Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Curry Sauce for Leftovers

For the time of year that's in it, here is a blow-your-mind curry paste recipe.  It can be used for raw meat or is perfect for leftovers

2 large onions
2 cloves of garlic
Piece of ginger (size of half your thumb) chopped finely with skin on
Good shake of sea salt
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil

Blitz the above in a food processor or one of those small blenders. I got a cheap one in Lidl and it's a cracker for making pesto and other type sauces.  When it is a paste remove and place in a bowl.

1 tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
half tsp. mustard seeds
half tsp fenugreek seeds

Heat the seeds above on a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes to draw the flavour out. Transfer to blender and grind. Add the spices below.

2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp chilli powder plus a fresh chilli(s) chopped depending on how hot you like it
1tsp garam masala
half tsp cinnamon
pinch of mace blades (optional)

Then add in 5 cloves, 5 cardamon pods, a cinnamon stick and some curry leaves and galangal (one small piece) if you can get it. Add all the spices into the onion mix from first step. This seems like a lot of work but you can make double quantities or more and save in a clean jar in the fridge. It will keep for at least a week.

500g meat of choice
1 tin tomatoes plus use tin to measure out 2 tins of water. Add more later if necessary.
1 tin coconut milk
Good pinch salt

If you are using raw meat such as chicken then mix the pieces of meat into the above paste and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. I use about 4 good sized chicken breasts for this quantity of spice paste.  To cook just pour it into a large pot and heat with no oil or any other liquids stirring continuously to heat the spices in the mix. Then add in some water or stock if you prefer or a tin on tomatoes.  Simmer until the meat is tender and add some coconut milk ten minutes before end of cooking, stirring continuously so it does not split.  Either serve immediately or leave sit for a day for the flavour to improve.

For cooked meats such as turkey then make the sauce by frying the onions and spices until well cooked and browned stirring continuously to prevent it sticking or burning.  Add in your liquid as above and simmer for an hour or until it reduces and thickens.  Add your coconut milk (half tin) and then finally add the cooked meat and heat until the meat is piping hot.  Serve immediately with basmati rice, naan and poppadoms and some chutney.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


It's that strange time of year.  When everything is supposed to miraculously work but it rarely does.  It's a day when we expect so much, but is it different to any other day?  As my brother said to me recently it's one day and it causes so much trouble.  Well for me it is a labour of love.  This is because it involves food and anything that involves food is worth it.  I spend days thinking of where I will buy the best of ingredients.  I want to have a ham that was once a pig that had a happy, free-range life and the same with a turkey or a goose (although the only time I cooked a goose I set the oven on fire - mainly because we went up to the neighbours for a few drinks and forgot all about the goose so I really can't blame the goose).  I also want the best vegetables that I can get and if I haven't grown them, then I want someone who has paid the same care and attention to them that I would have.  I make my grandmother's recipes for cake, pudding and I make candied peel to go in them.  Why do I do this?  I really don't know, I have done so for years.  For years I accepted that people thought I was strange for doing the things I did but I really didn't care.  I do things my own way and always have done.  Now, it's suddenly acceptable to admit you bake or cook your own and it's even admired.  But for years I got funny glances and comments that I was really a bit mad and why did I not just buy it/them.
Anyway maybe I am a bit mad, because as I sit here wrecked after all the hard slog of the last couple of days I think maybe I should just buy all the stuff ready-made and be done with it.  But something always whispers to me "no"!  And ok, I am tired and I have bucket loads of food left but I will make stock, gravys and lots of left-over dinners such as currys and pies and pasta sauces and nothing will go to waste and I will be happy knowing that I have done the best job I know how.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Earliest Memories of Food

I read a really good blog recently about earliest memories of food, which got me thinking.  I have a notoriously bad memory and am always surprised at one of my sister's perfect recall of incidences in our childhood.  The fact my father has early onset Alzheimer's makes me worry slightly about my very poor memory.  However, my mother is always trying new and different methods to improve her memory, varying from re-learning my leaving certificate poetry to doing the Irish Times crossword.  So I started trying to recall food memories while walking the dogs, which is where I do most of my thinking!

