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Smokey Sweet Potato Hash Cakes

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Autumn weather has finally arrived in Waterford (and the first snow has arrived in Cape Breton, incidentally). Some folk may argue that autumn arrived much earlier than now, but up until a few days ago the temperature still felt balmy and mild. Now there’s a definite chill in the air and the rain and wind we’ve had over the past few days have given us lots of indoor time to get into the Halloween spirit.

Jack O’Lanterns have been carved, candy is in bowls ready to hand out and a little pink bunny costume has been purchased for Maeve (will she let us put it on her? only time will tell). We are all set for trick-or-treaters to come knockin’.

With the change in climate, we’ve been indulging in heartier fare these past few days (even the baby seems to be bulking up for winter – she is a serious little milk guzzler). Hearty, hot meals are so very satisfying and there are some excellent root veggies in season right now. Stews, soups, curries and casseroles have been occupying my mind. And sweet potato. I love sweet potato.

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When I lived in Korea, my friends would often buy me a sweet potato cake for my October birthday. It tasted exactly the opposite of what you might think. Instead of being heavy and full of texture, it was light – lighter even than a sponge cake – masked in cream and topped with glazed fruit. Absolutely delicious. I relish in the fact that sweet potatoes give you the best of both worlds – they’re a superfood packed with essential vitamins and fiber on one hand, and an indulgent treat on the other.

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One of my favourite savoury recipes is a smokey sweet potato hash. Made with boiled sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and mushrooms, it’s the perfect accompaniment to seared steak or chicken. My favourite way to have it, though, is in griddle-cake form for brunch, topped with poached eggs and drizzled with some good quality olive oil. I always make extra at supper so I can have some for brunch the next day (it’s much easier to fry when it’s been in the fridge overnight).

Happy Halloween to you all –  and enjoy the autumn weather while you still can!

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Smokey Sweet Potato Hash Cakes

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 onion, finely sliced

1 red pepper, finely sliced

6-8 large chestnut or button mushrooms, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp hot chili paste

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste

Scallions, thinly sliced (garnish)

Directions: 

  • Peel and chop sweet potato into 1-2′ cubes. In a pot, cover the sweet potato with water and boil until soft, about 15-20 minutes.
  • In a large frying pan (I used a wok), fry the onion, peppers, mushrooms and garlic in the butter and olive oil until soft and lightly browned. Add the chili paste and smoked paprika.Cook for another minute.
  • Add the softened sweet potato to the mixture (no need to mash it). As you fry the ingredients together the sweet potato will break down until it’s mostly a mash. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Allow the mixture to cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick or cast iron pan and drop the sweet potato hash in by the spoonful. Do not touch it! Let it form a crust on the bottom.
  • When a golden brown crust has formed, carefully flip the sweet potato cake to brown on the other side. While the cakes are cooking, poach two eggs and slice your scallion garnish.
  • To plate, top the sweet potato hash cake with a poached eggs, sprinkle with freshly ground salt & pepper, drizzle some olive oil over the top and garnish with scallion. Eat while it’s hot.

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Five Minute Tiramisu

I love tiramisu. Patrick hates coffee, though, so I don’t make it very often. To me, it’s the perfect dessert – creamy, biscuit-ey and not too sweet; a great complement to a hearty meal. It’s also incredibly easy to do, and do well – just make sure your ingredients are top-notch.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I do not have top-notch ingredients in my cupboard. Sometimes, the only quality ingredient that goes into my tiramisu is the mascarpone cheese. And guess what? It’s still delicious.

Ireland’s grocery stores may sometimes lack some of the selection I’m used to in Canadian shops, but they also have quite a few ingredients that you won’t easily find in Canada. I’m so pleased to be able to buy a jar of duck or goose fat to keep in my fridge, for example (you just never know when you’re going to need it). And while, in some parts of Canada you can easily find amaretti biscuits and sponge fingers, you can’t where I’m from. So it’s nice to be able to have some sponge fingers on hand for when the tiramisu craving strikes.

