Sunday, 19 December 2010

Mastering the art of mince pies

Pastry has made me cry before. I have tried to overcome my difficulties with pastry (warm hands and impatience) but there are still a lot of times that I would do anything to avoid it. That being said there are a few pastries that I make that come across as so impressive that Ive become known for my pastry. This pastry for mince pies is definitely one of those favourite pastries.

Its almost effortlessly easy and no matter how much you try (believe me, I have) you cant get it wrong. This pastry will make you look like a genius and people who hate mince pies will eat them just because of this pastry.

Unbelievably easy mince pies (from BBC Goodfood) - makes about 32 mini mince pies.

- 225g cold butter (diced)
- 350g flour
- 100g sugar
- a beaten egg 

Either rub the butter and flour together or blitz in a food processor (the very very easy option), add the sugar. The dough will be very dry but you should be able to bring it together, even if only in small amounts to a shortbread like dough. 

Preheat the oven to 200C or 180 if a fan oven. 

Dont even try to roll this pastry (although my mom added some egg and said it wasnt too difficult). Take small pieces and press into each hole of the tin. I use a silicon mini muffin tin and a mojito muddler to squish the pastry to shape. Fill with some mincemeat. Shape a small ball of dough and flatten in the palms of your hands to make a lid large enough to cover the mincemeat. Press down to seal and brush them with some eggwash. 

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Leave to cool in the tins for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling. 

Dust with some edible glitter or icing sugar and sit bask in your pastry geniusness.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Apple season - Pork and Bramley bake

Growing up in Ireland, one of the strongest memories of baking at home was helping my mother peel and cut apples for apple tarts. In fact apple tart is such a favourite speciality among friends that you could almost feel convinced into never making one for Irish people, in the knowledge that almost every person in Ireland has a favourite apple tart recipe that you could never beat. For years now Ive received apples from people at this time of year and have made all host of apple dishes but had never actually visited an orchard or picked any.

This all changed a few weeks ago when the lovely people at Bord Bia organised a trip to Stagrennan farm near Drogheda to line up with Bramley apple week. Stagrennan farm is a family orchard run by the lovely McNeece family since 1962, although with a family history in the apple business since 1890. The McNeeces grow a number of dessert apples on their farm at Stagrennan along with the Bramleys to help with cross pollination. Many of their apples are sold around the country for juice, cider making and bakery produce along as for eating. They will also shortly be bringing out their own lovely cloudy Apple juice (far superior to imported orange juice) and range of jellies.

Bramleys Seedlings have been growing in Ireland for over 3000 years and have old Brehon laws have protected them from harm over this time which has helped Ireland produce over a third of the worlds supply. Bramleys are the main apple used in cooking and baking and have quite a sharp taste when eaten (although this never stopped me as a kid when my mother was baking apple tarts). They break down to a lovely fluffy texture when baking which is great when baked as a sweet treat or even  for making a simple apple sauce. The other main benefits to the lazy cook are that they are typically quite big which comes in handy when peeling and can last quite a long time from when you buy them to when you eventually go to make something with them!

This time of year its great to have a good one pot meal to make when you get home from work and this one is as quick and tasty as they come. Its also seriously in terms of the amount non fussy and involved just one tray, a chopping board and one knife for preparation!

Pork and Bramley bake, with thanks to Bord Bia for the recipe which I have slightly modified here due to the amount of ingredients I had available to me at the time. 

Serves 2 but can be easily multiplied

  • 2 medium size potatoes (I used Kerr Pinks)
  • 1 medium sized red onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bramley apple
  • 400g of pork fillet chopped into inch thick slices
  • a sprig of rosemary or a handful of fresh sage leaves
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C
  2. Chop the potatoes and onion into wedges and place in a roasting dish along with the garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes
  3. Meanwhile chop the apple into wedges and the pork fillet into inch thick slices. Sprinkle salt, pepper and olive oil over the meat.
  4. Place the apple wedges on top of the potatoes and onions and then the meat on top of the apple. Add the sprig of rosemary but if you are using sage leave it until 5 minutes before the end of baking
  5. Return to the oven for 20 further minutes and then serve
You can find a whole host of other apple recipes here on the Bord Bia website, including possibly the best sandwich I have ever tasted.