My absolute first memory of food was when my mother was in hospital (I think probably having my youngest sister) and my dad, a very poor cook was left in charge.  To this day I can still remember him emptying mince beef into a pot and pouring water over it before very proudly boiling it and serving it up to us.  My mother says she remembers us coming into the hospital telling her that he made us eat it.  She said she was in tears and wanted to come home there and then to rescue us!  Another much nicer memory of his cooking attempts was sausage sandwiches which he used to make for us for school slathered with ketchup.  And also his Welsh Rarebit - well that is what he called it, but it was cheese on toast!  When mum was away anywhere, the only food we would eat from him was said sausage sandwiches and "Welsh Rarebit".

My other memories seem to always be connected with coming home cold and starving from school.  The smell of a roast chicken, and eve's pudding (stewed apple topped with sponge) and custard. Big trays of gingerbread and homemade bread with molasses.  Huge pots of beef stew with root vegetables and barley (which we all thought was yuk).   But the classic had to be our family version of Chilli con Carne!!  I have to warn you that this had very little relation to the authentic recipe.  But it was the ingredients we could get at the time that most closely replicated them.  Into mince beef, onions and garlic, were poured a tin of tomatoes, a tin of Heinz beans and wait for it; a tin of spaghetti!! Oh, and a good tablespoon of chilli powder,  all served with brown rice from the health food shop in Dunlaoghaire (which my mother kept in business)! And do you know it was the nicest meal and the one that gives me the warmest memories of my childhood.  It was usually my job to make it so maybe that is why.

My youngest sister was notoriously fussy and hated fish and anything with weeds or twigs in.  Weeds were herbs and twigs were cloves in apple tarts!  My second sister said she loved pink chicken which turned out to be smoked salmon.  My brother used to gag at potatoes and both my children were the same and were very unusual in that neither would eat chips.  My son when he was about 10 came back to me at a horsey event we used to go to practically every weekend and told me in no uncertain terms that he would not eat "peasant food".  I had offered to buy him a burger and chips from one of those mobile units.  He is now a very good chef and will eat almost everything but still draws the line at "peasant food"!!

So maybe my memory is not so bad after all.  I was always involved in helping to cook and prepare food when I was young so maybe that is why I can remember events connected with food.  My memories of my grandmother are almost all connected to food, my memories of school (which I hated) are all of food which was what made it bearable.  When I went back to study Food Science as a mature student in DIT Kevin Street I could smell the bakery smells coming up everyday from the basement in the college and one day I went down and bought a plait loaf with poppy seeds.  When I tasted it, I was transported back in time to holidays as a small child in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.   The baker had a soft spot for my mother and he used to slip me a bun or a hunk of bread when I was in the shop with my aunt,  The taste of that bread was something I used to think I had imagined but that day in Kevin Street I went back in time to a place called heaven.

 My mother and myself in colour coordinated tops!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Am I the Restaurant Customer from Hell?

If you were asked to name the qualities you like to see in a restaurant - what would they be?  For me it is very simple and can be listed as follows:
  • Atmospheric
  • Welcoming
  • Value
  • Knowledgeable
  • Efficient
First off, the place has to look inviting, cosy, (warm in winter, cool in summer) and most importantly not empty and echoing.   Secondly, when I walk in, after having a glance at the menu outside I want to feel welcome.  There is nothing worse than standing at a sign saying "please wait to be seated" while the staff buzz about ignoring you!  An acknowledging smile and a nod to say "yes, I have seen you and I will be with you in a minute, when I finish what I am doing" is all it takes.  My ex-husband worked in his family pub and the staff were trained to do that, which eliminated any problems with people having to wait to be served during a rush.
The food on offer must be value for money.  This goes without saying but it is incredible how so many restaurants get it so wrong on this front.  In a Michelin starred restaurant you are paying for unbelievable attention to detail and also quality service.  The food should also be mind-blowing.  I always feel, if I have a meal that I would find virtually impossible to recreate at home; then to my mind, it is good value.  Maybe this is a strange rule-of-thumb, however, there is nothing that annoys me more than a restaurant that serves up a badly-executed plate of food that is over-priced and tasteless.  I also hate "menu speak".  The menu that describes something as "resting on a bed of foam" type of thing.
The staff should be knowledgeable and familiar with the menu.  There is nothing worse than a waiter/waitress who has to run off into the kitchen to ask a busy chef if a sauce has garlic in it, or some such.  They should be able to describe the special of the day in particular and preferably have tasted it.  Another bug bear of mine is staff who are not trained to serve wine correctly.  It has happened in the past that I have ordered a bottle of wine which was then emptied into 3 or 4 glasses and filled to the brim, so much so, that I was tempted to get down to eye level and slurp it!! 
My final quality is efficiency and attention to detail.  And by efficiency I do not mean whipping the plate out from under me before I am finished.  A waiter/waitress who knows when to clear a table, when to suggest looking at the dessert menu, who knows when to give you the bill.  The amount of times I have been tempted to walk out without paying because the said waiter or waitress refused to give me the bill despite being requested to numerous times.  Or even did not return with a receipt or change no matter how small the change was.  This happened to us in France this summer in Narbonne where we sat outside on a footpath while the staff rushed backwards and forwards into the restaurant looking incredibly busy but actually doing nothing.  The amount of tables left waiting to order, waiting for food or drinks, waiting to pay the bill and then finally as we were, left waiting for our change beggared belief.  Eventually, when we got our change we got up fuming and did not leave a tip.
If this makes me the customer from hell then maybe I am.  It never fails to amaze me that so many restaurants are let down by badly-trained staff despite the food being great and also how mediocre food is made a hundred times better by friendly, smiling, efficient staff.  The importance of service can never be over-estimated.

