Author Archives: lettercollumkitchenproject

About lettercollumkitchenproject

A cook that gardens. Sun addict. Not a good addiction in West Cork hence the travel addiction. Add in a splotch of kitchen snooping while away, a big walled organic garden while home and a kitchen full of a bit of everything. Runs an organic bakery/delicatessen/food shop with her husband using food from the garden and the years of accumulated kitchen snooping. Check out the shop and garden at www.lettercollum.ie

Bright Food for a Dirty Day

Today was not an outside day.

A big wind, very cold and occasional snow flurries, which is a romantic way of describing West Cork’s attempt at snow which is really large drops of frozen rain. After a quick run around to feed the chickens I was back inside again.

It was the perfect day to hang out in the kitchen.

I spent the morning trying a couple of new recipes then turned my eyes to lunch.

We are still ploughing through our rapidly deteriorating frozen by mistake pumpkins. At this stage the chickens are getting as much of each pumpkin as we are but we’re getting places. We’ve been eating them in many guises, today’s collaboration was with beetroots and coconut which made a delicious and warming soup full of antioxidants to beat the bugs

Beetroot, Pumpkin and Ginger Soup

1 large red onion

75mls olive oil

2 sticks celery

300g pumpkin

450g beetroots

1 finger of fresh ginger

700mls vegetable stock

200ml coconut milk

Peel and chop the onion. Heat a pot, add a little olive oil and the onion then cook on a medium heat. Cut the celery lengthways then dice into small pieces. Add to the pot and give a stir.

Peel the pumpkin and chop into chunks, then peel the beetroot and chop into a dice – the beetroots are going to take longer than the pumpkin to cook. Stir these both into the pot and season with a little salt. keep cooking on a medium heat, reducing the heat if they begin to brown or stick.

Peel the ginger and chop small. Add to the the vegetables, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the stock. Bring to the boil then simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the coconut milk then buzz everything to a smooth puree. It should be good and soupy but if it’s too thick thin with little water. Season with salt and black pepper and you’re ready to go.

Some fresh chopped herbs would be good but I wasn’t heading off outside to pick any!


Stir Crazy Potato Cakes

It’s a sure sign of going stir crazy when you get super excited about potato cakes.

This past month has left me feeling almost rudderless, apart from our Monday shop painting stints there’s very little structure to our days except for mealtimes

It’s a tricky time of the year when the days are long and grey. The bright days are fine, I hop up and get going but on the wet ones I have to keep reminding myself that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Try telling that to the chickens though who are miserably huddled in their muddy run fed up with wading in muck, having eaten anything that had a semblance of green already. They are missing their daily buckets of yummy food scraps that usually come back from the shop. The time is coming when they are going to revolt and hop the fence of the chicken run as it looks so delightfully verdant on the other side.

Our new glasshouse is up and ready to go, the seeds are ordered and in a couple more weeks it’ll be time to start sowing again. I’m very excited but super cautious about beginning in the garden too early though as very cold spells can negate any head start.

One thing I have been enjoying is playing in the kitchen. Working my way through all the odd food in our pantry and trying out new recipes. 

Converting left overs is a great way to be creative. We had a mound of left over mashed potatoes last week and I made these crispy potato cakes. I must say we were impressed. The perfect way to tart up mashed spuds

The ingredient list is short – left over mash, onion, garlic, some kind of melty cheese and breadcrumbs. 

I used panko breadcrumbs (which had been sitting patiently in our pantry). Panko are Japanese style breadcrumbs made from crustless white bread. These breadcrumbs are flakier and drier than normal breadcrumbs and as a result absorb less oil, think of trying to mop up a spill with a dry cloth – it’s not very absorbent. Because they are so dry they cook up super crispy and they have an incredible long shelf life – I guess as there’s no moisture there’s nothing to spoil but for sure they will keep happily in a sealed bag in a dry place so they are pretty handy.

Any cheese that can be grated and melts will work in this recipe. I used smoked scamorza which is a mild semi hard mozzarella type cheese but cheddar, emmental, gruyere, gouda  will all bring their own creamy addition

Crispy Potato Cakes

Serves 3-4 people

450g mashed potato

1 onion – peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic- peeled and finely chopped

150g smoked scamorza or other melty cheese – grated

150g panko bread crumbs

50g flour

1-2 eggs

Oil for frying

Heat a small frying pan, add 2tbs olive oil and the chopped onions. Cook on a medium heat without browning for 5 minutes. Season with a little salt then stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. 

