Jen's Kitchen offers a fresh approach to home cooking with exciting recipes and blog posts that emphasise hands-on cookery using local and organic produce.

Slowly, slowly

James Martin’s “Slow” is full of beautiful pictures and ideas.  The concept is that all the recipes take over an hour to cook, leaving you time to get on with other things while your oven does the work.  I have a number of James Martin cookbooks, and have always found them to be quite complicated.  This one seems a little different.  I don’t have a slow cooker myself, but a friend recent;y got one as a present, and I wanted to try out a few recipes that I thought she might use in it.

Beef stew is a household staple for most, so this is the recipe I thought I would try first.

Beef Stew with Dumplings

Beef Stew with Dumplings

The stew ingredients are similar to other stews I’ve done, and the method easy to follow.  I chopped all the veg first to have them ready to go.  The recipe calls for beef dripping, which I didn’t have so I used butter with a little drop of oil to reduce the possibility of burning.

Veg ready for the stew

Veg ready for the stew

Then I browned the floured and seasoned beef pieces.

Well Seasoned Beef Pieces

Well Seasoned Beef Pieces

I have learnt the best way to brown meat is to stay strong and leave it alone, no faffing or constant stirring.  This is then removed and the veg added.  This is where it has differed from some other recipes.  At this stage he wants you to gently sweat the vegetables.  Then re-add the meat, and increase the heat as you add the wine.  There was not a lot of wine in the ingredients, so it really got swallowed up straight away.  I added the stock (not my own unfortunately- haven’t got around to making my own beef stock yet), brought it back to the simmer and popped it into the preheated oven, with a lid on.

Adding the wine and reducing down

Adding the wine and reducing down

After two hours the dumplings get added.  These were easy to make, but I found that they needed more water than indicated.

Dumplings ready to go.

Dumplings ready to go.

Thie stew was finished 30 minutes later.  I would say my total prep time was 45 minutes, and that was being generous.  Family vote- 8.5/10.  Which is good let me tell you (got a 9.5/10 for the first time ever on a cake last night- they truly are my biggest critics).

James Martin- Slow- Beef stew with dumplings

James Martin- Slow- Beef stew with dumplings

LitFest Adventures

I was so excited to volunteer for the LitFest last weekend at Ballymaloe, and even more excited to be able to work again at the cookery school.

The apron was donned, and the knives sharpened.  Felt a bit naked walking in without my order of work or my recipes, but other than that, when I went into Kitchen 3 Friday morning early, it was like I never left.

Cabbage, apple and raisin salad

Cabbage, apple and raisin salad

There were demos of every kind going on all weekend and I was very privileged to see chefs from all corners of the globe.

I also had the privilege of hearing Alice Waters in conversation with John McKenna on the Saturday morning.  It was so much more than just a history lesson of her life, it was a journey of social and political  commentary in America.  Simplicity is her motto, and an appreciation of the food grown around her and the way it should be treated.  She considers food a platform on which social change can be built.

John McKenna in Conversation with Alice Waters

John McKenna in Conversation with Alice Waters

The “Big Shed” contains all the food stalls, and is always a hive of activity during the festival, the decorations were eye catching, unique and quirky.

Magical Lighting

Magical Lighting

There was an array of wine and beer to be had, and the obligatory elderflower cordial.

The Big Shed

The Big Shed

The long tables are a great idea, and make for conversation. interaction and general friendliness.

More intricate lighting

More intricate lighting

But back in the cookery school we were very busy with Demo prep.  The first one I helped with was hosting Allegra McEvedy.  She believes that there are more ways for a chef to make a difference than by gaining stars, and that good food should be available to everybody.

The dream team

The dream team

The next demo was for Leylie Hayes, with Hugo Arnold, from the Avoca Group.  I have regularly cooked from the Avoca Cafe book, so to see the recipes in action was very exciting.  I got to make the carrot jam, which is probably the most unusual jam I’ve ever made- but probably have never made anything which such care!

