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Happily Ever After Tart

Now that January is over and we’ve all been good and stuck to our resolutions to eat healthier (what do you mean you haven’t??)  it’s time to start thinking about treats for Valentine’s Day.
And speaking of resolutions it’s high time I stuck to mine and updated my blog.

I’ve been doing some research on aphrodisiacs in advance of my Valentine’s cooking and I’m now a font of trivia!

Did you know that basil was used for seduction by women in Moldova? Or that Catholic priests in Spain banned avocados because they found them obscenely sexual? Continue reading

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Junior Cooks & Soda Bread

My nieces, nephews and friends’ children seem to love cooking here and I enjoy working with them and encouraging them to try different things. Though I suspect the freedom to make a mess could be one of the main attractions ………

I’ve been asked more than once if I would do cookery classes for children so with two of my nieces visiting and my friend Kay about to head back to Brunei with her two children, I decided it was time to experiment.

We started with traditional Soda bread ….Thanks to Isabella and Savannah for setting up the table

Soda BreadThe table didn’t stay clean for long once the mixing started.  I think there was a competition to see who could shake out the most flour and some of the mixes were a bit wet! They loved the stories about the cross in the cake to to represent the four provinces and there were lots of holes made to let the fairies escape.

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Midlands Cheesecake

When asked about Irish food producing areas the Midlands is rarely the first place that comes to mind  but did you know that we have our own honey, ice cream, yoghurts, sausages, cordials, cheese, chocolate, bread, chorizo …..to name but a few products

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Love (and Chocolate) is in the Air….

Chocolate has always been associated with sensual and romantic properties and when we indulge in it’s silky lusciousness, endorphins are released in our brains which make us feel happy and loved.

In the last year I’ve been very lucky to work with Butler’s Chocolates, giving  chocolate cookery classes in their demo kitchen in Clonshaugh. I try to theme each class around an event so naturally the February class was all about Cupid, Valentines and Love! I do 7-8 recipes per class and I’m always amazed at how quickly the tasters disappear!

I’m also doing a ‘Cupid’s Dining’ class in my own kitchen on Tuesday 4th February – a three course romantic meal guaranteed to impress that special someone in your life 😉

Hey Pesto Valentine's Day

There will be scallops , venison and lots of chocolate among other things on the menu …and of course some pink bubbles . If you’d like more details on this or any of my classes please let me know.

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One of the big hits from yesterday’s class was the salted caramel dessert and here’s the recipe of you want to surprise your loved one on Valentine’s Day

Cupid’s Salted Caramel Delight

Serves 2

What you need:

  • 3-4 tbsp dulce de leche – I use Ballyshiel 
  • ½ tsp sea salt plus extra to serve
  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 75 ml cream
  • Good ‘glug’ Kahlua

Salted Caramel Pots

What you  do:

  • Stir in the sea salt into the dulce de leche and divide mix between two glasses
  • Melt the two chocolates together then stir in the cream until smooth.
  • Add in the liqueur and carefully pour over the caramel
  • Allow to chill for at least 2 hours then serve sprinkled with sea salt crystals.

Happy Cooking !

PS  a message for the Chief Taster – it’s your turn to cook for me this year 😉

Sammy the Spider

Have I mentioned that I love the variety of what I do -from catering to canapés to classes?

One of my latest ventures is Chocolate Cookery Classes at the famous Butler’s Chocolates.

So when they asked me to do a Halloween class I had to put my thinking hat on and Sammy the Spider was born …..

Meet Sammy!

Meet Sammy!

To make this cake and be the star of your Halloween Party just follow my instructions which I hope don’t ramble too much…..

The body of the cake is made using one of the most versatile chocolate cake recipes you’ll ever need. I was introduced to it about 10 years ago by Tess and Nicola when I worked in Wicklow and since then I’ve used it for cakes, muffins, mini cupcakes, sweet canapés …..and now spiders.

What you need :

  • 8oz/200g Self raising Flour
  • 9oz/225g Soft Brown Sugar
  • 2o/50g Cocoa Powder
  • 1/4 pt/125ml  Milk (the full fat variety please!)
  • 1/4 pt/125ml  Sunflower Oil
  • 3 eggs , separated

What you do:

  • Preheat your oven to at 180C /170 C  Fan/Gas 4
  • Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Mix the milk and oil in a jug and whisk in the egg yolks.
  • Whisk the egg whites until they’re thick and glossy (as if you were making meringues).
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix well and then fold in the egg whites – being careful not to knock out all the air.
  • And that’s it ! Now pour mix into baking tins – I used two 11.5 cm  and one 20 cm- you could make 2 large cakes or 4 small ones.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until firm to touch.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for about 5 mins then turn out onto a wire rack  and allow to cool completely.

Note:  It’s not worth halving the recipe to make just one small cake so freeze the extra cakes for     another day – or make a family of spiders!

Now comes the fun part – the decorating.

First you need some Chocolate Ganache:

To make this you simply heat 200ml  cream until simmering then pour over approx 125g dark chocolate chips and stir until melted. If you think it’s not thick enough you can add more chocolate but do remember it will thicken as it cools.

Place on of the 11.5cm cakes on your serving plate (you can do it on a turntable but you have to be very careful when transferring it to its final plate!)

