Category Archives: Sweet Stuff

Time To Make & Steam The Christmas Pudding. Nov. 12, 2017ūüéĄ

It’s time for you to get your Christmas Pudding made and steamed if you want it to taste luscious on December 25th! This has been a fun little process of building up to the actual making of the pudding (check out this and this and this and this).

chocolate toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce

Christmas Pudding with rum butter sauce and Fresh Cream

This is what I did yesterday at about 5pm. It is totally easy (even though the list of ingredients and instructions look crazily daunting!) and requires only that you stick around as it steams. I made dinner (and ate dinner) while hanging around the stove last night.

The recipe is below and it has some options. I decided to be a little adventurous and added an element of chocolate to my pudding mixture this year. I have no idea how that will turn out but it’s chocolate: how can I go wrong!

DSC_0383

 I chopped 4oz of a good quality dark chocolate bar in my food processor

I also used a sherry I never tried before ( pedro Ximénez) and as one of my dried fruits, I used blueberries. 

I cannot wait to see how it turns out and I love and hate that I will not know the answer to that question until I bite into my dessert on December 25th! I will be sure to write about it and let you know!

Walnut-Nutella Torte for Christmas Party

Totally tacky and wonderful Reindeer!

 

You will need:

  • 3¬† cups dried fruit of your choice: I used 1 cup each of dried blueberries, cherries and currants. But you can also use, figs (cut up), prunes (cut up), raisins etc
  • 1/2 cup of liquor such as good quality sweet sherry or golden rum
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • t tbsp unsweetened cocoa (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp All spice or mixed spice or Pumpkin Pie Spice mix
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (you don’t have to go out and buy breadcrumbs. simple toss a slice of bread in your food processor and blitz into crumbs or great the bread by hand with a cheese grater)
  • 1 medium apple – peeled (grate into mixing bowl when instructed below)
  • zest of an orange (zest the orange straight into the mixing bowl when it’s time to add it)
  • 4 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa), crumbled in a food processor and chopped into little pieces (Optional)
  • 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp brown sugar (dark brown sugar is best, but don’t go buying it if you have the lighter version)
  • 10 tbsp (5oz) vegetable shortening (such as Crisco) OR Beef Suet
  • 3 large eggs, beaten in a separate bowl (just beat together with a fork)
  • Vodka (about a 1/2 cup but you only need this on the day you serve the pudding¬† – it is to flamb√© to serve)

Method

Soak the fruit in the liquor overnight but for up to a week. cover the bowl and store in a dark cool spot. (look here if you want more detailed instructions on this)

Dried Fruit for Pudding

Enter a caption

  1. Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon or a hand whisk (flour, baking powder, breadcrumbs, spices, sugar, salt, cocoa powder (if using), chocolate bits (if using)
  2. grate in the apple and zest the orange into the mixture and mix

    DSC_0376

    Add the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients

  3. mix in the shortening in little blobs, along with the eggs into the bowl. Stir everything together really well

    DSC_0387

    I asked my daughter to stir the ingredients together just so she was part of this grand event.¬† And she, like most young people think this pudding is disgusting. Ah…they have a lot to learn about true deliciousness

  4. Butter the inside of your pudding basin/tin and add the pudding.
  5. cover the top of the pudding with some wax paper (I cut a bigger round than the diameter of the top of my pudding tin and made a fold in the middle and it also went up the sides a bit. Put the pudding lid on securely.

    DSC_0396

    Cover pudding with Wax paper before adding lid

  6. Cover the pudding basin with tin foil to seal it completely.
  7. Place a large pot on the stove top  (big enough to hold the pudding basin with about an inch to spare at the top) and put the pudding basin into the pot. Add water until it comes about 1/3 way up the pudding basin( a little higher is fine too) and turn heat to high until the water comes to a boil.
  8. cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and turn heat down until water is at a gentle steady boil.

    DSC_0397

    Cover pudding basin with foil and place in pot, top with pot lid and boil gently for 4 hours

  9. Boil for 4 hours, topping up the water level as needed. You will need to keep checking this and add water at least every hour.
  10. Turn off heat and remove pudding basin from water and when it has cooled completely, unwrap the foil and remove the wax paper. Put the lid back on and store in a cool dark spot until Christmas day.CHRISTMAS+PUDDING

ON CHRISTMAS DAY YOU WILL NEED TO DO THE FOLLOWING (about 5 hours or more before serving):

  1. Re-steam the pudding for three hours – look above for steaming instructions, as a reminder (it is not as stressful as it seems as it needs no real attention).
  2. When it has steamed again, let it cool and then remove it to your serving plate.
  3. Right before serving, pour about a 1/2 cup of vodka into a pot and bring to a low boil. when it is boiling, set it alight and when it is flaming, pour it over your pudding.

