Archive for the ‘Desserts’ Category

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


Feeding Bees

I’m not a bee-keeper, although it’s in the family – my paternal grandmother was and my father is.  Sometimes bees are fed sugar to speed up the honey production – obviously not making a great quality honey.  I undertook this practice, however, yesterday when I had to rescue a bee.  I spotted him/her in the bathroom on Sunday crawling around.  I was really busy so didn’t consider much what he/she was up to.  I came back on Monday and he/she was in the same spot looking a lot lazier.  The species looked something between a bumble bee and a honey bee – furrier than a honey bee but smaller and slimmer than a bumble bee.

I fished up the bee in an empty toilet roll holder and brought him/her outside to a herb bed, thinking he/she would gather some moisture and find the energy to fly away.  I looked at it for a while wondering what would happen next and then realised this poor creature hadn’t eaten or drank in at least 24 hours.  How amazing for something so small.  I tottered into the kitchen and made a very small amount of concentrated sugar syrup with sugar and water.  I allowed it to drip down the side of the large pot and it pooled a little at the bottom where my poor bee was resting.  The minute he/she detected something, his/her tongue shot out. The length of it shocked me – longer than it’s antennae or legs even.  He/she lapped up the fuel and within 5 minutes was flying through the air.

The long dark red/brown tongue

So apart from part-time, small-time bee-keeping I’ve been a very busy bee myself.  So much that I haven’t been blogging at all even though I wanted to dedicate a post to a lamb dish for the Roscommon Lamb Festival ( Instead I’m going to post a picture today from My Junior Chefs who were in my kitchen and garden last week for the Easter Baking Camp. They baked gorgeous cakes on the last day and one of them has lambs on top.
The lamb festival was a great success, happening from Wednesday 27th April to Monday 2nd May.  Mental weekend but I’ll look forward to being involved again next year.

If you’re ever wondering what kind of cake to cook for children – chocolate seems to be a good choice.  They could pick any cake they liked in groups and chocolate came up trumps.

That’s a little of what I’ve been up to but looking forward to next recipe post – think I’ll still go for a lamb dish.

Something with Rhubarb…..

“Make something with rhubarb for the station” – my mother said on Thursday.  I had been thinking of writing about rhubarb as it’s growing fast and looking very pretty & pink in the garden.  So a perfect opportunity to tell you about rhubarb and stations.

Rhubarb Alive

‘The Station’ is somewhat of a dying tradition in rural Ireland.  Each church parish is divided into ‘station areas’ where a number of houses are grouped together.  Each house takes turns in having the station at their home.  The priest comes and says mass in the sitting room and your neighbours come round and stay for tea and cakes after (maybe even a hot meal/buffet and/or booze depending on where you are).  When I was younger the stations would be in the morning and we might be allowed take a few hours off school.  Now infrequent stations are usually held in the evening.

My parents had their station at 7pm yesterday evening.  We spent the day making sandwiches, baking scones, buns and ‘something with rhubarb’.   On top of that good neighbours drop in biscuit tins filled with homemade cupcakes or madeira sponge.   Opening those biscuit tins releases memories through smells……Sights of neat, forked homemade butter icing.

The ‘something with rhubarb’  needed to be something neat like a slice rather than something slightly messy like a crumble or tart.  So here’s a ‘Rhubarb Crumble Slice’.  Very simple and produces a delicious byproduct of a rhubarb juice drink.

Prepare the rhubarb first to give it time to strain and cool.

8 stalks rhubarb sliced into 3cm chunks

dash water

enough sugar to sweeten

Place the rhubarb and water in a saucepan and cover over a medium heat.  Cook until the rhubarb pieces just soften – you want the majority of them to retain their shape so don’t stew.  Stir a few times while cooking and remove the lid half-way through.  Stir in enough sugar to sweeten when they are cooked and still hot.  Now strain the rhubarb and keep the juice to mix with natural yogurt or dilute for  a yummy drink.

Rhubarb straining

Make the crumble topping by rubbing 3oz / 85g butter into a mixture of 5oz/140g plain flour, 1oz/28g porridge oats, 2-3oz/55-85g brown sugar.  (The level of sweetness is really to your own taste here).

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease an 8″/22cm round tin (or equivalent square tin) with butter (no need to line).

The base is a simple madeira sponge:

5oz / 140g soft butter

4-5oz / 110g-140g caster sugar

3 eggs

5oz/140g self-raising flour

zest of 1 lemon

Beat the butter & sugar together until well combined and add the eggs, one at a time – beating slowly between each one (throw in a pinch of flour with each egg to prevent curdling).  Sieve in the flour and fold gently until well combined.

