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Monday, 27 June 2011

Relæ in Copenhagen...

When I eat out I want things I would never make at home. I want new flavours, textures and combinations to try, inspiration and ideas. Mostly I want a meal to stick in my memory for a while so that I can some way justify travelling to a foreign country for a dinner. 

Relæ in Copenhagen was our latest culinary jaunt and I must say it delivered on all fronts. Opened by ex Noma alumni (only the best restaurant in the world, darling), this place has been turning up regularly in the design, food and travel magazines that gather in our house, and having treated ourselves to a weekend away sans children, we were curious to find out for ourselves what all the hype was about. 

Housed in an understated basement room in a seemingly down at heel (but really rather trendy) neighbourhood, your menu and cutlery can be found in a little pull-out drawer under the table. They serve only two set menus here; one for vegetarians, the other for ‘omnivores’. Homemade rye sourdough bread comes to the table tucked into a cloth in a ceramic bowl. It comes with a small spouted pot full of the fruitiest of olive oils.

Starters were white asparagus and anchovies for me and sheep's milk yogurt, pea shoots and pea & pinenut 'snow' for Ray who was 'taste driving' the vegetarian menu. The white asparagus which is forced and keep in the dark to stop it turning green was blanched for the briefest time and sliced finely. Multiple preparations of the same ingredient being a bit of a theme here, here was a white asparagus puree dotted in a pool of salty anchovy broth. It was beautiful on the plate and full of flavour. 

Ray's sheep's milk yogurt & pea was simply stunning. A buzzy combination of flavors and textures and the vermillion pea and pine nut snow that drifted across the surface of the unexpectedly icy cold yogurt went a large way to making it the best dish of the meal for both of us (Ray previously hated both sheep milk and peas!).

Next up for us both a plate of the tiniest new potatoes, nutty and each no bigger than a thumb nail, generously dusted in powdered seaweed. There were warm forced strawberries, white and tart, smelling and tasting almost identical to early season rhubarb. These sat in a zingy rocket emulsion. Personally I found the strawberries a bit 'design over substance', they seemed to add nothing but novelty value, but that's a small gripe.

Ray's vegetarian main of grilled onions and puree duly arrived. Yes, onions. Seriously. A plate of very young onion shoots, gridled, and a deep dark caramelized onion puree on the side. It looked awful (thus not pictured), tasted divine and not a scrap was left. My havervadgård lamb, with turnip and samphire was outstanding. The charming waiter spoke eloquently of the wild lambs that feed on the samphire and forage the Danish seaside for their fodder, with no supplementary feeding, they are wild and organic. The supplier then scoops up both the lamb and the samphire for the good people of Denmark to feast on. This is some amazing meat! Our waiter continued to wax lyrical about the slow poaching of the lamb, (here I imagine that ‘poached’ translates into ‘sous vide’, as it was just perfectly rare and tender as could be) What they called a turnip was what we would call a swede. Paper thin and delicately flavored, it was soft enough that you knew it had been cooked but firm enough that it could not have been for long. The samphire was the only the tender tips, not the woody stems so often encountered elsewhere. The entire dish sat in the deepest lamb jus imaginable. It was ridiculously good.

We passed on the optional course of fresh goats cheese although it looked great on our neighbouring diners tables and moved on to dessert. This was indeed a dish served at the end of the meal, but no other dessert rules seemed to apply here. Described simply as herbs and warm sabayon on the menu, the bright green herb 'ice-cream' was not sweet but intensively flavoured with thyme, mint, rosemary and other garden herbs, the warm sabayon sweet, lemony and peppered with tiny herb flowers. The thinnest toasted rye bread slivers were added for crunch. It was a light and refreshing end to a truly lovely meal.

Dining at Relæ is a sensory experience and locality and seasonality are a religion. Simple, good ingredients are combined for innovation, mostly very successfully. The front of house staff are interested and enthusiastic and have the most amazing leather aprons for a uniform to boot! If you stay away from the biodynamic wines, the food is very affordable, alas we did not. But most importantly this is a meal which will most definitely stick in my memory for a while. A long while.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

preserving summer again...

