Pistachio & Smoked Sea Salt Brownies?

DSC_0018 Yes, brownies with a question mark. Are they not good enough for us anymore?

Looks like the world got carried away with cupcakes (ahem, fairy cakes!) and then macaroons and friands or financiers or whatever baked confection is in the top spot these days. We forgot about the brownies.

Well brownies I certainly didn’t forget about you my chocolatey friend. I have been quietly mixing you up and baking you and appreciating your gooey loveliness. Any vehicle for chocolate has my vote.

Maybe I am a one woman brownie appreciation society although I could be fooled into thinking otherwise as there are approximately 1,000,000 recipes for brownies on the interwebs. Some  just plain ol’ chocolate, others with nuts, salted caramel, a blondie? (nope not for me I’m afraid) and so on. You see the humble brownie much like myself is open to ideas, variations, experimentation.

I usually make a Baileys brownie. Heaven. I sometimes add chopped nuts to it, maybe a shot of espresso too. It can get pretty wild around here. This variation has pistachios and smoked sea salt. I am quite partial to a salty sweet taste hit. I put malteasers into my popcorn. I told you, wild! It works though. Cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate and adds to the flavour of the pistachios. Something different and we all need to be shaken up every now and then.

What you need is a great basic brownie recipe and after that the world is your lobster. Add whatever your heart desires.

Brownies   (Makes 24)

375g dark chocolate or a mix of dark and milk if you prefer

375g butter chopped up

500g caster sugar (yes you read that right!)

6  free range eggs

275g plain flour sifted

50g cocoa sifted

As mentioned above a single shot of espresso really adds to the chocolate flavour but it can be omitted  

(Any flavour you like: some orange zest, chopped nuts, 50mls baileys or frangelico, salted caramel, some raspberries, coconut, vanilla etc. etc.)

For these brownies I used 150g pistachios and 1 & 1/2 tsp of smoked sea salt.

Heat oven to 160 conventional 180 fan. Grease and line a swiss roll tin.

Heat a small amount of water in a saucepan and place broken up chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl that fits over saucepan but doesn’t touch the water. Once the water comes to the boil turn off the heat and leave butter and chocolate to melt. Stir occasionally.

In the meantime place eggs and sugar into a bowl of a stand mixer or if you don’t have one use a hand mixer. We will be beating the eggs and sugar for at least 10 minutes so unless you are built like Popeye you will need a little mechanical help here. Beat eggs and sugar for at least 10 minutes or until they are pale, thick and mousse like.

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Once chocolate and butter is melted remove the bowl from over the saucepan and leave to cool for a few minutes. Roughly chop the pistachios or blitz in a food processor if you have one.

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Add a small amount of the cooled chocolate to the egg mixture and fold into it. Then add the rest of the chocolate mixture and fold in. Add flour, cocoa and fold in. Finally add the pistachios and 1 tsp of smoked sea salt.

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Pour the mix into prepared tin. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 tsp of salt over the top.

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Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. A papery skin will form on top and there will be a slight wobble when cooked. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. You can freeze these once baked. Once defrosted warm them through in the oven for a few minutes.

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Cut into squares and enjoy!

Back to it

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So that was that. 2014 check.

A strange year of stops and starts. Not bad strange just a bit jumpy, all over the place, unsettled but enjoyable nonetheless.

The last few weeks were a blur of tinsel and family and indulgence. All the good things. Exactly what the doctor ordered. A husband home from work for 6 whole weeks. A birthday or 2. A present or 3.

We’re not doing too bad.

I had intended the first post of 2015 to be a veggie delight but that will have to wait for now. A simple supper instead, to use up the contents of the fridge. I am growing weary (already) of the detox, diet, vegan, paleo nonsense being bandied around almost everywhere. Maybe I am missing something. Shouldn’t we just be eating properly?

I do however share the feeling of reset that January brings with her. A chance to start anew. To right some wrongs, undo some doings. It’s not a bad thing at all.  January offers new beginnings.

