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Beth’s Pizza

This is the post I never thought I would write. Frozen pizza from the supermarket freezer cabinet leaves me cold.  I haven’t found one that I would buy a second time. However this homemade one with its beautifully light crispy base is in an entirely different category.

One evening over the Christmas season we were invited to our cousin Derek and Beth’s house, and Beth fed us this wonderful pizza for supper, and she very kindly gave me the recipe for the base.

Pizza Base

3 and a half cups of plain flour (I used strong white flour as I had some to hand)

1 and a half cups of warm water

1 teasp salt

2 teasp sugar

2 tbls olive oil

7 grams of dried yeast.

Put warm water, sugar, salt, and yeast in a bowl and leave for half an hour. Then add flour and olive oil, mix to a dough and knead for a few minutes and leave to rise in a warm place.  Then divide into four and use for your pizza base.

I froze one piece and it rolled out perfectly when thawed. Another I rolled out and froze it on and enamel plate, this too was fine.

You can add whatever topping you choose.  As I was feeding a couple of vegetarians I made a veggie pizza, with homemade tomato sauce, sliced red pepper and sliced courgette.  This I topped with a mixture of grated cheddar and parmesan cheese. Bake on a pizza tin for 15 mins in a pre heated oven 200 degrees. Enjoy,with a bit of salad it was ace.

Just to add, Beth had topped hers with ham, pineapple, and cheese and it too was yum.

Marmalade

Its January, we are past Christmas and waiting for spring, that small small stretch in the evenings that we so eagerly await.  At this time of year I always feel a bit nostalgic, maybe it is that stretch in the evenings and the changing light that contribute to this feeling.

Its the time of year when the Seville oranges come into the shops for a short few weeks.  Those wonderful orange globes that are so fragrant and brighten up the dark days.  I am transported back to my youth.  My secondary schooldays were  spent as a day girl in a convent school in the midlands.  Every year the nuns would make for themselves a supply of marmalade and the smell of boiling citrus fruit and sugar would permeate the air, I loved that smell.  In school I studied Home Economics for five years and it confirmed my love of cooking along with teaching me lots of basic stuff .

Marmalade is the one preserve that I eat more than any other, with homemade brown bread it is for me the perfect breakfast.  It is hard to buy a good one and certainly one that comes anywhere near the quality and taste of the homemade variety. We eat quite a lot of marmalade and sometimes we run out of the homemade variety. (William likes to eat it with a teaspoon from the jar)!  So I do buy the shop bought variety, but I am selective in the brand I buy.

In November just gone two significant events happened.  On the 7th our beautiful grandson was born to Lucy and AC and then on the 8th it was my 60th birthday, it was a very happy time.  (Well the birth of Lucy’s baby was)!!  Where is all this leading?  One of my birthday presents was a Magimix machine and yesterday I used it for my latest batch of marmalade and it truly is magic.  I used the narrower of the slicer blades and it sliced the orange peel to perfection.

Marmalade

3 lbs of Seville oranges

1 lemon

6 pts of water

6 lbs of sugar.

Method

Wash the fruit, then cut in half, remove the pips and juice the fruit.  Keep the pips to be boiled in a jelly bag with the fruit and water. I then cut the peel in quarters before slicing with the narrower blade of the Magimix.

Put the fruit pulp the juice and the pips tied in a jelly bag along with the water in a preserving pan.  Bring to the boil and boil gently for two hours (approx).   The peel should be really soft and the liquid reduced.

Add the sugar, bring back to the boil and cook for about half and hour.  Test for a set by putting a small amount in the freezer for 5 mins, if it gets a wrinkly skin it is ready for potting.  Leave for 10-15mins before potting and labeling in sterilised jars.  Store in a cool place and enjoy.

The oranges can also be frozen for use at a later date.

Spicy Meatballs

What a wonderful summer we had here on the farm. The weather was fantastic, farmers all got a great chance to get the work done, and most importantly, our family all came to visit from Australia HC and CQ arrived from Sydney with CF (who is four)and CD (who is two). CC also came all the way from Melbourne. The children settled in really quickly and thoroughly enjoyed their farming experience, needless to say Granny and Grandad were enthralled by their company. As the meat for the meatballs comes from our farm reared beef my first picture has to be CF and CD wearing their overalls and doing the herding with CC.

