Monday, 30 June 2014

Soda Sliders

Don't you just love when a food becomes trendy? Sliders - well we have had cupcakes, pulled pork and cronuts already! Anyway it basically means a small sandwich. I didn't feel much like cooking but knew I had some crabmeat in the fridge. Home made mayonnaise takes minutes to make and is infinitely superior to any shop bought. Soda bread rolls can be made and baked in jig time too.

Soda bread rolls
2 cups of  coarse wholemeal flour
1 cup of white
1 teasp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg optional

I rarely weigh ingredients for this as throw it in by eye. In a bowl add the sieved soda and white flour to the coarse wholemeal. Add beaten egg and buttermilk until you have a wet consistency but can still gather it into a circular shape. Handle as little as possible. Use pastry cutters and cut 8-10 buns. Place on a flour dusted baking tray in a preheated oven at 190 deg for about 15 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

In meantime make the mayo. I would be very wary of using any eggs for this other than my own. If you have a good source of genuine free range eggs use it.

1 free range egg yolk
half a teasp of powdered mustard
2 teasp of cider vinegar
sunflower oil or a mixture of *olive and sunflower
pinch salt and pepper
crushed clove of garlic (optional)

Using a hand held whisk beat the egg yolk, salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar. Drizzle in the oil slowly to begin, with the whisk running. As it begins to thicken up you can speed up the flow. It has never split on me, but if yours does just add in another egg yolk. I use about a cup full of oil. When you have the texture and quantity you are happy with stop adding oil. Check seasoning and add garlic if you wish a garlic mayo. You can also add herbs of choice.

Store in a jar in fridge. Keeps for at least a week.

*Using all olive oil can make a very strong flavoured mayonnaise. 

Also delicious with some strawberry and rhubarb jam from previous post. A sweet slider for after.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Strawberry & Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

It's strawberry season and rhubarb is just finishing off. It's no coincidence that these fruits (well okay fruit and vegetable) go magnificently well together. So make the most of both and either get crumbling or make jam.

I bought a 4kg box of jam strawberries from a grower just outside Gorey, Co. Wexford - Green's Berry Farm. If you are lucky enough to have access to a grower, this is the way to go. The strawberries are perfect but all shapes and sizes and not as cosmetic as supermarkets demand. (Why?)

My rhubarb is just about finished and this year I got three good crops from two plants. These last stems are slightly thin and a bit straggly but perfect for jam making or indeed crumble.

Strawberry Jam
I hate jam that is too sweet so I read a few recipes and then used considerably less sugar than any advised, including Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Darina Allen. Although it is low sugar and strawberries don't contain a lot of pectin it set easily. (Always use a combination of under ripe and ripe berries if possible).

1kg of strawberries hulled and lightly crushed
400g Sure Set sugar (jam sugar)
Juice of a lemon

Put the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a large heavy based pan. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil. Keep it at a rolling boil.
Put a couple of small plates into the fridge. Using a jam thermometer *test for a set as soon as the temperature gets close to "jam set" point marked on the thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer (and it is really worthwhile to buy one) this takes about 15-20 minutes. You do not want to boil the bejaysus out of it as the colour will go from that nice red pictured to a brown.

Meanwhile sterilise jam jars by putting some water into each jar and zapping in a microwave for three minutes. You can also do this in the oven. (no need to add water in oven).

Allow the jam to stand for about 15 minutes and then pour carefully using a pyrex jug into your hot, sterilised jars. Cool and cap.

This recipe made a litre of jam.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam

500g rhubarb washed and chopped into small pieces
500g hulled strawberries
350g sugar
150g Sure Set sugar

Put the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar in a pan. Use method above. It may take slightly longer to soften the rhubarb and allow this in the time before bringing to a rolling boil. It reaches setting point faster however.

This quantity made just under 1.5 litres of jam.

*To test for a set - put a blob of jam on a cold plate and pop back in fridge for a few minutes. Run your finger through the blob and if it has reached setting point it will wrinkle slightly.