Thanks again to Bord Bia and Olan and Fiona McNeece for laying on such a fantastic spread of appley goodness and the tour along with Tara Walker for the great demonstration on cooking with Bramleys

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Irish tapas - Potato cake with smoked salmon or goats cheese

After months of not being able to get a date that suited everyone I finally met up with the 3 lovely ladies that I met a year ago through a night class I was doing at the time. We had been trying to meet up for so long and all had so many things on the cards that a final decision was made that we would meet and all bring tapas, anything else for a week night was probably going to be an awful lot of hassle.

Strangely you can feel just as hassled making small things as big things so I opted for the really simple option. Id brought some lovely Knockdrinna goats cheese back from my weekend in Kilkenny and had some very swish beechwood cold smoked salmon from Inishturkbeg sitting in my fridge. When you have fantastic ingredients it seems a shame to do anything but show them off so I went for very simple potato cakes with these very simple toppings. 

Potato cakes are a crazily simple thing to make and were always made by my mom without any recipe at all. They are a great way of using up any mashed, boiled or baked potatoes you might have hanging around the house.

Potato cakes (makes 20 small canape size cakes) 
  • 300g boiled and peeled potatoes (I used lovely floury Kerr Pinks)
  • 1 dessertspoon of cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 dessertspoons of flour and some extra for dipping the cakes in before frying
  1. If you dont have some left over mashed or boiled potatoes waiting to be used then boil your potatoes in salted boiling water. 
  2. Remove from the water and, while still hot, peel and mash/rice with some salt and pepper.
  3. Add the cream or some milk to help mash. 
  4. Once finely mashed add the flour until the mix feels dry enough to shape, depending on your potatoes you may need more or less. What you are aiming for is for the dough to be dry enough so that it wont stick to the frying pan. 
  5. Heat a frying pan to a medium heat with a mix of oil and butter or just some oil on its own. 
  6. Roll out the dough and cut into quarters or shape small discs
  7. Dip both sides in flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper
  8. Fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown, the frying pan should be relatively dry
  9. Remove from the frying pan and eat while still warm (fantastic with any cheese) or leave to cool.
I made 3 different versions above:
- Smoked Salmon with Creme Fraiche
- Goats cheese with Blackberry and Apple jam
- Goats cheese with walnut

Inish Turk Beg organic beechwood cold smoked salmon is part of a new range of smoked fish from Inish Turk Beg, a small island in Clew Bay, Mayo. This along with their honey roast hot smoked salmon are really something quite special. They also have smoked mackerel and Albercore tuna as part of the range. Inish Turk Beg smoked fish is currently available in Donnybrook Fair in Dublin and will be available in selected other stores throughout Ireland in the near future. Admittedly it is on the more expensive side (€9.95 for 100g) but well worth the splurge for a special occasion. Only a week after hearing Dr. Susan Steele of BIM speak about the fact that we are exporting over 86% of our fish, it was great to hear of a new company doing something fantastic with some of that fish before selling it around Ireland and exporting to foreign shores. 

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Savour Kilkenny - Foodcamp and the importance of eating local

Bring your own lunch and some to share at foodcamp
Im just back from a trip to Kilkenny after spending a fantastic few days at Savour Kilkenny and on Friday at foodcamp. A first for Ireland, Foodcamp was organised to allow chefs, foodies, farmers, food prodcuers and all those involved in food boards to get together in the one place. 20 different sessions were held over the day, all in a spirit of not advertising but sharing best practices, ideas and inspiration. Unfortunately sessions were held across 4 different rooms which meant it was almost impossible to decide which to attend and as a result I missed some fascinating sessions. The ones I most missed were on Honey by Philip McCabe and Lucy from's talk on health tips for foodies.

