Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beat the Chinese take-away guy!

For the past few weeks in the cookery class we have been looking at different countries and their cuisine. We have had an Indian day, Italian and an Irish day. Today we had a Chinese day. That does not mean we ordered out and sat back, we made chicken chow mein. It was a popular one, and I challenge all take away delivery persons to beat it to the house before this is whipped up in the kitchen. So long as you have the ingredients in the house, you are a mere 10 minutes from a yummy dinner.

Give it a whirl, promise you it is quicker than picking up the phone to msg express!

Chicken chow mein

(serves 2)
150g noodles (cooked according to packet)
1 T sunflower oil
1 chicken breast cut in small pieces
1 clove of garlic crushed
100g beansprouts
75g pak choi chopped into quarters
½ t sesame oil                                         
1 t tomato puree                                    
1 T cold water                                         
1 t sugar                                                      
2 T soy sauce

Omelette to serve on top:
Heat a teaspoon of sunflower oil in a pan, and add 1 beaten egg mixed with chopped chives. Swirl the pan to thinly coat with egg. Cook for a minute and flip to cook on the other side. Roll cooked omelette and slice into pinwheels.                          
Heat the sunflower oil in a pan or wok and stir fry the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes until cooked and beginning to colour a little. Add the crushed garlic and stir fry for a minute, the add the beansprouts and cooked noodles and toss well. Add pak choi, soy sauce, tomato puree, 1 T cold water, sugar and sesame oil. Toss together and cook for another 2 minutes until heated through.

Serve, topped with omelette pieces.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Soup! Part one... Chicken noodle soup

I'm sure everyone has heard about the healing and restorative properties of chicken soup. It seems it is not just the stuff of household legend, but it has been proven to slow the production and development of neutrophils in the blood. If I understand this correctly, it seems to boost the immune system. It also has the effect of inhibiting mucus production and clearing the nose. Exactly the job for colds and flus.
Soup also is easy to digest, seeing as all the constituent parts have already been broken down. For dieters, it makes you feel fuller for longer. This is probably why I can't order soup as a starter. It fills me up straight away and I can't face into a main course afterwards.
For me, soup is the perfect lunch food. Or indeed, supper. It is also food that can easily be put past the lips of a fussy eater. I remember in the worst days of Daniel's food rejection phase (otherwise known as Mum control) I could secret dozens of vegetables into a serving of soup, and so long as the end result was orange, it could be called pumpkin soup. Pumpkin soup was my secret password to get Daniel to eat. All parents have one of those!

For all you parents  who are actively encouraging your kids to join in the cooking process, there are plenty of jobs you can involve the kids in, where soup comes into it. Peeling veg, is a good one, although you should do a demonstration of how to hold a peeler, and some peelers are safer than others. For really little ones, chopping and mixing herbs is another good one, you can give them a regular dinner knife and a big bunch of parsley to chop, a sprig of thyme to pick the leaves off, a bowl and a spoon to stir it all up. Then of course there is the tossing in of the ingredients into a big pot, with a long wooden spoon to stir. Get a wizards hat and it becomes a game!

The four soup recipes that I used in the cookery class this week and that my family have been eating all week are:

Roasted butternut squash and parsnip

Chicken noodle soup

Pea and bacon soup

Potato and leek soup

All of these recipes were accepted by the participating students, all said they liked them, although the potato and leek was the least popular, which is also the case in my house.
You can adapt these to suit the veg you have available, although some veg are more suitable for soup than others. You really need to experiment a little.


Chicken noodle soup

I use a large stock pot for this, or really whatever pot you boil your ham in at christmas will do! The bigger the pot, the more soup you get, and also the larger the quantities of veg and meat to water the stronger the flavour.

Into the pot, put

3 peeled whole carrots
3-4 inner stalk of celery (the ones with the leaves are perfect)
2 large or 3 small onions, peeled and cut in half
1 large bunch of parsley (half of those packets you buy is good)
3 sprigs of thyme
1 T sea salt
1 T pepper corns or ground black pepper
1 whole free range chicken or 6-7 portions of chicken (uncooked)

Top the pot up with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook on a low boil or fast simmer for 1 hour for portions or 2 hours for  a whole chicken.
Don't worry at all if you want to leave it longer, it will just reduce a little but the flavour will become more concentrated. Taste at this stage, and you can add more seasoning if you wish or even water it As it is cooking, foam will rise to the surface, which you can skim away as it cooks.
At the end you can skim off the oily pools on the surface also.

