Saturday, July 21, 2018

Watermelon, Feta & Herb Salad - more a reminder than a recipe!

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This is usually what I want on a hot day when I don’t know what I want. It’s super pretty and equally tasty.


Less a recipe, more of a reminder - it’s sweet, juicy, salty, fresh, and downright delicious. I’ll leave the quantities up to you. This is best prepared just before eating. It doesn’t like to hang about.

For a refreshing summery salad you will need:

  • Watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
  • Spring onion (scallion) finely chopped
  • Mint and/or Basil, finely shredded
  • a pinch of Maldon salt flakes (or similar)
  • a drizzle of good olive oil


When you are ready to eat, place the watermelon in a serving bowl. Scatter with cubed or crumbled Feta cheese. Sprinkle over the finely chopped spring onion, followed by the herbs. Sprinkle with a little salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Eat.



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Thursday, June 21, 2018

White Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis - Simply Irresistible !

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The poet, Paul Valéry, said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I have that same feeling about recipes. From time to time, I can’t resist making just a tiny edit or two to an old favourite, on the hunch that it will make the dish even better.
Simply irresistible
I have revisited the first dish I ever did on Alchemy in the Kitchen, a whole 5 years ago Cherry Clafoutis - and I’ve made a few edits. One was the addition of chunks of good white chocolate - for me, the missing link in the evolution of clafoutis

I have also come down firmly on the side of de-stoned cherries for a number of reasons:

       multiple taste tests don’t reveal the almond flavour that the stones are supposed to impart (a touch of almond extract does it better!)

       de-stoned cherries leak their juice into the batter and even more juice evaporates, leaving a concentrated cherry flavour

       there is less risk of a tooth-shattering surprise.

Hungry caterpillar? No, cherry-stoner!

Unfortunately I had to buy the cherries for today’s clafoutis rather than being presented with a strange and marvellous bouquet as before.  
Life is ...
As I needed a decent amount of natural light for the photos, I made the dish this morning. Although I’m not in the habit of having dessert for breakfast, clafoutis is best eaten warm from the oven, so I had no option but to sample it there and then (good excuse eh?) and I have decided it wouldn’t be out of place at a special brunch.

For 4 servings you will need......to preheat the oven to 170°C
A little butter for greasing 4 shallow ramekin dishes

50g ground almonds
25g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
a  pinch of fine table salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
50g runny honey
150mls fresh whole milk
½ teaspoon almond extract

300g ripe fresh cherries, stones removed (I prefer to leave the stalks on for presentation but take them off if you prefer).

75g good quality white chocolate, cut into 1cm chunks

Method
With the butter, lightly rub the inside of the ramekin dishes and set aside.

Measure the ground almonds and flour into a mixing bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Add the eggs and whisk to a smooth batter. Add the honey (I weigh it directly into the bowl to save on washing up) and whisk until combined. Finally whisk in the milk and almond extract to give a consistency similar to single cream.

Divide the batter evenly between 4 shallow ramekin dishes, making sure not to fill beyond the half-way mark, then divide the cherries and chocolate chunks evenly between the 4 dishes.

One for me, one for the clafoutis, one for me...

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before dusting with icing sugar and serving with a jug of pouring cream. Mmmmm-mmmm-mmmmmmmmmm.



Note: Clafoutis sinks slightly as it cools – that’s just its nature
Note: Clafoutis vanishes quickly when cooked - that's just in its nature ...

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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
Ingredients
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 

Method
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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