Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness – and Wild Mushroom Soup

Pin It Once upon a time, I went on a Mushroom forage at Avondale, the home of Charles Stewart Parnell, “uncrowned king” of Ireland for anyone who is interested in history. That I am alive to tell the tale is down to the fact that my colourful haul with its minks and mauves and sulphur yellows was confiscated and labelled beautiful... but deadly!

Wild mushrooms... captured!

"I've never trusted toadstools."

- Cheshire Cat

Our guide - a mycological ‘Ray Mears’ - told us that there are around 3,000 types of mushrooms in Europe - or was it 30,000? Either way, it was a bewildering array but the job of making identifications is relatively easy as there are only 30 or so that are good to eat, the rest being inedible or downright poisonous. I unerring selected the downright poisonous. You can catch the full story, broadcast on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany. My bit starts exactly a minute into the clip.

One of the ‘mushroomiest’ mushrooms to eat is the porcini (aka cep, or penny bun) and it is the star of this rich autumnal soup. You’ll be glad to know that I did my foraging at the supermarket. Given my level of foraging expertise, it is much safer that way.

For 4 to 6 servings you will need:
10g (½ oz) dried porcini mushrooms
150mls boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, peeled and finely chopped
500mls (1 pint) chicken/vegetable stock
250g (8oz) button mushrooms, thinly sliced
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) plain flour
500 mls (1 pint) fresh milk
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper

1    First, rehydrate the porcini mushrooms by placing them in a measuring jug with the boiling water and leave to soak for 15 minutes. This also allows any grit to settle at the bottom of the liquid.
2    While the porcini are soaking, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat and add in the onion and celery. Cover and cook gently without colouring for 5 minutes or so until the vegetables have softened.
3    Remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and chop finely. Strain the soaking liquid through a sieve into the saucepan, catching any grit in the sieve. Add the porcini mushrooms, button mushrooms and stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4    Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add in the flour and stir until it forms a paste. Continue cooking and stirring over a medium heat for a minute or so, then remove from the heat. Now, add in the milk a little at a time, stirring rapidly with a wooden spoon. It will almost certainly look a little lumpy. Don’t worry we’ll sort that out in a moment. When you have added about half the milk, swap the spoon for a whisk and add the remaining milk.
5    Return the saucepan to the heat and use the whisk to stir any floury lumps back into the liquid. Now add the cooking liquid from the vegetables and mushrooms and continue cooking (and stirring) until the liquid starts to bubble gently. Turn down the heat and add in about three-quarters of the mushrooms and softened vegetables, along with the Worcestershire Sauce. Simmer gently for 2 minutes, then blend the soup. A stick blender is perfect for this job.
6    Finally, add in the remaining mushrooms and vegetables and the fresh parsley. Taste, and add salt and black pepper if needed.

Gilding the lily...When you’ve dished up the soup, pour a little fresh cream into the centre of each bowl, sprinkling with a little more parsley (or chives if you prefer).
If you prefer a smoother soup, blend all the mushrooms and vegetables at step 5.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Double Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies – so much nicer than ‘Porridge a la Nutella’

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Double choc means one is never enough
Throughout her ‘terrible twos’ (and threes) my littlest niece has done battle at the dinner table to defend her right to reject among many other items: carrots (too orange), peas (too green), onions (just yucky). I wondered what on earth to feed her on a recent sleep over at my house – Porridge a la Nutella being the fall-back position, and one of her favourite meals.
Before dinner, I gave her the very important role of Blackberry-Picking Bucket Holder, a duty she carried out with due diligence for about an hour before declaring herself “absolutely exhausted and starving”. I tentatively fed her spaghetti and meatballs – which she promptly buried under an inch of parmesan, purely for the novelty of sprinkling spoonfuls of the cheese ‘snow’ and watching it fall and melt into the tomato sauce. I waited for the “I-don’t-like-this” refrain, but she tucked in, devoured her meal, then licked the plate clean. A break-through? I don’t think so - she rejected the fresh honey apple scones and homemade bramble jelly I made for breakfast in favour of her porridge/Nutella combo.
Still, since then she makes a point of telling me how much she enjoyed the spaghetti and meatballs, and asks when can she come stay at my “restaurant” again. Cute!
Her Nutella addiction is the inspiration behind these gorgeous chewy chocolate-y cookies – so much nicer than ‘Porridge a la Nutella’.

Such simple ingredients just waiting ...

