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Annual Cleanse

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


A Sunny Dish for a Dark Winter Day

        We've been having a lot of windy and blustery weather over the past while, including flooding in some parts of the country. 
        The darkness of these stormy winter days makes me want sunny food, food that reminds me of warm Summer days and calm seas. 
        Hake with Chorizo and Peppers will do the trick, but I may have to wait for calmer seas for there to be any hake at the fishmongers. Cod, pollock or monkfish would work well instead of hake.

I like steaks for this dish as the bones transfer the heat into the centre of the fish helping it to cook.

A reminder of Summer

Baked Hake with Chorizo and Peppers

1 cooking chorizo
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 peppers
2 hake steaks
salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 220˚C, GM 7 and place an ovenproof dish in to warm.
Cut the chorizo in to small cubes, peel and slice the onion and garlic.
Cut the peppers into 2cm squares.
Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add the chorizo when the oil tuns add the onion and garlic and cook gently until soft.
Add the peppers and season with salt and pepper then cook for a minute or two. Put a couple of spoonfuls of the vegetables into the hot oven proof dish and put the hake steaks on top, spoon the rest of the vegetables over the hake and bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes until the fish is cooked. 


Granny's Plum Pudding

          When does Christmas begin? It seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. A department store in Cork had its Christmas decorations up before Halloween this year!
When I was growing up Mum always made the mincemeat in late September when there were lots of apples around and it had matured enough by mid November to have some mince pies for my sister’s birthday, because she liked them and once her birthday was over we could start to get a little bit Christmassy. 
         The next thing we did was to make the Christmas puddings on “stir-up” Sunday, which is the Sunday before Advent Sunday. Then there was a lull until the tree and decorations went up in mid December about a week and a half before Christmas.

         The 8th of December was the official start of the Christmas shopping marathon. Nearly all the schools had the day off and everyone or so it seemed headed to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping. 
My Mother claimed that all the dubliners stayed away from the shops that day because of the crowds. She preferred to go into town on Christmas Eve with her sister just to enjoy the crowds on Henry’s Street!

The 1935 ingredients 

         This year I felt I should make a Christmas pudding not having done so for quite a few years. We have been very lucky to have been given puddings over the past Christmases and very delicious they were too, But this year I wanted a home made Granny Mahon Pudding.
I took out the black note book Granny had kept her notes in, she started it in 1932. 

         It has a note of all the marmalade and jam she made each year and how much it cost at the end of the year she totalled the pots/pounds up in 1940 she made an incredible 201¼ pounds! Well, there was a war on, she was cooking for seven people and bread and jam would have been a reliable filler up.

         She also kept a record of the Christmas cakes and Plum Puddings she made. The year that caught my eye was 1935, 80 years ago this year, she would have been a year older than I am now at the time. The 1935 pudding, she noted, weighed 14 pounds! That’s a stone or 11kg. 

         She didn’t use pudding basins or bowls to steam the pudding, her pudding was wrapped in a floured cloth and lowered into a large pot of boiling water where it remained on the boil for the next goodness knows how long, being topped up regularly with boiling water from the kettle. The kitchen must have been like a steam room with the walls streaming condensation.

        It would have been a marathon session each year!
My Mum was more up to date using 4 four pudding basins to cook the mixture in and instead of steaming up the kitchen all day she started the puddings off in pots on the hob and then placed them covered into the hot oven to get on with the process.

        Well, four puddings is more puddings than we’ll get through in the next five years. So I divided the recipe in four and I still ended up with two puddings that would serve six after a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. One of the joys of leftover Christmas pudding is to fry it in butter for breakfast on boxing day.

         I tried to remain true to the recipe, but I failed to get Muscatels and Valencia raisins, these are large raisins with the seeds still in them, delicious as they are taking the seeds out is a fecky and sticky job. I replaced them with a similar weight of a mix of dried apricots, stoneless dates and dried figs cut into pieces. Muscatels and Valencias are available in good delicatessens and health food shops in November. I even went to my butcher to get proper beef suet. This is the fat that protects the kidneys in the animal. As he was reluctant to shred it for me I brought a piece home and froze it overnight before grating it in the food processor.

