A Fast-Food Lunch -Caprese Salad

 

When I am Queen of the Universe I will only allow buffalo milk mozzarella to exist. Do you have food things you want to share with everyone you know because they're so damn good? For me it's buffalo mozzarella -so creamy, so delicious, so very different from the cows milk version.  This Salad of Capri epitomises the Italian approach to food; take a handful of beautiful ingredients, treat them in an uncomplicated way and finish with a sprinkle of amore. I know that sounds saccharin, but I don't care!  

 

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Take some ripe vine tomatoes, slice them as you wish, tear up a ball of buffalo mozzarella, arrange on a plate, add some fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, some lemon zest, salt & black pepper.

 

Pistachio & Lemon Polenta Cake

 

Rainy days drive many a cook to baking, seeming the perfect counterbalance to the damp greyness, which in Ireland can last all day long. This was a drizzly, sideways rain kinda day. I was hungover, albeit mildly. But enough to manifest an apathetic humour... I wanted to go for a walk -but I didn't want to go for a walk in the rain. I wanted to go get the paper -but I didn't want to drive in the rain. I knew if I didn't do something...anything, marginally productive, I would be filled with self loathing. Oh and also, me and a half eaten packet of pistachios, had been giving each other the eye for about three weeks.

And so it began.

It all came good. Pouring tea, pouring memories, eating cake.

It all came good. Pouring tea, pouring memories, eating cake.

Let me just introduce this cake, for my fellow 'not so keen on sponge' people, this is one for us. It's nutty, lemony and moist. And for gluten intolerant tummies it works really well.

Take;

  • 250g butter room temp.
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs at least free range
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 120g ground pistachios
  • 60g polenta flour/fine maize meal (or plain flour if gluten is tolerable)
  • 9" /23cm spring form cake tin, greased and lined

Icing

  • 100g icing sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp rose water (optional)

Do;

  • turn oven on to 160'C/Gas 3
  • beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy
  • add the eggs 1 at a time
  • add the lemon zest and juice
  • in a separate bowl mix your dry ingredients
  • mix dry into wet, pour into prepared cake tin, smooth over top
  • bake for 40-50 mins -check at 40!
  • cover with foil if it's browning on top but still not cooked fully
  • allow to cool before icing
  • to make icing; sieve the icing sugar, add the lemon and rose water if using and mix with a whisk before pouring over the cake
  • enjoy with tea/coffee/prosecco/lemonade/ dollop of creme fraiche/whipped cream
 

Artichokes & Butter

 

Despite the fact that artichokes grow extremely well in Ireland, I didn't have the pleasure of "m-eating" one until I moved to the big city of Dublin (wink). They have a sort of dinosaur/alien like quality, in feel and appearance. I would like to shake hands with the first person who persevered and removed all the tough, inedible, spiky outer leaves and eventually reached the delicious heart of this beast. 

We always steamed them whole and peeled the leaves, dipping them into melted butter as we began to reach the center. Lately though, by the very fact of their thriving in the garden and therefore producing almost (ssshhh...) too many, I've taken to peeling them quickly and paring down to the heart, dropping them into a pot of simmering lemony water until tender, followed by a non-optional baptism in liquid butter with a generous squeeze of lemon. I then walk around the house with the warm saucepan and a spare fork, stopping to share with anybody who crosses my path. The path is filled with smiles, mostly because I fought the prickly beast, tended to it's cooking and now the heart is offered freely.

The red variety have spikes but are considered tastier.

The red variety have spikes but are considered tastier.

Take;

  • a couple of artichokes 2-3 for 2 people, for a pre-dinner snack
  • lots of butter
  • fresh black pepper & salt
  • 2x lemons

Do;

  • get a large bowl of cold water, squeeze one lemon in to prevent the artichoke going brown from the air
  • put a pan of water on and bring it to a simmer
  • peel away the outer leaves, watching out for little thorns found on some varieties
  • when you reach the softer central leaves (see top photo) slice the top off
  • using a paring knife carefully work down to the solid heart
  • scrape away the soft hairs with a teaspoon
  • place in the cold lemony water while you continue prepping
  • when they're all done, cut any lager ones into quarters or thirds
  • simmer until tender
  • melt butter in a small pot, add lemon juice and zest if unwaxed, s&p -taste and adjust to your liking
  • enjoy straight from the pan...or a bowl at the table
  • you can also eat the younger ones raw in a salad
 

Amazing Orange & Almond Cake

Sponge cake...hmmmnn...I like it on the day, called Victoria, dressed with raspberry jam and whipped cream. But, that is where my love affair with sponge ends. I will never not love this Claudia Roden recipe, it stays moist for days and you can jazz it up with chocolate ganache if it's for a special occasion...i.e you feel like really treating yourself. Did I mention that it is gluten and dairy free?

