Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zucchini Cake

Years ago, an American friend of my parents used to make this exotic creation and I absolutely loved it.  It was long before zucchinis (or courgettes as we know them on this side of the pond) were freely available so it was a rare and treasured treat.  If you told somebody you were going to make a cake with courgettes, they'd give you a very strange look, shake their head and wander off wondering what the world had come to.  Indeed.

I made this for the very first time yesterday because Little Sis brought me home some huge organic straight out of the garden courgettes from her holiday in Spain. Actually, she told me down the phone that they were aubergines, which got me all excited at the prospect of Iman Bayildi or Aubergine Parmigiana.  But my sister is blonde and got confused - they were actually courgettes.  Time for Plan B.  Most of this was brought to work today and I was rather hesitant about how it would be greeted.  Fear not, the savages scoffed the lot, even those who profess not to like "those green yokes".  Success!

Zucchini Cake

375g Plain Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
3 Eggs
235ml Vegetable Oil
400g Caster Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
225g Zucchini, grated
100g Chopped Roasted Hazelnuts

Preheat your oven to 170c/Gas Mark 4 & line a large cake tin (I used a 9 inch square tin) with baking paper.

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, bicarb & cinnamon together in a bowl.

Beat the eggs, oil, sugar & vanilla together until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients & mix well.

Stir in the zucchini & hazelnuts and pour the mixture into the tin.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  Slice and serve.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

It's so unfair, we barely had a summer and now the evenings are getting shorter and the next round of coughs, colds & sniffs have begin.  With that in mind, I thought I'd put last night's roast chicken leftovers to some good theraputic use.  It's a well known fact that chicken soup cures all ailments and this spicy Asian version will certainly bring some heat to your aching bones.

Now, I fully declare my dislike of peppers and coriander (shudder) so they're not included in this, or any recipe I write.  But don't let me put you off - I'm sure that both would be a great addition to the soup... just don't ask me to taste it.  If you want a milder soup, scale down the curry paste - my quantities will leave your tongue tingling, so just use half.  You can always increase it if you're feeling brave.  If you want extra noodles, add two packets.  If you want a creamy soup, add coconut milk.  This is a pretty flexible recipe so don't feel you have to follow it exactly.  All I would recommend is to cut your vegetables into thin pieces & have everything ready to go - the cooking time is pretty short because the chicken is already cooked - this makes sure everything cooks evenly.

Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

1.5 litres boiling Water
1 tbsp Knorr Touch of Taste
3 tsp Thai Yellow Curry Paste
1 Red Onion, finely sliced
1 Pak Choi, shredded
2 Carrots, peeled into wide shreds
75g Mushrooms, finely sliced
250g Cooked Chicken, shredded
150g Thai Ribbon Noodles
2 Spring Onions, shredded

Using your largest pot, bring the water to the boil, add the stock & curry paste and reduce to a simmer for 2 minutes.

Add the red onion & simmer for 2 minutes

Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Add the chicken & noodles and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Serve, with a sprinking of the spring onions on top.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Product Review : Kenwood kMix

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely people at Kenwood sent me the Kenwood kMix stand mixer to play with for a little while.  It arrived at work all shiny and gleaming in a ginormous box and looked very impressive indeed.

Now I must confess to being a little bit of a Kenwood fan already - I have a Kenwood Chef Classic which produces 99% of my baking and a Kenwood Food Processor which saves me hours of chopping & cutting, so I was very familiar with the brand.  Having the Kenwood Chef meant that I knew how to set up the kMix and get cooking straight away.

My (temporary) kMix was Peppercorn in colour & had a 500w motor, so it was a lot quieter than my Chef - which sometimes sounds as if it's about to take off.  It came with three attachments : the K-Beater, the Dough Tool and the Balloon Whisk.  

The stainless steel bowl has a whopping 5 litre capacity so can handle large batches of dough or batter with ease - over 2.5kg of cake mix to be exact!.  What I really liked about the bowl was that it had a solid base, so it didn't have water trapped in it when it came out of the dishwasher (instant bathtime...).  

It also has a really handy splashguard which clips to the top of the mixer & stops your nice clean counter from getting splattered with flour - some other big mixers don't appear to have this included & I'm sure it causes a massive mess when you're baking.

