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     As soon as the Christmas decorations are down it's time to start thinking about Marmalade!  In January Seville oranges come to Ir...


Raspberry Tray Bake

Feral raspberries put to good use!

     When we moved to our house ten years ago this week, the previous owners bequeathed us a couple of rows of Autumn fruiting raspberries, 3 apple trees, 3 gooseberry bushes, assorted current bushes and a wigwam of scarlet runner beans. There was lawn and other flower/ shrub beds too.
     I've managed to keep the lawn under control just, but the beds produce more brambles than they should, I'm not sure I'm a flower/ shrub woman.

     The fruit though I have tried to keep looked after. This year though the brambles engulfed the red & white currants and we missed the black currants, but we did manage to harvest most of the gooseberries.
     The raspberries are just loving this late sunshine. They have gone rather wild, feral really! But they do produce lots of fruit most of which I freeze and then make into jam. Some though do make it into baking
Half an hour in the rather wild raspberry patch yields a liter tub of these delicious berries, some scratches and a few nettle stings. It is all worth it though for this delicious cake.

Raspberry Tray Bake
This is adapted from The Aga Book by Mary Berry.
The one in the picture is a double quantity made in the large roasting tin.

2 eggs
125g soft butter
125g caster sugar
2tbs milk
175g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g raspberries

Line a deep Swiss roll tin or roasting tin 20cm x 30cm approx with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C, GM 5.
Put the eggs, butter, sugar and milk into a mixing bowl.
Sift in the flour and baking powder. Mix well until thoroughly combined. About two minutes in a mixer.
Fold in the raspberries and spread the mixture out evenly in the lined tin. 
Put the tin into the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is golden and springs back when poked with a finger.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then remove to finish cooling.

Raspberry Butter-cream Icing
100g soft butter
200g icing sugar
4-6 raspberries
extra raspberries to decorate

Put the butter in to a mixing bowl and sift in the icing sugar. Beat together until light and fluffy. Add the raspberries one at a time until you achieve the desired colour.
Spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and decorate with more raspberries.


Flower Show

             I’ve always been fascinated by gardening programmes. From dear old Percy Thrower to Charlie Dimmock & Alan Titchmarsh to Monty Don.
They make it sound so easy and achievable, but as anyone who gardens knows it is not!

           For any one with a passing interest in gardens the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is an event not to be missed. This year I was lucky enough to go.

A pretty cranes-bill! 

Sorry I didn't take notes as to what each flower was, there were just too many!

The offering by Mr D Gavin with the Korean DMZ forbidden garden in front.
                There were several glass flower sculptures and these emphasised the blue of the sky!

Sky Blue!

I just loved these crazy green chrysanthemums!

Gardening is a battle: gardener against nature. Plants want to grow and set seed and they don’t always do it in the manner that gardeners want them to. It’s a control thing and constant vigilance is necessary. 

These brass cardoons were on the Edulis nursery stand.

Yes it was amazing and crowded and hot, but the Pimms was cool & refreshing and a kind artist gave me some sun block. Picking quieter paths through the crowd gave me an opportunity to take a few photographs of some things that took my fancy.


More Orchids!

Even more Orchids!

         There were lots of orchids!

These Orla Kiely hand tools were the prettiest I saw ;)

And the kind artist? James Gillick you can have a look at his website here www.gillick-artist.com


Feeling Unwell!

This is a short post on feeling unwell.
Apple blossom!

           If you are well don't bother reading it.
But I have added 2 photos to make it slightly more interesting. 

Our first strawberry starting to ripen!

         I've got a virus! I've a bit of a headache, I'm sore in my legs, back and shoulders. I'm not hungry and I've spent the day resting in bed with my laptop. I've slept and drunk tea and eaten a little. I hope I'm feeling better tomorrow as I have to go to work.
It is nice having a day off, but it's better when you're well. I don't believe in working through an illness if you don't have to. So I'll take it easy and just do the bare minimum tomorrow.


