Delicious Madeira Cake. Quick and simple.

National school. Where to even start. Class time was class time. We learned of the adventures of Ann and Barry; Ann had quite the penchant for cakes, while Barry preferred to put away a few jars of jam a day. It was relatively boring. Although it perhaps partly explains the obsession with cakes that I have. Breaktimes were much more stressful. I spent the first few years of my schoolday lunchtimes perched on the steps at the front wall that were ‘den’. God help me I was ridiculously slow and ‘chasing’ was my kryptonite. I much preferred our froglike game where we jumped from flagstone to flagstone in a little corner around by the side of the school, imagining of course that we were hundreds of metres in the air, jumping from pillar to pillar while angry waves or swirling lava crashed/bubbled below us, where one wrong foot would lead to a wild scrabble, a grip on the edge of a flagstone that slowly faltered, and a long drawn out ‘noooooooo’ echoing into the surrounding darkness as we plunged to our death. And so on. The reality of it, of course, was that the flagstones were pretty much level with the ground and about 3 inches apart. But when you’re young, and you don’t have your head stuck in a tv or computer games all day (I’m a book nerd and proud of it thank you), your imagination tends to run wild. In later years we either played ‘witches’, or played football with some of the boys, or coached HannahBanana in how best to freak out the boys in the class – she was a bit boy crazy even in junior infants, and literally spent her time chasing boys. Ah the fun it was!

But in any case, this is a food related story. SO back to the all important luncheon time.

I have alluded to the fact that my mother was a bit of a health nut when it came to things like lunches. We didn’t have a lot of sweet treats in the presses in those days, apart from the odd bag of cheese and onion tayto and a dairy milk (Hey, don’t knock it until you try it, it’s amazing). My mother has subsequently developed a sweet tooth – I like to think I have influenced her in that way. However, my lunchboxes (blue teenage mutant hero turtles including flask, thank you very much) almost inevitably contained a petit filous – fruits of the forest, salmon sandwiches and some sliced vegetables. I rarely if ever got anything that came in a wrapper. I think I am all the better for it, but at the time it was rather hellish watching other kids gobbling down sweets and chocolate while I pushed a sandwich around in the hope it would turn into a bar of chocolate (never happened). Occasionally, mum would take it upon herself to make rock buns, in which case I would inevitably swap one (sorry mum, I liked them but they were in infinite supply at home and I had to take advantage of having something other than salmon to swap) with one of my friends for a sweeter alternative. I still remember standing outside the cloakroom, swapping a particularly curranty one for a slice of the most delicious home-made madeira cake. This madeira cake was a new concept to me. I’m not sure how popular it is in general, but it wasn’t something that was rife in my world. Until now..

I don’t have her mum’s recipe, so instead I turned to that domestic goddess that is Nigella. I found this on her website, and with only the most minor of changes, this came out the most delightful cake. This kind of cake will always remind me of lunches and teas, so, along with some other baked treats (as you can see in the photos) we had afternoon tea on Saturday, and it was completely yummy.

What you need:

    240g unsalted butter
    200g caster sugar (and an extra tbsp fro sprinkling pre baking)
    Zest and juice of half of a lemon
    3 eggs
    300g cream flour
    2tsp baking powder

What to do:
1. Line and grease a loaf tin. Preheat oven to 160 degrees (her recipe says 170, my oven runs hot!)
2. Cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add your lemon zest and give it another whirl until it’s mixed in.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tbsp of flour at a time, and mix well after each addition.
4. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and stir gently into the mixture.
5. Mix in the lemon juice.
6. Pour your mix into your readied loaf tin, sprinkle your caster sugar on top, and into your preheated oven it goes
7. Bake for approximately one hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.
8. Let cool in tin, then carefully tip out and slice into wonderfully tasting slices and serve with some tea. Or for lunch. Or as a snack. Or any time really. It’s delicious. Try it and see.

Afternoon tea (more recipes on the way – you can find the treacle scones here)

Big chewy salted butter chocolate chip cookies for Santa – An IFBA cookie swap recipe!

6 days! SIX days to Christmas, eeeeep. And we all know that the most important thing to do on Christmas eve before you go to sleep is to leave out cookies/biscuits and some milk for Santa. Now I have a few options under my belt for good cookies, but I wanted something different this year- something new.

