Saturday, May 26, 2012

White Bean and Lemon Soup – has the X-Factor !

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Compare and contrast: your beloved feeding you oysters... or strawberries... and now, that same scene with soup... Eeek!!! Let’s face it, soup just isn’t sexy. Most of the time, it isn’t even good-looking.
I think the writer, Judith Martin, sums up the nature of soup beautifully in this quote:
"Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honour to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don't catch steak hanging around when you're poor and sick, do you?"
I think she is right. Soup is a friend with an engaging personality, able to charm just about anyone, be they king or pauper.
One of the things I love about soup is its ability to surprise. It is capable of having that X-Factor, that Susan Boyle moment. Then, a seeming bland bowlful - made from a handful of simple ingredients - will sing out at the top of its voice, hitting all the right notes, and just blow you away.
For 4 servings you will need...
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
400g tinned white beans such as Cannellini (rinsed and drained)
750mls good-quality chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you prefer)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
A tablespoon of finely chopped fresh parsley (optional) 

Magic beans!

1                    Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion, celery and bay leaf. Lower the heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes until onion is soft and translucent but has not taken on any colour. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
2                    Add the beans, stock, lemon zest and lemon juice to the saucepan. When it has come to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove the bayleaf before blending the soup to a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this.  Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and some good crusty bread.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Banana, Pear and Coconut Loaf – a reason to kiss your Greengrocer !

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My favourite Greengrocer has obviously been paying attention to my War on Waste theme. “Do you want these love, they are gone beyond the beyond.” he said, handing over several kilos of freckly bananas, and a half-dozen Rocha pears that have seen better days.  “On the house”, he adds. “I can’t sell them and it’s a shame to chuck ‘em if you can use ‘em.”  Normally I have to wait a week until my newly purchased bananas overripen sufficiently for baking. These are perfect. Oh I could kiss him.

Through a combination of a shortage of time, a lack of butter, this unexpected excess of pears and bananas, and a craving for something sweet, I have messed with my old Banana Bread recipe. Here is the new quick and easy version. WOW! The coconut adds texture and a background creaminess. The pear makes the banana flavour POP. And the bonus is that it is quicker to put together and involves less washing up. What’s not to love!
For the absolutely best results hold your nerve until the bananas are practically black on the outside and the flesh is sweet, sweet, sweet.
Not quite the pick of the bunch but these freckly bananas are just perfect for baking

For a 2Lb loaf you will need:
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
250g very ripe bananas, mashed (that’s about 3 medium bananas)
100g sunflower oil (or other flavourless cooking oil)
100g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
50g dessicated shredded coconut (unsweetened)
10g baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 soft sweet ripe pear, such as Rocha, chopped into small pieces 
a little butter to grease the loaf tin 


1                    First, lightly butter and base line a 2 lb loaf tin. (To base line a tin, sit it on greaseproof paper or baking parchment and using a pencil, trace around it. Cut out the shape just inside the pencil lines. Lightly rub the inside of the tin with butter and position the paper in the buttery base. This makes it easier to remove the cake from the tin when cooked.)
2                    In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas roughly using a fork or a potato masher. Add the oil and caster sugar and stir together until just combined. Next add the beaten eggs, again stirring until just combined.
3                    In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, coconut, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and fold these dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just incorporated and no dry mix remains. (To fold, add dry ingredients to wet and taking a spatula or a metal spoon, cut through the centre of the batter. Move the spatula or spoon across the bottom of the bowl, and back up the side and across the top bringing some of the cake mixture from bottom to top. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Keep folding the mixture and turning the bowl until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the batter. Folding avoids overworking the batter, giving a tender crumb in the finished loaf.) Finally, mix in the chopped pear, making sure it is well-distributed throughout the mixture.
4                    Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf tin and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 50 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. A cocktail stick inserted in the centre should come out clean. If there is batter clinging to it, pop the loaf back in the oven for a further 10 minutes then test again. Leave to cool in the tin. While you can eat it straight away, this cake is best wrapped in cling film and left for 24 hours before eating. A wonderful alchemy takes place and it becomes more banana-y, pear-y and utterly delicious.  
Evidence that it is time to cut another slice...

