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Posts from the ‘Irish Producers’ Category

Galway City & Dog’s Bay

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This past weekend Patrick and I were treated to a child-free weekend away in County Galway. I say we were “treated” not because this trip was planned or paid for by anyone else, but because my amazing sister-in-law offered to take on our kids for the weekend. With baby #3 mere weeks away, how could we refuse?

We booked into the Westwood Hotel, which isn’t very central but the rooms are comfortable, clean and affordable and the hotel is conveniently located off Galway’s main ring road. I love Galway, but I admit – I don’t like driving in Galway.

The downtown is a tangle of pedestrian-only quays and alleyways. Many of the roads you can drive on are so small and congested I get panic attacks just thinking about them. It’s nice to drive to the hotel, park the car and just take a taxi into the downtown (no designated driver needed, either – not that I’m indulging these days).

We arrived on Friday evening. We needed a babysitter for the kids, of course, but we also needed someone to milk the cows for the weekend (farmers don’t really get days off!) so we were lucky to have people to cover both areas. Patrick helped with the evening milking before we set off – not a big deal, since Galway is just a little over two hour’s drive from the farm.

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Homemade Miso!

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When we arrived, we checked into the hotel and then took a taxi downtown. We had one thing on our minds: sushi. There are a few options for Japanese food in Galway, but I had been following Wa Café on Instagram for some time and wanted to give their fare a try. They recently made the Irish Times’ 100 Best Places to Eat so we knew we were in for something good.

We ordered nearly the whole menu (I’ve said before; we’re Japanese-food deprived here in Tipperary!), consuming several types of maki roll, a big bowl of Toyota-style ramen and a bento box featuring the most addictive, flavourful Karaage chicken and crisp vegetable tempura.

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The next day we were up early, so we did some shopping downtown before brunch at Dela. This cozy restaurant was buzzing with activity. I hate queues, but our meal was so worth the 20-minute wait. I ordered bacon + crab potato cake with poached eggs, hollandaise, toasted brown bread and salad. It hit every mark for me – flavourful, properly seasoned, well-priced and the portion size was perfect.

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After brunch we took a drive out to Connemara. Honestly, the day was so beautiful – sunny and warm – it would have been a crime to not find a beach. I had read about Dog’s Bay in the Irish Independent as it topped Ireland’s 30 Best Beaches, so we thought we’d check it out – even though it’s a full hour and a half from Galway city.

After driving through gorgeous, boggy, barren, mountainous, sheepey Connemara, we turned off the road about 20 km from Clifden. A winding road took us past Ballynahinch Castle and the cutesy village of Roundstone before we reached Dog’s Bay.

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To say this beach is beautiful is an understatement. The coral sand is pure white. The water is so turquoise it looks about 20 degrees warmer than it actually is. This beach could be in the Bahamas or Maldives – you would not expect to see it in the middle of County Galway’s rocky landscape. We’ll be returning here again and again – next time with the kids.

That evening, we indulged in a seven-course tasting menu at Loam. True to it’s moniker, Michelin-starred Loam specializes in the tastes and terroir of the Wild Atlantic Way. They use produce and meat from local farmers, make their own charcuterie and surprise/delight diners like me with interesting and beautifully balanced plates of food.

We loved the “pasta” made from very-delicately-sliced squid, served with a soft egg yolk and a deep roasted onion broth. The local sirloin was served tartare-style, but it wasn’t like any other tartare I’ve had. The earthy beef was paired with anchovy, crispy onion and fresh ramson & sorrel – it was actually refreshing. For one of our two dessert plates, we loved the Chanterelle mushroom ice cream with parsley sponge and chocolate-hazelnut crumb.

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Parting gift: a copy of the evening’s menu (comes in handy when you’re trying to remember each course!)

Those were our stand-outs from that night’s menu, but honestly – I loved the whole experience. We very rarely opt for tasting menus in restaurants because, more often than not, you leave feeling bloated and over-full. If you opt for wine pairings, you often end up with four unfinished glasses of wine you have to chug before dessert. Also? Sometimes. It. Just. Takes. Too. Long. I don’t want to be waiting 30 minutes between courses. We’re parents of young children and we WILL fall asleep at the table.

