Friday, December 28, 2018

Moros y Cristianos (in a hurry) – good luck to you !

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Simple ingredients, magical food !

I learned to tango in the basement of a Dublin pub some years ago. When I say “learned” I mean my head learned quite a bunch of fancy steps but failed to pass this new knowledge on to the rest of me.

However, I quickly came to understand that if you learn the general shape of the dance and can follow a lead AND you have the great fortune to be landed with a good dance partner, you’re laughing. If not, lean down and whisper this excellent piece of advice to your tender little toes: “Rrrrruuuuuunnnnnnnnnn!”

Some of the great partnerships that come to mind are: Fred ‘n’ Ginger, Travolta ‘n’ Newton-John, Swayze ‘n’ Grey, Bacon ‘n’ Eggs, Fish ‘n’ Chips, and - the non-pc - Moros y Cristianos, aka black beans and rice.

This dish has been around in some form or other for so long that its origins are hazy, but it widely agreed that it acquired the name sometime during the complicated history that saw Spain conquered by the Moors, then reconquered by the Christians. It is a popular Cuban dish and variations are enjoyed all over South America – as well as in the US.

It is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day - for good luck (although probably more in the sense that “If you think you can find something else in the cupboard at this time of year other than black beans and rice, then good luck to you.”) 

This is my quick version. It is humble fare but a welcome break from all the recent feasting!

For approximately 6 servings as a main, or 10 as a side, you will need…

300g basmati rice
1 x 400g can of black beans (turtle beans)
approximately 700mls* chicken stock
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
200g pancetta or bacon, diced
I stick celery, peeled of stringy bits and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely diced
I green pepper, finely diced
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 bay leaves

a little salt to taste, if necessary

a little chopped coriander (optional)

First, rinse the rice in plenty of cold water and leave to soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Drain the water from the beans into a measuring jug and make up this muddy-looking liquid to 800mls in total with chicken stock. (You may need a little more or a little less depending on how much liquid you get from the beans.) Leave to one side while you prepare the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the pancetta or bacon. Fry gently until cooked, then add the celery, onion and peppers. Continue to cook gently for about 5 minutes or until any excess liquid - released by the peppers - has evaporated.

Add the garlic, cumin and paprika and continue to cook for a further minute before adding the bean liquid and stock mixture. Bring to simmering and add the soaked, drained rice along with the beans and bay leaves.

Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes or until all the rice is cooked and the liquid has evaporated. Taste and add salt only if necessary. Turn off the heat. Cover with a clean teacloth and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving with a sprinkling of coriander if desired.

Wishing you a delicious 2014 !
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Monday, November 26, 2018

Honey and Orange Stock Syrup - for mulled wine at the drop of a (Santa) hat... Mmmm !

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(Looking back over the years, this has proved to be one of the surprise hit recipes
 so here it is again - it was first published in December 2012.)

I’ve just finished the first batch of mince pies. The house is full of spicy, fruity scents so evocative of the impending feast. Here’s my tried and tested mincemeat recipe – it keeps for ages if you want to make it in advance, but is ready to use as soon as it has cooled. The gorgeous Christmassy aromas have made me long for mulled wine. 
Now there are mulled wines... and there are mulled wines...  I knew this bloke who was legendary for his seasonal concoction. He simply boiled together 6 bottles of wine with a carton of juice, a heap of sugar and a few ground spices ... from which he was able to fashion 5,000 servings (only a slight exaggeration). It was like the tale of the magic porridge pot.

This miracle he accomplished as follows: for every glass of mulled wine he removed from the pot, he topped it up with water and sugar. By the time he reached the 5,000th serving, the liquid was practically homeopathic, retaining just the barest memory of the original flavours. Shudder.
Bearing this example in mind, I want a seasonal punch that packs ... well... a punch!
I keep a spiced honey and orange stock syrup in the fridge ready to add festive spirit at a moment’s notice. Just add red wine, and some extra spices if you want to add a little more kick, and gently heat through. This quick and easy stock syrup is also great added to a dry Cava; and Santa might appreciate a drop or two in a glass of sparkling water or sparkling apple juice too, particularly if he’s got to drive that sleigh all the way back to the North Pole. 

For 300mls of stock syrup (approximate serving per 75cl bottle of wine) you will need...

