Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas: Last minute gifts - Cranberry and Apple Jam

Admittedly, this will take longer than the Turkish delight vodka, but the result is definitely worth it. This could be made even if you had only a few hours to spare before the next round of gift giving begins.

Bramley apples and cranberries are both in season now, so it's the time to make the most of this great Darina Allen recipe. This could be used as an accompaniment to either sweet or savory dishes and just who wouldn't like to receive a jar of this, wrapped up nicely?


1kg Bramley Apples
1kg cranberries
1.7kg sugar

Peel, core and chop the apples before adding them to a saucepan. A wide, low-sided pan will work best here. Add the cranberries and 300ml of water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to cook over a medium heat until the apples and cranberries dissolve into pulp.

While the fruit is cooking, add the sugar to a pot or a stainless steel bowl and place in the oven at about 80 - 100C, for about 15 minutes. The sugar should feel hot to the touch, but don't leave in too long or it will start to caramelise. This is done to give a fresher tasting jam. The quicker it is made, the fresher it will taste. Cold sugar will take longer to bring back to the boil and won't taste as good.

Once the fruit has reached the pulp stage, add the warmed sugar and stir to dissolve. Increase the heat and cook until the jam reaches a set. Skim the top of the jam with a spoon, to remove the scum. If there is still residue left after this, drop a tiny piece of butter, the size of a fingernail into the pan, this should dissolve the remainder.

Bottle in sterilised jars and cover while still hot. Store in a cool dry place. 

How to know when the jam is ready and will set - Before you begin place a plate in the fridge to chill. When you think the jam looks like it may set, place a spoonful on the cold plate. With a clean finger, push the outer edge of the puddle into the centre. If the jam wrinkles, even a little, it will set.

Christmas: Last minute gifts - Turkish Delight Vodka

Hectic baking schedules and a pledge to give only edible gifts this year, has sent me in search of some some and easy last minute gifts. Ones you can make in about five minutes. This is one of those and is so quick you'll wonder if Santa's come quick flash while you were pondering the vodka.

Simply take a bottle of good quality vodka and some equally meritorious Turkish delight. Rinse the sweets to get rid of the powdered sugar, slice them up smaller if the bottle has a small neck like this one and pop them in the bottle. Add a jaunty bow for some festive cheer and off you

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas chocolate cookies

Ok, being pretty busy at the moment, I haven't had a lot of time to sit down and think about creating recipes or imagining what I would like to make. So I've had to go with the tried and tested and this is a fairly simple recipe from Nigella Lawson. Kids and visitors alike will love these biscuits, they have a deep chocolatey flavour.

One thing I found though, was that when I was making the dough, it ended up being quite dry, like breadcrumbs rather than the soft and sticky mixture that Nigella describes, so to rectify that, I added a little milk and it soon all came together. Like the Beatles! Eat these cookies with a warm glass of milk or hot chocolate, grab a good book, maybe stick on Abbey Road. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Stollen moments...

Yes that title is cheesy as an old Camembert, but that's what Christmas is about! Cheesy Christmas music that gets played on repeat for the whole of December, festive woolly jumpers and reindeer with glowing noses. One of the nice things is making time for family and friends and the unexpected visitors popping by. That is unless you're intensely busy, like many around now. These little biscuits are perfect for just that because you can make them in advance and have them in the freezer on standby.

Instead of making a Stollen loaf, I used the German Christmas bread as inspiration for these quite substantial biscuits. With lots of Christmassy flavours, they'll have you reaching for one after another!

 For the biscuit base, I used a recipe from Cookies Galore by Jacqueline Bellefontaine, then tweaked and experimented to create then stollen biscuits.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Where's the juice?

I learned recently that Juice vegetarian restaurant on Georges Street has closed down. Having been there not long ago, I was surprised at how quickly the signs were whipped away and replaced with the new flash neon sign of "San Lorenzos". Like a middle aged man replacing his older, yoga loving, health food consuming wife with a young flashy Italian mistress.

When I was there a couple of months ago, I wasn't too impressed with the menu selection (but am I ever in Dublin?) I can understand as a vegetarian restaurant, they are catering to a niche market. According to the European vegetarian union approximately 4-6% of the Irish population is vegetarian. That still leaves numbers in the thousands, but apparently this number is to be placated by Dublin chefs with the usual tedious fare.

In Juice, the menu consisted of pasta, falafel, a bit of tofu. Dining there last, I had the Asian noodles - fried noodles, a few veg, with about five rather mean cubes of tofu. My companion had the falafel accompanied by hummus and pita bread. While the service was friendly without being intrusive, the food was certainly nothing to get excited about. The staff kept the meal moving along at a nice pace, but what we were served just had us heading for the door with only the word "fine" burning in my brain.

In most Dublin restaurants, the typical vegetarian option always seems to be tacked onto the bottom of the menu with a "that'll do" kind of attitude; nearly always lacking variation or inspiration. A quick perusal over the bill of fare in many restaurants and you're sure to find pastas, stir-frys, risottos and the ubiquitous goats cheese. What is it with bloody goats cheese?! Sure its nice one in a while if you can find a soft creamy cheese with a hint of tang, but enough is enough. You would think these chefs had invested in goat farms up and down the country, that or a serious lack of imagination. I have a sneaking suspicion it's more likely the latter. Some establishments are so arrogantly enamoured with with their meaty mouthfuls, that reading over the menu is like wading through a veritable farmyard, with the vegetarians left only to nibble on the grass verges surrounding the yard with predictable salads. 

When I go out to dine I want to be excited, inspired, tempted by what's on offer. Instead I'm often left bored, going with the only option available that I've had a million times before. I am quite capable of cooking risottos, pastas and stirfrys at home. Please, where is the muse of plant based meals?

The only saviour we seem to have on this island is in the form of Dennis Cotter who runs Cafe Paradiso in Cork. Now, at last, my salivary glands have a chance to kick into action. We have dishes like "anise-braised salsify, poached quince, quail eggs & beetroot crisps with almond, pomegranate and zhoug", "feta, pistachio & couscous cake with sweet & hot pepper jam, wilted greens, spiced chickpeas and coriander yoghurt" or "panfried oyster mushrooms in cider butter with a timbale of roast celeriac, fennel, red onion & pecans, and parsnip chips". The descriptions may certainly be a mouthful but they have the taste to back them up. This is a place for Irish meat abstainers certainly to make a pilgrimage to from all over the island.

Surely there must be somewhere, someone, in Dublin interested enough to have an equally inspiring menu on the city's streets?
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