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
ice
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.

Variation

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


Method
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


Method
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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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lemon, Rosemary and Almond Curd - Here comes the sun!

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There’s nothing like a wet Sunday is there? It is such a contradiction in terms. Hey weather, pin back your ears. Sunday … SUN Day … geddit? Nope, obviously not listening.

Well, I can’t go for my walk, I’ve finished my book; there’s nothing to my liking on the telly. A wet Sunday is a day for pottering; for tidying; for doing things that have been put on the long finger; for remembering things I’ve promised to do but never quite gotten around to doing. I’ve just remembered I promised my sister-in-law my lemon curd recipe – eeek more than two years ago! Now would be a good time to cough up the goods.

Lemon curd is not difficult - it just needs about half an hour of your time and patience to magic a few simple ingredients into a puddle of liquid sunshine that you can turn into all sorts of deliciousness once it has cooled and set. 

Ok, you've captured a jar or two of sunshine. So now what? Well, I love it spooned into Greek yoghurt for breakfast; spread on toast; swirled through whipped cream and used to fill a meringue case, then topped with strawberries or blueberries or both, and applied to mouth. Swap it for jam... particularly in a Bakewell Tart – lemon and almond are best buddies. Use it to fill a sponge or to top a cheesecake. Make it now and you'll have it ready to take out of the fridge to spread on the crepes you’ve planned to make on Pancake Tuesday, just around the corner.  Or simply pop a spoonful in your mouth at any time for an instant good mood.
(Use unwaxed lemons or give the skins a good scrub under hot water before using.)
For approximately 500ml sunny lemon curd you will need…
250g caster sugar
75g butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
6 eggs (at room temperature), beaten
the finely grated zest and juice of 3 of the best lemons you can get your hands on (you should have 150ml juice in total)
¼ teaspoon almond extract
a sprig of rosemary, lightly bruised
a pinch of salt


Put everything in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Stir gently and constantly for about 15-20 minutes or so until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of pourable custard. At no point should the mixture boil so don't be tempted to turn up the heat to hurry the process or you'll have lemony scrambled eggs. (You could also cook the mixture in a heatproof glass bowl over - but not touching - simmering water).
Once the mixture has thickened, pass it through a sieve to remove the rosemary and the grated lemon zest. Pour into sterilized jars. It will thicken up further on cooling. Seal and refrigerate for up to a month. 
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Carrot, Coconut & Cardamom Soup... conspiring to comfort !

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I am studiously avoiding the bathroom scales because I know that after a Christmas of feasting it will more than likely say: “Gerroff, ya great lump!”
I got brilliant advice from a friend on how to lose weight instantly: “Turn the scales back 5kg on the 1st of January!” Unfortunately my bathroom scales are digital and they refuse to tell even the whitest of white lies. L If I’m to swap the slightly cuddlier post-Christmas me for a healthier lower-fat me ‘lite’, then it will be down to diet and exercise.

Luckily, with the turn of the year (and following multiple overdoses of chocolate truffles, mince pies, Christmas cake ...) I am craving healthy stuff – winter salads, green vegetables al dente, and soup, lots of lovely warming soup.
Today it is bitterly cold so I’m thinking... the sweetness of carrots, I’m thinking ... the warmth of cardamom ... the fresh zing of orange zest. So far, so good (tasty and reasonably healthy). However... I can’t quite leave behind the craving for richness against the harshness of winter, so I’m thinking a great big comforting swirl of nutty, creamy coconut milk.

The response from my coconut-detesting taste-tester?  “Oh ! That’s good !”
Healthy stuff...
 
For 6 - 8 portions of sunny soup that will surprise even a coconut-hater you will need...
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive (or 15g butter)
3 pods of cardamom, seeds only, crushed
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest (orange part only)
500g carrots, (prepared weight), peeled and sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
750ml good quality chicken stock
1 x 400ml tin of unsweetened coconut milk
Salt and white pepper to taste 

Finely chopped coriander leaf or parsley to serve, and some crusty white bread or a delicious nutty wholemeal bread won't hurt

 
Method
Place the olive oil (or butter) into a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the crushed cardamom seed. Fry gently for about a minute before adding the orange zest, carrots, onion and garlic. Stir to coat in the oil (or butter), then turn down the heat to low.
Cover and cook gently without colouring for about 15 minutes, stiring every few minutes (if the vegetables appear to be sticking, add a little more oil or butter and make sure the heat is low enough – if the vegetables are sizzling, the heat is too high).
Next, add the chicken stock and unsweetened coconut milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and leave to cook gently for a further 15 minutes.
Finally, puree the soup – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this job. Taste and add salt and a little white pepper if necessary.
Serve with a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley or corriander leaf, or get posh and instead serve with parsley or corriander leaf oil artfully dotted on top.
Tuck in!
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chocolate Orange Mincemeat – shouts Christmas louder than a chorus of drunken carollers

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For me, chocolate and orange are the two flavours that sing out louder than a chorus of drunken carollers “Christmas is Here! Christmas is Here! “ And guess what? They absolutely love each other’s company.
This year I went through my (now dog-earred) copy of The Flavour Thesaurus and picked out other flavours that adore chocolate and like to hang out with each other as well.  

Don't be put off by the list of ingredients - it's mostly an assembly job.
See? Assembly job!

For approximately 4 jars of mincemeat, you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 180°C   
300g sultanas
100g ready-to-eat prunes (e.g. no stone), finely chopped
100g dried sour cherries (or dried cranberries), finely chopped
300g ready-to-eat dried apricots, finely chopped
100g mixed peel (this is finely chopped candied peel of oranges and lemons)
100g walnuts, finely chopped
220g dark brown sugar
200g grated apple (I used Granny Smiths)
125g butter, cut into cubes
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)
5 coriander seeds, crushed (or ¼ teaspoon ground coriander)
3 allspice berries, crushed (or ground allspice, but not mixed spice)
2 whole cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) + an additional 2 tablespoons to stir in at the end 

Method
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 (set a timer... )

When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring briefly every half hour until cold. This keeps the butter evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Finally, stir the remaining 2 tablespoons of Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) into the cooled mixture before sealing in clean, dry jars.

It will keep well for up to a year in a cool dark place or in the fridge - but I can’t really see the point in that!

With these fairy-size piece, you can eat three without a hint of guilt!
For the fairy-sized mince pies in the photos, stamp out rounds of short crust pastry using a 5cm (2 inch) scone cutter and use them to line a mini-muffin tin. Fill them to the top with the cooked, cooled mixture. Bake for about 10 minutes at 180°C. 

For regular-sized mince pies, use a 7.5cm cutter (2½ inch) for the base and a 6cm cutter (2¼ inch) for the lids. Fill, seal and bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 165°C or until a pale golden brown. Remember to poke two holes in the top of each with a sharp knife to let the steam out and stop them bursting open.


I prefer my mince pies warm from the oven (the microwave is death to pastry) with a swirl of fresh cream. A touch of Cointreau in the cream is optional.

It's snowing!
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