         Below is the recipe I used this year, I even made a wish as I stirred it!

This years ingredients


115g/4oz sultanas
115g/4oz raisins
115g/4oz currants
75g/2½oz dried apricots chopped
75g/2½oz stoneless dates chopped
75g/2½oz dried figs chopped
55g/2oz mixed peel chopped
115g/4oz demerara sugar
¼tsp salt
200ml/7floz stout 
2  hens eggs
85g/3oz beef suet shredded or grated
115g/4oz breadcrumbs
30g/1oz ground almonds
115g/4oz self-raising flour
½tsp baking powder
½tsp mixed spice

In a large bowl mix together the dried fruit, peel, sugar, salt and 150ml/¼ pint of the stout and leave to soak overnight.

Ready for soaking

Butter two 900ml/1½ pint pudding basins and place a disc of buttered greaseproof paper in the bottom of each of the basins. Prepare the greaseproof and foil lids or a buttered disc of greaseproof to put between the pudding and plastic lid. Elastic bands are easier than string. Fill the kettle and bring to the boil. 

Add the eggs, suet, breadcrumbs and ground almonds to the soaked fruit and mix well.
Sift the together the flour, baking powder and mixed spice and fold through the other ingredients, if the mixture is dry add the rest of the stout. Stir three times clockwise and make a wish!* It should be a fairly thick.

Making a wish!

Spoon into the basins leaving a hollow in the centre and add coins wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil and push them under the surface.**

Adding the lucky money

Cover the basins with the greaseproof and foil or plastic lids and place them on trivets*** in deep roasting tin or oval roaster and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the basins.

Bring the water to the boil on the hob and cover tightly with a foil or lid and simmer for one and a half hours and then place in a hot oven at 130˚C, GM ½ for 8 hours.

Check occasionally and if the water level has dropped top up with more boiling water. 
Remove from the oven and take the basins out and let cool. If you used foil it needs to be replaced and retied.
Steam for another one and half hours before eating.

*optional ;)
** but not if you are reheating the pudding in a microwave!
*** a scone cutter makes a good trivet.

Short cuts! Steam in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, refer to manufacturers instructions.

Reheat in the microwave, turn out onto a plate and cut into slices, separate them slightly, cover with a bowl and microwave until hot through. Hide the wrapped coins before serving.

Note; If you are using greaseproof and foil to cover the pudding basins you have to put a “pleat” into them so that the pudding can expand during cooking. Tying the greaseproof and foil on is tricky! Use a rubber band to secure the greaseproof and then tie with string, the thick ones from a bunch of asparagus work well. This makes it easier to tie on the foil with string and make a string handle to lift out the pudding basin from the hot water. 

The pleat

The string handle


Devilled Crab Gratin

Devilled Crab Gratin

         Some jobs in the kitchen just have to be done by hand, topping & tailing gooseberries, stoning plums for the freezer, shelling fresh peas, pricking sloes for sloe gin and picking the meat from a hole crab. There is nothing for it but to gather all you need sit down at a table and get on with it. Company of some sort is essential, ideally a real live person who will share the task or one engaged in other activities that you can chat to. Failing live company the radio will keep me entertained.
Of course the point of these activities is to end up with something delicious to eat!
Last night I took on the crab picking challenge and it was well worth it. The brown meat is essential to this dish as it gives a richness that can’t be achieved with anything else.

Crab meat and shells
and the rest.

2 crabs
2 small onions or 1 large one
50g butter
2cm piece of fresh ginger peeled
2 cloves of garlic peeled & chopped
1 dessert spoon of lime pickle
double cream
salt & pepper
fresh coriander chopped
grated cheddar

Pick the brown and white meat from the crabs.
Peel the onions and slice them very thinly, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and add the onions. Cook the onions gently. 
Grate the ginger and chop the pieces of lime in the lime pickle. Add the grated ginger, garlic and lime pickle to the onions and continue cooking until the onions are soft.
Heat an ovenproof dish and preheat a grill.
Add the crab to the pan with the onions and enough double cream to loosen the mixture. Heat it all through and stir through the chopped coriander, pour into the warm dish and sprinkle with the grated cheese and grill until browned and bubbling.  
Leave to cool until the bubbling stops and serve with a green salad.

