A Christmas Carol Feast

Roscommon’s best book club ate at my supper club last night for a festive feast.   Earlier this year I cooked the feast from Marlena di Blasi’s The Lady in the Palazzo for the same group.   For their final meeting of 2011 they read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  I was given free reign to choose a menu from foods mentioned in the book.

Negus & Roast Chestnuts

Turkey liver pate, figs & oranges


Bob Cratchit‘s Prize Turkey

Sage & onion stuffing

Roast & mashed potato

Cranberry & apple sauce

Fresh apples & oranges, plum sorbet

Mince pies

Christmas pudding lit with brandy

‘Negus’ is hot port or wine, sweetened and spiced.  I served hot port with sugar, cloves, mace and orange slices as the book worms arrived.  Hot roast chestnuts were served at the table along with tiny turkey liver and fig canapes.

For “gruel”, I ladled a smooth, creamy mushroom soup over cooked and toasted barley and topped all with toasted golden oats and a swirl of cream.  It had the effect of looking like porridge but tasting like a comforting mushroom soup.

Main course was the turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  Scrooge buys the prize turkey on Christmas morning for his employee Bob Cratchit as a gift.  In the famous Christmas feast there’s goose.  We opted for the bigger bird to feed all 12 of the diners.  I bought the turkey from Castlemine Farm, who source it from the Friendly Farmer.  It was free-range and dry plucked.  Tasted amazing and well worth it!

Fresh and exotic fruit features a good bit in A Christmas Carol – piles of them in the green grocers and at the feasts.  Fruit was a treat – try convincing people this now!  T’would be a dietitian’s dream.  I featured slivers of apples and orange segments with a spicy fruit coulis and damson sorbet.

The fruit preceded the traditional mince pies, Christmas pudding and brandy cream. Coffee, tea and chocolates were distributed.  The book club ladies (all ladies) continued to digest and talk books for another while.

It’s said that with A Christmas Carol, Dickens put the Merry into Christmas.  What a feat.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Turkey Liver Pate

My turkey came with the liver, heart and neck.  I made enough pate for about 24 canapes with 1 liver.

1 small shallot, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 turkey liver

150ml red wine

salt & pepper

1 tbsp fresh herbs -e .g. parsley, thyme, sage

85g butter


  1. Melt 25g of butter in a frying pan over a low heat.
  2. Add the shallots and sweat gently until soft – 5 minutes or so.
  3. Add the turkey liver, garlic, pinch salt and pepper.  Increase the heat slightly and cook for 5-10 minutes until the liver is cooked through.
  4. Add the red wine and herbs and simmer until it reduces by three quarters.  Place the whole lot in a jug and blend with a hand blitzer.  Add the butter in small knobs, blitzing between each bit.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Allow to cool fully before serving on bits of toast.
I served the pate with pieces of dried figs that I rehydrated in a simmering, spicy liquor of fresh orange juice (2 oranges), fresh lemon juice (1 lemon), sugar (to taste), mace and cloves.  It took about 10-15 minutes over a low, simmering heat to plump the figs up sufficiently.






Viking Bowls for French Onion Soup (And Shepherd’s Pie Recipe)

Last year I posted a recipe for French Onion Soup – a real favourite with us this time of year.  With a great supply of onions hanging in the shed and longer nights, it’s the perfect comfort evening meal.  Yes, a meal – if I make this for dinner that’s it!  A hearty bowl of this soup and a nice warm glass of red wine.

I’ve never found just the right bowl for this dish and been on the lookout for years.  Standard bowls are too wide on top and may not withstand the hot grilling at the end.  The perfect vessel for me would be a fairly narrow earthenware bowl where the base is roughly the same width as the surface but with a tulip narrowing towards the surface.

Last year at the Roscommon Lamb Festival a Historical Reinactment Group camped on the grounds of Roscommon Castle.  They were dressed in costume, slept in canvas tents, show-cased some medieval skills and battles and we, the public, were invited to wander around their camp.   A small camp that got my attention was inhabited by potter Jaqui Wright.  She makes replicas of archeological pottery discoveries.  It was here I came across her “new” range of pottery made with black Viking clay.  They are hand-shaped and then fired.  She glazed the inside of the bowls and mugs, although the glazing step wouldn’t have happened back with the hardy Vikings.  In fact, they would have eaten/drunk everything out of the one vessel and were not fussed, I’m sure, about cross-contamination.

