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Make your own Home-made Haggis for Burns' Night!

In 1801, some five years after the famous Scottish poet Robert (Robbie) Burns' death, nine of his friends sat down to dinner, to celebrate his extraordinary life and to gave thanks for his friendship. Little did they know that this remembrance would resonate down through the centuries and span all across the world. Over the years, the informal theme from that evening has developed into the ritual known internationally known as Burns Night.

Presenting and Toasting the Haggis have become part of the ritual of a Burns Night event!

Here in County Donegal, with the historic association of many Donegal people with Scotland and Scottish traditions, we have long been enjoying the lightly spiced and peppery flavours of this famous dish. Haggis is traditionally eaten on Burns Night which falls on the 25th January which is the birthday of the Scottish poet. Many venues in all nine counties of Ulster, celebrate Burns Night on the weekend closest to the 25th.

Robert Burns - Celebrating the poets birthday has made the Haggis world famous!

The Haggis, which tastes a little like our Irish black and white puddings mixed together, is a very old traditional dish that combines meats, spices and oatmeal.  A traditional Scottish recipe for haggis would involve the boiled and minced liver, lungs and heart of a sheep mixed with chopped onions, toasted oatmeal, salt, pepper, and spices.

The mixture would then be stuffed into the cleaned sheep’s stomach, sewn up and then boiled gently for several hours! The dish is usually served with neeps (mashed buttered turnip) and tatties (mashed potatoes), a whiskey sauce, a few readings of some poetry, along with copious amounts of whiskey to toast the Haggis!

A Traditional Haggis with Neeps (Turnips) and Tatties (Potatoes) & a Wee Dram of Whiskey!

Creating a Burns Night event at your home or restaurant is a splendid reason to go out to eat and drink with friends in January! Although the traditional date is the 25th January, most restaurants and hotels celebrate a Burns Night event on the Friday or Saturday closest to that date.

That's me assisting with "Presenting the Haggis" a Burn's Supper event
hosted by members of the local Ulster-Scots community. 

Here is my version of an old Haggis Recipe, where instead of a sheep’s stomach you cook the Haggis in a casserole dish.

500g minced lamb
500g minced beef
125g suet (beef or vegetable)
500g beef liver
100g of porridge oats
300ml of  meat stock (strain this from your boiled beef and lamb - see method)
250g finely chopped onions
½ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground mace
½ tsp of cayenne pepper
¼ tsp ground coriander
butter for greasing
a few twists of sea salt
a few twists of ground black pepper

Peeled Potatoes
Peeled and roughly chopped Turnips or Swedes. 

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
2. Cover the roughly-cut liver with cold water, bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Strain and dump away this liquid and then chop the cooked liver with the onion, in a blender or on a board.
3. Cover the minced lamb & beef with water and bring to the boil in a large pot. Cook out for approximately 30 minutes. Keep 300ml stock from this cooked meat and pour away the rest.
4. Give the porridge oats a rough chop and then mix all the ingredients together with the meat stock. Transfer this mix to a well buttered casserole dish. Cover and seal with a layer of tin-foil.
5. Cook in the oven at 160°C for about 2 hours.
6. Meanwhile boil and then mash some Turnips with butter, white pepper, salt and a drizzle of honey. Boil and then mash some potatoes with butter, salt and white pepper.

Invite your friends around and make your own home-made Haggis for a Burns' Night Supper!

For the Whiskey sauce:
500ml cream
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large shot of whiskey
sea salt
ground white pepper
3 tbls chopped scallions

To make the whiskey sauce, heat the cream in a pan over a medium heat. Add the wholegrain mustard, Dijon mustard, scallions and whiskey and stir with a small whisk. Increase the heat until the mixture is simmering and cook for 1-2 minutes until it reduces and thickens up a little. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and ground white pepper.

To serve:
Spoon out the Haggis, accompanied with mashed turnips and potatoes and drizzle with the whiskey sauce. I like to stack the Haggis, using a serving ring (see pic above) for presentation and then drizzle the sauce around it!

Why not make your own Haggis this year and have a Burns Supper of your own with the family! Or even better, have one in your local restaurant! 


Originally published in 2012

My Traditional Irish Christmas Cake

Christmas cakes are made in many different ways, but generally they are variations on the classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy etc. The cakes are made in many different shapes, with frosting, royal icing, a dusting of icing sugar or simple and plain.

The spices and dried fruits in the cake are supposed to represent the exotic eastern spices brought by the three Wise Men to the newborn King! The fruit is all soaked overnight in the whiskey, in a covered bowl, before use.

I always make three cakes - one for Christmas Day and two to eat every day for tea until then!

