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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

chicken-liver paté

I'd like to report a crime. Someone has taken all the giblets from the chickens and I really don't understand why. They were the best part! It's like having the bang stolen from your Christmas cracker. Sure, you still have the hat and joke and gift. But something small and important is missing and I for one want my giblets back!

Up until a few years ago they lived in a little plastic bag inside the cavity, but now they have even gone from there. My questioning of butchers has been unsuccessful in tracking them down - but really - if you spend a lot of money on a free-range organic chicken - should you not at least have the option of finding that little bag inside and deciding  - "Oh! great, I'll roast that and make a lovely deep, chickeny gravy" or "OMG! That is sooo gross, into the bin straight away, offensive article".

Now at least the chicken liver drought is finally over, I have found a reliable source of all things poultry, The Friendly Farmer. Through the magic of Twitter, my freezer runneth over with some lovely chickens for roasting, for stock, for hot wings and for casseroles. They all lived a happy life running around the fields of Athenry and their livers are not pumped full of all the nasty chemicals that the cheap supermarket birds are full of.

So, now for some seriously good paté - American bistro-style. This is adapted from a Laurent Tourondel recipe from his cookbook on American bistro cooking. Cooking the livers in duck fat is the secret to the rich luxuriant 'foie gras' quality of this pate.


1 bay leaf
7/8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup ruby port 
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced, plus 2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced, plus 2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 pound chicken livers, trimmed

1¼ teaspoons sea salt (& a little for sprinkling on top)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons duck fat

3 tablespoons Maderia wine

2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 thick slices sourdough, toasted

Cornichons or pickled vegetables for garnish

Make the port reduction:

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the port, herbs, sliced shallot, and sliced garlic to a simmer. Cook until the port is reduced to the consistency of a thick syrup. Remove the herbs and vegetables.

Cook the chicken livers:

Season the chicken livers with the salt and pepper. Heat a generous tablespoon of the duck fat in a large frying pan on a high heat. When the fat is nearly smoking, add half the livers and brown on one side, about two minutes. Turn and cook on the other side until golden brown but still pink in the center, about a minute more. Frying the livers in two batches is important as it will avoid the pan being overcrowded and the livers steaming instead of frying, which we really don't want to happen. Make sure not to overcook your offal, overcooked livers means the spread will be dry. Stir in half of the chopped shallots and chopped garlic. Pour in half the Madeira to deglaze. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Blend the mixture:

In a food processor, whizz up the livers and port syrup. Process until smooth. Blend in the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. (The paté can be made ahead and covered for up to 3 days in the fridge or put in the freezer as soon as cool enough, for a few months.)

To serve:

Remove the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs. Garnish the paté with the thyme leaves, a sprinkling of salt, and the extra virgin olive oil. Serve at room temperature with sourdough bread and cornichons.

Monday, 25 July 2011

peas and cookies...

I had some extra children at the weekend. Some fabulous little cousins had landed and when you have extra little hands you may as well take advantage of them. 

There are two culinary tasks that children excel at. One is to mash bananas and the other is to shell peas. With the first of the pea crop crying out to be picked - they were duly packed off down the garden to gather and prepare some peas and new potatoes for our evening meal, and excited they were to do it.  

A lot of people have that childhood memory of popping freshly shelled peas into their mouths and I would have had more peas for my tea if I had done the podding. But that would have robbed them of a fun-filled afternoon and that memory for themselves. And I did pay them... with rather nice bikkies fresh from the oven, for which they all thanked me with lovely manners and a gratifyingly empty plate.

This is a simple raisin and oat biscuit, moist, chewy, not too thin and not too thick. The little touches to this bake make all the difference. Soaking the raisins for an hour while letting the butter soften naturally, will give you a nicer biscuit. The raisins will not be overly dried out from the heat of the oven, as can happen easily in this style of cookie. I also like them just a tiny bit on the 'underdone' side, perfect with a glass of milk. Makes about 30 - 36 biscuits.

