Thursday, April 29, 2010

agate stone soup? I don't think so!

I apologise to all my avid readers that they did not have a new post to read with their morning coffee.
I was otherwise engaged preparing for a job interview, with my current husband asking me potential interview questions until almost midnight. Interview is Friday morning, so wish me luck! I need it!

I had been doing some research into foods which instill might confidence and make one assertive, energised and persuasive ...this has proven to be quite fruitless and the only thing I have found that might do this is the stone, Agate - a crystal which apparently helps to awaken your inherent talents, increases creativity and stimulates intellectual, as well as analytical abilities. It gives you the confidence to be the best you can be in achieving success by instilling courage. I think I need some, maybe 'agate stone soup' is worth a try!

Actually it sounds horrible, so I opted for one of my favourite fish this evening while browsing the counter at my favourite food shop on Exchequer Street. I found a lovely piece of monk fish, big enough for maybe three or four for thirteen euro. I loved wrapping this delicious present in prosciutto, it looks so good uncooked!
So I set about preparing a soul warming, interview improving, roast monk fish with fennel.

For the roast vegetables:
15 cherry tomatoes, skinned by pricking the skin with a knife and submerging them in boiling water. The skins will rub off between your thumb and forefinger
15 pitted black oily olives
2 fennel bulbs, hairy bits removed, halved and then each half quartered.
2 plump garlic cloves, finely sliced.
Garden herbs, a variety, oregano, thyme, basil

First, blanch the fennel eighths in salted, boiling water for about 10 minutes. Place in a large flat roasting dish with the skinned tomatoes. Toss a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil, the garlic slices, the olives and herbs in with the fennel and the tomatoes. You could add almost any vegetable here - I also added peeled baby potatoes which were left over from the boys tea earlier. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.

Next, prepare the monk fish.

Whizz half of a large jar or a small jar of sun-blush tomatoes (these are half-dried and are a little more juicy that the fully sun-dried variety) with 2 large handfuls of basil and a little of the preserving oil from the tomatoes and a breath of balsamic vinegar.

Lay out 6 or 8 strips of Italian prosciutto on a flat board. Smear this prosciutto sheet with your tomato and basil pesto. Lay your fillet or tail of monk fish on top and wrap up in the prosciutto. The piece that I used this evening was very large so I laid it on the prosciutto-pesto, smeared more pesto on top of the fish and laid strips of prosciutto on the fish again, wrapping it up as tightly as I could.

Place the fish parcel on top of the vegetables and roast in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.
I have poured a good glass of white wine over this on one occasion before, but to be honest I think it doesn't do a lot, the vegetables roast in the little oil and their own juices and it is very tasty.

Eat, enjoy and go to bed early, well nurtured and ready to take on the world.....who needs agate crystals??

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mediterranean vegetable lasagne

I really do not like the word lasagne, I think that it actually revolts me a little - I have eaten too many poor lasagnes in Ireland and as a result have ceased to ever order them in any establishment - the over use of them as daily fare in poor quality road-side cafes while travelling through the country has well and truely ruined any remaining allure that they might once have had.
From large Irish supermarkets to petrol stations around the country, you can buy one jar of 'white sauce', one jar of 'red meat sauce' and some pasta sheets, assemble, ecco fatto ... you have a lasagne. 
I shouldn't really denigrate these recipes, principally because I have never made them ... I come from the school of 'make your own sauces' and it is against my very being to buy a ready-made sauce ... no matter what one says, using these simply cannot be as good as a lasagne made either from fresh vegetables roasted with garlic and basil or from a ragu of prime minced beef baked in the oven with plum tomatoes, garlic and olive oil for almost 2 hours.
My current husband once cooked for me pasta with a rich tomato sauce, and, as I remember,  I ate it and enjoyed it - he does argue that I actually could not tell the difference between bought and home-made. I retorted that I was so blindly in love with him that the bought stir-in sauce was the last thing on my mind ... but now, today, after nearly six years, I think it is time that he begin to make a real culinary effort.  More on this later!

