I admit, I have regressed…..it’s been way too long since I posted a blog, but I have been very busy and the weather has been very, very, very good…and hot…..and slightly oppressive in the kitchen, but I AM NOT COMPLAINING!! (merely making excuses, but it’s ok, because I’ve worked out the Wifi and I am now blogging from the garden in the balmy evening atmosphere so I am in a bit of heaven (other than the bugs of course, and I WILL complain about them). All I’m saying is I love bats (outside only), and swallows (ditto, for that matter), but the remaining bugs still find me. I am like a pot of honey to a bear when it comes to midges and mosquitos (YES WE DO HAVE THEM IN IRELAND- don’t even go there), so I am the best insect repellent you can order by inviting me to your barbeque. They will all come to me and leave every one else alone–guaranteed.
Helen (aka Helbert, aka Helbetia), and I have been friends for 34 years…since the week after I arrived to Trinity College on an exchange programme from UCSD. We have shared the most part of our lives together- and during that time one hell of a lot of dinners, lunches and breakfasts. We are both foodies, and I know when I put food in front of Helen she is going to appreciate the effort, love and care I have put into it…be it a large amount or small. She has a great palatte and moans over flavour in all the right places (I have several friends that do this, it’s just that I’ve been doing it with her for the longest span of time hence she gets the blog!).
Food is meant to be shared. There have been plenty of studies done that tell us people are healthier when they share their food–usually because they have conversations while they eat and perhaps this makes them eat slower (actually, this isn’t true in Helen’s case! Plenty of conversation, but she eats way too fast…sorry Helen!). Maybe it’s because they keep in touch with what each are feeling and have an outlet for the same.Or simply that we are social creatures and it suits us to share company at times of nourishment. Whatever all the various reasons I know instinctively that the love (magic) that goes into the preparation of food is digested by all present– and that, above everything else, is what keeps us sound and happy. Ever eat a meal prepared by someone angry, moody or sad? Your stomach most definitely will have suffered. If you’re not in the right ‘zone’….don’t cook!
Anyway, here’s the menu:
Followed by Barbequed Rib-eye steaks; Mushroom duxelle wrapped in parma ham and roasted ramiro peppers with goats cheese, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil leaves; Steamed green beans with a fresh tomato, garlic, lemon and chilli sauce; foil-wrapped potatoes with onions and garlic, and more of that tomato and olive bread (1st bit didn’t count!) To finish we had Creme Brulee with fresh fruits in a fresh raspberry coulis….Can’t go wrong really. Basic, tasty, all the textures and flavours for the beginning of summer anticipation for, hopefully, all good things to come… (and it has– for the first time in Ireland for at least 3 years for Christsake!!!). Good friends, good food, good wine (Helen brought an exquisite wine from Portugual to accompany this).
Anyway, I started cooking by making the creme brulee. This really is the easiest dessert to make. People hoohaw over the thing like it’s rocket science or some such. It isn’t –I promise. Use real cream, vanilla sugar (for those who don’t know, keep a sealed jar of caster sugar with several split vanilla pods in it and you will have the most divine flavoured sugar on hand for puddings such as this) and vanilla pods, good free-range egg yolks….then Bob’s your uncle and Mary’s your aunt, simple as that. In the winter poach a pear and serve it alongside the creme brulee, in the summer serve it with summer berries in a raspberry coulis. Or just make the custard….most people really only want that part :-).
Creme Brulee: . 6 egg yolks, 100grams vanilla sugar, 1 pint cream, 1 or 2 vanilla pods (depending on your budget).
Put the egg yolks and vanilla sugar in a large bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (I do this with a hand whisk which is sufficient). Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pods with a sharp knife and scrape out all the seeds with the back of the knife and add the lot (including the scraped pods) to the saucepan. Place over a VERY gentle heat and go have a cup of tea or coffee. When the vanilla pod/cream mixture is hot, but not boiling, pour onto the whisked egg yolk/vanilla sugar mixture while whisking at the same time to incorporate. Have ready a 1 litre oven-proof dish (large deep round yoke is best, or several small ramekins.) Sieve the mixture into the dish (or into a pouring container if you are going to fill ramekins) to catch the vanilla pods and any lumps that may have occured. Place the dish or ramekins in a baking tray and then pour water into the roasting tray to come up half way up the sides and place in a preheated oven (150 C/300 F Gas Mark 2) and bake for 1 – 1&1/4 hrs. for the large container or 35-40 mins. for ramekins. It will be cooked when the custard is set but still a wee bit wobbly (not a lot a bit wobbly, just a weensy bit wobbly)! Take the roasting tray out of the oven. Allow the custard to cool, then refrigerate until cold.
