Halloween is a big thing in Ireland. Before all the commercialised plastic jack o laterns, fake cobwebs and Americanised trick or treating, Holloween was an ancient Celtic festival. According to legend Halloween was the night your ancestors souls returned to earth. Mischief and mishaps could occur, and there is also sorts of folklore that changes depending on where you go in the country.
Barm back (bairin breac in Irish, and apologies to all Irish speakers if I’ve misspelled this) was traditionally eaten at this time. This roughly translates as speckled loaf. The loaf is speckled with raisins and sultanas plump from being soaked in tea. There are stories that people would include different items and if you got it in your slice of the bread that would be your fortune for the year. These included things like if you got a ring you would get married, a dried pea meant you would stay single, and piece of cloth foretold poverty. There are various recipes, some use yeast, this one doesn’t and is much more straightforward. I used ordinary tea in this recipe, but you can also use teas like Earl Grey, or fruit teas. Some people include treacle, but I don’t like it so I left it out. The grated orange zest isn’t traditional but it’s what I like.
275 Grams Raisins
100 Grams Sultana
50 Grams Mixed peel (some supermarkets sell mixed fruit, so you can just total up to 425 Grams and use this instead)
300ml Black tea
200 Grams Brown sugar
225 Grams Self raising flour
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
The night before you make the barm brack, make 300ml of black tea. I just added a tea bag to hot water for a couple of minutes, don’t let it stew for too long or it will get bitter. You don’t need to leave this overnight, but try to leave it at least 3-4 hours
In a bowl, add the sugar, flour, spices and orange zest and combine. Add an egg and then add the tea and soaked fruit and mix well.
Transfer to a round 8 inch baking tin and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 90 mins. Because there is quite a lot sugar in this loaf, it goes quite dark. This is how it’s meant to be, but about half way through I cover the top with some tin foil to stop it taking on too much colour before it’s fully cooked.
One of my favourite places to visit in Northern Ireland is Newcastle Co. Down. There are lots of things to love, breathtaking scenery, amusement arcades, seaweed baths, a lovely promenade, and the world class Tollymore forest Park. I visited recently and tried to find a little bakery that used to sell the most amazing date and walnut wheaten bread. Sadly the shop is gone but the visit inspired me to come up with a version of it which isn’t half bad.
This bread is great just sliced and slavered in butter/jam. It’s also savoury enough to taste great when topped with cheese, or along side soup. You can also devide the bread mix into eight to make little wheaten rolls.
275 Grams Plain flour
200 Grams Wholemeal flour
175 Grams Dates (chopped)
75 Grams Walnuts (chopped)
50 Grams Butter (melted)
1 Tsp Baking soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
250ml Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so you can improvise as I did. I used normal milk and added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and left it to sit for 10 minutes)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
Add the flours, walnuts, dates, salt and baking soda to a bowl and combine
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add the egg, and melted butter. Add the milk a little at a time until you have quiet a moist dough.I like to use my hands to mix the ingredients, but you can also use a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape into a circle, around 14-16cm in diameter
Put the loaf onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a cross across the loaf, about a third of the depth of the loaf
Bake for 45 minutes, check the loaf is ready by tapping the bottom to makes it sounds hollow
I made this as the main course for the October Supper Club, and had clean plates all round. This is proper Winter is coming, comfort food. Beef, cooked long and slow in dark velvety beer to make a rich unctuous gravy.
If this wasn’t delicious enough, light tasty cheese scones bake on top, giving a crunchy top. Plenty of winter vegetables add to the rich savouryness of it all. This also freezes really well.
500ml Porter, stout or other dark beer
100 Grams Smoked Bacon
750 Grams Chuck beef
2 Stalks of celery
1 Tbsp Tomato Puree
250ml Beef stock
4 Stalks of Thyme (or 1 Tsp of dried thyme)
Salt and pepper
For the scones
200 Grams Self-raising flour
50 Grams Butter
100 Grams Mature Cheddar Cheese (grated)
1/2 Tsp Garlic powder
Cut the bacon into small strips and fry in a large dry pan until crispy. Remove the bacon and set to one side
Cut the beef into 2-3 cm chunks and brown in the same pan used to fry the bacon, remove from the pan
Cut the vegetables into chunks and add to the pan, cook for 5 minutes, add the tomato puree and cook for a further 5 minutes
Add the meat back to the pan, add the the stock and beer to the pan and stir to make sure all the tasty crispy bits get stirred into the sauce
Cover with a lid and simmer for 90 minutes
Remove the lid and check the seasoning, allow to simmer for another 30 minutes without the lid to allow the sauce to thicken, then allow to cook
For the scones, cut the butter into small cubes, and rub into the flour
Add the garlic powder, and grated cheese and stir until we’ll distributed
Add the milk a little at a time, until the mix comes together and is moist but not too sticky
Turn onto a floured surface, and cut into 6 equal sized pieces (don’t handle too much or the scones will be tough)
Place the scones on top of the beef mixture. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 30 minutes until crispy and golden
Anyone who follows this blog has probably worked out that I try to make reasonably healthy recipes. However, I think there is always room for some filth in your life. A good basic brownie is hard to beat, and there are endless variations you can make. I like food with different textures, so when I saw a version of this from Yammies Noshery, I had to try to make them. Apart from the fact these taste like a little square of heaven, they’re also gluten free. So you can treat your intolerant loved ones to something other than a coconut macaroon. These are great for Halloween parties or judge because you feel like a bit of filth.
