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Friday, 26 October 2012

pumpkin cauldron soup...

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling, 
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! 
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, 
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

We have a lot to thank the Americans for over here on the our little Island. You could say we owe them. They have taken our drunken St Patricks day ritual to heart, they send tourists over here in droves, and without them there would be nothing on the telly. Best of all they have given us the pumpkin, God bless America.

 1 pumpkin, about 20cm diameter
 25g butter
 1 onion, sliced
 1 garlic clove, crushed
 freshly grated nutmeg
 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
 1 litre hot chicken stock
 3 tablespoons cream
 about 100g emmenthal or other melting cheese
some chives to garnish

Heat the oven to 190ºC (170ºC fan oven) gas mark 5. Slice off the top of the pumpkin to make a lid and set aside. Scrape out the fibrous strands and seeds. Put the pumpkin in a lightly oiled, deep roasting dish.
Cut away the flesh inside, leaving walls thick enough to hold soup. (an ice-cream scoop works well for this task) Chop the flesh.
Heat the butter in a pan and gently fry the onion for 10 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the nutmeg, sage and reserved pumpkin flesh.
Put the mixture in the shell and pour in the stock. Season and cover with the lid. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour till the pumpkin is tender but still holds its shape. Stir in the cream; garnish with chives and extra cheese.

Carefully remove from the oven and bring the pumpkin to the table. Ladle the soup into bowls to serve.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

chicken noodle soup

It's that time of year again, ladies. The time of year when the rare strain of flu takes hold, so powerful and so deadly, it can only be compared to the Ebola virus. This virus is highly specialised and only attacks the "XY" gene found in men. A disease so potent it impacts their fragile immune system 100 percent harder than the average flu virus, causing excruciating pain for the poor lads. While women cannot contract the virus, we can alleviate the symptoms with sympathy and soup. This soup is the most powerful weapon in my armory at this difficult time. And the sympathy? Not so much…

Chicken noodle soup, good for what ails you.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 chicken jointed or 3 pounds chicken pieces of your choice
2 ltrs water
2 tbs soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large carrot, sliced diagonal
Handful of sweetcorn, tinned or cut from the cob
Spring onion sliced diagonally
3 ounces dried egg noodles or linguini
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley or some extra spring onions to garnish

Serves 4

Prepare broth: In a large heavy sauce pan, heat the vegetable oil on a medium heat. Add the onion and saute it for 3 to 4 minutes, until it starts to colour. Add the chicken pieces (if too crowded, you can do this in two batches), making sure the chicken parts touch the bottom of the pan directly. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Add water, soy and some freshly ground black pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for about 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a plate to cool enough to handle. Strain the liquid through a sieve return the broth to the pot and bring back to a simmer. If you want a fat-free soup cool and refrigerate the broth at this point and take the solidified fat from the top before continuing. 

To finish and serve: Add diced vegetables and simmer them until they’re tender, about 5 minutes. Add dried noodles and cook them according to package directions, usually 6 or 7 minutes. While these simmer, remove the skin and chop the flesh from a couple pieces of chicken. The remaining parts can be slipped into an airtight bag in the fridge and used for sandwiches, in salad or savory pie over the next few days.

Once noodles have cooked, add chicken pieces just until they have warmed through (30 seconds) and ladle into serving bowls. Garnish with parsley or spring onion and deliver to your brave, brave soldier.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Irish Hallowe'en Barmbrack

One of the loveliest traditions surrounding 'All Hallows Eve' in Ireland is the Halloween cake, the barmbrack. It is a sweet fruit loaf that acts as a sort of Celtic fortune cookie. Trinkets are hidden in the bread, well wrapped up, and each member of the family gets a slice. Your future is decided by which symbolic item you get.

The barmbracks of my childhood were either homemade or came from Hickey’s Bakery set snugly in the shadow of the West Gate. These are really lovely, but as with all the commercial bracks now they only have the toy ring. If you are making a homemade version you can add as many of the items as you like. In our house this year I put in two rings after the last door slamming episode when the younger child got the ring and her sister did not. Although if I was to be realistic I could cram the whole things full of rags in light of the upcoming budget, then that should be fairly accurate.

