Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ireland. Show all posts

Friday, March 2, 2018

My Idol Darina Allen and Her Spicy Vegetable Stew

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since I got back from Ireland last December. You see, I bought Darina Allen’s latest book, Grow, Cook, Nourish at the Skibbereen farmers’ market, where she was selling copies from a card table set up in the middle. I had to have a copy, even though it weighs five pounds (I checked) and is three inches thick and I had to carry it back on the plane with me. It contains 500 recipes, each one richly illustrated with multiple color photographs, and is rich with recipes from multiple countries using wonderful spices, not to mention the history of the food in question and where you can find it. Yes, I’ve read through it—it’s not just a pretty coffee-table book. And Darina herself writes that it “may just be the most important book I ever wrote.” It’s all about “the entire process of sowing plants and seeds, nurturing them, harvesting, cooking and nourishing yourself and others.”

Yes, she signed it for me!
According to her bio, she founded the first farmers’ markets in Ireland (and actually still shops at them—I’ve run into her more than once), is one of the leaders of the Slow Food movement there, and has been running the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork since 1983. One of these days I’m going to find a way to take a class there.

The Skibbereen Farmers' Market
Oh, right, we need a recipe. I skipped over a few in the book because I’d never heard of the primary ingredient and I was pretty sure I’d never find it in my local supermarket (medlars? Purslane? Borage? Cardoons?). But still left a few hundred to choose from. I landed upon “Spicy Vegetable Stew with Yogurt” mainly because I actually had all the ingredients, including all the spices.

Spicy Vegetable Stew

(Note, as usual I made a half recipe)

2 lbs potatoes (you may notice these are purple, but that's what I had)
1 lb turnips, cut into cubes
1/2 lb carrots

1/2 tsp sugar
2 oz. butter
2-1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom seeds
8 cloves
1/2 pound onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1-1/2 oz fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
24 oz. tomatoes (fresh or canned)
6 (liquid) oz. yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
sea salt
1-2 Tblsp chopped coriander or parsley


Boil the (unpeeled) potatoes, then peel off the skins and cut into half-inch slices.

Cook the turnips in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes (until tender).

Scrub the carrots and trim off ends. Cut into half-inch slices. Cook in a covered saucepan with a little boiling water with a dash of salt and sugar and a blob of butter.

Grind all the spices together to a powder, with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Yes, I actually have a spice grinder
Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden. Stir in the garlic, ginger and ground spices and nutmeg, turmeric, and 1/2 tsp sugar. Cook for a minute or so, then add the chopped tomatoes and yogurt.

Put the sliced potatoes, turnip, and carrots into the mix and stir gently (to keep the potatoes intact). Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. Take off the lid and add the milk and cook to reduce (as thick or thin as you like). Season with the sea salt to taste. Stir in the chopped coriander or parsley and serve.

The result? A lovely, well-balanced blend of spices and flavors. But I will comment that this recipe could come only from a cook who has an entire cooking school staff (that is, dishwashers!) to clean up. Just count the number of pans used! But I think at home you could reduce the number without losing any of the flavor.

Did you know that the Skibbereen market has no organization to oversee it? People with something to sell (vegetables, old clothes, lots of breads, antiques--just about anything) show up Saturday morning, stake out a place, and set up shop. There's a small fee for each day, which I think is about five dollars. I plan entire trips to make sure I can go at least once, and I always come away with something unexpected. And it runs all year.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Green Chile Crockpot Stew

I borrowed this recipe from Facebook friend and fellow author Jeri Westerson (whose latest book, Season of Blood, was just released!), who said she found it on Facebook. Its creator is unknown (apparently to both of us), but I changed half the ingredients anyway, so it’s mine now!

It’s a good recipe for a cold winter night, if you have the time to slow-cook it. Don’t worry about the precise measurements, especially if you’re using leftover meat and don’t have quite enough. And you can decide how spicy you want it to be, depending on which chiles you include, and how much of them.


2 russet potatoes, peeled and 

   diced (about 4 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for cooking
1 onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-1/2 to 2 pounds meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) previously cooked and shredded
2 4-oz. cans jalapeno peppers (mild or spicy)
4-1/2 cups broth (beef or chicken, depending on your meat)
1 Tblsp freshly ground cumin seeds
1 tsp Mexican oregano


Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a bowl and cover them with water.

In a skillet, heat 2 Tblsp of oil over medium heat. Add the diced onions and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 6-8 minutes.

