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!

Chef, Christmas, Cookbooks, Cooking, Recipes

Looks aren’t everything when it comes to Christmas Trees, especially the chocolate variety!

I can’t believe it’s 9 years ago since I did the 12 week course in Ballymaloe Cookery School! After the stress of the exams and as a parting gift Darina gave us signed copies of her Christmas cookbook.

A Simply Delicious Christmas

In my enthusiasm I decided that straight away I had to make the cover recipe – the Chocolate Christmas Tree.

I have two memories of this experiment:

  1. Why did I try ? – it was incredibly fiddly and I think my language may have deteriorated over the process! At that stage I was still insistent on boiling and peeling almonds and hazelnuts…….
  2. That it was a very expensive tree and my family did not fully appreciate my efforts!

So why 9 years on did I decide to try again? Well I thought I could try a child friendly version so with my junior chef visiting for the weekend I set to………

We melted 300g of chocolate (200g milk and 100g dark) with a  packet of mini marshmallows and then the junior chef stirred in masses of rice krispies – no quantities I’m afraid but you need enough to use up the chocolate. At this point I should say the constant question was ‘may I lick the bowl now?’

I had marked out parchment paper with 8 crosses for the tree branches – 7cm, 9cm, 11cm, 13cm, 14cm, 15cm, 16cm and 17cm. The engineer in me loved this bit and even dug out my scale rule to make sure all measurements were accurate. The junior chef took the opportunity to make a Christmas card for her parents.

I laid the chocolate mix out along the axes and the junior chef decorated each branch with candy snow and stars

Junior Chef at work
The upper 'branches'

Then came the tricky bit – assembling the tree! We let the branches set and then having covered a large plate with tinfoil I melted some more chocolate, put a little on the plate to hold the largest branch in place, Then I added the branches in descending size, making sure that each alternate branch had it’s arms between the arms of the bottom branch (like a real tree!!)

Assembling the tree

We  ‘glued’  each branch in place with the melted chocolate – this is where my nerves got a little fraught as some of the branches drooped. Darina suggests supporting the branches with matchboxes until they set – I only have a large box of matches for candles so that wasn’t an option!

I should point out at this stage the junior chef was very busy – licking the bowl!!

The best part - licking the bowl... and the spoon!
Snow Mountain

We finished off the decorating with melted white chocolate, sparkles and mini snowmen….but at this stage between falling branches and sneaky tastes by the junior chef we decided to rename it a chocolate mountain!!

It's a tree honestly!

Nana came to visit for tea as did the Junior Chef’s Daddy who came to collect her and her baby brother aka Taster No 2!

The cake may not have looked like the one on the cover of Darina’s book (as Junior Chef pointed out!) but I’d just like to say that there’s very little of it left!

Maybe, just maybe, I might try another tree before Christmas………..

Happy Cooking!

Catering, Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Christmas Canapés

I make a lot of canapés – both for business and home entertaining. This year I’ve been asked for easy canapé ideas at my cookery demos so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites. I hope you like them!

Mini Tartlets

I used to make my tartlets from filo pastry – a rather long process but I came across the idea for these on holiday last year and they have made my life much easier!

To make the tartlets you need….

You need a mini-muffin tray, a packet of wonton wrappers, some sunflower oil and a pastry brush – brush each wonton sheet with oil and mould it into the muffin tin to make a small case. (This is much easier to demonstrate than explain!)

When you’ve filled the mini muffin tray sprinkle the cases with a little salt and bake at 200 C for 4 mins. Allow to cool on a wire rack and then use or store in airtight container for up to 4 days.

This is what your end product should look like:

Mini Tartlet

The possiblities are now endless….Some fillings I use are:

  • Avocado & crab topped with some créme fraiche and dill mustard
  • Red onion marmalade and Cooleeney  brie (put in oven for minute or two to soften the cheese)
  • Prawn cocktail
  • Thai beef salad
Crab & avocado tartlets
Red Onion Marmalade & Cooleeney Brie

Sticky Christmas Sausages 

This is another great recipe from my favourite Christmas book ‘Nigella’s Christmas’  and the best thing is that they can be prepared in advance and frozen  – just put mix and sausages in plastic bag and take out of freezer a few hours before your guests are due!

