Tuesday, April 19, 2011

North Antrim Lobster on a sunny evening

What a treat today to get a guided tour of the McMullan Shellfish in Glenariffe, Co Antrim. 
Beautiful, fresh crab and lobster, freshly caught just offshore between the Antrim Coast and the Mull of Kintyre coastlines, exporting to France, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal and beyond.
Supporting local labour, these hard workers deliver both large and small shipments of top-quality fresh shellfish to award-winning restaurant kitchens all over Europe.  What a delight to have it on our doorstep and what a feast it was for our tea this evening.  Thank you Alex and John.

The minor matter of cooking and de-meating the lobster is as follows.

The most humane way of killing and cooking the lobster as recommended by Darina Allen who quotes the RSPCA in her Ballymaloe Cookery Course Book is to place the lobster in salted lukewarm water and bring slowly to simmering point.

  • Place the live lobster into lukewarm salted water and bring it slowly to the boil.  Salt content should be about 4tblsps per 4 pints(2.3L) water although I used a little less.
  • Put over a low heat and bring to simmering point. Lobster and crab will die at about 44C(112F).
  • The lobsters will change colour at this point, turning from blue to a gradual pink colour.
  • Allow 15 minutes at boiling point per pound/450g and 10 minutes per pound/450 after.
  • Remove from the water and let them cool until they are at at reasonable temperature for handling.
  • I split them in half using a sharp heavy knife and removed the roe and tomalley (green coloured liver).  The tail meat will come away easily and you will have to remove the intestinal tract along the back as you would a king prawn.
  • Clean out the rest of the half shell thoroughly and chop the meat us and set aside.
  • Crack the claws with the back of a heavy knife or a hammer and remove the juicy meat also.
  • To serve place the meat chunks back into the half shell for serving, dot with garlic butter and warm through under the grill for a few minutes.  
  • Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve.
When you have mastered the time-consuming art of de-meating a lobster and before you sit down to eat your hard-earned dinner, enjoy a glass of cold prosecco in the sunshine, it tastes so much better when you find it stashed in your brothers bedroom.  Thanks Fergus!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sally Barnes Smoked Haddock Tartelettes

I have to admit I had a kitchen disaster last week.  I was considering not telling anyone but it has been praying on my mind ever since and I think that the only way to get over it is tell the world and move on.

I spent about three hours last Thursday night turning my hand to home-made ravioli.  I searched high and low for my pasta roller which I used to have but have not used for some time.  Long enough for the pasta roller in question to disappear without trace from my kitchen.  As a result, the pasta for the ravioli was rolled out by hand, and no amount of cursing and sweating could get that pasta thin enough...end result, leathery ravioli with, I must say, a delicious filling.

Plan B were these delicious little morsels which we ate cold with a tomato salad.
I have made them twice since, for lunch and for a picnic today and they are so delicious, light and summery, they are well worthy of a blog mention.  The recipe is reasonable standard and there are many variations, the fillings are worth tinkering with.

The following recipe will fill eight small tartelette moulds.

270g shortcrust pastry

180g plain flour, sieved
90 g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge and diced
a pinch of salt

The filling

0.5-1 egg. beaten
120g leeks, thinly sliced
15g butter
240g smoked haddock - I used the haddock from Sally Barnes in the Woodcock Smokery
pinch saffron strands
3 eggs, beaten 
210ml double cream
60g Gruyère cheese, grated
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C or 160C if you are using a fan oven. Grease the individual loose-based fluted tart tins. Roll out pastry and line the tin, leaving the pastry overhanging. Chill for 20 minutes. Put on a baking sheet, cover with foil and fill with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes, then remove beans and bake for 5 minutes. Trim the excess pastry with a knife. Reduce the oven to 160 C, 140 C fan.
  • Cook the leeks in the butter – you don’t want them to colour.  
  • Put the haddock into a large sauté pan, cover with water, add the saffron, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the fish and leave to cool. Break into chunky flakes, discarding the skin and bones. Whisk together the yolks and cream with half the Gruyère and season.
  • Put the leeks and haddock into the tart. Pour over the egg mixture and sprinkle over the rest of the Gruyère. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to cool slightly then serve. 
These are great served warm or cold and are perfect for a picnic on a sunny blanket somewhere beautiful.