Loam has its guest experience down to a science. We were finished in roughly two hours, enjoyed the engaging, smart (but understated) service, LOVED the food and didn’t feel overstuffed (but also didn’t need to indulge in any late-night snacks). The one star from Michelin seems a bit stingy, actually.

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We went straight to bed after dinner and left early the next morning. I actually missed my kids; can you believe it? It was another beautiful day at the farm and I couldn’t wait to spend it with them.

Have you been to Galway recently? What were some of your favourite spots?

Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

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Before we found out I was pregnant with our third child, I was in the best shape of my life.

When we got back to the farm after our 2016 Pan-Atlantic/Cross-Canada Adventure, I took up running. Actually, I took up running while I was home in Nova Scotia. The longer evenings and milder temperatures in June gave me a bit of energy. I started tracking my progress (and my caloric intake) on my smartphone. I started the Couch to 5k app and slowly, ever slowly, went from barely being able to run for a minute at a time to running for 25 minutes straight, without stopping.

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I was eating stuff like this pre-pregnancy/pre-strata.

Some runners may scoff at a mere 25 minute run (a jog, really) but for me – as someone who absolutely hated running; who swore she would never, ever be a runner – it was the biggest deal. I never thought I’d be able to do it, but I did.

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Then I got pregnant again. And the extreme exhaustion started creeping in, usually around mid-afternoon. And I started letting my three year old watch endless episodes of Paw Patrol so I could nap on the couch while Ciara napped in her room. And I started craving Big Macs every day at 2pm.

Yes, the calorie-counting went out the window, as did my tri-weekly run – even though my doctor told me I’d be fine to continue. It was just a bit too much.

But I miss it. 25 weeks into this pregnancy, I’m excited to meet our new baby and get back into some kind of exercise regime.

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But the calorie-counting? I don’t miss that. Especially when I can eat things like this decadent black pudding sausage-laden strata, made with Irish cheese (I used Derg Cheddar – they make their cheese using only raw, summer milk here in Tipperary), without feeling guilty.

Una O’Dwyer (aka The Butcher’s Daughter) makes really great sausages. She has a shop in Cashel, Tipperary – about a 40 minute drive from the farm – and sells a wide range of her sausages nationwide. I made this strata with her black pudding & thyme sausages. The earthy flavour of the black pudding went really well with the creamy farmhouse cheddar.

Oh, and thanks to all that pre-pregnancy running, my BMI went down an entire 3 points and I lost more than 15 pounds. We’ll see what the scales say post-pregnancy, but in the meantime I’m going to have a second helping of strata – with a generous dollop of herby sour cream.

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Una O’Dwyer’s Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage Strata

Ingredients:

1 loaf crusty bread, cut into thin slices

1 package Cashel Fine Foods Black Pudding & Thyme Sausages, casings removed

500g button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, diced

500g cherry tomatoes, cut in half

250g/1 cup aged cheddar cheese (I used raw Derg Cheddar), grated

1 Tbsp rapeseed/olive oil

1 Tbsp butter (for greasing)

10 large eggs

200ml/3/4 cup cream

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

To Serve:

Chopped, fresh herbs (parsley, thyme or chives)

250g/1 cup sour cream

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 400∘F (200°C, no fan). Grease a large casserole dish with 1 Tbsp of butter.
  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high on the stovetop. Add the olive oil, then add the diced onion.
  • Cook the onion for five minutes, or until translucent. Add the mushrooms and sausages and continue to fry until tender and caramelized (about 8-10 minutes). You’ve removed the casings from the sausages, so at this stage you can break up the sausages with a wooden spoon.
  • Take half the sliced bread and layer it evenly on the bottom of the buttered casserole dish. Add the sausage/mushroom/onion mixture over the top, then sprinkle that with half the cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes over the cheese, then layer the other half of the bread over top.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, Dijon, salt and pepper. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the casserole, ensuring each area is well-coated. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over the top.
  • Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours, before baking for 45-55 minutes. If you stick a sharp knife in the strata and some egg oozes out, you’ll know it’s not ready. Cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and fresh herbs. This casserole serves 8-12 regular people, or 3-4 pregnant ladies.

