Zen and the Art of Baking It!

You know when you’ve had a number of very busy days and you go through the daily routine, get the kids to school, walk the dog and in my case for the past while follow through on PTA chores!! Then you get a day where you can take a breather for a while before the circus (life) starts again. Well I had a couple of hours like that this morning.

I brought the kids to school and set out for my walk with my dog Mac and instead of going my normal route I took a diversion.

Meet Mac, my walking buddy, confidant (thank God he can’t talk!) and sticking plaster when everyone has left for the day.

Usually we take our daily walk on Killiney Hill, a beautiful area in South Co. Dublin that boasts the most incredible panoramic views of Dublin Bay. However, due to a small accident on Mac’s behalf (which I won’t go into) and his requirement to have a dunk in the sea I decided to take the THOUSANDS of steps down from the hill to Killiney Beach so Mac could have a swim. I knew it would be a challenge on the way back up, but it was really worth it.

Although the day started off with a touch of ground frost by the time we were walking there was a real sense of spring with the hazy sunshine and definite warmth in the air. On the climb down to a small beach in Killiney called White Rock the sun was dancing off the sea and it reminded me of a quote from one of my favourite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society………‘When I got up this morning, the sea was full of sun pennies – and now it seems to be covered in lemon scrim’.

We continued on and Mac had a frolic in the sea while I tried not to get soaked by the waves crashing against the rock I was standing on! So I could get a proper shot of the beach!

After a while we started the long climb back up from the beach and back up Killiney hill. Clearly Mac found this a much easier task than me, the old four legs work better than two me thinks!

Come on slow coach

Oh boy! I think I hear the train coming!!

You can do it, just 4,500 more steps to go :O)

Finally we reached the top and I felt great! There’s nothing I like to do more when I feel energised and buzzed from being out on an amazing spring morning and that’s baking.
At the weekend and as a treat to myself I bought the latest edition of The Good Food magazine and in it was a baking supplement. The kids had spotted a cake which they were badgering me to bake and this is it:

JaffaDrizzle Loaf:
Ingredients:

  • 140g/5oz butter softened
  • 200g/7oz self-raising flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 200g/7oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 tbsp milk
  • finely grated zest of 1 large orange

Drizzle

  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • 5og/2oz golden castor sugar
  • 50g/2oz dark chocolate

Method:

Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4, butter line a 2lb loaf tin.
I did mine in the food processor, using the same method I use for my lemon drizzle cake.
Beat the butter, sugar and orange zest together till creamy in texture.
Then gradually add the flour and eggs, alternating a little at a time.
Then add the milk until you have a nice, smooth mixture without being too runny.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and back in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown.
Meanwhile, gently heat the orange juice and sugar in a small pan, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.

When the cake is cooked, prod the top, several times with a wooden skewer and then spoon over the orange and sugar mixture. Allow the cake to cool in the tin then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
Finally break up the chocolate and melt in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave. Once melted and using a spoon, drizzle over the cake and leave to set.

As you will see from the picture, the demand for a slice was too much for the boys to wait until the chocolate had fully set!
It was delicious and really quick to make.

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Many Reasons to Celebrate

Well I’m sure most of you are aware that today is St Patrick’s Day. And being Irish it would be very remiss and indeed unpatriotic of me not to mention or celebrate this day.

So that’s Reason # 1.

Reason # 2: Ireland v England in the 2012 Six Nations today, come on Ireland!!!

Reason # 3: Tomorrow is Mother’s Day :O), can’t wait!

Reason # 4: Tomorrow is also the 1st Anniversary of my blog and me entering the world of blogging :O)

All week I’ve been trying to think of something to blog about that would encapsulate all of these reasons for celebration. Something green? That certainly would tick the boxes for Paddy’s day and the rugby, but no, too trite.

Something, pink, flowery, chocolaty for Mother’s Day and 1st Anniversary? Too clichéd.

I must mention that the reason for starting my blog was to share and preserve my Mum’s recipes and her love for cooking/baking. A love that she has passed onto all of her children.

