Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ramsay, Ramsay Everywhere...

First off, I know I've been rather remiss in my blogging duties of late... normal service will be resumed shortly.  I wouldn't mind, but I do have a gickload of posts to write - you can look forward to Kilkenny restaurant reviews, makin' bacon and some 5* crisps as soon as I light a fire under my ass!

In the meantime, I'm in the middle of watching a brand new show from the US - it's not new to those of us who watch BBC & any of the food channels - Masterchef US.  And guess who the host with the most is?  Dat's roight... Gordon Ramsay.  Not content with Hells Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares in the US, he's now the love child of Torode & Wallace, hosting this new show on FOX.  I downloaded it this afternoon and it's actually rather good...

Surprisingly, it's not based on the UK show, but on the Australian and New Zealand formats where they have an X-Factor style audition before the real thing - complete with contestant sob stories.  Ramsay actually spits one dish back into a decorative pepper (best thing to do with a pepper, if you ask me...).  I've no doubt that TV3 or 3e will snap this up very very soon, so you can watch it at home and marvel at Gordon's new hairstyle!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This Week's Likes and Loathes

I'm in a non-recipe mood today & instead thought I'd ramble on aimlessly about stuff (i.e. food) I've had this week that I loved or loathed.  It's been more love than hate thankfully, otherwise this would just be a whingefest!


M&S New Potatoes. 
These are currently BOGOF at €2.99 and they are the most delicious new spuds I've ever had - equally good as leftovers the next day and they actually taste of potato.  If left to my own devices, I'd eat them like sweeties.

The Sweetest Thing
This is a new (to me) bakery/patisserie at the side of Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre and is well worth a visit.  It's like a cross between the old Kylemore shops and a French patisserie - they make virtually everything themselves and based on the little chocolate dome cakes we sampled, they should be proud of themselves.  I'll definitely be back.

This restaurant on Bray's Main Street is a find.  The staff are lovely, the food is beautiful and prices are reasonable.  The smoked chicken salad & the lamb burger were amazing... and the chocolate mint parfait was gorgeous


Tesco Fresh Salsa
Every time I've bought this recently, it tastes fermented after a day or two - i.e. inedible - and ends up in the bin.  FAIL.

M&S Savoury Muffins
I usually won't hear a bad word against M&S - their food is fabulous and their fruit & veg lasts much longer than the local supermarket.  However I wasn't impressed with their new savoury muffins in the bakery.  I bought Spinach & Feta and Tomato & Pesto.  Yuck.  The Spinach one had teeny green flecks which tastes of nothing and it was dry and crumbly.  The Tomato & Pesto at least tasted of what it was meant to, but it was far too salty.  FAIL.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mustard Chicken Salad

As is my wont, I was watching Ina Garten on the Food Network at the weekend - now that the World Cup is over, The Hubs can't whinge and moan about missing a match - so the TV is MINE, ALL MINE!!!  Anyway, Ina was doing her Back To Basics show and making a chicken salad.  As I haven't won the Euromillions and cannot replicate her utterly divine home in its entirety, the best I can do is recreate a version of her Mustard Chicken Salad.  It's very easy to make in larger quantities - just double, quadruple or Octomom the ingredients!

As usual, I did this on a whim & didn't have all of her ingredients, but what I threw together in a bowl tasted pretty amazing anyway...

Mustard Chicken Salad

2 Chicken Breasts - on the bone preferably.  If not, use boneless & read the extra directions
4 tbsp Mayonnaise
1 tbsp White Wine
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp Grain Mustard
Salt & Pepper
1 large head of Broccoli,, cut into small florets
Large handful of cherry/baby plum tomatoes, halved
Herbs (she recommends Tarragon, I used Basil & Mint)

If you have chicken breasts on the bone, stick the oven onto 200c/Gas 6, place on a baking tray, season with olive oil, salt & pepper & bake for 35-40 minutes until cooked.  Let cool for at least 30 mins, remove the skin & take off the bone

If you have boneless, skinless chicken breasts, place them in a large pot with hot stock & poach for 15-20 minutes until cooked.  Remove from the liquid & allow to cool.

Now blanch the broccoli in boiling salted water for about 90 seconds.  Remove from the boiling water & place in a bowl of iced water.  This stops the cooking process & keeps the broccoli really green & crisp.  When cold, drain & leave to one side

When the chicken has cooled, chop it into large bite-sized chunks.  Slice your tomatoes.

Mix the mayonnaise & wine in a large bowl - this thins out the mayo into a nice thin sauce.  Add the mustards, seasoning & herbs and mix well.  If you like more mustard, add extra...

Now add the chicken, broccoli and tomatoes and stir well.  Taste for seasoning & adjust it if necessary.  Chill for a while and then serve.

