A few weeks back, I challenged my friends Lucy and Ferdia to a Come Dine With Me 2013. Very 2011, I know, but we had been talking ALL year about cooking for each other last year and it never happened. I thought putting a competitive spin on it might get us all together long enough to cook a meal for each other.
Seeing as they’re both better cooks than I – Ferdia makes his own ginger beer and jams while Lucy can cook full meals in camper vans – I thought I’d push the boat out a bit with my own menu, seeing as I was first to host.
I had planned the menu quite well in that everything was ready before the guests got there. Including the very final course of cheese (Glebe Brethan and Ardrahan) which I served with my own apple chutney and my very own homemade crackers. Which kind of blew my mind.
If you’ve been hanging around this blog for long enough, you’ll have realised by now that I tend to be somewhat uneasy when it comes to baking. I’ve had lots of recent successes (especially since this breakthrough) but my cakes, pies and buns still leave a lot to be desired.
Take these banana muffins, for example. They looked right and they tasted right. Except for one important little factor – the texture. Herein lies the dominant dilemma of my baking life. My muffins are tough and dense, rather than light and airy. I wonder what I can do about that?
All muffin recipes highlight the importance of not over-mixing. I don’t know how I can mix any less. Perhaps these muffins could have benefited from a bit more oil? I thought I’d share the recipe with you as the flavour combination of coffee, banana and pecans worked really well. Maybe you can help me with the muffin base recipe?
Like many other food lovers before me, I fell in love with Jerusalem last year. Thanks to the evocative writing and mouth-watering recipes in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book dedicated to the food of their home town, I am able to transport my kitchen to this endlessly fascinating part of the world with their cookbook as a culinary tour guide.
Niall had left Jerusalem under our Christmas tree for me and it wasn’t long before we were knee-deep in hummus and za’atar, starting the new year off with a distinctively Middle Eastern flavour.
A lot of the aromas and flavours coming out of my kitchen through Jerusalem bring me back to my own childhood spent in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia. When I popped off the lid of the za’atar spice mix and inhaled its herby scent, it awoke a distant memory of evenings spent in the souk surrounded by freshly baked manakeesh. Likewise, a tahini sauce made with tahini paste thinned with water and flavoured with garlic and lemon juice brought my tastebuds on a journey back to the street shawarma stall we went to for weekend treats. What amazing memory our taste buds hold!
Always on the look out for new ways to bake eggs for a lazy brunch, I was inspired by the flavours of Jerusalem to make a batch of baked eggs that were both sweet and spicy with a hint of Middle Eastern influence to add to the enjoyment of the dish.
As with many January’s that have come before, 2013′s has begun with the optimism and promise of a detox diet. I’ve renounced my double-threat vices of booze and smokes and am laying off the naughtier things in life for a while. With one cup of coffee a day to keep me going, I’m stuffing my face full of spinach, sprouts (not the Christmas kind) and seeds. A week in and I’m feeling very righteous indeed.
I don’t like to be a defeatist but experience tells me that my new found kitchen virtue will have to fight hard to survive throughout the year. I don’t want to give up all my naughty treats this year (I haven’t gone bananas) but I’m planning on making 2013 a healthier one by restoring a bit of balance.
Somehow, in all the time I’ve spent learning about cooking, I had neglected to make my own granola. It’s an absolute dodlle to make and, if you are worried about processed sugar and the like, making your own means you can completely control what goes in to it.
I made the school girl’s error of adding the berries and raisins into the mix when I was baking it. It was still lovely but the berries took on a slightly bitter taste having been toasted and they should be only mixed through the granola after the oats and all have been toasted. Just another reminder that I still have a helluva lot to learn about cooking.
I love giving friends edible gifts around this time of year. In the past, I’ve given Christmas spiced cupcakes and chutney, or simple bundles of cheeses and crackers. Finding myself a little stretched for time this year, I was looking for something simple yet special to help pals and colleagues ring in the festive season.
