Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Little Things

I must apologise, I have been a little bit remiss in my blogging duties of late. This is probably due to the general malaise I’ve been feeling the past few weeks, a sort of persistent ennui which is very unlike my usual temperament. I think this condition is pretty common in Ireland these days; there is really high unemployment, which has left a lot of skilled and talented people with nothing to do except sit around the house all day drinking tea, eating digestive biscuits and watching E4. (Other people are doing that, right?) The thing is, that sounds like my perfect day off, or a brilliant lazy Sunday, but these are special precisely because they’re a break from regular duties. Doing it all the time is much less awesome, and sometimes it feels like the gulf between never needing to get out of my pyjamas and living in a way which is fun and vibrant and worthwhile is growing insurmountably huge. Hence the malaise. But melancholy, like anything else, can become a habit if left unchecked, and I am doing all I can to get back on the wagon. One thing which is making me feel better is watching my little garden grow. (pictured below) I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but so far everything has grown and nothing has died, so I reckon I’m on the right track.

Another is to take advantage of the loveliness of where I live by walking a lot, keeping an eye on the sheep population and the progress of this year’s apple crop at a local orchard.

They may be small things, but at least they’re keeping me sane, and hopefully, when I am back in the business of regular day to day life again, I will be better equipped to deal with those inevitable times of feeling a little bit lost.

What do you do to deal with those lost-at-sea feelings?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Recipe Time! Apple and Raspberry Pie

Baking a pie must be one of the most satisfying experiences in the world. There is a careful craft to making the pastry; it’s not exactly difficult, but it takes practice, and an understanding of your ingredients. Cold butter, cold water, or, going against all other baking protocol, an egg straight from the fridge. You must work quickly in rubbing the butter into the flour until it golden and finely crumbed in texture. Add the icy liquid and combine quickly, quickly, until it just comes together into one piece. Now refrigerate to let the dough relax, I usually give it about 30 minutes at this stage, wrapped in clingfilm. After following a tip from a Rachel Allen book, I now roll my pastry between two sheets of clingfilm, it saves a lot of floury mess (both on the countertop and my clothes), then line my tin, and pop back in the fridge for anything from another half an hour, to overnight. The sight of a tin lined with pastry is lovely and heavy with promise, and almost as beautiful as when it is filled to the brim with fruit and other good things.

A filling of apples makes the quintessential fruit pie, but there are plenty of variations given what’s at hand in the season; rhubarb is delicious, as is a combination of rhubarb and strawberries. Anyone lucky enough to have gooseberries growing in their garden, or a good greengrocer, could make a lovely tart, slightly perfumed perhaps with a head of elderflower (and more on that particular subject soon.) Apples on their own are great with warming spices like cinnamon and cloves, or with the likes of berries, walnuts, or sultanas. And then, from relatively few ingredients and just a little work, there emerges from the oven a gorgeous, fragrant, bubbling pie to reward your efforts.

Here I’ve combined the Irish favourite, Bramley apples, with fresh summer raspberries, which is a fantastic combination. If you don't have Bramleys where you are, use a good cooking apple, like Cortland, Empire, or Granny Smith.

175g plain flour
75g butter, cold
150g + 2tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, fridge cold, beaten
3 bramley apples
150g raspberries
1 egg, beaten (for an egg wash – if there’s any beaten egg left from making the pastry, that’ll do lovely)

1. Cut the butter into small cubes. Put the flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a bowl and whisk to combine. Rub in the cubed butter until it resembles breadcrumbs in texture.

2. Add the beaten egg a little at a time, mixing with a knife until the whole lot just comes together in one piece.

3. Tip the dough onto some cling film, and bring it together. Form into a slightly flattened disc shape – this makes it easier to roll later on. Pop in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

4. After that time take it out of the fridge and cut it in half. Roll one half between two sheets of clingfilm until it fits your tin – I used a 20cm/8in fluted pie dish. Remove one piece of film, then lay the pastry, dough side down, into the tin. Press to fit, then peel off the top layer of film. Roll the second half between the two clingfilm sheets, to fit the top of the pie, with a little overhang. Pop the whole lot back in the fridge until your filling is sorted.

5. Switch the oven on at 180C/350F.

6. Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices/dice, depending on what you fancy. Toss them in a bowl with the 150g of sugar and the raspberries.

7. Take the pie dish from the fridge and pile in the filling. Brush a little water around the rim of pastry. Lay the lid over the top and crimp the base and lid together around the edge with your thumb. Trim any overhanging pastry with a paring knife. If you fancy, use the trimmings to make pretty decorations for the top of your pie – a couple of overlapping circles or some leaves are easy to carve with a knife, or put your cookie cutters to use for stars, hearts, letters, etc.

8. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the tart with egg wash. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Place the pie on a baking tray – useful in case your filling bubbles out anywhere. It’s makes a mess on the bottom of your oven (I know from experience).

9. Bake for about 45 minutes, the top should be golden brown, and the apples tender. Enjoy warm or room temperature, with whipped cream, ice cream, or custard.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pinny For Your Thoughts?

I never thought of myself as one of those slightly unusual collector types, but reviewing my possessions I have found a couple of recurring trends; I have several teapots, far more eggcups than I will ever have need for, and a kitchen drawer packed full of aprons. I get a lot of these as presents, some for Christmas and birthdays, and others from other people’s vacations, like a beautiful all white Belgian lace one which feels too good to wear. Once in a while I wash and iron them all, and marvel at how these practical everyday items can be so pretty, but by and large I can’t say I’m very kind to them. I need my things to be functional as well as beautiful, and they get covered in melted chocolate, dustings of flour, bits of dough, and various other pieces of cooking detritus. My latest apron acquisition (pictured above) was a gift from my mum, and I have been keeping it especially clean and neat because it’s just so gorgeous. It’s from the Clodagh McKenna Love Aprons range, and these aprons are designed to be beautiful enough to wear when you’re having people over for dinner, which is definitely preferable to wearing one which has the ghosts of meals past imprinted upon it. Pictured above is the one I have, but I have my eye on this vintage inspired floral half pinny too.

Here are a couple of other cute aprons I found while browsing on etsy. Just another reason to get cracking in the kitchen!

Top Left, Day Red LOVE Apron, by Clodagh McKenna's Love Aprons range