Dripping with flavour!


Sunday is our family day – it’s the one whole day we’re all together in the week. Cooking on Sundays is one of my favourite things as I have time. I have to say that I tend to be a lazy cook during the week as, like most people, whether working or homemaking, find time is at a premium. Therefore, the Sunday roast serves another purpose – I cook for leftovers. If saves time and roasts also make dripping.

I realise it’s a controversial subject but dripping holds an amazing amount of flavour. Our grandparents used it all the time but a lot of people are concerned about saturated fat levels and rightly so with issues like obesity and heart disease. If you cook fresh food as opposed to eating processed foods, fast foods or takeaways, using a little dripping with whole fresh ingredients will result in much less saturated fat than in the processed alternative. Using one small teaspoon of dripping to start your stew or soup is the best stock cube you could wish for.

One of my favourite big roasts is a slow roasted shoulder of pork. I usually use half a shoulder as it will weigh about 4.5kg. I save this for Sundays when family or friends might be visiting as it will feed 8 including extra for all-important left overs.

Also shoulder of pork is very economical. Buy the best pork you can. I have a few tips.

  • Firstly find a butcher that handles whole carcases as these will be able to give you a shoulder in the first place, and it will probably be fairly local. Secondly, they will be able to give you a shoulder with skin on and bone in, a must for crackling and flavour.
  • If your butcher handles whole free-range pork, it is probably local and you may be surprised at how little extra you have to pay to go free-range.
  • Remember that the more off-beat cuts such as shoulder, belly or hocks that require that extra bit of time and care are the less sought after cuts and are therefore cheaper. Get the best you can for your money – it’s out there, especially if you’re a willing and eager cook. You won’t be disappointed – think of the leftovers!

Slow roasted shoulder of pork – they don’t call it slow for nothing as you will need 5-6 hours.

You will need:

  • 1 x 4.5kg half shoulder of pork – bone in , skin on and scored at 1cm intervals
  • I heaped tablespoon fennel seeds
  • Olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 4 apples – skinned, deseeded and halved
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

What to do:

  • Take the pork out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 220⁰C/425⁰F/gas 7.
  • Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of sea salt and pepper.
  • Rub all over the pork with a good glug of oil making sure to get well into the scores.
  • Roast for 1½ hours.
  • Meanwhile peel and quarter the onions.
  • When the time is up, pour away all the fat (or transfer when cool to a jam jar to keep as dripping in the fridge).
  • Reduce oven to 130⁰C/250⁰F/Gas ½
  • Put the onions and bay leaves under the pork in the tray. Pour in 750ml water and cook for 2 hours.
  • Baste with tray juices and add the halved apples to the tray with a little water if required.
  • Roast for a further 2 hours until the meat pulls away from the bone freely.
  • Remove from oven and transfer to a plate with the apples and cover.
  • Put the roasting tray, with onions on a medium heat on the hob and stir in the flour. You should have plenty of liquid to make gravy. Add the pork resting juices. Stir well and simmer until a good consistency is reached. Pour through a sieve into a jug.
  • Serve everything together with seasonal greens along with your own usual trimmings.
  • Don’t forget to make good use of the leftovers during the week!

Published in The Western People – 14th September 2015


Filling back to school bellies

Meatballs in tomato sauce

Well ‘back to school’ time is almost upon us again. Every year I feel torn at this time between the craziness of summer with the kids and the comfort of the routine of school. I have to be honest and say that there was a time when I didn’t think much of the notion of having a dinner plan for the school week. I used to think that it would take too much time to do and took the spontaneity out of food. Then, of course, as the kids came along and got a bit older, I learn that ‘spontaneity’ was a luxury that ironically, someone with time would have!

This last school year, I found it not only invaluable but absolutely essential to plan the week of dinners in advance. If I didn’t I found that I either had nothing really to cook when I got home or I would spend too much money buying ingredients for one-off meals that hadn’t been properly thought through. This ultimately meant a lot of waste in the kitchen aswell. I suppose this is all just about good housekeeping but for me, I didn’t really learn what that meant until the kids came along. You don’t want hungry tired children finishing school with no dinner in sight. Life is too short for that!

