Friday, September 4, 2009


The entire summer, my energies have gone into making bread. I’m not a great baker; however, bread holds this sway over me. The act of baking seems so mysterious and fulfilling. A few years ago I worked in a café adjacent to a bakery. Every morning the bakers would arrive at five a.m. and bake until two in the afternoon. It seemed rather Zen, waking up for the most hopeful and happy part of the day; kneading and rolling out dough; decorating cakes etc.

I have come to recognize that making bread is more about patience and long fermentation time than fancy techniques. I used to wing bread preparation, thus, the end products were always inferior. I was impatient too. I would make little balls of dough filled with crap and skip the rising bit. In most food avenues winging it has been helpful. Not alas, in sauce production; or dessert fabrication; pastry concoction or bread making have my improvisational skills always been of much use.

To understand why my breads never worked, I had to make bread exactly as outlined on the back of my bag of flour. I managed to screw it up. I added far too much water. My bread was palatable but the crust was far too thick and the middle of the bread while cooked could never really dry out per se. I did this about ten times.

There where various reasons for my dough being too wet, one was that I used whole meal rye flour to make a few loaves. The flavor was phenomenal. Rye is sort of sticky and sucks up water. Pumpernickel is a good example of this; the bread is very wet and gummy. It is important to make understand the unique properties of the flour you are going to be using and keep it in mind when you bake or cook with the flour. As I said before I added too much water to my dough, simply because I didn’t know what consistency I was looking for. All the books I had read said my dough should be slightly sticky. I wasn’t sure what slightly sticky was. Maybe I feared dough that was too dry so overcompensated. I persevered; eventually I understood what consistency I was looking for.

I started to buy fresh yeast at my local health food store. I bought good quality strong white flour too. The fresh yeast really made a difference in the taste and texture of my breads. I also gave my breads a long time to ferment. This fermentation period was usually a 24 hours but you can store dough in your fridge for weeks for a truly complex artisan style loaf (The dough must be knocked down every couple of days and fed once a week). I bought some tiles and lined a baking sheet with them to simulate a baker’s oven. I found brand new tiles at the charity shop. It was very inexpensive.

This may seem like a lot of work. It isn't. Patience is all that is needed. I don’t have a bread machine or a mixer. It takes ten minutes to knead your loaf initially and five minute to knock it down after it doubles in size. I’m no expert baker but now I can make a pretty good loaf of bread. Since I've learned the basics I can be more creative too.

Country Loaf

Pre- heat oven 218

Pre-heated baking tray

Baking time 45-55 minutes

500 grams strong white flour plus some for kneading

1 teaspoon salt

1 half tablespoon fresh yeast mixed into a little warm water

1 tablespoon olive oil

Warm water, enough to make slightly sticky dough

I haven’t given the exact amount of water. Whenever I made bread previously, my inclination was to dump the entire amount into the bread, making for overly wet dough. It is important that you add salt to the mixture. Salt inhibits the yeast from growing too much. Mix the flour and salt together, add a little water and your yeast that was mixed with some water earlier. Keep adding water until sticky dough has formed add your oil now or later depending on your mood. Roll the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 7-10 minutes.

To know if the d
ough is sufficiently kneaded, place your hand flat on the top and leave for 5 seconds. Remove your hand; the dough should only
stick slightly to your hand and spring back like rubber. La Methode, Jaques Pepin

Pepin also states that the dough should already be forming bubbles and should be soft and shiny. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with a lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 1 and a half

hours or until it has doubled in volume. Knock it back. You can do a few

things. You can knead it for a few minutes, shape into a ball. Flour the surface

you are shaping the dough on. Make sure your dough isn’t sticky on the bottom. It should be floury. Flour the top of the loaf lightly, slash with a knife and bake on a preheated tray.You can knead the dough, shape into a ball it and let it rise for another hour or until it has doubled. Flour the

surface you are shaping the dough on. It may be a little tricky moving your dough (which has doubled in size) to your baking sheet. If this presents a problem make twoloaves of bread and bake until they both sound hollow. Many cooking supply shops have specialty bread tools available, like little bits of cloth that help loaves hold their shape etc. make sure your dough isn’t sticky on the bottom or it will be almost impossible for you to move your loaf cleanly. The work surface your dough is resting on should be floury. Flour the top of the loaf lightly, slash with a knife and then

bake on a preheated tray. This gives you lighter bread than the first option.