For the most delicious roasted vegetable lasagne, which will serve two, with extras, you will need:

For the roast vegetables:
1-2 small aubergines roughly chopped.
2 small red onions, peeled and quartered
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 courgettes roughly chopped
12 cherry tomatoes, skinned
4 tblsps olive oil
12 pitted, oily, black olives
2 tblsps capers, with brine rinsed off
a handful of fresh basil
a piece of strong cheddar or other strong cheese

For the bechamel sauce:
30g plain white flour
35g butter
550ml milk
1 bay leaf
some freshly grated nutmeg.
8 tbsps of finely grated Parmesan
sea salt and black pepper

approx. 6 dried pasta sheets

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
Ensure that all your vegetables are chopped into 2.5cm pieces or are at least roughly the same size. Lightly coat the vegetables and garlic in olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 180C until tender ( 15 - 20 mins). Remove from oven, cool and add the black olives and capers.  Stir these in gently, season with salt and black pepper and stir in the torn basil leaves. Set aside and make the bechamel sauce.

For the bechamel (better known as cheese sauce in Ireland):
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour. Sir until the flour has combined and boil this, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.  This is called a roux. Boiling the roux for more than 1 minute will remove any floury taste from the finished sauce.
Turn the heat down and gradually add the milk stirring continuously until all the milk has gone. Bring to the boil again, stirring all the time and add the bay leaf. Boil for a few minutes and the sauce should have thickened. Turn down the heat and add 4 tblsps of finely grated Parmesan. When the cheese has melted and you have a silky, white sauce, turn off the heat.

To assemble the lasagne, firstly place some bechamel sauce in the bottom of your oven proof dish, place a layer of vegetables on top of this, grate a thin layer of strong cheddar over the vegetables, place on some pasta sheets to form one layer. You will have to break these to make the shape of the dish.
Put into the lasagne dish in alternate layers as above, finishing with the white sauce sprinkled with Parmesan.

Cook in the oven at 180 degrees for 25-30 minutes whereby the top should be golden brown and inviting.

Serve with crusty bread and a glass of cold white wine. The beauty of this recipe is that you can tweak the ingredients adding perhpas fennel or cauliflower to the roasting tin.  I did not use all of the bechamel sauce for this as I do not like it too saucy and like the vegetables to sing through the rest of the flavours.  I have put the rest of the bechamel sauce into the fridge and will give it to the boys tomorrow with roasted cauliflower. You could also replace the bechamel sauce with a rich home-made tomato and basil sauce and save the bechamel layer for only the top. 
This is also not strictly a vegetarian dish due to the inclusion of Parmesan  (rennet extracted from stomach of calves) but vegetarian Parmesans and other cheeses are available for vegetarians and can be used here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

spring potato salad

This salad took only about 5 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes cooking time and it disappeared just as quickly. It was a great side dish for this evenings meal of fish pie.

Boil 10 new potatoes until tender to the tip of a knife about 8-10 minutes depending on size.
Let them cool and peel off the skins, these should rub off with using your thumb.  Cut into bite size pieces and place in a serving dish.
Wash and finely slice 10 radishes and half a cucumber(skin on), set aside and make the mint vinagrette.
You will need:

2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
8 mint leaves, finely chopped
5 tblsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp mayonnaise

With a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic with salt until it is pulp.  Add white wine vinegar and dijon mustard and mix together with a spoon.  Slowly add the olive oil, whisking as you go.  Finally stir in the chopped mint leaves and add 1 tsp of mayonnaise and whisk until it is combined.

Pour over the cold potatoes.  Add the radish and cucumber and mix gently together with two spoons until everything is coated in the delicious minty vinagrette.
Serve sprinkled with some shredded mint.  Light, tasty and bursting with fresh spring flavours.

This great little salad makes an excellent side dish for simply cooked white fish and it is very versatile in terms of possible experimental additions.  Add torn pieces of cooked chicken and a soft boiled egg for a more substantial meal or, as you see above, we ate it with some Ardsallagh goats cheese which was amazing.  The bright radish skins make a great colour contrast against the waxy yellowish new pototoes flecked with (my very precious) fresh green spring mint - looks and tastes really good.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

scotch eggs for a family picnic

There was a definite, identifiable warmth in the balmy air this little potatoes have unfurled their first leaves which makes me as nervous as a new mother. How do I look after them? How do I protect them from those evil snails? I am not sure if snails like potatoes, but I do know that they have a penchant for mint. Upon inspection of my small slip of a crop this morning, I discovered that my poor plant had been attacked by not just one snail, but no less than six! I removed a family of them from the plant pot ... its me against the snails at the minute, and if I catch them near my little darling potatoes, it will be war!

