Friday, August 27, 2010


I have been baking and cooking up a storm over the past couple of weeks ... the reason?  I was hugely complemented to have been sent a review copy of Catherine Fulvio's Catherine's Italian Kitchen (me! a review copy!  still pinching myself!), and I could not wait to get my teeth into it (so sorry about the pun, couldn't resist!!).

I don't want to sound gushing, but I really like this book.  It is filled with "this is going to the top of my must cook list" recipes, by the end of my first reading there was a myriad of  "post-it" flags fluttering from every corner!  There are the old reliables - Tomato Sauce, Focaccia, Spaghetti Carbonara etc (really excellent versions) and many recipes that are completely new to me - Trapanese Pesto, Pizza Makers' Wives' Steak, Yoghurt Panna Cotta etc. etc. etc!

The book is well produced, lovely pictures - most of which are actually of the food! (with some really atmospheric ones taken in Italy).  The fact that Catherine runs a cookery school shows in the fact that the recipes are clear and (in my experience) fool-proof.  Most importantly the recipes are exciting and make you want to get into the kitchen - I can't think of a higher recommendation for a cook book!

Here are a few of the dishes I've tried:

Spaghetti Neapolitan Style (puttanesca), an oldie but goodie - a tasty  (and easy) version.  My son #2 loved this dish and is planning an attempt at it very soon.

The Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Lemon Dressing.

I used a half leg - there were originally only three of us for dinner, but I ended up bringing the marinaded meat with us to a friends beach house and it stretched to six - all of whom loved it.  An excellent dinner party choice as it is so easy to carve (and is delicious!)

Garlic and Sage Roast Potatoes.

Catherine offers alternative suggestions with most of her recipes (some of which could constitute a whole new recipe!) and I used Charlotte potatoes instead of the more obvious floury ones - yumm!

Potato and Parmesan Gratin

I have to say that I think most cookery books ignore the humble vegetable section - not so here, plenty of options.  This went down really well when I served it to a couple of friends in need of cheering up (the end of the school holidays looming!!)

Pork with Orange Marsala Sauce

I served the Gratin with this pork dish - which is probably my favourite recipe so far.  The sauce was full of flavours which complemented each other to perfection.

Potato and Tomato Bake

Probably the most controversial of the dishes I cooked, my son thought it wasn't nearly as good as the Parmesan gratin, but I though it was fantastic.  It certainly is a wonderful option if you are watching your fat intake - low fat and full of flavour, works for me every time!!

Trapanese Pesto

This is a basil, almond and tomato pesto which tastes great and worked wonderfully on Lemon Sole.  The pesto bubbled beautifully on the fish when it came out of the oven giving it a tasty (though not overpowering) crust.  Here is a link to Catherine making a much better version, although I have to say that I thought my arm would fall off grinding the nuts with the pestle and mortar, and think I'll go for the blender next time I make it!

Sauteed Broccoli

Another winner - there are loads more from this section that I can't wait to try!

Mozzarella and Pancetta Filled Bread

I actually filled mine with some of the Trapanese Pesto, and despite the fact that I still haven't mastered using yeast  (wouldn't it be wonderful if I were given a bread baking course voucher for Christmas!!)  it still tasted good!!

Raspberry Tiramisu

Please forgive the awful picture ... my only excuse is greed, couldn't wait to dig in!!!!

Here is a far more beautiful version and the recipe.

Apple Cake with Olive Oil

Perfect for this time of year, a delicious way to use up all those wind falls!!!!  Excellent taste and texture.

Lemon and Pine Nut Biscotti

This was my first time making Biscotti and I felt that Catherine held my hand through the whole process!!  These were part of J's birthday gift, she seemed really delighted with them!!!  I did hold a few back (!) and they are fantastic, I'll be making these again soon :-}

Well that's it!  I loved this book (can you tell!!!) and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


You know the story, your lovely ripe bananas have been neglected, they develop those black spots and you plan to do something with them and next thing you look and they are black smelly specimens fit only for the bin - well I have to admit I used them and what's more I'm glad I did!!  I'm not sure if it was the fact that the bananas were so sweet or that I used a really fantastic recipe (I'm thinking the latter!) but I made the nicest banana based buns/muffins/cakes/breads I have ever made.

