a hot oven, just until the flesh begins to noticeably dry, it should be still fairly firm.
When the mallards cooled to a point that you can handle it, remove it from the pot. Strain the broth and then pop it back into the pot. Carve the mallard. Cut each thigh, down the middle into two, same with each leg, and each breast (the skin of the breast will be too shewy to serve) into three or four.

Bring some of the broth to a boil in a separate pot.
Serve the duck in shallow bowls – a little leg/thigh and breast in each. Pour half a ladle full of the hot broth into over and add a little sea salt on top of the duck. Re heat the butter and sherry vinegar until it starts foaming again, toss the pumpkin with it and leaves from a celery heart.  Serve a big spoonful in each bowl next to the duck, and some bread and a spoon for mopping and slurping.

Pumpkin tea (and Christmas cake)
For the pumpkin tea, one needs to make, in effect, a pumpkin stock and then infuse it with tea leaves when served.
Scrape into a pot the inside pulp and seeds of the pumpkin. Grate what flesh you have and add that to the pot. Fill the pot up with water, bring to the simmer and add a couple of cloves and some cinnamon bark. Hold it at the simmer for about thirty minutes, then take it off the heat and let it cool.

(If you’ve a juicer you can juice the pumpkin flesh and make a stock out of the seeds and the fibre that comes out the juicers rear, adding the juice to the stock, when ready.)

Strain the stock through muslin and when ready to serve bring it to the boil, stir in a spoonful of honey, infuse some jasmine tea leaves and ladle into mugs.
If you can get hold of them, it might be an idea to use the very little pumpkins – slicing of the top, hollowing them out and using as a drinking vessel, with the top as a lid.
And if you’re feeling especially crafty, you could make little tea bags for each pumpkin. Filling a little piece of muslin with some jasmine leaves and tying them up with string. You can serve the hot pumpkin stock in the pumpkins with the home made tea bags in and the string hanging about so that people can discard them when they fancy.

a note on Christmas cake…
Traditionally Christmas cake is made as early as the beginning of October, often being coated with whisky or brandy to help it preserve, so that its flavour may mature in time for Christmas. This can leave one with an overwhelmingly rich, dense, homogenous cake that is less than the quite dear sum of its parts. Baking any time in December will make for a more desirable slice. Use whole almonds, pear, candied orange and lemon zest, currants and raisons (soaked in brandy), mace and ground all spice berries.

Giles Clark

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Christmas Squidgy Chocolate Log


The Big Day is now three weeks away but for months, we have been swamped with talk of its coming. Every magazine and newspaper seems to carry articles about ever more exotic foods, and messages over the radio and on our TV screens continuously urge us to rush out and buy whatever, before it is all sold out. Christmas carols boom out. The streets of our towns are more crowded and everywhere there are people with puckered brows, anxious and uncertain about whether everything will be ready on time.

The Festive Season is here with a vengeance and yet for all the hype, there is also a strand of poignancy surrounding Christmas. There is a looking back, not only to people who may no longer be with us, but also to childhood and to our innocent joy in every aspect of the festivities. That innocence can no longer be recaptured. We are now adults, who know better and that realisation is tinged with sadness.

The thought of Santa Claus cannot arouse that intense inner excitement. The feelings of feverish anticipation at what may be in those gift-wrapped parcels under the Christmas tree are now alien to us. Oh to be able to turn the clock back, if only for a day! Our attitude to Christmas food and ritual may be explained by this yearning in us all to return to the warm, comforting cocoon that was the Christmas of bygone years. We seek to recreate what was and in doing so, cling to those little things that make this time of year so special for us all.  I recall, for example, that in my childhood, a particular dinner service surfaced in the days before Christmas. It was washed, used for Christmas dinner, washed again and then solemnly returned to its place in a high press in the kitchen, where it remained undisturbed until the following year. In this house, a particular table cloth miraculously makes its annual appearance in the same way. In households up and down the land, families everywhere have their own way of doing Christmas and woe betide those who seek to introduce innovation.

Invariably, the traditionalists win, but oddly enough it is not always the older generation, who emerge victorious. These battles often see a reversal of customary roles with the older folk seeking to simplify proceedings and adult children putting up fierce resistance to change. I recall one year that my wife had it in mind to serve Christmas dinner an hour earlier than was usual. She asked for my thoughts on the subject and was warned that, although I had no view, there was likely to be opposition from our children, who were then teenagers. Sure enough, when the eldest was consulted, he asked why there should be any change and then came the immortal words, “We have always had Christmas dinner at three o’clock!” A quarter of a century later, we still sit down to eat at that time!

Early in my married life, I lived amongst the French and learned a little of their Christmas ways. Somehow, and I cannot recall exactly how, from that time, it became the practice in our family to serve a Bûche de Noël with Christmas pudding. This is a chocolate log but strangely, from the outset, we did not follow a traditional French recipe. Instead, we resorted to Delia Smith and in her Complete Cookery Course found the divine Squidgy Chocolate Log.

Squidgy Chocolate Log:
6 large eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder

For the filling:
225g plain chocolate
2 tablespoons water
2 large eggs, separated
225ml cream

To finish:
Icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4, 180ºC
A tin 29 x 18cm and about 2.5cm deep, oiled and the base lined with greaseproof paper.

Begin by making the chocolate filling. Break the plain chocolate in pieces into a basin and add the water. Now place the basin over a saucepan of barely simmering water and wait for the chocolate to melt. After that, remove from the heat and beat it with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Next beat the 2 egg yolks, first on their own, and then into the warm chocolate mixture. Let it cool a bit, then whisk the egg whites till stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Meanwhile you can get on with the cake. First place the egg yolks in a basin and whisk until they start to thicken, then add the caster sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens slightly – but be careful not to get it too thick. Now mix the cocoa powder into the egg yolk mixture, then using a clean whisk and bowl, beat up the egg whites to the soft peak stage.

Next carefully cut and fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture – gently and thoroughly – then pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
Bake the cake on the centre shelf for 20-25 minutes until springy and puffy. When the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven but leave it in the cake tin to cool (it will shrink quite a bit as it cools but don’t worry, that’s normal).

Then when the cake is quite cold, turn it out onto an oblong of greaseproof paper, which has been liberally dusted with icing sugar. Peel away the cake tin lining paper from the bottom of the cake (which is now facing upwards), then spread the chocolate mousse filling over the cake. Next whip the cream softly and spread it over the chocolate filling.

Finally, gently roll up the cake to make a log shape. During this process, the cake will crack but this is normal and looks quite attractive.  Cover with a dusting of icing sugar.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Autumnal thoughts and a Whiskey Tea Brack

The strong winds at the weekend brought the remaining leaves down from the trees in the garden. The clocks also went back causing me to mourn the passing of the summer that we never had and to dread what the forthcoming winter has in store for us. On a more positive note, the nearby woods are full of the most glorious colours and it remains unseasonably warm for this time of year.

Yesterday, as I was pondering what to write this month, it came to mind that the passing of the seasons now attracts scant attention. In the days when agriculture was such a dominant force in this country, who could not have been aware that autumn was a time of harvest ? It was also the time when the cook had before him/her ingredients such as mushrooms, blackberries, nuts and apples. Before the days of frozen food and jet planes, autumn heralded that period of the annual cycle when on the vegetable front, one was largely confined to root crops such as turnips, carrots, parsnips and beetroot, and to eternal cabbage. Now, of course, one can have whatever vegetable one wants at any time of the year.

Somehow, I feel that this has not been to our gain, as we can no longer experience the excitement that came from eating seasonal food and from knowing that just as one vegetable or fruit became unavailable, another came on stream. Associated with this, were the rituals tied in with the preserving of certain foods against the time when they would no longer be available, or would be expensive to purchase. Here, I have in mind, for example, the past practice of preserving eggs in early autumn, when they were still relatively cheap. Eggs rose in price in winter as hens stopped laying, at the very time when they were required by the dozen for all those Christmas cakes and puddings. Now, tasteless eggs of a uniform size are cheaply available all the year around.

Yes, I accept that there is an element of progress lurking in all of these changes, but it would be good if it were more widely acknowledged that this generation has also faced a loss in no longer being able to feel and understand, for example, the simple culinary joy of eating the first new potatoes of the year, an event which in my childhood was always blessed by my father with that wonderful Irish expression, “Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís”

Soon, the children of this land and elsewhere will celebrate Halloween. In the queue at the cash desk in my local supermarket last week, I was astonished at the number of young mothers who had grizzly vampire and skeleton-like outfits in their trolleys. Obviously, their offspring will be dressing up. Soon too my dogs will have to endure days of being terrorized by exploding bangers down the village. Without wishing to sound a complete curmudgeon, dare I say that Halloween celebrations are clearly so different than they used to be?

The Halloween of my youth began at lunchtime when we always ate colcannon, a significant culinary moment because it was served on that day only. Small coins were inserted in the dish, which generated huge excitement. Who would be the richer for eating his lunch? Later in the day, friends were asked to play. Bowls of nuts were laid out with nut-crackers. An adult appeared to crack open the coconut with a hammer and here it may be worth mentioning that, apart from the pedestrian banana and some spices that were almost exclusive to Christmas, this was the only tropical food that featured in my childhood.

Then, there were games. An apple was attached to the end of a string, which in turn was connected to one of the hooks fixed in the ceiling of our old-fashioned kitchen. As the apple swung in the air, the aim was to grab it with your teeth and bite it. Out in the scullery was placed a huge tub full of water on top of which floated assorted nuts and fruit. These we sought to grab with our teeth, which involved ducking our heads into the water. You can imagine the fun and hilarity and splashing which accompanied this particular game. When we tired of what indoors had to offer, we went outside and in the darkness played forms of hide-and-seek, which focussed on frightening others with ghost-like sounds. There were no supermarket-bought fancy dress outfits and there were no bangers or fireworks, but there was a special tea. At the centre of this meal was barn brack which, like colcannon, was traditionally eaten in Ireland at Halloween. A ring, a bean, a pea and money were inserted into the brack and with each came a different message.  Perhaps the ring foretold of a wedding in the near future for the lucky “winner”.

You must forgive me as my memory of this aspect of the proceedings is vague.  However, I always loved brack, which was particularly good when toasted the following day. I still make it from time to time but have never used a traditional recipe. What follows was gleaned from a newspaper many years ago. I like it, not only because it is so simple to make, but also because apricots, my favourite fruit, may be included amongst the ingredients.

Whiskey tea brack

400g of dried fruit (you can stick to raisins and sultanas or use 200g of raisins and 200g  of
dried apricots chopped small)
A large mug of hot, strong black tea
Two tablespoons of whiskey
The zest of a lemon
150g soft brown sugar
200g self-raising flour
A teaspoon of cinnamon
A teaspoon of allspice
Two eggs

Put the fruit into a bowl. Add the lemon zest and pour over the hot tea and whiskey. Stir well and then cover with cling film and leave to soak overnight.