So when the lovely Irish food bloggers suggested a cookie swap, I signed up without a second thought. Cookies, you say? Yes. A cookie swap you say? Absolutely, how very exciting, said I. And so to it. The lovely Susie from http://www.sausageandpeppers.org/ supplied me with a cookie recipe from one of my favourite cookbook authors- Mr. David Lebovitz. I was only delighted, as I love love love his recipes, and have one of his cookbooks in my large large large collection (soon to be larger, thanks Santa!). So I set to it last night, making cookie dough like there was no tomorrow, and using my new chocolate button supply (yummy yummy yums). These are lovely, really good and chewy and just a great portion of sugar laden loveliness. Try them out…

Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies — **perfect with coffee!
By David Lebovitz (with slight tweaking from me)

Makes two dozen cookies, depending on your preference and dough-scooping tendencies (I get approximately 30+)

What you’ll need:

4 ounces (8 tablespoons or 115g) salted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed (110g) dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100g) granulated raw sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup (180g) wholemeal flour (Er, here I had to differ, as my wholemeal was all gone 😦 I used cream)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
2 bars good quality dark or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (original recipes calls for 1 1/3 cups worth, which I found to be too much — and mine still come out super chocolatey)
A handful of walnuts roughly chopped

Method:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer or by hand, cream together the butter & sugars.

2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

4. Stir the flour mixture into the beaten butter until just combined, then mix in the chopped chocolate (including any chocolate dust) and the chopped nuts.

5. Cover and chill the batter until firm. (Best left overnight!)

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF / 180ºC / Gas mark 4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Form cookie dough into rounds about the size of a large unshelled walnut (or a well rounded teaspoon). Place the mounds evenly spaced apart on the baking sheets and press down the tops to flatten them a little. (Or not! Doesn’t really matter, I learned.)

8. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies look about set, but are not yet browned.

9. Remove from the oven and quickly tap the top of each with a spatula, then return to the oven for 2 to 5 more minutes, depending on your over, until the tops of the cookies are light golden brown.

10. Remove from oven and let cookies cool completely. Picking them up too early can cause the very chocolatey bottoms of these cookies to break apart. I leave them to cool for a long, long time. (But always eat one right away to test!)

Storage: The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to five days in an airtight container. The dough can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for one or two months.

See if they last more than two days before being inhaled!

As I said, these are really lovely, so give them a try, I guarantee you’ll enjoy them. And don’t forget to leave some out for Santa (I always leave a few extra out for Mrs. Clause too). Once again, thanks to Susie at http://www.sausageandpeppers.org for the recipe, I hope she enjoyed my recipe to her just as much!

Christmas baking & gift giving 1: Super easy fairycakes with Salty Sweet Buttercream icing

Yummies.

Hello hello. I am now on hollydays (geddit) from college. I will of course be doing bucketloads of study, but for now I’m trying to catch up with people and with baking rather than with study. I started one of the things on my checklist yesterday but still have LOADS to get through. For now though, I am in Christmas mode. I was lucky enough to win a copy of Nigella Christmas over on Like Mam Use to Bake in the last few days, so I am SO excited to get stuck into that. I am sure Hannah will be equally delighted once the food starts coming out of the kitchen from a frazzled flourcovered Sarah.

This year I’m going to bake or make most of my presents, apart from immediate family who have almost all been bought for. Still waiting on the last one for Hannah Banana and getting worried it won’t arrive on time despite the fact there’s loads of time left! She’s currently stuck in exam-land so if anyone feels like sending her clever thoughts please do, or leave her some Christmas cheer in the comments!

Ok, so as I was saying, I am making most of my presents. My ideas so far range from cupcakes to cookies (these and these) to truffles to macarons to marshmallows. I.E. I still haven’t decided what I’m doing. I think truffles shall definitely be on the cards, not least because I just ordered 5kg of chocolate from La Rousse foods. And a 10kg bag of risotto rice. What can I say, I’m obsessed. I made truffles and marshmallows last year and they went down really well. Am definitely looking at making a variety of macarons, because I’m in love with them. I can get on that pretty soon actually. I think the egg yolks will all be going towards Ice cream and a few going into my brown butter choc chip cookies that a select few shall also receive!

