Wednesday, October 27, 2021

An Ode to Colcannon – from a Conscientious Objector to Cabbage!

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I’ve been having a bad week in my kitchen – you know the kind of week where nothing quite goes as expected. The worst was my attempt at making chocolate caramels. They turned out fine - dark, chewy, and very, very moreish. However in the process of getting the mixture up to temperature, I enamelled my favourite stainless steel saucepan. It has taken a week of inventiveness and ingenuity to remove the shiny black sugar coating from the metal. I believe I have invented a substance that NASA might want to consider for tiling the space shuttle.

Moving swiftly on... imagine it is a perfect Halloween evening – wild and stormy. There’s a log fire blazing and an open bottle of wine on the mantelpiece.

Traditional Irish Colcannon for Hallowe'en (though any excuse will do)

On the menu: corned beef with colcannon. The corned beef is a cinch to cook. Rinse it, weigh it and pop it in a pot just large enough to take it and a few ancillary vegetables. Add an onion and sprinkle in a large pinch of ground cloves. Bring it to the boil, then cover and turn the heat down to a gentle bubble, giving it 25 – 30 minutes per pound/half kilo.  The piece I’m cooking is 1.5kg or about 3lb and will take an hour and a half. I’ll fling a few carrots in to the pot about half an hour before the meat is finished cooking. Really, the meat is just an excuse to make its perfect partner – a dish of butter, peppery colcannon (cál ceannann).

As a conscientious objector to cabbage, I astound myself with my devotion to colcannon – which is essentially buttery mashed potato mixed with finely chopped curly kale (fancy cabbage, but cabbage all the same). Traditionally eaten at Halloween, I shamelessly sneak it into meals whenever I can find kale.

About fifteen minutes before the beef is finished cooking, prepare the colcannon.

 

For 4 people, you will need...

4 – 6 potatoes (I use Rooster – a good, floury potato)

50g Irish butter

110 mls hot milk

a large pinch sea salt

white pepper to taste

200g curly kale (or leafy green cabbage)

4 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped

An optional extra 50g butter to bury in the mash


Method

1    Peel the potatoes and cut into slice about ½ cm thick. Place in a saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to simmering, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes, or until the point of a knife easily pierces the potato slices.

2    While the potato is cooking, add the curly kale (or green cabbage) to another saucepan of boiling water with a teaspoon of salt. Cover and boil for about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and chop very finely.

3    When the potatoes are cooked, drain the water from the saucepan and leave the potatoes uncovered for a minute or so until most of the steam has evaporated. Add the butter and hot milk and, using a potato masher or a sturdy hand-held whisk, reduce the potato to a smooth mash. (Don’t be tempted to go mechanical as it overworks the potato and can result in an unpleasant gluey mess). Add salt and white pepper, mixing thoroughly. Taste and add further salt and pepper if necessary.

4    When you have prepared the basic mash, add in the curly kale or cabbage and chopped spring onions. Transfer to a warm serving dish with the optional extra 50g of butter cut into three pieces and buried deep in the fluffy mixture to melt into little pools of gold. 

(First published Oct 2010)

 

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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Valentine's Day 2021 - sharing is not really an option

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Looking back over previous  Generosity Day / Valentine's Day posts, I'm struck by the fact that all the sweet treats are for sharing - with your darling, with your friends and family, with your colleagues - not really an option for many people this year! 

You could make smaller portions and share a virtual sweet moment with your darling, friends and family, colleagues and send them the recipe so they can turn that virtual moment into a moment of deliciousness.

I'm reposting Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake; Sour Cherry Rocky Road, and 'Just Because...' cookies

I'm not sure which of these was my favourite... I think if I had to make a choice, it would be the Rocky Road (which is almost too delicious to share anyway!)

Stay safe

Mwah! x


Love is ... sharing your Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake


For me, love is in the every day things.  It’s in the whole-hearted, rib-cracking bear-hugs from my godson; in the slightly soggy, pre-licked crisps offered by my three-year-old niece when you know she really, really, really wants them herself (“Thanks honey, but you have them, I insist! No, really – I insist”.
I asked friends and family what love meant to them. It turns out, it isn't in the grand gestures. Love is... in having the washing up done for you; in getting a cup of tea... just the way you like it... brought to one’s boudoir. Love is in chocolate; in a tiny posy of primroses; in a bunch of daffodils (preferably not ones stolen from the local park); Love is in a ‘Thank you for feeding me’ lick from a four-legged friend (awwww - but don't be giving the dog chocolate now - it will probably wolf it down and then be sick as a ... dog... or worse); it's in a crayoned picture of you looking like a happy witch; in a warm hand that reaches for your cold hand; in sharing a bag of salty, vinegary chips; Love is in cupcakes, hot from the oven; in a hug, just when you need it; it seems that love happens in lots and lots of small ways, - funnily, many of them food-related. ... read on for recipe

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... (click on the post to chortle at the lumps and bumps that were happening that week). 

