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It happens. They get left in the bowl and sudddenly it’s too late, no-one wants them. Don’t throw them out they’re are great for all kinds of things. Smoothies are an obvious and super fast approach. Yogurt, milk, a little ice if you like (I don’t) and you’re set. A lot of recipes specify a sweetener but you really don’t need one. A handful of berries, dollop of  tahini, peanut, or any other nut butter along with  also makes this very special.

At the moment the whole back to school thing has me in a spin, scrambling around trying to remember mid-afternoon snacks that tide kids (and sometimes grown-ups) over till dinner (while trying to figure out what’s actually for said dinner….) Smoothies are perfect and this one is very popular at the moment….

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Super-healthy Chocolate Banana Smoothie

You’ll need:

200ml milk

2 dollops yogurt

1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder

2 tablespoons flaxseed oil (brilliant source of Omega 3 oils)

1 heaped tablespoon flax seed (for fibre)

1 large ripe banana

Put everything in a blender and blast til smooth. Serve cold.

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The other great way to deal with old bananas is of course banana bread. For portability muffins are a good way to go. Same mixture different mould and slightly less time in the oven. Lately I’m on a coconut buzz so instead of the usual walnuts there are coconut flakes in this recipe. To plump up the sultanas I soak them in my fav Bengal Spice tea but you can use regular or any other kind you like. These muffins (or buns if you want to make something a little more manageable sizewise) will keep for a few days in an airtight tin.

Banana and coconut muffins

You’ll need:

100gr butter room temperature

100gr moscovado sugar

150gr wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 large eggs

2 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of allspice if you have it

A pinch of salt

250gr really ripe bananas

100gr flaked toasted coconut

100gr sultanas

Anything from an hour to 15 minutes before you begin put the sultanas into half a cup of tea in a pot. Bring to the boil then simmer until most of the water has evaporated. Allow to cool down while you get on with everything else.

Sieve the flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder and salt together and set aside. If the butter isn’t nice and soft stand it in the mixing bowl in a basin of hot water for a few minutes then cream it with the sugar til pale and fluffy. Add an egg and continue beating til fully incorporated. Add about half of the flour, beat then add the other egg, beat well then add the rest of the flour.

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Mash up the bananas and beat them into the mixture then add in the sultanas followed by three-quarters of the coconut. . Mix well then spoon into moulds and top with the rest of the toasted coconut which goes deliciously chewy in the oven.

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Bake  at Gas Mark 5/190 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Pear and blackberry cake

This week’s bag puts us firmly into autumn. New season parsnips in from Denis Healy which I think I’ll roast with honey and thyme, Savoy cabbage (I’m thinking minestrone style soups to ward off the cold and maybe a midweek colcannon) and Oliver Kelly’s leeks which I can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve been  poaching them in buttery stock and eating them with quinoa a LOT recently. With a wedge of cheese it’s as much as you need at lunchtime.

Fruit wise, citrus has just started but so far it’s really only green Satsumas but I’d expect Navelina oranges to kick in any day now. Apples and pears are what really come into their own at this time of year. Pears are especially good at the moment but getting them at their best takes a bit of patience. Like peaches, they can go from rock hard to overripe and mealy in less than a day if you take your eye off them. Vigilance is richly rewarded. Get them perfectly ripe and you have a snack or dessert from heaven. Even though they are firm enough to hold their shape and slice neatly, it always amazes me how juicy they are at their peak. They don’t need anything and are one of the nicest stand-alone desserts I know. If you want to gussy things up a bit, try a scoop of ice-cream. Vanilla is classic but chocolate or honeycomb will also work beautifully. Chopped with yogurt and dried fruit makes a great start to the day but in our house it’s porridge first thing so we have them with that and a drizzle of Highbank syrup. Of course they partner beautifully with cheese especially blue. Cashel blue, a handful of walnuts and a honey mustard dressing with this week’s salad leaves would a great lunch or starter over the next day or two.  Winter doesn’t mean the end of salads you know, just a few adjustments to the ones you’ve been eating for the last few months.

