Chocolate cherry cupcakes

It’s been a while, largely as a result of the fact that I’m back in work after maternity leave (*sob*) and cooking turned into a whatever-can-be-cobbled-together-and-eaten-as-quickly-as possible in the evening. I’m getting a little more into the routine now, but my experiments are still largely confined to the weekends still.

June is a five week month for payroll, and the emergency chocolate digestives have all been scoffed. Time to raid the presses and see what can be cobbled together without a trip to the shop!

There’s always plain flour, some butter and a couple of eggs knocking around. Some cooking chocolate (of the 72% cocoa variety, not wonderbar) usually lives on a high shelf unless something has gone pear-shaped during the month and it got scoffed.

A quick flick through How To Be A Domestic Goddess later, I was rummaging in the back of the fridge for the almost full jar of cherry jam that was lingering there since the last time I cooked duck (not madness, honestly. Quite delicious, in fact). Chocolate cherry cupcakes it is, albeit it minus the ganache as I’ve no cream at the moment.

Melt chocolate and butter, and whisk together. I love using the microwave for this.

Stir in caster sugar and jam.

Make sure the are no jammy clumps, then add vanilla. In go two beaten eggs. Fold in flour and salt, and baking powder in my case as I don’t usually keep self raising flour around.

Into cupcake cases, of which I am also running a little low, and into the oven for 25 minutes, which does seem like an age. Cross fingers that it’s not a typo.

These babies need ten minutes in the tin after they come out of the oven, then left to go cold on a rack. We didn’t quite manage. One test cupcake, for science.

Slightly crispy, sugary top, moist and fluffy center. Yum.

If you didn’t want to fang about with ganache to top, I think some quite stiffly whipped cream, with a little vanilla and spiked with kirsch would be fab, especially with a sprinkle of grated chocolate.

Not-veal parmigiana

Another one from “Jamie’s America”, and a real Italian American classic. I’ve eaten this in a few different places on two continents and it has varied wildly in style and, quite frankly, quality. The breaded meat is often deep fried (despite denials) and then whomped under a salamander with cheese on top. This usually results in over cooked, over oily meat, which is a pity as it should be a really delicious dish with lots going on.

Now, as well as veal, this can be made with either chicken breast or pork escallope, which is great as I’m generally not a big veal fan. I won’t eat traditional white veal, as I don’t want to have my few quid supporting the crate system. It is possible to get free range veal, which is still calf, but older and left outdoors with a milk-rich diet, but the resulting, far happier meat, is unfashionably pink in color, as well as being more expensive than the crated veal. Despite tasting better than its white counterpart, it’s simply deemed unsuitable for all white dishes like blanquette de veau.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally seen selected cuts of rosé veal in Marks and Spencer and in FX Buckley’s on Moore street in Dublin, if you fancy trying it.

Step one: make sauce.


This is a simple tomato sauce. Garlic, a couple of anchovies (don’t leave them out! You can’t taste them in the final dish, but you’d be completely missing the umami note without them), basil, and a can of tomatoes.

On tinned tomatoes – I’ve heard from multiple places that the tomato quality in the “whole plum” tins is much better than in the chopped, as it’s harder to get away with things with the whole tomato visible. Personally I find that a lot of chopped tomato brands, at various price levels, seem heavy on the juice and a bit low on the actual tomato flesh content, so I’ll usually pick the whole peeled plum variety. Plus I get a little childish glee from squeezing them over the pan in my fist until they burst!

Step two: chicken faffing.

A sucker for giving myself work, I made my own breadcrumbs from the tail end of a lovely sourdough loaf that was even past toasting. Add lemon zest, grated Parmesan and thyme leaves. Don’t forget to give the bowl a sniff – it’s a lovely, summery scent.


Sauce into the oven dish you’ll be using, and then it’s time to trim your chicken before engaging in a little stress relief.


Cling film or freeze bags are usually recommended here, but I used baking paper – I’m making an effort to cut my disposable plastic use, and the paper is also much less slippery. Beat the daylights out of the chicken breast with a rolling pin, wine bottle, or some other robust, heavy object. You want it to at least triple in area and be very evenly thin, but not to the point where it will break up as soon as you peel it off the paper.


