Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

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.





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

Blackberry Fool & Garden Sculptures

It’s blackberry season!  And milking season here at the farm.  The head gardener has started milking the Jersey cow and brought me some homemade yoghurt today.  It’s rich, creamy and very mild – the extra fat toning down the sourness of a natural yoghurt.  I will, at some point, post up ‘how to make yoghurt’ as I’ve been making a lot of goats milk yoghurt lately (for the supper club).  It hardly needs a post really – heat the 1 pint milk to 42 C or hand temperature warm and stir in a few teaspoons of live natural yoghurt.  Leave in a warm place, covered, for 12-18 hours (e.g. hot press, on range/stove overnight).  And you have yoghurt.

On holidays in Edinburgh once, we came across a gorgeous little restaurant late after tramping around looking for the perfect place to eat.  That time the tramping paid off. The food was really simple and seasonal – I had a courgette & lemon pasta dish, he had great steak – and I just loved the dessert.  Not at all fancy but it tasted great.  A very simple rhubarb fool – just stewed rhubarb and yoghurt/cream, maybe a biscuit – I can’t remember.  It’s a nice thing to do with fruit in season.

This fool is something to make with fresh, fresh blackberries and now is the time!  I picked blackberries this evening – mostly for the freezer and some for this quick dessert/snack.

For 2 people take:

1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries and blend with 2 dessertspoons runny honey.  Take 1/2 cup of this mixture out into a separate bowl.  Now add 1 1/2 cups of thick natural yoghurt (e.g. greek if you don’t have a jersey cow to hand!) and blitz quickly to combine. Taste – does it need more honey?

To assemble spoon some extra natural yoghurt into a glass (or wine glass).  Carefully spoon some blackberry yoghurt mix over to create another layer before finally spooning a layer of reserved dark blackberry puree on top.  Enjoy on its own or with a sprinkle of crushed ginger biscuits.

What do you think of our new additions to the garden?  Designed and created by local artist Noel Molloy, who is also a gifted performance artist.

Amazing blackcurrant sorbet

Working for oneself has its ups and downs.  Sunny days often lead to cancellations in my clinic – I understand, who wants to see a dietitian on a hot day when you’re eating lots of salad, drinking plenty of water and very excited about exercising?  It’s all good. Today was probably one of the hottest we’ve had this year.  Everyone cancelled! At the moment, I’m really limited to catching up on weeding, harvesting, preserving in the long evenings.  The silver lining to my many cancellations was I got to spend the whole day between the garden and the kitchen!

We’ve gone past strawberries – the freezer is stocked with frozen whole strawberries, strawberry puree and I have jars of strawberry jam in the press.  It was time, the head gardener told me yesterday, to pull out the strawberry plants in one of my beds.  This is their second year to fruit.  Last year we took ‘runners’ off them – a process of potting the rooting part of the long tendrils strawberry plants send out after fruiting.  The runner, after taking root in a small pot of compost left under it, is then separated from the mother plant.  It can be planted (around September) into a fresh bed for fruiting the following summer and left there for 2-3 years, providing runners if required every year.  Today I dug out the strawberries before they started sending out runners.  They will be discarded.  You’ll see me below in the Massey Ferguson 135, which I haven’t driven for quite a while – a real treasure to the head gardener.

MF 135 & ME

To be taken away

Blackcurrants, raspberries and red currants have followed the strawberries.  Our blackcurrants are really at their best now.  I picked 6lb of them and decided to make the most amazing blackcurrant sorbet with 4lb and jam with the rest.  This sorbet is one of the best things to do with any soft fruit as far as I’m concerned.  It comes from a recipe in Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course Book and ascribed to Julia Wright. If you have blackcurrants make it!  It’s so beautiful and a great way to capture summer.

Blend 4lb blackcurrants in a food processor until you have a rough puree.

Pass the puree through a nylon sieve in batches, pushing it around the sieve with a rubber spatula.  This will take a while…..for 4lb maybe 20 minutes!

Now take 1.5 lb caster sugar and stir it into the smooth blackcurrant puree until it has dissolved.

Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn until set before freezing.  You can also just put it into a lunchbox and into the freezer – take it out to mix every 30 minutes for a couple of hours to prevent any ice crystals forming.

This is the time of year I relieve my presses of all the old jars & cleaned out cream-cheese containers and congratulate myself for being such a good hoarder.

This needs no accompiament – eat it all by itself.

You might be wondering what to do with the lovely pulp you have leftover.  I thought the same.  I still had 2lb blackcurrants, as well as 1.5lb fresh raspberries that I picked at the same time.  I love raspberry jam but made some a couple of evenings ago.