This particular batch ended up in some fresh warmed pitta bread as a sandwich, and while broccoli isn't a run of the mill sandwich filling, it is gorgeous.  Actually I have had broccoli in a panini before, with chicken, cheese & red onion, in Budapest - and it was delicious.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Aldi Special Offers : Herb Mixes

Every so often, Aldi have some fantastic specials for us mortals - the most coveted of the recent offers being the ice cream maker which flew off the shelves.  This Thursday, they'll be offering the spice mixes again for the impossibly cheap price of €1.49 for 250g.

Last year, I snagged a packet of the Greek mix and have used it as both a dry rub and a wet marinade for all sorts of meat and veg, with huge success.  In fact, I've been rationing the small amount I have left as it's just so delicious!

According to the website, they've seven different mixes available and they are
  • Hungarian
  • Mexican
  • Indian
  • French
  • Italian
  • Greek
  • Chinese
 For that price, you can't go wrong!

Photo courtesy of Aldi

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sugar-dusted Wedding Cookies

I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website, which is one of my firm favourites for practical advice and inspiration.  This recipe makes about 60 cookies, so I baked 40 & stuck the other roll of dough into the freezer for later.  These were great because they're relatively plain and therefore suitable to given to kids with relative abandon...  Our friend's little boy Reece though these were just gorgeous altogether and kept tormenting his Mum for "just one more, please".

Sugar-Dusted Wedding Cookies

250g Butter, softened
140g Caster Sugar
3 Eggs, separated
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
100g Ground Rice
300g Plain Flour
140g Demerara Sugar

In a large bowl or food processor, mix the butter, caster sugar, egg yolks and vanilla together until creamy.

Stir in the ground rice and flour and mix well to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Roughly divide the mixture into 3 and lay out 3 large sheets of baking paper - on each one, roll out 1/3 of the dough into a long, thin sausage shape.  Use the paper to help you shape the dough.

Now lightly beat 1/2 of the egg white (save the rest for meringues) and brush over the surface of the dough using a pastry brush.  Now scatter over the demerara sugar and roll the dough to make sure it's completely sugar-coated.

Wrap up the dough in the paper and chill for at least 30 mins until firm.  At this stage, the dough will freeze really well for up to 2 months if you wrap it tightly in clingfilm.

Preheat your oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6 and line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Using a sharp knife, slice each roll of dough into 20 small biscuits & place on the trays, allowing an inch between each for expansion.  Bake for 8-12 minutes until pale gold in colour.

Cool on the trays until firm.

World Peace Cookies

Demented name - amazingly delicious cookie.  These would stop a row at 500 yards as you couldn't possibly be grumpy with a mouthful of these chocolate crumbly discs of loveliness!  These were actually one of the highlights of my own personal Twookieparty experience

World Peace Cookies

175g Plain Flour
30g Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
150g Butter - leave out of the fridge for at least 30 mins before using
120g Light Brown Sugar
50g Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Fleur de Sel or 1/4 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
150g Plain Chocolate, chopped into small chips/chunks

Sift the flour, cocoa & baking powder together into a bowl.

In a food processor, beat the butter until soft & creamy.  Add both sugars, salt & vanilla extract and beat for another 2 minutes.

Pour in the flour and pulse the mixer at low speed for a second or two, about 4-5 times.  Now mix at low speed for 30 seconds until the flour disappears into the dough. Basically, you want to keep the dough a bit crumbly and not over-work it.  Toss in the chocolate pieces & mix very lightly just to incorporate them.

Now spread a large sheet of cling film onto your work surface.  Put half of the dough on the clingfilm and wrap it, forming it into a long log shape about 1.5 inches in diameter.  Repeat with the other half of the dough and stick it in the fridge for at least 3 hours to allow it to firm.

Yes, it's not the most attractive looking parcel...

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 160c/325f/Gas Mark 4.  Take your dough out of the fridge.

Line two baking sheets with parchment and unwrap the dough logs.  Using a very sharp knife, slice them into 1/2 inch rounds.  Don't stress if they crack or crumble (they will...).  Just squish them into place with your finger and thumb, and place on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

Bake them for 12 minutes.  They won't look ready or firm, but they actually are.  Leave them on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling fully. 

They won't last long, so you might want to double up on quantities and freeze half for later...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Carrot & Courgette Spaghetti

I have loads of different gadgets in my drawers, collected over the years and used regularly.  One of my favourites came from my favourite place - Lakeland and it's a julienne peeler made by Cuispro.

