On the batter again…….

I do love Shrove Tuesday because I seriously love pancakes in all their wonderful forms. Crepes savoury and sweet, fluffy American style, and these gluten free banana and cinnamon pancakes are my latest favourite breakfast. When we were little we would compete for how many pancakes we could eat on pancake day and my Mum would be stationed by the cooker for over an hour during which she must have fried, flipped and served fifty pancakes to satisfy our demands. My brother James held the record for consuming pancakes when I think he managed twelve in one sitting. She always served them simply with a squeeze of orange juice and a sprinkle of caster sugar, rolled up and ready to go.

I have been trying to cut down on wheat this year with mixed success, but these pancakes are great made with gluten free flour and are a real weekend or Valentine’s day breakfast treat. The cinnamon and bananas give them a natural sweetness and they really don’t need additional sugar, but I can’t help adding a small amount of maple syrup on mine. Plus they are very quick and easy to rustle up for hungry small people and of course perfect for anyone with a wheat intolerance or allergy too.

Banana and Cinnamon Pancakes (Gluten Free)

Makes about 16 pancakes, so enough for 4 (or for one greedy little brother)

  • 4 ripe bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 100g gluten free flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 table spoon of vegetable oil
  • A small knob of butter (optional)20180212_084952

To serve:

  • A drizzle of maple syrup or honey
  • A scattering of fresh strawberries or blueberries

You will need:

  • A large frying pan
  • A large mixing bowl
  • Potato masher
  1. Peel and mash the bananas in the mixing bowl with the potato masher
  2. Add the eggs, flour, baking soda and cinnamon and mix well, although it really does not need to be smooth.
  3. Now heat the oil (and the butter if you are using it) in the frying pan and get it good and hot.
  4. Add four or five dollops of the pancake mix to the pan. These are small American style pancakes. They will spread out a little so allow enough room for that.
  5. Cook them on a medium heat for a couple of minutes and make sure they don’t burn. Generally, if there are small bubbles forming on top it is time to turn them over and cook them for another two to three minutes. They should be golden grown.
  6. Serve with toppings of your choice and a big mug of coffee.

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Facing the storm with slow cooked comfort food…

 

Storm Eleanor is fast approaching us here in West Cork and we need something for tea that is warming, comforting and easy. Also, importantly this dish will cope well in the event of a power outage. And it is a really slow meal too, so you will build up an appetite as the beef cooks until it melts and just falls off the bone.20180102_172031

I have bought a large piece of shin of beef with the bone in from Walsh’s Butchers in Skibbereen. The butcher appeared from the back of the shop brandishing a whole leg and kindly cut it to size using the electric band saw to dramatic effect. Shin needs to be cooked low and slow – 5 hours is what we are looking at – so plenty of time to spend battening down hatches, checking on the neighbours, or just reading a book in front of the fire. This cut is tough and sinewy when undercooked but given the right treatment is absolutely delicious and much cheaper than other cuts – and lets face it none of us have any money left in January. Shin of beef will easily stretch to two or three meals and the leftovers are great in a sandwich with lots of horseradish sauce or in a puff pastry topped pie with chestnut mushrooms.

And if the power goes off while this is cooking, it will cope perfectly well with being stuck on top of the wood burner or the camping stove to complete. I serve with mashed potatoes, turnips (swede in England) and carrots with lots of butter and white pepper just like my Mum used to make them and some greens on the side (or good old bread and butter if the power goes). So amid the candles and while you are eating with a head torch on this is the food to give you gastronomic shelter from the storm.20180101_104321

Enough for 4 (and some decent leftovers)

  • 1.5 – 2kg Shin of beef in one piece with the bone left in
  • Whole bulb of garlic cut in half
  • I teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 or 4 bay leaves
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • 3 onions or 6 shallots peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 sticks of celery roughly chopped.
  • 1 large carrot roughly chopped.
  • I pint of good beef stock
  • Half a pint of red wine or one of those huge glasses that they serve in wine bars

You will need a large oven proof casserole that can also go on the hob and a frying pan.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140 C.
  2. Rub the joint with the allspice and cumin and season with the salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and get the pan good and hot before browning the meat very well on all sides. Don’t rush this as it will give a great flavour to the final dish.
  4. In the casserole heat the rest of the olive oil and on a medium heat add the chopped vegetables and the herbs and cook until the onions are soft.
  5. When the beef is almost done add the two halves of garlic to the frying pan until they have caramelised well.
  6. Now add the beef and the garlic to the casserole and pour in the red wine. Bring to the boil and let the wine bubble away for a couple of minutes and then add your beef stock.
  7. Put the lid on the casserole and place it in the oven.
  8. Find something to do. A book to read. A DIY job. Tidy the kitchen cupboards. Put the roof back on the shed. This needs to cook for 5 hours and then rest for about an hour, so all that you need to do is sort out the vegetables and either blend the cooking stock (minus the herbs) to make a rich thick gravy, or just serve it as it is spooned over the beef.

