Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Chocolate Shortbread Stars

Following a little Summer siesta, I am back this evening after a busy stint in my kitchen. I arrived home this evening with a craving for something sweet. I whipped up my super easy Raspberry Crumble and put it in the oven. As I had the food processor out I decided to throw together a batch of these chocolate shortbread stars to lighten the mood in work tomorrow in preparation for the Bank Holiday Buzz! These biscuits have all the great features of regular shortbread with the added kick of chocolate. I opted for stars, but of course hearts and rounds would work just as well. Sprinkle with icing sugar to decorate, a cosmic combination. What's not to love! 

150g plain flour
50g light brown sugar
115g butter (diced)
2 tsp. cinnamon (extra or less depending on your love of cinnamon 
2 tsp. cocoa powder
1 egg yolk

1.  Preheat oven to 180°C and have two baking trays ready, brush with oil or grease with butter.
2. Put flour, sugar, butter, cocoa and cinnamon into food processor and mix until it looks like 
    breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk and form into a dough ball.
3. Wrap in cling film and put in fridge for 1 hour.
4. Knead dough and roll out to 1cm thick. Cut out shapes using a cutter of your choice. 
7. Place on the baking tray and cook for 8 minutes or until golden brown.

E-D's Notes
- If your in a hurry or impatient like myself you can put the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes   
  instead of the fridge for an hour!
- Once removed from the oven, allow the biscuits to cool for 1-2 minutes and then move them 
  slightly so they do not stick to the tray.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cactus Jacks Review Dublin

Cactus Jacks has been around now for as long as I can remember, and if in need of  a great value lunch in the vicinity of the Henry Street area in Dublin, it's always somewhere worth a visit.  Newly renovated and refurbished and looking refreshingly bright and trendy, the new décor is a welcome change to compliment the attractive prices on the Cactus Jack’s menu. 

Located in the hustle and bustle of the ‘Italian Quarter’ on Millennium Walkway just off the Quays, Cactus Jack’s is ideally located in close proximity to both Temple Bar and Henry Street.  The new décor is fun and quirky and the place feels brighter, trendier and a lot more spacious.

The staff in Cactus Jacks are always really helpful, pleasant and helpful and welcome questions and queries about the menu. The service is efficient without that awful feeling that your plate could be swiped from you at any moment. On one of my recent visits whilst sitting outside the waiter even brought a dish of water out for our dog as it was really hot, incredibly thoughtful and above and beyond what you would expect from any restaurant.

The menu itself is varied with something for everyone and various lunch and early bird deals which boast incredible value given the quantity and quality of the food. If going for the early bird option I recommend you go hungry as you will leave stuffed. There is a lot of food, and you will be reluctant to leave any behind as everything is really delicious. Don’t feel pressurised though, on countless occasions the staff have been good enough to wrap up the remnants of my meal to bring home!

As the ultimate dessert cones-suer this part of the meal in Cactus never blows me away. The Tequila Lime Cheesecake is tasty, but doesn't pack the punch that it could. That said the starter and main course more than make up for the somewhat underwhelming dessert choices and by the time I get dessert I usually already had to open the top button on my jeans.

All in all Cactus Jacks is a great spot for a gang of gals or guys to catch up and fill up, great with family or as a romantic dinner date for two. The menus are great, as is the service and they must be doing something right as 6 years after my first visit, I’m still coming back for more.

E-D’s Notes
- Early Bird Menu - 3 courses for €19.95
- Lunch Menu - 3 Tapas or 2 courses for €10
- Cactus Jacks also have a Galway Restaurant located on Druid Lane, Quay Street.
- For more information and to have a look at the full menu check out

Monday, 15 July 2013

Condensed Milk Chocolate Cookies

The sun may have been hiding behind a cloud or four today, but the heat is still in the air and I am over the moon that this warm and sunny weather is set to continue. It's a welcome change and means lots of time spent catching some rays on the somewhat burnt grass outside. I had a busy weekend between courses and cakes and somehow managed to squeeze a batch of these delicious biscuits in last night before bed.

