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Archive for the ‘All things food’ Category

Who doesn’t love sponge cake?  And yet it is so seldom seen as an option in cafes or restaurants.  I guess it is just perceived as too ‘old-fashioned’ but hey, sometimes old-fashioned is good folks!

Classic Sponge Cake

Classic Sponge Cake

When we were growing up …. sponge cake was a regular treat, especially for birthdays.  My Mum bless her never quite mastered sponge cakes – but then she did make the best pastry ever – so you can’t be great at everything.

Since we’ve had our own hens and ducks I have learned that sponge cake is made even more delicious when made with duck eggs…. the sponge is so much airier and lighter.

So here’s my recipe for a deliciously light sponge cake…

Ingredients:

  • 220 g/8 oz. spelt flour (or you could use self-raising flour)
  • 4 tsp. baking powder (if you are using self-raising flour just use half the quantity, i.e. 2 teasp.)
  • 220 g/8 oz. soft butter.
  • 220 g/8 oz. caster sugar
  • 4 duck eggs
  • a few drops of vanilla essence (optional)

Sandwich Filling:

  • Whatever your heart desires…. only limited by your imagination!  I generally use whipped cream and fruit, or jam.

Method:

Grease and line 2 x 9 inch sponge tins with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 170 deg C/325 deg F/Gas Mark 3.

Sift your flour and baking powder into large bowl…. allowing plenty of air to get into the mixture.  Add the butter, sugar, vanilla essence and eggs whisking all the time until light and fluffy.

Divide the mixture between the two lined tins.  Level off the mixture and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack and gently peeling off the parchment paper.

When cool enough place one half on plate and dollop on your sandwich filling. Place other half on top, decorate or sprinkle with icing sugar.

Now time to go put the kettle on.

Sponge cake with whipped cream and raspberries

Sponge cake with whipped cream and raspberries

Enjoy :)

(And should you need to…. you can freeze this cake even with the filling in it…. I’ve been known to do that too.  It is not quite as nice as just baked but it isn’t bad at all)

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I miss my salads in the winter.

I love the colour of summertime salads…. adding nasturtiums and borage just adds such brightness to any meal.

This winter seems to have been particularly bleak and grey so I’ve been experimenting with some ‘not green’ salads but using quinoa and noodles.  We most definitely need colour in winter!  This quinoa salad is delicious with a spicy piece of chicken.

Greek-style Quinoa Salad

Greek-style Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 225 gr. quinoa
  • 3oo gr. cherry tomatoes halved (or quartered bigger tomatoes)
  • Handful of olives
  • Red onion – very finely chopped
  • 100 gr. St. Tola cheese, crumbled
  • A few chopped mint leaves (my mint is just coming on again!)
  • Zest and juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 teasp. olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Method:

Prepare your quinoa….. rinse it well under cold running water.  Place in saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil for c. 10 minutes.  Drain.  Set aside to cool.

Mix your prepared tomatoes, olives, onion and cheese in bowl.

Stir in your now cooled quinoa.

Mix in the chopped mint, zest and juice of lime and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with some spicy chicken.

Quinoa Salad with Spicy Chicken

Quinoa Salad with Spicy Chicken

This quantity is enough for 4 for dinner…. or do as there are only 2 of us, have some for dinner and enough left over for lunch the next day.

Enjoy :)

 

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Duck Confit…. not something I’d even thought of cooking up to a couple of weeks back.  For some insane reason (without even looking up a recipe), I just presumed it would be overly complicated and way too much bother.  How wrong can a girl be?

We ‘got rid of’ four ducks earlier in the year.  Two of them are still safely tucked away in the freezer, but the first two have been totally enjoyed.

When we were prepping the ducks for the freezer we decided to portion one out and leave the others ‘whole’.

That, of course, meant that I had two duck legs…. so what should I do with them? It was only then I decided to check for a Duck Confit recipe. Doh!  It is so easy! Seriously, a little bit of planning but otherwise plain sailing.

This recipe is adapted from the Duck Confit recipe in Avoca Cafe Cookbook II…. but yes you’ve guessed it I didn’t have all the ingredients so improvisation was called for!

Confit of Duck

Confit of Duck

Ingredients:

  • 2 duck legs
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 gloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Black Pepper
  • Lard c. 4 tablespoons….. (the original recipe called for goose fat, so if you don’t have lard use goose or duck fat)

Recipe:

The night before douse your duck legs with the sea salt and half of the thyme. Cover in cling film and leave in fridge until the next day.

Preheat your oven to 170 deg. C.

Brush the salt off the duck legs and place in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of thyme leaves, bay leaf and crushed garlic, black pepper and whatever fat you are using.  I used about 4 to 5 tablespoons of lard.

(I add a layer of tinfoil to make sure my casserole is well sealed.)

Place in the oven for about half an hour.  Remove and check the level of fat…. you may need to add more.  It needs to come at least half way up the duck legs.

Duck in Casserole

Return to the oven for another hour to an hour and a quarter.