The weekly dinner menu does get predicable but they are all dinners that are made from scratch, made relatively quickly, have plenty of vegetables and flavour at their core and the kids love them. Our meals include the predictable spaghetti bolognaise, chilli, chicken curry, pork meatballs and pasta, homemade fish fingers with potato wedges and veggie frittata (which is basically a massive omelette containing vegetables mainly potatoes).

Monday’s dinner is always based on leftovers from the Sunday roast. If we’ve had roast chicken, the leftover chicken (you’d be surprised how much meat you can get off the carcase) is bulked up with plenty of vegetables to make a chicken curry. This could even be done on the Sunday evening but that’s always been wistful thinking on my part.

The kids’ favourite is meatballs in tomato sauce. We use our own Fennel and chilli meatballs from the shop but you could use a good sausage that has the flavours that you want to taste in the finished sauce. Our hot Italian sausage does the job well as does Jane Russell’s Fennel and chilli sausage. Find a highly flavoured sausage with high meat content that your family likes. You could fry off the sausages directly and roughly chop them or use the sausage meat as follows.

For a meal for 4 there is plenty in 500g of sausage meat. Squeeze the meat from the casings into a bowl – kids love doing this! Smell the meat. If it seems to be lacking on the aroma front you can add some finely chopped red chilli or garlic to your taste, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and maybe a tablespoon of ground fennel. Mix well with your hands and form into meatballs. Colour the meatballs gently in the bottom of your casserole pot. They don’t need to be fully cooked through but just firmed. Add a finely chopped medium onion at this point. When the onion is softened a little, add a full 700g jar of passata. Find a brand that doesn’t have sugar listed in its ingredients. It should only contain sieved tomatoes and a little salt. Let the pot bubble away for about 30 minutes on a very gently heat. If you have good sausage meat with plenty of flavour either in it or added, these flavours will leech out into the tomato sauce. Finally, to add some extra fibre, strain a 400g tin of Barlotti beans and add towards the end to heat through. Once cooked, taste and check for seasoning. If the passata you’ve used is a bit acidic, you might want to add a teaspoon or two of sugar to balance the flavour. This is actually a very quick dinner to make and there is always a queue for seconds!



First published in The Western People on 24th August 2015.

The Humble Spud


I get annoyed when people dismiss certain vegetables out of hand as ‘fattening’. I spoke with a lady the other day who said she couldn’t eat potatoes because they had too many ‘empty carbs’ and she questioned ‘what’s in them anyway?’ Firstly, you don’t have to eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and tea. Secondly, we could all learn to shown some restraint with portion size. But to rule out an incredibly nutritious vegetable altogether I think is wrong – especially one that has such a strong history with this country to the point where it has become synonymous with Ireland.

How the potato got to Ireland in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins have all been credited with introducing the tuber into Europe. The usual story for Ireland is that Sir Walter Raleigh brought it here when he was came to help suppress the Desmond Rebellions between 1579 and 1583. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this dating from that time in any of the Raleigh-related estate records. Some evidence comes in the form of hearsay some 100 years later through the minutes of a Royal Society meeting held 13th December 1693 when it’s president Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702) stated that his grandfather had ‘brought potatoes into Ireland who had them from Sir Walter Raleigh after his return from Virginia’. This may or may not have been the case. There does seem to be a connection with Spain however as an early name for potato was An Spáinneach. A likely scenario is that the first potatoes reached us from Spain via commercial trading routes.

Either way, Ireland fell in love with the spud. And as a staple food of a country, potatoes weren’t a bad option. They were one of the few staples that one could live nutritionally on exclusively which was the case for about 40% of the population in the 1800s. Potatoes are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc, and of course the First World dreaded starch. All was good until 1845 when the potatoes were struck by blight and this, coupled with Ireland’s political and commercial practices at the time, resulted in the famine.

When Irish people think of potatoes their eyes often glaze over at the thought of freshly boiled new potatoes and rubbing the thin skins off before eating them with butter, salt and some new onions. Or colcannon, which is one of the most celebrated of Irish potato recipes and one of our favourites. It has all the simple goodness of floury potatoes, kale, milk, butter and scallions – Heaven! Maybe this is what the lady meant when she said that she couldn’t eat potatoes as they were fattening. But is there any dish that can evoke an Irish childhood more?