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As you can see from the picture they took their herding duties very seriously!
Every year or so I am asked “would I have room in the freezer for a small heifer”? My local butcher kills, hangs, and cuts up the meat for me, the last couple of times he has also blast freezed it which is really handy as it eliminates all that turning of the meat to get it frozen. Minced beef has so many uses that I get a lot of the lesser choice cuts minced, so I have lots for all kinds of recipes.

Spicy Meatballs.

900 grms of mince beef,  1 egg, 1 finely chopped red onion,

1 teasp grainy mustard,  1 teasp chopped parsley (or use dried mixed herbs)

salt and ground black pepper, 1 teasp ground cumin (opt)

Sauce Ingredients

Half a glass of red wine, (use to deglaze the pan)

1 carton of passata (400

1 red chili,deseeded and finely chopped,  half teasp sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Mix the ingredientsfor the meat balls together really well, then using wet hands shape into balls roughly the size of a golf ball, I flatten them slightly before frying, so my meatballs look more like flying saucers!  I find this shape handier for frying.  Fry on a hot pan until browned on both sides.  When all the meat is fried, deglaze the pan with some wine, or just water if you prefer and put the deglazed liquid into a casserole dish (I use a Le Cruset pot) and add the carton of passata then bring to boiling point and add the sugar, the chopped chili, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Add in the meatballs and cook gently for 45 minutes, oven temp 150 degrees or on top of the stove if that suits you.  Serve with mashed potatoes, pasta or rice.  Its very tasty and re-heats beautifully.

Gooseberry Jam

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A few evenings ago I braved the gooseberry bushes in the blistering heat that is July 2013.  They are such thorny things that I really do not enjoy picking them, but as my jam supplies are getting low I decided that some gooseberry jam would help to replenish my stocks. Of course after picking they needed to be topped and tailed.

Gooseberry Jam

4.5 lbs of gooseberries,    rind and juice of 2 oranges

6 lbs of sugar,   1.75 pts of liquid (including the juice of the two oranges and water)

Zest the orange rind and put in the preserving pan along with the gooseberries and the liquid.  Bring to boil and cook for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft.  Add the sugar stir well until dissolved and bring back to boiling point.  Boil for about 15 mins until it gets a nice red colour.  Put a little of the jam on a small dish in your fridge for a few minutes and if it gets a skin it is ready.  Pot and seal in the usual way, I wash the jars and sterilize them by putting them into the oven at 150 degrees for about 10 minutes, be careful removing them as they can be very hot.

The jam is lovely, the orange gives a tangy flavour.  On eating some this evening I was immediately transported back to my childhood, the taste evoked memories of eating fresh jam made my late mother.  Back then we loved it on batch loaf, now I choose a multi-seeded loaf and somehow convince myself it is healthier!  Even though we are in the midst of a heatwave I am dreaming of  the darker days of winter, and as to how I might enjoy my jam then, scones, pancakes? the list is vast.

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

My love of all things chocolate and coffee began many years ago.  When I was in secondary school my class went on a day trip to Dublin where we visited various educational places.  One of my memories of that day is of having a cup of coffee (most probably instant), and a club milk biscuit, well I decided I loved the combination of coffee and chocolate, and not much has changed since.

This is a lovely recipe and it can be varied in that instead of the cherries or marshmallows you could add sultanas or raisins or nuts. To make it extra special (for adults) the fruit could be steeped for awhile in a couple of tablespoons of whiskey.

To make the biscuit cake.

12 ozs/340g of dark chocolate                 4 ozs/110g of butter

1 tub cherries (chopped)                             1 can condensed milk

10 ozs/275g digestive biscuits (crushed) 10 marshmallows

1 loaf tin lined with cling film. Cut the marshmallows into five or six pieces, I find a kitchen scissors dipped in cold water very good for this, as the water stops the marshmallows from sticking.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Leave to cool a bit and then stir in the condensed milk the cherries and the marshmallows.  Put the mixture into the loaf tin and press down leave in the fridge to set and then slice and serve.

IMG_0623Enjoy with a cup of coffee, and if the weather permits find a nice place to sit in the sun and relax. Happy cooking!  This picture was taken during the beautiful summer weather we had last week, this week is a different story!

