Saturday, 26 September 2015

Autumn Apple Cake

For me, nothing beats the bounty of autumn’s natural larder and here in Ireland we are particularly blessed with the great produce that is on offer at this time of year.

I especially love picking blackberries from the hedgerows and watching as the apples start to ripen on the trees in my garden. Autumn is also a great time for game and as the season progresses there is more and more of it available. This is a time for hearty stews, hot soups and substantial puddings – foods that are warming and comforting to eat.

The abundance of the autumn months has a profound effect on my general sense of well-being and brings my passion for cooking and experimenting with food to the fore. As the days get shorter, I feel compelled to produce dishes that are nourishing but cheer me up as.
I usually use cooking apples in this cake but you could also use tart eating apples. I have a couple of Bramley apple trees in my garden but I find that have struggled to produce fruit whereas the other apple varieties that I have are laden with fruit each year. Although I would have preferred to have used some of my own home-grown apples I had to make do with some Bramleys that I bought in my local fruit and veg shop. This didn’t take away from the flavour of the finished cake which was magnificent.
This is one of those cakes that is lovely served slightly warm and demands to be eaten with a hot cup of strong tea. It keeps incredibly well but if it lasts more than a couple of days it benefits from being warmed up in a low oven for 10 minutes or so before serving.
The apples do release some moisture during baking so it can be tricky to judge when it is done using the trusty ‘skewer inserted into the centre of the cake’ method but if you follow my timings and use the same sized cake-tin that I did, you should be rewarded with a lovely moist cake which is baked all the way through.
If you like you can add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the cake batter when mixing – the smell of the spice as the cake bakes is heavenly!


450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of ½ lemon
225g butter, softened
280g caster sugar
4 large eggs
340g self-raising flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tsp vanilla extract
To finish:
2tblsp caster sugar
2tblsp of apricot jam


1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Grease the inside of a 20cm round spring-form with butter and line the base with a circle of non-stick baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the apples in a bowl and pour in the lemon juice to prevent the apples from discolouring. Gently toss the apples so that they are coated in the apple juice. Set aside.
3. Place the butter and caster sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, mixing well after each addition.
4. Sieve the flour and cinnamon (if using) together and fold into the creamed mixture, making sure that it is well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract making sure that it is well mixed in.
5. Spoon half of the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly. Place half the sliced apples on top, spreading them out so that they sit in an even layer.
6. Top with the remaining cake batter, again spreading it out evenly so that it covers the layer of apples. You don’t have to be too particular about this as the cake mixture will spread as the cake bakes. Finally top with the remaining apples, placing them in an attractive design on top of the cake. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of caster sugar.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes and then reduce the heat to 160C/ Fan Oven 140C/ Gas Mark 2 and cover loosely with some tin foil. Bake for a further 30-35 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for at least 20 minutes before removing.
To finish:
9. Place the apricot jam in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Bring up to the boil and allow bubble for 1 minute. Pass through a sieve into a small clean bowl. Discard the contents of the sieve. Brush the heated and sieved jam over the top of the cake.
NOTE: The cake can be served warm or allowed to cool completely.
Serves 10-12.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Cheese Scones

These scones are the perfect accompaniment to most of the soups on this blog but work particularly well with my Roasted Tomato Soup. Like many of the recipes that I give they are quick and easy to make using everyday ingredients. Even though I love sweet scones, there is something about these scones that is so addictive and perfect for when you want something that is deeply savoury and satisfying to eat.
I have used a strong, mature cheddar and a little parmesan in the scones but you can use any hard cheese that you fancy. You can also vary the flavour by adding chives, thyme or other fresh herbs. Sometimes I like to include some chopped spring onions in addition to the cheese and I find that this also works well with the Roasted Tomato Soup.


250g self-raising flour
½tsp English mustard powder
50g cold butter, cubed
50g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
25g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
140ml whole milk
To finish:
25g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6. Line a large baking tray with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Sift the flour and mustard powder into a large mixing bowl and add the cubed butter. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the cheeses and mix through making sure that everything is evenly distributed.
3. Make a well in the centre and add the egg followed by the milk. Mix everything together with a fork to form a soft dough. Tip out on to a clean work-surface, lightly dusted with flour and knead briefly.
4. Roll out to a thickness of 2-2½cms and using a 5cm round cookie cutter stamp out rounds from the dough. Place onto the prepared baking tray.
5. Re-knead the remaining dough briefly and repeat the rolling and stamping process until all the dough is used. Scatter the grated cheddar cheese over the scones and bake in the pre-heated oven for 9-11 minutes or until the scones are well risen and golden brown.

Makes 10-12.

