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Friday, 28 October 2011

picalilli for cheese and sandwiches

Sisters sometimes know you better than you know yourself. They're a source of wisdom and amusement. They're also a source of coats and dresses when they're not guarding their closet. I have just one sister but that's enough for me because my sis is a quality one! 

She asked me not so long ago "What's your favourite food?" I didn't even have to think…"It's cheese! Cheese is my favorite food…I love cheese, all cheese, I do not discriminate against any cheeses! Stinky cheese, blue cheese, crumbly mature sharp melty - goat sheep cow and buffalo - I love them all." 

"Cheese? She blurted. You can't pick cheese! It's too wide a food category - it's like saying meat. That can't be your favorite food."

So I had to think long and hard - which cheese could I say was my favourite of all the cheeses? It was torture, but eventually I came up with a very mature brie as my cheese of choice - although I felt terrible guilt for the endless cheeses I had not picked. Then I asked her what her favorite food was & guess what she said? 

"Sandwiches! Sandwiches are my favourite - love, love, love them."

"You can't pick sandwiches" I howled - that's every food in the world except yogurt! You can put almost anything in a sandwich! "I know she said - that's why I like them so much!"

Sisters...you gotta love 'em!

This is a magical sunshine yellow color and, if you start the salting the night before, takes no time at all to make. It's so much nicer than the jarred version in supermarkets that it may change your opinion on cauliflower forever. This is best left to mellow for a few days before eating and can be kept in the fridge for about 6 months.

1 small cauliflower
200g green beans
1 red pepper diced
1 onion diced
2 tsp salt
250ml white wine vinegar
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp mustard seed
150g caster sugar
80g plain flour 
4 tsp mustard powder

Picalilli, on girdled bread with potted duck, like it here

Cut the cauliflower into small florets and the green beans into 1cm lengths. Combine all the veg in a bowl, sprinkle with the salt and leave for 12 hours. Put the veg in a pan with the vinegar, 250ml water the turmeric, ginger and mustard seed (pour off any salty water first and a stainless steel pan is best). Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins, no longer really, as you want the cauliflower to keep its crunch. Drain the liquid into a colander set over a bowl, reserving your vegetables. Put the liquid back in the pan with the sugar. Bring to the boil, while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Put the flour and mustard powder into a big bowl adding 75ml of water to make a paste. Pour in the boiling liquid whisking all the while. Return it to the pan stirring on a low heat until it boils. Remove and stir in the vegetables. Allow to cool and spoon into sterilized jars.

Monday, 24 October 2011

a confit of Irish lamb...

Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream? 
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream? 
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake 
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make? 

Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I. 
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry. 
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not, 
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot?

'Colcannon' – traditional Irish folk song

There is no better way to remind yourself how much Ireland has to offer than when you have visitors from abroad. We Irish love to travel and are always curious to learn about people, their food & culture, their history & celebrations. This is true also when friends from far away places come to see us. It is a joy to recommend scenic villages for exploration, street markets to stroll and historical sites to visit.

What is difficult, however, is to put a menu together for friends visiting. Not because there is so little to choose from, but because there is so much. In the past few decades we have embraced many of the cuisines of our European neighbours and more exotic tastes from further afield, but all the while our own tradition of hospitality and the country's native ingredients are second to none.

You do not need to be an expert in food, history or culture to share the joy of Irish contemporary cuisine. As far as agriculture is concerned, farmers can exploit our temperate climate where grass grows year-round and grazing cows, sheep and goats produce world class dairy products. Soft rains reward us with fertile land where wheat, barley, oats, and rye are easily cultivated. Hearty sausages and blood puddings, farmhouse cheeses, crusty bread and sweet butter, fresh milk and ales jostle for position on the delicatessens' shelves. Hunted or farmed game and fowl abound, the rivers are full of salmon, trout, and eels and our costal waters filled with seafood and shellfish.

Even though I have swopped the wooden fenced landscape of Tipperary for the stonewalled ruggedness of Galway, my choice of local produce is not limited, just different. Recent visitors to my house were treated to wonderful Atlantic mussels to take the edge off their appetite while I finished prepping our confit of Irish lamb.

