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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

family favourites...

A midweek menu of Sausage and Bean Cassoulet and a Orange Bread and Butter Pudding

Evening meals with the family are something I really enjoy - but only if i'm prepared for it. A few good, low maintenance menus are essential for the middle of the week. I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for new and interesting, nutritious food for these people, I have to feed them for the next 18 years or so after all (that's a lot of dinners!) Here are a couple that work for us.

We're so lucky these days to have great sausages available in most local shops, supermarkets, farmers' markets and good local butchers. This recipe isn't really quite a cassoulet - but needs the bare minimum of preparation and it's easy to stick in the oven while you're doing other things. While all the homework and whatever else needs your attention gets taken care of, it's bubbling away in the oven.

8 good quality pork sausages
1 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
1 x 400g tins of beans, haricot or cannellini, are good choices
1 generous glass of red wine (more like 2 really!)
300ml/10fl oz chicken stock
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dark brown muscovado sugar
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the whole lot in a large casserole dish with a lid, lightly season then lay your sausages on top, so they can get a bit brown at the start as they cook and then stir them into the chunky sauce. Cook for 2 - 3 hours stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve with rice or slices of rustic bread and a spoon of natural yougurt on top if you like it.

And something sweet?

Why yes, I think so! One of the girls loves doughnuts above all other baked goods and I make them myself when I have time (for recipe see here) or I get the fantastic fresh ones from the Galway market as a treat now and then. I had foolishly bought some in the supermarket for them, but two small girls cannot possibly eat the amount of doughnuts that constitutes a supermarket special offer and loath as I was to throw them out I sliced them up and coverered them in a thin orange flavoured custard and made a bread and butter pudding with them. It was really quite nice.

Although brioche & pannetone are ideal for bread and butter pudding, there is usually some kind of bread needing using up about the place. As long as you leave it dry out sufficently so that it pulls in all the moisture from the custard then any kind of white bread usually works out pretty well. 

400ml milk
400ml low fat milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 3 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
finely grated rind of a small orange

Bring the 2 kinds of milk, and vanilla to simmering point slowly over a low heat. Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a large bowl. Pour the hot milk onto the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk. Return to the pan, add the orange rind and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until slightly thickened. About 12 slices of bread and the quantity of custard below makes enough bread pudding for six. Slice it up, butter on one side and arrange in a ovenproof dish. Pour the custard over the bread and leave it to soak in for at least half an hour, longer if possible. Cook for about 30 mins in a moderate oven until the custard is set and the top nice and coloured. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

soda bread

My kitchen has been heavy with the smell of boiling fruit and sugar this past week. Damsons, apples and plums from the garden have been processed into jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves in haste. Since the stormy weather has knocked all the ripe fruit from the trees in one fell swoop, the task of preserving for the long winter ahead has to be done in a hurry. These autumnal treasures deserve something special to spread them on and the best thing for this job is the beloved soda bread.

There are a lot of Irish soda bread recipes, but reassuringly, they are all quite similar. The ingredients in a traditional Irish soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. The brown soda bread is an every day staple, served with soup and other meals or alone but always with lashings of butter. The white soda is the more refined version and often contains a handful of raisins. 

400g plain flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
350ml buttermilk
2 handfuls of raisins (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 230C/gas 8. 

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in most of the buttermilk (leaving about 60ml in the measuring jug), at this stage add in the raisins if using. Using one hand with your fingers splayed (or two knives), bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky, but with the minimum amount of handling. 

3. When the dough comes together, turn onto a floured work surface and bring together a little more. Pat the dough into a round about 4cm deep and cut a deep cross in the top. 

4. Place the dough onto a baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 200C/gas 6 and bake for a further 30. When ready, the loaf will be browned and will sound slightly hollow when tapped on the base. 

5. Cool on a wire rack. 

The cuts in the top of the bread are as much a part of Irish culture as the bread itself, in olden times (Ireland being a Catholic country of long standing) the crossing of the breads was traditionally giving thanks and to 'let the devil out of the bread', but the cross on the top is not just ornamental, it is important as it allows the heat to penetrate into the thickest part of the bread, helping it cook evenly. 

It's true that soda bread dries out quickly after slicing, but it makes fantastic toast the next day. An Irish soda bread base is hugely versatile also, great for making flavoured breads, with cheese, herbs, olives, roast cherry tomatoes, red onion or garlic. But I always think it is best eaten freshly-baked and warm or toasted, slathered liberally with butter and smothered in homemade jam, of which I now have plenty.

Monday, 19 September 2011

banana loaf

It is a truth universally acknowledged - that a house in possession of a kiddie or two must be in want of a few banana recipes.

Even if you don't like bananas, as soon as you add children to the mix, they become a part of your regular shopping list. The nature of babies, toddlers and children is changeable. One day there is not enough food in the world to fill them and the next it seems that they can live on air, so there is sometimes a banana backlog of varying degrees of over-ripe blackness.

You can, of course, freeze them. But I seem to be able to use them up as they occur and it is a result of this one magically easy recipe. It takes no time to make, washing up is minimal and I have yet to encounter anyone who does not like it. It can be eaten plain or dressed up with more bananas, maple syrup, toffee or chocolate sauce and a dollop of creme fraiche.

2 overipe bananas
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
170g butter (soft)
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Pre heat oven to 160C. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
Put everything into a food processor and blend until well mixed.
Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour. 
Cool, slice and enjoy!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

an irish hedgerow harvest...

Blackberry Drop Scones

Very easy to make and even easier to eat... Made all the better with free hedgerow blackberries. These beautiful berries are available for a limited time only - so get out there and get picking.

