Sunday, May 29, 2011

Risi e Bisi Soup

This sounds very posh and Italian but it's actually a Venetian pea and rice soup.  I suppose it's a take on a very liquid risotto as it uses the exact same ingredients : onion, arborio rice, stock & butter but it's ramped up with lots of pancetta, peas & parmesan.  It's light but substantial all at the same time and would make a perfect Summer lunch with some good bread to mop up the last of the soup in the bowl.

I decided to make this because (a) I was starving and (b) to celebrate my foodie friends Lorraine & Bruno of La Cucina in Limerick winning the Best Casual Dining award in the Irish Restaurant Awards 2011.  They are passionate about cooking the very best Italian food (and drinking the very best Italian wine and beer...) and rightly deserve the award.  We can't wait to plan a weekend in Limerick and have a phenomenal meal at their restaurant.

Risi e Bisi

40g Butter
1tbsp Rapeseed Oil
1 Onion, finely chopped
200g Pancetta
1.5l Chicken Stock
250g Arborio or Carnaroli Rice
200g Petit Pois
75g Parmesan, freshly grated
2 tbsp Parsley, chopped

Melt the butter & oil in a large saucepan, add the pancetta & onion and fry until the pancetta has started to brown.

Add the peas and about 150ml of stock and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Bring the rest of the stock to a boil, add the rice and cook over a high heat for 8-10 minutes.

Reduce the rice to a simmer, add the onion, pea & pancetta mixture and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is tender.

Stir in the grated parmesan & parsley and serve.  If the soup is too thick, thin it out with some more water until it's very loose and soupy.  I can assure you that it needs absolutely NO salt added to it as there's plenty in the pancetta & parmesan.

Lemon & Poppyseed Cake

This cake has been on my mind for the last week because the uber-talented Sharon Hearne-Smith (food stylist, home economist, new mama to Pearly Pie & diva singer) has been looking for poppy seeds in vain.  As usual, I fell over a packet of them in Marks the other day so I bought a packet and decided to make the cake.  Also, Little Sis brought me home some fresh off the tree lemons & limes from Spain - picked in her friend's back garden, no less, so I wanted to use the lemons for something simple and gorgeous.

This is incredibly easy to make as it's an all-in one-bowl recipe, so minimal effort and washing up for maximum taste.  One really important thing to remember when you make this cake is to use an unwaxed lemon - you really don't want to be eating a coating of wax on the lemon zest.  They're easier to get hold of than ever before, so please make the effort...

Lemon & Poppyseed Cake

220g Caster Sugar
185g Butter, softened
3 Eggs
50g Poppy Seeds
300g Self Raising Flour
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed Lemon
185ml Milk

Preheat your oven to 180c / Gas Mark 5

Either in an food mixer or a large bowl using an electric whisk, mix together the sugar, butter, eggs, flour, poppy seeds & flour until light and fluffy.

Add the milk & beat until you have a loose, smooth mixture.

Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin or 25 x 25cm square tin and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  (the square tin will cook more quickly than the loaf tin).

Let the cake sit in the tin for 10 minutes before removing & transferring to a wire rack to cool.

This is a really light and delicate cake, so it's delicious in its unadorned state, but if you want to make it a little more fancy, cover it in a lemon icing.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Ladies Lunch at Saba

I have a group of long-distance friends who I first met on the iconic website - we come from near & far and we meet up every few months for a very leisurely ladies lunch where we eat lovely food, drink far too much and natter away about everything and nothing.  This is, of course, in addition to our daily emails where some of them act as shopping enablers, offering encouragement to others contemplating buying "stuff".  It's thanks to this gang that our economy hasn't gone under!!!

I think we started planning this quiet and elegant lunch just after Christmas to give people plenty of time to organise trains, planes & automobiles from Luxembourg, Birmingham, London, Cork & Derry to name just a few places.  Places to stay were booked (and regretted when we saw the rooms...) and a lunch venue was decided upon.  Saba won the toss, partly for the food, but also for the long and lovely cocktail list!  I know I wasn't alone in reading and re-reading the menu and drinks list online, torn between the Grapefruit Cosmo and the Xao Hao Lo - in the end, I had both!

Saba is on Clarendon Street, right behind the Westbury Hotel (home of the Kitchen Hero Tasty Tea) and our table for ten was located at the window so we could spot the late arrivals.  As there were a gang of us, we chose from the Fixed Price Lunch Menu - 3 courses for €19.95 which is really good value.  As we were waiting for the stragglers (one of whom who was clever enough to place her cocktail order in advance as she knew she'd be late), we ordered some prawn crackers which arrived with a selection of dips to quell the rumbling tummies.  As I was there to eat, drink & be merry, I forgot to take any photos of the food and if I show you the snaps on my camera from the day, 9 ladies will beat me to a pulp as they're not for public consumption...