After getting upset about the mint, I finally got myself together to make another batch of scotch eggs. I say another batch because the first batch I made lasted about ten minutes. No-one in our house had eaten a scotch egg for a decade at least, some never at all ... ten minutes later all six of them were gone. Cool Hand Luke once ate 50 eggs ... I bet he could have eaten more of these!

So picnic preparations had to begin again in earnest. Thankfully these are really easy and delightfully satisfying to make.

You will need, for a family sized picnic batch :

6 free range/organic eggs just under hard-boiled - about 8 minutes for a medium egg
8 (80% min.) pork sausages, skinned
75g slightly stale crusty white bread
25 g Parmesan cheese
2 tblsp of dried oregano, basil, tarragon
1 tsp smoked, sweet paprika

Boil the eggs for approx. 8 minutes until they just under hard-boiled.
Drain and replace the hot cooking water with fresh cold. This will reduce their temperature so that they are easy to handle and peel. Set aside.

Preheat the over to 200 degrees.

In a small blender, place small lumps of Parmesan, some slightly stale white bread (crusts too) and whizz until they are fine. Add the dried herbs and paprika and whizz until they are combined. You can also combine already prepared breadcrumbs and some finely grated Parmesan with the herbs and paprika. Place on a flat plate suitable for rolling the eggs. You can also leave out the breadcrumbs, however I like them and I don't.

Take each sausage and with a sharp knife, spilt it down the middle and ease out the meat into a bowl.
With wetted hands, take a plum-sized ball of sausage meat and press between your palms, squashing out the meat into a flat pancake. Take one hard-boiled egg and place it in the centre your sausaged-palm.
Wrap the egg with sausage meat until the egg is completely enveloped.
Obviously, the more sausage meat you add to the initial ball, the thicker the coating will be around the egg.

Make sure all cracks are covered and no egg is visible.

Roll it on the plate with the crumbs until all the sausage is covered. Place on an oven proof dish.
Repeat the process until all your eggs have been wrapped and rolled.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes or so until the outside is golden and crunchy.

Leave to cool and then enjoy.

These can be made the night before for a picnic but make sure they are completely cold before you wrap them and store them in the fridge - if they sweat, they will loose the lovely crispy crust.

There is something sublime about eating outdoors where space is not an issue and the children are free to run to and from the rug on the grass soaking up the warmth and enjoying the relaxed freedom of it all.
Eight friends, stretched out in Merrion Square in the sunshine enjoying Prosecco and scotch eggs discussing everything from pork pies, Cornish pasties and mushy peas to architecture, landscape and survival ... I conclude that without the scotch eggs, none of the rest of it is worth it!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

fish soup, or more politely, a bouillabaisse

I have made this fish soup so many times in differing ways that it sometimes starts life as a soup, then becomes a stew, or starts with the intention of being a stew and is then served as as soup.  I have seen the base stock served alone as a starter and the fish following or together, as you see it here. 
I will not pretend that this is true to the traditional French bouillabaisse recipe which I have eaten many times in France, but it is my version and I can vouch that it tastes great.  It is versatile and brings colour to any dinner table.
It is traditionally a fisherman's tea made with whatever fish is leftover from the catch at the end of the day.  So it can include anything from cod and conger eel, to ling and lobster.  The latter being the more luxurious and expensive - clearly it was not a good days trade! 
It is worth experimenting with the texture of varying fish, such as combining a firm fish like turbot and monkfish with a softer fish such as haddock or rouget (gurnard) .

This soup served two as a main evening meal, served only with crusty bread rubbed with garlic.