You might aslo like this or this ... sunny days

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coffee Love

I have spent the last 24 hours thinking about what my ageing brain absorbed on Tuesday and wondering how exactly I might impart this information to you.

The Speciality Coffee Association of Europe developed their Gold Cup Programme to improve the standard of filter coffee consumed in the marketplace.  The SCAE Gold Cup Brewmaster’s course combines the art and the science of coffee brewing, linking the subjectivity of taste to the objectivity of scientific analysis.
To become a Brewmaster, you must sit an intensive one-day training course.  I attended a Brewmasters Level 1 course held in Marco HQ on Tuesday this week in an attempt to learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee. 

The course covers coffee from the seed, through roasting, grinding, brewing and tasting and includes hands-on grinding and brewing and professional coffee cupping. Most significantly it trained us to scientifically assess extraction rates of any brew, enabling the Brewmaster to objectively assess a filter brew against the Gold Cup standard.

The SCAE Gold Cup Standard recommends for brewing a cup of filter coffee one must use a ration of 1L of fresh water brewed at 92-96C through 60g of freshly ground coffee and filtered through an oxygen bleached filter paper to extract between 18%-22% of solids from the coffee.

Fifteen years ago we were quite likely to have been handed a cup of filter coffee in Ireland. But basically we ruined it.  After years if abuse, filter coffee has a bad reputation.
Our coffee industry, took the cheap route and used less coffee, 30g-40g of it, ground it finer after roasting it darker, made it in bulk, held it for hours and served it up as a fresh filter brew. The result - a disgusting bitter, astringent puddle which we remember from many family weddings and funerals. This practically killed the filter coffee business.  The coffee we know today is the Americano or Espresso, flooded or topped with foamy milk, shots of chocolate or vanilla, to the extent that it is sometimes more like a dessert than a cup of coffee.

The Start of the Process
The Coffee plant  typically grows in regions between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  There are two main coffee trees - Arabica which make up about 70 percent of the harvest and Robusta which account for about 30 percent.  Arabica being lower in caffeine content than Robusta. 

The coffee bean, as we know it, is half of the seed found in the middle of the coffee 'cherry', the fruit which follows the flower on the bush.  The bean is exposed using  either a wet or a dry method - the wet method involves soaking and washing the cherry so that the pulp is removed.  In the dry, pulped natural process, the bean is spread out to air dry and basically the flesh rots off the bean, leaving it exposed.  This, as you might imagine is the traditional method.  Bearing in mind also that there may be a water shortage in certain coffee producing regions, this is also a necessity.

It is fascinating though that trends world wide are beginning to move towards single estate coffees.  A single origin coffee is one from a specific country, a single-estate coffee comes from a particular coffee estate or plantation in a specific country, and it has diversified again into a micro-lot whereby coffee is coming from a specific plot within a specific estate.  The traceability and knowledge being passed between farmer and importer/roaster and the coffee drinker is amazing.

There are various variable elements at play when you have your roasted bean in your hand the water at the ready.

Roasting is a fine art and is the subject for another course I imagine.  There are some small local roasters in Ireland worth checking out here.  The bean is roasted to varying degrees, cooled usually by air but sometimes using water, ground as consistently as possible and exposed to water to form a cup of coffee.This sounds wildly simple, right?  Well you would be wrong there.

Grinding is infinitely important.  The grinding of the bean increases the surface area of the coffee being exposed to the water molecules and thus influences the rate of extraction.  The finer the grind, the larger the area exposed to water, the stronger the coffee.

This then has to be balanced by time which in turn correlates with the brewing method. 
The temperature of the water is also essential to have correct.  The water should be between 92-96C.  Cold or even warm water will not react with the soluble matter and thus give you an under-extracted cup with less flavour.

The 'turbulence' or wetting of the grounds is the reaction between the water particles and the coffee grounds.  In order to achieve an optimum result, the water should pass uniformly through the grounds allowing for a balanced extraction.  If the depth of coffee in the filter is less than 2.5mm, the water will blast the coffee particles and pass straight through, reducing the contact time of the coffee and water and thus producing an under-extracted cup.