3 eggs, beaten
200 g raisins
5 ml vanilla extract
225 g butter
220 g brown sugar
200 g white sugar
310 g all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
160 g rolled oats (porridge oats)

1. Combine eggs, vanilla and raisins in a small bowl; cover and let stand for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar together. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, and baking soda; stir into the creamed mixture. Then stir in the raisin mixture and rolled oats.
At this stage you can drop teaspoonfuls of the mix onto a greased cookie tray. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let set on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Alternatively, If you like your biscuits picture perfect (and I do) roll the dough into logs, in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer for a while, then slice and baked on greased or parchment covered cookie sheets. Bake as many as you require from cold for about 15 mins, or until lightly browned. Leave for a few minutes to set before removing to a wire rack. Return any unused, sliced dough to the freezer and use at a later date.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

berry, berry nice...

We have pancakes nearly every weekend without fail. They are something of a ritual in our house, ever since the girls were big enough to hold a whisk. I don't make them, they are in fact The Editor's speciality and he takes his responsibilities very seriously indeed. Once a year there is the crepe-style pancake on Shrove Tuesday - served with sugar and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Most weekends the silver dollar American style pancake make an appearance, served with lashings of maple syrup and whatever fruit looks nice in the market or some very crispy bacon. But today was the day that the ricotta pancake was taste driven, and it was good!

This recipe was from one of my favourite cookbooks, the lovely Rose Bakery's 'Breakfast, Lunch, Tea.' We had breakfast at the Rose Bakery in Paris once before, I had the Oeuf a la coque avec 'toast marmite'(boiled eggs and marmite soilders, yum!). It's a lovely book for bakes and scones but be warned, the serving quantities can be misleading. This recipe was to serve eight - it fed two adults and two toddlers just about, maybe the French are not as hungry as us!


200g ricotta cheese
190ml milk
4 eggs, separated
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g melted butter
A little butter for cooking
Syrup and/or fruit


1. Beat together the ricotta, milk & egg yolks until smooth. Then add the melted butter.

2. In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. Add the ricotta mixture to the dry ingredients and stir very lightly. 

3. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and fold them into the batter. (Careful now - don't over mix and knock out all the fluffiness)

4. Melt a little butter in a large frying pan, pour in 3-4 tablespoons of the batter and cook over a medium heat until the pancakes are golden underneath. Flip to the other side and cook for about another minute until the pancakes are cooked through. Continue until all the batter is used up, adding more butter to the pan as needed.

Serve hot with fresh seasonal fruit and maple syrup or a dollop of creme fraiche. The Rose Bakery recommends a red-fruit compote, but we had some lovely blueberries, raspberries and strawberries so we used those. 

We also used ricotta cheese from a tub instead of fresh Italian ricotta, as they use at the Rose Bakery. The pancakes did not seem to suffer from this slight change as these were still so very light, mallowy in the centre without being undercooked, and crispy on the outside. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

making strawberry whoopie...

Tired of the cupcake? Macaroons too much work? Try a Whoopie Pie, a cross between strawberry shortcake and a muffin. The cake bit of these whoopie pies is soft and chewy. Most of the sweetness comes from the filling. The iconic chocolate ones with the marshmallowy filling are great, but during strawberry season, these are even better.

Makes 9 large or 24 mini pies.

100g hulled strawberries
300 g plain flour 
1 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda 
1/2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp salt
200g light brown sugar 
75ml corn or vegetable oil 
65ml buttermilk
1 egg
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl mash the strawberries into small pieces (not pureed) and set aside. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt, set aside. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar and oil. Mix well, breaking up any lumps in the sugar. Mix in the chopped strawberries and buttermilk until combined, beat in the egg until combined. Fold in the flour mixture in two parts, being careful not to overwork the batter. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Drop 18 large or 48 small scoops of batter onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2-inches apart (I made the big ones). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes for large, or 8 to 10 mins for mini-whoopies until the tops feel firm.

Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Strawberry buttercream filling:
50ml unstrained strawberry puree (about 80g unhulled berries)
90 g soft butter
500 g icing sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the filling, press the strawberries through a sieve and put the resulting puree in a large bowl. Add the butter, powdered sugar, lemon and vanilla extract and beat until everything is well combined.

To assemble the whoopie pies, place a generous dollop of buttercream on the flat side of a cookie and gently press it together with the flat side of a second cookie. Repeat until they are all filled and dust the tops with a little sprinkling of icing sugar. Any leftover buttercream will keep for a week or so in a covered container in the fridge.

a picnic...

