Friday, 31 October 2008

Lessons in Housewifery

My good friend Aileen got in touch yesterday live and direct from London asking about yeast. She was gathering ingredients to make Darina Allen's Barmbrack (from her book 'Ballymaloe Cookery Course') and asked if she could use instant dry yeast rather than the fresh yeast suggested in the recipe. Now, never mind the yeast for a second, I'm impressed at the lengths Aileen is going to be the perfect domestic goddess for her new husband! Note to Aileen...the secret is to teach Pete how to cook the barmbrack for you!

Anyhow, back to the boring bit, the yeast! Like gelatine leaves and powder, it can be a little mind boggling going between the two. Fresh yeast is now pretty hard to get hold of on the street (caterers can buy it from wholesalers). I remember I sometimes managed to get some from the bakers in Sainsbury's in London but you could try any good baker or perhaps a health food store. It needs to be kept in the fridge (or freezer) and has a short shelf life. You have to dissolve it in a little warm water with sugar, waiting for it to activate and froth before adding to flour.

fresh yeast

Then there's dried yeast. This is where it gets a little confusing as one product is granular ordinary dried yeast, otherwise known as active dried yeast. This still needs to be dissolved in warm water to activate it. Then there is a finer dried yeast that has many names - easy blend, quick, instant or fast action dried yeast. This is what I prefer to use. It is widely available in supermarkets, is easy to store, comes in handy sachets and has a long shelf life. It is also very easy to use as you skip the dissolving stage and add it straight into your flour.

Then the conversion bit. Basically, use half the amount of easy blend dried yeast to fresh (or double the amount of fresh yeast to dried). For example in Darina's recipe she says to use 20g fresh yeast so as dried yeast comes in 7g sachets, I would just use one of them (it's a little less than it should be as it's actually 7g dried to 15g fresh but I personally wouldn't open another packet for a few extra grams). At least, that's what I told Aileen to do so she can be the judge when she cooks her Barmbrack today! Also, if you do use ordinary dried yeast the equivalent is 1 tbsp.

to simplify my waffling:
1 tbsp ordinary granular yeast = 15g fresh yeast = 7g fast action (easy blend) dried yeast
(If making bread, this is enough yeast for about 750g flour)

family photo: ordinary or active dried yeast, fresh yeast & fast action yeast

That's the basics of yeast - there's a whole other world out there - I recently helped source inactive Brewer's yeast for Hugo Arnold as he thought of using it in a Caesar dressing (it has a cheesey flavour) for an event at the Guinness Factory. I had never used it before but apparently it went down a treat.

Anyhow, enough about yeast, fingers crossed Ail's Barmbrack goes down well with the hubby. But, Aileen, remember....

If you wanna know if he loves you so it's in his kiss

Thursday, 30 October 2008

a few ramblings...

I got sent this piccie today from photographer Paul Sherwood. We bumped into each other last week having not seen each other since January when we worked on a cookbook together. I was at Clontarf Castle at a cookery dem with my friend (and colleague) Orla. We thought it might be interesting to sit still and watch for once! Anyhow, that's not Orla in the piccie but her friend Grainne (who made me some gorgeous pretty quilted mini casserole pot tops, but that's another story!). We were hitting the bar when Paul papped us.

Anyhow, about the cookery dem itself...You would think I follow chef Neven Maguire around as I'm constantly blogging on about him but, yes, he was presenting. Orla and I had to fight back from winding him up with an on the spot tricky question at one point! One of Neven's recipes was prawns in Kataifi pastry which were deep fried and served with a chilli jam. Kataifi pastry is shredded filo pastry traditional in the Middle-East. Watch out for it in Turkish, Middle-Eastern or Asian stores (it looks like shredded wheat!).

I just googled to see if it can be bought online and it showed up on the US amazon. Amazingly they have a whole section of food, from gourmet foods like live lobster to general groceries like special K! It looks like they will ship some items to Europe (normally you get redirected to the UK amazon) but I'm not sure if they would ship Kataifi pastry across the pond! I'm off to see if they sell and ship my favourite Angel Flake Coconut...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

punch the kids

(c) Cliona O'Flaherty

Send the kids fruit bobbing this Halloween in this fun fruit punch. Pile halved red and green grapes, chunks of pomegranate, sliced star fruit and halved kumquats into a large bowl. Pour cranberry or pomegrante juice over and top with fizzy or soda water.

