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.

Method
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



Method
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.

Mix...

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.) 


Pile...

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. 


Trim...


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.


Score...


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.


Share...

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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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Guinness Chocolate Cake – a piece of this is your only man!

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In true Irish style, Paddy's 'Day' 2016 is set to last 3 days. If you happen to be in Dublin, check out what's on and remember to knock up a quick batch of Guinness Chocolate Cake to keep your energy levels up.




When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -
A pint of plain is your only man.
(The Workman’s Friend, Brian O’Nolan)
You’ll often see visitors to Dublin with what I call “Guinness face”, poised over a glass of the black stuff, feeling that they must taste the local brew but reluctant to put their lips near something that looks like it might have been scooped from the nearby Liffey.
If you are a Guinness virgin, wait until you are in Ireland to try this beverage. Although there shouldn’t be, there is a world of difference between the flat bitter stuff I’ve been served in bars in the UK or the States and a creamy mellow jar of the stuff in its native land.
Among the many pubs that pull a decent pint of Guinness are: Johnnie Fox’s in the Dublin mountains; Kehoe’s, just off Grafton Street; Davy Byrnes, also just off Grafton Street and a stopping point for James Joyce fans; and one of my favourites, The Stag’s Head, (just off Dame Street) a tavern almost as old as Guinness, and probably as close as you’ll get to a proper traditional Irish pub -  not a shamrock or leprechaun in sight.

If you are unable to make it to the Emerald Isle to paint the town green on Paddy's Day, well then, a piece of this rich dark Guinness Chocolate Cake is your only man. 

For one tray bake (15 generous pieces) or 8 mini cakes you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160
°C
Cake Batter

300g Muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar)
280g plain flour
40g cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
250mls sunflower oil (or other flavourless cooking oil)
250mls Guinness (or other stout)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1                    Lightly butter and base-line an 18cm x 26cm (9” x 13”) baking tin.
2                    In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
3                    Place the oil, Guinness, beaten eggs and vanilla extract together in a large jug and whisk to combine.
4                    Gradually add the oil mixture to the flour mixture, stirring together with a whisk until no dry mixture remains.
5                    Transfer the mixture to the baking tin and place in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes until well risen. To check if it is done, lightly press the surface of the cake with your finger. If it springs back it’s done. If a small indent remains continue cooking for a further 5 minutes then test again. Alternatively, poke a cocktail stick into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean (i.e. no damp batter clinging to it, it’s done). Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
6                    While the cake is cooling, make the frosting.  

Cream Cheese Frosting
100g full fat cream cheese
50g butter, at room temperature (i.e. soft)
350g icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Guinness
½ teaspoon vanilla extract 

7       In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until combined. Add one-third of the icing sugar and slowly beat until smoothly blended. Add in the rest of the icing sugar, the Guinness and the vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy. This will take about 3 minutes.  Transfer to the cake using a spatula, or pipe in generous swirls. 

Note:  For the mini cakes shown in the photos, I carefully removed the cooled cake from the tin and stamped out 8 mini cakes using a 6cm (3”) round cutter before piping on swirls of frosting. The scraps of cake can be used for trifle or cake pops.
Sorry Brian, sometimes a cup of tea is your only man!

First published in 2012
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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rebooting Sour Cherry Rocky Road - the Silver Lining!

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It's not Valentine's Day anymore. It has been rebooted as Generosity Day - it's the day you make Sour Cherry Rocky Road, cut it into bite-sized bits, and take it to wherever there are people you love (or simply like).



Sometimes ...  often  ... ok ... practically all the time, life doesn’t go according to plan. The road ahead usually has a few lumps and bumps lurking, ready to trip us up as soon as we cast our attention elsewhere...
... Like last month: I dropped my ice cream maker (my priceless €1 machine – maker of strawberry and rose petal ice cream); totalled my food processor (Note to self: remove the sheath from the blade before attempting to use the machine); and annihilated my electric whisk – don’t ask!  
... Like last week, when my sister Catherine made pizza from scratch... It took a detour on the way to the oven and belly-flopped onto her cat... the bad-tempered one... with the six-inch claws and the kleptomaniac tendencies (cat, not sister!). I foresee a shredded sofa and further apologies to the neighbours as the evil creature wanders home with yet another gold trinket clenched in its teeth...
... Like this morning, when a daydreaming commuter – yay, not me for a change - scurried onto an escalator clearly marked OUT OF ORDER - and stood there with an expression of utter bewilderment as he went nowhere fast and hundreds of cackling commuters sailed past him on the one that was actually working...
The good news is that life’s little wrinkles can often work out for the best. Most lumps and bumps can have a silver lining... like when I drop my heavy cookery notebook on my foot (bump, lump) and a little scrap of cardboard falls out. It’s my sister Veronica’s incredible Rocky Road recipe (silver lining).
In general I HATE marshmallow, I HATE desiccated coconut, and I’m not particularly fond of milk chocolate either. However when these ingredients get together with crunchy salty nuts and chewy sour cherries and go skinny dipping in dark chocolate, magic happens. I will happily eat this version by the kilo – leading to further lumps and bumps if indulged too often.  

Here is Veronica's original recipe...
When simple ingredients go skinny dipping in melted chocolate, magic happens!

This translates as...
300g milk chocolate (decent stuff, not cooking chocolate)
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
90g mini marshmallows (or large marshmallows, snipped into pieces with a scissors)
80g white chocolate, roughly chopped
80g dried sour cherries (dried cranberries are good too)
75g salted jumbo peanuts
75g salted almonds
50g desiccated coconut, toasted* 

1                    First, line the base of a 30cm x 20cm baking tin with baking parchment.
2                    Then, break the milk chocolate and dark chocolate into pieces and place together in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of barely simmering water (the base of the bowl mustn’t touch the water or the chocolate can turn grainy). Stir occasionally until melted.
3                    Add the rest of the ingredients to the melted chocolate and stir until everything is well coated. Transfer to the baking tin and leave to cool. When the chocolate is set, remove from the tin and cut into pieces - bitesized or boulders – that bit is up to you.
* I toasted the coconut in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. This task only takes a few minutes but requires a close eye because as soon as you look away, the coconut will burn in an instant.
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

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.


Pancakes ready to party!

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