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.

Moussaka. Plain and Simple.

The dish moussaka means many things to many people.  In fact the word itself is derived from an Arabic word meaning “chilled”.

The Finished Moussaka

The Finished Moussaka

Most versions, mine included, are based on aubergine layers with tomato and minced meat.  And the Greek dish is now most popular with a béchamel sauce on top, like a savoury custard.

Although a little time consuming, I really enjoy making it.  I start by sautéeing the onions very gently until opaque, adding the tomatoes (tinned unless very ripe- and in season), and cooking slowly with some thyme until slightly thick and very tasty.  At the same time I peel some potatoes and cook them in plenty of boiling salty water until just cooked.  Then slice them intl 5mm slices.

onions for dicing

onions for dicing

Then I fry slices of aubergine in a hot pan with lots of good quality olive oil until well cooked and golden.  This step is very important as they are not nice if not cooked through.

Aubergines on the pan

Aubergines on the pan

When the aubergines are cooked I use the same pan to cook the mince, ensuring I crumble the meat strands into the hot pan very carefully, to make sure it is cooked thoroughly and not in clumps.  Slowly slowly is the way to go way with this.  The demo in Ballymaloe where Rory showed us how to make the best ragu sauce, was where I picked up this technique.  Then add the meat to the tomato sauce.

Ragu sauce combined.

Ragu sauce combined.

Last but not least is the enriched béchamel sauce; melted butter, added equal volume of flour when the butter is foaming.  Once the flour has cooked out, I add the milk slowly and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until it has bubbled gently for a couple of minutes.  Once I’ve seasoned the sauce, I stir in 2 egg yolks and a handful of grated Gruyère.

Moussaka prep

Moussaka prep

I put a layer of potatoes on the bottom of a deep oven proof dish.  Then some béchamel sauce, next comes the ragu, a final layer of potatoes and finally the aubergines.  This is then covered with the rest of the enriched sauce, and put in a hot oven until golden brown on top and bubbling.

Moussaka going into the oven

Moussaka going into the oven

A green salad is enough accompaniment to this, with a glass of Beaujolais.

The main course was quite time consuming, so for dessert I whipped up some cream, crushed meringue into it, folded in 2 sliced bananas and a couple of tablespoons of butterscotch sauce that I had in the fridge.

Meringue dessert

Meringue dessert

 

The Saddle Sagas

Missy has finally come around to talking to me again after the 12 week absence.  Not that she was just thrown in a field or anything.  She was in the equivalent of a 5 star hotel.  And being VERY well looked after.  Thank you to my trainer for minding her, leaving her was so hard.

Missy (and I)

Missy (and I)

We can’t do very much at the moment as I’m waiting on an MRI for my knee and my ankle, which is scheduled for next week, but I can still ride, even if its just for a short time.

Ready steady?

Ready steady?

At this time of the year it’s not hardship at all.  The yard is in a beautiful location, the sea is sparkling in the distance, and the Comeraghs are truly beautiful.

The View to the Comeraghs

The View to the Comeraghs

And today, while noone else but me was riding.  She was a saint.  We rode in perfect partnership. It’s actually quite special. And powerful in an almost spiritual way.  Knowing that she could hurt me in an instant.  But trusting that she never will.

And the reward.

And the reward.

 

 

Comfort Food- Back to School

The start of the week is hard at the best of times, but harder still after two weeks off school.  So I decided to make a chicken and ham pie for dinner to cheer everyone up.  And as the weather is nice, serve it with a green salad, and home-made wild garlic pesto.

Chicken with carrots, onions, potatoes and thyme

Chicken with carrots, onions, potatoes and thyme

I skinned the chicken but left it on the bone for flavour.  The skin I cooked separately until extra crispy to add texture to the finished dish.

Chicken skin ready for roasting in a hot oven

Chicken skin ready for roasting in a hot oven

The pesto was simply a matter of blending, although it was not made to any specific recipe, and quite strong!

Pinenuts, freshly grated parmesan, and wild garlic

Pinenuts, freshly grated parmesan, and wild garlic

I used our new nutribullet, reasonably successfully, it needed quite a few scrapes and blends, and I will probably revert to the kenwood.

Ready for blitzing

Ready for blitzing

And the finished product…

The finished pesto

The finished pesto

Once the chicken had been poached with the vegetables in the stock, I took them out and reduced the cooking liquor, adding some roux to thicken and some milk.  This was all then poured over the chicken, cooked ham and vegetables, and covered with the pastry, and cooked until golden.

Chicken and Ham pie with salad and wild garlic pesto

Chicken and Ham pie with salad and wild garlic pesto, and a side of crispy chicken skin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our time in the Lake District

Never having been to the Lake District before, we were open to where we were going to visit, and eat! Friends of ours had travelled to the Lakes last year and had recommended a number of villages, and it is also home to a number of significant Quaker historic sites that we wanted to see.

