Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beetroot Chocolate Brownies

When you have giant beetroot to use up (some weighing up to a kilogram), you have to get creative with this beautiful purple root. And man is it versatile. I am constantly trying to convince people to let go of their adversion to beetroot which stems from memories of cheap jars of harshly pickled slices (which I happen to love too) and taste it in it's natural form, maybe roasted, steamed or boiled. 

If that doesn't entice you, how about something like these?

Who can resist BROWNIES!? Evidently I can't as I've eaten a chocolatey gooey lump the size of my head over the last few days.

It's like looking at the surface of some delicious uninhabited chocolate moon.

Chocolate and beetroot is a tried and tested cominbation and you will find lots of recipes online for cake, muffins, brownies etc. I adapted a recipe from old reliable BBC Good Food. The cooking time given on the original recipe is 25 minutes but I think you would have to be using quite a shallow tray to achieve this. If you are using a loaf tin like I did, the cooking time is 55 minutes.

I used raw beetroot and steamed it before adding to the mix. You could use shop bought vacuum packed cooked beetroot but be aware that it has to be hot for the recipe so the chocolate will melt.

Using a food processor and hand mixer will make your work a lot easier but it is possible to do this without appliances. You would have to melt the butter and chocolate over the hob and grate the beetroot before adding. 


500g raw beetroot
100g butter cubed plus extra for greasing
200g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces (as always I used Madagascar chocolate from Lidl)
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g plain flour
25g cocoa powder (I used Bournville)


Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4/180C/350F

Grease and line your tin - I used a 2lb loaf tin

Peel and cube the beetroot and steam until tender

Turn on your food processor and add the hot cooked beetroot, chocolate pieces, cubes of butter and vanilla extract

Blend until the mix is smooth - the hot beetroot will melt the butter and chocolate.

TASTE IT - it is to die for. To be honest, I wouldn't blame you if you just abandoned the rest of the recipe and decided to eat the whole bowl with a spoon.

In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer until they are pale and frothy. 

Into the eggy sugary froth, fold the chocolate mix slowly until blended. Try not to mix too long or hard so you conserve the air.

Into this mix, sieve the flour and cocoa powder and slowly blend everything with a fork. This is a bit time consuming as the flour tends to sit on top of the liquid but it will all come together nicely.

Pour the finished mix into your prepared tin

Bake for 55 minutes if using my 2lb loaf tin - less if you are using a more shallow tin. The best way to gauge is to cook until the top has crusted but there is still a very slight wobble underneath.

Cool completely and cut into slices.

Store in an airtight lunch box and they will keep moist up to a week. Although I've never known a brownie that lived a week.

Leftovers: Natural Yoghurt

Proper sugar-free natural yoghurt is one of those foods I think lasts a lot longer than what is stated on the tub, usually a conservative three days. If you happen to have some leftover after the three days and would prefer not to eat it straight, consider using it in a cooked dish before you throw it out.

1. Baking

My excess yoghurt usually goes into the healthy breakfast muffin recipe I have posted here before. These muffins are a simple batter mix that freeze excellently and defrost rapidly. Take one straight from the freezer in the morning and it will be ready to eat by the time you get your tea break at work.

2. Healthier topping on savoury meals

For meals that call for a cheese topping (enchiladas for example), consider making it healthier by only using half the required quantity of cheese and mixing it with enough natural yoghurt to spread over the dish. You can then bake/grill as normal. It will still brown and look delicious.

3. Cool down or cream up a curry

If you need to tone down a spicy curry, stir the natural yoghurt into the dish a minute before it finishes cooking.

4. Marinade your meat

Natural yoghurt will tenderize your meat and is especially suited to chicken and lamb. A no mess technique is to put your meat in a ziplock plastic bag, pour in the yoghurt, seal and shake/squeeze/mush to coat at the meat. Store in the fridge until cooking, preferably overnight.

So become a cultured individual and get friendly with natural yoghurt!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why Frugal Living Works For Me

A constant state of dissatisfaction is, I think, a pretty accurate description of today's quintessential sedentary 9-5 urban modern life. In Ireland, where we have freedom, opportunities and safe living, people are still not truly happy.  And you might be surprised to discover the kind of people who are happiest. In my experience, it is not wealth, social status, beauty or anything tangible that increases a person's happiness.

But we are all different and have to do the best with what we've got, so everybody's path to happiness will be different. For me, free time is my ultimate goal. That is time to do anything I want, whether that be to do nothing at all. I am lucky to work in a job that allows me to apply for unpaid leave so keeping my living costs down means I can afford to work less. I have been working a four day week for six months now. My expenses are still the same from when I was working five days (slightly greater in fact as I now have a child), and I am still saving money. My job is not a high paid job. I pay rent of €350 a month. I pay for part time child care. I have a car (which I bought for cash with savings).

I began to look at purchases in terms of time. I see a beautiful pair of boots in a shop window and I want them. I look at the price - €80 - or one day's work. So it's the boots or a day off work. The day off wins and I walk on.