I've always known that cooking by myself is fun. It is only this week that I learned that cooking with other likeminded souls in separate kitchens, miles apart is even more fun! And so, I found myself partaking in my first ever 'Irish Foodies Cookalong' last Friday - the theme was 'Picnics and Parties' and here, members of the jury, are the results.

I'm a big fan of beetroot. It goes so well in salad recipes, served both warm or cold, raw or cooked and with many different ingredients. Orange, apple, chickpea, new potatoes, feta or goat cheese, rocket and walnuts! They all cosy up nicely with beetroot and it also adds a vivid colour to an otherwise dull plate.

Sticky Beetroot Salad

Peel and cut three good sized beetroot into chunks and roast in the oven until tender. Toss with a tablespoon each of thyme leaves, balsamic, olive oil and honey, season well and put back into the oven until sticky and glazed. 

Carrot and Coriander Salad

500g carrots, finely grated
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
Big handful of finely chopped fresh coriander
Outer leaves of one butterhead lettuce to serve

Whisk together the dressing ingredients, mix in the carrot and leave to sit in the fridge for an hour or so to infuse. Spoon a large helping onto a leaf of lettuce and serve.

Chicken Goujons 

Take 2 large chicken breasts and cut into strips or chunks. Coat first in egg, then dip into seasoned flour, finally cover in an mixture of equal parts breadcrumbs and grated parmesan. Bake in the oven until golden. Serve with garlic mayo and tomato relish for dipping.

Quick Sausage Rolls

Sausage rolls are one of those things that's always much better made at home, but they don't have to be hard work to be lovely. For one thing, the meat quality in shop bought ones is somewhat of a gamble, and not a gamble that is likely to pay off. 

Life is just too short to make your own puff pasty. I did once about a hundred years ago with my mother and the endless rolling, folding, chilling and floury mess means that I now mostly use frozen all-butter puff pastry if I can find it. It is so much better than the regular sort of puff and much less work than the labour of love that is homemade puff. 

For the filling it is generally better to use sausages than the rolls of alarmingly pink sausage meat that you find in the shops around Christmas, The meat from sausages is coarser and less salty. James Whealan Butchers, Clonmel, does a lovely bacon and cheese sausage that is perfect for this, but any good butchers sausage will do. Add in some sage and thyme and a little grated lemon zest to enhance the flavour. Add a generous handful of breadcrumbs if you feel it is too dense, as some can be and add a scant spoon of water to the sausage mix if you like, it will make pastry puff up a lot more.

Roll out the ready-made pastry into a rectangle ½ cm thick, and spoon a little cylinder of sausage mix down the centre, egg wash the pastry, roll it up, press it together with a fork, and then cut the long sausage into individual rolls, long or short, it's up to you. I melt together a spoon of butter and a spoon of wholegrain mustard to glaze the top, to make it fancy, then into the oven at about 220C until golden and puffed up, about 20 minutes.

So there you have it! A picnic of homemade chicken goujons, sausage rolls and two colourful salads.

Amounts will serve a nuclear family (2 Adults + 2.4 children). Dessert was the wonderfully portable Whoopie pie - recipe to follow.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Lily's soup...

Don't eat anything that your Grandmother wouldn't recognise - this is the advice from the diet and nutrition books these days. While I admire the sentiment and realise fully that it is to collectively drive us away from the excessively processed foods on the shelves of our supermarkets. I also know that if my Granny Lily saw half the ingredients in the favourite soup of (her namesake) my youngest daughter, she would arch one of her beautifully pencilled eyebrows skywards.

I don't think there was a lot of cumin, ginger or butternut squash in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary in the 40's and 50's. And even though she was a relatively well-travelled woman (having spent time as an noviciate in a nunnery in Versailles and travelled the length and breadth of Ireland with Duffy's Circus in her long and eventful life) I would still have to do without a lot of my everyday ingredients if I stuck to the foods available in Ireland a mere few decades ago.

