Sunday, 31 August 2014

Roast Quail with Pomegranate, Honey, Cinnamon & Thyme

This is such an easy dish to prepare and packs a real flavour punch despite the relatively few ingredients that go into its making.
 Quail originally hail from the Middle East but are now farmed in Europe and are becoming increasingly popular and readily available to buy in many of the larger supermarkets and speciality food shops and butchers. Depending on their size and whether they are being served as a starter or main course one or two quail per person is usually sufficient. Here, I was lucky to get my hands on some nice plump little birds, so I served one per person, along with a chickpea and couscous salad generously flavoured with lemon, mint and flat leaf parsley, echoing some of the classic flavours of the Middle East and a passing nod to the quail’s origins.
My children love roast chicken and (as I have mentioned before) when served with all the trimmings, it is probably their favourite meal to eat. Personally, I prefer eating game, particularly game birds and have been trying to tempt my three into being a little more adventurous with what they deign to dine on. I do think that there’s something pitiful about the fact that they like chicken nuggets and dippers over experiencing the joys of eating pheasant, wild pigeon, partridge, grouse and other game. I fully appreciate the fact that some game birds taste…well… very GAMEY… and might not appeal to younger palates, but I haven’t given up the fight.
Rather than serve them pigeon or something radically different to what they are used to eating, I have recently started introducing them to different types of fowl including guinea fowl and quail. Admittedly, I presented each of these as “small chickens” and only owned up to what they really were after my gang had eaten them and declared them to be delicious. Sometimes we are too squeamish about the food we eat and are put off eating delicious things because we don’t like the sound of them. Being a borderline glutton with an adventurous appetite for all types of food, I have never been afraid to try anything new and I will admit that I would like to pass this on to my children.

I was delighted with the reaction to this dish and thrilled that it has been requested again by my gang. At its simplest, the quail are simply roasted, but the dish has oodles of added flavour by virtue of the garlic, herbs and honey with which the birds were cooked. This is a really simple and flavoursome dish, which I encourage you to try. You will see from the instruction given that this is an incredibly uncomplicated dish to prepare and in my books that is a further plus in its favour.


4-6 quail, prepared with innards removed and oven-ready
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut into 4-6 wedges
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2tblsp runny honey
1tblsp of white wine vinegar
Seeds of 3 pomegranates
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5.
2. Place the prepared quail in a roasting tin and stuff their cavities with a lemon wedge and some of the garlic and thyme. Once you have stuffed the cavities, gently truss the quail legs together with some string.
3. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds from two of the pomegranates and nestle more of the garlic and thyme around the birds. Drizzle over the honey and add the white wine vinegar. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, basting a couple of times during the cooking with the roasting juices. When ready the birds should have a deep golden colour.
4. Scatter over the seeds of the final pomegranate, just before serving.
Serves 4.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Guinness Sticky Toffee Puddings

What is there not to love about sticky toffee pudding? It is warm, sweet, sticky and the ultimate in comfort food. The soft but rich sponge drenched in a toffee-like caramel sauce is just addictive despite the fact that they are sinfully sweet. I honestly believe that if a hundred people were surveyed and asked what their favourite dessert was, sticky toffee pudding would be right up there near the top of the list. Interestingly, I have found that men in particular seem to love it and often choose it on dessert menus.

The great thing about this pudding is that it is relatively easy to make at home and there are no complex processes involved. You can make it in one large dish and then portion it out when serving or you can do as I have, and make individual puddings. I love food that is prepared and served in individual sized portions… it just feels more special somehow; as if a lot of care and thought has gone into its making.

I have made many sticky toffee puddings over the years and they have always been extraordinarily popular, but rather than make my usual ‘standard’ version, I decided this time that I wanted to do something a little different. I often use stout in my cooking as I think that it adds a depth and richness to those dishes in which it is used. One of my favourite meals is Beef in Guinness Stew …which is so tasty and another great comfort food dish. I am also a great lover of traditional Christmas Pudding and my fail-safe recipe, the one that I have been using for years, is one that uses Guinness. Inspired by these recipes and others that I regularly cook and bake which also include Guinness, I decided that I would use it as the liquid in which to soak my dates for these sticky toffee puddings.

The Guinness really worked a treat lending a subtle richness but slight tang that actually cut through some of the overall sweetness of the puddings. I thought it added something extra but without taking away from the essential character of the puddings. It may be blowing my own trumpet but I think that the addition of Guinness actually improves what is a classic pudding and I shall definitely be including it when making it again.