150mls fresh orange juice
260g runny honey
The zest of 2 large oranges removed in strips, leaving behind any bitter white pith
The zest of 1 large lemon, as above
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks 

1.                 In a medium saucepan, mix together the orange juice and the honey. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 2 minutes then remove from the heat and add the orange and lemon zest, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Leave to cool. Strain and store in a screw top jar or bottle for up to 2 weeks. I add dried slices of orange and cinnamon sticks to the jar because they look pretty and add to the flavour.
2.                 To make the mulled wine: gently heat a bottle of half decent red wine (yes, I know the budget added €1 but still, you want something drinkable...). Add enough stock syrup to satisfy your sweet tooth. Add further spices (slices of ginger, star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg etc) and slices of orange and lemon so it looks as Christmassy as it tastes.

For mulled wine at the drop of a (Santa) hat
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Monday, October 15, 2018

Apple Fudge Dumplings with Cider Cinnamon Syrup – sinful !

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I wonder if Eve had this dessert in mind when she was caught scrumping apples from the garden of paradise. What was her sin exactly: Nicking the apples? Fencing the stolen fruit? Getting caught before she had a chance to turn her illicit bounty into apple fudge dumplings?

I’ve asked around and it appears most of my friends would have been booted out of paradise too, having partaken of orchard-raiding in their youth. The lure of this crime wasn’t so much the prize of stolen fruit as the thrill of the dare. Don’t judge – there was nothing decent on the telly and the internet hadn’t been invented.

Anyway, now that apple harvest time is upon us, it would be a sin not to make this simple treat. Have some good vanilla ice cream standing by for a match made in heaven.

For 4 apple dumplings you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 180
˚C before you start to assemble the dumplings

Apple Fudge Dumplings
1 x 425g packet all butter puff pastry sheets (2 sheets)
4 apples (about the size of a tennis ball)
100g soft fudge, roughly chopped
75g walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
a little milk to seal and glaze
4 whole cloves
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1.                  If necessary, thaw the pastry sheets according to the instructions on the packet.
2.                  With a sharp knife, cut a strip about 2cm wide from each pastry sheet and set aside before cutting each pastry sheet in two.
3.                  Remove the core from each apple using a corer or a sharp knife.
4.                  Combine the chopped fudge with the chopped walnuts or pecans and pack the centre of each apple with the mixture.
5.                  Now, place a stuffed apple in the centre of a pastry portion. Lightly brush the edges with milk and bring opposite corners together to enclose the apple. Pinch the seams to seal the pastry well or the fudge will escape as it melts. Repeat with the remaining apples.
6.                  Cut 8 oval-shapes from the pastry trimmings you made at step 3 to make 'leaves'. Brush the back of the leaves with a little milk and place two leaves on each apple. Secure with a whole clove 'stem'.
7.                  Using a sharp knife, poke two slits in the top of each apple to allow steam to escape and prevent the pastries from bursting open. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until golden and scenting your kitchen with autumnal aromas.
8.                  Leave to cool for about 5 minutes or so before serving with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or custard and a drizzle of the cinnamon cider syrup.

While the apple fudge dumplings are cooking make the syrup…

Cider Cinnamon Syrup
250 mls cider (or apple juice)
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
4 tablespoons runny honey
25g butter

1.                  Place the cider and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil the simmer until reduced by half. Add the honey and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes. Then add the butter, stirring until incorporated, and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes.
2.                  Strain to remove the cinnamon. Leave to cool. Pour over the apple fudge dumplings just before serving.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

In At The Deep End - Literally!

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Were your childhood monsters in the wardrobe or under the bed? Jake Tilson’s monsters were in the attic. They sprang from a book he discovered there, illustrating the violence to be found beneath the sea – bloodied waters during a dolphin attack, and “gaping, skeletal jaws of a great white”.  To tackle his fear of all things fishy, he undertook to cook his way out of his phobia.


Even if you never cook a morsel from In At The Deep End, it is still a great read for the armchair cook/traveller. We start off in Jake’s family kitchen in Venice (brings back some lovely memories for me as I honeymooned in that strange and lovely city). Venice is photographed as if by tourist camera.

