On Monday just gone we had tickets to go and see the excellent Bitter Ruin in concert at the Sugar Club. They had appealed via their site for people who would be willing to house them during their time in Dublin. While we couldn't provide them somewhere to stay, I did offer to give them a good old feed. In the end though their hosts were providing them with dinner, so I thought I would bring along a little dessert for them instead.
As it was Bord Bia's National Strawberry Week, I was inspired to make them some mini sponge cakes filled with cream and delicious Irish strawberries. The result was pretty to look at and a little bit of heaven in your mouth. It was nice to see that the band thought so too.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Sieve (or not, I am very lazy about sieving) the flour into a bowl and add the baking powder.
Add in the butter, sugar and eggs.
Mix together by hand or using a hand blender. Add in the vanilla essence and stir it through the mixture.
Take your baking tray and place the bun cases into the depressions. This recipe makes 12 large buns, so you should only need one tray.
Divide the mixture between the cases and put the tray into the oven for 25 minutes or until the buns have turned golden brown.
When the buns are ready, take them out of the oven and let cool in the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
While the buns are cooling. Hull and slice your strawberries, keeping to one side 12 nice slices to decorate the top of the cakes with. Whip the cream, I used a balloon whisk as I find I stop at a softer whip than when I use a hand mixer. You want the cream to softly whisked for easy spreading later.
When the buns are cool, remove their paper cases and cut them into two pieces, cutting them closer to the top than the bottom.
Blob a heaped teaspoon of cream on the bottom half and smear a small amount on the underside of the top of the bun. Place some strawberry pieces on the lower part and sandwich the top on.
Put another little blob of cream on the top of the bun and carefully place one of your good slices of strawberry on it. When you have finished all the cakes, dredge or sieve icing sugar over the top.
Sit back and enjoy with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Perfect for afternon tea on the lawn, if the sun ever comes out again.
I started off by using the dough recipe and method detailed here by Gluttony for Beginners. I was interested to read the part about putting the dough on the hot baking tray before adding the toppings, as I think this is where I went wrong the first time I tried to make pizza, as the dough didn't end up quite cooked in the middle.
Anyway, I made my dough on the Wednesday evening and it rose spectacularly. I knocked it back and stuck it in an oiled freezer bag in the fridge overnight. When I went to look at it again the next evening, the dough was busily trying to escape from the bag, I had forgotten that it would continue to rise in the fridge and would need a little extra room than what I gave it.
I also made my normal tomato sauce, but let it reduce further than I would if I were using it for pasta, exchanged the mixed herbs for oregano and left out the red wine. As you can see, I also made a bit of a mess while cooking it. The little bit of chilli in the sauce ended up giving the pizzas a lovely warmth, which worked really well.
My next thoughts were on what delightful toppings to put on what would surely be a masterpiece of a pizza. I decided that since it was only my second time making pizza I would keep it simple and use a variety of differnet cheeses and hams. I choose some baked ham and parma ham, then I picked out three cheeses to use, buffalo mozzarella (of course!), mature white cheddar and gruyère. Here they are all laid out on a plate for easy access.
I split the dough into 4 pieces and proceeded to roll out the first piece using loads of flour. I also used my hands to stretch it out as well. Eventually I had something that resembled a pizza base, though it wasn't very circular or square for that matter, it was more blob shaped.
While I was organising my dough and toppings, the oven had been heating up to 250°C with the baking tray inside also heating up. I decided to use my baking tray upside down as it gave me a larger, smoother surface area to deal with. I removed the tray from the oven and carefully placed my excitingly shaped pizza base on top of it. I then added the delicious tomato sauce, leaving a gap around the edges for easy handling once it was cooked.
I had a bit of a mental blip while putting on the toppings and forgot that the cheese goes on first and then everything else. I did it the other way around, putting on the ham first and then the cheese.
One it was covered with all the hammy, cheesey goodness I popped it into the oven for about 10 mins. As it came out there was the most wonderful smell and a pall of smoke that set off my smoke alarm, as my oven needs a little bit of clean and gets bit smokey when it gets hot. Once I got the alarm under control, the pizza was cool enough for eating and it tasted so very, very good.
Once the Beau came home I cooked up a couple more, and his first one came out a little rounder.
I ended up cooking 4 pizzas of which the Beau ate 1½ and I ate 1 and 1 slice, but had the rest cold for lunch the next day.
I will definitely be making pizza again, it was really easy to put together and tasted delicious. Next time though I will be a little more experimental with the flavours, I particularly liked the sound of asparagus, which was used by some of the other participants.
Here's a final picture of the Beau, looking pleased as punch to be having homemade pizza.
UPDATE: The winner of our Twizza Party was Gluttony for Beginners, from whom I pinched the recipe for my pizza base. Congratulations to her on the win!
Back in April, the lovely 9 Bean Row, suffering from a surplus of rhubarb in her backgarden, enquired over Twitter if anyone would like to take some off her hands. Of course I leaped at the chance and arranged to collect it from her in town.
Not wanting to go down the crumble route, I decided that the best thing to do with the rhubarb would be to make a cake out of it and throw in a little ginger as they work so well together. Below is the result of the experiment. It tastes very good and I think would possibly be even better with a little softly whipped cream on the side. Go on, the cake is calling!
First preheat your oven to 150°C. Then you need to rinse your rhubarb and chop it into pieces about an inch in length.
Put the butter into the frying pan, when it starts to foam add in the rhubarb pieces.
Sprinkle the 2 tblsps of caster sugar over the rhubarb, gently stir through and lower the heat. Let the rhubarb cook until it has slightly softened and the butter, caramel and fruit juices have formed a syrup. Leave to one side to cool while you prepare the rest of the cake.
Take the ginger and use the handy 'peel it with a spoon' trick that I mentioned before. Grate the ginger and leave to one side.
Now onto the cake proper. First sift the flour into a roomy bowl and add the butter cut into pieces. Rub the butter into the flour creating a breadcrumb textured mixture.
Add the sugar to the mixture and stir it in.
Add the rhubarb and ginger into the bowl and stir in.
Beat the eggs in a seperate bowl and add bit by bit to cake mix. Make sure that you mix everything together thoroughly. Leave to one side while preparing the cake tin.
I used quite a deep baking tin as my only other one of appropriate diametre is very shallow. A springform tin would also work. You need to grease your cake tin well. I like to use old butter wrappers as it's a handy way of recycling them, but you can just rub in some marg or butter with your fingers or a bit of baking paper.
If you have an old school tin like this one, it's best to line it with baking parchment. If you don't have any baking parchment, then any kind of brown paper will do, I used a handy paper bag. If you have a non-stick tin, then you should be safe just greasing it.
Put the paper under the tin, draw a circle around it, cut it out and stick to the bottom of the tin. Then grease the paper.
Pour the cake mixture into the tin and place in the oven for 1½ - 2 hours, until the cake has turned golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
If the cake seems to be getting too brown before it is cooked through, cover the top of it with tin foil to protect it.
Once the cake is ready, take it out of the oven and allow to cool in its tin for a couple of minutes, then carefully tip it out onto a wire rack where it can cool. You may also need to carefully remove the baking parchment from the bottom of the cake when you remove it from the tin.
Serve the cake warm or cold, it's pretty good both ways and as I said I think it would be pretty tasty with a little cream on the side or perhaps a dusting of icing sugar.
Let me know if you try it and like it, or if you try it with other fruits.
On Thursday 20th May a gaggle of food bloggers descended on Bord Bia at 11am for the first food blogger event that was brought together byBord Bia and Donal Skehan of the Good Mood Food Blog. I turned up a little early, and was worried that I would be the first one there. I was met at the door by Maeve and Klara of Bord Bia, who handed me a name tag, which included my blog's name and led me into the demonstration room where I was introduced to Donal and the lovely Móna of the Wise Irish Blog.
Maeve did some amazing memory work for the first 10 or so bloggers, where she managed to remember the names of all those who had arrived and introduced them individually to the new arrival. I was seriously impressed, plus it helped me to cement a few of the names myself.
After a little nervous mingling with tea and coffee, we were called to order for the first talk of the day. The main theme of the event was pork, as Bord Bia are trying to promote Irish pork in the wake of the 2008 dioxin scare and our first speaker of the day was David Owens of Bord Bia's Meat Department, who told us all about the Quality Assurance Mark and pork production in Ireland.
A couple of points that I found particularly interesting were that pork production is the third most important agricultural sector in Ireland after beef and dairy, that Ireland has a higher level of animal welfare for our pork production than some other European countries and that we export 50% of the pork that we produce. I was also quite excited to learn that as well as having the Quality Assurance Mark for produce that you buy in supermarkets, Bord Bia are working on a Quality Mark for butchers that would cover all the meat they sell in their shops. I'm pretty fussy about my meat, so knowing that everything a butcher carried is Quality Assured would be very reassuring.
After David had finished his talk, we next had a vegetarian based demonstration from Lorraine Fitzmaurice of Blazing Salads. First she demonstrated a spelt soda bread, some of which was passed around the room for us to try. It disappeared pretty fast! It had a lovely, rich flavour to it combined with a slight sweetness. I will definitely be making it at home myself. She also told us about spelt and why people who are coeliacs can eat it, as she was cooking it.
Next Lorraine made a miso pesto, served on tagliatelle with broccoli and green beans. She explained the miso is very important in vegetarian and vegan diets as it provides much needed vitamin B12 to their diets. A bowl of both the miso paste and the miso pesto were passed around the room, the smells from both were amazing. We also all got to try the pasta dish and, again, it would be something I will be trying at home, even though we're not the most vegetarian of households.
While we guzzled our pasta samples, Pat Conway of GMIT prepared to give us a demonstration of pork butchery. The hilarious Pat was clearly a man who knew his way around a set of knives. In the 15 minutes allotted to his talk, Pat demonstrated to us about 12 different cuts of pork. The first few coming from the loin of pork, included a rack of pork, pork cutlets and the loin. The second joint that Pat butchered was the fore of pork, from which you can get the chump chop.
Pat also gave out some helpful hints; such as using the bones from your joint as a trivet when you are roasting it as it prevents it frying on the bottom of the roasting tin. He also mentioned that the ideal ratio for a sausage is ⅓ lean pork, for the smoothness, ⅓ main ingredient for the flavour and ⅓ pork fat to make the sausage light. His final useful piece of information was that if you were unsure of whether your pork it cooked or not, so long as the core temperature has reached 75°C the meant will be safe to eat.
Next up was Maire Dufficy, a Bord Bia Food Advior, who demonstrated a range of easy to cook pork recipes which included a delicious looking, slow roasted pork belly and noodle dish, minced pork pita pockets and pork on ciabatta. The smells from her cooking were amazing, never before have I been part of a mass drool. The only pity was that we didn't get to try any of it.
Maire was also a hot bed of useful tips. My favourite was her suggestion that you ask your butcher to vacuum pack your marinade with the meat. That way there are no spills in your fridge and it's easy to travel with.
When Maire was finished we were all dying to get to our lunch, but we had one more speaker before we could eat. Damien Mulley sympathised with our hunger pangs before talking to us about how best to market our blogs by using services such as Google, Twitter and Facebook. He also spoke about how to make contact with journalists and publications.
Lunch was of course pork, the most delicious pork belly as well as some roast pork, all served along with a variety of salads and potatoes.
Just as we were thinking about digesting our lovely lunch, dessert arrived, a beautiful strawberry tart and with it we were treated to a talk by Eoin Purcell on the transition of blog to book. It was very interesting hearing about what it takes and the time scale of getting a book published.
In the afternoon session we were treated to a demonstration of food styling and food photography from Erica Ryan and Jocasta Clarke. Erica told us all the tricks of the trade for making food look good and the sometimes odd tools they use to achieve this, including cotton buds and glycerine. Jocasta showed us how a bit of pre-planning can improve pictures and how to reflect the light using things as simple as a sheet of kitchen paper.
She and Erica also did a step by step demonstration of styling a bowl of pasta, showing us how much different lighting and accesories can change the feel of the picture.
We also got to see some very realistic fake ice cream and possibly some of the most luridly decorated cupcakes I have ever seen. I will definitely be trying to incorporate some of their tricks into my photos from now on.
Afterwards their talk, there was a chance for mingling and grabbing some swag, thank goodness we were told to bring a bag with us, or I would never have got it home. I managed to snag a rosemary plant from Living Flavour, some amazing cheese from Mossfield Organic Farm (highly recommended), tasty biltong (a kind of beef jerky) from Biltong.ie, beautiful smoked trout from Goatsbridge (we ate it as a starter for my mum's birthday), a tea-time biscuit from Lilly Higgins (in the cutest packaging ever!), churtney from Sheridans, seeds and spouts from Good 4 U, rooibos and pu-erh tea from Barry's and a delicious fruit salad from Garden Orchard.
Arms and bag bulging, I had to run off to meet my mum for tea, as it was her birthday, and missed out on socialising with the rest of the bloggers. However, I had a terrific day and I'm really looking forward to the next one.