Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sweet Vanilla Scones – Worth getting out of bed for!

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A big jug of coffee had just been set in the hearth, the seed-cakes were gone, and the dwarves were starting on a round of buttered scones, when there came- a loud knock. 
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

In my house the loud knock came before the scones, and it wasn't a rat-tat on a Hobbit door, but my bedtime reading (Neil Jordan’s ‘Mistaken’) falling off the bed and crash-landing on the floor, which startled me out of dreamland. There was no going back to sleep and 2 doses of BBC drama and the news headlines later, I gave up and decided to have an early, early, early breakfast that was worth getting up for on a dark frosty morning.

I had Sweet Vanilla Scones mixed and in the oven in the time it took to brew a proper pot of Rosie Lee under a tea cosy. I poured out the first mug of the day and curled up on the sofa to devour another chapter until my nose (and my digital timer) told me it was time to take the scones out of the oven and make another brew.

For 12 plain and simple sweet vanilla scones you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 180°C
350g plain flour
12g baking powder
a pinch of fine table salt
100g butter, from the fridge, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
120mls fresh milk 

To glaze
1 egg, beaten (or a little milk for a less glossy finish)

A little icing sugar to dust over the finished scones (optional)

Method
Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture, lifting and crumbling the mixture between your index and middle fingers and your thumbs, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar and add the vanilla extract to the bowl, followed by as much of the milk as is necessary to form the ingredients into a soft dough with no dry flour remaining, mixing gently all the while until you reach that point. You may not need all the milk.

(If you have a stand mixer or food processor, it is even easier: place the first six ingredients in the bowl and mix or pulse until they resemble fine breadcrumbs, then add the milk a little at a time - mixing or pulsing between additions - until the mixture comes together in a soft dough – add just enough of the milk until there is no dry flour left in the bowl/processor)

Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, knead gently to form a ball. The less you mix and handle the dough, the lighter the scone. Pat the dough out into a round approximately 2cm thick – you could use a rolling pin for a more even finish.

Using a 6cm (2.5”) cutter, stamp out scone shapes from the dough, re-forming any scraps into a ball and once again flattening to 2cm before cutting. This mixture yields 12 x 6cm scones. (You could make them larger or smaller if you like, adjusting the cooking time up or down accordingly).

Place the prepared scones on a non-stick baking sheet and brush the tops with beaten egg or a little milk. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes until risen and golden brown.

When baked through, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack for about 5 minutes before serving with butter and jam. Scones are best eaten the day they are made but generally there are no leftovers so this won’t be a cause for concern. They also freeze well.



TIP: Try to stamp out as many scones as possible from the dough on the first pass as scones formed out of the scraps of dough can turn out a bit misshapen. Also, cut the scones out by pressing straight down with the cutter, avoiding the temptation to twist (unless you want scones with individual character).


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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Honey and Orange Stock Syrup - for mulled wine at the drop of a (Santa) hat... Mmmm !

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(Looking back over the years, this has proved to be one of the surprise hit recipes
 so here it is again - it was first published in December 2012.)
I’ve just finished the first batch of mince pies. The house is full of spicy, fruity scents so evocative of the impending feast. Here’s my tried and tested mincemeat recipe – it keeps for ages if you want to make it in advance, but is ready to use as soon as it has cooled. The gorgeous Christmassy aromas have made me long for mulled wine. 

Now there are mulled wines... and there are mulled wines...  I knew this bloke who was legendary for his seasonal concoction. He simply boiled together 6 bottles of wine with a carton of juice, a heap of sugar and a few ground spices ... from which he was able to fashion 5,000 servings (only a slight exaggeration). It was like the tale of the magic porridge pot.

