Friday 6 December 2019

Recipes: Brenda Costigan offers a selection of her favourite ideas for her final LIFE recipes

After 44 years writing for the 'Sunday Independent', Brenda Costigan offers a selection of her favourite ideas, easy to prepare but always delicious, for her final LIFE recipes page

My mother was a good basic cook, and, without a doubt, her cooking inspired me to follow my chosen career. In family life, and in the forty-odd years of my professional life, I have always tried to make cooking an event, something special, just as my mother used to.

Over the years, people have asked me time and time again for certain recipes; I have included a selection of these here today. As for the chocolate Bakewell tart, baking chocolate cakes is something I love to do, and the recipe below is a particular favourite of mine.



This is one of my favourite cakes, suitable also to serve as a dessert. You can see it on the cover of my most recent cookbook, From Brenda's Kitchen: 100 Favourite Recipes. Rich and moist, it keeps for at least a week. Instead of the more traditional pastry-case base, I prefer to use a base of crushed biscuits and melted butter, which is just like a cheesecake base; it is so simple to do. Then the gorgeous, rich filling, which includes chopped almonds, is poured in and baked at a nice moderate temperature so it stays moist. Serves 8.

For the crushed biscuit base, you will need:

200g (7oz) digestive biscuits, crushed

110g (3 1/2oz) melted butter

For the filling, you will need:

4-5 tablespoons blackcurrant jam (soft)

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 large eggs

A few drops of vanilla extract

100g (3 1/2oz) blanched almonds, chopped

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

150g (5oz) dark chocolate, melted and partly cooled

Small handful of flaked almonds

Fruits of the forest sauce, to serve, see recipe below

Whipped cream, to serve

Use a springform tin 23cm (9in) in diameter. Open the tin clips and put a large piece of baking parchment over the base, then close up the tin so the baking parchment is caught in it. This will allow you to slide the finished cake off on to a plate easily. When the cake is on the plate, the baking parchment can be carefully pulled out from underneath.

Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5. Mix the crushed biscuits and the melted butter. Spread this mixture in an even layer over the base of the tin and press it well down. Bake it in the oven for about five minutes, to lightly crisp the biscuits -- there will be no change in their appearance. Stand the tin on a wire tray while you prepare the filling. Reduce the oven to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3.

To make the filling, spread the soft blackcurrant jam carefully in a thin layer over the biscuit base, but do not go right out to the edges -- leave a 2.5cm (1in) margin free all the way around. This is to ensure the jam does not ooze out at the edges and get too highly baked on the sides, as this would spoil the appearance of the finished cake.

Beat the butter and the caster sugar together in a bowl until they are soft. Then, one at a time, add in the eggs and the vanilla extract and beat well.

Mix together the chopped, blanched almonds and the ground almonds and stir this nut mixture into the butter and caster sugar mixture. Then stir in the melted dark chocolate. Pour into the tin over the biscuit base. Scatter the flaked almonds over the surface. Put the tart in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes or until the almond mixture has become quite set on the outside, but is still slightly wobbly in the centre.

Allow to cool, by standing the tin on a wire tray for about 15 minutes. With a sharp knife, loosen the edges and release the tin clips. Leave to cool completely.

To serve, catch the baking parchment and carefully slide the cake off the base of the tin on to a serving plate. Remove the baking parchment. Serve with fruits of the forest sauce, see recipe below, and some whipped cream.


A packet of frozen fruits of the forest (berries or other fruits can also be used) is defrosted in fresh orange juice and then sweetened. The sharp, sweet flavour makes a wonderful contrast to the rich, crunchy chocolate Bakewell.

You will need:

Juice of 2 medium oranges

350g (12oz) frozen fruits of the forest

50-75g (2-3oz) caster sugar

1 heaped teaspoon cornflour

Put the orange juice into a saucepan and add in the frozen fruits of the forest. Cook gently to thaw the fruit, then add in the caster sugar and stir to dissolve it. Blend the cornflour with a dribble of water, adding some of the hot liquid from the saucepan to it also. Mix well and then stir the lot back into saucepan. Stir and bring to the boil to thicken. If a thicker consistency is required, more cornflour can be added, using the same method. Serve hot or cold.


It is the sheer versatility of a quiche that I love. Serve it for lunch or brunch, at a picnic or for a supper party. There is a great range of variations that can be used. The wholemeal flour gives this pastry a slight crunch, which makes a wonderful contrast to the delicious filling of dark-green spinach and white, salty feta cheese, with a few tomatoes, all baked in the egg and cream custard-like filling.

