Pear and blackberry cake

This week’s bag puts us firmly into autumn. New season parsnips in from Denis Healy which I think I’ll roast with honey and thyme, Savoy cabbage (I’m thinking minestrone style soups to ward off the cold and maybe a midweek colcannon) and Oliver Kelly’s leeks which I can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve been  poaching them in buttery stock and eating them with quinoa a LOT recently. With a wedge of cheese it’s as much as you need at lunchtime.

Fruit wise, citrus has just started but so far it’s really only green Satsumas but I’d expect Navelina oranges to kick in any day now. Apples and pears are what really come into their own at this time of year. Pears are especially good at the moment but getting them at their best takes a bit of patience. Like peaches, they can go from rock hard to overripe and mealy in less than a day if you take your eye off them. Vigilance is richly rewarded. Get them perfectly ripe and you have a snack or dessert from heaven. Even though they are firm enough to hold their shape and slice neatly, it always amazes me how juicy they are at their peak. They don’t need anything and are one of the nicest stand-alone desserts I know. If you want to gussy things up a bit, try a scoop of ice-cream. Vanilla is classic but chocolate or honeycomb will also work beautifully. Chopped with yogurt and dried fruit makes a great start to the day but in our house it’s porridge first thing so we have them with that and a drizzle of Highbank syrup. Of course they partner beautifully with cheese especially blue. Cashel blue, a handful of walnuts and a honey mustard dressing with this week’s salad leaves would a great lunch or starter over the next day or two.  Winter doesn’t mean the end of salads you know, just a few adjustments to the ones you’ve been eating for the last few months.

I used a large pear to moisten a cake recently and it was such a success that I thought I’d pass on the recipe this week.  It was a bit of an experiment really. We went out for a walk and got a stash of late blackberries and I decided to throw those in too but it’s the kind of cake that works with any berry. I buy blueberries and raspberries when they’re in season and stick them in the freezer for this kind of thing.

I added ground almonds as it keeps this kind of cake moist for longer and adds a nice weight to things. My idea was to make a cake that would last a few days but as it happened it actually survived one evening. I made it again last week to bring to Schull where we spent midterm break. We munched on it for most of the week and it definitely lasts well. Put it in an airtight tin or wrap it up in tinfoil and it nearly gets better over the few days you’ll manage to keep it.

Boy, do they celebrate Halloween down there. The night before we took the kids on a magical candlelight spooky farm walk. Then on the night itself  the whole town went all out. Almost every shop was taken over by the living dead, witches, ghouls or something in between. We watched a crazy nurse perform surgery on a live patient in the fishmongers, visited Dr Frankenstein’s lab for another equally gruesome operation, saw (willing!) children in cages in one of the crazy haunted houses …. Absolutely classic. Our lot took a while to get into to it.  What?! It’s not just about sugar and pumpkins? After all there was no lorry load of treats to take home afterward just a small bag of really cool ones.



As Auggie or, rather, Dracula,  put it “I prefer the real Halloween, the not scary Dublin one”. Well, they’ll have to get used to it, we’re definitely coming back next year.

Pear and blackberry cake with almond

You’ll need:

200gr light moscovado sugar

200gr butter at room temperature

160gr self-raising flour

3 large eggs

1 level teaspoon baking powder

A little milk

50gr ground almonds

100gr blackberries or blueberries

1 large pear (about 250 gr)

Sieve the flour and baking powder together then set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in an egg then about a third of the flour, followed by an egg then more flour then the third egg and the rest of the flour. Make sure each addition is fully incorporated before the next. Add the almonds along with a dash of milk then turn off your mixer.

Peel the pear and coarsely grate it into the mixture. Mix it in by hand. The mixture will probably curdle but don’t worry. Add the berries. Turn the mixture into a greased 20 cm baking tin and place in the oven Gas mark 5 and bake for about 45 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

Cool down and, ideally, allow to stand for a few hours before slicing. You can dust with icing sugar (or not) before you serve with a nice cup of tea.

