Monday, 30 December 2019

Bake Your Own Bread



I wish everyone could discover the magic of making a loaf of bread – it’s so easy, soda breads particularly are made in minutes and there are endless variations on the theme. Mix nutty, wholemeal, brown flour with white to make a crunchy brown loaf, scatter the top with whatever seeds you fancy. Fresh herbs, nuts, oatflakes, wholegrains, spices, seaweed, dried fruit all add extra excitement to the white soda.

The dough can be baked in a tin or in a traditional free form anointed with a cross on a baking tray. Very important to prick the dough to let the fairies out of the bread!


For scones, flatten the dough a little more and cut into round, square or rectangular scones, bake as they are or for extra excitement brush the tops with a little buttermilk or egg wash, then dip in grated cheese or kibbled wheat for a melty or crunchy top. I sprinkled a batch recently with dukkah and Aleppo pepper – and delicious they were too!

Scones will be out of the oven in 10 – 12 minutes while a loaf will take 30 – 35 minutes but either way you wouldn’t have found your car keys and be back from the shops by the time the bread is out of the oven. There’s nothing to beat the smell of crusty bread wafting out of the oven and even though I’ve been baking all of my adult life and lot of my childhood I still get a buzz out of it.

The Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread is another delicious staple, even though it’s made with yeast, there’s no kneading involved and only one rising. This bread is known and loved by all the guests at Ballymaloe House since the restaurant opened in 1964 and by the family for decades before that. I particularly love the crusts, the best bit of every loaf. Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread takes longer than Soda Bread to make – allow 1 ½ hours from start to finish. It takes time but not your time, it’s mixed in a matter of minutes and the rest is rising and baking time.



Soda bread is best eaten on the day it’s made but brown yeast bread is delicious for days and makes heavenly toast for up to a week later.

If neither of these breads appeal, well how about some of the flat breads? The variety is endless – all were developed in countries where many homes didn’t have ovens. The breads were cooked on griddles or as is the case in Mexico, on a comal, or sometimes it was a combination of griddle and open fire as in chappatis.

These breads too are superfast to make and children love making them but I’ve become even more interested in experimenting with fermented batter made with teff for Ethiopian Injera or Indian dosa or String hoppers from Sri Lanka.

They are also nutrient dense, and really flavourful and fun.

But for an easy everyday loaf it’s difficult to beat, brown or white soda and who can forget the wake-up call we had in February 2018, there was mass panic when the country was snowed in. In supermarkets customers were pulling loaves of bread from each other, having totally forgotten how easy it is to make a loaf of soda bread.

Go on, have a go and post your very first loaf of bread on Instagram using the hashtags #realbread #hugthecook


Beginner’s Brown Soda Bread 
Even though this is a modern rather than traditional version of soda bread, I’ve decided to put it first because it couldn’t be simpler. Just mix all the ingredients together and pour into a well-greased tin. It’s important to put all the milk in – the dough may seem too wet but it’s meant to be that way for this particular bread. It will keep well for several days and is also great when toasted. Most modern Irish soda bread recipes include far too much bicarbonate of soda, which makes the bread very dark and taste strongly of soda. Makes 1 large or 3 small loaves

400g (14oz) stone-ground wholemeal flour
75g (3oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
1 teaspoon dairy salt
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda/baking soda), sieved
1 organic egg
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 teaspoon honey, treacle or soft brown sugar
425ml (3⁄4 pint) buttermilk or sour milk  
sunflower or sesame seeds (optional) 

one loaf tin 23 x 12.5 x 5cm (9 x 5 x 2in) OR three loaf tins 14.5 x 7.5 x 5cm (51⁄2 x 3 x 2in)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Brush the inside of the loaf tin or tins with vegetable oil.  

Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg, adding to it the oil, honey and the buttermilk or sour milk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid. Mix well, adding more buttermilk if necessary (the mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy). Pour into the oiled tin or tins. If desired, sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on top.
Bake for about 1 hour or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
White Soda Bread
Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 30 - 40 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my 'great convertibles'. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses.  It's also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.