Dust with flour, dip in egg and breadcrumb thoroughly. Into a hot pan with a nice glug of oil, for just a minute or two per side to brown the coating and then remove to a clean tea towel to get rid of any excess oil. Crispy, not greasy, is the goal.

Repeat with the next chicken breast, then pop both in the dish on topography the sauce. Break up a ball of buffalo mozzarella and dot over the top. Twenty minutes in a hot oven gives you enough time to clear the breadcrumby mess and get a simple side dish together. In my case, crushed new potatoes. A big spinach salad would be great too.


Tah dah!

This smelled amazing as it baked, and it was declared the favourite dish of the project so far. Clean plates all around.

This is going straight in the regular rotation, despite it being a little messy. I can’t recommend enough starting this with clear counter space and an empty sink and dishwasher as it’s heavy on dishes (chopping board, knives, several plates and bowls, oven dish, cutlery and two pans (if you don’t wash one after the sauce, like I did).

Getting those breadcrumbs on thickly, and in every little nook and cranny makes a huge difference. If your pan is only big enough to fry one at a time (which my standard 30cm one is) then do add extra oil after the first one is done. It may seem overkill, but it’s the difference between your lovely coating sticking to either the chicken or the pan.

Overall, two thumbs up. Now for a nap…

Cookies, muffins and a pavlova!

I used to bake very regularly, but we ended up eating far too many delicious treats and waistlines expanded slowly and steadily. After being “good” for quite a while now, I’ve started again. As I’m in a little happy bubble of cake, there’s a lot being made, but it’s largely being shared with guests, brought as gifts when we’re visiting, or brought to work to share. Goodies shared are both fun and less dangerous! The last weekend was particularly productive. Here’s the Cliff’s notes version.

Baileys and chocolate pavlova (Olive magazine. Simple recipe, and a good result but will try a different one next time.)


Spiced pumpkin muffins (Vegan with a Vengeance. Absolutely delicious. Would be great warm with caramel or praline ice cream. Super moist)

Gigantor peanut butter oatmeal cookies (Vegan with a Vengeance. My new favorite oatmeal cookie.)


White chocolate and macadamia cookies (based on ten minute choc chip cookies from River Cottage Everyday. Yum. Very versatile, forgiving recipe)


There was also a batch of scones which were scoffed with homemade jam, and clotted cream, and a chocolate malt cake which I wish I got a photo of, as it’s the best one I’ve ever made. Perfectly risen. I was so proud of it, I’ll have to make another and document it. All I need is someone to stop me eating the whole thing.

A brief interlude

We’re just back from a few days staycation in Cork for our anniversary, and while I was largely on a social media and device break, I couldn’t resist snapping a couple of pics.

First up is tea!

I love afternoon tea to possibly unreasonable levels, and whenever we go on a trip, I try to squeeze one in. This is a terrible photo of a rather good tea at Castlemartyr Resort.

Two cocktails – a Manhattan for him, and an Aviator for me (it had me at “gin and creme de violette”). We’d had an amazingly silky pannacotta in little glass pots before this marvelous spread arrived out – the best I’ve had in as long as I can remember. Delicious and clever tea sandwiches, featuring fab little brioche rolls and a salmon with squid ink bread comb that I could have happily polished off a couple more of.  Scones – plain and fruit, with jam and clotted cream – and some really lovely patisserie rounded it out. I wasn’t gone on the chocolate cake, but I’m just not a fan of chocolate and banana as a combination.

The service was great, and this rounded out our trip beautifully, despite the rain outside.



Next up was a trip to the Midleton distillery, which we’ve been promising ourselves for years. The standard tour ticket comes with a Jameson at the end, or you can  splash out for a premium tasting upgrade like we did.

The first on the left was Jameson Black Barrel. I’ll be picking up a bottle of this one! I think it’d be fab in an old fashioned. Great legs, and loads of vanilla, caramel and fudge.

