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.

Waitressing- the whimsy of reflection

I “waitressed” myself through college.  It wasn’t an option.  I am old enough to have gone to college when fees meant fees.  Full bodied four figure sums handed over for an “education”.  Financially my parents weren’t in a position to pay fees for me, but helped out whenever they could with other expenses.  So through a fortuitous meeting with a friend while sweeping floors in Peter Marks for £30 a week, I landed myself an interview for a breakfast waitress in the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.

Waitressing is not glamorous, certainly not in this country.  My Dad, in his wisdom, bought me a pair of uber solid doc martin shoes to get me started.  It was a wise purchase.  You are on your feet from morning to evening.  I started on the breakfast shift, which will totally surprise anyone who knows me.  Mornings are not for me, ever.  Derry was the manager at the time, and showed me, and my other cohorts the ropes.  He came was an old school waiter, and showed us how to properly carry plates, clear tables, and keep the customers happy.  The menu wasn’t exactly complicated and I really enjoyed those first couple of months.

Friday 21 August 2015 025

Boiled Egg Anyone?

Then there was a shortage of staff for the “lunch”, and I was called up for a trial to the upstairs restaurant.  It was called Truffles at the time.  Noel Harmon was the manager, and Cathal the sommelier.  And there I stayed.  For years and years.  The odd time I was drafted to banqueting for service.  But Truffles was my home.

I learnt how to set a table, and more importantly clear a table. How to serve wine- how to taste wine!  My favourite skill to use was the table side cooking- we use to cook steak Diane, Crêpes suzette, Cherry Jubilee- and the big tip bringer- Flambéed Irish Coffee.  Our manager never refused a customer.  I think he probably gave me very good lessons in customer service.  So even if the kitchen was long closed, we’d still be able to serve food- garlic crab claws, steak and maybe the Irish Coffee for dessert.  We worked long hours, very long, and often I’d catch about 4 hours sleep before being up for the breakfast shift.  But that was what waitressing was all about.  Silver service is a skill that will stay with me forever.  

I cringe often when someone clears my table in a restaurant.  I am very close to getting up and showing them how- if only to make their life easier!!!

One of the funniest experiences I had was with one of the private functions I was in charge of.  The de Beers were having a private dinner.  The ladies all arrived DRIPPING in diamonds, and this small man shuffled in beside me in a cardigan and jeans, he offered to help me serve, and I chatted away to him for ages.  It was only at the end of the meal, when everyone got up to thank him, that I realised he WAS de Beer!  Didn’t tip me in diamonds unfortunately…

Things I learnt:

  • People have funny eating habits
  • Very few people put their knife and fork together
  • Someone will always complain after completely clearing their plate
  • Waitressing involves multi-tasking
  • Being a people person is a must
  • Being on your feet all day is VERY tiring
  • Meeting people in a restaurant social situation is very rewarding.

I very much value that time and education I got while receiving my “education”.  All those habits have stood to me, especially the customer service.  And I will always be grateful.

 

 

Buttermilk Pancakes- An Irish Twist

Buttermilk for me, is quintessentially Irish.  It’s one of the main ingredients in soda bead.  In my research for this recipe, (YES- I do lots of research for you my loyal readers!).

There are certain essentials that you don’t mess with- there is always an egg, baking soda, buttermilk, and flour.  And depending on the recipe, are in different quantities.

And with all baking, there’s a chemical reaction that takes place, to give the texture (hopefully light and airy bubbles), flavour and the colour. Known as the Maillaird Reaction, it’s this chemistry that gives the aroma and gorgeous caramel pancake colour.

Pancakes

Buttermilk pancakes in the pan

The secret to a successful reaction, is to have an alkali environment, that is , less acidic.  Buttermilk, by it’s very nature, is acidic.  So the addition of the baking soda neutralises this out.  When you raise the heat on your pancake batter, the amino acids that make up the proteins begin to chemically bond with carbon and oxygen atoms from sugars. The end result is a complex brew of hundreds of different aromatic flavour inducing molecules, that give your food a distinctive and rich palette of flavours. Yum.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Ingredients:

140g strong flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

10g melted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

120ml buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon maple syrup

60g Greek yoghurt

Method: Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, egg, and vanilla. Whisk in the buttermilk and maple syrup. Stir in the yogurt until no large lumps remain. Add in the flour mixture, and stir until just incorporated. Lightly coat a large pan or griddle with vegetable oil, and preheat over low heat. Using 2 tablespoons of batter for each pancake, dollop onto the hot pan, and spread into a circular shape if desired. Let the pancakes cook for 2-3 minutes, or until a slight skin starts to form around the edges and the bottom is light golden brown. Slide a spatula underneath, and flip. Continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes or until light golden brown on both sides. Serve hot.  

