A sign that you’re getting older is the sheer impossibility of organising a get together with your friends. Weekends suddenly become jam packed with familial duties and weeknights are usually spent in a crumpled heap on the sofa, half-consciously scrolling through a screen. My friend John and I had been planning an evening of baking for the last three months (taking the biscuit just a little #bestpunever) and we don’t even have children to blame it on! Luckily we finally got our act together and locked in Monday for our reunion which was to be spent in the kitchen making delicious banana bread.
And man, oh man was it yummy. We managed to turn my little galley kitchen in to a pop-up boulangerie with flour whirling and the smell of cinnamon hanging in the air. I acted as sous chef which involved handing over ingredients when needed and giving things the odd stir (so professional). Watching John in action was such a treat because as a recent financial administrator-turned-baker-extraordinaire, he has such a passion for baking and clearly loves what he does. It’s such a brave move to change careers like he has and he’s now baking for the most popular restaurants in Belfast – a move that paid off!
So many crinkles, maybe it’s time I bought an iron?
After tasting the bread I begged John to let me share the recipe. It is so moreish and although I had his help, it is definitely not difficult for a beginner baker. The hardest part is having the patience to wait for it to bake! He has also passed on a few insider tricks which makes it very easy to get right the first time. The smell alone is pure heaven – the combination of cinnamon and ginger filled our house for hours! As we tucked in to our slice, steam still emanating from the loaf, I realised that maybe the best get-togethers are worth the wait. Especially when they involve delicious food.
Yes he can bake and yes he is single 😉
I’ve included the recipe below for you to enjoy but if you have any questions or suggestions of your own please feel free to comment! Happy baking!
John’s Banana Bread Bonanza
- 250g plain flour
- 150g light brown sugar
- 150g dark brown sugar
- 4 x soft bananas (the browner the better before they get to complete mush!)
- 3 x medium eggs
- 50ml buttermilk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 x 900g loaf tin
- 1 x stand mixer
- 1 x mixing bowl
- Baking sheets
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Using the stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together
- Add in soft bananas and beat for 40 seconds on a medium speed
- Take off the mixer and sieve in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, bicarbonate soda and salt. Gently fold in ingredients using a spatula.
- Add buttermilk and mix in with spatula until fully incorporated
- Grease the loaf tin with butter and line with a baking sheet
- Pour the mixture in to the tin
- Place in preheated oven for 5-10 mins and then turn the heat down to 170C and cook for another 25 minutes
- Test the mixture with a skewer and once it comes out clean the bread is done
- Enjoy with a big mug of tea!
It’s a bouncing baby banana bread!
Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.
We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!
I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!
You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.
I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!
Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta
Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are!
What You’ll Need:
- 2 x chicken breasts, diced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 2 tbsp double cream
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
- Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
- Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
- Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
- Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
- Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
- When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
- Serve with crusty bread
I’ve made no secret of my love of St. George’s Market and after the loveliest trip on Saturday, I won’t be climbing down off my soapbox anytime soon. It’s the one place that is sure to pick me up on these ceaseless grey winter weekends when straying too far from the house is out of the question.
I dragged Andrew for a mooch around the stalls after lunch when I knew the crowds would have quietened down and he wouldn’t have to stress about pushing past a load of tourists hovering over loaves of soda bread. As I drooled past the display of cheese and chutneys, I made a bee line for the vegetable stands (I have eaten a lifetime of smoked cheddar over the holidays) where I knew I would be in safer hands.
I love buying my vegetables from the markets when I’m able to. Getting to meet the seller and have a conversation with them is such a rarity these days and I take real pleasure in getting to meet local business people. I picked up sweet potato, a massive bunch of fresh dill, onion, a load of asparagus and when I didn’t have enough change to cover it all, I was shooed away with a flick of a hand. That’s Belfast all over.
After I picked up my veggies I splurged on some salmon and had to restrain myself from buying a kilo of mussels and scallops. Fresh seafood is such a luxury for me and this year I am trying to introduce a little more in to my weekly cooking to try and inspire some new techniques. I can rely on the same dishes to carry me through sometimes (oh hey cottage pie) so a little shake up can only be a good thing.
Last night I unveiled the beauty and roasted the fish in foil slathered with a delicious marinade. It was extremely quick and easy that I’m even thinking of going completely wild and making fish cakes from scratch later in the week. With fresh breadcrumbs! Too much?
I’ve included the ridiculously simple recipe below in case you feel like trying something other than a stew/casserole/pie – unless you’re a much more accomplished chef than me and a recipe like this is laughable! Above all else if it encourages you to take a trip to your local markets or even just to the fishmongers down the road to have a chinwag about anything other than Brexit (fishmongers are quite passionate about EU quotas I feel so keep it light) then this would make me silly happy.
Happy Tuesday y’all!
Roasted Fresh Salmon & Veggies
- 600g fresh salmon fillet
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 150ml melted butter
- 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill
- Cherry tomatoes on the vine
- 1 large sweet potato
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- 10 asparagus stalks
- Cut the sweet potato in to chunks roughly an inch thick and drizzle with olive oil in a baking tray before sprinkling with cinnamon.
- Place in an oven heated to 200 C and leave for 40 minutes, shaking after 20 minutes.
- Mix the butter, sugar, lemon juice, dried herbs and salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Lay the salmon in foil in a baking tray and pour the mixture over the salmon.
- Wrap the salmon up and place the cherry tomatoes beside the salmon in the tray. Drizzle with the tomatoes with oil and season with a little salt. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
- About 5 minutes before everything is ready boil the asparagus until just firm.
- Stuff your face.
Sadly the rain feels like it’s here to stay for a while and the summer is slipping through our fingers. The only solace I can find is that I’ll be escaping the constant drizzle for a week next Tuesday when we fly off to Croatia (yay!) but in the mean time I have found myself reaching for a cosy jumper in the evenings and craving some warm soup in my belly to heat me up.
