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Saturday, 28 January 2012

bay roasted baby hasselbacks...

Last year was my first time growing my own potatoes. I ordered a few heritage varieties from Seed Savers, varieties that would be difficult to find in the shops, some early and some main crop. I planted them late enough in the season so as to avoid any late frosts as we are prone to here in the West.

They grew readily with the (plentiful) rain and flowered in white, yellow and some in a glorious purple. The leaves faded and died back, so it was time to harvest.

It was lovely to see the childrens' delight at sifting through the soil and discovering hidden potatoes, like a messy easter egg hunt… potatoes with skins so thin that you could brush them off with your thumb. The taste of those freshly dug little earlies, with butter, ground pepper and fat flakes of sea salt was amazing. I was smitten.

To my Irish readers - there is something we should all do, and that is to be careful to read the country of origin on our potato choices because for most weeks of the year we should be buying Irish and eating our way out of recession one spud at a time.

To my American, Australian and European readers, and the lady in Africa - Irish spuds are great, pick them up if you see them!

Potatoes, as we know, are not from here, but somehow they have become more Irish than the Irish themselves. You can throw any number of herbs and spices at them and they just smile and take it as a compliment. A bowl of leftover mash in the back of the fridge or a few cold boiled potatoes in their skins is a treasure waiting to be explored. Whether it's a baked potato, stuffed to bursting, or mountains of creamy mash atop a shepherds pie or even fish & chips - the potato seems to make its way onto my plate more often than not. I sometimes think that it is the only way to get through an Irish winter. Steamed, boiled, sauteed, fried, deep-fried or baked… each method provides its own unique flavour and texture.

The humble potato has come a long way. Years ago it was seen as something that was fit only for animal fodder. Nowadays, in the form of fries, served with burgers and a coke, they are an icon of globalisation. But the poor old spud is on the decline here in Ireland. There are a lot of forces at work against them, the 'Low Carb' brigade, the charms of more exotic additions of rice, pasta and couscous dishes that we now eat as a nation. They have a undeservedly unhealthy reputation too - they only have as much fat as is added to them, yet are full of nutrition, a great source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre and niacin and all that good stuff that we should care about. 

Nearly every other nation on earth has a favourite potato dish. Exotic, elegant, plain or traditional. Here's one I love from Sweden.

Hasselbacks are the best known of the swedish potato recipes. The original uses butter and breadcrumbs, sometimes parmesan. Bay leaves are a favorite scandinavian herb. The potatoes are slices deeply, almost to the base so that the slices open out slightly like a fan when cooked and the edges get beautifully crispy and golden.

24 small new potatoes
fresh or dried bay leaves (fresh look prettier in the finished dish)
15g butter
3 tbsp olive oil
4 - 7 garlic cloves left whole in their skins
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 200C

To prepare the potatoes, scrub and cut. The easiest way I have found is to place 2 chopsticks on a board and lay the potato lengthways. Using a sharp knife and holding the potato in place with the sticks, make crossways cuts 3mm apart cutting just down as far as the sticks. You could alternatively place them on a wooden spoon, or I have also seen them speared with a skewer about 5mm from the base, sliced across and the skewer removed. Anyway that stops the knife slicing clean through the potato will do.

Insert a whole small bay leaf in each sliced potato. Melt the butter and oil together in a roasting tin add the garlic and the potatoes in a single layer and season generously with freshly ground pepper and sea salt flakes. Move them around in the oil to coat all over and color a little then transfer to the oven and roast for about 30 mins depending on the size of your potatoes.

Serve as an accompaniment to roast or grilled meat or poultry, baked salmon or panfried white fish.

If you want a few more ideas on how to liven up your potatoes - 'The Daily Spud' is the spiritual leader of potato lovers everywhere. This spud blogs from the glorious capital on all things spud related with a huge amount of potato ideas for you to drool over. http://www.thedailyspud.com/category/recipes/potato-recipes/ 

Some of my first spuds and peas, with small cousins.

If you want to get information or involved in the discussion about the difficulties facing the Irish potato producers, this is the blog to go to. It's not run by a potato, but an actual lady, who is a champion of Irish food and all that that entails. She also has lovely hair that I would like for myself.

Friday, 27 January 2012

banoffee cake...

