Friday, 3 August 2012

Strawberry Sponge with Homemade Vanilla Custard

This is a really great, light and tasty dessert that’s really easy to prepare and is sure to impress. The main stars of this dish are the strawberries which are still in season and are sweet and delicious right now so it’s best to use them while they are so good. This dessert doesn’t keep very well so it’s advisable to prepare it when you’re expecting guests or feeling especially gluttonous! There are only two elements to this dish that require some bit of effort: the sponge and the custard and it’s the simple combination of the two, plus the strawberries that makes this dish so successful. Here’s the recipe!

For the Sponge:
4 Eggs: whites and yolks separated (you will need the yolks later)
100g Caster Sugar
100g Flour (plain in fine but for extra insurance use self-raising)
1 punnet of Irish Strawberries

1.    Add the egg whites and caster sugar to a mixing bowl.
2.    Using an electric whisk/mixer beat the mixture until it is light, airy and has at least doubled in size.
3.    Next, sift the flour onto the surface of the mixture.
4.    Fold the flour into the mixture using a steel spoon or spatula as a wooden spoon will knock out the air and you will end up with a very flat, dense sponge and no one wants that!
5.    Spoon your mixture into a cake tin that has been greased and floured.
6.    Take your strawberries and halve any that are quite big. Arrange them on top of the sponge mixture any way you like. You will probably have a few left over so these can be saved as a garnish for later.
7.    Place the sponge into an oven, on the middle shelf at 180°C for about 30-35 minutes. (For fan-assisted ovens 160°C should be fine)  
8.     The sponge is done when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

For the Custard:
3-4 Egg Yolks
75-100g Caster Sugar (depending on how sweet or not you like it)
½ a Vanilla Pod
1 Small tub of double cream (fresh is fine too)
Some Milk

1.     While the sponge is cooking you can prepare the vanilla custard. Pour the cream into a saucepan with roughly half its amount of milk.
2.     Split the vanilla pod in half using a sharp knife and scrape out the shiny black seeds. Place these, along with the split pod into the milk and cream mixture. Heat gently until the mixture just starts to steam at the surface, but not boil.
3.     You can remove the vanilla pod at this point.
4.     In a small bowl mix the sugar and egg yolks together.
5.     Add a small amount of the hot milk and cream mixture to the sugar and egg yolks. Mix vigorously to warm the eggs. This is called tempering and prevents the eggs from scrambling when added to the pot.
6.     Add the tempered mixture to the pot and heat gently until thickened to a lovely, silky, custardy texture.

By the time the custard is ready the sponge will more than likely be ready to come out of the oven. Remove the sponge and let it rest for a few minutes before removing from the cake tin. This is best eaten while still slightly warm from the oven with the freshly made vanilla custard smothered on top. Garnish with a fresh strawberry, serve and enjoy!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Autumn, What's in Season!


Well, autumn is finally here! That means winter is coming next and as many people often say, “sher lads, we won’t feel Christmas now.” Autumn is the time where the leaves on the trees start to change colour, the breeze gets colder and stronger and food becomes heartier and more comforting. This is when people start to wander the country roads and fields to forage for nuts, berries and other autumnal treats. This particular image takes me back to my childhood when I used to pick wild gooseberries and more carefully, blackberries. A happy time it was! 

Traditionally this was the time where the art of preserving really came into action, but with the advent of the supermarket and the lack of its necessity for sustenance, preservation has unfortunately fallen out of favour with the masses. This is a great shame as preserving is such an enjoyable and rewarding activity and there is nothing like the anticipation for say a ripened blackberry jam or a fruit liqueur. It really makes you feel like a kid again and in this fast-moving world there is certainly nothing wrong with that. 

Here, I am providing you with a list of what’s in season in autumn. These are foods that are best now and in the coming few months, berries will be at their sweetest and vegetables will be at their most flavoursome. Keep your eyes open for the foods mentioned below, both in the wild and in your local supermarket, your taste buds will truly thank you!


Butternut Squash
Mushrooms (wild)
Brussels Sprouts

Game Birds

Sea Bass

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The English Market

What a place! The atmosphere there was electric and one full of trade and enjoyment. The stallholders dealt with their many customers with a genuine smile and deftness that I am sure was honed over many years of hard work and skillful handling of goods. What impressed me the most was the emphasis on local, home-grown produce and the pride stallholders had for it. Everyone I spoke to was very knowledgeable about their food and were more than happy to give me advice on how best to prepare or eat it.

