Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Confections’ Category

Gateaux Basque

40472027265_12aeff18f6_z

When I was younger and living a different life in the hustle and bustle of Toronto, I was on the opening team for the restaurants that were part of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Bell Lightbox.

This was one of the most difficult (but character building) chef jobs I have ever had. While the main restaurant where I worked was large and could seat many people at one time, the kitchen was quite small. There were lots of us cooks running around all day, so we would continually bump into each other, get into altercations over whose turn it was to mop (or organize the walk-in, or go upstairs to the storeroom for potatoes, or clean the mussels – we argued a lot) and generally drive each other crazy for hours on end.

I should also say that I made a lot of close friends working there. We got through a lot of difficult, busy situations together, hence the character building. I also learned a lot about food and the restaurant industry there.

There was another strange little benefit to working in this particular restaurant. During the international film festival, we would often hear tell, of or even serve the celebrities who were there promoting their films. We never took advantage of these situations. We were well-trained in customer service and always kept our cool.

Except for me, this one time.

Part of me can’t even believe I’m writing this, because to write down the words means I have to relive the story. But, the thing is, I relive this story every time I make a Gateaux Basque, and those delicious little cake/pastries are always on our curriculum for Modern Skills for Modern Chefs, the course I co-tutor at the School of Food.

Anyway, this is one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. And it involves Gateaux Basque, one of my most favourite desserts of all time.

One day, I arrived at work at around 2:30pm. I was working the night shift, which started at 3pm. As I walked behind the hot line in our open kitchen, where I was working the pasta station, I saw a group walk into the otherwise empty restaurant. This was our quiet time, after lunch and before dinner.

My friend Jesus was their server and sat them directly in front of my station, and that’s when I realized who had just come into our restaurant. It was The Decemberists.

Here’s the thing: I LOVE THE DECEMBERISTS. They might not be as well known as other bands, but just a few months ago they were playing a gig here in Ireland. They are a very famous band in their own right, and their songs are very clever and well-written. I’ve always liked them a lot.

I was never starstruck before this moment. We had a few celebrities in, but I was usually too busy to notice they were even there and most of the time I wouldn’t have been too fussed. This time, I hyperventilated. They were sitting mere feet away from me; about to eat my cooking.

The chef who was on with me looked concerned when he saw me hyperventilating. He thought something was wrong.

“Did someone at that table do something to you?”, he asked, very seriously, when all I could do was point silently at the table. He obviously wasn’t a fan.

When I finally told him who they were, he laughed at me.

“Yeah, OK. I’ve never heard of them.”

Neither had anyone else in the kitchen. Jesus hadn’t either, and he was the only server on at the time. He told me they were a really lovely bunch and I should come over to say hello.

YEAH, OF COURSE I SHOULD, JESUS. TERRIBLE IDEA.

But I gathered my courage, managed to get the chef to agree to send them a few free desserts, and I brought the Gateaux Basque tartlets over to the table with Jesus when they had finished their mains. I wanted them to try these tartlets – crumbly, delicious sablee pastry tarts filled with perfectly luscious creme patissiere – because when I first tried them, they were an absolute revelation.

“Oh, hi,” I awkwardly addressed the table. “I wanted you to try these Gateaux Basque for dessert I’m a really big fan I really love your music I really wanted to make it to your concert last night but my credit card bounced when I tried to purchase tickets my friends went though and they said it was an amazing concert anyway thanks for coming in I hope you liked your food and yeah I hope I get to your next concert OK bye!”

The verbal diarrhea. It was so, so bad. It was so humiliating. The band was staring at me like I had seven heads. Only the drummer was smiling with encouragement and nodding at me, which only made things worse. Those several minutes were among the most awkward and painful of my life.

I walked away, flushed red and feeling so, so uncool.

As the band were getting up to leave, the chef came over to me with a spoonful of liquid.

“Hey, can you try this and check it for seasoning?”

I took the entire spoonful into my mouth before realizing he had given me a spoonful of dirty dish water, as a joke. Just as I spat the liquid out of my mouth and shouted “THAT IS F&*&%$^^ DISGUSTING!”, the band walked by, taking their leave.

The looks on their faces as they left. I’ll never forget it.

I couldn’t listen to The Decemberists for a long time after this incident. I couldn’t eat Gateaux Basque, either. I soon moved on to another restaurant and left TIFF behind, along with the painful memories.

