Friday, July 29, 2011

Mocha Walnut Cupcakes – Made with Magic Beans!

Pin It It is not every day you get to meet a man who sells magic beans. Unlike Jack (of beanstalk fame) I wasn’t taking my cow to market. I was waiting to be interviewed on the Morning Show on East Coast FM, when Stephen McCabe walked in, bringing with him a delicious aroma of freshly-roasted coffee beans.

Let them eat cake!

We got chatting and it turns out that Stephen is master roaster at McCabe’s Hand-Roasted Coffee. He had just been awarded two gold stars for his espresso – McCabe’s Classic Italian Blend – this year’s top Great Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Foods. This is an outstanding achievement by any stretch, but given they are a small family firm, up against some of the giants in the industry, it is doubly impressive. These are magic beans indeed. 
Dark chocolate coffee cake with a swirl of espresso frosting... about to do a disappearing act !

Stephen’s success has inspired these Mocha Walnut Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting. I am, of course, using his magic coffee beans.

For 12 large cupcakes you will need...

150g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
50g dark Muscovado sugar (or any dark brown sugar)
3 eggs
125g plain flour
25g cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of double-strength espresso, cooled (or 1 teaspoon decent instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water, then cooled)

Pre-heat your fan oven to 160°C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake papers

1                   In a mixing bowl, beat the butter together with the sugars until smoothly blended. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well between additions.
2                    Sprinkle in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda and continue beating until these dry ingredients are incorporated into the mixture.
3                   Add the cooled strong coffee and the vanilla essence and mix until incorporated.
4                   Divide the mixture between the 12 cupcake papers and transfer to the preheated oven.
5                   Bake for 18 – 20 minutes or until risen and evenly golden.
6                   Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Leave to cool completely adding the frosting.

For the Espresso Buttercream Frosting you will need...
150g butter, softened
300g icing sugar
1 tablespoon of double-strength espresso, cooled (or 1 teaspoon decent instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water, then cooled)

1                   In a mixing bowl, slowly beat the butter together with one-third of the icing sugar until smoothly blended. Add in the rest of the icing sugar and the cooled coffee and continue beating until light and fluffy. I usually set a timer for 5 minutes to ensure gorgeous light frosting.  Transfer to the frosting delivery system cupcakes using a spatula, or pipe in generous swirls and top with toasted walnuts – the perfect complement to an excellent coffee.

We're full of (magic) beans!

I’m lucky enough to live near several of the many coffee shops that sell their coffees and McCabe’s have an online shop if you live further afield. Pin It

Monday, July 25, 2011

Smoked Bacon and Mushroom Chowder – Fuel for Dancing at the Crossroads

Pin It Summer arrived on Saturday – for one performance only.  The clouds of the past few weeks gave way to blue sky. The temperature nudged 20°C . It was perfect timing.  

Smoked Bacon and Mushroom Chowder - a 'souper' food

Cabinteely village was closed to traffic and a dance floor was erected in the street. Several local restaurants had set up stalls, with paella and meatballs from Las Tapas, and a range of Thai food from Pattaya. The Horse and Hound pub was five deep at the bar – almost unheard of since the smoking ban. The scene was set for the revival of an old custom - dancing at the crossroads – a tradition prohibited by the party pooping Public Dance Halls Act of 1935.
Hey! This is my airspace!

This community occasion would have been miserable in the rain. As it was, the temperature dropped to a chilly 10°C as the evening wore on. Dancing would have kept me warm but I had worn ridiculous shoes (a recurring theme) and I had to rely on this chowder to heat me up when I got home.  

For 6 - 8 servings you will need...
750g mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
10g dried porcini (optional) processed to a fine powder in a food processor
500mls chicken/vegetable stock
25g butter
150g onion, finely chopped
125g smoked bacon lardons
500mls milk
50g butter
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
A little extra chopped parsley for sprinkling over the top

1                    Put the sliced mushrooms (and dried porcini if using) in a medium saucepan and add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
2                    Meanwhile, melt 25g of butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and the smoked bacon lardons. Cook gently until the onion is soft and translucent. Transfer to a bowl.
3                    To the same large saucepan, add the milk, the remaining 50g of butter and the flour and stir with a whisk over a medium heat until thickened into a creamy sauce and starting to bubble – about 5 minutes. Strain the stock from the mushrooms into the creamy sauce. Add about 1/3 of the sliced mushrooms, then finely chop the remaining mushrooms and add them too. Finally, add the bacon and onion, along with salt, pepper, thyme and chopped parsley. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4                    Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve with a generous sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley.
This is even better next day, when the flavours have had a chance to develop further.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Herb-hugging John Dory with Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc – Guest Post with Jill Colonna of Mad About Macarons

Pin It Oh you are in for a treat! I am thrilled to introduce my first guest blogger, the delightful Jill Colonna from Mad About Macarons. I’m a huge fan of Jill’s and was flattered to be asked to guest on the legendary Le Blog recently. I’m very honoured to introduce her to you today.