Check out my work blog for more Halloween ideas.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I Smoocha Babushka

I'm having a bit of a craze over Babushka (or Russian) dolls at the moment. Here are some goodies I found online...

These very cute storage tins would look great in a kitchen or bedroom.

This babushka fabric would make funky cushions or use it to wrap gifts or cover a boring notebook.

These decorations are definitely on my shopping list for Christmas.

Cutesy fridge magnets.
Plumo also stock babushka cushions, keyrings and lamps!

My favourites...even though these Russian beauties (by Thomas Paul) faces look kinda like blow up porn dolls they are so on my wish list!

A feature I wrote for the soon to hit your shelves new Superquinn mag 'Savour' has been layed over a cool shot Cliona O'Flaherty took of her Christmas Russian Dolls. It's all about the countdown to Christmas so the descending dolls shot was very tongue in cheek. I'll let you know when I post it on my work blog once it has been published.

Monday, 27 October 2008

This week I'm loving...Ginger Cordial

Marty has just got his mitts on my delicious organic ginger cordial so I better tell you about it before it's all gone. I'm a big fan of elderflower cordial with fizzy water over ice but recently in a the health food store (Down to Earth on George's St) I came across this liquid gold.

The label suggests to make it into a ginger beer with fizzy water or to have it as a hot toddy which is a nice idea for winter. I think it would jazz up a plain piece of cake like madeira when drizzled over, but more to the point I'm thinking of a drop in some bubbly!

Besides ginger and elderflower, this brand comes in other flavours like cranberry, lemon and blackcurrant. I payed €5.30 for a 360ml bottle but I'm sure you could probably buy it a little cheaper in other health food stores. I have also seen similar cordials in a different brand which I'm sure will be just as good.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

saved from the chair orphanage

I dragged Marty along to Oxfam Home on Francis St yesterday, having seen the cutest chairs ever there last week. I couldn't get them out of my head so I just had to go back and save them. They are old school chairs and there was 10 of them in all. To be honest we don't have a place or space for any of them but we couldn't resist giving 4 of them a home. They even look sweet left stacked like this so I'm sure we'll find a corner for them somewhere. Nice chairs to have for surplus bums in the house. Not bad for €40 I say.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

The Food of Love

Yesterday we had a lovely little thank-you card through the door from the gorgeous newly-weds, Maria & Peter. It brought back lovely memories of their very special celebrations. They are well and truely married now after two ceremonies, their civil ceremony in Dublin and then their fantastic celebration in Glandore in Cork.

Musings of the newlyweds, Dublin July '08

Hitting the dancefloor as Mr & Mrs, Cork Aug '08

The civil ceremony was for family only but as we were so excited for them, we really wanted to surprise them with something so we were there in spirit. Once again Carmel & Liam donated their kitchen to us (kitchen-less people) and we got baking. We made a little pack of five shortbread biscuit hearts for each of their guests, one to represent each of the traditional wedding wishes of health, wealth, happiness, long life & fertility. Hopefully they will be blessed with all!


Makes 18-20 (we made a much bigger quantity as we needed 110!)

225g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
300g plain flour + extra for dusting
50g cornflour
icing sugar for dusting

- Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
- Sift the flour and cornflour in and mix to give fine crumbs.
- Tip onto a clean surface and bring together to form a dough ball.
- Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 190C (375F / Gas Mark 5).
- Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 5-7mm in thickness.
- Use a heart cutter (about 5cm wide at it's widest point) to stamp out the biscuits.
- Arrange on two baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden.
- Remove, leave to cool a little on the trays before transferring to a cooling rack.
- Dust liberally with icing sugar and pack into boxes.