I have a large, loose-bottomed flan tin 29cm (12in) in diameter and 4cm (1?in) deep which makes eight good servings.

For the pastry, you will need:

110g (4oz) white flour

110g (4oz) wholemeal flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

110g (4oz) butter (cold but not rock hard), cut in lumps

About 4 tablespoons (60ml) water

For the filling, you will need:

225g (8oz) thinly sliced leek, well washed

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

350-450g (12-16oz) frozen spinach (thawed)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Generous pinches of grated nutmeg

200g (7oz) feta cheese, crumbled coarsely

4-5 tomatoes, chopped coarsely or use cherry tomatoes

6 large eggs

250-300ml (9-11fl oz) fresh cream (or half milk, half cream)

1 teaspoon French Meaux mustard

In a bowl, mix the white flour and the wholemeal flour. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the lumps of butter, and rub them in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs -- this can be done quickly in a food processor. Add the water, using a fork to mix it through, squeezing well, as you want to use as little as possible to hold the dry ingredients together. Using your hands, draw the pastry into one lump, kneading lightly. (Do not chill this pastry before rolling it. It gets too stiff and cracks when it's rolled out, driving you mad!) Use wholemeal flour to dust the board, and roll the pastry out so that it's large enough to fit the base and sides of the tin. Lift the pastry on to a rolling pin and place it over the tin. Ease the pastry into the tin and make it fit. Trim the edges, leaving a small overhang to allow for any shrinkage. Chill the pastry in the fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling. Then bake it blind (empty) for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6, if you're using a raw pastry case. Preheat to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4, if the pastry case is already cooked.

Fry the thinly sliced leek and the finely chopped garlic in the olive oil until soft, covering with a lid to keep the steam in to soften them more quickly. Put the cooked leeks in a layer over the base of the pastry. Drain any excess liquid off the thawed spinach, and season with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and the grated nutmeg. Place the thawed spinach in clumps over the leeks. Scatter the coarsely crumbled feta cheese evenly around the spinach and then add the coarsely chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, whichever you are using. Whisk together the eggs and the fresh cream, or half milk and half cream, whichever you are using, season with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and the French Meaux mustard, and pour this mixture over the filling -- it should reach the top of the filling.

Bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until the filling is set and the top is golden.


This is a richly flavoured casserole ideal for guests or family when you want to serve a stress-free meal. It has a lovely consistency after the long, slow cooking, which, ideally, is done in the oven, as that requires the least attention. Of course, wine is an integral ingredient. Don't hold back on the olives, as they give a special flavour to the finished dish. If possible, use fresh herbs rather than dried ones. The first step in the preparation is to marinate the beef for a few hours. Serves 5-6.

For the marinade, you will need:

275ml (1/2pt) red wine

50ml (2fl oz) brandy (optional)

Sprigs of thyme

Sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

2 garlic cloves, chopped

A little salt

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

For the casserole, you will need:

1kg (2 1/4lb) stewing beef, cut in generous bite-sized chunks

About 4 tablespoons olive oil

1 rounded tablespoon flour

200g (7oz) rashers, chopped

2 large onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

175g (6oz) button mushrooms, halved

2 large carrots, sliced

75-150g (3-5oz) black olives (stones removed)

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

About 425ml ( 3/4pt) hot beef stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mashed or boiled potatoes, to serve

Put all the marinade ingredients into a bowl and add in the chunks of stewing beef. Mix well. Cover the bowl with cling film and put it into the fridge for a few hours. Stir once or twice.

Preheat the oven to 170 C, 300 F, Gas 2. Using a perforated spoon, lift the meat out of the marinade and leave the marinade to one side. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and fry it in the olive oil, in small lots, until browned, then transfer to a casserole. Add the flour to the browned meat and toss together to coat the meat. Next, fry the chopped rashers until they are golden and add to the beef in the casserole. In the pan, lightly brown the sliced onions, the chopped garlic and then the halved mushrooms, adding each to the casserole as they are done. Put the sliced carrots, the black olives and the tinned tomatoes into the casserole. Pour in the remaining marinade, including the herbs. Add in the hot beef stock. The liquid should just about cover the meat and vegetables.

If you need to add salt, add it sparingly because both the rashers and olives are salty. Add some freshly ground black pepper and stir everything together. If it's necessary, to make the lid fit more snugly, cover the casserole with a layer of tinfoil, and then put on the lid. Cook in the oven for about 2?-3 hours, or until the meat is really tender.

Discard the sprigs of fresh herbs before serving. Serve with mashed or boiled potatoes.

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