I must confess to having a general dislike to food that is flower flavoured. Rose water has always repelled me a little, but homemade elderflower cordial is so much better than anything you can buy, and the huge tree at the back of the garden means I don't have to travel far to do my foraging at this time of year. And it makes the house smell lovely... bonus!

The flowers themselves are best picked in the sun when they are dry. Pick your elderflowers early in the morning when their scent is much stronger. Choose flowers with no trace of browning and be careful to pick your blossoms far back from any roadsides where the traffic fumes do them no favours.

The Recipe
20 heads of elderflower (about a plastic carrier bag full)
1.8 kg granulated or caster sugar
1.2 litres water
2 unwaxed lemons
75 g citric acid

1. Shake the elderflowers to remove any dirt or small creatures, then place in a large bowl.

2. Put the sugar into a pan with the water and bring up to the boil, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved.

3. While the sugar syrup is heating, pare the zest from the lemons in wide strips and put into the bowl with the flower heads. Slice the lemons and add to the bowl. Pour over the boiled syrup and stir in the citric acid. Cover with a cloth and then leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

4. Next day, strain the cordial through a sieve lined with (scalded) muslin (or a NEW j-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned glass or plastic bottles.

5. To sterilise bottles, wash the bottles & stoppers really well and put on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly before adding the cordial through a funnel. Screw on the lids and pop into the cupboard ready to use, or put some in the freezer.

To serve
Dilute the elderflower cordial to taste with fizzy water, and serve over ice with a slice or two of lemon, or a sprig of mint floating on top. For something a bit more fun, add it to white wine and sparkling water to make an elderflower spritzer.

Endlessly versatile in sweet and savoury dishes, try it in sorbets, or ice-creams. Elderflower cordial is also brilliant in a vinaigrette. It makes a light, summery salad all the more summery - just mix a couple of tablespoons with your choice of vinegar, a bit of mustard, olive oil and seasoning. Another great thing to do with this syrup is to use it in place of rose water in Turkish and Moroccan-style chicken and poussin recipes.

preserving summer...

The abundance of the Wexford strawberry sellers on the sides of the roads mean it's the perfect time to make your own jam if you haven't done so before. These berries certainly don't last as long as the sprayed-to-death 'super-berries' from the supermarkets (in stock all year round, they look like strawberries, smell like strawberries but alas, taste of not very much at all). 

People think there is some mystery to jams, jellies and preserves, but there isn't really. Traditionally jams are made 1:1 proportion fruit to sugar. This means for each kilo of fruit you use a kilo of sugar. My mother never used any preservative except sugar and neither do I. If you want preservatives in your jam, buy it in the supermarket. Just take care to properly sterilise your jars. After that, it's pretty hard to go wrong.

Easy Strawberry Jam

1kg strawberries, hulled & halved
1kg white sugar (or jam sugar - but it's not really necessary)
1 Tablespoon of water
Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Place the fruit and water in a saucepan on a medium heat. Cook for 15 mins until the fruit starts to break down. 

Add the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 mins. 

Mash any remaining big bits of fruit with a potato masher and skim any foam from the surface.

Carefully pour the hot jam into the prepared jars (see below for perfect jar prep). Seal with the lids and 'Bob's your uncle'! Makes 1 litre or 4 big jars.

Jar Prep (also useful for chutneys & preserves etc.)

This is the easiest way to sterilise jars. Fill your dishwasher with clean cold jars and run a rinse wash. Use the jars one at a time from the dishwasher when needed. 

I prefer to do them in the cool oven of the Aga - another bonus of my kitchen buddy! But, this is how to do it in a regular oven... Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 - no higher or you risk the glass breaking. Lay a clean tea towel in a large roasting tin. Put the jars and lids in making sure the jars are not touching each other. Close the oven door and sterilise the jars for about 15 minutes. Using thick oven mitts, remove each jar from the oven and fill. Make sure you fill the jar while the jam or preserve is about as hot as the jar. Don't add cold food to hot jars, or hot food to cold jars.