I found the perfect clear acetate boxes on this website. We decorated them to co-ordinate with Maria's outfit (well, we hoped we had, as Maria described it differently to me each time I asked!) The ribbon came from A Rubanesque on South William St., the flower from the Woollenmills and the pearlised paper for the tag (which Carmel had left over from her wedding invites, thanks) from Daintree.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Storage Mania

Gone are the times when Thursday nights meant me hitting the town after work without a worry about the in-work hangover the next day...Last night I checked out Howards Storage World in Carrickmines Retail Park, south Dublin and totally loved it. What has happened to me?!

I had a tip off from my friend Fiona that it had arrived in Ireland a few months back (Fiona is a lover of the store since her time living in Australia). It is an obsessive organisers dream with lots of storage and organising ideas and products.

I especially loved the food storage containers, drawer organisers (which are useful for the kitchen, dressing table or office), and the storage systems which I am keeping in mind for our laundry area.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Oxfam Treasure

Once again I've been snooping around Oxfam Home on Francis St. and found a couple of little kitchen treasures which I just couldn't leave behind. These gorgeous little soup bowls from Arklow Pottery (their pottery is apparently now a collectors item as they have closed) cost me €3 each.

They will look cute as buttons hanging on my (currently fantasty) kitchen dresser. I'm seeing them filled with a delicious Gazpacho on a summers day.

Also, FYI, Oxfam Home are hosting an Oxjam event on Thursday (30th Oct) from 6.30pm. While you're there, check out the 'Early Ming Dynasty Lacquered Vase' priced at € 125,000!! It's housed in a glass cabinet so hands off. Speak to the manager Paul who will enlighten you on it!

Monday, 20 October 2008

This week I'm loving...Pea Shoots

Any relation to the shamrock I wonder?!

I had my first delicious encounter with the fashionable pea shoot in Australia where they have been around for years now. Since then, I have been teased knowing that they have also been available (so near, yet so far) in the UK, in M&S & Sainsbury's for the past few years.

But you may have noticed them creeping into the country recently (as predicted by me in Food & Wine Mag's Hot 100 countdown in May!). During the summer, I spotted a few lurking in a bag of mixed leaves in Superquinn and I also managed to pick up small packs of them from Fallon & Byrne, but they were certainly hard to come by. Today I came across a lone bag in M&S on Mary St. in Dublin. Hopefully, they didn't just get the one pack in to see if us Irish picked up on it (which wouldn't surprise me!). I'd like to think they are a great hit and this was merely the last one left after the stampede.

Anyhow, if you weren't one of the pea shoot snatchers in M&S over the weekend you may not have the pleasure in knowing what they are like. The soft leaves of pea shoots have an intensely sweet pea flavour and pretty tendrils. If you have ever picked garden peas, you have most certainly caressed the shoots at the top of the pods. Apparently they have more Vitamin C than blueberrys (I hear the superfood word coming on). The growing season is from April to October, so watch out for the last of them over the next week or so.

Please show the love for pea shoots so that we can have them here for keeps! Pop the shoots into a pea risotto, a prawn stir fry or wrap (see the piccies below, styled by me & shot by Cliona O'Flaherty) or simply toss through a salad. FYI, a 50g bag of pea shoots in M&S costs € 1.35.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Perfect Pink Partners

The other night at mart's work party, one of his colleague's wives asked me what dessert she thought I should serve for Sunday lunch for her 22 (!) family guests. Influenced by my delicious girlie pink converse that I had just bought, I thought of 'Eton Mess'. It's quite a summery dessert but I thought it was a pretty easy one to prepare for that many people and a guaranteed winner with all the family also. I might have to make some myself. In the meantime, I can't wait to wear my All Star's to work to help brighten up these wintery days.

(Eton Mess photo (c) Cliona O'Flaherty)


Serves 6

600ml double cream
12 meringue nests
450g strawberries or raspberries (or a mix of both)
mint to garnish

- Whip the cream to soft peak stage and crumble the meringues over.
- Blitz half of the berries in a mini blender to a smooth puree.
- Crush the remaining berries lightly with a fork.
- Add both to the cream and meringues and gently fold everything together.
- Spoon into pretty serving glasses and garnish with mint to serve.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Casino Royale

Last night we had a fun time at Mart's work do. It was the first time I met his new colleagues and their partners and I can honestly say they are all mad! After dinner we were entertained with a casino night which was hilarious with everyone nicking the chips from the dealer and each other! After a hard night partying, I had a long lie-in followed by a yummy brunch.

