Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Pancakes – How do you like yours?

I’m sure that like me you’ll remember learning in school that the Catholic Church forbade the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy produce during Lent so on Shrove Tuesday all these ‘luxuries’ had to be eaten and thus the pancake was invented!

Did you also have a box in which to save all the sweets you couldn’t eat during Lent? Remember the excitement of the dispensation for St Patrick’s Day? Our poor parents – imagine the sugar high we must all have been on once Easter Sunday came around!

But did you know that apparently there was a link between Shrove Tuesday and the romantic fortunes of the unmarried. “Traditionally in Ireland, marriage was forbidden to take place during Lent, so in the weeks before Christmas and “Shrovetide,” as it’s sometimes called, matchmakers busily tried to find suitable candidates for marriage before Ash Wednesday arrived. Households left with unmarried daughters on Shrove Tuesday tried to imbue them with better luck for the coming year by allowing them to toss the first cake. Their pancake-making skills, for better or worse, were seen as an indication of their romantic chances for the next year.”

Pass me that frying pan quickly!

My recipe for pancakes comes from the Children’s Section of my Mum’s old Good Housekeeping Cookbook – I used to love looking through this and trying out recipes when I could!  

There are still little bookmarks in the book for recipes I wanted to try – I never did get to make lollipops, glucose and lollipop sticks were far too exotic back then!

Pancakes

The one recipe I do remember using (and still use) is the one for pancakes. I use the imperial measurements for this but have brought it up to date with the metric equivalents!

What you need:

  • 4oz (125g ) flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ pint (300ml) milk

What you do:

  • Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a hollow in the middle of the flour, and break the egg into this. Gently work in the flour, gradually adding the milk to give a smooth creamy batter.
  • Now for the important bit – cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave the batter to rest for at least an hour. I always got impatient at this point!
  • When cooking Good Housekeeping calls for lard or vegetable shortening – I use butter – the real stuff please! I saw somebody on TV  claiming that the secret to cooking pancakes is to use clarified butter – put butter in a bowl in a warm oven and use the clear liquid from the top – I must give it a try and see if it works!
  • Put a little butter into warm pan then pour in some batter (a few tablespoons). Tilt your pan to spread the batter evenly. When batter has set and is brown on one side use a palette knife to turn it and cook on other side – or if you’re feeling brave toss it!

This recipe should yield 10-12 thin pancakes using an 8” /20 cm frying pan. If you want to cook them in advance stack the pancakes with a piece of parchment paper between each of them. But they’re best hot from the pan!

When it comes to fillings it’s hard to beat the traditional  lemon juice and caster sugar, but nutella comes a close second in my book! What’s your favourite?

Don’t forget you can do savoury fillings as well as sweet – sautéed mushrooms, stir fry veg., creamy chicken…..Just let your imagination take over.  I remember one pancake party where my friend Siobhan served pancakes with a variety of stuffings including one with beansprouts – one of the guests was later heard to say he wasn’t mad about the ones with the straw in them!

Just remember the first pancake is always a disaster- best hide it so it doesn’t adversely affect your romantic prospects!!!! 😉

Happy Cooking!

Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

‘Crazy Water Pickled Lemons’ Cookbook

Did I mention I love cook-books? I may soon have to build a new room to house my ever-growing collection!

I was delighted to receive a review copy of Diana Henry‘s re- released ‘Crazy Water Pickled Lemons‘ from Octopus Books . This is a beautiful book with such evocative writing that you can almost taste the food. In fact I got so engrossed in reading the book I almost forgot to cook some of the dishes!

The recipes are grouped together by ingredients with lots of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes – all food that I love. Each chapter starts with a description of the ingredients, each is given a personality – cardamon is a ghost that walks through dishes; figs are like hungry kisses; pomegranates are temptation;  honey has a split personality, using saffron is likened to cooking with gold…..

The food styling and photography is excellent BUT there aren’t pictures of all the dishes 😦  Note to Cookery Book Editors please show us what the finished dish should look like!

Valentine’s Day didn’t really happen Chez  Hey Pesto! this year due to work commitments so I decided to reschedule it and try out some recipes from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons at the same time

I picked out the recipes I wanted to try,  then went in search of ingredients which didn’t prove that simple! It appears dried rose petals or  fresh pomegranates and figs are not easily obtained in Tullamore! The pomegranate season is coming to an end but I did manage to find 2 on a trip to Dublin – I’m still searching for dried rose petals for the Jewelled Persian Rice…

For starters we had the Aubergines with Mint – with added feta cheese. Neither of us are big aubergine fans but the verdict was positive. I’d use it in a starter mezze with a few more additions.

The main event was  Breast of Duck with Pomegranate & Walnut Sauce made with the elusive pomegranate. The texture of the sauce was very different and the pomegranate seeds gave an unexpected crunch!