In the last year or two, I’ve kinda gotten over it. I started making Gateaux Basque again, and, more recently, have been teaching the recipe to my students. It truly is a special cake… pastry… thing. And The Decemberists? Maybe I’ll have enough on my credit card to make it to their next Dublin gig. It might still be too soon, though.

Gateaux Basque

Ingredients:

For the Sablee:

1/2 cup/125g softened butter

1/3 cup/35g powdered sugar

1 large egg yolk

Pinch of salt

1 1/4 cups/160g plain flour

1 Tbsp milk, if needed

For the Creme Patissiere:

5 egg yolks

1 cup/250g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup/60g plain flour

400ml milk

2 Tbsp butter

1 tsp cinnamon

Zest of ½ lemon

½ tsp almond extract

Fresh pitted cherries (optional)

Egg wash

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

  • Make the sablee: with a mixer, beat the butter and powdered sugar until well-combined. Add the egg yolk and mix. Add the flour and salt. Mix until combined, do not over-mix, you do not want to develop the gluten in the flour.
  • Wrap the sablee in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Make the creme patissiere:
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk, lemon zest and sugar until light, pale yellow and ribbony.
  • In the meantime, heat the milk, cinnamon, almond extract and vanilla on med-high until it reaches boiling point.
  • Add the flour to the egg and sugar and mix until just combined.
  • Temper the egg mixture with the hot milk by adding a small amount and immediately whisking vigourously. Then, add the rest of the hot milk and mix to combine.
  • Return the mixture to the pot and return to the heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture up to a boil until it’s thick and glossy.
  • Add the butter and mix well. Set aside.
  • Roll out or press half of the sablee into the bottom of a tart pan. Add the creme patissiere to the tart, adding the cherries here if you’re using them. Roll out the other half of the sablee and cover the top of the tart pan. *PLEASE NOTE Depending on the size of your tart pan, you may have to double the sablee recipe.
  • Trim the excess pastry and brush the tops of the pastry with egg wash
  • Bake at 190˚C (375F) for about 45 minutes (check after 30 – some ovens are hotter than others).
  • Cool and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar, ice cream, compote or whipped cream.

 

 

Advertisements

#IrelandCooksforSyria: Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce; Cream & Rosewater Baklava

33045019821_c871bac6be_z

Over the past few years, Ireland has been welcoming Syrian refugees to its towns and villages. As a result, there is a good-sized Syrian community now living in Thurles, the nearest town to our farm.

I’m part of a group of Irish Food Bloggers that are posting Syrian recipes today in an effort to introduce you to typical (read: addictively delicious) Syrian cuisine and start a conversation about how we can help welcome refugees into our communities. It doesn’t have to be about fundraising or even necessarily being politically active (though both of those things are great). In my case, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some Syrian women in Thurles on a more informal level.

Although I was relatively ignorant about Syrian food and culture before writing this post, I did know that most Syrians are practising Sunni Muslims. This means the women wear Hajib when they’re out in public, socialization is largely segregated by sex, and alcohol/pork/non-Halal foods are not consumed – ever. In a small town like Thurles, that can lead to problems when it comes to the weekly shop.

As a result, most Thurles-based Syrian food shopping is done at the Halal shop in Port Laoise or the shops in Tallaght (Dublin) with the last few bits being done in Thurles itself. I was so impressed, when my friend Reham recently had me over to her house, with the size of her refrigerator – it’s a huge, North American-style, stainless steel beauty. I was green with envy.

“We need lots of room because we don’t get to Dublin very often,” she explained. “When we do go, we buy a lot of Halal ingredients and use the fridge/freezer for storage.”

Reham came to Thurles with her husband, son and daughter about two years ago (and she has since welcomed an adorable baby girl!). Her sister came as well, with her own family, but as many Syrian families are quite large the sisters still have siblings, in-laws and parents living in other parts of the world.

Reham and I originally met at a Thurles Women’s Group gathering. I was invited to attend by the local coordinator and didn’t really know what to expect. I ended up staying for hours, having great chats with nearly every woman – Syrian and Irish alike – in the room.

Kids, husbands, the little quirks that come along with moving to Ireland – by the end of the night the ladies and I were laughing like old friends, and Reham promised to make me shawarma – something I used to eat every night in Toronto after cleaning down the restaurant kitchen (the shawarma shop on the way to my apartment was the only restaurant still open at 2am!).

“There is one Halal restaurant (Kebabish) in Thurles,” she said later at her house, in between bites of shawarma and fresh lemon, “but we usually prefer to eat at home.”

