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Wow! How lovely!¬†I’ve been nominated for an Irish Blog Award in the Food and Drink category ūüôā

I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to whoever put me forward for it – I don’t think it was my Mum…

Here’s the rest of the long-list (actually quite short compared with some of the other categories):

Well Done Fillet
Val’s Kitchen
English Mum in Ireland
The Humble Housewife
Sour Grapes
What the Waiter Knows
Just Add Eggs
Food Lorists
Icecream Ireland
Martin Dwyer
Italian Foodies
Eat, Drink, Live
The Mood Food Blog

Every blogger¬†on that list writes well and passionately about their subject. Some of them I’ve known about for a while and visit regularly – but there are a couple¬†of new ones (to me) and¬†it’s always exciting to find people who are similarly obsessed by all things food related ūüôā¬†

Congratulations everyone!


lemon meringue pie

When I saw the latest challenge from the Daring Bakers, I did a little skip of¬†delight around the kitchen. We love lemon-flavoured anything around here – cakes, sweets, tarts, muffins, curd, alcohol, you name it¬†– so having to¬†make lemon meringue pie as DB¬†‘homework’ (set by Jen at The Canadian Baker) was always going to go down well at Bird Towers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite as planned in the end and I would love to find out why.

The pastry came together well, no complaints there (especially easy if using a food processor). And the lemon filling turned out to be a mouth-puckeringly¬†sharp and gorgeous treat –¬†I would certainly make this recipe again as just a lemon tart and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with cornflour as I’d never used it to make a dessert like this before.

Nope, as you’ve probably guessed, my problem was with the meringue side of things. All looked promising as I eased the pie into the oven to cook off the topping – oh, yes, I was writing up this blog entry as a raving success in my head already. I was cruising this challenge. And it looked pretty darn good when it came out of the oven,¬†even if I do say so myself.

But then it all went pear-shaped (or should that be pie-shaped?).

You see that picture above? Notice that little gleam of something around the edge of the pie between the meringue and the pastry? That’s not just the halogen lighting bouncing around the camera lens (curse winter night-time photography). That’s the pie starting to weep. And lo,¬†it continued to weep – clear, unidentified liquid – for the next wee while, until the whole meringue topping was floating raft-like on a puddle of the stuff.

Eurgh. That’s not appetising by any standards.

Eventually, I took the pie over to the sink and carefully drained off the liquid before serving it up to some friends on Friday night. Luckily enough, they’re good friends and are used to having all sorts of food experiments inflicted on them, so they weren’t put off by the weeping meringue. The general consensus was that the pastry was a good ‘un and the filling was perfect – nicely sharp but not¬†cloyingly over-sweet as you sometimes find in store-bought versions (I’m looking at you, Caf√© Leon). Even the meringue, once you tasted it, wasn’t that bad.

So what went wrong? Could any of the following factors have affected the final outcome?

  • My kitchen was extremely warm – I was cooking a big dinner and the pie had to cool down next to the oven on full blast because there was nowhere else to put it. Did it, in effect,¬†start to melt?
  • I think that last point might be extremely wishful thinking, so… did I do something wrong when I whipped up the meringue mixture? Definitely possible.
  • Was there some kind of reaction between the luscious lemon filling and the fluffy meringue topping? I don’t know enough about the science side of things to say, but it’s unlikely – otherwise no one would ever make lemon meringue pie.
  • Was my oven at the wrong temperature? I think this is the most likely explanation. I noticed that the meringue was browning rapidly – too rapidly for it to cook over the allotted 15 to 20 minutes and not come out looking like a charcoal lump with goo on the inside. So I turned¬†reduced the temperature¬†a little bit and kept an eye on it. I think I didn’t get the cooking time right for my oven¬†after I’d fiddled with the temperature, leading to an undercooked, leaky meringue.