What you need:

  • 2lbs cocktail sausages (approx. 60)
  • 125 ml sweet chilli sauce
  • 60 ml cranberry sauce
  • 60 ml soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar
  • Juice of 1 small orange
  • Juice of 1 lime

 What you do:

  • Mix together all the ingredients except the sausages to make glaze
  • Put sausages in foil tray (much easier than cleaning a roasting tray!)
  • Pour glaze over sausages and mix to coat.
  • Cook for 20 mins then turn and cook for another 10 -20 mins until they’re hot and sticky.
Sticky Christmas Sausages

Smoked Salmon/Trout Wraps

This is another quick and easy idea which doesn’t really need a recipe!

Smoked Trout Wraps

What you need:

  • Tortillla wraps (I find the Discovery ones the easiest to roll!)
  • Some Goatsbridge Smoked Trout  or some Smoked Salmon
  • Cream cheese

What you need:

  • Simply ‘butter’ your tortilla wraps with the cream cheese
  • Place strips of trout or salmon on the cheese
  • Season with a little black pepper and lemon juice then roll into a ‘tube’
  • If you have time wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set but otherwise trim the two edges, cut wrap into three then cut each piece into two diagonally (again this is much easier to show!)
  • Other fillings which work are roasted peppers, parma ham, pesto……..

Happy Cooking!

Catering, Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..and other things festive

I LOVE Christmas and all things Christmassy! I know it’s still November but decorations are already starting to appear in my house – my mantlepiece has been dressed since last weekend as has the stairs thanks to Joanie of Flower Rangers!

My dream house is a large rambling one  decorated with a big tree in the hall  and lots of greenery everywhere, a large dining table dressed in white and gold and lots of festive smells emanating from the kitchen (the beautifully decorated one, that is!)

The reindeer moves in!

But back to reality in my current abode where it’s time to start planning the Christmas menus. Chestnuts are one of my favourite seasonal ingredients and here are some chestnut dishes I’ll definitely be cooking this year.

One of my favourite Christmas cookbook is Nigella’s Christmas and I love watching her do the Christmas thing on tv – I want to try the gingerbread with the tiny fir trees…

Two of my firm favourites from the book are the Chestnut Soup and the cranberry & soy sausages. The soup is worth making in advance and freezing – it’s a real winter warmer on Christmas Day!

Chestnut Soup with Crispy Parma Ham

I’ve changed the quantities as the original one would feed about two armies! I also don’t use the recommended garlic oil as personally I don’t like the taste!

What you need:

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1  leek, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g red lentils
  • 1 ½ litres vegetable stock
  • 200g pack of peeled, cooked chestnuts
  • Good big dash sherry
  • 4 pieces of parma ham

 What to do:

  • Heat the oil in large saucepan and cook the chopped vegetables for about 10 mins, until softened.
  • Stir in the lentils and then add the stock. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for about 30 mins, until the lentils are soft.
  • Add the chestnuts and purée the soup in the food processor, in batches if necessary.  (Can prepare ahead to this point and freeze if requires)
  • Pour in the sherry and season to taste.
  • Crisp the slices of parma ham between two baking sheets in a hot oven for about 10 mins.
  • Crumble the crispy ham over the soup to serve.

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We have potatoes at least 3 ways with our Christmas dinner. I tried this potato recipe after seeing Gary Rhodes making it a few years ago and it’s become another family favourite!

You can cook the potatoes on Christmas Eve and caramelise the potatoes and chestnuts about 3o mins before you serve dinner. This dish would also be great on Stephen’s Day with left over spuds!

