Friday, 28 February 2014

Maple Syrup & Pecan Biscuits

Maple syrup and pecan nuts is one of those classic flavour combinations and is justifiably very popular. The somewhat smoky character of the maple syrup complements and accentuates the sweetly nutty flavour of the pecans. Some nuts, such as walnuts can have a slightly bitter edge to them but this is not the case with pecans and this makes them perfect for using in a range of dishes particularly sweet cakes and pastries.

I love maple syrup and pecan pastries and have always loved pecan pie, but for this recipe, I was keen to create a biscuit that highlighted how wonderful the maple syrup and pecan flavour combination is. I think that this biscuit does this very successfully.

The finished biscuits are lovely and crunchy around the edge and slightly chewy in the middle which I think is particularly pleasing.
The biscuits keep well for 3 or 4 days if stored in an air-tight tin, but do remember that once you have made the biscuit dough logs they can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days and you can bake a few biscuits to eat freshly baked rather than bake them all in one go. Just slice the dough, pop on a whole pecan and bake in the oven!


185g butter, at room temperature
185g sift brown sugar
60ml maple syrup
1tsp vanilla paste/extract
1 large egg
280g plain flour
½tsp baking powder
100g pecans, chopped fairly finely
30 whole pecans to decorate


1. Cream the butter and sugar together, in a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer, until pale and creamy. Add the maple syrup, vanilla paste and the egg and beat together until well combined.
2. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and add to the butter mixture. Use a wooden spoon to work the flour into the butter mixture to form a soft dough.
3. Divide the dough into two. Place one portion of dough onto a sheet on non-stick baking parchment and roll into a log shape approximately 30cms long and 5cms thick. Gently roll the log in half of the chopped pecans so that they become embedded in the outside of the log. Wrap the log in some cling-film. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Place the two cling-filmed logs in the fridge for chill for at least an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.
5. Remove the logs from the fridge and cut into slices about 1cm thick. Press a whole pecan into the top of each biscuit and place on the lined baking trays, making sure to leave a generous amount of space between each biscuit as they do spread quite a lot when they are baking.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a rich golden brown colour. Leave to cool for 5 minutes on the trays and then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Makes approximately 30 biscuits.


Thursday, 27 February 2014


Those who know me well, will recognise the fact that I am most definitely not a morning person; but rather, that I prefer to stay up late at night, reading, baking or watching films when everyone else is getting ready for bed or already in the land of nod. In this sense I am a true night owl – it’s the way that I have always been and I don’t imagine that I am going to change now.
The ironic thing is that, on balance, I think breakfast would probably be my favourite meal. By breakfast I don’t mean a quick bowl of cereal as you’re dashing out the door to try and get into the office or work on time. No! I mean the type of leisurely breakfasts that sustain and nourish but are blissful to eat; meals that include a selection of cereals, fruit, toast, breads, eggs etc. This to me is breakfast as it is meant to be. Granted, this type of meal is not something that you have that often, but when you do, it is something that is so enjoyable and…well… pleasurable!
We are constantly told by nutritionists and dieticians that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we are more productive in our everyday lives if we have something nourishing to eat before launching into the day’s activities.
Most of us can’t face huge quantities of food first thing in the morning, but as a special treat, every once in a while, it is lovely to have a ‘proper’ breakfast; a meal that leaves you feeling ready to face whatever the day may bring. The whole concept of brunch appeals to me as it seems more acceptable to indulge in a little feasting. Brunch is essentially a meal to be enjoyed as a late breakfast/early lunch and is one that really my predilection for staying up late and subsequently easing myself into the day when I awake the following morning.
I love period dramas such as the hugely popular Downton Abbey, where Lord Grantham and his
family arrive down to their grand and substantial breakfasts. At these meals, kedgeree invariably appears on the beautifully laid out breakfast table.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of kedgeree. Firstly, I love the sound of the word but I also love the exotic images eating it conjures up of the colonial lifestyle of yesteryear. Without a doubt these are my romanticised interpretation of what that life was really like.
Kedgeree makes quite a hearty breakfast or brunch dish, consisting of curried rice, poached smoked haddock and softly boiled eggs. I think that it is really delicious and it is one that when I make it, I wonder why I don’t do so more often. It also appeals to me because it is so simple to make and satisfies my theory for cooking good food… Simple + Delicious = Yum!


