Saturday, September 29, 2012

Last Thursday night...

Our Thursday nights are a bit like this:  Dinner. A bit of TV. And sure if you're having one I'll have a glass too. It is Thursday afterall.

So last Thursday I made a dessert. Pistacho Bread and Butter Pudding and custard. And a man tasted it. Mr. Moustache you might be thinking if you've read my blog before. Ah, this, dear reader, was an award winning Irish chef, Gary O'Hanlon. He tasted it. He loved it.

Clunk.

Thanks for reviving me Gary.

And then I won the Age Action Big Bake 2012 Competition in Cook's Academy, Dublin. Well he was hardly just hanging out in my kitchen. Check me out in my apron with himself:

Gary O'Hanlon and me with dazed smile

Whoops I'd better go back a bit. Age Action is an Irish charity dedicated to promoting positive ageing. Their mission is to make Ireland the best place in the world to grow old in. Now who could argue with that?

Each year they run the Big Bake competition, kindly sponsored by homecare specialists, Bluebird Care. The task? Let your Granny's secret recipe out of the bag. Cue secret weapons - Granny Cuisine Genie's recipe and some pistachios. I sharpened my palette knife.

Can I let you in on a secret? It was terrifying. You know the way you smirk watching contestants on Great British Bake Off and think ohh they're freaking  out, I'd be grand. Em. I wouldn't. I couldn't find my flour at one stage and in my head I'm screaming for the love of God where is that flour gone while Gary's chatting to me about the dish. And I'm thinking Gary go away I'm looking for the flipping flour.

Let me tell you there was some heat in the Cooks Academy with the 8 finalists' ovens on the go. Combined with an intoxicating scent of sweet baking. That's my excuse for why I didn't get it when Gary was telling me I'd won and I'm staring at him goofily. Thinking did he just say he liked my dish...?

Here's me in my goofy state of happiness. Would you look at the size of that hamper? A massive thank you to Hegarty's Home Interiors.

Rhona O'Connor, Age Action and me with my let-me-tear-this-open smile

Baking Princess Laura McFadden, first runner up
And her I-could-keep-eating-this-all-day Chocolate Fudge Cake
With the lovely Joanne Sweeney-Burke of Media Box

A special thank you to Rhona O'Connor from Age Action, Eddie O'Toole of Bluebird Care and Joanne Sweeney-Burke from Media Box. And of course, Gary: I'm still pinching myself thinking about what you said. Ouch.


What. A. Night. And I'm going to be on the telly. The telly!

If you're looking for something fun on Wednesday 10 October you could do worse than tune into TV3's Ireland AM. Baking Queen Catherine Leyden and I will be making my dish. Yikes. I'd run away but my mum's told her friends and I can't make a show of her now can I?

So if you tune on Wednesday 10 October (or watch on TV3 player after), I'll give you a goofy wave. But the biggest one is going to my 87 year old Granny who's still got the baking soda factor. And to my aunt for telling me to go for this one.

So a deep breath and time to finally say it out. My name's Laoise and I used to be a HR Manager. I've always had a dream I've been too scared to follow. Last year my dad became critically ill and after the most terrifying rollercoaster survived. The cliché that life's too short suddenly rang sharply true. I could have stayed where I was, keep being sucessful at it and ignore that niggling voice telling me this isn't what it's meant to be about. That little voice started shouting. Now I'm here in my own scary-exciting adventure not knowing where it's going to end up.

Following your dream is a beautiful thing. But it can also be like slowly peeling off a plaster as you wince with the pain of rejection. It makes you want to curl up into a little ball. Cover your face. Hide. Then slap yourself back into reality and tell yourself forget it. But then sometimes something happens that makes you go on. Like last Thursday night. So I'll keep going.

See you on the telly!

Update - want to see how I did....? Click here please! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Sweet and Sticky Challenge

Ah, those three little words everyone wants whispered in their ear:

Sticky

Toffee

Pudding

(With extra sauce)

Make that six.


