Saturday, 28 June 2014

Westport Greenway and Pistachio Lemon Muffins

I drove west 
in the season between seasons. 
I left behind suburban gardens. 
Lawnmowers. Small talk. 

Under low skies, past splashes of coltsfoot
I assumed 
the hard shyness of Atlantic light 
and the superstitious aura of hawthorn. 

Extract from White Hawthorn in the West of Ireland, Eavan Boland 

I love that Ireland is small. I love that I can get in a car and see the ocean within a few hours. Atlantic ocean preferably of course. I never considered myself to be outdoors-y, but there is a sense of calm and presence that I cannot find on the east coast, even on a beautiful grassy cliff in north county Dublin overlooking the Irish Sea. The Atlantic and its coastline, for me, knows no equal.  It is rugged and wild and.... spontaneous.  

And we all need spontaneity. To remember that we are actually young and not as young as we sometimes feel. 

So last week we took a 500 km roadtrip in one day to County Mayo to cycle from Newport, just outside Westport out to Achill Island on the Westport Greenway, the longest off road trail in Ireland. 

It was so pretty I thought I would share a few photos. 

I made these muffins the night before we left for some hearty sweetness on our journey. The pistachios add a lovely salty crunch but leave them out if you would rather a plain lemony soft muffin.

For the muffins- makes 12 large muffins

200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
200g caster sugar
zest 2 lemons
Juice of one lemon
100g butter, melted
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons of natural yogurt
75g pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped plus extra for decoration

For the icing
250g icing sugar
3 tablespoons of lemon juice

1. Place the caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Using the back of a big spoon mash the lemon zest into the sugar. This will bring the lemon oil out of the zest.
2. Add the flour and baking powder to the bowl.
3. Add the eggs, cooled butter, yogurt and mix gently. Finally add the lemon juice and pistachios and mix well but thoroughly.
4. Bake for 15-18 minutes @ 180oC until a skewer comes out clean.
5. Allow to cool completely.
6. Mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together until smooth. Spoon or drizzle over the muffins. Decorate with pistachios.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Mint and Lemon Iced Tea

When you are from Ireland you drink tea hot, with milk and maybe some sugar. I can only imagine the look of disgust I would get from the likes of my grandmother if I handed her a glass of iced tea. It would be the desecration of the great Irish tradition.

Luckily we have embraced the weird and wonderful (as we see it) and although iced tea isn't as popular as it is in the US or contintental Europe, the Irish no longer look aghast, or even possibly horrified at the thought of chucking ice cubes rather than milk into their tea.

Light and refreshing, this tea is perfect for sipping while watching the sun set over the garden on these summer evenings.

Makes 1 litre of iced tea

4 tea bags
100g sugar
600ml boiling water
7 sprigs of fresh mint
2 lemons, juiced

1. Put the teabags,boiling water, sugar mint and lemon juice in a big saucepan. Bring to the boil, stir well and allow to steep for 10 minutes.
2. Take out the teabags and mint, preferably by pouring the tea through a strainer. Add another 500ml of cold water.
3. Serve on ice with extra mint sprigs and lemon slices.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Salty Pretzel Chocolate Brownie

I am a commitment-phobe. No not the relationship kind but the kind that makes me run away from tying down any sort of weekend plans. It's not that I don't like doing stuff at the weekend, quite the opposite. It's just that I want the option not to do anything at all. I like nothing more than two days of possibility stretching out ahead of me.

Even if I only end up watching many many episodes of Nashville and having day dreams about becoming a country music star.

It's a matter of principle.

I also need some kitchen time at the weekend. So important. Chopping, mixing, turning up spotify, pouring, cooking. Good times.

I baked these salty pretzel chocolate brownies for an Orange is the New Black marathon a group of friends were having. They went down a treat! Crunchy and salty on the bottom, ooey gooey on top. Extra toffee on top to stick to your teeth is optional but highly recommended!


For the pretzel base 
1 cup and a half pretzels
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 brown sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup melted butter cooled

For the brownies 
7 oz/175g milk chocolate
3/4 cup/150g butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup plain flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Line a 9 x 13 x 2 inch tin with parchment paper.
2. For the pretzel base  put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse briefly until the pretzels are big crumbs and the butter is evenly distributed.
3. Pour into the tin and pat down with the back of a spoon.
4. Bake for 10 minutes at 180oC. Leave to cool.
5. For the brownies melt the butter until almost fully melted in a heat proof bowl over a bowl of simmering water or in the microwave (but keep a keen eye on it!). Add the chocolate and heat gently stirring every 30 seconds until evenly melted and mixed.
6. In a clean bowl mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and sugars.
7. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs, vanilla extra, water and melted chocolate mixture.
8. Pour the brownie mix over the pretzel base.
9. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a crust has formed and when you insert a skewer it comes out barely moist.
10. For the topping melt 10 toffee sweets in the microwave until runny- this should take about 1 minute. Drizzle over the brownies. Add a careful sprinkle of good sea salt.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Banana Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I can't remember exactly what age I was, but one year we all got these small round hard packets from The Body Shop that turned into facecloths when you put them in water. I distinctly remember this sense of awe and wonder watching the block dissolve into a billowing facecloth in the sink on Christmas morning.