For the rice:
1-2 tblsp vegetable oil
1 large onion finely chopped
½tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground turmeric
A pinch of ginger
2tsp curry powder (mild or hot whichever you prefer)
300g basmati rice rinsed with running water
500ml water
For the poached haddock:
250g-300g undyed smoked haddock
300ml milk
3-4 bay leaves
To finish:
4 large eggs
A handful of curly parsley, finely chopped
A handful of coriander, finely chopped
Lemon wedges


For the rice:
1. Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan and fry the chopped onion over a moderate heat until softened, but do not allow to colour. Add the spices and curry powder and fry for 2-3 minutes over a gentle heat so that they have a chance to release their oil.
2. Add the rice and stir in well so that each grain gets a chance to be coated in the spicy oil. Add the water and as soon as it comes to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover the saucepan with a lid. Allow to gently simmer on the heat for 8 minutes and then remove. Allow to stand for at least ten minutes while you poach the haddock and boil the eggs. Do not lift the lid, as the key to obtaining perfectly cooked fluffy rice for this dish is to let it finish cooking off the heat in its own steam.
To poach the fish:
3. Put the smoked haddock, bay leaves and milk in a small, shallow pan and bring up to a simmer. Gently poach for about ten minutes and then remove the fish from the milk. Flake the fish into small chunks, removing and discarding and bones or skin that you come across.
To boil the eggs:
4. Place the eggs in a small saucepan and barely cover with cold water. Place the saucepan over a moderate heat and bring up to the boil. Once the water begins gently bubbling start timing. Allow to bubble for 5 minutes and then immediately remove from the heat. Drain off the hot water and cover with the eggs with cold water to arrest the cooking.
To assemble:
5. Gently mix the cooked rice, poached fish and the chopped herbs together. Taste and season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper as required. Peel the eggs and cut in half or in quarters. Place the softly boiled eggs atop the rice and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Serves 4.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lemon Curd Swiss Roll

The daffodils are starting to open and the evenings finally beginning to lengthen; I think that spring may have finally arrived. When I venture outdoors, I can hear the bleating of some of this year’s new-born lambs. It sounds clichéd but there is definitely an air of hope. I love this time of year and enthusiastically welcome the opportunity to cook dishes and prepare meals that reflect the freshness and vitality of the new season.
For me, there is something very spring-like about the taste of lemon and although lemons are available to buy all year round, they are at their peak, in terms of flavour, in late winter/early spring. I love the tangy freshness they impart to a whole range of dishes. I have spoken before about the seasoning properties of lemon juice and how a few squeezes can enliven the taste of many foods. I look upon lemons as an essential ingredient in the kitchen and always have a bowl-full of them to hand.
Given my great love for lemons, it is hardly surprising that I especially love lemon cakes and desserts. I regularly make lemon Victoria sponge cakes filled with homemade lemon curd and I am also partial to lemon mousses, soufflés, cheesecakes and of course lemon meringue pie. If the choice on a menu is between a lemon or chocolate dessert, I will always plump for the lemon option. Don’t misunderstand me… I also love anything that includes chocolate; it’s just that I prefer lemon.
This lemon swiss-roll recipe is loosely based on the recipe given in the wonderful Peyton & Byrne British Baking book, but as usual, I couldn’t resist tweaking the original slightly. In any event, if you are keen on baking, I strongly recommend that you try to get your hands on a copy of this book. Everything that I have made using the recipes contained within its pages tastes fabulous and has been devoured and much appreciated by the critics par excellence who are my friends and family. I have also made variations using bitter Seville oranges and pink grapefruit – but to be honest my favourite is this version.