There are a few things I find are great to have when you’re thinking of baking presents for people, so I’m putting together a list of things that I have bought or am about to buy for you, so you don’t have to search far and wide. (This is in no way a sponsored post, but these are things that I found to be good value. If you have found cheaper/better please do let me know, I’m always on the lookout for good deals!)

Presentation bags
I got mine in Lakeland for £2.99 plus P&P. They’re nice. They don’t fit a huge amount of bulky items in, but I fit 3 mini lemon drizzle loaves in really nicely, or it takes lot’s of truffles.

Ribbons & cards/name tags
Well this could lead anywhere. I actually used ribbon tie from some of those generic packing sets you find in all of the 2euro shops these days. Alternatively, you can fins some pretty cheap tree decoration ribbons. For things like ribbons, and name tags I suggest local small shops or value type shops, or ebay which is great for materials and ribbons that don’t cost a fortune! Especially if you buy in bulk.

Presentation boxes
Alas, I own none. I was directed to a site by the lovely Yvonne from Hey Pesto however, that sell cupcake boxes. Again, I’m at a loss as to where else you can buy them, and would love any suggestions.

Edible glitter or decorations
If you’re making your own things, you do want to put the effort in to make it look lovely and professional. I went a bit mad in Kate’s Kitchen, who have a lovely supply of decorative baking items, as well as things like peppermint extract and agave syrup, raw cacao which are really quite difficult to find around these parts. In Dublin, there is Stock, and Kitchen compliments near St. Stephens green. Dr Oetker also have some quite nice items that can be found in most decent supermarkets.

Ingredients
Yummies wise, I am now buying chocolate in bulk from http://www.laroussefoods.ie/. They have a fantastic selection of items and were only too happy to help me out with a few requests!

Meat
The following are fantastic people and this selection should cover pretty much everything you need.
http://www.gilliganmeats.ie/
http://thefriendlyfarmer.blogspot.com/
http://www.jameswhelanbutchers.com/
http://www.hicks.ie/
http://www.jackmccarthy.ie/shop/

Fruit/Vegetables
I usually just go to the local markets, which are usually best!

Recipes
If I don’t have what you’re looking for, there’ll be another Irish blogger that covers it no doubt! This is mainly a shout out for some of the lovelies that I interact with on a regular basis. Try any of these sites for gorgeous photos, delectable recipes and a healthy dose of Christmas cheer!
http://www.likemamusedtobake.com
http://www.babaduck.com/
http://www.9beanrow.com/
http://www.mullenskitchen.wordpress.com/
http://www.donalskehan.com/
http://heypesto.wordpress.com/
http://englishmum.com/
http://edible-ireland.com/
http://gimmetherecipe.com/
http://gluttonyforbeginners.wordpress.com/
http://www.bibliocook.com/
http://grainnesbytes.wordpress.com/
http://icanhascook.wordpress.com/
http://italianfoodies.ie/
http://www.thedailyspud.com/
http://anamericaninireland.com/
http://dinnerdujour.org/
http://marriedanirishfarmer.com/
http://www.friendlycottage.blogspot.com/
http://nessasfamilykitchen.blogspot.com/
http://www.mydaddycooks.com/
http://paulassweettreats.blogspot.com/
http://www.lillyhiggins.blogspot.com/
http://www.theamateurmexicancook.com/

Now.

Phew.

There’s a lot out there!

Ok and just so I’m not leaving you all high and dry, here’s a recipe that is so so easy anyone could do it. I whip these up all of the time in dublin in about 10 minutes, as any of my flatmates will tell you! What I love about these fairy cakes, or cupcakes if you want to call them that, is that they are pretty much foolproof, they taste amazing, and they make 12 perfect sized cakes. I use muffin wrappers so that they’re easily iced! You can decorate them for any occasion. I made these mint green because I’m feeling the minty colours these days! You can also add colour or flavouring really easy to this base recipe for buttercream. I actually love it as is- salty sweet and wonderful.