A Sunny Sunday Lunch

     It isn’t often there is just the two of us for lunch of a Sunday, but our offspring had offers for this weekend and so we were dining ‘á deux’. I had spotted Guinea fowl in the English Market in Cork a while back. They didn’t look to be very big, at just under a kilo each, one would be about right for two to three people. The prefect treat for just the two of us. 

   The woods are beginning to explode with spring flowers including anomies, ramsoms, lesser celandine, dog violet and the first of the bluebells. Ramsoms are the native wild garlic, they have broad leaves tapering to a point and the white flower heads look like a ball of starry flowers. I picked a bunch of the leaves to use in a pot of mashed potato.

    Best of all it was a beautiful day today and the sun shone while we ate lunch outside. Hopefully the first of many al fresco meals this year.

Our sunny Sunday lunch!

Pot Roast Guinea Fowl

a small carrot
½ a celery stick
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic
a lump of butter
1 bay leaf
2-3 smoked streaky rashers
1 Guinea fowl about 1kg
small bunch of tarragon
100ml white wine

Heat up the oven to 200˚C, GM6
Finely chop the carrot, celery, shallot and the garlic and put them into the bottom of a casserole with the lump of butter. Put the casserole onto a medium heat to heat up.
Put the tarragon into the cavity of the guinea fowl and place the streaky rashers over the breast.
Put the bay leaf into the casserole with the vegetables and put the guinea fowl on top, pour over the wine and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and bake in the hot oven for an hour.
After 45 minutes remove the lid and put back into the oven until the guinea fowl is nicely browned. Add some water to the casserole if all the wine has evaporated. When the guinea fowl is cooked put it onto a plate to rest, while you make the gravy.
Add some water to the casserole and stir up the bits from the bottom. Slake half a teaspoonful of arrowroot or corn flour in a couple spoonfuls of water and add to the liquid in the casserole. Place the casserole on a medium heat and bring the contents to the boil, while stirring all the time. When the liquid has come to the boil and thickened simmer it for about two minutes and then strain it in to a gravy boat.
Carve the guinea fowl and serve with the gravy, mashed spuds and a vegetable or two.

Ramsoms or wild garlic in flower.

Wild Garlic Mash

4 medium potatoes
Bunch of wild garlic about 100g
50g butter
75ml milk
salt & pepper

Peel the potatoes and put them to steam.
Wash the garlic leaves in salty water and spin in a salad spinner.
Chop the garlic leaves. Put the butter into a saucepan over a low heat and add the chopped garlic leaves, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Put the lid on the pot and leave for three minutes.
Put the milk into a small pot and bring to the boil.
When the garlic leaves are soft and cooked add the potatoes and hot milk and mash thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper and serve.


Who can resist a pancake?

   Today was Shove Tuesday and I cooked pancakes in Brennan's shop in Oliver Plunkett Street in Cork. The traditional filling of butter lemon & sugar went down best. Nutella filled pancakes were also very popular.

   To my surprise the buttermilk 'pancakes' came a close second. These are a thicker batter, cooked more like a drop scone or pikelet. I like them best with crisp streaky rashers and some medlar jelly or maple syrup. Stewed berries go well with them too.  
   Here is the buttermilk pancake recipe.

Buttermilk pancakes
300g self raising flour
50g sugar
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
300ml buttermilk
50g butter melted
butter for frying

   Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar and salt.
 Break the eggs into the flour and start to whisk gently drawing more and more flour in until thick. Whisk in the buttermilk to make a thick batter. You might not need it all or you may need some extra, depending on how thick the buttermilk is.
  Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and melt the 50g of butter and whisk the melted butter into the batter.
Make the pancakes by spooning 3tbs of batter onto the frying pan together to make a thick pancake about 8cm in diameter. Cook till dry on top and then flip over and cook until golden on the other side.

