Saturday, 19 April 2014

Happy Easter!

Hi all. I am off enjoying the sights (and food!) in Prague this Easter weekend. As Easter is synonymous with chocolate, which is one of my very favourite things, I must share with you one of the most glorious chocolate desserts - Nigella's instant chocolate mousse. Mmm! You can check out and try the recipe for yourself here. It would make a perfect Easter Sunday dessert. It is luscious and indulgent but the big home baker bonus is how easy it is to make. I wish one and all a very happy, relaxing and sweet Easter!

Na zdraví! - cheers, sláinte and bon app, from Praha. X


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

Sometimes, less is more and simplicity is the way forward. When it comes to cakes, as much as I adore triple chocolate lusciousness from time to time, or the stunning aesthetic of a rainbow cake, I very often return, with much joy, to the good old sponge! This recipe for Victoria sponge is taken from Lorraine Pascale's 'Baking Made Easy'. To me, it is perfectly simple and the result is a cake that rises beautifully and is springlike and light to eat. Now that strawberries are beginning to come into season, combining them with this cake as its filling, makes for a perfect match. Serve your friends or family a slice of this with a hot cup of tea from your best China teacup and you will surely be a truly impeccable afternoon tea host or hostess!


Ingredients:

  • 200 g soft butter
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 200 g plain flour, sieved
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tbsp warm water
  • 5 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam
  • About 10 fresh strawberries
  • 200 ml cream
  • 2 tbsp Creme de Cassis (optional)
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar, plus a little extra

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 F/gas mark 4. 
  2. Grease and line two 20 cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add 2 eggs, 1 tsp of vanilla and half the flour and beat well.
  4. Next, add the last 2 eggs, the rest of the flour and the baking powder and beat well.
  5. If needs be, add a little water to loosen the consistency.
  6. Pour the mixture evenly between the two tins and level the tops with the back of a spoon.
  7. Pop into the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes, until the sponge appears golden in colour, a skewer comes out clean and you can see that the cakes are beginning to come away from the sides of the tins.
  8. Leave the sponges to cool and once cooled, remove from the tins, discard the baking parchment and begin the assembly!
  9. Clean, hull and chop most of your strawberries into 4 to 5 thinnish slices. Leave 4 whole strawberries aside.
  10. Whip the cream to a nice well whipped consistency with the icing sugar sieved through, the last teaspoon of vanilla paste and the Creme de Cassis (if using -  you may have guessed, I am a bit of a fan of this lovely liqueur as it only recently featured in my Eton Mess!)
  11. Spread the jam onto the bottom of one of the sponges but be careful not to spread it out fully to the edges.
  12.  Spoon the cream onto the other sponge and spread it out carefully, as above, avoiding going as far as the edges.
  13. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top of the cream. Gently place the jam sponge on top of the cream and fruit sponge. Dredge the top with a nice dusting of icing sugar and decorate with the remaining strawberries. Mmm...delish!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Black Pudding and Blue Cheese Quiche

This quiche is a real homage to some of the very best of Irish produce we have on offer to us and it includes two of my firm favourites - Black Pudding (sourced from the renowned and award-winning Kelly's Butchers of Newport, Co. Mayo) and Cashel Blue Cheese (now in its thirtieth year, this is arguably Ireland's greatest cheese export). So, a little bit of French traditional cooking (la quiche) combined with some delicious Irish flavour combinations, et violà, we have a delicious meal! This quiche is best served cold and is a fantastic, quick and easy breakfast option. It is also a perfect picnic treat and fingers crossed, there may be more occasions for picnicing as the spring rolls into the summer. You will need a 26 cm pie dish for this quiche. I made this quiche with gluten-free flour and although most Irish puddings contain gluten, both Clonakilty and Hogins now provide gluten-free versions. I had a little gander at the Coeliac Society of Ireland's forum, and the consensus is that the Clonakilty gluten-free is the best one to go for. Of course, this recipe can also be made with regular plain flour and regular pudding, such as the Kelly's one I used. Bon appétit!
Pre and post cooking pics of this delicious quiche

