Saturday 21 April 2018

Brenda Costigan: Home comforts

Recalling happy times at the family table, Brenda Costigan presents her hard-working mother's recipes for old-fashioned, favourite foods that we can return to time and again


On a day like today, I think of my mother and the great meals she spent her life making for us. The smells, tastes and happy memories of favourite foods have lingered with me over the years.

Comforting meals around the family table, chatting and sharing the day's doings with each other is such an important part of daily life. And it was really physical hard work for her -- remember that in those days they had no mod cons and families were twice or three times the size they are now, which made her meals all the more infused with caring and love.

Below are the recipes for some of the meals she cooked regularly for us, and some of the special treats too, such as the peach flan. They've all stood the test of time -- despite all the new foods we've taken on board, I go back to these time and again.


In my mind's eye, I can still see The Pork Shop in Ballsbridge, which was a delightful little shop, spotlessly clean and owned by Mrs Mulligan from Germany -- well, her husband was Irish! This was where my mother bought the pork liver she often fried and served with gravy. This was a favourite of mine. The taste for onions came later, as did the delightful addition of stirring natural yogurt into the pan instead of gravy and some chopped apple. Remember that overcooking will toughen liver. Serves 2.

You will need:

1-3 tablespoons olive oil

15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 eating apple, peeled and diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

350-450g (12-16oz) pork or lamb's liver, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons flour

175ml (6fl oz) natural yogurt

2 teaspoons cornflour

Mashed potato, to serve

Heat some of the olive oil and the butter in a pan. Fry the thinly sliced onions, and when they are almost soft, add the peeled, diced eating apple and cook together. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and then lift the onion and apple mixture out with a perforated spoon. Keep warm. Wash the slices of pork or lamb's liver, whichever you are using, and pat them dry with kitchen paper towels. Season the flour very well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and dip the liver into it, shaking off any excess. Heat extra olive oil and butter in the pan as required. Fry the liver slices until they are brown on both sides, then return the onion and apple mixture to the pan. Stir the natural yogurt into the cornflour, adding some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and pour into the pan. Stir through the onion and apple mixture and bring it gently to just-boiling point. The cornflour should prevent the yogurt from curdling or separating in the heat.

Serve immediately with some mashed potato.


It seems that every generation loves shepherd's pie; it is real comfort food. To be exact, shepherd's pie should be made with lamb, while cottage pie is traditionally made with beef. I prefer to use beef and still call it a shepherd's pie. If you include a few vegetables in the meat mixture it can become a meal in a dish. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

2-4 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil

1 large onion, chopped finely

2 sticks celery, chopped small

1 large carrot, finely diced (cooks more quickly)

2-4 rashers, chopped

750g (1 1/2lb) minced beef

1 tablespoon flour

425ml (3/4pt) beef stock

1 tablespoon tomato puree

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

990g (2lb) potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

25g (1oz) butter

2-4 tablespoons hot milk

110g (4oz) grated Cheddar (optional)

Heat the olive or sunflower oil, whichever you are using, in a large frying pan and add the finely chopped onion, celery and carrot and fry for three minutes. Lift the vegetables out with a perforated spoon, put them in a dish and keep them warm. Fry the chopped rashers, then add the minced beef in two or three lots and cook until it is lightly browned, adding the browned portions to the vegetables to make way for the next portion in the pan.

Return the meat and vegetables to the pan and stir the flour through, then stir in the beef stock and bring to the boil. Add the tomato puree. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 45 minutes. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, steam the potato chunks until they are tender. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the hot milk, then add the cooked potatoes and mash them to a smooth consistency. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the grated Cheddar, if you are using it.

Put the meat sauce into an ovenproof dish and spoon the mashed potatoes over the top. Fluff up the surface with a fork. Bake in a hot oven -- 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- until the potato topping is golden and the meat mixture is bubbling up underneath. If the various ingredients are still hot when the shepherd's pie is assembled it will cook faster. Serve hot.


The flavour of the barley in this uncomplicated stew is one of the memories of my childhood. With luck, you will have some home-made chicken stock left in the fridge from a boiled chicken. Using a beef stock cube along with the chicken stock gives an even deeper flavour. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

900g (2lb) lean stewing steak (a mixture of round and rib steaks is good)

1.1L (2pt) chicken stock

1 beef stock cube (optional)

1 large onion, thickly sliced

3-4 small carrots cut in chunks

2 sticks celery, chopped

1 parsnip, cut in chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon mixed herbs

75g (3oz) pearl barley

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Put the steak into a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the chicken stock, and then add the beef stock cube, if you are using it. Bring to the boil and then skim off any scum with a tablespoon. Then add in the thickly sliced onion, the carrot chunks, the chopped celery, the parsnip chunks, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the mixed herbs and the pearl barley. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 1 1/2-2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Taste the stew and check for seasoning. Add the fresh chopped parsley and serve.