For 18 chewy cookies you will need: 
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
Cookie dough

50g softened butter
110g (4oz) sugar
50g (2oz) Nutella
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g (6oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Secret centre
50g (2oz) icing sugar, sieved
50g (2oz) Nutella

Chocolate topping
50g dark/milk chocolate, melted
50g white chocolate, melted

1    Make the cookie dough: In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and Nutella until the mixture comes together in a smooth paste. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, mixing until combined. Combine together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda and add to the butter mixture. Mix together to form a smooth dough. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and quickly roll between the palms of your hands to shape into 18 ping-pong-sized balls. Leave to one side covered with cling-film.
2    Make the secret centres: put the Nutella into a medium mixing bowl and add the icing sugar bit by bit, mixing it into the Nutella with a wooden spoon. When combined, divide the Nutella mixture into 18 small balls, one for each cookie dough ball.
3    With your thumb, make a dip in the centre of each cookie dough ball and place a Nutella ball into each one. Close the chocolate dough over to conceal the Nutella centre and reshape the cookie into a ball.
4    Divide the dough balls between two baking sheet, leaving a gap of about 4cm between cookies so that they have room to expand. Flatten each cookie slightly – the base of a water glass is perfect - before putting into the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until the surface begins to pull apart slightly. When cooked, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
5    When cooled, drizzle with melted dark or milk chocolate and melted white chocolate.

... to become magical cookies


Instead of making the Nutella centre, push a square of soft fudge into the centre of the chocolate cookie dough and seal it well.

To make an easy chocolate piping bag, pop the chocolate in a small freezer bag and dangle it in hot water. When the chocolate has melted, dry the bag and snip off a tiny corner to allow the chocolate to be squeezed out in a thin drizzle.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

When Life Gives You Sausages, Make Sausage Rolls

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Sausage rolls - when they are good, they are very, very good... 
A couple of years ago, I was on my way to South Ann’s Street Post Office to mail an entry form for a competition. I was only about a hundred metres from my destination when I was stopped in my tracks by an almighty bang as a delivery lorry backed into one of the beautifully decorative street lamps.

The cast metal pole shattered on impact. The entire structure keeled over like a felled tree and I could feel the breeze as the whole weight of it whistled past about a metre from my face. Luckier still, it buried its massive lantern in a huge municipal flowerpot, which cushioned the impact and absorbed the glass as it shattered into smithereens. The driver leaned out the window, asked “Alright luv?”, and drove off at speed when he could see that he hadn’t flattened me. I think a whole lot of my good fortune was used up in one go as an astonishingly lucky streak came to an end for a couple of years.
I seem to be back on form now though. I entered a competition recently with a very attractive top prize of €3,000. All you had to do was come up with an idea for a new sausage to commemorate 30 years of stunningly good sausages from Irish supermarket, Superquinn. I came up with the all-in-one breakfast sausage, containing three important components of the legendary Full Irish Breakfast: black pudding, white pudding, and of course excellent sausage meat.
Can you believe it? I was the lucky winner of ... a year’s supply of sausages. Well when life gives you sausages, make sausage rolls.

For 12 delicious rolls you will need
... to pre-heat the oven to 180°C when you reach step 4

165g (5oz) plain flour
a pinch of salt
75g (3oz) butter, from the fridge
75mls (3 fl oz) iced water

A small bowl of cold water for sealing the pastry

Egg wash
A little beaten egg mixed with a pinch of salt

12 good-quality pork sausages (chipolatas)
6 slices of air dried ham such as Prosciutto, Serano or Bayonne

Ready to rock and roll...
1    First make the pastry: put the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and grate in the butter. Rub the fat into the flour by lifting large pinches of the mixture and rub quickly between your thumbs and fingertips fingers, letting the mixture fall back into the bowl. You want to end up with a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs. (This can be done in a flash using a food processor or food mixer if you prefer, and in fact can give better results as warm hands can melt the fat resulting in a tough pastry.)
2.   Add the water a little at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball, leaving the sides of the bowl clean. Flatten the ball of pastry into a flat disc and wrap in clingfilm or a ziplock bag and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes while you make the filling.
3    Meanwhile prepare the filling: Cut each slice of ham into 2 long strips and wrap a strip around each sausage. Place in the fridge until the pastry has been chilled.
4.   When the pastry has been in the fridge for 30 minutes, place it on a lightly floured work surface and using a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle about the width of 3 sausages laid end to end, about 40cm in length and about 3mm thick - roughly the thickness of a euro coin. Now cut the pastry into 3 long even strips. Divide each of the strips into 4 equal pieces.
The Fall collection for the well dressed sausage...
5.   Taking one pastry piece, place a ham-wrapped sausage on the end nearest you, about 4cm from the edge of the pastry. Fold the nearest edge over the sausage and moisten the along the top with a little cold water. Roll the pastry over the sausage to enclose it and transfer to a non-stick baking tray, with the pastry join underneath. Repeat until you have used up all the sausages.
6.   Brush with beaten egg. Using a sharp knife, slash two or three diagonal cuts into the top of each roll.
7.   Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before serving.