There is a very strict lunch policy in our local school, which I'm a big fan of. No sweets or crisps or fizzy drinks of any kind. Since all the children have the same kind of healthy lunches, it really cuts down on the nagging time in the supermarket, where the only  major difference of opinion nowadays is the dreaded cereal isle. Things are quite sensible as well in the pre-school that little Lily goes to, although I do sometimes slip a slice of homemade banana loaf cake into her lunchbox as it is her very favorite. She loves her school and was very fond of her teacher. So much so that she liked to share her slice of cake with her. But recently her beloved Zoozan (aka Susan) left to start a job closer to home, Lily asked for a banana cake for her leaving party, which I duly supplied.

I used this recipe from Lily Higgins book 'Make Bake Love' instead of my usual recipe for more visual impact. The cake itself is lovely, but the frosting is the real star of this show. I will definitely be making it again to ice some buns or cupcakes I think. Ideal for using up bananas that you've kept for a bit too long. I used a milder corn oil instead of olive oil as the olive oils I had were quite strongly flavoured.

This cake turned out just like the picture in the book.

Banoffee Cake

Serves 10–12

This butterless banana cake is perfectly moist and beautifully balanced with the toffee icing. If you don’t want lashings of toffee gorgeousness atop your cake, then just butter the sides of the tin and coat with demerara sugar for a sweet crunch on the cake’s edges.

For the cake:
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
170g demerara sugar
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla essence
225ml olive oil

For the toffee icing:
220g demerara sugar
60g butter
60ml milk
240g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
banana chips, to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 28cm springform tin and dust with flour or demerara sugar (see note above).

2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer on high until thickened and light in colour. Fold in the mashed banana and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while still mixing.

4. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed, taking care not to over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

5. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until golden. Cool fully on a rack before icing.

6. To make the icing, place the sugar, butter and milk into a pan over a high heat. Stir everything well and bring to the boil. Keep stirring and boil for 1 minute.

7. Remove from the heat and beat in half of the icing sugar. Allow to cool slightly, then add the vanilla and the rest of the sugar. Beat well until it thickens.

8. Spread the icing over the cake straightaway, as the icing will harden slightly. Top with banana chips.

Monday, 23 January 2012

cheese and broccoli soup

For me, this soup is just a big hug in a bowl. It's deliciously warming, perfect for lunch or chilly evenings and ready in just 30 minutes. Using the stalks of the broccoli makes the soup quite thick, so you may want to add a little more milk to suit your tastes. 

Pick a good melting cheese, a strong cheddar is always a good choice. Grating cheese can seem like a chore but it makes a small amount of cheese look like loads. Don't even think about buying pre-grated cheese, freshly grated cheese has a fuller flavor and won't be at all dry.

Cheese & Broccoli Soup

4 tbsp butter, divided into halves
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 head of broccoli broken into small florets and any stalks reserved
1/2 a medium heat green chilli (optional)
1 1/2 ltres of chicken or vegetable broth

1 tbsp flour
1 tsp mustard powder
200ml milk (any kind)
1 - 2 oz mature cheese grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan and over medium heat, melt half the butter (2 tbsp), add to this the onion and chilli and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes.  Stir in the stock, carrots and broccoli stalks. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. When the vegetables are totally softened, blitz with a handheld blender or in a liquidiser and return to the saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and mustard powder and cook for a minute stirring constantly. Stir in the milk and cook until the mixture thickens and bubbles, whisking all the while, about 3-5 minutes.  

Once the mixture has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in most of the cheese until melted. Slowly pour the cheese sauce into the soup pot and stir to combine the two mixtures and add in the remaining broccoli florets. Bring back to the boil and allow to simmer until the broccoli is tender. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Scatter the remaining cheese on top with a little extra grind of black pepper and serve with some lovely crusty bread or some wholemeal scones if you are so inclined. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

marvellous marmalade

You can't flick through a cookery magazine or trawl your favorite food websites at this time of year without hitting upon a few recipes for the seasonal treat that is Seville Orange Marmalade. The Seville orange is incredibly bitter and not at all something that you want to eat in its natural state. But Seville Orange Marmalade is one of the best things that can be spread on toast and an incredibly useful ingredient for stirring into both sweet and savory dishes. This is the time of year for making it as the Seville oranges are only available for a few weeks in and around January. 

If you have no time for making it now, do not panic, Seville oranges freeze very well. So buy them when you see them and pop them in the freezer for making marmalade whenever it suits you during the year. I use Mary Berry’s recipe from 'The Aga Book' where the marmalade is made from frozen oranges brought to the boil and then left over night in the simmering oven*. I love this method as there is less mess and the fruit is far easier to cut up after the peel has softened.