Let the bubbling stop before serving!

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course.
PS Add a chopped chilli if you want a really spicy version, but I like the crab flavour not to be drowned by the chilli.


All in the cooking!

      Is there a cookbook you used in school for cookery classes? Do you still have it? Sadly I got rid of mine, it was a paperback and prone to falling apart, but I later found an early edition of it in a secondhand book shop and later again book 2.

      What I didn't realised was that it was a classic and has just been reprinted by O'Brien Press

      It is "All in the Cooking" written for Coláiste Mhuire  and approved by The City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee. It also became the cookery textbook for all Intermediate and Leaving cert students. Many of whom kept their copies and went on to use them in their homes.

      Hearing it was being reprinted I got out my copy and had a go at a couple of the recipes that I remember. We had a lot of plums at the time and one of the childhood desserts we I enjoyed was "Stewed Plums and Custard". 
      Partly for the fortune telling at the end when I counted up the stones.
I added a little spice to the plums and made the custard to the All in the Cooking Recipe.
It went down as well as I remember it.

          The second recipe I looked out was one for a 'cake' of Brown Soda Bread, 'cakes' of bread are round with a cross cut into the top of them and baked on a baking sheet. When broken into four quarters the individual quarters were known as a 'square' of bread in our house!

      These two brought back happy memories of watching in the kitchen as Delia, my Mum's wonderful kitchen help, made cakes of bread always pouring the last of the buttermilk onto her hand and smearing the top of the bread with it before cutting the three slashes to make the cross. Oh, happy days!



A Seasonal Pie: Apple and Blackberry Tart!

      Now you may well ask why this is called a tart, as it has a top on it and is therefore a pie, but for some reason this sort of plate pie is known as a tart here! We were regularly fed on apple tarts and custard in the autumn. Apple tarts are always a big hit with any older men at a gathering, so much so I keep a supply of foil plates to make them on if I'm asked to bring a dish to a 'do'!

An Apple and Blackberry "Tart"
       I love the old white and blue enamel plates for these tarts, they remind me that no matter how sophisticated we have become or so on trend with our kitchen equipment that something like enamel wear, used by our grand parents is still around and doing a great job.  
      And why didn't I put tart in the post title, well you can guess what might come up if you put "Seasonal Tart" into an internet search! 
      The filling for this tart I make by eye rather than by exact measurement. I do use exact quantities for the pastry, but the filling is dependent on the size of the plate, the sweetness of the apples and blackberries, all variables. Elderberries are also good with the apples.
      The blackberries were really good the week before last I picked a couple of tubs full and froze them the day before the rain came. And rained steadily for about 18 hours! I was very glad of them as I needed some for a cookery demonstration at GROWFest organised by GIY  in Waterford.
      Blackberries have a uniquely autumnal scent when hot, well worth the stained fingers to be transported back to childhood kitchens, warm and fuggy with just out of the oven tarts.

250 g plain flour 
125 g butter 
3-4tbs cold water

egg wash 

      Sieve the flour into a bowl and cut the butter into small chunks.
Add the butter to the flour and rub it in with the tips of your fingers. When the flour and butter resembles breadcrumbs add the water.  Mix with a dinner knife or wooden spoon to make a stiff dough.
      Take the pastry out onto a floured worktop and shape into a ball, cut in half and flatten into two discs. Wrap in cling-film and chill for 20-30 minutes in the fridge.

       Place a baking tray or pizza stone in the centre of the oven and pre heat the oven to 200˚C, GM 6. 

Roll out one of the pastry discs on a lightly floured work surface and line the pie plate. 
Fill with a layer of peeled and sliced apples and sprinkle with sugar, then add a layer of blackberries and some more sugar. 