The following morning, preheat the oven to 180C. You can bake this brack in a loaf tin, or a flat square tin if you want to get smaller finer slices. Grease the tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the soaked fruit and stir in well. Then fold in the flour and the spices. Crack the eggs into the mixture and stir well.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for up to an hour. Cool on a wire tray.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes for parsnips


The feast of Samhain on All Hallows eve heralds the year’s beginning and with it, the coming of the dead and the dark. The dead return to wreak havoc on the living. The darkness, in thin November, overtakes the light. It’s this time of year when food’s most basic role becomes its most valuable – to nourish and steady. And one of the finest ingredients for such: the milky, golden parsnip.
A mild early autumn sees the first frosts coming not until November. Once they have arrived in earnest so too will the parsnip. The chill sweetens the root by turning its starch to sugar.
If you’re happy with the quality of your parsnips, then it’s generally best to leave the skin on, as in them, and the flesh just underneath them, there is much flavour.
Parsnip and mint salad

Parsnips, butter and watercress

Some technicalities:
This is an occasion in which a good Irish rapeseed oil will be at least as apt as the lushest of Italian olive oils.
Kerry Gold, with its high water content, is a champion butter for cooking with, but it can overwhelm when used like a dressing, as here. Unsalted is best.
Best to use warmed plates or else the butter will congeal.

With your oil and some wine vinegar, make a dressing – a touch sharper, more peppery and more mustardy than usual,
Boil the parsnips (whole if thin, quartered lengthwise if fat) in salted water until very tender.  Pop them back in the pan when drained, with some butter, and a little salt if they need it. Give the pan a shake, lid on, with vigour. Dress the watercress. Serve the half-broken apart, buttery parsnips and the watercress alongside.

Parsnips, beetroot and sage

Peel the beetroot and slice thin. Drop into salted boiling water and when tender, drain, reserving the liquid. Give the beetroot a blitz with a little light oil, an even littler – barely even noticeable – squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Fry some sage leaves in hot oil. They’ll be done when the fizzing subsides. Scoop them onto kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt.
Boil peeled parsnips until tender. Mash them, the best you can, in a hot dry pan. Fold through some butter, salt, pepper and some ground mace. When its cool, form into flat little cakes. Flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in butter over a steady, medium heat until golden brown.  Then serve with the beetroot puree and crispy sage.

Parsnip and pistachio cake

here are some quantities for a 9ish inch cake tin:
3 eggs
zest from a third of a washed orange and a third of a washed lemon
7 oz. butter
10 oz sugar
18 oz parsnip
12 oz flour
tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
a half handful of unsalted pistachios

Lube up your cake tin with some butter, then shake around some flour, so you’ve thin layer of both. Keep in the fridge until you need it.
Grate the parsnips as small as you can and then chop through so the textures not too tistict. Cut the pistachios in half, lengthwise. Melt the butter in a pan.
Separate the yolks and whites of three eggs. Beat together the yolks and the sugar with a wooden spoon. Add and stir the parsnips and a little finely chopped orange and lemon zest. Pour in the butter, leaving the white sediment that has sunk to the bottom. Then the flour and baking powder, sifted. Then whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt, until stiff. Stir in a third with the pistachios, and then gently fold in the rest. Then into the cake tin and bake in a medium hot oven. When golden brown on top, turn the heat down to low and bake for another twenty minutes. Let it cool in the tin for twenty minutes and then on a rack. Eat with cups of tea.

Giles Clark

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes with apples


Treasured fruit around the world say the sales and the rich history. On these shores especially – it is the last of our fruit we’ll see until spring’s rhubarb.  So time then to turn a blind eye to the shelves of Golden Delicious sent over by the French and to search out and taste our own apples – less uniform in size, shape and flavour. There seems to be a good scattering of trees in country and city alike standing awkwardly, in isolation and beginning to brim. Perhaps there’s a stranger’s door to knock on and offer a hand with harvesting, or else in the markets and small greengrocers. Don’t insist on organic – it’s not so easy at all to grow a good amount of apples organically in this climate. Rather avoid the super shiny and go by taste. For the recipes below tart eating apples, such as the Kerry Pippin will work best

Three classics:

Hot, boozed, spiced apple juice
Heat up some pressed apple juice in a pot with some allspice berries and some cinnamon bark, a sliver of lemon zest and a little vanilla pod. Let it simmer for a minute, turn off the heat, and leave to cool and infuse. When it’s needed reheat with brandy to taste.

Baked apples and hot custard
Cut peeled and cored apples into thick wedges and mix with some sugar and a little melted butter. Bake in ramekins until tender and browning. Serve straight away with steaming hot, home made custard on top

Burnt apple shortcrust tart
Make some rough short crust pastry. Chill it and then roll out a quarter of an inch thick – enough to fill a baking tray (the rest will be happy in the freezer).
Peel and core the apples. Make a glaze with the peels and cores – simmering them with equal water and sugar for half an hour.
Slice the apples into very thin wedges. Load them up on the pastry, each sliver resting on its neighbour. Then sprinkle generously with sugar and bake in a medium hot oven until the exposed pastry and tops off the apples begin to blacken. Pour the glaze over for the final ten minutes of cooking

Three not so classic:

Potatoes, apples and rosemary

Boil some peeled, floury potatoes in some lightly salted water. Drain them, then shake around in a pan on a low heat so to dry them. Mash well and, when they’ve cooled, with your hands, mix with half the quantity of flour and a little sugar. Rap and chill the dough for an hour or so.

Rip off the rosemary leaves bash them up a bit in a mortar and then with some sugar. Leave to infuse, stirring every now and then. If motor-less then a blender should be fine. Begin to pulse the leaves then add sugar. If also blender-less, then a couple of stems of lightly bruised rosemary left for a day or two in half a jar of sugar.

And so the apples – peels and cores get a stock-like treatment, simmered in water for half an hour, then the liquor reduced to syrupyness. The flesh is then cooked at a simmer with some water not quite to cover and not a lot of sugar – ten minutes with a lid and ten minutes without.

Then shape your potato dough into dumplings the size of squashed squash balls. Boil them in lightly salted water until they bop to the surface and then shock them in cold water.

All this business can be prepared in advance. When you are ready to rumble, heat some neutral oil in a pan, enough to reach half way up the dumplings. Fry until golden brown on both sides. You might have to do a few batches but they should be eaten as they come. While still piping hot and crispy sieve the rosemary sugar over them and have a bowl of the apple sauce and one of the yogurt for dipping.

Apple and hazelnut bread

Needn’t worry too much about the size of the tin – you can just make the bread thin or deep and vary the cooking time accordingly. For the proportions I’ve given I used a terrine which overflowed a drop or two and fed eight people for late night tea time.

First lube the inside of a cake tin up with a thin layer of butter. Then jig some flour about so that a thin layer of it sticks to the butter. Discard the excess flour and keep the tin in the fridge.

Whisk together a cup of flour, one of milk, and a heaped teaspoon of dried yeast. Leave covered in a cupboard for a morning or an afternoon or both.

When ready to bake – make a sauce as above, with three and a half apples. Cut two and a half apples into wedges.

Add to your lively flour-milk-yeast sponge, a further cup of flour, a cup of sugar and four egg yolks. Whisk four whites to a stiff peak and gently fold into the batter with a wooden spoon, leaving some white streaks so not to burst all the bubbles. Tip it all in to your tin and throw in some hazelnuts (some chopped, some whole). Then spoon over most of the thick apple sauce. Then the apple wedges on top, some more hazelnuts, the rest of the sauce and plenty of brown sugar and a couple of knobs of butter on top of it all. It will rise some in the oven so keep a little space for that.

Straight in a medium hot oven then and bake until mahogany. It should slip right out of its vessel because of the butter, flour treatment. Serve still hot with thick cream and honey or cold custard.

Apple, barley, milk and honey

Soak some barley in water overnight.
Peel, core and slice the apples into thin wedges. Make a syrup with the peels and cores. Fill an oven dish about a third full with barley, add the apple slices, plenty of honey, a couple of torn bay leaves, the syrup, and then fill the dish with milk. Mix and then bake in a medium oven. Keep an eye on it, if the milk is boiling and overflowing, turn the oven down. Give it some occasional stirs. When all the milk is slurped inside the barley grains, keep on cooking, for another hour or so. When you’re more than ready to eat, drizzle some cream on top and a sprinkling of brown sugar and finish under the grill

Giles Clark

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Comfort food


Comfort food is a term much bandied about these days. Indeed, I have seen it used in so many different contexts that I am no longer certain I understand what it means. To add to the confusion, what constitutes comfort food is, clearly, a matter of subjective judgement. What may bring “comfort” to me might have no such affect on you. For me, comfort food must be part of winter. It must usually be hot and come from the past, or have associations or links with food eaten in childhood.  It smacks of solid fare and of a simple, no nonsense approach to eating.

Thus, if you flashed the words comfort food before me, I would immediately think of dishes like sausages and mash, corn beef and cabbage, spaghetti Bolognese, roast beef with trimmings, rice pudding or boiled eggs and toast. All of these create warm feelings within me and conjure up memories of happy meals eaten in other times.

I hope that you share my understanding of what is meant by comfort food. Even if you don’t, as the chill winds of winter approach, I feel certain you will appreciate this bacon and cheese pie which, for me, is quintessential comfort food.  A dear friend gave the recipe to my wife many years ago. She in turn had inherited it from her Yorkshire mother-in-law. Like some of the other recipes I have shared with you, it has long been a great favourite with my children.

Bacon and Cheese Pie
Serves 4-6 persons

900g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
180g grated cheddar cheese
2 large onions, chopped
400g streaky rashers
500ml milk
50g butter
40g flour
Salt and grated black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C
Grease a large ovenproof dish. Lightly grill the rashers, slice into small pieces and put aside.

Melt the butter over a medium heat, stir in the flour and add the milk gradually until it has been incorporated and the sauce is smooth and glossy. Add the grated cheese and stir until it has melted into the sauce. You then have a strong cheese, or Mornay, sauce.

Check for seasoning and remove from the heat.

It is now time to put everything together; Layer the bottom of the dish with some of the onions, scatter a handful of the potatoes on top and then some of the chopped bacon. Continue this layering process until all the ingredients are in the dish and then pour over the hot cheese sauce, making sure that it reaches the bottom by giving the potato and onion mix a few pokes.

Place a lid on the dish and cook on the top shelf of the oven for at least one hour.

To check that the pie is cooked, insert a skewer or fork as you would for testing whether potatoes were cooked. About 20 minutes before the end of the cooking period, remove the lid. This should give you a pie with a golden brown crust. Allow to cool for a few minutes before dishing up.