You will need:
120g flour (I just use cream flour)
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract

Icing:
100g butter (The salted kind. I ALWAYS use kerrygold for this. It’s amazing)
200g icing sugar

What to do (I make these by hand with a wire whisk for creaming and wooden spoon if needed!)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees (160 in my oven, grr) Prepare a 12 cake muffin tin with your choice of cases!
1. Soften your butter and give it a good bashing about so it’s slick and not in a big lump in your bowl. Add your caster sugar and beat until really pale and creamy.
2. Beat your two eggs and vanilla in a cup and set aside. Sieve your flour and baking powder and set aside.
3. Add a little of the egg and a little of the flour at a time and mix well until it’s all incorporated. Repeat until everything is added.
4. Spoon even amounts into each of your 12 cases.
5. Into the oven they go for 12-15 minutes. They should be golden on top and smell delicious.
6. Buttercream. Very simple. Soften your butter. Again, beat it well until it’s lovely and creamy and spread out. Then spoon your sieved icing sugar a few spoons at a time in, beating really really well after each addition. You can then add your choice of colours or flavours. This could include fresh fruit, vanilla extract, lemon zest, peppermint extract, coffee essence or extract, or anything you feel like!
Wait until the cakes are completely cold before you ice them, and then ice away to your hearts content, adding any decorations you wish!

As I said, these are super quick, super easy, and who doesn’t love a present of some fairycakes or cupcakes!

In which I recount our Tuesday evening lessons

Tuesday evenings. To some, just a plain old weekday that didn’t stand out at all. To others, Tuesday evening meant going to Peter’s house after school. The ‘others’ mentioned here may or may not include me. Did you go to a Peter’s house after school on a Tuesday too?

You may wonder why, why this change in schedule took place? Well it all started with a man named Philippe.

Philippe was a French man. One would assume as much, given the name, and one having seen Beauty and the Beast. We didn’t get many ‘Philippe’s around rural Ireland in the 80s and 90s. Now whilst we never really knew the story behind Philippe coming to Ireland, we liked to imagine that he was an athlete, who, after years of training and serving his country in international competitions, decided that despite his crystal-clear automatic entry to the Olympics, his real calling was to come to Ireland, the North West to be exact, and train the young children of Ireland. And what was this sport- this challenge at which Philippe excelled? He gave up a life of travelling around dusty villages on a bicycle (with the required basket containing a baguette), a string of garlic draped around his neck , and for what?

Why, to hold Tuesday evening swimming lessons for 6-10 year olds of course!

So every Tuesday, I would take the bus to Peter’s house instead of going to Kitty’s (my childminder, famous lady) which was quite exciting as the bus route took us by my house, and so I got to exclaim in a ladylike and poised manner ‘MY HOUSE’ as our bus driver manoeuvred the bumpy bus around bends at a speed which was not altogether safe. Peter’s mum, Cathryn, who I’ve mentioned a number of times before, would usher us in, a dinner waiting on the table and smelling delicious, and we would gobble this down before disappearing outside to get some valuable monster-chasing in. If it was dark out, or if it rained (i.e. most of the time) we climbed instead to Peter’s room, where we would play with an almighty fort type apparatus with no fewer than 34 million tiny monochrome soldiers (or so we assumed, given that they were largely featureless). This would generally end when the plastic soldiers had multiplied to the extent that they covered everything from the floor of his room and the table to the bed, and occasionally burst the door open. Anywhere but on the fort. These toys managed to just go everywhere. I distinctly recall my mother furiously brushing my almost waist length hair three days later before The Late Late started, and finding no less than 4 tangled up in there.

Well, having distributed the toys to such extremes, safety would become an issue and we would gently launch ourselves through a sea of grey plastic and down the stairs, and wander off to the back of the house to do some ghost busting. Naturally, our equipment was top of the range. We acquired, from the annual budget, a black box like tape recorder and player, and on a stealth mission to Eugene’s room obtained a generous amount of Daniel O’Donnell tapes, which I believe he fervently denies ever existed to this day. We would then leave the tapes recording (sellotape over the tab so the tapes could be overwritten of course) whilst we refuelled with a slice of whatever was fresh out of the oven that day, and return later to listen to the evidence and discuss the best plan of attack for the ghosties.