But if anyone else out¬†there has any theories on how I made my pie cry, then please leave a comment below. I’d dearly love to know because, overall,¬†I thoroughly enjoyed¬†this challenge¬†and would¬†give it another go¬†if I could work out precisely what went wrong!¬†

I’ll add the recipe later, but if you want to see¬†all the wonderful and creative¬†versions that the other¬†DB-rs¬†made of this¬†challenge, then take a quick¬†trip over to the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Enjoy ūüôā

Update: OK, I’ve found out how to stop the meringue weeping, thanks to Bellini Valli at More Than Burnt Toast. You need to add cornstarch to the meringue mixture because…

“It prevents the egg proteins from overcooking which causes shrinkage, beading or weeping in the meringue. Food stylists use this technique and have used it during photo shoots to produce beautiful pies.”

Aha! Suddenly it all makes sense!

mushroom risotto

You have a bit of time to¬†daydream when you’re standing around stirring risotto.* Time to¬†ponder some of¬†life’s great mysteries, like what can we do about global warming, what’s going to¬†happen when the oil runs out, or who is the final undercover Cylon in Battlestar Galactica?**

Or you can just zone out and watch the rice swirling around in the pan as it absorbs the stock, transforming into plump little grains of savoury goodness.

Where¬†does your mind wander to¬†when you’re cooking?

*Mostly because you can’t go anywhere while you’re making it. Enforced relaxation? Hmmm…
**Some of us need to know, dammit. Roll on the final season in March, writers’ strike permitting.

Roasted mushroom risotto with parsley
¬†from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver

This recipe comes in two parts – the risotto bianco and the roasted mushroom add-ins. But once you’ve got the risotto bianco sorted, you can go wherever you like with it if you’re not a fan of ‘shrooms ūüôā ¬†

Serves 6

For the risotto bianco, you’ll need:

2 pints/1.1 litres stock (veggie/chicken/whatever you prefer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
a knob of butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 head of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
400g risotto rice
2 wineglasses of dry white vermouth (dry Martini or Noilly Prat) or dry white wine
seas salt and freshly ground black pepper
70g butter
115g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Stage 1: Put the olive oil and butter into a large, heavy-based pan, add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

Stage 2: Keep stirring the rice until it looks slightly translucent (about a minute). Add the vermouth/wine and keep stirring.

Stage 3: Once¬†the vermouth/wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat¬†down to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice to check if it’s cooked. If not,¬†carry on adding stock until the rice is soft with a slight bite.

Stage 4:¬†Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for two minutes.¬†Then serve up ūüôā

For the roasted mushrooms, you’ll need

200g wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and halved
a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 tablespoon butter
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
1 lemon
Parmesan cheese, for grating

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/400F/gas mark 6. Start making your risotto bianco. When you come towards the end of stage 3, you need to roast your mushrooms, so…

2. Heat a heavy-bottomed ovenproof frying pan or baking tray until medium hot and add a splash of oil. Fry the mushrooms for a minute or two, until they begin to colour, and season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, thyme and butter, and mix together.  Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast the mushrooms for 6 minutes or so, until cooked through.

3. At stage 4 of the risotto bianco recipe, when you add the butter and Parmesan, stir in all the parsley. Roughly chop half the roasted mushrooms and garlic, and stir into the risotto, adding a good squeeze of lemon juice to balance the flavours.

4. Divide between the plates and sprinkle over the remaining mushrooms. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Cook’s notes

I only had chestnut mushrooms but they worked out just fine.

Loved Jamie’s advice about letting the risotto¬†relax for a couple of minutes after stirring in the Parmesan and butter. As he says, ‘it becomes amazingly creamy and oozy’ during this time. Perfect.

I kept this post pretty short because of all the recipe-typing-up involved. And because my arm has nearly fallen off from stirring risotto.

The always lovely and talented English Mum has tagged me with following meme:

‘Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given here (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.’

