Friday, October 30, 2020

An Ode to Colcannon – from a Conscientious Objector to Cabbage!

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(First published Oct 2010)

I’ve been having a bad week in my kitchen – you know the kind of week where nothing quite goes as expected. The worst was my attempt at making chocolate caramels. They turned out fine - dark, chewy, and very, very moreish. However in the process of getting the mixture up to temperature, I enamelled my favourite stainless steel saucepan. It has taken a week of inventiveness and ingenuity to remove the shiny black sugar coating from the metal. I believe I have invented a substance that NASA might want to consider for tiling the space shuttle.

Moving swiftly on... it is a perfect Halloween evening – wild and stormy. There’s a log fire blazing and an open bottle of wine on the mantelpiece.

Traditional Irish Colcannon for Hallowe'en (though any excuse will do)

On the menu: corned beef with colcannon. The corned beef is a cinch to cook. Rinse it, weigh it and pop it in a pot just large enough to take it and a few ancillary vegetables. Add an onion and sprinkle in a large pinch of ground cloves. Bring it to the boil, then cover and turn the heat down to a gentle bubble, giving it 25 – 30 minutes per pound/half kilo.  The piece I’m cooking is 1.5kg or about 3lb and will take an hour and a half. I’ll fling a few carrots in to the pot about half an hour before the meat is finished cooking. Really, the meat is just an excuse to make its perfect partner – a dish of butter, peppery colcannon (cál ceannann).

As a conscientious objector to cabbage, I astound myself with my devotion to colcannon – which is essentially buttery mashed potato mixed with finely chopped curly kale (fancy cabbage, but cabbage all the same). Traditionally eaten at Halloween, I shamelessly sneak it into meals whenever I can find kale.

About fifteen minutes before the beef is finished cooking, prepare the colcannon.

 

For 4 people, you will need...

4 – 6 potatoes (I use Rooster – a good, floury potato)

50g Irish butter

110 mls hot milk

a large pinch sea salt

white pepper to taste

200g curly kale (or leafy green cabbage)

4 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped

An optional extra 50g butter to bury in the mash


Method

1    Peel the potatoes and cut into slice about ½ cm thick. Place in a saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to simmering, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes, or until the point of a knife easily pierces the potato slices.

2    While the potato is cooking, add the curly kale (or green cabbage) to another saucepan of boiling water with a teaspoon of salt. Cover and boil for about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and chop very finely.

3    When the potatoes are cooked, drain the water from the saucepan and leave the potatoes uncovered for a minute or so until most of the steam has evaporated. Add the butter and hot milk and, using a potato masher or a sturdy hand-held whisk, reduce the potato to a smooth mash. (Don’t be tempted to go mechanical as it overworks the potato and can result in an unpleasant gluey mess). Add salt and white pepper, mixing thoroughly. Taste and add further salt and pepper if necessary.

4    When you have prepared the basic mash, add in the curly kale or cabbage and chopped spring onions. Transfer to a warm serving dish with the optional extra 50g of butter cut into three pieces and buried deep in the fluffy mixture to melt into little pools of gold.

 

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Monday, September 7, 2020

All-in-one Pita Bread – best supporting actor !

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Pita is as plain and simple as a fact of life or the bald-faced truth... There is just no embellishing it. It is a back-drop for better things; the base melody; the supporting actor. Unfortunately... when the back-drop is flawed, when the base melody is off key, when the supporting actor stinks, it is all too obvious.
I bought pita recently and it wasn’t Oscar-winning material by a long stretch. As well as the handful of ingredients essential to creating this simple bread, it contained a list of extras as long as your arm, all there to extend shelf-life.
If pita isn’t up to scratch, then it drags down the rest of the meal. However, when this pocket bread is good, it is a building block of snack perfection, the perfect party bread, the best supporting actor in a luscious portable lunch.
Warning: once you have tasted homemade pita bread, commercially-produced stuff will never be good enough ever again.