One of the most versatile of Irish meats is lamb - traditionally used in stews (as well as it's older muttony counterpart), it's also arguably the perfect roasting meat. We can also adapt the roasting process to the confit method, more common with duck… but one of the great results when you confit your lamb in olive oil is that it mellows the strident gaminess of the meat that some people dislike. As with duck, the slow oil poaching makes the meat tender and silky. Team with the zingy gremolta and serve with pureed parsnip and a seasonal green.

A rich, dense dessert of chocolate mousse spiked with coffee with a sweet Irish whiskey cream to finish rounds off a great snapshot of Irish food.

As one of the well-fed guests remarked before heading out into the night "The west of Ireland is a lovely place to visit but an even better place to eat!"

Pride in Irish food needs to be celebrated and many enthusiastic home cooks are starting to give greater value to their culinary heritage.

Bain sult as do bhéile!

Confit of Irish Lamb

Olive Oil
8 Lamb Chops
2 Shallots
4 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
16 Peppercorns
4 Cloves of Garlic (smashed)
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Arrange lamb chops in an appropriately sized roasting tin with the shallots, rosemary, and garlic. Pour in enough olive oil to cover all of the chops. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake in the simmering oven of your range (120 degrees Farenheit in a conventional oven) for 2-3 hours (depending on desired doneness*). When done, remove from oil and drain on kitchen paper. Cover chops with another double layer of kitchen paper to mop up any excess oil. Season the chops with salt and some fresh ground black pepper. Heat a non-stick pan until hot and sear the lamb chops on both sides to color.

Lemon Hazelnut Gremolata

2 Cloves of Garlic (peeled and chopped)
Handful of basil
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
Grated peel from half a Lemon
3-4 Sprigs Flat Leaf Parsley
A large handful of Hazelnuts**
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Maldon Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Add first all ingredients except oil salt and pepper to a small food processor or blender.
Drizzle in olive oil slowly as you process the ingredients.
Be careful not to over process, leaving small chunks for a better texture, then add salt and pepper to taste.

*Check your meat for level of doneness by inserting a sharp knife into the chop to check the color of the meat.
**To bring out the true taste of your hazelnuts, dry roast them for a few minutes in a dry pan and rub off their skins in a clean tea towel.

Irish Coffee Mousse - chocolate, whiskey and cream!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

flashes of inspiration

Grilled Lemon Halloumi

A book review. Flash Food – Laura Santtini

There's a sort of terrible tyranny to the daily chore of making meals for a family. Breakfast, dinner, tea over and over again, day in, day out. Even for those of us who love to cook, it's inevitable that now and again you fall into a rut of using the same ingredients and recreating the same dishes. That's why I held my hand up as a volunteer to 'taste drive' Laura Santtini’s new book 'Flash Cooking' from Quadrille Publishing. I was looking for a bit of inspiration - and I found lots of it here.

This would not be my usual type of book - I like laboring over a stove, things cooking away for hours in the slow oven of the Aga, and the soft bubble of a stock on the back burner. But even I took loads of inspiration from this award-winning writer and I have a list of recipes that I still want to try All of the flavours are categorised geographically and there's lots of room and indeed encouragement to mix things up a little.

The photography in the book is lovely. I was immediately taken with a 'Cauliflower Steak with Harrisa and Feta' which is stand out photograph in the book and it tasted as fantastic as it looked. My fellow IFBA blogger Yvonne, at HeyPesto! did this recipe full justice over at her blog you can read about it there. I will be digging out that recipe when the next vegetarian comes to call and probably way before that as my own 'vegetarian at heart' husband has fallen in love with it. I tried 3 other dishes - a nice variation on your usual chicken wrapped in bacon was the 'Chicken Pockets with Red Pesto and Ricotta'.

Five-Spice Minced Pork with Tenderstem Broccoli

Two great recipes from the book really stood out for me, 'Five-Spice Minced Pork with Tenderstem Broccoli' and another vegetarian recipe,  'Grilled Lemon Halloumi'.

Grilled Lemon Halloumi
2 unwaxed lemons, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt flakes
1 tsp pink peppercorns
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp runny honey
1 tbsp small sprigs of fresh dill
250g block of halloumi cheese cut into slices about 1.5cm thick

Preheat the grill to it's hottest. Slice one lemon thinly. Using a pestle and mortar pound the garlic, pinch of salt and the peppercorns - add olive oil, honey and lemon juice from the other lemon. Rub the cheese and lemon slices with the mixture. Place it under the grill and let it color and caramelize (I put mine in the top of the Aga hot oven) Remove and turn over to grill the other side. Serve sprinkled with the dill, remaining dressing and pan juices drizzled over.