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. 
 ... read on for recipe



Love is bigger than just romantic love. It’s in the everyday things:  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. ... read on for recipe






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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Scotch Eggs ... a starter? a substantial meal? a red herring?

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Michael Gove, British MP, is dithering as to whether the Scotch egg constitutes a starter or a substantial meal. Unless you are trying desperately to wriggle around Covid-19 regulations to get to a pint, you won't really care as long as it is sensational.

Personally, I would consider it a starter or a snack. 

Making a substantial meal of it… well I am not sure. Perhaps if you used an ostrich egg…

What do you think: is a regular-sized hen's egg version a starter? a substantial meal? A ridiculous red herring?



Fortnum & Mason claim to have invented the Scotch egg, and have been selling it since 1738. However they may have been inspired by Nargisi kofta – a dish from the much earlier and more exotic setting of the Mogul Empire. Whatever their origins, Scotch Eggs were one of the few nice eggy things I got to cook at school and I have been addicted to them ever since. They are best consumed on the day they are made, otherwise the crust loses its crunchiness – and then, what’s the point?! These contain bacon to make them extra delicious and succulent. 

For 4 sensational Scotch eggs, you will need...
... a deep fat fryer

6 eggs (4 to boil, 2 to use in the coating)
400g good quality plain sausage meat

1 small onion, finely chopped
100g bacon lardons, (or rashers) finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp whole grain mustard (or strong Dijon / English mustard if you prefer)
60g flour
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little butter or sunflower oil for frying the onion and bacon
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Place 4 of the eggs in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 6 minutes (for a just-set egg - or longer if you prefer them done a bit more), then carefully drain away the boiling water and cover the eggs with cold water, changing it once as it becomes warm with the heat of the eggs. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onion in a little butter or sunflower oil until softened (about 12 minutes) and beginning to turn golden around the edges. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool completely. Next fry the bacon, and add to the cooling onion.


Bacon makes everything better
When the onion and bacon have cooled, place the meat, cumin, herbs, and mustard in a bowl and mix well – hands are best (I keep a box of disposable food-quality gloves handy for jobs like this). Divide the mixture into four equal portions – approximately 120g each if you want to weigh them out.



Shell the eggs – my preferred way is to crack the shell, then slip a teaspoon beneath the shell and carefully work it off.

Line up 3 bowls or shallow dishes (I find pie dishes are great for this job). Put the flour into the first dish with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. In the second dish, beat the remaining two eggs together with a pinch of salt. Tip the breadcrumbs into the third dish. Lay a sheet of cling film over a chopping board and place one of the sausage meat portions on top. Cover with another sheet of cling film, then either pat with your hands or roll with a rolling pin until the meat forms a patty big enough to wrap an egg. Repeat with the remaining portions of sausage meat until you have four more or less identical patties. This helps keep the blanket of sausage meat an even consistency.
Coax the meat around the egg, thinking Rugby! not football for the shape
Now, take one of the hard-boiled eggs, dust it with the seasoned flour, then place it in the centre of a patty. Encase the egg in the sausage meat, coaxing it around the egg until it covers it evenly. (Think rugby rather than football for the shape). Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Now begins the ‘sheep dip’ (Tip: If you use just one hand to do the dipping, it makes life a bit easier).
Flour...

Egg...

Breadcrumbs...
Dust the sausage-covered eggs with flour, drench them with beaten egg, then cover them with breadcrumbs, pressing gently to ensure maximum coverage. Return the breadcrumbed eggs to the egg bath, completely drenching them again, then return them to the breadcrumb dish, and once again, give them a generous coating, pressing gently to ensure maximum adherence. Every crumb you can manage to stick to the eggs is one more morsel of crunchiness.


Fill your deep fat fryer to the recommended level with sunflower oil. Heat the oil to 170°C and carefully add the eggs. Cook until deep golden brown (about 7 minutes), turning occasionally. Remove from the hot oil and rest them on kitchen towel for a few minutes before serving. Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.

Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.


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Monday, September 7, 2020

All-in-one Pita Bread – best supporting actor !

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Pita is as plain and simple as a fact of life or the bald-faced truth... There is just no embellishing it. It is a back-drop for better things; the base melody; the supporting actor. Unfortunately... when the back-drop is flawed, when the base melody is off key, when the supporting actor stinks, it is all too obvious.
I bought pita recently and it wasn’t Oscar-winning material by a long stretch. As well as the handful of ingredients essential to creating this simple bread, it contained a list of extras as long as your arm, all there to extend shelf-life.
If pita isn’t up to scratch, then it drags down the rest of the meal. However, when this pocket bread is good, it is a building block of snack perfection, the perfect party bread, the best supporting actor in a luscious portable lunch.
Warning: once you have tasted homemade pita bread, commercially-produced stuff will never be good enough ever again.

