Monday, 28 November 2011

Simple snack: Sourdough slices

Sometimes the evening comes when we're all too tired to cook a full meal. After a long day in work or if you have kids, a job that doesn't have a clock-out time! I find myself going from fridge to cupboards and back again with no inspiration and no inclination. So this is a quick and easy snack for one of those days, that wont take more than 10 minutes.


Sourdough bread
A good handful of mozzerella
Wholegrain mustard
1 small red onion sliced thinly
3 tbsps olive oil

First cut the sourdough into 1 inch thick slices. Place the mozzerella on top and pop under the grill until golden. While you are waiting for the bread, get the pan on a medium heat and add the onion slices. Fry until translucent and the onions start to get a little colour. Spread the mustard thinly over the bread and top with a few onions.

Simple, easy and tastier than a takeaway!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Persimmon Pudding

This pudding was the result of a trip to the shops a couple of days ago. Stacked high on the shelves, were these "kaki" fruit, which I realised are a type of persimmon. You can also use Sharon fruit which are an Israeli variety. In season now until December and used in America for this Thanksgiving dessert. Yes it is an American tradition, but I think in a world of negativity, sometimes it's nice to take the time to slow down and take stock of the good things that have happened in the past year, things we can be thankful for. This is not quite as heavy as a Christmas pudding, but it is rich and full of  the flavours we associate with this season - warm spices and tangy orange. Serve with cream, ice cream, brandy butter or as here, dust with icing sugar.

This is my variation  with inspiration from many sources


The pulp of 2 persimmons
3 organic eggs
120g plain flour
100g granulated sugar
100g butter
200ml organic milk
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp cinnamon
half tsp nutmeg
half tsp mixed spice
zest of 1 orange
pinch of salt

To get the pulp from the persimmons, put them in a bowl of boiling water to blanch the skins. Leave for about 5 minutes, then run under some cold water and the skin should peel away easily. Top the persimmon, cut into slices and mash with a fork to a pulp.

Add the eggs and milk to the persimmon and mix thoroughly. Make sure the butter is at room temperature and using a whisk, whip to soft peaks and add to the persimmon mixture.

In a separate bowl, sieve together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice and orange zest. Add this to the wet mixture and stir well.

Wet some baking paper under the tap and wring out. Use this to line a 9 inch square baking tin. The wet paper eliminates the need to grease the paper. Pour the mixture into the tin and pop in the oven at 200C for about 40 minutes. You can check to see if it is ready by sliding a knife in, if it comes out almost clean, it's ready. Plate up and serve warm. Although it will last for a few days and the flavours seem to develop a little more if left longer.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Hazelnut Brittle

We had a glut of hazelnuts left over after Halloween, so this is a great way to use them up. The great thing is this will carry over to this season because it would make part of a great foodie Christmas present. You just need some nice packaging and ribbons and here's a simple gift made with love!  

This is a Darina Allen recipe and is fairly simple except you need to watch the caramel carefully. It can be just a matter of seconds before it turns from perfect to burnt. I'd recommend keeping a bowl of ice water to hand to plunge the pot into once the caramel is ready, to stop it cooking any further.


110g hazelnuts - toasted, peeled and sliced
175g granulated sugar
3 tbsps water
sunflower oil

Brush a medium sized tin with sunflower oil. Put the sugar and water into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar turns a rich chestnut coloured caramel. 

Darina doesn't mention how to toast the nuts but here we go: Meanwhile slice the hazelnuts and spread them out on a baking tray. Place them under the grill, on the middle shelf of the oven at 180C for about 10 mins. But keep an eye on them, they burn easily!

Add the nuts and stir to coat. Pour the mixture onto the tin. Spread into an even layer with the back of an oiled metal spoon. Allow to cool completely. Break into pieces, use as a garnish for ice cream, mousses, cakes or simply nibble. 

And it was all yellow: Yellow split pea soup

When I was a child, the mere mention of peas brought to mind those mushy, murky, green, gloopy peas served with some boiled chicken and a half-hearted attempt at mashed potatoes. The smell would pervade the house and last for about a week.

These peas are a whole other story. If you ever spend some time looking for dried peas, beans, lentils etc, yellow split peas always seem to jump out of the shelves. Little golden sunshiney seeds. The sheer good feeling induced me to make this split pea soup. They do need to be soaked overnight so a little advance preparation is needed, but you could make a big batch and it would last for a few days. The nursery rhyme pease pudding is about just that! 

Pease pudding hot,
Pease pudding cold,
Pease pudding in the pot,
Nine days old. 

I probably wouldn't recommend going nine days however unless you fancy experimenting with food hygiene 1700s style!

