Guilt Free Caesar Salad

ceaser salad Guilt Free Caesar Salad

Like most people I know, I'm all about trying to ‘having my cake and eat it’, but this has very obvious drawbacks. Sometimes you just crave a seriously garlicky, creamy dressing but without all the calories, well I think I've found it.  I came across this while researching vegetarian dressings on line and the magic ingredient is silken tofu.  It does away with the whole oil and egg emulsion, so  it’s practically fat free , doesn't get much better than that! I also made crispy chickpeas as a crouton substitute, but the jury’s still out on that one…I remain unconvinced.

You can find silken tofu in a good health food shop.

Ingredients

350g package of silken tofu, drained

30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp Dijon mustard

A good splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp sea salt

A good grinding of black pepper

Method

Chuck it all in a liquidiser or use a stick blender.  Puree all the ingredients together, taste and check for seasoning.  Store in a lidded container in the fridge, should last about a week.

 

Chickpea Croutons

400g tin of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried

Juice of ½ lemon

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp onion powder

 

Method

 

Tip the chickpeas onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and put into a cold oven.  Set the temperature for 180c and bake for approximately 30 minutes.  Turn the oven off, leaving them to cool in the oven for about an hour.  Store in an airtight container.

 

Cloud Bread

Apparently these have almost taken over Pinterest within the last week or so,they are called Cloud Breads and are completely carb and gluten free. There are only three ingredients, eggs, cottage cheese and cream of tartar.

I had no cream of tartar so I substituted with a few drops of lemon juice and added white poppy seeds and black sesame seeds for added flavour.FullSizeRender

As far as I'm concerned, there is no substitute for real bread, but at a push these would probably be a nice protein rich snack. I think the real charm of these is that you can add whatever flavourings you want to.  Finely chopped herbs, freshly grated parmesan, spices, and garlic or for the sweeter toothed vanilla, cinnamon or lemon zest. The original recipe uses cream cheese, I used low fat cottage cheese instead.

Cloud Bread

Ingredients

3 eggs, separated

3 Tbsp low fat cottage cheese or full fat cream cheese

1/4 Tsp cream of tartar

salt and pepper and flavourings of your choice

Method

Preheat the oven to 170c/ fan 150c

1 Put the egg yolks, cottage cheese and seasoning and flavours into a bowl and whisk together until smooth.

2 In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites  and a few drops of lemon juice if you don't have cream of tartar, until they're in stiff peaks and gently fold together with the yolk mixture.

3 Drop tablespoons onto a lightly greased baking tray and bake in the oven for approximately. 15-20 minutes.

Where's the Beef?

Beef I'm not going to bore you with a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon, so easy to look up on line or in a trusted cookery book, but I do want to draw your attention to the the three most important elements to keep in mind before you embark on making such a wonderful casserole.

  1. The cut of beef needs to be what I call 'gnarly'. It needs to come from a well used muscle on the beast, it needs to have connective tissue which will melt down and will give an unctuous, gelatinous feel to the finished dish .
  2. You need to boil the red wine for about 15 mins to get rid of the raw alcohol taste. Once it's completely cold, then it's safe to use as your marinade.
  3. Take your time, this cannot be rushed. Whenever I make this, I give myself two days, it's ready by the end of the second day, but tastes even better by day four.

Useful Cooking Tip

Toasted flour

 

 

"it's all in the prep".  Getting as much done as possible before the event and boxed away. We have a family "Do" coming up in a few weeks and I've already started my lists and have done my calculations. It's not a very large gathering but I always want to get it right on the night, so I give myself plenty of time to pull it all together.

Whenever you're catering for large numbers, you really need to have crowd pleaser dishes unless you are very familiar with your guests palettes.  I try to avoid doing chicken as its so mundane , I avoid lamb because it's not to everybodies taste so I've gone back to the drawing board for the classic version of Boeuf Bourguignon by Raymond Blanc, although he doesn't use mushrooms.

