I’m the eldest of nine kids and there was always cooking going on in our house. Mummy loved to cook, we were really lucky. Every single day she made a brown soda bread and there would always be a smell of bread cooking when we came in from school every day. She also made these lovely scones with sugary tops and the recipe was in my first Simply Delicious book; I think half of Ireland uses that recipe!
I learned how to make bread by watching her and when I was little she’d give me a bit of the dough and I’d make it into a little loaf, which we used to call a cistin, and put it on the little baking tray beside hers when it went into the oven. Everyone would say my bread was delicious but it would be as hard as a rock from overhandling!
We lived in the tiny village of Cullohill, Co Laois, and the national school was just at the end of the road. Mummy arranged for us to come home for lunch every single day. Like Myrtle, she was of a generation where she knew that our food was our medicine and the importance of feeding us wholesome food to keep us healthy. It was so lovely, particularly in the winter, to run up the hill home to find a stew bubbling. We always had what we called Sweet. It was often something quite simple, but always delicious.
Mum’s Victoria Sponge
125g (4 1/2oz) butter
175g (6oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, organic and free-range
175g (6oz) flour
1 teaspoon (5g) baking powder
1 tablespoon milk
110g (4oz) homemade raspberry jam
300ml (10fl oz/1/2 pint) whipped cream
castor sugar to sprinkle
You will need 2 x 18cm (7 inch) sponge cake tins
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
Grease the tin with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture.)
Sieve the flour and baking powderand stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked — the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge. Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake.
Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.
Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doily.
MY mother, Vera, was definitely the first person to get me interested in cooking. It was such a big part of her life and from the earliest days she taught me to appreciate and respect food.
I was lucky in that I got the perfect beginning for what turned out to be a very satisfying career. Yes, she taught all of the essentials of family meals and chatting around the table. This was long before anyone would even think of looking at a mobile phone.
But also, because she cooked for the restaurant, I saw from early days the importance of timing, of portions, of flavours, and of customers. She didn’t so much teach me the essentials as I absorbed them growing up and watching her. She knew the business side as well as the cook-for-the-family side. Without a doubt I would not be where I am today, with a job I love and a great staff, without learning from her.
Of course I miss her. Every day she will pop into my mind. She was a great person to encourage. And a great critic. She was a great mother. Any time we are trying out something new in the restaurant she is in my mind and I am wondering what she might have to say. It would always be worthwhile.
Cheesecake with White Chocolate,Coole Swan and Macerated Pat Clarke Strawberries
200g (7oz) cream cheese
finely-grated rind and juice of ¼ lemon
½ vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
100g (3.5oz) white chocolate, broken into squares
100ml (3.5fl oz) cream
100ml Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur
4 shortbread biscuits, finely broken up
white chocolate curls, to decorate
dried raspberries to decorate
Maltesers to decorate
spun sugar, to decorate
fresh mint sprigs, to decorate
Using a whisk, beat the cream cheese, lemon rind and juice, vanilla seeds, melted white chocolate and Coole Swan liqueur together, until smooth and light. Fold in the whipped cream until combined. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a 1cm (1/2in) plain nozzle and place in the fridge until needed.
To assemble the cheesecake, divide the macerated strawberries among martini glasses and crumble the shortbread biscuits on top. Pipe the cheesecake mixture right up to the rim of the glasses and decorate with raspberries, white chocolate curls, dried raspberries, Maltesers, spun sugar and mint sprigs.
To serve, arrange the cheesecakes on plates.
Macerated Pat Clarke Strawberries
8 oz Pat Clarke Strawberries, chopped
2 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp mint or basil, chopped
Pour the crème de cassis and vanilla extract over the strawberries. Cover with cling film and shake. Leave overnight to infuse.
Growing up in the Smith household, food has always played a major role. It was never treated as fuel but instead a celebration. When I think back on some of the happiest family moments whether it be birthdays, anniversaries or chats over coffee it has always been based around great grub.
One of my fondest memories as a youngster, was watching my Mum bake brown bread, we always had a 25kg bag of wholemeal flour in the hotpress and my job was to run and top up the bowl. It was also my way of spending quality time with her. I never take it for granted that we had freshly baked bread, an honest, home-cooked meal every evening, queen cakes on the weekends or a cracking Sunday roast.
When I was 16 and I decided I wanted to train as a chef, I know my parents had concerns about it being a tough job with long unsociable hours but instead they embraced my decision and my Mum brought me to an open day in the local hotel. Her outlook for me and my siblings, was and still is very simple, you have to love what you do.
Looking back I am so grateful for many things but one of the most important being, dinner time was always spent around the table as a family, this was my Mum’s way of spending time with us, asking how we were, checking in on us. It may not have been about the food on our plates but I now know these moments were her way of taking care of and loving us.
Jammie Dodger Biscuits
170g caster sugar
1 medium egg
Dash vanilla extract
200g plain flour
350g Irish strawberry jam
In a mixing bowl, cream the room temperature butter and caster sugar together until pale in colour.
Add the egg and vanilla and combine.
To this add in the sieved flour and saltand mix. Turn this dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball.
Wrap this in clingfilm and chill for 25 minutes. Once rested, roll out on a floured work surface about 5mm in thickness and cut out 28 discs using a 7cm round cutter. Taking a small heart cutter, cut this shape into the centre of half your biscuits.
Place them on two lined baking sheets and return to the fridge to rest for a further 20 minutes. This ensures they keep there shape while baking.
Heat your oven to 180C / 160C Fan / Gas 4
Egg wash each cookie and sprinkle with some caster sugar and bake for about 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove and allow to cool.
Once cooled, spread some strawberry jam onto the base cookie and top with the heart cookie and sandwich them together.
These will keep for two days in an airtight container.
If they last that long!