Take one can of the peppers and puree them in a blender. Add 1 cup of broth, and blend on high until the mixture is smooth. 

Irrelevant note: this is really old school--the
blender was a wedding present! And the
crockpot was my mother's!

In your crock pot place the shredded meat, the pureed peppers, the onion-garlic mixture, and the spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. 

Drain the diced potatoes and add them to the pot.

Add the remaining can of green chiles (if you want), and enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. Continue simmering for 60-90 minutes.

Dish up and dig in! If the stew looks more like soup to you, serve it with some crusty bread. The dish is guaranteed to keep you warm!

Available now!

Suspense Magazine says: "Connolly sticks to what she knows best: How to write a drop dead awesome book that keeps readers entertained from beginning to end!"

And there are a few surprises along the way...

Find it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores everywhere!

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Liss Ard Menu

The next book in my County Cork Mysteries, Many a Twist, will be released next Tuesday. All the familiar characters will be there, and a few will spill some secrets, but there will also be some new faces.

While the heart of the story is always Maura’s pub, Sullivan’s, a lot happens in and around an upscale local hotel, based on a real one in Skibbereen, known as the Liss Ard Estate. It started out as a manor house for one of the important local families, but since then it’s served many purposes under many different owners, and right now it’s a hotel (a fate many of the big old manor houses share).

According to their website, the Liss Ard Estate “is a place of enchantment and relaxation set on 163 acres of gorgeous countryside and an amazing 50-acre lake! The country house was built in 1853 by the O'Donovan chiefs and it became the last of their Georgian style houses to be built.”

A smaller building, Lake House, was added to the property as a summer residence for the O'Donovans.

It also has a high-end restaurant (and they report that they serve “an exquisite Afternoon Tea,” by appointment only—I haven’t tried it yet). The menu makes delicious reading, even though I have to laugh at some of the terms they use, like “burnt figs.” But their flavor pairings are intriguing.

So I decided to try to replicate one of their main courses, in honor of Many a Twist. Of course I had to tweak it a bit, but I’m aiming for the spirit of their dishes.

Wild Mushroom Risotto with Truffle Oil and Crispy Onions


1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms (I used a mix of mushrooms)

Note: wild mushrooms seem to flourish in late fall in Ireland. I assume the Liss Ard chefs use what is available. These are some that I’ve seen (and no, I didn’t cook any of them).

I have no idea what these are, and, no, I didn't eat
any of them! But they were thriving in November.
5 cups broth (chicken, beef, or 
2 Tblsp finely chopped shallots
3 Tblsp butter
2 Tblsp vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups uncooked rice (preferably Arborio)


In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a slow simmer and hold it at that temperature.

Melt the butter in another saucepan and add the oil.  Add the shallots and sauté until they are translucent (do not brown).  Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms give up their juices.

Add the rice and stir until the rice grains are well-coated with the butter-oil mixture.  

Add one-half cup of the simmering broth and stir until the rice absorbs all the liquid (make sure you get all the grains clinging to the sides of the pan).  Then add another one-half cup of liquid and continue to stir over low heat, making sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom. Continue adding the broth and stirring, but wait each time until all the broth is absorbed before adding any more (yes, this takes some time, and a lot of stirring, but the result is worth it).

Toward the end it will take longer for the broth to be absorbed after each addition, but you will notice that the mixture is becoming creamy.

After about 20 minutes, taste a single grain of rice to see if it is cooked through. If the core of the grain is still hard and white, continue adding liquid and testing until it's done. In total it should take about 30 minutes.  Don't worry if you didn't use all five cups of the broth—rice can vary. Taste a bit and add salt only if needed.

Crispy Onions


1 large yellow onion (or two smaller 
   ones)2 eggs
2 Tblsp whole milk
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
vegetable oil for frying (to a depth of two inches in your pan)


Slice the onion into quarter-inch slices, then cut each slice into quarters. Toss to separate the small pieces.

Heat two inches of oil in a deep-sided skillet or fry pan (I used my mother’s crock pot, which doubles as a fryer) to 350 degrees.

In a mid-size bowl, mix the eggs and milk together. In a second bowl, mix the flour and spices together.

Gather up a handful of onions at a time, and dip them into the egg mixture. Let the excess liquid drip off. Then place the onions in the flour and toss to coat. Again, shake off the excess (if they seem too gummy, you could use a sieve and shake well).