For two, you will need:

2 pieces of monkfish, 2 of cod or hake (as much as you will eat)
1 large handful of clams, scrubbed and broken ones discarded
1L home-made or best quality bought fish stock
6 cloves of garlic
3 onions
6 baby leeks, whites and greens separated
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsl of olive oil
1 bouquet garni, bay, basil, thyme, oregano
1 bulb of fennel, stalks removed, finely sliced 
8 saffron strands, crushed to dust with the back of a spoon
potatoes (optional)
salt and Cayenne pepper  
parsely, finely chopped (for garnish)
Crusty bread (for mopping up)

Marinade the fish pieces:
First take the fish fillets and marinade them with 2 finely diced onions, the crushed saffron strands and 3 garlic cloves for at least one hour in the fridge.

For the fish base:
If you like you can make the base or bouillabaisse from your own fish carcasses, heads tails, the lot, chopped and boiled.  For the fish stock base you will need almost a kilo of fish waste placed in a large lidded pot with 1L of water, a large handful of the dark green leaves of the leek, saving the white parts for the finished soup.  Add 1 bay leaf, 1 chopped onion, 3 garlic cloves.
Boil for approximaltely 35 minutes covered.  Sieve, taste, season as necessary and set the liquid aside.
Alternatively boil 1L of fish stock with the onion, garlic and greens and taste for seasoning (it may not need salt).  I found a really good fish stock recently which I have now come to rely on a lot!  It comes in 500ml glass jars so for this soup I used 2.

For the main body of the soup:
Finely slice the whites and a little green of the leeks - I used baby leeks for their soft skin, fennel, the cherry tomatoes, and two cloves of garlic, finely sliced.  Sautee them in some oil for five minutes until the leeks are bright green.  Add the marinated fish pieces and cook slowly for another five minutes.  The cooking of the fish depends on the different varieties and size of the pieces - obviously those taking longest should go in first and thus have a longer cooking time.  Slowly ladle in the hot fish stock onto the fish and vegetables and simmer slowly until the fish is cooked through - this should only take 5 minutes.
In a separate saucepan, bring a ladleful of the stock to the boil and add the clams.  Cook for two minutes with a lid on until all the clams have opened. 
Carefully with a slotted spoon, place the fish into a serving bowl and ladle over the soup and the clams.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve with sliced of bread for mopping up the juices.

finely slice leeks, fennel and garlic

saute the leeks, garlic and tomatoes in oil

taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if necessary


Thursday, April 22, 2010

so finally I got around to the koftas

I dont really feel like giving you a lecture tonight about meatballs but they are highly interesting in a geographical kind of way, yet at the same time really quite boring.  Concieved as a brilliant disguise for left over meat, as far as I can see there is no hard and fast recipe, be it lamb, pork or beef or combination of all seems not to matter.
It's a bit like bread really, there seem to be several thousand different connotations of a recipe depending on where you are in the world - here is a short summary of just a few, most of which I have eaten at one stage or another except for the Albanian variety.
  • Danish meatballs are known as frikadeller and are typically fried, and they are usually made from pork.
  • Albanian fried meatballs (Qofte të fërguara) have feta cheese in them.
  • In Germany (I should know about this) meatballs are typically more complex and compliated, at least in name - they are called Frikadellen in the North, Buletten in the East and Fleischpflanzerl or Fleischküchle if you happen to be in the South. A very famous variant of meatballs are Königsberger Klopse which contain anchovy or salted herring and are eaten with caper sauce.
  • Grecian meatballs are called 'keftedes' and include onions and mint leaf.
  • Perhaps most familiar to us are are know as polpette in Italy.  We serve this with tagliatelle or pasta but they are traditionally served in the South of Italy as a second course with fresh mozarella. 
  • Swedish köttbullar aka Swedish meatballs, most commonly known as Ikea meatballs ,are made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef and pork, mixed with breadcrumbs soaked in milk and finely chopped onions. They are seasoned with salt and white pepper and are traditionally served with gravy, boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam, and fresh pickled cucumber.
  • The Turkish population also have a reported 80 different types of meatball (köfte), all regional variations.
So take your pick, they are all good. 
I like the heavily spiced, flavoursome Eastern meatballs (Koftas) which are sausage-shape cooked on skewers - these make perfect nibbles for a drinks party or lunch, but I do find them slightly heavy for a starter.
The word Kofta is derived from Persian kūfta or kuftan(pl), meaning 'to beat' or 'to grind'.  In their most simple form they are made from beef or lamb mixed with spices and onions.  They can sometimes be made with fish or vegetables rather than meat, especially in India where beef is a rareity (for obvious religious reasons).