1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon breadsoda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix - 12-14fl oz (350-400ml) approx.

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

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.  WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.  Tidy it up and flip over gently.  Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked it will sound hollow.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Winter Vegetables

Autumn is fast sliding into Winter, the gardens and greenhouses look quite different to when the 12 Week students arrived in September. On the first day, when I was showing them around, I urged them to take photos to remember the changing landscape. We picked the last tomatoes off the vines a couple of weeks ago and made green tomato jam and chutney with the last of the fruit.




Basil hates the cold, those few nights of hard frost that gave us the spectacular autumn colour killed the Genovese basil but surprisingly the Thai purple stemmed basil survived rather better. Cucumbers too, have finished for another year but we’ve still got a few tiny aubergines to pop into a Thai green curry during the next few days.

The last of the borlotti beans are drying in the pods on the plants, they will be wonderful for hearty bean stews and winter soups.

So now we’re well and truly into the root vegetable season… Parsnips are unexpectedly sweet once again due to the nights of hard frost, which concentrated the sugar. We’ve also started to use the knobbly new season Jerusalem artichokes – what a brilliant winter vegetable, super versatile, they roast deliciously, are great in gratins, soups and stews, and make the most irresistible crisps to nibble or scatter over a salad.

The winter greens are flourishing too, there’s a forest of curly kale, cavolo nero, red Russian, curly kale and lots of chard, so when I’m asked how do you manage for veg in the winter, people are astonished at the variety and I haven’t even mentioned leeks, celeriac, romanesco or swede turnips.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Cakes and Baking

This week I am going to devote my entire column to cakes and baking, this was prompted by a recent delicious encounter at Philip’s bookshop in Mallow, Co Cork. Philip, Catherine and June O’Flynn invited me back to celebrate 30 years of business. They reminded me that I had first come to their shop in 1990 when I had brown hair and huge red glasses, to sign copies of my Simply Delicious cookbook.



The photos of that event are still up on the wall behind the tills. There I was in my flowery apron making Ballymaloe cheese fondue in their original book shop, the new premises on the Main Street is much larger. It was such a fun trip down memory lane, to flick through their photo albums….

This entrepreneurial trio had planned lot of excitement for the 30th anniversary celebration, including a baking competition. Contestants could choose a cake, biscuit or bun recipe from any of my 18 now 19 cookbooks.



Three whole tables of cakes awaited when I arrived. Peter O’Meara, of Savill’s Auctioneers fame and, I had the unenviable task of judging the best entries. As well as many luscious cakes there were brownies, cupcakes, buns and a gorgeous swiss roll oozing with raspberries and cream. The standard was fantastic, every item was absolutely delicious, I was blown away by how each contestant had reproduced my recipe to perfection. Some of the baking had been done by children and teenagers, which always gives me a special ‘whoops in my tummy’. Wonderful to get the kids into the kitchen, they often start with baking and then gradually move onto salads and savoury dishes. It is super important to pass on cooking skills to the next generation, so they are equipped with the basic techniques to feed themselves. It’s also high time we changed our attitude to cooking and hospitality as a career of lesser value – how ridiculous is that!

All I could do initially was scramble eggs and with that one skill, considered by many as of lesser importance than any of the STEM subjects, I have had a hugely enjoyable career and have had the opportunity to bring joy and share my knowledge with thousands of others.

The winners of the cake competition at Philip’s bookshop were awarded a rosette and copy of my new One Pot Feeds All Cookbook, which I am excited to tell you has just won Book of the Year at the Listowel Food Fair...what an honour!


Friday, 15 November 2019

My Pick of the New Cookbooks




It’s that time of the year again, my desk is piled high with new cookbooks, pre-Christmas publications, all shiny and glossy and very tempting.