My Christmas Cake Ingredients:
150g (5oz) raisins
125g (4½oz) stoned dates
125g (4½oz) sultanas
100g (4oz) glace cherries
100ml (4 fl oz) Irish whiskey
(all of the above are soaked together overnight before making the cake)

225g (8oz) real butter
extra butter for greasing
200g (7oz) soft brown sugar
4 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon & 1 orange
2tbls black treacle (light molasses)
225g (8oz) plain (all purpose) flour
½ tsp salt
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground clove
50g (2oz) ground almonds
50ml (2 fl oz) extra whiskey 

My Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F), Gas mark 2. Grease a 20cm (8") cake tin and line it with greaseproof paper. Wrap some Newspaper around the outside and tie it with string. This will help the outside of the cake from browning too much during the cooking and prevent it from drying out.

2. Beat together, in a bowl, the sugar & butter until creamy. Gradually add the eggs, dusting a little of the flour in with each egg added. Add the treacle & grated fruit rinds and mix well.

3. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl of soaked fruit and add the salt, spices and almonds. Stir all of this together, mixing well.

4. Fold the fruit mix into the egg mix, stirring evenly. Spoon the completed mix into the cake tin. Pull a little dip back in the middle of the cake so that when it rises, it will level itself off better.

5. Bake in the centre of the oven for 3 hours. If it is browning a little too much cover it loosely with tinfoil. Cook for another ½ hour. The cake is cooked when a fine skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean and dry.

Make small holes all over the warm cake with a skewer and spoon the extra 50ml whiskey over the holes until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake to cool in the tin. 

When the cake is cold, remove it from the tin, peel off the lining paper, then wrap it first in clean greaseproof paper and then in foil.

A small amount of brandy, sherry or whiskey (depending on your own favourite drink) should be spooned over the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding the cake”. 

You also should turn the cake over, each week, before you pour another little bit of your favourite drink over it. This ensures that all that lovely alcohol penetrates to the very middle of the Christmas cake and definitely creates that "Yum!" factor on Christmas Day. Enjoy!


Winterage Festival on October 29th set to celebrate Food of The Burren

The Burren Beo Trust's ' Winterage festival' marks the ancient farming tradition of ‘winterage’ - herding cattle onto the higher limestone uplands for the winter months to feed on the rich vegetation.  

This year, the event will be held at Michael Cusack’s GAA Pitch near Bellharbour in County Clare on October 29th and includes both the Cattle drive walk, and the Burren Food Fayre which is being organised by the Burren Ecotourism Network. 

The Burren region is widely known as the ‘Fertile Rock’ and includes a wide variety of food producers including fish smokers, beef, dairy, sheep and oyster farmers, as well as distillers, foragers, herbalists, cheesemakers, bakers and chefs. This group have been working together for many years and have made the Burren an award winning food destination, with the Burren Food Trail winning the Burren Food Town award in 2015. 

Jarlath O’Dwyer, CEO of the Burren Ecotourism Network said: “This is an excellent opportunity for people to not only hear about the ancient farming practices of the Burren, but also for them to experience walking the cattle upland to the winterage, and then to be able to taste and purchase the foods of the land and sea at the Burren Food Fayre.”  

“We are delighted to work with the team at Burren Beo, who have run the Cattle Drive for several years, bringing it from strength to strength, and attracting people from all over Ireland to attend on the day.” He added. 

The locally sourced food and drink on display on the day will include beef, salmon, pork, oysters, cheese, breads, jams, chutneys along with Burren whiskey and gin. Many of the producers taking part adhere to the GEOfood concept, an international UNESCO initiative, which promotes sustainable agriculture and conservation and supports farmers and communities in the area. 

Carol Gleeson, Manager of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark said: “With a long-standing traditions of  food grown in the Burren, and a wide array of producers of both big and small-scale, GEOfood is a natural fit  for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. “We are delighted that the food fayre is once again being staged on the rich agricultural lands of the Burren – there is no better way to connect people to the produce than to see where it came from. Amongst our GEOfood group, we have a few farming families who have worked this land for generations.” 

The winterage walk starts at 11am, however attendees are encouraged to arrive at 10am to avail of tea, coffee and scones in the marquee. There will also be entertainment provided by local musicians. Pranjali Bhave of Burren Beo Trust said “We encourage all walkers to bring their own mug and hazel sticks and to bear in mind that this is a challenging walk of 6kms in total with a steep incline in the initial section of the walk. The walk is also on an uneven path and so unsuitable for buggies. No dogs are allowed. 