Here it goes…

Family… Tricky this¬†– I don’t tend to talk about my family much because, hey, they didn’t ask to be related to me, so why should their lives be splashed all over the blogosphere?¬†Although¬†this lions v bears debate is¬†kind of fun.¬†And it would be only going slightly off-meme to¬†point¬†you towards¬†Andrew. I’d like to¬†recommend a visit to his excellent blog and not just because he’s my cousin. That guy can write.

Friend… Well, it’s got to be VeggieKate.¬†Love her and miss her loads.

Yourself… Easy peasy¬†– it’s got to be something about¬†cookbooks hasn’t it?

Your love… Ah, now technically Mr B. did ask to be related to me, albeit through matrimony, so he doesn’t get off lightly.

Anything you likeA random conversation overheard in Dingle. 

Right, I’ll pick (on) the following folks to have a go at this meme (if they have time):

 Good luck everyone!

banana bread with chocolate chips

Some extremely evil, over-ripe bananas had to be used up, pronto (victims of the January health kick), so I went back to my list of blogger recipes for inspiration.¬†I’ve tagged about a dozen banana bread variations¬†over the last year*¬†but¬†this one from the kitchen goddess that is Molly at Orangette¬†caught my eye. Which, in turn, she’s adapted from the equally fab Kickpleat of Everybody Loves Sandwiches. Small world, eh?

I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly by reducing the cinnamon a little bit** but otherwise left it the same. It’s more¬†dense than other banana breads I’ve tried and I mean that in a good way. There’s no butter in it, which is – I think – what leads to a¬†springier texture that’s¬†strangely satisfying and moreish. As you can see from the picture above, we’ve been nibbling away at it quite happily¬†ūüôā¬†

Because it’s quite robust,¬†I’m thinking this would be good to take along on¬†a picnic/walking trip¬†whenever we’re finally¬†lucky enough to¬†enjoy a sustained burst of sunshine. (When? When? WHEN?) Seeing as that could be a while¬†yet,¬†this cake is going to¬†be my 11 o’clock slice¬†of naughtiness in the midst of all the healthy eating ūüėȬ†

Banana bread with chocolate and cinnamon sugar adapted from Orangette and Everybody Loves Sandwiches

You’ll need:

3 large ripe bananas 
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

For the topping:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Grease and line an 8-inch square baking tin.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients and then set aside for the time being.  

3. In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla extract, and stir to mix. Add 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and stir briefly.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and then evenly sprinkle on the topping mixture. Then sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top.

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing and scoffing the lot.

*You can never have too many banana bread recipes ūüėČ ¬†

**I know, it sounds so unlike me – must be having an off day…

roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup

Ah soup, glorious soup¬†– there’s nothing quicker to make or better at warding off the cold, or offering comfort after you slip on some ice and measure your admittedly short length along the pavement.

Still, not too much bruised except my pride ūüôā

This¬†recipe¬†from Rose Elliot’s Vegetarian Express¬†is fantastic, not just for the comfort factor but because it pretty much makes itself: roast the vegetables, then¬†liquidise –¬†that’s all there is to it. My kind of soup.

Rose¬†also mentions that because¬†the ingredients are¬†rich in beta-carotene,¬†this soup¬†is¬†good for healthy eyes, hair, nails, lungs and throat, and increased resistance to infection. So if anyone’s got the sniffles/lurgy/man flu this weekend, you’re practically on orders to try this out!

red peppers, sweet potatoes and red onions

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup adapted from Vegetarian Express by Rose Elliot

Serves 4

You’ll need:

3 red peppers, halved and seeded
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 pint vegetable stock
Red chilli flakes to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2. Toss the vegetables together with some olive oil in a large roasting dish.

3. Roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little.

4. Blend the cooked vegetables in a liquidiser, together with the stock and red chilli flakes to taste.

5. Reheat, season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve. 

Cook’s notes

I served this up with some chunky garlic croutons – see the recipe below. Very addictive…

A friend of mine (hi Susan! ūüôā ) has a nice variation where you chuck a whole chilli in to roast with the veg. It all depends on how much heat you like.

garlicky croutons

These crunchy little numbers have a punchy garlic hit, making them the perfect complement for soups and salads. Or just nibbling as you go along.