Frozen Blackberries and Sliced Apples

      Repeat until the layers come just above the hight of the pie plate. Leave the edge uncovered and paint with egg wash.

      Roll out the other disc of pastry and cover the tart with it crimp the edges, decorate with pastry leaves stuck on with egg wash and paint the top with egg wash.
      Place the tart into the oven onto the hot baking tray or pizza stone and bake for 15-20 minutes. When the top is golden turn the oven down to 180˚C, GM 4 and finish baking for another 15-20 minutes.

A Slice of Autumn!


Going a Little Potty!

        I love having a treat at the back of the fridge for the days I need a quick supper after a long day or to bring to work for lunch. Smoked mackerel pate is one I tend to fall back on. 
I have been reading the lovely "Kitchen Essays" of Agnes Jekyll first published in 1922 (the original articles were first published in The Times). The "Potted Shrimp" recipe is one recipe that caught my eye. I had had these recently in a restaurant, but they were seasoned shrimp in a ramekin topped with butter, chilled and then warmed to soften the bottom half of the ramekin. They came with crisp toast, as I scooped out the hard top layer of butter on to the toast added the shrimp, pressed down with the knife, the shrimp fell off and the toast broke.

       I knew this was not what it was meant to be. Lady Jekyll had the answer, 'pound' most of the shrimp with the soft butter! So I set about 'pounding' my shrimp, which in my case were defrosted Atlantic prawns. My mortar was on the small side so I moved to a bigger bowl and a fork and I achieved a coarse pate in no time.

Potted Shrimp or Prawns

Potted Prawns

125g of shrimp after cooking and shelling or peeled Atlantic prawns defrosted
50g soft butter
mace blade
lemon zest
clarified butter
salt and pepper

      Dry the prawns on kitchen paper. Save 10 or 12 whole prawns. Put the rest of the prawns into a bowl with the butter, a grating of mace, a teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest, a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.
     Mash all these together with a fork until combined. It should not be too smooth, then stir in the reserved prawns pack into ramekins and cover with clarified butter and chill.
Bring to room temperature before serving with Melba toast.

       If you prefer some dill or fennel could be chopped through instead of the mace. This is lovely for a picnic too.

Spread on crisp Melba toast

      This other recipe for a 'Mousse of Sardine and Egg' also caught my eye, I had a feeling it could be a fish paste and not very tasty, but I like it. It's not for people who like their fish not to taste of fish.
      The recipe recommends 'pushing' everything through a sieve, the egg went through easily enough but the mini processor was a godsend for the sardines! It is also recommended as an alternative to marmalade at breakfast time! That could be a shock to the unwary first thing.

Mousse of Sardine and Egg

The basic ingredients 

3 to 4 sardines
1tsp soft butter
salt pepper
1tbs lemon juice
2tbs cream
a couple dashes of tabasco
a dash of Worcester sauce
1 hardboiled egg

       Put everything except the hard boiled egg in to a mini food processor and blend Remove the blade from the processor and sieve in the hardboiled egg. Stir in to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning.

       Serve on crackers or with crudities. I spooned the rest into a small jar to be stored in the fridge.



Summer is on it's way!

Some photos from around and about.

Taking got dogs for a walk on a wet day!

A nest that blew down, love the strand of blue plastic.

The Boarder 


Scented stocks

Wet Day!

Early Mushrooms

Variegated Sycamore Seedling


Chocolate Mousse Cake

I can’t remember where the recipe for this cake came from, but I did find it in a magazine recently. It is very rich, almost a custard!
The lettering is cut from pale green florist paste and milk chocolate modelling paste. I used royal icing for the knives & forks. 

Cake is always good especially when we have something to celebrate and the launch tomdoorley.com is!