Strain out the meat and veg through a sieve into a clean saucepan or into a freezer container.
Strip the meat from the cooked chicken and dice it if you wish and add it back in.
When you are serving the soup, bring it back to the boil and add some dried egg noodles for 3-4 minutes allowing them to cook in the soup.
And voila, you have chicken noodles soup.
You can add the veg back in pieces if you want, but really the goodness from them is in the soup so if kids eat it without them in it, then leave it as it is.

This is homemade chicken stock too, so you can freeze it and use it casseroles. (without the pieces of chicken in it)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Today in the cookery class we are baking buns. Three of my favourite types and all adapted from cake recipes. In fact it is entirely likely I have blogged about them before in another form. I love buns and fairy cakes and all things bite sized. (My waistline is living proof!) They are just too handy to have with a cuppa or as dessert. They are good fun to make with kids too, because as well as the fun of baking them, they are out of the oven quick, they are kid sized and then you get to decorate them, and more often than not. also yourself and your kitchen!

My top three 'cup-of-tea' favourites are:

Fairy cakes

125 g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
125g soft butter
2 eggs
1t vanilla
2T milk

The best bit about this recipe is that is all-in-one. You can put it in the food processor and blitz until smooth (scrape down with a spatula half way through the mixing) or just beat with an electric whisk or a wooden spoon.

Once you have a smooth and bowl-licking batter, drop dessertspoonfuls into paper cup cake cases in a muffin tray.
Bake for 12 mins or until golden brown at 180c

Decorate your heart out with icing and sweets and fruit and sprinkles and smarties and cherries and jellies and ....... you get the idea!!!

Dutch apple cake

This is a Rachel Allen cake recipe that is lovely as individual morsels


2 eggs
175g caster sugar
1/2 t vanilla
85g butter
75ml milk
125g plain flour
1/2 t cinnamon
3 t baking powder
2 cooking apples

First preheat the oven to 200c and grease the muffin trays.
You can use cupcake cases either.

Now beat the egg and sugar with the vanilla until mousselike and fluffy.
Melt the butter with the milk and add to the egg mixture beating well

Fold in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder.

Put a tablespoon of mixture into each cup and top with a few slices of cooking apple and a sprinkle of sugar.
(Demerara is the nicest if you have it)
Bake for about 10 minutes and allow to cool before taking them out of their cups.

Yoghurt cake.

This has to be one of the most adaptable sponge recipe and it came to me from my friend Liezel. We have make lemon versions, chocolate, cinnamon and orange and chocolate chip,
It is easy and economical and another kid friendly one, you can let your little ones mix away as you put away your ingredients in preparation for your sugary kitchen makeover!

First put in the dry ingredients

3 cups plain flour
4 t baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 t salt.

Stir and add in the wet ingredients

2 eggs
500ml natural yoghurt
2 t vanilla
1 cup of oil

Beat well until smooth,
That's it!!!

You can add lemon juice and rind instead of vanilla if you want, or cocoa instead of 1/3 cup of flour, or choc chips and orange rind, or practically anything you fancy.

This recipe calls for cinnamon mixed with sugar to be sprinkled liberally on top, but the lemon one is definitely my favourite.

Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases, or into a square cake tin and bake for 12 mins for the cupcakes or 40 minutes for the cake. Test with a skewer or toothpick that it is cooked through.

These are lovely with some lemon buttercream icing and some angelica on top. or indeed just whipped cream.


Leftover surprise!

One of the biggest kitchen management jobs is dealing with leftovers. Food loses its appetising appeal after a few hours in the fridge and it is all too tempting and so much easier to treat the dog or to send it to the rubbish. Indeed there are many occasions where you simply have no option. However some foods are particularly good reinvented and it is handy to have a leftover recipe in your repertoire.
The most frequent leftover ingredients to be found in my fridge are cooked chicken and cold boiled potatoes.
Last week in the cookery class, we made a few tasty recipes from leftovers that the students can whip up if they are hungry at home and have a fridge of yesterday's dinner!