Carrot Jam in the making

Carrot Jam in the making

I am looking forward to adding the two breads to my repertoire also.

The Team with Leylie Hayes and Hugo Arnold

The Team with Leylie Hayes and Hugo Arnold

Between all the excitement I also managed to meet Prue Leith, whom I have been a fan of for many years.  She was so nice, and had no problems at all posing for a picture.

Just a little Star struck

Just a little Star struck

It was a completely manic weekend, I fell into bed Sunday night content and delighted that I had remembered most of what I had learnt in the 12 weeks.  And I can’t WAIT for next year.

With a special mention to the Cookery school team, including Darina, Rory and Rachel.  All of whom it was great to work with again.

“You stand out like a strawberry in a bowl of peas”

My grandmother always said this to me, and I remember often putting s strawberry in the bowl of peas I had just shelled with her to see what I looked like!

The first strawberries from our tunnel

The first strawberries from our tunnel

This week saw us picking the first of the strawberries from our tunnel.  Mind you the outside patch is coming on.  And before we know it we’ll be knee deep in strawberry jam/ soup/ cake/ buns/ tart….

And that’s a good thing.  But at this present moment in time, our strawberries are very precious, and a little “unique” in terms of colour and shape.  So for the two cakes I was making, I decided to buy some Irish Strawberries, (Keelings- not sponsored- promise!).

Strawberry cake prep

Strawberry cake prep

Both cakes were similar in flavour and composition,

Strawberry cake with cheesecake filling

Strawberry cake with cheesecake filling

except one had a chocolate top.

Strawberry Cake, with a ganache top

Strawberry Cake, with a ganache top

Get your orders in quick…..

Going... Going....

Going… Going….

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb- Forgotten Veg

Technically fruit I know, but how many people still have rhubarb growing in their back garden?

Rhubarb in situ

Rhubarb in situ

Rhubarb is a very very old plant.  It has been recorded for medicinal use in China since 2700BC, when it was classed as potent, and used for purgative effect!  Possibly introduced into Europe by Marco Polo, it has records of use in Italy in 1608.  Most of the rhubarb today is Rheum x hybridum.  And when introduced to Britain in the 14th Century, it cost more than opium, saffron and cinnamon.

Rhubarb stalks

Rhubarb stalks

Hannah Glasse is attributed with what is believed to be one of the first recipes for rhubarb in print in 1760, 13 years after her other famous ‘first’ – the recipe for Yorkshire Pudding. Her recipe in the Compleat Confectioner tells of taking the stalks of English rhubarb, cutting to the size of gooseberries, sweetening and making as you would a gooseberry tart.

Jam is a great use for rhubarb, especially towards the end of the season.  And very simple, but takes planning as the fruit is left overnight to macerate in the sugar.

Fruit and sugar ready to soak overnight

Fruit and sugar ready to soak overnight

and the next day it looks like this…

rhubarb jam in the making

rhubarb jam in the making

Once boiled and jarred, remember it’s best to boil the bejaysus out of it to the right consistency to keep the colour and flavour as good as possible.

Freshly made Rhubarb jam on Nigel's poolish bread

Freshly made Rhubarb jam on Nigel’s poolish bread

Another favourite, and old recipe is that for Rhubarb fool.  The phrase, “are you having the fool, fool?” is often bandied around the table.  In Ballymaloe there was much discussion on the contents of fool.  When we were growing up, it was stewed fruit added to equal quantities of custard and whipped cream.

Rhubarb Fool

Rhubarb Fool

But whatever way you have it, it’s delicious.

Tracking of the chicken- crossing the road

There’s a lot of talk here in Ireland, especially since the horse meat scandal (lucky escape there Missy).  And traceability has become the buzz word.

But we now LIKE to know where our food comes from, accurately, and in that regard legislation probably needs to catch up.  So I was disappointed to recently eat in a restaurant who’s philosophy is wholly behind local, and as far as possible organic, yet no mention of it anywhere.

