Tackling a Blueberry Mountain Part 1

My better half came home from work recently with a veritable mountain of blueberries that just needed to be used. And no, not planning on Blueberry pancakes. SOS as they say. So in my recent trend of making traybakes, I decided on making a beautifully coloured and blueberry filled bake. This cake is equally delicious made using fresh or frozen blueberries.  And I’m sure, that it would be equally as good with blackberries.

Blueberry

The Blueberry Mountain

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Sunrise- Sunset

And as the song says- swiftly go the years. Suddenly it’s 2017. And so much has changed. One less in the house. (Eldest gone to college). No longer working in Accounting Software (17 years later). Growing our New Business. Two now actually in college, the better half has gone back to do a Masters.  One still in school. And me, teaching in a cookery school.

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Anyone for Torta di Risa Dolce (Rice Cake!)??

Now if you know what’s good for you- you’ll say yes! I just love risotto and when I found this little gem I was delighted to make it my own.  And this is just perfect to have with a coffee at 11, or with some creamy vanilla ice cream as a dessert.  Warm of cold, it makes no odds.  Just simply divine.

There is no food richer in meaning than rice: life, wealth, and prosperity accompany this grain, a cornerstone of Italian cuisine. It was already a common ingredient in ancient China and India. According to archeologists, rice originated 15,000 years ago on the Indian side of the Himalayas!
Rice is an extremely important ingredient for the populations of the Far East who base their diet on this white cereal. Alexander the Great introduced the grain to Persia and then scientists brought it to the Middle East. Over the centuries, it finally made its way to Europe, first in Greece, then in the Roman lands, where it was never cultivated, rather imported. Rice remained an expense food for the rich Westerners who used it in small doses as a cosmetic or to fight against intestinal disease or fevers!

Risotto Rice, milk, sugar and dried fruit go into this delicious gluten-free cake originally from the city of Bologna.

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The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake- EVER

I often get orders for chocolate birthday cakes, but have never been requested to make a Grey’s anatomy themed cake before.  Sometimes broken biscuit cake ones, sometimes sponge.  This time it was the youngests very belated birthday cake.  We decided on chocolate and raspberry, and i thought about a cheesecake type filling, with three layers.

Next issue was the decoration. Gone are the days of unicorns or ballet dancers.  This summer will forever be known as the “Grey’s Anatomy” summer. I love it, and she happened to watch a couple of episodes of season 13 with us after her exams were over. And that was it- she was addicted. So we got the first goodness knows how many series for her to watch. And I’ve had to re-live some of the most sob worthy story lines.  But some really good sound tracks with it.  So when it came to the cake decoration- if she couldn’t have Patrick Dempsey on the cake it had to have a Grey’s Anatomy theme. Ahem. No challenge there so.

As a note, when I put pictures up of the finished cake I was asked for a gluten free version, simply substitute the plain flour for gluten free plain flour.  Just as delicious.

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Raspberries

125g Butter, very soft

150g cocoa powder

300g plain flour

225g caster Sugar

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 large eggs

220ml of buttermilk

 

For the Icing:

250g mascarpone cheese, soft

200g butter, soft

500g of icing sugar

Raspberries

 

For the ganache:

250g dark chocolate drops

250ml double cream

10g Liquid Glucose (Optional)

 

Method

The Cake:

Heat your oven to 160oC.  Brush three 6” sandwich tins with sunflower oil and then line the bases with greaseproof paper.

Add all the ingredients to your mixing bowl and beat on low until all is combined and you are not likely to get showered with flour if you turn it up.  Then turn it up to quite high and mix for 3 minutes.  It should get much lighter in colour.

Grey's anatomy

Chocolate cakes cooling in their tins

Measure carefully into the three tins and bake for 15-20 minutes until the skewer comes out nearly clean.  Leave in the tins to cool.

The Ganache:

Heat the cream until just boiling.  Add the chopped chocolate/ chocolate drops and leave sit for 2 minutes- without stirring.  Then slowly using a spatula and starting in the middle gradually combine the chocolate and cream.  You can add 10g of liquid glucose at this stage to give a luscious shine. Leave to cool and thicken.

Icing:

Mix the butter and the icing sugar, slowly unitl combined- again you are wainting for the snow storm to pass.  Then beat the bejazus out of it for 3 minutes.  Add in the mascarpone, but slowly, until combined. If you over-whip this it tends to get runny.

Release the cakes from the tins.  When completely  cold, sandwich the cakes together with this, adding halved raspberries to each layer.  Finish with a crumb coat and stick in the freezer for ten minutes.  You should have enough icing to cover the whole cake again.  The crumb layer is just a thin layer of icing that holds the cake together in a nice shape and gives a nice base for the final layer of icing.

After the time in the freezer carefully, using your palate knife, add the last layer of buttercream icing.  When it is even and complete return to the freezer for 30 minutes.

When your ganache has started to thicken it is ready to use.  Place the cake on a wire rack over a bowl or rimmed plate.  Pour the ganache over the cold cake, turing it so that you get an even coat.  Leave to set before adding a final flourish of raspberries.  Serve with some softly whipped cream.

