Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pear Gingerbread (inspired by Domini Kemp's itsa Cookbook)

When I was doing a massive tidyup last week, I came across an old copy of BBC Good Food magazine & spent a happy half hour having a browse through it.  One recipe that really caught my eye was for a pear & ginger cake and when a copy of Domini Kemp's new itsa Cookbook arrived in the post with a gingerbread recipe, my mind was made up.   Believe it or not, I had never made gingerbread before, and Domini's recipe seemed scarily uncomplicated, so I decided to give it a go, with a view to using most of it as a thank you to my parents for letting me stay in their house yet again!  When I walked in, Lulu was there in her Halloween costume and immediately demanded to know when I was going to make "those delicious meringues" again.  She then polished off a lump of this gingerbread, offering her Nanny a fingernail sized piece in a token sharing gesture.  She's just so kind!

This recipe is a one pot wonder as you make it in your largest pot - no need for lots of bowls, just a whisk and a spatula.  I used a can of tinned pears in juice - just drain them well - as they're guaranteed to be the perfect texture for this cake.  Also, a very handy tip for measuring golden syrup (why didn't they teach us this in school...) is to weigh the can/squeezy bottle before you start, ladle the syrup into the pot & keep checking the weight until it's 200g lighter.  Simples!

Pear Gingerbread

200g Golden Syrup
150g Butter
100g Caster Sugar
1 Egg
100ml Milk
2 tbsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Allspice
250g Plain Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 can Pears, drained & roughly chopped
50g Demerara Sugar

Preheat your oven to 160/Gas Mark 3.  Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin or deep cake tin with baking parchment.

Gently heat the golden syrup in a large pot until runny.  Add the butter and sugar and continue to heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.  Now remove from the heat.

Beat the egg, milk & spices together and add to the golden syrup mixture using a whisk.

Pour in the flour and bicarb and beat untill fully mixed - this reminded me a bit of choux pastry, but without the intense arm workout!

Now add the chopped pears, give it a final mix & pour into the tin.

Sprinkle with the demerara sugar and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean (the cooking time will depend on the tin you use - longer for a loaf tin...)

Let the gingerbread rest in the tin until cool, then remove and serve.  It won't last very long!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Meringues

Hot on the heels of my fantastic Green & Black's Ultimate book giveaway, here's a fabulous recipe for the most sticky, gooey & chewy chocolate meringues you've ever had in your life.

Now I must confess that I'm not really a meringue fan - pavlovas (or as my mother in law would call them "pavalovas") and the like leave me cold, and it's always the very last thing I'd opt for on a dessert menu.  These came around as a result of my Orchard Fruit Shortcake which needed 6 egg yolks and left me with 6 egg whites in need of a good home.  I also had some very delicious Green & Black's Dark 70% which by some miracle hadn't been nibbled at, so it was time to bring them together.

This quantity made about 18 large meringues which were very homemade in appearance - if you want something more elegant, use a piping bag and make pretty circles or faux macarons.  Most of my meringues were given to my family and the response was amazing.  Lulu ate not only hers (which was nearly the size of her head) but also scoffed her Mum's as well.  My parents devoured theirs and didn't share with the grandkids...  The Hubs ate the last of them and Lulu was not impressed as she was insistent that they all belonged to her.  Kids, eh!

Chewy Chocolate Meringues

6 Egg Whites
300g Golden Caster Sugar
100g Dark Chocolate, grated or finely chopped
4 tsp Cocoa, sieved

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas 1 and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

In a clean dry bowl (or food processor) whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Gradually whisk in the sugar until stiff peaks form.  You'll know it's stiff when you can hold it over somebody's head & it doesn't fall on top of them!

Stir together the chocolate and cocoa and fold gently into the meringue.

Spoon/pipe tablespoons of the mixture onto the prepared trays and quickly put in the oven before the mixture loses volume.

Bake for 45-50 minutes & allow to cook for 5 minutes on the trays before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.  Store these beauties in an airtight container (if they last that long).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WIN WIN WIN... Green & Black's Ultimate Chocolate Recipes

It's celebration week in our house (new job for me & a trip away as a congrats pressie from The Hubs), so I decided to share the love and let one of you lucky lot get your hands on this amazing prize.

