Thursday, December 29, 2011

Omelette with Croutons – unsophisticated, but unashamedly delicious!

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What an egg-citing omelette!

We had a magically multiplying turkey this Christmas. It fed 19 people and there was still some left. It made sandwiches and delicious turkey soup and there was still some left. Great slices of it were wrapped and given away and there was still some left. Much as I love turkey, there comes a point when it’s enough already!

After all the rich food of Christmas, anyone who makes me the simple treat of a fried egg sandwich gets huge brownie points. It must be on squishy white bread – and lightly cooked so that, when cut, the yolk oozes out and soaks into the bread – sigh…

Another unsophisticated egg/bread combination that I love is this omelette stuffed with croutons. Plain or cheesy, I love both versions.

For an omelette to feed one, you will need…

1 slice bread, crusts removed, cut into 1cm cubes
25g butter, melted

For the cheesy version, you’ll need
25g Gruyere, grated or 25g blue cheese, crumbled
¼ teaspoon fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 160˚C
1.                  To make the croutons, toss the bread cubes in the melted butter. If making the cheesy version, add the cheese and thyme, turning the bread cubes until coated in the mixture. Spread the cubes out on a shallow baking tray and bake in the preheated oven until golden – about 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 80˚C to keep them warm while you make the omelette.

2 fresh eggs
a pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

25g butter

Have a warm plate ready as the omelette takes only a minute to cook and it’s a major culinary sin to put an omelette onto a cold plate.

2.                  Melt the butter in a small frying pan over a medium/high heat.
3.                  While the butter is melting, break the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt and pepper, and whisk lightly with a fork until the yolk is just combined with the white of the egg.
4.                  When the butter is melted and the pan is hot, pour in the egg mixture and let it spread across the base of the pan. Shake the pan back and forth over the heat so that the egg doesn’t stick and burn. When the egg has mostly set and the surface of the omelette is creamy, sprinkle the hot croutons down the centre of the omelette in a line covering roughly about 1/3 of the surface.
5.                  Using a spatula or fish slice, gently fold 1/3 of the omelette over the croutons, as if you were starting to fold a letter. Then tilt the pan so that the unfolded portion of the omelette slides onto the heated plate. Gently roll the rest of the omelette head-over-heels onto the plate to cover the unfolded portion, enclosing the filling completely.

Unashamedly unsophisticated (but utterly delicious!)

Eat immediately with a green salad while you wonder what to do with the rest of the never-ending turkey.


Speaking of which, any turkey tips?
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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dilleasc Bread – wet ankles optional!

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A little slice of heaven...

If you want to watch Europe’s last sunset splash down in the Atlantic every evening simply book a ticket to Achill on Ireland’s West coast. The play of light in the skies is breathtaking as the weather shifts minute by minute.

Watch Europe's last sunset about to splash down in the Atlantic

Achill is the place for edible seaweeds and you’ll see bags of Carrageen Moss and Dilleasc for sale throughout the island. Just don’t make the mistake of telling the locals that you actually paid good money for the stuff.  There is an ancient saying directed at such rash behaviour. It goes something like “Hahahahahahha – what sort of a big eeeeejit are ya!” Apparently the proper way to acquire seaweed is to “hitch up your skirts” and get your ankles wet. Brrrrr. Way! Too! Cold!

Dried dilleasc - stone age crisps from Achill

I bought dilleasc (dulse) which is widely available throughout the world. Dilleasc has been eaten as a salty snack since ancient times. It contains beta carotene , a natural antiviral, and is an excellent vegetarian source of B12 and Iron. If you are not in a position to hitch up your skirts and harvest it from the shore with your own fair hands, you can usually buy it dried.
For dilleasc crisps, spread the dried seaweed out on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes at 180°C, until crunchy. Better still, whizz some of baked seaweed in a food processor with some coarse sea salt for a condiment with a peculiarly addictive savouriness.

Sprinkle on a taste of the sea...

I made a dilleasc yeast bread to go with smoked salmon. It tastes of the sea and is wonderful with chowder yet not too savoury to be made into toast and drizzled with honey.