 

 

 

Hallowe’en – the last harvest and the turning of the year.

20171031_114409Growing up in 1960s England my memories of this time of year were of Hallowe’en being a much bigger deal for our Irish family than for English families, who tended to focus on Bonfire Night (which for obvious reasons we did not celebrate). From a very early age I can remember my mother lighting candles, my father bringing in bags of nuts and satsumas and apples being bobbed for in icy cold water. A swede lantern would be prepared and would give off a fairly unpleasant sweet smell as it warmed up. Dad might light a fire in the back garden and we would spook each other with ghost stories – and the three of us older girls dressed up as Banshees or witches. There was no Hallowe’en “industry” in those days and I can remember my oldest sister Lise and our great friend Oliver hanging a piece of white, embossed wallpaper cut to the shape of a ghost in the linen cupboard. They lined us all up to open the door and look. When you opened the door, even just a crack the paper moved in the draft and caught the light and I can remember that this was literally terrifying for the five year old me.

I remember my Grandfather, a wonderful teller of ghost stories, speaking of how in the Irish Midlands he would walk the roads and hedges in the weeks before Hallowe’en to collect nuts for his children using a long stick to pull down the highest branches. And in the days before every shop overflowed with spooky Hallowe’en confectionary and plastic junk, the onus was on simply scaring yourself silly and eating nuts that my father would crack from their shells on the table by candlelight.

Years later my own children, nieces and nephews were always visited by a mysterious and strange woman each Hallowe’en. Madam Magdalena was an outrageous and vaguely Eastern European fortune teller who announced her arrival by bashing on the front door with her stick three times each year to the dread and delight of the children.

I never met her myself, as I was of course alway “busy in the kitchen” when she arrived….. and even my own kids weren’t quite sure who she really was!

To me it always feels that Hallowe’en is a really important part of my heritage. And of course the ancient feast of Samhain was a celebration of the turning of the seasons, the end of the old and the promise of the new. A time to reflect on our loved ones who have departed this world and a time to feel close to them. So in collecting and eating that final harvest of apples, nuts and root vegetables on Hallowe’en, we are preparing for the ending of the light but we also demonstrate that darkness and death is just another part of the cycle of life. And by gathering together and playing games and tricks we are learning to say we are not afraid of death.

So in the spirit of the day of course we can move easily from Death to sweet treats for the junior banshees…..and that is precisely what this time of year is all about.

So, I’m just doing a quick and easy treat for this evening that reminds me of those bags of nuts that my Dad and my Grandfather would have shared out each year. But I am adding a crispy, sweet, salty crust for any “trick or treaters” that may come to call. And who knows Madam Magdalena may grace us with her presence and I am reliably informed that she would enjoy these with a large glass of red.

Sea Salt Candied Hazelnuts

  • 150 g Whole Hazelnuts (or other nuts such as pecans, walnuts, almonds or a mixture of)
  • 50g white caster sugar
  • Half a teaspoon of sea salt flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • A baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment.
  • A saucepan
  • An airtight jar if you intend to store them

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  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees centigrade.
  2. Heat the sugar and the water in the saucepan over a low heat until it is completely dissolved. Then bring it to the boil slowly and without stirring.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the nuts and gently stir so that they are coated by the syrup.
  4. Now pour the contents of the saucepan on to the baking tray and gently spread them out evenly. Sprinkle them with the salt flakes and pop them in the oven.
  5. These will take about 20 minutes to cook and you need to check them every five minutes and give them a quick stir about to separate the nuts from each other. When they are ready they should be coated with a golden brown sugary crust.
  6. Take them out and let them cool completely.