I ordered 6 bowls from Jaqui that day.  She said it would be a few months and she would phone me.

So I was very excited a couple of months ago when she phoned me to say they were ready.  She lives in quite a rural part of the country – in county Sligo but very near the Roscommon border.  Jaqui does not do mobile phones, email, or websites so she gave me good, old-fashioned directions to her house.  I got lost on the way (my fault, because I do find, if you really take instructions litereally, people generally give perfect directions to their houses – I did a lot of home calls in my previous job as a community dietitian) but did find her secluded dwelling where she creates all this fabulous pottery.

The bowls are just what I wanted.  They’re beautifully rustic, oddly shaped and very pre-old worldy.  They look quite stone-age on my dresser with glassware and delicate china coffee cups but I love them!  Perfect French onion soup vessels, they have the added bonus of being oven-proof and are great for individual pies.

Jacqui Wright, Pottery Design’s contact number is 071-9182022 and here’s a site telling you some more about the Historical Reinactment Group.


Traditional Shepherd’s Pie with Root Vegetable Topping:

For 4-6.  Make individual pies or a large dish of it.


1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 carrots, finely diced

500g minced lamb

200ml lamb or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons tomato puree

few dashes Worchester sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme leaves

salt & pepper


Root Vegetable Mash:

3 medium potatoes, peeled & halved

1 carrot, peeled & chopped into 2.5cm chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into 6cm chunks

1/4 turnip, peeled and chopped into 2.5cm chunks

1 tablespoon butter

dash milk

Salt & pepper


Preheat the oven to 190 C.


For the meat:

Heat the oil in a wide frying or sauce-pan.  Add the onions and carrots.  Season with salt and cover to sweat over  a low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes until soft.  Remove the lid and increase the heat to high.  Add the lamb and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring often over a high heat.  Continue cooking until the lamb is browned all over.  Add the tomato puree, Worchester sauce, balsamic vinegar, honey, thyme and stock.  Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer gently for 20 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and add more honey or Worchester sauce as needed.


For the topping:

While this is happening, cover the prepared vegetables for the topping in a large saucepan with just enough cold water.  Bring to the boil with a lid and cook gently until the vegetables are tender.  Drain the water off fully and return the saucepan to the heat.  Add the milk and butter, salt and pepper.  Heat the milk fully before mashing the vegetables together.


To assemble:

Lay the meat sauce in the base of your serving dish.  Spoon the mash on top and spread it out to cover the meat.  You can make a design on the top with a fork and brush with melted butter or top with grated cheese.  Bake until the mash is golden and the meat is bubbling underneath.  Serve with a green salad or extra green vegetables.  …… plus tomato ketchup: “Tacky but good” as Jamie would say.

‘The Hidden Leek’: Game Supper Club Special

This is how our menu is shaping up for the game supper club this Sunday 27th November.  11 guests will be eating wild for 7 courses!

Rabbit & squash canapes with aperetif

Seasonal vegetable broth, pheasant dumplings

Pigeon: confit leg & seared breast, winter greens

Leek study – griddled, crumbled, velouted

Homemade pappardelle with roast wild duck ragu

Damson sorbet

Venison wellington & hotpot, crisp potato, braised cabbage

Apple tart tatin, homemade vanilla ice-cream

Chocolate petit fours & tea/coffee

If you missed this time, we will also be including some game on our next supperclub – 10th & 11th December.

Upcoming Cookery Classes

I’m having a little trouble editing my website at moment so here’s the goings on at my kitchen for the next couple of months.  Thursday evening cooking club classes always include dinner and I’ll have more of those scheduled for the new year.

