Monday, 29 September 2014

Tomato Consommé and a Great Evening at the AA Ireland Hospitality Awards

I was recently invited to the AA Ireland Hospitality Awards which were held in the iconic Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. These prestigious awards celebrate the very best in the Irish hospitality industry and candidates are tested against a set of rigorous criteria and are also visited by AA Secret Hotel Inspectors. The Maryborough Hotel and Spa, located in Douglas, Cork was presented with the ultimate accolade of AA Ireland Hotel of the Year 2014-2015. Having visited the Maryborough Hotel, I have to say that the award is definitely well deserved.

The event also saw the launch of #AAFoodies with a small number of Irish foodbloggers, including yours truly being invited to the first #AAFoodies event. Before the main awards started we were welcomed into the AA 2 rosette Saddle Room Restaurant in the Shelbourne Hotel and were treated to a fabulous selection of the canapés that would later be served at the awards.

We were introduced to Executive Chef Garry Hughes, who was extremely gracious and answered all the questions we were throwing at him asking about the food we were sampling and what life working in the Shelbourne was like. This was certainly a very different experience to the last time that I had met him which was when I was being put through my paces as part of MasterChef Ireland working a real lunch service to paying customers in the Saddle Room Restaurant. That was a real pressure cooker situation and I found it very stressful albeit great fun. The #AAFoodies event a hugely enjoyable experience and extremely relaxed by comparison to my previous visit!

We also got the chance to meet one of the AA Secret Inspectors and find out more about what the judging involves. It was so interesting hearing about the very detailed inspections that were carried out and the broad range of criteria that were applied when judging. The one question that we all wanted to know the answer to was how one could become an AA Secret Inspector – it sounds like THE dream job!!!

Whilst we were doing all this hobnobbing we were also managing to munch our way through some fabulous canapés which included, Oysters Thermidore, Chilled Tomato Consommé, Seared Scallops, Smoked Salmon and Beetroot Tartare (Garry told us that they carried out the smoking in-house), Beef Daube on Potato Purée,  Duck Rillettes with Plum Jelly plus many other absolutely delicious treats! Being foodbloggers we were all snapping away as these little dishes of were being offered to us.
It’s hard to pick one dish that I preferred above all the rest, because they were all wonderful, but if pushed the chilled Tomato Consommé stood out because of its simplicity, elegance and its cleanness of taste. I left the event, determined to have a stab at making my own and whilst I am in no way suggesting that this version is anywhere near the wondrous heights of the consommé that I tried in the Saddle Room, I am still very pleased with how it turned out!

This is not a difficult dish to make, but it is time consuming. If you want to be assured of a beautiful clear broth, on no account squeeze the muslin bag; just let the tomato juices/water slowly drip through at their own pace. Also, don’t discard the tomato solids that are collected in the muslin. These can be used as the basis for a tasty tomato sauce which you can eat with some pasta or whatever else you choose.

The #AAFoodies event was hugely enjoyable and there are apparently other exciting events in the pipeline. If you are interested in signing up to the #AAFoodies you can do so here.


750g ripe flavoursome tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 or 3 drops of Tabasco
1 large bunch of basil
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To finish:
100g cherry tomatoes
A few small sprigs of dill
A few small leaves of basil
A little extra virgin olive oil


1. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and using a hand held blender, process until the tomatoes and other ingredients have been roughly puréed.
2. Line a large sieve over a clean bowl with a double thickness of muslin. Pour the purée into the muslin and draw up the edges and tie with string to create a ‘sack’. Remove the sieve and suspend the sack over the bowl and allow the contents to drip slowly through for at least 12 hours, but if you can leave it for a day, all the better. I suspended my sack using the handle of a large wooden spoon balanced between two large pots. On no account, squeeze the muslin bag or the resulting consommé will be cloudy.
3. Once the juices have all dripped through, place them in a covered container and refrigerate until well chilled.
To finish:
4. Skin the cherry tomatoes by nicking a small cross in the bottom of each tomato. Pour over boiling water and leave for 10 seconds before removing the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and immediately plunging them into a bowl filled with iced water. Use the tip of a small knife to remove the skins which should come away easily. Halve the skinned cherry tomatoes and set aside.
5. Pour the chilled tomato consommé in little glass bowls and float 2 or 3 halved cherries tomatoes in each bowl. Garnish with little sprigs of dill, a few small leaves of basil and a drop or two of extra virgin olive oil.
Serves 8.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Malty Ring Cake