Mr. Moustache and I are very partial to a Sticky Toffee Pudding (STP). But this STP was not just for our pleasure last Sunday. Oh no. There's a lot more at stake. This, dear reader, is the Great Irish Bake Off Challenge. 

Caítríona from Wholesome Ireland is the brains behind this culinary contest. Her beautiful blog shares appetising recipes from her family kitchen. And if you want to know how to make a cake out of spaghetti and meatballs, she's your woman. As you might have guessed, the contest is based around the Great British Bake Off TV series (Brendan to win!). The task is to cook a recipe from the show, with Bloggers/Twitters/Emailers/Facebookers competing for the coveted title of Great Irish Bake Off Champion each week. 

So I threw down the whisk.  And here's what happened.



What you (possibly) didn't know about STP


STP's exact origins are also sticky. The dominant version is that it was developed by Francis Coulson in 1960, of the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District. But one of the other tales is that the landlady of The Gait Inn in Millington invented it in 1907. Whether STP is 52 or 105 years old is debatable, but one thing is for sure: It's a goey moist little divil that you can't help but love, even if your cardiologist doesn't. 


Recipe Research

It's been a while since I dabbled in STP. After online and cookbook research I adapted Simon Hopkinson's recipe on BBC Food. My pudding didn't turn out as dark because somebody forgot the molasses sugar, and somebody said it was unreasonable to expect someone to go out again in the pouring rain and would demerara sugar not do instead? Is monopoly money the same as real money? For a crunch I added some walnuts.


Ingredients 

Sauce 
300ml/9fl oz double cream
100g/3.5oz butter
100g/3.5oz demerara sugar

Pudding
275ml/10fl oz boiling water
175g/6oz dates, chopped
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g/2oz salted butter, softened and extra for greasing
150g/5oz demerara sugar
2 free-range eggs
175g/6oz self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
75g/2.5oz walnuts


Method

Preparation time 20 minutes
Cooking time 45 minutes 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

Place all the sauce ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Simmer for 4 - 5 minutes. 



It's ready when it coats the back of a spoon. All nice and shiny like: 



Butter a baking dish generously (I used a 24 x 24cm dish). 


What could possibly make a STP even better? What about a layer of sauce on the bottom? Oh yes, that'll do. An ingenious tip from Mani Niall. Pour half the sauce into the dish and put in the freezer to set while you make the pudding.



Pour the boiling water into a bowl with the dates and bicarbonate of soda. Is it just me or do you feel like a proper baker using bicarbonate of soda? Just me then. Stir and set aside.



In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter and eggs until fluffy. 


Then beat in the eggs, one at a time.



Now, how are those dates coming along? Juicy: 



Nearly there. Sift the flour and salt into the same bowl. Then add the softened dates (including the water) and walnuts. At this stage Mr. Moustache was looking at bit confused, where was the tasty pudding I'd promised? Not this: 



Mix well and pour into the dish. 



Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until golden brown and just firm to the touch. 

Remove from the oven and pierce the surface all over with a knife. Preheat the grill to medium. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the pudding. You might need to gently heat it for a minute if it has thickened too much. 

Place the pudding under the grill until bubbling (approximately 4 minutes). Keep an eye on it though, it can burn easily. 


Serve. Warm. Has to be warm. I always keep a little sauce to pour over the top as well. And some vanilla ice cream. 



Glorious STP. A pudding that makes you think you should eat it all afternoon. Please don't. We did, and we're still recovering. One or two, ah go on then three, slices should be just right. Enjoy x 


Update! Big congratulations to Sarah who won the glorious title of Great Irish Bake Off Champion for week 7. Woohoo! You can check out her decadent STP here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

You say pistachio, I say pistéise: It's still cake

Pistachio Cake. Or Caca Pistéise as Gaeilge for the Irish contingent (Mum, you're reading this right?).  Or maybe it's more of a bread. Either way, I really think you should make it too. And invite me over and we'll have a couple of slices, buttered, with a cup of tea. 