The trinkets include a ring predicting marriage within the year, a pea for a person who would not marry that year. A coin - wealth, piece of rag - poverty, a matchstick stood for an unhappy marriage or conflict. The thimble - spinster and a button for a batchelor.

The bracks can be a yeast bread but I prefer this Darina Allen recipe. Use a nice strong tea and soak the fruit for as long as is recommended as it makes the finished cake nice and light with moist fruit. There are some recipes that call for a bit of whisky or other spirits in the mix, but to my mind that makes it a bit too similar to a Christmas cake. There are enough spirits wandered the earth around that time without adding to their numbers.

From 'Forgotten Skills of Cooking' by Darina Allen

100 g (3/4 cup) raisins
100 g (3/4 cup) sultanas
100 g (3/4 cup) currants
50 g (1/4 cup) glacé cherries, quartered
50 g (1/4 cup) candied peel or the zest of 1 lemon
300 ml (1 cup) hot, black tea
1 egg, lightly beaten
225 g (1 3/4 cups) self-raising flour
200 g (1 1/4 cup) light brown sugar
1 level teaspoon mixed spice

Put the raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries and candied peel in a large bowl. Pour over the tea and allow the fruit to soak for at least an hour or even better, overnight.

When the fruit is ready, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a 450 g (1 lb) loaf tin with parchment paper or a loaf tin liner.

Add in the beaten egg, flour, sugar and mixed spice to the fruit and tea. Stir well until everything is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack before slicing. This keeps for a week or two in an airtight tin.
Serve sliced with plenty of butter.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

street food, galway

As with everything else in life, food has its fashions and trends, ups and downs, ins and outs. Have you been wondering what's replacing cupcakes? Is your sushi lunch passé?

2012 continued to see a return to frugal foods and cheaper cuts. Molecular cooking is on the wane while Scandinavian-style foraging and the 'Nordic pantry' is still going strong. Argentinian alfajores were all set to replace macarons. Pie-pops, miniature pies on sticks are the successor of the cake-pop. Fin-to-Tail eating is the new nose to tail and blessed are the cheesemakers, the new mixologists.

Scotch eggs got a revival and revamp. Complicated pizza toppings were cast aside, chicken thighs are the new breast and lamb is the new pork. There was talk of 24-hour baguette dispensers, ceviche, edible dirt and pork scratchings. Homemade dairy is hot on the food blogs right now - everyone is making their own ricottas and goats cheese, and what do you mean you don't make your own butter and yogurt? Shame on you, madam.

Food trucks are replacing gourmet delis and specialty stores, tweeting their locations as they go. Street food is one of the big trends for a few years now and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. It's nothing new in Galway of course. The street has been our dining room for as long as we have had an open air market.

There's a great variety of food available, madras curry, delicious sweet and savory crepes, Japanese sushi and more. The best are specialists – they do a few dishes, and they do them very well. If I had to pick a favorite it would be Boychik Donuts, made to order right in front of you. These are the freshest donuts you'll ever taste - fluffy, hot and tossed in sugar and cinnamon, eaten straight from your hand, these donuts may well be the new cupcake.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

pea & ham soup

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

When a chicken is roasted, as it is often on a Sunday in this house, the bones always go to make a beautiful, deeply savory stock and not a scrap of meat is wasted. Home made chicken stock is a great thing to have stashed away in the freezer for soups and stews. My friend and Twitter buddy Catriona over at Wholesome.ie recently gave a lovely recipe for noodle soup made from the remains of her sunday roast. Similarly when I cook a ham or gammon I wouldn't dream of throwing away the cooking liquid. The ham itself is usually for a pie with chicken and mushrooms, or for good old bacon and cabbage. If you buy one bigger than you need it's the best way of having quality meat for sandwiches. The children are not keen on wet, slimy packet ham and neither am I.

Ham hocks are the cheapest way of all to make a nice ham stock and when I get one of those I nearly always use it to make my favorite pea and ham soup. The recipe gives the instructions for the stock from scratch using a ham hock - if you are cooking a ham it is probably worth bringing it to the boil first in a pot of water and then changing the water to take out some of the salt and proceeding with adding the rest of the ingredients from there.  This recipe started life as Heston Blumenthal's from the menu at The Hinds Head. He insists on frozen peas for this as they are frozen within minutes of being picked, preserving the intensity of the flavour.