This is a lifestyle book with great recipes - much more than a cookbook. It's a 'diet' book that is more about health than weight and manages to stay away from all that neurotic nonsense that many of that genre contains. There is not so much of a whisper of using the sort of ingredients that drive me into a rage - the low fat or sugar free substitutes for 'proper' food, and that has to be applauded.

This book ticks a lot of different boxes. As the name implies, there is nothing that is going to take ages to make, and no special skills are needed. Most recipes, except the entertaining section, feed two people, the majority of the herbs and spices are easily available and have tremendously long self lives. It is really a book of ideas and maybe a jumping off point for a more adventurous style of cooking, and a healthy way to eat as well. 

Overall, with a couple of minor quibbles, I really loved this book, it is fully deserving a place on my crowded cookbook shelves. Of course, needless to mention, if you're looking for something nice and decadent for dessert,  don't look here! 

*Thank you to Mark McGinlay, Quadrille Publishing.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

homemade celery-salt crusted baked potato

I love a baked potato with a salt crust, of all the many ways to enjoy potato it would always be my first choice. And if you make them like this, you will probably love them too.

To get the perfect fluffy baked potato you need a 'floury' spud, the white fleshed sort. Varieties such as King Edward or Maris Piper are perfect for the job. The kind that look like 'Mr. Potato Head' are the ones you are after, and about that size as well. Your oven needs to be between 200 - 220 degrees and a decent sized potato will take at least an hour to cook. Do not wrap a potato in tin foil - they don't like that.

Celery Salt
It's fun to make your own flavored salts and celery salt especially always seems so expensive to buy and to lose its flavour quite quickly once opened! It is easy to make and versatile, use it in place of your usual salt - it is especially nice with fish or egg based dishes. It keeps forever and you can keep topping it up every time a new bunch of celery comes home with you.

Leaves from celery
Flaky sea salt, Maldon is best in this instance

Pick the leaves from each celery stalk, hunt out the little leaves from down the centre also. Leave the stems aside for your usual recipes calling for celery. Put in a single layer on a baking sheet, then toast them in a hot oven for about 5 minutes. Bake until they have dehydrated and gone nice and crispy, but take them out before they have browned. This won't take long so do keep an eye.

Remove from heat and cool completely. Scrunch up the leaves, using your fingers discard any that aren't crispy.

Measure out an equal amount of salt to celery, judging by eye. Put in a jar and stir to mix evenly.

Baked Potatoes
4 (1/2-pound) baking potatoes
1 egg white
Homemade celery salt

Wash and dry potatoes, leave skin on. Prick potatoes all over with a fork. Lightly beat the egg white with a couple of spoons of water in a bowl. Pour your celery salt into another bowl. Roll potato in egg white, then in salt, coating the potato fully. Place on a baking sheet and transfer onto the centre rack in an oven. Bake for approximately 1-2 hrs depending on size. You should be able to pierce your potato all the way through with a knife when done. It should be soft with a crispy skin.

This is just how a baked potato should be.

Friday, 14 October 2011

more midweek meals

Here is another installment in the midweek meal ideas - a couple of great British classics with a twist this time - real fireside suppers for when the weather is getting wild and windy.

'Toad in the Hole' with red onion & balsamic gravy (from Jamie Oliver)

• sunflower oil
• 8 large good-quality sausages
• 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
• 2 large red onions, peeled and sliced
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• 2 knobs of butter
• 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 level tablespoon
• 1 tbsp good-quality vegetable stock powder 

The batter
• 285ml milk
• 115g plain flour
• a pinch of salt
• 3 eggs

Mix the batter ingredients together, and put to one side. I like the batter to go huge so the key thing is to have an appropriately-sized baking tin (the thinner the better – the oil needs to be very hot).

Cover the bottom of a baking tin with the oil, then place this on the middle shelf of your oven at its highest setting (240–250ºC/475ºF/gas 9). Place a larger tray underneath it to catch any oil that overflows from the tin while cooking. When the oil is very hot, add your sausages. Keep your eye on them and allow them to colour until lightly golden.