I came across this great tip which I'd never heard of before that I want to share with you. Empty a good lot of plain flour onto a baking sheet ( I used half a bag) and bake it in a the oven at 180 o C, until it's nice and toasted, approximately 15 minutes.  When it's cool, pour it into a clean, dry jar. This is now my "go to" flour whenever I need to sprinkle in a spoonful of flour to thicken casseroles, sauces or soups. Not only are you adding flavour, you are also cooking it out which makes it easier to digest.

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Wonky Veg

I have been watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's new TV programm "War on Waste", with great interest, as  It's a subject that I'm very passionate about. We have become borderline obsessive about so called beauty perfection, I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of social media. The constant strive for flawlessness in all our lives, shown almost as soft porn across the mediums of Instagram ,Facebook and other social platforms. There is almost a fear of being seen as individual or to stand out from the crowd. I find it quite shocking that we shun the normal and ridicule the ugly or not perfect. None of it comes even close to representing my  less than perfect life. We have become a disposable society, chucking old phones away just because a new model is out and this cosmetic standard has filtered itself insidiously into our shopping baskets.

I genuinely believe this is not customer driven, we simply have not been given the choice. The supermarkets have created this beauty pageant for perfect vegetables and the farmers are losing out. We're also on the losing side, I know I would much prefer to pay a bit less for wonky veg and the farmers wouldn't have to needlessly dispose of the crops. It must be soul destroying for them as well as hitting them in their pocket. Think about it, no farmers no food.  Food that can be eaten by human beings, should be eaten by human beings. What are your thoughts? Check out Hugh's website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in August

I really love that my life has taken this turn into the world of multimedia. As I get older and my knees get creakier I find myself relishing the thought of sitting at my keyboard and regaling you with some great stories of my time spent at the stove and hopefully you can pick up plenty of cooking ideas and tips along the way. When I think back  to all the functions, weddings, christening and even divorce parties that I did over the years ( there was even a "face-lift party", I kid you not). But, always, by my side, were my team . We were like a well oiled machine. I always felt I was as good as the people I was lucky enough to surround myself with.

So this part of my cooking life is almost like the second act and couldn't be more different. Don't get me wrong, I'm not missing the physicality and sweat of the professional kitchen, but the work I produce these days does have it's own set of problems.

As the title of this post suggests, I'm doing everything way out of season ,which can be a bit of a head scratcher.  But I am nothing if not resourceful . We were on holidays down in Ballymaloe cookery school last August when  it was decided I would do a Christmas tipple for the fabulous Nov/Dec issue of Image Interiors mag. Well, I trawled through the supermarkets and shops of East Cork , searching in vain for cranberries, all the shopkeepers  must have thought I was completely batty, the sun was literally splitting the stones. Thankfully the cookery school came to the rescue with a lovely bag of cranberries from their freezer. This is a lovely little recipe and super easy to prepare.

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You will need

130g sugar 180ml water Zest of ½ an orange 150g cranberries, fresh or frozen 350ml vodka

Method

1 Bring sugar, water, orange zest and cranberries up to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until cranberries start to burst, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

2 Use the immersion blender (or a fork) to roughly break up the cranberries just enough so as the juice is released, yet the mixture remains chunky.

3 Pour into a sterilised sealable jar (I sterilise my jars and lids in the dishwasher) along with the vodka and seal. Shake. Allow to steep for about two days @ room temperature. Sample and continue to steep until you’re happy with the flavour.

4 Strain through a sieve lined with muslin (I used a new J Cloth), pressing down to extract as much liquid as possible. Decant into a pretty glass bottle and store in the fridge. It’s supposed to keep for about 6 months but ours never lasted that long!

 

The importance of condiments

IMG_2830For people that know me,  here I will hold up both my hands and admit, I am a condiment slut. You really can't underestimate the importance of the quality of good condiments. I'm talking about salt, pepper,oil,butter, these sometimes thought of as incidental in the grand scheme of a recipe. But I feel they are the backbone of your flavour palate and should be sought out and cared for. You probably think I'm mad but I feel very strongly about the different qualities of salt that I use,for example, we all know the free flowing stuff you get in the supermarket is good for quite a few things like seasoning a new wok, washing lettuces, a super fast brine with ice for chilling warm wine and de icing the drive.