This isn’t the most authentic recipe in the world in that I don’t use any eggs. It’s close enough, though, that it satisfies any tiramisu craving that may strike – and since it takes five minutes to make, you can literally make it when the craving strikes, day or night, assuming you have the right ingredients in your fridge and pantry.

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Five Minute Tiramisu

Ingredients:

Lady’s Fingers (sponge fingers), homemade or store-bought

500 g good quality mascarpone cheese

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup sifted confectioner’s (icing) sugar

1 cup hot instant coffee (1 Tbsp coffee granules to 1 cup boiling water, it needs to be strong!)

Splash of alcohol (I use amaretto but it can be anything you like)

Good quality dark or milk chocolate, for grating

Directions:

  • In a medium sized casserole dish, crumble the sponge fingers by hand. They don’t need to be finely ground; I like ’em chunky. Layer the crumbled fingers evenly on the bottom of the dish.
  • Pour the hot instant coffee evenly over the sponge finger layer. You want each finger crumble to be soaked.
  • In a bowl, add the mascarpone, vanilla, amaretto (or whatever) and confectioner’s sugar. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. If it seems too thick, you can add a splash of milk to loosen it up.
  • Spoon the mascarpone mixture evenly over the soaked sponge fingers and spread out with the back of the spoon.
  • Finely grate the chocolate over the top of the mascarpone until you have a defined layer of chocolate.
  • Refrigerate for as long as you like before eating. You can serve it right away, but it gets better the longer it sits!

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Sticky Toffee Pecan Brownies

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I meant to post this recipe last week. I mean, I made the brownies last week. Before becoming a mom I would have had each component to the recipe finished in the same day, but in this case I had the brownies made one day, then toasted the pecans the next and made the toffee sauce the day after that. Luckily, they were finished and approved by my quality control officer (aka, my husband) just before we were due to leave for Tipperary, where we spent the weekend.

Why was I making dessert to bring to Tipp? Well, my friend-slash-sister-in-law and I were planning to introduce our Kennedy in-laws to Canadian Thanksgiving (we celebrate Thanksgiving in October) and were treating everyone to a turkey dinner on Sunday. It was fun. Dinner was delicious. Everything went amazingly well. Except:

In the rush to pack the car and make sure we had everything the baby might need over the weekend, the brownies were left on my kitchen counter and promptly forgotten about until we arrived in Tipp. There went my dessert. Luckily, sister-in-law Monica made a really yummy pumpkin cheesecake (much more appropriate for Thanksgiving, really) and Patrick was secretly happy that the brownies would be waiting for him when he got back home.

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When it comes to baking brownies, timing is everything. Keep them in the oven for five minutes too long and you’re left with a dense chocolate cake. If they don’t bake long enough, you have a gloopy mess. You really want a rich, fudgey flavour in a brownie and I always like mine to be quite soft (but not gooey) in the center. The key is, when you’re checking for doneness while baking, you should have a tiny bit of goop left on the toothpick. It took 30 minutes to get to this stage for me, but every oven is different so some due diligence is required here.

The key to a great sticky toffee sauce is to be brave and let the caramel cook to a deep golden brown. A few seconds longer on the heat and it will be a burnt mess, so again – be diligent!

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

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Sticky Toffee Pecan Brownies

Ingredients:

For the brownies:

1/2 cup butter, cubed

200 g 70% (at least) dark chocolate

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 cups white sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

200 g whole or chopped pecans, toasted in a hot oven for five minutes

For the sticky toffee sauce:

1 cup white sugar

1/4 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup cold butter, cubed

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Line a 9 x 13 inch baking tray with parchment and set aside.
  • Put a pot of water on to simmer. In a glass or ceramic bowl, melt the chocolate and butter slowly over the simmering water.
  • While the butter/chocolate is melting, sift the cocoa, flour and baking powder into a bowl. In another bowl or in your stand mixer, beat the sugar and eggs with the paddle attachment until well combined.
  • When the chocolate and butter have melted, add the vanilla and sea salt.
  • Pour a small amount of the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs and stir immediately to temper. Then, pour the remainder of the chocolate mixture into the sugar and eggs. Stir to combine.
  • Add the dry ingredients all at once and stir gently until just combined.
  • Pour the brownie batter into the parchment lined tray and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with a tiny bit of batter.
  • Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes before removing the brownies, parchment and all, from the pan. Cool again for at least 30 minutes.
  • Make the toffee sauce: in a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Do not stir. Bring contents to a boil over med-high heat, picking up the saucepan and giving it a swirl every so often. Again, do not stir! When the sugar/water mixture is a medium golden brown colour, take it off the heat and swirl the contents. Put it back on the heat. Continue this process until the caramel is a dark golden brown.
  • Remove from heat and immediately add the cream all at once. The mixture will rise and bubble – let it do it’s thing. Return it to the heat and, stirring constantly, cook the mixture until thickened – about 5 minutes.
  • When the sauce is thickened (coats the back of a spoon) remove from heat and beat in the cubed butter, then add the salt and vanilla.
  • Put the toffee sauce in a container and allow to cool in the fridge for at least two hours. Pour the cooled sauce over the brownies and top with toasted pecans. Allow to set in the fridge for an additional two hours or overnight before portioning.

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How Being a Cook Prepared Me for Motherhood

Maeve

So last night was rough.

Actually, most of yesterday was rough. Babies are hard. Everyone tells you this before you have your first, but like moving to a foreign country, you can only hear so much advice and other’s first hand accounts before jumping in head first and having a completely different experience. It’s something you don’t really get until you do it.

I really get it now.

Between breastfeeding, postpartum well-being and a severe lack of sleep, I can only compare having a newborn to one other thing: working the hot line in a professional kitchen.

Before you laugh, hear me out. As I was up very early this morning for the umpteenth time with a baby attached to my boob, I recalled a few things about being a cook that reminded me of what I’m currently going through.

1. I have burns again. Like, actual burns up and down my arms. It turns out a lack of sleep combined with cooking dinner every night turns me into a clumsy, burnt mess. It’s like the first time I worked a pizza station – an oven taller than me burning at 500 degrees. Burns galore. Which leads to my next comparison:

2. Functioning under little-to-no rest. The only other time I’ve ever felt this tired was when I was on the opening team for a couple of restaurants in the Toronto International Film Festival building. I’d work the closing shift which amounted to, at the very least, 12 hours every afternoon/evening on my feet. I’d stumble home at 3 am, devour a late-night shawarma and pass out til getting up and doing it all over again the next day. I rarely had a day off in the first few weeks – I get no day off from my baby. Which leads to:

3. Marathon work days. Working a busy dinner service is like running a never-ending marathon. Just when you think the end is in sight, 100 new people walk in and you start all over again. This is much like having a newborn. Just when you think she’s down for a nap, she wakes up and you start the whole process over again – change the nappy, feed, burp, comfort, sing-to, put down, pick up, rock, soothe, etc. Sounds terrible, right? BUT this also leads to the most important comparison:

4. Pride in your work. There’s some sick high cooks get after working a crazy night. When the last customer leaves, the last pot goes through the dishwasher, the last station gets flipped, the floors mopped and the gas ranges cleaned – when you don’t think you’ll have the strength to even get home – when the chef hands you a pint of beer and tells you you’re awesome – it’s actually a great feeling. When everyone chips in to get the fridge organized and pats each other on the back and laughs about the night’s events before going out for last call at the bar across the street – that’s a great feeling.

Same deal with a newborn. When you finally get her settled, when she’s been fussy all night and is suddenly burped and content, when she’s in her bassinet with a milk-drunk smile on her face, slowly drifting off to sleep and your husband tells you you’re awesome – that’s a great feeling.

It makes everything else manageable. And you’re able to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

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