Roast or cooked chicken is rarely finished on the first serving in our house, so here are two easy ways to use it up.
1. Chop the chicken into small dice and mix with enough  mayonnaise to coat the chicken, (couple of tablespoons at the most) and add a pinch of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. This is served with tortilla chips or even toast or a salad.

2. Cover some bread with mayonnaise, top with the cooked chicken and a few slices of avocado and a piece of bacon if you have it, but that's optional. Then grate on some cheddar cheese. Toast under a grill until the cheese starts to bubble.


1. Chop the potatoes into dice and add finely chopped red onion or scallions, a couple of chopped hard boiled eggs and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. Season to taste (potatoes can take a lot of salt, but take it easy for the sake of your heart!) Stir well

2 Mash the spuds and add some melted butter, salt and pepper. Then add an egg and a handful or two of plain flour. You just want enough to make a soft dough. Season and make into patties. You could add grated cheese, or mustard, or bacon bits or chopped scallion, or chives to the dough if you fancy.
Fry for a minute or two on either side in some butter and serve with a salad or baked beans.


1. Mix in a nice pesto from the shop (I recommend the Sacla one) or you could whip up your own if you have the ingredients. Into a food processor put 100g basil, two cloves of garlic 100g grated fresh parmesan, 25g pine nuts, 150 ml olive oil, and I add a squeeze of lemon juice if it is a bit oily. Blitz until the basil has pureed down and serve. Easy! Cooked chicken or chery tomatoes also go well mixed into the pasta and pesto.

2. Mix a tin of tuna with 2 T mayo and a half tin of sweetcorn and mix into cooked pasta. Season to taste.
This is a real lunchbox friendly creation too, so next time hang onto all the superflouos pasta!

I suggest a good website too for leftovers,

It is a well laid out website and has some fantastic recipes.

See you all soon!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2 easy chocolate desserts

I am married to a chocaholic. 
Anytime we are in a restaurant and the dessert order comes to the table, it will usually consist of a creme brulee for me, or some fruit based dish, and for Declan, whatever 'Death-by-chocolate' option is on the menu. His always has extra chocolate ice cream on the side and he often orders a hot chocolate with it.  Almost always, the waiter will automatically put the chocolate dessert with extra chocolate down in front of me, smiling. "The double chocolate cheesecake for the lady" at which I usually point to Declan indicating that he surely means the other lady! 
I find it hard to bowl him over with a chocolate dessert and so have given up trying to meet his approval. I am not sure that the dessert he is looking for actually exists! 
Anyway, to get to the point... these two desserts have been given the thumbs up by choco-boy himself, so I am fairly confident that any self-professed chocolate addict would be happy to be handed these offerings.

The first is a chocolate lava cake or sometimes called chocolate fondants. There are many versions of this dessert. Story has it that it was the result of underdone mini chocolate cakes, that when broken open oozed out uncooked batter from the centre, hence the name 'Lava cake'. They are not at all difficult to make and if you do overcook them a little, although you miss out on the oozy centre, you still get quite a yummy chocolate sponge, lovely with whipped cream.

Chocolate lava cake

This quantity serves 4 in individual ramekins

First, butter the ramekins (or you can use teacups) and dust with flour. Leave them in the fridge to set until you are ready.
Preheat the oven to 180c

In a bowl over simmering water, melt 100g butter and 100g plain chocolate until melted. Stir until well combined and leave aside to cool while you beat the eggs.

In a bowl, with an electric whisk or in a mixer, beat 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks with 120g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.
Mix in the chocolate mixture until combined.
Now sift in 50g plsin flour and fold until combined.

Put the mixture in the prepared ramekins and put in the fridge.
The beauty of this recipe is that it benefits from sitting in the fridge for a while until you are ready to serve them.

Put the ramekins on a baking tray and cook for 10 minutes at 180c.
They are ready when they are spongy on top but when pressed you can see they are squidgy and liquid in the middle.
Serve immediately dusted with icing sugar.

The next recipe uses up the leftover egg whites from the first recipe, so it is perfect if you want a couple of desserts for an event, maybe the puddings for the adults and the mousse for the kids.

This is Gordon Ramsey's recipe called four minute chocolate mousse.
You can flavour this as you want, but I like using Irel, a coffee and chicory essence which make the mousse taste extra chocolatey!

Otherwise, you could just add a small drop of vanilla and a tsp of very strong coffee.