I know there are salts from all corners of the globe, Himalayan pink, Hawaiian black, French gris and even liquid salt from the Basque region of Spain.They're all still sitting on my shelves because I keep returning to what I feel is the best salt for cooking, Maldon. The way the crystals flake effortlessly between your fingertips, it's minerally taste and it makes a visually appealing garnish.Invest in a spice grinder, you'll thank me for it, makes life easier in the kitchen. I grind peppercorns as I need them. Black, green and pink(not really a peppercorn at all, it's a member of the poison ivy family!). I am also a fan of white pepper, you know the really fine powder, fabulous in champ or any dish that you want to keep all white, it fairly packs a punch.

I would love to be considered as an ambassador for Kerrygold butter, it would be the easiest, most rewarding job in the world because I LOVE BUTTER. It makes everything taste better. Try making a Beurre Noisette salad dressing

airplants

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These are Air plants, aren't they amazing looking. Their proper name is Tillandsia, they are evergreen perennials, native to the mountains and deserts of central and south America, also the West Indies. I think they look quite ethereal and prehistoric. They are actually quite hardy, but you do need to protect them from frosts. I have them in the bathroom on a glass shelf, displayed in some shells. They need to be misted about once a week and fed once a month with a Bromeliad fertiliser. The real trick with these guys is in the name, you need to have a good circulation of air around them. I think they are beautiful

lemon verbena

lemon verbena I think this has to be one of my favourite herbs of all time, well it's up there with thyme , basil and annual marjoram. If you are lucky enough to spot it in a garden centre or more likely a plant sale, grab some. They're very easy to grow but you do need to protect them from heavy frosts. I get away with leaving them outside all year round because they are quite sheltered on the bottom terrace where they grow, in pots, under some trees. You could be forgiven for thinking they haven't survived the winter as you're scrutinising the puny bare twigs, devoid of the merest scrap of green,then the weather warms up and you start to see the elongated leaves appear. When you rub the leaves it feels like a cat's tongue or a shark's skin ( I have felt that !) The sharp, floral fragrance reminds me of "acid drops" sweets. Anyone remember them? The leaves make a really delicious tea, just scrunch up some freshly picked leaves and pour over boiled water.

Here's a recipe for lemon verbena syrup. This will keep in the fridge for a good few weeks, well worth making. I use it folded through whipped cream for fools, as a syrup for fruit salad or as a base for cocktails.

You will need

500g sugar

500ml water

And a good big handful of lemon verbena leaves

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, when it is completely dissolved, whack up the heat and chuck in the leaves. Let it simmer for about 10-15 mins,strain into a sterilised bottle.

I'm back.

tomatillos I feel I should apologise for my long absence, life has a strange way of distracting you from your chosen path sometimes. At the same time, family does and should come first.

The shot of the tomatillos is from last summer, I had so many I really didn't know what to do with them all.

They are super easy to grow and one plant is sufficient for a family to enjoy. They have an ungainly gait, a bit straggly, needing some gentle support against blustery summer days ( like we're enduring now ).

Like most things in the veg plot, the more you pick the more they grow. When you peel back the papery husk on the outside  the first thing you notice is the waxy coating on the fruit, this needs to be washed off. My favourite way of using these is to dry roast them on a really hot skillet, along with red onion, garlic and chillies.

Tomatillo Salsa

Tomatillos

Tomatoes

garlic,peel left on

Red onion cut into quarters, peel left on.

Red or Green chillies,  pierce with a sharp knife ( stops them exploding).

Limes cut in half.

Salt, pepper and coriander to finish.

Method

Heat up the skillet, you might need to open a window for this one.