Lake Windermere

Lake Windermere

The weather was really beautiful which made the journey all the more pleasurable.  We were based in Water Yeat, and travelled to Windermere by ferry from the Hawkshead side.  Due to the lack of wifi anywhere within a hundred mile radius of where we were staying, I was anxious to get a blog post or two up, and we happened upon a gorgeous little cafe on one of the streets in Windermere.

Brambles Tea shop in Windermere

Brambles Tea shop in Windermere

I had tea and a slice of coffee cake, and the kids had ice cream, really good ice cream called thunder and lightening, not that I can remember what was in it except chocolate and honeycomb.  And of course, they had really fast wifi.

 

Ice Cream from Brambles in Windermere

Ice Cream from Brambles in Windermere

From Windemere we travelled south to Kendall, where the Meeting House houses a museum.  The Quaker Tapestry panels are shown here with an interactive guide.

The Meeting House in Kendal

The Meeting House in Kendal

It was quite humbling to read all the panels of how early Quakers survived, and tried to improve lives of so many around them and around the world, both in teaching,

Jordan pointing out Newtown on the Quaker Tapestry

Jordan pointing out Newtown on the Quaker Tapestry

and in medicine and the sciences.

Robert with the Botanists plate

Robert with the Botanists plate

It really made me feel I should be doing more! Some of these Scientists and women especially struggled for their cause against huge odds.  We left Kendal and travelled to Firbank Fell to see where George Fox spoke to over 1000 people in 1652.

Firbank Fell.

The view from the road at Firbank Fell.

The Lake District is wonderful for walking, eating and staying.  And it is easy to get to from Ireland.  There are so many pubs and cafes in the area that you’ll certainly never starve.  One of the nights we travelled to Cartmel, where Simon Rogan has his empire.  We were not really in the position to eat there having not booked (!) but in a pub in the same village.  Next time Simon, next time.

There were many other gorgeous looking little shops in Cartmel, the home, allegedly of the sticky toffee pudding. There was a very interesting looking micro brewery, and a fabulous looking cheese shop which I was gutted to not be able to visit as it was shut :(

Stitchelton cheese in Cartmel

Stichelton cheese in Cartmel (note the lovely legs!!)

So we have a number of reasons to return.  And we will.  Definately.

 

 

 

Food for travel

We headed to the Lakelands in the UK last week to attend the JK2015 festival of orienteering.

JK2015

Although due to injury I will not be running, I am greatly looking forward to a walk in the woods, and a little sight seeing.

The predicament with self catering is that you are never sure what cooking facilities there will be.  It SAYS that there’s a gas cooker and hob.  Gas hob good, gas cooker- not so sure!

So to make sure we are fully fuelled for our journey, Nigel and I have spent some time doing cook ahead, that goes into the freezer and brought out the morning we are heading to the ferry.

Chelsea buns were first,

Chelsea Buns

Chelsea Buns

They were a little big, and slightly misshapen, but tasted great.

Bread rolls are great too, as they can be made into sandwiches and also just kept for munching.

Rolls to make into handy size sandwiches

Rolls to make into handy size sandwiches

As we were in “bun” mode, some cherry buns were added to the mix,

Cherry Buns

Cherry Buns

Also a little big, and therefore misshapen, they tasted moreish and were perfect with a cup of tea.

I had jointed some chickens and made Darina’s Shanagarry Chicken Casserole, which we took out of the freezer at the last minute and brought in its Le Creuset casserole dish. I wrapped it very tightly with clingfilm and it went in the bag with the other cold items.  This meant that by the time we got to the chalet, tired and hungry, it just needed to be popped in a hot oven.  I mashed some potatoes, put salad into a bowl, and voila- a meal fit for 4 very hungry orienteers.  As a result no photo was taken, we were too hungry, and noone likes a photo of an empty plate.

Having the casserole dish was great too, as we used it several times throughout the couple of days, either for roasting, or making rice pudding.

As it was Nigel’s birthday while we were away, we have postponed a “happy birthday cake” until home and with my cake tins etc, but Nigel… this is for you!

Saturday 11 April 2015 082

I reckon I’m 25!

 

Spring has well and truly sprung

Even though I have been incredibly lucky to spend three months living the dream on the Ballymaloe Farm, I very much appreciate living on our farm.  At this time of year especially.  All the teachers were so passionate about using locally grown ingredients that I feel its only right to continue my studies in our own garden, this time I was foraging from veggie garden!

 

Looking over the leeks and broccoli

Looking over the leeks and broccoli

As we were hanging out washing on Alan’s line I decided to pick some veggies for dinner and our smoothies.  As the bees have once again taken up residence on the deck, our washing line will have to be relocated, and we haven’t decided where to yet.