32327556114_369f4b2477_z

I don’t blame her. Reham could make millions selling her homemade pickles and I would be a daily patron if her family ever decided to open a shawarma shop in Thurles.

… Have I mentioned I LOVE SHAWARMA?

In Toronto you can’t walk 500 metres without seeing a shawarma shop. Not all shawarma are created equal, though – the best ones are filled with juicy, spit-roasted slices of chicken or lamb, a generous smear of garlic cream sauce, fresh tomato and pickles and maybe a dollop of hummus for good measure. You can get them in a pita wrap, or with all the ingredients piled on a plate with fries.

Reham doesn’t have a spit (at least, I didn’t see one in the kitchen), but the chicken was moist and deliciously spiced. She wrapped the chicken and sauce in pita and toasted the whole thing on a grill – burrito-style! We then dipped our shawarma in extra garlic sauce and piled them with fried potatoes and bright red pickled turnip.

33044996971_b92e1f4000_z

I was so full after the shawarma, but there was a delicious looking baklava for dessert filled with thickened cream and flavoured with rose water – how could I pass that up? I downed two pieces along with my cardamom-infused Arabic coffee.

I’m so glad to have met my Syrian neighbours in Thurles. They are as mad about food as I am, they’re fun to be around and they teach me new things all the time. As a newcomer myself it’s great to spend some time with other non-Irish people every now and then!

I’d encourage anyone interested in getting to know their local Syrian community to research any local men’s/women’s groups that might be involved. You can also contact your local representatives to ask how you can get stuck in.

The Irish Food Bloggers involved in this linky are supporting Amnesty International’s “I Welcome Refugees” campaign. Click on the link to learn more about this great initiative.

In the meantime, you can make this shawarma and baklava. You won’t regret it.

*Thanks to Billy at Rookie Cook for organizing this! Here are links to other #IrelandCooksforSyria blog posts (will add to this as they come):

The Honest Project

Rookie Cook

Colm O’Gorman & here’s Colm’s piece in the Irish Times

Tasty Mediterraneo

33016195882_31f4030e6f_z

Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce 

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:

500g chicken breasts or boneless thighs, sliced into large pieces

2-3 pita wraps

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp each:

ground coriander

ground cumin

all-purpose Syrian spice mix (you can find it in Halal shops)

pinch of cinnamon

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

100g plain Greek yogurt

2 tsp salt

For the Garlic Sauce:

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

juice of one lemon

1 egg white

2 Tbsp ice water

1 cup rapeseed oil (or canola; sunflower – any mild oil)

good pinch of sea salt

Directions:

  • Marinate your chicken in the spices, garlic, lemon juice and yogurt for at least an hour.
  • Saute or grill your chicken pieces until fully cooked. Open up the pita and spread 1 Tbsp garlic sauce in each. Layer the chicken into the pita and roll up tightly like a burrito.
  • Grill the shawarma wraps until hot all the way through and the outside is slightly toasty. Slice into 2-3 pieces per pita.
  • Serve with French fries, extra garlic sauce, dill pickles, pickled turnip and beetroot, fresh cucumber, fresh carrot, and slices of fresh lemon (you eat the lemon, it’s not for juice!).

33016185602_87ac7d9aef_z

Cream, Rosewater and Pistachio Baklava

Ingredients:

at least 16 sheets phyllo pastry (8 for the bottom and 8 for the top)

melted butter (about 60g/1/4 cup)

250g/1 cup crushed or blitzed pistachios

Rose Water Syrup:

2 tsp rose water

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup honey

Cream Filling:

250ml/1 cup heavy cream

250ml/1 cup whole milk

60g/1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp vanilla

Directions: .

  • Make the rose water syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, water, rose water and honey. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes (until slightly thickened). Set aside to cool.
  • Make the cream filling: in a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, stirring until smooth. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 2 minutes to fully thicken. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, then wrap clingfilm directly onto the surface of the filling (to avoid a skin forming) and chill for 1 hour.
  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F)
  • Line the bottom of a small, lightly buttered casserole dish with half the phyllo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter before adding the next. On top of this, add the cream filling and spread evenly.
  • Add the remaining phyllo sheets on top of the cream filling, again brushing each sheet with melted butter (including the top sheet). Using a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the baklava with a diamond or square design.
  • Bake the baklava for about 40 minutes (check after 30). The pastry should be golden brown and puffed-up and the diamond or square design on top should be prominent.
  • Sprinkle the top of the hot baklava with the crushed pistachios and then douse the whole thing in syrup (this must be done as soon as it comes out of the oven). Allow to cool before cutting and serving.
  • You will want to eat this within 2 days (the fresher it is, the better it tastes).

Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

31937708023_1bf9f5be8e_z

Today has been a bad day.

It’s not like I didn’t realize it would be a bad day. Ciara’s been cutting her eye teeth for what seems like ages now and has grown fond of 3am, two-hour-long hangouts on the couch. So yeah, when your three-year-old wakes up at 7am and you’ve just managed to get back to sleep you are definitely not starting your day on the right foot.

So we had a slow morning. Luckily I batch-cook pancakes on the weekends so Maeve can have a quick breakfast if need be, but still, by the time I had her, myself and Ciara washed, dressed, breakfasted and out the door it was well past 9am. Maeve was fairly late for playschool.

It had been a frosty night. After dropping Maeve off, Ciara and I went to town (town being Thurles, about 20 minutes away from the farm). On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ciara hangs out with my friend while I make donuts and other goodies to sell at The Green Sheep. On the way in, my car hit a patch of black ice and I was so close to losing control of my car and sliding off into a hedge. I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep the car on the road. Needless to say, I crawled the rest of the way into town.

When I got to The Green Sheep, it was closed because my friend, the owner, thought I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and she had to go to a parent/teacher meeting. I had also thought I had a doctor’s appointment but thankfully called to double-check – it’s actually next week.

32751987945_84e112501a_z

My friend got back from parent/teacher and I managed to make some apple fritters and deep-clean my cooking equipment. Then, someone came into the café and I could hear them say, “Tell Janine to go move her car – the ticket guy is out there!”

Now, before you say anything: I know I should be paying for parking. BUT you get 15 minutes of free parking in Thurles, so I was taking advantage of that (ok, maybe too much advantage).

So I got to my car before the ticket guy gave me a ticket. However; he remembered me from two weeks ago, when he had fined me for having out-of-date car tax. I had just gotten this car a few months ago and with Christmas… well… I knew I was playing with fire. I paid for my tax once he ticketed me, but it was still in the post. He didn’t give me another fine; instead he chewed my ear off.

Combine this with exhaustion from being a parent and the hormones of a crazy pregnant lady and… well, you get the idea of how I’m feeling right now.

I basically want to cry myself to sleep. And then sleep for a really, really long time.

Instead, though, I might make some more of these Maple Pecan Cookie Bars. They’re so easy to put together and taste amazing.

Baking is really therapeutic, isn’t it? You’re in control. Your hands are busy. Your mind is in a zen-like state. This is probably why I liked working in the pastry sections of restaurants so much, even though I’m not really a pastry chef. That section of the restaurant oozes calm while the others get chaotic.

32751947335_5d24356ee7_z

Anyway, back to these delicious, nutty little morsels. They have a brown sugar cookie base and a maple pecan topping that is soft, chewy and crunchy all at once. The maple flavour really comes through (and I was using the generic maple syrup – even though it claims to be “100% Canadian Pure”, it’s way too inexpensive to be any good).

They were a hit at the café, so I’ll be officially adding them to The Siùcra Shack‘s menu and will put them on rotation at The Green Sheep.

Give them a try; they’re so forgiving. Baking them will make you forget all about your crap day.

32710795776_dc4648d7f1_z

Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

For the base:

250g/1cup plain flour

110g/2/3 cup brown sugar

110g/1/2 cup butter

For the topping:

1 egg

55g/1/3 cup brown sugar

75ml/1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 bag (about 250g or 1 cup) whole pecan halves

Flaky sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Line a rectangular baking tray with parchment and set aside.
  • In a bowl, (or in your stand mixer; paddle attachment), cream the brown sugar and butter for the base. Then, add the flour and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Press the cookie dough into the baking tray with your fingers. When the dough is evenly spread out, blind bake for about 15 minutes. Check it at 12 minutes; you don’t want it too dark.
  • Take the baked cookie base out of the oven and cool slightly. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the filling except the sea salt and pecans.
  • Pour the filling over the top of the cookie base. Arrange the pecan halves over the top.
  • Bake the bars, still at 180∘C/350∘F, for another 15 minutes or until it’s just set. If the top seems soft that’s ok. It will set as it cools.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan. Then, remove the whole thing (parchment and all) and slice into bars or squares.
  • These guys will keep for 5-ish days (they don’t usually make it that long, though)

48 Hours in Brussels

31038445091_ebe1a415ab_z

Ah, Bruxelles. I fell in love with that charming city over a dreary, cold weekend in November and I’m only now able to tell you about it! Happy new year, dear readers. 2016 was really great for me in lots of ways (like that time my second daughter was born) and really bad in other ways (like that time Donald Trump…).