With 6 speeds, the kMix turns out pizza dough & cake mixture with ease.  I really put it through its paces & made a whole variety of recipes including pizza, Baby Berry Cheesecake, Lemon Polenta Biscuits & Chocolate Sablé Biscuits - all of which were devoured by the happy people in work.

So, how much & where?  €499.99 and many major electrical retailers nationwide.  It also comes in Raspberry or Almond, if Peppercorn doesn't suit your kitchen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dinner at Wilde The Restaurant

Last weekend was the start of my Big Birthday Celebrations... this is going to continue for 6 weeks by the way, so brace yourselves!   Dinner at Wilde The Restaurant was included as part of the package we had booked at The Westbury, so we all arrived downstairs looking like goddesses and tottered our way into the Marble Bar for a pre-dinner cocktail (also part of the package).  The cocktail menu is extensive and there were many moments spent humming and hawing over which cocktail we were all having.  I saw Prosecco, Mojitos and Cosmopolitans being ordered, while I opted for an Apple Mojito which the rest of them made a face at until they all had a sip.  It was delicious!  Despite loving Cosmos, I tend to steer clear of anything in a martini glass after the unfortunate incident in a bar in Blackrock involving me, a full Cosmo and my friend Karen.  Let's just say that the drink did wash out of my clothes but it made for a rather soggy evening!

Photo courtesy of The Doyle Collection

Glasses emptied, off we set across the lobby from the bar to Wilde The Restaurant for dinner.  The room is calm and elegant with art-deco style chairs, white linen tablecloths, gleaming glassware and napkins the size of a small child - handy for the more accident-prone amongst us.

We were presented with a small but comprehensive set menu - and some "try this and I'll try that and we can share" trading began.

Bread, water and wine all arrived very promptly and then we were presented with an amuse bouche : a shot of gazpacho (pepper-free... yay!) with a crouton of some very garlicky bread.  Some of the girls were a bit dubious but mine vanished in the blink of an eye.

Most of us opted for the Crab & Dublin Bay Prawn Cocktail to start.  The presentation was  lovely - beautifully trimmed lime wedges, mini bottles of Tabasco (I didn't bring mine home as a souvenir, but I know who did...) and a very generous amount of very fresh crab and prawns with some micro greens and a dill & mascarpone sauce.

I had Fillet Steak with Portobello Mushroom for my main - most of the girls ordered the Silver Hake.  My steak was perfectly cooked and I'd love to know what they do to the mushrooms because they taste amazing.  It also came with a little silver basket of chips.  That's right, MY steak came with chips for me.  This didn't compute with the fish ladies who promptly circled the chips and stole most of them.  The poor waiter noticed what was happening and brought more to feed the hungry vultures.  Kind man.

Once the plates had been cleared, the table hoovers emerged and the white linen was restored to a state of near perfection... apart from the Tabasco souvenir keeper to my left who had managed to fingerpaint the tablecloth with some pesto from the bread.

And it was time for dessert.  I had ordered the Sable Biscuit Tower with Raspberries & Vanilla Cheesecake and Raspberry Sorbet, as had my fellow Birthday Girl. Our desserts arrived on hand-painted plates with lots of pomp and ceremony, and a glass of champagne.  A really thoughtful touch and really appreciated.  Mind you, I do believe that my sable biscuits are better than Wilde's...

Our birthday meal was truly special and one of the main reasons was the staff.  They knew what we needed before the thought had even entered our heads - and that's a sign of fantastic training and attention to detail.  The food was excellent - well presented and beautifully cooked and the prices were very reasonable for a restaurant of such calibre.  We were all very impressed and I think we'll be back for a return visit before long.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Competition CLOSED : Win Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream

Very very excited.

This morning, I hit 1,000 lovely, funny, charming & entertaining followers on Twitter. I am very excited and think that not just one, but two of you deserve a little prize to celebrate.

Yum.  In My Tum.

The generous folks at Ben & Jerrys have given me two vouchers for tubs of their gorgeous ice cream to give away.  It's all because of a special competition they ran earlier in the year on Facebook.  Ben & Jerry’s fans voted in their 1000’s to bring one dreamy US flavour to Irish shores and they finally have a winner : THE VERMONSTER  It's a delicious concoction of maple syrup ice cream with caramel swirls and pecan chunks. To make The Vermonster that little bit sweeter, Ben & Jerry’s will be bringing it to Ireland as 100% Fairtrade, meaning all ingredients in the ice cream from cow to cone will be Fairtrade.  The Vermonster will be available here in 2012, so you'll just have to use your winning voucher to sample one of the many other Ben & Jerry's flavours.

