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Tear & Share Bread

You know the feeling when friends drop in unexpectedly and you hear yourself saying ‘you must stay for lunch/dinner’ all the while doing a frantic mental search of your fridge and thinking ‘what on earth can I serve’ ?

Well worry no more – with a few staples in your fridge and pantry you can rustle up this quick savoury bread in about 20 minutes. Throw a salad together while it’s cooking and Voilá! your friends will think you are a true Domestic God/Goddess
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Irish Potatoes with a Spanish Twist

Today is National Potato Day so it’s only right to celebrate our most famous vegetable !

There are so many ways to cook our national treasure but as I’m still trying to keep the summer memories alive I’m adding  a Spanish twist to tonight’s dish. This dish will be perfect both as an accompaniment to some thing like a roast chicken breast or served as part of tapas selection.

I’ve tried a few different recipes for Patatas Bravas – you know the tasty potatoes in tomato sauce you get in Tapas Bars – and I always come back to Simon Rimmer’s version. He slow roasts the potatoes with chilli rather than the traditional method of deep frying the potatoes and then adding the sauce so it’s a healthier option.  I’ve tweaked it to my taste and I hope you like it !
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Who’s on wash-up?

Any caterer will tell you that one of the biggest tasks we face after any job is the wash up.  I have some (not so good!) memories of trying to wash plates out the back of a wedding marquee using hot water drained off the potatoes – I kid you not. I hasten to add this was not in Hey Pesto! – we prefer indoor sinks and dishwashers!

As regular readers will know I love to cook –  both in my catering kitchen and my house kitchen – and I have a tendency to use a lot of dishes and pots.  Unfortunately I don’t always have an assistant to wash up after me so my dishwasher is a very essential piece of kit.
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Comforting Curry

I know, I know – it’s been a while since my last blog but now that the weather has changed I’m likely to spend more time indoors and I promise to try and be a better blogger ….

Sometimes you just need comfort food and last night was one of those nights. There were chicken fillets in the fridge,some random vegetables left in the basket and there’s always coconut milk and curry paste in the pantry so it had to be Thai curry for dinner, the perfect dish for these Autumn evenings.

I promise it will be ready in 30 minutes – quicker than waiting for a takeaway to arrive so why not give it a try. Continue reading

Beating the January Blues

2 weeks into January and my resolutions are still going strong – well most of them ! I started my get fit regime (albeit gently) , had a great turn out for my first cookery class and enjoyed my first meal out of the year.

The Chief Taster surprised me with a night away in Dunbrody House Hotel – just the thing to chase away the January blues. If you haven’t been, Dunbrody is a beautiful Georgian House in Arthurstown , Co. Wexford run by TV Chef Kevin and Catherine Dundon.

We stayed in a lovely room overlooking the garden and the beautifully laid out herb garden. I will admit to being slightly jealous 😉 The CT had to go do some work so I relaxed with coffee and my book.

Then it was time to preen ourselves for dinner and pre-prandial drinks by the fire. I’m still searching for a ‘grown up’ pre-dinner drink – thanks to a recommendation from the cocktail guru Geoff Boyle I decided to try a Hendricks gin and tonic but was a little disappointed to be told that they had run out of Hendricks over Christmas. I picked a Campari from the drinks menu after that – it will not be my drink of choice 😉 . He stuck to his usual whiskey and was happy.

We were served a very tasty salmon dip while we decided on our dinner choices and then shown into the beautiful dining room.

Menu

Dinner did not disappoint. We both loved the black pudding and chorizo bread  (I shall be attempting a version..). Then I had the Smoked Salmon and the Venison , while the Chief Taster had the Pigeon and the Halibut. I  loved the flavour combination of the smoked celery root purée with the venison but I will admit to passing on the sunchoke!