Jam keeps well in a warm, dry cupboard but once opened store in the fridge. It should keep unopened for a year. If there is any mould when you open it, just scoop it out. You can reboil it but a bit of mould never did me any harm.

In the depths of winter is there anything nicer than a big scoop of strawberry jam on a fresh scone?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cherry Clafoutis with a Kick

You just have to love summer. It pays to wait and buy seasonal fruit and veg. It tastes better. It looks better and it is better. And best of all, if you only have it when it's in season you appreciate it. Is there anything less desirable in the depths of winter than a tasteless, watery strawberry flown half way around the globe?

Years ago in the bakery we got a phone call late one afternoon from a pain-in-the-ass chef (this one was always a monumental one). She wanted a clafoutis. Me, I hadn't a clue what that was, but at a push could have found a recipe and made one. But the temperamental French pastry chef on duty said he had never made one either. Now I'm pretty sure he just couldn't be arsed. But anyway he got a kick in said part of his anatomy and was told to go find a recipe and make one.

I saw these cherries on special offer today. I got them home and saw they weren't going to hang around long so the infamous clafoutis came to mind. I roughly followed Nigel Slater's recipe but added a kick.

300g cherries stoned
1 tablespoon Armagnac (optional)
80g sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
90g flour
30g melted butter

Stone the cherries and soak them in the Armagnac for about half an hour.

Grease a 20cm quiche/flan dish with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until creamy and light coloured. Sieve in the flour. Add the vanilla extract and melted butter. Pour over the cherries. Bake for 35 minutes until it is set.

Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm with a big dollop of whipped cream.

This recipe is so easy and fast to make and you could use any other seasonal fruit (blueberries, raspberries etc.) The Armagnac gives it that little bit extra but you could use Kirsch. The texture of clafoutis is like a set custard so don't assume yours has not been cooking for long enough. It can easily be reheated.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Coffee and Walnut Cake

There are times when only a good old fashioned cake will do. The slightly bockety homemade cakes of my youth.

I always loved coffee cake and like my coffee, I like it strong and dark. It should taste of coffee. When we were young at home this was always achieved using Irel. Later we used a few teaspoons of instant coffee in a small amount of boiling water, cooled down. Now I use Trablit (liquid coffee extract).

Next walnuts. You can't be mean with them. This cake has a generous layer in the middle, on top of the filling. I toasted them for a few minutes on a dry pan.

Other than that it's a normal cake mixture - 8 8 4 of old.

225g softened butter
225g sugar
4 eggs
225g plain flour sieved
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon coffee extract (reduce quantity if you prefer it less strong)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg (I60 deg fan). Line two 20cm sandwich tins with baking parchement or butter paper.

Cream the butter and sugar, add in one egg at a time. Add a tablespoon of flour after each egg to prevent curdling. Sieve in the flour and baking powder. Add the coffee extract.

Divide between the tins and bake for about 25 minutes or until springs back to a touch and has shrunk from the sides.

Leave in the tins for about 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove and peel off the butter paper or parchement.


To make the buttercream

300g icing sugar
100g soft butter
1 dessertspoon coffee extract
milk to adjust consistency

Whisk the butter and coffee extract into the icing sugar. Add milk if necessary.

Sandwich the layers together with half the buttercream. Sprinkle filling with toasted walnuts. Finish off top with remainder of buttercream and some whole walnuts.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Gluten Free - No Knead

First attempt at no knead sourdough
It is not surprising that so many people say they are gluten intolerant. Admittedly there are many who have no idea even what it is, as seen on a video that went viral on Facebook recently. However, people are complaining about many of the same symptoms after eating bread.

If you are a cynic. Try this - eliminate all bread and bread products from your diet for a couple of weeks and then reintroduce it. Feel the bloating, the distention, the discomfort and yes even the diarrhoea!

I am not gluten intolerant but I am intolerant to something they are doing to bread now. I stopped eating bread for a good number of weeks. I eat my own sourdough. I die now after eating mass produced bread for anything up to five hours.

