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.

The Easiest Meringue Recipe in the world

People are often afraid of making meringue.  I find it a super dessert to make in advance.  A good friend of mine, Emily, had told me about a Rachel Allen recipe that basically just flung everything together and whisked the bejasus out of it. And I often make meringue the “meringue girls” way too.  But this recipe is specifically for pavlova.  And works every time.

MeringueI always use my stainless steel kenwood bowl for this job.  I’ve never made it by hand but can’t imagine it would be easy, unless you’ve popeye arms. Meringue

The secret is to put everything in the bowl, with some hot water, I think the hot water is almost the equivalent to making meringue the Italian way. Then it’s whipped on high for 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are holding their shape.
MeringueI simply spread this onto a large, lined baking tray and spread into some sort of shape. If I’m making a large one I’ll make it square as it’s easier to portion, but this was just the usual family dinner, so I made a circle (ish)   Meringue
The other secret is the oven setting.  Although Rachel says you can use a fan oven, this recipe works best I feel when using the conventional one, as she suggests.  You simply heat the oven, on conventional, to 2000C, then simply switch it off when you put the tray into the oven to bake.  This means that you can make it last thing at night and simply walk away.  Mind you, be careful not to come down in the morning to turn the oven on again before taking the masterpiece out!

MeringueThe last thing to add is the topping.  Rachel suggests Mango and crystallised ginger.  I don’t always have a ripe mango to hand- who does?- so I go with a mixture of what fruit I have in the fridge.  And as this was a special dessert, I melted some chocolate to spoon over the assembled dish. Meringue

My 30 day challenge- Day 22

So near and yet so far.  For various reasons, mostly because after all the stress of the last year, and because food blogging is bad for your waistline…. I decided to give myself an exercise challenge.  Take 30 minutes exercise a day outside of the normal dog walking/ horse riding/ farm checking routine.

running

So the initial plan was to try to run most days.  But time is always an issue in our house, between the day job, the baking and the family commitments.  That meant the only way to fit it in during the week was by getting up a half hour earlier.

I love Snapchat (j3n1p) and love seeing the snaps of @healthyfitbella getting up early for her spinning classes. She said one of the only ways she can get up and get out the door so early is by getting her gym gear and leaving it right beside the bed, laid out.  And this is what I do too.  No excuses like not finding socks.  And at that time of the morning (I go at 06.30) my brain hasn’t kicked in yet, so the internal arguments only 0ccur when my runners are on me.

30 Day Challenge

30 Day Challenge

Days 1 to 10 were a breeze. I went away day 14 for a mini mini break with some friends so those days were a struggle as I was so tired.  Day 17 I felt I was finally starting to get some pace, mind you that was the day I really was feeling rotten and every step on the way out was a struggle.  But I try when running to concentrate on the moment, not on the bend ahead or on the finish line.  Just the moment.  And really it’s about the only time I do this.
Untitled

My better half is also doing the challenge with me, but is a natural runner.  Just seeing him lope along makes me a bit* green with envy.  As I go nowhere fast.  Sure it’s the taking part that matters, isn’t it??

So what now for the next 8 days? And after that?  Well, we’ll see.  For now I’m just living in the moment.

The Aldi Pizza Oven- A Success!

Pizza Oven

The Aldi Pizza Oven

The Pizza Oven. I know, I know… EVERYONE has one.  But that’s ok.  I’m not ashamed of the fact that I think it’s a fantastic addition to our garden.  Probely helped by the fact that since we purchased it, the sun has been shining non stop.  We love pizza in our house.  It’s a real favourite, and to celebrate the new oven we were going with a sourdough pizza base, due to “Sabina” being in such good form and all…

Sabina the starter

Sabina the starter

 

Sourdough Pizza  Recipe:

500g strong White Flour

360g room temperature water

150g sourdough starter

10g salt Method:

Mix the flour and water in your mixer slowly for about 2 minutes.  Leave this, covered for 30 minutes.  You are almost making a starter for your starter! Then add the starter to this, and start mixing slowly.