I always serve this bacon and cheese pie with a crisp, green salad. While leftovers heated up the following day are delicious, particularly when accompanied with fried eggs, as is to be expected with potatoes, this dish does not freeze well

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Pork Scaloppini with Tomatoes


I spend a great deal of time looking for foolproof, simple recipes. Experience has taught me that they are a rarity and so the search is on-going. Meanwhile, I am going to share with you one of my all-time favourite, easy recipes, which the poorest of cooks could not fail to get right. This dish comes accompanied by a little background.
Many years ago, my wife I and lived in the South Seas. It was a beautiful place and as one grows older, memory makes it all the more beautiful because of its association with one’s youth. How precious and sweet were those times!  One hot, tropical day, we were invited to lunch by a member of the local consular corps. Our host was courteous and attentive as is the wont of his ilk and his wife was charming, warm and hospitable.  Lunch was served under an awning at small tables set out around a swimming pool. There, the midday heat was dissipated by the cooling south east trade winds. The heady scent of flowering frangipani trees permeated the air and gorgeous, purple bougainvillea tumbled down the banks of the sloping garden. In the distance, across the top of coconut trees, the azure-blue waters of the lagoon were clearly visible. It was magical and the perfect setting for pork scaloppini which, thanks to the kindness of our hostess, entered the family culinary annals that day.

1 big pork fillet cut into small bite sizes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
30g flour
250g thinly sliced mushrooms
1 clove of garlic crushed
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 400g tin tomatoes
120ml Marsala*/Vermouth
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper

*In fact, I have always used Marsala, a fortified Sicilian wine. It is used extensively in Italian cooking and I have been able to buy a variety of it specifically for cooking in my local delicatessen.

Preheat the oven to 170C
Dredge the pork in the flour and brown in the hot oil and butter. Place in a casserole dish with all the other ingredients, bring to the boil, cover and place it in the oven for 45 minutes. It is then ready to eat. – Trust me – I usually serve this dish with pasta and a crispy green salad.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Kale: The wheel begins to turn


September can be an ambiguous, anxious month, as we try to enjoy any late summer sun while bracing our self or the darkening chill not far away.

Kale, similar to its sibling cabbage, can be grown and harvested year round. It’s a little backwards though in that  with the first frosts later in the month its leaves become sweeter and more tender. It will then provide comfort during the shortening days and biting winds. Delicious with barley slow cooked in a light broth, or on top of sloppy butter beans on toast and the last of the summer’s fennel with a healthy splash of rapeseed oil.

A Soup for late September:
Haddock, Clams, Kale and Leek

The first young leeks of the season will also be cropping up late September.

The clams (or cockles) will need a good wash. If you’ve picked them yourself, about an eight hour bathe in cold, clean, salted water. Either way it’s important to go through them, hunting out any that have broken shells or are open and don’t close shut when tapped.
They’ll also need to be cooked separately so as not to take any risks with the grit.  Pop them into a hot pan with a knob of butter, salt and a little wine or water. Let them steam with the lid on and the occasional shake of the pan. It’s very important not to overcook the clams as they’ll quickly turn rubbery – they’re happy enough a little under cooked. If they’re small then they shouldn’t need much longer than two minutes. When done scoop them out with a slotted spoon and then strain the remaining liquor through a fine sieve or clean cloth, so ridding it of any loitering grit. Take half of the clams out of their shells (which you can add to the stock).

The broth can be made with the heads, bones and skin of your haddock but it’s worth asking your fish monger for some more (from any white fish) so you can make a big batch. It’s important they’re fresh (from the freezer is kosher, as long as they were fresh when frozen), if not, the best you can hope for is a muted stock. Often when fish on the bone is on the old side but ok, its carcasses are not. Let your nose be your guide.

Give it all a good rinse under cold running water. Slice – as finely as you can – some onions, celery, fennel, garlic and parsley stalks. Into a hot pan; some oil, a bay leaf and a few peppercorns. Then chuck in the fish bones (and a few of the washed clams). A bash and a couple of stirs and then fill up with water. Bring to boiling point and then simmer slowly for half an hour, then let it begin to cool for half an hour in the pot, then strain. Be a master of your hob – if it breaks into a rolling boil it’ll likely become chalky and bitter. It’s ready for action now, though I often tend to reduce it just a little bit.

Cut your leeks in half lengthwise and then slice them up at half-inch lengths.
Peel the waxy potatoes (unless they are young and the skin tender) and cut into thumb sized wedges. Wash the kale, chuck the stalks and chop the leaves to a similar size as the leeks and spuds. Slice the haddock into hearty sized pieces and sprinkle them all over with some salt ten minutes or so before you add them to the soup.

Heat some oil in a pan with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, a couple of slivers of lemon zest and a bay leaf and a wodge of thyme stalks.

When hot add the leaks, then the potatoes. Season and stir over a medium heat for a minute or two. Then add your stock. Simmer for a couple of minutes and then add the kale leaves, washed and chopped. If the kale seems pretty tough then best to add it with the potatoes. When the kale and potatoes aren’t far off add the haddock.

Keep the soup at just below a simmer. Keep a close eye on the haddock, when they are almost tender through pop in the clams and their liquor. Check the seasoning, bring it back up to heat and serve with foaming butter and grinds of black pepper.

(If you’re not confident about the freshness of your fish and your stock isn’t singing then it might  be best to bulk up the flavours a little. Some fennel seeds, celery seeds, and crushed cherry tomatoes can be added with the leeks and a splash of white wine before you add the stock)

Preserving summer

A weekend in, behind the stove isn’t a prospect many may consider. So much of summer’s bounty though spills right into September – damsons, blackberries, courgettes, green beans…with the lean months ahead of us there’s no better time to be preserving.

Elderberry vinegar
With elderflowers in abundance in early summer their berries are now triumphant in the dying days of the season. Pick them quickly before the sparrows get their beaks on them – they’ll likely be gone by the second half of September. This sweet vinegar will be especially handsome alongside game and smoked meats. It also makes a fine beverage, with a glass of ice cold tonic or with a mug of boiling water before bed to settle.

Lightly crush your stemmed berries and cover with cider vinegar. Let steep for four to five days, stirring once or twice a day. Then strain, with a little encouragement, through a fine sieve, muslin or a clean tea towel.
Then, over a low heat stir in some caster sugar until dissolved  –  450gs to every 600gms of vinegar. This will help preserve the vinegar and help the elderness to shine. Washed out naggins and cork screws work a treat for bottling.

Runner Bean Chutney
Avoid the over grown, stringy runners and those that are wilting and wallowing. They are at their best they are fairly young, they’ll be a perky green, snap like crackling and have a juicy interior that’s a joy to eat raw.

For two pounds of runners I used a handful of demerara sugar and half a cup of cider vinegar.
Boil the runners in lots of salted water, drain them and shock them under a cold running tap while they’ve still half a bite to them. Let them dry, wrapped in a tea towel in the fridge. Then top but don’t tail them and cut then at a bias into inch or so lengths.

Bring the cider vinegar slowly to the boil in a pan with lots of mustard seeds and a bunch of mint. Turn off the heat and let it come slowly back to room temperature then strain.

Cut some spring onions into thin wedges and fry in a heavy pot, gently in olive oil, with a little finely sliced lemon rind. Raise the heat and add the beans and stir. Soon pour in the vinegar and then the sugar. Find a steady heat that lets the vinegar bubble gently away. Keep stirring on occasion and patiently wait for it all to become chutney-ish: the vinegar reduced and binding everything together – about half an hour. Taste it, it will probably need a wee pinch of salt, and some toasted poppy seeds (much less than you’d imagine, I think – they seem to multiply and are best enjoyed in the background.)

Jar it and it’ll be best if left to hang out for a month or so before opening.

Beetroot Wine
Some of the sweet summer beetroot is still knocking about, but the young autumn beetroot will be just right for the job. (Keep aside the delicious stalks. Maybe try boiling them until tender then frying them quickly in olive oil and parsley and serving with goats cheese and sherry vinegar)

I couldn’t say how well this wine will age. Certainly it will all be good for this years Christmas though. Maybe try some hot with spices and gin, or else as is, either way enjoy watching each others gnashers change colour, the mouth becoming a deep, dark purple cave.

3 ½ litres water
800 gm unrefined caster sugar
1 ½ kilos of beetroot
Half a sachet of wine yeast (

Measurements should work out right to store in a five litre water

Scrub your beetroot and then slice thin with the skins still on. Put them in a pot with the water and some orange and lemon zest. Bring to a boil and simmer until completely tender. Strain on to sugar and stir until dissolved. Add a sachet of yeast
Activate the yeast in some warmed water and a pinch of sugar.
Stir in the yeast once the liquor has cooled.
Funnel everything into your container, seal, and punch a thin whole in the lid.
Rap the bottle up in any spare blankets and put it in a dark, warm room.
It should be ready in about two to three weeks.  When the bubbles have stopped rising, and the sweetness has all but gone (taste through a straw), it will be time to strain and bottle.

Giles Clark

Image by Fiona Hallinan

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipes for tomatoes


Tomatoes are now, perhaps as familiar to an Irish vegetable shopper as a potato. Their lustful association with the Mediterranean lifestyle, greatly accentuated by the sunshine-nostalgia of Elizabeth David, have created much demand; a demand, which on the whole, sterile, factory-line glass houses of Holland, Israel and the Canary Islands seem to have had a monopoly on. They’ll grow just fine on these shores though, but their season is short, often no longer than six weeks or so. The value in the locally grown varieties are that they need not be picked until they have nearly ripened and naturally on the stalk.
Store them outside the fridge, in a dark, cool cupboard. If you’ve no choice but the picked and sprayed while hard-as-a-marble variety, then take them out of their wrapping and leave on the window sill for a couple of days. You may find though that, especially when eaten raw, they have the taste and texture of something closer to a Maris Piper.

The chutney and the tomatoes with the pork are seedless, skinless and stalkless, but that’s not to say they should be binned. In them lies much of the meaty, saliva inducing goodness of the tomato. Pop them in a pan with some basil stalks a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and bring to a simmer for a quarter of an hour. Let it cool to room temperature and press through a sieve for a tomato broth that is delicious warm in a mug with a  little rapeseed oil or else it can be reduced, frozen and used like tomato paste – to intensify sauces and stews.