So when I thought of it from that angle, I came up with the humble apple pie. Mum always had apple pies squirreled away; ready to pull out when we got that unexpected guest. Pastry and stewed apple would be assembled, decorated with pastry roses and leaves and then frozen. These were usually stored uncooked and presented hot from the oven when the afore mentioned visitor descended on us. Genius!

And how does this link with the reasons for celebration you may ask? Well apple pie is very emblematical of Ireland (reasons #1 & #2 covered). It’s made by most Irish Mammies, (reason #3 covered). And as I said, it’s something that my own Irish Mammy used to make and has passed on her love of food and expertise in pastry making to me (reason #4 covered).

So today I present the humble apple pie, with a twist!

The twist being, as well as brambly apples I have added blackberries to the filling, which enhance both the flavour and colour.

Ingredients:

Pastry: (this is my Mum’s recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry. She always used the whole egg rather than just the yolk as she felt it was an awful waste of an egg white if you didn’t have time to make something else with it. Also it means that you rarely need to add water to the recipe)

  • 225g/8 oz plain white flour
  • 150g/5 0z butter
  • 25g/1 oz sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten

Filling:

  • About 700g/1.5lbs  cooking apples (brambly if you can get them) I used a mix of apples and blackberries with a ratio of 500g/18 oz apples and 200g/7 oz blackberries
  • 50g/2 oz castor sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cornflour

Method:

Rub the flour and butter together till you get a breadcrumb consistency, then stir in the sugar.  Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg, using your hand form a ball of dough. Knead slightly and wrap in cling film. Place in the fridge to rest for about 30 minutes.

I feel I need to say that I usually make my pastry in the food processor. The art of good pastry is cold hands! I find it impossible to have cold hands in a warm kitchen, so for me, combining the ingredients in this way means the pastry is handled less and therefore the result is a more manageable pastry. Follow the method above but instead of you doing the work your food processor does it for you. However, be careful not to over work the ingredients as the pastry will become tough.

While the pastry is in the fridge, prepare the filling. Peel and core the apples and slice  into medium slices, not too thick. Wash the blackberries and leave to one side. Using a deep pan, melt the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together over a moderate heat, then add the cornflour stirring all the time to ensure the mixture doesn’t burn. 
Toss the fruit, apple and blackberries into the pan with the butter and sugar mixture and allow to cook for about 10 minutes until the apples are beginning to soften and become coated with blackberry gooey glossiness. Set to one side and allow to cool. 

Now time to preheat the oven to 19oc/365f/gas 5. Roll out half of the pastry directly from the fridge, until quite thin approximately 3 mm and line a 23 cm/9 inch pie dish (a deep plate will do too once it’s oven proof). Gently work the pastry down into the dish, I usually use a little piece of pastry to do this as it prevents you from poking a hole in the pastry base which would cause the filling to leak out. Trim around the edges and Return to the fridge for about 10 minutes to allow the pastry to cool again, this will prevent shrinkage while cooking.

Once chilled remove from the fridge and carefully fill the pastry base with the cooked fruit. Now roll out the second half of the pastry and gently place on top of the pie, pressing gently around the edges. Trim, with a knife and seal the edges by rubbing with a little water. Using a fork, prick the top of the pie which will release the air as it cooks. If you are feeling creative, using  the left over pasty, cut out some leaf shapes and place on top of the pie as decoration. Again sealing with a little bit of water. I went festive and made shamrocks (well my husband Emmet did!) At this point the tart could be returned to the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes to allow to chill before cooking, again this will prevent the pastry from shrinking.

Place in a preheated oven for about 20 – 25 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Finally, La feile Phadraig shona daoibh (Happy St Patrick’s day)

Good Luck to the Irish Rugby team!

Happy Mother’s day to all mother’s out there.

And Happy 1st Anniversary to rhodakirwan.com!!

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Creamy Pesto Chicken with Roasted Tomatoes

In October of last year I registered with bbcgoodfood.com, which has meant that I receive the weekly newsletter from the BBC Good Food website!! Check it out, it’s amazing. I have picked up so many hints and tips and invariably if I have a culinary conundrum, I usually find the answer on this website.