What you need:

  • 2lb or 1kg of Floury potatoes
  • 400g chopped kale
  • 1¼ cup/ 320ml milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until tender. Always start with cold water, never using hot water. Otherwise you will end up with floury outside and a hard middle.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a pan over a medium heat. Add the kale and cook until just wilted. This should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the potatoes. Add the milk, butter and scallions to the pot and let simmer gently for 2 minutes to infuse the milk with the scallion. Add the kale and the peeled potatoes to the pot. Mash until smooth.
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. To serve traditionally, make a crater on top of each portion using the back of a spoon. Add a knob of butter to each crater so that every forkful of colcannon can be dipped into the lake of melted butter.

Published in The Western People 20th July 2015


Preserving Summer


Nothing reminds me more of summer than the heady scent of elderflowers. Elderflowers in our garden have been slow to bloom this year for obvious reasons but they are out in their full glory at the moment. I’ve been preserving that smell in jellies for the last few years so that I can smell summer on my toast on a cold November morning. I didn’t realise how much I would love jam and jelly making, especially when some of the ingredients comes from the hedgerows and the garden. There is nothing like having a cupboard full of your own various jars from different times of the year.

One very easy preserve to make is an apple jelly. This sweetly tart jelly is beautiful as an accompaniment to pork dishes. My own favourite is a plain crab apple jelly which I love with grilled chorizo off the barbeque. But I also use the following Bramley apple recipe as a base for the elderflower jelly as well as other jellies such as mint, rosemary or even chilli.

You will need a jelly bag or a DIY version of one, which is what I use because every year I find myself, yet again, without the real thing. I use a large colander lined with muslin as my substitute.

There are a few rules to jelly making.  If you are someone who can’t resist squeezing the juices out of the jelly bag, be prepared to get a cloudy jelly. I find if I let gravity work its magic overnight on the jelly bag, I always get a beautiful sparkling clear jelly. The only rules with picking elderflowers are to pick them on a warm dry day, never when it’s wet. Make sure the scent is good as trees differ. You will soon know a very well scented one and that will be your tree every year.  Make sure to pick heads on which there are flowers just beginning to open with plenty of buds that are still closed. And of course, remember to leave some on the tree for elderberry picking!

Bramley Apple and Elderflower Jelly

Makes 6-7lbs (about 3kg)

  • 2.4kg (5 ½ lb.) Bramley apples
  • 2.6 litres (4 ½ pints) water
  • 6-8 heads of elderflower (gently washed in water)
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • Sugar

What to do:

  1. Wash the apples and cut into rough chunks. Do not remove skin or core. Make sure to remove any bruised pieces. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons. Add the elderflowers and push under the water.
  2. Cook for about 30 minutes till the apples are reduced to a pulp.
  3. Add the pulp to a scalded jelly bag (or your DIY muslin version) and allow all the liquid to drip through into the collecting container usually overnight.
  4. Measure the volume of the resulting liquid into a saucepan.
  5. To sterilise your jars: place clean glass jars into a moderate oven at 180⁰C/350⁰F/gas 4 for 10 minutes.
  6. For every 600ml of juice allow 450g of sugar. Heat the sugar in a low oven. This helps to dissolve the sugar quickly but is not a necessary step.
  7. Squeeze the lemons and strain the juice into the juice.
  8. Bring the juice to the boil and add the warm sugar. Turn down the heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat again and boil for about 10 minutes without stirring. The jelly should reach setting point in this time.
  9. Skim off any scum that may have formed on the jelly using a slotted spoon.
  10. Test that the setting point has been reached by pouring a teaspoon of the jelly onto a very cold plate – I place one in the freezer. The jelly should crinkle on the cold surface.
  11. The jelly should be potted immediately into sterilised jars.




Published in the Western People – 06th July 2014


A gallic inspired chocolate cake


“Every French home cook does a great chocolate cake” or so says Trish Deseine in her book ‘Nobody does it better’. The ‘Somebodies’ that the ‘nobodies’ do it better than are the French. I love France and the affair started with their wine and food long before I ever set foot in the place. As a result, when I started learning about cooking and searching for information, one of the first books I bought was Larousse Gastronomique, the culinary encyclopaedia.