Courtesy of the incredibly lovely people at Green and Black's, I have a copy of their brand new, super duper, covetable, droolable and quite basically brilliant new book Ultimate Chocolate Recipes to give away.  This is not just any book, this is crammed full of amazing recipes using my favourite chocolate in the whole wide world ever.  With a greedy eye on baking, there are tempting recipes for cakes and cookies, cupcakes and cheesecakes, puddings and pies, as well as inspirational ideas for dinner-party desserts, ice creams and what to make for little sweets and treats. And for those who are watching their weight, or who have allergies, there are some naughty but nice recipes for you too.

Not only have Green and Black's released this divine book, but they're also running two fantastic competitions on their special website where they're recruiting a Taste Assistant and a Taste Panel.  You can find out more at their Facebook page or if you tweet, please follow them.

Anyway, I'll make the competition simple...

What chocolate dessert would you have to round off your last meal?  Leave a comment below telling me all about it.

Here's the rules...

Competition open to Irish & UK entrants only (can't afford to post it further!)
Competition closes on Sunday 31st October at 18.00
I'll choose a winner at random by getting Lulu to pick a number between 1 & the total number of entries
The winner should allow 28 days to receive their prize
My decision is final, so there!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stunning New Irish Food Products at Shop

On Thursday, I took a little trip to the Shop exhibition in the RDS - I know it's very retailer-oriented, but there were a lot of new Irish food companies exhibiting and I wanted to see what they had to offer.

I was amazed and excited at the quality, variety and wonderful tastes from small Irish companies, all with very unique products to sell. Given the general atmosphere of doom and gloom which pervades this country at the moment, it's so heartening to see new small Irish producers with the finest quality food and we really should do our best to support them.  Here's my highlights...

I met Michael from Irish Atlantic Sea Salt - the first ever Irish producer of sea salt from the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, which seems incredible, given that we're surrounded by salty water.  I'm very familiar with the various French sea salts from my many trips to Brittany and Loire Atlantique & always bring home a stash of Sel de Guerande.  Michael O'Neill is rightly proud of his Irish sea salt which tastes utterly delicious - I've used the sample packet he gave me for absolutely everything and it really brings out the flavour of every dish I've used it with.  Keep your eyes peeled for this - it's fantastic

Image courtesy of Irish Atlantic Sea Salt

Next up was G's Gourmet Jams from Abbeyleix - I had seen them in my local SuperValu and thought they looked delicious.  I tried the Apple Jelly at the stand and it was divine - very clear in appearance with a hint of cloves for a bit of warmth.  They don't just make jam you know - they also have a great range of relish and chutney.

One of the stars of the show for me was the Donegal Rapeseed Oil Co.  Even since I read English Mum's recipe for a lemon & almond cake using rapeseed oil, I've been dying to get my hands on some.  I was thrilled to discover that Donegal is the source of high-quality rapeseed oil and excitedly brought home a bottle to play with.  I am very impressed indeed... it doesn't splatter all over my hob (less cleaning up for The Hubs), it doesn't burn and it tastes flippin' great.  Look out for it in your local shops - this is liquid gold!
Image courtesy of the Donegal Rapeseed Oil Company

Another fantastic product I sampled was Tomatoes Galore by Breheny's Bellish.  Made in Ballyvourney, West Cork, this bottle of tomato yumminess works in so many different ways... as a ketchup, a salsa base, a pasta sauce, a dip - it's the perfect multipurpose product, made with the best ingredients.  Mairead Hayes-Breheny is rightly proud of all the products in their range and you should try them...

Image courtesy of Breheny's Bellish

I'm convinced that Cork was sponsoring this exhibition because the next exhibitor I came across was Aaron from Finders Inn Gourmet Foods in Riverstick, Co. Cork.  They pride themselves on selling fresh homemade restaurant quality foods and based on the products I tried, I completely agree.  Their mushroom soup, red cabbage, ratatouille and rocket salad dressing are all wonderful - incredibly fresh tasting and packed full of ingredients you would use at home.

I also met the very charming Birgitta from Burren Smokehouse.  Based in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, this organic smokehouse and visitor centre takes the finest Irish salmon and turns it into the most incredible hot or cold smoked salmon, sold worldwide.  I tried the smoked salmon with Mead and it was gorgeous - very delicate and just the right hint of mead.