I used a large pear to moisten a cake recently and it was such a success that I thought I’d pass on the recipe this week.  It was a bit of an experiment really. We went out for a walk and got a stash of late blackberries and I decided to throw those in too but it’s the kind of cake that works with any berry. I buy blueberries and raspberries when they’re in season and stick them in the freezer for this kind of thing.

I added ground almonds as it keeps this kind of cake moist for longer and adds a nice weight to things. My idea was to make a cake that would last a few days but as it happened it actually survived one evening. I made it again last week to bring to Schull where we spent midterm break. We munched on it for most of the week and it definitely lasts well. Put it in an airtight tin or wrap it up in tinfoil and it nearly gets better over the few days you’ll manage to keep it.

Boy, do they celebrate Halloween down there. The night before we took the kids on a magical candlelight spooky farm walk. Then on the night itself  the whole town went all out. Almost every shop was taken over by the living dead, witches, ghouls or something in between. We watched a crazy nurse perform surgery on a live patient in the fishmongers, visited Dr Frankenstein’s lab for another equally gruesome operation, saw (willing!) children in cages in one of the crazy haunted houses …. Absolutely classic. Our lot took a while to get into to it.  What?! It’s not just about sugar and pumpkins? After all there was no lorry load of treats to take home afterward just a small bag of really cool ones.

Dracula

 

As Auggie or, rather, Dracula,  put it “I prefer the real Halloween, the not scary Dublin one”. Well, they’ll have to get used to it, we’re definitely coming back next year.

Pear and blackberry cake with almond

You’ll need:

200gr light moscovado sugar

200gr butter at room temperature

160gr self-raising flour

3 large eggs

1 level teaspoon baking powder

A little milk

50gr ground almonds

100gr blackberries or blueberries

1 large pear (about 250 gr)

Sieve the flour and baking powder together then set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in an egg then about a third of the flour, followed by an egg then more flour then the third egg and the rest of the flour. Make sure each addition is fully incorporated before the next. Add the almonds along with a dash of milk then turn off your mixer.

Peel the pear and coarsely grate it into the mixture. Mix it in by hand. The mixture will probably curdle but don’t worry. Add the berries. Turn the mixture into a greased 20 cm baking tin and place in the oven Gas mark 5 and bake for about 45 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

Cool down and, ideally, allow to stand for a few hours before slicing. You can dust with icing sugar (or not) before you serve with a nice cup of tea.

Have a brilliant weekend,

Sarah

The perfect late summer cake

September 8, 2012


This one’s from Nigel Slater who knows a thing or two about good cake. A delicious, almond sponge moistened with peaches and spiked with blueberries. As you’d expect, nectarines work perfectly well if peaches aren’t around and if you can’t get hold of blueberries, I’d wager raspberries work a treat. It’s that kind of cake. One thing though, this is definitely one of those cakes that tastes better the second day. Think of it as character building…..

Nigel Slater’s blueberry and peach cake

You’ll need:

175gr butter

175gr golden caster sugar

200gr ripe peaches or nectarines

2 large eggs

175g self-raising flour

100g ground almonds

1 tsp grated orange zest

a few drops of vanilla extract

150g blueberries

Nigel uses a lined loose-bottomed 20 cm cake tin but I take the easier way out with a greased silicone mould. Dunnes have them for about a fiver. Set the oven to 170C/gas mark 4 and get on with things.

Halve, stone and roughly chop the peaches or nectarines and set aside. Wash and sort through the blueberries removing any remaining stalks.

Cake Ingredients

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Add one of the eggs and continue beating then add a tablespoon of flour. Beat in the second egg.  Mix the flour and almonds together then add to the mixture in 2 or 3 different lots then finally beat in the orange zest and vanilla. Stir in the chopped peaches and blueberries and a splash of milk (Nigel doesn’t do this but I find it helps to moisten things).