Pistachio/Pistéise Cake/Bread


Now this bread actually got me on the telly. I kid you not. I was as surprised as you - have a little read here and see how.

It's a bit like a banana bread, but with no bananas and pistachios instead. And it's green. So not like a banana bread then. 

Soft on the inside, with a bit of crunch, it's perfect for the darker autumn evenings. When did that happen? Now that it's autumn I've lost the run of myself. In August I could still pretend I was going to fit back into those summer clothes from 5 years ago. But that nonsense is over now and I can wrap myself up in a cosy jumper and tuck into this. 

Here's how you too can have your cake and eat it:

Ingredients

295g/10.5oz plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
120g/40z butter, softened and extra for greasing
225g/8oz caster sugar
2 free range eggs
85ml/3fl oz buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to whole milk)
2.5 tea spoons natural green food colouring (you don't have to colour it, but I wanted a patriotic hue)
75g pistachios, shelled (As an extra touch, buy with shells and spend a fruitful hour shelling them)

Method

Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 50 minutes

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.

In another bowl cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and buttermilk and mix well. 

Roast the pistachios in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, chop roughly and add to the flour mixture.



Fold the flour mixture into the liquid mixture.

Add the food colouring. I prefer a light green colour. If you want a darker colour add more – be careful and add drop by drop. I said careful! You don't want to end up with a fluorescent green cake.
Colour before mixing, scroll down to see the finished colour


Grease a 20cm x 12.5cm/8in x 5in loaf tin with butter.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes or until golden brown. 

To check if it's cooked you could either elegantly stick your finger into it, as I have below. Or a skewer (or knife), if it comes out clean you're good to go. 



Serving suggestions

Gobble it up when it's warm, but it's lovely cold too. You could add some butter or try with a little coconut yogurt. 

This will happily keep for 3 days, stored in an airtight container and if you don't tell anyone it's there. 

Just the right size Lunchbox Of The Week

Somebody has been telling me our lunchboxes seem to be getting a bit smaller lately. To which I replied, that pile of ironing just keeps getting bigger, doesn't it?

Now in my freshly ironed clothes (merci chéri), I'm happily tucking into this week's Lunchbox Of The Week. A combination of two of my favourite things; pancakes and crêpes. They work well served cold too, but Mr. Moustache zapped his in the office microwave for a few seconds. Some like it hot. Easy now, it's just a lunchbox. 

Pancakes with chicken, peppers and mushroom stir fry. 
Chocolate crêpes with coconut yogurt and pistachios.

Mr.M's verdict? 'Parfait sized lunchbox'Yes, I thought so too darling.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A special treat...

Are you having a tough week? Need something to look forward to? Want to put your feet up and be taken care of? I might just be able to help you out...

I think you deserve the red carpet treatment, don't you?

No, I'm not offering that Mr. Moustache comes over and does your housework. He's too busy here. But, one lucky reader could win a little bit of luxury. I've an unexpected prize to giveaway! Head on over to my post on the Castlemartyr Resort, Cork here and see how. Hurry now, before 1pm on Saturday 22 September! Good luck! 

And you could be having breakfast like this

With views like this...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lunchbox Of The Week. Do you want fries with that?


This week's Lunchbox Of The Week is for my three favourite vegetarians. You know who you are. Bon appétit my veggies! 

And looks like somebody got himself a fancy new lunchbox since he heard they were going to be in a cookbook. Oooh la la Mr. Moustache, excuse-moi. 


Burger and Chips Lunchbox (V) 
Mini burger trio: mushroom, roast peppers, sweet potato fritters
Crispy courgette fries (That's zucchini y'all)
Mr.M's verdict? 'Le Supersize version for moi!'

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Well well well

A little while ago a lovely lady in Ireland told me about the Goodall's Modern Irish Cookbook Competition. She said she thought of me when she saw it.

Goodall's were looking for food bloggers to submit their modern Irish recipes to publish the best ones in a book. I looked it up and sighed, imagine, me in a cookbook. I can always dream right? So I entered, what else, the Lunchbox Of The Week. Sent it off and said to myself, that's another thing done, now move onto the next. 