Tip the cooked onions mix onto the mashed potato then mix together and add in the grated cheese. Mix well with your hands, giving it all a good squish together. Form the potato mix into small balls then flatten slightly. I didn’t add any salt as the mash was already seasoned but taste your mix to check

Line up 3 bowls. One with flour, one with beaten egg and one with the panko breadcrumbs. Taking the potato balls one at a time turn them first in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs. Turn until the breadcrumbs cover the potato.

Do this to each potato cake,. At this stage you could pause and put the potato cakes in the fridge for later but it’s perfectly fine to cook them immediately

Put 2cms vegetable/cooking oil in a frying pan. The pan should not be too shallow – the oil should not come more than one third up the sides. Heat the oil then slip 4 or 5 potato cakes in at a time. Keep the heat on medium. If the potato cakes are browning very quickly reduce the heat. After a couple of minutes flip the potato cakes over and cook the other side. You’ll need to cook these in a couple of batches so have a warm plate ready to receive them

Perfect with some salad and salsa or just plain mayo for dunking. 


A Little Sunny Crunch

Winter slaws are the business when you crave something to give yourself a boost, They are bright and crunchy and made with vegetables that don’t mind wintery weather.No need to use fragile jetlagged vegetables as local seasonal vegetables are perfect to shred and dress. The bright oranges, greens and purples are like sunshine in a bowl.

The key ingredients for a slaw are usually some kind of cabbage – red or green and then whatever you have or fancy in the line of  fennel, beetroots, carrots, radishes, onions, endive etc. Apples, oranges, mangoes and pears also make good additions as do toasted nuts and seeds . They can be dressed with vinaigrettes or creamy mayonnaise. The options are endless so you can let your imagination go riot. 

This recipe is for a simple slaw that I made today from our vegetable basket and the remaining red cabbage in the garden. Salting the cabbage briefly makes the cabbage sweat and the juices run, softening the cabbage to a delightful succulent crunch. Ditto with the fennel.

Half a small red cabbage

1 fennel bulb

1 red onion

1 pear

1tsp sugar

2tbs white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar

Salt

1tsp Dijon mustard

100mls olive oil

Finely shred the red cabbage – discard the core. Sprinkle it with a little salt, toss well then leave it aside for 10 – 15 minutes. 

Finely slice the fennel and toss with a little salt. Leave aside for 10 – 15minutes

Peel and finely slice the red onion, sprinkle a little salt over then massage until the rings separate. Put the sugar into a bowl, whisk in the vinegar then toss the onions in the mix. Leave aside for 10-15 minutes

Peel and chop the pear.

Put the cabbage onto a clean cloth or kitchen roll then dry well to remove excess liquid and salt, tip into a bowl the repeat the process with the fennel.

Put all the vegetables except for the onions into a big bowl.

Drain the pickling liquid from the onions and use this as  a base for the vinaigrette

Add the onions to the big bowl.

Whisk a teaspoon of Dijon mustard into the onion vinegar then slowly whisk in the olive oil

Pour the dressing over the vegetables then toss everything together. 

The slaw is ready to eat but it’ll also sit happily in the fridge for a day or two.


Blow Your Socks Off Lemon Chilli Sauce

I have finally taken the lemon drop chillies out of the bucket they were sitting so prettily in and am converting them to chilli sauce.

Half are sitting fermenting on the kitchen counter and the rest I made into chilli sauce yesterday

It was quite an epic heat ride.

I chopped the stalks from the lemon drop chillies, peeled red onion and garlic and put them into a saucepan with enough water to cover them, bought them to the boil then simmered for fifteen minutes.

After draining them I buzzed them in the food processor until they were smooth. I made the mistake of taking a good sniff of the salsa to enjoy the aroma – it blew me across the room.

The initial tasting was soooo hot that realistically not many people were going to eat it. I added a mango hoping it would stretch the heat but it didn’t seem to have much effect. I then sieved the sauce in the hope that removing the seeds would do the trick.

Wooo, still extremely hot !

I then incrementally added in

light muscovado sugar ,

honey,

white balsamic vinegar

another mango

and we finally seemed to be smoothing out the edges.

Phew I was getting worried!

It’s a chilli sauce to use with caution but perfect for chilli heads – like good habanero sauce and it’s a fab colour!

I’m not sure what to do with the fermenting chillies …. any ideas?


