Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Chocolate Panna Cotta with Spiced Amaretto Cherries

Strangely, although I quite like the taste of chocolate, I rarely yearn for it the way that some people do. I also find that as I have gotten older my taste buds have changed and now I prefer to eat chocolate that is slightly bitter with a rich chocolate taste.
I fully appreciate that for some people nothing beats chocolate and that, if they see a dish containing it on a restaurant menu that will be the dish that they will go for! There’s no doubt it chocolate is extremely popular. My children would be quite happy if everything I cooked or baked included chocolate and they are at a loss to understand why I insist on making other dishes!
This dessert is definitely one that ticks all my boxes. The panna cotta, although rich and possessing an intense chocolate is not too bitter, so also appeals to younger diners. Nor is the panna cotta overly set but rather, it retains a pleasing wobble which makes it heavenly to eat. Coupled with the spiced cherries, this makes an elegant dessert which gets its inspiration from the flavours of a classic Black Forest Gateaux, the bastion of many a 1970’s dinner party!!! In fact this reinterpretation would make a lovely finish to any 21st Century dinner.
I’m really pleased with how the spiced cherries turned. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I am a big fan of the Italian almond flavoured liqueur and that I use it regularly in my cooking.
Both the cherries and the panna cotta are easy to make and can be prepared well in advance. You will probably have more cherries than you need but they keep well stored in the refrigerator and along with some toasted hazelnuts and a dollop of lightly whipped cream would also make a lovely topping for some French toast or as an accompaniment to some ice-cream.


Spiced Amaretto Cherries:
175ml water
75ml Amaretto
220g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
600g fresh cherries, destalked, pitted and halved
Chocolate Panna Cotta:
200g dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s 70% cocoa solids)
2½ leaves of gelatine
200ml of whole milk
250ml double cream
100g caster sugar


Spiced Amaretto Cherries:
1. Place the water, Amaretto, sugar and spices in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat. Stir gently until all the sugar has dissolved and then increase the heat and bring up to the boil. Allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes until the mixture has reduced slightly and become syrupy.
2. Tip in the cherries, and reduce the heat so that they are simmering gently. Cook for a further 3 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate before serving.
Chocolate Panna Cotta:
3. Lightly grease 6 individual dariole moulds (about 150ml capacity) with a little vegetable oil and set aside.
4. Break the chocolate into small chunks and place in a medium-sized heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water.  Once the chocolate has melted remove the bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
5. Place the gelatine in a small bowl of cold water for five minutes.
6. Place the milk, cream and caster sugar into a small saucepan and bring up to simmering point. Stir occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved and then strain through a sieve onto the chocolate in a steady stream, stirring constantly so that everything is well combined.
7. Remove the gelatine from the bowl of water and squeeze out any excess moisture. Add to the chocolate mixture stirring until it has completely dissolved.
8. Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly between the 6 dariole moulds and set aside to cool completely before covering each mould with a little cling film and refrigerating. Refrigerate for at least four hours before unmoulding (or allow to chill overnight).
9. Unmould by dipping each dariole mould into a bowl of hot water for about 5 seconds before upturning onto individual serving plates. Serve with a couple of spoonfuls of the spiced cherries.

Serves 6.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Chocolate Chip Madeleines

Madeleines are classic French cakes which are incredibly easy to make, look beautiful in their simplicity and taste delicious. Made using a classic genoise mixture, these little sponge cakes have a light and airy texture and are perfect to nibble on with a cup of tea. In fact, they are not unlike the fairy cakes or ‘buns’ that many Irish children grew up eating at birthday parties and on special occasions – cupcakes are only a recent enough phenomenon in Ireland and one that we have borrowed from across the Atlantic. My grandmother who greatly influenced my love of cooking and baking would have considered cupcakes frivolous and completely over-the-top, but I think that she would have approved of the more restrained madeleines!
Although traditionally baked in a specialist madeleine tin with shell-shaped indentations, you can also bake them in muffin tins. Madeleine tins are widely available and relatively inexpensive to buy, so are worth getting so that you can enjoy these little cakes in their full glory.
Usually simply flavoured with just a hint of lemon or vanilla, the basic recipe is easily adapted to include other ingredients such a spices, nuts, dried fruit etc. Here I have added chocolate chips to the basic batter but feel free to leave these out and experiment using different ingredients.
I love the buttery taste of madeleines and in particular like to brown the butter to the beurre noisette stage as this gives the finished cakes taste a deeper, more buttery flavour. If you are worried that you might burn the butter when browning it, you can use just plain melted butter instead; the madeleines will still taste wonderful!
It is really important to prepare your tin properly by brushing each indentation with some melted butter before lightly dusting with some flour, shaking out any excess. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to remove the cakes once baked! If you have prepared your tin correctly, you should be able to remove the madeleines all in one go by giving the tin a sharp tap. Secondly, make sure to allow the batter to rest in the fridge for at least two hours (or ideally overnight) before baking. This hardens up the melted butter and creates a stiffer batter which for some reason seems to produce a lighter result. I don’t know why this works, but it just does!
This recipe produces 24 large or 36 small madeleines, so you may need to cook the mixture in batches if you don’t own a number of tins. (Note: the batter will keep for a couple of days in the fridge).


