Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Treats : Chocolate Orange Marble Cake

The first time I made this cake, it was an unqualified success, both at home and in work.  Indeed, one of my now ex-colleagues told me last week that she missed this so much, she was thinking about making it herself!

Because Halloween is fast approaching, I decided to spook the cake up by adding a touch of orange for taste and colour, and used some of the orange sparkle gel icing I bought on holiday for a bit of bling.  My niece Gracie was the first one to sample this and pronounced it "most delicious".  She promptly cleared her plate!  I have it on good authority that my Mammy In Law also devoured her portion and even begrudgingly shared it with a friend.

Chocolate Orange Marble Cake

225g Butter, softened
225g Caster Sugar
275g Self Raising Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
4 large Eggs
2 tbsp Milk
1 tsp Vanilla extract
Zest of an Orange, finely grated
1 tsp Orange Extract
1/2 tsp Orange food colouring/paste
1 1/2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 tbsp Hot Water

Chocolate Icing
25g Butter
15g Cocoa Powder
1-2 tsp Milk
100g Icing Sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3. Lightly grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin & line with a wide strip of non-stick baking parchment to go up the wide sides and over the base

Put the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, eggs, milk and vanilla extract into a food mixer for 2-3 minutes until well blended. Spoon half into another bowl and set aside.  In a small bowl, mix the cocoa powder and hot water together until smooth. 

Allow to cool slightly, then add to one of the bowls of cake mixture, mixing well until evenly blended.   Add the orange zest, extract & colouring to the other bowl & mix well.

Spoon the orange and chocolate cake mixtures randomly into the prepared tin until all of the mixture is used up, and gently level the surface. 

Bake for 50 -60 minutes, until the cake is well risen, springy to the touch and starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin - I'd recommend using a skewer to check that the cake is cooked through.  Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack, peel off the lining paper and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, melt the butter in a small pan, add the cocoa powder, stir to blend and cook gently for one minute. Stir in the milk and icing sugar, then remove from the heat and mix thoroughly. If necessary, leave the icing on one side, stirring occasionally, to thicken. Spread the cold cake evenly with the icing and leave to set. Using the orange gel icing, pipe lines across the cake and then use a skewer to "feather" the icing so it makes those pretty patterns you see in the photos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Treats : Chocolate Spiced Cookies

The days are getting shorter, the Visa bill has arrived from the holidays (waaah - how did we spend THAT much???) and every evening is a symphony of illegal bangers and fireworks which means that it's nearly Halloween Time.

I shall be spending the Bank Holiday weekend in Kilkenny at Savour Kilkenny and will be missing my nieces and nephew all dressed up and looking for loot, so I decided to give them a little early gift - a batch of spooky Halloween cookies.  They're based on last year's Spiced Snowflake Cookies which they all devoured, but the addition of cocoa to the mix and some very special cookie cutters makes these ultra-scarey.  I bought my cutters for a mere dollar each in Sur La Table in San Francisco but I've no doubt you can get something similar here.

A dab of white icing turned basic cookies into scarey ghosts and spooky broomsticks. Actually I called over to Lulu yesterday to give her a bag of cookies and she told her little friend that "my Auntie Aoife makes the best cookies and cakes in the whole wide world".  And this was before she knew what I had brought over for her.  She's my favourite godchild ever*

Chocolate Spiced Cookies

50g Butter
100g Golden Caster Sugar
100g Runny Honey
200g Plain Flour

25g Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 tsp Ground Ginger
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon (or 2 tsp Allspice if that's all you have)
1/2 of a beaten egg

In a pot, heat the butter, sugar & honey together, stirring until melted & smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a mixer with a dough hook, put all the dry ingredients into the bowl, add the melted butter, honey & sugar & mix for a minute.  Add in the half (yes, just half) egg & let the dough hook work its magic for 4-5 minutes until the mixture has turned into a smooth & shiny dough.

Now wrap the mixture in clingfilm & chill in the fridge for at least a few hours until cold.

When you're ready to use the dough, heat your oven to 160c/Gas Mark 4 and line two large cookie sheets with baking parchment.On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it's about 2mm thin and cut out shapes with your cookie cutters.  Make sure to dust the dough well with flour otherwise it's going to stick to everything... trust me, I've done it.

Place the shapes about 2cm apart & bake for 8-10 minutes until golden.  I'd suggest you check the cookies after 8 minutes & keep an eye on them as they change from cocoa to ebony very quickly.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a cooling rack - let them go completely cold before attempting to ice them.  Make sure you keep them in an airtight container - they go soggy when left out in the open air.  I know this from experience...

*she's my only godchild...