Restaurant Reviews   Restaurant Critics  Narbonne  Restaurant Customer  Menu Speak

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Making your own Stock

I had to do some catering recently to accommodate all sorts of different diets.  I quite often prepare a vegetarian meal for us here, but I don't need to worry about using a chicken stock if I think the dish needs it.  However, I had to make a Cassoulet for the vegetarian contingent at the party and of course I couldn't use my chicken stock.  I finally capitulated to the advertising by Marco Pierre White for his Knorr stockpots.  I added two little jelly pots to my beautiful Cassoulet made of organic vegetables and freshly soaked and boiled pulses and it is safe to say they destroyed the entire dish!  They are poisoned with salt and I had seasoned as I usually would do.  They have a deeply artificial, chemical flavour, created in a laboratory.  You get the idea?  For every "flavour" the first ingredient listed is fat, be it vegetable fat or chicken fat.  I am not sure about anyone else but I have never put fat in any stock and in fact skim it off.

I decided to make some vegetarian stock for my freezer stock-pile so to speak.  I generally have chicken and veal stock frozen into ice cubes and bagged.

When you buy organic vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery, and herbs such as parsley, save the outer skins and/or peelings and stalks until you have a decent quantity and put in a pot with some water.  You can add the peelings from squash and even swede but not the actual flesh.  Fennel peelings are good too.  Do not add cabbage until the very end as if you boil cabbage there is a chemical reaction which gives that horrible smell and taste of overcooked institutional boiled cabbage.  Simmer gently for about an hour and then strain.  Bring to the boil and reduce by half.  Cool and refrigerate.  I find it really handy to freeze in ice cube trays and then next day remove and store in zip-lock bags.

For chicken stock I use the carcass of the chicken and all the bones saved off plates, add your vegetable peelings/stalks as above and simmer for about 3 hours.  Strain and reduce as above and then freeze.

For beef or veal stock I roast the bones for about an hour or until they have been browned it a hot oven.  Then make as chicken stock.

For fish use the bones but also the skins and simmer for less time usually an hour is more than enough. 

The taste of stock made like this is really so much better than anything you can buy.  The preparation time is minimal.  The only drawback is steam in your kitchen however if you are lucky enough to have an Aga or similar you can make stock overnight in your oven.

Homemade Stock Recipe  Vegetable Stock  Meat Stock

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sour Dough Starter and Bread Recipe

I love sourdough bread.  My first memory of it was when I worked in San Francisco years ago.  Actually sourdough has been "around" since ancient Egyptian times and was more than likely discovered by accident.  The brewery and the bakery were often in the same place and possibly wild yeast spores settled into a dough and caused fermentation.  By trial and error they discovered that some yeasts cultures were more effective than others and could be used as a starter.  This starter was then used to start another batch.  The yeasts metabolise the sugars and starches in the flour converting them into lactic and other acids which gives the distinctive sour flavour.  It is incredibly easy to make your own starter.  I find it is easier in summer than in winter but don't let that limit you.  In summer it is warmer and you have windows and doors open more and there is more air circulation.  Get a kilner jar and put a tablespoon of unbleached, organic flour.  Mix to a paste with equal quantities of water.  Do not completely seal with lid,  just flip it over to cover.  Leave in a warm place (a window ledge).  Next day give it a good stir, throw some away and then add more flour and water.  Repeat this for about a week until you begin to notice some activity which appear as bubbles and a slightly alcoholic smell.  Continue for another few days feeding your starter until it is good and active.  You will notice that as the flour settles in the jar you will have a blackish liquid on top.  This is normal and it has not gone bad.  This liquid is called Hooch.  Some recipes I have seen say throw this away.  But to my mind that is crazy as it contains a lot of the flavours.  Just stir it back into the mixture before you use it.

