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.

Calm is my New Superpower, What’s Yours?

Honestly. And I’m not known as the calm one at home.  But as I grow older and possibly* less tolerant of, well, bullsh*t, I find myself wrapping myself in my metaphorical cape and calming down.

Calm is a super power

I think they should teach it at school, mind you it may be what this whole “mindfulness” is all about. Maybe. I tried yoga when I pregnant with my youngest and never really got the whole clear your mind of clutter.  My mind is ALWAYS racing, so much so that I tend not to finish my sentences properly as I’m onto the next thing. Making me hard to understand, and making me look a little* mad.

So this is my “motto for the month”. By making it into a superpower  I hope I can use my calmness for good.  With my two kids both doing state exams, I “have” to be the calm one, the sense of reason, the pillar of society, and the positive influence. Sounds tiring???

Once the calm cape is on, next listening is the critical attribute. That is often easier said than done, as really if I was to have a specialist subject on mastermind- talking would be it. A million thoughts, frustrations, worries, and daydreams can drift in and out, diverting attention away from the speaker. Active, engaged listening while radiating calm in understanding the issues, needs, and wants so that I can better get on with the job of mother/ advisor/ diplomat is essential.

“Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health.” Dalai Lama
A win/ win so??

My Calmness was tested while heading into town this month on taxi duties I saw an older man kneeling, looking like he was trying to catch his breath on the ring road in Waterford.  It’s a dual carriageway, and the traffic moves quite fast, so I passed before I could stop.  I decided, while seeing none of the cars behind me slowing, to turn back at the next roundabout.  As I passed by the other side, I could see the man now lying on a track.  Slightly out of my calm zone at this stage I got back to him and although he was grey in colour he was still moving.  Thankfully. He refused a lift, and frankly I didn’t really want to move him, simply saying he felt unwell.  Against his wishes I rang an ambulance.  And stayed surprisingly calm throughout.  But was glad I stopped, what if it was my father, I hope someone with the same calm cape would stop to help him.

Maybe my cape is finally working. Stay tuned.

 

 

Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies Recipe

Chocolate anything is hard to beat. And I find that making something gluten free with chocolate always garners high praise as so often the commercially prepared gluten free confectionery is not very tasty, and often dry. It seems to be a love it or hate it type of food.  Many like to eat gluten free although they are not diagnosed as coeliac.  I like balance in my diet (yeah yeah I know- a chocolate cake in each hand), but I recognise the need to offer the choice.  Hence these brownies.

The ground almonds are added to help with the structure but are good retainers of moistness in a cake.  And as brownies are typically gooey, they work very well here. If I was substituting ground almonds for flour in a recipe with a raising agent, I would increase the amount of baking powder used, and really the almonds don’t work well in produce using yeast.  Biscuits are a good gluten free treat also, as there is no need for a raising agent, and there are many flours suitable for coeliacs.  I personally like to keep my ingredients as natural as possible, so stay away from the mixes as much as possible.  Buckwheat would be my flour of choice in this case.

Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies

Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

225g dark chocolate, chopped

225g butter

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

225g caster sugar

3 eggs

200g ground almonds

50g white chocolate, chopped

Method:

Pre heat the oven to 180oC.  Melt the chocolate and butter gently in a heavy bottomed pan.  Whisk in the vanilla and the sugar.  Whisk in the eggs, then the ground almonds.  Leave aside while you line a tin. about 25cm square, or equivalent.

Tiramisu
Add the white chocolate bits and immediately pour into the tin. Here I’ve added a mix of white and dark chocolate drops. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes.  It will still be wobbly in the middle. Leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares. You don’t even have to mention “Gluten Free Chocolate Brownies”, Brownies will suffice, a little like Madonna really.

Divine.

Gluten Free Chocolate Brownie

 

An unexpected lunch at the Italian Batoni’s in Emo

We recently had an hour to spend en route from Dublin to Mount Mellick , and decided to stop in Emo for Lunch. This Italian Restaurant is a really hidden gem in Emo. It’s directly opposite the entrance to Emo Court. Jordan and I had visited there a number of years ago for a schools orienteering event, but had never spotted Batoni’s.
Although it looked closed driving by, once in the car park there’s a lovely entrance into the restaurant. We were seated immediately, and just to note, if I ever own a restaurant, I want those chairs.  SO comfortable.