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Trip to Verona

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The plans for the trip began about three months ago and was planned for mid April.  Lucy booked the flights and the accomodation, however when the time came Lucy was unable to travel.  This left me looking for a new travelling companion.  I was delighted my sister-in-law (who herself had to cancel a planned trip to Verona a few years previous) agreed to accompany me.

A six o clock start on the Saturday morning saw me on the road to Portlaoise to meet my sister-in-law (VB) and from there we travelled by bus to Dublin airport.  Our flight was delayed a small bit, so we enjoyed a cup of tea and a scone while waiting. Then a nice smooth two hour flight to Verona.  The first thing we noticed on arrival was the lovely warm weather, it was such a tonic after the extremely cold conditions we had endured here during March and the first half of April. We had our instructions to get a bus to the city and then another bus to bring us to our accomodation.  We managed very well as neither of us are seasoned travellers!

Into the city centre and it took us a little while of asking a few people to find our B & B.  However when we did we were checked in by a very helpful gentleman (Demenza?) who explained everything we needed to know and told us lots about the city too. The B & B wasent remotely like an Irish B & B, it was in essence an apartment containing four separate bedrooms with a communal kitchen where we helped ourselves to breakfast, (and cups of tea whenever we felt the need of one) We were up on the third floor and the lift was so quaint that my first picture has to be of it!

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It was really small, definitely not baby buggy friendly, it barely fitted the two of us and our luggage, which was one case each.  There were two sets of doors to be closed, you would not want to be claustrophobic, quaint is the word, but to us it added to the charm of the place.  After settling in we decided to take a walk and explore the city.  In the late evening we were just gobsmacked by the beauty of the place. We found ourselves in Piazza Bra and the evening sun on the buildings was just stunning

IMG_0479That evening we had dinner quite near the B & B, we enjoyed a very tasty lasagne for VB  and a risotto for me and then we decided to retire for the night, it had been a long day.
IMG_0477Next morning after helping ourselves to an ample breakfast from the kitchen, (we had a choice of fruit juice, yoghurt, cheese, ham, salami, along with cereal, toast and tea or coffee).  So we set out on our first morning full and happy.  We were once again blessed with beautiful sunshine and we headed down to Piazza Bra to start our sightseeing.

To begin we took a trip on a tourist bus (sort of kiddie if the truth be known, sure we were like a couple of re-cycled kids). The bus brought us round the main attractions of the city, and would give us a sense of our location, we hoped!

IMG_0489After the bus ride we settled on the Roman Arena for our next port of call, it is the third largest in Italy, and holds up to 25000 spectators.  We were able to purchase a two day Verona ticket costing €15 each which gave us entry into most of the attractions for two days. The arena was amazing with its corridors and different levels and then out unto the seating area and up to the top of the wall!  They were preparing the arena for a performance, so some parts were closed for that purpose, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and we sat for awhile in the seats and chatted in the sunshine.

IMG_0514IMG_0505By now we were ready for lunch and we found a place selling salad rolls on the corner of Piazza Bra, along with lunch we fancied a coffee, on asking for a “latte” we were duly handed two glasses of warm milk!!  After a little bit of explanation (and a few giggles from us), the waitress added two expressos to the milk and we had our coffees.

Fortified by our rolls and coffee we picked the 14th century Castelvecchio as our next place to visit. After a small mistake, with our map reading, and with the help of some kind locals, we found the castle.  Which as it turned out was really close to where we had lunch, we both decided the map was very misleading!  The castle and museum had a lot of religious art and archeological finds and after a bit we began to feel a bit goggle eyed, nevertheless we enjoyed our visit. On the bridge which spanned the river  there was a market with stalls selling everything from food products, to jewellery, pottery, etc. etc., so we spent some time perusing. At the entrance we saw this gentleman who was sharpening knives using a pedal knife sharpener.
IMG_0528After our afternoon in Castelvecchio we were ready for an ice-cream, our friendly “latte” waitress was only a stones throw away so we headed back there for some yummy Italian ice-cream.  Then we headed back to our B & B for a small rest and a freshen up.

That evening we headed down Piazza Bra in search of somewhere to eat.  The street front has many places to eat, but we headed down a side street and found a place where the locals eat, I think we may have been the only tourists there.  We had some real Italian piazza and of course some local wine to wash it down, after which we headed back, had a cup of tea and more chat and settled down for the night.

