Friday, 24 April 2020

Marrakesh

Seeing as we're all stuck at home and in need of a little colour and excitement, I thought I'd revisit my trip to Morocco last year, which I didn't get around to sharing on the blog at the time...

Exotic, crazy, colourful Marrakesh, so many intriguing cultural experiences but for the cook it’s a brave new world of tagines, cous cous, pastilla, meschoi, briouts, tangia, rfusa…


At first, the experience is virtually overwhelming. The souks and medina cover an area of approximately 19 km and are not for the fainthearted. Acres of stalls selling everything you can imagine and much that you can’t. I armed myself with a map and the phone number of the manger of the riad where I was staying so they could come and rescue me if and when I got hopelessly lost.
Before you venture into the Medina, sit down with a glass of frothy mint tea and a plate of Moroccan pastries and plan your adventure. I only had five days but I was determined to make the most of every moment.





I’d chosen to stay at a beautiful chic riad owned by Jasper Conran, L'Hotel Marrakech, with just five elegant bedrooms surrounding an inner courtyard garden with orange and banana trees, a date palm and a trickling fountain in the centre even a 10 metre lap pool for those who might like a refreshing dip even in winter. The food was delicious – breakfast, lunch and dinner – Bouchra is the cook (dada) here. The elegant dining room has tall metal windows, huge mirrors and portraits of Indian maharajah. Billie Holiday crooned and the candles flickered as I enjoyed my first dinner at a low round table by the fireside. Three little Moroccan salads, zaalouk (aubergine), taktouta (red and yellow pepper), cooked carrot and cumin and then a superb lamb tagine with artichoke hearts, fennel and cooked to melting tenderness so all the flavours melded together. The dessert was layers of flaky warka with pastry cream and a chocolate caramel sauce. We’d hit the jackpot…

Breakfast was another little feast, four different Moroccan breads and lacy beghrir, the tender Moroccan pancakes. I was determined to learn how to make at least these light lacy pancakes. I cheekily knocked on the kitchen door; Bouchra welcomed me into her kitchen and over the next few days showed me how to make a whole range of breads. Many, ingenious variations on the well-known Moroccan flat bread – msemen. 

Some were cooked on the griddle others, shallow fried then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with coconut. Some were savoury to enjoy with eggs or b'sara (buttara), the thick lentil and bean soup often eaten for breakfast. Others were light, flaky and slathered with honey butter. Then there are all the tagines which take their name from the earthenware pot with the conical lid in which they are served and if you are lucky also cooked. These can be vegetarian or made from seafood, chicken, beef, lamb or rabbit with seasonal fresh vegetables and fresh or dried fruit, olives and maybe nuts.



Tagine royale with dates or prunes, almonds and apricots, is one of the best loved of all. But there’s also chicken with preserved lemon and green olives or with caramelised onion and raisins or with caramelised onion and tomato. I ate superb versions of these at Al Fassia on 55 Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni in the Ville Nouvelle, owned by the Marraskhi sisters and almost entirely run by women. The food is superb but you must book ahead. I managed to do it on the internet from Ireland and confirmed when I arrived in Marrakesh. Don’t miss the pastilla with pigeon and the mezze made up of fifteen Moroccan salads, I had both lunch and dinner, sounds beyond greedy but I simply couldn’t taste as many dishes are I wanted in one sitting.
Cardoons were in season during my visit and they too make a wonderful addition to a tagine.



Close to L'Hotel Marrakech on Derb Sidi L’ahcen St there were lots of little shops and stalls piled high with freshly harvested vegetables and fruit, others offered an enormous variety of spices, olives of every hue and preserved lemons, an essential flavouring in so many Moroccan dishes.
Lots of little butcher shops too. Everything was very fresh– there doesn’t seem to be a tradition of hanging meat and every scrap of the animal is sold and used, heads, feet and all the offal and entrails. Street food of every hue, apart from msemen, round or square, flat bread, cooked on a griddle and served with butter and honey. One stall just sold goats feet to add to tangia, a stew cooked in an earthenware pot in the underground wood-fired ovens that heat the water for the famous hamman (baths).