Image result for Jamie Oliver’s Veg"First out of the traps in early September was Jamie Oliver’s Veg. I’m a big fan of Jamie’s and felt a deep sympathy as he faced a whole slew of challenges earlier in the year. He has bounced back in a variety of ways – look out for his YouTube cooking slots and this new book is another must have.

Image result for the book of st john"




Another of my food heroes, is the indomitable Fergus Henderson. The Book of St John written with his long time business partner Trevor Gulliver celebrates 25 years of the iconic ‘meaty‘ restaurant that pioneered ‘nose to tail’ eating and happily coincides with the Year of the Pig. Pitty, witty, and structured to mirror the practises and rhythms of St John Kitchen, from butchery to stocks, braise and brine, but St John’s on St John’s Street in London is not just about meat, there’s also an extensive repertoire of fruit and vegetable recipes, all new and a whole chapter on puddings. Lick your lips – steamed syrup pudding, sherry trifle and lots of treats for the eleven o clock biscuit tin, as well as a seed cake and a glass of madeira (Fergus’s favourite tipple), and finally a whole chapter dedicated to feasting… An irresistible publication with gold-edged pages – a very special present.

Image result for let's do dinner cookbook"In the midst of the pile, are two shiny hardbacks written by two Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni. James Ramsden, food writer, podcaster, chef, owner of three restaurants including Michelin-starred Pidgin in Hackney. James’ 4th book, Let's Do Dinner is jam packed with tasty tried and tested recipes. 


Nothing chefy here, just lots of yummy dishes to enjoy that can be prepared ahead for family and friends, so you don’t find yourself racing against the clock at the last moment – lots of really tempting super cool recipes to enjoy with pals around the kitchen table.

Image result for Adventures with Mithai"The second book, a first for Rachel Goenka from India who did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2011, before returning to her native Mumbai where she opened her restaurant The Sassy Spoon. This debut book, Adventures with Mithai, is already a best seller in India and reflects her love of baking. Here again, there are many stunning photos of creations you’ll really want to bake.


Image result for Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible"The Cordon Bleu Chocolate Bible – a culinary guide to all things chocolate. With 180 recipes, so difficult to pick a favourite recipe…This may well become the quintessential chocolate book...









Image result for darina allen one pot feeds all"
A cookbook makes a brilliant present that keeps on giving – so lots to choose from.



Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Fancy a Sandwich?

Guess what? November 3rd was National Sandwich Day, can you imagine... There’s a special day to celebrate just about everything nowadays so why not cast a spotlight on the humble sandwich, a universally loved fast food, synonymous with convenience and super versatile.

Every country in the world has a range of sandwiches based on a mind boggling variety of breads from sourdough, brioche, challah, pide, foccacia, baguette, burger buns, rolls of various shapes and sizes, pitta, rye, pumpernickel, English muffins, bagels to the ubiquitous squishy sliced pan.



The origin of the sandwich is well documented, it can be traced back to the 18th century when John Montague – the 4th Earl of Sandwich, a notoriously heavy gambler, instructed his staff to bring his food to the table so he could eat it easily with one hand without interrupting his card game... the sandwich was born. Who could have the predicted the limitless number of variations on the theme...

Virtually every county has one and in some cases many more.

Sandwiches can be simple grab, gobble and go, affordable street food, to luxurious combinations created by Michelin starred chefs, sweet, savoury, hot or cold, jumbo or petite...

Some are steeped in tradition; others offer a glimpse into the history and customs of a region. Travel to the East and Far East, Middle East, South America, the Caucasus, the Caribbean, the Nordic peninsula…Chances are you will find multiple variations but sandwiches are for everyone – they bridge the gap between all cultures and can be super nutritious or ‘lay on you like a third mortgage’.