For a 2lb loaf you will need...
250g strong white (bread) flour
60g wholemeal flour
70g oatmeal
1 teaspoon fine table salt
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
250mls fresh milk at room temperature
80mls water at room temperature 
1 cup loosely packed dilleasc (dulse)

Preheat the oven to 200°C at step 4
1.               Mix together the first six ingredients. Then, add in the sugar, milk and water stirring until there is no dry flour left and the mixture comes together in a soft sticky dough. Cover and place in a warm, draft-free spot for between 12 and 18 hours. It should smell beery and be full of bubbles and doubled in size.
2.               Meanwhile, soak the dilleasc in fresh cold water. After about 20 minutes it will be soft. Rinse, squeeze out any excess water, and finely chop.
3.               Sprinkle the chopped dilleasc onto the risen dough. Then, holding the bowl in one hand, use the other, lightly floured, to mix just long enough to distribute the dilleasc throughout the dough. The dough will deflate alarmingly – it’s supposed to. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured 2lb loaf tin. Cover loosely with oiled cling film and leave to rise again for between 1 and 2 hours in a warm, draft-free place, until almost doubled in size.
4.               Pre-heat the oven to 220°C and put a deep baking dish on the bottom shelf. Carefully pour boiling water from the kettle to a depth of about 2cm. It will evaporate as the loaf bakes, creating a crispy crust.
5.               Bake the loaf for 30 minutes or until risen and golden brown. Turn it out of the tin and check that the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If not, pop it back in the oven for a further 5 minutes (without the tin) then test again.
If you make the dilleasc condiment I mentioned earlier, you could sprinkle a little over the top before baking.
Note: I’ve adapted my recipe to Jim Lahey’s ‘no knead’ slow fermentation method because it uses less yeast than the usual quick rise.  
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pastéis de Nata - Portuguese for "my day has just gotten better"!

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Pastéis de Nata - Portuguese for "my day has just gotten better"!
This week, I paid a visit to the Christmas fair lining the river banks in the lovely town of Westport, Co. Mayo. Even if I hadn’t read the signs, my nose could have found it, such were the gorgeous aromas coming from the hot food stalls. My tastebuds were mugged by a hotdog stand with a range of interesting sausages on offer – for me it had to be the lamb and rosemary sausage – my compliments to Kelly’s of Newport – delicious! I nearly cried when a passerby jogged my arm and the last bite ended up on the ground - the last bite is the best bit :(

Yum, those cupcakes look fairy, fairy delicious!
There were more cupcakes than you could shake a stick at – some simple, some with little personalities of their own. I was very tempted to have these for dessert but I’d been to Sinead Lambert and Jose Barroso's Sol Rio café in Bridge Street once before and needed one of their hot chocolates. Ok, the hot chocolate was just an excuse – the real reason was that I had developed an instant addiction to their famous Pastéis de Nata – creamy Portuguese custard tarts in a puff pastry that manages to be crisp and chewy at the same time – and it was time for another hit.

Sol Rio - a friendly welcome and great food - and don't just take my word for it,
they've a gazillion plaques on the wall, underscoring their foodie credentials
 Amy, our lovely waitress, promised me the recipe and it duly arrived in my inbox. I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing the recipe for the domestic cook and adding the traditional method of moulding the pastry shell.

For 12 highly addictive Pastéis de Nata you will need...
Puff Pastry
500g cream flour
250mls water                   
pinch of salt                    
500g butter, softened and divided into 4 equal portions

1.         To make the puff pastry: In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the flour, water and salt until it comes together in a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.
2.         Spread one portion of softened butter over the pastry, leaving a margin about a finger’s width all round. Fold the bottom third of the pastry in towards the centre, then fold the remaining third in to make a neat parcel. Brush off any excess flour and give the pastry a quarter turn. 
3.         Repeat step 2 until you have used up all the butter, making sure that every time you give the pastry a quarter turn that you are going in the same direction – helps give maximum rise.
4.         Once you have incorporated all the butter, refrigerate the pastry while you make the filling.

