Sunday, December 10, 2017

For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is... Julia Yates' Parkin


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For the third bite of Christmas the treat I've made for thee is...

Sticky, spicy, special, and full of laughter and stories

This is a recipe from a lovely English lady I knew, Julia Yates, whose kitchen always smelled of something good. Julia made a supply of her special Parkin every Christmas and served this sticky, spicy treat with tea or something stronger, and always with a kind heart, stories and lots of laughter. Sadly Julia passed away a few years ago but her recipe still lives on.

Julia Yates’ Parkin
For 24 servings you will need…
350g plain flour
350g medium oatmeal or rolled oats
275g soft dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
15g baking powder
10g bicarbonate of soda
5g table salt

150g golden syrup
150g dark treacle (or molasses)
275g butter

2 large eggs

Optional extras
I added a lump of stem ginger, finely chopped, with about a tablespoon of its syrup to add to the gingeriness.

Lightly butter and base line a 30cm X 23cm baking tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C.

Mix together the first 7 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl.


In a medium saucepan, over a low heat melt together the golden syrup, treacle and butter.

Add the 2 eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Then add in the contents of the saucepan and mix until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking tin and level the surface. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes. The cake is ready when a cocktail stick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don't worry if it doesn't rise very much. It is meant to be sticky and brownie-like in texture.

Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares and store in an airtight container. Now the difficult bit - ignore for at least 3 days - longer if possible. During this time a wonderful alchemy takes place and the flavours become richer and deeper, though I understand perfectly if you can’t resist!

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Friday, December 8, 2017

For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake


Pin It For the second bite of Christmas the thing I've made for thee is... 

Boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Don't you love the Irish bent for understatement - world war was "The Emergency" and the economic catastrophe that shook the country to its foundations was "The Crisis". The Crisis came hot on the tail of the Celtic Tiger where good manners, good sense and caring went out the door for many people as soon as money swanned in. The Crisis - if it had any silver lining at all - seemed to sober us  up a bit, and to foster creativity as people sought to cope and to adjust to a very different scenario. 

One thing I've noticed over the past few years is that as people's budgets have tightened regarding gifts, the thought that goes into them has soared. Some of the loveliest Christmas gifts I've received have been made and given with love, and you cannot put a price tag on that.

I'll be making some foodie gifts this year - one of them, a family favourite: Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake. This one is for grown up friends and family. (If you are making these for kids, swap the cream liqueur for double cream). Cut into tiny bites and passed around after dinner or at the end of a run of savoury bites, these have a habit of vanishing as quickly as the Celtic Tiger did!

Package it up into Kilner jars or pretty boxes or tins and watch the recipient's face light up as they open it.
For 1 boozy Baileys Chocolate Biscuit Cake, (or many tiny bites) you will need...
150g Marietta biscuits (or any Rich Tea type biscuit)
150g Digestive biscuits
100g dried sour cherries or dried cranberries (or a mixture of the two), chopped
50g toasted almonds, chopped
50g toasted walnuts, chopped
150g good quality plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g good quality milk chocolate
150mls Baileys (or a similar Irish Cream Liqueur)
100g butter, melted
25g runny honey (something floral, but not overpowering)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

50g each of dark chocolate and white chocolate for drizzling over the finished cake (optional). Oh, who am I kidding! Since when has  extra chocolate been optional?


Chop the biscuits into bits about the size of a 2c coin (or a penny) and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the dried fruit and the nuts. 

Place the chocolate in a heatproof (preferably non-metallic) bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t sit in the water). When the chocolate has melted, add the butter and stir gently together with a wooden spoon or spatula to avoid filling the chocolate with air bubbles. We’re not making mousse today. 

When the butter is incorporated, add the cream liqueur (or double cream if you are going for an alcohol-free version) and stir until you have a smooth, shiny lake of chocolate-y deliciousness. (It will be alarming liquid at this stage but keep the faith - it will set later in the fridge.) Finally, stir in the honey and the vanilla extract. Tip the mixture into the bowl of biscuits. Stir until every last morsel is coated with boozy chocolate lusciousness. 

