Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Uachtair Nollaig – the Ultimate Christmas Cream Cake!

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Uachtair Nollaig - it's a piece of cake!

The first Domestic Goddess, Hannah Glasse, is often credited with the famous recipe that begins ... First, catch your hare. That’s how I feel about Christmas cakes... First, bake in September, then bathe in whiskey for 3 months. Doh! Missed that boat again!

Never mind. Although my mother makes an amazing traditional fruit cake with marzipan and royal icing, it's good to have an alternative for those who prefer something a little lighter. My recipe uses simple ingredients to create a magical no-bake Christmas cake: cream, chocolate, booze and biscuits. I’ve called it Uachtair Nollaig – that’s Irish for Christmas Cream.

It’s delightfully retro – based on the ice box cake of 50s America – and it combines 3 gorgeous flavours that really spell Christmas for me, chocolate, orange and ginger. It is simple enough to get the kids involved. Oh, and I’m warning you now, you will want to lick the spoon, and the bowl, and the whisk.

Warning! Lickability rating: extremely high!

For 10-12 servings you will need...
150g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped or grated
500mls Avonmore Double Cream, well chilled
250g cream cheese
60g icing sugar, sifted
50mls Cointreau / Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
150g Ginger Snaps, crushed
100g Bourbon Creams (or other chocolate cookie) crushed

You’ll need an 18cm (7”) loose-bottomed or spring-form cake tin, about 7cm (3”) deep. You’ll also need a pinch of imagination to decorate. I’ve used chocolate fingers and chocolate flakes.

Decorate with imagination, or chocolate fingers!

1                  Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Place 200mls of the double cream in a saucepan and heat until just bubbling at the edges. Pour onto the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream. Leave to cool.
2                  When the chocolate and cream mixture has cooled, add the cream cheese, icing sugar, liqueur and orange zest and whisk until thick and smooth.  (An electric whisk  or stand mixer is best for this).Then add the remaining 300mls of double cream and continue whisking until the cream forms stiff peaks when you lift the whisk out. Take care at this stage not to over-whip the mixture or you’ll end up with chocolate butter!
3                  Sprinkle about 1/3 of the ginger snap crumbs over the base of the tin. Cover with a layer of cream. Next add half the chocolate cookie crumbs in a layer, followed by another layer of cream. Continue with another 1/3 of ginger snap crumbs, another layer of cream, the remaining chocolate cookie crumbs, another layer of cream, the remaining ginger snap crumbs and finish with a layer of cream. Smooth the top. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. It will set solid enough to cut into slices.
4                  Carefully run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the tin. Remove and decorate as desired. For the cake shown, I pressed chocolate fingers to the side and sprinkled with chocolate flakes.
Easy to make, even easier to eat...

Ah, sometimes the simple things in life are the best! Pin It

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crainquebille Potatoes – a tummy hug like no other!

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Crainquebille Potatoes - a saucy little side
We are turning our culinary backs on the potato. In Ireland and the UK, pasta and rice are replacing the spud as the national carbohydrates. Some of the reasons offered are “too much work”,can’t do a whole lot with them”, “the family don’t like ‘em

Too much work... Depending on the dish you choose, potatoes can be very quick or take hours to cook, but often the actual preparation time is minutes.

Can’t do a whole lot with them... Oh Ye of Limited Imagination!

The family don’t like ‘em... Related to the two reasons above. If you can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes preparing them and have absolutely no imagination beyond mash, mash and more mash, the family are probably sick to death of ‘em.
Potatoes can give you a tummy hug that you just cannot get from other carbs. Smooth, buttery mash is the ultimate comfort food but what a range of dishes you can make! Tartiflette... Tortilla Española  ... Patatas Bravas... Boxty... Pandy... the most amazing chocolate cakes, bars and truffles...  chips... Pommes Anna... Gratin Dauphinoise... Boulangère... I must have at least a thousand potato recipes on my shelves.

Crainquebille Potatoes are a side dish I love to serve with roasts and while the Gruyère topping is non-traditional, I think it adds to the dish.
Potatoes are social vegetables - often seen in the company of garlic, herbs and other party vegetables
For 6 servings you will need...

