In the “old days” (say fifty years and before) farmers used to keep a proportion of the flocks of their sheep for several years. They would produce several lambs in this time. After which they would be killed and eaten as “Mutton” (any animal of more than one year qualifies for this definition). This was tasty, but tough and often with a good leavening of fat. Hence “slow cooking”, either by boiling (as in Ireland and the UK) or slow pot-roasting (as in Kleftiko) was customary, to tenderize and break down some of the fibres of the meat. Those with lesser incomes opted for the cheaper, tougher parts and slow-cooked.

In earlier times, Ireland was poverty-stricken and ridden with starvation – hence the emigration of a large number of its people to the United States and other countries. Ordinary people often had very little and sometimes no meat in their diets. What there was was often tough and fatty and, chopped up in small quantities, used to “extend” the quantity of stews or casseroles. One recipe became the generic “Irish Stew” and known around the world, wherever the Irish went.

The lines below are a parody from the British humorous magazine, Punch (circa 1860) which would have been sung to the tune of a very popular Victorian song, or “air”, called "Happy Land”. They are also the virtually complete recipe.

Irish stew, Irish stew!

Whatever else my dinner be,                                                                                                                                                                     Once again, once again,

I’d have a dish of thee.

Mutton chops, and onion slice,

Let the water cover,

With potatoes, fresh and nice;

Boil, but not quite over,

Irish stew, Irish stew!

Ne’er from thee, my taste will stray.

I could eat Such a treat Nearly every day.



Classic Irish stew! Perfect for a winter’s day.


Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

800g stewing lamb (ask the butcher to cut off the bone and into pieces, or use cutlets with bones removed)

2tbsp vegetable oil

500g potatoes, more if you like, peeled and cut into chunks

2 medium onions

150g carrots, chopped

2 leeks, sliced Seasonal ingredient

100g pearl barley

750ml lamb stock

¼ of cabbage, sliced

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper


1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C.

2. In a large frying pan heat a tablespoon of the oil over a moderate heat.

3. Add the lamb, and fry until brown, turning it over from time to time.

4. Remove the lamb and place in a lidded casserole pan, cover with the potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, pearl barley and season.

5. Add the stock and cook in the oven with the lid on for one hour.

6. Add the cabbage and cook for a further hour adding more stock, if required. Serve hot.

7. Some cook books recommended drinking Guinness or other dark beer with it. Me, I’ll take a glass or two of a good young Cyprus red.


To transform this recipe into an Irish hot-pot, you add a couple of the lamb’s kidneys, and remove the lid for the last half hour of cooking. You bring the potatoes to the top of the stew, and put them back in the hot oven to brown the edges. I like to add a couple of dumplings per person to this stew (put into the pot 45 minutes before serving)

Fennel Braised with Tomatoes

clip_image004         Plainly braised or turned in a little butter our Cyprus fennel is delicious as a side dish to roast meat, or even fried fish. Add another flavour with tomatoes and, with some fresh bread and a glass of wine you have a lovely light lunch.

Ingredients for four servings

2 Fennel bulbs, leaves, tops and choggy bits removed.

2 Sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.

2 Small garlic cloves

Half can (400g size) of tomatoes, drained and chopped (Or two or three fresh, ripe tomatoes, skins removed. I don’t mind the pips, but remove these, too, if you like)

60 ml (half cup) of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper


1. Cut each fennel bulb in half, from top to bottom, then slice each half length-wise, 1 cm thick.

2. On your chopping board, combine parsley and garlic

3. Chop finely.

4. Place mixture in a medium-size heavy flame-proof casserole.

5. Add the fennel, tomatoes, and olive oil.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and pour in 125 ml of water.                                                                                                                        7. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender.