Jill is a Scots lass, now living in Paris with husband Antoine and their two gorgeous girls. Jill's blog is always a delight. She makes me laugh with her celtic wit and her insights into Paris and the French. One of my favourite posts was Jill teaching her girls to forage wild nettles for pesto – and scaring the locals in the process. They have become expert foragers and need no assistance gathering wild strawberries – funny that!
As well as being the author of Mad About Macarons, the book and Le Blog, Jill is a very talented musician. There is an Irish connection with her music too – Jill once played flute for the legendary Sir James Galway!
Please imagine some appropriate music to accompany you on your journey with Jill – first to the Paris fish market to collect your ingredients, then onward to Jill’s kitchen to prepare this mouthwatering dish.

Jill Colonna – Mad About Macarons
I can't tell you how much I was excited when Hester asked me to guest post on Alchemy in the Kitchen. I adore Hester's blog, as she has such a knack of enchanting us with her fabulous dishes that have all been given her touch of magical creativity.
Don't you also love Hester's sense of humour? I particularly love getting to the main photograph, when she injects her Irish wit with wonderful one-liners such as: "does my bun look big in this?" and "Well, I did tell you that drizzle was forecast". Speaking of drizzle, that is something else we both have in common apart from food. Being Irish and Scots lasses, we certainly know what it's like to be prepared for northern summers: a typical blustery June day could start T-shirtingly sunny and end with a Damartingly snow flurry. Oh, and we also chat a lot.

What on earth was I going to pick as a recipe? Time for some inspiration.

Give me a sign!
The signs were all there. First this one - St Peter Street- looked down on me as my keys dropped to the ground. Was I heading for the Pearly Gates to say b-b-b-onjour?
Thankfully to my relief, the sign appeared again a few minutes later at the local market in St Germain-en-Laye. Saint Pierre - or John Dory - was laid out beautifully chez le poissonier. Taking it as the real sign, it was high time to do something with this gorgeously thick fish fillet.

I'll take that one please!

I couldn't just fry it and shove it on a plate with lemon and parsley. No. This was for Alchemy in the Kitchen, so it needed some transformation with some simple ingredients, as Hester puts it so well.
I found a French recipe by chef Vincent David but simplified it. The result? I want to make it again for my French guests. Sounds très posh? It's so simple and delicious. The topping is referred to as à la viennoise. It's when you coat it with breadcrumbs and fry it. Here, the topping is added at the last minute and quickly finished off under the grill.

A dish that would seduce a saint!

Herb-hugging John Dory with Smoked Tea Beurre Blanc

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Serves 4
4 John Dory fillets
100g butter
100g breadcrumbs
100g block of parmesan, freshly grated
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme

Scots lass creates a stir with ... seaweed!
1                    Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the breadcrumbs, parmesan and garlic. Here I added a tablespoon of dried seaweed (found in Asian supermarkets) but you can add freshly chopped herbs if you prefer.
2                    Spread the mixture out on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
3                    Top with another baking parchment sheet and roll it out until it's flat and even (about 3mm thickness). Place in the fridge to set.

A short but brilliant career à la viennoise - it's what every crumb aspires to!

50g shallots
50cl dry white wine
50cl single cream
100g butter
1 Lapsang Souchong teabag

Clockwise from top left: Sweat the shallots; add the cream; whisk in the butter; strain the sauce

4                    Using some of the butter, sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes until translucent (don't brown). Add the wine and leave on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until reduced by half.
5                    Add the cream and stir until boiling. Take off the heat, whisk in the rest of the butter until it melts then add the teabag and leave the tea to infuse for about 10 minutes.
6                    Meanwhile, prepare some vegetables of your choice. Here I cooked some green beans, added some fried mushrooms and sautéed them together with a touch of lemon juice.
7                    Filter the sauce into another saucepan and keep on a low heat.
Clockwise from top left: fry gently; cut the topping; layer the topping on the fish; OMG!
8                    Season the fish fillets and fry in some olive oil and butter gently until just cooked; no more than 5 minutes, depending on thickness.
9                    The viennoise topping is now ready to cut.
10               Place the fish in a roasting tin, layer the topping on top of it and melt it under the grill for a couple of minutes.
11               Serve on a bed of vegetables and surround with the sauce and enjoy with a chilled glass of white Burgundy.