For 8 perfect pita pockets you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 225°C at step 3

350g plain flour
125g finely ground wholemeal flour
7g sachet of fast acting dried yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
280ml tepid water (35 - 38°C)              


1.      Place the first six ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and silky. To knead, fold the dough in half, then holding it in place with one hand, use the heel of the other hand to stretch the dough away from you, along the floured surface. Again fold it, rotate it about 1/8th of a turn and again press it away from you with the heel of your hand. Repeat, enjoying the yeasty scent and the silky feel of the dough as any woe or stress dissipates through your hands – bread-making is cheap therapy. (If, however, you have no woes, and possess a stand mixer with a dough-hook, 5 minutes in the machine will be sufficient.) Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cling film or a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
2.      Divide the dough into eight equal pieces, kneading each just long enough to shape it into a smooth ball. Flatten into a disk and leave to rise until again doubled in size and a finger poked into the dough leaves an indent (about an hour). If the dough springs back into shape, leave it to rise for a further half hour then test again.
3.      When you are ready to cook the bread, pre-heat the oven and boil a kettle of water. Place a baking dish on a lower shelf in the oven and carefully add some boiling water. This creates the perfect steamy atmosphere for this bread.
4.      While the oven is heating, roll out the dough disks into rounds about 3mm thick. Put 2 or 3 on a baking sheet and place in the hot oven. After about 3 minutes they will have puffed up impressively. Remove them from the oven before they’ve had a chance to turn golden (You can see I was so busy with my camera, I forgot that instruction myself and a few of them acquired a bit of a tan!) Cool on a wire rack. Cook the remaining breads.


My favourite way to use pita is to toast it then fill it with felafel and all the trimmings.
Yum!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

An Accidental Paella – the case for the defence ...

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While poor Jamie Oliver attracted the wrath of a nation, I managed to get away with my version of "Pie-Ella". There are no mountains, there is no sea, there is not even a pinch of tradition, but ¡Dios mío! it tastes great!




The moment I hit “Publish”, the paella police were on their way over ...

The crime...
Taking a traditional celebration of the mountains and the sea, removing the tradition, the mountains and the sea, and turning it into mid-week WOW* supper.
*War on Waste

The plea... guilty, but unrepentant...
Your honour, I swear I had no idea what I was doing when I opened the fridge. I was day-dreaming about a trip I had to Majorca in the distant past. My personal rain cloud accompanied me, and how! The island suffered the worst storms and floods in decades - just for those couple of weeks I was on holiday. However, I remembered a plate of golden paella I ate there, shivering on a sheltered terrace watching a feeble sun battle in vain against storm clouds. It was utter comfort food.
Hi! Remember me!

Mitigating circumstances...
Perhaps that's why I turned away from the straight-and-narrow of my go-to creamy chicken curry for this quick and easy mid-week supper. This week’s budget doesn’t run to prawns and rabbit, but I am pretty sure that paella evolved from humble origins, making the most of available ingredients. Plus, one pan, and about 30 minutes - what's not to love?
One pot, 30 minutes - what's not to love!

The evidence...
Anyway, back to the fridge, which revealed the remains of a cooked chicken – yawn... However, the fridge also held a jar of pimentos del piquillo (sweet roasted red peppers – widely available) which can add sunshine to any dish, as well as a nub of chorizo left over from the Cornish-ish pasties last week and I found myself taking a detour. “I can resist everything - save temptation”, as one of my fellow countrymen put it so beautifully.

The witness for the defence
Your honour, I call my rice-hating beloved who shovelled three helpings into his mouth while sighing rapturously – ok so he’d missed lunch but even so! Perhaps I should offer some to the paella police or would that compound the crime with bribery? 

For 4 servings you will need...
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
50g chorizo, cut into fat slices then halved
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 pimentos del piquillo, roughly chopped
1 green pepper (or sweeter yellow pepper if you prefer), cut into strips
75g fresh or frozen petit pois, or sugar snap peas
400g cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
250g paella rice (from your deli – a great store cupboard standby)
600mls good quality chicken stock, hot
100mls dry white wine
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley 

1                    Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. I used a 30cm (12 inch) pan for this recipe – in a paella you are aiming to get as much rice as possible in contact with the pan. Add the onion and cook until softened without colouring (about 5 minutes). Add the crushed garlic and the chorizo and cook for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, pimientos del piquillo, green pepper, peas, chicken and rice and stir together for about a minute.

2                    Now add the hot stock, dry white wine, thyme and pepper. Stir to mix and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, the rice is tender and the mixture is no longer soupy (about 20-25 minutes). Removed from the heat and cover with a clean tea-towel for about 5 minutes before sprinkling with the fresh parsley and serving on warm plates. The sign of a good paella – whether WOW* version or the traditional version – is the socarrat – the delicious golden crust of rice at the bottom of the pan – the bit that everyone fights over.