There are all sorts of uses for this fantastic seasonal jam - on a warm buttery scone, oozing out of a classic Victoria sponge or best of all, a hidden away jar kept for a rainy January day when summer seems an eternity away. Hunt out your treasure and spoon a big dollop of it into a bowl of rice pudding, hot from the oven, for a little reminder of summer.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

love handles...

My back kitchen comes from Ikea (Yes! I know - two kitchens! I did say at the outset that I loved to cook!). There's nothing wrong with it. It has presses that open, work surfaces that you can work on and storage for all the gimcracks and gee-gaws that I have collected in my years of domesticity.  It also complements the creamy tones of the Aga, which it was built around, and is perfectly in keeping with the 150 year old farmhouse it lives in.

But it's from Ikea and for it to be acceptable in the sight of it's two (designer) inhabitants, some customization was required. So here are the handles that I scoured Galway and it's surrounds for. They're from a variety of different shops (including a couple from Anthropologie in London) and I love them very much! They're the kind of thing that makes this kitchen 'my kitchen'...

So that's one more little decision made.  Work continues on the rest of the house and that second kitchen needs tackling, but one day soon everything will be done and we can all sit down in it and have a nice cup of tea. I can't wait for that day to come.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

lovely lemonade...

Everybody likes lemonade! This recipe is the simplest one I know. It makes quite a sweet lemonade so up the juice content or reduce the amount of sugar if you'd prefer it with a bit more bite! 

Really easy - 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of lemon juice. Perfect Lemonade every time!

1 cup sugar
1 cup water (for the sugar syrup)
1 cup lemon juice
3 to 4 cups cold water to dilute. (Or sparkling mineral water if you are posh like me.)

1 Make the sugar syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved completely. Dissolving the sugar in hot water disperses the sugar in the lemonade, instead of having the sugar sink to the bottom.

2 While the sugar is dissolving, use a juicer to squeeze the juice from some lemons (about 4 lemons usually yeilds a cup.)

3 Either keep the concentrated mixture in the fridge, pouring over ice and topping up with water as required or add the juice and the sugar water to a nice big jug. Add 3 to 4 cups of cold water, more or less to the desired strength. Serve with ice and a slice!

Monday, 13 June 2011


I can make really good pizza at home – it's a really easy thing to do – especially on the hot oven floor of the Aga, which is very like a pizza oven in temperature. But sometimes I don't...

When in Galway town there two good places for pizza, but for two different stages of your life! Monroe's, Dominick Street for a slice was our preference before children, a great pre– or post–pub spot! When you have kids though, you go to Milano's. For one simple reason - no matter how badly your children behave there's always someone else with a child being even more disgraceful than yours. The staff are so good and have seen it all before – some of them know Hannah & Lily almost as long as we have! They've as many high chairs as they have tables and the food is freshly made & consistently good. I have never been to Domino's or Papa John's and probably never will.

We rambled in on Saturday and received the usual friendly greeting - the girls had the kids deal starting with dough balls with garlic butter  (I love it when the kids smell of garlic!). Then Lily has pasta, which she demands in all restaurants, and Hannah has pizza. They both finish with some very good quality ice cream. Vanilla for one and the deepest, darkest chocolate for Hannah who was never fed much Dairymilk as a kiddie and as a result always goes for the good stuff.

 As you can probably gather, Milano's is a bit of a haven for us on a Saturday and when it comes time to feed the adults myself and The Editor split an 'Etna Romana' after a starter of 'Mushroom Bruchetta'. The Etna pizza is very hot, the Romana base very thin, but the peppers are so sweet and flavoursome that the 'face hurting' heat of them is not the memory that you are left with. It's the combination of good food & good (albeit young) company that makes this simple Italian meal so great... Buon appetito!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

the big freeze...