This miracle he accomplished as follows: for every glass of mulled wine he removed from the pot, he topped it up with water and sugar. By the time he reached the 5,000th serving, the liquid was practically homeopathic, retaining just the barest memory of the original flavours. Shudder.
Bearing this example in mind, I want a seasonal punch that packs ... well... a punch!
I keep a spiced honey and orange stock syrup in the fridge ready to add festive spirit at a moment’s notice. Just add red wine, and some extra spices if you want to add a little more kick, and gently heat through. This quick and easy stock syrup is also great added to a dry Cava; and Santa might appreciate a drop or two in a glass of sparkling water or sparkling apple juice too, particularly if he’s got to drive that sleigh all the way back to the North Pole. 

For 300mls of stock syrup (approximate serving per 75cl bottle of wine) you will need...

150mls fresh orange juice
260g runny honey
The zest of 2 large oranges removed in strips, leaving behind any bitter white pith
The zest of 1 large lemon, as above
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks 

1.                 In a medium saucepan, mix together the orange juice and the honey. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 2 minutes then remove from the heat and add the orange and lemon zest, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Leave to cool. Strain and store in a screw top jar or bottle for up to 2 weeks. I add dried slices of orange and cinnamon sticks to the jar because they look pretty and add to the flavour.
2.                 To make the mulled wine: gently heat a bottle of half decent red wine (yes, I know the budget added €1 but still, you want something drinkable...). Add enough stock syrup to satisfy your sweet tooth. Add further spices (slices of ginger, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg etc) and slices of orange and lemon so it looks as Christmassy as it tastes.

Cheers!
For mulled wine at the drop of a (Santa) hat
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Friday, November 18, 2016

Apple & Cranberry Mincemeat - It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

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First published in 2010 - the snow has long since melted!

Now is the time to make mincemeat so that it has time to mature before you make the mince pies. This is in the oven as I type and the house smells divine!

For me, the Christmas season starts as soon as the fruity, spicy, alcoholic aromas of mincemeat rise from the oven. Best of all, it is astonishingly simple to put together and the long slow cooking transforms these simple ingredients into something magical. If kept sealed, my Apple and Cranberry Mincemeat will keep for up to a year* in a cool dry place – assuming that for some strange reason you don’t scoff the lot over Christmas.

*I once found a jar of mincemeat that had moved house twice with us and was still perfectly good after three years… Darina Allen, Ballymaloe's famous stirrer-of-mould-back-into-the-jam, would approve. As she says "Trust your senses. Look at food. Smell it. Taste it - if in doubt, just have a small taste." 

Obviously, common sense must prevail.


Simple ingredients...  

A word of warning: if you make this mincemeat, you will be called upon to perform your magic every year henceforth.
For approximately 4 magical jars (1.5kg in total) you will need
... to pre-heat the oven to 100°C
 
200g apple, grated
200g raisins
200g sultanas
200g currants
100g dried cranberries
200g dark brown sugar
100g mixed peel
50g walnuts, finely chopped
50g whole almonds, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a tiny pinch of ground cloves – about one-sixteenth of a teaspoon
125g butter, cut into cubes
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey for a more traditional flavour)

You’ll need also an additional 2 tablespoons of whatever alcohol you choose, to stir in at the end.

... magical food (that looks much prettier in jars) and tastes incredible in a pastry case 

1.                          Mix all the ingredients together in a large oven proof dish with a lid. Cover and place in the preheated oven and cook gently for 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.
2.                          When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring briefly every half hour until cold.

3.                          Finally, stir a further 2 tablespoons of Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey) into the cold mixture before sealing in clean, dry jars. That’s it, job done. Someone else can make the mince pies!

Someone else can make the mince pies !!!


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Mini Orange and Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Walnut Crust – Trick? Treat!

Pin It First published: 27/10/14



 Legend has it that long ago, in the depths of Ireland, there was a farmer named Jack. Jack was notoriously mean and sneaky. Over the years he had peeved heaven and hell so much with his meanness and trickery that when he popped his clogs, he was refused admittance to both. To get rid of him, the Devil sent Jack away with a burning ember to light his way through eternal darkness. Jack hollowed out a turnip in which to carry the ember. To this day, he roams the earth looking for a resting place, with the strange lantern lighting his way. Wooooo-ooooh. The End.