Andrew and I like to make a big batch of soup in weather like this and freeze it so we have our lunches ready for our working week. It means we save a bit of cash and we don’t have to worry every morning about what we’re going to have but it can get a little repetitive which means it has to be extra delicious! This week I wanted something super tasty with a bit of a kick using fresh seasonal ingredients. I found this recipe on the Deliciously Ella site (her website is fantastic if you fancy something yummy but really healthy) and thought it was the perfect excuse to use some of the ripe tomatoes I had in the fridge.
The recipe is incredibly simple and quick; it only took me about 45 minutes to prepare, cook and blend. The website says it makes 3 servings although I would say it’s 2, I like my portions big! I tripled the ingredients so we had plenty to keep us going through the long wet week.
I hope you all are staying dry and warm and have something sunny planned for the near future to keep you going. I’m optimistic we might see a little more sunshine – I’m not prepared to welcome the autumn anytime soon!!
Have a lovely week x
Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Soup
– 24 plum tomatoes
– 9 red peppers
– 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves
– 2 handfuls of fresh rosemary
– 15 bay leaves
– 2 tbsp. dried thyme
– a 1/2 to 1 of a cup of water (I like mine thick so I used about a 1/2)
– 8 dessert spoons of apple cider vinegar (use lime if you don’t have this)
– 8 dessert spoons of tomato puree
– olive oil
– salt and pepper to taste
- Slice the red peppers into eighths, removing the centre. Then chop the tomatoes into four or five slices. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan or baking tray in olive oil and place the tomatoes, peppers with the basil leaves, fresh rosemary, dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and a drizzle more olive oil on top. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes.
- Once the vegetables have finished roasting put them into a liquidizer with the apple cider vinegar, tomato puree, salt & pepper, be careful not to add the bay leaves or rosemary sticks though. As the soup blends, slowly add in the water until you reach your desired consistency. Once you have reached this pour the soup straight into bowls and serve (or containers for the freezer).
You would be hard pushed to find a granny in Ireland that can’t make the most delicious stews or a knit a onesie in one sitting. I don’t know if you these skills or bestowed upon you once you reach the age of 60 or that they’re skills that just aren’t that cool anymore but I do know that all grannies have a signature dish which they are famous in the family for. For my granny it’s definitely her chicken soup, known to have cured many colds, flues or just for times when us grandchildren ‘weren’t at ourselves’. For Andrew’s granny it would probably be her buttermilk scones. I tasted them the first time I visited her bungalow in Monaghan and it took all my power not to inhale the whole plate of them in front of me and drink it down with her homemade raspberry jam.
A while ago Andrew and I drove down to Monaghan to see Ruth and I had plotted a way to ask her for her recipe. I am a massive lover of scones especially the smell they create in a kitchen. But mostly the taste of them. You instantly feel like a successful human being when you have a tray of lovely scones cooling on a wire rack. I was a bit hesitant to ask for the recipe because asking someone for a recipe they are renowned for can go one of two ways:
- They could be flattered that you would think so highly of them and be delighted to pass the recipe on; or
- They could be quietly horrified that you even asked for it and shift uncomfortably in their chair thinking of ways to get rid of you
Luckily for me Ruth was the former and was more than willing to share her secret however I had forgotten that Irish grannies also don’t use normal measurements. I got out my pen and paper that I just so happened to have on me and began to note down the ingredients and method which went along the lines of: Make sure to use Neill’s soda bread flour and rub in a knob of butter and a fingerful of sugar then whisk an egg in a mug, not a cup but a mug, and then fill it to the top with buttermilk…
I tried to act unperturbed by these non-specific instructions but I knew I would balls the whole thing up on my own. I thought to myself the only way I would learn would be to watch her and out of some miracle she then asked me if I wanted to make some with her. She must have seen the terror in my eyes; grannies can also smell fear.
I was amazed at how she was able to bake so easily despite her being constrained by arthritis in her hands. She has adapted a canny way of moving utensils so she doesn’t have to strain herself too hard and it’s an incredibly admirable thing to witness because baking along with other domestic skills is something that is so obviously engrained in her. If she lost that ability then I suppose it would be a massive loss to her.
Fortunately for me the whole recipe was much easier to follow and she taught me some great techniques to ensure the best scones e.g. make sure to get lots of air in when rubbing the butter in to the flour! It was a special moment because it made me feel part of the family and it was so generous of her to share it with me.
I feel like I’ve almost mastered the recipe although I know they’ll never be quite as good as Nanny Moffett’s. Andrew is fairly happy to play guinea pig in the meantime anyway and the house smells AMAZING.
Nanny Moffett’s Buttermilk Scones
- 1lb Neil’s Self Raising Soda Bread Flour (nothing else apparently)
- 1 – 1.5 oz granulated sugar (or 2 fingerfuls)
- 4-5 oz soft margarine
- 2 eggs beaten in a mug (specifically a mug)
- Buttermilk – add to mug of beaten eggs and fill to the top
- Preheat oven at 230 celsius
- Weigh out the flour and the sugar together
- Rub in the butter bringing the flour up from the bottom and getting plenty of air through the mixture.
- Once all rubbed in (your wrists might be aching at this stage – I have to take breaks!) make a well in the mixture and slowly pour in the buttermilk an egg
- Beat together with a fork – not a spoon – until all the flour is absorbed
- Put the mixture on to a floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top
- Pat the dough in to an oblong shape and using a cutter take pieces out around the outside first
- Put the scones on to a greased tray and brush with some beaten egg
- Place in over for 10 minutes
- Let them cool for a few minutes when they’re done
- Try not to eat them all and get found covered in jam and crumbs.