Carrot cake pancakes

It being Pancake Tuesday, aka Shrove Tuesday, it’s time for the obligatory pancake-related post.

Traditionally, eggs, butter and indeed milk were given up for lent, and so a giant pancake orgy took place the day before Ash Wednesday to use said ingredients up. While Ireland is growing more secular by the day, we will still happily keep this annual celebration going. Irish pancakes are like a thick crepe, rather than American style. Usually about 15-20 cm across, largely depending on the size of the frying pan.

For this evening, I broke out “Isa Does It” by Isa Chandra Moscowitz. I’ve used a few recipes in this book before. Unlike a lot of vegan cookbooks on the market, this one uses simple, real ingredients and not a whole load of brand name products, or ingredients that you can only find in The States. The biggest pain in the butt with the book is that everything’s in cups, which means googling conversions to grams before starting (particularly for baked goods, to get the chemistry right).

Carrot cake pancakes. Fluffy, thick, scented with vanilla and cinnamon and drizzled with maple syrup (ha! Who am I kidding? The term “liberally doused” was invented for such stacks of pancakes!).

Normally I’d break out the magimix for grating carrot, as the results are lovely and uniform, plus there’s the fun of shoving carrots down the chute. I was too lazy for the washing up today though, and there’s not massive amounts of carrot involved (a cup, grated) so I used my coarse microplane grater instead. Isa is careful to mention the fineness needed here, and the grater was perfect – the carrot needs to be able to cook in the amount of time the batter is on the pan. No crunchy or al dente bits need apply.

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I love my little nutmeg mill!

While this was slightly more faffing about than my standard, non-vegan pancake recipe, it was quick to put together. I didn’t have ground clove, so I left it out, and I used vanilla soy milk as the leftovers will go in my morning coffee for the rest of the week.

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Mine were more oval than round, as I wanted to cook two medium sized pancakes at a time rather than one huge one. I can live with that though.

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These were absolutely delicious. You could even serve these to people who normally roll their eyes and make comments about “salad is what my food eats” and they wouldn’t be a bit the wiser. Yum. Two hearty thumbs up.

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Now I just need to find the next excuse to make them again!

Two for one chicken and asparagus

When you hen you spot two bunches of asparagus for less than a euro each, well, it’d be rude not to!

I’ve boiled, sautéed and roasted asparagus aplenty, boiling being my least favourite method (goes soggy and overdone in a heartbeat) and roasting coming out on top (keeps a bite as well as all the flavour and lovely green colour).

Another book that I love, but have never cooked from, is Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1. One of his recipes that, in true Slater style is hardly even a recipe, involves a hot grill, some crispy lardons and Parmesan cheese.

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Lardons are ultimately tiny chunks of streaky bacon, hopefully with a nice balance of meat and fat. Given that packs of lardons are hard to come by and often ridiculously expensive considering they’re rasher chunks, I usually just buy some good streaky rashers and do a little chopping myself. Smoked dry cure is the best, both for flavour and water content.

 

The magic trick with lardons is to start them on a mid heat, then crank it up for just a little at the end to get them crispy. I’m convinced that people who love back bacon, but avoid streaky, do it because it’s not cooked properly. Squidgy, undercooked fat is not a happy thing to eat. It’s greasy and chewy instead of melting and delicious.

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Unless you’re picking it in your garden and bringing it straight to the kitchen, you’ll usually lose a third to a half of your stem, depending on how long it has been sitting around, and at what temperature.

Bend one stem until it breaks naturally – that’s your point for cutting the rest. The fresher, the springier. I drained the fat off the pan from the lardons, and used that to roast the asparagus in, for about 15 minutes. Then crispy bacon went over the top, with a chunk of grated Parmesan, and under a hot grill for a few minutes til everything’s bubbling.

Chicken is a classic meat to serve with asparagus. Back to Ballymaloe for a simple recipe – marinating chicken breasts in olive oil and rosemary before chargrilling. While I do have a beautiful slab of cast iron grill ( it’s a Le Creuset one that stretches across two gas burners, and I adore it) currently I’m stuck with a halogen hob, which is why I pan fried the chicken on a super hot pan – about five minutes in total cooking time – using some of the marinade oil.