This recipe makes 10lb/5kg, about  10 jars. They make a lovely gift to give to friends, but If you are not as marmalade mad as I am you can, of course, halve the recipe. Use the largest pan you have as the hot liquid bubbles up far higher than you might think and a hot marmalade eruption takes a LOT of cleaning up.

1½kg (3lb) Seville oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
3 kg (6lb) sugar
2 litres (4 pints) water

Put the whole oranges in a large preserving pan and add the lemon juice. Cover with the water and bring to the boil.  Once boiling, place the pan carefully in the simmering oven and leave to simmer until the oranges are tender (2 hours or so for fresh fruit, overnight for frozen). Remove the oranges and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out all the pulp and pips and place these back into the water.  Bring to the boil and boil for 6 minutes.  Strain this liquid into a large bowl through a sieve and, using a spoon, force the pulp, which contains the pectin that will set the marmalade, through the sieve. Pour the liquid back into the preserving pan.

Cut the peel of the oranges as thinly or as thickly as you like your shreds (I like mine thin and seldom) and add these to the liquid, along with the sugar.  Bring the whole lot up to a rolling boil and boil until setting point is reached.  You can test for this with a sugar thermometer (105°c) or have a cold saucer from the freezer ready, allowed a little drop of the jam to cool on this saucer, the surface will wrinkle when pushed with your finger when it is ready.

Allow the marmalade to cool a little and then pour into sterilised jars. To sterilise your jars, wash in warm soapy water and rinse with hot water, then place on a baking tray in the simmering oven for twenty minutes. Alternatively run them through a cycle in the dishwasher and use directly from there.
There are loads of flavors to add to marmalade if you fancy experimenting. Here is a Whisky and Ginger version my fellow blogger Kristin, at Edible Ireland, made using a different method you might be interest be to read also...

*In a conventional oven heat to 120C and simmer unfrozen fruit for two hours, frozen for about an hour longer.

Monday, 16 January 2012

baked brunch baguette

This is a fabulous breakfast or brunch recipe, easily increased for larger numbers or appetites. Featuring the ever useful egg - it's a kind of Jumbo Breakfast Roll if breakfast rolls were glamorous. Remember to whip up your egg mixture in a jug, as it makes it really easy to fill your hollowed out bread rolls. Be careful not to overcook these, you want crusty on the outside with a soft eggy, cheesy yumminess oozing from the inside, overcooking will give you a dry and too firmly set inside, sad times.

For those of you not familiar with this classic Irish meal solution, the breakfast roll is typically white bread slathered in 'spread' and filled with a traditional fry, designed to be eaten on the way to school or building site, single-handed. Rashers, sausages and eggs usually feature heavily, maybe some white and black pudding, often mushrooms and hash browns, sometimes even beans and all smothered in ketchup or brown sauce.

Since the breakfast roll is now in a catastrophic decline, in line with the fall of the construction industry, it's time for a radical make-over. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you… The Baked Brunch Baguette

Makes 2 filled baguettes

2 demi baguettes, wholemeal or seeded
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
25ml cream or creme fraiche
2 thin slices parma ham
1 ounce hard cheese, grated (I used gouda)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Salt and pepper


1. You will need a hot oven - about 200C.

2. Cut out a long oval section from the tops of the baguettes and scoop out the soft bread from the inside being careful not to pierce the crust.

3. Crack the eggs into a jug and beat together with the cream, onion and seasoning. Mix in most of the grated cheese.

4. Pour half the mixture into each baguette and place each onto a slice of ham on a baking sheet. Fold the ham up over the middle of the bread roll and scatter the rest of the cheese on top.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, the egg mixture is puffed up but sill runny in the centre and the parma ham is crispy.

6. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes and serve.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

a very good granola

Granola saved with homemade pouring yogurt and dried tropical fruits.

Homemade granola is delicious, fast, filling and much cheaper than shop-bought! It’s easy to make, too - it just needs a long, slow toasting and once you have mastered your own recipe it is well nigh impossible to go back to any commercial variety. The result is a wonderfully crisp textured cereal with just the right amount of sweetness. You can eat this as you would any other cereal, with cold milk or some natural yoghurt. The key is to cook the granola until it is a lovely crunchy golden brown. You can take your own nut preference into account, but remember that all nuts are not created equal and some are a lot more expensive than others.

