Monday, 26 December 2016

Recipe: A Trio of Mince Pies

Variety is the spice of life and this is as true at Christmas time as it is during the rest of the year. Whilst I love traditional Mince Pies, I also like to ring the changes and vary my basic mince pies recipe to make other versions.
I am a huge fan of almonds and have always loved frangipane tarts and what could be better than combining frangipane with mincemeat to create Frangipane Mince Pies? There is something so wonderful about the combination of flavours which makes them impossible to resist. The flaked almonds add a pleasing crunch and the frangipane topping means that the individual pies do not dry out. Heavenly!

I always seem to have egg whites leftover after other baking projects so it seemed logical to use them to place a cloud-like puff of meringue on top of some mince pies. These pies are sweet but the contrast between the buttery pastry, the rich fruit filling and the light meringue is wonderful. Each recipe below makes 16 individual mince pies.
Mince Pies
Basic Pastry:
175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g cold butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp cold water
  1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar together into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips rub into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and the water and mix together with a fork to bring everything together.
  3. Turn out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead briefly. Form into a flat disc, wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Makes 350g pastry.
Traditional Mince Pies
Traditional Mince Pies:
350g basic pastry (see recipe above)
Approximately 450g Mincemeat
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each individual pastry shell.
  3. Using a pastry brush dampen the edge of each little pie with a little water or beaten egg and place another round of pastry on top. Seal the pies by pressing the edges together with the tines of a fork. Cut a little slit in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape.
  4. If you like you can stamp out star shapes and use these to top each mince pie instead.
  5. Place in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until light golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature dusted with icing sugar.
Makes 16 Mince Pies.
Frangipane Mince Pies
Frangipane Mince Pies
175g basic pastry (see recipe above)
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g ground almonds
1 tbsp of plain flour
a couple of drops of almond extract
25g flaked almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each individual pastry shell.
  3. Frangipane Mince Pies
    To make the frangipane, place the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat together until light a fluffy. Add the eggs and beat together until fully incorporated. Next beat in the ground almonds, flour and almond extract.
  4. Place the mixture into a disposable piping bag fitted with 1cm plain nozzle. Pipe the mixture onto the top of each pie (don’t overfill as the mixture will spread out during baking). Scatter over a few flaked almonds.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until light golden brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Makes 16 Frangipane Mince Pies.
Meringue Mine Pies
Meringue Mince Pies
175g basic pastry (see recipe above)
2 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry. Use to line 16 individual patty tins.
  2. Place the egg whites into a large spotlessly clean mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  3. Add in the sugar gradually, mixing well after each addition to create a stiff and glossy meringue. Spoon the mixture into a disposable piping bag filled with a 1cm star nozzle and pipe a swirl of meringue on top of each mince pie.
  4. Place in the preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes until the meringue is tinged a light golden brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Makes 16 Meringue Mince Pies.

Traditional Mince Pies

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Recipe: Dubliner Cheese Ambassador Challenge - Brussels Sprout & Dubliner Vintage Frittata

I knew from the start that I wanted to use brussels sprouts in my recipe for the festive-themed Dubliner Cheese Ambassador Challenge as I remember with fondness the brussels sprout gratin that my grandmother used to make when I was a child. She would smother parboiled sprouts in a rich, creamy and very cheesy sauce and bake in the oven for twenty minutes. I have loved the sprouts/cheese combo ever since.

I have always been a huge fan of brussels sprouts and I would truly feel that I was missing out if they didn’t appear on my dinner plate alongside the roast turkey and ham on Christmas day.  I recognise that not everyone feels the same about them but I believe that this has a lot to do with the fact that they are so often served overcooked. As with so many vegetables, you are better to err on the side of undercooking rather overcooking them.
Frittata ingredients
Most people tend to boil or steam sprouts but they can be used in so many other ways. Sometimes I finely shred them and use them raw along with finely sliced onion and grated carrot to make a festive coleslaw which is delicious. I also like to slice and fry them with some leftover ham and roast potatoes for a St. Stephen’s Day brunch hash which, topped with a poached egg, always goes down a treat. Just let your imagination run riot and you will be surprised by the tasty dishes you can come up with.

The following frittata recipe is very simple to make using ingredients that most of us will have knocking around at Christmas time. I feel that you need a cheese with an assertive flavour but one that also has good melting qualities. My cheese of choice would be Dubliner Vintage which has a lovely complex taste with an underlying nutty sweetness that goes perfectly with the salty bacon and the sweet onions in this recipe. The frittata is quick to make and would be perfect for a light lunch or supper dish during the festive season. Most importantly it tastes sensational.

Eggs and Dubliner Vintage
Although you can allow the frittata to cool to room temperature before serving, I recommend letting it stand for no more than 5-10 minutes - then serve it in wedges whilst the Dubliner Vintage is still warm and oozes out seductively.