Transfer to a loaf tin (if you want slices), a mixing bowl or round cake tin (if you want wedges) or a shallow pie dish or similar if you want little squares or bars,  before covering and placing in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours or overnight. You can line your chosen container with cling film if you wish but I find it just as easy to pop the container in a tray of hot water for a minute or so to melt the edges a little before turning out onto a serving tray. 

It would be utterly decadent to drizzle this little treat with even more chocolate...

 Cut into squares, wedges or bars. Share.
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me ... 30 onion bhajis!


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Ok, it’s not yet the first day of Christmas ... and the song doesn’t quite go like that but over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing the 12 bites of Christmas – delicious little morsels, savoury and sweet, to tantalise your taste buds.

So, for the first bite of Christmas, the thing I made for thee is... an Onion Bhaji. This recipe is frighteningly easy and can be rustled up in about 20 minutes once you know what you are doing. Even better, these onion bhajis are vegetarian and gluten free. They can be prepared in advance and frozen, ready to whip out at a moment’s notice for delighted visitors.

This recipe assumes you’ll be having friends over for drinks or that you love onion bhajis as much as I do. It is easily halved 

For about 30 bites of crispy, spicy, oniony gorgeousness you will need...

4 medium onions – about the size of a tennis ball
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 tsp fennel seed
160g gram flour (chickpea flour)
40g rice flour (for added crispiness)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1-2 hot green chillies, finely chopped* (these can be left out if you’re not a fan)
30g fresh ginger, finely grated
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaf or flat leafed parsley
2 tablespoons of plain (unsweetened) natural yoghurt or Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

You will also need approximately 8 – 9 tablespoons cold water.

Sunflower oil for deep frying

Make up the mixture when you are ready to cook.

First, prepare the onions – peel them, then halve them top to bottom and cut into fine strips. Break up the strips with your fingers so that there are no large clumps clinging together.

Next, lightly toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. They are done when you can start to smell toasted spices! Remove them from the heat and crush them roughly using a pestle and mortar, or the spice grinder you got last Christmas and still haven’t used, or simply chop them roughly with a knife.

Place the gram flour and rice flour in a large mixing bowl along with everything else except the water and the onions and mix to combine.

Now stir in enough cold water to make a thick batter, adding a little at a time. (I find that 8 tablespoons makes a slightly more substantial bhaji and 9 tablespoons equals more crunch – both have their merits.)

Finally add the onions and mix gently until every strand is coated with the batter.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C.  Also pre-heat your oven to 100°C if you are planning to eat them immediately - the first few batches need to be kept warm as you work your way through the mixture.

Take walnut sized portions of the mixture in your hands and press gently into a ball before releasing carefully into the hot oil. Avoid overloading the fryer as it will lower the temperature and the bhajis will stick to each other and also become greasy.

Careful now...

If they haven’t resurfaced after about 45 seconds, gently release from the bottom of the fryer basket with a long-handled tongs. Continue to fry until deep golden brown – about two minutes in total.

I think these ones are doing the backstroke

Drain over the fryer until any excess oil stops dripping and place the cooked bhajis on a heatproof tray lined with kitchen paper. Place the tray in the oven. Cook the remainder of the mixture, keeping the finished bhajis warm until ready to serve.

Look what I caught! 

Alternatively, let them cool on the tray.
Freeze in one layer before packing into a suitable container and reheating – from frozen – at about 160°C for about 10 – 15 minutes or until piping hot.

Independent taste tester verdict: "Really very good. Is anyone eating that last one?"
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Homemade (Vegetarian) Mincemeat - it's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!!!

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Someone else can make the mince pies !!!

Now is the time to make mincemeat so that it has time to mature before you make the mince pies. This is in the oven as I type and the house smells divine!

First published in 2010 - the snow has long since melted!

For me, the Christmas season starts as soon as the fruity, spicy, alcoholic aromas of mincemeat rise from the oven. Best of all, it is astonishingly simple to put together and the long slow cooking transforms these simple ingredients into something magical. If kept sealed, my Apple and Cranberry Mincemeat will keep for up to a year* in a cool dry place – assuming that for some strange reason you don’t scoff the lot over Christmas.

