Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Roasted Cod & Parma Ham with Peppers

Fish is the ultimate in fast food, and is easily pan fried or roasted and ready to serve within a matter of minutes. I used to be very wary of cooking fish mainly because I was so scared of overcooking it, but I find that initially pan-frying it and then finishing it off in the oven works a treat and cooks the fish perfectly.

When cooked, cod should not be dry and fibrous, but rather should still retain some moistness and flake apart easily in bite sized pieces.

I really love the simplicity of this dish; the cod and peppers combination is absolutely delicious. The peppers can be prepared beforehand and gently heated in the oil just before serving. In fact, the peppers are a wonderful dish in their own right and I often make them to serve along with cured meats and other vegetables as part of an Italian inspired antipasti platter. If you’re not a fan of capers, leave them out, but personally, I think they add a little something extra to the finished dish.

This is a perfect dish for summer, being both light on the palate and satisfying to eat at the same time.


4 cod fillets, skinned and boned (about 125g each)
4 slice of Parma ham
Juice of half a lemon
3 large red peppers
3 large yellow peppers
125ml olive oil
Sprig of rosemary
4 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
1tblsp of capers from a jar, rinsed
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
A few leaves of basil, cut into fine shreds
Balsamic vinegar for sprinkling


1. Preheat oven to 220C/Fan Oven 200C/Gas Mark 7. Wrap each cod fillet with a slice of Parma ham and refrigerate until ready to cook.
2. Place the peppers in a small roasting and drizzle over half the olive oil. Add a spring of Rosemary and the bruised garlic cloves to the oil and cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the skins of the peppers start to blister.
3. Remove from the oven (but leave and place the peppers in a large bowl and cover tightly with cling film – this will make it easier to remove the skins. Allow to cool slightly and then, using a small knife, peel the skins and remove the seeds (these can be discarded). Cut the peppers into strips about 1cm wide and set aside in a clean bowl. Strain the reserved roasting oil through a sieve on to the peppers and add the remaining oil.
4. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to an oven-proof frying pan on a medium heat. Season the Parma ham wrapped cod fillets with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and then fry in the hot oil for about a minute each side, add a generous squeeze of lemon juice and then place the pan in the hot oven for 4-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cod fillets.
To serve:
5. Mix the capers and the shredded basil into the peppers. Divide the peppers between 4 serving plates and sit a cooked ham wrapped piece of cod on top of each. Drizzle with a small amount of balsamic vinegar and serve.
Serves 4.

Summer Puddings

So many desserts seem to rely upon the use of lots of butter, sugar, cream and eggs in order to achieve something fitting for the end of a meal. The reality is that this doesn’t always have to be the case and these mini summer puddings are a perfect example of an alternative to all those rich desserts that seem to dominate.

Basically these puddings, which are served chilled are made from stale bread and very slightly sweetened summer berries. It is up to you which berries you use, but I like to use raspberries, redcurrants, cherries strawberries and some blackcurrants, but I have also made a version using dessert gooseberries and white-currants which I flavoured with a little elderflower syrup – a most unusual but very refreshing alternative.

This is the perfect dessert on a hot summer’s day and despite its inherent simplicity manages to look incredibly beautiful and extremely elegant.

At most, I serve these puddings with a small dollop of lightly whipped cream, but a chilled crème anglaise would also work very well and add a restrained touch of luxury to the dish.


500g soft summer fruits made up of raspberries, redcurrants, cherries, strawberries and a small amount of blackcurrants
2tblsp sugar (or to taste)
8-10 slices of slightly stale white sliced bread, cut into fingers.
1tblsp cassis or framboise


1. Using a flavourless vegetable oil, lightly grease 4 mini pudding basins or dariole moulds and then line each basin with cling film, leaving enough to fold over the top of each basin when it is filled. Set aside.
2. Mix all the fruits and sugar together in a large bowl. Remove half of the fruits and roughly mash with a fork in a metal sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Return the mashed fruit to the bowl with the whole fruit and reserve the fruit juices.
3. Cut out four rounds of bread, the size of the base of each pudding basin. Dip each round into the juice and place one in the bottom of each pudding basin. Next dip each bread finger into the juice and use these, slightly overlapping to line the sides of each pudding basin.
4. Spoon the fruit into the bread lined basins making sure that it is tightly packed in. Finally curt out a round of bread to fully cover the top of each basin, again dipping each round in the fruit juices as before. Fold the excess cling film over the top of each pudding and sit something heavy on top of each pudding to weight it down. Refrigerate overnight so that each pudding has the chance to firm up.
5. When ready to serve, unwrap the cling film from the top of each pudding and invert onto a plate, removing the rest of the cling film. Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream, if desired.

