Friday, October 28, 2011

Toffee Apples – For Time-Travelling Taste Buds

Pin It When I was but a youngster, my aunt used to take me into Dublin city centre on Saturdays. We’d trawl the shops for a while then wander past the stalls in Henry Street and into Moore Street in search of bangles to add to my already extensive collection. A girl can never have too much jewellery. I loved the buzz of these streets, so packed, so noisy, so very much Dublin.

A little taste of yesteryear

One of my favourite times of the year was around Halloween when the street sellers hawked plastic masks, sparklers and bangers, monkey nuts and cellophone-wrapped apples. I only fell for the chocolate apples once – they seduced me with their multi-coloured sprinkles but the “chocolate” was cheap fatty cake covering. Yuk!

The toffee apples – on the other hand – never failed to delight. Oh the anticipation of cracking the toffee shell with my teeth and sinking into the soft sweet apple beneath. Fruit never tasted so good. (nostalgic sigh!)
The Moore Street I knew, no longer exists, but just one bite of these apples is enough to send my taste buds travelling back to that part of Dublin’s past. Trick or treat? Definitely a treat!

For 6 old-fashioned Moore Street Toffee Apples you will need...

225g caster sugar
110 mls water
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon white malt vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
25g butter
6 small sweet apples – I use Gala
6 popsicle sticks

A sugar thermometer is handy but not essential

1                  Prepare a tray by covering it with non-stick baking parchment or silicon paper.
2                  Place the sugar and water together in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, add the golden syrup, vinegar, butter and vanilla extract and continue to heat without stirring until the caramel is golden and smells like caramel -  and sugar thermometer has reached the ‘hard crack’ stage. This is between 149°C-154°C (300°F-310°F). If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, drop a little of the hot syrup into cold water. Leave for a minute until it cools enough to handle. It should form hard brittle threads that snap when bent. If not, continue cooking the syrup for a further minute and test again.
3                 When the syrup is ready, pierce each apple with a popsicle stick, inserting it about halfway into the apple to provide a firm grip. Working quickly, dip each apple into the hot toffee syrup, tilting the saucepan carefully so that each apple is completely coated. Remove from the hot toffee and allow any drips to fall back into the saucepan.
4                 Place each apple on the prepared tray, stick pointing upwards, to cool completely.

The apples are best eaten on the day you make them.

Quickly dip the toffee coated apples into your choice of chopped nuts, or sprinkles while still hot before placing on the tray to cool. Pin It

Monday, October 24, 2011

Panfried Hake with Potato Crab Cake – A Sofishticated Dish!

Pin It The fact that I live a stone’s throw from Glendalough made it easy to persuade some English friends to make a long-overdue visit to Ireland.  Glendalough was not the only attraction. Here’s how my sales pitch went:

Fishing for compliments: Pan-fried Hake with Potato & Crab Cakes and Spicy Tomato Sauce

·        We’re less than an hour’s low cost flight away...
·        Your English pound will stretch so far against the euro you’ll think it’s made of elastic...
·        We have sunshine 365 days of the year – ok that’s stretching it slightly but not my fault the sunshine is above the clouds J

I promised them a céad míle fáilte (the hundred thousand welcomes, compulsory under Irish law).  I promised them the countryside would soothe their stressed-out souls with its wild beauty.  I promised them that the food would get their taste buds dancing like Michael Flatley. The Guinness got them thinking they could dance like Michael Flatley – but that’s another story...
Their timing made them the perfect guineapigs for my Irish Food Bloggers Association Salon du Blog creation...
Potato + Crab + Chillies = Hot Stuff!!!
These friends are pescatarians. Woohoo! Give me fish and potato in any form and I’m one happy girl. This magical combination can be moules frites and a glass of Rosé... sigh ... or fish n chips eaten from the paper while seagulls swoop ever closer in an attempt to share in the feast. However, sometimes a girl needs something a little more so-fish-ticated...  

Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients - most, you will already have in the cupboard. Everything except for the fish can be prepared in advance.

For 4 servings you will need...

Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
300mls pasata (or a tin of tomatoes, sieved)

1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
a pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper

To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Lower the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened without colouring. Then add in the remaining ingredients and let the sauce bubble gently for about 10 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Oh crumbs!

Potato Crab Cakes
400g Rooster potatoes, boiled, then ‘riced’ or mashed and cooled
200g crab meat
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 green chilli, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
 ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

3 tablespoons plain flour
1 large egg, beaten
125g fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 180°C (fan)

1          In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 9 ingredients. Divide the mixture into 4 even portions and form into cakes or patties about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick.
2          Set out three plates or shallow dishes, one each for the flour, the breadcrumbs and the beaten egg. Dust each potato cake with flour, then dip in egg and cover with breadcrumbs. [If preparing in advance, cover and place in the fridge at this stage. Place in a pre-heated oven about 15 minutes before you start cooking the fish.]
3          Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown - 20-25 minutes

Tanned? Me? Well, just a bit...

