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Sometimes you come across a beautiful ingredient and it’s a pleasure to just spend some time thinking about how best to use it.

I found these figs in Beshoffs* in Howth on Saturday, along with the jaw-dropping array of fish and shellfish that the shop is better known for. (Living a few miles inland, I just don’t get to see that kind of fishy feast very often and it was tempting to go a bit bananas in there.)

After a knock-out lunch at Ivan’s next door and a post-prandial stroll along the pier to shake off some of the food-induced snooziness, we returned home – Mr B with a big parcel of fish, me clutching my paper bag of dusky-purple fruit, dreaming of all the possibilites…

Fig, mozzarella and prosciutto salad… that would be nice. Or maybe I would roast them and then drizzle honey over the lot, accompanied by a dollop of something sharp. What about making a jam or compote? Although did I really have enough for that…

Cake.

Yes. Definitely cake. (Although, let’s face facts, it’s always cake with me.)

 
So I spent Sunday puttering around the kitchen, the comforting hum of the oven in the background, roasting hazlenuts, before skinning and pulverizing them for this cake.

Normally, that would seem like too much effort to me but it was more relaxing than anything else, in the way these sorts of activities can be when you don’t have any plans for the day and time magically expands to fit your needs. Now, if only I could apply that trick to my working day as well (answers on a postcard or blog comment please).  

Hazlenut and fig cake from Holiday by Bill Granger

(Serves 6-8)

You’ll need:

125g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
75g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
100g ground hazlenuts
50g hazlenuts, chopped into small pieces
8 fresh figs (not too ripe), halved
2 tablespoons honey

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gask mark 4. Cream the butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl until pale and fluffy.

2. Sift together the flour and baing powder. Use a large metal spoon to fold the flour and eggs alternately into the creamed mizture. Fold in the ground hazlenuts and then the chopped ones.

3. Grease a 20cm/8-inch cake tin and line with baking paper,  leaving the paper hanging over the sides to help you lift out the cake. Spoon the mixture into the tin. Arrange the figs, cut side up, in a neat layer on top of the cake. Bake for 55 mins to 1 hour, or until a skewer poked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

4. Leave to rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out. Drizzle honey over the top of the cake just before serving.

(Bill notes that this is lovely both as a cake and as a dessert with lightly whipped cream.

*Beshoffs doesn’t appear to have a website – how can that be? However, the also-excellent Wrights do…

All I can say is go make these NOW!

Blueberry bars brought to you by Deb of Smitten Kitchen.

From time to time, I have the chance to work from home – which makes me giddy like a small child at Christmas for two reasons:

1. It’s another 30 or 40 minutes wrapped in the cocoon of my duvet. Bliss.

2. I can make lunch at home and eat something that I wouldn’t normally even think about bringing into the office.

Cherry and goat’s cheese salad from The Sunday Times (Style section), Lucas Hollweg

Serves 4 but it’s pretty easy to cut down to one

You’ll need:

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 big handfuls of baby spinach
4 handfuls of cherries, pitted
200g soft white goat’s cheese (the stuff that comes in plastic tubs, not the rinded logs)
2 handfuls of whole or flaked blanched almonds toasted in a dry frying pan until tinged gold

1. Whisk together the vinegar and oil, and season well.

2. Toss in a salad bowl with the leaves and cherries. Add the goat’s cheese and gently fold in, then scatter with the almonds. Serve.

Cook’s notes

Oops – I misread the recipe and used two tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Happily, this turned out to be a good thing as I hate oily dressing anyway.

I only had the oozy, gooey type of goat’s cheese in the fridge and the recipe was none the worse for it.

Lucas also has a rather tempting-looking cherry frangipane tart in the same article. I think I’ve got enough cherries left over…

All this talk about breakfast has made me a little hungry…

There are probably a million and one things I could have slathered these puffy little pancakes with. But today I was just in the mood for maple syrup:

The only burning question is: Who gets the sacrificial pancake?*

American Breakfast Pancakes from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Makes around 12 pancakes

You’ll need:

225g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
30g butter, melted and cooled
300ml milk
butter for frying

Two way of doing this:

1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz.

or

2. Put the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a bowl. Then beat in the eggs, milk and melted butter.

3. Transfer the mix to a jug. Or I used a quarter cup to scoop up the batter and make sure I got similarly-sized pancakes

4. Melt some butter in a frying pan and get cooking! Turn over the pancakes when the upper side is blistering and bubbling. The second side may only need a minute to brown. 

* In our house, that would be Mr B. He’s noble like that.

Danish pastry

Ta da! Finally… A day late in posting – June’s Daring Baker challenge to make a Danish Braid. And what a delicious challenge it was :-)

My tiny recipe tweaks included:

- nearly an extra cup of flour to get the dough to a kneadable consistency

- using a pear and raisin filling instead of apple

Pear-cinnamon-raisin filling in the danish pastry
It worked beautifully – I was happy with my results as a first-timer on this sort of pastry. I particularly liked the the feel of the dough under my hands, gradually getting softer and more velvety-gorgeous as it absorbed the butter with each ‘turn and roll’. A very therapeutic activity for a Sunday afternoon.

