Thursday, 10 June 2010

Apricot & Cheese Cake

One of the great advantages of living in Paris is that in the Summer there is a glut of nationally produced fruits that don't grow in Ireland. While Spanish apricots had been on the scene for some weeks (albeit a little green and bitter), last weekend was the first time I noticed French apricots fresh from provence. On promo at €3-80/Kg I could not resist. However sometimes there are good reasons for special offers and this was no exception the fruit was very ripe and was not going to last for more that 2 days.

First I though about an apricot tart with a frangipane creme but then realised I had no pastry left in the freezer and it was too hot a day to be fiddling around wit making and rolling out pastry.

Thankfully I stumbled a apricot & cheese cake recipe. The first time I made this cake I followed the original instructions to the letter, the quantity of apricots seemed to be overstated and the cooking time understated!

The result is a moist cake with a texture similar to the french flan. The apricots caramelise on top releasing a natural juicy sweetness, for a taste of provence!

You will need:

400G of apricots

3 eggs

150 fromage frais (if you cannot find this you can use a mix of cottage cheese & plain yoghurt but blend until smooth)

150 caster sugar

140g butter

150g plain flour

1 vanilla pod (from Madagascar if possible)

1 table spoon of icing sugar

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 180°

2. melt butter in a small saucepan

3. split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into a mixing bowl, add eggs & sugar and whisk until light and fluffy

4. whisking all of the time add the melted butter (retaining a little butter to grease the cake tin/casserole dish), fromage frais, and lastly the flour

5. wash & drop the apricots, destone and cut in half

6.grease a shallow rectangular cake tin (or a suitable pyrex casserole dish) and pour in the cake mixture

7. place the apricots on top of the mixture and using a sieve sprinkle over with the icing sugar and cook in oven for around 50 minutes

8. the cake is cooked when a sharp knife comes out clean, leave to cool well, before eating

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

cool as a cucumber soup in the city of lights

The temperature this week hit the 30s and it was a heavy, humid and sticky heat, there was even no need for me to go to the studio to practice Bikram yoga, I had the same conditions at home!

Not the type of day you want to spend over a steaming stove in the kitchen. You want something cooling, refreshing, light, simple and quick, like this chilled cucumber soup; just the thing when things start to sizzle in the city.

This recipe is based on the New Covent Garden Soup Company Recipe book but omitting the cream which I find quite heavy.

You will need:

one large cucumber - peeled, deseeded and diced

275ml chicken stock

275 ml of tomato juice

400 ml of natural yoghurt

1 small garlic clove
small bunch of mint leaves roughly chopped
1/4 red chili, deseeded and chopped (use rubber gloves to handle the chili)

salt and black pepper

To garnish:

6 tbsp creme fresh, 2 tomatoes (peeled deseeded and diced), 2 teaspoons black olives destoned and roughly choped)

To make:

1. Place cucumber in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain

2. Mix together the tomato juice, the stock, yoghurt, mint and garlic leave to infuse for 30 minutes

3.After 30 minutes wash & dry cucumber using a clean tea towel squeezing out any excess water

4. Strain the mix of tomato juice and stock mixture through a sieve then add the diced cucumber & chopped chilli pepper

5. Chill in fridge for between 2 and 6 hours (although have had left overs the day after)

6. To serve , ladle soup into 6 bowls, mix garnish ingredients in a small bowl, add a tablespoon of creme fraiche to each bowl of soup and top with garnish

For another take on cucmber soup , especially for those who are not fans of tomatoes, try the recipe below from Jody Eddy on the eddybles blog.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

this is no ordinary cheese & tomato sandwich!

The plan had been quite simple, go to the market and pick up some "artichauts poivrade" to try out the carpaccio recipe in the new edition of "Cusines et Vins de France". Artichokes were not something we saw on a regular basis in Ireland and having mastered some globe artichokes recipes last Summer, I thought I move on to the smaller peppery version.

Alas, this good plan went the way of most good plans; there were no "artichauts poivrade" at the market, so I had to find inspiration for Saturday lunch elsewhere. I set my sights on some big tomatoes called "noir de crimée", kind of a funnier looking & darker version of a beef tomato, and took two of those.