Bread should only consist of four ingredients. Flour, yeast, salt and water. But try finding commercially produced bread even from most artisan bakeries, that do. Many, if they are labelled, will contain considerably more ingredients.

Sourdough bread should only contain a sourdough starter (no yeast), flour, salt and water. And most certainly not a sour flavouring!

Mass produced bread has improvers, dough conditioners, hydrogenated fat, mould inhibitors. Wheat grains are soaked before planting in Round Up. (I heard this from a wheat grower). The wheat plant has been hybridised to give a higher yield and in doing so they have changed the protein makeup of the grain. Bread is made in jig time using modern production methods (Chorleywood process) which prevent the yeast from "digesting" the protein making it more easily digestible for us.When yeast is allowed to work on a dough it improves the flavours and the digestibility. Sourdough production makes the protein fragment in the bread the most digestible of all. This takes time. Commercial production is not interested in anything that takes time (time is money). So there are all sorts of "fake" sourdoughs out there. Sourdoughs produced with a sour flavouring but made in the usual manner.

Labelling is a major problem. Bakers can claim a bread is rye without having to state what percentage is actually rye. It would be very rare to have a bread made with 100% rye. Likewise with spelt. Spelt can be difficult to work with and is inconsistent in quality so many bakeries add wheat flour.

Even making bread at home with your own organic flour is not a solution, as the wheat used is still the hybridised variety which has had it's protein fragment altered. This is particularly true for those who are very intolerant to gluten. In some cases such people can tolerate spelt.

The only way is to find a reputable baker who uses old methods to produce bread or to bake your own sourdough. Sourdough takes the guts of two days to make. But very little work on your part. It just takes a bit of advance planning. And now no knead methods are being used. This means you leave the starter to do the work on the gluten for you and eliminates the need to knead so to speak.

To explain the techy bit - simply think of the gluten in flour as protein fragments that are all tangled up and clenched tightly. For the bread to rise you need these tangles to be broken up (by kneading) and changed into long straight lines which can puff up when the yeast or starter produces carbon dioxide to contain these bubbles as a foam. This is the crumb. The yeast or starter (which is a mixture of naturally occurring yeasts) metabolise the carbs and the proteins in flour and produce bubbles of CO2 as a by product.

These bubbles cause the bread to rise. If the yeast/starter is given enough time it also starts the digestion of the protein (gluten). With the no knead method you are allowing the sourdough starter to do all the work for you.

If you are feeling lethargic and bloated after eating a meal containing wheat, try to eliminate it from your diet for a few weeks. This allows your body to recover. Then begin by introducing sourdough bread from a reputable baker (or make your own). Recipe and method here.

Start asking your local bakery is the bread #RealBread.

Consumer power = pester power.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Are We Living Longer?


I started to listen with interest to a topic on Sean Moncrieff's afternoon programme on Newstalk the other day. He was interviewing an expert on Alzheimer's and Dementia. As the interview progressed I went from interest to disbelief. He said that we were living longer since the 80's and this was why there had been such a huge increase in these diseases.

Now it takes significantly longer than 30 years for an evolutionary increase in age expectancy. I read recently that we were not living longer than our predecessors over a hundred years ago. In fact average life expectancy has hardly changed at all. What has changed is that there is significantly less infant mortality. A hundred years ago a large number of young children and babies would have died from something as curable as a cold or a flu. Similarly, lots of young adults and middle aged people died from diseases that are largely curable today. However, many many people lived well into their eighties and nineties. It would be interesting to research how many of them suffered from Alzheimer's/Dementia.

I would hazard a guess a lot less than are now. What this expert did say (which was interesting) was that there has been an explosion in the incidence since the 80's.

It was on my mind and when I was in Wexford recently and I climbed over the wall of a very old graveyard. I walked around and tried to make out the writing on the old lichened gravestones. What I did discover was that there were a large number of octogenarians and nonagenarians commemorated. There was equally a large number of infants, children, teenagers and adults aged in their 40-50s. All of these would probably have survived nowadays due to advances in medicine, antibiotics and access to better nutrition and health care.