Image courtesy of the Burren Smokehouse

Another exhibitor I absolutely loved was Pandora Bell.  Nicole's products and packaging are simply exquisite and I wanted to take one of everything home with me - just to give as a gift to friends, of course!  I just adore her dainty cream milk churns which hide the most delicious Salted Butter Caramels & could be used for a multitude of storage solutions when empty (I'd stash my make up brushes in them...).  The Honey Nougat is crammed full of crunchy almonds and pistachios and wrapped in the prettiest paper - just covetable.

Image courtesy of Pandora Bell

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Orchard Fruit Shortcake - my TwootyFrooty recipe

In previous months, there has been an Irish Foodies Twitter Cookalong where we've made Pizza, Cookies, Fish - I missed out on the Vegetarian one as we were on holiday.  Friday 1st October was deemed Autumn Fruit cookalong and was duly dubbed TwootyFrooty...

My contribution to the event was a sweet pie.  It was really easy to make, but because yesterday was so warm, the pastry started to melt away as I was putting it on top of the fruit, resulting in an emergency freezer visit to chill the pastry so it was workable!  Using a food processor for the pastry makes it an absolute doddle - none of the hardship of rubbing butter & flour together by hand, and it's ready in minutes.  I used a square 9-inch tin for this recipe, but you could use a round one and serve the shortcake cut into wedges.  No matter what tin you use, make sure it's deep as this rises quite high.  If you grease the tin very well, the cake won't stick when you remove it, but a springform cake tin will take care of that issue as well.  The recipe only uses egg yolks, but you can use the whites to make meringue (which I'm planning to do later on this evening)

Orchard Fruit Shortcake

225g Self Raising Flour, sifted
110g Golden Caster Sugar
110g Icing Sugar, sifted
225g Butter, cubed and very cold
5 medium Egg Yolks
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

400g Eating Apples
200g Blackberries
30g Golden Caster Sugar
1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 tsp water

Put your flour, icing sugar, caster sugar & butter into a food processor (using the knife blade attachment) & whizz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, mix the 5 egg yolks & vanilla and then add to the food processor.

Blend it all together until it becomes a soft & sticky dough.

Put a large sheet of cling film on your worktop and drop the dough on top, scraping the residue from the bowl, blade & everything else it touches (it really is sticky!).  Wrap up in the cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 90 minutes.  The colder the dough is, the easier it is to work with it...

When you're ready to make the pie, heat your oven to 190c/Gas Mark 5 and butter your cake tin very well.

Peel, quarter, core & slice your apples and put them in a bowl with the blackberries (use thawed frozen ones if you can't find fresh - but drain them well) and sugar.

Remove your dough from the fridge and roughly divide in two.

Press the smaller half of the dough into the base of the tin, bringing the edges up the tin to make a little collar.

Add the fruit and then roll out the rest of the dough - on a well-floured surface as it's very sticky - until it's slightly bigger than the tin.

Place the dough over the top of the fruit, tucking the edges down into the tin. Glaze the top liberally with the egg yolk & water mix.

Bake for 45 -55 minutes until it's really dark golden in colour, well risen and crusty.  Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake and then leave to cool.

Friday, October 1, 2010

This Song's For You

On this day 6 years ago, himself became The Hubs, and that made me The Wife.  It was a day of wet weather, far too much alcohol (the guest hangovers are still discussed), fantastic food and quite frankly, the best day of my life.  I laughed my head off, pogo-ed around the dancefloor to Journey's Since You've Been Gone and began my life as Mrs. Duck.

To celebrate this monumental occasion, I thought I'd share our eclectic blend of wedding music with you - we had a VERY understanding priest!!!

Sadly Spotify doesn't have the two most important pieces - Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway) by De Danann or Here Comes the Sun by John Williams, but just click and you can hear them thanks to YouTube

Tonight, there shall be champagne (for me), beer (for him) and a lovely meal at home.  We had planned to go to McNean's but they were full and by the time we got a cancellation, we were broke and couldn't afford it (sob).  We might even dust off the DVD and remember the fireworks...