For the stock
1 ham hock
1 small onion, halved
1 celery stalk, very roughly chopped
1 large carrot, very roughly chopped
1 large leek, white part only, halved
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 sprigs of thyme
4 or five black peppercorns
2L water

For the soup
50g butter
200g shallots, sliced
75g pancetta
500g frozen peas
a clove of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the ham hock in a very large pan with 2 litres water and bring to the boil with the rest of the stock ingredients. Reduce the heat the heat and simmer gently, uncovered for two and a half hours until the ham hock is cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool then strain the stock through a sieve keeping the hock to one side.

For the soup heat the butter in a large pan add the sliced shallots pancetta and garlic and sweat for 10-15 mins until the shallots are tender add the peas and stock bring to the boil and puree in a liquidiser. pass through a sieve into a clean pot. Bring back to the boil and correct the seasoning. If the soup is too thick add a little water until it is at the desired consistency. Flake the meat from the ham hock and stir into the smooth soup. you can garnish with a few extra whole peas or some fried and crumbled bacon or a leaf or two of aromatic mint.

the house hotel...

The House Hotel is one of my favourite little bolt holes in Galway. Cool, quirky and fun, you can't beat it for location. The rooms are lovely and settling into one of their squashy pink couches in the lobby with one of their rather superior afternoon teas is a great way to catch up with friends.

While hotel food in general can be hard to get excited about at the best of times (dry, chewy carvery meat languishing under heat lamps and the inevitable ice-cream scoops of mashed potato), The House Hotel didn't earn it's popularity without having a more ambitious kitchen. They do a fine breakfast, full Irish or hearty porridge, a great family-style dinner of whole roast chicken on Sundays. There's also a great bar food with some retro-comfort dishes including a ploughman's lunch served with a proper pickled egg. Try the spicy chicken wings, they were responsible for the birth of my first child, but that's a story for another time. There is an excellent à la carte menu in the bistro, complemented by a fair-sized wine list where the majority of the wines are priced in the early twenties, and a great value early bird special.

More recently, they have been gaining quite a reputation for their cocktails with two of the country's best mixologists manning the bar. With the growing popularity of cocktail and food matching their new ‘Dine & Cocktail’ offer is on-trend as well as being pretty good value. A main course of either Irish Hereford Sirloin Steak or the House Fish of the Day, served along with one of the signature House cocktails, for just €15.

You can start with a classic sophisticated cocktail to whet your appetite and get you in the mood for the meal ahead. Sip on one of their tall refreshing concoctions throughout your dinner or have a sweet 'Mint Crisp' or the 'House Colada' in place of a dessert. You will have lot's of fun 'playing with your food' with this offer.

My current husband had the steak, opting for the pepper sauce over the garlic butter. It was eight ounces of tender pink perfection, and came with a generous amount of sautéed onions, mushrooms and creamy mash (not scoop-shaped thankfully). Along with the gentleman's favorite from the cocktail menu, a classic 'Old Fashioned' which complimented the beef well.

I had the fish of the day, a fat and flaky sea bream, served on a bed of wilted spinach with a herb-spiked cream sauce. Usually I am partial to a Dry Martini with my fish but I opted to have a sweet cocktail after my meal instead, although you can also have one of the hotel’s freshly made desserts instead of a cocktail. Starters are available for an additional €3.

Even though 'The House' is at the glitzy, glamorous end of the hotel scene, there is real substance in the kitchen. Serving good value menus in a casually, trendy space 'The House Hotel' always makes you feel at home.

For more details or to book a table, log onto www.thehousehotel.ie or call the House Bistro on 091-538900.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

banana cream pie

The big, generous, family pie is something the Americans do best. Deep dish fruit pies stuffed full of apples or cherries. Smooth pumpkin or crunchy pecan pie, rich and decadent peanut butter or Mississippi mud pie. This one is my current favorite and possibly the easiest of the lot - the banana cream pie.

It is not an sophisticated dessert by any means, ripe bananas hiding in a smooth thick custard, but it is very good - I most often make mine on a sweet shortcrust pastry, but a packet of plain shortbread or another plain biscuit or cookie makes it even easier as you won't even have to turn the oven on. This is a favorite with children and people with ill-fitting dentures.