To assemble:

Spread the madeira cake mix on the base of the greased cake tin.  Spread the cooled, strained rhubarb pieces generously all over.

Rhubarb & Madeira

Sprinkle the crumble on top.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the crumble is lovely golden colour and a skewer comes clean out of centre of cake.


This is good for slicing into squares and passing around at the station.

The leftovers


On the same visit to Bologna (as last post – Pasta from Scratch), in the same tiny apartment with the lovely cooking teacher Ciara I saw this Italian lady whip up a tiramisu in a matter of minutes.  Her 15 year old son was off out to play double bass with his jazz band and begged her before he left to make tiramisu “Mama make me tiramisu” (In Italian).  She smiled, we smiled – we were thrilled!  Now it’s not the tiramisu you and I know – it was a quick home-made version designed to satisfy your family within the hour.  It has fresh strawberries, no biscuit, cocoa or coffee.  It’s definitely a bit healthier….but still includes the divinely creamy mascarpone.

Quick Tiramisu

5 egg yolks

5 tablespoons caster sugar

500g mascarpone cheese

1 splash marsala wine

200g fresh strawberries, halved or quartered

75g dark chocolate, grated


Beat the sugar and egg yolks together until you have a very thick and pale mixture.  Fold in the mascarpone and marsala wine gently and completely.  Pour into a large glass serving bowl (or individual glasses) and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Top with freshly chopped strawberries and chocolate shavings.  Eat!

Quick Tiramisu


Baked Ricotta Cheesecake mmmmm

As promised I’m sharing some recipes from my just completed ‘Cook Yourself Slim this Spring’ classes.  Thank you to my lovely group.  Last night we enjoyed some treats of the guilt-free variety – cream-free chocolate truffles, ricotta cheesecake, healthy berry crumble and more!  It’s all about using real ingredients to satisfy the taste buds completely.

I made this cheesecake again this morning for my brother’s birthday lunch – it’s so simple and easy to prepare.  We had it with berries and some soya yogurt (which I only just started using – bought a 500g tub to check it out and it’s very low-cal as well as being a perfect accompaniment to a sweet dessert like crumble or tart – not as sharp as natural yogurt and with a little hint of vanilla.  Soya products are good for us – especially women around the time of the menopause.   A component mimics the action of oestrogen in the body and can alleviate some of the symptoms that go along with this time in the life.)

Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with Poached Plums

For 4

4 Jacobs gingernut biscuits

2 tsp butter

130g / 5oz ricotta cheese

110g / 4oz extra light cream cheese

30g / 1oz caster sugar

1 egg

1 lemon, juice & zest


2 purple plums, quartered

30g / 1oz caster sugar

100ml water

1 bay leaf

1 whole black peppercorn

½ lemon, juice of


  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C.
  2. Start by preparing the plums.  Heat the water and sugar together over a medium heat and add the bay leaf and peppercorn.  Once the sugar has dissolved add the quartered plums and cover with a lid.  Bring the boil, turn down the heat and keep at a very gentle simmer for 15 minutes.  Add more water if it evaporates too quickly.  Remove the lid and increase the heat slightly.  Continue simmering with the lid off to reduce the cooking liquid until you have quite a thick syrup.  Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.  Remove the bay leaf and peppercorn.  Allow to cool.
  3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Crush the biscuits up roughly and stir them into the melted butter.  Divide between 4 small ramekins and press down well into the base.  Refridgerate until ready to use.
  4. Beat the egg with the caster sugar until well combined.  Beat in the cheeses, lemon juice and zest.  Mix together well.  Divide the cheese mixture between the 4 ramekins.  Smooth the tops and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the top feels set but has a very slight wobble in the centre.  Allow the cakes to cool in the ramekins at room temperature.  For serving use a knife to loosen the edges of the cheesecake from the sides of the ramekin.  Invert and empty the individual cakes onto a serving plate.  You will be serving these like upside down cheesecakes.  Place 2 quarters of plums on the top of each cheesecake and drizzle the tasty syrup over and around the plate.

You could also make this in a spring-form tin but I would triple the recipe and bake for almost an hour.

This comes in at 215 calories per portion!  Pretty good for a fabilicous dessert. Ginger, lemon and cheese is a good combination – may even be good to have another hint of it in the syrup if you’re a ginger fan.  It’s also good with a little berry compote.