The third/ fourth options are longer fermentation times. The third option involves leaving the bread out over night

and knocking it down (after dough has doubled in volume)from time to time until you go to bed. The next morning knock down the bread, knead, shape into a ball and let rise one last time before baking on

a preheated tray (slash loaf with knife).

The fourth option is a long slow fermentation in the fridge. Knocking the bread when needed and when 3- 4 days have passed you take the bread out of the fridge to come to room temperature. When the bread has come to room temperature, knock, knead, shape into ball Flour the

surface you are shaping the dough on. Make sure your dough isn’t sticky on the bottom. It should be floury. Flour the top of the loaf lightly, let rise (1 hour), slash with knife and bake on a preheated tray. The photos are of bread I made using the third option.

To bake

Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom and top. Don’t eat the bread until it has cooled.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Greek Salad

Why can't you get a nice Greek salad in a restaurant in Ireland? It's easy to make. what's the problem? A good Greek salad is the essence of summer and it's so easy to prepare. Here's my recipe for a great Greek salad!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is important to use a good full- fat feta cheese, good quality Kalamata olives and tomatoes.
Greek Salad

serves 4

6 or 7 plum tomatoes or equivalent cherry tomatoes chopped roughly (de-seeded if you prefer)

1 medium cucumber or 1 half large cucumber, seeded and peeled then sliced thinly in little crescent moon shapes.

1 medium red onion finely diced

150-200 grams Kalamata olives stoned

150-200 grams feta cheese


1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove of garlic finely chopped

half cup of extra virgin olive oil

one handful flat leaf parsley chopped

small handful fresh oregano finely chopped

a few sprigs of fresh thyme finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare the dressing first so it can macerate while you prepare the salad. To make any basic dressing you want the ratio to be, 1 part lemon or vinegar to 3 parts oil. Mix oil and lemon juice, garlic, herbs and pepper. In a separate bowl mix together chopped tomatoes, olives, sliced cucumbers, and finely chopped onion. Add dressing to coat salad and mix. Crumble feta over salad and stir through. Serve immediately.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Piri Piri

I took this recipe from, At Home in Provence by Patricia Wells. This is an amazing book. I borrowed it from a friend about two years ago. I guess I've stolen it.Piri piri is a spicy oil, popular in France and posh pizzeria's the world over. Last year I made bottles of piri piri oil to give away as Christmas gifts. Seeing as I'd all these herbs lying around, I thought I'd make a bottle for myself. The oil can be as expensive or as frugal as you like, a simple garlic and chilli oil is terrific drizzled over pizza or added to tomato sauce.
Patricia's Recipe

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes or to taste or 12 dried bird peppers

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

4 sprigs of thyme

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

4 fresh bay leaves

250 ml olive oil or sunflower oil

In a sterilized bottle layer herbs and peppers. Cover with oil. Set aside to mature for one week atleast. If you are worried about the slight chance of botchulism leave the oil in youre fridge and let mature for one month. You can add the same mixture to red wine vinegar for piquant dressings.

You can add whatever you like, be creative, the recipe is just a jumping off point.

Lettuce Give Thanks

This spring I planted a variety of vegetables and herbs in my garden. I wasn't sure how to go about planting a garden. House plants under my care had never lived longer than six months, understandably, I was nervous. The first day we started digging the soil was incredibly rocky and a foot below the rocky soil, lay concrete. It was unfortunate, I had already surmised the inevitability of stony soil, all one has to do is look at the landscape of Connemara to know that big rocks and little rocks will play a starring role in, The Things That Annoy You About Gardening in Galway. The concrete was a bummer, I had hoped to grow kohlrabi, carrots and onions. My root veggie dreams were smashed between rocks and concrete. I soldiered on with lettuce, garlic and gooseberries.