So instead of crash dieting, limiting yourself to seeds & kale or matching your diet to that of our paleolithic ancestors do yourself a favour and try to eat a balanced diet, throw in some moderate exercise and go easy on the booze. There, solved. I will forward my bill asap.

The pressures of life can be intense enough without having to count the calories of every morsel of food you consume. Less of the bad stuff more of the good stuff and balance is restored to the world.

With that in mind and with the food ghosts of Christmas past still lurking in the ether it’s time to give the goose fat, butter, cream, pastry, enriched doughs etc. a rest. That indulgence has to feel special and for that to happen we must try to be more virtuous in our choices for the next short while. Spring and Summer make this task infinitely more achievable with the bounties of greens and veg and fruit on offer so for now we will have to channel their energy and recreate those colours to drag us through the tail end of this winter.

Chargrilled Sambal Chicken in Flatbread with Slaw

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Marinade

1/2 cup brown sugar (muscavado)

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/3 cup sambal oelek

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup sriracha

2 tsp grated ginger

juice 1 lime

4 chicken breasts

Mix all of the above. Save half of the marinade and reduce it over a medium heat to make a sauce.

Bash chicken breasts between a layer of cling film to a 1/4 inch thickness. Place chicken into reserved marinade and leave for 2 hours minimum or overnight.

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Garlic Sauce 

2 cloves of garlic ground into a paste with a little sea salt or grated finely

1/3 cup olive oil

handful of basil

4 tbsp greek yoghurt

Mix garlic and yoghurt. Slowly whisk in olive oil as you would with mayonnaise. Stir in shredded basil.

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Slaw 

The term slaw here is used very loosely. Grated veg of any description would do nicely.

I used 4 small carrots & 2 small beetroot. Grated and mixed. I dressed this with Olives Et Al Spicy Chilli & Ginger Dressing.

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To serve: Flatbreads, salad, some chopped nuts, pickled red onion or fresh thinly sliced red onion, spring onions, lettuce, salad leaves, herbs (coriander, basil, mint).

Any or all of the above.

Remove chicken from the fridge 15 mins before cooking. Heat grill pan until smoking. Remove chicken from marinade and grill each side for 3 mins or until completely cooked.   You can baste each side of the chicken with a little more marinade while cooking. The chicken will be cooked on each side when you can lift it without it sticking, if it’s sticking leave it.

Pile chicken, slaw, garlic sauce, sambal sauce and any other toppings you like onto flatbread and serve.

Rough around the edges

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If I were a baked good I think I would be a galette. All the texture and flavour of a tart but a little rougher around the edges.

I don’t think there is much wrong with being a little rough around the edges. I wouldn’t describe myself as polished, I don’t wear lipstick to the shop or heels for that matter. Currently, I am sporting divinely chipped nail varnish that I should have removed a few weeks back and the highest heels I own have never been worn. I’m just not that kind of girl.

You see in this world there are tarts and there are galettes and I am firmly in the galette corner.  No messing with tins and shrinkage and blind baking. No, just a free form, fuss free pastry pie with a rather grand name.

 

Pear & Pecan Frangipane Galette

Spelt Pastry 

6 oz spelt flour

6 oz plain white flour

1 tsp salt 

8 oz butter

8 tbsp ice cold water

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Mix flours and salt in a large bowl. Rub in the butter as you would with a shortcrust. Mix water and vinegar and add enough of it to bring the dough together. Flatten into a disc and wrap with cling film. Place in fridge for at least 20 mins.

 

Pecan Frangipane 

1/2 cup of pecans 

1/2 cup of sugar 

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp orange zest 

Blend sugar and pecans in food processor and add egg and vanilla, blitz into a paste. Stir in orange zest.

 

Pears 

8 small pears

8 tbsp caster sugar 

zest of 1 lemon 

juice of 1 lemon 

zest of 1/2 orange

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out 

1 tsp ground cinnamon 

1 tsp ground ginger

pinch of salt 

Peel and core the pears and slice into thin slices. Mix together with all the other ingredients. I also added a splash of my apple brandy to the pears.