Koftas in South Asian cuisine are normally cooked in a spicy curry and sometimes with whole pre-boiled eggs. Sometimes the eggs are encased in a layer of the spicy kofta meat so that the final product resembles an Indian Scotch egg.

An interesting aside about Scotch Eggs!!...

Where did they come from?  An internet search immediately answered with the popular fact that apparently Scotch Eggs were invented by none other than Fortnum & Mason in 1738. 
I find it very hard to believe that this was a completely out-of-the-blue invention (very few things are really) - in India and Southern Asia, koftas are normally cooked in spicy curried sauce but with a whole hard boiled egg inside.  Now unless the entire Asian community visited F&M and bought hardboiled eggs wrapped in ground pork in 1738, I do doubt that the recipe direction went West to East ... more like the other way around!

Despite their origin, I love Scotch eggs and an impending picnic this Saturday due to the apparently unprecedented warm weather (it is to be in the late teens) that we will be having, has brought on my wish to make watch this meatball space.

Moving swiftly away from Scotch eggs....(if you are still with me!) I made Lamb Koftas this evening with a slightly different recipe than I normally do.  They were good, sweet, soft and full of flavour.  The slightly sharp tatziki is an exellent accompaniment - the flat bread attempt was a husband claimed it was good with butter, so is cardboard!  Lets say no more.

For about 16 lamb Koftas, which should serve four for substantial nibbling, you will need:

500g minced (Irish) lamb
half an onion, chopped as finely as you can, without injury
a large handful of chopped coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
3 garlic cloves, beaten to a pulp
fine sea salt and black pepper

Mix everything in a large bowl and, in a rather satisfactory way, squeeze between your fingers until all the spices have been as evenly combined as you can manage.  You can at this point fry a wee tester to see how the seasoning is and add whatever you think it might need.

Shape into sausages - the fun bit, for which I had two willing helpers!

Fry these in light olive oil  for between 10 and 15 minutes until they are brown on the outside.  To serve, stick a cocktail stick in one end, add some hummus or tzatziki and a flat bread or stuffed into a pitta pocket with tzatziki...
These are great for parties, easy to eat and taste great.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Provençal tapenade

There is a theory supported by historians that wine and its production descended from Greek explorers who settled in southern France about 2500 years ago. It has been suggested by these historians that the world's biggest wine industry might never have developed had it not been for some pioneering Greek explorers who settled comfortably into the south of France around 600 BC. It is thought that the Greeks founded Massalia, now known as Marseilles, which became a bustling trading site where local tribes of Ligurian Celts undertook friendly bartering.

I will not challenge these theories but when one looks at the ingredient list of this Provençal dish of black olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil, one might think Italian, Greek or perhaps even Spanish. The French, and I think rightly so, have claimed this combination of summer flavours as their own, with the name originating from the Provençal word for capers, tapéno.

Despite its possibly contested origins, this versatile combination is used on a daily basis in France to bring a summery, Mediterranean flavour to bread, fish, lamb, and chicken.

It is most traditionally eaten as an hors d’œuvre spread on crusty bread rubbed with garlic.
I saw these little bites of goodness in a Paris delicatessen almost ten years ago and although I did not buy and taste, the image of the colour contrast has never left me.
I love the very black, slightly chunky, oily blackness against the white, impenetrable albumen of the egg.

They make the most delicious nibbles to have with a glass of very cold, slightly sweet white wine, or as my brother says a glass of cold, bubbly beer....

For the tapenade, you will need:

30 black oily stoneless olives
10 capers, rinsed from their salt, vinegar or brine home
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
20 g of tuna, Ortiz or raw tuna, cooked on the pan (I used Ortiz as it is much easier)
2 full egg yolks, hardboiled
1 large squeeze of lemon juice
1 large glug of olive oil
freshly milled black pepper

Boil six eggs, peel, half and remove the yolks. These will be the receptacles for the tapenade.
In a pestle and mortar pound the olives, capers, egg yolks, garlic and tuna until they are well broken down and only small pieces of the olives remain visible.
Add the lemon juice and a large glug of olive oil and mix until you have a paste-like consistency. Taste and add more lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper as your taste requires.