Starting with Ireland, let’s take a quick jaunt around the globe – apart from the lunch box staple, processed ham and easy singles, or a grilled cheese toastie, I’m opting for the breakfast roll, a Full Irish crammed into a roll, the Irish equivalent of a Mexican breakfast burrito, immortalised in the comedian Pat Short's song Jumbo Breakfast Roll which topped the charts here In Ireland in 2006.



The UK has its ploughman's, the chip buttie and more genteel crust less cucumber sandwich, cut into elegant triangles. Then there’s the BLT or the BLTA which includes avocado as well as the bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Croque Monsieur, Croque Madame spring to mind in France as does Pain Bagnat or a simple Jambon Beurre. Then let’s jump to Italy for Tramezzino... I love these little ’humpbacked sandwiches bursting with tasty fillings. Then there is Panino and Panini with a myriad of options and have you tasted a Mozzarella en Carrozza, a fried sandwich oozing with bubbling melting mozzarella – a speciality of the Campania region of Southern Italy, home to many different cheeses including mozzarella.

In Germany seek out the Leberkäse, particularly in Bavaria. A crips whote bnun stuffed with pork or pate and drizzled liberally with sweet or hot mustard.


The bocadillo is Spain’s sandwich supreme, a baguette where anything goes from Jámon Serrano (Serranito in Andalucía) morcilla, (black pudding) to fried squid, padron peppers, an omelette or simple, crushed, super ripe tomatoes, sea salt and olive oil on bread, in the unforgettable Pan con Tomate. A Montadito is a bite sized open sandwich or a plugs, a tapas sized version on a dinner roll….



In Greece seek out the delicious gyro, traditionally made using lamb, beef or pork cooked on a rotisserie combined with tomato, onion and a yoghurt dressing , all served on a pita – what’s not to like!

In Holland the most bizarre thing I’ve tasted was a hundreds and thousands sandwich, two slices of squishy white pan, buttered generously, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands and sandwiched together – I kid you not…

In Bosnia-Hertzigovina, Croatia, Serbia…Ćevapi is a favourite.

The banh mi of Vietnam, a French baguette filled with barbecued or grilled chicken with lemon grass and veggies and a creamy mayo is now a global craze. There is even a dessert banh mi loaded with ice cream and crushed peanuts.

The doner kebab dates back to the Ottoman Empire – juicy chargrilled meats, sliced from a rotating grill and stuffed into a pitta pocket and then there’s sharma and falafel, a favourite all over the Middle East which has now popped up everywhere. Try the Rocketman’s version of falafel on Prince’s Street in Cork.


The US has seen more than its fair share of iconic sambos, beginning with peanut butter and jelly, the Ruben, a club sandwich, the meatball sub, philly, po' boy from New Orleans, muffaletta, fried chicken biscuit, pulled pork sandwich, grilled cheeses delicious the lobster roll to mention just a few. All of the aforementioned sandwiches are pretty well available in New York as well as numerous ethnic specialities. Including the Barro Luco, the famous Chilean steak and cheese sandwich as is Chivito from Uruguay) Choripán and Tortas from Argentina and all the Mexican favourites, Cemita and Pambazo…



Got to stop soon but can’t forget the Vada Pav in India and the Bombay sandwich, a vegetarian ‘take’ on a club sandwich with that zingy coriander chutney and then there is the chutney sandwich, an Indian riff on the British afternoon tea sandwiches.



China too has many favourites, fluffy steamed boa buns, stuffed with pork belly, coriander, greens and peanuts, Oh my!

Japan’s food scene is totally amazing, you mustn’t miss the Croquette Sando or Karroke Sando - panko crusted croquettes sandwiched between two slices of soft white bread topped with tangy Katsu sauce.

Even more bizarre is the Strawberry Sando....

I’m running out of space there is so much more, there could be 4 or 5 articles on the subject!

Artisan Food Tour of Northern Ireland

On a recent reconnaissance trip to Northern Ireland, it’s not too strong to say I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers. After three action packed days, I struggled home on the train resembling a ‘bag lady’ with large totes overflowing with produce – so many delicious new finds...

