Author Archives: tara

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Saffron & Cardamom Baked Custard Tartlets with Pistachio Dust & a visit to L’Aube Safran, Provence

I made my annual visit to Paula at A Table en Provence a few weeks ago. Paula runs food & wine tours as well as cookery lessons from Vacqueras every summer. For more about Provence, click here.

As always, I had a lovely time-Provence is a wonderful place for a food lover (not to mention the wine!). One of the highlights this year, however, was a visit to L’Aube Safran, an organic saffron producer near the village of Barroux in the heart of the Dentelles mountains. Francois, the owner explained to me that the saffron threads he produces tend to be thicker and more robust in flavour than saffron produced elsewhere as the weather & soil conditions in Provence are unique to that region. In other words, it benefits from the same dry, clay that vines thrive on with hot summers and bright, sunny winters.

L’Aube Safran is also a gorgeous B&B with cookery classes given by Marie, Francois’ wife in a purpose built demo kitchen.

Francois from L’Aube Safran



Saffron & Cardamom Baked Custard Tartlets with Pistachio Dust

I have been playing around with the saffron over the last few weeks and I will post a couple of recipes but here is the first one!

These tartlets are refreshing and subtly flavoured, ideal after a strongly flavoured or heavy meal.



(Makes 6)

For the sweet shortcrust pastry:

100 g Plain white flour

50 g chilled butter

1 tblsp icing sugar

1 egg yolk

For the custard:

4 Egg Yolks

250 ml Single Cream

60 g Caster Sugar

7-8 Cardamom Pods

A  large pinch of Saffron threads (about 1 tsp)

To finish:

A little gently whipped Cream (how much is up to you!!)

A handful of Pistachio nuts, very finely chopped (a pestle & mortar or coffee grinder is good for this!)

You will need 6 x 10 cm tartlet tins with removable bases


Make the pastry first. You can either use a food processor for this or use your hands.

To make by hand, place the flour and butter together in a bowl

Using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter with the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Tip it out on to a lightly floured work surface and,using the heel of your hand, bring together with a little of the egg yolk (try to only add a little of the egg yolk at a time as the less you use the better for a light texture)

To use a food processor, place the butter and flour in the bowl with the blade attachment.

Pulse until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs, then add a small amout of egg yolk.

It should come together very quickly now.

When the pastry has formed into a smooth ball, flatten into a disc shape.

Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan, 350°F or Gas Mark 4

Roll the pastry out quite thinly (about 1/2 cm)

Using the tartlet tins, cut the pastry into the shape of the tin. Roll these circles out a little more.

Place the pastry in the tins, ensuring the edges are pressed up around the sides

Using a fork, pierce each tartlet a couple of times

Place the tins on a baking tray that is lined with baking paper or tin foil

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 mins

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 mins while you make the custard.

To remove the seeds from the cardamom pods, either crush in a pestle & mortar or slit open with a knife and remove seeds

Now make the custard.

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and whisk until the sugar has dissolved into the eggs and the mixture becomes pale in colour. Set aside.

Place the cream in a saucepan with the saffron and cardamom and heat very gently until it just about reaches boiling point. You will be able to see the surface quivering.

Turn the heat off and allow the cream to infuse with the saffron & cardamom for  3 or 4 minutes

Place a strainer over a jug and pour the cream in, removing the saffron & cardamom seeds

Pour a small amount of the flavoured cream into the eggs and whisk (this is to temper the eggs)

Pour the mixture back into the pot along with the rest of the cream

Over a gentle heat, stir the custard until it thickens

When it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and return to the jug.

Pour the custard into each tartlet case until it comes right up to the top

Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 mins or until golden brown on top

Allow to cool for 30 mins before removing from the tins.

Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of the pistachio “dust”






Atul Kocchar’s Mackerel Rechado from Taste of Dublin 2011

With Taste of Dublin coming up this week, it got me thinking of last year’s event and all the fabulous dishes that were cooked at it. I often work backstage at Taste of Dublin with the team from Fairyhouse Cookery School. It is hard work but also great fun. The amount of planning and coordination that goes into ensuring the smooth running of the chef’s demo theatre is phenomenal!

Of all the dishes that were cooked, my favourite one by a long shot was Atul Kocchar’s mackerel rechado. Everybody that tasted it agreed that it was really superb. A fantastic use of spices with a great delicate pairing of star fruit & gooseberry compote. This dish is a fantastic summery meal-light but with plenty of flavour. There is a long list of ingredients but please don’t be put off by that as you may have most of them in your storecupboard and the  method is very straightforward. If you can’t get your hands on all the spices, just use what you can-you will still have a great tasting dish even if it is not exactly as complex as the original. I have omitted the chutney on occasion and still had a great meal!