To make your bread you need to remove your starter and pour into a bowl.  Add 250g of strong unbleached bread flour and 375ml of room temperature water.  Give it a good stir and cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place overnight.  Next day this will be a bowl of bubbles and froth.  This is what is called your Sponge.

Take approximately three quarters of this sponge and add 300g of flour to it as well as a tablespoon of olive oil, salt to taste and enough warm water to make a smooth dough.  Mix on a low speed with a dough hook.  The remaining sponge is your starter and just pop it back into a clean dry jar for use next time.  Remove your dough when it feels smooth and silky and when you stretch it, it feels like bubble gum.  This means the gluten has been stretched and unravelled and is now flexible enough for the bubbles of carbon dioxide produced by yeast metabolism to raise the bread.  You now need to prove the dough which means leaving it somewhere warm and with no drafts for about 8 hours.  Sour dough rises slowly and sedately  unlike commercial yeast bread production.  The longer you leave it the more the flavour will develop.  Remove, knock back and allow to prove for a second time.  This can take up to four hours or longer.  Place in a hot oven on a baking tray or in a tin and place a container with some water in the oven to create steam to help crust development.  Bake as you would a normal yeast dough and then remove and cool.

The portion of the sponge that you have retained becomes your starter and you need to keep this in the fridge for use next time.  However you do need to feed it at least once a week, by repeating the procedure when you first started to make your starter.  Throw away half of it and add more flour and water in equal proportion.  Give it a good stir to aerate it and put back into fridge.  If you have to go away it will survive but just give it a good feed in advance and feed it again when you return. Remember it is a living thing!

Sour dough bread takes time to make but there is not a lot of work involved.  I find if you time it right, it takes very little work on your part.

Sour Dough Bread  Sour Dough Starter  Bread Recipes

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pizza in a Domestic Oven

You always see Jamie Oliver on Tv or other chefs telling you that you can make your own pizza at home very easily.  Well you can't.  The simple fact of the matter is, that unless you have a professional oven you do not get sufficient temperature.  However, there is a way around it.  You need some basic equipment to help boost the temperature.  A pizza stone is a flat, smooth stone which you need to heat in your oven for at least an hour beforehand.  I have tried every way possible to see which works best and even with a stone you still do not get a good bake if you put the pizza in without cooking the base first.  If you heat the stone on a lower shelf at the top temperature you can get on your oven and then place the base on the stone and par-bake it for 7 minutes or until it is easily lifted off the stone and is not browned. 

Then remove the par-baked base and place on a wire cooling rack for a few minutes.  When it has cooled slightly then top and slide back onto your pizza stone but this time on a higher shelf for about 10 minutes.

To make the perfect base is easy if you have a Kitchen Aid or similar with a dough hook.  I just put my flour, yeast, salt and a dash of olive oil into the bowl and then dripple in water until you have a wet paste.  Different flours absorb different quantities of water so there is no point following a recipe slavishly.  Then I leave the mixer running on 2 for about 15 minutes.  After this increase the speed and watch until the paste seems to have formed a more cohesive ball and has cleaned the sides of the bowl.  If it is still gloopy just sprinkle some flour onto it to ease handling.  Place in a bowl, covered with a tea towel in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough is doubled in size.

Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to knock out the air bubbles and then roll out into your required size.

Baking the base first means that you have a properly baked base that is not doughy and indigestible.

Basic Pizza Dough Recipe (to make two individual thin crust pizzas or one large)

250g strong flour
Half a 7g sachet of dried yeast
Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. salt
160ml (approximately) of water. *all flours absorb differing quantities of water so add water gradually*

Tags: Pizza  Pizza in a Domestic Oven  Pizza Dough  Food  Pizza Stone

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Dogs Benefit from Good Diet too.

