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Opps…in all the hustle and bustle of the day…I forgot to hit the “Publish” button on this post yesterday!! 

Easter is finally upon us and the weather is still holding beautifully. We were meant to get showers from Wednesday onwards, but the sun has been splitting the sky and everyone is out and about in their spring finery.

Mother nature has been a bit of a show off too.

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We have a house-full coming for dinner this afternoon. Nineteen for supper (that’s the adults and the children) and another seven for the afters (tea and dessert/cheese board and port). The big debate in our Irish home has been lamb or ham?!? Yes, it’s the baa vs the oink!

My lovely husband is fed up with me asking everyone we meet, “Are you serving ham or lamb for your Easter supper?” Our Irish home is evenly divided. What about yours? To keep the peace, we’ve decided to split the difference and have both this year. Roast lamb with garlic and rosemary AND baked ham crusted with brown sugar glaze and honey.

For sides will be having roast potatoes and boiled potatoes (you can never have too many potatoes in Ireland), garden peas and a big green salad. And for our pudding (dessert) we’re serving Rhubarb Crumble, Apple Tart, Banoffee, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Meringues with fresh fruit and cream and, for the children, we have Rice Krispie Bars, Rocky Road Biscuits, and Caramel Squares. It’s an Irish desert feast!

To finish off the supper, we’re serving a selection of gorgeous Irish cheeses: Gubbeen, Cooleeney, Cashel Blue, Wexford Vintage Cheddar, along with Manchego and Saint Agur (the last two not being Irish).

It’s a huge Easter meal for a rather large crowd, but as my sister-in-law loves to say, “Many hands make light work!” We’ve got many hands cooking today: even two of the brothers-in-law are hard at work in the kitchen, each one making a leg of lamb! We can’t wait to see who makes the best one.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you a very Happy Easter!

 

 

 

There’s a book I own that sits on the nightstand near my bed…one my mother gave to me when I was a child. The binding is tattered and the corners are torn, but I never mind that…the book means the world to me.

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Behind the faded cover is a collection of poems known as Mother Goose Rhymes and one of my favourites is called Hot Cross Buns. Of course you know the poem:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.

One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.

In my youth and innocence, I had no idea what a hot cross bun was: I’d never seen one, let alone tasted one. Looking back, I’m not even sure I knew what a “bun” was. In America a bun is an updo-hairstyle worn by a ballerina.

What I knew for sure was the woman in the illustration looked happy and the image of the village and the pretty children was very romantic and that appealed to my young heart. It wasn’t until many years later when I was living in Ireland that I finally saw and ate my first hot cross bun.

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Soft, light, sweet and delicious when served warm from the oven with a pad of butter, they are perfect with a cup of tea. In the weeks between St. Patrick’s Day and Good Friday, hot cross buns are readily available. Some are better than others however, so buyer beware. To make them from scratch is easy enough…it’s just the rising time that makes them a bit of a bother.

Hot Cross Buns are very much a part of the Irish Easter tradition: specifically Good Friday, when they were once served to commemorate Christ’s suffering on the cross (hence the cross marking on the bun). Today they are common place and most young ones wouldn’t know anything about the religious or secular traditions they are steeped in.

One of those traditions, from my mother-in-law’s day, is that you would break a Good Friday Black Fast (drinking only water or tea during the day) with a hot cross bun. Two others I know are: if you hung a bun from the kitchen ceiling you could ward off evil spirits; and gratings from a preserved bun, mixed with water, would cure a common cold. Oh, if only it were only that easy!

In our Irish home, hot cross buns are a Good Friday treat. We’re enjoying them today just as much as we’re enjoying the lovely sunshine that we’ve been blessed with. We’re off to do the Stations of the Cross Passion in a few hours time and then finishing the day with a bowl of velvety leek and potato soup and some homemade brown bread. In some ways you could say we’re a bit old-fashioned but then that’s just the way it is for us. I wonder what it’s like for you?