For this Blackcurrant & Raspberry Jam mix:

2lb fresh blackcurrants with 2lb blackcurrant pulp (that’s what it weighed) and 2 pints of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the blackcurrants just burst. Add  1.5lb raspberries and cook for less than 5 minutes. Next in is the sugar – 5lb of it – with a good stir so it all dissolves.  And bring to a good boil for at least 20 minutes.  Then it’s time to start checking for set – spoon some jam onto a cold plate and place in the fridge for a few minutes to cool.  Run your finger up the cooled jam – does it wrinkle?  That indicates setting point.  It should show a good wrinkling skin.  By this point your clean jars should be in the oven sterilising.  I boil the lids for a couple of minutes too.  At setting point, ladle the hot jam into a jug and pour into the hot jars. Seal, label and store for winter!

Bonfire Night & Strawberries

We’ve been picking oodles of strawberries for the last few days with a few new beds in the garden since last year.  Runners from my circle strawberries were taken and planted further down the garden.  This year, after 2 years of fruiting, the parent plants will come out of my circle bed and move elsewhere.  Freshly ripened strawberries have slugs and birds (especially innocent looking blackbirds) as predators.  We almost have to pick them underripe in order to secure the perfect strawberry – something of a rarity here.  But imperfect strawberries make great jam…..or so I thought.  Having consulted with Darina I find that they should be perfect in order to help the setting of the jam.  Jamie’s recipe may be the one then – read on.

I had a lovely group in for a cooking workshop yesterday who requested strawberries & cream for dessert – just the time of year!  Even after feeding 14 there was enough to make 10 pots of jam while waiting for the lighting of the bonfire.  Every year on the 23rd of June (shortest night of the year apparently – not sure how this works with 21st June, longest day of the year!) we continue with the tradition of a bonfire.  It is now the only day one is allowed to light an outdoor fire on this island.

My little brother and sister celebrate their birthday every bonfire night and this year they turned 16!  Not so little anymore since the boy towers a head over me – scary hugs. We generally have a BBQ and later light a bonfire.  The head gardener built a fantastic BBQ in a bath and we’re thinking of making it a permanent feature in the garden.

For afters I picked the best strawberries and dipped them in dark chocolate.  A delicious, satisfying little treat.

I do find it hard to pull myself away from the kitchen once I’m in it… up after the days workshop; people visit and stay for a coffee, eat some leftovers and have chats. Then there’s gluts of fruit to deal with……

Jam – very sweet.  Equal quantities of sugar to fruit.  Required for preservation.  I often recommend good quality, low sugar jam to my clients.  And those out there are generally sweetened with a concentrated fruit syrup like grape or apple. The other day flicking through one of Jamie Oliver’s books I came across a low sugar strawberry jam.  It’s perfect for making small quantities as it doesn’t take very long or keep very long so there’s no point in having too much of it.  It’s also fun to make because you take 1kg strawberries with 135g sugar and get your hands in and squish the whole lot together before boiling it for 20-30 minutes.

Crushing strawberries

For me this made a very blushing pink jam that I really like because it’s more fruity than sweet.  Last night, however, I made the old fashioned jam with equal quantities of sugar because these 10 jars may hang around for a while and I want it to keep.  I squeezed in the juice of 2 lemons with 1.6kg hulled, chopped strawberries & 1.6kg sugar and simmered for half an hour or so. Strawberries don’t have much natural pectin so the jam is difficult to set – lemon juice is supposed to help.  Maybe I didn’t put enough in or I didn’t simmer for long enough but my jam is still pretty runny with nice big lumps of strawberries.   I consulted with Darina Allen and she gives a similar recipe but lets the fruit, lemon juice and sugar stand overnight together before cooking at all – an accidental finding that is supposed to improve the setting of the jam!  Another recipe includes red currant juice instead of lemon juice.  So there’s a couple of tips from a real master.  For both jams you need to skim off any foam that rises to the top every 5 minutes or so.  (This side offering is delicious stirred into natural yogurt for breakfast as I found out this morning).  And of course sterilise your jars – I followed the old drill my mother taught me.  Wash old jars in lots of hot soapy water, rinse and dry them in a hot oven. Pour in the hot jam and seal.

This is not a great photo of my jam but you might see that my strawberries are suspended in the liquid and have risen to the top of the jar – not ideal for sale but perfect to enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

Luckily the rain held off until today so we got to enjoy a little bonfire when the sun went down.

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

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.