A friend had been to this restaurant and had told me about it, so we decided to try it.  And were, to be honest, disappointed.  I had to ask one of the owners about the food, as there was nothing anywhere, in the menus, or on blackboards in the restaurant about the organic/ local policy.

Darina drummed into us, find your unique selling point, be it an amazing local supplier, or a special dish.  And SHOUT about it.  Make sure everyone knows.  Put the supplier names on the menus.  Tell everyone!

Now I understand the traceability can be taken to extremes-

But I LIKE to know where the beef came from, and the wine.  And I think it’s not too much to ask for it to be either visible in the restaurant or on the menus.  And, no I don’t mind that it’s not organic if it’s local.  I’d far prefer to have carrots from a local farmer then from a different country, just because they are organic.

Clear labelling of food we purchase is also an issue for me.  A quote from my guru Michael Pollan “Don’t eat anything that your Great Grandmother won;t recognise as food”, rings true, but I think we need to bring it a step further.  Don’t eat anything whose ingredients you can’t pronounce!

I think origin labelling for all produce should be compulsory, did you know that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found 20% of fish sold in Ireland  were not as labelled?

Enough Ranting!

Gary Larson's Chicken Cartoon

Gary Larson’s Chicken Cartoon

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: The Square Bistro

Twitter is really the best place to get restaurant recommendations.  And they are instant.  They probably exclude those establishments that don’t have a twitter presence.  But that’s their problem.

We were looking for recommendations for eating in Lisburn.  We were already heading to the new Uluru premises in Armagh, as we have been tweeting with Dean for quite some time through #SundayCookOff, and really enjoyed our meal there the last time.

He couldn’t recommend Stevie in the Square Bistro highly enough, as did other tweeps, so we booked a table.

As usual after running around mountains all day orienteering we were well and truly famished by the time we arrived.  So starters were a definite.

My feta cheese fritters with honey and truffle was delicate but each flavour was there, and the sweetness of the cheese was very good with the honey.

Starter of Honey and Truffle Feta Fritters

Starter of Honey and Truffle Feta Fritters

Due to the carnivore nature of our family, 3 out of 4 of us had steaks.  Nigel had the special, I had the flat iron, and Jordan the rib.

Simple but delicious

Simple but delicious- The Special

Robert had the duck, which was tender and nicely spiced.

The duck main course

The duck main course

Chocolate is always a winner on a dessert menu for me, so both Jordan and I had the fondant, as I am not a fan of ice cream, I always ask for cream instead, and it came exactly…

Chocolate Fondant

Chocolate Fondant

…as requested.  You’ve no idea how often it doesn’t come out that way.  The chocolate quality must have been good as the taste was so smooth.

Mind you, Robert’s sticky toffee pudding also looked like a winner.

Sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

This is a perfect place to go for an intimate bustling atmosphere, that ecshews the normal burger/ steak joint format.

 

 

 

 

 

My passion for cookbooks

As an avid reader of cookbooks, with a self confessed addiction, it is with GREAT excitement that I am volunteering at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest this week.  And I get to see Alice Waters.  How exciting is that??? Alice is classed as being one of the most influential food writers of the last 50 years.  Mega. I would love to replicate her model for education on food with children here. #wishlist

I know many people who collect cookbooks, some simply just to salivate over the pictures.  Yet some of the most famous have few pictures, if any at all.  Some of mine are serious- Michael Pollan for example, some are very light, and some are very precious- family heirlooms in fact.

The Family "Manuscript"

The Family “Manuscript” belonging to my husbands grandmother

The Silver Spoon, for example is classed as one of the greatest Italian cook books of all time, even if the timings are a little vague, and there is absolutely no pictorial help.  But it is encyclopaedic in it’s amount of recipes for every class and cut of ingredient.”  Alongside “The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating” by Marcella Hazan, they are my go to books for Italian cookery.