When flicking through "Cusines et Vins de France" I had come across a recipe for a sandwich using large old style tomatoes, with pesto and mozzerella cheese, but had neither of the other two main ingredients.

I did however have some homemade black olive tapenade, basil and goats cheese. Here is my version of that favorite staple; a cheese and tomato sandwich. It serves 2.

You will need:

2 slices of sour dough or granary bread
150g goats cheese (log)
3 to 4 tablespoons of olive tapenade
1/2 red onion cut in halfmoons/rings
a few basil leaves
2 large tomatoes (if you can't find an old style variety beefsteak will do)

to assemble:

1.Boil enough water in a saucepan large enough to hold the two tomatoes, once the water is boiling put in the two tomatoes for 20 seconds, before removing and plunging into ice cold water for one minute. Then take out of water then dry and peel them. The taking a sharp knife cut the tomatoes either in half or in three (depending on the thickness), I managed 3.
2. Toast the bread.
3. Cut the goats cheese log into 12 slices
4. Spread a thin layer of tapenade on each slice of toast
5. Take each bottom slice of tomato and spread some tapenade on it, then place each slide tapende side up on a slice of toast
6. Top the tomato slice with 2/3 slices of goats cheese, some basil leaves and some onion
7. Spread some tapenade on each second slice of tomato and place on top of the goats cheese, basil and onion layer
8. Repeat above step if you cut tomatoes in 3.
9. Once stack is completed drizzle with some olive oil and add some black pepper & salt.
Serve with a green leaf salad

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Hot Day: Cooling salad

Today finally felt like Summer again in Paris with the sun shining and temperatures in the late twenties. I love fresh taste of summer salads asian inspired ones are best to chill.....

This salad is takn from the Ballymalo cookbook.

Pomegranate, persimon, pear and pecan nut salad for 2: 1 persimmon (Kaki) 1 pear 1/2 pomegranate 12 pecan nuts -toasted 1/2 lime mixed salad leave dressing: 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon walnut oil, teaspoon of french mustard, Qarter & cut persimon & pear lengthways and place in below, squeeze juice of half lime over. Mix in the seeds from the pomegranate. Whisk ingredients together for the dressing. Toss salad leaves in dressing. Place salad leaves on plate and top with the fruit and then the pecans.

A Strawberry Tart for a Summer's Day!

With the temperature in the lates 20s, today actually felt like Summer and I wanted to keep that feeling as long as I could.

Strawberries scream summer. When I was a kid in Ireland, people would sell Wexford strawberries on the roadsides from their cars and this was often a Summer treat coming back from granny's house on a Sunday afternoon. To this day nothing tastes as good to me as a Wexford strawberry. Unfortunately the Wexford farmers don't make it to this side of the channel but the French Gariguette comes a close second.

You don't really want to be making pastry on a hot Summer's day, well at least you don't want to have to be rolling out as warm pastry is hard to work with. Luckily I had some sweet shortcrust pastry in the freezer, I tend to make it in batches and freeze it, handy to have to a make a dessert for a last minute dinner. You do need to let it defrost before using it however.

The tart I made has a creme patisserie filling, this has on occasion gone wrong for me, either I have burned the creme or it has gone lumpy. In case this happens you, or if you do not want to go the hassle of making the creme patisserie, an alternative is to use mascarpone cheese
sweetened with some icing sugar.

To make the tart you need:

base: shortcrust pastry (homemade or store bought)

creme patissiere: 1/2 l of milk (try to avoid UHT), 125g caster sugar, 5 egg yolks, 50g sifted flour, contents of 1 vanilla pod

To decorate: 500g (2 large punnets) of Wexford or gariguette strawberries

To make base: grease the tart tin (with removable base) with butter. Form pastry into oblong cylinderic shape and cut into rounds (a tip picked up from a Jamie Oliver book, another method is to grate the pastry into the tin and then press it to shape of tin). Starting from the center of the tin place the rounds of pastry in the tin, overlapping so there is no gaps, and then work up the sides of the tin. Leave some pastry overhanging as it will shrink when it cooks. Prick the bottom of pastry base with a fork several times and then bake blind* for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 150°, then place back in the oven for a futher 10 minutes. When you take the tart shell out of the oven egg wash the base immediately. This will prevent the base from going soggy later.