Now if you are virtuous and full of restraint, you can remove the duck legs allow them to cool, then put them in a clean pot and cover with the fat so you can enjoy them another day.

THAT DID NOT HAPPEN HERE!

We devoured them there and then, served with mashed potatoes and kale (and second time around with mashed potato and carrot and parsnip mash).  You must save the fat though…. totally delicious for roast potatoes or any roast veg.

So can someone explain to me why I didn’t try this years ago????

Enjoy :)

 

 

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Have you ever considered how fresh eggs are in the supermarket?  We are told that eggs have a shelf life of 5 to 6 weeks – mine never last that long, so I can’t confirm or deny this fact.  So, how old are eggs when they land in the supermarket?

I’ve tried to do some research on your behalf but have in fact run into a blank wall for details on Irish eggs.

From what I can gather in the UK, US and Canada eggs can be defined as ‘fresh’ when arriving in supermarkets 10 days after being laid.  I am told that if you count back 28 days from the Best Before date it will give you an indication of when the egg was laid.

I remember watching a documentary on TV many years ago about egg producers in Ireland.  Did you know they don’t necessarily ‘grow’ all the eggs themselves? They have a number of smaller producers who grow the eggs.  The big companies send out their trucks a couple of times a week to collect eggs from growers.  The eggs are brought back to base, graded and probably stamped and then shipped out to the supermarket.  This, of course, all takes time.

Freshly Poached Egg

Freshly Poached Egg

And the whole reason for this research is that I recently had  some comments from customers.

Why are eggs ‘cloudy’?

Well, folks, the reason eggs are ‘cloudy’ is because they are so fresh.

The white, or albumen, of a very fresh egg contains dissolved carbon dioxide, which makes it look ‘cloudy’.  As the egg ages, the carbon dioxide escapes, so that the white becomes more transparent.  This does not mean that there is a problem with transparent white, it is just not as fresh as ‘cloudy’ white.

I am guessing here, but I imagine that carbon dioxide in the white is why truly fresh eggs are so easy to poach and keep their shape without any fussing about with swirls and vinegar etc.

What causes ‘blood’ spots in eggs?

Again this is a sign of the freshness of the egg.  Regular readers will know that I have been known to follow hens about to keep a supply of eggs at the Honesty Table!

Blood spots occur when blood or a bit of tissue is released along with a yolk.  As an egg ages, the blood spot becomes paler, so a bright blood spot is a sign that the egg is fresh.

Eggs are bad for those with cholesterol?

This has now been proven to be a fallacy!  Eggs are one of the super foods – just generally really good for you.  Check out Joanna Blythman in yesterday’s Guardian – Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong

It wasn’t so long ago that we were spoon-fed the unimpeachable “fact” that we should eat no more than two eggs a week because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol, but that gem of nutritional wisdom had to be quietly erased from history when research showing that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol became too glaringly obvious to ignore.

Or this article from 3 years ago by Alex Renton – Just how Fresh is Fresh – I find this totally scary!

Those who have visited us here at Oldfarm will know that I have a kind of ‘filing’ system for my eggs, and that I pencil the date they were laid on the shell.  It leaves my customers in no doubt as to how fresh our eggs are.

I wonder why major egg producers don’t just stamp eggs this way too?  It would surely make life much easier for the consumer.

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I was clearing out a drawer recently and came across a bunch of scraps of paper with recipes on them.  Among the scraps was this handwritten one ….. I had no idea where it had come from, but thought I recognised the handwriting.!

Well what would you do but make the recipe anyway?  So I did and it was on tasting that I remembered where I’d had this before.  A former work colleague used to make it, and bring it into work for a treat to us on occasions…. thank you Geraldine!  And it was her Mum’s recipe.  So thank you so much to Geraldine’s Mum in Donegal.

This is such a quick recipe…. and the end result is so delicious you just must try it.

Honey Tea Bread

Honey Tea Bread

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz raisins
  • 3 oz honey
  • 1/2 pt Hot Strong Tea
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 10 oz wholemeal flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teas mixed spices (I used cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves)

Method:

Place raisins in bowl, stir honey into your hot tea and pour this over raisins.  Leave for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 170 deg. (fan)

Stir beaten eggs into raisin and tea bowl.

Mix flour with spices and baking powder in separate bowl, and then add to raisin mixture.

Transfer mixture to lined 2 lb loaf tin.

Bake for between 50 minutes to 1 hour…. timing depends on your oven.

Put the kettle on, and enjoy :)

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To be honest, I was kind of taken aback recently when someone said to me they wouldn’t know what to do with Pork Steak.  We do various things with pork steak, but these folks weren’t even familiar with that good old-fashioned stuffed pork steak!

I think it was the first thing I ever learned to cook!  When we were kids Stuffed Pork Steak was our absolute FAVOURITE dinner.

If our parents ever made that fatal mistake to ask what we’d like for dinner?  The resounding answer would most likely have been PORK STEAK!

And now it is time for a confession!