At this point, take the tin out of the oven, being very careful, and pour your batter over the sausages. Throw a couple of sprigs of rosemary into the batter. It will bubble and possibly even spit a little, so carefully put the tin back in the oven, and close the door. Don't open it for at least 20 minutes, as Yorkshire puddings can be a bit tempermental when rising. Remove from the oven when golden and crisp.

For the onion gravy, simply fry off your onions and garlic in the butter on a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they go sweet and translucent. Add the balsamic vinegar and allow it to cook down by half. Add the vegetable powder. Sprinkle this in and add a little water. Allow to simmer and you'll have a really tasty onion gravy. Serve with your Toad in the Hole and a mound of mashed potatoes.

Rice Pudding
100g pudding rice
50g sugar
700ml semi-skimmed milk
Can of Nestles Dulce de Leche
Heat oven to 150C. Butter a heatproof baking dish, then tip in the rice and sugar and stir through the milk. Cook for 2 hrs or until the pudding wobbles ever so slightly when shaken.
Layer the rice pudding in serving glasses with Dulce de Leche and top with hazelnut brittle

Hazelnut Brittle
2 oz sugar
75g hazelnuts 

Roast your hazelnuts and leave them and a baking tray lined with a layer of grease proof paper ready to go close to where you are working with your sugar. Put the sugar in a small saucepan and add 1 tbsp of water. Put on the heat and let the sugar melt. Don't stir it or fuss around with it at this stage. As soon as the big bubbles of sugar disappear it will colour very quickly so be vigilant as can burn in seconds! As soon as the sugar has a nice golden brown tint (and smells candyfloss-ish) take it of the heat, add the hazelnuts and stir through. Spread onto the baking sheet in a thick layer, working  quickly and leave to cool. When cool, chop roughly into chunky shards and use to decorate your puddings.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Rainbow Cake

A recipe for Nora...

Rainbow cake for a fairy birthday party

A friend of mine has asked for this recipe which I will duly give.  The photos for this are not amazing but will do for the purpose of explanation.

The easiest way to make a rainbow cake.

Any plain white sponge recipe will do. I used a nice simple victoria sponge. Sponges are best baked 2 at a time and then frozen. When decorating it is a lot easier to put the frosting on a frozen sponge especially because this cake will end up being a lot higher than your average sponge cake. You will need food coloring for your layers (red, yellow, blue) - keep in mind your little rhyme (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain) and you can't go wrong. You want the red sponge at the top of the cake - it looks better to have the cooler colors at the bottom.


225g/8oz butter at room temperature
225g/8oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
8oz self raising flour
Milk, to loosen if needed
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
Grease and line 2 x 18cm/7in cake tins with baking paper.

Cream the butter and the sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract.
Fold in the flour using a large metal spoon, adding a little extra milk if necessary, to create a batter with a soft dropping consistency.

Pour half the mixture in a separate bowl and color as appropriate. Transfer the colored batter to the cake tins and gently spread out with a spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out cleanly. Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and peel off the paper. When cooled completely, carefully wrap the colored sponge disk in grease proof paper and freeze until ready to decorate. Repeat for the other colors.

448g cream cheese (Philly is ideal)
115g butter, softened
250g sifted icing sugar
5ml vanilla extract
(keep extra of all these things in case you run out and need to whip up some more - some people frost cakes with a heavier hand than others)

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. 
With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a bit at a time until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract

You can pretty much guess the rest. Decorate it the night before you plan to serve it and it will be defrosted by the morning. Cut into it, reveal the surprise. Say 'Oh it was nothing' as your friends and family gasp. But on the inside be as smug as a smug thing.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

starry, starry nice

"Ah, Mrs. Corry. A story for you.

Your daughters was shorter than you.

But they grew."

My daughter has asked me if she could have some stars to eat - gosh! How fanciful of the child, I thought to myself. Alas, it became clear after a while that it was not a leap of imagination that had made her long for the stars - but those awful frosted 'Lucky Charms' adverts on TV that had done it. 

I find this type of cereal offensive for two reasons - One, there are so many lovely things to have for breakfast… Porridge with your choice of topping, muesli, yoghurt, fruit, a myriad of breads and pastries, eggs a dozen ways, pancakes, beautiful bacon or a nice bit of artisan pudding - why would anyone want a box of cardbord coated in sugar?

The other reason is, of course, that the character on the box is offensive to all Irish people, because none of the leprachauns that live near me look anything like him!

