Sunday, 16 January 2011

Dainty old fashioned apple slices

One thing was sure when I was a kid, it was that Granny O'Toole would always have a tart hot just out of the oven, either rhubarb or apple, which you could smell before you had even arrived at the gate.

When my granny made a tart she only needed to buy the sugar and the flour; the butter she made herself, the hens laid eggs in her yard, the cream it was served with came from the cow in the shed and grandad always made sure she had plenty of apples and rhubarb. Everything was fresh and no tart has ever come close to being as good as granny's....although the recipe below comes close and is adapted from
from Darina Allen's "Irish Traditional Cooking" cookbook.

You will need:

for the pastry : 225g butter, 50g caster sugar, 2 free range eggs, 340g white flour

for the filling : 700G of apples (I used a mix of different types of organic apples) , 100g sugar and a sprinkling of whole cloves
one brownie tin or another rectangular baking tin

to make:
1. first make the pastry: put the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fluffy (you can also do this by hand) add the eggs and beat for several minutes before adding the flour. Roll into a ball, cover in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for a least one hour.
2. while the pastry is chilling you can core, peel and slice the apples (I like to quater the apples and then cut in relatively thick slices) and cover in lemon juice to avoid discolorisation
3. preheat oven to 180°c
4. to assemble the tart: cut one third of the pastry and put back in the fridge to chill (will be easier to work with when you are ready to use it). On a cold lightly floured surface roll out the remaining two thirds of the pastry to line your brownie tin and leave some of the pastry hanging over the edges
5. arrange apples on tart base and sprinkle with sugar and cloves
6. take remaining pastry our of fridge and roll out to make a lid for the tart
7. seal lid with the edges of the base and egg wash
8. cook in oven for approx 40 mins until top is golden and apples are TENDER
9. to serve, cut into squares and serve with freshly whipped or clotted cream

Saturday, 8 January 2011

2011 will be rich and intense....

Why fix something when it's not broken.......maybe just for the thrill or maybe because it will work even better!

I have been using the same successful chocolate brownie recipe for the last few years which I have adapted from one of Nigel Slater's recipes to suit the chocolately tastes of the man I share my life with. But it's early January so out with the old and in with the new and all that...time to try the chocolate pecan brownie recipe from Denis Cotter's Cafe Paradiso cookbook.

Described by Cotter as "Rich and intensely chocolately..suitable for impressing at a dinner party as they are for a late-morning splurge". That they are "chocolatey" is no understatement; there is 450g of dark chocolate in this recipe compared with 300g in my old recipe which results in sinfully delicious chunky brownies which Nigella L. would approve of, which in fact should come with a warning - these are serious brownies for grownups. Resistance is futile!

I was out of vanilla essence so used contents of a vanilla pod instead - but you can substitute with 1tsp of vanilla essence. It really is worth using the best quality chocolate you can afford.

You will need: 450g good quality dark chocolate (70%), 225g unsalted butter, 225 caster sugar, 3 eggs, 2tblsps strong coffee, 75g flour, 1tsp baking powder, pinch of salt, 150g of chopped pecan nuts, contents of one vanilla pod and 10 inch square or brownie tin, lined with baking paper.

To make:
Preheat oven to 180°.
Roughly chop about half of the chocolate and place with the butter in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water and leave to melt. Once melted put aside to cool.
Chop the remaining chocolate into small pieces.
Quickly beat the sugar, eggs and coffee then add the melted chocolate and beat again.
In another bowl mix together all of the remaining ingredients (flour, chopped chocolate, baking powder and contents of vanilla pod - and fold into the sugar and egg mixture and the pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for 30 minutes or so. It is really important to leave the brownies to cool in the tin for at least an hour before cutting.

Delicious served warm with cream, vanilla ice cream or a creme anglaise...

I have firmly resolved to have many rich and intense years to come!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New year's skinny jean blues? Try this detox pearl barley & shiitaké mushroom risotto recipe!

The good news New Year's eve was not as disastrous for my skinny jeans as Christmas as it could have been .

A relatively "healthy" yet indulging meal; starter of home made buckwheat blinis with wild Irish smoked salmon (brought back from my last trip home) with organic creme fraiche, a main course of blackened wild line-caught sea bass with a cockle & noilly reduction sauce (not so healthy). This was the first time I had attempted a noilly reduction sauce but it was very successful and apparently it tasted even better the next day heated up and served with the remaining portion of fish according to the other half!

This was followed by a cheese plate which included a very ripe brie au truffe (brie and black truffle-a seasonal delicacy in France). I have to admit I did have a very small piece of the dessert - a buche de Noel brought by one of the guests.

I heard on the radio yesterday that in the US most of the calories consumed during the main holiday dinners are consumed before you even get to the table....maybe this is where I went wrong...

The bad news is that the skinny jeans are still a little too a short detox programme after the festivities is required if I am ever to wriggle into them again. There is no point in going on a low calories diet after the seasonal pig out as your body will convince itself that you are starving it so you need good quality low GI carbs, protein and good fats and to cut out all refined sugar and processed foods until those jeans fit again!

Pearl barley has a much lower GI than many of its cereal counterparts such as wheat and rice. It is also rich in soluable fibre which helps rid of fatty substances, much needed after the festive excesses. Shiitaké mushrooms have been shown to lots of nutritional benefits from boosting the immune system to helping support the body's natural detoxification processes. Parsley contains more vitamin C than oranges and twice as much iron as spinach and is also a powerful antioxidant. All three are combined in the following recipe providing a very healthy start to January.

Those of you not worried about fitting in to skinny jeans can replace 10cl of the stock with 10cl of dry white wine, can add a tablespoon or two of creme fraiche and top each serving with some grated ewes cheese !

This recipe serves 4.

You will need: 250g pearl barley, 200g shiitaké mushrooms cleaned and shredded , 2 medium yellow onions finely chopped , 2 tbsp olive oil, 90cl vegetable stock, handful of flat leaf parsley coarsely chopped, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To make: heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, sweat the onions and when they are just translucent add the pearl barley to the saucepan. Stir the barely and onions to make sure that you coat all of the barley in oil and cook for about 2 minutes. Next add the wine if you are using it and add the vegetable stock one ladle at a time while continuing to stir until the barley is cooked and all of the stock has been absorbed (about 30 mins) and then stir in the parsley. Leave to rest. Heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan and cook the mushrooms for approx 5 minutes before stirring into the risotto. (You can reserve some of the mushrooms for decoration if you like). Season the risotto with freshly ground black pepper and salt, sprinkle with grated ewes cheese if using and serve.