Those that I caught were fantastic and some of the many things I jotted down during the sessions and panel  included some of these facts:

  • More than 15% of the worlds baby food is produced in Ireland
  • now gets over 40million visitors per month, up more than 60% since the beginning of the year
  • 78% of us trust peer recommendations most. 
  • Marketing through Social media is the most efficient (and cheapest) way of marketing when done right
  • Most Irish artisan producers have had a 20-30% increase in business since last year (despite all the doom and gloom)
  • In 2007 41% of Irish people considered the term "local food" as food from Ireland, now that number is only 10% with almost half considering it as food from their own neighbourhoods
  • With over 15 million acres of land for fishing accesible to Irish fishers we export more than 80% of it out of Ireland. 
  • Delia Smiths favourite blue cheese is Cashel blue (completely random fact from John McKenna)
There was such a positive message from all speakers and a real sense that people were trying to innovate, find new ways of marketing cooperatively and trying to make life better for all Irish food producers. Wendy  spoke about bringing up her 6 kids on a farm and inspiring her youngest and his friends to look forward to their lives as farmers. She also spoke about the movement of women innovating on farms around Ireland, something I remember a lot from all the female farmers who started cheesmaking when things were tough talking about while at Ballymaloe.
prized mushrooms
Sally McKenna of Bridgestone guides and Donal Doherty of Harrys restaurant spoke about the importance of social media in building food businesses and some fascinating stories of small producers who have done just this. Donal showed a slightly obscene video on how to catch razor clams and I was lucky enough to win some amazing mushrooms including a massive cep that he had picked on his mushroom hunt. I cant wait to get these to a frying pan with butter!

One other talk I attended was by two lovely food bloggers Caroline and Kristen  who were announcing the new Irishfoodbloggers association. Im looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into this website!

All in all the key message I took from the day was the importance of supporting local Irish food producers as spending money locally on food produced locally is one of the key ways of getting our economy growing again. Needless to say no further encouragement was needed and I came home with a nice piece of smoked trout from Goatsbridge along with some lovely Knockdrinna goats cheese.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Vietnam - Saigon cookery school

I have tried to get a cookery class in on a few of my last holidays and every time this has ended up as one of the best bits of my holiday. Even if you arent crazy about food its a brilliant way of meeting people, getting to understand the ingredients and methods used in what you have been eating while away, staying in from the maddening humidity and in this case also getting to see ingredients that would be far too intimidating to buy and try out in a hotel room!

In Ho Chi Minh City we visited the Vietnam Cookery Center. As we were there during the rainy season the class we went to on a Saturday was fairly quiet and there was only four of us that met our teacher and translator early in the morning at the Ben Thanh market. The other half of the class were an American couple living in Manila, one half of which was the incredibly talented and lovely Abby Mott.

I really enjoyed the market trip because despite being in the same market a few times over the previous few days there were parts that I felt intimidated by visiting and although I really wanted to know what some of the fruit and veg were I knew that they wouldnt be able to explain them to me. Having a guide walk us around was great, even if the teacher wasnt buying that much within the market itself. 
Millions of dried shrimp

As we walked through the market we were shown as many mountains of dried shrimp as mountains of rice, dried fish and fruit. In visiting the meat section of the market we saw how every single piece of each animal was used (no pictures here as it was far too close to my breakfast) including the tails and ears.


The back part of the market was probably the most interesting as there were little stalls that sold the ingredients just for the one thing that you were making much like all of the restaurants we had seen that only serve one meal,  like everything you need for making Pho or the herbs used with Banh Xeo alone. There were stalls that sold nothing but a variety of eggs, including unlaid eggs which took me a while to figure out. 

Unlaid eggs
There was also a large fish section to the market which was divided into further sections for freshwater and saltwater fish. This seemed to be the only part of the market where there was a distinction between the different areas and the reasoning we were given was due to Bird flu strangely enough. 

Most of the work was being done by women in this part of the market, whether it was skinning frogs, shelling clams or knocking out and scaling fish. I couldnt help but feel that if we had such an impressive market in Dublin that I would have felt any less gob-smacked by how everyone went about their daily business. 

I would love someone to prepare mis en place for me at home!