To make creme patissiere: Boil together the milk and contents of the vanilla pod. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is foamy, then add the sifted flour. The gradually pour in the milk while stirring. Pour mixture back into the milk saucepan and bring to boil for 2 minutes while stirring continuously. It is important to ensure that the mixture is cooked. Let cool.

Prepare the strawberries: wash and hull the strawberries and cut in half.

To assemble the tart: pour in chilled creme patissiere and then place strawberries pointy side up. Put in fridge to chill for at least one hour.

*Bake blind: cover pastry base with a piece of greaseproof paper and then fill pastry shell with either special cooking beans or with any dried beans that you have (chickpeas, kidney beans etc) the idea is to weigh down the pastry.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Going Native at the Blackberry Cafe & Restaurant

The Blackberry Cafe was recommended by the receptionist at the Delphi mountain resort when I was inquiring about a good local seafood restaurant. The Blackberry Cafe is in Leenane about a 10 minute drive from the Delphi mountain resort and overlooks the bay.

We arrived just before one pm just managing to get the last available table which had just been freed up as we walked in the door.
The menu had something to suit all tastes, not just seafood, and was very reasonably priced, the soup which lots of my fellow diners were tucking into and came with lots of homemade brown bread and butter was €5-50, there was also a seafood chowder.

To start we chose a dozen oysters to share (€17). I got stuck into the oysters before my dining companion who was embarrassed by my groans of delight. They were fat, juicy and salty. My concentration on appreciating these meaty delights was interrupted by a moan from the other end of the table, as my fellow diner downed his first.
For the main course we shared the seafood platter (€19) had plenty of eating for two, there was poached salmon, crab, mussels, smoked mackrel and smoked salmon. All of this was delicious.
Lunch at the Blackberry will however be remembered for the oysters, I remember the first time I tasted oysters in 2005 in the Rotonde restaurant in Paris, and my first tase of Irish oysters will be an equally memorable experience.

simple supper of connemara smoked salmon and easy blinis

When we were in Ireland last week we took the windy road from Clifden to Bunowen Pier and the Connemara Smokehouse. The setting of the smokehouse is stunning perched out on a pier cutting the Atlantic shoreline.

The folks at the Connemara Smokehouse are friendly - and imagine our suprise to find ourselves being served by a frenchman! They even smoke french crooner Pierre Perret's fish when he comes to Ireland!

The Smokehouse specialises in wild products and their range even includes smoked tuna - I was amazed to discover that tuna can be fished in Irish coastal waters but Nicholas explained that this is due to the famous mexican gulf stream. You have to be passionate to work at the smokehouse, with working weeks of up to 80 hours, as fish is smoked as it comes off the boats. The fish is smoked using beechwood. And have no fear your purchases are put in special insulated boxes ensuring they survive the journey home.

We bought lots of wild smoked fish but did not indulge in wild salmon choosing the organic farmed version instead. When so much effort has gone into a product you want to serve it with only the best, here is a simple bilini recipe that you do no need to prepare in advance.


1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon each baking soda & salt
2 large eggs separated
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter


1.Put all dry ingredients into bowl and mix well in another bowl whisk together egg yolks and milk then whisk into the dry ingredients

2. With an electric beater whisk egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold into the mixture above taking care to keep mixture light and airy

3.Fold 3 tablespoons of the butter to this mixture until it forms a smooth batter

4. Brush a small non stick pan with some of the remaining butter and heat the pan until it is hot but not smoking

5. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons per bilini and cook until surface begins to bubble then flip over for about 2 minutes

This makes about 8 bilinis I normally make in batches and then keep warm in over until ready to serve

To serve

Place 2 slices of smoked salmon & two bilinis on each plate, with a large spoon of creme fraiche with fresh chopped chives mixed through it, a small green salad and for an extra touch add some capers fried in olive oil.
Connemara is a longway from Paris but luckily you don't need to make the trip to Bunowen pier you can buy online at and yes, they ship overseas!