I only found out last week, pretty much any idiot can throw down some seeds and they'll grow. All the gardening books I had read made me wonder how anything grew in the wild without the helping hand of man, between that and the plant hypochondria ... One gardening book in particular showed pictures of plants with various viruses, diseases, bugs and fungus. I was convinced my raspberries had some sort of virus. It was almost nice to of set actual hypochondria with this new plant one.
Last week I ate the first head of lettuce it was amazing, all that garden to fork crap is true. It felt great to make a bouquet garni from my herbs. If I were to buy the herbs at the shop it would have cost almost ten Euro to assemble. It was probably about twelve Euro to buy my herbs, pots and compost. I almost made my money back from one measly bouquet garni. I have enjoyed gardening, It wasn't nearly as time consuming or as hard as I had envisioned. I haven't mastered it by any means. But hey, any idiot can throw down some seeds and see what grows. It's brilliant!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vegan Truffles

For the last two weeks I've been going chocolate crazy. Generally speaking this is a winter problem for me. Every single day, from the end of November until the beginning of April I eat a one hundred gram bar of 70% + chocolate. As a kid I wasn't too gone on chocolate. Hershey's candy bars are horrible. They have a distinct poo smell, honestly they really do, it put me off. My chocolate consumption goes way up during the winter, maybe I need more vitamin D. The weather hasn't been great so maybe I need some sun. A friend of mine told me, her husband is vegan, and trying to impress her, I said that I had a vegan truffle recipe. I did, however, I had completely forgotten it. As a result, I've spent many hours toiling over this recipe. Often desserts that include soy products (other than the milk) taste way too soyish. I have seen other recipes for vegan truffles that use only cocoa powder and agave syrup or cocoa powder and vegan spread and they aren't sinful enough. Truffles are so easy to make, unless you're one of those people who wants to be a home chocolatier, tempering your chocolate etc. The truffle mix or ganache can be used as a yummy frosting on cakes, or you can pipe the ganache into cooked pastry cases for chocolate tarts. I like to have a jam jar filled with ganache in the fridge, when people come over you can set out chopped nuts, coconut, toasted oats, or chocolate powder and everyone can dip spoons full of ganache into whichever coating they like. I'm saying this like I do it the whole time, sometimes I do, more often than not I eat spoonsful of the stuff straight from the fridge.

About six months ago on one of my jaunts to the health food shop I noticed soy cream and soy whipping cream. I go to the health food shop for sort of new age snake oil merchant gear like; Honeygar, that crap. Biweekly I convince myself that something I've read in Heat magazine or in Wikipedia is the answer to what ails me. I find myself at Healthwise up to my elbows in lentils, and the next thing I know I've just spent thirty Euro on soysages and a home sprouting kit. I really love health food junk food So bad for you but you can talk yourself into believing it's healthy, yummy lies!!!!Anyways, I saw the soy cream and bought it. It's really good and truly sinful. I have two different recipes for vegan truffles. All the ingredients should be readily available at the health food shop.

Two Ingredient Truffles

200ml soy whipping cream (Grano Vita make soy whipping cream)

100 grams of 60% + vegan chocolate

Cut open your (room temperature) whipping cream before you start. They can be pretty tricky to open. Chop up the chocolate and melt over a double boiler. When the chocolate is melted take off the heat and add the whipping cream. Stir until mixed. Taste, if the ganache isnt sweet enough you can add some agave syrup or maple syrup to sweeten. Put the mixture into a container and refrigerate for 3+ hours. When the ganache is thick and cold you can spoon it into little balls and cover with whatever you fancy. This recipe is good, however, it is soyish.