Image result for strangford lough"
Image: Ireland.com


My adventure began in the Strangford Lough region. I was collected from lovely Clandeboye after a particularly good breakfast of freshly boiled eggs and unctuous Clandeboye yoghurt made from the milk of Lady Dufferin’s fine herd of Jersey cows – Seek out this yoghurt, its superb and I don’t use that word loosely.

Lady Dufferin painting the cows responsible for the Clandeboye Yoghurt
Image: http://www.clandeboye.co.uk/


After a meandering drive around beautiful Strangford Lough, we arrived at the Echlinville Distillery outside Kircubbin. It’s the first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years. Since its establishment in 2012 it’s at the forefront of Ireland’s spirits renaissance and is the home of some of the North’s best known spirits, including Jawbox Gin, Dunvilles Irish Whiskey and lots of innovative work going on here with barrel aging in various woods... We particularly enjoyed a 12 year old Dunville’s single malt, aged in a PX barrel, the return of an icon originally introduced in 1808.

Image result for echlinville distillery"
Image: https://www.visitardsandnorthdown.com/things-to-do/echlinville-distillery


After our tour and tipple, it was on to the little town of Comber to the super cool indigenous and independent Indie Füde shop. Owner Johnny McDowell bounced out to greet us, his little deli/cum café was packed with small batch artisan products from all over the island of Ireland but particularly the North. 

Fantastic charcuterie from Broughgammon Farm and Ispini, Boerwors from Hellbent, Buffalo Salami from Ballyriff, Buchanan’s Irish peat smoked back bacon with a delicious layer of fine back fat, Abernethy's handmade butter made in Dromara from the cream of the grass-fed cows and then a whole counter of wonderful artisan cheese. Blue Buck, of course, but also several I hadn’t tasted before: a Sperrin blue, a triple cream cheese from Ballylisk of Armagh called Triple Rose. An oak smoked Drumlin Cheddar from Silka Cropp of Corleggy fame in Co Cavan.

I also found some smoked anchovies from East Coast Seafoods and a loaf of french village bakery sourdough - how about that for a picnic?

Image result for Indie Füde"
Image: yelp.com

Johnny is properly passionate about local foods and loves to do things differently from eco-friendly packaging, bold designs to bespoke gift ideas, always trying to surprise and innovate. Follow Indie Füde (www.indiefude.com) to find out about their cookery demos and pop up supper clubs, Will Brown was cooking up a storm while we were there getting ready for that evenings supper club.

Next day we explored the mid Ulster region – First stop the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Op in Toomebridge, Co Antrim. Several fishermen were sorting their nets under the watchful eye of a flock of herons on the weir over the River Ban which runs through the 45 mile Lough Neagh. I’d particularly asked to visit this fishery.... we’ve been enjoying the tender Lough Neagh smoked eel at Ballymaloe for many years.



Both silver and brown eels thrive in the lough. They love dark and stormy nights before a new moon, the eels become restless and move down the river to start their epic 5,000 mile journey back to the Sargasso Sea, carried along on the Gulf stream. The fishermen wait in their flat bottomed boats, with their traditional cogull nets and hooks to harvest the fat charged eel, carrying on a tradition and passing on the skills that date back to the Mesolithic times

Cathy Chauhan and Pat Close showed us round the interpretive visitor centre and science room where school children learn about the intriguing history and life cycle of the eel.

Over 400 tons of Lough Neagh eel are caught and processed every year in line with careful conservation guidelines. A large part of the catch are shipped to Holland for smoking and to Billingsgate in London for the production of jellied eel. By the way fresh eel is my favourite fresh water fish, and that’s also available from the Lough Neagh Co-op.