This needs to be mixed using a dough hook for about 5 minutes.  At some stage towards the end slowly add the salt. You can do all this by hand, but I prefer the mixer, leaves me more energy and time to devote to toppings. Finish the dough by hand, then pop this back into the bowl.  Cover and leave to sit in a cool place until doubled in size.

Proving Dough

Proving Dough

This then needs to be split into balls for rolling into the bases. We had added some einkhorn flour to the dough (reducing the amount of strong white used) as I love ancient grains and use them as much as I can.

Pizza Dough

Ready for rolling

At this stage it’s all systems go.  Everyone in our house is in charge of their own toppings, I usually have the following available:

Roasted and thinly sliced duck breast

Red onion

A couple of different types of cheese

Homemade Passata

Chorizo

Ham

Mushrooms

Spinach

Eggs

The list is sometimes endless- but all are out on the counter ready to roll.

We discovered the secret to lighting the pizza oven and getting it to the hot temperature required was good quality charcoal, and not rushing it.    

Pizza

Duck, ham, mozzarella and spinach

And although only one pizza can cook at a time, everyone usually shares- and with a big bowl of salad floating around, it makes for a great evening.

Pizza

Spinach, Egg and Pesto Pizza

But I like mine with a cold glass of something white… it was just fabulous.

Pizza

Buckwheat Chocolate Biscuit Recipe

When I was in LitFest, I helped out with the Claire Ptak demo, her of The Violet Cakes Fame.  She bakes will real fiinesse.  One of the recipes I had to cook of hers was for a chocolate covered digestive biscuit made from dark rye flour.  I decided to make these for guests as a treat with a cuppa, and gluten free was the order of the day.

As I mentioned the original recipe uses rye flour, and I simply swapped this for buckwheat flour. Buckwheat isn’t actually wheat based at all. It is not commonly used in Ireland, but very common on the continent. With baking, the gluten is the key to light and fluffy textured end product, but you don’t essentially want that texture in a biscuit.  So we were already on a winner.

It’s high in fibre, and as it is not very processed also retains it’s mineral and vitamin content. It’s not a grass but related to sorrel and rhubarb! First cultivated in Asia in 6000BC, it does not do well in nitrogen rich soil, which is possibly why it’s cultivation died out. As more and more farmers added fertilizers to their ground.

Buckwheat Biscuits

Buckwheat Biscuits

Once the dough is made, it gets rolled straight away, cut into digestive sized biscuits. I used the thin end of a chopstick to get the obligatory holes.  Claire had been very specific about this, and it really finishes the biscuits off properly.

The next essential stage is to chill the biscuits, for a minimum of 30 minutes in the fridge. And longer if you can.  I was under a little bit of time pressure so they puffed up a little while cooking but not enough to affect the flavour!

When they’ve cooled on the tray for 10 minutes, remove to a wire rack and melt some chocolate.  I dipped the cooled biscuits in this, by tilting the bowl and dipping half the biscuit in.  I thought at this stage to put them back on the prepared tin, as I didn’t want the drying chocolate to meld onto the wire rack.  A little sea salt on some finished them off nicely. And if you can wait around long enough for the chocolate to dry- be my guest.  We couldn’t. 

Buckwheat Biscuits

Holidays without pets

Taking holidays without your pets can be a nightmare. It’s more stressful then you think.  It’s nearly like organising a whole troop of children. It’s nearly harder than planning the holiday.

The cats will probably be annoyed, but not too upset.  Percy only really thinks in small doses. So might not notice until we come back.  And he’s often quite happy to see us, as knows we’ll compensate for our unknown absence with lots of treats and cuddles.  Plus it means he can sneak up to sleep on our bed again during the day.

Percy

Percy- Do not Disturb

Nicky is the most nervous cat we’ve ever had.  But does prefer the life outside. So any absence at all might not be noticed.  He’s not one to sit on my knee, and only really sits inside with his “brother” on the odd occasion.

