Saturday, 28 February 2009

billy's dad's chocolate chip muffins

I got back from Cork last night and in current Friendly Cottage 'one in one out' style, Martin has now left! I'm just back from dropping him at the airport...this time he's off on a big trip to Brisbane to meet our new 'ickle nephew Billy for the first time!

Billy's Mum, Beckie tells me that he is very hungry....Billy's Dad Trevor that that Beckie is a stay at home Mum, Trevor likes the idea that she's baking cakes for him all day! Becky got in touch looking for an EASY chocolate muffin recipe so here you go Becs.....(no doubt you can use some of the 10 kilos of dairy milk and galaxy martin and his mum and dad are carting out there for ye!).


Usually I would make chocolate muffins with chocolate which has been melted and cooled a little (as well as chocolate chips stirred into the mix too of course!) but Becky wants a quick and easy recipe (to leave time to look after Billy!) so I've used cocoa powder here.

Makes 12

225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp cocoa powder
175g caster sugar
2 eggs
125ml milk
150g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a little
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F / Gas Mark 4).
Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a large bowl and stir the sugar in.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl and stir in the milk, butter and vanilla extract to blend well.
Mix the wet ingredients into the dry to give a smooth, thick batter.
Stir the chocolate chips in and divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked.

Baby Billy, wake up, your Dad's eating all the muffins!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

gift to self

I don't think I've told you about my gorgeous gift to self...a little Christmas bonus from Blueberry Pie to me....Donna Hay magazine now comes through the door every couple of months which is a really nice treat. Only problem is that it's still steaming hot summer time in Australia, so this issue was packed with happy sun kissed people enjoying BBQ's and ice creams while lolling around the pool, how annoying! Oh well, at least I can dream.

the current issue

Recently here in Friendly Cottage we have been eating lots of noodles with chop sticks (think we're still on an Asian buzz from mart's trip to Japan). So staying on that theme, here's a recipe from the mag you might like to try...


Serves 4

1L chicken stock
60g ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 x 200g chicken breast fillets, trimmed
1 bunch broccolini, trimmed and sliced*
440g udon noodles**
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup coriander leaves
1 cup mint leaves
2 spring onions, sliced
2 small red chillies, sliced

Place the chicken stock and ginger in a saucepan over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken. Gently poach for 15-18 minutes or until cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan, reserving the stock, and shred. Add the broccolini to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes or until tender. Remove and add the noodles. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until seperated. Drain, discarding the stock, and return the noodes to the pan with the chicken, broccolini, soy sauce, corainder, mint, spring onion and chilli and toss to combine.

*broccolini, which is a cross between broccoli as we know it and a Chinese broccoli, isn't available in Ireland (as far as I'm aware) but it's very similar to our tender stem broccoli. You could always use choi sum, available in asian supermarkets, either.
** I love udon noodles but they aren't easily available in supermarkets here in Ireland. I buy mine from the asian store when I go in to stock up on foreign goodies!

P.S. I'm off to Cork in the morning with work AGAIN, so as I'll be back in the Ballymaloe Triangle of limited internet access I won't be blogging until I get back at the have a good week & catch up with you then...

Monday, 16 February 2009

my first chocolate cake

I forgot to tell you about the chocolate cake I made recently for new 'ickle baby Scarlett-lily. I am working with Rachel Allen at the moment (hence spending a lot of time in Cork) and you may have heard she had a gorgeous girl at the end of January. Congratulations to the family! I made this cake as a bit of fun and knowing that Rachel would appreciate a bit of chocolate as every girl does at any excuse.

I used a Nigella recipe (which I have adapted the wording (and title) of a little) and then decorated with icing myself... here it is:


175g unsalted butter, melted and cooled + extra for greasing
125ml corn oil
300ml chilled water
400g plain flour
250g golden caster sugar
100g light muscavado sugar
50g best quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
142ml tub sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract

for the icing:
175g minium 70% dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter, softened
275g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4. Butter and line the bottom of 2 x 20cm sandwich tins.