Anyhow, to the recipe

Chocolate mousse

Heat 150ml of double cream in a saucepan until just before boiling point and take off the heat.
Add 100g plain chocolate broken into pieces and allow to melt into the cream
While you are waiting, beat one egg white with an electric beater until in fairly stiff peaks and add 50g caster sugar gradually until it is stiff and glossy.

Now go back to your melted chocolate, stir until it is creamy and blended together, put the chocolate cream into a bowl sitting in iced water to cool and when cooled, add another 150 ml of double cream. Then beat until the mixture forms soft peaks.
Now fold in the flavouring you want and the egg whites until combined, but be careful not to knock the air out of it.

Put into little glasses or ramekins or shot glasses and chill for an hour or two..
They are nice served with a biscuit, or with maltesers crushed over the top.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Birthday cake.

Well, another year, another birthday party.
This year Robyn wanted a karaoke party and I was to do the Kitchen Wizards Cookery School pizza making thing. We also had ice cream sundaes which went down a treat. It was not to much hard work, food wise, really just the pizzas and sundaes. But the theatre came by way of the birthday cake.
I gave Robyn a choice of cakes, and she chose a Pinata cake.
What is that I hear you ask? Well, it is an ordinary layer cake, any variety you fancy. The top layer is hollowed a little to form a crater, which holds a treasure chest style pile of sweet and candy booty!
Over this, is placed a chocolate dome (here's where the fun started for me!) and that is decorated with beanies and this is the Pinata casing.

This is the chocolate cake with buttercream icing filled with sweets.

And this is the finished dome that covered the cake.

This cake did not seem too much of a hassle. To me, it was far easier looking than the other ones she was considering.
However, I did try many versions of the dome, on each one I swore it would be the last, but the version that worked was where I lined my mixing bowl with butter then cling film and put the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes before spreading melted chocolate with a spatula over the interior of the bowl. I froze the bowl for five minutes between each application of chocolate, layering it up until it was about a centimetre thick.
The end was a bit choppy looking, but it had a short life so the rough edges were forgiven!
My friend Liezel came in and helped me with the smartie applique job, as my nerves were gone worrying the damn dome would shatter! We used writing icing to glue on smarties, m and m's and mini smarties. Then it went straight into the fridge.

The idea is the birthday girl having had the 'Happy Birthday' sung, smashes open the cake to reveal the loot inside. This is when the feeding frenzy began and the cake was literally pulled apart! I have never seen anything like it!!!

I have the video up on youtube of the cake being demolished
Worth a look!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tapas and Cocktails

I am running some classes once a month on a Friday for adults on different themes. The next one coming up is Tapas and Cocktails. It is really handy to have a few recipes in your repertoire for when you have guests over for evening drinks or even afternoon drinks, as we are now fast approaching our Irish summer....all two weeks of it.
There are a few cocktail recipes covered alright, but the main focus is the grub,  and all of these dishes are family friendly. As tested by my own kids.
Not wanting to give away too much, as I do want people to actually show up at the event (!), I have one of the recipes below.

This one is such a popular snack, and so simple. all the other fancy treats you will have made just don't stand a chance!!

Rosemary and black olive foccacia

First make a batch of white yeast bread. For a swiss roll sized tin you need 600g of strong white flour. The little tins I used in the picture are half sized trays, measuring 20cm x 30cm and 300g of flour fits one, but you know what..... life is too short to be getting stressed about very particular measurements. Why not go for it and make a full 1kg batch of bread and use whatever tin you have. Any dough left over, make rolls or a loaf of plain white bread. That's what I'd do.

So on that note, here are the ingredients for a 300g batch and a 1kg batch.

Small batch
300g strong white bread flour
1t salt
1t sugar
1 sachet of dried active yeast (7g)
200ml warm water

Large batch
1 kg strong white bread flour
1 T salt
1 T sugar
3 sachets of dried active yeast
625ml of warm water

Before I get going, I just want to talk about yeast if you have the patience. If not, skip this bit.
There are so many types of yeast and different ways to use it, you could do a ten week training course on it. It is one of those things that the more you learn about it, the less you realise you know. I have been baking yeast bread for years and I am only really now starting to learn from my past results, what flour works and what different yeasts taste like.