Words cannot describe how wonderful this cake is. I love anything with a malt flavour and have a particular fondness for Malted Milk biscuits, Ovaltine and Horlicks. Another great favourite is Malt Loaf, a squidgy almost damp fruit cake made with malt extract. In fact, there is something quite old-fashioned, reliable and comforting about all the foods and beverages that I have listed but the important thing is that they all taste wonderful!
Unsurprisingly, given their name, the chocolate sweets Maltesers also have a malt flavour and despite the fact that I am not a mad chocolate fan (I would tend to choose cakes or pastries first) I do love the light airiness and malty crunch of Maltesers.
This is not the first recipe that I have posted using Maltesers but here, rather than use them merely as decoration; I have highlighted their inherent flavour by using malt as a key flavour in the actual cake. I achieved this by using Horlicks powder. For those of you not familiar with Horlicks it is a hot malted milk drink originally manufactured by James and William Horlick at the end of the 19th Century. It is associated with being a bedtime drink and as a child, I fondly remember having either a mug of cocoa or Horlicks before I went to bed each night. The milky warmth was always sure to induce sleep as far as I was concerned!

I decided to bake this cake in a 23cm ring tin, but if you don’t have one or if you would prefer, you can bake it in a 20cm round cake tin. Alternatively, the batter can be baked into cupcakes – the amounts here would be enough for 18 cupcakes. If baking in a round cake tin, increase the baking time by about 10 minutes, but if making cupcakes, 18-20 minutes in the oven should be adequate.

In some of the accompanying photos, you will see that I decorated the top of the cake with some whole and also some halved Maltesers. Whilst the halved Maltesers looked visually appealing, I wouldn’t advise doing this much ahead of the time when the cake is to be served as they can go a little soft on exposure to the air. Far better to leave them whole and then you are assured that they will retain their crunch which contrasts beautifully with the light, flavoursome malt-flavoured sponge. I made another version of the cake and decorated it with whole Maltesers and these retained their crunch!


250g caster sugar
280g butter, softened plus a little extra to grease the tin
5 medium or 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
180g self-raising flour
75g Horlicks powder
25ml milk
To finish:
150g milk or dark chocolate, melted
150g Maltesers


1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm ring mould with butter and flour well, tapping out the excess.
2. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition so that they are well incorporated.
3. Sieve the flour and Horlicks together and fold into the creamed mixture, again making sure that everything is well mixed together. Add the milk and mix through to create a cake batter with a soft dropping consistency.
4. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cake tin and using a spatula or the back of a metal spoon, level the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning out on to a wire rack to finish cooling.
To finish:
5. Spoon the melted chocolate over the cooled cake and once it begins to set, arrange the Maltesers on top.
Serves 8-10.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Goat's Cheese, Asparagus & Parma Ham Quiche

When I was younger, my grandmother would often make a quiche for a summertime dinner. She would serve it up with some coleslaw and a green salad. I absolutely loved her quiche and in its simplicity was actually one of the most delicious things she cooked for us. Her quiche took its inspiration from the classic Quiche Lorraine and contained bacon, onions and Irish cheddar instead of gruyere as used in the French version. It was truly delicious. I don’t know how my grandmother achieved it, but her custard filling rarely seeped out of its pastry case; I wish that I could say the same!!! It’s one of those baking challenges that I have to admit, I’m yet to achieve on a consistent basis – it drives me mad!
Since first eating my grandmother’s quiche, I have had a real fondness for savoury tarts and as I started cooking myself I regularly experiment using different ingredients in my quiches. Perhaps one of my absolute favourite savoury tarts is an onion tart, where what seems like a monstrous amount of onions are sliced and slowly cooked until they reduce down and become beautifully sweet and lightly caramelised. These are then mixed into the creamy custard and baked in the already blind-baked tart shell. So simple – but SO delicious.
Here I have included some spears of asparagus, some goat’s cheese and a little Parma ham in the filling for the tart. I was going to sweat off some onions and included them as well, but instead decided to chop up some fresh chives and I added a generous amount to the custard. These were ideal as they imparted a subtle onion flavour which was in no way overpowering. The custard that I made, in addition to 3 eggs was enriched with an extra yolk and some double cream. This along with the inclusion of goat’s cheese and ham does make for a rich dish but, if served with a simple salad, it isn’t heavy or stodgy to eat. In any event, you could use whole milk in place of the double cream, but I like the creamy richness of the cream.
I like to serve and eat tarts of this type at room temperature, but it can be served hot from the oven. Any leftovers are perfect eaten as a tasty lunch or snack the next day.

