Saturday, January 28, 2012

Italian Hazelnut Brownies

Just down the street from my day job, there's a restaurant where the food is fabulous and the atmosphere is joyous.  It's called Caffe Formenti and their Italian coffee kickstarts my day.  Richie the chef/owner absolutely loves food and many a "try this and see what you think" moment has happened in the morning.  Last week, he gave me some of his straight from Italy hazelnut paste to use at home. The smell was intoxicating, like the purest Nutella or gianduja and it drove me mad all day beside my desk as I pondered what to do with it.  Naturally, I'd have to make something that could be easily shared with the work team (and Richie, to say thanks).  Apparently, the Chocolate Coconut Brownies I'd brought to work before were a massive hit, so I thought I'd stick to the brownie theme but use that heavenly paste instead.

Last week, the ever-funny English Mum was boasting that she had the most perfect brownie recipe ever, so I thought I'd put her to the test and try it for myself... be afraid Becky, be very afraid!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Salted Chocolate Cookies

A few days ago, two of my friends Edible Ireland and Like Mam Used To Bake were talking about a recipe for Salted Chocolate Cookies which was causing them some confusion.  It was from a blogger called Orangette and unusually for a cookie recipe, it added milk to the dough which turned it into a batter and first attempt reports weren't good.  I am a big fan of mixing salty and sweet together for the wonderful contrast of flavours so I was curious.

I changed the original recipe a bit because I'm comfortable enough making cookies at this stage to know what will work for my eating audience (our work colleagues) and I sliced my cookies much thinner so they were more biscuit-like rather than doughy - this also gave me more cookies to feed people with.  Some people were initially sceptical when they heard salt and chocolate together in the same sentence but just one bite and they were hooked.  So hooked in fact, that the big box that The Hubs brought to work, with the intention of giving some to his Mum, vanished without trace by lunchtime.  Savages!  This recipe is not a quick mix & bake - you do need to make it the day before and leave it in the fridge to set fully because of the melted chocolate it contains.  It's worth the extra effort though.  Oh, and they spread like wildfire when they cook, so leave at least 2 inches between each cookie...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Oat and Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

This is originally a Rachel Allen recipe from her book Bake which I absolutely love. For some reason they never struck a chord with me until I tasted a version made by Tracey from Mammy's Kitchen at a Bord Bia Blogger's Day (where I brought my Chocolate Sable Biscuits as my contribution to the groaning tables of food).  I came home with a bag stuffed with baked goodies made by other food bloggers and myself and The Hubs sat down to an evening of gluttony.  These really stood out because they tasted almost popcorn-like and we fought like children over the crumbs, so I knew I had to make these at home.  They're really simple and the trick is to get the dough as cold as possible and slice it with a serrated knife so it doesn't crumble.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rack of Lamb with a Herby Crust

I love lamb, me.  Luckily, so does The Hubs (otherwise he'd starve).  To be honest I like my lamb pink, juicy and very tender - my idea of hell is grey, stringy overcooked lamb and... I can't stand lamb shanks.  I know they're uber-fashionable and very hearty but I just can't take to them at all myself.    A rack of lamb is the perfect cut of meat for me - the bones add flavour to the rack as it roasts and you end up with perfect little pink chops with a crunchy herby crust quicker than a takeaway would arrive.

When you're buying your rack of lamb, make sure you ask your butcher to trim the bones really well - they should be completely clean of meat otherwise they'll catch and burn in the oven - not exactly what you're looking for!  This is very easy to make - make your herby crust & have it ready, sear the meat on the hob, smear it with mustard, sprinkle on the crust and throw it into the oven.  Simples.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Crunchy Chicken Croquettes

At my last job, I worked with a Spanish girl called Maria and as is usual with me, a lot of our conversations revolved around food.  She had me in stitches when she told me of her first experience with Irish croquettes - she was horrified to find them full of potato and covered in bright orange breadcrumbs.  When I had stopped laughing, I explained that croquettes here bore absolutely no resemblance to the delicious bechamel-filled Croquetas that she was used to in Spain (more's the pity) and decided to make them myself.  In Spain, I've had them with either ham or chicken and making them at home was the perfect opportunity to use the leftover chicken from our Sunday roast to create a filling Monday-night supper.

Making the bechamel sauce reminds me of making choux pastry - lots of whisking and beating involved and you think it will never come together but magically it does.  It should be very thick because it needs to be this consistency to hold the chicken and the other flavourings together and form a croquette without falling to bits.  You can use fresh breadcrumbs but here I used Panko, the dried Japanese ones because they add a lovely element of crunch to the croquettes.

It's best to make the bechamel sauce in advance and allow it to cool because everything needs to be cold to roll into balls and coat in the breadcrumbs before you bake or fry them.  This makes enough to feed 4 hungry people  or 6 people as a starter

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Italian Pasta & Vegetable Soup

The holidays are over and most of the country are on a detox after eating the country out of house and home for a fortnight.  But eating good food shouldn't mean a diet of gruel and goji berries, although I'm sure they're utterly delicious. This is a handy way to up your vegetable intake but not lose out on taste.  Adding the pasta bulks out the soup to keep you full and parmesan is full of calcium, so this is practically health food!

Feel free to change the vegetables to suit yourself - I used what was hanging around the fridge and veg basket.   I kept the vegetables very small & all the same size so they all cooked evenly.  This makes 1.5 litres of soup which will give you lunch every day for a week (keep it in the fridge).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Classic Rib Roast

If you've been hiding under a rock, you mightn't know that my favourite butcher Pat Whelan has opened a shop inside the new Avoca store in Monkstown, Co. Dublin to add to his original store in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.  I have a lot of love for this store because they know exactly where their meat comes from and the premises themselves are absolutely stunning with a completely open shop so you can see the butchery area - nothing is hidden away.