150g (70% cocoa solids) dark chocolate broken up
150g butter cut in cubes 
75g soft brown sugar
75g golden caster sugar
2tbs double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
cocoa powder

Heat the oven to 160˚C, GM 2.5. Butter and line a 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.
Put the chocolate, butter, sugars, cream and vanilla into a bowl and melt them all together with the bowl standing in a frying pan of hot water.
When melted take the bowl out of the water and add the eggs one at a time, whisking each one in with a ballon whisk, until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place the cake tin onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until almost set in the middle. Leave to cool in the tin.
When cold turn out and dust the top with cocoa powder.

Serve with whipped cream and strawberries.


Making the most of a surplus.

              Sometimes our shopping and eating gets out of sync and the fridge fill up with extra things I’d planned to use, but didn’t.
One of these was a lovely tub of Mossfield Organic Farm natural yoghurt. I decided it was time to go back to my cheese making roots and turn it into a soft cheese or labneh.

Peppered Labneh

500g tub of thick yogurt 
1tsp salt
2tsp peppercorns

Line a colander with muslin or a brand new ‘J’ cloth, scald by pouring over some boiling water to wet the cloth.

Season the yoghurt with salt and mix well. Pour the yoghurt into the cloth and draw up the sides of the cloth and tie with string. Hang up over a bowl and leave to drip overnight.

The next day tip the strained yoghurt into a bowl and mix well.
Crush the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and add to the cheese little by little until it is as spicy as you like it. Add more salt if you feel it needs it too.

Pack into a dish and cover, it will keep in the fridge for about a week if it doesn’t get eaten.


Annual Cleanse

     As soon as the Christmas decorations are down it's time to start thinking about Marmalade! 
In January Seville oranges come to Ireland for marmalade making, they are sour and bitter and need lots of sugar to make them palatable. 

     We have a long legged stool that was my mothers and her Mother in laws before that and it is known as the "Jam Stool"! Mum would sit on it during her day long marmalade sessions each January.
     The house was filled with a strong citrus scent and the kitchen steamed up.
It was a cleansing for the new year. 
    This version is not quite so steamy as the peel is softened in the oven with less water than is usual for marmalade. You still get the wonderful scent when it is boiled to reach setting point.
     As this is based on Mum's recipe I have used imperial measurements the metric amounts are below.


Liquid sunshine!

3lb Seville oranges
2 lemons
6lb sugar
3pts water

     Squeeze the oranges and lemons and save the seeds and membranes in a piece of muslin.

All ready to start softening.

     Finley chop, slice or mince the orange and lemons peels.
Place the sugar on the top to the Aga at the back, to warm up. I leave it in its bags.
     Put the peels, the muslin bag of pips and membranes and the water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and place on the floor of the simmering oven of the Aga or in a low oven about 110˚C, GM 1/4 and simmer until the peel is soft, 
“Like bread and milk between your fingers!” as Mum use to say. 
     It will take about 2-3 hrs. This year I got distracted and it spent about 4 hours in the simmering oven!

     Remove from the oven and remove the muslin bag. Using a saucer and the back of a slotted spoon squeeze as much of the liquid out of the bag as possible back into the pan. 
Place a ramekin into the fridge to chill.
Sugar added and ready to boil.

     Put the pan onto the simmering plate and add the sugar stirring until it has all dissolved then bring to the boil.
     Cook at a rolling boil until setting point is reached.*

A rolling boil!

     When it starts to boil put 12 clean jars and lids on a baking tray in the simmering oven for at least 20 minutes to sterilise. 
     To test for setting point place a teaspoonful of the marmalade on the cold ramekin in the fridge and leave for a few minutes. Push gently with your finger and its skin should wrinkle.
      Turn off the heat and leave the pan to stand for 10 minutes. 
      Pour into the hot jars, wipe any dribbles from the rims and cover the jars immediately to seal.
I use a heatproof jug for pouring the marmalade into the jars.  
     Leave to cool and label.

Precious hoard!

*How long it takes for setting point to be reached will vary a bit but for this amount at least 20 to 40 minutes. I tend to make quite stiff marmalade so it takes longer and the yield is lower. We don’t eat a lot so it needs to keep. I give most of our marmalade away to friends and family.

Metric measurements:  
1.4kg Seville oranges, 2 lemons, 1.8l water