The season of comforting foods


STICKY TREAT Traditional steamed treacle sponge is guaranteed to make everyone smile.

The Cabots

‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind, Thou art not as unkind as man’s ingratitude’
— William Shakespeare

Here in Ireland, we might give out about the weather – but we should be thankful for the abundance of foods available to us throughout the lean, winter months. We are blessed compared with previous generations and others elsewhere who are less fortunate.   
Oven roasts, casserole dishes, briskets, root vegetables – all these things come to the fore during our shortened days and early nightfalls. Thankfully we can forget nouvelle cuisine! Bring out the traditional oxtail soups, Irish stews, braised meat with lashings of sauce and, of course, those comforting deserts.

Winter mains
For mains, try braising pork in a cider mixture with shallots, bay leaf and fresh thyme. Serve with a sexy red cabbage mixture or potato rosti. Delicious.
Or go back to the ’70s with braised steak in Madeira (that lovely fortified Portuguese wine) with a few kinds of mushrooms. Use value cuts of meat here. On top of the cooker, heat some olive oil and butter in a casserole dish ad some onions and dried porcini (previously soaked), then remove them and set them aside on a plate. Brown the steak meat in the casserole dish over a high heat, and set aside with the porcini and onions. Add some butter and flour to the dish, cook and stir, slosh in the Madeira and whisk up. Add the meat, porcini and onions back in, throw in some chestnut mushrooms, a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and a crushed garlic clove place the dish in the oven (pre-heated to 130°C), cover and cook slowly for 1.5 hours. Season and serve with oyster or shiitake mushrooms that you have fried with garlic and butter.

Steamed treacle sponge
Now this is a proper comfort pudding! Everyone loves dessert time – and if the dinner conversation has been serious, a steamed treacle sponge will certainly help to lighten the mood. This recipe creates a dish that warms the cockles, is sweet, nourishing and comforting and is surprisingly easy to create. Before you start, be sure you have a two-pint pudding basin, some string and some tin foil.

What you need

  • 175g flour
  • 1 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 175g soft butter
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tbsp black treacle
  • 3 free-range egg.

To serve

  • 3 tbsp golden syrup for drizzling
  • Crème fraîche, cream or custard

What you do
Rub the inside of the basin with butter and set aside. Pour three tablespoons of golden syrup into a separate mixing bowl, then sift in the flour and baking powder; add butter, eggs, sugar, and treacle. Easy peasy! Use an electric whisk, or elbow grease, and beat until fully blended.
Pour this mixture into the greased basin and cover with double-strength tin foil so that it overhangs the sides well. Fold the tinfoil neatly over and around (you can use pleats here) the basin and cover securely. Tie the string around outside of basin under the rim (you can take the string over the top at some stage and tie it to the other side to make a handle, so you can lift it with that later). Trim off excess the tin foil, place in a steamer over boiling water and steam for two hours, checking water levels half way through. (If you don’t have a steamer, use a large pan containing enough gently simmering water to come halfway up the sides of the basin.)
When cooked, take off the tin foil, slip a palette knife down the sides to loosen, invert the basin onto a warmed plate and pat out your pudding. Drizzle the other three tablespoons of golden syrup over the sponge, bring to table and serve with custard, cream or crème fraîche. Put on your favourite music and enjoy with your favourite company.

— Redmond

The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.