Lamb scraps and tomato on toast

The trick to the dish is time and patience by keeping half an eye on the pot and giving it only occasional stirs as the meat begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Ask your butcher to hold you back any scraps. The breast and the neck, cheap and underused, would be ideal, as would the shoulder.
Discard any gristle, and if necessary some fat also – so that you are left with about a quarter fat. Chop the lamb to a fairly fine, if a little rough, dice.
Heat olive oil in a medium hot pan and pop in your lamb. Season well with salt and stir. Add to it a big bundle of thyme, a bay leaf and a seedless red chilli.
Summer savoury could be used instead of thyme and a sliver of lemon, orange zest, basil, parsley and mint stalks would all be welcome, though not essential.
The lamb will, at first be quite unappealingly. Start to sweat its juices for which it’s best to keep at a happy heat. Then when its juices have reduced, turn the heat down and the meat will slowly begin to caramelize in its own rendering fat.
Best not to become too attached to watching the pot. If you are happy with the heat (which should be bringing about soft but consistent hisses and pops) engage yourself in a worthy distraction. Once in a while give the pot a stir, scraping up any crust at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Watching it like a hawk creates a temptation to stir it too often and to persuade oneself it’s ready before it actually is.
Timing will always be different, based largely on the amount of lamb in the pot. If the pot is too full of meat it will never caramelize, too empty and it will likely burn.
Anyhow, when you are happy that the mince is about ready – some bits may be crispy, other bursting with fatty juices – throw in a couple of crushed garlic cloves and prepare your tomatoes. Peel them and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut out the core and squeeze out most of the seeds. Fish out the herbs and chilli and add the tomato halves. The fruit and acid of the fresh tomatoes will make for a happy foil to the rich and fatty lamb. Let the tomato begin to break down and then serve on some thickly sliced toast or with a fresh crusty white bread.

A roasted tomato and little gem salad with horseradish yoghurt and mint
Cut your tomatoes in half down the core and bake them with olive oil, salt and pepper for half an hour in a hot oven. Some of their juice will evaporate, and they’ll become more intense, more tomato-y in flavour.
Once the tomatoes have cooled, make a dressing with any oily juices left in the baking tray, some more oil, grated horseradish, some red wine vinegar, a little minced garlic and salt to taste.
Slice some mint and mix it into some yogurt with a pinch of salt.
Pop a large spoonful of the minted yogurt on the plate and on top of it a pile of the gem leaves and tomatoes mixed carefully (so not to crush the tomatoes) with the dressing.

It should make a joyful evolving eating experience – starting of with mouthfuls of crisp gem and tomato halves and finishing with crushed tomatoes and their juices mixed with minty yogurt all mopped up with bread.

Lamb’s tongue with a tomato chutney and herb salad

Best to use tomatoes that are fairly firm to give them a chance of retaining some of their structural integrity. The chutney can be jarred and kept in the fridge where it will slowly harmonise, but after a couple of months it will likely become quite funky. It need not be left for so long. It’s an especially fine accomplice to the finally abundant mackerel, lamb hash (left over lamb roast fried on a high heat with potatoes and onions), and general picnic-y food.

For the chutney, dunk the tomatoes in boiling water and shock them in cold water. Then off with the peel and out with the core and seeds and chop into a large dice.
In a hot pan roast some star anise, mustard seeds and a little dried chilli, when the seeds begin to pop add white wine vinegar (a couple of tablespoons for every half cup of diced tomatoes) and a bay leaf and take off the heat.
While it’s cooling and infusing, stir in a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar to dissolve. In another pan sweat some minced onion with a couple of thymes stalks, another bay leaf and some pounded mustard seeds and a good swig of oil. When the onion is translucent and tender, stir in the tomatoes and raise the heat a little and season with salt.
Add the strained vinegar (and maybe a little reduced tomato stock if you’ve made some from the trimmings) and stir it as it simmers quite quickly. When the juices have mostly reduced, then taste it for seasoning – it should taste a little too salty, too sweet, too acidic so that the flavours can come through when it is served cold – make sure the balance is to your taste and then let it cool a little before jarring it.

Simmer your tongues in water with some herbs and vegetables to help them along. An hour or so should do it, but make sure it is a slow and steady simmer as they can easily become tough. Let them cool in the liquor and then peel the outer skin, sometimes the peeling can be a bit of a struggle – best to do it before they’ve completely cooled and with a spoon to assist.
Then cut the tongue in three, lengthwise, roll it in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, egg, and bread crumbs. Fry, until golden, in butter and serve with the chutney and lightly dressed (oil, salt and lemon juice) parsley leaves or coriander, basil and mint leaves.

Giles Clark
[Image by Fiona Hallinan]

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Also a Salad


Early in my working life, I was fortunate enough to secure employment in the South Seas, in the New Hebrides, now called Vanuatu. My work there took me around the outer islands and in my early years to the Torres Group. There is a food experience that I shall always associate with that place.

The Torres Islands – seven in all – were the northernmost islands of the Northern District of the New Hebrides and lie about 100kms north of Espiritu Santo on which the District Headquarters was situated. With a population then of about 300, these islands, even in Pacific terms, were extremely remote. To reach them on the small district ship, involved steaming for about 16 hours to Ureparapara in the northern Banks Group, anchoring overnight and then sailing at dawn for a further three or four hours  to Hiu, the northernmost island of the Torres Group. Only the islands of Hiu, Loh and Toga were inhabited then and a few hours were spent in each of the three centres of population, before the ship again headed south for Ureparapara. We were always under pressure of time as the Fijian captain was anxious to be off well before nightfall; there was no safe anchorage in the Torres Group. However, on occasion there were a few hours to spare for R and R and these were put to good use.

The seas in this corner of the Pacific are alive with fish and lines were frequently thrown off the stern. Within moments it seemed, large sword fish or tuna were flopping around the deck. This was the first step towards the eating of Tahitian Salad, New Hebrides-style. I add the New Hebrides bit because, although this dish is served throughout the Pacific, it does have local variations. Once the fish was caught, the Captain gave instructions for the ship to steam to Tegua, one of the Torres islands that was then uninhabited.
The launch was lowered into the water and two sailors went ashore armed with a machete. Out beyond the reef, one could see one of them shinning up a coconut tree while the other went foraging in a lime grove. Back on board the ship, they handed over their bag of coconuts and limes to the young Melanesian cook, Philip, and he started to prepare our feast under the watchful eye of the Captain. The process was somewhat tedious. A few coconuts were first husked and their white flesh pulped with a large stone and thrown into a bucket partially filled with water. This concoction was stirred and then put aside. Next, the fish was gutted, skinned, cut into big bite sizes and placed in another bucket. The limes were squeezed and the juice was poured over the raw fish. That too was left to marinate in a shady spot on deck. Meanwhile, we had weighed anchor and the ship was heading southwards for Espiritu Santo and home.

After a few hours, Philip inspected his buckets and, following a nod from the ever-present Captain, he proceeded with the final steps in preparing our Tahitian Salad. Assisted by one of his mates, he poured the pulped coconut and water through a hessian sack into a bucket and then with great vigour squeezed the sack to extract every last drop of liquid. The end result was a white, milky substance, which was added to the fish. A quick stir, a shake of salt and our feast was ready.  The crew and passengers, never numbering more than about 12 persons in all, gathered and Philip ladled out the Tahitian Salad into bowls. Words fail to describe the food experience that then followed. Think of tropical heat tempered by sea breezes, the blue of the vast ocean and the sky, the retreating Torres islands against the skyline, the smiling black faces of the Melanesian crew crouching on their hunkers as they joyfully eat their food and for me, the culinary magic of that mix of fish, coconut and lime.
Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicous and simple salads


Last month, I wrote about herbs in general and promised that I would give you some recipes, which would put them to use. Here, I want to dwell on salads.

In preparation for this short article, I have been giving thought to the influences, which have formed my fundamental approach to salads and cold food. As a young boy, my parents sent me to France to learn French. I stayed with a family, who had a wonderful country house on the Rhone, some 50 kilometres south of Lyon. There, I spent many summer months swimming in that mighty river – no longer possible because of pollution – and lazing about in that decadent, French, teenage way. Papa was a charming man, who was much loved by us youngsters. Maman was something else. She was the disciplinarian, who infused the large household with her sense of what was right and wrong and what was correct and what was not. Always perfectly groomed, she was full of rectitude and intimidated both her children and their guests. But all that could be forgiven because she was a wonderful cook. To her, I owe food memories, which to this day inspire my cooking, and nowhere is this influence more prevalent than in my appreciation of cold food.

My Mother was the other great mentor. Up to the day she died, she had a profound dislike of sandwiches, a dislike that was not uncommon in past generations. On the other hand, she loved picnics, which for her always involved elaborate preparations. They were sumptuous banquets and perhaps because of this, they were not often put before us. Indeed, their rarity value probably heightened the enormous pleasure, which they gave us children.

What do I remember about all this cold food of my childhood? In those far off summer days in France, Sundays were invariably given up to huge lunches, which went on all afternoon. If we did not go to the home of some relative or other, they came to us and when they did, the large country house was thronged with milling uncles, aunts, cousins and friends and Maman went into high gear.  Trestle tables were put up under the trees in the garden and the kitchen became a hive of activity. Huge platters of cold food were laid out and I can’t tell you how delicious everything tasted and yet it was by and large, simple fare. Of course, we were in the Rhone Valley, where the most wonderful fruit and vegetables are grown and Maman therefore had a head wind behind her.

However, she also knew so well as a cook that it was best not to tamper too much with the local produce; it spoke for itself. I can still see the luscious, red salade de tomates, the rice and black olive salad, new potatoes, spring onions and parsley swimming in olive oil and huge bowls of crisp lettuce tossed in French dressing. All these side dishes were served to accompany an amazing array of charcuterie and quiches, the latter always the classic Quiche Lorraine made with nothing more than eggs, cream and bacon.

To wash down our food, Papa served a local white wine, which came from a vineyard that sloped down in terraces to the Rhone a few kilometres upstream from the house. These terraces dated back to Roman times. My Mother’s picnics were also “simple”. One of her great specialities was Scotch eggs and these she served with a salad dressing made from sour cream.  Alas, while nowadays a recipe for Scotch eggs is readily generated with Google’s assistance, that for the salad dressing is forever lost.

Cold sausages were a must and she also liked to serve cold chicken which, forty or fifty years ago, was a great treat.  Today, most people minded to follow in my Mother’s footsteps would buy a barbequed chicken in the nearest fish and chipper or supermarket.  That wasn’t possible in years gone by but, oddly enough, my Mother didn’t roast the chickens, which she served on her picnics; she boiled them. Try that sometime as, apart from anything else, one is left with the most delicious stock, which can always be popped into the freezer for another day. She usually threw in a large box of coleslaw, a vaguely sophisticated dish half a century ago. There were also tomato, lettuce and potato salads, scallions, radishes and hard boiled eggs. What a feast !

And so with all that influence in the background, you will not be surprised to learn that my cold meals are also simple. I do not like complicated salads with strange ingredients. Give me the old faithfuls.  However, I really do try to use the best of fresh produce. The visual impact created by this food is an essential part of the culinary experience.  Thus, it is important, for example, to choose serving dishes that will show off the different salads to best advantage. Over the years, I have amassed an array of dishes just for this purpose.