Cake Mix

Scrape the mixture into the cake tin then bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Test with a skewer or sharp knife – if it comes out relatively clean, then the cake is done. Leave the cake to cool for about 10 minutes in the tin then loosen the edges with  a palette knife and turn it onto  a plate. I decorated with blueberries and icing sugar but it’s up to you.

A blob of mascarpone or Greek yogurt is delicious on the side if you want to serve this for dessert but really it’s an afternoon tea kind of cake. But don’t let that put you off – 11pm  is still technically after noon 😉

Enjoy x

Coca de ceba

You could call it onion focaccia, you could call it pissaladière… and you would find yourself in the middle of one of those never ending debates about which country invented what. Coca de ceba is but one variant of  a traditional dish found all around the Mediterranean:  flatbread with toppings.
A note on flour………..
Make sure that the plain flour is really plain: it should not contain any raising agents at all. The easiest way is to order organic flour from Home Organics and get it delivered to your door along with the veggies.
The hard way is to run around several supermarkets reading the list of ingredients on the side of the “plain” flour packages: you will be surprised to see that for most brands they are the same as in the self rising flour (one of those mysteries!). Otherwise go to a Polish shop and look for ‘mąka pszenna’ but it will not be organic.
For a 20 cm by 30 cm tray, you will need:

  • 400 g plain flour (white, wholemeal or half each)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 bag instant yeast (or 20 g fresh yeast)
  • 200-250  g water
  • 75 g olive oil + some extra for drizzling
  • 400 g chopped onions

Prepare the dough using  your favourite method. I use the Thermomix as it takes only 5 minutes for both the dough and onions. If you do it by hand:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in some of the water and set aside.
  2. Place the flour and the salt in a roomy bowl and push to the sides. In the central cavity, add the yeast mixture, the oil and most of the water.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and then knead. If you are using half wholemeal flour or more, you will need all the water and maybe a bit extra. The dough should be soft as your ear lobe and not sticky .
  4. Place it on a 20 cm by 30 cm  baking sheet lined with baking paper or a silicon mat. If the sheet is shallow enough, roll out the dough using a rolling pin. If the borders of the sheet pan are too high, roll out the dough on the counter and then transfer it.
  5. Wrap the top of the tray with cling film (not too tight but sealing et well) and leave it to rise at room temperature for 1 hour. If you are in a hurry, place it in the oven at its lowest setting (40 C, keep the door ajar if the lowest setting is 50 or 60 C).
  6. Chop the onion in thin fans and drizzle it with olive oil.
  7. When the dough has risen, peel off the cling film and start heating the oven to 220 C.
  8. Using your fingertips, press the dough against the tray to create little holes all over the surface, without piercing it.
  9. Spread the onion fans over the dough and bake on the lower half of the oven for 20 minutes or until the borders of the dough look done. If the onion starts to brown, cover the coca with baking paper.
  10. Let it cool on a rack and serve warm or cold.

To make it French you will need:

  • 600-800 g of onion instead of 400 g (as they will shrink during the slow cooking step)
  • 2 tins of anchovies (60 g drained weight in total)
  • Black olives

Proceed as for coca but, instead of step 6, slowly cook the onions in the oil from the anchovies until they are soft and golden. Make a paste with half the anchovies and some water and add it to the onions. Once baked, decorate with the remaining anchovies and the black olives.

Serve with rosé wine from Provence and call it pissaladière instead of coca. If any of your friends makes jokes about the name, cut them a smaller part and explain that the name derives from ‘peix salat’, wich is old Catalan/Provençal for salted fish.
To make it Italian you will need:

  • 2 balls of mozzarella
  • Proceed as for coca but top the onions with thin slices of mozzarella before baking.

Call it focaccia alle cipolle or focaccia San Remo.