Ingredients: 

Shortcrust base -
  • 150g gluten-free flour
  • 70g cold butter, cubed
  • Pepper, salt and dried herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten

Filling -
  • 3 eggs beaten with 300ml cream/milk - I tend to use more cream than milk
  • 1 black pudding chopped into 8 or 9 1-cm thick rounds
  • 150g Cashel Blue Cheese
  • 1 large eating apple, peeled and diced
  • 2 small red onions, peeled, chopped in half, then cut into wedges
  • Butter
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • Fresh herbs, e.g. rosemary
  • Pepper and salt
  • Parmesan - to garnish (optional)

Method:
  1. Make the pastry first by rubbing the butter into the flour, until the consistency is of fine breadcrumbs. Season and add in some dried herbs.
  2. Add in a little of the egg, bit by bit, and mix through to form a ball. It shouldn't be overly wet. There is a good chance some egg will be left over and it can go into the filling mixture.
  3. Cover the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 F/gas mark 6.
  4. Now, sweat the 2 small onions in a frying pan in about a tablespoon of butter on a medium to low heat, with a pinch of salt and the brown sugar.
  5. Add the diced apple after about 5 minutes and gently cook for a further 8 -  10 minutes or so.
  6. Meanwhile, grill your pudding rounds, turning once or twice to ensure even cooking on both sides.
  7. When the onions, apple and pudding rounds are cooked, leave aside, ready to be added to the pie dish later.
  8. Take out your pastry from the fridge, roll it into a round shape of about 27 to 28cm in diameter. With the help of your rolling pin, raise it up and place it into your pie dish, evening around the sides, and cutting off any excess.
  9. Blind bake the pie crust for 10 - 15 mins. Good oul Delia has a step-by-step guide if, like me, you would never think of buying baking beans. You can have a look here.
  10. Once, the pastry is ready, firstly add in the onion and apple mix to the bottom of the dish and then top with the grilled pudding rounds.
  11. Pour in the egg and dairy mix, with chopped herbs added, if using.
  12. Scatter crumbled Cashel Blue Cheese on top and among the pudding pieces. Grate a little fresh Parmesan on top, if using, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  13. The quiche can be eaten hot, but is most delicious when left to chill to room temperature and/or stored and served straight from the fridge. Yum.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Eton Mess with a French Twist

Since purchasing my Kenwood Chef, (yes, I know I've been mentioning it a lot, but it's my newest and most treasured possession!) I have wanted to try out meringues, specifically to make Eton Mess. I decided to add one of my favourite liqueurs, to give it that extra 'je ne sais quoi' and Creme de Cassis does just that. Married with the fact that it adds to an intense berry flavour through the dessert, the cute pink shade of the cream is just lovely. This would make a great dinner party dessert. It's light, yet really sweet and tasty and once you've your meringues made, it's a doddle to prepare! I adapted my meringue recipe from one of the culinary goddesses, Delia's recipe, on her website, which can be found here. Using all of the meringues, this would easily serve 8 people, but my recipe is to serve 4 people, so you can hold onto and store your leftover meringues for future sweet occasions.

