Sunday, March 17, 2019

Colcannon Jacket Potatoes - Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit !

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Cál Ceannann - more than the sum of its parts

At my sister’s wedding last summer, the Casey Clan had the absolutely pleasure of meeting the family and friends of her beloved. They had travelled all the way from Canada to celebrate the occasion, and to enjoy a relatively well-behaved Ireland, weather-wise.

At the feast, I noticed one of the guests tentatively poke the cnoc of carbs on his plate. It was flecked with green and spilling pools of golden butter. He aimed a forkful at his mouth and tasted it suspiciously ... and then his eyes rolled, and his face melted alarmingly into a range of emotions that shifted too quickly for me to read.

What! Is! This! Stuff!, he gasped.

You don’t like it? I enquired, somewhat anxiously.

Oh! My! God! It’s! Ah! Mazing!

It was Cál Ceannann - Colcannon - one of those simple little dishes that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Here it is, with its jacket on, because March winds can be a little chilly!

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit !

Not so green as I'm cabbage-looking!

For 2 Colcannon Jacket Potatoes (which will serve 4 as a side, or 2 as a snack or lunch), you will need…

2 large baking potatoes
a little fine salt for coating

100g kale, or other frilly cabbage

25g Irish butter
1 large spring onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and white pepper to taste

50g Irish cheddar, finely grated

Irish Cheddar - grate!

Preheat your oven to 200°C

First scrub the potatoes to remove any earth, and remove any blemishes with the tip of a sharp knife. Stab about 8 times with a fork. Shake some fine salt into the palm of your hand and massage over the damp skin of the potatoes. Place in the preheated oven directly on the oven rack (or suspended on a rack over a baking tray) and bake for about 45 mins or until cooked and soft all the way through. 

Meanwhile, cook the kale (or cabbage) in boiling salted water for 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat, drain into a colander. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out any excess water with your hands, then chop very finely.

Check the potatoes after 45 minutes by piercing them with a skewer. It should easily pierce the potatoes all the way through. If not, then give them another few minutes and check again. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cut in two length-ways.

Using a teaspoon, scoop the flesh of the potatoes into a heatproof bowl, leaving behind the potato shell and about 1cm of potato flesh so that it forms a little bowl.

The food of the gods...

Mash the hot potato with the rest of the ingredients, except for the cheddar. When well mixed, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Pile into the potato shells. Sprinkle with the cheddar (you may have to pack it into place) and return to the oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheddar has melted and the potatoes are hot through.

... just got better!


Other Paddy’s Day dishes you might like:

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

Falafel – little green Patties on Paddy’s Day

‘Irish’ Eggs – Green, White and Gold for Paddy’s Day ! (And yes, I know it's really orange, not gold!) 

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

“Big Apple” Cheesecake – I can resist everything except temptation!

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Warning: You will want second helpings!

There was an old-fashioned sweetshop across the road from my school. On a shelf behind the counter stood a row of large glass jars filled with cola cubes, pear drops, black and white striped bulls eyes. My favourites by far were apple drops. I was powerless to walk past that shop without being lured in to exchange my pocket money for a paper bag of these sugar jewels.
I have grown up. I can resist apple drops. My guilty pleasure is cheesecake - but it must be WTC (you know what that means by now). One that definitely falls into the WTC category is this 'Big Apple' cheesecake.
I fool myself into thinking my 'Big Apple' cheesecake isn't quite as naughty as it appears because it has real fruit smoothie as an ingredient. I've used Innocent’s ‘kiwis, apples and limes’ smoothie because it is the apple-iest smoothie I’ve encountered.* “Innocent” it may be, but it would cause angels to hang up their halos!

Bourbon Biscuits... destined for a better future!

For 1 'Big Apple'  cheesecake (about 10 slices) you will need...
Chocolate Crumb Base
75g butter
200g bourbon biscuits, crushed (you could use Oreos)

1         First make the base: Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Then, add in the crushed bourbon biscuits, mixing well until all the butter has been absorbed. Empty the biscuit mixture into a loose-bottomed 21cm (8”) round cake tin and press gently into an even layer. Leave to cool.

Chocolately crumbs - the best sort!
1 X 125g packet lime jelly/Jell-O (sufficient for 1 pint of jelly or Jell-O)
100mls boiling water
Approximately 150mls of Innocent ‘kiwis, apples and limes’ smoothie (or other apple-y smoothie)
350g full fat cream cheese
100g caster sugar
150mls fresh cream

2         For the filling, cut the jelly into squares and place in a 500ml (1 pint) measuring jug. Add the boiling water and leave the jelly to melt, stirring occasionally. When the jelly has melted, add in just enough smoothie to bring the liquid up to the 250ml mark (you may have a little left over - that's for you to drink). Leave to cool, until the liquid becomes syrupy and nearly set.
3         Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth – an electric mixer is best for this job. Add in the cooled almost-set jelly, whisking continuously. Then whisk in the fresh cream. It will be alarmingly liquid at this stage but continue whisking for a minute or two and the mixture will begin to thicken slightly.
4         Pour over the cooled biscuit base and smooth the top.
5         Leave to set in the fridge making sure it is level otherwise you’re going to have a lopsided cheesecake and people will point and laugh.