It will be lit up and you need to rush it to the table so everyone can see its grand entrance!

 

 

Christmas Dinner Prep Nov. 2, 2017. Time to Soak the Dried Fruit for the Christmas Pudding. Please make this. It is easy and amazing, and…there is still time!

Christmas Pudding has the reputation for being stodgy, heavy and full of unappealing dried fruit, and in general, it is true. When I was growing up I tasted many truly terrible puddings. We would be dragged to relatives houses over Christmas and sure enough a cup of tea with a slice of pudding would be set in front of me. There were the aridly dry ones that would crumble in your mouth and I would need to drink two or more cups of tea to help wash them down. Next most awful were the  puddings that were chock full of candied mixed fruit peel. The luminous artificial dye in the peel would run into the cake part and the taste was tinny and chewy in a very unpleasant way. Horrible pudding memories!

https://i1.wp.com/cookingisfun.ie/sites/default/files/Mini%20Christmas%20pudding.jpg

This lovely pudding was made by Darina Allen, an amazing Irish chef, food writer and founder of the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland

I steered clear of making Christmas pudding for years, but, when one year I decided to try my hand at making one, I realized that Christmas pudding didn’t have to be heavy, stodgy and unpleasant. My pudding was rich and intensely flavorful but with a wonderful sticky pudding moisture that was addictive. Yes I am praising my own pudding, but my effort came with lots of help from taking a large portion of my mother’s Christmas spirit and combining it with the things I liked and a hefty dose of advice from various cookbooks and cooking gurus.¬†

Pedro Ximénez Sherry (sweet sherry is used to soak the dried fruit for your pudding)

My pudding is a little different every year and the main difference is I change the liquor I used to soak the dried fruit and, I change-up the dried fruit I use. I have used conventional fruits like currents and prunes to things like dried blueberries and figs in my pudding. This year I want to try a sherry that Nigella Lawson swears by for her pudding and use dried cherries as one of my fruits. I also think I want to add something from the chocolate family, be it cocoa powder or actual dark chocolate pieces…I haven’t decided yet.

soaking fruit for christmas pudding

I don’t always use sherry to soak my fruit. One year I used rum and it was amazing too (so don’t run out and buy sherry if you have something else that might work in your liquor cabinet that has sweet notes)

Today all I am going to do is get my fruit soaking for a few day (up to a week), in some delicious sweet sherry and make my mind up over the next few days.

If you are going to try your hand at this pudding along with me, you will also need to soak your fruit. For this stage you will need:

  • 1 cup Good Quality Sweet Sherry. If you know nothing about sherry, just get a recommendation from where you buy it. (I am using Nigella Lawson’s recommendation of Pedro Ximenez Sherry. She waxed on about it, so I believe it must be good. It is also used by Darina Allen for her pudding so I don’t think you can go wrong here. It is expensive though…close to $30 for a bottle, so if you plan on buying this, just know that it is great for sipping and can be added to plenty of other desserts).
  • 3 1/2 cups GOOD QUALITY dried fruit (choose 3 or 4 that you like…such as: currants, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, figs (chopped), prunes (Chopped).

Method for Soaking Fruit:

Put fruit in a bowl and add the sherry. Stir. Cover and place on a shelf or cupboard somewhere for a few days. Give the mixture a quick stir every day (if you remember).

Dried Fruit for Pudding

This year I am using currants, dried cherries and dried blueberries

IN A FEW DAYS YOU CAN MAKE THE PUDDING!

*And if you are just discovering this recipe or feel in the mood to try this, you will also need a Pudding Basin*

 

 

 

 

OUI Yogurt By Yoplait: A Great Yogurt or Great Marketing? …Perhaps Both?

Oui 1

I was rushing through the aisles of my supermarket as I so often do the other day, to grab a couple of things for dinner when, my eye caught something that made me stop and linger. This is a hard thing to compel me do, so I went with it. These little glass pots of yogurt had the same effect on me as the dish ratatouille had on the food critic Anton Ego in the beloved movie of the same name and I hadn’t even tasted it….yet!¬†

oui 7

Even at a quick glance you can immediately see how it so different-looking from absolutely every other yogurt in a world that is now yogurt mad. The variety on the shelves today is mind-blowing…from the new craze of greek-style yogurt to yogurt that is touted to flatten your belly and keep you regular. Today it is so much harder to get people’s attention in a world where the choices for positively everything border on overwhelming. Why did this simple little thing do it for me?

oui 2

I could immediately see that this jar and the packaging was meant to transport me to the days where housewives made their own jams and jelly to use themselves and to sell or give away to neighbors. Their little glass pots would have handwritten labels that were cut with those zig-zag dressmaking scissors and glued onto the glass, all sealed with a round piece of colorful cloth held on with a sturdy rubber band. And here it was again before me, this quaint and comforting image that made me feel happy and homesick at the same time.

