Years ago there would be a surplus of eggs particularly as this is the time the hens go into overdrive and start to lay with gay abandon.
They too are super excited that the winter is almost over; Eileen has hatched out a batch of chicks in the incubator just in time to thrill our grandchildren and visiting friends of all ages.
They are the most photographed fluffy little chicks.
Even Julia is busy baking Easter biscuits and Pam’s making the Simnel cake, Emer has a batch of hot cross buns rising and Haulie is picking bundles of gorgeous pink spring rhubarb.
Back to the kitchen for Easter Sunday lunch.
I ordered a spring lamb a few weeks ago; we butcher it ourselves and share it between the family.
Spring lambs are born before Christmas and because they are milk fed the flesh is pale and sweet and particularly succulent.
I’ve kept a couple of shoulders for family lunch on Easter Sunday.
A roast leg is wonderful, of course, but I find the shoulder with just a little more fat even more delicious and juicy and it has the bonus of being a little less expensive than leg.
Spring lamb is so delicate that I am reluctant to add any extra flavours other than a generous sprinkling of flaky sea salt and some freshly cracked pepper.
Cook it slowly at 160°C rather than 180°C; the skin will caramelise gently resulting in an unforgettable lunch.
I’ll serve it with an old fashioned mint sauce made with the few sprigs of new season’s mint that I’ve managed to tease out of the ground by covering it with a cloche for this exceptionally early Easter.
If, however, you’d rather do something more adventurous, particularly if you have lamb rather than spring lamb, score the skin and rub in a mixture of freshly roasted cumin and flaky sea salt for a Moroccan flavour.
Alternatively, a spicy harissa would also do the trick, or a ‘Baharat’ spice rub from Green Saffron ( www.greensaffron.com ).
The gutsier herbs survived our atrocious winter, so if you’d rather fresh herbs, tuck little sprigs of rosemary or thyme into the skin at regular intervals and lay a sprig underneath to perfume the gravy and the joint as it roasts.
When Easter is late, we love to accompany spring lamb with the first of the new potatoes and spring carrots but there’s no sign of either at present, so I’ll cook some purple sprouting broccoli and Rory O’Connell’s chard gratin and we’ll have a feast and count our blessings.
We’ve got an abundance of wild garlic at present so how about wild garlic soup, or if you’d like to use some of your freshly laid eggs, how about delicate little wild garlic custards with fingers of toast.
For pud, I’ll definitely bake a rhubarb tart.
I particularly love the traditional tart my mother always made that has become known as Cullohill Rhubarb tart made with a pastry I’ve given you the recipe for several times (appeared in the Examiner, March 5, 2013).
So to ring the changes, here is a rhubarb meringue tart recipe I ate at Shaun Hill’s restaurant The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, Wales in September 2015 last year.
Remember rhubarb is very tart so you’ll need to be a little generous with the sugar but not too much because meringue is also super sweet….
Happy Easter to you all.
We use the broad leaves of ramps or ramsons for this delicious spring soup.
Wild garlic flowers — use the flowers of which flourish along the roadside.
Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them until well coated.
Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the wild garlic leaves.
When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured, add the stock and milk, bring to the boil, and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked.
Add the wild garlic and boil with the lid off for 3-4 minutes approximately until the wild garlic is cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour.
Puree the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve sprinkled with a few wild garlic flowers.
A shoulder of lamb is much trickier to carve than a leg, but the flavour is so wonderfully sweet and juicy, it’s certainly worth the struggle, particularly at home where perfect slices of meat are not obligatory.
I sometimes put this into the low oven of the Aga in the morning.
By 7.30pm in the evening, it is beautifully cooked — how easy is that!
Warm the cumin seeds slightly on a pan, crush them in a pestle and mortar.
Score the skin of the meat in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife.
Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and cumin and drizzle with olive oil, roast in a low oven 140C/275F/gas mark 1 in the usual way for 6 – 7 hours – this gives a delicious juicy succulent texture.
Alternatively cook in a moderate oven 160C/325F/gas mark 3 for 3-3½ hours.
The cumin seeds give a delicious flavour to the meat.
Carve it into thick slices so that everybody gets some cumin.
Serve with a light gravy to which a little freshly ground cumin has been added.
To make the gravy: Spoon the fat off the roasting tin.
Add the stock into the remaining cooking juices.