Lent is coming to an end, finally. I hope you’ve enjoyed the recipes I’ve been posting these past six weeks and, likewise, I hope you’ve made it through your Lenten promise without having to hit the reset button too often. I slipped up a few times myself, but overall am quite pleased with my staying power!

I wish you and yours a very happy Easter and, if by chance you’re partaking in a hot cross bun today, I offer you the following poem of friendship: “half for you and half for me…between us two…good luck shall be!”

All the best.

 

Odlum’s Hot Cross Buns

Makes One Full Baking Tray

Ingredients for the Buns

625g/ 1lb 4 oz Odlums Strong White Flour (plus extra for dusting)

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground mixed spice

50g/2oz butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing

75g/3oz sugar

Rind of 1 lemon

1 sachet fast-action yeast (7g)

1 egg

275ml/10fl oz tepid milk

125g/4oz Shamrock Fruit Mix (or raisins)

Ingredients for the Topping

2 tbsp Odlums Cream Plain Flour

Vegetable Oil (for greasing)

1 tbsp golden syrup, gently heated, for glazing

Directions

For the buns, sieve the flour, salt and ground mixed spice into a large mixing bowl, then rub in the butter using your fingertips. Make a well in the centre of the mixture then add the sugar and lemon zest and yeast.

Beat the egg and add to the flour with the tepid milk. Mix together to a form a soft, pliable dough.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Carefully work the mixed dried fruit into the dough until well combined. Knead lightly for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Grease a large, warm mixing bowl with butter. Shape the dough into a ball and place it into the prepared bowl, then cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm place for one hour to prove.

Turn out the proved dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock back the dough. Shape it into a ball again and return it to the bowl, then cover again with the tea towel and set aside for a further 30 minutes to rise.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly into a bun shape using the palms of your hands. Cover the buns again with the tea towel and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Grease a baking tray with butter and transfer the buns to the tray. Wrap the tray with the buns on it loosely in greaseproof paper, then place inside a large polythene bag. Tie the end of the bag tightly so that no air can get in and set aside in a warm place for a further 40 minutes to rise.

Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas 8.

Meanwhile, for the topping, mix the plain flour to a smooth paste with 2 tablespoons of cold water.

When the buns have risen, remove the polythene bag and the greaseproof paper. Spoon the flour mixture into a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun.

Transfer the buns to the oven and bake for 8-12 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. As soon as you remove the buns from the oven, brush them with the hot golden syrup, then set aside to cool on a wire rack.

 

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Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and TurmericGoodness, it’s been a busy week in our Irish home. The Easter break is upon us and there’s been much to do. On nights like tonight, I am thankful for simple dishes…ones that take very little effort but taste like you’ve been working hard in the kitchen all day.

Tonight I made one of my family’s favourites: Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and Turmeric. This dish is really simple to make, especially when it’s served up with a side of green beans, a few roast potatoes, and a salad of sliced tomatoes. Yummm!

Ireland is an island blessed with an abundance of gorgeous seafood. I had no idea how lovely fresh fish could be until I moved here. Plaice, salmon, haddock, cod, sea bass…not to mention prawns, muscles, oysters, clams…it’s all here for the baking, grilling, roasting, pan frying…you name it!

My favourite place to buy seafood in Ireland is in Cavistons in Glasthule. The vegetable selection and bakery is wonderful too! Here’s a video from Cavistons sure to entice you:

There’s only one more meat-free Friday to go in Lent 2014. Next week we’ll be focusing on Easter decorations, dying eggs, making hot cross buns from scratch, and lots of other Easter-related activities in our Irish home. Hope you’re gearing up for a festive celebration too!

All the best!

Sea Bass with Sea Salt, Pepper and Turmeric

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 x 150g/1 ¼ lb of Sea Bass

½ lemon

olive oil

sea salt

pepper

turmeric

* You’ll note there are no specific amounts given for most of the ingredients in this recipe. That’s because I just eye-ball and guess-tamate with this dish.