Serve on their own, or as a crunchy topping for cakes or ice cream. Or save them till the end of a meal with a cup of coffee and a glass of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur). And maybe raise a glass then to the ancestors and those departed friends and family that we shared this special time of the year with in our youth.

Happy Samhain.

 

 

 

 

Respect the Mussels

 

Sunday dinner in the spring and early summer is always a great chance to move away from the traditional Sunday roast and eat whatever takes our fancy. Something that I always associate with summer holidays is a big plate of mussels. It brings back memories of holidays in Brittany, when the kids were young, when they were served with frites, lots of bread and a bottle of cold Muscadet or local cider. I had never tried mussels until I was well into my twenties because they were something that I had only really seen in jars and they never looked very appetising! I also remember when I was about six a friend of my Mum and Dad scraped one off a rock on the beach in Greystones, prised it open and ate it raw. I was traumatised.

So my first taste of mussels was when I was on holiday in Puglia in Southern Italy in about 1991. We ordered the seafood antipasti completely by accident, thinking we had ordered the vegetarian starter. The dishes kept on arriving and as well as prawns, calamari and baby octopus, two different dishes of mussels were placed on the groaning table. Perhaps it was the heat or the exceptionally cheap local red wine, but we devoured the lot without hesitation. There was an earthenware dish of mussels on the half-shell, stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley and garlic, drizzled with green Puglian olive oil and served sizzling straight out the pizza oven. A second dish was served with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, chilli and onions. Both were just beautiful and cooked till the very fresh mussels were perfectly sweet, plump and tender.

So, since my accidental introduction to mussels, I have regularly cooked them at home and I always think there is something quite festive about them – perhaps because of that association with carefree, sunny holidays. There is something great about a huge bowl of steaming mussels in the centre of the table with everyone digging in, eating with their fingers and mopping up the sauce with bread. Conversation stops and all you can hear is the clatter of shells being chucked into an empty bowl – and the odd slurp.

We are very lucky to have a great supply of very fresh, small, sweet Roaring Water Bay mussels farmed in the clean Atlantic waters of West Cork. I am making Mussels with Cider. It’s my take on the classic Moules Marinieres – but you will never find cream in my sauce – for me it is completely unnecessary and takes away from the simplicity of the dish. Plus, my husband is a founder member of the anti-dairy league when it comes to fishy dishes, so this recipe keeps everyone happy.

Roaring Water Bay Mussels with Cider

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Serves 4 -6

  • 2 kilos of mussels
  • Olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 5 finely chopped shallots
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • Half a pint of dry cider
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped fresh parsley to serve

Preparing your Mussels

Mussels cook very quickly – but there is one thing that I think you need to spend a bit of time on if you are going to cook them at home. First thing is to wash and prep them thoroughly. I rinse them in lots and lots of cold water about three times before checking them over for any cracked, open or broken shells, which should be discarded. I then “de-beard” the mussels by running a sharp knife around the edge of the shell and “shaving” off any fibres. I then rinse them again in lots of fresh water and then leave them standing in fresh cold water, ready to be drained in a large colander for cooking.

Making the Sauce

It is really worth taking time to develop a good deep flavour for this sauce, so I tend to start this before washing the mussels. I use a large heavy saucepan, in which I heat the olive oil and butter to fry the finely chopped shallots, the bay and the thyme very gently and very slowly for at least 10 minutes. You are aiming for a golden savoury mush. Add to this the garlic, the chilli flakes and the seasoning and fry for a couple more minutes. Turn the heat up and add the cider. Bring it rapidly to the boil for about three minutes, add the mussels and bring back to the boil. Place a lid on the saucepan and cook for 7 minutes. Just give them a good shake every couple of minutes. When they are cooked, the mussels will open. If any have not opened, they should be discarded.

Using a slotted spoon place the mussels in a large heated dish or bowl and then add the lemon juice to the pan juices and bring once again to the boil. Add the chopped parsley, pour over the mussels and serve.

I serve this with bread, or with fries. A glass of cider or a glass of Muscadet will always help things along. And do remember to put out loads of napkins because it can get messy.

 

Slow and Spiced Chicken with Apricots

Cold but bright Saturdays in early spring are great for gardening, pottering and cooking warming food. As the evenings get lighter, I pull on a jumper and spend as much time outdoors as I can, popping indoors only to put something on that will simmer down gently and eventually draw you in with some spicy, fragrant aromas as the afternoon takes on the evening chill.