2tblsp olive oil
4 rashers of smoked bacon sliced into lardons
1 sprig of thyme
1 medium onion, chopped finely
14-16 brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
75g Dubliner Vintage cut into small cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat 1tblsp olive oil in a medium-sized non-stick, oven-proof frying pan and fry the bacon and thyme over a moderate heat until just beginning to get crispy and the bacon fat has rendered down slightly. Remove the bacon and thyme with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Discard the thyme. Leave the remaining oil in the frying pan.
  2. Add loads of Dubliner Vintage
    Add the chopped onions and brussels sprouts to the frying pan. Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan and let everything fry gently over a moderate-to-low heat for approximately 10 minutes until the onion is translucent but not coloured and the brussels sprouts are beginning to soften.
  3. Return the bacon to the pan and add the beaten eggs. Give the mixture a gentle stir so that the ingredients are evenly distributed. Sprinkle over the cubes of Dubliner Vintage and let the frittata cook over a gentle heat for approximately 12-15 minutes until the eggs have set around the edges but are still slightly wobbly in the centre.
  4. Place the whole frying pan under a hot grill for 3-5 minutes until the frittata puffs up slightly and turns a light golden brown colour. Remove and allow cool in the frying pan for 5 minutes before upturning onto a large plate and serving cut into wedges.

Serves 4-6 depending on appetite.
Brussels Sprout & Dubliner Vintage Frittata

Friday, 9 December 2016

Culinary Escape: Maryborough Hotel & Spa, Douglas, County Cork

There is something for everyone at the Maryborough Hotel & Spa located in Douglas, County Cork as I was to find out on my recent visit there. The hotel oozes elegance and is the perfect place to check in to if you are in search of some much-needed rest and relaxation but it is also close enough to Cork City if you fancy a spot of retail therapy or some sight-seeing. A chance to unwind in comfortable surroundings was my main aim and I was looking forward to casting aside some of the stresses and strains of everyday life during my short break away.

Maryborough entrance
The hotel comprises two buildings; Maryborough House, a 300 year old listed Georgian building and an interconnecting modern wing where many of the guest rooms and the hotel’s award winning spa are located. Maryborough was first opened as a hotel in 1998 and is considered one of the best in Ireland. It was awarded AA Hotel of the Year for 2015 and under the care and attention of owners Dan and Jo O’Sullivan it continues to go from strength-to-strength.

Maryborough Hotel is set in well-matured grounds with large trees and shrubbery surrounding the beautifully manicured and well-kept lawns. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I would have thought that I was in the middle of the countryside and not the heart of suburbia a short distance from the centre of Ireland’s second city.

Maryborough grounds
After checking in, I was shown to my second floor executive room in the newer part of the hotel. The room was spacious and contained a large comfortable looking bed. The well-sized bathroom was kitted out with every mod con and I was looking forward to having a soothing soak in the bath later in the evening. I was also thrilled to discover that the room had its own private balcony looking out onto the back of the historic manor house. I had a couple of hours to spare before dinner so decided to sit out, sipping on a glass of the complimentary wine that had been left in my room along with some macarons and homemade shortbread biscuits which I nibbled on.

The hotel’s Bellini Restaurant has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes and is renowned for the quality of food on offer. The restaurant is surprisingly large but due to some clever architectural planning and Art Deco inspired interiors it has a lovely sophisticated and intimate feel. It struck me that this would be the perfect place for a romantic meal.

Bread Selection
Joining me for dinner was an old school friend who lives nearby and we each ordered an Alternative Bellini (€12) made with gin, peach and raspberry purées, lime and sugar syrup from the cocktails listed and chatted together, catching up on all the news. We then turned our attention to the menu and decided on what to eat. The menu has been carefully designed to showcase seasonal ingredients from local suppliers who include Macroom Buffalo Cheese, Goatsbridge, Bluebell Falls and the English Market. We had little difficulty choosing from the array of tasty dishes on offer.

A Bread Selection was first to arrive and included white sourdough, a traditional soda bread and a particularly delicious tomato and fennel seed bread. These were served with a vibrantly coloured homemade pesto and Irish butter topped with nigella seeds - an unusual and rather addictive addition that I really liked.

My starter of Pan Seared Fresh Atlantic Scallops, Watercress and Spring Onion, Potato Rosti, Black Garlic Aioli (€12.50) was a beautiful looking dish with three plump scallops which had been pan-seared to perfection with a caramelised exterior giving way to tenderness inside. Paired with a watercress and spring onion purée , crispy potato rosti and a punchy black garlic aioli, this dish was a delight to eat. My guest’s Boneless Roast Baby Quail, Soft Herb Mousseline, Caramelised Peaches, Micro Basil (€11.00) was another excellent dish and one that it would have been so easy to get wrong. The main body of the quail was stuffed with a well-flavoured, velvety smooth mousse and served alongside the bird’s confited legs. The accompanying caramelised peaches cut through the overall richness of the dish.

Next up were our main courses. My Pan Seared Sea Bass Fillets, Broccoli and Yuzu Purée, Steamed Prawn Dumplings, Prawn Bisque (€26.50) was a fabulous dish full of interesting flavour combinations where east met west in a way that made sense on the plate. Two sizeable pieces of expertly cooked sea bass were served alongside a single ravioli stuffed with finely chopped prawn meat and a enticingly fragrant broccoli and yuzu purée. Yuzu is a small Japanese citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between clementine and grapefruit. It was inventively paired here with the broccoli to create a silky smooth accompaniment to the fish. I loved it.