  Add some more butter and continue to make the pancakes.
If your frying pan is big enough you can do 2-3 at a time, putting the earlier ones in a warm oven and covering them, until the rest are cooked.
  Serve with crisp bacon and maple syrup or stewed berries.


Quick Meal!!?

           I left supper in the hands of my 2 teenagers yesterday and came home to find them making ‘Beef Casserole’ with striploin steaks! I was not subtle in my response, I freaked. I banished them from the kitchen for 15 minutes while I listened to The Archers and collected my thoughts.
          The steak was unlabeled, my fault and how were they to know.
So we had this stir-fry instead. And the vegetables they had started became the basis of a ragu for lasagne tonight.
           Next time I’ll leave more detailed instructions.

Beef Stir-fry With Noodles
This is a basic stir-fry; swap the beef for any lean quick frying meat, tofu, cashew nuts or prawns. The carrots can also be swapped for whatever vegetable is around, peppers, mushrooms, bean sprouts or bamboo shoots. I like to add some Sichuan pepper instead of the chilli. About a teaspoonful crushed is enough.
If you do not want to get chilli oil onto your fingers use a fork to hold the chilli steady while you chop it.
This is a starting point, experiment, find what suits you, enjoy!

1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 cm ginger
1 chilli
1 large carrot
2 striploin steaks
4tbs vegetable oil
1-2 sheets of Chinese noodles
3tbs soy sauce
1 level tsp corn flour
100ml approx water
3 scallions
small bunch of coriander

Peel and slice the onion finely. Peel and slice the garlic. Peel and cut the ginger into narrow strips. Slice the chilli.
Peel the carrot and cut it into 3cm x 0.5cm strips.
Trim the fat from the meat and cut it into short narrow strips.
Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet and drain well. Keep them warm.
Mix 2 tablespoons of soy sauce with the corn flour and water in a cup or jug.
Slice the scallions and chop the coriander and reserve for the garnish at the end.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or frying pan over a high heat till shimmering.
Add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli to the hot oil. Stir-fry till softening. Keep them moving to reduce the risk of burning. Remove the onion etc to a warm bowl and add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the wok and let it heat up again. When hot add the strips of meat and leave them for a minute before turning them with the spatula. Add the carrots and stir-fry them with the meat.
Return the onions etc to the wok and mix well with the beef and carrots.
Give the soy sauce mixture a stir and pour it into the wok keep stirring and mixing while it cooks and thickens. If it is too thick add more boiling water, too thin let it boil and reduce for a minute or two.
Taste and add the remaining soy sauce or more if it needs it and some pepper.
Add the noodles to the wok and mix well leave for a minute to heat through.
Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and coriander and then serve.
Serves 2-4, this will serve 2 as a good main course or 4 as part or a meal with other elements. It served the 3 of us perfectly.

Panna Cotta
A touch of sweet dessert.
This needs to chill, but if you use chilled ramekins it will set sooner. I use this quantity to make 6 small ones. It would make 4 generous helpings. I tweeted a version of this recipe last night, I hope it went down well.

1 vanilla pod split in half length ways
400ml cream
2 sheets gelatine (Lidl, about 4g)
3tsp caster sugar

Heat the cream together with the split vanilla pod to boiling and turn off the heat. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, while you soak the gelatine in some cold water.
Take the gelatine out and put it into a small pot with some of the cream and heat it very gently until the gelatine has melted. Add the sugar to this some and stir till dissolved. Add more of the cream to the sugar and gelatine and then pour it all back on to the cream and vanilla mixture. 
Line ramekins with cling film and strain the mixture in to them. The seeds will sink to the bottom.
Leave them to set in a cold place.
Rinse the vanilla pod and leave it to dry, when it is dry put it into a jar of sugar and it will flavour the sugar.
Makes 4-6.