I think it has to be a bit simplistic to say that had all those people lived longer that they would have also succumbed to Alzheimer's/Dementia.

My mother from a long lived family says she doesn't remember anyone in her town in the west of Ireland with Alzheimer's/Dementia. My mother was a nurse and worked in the local hospital there so I'm sure she would have been aware.  Her own mother died aged 94 in 1981 and my grandfather aged 88 in the seventies. Her grandparents (my great grandparents) were also well into their eighties. She has also insisted for years that there wasn't as much cancer then either or other degenerative diseases. There was no Autism, no Irritable Bowl Syndrome but there was one case of Multiple Sclerosis and the whole town knew about it. Now you can say that these cases were undiagnosed in that they were not named but they would have still been described. Not only were they not diagnosed or named but they were not described either. Which would indicate they hadn't occurred.......?

So what has changed?

Is it too simplistic to assume it's something as simple as food? Or overuse of antibiotics? Or pesticide residues, Or GMOs? 

I really wonder? Do you?

(My dad age 81 was diagnosed with vascular dementia a good few years ago so I have an interest in the disease.)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Bloom in the Park 2014 in Pictures

Emma Jane Rushmore's fabulous wire sculptures
The opening day of Bloom was a bit wet and miserable. It wasn't a good start. We had tickets to collect and for some reason they had to be left in the only ticket collection booth at the "main" entrance. Only trouble was that we were arriving at the Castleknock entrance.

We started to walk around as we had done last year but with the rain and the long grass and the muck we turned back and decided to drive around. But we met lots of obstacles in the form of road blocks, Gardai who told us there was no main entrance, another Garda who told us we couldn't stop the car and run over to collect the tickets. So we had to move the car from one car park to another and hike through the long wet grass to collect the tickets.

By the time we got in we had wet feet, we were cold and we were hungry. Not a great start.....

We headed straight for Bistro Bloom and went to the Prosecco Bar where last year we had relaxed in hot sunshine.

This year it was cold and the tables under the canopy and umbrellas were in demand. A lovely waitress brought us rugs.

It's self service. It's eye-wateringly expensive for pre-prepared plates of food chilled to oblivion. So chilled in fact that you can barely taste what you are eating. But that's food safety for you.
Actually the Prosecco and the food improved our mood no end and then we felt able to head off and tour the gardens.

The wet weather meant that the light was really good for photography and not a lot of people about.

This is a Wisteria in tree form. Beautiful.

This lovely garden house was in the Woodie's DIY garden which had a really beautiful colour coordinated planting scheme.
Cranberry (Ocean Spray) garden. I stood looking at this for ages as there were a lot of people in front of me and I couldn't figure out what they were. It was incredibly soothing.

The harvested cranberries in the boxes made a terrific feature.

Several of the gardens used vegetables as feature plants including potatoes. When potato plants are healthy and flowering they make a super ground cover.

Bumble bees were in abundance making the most of all the flowering plants.

The recycle garden was really clever and included a composting bin in the centre of the garden as well as very clever use of food to make displays.

The red chair really drew your eye to lead you up the garden path.

Some of the really fabulous and very healthy vegetable displays that added lots of colour and texture.

There were fashion and craft stalls inside in a big pavillion. Virtually impossible not to get completely carried away.

Everything you could possibly need for your garden was on display including these butterflies.

The main food area is an absolute foodie's paradise where you can sample and talk to the producers. This range of vinegars were an absolute find. Wildwood Vinegars. He told me he can't claim they are organic as he uses lots of foraged ingredients. To my mind they are better than organic. They are real.

Bloom is a really enjoyable day out. Once we got over the hiccup of ticket collection everything else was superb. The organisation and attention to detail is excellent. There is something to interest everyone including really terrific and interactive areas for kids to play, learn and let off steam.

If you missed it this year, get thee to the Phoenix Park next year and make a day of it.