book review, cookalong, Cookbooks, Cookery Classes, Cooking, desserts, entertaining, Food, Recipes, Vegetarian

Cookbook Cookalong No. 9 – Naturally Vegetarian

One of the positives of the last year is the number of lovely people I have ‘met’ since I started doing my Friday Cookalongs to pass the time during Lockdown . The Hey Pesto Cookalong Group has members who check in regularly from Italy, Scotland, England, Spain, Canada and of course Ireland – they’re like my cooking family
Since I introduced the Cookbook Cookalong in January I’ve been cooking from books in my own library. But I’m always open to suggestions and when Jess, our Canadian ‘ambassador’ was so enthusiastic about ‘Naturally Vegetarian’ I decided to order it .
This may sound over the top but from the minute it arrived I feel in love with the book – the feel, the weight, the layout and most of all the photography – the fact that I have similar serving dishes had nothing to do with it honestly!
I had never heard of the author, Valentina Sofrini, before but on researching her I discovered she is an Italian food photographer who after a move to New York decided to cook the food that she grew up with but with vegetarian emphasis. She returned to Italy to write about a year of seasonal , plant based cooking on her family farm in Gradara. The book is divided into sections on basic recipes, how to make pasta, seasonal menus and traditional pantry items and preserves. I could feel myself being transported to Italy as I read through it ( if only!)

book cover with dishes in foreground

So what did I cook:

The dish that topped my Facebook poll was Fennel Gratin with Saffron & Nuts (p.124) which includes Crumb Topping alla Romagnola (one of the basic recipes p49)

Now I can take or leave fennel – I like it with fish or in a remoulade but I wouldn’t have listed it in my top vegetables. Until last night that is – this gratin is a gamechanger! When I was making the crumb topping I thought it was too garlicky and might over power the dish but it didn’t . The addition of saffron is one I would never have thought of – I normally reserve it for Spanish dishes and I’d never heard of the powdered version .

I could enthuse longer but you’ll just have to try it for yourselves – trim and cut 4 fennel bulbs into wedges ( the recipe says 6 from each bulb but I did quarters – Italian fennel must be bigger!) Steam them for 10 mins and then allow to cool ( I skipped this bit) . Mix a pinch of saffron with 60 ml of olive oil and add in salt, pepper and nutmeg. Toss the fennel with this and the flavoured breadcrumbs, sprinkle over dried marjoram (just realised I forgot this bit , well i didn’t actually have any) , and 40g ground almonds . Bake for 15-20 mins at 200C until top is golden .
PS I used her hint and added grated parmesan 😉

fennel gratin in veg dish
Fennel Gratin

I know the book is Vegetarian and the gratin would stand up as a dish on its own but in my mind fennel should be served with fish and when Jason, my wonderful fishmonger suggested seabass, I was sold . I pan-fried the fillets and served them with a lemony caper butter . It was a match made in heaven with baby potatoes as the bridesmaid!

seabass and fennel on plate
Dinner is served

About an hour before the Cookalong as Jeff was setting up teh cameras I decided we needed to try Chocolate Cake with Pears (p. 92 ) and am I glad I did 🤗 Even though I cheated and used tinned pears (time was of the essence!) this was a big hit – the caramelising them in brown sugar and rum helped. The recipe uses coconut oil, spelt flour, potato starch (I susbtituted cornflour) and yogurt among other ingredients . I may have had two mixers going before we went live but did I mention it was worth it ?

chocolate cake - cutting slice
Chocolate Cake with Pears

My verdict:

Do you have to ask ? Even if I never cooked from it I fell in love this book and I will definitely be trying more recipes from it . If you like Italian flavours, vegetarian dishes, eating in season and food photography then might I suggest you add this book to your library

Cheers

PS It’s only €9.99 in Easons. at the moment …

If you missed my Naturally Vegetarian Cookalong you can catch up here
The Friday Cookbook Cookalong happens every Friday at 6.30 pm on my facebook page – why not drop by and say hello – we’re a friendly bunch 😊

Happy Cooking!

Yvonne xx

If you’d like to join the weekly Hey Pesto! cookalong or attend one of my online cookery classes then please click here  for details. 
📷Special thanks as always to Jeff Harvey for the great food photography 📷

Baking, Cakes, Cookery Classes, desserts, Recipes

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 “Happily Ever After Tart”

Baking, Cakes, Cookery Classes, desserts, family meals, Food, Healthy Eating, Recipes

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.

Continue reading “Junior Cooks & Soda Bread”

Baking, Catering, Cookery Classes, desserts, Recipes

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

Continue reading “Midlands Cheesecake”

Catering, Cocktails, Cookery Classes, desserts, Food, Recipes

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.

IMG_9807

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 😉

Baking, Cookery Classes, desserts, Food, Recipes

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!)

halloween 020

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 🙂

Baking, Cakes, desserts, Food, Recipes

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

    chocolate heart -001

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!

P1010210-001

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

Happy Cooking!

 

Baking, Cakes, Christmas, Cooking, desserts, Food

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

christmas 11 006-001

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

You can make chocolate leaves …..

christmas 11 008-001

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

christmas 11 012-001

P1010008-001

……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!