Every now and then we need a little bit of wonder.

Enter magic banana 'ice cream'. Frozen banana pieces are blitzed in a food processor until creamy and then peanut butter is added for flavour and extra softness. It really does taste and feel like ice cream, although maybe more like soft serve.  

I can't wait to experiment with different flavours and toppings. Watch this space!

Serves 2 people

3 bananas chopped into bite sized pieces
3 tablespoons of peanut butter
big pinch of salt
pinch of cinnamon
chopped roasted peanuts to serve

1. Lay the bananas out on a piece of foil and put in the freezer until hard, around 2 hours.
2. Quickly throw the bananas into a food processor with a good blade and blitz for around 3 minutes until smooth. They will go bitty first off but keep processing.
3. Add the peanut butter, salt and cinnamon and process until evenly distributed.
4. Quickly serve with peanuts sprinkled over.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Cinna-bun Tear 'n' Share

Well it has been an extremely exciting week for Ireland. First Miley came to Dublin, twerked all over the shop, outraged the Irish mammies and daddies who obviously lived under a rock before they bought the tickets and went for dinner in a place I found months ago. (FYI The bill comes with a brown paper bag of jellies and the menu is stuck into the pages of old books- check out Mulligans in Stoneybatter).

Then One Direction invaded played Croke Park three days in a row and we re-found in our hearts the great Statesman that is Niall Horan. Personally I had all of the 1D hysteria I could cope with when I watched that 'Crazy for One Direction' Channel 4 documentary and on that occasion I greatly valued the volume function on my remote.

Then in a most bizarre turn of events Kimye turned up in Cork for their honeymoon with/without their compass-inspired child. Local messers took to social media to con poor gossip-seeking journalists-see this news report. I giggled out loud walking home from work visualising Kim K supposedly going through the 39c veg in Alid. Two joggers gave me raised eyebrow looks (but judgement from joggers is a whole other story).

In the middle of all this we also had local and European elections but to be honest no one gave a monkeys.

My part in all of the craziness was one of amused bystander. All that web browsing naturally led to multiple cups of tea and cups of tea led of course to the search for a satisfying accompaniment.

Enter Cinna-bun.

I was previously unaware of the cinnabun phenomenon in the US. Unfortunately it hasn't really caught on here which is a ridiculous shame because there is nothing more satisfying than a cup of tea with the pillow-soft sweet dough and cinnamon sugar swirls of a cinnamon bun. Get artsy-fartsy with some buttermilk glaze and you turn phenomenal into pheNOMenal. 

The use of buttermilk here sounds crazy I know but the tang of the buttermilk compliments the sometimes sickly-sweet icing sugar. Plus it looks pretty. And that is never far from my mind. 

The cardamon adds a lovely fragrance to the dough but leave it out if you want to play it safe.

I use strong white flour as it makes the dough rise faster and I think adds good structure to the dough.

Recipe from Donal Skehan, makes 1 tear and share loaf with 10-12 big pieces
For the dough
200ml milk
55g butter
7g sachet of fast action yeast
55g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamon (optional)
375g strong white flour
1/4tsp salt

For the filling 
55g butter softened
1 tbsp cinnamon
45g caster sugar

For the glaze 
125g icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons of buttermilk

1. Melt the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Add the milk and heat until lukewarm.
2. Take off the heat, add the yeast and stir well. Leave to sit for 5 minutes.
3. In a clean bowl mix the flour, caster sugar, cardamon and salt together.
4. Add the wet ingredients and mix until you have a shaggy dough.
5. Bring together with your hands and turn out on a floured surface. Knead for 5-6 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable and springs back when you stick your finger into it.
See the transformation below. The first photo is pre-kneading and the second is post kneading.