 

Also: 1 egg for egg wash, 2 tbsp coarse sugar (demerara), 1/2 cup apricot jam

 

Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof.  Roll the pastry out to a large circle. Brush the pastry with apricot jam leaving a 2 inch border.  Spread the frangipane over the jam. Cover with the pear slices. Pull the edges of the pastry up over the pears and crimp it together roughly. Brush the pastry with egg wash and sprinkle on the demerara sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180 c for 35 to 40 mins.  If the pastry is browning too quickly cover with tinfoil and continue baking until the pears are cooked.

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Serve with vanilla ice cream and some candied pecans for texture.

 

 

de nada

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Many moons ago I lived in Portugal, briefly.

In Porto to be exact and what I remember distinctly were the numerous cafes and a seemingly endless menu of espresso. With hot milk, without, 3/4 shot or 1/2 shot, dash of cold water? and on and on. They take their daily coffee quite seriously and this is where my love of coffee was ignited.

Whatever your poison you will most definitely need a small sweet treat to accompany it.  I remember eating croissants with a caramelised orange flavoured coating, so thin that it just added a sweet, slightly crunchy texture to the rich pastry underneath.  So  good I still think about them.

A treat far more synonymous with Portugal is the custard tart. Pastel de nata.  Rich custard encased in crispy puff pastry. They are clever folk those Portuguese.

I made these yesterday after the craving got too much. But be warned, these are best eaten the day they are made so unlike me make sure you have sufficient help to polish these off or they will sit there taunting you until you give in and eat 1 more than you should.

Custard Tarts

1 packet of ready made puff pastry (the pre-rolled type)

4 egg yolks

125g caster sugar

225ml cream

175ml milk

30g cornflour

1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod seeds scraped out

1 stick of cinnamon

2 strips of lemon zest

Whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl until pale and thick. Pour cream and milk into a saucepan together with lemon zest, vanilla pod (if using) and cinnamon stick (break in half before adding).  If using vanilla extract add this to the egg mixture.

Bring to the boil. Turn off heat and remove the zest, cinnamon and vanilla pod. Pour into the egg mix in a steady stream whisking all the time. Put a tea towel under the bowl to stop it spinning while whisking.

Strain the mixture through a sieve back into the saucepan and using a flat bottomed wooden spoon stir the mixture over a medium heat until it thickens. Pour custard into a clean bowl and place cling film on the surface to prevent a skin forming. Cool completely.

Once custard is cool, heat oven to 180 c.

Grease a muffin pan with a little butter. Take puff pastry sheet and cut it in half lengthways. Place one strip of pastry on top of the other and roll up like a swiss roll.  Cut the pastry into 12 pieces. Flatten the rolls of dough and roll them out large enough to line the muffin tray. Lightly prick the pastry with a fork and fill with the custard.

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Bake in the oven for 18 to 20 mins until they are golden and the pastry is cooked.

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Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. Once cooled dust with icing sugar and enjoy.

 

 

Winter Warmer

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What is it about winter and that cosy feeling? Is it simply a leftover memory of times before mild winters and centrally heated houses?  For me it is more like an ideal than a feeling. Something I am constantly chasing. A sensation I get when I see candles lighting in a darkened room or when the fire just catches and the curtains are drawn.  The feeling of coming home and closing the door on the cold outside. That brief, transient feeling that warms you from the inside out. Christmas is built on this premise. Everywhere you look it is being sold to you. It is palpable.

What constitutes it for me is having family around. Eating really, really good food. I mean fridges buckling under the weight of numerous cured meats, cheese of all shapes and sizes. The inevitable fry up. Mince pies and chocolates wrapped up like precious gemstones. Watching ridiculous films with daytime fires, oh yes a daytime fire is pure luxury.  Also, how without ever having to vocalise it,  it is perfectly acceptable to partake in some daytime drinking during the Christmas season.  All the rules go out the window. There are no judgemental glances as you boil the kettle for the 3rd hot toddy of the afternoon.  We’re all in this together.