When it was first published in 1938 it was written by French chef Prosper Montagné. It’s incarnations since have been written by scores of writers who form the Gastronomic Committee of the Librairie Larousse. It is an excellent reference for cooking techniques, history of food and important culinary individuals, ingredient information and not to mention recipes for pretty much anything you might like to cook.

In the beginning it was the book I went to for things like how to make a roux for a béchamel sauce, or indeed to find out what a roux was. These were things that I needed clear instruction on as I had never done home economics or had studied anything to do with cooking. I was starting completely from scratch in my own tiny kitchen in a flat in Dublin.  As Larousse Gastronomique was essentially based on classic continental cuisine, when looking for a good instruction I did move away from it slightly when I found the book Ballymaloe Cookery Course. This was much more accessible both because it was Irish and because Darina Allen’s instruction was so precise.

I still did love the French. And what could be better than a French cookbook written by an Irish woman living in France! I found myself then faced with Trish Deseine’s statement that every French home cook does a great chocolate cake. Far be it from me to let the side down so a few years ago I went through the arduous task of find our chocolate cake recipe. We went through everything from basic chocolate sponges with various fillings such as chocolate ganache or chocolate Chantilly cream to the princely Black Forest gateaux. Sean, being a complete chocolate addict, relished this quest. We went full circle and the cake that turned out to be our favourite was one of Trish Deseine’s French recipes!

It’s a chocolate fondant cake and so simple to make. The only drawback is that it should be made a day before it is needed so allow the chocolate flavour to fully develop. Also, for those of you who are wheat intolerant, it only has one tablespoon of flour in it. It’s not perfectly gluten free for coeliac sufferers but might be acceptable for the wheat intolerant chocolate addict in your house. It isn’t the prettiest chocolate cake in the world, but that taste….


  • 200g good quality chocolate, minimum 65% cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon strong coffee, hot
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour


  • Preheat the oven to 180⁰C/350⁰F/gas mark 4.
  • Grease and flour a 25cm sandwich tin.
  • Place a mixing bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.  Break the chocolate into it. Pour in the hot coffee and stir until the chocolate has melted.
  • Add the butter and let it melt into the chocolate.
  • Add the sugar into the mixture and stir very well.
  • Break the eggs into the mixture one at a time, stirring well after each addition. I use a balloon whisk for this. Finally, mix in the flour.
  • Pour the mixture into the sandwich tin and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. The cake should still be very moist in the centre. DO NOT be tempted to leave it in longer.
  • Remove from the oven and leave it to cool completely before turning it out. Wrap the cake in foil and try to resist it for at least a day. (Easier said than done).
  • Best devoured simply with good vanilla ice-cream.

‘Nobody does it better’ by Trish Deseine (Published by Kyle Cathie Ltd. – 2007)

 (Published in The Western People – 15 June 2015)


Grasping the Nettle

Nettle Picking

‘Neantóg a dhóigh mé agus cupóg a leigheas mé’

I’m an asthmatic. I’ve had a runny nose most of the time for most of my life. I was given a natural remedy book by a good friend in college and discovered the benefits of Urtica dioica, more commonly known as nettles, in there. The plant, which was the bane of my young life running around the fields of Connemara, could, according to this new book, be the cure for my ever running nose. In particular in the spring time when I was most affected.

Stinging nettles love Ireland’s moist fertile soil and so grow all over the place. They should be picked in spring when they are young and tender. Trial and error has taught most of us that hand protection is required when picking them, but if you do get stung dock leaves shouldn’t be too far away to rub onto the affected area hence the old saying stated above. The alkaline secretions of the dock neutralises the acidic sting of the nettle.

Nettles are used as remedies due to their high iron and vitamin C content, not to mention histamine which is what helped to curb my rhinitis during the spring months. My grandmother used to say that nettles when taken in a tea in the month of May would purify the blood for the year. She wasn’t too far out because the minerals (formic acid, iron, potassium etc.) in nettles have been proven to reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar and improve circulation thus purifying the system. And they are at their youngest and most tender in the month of May. Clever people our ancestors.

Before consuming nettles regularly, make sure to firstly check with your doctor if you are on medication, as nettles can interfere with certain pharmaceuticals. Also, make sure to always pick your nettles, or any wild plant for that matter, from an area that is not near any area that has been or potentially could have been treated with any sort of chemical. There is little point in the health benefits if you’re also consuming a nice dose of herbicide!