Divine.

Grey's anatomy decorated Chocolate cake

Grey’s Anatomy decorated Chocolate cake

 

A theme park named Efteling

When you think of theme parks there are the usual contenders that roll off the tongue.
Disneyland- be it Paris or Florida, Legoland – and then the New Irish entry- Tayto Park. Rarely Efteling Park.

Roller coasters are the main attraction for families in Efteling for the most part, and to be honest, that was the reason we were going.  But the only other rollercoaster theme parks we had ever visited were Disney and Lego land Windsor.  And they have both gone down extremely well with all family members. So I got the tickets with some trepidation for Efteling.

I had found out about this park from a Facebook Group, and read the reviews at length.  The park was about 1.5hours away from Maastricht, so we were planning it as a day trip. The cost of the tickets were €37 each, with parking extra at €10.  BUT by buying the tickets in advance (we did it the night before) we got a substantial discount.

We arrived a little later than expected due to an accident on the road.  As an aside travelling by car/ foot or bicycle in The Netherlands is EXTREMELY easy, so the road delay was unusual.

The parking was VERY well stewarded, and we were only a 10 minute walk from the park.  There are maps in many languages, and although I knew from the reviews, and from their website, that it IS all in Dutch! I was concerned about tickets, especially the parking one, but the gentleman at the gate had excellent English and was VERY helpful at putting my technophobic mind at rest.

Herself had plotted out route, so we marched swiftly to a roller coaster at the rear of the park.  A wooden roller coaster, two “racing” dragons, with full turns and twists. I had downloaded an app for the Efteling Park on my phone, and it was VERY handy for checking queue times.

Efteling

Love this idea for an ATM!!!

We came off the ride, shook.  We probably should of, in hindsight, done a less violent ride first! However, it was done,  and we pulled ourselves together.  It was AN excellent experience to be fair.

And that was the way the day went, we looked at the app, went to the closest ride with the shortest queue time.  I did all, except one.  It looked just terrifying.

We had brought sandwiches, but purchased some hot dogs and doughnuts to munch which were VERY good, and reasonable.  We were lucky with the weather, which always helps.

Efteling

We meandered around the park, there were some excellent rides, some not so good, but lovely trees etc and things to look at.  On MY to-do list was a “pagent” for all the world.  We had visited, a couple of times, the French park- Puy Du Fou. ( Which isn’t a park with rollercoasters, but lots of pagentry- romans, birds, jousting etc.) They had supplied the horses and birds for a good v’s bad pagent that we had to get tickets for, even though they were included.  I just LOVED it, despite there being technical difficulties with the English. Of course, there were horses, fire, water, goodies and baddies!

All in all, it’s worth the trip.  Will we go back? Maybe, but not next year.  The roller coasters and rides were excellent, shorter queues as compared to Disney and Legoland. but the lack of English explanations were difficult at times.

Efteling

Pear Loaf Cake

When it’s apple season it also happens to be pear season.  My Grandmother always grew pears aswell as apples and always kept a fruit paring knife in her apron to dole out fruit to the hungry grandchildren.  She always kept the pears on the windowsil to ripen. And for me, often, pears are like avocados.  A 10 second window of ripeness that often happens, apparently, in the middle of the night, so that they go from rock- diamond hard to mush in 12 hours. This cake uses pears, but they are nearly better when not quite ripe.

Pear Loaf Cake

Pear Cake
Ingredients
200g Plain Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
200g sugar, plus more for sprinkling
100g butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing
80ml plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large pear, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger

Method:
Preheat the oven to 180°C and butter and line a loaf tin. In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the melted butter, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold in the pears and ginger.

Pear Cake

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean; loosely cover the top with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Pear Loaf Cake

Pear Loaf Cake

Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool completely in the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and invert again.  I like to “paint” the cake top with sugar syrup and I scatter some sugar crystals. Slice the cake and serve with some softly whipped cream.
Pear Cake
Divine

Tomato and Bread Soup Recipe

Who doesn’t love a ripe tomato? Unfortunately those that you buy in a supermarket, with some exceptions, are just NOT nice AT ALL. This recipe should ONLY be made with the ripest of tomatoes. And in this case, not even tinned tomatoes will do.
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Tomato and Bread Soup

Ingredients
Handful of fresh basil
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled
25g Parmesan with rind
3 slices thick day-old or stale country-style bread with crusts, torn into 1-inch pieces
75ml olive oil, plus more for drizzling
salt, freshly ground pepper
1.5kg ripe tomatoes, cut into large pieces
Method
Pluck basil leaves from stems. Place stems and any larger or not-so-beautiful leaves in a large saucepan along with 2 or 3 larger garlic cloves; cover with 3 cups water. Set aside remaining smaller, prettier basil leaves. Cut Parmesan away from rind and add rind to pan; set cheese aside. Bring liquid to a bare simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat so mixture is steaming. Let ingredients steep while you start the soup. This step may seem like a lot of faff.  But is totally worth it.