Makes 30 - 40 scones

25g butter, melted
250g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Baking powder
25g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Up to 250ml milk

A little sunflower oil for frying

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre, pour in the eggs and a little milk, and beat, gradually incorporating the flour. Beat in the melted butter. Slowly add more milk and incorporate the rest of the flour until you have a smooth but thick batter that drops off the spoon.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat until hot. Grease with a smear of oil or butter (or a little of both for a crispy edge). Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, leaving room for them to spread (you'll have to cook them in batches). After a couple of minutes, when they are set and have bubbles on the surface, flip them over and cook for a minute or so more, until the second side has browned. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding a little more butter to the pan as required.

Blackberry Syrup

Put two large handfuls of blackberries (picked over carefully and rinsed gently under a tap) into a small saucepan with two teaspoons of sugar. Bring up to the boil and simmer for a minute or two until all the juice has been released from the berries. Press through a fine sieve to remove the pips and serve poured over your warm drop scones with a couple of whole fruits for garnish and absolutely nothing else.

Monday, 12 September 2011

a cobbler topping on tipperary rabbit stew...

It's cold here... too early in the year for it. And in weather like this there are few things better than a slow-simmered, savoury stew bubbling away in the depths of the oven. But with stew comes a dilemma - what shall we have with it? Potatoes mashed or cooked in the gravy of a rich beef stew? Crispy, flaky pastry perched on top of a chicken and mushroom pie? Or even a herby dumpling swimming in the juices of a pairing of pork and apple. 

These are all good but my own preference for sheer ease and elegance is the savory cobbler. I made a my 'Tipperary Rabbit cooked in Bulmers Pear' recently (for the Irish Foodies Cookalong), it is rather wonderful - and on top soaking up the juices and going gooey and gloriously brown at the edges was a cheese and herb cobbler. Ring the changes and put this doughy crust on your own stew - it is very, very good.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

go nuts for doughnuts...

I recently met up with some other lovely food bloggers at Bord Bia where we were given tips on how to improve our food photography and styling skills. Light and aperture, backgrounds and props were discussed - but at no time did anyone offer me any advice on how to keep the hungry hordes away from fresh, hot, sugary doughnuts long enough for me to get that decent shot. Here is the recipe, accompanied by what pictures I did manage to get before being wrestled to the ground and my doughnuts devoured by the wee ravenous beasties.

220g strong white bread flour
7g active dry yeast (That's one sachet of McDougalls)
100ml milk
4 tbsp caster sugar
50g butter
1 medium egg, beaten
Oil for deep frying (Sunflower is good for this)
Sugar for coating

1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour with yeast. In a small saucepan heat the milk, sugar and butter until the butter melts. Stir milk mixture into the flour along with the egg, beating with the mixer on low for 30 seconds, to combine. Increase speed to high and beat for three minutes. Add the remaining flour, a little at a time, to make a firm but pliable dough. Knead dough until smooth and supple. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let dough rise until it doubles in size, this should take about an hour.
2. Turn the dough out onto floured surface, Divide into twelve even sized pieces and roll these into smooth balls. Transfer, spaced well apart from each other, onto baking sheets, cover and let rise until doubled in size again, about 45 minutes.
3. Heat oil in a deep sided saucepan to 360 degrees F (180 degrees C). Fry the dough balls by lowering them into the oil with a large slotted spoon, in batches. Turn once, until golden all over. Using the same slotted spoon remove doughnuts to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain. Let doughnuts cool a little and roll in the sugar. Serve hot, with the chocolate sauce (see recipe below).

Note: You can test that the oil is hot enough by putting a cube of bread in, it should brown in about 30 seconds at this temperature. Frying the doughnuts until golden takes approximately 2 minutes, about one minute per side. 

This amount will feed 3-4 ravenous beasties so double up if you have more. And always remember that with fresh homemade doughnuts, there are never, ever any leftovers no matter how many you make.

An Easy Chocolate sauce

170g of plain chocolate broken into small pieces
100ml of water
115g caster sugar
55g of butter in small cubes
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients together in a saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring continuously until the ingredients blended together.

(Nutella is a very acceptable substitute for the chocolate sauce.)

Friday, 2 September 2011

rocky road cookies...

To celebrate our very first scholar placing her little patent leather shoes on the bottom rungs of the ladder of academia I give you the aptly named 'Rocky Road Cookie'- the perfect after school treat with a glass of milk. This is one of my all-time favourite cookie recipes because it not only makes fantastic cookies, the dough also makes a paste that is very easy to work with and with very little mess. The baked marshmallow pieces give a lovely candy floss flavour - chocolate and candy floss together can't be wrong. You could play around with it and throw in a few toasted hazelnuts, raisins or any other rocky road type additions if you want.

125g dark chocolate.
150g flour
30g cocoa
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g soft butter
125g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
150g chocolate chips
8 big pink and white marshmallows, snipped into chunky pieces

This makes 12 nice, big cookies
Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas mark 3. Melt the dark chocolate.
Cream the butter and sugar in together in a bowl, then mix in the melted chocolate.
Beat in the vanilla extract and egg.
Sieve together the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt and then mix into the wet ingredients. Finally stir in the chocolate chips and mallow lumps.

Measure by eye 12 equal-sized mounds - an ice cream scoop or a couple of large spoons work well - and place on a lined baking sheet about 6cm apart. Don't squish them down. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes, leave to cool slightly on the baking sheet then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

I usually form all 12 cookies, bake 6 and open freeze the other six. As soon as they are frozen solid I put them in a freezer bag, seal it and stash it back in the freezer ready to go straight into the oven. Remember that they will need a couple of minutes extra in the oven when cooking from frozen.