No big surprise when I say that the recipe came from Nigella's "How to be a Domestic Goddess", she really does come up trumps time and time again.  They are her Banana, Cherry and White-Chocolate Cupcakes (I was out of dried cherries and used cranberries, they worked perfectly).

All I can say is that you should hide your bananas where nobody will find them, will them to over-ripeness (or put them in a paper bag with some other fruit) and make these little beauties - they are that good!!

Banana, Cranberry and White Chocolate Buns

125g         butter
200g         caster sugar
1tsp          vanilla
3              very ripe bananas - mashed
4 tbsp       sour cream
2               large eggs
1 tsp         bread (bicarbonate of) soda
1/2 tsp      baking powder
300g        plain flour
40g          dried cranberries, chopped
50g          white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 180 C
Line a muffin tin with paper cases

Melt the butter, remove from the heat and add the sugar, vanilla and mashed bananas.
Stir in the sour cream and the eggs.  Mix well.
Add the bread (bicarbonate of) soda and the baking powder and stir in well.
Stir in the flour, cranberries and chocolate.
Blend being very careful not to over mix.
Divide between the muffin cases.
Bake for about 20 mins until golden and a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.


Monday, August 23, 2010


Niamh has delivered a fantastic range of organic veggies to me all through the summer, every week there has been a new discovery....  What a variety of tomatoes there are and how different they can taste.  What a pleasure it is to cook with kale.  But the discovery that has delighted me most is without doubt .... the greens from beetroot.  Up until the box scheme, I had bought my beetroot at the supermarket, where it comes leafless (probably because the leaves wilt very quickly and it wouldn't have a very long shelf life) - but these leaves are DELICIOUS.

My favourite way to prepare them is to saute them.  I heat olive oil and a small knob of butter in my wok, add some fresh garlic and fry for a few moments then I add the stalks and saute them for about three minutes and then add the leaves and just toss them in the pan until they have wilted.  Vegetable perfection!!!!

I have also added the younger, more tender leaves to salad which was gorgeous, but really you should get your hands on some and just give them a toss in your pan and enjoy!!

Friday, August 20, 2010


A good friend is heading off across the water (to Canada) and a good-bye party was in order, but instead of the usual boozy restaurant meal (where you don't get the chance to talk to half of the people there, and I'm always the one who isn't boozing!)  A. threw a wonderful afternoon tea .... how civilised!! (I felt I ought to be sticking my pinkie out as I drank my coffee!)

We drank tea and coffee from a beautiful china tea service, ate our (fantastic) goodies with elegant pastry forks, chose same goodies from delightful tiered cake stands .... The Ritz how are you!!! this is how we should be living!

I love an opportunity to bake something that wouldn't necessarily go down well with the chocolate loving lads here (!) and as both the party girl and I are ginger fiends (and I'm on a "trying to be less unhealthy" kick) I decided to bring along a Stem Ginger Syrup Cake from Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache - good decision.  It went down really well (unless people were being extra polite!!) and I have to say that it was excellent, no harshness at all from the ginger and a light yet moist texture.  I can recommend this cake for any ginger lovers in your life!

Stem Ginger Syrup Cake

3            medium eggs
120g      sugar
250g      finely grated butternut squash
30g       fresh ginger, finely grated (microplane is invaluable here)
150g     rice (or plain) flour
100g     ground almonds
1 tsp     ground ginger (or 2 tsp if you don't have any fresh)
2 tsp     baking powder
1/4 tsp  salt
4 tbsp   stem ginger syrup
100g     stem ginger, chopped up into tiny pieces.