Sea Bass
My guest’s Skeaghanore West Cork Duck Breast, Rhubarb Purée, Carrot Textures, Walnut Granola, Braised Beluga Lentils, Five Spice, Balsamic Jus (€29.00) was an outstanding dish that looked absolutely beautiful. This was, for both of us, the dish of the evening. The duck had been cooked perfectly and literally melted in the mouth and was delicious with the braised lentils. Baby carrots sat on a little puddles of carrot purée whilst a slightly sharp rhubarb purée added some much needed acidity to the plate. Everything was brought together by a scattering of walnut granola and a deeply rich sauce made with Chinese five spice and balsamic vinegar.

We ordered a side of Steamed Market Greens, Soy, Sesame & Mirin Glaze (€4) which echoed the oriental flavours that appeared on both our main course dishes.

We decided to share a dessert and were both delighted with the freshness and palate cleansing properties of the colourful looking Pineapple Carpaccio with Coconut Ice-Cream (€7) with its scattering of jewel like pomegranate seeds. This was a simple dish but the perfect finish to a very enjoyable meal.

The menu in Bellini’s Restaurant has been cleverly crafted and manages to strike a balance between old-favourites and contemporary dishes which use experimental flavours and ingredients. I was pleased to see that quite a few of the dishes on the menu are gluten-free and suitable for coeliacs.

The Maryborough has an impressive wine list with many available by the glass. From it we chose  a Chablis AC Domaine Charly Nicolle (€9.50 per glass) which was dry with an underlying steely minerality that went particularly well with my sea bass main.

After our meal we retired to the adjoining Bellini’s Bar for a night cap before saying our goodbyes. I headed back up to my room and after a long soak in the bath, feeling well-fed, happy and relaxed I climbed into my large bed and had one of the best night’s sleep that I have had in a long time.

Eggs Benedict
The following morning I made my way down to breakfast in the restaurant. In addition to an impressive buffet selection which included breads, cold meats, cereal, cheese and fruit there was also a cooked breakfast menu. Although seriously tempted by the Stacked Pancakes, I eventually decided on my all-time favourite breakfast dish - Eggs Benedict which unsurprisingly, given the wonderful quality of the food I had already eaten during my stay, was excellent. Washed down with loads of strong hot tea, I felt ready to face the day ahead.

The hotel also has a spa with a cool, contemporary feel which provides a haven of tranquillity for guests.  A number of spa treatments and are on offer and facilities include a rock sauna, vitality pool, heated lounges, lifestyle showers and an ice fountain. I didn't get the chance to visit Maryborough’s Spa on this visit but had previously tried out some of the treatments on offer and can confirm that it is well worth booking into.

Toast & Marmalade
I loved every moment of my short break at the Maryborough Hotel & Spa. Everything that you could possibly want is close at hand… and I felt no need to venture out, preferring instead to relax in the comfortable lounge areas and sample the wonderful food and facilities on offer. You really feel like you are a much cherished guest. Nothing is too much trouble and staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, keen to make sure that you enjoy the whole experience.

Maryborough Hotel & Spa
Maryborough Hill
County Cork

Telephone: 0214365555
Maryborough Hotel & Spa


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Recipe: Blackberry & Damson Meringue Roulade

The ability to make meringue is one of the key skills in any home cook’s repertoire and once you have mastered it you will be whipping up all manner of delectable desserts. Think Pavlova, Queen of Puddings etc. I also like to make meringue roulades which always look stunning. I must have made hundreds of pavlovas and meringue roulades over the years and they still remain the most requested thing that I cook or bake.

Meringue Roulade:
4 large egg whites
225g caster sugar
50g flaked almonds
Damson, Blackberry & Port Compote:
6-8 damsons, stoned and chopped into 3cm chunks
150g fresh (or frozen) blackberries
50g caster sugar
50ml port
To Finish:
A little icing sugar
250ml fresh cream, whipped
Meringue Roulade:
  1. Preheat the oven to Fan Oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Line a large swiss-roll tray/tin (33cm x 24cms approximately with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
  3. Place the egg whites into a large spotlessly clean mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
  4. Add in the sugar gradually, mixing well after each addition to create a stiff and glossy meringue.
  5. Spread the mixture into the prepared tray and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until lightly browned and then remove and allow to cool in the tin.

Damson, Blackberry & Port Compote:
  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan over a moderate to low heat and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat marginally an cool until the mixture reduces slightly and becomes jammy (about 10 minutes or so). Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

To Finish:
  1. Upturn the cooled meringue roulade onto a large sheet of non-stick baking parchment dusted with icing sugar so that the almond side is facing down.
  2. Spoon over the cooled compote and spread out evenly. Spread the freshly whipped cream on top of the compote.
  3. Roll up the roulade from one short end to the other in one fluid motion using the baking parchment to assist.  Carefully transfer the roulade to a serving plate and refrigerate for half an hour before serving.

Serves 8-10.