Friday, December 26, 2008

Mince Pies


My Dad rang me in a bit of a panic on Christmas Eve "I can't find Mrs. Dunbar's pastry recipe", having made six dozen mince pies the previous weekend I could rattle this one off the top of my head. By now my mincemeat has matured nicely, much more moist than the commercial variety with an added citrusy kick.

Rich Sweet Pastry
makes enough for 15 mince pies

8oz of plain flour
2oz of icing sugar
5oz butter
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp ice-cold water
1 tsp lemon juice

  • whisk together egg yolk, water and lemon juice
  • sieve together flour and icing sugar
  • place all ingrediants in a food processor and blend until they come together
  • wrap in cling film and refridgerate for at least 1 hour before using
Preheat the oven to 180 deg C and brush the tart pans with melted butter. Roll out pastry to approx 1/2 cm thick and cut rounds using a pastry cutter or glass (I like to cut bigger rounds for the base than the lids). Place the larger rounds in the base of the tart pans and add a generous teaspoon of mincemeat, cover with the smaller rounds and pinch together. Brush with egg wash and bake for 20-25 mins.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Boxwood Cafe

To those of us not in the know the reservations policies of well-known London restaurants can be something of a mystery. For our London trip we were on the waiting list at the River Cafe - to this day I have no idea if we came anywhere near getting a table or not. Happily Gordon Ramay's Boxwood Cafe operates a very egalitarian resevations policy, and bookings for tables up to 4 persons can be made online from one month before the date in question.

We turned up for lunch on a wet cold Sunday afternoon and were greated warmly despite a backpack and a myriad of parcels - all these, plus coats, were wisked away allowing us to proceed unemcumbered into the dining room. The clientele was a varied mix on a wet sunday afternoon, some hotel guests, well-heeled locals, out-of-towners doing their Christmas shopping and a few tourists.

What we ate:

For The Doc a kind of deconstructed salad - this is the sort of dish that relies on the quality of the individual ingredients and in this case everything was spot on. I've been trying to replicate the texture and creaminess of the advocado and I'm close but not there yet.





For me a ceviche of salmon with crab, grapefruit and chilli. I was slightly afraid that the chilli would overpower this dishes but it was a simple background presence with the citrus of the grapefruit the predominant note.





The Doc went for the burger - but not any old burger, a veal and foie gras burger. The veal was melt in the mouth tender which is not what you expect when biting into a burger, and he didn't feel the texture worked in a burger setting. Surprisingly, given Gordon Ramsay's rants on the subject, the burger could only be ordered "Medium" (or "mooing", as the Doc commented).




Once I started reading the menu this dish intrigued me, I would never have paired tuna with parsnip and then added a pepper sauce to the mix - I just had to order it. The tuna was served rare, as I had requested, and was meltingly tender. Surprising the combination of the slightly sweer parsnip puree with bold flavour of the pepper sauce worked really well and the parsnip crips added a dramatic flair to plate that needed something to bring it all together.



This was possibly the best pear and almond tart I have ever had. Drenched in syrup it was moist without being too sweet. The custard was spot-on, silky, sweet and warm.






When I ordered the chocolate fondant I was told 'there will be a fifteen minute wait madam' , 'not a problem' I replied. There was no way a fifteen minute wait was going to come between me and a chocolate fondant. Was it worth the wait? Definitely. What arrived on the plate was perfectly cylindrical but one small slice in with the side of a spoon and the whole thing collapsed with molten chocolate flowing accross the plate. Accompanied by some salted caramel and mint ice-cream (kept from melting in a pre-chilled metal canister) which just tempered the richness of the chocolate slightly.

Two coffees were ordered and arrived with two chocolates each. The looked like pretty standard chocolate truffles coated in cocoa powder. I bit into one to find molten caramel cascading out, simply wonderful.

The total bill including sparkling water (but not wine, we don't tend to drink a lunchtime) was a nice round £100, which is a lot less in € than it was a year ago, but there is a set lunch menu which I feel is a steal at £25.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

London Calling


The Doc and I made the trip to London last weekend and our first stop of the trip was Borough Market. The Doc described it as 'medieval' and he's right, it's been there since AD43. It's a true market - full of tourists too - but the primary focus is still the daily trading.


My favourite trader is definitely Brindisa - set up in 1988 they import fine Spanish food into the UK. I got some cheese, manchego and membrillo to go with it (unfortunately I had to had the membrillo over at security in Satanstead as they consider it a liquid :-().


There was a huge queue for the coffee at Monmouth both at the stall inside the market and at the shop outside it. We joined the throng to see what they were excited about it, the coffee of the day was 'Finca La Fany' from El Salvador. It definitely not a 'standard' coffee, I liked the taste, a rich dark flavour and the heart shaped foam was a nice added extra!!


Our other foodie shopping experience was as the food halls in Harrods. If you have never been here it has to be seen to be belived, any place that has a whole room devoted to chocolate goes right to the top of my list. The Doc's head was turned by the whole corner devoted to Jelly Belly. We spent a good hour wandering around marvelling at the selection. The thing that I found odd was that they also sell staples like milk and Wheetabix - are there people out there who buy everything in Harrods???

Say tuned to see where we went for lunch...........

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Plain Jane?


Sometimes appearances can be deceiving, this looks like a pretty boring cake but in fact it's perfect. A moist firm crumb which holds it's shape when cut and improves with age. It comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking which I picked up on my trip to Houston. I had never heard of her before I bought this but have since discovered that there are an mpressive 41 pages on egullet devoted to this book. Everything is in cups, but I weighed it all as I went along and have only given my measurements here.

Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes (adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking)
makes two 2 pint loaves

Cakes
390g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
425g vanilla sugar*
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs
150 mls double cream
2 1/2 tbsp rum
210g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Syrup
85ml water
45g sugar
60ml rum
  • preheat the oven to 180 deg C
  • grease two loaf pans
  • sift together the flour, salt and baking powder
  • beat together eggs and sugar until tripled in volume
  • whisk in the vanilla extract, then the cream and the rum
  • fold in the dry ingrediants
  • fold in the melted butter
  • bake for 55-60 mins (check after 30, if the tops are getting too brown cover with foil)
Once the cakes go into the oven start making the syrup.
  • stir sugar and water together over a low heat until sugar is dissolved
  • bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the rum
  • leave to cool
When cakes are cooked leave to cool for 5 mins in the tin and then unmold. Turn the right way up, pierce all over with a skewer and brush over the syrup. Work slowly with the syrup to ensure in all gets soaked up.
* I actually use vanilla sugar in pretty much all my baking. Simply chop
two vanilla pods into thirds add to the sugar and store in an airtight
jar (I use a Kilner jar as you can see). Top up the sugar and give a little
shake to mix as you go along.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Time for Cake


I'm not a great fan of Christmas cake, I find it a bit too rich and I don't like marzipan or icing either. I wasn't going to make one at all this year until I was flicking through my copy of Nigella's 'Feast' (her best book IMO) and came across this recipe which is for a lighter cake that is later topped with glazed nuts and candied fruit. It's very simple to make, I substituted apricot jam for the chestnut puree and also used brandy rather than rum - both of these are suggested by Nigella herself. Don't skip on preparing the tin, you don't want the cake getting too dark around the edges.

Easy Light Christmas Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast)
525g mixed dried fruit
250g glace cherries
175g unsalted butter
250g dark brown sugar
250g apricot jam
125ml brandy
juice and zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • double line and grease a 10" square tin
  • put two layers of brown paper around the outside of the tin (secured with string), it should stand 3-4" proud of the tin
  • chop cherries in quarters and add to heavy pan along with the rest of the dried fruit
  • add the butter, sugar, jam, rum, orange juice and both zests
  • over a low heat stir until the butter has melted
  • bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins
  • remove from the heat and leave to cool for 30 mins
  • preheat the oven to 150 deg C
  • sieve together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • lightly stir in the eggs and flour mix
  • pour into the prepared tin
  • bake for 1 3/4 - 2 hours, the cake is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean
Once the cake has cooled completely wrap the cake in two layers of greaseproof paper followed by two layers of tinfoil.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Preparation Time


I know it's a bit early to be talking about Christmas but some things, like cake, pudding and mincemeat, taste better when left to mature for a while. Back when I was a teenager my friend S and I made our Christmas money by selling mince pies to our nieghbours. When I think back on it, it was a highly organised affair. The mince pie enterprise started in late November when we canvassed the nieghbourhood for orders. Then it was time to made the mincemeat. leaving it to mature for a few weeks. Typically we made about 1000 mince pies over a single weekend in M's kitchen, then delivered them in nicely packaged boxes a few days before Christmas.

I have always used this recipe from Delia, the real key is the quality of your ingrediants. Buy whole candied citrus peel and chop it yourself - the taste doesn't even begin to compare with the bitter stuff you get in the supermarket. I bought all my stuff in The Gourmet Shop, just beacause I can walk there from work. Interestingly I bought some ground almonds also @ €17.50 /kg .I priced them the next day in my local Tesco where the cheapest ones (and they were on 'special') were €21.50/kg!! It always pays to shop around.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Baby It's Cold Outside


And what better to warm up with than a crumble? This is a very simple one from Tartlette but the addition of some cardamon to the topping brings a little extra to the mix. A big fat mug of tea in the other hand and what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How Y'All Doin??

Last week The Doc and I were in Houston visiting our good friend BJM. Houston is somewhat of a culinary conundrum. The NYT food critic Craig Claiborne said that there are only five regional American cuisines worth considering - bbq, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex and soul-food - these all converge in Houston. It is the city that eats out more than any other in the US, yet it is also the fattest city in the US. As the fourth-largest city in the US it also has a very diverse range of ethnic eateries, the expected Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian and Chinese abound but there are also Korean, Ethiopian, Sardinian and Greek restaurants. A good guidebook is the 'Food Lover's Guide to Houston' which includes information on grocery stores, markets, bakeries, speciality shops, bars cafes, kitchenware shops as well as restaurants.

On our whistlestop tour we ate at:

Brasil: BJMs local cafe. Simple salads, quiches, pizzas, good coffees and yummy desserts. The emphasis here is freshness and organic where possible.

Aladdin: We got take-out food from here. In my head 'take-out' is associated with greasy 'fast-food' but this Greek restaurant has a big selection of the freshest salads, 3 served with a meat of your choice (grilled to order) for $10.50, and the best hummus I've ever had, served with fresh pitas. There is a large Greek community in Houston with their own Orthodox church and school (about 40% of the students here are ethnically Greek). As we left they were preparing for their annual Greek festival.

El Tiempo: The one miss of the trip, The Doc's fajitas were good but my Chalupas del Mar didn't taste of much and came smothered in iceberg lettuce. It was also overpriced for the level of resaturant that it thinks it is.

Paulie's: Down the road from BJM's house (although nobody walks anywhere in Houston, I sense a possible connection with the obesity level). A simple neighbourhood Italian which is also known for its cookies, these were a little on the sweet side for me but the pecan tart is to die for.