Tastewise, it was a big hit as well (to take these photos, I had to fend off Mr B. before he chomped the lot). Not at all yeasty, which was something I was slightly worried about at the beginning of this challenge. The only thing that I wish I’d done differently was keep a better eye on the oven, as the braid came out a lot darker that I would have liked – and that’s hardly the recipe’s fault! A year after getting our oven and I still forget that it gets super-hot…

This month’s challenge definitely pushed me outside my shortcrust comfort zone and I’d like to try more variations on this recipe – if I can get myself organised, that is! In fact, at the excellent suggestion of Rachel, I’ve stashed the other half of the dough in the freezer for croissants next weekend. And Lorrie made cinnamon rolls with her leftovers… Oooh – it’s all very tempting!

Thanks to Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking? for a memorable challenge! For the full recipe, plus handy ‘as you go’ photos, here’s Kelly’s excellent post. Now, check out the rest of the DB gang on the blogroll. It never ceases to amaze me how we can all make the one recipe with such different and wonderful results :-)

chocolate raisin cake with chocolate ganache

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three words: Giant. Chocolate. Raisin.

Oh boy.

How about two more? Chocolate. Ganache. (OK, I know I’ve already said ‘chocolate’ but I’m highly excited and prone to repeating things.)

Oh boy, oh boy.

That description – minus the ‘oh boys’ – is how Julie Le Clerc grabbed my attention. Chocolate raisins were one of my favourite sweets when I was a young ‘un and I’m a sucker for a good line of copy. (Julie’s exact words being, ‘Believe it or not, these little cakes actually taste exactly like a giant chocolate raisin!’. Come on – that’s someone throwing down the gauntlet if ever I heard it.)

The result is tooth-achingly sweet, more like a giant squishy brownie or a chocolate fondant that’s been allowed to cool down and slathered with more chocolately wonderful-ness. Stuffed with raisins.

Just don’t do what I did and get so excited by the prospect of all your raisin-chocolate dreams coming true that you forget to line the muffin pan and then find that you can only prise two of the little buggers out in one piece.

How many times have I said ‘chocolate’ and ‘raisin’ in this post? That’ll be all the sugar then…

Little chocolate raisin cakes from Simple Café Food by Julie Le Clerc  

Makes 6

For the cakes:

125g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup caster sugar
½ cup raisins, chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
1½ tablespoons plain flour
½ cup chocolate raisins (optional but fun)

For the ganache:

½ cup dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line 6 extra large muffin tins with circles of non-stick baking paper and grease well.

2. In a saucepan, gently melt the butter and chocolate, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the raisins. Take off the heat, allow to cool a little and then carefully add the beaten eggs and finally the flour.

3. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20 minutes. The cakes should still be slightly soft in the middle.

4. Cool slightly before carefully removing from the tins. Serve topped with chocolate ganache…

5. Gently melt the chocolate and cream in a double boiler. Stir to form a thick sauce. Allow to cool and thicken then spoon mounds onto each little cake.
  

Lemony lentil salad

After all the sweet shenanigans of my last post, I need something savoury to to bring my tastebuds back into balance (and maybe my waistline too ;-) ).

Although, considering that there are two lemons, a tablespoon of capers and a healthy dose of chopped onion in this earthy salad, you might think I’ve gone too far in the other direction… However, it mellows down a bit after a night in the fridge and the flavours mingle to produce something that’s not quite as mouth-puckeringly tart but still definitely satisfies all my savoury leanings.

Happily, it’s also turned out to be an easy-and-versatile little number – which guarantees both a place in my heart and my regular repetoire. So far we’ve served it warm with baked trout for dinner and I’ve taken the leftovers in to work for lunch as part of a salad, layered up with veggies and some salty feta to top it off. Now that’s savoury and no mistake.

When the weather gets colder (not yet! not yet!) I’m thinking it would go well with roasted veggies, or act nicely as a sharp foil against the creaminess of a cheesy potato bake. In fact, you could dollop it on the side of just about anything you care to think of. Maybe just scoop it out straight of the bowl with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the dressing…

This recipe is my entry for the June edition of No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen. The latest challenge was to produce a soup or salad based on legumes/pulses – always handy to have as part of a healthier lifestyle, so I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with :-)   

Lemony lentil salad from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Serves 4

You’ll need:

1 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed (preferably something like Puy or Beluga lentils, ones that will hold their shape well)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup minced fresh chives, shallot or red onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Put the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Add the bay leaf and the garlic, and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat so that the lentils bubble gently. Cook until just tender but not burst – 20 to 30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure there is always enough water at the bottom of the pan to keep the lentils from burning.