Once we got to the school we sat and had tea before going to our perfectly prepared workspaces with these perfect arrangement of mis en place in little bowls. Almost all of these little bowls were used in each of the 3 recipes we made. If I remember correctly there were shallots, spring onions, soy, lime juice, tamarind paste, fish sauce, chicken stock granules, chopped chillies, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar. 

Our menu for the day consisted of
  • Spring rolls with mushroom, pork, crab meat and prawn and a fish dipping sauce
  • Sour Clam soup with dill
  • Caramelized pork served in a clay pot with rice steamed in coconut juice
The recipes all had such a delicate balance of flavours and textures and were enough to convince me that the simplicity of everything I tasted over the few weeks had a real complexity behind it that one day in cookery school was never going to teach. 

This is the last of my posts on my holiday in Vietnam but if you would like to see some more pictures you can review some more here  and you can enter my competition to win some coffee from Vietnam here

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ngon Lam Viet Nam

Before I went to Vietnam a lot of people told me that I wouldnt want to see so much as a grain of rice for months afterwards. For those not so keen on rice this definitely wasnt the case. Theres plenty to eat that is not rice, as long as you are keen on noodles!

The food, like the coffee was fabulous and addictive in its freshness.

The minute we hit the hotel the first stop was Pho 2000 a speciality pho shop that was seriously and very rightly proud of serving Pho to Bill Clinton on his visit to Ho Chi Minh city. Even veggie daughter Chelsea had some pho at the time, although after a few weeks in Vietnam Im pretty sure that there was no such thing as a vegetarian pho and that all pho is made with a good stock using plenty of bones!

Pho is almost always served with plates of fresh herbs, chillies, lime wedges and bean sprouts. Its an incredibly tasty and complexly flavoured broth with rice noodles and meat. Saying this, after having almost a bowl of this a day the quality varies massively, its all down to that initial stock and the spices that are used in the making. When I asked at the cookery school we visited about pho recipes I was told that it would take 3 days of teaching to learn how to prepare the perfect stock No surprise then that a lot of places that serve pho (and many other places for that matter) serve only one or two dishes in total.

One of the places I was most excited to visit in Saigon was Com Nieu Sai Gon which came heavily recommended by Anthony Bourdain on his show . This place was the first and only place that I tasted Ban Xeo, which had been much recommended before going to Vietnam. When the plate arrived I didnt have a notion that what you are meant to do is wrap the pancake stuffed with bean sprouts, bits of pork, shrimp in the many different leaves to the right before dipping in fish sauce. What cant be seen in the picture is the very fat rat that crawled out from behind our table after our first few bites. I didnt get to finish the Ban Xeo but wasnt crazily keen on trying them again after seeing the rat.

The best thing we did foodwise was take a 4 day motorbike trip up through the central highlands in Vietnam. Once we got out on the road every bite we ate was very local and extremely fresh. We saw fruit and veg grow on either side of the road for 200 odd kilometres every day.

The picture on the left is of the food that was brought to our table at a truck stop miles away from anywhere. The bits that I remember from this were chicken cooked in a clay pot with lemongrass and chili, morning glory, an omelet, a veg soup with beetroot and some fried pork - all amazing.

This trip was where we also had one of our more interesting restaurant visits with our guides. We had absolutely no idea what we were going to as we walked down an alleyway between houses to a building that looked like it had been built in someones garden. The only thing we knew is that chances were we wouldnt be getting a menu.
Soon after we arrived a little gas burner was brought out with plates of seasoned goat meat with lettuce leaves, sliced green banana, starfruit slices, cucumber, tomatoes, loads of fresh herbs and rice paper pancakes.

Little bowls were brought out with fish sauce, birds eye chillies and satay sauce for dipping.

Our guides fried up the goat and instructed us on how to dampen the pancake, what to add and how to roll (one of my better specimens above). There is always something quite fun about making your own dinner and having plates of such fresh ingredients to chose from made this my tastiest as well as most fun meal washed down with quite a lot of banana rice wine.

As I quickly learned to say "Ngon lam" (pronounced mon lamb) - that was delicious.