I boiled some Charlotte potatoes as well, which I tossed with some butter and salt. They’re the first of the season and I couldn’t resist them.

 

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The combination worked really well together, and was actually pretty simple despite having a few things on the go at once. While I added lemon zest to the chicken marinade (it was recommended to serve with lemon butter, but I thought it would be overkill given my sides) I’d definitely add a clove of garlic next time. It was my instinct as soon as I read the recipe, but in the interests of the project and not changing every recipe I cook from the books, I left it without.

The asparagus would also be amazing for lunch with just a perfectly poached egg on top. Maybe next time.

My Dublin Coddle

Coddle is a Dublin tradition that no one in the rest of the country seems to know about, unless they’ve been enlightened by a possibly shocked and confused Dub. I only discovered it when I moved to Dublin myself (met a boy, as the story goes) and when I tried to find a “true” recipe to make it myself (oh, young love!) I found lots of passionate arguments about what’s allowed or not allowed in the pot and have it be still considered coddle. As it’s such a mystery to so many people, I want to give it a long post.

Ultimately, coddle is a pig-based white stew. Chickens, historically, were too valuable as egg producers to be eaten outside of special occasions, save for the odd old boiler. Beef was usually just too expensive apart from the ‘umbles; traditional Irish stew is lamb, or more correctly, mutton-based. It’s near-impossible to find mutton these days, but that’s another post.

The traditional, “pure” recipe uses sausages, bacon pieces, carrots, onion, potatoes, pepper and water. It has become acceptable to use back bacon rashers  instead of pieces, but I really dislike this personally – too much fat, too much faffing with a spoon trying to break them up, and let’s be honest, they look disgusting in it.  Stock is usually used instead of plain water, though I know a lot of people use a packet of leek and potato soup powder. Again, I don’t like this. Far too salty, and tastes like soup with weird bits in it that don’t belong.

Straddling the line of acceptability was barley (again, I’m not a fan, even in Irish stew) and red lentils (which are a bit of a strange addition, but essentially dissolve completely, and thicken the soup, and add nutritious filler). I almost felt sorry for the person who added both lentils and a can of chopped tomatoes, as an entire message board thread called out this abomination as being not-coddle.

 

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Clockwise from bottom left are sausages (12 high meat content, with fine, natural casing), cured ham pieces ( about two handfuls. Usually from butcher offcuts. I’ve been known to chop up a small fillet of ham if the pieces on offer were too fatty or stringy looking), carrots (four big ones this time), one medium onion (never more for me. It’s largely for flavour) and I’ll add about four big potatoes later, so they dont completely break down over the long cooking time. I cut everything into chunks that can be eaten with a spoon, and without trying to break it up in the bowl.

I add a couple of non-traditional bay leaves and a clove of chopped (not minced) garlic, and some thyme and black pepper as well. Chicken stock works best for the liquid component. I stir some Worcestershire sauce into the stock to up the umami factor. It’s often added to the completed stew as a condiment, so not totally cheating. I also add a teaspoon of very unorthodox tomato puree. It can’t be tasted, but it brings out the sweetness in the carrots and meat. Give the pot a good stir and apply heat. I use a slow cooker, for about six hours. Stove top, over a low heat and partially covered works too. I’ve never done it in the oven, but I imagine 160 degrees for most of a day would be perfect.

So another offal-ly good (hur hur hur) addition to coddle are kidneys. This being a piggy dish, I assume that originally it would be pigs kidney. My preference is for lambs, as they’re small, sweet and not too overpowering in flavour or texture. As kidneys can be a bit of alien territory, I want to focus on them here.

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One kidney, in the suet.

Step one with kidneys is to ignore anything shrink wrapped or vaccuum packed. They’re not something that you want to eat unless they’re super fresh, and attempts to extend their shelf life should be viewed with deep suspicion.

Getting them in suet does mean extra work in the kitchen, but I recommend it for two big reasons. First, the fat protects the kidney, keeping it intact and free of bruises as far as possible. The second, and more important reason, is freshness.