Pumpkin, Harry’s Nut Butter and Tamarind

We have a shed full of pumpkins to eat.

They were damaged by last weeks freezing weather. We don’t often get freezing weather here in West Cork and by the time we thought of the pumpkins it was too late so it’s pumpkin in everything right now.

Today’s soup was livened up by a couple of spoonfuls of Harry’s Nut Butter and a swirl of tamarind.

HNB is an Irish addiction made by the aforementioned Harry with nuts (obv) that’s slightly sweet, kind of salty and a little bit spicy and lifts the soup to a ‘where am I’ level. If you don’t have access to HNB tart up some peanut or cashew butter with a little smoked paprika, maple syrup and tamari or even miso. Actually the possibilities are endless…..

Pumpkin Soup with HNB and Tamarind

1 onion – peeled and chopped

75mls olive oil

1-2 stems celery – diced

500-600g pumpkin – peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic – peeled and finely chopped

200g diced tomatoes or half a can chopped tomatoes

2tbs red lentils ( heaped not level)

750mls stock

2 generous tbs HNB or PB

1 tbs tamarind

salt and pepper

Heat a medium/large saucepan, add the olive oil and chopped onions. Give them a stir then turn the heat to medium.

Cut the celery into quarters lengthwise then chop into a dice. Stir in with th onions.

Peel the pumpkin and chop into a rough dice – doesn’t need to be too small. Add to the pot and stir well. Season with a little salt. Cook for five minutes without browning then add the chopped garlic, stir for a minute or two then add in the tomatoes. If you’re using fresh tomatoes let them cook down. If you are using canned just stir them in . Add the vegetable stock and the red lentils. Taste, season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the nut butter and tamarind and mix well.

Buzz the soup until smooth and check the seasoning.

Serve with a swirl of creme fraiche and chopped herbs – I have chervil right now but parsley or coriander would be good too.


Excited About Chickpeas

I’m not sure where the chickpeas we can usually obtain come from but generally they are old. Old and hard and take a very long time to cook so when I saw that the olive guys in our local Neighbourhood Food had imported chickpeas and pinto beans I had to try them.

I’m always on the lookout for good chickpeas – I’m possibly one of the only people that travel home from Spain with dried chickpeas in my bag. A true chickpea geek. Big fat chickpeas that only take 30-40 minutes to cook make me very happy. They obviously haven’t been sitting about in dusty depots for months on end.

I cooked some of the above prize chickpeas this morning after soaking them overnight. The weather was awful – torrential rain – it seemed pretty obvious that what we needed was warming sustenance so I made this dish. I’m never quite sure whether it’s a soup or a stew but the recipe is an old favourite. Sometimes I make it with spinach and sometimes with kale, depending on what I have and on the tomato front just use the best you have – fresh or canned. One thing is for sure – you will have a delicious bowl of bright nutrition to beat the rainy day blues.

And the new chickpeas cooked up a dream.

Chickpeas, Spinach and Coriander

250g dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight – or 2 cans

2 onions – peeled and finely chopped

100mls olive oil

2 stems celery- diced

3-4 carrots- peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic- peeled and finely chopped

1-2 chillies (Optional) – chopped finely

2 big tomatoes or 1 can – chopped

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

800mls vegetable stock/chickpea liquor

1 bunch spinach or kale – 2 big hanfdfuls when shredded

1 bunch fresh coriander – parsley or chervil work too if that’s what you have

salt and black pepper

Put the chickpeas to cook. Drain and cover with water. Bring to the boil then cover and turn to a simmer. Cook until tender – anything between 30 mins and 3 hours , depending on the vintage of your chickpeas. Take off the heat and reserve the cooking liquor.

Heat a large saucepan then add the olive oil and chopped onions followed by the celery and carrots . I chop and add in that order, adding a little salt as I go. Cook the vegetables on a medium heat until they begin to melt down but don’t brown.

Stir in the garlic and chilli, cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes melt down then add about 800mls reserved chickpea liquor or vegetable stock or a mix of the two. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. It’s up to you whether you eat this a s stew or soups add more stock if needed

This is when I popped up the garden and picked some spinach and chervil. The recipe does call for coriander but our coriander is in animated suspension at the moment but we do have a healthy amount of chervil Basically use what you have!

Wash the spinach and remove any thick stems then gather it up and chop into thin ribbons. Stir this into the pot, allow everything to return to the boil then take off of the heat. Taste and add salt and ground black pepper. I use a hand held blender to give the soup a couple of buzzes – very quickly – just enough to create a little background creaminess. Chop the herbs and stir in.

