Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Feeding the Gardeners

I have been feeding hungry gardeners a lot lately!  Endless meals outside have been consumed with muddy paws, the only sound being that of satisfied chewing.
I must say I think that it's working as the garden is looking great ... the tulips are coming out, the strawberry plants are literally bursting out of their skins, there has been a lot of moving plants here and there, a lot of earthworks and heavy stones being lain to rest.  Feeling tired has a new meaning after our stolen hour at the weekend.
I have not been cooking anything wildly out of the ordinary, in fact erring on the side of making the whole process easier on me.  There have been endless bowls of simple aglio olio or stuffed chicken breasts with slow roasted tomatoes and a large bunch of pungent green herbs from the garden wrapped in parma ham, placed in a tin foil pillow case and baked in the oven.  Easy, delicious and made all the more so by being eaten alfresco.
My current challenge is to produce an Indiana Jones birthday cake for my five year this space for the disastrous outcome!

Below is the really quick 30 minute chicken recipe which changes almost every time I make it.  You can add almost anything to it and the best bit is you can prepare it in the morning, refridgerate and simply pop it into a hot oven when you get home from work and in 30 minutes you have a delicious flavoursome supper.  One parcel each.

Please try to use Free Range or Organic chicken breasts for this as the difference I think is immeasurable.

Split each chicken breast and fill with sundried tomatoes, black olive tapenade, basil pesto, anything like that you like.  I usually wrap them then in finely slices pancetta, smoked streaky bacon or parma ham.  You could simply pan fry this for a few minutes and bake uncovered in the oven but I love the flavour imparted from the bacon/ham when it is effectively steamed.
So place the stuffed chicken breast onto a rectangular piece of tin foil.  Add some sliced garlic, a bunch of fresh herbs to the top, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Then taking an identically sized rectangle of tin foil, place it over the top and fold the edges together making a secure pocket.  Leave one side open so that you can tip in a glass of white wine or a cup-full of stock in around the contents. 

Seal and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 30-35 minutes.

Serve with brown rice or crusty bread and shavings of parmesan or even mashed potatoes, pouring the juice out along with the chicken breast.  I like to serve it sliced to reveal what is within.  I have made this many many times sometimes adding chopped carrots, green beans, chard, cannellini beans ... this is always an experiment and I have not been disappointed yet.

Oh and one word of advice, don't watch the news, enjoy what you have, be thankful and go for a long walk on the beach.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More Korvapuustit and a Cauliflower Gratin

Firstly apologies for the delay in posting.  I have spent long, agonising hours trying to upload photos to this thing and it has been nothing but torturous.
So finally after three days of cursing at my inadequate computer skills, I have managed to repair the problem.  For now!

So following on from my Cinnamon Bun post I wanted to share with you some authentic Finnish tips from Lennart as to how to properly finish off your Korvapuustit - cinnamon buns.....yes its in Finnish but so beautifully and clearly drawn, one needs no translation.
He also advises to use salted butter as opposed to unsalted.  I am looking forward to trying these again soon.

On Saturday, I made a very delicious cauliflower gratin for lunch.  A large cauliflower will cost you about €2.50 so this really makes an inexpensive tasty lunch for 2 or perhaps for 4 as a side-dish.

You will need:

1 large cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets and washed thoroughly and drained well
1/2 a savoy cabbage
salt and pepper
100g smoked pancetta diced and sauteed until crispy
4 tblsps coarse breadcrumbs

For the cheese sauce:

50g butter
50g flour
500ml milk
100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
3 tsp english mustard
1/4 lemon, squeezed

  • Firstly cut the central spine out of the the savoy cabbage leaves and steam the half leaves for 6 minutes.  Remove from the steamer and shred into fine strips and set aside.
  • Boil the cauliflower florets until just tender, this depends on their size, and drain them well in a colander. You want them to be really dry going into the gratin or else you will have a watery end-product.  Set aside and make the cheese sauce.
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour.  Let it bubble for at least a minute.  Take it off the heat and gradually add the milk, stirring continually until you have a smooth fluid.  Bring it back to the boil and stir until the sauce thickens.  Reduce the heat and let it bubble gentle for 5 minutes.  Add the grated cheese and mustard and stir until everything has melted through.  Add a splash of lemon juice and seasoning to taste.
  • Place the cabbage, cauliflower and pancetta into a gratin dish and toss well to ensure everything is well mixed.  Pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the top is golden and you can hear it bubbling.
  • Serve and enjoy.