This recipe traditionally uses anchovies. In this case, I would normally add boquerones (anchovies preserved in oil and vinegar) but I do think that the tapenade with the olives are quite salty enough without them.
You can add the anchovies but I would guard against using the tinned variety as these have a concentration of saltiness that really no palate can deal with.

Spoon tapenade into the egg white and serve.

As an alternative, use smaller quails eggs which are more dainty as an hors d'oeuvre or small toasted bread crostini bites.

Perfect for a five o' clock nibble ...

cooked and roasted mediterranean vegetables

I had planned this evening to make little small lamb koftas but as I set about preparing, I realised that my vegetable basket was full to the brim with bits and pieces of things which were half-eaten and wrapped in cling film.  So, what started out as simply cooking dinner, ended up in a purging of all things green, all things sprouting and all things simply crying out to be eaten. 
This recipe evolved out of the necessity to eat the uneaten and feed the unfed.

I unearthed the following vegetables :

3 small charlotte potatoes, peeled and chopped
half an aubergine, chopped
half a butternut squash, chopped
1 courgette, chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, sliced
6 baby onions, peeled and left whole
1 large onion (it was sprouting so I cut out the green centre shoots), roughly diced
1 small hot green chilli, finely sliced
6 tblsps light olive oil or vegetable oil
a pinch of sugar
200ml hot water
Sea salt and black pepper

Firstly, it is much easier if you prepare all the vegetables in advance and try to chop them all approximately the same size to ensure that some dont cook more quickly than others.

Heat about 3 tblsps of the oil in a large frying pan.  Fry the onions, both whole baby ones and chopped, for five minutes, then add the garlic and chillis and fry for another few minutes until the smell is strong and sweet.  Then add the squash and fry for five minutes.  The squash should go a lovely golden colour and start to soften slightly.
Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon so that you do not add too much of the oil to the pot.  Place it in a large casserole dish with a lid and turn the heat on low.  To the onion and squash add the potatoes, tomatoes, some sugar and let it heat up.  Meanwhile, add the remaining 3 tblsps of oil to the frying pan and gently fry the courgette, beans and aubergine for about five minutes.  Tip this all in to the other vegetables in the casserole and add about 200ml of water. Let this simmer slowly for approximately 30 minutes.
With the slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables into a roasting tin and pour in about 2/3rds of the juices around it.

Place on the middle oven shelf for another 30 minutes at 200 degrees until the vegetables have roasted and most of the liquid has disappeared.  We ate this on its own, sprinkled with chopped coriander.

The beauty of this dish is that there is no set recipe and you could add almost any vegetable. The overall effect is something which seems, on paper, to be overcooked, but in reality it tastes amazingly rich and flavoursome.  The squash holds its individual bite-size shape but is so soft it is almost purree.

I think that to make a more substantial main course you could add some cooked butter beans and perhaps some black, oily, pitted olives and perhaps a small sprinkle of sweet smoked paprika before it goes into the oven.  It could also be served with rice or you could just bring up the number of potatoes.
I experiment with this quite a lot as a main course and as a side dish but squash and courgettes feature every time.

And since we were in the spirit of eating all things which should have been eaten a long time ago, my husband cracked open a cupboard-aged 28 month old Christmas pudding.  Despite my warnings that it may contain spore of something deadly, he did something literally deadly with it.  He sliced it, fried it in a large amount of butter and drizzled it with double cream.

Delicious and never out of date or season, or so I am told!

Monday, April 19, 2010

an east coast party, a spring chicken and some home-grown herbs

What is it about barbeques and boys?

...yeah lets have an East Coast party by the beach, ripped t-shirts, shorts, a few beers and some lobster (no less!) on the bbq...sounds amazing, I do get the picture ...  except when you begin to really think the whole thing through and the fact that the said planned event might possibly have over fifty people invited, and not to Cape Cod, but to Cushendall! ...  a small, cold, albeit beautiful, patch of the East Antrim coast in May, expecting food, drink and entertainment, it might be a bit of a challenge.