My fixation with this source of knowledge goes back a long way. I used to treat myself on occasion to the monthly BBC Good Food magazine. One particular day in May 2009 I was in our local news-agents and saw the new issue of the magazine with an offer of free packets of seeds for basil and cherry tomatoes. Well you know how it is, when the word Free is emblazoned across something you immediately think you are getting a bargain. So I bought it with great intentions for growing my own basil and tomatoes. Ahem!!! I found the afore mentioned seeds in my gardening box that I keep under the stairs cupboard the other day!! ;O)

Anyhow, the reason for this story is not to demonstrate my gardening procrastination but to share with you the recipe that I came across in the magazine for Creamy Pesto Chicken with Roasted Tomatoes. You get the link here, the idea was to grow your own basil and tomatoes in order to make this dish. Well I took the quick (lazy) option and bought some fresh basil and tomatoes and made one of the tastiest chicken dishes, ever.

Although the recipe boasts a 15 minute prep time, I have found that it does take a little bit longer than this. The components can be prepared in advance, such as the pesto and breadcrumbs, leaving the assembling of the chicken to do just before it needs to go into the oven.

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken fillets
  • 3 tbsp homemade pesto (recipe listed below)
  • 85g/3oz mascarpone
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g/4oz breadcrumbs (I always do more than the 100g because chickens fillets differ in size and I hate running out of breadcrumbs mid crumbing!)
  • 175g/6oz cherry tomatoes on the vine
  • handful of pine nuts
  • handful basil leave


Homemade Pesto

In a small food processor, whizz together the following:

  • 50g/2 oz basil leaves
  • 25g/1 oz toasted pine nuts
  • 25g/1 oz finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

This pesto is bursting with flavour, it will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 1 -2 days or cover with a layer of olive oil and keep for 3 – 4 days.  As the above recipe only requires 3 tablespoons, you will have some pesto left over which you can use for pasta or dunking some nice crusty bread into…..

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas 6

Mix together the pesto and mascarpone, then using a sharp knife, make a slit along the side of each  fillet  creating a pocket. Carefully spoon quarter of the mixture into each chicken fillet and smooth over the opening to seal.

Place the breadcrumbs on a large plate and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brush each chicken fillet with a little olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Coat with breadcrumbs by placing each chicken fillet on the plate and press all over with the breadcrumbs. Transfer to a lightly oiled shallow, oven proof dish.

There should be some gaps between the chicken fillets where you can place the tomatoes, keeping them on the vine in a couple of bunches. Drizzle the lot with a little more olive oil. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken starts to turn golden brown and is cooked through. Towards the end of cooking, scatter with pine nuts and cook for a further 2 minutes. Sprinkle with basil leaves and serve with new potatoes or crusty bread!!

So delicious, enjoy!! R ;O)

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Chocolate star cookies and other shapes

Today the boys had their friends round after school. It’s Friday and there’s a real sense of spring in the air. As ever the kids come home starving and as it’s Friday I decided to make them a treat of chocolate shortbread.

The other day I alluded to the fact that I tend to be more structured when it comes to baking, well today I wasn’t!! I was experimenting which I think is very important too as it’s how we learn what works and what doesn’t work.

The added bonus today was that my son and his friend wanted to help and it was great! I made the dough and they cut out the cookies, decorating them with precision. So this is what we did. The ingredients were essentially the same as the shortbread recipe in my very first post with cocoa powder substituted for some of the flour. However, they were so tasty that I had to share.

Ingredients:

  • 100g/3.5 oz plain flour
  • 50g/2 oz ground almonds
  • 25g/1 oz cocoa powder (I used Bournville)
  • 50g/2 oz caster sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4

Put all the dry ingredients (flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder and sugar) into a bowl and rub in the butter until you get a crumbly affect. Gather together into a soft pastry and knead lightly. Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of about 5mm(1/4in). Cut into cookies using your favourite shaped cookie cutter. I should note that the boys made their cookies quite thick and it worked just fine! Place on a baking tray and put into your already pre-heated for about 10 to 15 minutes. It was harder to determine whether these cookies were cooked because they are so dark from the cocoa powder. I erred on the cautious side and removed the cookies from the oven after about 12 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Add four hungry boys and four glasses of milk :O)

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Pork Chops & Potato Loaves

I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to cooking I’m a bit fly by the seat of my pants. And this approach generally works out well, sprinkled with the odd, lets call it “learning experience” (aka disaster!!). I’m very different when it comes to baking because I believe there is an actual science to quantity of ingredients and how they are combined.

