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


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


Quick Proof Bread

Cáca baile

Many of life’s most intimate minute details can come flooding back at the sight or smell of particular foods. It happened to me recently when I baked some brown bread. I asked my Aunt Cáitín for the recipe Mamó used for her brown bread or cáca baile (bread for the home). It always looked very different to my mother’s brown bread and I remember as a child realising for the first time that baking could be a very individual expressive thing. And also at the time, very much a woman’s domain. Everyone’s brown bread, from my mother’s to Mamó’s, to the headmistress of my national school, to Cáitín’s  all tasted completely different despite the fact that they all contained basically the same ingredients. Baking from that moment on became a strange act of alchemy in the oven for me. I never quite knew what was going to come out.

I was never much good at baking sweet desserts. That was my sister Eileen’s area. Her strawberry pavlova Swiss roll is a work of art that gets savaged at every family get together. I stayed on the road of bread making and fell in love with flour and yeast experimentation. I’m not very good at that either but the recipe for proper white yeast bread could not be simpler: strong flour, salt, yeast and warm water. You can add extras like garlic and herbs but that is the basic recipe. Yeast is a living thing that can be kept alive in a starter dough for repeated use to make fresh bread, as long as you look after it and feed it. I heard about a French woman who had her starter dough for over 30 years.  Mine never lasted the week – a thriving half jar of bubbling goo in the fridge one day to dead as a dodo the next. I end up using dried yeast or if I can get it, some fresh yeast. The kids love making fresh dough and watching it grow and puncturing it with their fingers as it proofs. They love turning it into pizzas or garlic bread or just tasty, properly proofed white bread.

The other day as I made cáca baile using my grandmother’s recipe, I was transported back to when I was about six or seven to her back kitchen, standing at her elbow in front of the window with my sister at the other, watching her stir her cake with her wooden spoon. I can see it and smell it. I’m going to do my best to get her recipe as close as I can to the real thing. In the meantime…



You will need:

  • 500g Strong White flour (or Strong Wholemeal flour)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of Quick Yeast
  • 300ml Luke warm water (or use warm water if making wholemeal version)
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable oil


  • Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix in the water and bring together in a rough dough.
  • Add the oil and knead well for many minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add some flour as you go.
  • Cut and shape the dough into loaves and place in oiled tins or on a baking sheet.
  • Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will probably take 40 to 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200⁰C/Fan assisted 180⁰C/400⁰F/Gas 6 with a tray of water in it.
  • Use a very sharp blade to score some slits in the top of the loaves and dust with flour to make an extra rustic crust.
  • When the dough is ready, bake in the oven for 25 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the loaf.


(First published in The Western People 05th May 2015)


Caesar the first.


Cardini's Original Caesar dressing

The first Caesar Salad was made by an Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini, in Tijuana Mexico in 1924. The young Italian entrepreneur had arrived from Italy to Mexico with his 3 brothers where he opened a restaurant (to avoid the restrictions of prohibition) while also opening another restaurant in Sacramento California. His daughter Rosa later told how her father invented the dish on the 4th of July having run low on stock. Cardini rolled his service cart into the centre of the restaurant and created the Caesar salad with the only ingredients he had to hand: Romaine lettuce, lemons, eggs, garlic oil, croutons and parmesan cheese. With the added dramatic flair of the table-side salad toss by the chef, a legend was born. Some members of Cardini’s staff have said that they themselves invented the dish, but it cannot be denied that it was Cardini that popularised it. The salad became the fad of Hollywood celebrities especially when he opened Caesar’s Hotel there. So much so, that Cardini and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1935 where he focused on producing and marketing his salad dressing. He trademarked it in 1948. When he died of a stroke in 1956 his salad was a household name but when his daughter took control, the ‘Cardini’s Original Caesar Dressing’ grew to be a staple in American homes. It’s pretty good out of the bottle but as is (almost) always the case, it’s better to make you own version of the dressing and the Caesar Salad.

