Archive for December, 2007

Pass the Sprouts

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Brussel sprout soup

Unlike the vast majority, or so it seems to me, I love Brussel Spouts. It’s like declaring that you enjoy wading knee deep in manure, when you get that sour-faced, nose turned up look of disgust when they are mentioned. Infact I don’t know why I don’t have them more often. I think I just tend to forget about them, or maybe I don’t want to own up to my distasteful 20 a day sprout habit and simply pretend that you only have them on Christmas day when your mother tries to force them down your throat and the only thing you can do to stop the ever rising tide of bile is to hold you nose.

Instead of having just sprouts for Christmas day, which don’t get me wrong would make me just as happy, we tend to boil them and then fry them in butter with white breadcrumbs and chopped brazil nuts or we slice them raw and fry them with pine nuts and pancetta.

Just before Christmas I thought it would be nice to try sprout soup. I thought it turned out very nicely. If you don’t like sprouts, I’m not gonna lie to you, you may heave at the very sight of it.

I simply boiled the sprouts in a saucepan filled with weakish vegatable stock, a clove of garlic and a bay leaf. When the sprouts were tender I reserved the cooking liquor, refreshed them in cold water and blended them to a smooth soup with the cooking liquor, a little grated nutmeg, salt and pepper and a little butter. The soup ended up a little thick so I just thinned it out with a little water, but the consistency is, of course, entirely up to you. I then swirled a little creme fraiche into the soup and topped with ciabatta croutons that I cooked in the oven with olive oil, salt, a clove of garlic (which I removed before serving) and a handful of pine nuts.

Brussel sprout soup

Shortbread with Christmas spice

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Christmas spice shortbread

I made some shortbread and chutney for people to have at Christmas this year. I had had a go at making shortbread before, but it didn’t really turn out quite as expected. I found a Jamie Oliver recipe, which he claimed was the best shortbread recipe in the world. Even though I didn’t quite buy his bold statement, I do like his easy to follow recipes and thought that I couldn’t go far wrong. This was a basic shortbread recipe which I tinkered with slightly (I can never leave things alone) to give it more of a festive edge.


  • 250g plain flour
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 125g semolina or cornflour
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod (put the pod into a bag of caster sugar to flavour it after use or use in vanilla ice cream)
  • More caster sugar and flour for dusting
  • 8 inch square tin, greased

Simply cream the butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy, then sift in the flour and cornflour. Mix together lightly and then bring the mixture together with your hands and pat into a ball. Roll the mixture on a floured surface until it is the right size for the tin and press into the tin. Prick the top all over with a fork and cook at 150 deg centigrade for 50 minutes until slightly golden brown on top.

While the shortbread is cooking mix together a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar with the cinnamon and vanilla seeds. Once the shortbread is cooked sprinkle this over the top (it will give off the most amazing aroma). When the shortbread has cooled a little, cut into squares.

Shortbread and chutney

Quick Christmas trifle

Thursday, December 27th, 2007


I really love trifle but I hate the ones with jelly in them. I’m probably being a bit snobby but I think jelly is a bit tacky and I also don’t really like the texture. This recipe is really quick and easy, which is a must for around Christmas when you have run out of time or can’t face any more slaving over hob.


  • 1 box of Trifle sponges
  • 500ml ready made custard (get the best stuff you can or make you own if you like)
  • 250g Mascarpone cheese ( I found a reduced fat one which made me feel less gluttonous)
  • Ground cinnamon
  • 280ml Whipping cream
  • Frozen berries 300g (anything you like)
  • Brandy
  • Juice and zest of 1 orange
  • 4 tblsp Golden caster sugar

First cut the trifle sponges in half and use them to line the bottom of the trifle bowl. Put a splosh of brandy (it is really up to you how much you want to add) into a bowl and add half the juice of the orange and the zest. Pour this over the trifle sponge base and leave to soak in. Put the berries into a saucepan with the caster sugar and heat until the berries have melted and the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool and then pour over the trifle sponge base. Take the custard and add the mascarpone cheese and a couple of tsp of cinnamon, whisking together until combined. Pour this over the top of the fruit and let the trifle set in the fridge for a while. Whip the cream until soft peaks and use to decorate the top of the trifle. Serves 6-8

The Finished Christmas cake

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Cristmas cake

I have finally finished the Christmas cake that I have toiled over in class for the last few months. We had yet another buffet lunch at work last week, so I thought I would bring my cake in, partly because I can’t be bothered making anything else and also it means that I won’t eat the entire thing by myself.

