An all time icing recipe

Someone told me, never cook for love. Food isn’t love. It’s fuel. Don’t give your energy away in your cooking. Keep your energy. Keep your love, for yourself.
I entirely disagree.
Food for me is so many things. It’s creative. It’s historical. It tells a story. Tells of place. Sparks memories. It creates community and connection. When someone is grieving, you give them a meal. To celebrate, you share a meal. It’s the easiest way of outstretching a hand of kindness. It’s a way of bringing joy. I would argue that food very much is love.
I freely confess that I will cook at any given opportunity. A picnic. A party. A weekend away. And when the occasions are more meaningful. More poignant. I’ll go out of my way to create something extra tasty. Buy new equipment. Seek out weird ingredients. Try any number of recipes to find the perfect one.
This weekend just gone, I cooked at a friend’s fortieth. She is one of the best humans I know. A true gem. Generous. Wise. Thoughtful. Inclusive. The list could go on. She also wins the prize for the biggest planner I know. Her calendar mapped out with fun and adventure months in advance. So this celebration had been on the cards for a while. Which means I’d been thinking about what I might cook for just as long.
I hadn’t voiced those thoughts though. Too scared people would roll their eyes. Clare cooking again. But if I didn’t volunteer, didn’t put my hand up and share my ideas, I feel I would be doing a disservice to myself. Trying to hide the truest part of me, simply for fear of what others might think. The kitchen really is my happy place. Trying new recipes is my passion. And I don’t mind washing up, but I really would rather be over the stove.
Still, this weekend got the better of me. I felt drained. Cracked wide open. Raw. Did I screw it up? Did people go hungry? Well, no. I kind of pulled off what I set out to. Created the vision in my head. Even the cake. Which I took up in separate parts. Four tiers of chocolate sponge. And a bowl of Italian meringue buttercream. Except it was so cold I had a bit of trouble bringing the buttercream, maple flavour, a nod to the Canadian lady of the hour, back to life before I could use it. I’m usually always able to keep my cool and find a solution to problems. But my emotions. They run wild. The negative self talk. Not doubt. Just the reverberating hurtful comments along the lines of not being good enough.
So I can understand why someone would tell me to keep my energy. Keep my love, for myself. That food is not love. But you know what, I would rather give it away. I would rather be vulnerable. Be brave. Share my heart. And my food.

italian meringue buttercream icing

Italian meringue buttercream

You will need a freestanding mixer with a whisk attachment and a digital cooking thermometer for this recipe

7 egg whites (about 260ml)
500ml maple syrup or honey OR 400g sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup water
500g room temperature butter cut into cubes
Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.
While the whites are whisking, heat your chosen sugar until it reaches in a pot over a moderate heat until it reaches a temperature of 110º
The white should form fluffy peaks in the time it takes the sugar to come to temperature.
With the mixer still running, take the saucepan, and with a confident steady hand, pour the hot liquid into the bowl of the mixer. Be careful not to pour the syrup on the beaters, or you will have spun sugar! Tip it almost down the side of the bowl. The whites should become glossy and smooth.
Now leave the cooked whites to whisk for about 10 minutes. This will allow them to cool to room temperature.
When the whites have cooled down, which you can tell by placing your hand on the side of the bowl to see if it still feels warm or not, add the butter cube by cube to the mix.
The mix will ‘deflate’. As long as it only looses volume and doesn’t split, which would happen if you added the butter while the mixture was still too warm, keep going. Trust in the process.
Once all the butter is added, you will have the silkiest, smoothest, creamiest buttercream, the kind that dreams are made of.

 

 

italian meringue buttercream icing

Italian meringue buttercream icing

italian meringue buttercream icing

 

Troubleshooting.

Two things can go wrong with the icing. I know. Both have happened to me and I’ve had to rework the icing the hard way. Through trial and error. So I would like to share how to fix things if they go amiss.