For 8 perfect pita pockets you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 225°C at step 3

350g plain flour
125g finely ground wholemeal flour
7g sachet of fast acting dried yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
280ml tepid water (35 - 38°C)              


1.      Place the first six ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and silky. To knead, fold the dough in half, then holding it in place with one hand, use the heel of the other hand to stretch the dough away from you, along the floured surface. Again fold it, rotate it about 1/8th of a turn and again press it away from you with the heel of your hand. Repeat, enjoying the yeasty scent and the silky feel of the dough as any woe or stress dissipates through your hands – bread-making is cheap therapy. (If, however, you have no woes, and possess a stand mixer with a dough-hook, 5 minutes in the machine will be sufficient.) Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cling film or a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
2.      Divide the dough into eight equal pieces, kneading each just long enough to shape it into a smooth ball. Flatten into a disk and leave to rise until again doubled in size and a finger poked into the dough leaves an indent (about an hour). If the dough springs back into shape, leave it to rise for a further half hour then test again.
3.      When you are ready to cook the bread, pre-heat the oven and boil a kettle of water. Place a baking dish on a lower shelf in the oven and carefully add some boiling water. This creates the perfect steamy atmosphere for this bread.
4.      While the oven is heating, roll out the dough disks into rounds about 3mm thick. Put 2 or 3 on a baking sheet and place in the hot oven. After about 3 minutes they will have puffed up impressively. Remove them from the oven before they’ve had a chance to turn golden (You can see I was so busy with my camera, I forgot that instruction myself and a few of them acquired a bit of a tan!) Cool on a wire rack. Cook the remaining breads.


My favourite way to use pita is to toast it then fill it with felafel and all the trimmings.
Yum!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

An Accidental Paella – the case for the defence ...

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While poor Jamie Oliver 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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Monday, August 24, 2020

Courgette Soup with Mint and Lemon – how to make a glut vanish !

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At some stage over what remains of the summer, a friend will drop in with a slightly desperate look in their eye. They will ask you how you are and there will be small talk as you wait for the kettle to boil. The friend will be clutching (but studiously ignoring) a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel and you’ll frown and wonder if they bring it everywhere with them.

Halfway through a pot of tea, the friend will suddenly ‘remember’ the mysterious parcel and casually mumble through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit crumbs:  Oh, by the way, I brought you some courgettes, fresh from my garden.” If you haven’t got a courgette plant churning out the little blighters almost by the minute, accept gratefully and make this light, summery soup. If you have got a courgette plant, you’ll almost certainly produce a newspaper-wrapped parcel of your own as the friend takes their leave…

The friend will be clutching a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel...


For 3-4 servings of light summery soup you will need

25g butter (or 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
500g courgettes, sliced
1 litre of well-flavoured chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh mint

Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and lemon zest and cook gently without colouring for 8 - 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the sliced courgettes, followed by the stock. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the courgette is soft.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add in the fresh mint and blend until you’ve turned the vegetables into a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

Serve it just as it is, or with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and/or a swirl of cream.



OK, that's 3 courgettes taken care of. Only another 7 to go...


...What’s your favourite recipe – savoury or sweet - for making a crop of courgettes vanish?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

White Chocolate and Cranberry Oatmeal Blondies – drizzle forecast ...

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I woke up this morning to a grey sky and a steady drizzle of rain. (If only Trump would share that trick that makes it stop raining on just him...) There is only one thing to shift me from this ill humour. Bring on the mood-enhancing white chocolate cranberry blondies...


These sweet treats are not quite as wicked as they sound. They contain oatmeal and dried fruit so that makes them practically breakfast. The recommended dosage for mood enhancement is two, with decent coffee.
The moggy isn't liking the rain either
For approximately 16 delicious ‘blondies’ you will need...
... to butter and base-line a 23cm square cake tin and to pre-heat your oven to 170°C
150g rolled oats (oatmeal flakes)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
100g butter
50g crunchy peanut butter
50g cream cheese
175g Demerara sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
75g dried cranberries

75g white chocolate for topping (optional)

Cranberries: "We're not just for Christmas you know!"
Method
First place the rolled oats and baking powder in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth ‘flour’.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar, beating the mixture until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Then mix in the oatmeal ‘flour’.
Finally, stir in the chopped white chocolate and cranberries. Mix until just combined.
Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes until evenly golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the remaining white chocolate and drizzle over or simply leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares.
These are good slightly warm but even better if left go completely cold, so that the chocolate solidifies back into chunks. They’ll keep for up to a week (yeah right!) if sealed in an airtight container or cling wrap.



My lazy woman’s way to melt chocolate: snap the chocolate into squares and place in a Ziploc bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Half-fill a 1 pint measuring jug with boiling water, then carefully place the sealed bag in the water making sure the chocolate is submerged. Leave for a couple of minutes until the chocolate has melted. Remove the bag from the water and pat dry. Snip off a small corner of the bag and gently squeeze the liquid chocolate over the blondies.

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