In the garden, some early Swiss Chard and Spinach is a welcome spring green sight in this weather. Sown in February, the still small seedlings need a bit of thinning and I’m going to use the small leaves for a salad while letting the remaining plants have a bit more room to expand. This also helps me to very gently work the surrounding soil and hopefully see off any pests such as flea beetle that are lurking there.

The Spiced Chicken with Apricots dish that I am cooking is great family comfort food. It’s not spicy in the hot sense of the word. Rather it draws on the fruit and spice laden tagines and stews of North Africa and the Middle East. My son Leo’s best friend from childhood is of Somalian heritage, and my son a frequent visitor to their house, where he always loves eating the fruity rice and stews that our friend Ruqia makes for her family. I am using dried apricots for the stew because they add a lovely rich but subtle sweetness and also help to colour the stew –I couldn’t help stealing a few plump apricots before cooking but try and resist because this dish benefits from plenty of apricots.

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Spiced Chicken with Apricots

You will need:

  • 8 chicken thighs (I prefer them with bone and skin intact, as they will be much more tender when cooked)
  • 2 red onions finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
  • 1 x 2cm cube of fresh ginger grated
  • 1 red chilli de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 200g Dried Apricots
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • A heaped teaspoon of Harrisa
  • 1 tablespoon of Ras el Hanout spice mix (this is available in larger supermarkets but follow this link to make your own)
  • Olive Oil
  • 500ml of chicken stock
  • Seasoning
  • Fresh parsley and/or coriander chopped to serve
  • A heavy oven proof pan.

First pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees centigrade. Quickly brown off the chicken thighs in a small amount of olive oil in a hot frying pan and place on a heated plate to one side. Then in a large oven proof saucepan, lightly fry the onions for about five minutes until they are soft and translucent. Add the ginger, chilli and garlic and fry for a couple more minutes and finally add the Ras el Hanout spice mix and stir everything thoroughly with a wooden spoon. To this mix add the chicken, the Harissa the tin of tomatoes, the stock and the apricots. Now bring to the boil,  put a lid on your pan and transfer to the oven. This can simmer away for 2 hours allowing you to finish off those last few garden jobs and to rustle up the salad. Season to taste before serving and then sprinkle the chopped herbs on top. You can create a delicious vegetarian version of this by substituting the chicken for lightly fried quartered Aubergines, but please note it will only take about half the time to cook.

The stew can be served with plain rice, little roast potatoes, flatbreads or salads – or a combination of. I am serving it with a cauliflower “pilaf” and some coriander naan bread. Cauliflowers are in season right now and good value in the shops. So, this provides a low carb and gluten free salad which tastes great, is cheap and easy to make and is still really filling.

Jewelled Cauliflower Pilaf

You will need:

  • 1 Cauliflower all leaves removed and the florets chopped or blitzed to the consistency of rough breadcrumbs
  • 1 small onion or shallot
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • Half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • Half a teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 100 ml orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • A handful of dried cranberries
  • A handful of sultanas
  • A handful of pine nuts or cashews
  • A bunch of small chard or spinach leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A tablespoon of green herbs such as parsley, mint and coriander finely chopped

Fry the onion in the olive oil in a small saucepan and when they are soft and golden add the spices and fry for a couple more minutes. Add the orange juice and the dried fruit then bring it to the boil then take it off the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. This will soften and plump up the dried fruit.

Place the Cauliflower in a large salad bowl, and add the contents of the saucepan. Mix very well and season. Now add the greens, the nuts and the herbs and again mix very well. This is good with any grilled meat, veg or fish dish and lovely with barbecued food.

I would finish with another favourite Somalian afternoon snack – plain popcorn and luscious dates all washed down with sweet black coffee.

Thanks Mum. Still feeding the family ten years on…..

 

Mum died ten years ago this year, and when it happened I was simply not prepared for the huge gap that it would leave in our lives. For years after she died I would stick a cake or a loaf in the oven on a Saturday afternoon (my traditional time for baking) and head straight for the phone to speak to her, to tell her what I was cooking and catch up on family news. Each time this happened I would find myself feeling her loss so keenly and longing to speak with her as the smell of baking surrounded me.