The results came out this week. And one lunchbox didn't make it. 

Because, dear Reader, two made it. Two! In a book! Like a proper book. With top bloggers! Clunk. Mr. Moustache picked me up from the floor and I nibbled on an emergency lunchbox to revive me. I muttered a nonsensical string of 'book' 'lunchboxes' 'fancy do' 'book'.

All proceeds go to two very worthy charities, Cork Penny Dinners and Crosscare. Now how many copies can I put you down for? A massive congratulations to all the wining contributors (full list here). Looks like I'm in excellent company. I can't wait to get my paws on it and try all the recipes. A special mention to another expat in London - the talented Elaine from the Claremont Road Kitchen.

Oh yes, and there's a fancy launch do on the 18th of October in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin. The Merrion if you don't mind. Swoon. Note to self, need new outfit.


Big thanks are due to Margaret from Goodall's who has a busy few weeks ahead of her with editing and organising the layout.

To that lovely Irish lady: Thank you for thinking I could do something I didn't even know I could do myself. And of course, to Mr. Moustache for his dedication to eating the lunchboxes: Merci chéri.

That's this year's Christmas presents sorted then. Here's one of the lunchboxes that made it. Take a little look here and guess the other one...tis very Irish.

Fish and Chips Lunchbox
Cod sprinkled with golden, crunchy breadcrumbs.
Roast potato crisps and chips.
And it would hardly be a proper fish and chips without some mushy peas

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back home part four: Jameson Irish Whiskey Tour

Ah friends, we've come to our final installment of my trip back home in Ireland. 2 hens, 1 cute goat, 1 Genie Junior, 2 gigantic breakfasts, 1 dinner feast, a food festival, a food market, some kangaroo skewers and a partridge in a pear tree.

What's our final destination on our whistle-stop tour of East Cork? Any of these terms sound familiar?


What about whiskey? Triple distilled Jameson Irish Whiskey. As we were staying near the Midleton distillery it would have been rude not to visit. Hiccup.



Before our visit I didn't know much about the amber nectar. But now I can happily recite a few little facts. Mr. Moustache tells me I'm annoying, I prefer the term insightful.

My Jameson Irish Whiskey know-it-all-facts. Feel free to use them to pretend you're a whiskey buff too:
  • Its founder, John Jameson, was a Scotsman, not Irish. And a lawyer to boot. 
  • His family motto was 'sine metu' - 'without fear'. Due to the family's bravery at fighting pirates during the 1500s. Never thought I'd write the word pirates on Cuisine Genie. It appears on every bottle of its whiskey to this day. The motto, not the word pirate.
  • Jameson founded his original distillery in Bow Street in Dublin in 1780. All operations moved to the Midleton distillery in 1971. 
  • There are 6 stages in the whiskey making process: Malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. This handy little video describes each phase if you'd like to know more.
  • The principle ingredients are barley, soft water and yeast. Straightforward ingredients there you'd think. But don't try this at home. Barley can spontaneously combust.



Adult tickets are €11.70, if booked in advance. €12.50 on the day. That gets you a tour, a whiskey, and if you're lucky you might get picked for the tasting. The tasting part might lure you there in the first place but I really enjoyed the whole experience. 

The tour starts with a standard video and then a walk through the old distillery, taking you through the 6 stages of whiskey making.  Throughout the emphasis is on the tradition behind the whiskey, pure Irish ingredients and the importance of the triple distillation. All combining to give it that distinctive Irish smooth flavour.


It'll more than likely be raining
A lot of the tour takes place outside, don't worry, you'll get an attractive poncho like me

The Distiller's Cottage built in 1794
Where current Master Distiller, Barry Crockett, was born into the job 


Copper stills are used in the whiskey making process



 Water wheel, dated 1852, the distillery's main source of power and still in use in 1975


The original platform shoe


 Stages of the maturation process where the whiskey ages in oak seasoned barrels
The liquid that evaporates during the maturation process is called the angels' share. Lucky divils. 