All attendees must purchase tickets and pre register at this link: -   

The Burren Food Fayre is supported by the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, the Department of Agriculture, Food and The Marine and Calor Ireland. 

Picking Blackberries & my Blackberry Madeira Pie Recipe

Everybody loves Blackberries. There are quite a few runs of pretty good wild Blackberry hedges around where I live. As the roads are quiet enough too, they don't get infused with exhaust fumes so much. But this year, while nosing around a few old back roads I hit the jackpot and found a good quarter-mile of the biggest,  juiciest, most bountiful blackberry bushes I've ever seen!

I parked up the car and pulled out the wee bowl my daughter and I had taken with us just in case we found some of these luscious fruits of the forest. It turned out that I needed to use the basin I had in the boot of the car since the last cooking demo I had done! There were blackberries as far as my eyes could see - I was like a wee boy again - smiling to myself as we picked the berries, eating almost as many as we picked! They were so perfectly ripe they almost fell off their husks into our hands. 

I was reminded of when my brother and I used to stay with our aunt, Nora Boyle, a few miles out of Donegal town, for two weeks during the summer months, so that Mum could have another room for the Bed & Breakfast guests. Nora is a great baker and instilled in me a lot of the older Irish recipes that I still love to make. She grew fruit and vegetables at home, baked every day, dried Dillisk on bedsheets in the garden and used to send us out picking blackberries so that she could make her Apple & Blackberry Jam to put on to the yummiest homemade Treacle & Ginger Bread ever.

We'd spend half the day away up fields and back-roads, with our cousins, picking and eating the juicy wild berries until we were sore!

I'm a great believer in 'smell' and how it can trigger memories and transport you to a particular point in your life with the deadliest of accuracy. Well, for me, the smell of blackberries means 10 years old, on holidays, "in the country".

The smell of fresh ripe blackberries is something so heavenly and unique as to enchant even the most distinguished wine connoisseur's scent glands. When it's said that there are "notes of Blackberry" in that Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 or whatever, well they probably haven't had the chance to stick their sniffer into a hand-picked bucket of the real juicy blackberries, just off the 'vine'!

Anyway, so Lily and I picked just under 3KG of these large, shiny, blackish-purple berries in about 40 minutes! On the way home I was wondering what to make first, a Crumble, a Tart, just Jam, some Chutney... but I decided to make a blackberry variation on the classic Irish Apple Cake of pastry bottom, apples and sugar, sponge topping.

Blackberry Madeira Pie

A 10" Pie Tin
Preheat your oven to 170°C

My Ingredients:

Sweet Pastry
200g Plain Flour
100g Butter
75g Caster Sugar
1 medium egg
a little Cold Water

Madeira Sponge Mix
100g Butter
100g Caster sugar
2 medium eggs
125g Self Raising Flour
1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence
a little milk

500g Blackberries
4 tablespoons caster sugar

2 tbls. Honey
2 tbls. Orange Juice
(or Marmalade Jam)

My Method:

1. Wash the blackberries gently, with cold water, in a sieve and let them drain while you make the rest of the pie.
2. For the pastry rub the butter into the flour until it's like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix in. Break in the egg and pull the pastry together using a little cold water if needed. Refrigerate.
3. For the Madeira, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add one egg with a tablespoon of flour and beat well until smooth. Add the 2nd egg with a little flour and beat well until smooth. The little bit of flour helps to stop the mix from curdling as you mix in the egg.
4. Add all the flour and mix in well. Add the vanilla essence and mix in. Add a little bit of milk to bring the Madeira mix to a dropping consistency.
5. Grease the pie tin with a little butter and dust with flour. Roll out the pastry and line the tin. Press it in gently and trim off the extra bit.
6. Fill the lined tin with the blackberries and dust with the caster sugar.
7. Spoon the Madeira mix over the top and using the back of a spoon dipped in cold water gently smooth out the mix to fill all the gaps.
8. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approx. 40 minutes or until the sponge is firm to the touch and golden brown.
9. Heat the honey and orange juice together, for 20 seconds, in a cup in the microwave and brush this glaze (or some marmalade jam) over the warm pie.

10. Stand back and see how long you can wait before you start eating it!


My post on Making Hedgerow Blackberry & Apple Jam is Here and my Blackberry Ice Cream is Here!


Could you be the Ulster Fry World Champion 2023?

The first ever Ulster Fry World Championships will be held on Saturday 19th August at the Donaghadee Summer Festival!

Entries will be accepted from all nine counties in Ulster, as well as an additional entry from Belfast, and are welcome from chefs in cafes, restaurants, hotels, and B&Bs across the province of Ulster!