The flavour and texture of the slow cooked meat that emerges from the earthenware pots is rich and delicious and continues a long tradition.
You’ll find a little cluster of cafes that serve tangia and meschoi, meltingly delicious slow roasted lamb falling off the bones served with cumin and salt on Meschoi alley on the east side of Djemaa El Fna just around the corner from the olive and pickled lemon souk.
For harira and bsara head for Djemaa El Fna, Marrakesh’s central square, a crazy open theatre. There are snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, colourful water sellers in fringed hats that make more money from having photos taken than they do from selling water. 


At night the square ramps up several notches, over 100 chefs arrive with their grills, utensils and set up their stalls. Musicians tune their instruments and the fun begins in earnest. 

Everywhere vendors are trying to entice you to try their specialities. The adventurous shouldn’t miss the snails and sheep’s head and other miscellaneous parts. Slide onto a bench beside a stall and enjoy every second of the spectacle and the food – unlikely to be a gastronomic experience but the atmosphere is unforgettable. 

Monday, 20 April 2020

Easy Baking for All the Family


Just like so many other over 70’s, I’ve been ‘cocooned’ at home for the past couple of weeks and of course it absolutely must be done but I was surprised how challenging I found the transition…

Life as we knew it is certainly on hold. Everyone is grappling with the new reality and each group have their unique set of adjustments to make.

We are all having to dig deep to find our inner resilience and realise that so many others are in infinitely more difficult situations than ourselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a township in Soweto or in an immigrant camp on the Turkish border where physical distancing would be impossible.

Many of the everyday things we were up to ‘high doh’ about a couple of weeks ago now seem embarrassingly unimportant. How Covid-19 has changed our priorities dramatically in a few short weeks…

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the kindness of people sharing and caring and racking their brains to think of ways to help others whilst keeping within the restrictions. Many families are already scarred by tragedy and many more will be…

Unemployment, bereavement, home schooling and now there’s the spectre of a deep recession looming. Carers, health workers, bus drivers, Gardai and postmen and women…risking their own health every day for others and the everyday reality for so many of trying to keep children occupied often in a confined space while older children frantically study for exams.

Well certainly, from what I hear, many families are also enjoying cooking together – especially baking 
 that is, when they can find flour…

There can scarcely be a house in the country that hasn’t one or two recipes for cupcakes, but in response to Mary Jane’s request for a ‘fool proof’ recipe, here is our ‘go to’ recipe for Penny’s cupcakes which all my grandchildren love to make. They have fun outdoing each other with lots of extra embellishments, sprinkles, meringue kisses, chocolate curls, sparkly sugar…



Here’s the recipe for coffee and walnut squares, an irresistible ‘tray bake’ from my latest One Pot Wonders book. It’s been getting a terrific response and I’m ashamed to say was responsible for someone breaking their Lenten fast a few weeks ago....

If you have a food processor, just put all the ingredients into the bowl together and whizz for a few seconds. Alternatively, cream the soft butter, add the castor sugar, beat until light and fluffy, then add one egg at a time and fold the flour in gently. Irel coffee essence has disappeared for some time now but Camp coffee is a brilliant substitute and lasts for years.

Cheddar Cheese Fondue is another gem, the kids can help to grate cheese on a simple box grater, a gadget no kitchen should be without. If you have haven’t got one, ask your Gran to leave it by the gate for you and take all the recommended precautions. Cheese fondue is so quick, easy, full of good protein and other nutrients and fun to eat..... Remember, if you drop the bread into the fondue you must kiss the person on your right so choose your seat carefully!


Our rhubarb is leaping out of the ground after that rain, so here’s one of my favourites – Rhubarb Fool. Serve it with these shortbread biscuits which the children can make and shape with their favourite cookie cutters.

Freeze any leftover rhubarb fool in a lined loaf tin (sweeten it a little more because freezing dulls the sweetness) – Hey presto – rhubarb ice-cream – serve with a little sauce of pureed stewed rhubarb and decorate with a sprig of sweet cicely for extra posh. 