It did remind me, though, of a story I  read as a child 'Mary Poppins'. In the books, Mrs Corry and her two "great galumphing giraffes" of daughters Annie & Fannie, ran a bakery. Mrs Corry had exceptionally long fingers, made of sticks of barley-sugar which she would snap off and hand out as treats to the children who were visiting her shop. They sold pieces of " ... gingerbread so studded with gilt stars that the shop itself seemed to be faintly lit by them." At night and under the cover of darkness, all three Corry's would paste the gingerbread stars into the night sky." I loved that book and must have read it a dozen times. 

So, here is my recipe for gingerbread - stars from the night sky are entirely optional.

Gingerbread Recipe

100g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
50g soft brown sugar
50g sultanas 
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
A pinch of salt
100g butter 
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons treacle 
1 egg lightly beaten
150ml milk

Mix together the dry ingredients. Melt the butter with the syrup and treacle and stir into the dry ingredients with the egg and milk. Spoon into a greased and lined 18 cm/7 in cake tin and bake in a preheated oven at 160ºC/325ºF for 1 hour until just springy to touch. Allow to cool a little and turn out to cool completely on a wire rack. This is the old style of ginger cake that will be much improved after keeping wrapped in an airtight container for 3 days to 1 week! Serve warm with custard or with toffee sauce - or go mad and serve with both!

Toffee Sauce

115g unsalted butter
115g light muscovado sugar
140ml double cream

Put all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened and darkened in colour. 

To serve, cut the gingerbread into squares and pour or drizzle over the toffee sauce. Add stars to taste.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

this is how we roll

With all the dried fruit in the shops for those industrious souls making their Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat, I could not resist a few bags of dried figs for some of these old favorites. One of the enduring classics of the biscuit world. No mystery to these fig rolls… just great fun to make and delicious to eat.

For the filling:
7 oz dried figs quartered
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cocoa powder (optional, but gives the filling a lovely colour)
½ tsp allspice
pinch of salt

For the dough:
4 oz plain flour
4 oz wholemeal flour
3 oz butter
2 tbsp light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp milk (probably a bit more)
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp baking powder

Put the figs in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat with 300ml (1/2 pint) water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the figs are tender and the liquid is well reduced. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 5 mins more until very little liquid remains. Set aside to cool, then puree in a food processor. Let cool completely and refrigerate until set.

Put all the ingredients for the pastry in a food processor and mix, adding more milk a tiny bit at a time until it pulls together as a dough.  Wrap your dough tightly in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Lightly grease a baking sheet. Pre-heat oven to 175C/350F.

Press the pastry out between two sheets of cling film and roll out to roughly an oblong about (16 x 5 inches). Peel back the top layer of cling film. Spread the fig paste down the centre of the dough rectangle and using the bottom layer of cling film, roll in the sides so that they overlap over the filling.
Trim the ends of the roll, turn the rolls so that the pastry seam is on the bottom and cut into just over one inch wide slices (about 12 fig rolls) and place on the baking sheet.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

chocolate chip muffins

Muffins have long been muscled out by their bigger, attention-seeking American cousin, the cupcake (or more recently, the whoopie pie). Having been mostly consigned to garage forecourts, the poor old muffin deserves better than that and still has a lot to offer.

With chocolate chunks studded throughout, these muffins are moist and great with coffee or as a snack. These are lovely just as they are or can be frosted with some extra chocolate. Half of these muffins were decorated with a spoon of brown sugar and a spoon of cocoa powder sprinkled on top before baking. Those ones were for Mama, I don't like my baked goods too sweet! The other half were decorated with a jar of Nutella and a Cadbury's Flake. The more chocolate the better for the junior cook. So easy to do that even a child could decorate them, and in fact - a child did!

If your helper is very young, pop the muffins back into their cooled tin for ease of handling before letting them lose with the chocolate.

Makes 10 

250g plain flour
100g white sugar
100g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
15g baking powder
Pinch of salt
150ml milk
50ml sour cream
80ml vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 200ºC. Grease and line your muffin tin with muffin cases.
In a medium bowl combine your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, chocolate chips, and salt, then mix it well. In a large bowl combine your wet ingredients: milk, sour cream, oil, egg and vanilla, then blend well. Add dry ingredients all at once to the wet mix. Stir until dry ingredients are just moistened (this batter will look lumpy.) Fill the cases to 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for a minute or two before removing from pan.