Saturday, March 17, 2018

Falafel – little green Patties on Paddy’s Day

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Patty or Paddy? Paddy or Patty? On Irish soil, it will always be Paddy but the Americans can call him what they like. New research points to the first St Patrick’s Day celebrations being held in Florida in 1600 and the first parade apparently took place there a year later. Boston followed suit in 1737 and New York a tardy 25 years later. Ireland didn’t get in on the act until 1903 with the first parade in Waterford. Dublin joined in in 1931.

Patrick’s real name is thought to have been Maewyn Succat and he is believed to have been from either Scotland or Wales, son of a Roman-British army official. But Happy St. Maewyn Succat’s Day doesn’t have the same ring to it so I’m sticking with Paddy and you can say Patty if that floats your boat.

Food-wise, I’m breaking with tradition this year and skipping the corned beef and colcannon and making ... er... chickpea patties - well Falafel is green enough to be Irish on March 17.

(You could have Guinness Chocolate Cake for afters...)

For about 30 ... erm... patties ... you will need...

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (for about 10 hours) - no shortcuts here - tinned chickpeas just won't cut the mustard in this recipe.
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fine table salt
2 tablespoons gram flour (chickpea flour)* 
4 spring onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaf
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

*You can substitute regular wheat flour but obviously they stop being gluten-free

Sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the pre-soaked chickpeas, drain and roll in a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper to remove as much moisture as possible. Blitz in batches in a food processor until you have a uniformly crumbly mix - you are not looking for hummus. 

Toast the cumin and coriander seed along with the black peppercorns in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they smell toasted – anything up to 5 minutes. Immediately remove and transfer out of the pan into a bowl otherwise they will carry on toasting. When cool, crush the spices (in a spice grinder, with a pestle and mortar - whatever you normally crush your spices with).

A bit finer than this please, chef!

Add these along with the remaining ingredients to the final batch of chickpeas and blitz until smooth. Mix in the rest of the blitzed chickpeas until evenly combined. You are looking for a couscous-like texture.

If you have a falafel scoop, use that to make little patties. Otherwise, dampen your hands and take walnut-sized scoops of mixture, roll them into a ball and flatten slightly.

Heat oil in a deep fat fryer to 180°C. Pop the falafel in one at a time, careful not to overcrowd the fryer or you’ll lower the temperature and end up with oily falafel. Fry until these little green pucks have taken on a golden hue – 3 – 5 minutes depending on size. Turn out into a dish lined with kitchen paper.

I serve them as follows:

Smear a flatbread with hummus. Add finely shredded iceberg lettuce, finely chopped tomatocucumbershredded spring onion, and a squirt each of garlic dressing and Sriracha sauce. Squash in 3 to 5 freshly cooked falafel. Fold in the sides, then roll tightly and enjoy as you watch the parade (or the Ireland v England match) wherever you are.

Pita does equally well.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

‘Just because...’ cookies - and Valentine's Day rebooted !

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If you listen hard you will hear the unromantic din of cash registers chi-chinging all over the world. That’s the sound of big business cashing in on the scurry to live up to romantic expectations - your own, or someone else’s - on February 14th.
Valentine’s Day is quite possibly the least romantic day of the year. If you are someone’s special someone, hopefully you’ll already know it - and show it - in a thousand tiny ways throughout the year. You will be least in need of a day of ersatz romance.
Love is bigger than just romantic love. It’s in the everyday things: in the sticky pre-licked sweet my tiniest niece presses into my hand when I know she really, really, really wants it for herself; it’s in the email/card/text/call that says between the lines “Hey, I was thinking of you”. It’s in making the dinner/walking the dog/cleaning the bathroom/rescuing the laundry from a sudden rain shower without having to be asked. It’s in accepting the irritating imperfections right along with the good qualities that are so much easier to love, whether you are family, friend, or lover.
Since 2011, there has been a move to ‘reboot’ Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day; to make it less ‘cosy couples’ and more egalitarian. At first glance, this smacks of an ‘everyone-gets-a-medal’ race, but why not!  Generosity Day is an opportunity to practice random acts of, well, generosity. It is a day for giving rather than taking.
I’m celebrating February 14th (whatever you want to call it) with my fully customisable ‘Just because...’ cookies. I don’t need any excuse to make them. They can be ... Just because... I wanted to say thanks. Just because... you make me smile... Just because... sometimes you can read my mind. Just because... well... just because!

For 40 - 50  ‘Just because...’ cookies (depending on size) you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
200g butter (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
250g plain flour
50g cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
a small pinch of fine table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon of boiling water 

To decorate you will need chocolate and sprinkles. I’m not going to be too prescriptive about this bit of the recipe – this is the ‘pimp my cookie’ bit, where you get to customise these cookies for those lucky people who are loved by you, but I’ll tell you what I did. 