Place the onions in the hot oil (watch out for spatter!) and cook until they are golden brown. (Do not crowd or they might boil over—you can do this in batches, but be sure to let the oil reach the proper temperature before adding the next batch.)

Crispy onions!

Remove the onions from the oil and place on paper towels to absorb the oil.

You will note that the Liss Ard dish includes truffle oil. I actually have truffle oil! (And truffle butter too!). I’m not sure where it goes. Use sparingly, because it has a strong flavor. You can sprinkle it over the cooked risotto to amplify the taste of whatever mushrooms you’ve used, or over the onions, or both.

The risotto is creamy, and the onions add a nice bit of crunch as well as flavor.

And here's the book!

How far would you go to protect your family? 

Pub owner Maura Donovan hasn’t seen her mother for over twenty years, so when she suddenly shows up in Maura’s pub, Maura’s not sure what to expect. Her mother made a new life for herself back home and has taken up a position working with the new owners of the Crann Mor hotel just outside Skibbereen. Then her new boss is found dead in the hotel gardens, dumped down the hillside behind the hotel.

Now, trying to rekindle the relationship they’ve lost, Maura must investigate the man’s death in order to clear her mother’s name. It’s not so easy though, as long-time residents of County Cork, including her employee Mick, and the family of the deceased hotel owner, have bottled deep dark family secrets not meant to be uncorked. And someone will kill to keep them that way.

The reviews have captured the heart of the story.

“Plenty of puzzles with a strong feeling for life in small-town Ireland.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Connolly vividly evokes rural Ireland, and her characters seem like real human beings trying their best to navigate their lives.”
Publishers Weekly

Coming January 9, 2018, from Crooked Lane Books. Available now for preorder!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Irish Seaweed

The holidays aren't over yet!

And your treat for this week is . . . seaweed!

No, I’ve never tried eating it, that I can remember. But when I was most recently in Field’s supermarket in Skibbereen, I found that they’d added a new display rack, and it was devoted to seaweed. Not just one kind, but a whole slew of them, neatly packaged. 

I had no idea what I was looking at, but I figured I should give at least one of them a try. Since I had no clue what they tasted like or how to cook them, I picked the one that I thought had the prettiest name: Dillisk.

Then of course I googled the stuff to make sure I wasn’t going to poison anyone. It turns out that dillisk is also called dulse, which rang a faint bell. Wikipedia says “it is a well-known snack food" (sold at seaside stalls by periwinkle sellers). Uh, not at my house. But it’s been harvested and eaten for at least 1,400 years. 

And it’s good for you! It has plenty of minerals and vitamins. You can pick it by hand along the shore when the tide is out and eat it straight from the rocks, or dry it and eat it that way, or grind it into flakes or powder. Pan-fry it, bake it, microwave it, and add it to soups, chowders, sandwiches, salads or breads.

Enough information? Okay, I’m going to make . . . Irish Dulse Soda Scones.

Dulse Scones


1/2 ounce dried dulse
1 pound plain white flour (3 cups)
1 tsp bread soda (I just happened to 
   bring some back from Ireland)
1 tsp salt
12 fluid ounces buttermilk
1 egg, beaten


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Grease a baking sheet.

Soak the dulse in water for a few minutes. Drain it and then slice into fine strips.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the dulse and mix.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in most of the buttermilk and mix (your hand works well for this!).

After a bit the dough will come together (add the rest of the buttermilk if needed).

Turn out the dough on a floured surface and form a round, about 1” thick (this will be about 8 to 9 inches across). Brush the top with the beaten egg, then cut into roughly triangular scones (you should have about a dozen). Or if you must, cut out rounds.

Place on the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Serve warm with butter.

What do they taste like? That’s hard to define. There’s a bit of saltiness, and something vegetal going on, but the don’t really taste like anything else. But their flavor is not too strong. You will note there’s no sugar in this recipe, but adding jam would be fine.

Oh, right--Many a Twist comes out next month. This one was fun to write, because everyone in the story has secrets, plus there's a body (and he had secrets too, before he died). And a lot of questions will be answered!

Find it for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Salad

Christmas salad? Really? Isn't this the wrong season? Well, it is red and green and white, and I have an excuse—a new toy. Meet my spiralizer.

It all started in Skibbereen a couple of weeks ago, when we had lunch at the café attached to the West Cork Arts Center. Those nice people were responsible for the amazing red (beet and carrot) soup I wrote about here a while back. They make good food there, including desserts, which of course we had to investigate thoroughly.