I just don't buy things anymore. By things I mean non-perishable items (not food/medicine/cosmetics/cleaning products/fuel - of course you can make frugal choices with these life necessities too). It took me a while to get to this point. I built up my possessions for the first few years that I started working - long lasting pieces like a guitar, cooking appliances, reference books, a range of jewellery, good clothes and shoes. But once you get to a certain level of personal and household items, you just don't really have to buy much anymore. What I need was a reason. Becoming a mother was the driving force, but I had been thinking about paring down my lifestyle for a while. My time is everything to me now. When you wear the same clothes for years, they eventually come back into fashion!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Grew a Jalapeño Pepper

It may be small and it may be wrinkly but its a ripe jalapeño pepper and it's spicy. No propagator needed, just grown outside in the elements for ages against a south facing wall and ripened in a brown bag on my kitchen window sill. I didn't even expect it to be red!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Planting Onion Sets in Autumn

Autumn is a great time for planting as the soil is warm and moist as opposed to cold and waterlogged as is typical of Spring. There are many many types of vegetables you can grow this time of year, particularly if you are lucky enough to have a polytunnel or greenhouse. For those of us stuck with the unsheltered outdoors, onion sets are a must. This year I am trying Senshyu onion sets. I had a beautiful, fresh blustery day for planting.

Some guidelines for planting onion sets:

1. Plant in well dug soil in an open site.

2. Do not plant in recently manured soil as overly fertile ground will result in lush green growth but poor root development, and it's the root we are interested in. Perhaps use a patch of ground that you formerly grew vegetables that had received plenty of compost/organic matter in the Spring.

3. Place your sets on your well dug soil so you can plan your spacing. Here is my plot; I have planted closer than often recommended after seeing how well onions can grow close together.

3. Once you have arranged your sets, loosen the soil around the bulb so you can push it gently just below ground level, not deep in the way you would plant garlic or flower bulbs. Some recommend leaving the tip of the onion exposed but you may have problems with birds uprooting them. Smooth over the soil surface.

4. Bulbs should only require watering in particularly dry weather.

5. A long growing season is necessary for the development of good sized bulbs.

6. To harvest onions for fresh use, you can lift them as you need them once they have reached a decent size. For storage, wait until the stalk has naturally began to fall over. Lift and lay in a warm dry place to dry until the outer skins are paper dry. Harvested onions can be stored for months hanging in nylon tights (knot each one individually to separate).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Crusty Life: 11th October 2014

There certainly wasn't any post from me this day last year as I was in labour right now (think happy thoughts...think happy thoughts :)) so today I am doing a bit of prep for my son's first birthday party tomorrow. And the slow cooker has been the star of the day so far, along with the spatula for getting ALL the melted chocolate from the side of the mixing bowl in to my rice krispie buns!

I am serving cold salad plates as the main food tomorrow so I have been getting all jobs possible out of the way today. First endeavour was to cook an unsmoked ham for slicing and on the advice of internet people, I cooked it in the slow cooker. It was a 4lb ham. I sprinkled about quarter of a cup of brown sugar on the bottom of the pot, rolled the ham in it and sprinkled a tablespoon more on top, added a splash of water and set to low for 6 hours. I am not usually a ham fan, and my other half is a major ham fan but untrusting of the slow cooker (aren't you supposed to cover the ham with water???). The result was two savage humans eating far too much of the ham that is supposed to be for the party guests. Nom nom nom it is delicious. Moist with a touch of sweetness and sliced marvelously. Once the ham was done, in went the chicken dressed up with nothing but a rub of onion powder and garlic powder. I will shred all the meat of the bone once cooked.

I made pasta salad by combining it with boiled egg, tomato, spring onion, mayo and french dressing. I was supposed to make coleslaw using my own cabbage from the garden but that can wait until tomorrow. I also have those wonderful cucumbers I was gifted which will be nice and refreshing eaten straight from the fridge. I will make a simple tomato salad by putting halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion in a ziplock bag with torn basil leaves, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Shake up the bag and leave to marinade. Some people leave in the fridge but I think it will be sweeter kept at room temperature.

I made the aforementioned chocolate rice krispie buns, star of any birthday party. I entertained the idea of making the cake, for sentimental reasons more than anything, but I'm not the most talented baker so we decided on a nice fresh fruit pavlova instead. I'll make a batch of queen cakes in the morning, and I have the ingredients for green icing so we'll see how kind time is to us.

Non party related but I finally pulled my borlotti bean pods of my plants, opened the bright red pods to find lovely red and white speckled beans inside. I boiled them in water (they lose their colour unfortunately) and ate them plain. Delicious. Quite like butter beans. I almost burned them too. I think I would have cried.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spiced Apple Chutney

This is yet another seasonal preserves recipe to use up those cooking apples you might have gotten your hands on. I have made this chutney as part of Christmas hampers and out of all the goodies, it commanded the biggest applause with everyone loving it. Like all of the recipes I post, it is simple with chopping being the biggest effort required. See the original recipe here. I get no more excited by Christmas than the next person but if you are going to make homemade gifts, bear in mind that some benefit from a few months of maturing. The following recipe calls for two to three months of sitting around before it is at its best for eating.

Spiced Apple Chutney

Fills 4 standard jam jars


225g onions chopped
900g cooking apples chopped (no need to peel)
110g sultanas (the original recipe calls for a mix of sultanas, currants and chopped dates - I figure readers are more likely to have sultanas at home but the dates would be wonderful if you have some)
15g ground coriander
15g paprika
15g mixed spice
15g salt
340g granulated sugar
425ml malt vinegar


Put all the ingredients into a pot.

Slowly bring to the boil until all the sugar has dissolved.

Simmer for 2 hours, until the mixture is thick (keep an eye on it and stir regularly once thickening, to prevent sticking).

Fill your hot sterilised jars with the hot mixture and seal.

Leave in a dark cupboard for a few months before eating.