To Arthur (or a Celebration of Guinness)

I was invited to join the worldwide celebration of a man named Arthur and a beer named Guinness just before St Patrick’s day a few weeks ago.

Even as an intermittent food blogger, I regularly receive emails from PR companies asking me to post their latest press releases or promote the newest kitchen gadgets on my blog. Unfortunately for them, my blog is a very personal space that I keep deliberately free from paid advertising and ‘freebie’ giveaways. I dislike reading the same official spiel repeated across countless food blogs and find boredom setting in very quickly when I find yet another incredulously rave declaration of the generosity of such-and-such a brand in providing the free samples that inevitably form the basis of an ensuing favourable blog review (the ubiquity of posts on a certain pomegranate juice comes to mind …).

Additionally, I often find that the emails I receive from PRs are impersonal and demanding – “Write this text, post this image, post by this deadline!” – as well as poorly matched to my interests in food blogging. I know that it’s all part of wider, on-going relationship misunderstandings between PRs and food bloggers, as each are confronted by the hitherto unknown workings of the other, so I don’t take offense. I just don’t usually find much to inspire me in these PR emails, that’s all.

However, I try to keep an open mind on these things and I’ve never yet deleted a PR email without having read it through first. So when I received an email from Stephanie about an official Guinness cookbook, I was genuinely interested.

I already have several treasured recipes that include Guinness among their list of ingredients. There’s a sticky gingerbread cake, Rose’s beer bread, a beef stew … Would I like to learn more about the cookbook, Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years? Well, yes actually – I would!

Stephanie forwarded two recipes from the book for me to try at home – Steak and Guinness Burgers and an Iced Chocolate, Guinness and Orange Cake (recipes below) – and explained that the book had been published to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Arthur Guinness’ brewery in Dublin. I also contacted Paul Hartley, the author of the recipes in the book, and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about their development.

This post was supposed to happen on St Patrick’s day (or at least in the week following March 17th), but it obviously didn’t. I was planning to bake the cake on the same day that I made the burgers to enjoy the recipes as a two-course Guinness extravaganza, but the slight issue of 173 cupcakes got in the way (more about that story another day). I therefore had to wait until Easter Sunday before finally being able to complete my plans.

The verdict?

Everybody loved the cake at dinnertime on Easter Sunday. In fact, it was even a real success with O, who my regular reader [sic] will know generally dislikes anything sweeter than a pint of beer. I have to confess that I sandwiched the cake layers together with a white chocolate buttercream rather than whipped cream, but that was purely because the major cake-eaters in my family dislike cream with a vengeance. I’m sure any cream lovers out there would find it beautiful with lashings of whipped cream, too.

The burgers had a smaller audience than the cake but were also unanimously declared to be tasty. We found that we needed to cook them for longer than stated in the recipe, but I usually cook meat slightly on the longer side when I’m serving it to kids anyway. Or perhaps our burgers were over-generously sized …

Here’s my conversation with Paul Hartley about the book and his recipes in general …

First of all, how many of your recipes are included in this book?

18 different recipes – some sweet, some savoury.

Are the recipes traditionally Irish in any way (apart from the inclusion of Guinness, that is!)?

Yes, Galway Oyster Bisque. Have you ever been to the Galway oyster festival? I haven’t but am planning to go. Sausages with Guinness gravy and colcannon (which is traditional Irish potato cakes). Beef and Guinness pie is a very traditional Irish dish.

Did you use Guinness in any of your cooking before you developed these recipes?

I’ve cooked with Guinness for years – whenever a recipe called for stout I would reach for the Guinness. Having already been a great fan of cooking with Guinness made this book a real treat for me.

What aspects of Guinness did you have in mind when you set out to develop these recipes?

Cooking savoury dishes was always my favourite so this was a chance to develop sweet Guinness creations in our kitchen.

How does Guinness work in the recipes to create something that is more than just a plain old chocolate cake, for example – does it truly make a difference or is it just there as a gimmick for the anniversary?

Certainly no gimmick – these dishes are definitely taste enhanced by adding Guinness. For as long as recipes were written, Guinness has been used to add depth of flavour to rich fruitcakes, and a heartiness to rich meat stews. Guinness added to batter produces a light and crisp result.

Which do you believe is the most successful recipe?

Steak & Guinness burgers with rosemary & garlic butter.

Did you try anything that really didn’t work out at all?

Whenever you are pushing the culinary boundaries there will always be dishes that just don’t work. Luckily these were few.

How many pints of Guinness did you get through while you were working on these recipes for the book?

Lots, just didn’t keep count…

And finally, do you now cook any of these recipes regularly at home?