But I am off topic. Eventually 4.30 would chime, and we would be sought out and herded into the car with our bags emitting the faintest of chlorine and talc smells. We went to a swimming pool out of town, a place that looked rather grand from the outside, perhaps less so on the inside, and we would quickly go our separate ways and change. I would inevitably struggle with a rubber swim cap that reduced in size every time you attempted to get it over your head, and regardless of whether it worked, would empty a slew of talc into the hat, because that was what my mother did, and it seemed sensible at the time. It also gave me the appearance of being a tiny 90 year old woman when the hat came off after the swim. We would then patter out to the pool area, stepping into a pool of something which I gather was supposed to de-buggify your feet, but really freaked me out at the time, and tentatively dip a toe in the pool before realising it was icy cold. But, fairly sure you’d rather jump in off the ladder than be pushed in, you would lower yourself down and splash about to warm up. Now here’s the kicker. Philippe- being the teacher- never got into the water. Instead, he lay across two stools beside the pool, and vigorously demonstrated the breaststroke and backstroke to us from this grand throne and we flailed about, the most graceful of fishies in the water.

Afterward we’d emerge, shivering and tired, to wrestle the swimming cap off our heads (it had of course become twelve sizes smaller by now, and took a decent clump of talc covered hair off with it) and get changed back into clothes, to get warm and get the feeling back in our toes before the nasty jaws of frostbite set in (It was cold, ok?). Legend had it that an unfortunate 8 year old had lost 3 toes due to playing about for a mere 60 seconds instead of getting her socks on. Then the race to the car would ensue- my Mum or Dad usually picked us up in a well heated car, and we would hop in and bark out the customary greetings, demand the radio be changed, and duly command a stop at the shop before promptly settling back into the seat in warmed bliss. If Mum picked us up, we rarely got to the shop, as Mum was (rightly) concerned with supplying us with healthy and non sugary foods, and offered us a snack at the house instead. This naturally led to a mixture of protest, grumbling, and eventual submission on our part. Now if Dad picked us up on the other hand, despite an initial resounding ‘NO’ to our forcible request, he would always cave. Partly because he’s a Dad, and that’s what Dads do, and partly due to his love of Tayto, and this presented a rare excuse to get a pack and/or eat half of ours. Because, again, that’s what Dads do!

Here’s myself and Peter on my birthday or Christmas- must have been as my cousins Lisa and Michael are also gracing us with their presence! We really had the most lovely carpet and organised house, as you can see!

I had forgotten about this ritual for a while, only reminded after reading this lovely post over at Like Mam Use To Bake (if you don’t follow her blog you really must!), and it seems that lots of lovely people had great memories of their weekly swimming pool rituals, so pop over to her post and read the comments, and please feel free to share your own below!

No recipe in this post, just a memory. I shall be home next week, and then the baking shall commence! Am very excited but fear the snow will thwart my plans if it turns up, so I’m pleading with the snow people not to release it until Sunday at the least!

Bramley apple goodness: Apple and Celery Soup with Cashel Blue Cheese

I missed out on a trip to the Keelings orchard this year due to my getting sick at the worst possible time! The irony – an apple a day keeps the doctor away, eh? Clearly I needed to upgrade my apple intake, but the very chance I had to get to an orchard was hindered by the sick day it would have prevented. Is that a very roundabout claim? Yes. I have confused myself there. Regardless, I shall carry on!

Very upset but too stuffy to do anything about it, I lay snuggled under my covers and dreamed of food I was too wrecked to make. Soup! I dreamed… of soup. It would be so warm, so soothing, so comforting!

But as much as I shut my eyes, wished upon a star (or a duvet), and clicked my fingers, even trying the customary ‘abracadabra’, it never appeared magically in front of me. I resigned myself to the soupless life, and after a gruelling few days made it out the other side alive. However, I spent the rest of the week with a craving for soup that would not dis-soup-ear (Ha, geddit? I actually crack myself up sometimes).

When I made it back to my apartment the next weekend, I skipped the conventional ‘hello’ and got straight to the point. ‘SOUP!’ said I in a hoarse voice, dropping 5 bags on the floor with a stony thud, the girls staring at me for a moment in confusion, but then the meaning of my eloquent greeting became clear. There was a moment – a quiet understanding. We had to have a soup-off. Think Top chef, think Iron chef, think… well, think 3 girls fluthering around in a kitchen trying to use 3 rings on the one hob to make three massive pots of soup.

It was, shall we say, a fiasco.

I made my Butternut Squash soup that day – which you can see here– Mary made a delicious hearty chicken and rice soup with lots of veggies, and Laura made something I hadn’t really had much before- an apple soup! Apple and Celery to be exact. Theoretically it should be low fat, but then we dosed it with cream so it’s delightfully smooth as well as being tangy delicious.