Have a brilliant weekend,



I never get colds and am so under the weather. A couple of  trips out in the torrential rain to get Dan have done me in. Auggie thought I had to be kidding, couldn’t we just leave him there? Only Lee was safe playing with his butterfly, eating his book, safe in his mobile hothouse. Unlike the others he loves being under that plastic pram cover. Auggie tries to get in beside him and is given short shift by Lee. Nice try kid, I’d be in there myself if I could….

The upshot is that our oven is now on every afternoon warming the kitchen and cooking dinner.We’ve been too busy drying off to faff around chopping veg for soups so I’ve been roasting up whatever’s around whole or halved. Yesterday it was leeks, butternuts and carrots in olive oil with rosemary. I then browned a handful of pancetta in the soup pot, adding hot stock, and a handful of red lentils then roughly chopped up the roasted veggies and throw them in. You let things simmer for about 15 minutes then blend to the texture you like and season to taste. That was dinner sorted while everyone dried off and had hot chocolate.

Fruit is another thing that’s magic done in the oven and at this time of the year you get a lovely mix of end of summer and  start of autumn varieties. At the moment plums don’t have the sugar of the high summer varieties but they work beautifully baked with pears. I also love some dried figs in there too but fresh are obviously wonderful but they can be trickier and pricier to track down.
A few weeks ago there were still peaches and nectarines around and and they work really well in this recipe. You can do this kind of dish in under an hour but like most roasting, it tastes better if you give it plenty of time. An hour and a half plus will give you super-sticky, almost chewy fruit gently spiced that’s aching for a dollop of or greek yogurt and maybe a handful of crumbled biscuits. We had some with a cheese cake last night and it was as good as it sounds.

Slow baked spiced fruit

You’ll need:

3 large red firm plums (or 5/6 small ones)

6 dried figs

4 medium firm pears

1/2 glass red wine

3 heaped tablespoons light muscovado sugar

The spices

1 cinnamon quill

4 pieces mace

7-8 peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon  ground ginger

4 star anise

Small pinch ground cloves

Peel, core and quarter the pears.  Halve  the plums removing the stones. Place in an ovenproof dish along with figs and cinnamon quill. Mix the rest of the spices with the wine and sugar then pour over the fruit. Cover the dish with tinfoil and  bake for 30 minutes at Gas mark 5.Remove the foil and gently turn the fruit over to make sure all sides get coated in wine then return to the oven and bake for a further hour or so until the liquid has reduced to a sticky caramel.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

The perfect late summer cake

September 8, 2012

This one’s from Nigel Slater who knows a thing or two about good cake. A delicious, almond sponge moistened with peaches and spiked with blueberries. As you’d expect, nectarines work perfectly well if peaches aren’t around and if you can’t get hold of blueberries, I’d wager raspberries work a treat. It’s that kind of cake. One thing though, this is definitely one of those cakes that tastes better the second day. Think of it as character building…..

Nigel Slater’s blueberry and peach cake

You’ll need:

175gr butter

175gr golden caster sugar

200gr ripe peaches or nectarines

2 large eggs

175g self-raising flour

100g ground almonds

1 tsp grated orange zest

a few drops of vanilla extract

150g blueberries

Nigel uses a lined loose-bottomed 20 cm cake tin but I take the easier way out with a greased silicone mould. Dunnes have them for about a fiver. Set the oven to 170C/gas mark 4 and get on with things.

Halve, stone and roughly chop the peaches or nectarines and set aside. Wash and sort through the blueberries removing any remaining stalks.

Cake Ingredients

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Add one of the eggs and continue beating then add a tablespoon of flour. Beat in the second egg.  Mix the flour and almonds together then add to the mixture in 2 or 3 different lots then finally beat in the orange zest and vanilla. Stir in the chopped peaches and blueberries and a splash of milk (Nigel doesn’t do this but I find it helps to moisten things).

Cake Mix

Scrape the mixture into the cake tin then bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Test with a skewer or sharp knife – if it comes out relatively clean, then the cake is done. Leave the cake to cool for about 10 minutes in the tin then loosen the edges with  a palette knife and turn it onto  a plate. I decorated with blueberries and icing sugar but it’s up to you.