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Preheat oven to 200°C. Spread out 1 cup bread on a small rimmed baking sheet, drizzle lightly with oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Toast until edges are crisp but centres are still chewy, 8–10 minutes; set croutons aside.
Meanwhile, slice remaining garlic cloves. Heat ⅓ cup oil in a medium pot over medium and cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until evenly golden brown and softened, about 2 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes to pot and cook, stirring energetically with a wooden spoon now and then, until tomato juices are bubbling, 6–8 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, then add remaining 3 cups bread.

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Stir to coat, then strain basil stock into tomato mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, until bread disintegrates into a porridgelike texture and soup is velvety and thick, 10–12 minutes. (The whisk helps break the bread into smaller pieces; if you like your soup rustic, stick with the spoon. If you want it to be very smooth, use an immersion blender.)
Finely grate reserved Parmesan and whisk half into soup along with reserved basil. Cook, stirring, until soup is thickened and looks shiny, about 2 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
Divide soup among bowls and top with reserved croutons, remaining Parmesan, and a drizzle of oil. Divine!

Tomato and Bread Soup

Tomato and Bread Soup

 

Apple Streusel Muffins

Apple season is upon us again, and I’ve a couple of delicious new recipes to share.  The first being this SUPER easy apple streusel muffin recipe.  I don’t do lunchbox idea blogs, but if I did- this would be on the list. AND they freeze.  If they stay around that long.

Apple Streusel Muffins

Yields 12 muffins
For the muffins:
Ingredients:
240g plain flour
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large Eggs
240g brown sugar
225ml natural yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
110g butter, melted and still warm
2 medium-sized cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced into irregular pieces (this bit is important!)
For the streusel:
100g plain flour
50g packed dark brown sugar
50g granulated sugar
50g butter, melted
Muffins
Method
Preheat oven to 180°C. Put cupcake wrappers in the muffin tin. If you don’t want to use these then grease the tins really well.
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. In another bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, yogurt, and vanilla. Add the melted butter, pouring in a slow and steady stream, while whisking vigorously to emulsify the mixture.

Muffins
Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and gently fold until the liquid is just barely combined, being careful not to over-mix. (A few lumps are okay.) Stir in the chopped apples. Fill each muffin well all the way to the top with batter; set aside while preparing the streusel.

Muffins
For the streusel:

add the flour, brown sugar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in the melted butter and gently stir with a fork until well combined and small pebble-sized pieces remain throughout.
Top each filled well with a heaping tablespoon of streusel, lightly pressing it into the batter. (A round cookie cutter placed over the cup helps keep the mess to a minimum.) Bake muffins for 18 to 22 minutes, until tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Leave the muffins in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.
Muffins
Recipe Notes
To get the most “apple” out of your apples, vary the size of the pieces — the finer chopped apples melt into the batter while the larger diced apples keep their shape, revealing sweet morsels in every bite.

Apple Streusel Muffins

Apple Streusel Muffins

Divine!

I’m in love with a horse called Blackjack

Velvet Blackjack, but don’t tell Missy!  He was jumping in the Puissance in the Dublin Horse Show a couple of weeks ago. And he was fine.  And it got me thinking do we have a “type” of horse that we like?

Is it like art, or cooking or even when choosing our life partners? I think it most likely is.  And, if I’m honest, I don’t like blackjack purely because he’s able to jump a MAHOOSIVE wall.  I think it’s his colour, his shape, and just the way he goes.

And no, I wouldn’t RIDE him.  Well maybe on a hack down the lane! But I would love him.  Very much.  As to be honest, as I’ve said before, a love of horses is akin to an addiction.  I just love them.  Watching them, feeding them, grooming them, riding them.  But like everyone has their favourite tipple, I’ve my favourite type.

As anyone who follows me on any of my social channels knows- Missy is THE one.  We’ve been together a long time, and we’ve had many a falling out.  But when I walk in the yard and she whickers (for food).  My heart melts. And all my current moods and problems melt away too.  And for that hour, or two if I’m lucky, I’m in my happy place. But there have been so many others- and who doesn’t fall in love with a beautiful foal??

The horse

Nigel and my beloved foal

And I’m lucky to have a VERY understanding family. A supportive husband- apart from the “bloody horse always comes first”, to my very-tolerant-of-the-smell son, to my also addicted daughter.  And because my father in law grew up on a stud farm I’m already on a winner there. I think my own parents knew that I was a goner from a VERY young age.

Horses

Horses can be companions. We trust them. In the past, people have travelled miles on them and never been let down. When you are with your horse, then you are a very contented person.

Missy at Belline

My Feta and Vegetable Filo Pastry Pie

In the Summer it’s nice to have a pastry dish that’s lighter than the traditional hot crust type dish.  Filo is the perfect answer to this. And I have never had the nerve to make my own filo pastry, I like the uniformity and flavour of the shop bought filo, and always have used it successfully.

Filo (or phyllo) is a very thin dough made without using yeast.  It is primarily used for making pastries such as baklava in Middle Eastern cuisine. Filo-based dishes are, like this one, made by layering many sheets of filo brushed with olive oil or butter after which the pastry is baked.

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