They had a beet salad on the menu. Have I mentioned before that I don’t like beets? Well, I’ll have to edit that opinion: I don’t like the gummy sweet kind my mother used to serve. But the simple raw version is growing on me, so I tried the salad.

What was intriguing was that the beets formed a kind of spaghetti-like cluster on top of the greens. You’d think by now I’d have every kitchen gadget known to humankind, but somehow I’d missed the spiralizer. So now I have one (a rather rudimentary version, I will admit—I will have to investigate further options).

Before I tackled the beet recipe I had to experiment with the little critter. Carrots bombed—too tough. Turnips worked once I peeled them. So did potatoes. The zucchini was a pleasant surprise--it worked very well. Apples were a disaster—they fell apart. But the raw beets, once peeled, came out fine. (Note: I now have a stash of vegetable strings in the fridge. Not all would I want to eat raw, so I parboiled the tougher ones for a couple of minutes before refrigerating them. Haven’t gotten to all of them yet, but I fried up the potato strings and they cooked up nice and crisp.)




I tracked down whichever salad green has the red stems (the packages weren’t much help—mostly they say something like “Leafy Medley. The Irish call them “mixed leaves” on menus) which was what the café used, and which fit the holiday color theme. Putting the salad together is simple:

--wash your leaves if necessary and spin dry. Array on individual medium-size plates.

--shred the beets.

--make a nest of your shredded beets (or whatever other vegetables you’re using) on top of the leaves.

--sprinkle with sunflower seeds (the white note)—toasting them briefly gives them a slightly mellower flavor, if you have the time and space in your oven.

--drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette (or any non-creamy dressing)


In hindsight I think marinating the shredded beets in the dressing would have been a good idea, but not for too long or they’d get soggy and limp.

The result? A pretty, easy-to-make dish to add to your holiday table.

And a giveaway! While the next County Cork Mystery, Many a Twist, will be out next month, I thought it would be more appropriate for the season to give away a hardcover copy of Cruel Winter, which takes place during a blizzard and involves cooking for a group of stranded strangers who are snowed in at the pub--and one of them might be a murderer.

Leave a comment by the end of Sunday and I'll pick a winner!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Bramley Apple Pie and a Giveaway

I know, you've seen plenty of apple pie recipes, but there's a reason for this one.

It all started with the apples at the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market in West Cork. You see, in England and Ireland they have Bramley apples, which are large, green, and often kind of lumpy-looking. They hold their shape in cooking and they taste good. They were first described in 1809, and are the most important cooking apple in England and Ireland. For some reason they've never really caught on in the US, so I brought a few back with me.

I needed a recipe. As I have said (too many times) already, I’m lousy at making rolled pie crusts, so I decided to use a simple one that I could press into the pie pan, and I found a nice, easy recipe.

The rest I kind of borrowed from my own recipe for Apple Goodie. I’d never made that with a crust, but it seemed worth trying. Besides, the topping for Apple Goodie is also quick and easy, and you can mix up everything with your hands (saves washing up!).

Bramley Apple Pie


2 cups flour

3 Tblsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, 
   cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tblsp water

In a food processor, mix all the ingredients until the mixture is clumpy, but stop before it starts forming a ball. Or mix with your fingers.

Find a ten-inch pie plate (metal works best—I’m not sure how the crust would brown with a ceramic or Pyrex pie plate). Dump all the crumbs into the pan. Press the dough around the sides first, then the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and use a glass or cup and press the dough smooth all around (this helps firm it up so it holds together when you’re serving it). Remove the plastic (!).


Peel and slice your apples (I used three Bramleys, which made up between 3-4 cups. This is a shallow pie.), then toss them with some sugar, flour, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.

Put the apples into the pie pan over the crust. Lay them sort of flat, but you don’t have to be fussy.


1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Mix coarsely (fingers again, if you want) and sprinkle over the apples in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the pie in the middle of the oven (you might want to put a cookie sheet under it or on the rack below in case it oozes) and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until what you can see of the crust around the edge is nicely brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool for a while (but you can serve it still warm). I will confess I held my breath when I sliced it, but it came out in a tidy piece. Eureka! (And it tasted really good!)

And a holiday giveaway! I have my first author copies of Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, which will hit the shelves next month, and I want to share one! Leave a comment about your favorite apple pie (or apple dessert, or just about anything that uses apples) and I'll pick a winner!

"This laid-back mystery combines plenty of puzzles with a strong feeling for life in small-town Ireland."
     --Kirkus Reviews