I’ve decorated this with white and dark chocolate shapes (made by scribbling with melted chocolate on baking parchment laid over a printout of the desired shape) – I have sprinkled some of the white chocolate shapes with crushed apple drops for an even bigger apple flavour.

*This isn't an ad for Innocent. I did not receive any compensation for the mention.
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Monday, July 30, 2018

Avocado Nayo* – Vegan Alioli

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(*Nayo, not Mayo)

Some people remember where they were when Elvis died, or when John Lennon was shot. I remember the first time certain flavours hit my tastebuds. The first time I tasted creamy garlicky alioli - for instance - was on an almost deserted beach in Ibiza about a million years ago. I wasn’t too sure exactly what it was, but I wasn't leaving without the recipe.

After several decades of alioli addiction, I have stored a few kilos of it on my hips and along my arteries. It is time to look for a substitute. Swapping creamy ripe Avocado for the raw egg in a classic alioli makes a more than passable Nayo (nayo = not mayo). It is green (not necessarily a downside), and it lasts for about 4 days in the fridge (again, not necessarily a downside, as you’ll have to consume it relatively fresh). And, surprisingly, it doesn’t taste much of avocado.

I tend to make it in smallish batches because of its shelf life. Use it with anything you’d use alioli for. You’ll need a food processor or similar for this. The recipe is easily doubled... or trebled... or quadrupled... (you might want to cut down on the garlic a little when multiplying up though)

For about 250g of creamy, green, not very avocado-tasting Nayo, you will need…

The flesh of 1 large ripe avocado
3 tablespoons of light oil (such as sunflower, hemp, walnut)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon strong Dijon mustard (obviously Dijon has no place in a classic alioli but I love the layer of flavor and the tiny bit of heat it adds)
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt

Blitz the avocado flesh in a food processor (or similar). Add the rest of the ingredients and blitz until smooth and creamy and all the ingredients are combined. Cover, excluding as much air as possible, and keep refrigerated until needed. Will keep for up to 4 days in the fridge but best used sooner.

Coleslaw with 'Nayo' - 'I'm not so green as I"m cabbage looking'

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Watermelon, Feta & Herb Salad - more a reminder than a recipe!

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This is usually what I want on a hot day when I don’t know what I want. It’s super pretty and equally tasty.

Less a recipe, more of a reminder - it’s sweet, juicy, salty, fresh, and downright delicious. I’ll leave the quantities up to you. This is best prepared just before eating. It doesn’t like to hang about.

For a refreshing summery salad you will need:

  • Watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
  • Spring onion (scallion) finely chopped
  • Mint and/or Basil, finely shredded
  • a pinch of Maldon salt flakes (or similar)
  • a drizzle of good olive oil

When you are ready to eat, place the watermelon in a serving bowl. Scatter with cubed or crumbled Feta cheese. Sprinkle over the finely chopped spring onion, followed by the herbs. Sprinkle with a little salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Eat.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

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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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Falafel – little green Patties on Paddy’s Day

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Patty or Paddy? Paddy or Patty? On Irish soil, it will always be Paddy but the Americans can call him what they like. New research points to the first St Patrick’s Day celebrations being held in Florida in 1600 and the first parade apparently took place there a year later. Boston followed suit in 1737 and New York a tardy 25 years later. Ireland didn’t get in on the act until 1903 with the first parade in Waterford. Dublin joined in in 1931.

Patrick’s real name is thought to have been Maewyn Succat and he is believed to have been from either Scotland or Wales, son of a Roman-British army official. But Happy St. Maewyn Succat’s Day doesn’t have the same ring to it so I’m sticking with Paddy and you can say Patty if that floats your boat.

Food-wise, I’m breaking with tradition this year and skipping the corned beef and colcannon and making ... er... chickpea patties - well Falafel is green enough to be Irish on March 17.

(You could have Guinness Chocolate Cake for afters...)

For about 30 ... erm... patties ... you will need...

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (for about 10 hours) - no shortcuts here - tinned chickpeas just won't cut the mustard in this recipe.
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fine table salt
2 tablespoons gram flour (chickpea flour)* 
4 spring onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaf
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

*You can substitute regular wheat flour but obviously they stop being gluten-free

Sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the pre-soaked chickpeas, drain and roll in a clean tea towel or some kitchen paper to remove as much moisture as possible. Blitz in batches in a food processor until you have a uniformly crumbly mix - you are not looking for hummus. 