I recall, probably my first time to invite the family for Sunday dinner,  I went to my local butcher and I asked for 5 pork steaks.  The poor man nearly fell over!  Bless him, though.  Rather than fleece me – charge me full price and give me my 5 pork steaks.  I got a lecture on how expensive that was going to be, and I should cook a pork roast for that number of people.

I had to admit to him that I didn’t know how to cook a roast…. so he gave me full instructions.  If only there were butchers around like that now?  The whole situation was probably made even more memorable by the fact that the only other person in the butcher’s shop at the time was an ‘ex’ who I hadn’t seen in years…. he recognised me and got involved in the conversation! Total moritification!

So here’s how my Mum did stuffed pork steak, and I continue doing it along similar lines.

Irish Pork Steak

Ingredients:

  • Pork Steak
  • Bread Crumbs – amount depends on size of pork steak
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Herbs of your choice – I used sage and thyme this time around
  • Pepper and Salt
  • Butter or Lard
  • Cocktail sticks

Method:

Firstly you will need to ‘open’ up the pork steak, so that it is flat and suitable for stuffing.  Watch the video here which shows you how.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees.

To make the stuffing:  gently fry your onion so that they are slightly cooked.  Add your onion to the breadcrumbs together with your herbs and seasoning.  (The herbs and seasoning I vary… in summer I might chop some tomatoes and basil, or some apple – the choice is yours).  Add some chopped butter or lard (or even a squeeze of lemon juice) to the mix.

Spoon the breadcrumbs onto your prepared pork steak.  Use the cocktail sticks to ‘pin’ it altogether.  (My Mum, bless her, used to have a special needle and thread in the kitchen drawer to ‘sew’ the pork steak back together!)

Irish Pork Steak ready for oven

Place your pork on a greased baking dish, and bake in oven for 30/35 minutes per lb/500 gr.

Serve with some roast potatoes and your favourite vegetables.

Enjoy :)

 

 

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Yes, you read it right….. Birdseed Bread!  The original recipe is Cynthia’s over on The Solitary Cook.  Don’t you just love the colour of her bread…. it really is a golden colour.  Mine I’m afraid didn’t come out that beautiful colour – I can only blame the Spelt flour or perhaps the oil?

Birdseed Bread

Birdseed Bread

When Cynthia posted the recipe I thought that looks really beautiful and then one of her followers asked if they could have the metric/imperial measurements rather than the US cup system.  I volunteered to do the conversion, as years and years ago on a trip to the US I had bought a plastic jug with cup measurements on it.

I’ve made the bread a few times.  Served it to a number of people all of whom loved it, and they have asked for the recipe so here it is, in “European” format.

Birdseed Bread 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg. Spelt Flour
  • 95 grams Millet
  • 95 grams Ground Flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons whole flax seed
  • 1 sachet active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 10 oz hot tap water
  • 10 oz milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 oz oil – I used sunflower oil

Method:

As always I have used spelt flour to make it.  I found the timings were a little different to Cynthia’s, so my advice is, if you are using regular strong flour follow Cynthia’s instructions.

Measure the dry ingredients into your mixer bowl, and use the dough hook to gently mix the yeast through the mix.

Put 10 oz of hot tap water into your jug, and add the 10 oz of milk.  According to Cynthia’s advice the temperatures will meet in the middle and be just right to activate the yeast.  Add to your bowl of dry ingredients, together with your egg, honey and oil.

Mix the dough on the lowest setting until it starts to come together.  It took about 10 minutes for the spelt flour and ingredients to come together and leave the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Turn off your mixer – put a lid on your bowl – or cover with a piece of cling film and leave to sit for 20 minutes.  (Cynthia gives an excellent explanation of the ‘autolyse‘ process, so do have a read of it.)

At the end of the 20 minutes, remove your plastic/lid (hold onto it you will need it again), turn the mixer back on.  You will now find that the dough will stick completely to the dough hook…. it is a completely different mixture.  Let it knead for about 7 or 8 minutes.  After that time, turn off your mixer, pull off a piece of your dough and stretch it.  If it breaks it needs more mixing.  If it stretches into a ‘windowpane’ your dough is ready for the next stage.

Briefly turn the dough out of the bowl.  Using a piece of kitchen paper rub the inside of the bowl with some oil.  Put your dough back in and cover with the cling film, or lid.

Now you have to wait for your dough to double in size.  I love Cynthia’s tip…. stick a piece of tape on the outside of the bowl so you can be sure it has doubled in size!  (I make this bread in the evening time when the kitchen is nice and warm, so this stage takes about an hour.)

When your dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it in two.  I made it into two round cakes.  Place each cake on parchment on your baking tray and let sit to once again double in size (about 45 minutes).

Preheat your oven to 375 deg. F/190 deg C.

When your final rise has completed slash the loaves with a good sharp serrated knife to a depth of about 1/2 inch.  Pop the loaves into the oven for about 45 minutes.

Your next challenge is not to devour it all when it comes out of the oven.  It smells wonderful and tastes delicious and is so so light.

Let me know if you try it!

Enjoy :)

 

 

 

 

 

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