Course Duration Date Time Price
Pasta Sauces from ScratchDemo & Dinner 1 evening Thurs 22nd Nov 7-9pm €30

Sold out

Pizza from Scratch: Hands-on 1 evening Thurs 1st Dec 7-9pm €30
Entertaining: Dinner Party Dishes ½ day Sat 3rd Dec 2 – 5pm €65
Christmas Baking 1 evening Thurs 8th Dec 7-9pm €30
Cook Yourself Slim 4 evenings Thurs 12th Jan – Thurs 2nd Feb 7-9pm €120
Kids Cookery Camp6-10 years 4  mornings 14th – 17th Feb 9.30-12 €80
Kids Cookery Camp11-13 yrs 4 afternoons 14th – 17th Feb 2-4.30 €80

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

As a student of nutrition for 4 years in Dublin I sought out a fitting place to work – Cafe Fresh in the Powerscourt Townhouse.  It’s a vegetarian/vegan/wholefood restaurant run by Mary Farrell.  Mary was good to us there and staff lunches were by far the healthiest fare in Dublin.  My dingy flat diet was mainly lentil soup/stew; with fish, mashed potato and broccoli on a splash out day.  Cafe Fresh provided welcome variety and some great recipes that I still use.  They served a lovely organic roast beetroot, mushroom and shallot salad.  This version is inspired by that and is a real earthy dish for November.

Warm Beetroot, Mushroom & Leek Salad

Serves 1 for lunch or 2 as side-salad for dinner

1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp butter

2 egg-sized fresh beetroot, boiled until tender

3 flat mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 leek, roughly chopped

sea salt

1/2 tsp English mustard

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1/2 tsp dried marjoram

sea salt & black pepper

toasted seeds to garnish

Heat the butter and rapeseed oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and season with salt – cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, thyme and marjoram and another pinch of salt and continue cooking until the mushrooms are just tender.

Peel the beets and slice them into wedges.  Stir the warm beets, mustard, black pepper and balsamic vinegar into the mushroom/leek mix off the heat.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve with toasted pumpkin & sunflower seeds on top.

This is good by itself but I ate it with beetroot cous-cous (yes, I am turning pink!).  I had some fresh beetroot juice leftover from my kids class (where we made beetroot icing for beetroot and chocolate muffins), which I brought to the boil and poured over dry cous-cous.  The cous-cous absorbed the colour and earthy flavour of the beet juice.


Fish Information Evening

I’ve neglected my blog as I’ve been on holidays. Had a fantastic time in the Basque Country – some amazing eating which I’ll save for another post. Lots of fish in fact, which brings me to my recipe today!
I’m forever promoting the benefits of eating fish in my clinic and through my cookery classes. Just recently I had a successful Fish ‘demo & dinner’ evening at my kitchen where I covered a few methods of cooking fish. I’ve now teamed up with a fantastic fish expert, Gerry Blain who has oceans (!) of experience catching, preparing and selling fish. He currently runs fresh fish stalls at Carrick-on-Shannon (Thursday mornings) & Roscommon (Friday mornings), bringing us great fish from Donegal. We’re running A Fish Information Evening on Thursday 10th November from 7.30-9pm. I will present on the health benefits of fish and give a cookery demonstration. Gerry will share his knowledge on buying, storing and preparing fish. I will also provide a booklet with information and recipes to bring home. All this for €10!
Today I couldn’t resist the whole fresh herring (well I asked for the fillets but Gerry convinced me to take them whole and I am glad!). Herring is one of the oily ones (so healthy for a whole host of reasons) and doesn’t need a lot of work when they’re perfectly fresh. It is simple to clean and you have the benefit of obtaining the beautiful creamy roe to eat alongside the fish.
Here’s a deconstructed herring – cut off the head – make a slit along the belly to take out the roe and intestines. Discard the guts and keep the roe. Score the skin in a couple of spots to allow the oils to ooze. Gerry recommends slitting across the back a few times to allow even cooking.

To cook:

Heat the grill to the highest setting.  Score the skin of the fish a couple of times on either side.  Season the fish all over and inside with sea salt and cayenne pepper.  Do the same with the roe.  Place the fish on a piece of foil on a tray.  Grill it 3-4 minutes on either side.  The skin will blister and crisp up nicely.

Meanwhile, toss the roe in a little rice flour.  Heat a small knob of butter in a frying pan and just as the herring is cooked, quickly cook the roe for less than a minute.