 

Veggie picking

Veggie picking

The sea kale is nearly ready under it’s terracotta cap, and the rhubarb is coming up nicely, lovely pink flesh.  This meant we had to postpone the -no puddings during the week – rule, and use the rhubarb to make a triple layered meringue cake.

Rose Blushed Rhubarb

Rose Blushed Rhubarb

I love to gently poach it in lots of caster sugar, and the tiniest spoon of water.

Rhubarb ready for poaching

Rhubarb ready for poaching

Meringue was the chariot of choice for the rhubarb, as I was using the yolks to make carbonara for dinner.

Sea Kale hiding under the terracotta

Sea Kale hiding under the terracotta

The nutribullet is working out well, and when I have perfected a few more smoothies I’ll share my favourites, and it is a great way of injecting the family with fresh veg in seconds.  The purple sprouting broccoli is so addictive, at this time of year I serve it with everything!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The carbonara was really good, and is a firm family favourite, and is so quick.

Messy, but delicious

Messy, but delicious

And then dessert, don’t mind if I do.

Triple layered rhubarb meringue cake

Triple layered rhubarb meringue cake

 

 

 

 

 

The JK Experience

This is our 4th JK, we started in Scotland, moved to Reading, then visited Wales, and this time, we are in the Lake District.  One of the Junior Squad parents had found a caravan park within easy driving distance to the three events.  Crake Valley Holiday park is just beside Coniston Water, and although there isn’t exactly a lake view, the trees around us are what we are use to, and the peace is welcome.

Day 1 was the sprint event in Lancaster University.  I think at this stage we are getting use to sprints, and I actually enjoy them, although due to injury, forcing yourself to walk around is difficult!  But I only broke into a gentle jog at the finish, and was delighted to have only made one small mistake.  All family members completed their respective course, with Robert running an especially good race.

Sprint Map

Sprint Map

Day 2 dawned sunny and hot, as we have come to expect with the JK, the first obstacle is the walk to the arena, the second is the walk to the start.  I remember going to my first start in Scotland, we had to climb a sheer rock face, and it definitely easier to come back down while orienteering through the forest than to get back down the way we had come.

Course 10, Day 2

Course 10, Day 2

I digress!  Getting into the field was better than we thought, outlander did her usual excellent job of getting us into the field.  The journey was a long, steep and muddy walk to the arena, through beautiful dells of wild daffodils and wild garlic, sometimes the smell was almost overpowering!  With wet feet, and slightly tired legs we deposited our gear and set off for the starts.  Our start had been written as a half hour walk, half on roads, have through forest, but turned out to be shorter- thankfully.

Crossing the river to the arena

Crossing the river to the arena

What I was not expecting were the viciously steep climbs and descents.  Scary stuff, reports of a number of dislocated shoulders and concussions did not surprise me.  Due to dodgy ankles and knees my ascents and descents were all calculated and painfully slow.  You also had to be very sure you were on the right track, you certainly didn’t want to go down to the bottom to discover that the control was at the top.  There were a lot of wandering orienteers out there.  But this year the atmosphere was more relaxed I felt, as it is a competition you are not encouraged to help others, but if someone looks lost and is quite obviously wandering aimlessly, I feel it does no real harm to help them locate.  It is supposed to be fun after all, and from experience I know that wandering around for hours lost is no fun at all.

I can honestly say travelling at a slower pace, and not worrying about tiredness helped my orienteering immensely.  It did mean I was close to being last, but other than struggling up and down for most of the course, I was happy with my navigation.  And once again we had family completion.

Day 3, was a little less of an effort to the start, which was a relief as my calves were a “tad” sore.  The arena was at the bottom of a hill, which we had to climb over first, and although it would have been nice to have our own tent, it was great to not have to carry it.  My jeep again played a complete blinder, many other cars and “jeeps” struggled quite a bit, my baby, was an absolute star.

Maps 001

The course, although longer, seemed to flow better, my number 5 was an epic struggle uphill, and took quite some time.  In essence, if you can’t use you compass then really today, and yesterday really would have been a struggle, or a baptism into contour orienteering.

A field of lonely daffodils

A field of lonely daffodils

And onto the relay… but that’s for another post. I definitely need to stretch.

 

 

I’ll take your keys please Sir…

We travelled to Wales through Holyhead this time, with Irish Ferries as always.  The ferry looked as if it had seen better days as we drove up to it.  I always get a cabin as I find being asleep before we even leave the port is the best way of overcoming my innate fear of boats, and my sea sickness.