Italian Food at Batoni's

Bruschetta Starter

The menu was really nicely presented and the specials clear- too clear- and delicious.  Nigel went for the Pate dello Chef (duck pate), and I the Bruschetta Contadina.  As a teeny aside, I’ve been learning Italian using the cool little Duolingo App, and really thought my language skills in this area were improving greatly.  Alas when I proudly ordered my starter in my BESTEST Italian accent, our server corrected my pronunciation without a second glance.  Total MORTO.  I really enjoyed the starter, despite my inability to pronuonce it! Both were unusually plated, but gave it uniqueness.

Batoni's Italian Restaurant

The pic doesn’t do this Italian take on pate justice

Main courses were as good, I went for Lasagna, and was not disappointed at all. Nigel had the special Linguine con Coniglio (rabbit pasta).

Batoni's Italian Restaurant

Lasagna with the most amazing cheese sauce

I’m not sure who got the better deal.
EmoAnd although I’m a BIG Dessert fan, I really couldn’t fit in anything else.  The only downside for me was the cheesecake special -Nutella and Strawberry Cheesecake.

a) Not a fan of Nutella AT ALL

b) Nutella and Strawberry WHA?

I had managed to have a really nice glass of Pinot Grigio with my meal, and would have quite happily sat having another glass, but we had to move on.  After a very strong coffee (too strong for me- so himself had to have the equivalant of three espressos!), we paid and left. Very satisfied.

Sometimes I fear, I am guilty of thinking that restaurants outside of major towns are not as busy or offer the same quality of food.  I was put firmly in my place here.  It was a real diamond.

Parking: Yes

Easily Accessible: Yes

Price: Mid Range but definitely value for money

Decor: Subtle

Food: Very Good Authentic Italian with their own stamp.

Portugese Egg Custard Tarts- Easy and Tasty

These little beauties, also known as Pastel de nata are so moreish I’m forever grateful I don’t live near Portugal, I’d be the size of a house!  The history of them is very interesting, as they were originally made in FRANCE!

Pastéis de nata (the Portugese name means pastry cream as far as I can see, already winning me over) were thought to be created during the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery, Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. These monks were originally based in France where these pastries were found in local bakeries. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits. It was therefore quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries, resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.

Portugese Custard Tart

Pasteis de Belem

Following the extinction of the religious orders in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling these dainty little pastries at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834 the monastery was finally closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém. The descendants own the business to this day, a Portugese stalwart.  In this recipe I use bought puff pastry, but plan on making them again in a few weeks with homemade puff pastry.  My aim was to get the filling right.  And I think I did.  They were EXTREMELY popular.

Portugese Egg Custard Tarts

Ingredients:

1 egg
3 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
30g cornflour
400ml full fat milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (use good stuff please!)
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry, I like the lidl one.

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Method:

Lightly grease a 12 hole muffin tin and pre-heat oven to 180oC

Put the egg, yolks,  caster sugar & cornflour in a saucepan and mix well together then gradually add the milk until mixture is well mixed and smooth.

Custard

Place pan on medium heat and stir constantly until mixture thickens and comes to the boil. Remove pan from heat and stir in your vanilla extract.

Put this custard aside to cool.  I dust with icing sugar then cover with cling film, to prevent skin forming.

Roll the pastry on your lightly floured counter, and using a cutter,  cut this into 12 even sized rounds. Press the pastry discs into the muffin tin. I like if they are a bit ruffled.
Tarts

Spoon in your now cooled custard, sprinkle over the cinnamon and bake for 20 minutes until nicely golden on top.

Tarts
Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then move to a cooling rack to finish cooling although they can be eaten warm.  You frankly won’t be able to stop the hoardes.

Divine.

White Chocolate- Raspberry Tarts

These elegant and velvety tarts are worth every minute of effort. When presented they will just ooze sophistication and give the impression that you spent HOURS in the kitchen. I’ts a kind of a blend of Crème brûlée and a tart, as I finish it with a blow torch.  You can vary the fruit content, however the tartness of the raspberries marry very well with the super sweet White Chocolate.