Tipperary Lamb + New Potato Curry

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Things are going to go a bit crazy in the next few weeks. Someone recently made fun of me and my penchant for list-writing, so I think I’ll go ahead and write this post in list form.

  1. My daughter is going to preschool on the first of September. My daughter. Is school aged. I could have sworn we just brought her back from the hospital. I could have sworn I wasn’t old enough to have a child in school. But there you go. Next week, my baby will be taking her first step toward complete and utter independence from Mama. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
  2. My other baby is going to be minded by someone other than me for a few hours a day while Maeve is in school. I’m not sure how this is going to go either, but I’m happy enough knowing she’s being cared for by a good friend and I will literally be across the street the entire time.
  3. I’m starting a business. I have no capital, no “starting a business” experience and no idea how this is going to go. I’m giving it a shot. I’m giving it a year. If it works, great. If not, I’ll be content in the knowledge that I started off small enough to (hopefully) not lose that much money.
  4. “Janine! You’re starting a business?! What business?”, I hear you asking. Well, readers, maybe I’ll be ready to speak more about it next week or the week after, but since I’m still waiting on a few things I will keep a lid on the details for now.

So yeah. Things are happening. Scary, exciting, crazy things. I hope you tag along with me for the journey.

A good curry always calms me down at the end of the day – especially lamb curry made with delicious Tipperary lamb from Lacey’s Butchers in Thurles and new Irish potatoes. I threw in some spinach to make it look healthier, but honestly – it’s not a bad dish. It’s made with really great ingredients, a little olive oil and lots of spicy TLC (and salt). A bit of basmati rice, a dollop of natural yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh coriander bring it to proper meal status.

Tipperary Lamb + New Potato Curry

Ingredients: 

1 lamb shoulder, deboned and cut into large-ish chunks

500g new potatoes, cut in half or thirds (make them the same size as the lamb chunks)

1 really big onion, or two smaller ones

3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 L (4 cups) hot beef stock

Salt, to taste

Juice of one lemon

Natural yogurt and Fresh Coriander, for serving

Directions:

  • Heat a large dutch oven or any heavy-bottomed, large pot on the stovetop on high. It needs to be smoking hot before you start cooking.
  • When it’s well heated, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, then add the chopped onion. Cook the onion for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Then add the lamb to brown.
  • When the lamb is browned, add the garlic, ginger and spices. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until fragrant (don’t get scared if the bottom of your pot is starting to look brown – that’s all flavour).
  • Add the tomato paste and mix thoroughly through the other ingredients, cooking an additional minute. Then add the hot beef stock. Bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down so the curry is at a simmer. Cook until the lamb is slightly tender and the sauce has reduced by half (about an hour), then add the potatoes. (If you need to add more stock at this point, go ahead. Even some hot water is fine if you think the sauce is too thick).
  • Continue to simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, the lamb is completely tender and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add the fresh spinach and stir through until wilted.
  • Season to taste using the salt and lemon juice. I like lots of acidity, but some don’t. Just go with your gut.
  • Serve over hot rice or warmed flatbreads, a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh coriander.

PS: I wasn’t asked to write nice things about Lacey’s Butchers in Thurles. I just really like their stuff. They don’t even know I’m writing this, or that I made this delicious curry with their gorgeous lamb.

 

Visiting Thurles: The Green Sheep Cafe

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*Disclaimer: This is the first part of a series I will be writing about different places I love in North Tipperary. I was not asked to write any of these articles and have not received any incentives to do so. This particular post, however, concerns a business I am actively involved in.

First let’s get some serious business out of the way:

Cooking With Craic has been shortlisted for a Littlewoods Ireland Blog Award under the Best Food Experience (Food Review) category! To become a finalist, I need to get as many public votes as possible aside from being judged by my blogging peers. If you enjoy reading this blog I would so appreciate you clicking on the button below and giving me an ol’ vote (you may be required to sign in with your Facebook account to prove you’re not a robot!).

