Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chocolate Truffle Frosting – it’s a meltdown!

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I’ll be brief. I’ve had a meltdown. Literally.
You see.... my sister gave me this enormous dark chocolate egg... and while I know it isn’t Easter for a few more hours, I cannot help myself. I am an instant gratification sort of girl.

Thumbs up for this meltdown!

This is what happened to that egg…
I smashed it to smithereens (love that word). Having measured 100g of chocolate smithereens into a bowl, I poured 100mls of boiling double cream over it and added a dash of vanilla extract. I stirred... and stirred... and stirred until the chocolate had melted into the cream, then popped it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours until it had set into what is essentially a chocolate truffle mixture.
Next, some "quality control" – it took several spoonfuls of quality control to be quite sure it was divine.
The delivery system of choice was some feather-light zesty lemon cupcakes. I piped the frosting with a Wilton 1M star nozzle. This was enough to cover 8 cupcakes – and probably more had I skipped the quality control stage ;-)
To decorate each cupcake, I pressed 3 mini eggs into the chocolate truffle frosting - as it’s Easter… almost.

Mmmmmmmmmm … nom nom  
Happy Easter everyone!
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Catherine’s Italian Kitchen – simple, but magical

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With my collection of recipes spanning seven centuries and five continents, I have finally run out of space for cookbooks. Any new cookbook entering the house means ruthlessly letting go of one that no longer earns its place: gone are Gary Rhodes, Michael Barry, Ken Hom and Nico Ladenis. Keith Floyd is teetering on the edge, poised to make room. A cookbook has to ‘bring to the table’ something that isn’t already on the shelf.

Reading the contents of Catherine Fulvio’s new book (sent to me by Gill & McMillan), Catherine’s Italian Kitchen, I am glad it is not a menu otherwise I would starve before I could narrow down the dishes to the bunch I would like to try first. This is my kind of food – all of it - simple, but magical.

If I were forced to choose, then I might start with the Marinated Aubergine with Goat’s Cheese and Herbs from the Antipasta, Starters and Salads section. This dish takes about 15 minutes to put together and would make a delicious starter or a light lunch. While that was cooking I would nibble on a variety of breadsticks – salt, cumin/poppy/sesame seed, or black pepper and rosemary.

I would have difficulty choosing the main, but would probably settle on a glorious fish dish – Sea Bass with Fennel and Garlic, or Seafood Skewers with Lemon, Almond and Rocket Couscous. There are plenty of robust flavours to choose from in a variety of sides.

Then, if I still had room, I’d plump for the Hazelnut and Orange Honey Tart or the Amaretto and Almond Truffle Torte or perhaps a homemade icecream.

The recipes use good, simple, easily obtained ingredients. The steps are short and clearly explained. The book is full of mouthwatering food photos by Hugh McElveen with a variety of ‘on location’ photos taken in Rome and Sicily by Rory McCabe adding local colour.

This cookbook will not be ousting one from the shelf for the simple reason that it will be joining Elizabeth, Julia, Delia and other selected favourites in my kitchen, and acquiring that unmistakable cook’s seal of approval – a patina of splatter and splashes from frequent use.

Catherine’s Italian Kitchen by Catherine Fulvio
Published by Gill & Macmillan
ISBN 978-0-7171-4806-6
List price €19.99

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Lipsmacking Blarney Kisses - Mwah!

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Sometimes a kiss will leave your heart pounding. Sometimes a kiss will leave your legs trembling. Sometimes a kiss will make your head spin. If all three sensations occur at once, and you begin to speak with unaccustomed expressiveness, there is only one possible explanation: you have just kissed the Stone of Eloquence (aka the Blarney Stone).

The experience goes something like this:
Stroll through beautiful blossom-filled gardens that line the approach to the 15th century tower.

Blarney Castle, Co. Cork
Next, climb the steep, narrow, shadowy spiral of stone that could loosely be described as a staircase - but could more believably pass for a curly ladder, with steps worn to a smooth shine by 500 years of history.

Don't look down!
By the time you have ascended 6 hair-raising flights, your heart is galloping and your legs are shaking – from exertion or from terror or both. Now all you have to do is lie on your back on the parapet and wriggle over the edge. Don't worry, a friendly Irishman will grab a hold, preventing you from falling to your death.
There follows an enormous backbend (lucky you took those ballet/yoga classes eh?) as you pucker up and slap a kiss on the legendary blue stone – which is embedded much further down the battlements than you originally thought. If your eyes aren’t squeezed shut with fright, you’ll get a fleeting view of the perfect green lawn 6 storeys below. Eeeek!

The stone from below, (just above the top window);            "Don't look down";

Before you have time to panic, you are helped to your feet. You did it! Wait a few moments and pretend to admire the astounding view while your heart rate returns to normal and your head stops spinning.
Now all you have to do is get back to ground level, via another terrifyingly whirly flight of stairs.

Here is my latest creation – the Blarney Kiss. It is a walnut shortbread, with a toffee/caramel embedded to represent the stone, and a white chocolate x on top for the kiss. Whimsical? Yes,  but be sure to pack a few of these when visiting the Stone of Eloquence. You'll be grateful for the sugar hit as you make your way back to the ground.