We don’t normally do desserts but our lovely waitress Sarah persuaded us – so he opted for the doughnuts and coffee and I went for the cheese board which would have comfortably fed four if not six people! And then there were handmade chocolates…… All these delights were washed down by a very pleasant Lawton Hill’s Pinot Noir.
We were so full we couldn’t even manage a postprandial drink – even the stairs were a challenge 🙂

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Would you believe the lovely Sarah turned out to be the equally lovely Paula Ryan’s niece. Talk about a small world!

Breakfast was another feast – did I mention I’m joining a gym! There were two ladies in the dining room who were heading to the Cookery School for the day and I would have loved to have gone with them but unfortunately it was time to head back to reality.

If you’re looking for a relaxing mini break with excellent food I’d definitely recommend Dunbrody House. Next time I’m definitely doing a cookery class 🙂

Speaking of cookery here is one of the dishes from my first ‘Healthier Cooking’ class – warm, comforting and healthy!

Chickpea & Red Pepper Stew

What you need:

  • 1 tbsp. rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red peppers, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1  jar passata
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Seasoning
  • Fresh coriander

 What you do:

  • Heat oil over a gentle heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add onion and pepper and cook for about 10 mins until softened
  • Add the garlic and the paprika and cook for another minute.
  • Add in the passata plus a pinch of sugar and the chickpeas. Leave to simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Season and serve with rice, sprinkled with fresh coriander

PS Crisped chorizo sprinkled over the top may add a few more calories but it is rather delicious….

Happy Cooking !

Pasta Bake for Supper ?

Way back when I didn’t cook – well career women didn’t –  my idea of a cooked dinner was either a Marks & Spencer ready meal or, if I was feeling very adventurous, a pasta bake. And yes to my shame I used packet sauce – well I did add in the tuna and the sweetcorn and make the salad 😉  Actually thinking about it I feel sorry for my partner at the time – thankfully his Mother always invited us for Sunday lunch so he was guaranteed one decent meal a week!

Now thanks to Darina Allen, my time in Ballymaloe and in particular my friend Nicola, I can now make my own pasta bake . I promise no packet sauces have crossed my threshold for years 🙂

This is a variation on my standby recipe and as such I have to apologise as all quantities are approximate. I know – this used to drive me mad when I was learning to cook and it’s taken me a long time to be confident with ‘a bit of this and a handful of that’. I blame it on my scientific background.

I also wanted to blog this today to help you use up any Christmas leftovers still lurking in your fridge before Twelfth Night. Last night’s supper was to use up mine before the new year’s resolutions kick in on Monday ………

Thankfully the turkey and ham are long gone and all I had left was  Smoked Salmon,Camembert and Cream ?

So what do you do?

  • Cook and drain some pasta – I estimated enough for 2. The general guideline is 75g dried pasta per person. I’d have preferred to use penne but hey, the choice was between fusilli or animal shapes. The fusilli won
  • Sauté a shallot and some chopped peppers in a butter/oil mix. Add some chopped smoked salmon (I used 2 long slices) , a handful of frozen peas and somecapers.
  • Cook for 2-3 mins then add a good glug of vermouth(or white wine if you’ve a bottle open). Allow to reduce for few minutes.
  • Pour in cream (I had about half a large carton left , approx 250ml) and a teaspoon of  my ‘secret’ ingredient – Ikea‘s dill mustard. Trust me you need a jar of this in your fridge!
  • Then add in the cooked pasta and transfer the mix to a casserole dish.
  • Top with panko breadcumbs and chunks ofcamembert.
  • Bake for 15-20 mins at 170 C Fan  until golden and bubbling.
  • Serve with a nice big glass of wine……….and a green salad

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Happy Cooking !

The health kick starts Monday I promise………… I’ll be researching recipes for my lighter cooking course which starts 14th January

Rosemary Shrager’s ‘Absolutely Foolproof Food for Family and Friends’

A few years ago my friend Siobhan and I headed to Swinton Park in Yorkshire for a residential cookery course with Rosemary Shrager.  the location is beautiful and Rosemary herself gives the course and while she can be a tad scary she was great fun. We had an absolute ball and learned lots.