Beck's Prime: This styles itself as 'The World's Freshest Fast Food' and is a far removed from McDs as a fast-food joint can be. I had the California burger, with fresh guacamole and a patty that was reassuring inhomogeneous in both shape and texture, a burger that both looked and tasted like it once ran around a field. The chips (skin on) were good but the limeade was a little to sweet for my liking - I did eat lemon halves as a child though, so my taste is probably on the sour side for most.

Mockingbird: The standout meal of the trip. This bistro is proud of its wine list, it runs to 17 pages and although I'm not an expert on any wine, nevermind American ones, those in the know do rate its selection. The food on the other hand I can comment on, the menu here is the one we chose from (it changes regularly). I started with the calamari which were plentiful with a light crispy batter and not at all chewy. At that they were not a patch on my main course of buttery mountain trout served with lobster and garlicky green beans (and only $29!!). The Doc's Kobe beef burger came topped with 1/2" of Hudson Valley foie gras and the accompaning truffle fries brought that heady earthy smell to the table. Around the table we also had the tuna with wasabi potatoes, the free-range chicken with roast veg and the Angus beef fillet, there were votes of approval all around. Dessert was a carrot cake served with ginger ice-cream and caramalised pineapple, a combination I'll be trying at home soon.

Starbucks: had to add this in. It seems like there is one everywhere you turn in Houston, even to the extent that there are two directly across from one another in BJM's local mall!!


A tip to all those travelling to the US, I bought two Microplane graters for my sister for $12 each, I love these graters and use mine everyday but I've never seen them here for less than 30 Euro.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ananda

First there was a little whisper: Atul Kocchar mentioned on Saturday Kitchen that he was to open a restaurant in Dublin.

Following this a little murmur: The Jaipur chain were to open in Dundrum.

Then there was some muttering: Atul and Jaipur were joining forces and it was to open in May.

Then the name 'Ananda' cropped up, a few weeks later this website appeared. I rang a number of times and it always rang out, I signed up for the newsletter.

Then I heard a rumour, Ananda had opened, and it was good. That is happily one rumour that I can confirm. Though it does appear to be a 'soft' opening as I have yet to receive a newsletter.

Two Fridays ago, the Doc and I decided to head out for a quick bite, the only table in the main restaurant available was for 6.30 (we only rang about 5) and it was very quiet but the buzz developed over the next 40 mins.

An amuse bouche of pea soup was subtlely, aromatically spiced. The Doc started with Kurkura Murgh, good quality moist chicken lightly spiced and grilled. I opted for Kekda Balchao which was my dish of the meal, served in a cylindrical kilner jar with a chopped mango and chilli in the bottom and topped with sweet succulent crabmeat on the side was a tempura crab claw, each mouthful was a sweet/spicy explosion

The mains are divided into two sections, the first bears Atul's influence the second features some dishes more commonly found in Indian menus. The Doc opted for Nalli Ki Kaliyan, a shank of lamb that was literally falling off the bone, the rich sauce was mopped up with some good garlic and coriander naan. Unable to decide I went for the Ananda's Masahari, a variant on the traditional Indian thali small selections of a number of different dishes. The main plate arrived with some lemon rice and some succelent grilled chicken (not very spicy I need to taste it again to figure out the flavour). A half moon shaped plate surrounded this with four small bowls, a lamb rogan josh, a mild chicken curry (murgh makhani?), a prawn and a chickpea curry as well a two pieces of naan. There was easily enough in this dish for two, the only critisim I would have was that all four curries were the same colour and it thus didn't have the visual imapct of all the other dishes.

We were too full to contemplate dessert but it looked more 'Indian inspired' than traditional Indian, which is no bad thing in my opinion. Along with two bottles of sparking water the bill (excluding tip) came to 83.75 which I think reflects excellent value for the level of the experience.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cupcakes


Until today I didn't really understand the allure of cupcakes. I think I was comparing then to fairy cakes from my childhood birthday parties. But cupcakes really are in a different league, moist in the centre and topped with a creamy icing (or 'frosting' as its American originators would call it). I got both of these recipes from Lorraine's site. The chocolate ones were my personal favourites, the hint of coffee means they really are 'grown-up' cupcakes, I topped mine with a cocoa covered coffee bean. I was less successful in my icing of the lemon ones, I suggest you add the lemon juice slowly in case you have a very juicy lemon like me!!

Last of the Summer Strawberries


There are still some Irish strawberries available, on my drive back from Wexford on Saturday I passed numerous stalls selling their wares that would normally be well finished by this time of the year. If you get some good quality ones a simple recipe that showcases their beauty is best. I found this one in the Chocolate and Zucchini book by Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the blog of the same name. It's a really quirky little book and has earned a place on my shelves simply because everything in it is original and just that little bit different. The only change I made was to replace one large egg with one medium one plus another yolk which makes the filling just a little bit richer.

The pastry for this recipe is the same as she uses for her plum tart here, prepare and bake blind as she describes.

Filling:
500g strawberries
1 medium egg + 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
120 ml milk
  • whisk eggs, vanilla, sugar and cornstarch together
  • bring the milk to the boil, pour it over the egg mix and whisk
  • return to the saucepan and whisk over a low heat until thickened
  • cool slightly and then spoon into tart shells
  • leave to cool and then topped with washed, sliced strawberries

On the other hand if your strawberries have seen better days then I recommend
this recipe from Smitten Kitten, the strawberries add that little bit of sweetness to the rhubarb (no pics as my camera was broken for the last few weeks).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Raspberry Lemon Tiramisu


I’m very proud of this one because it’s the first recipe that I thought up from scratch myself. When in Italy I purchased a bottle of limoncello and I’ve been thinking of ways to use it (other than the obvious aperitif). So here it is – lemon raspberry tirsmisu.