Meanwhile, check out the new From Ballymaloe Cookery School with Love website www.fromballymaloewithlove.com for lots of recipes, tips, thoughts and foraging suggestions and for wild and free food – updated daily. Keep your requests coming in to darina@cookingisfun.ie or 0214646785.

Stay safe.


Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue
Myrtle Allen devised this Cheese Fondue recipe made from Irish Cheddar cheese. A huge favourite at Ballymaloe. Even though it's a meal in itself it can be made in minutes and is loved by adults and children alike. A fondue set is obviously an advantage but not totally essential.

Serves 2 – perfect for everything from kids tea to a romantic supper.

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley

175g grated mature Cheddar cheese



Crusty white bread

Put the white wine and the rest of the ingredients into a fondue pot or small saucepan and stir. Just before serving put over a low heat until the cheese melts and begins to bubble. Put the pot over the fondue stove and serve immediately. Provide each guest with fresh French bread or cubes of ordinary white bread crisped up in a hot oven. They will also need a fondue fork and an ordinary fork.


Rhubarb Fool

Serves 6 approximately

450g red rhubarb, cut into chunks

175g sugar

2 tablespoons water


225 – 300ml softly whipped cream


Put the rhubarb into a stainless saucepan with the sugar and water, stir, cover, bring to the boil and simmer until soft, 20 minutes approx. Stir with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb dissolves into a mush. Allow to get quite cold. Fold in the softly whipped cream to taste. Serve chilled with shortbread biscuits.


Jane's Biscuits - Shortbread Biscuits

This recipe is a ‘keeper’ – loved by children and all ages. Stick it up on the inside of your kitchen cupboard door for easy access.

Makes 25


175g white flour or spelt flour

110g butter (room temperature)

40g castor sugar


Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 7mm thick. Cut into rounds with 6cm cutter or into heart shapes. Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 to pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.

Serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden - darker will be more bitter.

However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy. Cool on a wire rack.


Penny’s Vanilla Cupcakes

This is our favourite cupcake recipe – they can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion! Use your favourite icing and embellish them as you fancy.

Makes 9-10 cupcakes or 16-18 ‘wee’ buns

150g soft butter (at room temperature)

150g caster sugar

150g self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk

Icing

225g icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice



2 cupcake tins lined with bun cases.



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

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processer, whizz until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the icing.

Put the sieved icing sugar and lemon zest into a bowl. Add enough lemon juice to mix to a spreadable consistency.

Ice the cupcakes with lemon icing and garnish with a crystallised flower. Alternatively, use chocolate icing and decorate with chocolate curls.


Sue’s Coffee and Walnut Squares

From One Pot Feeds All by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

This is a super versatile recipe that comes from Sue Cullinane, one of our senior tutors at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I sometimes just scatter crunchy praline over the top for a quick, but delicious fix. Toasted hazelnuts or pecans are also a delectable combination, instead of the walnuts.

Makes 20

225g softened butter, plus extra for greasing

100g caster sugar

80g soft brown sugar

300g self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 organic, free-range eggs

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 tablespoon Camp coffee essence


For the coffee buttercream

100g softened butter

300g icing sugar, sifted

1 dessertspoon whole milk

2 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

20 walnut halves, toasted hazelnuts or whole pecans, to decorate



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



Grease a 30cm (length) x 20cm (width) x 5cm (depth) tin with a little butter and line with a sheet of parchment paper that comes up over each side.

Put all the cake ingredients into a food processor. Whizz just long enough to combine. Spread the cake mixture evenly over the lined tin and smooth the top with a palette knife. Bake for 20–25 minutes until well risen. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely in the tin.

To make the buttercream, cream the butter and beat in the icing sugar, followed by the milk and coffee extract.

As soon as the cake has cooled, use a palette knife to spread the coffee buttercream evenly over the top. Cut into squares and decorate each one with a half walnut, toasted hazelnut or whole pecan. Alternatively, pipe a rosette of coffee buttercream on top of each square and top with a toasted nut.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Food for Thought

The past few weeks have been tough on a whole variety of ways – each family has its own set of challenges.