Peach flan was a favourite dessert when we were children and my mother seemed to make it in a jiffy. It has a sponge base, made with eggs, caster sugar and flour -- no butter. This classic egg recipe results in a delightful, feather-light sponge. Shop-bought sponge flans taste like sawdust compared with the real home-made ones. There's no need for a special flan tin, an ordinary round sandwich tin is all you need. An electric mixer will take the hard work out of whisking the eggs. I love to soak the sponge with the juice from the tin of peaches before spreading on the cream. A dash of sherry or your favourite liqueur added to the peach juice can be rather nice too.

You will need:

Butter for greasing

Flour for dusting

3 large eggs

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

75g (3oz) white flour (not self-raising)

1 tin peach slices

1-2 tablespoons sweet sherry (optional)

200ml fresh cream

1 tablespoon toasted flaked almonds

Use a sandwich tin 23cm (9in) wide and about 4cm (1 1/2in) deep. Grease the tin with butter and dust with flour. Ideally, place a circle of baking parchment that fits into the base of the prepared tin, as this will make the turning out of the sponge much easier.

Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5. Whisk the eggs to make them frothy and then add the caster sugar and the vanilla essence and continue whisking until the mixture has about trebled in volume.

To judge when the mixture has been whisked enough, lift up the beaters and allow the sponge mixture to fall back on to the surface, making an obvious figure of eight with it. The figure of eight should remain on the surface for approximately 30 seconds, before it sinks back into the mixture. If not continue beating, however, take care as you can also over-beat, resulting in a flat, biscuit-like sponge.

Sift the flour (no raising agent is required) into the egg mixture and stir it very gently to avoid bursting the tiny air bubbles, frequently drawing the spoon right upwards through the centre of the mix. Doing this helps prevent the flour from collecting in little pockets. Pour the sponge mixture into the prepared tin and gently spread it out.

Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. When baked, the sponge will slightly shrink from the sides of the tin. It will spring back if pressed with your finger. Stand the tin on a wire tray for a couple of minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife and turn the sponge out. Peel off the baking parchment if you've used it. Allow the sponge to cool completely.

Place the sponge base on a serving plate. Strain the juice of the peach slices into a bowl and add the sweet sherry, if you are using it. Pour the juice gently over the sponge base, allowing it to soak in. Whip the fresh cream until it is nicely stiff. Spread the cream over the sponge and then spoon the peach slices all over the top. Scatter with the toasted flaked almonds.


I love to enrich this jelly with fresh rhubarb cooked in fresh orange juice. Then, while it's still hot in the saucepan, add a blackcurrant jelly to dissolve in the hot mixture. Occasionally, I also stir a strawberry-flavoured yogurt through the partially cooled rhubarb jelly to give it an interesting creamy texture. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

Generous bunch of rhubarb

Juice of 1-2 oranges

About 50g (2oz) caster sugar

1 packet blackcurrant jelly, cut in chunks

Yogurt (optional)

Top and tail the rhubarb stalks and run them under the water. Cut them into short lengths -- about 1cm (1/2in) -- being sure to cut right through to prevent long strings. Put into the saucepan with the orange juice and simmer gently with the lid half on until the rhubarb is tender. Add the caster sugar but don't be too generous with it as the jelly is also sweet. Add the chunks of blackcurrant jelly -- cutting it in chunks will help dissolve it faster.

Taste and add more caster sugar if required. If the mixture measures less than 600ml (1pt), add a little water. If you're adding a yogurt to the jelly mix, you will need to stir it a few times as it cools to ensure an even mix.

Pour the jelly mixture into a serving bowl or individual glass dishes and chill until set.


Brenda Costigan will be the seventh guest chef/cook author at the Cookbook Club tomorrow night (April 4) in ely bar and brasserie, the chq building, IFSC, D1. The Cookbook Club is a monthly get-together for foodies and friends to catch up and enjoy a meal. The whole menu for the evening will be adapted from Brenda's cookbook 'From Brenda's Kitchen'. There will be a choice of three starters, three main courses and three desserts. It's a happy event with diners sharing tables and making new friends. Tickets are €35 for the three-course meal, see

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