Roasted Tomato Soup

I sometimes wonder whether I actually gave birth to my three children!
I find it astonishing that I could have produced offspring who are such fussy eaters. I eat everything and love trying new things. I’m also quite a good home cook and regularly try out new dishes which I hope that they will like but, more often than not, such culinary creativity is met with disdain and a barrage of complaints along the lines of “why can’t you cook NORMAL food?” The list of vegetables they don’t like is lengthy which I find hard to comprehend as I can’t think of any that I detest. I seriously wonder whether there was some mix-up in the hospital and that they were switched at birth? These things do happen.
The one thing that my gang loves is homemade vegetable soup which is great as it is a way of getting them to increase their veg intake. I find that I can include a whole range of vegetables that they would normally never touch in the soups that I make for them.
The key thing when making a homemade soup is to use a good stock as the foundation of your stock. This can be a vegetable or chicken stock. In an ideal world homemade stock is preferable but to be honest there are a lot of good commercial versions readily available. I tend to roast a couple of chickens at the weekend and use the leftover carcasses to make a flavoursome stock but I have also been known to use proprietary brand ‘stock pots’.
Although I tend to make Cream of Vegetable Soup most often, I also like to make this Roasted Tomato Soup which goes down a treat with my gang. Roasting the tomatoes brings out their natural sweetness which makes this soup irresistible. Simple garnished with a swirl of olive oil or a few fresh basil leaves.
Ten or fifteen minutes before the tomatoes are due to come out of the oven  I like to mix up a quick batch of Cheese Scones which I pop in to bake after I remove the tomatoes. They really are the perfect accompaniment to the soup and are also incredibly easy to make.


To roast the tomatoes:
1.5kg ripe tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
3tblsp olive oil
A large pinch of sugar
For the soup:
3tblsp olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 fresh red chilli, sliced
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
400ml chicken stock (or vegetable)
100ml double cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season


To roast the tomatoes:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
2. Toss the tomatoes and garlic in the olive oil and tumble into a large roasting dish. Sprinkle over the sugar, season with seal salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast in the oven for one hour, giving them a shake half way through the cooking time.
To make the soup:
3. Place a large saucepan over a moderate heat and add the olive oil. Once it has heated up add the onions, chilli, celery and carrots and fry gently, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until softened but not coloured.
4. Add the roasted tomatoes and garlic, followed by the stock and add 250ml water. Bring up to the boil and then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Use a blender to purée the contents of the saucepan and then strain the soup into a clean saucepan. Place over a moderate heat and warm the soup up.
5. Add the cream and stir through. Once the soup Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Maple Pecan Upside-Down Cake

I was recently asked why I set up this blog.

The answer is very simple. I love food. I love cooking it, eating it and I love writing about it. I believe that food brings people together in a world where we seem to spend so much time rushing and racing around before moving on to the next best thing. I also passionately believe that Ireland has some of the best produce available anywhere in the world and that this should be celebrated. When you feel so enthusiastic and genuinely interested in a subject, writing about it is hugely enjoyable. I get the chance to do that here on my blog.

Many of my early posts were recipes but more recently I have started writing restaurant reviews. This is great fun but also something that I take terribly seriously. I firmly believe that my reviews should be about the food that I have eaten and the restaurants that I have dined in. The reviews should not be about me or used as a vehicle to massage my own ego.  Inevitably, my personality comes through in my writing but this is ancillary to the reviews themselves and, in my opinion, rightly so. As an aside, writing reviews is actually far more difficult than it seems but this doesn’t take away from the pleasure that I get from doing it.

It may sound disingenuous but I still feel humbled when someone says that they have liked something that I have written or that they have tried one of my recipes. I love writing and will continue doing it; the fact that others may enjoy reading my ramblings is a total bonus.

It is in this context that I was thrilled to learn that I was one of the finalists in the Foodie of the Year category for the 2015 AA Ireland Hospitality Awards to be held in a couple of days’ time in Dublin’s Westbury Hotel. I am really looking forward to the evening and to catching up with many of the great people that I have met over the past couple of years. I will be delighted with whoever wins the award as all the nominees are people who I respect greatly and whose writing I enjoy reading.

Anyway, the truth is I have a load of writing to catch up on and plan on doing that this week but yesterday I felt the urge to do a spot baking. I find baking very therapeutic and feel that it helps to re-focus me if I have a lot on. I happily lose myself in measuring out flour, butter, sugar and eggs and everything that baking entails!

This is my latest creation, made because I had all the ingredients to hand and because I fancied something a little nutty. My version is based on a recipe that appeared in Woman and Home magazine but I have tweaked and adapted it to suit my own tastes. Like so many of the cakes that I bake, this one can be served on its own or as a dessert. Either way, it tastes fabulous. If you like you can substitute walnuts for the pecans used but I love the classic pairing of pecans with maple syrup.


75g butter
50ml pure maple syrup
3tblsp light brown muscovado sugar
125g shelled pecans left whole
2 large eggs, separated
175g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour, sieved
115ml milk
3tblsp strong coffee
1tsp vanilla extract
75g pecans, finely chopped


1. Preheat oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Grease and base-line a 23cm round cake tin with some non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the butter, maple syrup and sugar in a small saucepan and place over a moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has melted and the mixture is just beginning to bubble.
3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes before pouring into the base of the prepared cake tin.
4. Place the whole pecans, rounded side down in the syrup mixture, arranging them in concentric circles.
5. Firstly, place the egg whites in a clean bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer fitter with spotlessly clean whisks attached, beat the egg whites to the firm peak stage. Set aside.
6. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix these through until they are totally incorporated.
7. Gradually add the flour; alternating it with the milk until everything is just combined but do not over-beat the mixture. Fold in the egg whites, making sure that they are well mixed in. Add the coffee, vanilla extract and chopped pecans and fold through.
8. Spoon the cake batter into the prepared tin on top of the arranged pecans and smooth out using a spatula of the back of a metal spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before upturning onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Serves 10-12.