I am a partner in Hartleys Café Bistro in Somerset and we regularly include one of the Guinness book recipes on our menu. As for cooking at home, yes sometimes but I’m currently writing the Horlicks cookbook so that’s the cut and thrust of most home cooking right now.

Thank you, Paul 🙂

Steak & Guinness burgers with rosemary & garlic butter (reprinted from Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years with permission from the publishers)

Minced beef is marinated overnight in Guinness, then mixed with roasted red onions, griddled and served topped with rosemary and garlic butter to make a memorable burger.

Preparation time 20 minutes, plus marinating, chilling & freezing
Cooking time 10 minutes
Makes 6 burgers

500 g (1 lb) top-quality lean minced beef, ideally from grass-fed Irish beef
150 ml (¼ pint) draught Guinness
1 large red onion, finely diced
olive oil, for drizzling and oiling
3 smoked streaky bacon rashers, finely diced
1 teaspoon creamed horseradish
1 free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon paprika
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
1 rosemary sprig
75 g (3 oz) butter, softened
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt and pepper

step 1   Lay the minced beef out in a shallow dish and cover with the Guinness. Using your hands, massage the Guinness into the meat, cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the bottom of the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

step 2   When ready to make the burgers, spread the onion out in a baking dish, sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with oil. Scatter the bacon on top. Roast in a preheated oven, 150°C (300°F), Gas Mark 2, for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

step 3   Lift the beef out of its marinade, gently squeeze out any excess liquid and put the beef in a large bowl. Add the roasted onion and bacon, the horseradish, egg and paprika, season with pepper and sprinkle the flour over. Using your hands, mix together well. Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions and form into round patties about 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick. Carefully lay the patties on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, cover with a second sheet of greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours to firm up.

step 4   Meanwhile, pluck the rosemary leaves from the stem and plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, then chop as finely as possible. Add to the softened butter and garlic in a small bowl and beat together well. Lay a piece of clingfilm on a flat surface, form the butter into a sausage about 3.5 cm (1½ inches) in diameter and roll up in the clingfilm. Freeze for 20 minutes until set.

step 5   Lightly oil a griddle pan. Heat until just beginning to smoke, add the burgers and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes on each side, or until well browned on the outside and just pink inside. Serve immediately, each burger topped with a slice of the rosemary and garlic butter.

Iced chocolate, Guinness and orange cake (reprinted from Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Years with permission from the publishers)

This sumptuous cake is perfect for a special occasion. The recipe may seem a little involved, but it’s easy to accomplish if tackled stage by stage.

Preparation time 45 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour
Serves 8

2 large oranges
250 g (8 oz) caster sugar
175 g (6 oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
150 g (5 oz) self-raising flour
25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 free-range eggs, beaten
25 g (1 oz) ground almonds
5 tablespoons draught Guinness
150 ml (¼ pint) double cream

20 g (¾ oz) unsalted butter
50 g (2 oz) caster sugar
3 tablespoons draught Guinness
100 g (3½ oz) plain dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

step 1   Peel one orange. Finely grate the zest of the other orange and set aside. Using a sharp knife, pare away the pith from both oranges. Cut the oranges into 5 mm (¼ inch) slices. Put them in a small saucepan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 50 g (2 oz) of the sugar and continue to simmer until all the liquid has boiled away, watching carefully to ensure that the oranges don’t burn. Leave to cool.

step 2   Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar for the cake in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then beat into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs. Add the ground almonds, reserved grated orange zest and Guinness and beat for 3–4 minutes until you have a soft dropping consistency.

step 3   Grease and line the base and sides of 2 x 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tins, then divide the cake mixture equally between the tins, smoothing the surface. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven, 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5, for 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

step 4   Whip the cream in a bowl until soft peaks form, then spread over one of the cakes. Arrange the cooled orange pieces over the cream and carefully place the other cake on top.

step 5   To make the icing, put the butter, sugar and Guinness in a small saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave to soften, then beat gently with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool and thicken. While still warm but not too runny, pour the icing over the cake and use the back of a spoon or a palette knife to spread it evenly.

Italian-style Chicken Casserole

A few days after I posted a round-up of recipes that had been submitted to my Let Them Eat Chicken food-blogging event in July last year, I received an email from my sister. Admittedly a little late, she sent me her own chicken recipe in the hope that I would add it to my collection. I promised to do so … I really, truly meant to do so … it’s just that I’m a little late, too!

To make up for my negligence, I decided that the honourable thing to do would be to make my sister’s recipe for dinner one evening on my new range cooker. Perhaps she would think I’d been waiting all this time until our kitchen was finished so I could showcase her recipe in appropriate splendour …

Hmm, maybe not. My sister knows me too well 😉 . Sorry, Lucy – I just forgot. Can you forgive me?