Halloween Treats : Toffee Apple Cake

When we were kids, my Mum used to make toffee apples every Halloween and the local kids would clamour at the door in the hope that one would be dropped into their plastic carrier bag (no orange trick or treat buckets or bags for life back then...). We, of course would be standing behind her waving our toffee apples & gloating because we had beautiful manners.  Not.  Actually Mum saw a recipe over the weekend for a baked toffee apple and was quite appalled "how the hell can you bake a toffee apple - that's ridiculous".  Closer inspection of recipe revealed that it was just a baked apple covered in toffee sauce.  Bold Nigella!

So, I'm making my own filling-friendly tribute to Mum's toffee apples and bringing it to FoodCamp at Savour Kilkenny on Friday as part of my picnic contribution (I'm also bringing my Sausage Rolls and some Chocolate Spiced Cookies - I hope they're hungry!).  This looks really impressive but it's surprisingly easy to make.

Toffee Apple Cake

250g Butter (very soft)
225g Golden Caster Sugar
3 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 medium Apples, peeled, cored & chopped
4 tbsp Dulce de Leche
200g Plain Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
50g Ground Almonds
2 medium Apples, quartered, cored & thinly sliced

Preheat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4.  Line an 8-inch square cake tin with baking paper.

Cream the butter & sugar together until pale & fluffy.

Add the eggs, one by one, beating between each egg.

Mix in the vanilla extract, chopped peeled apple and 2 tbsp of the Dulce de Leche (save the rest until later).

Now sift in the flour and baking powder, mix well and fold in the ground almonds.

Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and top with the sliced apples.  Poke them into the cake mix at an angle so they overlap slightly.  Bake for 60 minutes until dark gold in colour (check with a skewer if necessary).

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing & transferring to a wire cooling rack.  Pour over the remaining Dulce de Leche and allow the cake to cool completely before cutting and serving.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Competition Time : Win a €50 Groupon Voucher

To be honest, I've being far too nice to you lot with icecream and birthday competitions, but I've had rather a nice few weeks what with the Birthday, followed by the epic holiday and now I've a fantastic new job on the horizon so yet again, I am sharing the love...

So, in association with has a competition for all of my very lovely and very much appreciated readers!  We have a €50 voucher up for grabs to spend on any deal that you like on

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is tweet a link to the deal of the day along with the hashtag #grouponbabaduck 

Here's the science bit...
Groupon the daily deals website offers discounts of up to 90% on a wide range of products and services from day spas and restaurants to car service and cleaning services. Every day we have new deals and vouchers!  Subscribe by email for the latest deals, with Groupon you can also save even more by earning credit for referrals! For each friend you get to sign up and buy a deal, we will give you credit towards your next voucher.  So start saving with Groupon today and pick up a voucher for a deal that you want!

Terms & Conditions
The competition is open until 17.00 on Monday 31st October & a winner will be picked on by Groupon.  
Lulu is not participating in this competition winner selection as she'll be too busy dressing up & terrorising everybody for sweets.  
The prize will be issued by redeemable e-voucher by Groupon to the winner within 28 days.  
Competition open to ROI entrants only (sorry kids, but them's the rules)

Boo!  Give me all of your sweets

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review : Comfort and Spice by Niamh Shields

Niamh Shields is a woman of many talents : not only is she an Irishwoman abroad, she loves eating, cooking and travelling, and writes eloquently about these on her blog Eat Like A Girl.  She's also one of the few bloggers I know who didn't learn to cook at her mammy's apron strings (I didn't either, if you want the truth...) and I think this gives her an added edge as she had to start from scratch and use her instincts to discover what she liked.  

Naturally, the next step in Niamh's progression was to write a book, and so Comfort and Spice was born.  I was really looking forward to reading this as I love how she writes about food - she genuinely enjoys cooking and bringing together ingredients that work beautifully together.  She also hasn't forgotten her roots with recipes for Irish dishes like the unique Waterford Blaa, Spiced Beef and that special winter warmer, Hot Port.

The book itself feels lovely to hold, with a flower printed binding and beautiful photography and illustrations to showcase the very straightforward and achievable recipes.  I've already bookmarked the Pistachio Creme Brulee, Sumac Lamb Meatballs (without coriander...) and Ragu Empanadas as things I really must cook!  If I'm feeling brave, I might just even try to make my own butter - well, I do use kilos of it when baking.

Niamh has also just been crowned "Best Food Blogger" in the OFM Food 2011 Awards which is as prestigious as it gets.

Comfort and Spice is published by Quadrille and is available in all good bookshops.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

San Francisco Food : Day 3

After the epic blowout at Chez Panisse on Day 2 of our trip, naturally we woke up absolutely starving!  Why is it that the more you eat, the hungrier you are the next day?  But there was no time to create a gourmet breakfast because we had to get up extra early for an 8am coach trip to Napa Valley with 30 strangers & a great tour guide called Dennis.