If there are any leftovers, add milk, chicken stock, heat through and whizz up to make a tasty cauliflower and cabbage soup.  This would have been great sprinkled with little crispy bits of pancetta or some crunchy croutons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finnish Cinnamon Buns

I got to thinking the other day about loosing touch with friends.  It is easy to do, so many things take priority, too busy with the children, too little time, there is always an excuse.  It happens to us all, at least I hope it does and it's not just me. 
I have a half-Finnish, half-German friend called Lennart. 
I worked at his right elbow for about three years ...  we shared chats, jokes, mid-morning coffee, recipes, bounty bars, architectural details, cigarettes and pints in the pub on a Friday.  It made going into work much more bearable because he was there with a smile no matter the weather.
Then the inevitable happens ... I got married, had two children and left work, he got married and had a baby and the routine of my life just took over.  Now he's gone and moved to Germany, I saw him before he left but the gap was there.  I am now kicking myself that while he was happily living in Dublin, not a million miles away, I didn't make the effort to get off my ass and go visit him. 
He is fairly obsessed by all things Finnish, the Moomins, Alvar Aalto and cinnamon buns.  He used to go to this little cafe called Pete's Place at the end of George's Market to get his Finnish cinnamon buns, they only have them after about twelve thirty for some reason, but they were, as I remember, delicious. 
And as it happens the Observer Food Monthly for March did a nice little article about a Finnish bakery in London called the Nordic Bakery and the article featured the classic cinnamon bun recipe.  So I gave them a try.  Lennart, these are for you. They are not perfect in looks, a few more goes and I am sure they will be, but they certainly taste like the real thing.

Thankfully I halved the recipe from the newspaper.  I would be hawking the buns on the street had I made the full amount.
This recipe will make about 8 hefty cinnamon buns.

You will need:

For the dough
285ml lukewarm milk
75g caster sugar
23g fresh yeast or dried yeast (I used Doves Farm dried yeast because it's the best)
1/2 tsp crushed cardamon seeds
90g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
500g plain flour (again Doves Farm)

For the filling
50g unsalted butter, very soft at room temperature
100g soft dark brown sugar
11/2 tblsps ground cinnamon

For the glaze:
43g caster sugar
1/2 tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

You will need:
2 baking trays lined with baking parchment

  • Firstly set about making the dough.  Combine the milk, sugar, cardamon, melted butter and egg in a food mixer with a dough hook.  Note that if you have cardamon pods, simply remove the seeds from the pod and grind them (the seeds) to a fine powder.  
  • With the motor running, add the flour a little at a time until it is all combined and you have a slightly sticky but springy dough.
  • Place into a clean bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.  Leave in a warm, draught-free place for 1 hour until it has doubled in size (see below).

  • After an hour, knock it back, punching it with your fist to release the air.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a long thin strip as shown.  It should be somewhere in the region of 30cm wide x 60cm long and about 7mm thick.

  • Now add the filling.  Smear the very soft butter over the dough.  I started this with a knife but quickly gave up and used my hands.  More effective although very messy.
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon evenly over the top.
  • Gently take the long edge and roll up the pastry so that you have a long sausage.

  • With a sharp knife, cut it diagonally like this into small point-less triangles.
  • Place them slightly apart on the baking sheets and cover once again with a clean tea towel and leave in a draft free place for 30-60 minutes until almost double in size.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

  • Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the buns are golden brown on top.
  • Make the glaze by bringing the caster sugar, lemon and 50ml of water to the boil and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until it thickens slightly.  It will be slightly runny at the end.
  • Remove and place them onto a cooling rack, brush with the glaze and allow to cool.

These are deliciously soft, not too sweet and perfect with coffee at any time of the day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Its Vegetable Choose-day Again

For me a Tuesday is normally my best vegetable cooking day.  In fact I could say that I eat only vegetables on a Tuesday.

The weekend is over, the routine of the week has started and things settle down nicely.  My kitchen is usually brimful of fresh vegetables which I have picked up at the market on either Saturday or Sunday and rather than rush straight in and cook everything in sight, I wait a day or so, contemplating, pondering and giving a lot of thought to what transformation they might undergo.

This is an all vegetable ratatouille although it started out life as my caponata - a caponata so delicious it would go well with eggs for breakfast, bread for lunch and spaghetti for supper.  However, it was not to be as I had so many things that I wanted to add.

Butternut squash, a few left over potatoes, red onion, green beans, aubergine, courgette, tomato - you can add almost anything you like to this, maybe carrot or turnip, and it is healthy, inexpensive and sings summer in my ear every time I make it.

You will need for 4 some vegetables

75ml sunflower oil
2 medium red onions, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 courgettes, cut into 3cm slices and quartered
1 large red pepper, cut into 3cm pieces
1 large aubergine, diced into 3cm pieces
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and diced into into 3cm pieces
2 potatoes, diced into 3cm pieces
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium sized green chili, seeds removed and finely sliced
15 (approx) green beans, trimmed
1 cup of water
wrinkled black olives (optional)

Place about 50ml of the oil into a heavy based casserole dish (one with a lid) and warm it through.  Add the red onions and cook slowly for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, red pepper, courgette and aubergine and cook for another 10 minutes. 
Remove everything to a separate bowl with a slotted spoon leaving the oil in the base of the pan.  Add the remaining 25 ml of oil, heat it through and add the squash and the potatoes.  Cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
Return all the vegetables to the pot, add the beans and a cup full of cold water.

Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, place the lid on and simmer for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a large roasting tray spread out the vegetables and cover with the remaining juice.

Roast for a further 25 minutes until most of the juice has evaporated and the vegetables are melting soft.

Let it cool a little and serve warm with garlic rubbed toasted bread and a good crumbly goats cheese.
If you had some of the stoneless wrinkled black Greek olives I would scatter these through at the end while cooling.

 I served this with some whole grain rice and crumbled goats cheese as an option.  Healthy and delicious.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day - it feels a little wierd writing about breakfast in the evening after dinner - although I am best at this according to my husband - but I had the most delightful omelette in FoodGame on South Lotts Road this morning - eggs and coffee, sitting outside in the sunshine thanking my lucky stars for life. 
A great little place with a welcoming buzz, great coffee, a well-stocked store of cooked goodies and quality ingredients to take home and always a smile, what more could you ask for on a Tuesday.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Accidental Holiday

We have been having a somewhat accidental home holiday since Thursday here in our little corner of Dublin.  The sun has been shining and the temperatures a balmy 15 degrees - can you believe it?  I mean its only March ... in fact I am not going dwell on it at the risk of jinxing it completely as I am likely to awake to a downpour and grey skies in the morning - it works a bit like that around here.

We have been at the monastic site in Glendalough, Casletown House in Co. Kildare and the ever beautifully blooming Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, Co Wicklow - every bit of it in sunshine with nooks, crannies and climbing opportunities for the boys as we all lapped in the fresh air and sunshine like we had just emerged from a long winter of hibernation.

We have spent long hours in the garden also, watching the little shoots appear, the acacia, so radiant it is attracting attention from the neighbours and I have been cooking simple garden lunches for nearby allotment workers - spicy Cornish pasties, apple cake and custard, fresh goats cheese with bread and wine ... I am planning a full long table for al fresco dining, low hanging lights and a very necessary contained fire for warmth.  Let the summer begin.

This lunch will be made again and again - these little pastries make the absolute perfect finger food for picking up in your hand without the pomp and circumstance of cutlery - they taste much better just warm, so perfect for eating outdoors removing, for you as a host, the worry of keeping your guests food hot.

They were made from delicious organic ground beef from Coolanowle farm which I bought as the SuperNatural Food Market in St. Andrews Resource Centre on Satirdays from 9.30am until 3.30am.   I also highly recommend their beef brugers and diced beef.  If you are lucky you will also get a taste of their organic pork sausages.

This recipe is adapted from a Rachel Allen recipe which I found some time ago.  Note that I left out the curry powder from some of the filling for the children's pasties and they loved them - they would be great for a picnic or lunch boxes.
For the hot water crust pastry:

75g butter, cubed
100ml water
225g plain flour (I use Doves Farm - it feels amazing to work with and now can use nothing else!)
a pinch of sea salt
1 egg, beaten

Melt the butter and water in a saucepan and allow it to come to the boil.
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the middle, pouring in the egg.

Tip the hot buttery water on top of the flour, salt and egg and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Spread the mixture onto a large plate, smearing it all over - this will cool the mix down which takes about 15 minutes.
Gather it into a ball and wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes until it is firm.

Meanwhile make the filling for the pasties.

The Filling:

2 tblsps olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tblsps grated ginger

400g ground beef (from Coolanowle farm)

2 tsps ground coriander
2 tsps ground cumin
2 tsps hot curry powder (or more to taste)
2 tblsps tomato puree
2 tsps English Mustard
2 tblsps Worcestershire sauce
100g frozen peas
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Warm the olive oil in a medium sized saucepan and add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onions are soft and lightly golden.
Add the minced beef to the pan along with the spices, the tomato puree, Worcestershire Sauce and English Mustard and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that the beef is cooked through.

Add the peas towards the end, season to taste and set aside to cool.

Roll out the dough until it is about 2 mm thick on a lightly floured work surface and using a small round saucer cut rounds out of the pastry.  I did this in two batches, simply cutting the dough in two and rolling out one half first.
Take the cooled mixture and place about 2 tblsps of mix onto the right hand half of the circle.  Brush the edge of the left hand half with egg and gently fold over the mixture pressing out any air and sealing it firmly on the right-hand half.  I folded the edge back in on itself and pinched it tight shut to prevent it leaking.

Place it delicately onto a lightly floured baking sheet.

Repeat until you get the hang of it - it is not difficult and you can experiment a bit with size as you become more comfortable with the making process.

Brush the exposed surface of each with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the surface has puffed up and is golden brown.

Enjoy warm or cold with a crunchy salad and perhaps a cucumber and mint raita.

I am entering this great recipe into the Bord Bia Plate to Page competition through our wonderful Irish Food Bloggers Association - the prize being a place at a blog workshop in Germany to learn about writing and food photography, so fingers crossed xxxxx.

This could be followed by a springy cinnamon sponge laden with apple chunks and custard ... a warming end when the chill of the evening sets in.