I inherited an in-bred dog.  Anyone who knows anything about dogs, pure bred or otherwise will agree that in-breeding causes huge problems to the health and well-being of the animal.  In fact, now there is a drive away from breeding pure lines and other breeds are being introduced to Pugs and King Charles spaniels among others.  The dog I inherited is an English Bull Terrier. He is the dog that was in the original Oliver movie.  He looks terrifying and is always mistaken for a Pit Bull.  Actually a Pit Bull is not half as challenged in the beauty stakes.  He was bought as a pup with all his papers for €1000.  If the person buying the dog had done any research or even looked at his "pedigree" he would have realised he was buying " a pig in a poke".  His grandmother on his maternal side is his great-grandmother on his paternal side for starters.

He is the most gentle, loving dog and in fact goes out of his way to avoid confrontation.  He is a terrific guard dog in that he has a big deep bark.  The fact that he can't be bothered to get out of his bed while barking, lying on his side, is a deterrent?  Well, it is when he eventually gets out of his bed and appears at the garage door.

He started suffering with skin problems early on and then he started developing sore pads with bleeding ulcers between his toes.  His pads were cracked and infected and he had difficulty walking.  He is a clumsy dog and tends to head butt everything out of his way and I put down all the unhealed sores on his head to this.  However, as it went on, I got weary going to the vet and trying to treat all his problems myself with saline and sudocreme.  I started to trawl the internet to try and find out what was wrong with him.  There was lots of information but nothing really concrete until I stumbled upon a paper written by a Glasgow university vet.  In it he described my dogs symptoms and indeed recommended a treatment.  The condition was named as Lethal Acrodermatitis caused by an inability of the dog to metabolise zinc and thus his immune system is continually compromised. This is due to generations of in-breeding and is usually lethal.  Pups affected fail to thrive and usually die before 6 months.  The treatment was long term use of an antibiotic and a steroid.

The drug treatment was going to be really costly so I contacted a friend who lives in Greece and regularly rescues animals and has a good relationship with her vet.  She now posts me the steroid in a large quantity for peanuts in comparison to what it would cost here.  Even there the antibiotic is an outrageous price so I don't use it.  I decided to try and improve his diet first.

I did a lot of research and read on the internet that commercially produced dog food is full of preservatives, colouring and stabilisers.  So off I set to make his food myself.  I used rice, pasta, lentils, meat, fish and vegetables (everything excluding anything from the onion family as they are apparently toxic for dogs).  I used brown rice, wholemeal pasta and added different meats and fish and raw egg.  Dogs can also be given fruit!  I fed him like this for weeks and his skin started to improve dramatically and his sores started to heal.  When he has an outbreak now and is slow to heal I use the steroids for a week or two.  The change in his energy level was phenomenal and instead of his picking his way along beside me with sore feet, he now bombs off in front.  His whole gait has changed and is now chirpy and happy.  I then changed to a dried dog food called Burns which has no additives and I add some meat and veg to it.  So far he is still great and he has been on this diet now for over a year.  The Burns food is very expensive - it works out at in or around €60 for 15kg but it has saved me a fortune in vet bills. 

If ever there was a doubt that "you are what you eat" or in this case a dog is what he eats then this surely proves it.

Dog's Diet   English Bull Terrier  Lethal Acrodermatitis  Dog Food Recipes  Inbreeding in Dogs

Candied Peel

organic oranges and lemons
The stuff you buy in the shops is a travesty and how they manage to make something so bland from something so zingy and tasty is beyond me.  It is really easy to make your own and I have been doing it for years.  Last year I made loads and put it in pretty jars and gave to family and friends as an early Christmas present.  I squeeze oranges every morning for breakfast and to build up a supply of peel I save the orange shell and put in a plastic bag in the fridge.  I also make lemon and lime peel and just freeze the juice for later baking.


Candied Peel
Orange, lemon and lime peel
Sugar syrup made of 2:1 ratio sugar to water. (600g sugar : 300ml water)

When you have a decent quantity of peel, usually 7 oranges and 4 lemons and limes. Remove the skin of the orange or fruit removing most of pith (the soft white spongy stuff).  Put in a saucepan with a teaspoon of bread soda and water to just cover.  Bring to boil and simmer until the peel is tender.   Be careful as they will soften at different times. Just whip out the ones cooked first with a tongs.  Drain and cool.  Make up your sugar syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water and bringing to the boil.  Place the peel pieces in and lower heat to simmer until almost all of the sugar syrup has been absorbed.  Lift out your pieces of peel and place on a wire rack on top of a flat metal tray covered with foil or baking paper.  Place in a warm, dry place overnight until dry.  I put mine on top of stove and am waiting to see if it has a smoky taste but don't think it has.  Do not throw out the rest of your sugar syrup.  Next day re-heat syrup and dip peel into it and place back on rack for more drying.  When completely dry, store in jars in a warm,
dry place such as a hot press.