Tonight's recipe incorporates one of my all time favourite ingredients, condensed milk! I have a love hate relationship with condensed milk as I have absolutely no self-control for the stuff and end up eating disturbing amounts with a spoon from the can when it's left over after this recipe or that. The steep price tag used to deter me a little from buying condensed milk, but now that Aldi are selling it for little or nothing, I'm doomed!

180g butter
65g sugar
165g self-raising flour
150g milk chocolate (chopped)
200g condensed milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line 3 two trays with baking parchment.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar using a handheld or free-standing mixer until light and  
3. Next mix in the condensed milk and continue to beat until well incorporated. Add the flour 
    and mix on a low speed. Finally mix in the chocolate chips until well dispersed. 
4. Roll tablespoons of dough and place on baking trays, flattening slightly. Bake for 15 minutes 
    or until golden 

E-D's Notes
- This recipe will yield about 18 large cookies, so if you preparing for a big group double the 
- Though I used milk chocolate for the chips, feel free to mix things up and add a little white 
  chocolate or dark chocolate if you prefer.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Teddy Bear Christening Cake

This weekend Molly and I had a busy weekend and had the thrill of doing our pre-marital course on a sunny Saturday which was pretty tricky given that we sat in a dark and toasty room when it was so lovely outside. This morning we were up bright and early to say hello to all the animals in Dublin Zoo and topped it all off with by catching some rays in Molly's back garden this evening. Amidst all that action, I managed to put together this Christening cake for a friend of a friend last night. 

This cake features a tubby blue teddy sitting on top of a cloud themed cake, decorated with varying shades of blue stripes and spots. I personalised the cake by adding the baby in question's name to some blue building blocks decorated with blue panelling and stitching. The cake itself is a buttery lemon madeira, coated in a zesty lemon buttercream. 

Lemon Madeira Cake

Ingredients (for a 9 inch square cake)
340g sugar
340g butter
520g self-raising flour
6 eggs (beaten)
3 lemons (juice and zest)

1. Beat together the sugar and butter until pale and creamy.
2. Add the beaten egg a little at a time.
3. Add the lemon juice and zest of 2 lemons and mix well.
4. Finally fold in the flour and mix gently until all the ingredients are combined.
5. Spoon the mixture into a lined tin and cook in the centre of the oven for 40-50 minutes at 
    180C. To check the cake is ready, dip a sharp knife into the centre of the cake and continue 
    to cook until the knife comes out clean.

Lemon Buttercream Icing

140g butter
300g icing sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Mix all ingredients together using a handheld mixer until light and fluffy.

E-D's Notes
- For a cake this size (9 inch sqaure) you will need 1kg of roll out icing to cover the cake top 
  and sides.
- You will also need another 750g to ice the board and model the bear and blocks and 
  decorative spots and stripes.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Chilly Penguin Couch Cake

This crazy Irish sunshine is absolutely incredible. 30 degrees today, did the Irish ever even think this possible?!  Sunbathing at lunch time, ice-creams everyday and an acceptable ‘get out’ clause on all mundane chores which need to be done because ‘ah sure the sun is shining better get out in it before the rain comes’. In light of all this new found heat, this evenings cake is a somewhat welcome reminder of the chill factor! Molly’s Mam, my future mother in law’s birthday was at the weekend and to celebrate I put together this ‘frosty’ lemon drizzle cake.

Although I used a basic lemon drizzle cake recipe (recipe to follow in the coming days) this cake could of course be made with any type of delicious centre. I used Tesco white roll out fondant icing to cover the main cake, using a wheel tool to add the ice cube detail on the sides.
The penguins are also made of solid fondant icing, using a combination of black white and yellow to form the bodies, with some striking orange to build the legs and feet.  All the coloured fondant was coloured by hand (using Wilton gel food colourings) with the exception of the black which I always buy pre-coloured. I created the couch using fondant shaped into rectangles, and again using the wheel tool to add the little details which make it look a little more realistic.  