Garlicky Croutons from Cook 1.0 – A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen by Heidi Swanson

You’ll need:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
A couple of pinches of both salt and pepper
About 6 cups of good quality day-old bread

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 4.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, garlic, and salt and pepper.

3. Cut the bread into cubes or rounds, or just rip up into small chunks. Put the bread pieces into the bowl with the oil and toss around for a minute, until the bread has a light coating of oil.

4. Place the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven, flipping the croutons once or twice to make sure all sides are cooked, until the croutons are golden and crisp – about 10 minutes.

5. Let the croutons cool and then season again with salt and pepper.

Sweet potato and black bean burrito

Up for some more chopping board therapy? Well, I’ve got to admit, I didn’t go too far to find this recipe for sweet potato and black bean burritos – it’s¬†only¬† few pages along from¬†Fat Tuesday’s Skinny Red Beans in the Moosewood Restaurant’s Low-Fat Favourites.

Apart from the chance to stand around,¬†happily¬†slicing¬†my way through¬†a mountain of sweet potatoes and onions (with all¬†the teary snifling¬†you’d expect that¬†would bring on), what¬†caught my eye about¬†this dish was the intro blurb¬†claiming¬†that it didn’t need cheese.

Oh yeah?

I’m sorry, but there’s no such thing as ‘no cheese’ in my world. Does. Not.¬†Compute. Cheese makes the sun come up around here at Bird Towers. How could anything not taste better with cheese? So I was intrigued to see how it would turn out.

Of course,¬†the Moosewood authors are¬†right. The sweet potatoes make for an unexpectedly satisfying and creamy filling, which¬†means that you don’t miss cheese one little bit. And that can only be a good thing for those of us trying to cut down on¬†extra¬†calories after the festive season ūüėČ ¬†¬†

Sweet potato and black bean burritos from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites

Serves 4 to 6

You’ll need:

5 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3¬Ĺ diced onions
4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon minced fresh green chile
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4¬Ĺ cups cooked black beans,¬†(2x 400g cans, drained)
2/3 cup lightly packed coriander leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Another pinch of salt
8 eight-inch flour tortillas
Fresh tomato salsa to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

2. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until tender – about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, warm the oil in a medium frying pan/skillet and add the onions, garlic and chile. Cover and cook on a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes.

4. Add the cumin and coriander to the onion mixture, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5. In a large bowl, combine the black beans, coriander leaves, lemon juice, salt and cooked sweet potatoes. Then use a potato masher to squish the whole lot together. Stir through the onion mixture.

6. Lightly oil a large baking dish. Spoon about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of the filling in the centre of each tortilla, roll it up and place it, seam side down, in the baking dish.

7. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until piping hot. Serve topped with tomato salsa.

Cook’s notes

I reckon that if you left the coriander leaves out, the sweet potato mixture would be good for freezing if you have leftovers/make up extra on purpose.

But the leftovers also make a fab and very portable snack – that’s my lunch in the pic at the top of this post.

The tomato salsa recipe Moosewood provided didn’t really blow me away. It was nice but not really blogworthy. If anyone out there has an outstanding salsa, let me know!

Barefoot Contessa’s voluptuous orange yogurt

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got¬†a list as long as my arm¬†of¬†delicious things¬†from other bloggers that I’d love to¬†make. Then there are all the¬†recipes¬†in my¬†cookbooks that are neatly tabbed and waiting¬†on their time to shine.¬†And let’s not even go looking for that box file bulging with clippings from various magazines and newspapers that I’ve collected over the years.*¬†

High time, perhaps, to make some inroads into my recipe mountain.

Kickpleat over at Everybody Likes Sandwiches has a great¬†post¬†about a voluptuous orange yogurt¬†from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, which I bookmarked a while back. As well as being on my ‘must make’ list, this fitted the bill perfectly for a little lazy pottering¬†around the kitchen before settling down with the Sunday papers. A good place to start.