Toast the cumin and coriander seed along with the black peppercorns in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they smell toasted – anything up to 5 minutes. Immediately remove and transfer out of the pan into a bowl otherwise they will carry on toasting. When cool, crush the spices (in a spice grinder, with a pestle and mortar - whatever you normally crush your spices with).

A bit finer than this please, chef!

Add these along with the remaining ingredients to the final batch of chickpeas and blitz until smooth. Mix in the rest of the blitzed chickpeas until evenly combined. You are looking for a couscous-like texture.

If you have a falafel scoop, use that to make little patties. Otherwise, dampen your hands and take walnut-sized scoops of mixture, roll them into a ball and flatten slightly.

Heat oil in a deep fat fryer to 180°C. Pop the falafel in one at a time, careful not to overcrowd the fryer or you’ll lower the temperature and end up with oily falafel. Fry until these little green pucks have taken on a golden hue – 3 – 5 minutes depending on size. Turn out into a dish lined with kitchen paper.

I serve them as follows:

Smear a flatbread with hummus. Add finely shredded iceberg lettuce, finely chopped tomatocucumbershredded spring onion, and a squirt each of garlic dressing and Sriracha sauce. Squash in 3 to 5 freshly cooked falafel. Fold in the sides, then roll tightly and enjoy as you watch the parade (or the Ireland v England match) wherever you are.

Pita does equally well.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

‘Just because...’ cookies - and Valentine's Day rebooted !

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If you listen hard you will hear the unromantic din of cash registers chi-chinging all over the world. That’s the sound of big business cashing in on the scurry to live up to romantic expectations - your own, or someone else’s - on February 14th.
Valentine’s Day is quite possibly the least romantic day of the year. If you are someone’s special someone, hopefully you’ll already know it - and show it - in a thousand tiny ways throughout the year. You will be least in need of a day of ersatz romance.
Love is bigger than just romantic love. It’s in the everyday things: in the sticky pre-licked sweet my tiniest niece presses into my hand when I know she really, really, really wants it for herself; it’s in the email/card/text/call that says between the lines “Hey, I was thinking of you”. It’s in making the dinner/walking the dog/cleaning the bathroom/rescuing the laundry from a sudden rain shower without having to be asked. It’s in accepting the irritating imperfections right along with the good qualities that are so much easier to love, whether you are family, friend, or lover.
Since 2011, there has been a move to ‘reboot’ Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day; to make it less ‘cosy couples’ and more egalitarian. At first glance, this smacks of an ‘everyone-gets-a-medal’ race, but why not!  Generosity Day is an opportunity to practice random acts of, well, generosity. It is a day for giving rather than taking.
I’m celebrating February 14th (whatever you want to call it) with my fully customisable ‘Just because...’ cookies. I don’t need any excuse to make them. They can be ... Just because... I wanted to say thanks. Just because... you make me smile... Just because... sometimes you can read my mind. Just because... well... just because!

For 40 - 50  ‘Just because...’ cookies (depending on size) you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
200g butter (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
250g plain flour
50g cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
a small pinch of fine table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon of boiling water 

To decorate you will need chocolate and sprinkles. I’m not going to be too prescriptive about this bit of the recipe – this is the ‘pimp my cookie’ bit, where you get to customise these cookies for those lucky people who are loved by you, but I’ll tell you what I did. 

1.                  First make the cookies - Place the butter, icing sugar and orange zest in a mixing bowl or stand mixer and beat together until fluffy and lighter in colour.
2.                  Mix together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add to the butter mixture about a third at a time, beating until well combined. Finally, add the egg yolk and dissolved coffee and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball.
3.                  Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 3mm. Using cookie cutters, cut into shapes – I’ve chosen hearts in a variety of sizes. Any leftovers can be squashed into a ball and re-rolled.
4.                  Place on a baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking tray for about 3 minutes before transferring carefully to a cooling rack. When completely cold, decorate as desired.

Here’s what I did: 

5.                  I melted 100g of good quality white chocolate in a small Ziploc freezer bag by removing all the air, sealing it and putting it in a bowl of hot water. In another Ziploc bag, I placed 50g good quality dark chocolate together with 50g good quality milk chocolate and melted it in the bowl of hot water. This gives a subtle two-tone, two-flavour effect.
6.                  While the chocolate was melting, I prepared a variety of sprinkles: chopped dried sour cherries, chopped dried apricots, chopped toasted hazelnuts, Maldon sea salt crystals. Use your imagination - the world is your sprinkle :)
7.                 When the chocolate had melted, I snipped a tiny corner off each bag, drizzling chocolate directly onto the cookies.
8.                  While the chocolate was still melted I sprinkled my chosen toppings onto the cookies.  

Just because... you deserve a treat!

When the cookies have completely set, make yourself a cuppa and taste-test a couple of these treats before packaging them prettily and distributing them to your loved ones, just because... 

Just because... you are salt of the earth!

Just because... xxx
First published 13 February 2013
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