White Chocolate- Raspberry Tarts

Ingredients:

100g strong white flour

25g caster sugar

30g Butter, cold from the fridge

1/2 teaspoon salt

approximately 1 tablespoon of cold water

1 tablespoon of raspberry jam

210ml double cream

3 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

210ml double cream

3 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

Method:

As with all pastry, the less handled the better, and I use my “magimix”, on pulse to combine the butter and flour til almost like sand.  Then stir in the sugar, followed by the cold water, which I add a tiny bit at a time until it comes together nicely but is not too wet.  The best thing to do at this stage is to split the dough into two and flatten each into a round.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least two hours.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Tarts

Tart pastry prep

Next roll out each round of pastry on a floured counter.  This recipe is for two 4 inch tart tins.  So roll out the pastry to about a 6 inch circle.  Carefully line each tin.  Trim any large excess from around the top of the tin, but fold over a tiny part to make a tuck at the top of the tin, and put into the freezer for 30 minutes.  (This helps prevent shrinkage). Turn on the oven to 180oC.  Fill each tart with baking beans, and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the beans and bake for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Tarts

Add the raspberry jam/ puree to the bottom of each tart.  Then prepare the custard filling.

Filling:

Bring the cream to a simmer.  Immediately remove from the heat and add the white chocolate.  Stirring from the inside out, very slowly bring the cream and chocolate together.  Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla in a separate bowl, and VERY slowly add a little of the white chocolate cream to this.  VERY SLOWLY, while whisking all the time.  Once the two are combined divide this custard between the two tarts. Turn the oven down to 160oC.

Bake for about 20 minutes until the centres are just set.  Remove from the oven to cool.  Then refrigerate overnight.

 

Next day you can “brûlée” the top.  Sprinkle the tops with lots of icing sugar then using a blow torch, caramelise the custard tops, or failing that, SECONDS under a piping hot grill.  And I mean SECONDS.

Finish off with some decorative raspberries.

Divine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My One-pot chicken pilaf Recipe

I love love LOVE cooking in the kitchen. But I think if I won the lotto my first splurge would be on a kitchen porter.  Sometimes the washing up just gets to me.  But no need for the help when making this beautiful and fresh pilaf, it’s made in one pot. The term pilaf is borrowed directly from the Turkish pilav. I actaully associate a rice pilaf with Indian Cooking, for my it’s very like Biryani.

If you could research the history of rice pilaf, you could tell the history of the world to at least as far back as Alexander the Great. It’s a dish that is ubiquitous across most of the world’s cuisines. This is probably because it is such a great dish for large gatherings. To make a large pot of rice pilaf is not much more difficult than to make a small pot.  And the washing up is also the same!

Every region adds their own distinct flavours to the dish. In India, rice pilaf is called pulao and it has many variations from region to region. It is most popular in the northern areas, such as Kashmir and Gujarat.  Alexander the Great is said to have first eaten pilaf in the Bactria region of Iran, which is now a part of Afghanistan. Bactria is where his wife, Roxana, was most likely born. I can imagine pots of fragrant rice pilaf being served at gatherings for ancient dignitaries, perhaps even his wedding (I’m just guessing here).

One-pot chicken pilaf

Chicken pilaf

Good range of colour in the ingredients

SERVES 4
Ingredients
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons of curry paste (choose your favourite, or make your own)
a third of a mug basmati rice
two-thirds of a mug chicken stock (hot)
1 mug frozen peas
1 mug of leaf spinach, washed.
Method
Heat the oil in a frying pan, then fry the onion for 5-6 mins until softened.
Chicken

Chicken pilaf

Still looks a little beige at this stage

Add the chicken pieces, fry for a further couple of minutes just to colour the outside, then stir in curry paste and rice. Cook this for another minute.

Pour in the hot chicken stock. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, then cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally . Scatter over the spinach, cover, then cook for 10 mins more until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender. Now add the peas, (in this case I added them too soon so they look like they’ve been sitting in a carvery for a month, but still taste good). Give everything a good stir, season to taste, then tuck in.
Chicken
Divine.

I love a good fartlek….