Note: I scattered about 50g of fruit-free muesli over the top of the loaf before baking to make it more presentable because it’s a homely looking loaf. Pin It

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Onion and Orange Marmalade – it’s time to magic up a pot

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I have three amazing sisters who I would choose as friends if they weren’t already in my world. We have completely different lives, different styles, different ways of looking at the world. However we also have a lot in common. We have the same smile; the same wicked sense of humour that sometimes operates only on our wavelength; and thankfully most of the tears that are shed between us are tears of laughter.
We share a love of food, in particular a love of decent chocolate – my youngest sister even keeps chocolate in her first aid kit. We have been known to drive to the next county for proper fat chipper chips when a collective craving hits; and the jar of Sainsbury’s onion marmalade my mother keeps in her fridge mysteriously vanishes after a visit from the girls.
I’ve been experimenting however, and my taste buds think this onion and orange marmalade improves upon the Sainsbury’s version. It is a sweet and sour relish that loves cold meats, barbeques, cheese etc and is a doddle to make. As the picnic season draws near, it is time to magic up a pot.

For 1 small pot of onion and orange marmalade you will need...

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
500g onions (prepared weight), peeled, cut in half from top to bottom and then thinly sliced into half moons
zest of an orange, (best removed using a vegetable peeler to slice off just the orange part, leaving the bitter white pith behind) finely shredded then cut into approximately 2cm lengths
160g granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
100mls fresh orange juice
100mls white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 hot chilli (optional), left whole, but pierced through with a sharp knife

Simple ingredients...
1                  In a medium-sized heavy-based saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onions and the shredded orange zest and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the onions are translucent.
2                  Add the sugar, salt and cloves and continue cooking gently until the sugar has dissolved into the onion juices. When no sugar crystals remain, add the orange juice, white wine vinegar and chilli (if using). Turn up the heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are honey-coloured and no liquid remains. This will take about 15 minutes. (The mixture will burn the instant you step away from the hob so resign yourself to being there for the duration –treat it as therapy if necessary.)
3                  If you’ve added the chilli, remove it before carefully transfer the mixture into a sterilised jar. Seal when cooled and keep in the fridge for up to three weeks.  

Best eaten in the company of exceptional sisters (and/or brothers).
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Honey, Lemon and Almond Tartlets – Having a Pollyanna moment!

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Everything you need for a Pollyanna moment!

My parents are watching the Dublin skies with bated breath, hoping that they are not going to be flooded again. I can’t even think about soggy carpets and destroyed books without getting upset on their behalf so I am going all Pollyanna and I am going to bake some golden tartlets and pretend it’s not happening.
These honey, lemon, and almond tartlets are a little bite of summer, and I guess if the worst comes to the worst, my parents could always lash them together and use them as a raft...

For 18 tartlets you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C at step 3

Sweet Pastry
175g butter
75g caster sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 egg, beaten
260g plain flour
a pinch of fine table salt 

1                    Using a stand mixer (or a large bowl and plenty of elbow grease) cream together the butter, sugar and lemon 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 to a thickness of about 2mm (about as thick as a euro/pound coin). Cut out 18 rounds using a 10 cm (4 inch) round cookie cutter – or a flower-shaped cutter as shown in the photos. Line muffin tins with the pastry rounds. If any holes develop, simply use excess pastry to patch them up, pressing firmly into place – it’s a very forgiving pastry. Return to the fridge and chill for a further 30 minutes.
The pink flower-shaped cutter definitely adds Pollyanna-bility to the process!

Filling
4 egg yolks
100g runny honey
170mls double cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
100g breadcrumbs
75g ground almond  

3                    Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk lightly while you add the runny honey. (I usually place the bowl on a weighing scales and weigh the honey directly into the bowl as I whisk – anything to save on sticky washing up). When the honey and eggs are mixed, add the cream and grated lemon zest and whisk until combined.  Add the breadcrumbs and almonds and mix until no dry breadcrumbs remain.
4                    Remove the chilled pastry cases from the fridge. Divide the filling between the pastry cases, allowing approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture per tartlet. Transfer to the pre-heated oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the filling has puffed up, is golden brown and feels spongy when pressed lightly with a finger. Carefully remove from the muffin tins and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold with ice cream or whipped cream. 


Right, I’m off to eat that photo at the top of the page and think pleasant thoughts, although if anyone knows the opposite of a rain dance, please feel free to interrupt my Pollyanna moment.
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