Place your bets please...

...mart & I having a moment in all the madness!

Roulette Omelette with Coin Chips

This is a great brunch after a boozy night out as it is filling and packed with lots of nutrients the body will be crying out for. Of course the chilli will also boost the body back into action and the coin chips will fulfil that starch craving.

Serves 2

4 small potatoes, peeled
sunflower oil for deep frying
4 eggs
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
50g parmesan, finely grated
2 tsp olive oil
handful fresh basil leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes for 8-10 minutes until cooked half way through. Drain well and slice into ½ cm thick discs.

Heat a few inches of sunflower oil in a pan for deep frying. Fry the potato discs in batches until crisp, golden and cooked through. Drain well on kitchen paper and season with salt.

Meanwhile, prepare the omelette. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the tomatoes, chilli, garlic, parmesan and seasoning.

Heat the olive oil in two small (or one medium sized) non-stick frying pans over a low heat and divide the egg mixture between them. Gently fry the omelettes for 6-8 minutes until almost cooked through.

Preheat the grill to high and grill the top of the omelette for a few minutes to finish cooking.

Slide the omelettes onto each serving plate and pile the coin chips on top. Scatter the basil leaves over and serve.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Reach for the Stars

Having slept on my previous blog, I woke up still concerned about my obsessive organising. In the next stage of the unravelling of this personal crisis I have looked to the universe for help.

So, according to astrology, as a Capricorn I am an Earth sign ruled by planet Saturn. It is Saturn that is responsible for me being super-organised, a-ha! Apparently,
by nature I am systematic, organised, disciplined, thorough, methodical, logical, analytical and resourceful (and of course, a lot of other traits that we'll save for another counselling session).

So it's natural that I'm like this....I'm still not sure that I shouldn't still be afraid though.....I have been around the house and have to come clean about some of my organising which mirrors Benita's house too (her photos are on the left and mine on the right). Yikes.

From shoes,

to colour coded clothes...

From crafty bits to jewellery..

Even plugs don't escape a crazy organiser!

and of course the stationary drawers...

The crazy thing is this has given me the bug to go and do some more organising - I'm off to sort out that bathroom cabinet once and for all.....

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sleeping with the Enemy

I'm having heart palpatations and difficulty breathing with excitement having found an amazing blog written by a girl (called Benita) who is after my own heart. Chez Larsson is full of amazing evidence of obsessive organising. There are pidgeon holes & slots, segmented drawers and product decanting and labelling. Benita keeps buttons in colour coded groups, her laundry room is perfection and she even has the neatest garage you will ever see! Obviously, I have an itchy skin rash thinking about all of this as most of our belongings are still packed in storage boxes (but very organised packing of course!). I would love for nothing more than everything to be put away neatly in their homes.

Here's a teaser taster of Benita's fine work:

dining room things neatly in a dining room cupboard

the office with neat files & boxes

kitchen cubby holes

shoe polish in a cute box beside the shoes

cake decorating goodies neatly in their home

I think Benita's home is totally stylish too of course. I love her use of colour on white and mix and match items. But for me right now I'm more hooked on her perfect organising and can't sleep at night thinking about everything I want to do once we have the house sorted!

Now, of course the idea of loosing sleep over this is quite worrying to me. Down the road of OCD I would imagine. Finding this blog has made me think 'Ok, I'm not crazy as someone else does it too' but at the same time it makes me think 'God, this is my madness staring me in the face and it's bigger than I imagined!'.

I would love to know what other people think of this behaviour, so please post your comments! In the meantime, I'm off to google something to do with obsessive organising and perhaps order a straight jacket.

And the 'sleeping with the enemy'? Martin always says that to me when he sees my cupboards. I haven't seen the movie myself but he tells me there's some crazed guy with cupboards full of cans of beans in neat rows with labels turned out. Oh dear, I'm starting to see what he means now!