Tuesday 17 January 2017

Recipe: Mustard Creamed Leeks & Cannellini Beans with Morteau Sausage

This is an incredibly simple dish to make and one that showcases that most noble of winter vegetables - the leek.
Leeks possess a gentle flavour which is far more subtle and refined than that of other members of the allium family such as onions and shallots but because they can be a little trickier to cook they don’t seem to enjoy the same popularity. Here I have paired leeks with cannellini beans in an indulgently creamy sauce to which I have added a good dollop of wholegrain mustard. I find that the mustard adds a piquancy that helps cut through the richness of the overall dish and also marries well with the wonderful smokiness of the meaty Morteau sausage.
You can use dried cannellini beans if you wish... but to be honest tinned beans work just as well. This is a delicious albeit indulgent supper dish perfect for when you are in need of some comfort food.
1 Morteau sausage
25g butter
2 large leeks, washed and sliced into rounds
A sprig of fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and well rinsed
50ml dry white wine
200ml double cream
1tblsp of wholegrain mustard
  1. Place the sausage in a saucepan of simmering water and poach for 35-40 minutes making sure that the water covers the sausage.
  2. Separately (when the sausage is almost cooked) melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a moderate heat. When the butter is melted add the sliced leeks and thyme. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until softened but not coloured.
  3. Add the wine and cannellini beans to the saucepan with the leeks. Increase the heat slightly and cook for a couple of minutes until most of the wine has evaporated.
  4. Add the cream and wholegrain mustard and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes until the cream has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove the sprig of thyme and discard. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  5. Drain the sausage and slice. Serve with the creamed leeks.
Serves 4-6.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Restaurant Review: The Green Barn, Athy, County Kildare

I love the hustle and bustle of the city coming up to Christmas but if I’m being honest I tend to avoid dining out during December. There are a number of reasons for this – firstly a lot of restaurants have festive themed menus geared towards groups and whilst this is understandable and I’m all for seasonal eating, there is a limit to the number of ‘innovative’ variations of turkey and ham that I can eat.
Secondly, I’m not a particularly patient person and I find it tedious having to battle through crowds and to queue for parking. It’s often easier to steer clear of the city centre or to wait until everything settles down in the New Year. With this in mind, I decided to broaden my horizons and visit somewhere new for lunch recently.
The Green Barn
The Green Barn Restaurant is located just inside the front gates of Burtown House off the M9 near Athy, County Kildare and is set in lush parkland overlooking the walled kitchen garden of the main house.
The restaurant is located in a large open barn-style structure which has a rustic New England feel to it. I found the space immediately appealing and loved the high ceilings and exposed beams. Tables have a rough wooden texture which some people might find disconcerting but I loved the artsy feeling that they evoked. They are decorated with individual vegetable plants growing in pots – a nice touch and a reminder of the restaurant’s farm-to-fork philosophy.
Smoked Mackerel Pate
The Green Barn aims to serve only the freshest seasonal produce and this means that much has come straight from the organic gardens each morning. Whilst these sentiments are laudable, they can become a little hackneyed and aspirational if the food fails to deliver but during our meal we found that the produce spoke for itself and delivered with a bang on the flavour front.
Our meal started with a little tasting plate of Smoked Mackerel Pâté and Hummus which was served with a couple of crunchy croutons. I love smoked mackerel so this little preamble to our meal hit all the right notes with me. I loved the way that the pâté had not been over processed and retained some texture which contrasted nicely with the mealy and deeply satisfying to eat hummus.

Breads & Dips
I always seek out bread and immediately fell in love with the Homemade Breads served with Kale & Feta Dip, Hummus, Garden Pesto (€6.50) which we ordered along with our starters. This was some of the best bread that I have eaten in the past twelve months with a lovely chewy crumb and crusty exterior. The accompanying dips were each thoroughly delicious. The garden pesto in particular was the stuff that dreams are made of and I licked the bowl clean.
In one respect we probably didn’t need to order the homemade breads as my companion’s starter of Cabbage & Coconut Soup (€6.50) came served with crusty bread and a flavoured butter. It was served in a brown paper bag which I found charming. The soup itself was an unusual combination of flavours and along with the cabbage and coconut contained a good hint of fresh ginger acting as the flavouring backbone of the soup. This was a lovely wholesome dish.
Cabbage & Coconut Soup
My Baked St. Tola wrapped in Toasted Sourdough with Mushrooms & Winter Squash (€7) was another great dish where a generous portion of creamy St. Tola goat’s cheese was served wrapped thin slices of toasted sourdough which provided textural crunch against the soft cheese. Sweet squash and meaty mushrooms balanced the richness of the cheese to create a dish that was a pleasure to eat. In many ways this dish was simple in its conception but effectively illustrated the versatility of vegetables.
I chose the Free Range Chicken, Leek & Tarragon Pie served with Burtown Salad (€16) for main course and was delighted with the puff-pastry topped pie which arrived served in its own dish. Generous chunks of chicken were enrobed in a flavoursome sauce which contained a lovely gentle anise flavour courtesy of the tarragon that had been used.
Unfortunately the sauce had slightly split but the wonderful flavour was undeniable and in an overall sense I enjoyed the dish but felt that the pie didn’t sit well against the accompanying smear of beetroot purée which although tasty served to mess the outside of the pie dish. A rainbow coloured salad containing fantastically fresh vegetables and seeds completed the dish.