Cats

Nicky with the BIG paws

Dogs are always tricky.  Aoire is still so young, I wouldn’t want to leave her hanging around all day with just someone feeding her in the evening. So a kennels is required.  Mind you she hasn’t been to one yet.  And really she’s only ever been off the farm to go to the vet to get spayed, and her stitches re-checked.  That alone was a nightmare. Traffic was so scary, and loud.  Mind you, she’s getting better with other dogs, as we have so many on the farm she’s getting use to different animals being around her.  Strange people oddly enough, are not a problem.  It’s nearly the opposite, we could go off on holidays and all someone would need to do is drive up and open the car door and she’d shower them with kisses.  And probably go on holidays with them.  Thank goodness we have Benny to protect us, you wouldn’t even roll down the window of the car!

Wednesday 04 November 2015 020

Benny and Charlie- the two muskateers

Eddie the donkey will also be fine.  He lives, most of the time, with his “Herd” the deer.  He actually think she is a deer, adn whenever the need arises to move him from the deer to beside the ponies, he looks with almost disbelief at them- hollering day and night for his “girls”.  

Eddie the donkey looking forward to his holidays

Eddie the donkey and his deer

And just like getting passports and plane tickets.  Pets also need the documentation.  Passports are legally required for all equines.  They are not even allowed off the farm without them.  Recently we had to replace Jessie’s one (NO idea where it went), it was a costly and time consuming process, involving vets, complicated forms, and registered post.  Cats/ dogs don’t need passsports, but they do need to be vaccinated.  And dogs need to be microchipped. Since March 2016 this has been a legal requirement.  The chips are about the size of a grain of sand and are implanted just below the skin. The details of the implant are recorded against the owners name.  Very handy is fido goes missing while you are holidaying with or without him. So all in all it might be easier to stay at home.  But then- we’d miss the over enthusiastic  welcome back that only our pets can give….

 

Old Fashioned Pretzel Recipe

To get the authentic pretzel taste, you need a bit of science. Bicarbonate of Soda is a strange ingredient.  It tastes awful. And needs to be used with the utmost accuracy.  And this is where I put my science head on.  It’s an alkali.  We cook with acid alot- lemon, vinegar, even citric acid. But the only alkali I ever remember using is bicarb.  And even all we do with it is add it with an acid to make bubbles in bread or pancakes…. Irish Soda Bread being the main one I use.

But for this recipe you need to bake it.  The baking encourages the flavour and this is then imparted onto the pretzel.  It’s all very scientific involving protons and hydoxls.  but we all know the flavour- think corn tortillas, and Oreo biscuits. “Lye” would have been used traditionally, but is not the safest of ingredients, and quite hard to come by.  Without the step of submersing the dough in the soda water, the result is more a bagel than a pretzel.

My Soft Pretzel Recipe

Ingredients

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

10g Fresh Yeast

25g dark brown muscovado sugar

50g butter, melted

Sunflower oil, for greasing

2 Tablespoons of Baked* Bicarbonate of Soda

1 large Egg, lightly beaten, for glazing

flaked sea salt, to serve

Method

*First you need to bake the Bread Soda!

Pour about half a pack of bicarbonate of soda onto a foil-lined baking tray and bake at 1000C for 1 hour.  Transfer this to an airtight container, label! and use to make the pretzels.

Pretzel Prep

Mixing the flour, salt, sugar and yeast

Put the flour, yeast, sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in your mixing bowl and mix together to combine. In a large jug, mix together 300ml lukewarm water and the melted butter. Add this to the flour mixture and combine together to form a rough dough.  Leave to rest for 5 minutes. Knead for about 5 minutes in the mixer or until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and set aside until doubled in size, about one hour. Once risen, divide into 8 equal pieces.  Using your hands, roll each piece into a long rope about 60cm long. To form into pretzels, lay the rope in a U-shape with the curve pointing towards you. Take the two ends and cross them over.

 Pretzels   PretzelsPretzels

Take the ends, lift them backwards and press them into the curve of the U-shape.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

Pretzels

Preheat oven to 180oC.

Carefully place the pretzels on a baking tray lined with parchment and lightly greased with oil. Cover lightly with oiled cling film. Set aside for about 20 mins until puffy.

Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water, bring to the boil, add the baked bicarbonate of soda, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. One at a time, carefully lift the pretzels into the pan and cook for 20 secs per side. The pretzels will rise to the surface; flip with a slotted spoon.

Use the spoon to gently lift the pretzels from the pan and return them to the baking tray. Once they have all been cooked in the water, lightly brush with the egg and sprinkle with flaked sea salt.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 mins or until a rich, dark brown. Allow to cool on the baking tray for 10 mins, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Best served on the day made but can be frozen for up to 1 month.
Pretzels
I think the next time, I’ll roll of the dough and cut it into the strips, this might make the dough smoother, and less stretched.  They tasted really great, too great I think, as I want to make them again at the weekend.  But only to perfect the shaping you understand 😉

The perfect time to blog…

As I sit here outside on a really fabulous day, himself said why don’t you blog now? The sun isn’t shining on my laptop, the kids are busy studying (God Bless Exam Time), and I’m not quite ready to start the baking I’ve planned for today. The weather always helps put me in a good mood, and it’s a real treat to be able to sit outside and type, without worrying about catching pneumonia, or being washed away.
Our House

Of course the downside to blogging outside is the internet connection.  It also seems to be as fickle as the weather. I need to remember not to get carried away, to save my work regularly and not to even dream of adding pictures to the posts until it’s the dead of night, a blue moon and the cow is leaning against the telephone pole somewhere in Waterford. I don’t really think, for me, that there is a perfect time to blog.  I do quite a bit on Mondays, but that’s because Monday evenings are sometimes quiet around here for activities. And I tend to write and cook after seeing a new ingredient that’s in season or if I’ve a demo to prepare for. (Save work!!)  

Tea time while updating my blog

Tea time while updating my blog

The next question is WHY do I write? Probably because I don’t get all my words out during the day.  And I’m being serious, so, my lovely blog followers, you are quite lucky as really, my blogposts could be a LOT longer.  But a little like me, I think shorter is better!

And just like that, the internet dies.  The “We can’t connect you to the internet” blue screen flashes, and you wonder when you did last save, and that AGAIN you should have CTRL & C your work before you tried to save. But then you look around, at both the surroundings and the company.  And would I really swap it for a room with a 4G connection and an internet highway with the speed of light? No, definitely not.

So not only is it the perfect time, it’s the perfect place to blog aswell.
Our House

Tikka Salmon Recipe

We use to eat alot of Indian food when we lived in Cork.  And Chicken Tikka Masala is right up there on my favourite foods list.  I make the Jamie Oliver paste and use it in all kinds of dishes, from marinading a whole chicken to roast in it, to tossing it through a little pasta! I am VERY lucky to have a supply of fresh spices from a relative in Turkey.

Tikka Salmon 

Tikka Salmon Recipe

Ingredients 1 tablespoon olive oil 4 salmon fillets 150ml natural yoghurt 1 large onion 2 tablespoons of tikka paste 200g Basmati Rice 1 teaspoon turmeric Tikka Paste (Jamie Oliver): 2 cloves Garlic, peeled Approx 3 cm Root Ginger, peeled 1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper 1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika 2 Teaspoons Garam Masala 1/2 Teaspoon Salt 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 2 Tablespoons Tomato Puree 2 Fresh Chillies Fresh Coriander 1 Tablespoon Desiccated Coconut if you have it! 2 Tablespoons Ground Almonds 1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds 1 Teaspoon Coriander Seeds Method: First make the paste: Heat all the seeds on a dry frying pan until they start to give off their aroma.  Remove immediately to the grinder or liquidizer so they do not burn.  Add the rest of the ingredients and whizz the bejasus out of it.  Store in a jar, covered with a layer of oil.

Tikka Paste

Looks a little odd, but takes your breathe away!

Combine 1 tablespoon of the curry paste with 100ml of the yoghurt. Season the salmon and smear the yoghurt paste all over the fillets, then set aside.  You can do this step in the morning and refrigerate until required.