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On a perfectly fresh kidney, the fat is firm and waxy, and creamy white, and firmly attached. There should be no soft spots or yellowing, or any gamey smell at all.

 

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Once you peel the fat away with your fingers, the membranes should be elastic, and the kidney should be evenly coloured and plump. Catch the membrane with point of a knife and carefully pull away towards the centre. They can break quite easily, though this isn’t a massive issue for this dish.

 

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De-membraned kidney on the left. Hand on top, run your knife perpendicular to you board and slice down the middle from the curved outside edge to the central core. A little knife work will remove the core, seen in the bottom of the centre above, along with the little sinewy bits, leaving you with something approaching the half on the right.

If, and this is very important, there’s the smell of ammonia, or a strong, unpleasant odour, then take the kidney and chuck it in your outside bin – it’s either stale or the animal wasn’t processed efficiently. Either way, don’t eat it.

If your kidneys are all cored, chop each half in two, and rinse well in lots of cold water.

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This is six of them, ready for the pot. Just pour in, stir, and stick the lid back on.

I tend to stick the suet in a deep roasting dish and put into a medium oven for an hour or so to render. I’ll pour the liquid off into a jam jar, and when it’s cool it goes in the fridge for future roast potatoes, and discard anything left.

I make my coddle a day ahead, taking the whole slow cooker liner and stashing it in the bottom of the fridge. It’s much better after a night to itself, and reheats beautifully – just steer clear of the microwave unless you want exploded sausage and kidney bits to clean up. Adjust seasoning as you reheat. The saltiness of the meat can vary wildly, and can also mellow out a lot as it rests in the fridge.

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If you want to get fancy, chop some curly parsley and sprinkle over before serving. Good with bread – either brown soda or crusty white, smeared with plenty of Kerrygold butter.

Again, not the most photogenic,  but that’s peasant food for you. Something slightly fancier next time, honest.

Stuffed lambs hearts

Over the years I’ve been an on and off veggie, but these days I’m largely an omnivore. I firmly believe, however, that if an animal meets its demise to fill our plate, the least we can do is give it a comfortable life, a quick and efficient end, and use every part.

I haven’t eaten heart, outside of haggis or pudding, since I was a child, but I remember loving it. Traditionally stuffed and roasted, they take long, slow cooking to tenderise.

A very welcome library addition for Christmas is my shiny copy of “The Complete Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking“. I’ve been very interested in Fergus Henderson’s brand of cooking for a while – lots of offal, offcuts and out of fashion cuts – but never actually tried a recipe.

So lambs hearts. I ordered mine from my butcher, as they’re actually surprisingly popular around here and I wanted to get four super fresh ones. If you’re getting offal, I highly recommend asking the butcher what day is best to drop in for it, i.e. delivery day. It’s not something that benefits from hanging around in a display case.

IMG_20180120_201224799_HDRTa dah.

These came trimmed and cleaned and ready for stuffing, as requested, and just needed to be rinsed and dried.

The stuffing recipe is simple to follow and takes about 30 minutes including peeling and chopping. It also involves wine, which is new to me in stuffing recipes, so I cracked open a bottle of Rioja I got for Christmas.

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Between the red onion and the red wine, the resulting mix has a distinctly pinkish colour. Left to cool, it’s liberally squished into the heart cavity with the aid of teaspoon and fingers. Streaky bacon (I used smoked) is wrapped around and tied off with cotton string, or would have been if I remembered to get some, so I used some short bamboo skewers I luckily had in the press. Note to self – read the whole way through the recipes in this book before starting them.

As I don’t have a nice cast iron casserole or a small, deep roasting tin – the hearts should fit snugly to keep the stock volume to a minimum – I used a suitably sized saucepan. If you’re doing the same (and not running for the hills already) then make sure it’s a completely oven safe pot. Melted plastic or burned wood are not welcome garnishes.