To make coca de recapte you will need:

  • Escalivada
  • Herrings or anchovies in oil (drained) or canned tuna (from a good brand) or sausages

Use the dough and top it with escalivada and any, or all, of the other ingredients arranged in neat pretty lines.

mango and coconut cake

All in all it’s been going well. Lee is thriving and I, while definitely beginning to feel the effects of all that broken sleep, am doing pretty well. Yes, there are piles of laundry (mainly clean though sometimes it’s hard to tell) in almost every room in the house at this stage, hair-washing has become a luxury, dressing doesn’t happen until 4pm some days and the high speed approach taken has had some frightening results (why and how does baby spew seem to appear on things which haven’t even been near the baby – don’t I have enough to contend with????) and “me time” are those ten minutes at about 3.30am when I am alone and not holding anything before I go to bed.

A big development is that Auggie seems to have finally accepted Lee’s existence and even manages to say his name  (well, sometimes). I believe Lee’s amazing farting abilities sealed the deal. Both his brothers have been massively impressed and now can’t wait for him to grow up into some kind of Dennis the Menace as far as I can make out. Word of his amazing powers have even reached the school and crèche where he has attained almost celebrity status- not bad going for a four-week old……

Foodwise, we’ve been keeping it very simple. Paul is back at work and Lee pretty much feeds all the time so most days it’s a bowl of pasta in the evenings and whatever comes to hand the rest of the time. While hummus, cheese, olives etc are all brilliant for this, I’ve come to rely on sweet stuff  for much needed energy boosts throughout the day. Biscuits and chocolate just don’t do it. Cake is what I need. We’ve had Nigel Slater’s Moscovado and Hazelnut one a few times which the boys can pretty much make on their own if you give them the ingredients. It’s a firm favourite at ours and a cinch to make but rather than risk overkill I’ve been branching out and somehow managed to make this week’s mango and coconut cake a few days ago while my sister cuddled Lee.

Coconut and mango is one of those matches made in heaven. You just can’t go wrong. This cake is really a sort of tart but instead of pastry there’s a shortbread base made with coconut that has a gorgeous crumbly texture. Then a layer of mango which I simmer down with blood orange and rum until it goes jammy. Finally, there’s a sprinkle of the crust mix so you get a crumble style topping. The result is a cake/pie that is perfect on its own with a cuppa but which also makes a brilliant dessert with vanilla ice-cream.

I’ve been making this cake for a while now, tinkering around with proportions and ingredients. The first time I made it was for a celiac friend and I used rice flour which worked perfectly so I’ve kept that up. If you don’t have any, you can use regular plain white or whole-wheat. This recipe uses dried as opposed to fresh mango and the reason is that all the flavour of fresh mango completely dissipates when you cook it. It’s a complete waste. We had amazing Osteen mangos a few months back and I made a version of this cake with them and you couldn’t even tell it was mango. You can of course use other fruit, I’ve made a version with cranberry and cinnamon which was so nice that I bought up lots of half price cranberries after Christmas and froze them so I could rustle up impromptu desserts at a moments notice. Hmmm…like that’s going to happen any time soon.

Mango and coconut crumble cake

You’ll need:

100gr dried mango

2 blood or regular oranges juiced 100 ml approx

50ml rum (I used Captain Morgans)

150 ml water

1 heaped tablespoon cane sugar

For the crumble

150gr rice flour

90gr cane sugar

140gr butter

60gr desiccated coconut

A pinch fine salt

Mango and blood orange juice

Begin by preparing the mango – combine the slices with the juice, rum, sugar and water in a pot and gently simmer over a lowish heat for about 45 minutes leaving the mango soft and the liquid reduced to about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup. Allow this to cool while you get on with the rest

Mango and blood orange cooked

To make the cake crumble all the ingredients together with your fingertips as you would any other crumble. Lightly grease a cake tin then with your hand press 80% of the crumble mix to the bottom so it all sticks together.

Finely chop the mango conserving all the juice left in the pot. Spread all of this on the crumble base. sprinkle  the rest of the crumble mix on top of the fruit leaving the edges uncovered so some of the lovely deep red of the fruit can peep through.

Bake for 30 minutes are gas mark 6 til the topping is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature with a little vanilla ice-cream.