Custard Filling
250mls cream
zest of half a lemon – in strips rather than grated  
160g caster sugar
25g butter
25g corn flour
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg

5.         To make the filling: place the cream and the lemon zest a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil.
6.         Meanwhile place the sugar, butter and corn flour in a heatproof mixing bowl.
7.         When the cream has come to the boil, strain it into the mixing bowl, stirring to combine the ingredients. Turn the heat right down and transfer the mixture back into the saucepan.
8.         In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with the whole egg. Slowly add half the cream mixture to the eggs, whisking all the time (warning: if you add the cold eggs to the hot cream you’ll get sweet scrambled eggs - bleagh!).
9.         When you have combined approximately half the hot cream with the eggs, add this mixture to the remaining hot cream, whisking until well combined. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Refrigerate until ready to assemble and cook the Pastéis.

Sunrise in pastry form...
Pastéis de Nata

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

10.       To assemble the Pastéis: remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out into a rectangle about ½cm thick (¼ inch) thick.  With the long side nearest you, roll the pastry into a tight sausage. Using a sharp non-serrated knife, cut into 12 even slices and place, cut side down, in a 12-hole muffin tin (no need to butter the tin – the pastry has enough fat to stop it sticking). Using your thumbs, press the pastry out to line the tin, starting in the middle and working it up the sides. The pastry should be slightly thicker at the top.
11.       Fill with the cooled custard mixture, leaving a gap of about 1cm (½ inch) at the top. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until a nice golden brown on top. Decorate with icing sugar or cinnamon. Finally, make sure to invite people over or you will probably end up scoffing the lot yourself!
Ooops... couldn't resist!

Disclosure: I paid for every morsel I consumed in Sol Rio and I received no incentive to share this recipe, other than the fact that they are utterly delicious and you need to try them for yourself.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Soupe Bonne Femme – a pot of gold!

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Liquid gold...

This week, the weather has been perishing (is that a uniquely Irish expression?). Every few minutes the windows are rattled by the machinegun fire of yet another shower of hail. Between hail showers, a rainbow appears, in the same spot, every day. My own personal rainbow! It is very camera shy. In the time it takes me to remove the lens cap, the gorgeous arc of light has disappeared to make way for the next hail shower.
Today I was determined, and lay in wait, camera at the ready. I got my photo but was absolutely frozen by the time I had captured the image.  You know that leprechauns bury their gold at the end of the rainbow, don’t you? Now I have a record of where to dig!

You know that leprechauns bury their gold at the end of the rainbow, don’t you?

Soup is the best way to reheat a frozen body. In the vegetable basket was one solitary carrot, a head of celery, a skinny leek and some tatties. In the fridge was a jug of chicken stock from yesterday's roast. They may sound meagre, but these simple ingredients make a magical soup called Soupe Bonne Femme – Good Wife Soup. Perhaps, once upon a time, the measure of a good wife was being able to make something pretty wonderful from almost nothing. This is a soup of endless variation – feel free to add rice, pasta, onions – but make sure to use good quality chicken stock if you want a pot of liquid gold.
Simple ingredients, magical food

For 4 generous servings you will need…
50g butter
1 carrot, sliced
1 leek, finely sliced
1 stick celery, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium potatoes (tennis-ball sized), diced
800mls good-quality chicken stock
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

1.         Melt the butter over a low heat and add the prepared vegetables. Stir to coat with the melted butter, then cover with a lid and continue cooking gently for ten minutes. You want the vegetables to soften without colouring.
2.         Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently with the lid on for 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper only if needed. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve with good bread.

Right, I'm off to find that leprechaun's gold - wish me luck!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Uachtair Nollaig – the Ultimate Christmas Cream Cake!

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Uachtair Nollaig - it's a piece of cake!

The first Domestic Goddess, Hannah Glasse, is often credited with the famous recipe that begins ... First, catch your hare. That’s how I feel about Christmas cakes... First, bake in September, then bathe in whiskey for 3 months. Doh! Missed that boat again!

Never mind. Although my mother makes an amazing traditional fruit cake with marzipan and royal icing, it's good to have an alternative for those who prefer something a little lighter. My recipe uses simple ingredients to create a magical no-bake Christmas cake: cream, chocolate, booze and biscuits. I’ve called it Uachtair Nollaig – that’s Irish for Christmas Cream.

It’s delightfully retro – based on the ice box cake of 50s America – and it combines 3 gorgeous flavours that really spell Christmas for me, chocolate, orange and ginger. It is simple enough to get the kids involved. Oh, and I’m warning you now, you will want to lick the spoon, and the bowl, and the whisk.