I use it to julienne veggies for salads - it's great for coleslaw or carrot salad.  One of my favourite recipes using this peeler is a carrot & courgette (zucchini to you lot across the pond) "spaghetti", so called because the strands of veg look like pasta.  It's amazingly simple to make and looks very impressive on the plate.  I dress mine with some butter, pepper, garlic & lime juice, but you can use whatever you like...

Tonight, we had this with some Salmon with Sweet Chili Dressing from The Saucy Fish Co. - it was delicious with just the right amount of heat from the chili.  It also cooks in a sealed foil bag in the oven, so no stinky fish smells permeated the kitchen to annoy The Hubs.  There also may have been some Potato Croquettes from Marks & Spencer... little nuggets of mashed potato heaven!

Carrot and Courgette Spaghetti

2 Carrots, washed & scrubbed
2 Courgettes, washed
1 knob of Butter
1 clove of Garlic, crushed
1 tbsp Lime Juice
Salt & Pepper

If you're lucky enough to have a steamer, cook the veggies in this.  I don't, so I resort to the old "colander & pot with a lid" method.

Peel the carrots and courgettes into long strips and ruffle with your fingers to separate the strands.

Steam for 3-4 minutes until the carrots are just tender.

Empty the pot of water and add the butter, garlic, lime juice and seasoning.  Stir until the butter has melted, add the vegetables and turn to make sure the dressing has coated them well.

Serve immediately.

Magical Italian Meatballs with Veggie Pasta Sauce

Yesterday I was doing a supermarket shop & saw two packs of mince for €5 - it's the stuff I'd normally use, so I had no concerns about buying it.  Then I thought I might make some meatballs & grabbed a pack of pork mince.  I had the rest of the ingredients lying around the house, so decided to give them a bash this afternoon (any excuse to put off the Ironing Mountain!).  I would normally brown the meatballs in a frying pan, but I was reading a US website the other day that said to bake them in the oven, a bit like meatloaf.  It worked surprisingly well... 

This recipe freezes like a dream, so is a fantastic dinner standby - just add pasta and some Parmesan and dinner is ready in practically the blink of an eye.  It's also pretty cheap to make, so it's very pocket-friendly which is no bad thing!

Magical Italian Meatballs

800g Minced Beef
500g Minced Pork
75g Fresh Breadcrumbs
3 tbsp Milk
1 Onion, minced or grated
25g Parmesan, grated
1 tbsp Lea & Perrins
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 tbsp dried Oregano
1 tbsp dried Basil
1 tbsp dried Rosemary
2 tbsp fresh Parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh Sage, finely chopped
Plenty of Salt & Pepper - these need a lot of seasoning

Most of the ingredients you'll need (the oregano went AWOL!)

Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until they're soft & squidgy
In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients & mix lightly (use rubber gloves if you prefer).

Form into golf-ball sized balls - place on parchment lined baking sheets.  This quantity makes about 40-45 meatballs.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400f/225c/Gas 7

While the meatballs are in the oven, make the pasta sauce

Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve immediately or leave to fully cook before freezing.  This will keep for 6 months in your freezer.

Veggie Pasta Sauce

1 large Onion, finely chopped
2 Courgettes, chopped
100g Mushrooms. chopped
2 tbsp Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, crushed
Salt & Pepper
1 tbsp Sugar
3 cartons Crushed Tomatoes
2 tbsp Sundried Tomato Puree
Fresh Basil, chopped

Fry the onion, garlic, courgettes & mushrooms in the olive oil until soft.

Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree and salt/pepper and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat & simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the meatballs and simmer for another 15 minutes.  Garnish with the fresh basil & serve

Dinner is ready!!
All ready for the freezer!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Nuts About Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies

I think this is number 3 in the Twookieparty epic and these were divine.  They spread like mad in the oven so either space them  
v  e  r  y   far apart or be prepared for one big sheet of cookie which you can break into chunks by hand (which is how I did it).  The original recipe just used dark chocolate but I really liked the colour contrast of the white against the pecan nuts.  If you don't like pecans (you weirdo...) use almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts if that's what floats your boat.  If you're rich, macadamia nuts would be gorgeous!

Double Chocolate Pecan Cookies

100g Dark Chocolate, roughly chopped
100g White Chocolate, roughly chopped
100g Butter, chopped
50g Muscovado Sugar
85g Caster Sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg, beaten
100g Pecan nuts
100g plain flour
1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

Line two baking sheets with parchment and preheat your oven to 180c/160c Fan/Gas Mark 4

Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave or bain marie until smooth and glossy.
In a food processor or large bowl, beat the butter, sugars, vanilla & egg until smooth.

Now stir in 3/4 of the pecan nuts & white chocolate, the melted chocolate, flour & bicarbonate of soda.

Heap spoonfuls of the mix onto the baking sheets, remembering to leave  L  O  A  D  S  of space as they spread like mad, or just ignore me to make a giant sheet cookie.  Poke in the remaining nuts & chocolate.