It’s now purple sprouting broccoli season and most of you have some in this week’s bag (sadly they weren’t quite able to harvest enough for us so a few of you have something else instead). For this special treat keep things simple – it’s lovely steamed then tossed with gently sautéed garlic, pasta, pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon or you can go all out try it on a bed of polenta with sundried tomato pesto and goat’s cheese (this really rocks). Whatever you do, do it asap so you get it at its best. Those of you who missed out this week can rest assured I’ll be doing my best to get more in asap.

Have a great week,

Sarah

Christmas cookies

If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be baking Christmas cookies to hang off the tree I’d have said you had the wrong girl. I’m just not that kind of cook. I bake and indeed do all my cooking to eat and rarely faff around with too much decoration leaving that kind of Martha Stewart business to calmer types with more time on their hands.

But time and kids have mellowed me and these days I consider it a quite a luxury to have a few hours to devote to baking and, as I’ve often said, find it a superior form of crowd control when it comes to kids (basically they’ll do anything to lick the bowl and after 7 years I know how to use this to my full advantage).

Dan & Auggie making cookies

But don’t switch off just yet, these cookies are for grown ups too. I make them with cocoa and chinese 5 spice powder.In fact they’re probably a little highbrow for most kids. Mine love them (sugar is sugar after all) and in our house it signals the start of Christmas eating.

Making cookies

This recipe (adapted from a Nigella one)will make about 50 -60 cookies and about half go on our tree and the rest are for having with coffee or perking up vanilla ice-cream as a quick dessert. For the tree we did stars and dinosaurs today and I decorated them with white icing sugar and Christmassy bits and then the rest were cut into smaller stars and drizzled with dark chocolate which suits my purposes when it comes to coffee and/or ice-cream. They’ll keep for a week in a tin and for a day or two on the tree – after that they start to really soften and the kids tend to leave well alone which suits the Martha Stewart in me (this is what happens!!!) as they do look so sweet…

Iced Christmas cookies

Christmas cookies with chocolate and Chinese Five Spice powder

You’ll need:

300gr plain flour                                                                  Dinosaur cookie

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 level teaspoons Chinese 5 spice powder

100gr butter, diced

100gr light muscovado sugar or any brown sugar you have

2 eggs

60gr golden syrup

First of all preheat your oven to Gas mark 3 (170 degrees Celsius). Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and 5 spice powder together. Rub in the butter with your fingertips then stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with the golden syrup then mix through the flour using your hands.

At this stage the mix will probably seem very dry but persevere and using your hands gather everything into a ball. When you’ve got everything together, tip the mixture out onto a floured surface and work it by rolling  and re-rolling the dough with a well floured rolling pin until the dough becomes smooth.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and put half into a plastic bag or wrap in cling film and put into the fridge while you work on the first lot*. Get the remaining dough back into a ball then roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out your cookies.

Christmas cookies

Using a spatula, put them on a lightly buttered baking tray. If you are making some for your tree you’ll need to put a little hole big enough to get a thin ribbon, string or wool  through before they go into the oven. I use the point of a chopstick for this.  Place the cookies in the oven for about 12 -15 minutes. They will come out slightly soft but don’t worry, they harden on cooling. Place them on a wire rack . They’ll cool down quite quickly so you can get on with melting chocolate or making icing almost immediately.

*The dough you put in the fridge can either be used straight away or will keep for a few days in the fridge. It can also be frozen.

The decoration

If you’re using icing……

Sieve 150gr grams icing sugar then very gradually add warm water making sure not to let the icing get too runny then drizzle over the cookies. You can drizzle with a spoon but I find the easiest thing is to put the icing into a small plastic bag, loosely tie it then prick with a large needle and use this to pipe the squiggles onto the cookies. We went quite all Sunday supplement low key this year with some white decorations on the white icing. Usually it’s a riot of colour and silver balls. Up to you…

If you go for chocolate…..

Christmas cookies with chocolate

Melt a bar (100gr) chocolate in a bain-marie (ie in a heatproof bowl set in a pot of hot water) then drizzle over the cookies.