I then made a raspberry coulis. Portion amounts of this will obviously vary depending on how many people are present and how much fruit you want to cover. It’s nice to have some of this fruit left over for breakfast the next day, but it isn’t really very nice long after that because soft fruits need to be eaten fresh…it’s what makes them special…and seasonal and summer and real.
Just take a punnet of raspberries and whisk with an electric hand whisk in a tall container (so it doesn’t splash all over you). Add a few teaspoons of lemon juice and some caster sugar to taste. Pour this over your fruit and let it macerate until pudding time:
I poured it over blueberries and some early strawberries. (Cameras are amazing these days….I’ve just noticed that you can actually see the magic going into the bowl….see it?)
Then I made the tomato and olive bread. In a large bowl I put 500 grams strong white flour (bread flour), 1 sachet (7grams) dry active yeast, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 2 teaspoons of caster sugar. I added 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves and a bit of chopped fresh oregano. In a large jug I put 2 Tablespoons sundried tomato puree (NOW- this is a great ingredient to have at hand so listen up. It’s useful to have in the fridge and it simply does not go off because of the olive oil in it.. I take 100grams sundried tomatoes, put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. When they are soft, usually 1 hour later, I drain them, put them in the food processor and add 3-4 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. I turn on the processor and pour extra virgin olive oil into the chute while the machine is running until I have a thick puree. I then store this is a jar in the fridge and use it in recipes like this. A bit of that mixture also goes into the mushroom duxelle later so at least we’ve ‘killed two birds’ here), Back to the bread….so you have 2 Tblsps. of the sundried tomato mixture, another 2 Tblsp. x.v.olive oil, 1/4 pint of white wine and then I put enough hand hot water to bring that mixture up to 12 fl. oz and then I add it to the flour mixture. Get your hands in there and mix it all up. Add more water or more flour to get it into a firm dough then add 75 grams chopped olives (I like green olives, but black work just as well…only they’re different!). Knead it all together until you have a firm, yet moist dough that’s smooth. Oil a bowl and rub the dough completely in the oil and cover with clingfilm. Let rise until double in size then place in the tin you are going to use and allow to rise again.( I’ve lined the tin with baking parchment, as you can see, because it’s a springform tin and I want to catch the oil that I brush on at the end rather than have it seep out the crevices).
Make several depressions in the bread with the tips of your fingers and scatter more olives on top if you like, and maybe some sea salt flakes. Bake in a hot oven (225 C/450 F) for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Take out of the oven and immediately brush with more X.V. Olive Oil. Allow to cool slightly before having with your Gin and Tonic starter!(Looks like I put some more herbs on top too!!–can’t remember, it was a long time ago!!!)
Then I made the mushroom duxelle by pulsing 8 oz. mushrooms in the food processor and sauteeing them with some butter and olive oil until they went truffly (let them brown, they taste better). When they did brown, I added a few chopped cloves of garlic and cooked for a minute or two and then set aside…I Know you’re going to say I’m a psycho, but again, I can see magic in this picture….lots of it (can you?).Using the same pan, I sauteed a few finely chopped shallots in some olive oil over a low heat until golden brown and sweet, I then added those to the mushrooms. I roasted 2 ramiro peppers, covered them with cling film after I took them out of the oven, so the skins would easily slip off. then I de-seeded them, cut them in half and patted the insides dry. I laid out 4 slices of parma ham onto a work surface and placed the halved peppers on top of each of those. I divided the mushroom mixture between the 4 peppers ….then I crumbled some goat’s cheese on top of that and put a teaspoon of sundried tomato puree on top of the cheese. I finely shredded a few fresh basil leaves and put that on top of the cheese and carefully rolled them up into heavenly parcels!. Now we’re rocking! The pics are flying in at a mad rate now! That’s actually a picture of them after I put them in the oven- after the steaks were cooked!!! So I can skip telling you that part later!! But you can have them all prepared on a foil lined baking tray and ready to go (should say ‘pop’ because that’s what all food demonstrators say) in the oven just before eating.Forgot about the potatoes! I actually did these before the mushrooms (lol). Sheit and apricots! I’ve somehow managed to switch