Bake for 12 minutes until firm.  Leave them to cool on the sheets.

These keep for... 5 days & counting now in an airtight tin!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Toffee Apple Cookies

These formed part of the Twookieparty recipe collection and they were a huge hit - I understand that our Lulu launched a commando raid on the box when her Mum was up running her bath...

They aren't a crisp cookie but are soft and chewy in consistency - perfect with a glass of milk for kids.  I got both the dried apple slices and the dairy toffees in Tesco - part of their own branded range.  This quantity makes about 24 cookies

Toffee Apple Cookies

175g Butter, at room temperature
140g Caster Sugar (Golden if you have it, normal if you don't)
2 Egg Yolks
225g Self-Raising Flour
50g Ground Almonds
85g Chewy Toffees, roughly chopped
85g Dried Apple Rings, roughly chopped
2 tbsp Milk

Preheat your oven to 190c/170c Fan/Gas Mark 5 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Chop up your toffees and apple slices into smallish pieces

Using an electric whisk or food processor, beat the butter & sugar until pale & creamy.

Stir in the egg yolks, ground almonds, toffees, dried apple chunks & flour.  Mix well together and roll into walnut-sized balls, placing on the baking sheets.

Brush with milk & bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.  Leave to firm on the sheet for 5 minutes & then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Vegetable Tart

I had the idea of making a savoury tart, even though I was all cookied out after the Twookieparty and never wanted to set eyes on a baking sheet or oven for a long long time!  Quiches wouldn't be on my Top Ten list of things I like to eat - I find a lot of them too eggy and rubbery with cheap ingredients, but I am very fond of the M&S summer vegetable quiche which has lots of nice seasonal veg in it.  Aldi had a special on asparagus - 89c for a nice big bunch, so I bought two.  A few weeks ago I bought a rectangular loose-bottomed tin in Kitchen Complements and it was crying out to be used - hence yesterday's tart!

I decided to be brave and make my own pastry - you don't have to, if you don't want to... a packet of readymade shortcrust will work just fine.  This is absolutely gorgeous - a large piece of it was donated to the Parents yesterday - Mum was picking at bits of the pastry as I was leaving the house, so I'd reckon it barely survived the night.  It's very fresh and light, and even veggie-friendly... see, I can do the odd meat-free dish!

Summer Vegetable Tart

200g Plain Flour
A pinch of Salt
125g VERY chilled Butter, chopped into small cubes
1 Egg, lightly beaten

Using a food processor with the knife blade, blend your flour & salt for a second.
Add the very very very cold butter & whizz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.  If the butter isn't cold enough, the dough will turn into a sloppy mess and it's not worth the grief...
Now add the egg & pulse it until the dough comes together in big clumps.

Tip the dough out onto a large piece of clingfilm, press it together to form a ball, wrap up and stick it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Or... buy a packet of readymade shortcrust pastry and follow the recipe from here!!

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line a loose-bottomed 23cm/9 inch round tin or my lovely 35 x 10/13 x 4 inch tart tin with the pastry, leaving a 1cm overlap all around.  Prick the base with a fork & put it back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.  I know this is a bit of a chore, but the pastry needs to chill & snooze.

Now, turn your oven on to 190c/Gas Mark 5 and start preparing your filling.

Summer Vegetable Tart Filling

1 bunch Spring Onions, trimmed and finely chopped
100g frozen Petit Pois (you can use peas, but these are more dainty & delicate)
2 bunches Asparagus, peeled and trimmed
200ml Creme Fraiche
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 medium Egg Yolks
25g Parmesan, grated
25g Butter
Large handful Mint Leaves, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper

Pour the frozen Petit Pois into a shallow bowl & allow to defrost.
Put the asparagus in a suitable container, add 1 tsp water, cover and microwave on high for 1 minute.
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the spring onions and cook for 5 minutes on a low heat.  They need to be soft, but not take on any colour. 

Scoop out and keep to one side.  Toss the asparagus in the remaining butter and keep separately.

Line the pastry base with baking paper, weigh down with baking beans/dried pasta/uncooked rice and bake for 10 minutes, placing it on a large flat baking sheet first. 

Remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the base is dry & the pastry has a golden tinge.  Using a serrated knife, trim off the excess pastry.

In a Pyrex measuring jug or a bowl, mix the creme fraiche, parmesan, garlic and egg yolks.  Season well and stir in the spring onions, mint and peas.  Pour into the base of the tart and top with the asparagus.

Bake for 30 minutes until golden and puffy.  Try to let it cool a bit before you get stuck in, as it's VERY HOT (and incredibly delicious)