Nettles can be consumed in many recipes but I’ve only used them regularly in three. The first being the simplest: tea. Brew a bunch of tender stinging nettle tips in almost boiling water and drink daily (for the month of May, if following my grandmother’s tip!) Another recipe I sneak them into is champ. I simmer a bunch of chopped nettle leaves in milk for about 10 minutes before adding them to the mashed potato. Our favourite spring recipe for nettles though is nettle soup. I basically substitute nettles for leeks in a traditional leek and potato soup recipe.

Note: When picked, nettles should be used as soon as possible as they wilt quickly.

Serves 6 starter or 4 hearty supper portions

  • A knob of butter
  • 100g chopped onions
  • 160g peeled and chopped potatoes
  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • 160g washed and chopped young nettles
  • 150ml whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Gently melt a knob of butter and a little oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat. When melted, add the chopped onions and potatoes. Cover and sweat very gently over a low heat for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are softening but not browned. Add the chicken stock and boil until the vegetables are cooked. Add the nettle leaves and simmer for a few minutes. Add the milk and liquidise. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.


Published in The Western People 08th June 2015


Joint up thinking


A few years ago we had our first large family gathering at our house In Nenagh. There were family members and friends travelling from Mayo and Galway and we were cooking a meal to be served in a small marque in the very small back garden.  Just before we left the house to meet everyone at the ceremony, ‘he who shall not be named’ (as we live in a no-blame house) turned on the oven to start the roast. We were cooking a marinated loin of pork off the bone with rind on that was left directly onto the middle shelf of the oven, with a tray on the shelf below containing the roasting bones to make a delicious stock for gravy. We then headed off, happy in the knowledge that everything was cooking away in our absence.

We arrived back from the ceremony with gang in tow to find a crowd standing, looking at the house that was quickly filling with smoke with alarms blaring. We nervously opened the door to find that the house was not on fire but that ‘he who shall not be named’ had turned on the grill full blast instead of the oven so we had perfect crackling sitting on top of raw pork. The meal was eventually cooked but we were truly exhausted at the end of it. We decided that day that any gathering we were to cook for would be one of stress-free convenience. We usually go for cold cuts that can be roasted the day before with a variety of colourful different salads.  It works well.

A lot of people come into the shop at this time of communions and confirmations wondering about how to cook joints of meat for either serving warm or as cold cuts. Our favourite cold dish is beef served on sourdough bread with a dollop of homemade horseradish. The best joint of beef to use for large groups are roasts such as the eye of the round, topside or silverside because these joints are tidy to slice. But the one issue with these particular joints is that they are too lean. It is very important for roasting that there is enough fat on the meat to prevent it from drying out and to caramelise the surface. Fat is essential for the perfect roast.

Contrary to popular belief the fat found in well-reared grass-fed beef is good as a lot of it is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is the same heart friendly fat that’s found in olive oil. Also, most of the saturated fat in beef actually acts to either lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol or by reducing your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (or good) cholesterol. But if fat on beef is still not to your taste using it for roasting beef doesn’t mean that you have to eat it. At the end of the roast, solid fat can be cut off or liquid fat poured away. For joints such as the eye of the round, your butcher should provide you with some beef suet or pork flair fat to bard your joint with. Without this treatment, it will not roast well.

Once you have your cut of beef, barded if required, the next important requirement is the correct cooking time for how you like your beef. These cooking times apply to beef that has been allowed come to room temperature fully i.e. left out of the fridge for at least one hour or more, depending on size. I cook it uncovered in a suitably sized roasting tray seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.

    1. Preheat oven to 230⁰C or Gas Mark 8.
    2. Sizzle time: 20 minutes for up to 2kg; 30 minutes for 2 – 3kg; 40 minutes for over 3kg at 230⁰C.
    3. Reduce temperature to 160⁰C or gas mark 3.
    4. After initial sizzle time, cook times are:
    • For Medium (just ping in the middle) – 15 minutes per 500g or per 1lb
    • For Well done (not pink at all) – 20 minutes per 500g or per 1lb
    • For Rare (very pink in the middle) – 10 minutes per 500g or per 1lb