Saturday, July 18, 2015

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 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

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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Monday, June 29, 2015

Pickled Fennel – Stealing the Show

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Midsummer … the woodland theatre at Kilruddery House’s 17th Century gardens. Could there be a more perfect setting for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  A light drizzle filtered through the woodland canopy and midges snacked on our ears as Titania and Oberon squabbled and Puck ran amok with a magic potion.
There was a smell of crushed grass and wet bark, mothballs and old attics as folk opened proper, wood-wormy, leather-strapped wicker baskets, quietly popped bubbly, or unscrewed interesting-looking/smelling/tasting flasks and jars. On that eerie, enchanted patch of damp grass, people shared… quietly… so as not to break the spell.
One jar that went home empty was a delicious fennel pickle. Sorry Shakespeare, it stole the show.
While I’m not the world’s greatest fan of either pickles or fennel, I can eat this fragrant crunchy pickle straight from the jar. It goes wonderfully with smoked mackerel pâté, white or oily fish­, and it has been the secret ingredient to lift a potato salad out of the ordinary.
About to get in a bit of a pickle...
For 1 x 500ml jar of show-stealing pickled fennel you will need…
1 fennel bulb, washed if necessary and trimmed of any blemishes
1 slice of lemon
1 fat clove of garlic sliced into about three thick slices
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
350mls white vinegar
150ml cold water
2 tablespoons each of sugar and salt
Slice as finely as you can...
Slice the fennel bulb as finely as you can then pack it into a wide-mouthed 500ml jar leaving about 2cm clear at the top. Tuck the lemon, garlic and bay leaf down the side

Pack into a wide-mouthed jar...
Place the peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds in a dry medium saucepan over a medium heat. When the seeds begin to pop add the rest of the ingredients.
Peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds... the supporting actors...
Simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
Carefully pour the hot liquid over the contents of the jar until everything is submerged. Poke with a skewer or chopstick to remove any bubbles of air that have become trapped before topping up the liquid if necessary. You’ll have a bit of the pickling liquid left over. Keep it in a non-reactive container and use it to make quick cucumber pickles.
Get rid of any air bubbles...
I usually leave the pickle in the fridge for at least three days before using to allow the flavours to develop (Alchemy...) and it will keep for up to a month, covered and refrigerated.
Alchemy at work...
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lemon, Mint and Ginger Barley Water - more refreshing than a faceful of camel slobber...

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There is something about an instruction that starts Don’t … that incites my beloved to do the exact opposite. Don’t… is what got him to sit on the Pope’s throne at the Palais des Papes in Avignon. (I vanished into a passing tour group while security charged in his direction.)  Don’t… has inspired exits though alarmed doors, garnered speeding/parking tickets, missed ferries/flights. Don’t get me started!

His mother lived in one of the Woburn Abbey estate cottages deep in the English countryside and she organised tickets for us to visit the Abbey's safari park. I began to fret when I saw the list of Don’ts:

DON’T Open Car Windows;
DON’T Leave Your Car;
DON’T Antagonise the Lions;
Just DON’T, Ok!

There were just too many DON’Ts for him to handle.

Straight away he lowered the car window (Don’t Open Car Windows) and blew a loud raspberry at a passing camel. In a Jurassic Park moment, the camel’s very large face filled the open window and the creature cast disdainful eyes at the offending human before raspberrying right back. It was a most impressive raspberry and was accompanied by about half-a-gallon of camel spit. There is probably a sign somewhere that says Don’t Laugh Your Ass Off at the Bloke Covered in Camel-Slobber.

All that laughing makes you thirsty. What is needed for such an occasion is an appropriately restorative beverage. What could be more “English countryside” and restorative than Lemon, Mint and Ginger Barley Water. This is a glorious glassful of summer at any time.

For about 4 servings you will need…
100g pearl barley, washed
Juice and grated zest (yellow part only) of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon grated ginger
50g honey
1 litre of fresh water
a large bunch of mint

To serve
sprigs of mint
thin slices of lemon and fresh ginger
sparkling water / tonic water / sparkling white wine to dilute

Place all the ingredients – except the mint – in a saucepan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes without a lid. You want the liquid to reduce by half.