And I knew what was happening, and fully aware that the guys and gals in the marketing department had spent many hours getting the appearance of this yogurt to make me feel just that, but I didn’t care. I decided to fall for it and grabbed a couple of jars “just to try it” The price of this yogurt alone should have stopped me ($1.49: nearly twice the price of anything I usually buy) but those little pots with their old-world feel were too persuasive.

oui 4

I noticed it was made by Yoplait, a company that was started by six humble dairy farmers in France in 1965.  It is the only yogurt I remember growing up with in Ireland, so the Yoplait company had staying power.

So…was it good? I nearly wanted it to taste ordinary and run-of-the-mill just so I could say: while packaging is hugely important (hugely!), the actual product had to win me over if I was going to buy this again. But…it was sublime.

So why did it taste so dang good? I had to get the inside scoop? I learned that pretty much every other yogurt (including the yogurt made by yoplait), is made in large batches and poured into containers fully set and ready to eat. Oui yogurt is made more like how you and I would make it (but obviously on a huge scale), where  whole milk is added to yogurt culture, sugar, and fruit (if you choose). It is then poured into  little glass jars and there it sits to set for 8 hours before it is ready to eat. (And apparently glass also preserves the integrity of the favor better than any kind of plastic counterpart). This is why it tastes homemade and as you know, homemade is always a very good thing.

oui 3

Oui yogurt does not have the “tang” that permeates the newly popular Greek yogurt. Instead, it subtly sweet with a creaminess that feels like the best ice cream in the world. My favorite flavor so far is the tart cherry. I am one of those people who needs a little something sweet after dinner and it completely satisfies my craving. And there is something so wonderful about eating out of that sweet little glass jar wih its homemade label, (and yes, I am fully aware it is just a clever representation of a homemade, handwritten label, but I applaude the idea).

Some reviewers tout all the different ways the jar can be repurposed, but there are only so many pencil and Q-Tip holders you need, and, since there is no lid it cannot really be used to store condiments like my homemade pesto or leftover dressing etc. So if you become addicted to this lusciously creamy pot of heaven, make sure to recycle the glass!

oui 5

The last word is that this yogurt is worth trying as it satisfies all of the criteria to make a wonderful eating experience: it creates a mood that reminds you of simpler days with its pretty homespun packaging, and, it tastes like a sweet treat that you perfected and made using milk from your very own cow grazing out in the pasture. This is a very idyllic take on a yogurt made by what is now one of the biggest food companies in the world (General Mills and Sodiaal) but I have to give them credit for finding a clever strategy that won me over both body and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Dinner prep October 10, 2017. What is a Pudding Basin and Where can I get One?

 

Well, if you live in Ireland, England, Australia, India even, or wherever the English have influenced culture, you probably do not need me to tell you what a Christmas pudding basin is. However, the majority of the United States (where I live now) is pretty much clueless, and that’s not me being mean. It is the cooking pot used to make a dessert made once a year, (literally).¬† Beyond that, unless you are some pudding-making addict, this object sits in the nether regions of your cupboard until around this time of year (I usually have to hunt for it because I never remember where I stash it).

chocolate toffee pudding

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce), and Fresh Cream

This is a pudding my mother made each and every year when I grew up and it was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never helped her make it. The kitchen was not very big and with six children ( yes, six!) underfoot my mother didn’t have the time or the patience to squeeze in cooking lessons on top of everything else she had to do. But I watched my mother cook for years and when she did let me cook (and it was pretty often after the ripe old age of seven), I had full reign of the kitchen. It was all or nothing: I suppose she rightly figured that two was too many cooks at one time, so she would plant me in our tiny kitchen and walk away.

I would try my hand at anything, and everything I made was my attempt at trying to make things that were staple meals my mother made or I would find a recipe somewhere and follow it to the letter. At that time there was no such thing as computers and I don’t think my mother even owned a cookbook, so I used to find recipes in my mother’s weekly magazine (I think it was called Woman’s Own?) and later I used my Home Economics school book as another source of inspiration and instruction (and in those days only girls were taught that subject, the dark ages indeed)

batter for christmas pudding

Mixing Pudding Batter

But I never got the pudding recipe. This time of the year would roll around and I would see my mother mixing flour with spices and various dried fruits, and there was that sweet smell of cinnamon, mixed with ground cloves and other mysterious sweet things that wafted through the whole house when this laden pudding cooked for hours on the stove. The only hand I had in it was every couple of weeks she would give me a bottle of sherry and I had to pour a little of it over each pudding (since she went to the trouble of making one, she decided it was just as practical to make 3 or 4!) to “cure it”. I didn’t even know what that meant…what was wrong with it that it needed curing?