Next was Powers John’s Lane. I’m not a big fan of Powers. It’s a quite traditional type of whiskey, and for my taste there’s far too much spirit left through the still; it sort of whacks you in the face as while it smells lovely the first thing you taste is alcohol. While 5his is much nicer than regular Powers ( which I don’t like at all) I think that there are much better whiskies available in the €70-ish neighborhood.

Third was Redbreast 12. Very nice, lots of peppery spice. Again, a more traditional kind of whiskey, but one I’d be happy drinking. The 18 year old is lovely, as an aside.

Last is the newly released Midleton Very Rare 2017 blend. The first from the new master distiller. Smells like summer, legs for days, and you don’t so much drink it as let it evaporate in your mouth. Really fab.

After loitering and chatting about whiskey and bourbon with a few American tourists who were in our tasting group, we took a trip through the gift shop and indulged a bit, and then headed to Ballymaloe cafe for lunch. Will have to go back again when the gardens are in bloom, but I consoled myself with a trip to the shop, where I picked up a cook book and a couple of baking tins I’ve been after for ages ( and I’ve now found an Irish source for the brand. Huzzah!)

Back to laundry and shopping now, but it’s not all bad. Netflix has just uploaded all of The Great British Bake Off and we’re binging – it’s given me a serious baking itch as well!

Daisy May’s ribs

I think this recipe from Jamie’s America officially counts as cheating, as it’s barbeque ribs cooked in the oven. Given that I don’t have a barbeque yet (will remedy that in the end of season sales this year) and the fact that the weather is rubbish, I can live with the oven. If you can’t, you may want to skip this one.

First, take a rack of beef ribs. The recipe calls for a four rib rack, but I’m cutting the recipe in half for us.


This is an unattractive hunk o’ meat, fatty and bony. This is my first time cooking beef ribs in any form and I’m not at all surprised by the long cooking time called for. I imagine these are either delicious and tender or like old boot leather, with not much in the middle.

As it turns out, my giant lump of cow was actually two – it naturally came apart in the middle and was clearly always two bits. Not sure how that’ll pan out, it that’s all part of the experiment now!

First, both lumps got coated liberally in American style mustard – I used French’s brand, as it’s pretty easy to get here these days, and the leftovers will happily get used on hot dogs. Mmmmhot dogs…


The mustard thing seems weird, and I would have thought it completely made up if I hadn’t been watching some documentaries on Netflix lately about barbeque, and seeing the gallon containers of French’s being smeared over whole sides of beef ribs before they went in the smoker.


Once everything is mustardy, on goes a rub made of smoked paprika, chilli powder (again, I used old bay here, which is quite common in barbeque cooking), salt, black pepper and vegetable oil. Trying to get the rub on over the mustard was messy and a little slippery – you just have to roll up the sleeves and dive in here. There’s just no point in trying to avoid getting goo on your more to scratch your nose before you start. Murphy’s law and all of that.


While that cooks in a low oven, it’s time to crack on with what’s called a marinade, but is basically mop sauce. This involves stock, vinegar, honey, butter and smoked paprika and gets liberally doused over the meat towards the end of cooking time, then it’s wrapped in foil to keep the juices in.


Just when you think it’ll never be time to eat it, despite hours of delicious roasty smells, you end up with this.


I popped it off the bone and sliced, anod served with Mac and cheese and corn – my favorite bbq sides.


This was really delicious, tender and tasty. That said, I’m not sure if I’ll make it again. It’s quite an expensive chunk of meat, mainly due to the giant bones weighing a lot, proportionately. We could have had two big rib eyes or strip loins for the price. I wouldn’t like to be making it for a crowd! The active cooking time is under an hour, but bear in mind I started working on this at 11am, and we ate around 8pm. Not complicated, but very time intensive.

If someone else wants to cook it and invite me over though, I’ll bring the sides.

Beer butt chicken

It’s not every day you find yourself in a supermarket, asking your Facebook friends which 500ml can of beer you should shove up a chicken butt…In the end I bought a crappy cheap can, binned the contents and refilled to the halfway mark with some decent local beer.

Remember, kids, if it’s not good enough to drink, it’s not good nought to cook with.

This is doubly true when it’s going to be used in cooking a fab free range chicken from a local farm.