Caramelised Potatoes & Chestnuts

What you need:

  • 500g new potatoes, scrubbed
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 16 cooked chestnuts, quartered

What to do:

  • Steam the potatoes for  20-30 mins until tender.
  • Melt the butter in a shallow pan and add sugar. Cook over a low heat for about 2 mins then add potatoes and chestnuts.
  • Cook for 5 mins stirring occasionally so that they caramelise evenly. (May need longer if you are re-heating the potatoes)
  • Season and sprinkle with chopped chives to serve.

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I love trying out new recipes and I was asked to test this one during the week – it was my first time making sausage meat stuffing and I have to say I’m a convert! I’m even thinking of adapting the mix into a Christmas canapé! (Thanks Ian)

Sausage Meat & Chestnut Stuffing

What you need:

  • 200g good-quality sausage-meat
  • 100g white breadcrumbs
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 50g chestnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 8 slices streaky bacon
  • 16 little sage leaves

Method

  • Combine the sausage meat, breadcrumbs, apple, herbs, chestnuts and egg in a mixing bowl.
  • Season with black pepper and a little salt  Mix well  (use your hands!). Check your seasoning by frying off a little piece of the stuffing to taste. Correct seasoning if necessary.
  • Put slices of bacon on a chopping board and stretch with back of a knife. Half each slice.
  • Shape the stuffing into 16 mini sausage shapes, put a sage leaf on top and wrap each in a piece of streaky bacon.
  • Place on a baking sheet  and roast at 180°C for about 20 minutes.

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For all the recipes you can be a purist and roast and peel your own chestnuts – I did the first time I cooked with them. Now I ‘cheat’ and use the vacuum packed pre-cooked ones – so much easier!

Happy Cooking!

Hope the greenery lasts.....
Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Food, Recipes

Flash Food – Laura Santtini

There was great excitement in Hey Pesto! this week when thanks to  Irish Food Bloggers Association I receieved a review copy of Laura Santtini ‘s new book Flash Cooking  from Quadrille Publishing.

This book is about ‘fast, healthful, easy-to-prepare, nutritious, flavour-packed meals, that look great, taste extraordinary and promote well- being’ ; in fact I would almost describe it as a lifestyle book rather than a cook book!

I loved the introduction and the definition of the concepts involved , for example ‘Flash Cooking (3) – show one’s culinary genius in public’!

What appealed to me most were the flavour tables for seasonings, glazes, rubinades, pastes, finishing bits, dressings etc. – they’ve opened up a whole new world of experimentation for my kitchen. And I’m delighted to say that, with a few exceptions, they’re all store cupboard ingredients.

Laura’s alchemist’s approach was definitely a ‘hook’ for me (once an engineer…) but don’t let this put you off !   The recipes are straightforward and easy to follow and most importantly, in the case of the ones I tried – they work!  Oh and the taste sensations – WOW!

The photography is stunning – my favourites are the antique cutlery shots. But I have to mention my pet peeve – there isn’t a picture of every dish 😦

My verdict – this book is NOT leaving my kitchen and I foresee lots more flavour experimentation in my future! 🙂

My advice – put it on your Christmas list! *****

There are so many recipes I want to try, including:

  • Tea-steamed Sea Bass with Vanilla Star Anise Olive Oil
  • Duck Breasts with Black Magic Elixir
  • The Dog’s Bolognese
  • Curried Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup

but this one caught my eye straightaway:

Flash Glazed Cauliflower Cheese Steaks

What you need:

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp harissa paste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for frying)
  • Sea salt & black pepper
  • 75g Feta Cheese
  • Pomegranate Vinaigrette to serve

What you do:

  • Preheat oven to 180 C/160 C Fan/ Gas 4
  • Cut 2 thick slices of cauliflower from the centre, from top down through to the stalk, to give two ‘flower steaks’
  • Mix the harissa paste with the olive oil and brush over the ‘steaks’ on both sides
Brush the steak with the harissa paste & oil mix
  • Heat some oil in frying pan and add the steaks – fry until golden on both sides
Fry until golden
  • Then brush the steaks with any remaining glaze and  transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Crumble feta cheese over the steaks and return to the oven until cheese becomes golden and starts to melt.