The brewing method is important when considering the other variables like time and grind.  Are you using a filter, french press, percolator, aeropress, vac pot?  What kind of filters do you use? Cloth? Unbleached? Brown?  Is the water that you are using good quality?  Is it hard water or soft water? Very hard water can give you an under-extracted cup due to the excess calcium molecules clinging to the water molecule.  Very soft water can cause over extraction by more readily being absorbed by the coffee. 

I could go on but I suspect you have had enough.

David Walsh (World Cupping Champion 2010, 2nd place among other major accolades) and Paul Stack (MarcoBeverage Systems and creator of the uber boiler) and check them out here

Coffee is one of those things which is universally adored wherever you go.  Maybe the finer nuances between an Americano and a Filter are irrelevant and its okay that we don't move away from the current successful formula.  I think it can also be about who you are with and just how you feel at the time, huddled into Coffee Angels cosy bubble in the Docklands drinking cappucino on a winters morning brings back fond memories. 

Consumer awarness about coffee, its origin, its seasonality, its freshness is important and it is the barista at the coalface who has the greatest opportunity to raise this bar.  So the next time you get a coffee, ask the barista about it ...if they have been trained like they should, they will be more than willing to impart their knowledge and give you a good cup of coffee.  If you are more interested, I would highly recommend embarking on the Brewmasters course, I am hooked!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sussex Pond Pudding

I have been swanning around and enjoying the good weather this week hence the lack of cooking and subsequent lack of blog posts.  It is so unpredictable in Ireland that when the sun is out, I fully encourage its enjoyment in every form (despite the recent ozone thinning (you should avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 4pm and always wear a hat and sunblock, ok?)).

In an attempt to preserve the recent pleasant events and to re-live good feelings,  therefore contributing to my current good state of mental health, I will write about this pudding.

I have been searching for this recipe for nigh on three months, vowing that when Will came to dinner I would master the art of Sussex Pond Pudding making.   Now while I had planned to make this at least twice in preparation of the advance dinner party, of course I managed neither and while my poor husband was winding his way through the dreaded North by car on Friday, I was still on my first attempt.
Will came to dinner.  And guess what?, the pudding worked really well - so no need for numerous practice goes, although I doubt I would have survived the second attempt if I had eaten the lot anyway!

It is basically a suet crust pastry enclosing a whole lemon which through slow and steady steaming, caramelises an abundant sugar and butter sludge to make the most delectable, sweet, sticky, lemony pudding that I have ever tasted.  I would recommend only eating this once a year and definitely not following a slow cooked belly of prok.  This pudding comes with a large health warning, but I can assure you that it is worth it. 
This recipe is from a book called Good Tempered Food by one of my favourite food writers, Tamasin Day-Lewis. It worked a treat - I have adapted the quantities to suit a 1L pudding bowl.

You will need to serve 4
170g self-raising flour
95g suet ( I used Atora)
95g salted butter ( I used Glenilen hand-made butter) - chilled and cubed
115ml mix of equal milk and water
95g demerara sugar
1 large unwaxed organic lemon

  • Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the suet.  Add the milk/water mixture and combine to make a soft dough.  When it comes together, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and roll out into a circle.  Remove a quarter of the circle with a knife.
  • Line a liberally buttered 1L pudding basin with the 3/4 round of pastry sealing the joint where the pastry meets with a line of water and a slight overlap to ensure it is well glued together.
  • Place half the butter and half the sugar into the base of the pudding.
  • Prick the lemon with a skewer to help the juices escape and place it atop the butter and sugar
  • Fill in around and on top of the lemon with the remainder of the butter and sugar.
  • Use the remaining quarter of the suet pastry to make a lid sealed with a brush of water.
  • Wrap in baking parchment leaving a pleat on top as you would a Christmas pudding.
  • Wrap in tin foil and place in a saucepan of boiling water.  Ensure that the water is up to the middle of the pudding basin, place the lid on and simmer slowly for approximatley 3 hours.
Tip the pudding out, using the tip of a knife, into a shallow bowl. 

To serve, cut ceremoniously through the lemon to release the pond of delectable golden liquid.  Make sure that everyone gets a bit of the lemon.

Savour and enjoy - you will be closer to heaven with every mouthful, literally.

You may have deducted by these wonderful photos that this is a camera-shy pudding and simply does not like the lime-light, in fact it prefers to be gorged late into the night when all other self-respecting foods have disappeared....it reminds me of the Sylvia Plath poem, by Candlelight ...