We travel with the Tilson family (Jake, his wife, Jeff and daughter, Hannah) to Sweden, and experience such luscious dishes as Jansson’s Temptation and Gravadlax.  Sprats feature quite a lot in this section in one form or another as do fishballs. I’d like to have seen a greater range of dishes in this section. Jake raises his concerns about over-fishing and gives some advice on how to fish local!

It was this big...

 Aberdeen in Scotland is next – again with the tourist photos, which work extremely well. It wouldn’t be Scotland without kippers and we get a bbq, several pates (or does he mean pâtés?), and potted kippers as well as a crab soup called Parten Bree. There is a lovely collage of tiny houses (some barely more than sheds) in the village of Footdee - or Fittie to the locals.

We cross an ocean to New York for the next leg of the trip and make Salmon and Dill Baked Fish Cakes using canned Alaskan salmon. I can’t bear tinned salmon so someone else will have to try this recipe and report back. I’ll happily try the Crab Cakes with fennel and tarragon though.

You needn't shell out to make a fabulous seafood meal...

Jake gets a commission to write about Australia, so with a wave of his magic wand – ok, just turn the page – and we land in Sydney. We’re straight into one of my favourite foods – mussels – and he’s grilled them three ways – with feta, pinenuts and mint, with chilli and coriander, with nuts and garlic. Yum, yum, and yum! There are a few fish in this chapter that I know I am not going to be able to get at my local market, but hey, if I get to Australia, I’ll know how to cook barramundi and red emperor. Meanwhile, I can substitute similar local varieties.

Japan is next where Jake discovers that no morsel of fish is wasted. After all the exotic travel, it is rather deflating to end up in Peckham for the final chapter of the book and as if Jake feels this, he carries the influences through to the first dish in this section – fried fish with wilted herbs and noodles.

Pasta is kinda noodles right?

The whole book hangs together extremely well so it is no surprise to learn that Jake is the designer and photographer as well as the author.

I’m not going to cook everything from this book, but it is a book I shall enjoy reading for many years to come, with as much a right to space on the bedside table as on the kitchen bookshelf.

(Review copy supplied by Quadrille Publishing. Opinion supplied by Hester Casey!)

In At The Deep End  by Jake Tilson
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN 9781844009756
Price: £20.00
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Monday, August 27, 2018

Chinese Five Spice – a Magic Powder that Makes Sparks Fly

Pin It One of my earliest food memories is of a night I went to the theatre with my parents. As if that were not treat enough, we stopped at a Chinese restaurant on Dublin’s Dame Street on the way home. My meal came in a little fried potato basket which I was convinced the chef had spent hours weaving. J  I loved the mixture of dishes that arrived, and better still, getting to taste them all. One sublime duck dish had a distinctive warmth and depth of flavour (although at the time I would probably simply have described it as “yummy”). This particular flavour I’ve come to recognise as the work of Chinese Five Spice.

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent... Magic!

Chinese Five Spice used to puzzle me because sometimes there were more than five flavours in the mix. I discovered that the five refers to the five flavour sensations rather than the number of spices. These are sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. Chinese Five Spice is readily available in your supermarket, but it is incredibly easy to make. Chinese Five Spice is wonderful with fatty meats such as pork, and duck, and adds great flavour to stir-fries, vegetables, soups and tofu dishes. It is powerful so a little goes a long way.

I'm going to be fennel seed when I grow up!
Over time, I’ve evolved the proportions to suit my taste buds, however feel free to vary the quantities of any element to suit your own taste.  As with any spices, I like to keep small quantities in stock so that the turnover in the kitchen is high and they are not kept around for ages, getting stale and losing flavour.

The Spice of Life

For about 8 teaspoons of powder (enough for several meals) you will need...

1 tablespoon Szechuan pepper corns
6 whole cloves
4 pieces star anise
1 x 6cm (2½) inch piece of cinnamon stick or cassia
1 tablespoon fennel seed

·                  Dry roast the pepper corns for about 1 minute in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add to the rest of the ingredients and grind to a fine powder using a spice grinder, food processor or pestle and mortar. Sift the powder to remove any pieces that haven’t been totally pulverised. Store the mixture in a small jar in a dry dark place and use within 1 month.