Prepare a 23cm baking tin
Preheat oven to 180 C

Whisk the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Add the grated butternut squash and raw ginger.
Stir in the flour, almonds, ground ginger, baking powder and salt until well incorporated.
Fold in the stem ginger and syrup, getting the pieces evenly distributed.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 - 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in tin for 10 minutes.
Then cool on a wire rack, bottom side down (to prevent lines on the top of the cake)

Ginger Syrup Topping

70g             sieved icing sugar
1 1/2 tbsp   stem ginger syrup
1 tbsp         water

Harry's recipe calls for more sugar and syrup, but this would be just too sickly sweet for me.

Stir the syrup into the sugar and then add enough water to get the consistency you like.

Pour the syrup over the ginger cake while still warm.


Friday, August 13, 2010


Our rosemary plant is running amok, so I decided to use up some on dinner (talk about a drop in the ocean!!).  I had forgotten about using rosemary skewers when baking fish, until K. served it to us recently.  It is a fantastic way to infuse a subtle flavour into the fish, looks great and is really easy to prepare in advance.

I used monkfish and cherry tomatoes with the skewers - monkfish is a wonderful choice for this dish as it is more robust then most other white fish (cod, haddock, hake etc.) but still has the delicate flavour that works so well.  That said I would imagine that prawns or salmon would also be wonderful treated in this way.

I used a picture of the uncooked fish to give a better idea what size to cut the pieces.  Other than that there is no recipe necessary.  You just use one skewer per person, and thread them with alternate pieces of fish and tomatoes.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice, bung in the oven for about 15/20 minutes (I imagine it would be very good cooked on the barbie too) and serve.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I read recently that the price of poppy seeds has raised incredibly because of the war in Afghanistan - does that mean that the poppy seeds we eat come from the opium poppys????????

Well I can promise that these muffins had no unexpected effects on us (welcome or not!!!) .... but they did taste wonderful and light, not too sweet and just the right amount of fruit ... these are keepers.

Another appearance of veggies instead of fat, and yet again no compromise on flavour, thank you Ms Eastwood!

Peach and Poppy Seed Muffins

2           medium eggs
120g     caster sugar
200g     finely grated sweet potato
100g     rice flour
100g     ground almonds
1 tbsp   poppy seeds
2 tsp     baking powder
1/2 tsp  bread (bicarbonate of) soda
1/4 tsp  salt
3          small peaches cut into 1/2 cm cubes

Preheat oven to 180 C
Line muffin tray with 12 paper cases

Whisk the sugar and eggs for 5 minutes until really light and fluffy.
Stir in the sweet potato, flour, almonds, poppy seeds, baking powder, bread (bicarb) soda and salt, until just about incorporated.
Fold in the peach pieces - do not over mix.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack.


Monday, August 9, 2010


You might not believe it from reading this blog, but I would have a savoury rather than sweet tooth.  I am far more likely to blow a diet on a packet of (salt and vinegar) crisps rather than a chocolate bar!

These scones won't blow any diets (other than Atkins!) - unless you serve them with lashings (Enid Blyton how are you!!) of cream cheese!!!  They are light and have a perfect texture, they would be wonderful served with soup or salad.  I really enjoyed them with a (tiny!) knob of butter and a cup of coffee.

They (predictably) come from Harry Eastwood's book, although I have changed the recipe to suit: what was available (Parmesan for Pecorino), taste (son # 1 doesn't like chives) and diet (walnuts were unnecessary calories!) and this is how they ended up:

Parmesan Scones

250g            spelt flour
40g              grated Parmesan
2 tsp            baking powder
1/2 tsp         bread (bicarb) soda
1/4 tsp         ground pepper
1 tbsp          honey
220g           finely grated courgettes
1 tbsp         milk

Preheat oven to 200 C
Line a baking tray with baking paper

Put flour, cheese, baking powder, bread (bicarb) soda and pepper into the food processor and mix.
Add the courgettes and honey and pulse until almost fully combined.
Run a knife around the edge and pulse to form a dough.
Remove to a floured surface and roll out to 4 cm thickness.
Using a cutter (or glass) cut out your scones, be sure to press down and not twist.
Place on the baking sheet and lightly brush with some milk.
Bake in the top of the oven for 15 -20 minutes (until golden and well risen)
Fantastic served while still warm.