Good News! There is a new arrival in the Snug&Fat household and we are all very happy to have it as part of the family. After almost a year of having to make do with a tiny 'beer' fridge and no freezer at all during our building works, we were finally able to have our super-duper, all-singing, all-dancing fridge freezer delivered and plumbed in. To celebrate this auspicious occasion I made ice-cream and lemonade for the children and The Editors sweet tooth.

There are as many recipes for ice cream as there are flavours, I went 'old skool' for a cooked custard vanilla, gelato style, some shortbread biscuits and a strawberry sauce. The biscuits are a very basic type that take other flavours well... lemon, chocolate and almond are all good.

The Cookies

250g butter, softened
140g caster sugar (I tend to use golden for a more 'butterscotch' flavour)
1 egg yolk (you can freeze the whites until you have enough for a nice meringue)
2 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour

Cook 15 mins approx - but don't forget to peek in at them.

1. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or mixer, then add the egg yolk and vanilla and briefly beat to combine. Sift over the flour and mix until the mixture is well combined - you might need to get your hands in at the end to give everything a really good mix and press the dough together. Make two round, rolling pin shaped 'sausages' of dough and refrigerate till you near the ice cream serving stage.

Since these quantities make about 30 cookies, and we are only four, I nearly always put one in the freezer for cookie emergencies. It makes one look like a very sorted lady indeed if you can put some biscuits warm from the oven on the table when company comes to call.

The Vanilla Ice Cream

200g white sugar
235ml milk
2 eggs
475ml double cream
A vanilla pod

Stir together the sugar, milk, vanilla pod and eggs. Cook over a low heat, stirring continuously, a whisk is great for this, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool and the vanilla pod to infuse.

Some recipes say whip the cream - don't whip the cream. Stir into the cooled custard. Chill in refrigerator for a few hours. Then either freeze in the freezer breaking up any crystals with a fork periodically or in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

The Strawberry Sauce

Don't mess with the strawberries, stick them in a blender and check for tartness, adding sugar to taste and keeping in mind that this ice cream is plenty sweet already. If you have someone to impress - sieve out the pips, if tis only yerselves leave them in. It's a bit of texture and too much 'smooth food' makes children fussy about food, which we don't really buy into around here.

So thats it! Plain ice cream (vanilla) and a mineral (lemonade) which I will deal with later, and the start of an Irish summer with a fridge and freezer. I could not be happier.

Friday, 10 June 2011

eggcellent result...

Hey! Remember my post with the chorizo and chickpea stew? Well, guess what... emboldened by my two short weeks of food blogging I entered a competition and WON! I was very chuffed with myself because, as a person who rarely puts themselves forward, I was thrilled when the lovely Olive from the The Home Barn site said I won a 50 euro voucher for her on-line household emporium - Yay!

I didn't realise I needed all the things from this shop until I saw them...and the most important thing I apparently needed was a set of 4 matching egg cups.

Egg cups I hear you cry! Yes indeed! I needed a set of four as baby daughter Lily P has mastered the art of bringing more egg to her mouth than shell, a grown-up skill indeed. Mismatched egg cups cannot be tolerated anymore as they will cause 'egg cup envy' - a terrible condition that young children are prone to.  The egg-cellent Olive sent my purchases (of which there were a good many more - more about those later!) out promptly in the post and I received them the very next day. As you can see - my old eggcup is making eyes at my new ones!

They're very pretty and I love them very much - it can't wrong to love egg cups - especially when they're free!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Best Bread & Butter Pudding...

I had lunch with an old school friend recently (I had not seen Lucy since our debs). She has been living in the big  apple, NYC for a lot of years, so I was really excited to see her. She was staying in Co. Clare, and as I was traveling from Galway, my first challenge was to find somewhere between the two places that was pretty enough to bring this honorary American for a spot of lunch. Kinvarra was recommended by himself and a quick trawl of the interwebs led me to pick a seafood restauraunt that had few Bridgestone awards. But this Bridgestone had past its 'sell by' date. It was pretty grim. The only saving grace for me was a bread and butter pudding that was overly sweet, but it was pleasant enough. This is a long winded way of introducing the best bread and butter pudding recipe ever - and easiest. It's particularly good to keep in mind at Christmas when the main ingredient is plentiful and easily found.