I think 2017 is going to be really great. Especially for my family, because we’re expanding yet again! Ciara will be 18 months when our third child is born this coming Spring so our two latest babies will be just shy of official “Irish Twin” status, but that won’t make our lives any less hectic. I’m just gonna embrace the craziness and be as kind to myself as possible.

31038455131_e9f21ddca0_z30785036600_03c86abcba_z

With that said, why wouldn’t I jump at the chance of a weekend away in one of Europe’s coolest cities? A few girlfriends and I bought cheap Ryanair tickets (€40 return) and rented an apartment for the weekend (which also worked out to about €40 per person). We were as close to the downtown core as you can possibly get, so our accommodation was a steal (and very clean, and very charming – here’s the link to the Airbnb).

31038477931_20305b78c2_z

Our group was split between girls who wanted to party and girls who wanted to sleep (aka the pregnant ladies with kids at home). We all wanted to shop and eat. The location suited everyone’s tastes – just steps away from the Grand Place, the pedestrian shopping streets and the bar district. Artisan chocolate shops, French patisseries, waffle kiosks and proper Belgian friteries were absolutely everywhere. A real food heaven.

31116691116_1ff59593b1_z31008772652_a83a00d21e_z

On Saturday morning we gathered with other poor backpackers for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide (Oriane from Viva Brussels Walking Tours) was absolutely brilliant. I don’t normally like guided tours – it’s difficult to escape if the tour is really boring – but Oriane was funny, knew her history and gave good tips on where and what to eat/drink in the city. It was a cold, clear day but we were dressed warmly and enjoyed the exercise.

30330991404_552c579c67_z

I spent a lot of time buying chocolate and eating waffles. I must have averaged three waffles per day. The best thing about a true Liège waffle (the term “Belgian” waffle is incorrect since there are two types of waffle in Belgium – the Brussels waffle and the Liège, which is the one we tend to associate with Belgium) is that you can eat it on the go. Most shops will offer all kinds of sweet toppings, but DON’T – it’s just overkill. A proper Liège waffle is already sweet. Wrap it in a napkin and eat while you take in the sights.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of great quality Belgian chocolate on offer in the pedestrian areas off Grand Place. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to buy and from which shop. I bought several types of chocolate from different places and even bought some generic Belgian chocolate at the supermarket – all delicious.

30345107863_54ba5ac323_z

Other food and drink options worth exploring in Brussels include the famed Speculoos biscuits (my faves came from Maison Dandoy), traditional double-fried frites and, of course, Belgian beer. I know I’m pregnant, but I still bought a small bottle of Gueuze – an old-style Lambic beer which is fermented by particles in the air found only around Brussels. It had a sour, cidery taste. Really nice.

30785031780_db06ca59a6_z31116746306_e77c01a0de_z

And the frites? Oh my GAWD the frites. Our apartment was just around the corner from one of Brussels’ best friteries – Friterie du Café Georgette. The frites are triple-fried in beef fat, giving them an addictive flavour and perfect texture. They put Irish chips to shame. With a bit of mayo on the side, these frites made a good, cheap meal for us on more than one occasion.

I wasn’t so crazy about our final meal. Our tour guide had mentioned that Chez Lèon – an old-school Belgian restaurant – served great moules frites. Since the restaurant wasn’t far from our apartment we thought it would be a good place to go for dinner. The ambiance was wonderful. We had an older waitor with flawless tableside service. He was also a shameless flirt and a born entertainer. Unfortunately, my mussels weren’t nearly as vibrant; both moules and frites were disappointingly bland.

Dessert was a different affair (probably since most of the cooking was done tableside). I had a Normandy-style pancake. It might be the best dessert I’ve ever had (a hefty claim, but it was just that good – done simply, served hot – delicious).

31038189541_8a9b48895f_z

I’d love to go back to Brussels, or explore some of Belguim’s other cities, with my husband someday – preferably when I can drink beer again. The flight is an easy 1.5 hours from Dublin and the city is breathtaking. Don’t get hung up on terrorist threats; just don’t. Life is too short, and Brussels is too beautiful and fun to miss.

And those frites…

*This is not a sponsored post; no freebies were had. Just good times with friends.