The dish was accompanied by salt baked potatoes (yum!) and fruited couscous – finally a use for the jar of preserved lemons that have been lingering in my cupboard! It’s the first time I steamed couscous (I normally cook it in a curried stock) and it definitely made it fluffier!

I also tried to sneak in roast beetroot because they looked so pretty but he wasn’t having any of it!  The meal was washed down with a very pleasant McGuigan’s Shiraz Viognier.

Dessert was to have been chocolate and rosemary sorbet but we’re not really dessert people so it never happened!

The verdict – I’ll definitely make the duck again and I may try the sauce with chicken or lamb. The couscous will be redone, simply to check if the soaking and steaming is worth it! The potatoes are now on my favourites list – I have to try them with the suggested roast garlic and créme fraiche.

I only realised afterwards that I had prepared all these dishes without using any butter or cream so they have to be good for you!

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons has already earned it’s place on my ‘favourites shelf’ – there are lots more recipes I want to try. Tonight’s dinner is going to Sausages & Lentils with Sweet & Sour Figs – I found the dotiest mini figs to use!

Thanks again to the lovely people at Octopus Books for sending me the book – but you’re not getting it back!!!

Here’s the recipe for the duck if you’d like to try it ………

Breast of Duck with Pomegranate & Walnut Sauce

What you need: 

  • 4 duck breasts (I got mine from Pat Whelan)
  • 150g shelled walnuts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (I used rapeseed oil)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (I knew I’d find a use for it!)
  • seeds of 2 pomegranates
  • 400ml chicken or duck stock
  • Seasoning
  • Chopped mint

What you do:

  • Toast the walnuts in a dry pan, then grind in food processor but not too finely – you want some chunkiness for the sauce.
  • Sauté the onion in the oil until soft and starting to colour. Add the cinnamon and stir for about a minute. Then add in walnuts, molasses, pomegranate seeds and stock. Bring to the boil and then allow to simmer for 15 minutes until sauce has thickened.
  • Season the duck breasts and seal on both sides in a very hot pan, then transfer to preheated oven (200C/Gas 6) for 7 minutes.
  • Stir in the fresh mint into the sauce and serve alongside the duck breast.

Diana Henry suggests serving the duck with ‘simple side dishes such as rice and sautéed spinach’ – I hope she doesn’t mind me adding a few more bits!

The above recipe serves 4. I halved everything but had more than enough sauce for 2.

Happy Cooking!

PS Valentine, I’m still waiting for the flowers……

Cooking, Food, Recipes

Dining á deux – Romance is in the air!

Romance is definitely in the air and what better way to celebrate than with a delicious dinner á deux?

This was my Valentine’s meal last year but looking at the dishes I think it deserves another outing……….. see what you think!

Starter : Seductive Scallops on a Pea & Mint Purée

According to my fishmonger, Jason, this dish cannot fail to stir the romantic juices! You can make the purée in advance and reheat just before serving. The trick is to have everything ready before you cook the scallops as they are best served immediately. Allow 3 scallops per person.

To make the puree – heat 125 g frozen petits pois, knob of butter, 50 ml chicken stock andseasoning in a small saucepan and alllow to simmer for 3-4 mins. Then whizz in food processor with a small bunch of mint (chopped) and Voilá!

To cook the scallops make sure your pan is red hot, add a little butter and oil, and sear the scallops (seasoned with little salt & freshly ground cumin) for 1 min each side. You want a nice caramelised colour.

Serve the scallops on a dollop of purée with salad leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

  

Main: Romantic Roast Duck Breast with Plum Sauce

I used the frozen Barbary duck breast from Lidl for this – one at €5.99 is enough for two! (I hope they still have them!)

Again you can make the sauce in advance and reheat when needed. To make the sauce sauté 1 chopped shallot in a little olive oil for a few mins. Add 250g red plums (half a punnet), stoned and cut into wedges alond with 50g demerara sugar and stir til the sugar dissolves. Finally add 50 mlred wine and 300 ml beef stock and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened (should take about 15 mins)

Turn your oven to 180C /Gas 4.

To cook the duck – score the skin with a sharp knife and season well. Place the duck breast(s), skin side down, on a cold pan and bring up to temmperature. (this will stop your meat seizing up ) and cook for 6 mins. Then turn the duck over and add 25g butter, 1 star anise and a sprig of thyme to the pan. Baste the breast(s) with the juices and then transfer to pre heated oven (check your pan is oven proof, if not transfer duck to roasting dish!). Roast for 5-6 mins for pink or 10 mins for well done. Baste the duck with the juices and allow to rest for 5 mins before carving.

Serve the duck breast on a bed of mash with plum sauce spooned around.

Dessert: Decandent Chocolate Cocktails

This  rich, luscious chocolatey dessert looks really well served in martini glasses.