As you know I have a serious love/ hate relationship with running.  I love it when I’m finished, but hate that I can never seem to run as fast or as far as everyone else.  I tend to be prone also to injury, so feel sometimes that I am starting from scratch all over again, everytime.  So after much trying of different types of running training, I now combine a number of methods that seem to keep me in the game, injury free, and motivate me. Fartlek being the main one.

Running

Fartlek (meaning speed play) is the first.  Similar to interval training, it was designed in Sweden by Gösta Holmér in 1937, he was the coach of a cross country running team who were not doing particularly well.  Sessions should be performed at an intensity that causes the athlete to work at 60% to 80% of his or her maximum heart rate. This means (hopefully) that the body will not experience too much discomfort while exercising. An athlete should also include a good warm up at the beginning of the session, and a cool down at the end of the session, to improve performance, minimize post-workout muscle soreness, and most importantly for me; to decrease the chances of injury.. So hence it’s the model of choice for me.  The “Fartlek” intervals can vary in length, and speed.  When I’m starting off I’ll do a walk/jog interval, then if I’m feeling “in the groove” I’ll do slow run, fast run intervals.  My ultimate aim is to decrease the number of walk/runs. Fartleks are a great option for people that run for their health because the fat burning portion makes it a very efficient exercise.

Waterford Greenway

The Greenway is fab in both good and bad weather

But still running by yourself can be quite lonely.  I use to run with music, but after a particularly long injury break I started back running and simply forgot to put the music on.  It is also safer for when I’m running on the road. I really envy the people who can run with other people.  I just can’t.  Firstly I’d be embarrassed as I run SO SLOWLY.  And then I’d struggle to chat- and for anyone who knows me- seems impossible.  So I just run and retreat inside my head. And it’s free. With money tight -a gym, or fitness classes are completely out of the question, so I strap on the runners and use some of the roads and tracks around my area.  The Waterford Greenway is an amazing running/ walking/ cycling “way” that runs from Waterford to Dungarvan along the old route of the railway.  it’s 46kms of safe running and we are lucky to have access to quite a few entry points.  If that doesn’t get you out running or walking nothing will!

Running
I do have a machine companion however, I’m one of those annoying people who share their exercise on social media.  The main reason is for support, even if noone “likes” it, I still hope that there is support out there for my lonely feet slapping runs 3-4 times a week in my endless journey to increase my fitness and decrease my weight.  Although over the last few years those priorities have changed in emphasis.  My health, both mental and physical are more important to me now than ever.  Too many friends have gone, too many people take their lives for granted.  I’m determined not to be one of those.  And sure I like the scenery.

Tiramisu- My “secret” recipe

Who doesn’t love Tiramisu? Even people who don’t like coffee like tiramisu.  Regular readers will have seen my tiramisu cake, which is VERY popular and velvety smooth to have as a dessert at the end of a meal. And although it takes a little while to make, it’s very simple.

Tiramisu

The essential ingredients- good coffee and cocoa powder

My Tiramisu Recipe 
Ingredients:
For the sponge
4 large eggs
100g caster sugar
100g self raising flour
30g cocoa powder
For the filling
1 tablespoon instant coffee (Fine granules)
150ml boiling water
50ml tia maria
3 x 250g mascarpone cheese
300ml cream
3 tablespoons icing sugar
65g grated dark chocolate
For the decoration
100g finely chopped dark chocolate
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Method:
Preheat the oven to 180oC. Grease a Swiss roll tin and line with baking paper, or line two round 7” tins.
For the sponge, place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk together for about five minutes, or until the mixture is very pale and thick. Sift over the flour and cocoa and fold in gently using a metal spoon or spatula.

Tiramisu

Mixing the flour and cocoa in….

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin (tins) and tilt the tin to level the surface.
Bake for 20 minutes, until cooked. Cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
For the filling, dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and add the tia maria. Set aside to cool. Brush the tops of each cake with the alcohol/ coffee mixture. Wrap sponges in clingfilm until ready to ice.
Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and icing sugar. Decide on your serving dish, what you make the dessert in, is what you will put on the table so choose carefully.  Add broken bits of the cake to the dish, then spread 1/2 of the mascarpone icing over the soaked sponge.