E-D’s Notes
When it comes to sugar craft and creating memorable cake toppers, often opting to put a character of animal sitting down cuts out a lot of heart ache. You don’t need to be quite as accurate with proportions and size as a sitting figure hides a multitude! If your figure is sitting it also means you don’t have to worry about how to support your figure in a standing position. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Love Birds Anniversary Cake

A weekend of celebration called for a special celebratory cake to mark my Aunt and Uncles 20th wedding anniversary. Last night we all had a fantastic family get together eating and drinking on the outside deck til the early hours of the morning. Nothing beats an Irish heatwave! Carrot cake is very popular amongst my family and is treat we all associate with Summer holidays at the Clare seaside in Kilkee. So this 'Love Birds' cake is a delicious Carrot Cake topped with cream cheese frosting. I wanted a romantic theme for this cake obviously, so these cute nesting love birds seemed very appropriate. 

I built the birds nest around a digestive biscuit to make it easier to transfer onto the cake. For the nest I simply rolled out long, thin sausage shapes and entwined them around each other to create a 'woody' look.

Icing your board really makes your cake stand out all the more. The red fondant icing I have used was bought pre-coloured in a 2.5kg bag. As I have discussed before red roll out icing would break your heart if you were trying to colour it by hand, using white fondant and red food colouring. Save yourself the heart ache and pick up a pre-coloured pack. I also coloured the cream cheese frosting with a dash of 'Wilton Rose Food Colouring' to bring the colour scheme together, but a little goes a long way so add a minuscule amount at a time until you achieve the pale pink colour you want.

E-D's Notes
- You can find the recipe for my Carrot Cake here. The cream cheese frosting really makes it 
  and  I divide my cake in half lengthways and fill the centre with frosting.
- A very Happy 20th Wedding Anniversary to Kate & Ber, here is to 20 more!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Asparagus & Parmesan Risotto

I've been sharing all sorts of sweet things lately and though tonight I would stick with something simple that doesn't feature 'sugar' in the list of very novel! As you may know I am quite the carnivore when it comes to meal times and very rarely indulge in a meat free meal. Tonight's recipe however is in fact a vegetarian dish made up of a few core ingredients, stripped back and uncomplicated. Risotto is one of those dishes that can easily get over complicated when it comes to flavour as it is so easy to just start throwing everything in (particularly when you have a few ingredients you are trying to use up in your fridge.....guilty as charged). This recipe keeps it simple and savours the delicate flavour of asparagus, one of my all time favourite vegetables. This recipe can be adapted to suit your needs by chopping and changing a few of the ingredients. Risotto is one of my go-to comfort foods that really is worth that little extra effort of stirring and supervising!

400g Aborio Rice
200g Asparagus (chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or crushed)700ml Chicken Stock or vegetable stock (home-made or made using stock cubes)
20ml Cream
4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan
1 Onion (finely chopped) (alternatively you can use a leek)
Olive oil

1. Fry the chopped onion and garlic along with a little olive for oil 2-3 minutes. Season well with salt 
    and pepper.
2. Pour the dried aborio rice into the pan and mix with the ingredients.
3. A little at a time begin to add the stock. Each time you add the stock,allow it to be absorbed by the 
   rice before adding more. When you have used up all the stock and if you feel your rice is still not 
   fully cooked you can add some water or white wine until you feel the rice is soft enough. Prepare 
   the asparagus by snapping off the 'woody' ends and then cutting the remaining sprigs into equally  
   sized pieces. Mix into the rice and allow the mixture to cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring 
   regularly. It will take approximately 15-17 minutes for the rice to cook, but the best way to judge it is 
   to continuously taste it. 
4. Remove from the heat and add the cream and parmesan and  mix into the rice. Place the lid on 
    the wok or pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes before serving