Basically yeast in it's natural state is hard to come by. Fresh yeast can be bought in good bakers, or in health food shops. I got some in GET FRESH in Rathfarnham recently. It has a very short shelf life, and must be refrigerated or frozen and can be an acquired taste. It smells and tastes of beer, which is only understandable as beer is made with yeast.

If you are using fresh yeast, you need to activate it, as it is dormant and waiting to be woken up and fed! To do this you put it in warm water with sugar and watch it foam up (like beer!)

Other types of yeast that are more widely available and are more practical in an ordinary household kitchen as they can be stored for longer are

Active dried yeast which needs also to be dissolved in warm water and sugar and is granular and has a lovely flavour. This one is my favourite and the one I use the most. I love the reaction of the yeast in the water, it is pure alchemy. It adds theatre to making bread, and if you are looking for a gimmick to get your kids into the kitchen, this might just be your man. Especially if you put 200ml of warm water in a small 250ml jug, it will spill over like Vesuvius. Always a fun show.

Quick Yeast or Instant Yeast which needs no extra help, it is already awake and ready to go. There is a really nice one you can get in most healthfood shops or in gourmet shops made by Doves farm, who incidentally also make nice flour.

But the most widely available type and the one you are more likely to use is the sachet variety, and you can get it almost anywhere you can get groceries. I saw it in Texaco in Rathfarnham recently!

It is perfectly good and you get good results. I personally find it completely flavourless, but I do like my bread to have a taste. A stron flavour may not be your cup of tea in which case go for the sachet option. Tesco do a version of this, also good results but equally flavourless. Good value though, less than €1.50 if memory serves.

All these yeast options have instructions as to how much to use in relation to your quantity of flour, but I am going to give you a little guide here.





You would really need to play around with it a bit and see what results you get. It is hard not to make successful bread. It is one of those fairly resiliant things that is kid proof.

Anyhow, back to the foccacia

So, to make the bread, mix the salt with the flour and the sugar with the water and the quick yeast into the flour (or dissolve if using another variety, see above)

Stir the flour and make a well. Mix the water in  in two batches with one hand while holding the bowl with the other. Purists will tell you to do this directly on the counter. But trust me a bowl makes the clean up a little more manageable.

The mixture will first make a porridge consistency then as it uses up the flour it gets crumbly, then you need more water. You are looking for a dough that uses up all the flour without being sloppy. If you need to add a bit more warm water, do.

Now you have a dough. LIGHTLY flour the counter. Too much flour and you make your dough very dry.
Knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Clean out your bowl, oil well with extra virgin olive oil, put in the dough, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until you are ready for it really. But it needs to be a minimum of half an hour. You can leave it on the counter, so long as it is not in a draught. You don't want the yeast to get chilly or it will not cooperate.  The dough needs to double in size. The warmer the environment, the faster it does this, but the longer it takes to do this, the more yeasty the flavour.
A way to illustrate this is to put a bowl of dough in the hot press, forget about it (by mistake) and come downstairs the next morning to a very strong smell of beer in the hall! You will be greeted with an enthusiastically overflowing bowl of fizzy bread mush and a VERY strong smell of yeast.

When it is doubled in size, punch the dough in the bowl to deflate it. This is another good job for the kids! Take it out of the bowl and 'knock it back' by pressing and kneading to get rid of any air that has been introduced while proving.

Now shape it. For 300g of dough, you use the whole lot for a half a tray.
If you are using a kg, you should get a large swiss roll tray of foccacia and a bread loaf left over.

You want to press your dough into a rectangle no thicker than 3cm deep.
( That's about the size of one slice of toasty bread) It takes a good bit of wrestling and persuasion, but put the dough into the tray and push it into the corners. Using your clenched fist. Press all over so it is more or less the same thickness all over.
Then using your fingertips, indent the dough all over, like cheek dimples to form little wells in which the olive oil will sit.

Then drizzle about 2 T of olive oil and tilt the tray from left to right and side to side so the oil sits in all the dimples.
Sprinkle over some sea salt and cover with sprigs of rosemary and black olives.

Bake at 200c for 10 - 12 minutes. This does not take long at all so don't take your eyes off it after 10 minutes

Cut into squares when cool. It will keep really well under cling film if you want to make it the morning of your bash.

This is also a great one for picnics. You can put on sundried tomatoes or whatever takes your fancy.