One thing – I find that the  icing takes a lot longer to dry than you’d think so be sure it’s fully hardened before you put the cookies away away.

Our mediterranean selections all have a bag of dried mango  Chocolate mangowhich makes another brilliant sweet treat for after dinner. Slice into strips and partially dip in melted chocolate. Dry on grease-proof paper. These will store for at least a week in a tin and also go really well with ice-cream and the cookies for that matter.

As for the savouries, I think soup is a definitely way to go – easy and more importantly warming. This week’s sweet potatoes are great with Thai flavours and my recipe for sweet potato soup with coconut and lime  is a cinch to put together or there’s the one I did at Hallowe’en with pancetta, sour cream and crispy sage. If you’re having friends over or hanging out there are those crispy sweet potato cakes with feta and pomegranate molasses which make a brilliant starter or picky thing to have with beers.

The leeks are also brilliant for pretty much any soup – don’t overlook the humble version with spud especially if topped with pan-fried crispy bacon and some sour cream. They’re also great braised in stock and topped with Parmesan .If you have the oven on it’s a great way to go, not least because it’s one of those completely hands-off dishes which I’m more than a little partial to..

Have a great weekend,

Sarah

Banana bread

A glut of overripe bananas made me revisit an old favourite  recently. Banana bread -I’d forgotten how good it is. It’s just a cake with mashed bananas and dried fruit so there’s no real difficulty involved. I used sultanas, dates and walnuts but you can of course mix it up and use other dried fruit. I like to really plump up the sultanas by bringing them to the boil and simmering them in whiskey. Bourbon, rum or tea will do the same job.

The real challenge with this recipe is the willpower needed to complete the final step after it comes out of the oven. If you can resist wolfing it and stick it in a paper bag overnight your reward will be an even better result that’s a gorgeously rich, cakey slice of heaven. A slather of butter is essential and I’m also very partial to toasting. In fact I’d go so far as to say that making a double batch is the way forward. I use those silicon loaf “tins” from Dunnes which at a fiver a pop are brilliant value.

Banana bread with whiskey soaked sultanas, dates and walnuts

You’ll need:

100gr sultanas

75ml whiskey

100gr butter at room temperature

120gr moscovado sugar

100gr buckwheat flour – I’m using this a lot these days and it works very well in this recipe. If you don’t have it regular plain will do.

50gr plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

2 medium eggs

250gr very ripe bananas (about 3 or 4 depending on the size)

50gr chopped walnuts

50gr dates finely sliced

A teaspoon vanilla extract

About half an hour before you plan to bake, put the whiskey and sultanas in a pot and bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until the liquid has all but been absorbed. Set aside to cool. When you’re ready to bake, sieve the flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and put to one side for later. Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add an egg and beat into the mixture then throw in about third of the flour and beat that in. Repeat this step then mash up your bananas and beat them in. The mixture will start to look curdled after the bananas go in but don’t worry. Add in the rest of the flour and this normally gets things back to normal. Now toss in the vanilla extract, sultanas, dates and nuts. Mix together then spoon the mixture into a greased loaf tin. Put in a moderate oven (Gas mark 4/170 degrees) and bake for about 50 minutes until a skewer(or knife) comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Do check things after the first 40 minutes just in case. When the bread is ready, let it cool then, as I said, if you can bear it put it away in a paper bag overnight. Just focus on how good breakfast will be….

Banana bread loaf

In case you were wondering……….

Those leaves in your bag are Cima di Rapa and they can be simply tossed in the pan with garlic and/or chorizo for a very tasty lunch. I also love them with japanese style noodle . Either way you should eat them asap to get them at their best.

If you’re heading down to Stradbally look out for Chuck. He’ll be playing tunes in the Body and Soul area from a tree house. If anyone wants to take 2 little boys (they’re no trouble really) I’ll put some of that banana bread in a bag and go down and join him. Fingers crossed!!

Have a great weekend,

Sarah