Hallowe'en Greetings!

It is the morning of All Hallows Eve and I am planning a day of traditional food, that most Irish have eaten all their lives, once a year on this occasion which is probably the only purely Irish tradition that we still actively celebrate. Some people still recognise the two Solstice days but it is the minority. So Hallowe'en is the last standing tradition left for us to recognise our ancestry, the druidic Ireland. It is clinging to its roots, but the bonfires become less and less, the witches are morphing into superheroes and the chocolate covered apples are becoming apple shaped chocolate...

Sure the "Trick or Treat" side of things has become popular in the last few things, I try to convince my daughter that "Apples or Nuts", as we used to say, is better but she doesn't listen. And the outfits become shop bought, top to tail, no imagination needed. Apart from the expense, we still like to make our outfits, as my mother did for me, from odds and ends, bits and bobs. Traditionally you waited until it was dark to get dressed so we uphold that also. Then with faces painted and a shopping bag ready, they'll eat a big bowl of Colcannon, maybe find a sixpence, and head out into the smoky nights to collect their dues...

Joe the Pirate


Who's been eating all the pies?

Short answer - Me! 
These last weeks I have been obsessed with perfecting my Lemon Meringue Pie recipe, and so the house has been dotted with these perfect fluffy desserts.  Any opportunity I had to make a dessert and I was on it! In all, I think, I made seven... and I'm almost happy!
So I'm going to give you the recipe, although it may have to be replaced sometime soon, at this very moment I am Lemoned and Meringued out! 

Lisa's Lemon Cloud Pie
Firstly for the base, line a 9" deep cake tin with greasproof paper or tin foil.  In your processor blitz about 300gms of digestive biscuits to crumbs.  Melt 125gms butter in a saucepan and stir through the biscuits.  Pour the buttered crumbs into the tin and press down, with a soup spoon, until smooth.  Pop into the fridge as you do the next stage. 

Now, for the filling you will need,
2 Large Lemons, zested and juiced
40gms cornflour
290mls water
2 egg yolks, beaten
100gms caster sugar

Pour enough water (maybe 50mls or so) into the cornflour and stir, despite resistance, until smooth.  Then, in a saucepan, bring the water and the lemon zest to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add to the cornflour paste. Add the sugar and the egg yolks.  Return to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until you will see it start to thicken.  Continue until it coats the back of the spoon and hangs rather than drips.  Pour onto the biscuit crumb crust and chill.

Make your meringue topping by whipping 3/4 egg whites until they have stiff peaks.  Add approximately 120/150gms caster sugar and whip again until the meringue is glossy.  Pour into the tin, on top of the curd and then into a medium oven (I preheat to 200c and then turn down to 150c when I put the pie in) for 45 minutes.  If the top becomes too brown while cooking, cover with foil.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand on a teatowel (curds sweat!) for about ten minutes or longer before serving.

Whoooooooooooooooo spooky!

My "DD" as they say in cyberland had her hallowe'en party in school on Friday... It was a difficult week of desicion making for her as she decided what to go as... Finally we decided on The Ghost of Marie Antoinette! What do you think? 


A Great Steak Butter...

Take about 100gms fresh butter, at room temperature, and mash with a large clove of garlic, a pinch of sea salt, and two teaspoons of worcester sauce.  Pile the mixture into a cling film and roll into a sausage shape.  Chill and then cut into patties.

Perfect melting onto a good T-bone steak...



So listen, as I've said before, I am enamoured with American food at the moment and have been eagerly anticipating food scenes in my favorite tv shows... Bill tells me I'd see it all in The Sopranos but I just don't find people getting kicked to death entertaining so I'm passing indefinately on that one.  However recently, while watching a gorgeous American movie called "Waitress" I was reminded of that great American institution "The Cream Pie"... 

Then at a family dinner the other evening, my youngest brother mentioned that his culinary high was the eating of a Coconut Cream Pie while visiting my older brother in New York.  His face became wistful and he spoke quietly of its perfect marraige of creaminess, sweetness and nuttyness.  I had to try it.