Next morning after breakfast we decided to venture a bit further afield, cross the river via the old stone Ponta Pietra bridge visit the Roman Theatre and Archeological museum and find the Giusti Gardens.  First we wanted to visit the Lamberti Tower and view the city from the top. We passed the main shopping area (some very expensive looking shops), but we kept focused on our sightseeing. The tower is 84 metres, and luckily has a lift to bring you up, however even with the lift there is a climb at the end, but it was so worth it.  The bells ring on the hour and half hour and at the bottom a gentleman advised us to wait until after they had rung, as they are very loud.

IMG_0539This picture was taken at the top, and we were indeed still there for the next ringing of the bells which took us by surprise even though we knew they would be ringing! The view of the city and the surrounding countryside was just awesome.  After visiting the tower we were ready for lunch before heading over the bridge. We found a nice cafe and had a toasted sandwich.

Just over the bridge we found the Roman Theatre, the museum is housed in the former Convent of St Jerome, where the brothers devoted their lives to producing medicine and caring for the ill.  It was quiet, not many tourists, but well worth a visit and we enjoyed exploring it in the warm sunshine.

IMG_0547Then it was on to find the Giusti Gardens, we had our map, but we came on the entrance unexpectedly, (map mistake again!!)  However they were well worth the effort to find them, and we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours there.  The gardens were built by the Giusti family and contains a wonderful cypress tree avenue. At the highest point there is a wonderful view of the city.

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We had almost seen all our planned sights, one however remained.  It was Juliet’s house and we had a little difficultly finding it, and had to ask directions, (a couple of times!)  It is close to Piazza Erbe and so worth a visit.  We spent a while exploring, and there was lots to see, with the different rooms furnished as they would have been.   The picture is of Juliet’s balcony, needless to say it is a very popular destination with young (or not so young) couples.

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Later that evening we went back to our favourite restaurant for dinner and also to sit and observe the local Italians.  We much admired their style.

Next morning (our last day) we packed up and checked out after breakfast. We were able to leave our bags as our flight was not until the afternoon.  We headed back to Piazza Erbe for a last minute spot of shopping.  While there we just could not leave without sampling the local tipple, in the beautiful sunshine.

IMG_0565Later that afternoon we said our goodbyes to Verona and had a very nice flight back to Dublin, curtesy of Aer Lingus.  Its a fab place for a break and a big thank-you to VB for accompanying me.

Boiled Fruit Cake

Boiled fruit cake, is far too plain a name for this cake, because it is truly delicious, and a slice of it after dinner is a real treat.

The recipe is from one of my cookbooks, and I have made it just as the recipe states on several occasions, and even brought it as a gift on family visits.  This week however I made a new delicious addition to it.  I found in my fridge a ball of marzipan that had been leftover from the Christmas baking.  It tasted fine, just a bit hard on the outside.  So I came up with the idea of chopping it into pieces and adding it to my boiled fruit cake. I don’t know what weight of marzipan I had but it was a bit smaller than a tennis ball.

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Boiled Fruit Cake (with marzipan pieces)

125 grms butter          125 grms demerara sugar

200 grms raisins (or sultanas)

150 grms dried apricots chopped to about six pieces

150 grms dried figs chopped (the fruits are interchangeable)

1 tablespoon of golden syrup

125 mls of milk           125 mls of water

Put all these ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins.

Leave to cool for 20 mins then add 250 grms of self raising flour and 2 eggs (beaten)  Stir together until well mixed, add in the chopped marzipan, (optional) the cake will still be lovely if you have not got any.

Put into an eight inch round tin, which you have lined with parchment or greaseproof paper, or use a cake tin liner.

Bake at 150 degrees for one hour and then test, leave for 5 – 10 mins longer if not cooked through.  Leave in the tin for 15 mins and then cool on a cake rack.

Leave for one or two days and then eat and enjoy!

Mutilated cake

Mutilated cake

Spiced Fruit Salad

This is a lovely recipe for January, light and refreshing after all the rich puddings and cake of the Christmas season.

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It is made with a simple selection of fruit, which most people would have sitting at home in their fruit bowl. My advice is to use whatever  fruit you like and have to hand. Interest and flavour is added by the addition of chopped chrystalised ginger, I also used some dried cranberries which had been dusted with cinnamon.  These I found on a shopping trip to Lidl.