Serves 4

4 mackerel, filleted, pin bones removed

For the spice paste:

2 dried red chillis

3 cloves

10 large garlic cloves

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

8 peppercorns

1 cinnamon stick

6 green cardamom pods

2 tsp ground turmeric

6 Dutch red chillis

1 tsp brown sugar or palm sugar

4 tblsp tamarind pulp

red wine vinegar

Gooseberry Chutney:

200g gooseberries, fresh or frozen

50g apples, cored & chopped

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp punch phoran (equal quantities nigella seed,  fenugreek, fennel seed, black mustard seed & cumin seed)

1 tsp ginger, chopped

1 tsp coriander powder

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

a pinch of garam masala

1/4 tsp turmeric

50ml red wine vinegar

70g granulated sugar

salt to taste

For the Salad:

2 star fruit, sliced

1 tsp lime juice

1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan then crushed

a handful of micro greens

1 tsp olive oil

Blend all the ingredients for the spice paste together, adding enough vinegar to make a thick paste. Apply and smear the paste well on the fish fillets.

Cook the fish in a hot oven for 7-10 mins or heat a thin layer of oil in a large frying pan, add the mackeral and fry for about 2-3 mins on each side, until just cooked through.

For the chutney, heat oil in a pan. Add punch phoran-sauté until it crackles.

Add the powdered spices and add the vinegar & sugar followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Cook for 30-40 mins until chutney is cooked and sticky.Cool and serve with the fish.

Mix all the ingredients for the salad together and toss well. Serve the fish, chutney & salad together.



éThis is a fabulous recipe for mackeral from last year’s Taste of Dublin.

Rosemary & Sea Salt Bread Rolls

These bread rolls are super tasty and easy to make. They require some time to make but are not complicated. They are very pretty and you are sure to impress guests at a dinner party with them! It is also a handy recipe as you can freeze one batch & bake at a later date.


(Makes 2 batches-you can freeze one)


 650g strong white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

14g pack fast acting yeast (2 x 7 g packs)

3 tablespoon olive oil

350-400ml lukewarm water

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons of good quality sea salt (I used Irish Atlantic sea salt)




  1. Put the flour and salt into a large bowl, add the sugar and yeast.
  2. Make a well in the centre, add the oil and water.
  3. Gradually work into the flour to make a soft dough.
  4. Sprinkle over a little flour if the mixture feels too sticky, but make sure it is not too dry- the dough should be pliable and smooth.
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead for 10 minutes  (sprinkling a little flour on when needed) until the dough is smooth and stretchy (soft but elastic).
  6. Sprinkle most of the rosemary and sea salt into the dough (saving some for decoration)
  7. Pull pieces of the dough off and shape into balls by rolling between your hands
  8. Place the balls of dough into a round cake tin in a circle, placing one in the middle( I found a spring release 9” or 23 cm tin useful to do this)
  9. Cover with cling film and let rise in warm spot until double in volume, about 1 to 1½  hours.
  10. Preheat the oven to 220 C˚ / Gas 6
  11. Brush a little olive oil on top of each roll and sprinkle a little salt and rosemary on top to decorate
  12. Bake for 15-20 mins or until they are golden brown.


Laura Santini’s Five Spice Minced Pork & Tenderstem Broccoli










This is a recipe from Flash Cooking, Laura Santtini’s book. I had the pleasure of working on this book, testing all the recipes. I love this pork as it is so tasty but also very quick. A perfect “mid week” meal.

In the book, there are recipes for making your own spice blends. I have made my own Chinese 5 spice blend and it is delicious but feel free to use commercial Chinese 5 spice-you will still get a great result!

I love serving this in little gem leaves-using them as a wrap and picking them up with your hands.If you fancy doing it this way, just chop the broccoli into smaller slices. Laura’s original recipe calls for natural roasted peanuts but I have specified cashew nuts here as they are more easily available in Ireland.