A blob of mascarpone or Greek yogurt is delicious on the side if you want to serve this for dessert but really it’s an afternoon tea kind of cake. But don’t let that put you off – 11pm  is still technically after noon 😉

Enjoy x

Midterm break means…….bedlum really. A new recipe? Completely out of the question I’m afraid so I’ve done a quick trawl of things I reckon might be nice for long weekend. Here goes……

Blood orange season is nearly over so enjoy them before they go.  caramelized-blood-orangesSkye Gyngell’s recipe for caramelized blood oranges is a lovely one.  All you need is a little ice-cream and maybe a slice of toasted panettone and you’ve got a simple, elegant desert. Or how about an intensely chocolately roulade with a blood orange salad for Easter Sunday?  Or there’s a cake with almonds and a vanilla mascarpone topping  that always goes down a storm.

If you’re planning a big meal for Easter this week’s fennel makes a fantastic gratin which goes with any roast. We’ve also got some early courgettes which I think I’ll use to make a soup with Parmesan. Right, I think that’s it. I hear Lee bawling downstairs, gotta go. Have a fantastic weekend xx

mango and coconut cake

All in all it’s been going well. Lee is thriving and I, while definitely beginning to feel the effects of all that broken sleep, am doing pretty well. Yes, there are piles of laundry (mainly clean though sometimes it’s hard to tell) in almost every room in the house at this stage, hair-washing has become a luxury, dressing doesn’t happen until 4pm some days and the high speed approach taken has had some frightening results (why and how does baby spew seem to appear on things which haven’t even been near the baby – don’t I have enough to contend with????) and “me time” are those ten minutes at about 3.30am when I am alone and not holding anything before I go to bed.

A big development is that Auggie seems to have finally accepted Lee’s existence and even manages to say his name  (well, sometimes). I believe Lee’s amazing farting abilities sealed the deal. Both his brothers have been massively impressed and now can’t wait for him to grow up into some kind of Dennis the Menace as far as I can make out. Word of his amazing powers have even reached the school and crèche where he has attained almost celebrity status- not bad going for a four-week old……

Foodwise, we’ve been keeping it very simple. Paul is back at work and Lee pretty much feeds all the time so most days it’s a bowl of pasta in the evenings and whatever comes to hand the rest of the time. While hummus, cheese, olives etc are all brilliant for this, I’ve come to rely on sweet stuff  for much needed energy boosts throughout the day. Biscuits and chocolate just don’t do it. Cake is what I need. We’ve had Nigel Slater’s Moscovado and Hazelnut one a few times which the boys can pretty much make on their own if you give them the ingredients. It’s a firm favourite at ours and a cinch to make but rather than risk overkill I’ve been branching out and somehow managed to make this week’s mango and coconut cake a few days ago while my sister cuddled Lee.

Coconut and mango is one of those matches made in heaven. You just can’t go wrong. This cake is really a sort of tart but instead of pastry there’s a shortbread base made with coconut that has a gorgeous crumbly texture. Then a layer of mango which I simmer down with blood orange and rum until it goes jammy. Finally, there’s a sprinkle of the crust mix so you get a crumble style topping. The result is a cake/pie that is perfect on its own with a cuppa but which also makes a brilliant dessert with vanilla ice-cream.

I’ve been making this cake for a while now, tinkering around with proportions and ingredients. The first time I made it was for a celiac friend and I used rice flour which worked perfectly so I’ve kept that up. If you don’t have any, you can use regular plain white or whole-wheat. This recipe uses dried as opposed to fresh mango and the reason is that all the flavour of fresh mango completely dissipates when you cook it. It’s a complete waste. We had amazing Osteen mangos a few months back and I made a version of this cake with them and you couldn’t even tell it was mango. You can of course use other fruit, I’ve made a version with cranberry and cinnamon which was so nice that I bought up lots of half price cranberries after Christmas and froze them so I could rustle up impromptu desserts at a moments notice. Hmmm…like that’s going to happen any time soon.