*I once found a jar of mincemeat that had moved house twice with us and was still perfectly good after three years… Darina Allen, Ballymaloe's famous stirrer-of-mould-back-into-the-jam, would approve. As she says "Trust your senses. Look at food. Smell it. Taste it - if in doubt, just have a small taste." 

Obviously, common sense must prevail.

Simple ingredients...  

A word of warning: if you make this mincemeat, you will be called upon to perform your magic every year henceforth.
For approximately 4 magical jars (1.5kg in total) you will need
... to pre-heat the oven to 100°C 
200g apple, grated
200g raisins
200g sultanas
200g currants
100g dried cranberries
200g dark brown sugar
100g mixed peel
50g walnuts, finely chopped
50g whole almonds, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
a tiny pinch of ground cloves – about one-sixteenth of a teaspoon
125g butter, cut into cubes
grated peel and juice of 1 large orange
grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
6 tablespoons Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey for a more traditional flavour)

You’ll need also an additional 2 tablespoons of whatever alcohol you choose, to stir in at the end.

... magical food (that looks much prettier in jars) and tastes incredible in a pastry case 

Mix all the ingredients together in a large oven proof dish with a lid. Cover and place in the preheated oven and cook gently for 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.

When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and allow to cool, stirring briefly every half hour until cold so that the butter remains evenly distributed.

Finally, stir a further 2 tablespoons of Apple Schnapps (or Brandy, or Whiskey) into the cold mixture before sealing in clean, dry jars. That’s it, job done. Someone else can make the mince pies!

UPDATE - The wonderful Angie Schnieder of Angie's Recipes adapted this for her slow cooker "Just made this using my slow cooker (4 hrs on low)...and it was sensational!" Angie made a few other changes, swapping out ingredients her husband doesn't like for others that he does. Make your own customisations - it's what cooking is all about!

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – quite a character!

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First published in August 2010

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help over the summer, and I cannot get one of the characters out of my mind. Appearing almost as often as the main protagonist, Minnie’s Caramel Cake seems to be a huge part of the story. It made me hungry every time I picked up the book.
I’ve tried to find a definitive recipe for Caramel Cake, but – like Irish stew – it appears to be one of those recipes that no matter what version you use, you’ll set someone’s tongue a-tutting.
Soooooo, I’m not going to try and recreate a Caramel Cake. I am going to make a Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – hazelnut sponge cake, with a layer of creamy Nutella filling, slip in some crushed meringue, add a layer of caramel, another layer of Nutella/meringue filling. Top this sugar-fest with more caramel - the filling doubles as frosting.  You’ll need a sugar thermometer for the caramel topping.

For 10 generous slices you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C

For the Cake Batter
200g butter, softened
180g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
150mls fresh milk
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
330g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
50g toasted hazelnuts, chopped


·     First, butter and base-line two 23cm sandwich tins.
·     In a large mixing bowl (or food mixer) beat together the soft butter and sugar until fluffy and paler in colour.
·     In a jug, mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
·     In another bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
·     Slowly add about a quarter of the egg mixture to the butter, beating continuously until combined. Then, add about a quarter of the flour mixture. Continue beating while you add alternate lots of egg and flour to the butter mixture until both have been used up.
·     Finally, add in the toasted hazelnuts and mix until just combined.
·     Divide the mixture between the two buttered, base-lined sandwich tins and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Prod lightly with a finger. The sponges should spring back. If not, give them another 5 minutes or so and test again.
·     Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.
While the cakes are baking, make the fillings...
For the Creamy Nutella Filling
240g cream cheese
130g Nutella
220g icing sugar, sifted
2 single-portion ready-made meringues, crushed into pea-sized bits
·     Place the cream cheese, Nutella, and icing sugar in a mixing bowl and with your hand-held blender set to low, beat together until combined in a smooth mixture. The meringue comes in later...

