Archive for the ‘Autumn Cooking’ Category

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

5 Butternut Squash!

For the last couple of years we have grown butternut squash, optimistically but not very successfully.  The first year none, last year 2 and this year 5!!  So we’re getting there.  We have only tried them in the tunnel and allowed the plants to climb along a trellis trained over the dome of the tunnel ceiling.

Butternut tunnel November

When I tasted the butternut we had grown last year I truly understood why it got it’s name.  The colour is a lighter and more buttery than those I had bought and the taste was creamy and fabilicious.  Last night we all got together for some roast butternut squash which I did by just cutting it into wedges with the skin on, tossed in olive oil and roasted in a hot oven for 25 minutes or so.

Butternut wedge

I also incorporated some into a recipe I’m using this afternoon for my canapes & fingerfood course.  It’s a filling for filo pastry cups or parcels:

Curried Chicken & Squash Filling

1 chicken breast, cut into thin strips

1 tbsp sunflower oil

½  onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1-2 tsp curry powder (medium)

¼ butternut squash, peeled, diced and cooked in boiling water

2 tbsp natural yogurt

salt and pepper to taste

fresh herbs – e.g. parsley, coriander, chives


Heat the oil over a medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Cook the onion for 10 minutes until soft without browning.  Add the garlic and curry powder and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the chicken pieces and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in the natural yogurt and squash and heat through for 3-4 minutes.  Finally stir in the fresh herbs.  Use as a filling for the filo cups, filo parcels or vol-au-vents.

Chicken & Butternut Curry


Autumn Garden

It’s so windy here today I doubt there’ll be any leaves left so I shot out to snap a few before they’re all blown away!

Autumn Leaves....bye

Opposite my kitchen and down the avenue to the farm are rows of beech trees.  They’re busy sweeping up barrows of them and heaping them for mulch.

Leaf Heap

The garden is pretty stark looking compared to the past season but some of my favourite vegetables for winter cooking are dotted around here – beetroot, leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash (harvested & stored), cabbage – curly kale & savoy, brussel sprouts, onions (harvested & stored), garlic – I love them all!

Garden 11th November 2010

The other day I made a versatile winter veggie stew by sweating roughly chopped onion and fennel in a little butter until soft.  I then added carrot, garlic and cooked for another 5-10 minutes with the lid on the pot and finally added squash and parsnip along with salt, pepper, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme sprig and simmered until the veggies were tender.  (Cut them different sizes so they cook evenly – i.e. carrot smaller than parsnip and squash bigger than parsnip).  We ate  this for 2 days – once with beans and another with shredded chicken.

As the garden begins to hibernate for the winter, there’s new life in the field next door – we have 3 new calves who are just gorgeous and sometimes like to lick their mama.


Affection in the Fields

Very Healthy

I’ve been having great fun the last couple of days coming up with ways to use rice paper in preparation for ‘Creative Gluten-free Meals’ at the end of this month.  I really love the seriously healthy taste of ‘fresh’ (not fried) spring rolls.  Here’s a seasonal, summer-meets-autumn filling I’ve been trying.  It’s not exactly raw since this time of year we’re getting out of a lot of those vegetables but everything is cooked for the barest amount of time and in the smallest amount of oil.  No oily feel in the mouth.

For this one I julienne (long strips) some squash and cooked in the tiniest bit of oil for 5-10 minutes to soften.  I then added the other julienne vegetables with a little garlic, fish sauce and ginger.  Tonight I’m going to try making a squash and chilli puree as the base for the spring roll and then top with the crunchy vegetables and some garlic chives.  The dipping sauce is yum – I’ll have to post this later as I don’t have recipe with me.