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There. I dislike asking for votes, but I love all the wonderful support from the readers of this blog. Thanks for that!

So back to The Green Sheep. Where do I even begin?

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country you might have had a brilliant or not-so-brilliant experience. In my opinion, whether or not you have a brilliant experience is dependent on a few things:

  1. Making friends. Real ones. You know, the kind you can complain to and laugh hysterically with.
  2. Having purpose. A job you love, a serious hobby, a volunteer gig – any of these things make you feel like you belong to the community.
  3. Having a place to hang out. The times when you have nothing to do and don’t feel like being alone in your house, you need a place to go. A place where you feel comfortable.
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Mrs C. and me, Christmas 2007, Now Bar

I had these three things when I lived in Korea – a great job, a group of amazing friends (not to mention the Irishman I would someday marry) and Now Bar – the foreigner bar where we’d all congregate in the evenings and on weekends. The bar’s owner – a fun-loving woman we called Mrs. C – was like our Korean mom.

I have these three things in Ireland, too, which is great since I don’t plan on living anywhere else for the rest of my life. Funnily enough, all three of things things include The Green Sheep.

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I initially met The Green Sheep’s owner, Lucy Lambe, via Twitter. She kept telling me to visit her in her new cafe, so, eventually, I did. I loved the vibe and the coffee (she uses single origin Baobab coffee – these guys know how to roast beans). I loved Lucy, too. She is absolutely stark raving mad (in the best way). I quickly came to realize how passionate she and her husband, Patrick, are about supporting our local food producers and how much they enjoy showcasing all the great food products made in our area.

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So the cafe quickly became my hang-out. I would buy a coffee and watch the people walking down Friar Street. I soon came to know the other regulars and became good friends with Lucy and her family. Lucy would help me find local products to feature in my weekly Tipperary Star food column and I would bake and bring things in for her and her customers to sample. Her kids became my go-to babysitters.

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The food served here is whimsical, fresh and as a la minute as you can get (sometimes you don’t even know what you’re going to get – but it’s always good). In the winter you can get warming soups and stews; during the summer the salads are full of edible flowers and herbs from Comfrey Cottage.

They sell cakes, donuts (more on that later!), specialty meats and cheeses (think Toonsbridge, raw Derg Cheddar, Gubbeen and Cooleeney), local Thurles Tarts and jams, chutneys, juices and sauces – all made locally.

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They make fresh sandwiches and salads. Lucy’s Wild Irish Shrub Vinaigrette is becoming famous. But most of all, they serve up a vibrant atmosphere, full of good conversation and fun. Customers here quickly become friends. Its proximity to the Thurles train station has brought many a stranded visitor en route to elsewhere. They come in to wait for the next train and leave laughing and waving – instant friends. I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion.

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The Green Sheep is open Monday-Saturday from 8-6. They sometimes open on Sundays if there’s a match at Semple Stadium. The next time you’re in Thurles, stop in for a coffee and lunch – you will leave happy!

Irish Midlands Panna Cotta Tartlet

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I’m sitting at the desk in my bedroom at the moment. The sun is shining through the window, I have a cup of (hot!) coffee sitting next to the laptop and my baby is napping in the kitchen. Maeve is watching TV and doing puzzles with my mom. In a week we’ll be taking the girls to Canada for two months so stay tuned for some Canadian posts soon!

I love my babies so much – I really do – but it feels *so* good to sit at a desk and quietly type up a blog post. I miss it.

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I’m usually running around during the day. Ciara sleeps in the car – her daytime naps are short, short, short – and in her sling most days. She only sleeps in her moses basket at night, but when she finally goes down she sleeps for 8-9 hours straight. No complaints there! It just doesn’t leave a lot of time during the day for blogging. Did I mention it feels *so* good to be sitting at a desk?

Since I only get to sit down and blog every once in a while, it’s probably no surprise to you that I’ve been planning this post for, literally, weeks. I made and (quickly) photographed these delicious tartlets 2 or 3 weeks ago and am only now getting around to typing up the recipe! But it’s a really good recipe. I think it’s worth the wait.