American banana cream pie

For the base
250g plain flour
125g butter, chilled, chopped
75 g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon chilled water

For the filling
500ml milk
250ml cream
1 tin (approx 250ml) condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp cornflour
4 egg yolks
3 large bananas, roughly chopped

For the topping
2 large bananas, thinly sliced
approximately 500ml whipped cream
a little grated chocolate if liked

Make the base:  For the sweet pastry base combine flour, butter and sugar in a food processor. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add yolk and chilled water. Process until dough just comes together. Turn pastry onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until just smooth. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about a 3mm-thick disc. Line a round 23cm tart tin, with removable base or pie dish  with pastry and trim any excess. Place in the fridge for a further 15 minutes to rest.

Cover the pastry base with baking paper and fill with ceramic baking beans, rice or dried beans. Place on a baking tray and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and pastry weights, rice or beans, and bake for a further 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven.

(For a biscuit base place a medium packet of biscuits in a food processor. Process until they are completely broken up and there are no big lumps visible. Place in the bottom of a deep pie dish between  10" - 12". mix in 2 tablespoons of melted butter, press down with the back of a spoon to line the base and refridgerate for 30 mins.)

Make the filling: Bring the milk, cream, condensed milk and vanilla to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the cornflour and egg yolks. When the milk mixture is hot, spoon some of it onto the egg yolk mixture and whisk well. Pour the egg yolks back in the pot and allow to heat slowly while stirring constantly until the mixture becomes very thick - just a couple of minuets should do it.

Mix in the chopped bananas and pour onto the biscuits or pastry shell. Push down any bananas near the top as they will discolour if they are too close to the surface. Place a piece of cling wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and put it in the fridge for 2-3 hours until set.

To serve: Remove the cling wrap, dollop the whipped cream on top, arrange the sliced bananas on the pie. grate some chocolate over (if desired) and serve maybe with a little drizzle of maple syrup.

Friday, 5 October 2012

a wedding cake

I have been a little absent from my favourite corner of the inter tubes for I have been as busy as a bee. Among other things I had the honor of making a wedding cake for my baby brother and his lovely new bride. I have made a few wedding cakes over the years, my own included, but only ever for family as I find it all tad stressful. This one especially aged me a few decades on the day, as cream cheese frosting and warm rooms don't marry well (see what I did there?).

Now the bride didn't want a traditional fruit cake or the popular cupcake towers and biscuit cake that are doing the rounds. So through the magic of Pinterest we came up with a few ideas and decided on a classic three tier cake with a soft frosting but with a different sponge cake on the inside of each. The bottom 12" tier was the Black Magic cake from my friends Ron and Mona Wise book, The Chef and I. It's a lovely moist choca-mocha squidgy sponge that was lovely with the icing. It was a big hit. The middle 9" cake was a Red Velvet sponge to match the brides Jimmy Choos.

Those shoes...
The top tier was a lovely lemon poppy seed cake. That recipe came to me from my mate Aran in Rua, he is a man who knows a lot about cake. It is one I make all the time at home in a loaf tin with a little bit of lemon syrup drizzled over the top. It's a favourite with the family and works well with orange too.

All the cakes were baked the week before the wedding and frozen. Then they were sandwiched on their cake boards and covered in a thin layer of the frosting. This stops any crumbs from getting on the final layer of frosting when I was piping on the swirls, which look impressive but are also easy to do. A piping bag and an open six point star nozzle is all that is required.

Here is the recipe for the lemon poppy seed as a lot of people had asked. It could not be easier.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf Cake
2 eggs
175g sugar
175g plain flour
175g very soft butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
Finely grated zest of two lemons
75ml sour cream.
25g Poppy seeds, toasted for about 10 mins.

Sieve the flour and baking powder together. Mix together with all other ingredients.
Grease and line a 1 kg/2 lb loaf tin. Bake in the centre of a 175C oven until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out cleanly. Drizzle with juice of a lemon and icing sugar fondant. or make a batch of the cream cheese frosting that I used. The quantities are 25g of butter, 200g cream cheese - (Philadelphia is fine, mascarpone is nice for a special occasion) and 100g of icing sugar - leave everything come to room temperature and then beat together until smooth. spoon or pipe over the cake or serve on the side.

Congratulations Danny & Ger