Mango and coconut crumble cake

You’ll need:

100gr dried mango

2 blood or regular oranges juiced 100 ml approx

50ml rum (I used Captain Morgans)

150 ml water

1 heaped tablespoon cane sugar

For the crumble

150gr rice flour

90gr cane sugar

140gr butter

60gr desiccated coconut

A pinch fine salt

Mango and blood orange juice

Begin by preparing the mango – combine the slices with the juice, rum, sugar and water in a pot and gently simmer over a lowish heat for about 45 minutes leaving the mango soft and the liquid reduced to about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup. Allow this to cool while you get on with the rest

Mango and blood orange cooked

To make the cake crumble all the ingredients together with your fingertips as you would any other crumble. Lightly grease a cake tin then with your hand press 80% of the crumble mix to the bottom so it all sticks together.

Finely chop the mango conserving all the juice left in the pot. Spread all of this on the crumble base. sprinkle  the rest of the crumble mix on top of the fruit leaving the edges uncovered so some of the lovely deep red of the fruit can peep through.

Bake for 30 minutes are gas mark 6 til the topping is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature with a little vanilla ice-cream.

It’s now purple sprouting broccoli season and most of you have some in this week’s bag (sadly they weren’t quite able to harvest enough for us so a few of you have something else instead). For this special treat keep things simple – it’s lovely steamed then tossed with gently sautéed garlic, pasta, pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon or you can go all out try it on a bed of polenta with sundried tomato pesto and goat’s cheese (this really rocks). Whatever you do, do it asap so you get it at its best. Those of you who missed out this week can rest assured I’ll be doing my best to get more in asap.

Have a great week,


Brussel Sprouts

For most people they’re a Marmite variety – you either love them or hate them. A lot of this has to do with how they’re prepared. In most houses they get cooked once a year on Christmas day (tradition innit?) when they are boiled for at least 20 minutes then languish on everyone’s plate (in twos and threes) before being tipped into the bin after dinner. It’s a shame because if you treat them right they can be pretty special. No, really. For the last few years I’ve been serving them on the big day in a gratin with cream, bacon and Parmesan and they’ve stolen the show every time. Creamy and moreish with lots of lovely saltiness from the bacon and Parmesan this dish rocks and works with with any roast.

In broad terms, everything you can do with a cabbage you can do with spouts. They are made for things like bacon and cheese while Asian flavours like ginger, sesame oil and mirin really work as well. A simple dish to try is a variation on one I often do with cabbage. Parboil the sprouts, quarter them, fry up with bacon and/or onions til everything is crispy and caramelised then top with grated cheese and grill til golden. With a bowl of creamy mash you’ll be hard pushed to find a more moreish supper now that the weather’s turned cold.

Pan-fried is another great way to go because this way they turn lovely and golden. You can keep it simple and just add a handful of slivered almonds and a spritz of lemon or you can go seasonal and do them with chestnuts and bacon.

Pan-fried brussel sprouts, bacon and chestnuts

Pan-fried brussel sprouts with lardons and chestnuts

You’ll need:                                                                                                   Tin of chestnuts

350gr brussel sprouts halved or quartered if they’re large

1 medium onion chopped

75gr bacon – lardons, pancetta or streaky rashers chopped all work well

100gr chestnuts roughly chopped

Salt and Pepper

Heat a little oil on the pan and throw in the onion. Saute for a minute or two then add the bacon and fry until just starting to change colour. Add the sprouts and gently pan-fry everything until the sprouts are tender and the bacon nice and crispy. This will take about 10 minutes. Be sure to keep everything moving to avoid burning the the onions. Remove from the pan and serve.

This dish can be made ahead of time then reheated either in a microwave or covered in the oven.

Another reason to cook the sprouts this way is that  you’ll have the perfect excuse to make what has to be one of my favourite chocolate deserts – a chestnut chocolate refrigerator cake with chestnuts and prunes soaked in brandy. I mean, what else are you going to do with the rest of that tin of chestnuts? It’s a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstale recipe from years back and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before but when I made it again recently I decided I had to share it. It’s beyond amazing and, with a cup of strong black coffee, one of the best finishes to a meal I know.

