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, December 6, 2011

Honeyed Goats Cheese in a Walnut Crust – devilishly good!

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Goats cheese, honey? Where?

What’s with the goats on the M11? It is rather alarming to see their devil’s eyes glaring out from the side of the road. Go back to the hills where you belong, silly creatures.
Serious danger to traffic aside, I cannot see a goat without thinking of goats cheese and I found myself at the checkout with two gorgeous little cheeses in my basket. My beloved thinks he doesn’t like goats cheese so it has to be presented in disguise. Here’s how that went …
Brrrr... goats cheese needs a coat in this weather!

For 2 portions you will need…
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
a pinch of salt and a twist of black pepper
1 egg, beaten
100g fresh breadcrumbs
50g walnuts, finely chopped
50g melted butter
2 small crottins of goats cheese about 70g each (how ripe is up to you – I used fresh)

Green salad and runny honey to serve

Hey, watch me do the eggy-paddle!
Preheat the oven to 180°C

1.      Mix the salt and pepper with the flour and sprinkle into a shallow bowl. Place the beaten egg in a second shallow bowl. Place the fresh breadcrumbs in a third bowl with the finely chopped walnuts and pour in the melted butter, tossing the crumbs and the nuts until the butter is evenly distributed.
2.      Sprinkle the cheeses with flour, making sure to coat every last centimetre of the surface. Dip in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture.
3.      Return the coated cheeses to the egg bath, and again to the breadcrumb mixture, gently packing the crumbs around the cheeses to seal well.

Goats cheese in its winter coat of breadcrumbs and walnut

4.      Transfer the cheeses to a lightly buttered baking tray and place in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until golden.
5.      Remove from the oven and serve immediately with a green salad and a generous drizzle of decent honey.

Honeyed Goats Cheese in a Walnut Crust - Devilishly Good!

Variation: I'll be doing mini-versions to pass around with Christmas drinks!
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tortilla Española with Smoked Bacon – and TLC!

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The secret ingredient? TLC!

You know by now that I love magical dishes born out of the simplest of ingredients. One that I return to time and again is the Tortilla Española – the Spanish Omelette. The basic version has just 3 main ingredients – potato, onion, eggs. But there’s a 4th magic ingredient that must go into the mix – TLC – or Tender Loving Care.
The Three Amigos... on their own, they're nothing!

Each element must be selected with TLC - there is nowhere for inferior ingredients to hide in this classic dish. If you know the hens personally, so much the better! The tortilla must be prepared with patience - a hall-mark of TLC - and it must be served with reverence. TLC will make all the difference between a ‘so what’ snack and a meal fit for the Gods.

In this version, I’ve added smoked bacon. For the veggie option, obviously leave out the bacon... although in Spain, bacon/ham isn’t considered to be meat ... so you might still be served the bacon version as 'vegetarian'...

 Serves 2 hungry people
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g of smoked bacon, diced
1 onion, chopped
500g potato, diced into 1cm cubes
approximately 25 strands saffron soaked in 1 tablespoon boiling water
5 large eggs
½ teaspoon fine table salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Tortilla - Spanish for "Just what I wanted!"
1                 Heat the olive oil in an 18cm (7 inch) frying pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until opaque then remove from the pan.
2                 Turn up the heat then add the onion and potato and stir until well-coated in oil. Immediately lower the heat to the minimum setting.  You want the potatoes and onions to cook without colouring. Cover the frying pan with a lid. After about 10 minutes carefully turn the contents of the pan so that the potatoes and onions cook evenly. Replace the lid and continue cooking for a further 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, poke a cube of potato with a fork make sure it is cooked right through. If not, continue cooking for a few more minutes and test again.
3                 While the potatoes are cooking, break the eggs into a large bowl and beat with a fork until the yolks are just incorporated with the whites. Strain the saffron liquid into the eggs, discarding the strands. Add the salt and black pepper.
4                 Once the potatoes and onions are cooked, add them to the bowl of beaten egg and mix until every piece of potato is well-coated. Then pour the mixture back into the frying pan and cook gently without a lid for about 20 – 25 minutes.
5                 When there is no longer any liquid egg on the surface, slide a spatula around the edges of the omelette to make sure it isn’t sticking. Then cover the pan with an inverted plate and carefully up-end the pan. Gently slide the tortilla back into the pan to finish cooking the other side for a further 2 – 3 minutes.
6                 This is good hot or cold, at any time of the day or night. Cut into thick wedges for a substantial snack and serve with a green salad. You could also cut it into cubes and impale with cocktail sticks for an excellent finger food.

Variation: Non-traditional... I love to add some smoked salmon in place of the bacon. No need to cook the salmon in advance. Simply add it to the egg mixture at the same time as you mix in the potatos and onions. Tortilla Española is also really good with this ‘Fierce’ Tomato Sauce.
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