So with him on his way over to watch the Celtic match with Bill, I set about making one, with a few tips from Martha Stewart, whom I've been told is like Nigella Lawson mixed with Anthea Turner.  We don't get much from Martha Stewart this side of the pond, but I do know she is one to look to for superb baking tips.

Here it is...
Coconut Cream Pie

You'll need
A prepared pie crust (See my fav recipe here)

75gms plain chocolate

85gms cup sugar

170gms unsweetened coconut milk

85gms whole milk

85gms Double cream

30gms cornflour

5 egg yolks

A good pinch of salt

100gms flaked, unsweetened coconut

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon butter

Prepare your pie crust.  When cool, melt the chocolate and brush the inside of the pie with the melted chocolate until well covered.  Leave to cool.

Mix the cream and milk together.  Combine the coconut milk, the sugar and half the cream/milk mix in a saucepan and heat gently.  Just before the boil take it off.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the remaining  cream/milk mix and cornflour together stirring until smooth. Whisk egg yolks with salt in a seperate mixing bowl. Temper yolks by adding some scalded milk mixture slowly to the yolks while whisking well. Add yolk mixture and cornflour mix back into milk mixture and whisk vigorously over medium heat until thickened and just about to boil. It should coat a spoon and not drip easily.  Remove from heat and add coconut, vanilla, and butter. Mix together until butter is melted. Taste and add more sugar if you need it. Fill your pie dish with the mix and refrigerate.  

My brother was the first to taste it - "thats it, thats it!" he said "perfect!" 

But well guess what! I didn't like it! After all that I put a forkful into my mouth and was not happy. 

It was just too globby... I wonder with a topping of some sort would it even out more for my taste.   I mean I like the inside, I like the outside but the combo just wasn't right for me... I'm now thinking meringue topping? What do you think?


Pout for Trout

I rarely cook fish, not because I dislike it, I actually adore it, but a) its expensive and b) I'm afraid of it...! I have a terrible fear of getting a bone caught in my throat, probably from the memory of it happening to my mother when I was small and the exagerrated imaginings of a child listening to an adult conversation regarding its removal.  So I am a little cautious when eating fish, and rarely enjoy it if its one of the more boney varieties!

However I have found a solution to this problem thankfully, Paté it!
Trout Pate

You'll need
1 Trout, gutted and boned
1 large clove of garlic, skinned
2/3  sprigs of Dill
100gms cream cheese
100gms sour cream
Plenty of salt and pepper

Pop the garlic clove and one sprig of dill into the cavity of the fish. Then simply bake the fish at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes or until opaque. When it is done, use your fingers to pull the meat off and check for any bones.  Pop the fish meat into your food processor, along with the roasted garlic, the cream cheese and the sour cream.  Pulse until smooth.  Season and finally chop the dill and stir through.
Serve on Brown scones.


Apple Snip Soup

Browsing through some of my favorite blogs I'm noticing the soups starting to appear, as the nights get colder and we're heading toward Hallowe'en, those familiar, the warm and cosies, beckon themselves into the kitchen and onto our tables.... Thank God for that! I love autumnal food... undercurrants of the preceding season and the one to come, where the pallet is darker, more rich and golden, and everthing follows suit...

Anyhow, here is a recipe for my favorite autumn soup.  Simple and crisp like the mornings but with a peppery warmth to match the darker evenings.  

Apple Snip Soup
You'll need
A Large knob of butter
4 large Parsnips, peeled
1 large White onion
2 Red apples, cored and peeled
1 Clove of garlic, crushed
1 litre Stock (veg or chicken)
1 Potato, peeled
1 tsp black pepper
125mls double cream

Chop all the ingredients.  Saute the onions in the butter with the garlic and the apples until the onions are soft and translucent.  Place in a saucepan with the chopped parsnip and potato and cover with the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are cooked.  Blend until smooth. Add the cream, the pepper and a pinch of salt and blend.  Salt to taste.  