to italics, but for the life of me can’t figure how to switch it off!! You’ll just have to bear with (see Penny, we all have our shortcomings!!) These are delicious potatoes that we used to make at home in California, where I grew up, and cooked on the barbeque just to escape turning on the oven in really hot temperatures. Hot temperatures like we have been having here in Ireland for the last 2 whole, entire weeks. Yes 2 weeks of sun here is like a different world. Indeed the last 2 weeks have put me into a world of childhood reminiscense, even melancholia…that’s how hot it has been. My sister, Diane and I did fry an egg on the footpath one day when we were quite young….just to see if we could! ….don’t think we ate it though, actually…maybe we did! We used to spend lots of time in the middle of the day under the mature olive tree in our front garden, ironically enough, searching for 4-leaf clovers, little did I know then that I would end up in the land of shamrocks being my home. We would wait for the day that our mother would say it was actually hot enough to turn the hose on and run around the garden in our bathing suits squirting each other. (I actually find that hilarious now. She was worried we would get colds by having water fun in 80 degree weather!!…best wait for the 90 degree weather?! go figure) We had a lemon bush in the back garden that produced such lovely lemons I would eat them straight from the bush with the warmth of the sun on their flesh. They tasted best with a sprinkling of salt on them…..a flavour that appealed/s to me much later in life in the form of a preserved lemon , and indeed was part of my turkish heritage. But my absolute favourites were the peach tree and the apricot tree. Both of which I had instances of indigestion from…merely from over-indulging of their sweet, ripe produce. Yes, you will catch me sniffing punnets of apricots in shops and markets to see if they were picked when ripe. Potatoes, Danette, tell them about the potatoes! So the potatoes: Very simple. make parcels for the potatoes by tearing a sheet of foil large enough to hold the potatoes, then a sheet of baking parchment to fit on top of the foil (you can skip the parchment, but the potatoes will stick to the foil and you’ll lose all the crusty bits.). Scrub a large potato per person (no need to peel if they’re not thick skinned, but it’s up to you). Cut the potato into a large dice and place in the centre of the parchment paper. Chop half an onion per potato and scatter over the top. Chop a few cloves of garlic and scatter over again. Then cut a few knobs of butter and scatter over the vegetables evenly. Season with sea salt and black pepper, then fold the parchment tightly into a parcel then fold the foil over that.. Place on a baking tray or an oven dish and Bake in the oven at 200 C/ 400 F) usually for an hour. I like crusty bits so I like to wait until they form. My mother used to cook these on the hot coals of the BBQ as mentioned above, to prevent heat in the kitchen. Problem is they don’t cook evenly and you get too many overly crusty bits!! She also used to say that the flavour of the BBQ was what made them taste so good, but that isn’t true. How would the flavour penetrate the foil? What does happen is you contain the flavour of all the ingredients so they are deliciously sweet and gorgeously tender. Sorry Mom, in this instance I’m right and you’re wrong. You, of course can use olive oil instead of butter, but in my case that just means I’d put butter on them after they were cooked!! The steaks, however, need to be cooked on the barbeque. I didn’t marinate them on this occasion because we had enough flavour going on on the plate with the parmapeppermush rolls, and I had made a lovely fresh tomato sauce for the beans which I will blog again at another time. So brush your steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and grill on the BBQ. Are we getting there? We are! Or they are and having ‘cheers’ without me too! But I get my own back after the main course and do a Mark Twain on them….convincing them that it’s much more fun to blow-torch your own creme brulee than to watch it being done;-) Scatter a dessertspoon of caster sugar over the top before blow-torching. (If you look closely you can see that David is not amused by this game! And I’m finishing the wine while they play this game!! ) There then comes a point where all present are no longer amused with the fact you have a food blog, that you have been incessantly photographing the meal the entire night and that they have been made finish making their own pudding and now have to wait while you take yet another photograph of them waiting to eat the dessert which would give you GPFTRR just looking at it! As you can see their faces say it all: WILL YOU PLEASE SIT DOWN SO WE CAN EAT IT ALREADY?!! ! It was gorgeous! Just as my two best friends are 🙂 xoxoxo Happy Cooking and Happy Sharing.