I ordered Hoisin Duck Rolls to start, which were long and lovely and stuffed full of duck with lots of Hoisin sauce for dipping.  I very quietly asked if anybody would like to try them, but I don't think they heard me.  That might be because I said it in my head.  I did see Tempura Vegetables to my left and right which vanished in double time.  Cocktails were finished and wine (or grape juice as we call it) was ordered - just a small glass each.  Actually it ended up as rather more than a glass, but it was strictly to be sociable, you understand. 

Our mains came along - mine was the coveted Xao Hao Lo : chicken with asparagus, oyster mushrooms, baby corn, snowpeas & cashew nuts.  Other mains included an extra-spicy Massaman Curry & Pad Thai.  The table was full of empty glasses at this stage but for some reason the staff were oblivious to this and had to be asked twice to clear away the empties, which is a bit of a shame.

Desserts and coffees were ordered - I had the Pineapple & Banana fritter which came in a panko casing, rather than the batter coating which I was used to - it was very crunchy, but not as luscious as the batter version.  I also managed to steal a small taste of the pistachio icecream which came with the dark chocolate tart - it was fantastic.

So, after a feast of food and drink, the bill arrived - €40 per person including service which was really good value for money.  Saba is a great place for a leisurely lunch or a divine dinner.

If only we had the common sense to call it a day after the lunch.  Lets just say that I got to bed at 4.30am after a night which included Eurovision, Jedward scissor kicks, white grape juice, Maniac, Leeson Street and wearing crowns in a fast food restaurant.  We will never learn...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Basil & Emmental Stuffed Chicken

This started out with two chicken breasts and a "holy god, what am I going to cook for dinner tonight" conundrum... it ended with a very delicious dinner in 30 minutes.  I had basil on the windowsill, cheese in the fridge and an oven ready to go... so it was a case of pick & wash, slice and scatter.  I have a pot of crispy onions which I tend to pick at while I'm cooking (a very bad habit), so I scattered a handful of these over the cheese as well.

I served the chicken with a fast (pepper-free) Ratatouille and some pan roasted Gnocchi (info at the bottom of the post).  We both would have eaten it again, such was the deliciousness of the dinner!  If you want to posh up the chicken, wrap it in some Parma Ham before you roast it in the oven.

 Basil & Emmental Stuffed Chicken

2 Chicken Breasts
12 large Basil leaves, washed
2 slices of Emmental cheese
1 tbsp Crispy Onions
1 tsp Rapeseed Oil
Freshly ground Pepper

Heat your oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6.

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally along the length so you have almost a book shape.

Open out the chicken breasts & line with half of the basil leaves.  Top with the cheese & crispy onions and place the last of the basil on the top.

Close over the chicken breast, rub with the oil & season with the pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.

Pan-Roasted Gnocchi

These are the easiest, most addictive little crunchy pillows of yum you'll ever make.

All you need is a pack of fresh gnocchi (normally vacuum packed), a big frying pan & some rapeseed oil - it doesn't burn like olive oil.

Heat a tbsp of oil in the pan, sprinkle the gnocchi into the pan & fry on a low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan frequently until they're golden & puffy on all sides.  Season with salt & pepper and serve

American Pancakes with Maple Syrup

This is the first weekend in aaaaages that both myself and The Hubs have been at home with no plans & nowhere to go.  This of course mans that he has to cut the 3 foot high jungle of grass that is our back garden (he uses any excuse to get out of it). This time I had a plan... bribe him with a special treat breakfast.  Of course it worked - the grass was cut in double quick time and he even hoovered the millions of cobwebs in the SuperShed while he was out there.

One good deed deserves another, so I made a batch of American Pancakes with Maple Syrup - I had planned to top it with Pancetta but couldn't find it in the fridge, so made an emergency rasher substitution.

This recipe looks complicated but it's actually rather easy - it reminded me a bit of the souffle omelette we were taught how to make in Home Economics class in school.  You need a bowl & a measuring jug, an electric whisk (saves on elbow grease) and a frying pan.  Simples.

American Pancakes with Maple Syrup

175g Plain Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
25g Caster Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Eggs, separated
250ml Milk
25g Butter

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar & salt.

That's OPI My Private Jet on the nails

Add the egg yolks & milk and whisk until well combined & all lumps have vanished.

Now whisk the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage & fold into the batter.

Heat the pan, add the butter & drop ladlefuls of the batter into the pan, flattening out slightly (they cook better this way)

Once you see bubbles appear on the top, flip the pancake & cook for a further 2-3 minutes.

Repeat until you've used all of the batter.  Keep the cooked pancakes in a warm oven until needed.

Serve with lots of maple syrup & some pancetta, or bacon...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wexford Food Festival

I have a very soft spot for Wexford - I worked there for 7 years & most of our annual girls weekends take place in Wexford Town, so I was delighted to hear that it's now getting its very own Food Festival, following hot on the heels of Kilkenny & Waterford.

That's Phelim & Catherine

It's taking place over three days - from Friday May 20th to Sunday May 22nd - and is going to be a showcase  of the very best food producers and the amazing restaurants to be found in Wexford Town.  Celebrity (and very lovely) chefs Catherine Fulvio & Phelim Byrne will be headlining the Festival, holding cooking demonstrations of a wide variety of cuisines including Italian & Thai.  It's not all about the celebs though - the Festival also features an open air Food Producers Market, a Hog Roast and a Jazz Breakfast/Brunch to keep everybody entertained.