50g butter
2 onions (each the size of a tennis ball) roughly chopped
500g potatoes (prepared weight), diced into 2cm cubes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
250mls good quality chicken stock

100g fresh breadcrumbs
50g Gruyère cheese, grated

Potoates, tomatoes, herbs, crunchy breadcrumbs, melted cheese = tummy hug

Pre-heat your oven to 200°C
1                 Melt the butter in a medium sauce over a medium heat and add the chopped onions. Cook without colouring for about 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
2                 Add the diced potatoes, herbs, garlic and chopped tomatoes, salt and black pepper and stir until well combined. Transfer to an oven proof dish, approximately 21cm x 21cm (8½” x 8½”) and 6cm (2½”) deep. Add the stock. It should barely cover the potatoes.
3                 Transfer to the preheated oven and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes. Then, turn down the heat to 180°C and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork.
4                 Remove from the oven and sprinkle with an even layer of breadcrumbs. Finally, sprinkle with Gruyère and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese has melted. Mmmmmmm.

If like me, you love potatoes, here are two more of my favourite potato recipes...
"In a moment of madness brought on by a rare glimpse of blue sky and sunshine, I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. The water was wild and breathtakingly cold, so when I say “swimming” I really mean a vigorous flailing of limbs in the direction of the shore, the main purpose of which was to avoid being swept out of the gorgeous little bay, next stop America.

There is only one dish to help the post-swim thawing process – a dish well known to skiers – and one which caused me a little anxiety - Tartiflette.

‘Patatas Bravas’ with Garlic Mayonnaise – Aioli! Ole!

“Growing potatoes couldn't be easier. Pop seed potato in ground, cover with earth, and forget for several months. ..Today, I am going to celebrate the crop Spanish–style, with Patatas Bravas, a tapas dish I first tasted in Barcelona. Crispy potato chunks are topped with a ‘fierce’ tomato sauce and a cool aioli (garlic mayo) on the side. It is traditional to have a chilled glass of wine or beer ready to quench the chilli heat.” Pin It

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Irish Coffee Mousse - Worth the Caffeine!

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Phew - it was just a dream! Now, Irish Coffee Mousse is a proper pick-me-up!

I’d been sent some Really Good Organic Coffee from Café de Cuba to sample. I don’t often drink coffee – remember the coffee-grinds-on-the-ceiling incident?  So when I drink coffee, it has to be WTC* – Worth The Caffeine. This was WTC, and the hint of vanilla and chocolate got me thinking about dessert in general, and coffee desserts in particular. The obvious coffee dessert is tiramisu - cue wibble wobble flashback sequence...

Years ago I had a friend who would sometimes mind my house when my beloved and I went on holiday. His specialty was an incredible tiramisu. He always made an enormous bowl of the stuff to welcome us home. I liked tiramisu but after the ninth helping it was more of a ‘put-me-down’ than a ‘pick-me-up’. You really can have too much of a good thing. Groan. Eventually, we had to confess that we donated his tiramisu to more appreciative diners.
Ok, we're back in the present day. It was all a bad dream.
So not tiramisu then. Something light... Something easy... Something that wouldn’t involve a trip to the market. Coffee and walnut... ? Done that. Irish coffee... ? Too early in the morning to be quaffing Irish coffee. But the idea had potential...

My mother makes a gorgeous fruit mousse. Drop the fruit, add some strong coffee, a little white chocolate to emphasise the vanilla, a shot of Irish whiskey, a swirl of cream on top... Irish Coffee Mousse. Sigh!

Drop the fruit, add some strong coffee, white chocolate, a shot of Irish Whiskey ...

For 4 - 6 servings you will need...
200mls evaporated milk, chilled (place in the freezer for an hour-and-a-half)
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
100mls strong coffee (I used 40g Really Good Organic Coffee grounds for this amount)
4 leaves of gelatine and a little cold water to sponge
50mls Irish whiskey
100g white chocolate, grated