I’ve now beaten the recipe out of her – well, by beaten I mean I asked her for it and she willingly gave it up – she’s very good like that, and now I am in possession of the coveted* recipe for this refreshing, warm and yet delightfully tangy soup.

What you need

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Bramley apples (they’re tangy and still sweet, the perfect addition to this soup)
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
  • 250mls vegetable stock (hot)
  • 100 mls cream
  • 50 mls milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few pieces of crumbled Cashel blue cheese, I added a good tablespoon to a big bowl- this is added last minute before serving – it really rounds it out and softens the tangy sweetness of the apples. Beautiful.
  • What to do:

      1. Chop your garlic finely and fry in butter and olive oil on a low heat in a large saucepan until softened slightly.
      2. Wash and chop your celery & leeks fairly finely and add all to the pan. Fry until somewhat softened – about 5 or so minutes over a medium heat should do it.
      3. Wash and core your apples, and chop into smallish pieces. Add to the pan and fry with your vegetables for a minute or two until slightly softened
      4. Add your hot stock, cream and milk, and simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until all your ingredients are softened.
      5. Blend until really smooth. (Carefully, it’s hot and steam burns are nearly as bad as pizza burn!)
      6. Pour into a nice serving bowl, decorate with a swirl of cream, and add your cheese just before serving (or add the table for extra flair!)

    Enjoy it, it’s very different and rather delicious! Thanks to Laura for introducing me to this – my food blogger hat comes off to you.

    Again, I’m really sorry about lack of photos of the actual soup, but unfortunately I am silly and left my hard drive at home. I’ll upload some of Oxford when I can too!

    *Don’t know if it is coveted, per se, but sure I might as well use some literary licence

    To old traditions and a new experiment: Christmas Cake and Whiskey Ice cream.

    I know it’s November, and I’m a firm believer in waiting until December to exude the festive spirit, but I wanted to share an idea with you for a different take on a Christmas day dessert! Besides, we’re almost there at this stage.

    When I was but a young lass, Christmas was an amalgam of school raffles, watching Miracle on 34th street in Mr. Dillon’s room and then Home Alone in the sitting room, getting the Solas or Spraoi Christmas annual, letters to Santa, and a sprinkling of dark blustery nights, fires every evening, a chocolate orange for breakfast Christmas morning, and the absolute highlight of the season: The Late Late Toy Show. The toy show was the most exciting Friday night of the year, and I am positively jumping off my seat in anticipation of this year’s show, which I believe is on December 2nd.
    I’m going to admit, most of the above traditions are still in motion at the Cake in the Country house.

    In the past years, I’ve added to those traditions, mostly where food is involved. I’ve now started baking my Christmas presents, and they range from gingerbread men (and doctors) and truffles to marshmallows, from macarons to toffees, and who knows what will be added to the list this year! I really enjoy it, I feel like it’s more personal and

    Another of my newer traditions is Christmas dessert. Much to the delight** of my mother, I’ve now gotten in the habit of taking over our kitchen on Christmas morning, usually with something that Santa found in the North Pole- like an ice cream maker for example! This year has been hectic so far, and I’ve barely found time to cook, not to mention the fact I’m currently staying in accommodation that is – shall we say – less than comfortable, and avoiding cooking altogether. So this year I’ve decided that I’m going to take advantage of time at home, and I shall have to make a seriously Christmassy dessert to get my spirits up!

    Something involving this, perhaps? Caca Milis!

    So, without further ado, I give you my newest ice cream based experiment and contender for the Cook with Avonmore competition:

    Christmas cake & whiskey ice cream!
    I can’t usually eat much christmas cake, I find it really rich, but I last year up at granny’s house for the customary visit I heaped ice cream on the same plate, and ended up mixing the two. I didn’t want it to just be a vanilla ice cream with cake in it, so I figured- it’s Christmas, let’s go all out and add some whiskey! Sure to go down well with the extended family.