As for what accompanies the salads, I favour ham and, although I adore Scotch eggs, these are usually excluded because of pressure of time. A bit of salami doesn’t go amiss or indeed some cold beef or turkey, if you have a good deli near you. I like a bit of variety and only this week, thanks to a kind sister, who had just returned from a holiday in Spain, I threw in a few slices of smoked tuna.

I would also recommend a quiche of some kind. I like the simple variety but I also make one with roast tomatoes and crème fraiche. Then, to put your newly grown herbs to use, chop a bit of fresh dill into the potato salad together with some scallions and parsley. I never use mayonnaise. Instead, I favour a French dressing (green olive oil, red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard) which should always be applied when the potatoes (new, as prescribed by Maman !) are still hot.

There should be a green salad and for that try and serve a mixture of those leaves, which are readily available in our vegetable shops and supermarkets. No cold meal is complete without a good tomato salad. Remember to have the tomatoes at room temperature. I just slice them thinly and lay them out carefully in a flat dish. A generous glug of olive oil is followed by a good seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper topped off with a handful of chopped basil.

I love hard-boiled eggs and my children always demand eggs mimosa. Halve the cooked eggs and remove the hard yolks, which you then mash with a fork before mixing in a little mayonnaise. To ensure that the halved eggs sit upwards, cut a little off the bottom of each white and then spoon in the egg yolk paste. Scatter with chopped parsley or chives. Voila my four basic salads, which are a must.

To these you could add mushrooms and/or green lentils. For the mushroom salad, fry a little garlic and finely chopped onion in some olive oil. When cooked, add thinly sliced, button mushrooms and toss them for a few moments and no more than a few moments. Season with salt and pepper, throw in a generous handful of chopped parsley, squeeze in a little lemon juice and allow to cool.

For the lentil salad, again cook some garlic and chopped onion in olive oil. Add the green lentils, cover with water and cook for about 50 minutes. Season and then add some more olive oil and lemon juice to taste. At this juncture, I sometimes also add some feta cheese. You may accuse me of straying into the realm  of the exotic, but with a Greek son-in-law in the family what was once foreign and strange has become commonplace.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A Pod of Peas


[image by Fiona Hallinan]


Fresh garden peas, short in season and in shelf life, are an undeniable luxury.

If fresh they’ll be firm and velvet and their color a clear, vibrant green. Try and use them on the same day that you buy them. And if you get hold of some that’ve been picked the same day then they need not even make it back into the kitchen – pluck and gobbling them one by one straight from the pod is a rare joy. Equally, so is boiling them in their pods and serving them with hot butter. Steam will escape into the pod bringing the peas to tenderness and the liquor can be saved as a base for a summer soup. Open up the pods, dip into the butter and nibble.

When the pods begin to deflate and discolour it seems there’s little one can do to save them, they’ll be best left on the shelf. If cravings persist then frozen peas, perhaps the happiest of all frozen veggies, are a perfectly fine alternative. Fresh June and July peas from the pod though, do suggest an insincerity in the uniformity and exaggerated sweetness of frozen peas.

Clam and pea salad

A natural pairing this, given that wild clams will be reappearing on Irish beaches this July. If you’ve picked them yourself they’ll be plenty more gritty than what you’ll find in the fishmongers. Wash and scrub each one and leave under cold running water for ten minutes. Razor clams also will, when encouraged, be poking their heads up and out of the sand this July. They’ll need a couple of minutes more cooking time.

Slice some shallots in half moons as close to paper thin as you can. In a pot big enough for your clams heat some olive oil and fry the shallots until translucent with a couple of sprigs of thyme and some salt. Then add butter and turn up the heat, when the butter is foaming add your clams.
Give the pot a shake and after half a minute pour in a sip or two of white wine, pop on the lid and return to the heat to medium low.
Then cook your peas in boiling, salted water for two minutes and drain.
Melt some butter and add some chopped curly parsley or torn basil, and a grind of pepper. Spoon your clams onto plates, then the peas, then the foaming butter and a frugal squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with some crusty bread.

Spring onion, potato cakes and peas

First start your pea vinaigrette. Cook your peas in a covered pan with olive oil and a few spoonfuls of water, seasoned with salt.

If you’ve made mash the day previous then hold back some of the dry mashed potatoes (no butter or cream) to make your cakes with. Mix your potatoes with a quarter as much flour and season with salt and pepper to taste. On a floured surface pat your mixture into roughly round biscuit shapes – just under an inch in thickness and three in diameter. Best to fry them in dripping rather than butter as butter will burn too easily. Fry them at a medium heat until golden brown and then flip over and pop them into a medium oven for ten minutes.

Try and get hold of the thick spring onions with big bulbs. Stand them bulb down in boiling salted water (enough to just cover the bulb) for one minute, then shock in cold water and dry. Cut in half lengthwise and lubricate with some oil and then season them with salt and pepper. Cook them on a not too fierce grill or griddle until they brown and just begin to blacken in places.

Cook the onions while the cakes are in the oven. Serve alongside each other. Re heat the peas, lightly crush some of them with a spoon, add some chopped curly parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and some ground black pepper then drizzle over the onions and potatoes.

Tripe, peas and horseradish

Pork or ox tripe are both good, the second lining of the stomach – the ‘honeycomb’ – has a superior flavour and absorbing abilities.
Foreign horseradish can be bought year round in groceries, but July should see it sprouting from local soil.

Bring the tripe to the boil, skim then drain and cool in running cold water, then chop into inch cubes.
In a heavy pan start to slowly fry some quite finely chopped onions, carrot and celery and a bay leaf in olive oil.  Season with salt and add some crushed coriander and fennel seeds.

Make a bulging love parcel with something close to basil, mint, parsley, lemon zest, bay leaf and lots of thyme, tied tight together with string. When the onions and their friends are beginning to get mushy and show the first signs of browning stir in the tripe at a high heat and add some dry white wine. When the wines half reduced more than cover with water and a pig’s trotter (ask your butcher to cut it in half lengthwise), add the parcel and bring to the slowest of simmers. It’ll be about an hour and a half to two hours before the tripe is just tender and ready. Just before the tripe has finished cooking steam some peas till tender in water, olive oil and salt. Blitz half of them and stir into the tripe.
The other half crush and mix in some sliced, fried spring onions – this’ll be your garnish with some sliced celery heart and leaf, and lots of freshly grated horseradish.

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Cooking with nettles


[image by Fiona Hallinan]

Poorly timed perhaps, as the best of spring’s nettles will be behind us now.  They’ll not be going anywhere though, just toughening up a little. Late summer will see new growth, so in the meantime it’d be best to keep to the tender top leaves.
Their primary significance is the fact that they’re free, growing wild and abundant across the country. However, there is  particular value in their herbal, melancholy flavour. Their stinging armour – cause for many a whine on long country walks as a nipper – will not recede until they are cooked, so gloves of some form are a must.

Grilled nettle bread

It’s similar to a flat bread this, and you can use a basic flatbread recipe for the dough. I prefer it not quite flat though. A good half inch thickness, will give a crisp outside and a doughy inside. It can be grilled above a fire, dry fried on a griddle pan, or baked in the oven. The success will lie in mastery of the heat source. Not smoking hot, but not far behind.

I used a mug full of flour with what would have been a little over half that of water and half a teaspoon of yeast.
Leave the yeast, to dissolve and begin to activate, with warm water (in the region of half the amount of flour) for ten minutes or so.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Pour in the yeasty water slowly, mixing as you do so.Add also a generous pinch of salt and swig of olive oil.  Knead the mixture on a well floured surface for five minutes or so, by which time it should no longer be tacky but soft and elastic. If it’s a bit too tight though add a few drops of water and if a bit too loose add a little flour. Leave the dough in the bowl, covered in a tea towel, to rise for two hours in a warm cupboard.
Boil your nettles for just under a minute and shock them in ice water. Squeeze out as much water as possible and chop them roughly.
When the dough has risen, mix through the nettles. Separate into balls and roll (again on a well floured surface) into half-inch-thick ovals. Let them rest for five minutes or so and then cook. Above the embers of a fire would be my preference. But they can be cooked on a not quite smoking griddle pan or on a baking tray in an oven of 220 C degrees. Eat them straight away, ripping and dipped into hot butter.

Oats, nettles and bacon

A simple dish this one, but a few things going on at once. Perhaps prepare the oats and nettles before frying the bacon and poaching the eggs.

Bake some oats in a medium oven until browning. Then make porridge with them with milk and/or water.
Having washed your nettles, pop them, still dripping, in a hot pan. Season and stir, To get them fully tender you’ll maybe need to add a drop more water. When ready, chop them up and then pop them back in the pan and stir through some butter.
Fry your bacon (preferably smoked and streaky) and serve alongside the porridge and nettles and a poached egg.

Yoghurt jelly with nettles, almonds and honey

Quite a long winded preparation for this pudding, but a justifiable one, the result is a happy, perhaps surprising, harmony.
For the jelly you’ll need cream, milk and yoghurt. Its best for each, not to be tempted by any low fat varieties, a fine jelly will need double cream, whole milk, and fully fatty yoghurt. You’ll also need gelatine, you can use sheets or the powder but the former seems to be the more trustworthy. Use maybe just under half the amount suggested to make a regular jelly. I used one sheet for a quarter litre of jelly and it was about right: a quivering mass that will melt in the warmth of the mouth.

Best to start with the nettles. Pick the perkiest of them for frying. Heat a pan, half full of neutral oil, slowly and test it by dipping a nettle in it. The oil will be ready when the nettle fizzes. Pop in all your nettles and stir gently. Once the hissing and fizzing has subsided they’ll be ready. Slotted spoon them onto a paper towel and shake over icing sugar through a sieve.  Blanch the rest of your nettles in sugary, boiling water until tender. Then shock in ice water, drain and pound, pulse or finely chop them.

Meanwhile have your almonds, skins on, baking in a not-too-hot oven. They’ll be ready when opening the oven door meets you with a smack of their oily, nutty aromas – fifteen minutes or so.

Heat up an equal quantity of cream and milk and mix in some gelatine. Strain it through a seive and leave to set in the fridge or freezer. When it’s thickening up give it a whisk until smooth and then stir in your yogurt – twice as much as the cream/milk mixture – and the blanched nettles. Leave it to set, covered, in the fridge for at least a couple of hours. If you are going to leave it for a long while then it’d be best to hold the frying of the nettles until closer to eating time.
You can let it set as one and serve in spoonfuls or in individual cups which will need a dip in hot water before flopping out.
Serve with the backed almonds, fried nettles and a drizzle of honey.

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious things to do with herbs


The editor has been throwing around directions of late. He tells me that I must speak of summer things and so I shall.