1 tbsp sesame oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

500g pork mince

250g Tenderstem broccoli

4 spring onions, chopped

1 red chilli, sliced and deseeded

2 tbsp nam pla fish sauce

½ tbsp runny honey

For the garnish:

Little Gem leaves, left whole & washed

Handful chopped coriander leaves

2 tbsp toasted & roughly chopped cashew nuts (simply place on a dry pan and heat until golden brown)

Lime wedges

1 red chilli, sliced thinly on the diagonal


  1. Heat the sesame oil in a wok and add the garlic, ginger and five spice powder. When sizzling, add the pork and stir-fry until it begins to brown. Add the broccoli and continue to stir-fry until that begins to become tender.
  2. Add the spring onins, chilli, fish sauce, honey and lime juice, and stir fry until bubbling and the pork is nicely browned. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a minute or so until the broccoli is just tender.
  3. Place a large tablespoonful of the mixture into the little gem leaves and serve topped with fresh coriander, a sprinkling of nuts and a wedge of lime on the side.

Pronto Pork Chops with Lemon, Sage, Rosemary & Beans

This is my first recipe posting since having my baby girl 9 weeks ago. It has been a whirlwind of joy, euphoria, exhaustion & bewilderment. It would be fair to say that the husband and I have been fairly shell shocked! After some complications & lots of hospital food I was very glad to get home. My parents took pity on us and delivered us delicious meals every evening for about 7 weeks. This was absolutely fantastic and was a real highlight of the day- seeing the basket, full of containers arriving and wondering what today’s (often 3 course meal) was with our mouths watering. Alas, all things must come to an end and we have been fending for ourselves again recently. It has been lovely to be able to get back cooking- I have always  loved the ritual of cooking the evening meal and all that it symbolises-the working day is over &  family time is beginning. With a new baby it is, of course, difficult to spend lots of time in the kitchen so some evenings simplicity and speed are key. I love this recipe as it is tasty, filling & nutritious. It really is worth trying to get free range pork chops on the bone as the flavour will be far superior. In Drogheda, my local town, I have been buying them from Tuites Butchers who rear their own but there are lots of others around the country you can buy from online such as Crowes Farm, Oldfarm & James Whelan Butchers

(Serves 2)


2 Free Range Pork Chops on the bone if possible

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

100 ml white wine

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 lemon, halved

1 400g tin of cannellini beans or butter beans

1-2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole

a bunch of fresh sage


  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C
  2. Rinse the beans in a sieve or colander
  3. Season the meat on both sides and brush some oil on
  4. Heat a heavy bottomed, ovenproof frying pan until very hot
  5. Brown the meat on all sides & remove from pan to a warmed plate
  6. Add the wine and deglaze the pan
  7. Add the beans to the pan and return the pork with any juices
  8. Add the rosemary & sage and squeeze the lemon over the meat and leave the halves in the pan
  9. Place the pan into the oven and cook for 3mins then turn over & spoon the juices over the other side of the meat
  10. Return to the oven for a further 2 mins
  11. Let the meat rest for at least 5 mins before serving , mash the garlic with a fork and spoon the juices over the meat when serving

Serve with some steamed greens or tossed leaves.

Easy peasy Lamb Tagine with Preserved Lemons & Herby Cous Cous

I was on twitter the other evening when Colette from Cakes, Bakes & Other Bits asked the question- What is a Tagine? This opened up a bit of discussion and triggered a funny memory for me. When I was about 10, my parents went on holiday to Morocco returning with a tagine. Lots of people thought it was a hat. My Dad had gone to lots of trouble to get it home from the market (to be fair this was before Ryanair & the tiny baggage allowances we have nowadays) he had bought it in only to find the chimney part had cracked. Anyway, not giving up on the dream of making a tagine at home, he persevered and insisted on using it on our electric ’80’s style cooking rings. All was going fine until he was just about to serve it up when he lifted the chimney part off and it crumbled in his hands and into the stew. Very disappointing after all his hard work! He informed me this morning that the remnants became a flower pot for years afterwards!

This is a dish I frequently make in my cookery classes and always goes down a storm! It’s a great dish for feeding a crowd as all the work is done earlier in the day so that you can spend time with your guests when they arrive.

My understanding is that a tagine is the cooking vessel made of earthenware from North Africa. It is used to slow cook stews using lamb and chicken mainly. Nowadays, we tend to think of a tagine as the stew itself using North African spices such as cumin, turmeric, coriander, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, all spice, cloves etc. The spice blend Ras El Hanout is also often used which contains a small amount of rose petals to give a light fragrance. It will often contain preserved lemons, dried fruits such as apricots, dates & raisins.