Serves 10-12

40 savoiardi biscuits

Juice of three lemons made up to 200 ml with water

3 tbsp caster sugar

50 ml limoncello
  • Warm the juice and water together with the sugar until it dissolves
  • Add the limoncello
  • Leave to cool
200 ml cream
20 ml limoncello
500 g mascarpone

4 tbsp caster sugar

Zest of 3 lemons

4 egg yolks
  • Whip the cream
  • Add 20 ml limoncello
  • Whip until firm again
  • In a clean bowl mash the mascarpone and lemon zest together
  • Beat in the sugar and then the egg yolks
  • Fold in the previously whipped cream
600 g raspberries

I used a 7 by 7 inch square pan with a removable base.
Dip ½ the savoiardi biscuits in the cooled lemon syrup and line the bottom of the dish. Spoon over ½ the raspberries and top with ½ the mascarpone mix. Repeat the layers finishing with a mascarpone layer. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight to let the flavours meld together.

Serve with some fresh fruit salad.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Probably the best..........

Chocolate chip cookies in the world


I first came across these on Orangette's blog, though they are originally came from the New York Times. I made two batches, one with 24 hours of resting the dough and the other with 48 hours. Both were good but the second lot were a bit easier to handle. The great thing about resting the dough is that you can come home from work, stick the oven on and 15 mins later have yummy fresh cookies to hand. I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter except for using ordinary plain flour for both 'flours' specified and I got 24 enormous cookies from the recipe.

P.S. I used chocolate chips that I bought in Cacoa Sampaka in Barcelona. They were great as they are really small and you get a nice, even distribution of chips throughout the cookie. Does anybody know where I can get ones like these in Ireland? (I found them in one shop but it would have been over 10 Euro for the chips for these cookies!!)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Party in the Park

Ok, the Party in the Park. My friend S decided to invite a few friends to celebrate her birthday with a picnic in Bushy Park. If you remember last Sunday in Dublin she possibly picked our one day of summer for this event. Nobody should have a birthday without a cake so I provided this one.

An American friend gave me a cookbook of cookbooks Food & Wine ‘Best of the Best’ Vol 8 (thanks BJM). I’m not a big fan of very sweet desserts. I like dark chocolate, lemon and raspberries. I especially don’t like overly sweet icing/fillings, the filling in this cake is white chocolate rather than frosting based which made it jump out at me immediately. It is originally from ‘Pure Chocolate’ by Fran Bigelow. I know my recipe is a mixture of imperial and metric - the original is in American imperial and I converted the sugar and butter to metric because I can never get my head around a 'stick' of butter!!

First things first – when a recipe has an instruction like ‘chill overnight’ it’s probably for a reason. I baked my cake on Saturday evening and simply left it out to cool overnight, as a result it was quite stick and difficult to cut. Thus my cake had slightly-less-than-perfect edges but the taste was still good. It's quite a rich cake and you will easily serve 16 from this recipe. You do need to start this the day before you intend to eat it.

Ganache Filling
½ cup double cream
8 oz white chocolate

  • roughly chop chocolate and place in a bowl
  • heat the cream until just boiling
  • pour over the chocolate and keep stirring until it's smooth and glossy
  • cover with cling film (touching the surface) and leave to cool overnight
Cake
8 oz chocolate, chopped

115g unsalted butter, softened

5 eggs, seperated

340g sugar
  • preheat the oven to 150º C
  • grease, line and grease again a 9 x 13'' swiss roll tin
  • melt the chocolate
  • remove from the heat, stir in the butter until the mix is glossy
  • set aside to cool for 20 mins
  • whisk egg yolks + 170g sugar together until tripled in volume
  • fold the melted chocolate
  • in a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until firm
  • add the sugar and whisk until firm again
  • slowly and gradually fold the egg whites into the chocolate mix
  • spread the mix evenly in the pan
  • bake for 25 mins
  • CHILL UNTIL COLD IN THE FRIDGE (wrap in cling film)

Cake Assembly
Put the white chocolate filling in a mixer and whisk for 3-4 mins until it is lighter in colour and texture. Turn the cake out onto a cake board and cut into three lengths of equal width. Spread ½ the filling on slice 1, top with slice 2 and spread it with the remaining ½ of the filling and top with slice 3. Chill for at least and hour before proceeding.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup double cream

  • heat the cream until almost boiling
  • pour it over the chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy
  • put ¼ the mix in the fridge for 25 mins and leave the rest to cool at room temperature
Writing Icing
2 oz white chocolate

2 tsp vegtable oil
  • melt chocolate
  • stir in oil
Icing the Cake
Use the chilled ganache to thinly coat the top and side of the cake (this seals in the crumbs and provides a smooth surface for the rest of the ganache). Pour the rest of the ganache over the sides and then the top of the cake. For the writing icing I put it into a squeezy sauce bottle but you could use a parchment cone instead. Pipe three lines down the centre of the cake. Then using a cocktail stick draw a continuous series of figures-of-eight down the centre of the cake. Finally chill for about 2 hours so the ganache can set.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Courgette Cakes

Sunday brought sunshine and a party in the park (more of which anon). By evening time we wanted something to nibble on but weren't quite up to a full dinner. I rustled up these cakes from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries and they really hit the spot. I used the fine setting on my mandolin and the cakes held together well and were no problem to turn over.

Courgette Cakes with Dill and Feta
6 cakes - serves 2/3 depending on how hungry you are!!