Place all the vegetables onto the now smoking skillet. Keep turning the veg with a tongs, until every thing is all nicely blackened and blistered. Scrape everything, except the peel from the garlic and onions, into a pestle and mortar, squeeze the juice from the limes, season with salt and pepper and bash away until nice and chunky. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve in a nice bowl. This is fabulous with anything BBQ'd

Preserving

cranberry I had the good fortune to spend two weeks last September, cooking in a beautiful Chateau  on the Atlantic coast of France. Now there is one thing I absolutely love to do in a foreign country and that's shopping. I mean food shopping in supermarkets.  I know there is the obvious charm and gentle ripple of excitement when browsing through the fabulous outdoor markets that seem to be held on different days in most villages and towns in France, but you learn a lot about the mindset  and shopping habits of the average French housewife. For example, on turning a corner to escape a wandering , smooth looking French man wearing a microphone and headset, whose garrulous voice was being piped over the tannoy as he stopped shoppers to rummage in their shopping trolleys and go on to ask them, with much joviality, what they were going to cook for their supper, I ask you! I came across a whole lane of shelves devoted to the art of preserving. Glass Kilner jars with orange  rubber seals and sturdy metal clasps , rows upon rows, all sizes. Tubes, funnels, labels, thermometers, and all manner of utensils devoted to the art of preserving. They have so much respect for what they grow and eat, that they will think nothing of spending a whole day or weekend bottling up a glut of whatever is in season, and would have shelves groaning under the weight , to be brought out and eaten in the depths of winter.

But the thing that nearly blew me away was the ability to be able to buy a bottle of Alcool pour Fruits 40% , for €13, in a supermarket!

I know, there are many obvious reasons that we'll never see that being allowed here in Ireland !

Anyway, I brought some home and bottled up some redcurrants from the allotment. Super easy to do, you actually don't even really need to sterilize the jars as the alcohol will do that for you.

cranberry jars

 

Recipe

Pick a nice jar that you think will fit the amount of fruit you happen to have, raspberries, blueberries or redcurrants. Make sure nothing is bruised or damaged. Pop into jar, add some sugar to taste , top up with the alcohol and screw lid shut tight. Keep somewhere cool and dark, shake from time to time. Should be ready to drink in about a month. Makes a lovely aperitif or digestif. Great anytime!

Apple Curd

apple curd crop Makes 5 x1lb Jars I’ve used this instead of jam in a Victoria sandwich, it was delicious.

You will need

700g cooking apples - peeled, cored and sliced 150ml water Juice of 1 lemon 340g granulated sugar 2 large eggs, beaten 110g butter 1 pinch ground ginger

Method

1. In a saucepan over a medium heat, combine the sliced apples, water and lemon juice and simmer gently for about 45 minutes until the apples are soft. Remove from the heat.

2. Purée the apples with a hand held liquidiser .Mix in the sugar, eggs, butter and ginger and cook and stir gently over a low heat until the mixture thickens, but do not allow to boil.

3. Transfer to sterile jars and cover immediately. Allow to set overnight undisturbed in the fridge.

Tip Apple curd should be made in small batches and should be eaten when it is at its best which is within a few days of being made. Keep in the fridge when not in use.

Tarte Tatin

apple tarte overhead crop Ideally make this the day before as the natural pectin in the apples will almost ‘set’ the tart.

Re heat gently in a low oven for about 10 minutes before carefully turning out onto a plate.

Serves 6

 

You Will Need

Good quality shop bought puff pastry

For the filling 40ml water 100g caster sugar 900g (about 6) dessert apples/Cox’s Pippin 90g unsalted butter, 60g chilled and diced, 30g melted

 

Method

1. To prepare the pastry, Roll out to a 3mm think round on a lightly floured surface and cut a 24cm circle, using a plate as a guide.

2. Lightly prick all over with a fork, wrap in cling film and freeze. Preheat the oven to 180, put the water into the tatin dish (I used a frying pan with an ovenproof handle). Spoon the sugar evenly over and let it absorb the water for 1-2 minutes.

3. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Over a medium-high heat, cook the sugar syrup to a very pale blond caramel, then stir in the 60g diced chilled butter off the heat.

4. Arrange the apple quarters very tightly in a circle around the edge of the dish first, rounded side down, then fill in the middle in a similar fashion.

5. Gently press with your hands to ensure there are no gaps and brush the fruit with melted butter.

6. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes, then take out the dish. Place the disk of frozen puff pastry on top of the tatin and tuck in the edges down the side of the dish.

7. With a knife prick a few holes in the pastry to allow steam to escape. Bake in the oven for a further 40-45 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown and crisp.