30331347584_03db5b8959_z

Derg Cheddar Stove-top Mac & Cheese

17815155688_ba31eb834d_z I hear tales of 30 degree weather in Canada right now, but here in Ireland it still feels like winter. Yes, we have some lovely weather for the month of April, but as my father-in-law says, “That was our summer, right there.” I’m currently bundled on the couch in my housecoat; a cat curled so far into my hip he’s almost invisible. There’s a fire in the fireplace and outside it’s absolutely dismal – wind, rain and very low temperatures. So much for our Irish summer! We’re busy on the farm, as always. We’re beginning to plan for cutting silage, but the growth is not as good as it should be due to the colder weather. We’ll have to wait for nicer weather to do that, anyway. Between our jobs, home life, farm work and Maeve being with her child minder during the week I barely have time to even think about blogging. But I need to keep this website going. It’s my portal to the rest of the world. And I love sharing our lives with you all (and thanks for deeming it interesting enough to follow!).

Diva Bakes stall at Ballymaloe Litfest

Diva Bakes stall at Ballymaloe Litfest

A few weeks ago I went to Ballymaloe Litfest. I’ve been going since the festival began – for about three years – and I have to say, it just gets better and better. The guest speakers, amazing chefs, food writers and food producers who come to the festival make it even more special. This year I ACTUALLY MET ALICE WATERS. For real. She is just as lovely in person as she seems, which is refreshing. She signed a book for Maeve, who will receive said book when she is off to university (yup, I’m going to keep it that long). I’ve looked up to Alice Waters for years and was thrilled to hear her speak and meet her.

The gorgeous falafel from Rocket Man

The gorgeous falafel from Rocket Man

My delicious masala dosa from Ayer's Cafe

My delicious masala dosa from Ayer’s Cafe

The food at Litfest was better than ever this year. The Rocket Man from Cork always impresses with their fresh salads and pickles, but this year they were doing falafel flatbreads which went down an absolute treat. I had an AMAZING dosa from Iyer’s Cafe in Cork – the best I’ve had outside of Asia, in fact – and we got Maeve a little wood-fired pie from Volcano Pizza. So, so good.

The love folk from Ayer's Cafe - such amazing Indian food!

The lovely folk from Iyer’s Cafe – such amazing Indian food!

Miss M was a bit out of sorts, so we couldn’t stay as long as we wanted to, but before we left I loaded up on Arbutus Bread (some of the best loaves in Ireland) and Cloud Confectionery marshmallows (they come in so many awesome flavours!).

Loved all the pickled/fermented product on display from My Goodness

Loved all the pickled/fermented product on display from My Goodness

When we got home we were a) committed to never travelling with a toddler ever again and b) exhausted. We needed some comfort food. I had a block of delicious Derg Cheddar, made just down the road in Nenagh (this cheese is amazing – made only from raw, summer milk when the cows are at pasture; it’s aged but manages to taste creamy and sharp all at once). I decided to make stovetop mac and cheese with crispy garlic breadcrumbs and it saved our lives.

18002974775_4dab097404_z Derg Cheddar Stovetop Mac and Cheese Ingredients:

½ lb pasta

60g plain flour

60g butter

1 bay leaf

½ L full fat milk

½ Tbsp Dijon mustard

Pinch of nutmeg

500g Derg Farmhouse Cheddar, grated

Salt & Pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:

500g fresh breadcrumbs

60g butter

1 clove garlic

Salt & Pepper

Chopped fresh parsley, thyme, chives and/or basil

Directions:

  • Heat a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, start the sauce:
  • In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter. When it starts to bubbles, add the flour and mix well. The mixture should look a bit doughy – this is called a roux. Let the roux cook for one minute, then add the bay leaf and half the milk.
  • Using a metal whisk, stir the mixture until it thickens completely. Make sure you’ve beaten out any lumps, then add the rest of the milk.
  • Allow the mixture to slowly come to a boil, gently whisking the entire time (the bottom will stick and burn if not!). When it comes to a boil and thickens, remove it from the heat.
  • Stir in the Dijon, salt and pepper, and finally, the cheese. When all is melted and combined, give it a taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
  • When cooked, strain the pasta and toss with the cheese sauce. Make the breadcrumbs:
  • In a large pan, melt the butter and add the finely chopped garlic. Let it cook for 30 seconds, then add the breadcrumbs. Cook the breadcrumbs until the butter has been absorbed and they become golden brown and crunchy, stirring often. When finished, toss with the fresh herbs.
  • Serve the mac & cheese is bowls with the breadcrumbs sprinkled over-top. This makes four large servings.
We love Ballymaloe!