Ingredients:
Meringues -
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large egg whites (very fresh and free-range if possible)
  • Half tsp. vinegar
Cream mix -
  • 200g cream
  • 2 tbsp. Creme de Cassis
  • About 10 medium sized strawberries
  • A handful of other berries (I used blackberries and blueberries)
  • 1 tbsp. icing sugar
Method:
  1. It's best to make the meringue in advance, that morning or even the day before.
  2. Preheat oven to 150 degrees C/300 F/gas mark 2 and cover a flat baking tray with baking parchment.
  3. Add 3 eggs whites into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk well until they change to a pale white colour.
  4. Pour in the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time, followed by the drop of vinegar, and continue to whisk, until your reach a consistency of stiff peaks, just as my photo below should demonstrate.
    Check out the new shiny appliance!
  5. Using a tablespoon, spoon out even rounds of meringue onto the baking tray. You can make these as pretty as you like, if you are planning on using some for mini pavlovas let's say, or as simple as you like, if you'll be bashing and breaking them all to smithereens for Eton Mess!
    My mixture made 9 large tablespoon rounds of meringue
  6. Pop into the oven and bring the temperature down to 140 degrees C/275 F/gas mark 1.
  7. Bake for one hour, after which time, turn off the oven, leaving them inside and allowing them to cool completely.
  8. Now to assemble the Eton Mess... 
  9. Pour your cream and Creme de Cassis into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Whip well until you get a nice thickish consistency.
  10. Hull and chop strawberries and add a little over half of all your berries into the mixture. Stir together.
  11. Break 5 meringues into the mixture and stir once more.
  12. To serve the Eton Mess, add a little mixture to your glass or bowl, followed by some more fresh berries, and top again with the meringue and cream mix. Finish with extra berries and a light dusting of icing sugar and enjoy!
    I love Eton Mess 'berry' much indeed!


Sunday, 30 March 2014

Happy Mother's Day

I found this anonymous quotation online recently. It is so filled with truth, for all sons and daughters I believe...
'Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.'

I have always believed there is such a strong link between nourishment and love. In many ways, what greater love than the love of the one who brings you into this world! So, on Mother's Day, let's celebrate.

Although I lost my own mother quite a long time ago I have compiled a list of my top five favourite 'Mammy treats'. I am certain that we all have our own list and would love to hear you share yours too!

So, here we go, 5 to 1...

5. Kids' party 'top hat biscuits', which were a fabulously simple treat, homemade and perfect for child inclusive cooking. I once made them as a treat for a Senior Infant class I was subbing in and the children loved them!
4. Sunday night tea of cheese, onion and rasher toasties. I really must try this out and blog it.
3. The good old Sunday lunch of roast chicken, complete with stuffing, various veggies and deliciously crisp roast potatoes.
2. Lasagne, one of the ultimate in comfort foods, and you can find my family version here.
1. Baked goods - scones, meringues, tarts, biscuits and buns...mmm! Especially for family occasions. I am a week-old owner of a brand shiny new, but still retro Classic Kenwood Chef, so I plan to try and begin replicating some of my mother's sweet treats. She had her Kenwood Chef since she was married and it was the most reliable piece of kitchen ware and was made use of on countless occasions.

I will leave you with a poignant but lovely Mother's Day blessing I found. I am off to try out some homemade meringues in my Kenwood Chef for a dessert of Eton Mess. Happy Mother's Day to all the endlessly kind and generous mammies, mams, mums, moms and mammas out there and a big thanks and hugs for your everlasting love x.

~Image sourced at hopefullyknown.com~



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Old Convent, Co. Tipperary


It has taken me quite some time to write this blog post about a place I have many times referred to as "my favourite restaurant". There's no "in Ireland" or "for a special occasion" attached to that, although it is certainly very special. It is just a wonderful place, with heavenly food, spectacular hospitality and it is a true hidden gem.

The Old Convent is run by a lovely couple - Dermot and Christine. He takes charge of the food side of things with great talent and passion from what I've experienced, while she deals with the front of house and is a lovely, genuinely friendly and welcoming hostess. The Old Convent, unsurprisingly, was a convent and you can read more of the building's past on their excellent website. It is now a fabulous foodie getaway nestled in a very pretty, rural location in south Tipperary, with a handful of unique suites for overnight guests. I was never fortunate enough (so far at least!) to stay over in one of their charming rooms, which look truly gorgeous. Nor have I sampled one of their breakfasts which are to die for all, by all accounts, and have been described as "the best in Ireland". I have, however, been very lucky to have experienced their tasting menu on three glorious occasions. Once in summer 2011, once in summer 2012, and most recently, last month - for Valentine's 2014.