buttermilk pancake

Ricotta Pancakes

Even the thought of cottage cheese makes me feel like being a little sick.  I associate it with diets and crackers.  But it’s Italian cousin, ricotta, is a lavish equivalent, with the texture of satin, and a rich sweet creamy taste.   Historically ricotta was made by taking the curds left over from cheese production (traditionally parmesan), adding an acid to them, then heating them until whatever proteins are leftover coagulate. These curds are then strained, drained, and sold. The word ricotta means “twice cooked,” in reference to this process.  Modern ricotta, on the other hand, is generally made with fresh whole or skimmed milk (for a lesser quality) to which acid is added directly. As a result, most packaged ricottas are a bit fattier and creamier than ricotta made by the traditional method. Which is fine by me.

I generally have a packet of two in the fridge, and every now and then make something using it, unusually enough, I don’t use of for cheesecake very often.  It’s either pancakes or used with pasta in our house.

Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta Cheese

At this time of year the pancake recipe usually gets dusted off… They are light and airy and eaten within minutes of coming off the pan.  I love them with a nice fruit compote (Plum and cardamon in the picture below)  And the obligatory softly whipped cream.  Other lesser cultured souls in the family spread nutella or maple syrup on them.

Friday 22 Jan 020

Frying off the ricotta pancakes

Ricotta Pancakes

Ingredients:

4 free-range, eggs separated

180ml milk

½ tsp vanilla essence

225g ricotta

30g caster sugar

140g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil

Method:

For the pancakes, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, ricotta and sugar in a large bowl.  Sift the flour and baking powder together, and add this to the ricotta mixture, mix until well combined.

Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.  Fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture.

Heat a little of the oil in a large frying pan.  Fry spoonfuls of the mixture over a medium heat, when the surface starts to bubble, turn the ricotta cakes over using a spatula and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan, and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining mixture, adding oil to the pan as needed.

Serve with some softly whipped cream, and some fresh fruit.

Ricotta Pancakes

 

Apple and Cinnamon Pancakes

Moving away from the chocolate oreo fest, I’m turning to a more fruity version.  A little like the oatmeal pancakes, these are a little bit healthier.  The addition of wholemeal flour, and brown sugar leaves the total ingredient list a little less processed. And of course the apple.

 

Saturday 06 Feb 022

Apples & Cider :)

Our apples are a little past their best for this use, so I bought some nice Irish Galas. But all is not lost.  This recipe uses apple cider in it :) So I get the opportunity to use our own cider, which is made from our own apples.  So it’s a win win really. And to tell you truth, these are my favourites so far!   Saturday 06 Feb 026

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

Ingredients

100g flour

90g whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg ( or a small shake!)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

240 ml apple cider

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Make a well in the centre and add the egg, apple cider, and melted butter. Stir together until combined (a few lumps are okay).

Pour 1/4 cup of batter onto a heated heavy pan and cook each side until lightly browned. Serve hot with apple cinnamon topping (below).

Apple Cinnamon Topping

4 large apples (or 6-8 small apples), peeled and cored

1 teaspoon lemon juice

180 ml apple cider

50 grams brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cut the apples into 1/8-inch slices and cut those slices in half. Put the apples in a saucepan and add the lemon juice and apple cider. Stir apples to coat thoroughly with the mixture. Cover the apples and cook over medium heat for 7 minutes.

Add brown sugar. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook uncovered until the juice thickens and the apples are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon.

To serve, spoon apple cinnamon on top of pancakes. Drizzle with warm maple syrup.

 

 

Oreo Pancakes – by request

My daughter has a special place in her heart for two things.  (Well three if you count her pony).  Oreo biscuits and Nutella.  I cannot abide nutella.  I think it;s the food of the devil along with celery.

So the request for an oreo pancake came with some eye rolling on my part.  But I’m sure she’s not the only one on the planet to like them.  So here goes.

Thursday 04 Feb 008

The deluxe Oreo biscuit

Before Oreos were even in Ireland, my kids use to love the Finnish version.  The “Domino”.  When they would come in from playing outside they would get two each with their juice.  And then go back out and run around again, even faster than before.  Probably due to the addition of sugar! As a result they called them “fast” biscuits.  To this day, we call Dominos, and Oreos “fast” biscuits!

Oreo Pancakes

Ingredients:

1/2 tsp white or apple cider vinegar

75g milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

35g plain flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

10g cocoa powder

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Crushed Oreo Biscuits

Ice cream of choice

Method:

In a small measuring glass, combine first four ingredients and whisk. Set aside. Combine next 5 ingredients in a bowl and stir well.