We love Ballymaloe!

Coffee, Walnut & Meringue Squares

14271734812_c557979b9a_z

I got the recipe for these sweet bites from a familiar source: the Middle River Hospital Auxiliary’s Cookbook, published in the year 2000, to raise funds and also commemorate my tiny Cape Breton community.

When I say tiny, I mean minuscule. I come from a minuscule place. The valley where I grew up stretches out over a wide expanse of land, but is so sparsely populated you wouldn’t even know you were driving through a community. That is, save for the “Welcome to Middle River” sign that greets travelers as they zoom down the side of the mountain.

14087191960_06a4ccdb6c_z

Yes, the name of my community is Middle River. Because of the river running through the middle of it. Not the most creative of names, but I don’t think my ancestors were too concerned with place names as they got to know the local Aboriginal tribe, felled trees, dug massive stones out of the earth to make fields, built log homes and scary makeshift bridges and tried not to get scurvy during the long, cold winter.

They were just a touch busy.

Back then, women would have to wait for weeks on end for peddlers to come visit and sell them the things they could not make. Sugar, tea, pots & pans – the peddlers would trek on horse or by foot and the families they visited would feed them and put them up for the night. They brought not only house and farm-wares, but news and stories, too. In such a remote place, their visits were always eagerly anticipated.

14087157448_b7883c287b_z

It’s not so difficult to get sugar now, although you still can’t get any in Middle River (we don’t have a grocery store). You need to hop in your car and drive for 20 minutes to the town of Baddeck. Still, no biggie. Most people have to go there for work and school, anyway.

So getting back to this Millennium Cookbook and these tasty little squares. In the book, this recipe is called “Yum-Yum Squares”. I find it a little bit vague, however true the statement. So we’ll break it down into it’s delicious components and call them, for the sake of clarity, Coffee, Walnut & Meringue Squares.

14087157168_fe932384d0_z

I should also confess at this point, just in case someone from home, with the same cookbook, is reading this. I messed with the recipe. Like – a lot. There was initially no coffee in these squares. It was just walnut and meringue. But hear me out:

There’s a popular type of cake in Ireland called a coffee cake. I know what you’re thinking – “We have coffee cake in Canada, too, dummy.” Well, no we don’t; not like they have here.

In Ireland, coffee cake is literally flavoured with coffee. It also consists of two layers of moist, dense, buttery cake and chopped walnuts. The majority of the coffee flavouring is in the buttercream, which is delicious. This flavour combination makes me really happy, which is why I added the coffee to these squares.

14271735182_19fbf5af20_z

Aside from adding coffee to the mix, I also upgraded the amount of walnuts in the recipe by about a bazillion. There are now chopped, toasted walnuts in each layer, as well as a generous sprinkling on top. Lots of crunch and nutty flavour result.

14271733392_213e306beb_z

Coffee, Walnut & Meringue Squares

Ingredients:

1st layer:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups AP flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/3 cup crushed, toasted walnuts

2nd layer:

2 egg whites

1 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1 tbsp instant coffee granules

1/3 cup crushed, toasted walnuts

3rd layer:

1/3 cup crushed walnuts (don’t toast these – they’ll toast in the oven while baking)

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan) and line a small cookie/baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.
  • Using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks and vanilla. Mix. Add the flour, salt & baking powder. Mix until just combined. Fold in the toasted, crushed walnuts.
  • Spread the dough onto the lined cookie sheet and gently press down with your fingers until the dough is evenly spread out along the bottom.
  • This time using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar until soft peaks are reached. Add the vanilla & coffee granules. Gradually add the superfine sugar while continuing to whisk. When stiff, glossy peaks are formed, your meringue is ready. Gently fold in toasted, crushed walnuts.
  • Spread the meringue mixture evenly over the cookie dough base. Top with the remaining, untoasted crushed walnuts.
  • Bake for 45 minutes. Check after 30, if you have a hot oven the walnuts on top may brown too quickly. If this happens, just place a sheet of tin foil over the top until the base is fully baked.
  • Allow to cool completely before portioning into squares or bars.

14271734132_f4f2740969_z

A Very Nutty Nougat

13989831771_4f71a29161_z

Well folks, I can’t believe it, but it’s been a year since we moved into this little house in Waterford. A whole year. So much has happened, and yet it’s gone by in a flash. Our cat sadly died, our beautiful girl was born, we got a new puppy (who I threaten to get rid of on a daily basis – she won’t stop stealing food from the kitchen counter!), members of my family came to visit and went home again. I remember this summer seeming so far away back in September when I had to say good bye to my parents and brother.