Okay, the legend is a bit longer than that but the essential bit is the lantern. Thankfully, when Irish emigrants brought the legend and the lantern to the other side of the Atlantic, they discovered that pumpkins were a lot easier to carve than turnips and looked much more impressive. I’m glad because Orange and Turnip Cheesecake doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

For approximately 22 mini cheesecakes you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 160°C while the cheesecake bases are chilling.

Filling
500g full fat cream cheese (such as Philadelphia) at room temperature
250g pureed pumpkin pulp (available in a tin)
125g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon corn flour, sifted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
a small pinch of ground cloves (go easy, it’s a very strong spice)
finely grated zest of one orange (just the very outer layer)
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk 

Biscuit base
225g digestive biscuits (graham crackers)
75g walnuts
75g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
90g butter 

Decoration
Ready-made spooky chocolate shapes
OR some melted chocolate and an artistic flair

 For the filling
First make the filling. (This allows excess air bubbles incorporated while mixing a chance to escape, reducing cracking in the surface of the cheesecakes.)
Place all the ingredients, except the eggs, in a food processor and pulse until combined into a smooth batter. Now add the eggs and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a large jug and leave to one side while you prepare the base. 

For the base
Line 22 muffin cups with paper liners (I use two 12 cup tins and line 11 cups of each)
Place all the ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor and pulse until the biscuits are reduced to a fine crumb. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the crumb mixture to the melted butter and stir to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin papers, about a heaped teaspoon in each and press down lightly and evenly. Place in the fridge until cool. (Preheat the oven now).
Pat the base into an even layer - the back of a teaspoon will do but this little cookie stamp is perfect
When the bases have chilled for about 10 minutes, remove from the fridge and divide the filling between the paper liners, leaving a gap of about 3mm at the top.
Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until they have risen very slightly and there is no wobble when you shake the tins gently.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the muffin tins. They will collapse a little. This is normal and allows room for the chocolate decorations to go on top.
When cool, cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible.
Cover with white, milk or dark chocolate. Decorate with contrasting spooky chocolate shapes. (You’ll need to work quickly as the chocolate sets almost instantly on the cold cheesecake.
Happy Halloween!!!

(The cheesecakes will freeze, undecorated, in a single layer in a freezer container for up to a month. Thaw before decorating.)

Note...
For the chocolate shapes, I copied templates from the internet, making sure to size them a little smaller than the diameter of the cakes. I printed them out and placed them on a baking tray, under a sheet of non-stick baking parchment. I melted chocolate in a ziplock bag then used it as a piping bag by snipping off a tiny corner and drawing over the shapes I could see through the parchment. (I also ate a lot of the ones that didn’t turn out quite right but you could re-melt them if you have stronger willpower than me.)


I placed the finished shapes in the fridge for an hour until solid and then carefully peeled away the paper before transferring them to the chocolate-covered cheesecakes.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An Accidental Paella – the case for the defence ...

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Originally published: Thursday, June 14, 2012


While poor Jamie Oliver has attracted the wrath of a nation, I managed to get away with my version of "Pie-Ella". There are no mountains, there is no sea, there is not even a pinch of tradition, but ¡Dios mío! it tastes great!



The moment I hit “Publish”, the paella police were on their way over ...

The crime...
Taking a traditional celebration of the mountains and the sea, removing the tradition, the mountains and the sea, and turning it into mid-week WOW* supper.
*War on Waste

The plea... guilty, but unrepentant...
Your honour, I swear I had no idea what I was doing when I opened the fridge. I was day-dreaming about a trip I had to Majorca in the distant past. My personal rain cloud accompanied me, and how! The island suffered the worst storms and floods in decades - just for those couple of weeks I was on holiday. However, I remembered a plate of golden paella I ate there, shivering on a sheltered terrace watching a feeble sun battle in vain against storm clouds. It was utter comfort food.
Hi! Remember me!