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F/200°C.

2. Line a baking dish with aluminium and a sheet of oven-proof paper.

3. Wash fish and blot dry with kitchen roll (paper towel).

4. Squeeze lemon juice liberally over fish. Let sit for a few minutes.

5. Pour enough olive oil over fish to coat lightly.

6. Lightly sprinkle sea salt over fish.

7. Grind fresh pepper over fish.

8. Lightly sprinkle turmeric over fish.

9. Place fish in centre of oven and bake until cooked through (about 20-25 minutes).

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When you think about the useless gadgets you have in your kitchen, what comes to mind: Garlic Peeler, Corn Cob Butter Spreader, Egg Cooker, Onion Chopper, Electric Cheese Grater, Pineapple Slicer?

Useless Kitchen Gadgets

In our Irish home, it’s the Pizza Stone. We’ve had one lurking in our cupboards for at least twelve years. Do you know how many times I’ve used it? Once!

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Pathetic, I know. The sad truth is…every time I go to toss it in the bin, I just can’t do it. “What If…?” always wins out over common sense. You know how it goes…“What if I need it to make the world’s best pizza for my friends?” Admit it…you know what I’m talking about because you’ve got your own version of “What if?” for the useless gadgets in your kitchen.

But now, at long last, it’s time to kiss our pizza stone goodbye once and for all. Last May I bought a book called Pizza on the Grill and its made me rethink pizza making at home.

Authors Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer start off their slim cookbook with this introduction: “Welcome to the church of grilled pizza. If you think that’s a joke, we aren’t’ kidding. Once you start making grilled pizza, it’ll be like “getting religion”. You’ll want to preach the word to everyone.” Well, just call me Sister Kim cause I’m here to tell you this pizza-on-the-grill-thing works.

We’ve been making homemade pizza {on the grill} every couple of weeks since last summer. This pizza making technique is so easy that we now make them for lunch and dinner, and we make them weekdays and weekends. Recently the kids and I made vegetarian pizzas, perfect for Lent’s meat-free Friday meals, which made me think to share the idea with all of you. Here are two photos of our asparagus, roasted tomato, pesto pizza.

Pizza on the Grill

Pizza is the perfect blank canvas to showcase the freshest vegetables of the season {whatever season you are in} or for the ingredients you regularly stock in your refrigerator. Some combinations I’ve been thinking about lately include: fingerling potato, baby kale with chèvre, spinach and artichoke with white bean sauce, beets with feta and micro greens, and shaved asparagus with Roquefort cheese, egg and pecorino. Mmmmh…just so good. And my cheat: when I don’t feel like making homemade pizza dough, I buy it pre-made {when I can find it} and I buy the roasted vegetables and grated cheese at the shops (supermarket)! If you have time to make your own dough, however, American celebrity chef Rachel Ray‘s recipe (below) is delicious.

There is just over two weeks left to Lent 2014. To keep you laughing and going meat-free-Friday all the way to Easter, here are two cute videos sent to me by one of my nieces ~ Meat Police – Episode 1 and Meat Police – Episode 2. Enjoy!

Pizza on the Grill

Serves 4-6

Dough Ingredients

8oz/1 cup warm water

1 teaspoon honey

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

12oz/3 cups (or more) all-purpose or bread flour

1 3/4 teaspoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling bowl

Directions

1. Mix the warm water and honey in a liquid measuring cup until the honey dissolves. Sprinkle with the yeast and let the mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, using a food processor, pulse the flour and salt to mix.

2. Pour the yeast mixture and 2 tbsp. olive oil over the flour mixture. Process until the dough comes together in a sticky ball, about 20 to 30 seconds.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead, using the heel of your hand, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl; add the dough, turning to coat. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough stand in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Punch the dough down, then turn onto a cutting board. Using a knife, quarter the dough.