To prepare the madeleine tins/moulds:
A little melted butter
2tblsp plain flour
120g butter
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
130g caster sugar
175g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
75g chocolate chips (milk or dark chocolate)


To prepare:
1. Brush the madeleine moulds with melted butter and then dust with flour, tapping out any excess. Place in the fridge while you make the cake batter.
2. Place the butter in a small saucepan over a moderate heat. Allow the butter to melt and start bubbling but make sure to keep a close eye on it as it can burn very quickly. The butter will start to turn a light golden brown and will begin to darken. Remove immediately it has turned a rich golden brown colour and has a ‘nutty’ aroma. Pour into a small bowl and allow to cool slightly.
3. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat together until light and fluffy and doubled in volume. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the egg mixture.
4. Pour in the butter in a steady stream and fold in gently. Finally add the chocolate chips and also fold in. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least two hours, but overnight is preferable.
To bake the madeleines:
5. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Three quarters fill each madeleine ‘hole’ in the tin with the chilled cake batter. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the madeleines are well risen and golden brown.
6. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes before tapping out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely. These are lovely eaten warm, but are also delicious cooled.

Makes 24 madeleines (or 36 mini madeleines).

Friday, 26 June 2015

Oat & Apple Muffins

I love baking and really enjoy the techniques and processes involved but sometimes I just want to make something that is easy to prepare and ready to eat in the least amount of time possible. This has to be one of the easiest and quickest recipes and is one that I use on a regular basis as it produces lovely light but moist muffins.
Muffins are lovely served for breakfast and these ones are particularly nice as they don’t contain an excessive amount of sugar. In fact, much of their sweetness comes from the diced apple which is included. You can, of course, use other fruits in season. Pears work particularly well and when I use them I also like to add a few chopped walnuts or pecans in addition to the oats. Chopped fresh strawberries are also delicious and make a wonderful summertime muffin.
The key thing when making these is not to over-mix the batter as the resulting muffins will be dense and heavy. Combine everything just enough to ensure that you don’t have any large pockets of dry flour and remember that the batter is meant to look a little lumpy.
Although the baked muffins are delicious when eaten cold, I recommend eating them whilst they are still warm as they are absolutely sensational.


150g self-raising flour, sifted
35g porridge oats
60g light brown muscovado sugar
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced into 1cm cubes
180ml natural Greek style yoghurt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50g butter, melted
To finish:
25g porridge oats


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Place paper cases in 9 holes of a cupcake tin and set aside.
2. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the porridge oats and sugar. Mix together so that everything is well distributed. Add the cubed apples and mix again. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add yoghurt , egg and melted butter. Do not over-mix.
3. Divide the mixture evenly between the 9 paper cases and sprinkle some oats on the top of each muffin.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of one comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving warm.
Makes 9.


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Restaurant Review: Restaurant gigi's at the g Hotel & Spa, Galway

I have stayed overnight in the 5-star g Hotel a number of times and on each occasion I have luxuriated in the elegant and striking surroundings of the Philip Treacy designed hotel. Located in Wellpark, not far from Galway city centre, the hotel is ideally situated being within easy reach of the city’s main attractions, bars, restaurants and shopping areas.
On my most recent visit I noticed that there have been a few changes. Restaurant gigi’s, the hotel’s main dining venue, under new Head Chef Cedric Bottarlini, now offers a choice of four menus from which diners can select. Depending on your mood you can opt for the Share menu which consists of an assortment of sharing platters, the Steakhouse menu – perfect for meat lovers and the Delight and Indulge menus which are structured in the more familiar starter, main-course, and dessert format.