Laura suggests serving this with the Pomegranate vinaigrette and being delighted to find a use for the bottle in my cupboard I was happy to oblige!

  • To make the vinaigrette
  • mix 1 tsp of pomegranate molasses, pinch of freshly ground cumin, juice of half a lemon and lots of fresh mint.

When I tasted the vinaigrette on its own I found it rather sweet but this excess sweetness disappeared once it was mixed with the cauliflower steak and the feta.

The flavour combinations made my mouth zing!

Spot the difference!

This great recipe has already earned its place in my book of favourites! Thanks Laura!

I think the Lemon Halloumi recipe will be the next one to try……………

PS

  1. Delighted to see The Tasty Tart  mentioned in the credits – well done Tara!  
  2. Thanks to Mark from Quadrille Publishing for sending me the book!
Chef, Cookbooks, Cooking, Recipes, Uncategorized

Apples, apples everywhere………….

Okay so I finally started a blog and decided on a theme – now my dilemma was which cookbook  got to open the show!

Thanks for all your suggestions and I will get round to them all I promise – even to Hugh (eventually….) !

The problem was solved by the amount of apples in my kitchen demanding to be used (thank you to all my wonderful neighbours). I decided to stew and freeze some of them and then remembered a recipe for a ‘sauce’ cake. Cue  Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchen

This book was a Christmas present from my sister after my time in Ballymaloe Cookery School  and her inscription  ‘to the petite chef with the big ideas’ still makes me smile!  The splashed pages and the handwritten notes will convince you that this is one of the workers in my collection – I love the Rhubarb & Honey Compote, and her sweet & sour red cabbage is a Christmas must.

In the introduction the book is described as  ‘a record of a year’s cooking in a country kitchen – but with a modern twist’ . This is borne out in recipes such as ‘pot-roast pork with star anise, ginger. tamarind and port’ or ‘cauliflower with sundried tomatoes, garlic and capers’ .

The book is laid out by season with beautiful photographs and informative notes on ingredients. The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow and most importantly they work! My biggest peeve is that it doesn’t have a photograph for every dish – I like to know what I’m aspiring to!

My favourite and most used from this book is Sophie’s recipe for ‘Gooseberry Sauce Cake’ – simple and quick and adaptable for most fruits. I’ve tried it with gooseberries, rhubarb, plums and most recently with apples and the result is a lovely moist cake everytime!

So if like me you’re overrun with apples you should give this a try:

Apple Sauce Cake

What you need:

  • 10oz/280g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 40z/110g caster sugar
  • 40z/110g demerara sugar
  • 4oz/110g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pt/300ml stewed apples

All set!

the original recipe includes 1/2 tsp salt which I omitted as I use salted butter
What you do:
  • Firstly stew your fruit – I used a mix of sweet and cooking apples as I like the difference in texture. Peel, core and chop the fruit. Then stew with a little water over a low heat for 20-30 mins. I didn’t use any particular quantities as I froze the rest of the fruit in 1/2 pint portions for future cakes!
  • When fruit is stewed to your liking measure out 1/2 pt for your cake (btw apologies for any confusion and if I appear old fashioned but I tend to bake in imperial and cook in metric!)
  • Mix all your dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and sugars together
  • Fold in wet ingredientsFold in the lightly beaten eggs, melted butter and vanilla extract. Finally stir in the stewed apples.
  • Pour into prepared tinPour mixture into a lined 9″/23cm springform tin and sprinkle a little extra demerara sugar over the top.
  • Sophie’s instructions are to bake the cake at 180C/Gas 4 for 45 minutes. Having tried it on several occasions it takes 30-35 minutes in my oven at 170C Fan so I’d advise you to check it after 30 mins!
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10-15 mins before turning out. Then there’s nothing left to do but serve it with some lightly whipped cream!
The finished product!
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There are lots more recipes in this book that I’ve earmarked to try and as this is the first year my pear tree has produced any fruit next up is Sophie’s  fresh pear relish……….