The Silver Spoon

The Silver Spoon

My mum in law gave me a Christmas present of the book “How to Eat”, by Nigella Lawson years ago.  I didn’t even open it for about about a year as I was convinced it was a diet book! But as a book to teach people how to cook basic recipes in a very relaxed manner, it succeeds.  Any book that utters “Before you even take off your coat put the chocolate on to melt” is a winner for me!

Some of my cookbooks

Some of my cookbooks

Even before I attended the Ballymaloe Course, I used both the Forbidden and Ballymaloe Cookery Course Books quite extensively, so they are on the frequent flyers list also.

Well used favourites

Well used favourites

I do have some cookbooks that I simply use for stroking and drooling over.  Pure coffee table books.  Mind you anyone goes near them with coffee is dead to me.

And I try and cook at least one or two recipes from each book, and most get a good few airings, some even end up on the favourite list.

Some I really want to cook from, but need about 3 days, an unlimited larder full of exotics, and an unlimited amount of equipment.  (The days I made Heston Blumenthals Mushroom mousse recipe will go down in the annals of longest cooking time to a pâte that lasted 30 seconds.)

"technically" in alphabetical order

“technically” in alphabetical order

The main collection lies in wait on both sides of the stairs.

Then the most recent- but awaiting a re-read section.

The "waiting to be read" section in my room

The “waiting to be read” section in my room

And then the section beside my bed.  I think when I get my ankle re done and I’m “resting”, I might rest and read, and maybe cook a little….

The "beside my bed" pile

The “beside my bed” pile

And as for my wishlist, there are some heavy hitters;

Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking, (1960)

Jane Grigson, Good Things

M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating (Vintage, 1976)

Richard Olney, Simple French Food

Anthony Bourdain, Typhoid Mary

Larry Zuckerman, The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World

Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Cooking 

Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery for Private Families, (1845)

Isabella Beeton, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, (1747)

 

Not necessarily in order of preference. Please. Pretty Please.  And for this weekend at least I’ll be happy as the proverbial pig.

 

 

 

Doughnuts, donuts and their derivatives.

There’s been a lot of talk at home about doughnuts, and churros, and other associated sugary covered yumminess.

And strictly speaking, making doughnuts midweek would be a violation of the “trying to be good during the week” rule, so I decided to try making donut muffins.

I had seen these in a BBC Good Food Magazine at some stage, and finally rooted it out.  Strawberry jam is the original filling, but I was making rhubarb jam anyway, so tried both types, and some chocolate filling too.  For comparison of course.

baking time

baking time- real butter of course

The “batter” is an easy mixture, and uses the typical dry to wet method typical of muffin making.

Jam and chocolate ganache filling

Jam and chocolate ganache filling

I think the secret here is to work quickly, the raising agent is bicarbonate of soda, and as this starts working immediately as a chemical reaction within the batter, the sooner you get them into the oven the better.  In the picture above I have 2/3 filled the greased muffin tin with the batter, then added the jam to half, and the chocolate ganache to the other six.

Rolling the "donuts" in sugar

Rolling the “donuts” in sugar

Once out of the oven, I carefully rolled them in more sugar.  Not for the faint hearted I know.

The donut muffins

The donut muffins

Although the jam sank a little, and they really are not the same as the yeasty, deep fried doughnut that we all know and love.  They were pretty tasty, and disappeared quickly at teatime.

The finished do-ffin

The finished do-ffin

And as they say- everything in moderation…

 

Further Adventures in Avocados

I love avocados.  The Hass ones are really the best, and like pears, the optimum ripeness time frame is often 30 seconds.  It is the most cultivated type of avocado in California, and New Zealand.

Avocados have many health benefits

Avocados have many health benefits

Avocados are great sources of Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamins C and E.  When you open an avocado you’ll notice the lovely flesh slightly yellow in the centre, turning darker green towards the skin.  This dark green flesh is high in carotenoids.