So, how can you get your hands on a tub of Ben & Jerry's?  It's rather simple.

Follow me on Twitter & leave a comment below telling me which one of my recipes you think would be perfect with a big scoop of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. The two winners will be picked at random*

Lulu was telephoned this afternoon (1st September) and she decided that the magic numbers were 9 and 2.  That means that Jay Fox and Carie Murray are the very lucky winners of free Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.  Enjoy!!!

Rules :
Only open to Republic of Ireland readers only (I know it's mean but them's the rules)
Competition closes on Wednesday 31st August at 18.00
Vouchers will be posted directly to the winners by the PR company.  Allow 28 days for delivery.
* Random winner picking works like this.  Every comment is assigned a number in order.  I then ask Lulu to pick 2 numbers between the first & last.  They're the winners.  
Lulu's decision is final. No point in arguing with a 6 year old, she's always right...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Big Birthday Celebration

Let me set the scene for you.  It's 1985, Wham!, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and U2 are playing on the radio and a pair of 13 year olds with incredibly bad sheep perms and a pair of racer bikes become friends (listen, having a curly perm was THE LAW back then...).  Fast forward to 2011 and they're still the very best of friends and with just 8 weeks between their birthdays, decide to have a joint birthday party.

Happy Birthday To Us...

That's me and my lovely friend Monkers I'm talking about.  We have had some epic adventures over the years : having a teenage stalker who sent us jewellery and flowers; sneaking into the local grotspot nightclub seriously underage & trying to look all cool sipping bottles of Ritz; many hilarious holidays from hostels in Galway to 6 girls in a 1 bed/1 bath shoebox in New Jersey and working our way through nightclubs from Cabanas to Hollywood Nights to Jesters to Club 92 before finding a pair of lovely men.  Now we're both married with mortgages & she has two gorgeous girls who I dote on but we still make it our business to have our fair share of adventures...

This year, we're both 40 (she's older than me by 8 weeks).  It's quite scary how fast the past 26 years have whizzed by, to be honest, and we wanted to celebrate it together by having a birthday night out with the girls somewhere lovely.  We decided to spoil ourselves and stay somewhere suitably gorgeous (we're worth it, don't you know) and being the Chief Organiser of Everything We Ever Do, I chose The Westbury.  They offer a great package called Stay Wilde which is tremendous value for money - it includes overnight accommodation in one of their stunning bedrooms, a cocktail in the Marble Bar, a 3 course meal & wine in Wilde Restaurant and a full Irish breakfast the next morning.  I already knew that The Westbury was a great venue having been there for Donal Skehan's Afternoon Tea and using it for our work clients but from the moment we entered, we were spoiled absolutely rotten and the staff really couldn't do enough to make sure we had an amazing stay.  In fact, they even gave me a birthday card (I must stop Tweeting while I Eat) which was incredibly thoughtful of them.

So, that's part 1 of my birthday celebrations over.  The actual date is September 15th, but partying will continue until the end of September because there's two very special birthday dinners booked for our holiday in San Francisco... Chez Panisse and Frances.  Perhaps being 40 isn't all that bad after all...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Read All About Me

Every Saturday in the Irish Independent Weekend Magazine, a pair of fantastic food blogger/writers called Aoife (lovely name, that) have a column called Naughty or Nice which I love.  This week, they thought I was obviously naughty enough to make an appearance - let's be honest, there's no way I'd qualify for the nice...

I feel very honoured.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chocolate Sablé Biscuits

So, what are these sablé biscuit yokes, I hear you ask.  Well, a Sablé is a French round shortbread biscuit which originates in Caen, in Normandy.  As part of our annual trip to France, myself & The Hubs normally scoff quite a lot of these biscuits and bring home one or ten packets for a teatime treat (usually on a rainy Saturday afternoon watching telly with a big cup of coffee for me and a mug of smelly tea for him).  This year, there's NO trip to France and I'm having withdrawal symptoms.  Now to be fair, we are spoiling ourselves this year and going to America instead on the trip of a lifetime to celebrate our 40th birthdays, but it doesn't stop me pining for my French biscuit fix.