For the Caramel Filling and Topping
330g sugar
250mls milk
30g black treacle
50g Kerrygold butter
8 tablespoons condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·     Place the sugar, milk and treacle in a saucepan and stir together over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Turn up the heat a little, stirring continuously, until the mixture is bubbling and has reached the ‘soft ball’ mark on your sugar thermometer (116°C or 240°F). Don’t worry if the milk separates. It will all come together in the end.
·     As soon as it has reached the ‘soft ball’ stage, remove it from the heat and add the butter, letting it melt. Stir the melted butter into the mixture – it will seem like this is never going to happen at first, but persist! When the butter has vanished into the mixture, stir in the condensed milk and vanilla extract.
·     Leave the mixture to get cold, beating occasionally to break up the surface crust that forms as it cools.

Assemble when the cakes and the frosting are cold
·     Split each of the cakes and fill both with the Nutella mixture. Sprinkle the filling with crushed meringue before joining the cake halves together again.
·     Pour a generous layer of caramel on top of one cake and stack the other cake on top.
·     Pour the rest of the caramel over the stacked cakes, smoothing with a palate knife. Ensure that the sides are covered.
·     At this stage it looks very brown so I coat the sides with chopped toasted hazelnuts (that makes it triple hazelnut!) or desiccated coconut and drizzle the top with dark chocolate which sets hard and makes a lovely contrast to the soft caramel. You may have other decorating ideas. Either way, prepare for a sugar rush.

Use ready-made caramel or Dulche de Leche in place of the caramel frosting if you want to save yourself a bit of stirring.
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sensational Scotch Eggs - originally from London... Gasp!

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Fortnum & Mason claim to have invented the Scotch egg, and have been selling it since 1738. However they may have been inspired by Nargisi kofta – a dish from the much earlier and more exotic setting of the Mogul Empire. Whatever their origins, Scotch Eggs were one of the few nice eggy things I got to cook at school and I have been addicted to them ever since. They are best consumed on the day they are made, otherwise the crust loses its crunchiness – and then, what’s the point?! These contain bacon to make them extra delicious and succulent. 

For 4 sensational Scotch eggs, you will need...
... a deep fat fryer

6 eggs (4 to boil, 2 to use in the coating)
400g good quality plain sausage meat

1 small onion, finely chopped
100g bacon lardons, (or rashers) finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp whole grain mustard (or strong Dijon / English mustard if you prefer)
60g flour
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little butter or sunflower oil for frying the onion and bacon
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Place 4 of the eggs in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 6 minutes (for a just-set egg - or longer if you prefer them done a bit more), then carefully drain away the boiling water and cover the eggs with cold water, changing it once as it becomes warm with the heat of the eggs. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onion in a little butter or sunflower oil until softened (about 12 minutes) and beginning to turn golden around the edges. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool completely. Next fry the bacon, and add to the cooling onion.

Bacon makes everything better
When the onion and bacon have cooled, place the meat, cumin, herbs, and mustard in a bowl and mix well – hands are best (I keep a box of disposable food-quality gloves handy for jobs like this). Divide the mixture into four equal portions – approximately 120g each if you want to weigh them out.

Shell the eggs – my preferred way is to crack the shell, then slip a teaspoon beneath the shell and carefully work it off.

Line up 3 bowls or shallow dishes (I find pie dishes are great for this job). Put the flour into the first dish with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. In the second dish, beat the remaining two eggs together with a pinch of salt. Tip the breadcrumbs into the third dish. Lay a sheet of cling film over a chopping board and place one of the sausage meat portions on top. Cover with another sheet of cling film, then either pat with your hands or roll with a rolling pin until the meat forms a patty big enough to wrap an egg. Repeat with the remaining portions of sausage meat until you have four more or less identical patties. This helps keep the blanket of sausage meat an even consistency.
Coax the meat around the egg, thinking Rugby! not football for the shape
Now, take one of the hard-boiled eggs, dust it with the seasoned flour, then place it in the centre of a patty. Encase the egg in the sausage meat, coaxing it around the egg until it covers it evenly. (Think  rugby rather than football for the shape). Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Now begins the ‘sheep dip’ (Tip: If you use just one hand to do the dipping, it makes life a bit easier).