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I was recently reading a recipe that combined panna cotta with earl grey tea and thought it was a great idea. What was even cooler was the panna cotta was set in a tartlet shell. At first I thought it was just a nice way to present the dessert, but holy moly, I never knew sweet pâte sablée and panna cotta could bring out the best in each other. The crumbly sweet pastry combined with the just set, barely sweetened cream is a match made in heaven.

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I didn’t flavour the panna cotta with tea, though. In the next county over (Offaly) there is a fabulous little food company called Wild Irish Foragers. They make shrub syrups, sweet syrups, pots and preserves – all from plants and flowers foraged here in the Midlands of Ireland. I love their products, mostly because they make things I don’t have the time or skillset to make myself.

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I flavoured the panna cotta with their Wild Dandelion Preserve, which is otherwise known as Poor Man’s Honey. It’s sweet like honey with just a hint of wild, floral, herbal flavour. I also used a raw cream to make the panna cotta. This one came from Crawford’s Farm in Cloughjordan (home to Tipperary’s only eco-village and where my favourite sourdough is made).

Yes, I could have used our own raw cream to make the panna cotta. I am aware I live on a dairy farm. BUT the cream only settles (floats to the top) in our milk storage unit at certain times of the day. It’s mixed all other times and thereby IMPOSSIBLE to skim. Crawford’s is amazing stuff. It tastes buttery. It’s thick. It makes perfect panna cotta.

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Finally, I topped the tartlet with a blueberry compote. Because I’m from Nova Scotia and I love blueberries. Here’s the recipe! The next time you hear from me I’ll be eating lots of seafood on the East Coast of Canada!

Irish Midlands Panna Cotta Tartlet

Ingredients 

For the Pâte Sablée:

120g/scant 1/2 cup softened butter

75g/1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)

1 egg yolk

300g/ 1 1/4 cup plain flour

1/2 tsp sea salt

For the Panna Cotta:

500ml/2 cups Crawford’s Farm Raw Cream, or heavy cream

2 heaping Tbsp Wild Irish Foragers Dandelion Preserve

1/2 packet powdered gelatin (about 1 tsp)

Pinch of fine sea salt

For the Blueberry Compote:

250g/1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

60g/1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Zest of one lemon

1 heaping Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 125 ml/1/2 cup water

Directions:

  • Make the pâte sablée: in a bowl or stand mixer, mix the egg yolk, butter and icing sugar until well combined. Add the flour and salt. Mix until it comes together, like a cookie dough. If it’s dry and crumbly, add 1-2 Tbsp of milk. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Roll out the pastry to about 1/4 inch thickness and fit into four small tartlet pans. Don’t worry about tears. Just use extra dough to patch any holes. Do not poke holes in the bottom as you do with some tart shells; the panna cotta will leak through later!
  • Line the tartlet pans with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dried beans). Bake until the top are golden brown and the bottoms are cooked through (the bottoms will still look pale), about 15-20 minutes. Don’t worry if the bottom of the tartlets seem too soft; they will firm up as they cool.
  • When the tart shells are cool, carefully remove them from the pans and place them on a tray.
  • Make the panna cotta: in a small saucepan, combine the cream, salt and Dandelion preserve. Slowly heat the cream mixture until it’s hot, steamy and the dandelion preserve has dissolved. You do not want to bring it to a boil, but just before it starts to boil.
  • Remove the cream mixture from the heat and sprinkle the gelation over top. Gently whisk the mixture until the gelatin is dissolved completely (this might take a minute or two).
  • Pour the mixture into the tart shells (don’t try to move the tart shells off or around the tray at this point) and put the tray into the fridge to set.
  • Make the compote: in a saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. If you’re using fresh blueberries, add a splash of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then add the cornstarch/water mixture. Stir until thickened, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  • When the panna cotta has set in the tart shells (about 30 minutes), top it with the cooled blueberry compote. Garnish with mint or lemonbalm. Serve immediately or keep them in the fridge to be served the same day.