Cover the body of the cake with the ganache then get ready to add the legs. I used wafer rolls for the legs though I think chocolate fingers might work as well. wafer rolls

You need 16 rolls – two for each leg to allow for the bend! Cover each roll in the chocolate ganache (Didn’t I warn you it could get messy!)

Stick 8 of them into the body of the cake to form the tops of the legs. Then carefully ‘glue’ on the bottom half of each leg (wafer) using more of the ganache. (I’ll repeat the picture so you can see what I mean – I hope!)

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For the face you need some roll out icing – white for eyes, orange for mouth. Stamp out two white circles for the eyes, ‘glue’ onto the body and then attach an M&M’s to each circle with a little of the ganache.

To make the mouth cut out a smile from the orange icing and stick it on.

Et voila! Your Halloween spider cake is complete  and totally worth the mess!

Happy Cooking & Happy Halloween!

PS the best compliment I received on this was from my soon to be 3-year-old nephew – he wants a spider as his birthday cake 🙂

Love is in the Air

My poor blog has been very neglected of late so it’s time to pay it some attention and share a recipe for Valentine’s Day.

In preparation for my ‘Cupid’s Cookery‘ class last week I did a little research on aphrodisiacs and found lots of trivia. Did you know that basil was used for seduction by women in Moldova? Or that Catholic priests in Spain banned avocados because they found them obscenely sexual?

Other reputed aphrodisiacs are honey, almonds and chocolate – so what better way to celebrate St Valentine’s Day than to present the object of your affections with a combination of all three?

This recipe is based on one I found in the course of my research….I’ve made a few alterations and  I hope you like it……

What you need:

  • Heart Shaped loose bottomed tin
  • 180g dark chocolate digestives
  • 60g butter
  • 2 tbsp. flaked almonds
  • 200ml Avonmore Fresh Cream
  • 3 tbsp. Limefield Honey
  • 300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), in pieces
  • Generous splash of Cointreau! 

What you do:

  • Crush the biscuits finely and add in the melted butter. Then press into the bottom of heart shaped tin.
  • Toast the almonds in a dry pan.
  • Whisk the cream and honey together in a small saucepan over a low heat and then slowly bring the mix to just below the boil.
  • Pour the mix over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.
  • Stir in the toasted almonds and the Cointreau.
  • Pour the mix into the lined tin and leave to chill for a few hours until set (overnight is best)
  • Decorate to your heart’s content with almonds, hearts and sparkles!
  • Serve with lots of extra Avonmore Fresh Dessert Cream

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I also made individual ones for last week’s date night  – one with added sea salt which I preferred but The Chief Taster preferred the Cointreau version!

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Did it live up to expectations? Well, let’s just say there were no complaints ……

Happy Cooking!

 

Extremely Chocolatey Christmas Wreath

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here – the tree is up, the lights are on and I’m doing up my Christmas menus which will include this Christmas Wreath Cake as an alternative to the traditional fruit cake

I may have mentioned that I’m not really a dessert person – give me savoury any day – but I love making desserts and watching others enjoy them! I came across this wreath cake a few years ago – in a copy of Good Housekeeping I think – and have been using it every Christmas since.

I should warn you that this is a cake for serious chocoholics and not for the fainthearted, but it makes a great centrepiece on Christmas Day!

It’s an easy cake to make and it freezes well (un-iced ) so you can make it in advance and take it out to decorate on Christmas Eve.

The only special piece of equipment you will need is a ‘wreath’ tin i.e. a 23cm spring form cake tin with a but missing in the middle! I use one I bought in  Ikea  but  I know my local  shop ‘Kit Your Kitchen‘  now stock similar .

Turn your oven to 180 C or Gas 4 before you start and grease your tin with butter.

What you need:

  • 1 * 400g tin of pears (in natural juice)
  • 50 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp.  espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 175g cocoa (I use Green & Black ‘s)
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 340g caster sugar
  • 6 egg whites
  • 250g crème fraîche
  • 175g dark chocolate (I use 70% )
  • Christmas decorations

What you do:

  • Drain the tin of pears and whizz in food processor to a purée.
  • Mix the pear purée with the milk, espresso granules, oil and vanilla extract.
  • In another bowl mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • Whisk the egg whites and the sugar together at high speed until stiff and glossy
  • Add in the pear purée mix  to the eggs and whisk slowly to blend
  • Finally fold the flour mix into egg and pear mix.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in your preheated oven for 30 mins or until firm to touch
  • Allow cake to cool slightly in tin before turning out onto rack.

Cooling

  • As I said, if you’re making this ahead of time , you can freeze it at this point. Just make sure you wrap it carefully!
  • The icing is very simple : heat the crème fraîche in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  • Then remove from heat and add in chocolate. Allow to melt and then mix in until smooth.
  • Place pieces of parchment paper under the cake to protect your cakeboard/plate. Then using a palette knife spread icing over the cake . Remember you want it to look like a wreath so it doesn’t have to be smooth

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Then it’s time for your (or your children’s ) imagination to take over…..

You can make chocolate leaves …..

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…. use sprinkles ….Santas…..Robins….Snowmen……..

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……whatever you like!

But whatever you decide please be warned that this cake is INCREDIBLY rich and a little goes a long way!

Happy Cooking! 

PS I have been known to make this into an Easter Cake by covering it with flowers and mini eggs – you see a cake’s not just for Christmas!