Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Bread Making at The Firehouse Bakery and Bread School

From the Pitta bread of the Middle East, Naan bread of India to the Rye breads of Scandinavia; Bread is found in all sorts of forms or shapes in most cultures. It is the staple diet of many. Even the word Bread has come to take on more significance than its nutritional values. It is used in religious rituals. " Breaking bread " to describe the gathering of souls, friends and family," Putting bread on the table " basic necessities, " Bread winner " living conditions and even value either in monetary or worth " Best thing since slice bread " or " lots of dough ".
But all in all, few types of cooking will offer you more rewards than Bread making. The actual hands-on process of mixing, kneading, folding, proofing, shaping and baking is immensely satisfying and you would be surprised how much fun it can be too.
The basic skills are really easy to learn and it requires no special equipments to produce great breads," just your hands "along with a little practice and guidance. This week, I went along to the Bread making class of Patrick Ryan from The Firehouse Bakery in Delgany, County Wicklow, just outside Dublin.
Patrick is the co-author of the " Bread Revolution " cookbook, which secured a 3rd place at the prestigious Gourmand World Cook Book Awards in Paris. His aim is to re-establish  bread as
 " King of the Table ".For him, Artisan bread making is a labour of love, in the old style with no preservatives and his passion was contagious.
We were warmly welcomed on arrival by Patrick himself. The group was kept small, with only 8 of us in total, it felt like a one to one lesson. We rolled up our sleeves and worked side by side with Patrick while he introduced us to the world of real bread and it's versatility. From the beautiful Rye bread, the Malt house to the Great white Sourdough. From fresh yeastdry yeast to bread soda. It was very informative and broke down many myths that I had about bread making.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Eat like an Italian with Lidl's Italiamo range

The Cuisine of Italy is a reflection of this wonderful country of sapphire blue skies,land of the rolling hills, the ever winding roads with their tall elongated cypress trees,terraced vineyards,olives groves with their curiously twisted trees, glimpses of sienna red tiled roofs and above all, of warm,generous and hospitable people. The country's culinary tradition is as long as its history and an Italian meal is a leisurely, sociable affair, often taken in the open air.
Lidl's  Italiamo range is a vast array of Delicious Italian Delicacies that you will not be able to resist. Available in all stores as of Monday 24 th February .
Here are a few recipes and ideas for you to entertain without fuss or expense; Forget the cares of the day and linger, Italian style with your favourite people.
A typical Italian meal starts with An Antipasti platter, which usually includes an assortment of Cured Meats, Olives, Vegetables, Salads and Cheeses but it varies greatly according to regions.So for the most hassle-free, no-cook starter in the world, just take a trip to your local Lidl and pick up a selection of antipasti. Arrange on a large platter, with bowls of Olives and marinated vegetables and allow your guests to compose their own selection on their plates, leaving you with plenty of Chill-out time with friends and family as these recipes take 30 minutes or less to prepare as there is really very little cooking involved.
( Slates from Slated Ireland. )

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Figs... The food of the Gods and a few simple ways to serve them.

Figs are an ancient fruit, cultivated way back by the ancient Egyptians as long ago as 1900 BC. Certain legends even claims that Eve ate a fig not an apple and subsequently the fig leaf was used to cover her modesty. Whatever the truth , I can only affirm that there is nothing like eating a ripe fig at the height of their season in Summer. They are lusciously sweet with a delicate aroma, silky juicy flesh,crunchiness of the seeds and smoothness of the skin. So no wonder they have been enjoyed for centuries, for these are the food of the Gods.
While native to the Middle East and Western Asia, they are widely grown throughout continental climates of the world. Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually a pod or sac (a false fruit) in which the flowers and seeds are borne.It is pollinated by a fig wasp which enters the fig through a tiny hole at the crown of the fruit.
Figs range dramatically in colour depending on the variety but are normally grouped into White, green,red and purple/black. Today, California is the one of the largest producers of figs followed by Turkey, Greece,Portugal and Spain. Figs are a good source of Potassium, Iron & dietary fibre.
Fresh figs being delicate and easily perishable, makes it a Culinary delicacy par excellence. Look for plump,tender fruits that are free of bruises. If they smell sour, they are past their best. Wrapped in tissue, they will keep in the fridge for a few days.
Before use, wipe the skin with a damp cloth, trim off the stems. Keep them whole with a deep cross at the top end for poaching. Cut from top to bottom into halves or quarters  or Slice into thick rounds for salads and desserts. Alternatively, you can make a fig flower by making a deep cross at the top end, cutting almost but not all the way, squeeze the base and the quarters should open out like petals.
Here are my favourite ways of serving figs. I like to keep it simple and allow the fruit to speak for itself.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Lobster Terrine with Beurre blanc ..... Cooking for the one you love

"Cooking for the one you love " is sensuous by its very nature. Never should it be seen as flippant as Cooking is about the art of balance, of feeding the mind and soul as well as the body.
For St Valentine, 14 th of February, a day associated with romantic love , your food should arouse passion and leave a lingering taste, a lasting impression.If normally your budget is restricted, it doesn't prevent you from going up- market for this special occasion. and of course you could always substitute the lobster for a cheaper alternative that will work just as well.
Lobster was my choice after reading Herman Koch's book " The Dinner ".
This is a delicious dish whose simplicity belies it's full flavour.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Discovering Tastes of China and celebrating "The Year Of the Horse"

The Chinese New Year 2014 is  "The Year of the Horse." It usually starts on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth when the moon will be brightest. But this year it started on the 31 January, the last day of the month, so the celebrations are still in full swing. Those born in the horse years are cheerful,skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.
Last month , I collaborated  on " A Taste of China " demo with my good friend Julie O'Neill . And here are two of the Cuisine we covered and some of the dishes we cooked.

Sichuan Cuisine comes from the South Western province of China. It has bold flavours from the pungency of garlic, hot and numbing seasoning of Sichuan peppercorns and spiciness from liberal use of Chilli oil along with Chillies itself, which are often dried and other preserved ingredients.
Hunan Cuisine on the other hand, from the Western province of China, is often spicier as nothing can be served here without fistful of fresh or preserved chillies. However, it contains a larger variety of fresh ingredients and is known for it's bold and colourful dishes.
Both Sichuan and Hunan Cuisine are part of The Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine .( Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan and Anhui ).

I never used to cook Chinese until I met Julie; Now I am unable to stop and  take -aways, are a distant memory of yester years. Julie regularly visits China and has gathered an amazing array of recipes from her various trips as well as from her Chinese daughter in law Shan.
Our " Taste of China "  demo was a great success but I was under pressure !!! as it so happened,we had the visiting O'Neill-Gao clan from China present that evening.
But help was there as I had invited another friend Marie McKenna to come and cook with me and we got the seal of approval from no other than Ching-He-Huang, the well known and very prettyTV Chef herself on Twitter.