Serves 4.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Apple & Custard Puffs

Some of the dishes that I cook are created almost by accident, using ingredients from the back of the kitchen store cupboard or from leftovers. I love cooking like this, because there’s no specific recipe, just the germ of an idea which hopefully results in something tasty to eat. I have to admit that I am often surprised by how delicious some of these ad hoc ‘accidental’ creations can be. These pastries were absolutely delicious and could be easily adapted to include other fruits.

The following recipe is a perfect case in point. I had some leftover crème patisserie from another recipe that I was experimenting with. In the Western World, we are regularly given statistics about how much food we throw away and each year. I’m not going to get on my soap-box about this, except to say that I believe that there is something almost immoral about this considering how many millions of people in the world don’t have enough food to eat and face the horrors of real starvation every day. Consequently, I consider that there is an onus on us to respect the fact that most of us in Ireland have enough to eat and are fortunate enough to have a huge variety and choice of foods on offer. We can best do this by not immediately opening the rubbish bin every time we have some foods remaining or approaching their ‘use-by’ dates.

I had a few apples in the fruit bowl and decided to stew some to serve with custard, which would have been delicious in itself and a good way of trying to cajole the children into eating some fruit. I then remembered that I also had some puff pastry trimmings leftover from a tarte tatin that I had made the previous day, so I decided to use that up as well. Rather than bake my little apple puffs, I decided that I would deep-fry them…mainly because I wanted to see how the puff pastry would react when deep-fried.

I have to tell you these apple and custard puffs were a true revelation and reinforced many of my beliefs regarding leftovers. Previous generations were so adept at using everything they had to hand and created delicious meals to eat. In our consumer driven world with its throw-away mentality, we would do well to learn a few lessons from the past.


Crème Patisserie:
2 large egg yolks
30g caster sugar
7g plain flour
7g cornflour
175ml milk
½tsp vanilla paste
Apple Compote:
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm chunks
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm chunks
1tblsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1tblsp caster sugar
To finish:
350g puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Caster sugar and ground cinnamon for sprinkling on finished pastries
Vegetable oil for frying


Crème Patisserie:
1. Place the egg yolks and sugar in a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are well mixed together. Add the flour and cornflour and mix again to fully incorporate. Set aside.
2. Separately, heat the milk and vanilla paste together in a medium saucepan over a moderate heat until just simmering. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the milk on to the egg mixture. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and place over a low to moderate heat. Stir continuously until the mixture starts to thicken and bubble. Allow to cook for one further minute and then remove from the heat. Transfer the contents into a clean bowl. Cover the surface of the custard directly with cling film and set aside to cool.
Apple Compote:
3. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a moderate heat and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the apples have broken down a little (after about 5 minutes), remove from the heat and transfer the apple compote into a clean bowl and set aside to cool.
To finish:
4. Roll out the puff pastry until it is about 3mm thick. Using a 12-15cm round cutter, stamp out rounds from the pastry. Put a teaspoon of crème patisserie and a teaspoon of apple compote side-by-side in the centre of each round. Brush around the edge of each circle with a little beaten egg and then fold one half of the pastry over to meet the other side, pressing down and crimping the edges to encase the filling.
5. Meanwhile heat some vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer until it reaches 170C. Fry the filled pastries in batches of 3 or 4 for about 6 minutes, turning them around with a metal slotted spoon so that they colour evenly. The pastries are ready when they have puffed up and are a rich golden brown colour.
6. Carefully remove from the heat and gently roll in caster sugar in to which you have added a little ground cinnamon.
Makes 8-10.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Really Lemony Bars!