6. Shape 1 dough wedge roughly into a ball. Place the dough ball on the work surface and cup your hand lightly over it. Rotate your hand counterclockwise, letting the dough roll on the work surface. Continue until the surface of the dough is smooth. Repeat with the remaining dough wedges.

7. Place each dough ball in a large resealable plastic bag or plastic container with a lid. Refrigerate for 10 to 48 hours (the dough will continue to rise). Let the dough sit at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping, or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Let the frozen dough sit at room temperature for 2 hours before shaping.

8. Turn out 1 ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press it out on the work surface into a 9-inch round, a long rectangle or an oval. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To make 3- to 4-inch minipizzas, cut each dough ball into 4 pieces, then press or stretch into shape.

Pizza on the Grill

1. Preheat your grill by setting all the burners on high. After lighting, close the lid and leave on high for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat of all the burners to medium.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle your work surface with grits, polenta or flour.  Place the dough in the middle of the surface and roll out with a rolling pin or stretch it out with your hands to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, depending on whether you want a thick-crust or thin-crust pizza.

3. Drizzle or brush one side with olive oil.

4. Pick up the dough and, in one motion, lay it down flat on the cooking grate of the grill from back to front. Close the lid and grill for 3 minutes (less if you don’t want grill marks). No peeking! Then, check the crust and, if necessary, continue grilling a few minutes more until the bottom is nicely browned.

5. Using tongs, lift the crust to a cutting board and add sauce and toppings as desired.

6. Turn off the center burners on your grill. Then place the pizza back on the cooking grate and grill with the lid down until the bottom is well browned and the cheese is melted, about 5-8 minutes or longer if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are now in our fourth week of Lent. How are you folks out there doing? Other than the recent slip-up I had with two ice cream cones, I’ve stuck to my promise to abstain from sweets and sugar and it hasn’t been too bad.

Recently my inbox has been inundated with Lent-related emails: some of them are from people who say, “Giving up sugar and sweets for Lent is lame.” Supposedly, it’s not deep enough or serious enough.

“Harumph!” Give me just a minute to climb up on my soap box. Ready?

Are you people serious? Giving up sugar and sweets for Lent is NOT lame…it is important. And, when I say important, what I really mean is…it’s IMPORTANT! Why? Well, let me tell you…

Sugar is everywhere.

I’m not talking about the sugar that’s found naturally in foods…as nature intended…typically combined with a fibre, as in fruit and some vegetables.

I’m talking about the sinister kind of sugar that food manufacturers have snuck into our refrigerators and cupboards without us even knowing it. Sugar is in our bread, tomato ketchup, breakfast cereal, crackers, yogurt, baked beans, juices, pasta sauce, tinned vegetables, cereal bars…and that’s just the start of it.

We eat and or drink it morning, noon, and night. It’s disguised as brown rice syrup, cane sugar, caramel, corn syrup, dextrose, evaporated cane sugar, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, sorghum, and syrup. And it often shows up in multiple forms in just one food item.

Let me ask you, “What is the maximum amount of added sugar one should eat in a day?” In 2003, the World Health Organization indicated in their guidelines that sugar should account for only about 10% of our daily calories, which is roughly eight teaspoons/37 grams.

Now, guess how much sugar is in a 12oz can of soda? The answer varies, but typically it’s 10-12 teaspoons/40-48 grams!

Are you surprised? I was when I started to learn about it. And here’s the fact that really threw me over the edge: if we continue the path we’re on, our children will be the first generation to not outlive their parents?!

And there you have it…the reason why my family is giving up sugar and sweets for Lent. It’s not lame…this is the perfect time to teach my children that their wee little bodies are their temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

“You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased and at a price! So glorify God in your body.”

Wshew! I needed to get that off my chest. I’m really not a holy roller, but I won’t stand for those who imply that I’m not doing enough this Lent. Caring for others is what we’re here for…and starting in an Irish home is, in my opinion, an excellent place to begin.