The great thing about this recipe is that the swiss-roll can be served either as a tempting treat to have with a good cup of tea or a mug of coffee or as a dessert with a little extra whipped cream, if you like, served on the side. Either way, it is extremely tasty and something that I found irresistible.


For preparing the swiss-roll tin:
A large knob of butter, melted
2tblsp self-raising flour for dusting the tin
For the swiss-roll:
3 large eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2tsp lemon juice
100g self-raising flour, sifted
For the filling:
150ml single cream, lightly whipped
150g lemon curd
Some icing sugar for dusting 


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted butter over the base and side of a 32cm x 24cm swiss-roll tin and line with non-stick baking parchment. Brush a little more of the melted butter over the parchment and sprinkle with flour, tapping out any excess. Set aside.
3. Place the egg yolks and 140g of the caster sugar in a large mixing bowl. Using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and lemon zest together until they are a pale and creamy colour and have almost doubled in volume. Mix in the lemon juice and gently fold in the sifted flour. Set aside.
4. Clean, wash and thoroughly dry the whisk attachments from the hand-held electric mixer. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl and using the hand-held mixer, whisk them until they are starting to form gentle peaks. Add 35g caster sugar and mix for another minute of so until it is fully incorporated. This is your meringue.
5. Stir a couple of large tablespoons of the meringue into the egg-yolk mixture and mix through to loosen the mixture slightly. Add the rest of the meringue and fold in to the egg-yolk mixture trying to avoid knocking too much air out of the meringue. Once mixed, pour this batter into the prepared tin, smoothing out the mixture evenly (and gently) with an offset palette knife. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the cake has risen, feels springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow cool for about 5 minutes.
6. Turn the swiss-roll out onto clean cling-film which you have sprinkled with icing sugar. Carefully peel away the parchment paper and roll up the sponge from the short end, incorporating the cling film in each turn. Set aside to cool. When the sponge is completely cooled, carefully unroll it and spread the lemon curd evenly over it, followed by a layer of the cream. Use the cling film to help you roll out the swiss-roll again, but this time don’t allow any of it to become incorporated. Wrap in clean cling-film and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.
7. When you are ready to serve the swiss-roll, carefully unwrap it from the cling-film and either sprinkle the top with some icing sugar or put 2 or 3 tablespoons of lemon curd into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle and pipe in random stripes over the swiss-roll.
8. Serve cut into slices.

Serves 8-10.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Plum & Apple Crumble (with Amaretto)

I have previously expressed my great love for the humble crumble, so for fear of becoming repetitive, I shall merely say that this was very much a dish that I threw together with ingredients that I had hanging around my kitchen.

I had a few plums and a couple of cooking apples and I wanted something warm and comforting to serve on what was a miserable, rainy day (is Spring EVER going to come??) and this is what I decided to make… And very tasty it was too!

Almonds seem to have a natural affinity with many stone fruits so I decided to use some ground almonds in the crumble mix, but I also added a good glug of Amaretto to the fruit mixture. Somehow the almond flavoured liqueur made the plums taste even more of plums. That sounds a little daft, but try out this recipe and you will see what I mean. I was particularly pleased that I decided to strew a few flaked almonds over the top of the crumble, because these became slightly toasted whilst the crumble was baking and added a very pleasing crunch and a lovely contrast to the softness of the baked fruit.

I could pretend that great thought and planning went into this dish – but it didn’t. It really was made up of ingredients that I had hanging around and was made because I had a hankering for something nice to eat; - something that wouldn’t require complex processes and could be produced fairly quickly and easily. But this is what cooking in the home should be about… really delicious tasting food made with love and care from simple ingredients.