It is easy to say that the market is dominated by Irish producers and craftsmen but it has also given way to some foreign influence. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, as the dialogue between both Irish recipes and produce and that of other countries is what keeps gastronomy bright and interesting. Influences can be seen from France, the Mediterranean, India and Eastern Europe both in separate stalls and in the Irish ones too.
In terms of space the market was quite labyrinthine with one spacious double-height foyer and small crowded ‘streets’ off of that. The only word I could possible use to describe the place was medieval. The narrow busy streets were crowded enough and it was almost like a fight to get served at a stall. This really added to the experience as there was a bit of chat and banter amongst customers and stallholders alike and it reflected just how much in demand this great produce was.

How was the food you ask? Silly question really, this is the English Market we are talking about here. Amazing is your answer, in short. You could really tell how much these producers cared about their goods. Take for example the food from Frank Hederman’s smokehouse based in Cork. His stall sold the most wonderful smoked salmon, mussels in a kind of vinaigrette, smoked mackerel and various other delicious smoked goods.

What hooked me was his technique of using beech smoke to flavour the fish. The smoke had a delicious, heady aroma and added a wonderful, distinct smoky taste to the food. This truly was someone who knew how to smoke their fish!
The English Market is probably so successful because of a happy meeting of several positive factors.  First opened at the end of the 1700s, it mainly served the wealthy of Cork. As time passed and economics began to change, it has become the market we have today that serves everyone who has an appreciation of great food. Having established itself as a beacon of quality food, the English Market has created a unique tradition in the city for the appreciation of wonderful produce. Perhaps it is its long historical presence in the city that has conditioned people there to know about and want good quality, local produce. As this type of food has become more and more in demand, it has forced stallholders to raise their standards to cater for the dining public’s ever growing tastes. This has encouraged a healthy competition amongst stallholders as an attempt to grab the customers’ attention and of course, money! The competition between stallholders has really raised the standards of the food being produced, far higher than I’ve ever seen elsewhere and has resulted in the beautiful displays we see today.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the English Market. The atmosphere of trade and banter was great. You really got a sense that the people here really knew about and appreciated their food. The well-stocked stalls provided me with endless inspiration for dishes to come and the great advice from stallholders would easily encourage you to get cooking! The English Market truly is a great place for the foodie and I would encourage you to visit it if ever you were in the city.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Spring's Seasonal Treats

 Wondering what’s great to buy in terms of food this spring? Here’s the answer, well answers to be more specific! Although developments in farming methods have made all kinds of produce available year round, there is nothing better than cooking with food that is in season naturally at that specific time of year. I feel it is important that we understand where our food comes from and when it is best to eat it.

There is something really great about being in touch with nature rather than blindly relying on those well tidied supermarket aisles as a guide. An appreciation of the food we eat makes it taste than much sweeter, I think.

Now this is just a rough guide to what is great this season, if I discover anything else to add to the list I will put it up as an aside to a new recipe/post.

After much research I have made a list of foods that are great to eat in spring, just as nature intended! No recipes here I’m afraid. This time I’ll leave it up to your own creativity to see what you can make! I love making lists so here’s a few to get your creative juices flowing.

Broad Beans
Cabbage (generally all types)
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Spring Greens
Spring Onions

Blood Orange
Mango (alphonse)
Rhubarb (forced)

Spring Lamb

Sea Bass

Flat-Leaf Parsley

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Porter Cake

Like Guinness? Like cake? If so, then this is the recipe for you! A classic teatime recipe for the Irish, this cake is rich, unctuous and filling. I like it cut thick and soaked in fresh cream. It is comfort food at its best, perfect for those nights in on the couch..

An unusual feature of this recipe is that, just like a newborn baby, it needs to be fed regularly! Roughly a tablespoonful or two of Guinness poured over it over the course of 7 days gives this cake a wonderful moistness and a great background flavour of the black stuff.

Like all slow food, patience results in something truly special. However, there is of course, nothing wrong with slicing into it straight after baking or even a day or two afterwards. The optimum time to serve this cake is exactly 17:59 so plan ahead! Little Guinness joke there, haw haw haw..

Great tasting, keeps well and satisfies your hunger cravings. All set? Here’s the recipe!


100g butter                                                     1 teaspoon mixed spice
100g Demerara sugar                                    ½ pint Guinness
2 eggs                                                              300g raisins
200g flour                                                       100g mixed peel
½ teaspoon baking powder                           50g glace cherries
grated zest of 1 lemon


1.       Set your oven to 170°C.
2.       Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs a little at a time.
3.       Sift together the flour, baking powder and mixed spice and add to the mixture.
4.       Add the Guinness and beat well into the mixture. Stir in the raisins, mixed peel and lemon zest.
5.       Line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Pour in the mixture and cover loosely (don’t make a seal) with tinfoil to stop the cake from browning too much on the top.
6.       Bake for 1½ hours. Allow to cool completely in the tin. Turn out and eat.
7.       Keep in the tin and pierce holes in the top with a skewer. Everyday for seven days, pour over one to two tablespoons of Guinness for a richer, moister, more developed flavour. The wait is well worth it!