300ml Guinness
175g dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
215g self-raising flour, sifted
150g butter
180g soft brown sugar
225ml double cream
To serve:
50g walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan


1. Place the Guinness in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and then remove from the heat. Add the dates and bicarbonate of soda and set aside. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes.
2. Grease 8 small pudding basins (about 200ml capacity) with butter and line the base with a small circle of non-stick baking parchment. Place on a baking tray and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
4. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition so that they are fully incorporated.
5. Fold in the flour and then add the dates and Guinness mixture, mixing everything together thoroughly. The mixture will be quite sloppy, but this is exactly how it should be.
6. Divide the batter between the prepared pudding bowls, filling each no more than 2/3 full as the mixture rises quite significantly as it bakes. Bake the puddings in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until they are well risen and a thin skewer inserted in to the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes while you make the sauce.
7. Place the butter and sugar into a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil over a moderate heat. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Carefully add the cream, continuously stirring. Allow to bubble for a further minute and then remove from heat.
To serve:
8. Turn out the puddings onto individual plates and pour over some of the unctuous sauce. These puddings are fabulous served with vanilla ice-cream where the cold creaminess contrasts so well with the hot, rich pudding! Scatter around a few lightly toasted walnuts to add a little nutty crunch.
Serves 8.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blog Awards Ireland 2014 and a recipe for a Plum Tart

I was thrilled to be shortlisted recently in the Food & Drink category for the Blog Awards Ireland 2014. When the shortlist was published and I saw that my blog was included, I think that it is fair to say that I was more than a little bit delighted.

I started thinking about why I first started writing this blog and the things I hoped to achieve by doing it. At its simplest, I started writing this blog because I hoped that people would be interested in the recipes that I had to share, many of which were based on much loved dishes from my childhood. I also wanted to have a collection of these recipes in one place so that my children could use them in years to come and that they would remember me (hopefully fondly) when they cooked them.  For me, cooking is about conviviality, sharing and ultimately it’s about nurturing and providing food for the people you love and care about; at its heart are family and the extended community.

I was an enthusiastic reader as a child and eagerly read anything that I could get my hands on - newspapers, magazines, hovels and reference books; but I derived the most pleasure from reading the three or four ancient looking cookbooks that my grandmother owned.

These were cookbooks without photographs and sparsely illustrated with very simple line drawings. Because of this, I had to imagine what some of the dishes would taste like from reading the ingredients lists and cooking instructions. I think it was here that my love of food and cookery really began to develop. I longed to read other cookbooks and tried to persuade my grandmother to purchase some new books, but she always resisted, preferring instead to base her cooking on tried and trusted recipes she’d learnt over the years and the ones contained in her own cookbooks.

In those childhood years, I often thought about how much I would love to be a food-writer. Over the years, life intervened and not knowing how to pursue that dream, it fell by the wayside and other priorities emerged, but my love for cooking and reading cookery books, magazines and articles remained and flourished. When I started working, I was able to afford to buy myself the occasional cookbook and my collection started to grow. (Note: a couple of decades later, it’s now at an embarrassingly large size!)
With social media and the world of blogging, I can now write about food and share my enthusiasm for Irish ingredients and recipes and show how travel and other food cultures have influenced my cookery. It’s hard to express how much I love writing and sharing recipes, but it is something that I truly enjoy.

The following is a recipe – a variation on the frangipane tart theme – which I regularly cook using seasonal fruits and one that is really useful for exploiting whatever is at its best. To make life really simple there is no blind baking of pastry shells involved; pastry discs are simple cut out from a sheet of puff pastry and are topped with a simple frangipane mixture and the fruit of your choice and are then baked. You can ring the changes by using other ground pistachios or hazelnuts in place of the almonds and can of course use whatever fruit takes your fancy. This recipe typifies my approach to cooking – one that is simple to prepare, easily adaptable and most important of all, delicious to eat!

In the photos accompanying this post you will see that I have served my tarts with a scoop of ice-cream. This was a roasted almond ice-cream and it went perfectly with the plum tarts. I was so pleased with the recipe for the almond ice-cream so will post the recipe for it separately.


350g puff pastry (preferably made with all-butter)
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
125g ground almonds
1tblsp plain flour
25ml Amaretto
6 plums, halved and stones removed, cut into thin slices
A little icing sugar for dusting


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Roll out the puff pastry until it is about 3mm thick and cut out 8 discs about 12-14cms in diameter using a small plate as a guide. Place these on the prepared baking trays. Prick each pastry disc several times with a fork. Set aside.
3. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the eggs beating well after each addition. Add the ground almonds and the flour and mix these in well. Finally add the Amaretto and mix briefly until just incorporated.
To finish:
4. Spread 2 or 3 tablespoons of the frangipane on each disc to within about a centimetre of the edge of the pastry, using a small palette knife or the back of a spoon.
5. Once you have spread the frangipane on top of the puff pastry discs, arrange the plum slices in a circle on top of the frangipane. Dust lightly with icing sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the tarts have risen slightly, the frangipane is a deep golden colour and the fruit is cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking trays for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve with a scoop of ice-cream or a little clotted cream.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Cherry Sorbet

My last state-of-the-art ice-cream maker recently decided to die on me! I was devastated, because although a bit of a dinosaur in technology terms (it was over 15 years old) it had served me well, literally churning out ice-creams and sorbets by the litre. It was so easy to use and I loved it.
 I love the experimentation you can do with different ingredients and flavours when you make your own ice-cream at home, so I knew that I would have to replace this now deceased small home-appliance; and sooner rather than later!