Mitigating circumstances...
Perhaps that's why I turned away from the straight-and-narrow of my go-to creamy chicken curry for this quick and easy mid-week supper. This week’s budget doesn’t run to prawns and rabbit, but I am pretty sure that paella evolved from humble origins, making the most of available ingredients. Plus, one pan, and about 30 minutes - what's not to love?
One pot, 30 minutes - what's not to love!

The evidence...
Anyway, back to the fridge, which revealed the remains of a cooked chicken – yawn... However, the fridge also held a jar of pimentos del piquillo (sweet roasted red peppers – widely available) which can add sunshine to any dish, as well as a nub of chorizo left over from the Cornish-ish pasties last week and I found myself taking a detour. “I can resist everything - save temptation”, as one of my fellow countrymen put it so beautifully.

The witness for the defence
Your honour, I call my rice-hating beloved who shovelled three helpings into his mouth while sighing rapturously – ok so he’d missed lunch but even so! Perhaps I should offer some to the paella police or would that compound the crime with bribery? 

For 4 servings you will need...
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
50g chorizo, cut into fat slices then halved
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 pimentos del piquillo, roughly chopped
1 green pepper (or sweeter yellow pepper if you prefer), cut into strips
75g fresh or frozen petit pois, or sugar snap peas
400g cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
250g paella rice (from your deli – a great store cupboard standby)
600mls good quality chicken stock, hot
100mls dry white wine
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley 

1                    Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. I used a 30cm (12 inch) pan for this recipe – in a paella you are aiming to get as much rice as possible in contact with the pan. Add the onion and cook until softened without colouring (about 5 minutes). Add the crushed garlic and the chorizo and cook for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, pimientos del piquillo, green pepper, peas, chicken and rice and stir together for about a minute.

2                    Now add the hot stock, dry white wine, thyme and pepper. Stir to mix and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, the rice is tender and the mixture is no longer soupy (about 20-25 minutes). Removed from the heat and cover with a clean tea-towel for about 5 minutes before sprinkling with the fresh parsley and serving on warm plates. The sign of a good paella – whether WOW* version or the traditional version – is the socarrat – the delicious golden crust of rice at the bottom of the pan – the bit that everyone fights over.
No mountains, no sea, no tradition, but rather tasty!

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Home-made Hotdog Buns - heavenly!!!

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I had a heavenly hotdog in NY and a fabulous frankfurter in... Frankfurt and what they both had in common was that the bread was as good as the filling. The long-life yokes you get in the supermarket marked ‘Hotdog Buns’ aren’t WTC* (Worth The Calories) and I don’t know a bakery that does fresh hotdog buns.

Invest about 20 minutes relatively easy active time – think of it as therapy. You can be pottering about doing other stuff as they prove and bake and before you know it, you’ll have 9 heavenly hotdog buns ready to receive whatever deliciousness you decide to fill them with. Here's what the taste-testers had to say:


For 9 heavenly hotdog buns, you will need…
...to pre-heat the oven to 190C before baking

450g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 x 7g sachet of dry active yeast
1½ teaspoons of fine table salt
25g caster sugar
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
100mls warm milk (approx. 38°C)
150mls warm water, (approx. 38°C). Note, you may not need to use it all

a little beaten egg

Method

Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl and add the egg and olive oil. Mix well. Next, add the warm milk. Continue mixing while you add as much of the warm water as necessary until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not need all the water). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Alternatively place all the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix with a dough hook until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave until doubled in size. (I sometimes leave it to develop overnight in the fridge for a bigger flavour but in a warm, draught-free spot, it should take about an hour.)

Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently to deflate. Divide it into 9 even pieces – I weigh each piece, which is usually approximately 90g.