Our family celebration will succeed, it is a good idea and will be a wonderful tribute to days gone by.
I know it will be a united effort from our close network of relatives and friends who, not only love food, but have been in the catering industry all their lives and know the challenges of feeding fifty people.  They will also do so without making it look like an effort and for their ideas, support and future hard work, we are deeply grateful already! 

Now to much more practical feed four from a very nice free-range chicken, inside the house, in a warm and relaxed unpretentious style, with well loved garden herbs, you will need:

1 large chicken, quartered
3 garlic cloves
fresh herbs - thyme, rosemary and marjoram
8 baby onions
200ml white wine
1 large knob butter
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
parmesan for serving
sea salt and black pepper

In a heavy casserole dish with a lid, heat the butter, oil and herbs, garlic and onions until sizzling.

Place the chicken pieces in the hot, oily butter and brown on each side. You will want a lovely, crispy, rich brown colour to appear on the skin and flesh of all the pieces.
Pour in the white wine. Place the lid on and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the chicken is cooked (with the point of a knife, if the juice runs clear without the sign of any blood it is ready).  Serve with some parmesan shavings, salt and black pepper.


I was in a bit of a hurry this evening and only added baby new potatoes to this, but you could add carrots or perhaps two savoy cabbage leaves per person laid on top of the chicken for the last ten minutes of cooking would make a nice colour and texture contrast.

My kitchen smells amazing and there are leftovers for the boys lunch tomorrow.
This is perfect comfort food - comfort for the chef and for the customer - just perfect!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Isle of Man smoked kippers with home-made crusty bread

I am currently on the beautiful Antrim Coast Road which winds its way up the east coast of Northern Ireland, through the Glens of Antrim to the Giants Causeway and beyond. 
We spent a lovely day on the beach, throwing stones into the water and digging with our new spades!
When I got home my mother suggested that we try some kippers - she had roughly twenty smoked kippers in a box fresh from the Isle of Man!
A kipper is a whole herring which has been split from tail to head, then gutted and either salted, pickled or smoked.

Traditionally a breakfast dish, we instead tucked into them for our evening supper.  Really I do not know how anyone might have time in the morning to eat these for breakfast as the de-boning alone takes a long time.  Our kippers are in the freezer and will keep well there for not longer than one month.

We ate these with some freshly baked bread and butter and a slice of lemon.

For the bread, you will need:

1kg of strong white flour, sifted (we used Doves Farm)
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
700ml hot water
20g salt
1 tblsp vegetable oil

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.  Add most of the water and stir it around until the mixture starts to come together.  Then add the oil. 
Gather it into one large ball and turn it out onto a well floured work surface.
Knead for approximately ten minutes.  This involves stretching the dough with the heel of your hand, pushing it away from your body, then pulling back the stretched piece into the ball again.  A gradual circular motion ensures that the ball turns and the dough is kneaded thoroughly.  This process develops the gluten in the bread.  It should feel springy, light and alive to the touch.
Place the kneaded dough into the large bowl and place it somewhere warm but not hot, out of a draft and covered with a clean tea towel.
After one hour the dough should have doubled in size.  Take it gently out of the bowl again and knead again for five minutes.  This is called 'knocking it back'. 
Place the dough in a circular ball onto a well-floured baking sheet. 
Cover and leave for another hour.
In a preheated oven (230 degrees), place the loaf very gently on the shelf (do not slam the oven door) and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until it has a nice golden crust.
You will know it is ready if you tap the crust which should give a hollow sound.
This is easy and instantly satisfying ... there is no real mystery to it, anyone can do it.

This makes a large loaf.  You can half the ingredients or use one half to make pizza bases or small crusty baps - just reduce the baking time.

And now for the Kippers!

The kippers are simply dropped into boiling water for 3 minutes, patted dry and served with slices of buttered crusty bread and perhaps a slice of lemon.  The flavour of the fish is strong but delicious and so I would not serve anything more than perhaps an egg with this.

A lovely end to a spring day in Glenariffe