Serves 6

Lamb Tagine


1.5 kg shoulder of lamb, ask your butcher to bone, trim and cut it into 2 cm dice

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced or chopped finely

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

3 tablespoons of honey

500mls of lamb stock

1 aubergine, chopped into cubes

2 preserved lemons, pips removed, quartered

Large handful of toasted, flaked almonds

Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

For the marinade:

2 tablespoons ras el hanout

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 ½ tablespoons paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoons ground black pepper



  1. Mix the marinade ingredients with 75 mls of water in a large bowl
  2. Add the lamb and ensure it is well coated
  3. Cover and leave for 24 hours if possible
  4. Heat a large casserole and add oil
  5. Brown the lamb in batches, ensuring you keep the pan hot
  6. Reduce heat, add more oil
  7. Add onions and sweat for 5 mins, then add the garlic and stir for 1-2 mins
  8. Return the lamb to the pot and add the tomatoes, lamb stock and honey
  9. Boil and then put in oven
  10. Stir after 1 ½ hours and add aubergine and preserved lemons
  11. Return to oven for 1 hour, cooking for a total of 2 ½ hours
  12. Sprinkle the almonds and coriander over the tagine and serve with couscous.

Herby Fragrant Couscous

Serves 6



300grms couscous

300mls hot chicken stock

2 limes, cut into wedges

Bunch of mint, roughly chopped

Bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

Optional: Sml knob of Butter

  1. Place couscous into a bowl and cover with chicken stock, leave for 5 mins
  2. Fluff up couscous with a fork and add herbs (& a knob of butter if desired)
  3. Sprinkle some lime juice over, season and mix
  4. Serve






Autumnal Salad of Young Goats' Cheese, Roast Beetroot & Fresh Walnut with Vanilla & Orange Dressing

This is not so much a recipe as an assembly job. I love the earthy, autumnal flavours of this salad woken up by the zesty dressing and sweet sourness of the blackberries. I have not given quantities for this (apart from the dressing) as it is up to you how much you make of it! It is extremely simple but I feel it warrants a mention because the mix of flavours is so good. I personally could not stop eating the blackberries with great lumps of the cheese when I was supposed to be tidying up!

This is an effortless starter dish ideal for dinner parties as it looks so pretty and really stimulates the appetite!


1 Beetroot

Young, fresh goats cheese. I used Ardsallagh

A handful of walnus (if you can, use fresh)


A selection of young baby leaves

Some edible flowers to decorate,

½ an orange, juiced

1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla paste if you have it in your storecupboard)

Extra virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 180˚ C

To roast the beetroot, gently wash it and trim the tops, leaving a little root

Drizzle a little oil over and wrap up in tin foil

Place in the oven for about 45mins

When it is just cool enough to handle, peel the skin off using a knife. You may wish to wear rubber gloves for this!

Chop the beetroot into bitesize pieces

Tear the goats cheese into smallish chunks

Make the dressing by mixing 3 tablespoons of oil,3 tablespoons of orange juice & vanilla seeds. Taste and season.

Place all the remaining ingredients in a largish bowl apart from the edible flowers.

Toss the salad with the dressing and serve with the edible flowers.


Christmassy Sage & Chestnut Soup

I love chestnut soup! I have made lots of variations of it and taken inspiration from many recipes for this one. I particularly like Nigella Lawson’s version but I have tweaked it so many times that the following recipe is by far my favourite way to do it. By all means, roast the chestnuts yourself if you fancy it but for convenience I use the vac packed type. If you can’t get these, unsweetened puree will suffice.

I made this soup as a starter for Sunday lunch recently. We had 8 adults, 3 children & 2 dogs. The soup went down well with both adults and children alike. Although it is ideal at Christmas time it is not confined to it! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do :0)


(Serves 6 generously)


1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 carrot, chopped

1/2 parsnip, chopped

1 stick of celery, chopped

A good glug of olive oil

A couple of Sage leaves, chopped

250 grms of vacuum packed Chestnuts, chopped or 1 tin of Unsweetened Chestnut Puree

1 small tin of Chickpeas

75 mls Marsala, Madeira or Sherry

750 mls of Chicken Stock

Salt & Pepper

3-4 Slices Parma/Serrano ham or streaky rashers

A dollop of crème fraiche for each bowl


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the veg for about 10 mins or until softened with a pinch of salt

Add the chickpeas, sage and chestnuts and continue cooking for another minute or so

Add the most of the alcohol (keeping a little back) and allow to bubble up

Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 30 mins

When all the ingredients are soft, blend the soup and check for seasoning

Add the remainder of the alcohol and stir through

To Serve:

Cook the bacon until crisp and chop up finely

Pour the soup into bowls and place a dollop of crème fraiche on each, topped with the bacon



Fragrant & Gently Spiced Butternutsquash & Sweet Potato Soup

I first made this soup at Fairyhouse Cookery School a few years ago and was mad about it. It has since become a regular feature both at home and at cookery lessons where the punters always love it! It is a really hearty and filling soup and perfect for lunch or even as a lighter evening meal. It is particularly suitable for wet & windy days like today!I really like to make my own curry paste for this as it really gives wow factor to this soup. I have given you a simple recipe below for it and it keeps well in the fridge for weeks as long as it is covered with a little oil and a lid. It also freezes well so if you do go to the effort, you can use it over and over. If you are buying the curry paste, try and get a more authentic type such as Mae Ploy.