Santé!   Slàinte!

Thanks Jill. I can’t think of a better fate for breadcrumbs than to become à la viennoise in this stunning dish.

Please head on over to visit Jill at Mad About Macarons and select one of her magical macarons for dessert! Remember to say Hi from me.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Yaki Gyoza – exceptionally good for the human soul

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From the first moment I tasted Yaki Gyoza, I was addicted. The pan-fried crust of the dumpling wrapper... the succulent filling... the simple dipping sauce, it was love at first bite.

Yaki Gyoza - Japanese for Utterly Delicious

While Gyoza is the Japanese name, these little dumplings are thought to have originated in China more than a thousand years ago, with the first mention in literature describing them as “being exceptionally good for the human soul”.

Living in the depths of beautiful County Wicklow presents a major hindrance to my Gyoza addiction – I live in the-middle-of-nowhere. Well, in the-middle-of-nowhere-near-an-Asian-restaurant-that-serves-these-divine-morsels.

To avoid complete withdrawal, I’ve created a gyoza package – wrappers, filling, sauce – from scratch. I’ve chosen a pork filling. You could use any meat or fish, create a vegetarian version, or even fill them with fresh fruit and deep-fry them for a dessert version.

A haiku: Yaki Gyoza / Also known as potstickers /Always delicious

For approximately 30 dumplings you will need...
Gyoza Wrappers
200g plain flour
75g corn flour
½ teaspoon salt
165 mls boiling water (approximately)

1                 Place the plain flour, corn flour and salt in a stand mixer, with a dough hook*. Slowly add the boiling water, mixing all the time. Keep adding the water and mixing until there is no dry mixture left and the ingredients come together in a soft smooth ball. You may not need all the water, or you may need a little more – it depends on the weather and on the flour you are using. Continue mixing for a further 5 minutes. (*You can mix this with chopsticks, then knead by hand for 5 minutes once the mixture forms a ball but it is pretty labour-intensive).
2                    Cover the dough and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to cool and rest.
3                    What follows is my non-traditional way of making the wrappers, but hey, it works! On a work surface liberally dusted with flour, roll the rested dough out to a thickness of about 3mm (about the thickness of a €1/£1 coin.
4                    Using a 7cm (3”) cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the dough, then roll these rounds out to approximately 10cm (3 ¾”)  in diameter, making the edges slightly thinner than the centre. This helps keep the dumpling from splitting during cooking. Stack the prepared gyoza wrappers, dusting with flour between layers to prevent them sticking, and wrap in clingfilm. Chill until ready to use.

Gyoza Filling (Pork)
80g cabbage, shredded, finely chopped and sprinkled with ½ teaspoon fine table salt
400g minced pork (ground pork)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon mirin or sake
¾ teaspoon fine table salt
a pinch of caster sugar
80g spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
5 dehydrated Chinese mushrooms, soaked in boiling water until soft, then drained and finely chopped
On the way to becoming exceptionally good for the soul
1                    First, prepare the cabbage: once you have sprinkled the cabbage with a ½ teaspoon of salt, set aside for about 30 minutes. Then, wrap in a clean tea-towel or cheesecloth and wring the moisture out.
2                    Place the pork in a mixing bowl and add the ginger, and garlic. Mix well – hands are best (if you are squeamish about this task, use food-grade gloves or mix in a stand mixer). Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin/sake, salt and sugar, mixing well between additions. The meat should be a sticky paste.
3                    Add the prepared cabbage, spring onions and mushrooms and mix well. To test the mixture for seasoning, fry a small piece until cooked through, taste and adjust as necessary. Chill the raw mixture until ready to use.