Chicken, Leek & Tarragon Pie
My companion’s Homemade Beef Burger with Fresh Herbs, Sautéed Onion in our Sourdough Bap, topped with Caramelised Red Onions & Parmesan served with Herbed Potatoes, Garden leaves & Aioli (€16) was a hugely successful dish containing flavoursome and meat. The burger was served slightly pink (as I prefer) and was succulent to eat. It was packed with the herbs with Rosemary to the fore but not overpowering the flavour of the beef. It was served in a burnished bronze brioche roll sitting on sticky sweet caramelised onions. Wisps of grated parmesan added some umami saltiness which complemented the beef perfectly. This was a great burger and one that I would travel to sample again.
After quite a substantial meal we decided to share a dessert between us. Desserts are laid out on a large table on attractive cake stands and together create an attractive gastronomic tableau. In the main baked goods including pies, cakes cheesecakes are offered.

Homemade Beef Burger
Torn between the rather nice looking moist Carrot Cake €5.00 I eventually plumped for the Coconut & Lime Cake (€5.50) which was served with crème fraiche on the side. This gluten-free offering was moist, full of tropical flavours and in its simplicity looked extremely pretty.
I really enjoyed my lunch in the Green Barn Restaurant. The setting is beautiful and the service is friendly and delivered with a cheeriness that is infectious and puts you in a good humour. The food is unpretentious and un-fussy but most importantly it is packed with flavour and leaves you with a sense of wellbeing. This is one to visit. The Green Barn is open for lunch during the week and for dinner on Saturday evenings.
The Green Barn Shop & Restaurant
Burtown Little
County Kildare
Telephone: 0598623865
Coconut & Lime Cake

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Recipe: Beef & Mushroom Pasties with Onion Marmalade & Cashel Blue Cheese

Whilst I love traditional Cornish pasties, I have to admit that I have completely fallen for this pimped up version containing sirloin beef, sautéed mushrooms and onion marmalade. The pasties also contain nuggets of Cashel Blue cheese which is one of my favourite Irish farmhouse cheeses. Made by the Grubb family in County Tipperary since the early 1980s Cashel Blue is considered one of the best blue cheeses out there. I regularly use it in my cooking and baking as I find its earthy, nutty notes complement the flavours of so many other ingredients.

This recipe combines the Cashel Blue with beef - another of my favourite foods. I have also included some sautéed mushrooms and a little onion marmalade which I think adds a little sweetness which balances out the other flavours. You can make your own onion marmalade but to be honest I use a commercially produced one. Alternatively a couple of spoons of fruit chutney would also work well.

Although you can use puff or shortcrust pastry to make the pasties but I prefer the taste and texture of hot water crust pastry which is relatively easy to make. Lard is often used when making this pastry but I feel that butter results in a superior tasting crust. The only thing that you need to remember if using it is that you need to roll the pastry while it is still warm/hot because it becomes increasingly difficult to manipulate as it cools.
1tblsp vegetable oil and a small knob of butter
125g button mushrooms, sliced
250g sirloin beef, chopped into small 1cm dice
200g potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1cm dice
50g onion marmalade
1 tblsp of finely chopped thyme
A few splashes of Worcestershire Sauce
75g-100g Cashel Blue cheese, broken into 2cm ‘nuggets’
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season
Hot Water Crust Pastry:
400g plain flour
½ tsp salt
125g chilled butter
150ml water
To finish:
1 egg beaten to glaze

  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. Melt the oil and butter in a small frying pan over a moderate to high heat and add the mushrooms, Season with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper and fry until they have softened slightly and turned a golden brown colour. Remove from the heat, drain on some kitchen paper and allow to cool.
  3. Place the chopped beef and potatoes in a mixing bowl and add the cooled mushrooms. Next add the onion marmalade and chopped thyme. Season well and add a couple of splashes of Worcestershire Sauce. Mix together to disperse everything evenly but try not to break up the cheese.  Set aside while you make the pastry.

Hot Water Crust Pastry:
  1. Sift the flour and salt together. Separately place the butter and water into a medium sized saucepan, place over a high heat and bring up to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat once the butter has melted and add the flour stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly until smooth but do not overwork.
  3. Using a large rolling pin, roll out the dough until it 3 or 4mm thick. Using an upturned side plate as a guide, cut out 4 or 5 circles (approximately 20cms in diameter).
  4. Dividing the mixture evenly, place mounds on one half of each circle, leaving a good edge clear all around the circle. Brush around the edge of each pasty with a little beaten egg and bring the one side over to meet the other edge thus encasing the filling. Pinch and crimp the edges together to ensure that they are well sealed and place on the prepared baking tray.
  5. Brush the pasties with a little more egg wash and cut a small slit in the top of each to allow steam to escape.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for ten minutes and then lower the heat to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4 and continue to bake for a further 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
  7. The pasties can be served hot or cold but I like to eat them when they are still slightly warm and the Cashel Blue oozes out seductively.

