Barbecue Season

My own grandmother would have cooked on a barbecue over the last few weeks the weather has been so glorious. There is something about cooking outside and eating outside that whets the appetite and makes us look at food differently and prepare it with more thought and appreciation I think. Unless you are a diehard barbecue cook who fires up the coals in all weather, the barbecue is something that most of us only pull out from under the mouldy tarpaulin a few times a year. Therefore, below is a list of what I have found to be barbecue essentials.

Tools of the trade – If you find tongs useful get a long handled one. You’ll save your hands and forearms from getting burnt as you turn meat that will spit and burn. Better still get a proper long handled meat fork. It’s really the best thing to use. Also, wear an apron. There’s no point cooking an amazing meal and then looking like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre when you’re finished.

The most useful tool I have found for a barbecue is a wire brush to clean the grill with. Obviously, it’s important to clean the grill after the barbecue – a clean grill will ensure meat and vegetables don’t stick during cooking. But also give the grill a brush between batches during cooking. This stops meat drippings and charred bits from sticking and burning onto the next batch. Trial and error however has taught me to always buy a good quality wire brush in order to avoid picking metal prongs out of your burger!

Cooking tips for the barbecue – Meat should be seasoned with salt before grilling. Use good big tasty flakes of sea salt for this – Achill Island Sea Salt is ideal. As salt will draw moisture out of meat, it is important to season just before grilling. The salt enhances the flavour of the meat and also builds up that char crust that is so delicious on well barbecued meat. As the meat comes off the grill, you can season with some ground black pepper.

It’s hard to tell sometimes if meat or poultry is cooked when cooking on the barbecue. It is important not to under cook meat especially poultry but it is also so important not to overcook. I always use a meat thermometer for this. Then I’m confident the meat is cooked to perfection. Sometimes if I am cooking a lot on the grill, I tend to barbecue the chicken first. I like to cook chicken on the bone. I barbecue it first to get that char and flavour and then I finish the pieces off in a pre-heated oven. They have the barbecue flavour and are also cooked through by the even oven temperature. They are then finished at the same time as other cuts of meat that can be served rare or medium. Below is a table of internal cooking temperatures – make sure to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the piece to check the temperature.

Rare Medium Rare Medium Well Done
Beef 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Lamb 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Pork     60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Chicken       75⁰C (167⁰F)

Then sit out and enjoy your barbecue feast in the best country in the world when the sun is shining!



The New Year’s Goose

Cooked Goose

If you’re going the whole bird this Christmas and getting a goose for your new year table, check out cooking times below.

Happy New Year!

You will need:

Large onion, peeled and sliced;

10 – 12lb goose;


Salt and pepper.

  • Place the onions in a layer in your roasting tin.
  • Stuff the goose and place it, breast down, in the pan and roast for 1 – 1 ½ hours.
  • Turn the bird breast side up, scatter with salt and pepper and roast for another hour or so, spiking with a thin skewer every 20 minutes.
  • Drain off the fat at intervals and jar it to make the most delicious roast potatoes.



Image source:

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.


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)


De Búrca | John and Sally McKennas’ Guides

Thank you to John and Sally McKenna of the McKennas’ Guides for the wonderful review of our shop which is found at the link below – we are…happy!

De Búrca | John and Sally McKennas’ Guides.


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