Perhaps my first love in life is the garden. I live alone in a windy, coastal village in the West of Ireland, where I have a patch around my house to which I am utterly devoted. I do not grow vegetables, largely because I fear the inevitable gluts that would occur in production, gluts that would leave me eating a particular vegetable for weeks on end. Those of you who grow your own food will argue that I could give away the surplus stock to neighbours or preserve them in some way, but I am not convinced that it is as easy as that and composting them is not an option for me either.

I was reared in a spirit of frugality and abhor waste of any kind. However, I do have lovely herbaceous borders and shrubs and have colour out there for nine months of the year. I also have a forty-foot long conservatory in which there is always something flowering and where I can grow tropical plants, which remind me of faraway countries lived in many years ago. I mention all this so that you will know of the circumstances in which I garden.

I grew up in an inland town in the West of Ireland and my parents had a large vegetable garden. Pride of place there was given to herbs. My mother loved them. Mind you, there was nothing very fancy, just the old faithfuls, like parsley, bay leaf, sage, thyme, horseradish (not exactly a herb but let us put that to one side for the moment) and mint. These were used all the year around (mint being the exception; it does not grow in winter) and largely accounted for the wonderful flavour of my mother’s food. She was an old–fashioned cook, who liked her soups and joints and they invariably came scented and tasting of the herbs she grew not far from the back door.
Even to type the last sentence wafts me back to the family dinning-room of my youth and platters of lamb swimming in mint sauce, plates of red beef accompanied by creamy, peppery horseradish sauce or poultry with stuffings pungent with the smell of sage or thyme, or even something as simple as a scattering of chopped parsley or mint over a bowl of new potatoes. What an uplift these herbs gave to the food ! And so it was that I could not wait for the day when I had a place of my own in which to grow herbs.


In preparation for this article, I went to the trouble of counting how many I now grow and was astonished to find that they number no less than fifteen. In addition to the stalwarts cultivated by my mother, I also have other herbs, which have become almost commonplace in recent years. I speak here of oregano, tarragon, rosemary, lovage, borage and basil. Apart from a few to be found in pots, I grow all these herbs in the herbaceous borders or in the raised beds on the patio.

I do not want to trespass into the area which is the responsibility of the gardening correspondent of this magazine, but suffice it to say that all of these herbs, excepting mint and basil – and I shall come back to them in a moment – will thrive in sunny, sheltered, well-drained soil and do not require any special attention. They can, of course, be grown from seed but if you can’t be bothered with all that that involves, small plants are cheaply and readily available in any decent garden centre. Some herbs grow all the year around but others, notably basil (an annual), oregano, tarragon, lovage, mint and borage (an annual which self-seeds and can indeed be invasive) are available in summer only. Mint likes a damp, shaded place. It tends to be rampant and thus, if grown in the open, should be confined by something like old slates stuck down into the soil. Basil, I grow from seeds, which I plant successively every six weeks or so over the summer. Once the seedlings are an inch or so high, I pot them on, but this is one herb, I never put outside. I don’t know about the east coast of our island, but my experience is that it simply will not grow in my garden here in the West. It remains contentedly on a ledge in the conservatory.

The garden is now luxuriant after all the recent rain but it nonetheless retains its spring freshness. How I love this time of year, a time when my eating habits change significantly, as I give myself over to salads and other dishes, such as pasta, which can be enriched and enlivened with fresh herbs from the garden. What a pleasure it is to go out in the evening with scissors in hand to cut the requirements for whatever confection is to grace my supper table ! And believe me when I tell you that the herbs you cultivate yourself will be fresher, tastier, earthier and more aromatic than anything you will buy in your local shop. Get going now ! Plant in those herbs and I shall come back to you next month with some recipes which will put them to great culinary use.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Spring into Rhubarb


[image by Fiona Hallinan]

It’s been an impatient wait for spring’s field rhubarb – the first Irish fruit since the autumn…

The bliss of the initial rush of crumbles and pies is fading. Now the sunshine loiters and with it an opportunity to offer rhubarb a floral accent – lemon zest, honey, almonds, mint, orange.  There’s only rhubarb and sugar in the recipes below, with that there is plenty of potential to play

Get hold of as much rhubarb as you can. Wash it, chop it and put it in a pan with the same weight in water and a bit more than half the weight in sugar. Bring it to the boil and let it simmer slowly till tender. Turn the heat of and leave it be for an hour or so. Then strain it and bottle it – if you’ve no fine sieve, strain it through a clean handkerchief/cloth/t-shirt. With the left over rhubarb gunk you could make a curd – blitz it up and add a few drops of water. Then, over a low heat, fold some unsalted butter through it. Or you could leave it gunky. A spoonful with some yogurt and roasted oats makes a fine breakfast

Chop your rhubarb – six or so stalks should be about right for a regular sized jam jar – pop it in a pot with half a handful of sugar and bring it to a medium heat. Cook away for ten minutes or so, stirring now and again. When most of the rhubarb is falling apart (but some still has a bit of bite) strain it through a sieve to get as much of the clear juice that will come naturally. With an eagle eye reduce the juice until it’s syrupy. Take it off the heat and mix through your rhubarb.  Taste it and if it needs a little more sugar stir it through on a low heat. Then it’ll be ready to jar.

Put a tightly packed layer of rhubarb in a baking tray and sprinkle generously with sugar. If the rhubarb is not wet from washing splash it with water. It will need ten minutes, covered, inside an oven that’s 190 degrees c. Then roast it, coverless, with the occasional stir until it begins to golden. A fair amount of the water from the raw rhubarb will have evaporated so the flavour will be intense, and likely more sour than you’d expect. Anyhow, while still hot blitz it up and trickle honey into it to taste

Rhubarb is as keen a companion as any to our cheap and delicious oily fish (trout, mackerel, pilchards etc.). Sweat some sliced onions in butter until completely tender. Then add raw rhubarb (sliced lengthwise and cut into two inch lengths), a generous bunch of thyme and grind of black pepper and a sliver of orange zest. Mix through on the heat and then stuff inside your fishies. Smother them in a little more butter, salt and pepper. Pop them in a parcel of baking paper with a glug of white wine and bake at a medium high heat.
(an as yet untried idea: sliced and grilled over a fire, with a very slowly braised pork shoulder, boiled baby potatoes, and chopped curly parsley)

The cordial has endless booze potential, a favourite being with gin, fizzy water and a squeeze of lime. Here’s a recipe for something a little less jazzy which’d be just about ready for drinking in the meagre months of February and March.

Rhubarb mead
The quantities are such that a 5 litre plastic water bottle can be used for the fermenting.
3 litres of water
1 ¼ litres of chopped rhubarb
¾ litre of honey
Half a sachet of wine yeast (

Heat the water until simmering, and stir in the honey until dissolved. Then pop in your rhubarb and take of the heat.
Activate the yeast in some warmed water and a pinch of sugar.
Once the rhubarb mixture has cooled stir in the yeast.
Funnel everything into your container, seal, and punch a thin whole in the lid so it won’t blow up on you.
You’ll want a speedy fermentation, so the rhubarb hasn’t time to get too funky. For this to happen, you’ll need it to be in quite warm conditions, so rap the bottle up in your winter jackets and put it in a dark, warm room.
It should be ready in about two weeks.  When the bubbles have stopped rising, and the sweetness has all but gone (taste through a straw), it will be time to strain and bottle.

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious chocolate cake recipe


I have mentioned to you before that I did not have a sweet tooth. However, it was not always so. Like many of my generation, I was dispatched to boarding-school at a young age. There, we were served poor and insufficient food. Yes, there were times when I was hungry and the inadequacy of the diet also fostered an appetite for all things sweet, bordering on an addiction. This is where my abiding memory of chocolate cake comes in.  On the rare occasions when my parents visited me in boarding-school, my Mother invariably brought me a chocolate cake. Yes, a whole cake all for myself.

Now in other schools, like the polite convent establishment which inadequately prepared my sisters for life, it was the practice for such goodies to be shared with those at one’s table in the school refectory. Not so in my borstal. Despite rules to the contrary, we squirreled away all tuck in our locker in the dormitory and it was then slowly gobbled up, sometimes in the dead of night, when other boys were not about to threaten one’s food hoard.  Salivary juices still run riot in my mouth when I think of those large wedges of chocolate cake, which I stuffed clandestinely into my mouth. They melted on the tongue, instantly satisfying those insatiable cravings for anything sweet.

Even then, I dabbled in the kitchen and so I can remember that, in the case of this chocolate cake, ground rice and ground almonds partly or wholly took the place of the more usual flour. The cake also had two icings, a butter icing in the middle and a glacé icing on top.  Many years later, I recall asking my Mother for the recipe for this school chocolate cake, which had brought me so much joy. In her characteristically vague way, she promised to search for it but she never did and she took the culinary secret of how it was made to her grave.

Over the years, my consequent inability to re-create this confection periodically came to mind and with it came a sense of sadness, a sadness I shared one day with my older sister. To my surprise, she also had a memory of our Mother’s chocolate cake and wondered where the recipe had gone. She then told me that she had come across a recipe, which produced a chocolate cake that came close to the one made in our youth. It is to be found in West of Ireland Summers, A Cookbook by Tasmin Day-Lewis. It is pure serendipity that this cookbook dwells on the author’s memories of food eaten during childhood summers on the west coast of Mayo, for  I too spent the happy summer holidays of my youth in this part of the country.

Be that as it may, with many thanks to Tasmin Day-Lewis, I now share this recipe with you. My sister was right. Although my addiction for sweet things has long since gone, this cake wafts me straight back to that school dormitory with its serried ranks of beds and to the culinary delights of that chocolate confection made by my Mother.

175g good dark chocolate, chopped
175g butter
175g caster sugar
4 eggs separated
85g ground almond
85g flour
whole walnuts to decorate

125 g good dark chocolate, chopped
40g butter
50g caster sugar
85 ml cream


First make the icing. Put all the ingredients into a bowl over a saucepan of hot water and stir gently over the heat. When smooth, leave to cool and then put in the fridge, where it will thicken as it cools and become much easier to spread.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease two 18cm sandwich tins. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water.

Cream the butter with the sugar (this is easily done in a food processor), add the egg yolks one by one, then the almonds, flour and the melted chocolate.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and gently fold them into the mixture, little by little.

Divide the mixture between the two sandwich tins and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly in the tins and then turn out on a wire rack.

When cold, sandwich the cakes together with half the icing and spread the other half on top, which I also like to decorate with whole walnuts.

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

The first leaves of spinach


(Image by Fiona Hallinan)

The first leaves of summer spinach are being picked. If there are childhood prejudices you’d like to get the better of now is the time to do it.

As a kid I found trying to chow a side of stewed spinach something like what getting lost in a dark, rainy wood might be like. A squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper and I’d cheer up though, the sun would burst through and the birds break out in song. I wouldn’t say I feel much differently about it today, the adult-y, mineral flavour can be a joy, but it needs a little harnessing.