1.                  First make the cookies - Place the butter, icing sugar and orange zest in a mixing bowl or stand mixer and beat together until fluffy and lighter in colour.
2.                  Mix together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add to the butter mixture about a third at a time, beating until well combined. Finally, add the egg yolk and dissolved coffee and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball.
3.                  Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 3mm. Using cookie cutters, cut into shapes – I’ve chosen hearts in a variety of sizes. Any leftovers can be squashed into a ball and re-rolled.
4.                  Place on a baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking tray for about 3 minutes before transferring carefully to a cooling rack. When completely cold, decorate as desired.

Here’s what I did: 

5.                  I melted 100g of good quality white chocolate in a small Ziploc freezer bag by removing all the air, sealing it and putting it in a bowl of hot water. In another Ziploc bag, I placed 50g good quality dark chocolate together with 50g good quality milk chocolate and melted it in the bowl of hot water. This gives a subtle two-tone, two-flavour effect.
6.                  While the chocolate was melting, I prepared a variety of sprinkles: chopped dried sour cherries, chopped dried apricots, chopped toasted hazelnuts, Maldon sea salt crystals. Use your imagination - the world is your sprinkle :)
7.                 When the chocolate had melted, I snipped a tiny corner off each bag, drizzling chocolate directly onto the cookies.
8.                  While the chocolate was still melted I sprinkled my chosen toppings onto the cookies.  

Just because... you deserve a treat!

When the cookies have completely set, make yourself a cuppa and taste-test a couple of these treats before packaging them prettily and distributing them to your loved ones, just because... 

Just because... you are salt of the earth!

Just because... xxx
First published 13 February 2013
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vanilla Orange Caramel Pancake Sauce – Mardi Gras for your mouth!

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Pancakes and crêpes are nothing on their own. Left to their own devices they would never go out. Savoury or sweet, they depend on fillings and dressings to give them a social life.

Though I’m a fiend for maple syrup, sometimes something as simple as a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice is just the thing to make a pancake interesting. However, for a real taste of Carnival, my current favourite is this zingy vanilla orange caramel sauce.  Pour the hot syrup over pancakes or crêpes and feel your taste buds samba!

The sauce thickens as it cools and if there is any left over, it’s delicious, cold, on ice cream.

For approximately 150mls of sweet, zingy caramel sauce you will need…
150g caster sugar
10g salted butter
zest of one orange, finely grated or cut into shreds
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
100mls fresh orange juice

You will need to exercise a little caution – melted sugar is extremely hot.

You will also need a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed, light-coloured saucepan (light-coloured so you can see the sugar change colour as it melts and judge easily when to take it off the heat.)

Put the sugar in an even layer in the pan and place the pan over a medium heat, supervising it constantly until the sugar has melted. You will need to swirl the pan occasionally so that the sugar melts evenly. I prefer to swirl rather than stir as over-stirring can cause the sugar to clump, however a little gentle poking at the melting mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula won’t hurt.

Another swirl or two will capture those sugar crystals on the side

Once the sugar has melted, keep it over the heat until it has turned a rich amber colour and starts to smell like caramel. Watch the pan like a hawk as the melted sugar can burn quickly and become bitter (if that happens, start again).

The caramel is ready when it smells like caramel and is a rich amber colour

Now add the butter, stirring until it has melted into the caramel, then add the orange zest, and vanilla and stir to incorporate.

Add the orange juice in a steady stream, stirring until you have a smooth syrup. It will bubble furiously and the cold juice may cause the caramel to solidify in places.  If this happens,  just keep stirring over the heat and any blobs of caramel will eventually melt back in to the sauce.

Bubbling furiously

Once you have a smooth sauce, remove from the heat.

This sauce can be made ahead and served hot or cold. If using hot, remember that it is super hot and warn people accordingly. As it cools it thickens up and is delicious with ice cream.

To serve hot, reheat in a saucepan over a medium heat and then pour over hot pancakes. You could also prepare (or buy) your pancakes ahead and reheat them in the sauce as in the picture below.  Click here to for an easy cider and cinnamon pancake recipe

Pancakes ready to party!

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Jamaican Buttermilk, Apple and Ginger Cake – resistance is futile !

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An oldie, but a goodie
First published 21 October 2014

When the virtue of patience was being dished out, I was too darned impatient to wait in line. If only I’d known...
... You see, the thing with Jamaican Ginger Cake is, that while it takes under an hour from start to finish, it is best wrapped and left for 24 hours for the flavours to develop.
All those spices smell so good. I know from experience that I will probably unwrap a little corner to take a peak - just to make sure the Alchemy is working... (I’ve been know to dig up seeds to see if they have started developing roots yet...).
Before you know it, I’ll be cutting a wee slice - just a taste - and that tiny taste will call for another... the irresistible warmth of the spices... the tender sticky crumb and I’ll never learn just how good it can be when I include that missing ingredient, patience!
Up the ginger quotient by increasing the amount of allspice and fresh ginger to taste. A little finely chopped stem ginger stirred into the batter also heats things up a bit.
Will I be able to resist this time? We’ll see...
For one irresistible 1 x 2lb loaf you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 160˚C
a little butter for greasing a 2lb loaf tin
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground allspice* (not mixed spice!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine table salt 
100g treacle
100g golden syrup
100g dark brown sugar
100g butter
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
125mls buttermilk**
150g unsweetened stewed apple***
1 egg, beaten 

Grease and baseline a 2lb loaf tin (or line with a loaf tin liner).
Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground spices and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Weigh the treacle and golden syrup directly into a medium saucepan and add the sugar, butter, fresh ginger and vanilla extract and place over a low heat just until the butter has melted into the other ingredients. Remove from the heat immediately – at no point should it simmer or boil.
Meanwhile, mix together the buttermilk, stewed apple and beaten egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture in the bowl and stir with a whisk until combined into a thick batter.
Melt, mix, stir, pour - it's that simple !