This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither
Only to blow
Them huge again, violent giants on the wall.
One match scratch makes you real.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rhubarb and Blood Orange Custard Meringue


Its that time of the year again .... when the market stalls are bursting with rhubarb and I simply cannot go home without some.  The reds, the greens, the sharp tang, the texture - I find it irresistible.   This afternoon I roasted it with the zest of blood oranges.  These are the Sicillian Tarocco oranges, slightly sweeter than the Moro or Sanguinello varieties and only half-blooded in colour.  While typing the recipe up it did occur to me that it has many parts and sounds laborious - the base, the rhubarb, the custard, the meringue ... it really is worth the effort, I promise.


I baked a sweet pastry base using 200g plain flour (Doves) and 100g chilled butter cubes, a teaspoon of icing sugar and one egg beaten.
  • Rub together the flour, icing sugar and butter until you have the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. 
  • Add half of the egg and mix together with a fork until it has started coming together.  If necessary add the remainder of the egg, mixing now with your hands until the pastry comes together into a ball.
  • Wrap the pastry in cling film and leave it to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile make the blood orange custard.
  • Using the juice of 2 blood oranges, bring three quarters of it to a simmer.  Add 2 tsps of cornflour to the remaining quarter and mix thoroughly until all the lumps have dissolved.
  • Add some of the hot orange juice to the cornflour in the cup and mix well.
  • Then pour the cornflour and juice mix into the hot orange juice, and stirring continuously bring to the boil.  You should have a thickish sauce.
  • Add three egg yolks and beat consistently keeping the liquid just at boiling point.  At this stage the sauce will thicken quite a bit more.  Set aside.
Roasting the rhubarb.
  • Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut it into finger size pieces and lay it flat into an oven proof dish.
  • Sprinkle with the zest of the blood oranges and 50g of unrefined caster sugar.
  • Bake at 160 degrees for 35 minutes until tender but the pieces remain intact.
  • With a slotted spoon, remove the rhubarb, trying not to break it up, into a separate dish.
  • Take the remaining juices, whisk in the rhubarb juices to the blood orange custard, heating it a little to make the sauce more fluid.   Set aside.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and line a 23cm pie tin with a removable base.  Bake it blind for 15 minutes at 180C.  Take it out and brush the base of the crust with egg yolk.  Place it back in the oven to seal for 5 minutes.

Now assemble the pie.
  • Spoon in the rhubarb using a slotted spoon and try to drain each spoonful so that the filling is not too wet.  Pour over the custard.
  • Make the meringue - Beat 4 stiffened egg whites until stiff and gradually add 8oz fine caster sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
  • Spoon the egg over the rhubarb and custard making sure that all gaps are sealed so that no filling can bubble out.
  • Bake in the oven at 180C for 35 minutes until the egg is golden on top.

Apologies for the poor end product photos ... the lip smacking had started around the table in earnest and each slice disappeared without trace in a very short space of time!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thyme Roast Squash with slow-cooked tomato and garlic

I never sleep during the day but today I just could not resist lying atop the sofa with the warm sun streaming through the glass.  It rarely happens that my resources are so replete that the notion of having a little mid-day nap would never occur to me.
It was my sons 5th birthday on Thursday and the Saturday party invitation extended to every boy in his class.  We entertained 19 boys for two hours yesterday afternoon - the perfect explanation for my weakened state.

Friday was taken up with making the birthday cake - you have to know that it has now become something of a family tradition to attempt something even more challenging and difficult than the previous year.  This year was, as requested by that birthday boy, an Indiana Jones themed birthday cake, complete with ravine and raging river torrent crossed by a bridge, spiders and vines.....madness but fun all the same.

Party preparations aside, the vegetable market got a visit on Saturday morning and again this afternoon in Dun Laoghaire so my baskets are now bursting with colourful goodies.

We roasted squash this evening, adding a little dot of butter and a spring of fresh thyme, after an hour they emerged sticky and melting sweet.  I served this with some roast cherry tomatoes with a few unpeeled garlic cloves thrown in for some extra sweetness.
Feet up, a comforting tea and the end to another long weekend.

Oh and I will show you the cake, the design of which we got from these talented gals.

Let's just say never again!