The darker and crisper the leaf the more delicious + nutritious. It’s worth going through them and getting rid of any tough stalks. They’ll likely need a good wash too, best done just before cooking. If I’m serving them alongside a meat, I prefer to cook them hard in olive oil; it keeps the flavour fresh and intense. Frequent stirring will be required for them to cook evenly, for which garlic fans may wish to replace the wooden spoon with a fork pitched into a garlic clove.

Sheep’s cheese, spinach and hazelnuts

Soft, new season’s sheep cheese is in abundance at this time of year.

In a very hot pan, fry your spinach in olive oil, season a little and keep stirring so it cooks evenly. When it’s almost all wilted down (it will carry on cooking as it cools) slide it on to a breadboard. When it’s warm serve with the cheese – at room temperature – and hazelnuts on either side.

Serve also with some crusty bread. You might, depending on your mood, find it all just a bit too savoury. If so, a couple of drops of sherry vinegar on the spinach should do the trick.

Almost flourless spinach dumplings

An adaption of a recipe from the evocative voice of Simon Hopkinson in Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Yummy served floating in a clear garlic broth (wild if you can) with a raw egg yolk, chopped curly parsley and olive oil to garnish. Or, as Simon says, with crispy sage leaves fried in nut-brown butter, grated parmesan and a wedge of lemon.

Take the crust of a dry, old white loaf. Chop up and soak in milk.
Blanch your spinach in plenty of well salted, boiling water. As soon as the spinach is tender drain it and pop it in ice water.
When cool, squeeze the spinach in your hands or a clean tea towel to get it as dry as possible. Also strain out as much excess liquid as you can from the milky bread. Chop up the spinach until fairly fine and mix with the bread (there should be just a little more bread than spinach).
Add grated lemon zest, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg to taste.
Also add an egg yolk – with about 250 grams of raw spinach, one egg yolk was sufficient – and mix. Add flour to tighten the mixture up a little.
Leave in the fridge to chill and then scoop out a heaped spoon full at a time, rolling briefly in your hand and then in flour (make sure to gently shake off any excess flour, there should be a thin and even layer of flour around all of the outside of the dumpling. They’ll be fragile and pretty shapeless.
Cook in boiling salted water. When they rise to the surface of the water give them another two minutes, try one to make sure its cooked through – if it’s not you’ll taste the raw flour.
Scoop each dumpling out with a spoon rather than draining through a sieve.

A spinach and potato salad

Try and get hold of the waxiest potatoes you can for this one.
Be meticulous about getting rid of any tough stems from the spinach and make sure it’s completely dry after washing.  A good trick is to pop the wet leaves in the middle of a tea towel, potatograb all four corners and swing like a sling.
If served when the potatoes are still a little steamy, it’s very happy on its own. Otherwise you might like a little yogurt mixed with sliced mint, white wine vinegar and salt, alongside it or drizzled over it.

Starting them off in cold, salty water, cook your potatoes, skin on, at the gentlest of simmers until tender.
Melt some butter in a pan and toast some coriander seeds in another.
Give the seeds a wham, wham and add them to the butter and as it begins to colour take it off the heat. This’ll be your dressing.
When you can handle the potatoes peel them with a knife and cut them in half at a diagonal. (It’s a pain for sure this peeling after cooking business but will make a difference as it means they release very little starch as they are cooked, remaining sturdy, waxy and rich).
Put potatoes into a bowl and pour over most of your butter (heated again until foaming) shake around and leave for a minute.
Then add your spinach leaves, the rest of the butter and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Toss, season with your best salt and serve.

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Delicious recipe for focaccia bread


I adore bread. Indeed, it is almost an addiction with me. My favourite is probably brown bread. I love its nutty taste and what can be better than a few slices of fresh brown bread with either homemade marmalade or thick slices of cheddar cheese ? It also brings back memories of childhood, when brown bread was baked daily in houses throughout the land and shop-bought bread came to the table as a treat.

Of course, brown bread is very easy to make. All that you need to do is mix the dry ingredients together with the buttermilk and then pop the mixture into the oven. I mention all this because I have often thought that it is because our traditional brown bread is so easy to bake that we Irish have been deterred from making yeast breads. My own Mother is a good example of what I mean. She was an excellent cook but dismissed any baking with yeast as “too complicated, dear”. The truth of the matter is that the baking of most yeast breads is a simple culinary task, only appearing complicated when compared to the ease with which a cake of brown bread is produced.

I am Continental in my habits insofar as I invariably eat bread with any meal that comes with sauces. I particularly have in mind pasta dishes. For example, it would be a misery for me to eat Spaghetti Bolognese without some decent white bread to mop it all up. In this case, brown bread simply will not do.   On the other hand, apart from being simple to make, to the point of being foolproof, the recipe which follows delivers a bread that is perfect for this purpose and, like so many of the recipes shared with you, is much appreciated by my adult children. It has been largely inspired by Nigel Slater.

450g strong white bread flour
1½ tsp salt
1 7g packet of fast-acting yeast
400ml warm water
1 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
olive oil
sea salt flakes

Put the flour, salt (it seems a lot but focaccia is a salty bread and if you want to achieve the required taste, this is the amount needed.) and yeast into a baking bowl and stir in the water. You will end up with a sticky dough.
Flour the work surface, turn out the dough and knead lightly.
Incorporate the flour from the work surface and if the mixture is still wet and sticky (it should be wetter than a normal bread dough)
knead in a little more until it no longer sticks to the board. Knead in no particular fashion for five minutes or so, then put it into a floured bowl and set aside, covered with a tea towel, until it is has risen to twice its size.
This part of the process will take a good 40 minutes to an hour.

Lightly oil the bottom of a baking tin 30cm in diameter and sprinkle it with a thin layer of cornmeal. The tin is a requirement of the original recipe and it so happened that I had one with the necessary measurement. However, if you don’t, I can see no reason why this bread could not be cooked on a large baking tray. In such circumstances, you will then have to roll out the dough until it is roughly 30cm in diameter. Needless to say, it doesn’t matter if you fail to produce the perfect circle that is the inevitable result of using a tin. Set the oven at 240C/gas mark 8.

Remove the dough from its bowl (it will sink, but no matter) and then push it into the baking tin.
Cover as much of the bottom as possible but don’t worry if this does not prove possible.
Set aside, covered with a tea towel, for a further 20-25 minutes until well risen.
Then, using a floured finger, push several holes into the dough before brushing it all over with olive oil. Scatter on the chopped rosemary (or thyme, if you would prefer) and salt flakes and bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread is a pale gold, crisp on top and springy within.
While the bread is still warm, free from the tin, with a palette knife if necessary.

Now, I live on my own and this recipe clearly serves more than one person. Thus, as soon as it has cooled, I cut the bread into twelve triangular pieces, wrap them in cling film and shoot them into the freezer. Thereafter, I extract them as and when required. Happy eating !

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Last of the leeks


(Image by Fiona Hallinan)

Leeks make their first appearance of the season in September but they are happy growing in the winter soil. It’s just as well, early spring is when they really get a chance to shine. Marking a mid point between the deep, earthy root vegetables of the cold, dark months and the more lively and pronounced flavours of the spring/summer time they bring a sweet, unctuous, nutty warmth which too often takes a back seat in soups and stews. Let them take centre stage and you may find they have quite a lot to say for themselves.

Towards the end of April they develop a wooden core and their flavour dulls. We only have a little time left to celebrate the last of the fine leeks.

The green stalks of the leek have quite a course flavour. I wouldn’t be too hasty in giving them the chop though. There is a cabbagy taste to them that’s a good natural companion to the onionyness of the white stem. Parts will be too tough – I usually take a couple of inches off the top and the outside stalks right off.

A leek and potato soup

The vast leeks on offer in some supermarkets aren’t too generous when it comes to flavour. It may be a soup, but it’s a simple one, so its worth sourcing some thumb width leeks whose flavour will do it better justice. Like a classic Vissychoise, this recipe calls for water. If you’ve ample green stalk trimmings, simmer them in water for half an hour and use that liquor instead.

Peel and then cut up some waxy potatoes into small wedges. Cut the trimmed leeks in half lengthwise, rinse and then dice them. Add the potatoes and leeks to a hot pan with olive oil. Season well, and add a bunch of thyme tied to a bay leef and a sliver of lemon zest (with string or a long thyme stem). Before a minute’s, up add warm water to the pan – two to three times the volume of vegetables. Bring to the boil and then carefully scim any funny business that rises to the surface. Check carefully for seasoning, cover and very gently simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Let it cool a little before serving. Garnish in the bowl with a few drops of cream, some chopped curly parsly and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.

Leeks, egg and cress

The best way I know of letting an Irish leek sing

Boil your trimmed leeks in lots of salty water until tender. Drain them, and when cool enough to handle, slice them in half lengthwise. Arrange them on your plates or serving dish flatside up and season with olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with some cress dressed in a similar manner and some not-quite-hard boiled eggs cut in half lengthwise and seasoned with salt and pepper. Work briskly so the leeks are still slightly warm when served.

A smoky, leeky vinaigrette

This vinaigrette works pretty well with a range of spring bounty. It’s been tried and tested with boiled purple sprouting broccoli, grilled sardines and baked beetroot (yummy with some chervil to garnish).
Try to get your hands on baby leeks, their sweet intensity is important. If you’re able to grill the leeks over a smoky fire then you really are in for a treat.

Trim your baby leeks and cut them in half, lengthwise. Wash, and pat dry. Add some olive or nut oil to a near smoking hot pan. Place each leek half in the pan flat side down. Add a generous pinch of salt.  When they begin to burn (don’t be coy – burn means blacken!) turn them over. When they have all been turned, cook for half a minute more with the occasional toss of the pan. Slide them on to your chopping board and as soon as you can handle them (but they are still hot) chop them and add them to some lemon juice in a bowl. Stir and leave for ten minutes. Add your best olive oil, (if you find your olive oil to have more of a prickly than fruity flavour then I’d use half nut oil, so as not to overwhelm), salt and just a smidgen of wholegrain mustard to taste.

Giles Clarke

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious recipe for Continental Gateau


The Editor has ants in his pants and I wonder why. Do you think it could be because of lack of sleep? You have heard that he has recently become a father? Anyway, he has been at me about those of you who have a sweet tooth. Of course you were not forgotten. I would have got around to you eventually, even if I do not share your enthusiasm for sweet things.

However, I do love making puddings, which more than any other food provide an opportunity to exercise one’s artistic flair. Presentation is the secret here, if you want to deliver the wow factor.
Continental gateau is a recipe handed down by my late mother-in-law. In the 50s and 60s, she was a cook ahead of her time and, for example, West of the Shannon had Elizabeth David on a pedestal long before that famous author of recipe books became a household name. This pudding is easy to make, requires no cooking and can be prepared in advance. It is guaranteed to produce the noises of appreciation, which are so characteristic of those whose dinner only begins with “the afters” ! My mother-in-law found the recipe in some newspaper and it has now been a favourite in the family for three generations.