4 boneless fillets of hake, each about 180g
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh coriander to garnish

Fish - the ultimate fast food!

1          Brush each fillet with oil and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Place the fillets – skin side down – in the hot pan and cook for 5 minutes. Then, using a fish slice, carefully turn the fillets and turn off the pan, allowing the fillets to continue cooking in the residual heat while you assemble the dish.  To assemble, divide the tomato sauce between 4 warm plates. Sit a potato crab cake on top and finally sit the hake on top and add some fresh coriander.

A saucy little creation!

Bask in the compliments as your friends sigh happily and start planning their next trip to Ireland. Pin It

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pan Am Oli - A Toast to Bread!

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Have you met my personal rain cloud? It follows me wherever I go, waiting to spill buckets of rain on me when least convenient. It is so reliable, I could hire myself out as a rain maker.

Meet my personal rain cloud...

I was in Florida about 8 years ago. There had been drought for about 3 months. Not a single drop of rain had fallen. My beloved and I took a canoe out on what had been a lake but which had shrunk to an alligator-infested puddle due to the lack of water. When we got to the middle of this admittedly large puddle, a tempest blew up out of nowhere. The wind threatened to capsize the little boat. For a few nerve-wracking moments, I thought we were going to become a quick and tasty lunchtime snack for hungry reptiles. Rain fell from a miniscule cloud high in the sky, hitting the water like pennies, and soaking us to the skin.

“Fall in, honey?” I was asked when we returned the canoe, looking like a drowned rats. Huh!

My personal rain cloud struck again when we visited Majorca. Himself and myself dined in a sweet little local restaurant right on the harbour, starting with Pan Am Oli and moving on to one of their incredible stews. We had planned to return for another excellent meal. Meantime, the island was struck by one of the worst storms they’d had in years and nearly half the boats in the harbour were wrenched loose from their moorings and destroyed. Huge waves flooded our chosen restaurant. Grrrr. Naughty rain cloud!
My Pan Am Oli kit... ready, steady, go!

Whereas Jamie Oliver takes 30 minutes to make a meal, Majorca can feed four people in 3 minutes. Pan Am Oli or bread with (tomatoes and) olive oil is one of those ‘simple ingredients, magical food’ snacks that I absolutely love, as much for its speed of preparation as for its textures and tastes.

For 4 people you will need…
4 slices artisan country bread
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tomatoes, halved, seeds removed
3 tablespoons (approximately) really good olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste 

Toast the bread on both sides. For each slice of toast, rub one side with garlic, using the surface of the toast almost like a grater. Rub the same side of the bread with the cut side of a tomato half, squeezing out the pulp and juice. Drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.

One slice is never enough.
Be prepared to make seconds ... 
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Monday, October 10, 2011

In At The Deep End - Literally!

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Were your childhood monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed? Jake Tilson’s monsters were in the attic. They sprang from a book he discovered there, illustrating the violence to be found beneath the sea – bloodied waters during a dolphin attack, and “gaping, skeletal jaws of a great white”.  To tackle his fear of all things fishy, he undertook to cook his way out of his phobia.


Even if you never cook a morsel from In At The Deep End, it is still a great read for the armchair cook/traveller. We start off in Jake’s family kitchen in Venice (brings back some lovely memories for me as I honeymooned in that strange and lovely city). Venice is photographed as if by tourist camera.

We travel with the Tilson family (Jake, his wife, Jeff and daughter, Hannah) to Sweden, and experience such luscious dishes as Jansson’s Temptation and Gravadlax.  Sprats feature quite a lot in this section in one form or another as do fishballs. I’d like to have seen a greater range of dishes in this section. Jake raises his concerns about over-fishing and gives some advice on how to fish local!

It was this big...

 Aberdeen in Scotland is next – again with the tourist photos, which work extremely well. It wouldn’t be Scotland without kippers and we get a bbq, several pates (or does he mean pâtés?), and potted kippers as well as a crab soup called Parten Bree. There is a lovely collage of tiny houses (some barely more than sheds) in the village of Footdee - or Fittie to the locals.

We cross an ocean to New York for the next leg of the trip and make Salmon and Dill Baked Fish Cakes using canned Alaskan salmon. I can’t bear tinned salmon so someone else will have to try this recipe and report back. I’ll happily try the Crab Cakes with fennel and tarragon though.

You needn't shell out to make a fabulous seafood meal...

Jake gets a commission to write about Australia, so with a wave of his magic wand – ok, just turn the page – and we land in Sydney. We’re straight into one of my favourite foods – mussels – and he’s grilled them three ways – with feta, pinenuts and mint, with chilli and coriander, with nuts and garlic. Yum, yum, and yum! There are a few fish in this chapter that I know I am not going to be able to get at my local market, but hey, if I get to Australia, I’ll know how to cook barramundi and red emperor. Meanwhile, I can substitute similar local varieties.

Japan is next where Jake discovers that no morsel of fish is wasted. After all the exotic travel, it is rather deflating to end up in Peckham for the final chapter of the book and as if Jake feels this, he carries the influences through to the first dish in this section – fried fish with wilted herbs and noodles.

Pasta is kinda noodles right?

The whole book hangs together extremely well so it is no surprise to learn that Jake is the designer and photographer as well as the author.

I’m not going to cook everything from this book, but it is a book I shall enjoy reading for many years to come, with as much a right to space on the bedside table as on the kitchen bookshelf.

(Review copy supplied by Quadrille Publishing. Opinion supplied by Hester Casey!)

In At The Deep End  by Jake Tilson
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN 9781844009756
Price: £20.00
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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry - Love at First Bite

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Isn't it funny where the inspiration for a meal comes from. I had been all set to make a simple grilled chicken salad with sweet potato wedges when I spotted the sad lonely bowl of coconut, left over from some dipped toffee apples I had made earlier in the day. Stand back, said the cooking area of my brain, I'll deal with this.

On the spice trail...

Before I knew what was happening, out came the wok ( my wok) and a selection of spices ( spices), some Greek yoghurt ( Greek yoghurt) and a few other bits and pieces. There was stirring. There was frying - all to find a suitable home for the poor leftover coconut. About 30 minutes later, I was ready to serve up this light, fragrant curry. It doesn't in any way claim to be the authentic cuisine of any curry country, but I love it.

For 2 - 3 servings you will need...
2 tablespoons light oil such as peanut or sunflower
300g chicken breast, diced into 2cm (½ inch) pieces
1 onion, halved and sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon mild chilli powder
3 tablespoons dessicated coconut
200mls chicken stock
250g Greek yoghurt
1 medium sweet potato (about the size of two tennis balls), diced into 2cm (½ inch) pieces
2 curry leaves (optional)

Fine table salt to taste

An alium by any other name...

1          Heat the oil in a wok or a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook for about 2 minutes until golden on all sides. (Don't overcrowd the pan or you'll end up with sad grey boiled chicken and miss out on the gorgeous carmelized flavours that frying adds.) Transfer to a bowl.  
2          Add the onion to the wok or saucepan and stir fry until lightly golden (about 4 minutes). Add in the garlic, ginger, turmeric and chilli powder and cook for a further 30 seconds. Then add the dessicated coconut, chicken stock, and Greek yoghurt and stir until combined.
3          Add the chicken to this sauce along with the sweet potato and the curry leaves (if using). Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the sweet potato is easily pierced with a fork and the chicken is cooked through.
4          Taste and add salt if necessary before serving with basmati rice.

Love at first bite... yum!

I've since made a vegetarian version of this curry: heat the oil and proceed from step 2 above, using vegetarian stock, and adding zucchini and aubergine along with the sweet potato, and fresh spinach leaves and sugar snap peas about 5 minutes before the end.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chinese Five Spice – a Magic Powder that Makes Sparks Fly

Pin It One of my earliest food memories is of a night I went to the theatre with my parents. As if that were not treat enough, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant on Dublin’s Dame Street on the way home. My meal came in a little fried potato basket which I was convinced the chef had spent hours weaving. J  I loved the mixture of dishes that arrived, and better still, getting to taste them all. One sublime duck dish had a distinctive warmth and depth of flavour (although at the time I would probably simply have described it as “yummy”). This particular flavour I’ve come to recognise as the work of Chinese Five Spice.

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent... Magic!

Chinese Five Spice used to puzzle me because sometimes there were more than five flavours in the mix. I discovered that the five refers to the five flavour sensations rather than the number of spices. These are sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Chinese Five Spice is readily available in your supermarket, but it is incredibly easy to make. Chinese Five Spice is wonderful with fatty meats such as pork, and duck, and adds great flavour to stir-fries, vegetables, soups and tofu dishes. It is powerful so a little goes a long way.

I'm going to be fennel seed when I grow up!
Over time, I’ve evolved the proportions to suit my taste buds, however feel free to vary the quantities of any element to suit your own taste.  As with any spices, I like to keep small quantities in stock so that the turnover in the kitchen is high and they are not kept around for ages, getting stale and losing flavour.

The Spice of Life

For about 8 teaspoons of powder (enough for several meals) you will need...

1 tablespoon Szechuan pepper corns
6 whole cloves
4 pieces star anise
1 x 6cm (2½) inch piece of cinnamon stick or cassia
1 tablespoon fennel seed

·                  Dry roast the pepper corns for about 1 minute in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add to the rest of the ingredients and grind to a fine powder using a spice grinder, food processor or pestle and mortar. Sift the powder to remove any pieces that haven’t been totally pulverised. Store the mixture in a small jar in a dry dark place and use within 1 month.

A really quick cheat to find your flavour preference is to use pre-ground spices and mix ½ teaspoon each of the five elements. You’ll quickly get to know which flavours you prefer to dominate and adjust them accordingly next time you make up the mix. It is trial and error but when you find the combination that suits you, sparks fly!

p.s. thanks to LiveLifeNYC whose question sparked this post.
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