I use the recipes from the course regularly and also have a few of her booksthat are well-thumbed so I was delighted to receive a copy of her new book ‘ Absolutely Foolproof Food for Family & Friends’ from Octopus Books.

When I saw the title I assumed the book would be full of quick and easy recipes for everyday meals which is not like the Rosemary I love. My assumption was wrong – this is a book for dinner party dishes that you can impress with such as  Venison Carpaccio of Sea Bass with a Pickled Carrot Salad and Roast Crown of Pheasant , dishes for larger celebrations such as Salmon en Croute and even detailed instructions on curing pork and salmon.

There  is a lovely introductory section detailing all the kitchen equipment you may need (the only thing I’m missing is a potato ricer!), what knives to use and how to use them.  The recipe sections are divided by main ingredient such as vegetables, poultry, game and pasta. Each section begins with a very detailed technique complete with step by step pictures and complete with tips and ideas and possible variations on the main recipe.

My pet peeve as you know is cookbooks without finished photos of each dish – this book unfortunately falls into this category. This surprises me as I learned so much about presentation when I was at the Cookery School but the detailed technique pictures are good. The other thing that I found strange is that there is no dessert section in the book.

So what did I cook? Well for a change I gave my main taster  the book and asked him what would he like for dinner. The choice : Scallops en Papilotte with Curried Coconut Milk and Pak Choi and Roast Venison with Chocolate Sauce and Braised Chicory. 

I was unable to find either pak choi or chicory so I decided that as a starter the pak choi could be omitted and I picked up some curly kale to use with the venison. Rosemary uses loin of venison in her recipe but as I had two venison steaks (farmed I will admit)  in the freezer I used those.  I spent a very pleasant afternoon prepping the dishes – the recipes are well laid out and easy to follow.  The sauce for both dishes can be made ahead of time making them ideal for entertaining.

I julienned the vegetables for the scallop dish so when it came to dinner I just had to cook the scallops, assemble the parcels and put them in the oven for 10 minutes.

There was a lot going on this dish flavour wise but it all worked and the pak choi wasn’t even missed!

I decided to try the recipe for Fondant Potatoes and this was the only one I had any problem with – and I think it was my own fault for not adding enough stock. However I finished them in the oven and they were so tasty – they may even replace roast potatoes as my favourite!

The chocolate sauce took  time – and a lot of ingredients – but it was so worth the effort and it complimented the venison perfectly.

I would have preferred to serve the dish with chicory but he loved the kale (I stir-fried it with orange zest and juice).

Was it good? Well the Chief Taster certainly thought so …

This book has already earned a place on the ‘favourites’ shelf and if anyone can tell me where I can get partridge then Roast Partridge with Cabbage, Bacon and Apple is the next recipe I want to try  and Stuffed Yellow and Red Pepper Rolls has also been requested……

My verdict – if you want to impress your family and friends with your cooking then you need this book.

Pssst – if you want to try the Chocolate Sauce here’s the recipe:

What you need: 

  • 100g butter ( I don’t think I used quite this much!)
  • 150g leeks, finely chopped ( I used 2 leeks)
  • 1 rasher smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 250ml red wine
  • 2 tsp redcurrant jelly
  • 300ml game or venison stock  (I had to resort to beef stock)
  • 120 ml port
  • 15g 70% chocolate, finely chopped

What you do:

  • Melt 30g butter in pan, add the leeks and bacon and cook gently for 15 minutes.
  • Add the wine and the redcurrant jelly and simmer until reduced to a syrupy consistency.
  • Add the stock and simmer until reduced by half.
  • Finally add the port and simmer to coating consistency.
  • Season then strain through a sieve into a clean pan (I prepared ahead to this point)
  • Reheat gently and stir in the chocolate until it melts
  • Cut remaining butter into cubes and whisk into the sauce a few at a time.
  • Check for seasoning and serve.

Happy Cooking !