Monday, November 28, 2011

Review : Hotel Chocolat Ultimate Advent Calendar

A few weeks ago, a very welcome parcel arrived on my doorstep  - a box of deliciousness from luxury chocolatier Hotel Chocolat to taste and review.  They have a myriad of Christmas treats to suit every palate and pocket so I chose something very suited to myself and The Hubs - the Truffles for Two Advent Calendar.  Seeing as we've no kids and there's just the two of us, this grown up box has two truffles behind each door, so there's absolutely no fighting and the flavours are adult enough to deter nieces and nephews.  What a result!

On first inspection, the box is large and sleek - it contains 320g of truffles in a purple and silver treasure trove which opens out to reveal the advent calendar within.  As there's 24 days in Advent, there are 24 pairs of truffles for two in six different varieties :  Gingerbread Truffle, Salted Soft Caramel, Mulled Wine Truffle, Cinnamon Praline, Milk Praline and Simple Dark Truffle.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We Should Have Gone To McDonalds

Did you ever go out for dinner, sit down at the table in the restaurant and get that sinking feeling?  Welcome to our meal out in Belfast last night.  We decided a week ago to head up for the night, managed to get a hotel without spending a fortune and then the hunt for somewhere to eat began.  The ever-lovely Manuel and even lovelier LMM threw out a whole list of suggestions but they were all completely full, unless we wanted to eat at 5pm.  That's a bloody late lunch for us!  Eventually, I found a table at The Grill Room at Ten Square.  Reviews were relatively decent so the reservation was confirmed (all the time hoping that the other places would have a cancellation).

Image courtesy of Tripadvisor

Monday, November 21, 2011

Toasted Almond, Apple & Syrup Muffins

This recipe came about because of a bag of cooking apples I bought last week with great intentions.  As usual, real life got in the way and I ignored them in favour of making dinners rather than dessert.  The weekend came around and I decided to use them for my usual Sunday baking extravaganza (the new work people seem to be enjoying Monday mornings a lot more now...) and couldn't decide between a traybake or individual muffins.  I had a quick flick through my copy of The Flavour Thesaurus just to make sure I was on the right track, so decided to add some almonds and golden syrup to the basic recipe.

The trick to maximising flavour in this recipe is to toast the flaked almonds yourself.  Yes, I know you can buy ready-toasted almonds but I find that they always taste a bit stale and I prefer to put them in a hot pan, watch them like a hawk, and toast them until they're golden brown.  Nuts burn incredibly quickly and once they go black, throw them out as they'll ruin anything you bake with a bitter burnt taste.  The golden syrup gives the muffins a beautiful caramel taste and colour, while the apple keeps it all moist.

The beautiful crockery was a birthday gift from my lovely friend Rosanne

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Paul Flynn's Crab Creme Brulee

A few months ago, myself & The Hubs had a lovely meal at The Tannery and one of the highlights for me was the Crab Creme Brulee.  It's Paul Flynn's signature dish and I could have eaten it in industrial quantities, such was its deliciousness.  I've been meaning to make it at home for ages but never quite got around to it until this weekend when I spotted some crab in the local supermarket and decided to give it a go.

A word of advice, when a pack of crab proclaims that it is "ready to eat", it still should be checked through carefully by hand as I found many shards of shell hiding in the meat and the last thing you want is to bite down on some hard shell as it's not a pleasant experience at all.  Trust me...

This is a dish that requires some preparation in advance because the crab custard needs to sit in the fridge for at least a couple of hours to allow all of the flavours to absorb.  You also need to make the pickled cucumber a few hours in advance to allow the marinade to cool before adding it to the sliced cucumber.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chocolate Coconut Brownies

Back in April, I made a Gianduja Brownie topped with Nutella and hazelnuts which disappeared into thin air when it arrived into work.  This time around, I decided to mix it up a bit and use coconut instead - a bit of an homage to the Bounty Bar, if you will (I love Bounty bars for the record, especially the dark chocolate ones).  In the scale of things, you don't need a lot of coconut to get a lovely moist coconutty hit so it will appeal to everybody.

As I said before, this recipe easily makes 24 brownies, so if you don't have a giant brownie pan, use two loose-bottomed deep cake tins.  Although this mixture doesn't contain any raising agents like baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, it definitely rises in the oven, so don't take a shortcut & use a shallow tin - you'll only spend the next few hours cleaning brownie mix out of the oven & swearing loudly...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Peanut Butter & Sesame Cookies

These shortbread-like crumbly melt in the mouth cookies are from the gorgeous book Make, Bake, Love by Lilly Higgins which I reviewed last week.  I've been very lucky to taste the original cookies as made by Lilly's own fair hands so I knew that I had a lot to live up to.  They were the first baking offering I brought into the new job and I was very happy with the response.  An empty tin is the best feedback!  As Lilly says, they do keep for up to a week in an airtight container, not that these stood any chance of lasting that long.  The trick here is to make sure your butter is very soft indeed as it makes your life so much easier.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review : The Loft, Arklow

The Loft is on Arklow's Main Street and would be known to most people by its previous name, Kittys.  Kittys reigned supreme for many years but failed to reduce prices when everybody was tightening their belts and is no more.  That's enough reminiscing for now - time to tell you about what's there now.

Crostini at The Loft

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review : Make, Bake, Love by Lilly Higgins

This book is full of warm happy thoughts and even glancing at the cover brings a smile to my face.

Let me explain, Lilly Higgins is a Ballymaloe-trained chef and a brilliant food blogger - which is where I came upon her fabulous recipes.  She teaches, styles food and is also a star of Fancy Vittles on the tellybox along with her unknown sister, struggling comedian Maeve (sorry Maeve, only joking!).  She's also baking her own little bun in the oven and when she gets a spare moment, runs Supper Clubs feeding hordes of appreciative hungry folk.  I need a little sit down just thinking about all of that.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chocolate Ricotta Cake

Ricotta is a cheese I keep meaning to use more often but never quite get around to. After a very long week in work at my new job (they all read the blog apparently & are looking forward to being fed on Monday...), I was tired and needed to make some cake.  I missed my baking appointment last weekend because I was at Savour Kilkenny with The Hubs, eating, drinking & generally being very merry so it was time to get back on track.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review : Fast, Fresh, Simple by Donna Hay

During the summer, Good Food showed the TV series "Fast, Fresh, Simple" showcasing recipes from the new book by Donna Hay. I wasn't alone in being glued to it - Donna is the Australian Martha Stewart & out-Martha's Martha to be honest! Donna started her career as a food stylist and magazine editor and developed into a bestselling author with 20 books under her belt, her own magazine and a homewares collection.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Savour Kilkenny : Foodcamp

A few months ago, I heard about Savour Kilkenny which was happening over the October Bank Holiday weekend - I had a little chat with The Hubs who gave it the green light, so a hotel was booked and preparations began for a weekend of fun and food at the festival.  As time passed, emails and tweets began pouring in about various activities happening over the weekend so our first port of call was Foodcamp in the Newpark Hotel.  The rules were simple - show up, listen, bring food for the picnic & be prepared to enjoy yourself!

We were at talks by Helen from Knockdrinna Cheese & Clare from the Dungarvan Brewing Company discussing beer and cheese pairings.  The Hubs was a very happy man at this talk, yes indeedy.  I had to drag him out of the room afterwards.  Next up was a talk by Suzanne Campbell called "What's Ireland Eating".  This definitely made me think as Suzanne told us about US farming standards (or lack thereof in some cases) and made me feel rather guilty about what we had eaten on holiday.

Clare from the Dungarvan Brewing Company & Suzanne Campbell in full flow