On the food scene, it has been little short of astonishing to see the ingenuity and resourcefulness of farmers and local food producers who have come up with a myriad of solutions to get their perishable products to their local customers. 


Many foods are already in short supply. People are in desperation for flour. Millers like Donal Creedon at Macroom Mills (026 41800) have been milling virtually around the clock.

Farmers continue to care for their animals, milk cows and sow and plant to ensure future harvests. They are setting up farm gate sales contactless delivery and payment via Revolut.


Neighbourfood hubs (www.neighbourfood.ie) are springing up around the country much to the appreciation of both food producers and local community. Just look at how creative we can be, what individuals and communities can organise when they are allowed to get on with it. Up to 60 years ago, towns and villages were virtually self-sufficient – we could so easily work towards that again, in energy, waste disposal and food production services. 
We are having quite the wake-up call – food for thought – time to think outside the box and give thanks for so many blessings even in these terrifying times. Let’s concentrate on finding the silver lining that we are told is behind every dark cloud.

Easter is the time of resurrection, take hope this too will pass.
Stay resilient and continue to dig deep to find the inner strength you didn’t even know you had – look out for each other and continue the little acts of kindness.

Happy Easter to you and all your family.

Keep safe



Wednesday, 8 April 2020

How to Shop Local During Covid-19

Never was it more important to buy locally. Many Farmers Markets are temporarily closed but food producers are scrambling to find other ways to get fresh produce to their customers with whom they have built up warm relationships over the years.



Many are now selling from the farm gate and taking orders by phone and doing contactless, deliveries straight to the boot of your car.





Our Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop in Shanagarry is open every day except Sunday. Order online or ring in your order – Contactless deliveries to the boot of your car if requested, Natural sourdough bread and other freshly baked breads, organic vegetables from the farm, Jersey yoghurt, buttermilk, homemade soups, stews, pies, pâtes, fermented foods, drinks and sweet treats…Telephone 021 4646785 or go online to farmshop.ballymaloecookeryschool.ie to order.




Dan and Anne Ahern are setting up a Farm Gate Shop on their farm close to Midleton to sell their rich organic Jersey milk, eggs and Mary Regan’s organic chickens. This is being run on a Saturday morning only from 9.00am to 12pm and the Eircode is P25 WP44, approx. 5kms from Midleton.




NeighbourFood is another brilliant source of local food with branches in Cork City, Douglas, Watergrasshill and Lisavaird. There will be a NeighbourFood branch at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturdays. Orders must be in by Thursday evening at midnight. Collection is 1.00pm – 3.00pm on Saturdays. Optional contactless delivery.




Monday, 6 April 2020

Cooking in a Crisis

It is at times like this, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, that we need to concentrate on searching for the silver lining behind the black cloud…

This is the perfect time to have fun in the kitchen with your kids, teaching them nifty skills - how to use a swivel top peeler, a kitchen knife, how to use the dishwasher, washing machine, dress the beds, hoover, lay the table…. Better still, how about sitting down together to compile a Jobs List, pin it up on the wall – a given when I was a child. There were nine of us so it was essential that everyone realised the importance of playing their part. We learned so many practical skills and a brilliant work ethic.


Darina Allen: Recipes to get your kids cooking


Sean O’Rourke asked me to come on his RTE show recently. I shared my phone number after a conversation with a high-achieving young mother who found herself quarantined with her children and totally unable to cook. She was in desperation and felt helpless, although in her ‘other life’ she could virtually run the country. Ever since, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing with requests for simple homely comforting dishes to cook with the kids. 

I was intrigued by the variety of simple foolproof recipes that people were longing for. Especially now that supermarkets have put a limit on the number of items people can buy, in order to curb panic buying. Pasta, tortillas and rice were top of many people’s lists and now some shops are in short supply but don’t forget about potatoes – super easy to cook, incredibly versatile and far more nutritious. Furthermore we are supporting Irish potato growers who like all farmers and food producers of perishable food desperately need our support. 