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

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Well, the weeks and months seem to be flying by. Suddenly my sleepy little newborn is wide awake and PLAYING WITH TOYS and FOCUSING ON PEOPLE and GIGGLING and generally being adorable. These are all amazing developments, even if they mean less me-time and more baby/toddler-time. The blog suffers, as do my other interests, general health and well being and, sometimes, my sanity. But it’s all good. The Spring has more or less arrived and the sunny weather does great things for the spirit.

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In a little over a MONTH I’ll be flying to Canada with my girls. Ciara really needs a passport. My mom is here in Ireland, which is amazing, and she’ll be flying home with us, as will a friend’s daughter, who will travel around with us in Canada and be a great help with the smallies. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see all my extended family members and friends at home in Cape Breton, and at the end of our “Canada time” we’ll fly out to Victoria, BC to spend time with my brothers and their kids.

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In the meantime, days are spent on playdates and coffee breaks. The Easter bunny came over the weekend, leaving way too much chocolate for a two year old. Luckily Maeve has her mom, dad, grandad and nana to help do away with the spoils. We spent our Easter having lots of family time. This included a feast of epic proportions on Easter Sunday with a huge roasted gammon joint, garlicky dauphinoise potatoes, spring veggies, smoked trout from the fabulous Goatsbridge Farm in Thomastown, Kilkenny, lots of wine and THIS. This dark chocolate layer cake with vanilla Italian buttercream and chocolate mini-eggs.

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The whole meal was great, but the cake was extra-delicious. Even though we were massively full, everyone managed to save room for a slice. The cake was moist and rich and the buttercream was light, airy and blissful – which is surprising, considering an entire pound of butter went into it. Yes, this isn’t a diet-friendly recipe (are any of my recipes diet-friendly? I need to take a long hard look at my life) but it is the perfect indulgent holiday dessert.

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You don’t need to make it “Easter” or even “holiday”. Top it with chocolate-dipped strawberries, edible flowers, candied orange slices or nothing at all. I like how it looks with the naked-mask of frosting. It would make a really impressive birthday cake for someone.

I used a few tools to make this cake.

  • 4 small sandwich tins
  • a cake turntable
  • a stand mixer
  • a large pallet knife
  • a sharp serrated knife

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If you don’t have any of these things, don’t panic. This buttercream masks the cake perfectly and is very forgiving if, like me, you have a bit of a wobbly hand. I will say that the pallet knife, at least, is important if you like sharp, defined corners on your cake. The turntable helps because you can keep the knife as steady as possible with one hand while turning the cake with the other. But even if you slap this buttercream on with a spoon, or just schmear it in between the layers and leave the sides alone, it will still look great and taste amazing.

This cake was made with my usual Never Fail Chocolate Cake recipe with dark, good quality cocoa powder and hot coffee instead of boiling water. I made the cake in the four sandwich tins, let them cool, wrapped them in plastic and let them sit overnight. That way they were cool enough and retained all their moisture when the time came to ice them.

So here it is! The recipe for the perfect Italian Buttercream (no icing sugar in sight).

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

Ingredients:

5 egg whites, room temperature

1 tsp cream of tartar

1.5 cups/375g white sugar

1/3 cup/90ml water

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

2 cups/454g/1 big block good quality butter (like Tipperary Co-op)

Directions:

  • Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  • While the egg whites are being whisked, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and boil into a thick syrup (soft ball stage). You don’t want the sugar to caramelize. I don’t keep track of the temperature (who has time for that, really) but it’s at the point where the syrup is quite thick and about to begin to caramelize.
  • Turn the stand mixer down to low and slowly pour the hot syrup into the whisked egg whites. Do this slowly enough that the syrup doesn’t splash too much on the sides of the bowl. Touch the side of the bowl. It will be quite warm from the syrup and the egg whites will have gone down in volume.
  • Continue to whisk on med-high until the mixture cools to nearly room temperature – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Take the pound of butter and cut it into small cubes. Once the egg white mixture has cooled, continue mixing while adding cubes of butter, 2 or 3 at a time. Allow the bits of butter to be combined into the mixture before adding more butter. Slowly add the entire pound of butter while constantly whisking. Once all the butter is added, don’t freak out if the mixture looks curdled. Keep whisking for several more minutes until everything is well incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat into the frosting.
  • The finished buttercream should be aerated, totally smooth, slightly thick and off-white in colour. Use it immediately to mask your cake, or pipe onto cupcakes.