Chocolate refrigerator cake with prunes and chestnuts

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstale’s chocolate refrigerator cake with chestnuts and brandy soaked prunes

You’ll need:

75gr prunes, roughly chopped

75gr raisins

3 tablespoons brandy

150gr dark chocolate

100gr butter

150gr ginger nut biscuits roughly crushed

150gr cooked and peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped

Combine the dried fruit with the brandy and leave to soak for at least two hours. Line a 20 cm square tin or 20 cm diameter round tin with clingfilm. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir in the fruit, chestnuts and biscuits and mix everything well. Pour into the tin then refrigerate until solid. Serve in either squares or wedges.

This week there are gorgeous red cabbages in all our bags and again I had Christmas in mind when I included them.  The classic slowcooked cabbage with apple and spices which goes so well with turkey can be made ahead of time and frozen. It’s a cinch to make but takes hours in the oven so why not make it in advance the next time you’re doing some slowcooking? Otherwise, salad is an obvious way to go and also bear in mind that red cabbage is beautiful stir-fried.

With Christmas firmly in my sights I’ll have all the details of our Christmas bags ready by early next week. As usual we’ll be able to deliver everything you’ll be needing for the day and beyond.

In the meantime stay warm!!


Banana bread

A glut of overripe bananas made me revisit an old favourite  recently. Banana bread -I’d forgotten how good it is. It’s just a cake with mashed bananas and dried fruit so there’s no real difficulty involved. I used sultanas, dates and walnuts but you can of course mix it up and use other dried fruit. I like to really plump up the sultanas by bringing them to the boil and simmering them in whiskey. Bourbon, rum or tea will do the same job.

The real challenge with this recipe is the willpower needed to complete the final step after it comes out of the oven. If you can resist wolfing it and stick it in a paper bag overnight your reward will be an even better result that’s a gorgeously rich, cakey slice of heaven. A slather of butter is essential and I’m also very partial to toasting. In fact I’d go so far as to say that making a double batch is the way forward. I use those silicon loaf “tins” from Dunnes which at a fiver a pop are brilliant value.

Banana bread with whiskey soaked sultanas, dates and walnuts

You’ll need:

100gr sultanas

75ml whiskey

100gr butter at room temperature

120gr moscovado sugar

100gr buckwheat flour – I’m using this a lot these days and it works very well in this recipe. If you don’t have it regular plain will do.

50gr plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

2 medium eggs

250gr very ripe bananas (about 3 or 4 depending on the size)

50gr chopped walnuts

50gr dates finely sliced

A teaspoon vanilla extract

About half an hour before you plan to bake, put the whiskey and sultanas in a pot and bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until the liquid has all but been absorbed. Set aside to cool. When you’re ready to bake, sieve the flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and put to one side for later. Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add an egg and beat into the mixture then throw in about third of the flour and beat that in. Repeat this step then mash up your bananas and beat them in. The mixture will start to look curdled after the bananas go in but don’t worry. Add in the rest of the flour and this normally gets things back to normal. Now toss in the vanilla extract, sultanas, dates and nuts. Mix together then spoon the mixture into a greased loaf tin. Put in a moderate oven (Gas mark 4/170 degrees) and bake for about 50 minutes until a skewer(or knife) comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Do check things after the first 40 minutes just in case. When the bread is ready, let it cool then, as I said, if you can bear it put it away in a paper bag overnight. Just focus on how good breakfast will be….

Banana bread loaf

In case you were wondering……….

Those leaves in your bag are Cima di Rapa and they can be simply tossed in the pan with garlic and/or chorizo for a very tasty lunch. I also love them with japanese style noodle . Either way you should eat them asap to get them at their best.

If you’re heading down to Stradbally look out for Chuck. He’ll be playing tunes in the Body and Soul area from a tree house. If anyone wants to take 2 little boys (they’re no trouble really) I’ll put some of that banana bread in a bag and go down and join him. Fingers crossed!!

Have a great weekend,