Mix 2 tbsp of your liqueur of choice (I used Cointreau but I want to try Mint Baileys…) into 170ml ofdouble cream. Remove 3tbsp of the cream mix and reserve for later. Then heat the remaining cream in a small saucepan until just boiling.

Pour the hot cream over 50g dark chocolate pieces (70% cocoa please!) and stir to melt the chocolate. Divide the mix between 2 martini glasses and allow to cool.

Whip the remaining cream and spoon over the chocolate ( think a pint of guiness!). Then allow to chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

Timing

To make sure your meal flows smoothly make the dessert, pea purée and plum sauce in advance. You could also make the mash a little ahead of time if you want.

Set your beautiful romantic table, make yourself beautiful/handsome. Pour the champagne.  Then return to cooker and sear the duck (I advise wearing an apron for this part!). When you have transferred the duck to the oven, cook and serve the scallops.

Allow the duck to rest while you reheat the sauce and the mash – plate it up and enjoy.

All you need to do with the dessert is dust with cocoa – using a heart stencil of course.

Now the rest is up to you………………

Happy Cooking!

Baking, Cakes, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Heart’s Desire Cake

So it’s that time of the year – Valentine’s Day or should I say the ultimate Hallmark day! Time to bring out your inner romantic and make everything pink and heart shaped……..

And if my black pudding starter seems very ‘hearty’ well here is the ultimate chocolate cake to finish off your romantic meal á deux! (what you choose to have for main course is entirely up to you………….)

I came across this recipe when I was putting together a ‘Cupid’s Cooking’ class last year and it went down very well. I think it came from Delicious Magazine so I hope they don’t mind my variation on it!

It’s quick , easy and delicious so go on, give it a try………..

Heart’s Desire Cake

Preheat your oven to 180C/Fan 160C/Gas 4.  You’ll need a loose bottomed heart-shaped tin – I got mine from Kit Your Kitchen last year and I’m sure Gemma will have some  in stock this year

What you need:

  • 150g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) buttons
  • 140g light brown sugar
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g hazelnuts
  • 50g Green & Black’s butterscotch chocolate

What to do:

Put butter, vanilla, chocolate and sugars into a bowl

Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat  until melted.

Remove bowl from heat, add in the beaten eggs and fold in the flour

Finally stir in the chopped hazelnuts and butterscotch chocolate.
Pour the cake mix into a buttered, heart shaped tin and bake in a preheated oven for 25 mins until top is firm to touch but cake is still squidgy inside.

Allow to cool in tin for 15 mins before carefully turning out onto serving plate.

A few bits from my decorating box...

Decorate to your heart’s content ……

and serve warm with whipped cream and lots of love……..

Did I mention I had a very interested observer while all this was going on….

Happy Cooking !

PS Valentine if you’re reading this, I have the cake so  flowers or jewellery will do……….

Chef, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Irish Food Heroes & a starter for Valentine’s..

There is a great food community in Ireland and I consider myself very lucky to be part of it! Last week I went to the  Foodie Forum in Galway and spent the day catching up with people and learning lots. Thanks to Cormac & Jacinta for organising the event.

One of the things that I always find funny is how many us know each other by our twitter names rather than our ‘real’ names – in fact it was suggested that in future name badges should carry both handles!

For me the highlight of the day were the MasterClasses by Stefan Matz of Ashford Castle , Michael Viljanen of Gregans Castle Hotel  (still at time of writing!) and Wade Murphy of Doonbeg Lodge.  If I could produce food like theirs I would die happy!

I was lucky enough to get a taste of Michael’s chocolate tart with avocado & lime purée and celery sorbet  – sublime! I hope he remembers to send me the recipe………

Following these masters Bryan McCarthy of Springfort Hall introduced us to his philosophy on head -to-tail use of his home reared pork – we got to taste sausages, ribs, pate, pork belly…………..I’m now really looking forward to his 9 course tasting menu next month!

The final class of the day was from one of the grand masters of the Irish Food world – Sir Jack of McCarthy’s of Kanturk. Jack dazzled us with his array of puddings or boudins including the Midleton whiskey one that was served to the Queen on her Irish visit last year (which tasted very nice!) He has even developed a n ice crean using his chocolate, pistachio and mint pudding – it’s interestingly good!

Jack gave me a present of a beetroot and black currant boudin which I couldn’t wait to get home and try.

Jack told me that the pudding is an ancient Irish fertility symbol and I believed him!! So I decided to try it as a starter that could be served for Valentine’ s Day!

I heated slices of the boudin in the oven while I caramelised some beetroot and apple slices in some butter…

Layer the apple slices in the centre of your plate, place the slice of pudding on top, add some caramelised beetroot cubes and drizzle with some Highbank Apple Syrup – then just taste the magic!

Happy Cooking!