Monthly Archives: July 2010
After my wonderful visit to the Irish Embassy last week – see last post – I felt inspired to do something with the lovely big bag of Irish oats that I brought home with me. What to make? For me it’s too hot for porridge at the moment – I’ll save that pleasure for the chilly mornings of Autumn. But it’s the perfect time for picnics and we always love snacks to take out on our travels. So I decided to make a big, crunchy slab of granola to break into bars just for that purpose. With summer camps and day trips galore on the menu, these delicious little bars provide a healthy boost of energy.
I’m crazy about nuts and seeds – I like nutty things to be really nutty, not just a scanty hint. That’s the great thing about creating your own food, you get to make it just how you like it! So my granola bars are a luxurious mix of oats, and nuts and seeds, blended together in a syrup of butter, brown sugar and honey and perfumed with vanilla. I try to go easy on the butter and sugar in the recipe so that I can feel pious in my indulgence. Is that possible?
Very Nutty Granola Bars
Like most of my recipes, this one is pliable. There is much latitude to vary the ingredients and make the bars just as you like them. You can use any nuts or seeds that you like. Or just seeds. Or add some dried fruit, sometimes I do that too. Even the grains/flakes can vary – you can just use oats, or mix with wheat, rice, barley…I found a bag of mixed grain porridge recently and I like to add this to the oats.
Here is my recipe as a basic guide.
150g light brown or golden caster sugar
150g of golden syrup or honey (or a combination of the two)
100g peanut butter, I use whole, crunchy type
350g of oat and/or other grain flakes
125g seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp, all good (your choice)
125g nuts, chopped – pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, all good as above
one teaspoon of vanilla essence
Heat oven to 180 centigrade and line a shallow baking pan (about 30x45cm) with baking paper.
In a large heavy pan, melt together the butter with the sugar and syrup and/or honey. When the sugar is dissolved, blend in the peanut butter. Remove from the heat and add all the dry ingredients and mix it all up well, along with the teaspoon of vanilla.
Turn the mixture out onto the baking sheet and press it out evenly. I cover it all with another sheet of baking paper and use my hands to press in evenly into the pan. (Then take the top sheet off before baking.) This makes it easier to cut into bars later.
Bake for about 20 to 2 minutes until golden brown all over. Allow to cool in the pan. Then cut into bars or squares as you wish.
Lovely with a bowl of hot chocolate or cafe au lait!
Last Wednesday evening I had the great fortune of being invited to the Irish Embassy in London for a photography workshop with the amazing food photographer and stylist, Alastair Hendy. I couldn’t have been more excited as I often see Alastair’s work in magazines and books – and it’s beautiful. Not only that, Alastair controls all the elements in creating a feature, or photograph – recipes, writing, styling photography. That’s what I do too. As do many food bloggers. For me, it can be lonely working alone at times, and I appreciate any opportunity to learn more from other photographers and stylists. Even just to chat about it all is so welcome. This event provided that, and more.
Along with Alastair’s workshop, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, presented us with a showcase of glorious Irish food products. Many products were those that Ireland is famous for – salmon, whiskey, and oats – but also many unexpected such as a jewel-like box of Turkish delight. This cornocopia was all available for us to style and photograph in the practical part of the workshop -along with Alastair’s copious assortment of props. It was frankly overwhelming, there was so much to choose from I could have stayed for a week and been happy. With only an hour or two, I didn’t know where to start. I teamed up with Matina of Feta & Arepa and we concentrated our efforts on the spirits!
Alastair started with a talk about his work, and gave us some great advice and tips. One of the top messages I took away was that oldie but goodie: less is more! Styling – which I think is fundamental to the conception/creation of the photograph – is a tricky art and keeping things simple can be the key to a beautiful result. Alastair also spoke about colour palettes and lighting before letting us wreak havoc on his fantastic collection of props. We all had fun styling and snapping away as he came around to offer his guidance. Thanks Alastair – it was really helpful and lots of fun.
The Irish Embassy and Bord Bia put on a wonderful event and I so enjoyed it. (Thank you!) And it was great to see some of my food blogging pals and meet some new ones too.
In my next post, I’m going to use some of those lovely Irish oats to make some granola bars.
Apricots are truly splendid – draped in their vibrant, velvety skins and with a fragrance of pure sunshine they instantly lift the spirit. Even their name is pleasing. But it is the unique, intense flavour of the apricot that most delights. During the English summertime we turn much of our attention to all the lovely ripe berries, and rightly so. But I think we shouldn’t neglect the other gorgeous fruits around, especially apricots.
For me, apricots taste especially delicious when cooked. As a child, I loved apricot jam above all others. It’s the combination of cooking and a bit of sugar that intensifies the aroma and balances the acidity into that deliciousness. Sometimes I add a touch of vanilla too. I keep a jar of vanilla infused sugar in my kitchen and use that, or otherwise a few drops of vanilla essence. I do think it’s important to use a good quality brand of vanilla essence – it makes a real difference. This morning I made a quick apricot and brown sugar compote, highlighted with a dash of vanilla.
Apricot and Brown Sugar Compote
6-7 apricots, (250g) halved and stones removed
half a cup (100g) brown sugar. I use gorgeous Barbados sugar.
a few drops of vanilla essence
In a heavy pan, melt the sugar with a tablespoon of water and allow to bubble in the pan for a couple of minutes over high heat. Be careful that it doesn’t scorch. Add the apricots and let them soften in the bubbling brown sugar for a few more minutes. I just let them cook down a little until they are very vibrant in colour and just losing their shape. That’s it. Add a few drops of vanilla essence if you wish.
This compote is lovely to eat just as it is, cooled a little. Or with some yogurt or ice cream. Or with a slice of sponge cake. Outside on the steps in the sunshine…thinking about Provence and market stalls laden with summer fruits, lavender and honey!