No mountains, no sea, no tradition, but rather tasty!



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Monday, August 24, 2020

Courgette Soup with Mint and Lemon – how to make a glut vanish !

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At some stage over what remains of the summer, a friend will drop in with a slightly desperate look in their eye. They will ask you how you are and there will be small talk as you wait for the kettle to boil. The friend will be clutching (but studiously ignoring) a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel and you’ll frown and wonder if they bring it everywhere with them.

Halfway through a pot of tea, the friend will suddenly ‘remember’ the mysterious parcel and casually mumble through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit crumbs:  Oh, by the way, I brought you some courgettes, fresh from my garden.” If you haven’t got a courgette plant churning out the little blighters almost by the minute, accept gratefully and make this light, summery soup. If you have got a courgette plant, you’ll almost certainly produce a newspaper-wrapped parcel of your own as the friend takes their leave…

The friend will be clutching a mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcel...


For 3-4 servings of light summery soup you will need

25g butter (or 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
500g courgettes, sliced
1 litre of well-flavoured chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of very finely chopped fresh mint

Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and lemon zest and cook gently without colouring for 8 - 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the sliced courgettes, followed by the stock. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the courgette is soft.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add in the fresh mint and blend until you’ve turned the vegetables into a smooth liquid – a stick blender is the perfect tool for this. Taste and add salt and pepper only if necessary.

Serve it just as it is, or with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and/or a swirl of cream.



OK, that's 3 courgettes taken care of. Only another 7 to go...


...What’s your favourite recipe – savoury or sweet - for making a crop of courgettes vanish?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

White Chocolate and Cranberry Oatmeal Blondies – drizzle forecast ...

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I woke up this morning to a grey sky and a steady drizzle of rain. (If only Trump would share that trick that makes it stop raining on just him...) There is only one thing to shift me from this ill humour. Bring on the mood-enhancing white chocolate cranberry blondies...


These sweet treats are not quite as wicked as they sound. They contain oatmeal and dried fruit so that makes them practically breakfast. The recommended dosage for mood enhancement is two, with decent coffee.
The moggy isn't liking the rain either
For approximately 16 delicious ‘blondies’ you will need...
... to butter and base-line a 23cm square cake tin and to pre-heat your oven to 170°C
150g rolled oats (oatmeal flakes)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
100g butter
50g crunchy peanut butter
50g cream cheese
175g Demerara sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped
75g dried cranberries

75g white chocolate for topping (optional)

Cranberries: "We're not just for Christmas you know!"
Method
First place the rolled oats and baking powder in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth ‘flour’.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar, beating the mixture until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Then mix in the oatmeal ‘flour’.
Finally, stir in the chopped white chocolate and cranberries. Mix until just combined.
Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes until evenly golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Melt the remaining white chocolate and drizzle over or simply leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares.
These are good slightly warm but even better if left go completely cold, so that the chocolate solidifies back into chunks. They’ll keep for up to a week (yeah right!) if sealed in an airtight container or cling wrap.



My lazy woman’s way to melt chocolate: snap the chocolate into squares and place in a Ziploc bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and seal. Half-fill a 1 pint measuring jug with boiling water, then carefully place the sealed bag in the water making sure the chocolate is submerged. Leave for a couple of minutes until the chocolate has melted. Remove the bag from the water and pat dry. Snip off a small corner of the bag and gently squeeze the liquid chocolate over the blondies.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

'Courgetti' Fritters with Lemon and Feta - Watch them vanish!

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Courgettes are like magic beans. You set off for the market. On the way you get conned into handing over your cow for a few small seeds. You return home delighted with your "bargain", but your mum chucks them out the window in disgust and practically at once they spring forth from the ground and start growing like beanstalks almost before your very eyes! Once they flower, they magically produce courgette after courgette - seemly overnight - and suddenly you have the equivalent of a courgette factory and the need for 101 courgette recipes.

One of my favourite ways to eat this vegetable to is spiralize it into 'courgetti' and then tip these delicious veggie noodles into whatever pasta sauce that is heating on the stove, give them about 3 minutes to heat through, then serve. Courgetti also make a delicious salad, tossed in soy vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds. They are also great stir-fried with garlic, ginger and chillies.

Another is the ‘Some Like it Hot’ Courgette Vichyssoise from the book – a lovely light summery soup and a doddle to make.