I have to say, it’s my own loss for having overlooked my sister’s recipe before now. O and I enjoyed a scrumptious chicken dinner a couple of evenings ago – a sort of coq au vin with an Italian twist. We ate ours with a pile of creamy mashed potato, although Lucy says it’s also good served with basmati rice.

You may remember that my sister once presented me with some cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market? Well, when she has time, she likes to buy her chicken from a no less prestigious source nearby – Wyndham House Poultry (how I envy my sister’s shopping habits!). She says she discovered these butchers in a lovely book called Food Lovers’ London (she often refers to this book in her emails to me – I’ve got my fingers crossed that she might take me on a tour around its pages one day 😉 ).

Living slightly too far away from Borough Market for a quick shopping dash in between the school runs, I chose to use thighs from Devonshire Red chickens that I bought in my local Sainsbury’s.

devonshire red

The Devonshire Red is a slow-growing breed reared free from the worst practices of intensive farming. The chickens’ higher welfare standards are assured by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food accreditation.

So, here it is – my sister’s chicken casserole … ta daaaaa!

chicken casserole

Italian-style Chicken Casserole

Serves 4

1kg free range chicken thighs and drumsticks
1 red onion, sliced
250ml red wine
1 tin of tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 x 410g can cannellini beans, drained
1 x 450g jar roasted red peppers, drained and sliced (note: I roasted some red peppers myself to save a bit of money here)
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/ fan 160 degrees C. In a large oven proof casserole dish, sear the chicken for 5 to 6 minutes until brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the casserole dish and cook for 3 to 4 minutes stirring until softened. Pour over the red wine and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken.

Add the paprika, tomatoes, beans, peppers and rosemary. Put the chicken back in to the casserole dish too. Bring to the boil and cover.

Cook in the oven for 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and the juices run clear.

Red Sky, Shepherd’s Pie

The theme for this month’s Click food photography event is Red.

And here is my entry:


Now, I do know that I’ve a dreadfully long way to go in developing any sort of expertise with a camera. For the moment, at least, I can pretend to blame it on my hardware, an old Olympus point-and-shoot. Push me only a little bit further and I’ll admit that most errors of lighting, composition, focus (see, I’m learning the lingo, if not the techniques!) are actually the fault of the operator … oh, and of the weather 😉 .

I’ll also be the first to confess that, although I am quite capable of doggedly pursuing an obsession, I have a definite tendency to otherwise waffle about and procrastinate when I have no clear goal in mind. My decision to enter this food photography event is therefore largely born out of my desire to find the proverbial carrot (or stick!) that will encourage me to keep improving my snaps.

My decision was also driven however by a longtime fascination with colours. Even as a small child, I adored sorting my crayons into rows ordered by the colour wheel. I could stand for hours, staring deeply into arrangements of coloured towels and embroidery threads in department stores. I still have memories so strong I can almost taste them of the pictures in my first colour board book.

At this point, I should probably be terribly erudite on the subject of wine or provide you with intelligent quotes about the colour, red. Unfortunately, the only sayings that come to mind are one I remember my headmaster teaching us in assembly:

“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”

… and my husband’s usual rejoinder whenever I attempt to apply this particular piece of folk wisdom:

“Red sky, shepherd’s pie.”

Which leads me nicely to tonight’s dinner … 😉

shepherd's pie

Shepherd’s Pie

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 lb lamb mince (for Shepherd’s Pie) or beef mince (for Cottage Pie)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
150 ml milk
250 ml beef stock
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
ground black pepper, to taste

6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
knob of butter
dollop of milk
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrot. Fry gently until soft.

Add the mince – break up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon and fry until browned.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and add the milk. Boil until this has reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Add the stock, herbs and nutmeg. Season to taste. Bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes (add a little water if necessary to prevent from sticking).

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until tender when pierced. Add the butter, milk, nutmeg and pepper. Mash.

Pour the mince mixture into the bottom of an oven-proof bowl. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. Use a fork to fluff up the top (the spiky ridges will brown in the oven).

Place in the oven (200 degrees C) until bubbling and browned (I put a large baking tray on the lowest shelf to catch anything that bubbles too much).

A Chilli for Cooker Day

There’s a box sitting on my driveway. It’s a big, heavy box and it arrived this morning. I know what’s inside, but I’m still having a difficult time restraining myself from tearing off the wrapping. There are only a couple of hours to go now before our builders will be lifting it into the kitchen …

new cooker

It’s 3 pm on January 20th, which means it’s Cooker Day! Although there will be a couple of days or so before the electricians return to work their magic, I’m excited about seeing my new Rangemaster Induction cooker for the first time. I’m hoping that we will soon become very good friends.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve fallen out with my old cooker, however. It has served me faithfully throughout my tentative steps into the culinary world. It was there at the beginning, nearly four years ago, when I was first faced with the daunting prospect of taking over cooking the evening meal from my husband. It has reliably tilted its oven shelves so that my cakes sport a characteristic slope, and I’ve come to recognise its quirky hot spots. Yes, I am truly grateful to my old cooker for all that it’s taught me. It’s just that … well … it’s time to say goodbye now.