Oreo Pancakes

Wet and dry- can be prepared in advance

Place a heavy pan, greased with either oil a little butter, over medium heat. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Add some of the crushed oreo biscuits.  Then cook your pancakes in batches.  Be extra careful when cooking them, the batter is dark and catches quite quickly!  Adjust the heat a little lower if necessary.  Flip when bubbles appear and the sides are just cooked enough to flip without breaking. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and some crushed biscuits.     Thursday 04 Feb 007The Verdict:

It doesn’t photograph very well I’m afraid, and the ice cream melting didn’t help.  Suffice to say, it was really good.  The darkness of the cocoa powder balanced the sweetness of the biscuits and the ice cream.  Go on, give them a go.

Spiced Oatmeal Pancakes

As promised the grand testing of pancakes has begun.  And today’s recipe of choice is Spiced Oatmeal.  Honestly, getting up for breakfast is always a struggle.  But these are full of goodness and might just get the masses out of bed.  We have porridge every morning.  Have done for as long as I can remember.  And this slightly different take on a healthy breakfast might appeal for the morning of Pancake Tuesday.

 

wednesday 03 Feb 006

Our porridge of choice!

The method is so simple, as it is with most pancakes- mix the dry ingredients together, add the wet ingredients.

wednesday 03 Feb 007

 

Stir well and fry in a really hot pan with a little butter…

wednesday 03 Feb 009 The combination of raisins and porridge oats gives these pancakes a really good texture.  And although the mixture was a little lickey, it just meant I was only able to fit 2, not 3 into the pan to cook.

Oatmeal Pancakes

The happy stack of oatmeal pancakes

The happy stack of oatmeal pancakes

Ingredients 160g flour 50g porridge oats 1/2 tsp salt 2 teaspoon baking powder 3 tablespoons brown sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 egg 280ml milk 1 tsp vanilla extract 50g raisins (plus more for garnish) Method: In a bowl add the flour, oats, salt, brown sugar, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, mix until well combined. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the milk, egg and vanilla, stir until just combined. Add the raisins and stir. Heat a heavy pan over medium heat, coat with cooking spray. Drop about 1/4 cup of batter on the hot pan.  Cook until dry on the edges and bubbles start to form in the centre.  Flip and cook on the other side until cooked through, about 2 more minutes.    

 

The Verdict: Delicious at any time of the day or night…. I will definitely make these again.  They are a little more filling which removes the temptation for having too many.  I still managed to test three …

 

wednesday 03 Feb 013

Pancakes- a plethora of choice

The internet is a wonderful thing, and I’m very glad that I don’t put on weight from looking at food pictures.  I’d have to stop fairly smartish if so.  Pinterest- thou ist mine enemy.

food porn

With pancake day around the corner, I did a bit of searching on variations on the pancake theme:

Banana Chocolate

Oreo

Raspberry Crumble

Funfetti Buttermilk

Apple Cinnamon

Cinnamon Roll

Aebleskiver (Danish Pancakes) with Vanilla and Jam

Apple Pie

Double Chocolate

Heart shaped pancakes

Heart shaped pancakes

Obviously in the grand scheme of things, even for the good of my loyal followers I couldn’t possibly eat all of the above in the interest of testing.  So I decided just to make a selection….

For your entertainment over the following number of days I plan on making some of the above, tomorrow’s will be the spicy oatmeal pancake.  A small attempt at the healthier option before it all deteriorates into an abyss of chocolate and syrup.

 

 

Pork Belly- a crackling type of heaven

This little piggy went to market…… and then came home with me!

Every now and then I slow cook a pork belly.  Not too often mind you, as the temptation to eat all the crackling myself is too great.  I get mine from the Premium Butcher in Carrolls Cross, as it’s cut on the bone, which gives more flavour and structure to the joint.

Monday 18 Jan 036

Pork Belly prepared for the oven

This cut is quite fatty, and benefits from a slow long cooking time to render out all that fat into flavour for the meat. I put mine on for about 4-5 hours at about 100oC.  You end up with crispy crunchy crackling and soft tender meat.  Depending on the levels available to me I sometimes throw in a glass of white wine.  Scoring the skin is alse necessary for the best result, as it seems to be critical for accessing the afore mentioned uber crackling.  Having it at room temperature before cooking also seems to help.

There are various schools of thought on starting in a cold oven, but I have never found that to make enough of a difference with pork, duck breast – yes- pork- not so much.  But if you have to set the timer on this dinner, as you won’t be home to turn the oven on, it won’t make too much of a difference over the long cooking time.