Makes 4-5.

Monday 2 January 2017

Recipe: Cranberry Poached Pears

I had quite a few fresh cranberries left over after Christmas this year and wanted to use them in a way that celebrated their wonderful pink colour.

Whilst I love using fresh cranberries in my baking, making muffins, breads and cakes etc., I decided that I wanted to ring the changes a little and use them in a dessert instead. I also wanted a dessert that was lighter than the often rich and stodgy desserts regularly eaten over the festive season. These Cranberry Poached Pears fit the bill perfectly and along with tasting delicious were also incredibly simple to make.

Cranberries can be quite sour so I sweetened them with a little sugar and simmered them to make a syrup into which I place some peeled and cored pears. I gently poached the pears for twenty minutes until just cooked before removing them from the poaching liquid which I then strained and reduced to thicken slightly. Really the only work involved was peeling the pears and checking on the poaching pears occasionally.

200g fresh (or frozen) cranberries
125g caster sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
The peel and juice of 1 orange
700ml cold water
6 slightly under-ripe pears peeled and cored but try to leave the stalks intact

  1. Put all the ingredients, except the pears in a medium-sized deep saucepan and place over a moderate heat. Slowly bring up to simmering point and allow to bubble gently , stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the cranberries have started to pop and soften.
  2. Gently place the pears into the cranberry poaching liquid so that they are submerged. If you have enough room place them snugly side-by-side so that just the stalks are pointing up. Poach in the simmering water for 20-30 minutes or until the pears have softened but not too much – they should still have some texture.
  3. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and place in a clean bowl.  Strain the poaching liquid through a sieve into a clean saucepan and place over a high heat. Discard any solids including the orange peel and spices that collect in the sieve. Allow the poaching liquid to bubble and reduce by half over a high heat and then pour on top of the pears in the bowl.
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature and then over and refrigerate overnight before serving. The pears are lovely with served with a little lightly whipped double cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream

Serves 6.

Monday 26 December 2016

Recipe: A Trio of Mince Pies

Variety is the spice of life and this is as true at Christmas time as it is during the rest of the year. Whilst I love traditional Mince Pies, I also like to ring the changes and vary my basic mince pies recipe to make other versions.
I am a huge fan of almonds and have always loved frangipane tarts and what could be better than combining frangipane with mincemeat to create Frangipane Mince Pies? There is something so wonderful about the combination of flavours which makes them impossible to resist. The flaked almonds add a pleasing crunch and the frangipane topping means that the individual pies do not dry out. Heavenly!

I always seem to have egg whites leftover after other baking projects so it seemed logical to use them to place a cloud-like puff of meringue on top of some mince pies. These pies are sweet but the contrast between the buttery pastry, the rich fruit filling and the light meringue is wonderful. Each recipe below makes 16 individual mince pies.
Mince Pies
Basic Pastry:
175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g cold butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp cold water
  1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar together into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips rub into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and the water and mix together with a fork to bring everything together.
  3. Turn out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead briefly. Form into a flat disc, wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Makes 350g pastry.
Traditional Mince Pies
Traditional Mince Pies:
350g basic pastry (see recipe above)
Approximately 450g Mincemeat
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each individual pastry shell.
  3. Using a pastry brush dampen the edge of each little pie with a little water or beaten egg and place another round of pastry on top. Seal the pies by pressing the edges together with the tines of a fork. Cut a little slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape.
  4. If you like you can stamp out star shapes and use these to top each mince pie instead.
  5. Place in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until light golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature dusted with icing sugar.
Makes 16 Mince Pies.
Frangipane Mince Pies
Frangipane Mince Pies
175g basic pastry (see recipe above)
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g ground almonds
1 tbsp of plain flour
a couple of drops of almond extract
25g flaked almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each individual pastry shell.
  3. Frangipane Mince Pies
    To make the frangipane, place the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat together until light a fluffy. Add the eggs and beat together until fully incorporated. Next beat in the ground almonds, flour and almond extract.
  4. Place the mixture into a disposable piping bag fitted with 1cm plain nozzle. Pipe the mixture onto the top of each pie (don’t overfill as the mixture will spread out during baking). Scatter over a few flaked almonds.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until light golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Makes 16 Frangipane Mince Pies.
Meringue Mine Pies
Meringue Mince Pies
175g basic pastry (see recipe above)
2 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place the egg whites into a large spotlessly clean mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  3. Add in the sugar gradually, mixing well after each addition to create a stiff and glossy meringue. Spoon the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle and pipe a swirl of meringue on top of each mince pie.
  4. Place in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until the meringue is tinged a light golden brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Makes 16 Meringue Mince Pies.

Traditional Mince Pies