At the end the guide asks who'd like to volunteer for a tasting. Stick your hand up there now.You'll taste three whiskeys. American (single distilled), Scottish (double) and a Jameson (triple). Obviously there is only one answer to the question which one did you prefer? Your guide describes how to compare the sweetness of the American to the more peaty notes of the Scottish. Then triumphantly finishes with the smoothness of the Jameson.


Plus you'll get a certificate which you must frame and display on your fridge: 



I'd recommend a visit, you'll have a J old time. There are 2 Jameson Irish Whiskey distilleries to visit in Ireland; Cork and Dublin. Tickets and more information can be found here.

So that's it, our weekend back home updates are complete. Back to cooking, eating and living in London. Now, where's my tube map, feigned Londoner look of disinterest and umbrella? London: let's have ya. 
________________________________________
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Back home part three: Eating Midleton (Midleton Food & Drink Festival and Farmers Market)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back home part three: Eating Midleton

So far on my trip home to Cork we've had family and free-range hens (Back home part one), followed by indulgence and gluttony in Castlemartyr (Back home part two).What's missing? Ah, what about a little more food and drink I hear you say. Oh alright then. Just because it's you. On the Saturday we visited the The Midleton Food and Drink Festival and Farmers Market.

Midleton Food and Drink Festival

After breakfast we all rolled into my Mum's car and tootled down the road to the town of Midleton. You might know Midleton because of its brilliant Farmers Market or the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. For me it will always be where I got my Confirmation outfit. If you grew up in Ireland this might sound familiar. It was fabilis. A lovely ensemble of matching black waistcoat and ankle length black skirt sporting a white flower print. Teamed with a clashing cream blouse. Finished off with clumpy black patent shoes and cream ankle socks. And a french plait, the hairstyle of the nineties.  Yes, I chose it myself. But this is not a post on my fashion mistakes (that would be too long).

Since 2000 the Saturday Farmers Market in Midleton has showcased local producers. This Saturday we were extra lucky as the annual Midleton Food and Drink Festival was taking place. Established in 2005 it combines fine street food, local producers, drinks and entertainment.


Local entertainment and there really is a Culchie Festival 
Readers outside of Ireland:
A culchie is our lovely term for someone who isn't from Dublin.
Please click here for more information on this interesting subject

I was looking forward to a trip down foodie memory lane sampling all Irish-made treats. We arrived around midday and the Main Street was bustling. Visiting the festival first, here's a little of what we sampled. I'd just had a 3 course breakfast but ever the professional I struggled on for you dear Reader. 


Perfect sized treats from Bite Size


Clonakilty - Ireland' finest pudding
Pudding sandwich anyone? Don't look at me like that, you know you want to


Frizzling steaks, burgers and sausages at The Organic BBQ


Shark or trout. Your choice...


Sizzle and smell combined = one of the longest queues

Hang on a sec, not very Irish now is it?


Gotta support the French


At the end of the street we continued on and wandered around the corner to the Farmers Market. I would have loved to see the market take centre stage with the festival. Maybe next year?


One of my guiltless pleasures

Not sure if this little guy has any connection with the cheeses 


Michelle's Bakery (gluten free treats)
Another lady who knows the Irish and the French are a perfect match


Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon


Tasting relishes from Ballymaloe 


O'Connail's Chocolate




Imagine the taste of a hot chocolate made from one of these jars
Smooth, rich and creamy with a seductive roasted aroma in the air 
It could just be one of your best hot chocolate experiences 


Clearly we'd had enough to eat at this stage. But, in this writer's humble opinion, it would be scandalous to  visit Midleton without a cup of tea and cake at the Farmgate restaurant. 

And then we all rolled (a bit more slowly this time) back into the car. I'm afraid there's just one stop left on our trip. Being in Midleton we had to taste the water of life, uisce beatha, or you might know it as Irish Whiskey. 

Coming tomorrow evening: Back home part four: Jameson Whiskey Tour. Strictly over 18's only.

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