E-D's Notes
- As with any risotto if your trying to cut the saturated fat content, ditch the cream and replace it 
  with milk and half the amount of parmesan used!
- For a meatier risotto alternative, check out one of my other risotto recipes:
  Chicken Mushroom Parmesan Chorizo Risotto
- This is another dish that is perfect for next day's lunch and heats up really well in the 
   microwave at work.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies

A gloomy day in Dublin today but it didnt deter me from getting into my kitchen this evening to whip up some 'happy' food. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons....make..Lemon cookies? However in my case it was more Aldi than 'life', as I picked up some lemons for a nifty 35 cent this week on their 'Super 6' offer. Sometimes a sugar fix is just what you need, and if sugar is your vice, then these chewy lemon sugar cookies are the perfect fix. These cookies boast the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy alongside a zesty lemon flavour. I am a big biscuit fan and nothing tops off an evening like a nice cup of tea with an incredibly delicious biscuits or cookie. The key is to hide a few away for yourself so other people don't find them.  After an exceptionally long day in work and a gym session I'm pretty sure I've earned it! 

Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies

280g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
300g sugar (plus an extra 30g for rolling)
60g cream cheese
Zest of 1 large lemon
100g butter
80ml sunflower oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablepoons of lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Place the flour, baking soda, baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
2. Combine the lemon zest, sugar and cream cheese. Pour the melted butter over the mixture 
    and combine well using a handheld mixer. Next add the oil, egg, lemon juice and milk and the 
    cream cheese mixture and mix well until combined.
3. Fold the dry ingredients in and combine using a wooden spoon.
4. Place the additional 30g of sugar in a bowl. Create a dough ball using two heaped 
    teaspoons of the mixture and then roll in the sugar and place on a baking tray
5. Cook at 180C for 12 minutes or until crisp on the edges and cracked in the middle.

E-D's Notes
- Allow the cookies to cool for 2-3 minutes on the tray, before transferring to a wire rack to cool 
- These cookies will keep well in an air tight container or tin for 3-4 days.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Chocolate Coffee Cupcakes

Cupcakes have become so popular over the last few years. Those who know me know I am cupcake mad from cushions, to crockery, napkins to tins, I love cupcake related paraphernalia  That said I am not a huge fan of actually eating cupcakes. They would not be my top pick in the dessert stakes as I often find the icing a little top heavy and the sponge can be a little underwhelming. So when I manifested this recipe, a combination of chocolate and coffee (two of my favourite flavours) I was delighted to actually really enjoy a cupcake. The chocolate sponge is light but still very chocolatey and the combination of the coffee frosting tops this cupcake off perfectly. Decorated with pink and brown fondant hearts, a foursome of cupcakes is the perfect birthday treat when wrapped up in a picture perfect box.

Chocolate Coffee Cupcakes

For the chocolate cupcakes
100g self-raising flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
40g butter (room temperature)
120ml milk
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

For the coffee frosting
125g butter
300g icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons of cooled instant coffee

For the chocolate cupcakes
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in a   
    stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric mixer) and beat on      
    slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. 
2. Whisk the milk, egg, and vanilla together in a pitcher (I used a bowl), then slowly pour about 
    half into the flour mixture, beat to combine, and turn the mixture up to high speed to get rid of     any lumps. 
3. Turn the mixture down to a slower speed and slowly pour in the remaining milk mixture 
    (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Continue 
    mixing for a couple more minutes until the batter is smooth but do not overmix. 
4. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven 
    for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted into the 
    center should come out clean. Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out 
    onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
5. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the chocolate, vanilla, or cream cheese frosting on top 
    and decorate with  sprinkles
For the coffee frosting
   1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan until bubbling. Remove from the heat and pour over the icing 
2. Next add the coffee mixture and mix well until the icing is smooth and free of lumps.

E-D's Notes
A friend recently bought me these nifty piping bottles perfect for cake and cupcake decorating. Each bottle has an interchangeable screw on head with different shape and sized piping nozzles. My initial thoughts were that these bottles would be tricky to fill and clean, but in fact I was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked, how easy the were to clean and fill.