Using a freestanding or handheld electric mixer, beat together the melted butter and corn oil until just blended and then beat in the water.

Meanwhile, mix together the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicardonate and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs, sour cream and vanilla together in a seperate bowl until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients all at once to the oil and water mixture and mix on a slow speed to blend. Then add the egg mixture, and mix again until everything is blended and then pour into the prepared tins.

Bake the cakes for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then turn the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water and then leave to cool slightly.

In another bowl, beat the butter until it's soft and creamy and then add the sieved icing sugar and beat again until everything's light and fluffy. Then gently add the vanilla and chocolate and mix together until everything is glossy and smooth.

Sandwich the cake together with about a quarter of the icing and then ice the top and sides too, spreading and smoothing with a rubber spatula.

to ensure each half of cake is equal in size, sit the sandwich tins (one at a time) on an electric scales and pour in about 850g of mixtre into each.

my icing decoration:

pop about 50g (2oz) of ready to roll fondant icing into a processor and blitz to crumbs. Add a few drops of food colouring and blitz again to blend the colour in, adding more colouring again until you get to the colour you want. Tip the crumbs out onto a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar and bring them together to form a smooth ball.

Roll the icing fondant out with a rolling pin and then cut out letters, numbers or shapes with your chosen cutters. I have Nigella's set of cutters which has letters in and my favourite cutters, the feet came from here.

Friday, 13 February 2009

lots of love(ly food) on Valentines

..and remember ladies...take it from me...the way to a man's heart is most definitely through his stomach! (check out my work blog for some sweet treats)

the story of my life with marty (new york, may '07)

Happy 10 Years Together Day!

I'm not sure if it feels like a lifetime or not - Mart and I met 10 years ago today in a crazed club in London where I was so drunk, I had to keep asking his friends his name all night as I couldn't remember (the shame!)....anyhow, we won't go into that.

It's happy 10 years together day...what do you do to mark that? We don't dare go out for dinner knowing we would be surrounded by lots of valentines couples so we're staying in (and I'm currently being threatened with one of those M&S romantic meals for two if I don't behave, agghh..(what are they all about?!)...I could make a cake but I'm too busy writing about making cakes and anyway Mart is back in full marathon training so the closest I'll get to one is a rice cake!

Anyhow, we had gifts and cards for each other this morning which was lovely. As usual we told each other not to get too excited (Mart because he saved back one of my gifts from Japan for me, and me because his gift was more for me than him!)..

I went for the Jan Constantine cushion in the end - I've had my eye on it for ages - Mart did like it actually - I figured the British flag would win him over! I waited 10 years for a box of Japanese chocolates that resemble individually wrapped dog-poops (but thankfully don't taste anything like that!). Only joking - I really like my gift too - it even had a little booklet in there with fun Japanese cartoons on (Mart said cartoons are called 'Manga' in of his boring facts that I've become used to over the years!!)..anyhow, I also loved the card which continued the recent Geisha girl theme -
(according to Mart what he lacked in substance he made up for in detail!) he actually got it here in SWALK ...brownie points for effort anyhow!

...Perfect and simple 10 year bliss.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

recipes for a perfect marriage

This book caught my eye before when I was searching the net for something or other. There was a great website to go with it ( which doesn't seem to be working anymore but it had lots of recipes on there too (which is most likely why I ended up on it in the first place).

Anyhow, my friend Richel gave me the book when I was down in Cork last week. Very timely with Valentines coming up and very ironic that I was saying to my parents recently that the secret to our successful marriage so far is us being apart!! Mart and I have hardly seen each other over the last few months as we dash in different directions with work. (Incidently, I thank my universe as it keeps us both away from this crazed building site of a house to save some sanity!)