Image result for pollan fish"
Lough Neagh pollan - which has a special European status. bbc.co.uk

But what I didn’t know was that Lough Neagh is also home to many other species including dollaghan, a wild brown trout, perch, roach, bream, pike and pollan, an ancient fish species which dates back to the Ice Age and is unique to Ireland. I tasted it both fresh and smoked by North Coast Smokehouse and love it. 

Monday, 21 October 2019

In Praise of the (not-so) Humble Spud

Drat, I’ve just discovered that I missed National Potato day. It was on Friday 4th of October. Somehow it whizzed by without me registering but I really want to write a blog post extolling the virtues of my veggie hero - my top pick for a desert island staple.



Why do we insist on calling it the humble spud when for me it is the most versatile of all vegetables. It can be dressed up or down, boiled, fried, sautéed, mashed, pureed, roast, layered up in a gratin, served as a side or presented as the main attraction. Like on the menu at terroir-based café, Tartare in Galway.

Multi award winning chef JP McMahon served new season potatoes in sea herb butter on the dinner menu. The oval potatoes came in a viscous broth sprinkled with dillisk seaweed and fresh mint – an inspired contemporary celebration of freshly dug organic potatoes from Beech Lawn Organic Farm in Ballinasloe where JP gets many of his fresh organic vegetables.
A present of Skerry Champions, my favorite variety of heirloom potatoes from @dermot.carey @avocaireland to celebrate National Potato Day, 


This week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland meeting artisan food producers and visiting some ‘off the beaten track’ tourist attractions. I was particularly intrigued by two enterprising women, Tracey Jeffrey from Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen and Bronagh Duffin at the Bakehouse in Bellaghy.

Tracey welcomes visitors and small groups who would like to learn the simple art of bread baking to her farmhouse. She made wheaten farls and fruit bannocks and taught us how to make fadge (potato bread) - a real taste of Ulster baking. I really wanted to learn how to make this traditional Ulster favourite. Turns out Tracey and Bronagh make it in quite different ways. . . . .

Tracey explained how potato bread was originally made as a way to use up leftover mashed potato. She kneaded the well-seasoned mash into some flour. Rolled it into a ¾ inch thick round and then cut it into 4 farls (quarters) these were originally cooked on a griddle over a turf fire but Tracey cooked them on an electric crepe pan (an ingenious idea), but of course, a dry frying pan also works perfectly. When they were speckled on both sides, Tracey slathered them with Abernethy’s dillisk butter churned down the road in Dromara, Co Down.

Bronagh had invited five children from the local St Mary’s Primary School, to her kitchen for a class. The smell of turf smoke from the fireplace filled the kitchen while the children mixed the warm mashed potato and flour in a bowl with a fine dollop of butter and a dash of milk. Some of these children had never even eaten this traditional dish before but were super excited to learn that they could use a variety of cutters to cut out fun shapes to cook on the pan or the griddle over the open fire.

I stayed at Ballyscullion Park, Richard and Rosalind Mullholland’s beautiful Regency house, now a favoured wedding destination amidst the gardens and parkland. George, son of the house, cooked us a delicious country house dinner, the starter of home-grown tomatoes, fennel and halloumi had a drizzle of truffle flavoured Burren balsamic on top – which added an extra delicious ‘je ne se quoi’ to the dish. A buttery potato gratin was served with slow cooked lamb, kale and runner beans.

A potato gratin is such a versatile dish, it can be a meal in itself or a just ‘pop into the oven’ accompaniment.

I’m particularly fond of Indian potato dishes too, a few spices elevate potato cakes to a new level. , try these . . . .

And who doesn’t love a smooth and silky potato soup? The children will love it too and it can be dressed up for a dinner party with a slick of scallion oil or watercress pesto.


Finally we need to talk about variety, there are ‘potatoes and potatoes’ but it is good to realise that if you are interested in flavour, the variety really matters. . . seek out traditional and old varieties, Golden Wonder, Kerrs Pink, Pink Fir Apple, Charlotte, Alouette, Carolus, Setanta. . . so much nourishment and flavour for just a few euros.