Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Irish Tea Cake

There was an assumption that my paternal ancestors came from Ireland. No one knows where this information came from and I suppose when you looked at the family's dark hair and fair skin, you didn't really question it.

As a child I learned Irish dancing; we ate lots of potatoes and cabbage, drank a lot of tea and my father was a Socialist. So it came as quite a surprise when, years later I started to uncover the real family history. No trace of Irish anywhere! 

I've found a brief but unexplained encounter with King Charles II and the Holt Family of Aston Hall, but no Irish. So I'm a bit bemused to understand why I feel so at home when I visit the Emerald Isle.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
But I have strayed a little from the topic of tea and teacake. I hope you will see where I am heading -  soon.

There's not one good reason to visit Ireland, there's many. Wonderful scenery, the greenest green countryside, a torturous history and the very friendly Irish themselves. 

Powis Caste, Ireland
Portballintrae, Northern Ireland

But if you are not able to visit, I have a suggestion. You can have a hint of the country by baking a Barmbrack, (Irish teacake) . This has been a family recipe for a very long time, although I must admit it's a fair time since I have cooked it. (And why my non-Irish family had this recipe is still a total mystery.)

I'm feeling a little homesick (for a country I don't come from) so I've rustled up some dried fruit and lots of cold tea and here is the result.



375g dried fruit - I use currants, sultanas, raisins, cranberries and peel

50ml whiskey*
250ml cold tea - I use Irish Breakfast Tea
225g Plain Flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
100g soft brown sugar
3/4 tsp mixed spice
1 tablespoon of whiskey extra ( optional)

  • Soak dried fruit in whiskey and cold tea, overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 160/320º. Grease and line a loaf tin (about 750g)
  • In a large bowl add sugar, plain flour, baking powder, mixed spice.
  • Using a wooden spoon mix beaten egg to the flour mixture. 
  • Now add any remaining liquid from the soaked fruit.
  • You need to have a reasonably wet looking batter. 
  • Now add the fruit and mix until everything is even.
  • Spread this into your prepared tin and bake for 30 - 50 minutes. 
  • Check with a skewer to see if it is cooked through, leave in the tin to cool slightly, then finish on a rack.
  • I added 1 tablespoon of whiskey to the base of the cake, then wrapped in foil for 2 days before slicing and eating. Delicious with a strong cup of tea and shared with friends.

Eat it as it is or slather it with butter, either way it's very Irish.

* In Ireland, whiskey is spelt with an 'e' but in Scotland it is spelt without.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Cranberry and Pear Dessert

I've been out in the National Park counting koalas! I haven't seen this many in a long time - I counted 12. Usually you only see one or two, because they are hiding from the wind or the rain. But yesterday there was a little bit of sunshine and koalas were out sleeping at the tops of  trees trying to catch that little bit of warmth on their backs. Don't we all just love that?
Now I'm home, after a brisk walk -  actually it wasn't brisk at all,  I'm still only walking at around 3 kms an hour - and I fancied making some dessert.

I've made quite a few pear puds, but today I wanted something with a bit of umph - if you know what I mean, so I've turned to my Cranberry and Pear Dessert, because I know it's got some nice tangy bits and I might just increase that today by adding some extra lemon zest.

If you find yourself wanting a little love,  then you can't go past indulging yourself with this. If you are time poor, it can be prepared in ten minutes, rest in the fridge for 60 minutes and cooked in 25 minutes. Not too long to put aside for a bit of self indulgence.


2 Beurre Bosch pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup caster sugar
A handful of flaked almonds
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks extra
1 cup milk - cows, soy, almond
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup of Muscat or port or orange juice
30g plain flour
zest of 1 lemon

1. In a small container combine the dried cranberries and port/muscat/orange juice, for at least 30 minutes.

2. Beat together sugar, eggs and egg yolks until thick and creamy. Fold in flour.

3. Add vanilla to milk and stir, then carefully mix in with flour and eggs.

4. Fold in lemon zest. Allow this to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes . 

5. Prepare the pears by peeling and coring and cut into quarters.

6. Using a shallow ovenproof dish, lay pears in a single layer over the bottom of the dish.

7. Pour the egg mixture over the pears (it will form a nice custard).

8. Drain cranberries and sprinkle them over the top of the custard.

9. Lastly, add a handful of flaked almonds. Oven bake 190º/375, for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly and serve with cream, ice cream, yoghurt or on its own.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Vegetarian Pot Pies

I like a pie in any shape or form, and teemed with countless vegetables and topped with puff pastry, makes my heart sing. Its a beaut (good old Australian word) thing to eat with creamy mashed potato and some steamed broccoli.

Cooking doesn't have to be Masterchef quality every night; too many ingredients, too little food on the plate.  Good, wholesome, flavoursome food which is simply prepared is fine. And I want to be fed; to push my empty plate away and say "delicious", I feel like I have eaten.

Making a few short cuts when you are cooking is OK too. Yes, making your own puff pastry is truly fun, but there are moments when you are so pushed for time that having some ready made in the fridge is a perfectly acceptable option. (Actually, I must admit it's a life saver) So use it and don't feel at all guilty. 

Try these little gems (made with bought puff pastry) and tell me how good they taste.

Recipe makes enough for 8

Vegetables of your choice - this is what I used

1 zucchini diced
2 carrots diced
1 leek chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 shallot (French) chopped
2 small potatoes diced
4 mushrooms diced
handful of baby spinach
handful frozen or fresh corn
600ml stock
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons butter
few sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley
2 tablespoons Creme Fraiche
few sheets defrosted puff pastry

Add olive oil and butter to a large pan. Add leek, garlic and shallot and cook until it starts to soften. 

Add zucchini, carrot, potato, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables start to soft. Keep stirring to avoid burning or sticking to the bottom. Season with salt and pepper, a few sprigs of thyme and parsley and the mushrooms.

Add stock or water with a vegetable stock cube.

As the vegetables soften you can throw in a handful of baby spinach and frozen or fresh sweet corn (or any other vegetables you like). Allow this to just cook together for a few minutes and then check the seasoning. 

Spoon in some creme fraiche and turn off the heat, allowing the mixture to cool.

Place your cooled mixture into ramekins and start preparing your puff pastry.

Cut a circle of pastry large enough to go on top of your ramekins. Now cut out some strips of pastry which will go directly onto the ramekins and act as a collar. You can join pieces if you need to, moistened with a little water.

Using a pastry brush, lightly wet the edges of the pastry collar with water and press down the pastry topping. Give a tweek with thumb and finger to adhere the pastry together. 

Lastly, cut a small V with the point of a sharp knife in the centre of the pastry, to allow steam to escape. You can brush the top with milk if you wish, but usually I don't bother.

Bake in a preheated oven 200/400Fº for 15 - 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep a check on them so the pastry does not burn. Remove when the pastry is golden brown. Happy eating!