If the icing is too warm still when you add the butter, the butter will start to melt and the icing split. What I mean by this is that there will appear to be two sets of liquid in the bowl. One more viscous than the other. Do not panic. First up you can take an ice pack, or even a bag of frozen peas, from the freezer and hold it against the side of the bowl and continue to whisk. If the mixture was only a little bit hot, this trick should cool it enough that it comes back together. If this still doesn’t work though, take the whole bowl and place it in the freezer for a few minutes, then re-whisk. The cooled mixture will eventually come back together.

The opposite thing can also happen. The icing can split because it becomes too cold. When this happens you may be able to bring the mixture back to a silky texture by holding a hot cloth against the side of the bowl while you whisk. If this isn’t enough, you can place the entire bowl over a pan of steaming water, bain-marie style, and whisk. As parts of the mixture warm and melt, the whole lot will become a smooth dreamy consistency once again.

italian meringue buttercream icing

italian meringue buttercream icing

italian meringue buttercream icing

Enjoy this icing recipe, then you might like this easy upside down pineapple cake

Brazil nuts, blue jeans and a broken heart. And some pesto.

The first man to break my heart isn’t the one you think. His name was Peter. The first time we met, he gave me a box of chocolates.
I was embedded in my red cotton beanbag, cemented to the patterned eighties carpet, watching something on the TV, Top of the Pops maybe, which was housed inside my mum’s teak television cabinet, one of the first things she had had made when she and my dad divorced. The tobacco coloured curtains were drawn, the night beyond cold and black. The fire was on, blasting out artificial purple heat.
As soon as he walked through the lounge door, he grinned, all teeth on show, spectacled eyes wide and handed me some Just Brazils. A gift. On a Thursday evening. This guy was cool.
As I took the ceollphane wrapped box, I noticed the two gold rings on his pinkie, different to my dad’s wide banded signet ring. His colourful shirt sleeves were folded back over his jacket. He had a style all of his own. He probably commented how he liked the song that was playing at the time, which made him even cooler.
I unwrapped the box. Oval shaped chocolates were housed in gold dimples. I took one out, popped it in my mouth, held it there. The chocolate slowly melted. I savoured the sweet and silky mouthfeel. Then crunched the creamy nut inside. Heaven.
I don’t have many food memories connected with Peter. But this one is etched in my brain. I think he cooked spaghetti bolognese, using red sauce from a jar. I remember he gave me my first pair of jeans. Blue denim. Pepe London. I was the most fashionable girl around. And he loved musicals. I loved them too. Phantom was my favourite. He gave me a pop-up Phantom of the Opera book that played songs from the show. He did summer school projects with me. My dad was always too busy. I felt seen and heard by him. I felt like a princess.
And then he left. He didn’t just leave my mum. He left me. How could he. I wrote him a letter. I made sure my tears smudged the ink. Don’t go. Please don’t break my heart. Stay. Keep noticing me and my interests. But he took his belongings. And went. I never cried when my dad told me that he and my mum were separating. I was too young to understand what it meant and the grown up seven year old in me said, that’s ok dad, if you’re not getting on it’s for the best. But I understood very well a few years later when Peter moved out what it meant. The loss of a way of life. The feeling of rejection.
My favourite pair of jeans broke last week. An unsalvageable rip where the cloth has grown paper thin with years of wear. Immediately I thought of that box of chocolates I was given as a little girl. Of Brazil nuts. Of Peter. The day he made me a princess. And the day he stole my crown. I ordered a new pair of jeans. A different brand. And then I made some pesto. With brazil nuts. To let that little girl know that she is loved. However silly that may sound.

Brazil nut pesto

Silky, vibrant and alive. With in season limes, creamy brazil nuts and Pecorino. Give it a try.