Lightly bruise the bunch of mint and place in a heatproof jug. Strain the liquid over the mint and allow to cool. When cool, transfer to a glass bottle, seal and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Dilute to taste and serve over ice with a large sprig of mint and slices of lemon and ginger. I like to add bubbles – sparkling water, tonic water or sparkling white wine are all good.


Use the juice and peel of 4 limes in place of the lemon.
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hot Cross Buns – and an Invitation to Commit Gluttony (again)!

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Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. These ones will lead you into temptation. This recipe was first published in April 2012.

As a child, one of the great treats of staying with my Gran in Cork City was that her local bakery produced great Hot Cross Buns at Easter. Maybe my taste buds are suffering from nostalgia, but I haven’t been able to find a bakery since that can produce a bun of comparable deliciousness. Many commercial versions taste like a mouthful of sawdust – a penance indeed. Experience has taught me that these Easter buns are a creation often best baked at home.
Easter is thought to be named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eastre, and some believe this sweet spiced bread was baked in her honour. It makes much more sense to me that these sticky treats are a celebration of springtime and abundance to come rather than an invitation to commit Gluttony in the dying days of Lent. Whatever you believe, they are delicious.

For 12 tempting buns, you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 190°C at step 7

For the dough
500g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 sachet of dried yeast (7g)
1 tablespoon olive oil
75g ready-to-eat dried apricots, cut into small pieces (about the size of sultanas)
50g sultanas
75g honey*
300mls fresh milk
1 large egg, beaten 

a little extra olive oil for oiling the work surface and your hands for kneading

For the cross decoration
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons water 

For the honey glaze
One tablespoon runny honey, warmed (I put it in a heatproof bowl and stand the bowl in hot water).
Remember that scene from Fried Green Tomatoes...
Into a large bowl, put the flour, salt, ground cinnamon, orange zest, dried yeast, olive oil, dried apricots and sultanas. Mix to combine.

*Weigh the honey directly into a small saucepan and add the milk. Warm the milk to between 27°C - 35°C (this is when a finger dipped in the milk will feel neither hot nor cold – but best to use a thermometer).

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the beaten egg, and about half the milk. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula and continue adding the milk until you have a soft dough and no dry flour remains. You may not need to use all the milk. Continue mixing until the fruit is well distributed throughout the dough. (You could use a stand mixer with a dough hook either.)

I am shifting more and more towards the no-knead method so I simply cover the dough with a lightly oiled sheet of cling film and leave it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. (If you prefer, knead it by hand for about 8 minutes or in your stand mixer for about 4 minutes before covering and leaving to rise.)

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly oiled work surface, and knock it back. (This simply means giving it a couple of jabs with your fists to remove most of the air so you can form it into its final shape.) Knead lightly for a minute or so, before dividing into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball on the oiled surface, and flatten slightly into a bun shape. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking parchment and gently transfer the buns to the tray. Cover the buns with lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm place, until once again doubled in size. Make sure the buns have plenty of room to rise.

Meanwhile, make the paste for the cross by mixing together the flour and water - you want a smooth paste with a consistency similar to porridge.

When the dough has once more doubled in size, remove the cling film. Carefully pipe the cross shape onto each bun. Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the buns to a cooling rack and immediately brush them with warmed honey.

An orange blossom honey makes the perfect glaze

It is considered good luck to share these buns and the cinnamon and orange make them particularly good with coffee so what better excuse to invite some friends over! 

Lead me not into temptation... well, perhaps just the once!
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Friday, March 27, 2015

Tomato and Carrot Soup – bloomin’ luverly!

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As a small child, himself knew his great grandmother, a Victorian lady who apparently had a habit of going around with her skirt tucked into her bloomers. Her great grandson remembers that she adored tomato soup, which she would sop up with chunks of bread. I never met her, but I have a vision of a Queen Victoria-like figure schlurping up her soup, then wiping her tomato-stained gob with a lace-cuffed sleeve – a sort of Eliza Doolittle character.

I asked if the Victorian’s soup was likely to have been homemade. Himself is inclined to believe that it was tinned.

Tastes like this!