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Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake with Blood Orange Gelée

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So, a little over a month ago I had my second baby. We called her Ciara (pronounced Kee-ra, for all you North Americans – not See-ara!). She is a cute little bundle of snuggly goodness. I like her a lot; even at 4 am.

Maeve likes her too, thankfully. Every now and then she looks up at me and says, “Mommy, I really like Ciara.”

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It’s almost like she needs to convince herself sometimes, but I’ll take it.

Now that we’re in a sorta-rhythm with nap times, play groups and toddler music classes (in conjunction with mommy’s frequent, lingering coffee breaks at The Green Sheep in Thurles), I was recently able to do some baking. I had a pile of mascarpone cheese in my fridge, but I didn’t want to make the same ol’ tiramisu. I thought I might try a cheesecake.

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Can you believe I’ve never made a cheesecake? Me neither. I don’t think I even made one in culinary school. This is mostly because I’m not a huge lover of cheesecake – I find the traditional New York-style baked cheesecake really rich and far too heavy. The no-bake versions are a bit lighter but still too much for me.

Mascarpone cheesecake, though. Oh man. I had no idea what I was missing.

Mascarpone, as a cheese, is lighter, naturally a bit on the sweet side and endlessly creamy when compared to your basic cream cheese. It makes the cake sweet and light. You don’t have to add a pile to sugar to the mix. Topped with a citrus-ey gelée you get the perfect amount of acid to cut through the sweet.

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What’s a gelée? A fancy French word for jelly, though traditionally a gelée isn’t as stiff. You can slice through it easily. It bursts into juice on your tongue. It’s the essence of whichever flavour you’re gelling, in a more manageable form. And it looks very pretty over the top of a baked cheesecake.

I made a vanilla bean & blood orange gelée this time since blood orange is in season and so good right now, but you can make a gelée from almost any kind of fruit. Use the same recipe and simply substitute different fruit juices.

This recipe has been tried and approved by numerous people: Maeve, who ate the gelée and pretended to like the cheesecake bit; my husband, who called it the “best cake ever” and requested another for his birthday later this month; my father-in-law, who didn’t say anything about the cake but also didn’t bother to slice off a piece, instead attacking the entire thing with a fork; and my friend Lucy, who owns the café I like to frequent.

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Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake with Blood Orange Gelée

Ingredients:

400g/1.5 cups amaretti biscuits, crushed

60g/1/4 cup butter, melted

500g/2 cups cream cheese, softened

500g/2 cups mascarpone cheese

250g/1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp good quality vanilla

4 large eggs

For the gelée:

250ml/1 cup/about four large oranges blood orange juice

60g/1/4 cup granulated sugar

Seeds/pod of one vanilla bean

1/2 package of powdered gelatin

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine the crushed amaretti biscuits and melted butter. Press this mixture into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven heat to 160 °C/325°F.
  • Mix the softened cheeses, sugar and 2 tsp of vanilla until well combined and creamy. Continue mixing and add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each.
  • Tightly wrap the outside of the springform pan with 2-3 layers of tin foil, making sure the foil is 2-3 inches higher than the rim of the pan. Pour the cheese mixture over the top of the amaretti biscuit base and place the springform pan in a larger roasting tray.
  • Place the tray in the preheated oven and fill halfway with boiling water. Bake the cheesecake for about an hour. It will be slightly brown on top and the middle of the cake with be slightly jiggly.
  • When the cake is finished, cool it on a wire rack for 1-2 hours. Do not remove it from the pan.
  • Place the cooled cake in the fridge for at least eight hours.
  • Make the gelée: place the vanilla, blood orange juice and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top of the hot mixture and whisk until completely dissolved.
  • Allow the juice mixture to cool slightly before gently pouring over the top of the cheesecake. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and return it to the fridge for the gelée to set.
  • When the gelée has set, use a paring knife dipped in hot water to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Gently remove the outer part of the springform pan.
  • This cake will NOT last long, but just in case: it’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

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