Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy "Arthur’s Day" - A Stroke of Guinness!

Pin It My Goodness! The marketing machine over at Guinness is Genius! When Obama visited Ireland to find the lost apostrophe of his Irish roots (OBama) the money shot was that pint of the black stuff in his hand. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was a little more canny on her visit, and merely looked at her pint of plain with suspicion. It still made headline news.

This bread is a stroke of 'Guinness' - and it's perfect with my mum's Plum and Ginger Jam

In a nod to “Arthur’s Day” - another stroke of Guinness from the marketing department - I made Guinness and Cranberry Bread from TV Chef, Catherine Fulvio’s new book. In Catherine’s Family Kitchen, she shows us around Ballyknocken House, her cookery school and home. As the title of the book suggests, this is all about family. Catherine says “There is nothing quite like sitting around the dinner table, laughing, joking, catching up, and, most importantly, enjoying good home-cooked food.”

The book revolves around the number 5… 5 useful gadgets… 5 ways with chopping… 5 quick soups…  soda breads… scones…  pasta… mash… sauces – you get the picture - all easy ways to ring the changes and keep the family menu from ever getting boring.

There are plenty of simple-to-prepare dishes to tempt your tastebuds and also to broaden the palate of any younger members of the household. It is an eclectic mix – Asian, Italian, Irish – with the emphasis on dishes that are quick and easy to put together, and even easier to eat.


The Guinness and Cranberry Bread (a soda loaf) took about 3 minutes to put together and just under an hour in the oven. It was dark and sweet and the perfect partner for my mother’s incredible plum and ginger jam. Himself and I demolished several slices before it had even cooled.

On my list to try are: Marinated Aubergine and Courgette with Goat’s Cheese and Hazelnut Dressing; Orange and Oregano Cod; Seafood and Spinach Open Ravioli; a show-stopping Thyme-infused Raspberry Chocolate Meringue Tower and how could I resist the Orange Mocha Crème Brulée.

I have two criticisms, and they are both aesthetic. Firstly, while most of the recipes are dark type on a light background making for optimal readability, there are several on brightly-coloured pages with white type in a script font, which I found hard on the eye – and my eyesight is pretty close to perfect.

Secondly, Catherine is one of the most animated and energetic people you could possibly meet and yet there is a ‘posed’ stiff quality to several of the lifestyle portraits in the book which doesn’t do her justice. On the other hand, the food photos are stunning; so less lifestyle and focus more on the food perhaps… These are minor complaints. I’ll definitely be cooking from this book.

As for “Arthur’s Day”, where does it all end? Next thing you know the Whiskey companies will be clamouring for their day… What’s that? They already have one? So they do - Paddy’s Day!


Review copy of Catherine’s Family Kitchen, courtesy of Gill & McMillan Publishers


Catherine’s Family Kitchen by Catherine Fulvio
ISBN: 9780717150571
Hardback: €22.99 Pin It

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blackberry Curd – I’m Wild About It!

Pin It Blackberry season is nearly over and I am making the most of the remaining wild berries. I've made jam, and the cordial has proved really popular with my family who are using it to make everything from blackberry bellinis and mojitos to pancake syrup and the mystery ingredient in a berry compôte. One of my favourite ingredients for a versatile dessert is curd. I love lemon curd, but I’m always happy to experiment. Here’s my latest curd creation.

Berry, berry delicious - blackberry curd stirred into double cream on mini-pavlovas


For a 1Lb jar you will need...

200g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
75g butter
100 mls fresh blackberry juice (I made this by pressing 200g fresh berries through a sieve to remove the pips)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract


1         Place all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan and heat gently over a low heat, stirring all the while. Continue stirring for about 25 minutes until the mixture thickens. Don’t be tempted to leave it even for a moment unless you want blackberry-flavoured scrambled eggs. To check if it is ready, dunk a spoon in the mixture then draw a finger through the mixture that adheres to the spoon. The channel you make should remain. If no channel remains, continue cooking for a further five minutes and test again. It will thicken further as it sets.
2         Pass the mixture through a sieve to ensure it is totally smooth before transferring to a sterilised jar. Cover when cool and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Wild about blackberries

             
I fold this mixture into whipped cream and use it to fill mini-pavlovas. It is also fantastic used to sandwich a simple Victoria sponge, or to fill a pastry shell. Top with mixed berries. 
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Walnut Butter – Better a Dinner of Herbs...

Pin It There is a proverb which goes something like: Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf and hatred therewith. In other words, better to have modest offerings given with a generous heart than abundance offered with a mean spirit.

Gnocchi sounds so much more exotic than "potato dumpling"

My cupboard obviously has a generous heart. At first glance today, it appeared empty. Baked beans on toast for dinner... hmmmm. Think, Hester, think! Potatoes, flour, Parmesan, eggs, nuts, butter and plenty of herbs in the garden... channelling ... channelling... ggggggnnnnnn...  gnocchi!

For 3 to 4 servings you will need...

Gnocchi

550g Rooster or other floury potato, skin on
100g plain flour
2g  (½ teaspoon) baking powder
½ teaspoon fine table salt
1 egg, beaten


A little extra flour for dusting

1                  Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and carefully add just enough boiling water to cover. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover with a lid and cook gently for about 15 minutes or until easily pierced right through with the tip of a knife. Drain the cooked potatoes and leave them aside for about 5 minutes or until just cool enough to handle. Gently peel, then push the potatoes through a potato ricer, catching them in a large mixing bowl. If you don’t have a ricer, mash them with a regular potato masher. Using a fork, gently spread the potato out into an even layer without compacting it. Leave to cool.
2                  Next, sprinkle in the flour and baking powder and lightly combine until the mixture resembles ground almonds.
3                 Add the beaten egg and mix gently using a fork to bring the ingredients together. When the egg has been evenly dispersed throughout, bring the mixture together in a ball, using floured hands.



4                 Turn out onto a floured work surface. Divide the mixture into about 4 portions and roll each into a rope about the thickness of your thumb. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into pillows of dough about 1.5cm long (half an inch).
5                 Place each pillow of dough, one at a time, cut side down in the palm of your lightly floured hand. Press gently with the back of a fork so that it forms a slightly ridged indent. This helps the gnocchi hold any sauce you care to add. (You can freeze them on a tray at this point and transfer the frozen gnocchi to a freezer bag. Cook from frozen.)
6                 To cook: bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Carefully drop the shaped gnocchi into the pan one at a time. They will sink to the bottom of the pan. Don’t add more than will cover the base of the saucepan in a single layer. Make sure the water comes back to simmering, turning up the heat if necessary. When the gnocchi rise to the surface continue cooking for a further 3 minutes. When the gnocchi are cooked, drain and add to your favourite sauce.

The humble potato gets an Italian makeover

Gorgonzola or porcini sauces are particularly good with gnocchi. Today, however, I’m all about the simple so here’s how my sauce goes...

Sage and Walnut Butter

70g butter
50g finely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaved parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
Parmesan
Black pepper


1                 Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat until sizzling. Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan in a single layer and fry gently until golden brown – about 3 minutes. Turn to brown the other side and add the walnuts at the same time. After 2 minutes, add the crushed garlic and herbs and cook gently for a further minute or so.
2                 Transfer to a warm serving dish and scatter with parmesan shavings.

Just add Parmesan

Better than beans on toast!
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spiced Chocolate Carrot Cake – Worth The Calories

Pin It Chocolate cake is one of the most deceitful desserts you are likely to come across in your foodie life.  Here’s how dastardly a chocolate cake can be...

I'm nuts about carrot cake...

... you are in a restaurant or café. You’ve eaten your meal and it was rather delicious and filling. You don’t really want dessert but the waitress thoughtfully brings the menu, just in case...
Sophisticated it ain't!

You hear a little voice... “Pssst! Hey you... yes you... over here!”

There, just past the apple pie, is a chocolate cake. It is calling to you. Hmmmm. You crane your neck – it can’t hurt just to have a little look. It does give the impression of being rather delicious. Is that fudge icing on top? Your eyes ignore the protests of your belly and you find yourself ordering.

It arrives, a swirl of cream on the side. You sigh in anticipation and sink your fork into the dark layers. Ack! It is dry as dust and certainly NOT WTC* (Worth the Calories). Another “all style, no substance chocolate cake” gets pushed around the plate while you wait for the bill.
Waiter! Waiter! My cake is on fire!

One cake that is unfailingly luscious is carrot cake so I have combined my usual recipe with my favourite spiced hot chocolate recipe. Sophisticated it ain’t! Worth The Calories, definitely!

For 12-14 servings you will need...
Cake Batter
350g plain flour
60g dark cocoa powder (such as Bourneville), sifted to remove any lumps
350g caster sugar
14g baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
100g chopped nuts (I use a mixture of almonds and walnuts)
50g raisins (or sultanas or currents)
50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
300g finely grated carrot
4 large eggs, beaten
300mls peanut oil (or sunflower oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1                 Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.  Rub a 26cm (10 inch) round cake tin lightly with butter and line the base with a circle of baking parchment.
2                 Place the first 9 ingredients in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer.  Add the grated carrot and mix well. Add the egg and mix until combined. Finally add the oil and vanilla extract and mix well until combined into a batter.
3                 Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for 60 minutes or until well risen. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean.
4                 Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes in the tin. Then remove the tin and allow cool completely on a wire cooling rack.

Does spiced chocolate carrot cake count towards my five a day?

Cream Cheese Frosting
200g full fat cream cheese
100g butter, softened
700g icing sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

50g walnuts, chopped

1                In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until combined.
2                Add the sifted icing sugar in about 4 stages, mixing well between additions. An electric whisk is best for this task.
3                Finally add the vanilla extract and beat until the icing is thick and smooth.
4                 Spread over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the chopped walnuts.
5                 Pour yourself a mug of tea and find a quiet place where you can enjoy this cake uninterrupted.

This will keep for about a week if kept in an airtight container in a cool place.
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Friday, September 2, 2011

Blackberry and Mint Cordial – Essence of Summer

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My little niece, The Imp, started school yesterday – heaven help them – and with typical back-to-school timing, the weather has changed for the better. It is a perfect day for blackberry-picking.
Little time-capsules of summer...

I like to imagine blackberries as little time-capsules of summer, storing the tiniest rays of sunshine as sweet little jewels, ready to release the most incredible spiced-berry aroma as you turn them into pies, or jams or jellies.
Kids love blackberry picking (for about an hour or so) and it is a great way to spend time with them, to get in some fresh air and exercise, and help them connect food with nature.
Blackberry and Mint Cordial - as it appeared in my imagination...

This time last year, I made bramble jelly after some competitive blackberry-picking. Check it out for some tips on collecting the best berries.
Today, the warm weather has left me thirsting for a cool drink. How about some of my blackberry and mint cordial... (previewed on the Morning Show today on East Coast FM).

From berry to berry-delicious beverage in about 30 minutes

For about 750mls of cordial you will need...
1kg fresh or frozen blackberries (wild, organic if possible)
250mls water
5g fresh mint sprigs (including the stems)
500g sugar (approximately)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1          Place the blackberries in a saucepan along with the water and fresh mint. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a potato masher or similar to mash the fruit. Don't be tempted to use a blender as crushing the pips can make the juice bitter.
2          Strain the juice through a sieve to remove the pips, extracting as much juice as possible. Measure the juice and add 500g sugar per 500mls of juice.
3          Rinse the saucepan before adding the blackberry juice, sugar, lime juice and vanilla extract. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4          Carefully pour the hot cordial into warmed sterilised screw-top bottles (I use my dishwasher to sterilise the bottles and transfer the cordial while the bottles are still hot). A funnel is very useful for this job.
5          Leave the bottles to cool fully before replacing the lids. Store in the fridge and use within a week or two.
This can be used undiluted over ice cream or substituted for the rosehip syrup in my yoghurt pannacotta recipe. As a drink, I dilute this slightly spicy Autumnal syrup with 4 parts sparkling water, or better still, 4 parts sparkling dry wine and lots of ice. Cheers!
Hedgerow heaven... cheers!

Having collected your blackberries, head for the Mountains to Sea literary festival in Dun Laoghaire.  It runs until 11th September and has a wide range of events suitable for all ages and tastes.
Older kids and teens will love Eoin Colfer, Darren Shan, and Cathy Cassidy while the little ones will enjoy the Picture Book Picnic. Sunday Miscellany will be broadcast live from the festival and is available online for overseas listeners on the RTE Radio 1 website. If you like great writing you’ll love this programme. Guests are always a surprise and have included Man Booker Prize winners and short-listees and I’m very honoured to have been on the show a couple of times myself. Click here for the full festival programme.
The Art of Eating GIVEAWAY is now closed - thanks to all who entered (and those from overseas who would have hopped on the bus to Dun Laoghaire if they could.)
There are still a small number of tickets available. Don't miss this rare chance to hear three fabulous food writers talk about their passion, over lunch.
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