For me food and cooking is intrinsically linked to my mother. From my earliest memories of standing on a chair in the kitchen watching her trim an apple pie, press out scones or make a quick beef stew, I was the daughter who was most fascinated by the alchemy of cooking. What I loved about my mother’s approach to food was that although she was a great traditional home cook, thrifty, practical, skilled, she was also always willing to embrace and try something new. So along with the stews, and pies and baking, she was making curries in the 1960s, spicy stir fries in the 70s and rolling her own pasta in the early 80s. There would always be some interesting new ingredient turning up in the larder and she would cut recipes out of papers and magazines, study them, stick them on the fridge and read them aloud as she tried out new ingredients and techniques.

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However, my recipe for Mothers’ day is not based on my Mum’s forays into more adventurous cuisines, but one of the simplest recipes that for her grandchildren, children and brothers is instantly recognisable as Sadie’s soup, Granny’s soup or Mum’s Soup. It makes it even more special that this recipe was passed down to her by her beloved Step-Mother Essie, who was a professional cook before she married my Grandfather. I have the large black enamel pot still that belonged to Essie. I don’t often use it to cook now, but it takes pride of place on the kitchen shelf above my cooker.

This is my Mum’s Lentil Soup. When I was a vegetarian for a while in my twenties Mum cooked this for us a lot. Only years later telling me that she had always used the ham water or chicken stock in order to preserve my health! The day after she died I decided to make this as we had a lot of people arriving in the house. It was the only time it ever went wrong – it was inedible. Luckily my Mum’s neighbours popped round with two platters of home-made vegetable pakoras and a lamb curry to save the day. To this day I have no idea why this simplest of soups did not work that day, but perhaps I was so numb with early grief that I was unable to cook with the ingredient that mattered most ….love.

Sadie Lavelle’s Lentil Soup            

You will need:

  • 2 onions
  • 2 large sticks of celery
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 large potato peeled
  • A large handful of red lentils – give them a rinse them under cold water in a sieve.
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • 1 litre of stock, which can be vegetable, chicken or indeed “ham water”.
  • A tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil
  • Salt and white pepper
  • A large saucepan

Roughly chop all the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the vegetables and bay leaves. Lightly fry for about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, stir well and then add the stock. Bring to a rapid boil and let the soup boil hard for 10 minutes. At this point remove any foamy impurities from the surface with a spoon. Now reduce to a simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and use a handheld processor to blitz the soup to a “not too smooth” consistency. Season to taste, but I do recommend a good pinch of white pepper for this soup.

Serve with lots of bread, butter, chatter round the table and some very happy memories.

Thanks Mum. Still feeding the family 10 years on x

 

Bacon and Cabbage – Scandinavian Style

For St Patrick’s day we went for traditional and ate a pot of seafood chowder with brown bread followed by a great pile of bacon and cabbage. Today when I looked in the fridge for something light for lunch, I was faced with half a joint of cold ham and half a spring cabbage, which was starting to look sad as it prepared to wilt. So, it will be open sandwiches for lunch, which will make great use of the leftovers. A sort of Paddy’s Smorrebrod taking  inspiration from its Danish namesake. Importantly, this is also a “no cook”, quick solution for the weekend when the family tend to be in and out of the door at different times. And frankly, this just seems a bit more exciting than cold meat sandwiches.

With the addition of a few store cupboard or back of the fridge staples the sorry cabbage is quickly transformed into a fresh, tangy coleslaw, piled on the salty, savoury, sweet ham, which in turn is piled on thickly buttered home-made brown bread. I add some parsley and few slices of gherkins and that is it.

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For the Coleslaw take:

  • Half a cabbage – green or white works best with this, finely chopped.
  • 1 large carrot grated
  • 1 onion finely grated
  • Half a celeriac peeled and grated coarsely (This is optional, but I love this in coleslaw.)
  • 1 generous tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard – Dijon, Irish, English or in this case I have used Swedish mustard which has a lovely mild, sweet flavour and I happened to have in the fridge.
  • Handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and load them on to your open ham sandwich. Add a few slices of gherkin for a really Scandinavian touch. If you want to use left-over smoked salmon or mackerel instead of ham for this just substitute the mustard for some horseradish sauce. It would also be very good with a “hair of the dog and goes equally well with a glass of porter, a cold beer or if we were in Denmark maybe some ice cold schnapps. But don’t worry, its not compulsory if you have over indulged this weekend and as it happens we had it with a large glass of cold milk.

Skal or Slainte!