It was a little heartbreaking to eat it after spending all that time on it, but the waft of Whiskey from the cake when it sliced into it reminded me why I wanted to try it. It was really moist and went down very well, but I think the department became 10% less productive after lunch as a result of the alcoholic content (certainly not one to hand round at the AA Christmas party).

Butter bean soup with smoked pancetta

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Butter bean soup with smoked bacon

I can never quite decide whether I like soup. If I’m ever in a restaurant and there is soup for starters on the menu, I never order it as I tend to think soup is rather boring. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some really nice soups and I have actually decided to do soup next week for an evening meal so I don’t know why I feel that way about it. It is generally a cheap quick and healthy meal, although I do tend to have a slab of bread with it, so it is ideal for a mid-week meal. Despite my indifference to soup I quite like this one.

I apologise for not giving quantities here as I never bothered to measure the ingredients and employed a slap-dash approach as usual.

Simply soak some butter beans overnight, then rinse and drain them and put into a saucepan with a couple of bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, an onion peeled and halved, pepper, a couple of garlic cloves and a potato and cover with water. Boil the beans until tender. Whilst the beans are cooking, cut pancetta into slices and fry until golden. Once the beans are cooked, remove the bay leaves and thyme and blend the rest of the ingredients (with the cooking water), seasoning with salt and a little more pepper if required. If the soup is too thick add a little water and if you want to be more indulgent add a drizzle of cream. Serve the soup in warm bowls topped with the bacon and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and eat with crusty bread.

Cakes galore

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Birthday cake

I’ve had a couple of orders for cakes recently and this is a picture of one of them. It’s a lemony Madeira cake sandwiched with raspberry jam and butter cream icing, which went down very well at work. I am definitely getting better at icing sponge cakes after the disaster of the first one as it went on neatly first time and I didn’t have to go through three Kg of sugar paste.

Half cut at Half past Eleven

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Me at Good food show

This weekend I went to the Good Food Show in Birmingham. It is a foodie’s paradise as there are lots of interesting things to see (but also a load of crap). With the entry ticket you get to watch a live demonstration from a well known chef and we got to see Gordon Ramsay. Even though it was half past nine on a Sunday morning, Gordon was true to form and swore through the whole thing. The food he cooked, though, looked lovely and the experience was pretty entertaining, there was even one woman who took off her bra under her clothes just to get some freebies, Gordon then promptly threw her bra in the oven. Other chefs we saw here and there were, The Hairy bikers, Jimmy from Jimmy’s farm and his girlfriend, Angela Hartnett and Tony Tobin.

Gordon Ramsay

It was quite tiring walking around the huge show halls but we perked up when we reached the booze bit. Thank God for free samples is all I can say. For about half an hour we tried every alcoholic sample we could lay our hands on and only later regretted it when the haze started to descend. Amongst the large volume of samples we tried I rather liked pear brandy and I decided that it would make a good addition to our drinks cabinet for use in cocktails and desserts. We also bought some sausages from the Jimmy’s farm stall and some cinnamon and raisin bread from the Paul Rankin/Irwin’s stall.

Sheep at good food show

One of the stalls was Discover Ireland and strangely they had two people dressed as sheep, knitting, so I decided to get a picture of that. They also had an apple juice made in Portadown which was quite nice.

There were some good bargains to be had and you could have spent a fortune there but the mild hangover and huge crowds by lunch time got the better of us and we headed home at half twelve.