Thursday night is date night here. I cook, he brings the wine and we both relax. It started as an excuse for me to try out new dishes using the Chief Taster as the guinea pig but with all that’s being going on this summer we went a little off track, The night we resorted to shop bought pizza I knew it was time for a rethink.
I know , I know. I said I was going to get back to blogging earlier in the year but between moving house, setting up a new kitchen for Hey Pesto! and my involvement in the inaugural Harvest Offaly Food Festival it just didn’t happen.
So here it is – my first blog post in months and I’m starting with an easy one! Earlier in the year Helen from Failte Ireland asked the food champions for an Irish recipe with a ‘modern twist’ and this was mine.
My Nana was famous for her soda bread, well within our family anyway and there’s enough of us! Everyday she made two loaves in her Aga . Always two, never any more than two and to paraphrase an ad ‘when it was gone, it was gone’.
I asked her once for the recipe and she told me ‘a handful of this and a handful of that’. If I’d had the sense at the time I’d have measured the size of her hands! I’m still trying to recreate the taste of her bread and apparently I have come close once or twice though I think the real difference is that she used unpasteurized milk straight from the cow that my great uncle kept in the orchard, that was allowed to go sour naturally (the milk not the cow!)
The great thing about soda bread is that you can add flavours – such as pesto or sundried tomatoes or even chocolate chips for a sweet cake.
In this version of soda bread I have added wild garlic pesto and dried wild garlic leaves to give the taste of summer. I also use spelt flour, an ancient relative of modern wheat, which I think gives a better, lighter loaf
What you need:
- 450g/1 lb. white spelt flour
- 1 level teaspoon salt
- 1 level teaspoon bread soda
- 340-400 ml / 12-14 fl.oz approx buttermilk
- 1 tbsp wild garlic pesto
- 1-2 tsp dried wild garlic leaves
What you do:
- Preheat oven to 230ºC/Gas 8
- Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl, making sure that you sieve in the bread soda.
- Add in the wild garlic pesto and the dried leaves if you have them ( dry them overnight in a very low oven when in season and store in an airtight jar).
- Make a well in the centre and pour in most of the buttermilk at once. The exact amount of buttermilk can vary, even according to the weather!
- Stir in the liquid until completely mixed but be very careful not to overmix.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently form into long ‘loaf’ shape. I know a circle is more acceptable but this is the shape my grandmother always used and it makes cutting the bread much easier!
- Place the loaf on lined baking sheet. Score a deepish line down the centre and prick the sides to let the fairies out.
- Bake in a hot oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 180ºC/Gas 4 for another 15-20 mins, or until just cooked.
- Tap the bottom of the bread; if it is cooked it will sound hollow. Cool on wire rack and eat as soon as possible!
- Perfect with soup or with as a base for bruschetta
I’m not sure if Nana would approve of the garlic but it went down very well here.
If you don’t have wild garlic pesto or if you just fancy a plain white soda then leave it out.
Give it a try – you’ll be amazed at how quick and easy it is to make your own bread.
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!)
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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!
Christmas came early to Hey Pesto! this year – with my first ever full day ‘lifestyle’ course on ‘Getting Ready for Christmas’
There was great fun organising everything – turning my living room into a ‘pop-up’ dining room and my garden into a temporary flower shop!
- Canapés – Crab & avocado tartlets, sticky cocktail sausages, brie & red onion marmalade tartlets and coronation turkey vol-au-vents
- Starter – Chestnut soup with crispy bacon
- Main – Risotto stuffed quail, celeriac & potato gratin, jazzed-up parsnip mash, caramelised potatoes & chestnuts, apricot & hazelnut stuffing balls
- Dessert – Christmas pudding ice cream
After a few last minute vegetable cooking, the guests (yes they were upgraded for lunch!)adjourned to my ‘new’ dining room where lunch was served to them.
I have to apologise for the lack of colour on the main course plate – I concentrated more on different ways of cooking the vegetables rather than working on the colour! In ‘real life’ I would probably serve something like red cabbage with the quail to add colour! There was a debate over gravy – it’s not a tradition in our house so I never think of including it!
Thanks to Kate for taking the photos at lunch – we were busy turning the kitchen into a flower arranging room!
Once the guests were fed and ‘watered’ they reverted to students and Joanie from Flower Rangers took over – introducing us to the art of flower arranging and seasonal centrepieces.
We rounded off the afternoon with more tea with vanilla shortbread, gingerbread cookies and more mince pies.
After much hilarity everyone left happy with their goody bags and recipe booklets.
And once the tidying up was done Joanie and I celebrated a job well done
A big special thanks to my sous – chef James who played a blinder – I hope he remembers me when he’s famous!
Now the question is – do we do it all again?!