Low ‘carb’ eating! My thoughts & tips

      This time last year I was about 4.5 kgs heavier than I am now, that’s about 10lb in old money. We had had a very cold spell and I didn’t feel comfortable driving in the snow and ice. So for three weeks I stayed in, worried and comfort ate.
     I love baking bread and eating it. I have a ‘light hand’ as they say with pastry, so I made some pies and quiches. I baked some cakes too. I also hate waste and would finish things up rather than put them in the bin.
     My clothes started to feel tight and the weighing scales wasn’t lying as the weight crept up.
     My daughter was feeling unwell and thought she might be wheat/dairy intolerant. So she went on a wheat and dairy free diet, while waiting for blood test results to come back. Her blood test did not show any wheat or dairy allergies.
     This got me thinking too, so I decided to use lent as my starting point, I would give up wheat in solidarity with her and sugar to cut down on my carbohydrate intake. This covered not having biscuits, cake or scones when out for a coffee with friends. At home I stopped eating rice and spuds with my meals.
     By the end of lent I was feeling better and the weight was coming down. Over the Summer I was no angel and would lapse into eating wheat for a day or two, but I kept an eye on the scales and if it crept up too far I’d stop again.
     I found being busy over the Summer really helped. Only eating meals with no snacks in between, broke my constant need to have food around me.
     I didn’t let myself feel deprived, if there was something yummy around I’d have a taste, generally at the end of a meal when I was full so I would not be tempted to go back for more.
     The most interesting thing I found was that when it came to my Summer cholesterol test, my total cholesterol had gone down. Admittedly I had been taking a garlic supplement and a plant sterol in tablet form for about a month before the fasting blood test.
     I kept up the low wheat & low carbohydrate diet through the Autumn and into the winter.
December was very busy with my part time job becoming almost full time in the run up to Christmas. This was a Godsend in that I didn’t have time to bake and make like last year.

      I enjoyed Christmas, but was cautious not to over indulge in all the goodies that were around. As they say moderation in all things!

Here is a typical days eating for me.

Breakfast: 2 streaky rashers, a tomato & 1 piece of black pudding all grilled. Tea or coffee.

Lunch: Half an avocado, smoked mackerel pâté, celery, cucumber, a handful of walnuts. Water & tea.

Dinner: Salad, lamb & vegetable curry, small helping of brown rice, cheese, a piece of fruit. Wine & water.

     If I come in from work really hungry I might have some olives, salami or peanuts before dinner and skip the cheese and fruit afterwards. If I need a chocolate fix I eat 4-5 squares of Green & Blacks 85% cocoa solids with a cup of tea or coffee.
      I am lucky that even though there are biscuits and chocolate in the house I don’t feel the need to eat them. This is not true for everyone.
      While I do not seem to have bad breath (at least no one has commented) on this diet I do sometimes get constipated. Then I increase the amount of salad, in particular avocado and beetroot I am eating and have extra water during the day. I always bring a bottle of water to work to drink on the way home, as I do not have time to drink much during the day.
     The main thing that is missing from this diet is Crunch!
The crunch of hot buttered toast, crisp biscuit, crisps and crackers to go with cheese. Yes I miss these, but I have discovered mini poppadoms and tortilla chips for dips and cheese. There is no substitute for toast though!
     Pizza and pasta are now a treat once in a while, but I do savour them and I find I can’t eat as much pasta as I use to. 50g of dried pasta is enough of a portion for me when it is cooked and served with a sauce.
      The key has been to try to stick to the three meals a day and no snacking.
Choosing foods that I can eat rather than obsessing about what I can’t eat.
Using cheaper cuts of meat such as stewing beef, lap/ breast of lamb, chicken drumsticks and thighs, as these all have loads of flavour and you notice you are eating them.
Basing meals on vegetables and salads that are in season and adding meat or fish to compliment them.

      And don’t be a martyr, enjoy your food! It has never been so easily available and relatively cheap.

May 2012 be the year of good eating!