Anyway, back to cooking. There are occasions when one of the most challenging task of the day can be the evening meal. Coming up with new ideas and when you find something that works for the whole family,  you don’t want to put them off your new invention by cooking it every week!

Anyhow, I was recently in my butcher’s shop and spotted thickly cut pork chops and thought, they look great, if only I knew of a way to cook them where by they didn’t taste like a pair of old sandals. By the way, I’ve never eaten sandals, old or new! So I bought them and I’m happy to say that this ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ dinner worked out really well and was a huge hit with all the family! I served them with potato loaves which is something that my mother used to cook for us as kids. Recently I discovered that this is a recipe that my grandmother Kathleen (my Dad’s Mum) passed on to my Mum. They are delicious, very easy to make and a great use of mash potato :O)

I was cooking for 4, so increase the quantities of ingredients if you are cooking for a larger family.

Ingredients:

  • 4 thickly cut pork chops
  • 1 large apple peeled and sliced thinly (I used a Brambly cooking apple but an eating apple works well too)
  • 1 medium sized onion sliced thinly
  • A generous sprig of rosemary
  • Some freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Pre heat the oven to 150c/300f/gas 2. This is a very low oven but the key is to cook the chops slowly over a long period of time so they become very tender.

Prep the apple and onion by peeling and slicing thinly. Trim any excess fat from the chops and sear them in a hot frying pan making sure that you get the residual fatty edges crispy. I did this by using a tongs and holding the chop fatty side down in the pan.

Transfer the chops to an oven proof dish, preferably one with a lid, if you don’t have one with a lid, don’t worry, covering the dish with tin foil will work too. De-glaze the pan with a little water removing all the bit from the bottom and set aside for later.

Layer the sliced onion on top of each chop, then do the same with the sliced apple. Apply a generous crack of black pepper. Add the sprig of rosemary and finally pour the juices from the de-glazed pan over the lot. Cover with a lid (or foil) and cook in the preheated oven for at least 2 hours.

Potato Loaves:

As mentioned above, this recipe has been passed down through the generations. They are delicious and go with just about anything.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 4 large potatoes
  • 1 to 2 large shallots finely chopped
  • 25g/1 oz butter
  • Approximately 150/200 milk
  • Salt and black pepper for seasoning

At this stage the chops should be cooking for over an hour. The plan is to get the potatoes into the oven just as the chops are coming out. You will need to cook the potato loaves at about 190 c/375 f/gas 5 for 15 to 20 minutes. So if you are a one oven household, turn the oven up to the appropriate temperature for the potatoes, 5 minutes before the chops are due to come out of the oven. If you have two ovens just preheat the second oven to the temperature stated above.

Peel and cut each potato into about eight pieces. Make sure they are not too small as you don’t want them to disintegrate on you. Place in a steamer and cook until a fork passes through them easily.

Mash the potatoes using a potato mash or my preference a potato press, which can be bought very reasonably in Ikea and is an invaluable piece of kitchen equipment. Add half of the butter and about 75 mls of the milk, stir in with a wooden spoon or spatula. The key is not to have the potato too runny but firm enough to form little haystack shapes. I hope all of you know what a haystack looks like!! Add more milk and butter and mix well, season to taste. Finally add the chopped shallots, I like a nice oniony taste so I tend to use a little more than the one shallot.

Next lightly grease an oven sheet/tray with vegetable oil and placing a good dollop of mash on the baking tray mould into a haystack shape with a fork. Do this till all the mash is used up and place a knob of butter on each loaf.Remove the chops from the oven and set aside while the potatoes are cooking. This will give the meat a chance to rest before serving. Although in the picture the lid has been removed from the dish, this is just for demonstration purposes. Ensure the lid is kept on in order to keep the chops warm.Place the potato loaves in the preheated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes until the outside becomes  lovely and crispy and golden.