Some of my favourite Wexford food producers and sellers will be taking part, including Kate's Farm Shop (best fruit & veg for miles), Featherbed Farm (fabulous icecream),  Noirin's Bakehouse (gorgeous brown bread) and EP Doyle Butchers (incredible meat).

Full details of everything festival-related can be found at

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rhubarb & Lemon No-Bake Cheesecake

My friend Sarah from Cake In The Country made rhubarb lemonade last week & seeing as I had some Denis Healy organic rhubarb in the kitchen, I decided to follow her lead & make some too.  When it's strained, you're left with gorgeous rhubarb & lemon pulp which you could use as a yoghurt topping, or to make a fruit fool with.  Seeing as I missed out on the dessert course of Donal Skehan's Kitchen Hero Online Dinner Party, I decided to turn the pulp into a really easy and delicious no-bake cheesecake.

I love fridge cheesecakes because the biscuit base stays really crisp and crunchy (it's my favourite part, to be honest) and the filling is soft and unctuous against the salty sweet buttery bottom layer.  Some cooks advocate using gelatine but I don't agree once you use top quality full fat ingredients.  I know it's very indulgent and bad for you, but you really do need it to make everything set, otherwise you'll end up with a sloppy mess.

I've a few handy tips for getting your cheesecake base just right

  • Use a ratio of 2 to 1 for digestive biscuits to butter i.e. 200g biscuits & 100g butter.  
  • Use the bottom of a clean jar or cup to flatten the base well into the tin - much easier than a spoon.
  • Cool the base in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you make the filling - it really speeds up the process & there's no hanging around while you wait for the biscuit base to cool.
  • Run a knife around the rim of the cheesecake before attempting to remove the base - it will slide out really easily if you do this.

Rhubarb & Lemon No-Bake Cheesecake

200g Digestive Biscuits, crushed
100g Butter, melted
300g Full Fat Cream Cheese
250ml Cream
200g Rhubarb & Lemon compote

Using brute force, or a food processor, bash the digestive biscuits until they disintegrate into a sandy mass.
Melt the butter in a pot & add the crushed biscuits.  Stir well until the butter has been absorbed by the crumbs.

Pour the mixture into a 9 inch loose bottomed tin & press down firmly (see my Top Tip above for how to do this).  Place the tin into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to cool down while you make the filling.

Whip the cream until it's passed the soft peak stage.  Now whip the cream cheese until it looks like thick cream, add the whipped cream and rhubarb compote and fold together gently.

Remove the tin from the freezer and pour the filling on top - smooth down and refrigerate for at least an hour before unmoulding & serving.

Asian Pork Lettuce Cups : Dining with Donal

Last Thursday, Donal Skehan decided to join the Cookalong campaign (pioneered by the Irish Foodies) & had a Kitchen Hero Online Dinner Party.  I was working all day, so only managed two of the three courses... which prompted much gentle abuse on Twitter from Mr. Skehan about my poor time management and prioritization - the cheeky brat!

The first course was Asian Pork Lettuce Cups - spicy aromatic pork mince served in crunchy Little Gem lettuce leaves.  It's a lovely take on one of my favourite Chinese dishes, Yuk Sung which myself & Little Sis would fight to the death over (no social skills at all...).  The key to the recipe is preparation - get all of your ingredients ready & waiting for the pan and it will take 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.  I made far more than the quantities in Donal's recipe which meant that we had fabulous leftovers last night for Saturday night supper - I added in a handful of chopped spring onions while it was reheating, to freshen the taste.

The Hubs wants me to tell you all that this was absolutely gorgeous & he wants me to make it on at least a weekly basis...

Asian Pork Lettuce Cups

1 tbsp Sunflower or Rapeseed Oil
250g lean Pork Mince
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
1 Red Chili, deseeded & finely chopped
1 tbsp Fish Sauce (Nam Pla)
1 tbsp dark Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Caster Sugar
5 Spring Onions, finely chopped
8 Mint Leaves, shredded
Juice of 1 Lime
2 Baby Gem Lettuces, separated into leaves
Sweet Chili Sauce

Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a high heat, add the mince & cook until tender, breaking up any lumps or clumps - you want it to be crumbly.

Now add the garlic & chili and fry for another minute.

Time to add the fish sauce, soy sauce & sugar - this is what gives the pork a lovely dark colour - so fry for another minute or two until the mince darkens.  Finally, add the lime juice and half each of the mint & spring onions (keep the rest to sprinkle on top when you serve), and fry for a minute.

Transfer the pork to a pretty bowl & allow to cool until it's warm.  Now it's time to eat...

Put a large tablespoon of the pork into a lettuce leaf, sprinkle some of the spring onion & mint on the top & drizzle with some of the Sweet Chili Sauce.

Eat.  Repeat.