Their tasting menu is an eight-course affair, with a selection of the freshest and best local Irish ingredients that happen to be on offer that very day. All diners are seated at 8 o'clock sharp and the tasting menu is their one and only option. They have always been very accommodating towards anyone with a diet or allergy issue all the same. On my three occasions to dine at the OC I have been blown away by the combinations of carefully thought out flavours and textures - pineapple, sushi rice and crab was one course, a palate cleanser, that was utterly delicious. I had always been a little squeamish about the idea of pork belly but since tasting it there, combined with candied nuts, Tipperary blue cheese, pears, beets etc. I am a complete convert, though maybe my waistline is losing out on the other hand... oh well! Their dessert section of the meal, which normally combines a light sweet and a slightly heavier one afterwards, has been superb from my experiences. Their lemon possets/creams are delectable and help to balance a previous heavier meat course. Their chocolate offerings, what can I say?! For a confessed chocoholic, they are pure bliss! Christine has even come around mid-chocfest with extra heated, velvety, chocolaty goodness to pour over your dessert.

From the beautiful secluded setting, to the warmth of the hospitality, to the star of the show - the incredible food, The Old Convent is a real winner. I hope if it's a place that would appeal to you, that you find an occasion to go and experience something truly wonderful.

You can check out their website here.
Their address is: The Old Convent, Mount Anglesby, Clogheen, Co, Tipperary.
(Oh, and a word to the wise, bring your GPS!)


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Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Hairy Dieters' Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is a dish that has long been enjoyed in our family and was always a staple at family events, as it's a great slow cooker dish and always goes down a treat for buffet style gatherings. This fail safe version will always be a winner but I really like this recipe too, even though it breaks the mould in many ways. For one, it is a much lighter version with a far lesser calorie count per serving. It is also a quick to prepare stroganoff and works best when served immediately, so it falls very nicely into the weekday meal category. It also uses a more expensive cut of beef - sirloin - so costs a bit more than the regular version, which works best made with stewing beef. However, a little sirloin goes a long way, so don't be turned off if budget shopping is part of your agenda. Many of my foodie friends on Twitter have talked with great enthusiasm about Si King and Dave Myers' new diet cookbooks. So when their most recent one "Eat for Life" arrived in the book club at work, I just couldn't resist another purchase to add to my already towering selection of cook books! I have to say, I am well impressed with the layout of the book, the simplicity of the recipes and this, their version of stroganoff, which I have slightly adapted, comes with a big thumbs up from me!
This recipe serves 3 - 4 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sirloin steak - approx. 350g
  • 1 tbsp. rapeseed oil
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
  • 2 medium white onions, halved and cut into thin slices
  • 300ml cold water plus a little extra
  • 1 beef stock cute - I use Kallo Organic stock cubes
  • 2/3 tbsp. red wine (optional)
  • 2 tsp. cornflour
  • 3 tbsp. half-fat creme fraiche*
  • parsley, to garnish - I didn't have any so just omitted it
  • Salt and pepper
  • To serve - simple steamed basmati rice
Method:
  1. Remove any excess fat from the sirloin steak and slice the meat quite finely, on a diagonal. Season well with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok and stir-fry the onions and mushrooms over a high heat until they are golden brown. Once cooked, leave them aside to rest on a plate.
  3. Add the steak strips to the pan and fry for one to two minutes until nicely browned. Avoid overcrowding the pan, so if you are cooking a large batch, brown the meat in two quantities, rather than all at once. Remove the beef from the pan.
  4. Pour the 300ml water and the wine, if using, (for an extra treat, this does add a lovely depth of flavour) into the pan and bring to the boil. Add in the beef stock cube and reduce the temperature slightly. Mix the cornflour with the extra water, a tablespoon or so, and add this into the stock sauce, stirring well to help thicken it.
  5. Tip the mushrooms and onions back into the pan, followed by the creme fraiche and stir well, until everything is combined. Put the beef back in now and allow to cook through for a couple more minutes until everything is reheated fully again. 
  6. Serve with basmati rice and scatter with freshly chopped parsley, if available. *If you're not a regular creme fraiche user, why not double up the recipe and freeze the extras for use at a later date. Otherwise, creme fraiche works very well mixed with eggs, instead of milk and cream, when filling a quiche.