Flatten into an oblong, roll into a sausage, pinch along the seam and tuck in the ends

To shape the rolls, form each piece into a sausage shape about 9cm long. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough sausage out flat until you have an oblong about 6cm wide and 11cm long. Working from one long side, roll the dough up tightly into a sausage shape again, pinching along the join. Neaten the ends by tucking them in and pinching them closed. Sit the buns – seam side down – on a lightly-floured parchment-lined or non-stick baking tray about 2cm apart, and press gently along the top of each bun so that it doesn’t rise excessively. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free spot until doubled in size.

Let sleeping dogs lie ... until doubled in size

When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven and about a minute or two before baking, place a roasting dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and add a cupful of hot water. (The steam will help the hotdog buns rise and help create a shiny crust.)  


I never go out without a touch of gloss...
Brush the hotdog buns gently with a little beaten egg before baking on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.


10 minutes later ... a tan worthy of the 'Strictly' makeup department !!!
Split across the middle when completely cold, being careful not to cut all the way through. Freeze or use within 24 hours.

The doggone dogs are all gone!

So, do you fry, grill, steam or simmer your hotdogs? Do you keep the topping simple with fried onion, ketchup and mustard or do you pimp your dog with exotic or unusual ingredients? Do you have a vegetarian alternative? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lightly Spiced Carrot Soup – Liquid sunshine!

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The choice at my supermarket the other day was an odd one. I could have a 1kg bag of carrots (already half a kilo more than I actually wanted) ... or I could have a 3kg sack at one-third of the price of the smaller bag?  Why can’t they do that kind of maths with chocolate?

It was a no-brainer but what on earth to do with the 2.5kg of carrots left over.

They’ve been cut into sticks and used to transport Hummus and Melitzanosalata (Roasted Aubergine Dip) to my mouth.
They’ve been made into veggie samosas.
They’ve been shredded into a carrot and orange salad.
They’ve been roasted along with a Piri Piri / Peri Peri / Pili Pili chicken.

Oddly enough, I’m not sick of carrots yet but boy is my eyesight super sharp this week and I swear my ears are longer and kinda floppy. I’ve used up the last of the carrots in this lightly spiced carrot soup – a bowl of liquid sunshine and a lovely light meal for the dog days of summer.

For 4 – 6 servings of 'sunny as a bowl of sunshine' carrot soup you will need...
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon cumin seed
3 green cardamom pods
2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
1 stick of celery, peeled of stringy bits and roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
750g carrots, skinned and sliced or diced
1 litre of chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian)
½ teaspoon fine table salt*
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

Transfer the toasted spices to a bowl (or mortar, as in the photo)

First, toast the coriander seed, cumin seed and cardamom by placing them in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, swirling them around the pan to toast them evenly and to keep them from burning. This will only take a couple of minutes so don’t leave them unattended. They are done when the colour deepens slightly and they begin to smell toasty and spicy. Take them off the heat and transfer them to a bowl (or mortar) to prevent them from cooking further. Remove the cardamom seeds from their pods, discarding the pods.

When they have cooled, crush all three spices to a coarse powder using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder if you have one, or you could put them on a chopping board and roll over them with a rolling pin.

Next, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the celery, onions and carrots and stir to coat with the oil. Turn down the heat to the gentlest of sizzles and cover the pan with a lid. Let the vegetables ‘sweat’ gently for about 10 minutes. You are not looking to brown them.

Add the toasted, crushed spices, stock and salt and pepper to the saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the carrots are soft. Remove from the heat and puree to a smooth cream (a stick blender is ideal for this job).

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
The well-mannered, posed picture...

I served it with a swirl of crème fraîche and a handful of fresh coriander leaf but parsley, basil or chives are also good.

Moments later - have I mentioned my coriander addiction...
(tho' basil, chives, parsley or chervil are all equally good with this soup)

* If your stock is already quite salty, hold off on adding any salt until you’ve tasted the pureed soup as it may not need it.

Schlurp! That's all folks!

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