2. Squeeze the juice from one of the lemons into a large bowl. Peel the other lemon and chop the segments roughly into smaller pieces, taking care to remove the seeds. Add the segments to the bowl along with the olive oil, capers and minced onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and stir.

3. Drain whatever water remains from the lentils and stir into the dressing while hot. Let the salad rest, stirring occasionally to distribute the dressing, until it cools down a bit. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve warm or refridgerate for up to several days.

Interesting alternative: Bittman suggests using two tangerines instead of the lemons. Will be trying that version out as soon as the current batch is used up. Which will be very soon at this rate :-)

Lemony lentil salad

chocolate birthday cake with smarties and sprinkles

Oooh – would you look at that. This site is one year old.

In blogging years (which are a bit like dog years, I think) that’s practically ancient.

Wow – well, let’s check the stats (the not-so-secret dirty pleasure of every blogger) and see what’s been happening around Bird Towers over the past 12 months:

Number of posts thus far:

114 – including this one.

The posts you liked best:

A little bit of what you fancy (banana bread)
Things that make you go mmmmmmm (gingerbread)
Daring Bakers Challenge for January – lemon meringue pie (I’ve been a bit remiss with my challenges lately but I’m back on the case with the next one, I promise!)

Interesting searches that got you here:

– What eats a bird
– A bird which eats stones in 5 minutes
– Fruit hurts my teeth
– Like tea birds sexy sites
– Recipes to blow up birds

I hope you all found what you were looking for. Except that last one. I mean, really? Seriously?

On another note, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has dropped by for a gander or said hello in the comments. It’s been a pleasure to meet you all. Long may the happy cooking and blogging continue :-)

Right, on to the important stuff – cake. Let’s face it, a first birthday deserves a kids’ cake if we’re going to celebrate the whole thing properly.

This recipe comes from the aptly-named Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell. There are so many fabulous-looking confections in this book, my ‘to make asap’ list has grown several pages longer – banoffee cupcakes, red velvet bonfire cake, raspberry-mascarpone layer cake, chocolate prune cake, pistachio choc-chip meringues, fig streusel… then there’s all the cheesecakes… And Caroline made a mouth-watering lemon traybake from this book the other week, so that’s another one tagged to try.

But for my first bloggie birthday, I’m going to have to plump for the kiddies’ dream traybake. It’s got what every small (or grown-up) child would want to honour this kind of occasion: chocolate sponge, chocolate icing, and a liberal application of Smarties and sprinkles. Bring on the sugar rush…

Plus there’s a fun ‘magic/science’ bit when you add the bicarb of soda to the cocoa mix and it expands rapidly. It’s entertaining and edible. How many cakes manage that?

Kiddies’ dream traybake from Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell

Makes approx 20 squares (Hmmmmm – not in this house. We like big wodges of cake, so it makes about 12 slices.)

You’ll need:

For the cake:

75g cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
4 medium eggs
370g light muscovado sugar
180ml vegetable oil
200g self-raising flour, sifted

For the icing:

150g dark chocolate (about 50% cocoa solids)
3 tablespoons milk
Smarties (2 tubes) and sprinkles to decorate

1. Whisk the cocoa with 200ml of boiling water. Whisk in the bicarbonate of soda and leave to cool for about 20 minutes. (If you do this in a pint-sized measuring jug, the liquid will expand up to about the pint level.)

2. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan)/180C/gas mark 4 and grease a 23 x 30 x 4cm traybake tin. (There’s no need to line it unless you’re planning on turning the cake out whole.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil. Then stir in the flour, then the cocoa solution. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until risen and firm, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and leave to cool.

4. To make the icing, gently melt the chocolate with the milk in a bowl set over a pan with a little simmering water in it, stirring until smooth. Using the back of a spoon or a palette knife, coat the surface of the cake. Scatter over some Smarties and sprinkles, and leave for a couple of hours to set. Cut into squares to serve.

Cook’s notes

If you think the big kids at work will like this, just leave it in the tray – makes it a lot easier to transport.

You could play around with this recipe a bit and add orange peel or maybe some peppermint essence for variety.

Piri Piri Starfish - Tessa Kiros

Hmmmmm – travel and work kind of got in the way there for a while – apologies for a complete lack of anything resembling, well, any blogging or recipes.

Nevermind. I think my exquisitely beautiful new purchase is going to provide some inspiration for playing with food. What’s more, there’s a recipe for pasteis de nata in there that has my name written all over it. To the kitchen!

Trafalgar Square

I am skipping off to London this weekend for a long-planned trip with VeggieKate.

And by ‘long-planned’ I mean it’s my 30th birthday present (thanks Kate!).

Except I’m now nearly 32.

We are useless besoms. Still, life gets in the way and all that… We’ve respectively had house moves, country moves, weddings and new jobs getting in the way of our chumly fun and that trip just slipped down the list – until now.

All I know is – there will be food. Oh yes. Lots of food. And wine.

See you when I get back – have a good weekend everyone :-)

Hello

I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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