When making dressings, even if I end up using another recipe, I always refer to Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course book for technique and reassurance. It’s the grandmother of books.  If you like to cook and if you don’t have this book, I suggest you get it. You will not find another cookery instruction book more concise and comprehensive. It taught me how to cook exactly and how to cook with instinct also. As a scientist, I love it because nothing is missing and everything is in the right order. Fool-proof! I include here Darina’s Caesar salad dressing recipe. For the actual Caesar Salad, like Cardini, use what you have. We often make it as described below, but adding leftover Sunday roast chicken. But remember to keep the crunch of the Cos (Romaine) with the lettuce that you use, and the saltiness of the parmesan.

This recipe serves 4

Salad ingredients:

1 large Cos (romaine) lettuce

2 slices of white bread cut into ½ inch cubes for croutons

50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese (or similar e.g. Grana Padano or Percorino) freshly and coarsely grated


Darina Allen’s Caesar Salad Dressing ingredients:

50g (2oz) tin anchovies

2 egg yolks

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

A generous pinch of English mustard powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ – 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ -1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

(Note: Any remaining dressing not used will keep covering in the fridge for several days)


What to do: 

Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.

Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces and whisk.

As you whisk, add the oils slowly until the emulsion forms and then you can add a little faster. Whisk in water to make a thinner consistency.

Taste the dressing and season to taste.

To make croutons: heat olive oil and butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cubes of bread and fry till golden brown on all sides. Spread on kitchen paper to drain.

If you are watching the calories, you could just toast the bread and cube accordingly but you will get a guilt-free lack of real crunch.

To serve: put 1 tablespoon of dressing per person into a large bowl. Add the lettuce, about half the croutons and half the parmesan. Toss gently with your hands. Add more dressing if necessary to coat the leaves fully. Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining croutons and parmesan.


(This article appeared in The Western People – 27th April 2015)


Rosemary and Garlic Griddle Lamb

This is a much used recipe in our house. We like to make it on a Sunday when we are going out wandering for a few hours, usually for a walk in the woods at Garrykennedy followed by a lengthy session in the playground. As we are usually returning home hungry, we need something to eat that is quick to prepare, but that is also hearty and tasty and worthy of Sunday Dinner status. A version of this recipe we found originally in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ where he barbecued butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½  leg of lamb. We tend to use either these lamb portions from a boned ½ leg of lamb, which you can find out how to do at the following link, or we use sideloin lamb chops. We use Salsa Verde  as accompaniment on a bap, wrap or roll, or to fancy it up, we serve with some roast vegetables including Rosemary and Garlic Roast Potatoes.

Serves 4

Lamb: 6 Butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb or 8 Sideloin Lamb chops

Rosemary: A dozen good sprigs

Garlic: 6 cloves peeled and roughly chopped

Olive oil: 2 to 3 good tablespoons

A few good twists of Black Pepper

I love doing the following: Add the roughly chopped garlic and stripped Rosemary needles to a mortar and bash the bejaysus out of them. However, if you don’t have a mortar and pestle to vent in this way, bruise the Rosemary needles by rubbing the sprigs between the palms of your hands. This helps to release that wonderful aroma. Strip the sprigs of their needles into a bowl. Add the garlic to the bowl, along with the olive oil, pepper and meat. Toss all of the ingredients well, and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours.

To griddle your meat, ensure your cast-iron griddle pan is smoking hot. Remove the pieces of meat from the marinade, and wipe lightly prior to placing on the pan. Leave some bits of garlic and rosemary sticking to it, but not too much as they will burn as you go. Cook the meat according to it’s thickness and how pink you like it.

To avoid the meat blackening too much on the griddle pan, for those in our family who like more medium-well than pink, we would usually seal those meat portions on the pan before placing it in the oven to finish off.

Serve with Salsa Verde, wrapped in some sort of bread, or with Rosemary Roast Potatoes and Roast Root Vegetables.

Photographs courtesy of Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin 2012.