Leave the backing paper on the air dried ham and use a scissors to cut it into strips. Peel the backing paper off before wrapping the sausage in the ham.
If you like, you can freeze the sausage rolls once they have been assembled but before you have egg-washed them. When you want to use them, simple pre-heat the oven. Place the frozen sausage rolls on a baking tray and proceed from Step 6

For bite sized sausage rolls, cut each into 2 pieces before baking.
Replace the short-crust with a good-quality all-butter frozen puff pastry. Remove it from the freezer about 30 minutes before you need it.
Spread a ½ teaspoon of good quality tomato chutney underneath each sausage before enclosing in the pastry for a little added zing.
That’s a dozen sausages taken care of. Now for the other 820 ... anyone any bright ideas?
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bewitching Bramble Jelly – and the art of (competitive) blackberry picking

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Bewitching Bramble Jelly

Blackberry picking is a very meditative activity. To select the perfect berry, you must concentrate fully on your task. If the berry refuses to be parted from its stalk, then it is probably not yet fully ripe. If the berry tickles away too easily from its thorny anchor, it is probably ‘gone over’.  A berry that yields to a gentle tug is usually just right. Round 2 of the selection process can then follow.

Pick a dry day to gather blackberries...

Turn the berry so you can see its ‘belly-button’ – the white bit that is freshly exposed when you pluck it from the plant (evidently I was snoozing during the biology class that covered plant anatomy). If it is discoloured, or has obvious signs of insect activity, discard and pluck the next purpley-black jewel. Eat the sweetest juiciest ones – purely for quality control purposes, you understand – and take a moment to enjoy the sunshine on your face and the white noise of a million hidden insects, all a humming, and a buzzing and a chirruping.
Choose only the sweetest, juiciest ones...
In all this peace and quiet, I hear my husband yelp every so often as he impales himself on yet another thorny cane and I hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of berries spilling rapidly into his bucket. Is he really ...? Could he seriously...? Can he possibly be... trying to out-pick me? Surely not! Competitive blackberry picking makes just about as much sense as competitive yoga. Ommmmmmmm.
We go back to the house with full buckets for the weigh-in. There are 60 grams in the difference.
“I win!” he crows.
‘Oh do you now!’ I think as I watch him dab antiseptic on a dozen scratches and begin the process of thorn extraction. ‘Ommmmmmmm.’
The question is: What to do with this bounty... pie or jam/jelly? Today, jam/jelly wins. This is a short-lived preserve so don’t be tempted to make large quantities and don’t save it for a rainy day.

Spread on toast, pancakes, sponge cakes and anything else
that can be improved by a little purple-black gold

For about 3 jars of bewitching bramble jelly - depending on size - you will need...
500g ripe blackberries, washed
500g caster sugar
1 lemon
200mls water

A sugar thermometer– if you are likely to make jams and jellies on a regular basis, this is a great investment and usually relatively cheap to buy on the internet.

Sterilised glass jars – I run mine through the dishwasher but you could wash them and pop them in the oven at 100°C (212°F) for a few minutes.

First, place the berries and the water in a thick-based saucepan over a low heat. Cut strips of peel from the lemon (yellow part only) and add to the berries. Add the juice from the lemon, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and stew gently for about 15 minutes.

Next, mash the berries – a potato masher is ideal. Don’t be tempted to use a stick blender here as crushing the seeds can upset the balance of acids and affect the gelling process.

Keeping the heat low, add the sugar, letting it dissolve into the sweet-scented juice. (If someone could make a perfume that smells like this, I’d buy.)

When the sugar has dissolved into the mixture, turn up the heat and pop the sugar thermometer into the saucepan. When the temperature comes up to Jam (106°C or 222°F), keep it there for 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little for about 5 minutes then remove and discard the lemon peel. For Jam, that’s it - it’s ready now - Alchemy performed. For Jelly, rub the mixture through a sieve to remove all the pips.

Transfer (carefully) to hot, sterilised glass jars. Seal and keep in a cool place for up to 3 weeks.
Note: As an edible gift, these garner big brownie points.

p.s. The bread pictured in the main photo is the Patchwork Party Bread from Alchemy -  Simple Ingredients… Magical Food

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