Normally you just head up to reception and they give you a key card.  This time it was an actual key, and they required our car keys in exchange for an actual key for our cabin.  The cabin, however, was about twice as big as the usual one, so swings and roundabouts I suppose.

The sprint for the JK was being held in Lancaster University, and when we went looking for accommodation for the Thursday night, we decided it would be better to be close by, making the sprint morning easier and calmer.  Especially as we had a first year M18Elite, and a first year W14 in our party.

The Welcoming committee

The Welcoming committee

The drive was pretty uneventful, the landscape from the Angelsea Island, up along the coast of Wales was beautiful.  The drive took approximately 2 ½ hrs and the hotel was quite easy to find.  The reception was a little dated, as was the outside of the hotel, but our rooms? Really good.  And ultimately I think it’s better to have the room a bit nicer than the reception, where you don’t spend much time.  Don’t you think? Take note Double Tree Dublin!

One half of our bedroom

One half of our bedroom

We had already decided to eat there if there was space, and time, or else find somewhere close by so that both myself and Nigel could have a drink to start the holiday.

The bar was serving until 22.00hrs, so we unloaded our bags and then headed into the Sandeman bar.  The menu was local, with not too many choices.  Nigel made the best choice with the pressed pork belly, the portions were a good size, and although the bar staff seemed to specialise in disappearing, our server was polite, and after a while very chatty.  The bar was not busy, and at first I was quite upset at the lack of service.

Sausage and Mash

Sausage and Mash

Pork Belly

Pork Belly

 

 

The beer that Nigel chose was a local Blonde Ale, and I nearly, nearly decided to have a pint of it, but followed my heart and had a glass of an organic Chenin Blanc instead.  It was a good choice, and the wine was perfect.

The #Beerv'swine dilemma

The #Beerv’swine dilemma

We visited the pool in the morning, which to be honest was one of the more attractive features when we were booking.  It, like the rest of the hotel, was dated but clean.  It was quiet at that hour and the outdoor hot-tub was a hidden gem.

Although not I would have thought 4 star service, the room made up for it, and I would return if passing.

I’m not a pheasant plucker….

Or even a pheasant plucker’s son.  Thank goodness.  Week one in Ballymaloe we plucked game.  It is a thankless job.  Difficult, time consuming, and just a little icky.

My poor Pheasant

My poor Pheasant- Thankfully the picture is blurry

Even though we did our best, the poor bird looked a little worse for wear.  So when I decided on Pheasant for dinner last night, I wanted to give it as much love and attention as I could as it was so beautifully prepared.

Pheasant prep

Pheasant prep

And really, in essence, simple is best (Yes, Rory, I was listening).  So I seasoned with both salt and pepper, and rubbed a generous amount of good quality olive oil all over the skin.  A small drop of our honey was rubbed on the breast, and it went into a medium oven for 45 mins. I had put some beetroot into roast an hour previously, with some crushed garlic and thyme.  At this time of year it needs lots of love to make to shine as it’s getting a bit old.

Beetroot ready for roasting

Beetroot ready for roasting

But for fresh greens we had some purple sprouting broccoli that I had picked only an hour before it was cooked.  Without doubt this is one of my favourite vegetables.

The freshest of fresh brocolli

The freshest of fresh broccoli

Served with a simple salad, with foraged greens from our lane, it made for a delicious dinner, and was enjoyed by all.  A rather posh dinner for a Tuesday night, but what the hell.

Roasted Pheasant

Roasted Pheasant

 

 

A little goes a long way

Pennywort in the lane

Pennywort in the lane

This isn’t a blog about finishing my 12 weeks in Ballymaloe Cookery School.  It’s still a little raw for that. And it isn’t a blog about re-integrating myself back into my job, my home, my family and my friends.  As it’s just too soon.

Progress

Progress

It’s a blog about Spring, and learning and practicing.  It was still in the middle of Winter when I left for Cork, so it is so nice to be walking around looking at all of the Spring flowers in the daylight.

Some primroses

Some primroses

I have crystallised them , and will keep them for cakes later in the season.

The "bar Stool" job

The “bar Stool” job

It was great to go into the tunnel and see the broad beans my father in law planted a few weeks ago.  I love the first broad beans, with nothing but a little salt and olive oil crushed on some bread.

Broadbeans starting to flower

Broadbeans starting to flower

So this evening I took a kilo of blackcurrants out of the freezer and made a little taste of summer, a syrup so full of vitamin C and can nearly see all the colds and snots leaving the house in disgust.

My cauldron of blackcurrant goodness

My cauldron of blackcurrant goodness

The process is a little messy, but not as sticky as jam making.  I got 6 750ml bottles out of the blackcurrants, all ready to go to their new homes.

Blackcurrant Cordial ready for shipment.

Blackcurrant Cordial ready for shipment.

Let me know if you want a bottle?