Soy far, soy good

To assemble the gyoza (right-handed instructions - swap obviously if you favour the left)
1                    Sprinkle a tray with flour and fill a small bowl with cold water.
2                    Place a wrapper in your  left hand, so that the edge touches the tips of your fingers. With your right hand, place approximately a teaspoonful of the mixture in the centre of the wrapper. Don’t over-fill or the dumplings will be difficult to seal and will burst during cooking – less is more! Leave a margin of about 1.5cm (½”) around the edge of the wrapper. Moisten the edge with a finger dipped in cold water.
3                    With your right hand, fold the gyoza into a crescent, wedging it open at the top with your index finger. You are now going to pleat one side of the crescent: with your free hand, pinch the left side together. With your right index finger, make a small pleat and with your left thumb and index finger, pinch the pleat, gluing it to the opposite side of the crescent. Continue making small pleats along the edge, pinching them closed until the crescent is completely sealed. The theory is that the pleats allow the filling to expand, making the dumplings less likely to split when cooking. It is probably a good idea to have the kitchen to yourself as you will probably swear profusely during the first few gyoza, but by the 3rd or 4th dumpling you will be getting the hang of it. Well done you!
4                    Place the finished gyoza on the floured tray, with the pleats at the top. Cover the tray of finished gyoza and place in the freezer so that the dough has a chance to firm up before cooking – 30 minutes will be sufficient. You could of course transfer the firmed gyoza in a freezer bag and freeze until needed.

We ain't the prettiest gyoza ever, but we're pretty tasty!
Note: If you are utterly confused at this stage, watch this guy. It is easier to do than to explain.

To cook the gyoza:
1                    My preferred way is to rub the surface of a lidded frying pan with some kitchen paper dipped in a little cooking oil. Pre-heat over a medium heat.
2                    Place the gyoza in the pre-heated frying pan, making sure they don’t touch. Add enough boiling water to the pan to come to a depth of about 3mm. Place the lid on the frying pan and let them cook in the steam for about 5 minutes.
3                    Remove the lid and allow any remaining water to bubble off. Add about 2 tablespoons sesame oil to the pan, lifting each gyoza so that the oil can seep underneath. Let the gyoza sizzle for about 3 minutes or until the base is golden brown. They are ready to eat right now, however I prefer to fry each side for a further minute so that they too are crisp and golden.

Serve immediately with this simple dipping sauce:
Time for a quick dip!
Dipping Sauce (per person)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar (or wine vinegar)
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Mix – it really couldn’t be simpler.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Beetroot, Orange and Feta Salad – charmed I’m sure!

Pin It Great recipes are like great stories. To keep them fresh and alive, each recipient must keep the essential ingredients and add some embellishments of their own.

My good friend Lorraine (poet, playwright, novelist and general all round funny girl) throws together an amazing beetroot salad. Could I steal it for my blog, I asked. Sure! She in turn had robbed it from her sister, who had gotten it from someone else, and so on. For me to make a beetroot salad is a big step, given how much I absolutely loathed it for years. If you are in the "loathe" camp, I urge you to try it again. You may surprise yourself.

Simply delicious!

It couldn’t be simpler. Shake some rocket leaves (arugula) onto a plate, add beetroot, orange and goats cheese. Et voila! - a dish full of rustic charm and bursting with flavour, without the kitchen staff breaking a sweat.

Except... my rustic charm gene had turned itself off the day I decided to make this salad. When I went to assemble the ingredients, the result was tasty but looked like a dog’s dinner. The more I tried to fix it, the more it fought back.
I refused to be beaten by beetroot! If it would not be bullied into submission, then I would just have to charm it onto the plate. How to charm it? Just add flowers.
Beetroot, Orange and Feta salad - greater than the sum of its parts

For each serving you will need...

1 beetroot, cooked and peeled
5 orange segments, pith removed
25g feta cheese, roughly crumbled
a selection of salad leaves, including some flat leafed parsley

As well as these essential ingredients, I added the following embellishments:

a tablespoon of fresh rocket flowers(arugula flowers)*
a teaspoon of fresh lavender flowers, unsprayed, organic

Beetroot tends to stain!
1                 Thinly slice the beetroot (a mandolin slicer is best for this job – mind fingers!) Place the beetroot slices on absorbent kitchen paper to blot up any excess juices. I used heart shaped cutters to stamp out pretty shapes for this salad.

2                 Arrange the beetroot in the centre of the plate. Arrange the other ingredients to please your eye. It is as simple as that (most days).
This salad needs no salt as the already salty Feta acts as a seasoning. You could add some vinaigrette to the leaves for an extra layer of flavour.

