A Winter Warmer

I truly believe that Nigel Slater is a genius. His recipes not only inspire me to cook, but sometimes I am happy enough just to sit quietly and read his cookbooks as if reading a book of short stories. His love of cooking is infectious and usually oh so simple. This pudding is sheer heaven on a cold winter evening. The almost meringue like top conceals a warm lemony sauce hidden beneath – no need for custard here. It is comfort food at it’s best – as sooothing as sucking your thumb. And I should know.

Lemon Sponge Pudding in it’s own sauce.

100g butter
175g caster sugar
3 lemons
4 eggs
40g plain flour
400ml milk

Adapted from Nigel Slaters Appetite

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale. A processer takes the sting out of this. Grate the zest of the lemons and squeeze the juice. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the flour and the milk. Keep the mixer on a low speed until you have the consistancy of light batter. Beat the egg whites until forming soft peaks and add to the batter gently. Don’t over mix. This creates the meringue like texture.Transfer into a heatproof bowl where the mixture reaches halfway up the sides. Stand the bowl in a roasting tin half-filled with hot water, then transfer it to the oven. Bake for an hour until the top is golden and spongy – cool for five minutes before serving.

In his book, Nigel uses 1 lemon and 2 oranges, but I prefer an all lemon pudding. What you choose to do, is entirely up to you.

A New Stew.

Beef with chorizo, chickpeas and sherry.

The winter months generally lend themselves to stews of all kinds, and a favourite in my house is a classic beef stew. As much as I love  it, stew can become a bit boring, and so I decided the time had come to liven things up. Well, in the stew department anyway. This beef dish has a decidedly Spanish flavour, which is a good thing. Trust me.

Serves 4

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
700 g round beef steak, diced
1 onion, sliced
1 clove chopped garlic
Salt & Pepper
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
Splash of red wine
250 g chorizo, chopped
150 ml dry sherry
1 tin chopped tomatoes
200 ml beef stock
1 tin chickpeas
Brown the beef in a little oil and remove from pan. Fry onions, garlic and chilli, add a splash of wine and reduce. In another pan, fry chorizo until crisp, then add the sherry. Add the tomatoes to the onion mix and bring to the a simmer. return beef to the pan, add chickpeas and chorizo mix. Season with salt and pepper and then simmer on low heat until tender, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

A Fresh Green Chilli

Ok, I will admit, coming home to cook dinner after a long day can be tiresome, but there are days when I spend my afternoons daydreaming about what I will conjure up for dinner that evening. I enjoy unwinding in my kitchen with my chopping boards at the ready, glass of wine in hand.Yesterday I had decided on meatloaf. The plan was formed and the expectation set, until I discovered much to my dismay that it was minced pork and that I had in the fridge, and not beef. One of the great things about meatloaf is that a combination of any minced meat can be used in it, but I find that beef needs to be involved to give some depth to what could otherwise be a banal dish. And so, back to the drawing board. Luckily I had the fixings for a recipe I have been dying to try for ages, so all was not lost. This recipe is adapted from Jamie’s America by Jamie Oliver.

Fresh Green Chilli

Serves four

Olive oil
800 g pork mince
Salt & pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 green chillis, chopped
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh coriander
2 limes

To serve –

Flour tortillas
Soured cream
Romaine lettuce
Tomatoes
Or whatever else you fancy….

Heat the oil in a pan, when hot, add the pork mince. Break up with a wooden spoon and saute for a few minutes. Add chopped onion, garlic, green pepper and chillis, along with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, adding some water if necessary. This dish is fairly dry so don’t drown it. When the chilli is cooked and golden, remove from the heat and add in chopped herbs and the juice of the two limes. Combine thoroughly and serve with warm tortilla, sour cream and crispy lettuce. Yum!

The comfort of food…..

The summer is a distant memory at this stage, but then again, it never really arrived in Ireland this year. So for me, it’s time to move on. As with every year, I reach a stage where I embrace the winter traditions with glee. While we Irish are never really afforded an opportunity to get stuck in to the summer vibe (barbecue in the rain anyone?), the autumn and winter months never let us down. While rainy and sludgy weather may be the downside, they provide the perfect backdrop to log fires, cosy jumpers and steaming pots of comfort food. With this in mind, I devoted Saturday afternoon to making a Chicken and Leek Pie for the clan – whether they liked it or not. Luckily, the effort was well worth it. This recipe is adapted from Cully&Sully.com.

Chicken and Leek pie

1 whole chicken
1 liter water/chicken stock
1 onion
1 carrot
Herbs of you choice
Salt & pepper
50 ml double cream
A dash of white wine (if required)
Some Parmesan for grating

Place a whole chicken in a tight fitting pot and half fill with chicken stock or water, herbs of your choice, salt and pepper, a peeled carrot and onion. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour and a half.

Remove the chicken and take all the flesh from the carcass discarding the skin and bones. Keep whats left of the stock. Tear the chicken meat into bite size pieces.

Thicken the remaining cooking liquid with a little bit of roux and adjust seasoning (half flour, half butter cooked together for 2 minutes) and set aside. Enrich with a good dollop of cream. A glug of dry white wine would not cause any damage at this stage.