Belated...Ten on Ten!

Here is a better late than never Ten on Ten!! 



I forgot to do my Ten on Ten.... Sorry to all of you who have come a lookin!

But I will do it today instead and post asap!


What they ate!

When General Lafayette, the French hero, came to visit George Washington in the 1870s, Mary Ball Washington, Georges mother, famously prepared Gingerbread.  

The soft cake like gingerbread she offered was popular in those days, it is recorded to have been a favorite of the writer Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson, and yet it seems to have made its way into extinction.  Its hard biscuit cousin being the "gingerbread" of today! It is a pity, because, after the soft yielding squares that were cooling into my kitchen became too much of a temptation, I discovered that the ancestor of the hard brittle gingerbread man is actually a superior sensation of taste and texture.  

I wanted to recreate this softer cake like biscuit, and so set about bastardising a few recipes until I was happy.  I found the rigmarole of online recipes for "Lafayette Gingerbread" ridiculous and unnecessary so using our dear Hannah Glasses recipe as a base I came up with my own.  Here is a simple recipe for 19th century gingerbread that can be whipped up in a minute, even if a processor.

You'll need
3.5 cups (1 lb) of flour (I used my measuring cups for this recipe instead of the scales)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
A good pinch of white pepper
6 oz of soft butter
6 oz of golden caster sugar
1 cup golden syrup or treacle
2/3 tbsp cream

Mix everything together until you have a firm dough, like a shortbread.  Fashion into a square, as deep as a brownie tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is browning at the edges.  

Leave to cool, cut into brownie size squares.


Chicken of Aragon...

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." 
James Beard
Picture courtesy of Google Images
Tarragon is a main component of eastern European cooking, or so I discovered when I typed it into wikipedia today.  I did not want to start another post with how much I like something, so I went in search of some facts that may take this post far away from my usual "look what I did" and in doing so I found some interesting recipes, and some interesting facts to share with you!

The first thing that I did not know, and am absolutley delighted about, is that it is known by many as "Dragons Wort". I am completely obsessed with the recent tv series The Tudors and as a result all things medieval.  Not for the first time, as a teenager and young adult I was swept away by all things Elizabethan... read everything I could on Mary Queen of Scots... and even my debs dress was an Elizabethan style gown, corset and all.  Anyway the words Dragons Wort appeals to my medieval passions, sounding much better on my shopping list than Tarragon, although I did like rhyming of Tarragon with Aragon!

Some other facts I discovered about it was that Tarragon came to France from the plains of Siberia in the 15th century by the Arabs, and was swiftly delivered to the Royal court of England... and that it was taken as medication for scurvy in the 1800s...It is a natural stomach soother, and was once thought to counteract snakebite...

This whole obsession was brought about by my eating of a very nice pie while at the Electric Picnic this year, there was chicken and a couple of vegetables in a thick gravy inside, but something else... something pungent, that I tasted with my nose, that made this pie so delicious I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks!

Then while buying my herbs this week I spotted some Tarragon lurking at the back the basket, and I twigged it - Thats it! 

So I put it to use immediately by making a good old chicken pie, using leftovers I had in the fridge, but with a potato crust instead of pastry, the creamy chicken needing something to soak it up! It was absolutely delicious, and my love affair with Tarragon (sounds like a line from Lord of the Rings) has begun... 

Chicken of Aragon Pie
You'll need
Some leftover chicken, the equivalent of or 3 cooked breasts.
A good handful of Tarragon (try and get the french stuff!)
Two large carrots, chopped and cooked
A bunch of Scallions, chopped
A bunch of Asparagus, chopped
150mls fresh cream, use double if you like
1 Tbsp flour
About 800gms mashed potato
A beaten egg.