120g caster sugar
120g butter
1egg yolk
300ml milk
120g ground almonds
2 tbls strong coffee
1 glass sherry
250g boudoir biscuits
150m whipped cream
cherries and chopped almonds to garnish (optional)

The only out-of-the-ordinary ingredient here is the boudoir biscuits. They are plain, sweet, finger biscuits about 8cm in length and they can be bought in any reasonably good supermarket.

Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the egg yolk. Add a third of the milk, the ground almonds and coffee and beat until smooth. Mix the sherry into the remaining milk and dip the biscuits into this mixture.

This is the only place that you can go wrong. The biscuits must absorb the liquid but must not be so soft that you can’t lift them on to a rectangular plate (if available), there, you create “a log” with a layer of four biscuits across and three down. On this foundation, spread about 1/3 of the creamed almond mixture.

Place more biscuits on top and continue finishing with the creamed almond mixture on top. Wrap in cling film or tin foil and refrigerate for several hours before covering with the whipped cream and garnishing with the chopped almonds and cherries. I guarantee that there will be no leftovers.

Joseph X


Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious and simple Dahl recipe


The editor tells me that I am liable to be strung up on a gibbet if I don’t produce a vegetarian dish this time around and so be it. That is, I am prepared to bow to his and indeed, your wishes.  I have already confessed to being an unrepentant carnivore but I also have an abiding love for good vegetarian food and where better to find this than in Indian cuisine. This should not surprise us. After all, widespread vegetarianism is a relatively new phenomenon in the western world, whereas it has flourished in India for thousands of years.

My first hand knowledge of India is confined to a memorable holiday in Kashmir more years ago than I care to remember. However, I have been reliably told that dhal served with rice and yoghurt or buttermilk is the staple diet of the poor in vast areas of that country. Be that as it may, we do know that lentils have been eaten in India for over 4000 years and, I quote no less an authority than Madhur Jaffrey (the reigning guru on Indian food) to confirm the importance of the humble lentil in her country. She has this to say: “You can take meats and fish and vegetables away from an Indian but you cannot take away his dal and his bread.”

My father-in-law, a Scotsman, served in an Indian regiment in the last War. Most of his service was in the Middle East and I recall him telling me that at some juncture, he survived for a month on nothing but dal.  Worse things could befall you and I think that is the way he felt about this particular culinary experience, which also tells us something of the nutritional value of the lentil.

Apparently all dried beans and peas and all legumes are generally classified as dal in India. However, I believe that we associate dahl with that bowl of mushy red lentils so frequently served with Indian food. In any case, it is that particular dish that I shall concentrate on here.

(To serve 4)
200g red lentils or masoor dal
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
4cm fresh ginger cut into 3 slices
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon of oil
2 green chillies, halved lengthways
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh
coriander leaves
Let me first dwell for a moment on the ingredients, all of which should be stocked in your nearest supermarket and are commonly used in Indian cooking. These days, even fresh coriander is readily available all the year around.

As to the chillies, do exercise care. Unless, you like really hot curries, avoid the little ones. For this recipe, I use green chillies that are about 5-6cm in length. They can be bought in any decent sized supermarket and are often sold in packs with red chillies of the same size. And do try to use fresh chillies. They provide a hot flavour, which is quite distinct from that generated by their dried cousins ! If you are concerned about having to buy a pack of say, six chillies, and the others going to waste, (and I applaud any such sentiments; I abhor waste in the kitchen !) let me put your heart at rest. Chillies freeze wonderfully. Just bung the unused ones into your freezer and take them out as and when required. However, do try to remember to chop them (if that is required by whatever dish you are cooking) while they are still frozen; they are more manageable at that stage.

Place the lentils and 500ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat, add the ginger and turmeric, and simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Stir occasionally to prevent the lentils sticking to the pan.
Remove the ginger and stir in ½ teaspoon salt. (As with pulses generally, salt is never added at the outset of the cooking process.)
Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic, onion and mustard seeds and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the onion is golden.
Add the cumin seeds, ground coriander and chilli, and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the onion mixture to the lentils and stir gently to combine.
Add more water if necessary, reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice and season.
Sprinkle with the coriander.
Dahl freezes well and does not suffer from being re-heated.

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

A delicious Kashmiri Rogan Josh recipe


There are many myths surrounding Indian food. It is difficult to prepare. It requires a large and costly initial investment in special ingredients. It is fiery hot and inedible. None of these beliefs are true. Indian food is easy to cook and requires no extraordinary culinary skills. It need not be hot and, speaking personally, fiery curries have never much appealed to me. Ten to fifteen euro should be sufficient to purchase the key ingredients and no obscure, oriental, kitchen utensils are called for.

Apart from the culinary joy of eating Indian food, it has other great advantages. It can be re-heated easily and it freezes very well. It is also the perfect way of entertaining amixed group of vegetarians and meat eaters. Indeed on such social occasions, you will often hear the vegetarians complain that the carnivores are eating “their” non-meat dishes.  A carnivore myself, I have drawn such complaints and for this I make no apology. What dedicated meat eater would not be tempted by the range of pulse and vegetable dishes, which are such a key component of Indian cuisine ?

The above said, I must at all cost be honest with my readers. Indian food is time-consuming to prepare. One needs to exercise care in measuring out the different spices that the individual recipes require, a certain amount of chopping is invariably involved and thereafter, most dishes must be given close attention while they are cooking on the stove or in the oven. However, this is a small price to pay for the gastronomic delights that await you. And remember, that you can always prepare dishes in advance and put them either in the freezer or in the fridge.

It has not been difficult for me to choose the recipe that I am now going to share with you. I cook “Indian” for my children quite often and this Kashmiri Rogan Josh is, with good reason, an enduring favourite of theirs. It is distinctive, principally because it does not contain any garlic or onions, as these ingredients are not eaten by Kashmiri Hindus. I am beholden for the recipe to Madhur Jaffrey, (even though I have amended her version) who is to Indian cuisine what Delia Smith is to everything else we eat.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
25fl oz (720ml) plain yoghurt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ inch (2cm) stick of cinnamon
½ teaspoon whole cloves
3lb (1kg 350g) stewing lamb cut into 2 inch (5cm) cubes
2 ½ teaspoons salt – or to taste+
4 teaspoons bright red paprika* mixed with ¼ -1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ teaspoons dried ginger powder
1 ½ pints (845ml) water
¼ teaspoon garam masala, optional

+This may seem a lot but, as Nigel Slater says, “trust me”!
*This is the mild paprika much used in Spanish cooking and is what gives the Rogan Josh its red colour.

Measure out the different spices.
Grind the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar or grinder until fine
Heat the oil in a large pot over a high heat. When hot, put in the cinnamon and cloves. A second later, put in all the meat and salt. Stir the meat and cook, still on a high heat, for about 5 minutes.
Now put in the paprika and cayenne (It is the cayenne which gives the dish its “heat”. I usually put in a ½ teaspoon but feel free to put in more or less depending on your taste buds.) and give the meat a good stir. Slowly add the yoghurt, 4-5 fl oz (100-150ml) at a time stirring the meat vigorously as you do so. Add all the yoghurt this way.
Keep cooking on high heat until all the liquid has boiled away. Alas, this phase of the cooking requires close attention and the diminishing liquid will also tend to splatter making a mess of your cooker.
Add the fennel and ginger.
Now put in 1 ½ pints (846ml) water and again reduce the liquid on the high heat until you have a thick, reddish brown sauce. Again, I fear there will be splattering but it won’t take long to clean up the top of your cooker.
Add the garam masala and serve with a plain long grain rice and a relish. Enjoy!

Joseph X

Recipes from a mutant kitchen

Some simple cake recipes

As part of my activities in the garden, I love propagating plants. I do this from both seeds and cuttings. However, more often than not, I end up with more plants than I need and I then give away the surplus. This gives me joy, as does the reverse. I love walking around the garden and taking note of the different plants and shrubs that have been given to me over the years. With a rush of pleasure, thoughts of the donor friends and relatives come to mind. Recipes have the same effect on me. When I try a new one and it is a success, I immediately think of who I should share it with. I also love to be given recipes by others and again I think fondly of the donor when I subsequently eat the dish, which is the subject of the recipe. And is it not the ultimate accolade for the cook to be asked by a guest for the recipe of whatever it is, he or she has just served?  These days, it is principally my children who pass on recipes to me; they know what their crusty old father likes to eat.  My sisters also come into the frame. This month, I have decided to pass on two recipes which have come to me from these two different sources.

However, before moving on to give you the particulars, I want to raise another matter with you.
In keeping with the spirit of the interactive media age in which we live, I really would like to have comments/questions from you on this column. It is not easy to keep on writing into a void with never a word of criticism or praise from readers on what one has to say. So do click on that comment icon and let me have your views.

Almond Cake
This recipe, obviously Italian, was passed on to me by my youngest son, who is a very enthusiastic cook. Apart from being easy to make, it has another advantage. It may be served either as a cake or a pudding.

150ml olive oil
165g light brown sugar
4 eggs beaten
200g whole almonds,
100g flour
1½ tblsp honey
Juice of half lemon
1tblsp of chopped rosemary

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Place the almonds in a blender and whizz briefly. You want to end up with a rough mixture, which still contains small pieces of almond. Grease a 10in cake tin. Mix the oil and sugar in a bowl, add the beaten eggs and fold in the flour, followed by two-thirds of the almonds. Pour into the cake tin and scatter the remaining almonds on top. Place in the heated oven for about 25 minutes.

When the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven. While it is cooling, prepare the syrup. Put the honey, lemon juice and chopped rosemary into a small pot and, stirring constantly, bring slowly to the boil. Then, pour the hot syrup over the top of the cake. If eating as a pudding, serve with crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt.

Apricot Bread

In another context, I have spoken of my great love of apricots. This recipe was given to by my oldest sister, who serves the most wonderful food. She is a natural cook and her dishes are always both tasty and exciting. She is also a troglodyte and a technophobe. Thus for you, I have had to convert into metric, the imperial measurements of her original recipe. Although described as a bread, this is what I would call a tea cake. Again it has the advantage of being very simple to make.

200g self-raising flour
100g dried apricots
50g chopped almonds
50g light brown sugar
50g butter
4 level tbls golden syrup
1 egg beaten
5 tbls milk

Pour boiling water over the apricots and leave to soak for 1 hour. Drain and chop. Place the apricots, flour, nuts and sugar in a mixing bowel. Melt the butter and syrup together, add the beaten egg and milk and stir into the dry ingredients. Pour into a greased and lined 2lb loaf tin and bake at 160C for 40-45 minutes.

Think kindly of me when you bake and eat these cakes!