I wasn’t really in love with Christmas Pudding when I was young. It was thought of as a grown-up dessert. I hated the candied mixed-peel fruit that my mother used in the batter, and the addition of sherry made me winch. No child likes the taste of alcohol and so as far as I was concerned, the sherry was the nail in the coffin. I never bothered to ask how it was made as I never though I would ever want to make it.¬†

Trifle for  Crappy Kitchen Goes to Italy

Trifle was my favorite Christmas Dessert growing up (this is the version I make)

Well that turned our to be wrong, so a little word of advice here: ask as many questions as you can of your parents and relatives about everything and anything, because one day they will be gone, and like me, there will be moments when you say to yourself, “why didn’t I ask about that when I had all the opportunity in the world?”

Not that I wanted to make my pudding the same way as my mother. I still do not like sherry in desserts and store-bought candied mixed peel is still a tragic way for any fruit to end its life! Suffice is to say that I have been making Christmas pudding for several years now in the spirit of my mother but with my own sensibility.

I will talk about what this pudding consists of¬† later but first you will need to get yourself a pudding basin! This pudding is steamed and it needs to be in a tight-as-a-drum container and withstand four to five hours of low bubbling in a pot of water, that constantly needs to be topped up. It’s a simple thing but kind of hard to find if you decide to trek around town looking for it. And forget about asking for help as no one will know what you are talking about.¬†

You are looking for something like this (above is a metal basin. I have this kind and it lasts forever). This one is from Fox Run Craftsmen: Pudding basin/mold

https://i2.wp.com/www.jarrold.co.uk/userdata/root/images/products/kitchen-craft/17/142/kc-basin-1pt570ml-1.jpg

Or like this. This is a Plastic Pudding Basin and is just as effective.

If you want to make this completely amazing and different Christmas dessert, this is the first step The other thing you will need and is not a common ingredient anymore), is SUET, and I will talk about that next. When you are schooled in these two not-so-common things, we can make our pudding together.

*AND I RECOMMEND A 3 PINT PUDDING BASIN*

 

 

 

 

 

NUTELLA CREPES (makes 24)

nothing comes close to this divine treat..

nothing comes close to this divine treat..

The “pancakes” I grew up eating in Ireland, are known as crepes in the United States (also in France of course!). We ate them served with a sprinkle of granulated sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

crepe with lemon and sugar - the only way I ever ate "pancakes" growing up

crepe with lemon and sugar – the only way I ever ate “pancakes” growing up

But they can also be filled with savory things such as…

This was one of the fillings on offer last night: mushroom cream with chicken

Mushroom Cream & chicken Crepe

And Sweet things…(and the sweet thing I promised to give the recipe for, when I wrote about my 3-day stint in NYC and tried Nutella-Filled Crepes – press THIS to read about it!)

Our Nutella Crepe!

Our Nutella Crepe!

After trying these crepes in Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich’s Italian market, Eataly, I asked myself, “How hard could this be??” The answer of course is that if I can make them, then so can you!

Here is the recipe for these deliciously addictive crepes.

______________________________________________________

Crepe Recipe (makes 24)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

2 egg

2 1/2 cups milk

2 tbsp. melted butter

Neutral oil for frying (grapeseed, safflower)

Nutella for filling (2 tbs per crepe approx)

Method:

Place all ingredients for creps into a bowlPlace all ingredients for crepes into a bowl

whisk unbtil well-blended. Set aside for a 1/2 hourWhisk until well-blended. Set aside for a 1/2 hour (or can be left in the fridge for up to two days)

fry crepesPut heavy pan on medium heat and lightly grease with oil (Use safflower, canola or grapeseed oil) Put 2 tbls of batter into pan and swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin-film of batter. Fry crepes for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Drizzle nutella onto crepe whicle it is on the pan. 2 tbls is a good amount but drizzle as much or as little as you like!

Drizzle Nutella onto crepe while it is on the pan. 2 tbls is a good amount but drizzle as much or as little as you like!

Fold the crepe in half and then fold again

Fold the crepe in half and then fold again

EAT right from the pan!

EAT right from the pan!