Avocado goodness

Avocado goodness

Carotenoids are antioxidants that scientists have used to successfully fight cancer in a laboratory. We don’t know yet whether actually eating an avocado would reap any similar benefits. Also your body’s ability to absorb carotenoids depends in part on the presence of dietary fat, like the loads of healthy mono-unsaturated fats in avocados. So I’m willing to take the chance on this.

Avocado and spinach smoothie

Avocado and spinach smoothie

One of the issues facing cultivation of avocados at the moment is a fungus called laurel wilt, spread by a little bug called the ambrosia bug.  (Have a search under the #savetheguac).  Avocado tress are related to laurel, and once infected the tree can die in as little as six weeks.  The fight against this fungus has been taken to a new level with drones and sniffer dogs being used to identify trees that appear outwardly asymptomatic.  So enjoy them while you can.

One of our favourite starters using avocado is simply to melt some butter and add some crushed garlic to this, then split an avocado, remove the stone, pour some of the melted garlicky butter, add grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Voilà.

A little rough and ready

A little rough and ready

What’s your favourite avocado recipe? Sushi? Guacamole? Or just eaten with some black pepper and a spoon?

 

 

 

It’s been a while- Hodson Bay Hotel

I was trying to work out as I drove up from Waterford when I was last in the Hodson Bay Hotel.  I think it was about 1990.  The hotel I was working in at the time had just received it’s ISO certification, and as a thank you they brought us to the Hodson for the day.

We didn’t stay on that occasion, and from the website it looked like there had been a few changes.

Lough Ree

Lough Ree

The hotel is situated right beside the lake.  And on a day like the one I was there for, really beautiful.  There is ample car parking close to reception which was lovely.  I was staying the night as was attending a conference in the hotel at 8 the following morning, and the thoughts of a 3 hour drive at 5am didn’t appeal to me.

I was put in a “retreat” room.  It was so full of light, and the personal touch made me feel very welcome.

The Welcome Card

The Welcome Card

As I arrived quite late, I booked dinner in the restaurant straight away.  There are a number of dining options, but the menu looked lovely and seasonal in the L’Escale.  After a very quick freshen up, I arrived by myself down to the restaurant.  The staff were so nice, and I asked for wine recommendations with the meal, as I had been disappointed to miss the complimentary wine tasting that the hotel runs for guests.

I started with the wild mushroom risotto, which was quite a large portion, but a lovely flavour.  Even if the parmesan crisp wasn’t quite crispy.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Next was the recommended Loin of Venison, another rich dish, but went beautifully with the recommended wine, and now that I understand what it means to have single grape, and single estate on the bottle, I enjoy it even more!

Tuesday 21 April 2015 020

The dessert choices looked very appealing, with multi layers of texture and tastes, and it was quite a difficult decision.  I went with the rhubarb composition, as I felt it was the most seasonal.

The Rhubarb Composition

The Rhubarb Composition

The three layers of macaroon were the star attraction, I think the fruit on the top of the mousse was un-necessary, as there was enough with the rhubarb.  I think a little simplification would have heightened the dish.

The wine accompaniment was a great success, however.

Dessert Wine

Dessert Wine

The sleep quality was helped by the quiet room, and for someone who doesn’t generally sleep well away from home, I had a good nights rest.

Positives:

  • The Restaurant Staff are very professional and friendly, as was the Duty Manager on that night, who very professionally dealt with a small issue in the room
  • The Room was modern, airy, with incredible views of the lough.
  • The menu in the main restaurant was very reasonably priced both for wine and food, with good choices, and food both tasty and well presented.

And the most important positive for me? The social media person made the stay for me exceptional and personal.  So often people use twitter to complain and moan, or businesses use it to purely sell.  The twitter account for the Hodson Bay hotel makes the brand accessible and customer focused.  Stand up, take a bow @Hodsonbayhotel I’ll be back ,and the family are insisting on coming with me!