Boil for a few minutes, stirring and scraping the pan well, to dissolve the caramelised meat juices (I find a small whisk ideal for this).
Add the freshly ground cumin. Allow to thicken with a little roux if you like.
Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary.
Strain and serve the gravy separately in a gravy boat.
Serve with crusty roast potatoes.
To make the Roux: Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.
It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Big and leafy, looking like an exceptionally healthy leaf of spinach and with several colourful varieties, Chard is great.
Generally, unless the leaves are tiny, the stalk is removed from the leaf and cooked separately.
The cooked leaves and stalks can be served together or as individual dishes.
This recipe combines the vegetable with gruyere in a gratin and is finished with a crisp bread topping.
This dish can be prepared ahead and reheated later. It will make a delicious vegetarian supper dish or to serve with a roast shoulder of lamb or a grilled lamb chop.
Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Bring the water to a boil and add the salt. Remove the stalks from the chard with a sharp knife.
Cut the stalks against the grain in 2cm (¾ inch) pieces.
Add the stalks to the boiling water and cook at a simmer for about six minutes or until nearly tender.
Add the leaves to the pot and cook for a further three minutes until the leaves and the stalks are both cooked.
Strain off all of the water and allow the chard to sit in the strainer to drain off the rest of the water.
Toss the breadcrumbs in the olive oil and spread out on to a baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes or until toasted and golden.
The crumbs tend to cook unevenly, so you will need to move them around on the tray a couple of times during the cooking. When ready, remove from the oven and reserve for later.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and stir to mix.
Cook on a gentle heat for about three minutes to cook the flour. You have just made a roux and this mixture will thicken the sauce.
Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil while whisking constantly. The sauce will by now have thickened.
Turn the heat down low and allow the sauce to simmer for a further two minutes.
Remove from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Add the drained chard to the sauce with 110g (4oz) of the grated gruyére and the chopped marjoram and mix gently but thoroughly. Taste again and correct seasoning.
Place the mixture in an ovenproof gratin dish and sprinkle on the remaining gruyere and finally the roasted bread crumbs.
The gratin can be put aside for later or reheated now in a moderate oven, 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for about 15 to 20 minutes until bubbling and golden.
If you are reheating it from cold it will need 30 minutes.
Traditional mint sauce, made with tender young shoots of fresh mint, takes only minutes to make.
For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture.
Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5–10 minutes, before serving.
A lovely seasonal recipe from Shaun Hill who now has a restaurant called The Walnut Tree in Monmouthshire, Wales — www.thewalnuttreein.com
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
Line a 26cm pastry case — preferably with a pop up base — with sweet pastry and bake blind.
The rhubarb goes in next. Then mix together the egg yolks, sugar, and flour and spread this over the rhubarb. Bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes; this will start the rhubarb cooking.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until stiff. As they stiffen, trickle in the caster sugar.
Take the tart from the oven and spread the meringue on top. Reduce the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and return the tart to the oven. Bake for a further 25 minutes.
The egg whites must be completely free of imperfections — including yolk — if they are to be successfully whisked.
The bowl used must be dry and clean also. Don’t add sugar too early; the whites should already form peaks before you start.
Broth is having its moment once again. It’s easy to make your own from bones and carcass.
It’s a totally magical food, so full of nourishment and flavour and particularly important for those who have been laid low by a dose of flu or an interminable chesty cold.
Seek out Rachel McCormack’s Sonny’s Broth at Mahon Point Farmers’ Market on Thursday from 10am-2pm and Douglas on Saturday mornings 10am-2pm.
Tel: 086-8212741. There are properly delicious broths to enjoy right there or to bring home to sip by the fire.
Try the Pho Bò, an aromatic beef bone broth with rice noodles and fresh Asian herbs or Pho Gà spiced chicken broth also with rice, noodles and fresh Asian herbs – so good.
More Irresistible Cakes from Cakeface: Laura Mead and Rory Gannon met at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on a 12-week Certificate course in April 2010.
They particularly love to bake and travelled together to France to work at Roger Vergé three Michelin star restaurant Moulin des Mougins in Cannes.
From there it was on to the Savoy and Connaught hotels in London to hone their patisserie skills.
Now they are back in Ireland and have started Cakeface Pastry in Piltown selling their super professional cakes and tarts that look as though they popped straight out of a French pastry shop window; www.cakefacepastry.com , 086-6017045.