Sunday, 30 November 2008

Christmas Pudding Hotline

My friend Carmel is on the Domestic Goddess bandwagon and has this year decided to make her own Christmas Puddings. She was very cautious about it and I had the Christmas Pudding Hotline open all hours to answer lots of questions along the way. Having now successfully made it to the 'puddings are wrapped, ready for mum and mother in law' stage, I think Carmel has realised that it wasn't that bad, pretty easy actually. Here are a few things that came up along the way...

I think the length of the recipe and the quantity of ingredients makes it look daunting but essentially it is very easy to make Christmas puddings. Carmel followed the recipe on my work blog. You don't have to follow it religiously with regard to the types of dried fruits and even nuts you use. Same with any pudding - as long as you use the exact weight you can use a mixture of sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, dried figs, apricots, dates, prunes and of course candied cherries. Nuts wise, try almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or even pecans. Whatever takes your fancy really.

Carmel was unsure where to find the suet in the supermarket. Use vegetable suet (and not beef!) and you can usually locate it either in the baking section or around the area where you can find the paxo stuffings and stock cubes etc. This is what the pack looks like...

Instead of dark muscavado I sometimes use 'Siucra's' rich dark brown sugar - it's really yummy and not quite as bitter.

You can buy pudding basins easily at this time of year in places like Dunnes or Supervalu. You can buy plastic basins with lids cheaply (a 2pt in Supervalu is € 3.49 and a 3pt is €3.99) or spend more on a fancier old fashioned looking ceramic basin (also available in Supervalu or any good cookshop). Whichever you buy, you can reuse it next year anyhow. The basin size can be a little confusing. As with the recipe I referred you to on my work blog, the recipe may talk about 'Lb' sizes instead of 'Pt's'. A 3 Lb basin is the same as 3 pt basin and in the same way, a 2 Lb basin is equivalent to a 2pt basin.

You will need pretty big pans (with lids) to take the basins - check that they fit before you start. A large casserole pan is ideal for this. The basin shouldn't touch the bottom of the pan during cooking or the basin will melt and the pudding burn. You can either sit the basin in a steamer or on a metal trivet (which is a bit like a pot stand) that you can buy in any good cookshop. Add enough water to the pan to come half way up the sides of the pudding basin. If you're anything like me in being an expert in burning water (!), set a timer for every 20-30 minutes or so to go back and check the water level, topping up if necessary.

Carmel popped round this afternoon with her puddings in tow to have me check them over. She did a great job - they look and smell amazing. The mums will be very impressed! I told her there was one final job to do and that was wrapping them nicely. This is what we did...

Cut out a large square of fabric or soft paper and sit the pudding, still in the basin, in the centre. I had some florists 'Spiderweb' which I bought in a Florist's wholesalers. I'm sure your local florist would be happy to sell you a small amount.

Gather up two opposite corners to meet in the middle.

Followed by the opposite two corners.

Use both hand to bunch the gathering up in the centre.

Secure with a pretty ribbon.

and voila

little cutesy's!

Please leave any further Christmas Pudding Hotline questions on the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Calor Kozangas 'Housewife of the Year ' Competition

Well, it looks like my friend Aileen exceeded herself in baking her Barnbrack (see previous post). She has just sent lots of piccies and it looks like it went down a storm. Not just with her new husband, but also her crazed workmates from 'Wicked' in London's west end.

Aileen in the mix

Two successes! (& cupcake versions were even made also!)

Pete' s tough decision, Foster's / Tea, Foster's /Tea??


Aileen is playing a blinder with her housewifery skills and there is even now talk of Christmas cake making. Entry form in the post Ails!

Friday, 14 November 2008

Herb Attack

On one of my many food shopping trips for work this week I ended up in Field & Vine in Rathmines, which I haven't been to for ages. Now, I was in a bit of a work frenzied rush so I didn't make it any further than the fruit and veg section but there was plenty to take in there. It was heaving with gorgeous goodies including artichokes and fresh chestnuts and other things you wouldn't necessarily find in the supermarket. I must go back and check out the rest of the store when I have more time, particularly as it has been revamped recently. It's the one beside Lawlor's Butchers in that nice row of shops on the Rathmines road.

Anyhow, most impressive was their herb selection. They stocked two brands, the Glendown range at €1.80 for 50g and the larger Eden packs for €2.19. They literally had every herb you could think of, including hard to find's like sorrel, lemon balm and lovage. Sorrel has a tart or sharp, lemony flavour, lovage is celery like and lemon balm, well, lemon scented. Use them in soups, sauces or salads.

Sorrel looks a bit like spinach leaves

Lemon Balm looks a little like mint

Lovage looks like celery leaves

Thursday, 13 November 2008

This week I'm loving...Celeriac

Yay, celeriac is back in season! Once I tackle the tough, knobbly skin, I love the celery, parsley, nutty tasting flesh. Today, I made lasagne in work and brought some home for our tea. It was a surprise treat for Marty as we haven't had it for so long now being the oven-less couple we are. Now, you can't have lasagne without coleslaw; at least we think so. I'm sure the Italians wouldn't agree.

Anyhow, I made a celeriac slaw to go with it. I peeled 2 carrots and bunged them,
lazy girl style, through my processor fitted with the grater blade. I then peeled half a celeriac, chopped it into chunks and put them through also. I tipped the carrot and celeriac into a large bowl and thinly sliced a 1/4 of an onion, adding that too. I stirred through about half a 410g jar of mayonnaise and seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper before stirring the whole thing together. Yum Yum.