Add the warm mixture from the saucepan and whisk until combined into a smooth, fairly runny batter. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and transfer to the preheated oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until well risen and the surface bounces back when lightly pressed. A cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean, with no crumbs clinging. (Replace in the oven for a further 5 minutes if necessary and test again.)
Leave in the tin until completely cold, then remove from the tin and wrap in a layer of baking paper, then in cling film. Leave for at least 24 hours for the flavours to develop before cutting into thick slices and devouring with a decent cup of tea or coffee.
It is not the most beautiful cake in the world, but a dusting of icing sugar works wonders against the dark crumb of the cake, or you could drizzle with a water icing made according to the instructions on the packet.

Not the most beautiful cake in the world. A dusting of icing sugar works wonders !
*Allspice is a gorgeous warm aromatic dried berry – also called Jamaican Pepper – I grind the berries as I need them as they have a longer shelf life than ready ground – and there is the bonus of the lovely aroma they release when crushed.
Mixed spice is ... um... a mixture of spices.
**If you don’t have buttermilk, simply use the same amount of fresh milk to which you have added a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
***For the stewed apple, simply peel, core and slice a large Bramley apple or similar (prepared weight approximately 200g. Place the flesh of the apple in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water, apple juice or cider. Place over a medium heat. Cover and allow the apple to steam in its own juices – stirring occasionally - for about 15 minutes or until completely soft and the slices of apple can be easily mashed with a fork. Mash to a reasonably smooth puree and leave to cool before using as above.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

The 12th bite of Christmas ... the 12 Grapes of Luck #12BitesOfChristmas

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One of your five a day and it isn't even breakfast time yet! What a great start to 2018!

The 12th bite of Christmas (12 bites in reality) is vegetarian, healthy and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Less a recipe and more a ritual, it is an old Spanish custom guaranteed to bring good luck and prosperity (mostly to grape farmers, I imagine) in the coming year.

You will need...
seedless white grapes – 12 per person
church bells to ring 12 strokes at midnight on New Year’s Eve (Big Ben will do the trick)
Someone who knows the Heimlich Manoeuvre on standby in case someone tries to inhale rather than swallow their portion of grapes

You will also need 12 wishes (or the same one 12 times)

The timing of this ‘recipe’ is critical so give out the grapes in advance, 12 per person (if they peel them, it makes life easier)

Count down to midnight, then consume one grape for each stroke of the bell - it isn't as easy as it sounds.

It’s a bit of fun, and a healthy start to the New Year.  Have a good one!
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Monday, December 25, 2017

The 11th bite of Christmas ... Strawberry Marshmallow Santas #12BitesOfChristmas

Pin It The 11th bite is one of the cutest, and the simplest ...

Ho ho ho - Merry Christmas!!!

… and more an artist’s impression of Santa Claus rendered in good things rather than a recipe.  Below is how I did it. You may prefer to look at the photo and figure out your own unique strawberry Santa. 

To produce these ones, I used...

Large ripe strawberries
Marshmallows for the face
Bits of liquorice for the eyes and nose
Desiccated coconut for the beard
Whipped cream for the face, beard, pompom (and 'gluing' the bits of Santa together)
Blueberries for the boots – cut them into quarters.

Cut the bottoms off a punnet of large ripe strawberries, so that they have a flat base to stand on.

Slice off the pointy end, about 1/3 of the way from the tip. This will form the hat.

Sit the fat end of the strawberry on a plate. Pipe a little whipped cream onto the upturned face of the strawberry. Top with half a marshmallow – cut it if necessary so that it is about the same size as the upturned face of the strawberry. Press it into place. Add a little more whipped cream on top and place a strawberry ‘hat’ on top. Pipe cream onto the marshmallow ‘face’, giving an impression of a beard.

Sprinkle the beard with desiccated coconut, then press the bits of liquorice into place for the eyes and nose.

Place two quarter blueberries at the base of the strawberry so that they look like shiny boots. (They won't stay there when the Santa is picked up, but they look great until the moment of eating and people tend to collect them up and eat them). 

Pipe a little whipped cream on top of the hat to form a pompom.

Repeat until someone hands you a glass of wine and offers to take over. Merry Christmas!!!

Hmmm - some you win, some you lose - the one on the left looks more like Santa's dog!!!
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