Last night, in thanks for our old cooker, I made again one of the first ever meals I prepared for my husband. Although he may not remember this, it was around the time of a Valentine’s Day many years ago. I was a complete, total novice at cooking and I chose what appeared to be a tasty recipe from our Good Housekeeping recipe book. It was originally a veggie recipe, but I converted it into a husband-friendly, carnivorous one by simply substituting minced beef for the diced aubergines, courgettes and peppers.

Here it is, cooking for the last time on our trusty, Glen Belling cooker.

old cooker

The recipe was a hit and I’ve made it many times since. It’s lovely in both its meat and vegetable incarnations (as my veggie Mum will attest).

Before I stumbled upon this recipe, I have to confess that I had never really enjoyed chilli con carne. I don’t especially relish the prospect of crying over my food, and every previous chilli I’d tasted had left me snivelling into my handkerchief. The mix of cinnamon, coriander and lemon juice in this recipe gives the chilli a depth of aromatic flavours that goes well beyond the usual ‘can-you-stand-the-heat’ attitude with which I’d formerly associated the dish.

And so, as our builders struggle to carry my solid Toledo 900 up the kitchen steps and through the doorway, please raise a glass with me today as we welcome the new chapters in our lives and bid farewell to the old.

chilli con carne

Chilli con carne (adapted from Good Housekeeping)

235g can red kidney beans
235g can black-eye beans (or you can use dried beans, but you’ll need to soak them etc)
salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 tsp dried crushed chillies
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp mild paprika
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 lb steak mince/ground beef
15oz can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp lemon juice
handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Heat half the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, chillies and half of the garlic. Cook and stir for 10mins until the onion is softened.

Add the paprika, tomato paste, cumin seeds, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Keep stirring.

Stir in the mince and beans. Cook for 5 mins, then add the tomatoes and about 1/4 pint of water. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for about an hour.

Meanwhile, whisk together the rest of the olive oil, lemon juice, remaining garlic and coriander. Set aside to infuse.

Before serving, stir the coriander mixture into the cooked chilli and check the seasoning.

Here’s a Health

It is January 25th, wha hae … and here’s a health to all as we honour the birthday of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

Originating from our student days in Glasgow, my husband and I have carried the traditions of Burns Night with us in our gradual migration to the South-West of England. In 1998, we celebrated our first Burns Supper south of the border with a party of vaguely bemused friends, a vast quantity of haggis and a large bottle of whisky. Ten years and three children later, we will still be celebrating tonight with haggis, neeps and tatties along with the essential single malt whisky (albeit in slightly reduced quantities to those of 1998!).

Burns Night

It’s not too late for anyone to join us – here’s a simple recipe for a successful Burns Night Supper wherever you may be …

1. Track down a haggis (don’t believe those stories of wee hairy beasties roaming the Scottish countryside, one pair of legs shorter than the other since they spend their time spiraling steep slopes – try your local deli instead).

2. Remove any plastic covering. Wrap the haggis in kitchen foil (in case it bursts), place in a roasting dish and fill with water so that it reaches about halfway up the side of the haggis. Cook at 180 degrees C for about an hour or so until the haggis is heated through.

3. Peel and boil (in separate pans) your turnip (swede for those south of the border 😉 ) and potatoes … neeps and tatties. Mash.

4. Find someone to play the bagpipes for you while the haggis is cooking (warning: you’ll need to wear industrial-strength ear plugs if your rooms are small – I speak from experience, having survived a piper’s attempts to deafen all in the Uisge Beatha one Burns Night). Alternatively, put on some traditional music or hum a Scottish jig (Linn Records do a Robert Burns Series of CDs that are excellent).

5. Serve the neeps and tatties on a plate. Pour a dram of whisky. Say the Selkirk Grace …

“Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it,
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.”

6. … then play a rousing tune as you ceremonially carry the haggis to the table. This is called ‘piping in the haggis’.

7. You should now address the haggis. At the appropriate place in this rendition, raise a knife dramatically, stab the haggis savagely and split it along its length …

“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.”

8. Raise your dram in a toast to ‘The Haggis’.

9. Eat and drink muchly.

10. Give a toast to ‘The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns’, celebrate his works with enthusiasm (one of my favourite songs is Kellyburn Braes) and wish a health to absent friends.

11. End your evening with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”

Happy Burns Night – Slainte 🙂