I based the soup on a Jamie Oliver recipe minus the hunk of ham he throws in! If you really want a meaty flavour, you could try adding some liquid smoke for an added kick. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Toffee Apple Mille feuille

This one had been on my mind for a while. Throughout Halloween and a lot of November, toffee apples are everywhere. Held in kids sticky hands as the they gather around the bonfire with cinders and soot rising into the cold night sky. They're usually made fairly quickly, wrapped in cellophane and plunged onto a stick. Perfectly portable while trick or treating. This however, is one for the grownups!

Traditionally mille feuille are French pastries translated as "thousand leaves", made with layers of pastry built upon each other. Sandwiched in between the pastry is usually creme patisserie. The thought struck me to replace the pastry with apples, which are at their best at this time of year. What goes better with apples than toffee.

For the apple mille feuille, I used Bramley apples, because when they're cooked they turn soft brownish and a little fluffy. They manage to retain a sharpness however that cuts through the richness of the caramel. Deliciously decadent!


1 large Bramley apple 
30g butter
1 and half tbsps caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
condensed milk or dulce du leche
5 tbsps granulated sugar

First the Bramley, need to be sliced really thinly. If you have a mandolin, great! If like me you aren't so lucky, most box graters have a large slicer section on one of the sides. Slice the apple into thin slices.

In a pot melt the butter over a low heat and then add the caster sugar and lemon juice. Stir to combine thoroughly.

Lay the apple slices on a baking tray covered with parchment paper and brush with the butter mix on both sides. Place in the oven at 100C for approximately 30 mins or until they start to turn a soft brown to golden colour.

Meanwhile, you can make the dulce du leche. This can actually be bought in ready made now. If you would prefer to make your own, take the condensed milk. David Lebovitz has a fairly simple method for making your own. If you use shop bought pour into a saucepan and over a low heat whisk until smooth. 

When the apples are ready, take them out of the oven and arrange them into three piles- small, medium sized and large. You will almost be building an apple tower so these are the three sections. On the largest one, pour over some of the dulce du leche. Place the medium size pile next and another layer of dulce du leche. Finally the smallest layer goes on top.

In a medium saucepan, add the granulated sugar and over a low heat, let it turn into toffee caramel. Don't stir the toffee as this can leave it grainy at the end. Swirl the sugar around the pan instead of stirring. When it reaches the right side of done, it will be a deep golden, almost rust colour. Any more it becomes burnt and bitter. Carefully, using a cocktail stick, dip one piece of apple into the toffee and swirl it round to coat it. Place it on top of the mille feuille.

Finally with a metal spoon, dip it in the toffee and sprinkle over the mille feuille.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Review : The Farm, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

While wandering down Dawson Street last week, myself and the other half were on the lookout for somewhere decent to eat. We happened to stop by The Farm restaurant, an "organic where possible" type of place. We had a quick look at the menu, which was a little limited but hunger drove us in.

Being encumbered with a twin pram, we had no option but to dine al fresco as the bloody thing wouldn't fit through the modest sized entryway. But after a quick look inside, I think we made the right choice. With a name like "The Farm" I was expecting perhaps homely, comfortable, natural. If not exactly a herd of cows in the back and old uncle Michael chewing on a blade of grass while granny knitted beside the fire, at least some personal touches. Instead it was another anonymous soulless cavern filled with cheap plastic chairs and hideous green lighting reminiscent of a Limerick nightclub circa 1986.

Meanwhile outside, the service was pleasant and quite speedy. I went for the goats cheese tart, made with organic goats cheese, described as "melted onion and cheese, served in a warm tart". How exactly do you melt an onion?! The cheese was sweet and creamy with a hint of tang and the shortcrust pastry was crumbly if a tad dry. It was accompanied by a salad where all of the vegetables were so fresh and had a really clean taste. Disappointingly, the "sweet balsamic sauce" was a rather heavy handed dose of plain old balsamic vinegar.

The other half went for the Spanish omelette, which at €13.45, was not an inconsiderable price to pay for a couple of cracked eggs with some potatoes on top. His verdict was it was just "OK".

One of the problems with The Farm, is it's policy of "organic where possible". There are inconsistencies and vagaries that I believe the management play on to charge the prices they do. For example they specify the cheese in a goats cheese tart is organic, or the eggs in an omelette. But what about the salad leaves they're serving you for a hefty price ? Since they're not listed as organic, I presume they're splashed in pesticides, while "greenwashed" in some garish kermit the frog lighting.

According to their website, The Farm is listed as the "second most popular restaurant in Dublin". If this is true, I can only imagine what the rest of the list must look like.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Pumpkin gnocchi in a tomato and mascarpone sauce

Yes another pumpkin recipe! It is the time of year though.

I was pottering around the kitchen a few days ago wondering what to make for dinner when the idea struck me to use a pumpkin I had sitting in the cupboard to make into gnocchi. If potatoes work, why not pumpkin? They both have the density to work them into a pasta. Turns out there are many recipes out there for pumpkin gnocchi, but they all seem to be with the same sage butter accompaniment. For mine I wanted a little richness in the sauce to contrast with the sweetness of the pumpkin. This would be a great vegetarian dish for a dinner party.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Simple breakfast: Des tartines et du chocolat chaud

Last year, when I went to pick grapes in France, this simple breakfast really hit the spot and got us ready for the day out in the fields. With muscles aching, we'd trudge down to the breakfast table in the dark and grab some of this.