      Enjoy spread with butter, warm with fresh cream or heated and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


This is a recipe for the ladies! As the old rhyme goes: “Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan; if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man”. Single? Are you looking for someone to keep you company on those lonely nights? Once you’ve mastered this recipe your only chat-up line should be along the lines of “well... Have you tasted my boxty?”. Any self-respecting countrywoman could whip up a batch of boxty no bother at the request of her loved one! So, to entice that special someone or to keep them by your side all you need do is follow this recipe!

It is one of the traditional Irish recipes that nearly everyone knows of or at least has heard of in some shape of form. It consists of two of the main staples of Irish cuisine: potatoes and flour. Translated from the Irish to mean ‘poor house bread’, like all peasant food it has naturally become a favourite amongst the working class and has even crept onto the palates of the more privileged.

What I like most about this recipe is its versatility. Once the mix is made, it is entirely up to you how you want to cook it. Personally I like it rolled out to about one centimetre thick and pan fried for a few minutes on either side until crisp and brown. It goes down great when smothered in butter! You can also roll it out to about 1-1½ inches thick and bake it in the oven at 200°C for 20-30 minutes for something more bread-like. Another way of doing it is to use a good bit of milk to make the mixture more like a batter and pour it into a greased frying pan to make potato pancakes. Delicious! Without further ado, here’s the recipe!

1 lb Potatoes                                  10 oz. Self-Raising Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder            2 oz. Melted butter
Milk to mix                                     Salt and Pepper

1.       Divide the potatoes in half. Boil one half until tender. Grate the other half and wring out the water through a paper towel into a bowl. Reserve this liquid as it will be needed later.
2.       Drain the boiled potatoes. Mash and season to taste.
3.       Mix the grated and mashed potato together. Sift the flour and baking powder together and mix into the potato mixture.
4.       Go back to the liquid drained from the grated potato. By now the starch will have separated from the liquid. Drain off the liquid and add the left-over starch to the potato mixture.
5.       Melt the butter and add to the mixture to enrich it. Add enough milk to create a soft dough. What you want is something that holds together well and isn’t too runny.
6.       Shape into rounds about 8-10 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick.
7.       Cook in a buttered pan on a medium heat for a few minutes each side until golden brown.

Simple and delicious!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Classical Technique: Consommé

Consommé is defined as a clear broth made from meat, poultry or fish served as a soup course at the start of a meal. It is full of flavour yet is very light on the palate. It is a great way for chefs to show off their skill as the technique is very specific. A perfect consommé should be crystal clear, amber to light brown in colour and be full of flavour.

My first experience of consommé was in Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, London. It was a roasted vegetable consommé and was a delight. It was beautifully flavoured and was so clear it sparkled.

The method isn’t really as complicated as the hype would suggest and the original technique can be adapted by the home chef. Purists would probably scoff at the idea of veering slightly to the left of the original method but why should we deny ourselves of this delicious dish at home? In the old French style restaurants there was a specially designated position such as the ‘saucier’ who was in charge of making stocks, soups and broths. This person, when making consommé, had a specially designed vessel for making consommé. This was a large pot with a tap at the base which allowed the chef to drain the crystal clear liquid while leaving the sediment soaked egg white at the top. It’s easy to do, I swear!

You can garnish the consommé with various things such as a chiffonnade of herbs etc. but I prefer it as it is in its pure simplicity.


500g lean beef (any cut really)                               1 stick of celery
500g beef shank (with the bone)                            1 medium sized onion
1½ litres water                                                         1 sprig of fresh thyme
3 carrots                                                                    1 bay leaf
½ parsnip                                                                ½ garlic clove
2 egg whites                                                             3-4 whole peppercorns


1.       Fill a large stock pot with the water.
2.       Separate the whites from the yolks of the eggs. Discard the yolks and lightly whisk the whites just until bubbles begin to form. Add to the pot of cold water.
3.       Next, prepare the stock vegetables. Peel and dice the carrots and parsnip. Dice the onion and peel and slice the half clove of garlic. Add to the pot of water.
4.        Trim the beef as much as possible, getting rid of anything that isn’t muscle so as to obtain a clear, and honest meat flavour.
5.       Add the vegetables, trimmed meat, herbs and spices to the stock pot and slowly bring it close to boiling point.
6.       Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1½ to 2 hours maximum.
7.       At the end of the cooking time an egg ‘raft’ should have floated to the top of the pot. This will contain the majority of sediment, herbs, spices and fat. Remove this and discard along with the meat.
8.       Finally, line a sieve with a coffee filter and pass the liquid through it. You should now have a crystal clear consommé that is ready to serve.