This soup comes from the sort of vegetable purees that most children are weaned on - starting with plain boiled and mashed vegetables, it grew with the children into a lightly spiced soup the whole family enjoys. I keep it nice and thick to stick to the spoon so that most of it makes it's way into a clumsy toddlers mouth. Dunking of wholemeal bread into the soup is also encouraged. (Even though the very thought of such a breach of etiquette would have poor Granny Lily spinning in her grave)

Spiced Butternut Squash & Parsnip Soup (á la Elizabeth Pearl)

Good quality oil for sauteeing (I use Donegal Rapeseed)
Large brown onion, chopped
Half a butternut squash
2 sticks of celery
2 large parsnips peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
Small piece of fresh ginger, grated.
1/2 red chilli
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, lightly toasted
1.2 litres of veg/chicken stock (I usually have some homemade chicken stock hiding in the fridge)
Salt and pepper
A dollop of créme fraiche and chopped coriander to serve - if liked

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, sautee the onion till softened slightly over a low heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin and cook for a few minutes more. Add your chopped vegetables and stock. Bring to the boil, and reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Liquidise until smooth, and check seasoning.

You can easily double the quantities of this soup as it keeps very well in the fridge as it has no dairy in it. It freezes brilliantly too and is both vegetarian and vegan friendly if you use the correct stock. The squash and the parsnips both love spices and you can increase the chilli and the cumin for older, more sophisticated palates.

Monday, 4 July 2011

the new best carrot cake...

I had a significant birthday recently and my lovely family clubbed together to get me a much coveted greenhouse for my garden (Thanks guys...best present ever!). It has sat in its box since June as it's very much a two person job to assemble, but yesterday it could not be put off any longer as the tomato & chilli plants etc. were getting far too big for the new sitting room window (& the carpenter was due first thing Monday morning to lay the wooden floor). Since watering plants and wooden floors are not a great combination, Sunday was given over to the construction project so that the veg plants could go to their more permanent home.

 Lunch: Lily's favorite, butternut squash and parsnip soup.

So I was up bright and early getting ahead of the curve. Children were eating their breakfasts while I made their lunch and prepped the dinner, so we could get a clear run at the job in hand. A Sunday, however is not complete without a sweet treat. So while the kids favourite vegetable soup was simmering and the chicken, bacon and mushroom roast was resting in the fridge, I cast my eye over twitter-town and blog-land to see what looked good for afters.

Dinner: Jointed chicken, a quicker way to a Sunday roast.

I came across a recipe on Paula's Sweet Treats, for a carrot cake that caught my imagination. I have been convinced for a number of years that I already have the best recipe for carrot cake in the world, but I now stand corrected. It turns out it was only the second best. 

Cinnamon syrup is the magic ingredient in this lovely cake, The sponge is very moist anyway, but the syrup makes it gorgeously gooey. And it has carrots in it - so it's super healthy as well *cough*! The top notes of orange and the syrup combine to conjure up the smell of Christmas and The Editor has already booked it into the festive menu, although I'd be more than happy to eat it anytime.

This is changed a bit from the original, as you do, depending on personal/family tastes. Here's what I did.

Cake Ingredients
1 orange (rind only, save the juice for the icing)
250 ml corn oil
225 gr muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
250 gr carrots grated (around 3 medium sized carrots)
225 gr self raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Thin orange rind strips to decorate

150 gr Philadelpia cream cheese
Juice of half an orange
50 gr icing sugar

Cinnamon syrup
220 gr muscovado sugar
200 ml of water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick

To make the sponge
Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line two 8" sandwich tins. With a whisk beat the oil and muscavado sugar and eggs together. Stir in the orange zest and carrots. Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of salt over the mixture and fold in. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until skewer comes out cleanly.

Put the tins aside to cool for a few minutes before removing the sponges onto a wire rack, peel the baking parchment from the backs and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing
Beat all the ingredients together until smooth. Sandwich the two sponges together using about a third of the mixture and spread remaining on top. Put a few orange peel ribbons on top for prettiness. 

To make the cinnamon syrup
Place all ingredients in small, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar is melted.  Simmer gently until mixture thickens, set aside to cool.

To serve, let each person drizzle over the syrup on their own individual slice according to taste. 

So not a 'day of rest Sunday', but  the greenhouse is ready for its new inhabitants and everyone still had a proper Sunday dinner. And I discovered a lovely cake that I will be revisiting in the future. Hurrah!