    What you need

  • An ice cream maker- preferably*
  • 100g Christmas cake – A great way to use leftovers or, you could always make one especially, crumbled up into bits. I prefer not to have too many raisins in it, but that’s personal choice. If you take some out, add some more crumbled pieces!
  • 230mls Avonmore cream
  • 210mls Avonmore milk
  • 5 free range egg yolks (keep the whites for macarons/meringue)
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 1 capful of whiskey (I used jameson)
    1. Ok. First – I always have a bowl or basin of ice cold water aside to make sure I can stop the custard once it thickens!
      1. Bring your milk to a boil and remove from heat. Leave aside.
      2. Beat your egg yolks and sugar until pale, thick and creamy.
      3. Add your milk to the egg mixture, beating all the time to make sure they don’t curdle.
      4. Put the whole lot back on a low heat – and keep stirring until the mixture thickens (tis custard!). Again, I found this really hard to tell the first few times, so I started using my sugar thermometer to gauge where we are. Take it off the heat at 64 degrees or until the mixture covers the back of a spoon, and pop the pan into your basin of water to stop it cooking.
      5. Put aside and leave to cool fully, and then pop into the fridge so it’s chilled.
      6. Whip your yummy cream into soft peaks, and store in the fridge.
      7. When your mixture is chilled, grab your ice cream maker (mine is a pre freeze type) and set up ready to go!
      8. Add your whiskey and cream to your chilled custard. Mix the whole lot thoroughly and pour into your mixer.
      9. When the ice cream starts to thicken, add your Christmas cake! Then follow your ice cream maker instructions and when done, transfer to a freezerproof container to store.
      10. As always, enjoy!

    I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished project – as mentioned, I’m currently away from home so most of my stuff is there, but I’ll get some more up as soon as I’m home!

    *If you don’t have an ice cream maker, then you can transfer your mix to a freezer proof container with some spare space at step 8. You need to take it out every 30 minutes or so and stir vigorously. This makes sure you have a smooth ice cream, as it prevents larger ice crystals forming. Do this until the ice cream is too frozen to stir. It should still taste great!

    **I believe she is not even slightly delighted at this. Well, maybe after dinner.

    And, last but not least, here’s a picture of last Christmas day, starring Corgan!

    Butternut Squash revisited – The best soup recipe

    I have shared a basic, simple and low fat butternut squash soup before, but I have since discovered a more.. well, shall we say a more luscious recipe. Not one to go by if you’re counting the old calories- I’d suggest my alternative, which you can find here! On the other hand- for guests, for a dinner party, for the height of luxury, you NEED to make this. It is phenomenal. Creamy, rich, almost buttery, and so warming, not to mention tasty delicious- please try it. This recipe was one I looked for for ages- after my trip to Salon des Saveurs – where I had this on my tasting menu. It is a Conrad Gallagher soup. That should be enough to make you immediately check the ingredients, leap to your feet and scoot to the shops in a blizzard of butternut squash, cream and deliciousness. I adapted this from a pumpkin based recipe, so you can always change that right back if it is in season- unfortunately when I went to my local shop, the pumpkins had been stolen from right under my freckley nose. Without further ado- I present to you a shopping list! This recipe is adapted from the one posted on the TV3 site during season 1 of Head Chef. Boy oh boy was I happy to find it!

    What you need

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (1 for squash, 1 for onion)
  • About the same amount of butter (again, 1 for squash, 1 for onion)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/8 pint chicken stock
  • 1/8 pt cream
  • About half an ounce of good parmesan, grated finely
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • A few drops of white truffle oil (Optional, but so worth it)
  • What to do:

      1. Cut the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and set aside. (I wash, dry, toss in soy sauce or chilli powder and roast these at about 160 degrees until really crunchy).
      2. Rub each half with some olive oil and butter, sprinkle with salt, and roast on a tray in oven until soft enough to stick a fork through easily.
      3. Leave the squash aside, and take your onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Dice them finely and fry in the butter and olive oil until soft.
      4. Scoop the squash out of it’s skin and add to the saucepan. Add your stock and cream, and cook on a low heat for 30 minutes.
      5. Season to taste, and then put all the soup in a blender and blend until really smooth.
      6. Pass the soup through a strainer or sieve to make sure it’s completely silky and smooth. Taste,add your parmesan and adjust seasoning as necessary.
      7. Ladle into serving bowls, and add a scant drop or two of truffle oil to each bowl.
      8. Finish by dotting some cream into each bowl and swirl it, just for presentation.

    Enjoy this. It’s really really beautiful. I hope you love it as much as myself and my friends did 🙂