The Golden Gate Bridge from the Sausalito side

Bolstered by another speedy breakfast from Peets Coffee and Tea, we boarded the coach at the Ferry Building and all had to introduce ourselves which had myself and The Hubs in knots as we are big fans of Coach Trip and kept imagining Dennis in the role of "Brendan, the International Tour Guide".  I know, we're easily amused. Anyway, no sooner were we on the bus than we were off for a "comfort break" as we had a 2 hour trip ahead and there was no other place to go, so to speak.  So we managed to get a great photo of the Golden Gate from the rest stop (see Dennis, I told you there was time for comfort and photos...) before reboarding the bus for the trip to Napa.

Best phrase ever

From grape to glass...

Our first stop was not Chandon but a very sneaky last minute substitution to Andretti Winery i.e. we were only told on the bus.  It was nice enough but to be honest, we really wanted to visit a sparkling winery and to replace it with a bog-standard offering was sharp practice.  It's owned by racing driver Mario Andretti which attracts a certain type of customer but to be quite honest, I didn't rate their reds at all, but their rose was gorgeous... mind you at $18 a bottle, it certainly should be.

The Wine Train

Some of the wines we tasted

Next up was a two in one : V. Sattui Winery where we were both tasting and having a picnic lunch.  This is a big busy winery with the most fabulous deli shop I've ever seen.  We spent most of our time oohing and aahing at the food before realising that we had 25 minutes to cram in the tasting and eat our lunch!  The wines at V. Sattui were a world away from the first winery - after many tastings, we discovered that The Hubs doesn't like red but has a bit of a penchant for whites and rose wines, and a particular love of dessert wines!

   From the top : Lemon & Blackberry cake, Roast Beef & Rocket Foccacia, German Potato Salad, Eggplant Croquette and The Whole Table of Yumminess

Probably the best picnic lunch ever

Our picnic lunch was eaten outside in the shade (it was in the high 90's that day and we were roasting!) - we shared a feast of Eggplant Croquette which I'm certain was phenomenal straight from the fryer : mixed with cheese and bechamel sauce and coated in breadcrumbs, it was the nicest fried thing I had eaten in ages.  There was also a tub of German potato salad with lots of onion and bacon, a huge roast beef & rocket focaccia, and then we decided to share what we thought was a very pretty Lemon and Blackberry Cake for dessert.  This was a major letdown as it was all about the look and nothing to do with the flavour - it was tooth-rottingly sweet, the buttercream was claggy and the sponge was barely edible.  I'd much rather have something ugly and delicious myself...

This is where they hid the good stuff

Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena 2010

Duly stuffed to the gills, it was time for more wine - this time at Whitehall Lane which was small but perfectly formed.  We tasted their Cabernets and Sauvignon Blancs which were excellent and had a great first hand view of the crushing process. Himself also managed to sample yet more dessert wine, this time a Belmuscato which made him rather happy.

Nothing to do with wine, but I stole this from the lime tree in the courtyard...

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine

Last on the list was Franciscan Winery.  This was just beautiful : a large winery with tranquil private tasting rooms and we were brought into a large banqueting room to taste their range of wines.  Franciscan would be considered a boutique winery because they make in small lots and only really sell direct.  If you ever see their wine, try it because it is wonderful - we sampled the Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and the limited release Magnificat which was very special indeed.  Franciscan also allowed us to enter part of the vineyard and sample the grapes directly from the vine which is a rarity.

The evil coriander...

We came back to San Francisco on the Baylink Ferry from Vallejo which brought us right back to the Ferry Building.  At this stage we were rather tired - a day of sipping fine wines will do that to you... So we decided to get a takeaway and sit out on our deck with a few drinks to enjoy the beautiful sunny evening.  After wandering up and down past all of the restaurants like aimless fools, we eventually decided on Vietnamese from the Out The Door.  After looking at the menu for ages, I made an executive decision and ordered the  Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich, a Pork Bun, a Chicken Bun & Hoi-An Meatball with Rice.

Now I know that Vietnamese food uses coriander, which I completely and utterly loathe.  But they leave it intact so it's relatively easy to remove, which I did.  Oddly enough, I didn't think to warn The Hubs because my food hates aren't necessarily his. WRONG.  I was in the middle of eating my lovely pork sandwich when I heard a gasp, a gag and then a roar from across the deck.  Somebody just got a gobful of coriander and did not like it.  Not one little bit.  So being a supportive and loving wife, I did the only thing I could... I laughed my head off.  He was spitting and coughing like a cat bringing up a furball and I was in absolute contortions at his antics.  All I could make out was a "what the hell was that rotten stuff" yelp of horror.  So, it's safe to say that The Hubs is also not a coriander fan.  He refused to eat the rest of his dinner on the grounds that it might be contaminated and stuck to beer.  Sensible man.