500g courgettes
1 onion

1 clove garlic

3 tbsp plain flour

1 egg, beaten

150g feta, crumbled

small bunch dill
  • grate the courgette thinly - using a mandolin is best
  • place into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 mins
  • heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic
  • squeeze the excess liquid from the courgette and add to the onion
  • saute for 2-3 mins
  • add the flour for 3-4 mins until cooked
  • stir in the beaten egg, crumbled feta and dill
  • season
  • fry the cakes for 2-3 mins on each side until golden

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cultivating Cultural Interest


It is an absolute joy to stumble upon little cultural events, particularly when they involve food. Last Saturday we made a trip into town to the Cultivate centre in Temple Bar for the Annual Indian Food Mela. We met up with our Indian friend A and his parents, who are over on a visit from Delhi.




There were a variety of stalls set up around the room. Having been at the mela two years ago, Iwas pleasantly surprised that this time it was better organised and more professional. Most of the stalls were run by people in the catering business. Dishes ranged from €1 for a samosa or poori to €6 for a big carton of chicken and rice. We sampled a number of the main dishes, tandoori chicken, chicken and rice mix, karahi chicken, onion bhaji, paranta, rice with kidney beans.


In the normal course of events I find Indian desserts to be far too sweet. A had some gulab jamun and jalebi, which I tried (in the name of research!) and the sweetness seemed to have been tempered slightly to suit the Irish palate - still not my desserts-of-choice though.

Gravity Defying Yoghurt??


Is that what has happened to this Glenilen yoghurt? Or are your eyes deceiving you? I'm a great fan of these yoghurts (especially the raspberry flavour). They come in fab glass containers which are perfect for making individual desserts in. These are actually vanilla pannacottas with a strawberry topping. The recipe comes from the original blogger herself, Clotilde. She says they take about an hour in the fridge to set, at this stage mine were still liquid!! They took a good 3-4 hours to be suitable for serving and are really best made the day before. Even when 'set' they are still quite wobbly - this is the way I like pannacotta but I think if you turned them out onto a serving dish they would probably collapse. But why would you turn them out when they look so pretty like this?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barcelona

Introducing my first guest blogger, Little Sis, on the gastronomic pleasures to be found in Barcelona.

"Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Barcelona. Aside from the opportunity to watch some fantastic football, enjoy the sun and see some of Gaudì’s fascinating - and mad - buildings, my dad and I also got to sample some of the gastronomic delights of the Catalan capital.

We arrived hungry and disorientated after a 4 a.m. start, badly needing solid, reliable comfort food. Luckily, we soon found an innocuous-looking underground tapas bar called ‘La Bodegueta’ which quickly served up some of the simplest, and best, food I’d ever had. We shared plates of chorizo, cheese and the eponymous tortilla, and also enjoyed one of Catalonia’s signature dishes, crusty tomato bread. I particularly liked the tortilla, which I ended up eating at every possible opportunity after that - this was probably the best example we had. The cheese plate was also interesting, especially a variety which had been stored in oil and had a tangy, moist-but-not-oily taste. All in all, it made for an excellent start to our trip.



That night we ate at ‘Tragarapid’, a fast-food (fast-food in the Catalan style, which basically means cheap and informal) restaurant in the Tragaluz group, who have restaurants all around the city. We also lunched at the flagship ‘Tragaluz’ restaurant and a third member of the group, ‘Bestial’ on other days. ‘Tragarapid’, although vastly preferable to fast-food outlets here, wasn’t particularly memorable until we got to the dessert. I had an unremarkable rigatoni with tomato sauce and parmesan, while dad had fried chicken. However, the dessert was one of the single best things we ate on the trip - a basil and lime sorbet. The sharpness of the lime perfectly complemented the richness and slight oily taste of the basil; this dish was a revelation. ‘Tragaluz’ itself was more impressive, though that was possibly helped by the fact that dad brought along a Catalan friend who seemed to know every member of staff. We shared a portion of deep-fried aubergine to start (apparently, the Catalans share the tendency to deep-fry everything in sight with the Scots, though they haven’t yet got to Mars bars) which was much better than it sounds. We both had a simple, but perfectly made, starter of rigatoni drizzled with pesto and then I had a main course of seared veal. For dessert, a mango coulis cut through the richness of my chocolate brownie; this made for a wonderful conclusion to a great meal. The third restaurant, ‘Bestial’, was one of two restaurants from the group on the seafront (the other is ‘Agua’) and was definitely the weakest of the three. We started with seafood antipasti, which wasn’t bad but also wasn’t anything special. For the main course, dad’s mushroom risotto was reasonable while I accidentally ordered foie gras ravioli in a port wine sauce. Given that it was a hot afternoon, this was far too rich and cloying to have on he menu and neither of us could eat it. Although the caramel and cinnamon ice-creams we had for dessert were good, they didn’t really compensate for a disappointing meal. As this was one of the most expensive restaurants we went too, I can’t recommend it - the food never lived up to the stunning setting.

In a spirit of adventure, we booked a dinner at ‘Loidi’, a new venture by the three-time Michelin-starred Basque chef Martín Berasategui. A four-course set menu for €33.65 per person was thankfully quite a bit short of Michelin prices and both of us enjoyed an excellent meal. A tasting menu for €45 was also available for those that were so inclined. We were offered glasses of cava as soon as we entered, although possibly that was because we were the only people there - as a general rule it’s not a good idea to go out for dinner at 8 p.m. in Barcelona. I started with a rice and chicken casserole, while dad had an intriguing leek and egg soup - the egg was actually poached before being cooked in the soup. Both dishes made for a good start to the meal. For the fish course, dad had a helping of monkfish and clams, while I had a double helping of rabbit - I don’t like most fish. The rabbit was rich and juicy and my only problem that I wasn’t quite hungry enough to do it justice. I continued with the rabbit into the third course while dad had a lamb ragù. This was perfectly cooked; the lamb falling off the bone in a deeply rich sauce. The meat was perfectly complemented by the bottle of Finca viladellops we shared. The high standard continued into the desserts where I had an interesting coffee and Bailey’s spongecake topped with a crème brûlée-style crust. Dad had an apple tart with a sharp-tasting apple ice-cream. He finished with a ‘cortado’ - an expresso with a shot of milk - the traditional way to finish a meal in Catalonia. On the whole, we thought that ‘Loidi’ was well worth the visit.