I was delighted to have been asked to act as an interviewer/student while Mairin and Peadar O’Lionáird shared with a gathered group of preserve enthusiasts at Andrew Rudd’s Medley on Drury Street in Dublin.
Folláin are a fascinating success story of how an artisan product can evolve. It was set up by Eithne Ui Shiadhail and Mairin in 1983 and Peadar soon became involved in the selling side of things. Now it’s purely a husband and wife team, alongside their employees. I visited their factory in Ballyvourney of West Cork, naively expecting to find a shed at the back of their house with a few empty jam jars being filled by hand. Instead I found a bustling factory, employing 14 people, and a conveyer belt of jam jars dizzyingly circling the large main room as they went on their individual jam journies. Follain are in the process of expanding and moving on to a bigger premises, proving them to be a promising tale of success without losing integrity among an Irish artisan business.
I’ll be joined by Peadar and Mairin O’Lionáird, who’ll be sharing with us the history of their preserve, jam, marmalade, salsa and relish making careers. I’ll be asking them all about the evolution of their delicious jam producing company, Folláin, which is based in Ballyvourney, Co Cork.
We’ll also be sharing some of the best ways to help Folláin make your Christmas even more delicious. Plus, there’ll be Christmas treats and tips to go around.
I’m still on a total pomegranate buzz and even squeezed two pomegranate-based recipes in to Weekend magazine in The Irish Independent last weekend.
I shared a pistachio and pomegranate pavlova for the Naughty foodies. The first time I made this I did it with regular salted pistachios – it was sort of weird but sort of amazing to have that sweet and salty affect. But it probably worked better with the unsalted variety, which you can usually pick up in health food stores.
My Nice recipe came to me in a moment of Ottolenghi-tinged inspiration. It was an early weekday evening in late October and I felt the need to vamp up an aubergine. I figured that feta cheese, mint, pomegranate and spiced yoghurt might just make an aubergine irresistible – and by gum, I was right. You’ll find both recipes after the jump
Last Saturday was the first weekend that I hosted Naughty or Nice solo in The Irish Independent’sWeekend magazine. For more than a year and a half, myself and Aoife Barry wrote the weekly column together, sharing ideas for main ingredients or types of dishes to help inspire each other’s recipes. It has been such a pleasure working with such a talented writer and virtuous cook, and I wish her all the best in her future projects. She’s awesome.
I’ll be taking over from Aoife Barry and providing you with both recipes each week: the Naughty and the Nice. You’re probably aware that my natural instinct is to veer towards the naughty recipes. But after years of indulging myself, I’m starting to come around to nice recipes. Mainly on the insistence of my GP. Just kidding. I’m delighted to be going forward in The Irish Independent and sharing a more rounded (and I mean that in the balanced rather than the plump way) version of my kitchen recipe files with you.
This week, I talked about the Wild and Slow Festival taking place in Wicklow this weekend and pointed you tweeters out there in the direction of Foods of Athenry and The Rebel Kitchen. Recipe wise, I started my solo flight with an Apple Crumble Loaf and a Spiced Apple Chutney. Have a look after the jump for the recipes!
I love Halloween. I love the ghouls, the parties, the tricks and the treats. I’m looking forward with giddy abandon to putting my Jack O’Lantern in its place in the front window this evening and covering my hall and front door with black bin bags to create a haunted house effect in preparation for trick or treaters on Wednesday night.
Tomorrow night, I’m heading to The Spooky Kabuki Halloween Supper Club at Aoife Coghlan’s Open Door Supper Club in her home near the city centre. I’m thinking that will get me in to the spooky spirit of things.
If you’re looking for a recipe to celebrate Halloween this weekend, might I recommend my pumpkin pancakes? I got the canned pumpkin purée in Fallon & Byrne. It’s the cheat’s way to perfect pumpkin pie and, where these pancakes are concerned, removes the need to roast whole pumpkins before breakfast.