6. Put the dough in a dry bowl and cover with a tea towel or with clingfilm. Leave to rise for about an hour in a warm place until doubled in size.
7. Take out the dough and roll on a floured workspace until about 3mm thick. Leave to rest for 5 minutes.
8. In the meantime make the filling by beating all the ingredients together.
9. Spread the filling on the rectangle leaving a 1 cm border all the way around.
10. Roll on the long side, keeping it as tight as you can. Leave the joining piece at the bottom and transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper. Brush with beaten egg for extra shine.
11. Cut the log at angles with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors without cutting right through to the bottom making 12 pieces. Tease out the pieces so that they are removed slightly from the centre as per the pictures.
12. Allow to rest for 20 minutes to puff up slightly and then bake at 190oC for 20-25 minutes turning after 15 minutes until golden brown on top. Take out of the oven and leave to cool.
13. Make the buttermilk glaze by whisking all the ingredients together until there are no icing sugar lumps. The amount of buttermilk you need will depend on how thick your buttermilk is. Add one tablespoon, beat well and then add more.
14. Drizzle generously over the cooled cinna-bun.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Busy Bee's Blueberry Almond Chia Jam

I have always considered jam making to be proper hardcore.  My eyes start to glaze over when I see instructions about pectin, buying weird 'jam sugar' and something called the 'wrinkle' test. Enter chia seeds! They take all the work out of jam. 

If you haven't heard about chia seeds they are an ancient seed native to South America where they have been hailed for centuries for their wide and varied nutritional properties including being: 
- high in fatty omega acids 
- high in protein
- high in fibre 
- rich in manganese and calcium.  
When mixed with water they form a gelatinous coating and so are a perfect thickening agent in this jam. In other words no messing around with a sugar thermometer! Find them in good supermarkets or in the health food store. 

Adapted from  
Makes 1 large jar of jam 

500g fresh or frozen blueberries 
3 tablespoons of honey or agave nectar (I like agave because it has no taste)
3 tablespoons of chia seeds 
2 tsp almond extract

1. Put the blueberries in a saucepan over a medium low heat until the fruit begins to soften. If using fresh blueberries add a tablespoon of water. Mash slightly with a fork when they start to breakdown and the add the honey/agave nectar. 
2. When the fruit has sotened completely add the chia seeds and stir well.  
3. Simmer over a medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes until the jam has thickened considerably. It will thicken more when it cools. 
4. Add the almond extract and stir well. 
5. Put into a sterilised jar. Jam will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge.  

Suggested uses: 
Swirl into natural yoghurt or porridge
Spread on toast 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Vegan Coconut Chai Ice Cream with Chocolate Shell

I am totally obsessed with the Mindy Project right now. It took me a while to get into it but now I just adore it. It is smart and witty, pop culture saturated. Hooray for weird characters on TV that eat too much saturated fat, battle through multiple work/life embarrassments and feel violently ill after exercise. That is someone I can relate to, being a girl who engages in strategic arm folding in order to cover food stains on clothes.

And because the casting is true to life the characters feel credible. I mean no one ever believed the Gilmore Girls were actually eating any of the junk they claimed to. I have a sneaky suspicion that those brown paper bags of supposed corn syrup badness from Doose's were actually filled with low calorie rice cakes and Lorelai and Rory would share one between them.

Honesty in TV is good! Note to the those network bigwigs who decide our programming fate- we can handle it! Except possibly the 'Girls' type of honesty which makes me hate my selfish selfish generation and disturbs me on a subconscious level.

Speaking of honesty I should probably be honest about this 'ice cream' because technically it isn't ice cream as it contains neither cream or eggs. Instead, full fat coconut milk is flavoured with warm chai spices. It was a big hit in this house and everyone agreed that you sacrifice neither taste nor texture by going vegan. I really couldn't lie to you after the above rant, could I?

For the ice cream  (inspired by
2 x 450g full fat coconut milk
2 black regular teabags
1 cup boiling water
3 star anise
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks
8 cardamon pods, seeds removed
5 whole cloves
4 whole black peppercorns
1 slice ginger, peeled
1 cup sugar (if you want to be strictly vegan use 3/4 cup honey)
pinch salt
1 tsp rosewater

For the chocolate shell (from Joy the Baker cookbook)
130g milk chocolate, chopped (vegan friendly if you are being strict about it)
1/2 cup coconut oil
pinch of salt

1. Put all the spices and ginger with the tea bags in a small saucepan. Add the boiling water and bring to the boil.
2. Turn off the heat and add in the sugar. Stir until it dissolves. Allow to seep for 10 minutes.
3. Pour through a strainer throwing away the tea bags and spices. Add the rosewater to the liquid.
4. Put the coconut milk into a big bowl and add the chai concentrate. Mix well.
5. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions, usually for about 20 minutes or until the thickness of frozen yogurt. If you don't have an ice cream maker just put into a tub in the freezer and mix every couple of hours to prevent ice crystals forming. Preferably freeze overnight if you aren't using an ice cream machine.
6. Pour into a bowl/other container and freeze for at least 4 hours.
7. For the chocolate shell put a bowl with the coconut oil and chocolate over a saucepan of simmering water. Don't let the bowl touch the water.
8. Stir until melted. Add the salt and keep warm until you are ready to serve.