8 plums, stoned and cut into quarters
2 large cooking apples, peeled core and cut into small chunks
50g caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
50ml Amaretto
50ml water
250g plain flour
140g butter, cubed
140g Demerara sugar
30g ground almonds
A large handful of flaked almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/ Gas Mark 4.
2. Mix the plums, apples, sugar and cinnamon together and place into a 20cm x 28cm x 6cm deep (approximately) oven-proof dish. Sprinkle over the Amaretto and water and set aside while you make the crumble.
3. Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter. You do not have to be too fussy about rubbing in every bit of butter as a few flakes remaining actually create a better, lighter crumble. Mix through the sugar and ground almonds so that they are well distributed. Pile this mixture evenly on top of the fruit mixture and sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the crumble.
4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-45 minutes, until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit juices are bubbling around the side of the dish.
5. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, but serve whilst still warm with lightly whipped cream, custard or whatever takes your fancy.

Serves 6.


Japanese-style Beef Salad

There are times when I want to eat something fresh tasting but something that is also satisfying at the same time. This salad fits the bill perfectly; the vegetables are fresh and crunchy and the barely seared beef adds something more substantial so that you are not feeling hungry again, half an hour later.

The key thing about this salad is that you really do need to use quality beef… and not just any old cut;- it has to be fillet steak. Fillet steak can be shockingly expensive, but as you don’t need a huge amount of it, it is an affordable dish and one that you can treat yourself to every now and again.

At a fundamental level this salad is really a play on the classic Italian dish of Beef Carpaccio but with Asian/Japanese inspired flavours. I remember the very first time that I ever tried Beef Carpaccio. Many years ago I was invited out to dinner by clients of the company that I worked for at the time. I was easily impressed in those days and thought that my fellow diners were terribly stylish and urbane. I can remember wanting to make an impression on them…or more truthfully, I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself!
Beef Carpaccio was ordered as a starter for the table. I was horrified when it arrived… the meat was RAW, but not wanting to appear naïve and unsophisticated, I tentatively ate some. What a revelation! Yes the meat was uncooked, but it had been so thinly sliced and served as it was, at room temperature, you could really taste the fantastic flavour of the meat. In every sense it was dish that celebrated the wonderful quality of the beef that was used. I relay this story mainly because I personally learnt a very important lesson that day; which is to try everything at least once and not dismiss something without having sampled it first. So, if you baulk when reading through my recipe below, remember my story.

We are so lucky here in Ireland because we have some of the best beef in the world readily available to buy… so try this recipe and rejoice in the quality of some of the best that Ireland has to offer… as I always say there has to be some pay-back for all the rain we get… and there is – wonderful green pastures on which our cattle can feed and which contribute to the excellence of our beef.

I am going to hold my hands up now and say that I am not a particular fan of raw chillies – but they work here, creating welcome warmth in the mouth with what is essentially a cold salad, and whilst I think that you can easily vary the vegetables used, it is recommended that you don’t exclude the chillies.


100g fillet steak
Salt & white pepper
1 small carrot, julienned
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
A handful of thinly sliced red onion
2 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
½ courgette, cut into 5cm long julienne strips
½ green chilli, thinly sliced into strips lengthways
½ red chilli, thinly sliced into strips lengthways
A few leaves of fresh coriander
1tblsp olive oil
1tblsp light soy sauce
2tsp rice wine vinegar


1. Place a griddle pan over a high heat and allow to get very hot.
2. Season the outside of the beef with salt and pepper and then sear for about 20 seconds on each side until golden brown. Immediately remove from the pan and set aside to cool completely. When cool wrap the beef tightly in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour.
To assemble:
3. Toss the salad ingredients loosely together in a small bowl and place a small mound in the centre of the serving plates.
4. Remove the cling-film from the beef and using a very sharp knife, slice into the thinnest slices that you can. Arrange the beef slices on the plate around the salad.
5. Using a small hand whisk, mix the salad ingredients together and drizzle a little over the salad and the beef.

Serves 2.