The best however was yet to come.  I was fairly squeamish about this so Im going to put these photos behind that little "read more" link down there. Whether or not you read on, dont forget to enter the competition to win some Vietnamese coffee!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Vietnam competition - Coffee

Drinking coffee is not recommendable as a cure for jetlag but not drinking coffee is almost impossible when in Vietnam, the second largest producer of coffee in the world, where it appears to be grown on almost every bit of spare land.

Coffee is almost always served in one of these little phin filters. It has a small chamber for coffee and water and sits on top of a second filter. It is almost always served in a glass so you can watch the coffee drip down which can take anything up to 5 or 6 minutes, or as the Trung Nguyen descriptions explain at a rate of approximately 65 drops per minute (I havent tried counting).

Coffee in Vietnam is thick and strong and almost chocolatey in taste and texture when served alone. When served with condensed milk it becomes something almost magical as the sweetness and slightly caramelized flavour add to the depth and richness.

Mostly I drank the coffee with ice (ca phe sua da - something I learned how to say before I could say hello in Vietnamese!) which tastes not far off the best coffee ice-cream that you could imagine. It is however equally good without the ice. Strangely it was normally served with a glass of iced tea for you to enjoy while you wait for the coffee to drip.

To win some very fantastic Trung Nguyen coffee and one of their stainless steel phin filters (much nicer than those pictured) you just need to leave a comment telling me about your favourite foodie holiday destination. Ill be chosing a winner at random on the first of November across the answers left here and on facebook.

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to Mair who entered over on facebook. The prize will be on its way to her within the next few days

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Vietnam - all that grows

Im recently back from a few fantastic weeks in Vietnam and as half my photos are food related Im going to have quite a few posts to put up over the next week or two. I also have a special competition prize carried back from Vietnam which Ill post among the photos so keep an eye out.

The first thing that hit me as our bus left Ho Chi Minh City was how green the countryside was. We arrived towards the end of 5 months of rainy season in the south and every small patch seemed to have something growing on it. Farming is massive in Vietnam and rice not surprisingly is the main crop with more than half the population working to produce rice alone on over 94% of the arable land. I got the feeling that some of the other crops we saw were relatively new attempts at making more money than rice is bringing in.

Over the course of the few weeks I spent 4 days sitting on the back of a motorbike going through the highlands which is where most of the photos here are from. My guide was always amused by my enthusiasm for fruit and only understood when I explained that we cant grow any of what he showed me in Ireland. If you ever get a chance to go to Vietnam its well worth a few days off the beaten track to taste all this fruit straight from the trees!

This is what pepper looks like on a tree, its then taken and dried in the sun before ending up in our mills. There was only the slightest hint of a peppery smell from it.
Its always a bit surprising to me that bananas hang this way around

Possibly Papaya
I had no idea what this was and our guides werent much help at all but fortunately a reader gave the the answer in the comments. Its Bixa Orellana and the pigment from the seeds is used to colour foods (commonly seen as Annato or Achiote in ingredients)
Cocoa beans, I was dying to rob one for some further investigation but it was such a small plantation that I couldnt.
Coffee, still a while to go before roasting
Guess what these are? They look so different by the time they make it to our shores
Passion fruit just picked and as addictive as nicotine
Green tea, still very green
Dragonfruit,  a cactus that is trained to grow around cement posts
which produces these beautiful flowers
and the most succulent and  sweet fruit
Corn being dried out in the sun
Finally rice, loads of it:
Rice as far as the eye can see
which is picked by hand and fed through a machine to remove the husk from the plant
Which is then left to dry before de-husking and milling

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Win a place on the 12 week Ballymaloe course

Today I received an email with details about what has to be the best possible competition for foodies in at the moment. Cully and Sully, the geniuses behind the fantastic posh ready meals and desserts are running a competition called Chef Factor and the winning prize is a free place on the 12 week Ballymaloe course along with the accommodation, set of knives, uniform and two weeks work experience with Cully and Sully after the course.

After doing the course myself last year I would almost enter myself with the hopes that I might win so I could do the course again (which I gladly would do!). Ive had so many people report to be green with envy over the time I spent at Ballymaloe that Ill be letting everyone know about this!