No visit to Barcelona is complete without a trip to the Boquería, arguably the best market in the world. For a foodie, the only question is how many days you spend there. It’s a riot of colour and scent, a real feast for the senses. It’s here that you can get ‘cinco bellota’ ham, made from pigs that have been fed only on acorns. As it’s expensive, there’s a sliding scale based on how many acorns the pig has been fed. Even the smell of this ham is intoxicating, and I find myself savouring the tiniest amount of it. There are stalls dedicated to every type of chili and spices and sections full of fruit, vegetables and fish. A few of the stalls also act as cafés where you can sample ham, cheeses and myriad varieties of chorizo. This place is mesmerising, and any foodie who goes to Barcelona will find themselves in heaven.


‘Cacao Sampaka’ is a place of pilgrimage for every member of our family. There are branches throughout Spain and they serve the greatest hot chocolate known to mankind. I’m not exaggerating. ‘Azteca’ is drink made of 80% cacao infused with spices and tastes much like solid chocolate that has been liquidised and mixed with cream. It’s so rich that it starts solidifying as soon as you take your spoon out. I dream about this stuff. There’s also a variety of pastries available, although they’re mainly a sideline to the chocolate. We had feather-light melindros which were excellent for dipping, and perfectly buttery - but not over-rich - brioche. Dad also had a yoghurt and lemon smoothie which was apparently nice, but still ended up unnecessarily diluting the chocolate (in my opinion). It’s also a shop, so you can take some of the chocolate home with you - and, believe me, you will.

Although that’s a round-up of the most notable places we ate, Barcelona is full of good food. The Camp Nou serves up fresh, sturdy hot dogs at half-time with particularly good ciabatta-style bread. On our way home from the Parc Guëll (one of Gaudì’s) we dropped into the ‘Store Café’ where we had lovely, fresh drinks - I had lemon with ice, while dad had a strawberry and lime smoothie. Fresh bocadillos (sandwiches) are readily available and are almost invariably filled with excellent quality ingredients. The only misgiving we had was about the hotel breakfast - it was €18 per person for a mediocre meal, while we had hot chocolate and pastries the next day for a fiver in a small café. It’s something to watch out for if you go there as it’s easy to eat well for little money once you avoid the tourist traps. If you get the chance to go there - and eat there - savour it!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wraps for Dinner

I have been an OFM reader since the very beginning. It is edited by my favourite cookery writer, Nigel Slater. I love the fact that his writing is descriptive and contains wonderful imagery whilst still retaining a veil over his own life. This recipe comes from Allegra McEvedy in last Sunday’s edition. The original was suggested as a lunch dish, I added the chicken to make it a bit more filling for dinner time. The combination of flavours worked really well together, we'll be having these again.

Wraps with Courgette, Feta and Chicken.
(adapted from Observer Food Monthly, Sunday June 22nd 08)
Serves 2

120g feta
120g natural yoghurt
100g peas, cooked
1 lemon, zested
1 spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt + pepper
2 chicken breasts, chopped
2 small courgettes
garlic infused oil
4 tortilla wraps, warmed according to packet instructions
4 big lettuce leaves (I used Cos lettuce)
small handful mint leaves
1 chilli chopped, minus seeds and membrane

  • Mash the feta and stir in the yoghurt, peas, lemon zest, spring onion and olive oil. Season
  • Cut the courgettes lengthways into three (think of a Toblerone shape)
  • Heat a griddle pan until it’s nice and hot
  • Lightly oil the chicken and courgette with garlic oil and griddle until done
  • Assemble and enjoy

Monday, June 23, 2008

Still in Italy

……….I wish


We arrived back to on Friday evening and decided to continue the Italian theme for dinner on Saturday. The structure of a full Italian meal is usually some kind of antipasta followed by gnocchi/pasta, then a meat/fish dish and finally dessert.


We started with a simple melon and parma ham salad – simply drizzle over some olive oil and lemon juice (if there wasn’t mozzarella in the next course I would have followed Nigel Slater’s lead an added some good quality buffalo mozzarella, flat-leaf parsley and served it on a bed of rocket).

Next was the gnocchi course – for this recipe I turned to Lorraine’s site. I used 500g for 6 as we were having four courses.

Take T-bone steaks. Sear. Rest. Olive oil + rosemary. Serve on bed of rocket. Could it be any easier?

For dessert you are going to get an actual recipe. These semifreddos come from Bill Granger’s Everyday. He marbled the raspberries and nuts into the mix halfway through freezing whilst I kept the overall flavours the same by serving mine with a raspberry coulis and a sprinkling of pistachios, (the assigned plates are The Doc's attempt at decoration).