But I shouldn’t have been so dramatic. The past six months have flown by. In a few weeks we’ll be welcoming one of my best friends to Ireland for a long-planned visit. In mid-June, the baby and I will be boarding a plane (Westjet now fly from Dublin to St. John’s!) and taking the four hour trip home to Canada. Yup, just four hours. It took my parents longer to fly to my brother on the other side of Canada. It’s a small world, really.

In between, there are first communions, a few fantastic food festivals, and lots to see and experience around the country. In Canada, we’ll be welcoming a new baby boy into the family. Good things are on the way.

A Beautiful Cape Breton Summer

A Beautiful Cape Breton Summer

This summer, I’ll be freelancing, blogging and cooking in Cape Breton for a good 2.5 months. I can’t wait to swim in the river, to pick wild blueberries, to taste the wines of the Annapolis Valley and visit the beautiful beaches we boast in Nova Scotia. I’m going to eat donairs, garlic fingers and poutine til I’m fit to burst. I’m going to really enjoy lobster season. But mostly, I can’t wait to see my family and introduce them to my baby, who have, mostly, only seen Maeve via Skype or Facebook.

I was in a celebratory mood yesterday. In one year we’ve come a very long way. This blog is almost a year old, too! I’ll be commemorating that in a different post. Yesterday, I wanted to make something indulgent.

French nougat is one of my favourite confections. It’s chewy, sweet and versatile. You can mix in whatever combination of dried fruits, nuts or sweets you want. My favourite way to have nougat, though, is with lots of toasted nuts to add a bit of earthiness and cut through the sweetness. Adding a handful of dried cranberries will add a bit of tartness which blends well with those toasty nuts. You can flavour it with citrus rinds, vanilla or spices. I chose cinnamon this time.

Any combination of nuts will do – yesterday I had some almonds, walnuts and cashews, so that’s what went into my nougat. Pistachios and hazelnuts are also good options (and the green pistachios look really pretty against the white). Kids might like their nougat with some caramel or chocolate chips added in, but for me that’s a bit of a sugar overload. At least the fruit and nuts give the illusion of it being a healthy snack!

13969908366_9e21e5fecf_z

Nutty, Fruity Nougat

Ingredients:

1 egg white, room temperature

pinch of sea salt

pinch of ground cinnamon

1 1/3 cups white sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 Tbsp tap water

1/2 cup each walnuts, cashews, almonds & dried cranberries

Vegetable oil

Directions:

  • Toast and roughly chop the nuts. Set aside.
  • Grease and line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap. Then, cut two pieces of parchment and lightly grease those as well. Make sure there’s plenty of overhang when you line the cookie sheet with plastic wrap.
  • Add the sugar, water, cinnamon and honey into a saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar and then turn on high. Boil this mixture for 3-5 minutes. You can use a candy thermometer here but its really not necessary (if you do, it should register around 120 degrees Celsius when finished). You want the sugar and honey to reach the soft-ball stage of cooking – that means, if you drop a bit into a glass of cold water it turns into a firm, but soft ball.
  • While the sugar mixture is boiling, beat the egg white and sea salt until soft peaks form. Once the sugar mixture has reached the right consistency, gradually and slowly pour the mixture into the egg white while beating on med-high.
  • As the sugar mixture is absorbed into the egg white, you should notice the meringue becoming stiffer and glossier. This is what you want. When all of the sugar syrup has been poured into the meringue, continue to beat for 8-10 minutes until you’ve got a firm, but still pliable and mix-able meringue.
  • Now, you can add the nuts and dried fruit to the mix while it’s still pliable. Use your hands (the mixture might still be pretty warm, so be careful!) like I do or a strong wooden spoon. If using your hands, grease them with a bit of vegetable oil before working the nougat.
  • Once the fillings are mixed in, move the nougat to the lined cookie sheet. With one greased parchment sheet on the bottom, press the nougat into the corners and flatten it out with your hands. Put the other greased parchment sheet on top to smooth and even it out over the cookie sheet.
  • Allow to set for at least two hours before removing it from the cookie sheet. When you move it, use the overhang from the plastic wrap to lift it up.
  • Use a knife dipped in boiled water to portion the nougat. If you think it’s too sticky, you can coat the nougat in icing sugar. That will make it easier to handle. It will store in an airtight container for a week.

13969908006_3a3d1213fb_z

%d bloggers like this: