In my continuing mission to publish posts that have been lurking behind the scenes of my blog for months, I now arrive at the account of the fantastic day we spent out at Stagrennan Fram, an orchard in Drogheda, back at the end of October.
We had the perfect day for visiting; clear and bright with that crispsness that you only get in the autumn.Our journey started out in the car park of the Tesco in Clarehall, where myself, Sarah of Cake in the Country and Deirdre of The Food.ie met up with Michal from Bord Bia and a mini bus and we trundled off to Drogheda.
On the bus Michal presented us with some very useful fact sheets about Bramley apples and some delicious looking recipes, all of which can be found on the Bord Bia recipe site. My favourite is definitely this Apple and Jameson Tart.
On arrival at the farm we were joined by Kristin from Dinner du Jour and Aisling from Mangoes with Lime and were enthusiatically greeted by the very lovely Fiona McNeece, who immediately offered us a choice of her homemade apple cake or apple & sloe crumble or perhaps a bit of both. This offer was eagerly taken up by the food bloggers and soon there was much munching going on. I'm afraid I was too busy tucking in to remember to take a picture of the food, but I did take one of their antique tractor outside.
While we were eating Fiona and her brother Olan told us about their family and the history of Stragrennan Farm. Their father bough the farm back in 1962 and it is on the site of an old country house, where their house is now was once part of the cow shed. But apple growing is not a recent trend in this family, their familys been in the apple business since the late 1890's.
After eating, we all trooped outside to be shown the latest addition to the orchard fleet, a very narrow tractor designed to fit between the rows of trees in the orchard, before being whisked off to the orchard proper to see the apples and learn all about their production.
Up by the apple trees, Olan told us about the main apple they produce; Bramley's and how in order to encourage cross pollination each row of Bramley's are interplanted with a row of dessert apples such as Golden Delicious, Cox's, Discovery or Elstar.
At this stage of the autumn all the Bramley's had already been collected but the other varities were still on the tree and we were invited, nay, positively encouraged, to pick a couple and try them fresh from the tree. They were so juicy and delicious!
Olan told us that most apple trees are grafted to different root stock in order to make a stronger tree. As you can see from the picture this causes a lumping at the base of the tree but otherwise you would never tell that it had been done.
He also demonstrated to us the correct way to harvest apples and pointed out that the trees are never allowed to grow too high, so that they don't have to use ladders. Instead they encourage horizontal growth to produce more fruit per tree. Olan told us that their apples are used for eating, industrial baking, apple juice production and the windfalls and dropped apples are gathered up and used in cider.
The McNeece's also have future plans to turn some outbuildings on the farm into a visitors' centre and encourage local schools to come and visit them to learn about how apples are grown and their many uses.
Like the producers at the Kilkenny Food Camp, they are passionate about their business and product and want to share this enthusiasm with others, especially children and young people so that they too might become passionate about local produce.
After our tour around the farm, we headed back to the house where we were met by Tara from The Tasty Tart, who was there to demonstrate some delicious apple recipes for us.
At the end of our visit to Stagrennan farm we were each handed huge boxes containing mountains of apples, real apple juice, and the cutest range of jars containing various jellys and chutneys. My family's favourite was definitely the spiced apple chutney.
Many thanks to Sarah and Bord Bia for organising the trip and to Fiona and Olan McNeece for making us feel so welcome. I only hope that we get to visit again, maybe when the blossom is on the trees.
If you'll be in Dublin city centre this Sunday, why not let Haagen-Daz and The Exchequer treat you? Award-winning mixologist Darren Geraghty has created a special dessert cocktail for Valentine's Day - The Haagen-Daz Loving Cup. Darren will be on duty to demo the cocktail between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. We have 5 pairs of tickets to give away. First come, first served!
Of course I immediately sent off an email in the hope of securing a spot to try this intriguing dessert/cocktail combination. I was sent back an email telling me to head along to The Exchquer Bar on Sunday at 3pm with a friend and ask for Darren Geraghty. So yesterday afternoon myself and my friend Michelle did just that.
We arrived and soon located the lovely Darren, who is an award winning mixologist, in the Exchequer's back bar dishing out the Loving Cup to other lucky couples. We were immediately made welcome and asked did want anything savoury to eat before tackling the dessert. We decided to dive right in to the sweet stuff.
Darren behind the bar
Darren brought us out a large glass goblet containing two scoops of Häagen-Dazs' new flavour; Chocolate Pralines and Caramel, flanked by a small jug of coffee, a small jug containing a mixture of coffee and citrus liquers and two spoons as this dessert is to share with a friend or lover.
He explained that his inspiration behind the Loving Cup is the traditional Italian Affogato, a combination of ice cream and fresh coffee, but with a new twist - namely the citrus flavours.
Darren then showed us how to put the dessert together so that we could make it at home too. First he added some fresh orange zest to the top of the ice cream.
He then poured over the shot of espresso coffee that slightly melts the ice cream and brings out the flavours of the caramel and the orange zest.
Finally, Darren poured on the alcohol portion of the dessert; consisting of a shot of Patrón XO coffee liquer and half a shot of Cointreau. He mentioned that you could substitute in Kahlua and Limoncello if that's what you have at home.
That's it! A delicious, romantic dessert for two with minimum effort but maximum impact. Myself and Michelle dived in and both us really enjoyed the balance of flavours between the chocolate, coffee and orange. We soon made short work of it.
Michelle with the remains of our Loving Cup
While we were there, we had a great chat with Darren about cocktail making, the use of local produce in their cooking and how we both learnt to make a proper Cosmopolitan in the Octagon Bar of the Clarence Hotel. We also got to try one of their other cocktails, a Cucumber and Mint Daiquiri.
These were incredibly refreshing and we could both imagine drinking them after a long day at work in the summer.
We had a lovely time at the Exchequer Bar, and having seen some of the food going by (and knowing that they are recommended by The Bridgestone Guide) we will definitely be returning in the not too distant future.
The Häagen-Dazs Loving Cup will be sold in the Exchequer Bar for one night only, tonight 14th February. Price €10.
Brownies have always been my go to dessert, so much so that at one stage I used to be able to whip up a batch of the batter in under 10 mins while the oven heated and be eating them 20 mins later.
This recipe is a slight modification from the one printed in my very first cookbook; The Usborne First Cookbook. Which, by the way, is a brilliant first cookbook for kids, I still use lots of recipes from it.
As with my previous two cookalong recipes, this is another easy to make but looks really impressive dish. The one you love will find it hard to resist you after a dish like this.
I like to use a mix of milk and dark chocolate in my brownies, but if you prefer just plain chocolate then leave out the milk and double the amount of plain.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Weigh out the chocolate and butter and place in a glass bowl.
Pour some boiled water into the saucepan enough so that it won't boil dry but not enough that it will touch the bottom of the glass bowl. Place the bowl with the chocolate and butter on top and allow to melt over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally.
While the chocolate is melting weigh out the flour, sugar and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
Break the eggs into a seperate smaller bowl and beat them together.
Add the beaten eggs to the dry mixture and whisk together with the electric beater until it is well combined.
When the chocolate is completely melted, pour it into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients and beat together.
When everything is thoroughly mixed together, pour into the well greased swiss roll tin and spread the mixture out so that it is evenly distributed about the tray.
Put the tray into the oven and bake for 20 - 25 mins.
The brownies are ready when they are just set in the middle. Take the tray out of the oven and leave to cool.
Once cool, take your bigger heart shape cutter and mark out 2 large hearts. Then take your smaller heart and mark out 2 little hearts. Try not to cut too near the edge as you get a better looking shape near the centre of the tray. I was making for 3 and I had plenty of brownie left to enjoy the next day with the leftover cream. Bonus!
Using a spatuala, cut a square around the hearts and gently leaver the square up to remove the heart from the tray without damaging it. Put the cut out large hearts on plates and the leave the small ones to one side for the moment.
Time for the vanilla cream. Pour the cream into a bowl and beat until it has soft peaks.
Now take your vanilla pod and split it open. Run the back edge of the knife over the inside of the pod to collect the seeds.
Add the seeds to the cream and fold in using a spoon or small spatula.
Put a large spoonful of the vanilla cream onto the large heart and gently spread it across the top until it is completely covered.
Carefully place the small heart on top and dredged with icing sugar using either a sieve or dredger.
You can then leave them as is and serve or add a little garnish. I used a glace cherry leftover from the Christmas baking on the top of mine, but a mint sprig would also work really well.
This is the second of my Food for Romance Cookalong recipes. This is the main course that I spent a week agonising over. I originally made this dish for my Beau about a month ago, but with chicken breasts with skin on and no bacon. It came out very nice but I felt that it could be improved upon. This is the improved version.
It is a fairly simple dish, but it has the look of something that took a lot more effort, perfect for impressing the one you love. I served it just with my oven chips and nothing else as the mushroom was quite filling as a starter.
Just a note that I used Inch House Black Pudding, but you can use any type you like. I would recommend frying off a little to taste first in order to determine how much seasoning you'll need in the dish.
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Using a sharp knife, slice into the chicken breasts carefully so that they open out but are not cut the whole way through.
Lay the chicken breasts out flat on a chopping board. Place 50g of black pudding along the centre of each open breast and fold in the edges.
Season the chicken breasts. Lay out 5 strips of bacon on the cutting board and place the breast on them join side up, then wrap the bacon around it so that the chicken is completely covered.
Carefully place the wrapped breasts into your oven proof dish and put into the oven for 30 - 40 mins.
While the chicken is cooking, you can make an apple sauce to go with it. This is not unlike the onion gravy that I made to go with the Toad in the Hole.
Peel and core the apples, then slice them into thin segments.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the apple slices. Gently cook the apple until it turns golden brown.
Turn up the heat under the apple and add the cider. Bring to the boil and reduce until the liquid is quite thick. The apples will go mushy, but you want this to happen.
Add the chicken stock to the pan and blend the sauce until it's smooth.
Season the sauce and leave to reduce, till thick, on a low heat while the chicken finishes cooking.
The chicken is ready to serve when the bacon has started to crisp.
Plate up the chicken with your side dishes and sauce and serve.
This is the first of my Food for Romance Cookalong recipes. When the theme for this month's cookalong was announced, this was the first thing to pop into my head as a starter. It's a modification of a recipe for mushroom bruschetta taken from the Green River Cafe Cookbook and is one of my favourite starters to serve for guests, mainly because it is so easy to put together.
It's also very easy to make a vegetarian version of and I think that replacing the Serrano ham with haloumi cheese would make for a great dish.
I didn't have time to get a mix of wild mushrooms on the Friday, so I used the Champagne variety that was available in my local supermarket. These worked just as well but I think you get a nicer flavour from using a mixture of different wild mushrooms, which are usually available in shops such as Fallon & Byrne.
Before getting started pre-heat your oven to 200°C. Trim the Portobello mushrooms and remove the stems. Hold onto the stems for use later but throw out the rest of the trimmings.
Place the mushrooms onto a baking tray. Add a teaspoon of olive oil to each mushroom and rub it in.
Add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to each mushroom, lightly season and put into the oven for 15 mins.
While the Portobello mushrooms are cooking, prepare the wild mushrooms which will be places on top.
Tear or roughly chop up the wild mushrooms, I find the softer varieties are easier to divide by tearing rather than using a knife. Finely chop up the Portobello stems and place with the mushroom mix (you don't have to do this but why waste them?). Finally crush the garlic.
Heat the frying pan and add a knob of butter (about 20g) and about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms and cook for 2 mins, stirring regularly.
Add the garlic and cook the mushrooms for another 2 - 5mins until they are just starting to brown. Once this has happened turn off the heat.
Your mushrooms turning brown in the pan should coincide with the Portobello's coming out of the oven. Place the Portobello's on plates and divide the wild mushroom mix between the two.
Heap any fallen wild mushrooms back on top of the Portobello's and give the plate a little wipe down (presentation is important when wooing). Drape the mushrooms with a slice of Serrano ham. If you can't get Serrano ham, Parma ham works just as well.
Friday 4th February was the first Friday of the month and that means it was Cookalong time again! This month the theme was Food for Romance (what else?) and while I could easily come up with a starter and dessert, I spent a lot of time racking my brain for a main course to cook. In the end I decided on an experimental recipe I had tried out on my beau a couple of weeks previously but made a couple of tweaks to my original recipe.
I set up a romantic table setting for the evening...
...and then cooked a three course dinner for my parents.
I started with what I like to call Double Mushroom Surprise; a roasted Portobello mushroom topped with sautéed wild mushrooms and a slice of Serrano ham.
Following on from the Food Camp post, these were the third item that I brought down as part of my "lunch box" and I got a lot of compliments on them because of their lovely buttery taste.
These are the best rolls to have with your breakfast, brunch or an afternoon tea. They are incredibly buttery and work well with both jam and runny cheeses. Funnily enough I've mainly eaten them at a Dane's house in Ireland, but this is the recipe from our family cook book and it works out very nicely.
As this is a Danish bread recipe it involves yeast, but be not afraid, it is still incredibly simple.
Measure out the milk and warm in the microwave for about 40 - 50 seconds until it is warm. You can also do this in a pot but it's faster and leaves less washing up in the microwave.
Mix in the yeast and the teaspoon of sugar to the warm milk and leave until it has become frothy, about 15 - 20 minutes.
While you're waiting for the yeast to activate, measure out the flour and rub in 150g of the butter. When you're finished the mixture should have the consistency of breadcrumbs.
Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the half-teaspoon of salt and mix through.
It's now time to go back to the yeast mixture. By now the yeast should have foamed up and will be ready to add to the dry ingredients. Give it a quick stir and pour the yeast liquid in with the dry ingredients and mix together into a soft dough.
Once the dough has come together in the bowl, tip it out onto a floured worktop and knead for approximately 5 minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic.
When you've finished kneading the dough, put it into an oiled bowl and cover with Clingfilm. Alternatively, you can put the dough into an oiled freezer bag. Leave to rise for 20 minutes until it has become slightly puffy. While the dough is rising, turn on the oven and preheat it to 220°C.
After the dough has risen, put it on a lightly floured worktop and roll it out into a large rectangle measuring approximately 20 x 50 cm. Make sure that the edges are as level as you can get them.
Take the remaining 50g of butter, it should be quite soft, and spread it across the bottom half of the dough.
Seal up the edges at each end in the same manner. Flip the folded dough back over so that the seal is now on the underside.
Seal up the edges and each end of the in the same manner. Flip the folded dough back over so that the seal is now on the underside.
Brush the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle the poppy seeds as evenly as possible along the length.
Cut the dough into triangles. You should get between 12-14 triangles out of this batch.
Place the triangles onto greased baking trays and place into the oven to bake for 15 minutes until they have turned golden brown.
Once baked, remove from the oven and allow cool on wire racks.