So here's what you have to do:

  • Make something that youre famous for (even if only famous to yourself). Cully & Sully say they arent looking for experts as the course is meant to make you the expert!
  • Get someone to take a photo of you with your dish and somehow get the words Cully&Sully into the picture 
  • Go and upload your photo and details to 

Here's one I made earlier, me modelling my dinner tonight:

living proof that Im the most useless in the world at photo editing

Do let me know if you enter and I will promise you a vote!

P.S. Coming very soon will be loads of photos from my recent trip to Vietnam and a competition of my own.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Winding Stair review

Its taken me a few weeks to write this review and every time Ive thought of it Ive been reminded that almost every other review I have ever read of the Winding Stair has been excellent.

On that specific day in an effort to show one of my Ballymaloe friends the very best of Dublin foodie haunts we had already been to the Cake Cafe and to Murphys for some sea salt and burnt caramel ice-cream along with a very long trip through the aisles of Fallon & Byrne. I was proud of my little city haunts and glad we could impress my big city foodie friend, one who spends her days as a personal chef making very fabulous food.

When one of the Ballymaloe girls mentioned booking the Winding Stair I was delighted (I had spent years never reserving early enough to get a table there) as was our visitor who had read about it in numerous emails from friends along with Angelika Houstons recommendation in the Aer Lingus magazine on the way over.

Now a table of Ballymaloe foodies are probably going to be hard to impress as we have been very much indoctrinated to scowl at such little things such as the full bottle of wine being poured before it gets around the table, the resting of the wine bottle on the glass as its poured and pouring of a fresh bottle on top of an already half full glass. We cant help it, the voice of Darina just floods back. The Winding Stair does however have an excellent selection of wines and an even better selection of dessert wines all much to my chagrin on that given night as I was driving. We had been convinced that we were in time for the early bird and indeed told so by one of the waiters on arrival but strangely when we ordered were told that to eat the early bird you have to be out (rather than in) by a certain hour. Later on leaving we found that the sandwich board outside mentioned no start or end times for the earlybird but instead that those interested should enquire within.

I had been warned that the portion sizes were massive but couldnt help but order the smoked fish plate as a starter which was very easily shared with one friend. The fish was amazing and there was lots of it including what I found out later was some of the very last smoked irish eel in the country. As Im so late in writing the review I cant quite remember what other starters graced the table although I know there was definitely some chowder somewhere.

There was a lot of fish between quite convoluted menu and specials that evening and strangely we all found it hard to find something that really appealed for main course. I had the Kilkeel hake fillet with sweet potato, tomato, cockle and mussel stew and Dublin Bay prawns and it was the first time that I ever left fish on the plate due to the very huge portion size. Im convinced its the guilt of an Irish Catholic upbringing that makes me feel bad about not being able to finish my plate of food so if youre planning on going you might want to bring someone with a massive appetite to hoover up the leftovers or abstain from a day of eating cake beforehand!

Then came a list of what could only be considered quite heavy male desserts on such a lovely Dublin summer evening. I had a bite out of the sticky pear and ginger cake and it was glorious but was much too winterly for the day that was in it. I had tiny sips of the very lovely dessert wines and waited with anticipation to order my coffee.

Unfortunately however the coffee was not to be. As soon as the desserts were finished our waiter asked did we want anything else and then promptly told us that we didnt have time for coffee and needed to be off the table in 5 minutes. At no stage during the dinner had we been warned about a time limit so this was very disappointing, even more so as they could have easily asked us to order our coffees along with dessert which they hadnt.

There are so many good things to like about the Winding Stair between the location, the lovely dining room and the fact that the food is all very local and enough to keep you going for half a week. However, as I walked down the stairs that evening without a drop of caffeine in my blood I couldnt imagine myself eating there again due to the poor service. Poor service shouldnt have to be something to put up with just to eat good food.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Slow cooking - Moroccan chicken

Last week I picked up a slow cooker in Aldi (€17.99, they may still have some). After a considerable amount of wondering where on earth Id put it, I decided that smack bang in the middle of my countertop would do for now and Ill just have to use it often to argue for its place there. I figured the benefit of having dinner ready when I get home from work might outweigh the fact that in future I may have to balance it precariously on top of my books on my bookshelf.