Rosewater Semifreddo
(adapted from Everyday by Bill Granger)
Serves 6

6 egg yolks
3 tbsp honey
250 ml cream, whipped
2 tsp rosewater (the best place to buy this is middle-eastern shops – it’s cheap and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for a year, I got mine in Spiceworld in Portobello)
  • Beat egg yolks and honey together until pale and doubled in size
  • Fold in the cream and the rosewater
  • I froze mine in individual dariole moulds which I lined first with cling film

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Meal of the Year


It's been a while since I've posted but as you can see from the picture above I was slightly busy with some other stuff!! Ever since The Doc asked me to marry him we have been adament that we didn't want the traditional Irish 250-people-at-the-local-hotel kind of wedding. We are both quiet people so just invited 64 of of nearest and dearest to spend the day with us. But organising this wedding has taken all my time and we've been revisiting lots of old favourites on the dinner side of things. I'm looking forward to getting back into my cookbooks.

Where better for a foodie to have her wedding than in the local fine wine and food store, Greenacres in Wexford. The store is housed in the old family solicitors' building, they have added a fab modern extension with an art gallery and this is where they hold all their events. It's a great mix between old and new and the sense of light in the gallery space is amazing.

We designed the menu ourselves and I got the one thing I had been really looking forward to, the croque-en-bouche. This tower of profiteroles is a traditional French wedding cake and even though I'm not a fan of fruit cake I did want something that is associated with a wedding. It looked really classy but I'm glad to report that it tasted even better! The starter was served on a platter for each table so you could pick and choose, we had the speeches during this so that the guys could relax and enjoy their main courses. It being a wine shop they advised us as to what would go with all the dishes and suggested that we greet our guests with a glass of Prosecco and some strawberries (from Wexford of course!). Instead of the traditional sarnies at 11pm they sent out a platter of cheese to each table - the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Now it's iPods and cameras packed as we fly off this evening for two weeks in Tuscany. I look forward to lots of cooking, baking and blogging upon my return.


P.S. Little Sis, despite being my only bridesmaid and staring down the barrel of the dreaded LC this week, managed to put this together a our wedding gift.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Moroccan Magic


Another recipe now from February's Delicious magazine - in this case from a selection of pulse/grain recipes from Bill Granger. I had this on the table less that 20 mins after arriving home last week and it offers a great alternative to the ubiquitous midweek pasta. I had somehow up to now missed out on Bill Granger but after this dinner The Doc went and bought me two of his books 'Holiday' and 'Every Day', so expect a lot of his recipes in the weeks to come!

Harissa Chicken with Bulgur Wheat, Pine Nut and Parsley Pilaf
6 chicken breasts
3 tbsp harissa
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
40g pine nuts
375g bulgur wheat
600ml chicken stock - hot
80g sultanas
  • Put a few slashes in the chicken and place in a bowl to mariande with the harissa and half the olive oil
  • Warm the rest of the oil and cook the onion until soft
  • Add the ginger, allspice, cinnamon and pine nuts and cook on a medium heat for 10 mins (I like to add 1-2 tbsp water to stop the dried spices sticking to the pan and burning
  • Add bulghur wheat to the onion mix and cook for about a minute
  • Remove from the heat and add the stock and sultanas, cover and set aside for 10 minutes until all the stock has been absorbed
  • Meanwhile heat a frying pan and cook chicken until golden
  • Stir parsley into bulgur and season

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Flapjacks

We were heading over to a friend's house for Grand Prix today and I knew there would be lots of chocolate/crisps etc. provided. I'm trying to be healthy so I wanted to bring something that would be tasty and stop me grazing but not leave me eyeing up the junk food. You think flapjacks are healthy and then you see that they have 250g butter AND 250g sugar!!! So I browsed the net for some slightly heathier options. I combined advice from a few different sites and kinda made it up as I went along, replacing the butter with sunflower oil, cutting down on the sugar and adding dried apricots to keep them moist. You can add any combination of nuts, seeds and fruits that take your fancy. The tartness of the blueberries contrast well with the sweet apricots in this version.

Flapjacks
100ml sunflower oil
30g brown sugar

150g golden syrup

250g porridge oats
50g pumpkin seeds
50g sunflower seeds
50g dried blueberries
75g dried apricots, chopped
  • Melt together the oil, sugar and butter
  • Stir in the remaining ingrediants
  • Pour into greased tin
  • Bake @ 180° for 15 mins
  • Cool before slicing up
I made mine in a flexible silicone mould which made them really easy to get out when it came time for slicing them up.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Squish Squash


Among the pile of newspapers, magazines and books beside my bed I unearthed an unread copy of February's Delicious magazine. While browsing through I came across this recipe for an unconventional 'risotto' made with pearl barley. We are making a concerted effort in this house to broaden our carbs from the usual pasta, spuds and white rice so I thought I'd give this a try. And the result? This is definitely a keeper, the barley retains a nutty bite which contrasts well with the sweetness of the squash - although I did alter the proportions slightly to increase the squash to barley ratio.

Pearl barley risotto with roasted squash, red peppers and rocket (adapted from the Feb 08 edition of Delicious)
serves 2
350g peeled butternut squash, cubed

1 red pepper, cut into chunks

olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

175g pearl barley

750ml hot vegtable stock

flat-leaf parsley

2 handfuls rocket

Parmesan
  • Preheat oven to 180°
  • Coat squash and peppers in oil and season, roast for about 35 mins
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil and add onion, garlic and thyme leaves and cook till soft
  • Add barley and cook for 1 min
  • Add one ladleful of stock, stir and simmer until absorbed
  • Continue adding the stock one ladelful at a time until it is all absorbed (this should take about 40 mins) and there is still a 'bite' to the barley (I then needed an extra 100ml of water to cook the barley to the texture I wanted)
  • Stir in the parsley, squash and peppers
  • Serve topped with rocket and Parmesan

Now this left me with half a butternut squash so I used the foodblogsearch (see below) to find myself a soup recipe. I found this lovely one for 'Roasted butternut squash with smoked paprika' from glutenfreegirl and just made a half portion. If you read her instructions she advises straining it through a mesh sieve. Boring though it may be this really is needed as the initial blended mixture has a texture like baby food. I only strained half of mine before I got bored - this was enough for a pourable soup but if I was making it for guests I would strain the whole lot. It's a lovely soup, the smoked paprika adds some depth and takes the edge off the sweetness of the squash.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Food Blog Search


Food blog search has been around for a while but I only came across it at the weekend. Its a nifty little tool that does exactly what it says. You can add it directly into your own blog, to your Google homepage, to your Google toolbar or if, like me, you use Firefox as your browser add it directly to the search toolbar. If your blog is not on the list (and mine wasn't) you can just drop them an email and they'll add it in a day or two. For more details click here.