 

MANGO DELIGHT DESSERT (serves 6)

Okay – it is about time I posted something fresh to enjoy after a nice Spring Dinner. I made this dessert dreaming of drier and sunnier evenings that are hopefully to come. At this point I still feel the chill of winter, and to be honest, I’m getting SICK of it!!

Great Fresh Dessert

Great Fresh Dessert (I think Homemade Desserts have a poetic license which allows them to look like this; a bit messy, but more inviting, don’t you think?)

This dessert is so easy to whip together so is great if you have people over and you want to demonstrate how ingenious you are at pulling a dessert out of your hat on the spot, OR if you are a mango fanatic  Рeither excuse is a good one to give this a try!

________________________________________________________

You will need:

2 ripe mangoes, peeled, cored and chunked

2 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tbs fresh lime juice

1/2 cup sugar

Method:

1 – Put the mangoes, sugar and lime juice into a blender or food processor and blend until ultra smooth.

Blend mango, sugar and lime juice

Blend mango, sugar and lime juice

2 – Add 1 cup of the heavy cream and continue to blend until it gets thick and creamy. Taste mixture and if you want to add a little more lime juice or sugar, do so at this time and blend again.

Add cream and blend until somooth, thick and creamy

Add cream and blend until smooth, thick and creamy

3 – Whip the remaining cream (1 1/2 cups) in a bowl until it is thick.

whip cream

whip cream (of course you can use an electric mixer too!)

4 – Pour mango mixture into 6 tall glasses or dessert bowls and top generously with freshly whipped cream.

Serve!

Serve!

Chocolate Pistachio Sables with Flaked Salt (makes about 5 dozen-ish)

My daughter wanted to make something sweet and a bit grandiose that would last to the New Year so decided on cookies. She knew she could make lots at one time and that they could be stored and eaten as the occasion (or urge) arose. With very strong enthusiastic encouragement from me she choose a recipe from my December issue of bon appetit magazine. My mouth watered over these ever since I saw they were generously decorated with my favorite salt in the world; Maldon Sea Salt Flakes!

Ide's Cookies

Ide’s Cookies

There is nothing difficult about these cookies and the proof is that my 12-year-old daughter made them with no help from me whatsoever. I know that when you think of kids in the kitchen, all you can imagine is the mess that is made, and that’s understandable. But, if you can get past that and realize it’s nothing a dish cloth can’t mop up later, you open up a whole wonderful world of teaching your children what it means to make something from scratch and the pure pleasure it never fails to give the ones cooking and the ones looking on. Your kids will never learn to cook if they are not allowed into the kitchen!

A fun Job for any kid!

A fun Job for any kid!

The thing that Ide liked doing the best was chopping the pistachios to bits with a rolling-pin and the challenge of separating the yolk from the white of an egg.  These buttery, chocolate-y, salty, nutty sables were mouth-wateringly delicious and more than worth the modest mess that was made during her stint in the kitchen.

_______________________________________

You will Need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use king Arthur’s brand)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 tsp fine salt (Ide used a fine grain celtic sea salt)

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 1/2 sticks (10 oz or 282 grams) unsalted butter – room temperature

1 1/4 cups soft light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg white

5 oz bittersweet chocolate (Ide use 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips)

1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios – coarsely chopped (Ide put the nuts in a plastic bag and bead then with a rolling-pin!)

sea salt flakes (Ide used Maldon salt)

Method:

Preheat oven 350* (do this 5 minutes before baking)

Measure dry ingredients

1 – Measure dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa powder) and add to a medium bowl

Mix dry ingredients

2 – Mix dry ingredients together with a whisk

In another bowl add butter, sugar and vanilla extract

3 – In a large bowl add butter, sugar and vanilla extract.

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer

4 – Cream these ingredients together for about 4 minutes with an electric mixer

Add dry ingredients

5 – Add dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixer using a wooden spoon or on the lowest setting of your electric mixer. Then, mix in the egg white.

Add nuts and chocolate

6 – Add the crushed nuts and chocolate

Mix everything together

7 – Mix everything together

Divide dough and roll into four logs. wrap each one in parchment paper or cling film and place in the fride for an hour 9or into the freezer if not using straight away. They can be left out until thawed enough to slice whenever you want to have them.

8 – Divide dough and roll into four and roll into logs as best you can. Wrap each one in parchment paper or cling film and place in the fridge for 4 hours before using. (or into the freezer if not using straight away. They can be left out until thawed enough to slice whenever you want to have them.

Slice dough into rounds about 1/4 inch thick and place on cookie sheet or baking tray.

9 – Slice dough into rounds about 1/4 inch thick and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Place on cookie sheet or baking tray and place in preheated 3508 oven and bake for between 10 to 12 minutes.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

Cool on a wire rack before serving.