What you need;

  • 2 large oranges (preferably organic because you're gonna eat the skin!)
  • 6 free range eggs
  • 250g ground almonds
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder

What you need to do;

  • scrub the oranges if they aren't organic boil them for 2 hours, remove pips when cooled
  • turn oven on to 170' fan oven/ 190' conventional /gas mark 5
  • prepare a 23cm round cake tin, grease and line
  • whizz up the oranges with a hand blender or in a magimix, add the eggs whizz some more
  • mix your almonds, sugar and baking powder
  • add wet to dry pour into prepared tin
  • bake for about an hour, (check at 45 mins cover top with foil if it's getting too much colour)
  • serve with coffee, tea or a glass of lemonade
  • you can use 2 lemons or one pink grapefruit instead of one of the oranges, or use blood oranges

 

Braised Short Ribs

Meat....meat on the bone....meat on the bone, cooked for hours....meat one the bone, cooked for hours, with wine and stock. It's all good, but, sometimes life is tough, shit happens, people let you down, you let people down, you have expectations and the unexpected happens. In darker times, I find food even more comforting, it's the constant, I'm in control and I'll go back for thirds if I feel like it. Being able to cook, even simple meals, is empowering. Being able to nourish yourself, when you need it most, even if the person you used to share with isn't there anymore and you're swallowing sobs between fork fulls... it is still empowering.

Cooking this dish (for 4 hours) reminded me that time is the thing, low and slow and your meat will fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. Don't force things, with time the light will start to creep in and overtake the darkness, feed yourself plenty of loving kindness and your heart will mend itself...and you will melt in someones mouth again ...and the tears... will be tears of laughter.

Here's a little video of this recipe

Take;

  • 150g pancetta
  • 8 x beef short ribs
  • 3 x onions sliced
  • celery 2-3 sticks chopped
  • carrots 2-3 chopped
  • 1 x red pepper diced
  • 1 x yellow pepper diced
  • 1 x fresh red chilli
  • 200ml red wine
  • 150 ml beef stock
  • 1 x tin tomatoes
  • sprig rosemary
  • a few sprigs thyme
  • 3 x bay leaves
  • 1 x cinamon stick
  • 3 x large pieces of orange zest
  • salt and pepper

Do;

  • turn oven on to 150'C, 140' for fan, gas 2, 300'F
  • try and cook this in a heavy cast iron pan 
  • trim the ribs of any excess fat
  • brown the pancetta, then brown the ribs giving a generous sprinkling of salt, set aside
  • saute the onions and chilli for 5 mins
  • add the other veggies saute for 5 mins
  • add the wine, simmer for 3/4 mins 
  • add the stock and tomatoes, herbs, orange and cinamon
  • add pancetta and the ribs, taste for seasoning and adjust
  • cook for 3-4 hours in oven with lid on
  • serve with mashed potato or plenty of crusty bread...and a large glass of wine!

 

 

Buttery Mushrooms & Sourdough

Autumn -my favourite season, such a great time for food and especially for mushrooms. I remember as a child picking field mushrooms, seeking out the white tops amongst the green grass, competing with my siblings about who could find the most. Racing inside and popping them on top of the solid fuel cooker, with a little sprinkle of salt and pepper, waiting and waiting ...and then finally hearing the sizzle as some of the juice would land on the stove top. Gently we would lift them off and with too few cooling blows, we'd start munching on our treasure. Mushrooms a la stove top was probably the first thing I ever 'cooked', now I can also cook toast... which is useful, never underestimate a delicious piece of toast.

 

Pan fry with lots of butter and thyme...add a poached egg, for brunch, lunch or a light dinner.