Today’s recipe is homemade… from a tin - or rather a carton. That might seem a contradiction in terms however, unless you have a fantastic supply of sun-ripened San Marzano tomatoes, you’re much more likely to get the best flavour for soups and sauces from pasata (sieved tomato pulp) or tinned tomatoes. Look for brands with a conscience and go for products with nothing added. There should only be one ingredient on the label. Tomatoes!

For 6 – 8 portions of bloomin’ luverly tomato soup you will need…
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, finely sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and finely diced (approximately 250g prepared weight)
1 fat clove of garlic, chopped
750ml pasata (or 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes)
750mls chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon of dried thyme)
½ teaspoon sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the carrot and onion. Give them a quick stir to coat them with the hot oil then turn down the heat, cover and allow to cook gently without colouring for about 8 minutes. Next, add the diced potato and chopped garlic, stir and once again, cover and this time allow them to cook for about 4 minutes.

Next add the pasata, stock, thyme and sugar. Turn up the heat until the liquid comes to simmering. Lower the heat, cover and allow to simmer gently for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Blend the contents of the saucepan to a smooth cream – a stick blender is perfect. Taste and add salt and pepper to suit your palate.

Serve with crusty bread.

I scattered the top of the soup with a little proscuitto and some finely chopped fresh celery leaves. 

Other toppings I like for this soup are shredded fresh basil; Parmesan croutons with fried bacon bits; or a simple swirl of crème fraiche, though I'm not beyond following the Victorian's example!

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Boeuf en Daube - that's French for 'Boozy Beef Stew'!

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Daube ... French for 'boozy stew'

In a restaurant one lazy Sunday lunchtime, I witnessed a completely unguarded moment. At another table, a man speared a piece of meat and brought it absently to his mouth – a mouth that was more interested in the conversation it was having, than the food it was about to taste. As the forkful disappeared into that disinterested mouth, there was an instant of stunned stillness on the guy’s face, a tentative chewing, a look of disbelief. There followed in quick succession: a roll of the eyes, a deep sigh of satisfaction, and an ecstatic flinging back of his head. I could almost hear the man’s taste buds shout “Yes! Yes! Oh, Yes!”
Who could resist? So, of course I said to the waiter “I’ll have what he’s having.”  It turned out to be beef cheeks in red wine.  Errrr… yum… Actually, while it was good, it wasn’t (in my view) worthy of a food orgasm. Stew rarely is. It’s more of a platonic sort of dish that hits you with a big warm friendly hug - even more so, if it has been simmered in red wine.
While hugs should always be served up fresh the moment they are ready, stew is often even better the next day - the flavours melding in a delicious alchemy.
I'll have what he's having...

For 4 – 6 people, you will need…
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.25kg braising/stewing beef cut into thick chunks (I had 10 pieces in total, serving one or two per person depending on appetite)
5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 onions, peeled and cut into wedges – leave the root intact so that the pieces hold together
4 carrots, peeled and cut into sizeable chunks
2 sticks of celery, peeled to removed stringy bits, then finely chopped
250g smoked bacon lardons
750ml red wine
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
a small bundle of thyme
the zest of half a lemon (yellow layer only) cut into thick ribbons using a potato peeler (tie the bay leaves, thyme and lemon zest into a little bundle with food grade cotton string to make retrieval easier)
2 handfuls of black olives, stones removed (from Provence if you can get them)
a pinch of sugar

a little finely chopped parsley to scatter over the top of the finished dish

Heat the olive oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or a large saucepan and brown the chunks of beef all over, being careful to give them enough space otherwise they will steam rather than fry and you’ll lose out on quite a bit of flavour. Do this in batches if necessary. When the beef is browned, remove from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat and add the garlic, onions, carrots, celery and lardons. Fry gently for about 5 minutes.
Now, add the rest of the ingredients (except the parsley). Turn up the heat until the liquid begins to bubble. Immediately lower the heat, cover and cook at a very gentle simmer for 3-and-a-half hours (remove the lid for the last half hour so that the sauce reduces a little). The meat, when finished, should be almost tender enough to cut with a spoon.
Taste and add salt and black pepper only if necessary.
Serve piping hot with the parsley scattered over.
For me, this stew is hearty enough to serve on its own with nothing more than decent bread to mop up the sauce. It is also really good with celeriac mash.

Dig in!
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