Admittedly this makes a large pot but I put a picture up on the family WhatsApp and it was soon devoured!

It’s ideal to share but it would also freeze well


Winter Garden Soup

Each evening I go to the garden to give the chickens their afternoon tea. It’s pretty slim pickings for them now that the shop is closed so their tea isn’t a gourmet selection anymore but fortunately the chickens are still tuned in to the universe and their inner egg radars have turned back on. It is amazing how quickly the incremental increase of daylight brings on the eggs so to thank them I prowl around the garden looking for green things to supplement their diet.

It’s surprising what’s out there. It’s not growing very quickly – more like suspended animation but there’s always something. Yesterday evening I came down to the house with a head of fennel, some leeks and a bunch of kale – I soaked some cannellini beans and we were set up for today’s lunch.

Soaking dried beans for this recipe is optional as canned beans also do a good job. The bonus of cooking dried beans is the cooking liquid makes a great base for the stock. A Parmesan rind is a definite bonus if you have one. I didn’t this time but I did find some pumpkin that needed a home while I was searching the fridge which was great for the colour scheme.

Winter Garden Soup

1 onion

100mls olive oil

1-2 stems celery

Parmesan rind – optional

1 bulb fennel

2 leeks

a bunch of kale

250g diced pumpkin

200g dried cannellini beans or 1-2 cans

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 litre vegetable stock or stock plus bean water

salt and pepper

If you’re using dried beans soak them in cold water overnight. The next day drain them, put them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Bring to the boil then simmer gently, covered with a lid for – now this is the mystery bit as it depends how old the beans were – anything between 40 mins and 2 hours. I keep checking. When they are cooked take them off the heat. Drain them and reserve the cooking liquid for the stock

Peel and chop the onion. Heat a medium/large saucepan, add the olive oil and the onion, give it a stir then turn the heat to medium.

Cut the celery in strips lengthwise then chop into a dice. Stir in with the onions.

If you have a Parmesan rind add it now.

Wash the fennel, cut it into half then slice thinly. Add to the pot. Season with a little salt and give it a stir.

You should be able to hear the vegetables sizzling. If you can’t increase the heat.

Trim the leeks – don’t cut all the green bit off, just the scraggy bits. Rinse well under running water to remove all dirt then slice into 1cm pieces. Add to the pot and stir.

Dice the pumpkin into 1cm cubes . Strip the rosemary from the woody stem and roughly chop. Add to the pot

Wash the kale then strip from the stem and chop into thin ribbons. Season with a little more salt and stir well.

Cook until the vegetables melt down. This sweetens the vegetables and enhances the flavours. Add the vegetable stock/bean water then bring to the boil. Stir in the beans then simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. If you have used a parmesan rind take it out and discard (chickens love them!).

I like to give the soup a quick mash to encourage creaminess but don’t overdo it.


Hey Presto Pepper Soup

The recent lockdown landed a large amount of vegetables into our kitchen – not a complaint but to be truthful too much of anything looses it’s appeal. We’ve been cooking our way through a box of red peppers and now we’re nearing the bottom they are beginning to get a little shabby so today I took the wrinkliest and made them into red pepper and tomato soup. This is super popular in our shop where we take a box of peppers, chop them up and toss them in olive oil and roast them in the oven. Ditto with ripe tomatoes.

Today’s recipe is made in a less industrial style. I didn’t even turn the oven on as roasting three peppers was definitely not going to save the planet, instead I slowly cooked them into sweet submission in a saucepan on the hob. We have eaten all of our fresh tomatoes so I used a can which always makes sense if it’s not tomato season or you don’t have any that need immediate attention.

Apart from the core flavourings – onion and celery – I added a tablespoon of red lentils, just to give the soup some body. Sometimes I use a diced potato but the choice is yours. Whatever you choose to use should remain anonymous in the soup – it’s just got a job to do not a starring role.

Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

3 red peppers

1 onion

1-2 stems celery

2-3tbs olive oil

1 can tomatoes or 6 ripe tomatoes diced

1 tbs red lentils or 1 potato peeled and diced

1 tsp ground cumin

800mls vegetable stock

salt and pepper

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat a saucepan, add the olive oil and onions then cook on a medium heat.

Chop the celery and add to the pot.