Your entry must only consist of bacon, potato bread, egg, soda bread, and sausage.

Entries will be judged by our expert panel, and finalists invited to cook their Ulster Fry live in front of an audience.. The winner will receive their trophy to proudly display in their establishment, and boast to those far and wide that you are the Ulster Fry World Champion!

To make things fair, we have decided that only five ingredients will be included in the fry (no fancy avocados or French toast here!). Your entry must only consist of sausage, bacon, egg, soda bread, and potato bread. 

If successful, during the final in Donaghadee your fry will be judged on three elements: taste, appearance, and use of local produce. This also provides the perfect opportunity to help support and promote your favourite local producers!

For an entry form, please contact Alana at

Entries close Friday 28th July.  Good Luck!

Old Fashioned Black Forest Gateau Recipe

When I was about 12 years old, I started working weekends and summer in a bakery here in Donegal Town that was called the Oven Door. It was a great learning place for a young fella who liked to cook and bake, and under the tough but fair tutelage of master baker Patsy Margey, I eventually decided to become a chef!

Every Saturday morning in the bakery, one of my jobs was to make 24 Black Forest Gateaux (along with 24 square chocolate cakes, 24 round chocolate cakes, 24 square coffee cakes and 24 round coffee cakes!) The Black Forest was a great seller in the Oven Door cake shop and Patsy's version also had a biscuit layer, like a cheese cake base, on the bottom!

I thought about this stage of my life one day last week and as I hadn't seen a Black Forest Gateau for years, I suddenly decided to make one! The classic Black Forest was flavoured with Kirsch, which is a clear brandy traditionally made from double distillation of black Morello cherries.

You can use any Cherry Brandy or a non-alcoholic Cherry flavoured drink if you wish. I didn't make a biscuit base for this one. Maybe next time. You can make the chocolate cake the day before if you wish and keep it covered with a cloth until ready to assemble.

It is quite easy, so, here's the recipe and method for a Black Forest Gateaux:

The Cake:
6oz/150g Butter
6oz/150g Caster Sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract
8oz/200g Plain Flour
3oz/75g Drinking Chocolate
4 Large Eggs
2 level tsp Baking Powder
A papered and greased 10"/25cm Cake Tin

The Filling:
50 ml Kirsch, Cherry Brandy, or Cherry Cordial
1x 425g tin of pitted Black Cherries
3 tablespoons Cornflour mixed in a little water

The Cream:
500ml Whipping Cream
50g Caster Sugar
Dash of Vanilla Extract

The Sides:
200g Grated Chocolate of your choice

1. Cream the Butter, Sugar and Vanilla essence together, until light and fluffy.
2. Slowly add the eggs to mixture while still beating (add a little flour with each egg if it looks like it is starting to curdle).  Mix together the rest of the flour with the drinking chocolate and baking powder and gently add this to the cake mixture.
3. Pour into the cake tin and Bake at 175*C Fan Oven for 35 minutes. Test the centre with a skewer.
4. Leave the cake in the tin to cool completely. Turn it out for preparation.

The Black Forest Gateaux:

1. Take 12 cherries out of the tin and leave aside for decoration.

2. Empty the rest of the tin of black cherries into a small pot. Add a dash of your Kirsch/Cherry Brandy and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Mix the cornflour into the water and add half of this to the hot cherry mix. This will thicken up the juice. Add a little more if you need, to get it to the consistence of a hot Jam mixture. Take it off the heat, pour into a cold bowl and leave in the fridge to cool down completely.

3. Whip 500ml cream together with 50g caster sugar and a dash of Vanilla Extract, until quite stiff.

4. Cut the cake into 3 even layers. Divide the remaining Kirsch/Cherry Brandy over the three layers of cake by sprinkling it equally over each. Then spread some Cream onto each cake layer.

5. Spoon half of the cooled Black Cherry mix onto the first layer of cake. Spread it evenly and place a second layer of cake on top of the first. Repeat with a spread of whipped cream and the other half of the black cherry mix. Top off with the third layer of chocolate cake.

6. Cover the complete cake with whipped cream (keeping some back for decorating the top) and use a scraper or spatula to smooth it off around the sides and the top.

7. Gently cover the sides of the cake with the grated chocolate. Work this quickly so that it doesn't start to melt and stick to your fingers. Tidy up your service plate around the edges of the cake.

8. Pipe or spoon 12 rosettes of cream around the edge of the gateau to portion it and pop the extra black cherries on top of each. Sprinkle some more grated chocolate into the centre of the cake to finish.

Now, see how long it will last!! Enjoy your Black Forest Gateau!


The Wild Atlantic Way is the world's Longest Coastal Route