Have a kiss and a cuppa!
For approximately a dozen kisses you will pre-heat the oven to 170°C
175g butter, softened
80g caster sugar
200g plain flour
50g corn flour
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of fine table salt
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons iced water
approximately 12 soft toffees/caramels
75g white chocolate

1          Place the butter and sugar in a food mixer or a large bowl and mix together until fluffy and paler in colour.
2          Mix in the plain flour, corn flour, vanilla extract, salt, chopped walnuts and iced water and mix just until the ingredients come together in a ball.
Press a toffee 'stone' into the centre of each
3          Roll the ball of paste out on a floured surface to an oblong roughly 7mm / ¼ inch thick and using a knife dipped in flour, trim to a neat rectangle.
4          Cut the paste into rectangles large enough to frame the toffee/caramel which you are going to embed in the centre of each - making sure to push the toffee into the paste but not all the way through. Transfer to a non-stick (or lightly floured) baking sheet. Squash any off-cuts into a ball and re-roll.

5          Bake the cookies in the pre-heated oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until the biscuit is evenly golden and the toffee has melted.
6          Transfer to a cooling rack. When cold, melt the white chocolate and using a piping bag (or a freezer bag with a tiny corner snipped off) place an x (the kiss of course!) on top of this melt-in-the-mouth shortbread.

These are not sophisticated, but they are Mwah!
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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ginger-roasted Rhubarb Cake with Vanilla Crumble Topping – catch it while you can!

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A sheaf of plump rhubarb has sat pride of place on the kitchen table for the past week. The world is its oyster. It could be anything it wants to be...  but it is just sat there. It needs direction. Here are a few ideas as to what it might become...

The world is my oyster apparently ...
 A career as rhubarb fool would be fun and rather light-hearted, but it looks like serious rhubarb to me.
Perhaps a career as a crumble or a tart? A little too serious maybe - and besides tarts and crumbles are wintery food and look at that beautiful sunshiny day!
Well then, how about rhubarb and vanilla ice cream? Delightful, but it’s only April and while sunshiny, it’s hardly ice cream weather is it? Let’s save that one for another occasion.
I know! This sheaf of rhubarb has everything it takes to become a successful and delectable ginger-roasted rhubarb cake. Oh alright, I’ll throw in a vanilla crumble topping too.
For approximately 10 servings you will need...
Ginger-roasted rhubarb
300g rhubarb, cut into bite-sized pieces
75g Muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

Sugar and spice - ginger-roasted rhubarb
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
1          Combine all the ingredients in a shallow pie dish and bake for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven, stirring carefully once or twice during cooking so that the rhubarb is evenly coated in the syrup that is generated. When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the vanilla crumble topping.

Vanilla crumble topping
75g plain flour
75g rolled oats
50g Muscovado sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1          Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz in short bursts until roughly combined. Chill until ready to use. (The quantities given make about twice as much crumble topping as you’ll need for this cake but it freezes beautifully for next time.)
2         Next, make the cake batter.

Cake batter
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
175g caster sugar

100mls sunflower oil
50mls freshly squeezed orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten

a small knob of butter for greasing the tin

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C
1          Butter and baseline a 23cm (9 inch) sandwich tin.
2          In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, combine the first 4 ingredients.
3          In a measuring jug or batter bowl, combine the oil, orange juice, vanilla extract and eggs and add to the bowl of dry ingredients, mixing until well combined.
4          Pour half the batter into the prepared tin. Drain any excess syrup from the rhubarb (this is good spooned over ice cream) and scatter the cooled pieces on top of the batter, leaving a small margin around the edges. Spoon the remaining batter on top. Don’t be too fussy about covering up all the rhubarb as you'll be covering it with crumble.
 5         Scatter the crumble mix over the top and bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes or until well risen and golden on top. A cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.  

Catch me while you can!

This is really good served slightly warm, with a dollop of whipped cream, and is even better the following day when the flavours have had a chance to develop (but it rarely hangs round long enough for that to happen).

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Itsa Cookbook – worth crossing town for

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Domini and Peaches Kemp single-handedly (yeah there’s two of them but you know what I mean) introduced the bagel to the Irish masses back in 1999. I used to regularly race across town at lunchtime, over the Ha’penny Bridge to join the queue in the Epicurean Centre to get my bagel fix from their tiny gourmet bagel store - Itsa Bagel.

Rushing across Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge in pursuit of bagels
(sketch by Chris Warren    )

This is a great book to give a new cook. Open the first chapter – The Holy Grail of Basics – for the be all and end all of how to cook great steak and roast chicken. Throughout the book, there are influences from a variety of cuisines – Asian (Beef rendang, Pork and lettuce parcels) Spanish (Chickpea, sweet potato and chorizo stew), Middle East (Quinoa and pomegranate salad), South Africa (Babotie) and good old-fashioned Irish home cooking.

Itsa worth crossing town for

There are plenty of vegetarian dishes that I’ve marked ‘MUST TRY’ – such as the St Tola goat’s cheese and thyme soufflĂ© and the Broad bean hummus. The food is styled by Orla Neligan and beautifully photographed by Joanne Murphy.
Gill & McMillan gave me a copy but I would happily cross town to add a copy to my collection.
Itsa Cookbook by Domini Kemp
Published by Gill & Macmillan
ISBN 978-0-7171-4742-7
List price €19.99
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