My latest favourite, though, is Courgetti Fritters with Feta and Lemon. They can be a snack, a starter, an unusual side - and a delicious way to make courgettes vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For 8 – 10 fabulous fritters you will need...

2 courgettes (zucchini), approximately 600g in total
1 teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
80g spring onions, finely chopped
80g feta, crumbled into small crumbs
60g fine fresh breadcrumbs
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg, lightly beaten
a little flour for dredging
A pinch of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil for frying


Start by spiralizing the courgettes (skin and all) using the fine noodle attachment of your spiralizer*. Using a scissors, cut them into lengths about 6cm – about 3 inches - long, otherwise they’ll end up being an unmanageable tangle. Put them in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt. (*If you don't have a spiralizer, coarsely grate the courgettes instead).

Leave for about 30 minutes so that the salt leaches some of the liquid out of the courgettes

Squeeze the courgettes to remove as much liquid as possible and drain this away. Place the courgettes in a clean tea towel and wring out as much liquid as possible.


Place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients except the flour and mix until well combined.

Divide the mixture into 8 – 10 portions. Using floured hands, form them into flat little cakes, about 1cm thick. Place on a lightly floured plate while you heat a little of the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.



Cook the fritters for about 3 -4 minutes each side, or until golden brown and serve hot. Simple!


I love them as a snack with either the crisp apple (or cool as a cucumber) Tzaziki in the Starters, Snacks and Light Bites section of the book.



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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – quite a character!

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Re-reading Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller, The Help, I couldn't get one of the characters out of my mind. Appearing almost as often as the main protagonist, Minnie’s Caramel Cake seemed to be a huge part of the story. It made me hungry every time I picked up the book.
I 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, at room temperature
180g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
150mls fresh milk
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
330g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
50g toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Method

·     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.

Tip
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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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

White Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis - Simply Irresistible !

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The poet, Paul Valéry, said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I have that same feeling about recipes. From time to time, I can’t resist making just a tiny edit or two to an old favourite, on the hunch that it will make the dish even better.
Simply irresistible
I have revisited the first dish I ever did on Alchemy in the Kitchen - Cherry Clafoutis - and I’ve made a few edits. One was the addition of chunks of good white chocolate - for me, the missing link in the evolution of clafoutis

I have also come down firmly on the side of de-stoned cherries for a number of reasons:

       multiple taste tests don’t reveal the almond flavour that the stones are supposed to impart (a touch of almond extract does it better!)

       de-stoned cherries leak their juice into the batter and even more juice evaporates, leaving a concentrated cherry flavour

       there is less risk of a tooth-shattering surprise.

Hungry caterpillar? No, cherry-stoner!

Unfortunately I had to buy the cherries for today’s clafoutis rather than being presented with a strange and marvellous bouquet as before.  

Life is ...
As I needed a decent amount of natural light for the photos, I made the dish this morning. Although I’m not in the habit of having dessert for breakfast, clafoutis is best eaten warm from the oven, so I had no option but to sample it there and then (good excuse eh?) and I have decided it wouldn’t be out of place at a special brunch.

For 4 servings you will need......to preheat the oven to 170°C
A little butter for greasing 4 shallow ramekin dishes

50g ground almonds
25g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
a  pinch of fine table salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
50g runny honey
150mls fresh whole milk
½ teaspoon almond extract

300g ripe fresh cherries, stones removed (I prefer to leave the stalks on for presentation but take them off if you prefer).

75g good quality white chocolate, cut into 1cm chunks

Method
With the butter, lightly rub the inside of the ramekin dishes and set aside.

Measure the ground almonds and flour into a mixing bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Add the eggs and whisk to a smooth batter. Add the honey (I weigh it directly into the bowl to save on washing up) and whisk until combined. Finally whisk in the milk and almond extract to give a consistency similar to single cream.

Divide the batter evenly between 4 shallow ramekin dishes, making sure not to fill beyond the half-way mark, then divide the cherries and chocolate chunks evenly between the 4 dishes.

One for me, one for the clafoutis, one for me...

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before dusting with icing sugar and serving with a jug of pouring cream. Mmmmm-mmmm-mmmmmmmmmm.



Note: Clafoutis sinks slightly as it cools – that’s just its nature
Note: Clafoutis vanishes quickly when cooked - that's just in its nature ...


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