Warning! Lickability rating: extremely high!

For 10-12 servings you will need...
150g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped or grated
500mls Avonmore Double Cream, well chilled
250g cream cheese
60g icing sugar, sifted
50mls Cointreau / Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
150g Ginger Snaps, crushed
100g Bourbon Creams (or other chocolate cookie) crushed

You’ll need an 18cm (7”) loose-bottomed or spring-form cake tin, about 7cm (3”) deep. You’ll also need a pinch of imagination to decorate. I’ve used chocolate fingers and chocolate flakes.

Decorate with imagination, or chocolate fingers!

1                  Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Place 200mls of the double cream in a saucepan and heat until just bubbling at the edges. Pour onto the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream. Leave to cool.
2                  When the chocolate and cream mixture has cooled, add the cream cheese, icing sugar, liqueur and orange zest and whisk until thick and smooth.  (An electric whisk  or stand mixer is best for this).Then add the remaining 300mls of double cream and continue whisking until the cream forms stiff peaks when you lift the whisk out. Take care at this stage not to over-whip the mixture or you’ll end up with chocolate butter!
3                  Sprinkle about 1/3 of the ginger snap crumbs over the base of the tin. Cover with a layer of cream. Next add half the chocolate cookie crumbs in a layer, followed by another layer of cream. Continue with another 1/3 of ginger snap crumbs, another layer of cream, the remaining chocolate cookie crumbs, another layer of cream, the remaining ginger snap crumbs and finish with a layer of cream. Smooth the top. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. It will set solid enough to cut into slices.
4                  Carefully run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the tin. Remove and decorate as desired. For the cake shown, I pressed chocolate fingers to the side and sprinkled with chocolate flakes.
Easy to make, even easier to eat...

Ah, sometimes the simple things in life are the best! Pin It

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crainquebille Potatoes – a tummy hug like no other!

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Crainquebille Potatoes - a saucy little side
We are turning our culinary backs on the potato. In Ireland and the UK, pasta and rice are replacing the spud as the national carbohydrates. Some of the reasons offered are “too much work”,can’t do a whole lot with them”, “the family don’t like ‘em

Too much work... Depending on the dish you choose, potatoes can be very quick or take hours to cook, but often the actual preparation time is minutes.

Can’t do a whole lot with them... Oh Ye of Limited Imagination!

The family don’t like ‘em... Related to the two reasons above. If you can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes preparing them and have absolutely no imagination beyond mash, mash and more mash, the family are probably sick to death of ‘em.
Potatoes can give you a tummy hug that you just cannot get from other carbs. Smooth, buttery mash is the ultimate comfort food but what a range of dishes you can make! Tartiflette... Tortilla Española  ... Patatas Bravas... Boxty... Pandy... the most amazing chocolate cakes, bars and truffles...  chips... Pommes Anna... Gratin Dauphinoise... Boulangère... I must have at least a thousand potato recipes on my shelves.

Crainquebille Potatoes are a side dish I love to serve with roasts and while the Gruyère topping is non-traditional, I think it adds to the dish.
Potatoes are social vegetables - often seen in the company of garlic, herbs and other party vegetables
For 6 servings you will need...

50g butter
2 onions (each the size of a tennis ball) roughly chopped
500g potatoes (prepared weight), diced into 2cm cubes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
250mls good quality chicken stock

100g fresh breadcrumbs
50g Gruyère cheese, grated

Potoates, tomatoes, herbs, crunchy breadcrumbs, melted cheese = tummy hug

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C
1                 Melt the butter in a medium sauce over a medium heat and add the chopped onions. Cook without colouring for about 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
2                 Add the diced potatoes, herbs, garlic and chopped tomatoes, salt and black pepper and stir until well combined. Transfer to an oven proof dish, approximately 21cm x 21cm (8½” x 8½”) and 6cm (2½”) deep. Add the stock. It should barely cover the potatoes.
3                 Transfer to the preheated oven and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes. Then, turn down the heat to 180°C and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork.
4                 Remove from the oven and sprinkle with an even layer of breadcrumbs. Finally, sprinkle with Gruyère and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Mmmmmmm.

