Friday, November 27, 2015

Light Christmas cake...

I've "discovered" Christmas cake only after moving to Ireland those many years ago. In Poland you would find a lot of different cakes baked for Christmas, but none could be called "the ultimate Polish Christmas cake", as it will hugely depend on the region of Poland, family traditions etc. In Ireland, and UK, this is way simpler - Christmas cake is only one, and when you mention it everyone will know what you're on about.

I wanted to finally start our own little family tradition, once the girls are old enough to participate in it (5 and almost 4 years old), so this year was very first one that a traditional Christmas cake was baked. Well, almost traditional... The "normal" version would be "fed" with alcohol over few weeks leading to Christmas, but with two little people at home that wasn't an option for me. I was on a look out for a recipe that would give me the same texture, lots of fruit, will keep long, have that same depth of flavour but without the alcohol in it. At some stage I thought it was impossible! But... There it was Mary Berry's "Christmas Collection" cookbook, and inside I've found a recipe for American light Christmas cake. No alcohol in it! I've changed the recipe ever so slightly, but the result was even better than I was expecting!

light Christmas cake

The cake is moist and full of delicious fruit. When you cut through, it looks like the most beautiful stained glass! There's just enough amount of the fruit and nuts, so you can fell different textures, but everything comes together and the whole cake is well balanced. I don't miss the taste of whiskey/brandy at all!

non-alcoholic Christmas cake

It is very, very important to drain and dry the pineapple well. If it is wet, the cake may become mouldy. If you would like to decorate this cake with almond paste and royal icing, do not decorate with almonds and cherries before baking. Icing and almond paste aren't very popular in my house, so almonds and glace cherries had to do. I'm pleasantly surprised how pretty the cake looks like, with so simple decorations :) Another proof that sometimes less is more!
Ideally, this cake should be made 1 month ahead and kept in the larder, covered with foil. This freezes well for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature for 12 hours.

How to make it...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Beef cheeks in beer...

It's this time of the year. Cold, windy and wet November always requires some serious comfort food. It's the time of the year when we need some hearty, meaty dishes to keep us warm on the inside and nourish our bodies with some full, rich flavours, sauces and wintry vegetables. I always find myself craving big bowls of tender juicy meat in some deep sauce, which I can use for dipping my freshly baked bread into.

Beef cheeks are very cheap cuts of meat and so underestimated. They are the perfect choice for slow cooking dishes and their rich, beefy flavour goes very well with winter vegetables like turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, as well as plain potatoes.

This recipe was taken from a fantastic book "The Irish beef book" by Pat Whelan. I've made few simple changes, mainly to accommodate what I had in my kitchen, as well as the time frame I had to make this dish. I've marinated the cheeks for well over 12 hours (something close to 16 h) and used red ale beer (the cheapest one from the supermarket). The sauce is very thin but rich in flavour, you could thicken it with simple roux, but I didn't think it's needed - it was perfect for small pieces of my fresh baguette to soak up all this amazing brown liquid!
Please be patient and do give the beef cheeks at least 3 hours in the oven. Other than that waiting time, the dish is really uncomplicated and easy to put together, as it cooks almost all on its own!

How to make it...

Monday, November 09, 2015

Pizza in 20 minutes? Yes! Cheats pan pizza...

We love pizza at my home. And what's not to love?! A piece of yeasty dough topped with thick tomato sauce, melted cheese, spicy salami, crunchy peppers... But mere thought of making the pizza dough sometimes prevent me from actually making it... Yes, I admit to occasionally going for the easy option - store bought pizza. No, I'm not proud of it, but let's be honest here - it's cheap, it's quick and kids will eat it! Yes, I have no control over what goes into it - both into the dough and on top of it - but it's also something I don't buy on a regular basis, I don't think it's even as often as once a month.
But I think I have found a resolution to the long process of making the pizza base...

quick cheats pan pizza

The recipe for this pizza base comes from "30 minute meals" cookbook by Jamie Oliver. One day, just recently, I couldn't figure out what to make for dinner. I couldn't figure it out, as first - there wasn't much in the fridge, second - I didn't have much time to make anything!
All of a sudden I remembered - there surely must be something in that book that I can make, with what I have at hand. And there was!

jamie oliver quick cheats pan pizza

Jamie's quick pizza is indeed a cheat! You substitute the daunting task of kneading and the time constraint of rising with a bit of hand action (or food processor) and self-rising flour. It's also very quick to assemble and cook. You simply fry the dough on the stove for about 3-4 minutes, and then finish it under the grill. The result? Not too bad, not bad at all actually! It won't have the texture and elasticity that some of the best pizza dough bases have, but if you're a fan of light and crispy crust, this pizza should satisfy you, and no expert kitchen skills needed to make it either! :)

How to make it...

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Quick Autumn apple cake....

And it's here. My favorite time of the year - Autumn. It's here in full swing - in Ireland it means rain, cold, strong winds, rain, short days, rain, grass changing its color from bright green to dull, brownish, rain, beautiful leaves (before they're all "torn away" from branches by the wind) and... more rain! Once it starts raining here, on the west coast of Ireland, it doesn't stop usually until the end of March (or not at all to be honest... ;) ).

Storms - I think that's one thing I'm not that keen on... I experienced good few winter storms already (one of the worst in the history - in February 2014). The wind scares me, makes me feel very uneasy, its strength and the sound - especially in the middle of dark night... There's no better place to be during the storm, than in your warm, cosy house, under the blanket, sipping some hot beverage (could even be a hot Whiskey!). Fortunately it's already November and no big storm has passed through yet, but I know it will come soon...

There's no "real winter" here, as most of us would know it. There's no "winter wonderland" scene, no hills covered with snow, and even if snow does make it appearance, it disappears within hours...

quick apple cake

Autumn shouts apples to me! It also shouts plums and pears, but we'll talk about those on another day ;) I didn't really plan this cake, it just... appeared in my head and I made it, I actually made it while waiting for my dinner to finish cooking. I already had the oven on and thought "What a waste that I didn't prepare anything sweet to bake now...". Then I immediately thought "Stupid me, why I won't put something together now!". Quick look around the kitchen - apples, flour, butter. There's an idea! :)

I left my apples really chunky, as I wanted their texture to be present in the baked cake, I didn't want a mush. I was also quite generous with the cinnamon and other spices - as I like them, especially this time of the year, they provide me with this warm feeling, with a weird sense of comfort... The batter is a simple mix of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, but I didn't make it too sweet. Flaked almonds on top, besides looking quite pretty, give a bit of different texture within a cake - you can easily omit them if you wish to.

This is my own recipe, so it was first time I made it and next time I think I'll use a smaller baking tin. I used 23 cm round tin and for that amount of batter it was slightly too big. The cake wasn't too high and you can see "apple shapes" on top of baked cake, as that's how thin the top layer was, especially that some batter filled space between and around the apples. Next time I will use a baking tin/dish not bigger than 20 cm. Other than that - a great, quick, Autumnal cake! :)

How to make it...