Panetonne Bread & Butter Pudding and Mascarpone Custard - serves 6*

Panetonne is a traditional Italian Christmas cake, buttery and full of flavour. Simple to make and totally delicious panetonne bread & butter pudding has become our new Christmas dessert. This pudding has all the vanilla and fruit from the luxurious panetonne instead of plain bread, but do leave it to dry out sufficiently as this is essential to soak up the custard (if you have a very fresh panetonne, and need this in a hurry, cut it into slices the day before and it will be sufficiently dried out the day after).

*I say here that it serves 6, and it should, but it won't, 4 greedy people can finish this off without a bother.

The custard is less forgiving - use cornflour to make it more stable or do what I do and make sure you have enough ingredients to make it twice when you inevitably curdle it the first time! When adding the mascarpone it’s important to add some warm custard to the mascarpone first and mix until smooth. Then mix it back into the custard (If you try to mix it straight in you’ll have lumps of mascarpone floating in the custard).

The custard for the pudding
Pre-heat the oven to 150ºc
Bring 200ml of milk & 300ml of double cream to the boil.
Whisk 3 eggs with 100g of caster sugar, the juice and zest from 1 orange, and the seeds from 1 vanilla pod. Add the hot milk and whisk together.
Slice the Panetonne (500g) into thick slices and butter generously.
Butter a ceramic dish and lay down 1 layer of buttered Panetonne.
Cover with the liquid and repeat until you have 3 layers.
Sprinkle the top with soft brown sugar and gently press.
Place the dish in a deep oven tray, pouring in enough boiling water to come half way up the sides of the dish.
Bake for 30 minutes – until a golden brown crust forms.

For the Mascarpone custard bring 500ml of milk to the boil
Whisk 6 egg yolks with 75g of caster sugar, 40g of corn flour, 50ml of cold milk and the seeds from a vanilla pod.
Pour in hot milk and whisk.
Cook over a low heat stirring constantly until it thickens.
Remove from heat and whisk a ladleful into 100g of mascarpone. Once smooth whisk that back into the custard.
Pass through a fine sieve into a serving jug.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Scone Sweet Scone

My eldest daughter likes buns, all kinds of buns. She associates different buns with different people and places. She asks for them from people who have supplied them in the past. Her grandfather (Hammy) gives her fairy cakes with dolly mixture faces. Her Aunty Ger supplies an abundance of cupcakes from farmers markets. Uncle Aran's 70% chocolate brownie was her first love. She is on first name terms with Emer in our favourite bakery, Goyas. Most Saturdays sees her with her face pressed up against the glass display case, eyeing up the lemon meringue and millionaire shortbread. She got her first cookbook at Christmas and it was the bedtime story book for weeks after. (though I must confess it is very dull to read recipes aloud) She says she would like to be a 'makery' when she grows up. All in all, this is one apple that did not fall far from the tree.

350g self-raising flour, some more for dusting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
85g cold butter , cut into cubes
4 tbsp golden caster sugar
150g pot natural full-fat yogurt
4 tbsp full-fat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk, to glaze

Put a baking sheet in the oven at 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a food processor, then whizz in the butter until it disappears. Pulse in the sugar, tip into a large bowl, then make a well in the middle.
Warm the yogurt, milk and vanilla together in a pan or microwave; it should be hot and may well go a bit lumpy-looking. Tip into the bowl and quickly work into the flour mix using a pallete knife. Stop as soon as it's all in.
Tip the dough onto a floured surface, then, with floured hands, fold the dough over a few times - just enough to create a smoothish dough. Press out to about 4cm/1½in thick, dip a 7cm cutter into more flour, then stamp out 4 rounds, flouring the cutter each time. Squash the remainder lightly together, then repeat until the dough is used up. Brush tops with egg wash, scatter flour over the hot sheet, then lift the scones on. Bake for 12 mins until risen and golden. Best eaten just-warm, or on the day.