Waaaaaay better than a packet of crisps!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I have hit the 100 post mark, and I want to take this opportunity to say "Thank You, Thank You, Thank You" for reading (and commenting on) all my efforts (bad and good!!) - I really appreciate your time and positivity.

For this momentous (!) occasion I have baked (well decided to blog about) two chocolate cakes.  The one above is from (no prizes for guessing) Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache:  Pistachio Hazelnut Chocolate Cake - I made this cake to bring to Son #2 at Irish College - but they weren't allowed food in the rooms, so it double jobbed as Mr BVG's birthday cake (waste not want not!!!!!!)  I changed quite a bit with the method on this cake and it came out very well despite my messing!  Moist with an almost Nutella-ish hit - this was an excellent cake and the icing was worth breaking the rules for, a really luxurious chocolate hit.

Hazelnut Chocolate Cake

100g         Hazelnuts - finely ground in food processor.
3               medium eggs
180g         light Muscovado sugar
300g         very finely grated courgette
120g         rice flour
60g           cocoa powder
2 tsp         baking powder
1/4 tsp      salt

Preheat oven to 180 C
Prepare brownie tin (20x20cm) with baking paper*

Whisk the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Grate the courgette and blitz the hazelnuts (you can add 1 tbsp of the rice flour if they clump)
Add the courgettes to the egg mixture, combine well.
Now add the ground hazelnuts, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and combine carefully and thoroughly.
Pour into the prepared tin.
Bake for approx. 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Icing

50g        butter, cubed and cold
50g        icing sugar, sieved
1 tbsp    boiling water
25g       cocoa powder

Whisk the butter until pale and softened.
Add the icing sugar and water - whisk until it becomes a paste.
Whisk for as long as you can stand!!! The longer you whisk it lighter the icing will be.

When the cake is completely cold spread liberally with the icing.


*Originally Harry calls for two sandwich tins, I prefer a thicker sponge (it also means you use less icing... clever or what?!!)

I have been saving this cake for my 100th post, I think I just might be in love ..... it is right up there with Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake and her Malteser Cake, it is everything you want in a chocolate cake - dense, decadent, delicious - this cake is the business!!

I apologise for the photo - not exactly inspiring, but the original over on Judy's blog gives a much better idea of the dizzy taste heights this cake reaches.  I brought this cake to K's house (where we had a fantastic dinner - I have begged recipes and will blog about them soon).  The cake was the perfect end to such a wonderful meal - K served it with whipped cream and strawberries (yummmmm) - then we headed off to dance the night away at Mamma Mia, nights don't get much better than that one!

I am selling this cake on taste alone, but there is another wonderful aspect to it .... it uses kidney beans instead of flour (yes you did read that correctly!!!!) - this might freak you out and put you off trying it, but please give it a go anyway, it's gluten free, high fibre and fantastic!!

Judy serves the cake with a White Chocolate Mousse which I also did the first time I made it (and it is delicious - a good one to have in your repertoire) but I actually think the plain whipped cream is even better as it allows the cake to shine.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
originally from Eating Well, Living Thin

1           can kidney beans (410g)
1 tbsp    strong coffee (made up not coffee powder)
1 tsp      vanilla extract
70g        cocoa powder
1 tsp      baking powder
1/2 tsp   bread (bicarbonate of) soda
1/4 tsp   salt
100g      softened butter
250g      sugar
5            eggs

Preheat oven to 170 C
Prepare a 9"/10" round cake tin with butter/baking paper

Puree the beans, coffee, vanilla and two eggs until smooth. (I used a stick blender) Set aside.
Sieve the cocoa, baking powder, bread (bicarbonate of) soda, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, beat in the eggs one at a time until light and fluffy.
Beat in the bean mixture, until combined.
Finally beat in the cocoa mixture until very smooth.
Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35 - 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

I have changed Judy's method slightly - it's what worked for me.

I really hope you enjoy this cake - I think it's really special.

Here's to the next 100!