300g Jumbo oats
50g Pinhead oats
1 Tbsp Wheatgerm
120g Sunflower seeds
120g Pumpkin seeds
150g Mixed nuts of your choice
Pinch of salt

125ml Apple juice
4 Tbsp Maple syrup
2 Tbsp Sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 300F (150C) or use the bottom oven of a range.

The basic granola is also a great ingredient for cookies and crumbles.

1. In a very large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients

2. In a small pyrex jug, whisk together the wet ingredients and mix into the dry ingredients until thoroughly dispersed, then divide and spread the mixture evenly on two baking sheets.

3. Bake the granola for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is a nice golden brown.

4. Remove from oven, then cool completely.

Store the granola in a large, airtight container. It will keep for up to one month. These quantities make about 11 very generous servings.

Add your own favorite toppings to the basic mix.

Now for the fun part… Mr. Snug is in training for a triathlon and eats this granola the same way with the same topping and milk every single morning. It keeps him full 'til lunch time and if he can't have any he will not be a happy bunny. If I had to eat the same thing every morning I honestly think I would lose my will to live. I do eat this granola about once a week but I have hardly ever eaten it the same way twice… natural yogurt, fresh and dried fruit - the possibilities are endless.

Some of my additions have been extra pecans and brazil nuts, sesame seeds, dried coconut, dark and golden raisins, currants, prunes, dates, sugared mango and papaya, dried cherries and apricots. A bit of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, almond or vanilla extract, finely grated orange zest and chocolate chips.

If you are adding any spices or extra seeds and nuts they should be added before the baking stage. Add any dried fruits or chocolate chips when the granola is completely cooled.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

a winters tail...

It's the start of a New Year and for my first recipe I am going to ask all my vegetarian friends to look away now, as I share with you my very favorite cut of meat.

Oxtail is the most unctuous and flavoursome cut of beef, my personal favorite and still inexpensive enough, despite the popularity of it on the menus of many prestigious restaurants. When you buy an oxtail it is generally cut into sections, across the tail, in rounds of oxtail on the bone. These are just perfect for casseroles or braising. Oxtail is a tough, gelatinous cut of meat that really has to be slow cooked to tenderise, but also to extract that lovely gelatin which adds body to the stewing liquid. The oxtails are fatty, so are really best cooked a day ahead, so they can chill overnight and have the fat removed from the top the next day.

You can of course serve the oxtails with the bone-in, but because the meat is so easily removed from the bone I always think it better to do just that before dishing up, as it really doesn't take long at all.

There are many ways of cooking oxtail, and while I don't think I can pick a favorite, this recipe makes for a robust and rich pasta dish. Warm crusty bread is all that is needed as an accompaniment to mop up the last of this most delicious ragu. As with all 'Slow Cooking' you will need a low to moderate heat in your oven - I cook this in the lower oven of the range which is about 120C for at least 3 hours, times and heats being approximate.

1.5lb oxtail – cut into sections
1 small onion – finely chopped
1 carrot – finely chopped
1 stalk of celery – finely chopped
2 - 3 glasses of red wine
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
Beef stock
Olive oil

Your choice of pasta (I like a wide papardelle with this) with parmesan and fresh basil to serve.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil. When hot, start browning the oxtail pieces. Don’t overload the pan – do it in two batches if you must. When the oxtail is nicely colored, remove from the pan to a plate.

Add a little more oil to the pan, if required, and gently cook the onion, carrot and celery until soft, then pour in the red wine. Deglaze the pan, scraping around to get the tasty bits off the bottom. When the wine has reduced a bit, stir in the tomato paste and transfer to your casserole dish. Add in the browned oxtail and tuck in the herbs.

Put the oxtail into a heavy casserole dish that has a well-fitting lid. Pour in the red wine, stock and vegetables. Add enough water to get the liquid level about half way up the side of the meat if necessary, keeping it topped up with water during the cooking to this level if needed. Cover the dish tightly either with a lid, or foil, and place in the oven for about 4 hours until the meat is falling off the bone.

Remove the meat from the sauce and when cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bone, and chop. Skim any fat from the top of the braising liquid. In a medium pan, combine the meat and liquid from the braise, discarding the bay and thyme leaves. Cover the pan loosely, and simmer for a further 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta until it still has a little bite.

Toss the pasta with oxtail ragu. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan, and a few sprigs of basil.