This made about 4-6 portions, but in true Friendly Cottage style, between us we worked our way through most of it in one go!

Use celeriac in a soup, as a mash on its own or with potatoes or in a classic celeriac remoulade.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

a land down 'unda

I'm very excited for mart tonight as he has just finished booking a trip to Brisbane for early next March. He is off with his parents to see his brother Trevor and Beckie as they will have a newly born babe in arms by then (currently trading under the name of Sparkles!!).

It's all very exciting as I'll be a scary old Aunt and Mart an Uncle for the first time (thanks Trev for the comparison with Father Jack and Mrs. Doyle in Father Ted by the least Sparkles will be well warned of our madness anyhow!).

I'm not going which is a total bummer...the usual financial restrictions along with plans to have our extension in full swing by then. I will of course be skyping Sparkles lots and absolutely cannot wait to meet the little mite later on in the year when hopefully the Australian Smith clan come to visit us here.

The gorgeous photo above of Beckie and Trevor is on their wedding day just over a year ago. It was the last time we saw them in the flesh, so we are looking forward to a good catch up in 2009.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Day Dreaming

Tonight I dug out my ideas book and dusted the rubble off. I needed it to give me some faith that we wouldn't be living in hell forever. Right now it feels like it. These piccies have cheered me up though as I pretend this is what our house will be like if I just blink...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

This week I'm loving...Popping Candy!

Remember? Otherwise known as Space Dust. I was reminded of it the other day at McNeans Restaurant in Cavan where it was sprinkled on a dessert with explosive effects! (Check out my work blog for the full menu). I bought these packs of 'fizz whiz pop rocks' in Yorkshire when I was last there with work. I couldn't resist stocking up on old fashioned sweets in this store. I bought the pop rocks with Heston Blumenthal's popping candy chocolate cake in mind but haven't got around to making it yet (it doesn't help not having a kitchen!). Here is the recipe - perhaps you can invite me round when you make it?!

Heston Blumenthal’s popping-candy chocolate cake

For the popping-candy base
85g whole hazelnuts
40g milk chocolate
2 tsp mixed spice
100g popping candy

For the chocolate mousse
350g dark chocolate
400ml double cream
Pinch of salt

For the chocolate glaze
20g chocolate (same type as for the mousse)
120ml water
8 whole coffee beans
Couple of pinches of salt
30g cocoa powder
70g unrefined golden caster sugar

To make the base, preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/Gas Mark 4 and roast the hazelnuts for about 10 minutes until lightly coloured. Blend to a paste in a food processor, then set aside. Melt the milk chocolate in a bain-marie (a large basin over a saucepan of simmering shallow water — take care that the water does not touch the basin) and stir in the mixed spice and popping candy. Next, fold in the hazelnut purée. Place the 12 cm ring mould on a serving dish and gently press in the base mixture to a depth of about 1cm. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until hard.

To make the mousse, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a metal bowl. Bring 150ml of the cream to the boil in a small saucepan. Pour it over the chopped chocolate and stir extremely gently until all the chocolate has melted, watching carefully to ensure it doesn’t take on a granular texture. Add the salt to taste. Once the chocolate cream has cooled to room temperature, lightly whip the remaining 250ml cream to soft peaks, but do not overwhip. Fold into the chocolate mix. Pour over the base in the ring mould and place in the fridge to set for two hours.

To make the glaze, chop up the chocolate and set aside. Place the water, coffee beans and salt in a pan, whisk in the cocoa powder, then set over a medium heat and simmer for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and melt over a medium heat. Unrefined sugar will caramelise quickly, so keep an eye on it; when it does, pour over the coffee and cocoa mix — stand back, as it will bubble and spit. Beat in the chopped chocolate and, when melted, pass through a fine sieve. When cool, but still liquid, pour over the mousse to your preferred depth and return the cake to the fridge to set.

To serve, run a hot knife around the inside of the ring before removing the cake. When slicing it, again make sure the blade of the knife is nice and hot.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Homemade Hat

Speaking of Maria & Peter's wedding in a recent post has reminded me of the hat I made during the summer to pimp up a plain yellow dress for weddings. I had a lovely pair of purple and pink shoes I was dying to wear so that became the hat colour scheme so everything would match & clash with the yellow dress Gok Wan style! (I assembled it on my lap in the car on the way to Aileen & Pete's wedding in Wexford so excuse the piccies!).

I bought fake flowers from homewares stores like Dunnes and Debenhams & pulled the flower tops off the plastic stalks. The net came from the WoolenmillsDylon multi-purpose dye from my local chemist or hardware store.

I dyed the net according to the Dylon pack instructions (which only took about 20 minutes) and hung it out the dry. I then gathered a bit of cardboard and needle and thread, all of which I had at home. The felt came from Hickeys.

I folded the felt over the cardboard to enclose and stitched it together. I bought the clip from the woolenmills also (but you could also probably buy from a bead shop) and sewed that onto the felt. I then turned the hat base right side up and started to sew the flowers on.

I completely covered the felt with the flowers. I then layed the piece of net over the top and pinned it in place with a broach I picked up in Primark.

Voila! The hat & I happily doing the macarena!