Tune in later for the soup.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pea and Pesto Soup


While flicking through my copy of Nigella's Express The Doc exclaimed "Oh, that looks good". 'That' was her pea and pesto soup and with the weather being the way it is what is better for a Sunday lunch than a nice warming bowl of soup? She advises using deli-bought pesto here, I used rocket pesto as my local deli had sold out of the standard basil variety and my basil at home is looking very sad at the moment. The flavour of the soup was good but the consistency was too watery (I have suggested 600ml rather than the 750ml water that I used). And I served it with some simple Bruschetta Al Pomodoro.

600 ml water

375g frozen peas

2 spring onions, trimmed
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp lime juice

60ml pesto
  • Bring the water to the boil in a pan
  • Add the peas, spring onions, salt and lime juice
  • Simmer for about seven minutes
  • Remove spring onions, add pesto and blend
She says this serves 2, but we had another bowlful left over

Monday, March 17, 2008

Caffè Carluccio's


Little sis and I decided to check out Carluccio's for our dinner last night. I popped in a few weeks ago to pick up some bits in the deli section and the queue was out the door. We stuck our heads in on our way down Dawson St. yesterday and seeing the absence of a queue we hopped straight in. The fact that it was only half five might have helped - by the time we were leaving it was close on seven and there were at least a dozen people in the queue. If you're going it might be best to pick an early hour or be prepared to wait. It's definitely worth waiting for!

Those of you curious about the menu can take a look
here. We started with a selection of Italian breads dubbed the 'savoury bread tin' on the menu, grissini (bread sticks) and foccacia were good but we both felt the slice of brown walnut bread was slightly misplaced. It doesn't really work being dipped in olive oil like the others. For starter I had the Calamari which had only the barest coating of batter and were all the better for it, a simple salad and squeeze of lemon was all that was needed in accompaniment. Little sis had the Arancini di Riso Sicilian - deep-fried rice balls with ragù in one ball and mozzarella in the other with a red pepper sauce. They made wonderful comfort food and would make a good way of using up leftover risotto although the sauce would have been better if it had been slightly warmer. For main I opted for the Penne Giardiniera, described as "our own Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and deep-fried spinach balls with parmesan and garlic". The concept of the deep-fried spinach balls intrigued me but they were good, adding a new texture to a dish that would otherwise be very soft. It was also nice to see something outside the pesto/carbonara/bolognese on an Italian menu. Little sis tends to be a picky eater but she went for the Penne alla Luganica. This was penne smothered in a rich tomato and spicy sausage sauce. The spices were subtle rather than overt and the texture was nicely smooth and creamy, leading to a dish that both she and I highly enjoyed. After this lot we were stufffed and wouldn't have been able to do justice to dessert. It felt it was very good value, with three San Pelligrinos the total bill was €51.25.

However we on our way out we picked up two chocolate slices from the deli and tucked into them about two hours later. They were nice but nothing spectacular, a little on the sweet side for both myself and Little sis. In retrospect they were only €2.50 and there was also a chocolate torte for €4.50 - perhaps the price differential speaks of the amount of good chocolate needed.


P.S. The Doc did remark this morning that I reeked of garlic, so maybe if you are going to pay Carluccio's a visit it would be best to bring the one you love with you!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lasagne


The thing about lasagne is that it is on every pub and cafe menu up and down the country but it is so rarely well-executed. It's not difficult to make a good lasagne but it does require some time - not necessarily chained to the stove - but just keeping an eye on things. I like to make this recipe over three days, ragu sauce on day one, make bechamel sauce and assemble on day two and then leave overnight for the flavours to meld together before baking.

Ragu Sauce:
2 carrots, diced

3 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
150g panchetta, diced

1 glass wine
1 kg mined beef
2 x 400g good quality tinned tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato puree
pinch dried oregano
  • Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the pan and add carrots, celery, garlic, onion and pancetta
  • Cook over a moderately low heat for 20 mins - you want all the veg to soften but not colour (this is known as a soffritto in Italian)
  • Turn heat up slightly and add the minced beef, stir until all meat has browned
  • Add the glass of wine and leave to bubble off
  • Add tomatoes, puree, oregano and season
  • Cook over a low heat for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until nice and thick
Bechamel Sauce:
1200 ml milk

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

10 peppercorns

65g butter
65g plain flour
  • Place milk, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns in a saucepan
  • Bring up to the boil, swith off heat and leave to cool and infuse
  • Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour
  • Cook over a low heat for 1-2 mins (essential to cook the flour)
  • Add the milk one ladle at a time and whisk in thoroughly
  • Cook slowly over low heat until thick, stirring all the time
I like to blanch my lasagne's sheets for about 10 mins before assembly as it cuts down the cooking time later and allows the flavours to come together better before cooking. When ready to bake top with grated parmesan and bake @ 180° for 30-40 minutes.