Fresh Spring Rolls

For 2

4 rice paper wrappers

1 tsp vegetable oil

1/2 small pumpkin / squash – peeled and diced

1cm ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 small red chilli – seeds removed, finely diced

1/2 small courgette – cut julienne (fine strips)

1/2 green pepper – cut julienne (fine strips)

1/2 stick celery – cut julienne (fine strips)

Dash fish sauce

Herbs – e.g. fresh coriander, garlic chives

  1. Place the squash in a pan and cover with just enough water.  Heat to simmering and cook until the squash is just tender.  Drain and mix with the diced chilli and a pinch salt.  Mash with the back of a fork.  Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the ginger, garlic, courgette, pepper and celery.  Cook for 3 minutes on a medium heat without allowing to brown.  Pour over a few dashes of fish sauce – cook for 30 seconds.  Remove and transfer to a bowl.  The vegetables should still be crunchy and have a vibrant colour.
  3. Place boiling water in a wide pan.  Dip the rice paper into the water for 10 seconds or so until pliable.  It’s so delicate so be gentle but in control!  These are your spring rolls.  Place flat on a board, don’t worry too much about tears unless they’re very big.
  4. You’re ready to assemble.  Spoon 1/4 of the squash puree across the rice paper near the end closest to you.  Top with the cooled vegetables and some fresh herbs.  Begin rolling up by taking the edge closest to you and making a tight-ish cover around the filling.  Tuck in the edges with your fingers and continue rolling until it looks like a perfect spring roll!  Does it?  Don’t worry – it will all taste the same in your mouth – a big burst of fresh flavours.

A fresh dipping sauce is called for here – fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, chilli, coriander etc.  I’ll get the recipe up here soon.

Adios I’m off home to get some more cooking in.

Dappled Sunlight

A French Onion Soup Night

Autumn is so welcome – because of the sheer beauty.

This was 8 o’clock yesterday evening.

Garden & Fog

Gazebo & Hen House

Sunflower & Trees 1

Sunflowers & Trees 2

Leeks at Foggy Dusk

I set about making some french onion soup – vickscakes got it into my mind, as well as the head gardener and my husband.  It seems there aren’t a whole pile of organic onions around Ireland this year and we have a whole pile.  The head gardener feels they need to be used before Christmas.  I started to make a dent with french onion soup.

Just last week I added to our small le creuset collection with this beautiful 22cm casserole:

Le Creuset & Fire

We had received a ‘one 4 all’ voucher nearly a year ago as a wedding gift and it was about to expire.  I got a great deal on this pot.  My plan was to make Julia Child’s beef bourguignon as the maiden dish.  I got home with all my onions and wondered what pot to use.  No matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise – this was now the best pot I had for french onion soup!   I took out ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and made a version of the french onion soup there, doing the best with what I had……in the le creuset pot.  It’s not exactly Julia’s but I definitely had the onions.

This is what I did for 2 people:

6 onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced in 1/2 moons

1 1/2 tbsp butter

1/4 tsp sugar

600ml beef stock

1/2 glass red wine

sea salt & black pepper

4 rounds french bread

1 clove garlic

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2oz grated parmesan and cheddar mix (gruyere would be best I think)

  1. Julia recommends heating the butter in a pot, adding the onions and covering to cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the lid, increase the heat slightly and add 1/4 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt and 1 bay leaf.  Cook the onions for a further 30 – 40 minutes with the lid off, stirring regularly until the onions turn a lovely dark golden caramel.
  3. Add the red wine, beef stock, salt and pepper to season.  Bring to boil and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.  (Julia recommends adding brandy towards the end – I didn’t have any.  She had also recommended a white wine, not red but I didn’t have any).  I have added Marsala wine before to this recipe before serving and no complaints.  Sometimes it needs a kick – especially if you’re using beef buillion.
  4. During this time, I set my top oven to low and had the slices of french bread ‘drying out’ for 30 minutes.  Half way through the drying out I rubbed each slice with a clove of garlic and some olive oil.  If the bread is soft in any way it will sink and get soggy very quickly.  When the soup is ready (after checking seasoning etc), ladle it into warm bowls, top each bowl with 2 rings french bread and sprinkle grated cheese on the bread.  Place under a hot grill for less than a minute to melt the cheese.

Onions carmelising

Enjoy with a glass of red wine near the fire!

French Onion Soup