Like the rest of the hotel, Restaurant gigi’s is sumptuously decorated in deep rich colours and plush fabrics that are warm and inviting. Despite being spacious there is nothing stark and minimalist here but rather, this is a room that encourages you to spoil yourself! With this in mind, and after being shown to our table, we decided to have cocktails whilst we examined the menu in greater detail. Sipping on a very well-mixed Negronis and nibbling on the wonderful selection of breads which had arrived at our table soon after we were seated, we decided to opt for the Indulge menu.
Our starters of Crab & Asparagus and Crisp Irish Free-Range Pork-Belly were both beautifully presented and we descended upon them with gay abandon.
Crab and Asparagus
Mixed through the crab were little nuggets of diced apple which complemented the crabmeat perfectly and leant a fruity freshness to the dish. The quenelle of crab bavarois presented atop the crabmeat was, by contrast, rich and silky-smooth and completely addictive. The classic paring with steamed green asparagus along with a spear of lightly pickled white asparagus and an asparagus purée excited the taste-buds as all the best starters should… leaving an air of anticipation regarding the dishes to follow.
Pork-belly seems to be everywhere these days and unfortunately, it is often a huge disappointment. This is a cut of meat that requires long, slow cooking in order to render the layers of fat down as it is this fat that tenderises the meat as it cooks. Here, the pork-belly had been treated with love and attention to detail, resulting in meat that melted in the mouth. The accompanying rhubarb in two forms – roasted and puréed, cut through the richness of the pork, whilst puffed pork crackling created welcome textural contrast. This was a wonderful dish.
Moving on to the main course, my choice of the Line-Caught Cod Medallion arrived accompanied by a delightful selection of seafood including clams, octopus and prawns. The thickly-cut piece of cod was meaty to eat and gave the dish substance which sated the appetite. Beautifully turned potatoes had been flavoured with saffron which is a notoriously difficult spice to handle as it requires a light touch; too much and it imparts a soapy flavour which can be over-powering and unpleasant to eat. A light and airy lobster bisque foam finished the dish off perfectly.
The other main course of Sliced Peppered Sirloin Steak & Braised Rib was absolutely superb. Here wonderfully flavoursome sirloin steak had been perfectly cooked medium-rare to order. This was a well-aged, prime cut of quality beef so perhaps it was to be expected that it would be good, but the slow-cooked rib was every bit as good. Thinly sliced radishes with their fresh peppery crunch and sweet heritage carrots danced a metaphorical jig across the plate, so artfully had they been placed. This was a dish that screamed EAT ME! The spinach purée with its iron-rich flavour was faultless. In fact the only questioning note I have about this dish as a whole, is whether the large potato hash cake is actually required.  Granted we had also ordered sides of Pan-Fried Mushrooms, Sweet Potato Fries and Green Beans so that may have coloured my view-point! As an aside, I would strongly recommend the Sweet Potato Fries… believe me, they are truly exceptional!
Beef Sirloin and Rib
Desserts created by Head Pastry Chef Martina Crotty are beautiful to look at and delicious to eat.  One of my favourite flavour pairings is basil and strawberry, so it was a given that I would pick the Style Strawberries and Cream. The intensely flavoured fresh strawberries and strawberry sorbet were both magnificent but what brought the whole dish together were the shards of pale green, basil meringue and the very delicately flavoured rose petal shortbread crumb. Whilst fresh and light on the palate this was a wonderfully indulgent dessert.
The Ivory Cocoa & Rhubarb Verrine came presented in a cocktail-like glass through which you could clearly see the various constituent elements of the dish. Everything about this dish was so well balanced from the freshness of the sorbet to the fruitiness of the rhubarb compote, the cruch of the ginger crumb and the creaminess of the rich white chocolate mousse. The vividly coloured ‘plank’ of white chocolate was so stunning to look at it, you almost didn’t want to eat it (but we did)!
Strawberries and Cream
The wine list, comprising some interesting choices including bottles from the Lebanon along with a number of notable reserve options has been sensitively selected and after some dithering, we decided on a New Zealand Pinot Noir. Given our contrasting menu choices, this seemed the best option and we weren’t disappointed. The acidity of the Pinot cut through the inherent richness of the pork-belly starter yet was light enough to enjoy with my crab starter and seafood main.
For the quality of the food on offer, Restaurant gigi’s offers great value for money. Rather cleverly, the restaurant has managed to provide options that will appeal to the more conservative diner but also something for those with adventurous palates.  Each dish that I ate was beautifully presented and contained elements that surprised and charmed in equal measure. 

Rhubarb Verrine
Too many establishments, in an attempt to entice as many diners as possible, create menus that are lengthy in order to be all-encompassing and appealing. However, it is folly to try and cater for every possible taste and to aim to be everything to everyone because what invariably results is that a plateau of mediocrity is reached where everything is ‘nice’ and nothing is outstanding. Each individual menu in Restaurant gigi’s arsenal is just the right length and overall there is plenty of choice and many tempting dishes. More importantly, what restaurant gigi’s does, it does well… very well!

Service was impeccable with staff who were friendly and attentive and well-informed about the menu and the ingredients used.

This is a restaurant that clearly has high ambitions and a desire to create a delicious dining experience using quality, locally-sourced ingredients. This it achieves and it is easy to see why it has been awarded and has retained an AA 2 Rosette rating for three years running.
  • Share Menu: 3 course for €99 for 2 people
  • Delight Menu: 2 courses for €29.50; 3 courses for €36
  • Indulge Menu: 2 courses for €42; 3 courses for €48
  • Irish Steakhouse Corner Menu: Individually priced
Restaurant gigi’s
The g Hotel & Spa
Galway City
Telephone: 091865200
Website: www.theghotel.com

This review was first published in TheTaste.ie
Sweet Potato Fries