If like me, you love potatoes, here are two more of my favourite potato recipes...
"In a moment of madness brought on by a rare glimpse of blue sky and sunshine, I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. The water was wild and breathtakingly cold, so when I say “swimming” I really mean a vigorous flailing of limbs in the direction of the shore, the main purpose of which was to avoid being swept out of the gorgeous little bay, next stop America.

There is only one dish to help the post-swim thawing process – a dish well known to skiers – and one which caused me a little anxiety - Tartiflette.

‘Patatas Bravas’ with Garlic Mayonnaise – Aioli! Ole!

“Growing potatoes couldn't be easier. Pop seed potato in ground, cover with earth, and forget for several months. ..Today, I am going to celebrate the crop Spanish–style, with Patatas Bravas, a tapas dish I first tasted in Barcelona. Crispy potato chunks are topped with a ‘fierce’ tomato sauce and a cool aioli (garlic mayo) on the side. It is traditional to have a chilled glass of wine or beer ready to quench the chilli heat.” Pin It

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Irish Coffee Mousse - Worth the Caffeine!

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Phew - it was just a dream! Now, Irish Coffee Mousse is a proper pick-me-up!

I’d been sent some Really Good Organic Coffee from Café de Cuba to sample. I don’t often drink coffee – remember the coffee-grinds-on-the-ceiling incident?  So when I drink coffee, it has to be WTC* – Worth The Caffeine. This was WTC, and the hint of vanilla and chocolate got me thinking about dessert in general, and coffee desserts in particular. The obvious coffee dessert is tiramisu - cue wibble wobble flashback sequence...

Years ago I had a friend who would sometimes mind my house when my beloved and I went on holiday. His specialty was an incredible tiramisu. He always made an enormous bowl of the stuff to welcome us home. I liked tiramisu but after the ninth helping it was more of a ‘put-me-down’ than a ‘pick-me-up’. You really can have too much of a good thing. Groan. Eventually, we had to confess that we donated his tiramisu to more appreciative diners.
Ok, we're back in the present day. It was all a bad dream.
So not tiramisu then. Something light... Something easy... Something that wouldn’t involve a trip to the market. Coffee and walnut... ? Done that. Irish coffee... ? Too early in the morning to be quaffing Irish coffee. But the idea had potential...

My mother makes a gorgeous fruit mousse. Drop the fruit, add some strong coffee, a little white chocolate to emphasise the vanilla, a shot of Irish whiskey, a swirl of cream on top... Irish Coffee Mousse. Sigh!

Drop the fruit, add some strong coffee, white chocolate, a shot of Irish Whiskey ...

For 4 - 6 servings you will need...
200mls evaporated milk, chilled (place in the freezer for an hour-and-a-half)
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
100mls strong coffee (I used 40g Really Good Organic Coffee grounds for this amount)
4 leaves of gelatine and a little cold water to sponge
50mls Irish whiskey
100g white chocolate, grated

Whipped cream to decorate

1                 Brew the strong coffee and place in a measuring jug along with the whiskey. Meanwhile, sponge the gelatine by placing it in a bowl and covering it with cold water. After a few minutes it will soften. Remove from the bowl and squeeze any excess moisture out of the gelatine. Place it in the hot coffee and stir until completely dissolved. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. You are looking for the moment when the mixture starts to thicken to a syrup-like consistency as it starts to gel. If you add the coffee mixture before this stage, you'll end up with coffee pannacotta, which is not the texture we're going for.
2                 Whisk the chilled evaporated milk with the brown sugar until it thickens and forms soft peaks when you lift out the whisk.
3                 As soon as the coffee mixture starts to gel, whisk it into the evaporated milk until combined, light and fluffy. Divide the grated chocolate between pretty glasses or coffee cups and top with the mousse and a swirl of cream. This amount makes 4 large portions or 6 more dainty portions.
You could use a cream liqueur in place of the whiskey if you prefer. You could also use decaf and replace the whiskey with an extra 50mls of coffee and a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you prefer a more innocent dessert. I've also made this with low-fat evaporated milk for an even more guilt-free experience.

Café de Cuba has also introduced a decaf, and Cha - a range of organic teas from the Himalayas. I've tried Spring Mint (organic green tea and mint) and Golden Mango and was pleasantly surprised.
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