Slice one medium leek into half inch rings and soften in butter for 5  minutes and add to thickened cooking liquid along with the chicken.

Pour contents into a pie dish and cover contents with fluffy mashed potato. Grate a little Parmesan on top if you so desire.

Bake in the oven at 180 C until pipping hot and golden on top, around 30/40 minutes.

Girls night in

I’m not sure  it’s a good sign that staying  is often more appealing than going out, but one of my favorite things to do at the weekend is have a few of my nearest and dearest over for good (hopefully) food, good wine (or beer) and conversation. I won’t go so far as to say the conversation is good (it’s subjective) but we rarely have any complaints. And so, with this in mind, I invited a couple of friends for dinner last Saturday, and it wasn’t half bad (the food, not the company which was exemplary as usual). Coq Au Vin is a great one pot wonder that allows me to prep everything  in advance and then sit and sip wine while it simmers away – giving the impression that I’m not flustered at all. Unfortunately, they know me too well. On the plus side, the bar chez ciara is not restricted to traditional closing times, whether that’s good or bad,  I have yet to decide

This recipe is loosely adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible

5/6 chicken fillets on the bone (or peg bone attached)

290 ml red wine
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 sprig of parsley, and 1 stick of celery)
8 shallots
100 g bacon lardons (or sliced streaky bacon)
50 g  butter
12 button mushrooms
570 ml chicken stock
1 clove of garlic crushed
20 g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Melt half the butter in a large saucepan and add bacon, shallots and mushrooms. Saute until browned then remove and reserve. Season the chicken with salt & pepper and add remaining butter to the pan, followed by the chicken, skin side down. Resist the impulse to prod and poke, you need the skin to brown. After a few minutes tip off any fat and reserve, then add the bacon and veg back to the pan along with bouquet garni and wine. Scrape off any sediment at the bottom of the pan then add garlic and enough stock to envelop the chicken. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 45 minutes. To thicken the sauce, remove chicken, bacon and vegetables from the pot and set aside. Add flour to reserved fat and mix to a smooth paste, then add to cooking liquid, whisking all the time to remove lumps. When the sauce is at the desired consistency, return the chicken and vegetables to the pot and heat through before serving.

I served this with rustic french bread and a green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon. It needs nothing more. Easy as that.

Steamed mussels with red wine and chorizo

I spent a few days in the Cotswolds over the summer and came across a dish similar to this in one of the many quintessential English pubs I visited. What can I say, tastes like more……

1 lb diced chorizo
5/6 sliced shallots
Salt and black pepper
2 lbs mussels, cleaned and bearded
1 bottle dry red wine
100 ml double cream
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

In a deep pot, shallow fry the chorizo for ten minutes until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned. Remove from the pot, add shallot, salt and pepper. Add the chorizo back to the pot along with the wine, cream and mussels. Cover and cook for 4 – 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Discard any unopened mussels and stir to coat with the liquid. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with parsley.
Voila!

Coconut Hot Chocolate

I had to do a double take when I saw Trish Deseine tweet the link to this recipe. So simple yet so inspired. It’s pure genius! The only thing that could possibly improve it, is perhaps a drop of coconut liquer.

Coconut Hot Chocolate – from Chow.com

Enough for two

4 fluid oz coconut milk
4 fluid oz  milk
5 oz good-quality milk chocolate, chopped (or use half milk and half dark for a more intense flavour)

Heat the milk and the coconut milk in a saucepan until warmed through – 3/4 minutes. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted.  Sit back and enjoy.

The peanut butter brownie

After months of daydreaming about starting my very own food blog, the time has finally comes And what happens? I freeze. Typical. Ideas are one thing, but putting them out there for scrutiny by the general blog- reading public is another. My secret weapon? Chocolate. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like chocolate and for the short time that I had a stall at a lunchtime food market, these babies went down a treat, as they do in my own home. I use Yotam Ottolenghis basic brownie recipe but forgo the jam for glazing and instead add some chocolate drops as a finishing touch. The down side is that they can be totally addictive – try them at your peril…..

200 g unsalted butter, plus melted butter for greasing
280 g plain flour
½ tsp salt
300 g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
2 free-range eggs
220 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

I jar peanut butter (I found tesco own brand to work the best for this recipe)

Pre-heat oven to 170 celsius and line a 22cm sq baking tin with parchment. Over a pan of simmering water, melt together the chocolate and the butter until combined. Remove from heat and leave aside (do not allow to overheat). Stir together flour and salt, and in a separate bowl, mix the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until just combined. Be careful not to incorporate any air into the mixture. Fold in the melted chocolate followed by the four and mix together gently. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tin and even the surface with a spatula. Dollop peanut butter on the surface at regular intervals and gently press into the brownie mix. Sprinkle the surface with chocolate drops and place in the preheated oven for 20 -25 minutes (undercooked is better that overcooked). Remove from the oven and place directly in to the fridge to set – this will ensure the lovely fudgyness we expect from a brownie. Once cooled, remove and cut as desired (makes approx 16 squares).