When you want to use it, just cut to size and add to mincemeat, puddings and fruit cakes.  The taste is spectacular and really noticeable in a Christmas cake in particular.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

My grandmother.

My grandmother was 75 when I was born and I was her 40th grandchild.  She had 12 children, the last my mother born when she was 47.  She was a passionate and knowledgeable cook.  She had to rear her children on the small Land Commission salary of my grandfather.  He used to grow a lot of their fruit and vegetables and also was a bee keeper.  My uncles used to go out hunting for rabbits and river trout and they kept hens, turkeys, geese and goats.  My grandmother only had primary school education but she was incredibly interested in food and nutrition and apparently used to read avidly in the local library.  She used to tell us about nutritional aspects of food that are really only being discussed now in media .  How she knew this stuff is a mystery to me and how she managed to get certain ingredients in the west of Ireland is even more surprising.
My uncles would shoot rabbits and my granny would make curry with them.  I asked my mother where she got spices or curry powder and even my mother doesn't know.  My mother used to tell us how she had to have freshly ground coffee (she said once it is ground it loses flavour - she was right). My mother was dispatched to the local grocer - Henaghans in Castlebar and the shop attendent would mumble and grumble as my grandmother would only buy it if he tramped up the stairs to grind it there and then.
She was very against peeling vegetables as the nutritional value was just under the skin.  She abhored anyone adding bicarbonate of soda while cooking cabbage to keep it green ( a very common practice when I was young).  She used to only steam vegetables never boil them.  She baked all their bread, including yeast bread.  I remember years ago, some sort of strike and bread was unavailable in shops.  My mother just rolled up her sleeves and produced bread far nicer than anything available in the shop.  My grandmother taught me how to knead bread, how to check if the yeast was active (in those days there was no such thing as dried yeast).  She probably wouldn't have used it anyway as she would have been suspicious of dreaded additives in it!  My grandfather used to take the train to Dublin to go to the Yeast Company to buy her fresh yeast.  She absolutely loved my first attempts to make pizza and tucked in with relish.  Everything that was new to her was an adventure and she was very cosmopolitan in her tastes.
My mother was also very open to trying new foods and I remember years ago going to Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt, where peppers were on display and my mother picking them up and saying I wish I knew how to cook these...!!  It wasn't long before they were included in our weekly shopping.  My son laughs now when I tell him this, but when I moved back to rural Ireland from the UK where he was born, in the early 90's, it was a similar story.  I needed garlic and when I asked in the local shop had they any; they smiled delightedly and produced a wizened bulb and asked what I would use it for.  My sister-in-law was asked in the same shop when she bought a bottle of water "would she use it to make tea?"

My mother on the right with two of her sisters.

It is still to a certain extent, a similar story here.  The local supermarkets really only stock the basics - meat and two veg. and very often I have to go to Dublin or to one of the bigger towns to get "exotic" ingredients.  I know the owners of the local Supervalus and they say that they just can't shift anything unusual. They used to say they got fed up throwing out cheeses when the only one in demand was processed cheddar. This, I am glad to say has changed in the last few years. There is still so much ignorance about food however, just stand in any supermarket any day of the week and look at what people put in their trolley.  I am thankful that I had a great education in food from my grandmother born in 1888!!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Rabbit Stifado

A friend of mine's boyfriend helped me out recently by shooting some foxes who were attacking my hens and ducks in broad daylight. I resorted to him in desperation when a vixen ran across in full view of my kitchen window with one of my hens in her mouth, I had had enough!  He told me he also shot bunnies for fun......and when I heard this I was mad for some wild rabbit.  He gave me two gutted, skinned and already frozen so I searched You Tube to see how to joint them.  With laptop propped up on the counter I jointed one of them in jig time.  A classic Greek stew stew is Rabbit Stifado.