Well, if I can't buy them, I'll just have to make them.  So I did.  And I made a little adjustment to the classic recipe to turn them into light and crumbly chocolate sablé biscuits.  The traditionalists would probably swoon in horror but they are buttery, chocolately and very delicious.  I did bring a large quantity into work on Monday, foolishly assuming there'd be some left the next day.  Wrong.  The biscuit monsters were out in full force and left nothing in the tin!  I'd recommend chilling the dough in the freezer rather than the fridge as the high butter content means that the dough softens very quickly - using the freezer helps to keep the dough cold and much easier to work with.  This quantity makes about 40 biscuits about 4cm in diameter,so if you don't want to feed a crowd, just halve the ingredients.

Chocolate Sablé Biscuits

400g Plain Flour
50g Cocoa Powder

170g Golden Caster Sugar
250g Butter, cubed & at room temperature (the warmer it is, the better the dough forms together)

Preheat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4.

Put the flour, cocoa, sugar & butter into a food processor & whizz until the mixture forms into a ball.

Place on a large sheet of clingfilm, flatten out, wrap it up & chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the dough from the freezer, roll out between two sheets of cling film and cut into rounds.

Place the dough onto trays lined with sheets of baking paper and bake for 10-12 minutes.  They don't spread while they bake, so you can cram them onto the baking sheet.  Remove from the oven & allow to cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crunchy Lemon Polenta Biscuits

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the Irish Times Magazine online on PressDisplay (less recycling, all the content) when a recipe from one of my favourite cookery writers caught my eye.  I have a while lot of love and respect for Domini Kemp who inspired two of my top recipes - Pear Gingerbread - which has since morphed into my Chocolate Apricot Spice Cake; and my Daube of Pork with Apricots which won the Irish Foodies Winter Warmers Competition.  

Now you know how fabulous Domini's recipes are, you'll understand why I was so excited to see her recipe for Lemon Polenta Biscuits in the Irish Times.  Let me just explain that polenta is a tad difficult to source in your local supermarket (i.e. not in Dunnes, Tesco, Supervalu, Aldi or Lidl the day I went a-searching).  Luckily, our neighbourhood health food shop had polenta in stock.  And as I discovered afterwards, semolina flour is a perfectly acceptable - if less crunchy - alternative.

After making these biscuits, I really believe that the trick is chilling the dough so it's as cold as possible.  Place it in the freezer if that helps.  Scoop it out of a container with a spoon and roll it in caster sugar so it doesn't stick, and rolls out relatively easy.  I doubled up on the lemon in the original recipe because biscuits can never be lemony enough as far as I'm concerned.  And the ladies in Finance certainly agreed - even the "non-biscuit eaters" managed to open the lid & nibble on one or three... This quantity makes about 50 and don't worry because you will have queues of people lining up for a bag of these delicate lemony biscuits.  Mammy in Law absolutely loved them too (she wanted me to tell you that!)

Crunchy Lemon Polenta Biscuits

150g Butter
300g Polenta (or Semolina)
150g Plain Flour
100g Caster Sugar
Zest of 3 Lemons (unwaxed)
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
Lots of extra Caster Sugar for dusting/rolling

Process the butter, polenta, flour, caster sugar and lemon zest together in a food processor, until it resembles sandy breadcrumbs. 

Add the egg and vanilla extract and it should come together to form a dough. If it doesn’t, add a splash of water. Place the dough in a lidded container and chill it.

When you are ready to bake the biscuits, pre-heat an oven to 190 degrees/gas mark five. Have two baking trays ready and lined with parchment paper. Scoop out small pieces of the cookie dough and roll into balls, about the size of small ping pong balls. Roll out very lightly using some caster sugar until they flatten down. You need to be able to transfer them on to the baking sheets, but it is best to do this with a non-stick fish slice or palette knife.

Bake for 15 minutes or so, but do keep an eye on them. They will eventually go golden brown, but they are nicer when they are cooked through but retain their lovely yellow colour, so if necessary, turn down the oven and cook for a bit longer. It all depends how thick they end up after rolling out.

Allow them to cool on a wire rack before serving.  They do keep for at least a week in an airtight tin, so make a perfect gift.