The only difficult thing about this recipe is¬†remembering to set the yogurt up to strain overnight, or for three hours minimum, in order to achieve¬†a thick, creamy consistency. But that’s not too much effort to make in exchange for¬†something that¬†tastes¬†both¬†a little bit decadent¬†and quite healthy too ūüôā

Voluptuous orange yogurt from the Barefoot Contessa via Everybody Loves Sandwiches

You’ll need:

1 large container of plain yogurt (I used Glenisk)
1 orange, zested and juiced (I just used half the juice as my orange was quite large)
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons dried cherries (I didn’t have any, so I used dates instead)
1 to 2 tablespoons honey

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and suspend over a bowl. (Or follow Kickpleat’s excellent suggestion of using a coffee pot and filter. I just used a very closely meshed plastic sieve and crossed my fingers.) Add yogurt and let drain overnight/for at least three hours.

2. Throw out liquid and add the remaining ingredients, stirring well. Serve with granola or fresh fruit.

*One day in the far-off future, archaeologists will unearth this box and surmise that we all lived on endless variations of chocolate cake and worshipped a bespectacled high priest by the name of Nigel Slater. But really, is that so far away from the truth?

Roasted parsnip and parmesan soup 

This recipe very nearly didn’t reach its proper soupy destiny for one exceedingly good reason: the crunchy bits. 

Let me explain. Any time Mr B. makes roast potatoes (and, for some reason, he always gets this task), he chucks in a couple of tiddlers because he knows I love the crunchy bits best of all and will jump around excitedly like a small child at the prospect. It’s the little things in life that make me happy. 

So when I pulled some roasted parsnips with parmesan out of the oven yesterday with the intention of whizzing them into soup, you can imagine what happened next. I mean, take a look:

 Parsnips roasted with parmesan

First one piece of crunchy golden parsnip disappeared down my greedy gullet… and then another… I tried to pull myself together a bit Рthey’d taste just as savoury and moreish with the addition of a bit of stock and the judicious application of a hand-held blender, I reasoned to my unreasonable self. Okay, fine, but I’ll just have one more piece… 

This all leads to a sort of ‘two in one’ recipe post (bargain!). If you‚Äôre looking for an interesting side dish for Sunday lunch, just follow the first part of the recipe. If you‚Äôd like a fantastic starter, or just a mug of intensely savoury and satisfying soup to come home to after a bracing weekend walk in the cold (ah, good intentions) then see it through to the end ūüôā

Roasted parsnip and Parmesan soup from The Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups 

Serves 4 to 6 

You’ll need: 

450g parsnips, cut into lengths
50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
15g butter
A drop more olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 ¬ľ pints/1.35 litres veggie or light chicken stock
4 tablespoons double cream 

1. Preheat the oven to 2ooC/400F/gas mark 6. 

2. Simmer the parsnips in plenty of salted water for 3 minutes. Drain well and toss in half the Parmesan cheese.  

3. While the parsnips are simmering, put the olive oil in a roasting tin and heat in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes. Then arrange the parsnips in the roasting tin, add the butter and bake for around 45 minutes, basting frequently. 

4. In a large soup pot, warm up some more olive oil and cook the onion gently until soft, without colouring.  

5. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Add the stock, stirring constantly and bring to the boil. Add the parsnips. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. 

6. Allow the soup to cool a little and then pureé it together with the remaining Parmesan cheese in a liquidiser/or in the pot with a hand-blender. 

7. Stir in the cream, taste for seasoning, reheat and serve. 

Cook’s notes 

I usually forget to do the bit with the flour. Never missed it, so if you’re gluten-free then don’t worry about this step. 

I like my soup a little thicker (like stand-your-spoon-upright thick), so I never add as much liquid as suggested in the recipe above. 

The cream went right out the window in a token gesture towards saving my figure. Milk works just fine instead.


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).
January 2008
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