To make it,  I dipped the pieces of meat in seasoned flour and fried off.  I browned about 12 shallots and added them to the meat.  Then half a bottle of red wine, a glug of red wine vinegar, some chicken stock and the following seasonings, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, a few sprigs of thyme and whole black peppercorns.  I simmered it for about one and a half hours until the rabbit came easily off the bone.  I left it in the fridge for a couple of days for the flavours to meld and improve.  It was really delicious served with some new season steamed spuds and peas from my veg patch. We had bread toasted and drizzled with olive oil and topped with melted Haloumi cheese to start.  A lovely meal and great for a dinner party as it can be prepared well in advance and just warmed up.  Plus your bunny is absolutely free-range and organic and tastes amazing but watch the bones!!  By the way one bunny cooked as above was more than enough for four servings.

Rabbit Stifado   Greek Recipes  Wild Rabbit Recipes  

Blackberry picking

I picked blackberries recently and saw a recipe on a blog for baked blackberry cheesecake.  The recipe was a bit all over the place (even for someone like me who doesn't get stressed about weights)!  It called for a pack of digestive biscuits; no size given?  I bought a largish pack in Aldi and added half the weight of melted butter.  Then I combined two tubs of cream cheese (Marscapone and ricotta) and added half their weight in icing sugar and one of my large duck eggs!  I added a good handful of blackberries and baked in oven, gas mark 3 for about an hour until it was just set, with a bit of a wobble.  It was so good I ate too much of it and was awake all night, as seriously it is so rich it would have sunk a battleship!!

Baked Blackberry Cheesecake   Blackberries  Foraging Blackberry Recipes

Monday, 15 August 2011

Don't panic if your rocket bolts........

Rocket bolts end of.  I have read that it happens if there is a dry spell, a wet one, no sun, too much sun and a were wolf howling at the moon.  I pulled all mine up last week and then slowly and painfully salvaged all the younger more tender leaves and made rocket pesto.

Last year the price of pine nuts went through the roof (apparently they were being traded as a commodity)? So I decided to try another substitute that would not break the bank.  I used unsalted cashew nuts and you would not be able to tell the difference.  So make your pesto in the normal way with a handful of rocket in a blender and add to taste, a handful of cashews, a small clove of garlic, salt and pepper, some fresh Parmesan and enough olive oil to make it the consistency you desire.  I am sorry not to give you grams and ounces, but I don't cook like that.  Be brave; try it and you can always adjust the balance by adding more of one ingredient.  The key is to keep tasting. 

A good serving suggestion instead of predictably stirring into pasta, is to sautee some fresh veg from your garden such as courgettes, green and yellow, peas, spring onions and garlic.  Season and add a knob of your rocket pesto at the end.  A really delicious vegetable side dish which goes well with meat or fish and even kids will eat it!

Pesto also freezes beautifully and a good tip is to freeze in ice cube trays and then just pop them out when frozen and store in zip lock bags.

Note - you can use any herb really for pesto. I have made it in the traditional way with basil but also with parsley and with rocket as above.  Try adding different nuts like walnuts in place of cashews or pine nuts.

Rocket   Pesto  Pine Nuts  Pasta Recipes  Food

Take the pain out of making jam.

I spent years making jam without ever having a jam thermometer.  I managed and my jam set.  But since I have got one the difference it has made to my stress levels has been immense.  Don't get the idea that I am a stressed out cook but having gone to the trouble of getting the fruit (climbing through hedges, getting stung by nettles, almost run over by cars or dragging my dogs out of the path of cars - you get the picture)? I did not want to have to dump my effort and start again, even it that was possible.  Now I can make jam and stick the thermometer in and wait and wait (after a certain point the temperature seems to rise very slowly).  This is to do with the water, sugar, pectin ratio and when you get the correct ratio then a gel can form.  The is what is known as the "setting point".  For a marmalade this can take anything up to half an hour.  For other fruits probably about 15 minutes.  I made apricot jam yesterday with about 8 fresh apricots that had got a bit overripe.  I stoned them, weighed them and added the same weight in sugar and a little bit of water just to loosen up.  I brought the mix to a slow boil, stuck the thermometer in and waited, giving an occasional stir.  Within minutes I had a jar of delicious, tangy, orange-coloured apricot jam.  A tip if you are making small quantities of jam for sterilising jars is to put the jars into a microwave a third full of water for 3 minutes.  Just drain and fill with your delicious low stress home mad jam...........

Jam   Jam Thermometer  Setting Point Apricot Jam