Dust the sausage-covered eggs with flour, drench them with beaten egg, then cover them with breadcrumbs, pressing gently to ensure maximum coverage. Return the breadcrumbed eggs to the egg bath, completely drenching them again, then return them to the breadcrumb dish, and once again, give them a generous coating, pressing gently to ensure maximum adherence. Every crumb you can manage to stick to the eggs is one more morsel of crunchiness.

Fill your deep fat fryer to the recommended level with sunflower oil. Heat the oil to 170°C and carefully add the eggs. Cook until deep golden brown, approaching the colour of David Dickenson (about 7 minutes) turning occasionally. Remove from the hot oil and rest them on kitchen towel for a few minutes before serving. Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.

Piccalilli is a good accompaniment.
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Cider Can Chicken with roasted onions – undignified, but delicious!

Pin It First published 21/8/12
On the booze - literally!
If you are a fan of roast chicken but haven’t yet tried this method, you are in for a real treat.

It is probably one of the most undignified ways of cooking a chicken but it’s a stunner - and perfect in the oven or on the BBQ.  As the cider evaporates, fragrant steam permeates the flesh, keeping it juicy and flavouring it with garlic and whatever herbs you decide to use. I’ve used thyme today but rosemary is good too. Any cider that is left in the can after roasting gets tipped into the roasting tin to blend with the chicken juices for a lazy gravy. Couldn’t be simpler.  

Cider seems only to come in cans of 500mls in Ireland. Use a clean empty 330ml soda or beer can for this dish as they are the ideal size.

To feed four, you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 180˚C (see BBQ note at the end)

100mls of cider
a generous bunch of fresh thyme (or about 6 sprigs of rosemary)
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 x 1.5kg oven-ready chicken (free-range if your budget allows)
1 teaspoon sea salt
25g butter, melted and cooled
3 onions, peeled, keeping as much of the root intact as possible.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt

1.                  First, make sure the oven shelves are arranged to accommodate a chicken being cooked upright. Using a tin opener, cut the top off a 330ml aluminium beverage can. Handle with care – the cut edge can be very sharp. Pour the cider into the can. Add the sliced garlic and some of the fresh thyme. Place the can in a roasting dish.
2.                  Rub the chicken with the salt, and anoint with the melted butter. Keeping the can upright, insert it into the cavity of the chicken. Use the chicken legs to help balance it upright in the roasting tin. Poke any remaining thyme into the neck of the chicken.

Reminds me of Killiney Beach - brrrrrr
3.                  Place in the preheated oven and roast for an hour (or until cooked through - pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear you are good to go.)
4.                  To prepare the onions, cut each into 6 wedges making sure each wedge has a little bit of root – this helps keep them intact while cooking. Toss them in the olive oil and sprinkle with the pinch of salt. When the chicken has been cooking for half an hour, add the onion wedges to the roasting tin.
5.                  After the cooking time has elapsed, carefully remove the chicken from the oven and cut the skin between the leg joint and the body. If it is still pink, return the chicken to the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until there is no pink remaining.
6.                  Lay the chicken on its back so that any remaining cider spills into the roasting dish and mingles with the chicken juices. Carefully spoon or pour off the liquid into a small saucepan. Cover the chicken and let it ‘relax’ in a warm place for about 10 minutes. This ‘relaxing’ allows the juices which have boiled up to the surface of the meat to redistribute themselves, resulting in a more tender, succulent bird.
7.                  While the chicken is relaxing, gently simmer the saucepan of cider and chicken juices to concentrate the flavour. Transfer to a gravy boat just before serving.

Note: you could substitute beer or white wine for the cider. You could use chicken stock or unsweetened apple juice if you prefer an alcohol-free version.

To BBQ - Prepare the cider can as in step 1. Remove any excess fat from the chicken.  Prepare as in step 2 above but omit the butter and then carefully place the chicken upright on the BBQ and close the lid, taking care not to tip the bird over. Cook for about an hour or until cooked through (as in step 3), checking regularly to make sure it is not burning. Remove very carefully, remembering that there could still be boiling liquid in the cider can, and allow to rest in a warm place before serving.
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