Pour over chicken stock, cover with foil and roast in a medium oven for about 2 1/2 hours. It’s suggested that the liquid gets strained and reduced and used as sauce, and that mashed turnips are served with it. I thickened my sauce with a little roux – it looked like Cream Of Beige, but tasted delicious – and mashed my turnips with potatoes and a good knob of butter.

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It was very tasty indeed. The meat was tender and dense, and tasted like leg of lamb meets liver – so while we enjoyed it, it’s a strong taste that might not go down well for everyone. Given the very long cooking time its not one I’ll be making outside of a lazy weekend, but I’d be happy to have it again. Something green and crunchy would be nice with it as well as the root veg, like some al dente green beans.

One note on serving size – with sides, one per person is plenty. I overestimated completely, judging on size, especially as this cooking method doesn’t result in shrinkage. It’s filling stuff, good for cold weather eating, and worth trying at least once.

 

An oops and a win

As I popped my frozen pizza into the oven last night, I had a clever thought. Rather smugly, I put a roasting tin into the bottom of the oven, grabbed a butternut squash from the fridge, and did a little peeling, deseeding and chopping. Pizza done, the squash went on to roast and give me a head start on today’s recipe.

I then promptly fell into a carb coma, and by the time I remembered the squash…

Burnt-ier nut squash

I believe the technical term is “fecked”.

It got fecked into the compost bin anyway. No saving it at all. It’s a downside with roasting veg that have a high natural sugar content; they go from perfectly caramelised to incinerated very quickly. Doubly so when forgotten entirely. Oops.

Today I got back on the proverbial horse. As we were visiting, baked goods were called for.

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Victoria sponge recipe from “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson (probably my favourite baking book ever), my own buttercream recipe, and a couple of ablespoons of Bonne Maman raspberry conserve. It was quickly demolished, and absolutely delicious.

 

Mmmmmcake.

 

Pasta Gorgonzola – ish

The daube turned out so well that I was inspired to try another recipe from Ballymaloe Cookery Course. This is delightfully decadent veggie food. Possibly not for those doing the New Year health kick, as it’s got both cheese and cream, and it’s not shy about it.

Since I’ve got a bit of a wedge of crozier blue left from Christmas, I used that instead of Gorgonzola. (Despite having oodles of visitors over the holidays, the house is still bursting with food – anyone else find themselves eating chocolate Kimberly for breakfast to ” use them up”?)

It’s a super simple recipe.

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While pasta cooks, melt butter, crumbled cheese, cream, nutmeg and black pepper into a sauce. It recommends adding some cooked broccoli in, and as I love broccoli and blue cheese together at the best of times, I popped some on to steam.

I do weigh my pasta, partly to avoid waste, partly to avoid overeating.

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I’m not stingy with my portion size, but I can eat spaghetti for days, so it’s for the best. Also, I got a fancy schmancy new scales for Christmas, and any excuse to break it out. I may do a review at some point,  once I’ve had a bit more time to play with it.

Strain pasta, add sauce to pot with broccoli (pasta should always be added to sauce, not sauce to pasta), stir well, add pasta, adjust seasoning, and eat!

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Twenty minutes from boiling the kettle to serving. Not bad at all!

As everything I’m making is done to be eaten that night, and faffing about with rearranging strands would leave me eating cold, congealed pasta, I’m keeping things very “real world styling”. My camera is my phone, my lights are my regular kitchen lights – unless it’s the weekend or not winter, as sunset here is about 4.30pm right now.

Next time I’ll crumble some more blue cheese on top, just to give it that extra punch. For once, Parmesan seems out of place as a topper. I also think that using creamier blue cheeses like Cashel, Gorgonzola, blue d’Auvergne is a better plan than sharper blues. I’m not sure I’d use a mature Stilton, unless it was languishing in the back of the fridge.

The broccoli was fab in it, but I’d have it even more al dente just for that little crunchy contrast – it really does cook further as its stirred into the pasta, especially if you’ve kept the florets small.

Delicious!

 

Slow hummus.

Hummus can be picked up in assorted flavours, with assorted toppings, in little plastic tubs in nearly every shop in the country. We’ve gotten quare fancy in the last few years, culinarily speaking.