This is not a prescriptive recipe and in fact, I would actually urge you to experiment and try different ingredients in the filling. Sometimes, if I’ve made some pesto, I will add a swirl of it after I have filled the pastry case with the custard and other ingredients – yummy! The thing to remember is don’t pack loads of different ingredients into your quiche; simplicity is the keyword here so just pick two or three and you will be rewarded with a tart that will taste so much more than the sum of its parts!


250g plain flour, sieved
125g butter, cubed
1-2tblsp cold water
1 egg white, lightly beaten
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
200ml cream
75ml whole milk
1tblsp chopped chives
150g goat’s cheese (the type that is made in logs), rind removed
12-16 spears of asparagus, trimmed
4-6 slices of Parma ham
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


To make the pastry:
1. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over 1-2 tablespoons of water and mix everything together with a fork to form a dough.
2. Turn out on to a lightly floured work-surface and knead briefly to form into a ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rest.
To blind-bake the Pastry:
3. Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Place a 23cm x 3 cm deep round, fluted tart tin with a removable base on a large baking tray. Lightly sprinkle some flour on the base of the tart tin as this will stop the pastry sticking when it cooks. Set to the side.
4. Roll out the pastry as thinly as you can, into a circle large enough to cover the base and sides of the tart tin. Press the pastry gently into each of the flutes around the edge of the tart tin. Do not trip the pastry, but leave it so that it is sitting slightly above the tin, to allow for shrinkage that might occur.
5. Lightly prick the pastry with a fork and line with a sheet of crumpled non-stick baking parchment. Fill with dry beans and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
6. Take the flan tin out of the oven and carefully remove the baking parchment containing the baking beans. Set these aside to cool before storing. Gently brush the pastry with some of the lightly beaten egg white and return to the oven for a further 7-10 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and using a sharp serrated knife trip the pastry edge so that it is level with the top edge of the tin. Discard the pastry that you have removed.
7. Set aside to cool slightly whilst you make the filling. Reduce oven temperature to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 2.
8. Place the eggs and yolk in a medium-sized bowl and whish together using a small balloon whisk. Add the cream and milk and whisk together to fully incorporate. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a clean large jug. Mix in the chives and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
9. Crumble the goat’s cheese onto the base of the blind-baked pastry case. Tear up the Parma Ham and arrange on top of the cheese. Finally arrange the asparagus spears in a circular fashion (like the spokes of a bicycle wheel) on top of the ham and cheese.
10. Open the oven door and place the baking tray containing the tart tin into the oven. Carefully pour in the custard to a level just below the top edge of the pastry. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until the custard is just set and is a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. (I personally like to serve it cooled to room temperature).

Serves 6-8.


Monday, 22 September 2014

Smoked Haddock, Poached Egg & Hollandaise Sauce

I have always absolutely loved poached eggs. Whilst I am fond of scrambled, fried and boiled eggs, poached is the way to do as far as I am concerned. When I was a child, my mother used to make me a poached egg on toast most mornings for my breakfast before I went to school and as such they hold a certain nostalgia for me. If I had to choose, breakfast, or brunch would probably be my favourite meal. As an adult, during the working week, when I am usually dashing out of the house in the morning, so I tend to have something that is quick to prepare, but I love those types of weekends where I can indulge my passions for a proper breakfast, which would tend to include a poached egg on a split muffin and a few slices of bacon (along with plenty of generously buttered hot toast with lashings of homemade marmalade, all washed down with lots of tea. HEAVEN!