And how else would you suggest mankind deal with the utterly maddening prospect of a trip to the big smoke with a good 2 hour battle for a parking space ahead of you. The thoughts of dragging sodden paper bags full of presents around while you try to convince yourself that your father would love yet another golf shop voucher just so you can declare yourself done with this annual spending ritual.

So I am getting prepped.  I’m ensuring a supply of seasonally appropriate spirits. The sloe gin has been sitting in a dark part of the drinks cabinet for a good 6 weeks at this stage. I fear this will not be sufficient to see the season through so I’m using up some of the apples from the garden to put a little pep into some brandy. Not that brandy needs any help in the pep department but we all get a bit glitzy around this time of year and so too shall my spirits.

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Apple Brandy

1 bottle of brandy

4 eating apples

4 cinnamon sticks

Large bottle or jar

Empty contents of brandy into a large jar or bottle with a mouth wide enough for the apples. Core and slice apples, add to the brandy. Add cinnamon sticks. Put the lid on and leave to infuse for at least 3 days. Preferably longer.  Strain the brandy and consume.

Ideally fill a hip flask for any outings related to Christmas present shopping.

Leftovers

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As usual I made enough dinner yesterday to feed at least 3 people dinner or 4 people a decent size starter! Seeing as himself is halfway across the world working there was sufficient leftovers to do for today (which may or may not have been intentional!).

But who would want the same dinner 2 days in a row? Life is far too short.  So leftover risotto can only mean arancini. Crispy on the outside and gooey deliciousness on the inside. Say no more.

All you need do is wet your hands and roll that leftover risotto into balls about the size of a walnut. This should be a fuss free arrangement, it is leftovers after all so no need to be too pernickety.

Get yourself some flour, a beaten egg and some panko breadcrumbs (all in separate bowls). Roll in flour, then egg and finally panko. Fry those babies until golden brown.

Traditionally arancini are stuffed with mozzarella. I have skipped this step as the risotto I made yesterday was rich enough for me. Should you wish to have a even gooier centre, grab a small piece of mozzarella and push it into the middle of the risotto balls as you are rolling them, continue as above with flour, egg & breadcrumbs.

 

Enjoy!

A simple supper II

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Another Monday has come and this time it’s November’s first (not sure how that happened) and another simple supper beckons.

Risotto is one of those quintessential comfort suppers. Moreish, comforting and completely adaptable to what you have on hand.

This time I had some Gubbeen chorizo and some gorgeous tomatoes lurking in the fridge. A little fresh basil & parmesan, both of which tend to be staples on my shopping list. Pretty useful ingredients if you ask me & alongside some Arbutus sourdough stashed in my freezer, I’m pretty set come doomsday.

(As an aside have you seen the baby sourdoughs that Arbutus are doing these days? Just the right size for 1 or 2 person households and only €1.50! One fiddy!! Go get one…)

So back to the risotto, I roasted the tomatoes whole with a little olive oil, a splash of balsamic, s & p. Oven 180 for 15 mins.

Slice 1 whole chorizo into thick or thin slices. However you like it. Fry in dry pan over a medium heat until it crisps a little & releases its oil. Remove with slotted spoon leaving oil.

Boil the kettle and make up 1L of veg stock. Put into a pan and keep hot on a low heat. I like the Marigold bouillon stock that comes in the big tub. You can buy it in any good health food shop. Saves me wondering whether or not I have stock cubes in the house. Or make your own by all means and shame the rest of us mere mortals.

Add 1 finely chopped onion to chorizo oil in pan. Season and fry until soft and translucent.  Add 1 cup risotto rice and stir well to coat the grains in oil. Add 1/2 glass of white wine. Rose would also do.

Stir until liquid has been absorbed. Add 1 ladleful of hot stock to rice and again stir until absorbed. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock and stirring between until the grains of rice become tender but not mushy. Be gentle stirring it.  Risotto will always look wetter in the pan than it will be on the plate.

Add back in the chorizo and the tomatoes together with any juices from roasting them.

Add a grating of parmesan, a spoonful of mascarpone if you want to be indulgent and some shredded basil. Leave the risotto to sit for 5 mins before plating up.

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Et voila. A hug in a bowl.