Jamie’s America has been largely ignored on my shelves since I picked up a reduced copy in Eason a couple of years back. Though a fair few people write Jamie olive off as being a plummy Essex boy done good, trying to impose his will on dinner ladies, he’s got some good stuff out there. I’ve had a copy of most of his books over the years, and this is one Ive hung on to.

A rub is made with cumin and fennel seed, smoked paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper and olive oil. He recipe also calls for mild chilli powder, but I used old bay instead s a) I have it in the press and b) mild chilli powder is usually a blend of stuff that’s less tasty than old bay.

The chicken is mounted on the beer can in such a way that it can balance, and the rub is smeared all over and into the cavity. I’m not gonna lie, it’s messy and you feel like an eejit as you do it…almost like there’s a hidden cam watching.

There’s a bit of confidence, and a deep breath, in getting it into the oven quickly, keeping it upright and the temperature from dropping too much (and in not losing your eyebrows from the heat). Getting my the can right up into the cavity is key, both for stability and height.

The suggestion is to keep the sides simple, but it’s not really chicken salad weather today, so I parcooked some potatoes in the microwave (shock, horror!) and popped them in to bake with the chicken (taking less than an hour thanks to my little trick).


Quite a bit of delicious looking pan juice accumulated during cooking, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I deglazed with boiling water and thickened them slightly with a little flour.

The removal of a red hot, upright chicken from the oven, and the extraction of a red hot can part-filled with beer and goo is not one for the faint of heart, or those without good, thick oven gloves. My oven has a slide away door which made the process much easier. No worrying about a burn off a slowly creeping closed door while getting dinner out.

For me, the simplest path was to tear off a big chunk of tin foil and loosely wrap it around the chicken in the oven, then quickly and decisively grab it with oven gloves on, and stand it on a plate on the counter. More foil, and a tea towel, then over to the sink where a little mild “football hold and a wiggle” gets the can out – watch for backsplash as it lands, as there’s sugar, fat and alcohol involved and that will stick and burn.

This was really tasty. The rub flavoured the dark meat beautifully, and my old bay substitution worked perfectly. I’ll try this on the barbecue during the summer as well.

Creamy sundried tomato penne

I’ve been watching Friends for the first time, as it’s on Netflix at the moment and the whole thing passed me by when it was broadcast first time around. In one episode, Monica and a cheffy friend are in the coffee shop talking about how sun dried tomatoes are *so* five years ago – I clearly missed that memo.

I’m a big fan of midweek pasta. It’s filling and comforting, and I love a good carb fest. The creamy sauces can be a killer though, so I usually stick to tomato based.

This recipe is best of both worlds. First, a tomato cream is whipped up in a blender from sundried tomatoes, veggie stock and soaked cashews.

Boil penne, and at the same time sauté some veg, add the cream, a first full of basil and the pasta. Simples. While I cut the recipe on half, I kept the full amounts of both garlic and tomatoes, and it was well worth it.

It’s definitely a recipe for cleaning up as you go, lest you finish dinner and have a blender, multiple pots, bowls and utensils to deal with. It’s also one you’ll want to do all your prep ( or Meeze, as Anthony Bourdain would say) as once you get rolling it all pulls together very quickly.

This went down well, especially with a generous shake of nooch on top. HusBeast, who is traditionally suspicious of pasta with sauces that don’t resemble beef ragu, deemed it delicious.

A couple of notes…if you’re not using fresh veggie stock, I highly recommend using Marigold.

Obligatory tea preparation in background…

It’s the shizzle. I also advise caution with the amount used as it’s a recipe that could easily end up tasting boullion-ny and disappointing.

Despite the tomato cream, it wasn’t quite silky-textured enough for me. I’d make sure to add two or three tablespoons of soy cream next time, as it would make a big difference. I’d also double the basil – it really punches things up a notch, and the green of it and the broccoli are fab.

The broccoli, while looking a little odd, was delicious in the dish, and not something d ever have thought of putting in a pasta dish. It’s very important to keep the florets as even in size as possible, and keep them al dents in the pan, or by the time they’ve been m see with hot pasta and served, some will be pure mush. Yuck.