Tag Archives: cooking

An Apple a Day

We have just harvested the last of the apples.  Phew.  Well when I say we, I mean, of course the royal “we”. And most of them are going to cider making and apple juice.  But it would be just unfair not to make some apple desserts.  There are probably more variations on apple pies then there are apples.  But I have a number of favourites, one of which involves making THE easiest crust ever, and doesn’t take cold hands, or indeed, any resting.  This means it can be made at the last minute, if you feel like a little something sweet.


Elstar Apple

Elstar Apples

Apple Varieties:

We use alot of Elstar apples. It’s an offspring of Golden Delicious, and was introduced in 1972 from the Netherlands. It produces great crops, year after year, the apples last for some months when they are harvested.  We use it alot, and although it doesn’t have the sharp green skin that many want their apples to have, the taste is fantastic.  There are 144 apples native to Ireland, the Armagh Bramley Apple was awarded a protected status from the EU last year (A little like protecting champagne, and the Waterford Blaa).  I think my favourite is the Blenheim Orange for a cooking apple variety.

The recipe I use is great with lots of fruits, but with something like an apple, I tend to sauté them first to start the cooking process.


Caramelising Apples in Butter and Sugar

The crust is a simple crumble crust, that is simply mixed and pressed into the serving dish.  This tart doesn’t like being removed from it’s cooking dish, so is best served straight from it. But it also doesn’t need resting or chilling.

Crumb Pastry

Crumb pastry

Then simply add the semi cooked apples, cover with some cinnamon infused sugar, and bake until the sugar covering melts.

Apple Custard Tart

Crust with the caramelised apples

Then the cream/ egg yolks mix is poured gently over the apples, if possible while the tart stays on the oven shelf.  this cooks until golden and set.

Apple Tart

Apple Tart, with a custard filling

It only needs to cool for about 20 minutes before ready to slice carefully, and of course it can be served with more cream!


Forgotten Veg- the humble broad bean

As I’ve said before- probably too many times- I LOVE broad beans.

Broad Beans in their pod

Broad Beans in their pod

The dilemma is always what to make first.  In this instance I was short on time, so simply boiled them.  For all the pods there’s very little volume, but ultimately the quality in this case trumps the quantity.

Podded Beans

Podded Beans

Another reason to like these beans is their chequered past.  The Greek philosopher Pythagoras was very anti broad beans.  The Romans thought the beans housed the souls of the dead, and a tradition associated with this is as old as the city of Rome.  And Aristotle thought they were sacred, for a reason that isn’t suitable for my blog!!!

The Romans were the first to document the use of them into 2 recipes, and it looks like one was for the dried version, the other for fresh beans.

From De re coquinaria – “Apicius- a Critical Edition With an Introduction And English Translation by Grocock and Grainger.”

Pisam siue fabam Vitellianam : pisam siue fabam coquis. cum despumauerit mittis porrum coriandrum et flores maluarum. dum coquitur, teres piper ligusticum origanum feniculi semen, suffundis liquamen et uinum, (mittis) in caccabum, adicies oleum. cum ferbuerit, agitas. oleum uiridem insuper mittis et inferes.

Vitellian peas or beans: cook the peas or beans; when you have skimmed them, put in leek and coriander and mallow flowers. While it is cooking, pound pepper, lovage, oregano, fennel seed; pour on liquamen and wine, put in the pan, add oil. When it is simmering, stir it, pour green oil on top and serve.

The American name for them is Fava beans, made famous by Anthony Hopkins playing Hannbial Lecter in the great film- Silence of the Lambs.

Easy to grow, and even easier to cook, I look forward to the season.  As we are hoping for a BBQ this weekend I am thinking of broad bean salad, and as the glut comes in, some Broad Bean pesto, or toppings for crostini; with lots of garlic and olive oil.


11 Essential elements …

On our farm tour the first day, Darina spoke at length about how good soil contained 11 essential elements and minerals.

Below are the 11 “essential” things I’ve learned in my first six weeks.

1.  I am not getting enough coffee.  Or tea for that matter, and front loading at the weekend doesn’t really help.

Breakfast coffee

Breakfast coffee

2. The early bird gets organised.  The sooner you get into the kitchen and get started, the easier your morning will be.  Generally. But there have been exceptions.  This morning I went in early and made some really delicious spotted dog.

Spotted Dog

Spotted Dog

3. Lunch is always good, even when you think it might not be your favourite.  Try everything.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

My Bantry Irish Stew from today

My Bantry Irish Stew from today

4.  Everyone is there to help you.  Every teacher I’ve had, every person I’ve stopped to speak to, is there to help you.  And get to know them, their names, who they are.  Your life will be better for it.