Its also possible to bash some together at home in moments, with a can of chickpeas and a few bits and bobs. I’ve even been known to make it with jarred garlic and bottled lemon.

While I don’t eat anything like the quantities I did at my peak hummus stage a couple of years ago, I do like to keep some on hand for emergency snackage, or making a sandwich a bit less boring, or for smearing liberally on a toasted bagel.

The problem with a lot of the supermarket tubs is the volume of water in the hummus. Some feel almost mousse-like in texture, like they’ve been forced through a syphon to disguise the fact that there’s so much water packed in, usually at the expense of olive oil, or even chickpeas.

Every few weeks I like to make slow hummus. Like the slow food movement, it takes a bit of time, but the results are great. It’s less a recipe and more of a series of guidelines, and the proportions change with my mood and whatever I’m feeling into, food-wise, at the time. This will be a long post for a short recipe, but it’s actually really straightforward with great results, and very simple once you’ve made it once.

Step one: soak dried chickpeas in lots of cold water. Plain tap water is perfect. How many depends on how much hummus you’re likely to get through in 3-4 days. They’ll double in size after a good soak of at least 12 hours. I usually do 100-200g at a time. Don’t use a half empty, dusty pack from the back of the press. Save those for a stew or curry where they’re support cast and not the star of the show.

Step two: cooking the chickpeas. Rinse well under cold water, add to pot, add cold water. I use my pressure cooker, and let the water come about 2-3cm over the chickpeas. If you’re boiling on the hob, you’ll need to use a bit more and possibly top up as you go. The magic ingredient here is one from the cookbook Jerusalem, which I’ve often thumbed through but don’t (yet) own a copy of – add a quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. It speeds cooking time and helps the little guys to come out of their shells.

Depending on the age and moisture content of the chickpeas, boiling time could be 90-120 minutes. Pressure cooker 7-12 minutes.

Now while they’re being turned into mush shortly, don’t be tempted to overlook, as they’ll absorb too much water and will also start to break down, and the end result will be watery or even gloopy.

Step three: peel the chickpeas.

Yup. Every one.

Pat this point you can totally say “sod that!” and move to step four. No one will judge you for it. It’s worth going the whole hog once though – you’ll never look back and while it’s a bit boring and time consuming, it makes velvety smooth hummus.

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Easiest way is when they’re still warm. Keep your cooking liquid in the pot, and scoop the chickpeas to another bowl. Squeeze the chickpea gently and it’ll pop out of its skin quite happily into your other hand. Dont squeeze too hard as they’re slippery when freed. Plonk the shiny, naked chickpea back into the cooking water.

Repeat lots.

Every now and again, find one that self-peeled, and rejoice. Every now and again, squeeze too hard and ping one across the room. Contemplate calling the dog to deal with it, but resolve to just pick it up if you ever get to the end of the bowl. Forget about it entirely, and find it with your bare foot, three days later…

…but I digress

Once all the chickpeas are peeled, lea e them in the warm liquid, and break out he food processor.

The next bits are largely to taste, but I start with

1 clove of garlic

1 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp olive oil – it’s a good place for extra virgin if you have it.

juice of half a lemon and a good pinch of salt.

Whizz briefly, then add the chickpeas, scooped from the liquid. Process, stopping a couple of times to scrape down. If it’s too thick, add some cooking liquid, a tablespoon at a time. When it’s the right consistency for you, check seasoning, then let the processor run for a good 2-3 minutes. Scoop into suitable container and refrigerate for a couple of hours before eating (I know, I know!).

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The hummus add ins change every batch for me. Sometimes my garlic isn’t very strong, or my lemons are super sharp. The quantities above are just a start point. I also often add in some smoked paprika, or a dash of ground cumin. If I’m roasting garlic I’ll put on an extra bulb just for whizzing into the hummus, as it’s sweet and soft and delicious in it. Not overpowering at all.

Ill make it thicker if it will be mostly for spreading on sandwiches, or thinner for dipping.

Its all about finding your perfect combo, really. Have some fun with it!