A really quick cheat to find your flavour preference is to use pre-ground spices and mix ½ teaspoon each of the five elements. You’ll quickly get to know which flavours you prefer to dominate and adjust them accordingly next time you make up the mix. It is trial and error but when you find the combination that suits you, sparks fly!

p.s. thanks to LiveLifeNYC whose question sparked this post.
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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Watermelon, Feta & Herb Salad - more a reminder than a recipe!

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This is usually what I want on a hot day when I don’t know what I want. It’s super pretty and equally tasty.

Less a recipe, more of a reminder - it’s sweet, juicy, salty, fresh, and downright delicious. I’ll leave the quantities up to you. This is best prepared just before eating. It doesn’t like to hang about.

For a refreshing summery salad you will need:

  • Watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
  • Spring onion (scallion) finely chopped
  • Mint and/or Basil, finely shredded
  • a pinch of Maldon salt flakes (or similar)
  • a drizzle of good olive oil

When you are ready to eat, place the watermelon in a serving bowl. Scatter with cubed or crumbled Feta cheese. Sprinkle over the finely chopped spring onion, followed by the herbs. Sprinkle with a little salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Eat.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Cornish Pasties – well Cornish-ish anyway !

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If you are from Cornwall, shut your eyes and block your ears for I am about to commit sacrilege. First though, here’s a little bit about the Cornish pastry, the traditional fare of Cornish tin miners. It is simply a half-moon-shaped savoury pastry containing diced beef skirt, onion, turnip (swede), potato, maybe some parsley, and little else. In some places there was a tradition of putting the initials of the owner on the pasty so that in mines where an oven was provided, the miner could pick out his own pasty from the hoards.

The Cornish pasty has recently been given Protected Geographical Status, meaning only pasties made in Cornwall and containing only the traditional ingredients can be called Cornish pasties.

As my humble pasty is not made in Cornwall, it is only Corn-ish.  These Corn-ish pasties went down a storm at a picnic last weekend. As they cannot be truly Cornish I didn’t feel so bad about going off-piste with ingredients like sweet potato and chorizo. I’ve used a mixture of meats because that’s what was in the fridge. You could use all beef mince if you prefer.

For 10 one-person pasties you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 175°C at step 4
500g plain flour
1 teaspoon fine table salt
150g butter, chilled and grated
175mls iced water 

1                    Place the flour, salt and grated butter in a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour. This simply means taking pinches of the mixure and rubbing it between thumb and fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (or use your stand mixer). Mix in just enough of the iced water to bring the pastry together in a ball – you may not need all the water. Cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate until needed.

250g minced beef
150g finely diced veal
75g onion, finely chopped
75g potato, finely diced
75g sweet potato, finely diced
25g chorizo, finely diced (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon fine table salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Egg wash
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a pinch of salt

2                    Place all the filling ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and mix together until the vegetables and herbs are well distributed throughout the meat.
3                    To assemble the pasties, roll out the pasty to about 3mm thick. Stamp out 13cm circles (5 inches). I don’t have a pastry cutter this size so I use a small bowl as a template, resting it on the pastry and cutting around it with a sharp knife.
4                    Pile approximately 2 tablespoons of the mixture on one half of each pastry round, leaving a margin of at least 1cm at the edge. Fold the other half of the pastry over the filling and press the edges together.
5                    Either crimp the edges of the pastry together using a fork, or try this crimping technique: Stand the pastry up so that the joined edges are at the top. Starting at one end, clamp the pastry join between a thumb and forefinger and twist it through 180 degrees, then using the other hand, hold this twist in place while with the other hand you move along the top of the pastry, a thumbs-width at a time, pinching and twisting. Tuck both ends under to seal the pastry.

Cheap therapy: Pinch and twist. Repeat.

6                    Place the prepared pasties on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Brush lightly with egg wash and transfer to the preheated oven.
7                    Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. If like me you are rushing out the door to a picnic, wrap the hot pastries loosely in a clean tea towel – they’ll get soggy if you seal them in aluminium foil or cling wrap. Otherwise place them on a cooling rack and leave them to cool. They also freeze beautifully. 

Corn-ish pasties - ok who wants to fight over the last two?

If life is too short to take the time to fill and crimp 10 individual pasties, you could always supersize them and make four large ones instead, for sharing. The larger ones need about 50 minutes in the oven.
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Saturday, May 26, 2018

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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