Can I get an Amen?

 

Italian Vegetable Stew

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 loaf Italian bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch kale, centre rib and stems removed, chopped

1/4 cup/1 oz olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 celery stocks, finely chopped

1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

28oz/794g crushed peeled tomatoes, drained

8 cups/64oz vegetable broth

45oz/1,275g cannellini beans, rinsed

1 teaspoon Italian herbs

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

grated Parmesan

Directions

1. Let bread stand at room temperature for a few hours to dry out.

2. Cook the kale in boiling water until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Drain, squeeze out excess water. Set aside until needed.

3. Heat ¼ cup/1oz olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery, and leek. Stir often until softened, 8-10 minutes.

4. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

5. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is evaporated.

6. Add broth, beans, Italian herbs, bay leaf and reserved kale. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the soup thickens slightly, about 30-45 minutes.

7. Remove bay leaf, season with salt and pepper as desired.

8. To serve, add bread to the soup. Divide among blows, top with Parmesan.

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I have a confession to make…last week, while we were on a quickie holiday, I broke my Lenten promise to abstain from sugar! Because we were on vacation, I had ice cream…not once but twice. The children had ice cream too. Waaaahhh!

To make amends, I did not eat the Guinness Gingerbread I made for St. Patrick’s Day. Hmphhh! And, on Mothering Sunday (Mother’s Day), which is coming up at the end of the month, I will refrain from whatever treats and sweets my family try to ply me with. One of my brother-in-laws is a Catholic priest…I guess I will consult with him as to whether I have to go to confession too! Uggghhh!

While I may have slipped in one area of our Lenten promise, I have not in the other: we have stuck with our meat-free Friday meals. Yeaahhh! Truth be told, it’s not all that difficult given the many wonderful recipes available today.

This evening I am serving my family a vegetarian chili that’s been in my recipe box for years. The recipe comes from Elizabeth Buxton and Terence Stamp’s cookbook, The Stamp Collection Cookbook. I started making this chili {donkey’s} years ago, when I was on a wheat-free and dairy-free diet and I always found it easy to whip up {about 20 minutes} and consistently good.

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Unfortunately, my photography skills are not finely honed yet and the photo above may not entice you enough to try this recipe. For sure, you’ll have to trust me…this chili is good. Perhaps a few of you brave ones will give it a go. If so, let me know how you get on.

Happy cooking and happy Lent!

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)

1/4 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

175g/1 cup canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed under running cold water

175/1 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed under running cold water

200g/1 cup cooked puy lentils

250g/1 cup canned tomatoes with their juice

1 tablespoon tomato purée/paste

55g/1 cup fresh chopped flat parsley (optional)

grated pecorino cheese

Directions

1. Soften the onions, jalapeño pepper and red pepper in 4 tablespoons of the oil for 4 minutes.

2. Add the chili flakes, cinnamon, cumin and thyme and cook over high heat for 1 minute.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, beans and lentils. Stir into the mixture and cook for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée/paste and remaining olive oil, cover and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes.

5. Taste, season with salt and pepper, and more tomato purée/paste, if needed. {I also sometimes find I need to add a bit more water too.)

6. Add the parsley just before serving (optional) and sprinkle with pecorino, as desired.

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To banish the curse of “St Patty’s Day”, Dublin Airport have launched a Facebook campaign to spread the word of the real name of our national day.

Not pointing at anyone in particular, {ehmmm…USA AND CANADA}, the airport posted the Facebook notice below to alert anyone who is confused about the correct pronunciation of the day.

Before you make a HUGE mistake, please remember it’s St. Paddy’s Day…with Ds…as opposed with Ts. Patty is short for Patricia…not Patrick.

On that happy note…I wish you, “Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh!” (“Happy St Patrick’s Day”)…good luck saying that!

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