I was browsing around my local Aldi store recently and lo and behold, they had ice-cream makers on offer for €25! I had paid significantly more than that for my original one. It sounds a little bit perverse of me, but I was more than a little bit suspicious whether this piece of machinery could be any good, when it was being offered at such a low price, but I decided that I would risk it, because even if it was useless, it cost relatively little and I could eventually invest in a better one, if I had to.

Well, let me tell you, this is a great little machine and I have been making ice-creams and sorbets galore since I acquired it.

As I think any regular followers of my blog will know… I am a little bit obsessed with fresh cherries at the moment. Well, in keeping with my basic philosophy of trying to cook and eat seasonally in as far as possible, cherries are in season at the moment. Pretty soon I will probably be on a blackberry, mushroom and game overload as autumn really sets in but for now I’m trying a few last cherry recipes before their season comes to an end for this year.

Let me tell you, this sorbet was a triumph. I was so pleased with how it turned out. It was bursting with intense cherry flavour and the colour was AMAZING!

The underlying principles of making this sorbet could be adapted to use other fruits in season, but at the moment, to my mind, this cherry sorbet will takes some beating. It was fabulous.


900g fresh cherries, pitted
225ml water
300g caster sugar
50ml lemon juice
1tblsp kirsch (optional)
1tblsp liquid glucose


1. Place the cherries, water and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a moderate heat. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes until the cherries are soft. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
2. Puree the cherries in a blender or food processor and then pass through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. This step is not absolutely necessary, but it really does ensure that the resulting sorbet is beautifully smooth. Allow the puree to cool completely and then add the lemon juice, kirsch (if using) and liquid glucose.
3. Pour the cooled mixture into the bowl of the ice-cream maker and churn following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Omelette Arnold Bennett

There are times when I like to cook things that are a little extravagant to eat but still quick to cook. I have always been a great lover of smoked haddock, ever since my grandmother first introduced me to her fish chowder which included it, along with fresh cod, potatoes and sweetcorn. Smoked Haddock is also one of the main ingredients in Omelette Arnold Bennett.

Arnold Bennett was an English writer, novelist and journalist, born in the late 19th century. Legend has it that the eponymous omelette was created for him whilst he was staying in the Savoy Hotel finishing one of his novels. The omelette still appears on the menu of the Savoy Grill and is one of its most popular dishes.

I have to admit, that I have long been fascinated with this dish, but had never tried it. I managed to get my hands on some lovely un-dyed smoked haddock and decided that now was the time to get around to it.

Be under no illusions, this is a rich dish consisting of a thick omelette, almost like a Spanish tortilla, topped with a rich hollandaise or béchamel sauce which includes generous chunks of softly poached smoked haddock. Restraint is not the order of the day here and everything is cooked in butter and then topped with some grated gruyère or parmesan before being finished off under a hot grill.

I absolutely loved this dish… it was incredibly delicious and the balance of flavours between the smokiness of the haddock, the slight saltiness of the cheese and the creaminess of the eggs and the béchamel sauce was just wonderful. All in all it took me about twenty minutes to make this recipe from start to finish, which was also another major plus.

Smoked fish and particularly smoked haddock, which is quite meaty can stand up to being paired with other strong flavours, without getting lost, but it is nice to add a little bit of freshness by the addition of a generous amount of chopped parsley. You could also add some fresh chives as their faint onion taste would also work well here.

Although, this dish is intended to be eaten hot, I found that the chilled leftovers made a particularly tasty packed lunch for me in work the following day.

The recipe that I give here is an amalgamation and adaptation of the recipes given by two of my favourite and most trusted food writers Delia Smith and Nigel Slater. Delia’s recipe can be accessed here and Nigel’s recipe can be accessed here


To poach the smoked haddock:
250g smoked haddock (natural and un-dyed if possible)
300ml milk
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
4-5 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Béchamel sauce:
40g butter
30g plain flour
Large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
25g butter
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
25g grated parmesan or gruyère
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


To poach the fish:
1. Place all the poaching ingredients for poaching the fish in a medium sized saucepan and bring up to simmering point over a moderate heat. Allow to simmer for about 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
2. Remove the fish from the poaching liquid and gently flake into generous chunks. Strain the poaching liquid into a clean jug and discard, the onions, bay leaf and peppercorns.
Béchamel sauce:
3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a moderate heat and then add in the flour, stirring continuously with a small whisk. Allow to cook for one minute to get rid of the raw flour taste. Gradually whisk in the reserved poaching milk and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes over a gentle heat to create a smooth, slightly thick sauce. Remove from the heat and fold in the flaked fish and chopped parsley. Set aside while you make the omelette.
4. Heat the butter in an omelette or small frying pan (about 20cms in diameter) over a gentle heat. Once the butter has melted, add the eggs and season lightly. Once the eggs have almost set but still have a slight wobble in the centre, add the smoked haddock béchamel sauce, spreading it out with a spatula. Sprinkle over the grated cheese.
5. Place under a hot grill for 4-5 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the eggs have puffed up slightly. Remove from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving, cut into wedges.

Serves 2-3.

It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top.

Arnold Bennett.