5. Some days cooking are easier than others.  Sometimes I wonder how I manage to cater on an often large scale at home, when I can sometimes struggle to get two dishes out in 3 hours!

My Lough Ness Monster Choux pastries took all morning!

My Lough Ness Monster Choux pastries took all morning!

6.  The surroundings of the cookery school really are amazing.  The flowers that are just starting to appear, the piglets born last week.  It really is a cocoon of nature.

Snowdrops in the dining room

Snowdrops in the dining room

7.  I really appreciate the family back home, and all the sacrifices they are making so I can fulfill my dream.

Nigel feeding the "babies"

Nigel feeding the “babies”

8. I am more in love with cooking than ever, each weekend I go home and can’t wait to cook recipes we’ve made the previous week.

Chilli's being prep#d for the colorado sauce for the chilli con carne

Chilli’s being prep#d for the colorado sauce for the chilli con carne

9. I REALLY want to write more about food, every day I find a new ingredient, or snippet of information and want to explore it more.

10. I can’t wait to go in each day to talk to my fellow students about food.  Being with so many food loving people is fantastic, nobody even looks twice when you try every dessert on offer.  There are so many nationalities, backgrounds and skill levels it is such an opportunity to learn from each other aswell.

11. Did I mention I’m not getting enough caffeine??  Seriously, my number 11 is just to do it.  Follow your dreams.  And dream big, make them count. Life’s too short not to.

Spring flowers on the farm.

Spring flowers on the farm.




Herbie- we’re going bananas about beans

Beans of every shape sort and colour were introduced to us last week.  From re-fried beans to bean stew.  During the demonstration we learnt about a herb I had not come across before- epazote.



I was fascinated about this new herb and as usual intent on finding out about it’s back ground and uses. Originally used by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes  (the Aztec translation of “Epazote” is Skunk Sweat- VERY appetizing!), Epazote is common in both Caribbean and Mexican cooking.  Tasting a little like tarragon, some say it smells to them like creosote.  So between the skunk breath wording, and smelling like creosote, it’s a bit off putting.  But there is a good reason it’s so often in Mexican cooking, especially with beans… it contains the essential oil – Carminative, which reduces gasiness, and makes beans digestion easier.

Re Fried Bean dishes- Chicken Tostadas

Re Fried Bean dishes- Chicken Tostadas

The other herb we talked about is Coriander.  Both Rachel and Darina have spoken about how there is a divided in regard to a) the marmite effect of it, and b) that it is a very different tasting herb to different people.  As it happens, the taste of coriander as soap is genetic.  A little like rolling your tongue.  Some taste lime like flavours, others soap.  Two very different tastes, you’ll agree. With approx. 11% of the population having variations of this gene, OR6A2 (Mauer, L. K. Genetic Determinants of Cilantro Preference), there are just going to be some of us who don’t like it!  Interestingly those who do “taste soap” may also be allergic to latex!

Even the great Julia Child disliked coriander: in 2002, she told the interviewer Larry King that she never ordered dishes with coriander: “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”  Well Julia, I wouldn’t throw it out- quite the opposite, I do like it, but I respect your honesty.

Back to School Cooking

Lots of people write about school lunches and “back to school” cooking, but here I plan to give you an idea of my weeks cooking.  Now that the kids are both Day -boarders, I don’t pick them up until 17.30 every day except wednesday. Thankfully I don’t need to supply gargantuan boxes of sandwiches as they get a 3 course “lunch” in school.  But they are still absolutely starving by the time they get home.  Especially as most days they either have music or dance after I collect them, meaning we don’t get home until 19.30.


Which means dinner has to be either very quick, or alternatively I have to be organised and have it in a preset oven ready for when we collapse in the door.

Tonight is an easy one; Roast chicken, our own baked potatoes, and roasted carrot and parsnips.  I always like to have some green in the meal, so it will be salad.

Vegetables a plenty

Vegetables a plenty

Last night was not too bad either as I had roast loin of pork, with left over mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.

If I don’t get a chance to put anything on in advance pasta is usually the option.  Carbonara is a very definite favourite of us all, and really only takes 10 minutes.  But chicken in my really quick sauce is a favourite too, but needs a little forethought. http://www.jenskitchen.ie/grease-lightnin-dinner/

Lightening Quick but ultra TastyLike all of these blogs, I think for me, the most important thing is to have a plan.  Even if it is just to get a take away.  And I don’t feel guilty that I’m not slaving away over the stove for 4 hours before we all sit down to eat, we do plenty of cooking together in the kitchen at the weekend.  And that’s what we really enjoy, cooking and eating together, especially with the extended family.

Party Time!

Party Time!