  • Vegetable/groundnut oil for cooking
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 butternut squash (cubed, not too big)
  • 1 small sweet potato, cubed (same size as squash)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons curry paste (homemade recipe below/shop bought or if not available, add grated ginger, chilli, lemongrass or lemon zest)
  • 400 ml vegetable/chicken stock
  • 200 ml coconut milk (the rest of the tin can be frozen)
  • Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped


  1. Heat a large saucepan.
  2. When good and hot, add oil & sweat onion with a pinch of salt for 5 mins
  3. Add garlic for 1 minute
  4. Add butternut squash and sweet potato and sauté for 5 mins with lid on
  5. Stir through curry paste to coat all veg
  6. Pour over the stock and cover
  7. Simmer for at least 10 mins
  8. Check veg is soft by inserting a knife
  9. Blend with either a stick blender or in a food processor
  10. Return to pot, whisk in the coconut milk and fresh coriander
  11. Check for seasoning & serve

Homemade Thai Curry Paste

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 5 fresh red chillies, chopped coarsely
  • 2 green chillies, chopped coarsely
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • 4 onions, chopped roughly
  • 2 sticks of fresh lemongrass
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • zest of half a lime
  • A tablespoon or so of Sesame Oil to loosen (use the groundnut or vegetable oil if you don’t have sesame)

Toast the seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Remove to a pestle & mortar and grind until fine.Check how hot your chillis are by tasting a little. If they are very hot, you may want to reduce the quantity of chilli in the paste. Add all the other ingredients to a food processor and whizz until you have a paste.


Paula's Pumpkin Pie


My friend Paula from A Table Provence was here to stay for a couple of weeks recently. She is Canadian and it just so happened that Canadian Thanksgiving fell on a day that she was visiting. Of course we had to celebrate with her and she prepared a traditional Thanksgiving meal for us with all the trimmings including a herb stuffed Chicken (should be Turkey but since there were only 3 of us it seemed a bit crazy!) with roast yams, fresh orange glazed carrots, creamy mashed potato & gravy. It was simple but delicious fare! We finished with this Pumpkin Pie  & Chantilly cream. I love the spices and the almost biscuity texture of the pastry. It really is worth making the Chantilly Cream as it complements the pie so well. I loved it so much that I demo’d it at My Chef at Home’s event at the beautiful kitchen showrooms of Ray Shiels and at the ICA’s headquarters in Termonfeckin!

Ingredients for the pie filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 235grms fresh cream
  • 400grms pumpkin puree
  • 165grms mucovado sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each grated orange zest, salt, all-spice, cloves, ginger and nutmeg

Preheat oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas Mark 7

To make the custard/pie filling:

Start by cutting the pumpkin in half and clean out the seeds. Once clean, cut the pumpkin into small pieces. Place on a baking sheet and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, or until soft. Let cool, then remove flesh from skin and puree or mash the flesh with the back of a fork. Leave the pulp in a fine meshed sieve for a minimum of 2 hours or leave overnight over a bowl to allow excess water to extract itself.Meanwhile, make the pastry.

For the Pastry:

This recipe makes two portions. You can freeze one and the hard work is done for next time! For this, you will need a 9” flan dish.

250grms white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

230grms unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

60-120mls of iced water


  1. In a bowl combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and quickly process by crumbling butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Once puree is ready, mix all ingredients together until the mixture is smooth.

Roll out pastry and place in a 9″ pie dish. Crimp the edges between your fingers. Place the custard inside the pastry.

Bake at 230°C,450°F, Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 180°C,350°F, Gas Mark 4 for 25 minutes more or until the tip of a sharp knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with Chantilly whipped cream.

Chantilly Whipped Cream:

235mls fresh cream
2-3  tablespoons icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, vanilla powder or vanilla paste

Whisk the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until soft peaks form. The cream should hold its shape but still be satiny in appearance.