FRANCE IS GREAT… What, again?


clip_image004     clip_image006

Inspired by my recent purchase of a big book of French recipes called “SIMPLISSIME”, I have been (figuratively speaking) wearing my big French Toque on a daily basis. Aspects of France – and the French – may annoy us, but it has to be generally agreed that they are very good at the cooking. But don’t just take my word for it. Many writers have lavished praise upon it, for example…

“France … is a land of milk and honey, the best milk and the most perfumed honey, where all the good things of the earth overflow and are cooked to perfection”. A quotation from a collection of essays titled “Camera Obscura” by WILLIAM BOLITHO (1891–1930), a South African journalist, writer and biographer.

Apart from being a military man, Lt. Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davies, (pictured above right), could justifiably lay claim to being the first proper food writer and restaurant reviewer of modern times. In 1903, he published The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe, which, not surprisingly, expressed his love for the food of France…

“When the Channel has been crossed you are in the country of good soups, of good fowl, of good vegetables, of good sweets, of good wine…

The British beef stands against all the world as the meat noblest for the spit, though the French ox which has worked its time in the fields gives the best material for the soup-pot; and though the Welsh lamb and the English sheep are the perfection of mutton young and mutton old, the lamb nurtured on milk till the hour of its death, and the sheep reared on the salt-marshes of the north, make splendid contribution to the Paris kitchens. Veal is practically an unknown meat in London; and the calf which has been fed on milk and yolk of egg, and which has flesh as soft as a kiss and as white as snow, is only to be found in the Parisian restaurants. Most of the good restaurants in London import all their winged creatures, except game, from France, and the Surrey fowl and the Aylesbury duck, the representatives of Great Britain, make no great show against the champions of Gaul, though the Norfolk turkey holds his own.”

Looking through SIMPLISSIME the other day, I came across a recipe for “Spaghetti Carbonara”. A generation ago, this would have been unthinkable! If you found pasta in a restaurant in France, it was almost certainly have been badly cooked. The French kitchen then was closed to just about every foreign influence. Now it’s all changed as my recipe this week demonstrates…. A dish from a French book using coconut milk!

COOKING MADE EASY – this week’s Recipe

My pictures show one is already popular in our household and will so is very suitable for dinner parties.

Chicken with Tomatoes, Coconut and Lemongrass

INGREDIENTS for four servings


4 medium-sized chicken legs or 4 chicken pieces

250 grams of peeled and seeded tomatoes

2 stems of lemongrass

4 preserved lemons, each chopped into about 8 pieces

3 – 4 sprigs of fresh basil

1 litre of coconut milk

Salt and pepper



      1. 1.     Heat the oven to 170ºC
  1. 2.     Cut each chicken leg or piece into two
  2. 3.     Put all ingredients into an oven-proof dish, distributing evenly
  3. 4.     Bake in centre of oven for about one hour, until chicken is tenderly  
  4.         through
  5. 5.     Give it a stir now and then
  6. 5.     Dish up and serve with boiled or steamed rice and sliced green beans


Appetising, tasty and good for you!


At Last! Cyprus Wine on the Web


Many years have elapsed before Cyprus wines have become properly represented on the Internet. It doesn’t seem long – a few months, perhaps – since I searched the Web and there was not a definitive source of information about the vines, wines and winemakers of Cyprus. Looking recently I found one. It is called Cyprus […]

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As yet another year comes to a close (where did it go to?) I realise that I have now been writing professionally about food and drink for almost 55 years. At 85 I wonder if I am – or on the way to be – the world’s oldest food and wine writer? Who cares! Not […]

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Patrick Skinner’s FOOD, DRINK AND OTHER MATTERS–November


    THE MEZE TABLE The sight of a meze table fully set is an inspiring one. “How on earth have they done all that?” you ask yourself; but if you look, on closer inspection a lot of the little dishes have come out of jars, cans, packets and the freezer. And you can produce […]

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Dining Out


  “Compliments to the Chef” This cartoon is a from a 1970s issue of the much-missed magazine of humour and good writing, “PUNCH”    For several years, in the 1960s I had the pleasure (mostly) of working as its publicity and promotions consultant.  Sometimes, the chef comes out of his kitchen, generally when last orders for […]

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