So easy, just slice some baguette into strips, and the idea is to dunk them into the hot chocolate. When you run out of bread, you can slurp the hot chocolate from the bowl, what could be better and kind of brings you back to being a kid, when you'd get told off for drinking from the bowl, but here it's mandatory!

To make a really good hot chocolate, you have to start with a really good cocoa. I use Green and Blacks organic cocoa powder. Take 1 tbsp of cocoa powder, add it to a heavy bottom pot. Add  1 tbsp milk and stir to get a thick paste. Next add 1 cup of milk and stir over a medium heat. Use a whisk, to get a bubbly froth on top. If you want to be really indulgent, drop in a square or two of chocolate and add sugar to taste. Et voila, start the most important meal of the day with a little treat.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Karjalanpiirakka - Finnish Karelian Pies

A couple of days ago, the other half fancied a taste of the homeland, so together we whipped up these karjalanpiirakka. These are traditional pies from Karelia, in the east of Finland, on the border with Russia. People eat them as snacks or for breakfast, usually topped with munavoi - egg butter. The pies themselves have a rye based crust and filled with creamy rice, but you can get potato or other fillings too. I found the rice to be the nicest though, the potato ones are a little stodgy.

Karelian pies (makes approximately 14)

120g rye flour 
30g plain flour
1 tsp salt 
120ml water
190g white rice - I used sushi rice!
500ml milk
half tsp freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
2 eggs hard boiled
4 tbsps butter
1 tsp dill (optional)

Sift together the rye flour, plain flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and slowly add the water, a little at a time while bringing in the flour into the centre.

When all is combined, tip the dough out onto a floured surface. Work the dough into a sausage shape and cut into portion roughly 2 inches wide. Take each cut portion and with floured hands, shape into an oval and roll out to quarter cm thickness. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. 

Meanwhile, add the rice to the pot. I used sushi rice for the filling which was great because it kept it moistness, and was a little sticky. First, you need to wash the rice. Add water to the pot and swirl the rice around until the water becomes cloudy. Pour out the water, add fresh water and repeat. You may need to do this 3 or 4 times until the water is almost clear.

The next step is to polish the grains, just rub the rice grains gently between your (clean!) hands. It's a great stress reducer! Add 1 litre of fresh water to the pot, cover and bring to a boil, before reducing to a simmer. Leave for 10-15 minutes.  

Drain the rice and allow to sit for 15 minutes to allow the excess moisture to drain away. Return to the pot and add the milk, cover, leave to simmer over a low heat. Add the nutmeg now if you like and a pinch of salt. After 20 minutes, you should have lovely creamy sticky rice. 

Place the rice in the middle of the prepared dough ovals, and fold upwards to create a little basket almost for the rice. The dough naturally creases into the wave shapes that karjalanpiirakka have. Make sure the rice is snugly packed in. 

Brush each pie with a little melted butter and milk mixed together to give the rice a nice crust. Place in the oven at 210C for 20 minutes or until the rice starts to look golden. 

For the egg butter, mix together 4 tbs butter with 2 hard boiled eggs. Mash together to get a nice even consistency. Top with some dill. 

Although this seems like a lot of work, these are great on a winters morning. You could prepare ahead and keep them in the fridge, just heat them in the oven or microwave before serving. Sometimes I sneak a bit of jam onto mine, which the other half says is blasphemy, but it works a treat!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dia de los Muertos Marigold Fritters

The first of November is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, in Mexico. Families visit the graves of relatives and leave candles, marigold flowers and food offerings. Sugar skulls and pan de muerto, are what are commonly eaten. Far from being a mournful day, however it is celebrated with fun. 

These marigold fritters are not exactly authentic, but more dia de los muertos inspired. They're a good way to use up any marigolds left in the garden at this time of year, but they must be pesticide free before you decide to use them.

I tweaked a Darina Allen recipe for elderflower fritters and they turned out pretty well.

Marigold Fritters:

110g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
150ml tepid water
marigold flowers
caster sugar
sunflower oil for frying

Rinse the flowers well under the tap and place in the tepid water. Leave for 2-3 mins. Remove from the water and take off the petals.Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg, using a whisk bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly add the water from the flowers at the same time. When the batter is mixed thoroughly, add the marigold petals. I estimated 2-3 flowers per fritter.

Add the sunflower oil to the pan and place on a medium heat. I used a poaching ring to get a nice even circle, but that's not a necessity. Fry until golden brown on both side and transfer to kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Cover with caster sugar and serve with a lemon cream - simply add the juice of quarter of a lemon to a dollop of fresh cream. Enjoy - trips to cemeteries are an optional extra!
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