Ingredients.

2 apples (skins left on and diced into small pieces)

2 small oranges (peeled and chopped)

2 pears (peeled and diced into small pieces)

1 banana (added just before serving)

juice of half a lemon

roughly 6 pieces of chrystalised ginger (chopped into smaller pieces)

2 tbsp dried cranberries (optional or use dried fruit of your choice)

2 tbsp sugar dissolved and brought to boil in half mug of water.

Prepare the fruit, ginger etc. and mix together in a bowl, add the sugar syrup and leave to develop the flavours.

I have on occasion added a couple of tablespoons of toasted flaked almonds, they add a nice crunch. The fruit salad is lovely served with a blob of greek yoghurt.

Today I found the first snowdrops, to me they are the first sign of spring and I love them.  They are just peeping up and and there is plenty of evidence of the heavy rain we had last night.

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Williams birthday

Hello again, one of my new year resolutions is to blog on a regular basis, its been too long since my last one, but I have been busy!
Christmas has come and gone and we are heading into a new year. One of the highlights of the Christmas season in our house was that William had a significant birthday. 60 to be exact and looking good on it! At Lucy’s suggestion (and with the nod from the man himself) we decided to have a gathering of family and friends to celebrate, the plans took a month (at least) to formulate. The invites were issued and the party took place on the Saturday after Christmas. We celebrated  a very nice Christmas in the company of Lucy and her husband (AC) along with William’s sister and her family, and then we began the party preparations in earnest.  Chairs and tables were arranged, plates, glasses, and cutlery were taken out and got ready, it was “all hands on deck”  We had already decided on serving a buffet with cold meats and salads, and deserts, and of course birthday cake. Family members had kindly offered to bring a salad or desert and we gratefully accepted.
We cooked a lovely ham, a roast of beef, and some chicken fillets (which were cooked in white wine a la Edward Hayden). Our salad selection included, potato, coleslaw, red cabbage (a speciality of my sister), pasta, pear and blue cheese and more! They were all much enjoyed by our 60 guests.
The desert selection included, different types of cheesecake, eclairs. chocolate mousse, banoffi pie, fruit salad and more. Birthday cake was Carrot Cake which is Williams favourite cake and as I am not whizz at the icing, I reasoned that at least the cake would be one he would really enjoy.
A little story about my carrot cake before I give the recipe. Its a recipe brought from Vancouver when my sister in law lived there in the late eighties, and has been a family favourite since. It’s also a favourite with my son (HC) and daughter in law (CQ), they live in Sydney and are parents to our two beautiful grandchildren (CF) who is three and his little sister (CD) who is one and a half. As you can see the “C`” initial is popular in our family. It was more than a little sadness that they were not able to be with us for the celebrations, along with CC who is living in Melbourne, but I hold each of them in my heart. The candles for the cake and the balloons were sent by CC, as I write the balloons are still up!

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CQ has requested the carrot cake recipe so along with it being the birthday cake, this recipe is for her.  The measurements for this cake is in cups I used a regular sized mug throughout.
Carrot Cake

Ingredients

1 cup sugar      1 cup sunflower oil

4 eggs                1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/3 tsp bread soda   1 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon   2 cups grated carrot

1 cup grated apple   1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Method

Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together until slightly thickened. Fold in the sifted flour and bread soda along with the cinnamon and then carefully add the carrot, apple, raisins and walnuts. (Or if you wish you can omit the walnuts).

Put into a 23cm square tin, which has been lined with parchment paper and bake for 40-45 mins at 160 degrees. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and then turn out unto a wire rack to cool fully.

Icing

70 grms cream cheese

200 grms icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp lemon juice.

Beat the ingredients together until soft and use to ice the cake.

Eat and enjoy!

The finished birthday cake with the candles sent by CC from Melbourne.
IMG_0371The party was a great success, with chat and laughter, and friends and relations renewing acquaintances and catching up on each others lives.  Lucy and I were happy with the way it all went off and from me a “big thank you”to her.

To finish I am including a picture of William (taken when he was little) with his mother and sisters on a rare visit to “town”. Note the sack of produce outside the shop, another era!

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