Wash and deseed the peppers then chop into small chunks. Add to the pot with a good pinch of salt and give everything a stir. Cook until the peppers begin to melt down, stirring from time to time.

Once the peppers have softened stir in the tomatoes, vegetable stock, ground cumin and lentils (or diced potato). Bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Take off the heat, buzz until smooth, taste and add more salt if needed.


Sunday Night Pasta

Sunday’s aren’t the culinary highlight of our week, more of lazy day whereby whoever’s hungriest first makes the dinner. Last nights dinner involved prowling around the fridge and vegetable basket where I discovered a piece of broccoli, half a jar of anchovies and the last of our home grown cherry tomatoes. Yes, our own tomatoes in January. They weren’t exactly sun kissed but at least we knew where they came from and it would be a crime not to eat them.

It’s a fast and easy dinner to make.

First put a big pot of water to boil then prep the broccoli. Slice the stalks into discs and the head into several pieces. When the water boils add 1tsp salt and all of the broccoli. Cook for 1 minute. This takes the raw edge off of the vegetable. Lift the broccoli out of the water – save the water to cook the pasta – then cool in cold water, drain, and chop into smaller pieces

Check out the cooking time for your pasta, mine was 10-12 minutes which is perfect for bringing the dish together. Bring the water back to the boil and add another teaspoon of salt and the pasta . Give it a stir and check the clock or put a timer on

Put a large pan onto the heat, add good drizzle of olive oil and all of the broccoli. Cook stirring until the broccoli takes a little colour – around 4 minutes. Lift the broccoli from the pan then take the pan off the heat for a minute to cool a little before adding a little more olive oil, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and a good pinch of chilli flakes.

Cooling the pan is important as you don’t want to burn the garlic. The garlic should sizzle all the same and once it’s cooked for 30 seconds the pan can go back on a medium heat. Stir in 4-5 anchovies – leave them out if you would like a vegetarian version – these will dissolve into the garlic mix then throw in the cherry tomatoes (which I halved). Turn the heat up and cook everything together for a minute or two then add the broccoli back into the pan.

As soon as the pasta is cooked drain it, saving a few spoonfuls of the cooking water to loosen everything up. Taste to check the seasoning – as the anchovies are salty it might just be perfect if not add a little salt

Toss the pasta with the vegetables and add enough water to moisten everything.

Serve with grated parmesan or pecorino

Delicious with a Sunday night glass of wine!


Memories of Cuba

When we visited Cuba I enjoyed eating Fritura de Malanga which are fritters made from Taro root. These crispy fritters were often the one and only vegetarian choice bar rice and beans so I ate a lot of them .

Looking through my recipes I came across my notes on Fritura de malangas remembering this sunshine snack. 

Taro doesn’t grow around here but we have plenty of parsnips so I exchanged them and the results were really good and it also cranked up the points for sustainable eating.. The parsnips aren’t as starchy as taro but even though the batters looked very different (I’d done some YouTube snooping) they made excellent fritters. Another bonus from the YouTube snooping was the idea to put some cheese in the middle. We still had a knob of gorganzola left from the xmas cheese board which I thought would partner well with parsnips but I’d say use whatever you have or fancy.

500-600g parsnips

2 cloves garlic

2 eggs

½ tsp salt

About 100g cheese – something that’ll melt

Vegetable oil to fry

Peel the parsnips and grate finely – this is quite slow but it’s what you have to do!

Peel the garlic and chop finely.

Put the grated parsnips, chopped garlic and salt into a bowl then mix in the eggs.

You will have a quite dense paste/batter.

Cut the cheese into small cubes – no bigger than 1cm

Using a dessertspoon take small amounts of the parsnip mix and mould it onto the spoon then using your thumb make an indentation in the middle, pop a piece of cheese in and mould the paste back around the cheese so that it’s completely covered.

Put the fritter/croquette onto a plate and repeat the process until your mix is used up.

Put the fritter/croquette onto a plate and repeat the process until your mix is used up.

Heat 2-3cms vegetable oil in a deep sided frying pan or shallow pot, When it’s hot enough,  a piece of bread should pop to the surface as soon as you drop it in, start frying the fritters. Fry them on a medium heat as they need to cook through. Cook for 3-4 minutes turning them half way. Reduce the heat if they are browning too quickly.

Serve with something to dip – mayonnaise, alioli, or as in Cuba some kind of fruity sauce. I use mango chutney thinned with a little sugar syrup or alioli.