Orange and Coffee Vegan Truffles

200 gms Orange vegan chocolate chopped (a few drops of orange oil would suffice if this chocolate is unavailable)

200ml Soy pouring cream (Provamil make soy pouring cream, soy whipping cream should work too) room temp

100gms vegan spread

1-2 shots espresso cooled

Melt chocolate over double boiler. When melted, remove from heat and stirrin cream, espresso, and spread. Refridgerate for three hours+ or until firm.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Spanish Hot Chocolate

I've been craving hot chocolate for the last few days. It's such a winter drink and alas, the weather here in Galway hasn't been great. This Baltic weather has made me pine for the Chocolate Museum in Barcelona. One should never, never, pay to enter the Chocolate Museum.

When mentioned, chocolate museum, for most of us the possibilities are infinite. I imagined the tiredest of scenarios, Willy Wonka's little factory. Because of my inability to think of anything other than that beauty of a factory, I was probably the most upset upon entering. Our pamphlet clearly stated that there were statues, buildings and historical figures made from chocolate. Upon inspection these things could have been made from chocolate, but not recently. They looked as if they were made from cardboard, dust and the mud Native Americans used to build their homes in the desert thousands of years ago. Dermot was enthralled by the dust, the passionless plaques and the durability of the chocolate statues and buildings behind the shiny glass. Everyone else in the one-roomed museum was trying to make the best of it. "We already paid we might as well mill around aimlessly," I imagined they were thinking. The duped moved about assessing each figure and plaque listlessly. They tried to watch the ten minute film, no one could stick it out. Too depressing.... Was it directed by Ingmar Bergman? Whoever it was, had a real knack for sucking the fun out of chocolate. One assumes this special knack was explicitly cited in the wanted adds for jobs linked with the museum. This place was an ode to Chocolate's blue period or perhaps an homage to when Woody Allen stopped being funny. Maybe the curator thought we'd all been laughing at Chocolate for too long. Didn't anyone know Chocolate had a serious side? Didn't we know Chocolate could be molded into Christopher Columbus's head? Didn't we know that Chocolate was a great material to make a diorama with.
No, we didn't.
Dermot and I shuffled out of the museum into the cafe adjacent. On the counter sat this big thing filled with thick chocolaty, gooey unctuousness. I looked at the menu board. It said hot chocolate, I put two and two together. It was the nicest hot chocolate I'd ever had. The cocoa was as dark as ganache and thick like cold pouring cream. I knew Dermot and I would be back the next day for another. It was the Chocolate I knew, the funny Woody Allen, an ode to Picasso's rose period. Frankly, a much happier chocolate. Not depressed like the stuff in the museum and not self-destructive like the Mars Bars Dermot eats. You know, the kind of chocolate that stays up all night doing shots of tequila and picks fights with dudes twice your size and hits on your girlfriend.
This cocoa was the fun stuff.

Spanish Hot Chocolate

1 cup milk or soy if you're like me

2 1/2 oz dark chocolate 70%, or 2 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), broken into pieces

2 teaspoons of sugar sugar or the sweetness you prefer

plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Bring milk to the boil. Whisk in cornstarch and sugar and keep whisking until mixture thickens to desired consistency. Take the milk off the heat. Whisk in Chocolate pieces. Serve. If the mixture is a little lumpy sieve and then serve.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I was at Bentley's on Sunday. It was the only late bar in Limerick that happened to be free in. It was like an airport hotel inside, it should be called Riff Raff's. We were up for a friends birthday which coincided with Indie Week Band Competition. Some other friends had won the previous year, they're called Walter Mitty and the Realists. Anyway, we were all at Bentley's, plus some Canadian band and I was telling everyone about how I had some beetroot during the week and how the day after my life flashed before my eyes when I momentarily thought I had bowel cancer, then realized it was beetroot. Everyone had a red food poo story or similar. Pretty rock 'n' roll. Almost everyone at the table was anti-beetroot. We are so used to pickled beets which are pretty muddy in taste, more akin to bottom feeding fish in flavor than anything worth eating. However, fresh beetroot is a revelation, earthy rather than swampy. Eaten raw, they sing on the salad plate and roasted they ooze sticky sweetness. Just don't forget you've eaten them!