Tiramisu
Scatter over 1/2 of the grated chocolate.
Place the second sponge on top in pieces if you have to to make it fit (you won’t see this as it chills), spoon over the rest of the coffee mixture then spread more of the icing over the soaked sponge. Spread the rest of the icing in a thicker layer over the top layer. Chill for at least two hours in the fridge before final decoration- of- you guessed it- more grated chocolate! Divine!
Tiramisu

My Rijstevlaai Recipe- A Maastricht Speciality

I love a bit of tart.  And LOVE trying something new.  When we were at the open day in Maastricht they had lots of different tarts to try with your coffee.  I did the honourable thing and tried them all.  But went back to have a second piece of what I believe was Rijstevlaai tart.  or vlaai, (I think)! It’s base was a very thin dough, and to be honest I thought while eating it there that it was a shortcrust base, albeit a little thicker.  The creamy rice pudding filling is particularly good, and we did the honourable, and I believe traditional thing and had it with softly whipped cream and some chocolate gratings.

My Rijstevlaai Recipe

Ingredients

250g flour

15g fresh yeast (7g dried)

3.5fl oz milk

20g soft butter

20g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

500 ml milk

200g short grain rice

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla essence

30g granulated sugar

100ml of cream (optional)

Chocolate shavings (Optional)

Method

Mix the flour with the yeast and the milk, knead in the soft butter and the sugar and salt until you have a soft dough, 5 minutes in the mixer.  Cover and let it rise until double in size.

Rijstevlaai Tart

In the meantime, wash the rice until it rinses clear.  Bring it to a boil in the milk, then simmer it for twenty minutes or until the rice is tender. Set aside to let it cool. Split the egg, and mix in the egg yolk with the vanilla and the sugar. Whip the egg white until stiff, then carefully fold it in the rice.

Rijstevlaai Tart

Preheat an oven to 190oC.  Roll the  dough into a large circle and line a deep pie dish with the dough.

Rijstevlaai Tart

Prepping the dough case

Fill it with the rice mixture. Bake on the middle rack for thirty minutes. Remove the pie, let it cool for ten minutes, then remove it from the dish.

Rijstevlaai Tart

When cooled, serve as is, or with softly whipped cream and chocolate savings.

Rijstevlaai Tart

Rijstevlaai Tart

Divine!

My Chocolatey Hot Cross Buns Recipe

I think nothing says Easter to me more than Hot Cross Buns (well, maybe Easter Eggs and Bunnies and the like, and the whole religion thing, but anyway- I digress 😉

Traditionally these would have been eaten in Ireland on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.  I actually prefer them them day old and toasted.  No accounting for taste.  However…. wait for it, the addition of chocolate is VERY good.  Completely against the whole off-chocolate-for-lent ethos but sure look it…
Hot Cross Buns

Chocolatey Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients:

500g Strong White Flour

90g Castor Sugar

90g Butter

10g dried yeast

1/2 teaaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg

1 teaspoon of mixed spice

90g of sultanans

90g of chocolate chips

25g of candied peel

250g of milk

Toppings:

30g water

30g flour

25g caster sugar

25g water

Method:

Mix everything except the sultanas, candied peel and chocolate chips together in your mixing bowl until just combined.  Leave this sit for 10 minutes then mix using your dough hook for 5 minutes until  smooth.

Hot Cross Buns

At this stage add in the other bun ingredients.
Hot Cross Buns
Cover the bowl and let this dough rise in a warm, draft free area until it doubles in size.  Dough with “additives” in this case the sultanas, chocolate drops and candied peel, rise slower due to the extra effort required for the yeast to work in rising the dough.

Turn this out onto a lightly floured area when ready to divide the dough into “buns”.  Divide it into 16 balls approximately and sit on a floured oven proof tray to start their second rise.  I find this works well overnight, in a cool place with just a light teatowel covering them.  You want them to slightly merge into each other.

Hot Cross Buns
The next day, or when they are all puffed up, mix the topping flour and water into a paste.  I put this into a piping bag for ease and pipe it over the buns into the traditional “cross”.

Hot Cross Buns

Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, you may need to reduce the temperature for the last 5 minutes.  Meanwhile make the sugar syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small pan and boil for three minutes.  Leave to cool.

Hot Cross Buns

Brush the sugar syrup over the buns to give them a sweet sugary glaze.

Hot Cross Buns

Divine.