Serve with the pork chops and vegetables of your choice. I used broccoli and french beans as they are the favourites in our house. This dish is quick to prepare and can be forgotten about while you get on with the homework!! Enjoy :O)

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Lemon & Raspberry Muffins


My kids often play a game with me, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one movie or book or type of food with you what would it be!! This games really frustrates me a lot some days because I never have a definitive answer in any of the categories they present to me :O(

It’s really about what mood I’m in at that given moment. Suffice it to say I do find the food category the easiest one to choose from. If I’m in a bold indulgent mood it will be chocolate and if it’s a healthy mind set I’m coming from raspberries win hands down every time.

Winter is not a good time for raspberries lets face it but I do manage to get my fix by buying the frozen kind. Lately I have been using the Superquinn own brand raspberries which are delicious but there are dozens of brands on the market. They are great added to porridge and have the additional benefit of cooling down the lava like pot of porridge!!

However, I recently came across a recipe by the Domestic Goddess herself Nigella, for lemon and raspberry muffins and having just bought some new muffins tins I had no excuse not to try them.

Muffins have a reputation for being very unhealthy but much to my pleasure these have very little butter in them and not too much sugar either. So you can indulge yourself without feeling too guilty :O)

Ingredients:

  • 60g/2.5oz butter
  • 200g/7oz plain flour
  • 2 tspn baking powder
  • half tspn bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g/5oz caster sugar
  • quarter tspn salt
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • Approximately 120ml milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 150g/5oz raspberries (of which I used frozen)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200 c/400 f/gas 6.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Stir together, in a large bowl, the flour, baking powder, bicarb, sugar, salt and lemon zest. In a measuring jug, pour in the lemon juice then enough milk to bring the liquid up to the 200ml mark, this will cause the milk to curdle which is fine. Next beat in the egg and melted butter to the curdled milk mixture and then add to the dry ingredients, stiring briefly. Don’t overwork the batter it should barely be combined. Gently fold in the raspberries (I kept mine frozen so that they would stay firm at this stage) and spoon into prepared muffin cases, bake for about 25 minutes.

When cooked the tops should spring back when touched. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes to cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack.

As I said earlier, this recipe has very little butter in it however, these muffins are gorgeous served still warm with custard. And there goes the guilt free indulgence!

This recipe makes about 12 muffins………………enjoy.

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Valentine’s day the non conventional way!

I secretly still love getting a card on Valentine’s day. However, Emmet (my husband) and I are not into the whole commercial event that Valentine’s day has evolved into. In the past I have usually fed my husband’s obsession for graphic novels by contributing to his vast collection. I couldn’t face adding to the ever growing mountain of books and although I mentioned we’re not into the commercial aspect of Valentine’s day, box of chocs and dinner for two, we are romantic and look for different ways to celebrate. So this year I decided to make him Spicy Nuts!!!

As I type this the Bee Gees are serenading me with How Deep Is Your Love, very cheesy!!

Anyway, I digress, Emmet my husband does not have a sweet tooth AT ALL, so when I looked up recipes for spicy nuts most of them were sweet and spicy which wouldn’t have worked,  so I came up with my own variation. I was prepared to throw the entire batch out and start again if necessary however, to my delight they turned out perfectly.

So this is my version and it is very spicy. ;O)

Ingredients:

  • 300g mixed nuts/seeds (I used almonds, both blanched and with skin, hazelnuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds or whatever you have)
  • 1 generous tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp cayenne chilli pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4.

Spread the nuts evenly onto a baking tray. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes, checking regularly and shaking the tray to ensure that they cook evenly and don’t burn.

In the meantime, melt the butter over a gentle heat and add all the spices and chopped rosemary, keeping about half of the salt back so you can use to sprinkle over the finished nuts.

Once the nuts are cooked transfer to a bowl and coat evenly with the buttery, spicy mixture. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining salt.

These nuts are delicious served warm however, they are equally tasty served cold. And I’m told work very well with an ice cold Erdinger Schneeweisse, snow beer.

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