Tikka Salmon 

At this stage it’s time to decide what to have it with.  In the winter/ colder months some paella type rice is a good idea, as you can sit the salmon fillet on top and it steams away nicely until both are ready.  But with the weather so good at the moment, it had to be a barbecue. I made a cous cous side by simply putting some cous cous into a pyrex jug and adding boiling water, some saffron and some raisins. I served some tomatoes on the side. Salmon Tikka
It got the definite thumbs up, and we really enjoyed it cold the next day too. The spices add just the right amount of heat, and the yoghurt stops it drying out.

Afternoon Tea Part 2- the posh kind!

And we’re back to tea. But the posh nosh one this time.  I think you have to have a balance of sweet and savoury.  And people usually expect a sandwich, a scone and some cake.  The combination and quantities are up to you.

Tea Menu:

A selection of open sandwiches, with a variety of toppings on a sourdough made from oak smoked flour

Parma ham and Rocket Macaron

Fruit Scone with Cream and Raspberry Jam

Pistachio and Rose Friands

Strawberry Meringues

and of course…. some Darjeeling Tea

Afternoon Tea

Some open sandwiches to start things off

I had decided to be a little adventurous with my second savoury option.  Macaron filled with parma ham, mascarpone cream and some rocket leaves.  The macaron could have been better, they tasted fine but lacked the obligatory “foot”.  So more practice is needed.  But they were really delicious.

Savoury Macaron

Savoury Macaron

My better half is the scone maker in our house, and my favourite is fruit.  Although herself prefers the chocolate ones, and Nigel likes the cherry.  Each to his own! But they have to be served with cream and some sort of jam.  I had made some raspberry jam last week so went with that.

Afternoon Tea Scones

Afternoon Tea Scones

And then the bit that everyone is dying for- the sweet stuff.  Of course as strawberries are bang in season, and meringues are just so good.  There’s nothing nicer. And they can be made in advance adn stored in a tin.  I was talking to a lady recently and she spoke of freezing her meringues when cooked.  I had never heard of this- and although I do freeze any extra egg whites, I have never actually frozen the meringue once it’s made.  

Strawberry and Cream Meringue Nests

Strawberry and Cream Meringue Nests

So the other little adventure was Pistachio Financiers.  OMG.  A revelation.  How I did not eat them all is beyond me. They are so light and easy to eat.  They are not messy, and can be finished off in a couple of dainty bites.  I will most definitely be making these again!  

Afternoon Tea

Pistachio Financiers


Where in the world am I?

I was sitting in my jeep outside somewhere in Dublin.  And my eldest remarked that we could have been just about anywhere.  He listed off all the places that he’s been in the world that were just the same.  And -yes- he’s privileged to have travelled.  Growing up we did not have the means to travel.  And maybe people didn’t really travel as much.  Summer holidays were spent with either of my Grans, or my godmother.  Just mucking about.  She liked to meet her friends down at the beach in Sandycove, and that was travel. I never missed it.

Where in the world is this?

Where in the world is this?

The only school trip I took was in fourth year to Russia.  And that was an eye opener.  It was in the 80’s.  Most Russians had never even seen someone from the West.  I found the trip quite sad, we saw people living in very cramped conditions, with little or no money.  The whole aspect was one of greyness.  This was starkly contrasted to the Churches we visited, full of gold icons.  In fact, I never want to see another icon again.  It was also my first experience of a continental bathroom, i.e. a hole in the floor.  Now, THAT was an eye opener.

On top of the World

On top of the World

Anyway, I digress, which incidentally is what they say NOT to do in a blogpost.

Robert had a point, these days I would think most cities and countries in the Western world at any rate, have increased similarities.  Ring roads around cities, industrial areas, and more recently green areas.  As globally the world is now a smaller place, it’s easier for us to “copy” other cultures, other cities, other countries.

And sometimes it’s not a bad thing. For the world to be a smaller and more accessible place.  It makes it easier to keep in contact with loved ones. And be aware of issues that we might be able to help with.

But for the moment.  I am here.  And happy.
Our House