Pork Belly

The finished article

The health benefits of (good quality- grass fed) pork are numerous.  Pork is a good source of easily digestible iron, with 100g providing you with 15% of the average daily requirement. (Bord Bia). Many people also find red meat hard to stomach if unwell, pork is easier to digest and lighter to eat.  It’s as lean as a chicken breast,

Mind you, there’s not many health benefits, I’m sure to eating crackling, except the positive endorphins that result from such a guilty pleasure!

 

 

 

Yet another chocolate pudding

This pudding is to share. Unless you are feeling particularly greedy.  Then you can eat this pudding yourself.  But maybe take it slowly.  This pudding was one of my favourites from my time in Ballymaloe.

The only downside to this is that it’s a last minute annie.  I usually put the majority of it together as the main course is being served.

Warm Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:

150g good quality dark chocolate

Chocolate Pudding

Callebaut Chocolate

150g butter

1 dessertspoon of rum

150ml warm water

100g castor sugar

4 eggs

30g self-raising flour

Small pinch of cream of tartar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Grease an oven proof deepish pie dish well.  Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt with the butter in a very low oven or in a heat proof bowl over hot water.  As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and add the rum, warm water and the castor sugar.
Continue to mix until this mixture is smooth.  Separate the eggs, whisking the yolks into the  chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour making sure there are no lumps. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl with the pinch of cream of tartar until it reaches stiff peaks;  fold this gently into the chocolate mixture and pour into the greased pie dish.

Chocolate Pudding

Folding in the egg whites

Put the pie dish into a bain-marie of hot water and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 160°C for a further 15-20 minutes.

Chocolate Pudding

I like to eat this straight away with some fridge cold softly whipped cream, and a nice cup of tea.  Mind you, be prepared to fight over any left after the first round has gone out.

To be honest it’s good the next day too, for breakfast, with a really good cup of coffee, and maybe a slightly smaller spoon of cream….

 

Books and their covers

I was very happy to receive a number of books for Christmas, specfically cookbooks.  To be fair I am an easy person to buy for.  I like books and horses.  Cookbooks are easier to wrap.

 

Cookbooks

I haven’t decided which to dive into yet.  I did flick through Allegra’s “Big Table, Busy Kitchen”.  I was delighted to meet her the the Lit Fest 2015 (by the way the tickets are on sale for LitFest16– buy some- you won’t regret it.)

Her style is very easy to read and I look forward to trying out some of the recipes.

This year I would like to try cookery courses in other countries, maybe the Italian cookery course will give me a head start!  I’m heading to Bath in March to do the “intensive” 5 day bread course with the esteemed Richard Bertinet.  Nigel did this course 5 years ago and it completely revolutionised our bread making.  Even when I was in Ballymaloe the teachers raved about his techniques.  I am just dying to get there and get started.  And of course will have to make time for coffee and prunes- a staple of any cooking course.

Since we got a loan of a kindle at home I change between reading on it, and reading an actual book.  Unfortunately the cookbooks are a little too heavy read in bed last thing at night, so hopefully when the aftermath of December has died down I’ll get to sit down with a cup of coffee and devour them.

Wednesday 13 January 020

I’m a big Lee Child fan.  Have always enjoyed the Jack Reacher series, and really loved the film with Tom Cruise, although I reluctantly agree with my better half, he was FAR too short to play the lead.    This one was a little disappointing.. which breaks my heart as I really do tick off the days until the next release.  Not that he’s the only one. I love all the Karen Rose books. I must remember to check if she has any new ones out.  These days I very rarely visit shops- even bookshops so don’t get to see the new releases. I also love looking at travel books.  I’ve one for touring America, but that’s slightly wistful thinking so I think that I’ll re-visit this in the near future.

Wednesday 13 January 021

And like when I’m choosing food, the covers on the books appeal to me first.  But often with cookbooks, especially the more generic- 1000 best cakes- and the like, the pictures can be deceiving.  And often, a little like entering a cake shop, the eyes are drawn to colours and patterns.

One of the books I got this year, which I just know will be my favourite, is simply called Patisserie.  Nothing fancy, not even one picture inside.  But the recipes- wowsers.  I nearly had to go for a run to combat the calories I put on looking at the recipes!

So books will be in my future for a while- and hopefully I will garner some new ones this year.  Am thinking the Back roads of Italy might be nice…..to go with my cooking courses of course.

As a very important addendum- this piece from the New Yorker, puts beautifully into prose about reading cookbooks that I just cannot.  So please take the time to read it (and don’t, then, berate me for my appalling style next to his!!!)