A cup of Brazil nuts
A bunch of parsley
A bunch of tarragon
1-2 cloves garlic
2 limes, juice and zest
A cup of Pecorino, grated
100-200ml extra virgin olive oil

Whizz together all the ingredients in a food processor. Dollop over hot green beans, roasted carrots, chargrilled prawns, barbecued chicken or steaming pasta. Enjoy
Enjoy this peach and burrata salad recipe? Then you might like this garlic prawn recipe

Father’s day pancakes

 

It’s one of those things that you never appreciate until it happens. Until you become a parent. A mother. A father. Until there is something on this earth that steals your heart. Completely. I know Pat and Thea stole their father’s heart. Clasped it with all their might as soon as they took their first breath. And the grip only gets stronger. The human experience of parenthood. It’s magical. And to celebrate this wonder, this post is dedicated to Mark, Pat and Thea’s dad. The man who built our house. Who fixes stuff and is strong. And who is a sucker for pancakes for brekkie!

 

When I first told Mark I was pregnant with Thea, he din’t believe me. Surely not. Was the test accurate?! He wasn’t ready. Didn’t we have more holidays, dinner dates, lie ins, just the two of us, and a life with less responsibility. But it was true. And as the weeks went by, he kind of got used to the idea. We were going to be parents. He was going to be a dad. I knew that he would be amazing.

 

For us I suppose the gravity of becoming parents kicked in early at 23 weeks, when we were told that Thea might not make it. She wasn’t growing, and nothing could be done. From there on in he was a rock. Taking time off work. Making me my favourite dinners. Giving absolute emotional stability. Right now, I can still feel his cheek pressed hard against mine in the operating theatre as at a little over 29 weeks, Thea was making her way into this world. Tears were streaming down my face with fear and sadness for our tiny, just over one pound baby girl. But after cutting the cord, Mark assured me that she was fine. Perfect. Beautiful. And I knew that he meant it. Hook, line and sinker. He was gone. Head over heels in love. His little ray of sunshine had arrived.

Pat’s story is similar. More disbelief. Pregnant once more. Thea at three had only just started to sleep well. Were we really going to do it all over again. Even more hard to believe was that Pat had the same complication as Thea and wasn’t growing well either. But he made it to 36 weeks and came home after two nights in hospital. The pure haze of love that surrounded our new family of four during those first days of life with Pat was incredible. And it was a haze. Mark took the week off work and all three of us slept in one room. Although Pat did not sleep. Not unless he was held. So we each took turns dozing with him in our arms until he stirred for a feed. This never happened with Thea, my theory being that she spent so long in a humidicrib that she was used to sleeping alone. Sleep deprived as we were, it was still the most special shared experience.

 

Fast forward to Pat, three, and Thea, six. Yes they are a handful. Pat loud, boisterous, always wanting to wrestle with his sister. Forever breaking things. Never eating his dinner. Falling over and hurting himself an eye rolling amount of times a day. But so bloody cute. His dad confesses to thinking his son is more cute every day. And Thea. A pocket rocket. Quiet but determined. Fine featured but incredibly strong. He describes her as the most beautiful thing in the world. He would part the seas for her if he had to, but that doesn’t mean that she can forget her manners.

He has so much love for them, but I think that they give it back in spades. Thea’s card she made for her dad for Father’s day at school will surely make him crumple when he reads, “you are the best dad in the world because you built our house.” He did. And it nearly broke him, but his love for them ultimately made it possible. He is gentle, kind, patient, hardworking, and likes to do a job well. He doesn’t shout and can always make his kids laugh. They are so lucky to have him as their dad. Here’s to you Dada. Enjoy all your beautiful hand made offerings and your favourite brekkie.

Father’s Day pancakes

Recipe taken from https://cafedelites.com/best-fluffy-pancakes/

  • 250g plain flour
  • 50g sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 375ml milk
  • 75g melted butter
  • 1 large egg

Mix all the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a bowl.

Add the wet ingredients; milk melted butter and egg and mix until just combined.

Heat a pan over a moderate heat. Pour, the mixture must be a thick pouring consistency and can be thinned with a little more milk if needed, a nice puddle of the batter into the pan. Once you start to see bubbles forming in the pancake, it can be flipped over. Cook until both sides are golden brown.

Enjoy with berries and ice cream, bacon and banana, maple syrup, or simply sprinkled with ‘snow’ sugar.