For the brownies
260 Grams White sugar
180 Mil Vegetable oil
1 Tsp Vanilla bean paste
200 Grams Cocoa powder
1/4 Tsp Salt
60 Grams Chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
For the topping
180 Gram Bag of mini marshmallows
250 Grams Chocolate
160 Grams Peanut butter
75 Grams Butter
400 Grams Rice crispies
Line a 9 x 13 inch baking tin, and preheat your oven to 180 degrees
For the brownies, add the oil and sugar together and mix until we’ll combined. Whisk in the eggs, and vanilla, then add the cocoa powder and salt and mix until combined.
Fold in the chocolate chips, and pour into your lined baking tin. Bake of 17 minutes (if you prefer a more cakey brownie leave them in the oven for another couple of minutes)
Take the brownies out of the oven and sprinkle the top with mini marshmallows, and return to the oven for another 8 minutes
The marshmallows should have melted and be looking slightly toasted around the edged
Allow to cool before adding the next topping (I didn’t wait and it was a nightmare to spread)
For the crunch topping, put the chocolate, butter, and peanut butter in a large microwave proof dish.
Microwave for 30 seconds at a time and stir, taking care that the mix doesn’t burn
When melted, add the rice crispies and mix until they are fully coated
Spread the mix over the cooled marshmallow topped brownies and allow to set before slicing into small squares (these are seriously rich, and can always have another one if you can manage it)
Autumn is my favourite time of year, not just because of the colours and dark nights. What I really love are the fantastic fruit and vegetables that come into their own.
I love warming, stick to your ribs comfort food at this time of year. I’ve had some really bland apple crumbles, so for a while I experimented with different versions and this is my favourite. I’ve used cinnamon, but cardamom also works really well.
I also added chopped dates, which adds a lovely toffee back note. The crumble has oats and nuts to add flavour and texture. It comes out of the oven with a crunchy topping and gooey jammy fruit base. I like mine with custard, but it also works well with ice cream.
600 Grams Plums (stones removed)
75 Grams Dates (finely chopped)
1/2 Tsp Cinnamon
100 Grams Brown Sugar
200 Grams Plain flour
100 Grams Porridge oats
50 Grams Almonds (chopped)
100 Grams Butter (cut into cubes)
Cut the plums in half and remove the stones
Put the plums in an oven proof dish, and mix with the cinnamon and chopped dates
For the crumble, you can add the flour, and butter to a food processor and mix. I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting the food processor out and then cleaning it. Instead I added the ingredients to a bowl and rubbed the flour and butter together
When the flour, and butter are combined, add the sugar, oats and nuts and mix well
Sprinkle the crumble over the fruit. Put the dish in an oven preheated to 180 degrees. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until brown and delicious
I did the thing I normally do when I go to a farmer’s market. I bought way too much random stuff because I thought it looked good. I got it home and then had to think what I was going to do with it.
This is a scrummy mix of colours and textures. Delicious Autumn vegetables in a creamy sauce, with a little bit of heat from smoked paprika, topped with crunchy, cheesy garlic bread.
Who doesn’t like garlic bread (weirdos, that’s who). You can use any combination of vegetables you like, pumpkin, butternut squash, or green beans also work well.
I tried this recipe on one of my oldest friends. I was nervous because she owns a steak restaurant and is a confirmed carnivore and got two enthusiastic thumbs up (still sorry I forgot to send you home with a doggy bag Mags, but here is the recipe as promised). Go get your comfort food on.
1 Tbsp Olive oil
250 Grams Brussels sprouts
150 Grams Cavelo Nero (or Kale)
175 Grams Mushrooms
400 Grams Cream cheese
250ml Vegetable stock
1/2 Tsp Smoked paprika
Handful of parsley
25 Grams Butter
2 Cloves of garlic
50 Grams Cheddar Cheese
Cut the bottoms of the Brussels sprouts and halve. Remove the stalks from the cavelo nero and slice. Cook the sprouts and cavelo nero in the vegetable stock for 5 minutes, until just tender
Slice the courgettes, onions, mushrooms and pepper, and fry in the olive oil in a large frying pan for about 5 minutes until soft
Add the sprouts, cavelo nero and vegetable stock to the frying pan. Sprinkle the smoked paprika over the vegetables, and add finely chopped parsley and cream cheese
Mix until thoroughly combined
Crush or mince the garlic and combine with butter
Slice the baguette into 2cm slices, and spread with the garlic butter
Put the vegetable mix into an oven proof dish and top with the slices of buttered baguette
Top with grated cheese and bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees, for 30 minutes until golden brown