Yes…This IS yet another lemon recipe… but I just couldn’t resist posting it. These bars are so delicious and packed full of lemon flavour. For anyone who loves lemon, they are an absolute must to make.

The bars are made in two stages; firstly you pre-bake the shortbread like base and then a lemon custard is poured over the base and it is returned to the oven to finish cooking and set. Be warned, there is a quite a lot of sugar, lemon juice and eggs in this recipe and the bars are undeniably rich… but they taste so good… and as the old adage goes – everything in moderation! The bars keep extraordinarily well and I found that they were still as delicious a couple of days later. They would be prefect for a picnic, buffet of similar type of gathering.

I love the way that the custard sets into an almost stiff lemon curd on top of the buttery base – this combination is lovely. The base has a slightly cake-like texture which I liked, but I am going to experiment a bit more to see if I can achieve the same overall effect for the lemon filling but with a crisper, shorter base. I’m not sure whether this will improve the recipe because I am extremely happy with the results that I have achieved so far, but I do love testing different ideas out and will report back on my findings.



185g butter, softened
65g granulated sugar
185g plain flour
5 large eggs
450g granulated sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 5 lemons
90g plain flour, sifted
To finish:
Icing sugar for dusting


1. Lightly grease a 23cm square traybake tin and set aside.
2. Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat together until light and fluffy. Add the flour and using a wooden spoon mix together until a soft dough is formed. Press the dough into the greased tin and prick all over with a fork. Refrigerate the base for at least 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Remove the base from the fridge and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until a pale golden colour. Set aside to cool, but leave the oven on.
4. Using a hand whisk beat together the eggs and sugar and then beat in the lemon juice and zest. When everything is thoroughly mixed together, add the sifted flour and whisk in. Pour this mixture over the cooled base and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until just set in the middle.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting into squares.
6. Serve dusted with a little icing sugar, if desired.
Makes 16.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

White Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding with Amaretto soaked Fruit

Bread and butter pudding is also one of the first dishes that I ever made in home economics (aka domestic science) when I was in secondary school. The reason we were tasked with making it then was because it illustrated how leftovers could be transformed into something truly delicious and pleasurable to eat. Traditionally, bread and butter pudding would have been made with stale bread and as such, I will concede that the recipe that I give here is very indulgent including as it does buttery croissants, chocolate and Amaretto soaked sultanas – but it still remains faithful to the original characteristics of a bread and butter pudding.

There is something so comforting about this dish. I could eat bowlfuls of it without hesitation. As the white chocolate custard bakes in the oven, the custard soaked croissants puff up and absorb the custard to create a pudding that whilst being comforting also possesses a certain simplicity.

Feel free to adapt the recipe to include different dried fruits or experiment with different liqueurs. Personally, I believe that there is something magical about the croissant, Amaretto and white chocolate combination. They just work so well together.
I usually associate bread and butter pudding with autumn or winter, but I genuinely believe that this version wouldn’t look out of place served at room temperature on an Irish summer’s day.


50g sultanas
50ml Amaretto
350ml milk
300ml double cream
1tsp of vanilla paste
200g white chocolate, broken into chunks
6 croissants
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
25g butter, melted
25g caster sugar


1. The night before: soak the sultanas in the Amaretto overnight to give them a chance to re-hydrate in the liqueur.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.  Butter a 25cm x 20cm baking dish, place on a baking tray and set aside.
3. Cut the croissants into thickish slices and layer up in the buttered dish. Pour the mil and cream into a saucepan and heat over a gentle temperature until warmed up but not bubbling. Remove from the heat and add the white chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon until it is completely melted into the cream mixture.
4. Separately, place the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar into a mixing bowl and using a hand whisk, beat together until well mixed together. Still whisking, gradually add the warmed cream mixture. This is your white chocolate custard.
5. Drizzle the melted butter over the croissants and sprinkle over the Amaretto and sultanas. Pour the white chocolate custard over the croissants and press down the croissants so that they absorb the custard.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and the custard is just set in the centre. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 8.