The thing about poached eggs is that if you want success to be guaranteed, you really need to use the freshest eggs possible. I am incredibly lucky to have a ready supply of the finest quality fresh eggs from the most fabulous hens reared by my neighbour Paddy. The eggs produced by these hens are free-range in the truest sense of the word and are the best quality that I have ever used in my cooking. Every now and again I toy with the idea of keeping hens but, to be honest, I don’t see the point when I can get such great eggs from Paddy! I am convinced that the reason the eggs are so great is because the hens are so well looked after and because they have such a happy life.
The recipe that I present here – a variation of Eggs Benedict, but substituting smoked haddock for the more usual ham, really relies on the quality of the eggs, which in addition to poaching I have also used in a rich, buttery hollandaise sauce. If you really aren’t keen on smoked haddock, you can of course resort to the more commonly used slice of ham or even some grilled bacon. Although there are relatively few ingredients, this dish is an incredibly luxurious breakfast/brunch dish and one that is really worth doing if you feel like spoiling yourself every once in a while.
You could sit the smoked fish and poached egg on a split English muffin, but here I have actually used half a homemade potato scone which I feel works perfectly with the smoked fish and poached eggs. If you feel like doing the same, the recipe can be accessed here.

Many people shy away from making their own hollandaise sauce, but it is surprisingly easy and if you approach the task with confidence and make sure that you add the melted butter in a thin stream, you should have no problems.

Of all the recipes that I have posted, this has to be one of my all-time favourites and I would urge you to try it out. This is a seriously sexy dish!


For the poached eggs:
2tblsp white wine vinegar
4 eggs
1 medium sized bowl of iced water
For the smoked haddock:
300g smoked haddock (preferably undyed)
200ml milk or a little more if required
For the hollandaise sauce:
90ml dry white wine
90ml white wine vinegar
1tsp of whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 egg yolks
300g butter, melted
A little freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt & white pepper to taste
To serve:
2 muffins/potato scones split and toasted
1tblsp finely chopped fresh chives


To poach the eggs:
1. Fill a large saucepan with boiling water from the kettle and set over a moderate heat so that the water is steadily simmering. Add the vinegar (NB do NOT add any salt to the water as this will cause the egg whites to disperse rather than set around the yolk as you want).
2. Crack the eggs and individually drop into the water – don’t do this at a great height from the water, but relatively close to the surface. Adjust the temperature so that it is barely simmering and allow the eggs to poach for 2 to 3 minutes depending on size of the eggs. Remove each egg when ready and place directly into the bowl of iced water. Set aside.
To poach the fish:
3. Place the smoked haddock in a small fring pan or shallow saucepan and barely cover with milk. Bring up to the boil and then reduce heat and allow to simmer gently for 6-8 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from the heat, but allow it to sit in the milk and set aside.
To make the hollandaise sauce:
4. Put the white wine, vinegar into a small saucepan with the peppercorns and bay leaf and bring up to the boil. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes until it has reduced to about 50ml. Remove from heat and allow to cool and then remove the peppercorns and bay leaf and discard.
5. Place the egg yolks into a large metal bowl and place the bowl over a pan of just simmering water making sure that the surface of the bowl is not directly touching the water. Whisk in a tablespoon of the reduced wine/vinegar solution. Continuously whisk until the mixture turns paler in colour and the eggs increase in volume to a point where a ribbon-like trail is left when you remove the whisk.
6. Remove the bowl from the heat and very slowly whisk in the butter, drop by drop at first making sure that it is well incorporated before adding some more. Keep whisking until all the butter is mixed in and the sauce is thick and creamy. Season and add in a little freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste. Set aside and keep warm.
To serve:
7. Boil some water in a small saucepan and re-heat the eggs for about 1 minute. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and allow to drain briefly making sure that there is no excess water.
8. Remove the fish from the milk and break into large flakes. Divide the fish equally, placing it in large flakes on each toasted halved scone. Place a reheated poached egg on top of each portion of fish.
9. Spoon a generous amount of hollandaise over each egg and sprinkle with some chives. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.