Grilled Herring, fried roe & pickled beets

To avoid a mouthful of bones, eat this from the tail up, carefully pulling the flesh away from the skeleton with a fork.  I ate this with some home-pickled beetroot today and it hit the spot for lunch nicely.

Herring Gone

Damson Preserves – Making jelly, jam, sorbet…..

Odhran and I were very keen on making damson sorbet for our last supper club but nature cannot be hurried.  We had got a little ahead of ourselves as they weren’t ripe despite our constant checking.  We served blackberry sorbet and it was intense and yum! Damson, in some guise, will feature on our ‘Game Special’ at the end of the November.

Wild Damsons

Damsons are a small, wild plum – tart and tanniny, they produce a gorgeous purple and pink colours when cooked.  They make a delicious jam or jelly.  What’s even better is they are absolutely free.  Wild damson trees are common around the countryside.  When we were younger we took an annual trip to pick damsons from trees on a local farm.   My mother would spend the next few days trying to get through buckets of them, mostly making jam.

Wild Damson Harvest

This year I wanted to try out a few different recipes – I set about a bit of a damson-athon last weekend.  To prep the damsons you just need to pick out the leaves and any bad fruit, wash them and you’re ready to go.  I started with a jelly recipe as I wanted to get that into muslin to strain.  I ended up leaving it overnight, however to ensure I got as much juice as possible.

I was inspired by Skye Gyngell‘s damson jelly recipe, and sort of loosely based my experiments around it.

Damson Jelly – for 4 jars

4kg wild damsons, washed

2 apples, peeled & diced

2 lemons, juice of

750g sugar

In a very large, wide saucepan heat the damsons and apples with cold water – just enough to come up 1cm in the saucepan (about 300-400ml).  Bring to the boil, stirring often to prevent the base burning, and simmer for 20 minutes.  The damsons will soften, with the flesh separating from the stone.

Tip the hot fruit into a colander lined with a large piece of muslin and sitting over a large saucepan.  Allow the liquid to drip into the saucepan overnight.  This method is to ensure a nice clear jelly.

The next day heat the damson-laden liquid with lemon juice and sugar.  Bring to the boil and simmer.  Skim off any skum that rises to the top (but don’t discard it tastes yum! – eat with yoghurt and just on its own).  While the jelly is simmering you need to test for set every few minutes – place a spoonful of the jelly on a clean plate and put it in the fridge.  Once cooled, run your finger up to see if the jelly wrinkles.  If it doesn’t keep repeating the set test until it does.  This may take 10-15 minutes.

Jam Set Test

Once it’s set use a jug to pour the hot jelly into hot, sterilised jars.

Damson Cordial

Use the above method to make cordial but instead of continuing to simmer the damson jelly until set, just bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar and pour immediately into hot, sterilised bottles.  This will go towards a cocktail at the next supper club!  It’s also a delicious non-alcoholic drink and can be made sparkly by diluting 1:1 with sparkling water.

Damson Sorbet

Using the above method I made damson sorbet with the result but used less sugar. Take 1 Litre of the unsweetened damson liquid and add 225g sugar and the juice of 1 lemon – bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar, skim off any scum and remove from the heat. Allow to cool fully before freezing in an ice-cream machine or over a few hours in the freezer, whisking a few times during the freezing process.

Damson & Pear Jam – for 8 jars

If all that waiting around watching damson essence drip through a muslin bag isn’t your thing, you can still have jam!  It may not have the clarity and finesse of a jelly but does taste pretty great on toast!

5kg wild damsons

400ml water

10-12 small pears, peeled & finely diced

3kg sugar

Heat the damsons with the water and pear in a very large saucepan.  Simmer for 20 minutes until the flesh separates from the stone.  Over a another large saucepan or bowl ‘sieve’ the jam through a stainless steel colander or the top half of a large steamer. The juice will flow out leaving behind the stones and most of the skins.  Return the jam to the heat and add the sugar.  Simmer gently until setting point (as described above) – shouldn’t take too long 15 minutes or so.  Transfer boiling jam to hot, sterilised jars and seal immediately.  Label and store.

Grilled Mackerel with Damson dressing