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… 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


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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Friday, July 22, 2016

'Courgetti' Fritters with Lemon and Feta - Watch them vanish!

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Courgettes are like magic beans. You set off for the market. On the way you get conned into handing over your cow for a few small seeds. You return home delighted with your "bargain", but your mum chucks them out the window in disgust and practically at once they spring forth from the ground and start growing like beanstalks almost before your very eyes! Once they flower, they magically produce courgette after courgette - seemly overnight - and suddenly you have the equivalent of a courgette factory and the need for 101 courgette recipes.

One of my favourite ways to eat this vegetable to is spiralize it into 'courgetti' and then tip these delicious veggie noodles into whatever pasta sauce that is heating on the stove, give them about 3 minutes to heat through, then serve. Courgetti also make a delicious salad, tossed in soy vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds. They are also great stir-fried with garlic, ginger and chillies.

Another is the ‘Some Like it Hot’ Courgette Vichyssoise from the book – a lovely light summery soup and a doddle to make.

My latest favourite, though, is Courgetti Fritters with Feta and Lemon. They can be a snack, a starter, an unusual side - and a delicious way to make courgettes vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For 8 – 10 fabulous fritters you will need...

2 courgettes (zucchini), approximately 600g in total
1 teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
80g spring onions, finely chopped
80g feta, crumbled into small crumbs
60g fine fresh breadcrumbs
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg, lightly beaten
a little flour for dredging
A pinch of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil for frying

Start by spiralizing the courgettes (skin and all) using the fine noodle attachment of your spiralizer*. Using a scissors, cut them into lengths about 6cm – about 3 inches - long, otherwise they’ll end up being an unmanageable tangle. Put them in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt. (*If you don't have a spiralizer, coarsely grate the courgettes instead).

Leave for about 30 minutes so that the salt leaches some of the liquid out of the courgettes

Squeeze the courgettes to remove as much liquid as possible and drain this away. Place the courgettes in a clean tea towel and wring out as much liquid as possible.

Place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients except the flour and mix until well combined.

Divide the mixture into 8 – 10 portions. Using floured hands, form them into flat little cakes, about 1cm thick. Place on a lightly floured plate while you heat a little of the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.

Cook the fritters for about 3 -4 minutes each side, or until golden brown and serve hot. Simple!

I love them as a snack with either the crisp apple (or cool as a cucumber) Tzaziki in the Starters, Snacks and Light Bites section of the book.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Quinoa Burgers - Vegetarian food for carnivores !

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I grew up in an Ireland where vegetarian food was generally carnivore food minus the meat. Happily things have changed and I find myself drifting more and more towards meatless meals. 

I’ve been experimenting recently with quinoa burgers and made them for a family gathering so that my newly-vegetarian sister had an alternative to my mum’s gorgeous roast Wicklow lamb. Surprisingly, several carnivores opted for them too and nearly everyone was curious enough to at least taste them. (They were pretty 'meaty' after all and they did look rather tempting with their crunchy golden crust.)

Although I fried them gently in a little olive oil to get that gorgeous crust, you can also bake them – straight from the freezer – in the oven preheated to 180°C for about 25 minutes or until golden on the outside and piping hot in the middle.

For 8 – 12 carnivore-tempting Quinoa Burgers you will need…
350g freshly cooked Quinoa, cooled to room temperature
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
40g Parmesan, finely grated
40g feta, finely crumbled
40g spring onion, very finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
a little freshly ground black pepper

4 medium eggs, beaten

A little oil for frying – I prefer olive oil or sunflower oil for this.

Place the Quinoa in a large mixing bowl and add the breadcrumbs, the two cheeses, spring onions, garlic, salt and black pepper. Add the eggs and mix well until combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to cook.

Form the burgers by gently pressing approximately 90g of the mixture into a mould such as a 9cm scone cutter (or a small bowl lined with cling film) to form patties approximately 2cm thick, to make 8 burgers in total. If you don't have a metric weighing scales, or a suitable mould, simply divide the mixture into 8 roughly even portions and mould into patties using your hands.  You can make the burgers bigger or smaller as you like.

(You can freeze them at this point)*

Fry gently for about 6-8 minutes each side or until they have formed a golden brown crust. Serve with or without a decent bun, some interesting dressings, and salad.

*To freeze, place them on non-stick baking paper on a tray in one layer and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, put them into a suitable freezer bag and store frozen for up to a month. They can be cooked straight from frozen. Preheat the oven to about 180°C and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden on the outside and piping hot in the middle. You can also fry them from frozen.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Fresh and Smoked Salmon & Leek Pithiviers – a posh word for pie!

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Pithivier - a posh word for pie!

A self-catering break can be a real challenge for a cook. Blunt knives and bockety pans are par for the course on a hired narrow boat, canal barge or holiday cottage and the kid behind the counter of the local corner shop will look at you oddly if you ask for anything out of the ordinary… pesto for instance.

Funnily enough, rather than putting me off cooking, the quest to produce something delicious using the simplest of ingredients, the most basic of tools, and a minimum of effort shakes me out of a rut. It reminds me to cook the style of food that is close to my heart - easy, quick and tasty.

Pithiviers fit the bill – a Pithivier is a posh word for a little puff pastry pie, filled with a sweet or savoury filling. I’ve gone for a fresh and smoked salmon and leek filling. They are perfect for lunch or dinner, hot or cold, and a delight on a picnic.

Here I have used ready-prepared puff pastry. If you have the will and wherewithal to rustle up perfect puff pastry from scratch in self-catering, you are a better person than I am.

For 4 little pies of puff pastry perfection you will need…

For the filling…
40g butter
175g young leeks, finely shredded
2 tablespoons mascarpone
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
300g fresh salmon, diced into 1cm cubes
100g smoked salmon, shredded
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the shell…
A little plain flour for rolling out the pastry
450g all-butter puff pastry (ready-rolled is best if your kitchen utensils are limited)
1 egg beaten

First melt the butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the shredded leeks and stir until coated in the melted butter. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook gently without colouring for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Put the mascarpone, and the lemon juice and zest in a large mixing bowl and give it a quick whisk with a fork. Mix in the rest of the filling ingredients (including the leeks once they are completely cool) until coated in the mascarpone. Cover and refrigerate until needed.


Meanwhile on a work surface lightly dusted with flour, roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of a 1 euro coin - approximately 3mm. (If you are using ready rolled pastry just unfurl it.)

Cut out 4 circles approximately 12cm in diameter and 4 circles approximately 16cm in diameter. (The larger circles are the important ones from a presentation point of view so if you need to reroll any scraps to make up your circles use them for the smaller circles which will be underneath and hidden.) 


Divide the salmon mixture into 4 even portions and pile a portion in the centre of each of the smaller pastry circles, leaving a margin of about 2cm all the way around. Brush each margin with a little of the beaten egg. Cover each with a large pastry circle, pressing around the edges to ensure a good seal. Trim away any excess overlapping pastry to leave a neat edge. 


Using a small sharp knife make a small hole in the centre of each pie to let steam escape while they cook.  It is traditional to score the surface of each pie with semi-circular lines radiating out from the centre.


Refrigerate the Pithiviers until needed.

When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan). Place the pies on a non-stick baking tray or one lined with baking paper and brush with beaten egg before baking in the pre-heated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until risen and golden.


Serve hot or cold with a salad.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hot Cross Buns – and an Invitation to Commit Gluttony!

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Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. These ones will lead you into temptation. 

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...
Put the flour, salt, ground cinnamon, orange zest, dried yeast, olive oil, dried apricots and sultanas into a large bowl. 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!
This recipe was first published in April 2012 and is back by popular demand!
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