In a small bit of olive oil, Fry the scallions and asparagus until tender.  Add the chopped Tarragon, and stir until the scent hits your nose. Start singing with Joy. Add the cream. Stir in the flour and the carrots.  Stir over a good heat until the cream begins to thicken.  You want yoghurt consistency.  Pour into a pie dish and top with the potato.  Brush the top of the potato with beaten egg, as you would for pastry.  Bung into a hot oven (180/200c) and leave until the top is golden and crisp.

For a Vegetarian option, double the amounts of carrots and asparagus, and add chopped celery and cannelini beans.


Home Ec Revisted

My favorite thing ever about school was Home Economics class, in our huge classroom with its eight individual kitchens, it was licence to play house well on into my teens! 

Under the instruction of our mad teacher, who was caught in a timewarp somewhere between 1901 and 1968, we learned the basics of cookery.  I remember making lots of things, but rice pudding and rock buns, scones and butterfly cakes stand out proudly amongst memories of incontrollable giggling, silent food fights (standing for role with pudding in my hair was quite a skill) and the joys of carefully but precisely pouring iced water down the back of a friends jumper.  I don't think I have ever laughed like I did in school, and certainly not as hard as the day a very brave friend of mine was asked to taste the teachers offering of our weeks recipe and responded with enthusiasm, which we all recognised as a precursor to mayhem, the tasting was dramatic and followed by a loud scream and pretend retching, choking and falling about.

Anyway, apart from my love of a good session of nervous laughter, I have retained a love of cooking, and above all admiration for all teachers.  

My offering today is to say to them "It was not in vain" and that they did teach me something - the basics, a foundation on which to build and improve.  

Here is my version of a Home Ec favorite.

Apple Crumble

You'll need
150gms plain flour
50gms Brown flour
125gms cold butter, cubed
50gms Ground almond
75 gms caster sugar
25gms demerara sugar

8 large sweet apples
3 Tbsp sugar

In a mixing bowl rub the cubes of butter into the flours, as you would for scones, but it will be less like breadcrumbs and more like biscuit crumbs due to there being more butter.
  When this is done add the almond and give it a firm stir through with your fingers.  Shake in the sugars and mix briefly before setting aside.

Peel, core and slice your apple and line along a deep pie dish.  Sprinkle with sugar and mix around.  Sprinkle with the remainder of sugar and top with the crumble mix.  Don't press the crumble down at all, just allow it fall where it likes.

Bake at 190 for 30-35 minutes until the apple is soft, if the apple is still hard when the crumble is golden and crispy (as types of apple will vary) cover with foil, turn the oven down to 170/160 and leave for a further 15 minutes checking every 5.  Its a labour of love.

Serve with vanilla ice-cream after a roast dinner!

La Vita Semplice...!

The simple life appeals to us all where dinner is concerned, we have enough complications during our busy days than to struggle with complicated dinner recipes and I'm sure you have seen on this blog, that I prefer a couple of great ingredients coming together rather than faffing around with a zillion spices when the end result is the same.

However there are times when we all want something a bit fancy, and thats fine too, special dinners deserve the finer touch, and occasions would be spoilt without finer food - Personally Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if we were eating rice and beans!

So sometimes we find it hard to judge, what is special enough yet simple enough to please my dinner guests, what food will have them rolling out the door complaining yet thankful that their bellies are full?... Something warm, tasty and with fresh ingredients is always top of my list, quick to prepare so I'm not exhausted when we all sit down, but with enough care and attention to feel special.
So next time you are having friends for dinner, maybe you've spent the morning making a killer dessert and you just want something gooooood, but handy, to eat before it, try this...

Pasta Alfredo
You'll need
150gms of parmesan cheese, freshly grated
100gms of fresh butter
150gms of double cream
2 breasts of cooked chicken
500gms fresh fettucine
A handful of fresh baby spinach

Melt the butter and add the cheese, when it starts to melt add half the cream and stir until smooth, add the remainder of the cream and heat until just bubbling.  
In a seperate pan, have water boiling and pop your fresh fettucine in for two or three minutes.  Strain and then pour the pasta in onto the sauce, mixing through. 

Serve with slices of chicken on top and baby spinach on the side.