When we do have a day or two together in Dublin we do our usual nagging each other (well, I nag Mart) and I always laugh saying we were better off being away with work - that sounds terrible - I don't mean it like that - it's just a joke between us (maybe that's part of our recipe?!). Anyway, as I said in the last post, it's our 'happy 10 years together day' coming up (2 more sleeps, with a read of this book to help me nod off) so here's a sweet thought from the book to leave you with...


Although I always had a sweet tooth, I never liked honey until I ran clean out of sugar one day and tried this. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornflour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder with 1 Lb of flour and set aside. Cream together about 5oz of butter with just short of a full jar of honey. Gradually add the dry ingredients along with 3 eggs beaten into 1/4 pt of milk until the mixture is smooth and creamy. You can add 1 teaspoon of vanilla or cinnamon to taste - but I always preferred it plain. Turn into a greased loaf tin and cook in a medium - hot oven for up to 1 1/2 hours.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

LOVEly things...

I know I know, it can be a dreadful day all round...Valentine's is looming...I find it a bit cringy - particularly if out for dinner for two - with two hundred other couples! not for us, thank you! Unfortunately we met on the 13th of Feb (10 years ago this year, yikes!) unfortunately I mean the date, not the fact we met! So I am on the hunt for something LOVEly for my British are some things I found along the way that might inspire you...

Also, check out my other blog for some Valentine's recipe ideas...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

beautiful baby billy!

A big welcome into the world to beautiful baby Billy from Brisbane! Billy Martin Smith I might add! He made me an aunt and mart and uncle for the first time and of course nan and grandad smith too (how old does that make us all feel?!). He was born today at 10.53am aussie time (it was 1.53am here) and he weighed 7Lb 1oz. Mum is a bit wooped after the c-section and dad is currently sleeping after a very stressful 24 hours! Congrats Trev & Bec....he's just gorgeous...(even though dad said he looked disturbingly like martin when describing him to nan! - he has a point!)

Here's my eejet husband coming live and direct from Japan with his first photo with new nephew Billy ....very inventive mart!

Monday, 2 February 2009

This week I'm loving....prunes

How very timely...after Christmas and being healthy and all that... I actually came across this funny prune in work the other day and thought I'd share it with you. So I just had to love them this week. I do actually like prunes - although why is it that people think you have a constipation problem if you're seen eating them?!!

My love for prunes (while working perfectly regularly thank you!) combined with this freezing cold weather at the moment has reminded me of my yummy lamb shank casserole...


Serves 4

4 Lamb shanks (about 400g each)

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, very finely diced

1 large carrot, very finely diced
2 sticks celery, very finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
1 bottle dry red wine (merlot is good)

300ml beef stock

250g pitted ready to eat prunes, halved

2 tbsp tomato puree

creamy mash & some green beans, to serve

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C / Gas 3. Heat a large oven proof casserole dish or saucepan (that has a tight fitting lid to match) on a high heat. Dust the lamb shanks evenly with the flour and season well. Drizzle the oil into the casserole and sear the lamb shanks all over for a few minutes until golden (you may have to work in two batches). Remove and leave aside.

Next, reduce the heat and add the onion, carrot, celery and saute gently for 8-10 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and thyme and saute for a minute more. Return the lamb shanks to the casserole and then pour the wine and stock over. Add the prunes, tomato puree and season well. Bring slowly to the boil and cover with the lid.

Bake in the oven for about 2 hours until the meat is falling from the bone and the sauce is rich and thickened. If you want to thicken the sauce a little more, remove the lamb shanks (and keep warm) and place the casserole on a high heat, allowing the sauce to bubble down until reduced enough (with lid off of course). Check seasoning at this point also.

Arrange a lamb shank on each serving plate and spoon a little of the sauce over. Delicious served with creamy mash and green beans.

You can make this up to 2 days in advance and simply reheat on a gentle heat, adding a little water if the sauce has thickened too much. I know prunes don't scream romance but this would be a delicious valentines meal - you won't even know the prunes are there - honest!