* I ended up with rocket flowers because I turned my back for a moment and my rocket plants went to seed. The flowers taste just like the leaves. If you are not a careless gardener like me, and don't have an accidental supply of rocket flowers, you could use other edible flowers like nasturtium, or borage as suggested by Mona of Wise Words.
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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Basil Vinaigrette – shaken not stirred

Pin It This recipe is now in the book Alchemy: Simple Ingredients... Magical Food, under Sauce'ry

On my first ever visit to the States, our Floridian concierge recommended a restaurant “just down the block”. I wasn’t smart enough to translate that into “several miles away – you’ll need the car.” Half an hour later, my beloved and I were still walking... in pitch darkness... accompanied by a million mosquitos – I was hobbling along in high heels. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
Alchemy's jam jar 'Super Salad Shaker'

Beloved spotted a sign that promised Great Food! and Great Music! so we pushed open the door to the warmest friendliest of welcomes. Drinks and menus were placed in our hands. We’d be brought through to the restaurant when our meal was ready. Smart move on their part, given the restaurant turned out to be completely empty and we were the only diners for the entire evening. We were outnumbered 6 to 2 by the staff and musicians.

My low-tech garlic squisher from Provence
Tired and jetlagged, I had ordered a salad but none of the long list of sauces grabbed me. “Have you got a simple vinaigrette?” I asked. “A what?” replied the kitchen. I described the ingredients to the waitress, who came back with a tray of all the items I'd mentioned. Everyone gathered round to watch with amazement and amusement while I whisked up a vinaigrette. My first cookery demo! (Ok, so they were low on entertainment that evening.)

Vivacious Vinaigrette - shaken, not stirred

Every cook worth their salt has their own range of kitchen gadgets. I’ve decided Alchemy shouldn’t be left out. For this vinaigrette, I use my Super Salad Shaker (a jam jar with a lid) J

This recipe is now in the book Alchemy: Simple Ingredients... Magical Food, under Sauce'ry
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Strawberry and Rose Petal Ice Cream – practically Italian!

Pin It I cannot resist a car boot sale ... ‘one woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure’ and all that. 

Take time to stop and smell eat the roses!
My pasta maker came from a car boot sale. It was in mint condition. I figured that by the time I’d rolled out a few yards of fettucini, I’d be practically Italian.  Then I discovered that soft Irish flour - so fantastic for bread and cakes - is rubbish for making pasta. I packed the pasta maker back into its box and brought it to a charity shop.
My coffee machine came from a car boot sale. It looked brand new. I am a tea drinker, but I fancied myself a barista. I could turn out a few foaming cappuccini or a couple of gallons of espresso, and hey presto, I’d be practically Italian. One teeny problem... there were no instructions. I muddled through and drank a lot of coffee. That week I was WIDE AWAKE. Then I left the cap on the steamer and blew the damn thing up. Do you know how hard it is to remove damp coffee grinds from the ceiling?!
A spoonful of sugar does wonders for strawberries
I was so proud of myself when I managed to walk past a bloke selling an ice cream maker. Sitting innocently in the centre of his stall, it wore a price tag - €2. “It must be broken,” I thought. “I’m not taking that gorgeous retro Gelatiera home.” Later, as I was leaving, the man called me over. He’d seen me eyeing the ice cream maker. He assured me it was working.  Tell you what,” he said, “I’d murder a coffee but I can’t leave my stall. Get me a coffee and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
I use the simplest of ingredients but if you tasted the magical ice creams this funny little machine is capable of churning out, you’d think I was practically Italian.
Strawberry and Rose Petal ice cream is my latest experiment. Because it is made from Greek yoghurt, fresh fruit and honey, it can be considered breakfast! ;-)
Rose Water adds a delicate floral note to this ice cream

For 4 - 6 servings you will need...
250g fresh strawberries, quartered
1 tablespoon caster sugar
550g Greek yoghurt
120g runny honey
10g fresh fragrant red or pink rose petals, unsprayed
3 tablespoons rose water

1                  Sprinkle the caster sugar over the quartered strawberries and set aside for about 30 minutes. Then purée 200g of the strawberries and pass the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds.
2                  Place the yoghurt, strawberry purée, honey and rosewater in your ice cream maker and churn until thick and smooth – about 30 minutes or so though this will vary according to the make and model you use. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, mix the ingredients well and place in a freezer proof container. Stir well every 30 minutes to break up any large ice crystals. Repeat until the ice cream is smooth and thick.)
3                 Chop the remaining strawberries into small pieces.
4                 Wash the rose petals and pat dry with kitchen paper. Snip off and discard the white portion of each petal (the part where it joined the stem) and tear roughly into pieces. Fold the strawberries and rose petals into the ice cream and transfer to a freezer container. Cover and freeze until required. Ice cream matures so while this is ready to eat straight away, it is even better if you leave it overnight.
Ahh days of wine and roses...
Tip: Remove from the freezer a few minutes before serving to allow it to soften.
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