Whipped cream to decorate

1                 Brew the strong coffee and place in a measuring jug along with the whiskey. Meanwhile, sponge the gelatine by placing it in a bowl and covering it with cold water. After a few minutes it will soften. Remove from the bowl and squeeze any excess moisture out of the gelatine. Place it in the hot coffee and stir until completely dissolved. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. You are looking for the moment when the mixture starts to thicken to a syrup-like consistency as it starts to gel. If you add the coffee mixture before this stage, you'll end up with coffee pannacotta, which is not the texture we're going for.
2                 Whisk the chilled evaporated milk with the brown sugar until it thickens and forms soft peaks when you lift out the whisk.
3                 As soon as the coffee mixture starts to gel, whisk it into the evaporated milk until combined, light and fluffy. Divide the grated chocolate between pretty glasses or coffee cups and top with the mousse and a swirl of cream. This amount makes 4 large portions or 6 more dainty portions.
You could use a cream liqueur in place of the whiskey if you prefer. You could also use decaf and replace the whiskey with an extra 50mls of coffee and a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you prefer a more innocent dessert. I've also made this with low-fat evaporated milk for an even more guilt-free experience.

Café de Cuba has also introduced a decaf, and Cha - a range of organic teas from the Himalayas. I've tried Spring Mint (organic green tea and mint) and Golden Mango and was pleasantly surprised.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Green Tomato and Gooseberry Tart - a dessert fit for the Whistle Stop Café

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My very promising tomato crop suffered a miserable “summer”. The entire ripe harvest from three sturdy plants yielded 4 cherry tomatoes. And I don’t mean 4 pounds, I mean 4 actual cherry tomatoes - although they were divinely sweet and tasty. Without sunshine, I am left with an abundance of green tomatoes.

Excuse me! Could you point the way to the Whistle Stop Café?

Before “The Recession”, I might have thrown them on the compost heap, but my War On Waste philosophy (WOW) now digs at my conscience. Sooooo… what to make with these sharp tangy fruits. Chutney? Pickle? Ketchup? The smell of simmering vinegar puts me off making these preserves, lovely and all as they are.

I experimented with green tomato jam and ended up with a conserve by mistake. The taste was similar to gooseberry mixed with elderflower and yet it had a flavour all its own and definitely warranted further experimentation, hence this tart.

For 8-10 servings you will need...

Sweet Pastry
175g butter
75g caster sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 egg, beaten
260g plain flour

1                 Using a stand mixer (or a large bowl and plenty of elbow grease) cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest. When light and fluffy and paler in colour, mix in the beaten egg and continue beating until combined. Add the flour and mix until it forms a soft paste. Shape the paste into a ball using floured hands. Flatten into a disc about 2.5cm thick (1 inch) and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
2                 Roll out the chilled pastry until you have a circular shape about 28cm (11 inches) in diameter. Use to line a 23cm (9 inch) tart tin (I use a loose-bottomed tin as I find it easier to remove the pie from the tin before serving). If any holes develop, simply use excess pastry to patch them up, pressing firmly into place – it’s a very forgiving pastry. Remove any excess pastry by running the rolling pin over the top of the lined tin. Chill for a further 30 minutes.
3                 Pre-heat your oven to 170°C. Remove the tart shell from the fridge and prick lightly with a fork. Bake blind by lining the shell with aluminium foil or greaseproof paper and fill with ceramic baking beans. (You could also use dried beans and store them in a jar specifically for this purpose).
4                 Place the tin on a baking sheet and bake the tart shell in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Green Tomato and Gooseberry Tart - WOW!

Green Tomato and Gooseberry Filling

250g green tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
200g gooseberries, topped and tailed
50mls fresh orange juice
50g runny honey (or caster sugar)

4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
150mls double cream
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pre-heat your oven to 160°C

1                 Place the green tomatoes and gooseberries in a medium saucepan and add the orange juice. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. These can be cooked and cooled ahead of time so that when your pastry shell is ready to be filled, you can go right ahead.
2                 Drain the cooked fruit and arrange the pieces in the cooled pastry shell.
3                 Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, orange zest, until thick and creamy.
4                 Whisk in the double cream and cinnamon until combined with the egg mixture. Pour over the fruit in the tart shell.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35 - 45 minutes or until the surface is golden and the tart is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before removing from the tin.

The pastry is very 'short' with a wonderful orange zing and the tart is creamy, sweet, sharp and delicious. I used a combination of tomatoes and gooseberries but it would work with tart apples if you don't have gooseberries.
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