Cook up a nice big pot of stew, cover the whole top with potatoes so you have a whole meal in one pot. Use every single scrap, don’t waste a morsel of anything.




Let’s concentrate on food that helps to strengthen our immune system. We need lots of Vitamin A and D. Liver from lamb, beef, pork and poultry are all rich sources of both Vitamin A and D which work together to boost our resistance. Cod liver oil, neat or in capsule form, is also a brilliant source. As children in the 1950’s we were given it daily to protect us from Winter colds and flu but it’s popularity waned when antibiotics became more widely available.

Bone broth too - full of collagen, eggs particularly the wonderfully nourishing yolks from hens that are out on the grass. Butter, lard and other good fats. Fatty fish too, I love liver but know it’s certainly not everyone’s favourite, even those who have never tasted it tell me they don’t like it!

There are lots of delicious ways to serve liver rather than serving it unadorned, it can be minced and added to burgers or other delicious dishes. Try it diced in this delicious tomato, fegato and bacon fondue, serve with lots of mashed potato or indeed pasta.
If you are unsure of how to use up some leftovers email or telephone me, 021 4646785 darina@cookingisfun.ie

I’ll do my best to help with suggestions. 

Keep Safe!





Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Keep Calm and Cook from Scratch

How our lives and perspective have changed in the past few weeks, as Covid-19 continues to barrel around the globe. Everything has been turned upside down. Suddenly we realise how vulnerable we are, day to day life as we know it can no longer be taken for granted. For many, the realisation of how deskilled we have allowed ourselves to become is a wake-up call - we take for granted that others will provide for our basic needs.


Limiting our social interaction and staying at home can be boring for sure but is probably the surest way to delay and beat this virus and speed up the journey to ‘normal life’ again. Meanwhile, let’s just use this time to catch up on lots of projects that we haven’t been able to reach in our busy lives. 


As far as possible self-isolate at home, you might want to binge watch all those films and TV shows or cook some of those new dishes you’ve been wanting to try… Let’s not fight the containment measures, there is no point in whinging. Let’s just keep calm, stay safe, follow the advice from reputable sources and avoid public places, especially crowded indoor venues.

When one finds oneself in voluntary isolation, who will fix the heating, a burst pipe, the washing machine or dryer, the cooker…?

Many of us are no longer ‘handy’, here’s where DIY skills really come in to their own. If you haven’t already put contingency plans into operation, time for a Plan B and where better than the kitchen.

A slow cooker is a brilliant bit of equipment. A separate electric or gas hob depending on what you already have is another fantastic standby at any time, even during power cuts or breakdowns.

Don’t forget the barbeque, another fantastically versatile bit of equipment that will see you through. I can turn out irresistible pizzas and flat breads on my covered barbeque as well as succulent roasts and grills.

In the current situation, those who can’t cook are feeling extra vulnerable. If Deliveroo stops delivering and the ready meals are scarce or unavailable, what then?




It’s back to basic ingredients and what to do. If you haven’t already done so, stock up your cupboard or larder with nourishing wholesome non-perishable ingredients (see suggested list).

Basic Store Cupboard:

· Porridge

· Potatoes, onions, garlic

· White and brown flour

· Rice

· Tinned tomatoes

· Bread soda

· Eggs

· Salt and freshly ground pepper

· Olive oil / butter

· Honey

· Cannellini beans

· Chickpeas

· Haricot beans

· Tuna

· Salami, chorizo

· Cheddar cheese. ..

Next find a cook book with clearly written basic recipes.


And if you haven’t already got it, buy some basic kitchen kit to make the task easier and more enjoyable.

· A chopping board
· 1 or 2 sharp knives
· 1 loaf tin (12.5cm (5in) x 20cm (8in)
· 1-3 saucepans with lids
· 1 heavy frying pan and egg slice
· A large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon
· 1 slow cooker and or a casserole
· 1 swiss roll tin or roasting tin