Shiny new slow cooker at 8am before heading to work
Unfortunately once I got it I couldn't find any recipes that I was dying to try out that weren't on US sites and I was definitely far too lazy for proper conversion and measuring. As a result here is a very made up attempt at Moroccan chicken, which was very very tasty.

The four things I read about the slow cooker were completely ignored so Ill give them to you before I get to the recipe.
  1. You don't need very much liquid in slow cooking as it really wont evaporate (you will see later that I used far too much liquid so my recipe has about 1/4 the water that I used)
  2. 3 hours in an oven = 8-9 hours at low heat in slow cooker (perfect working hours)
  3. Its almost impossible to burn your dinner in a slow cooker if its on low - this is good to remember half way through the day when you get a little worried about those lovely lamb shanks you bought
  4. Root veg takes as long to cook as meat, in my case below the courgette were definitely a bit overcooked.

(possibly) Moroccan chicken - for two
Possibly only because its way tastier than anything I had to eat when I visited Morocco

I was told it never burns - this is caramelising

  • 2 Chicken legs and thighs chopped into strips
  • 1 onion chopped into 8 chunks (halve, then quarter the halves)
  • Half a courgette chopped into inch sized chunks
  • 1 sweet red pepper chopped into inch sized chunks
  • 4 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 grated clove of garlic
  • 1 dessert spoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • a handful of raisins and some dried apricots if you have them
  • 50 ml of chicken stock (homemade if possible)
Ok, I know this seems like a million ingredients but if you chop them all up and put them into a bowl the night before then you only have to bung them in the slow cooker (on low heat) in the morning and when you come home from work you have a tasty dinner.I served this with some couscous but it would be equally good with rice, Bulgar or quinoa.

very hot Moroccan chicken
It made a lovely dinner but I still don't know where I'm going to put it. If anyone has any good slow cooker recipes Id very grateful, it might help get to convince the workman to build me a new shelf!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Broad bean and bacon risotto

I was always shocked at the price of broad beans until I tried growing them. They are actually quite easy to grow but you really need a whole lot of space to grow enough for even one dinner. Its a pity really as they are so fantastic and even more so when you can pick them and eat them straight away.

Id definitely recommend trying to grow broad beans if you have some space in your garden. I planted them a little too early but they still seemed to survive the frost and pop through, weeks after I was expecting them to come up.

If I had been able to give up enough of my garden I would have made a big bowl of Habas con Jamon (beans with bacon) as I used to get in tapas bars when in Granada last year but its surprising how much space is needed to grow broad beans. Broad bean and bacon risotto was the next best option. 

If you haven't made risotto before its really not as scary as people say, just make sure you have enough stock simmering and that you don't let the rice go dry while cooking. 

Broad bean and bacon risotto (serves 2, one of whom has a giant appetite)

- about 200g of single podded broad beans (double pod if you are less lazy)
- 2 rashers
- 750mls of veg stock
- one glass of white wine
- a finely chopped onion
- 1 finely chopped clove of garlic
- 25g of butter
- 200g risotto (arborio) rice
- 30g parmesan

Bring the stock  to the boil and then add the broad beans and boil for a few minutes until tender. Remove the beans and leave the stock to simmer. Its way easier to remove the second little pod at this stage if you want to leave you with fantastically Kermit the frog coloured beans

Heat the butter on a medium heat and add the onions and chopped bacon and fry until soft but not yet coloured, something like the picture below.

Add the rice and stir for about a minute until the rice is starting to go slightly clear at the edges. 

Throw in the glass of wine and let it bubble away until the wine is almost soaked up. 

Then add your first ladle of stock. Again, stir a little and let it bubble until almost evaporated. Continue to do this until the rice has softened enough and stopped drinking up the stock as quickly. This should take about 20 minutes and the rice should still have a bit of a bite to it. Add the beans before you add the last of the stock to heat them through. 

Take the rice off the heat and add the parmesan and pepper, it shouldn't really need any salt but add if you think it does. Serve as quickly as you can!