No Fuss Gnocchi

gnocchiI think everyone who has ever met me knows how I feel about potatoes. Pretty much a full food group in my life, I am never without a bag of spuds. My idea of treating myself is to buy a different sort for each recipe and mull over the merits of Anyas, King Edwards, Desirees and Kerr Pinks. I’ve even grown my own and spent hours on the internet trying to find the elusive Yukon Gold. I’m either slightly obessive or painfully stereotypically Irish.

So imagine how pained I was when I went to buy a bag of bog basic white spuds last week and they were a mindbending £2.40 for 2.5 kilos. At the rate I consume potatoes that’s bumped my shopping budget up to a point where there’s just not much wiggle room. I had two options: stop eating potatoes or find a cheaper option.

Obviously I went for the latter and decided to play around with the bag of Sainsbury’s Basics Instant Mashed Potato I bought a while back as a cheaper gluten free alternative to breadcrumbs and batter. 125g of dry mash and 150ml milk and 425ml water makes 695g of mash, meaning one 250g bag costing 49p makes well over a kilo of mash.

Unfortunately I have bad memories of instant mash from school dinners where it came served in uniform scoops with a oddly powdery texture. It needed so much butter that it would be heartstopping in cost and health consequences. So what was I going to do with my mountain of mash now?

Older, wiser and more versed in the potato dishes of the world, that’s an easy one. I’m going to make gnocchi with it. And potato bread. Then I’m going to marvel at how quick both are and how I suddenly feel like one of those home economics teachers from the 70s by telling you this.

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Raspberry Ruffle Macaroons

coconut macaroons

You will have probably realised from the photographs that these are macaroons, not macaron. Big hulking coconut numbers rather than their Gallic cousins with their egg white shells. These are the thing to eat with a big cup of tea poring over the Sunday papers and putting your feet up. Sticky, chewy and very easy to make, I’m Team Macaroon all the way.

I think it’s because I grew up eating Raspberry Ruffles. Seemingly a Scottish and Northern Irish treat, these small nuggets of vivid pink coconut and dark chocolate were very grown up to me and I loved them. I hadn’t seen them for years but when I reasserted my love of the macaroon recently, I had a massive blast of nostalgia for them. And since raspberries are in season right now, it seemed a shame not to try making my own version, especially since they are incredibly easy…

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The Perfect Potato Salad

potato salad

I remain ever optimistic that spring, never mind summer, is just around the corner. Warm light evenings, the smell of barbecues in the air, Pimms on the patio, all the indicators of warm weather for many. But for me, I know it’s summer when it’s time to make potato salad.

Mister North and I grew up on potato salad. Family picnics and barbecues always involved a big salad bowl of it designed to last several days out. But because our mum makes the best potato salad possible, it never lasted more than one meal with the last chunk of spud highly prized.

Since we started blogging, I’ve debated whether to share this family secret with you all, but since pretty much every person who has ever tried a batch of the potato salad made the North/South Food way has asked for the recipe, I’ve decided the time has come. The secret is a little bit of milk in with the mayonnaise. Before you raise your brows, it lightens the mayo so that it coats the potatoes better and thus makes the salad creamier without being greasy or overwhelming.

I’ve grown up making this so I never weigh anything so I’m giving you a description not a list.

The Perfect Potato Salad: intended to serve 4

  • 1 kg of salad potatoes such as Charlottes
  • 2 heaped tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 scallions or handful dill, chopped
  • 2 big gherkins, chopped (optional)
  • salt and pepper

You can make this with any potato really, but a firm waxy salad potato like a Charlotte is perfect. Sainsbury’s Basic Salad Potatoes at a quid a bag are simply the ones too knobbly and bobbly to make it to the Taste the Difference range. Cut your potatoes into quarters and leave the skin on. Boil for about 8 minutes or until al dente. You do not want a floury fluffy potato here so don’t overcook.

I flit between two types of potato salad, either a slightly Germanic one with lashings of chopped dill and gherkins or a more Irish version with chopped scallions. Both are delicious. I find the dill version a better basis for a meal and the scallion one a side dish.

If you are doing scallions, slice both the green and white while the potatoes are cooking. Place them in the colander you’ll use to drain the potatoes and then empty the pan of boiling water and potatoes over them. This blanches them and stops them being too oniony. Allow everything to cool for about 30 minutes.

Boil the kettle and fill a mug half full of boiling water. Place your tablespoon in it and allow it to heat up slightly. Then scoop out your mayonnaise into another mug or small bowl. Measure out half a tablespoon of milk. I use semi skimmed. You could use full fat. Mix well. You’re looking for a consistency slightly thicker than double cream, but still suitable for pouring. Add the other half tablespoon if needed (if you use the oddly textured Hellmanns, you probably will.)

Pour the mayo dressing over the still very slightly warm potatoes and the blanched scallions and mix well so it coats well. If you’re using dill instead, add it and the gherkins at this stage. Serve the salad and watch the bowl empty rapidly. My suggestion is to make a lot more than you need. There is never enough…

Paris Buns

3 buns

Baked goods have become very complicated these days. Cakes are 7 layered wonders, iced to Sistine Chapel like standards. Cupcakes have wacky flavourings and enough frosting to get lost in. Breads have starters from 500 years ago that require the kind of nurturing of a pet. It gets quite exhausting. Faced with so much choice, I’ve had a yen for something very simple. And nothing gets more simple than the staple of the Belfast bakery when I was a child, the Paris Bun.

Sweet bready cakes the size of your fist, they were little mounds of total simplicity, only jazzed up by a scattering of crisp pearled sugar on top. Some might even say they are a bit dull, but I loved them. Similarly comforting as a Rich Tea biscuit or a malted milk, they go quietly and unobstrusively with a cup of tea mid afternoon. No one outside of Northern Ireland and the west coast of Scotland seems to have known their un-showy charms and it was frankly a devil to get a recipe for them. I’ve ended up cobbling something together from three or four bits and bobs on ex-pat forums, adding my own twist in the shape of malt powder to give them a slight richness and flavour. Despite all that, they were very easy to make.

Paris Buns: makes 12

  • 115g butter
  • 125g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Horlicks or other malt powder (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g plain unsweetened yoghurt or buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2  teaspoons baking powder
  • Pearl sugar to scatter

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the Horlicks powder and the baking soda and mix well. Crack the eggs in and pour in the yoghurt. Mix until a batter forms. It will look slightly curdled, but this is fine.

Sift in the flour and the baking powder and mix until the batter becomes a soft dough that pulls away from the sides and forms a lump in the middle of the bowl. Don’t overmix.

Place dessertspoonfuls of the mix on a baking paper covered tray. Paris Buns are traditionally a smooth domed shape with a slight point on the top which looks quite bosom like, so try and make these smooth and slightly more upright as they will spread while cooking. Scatter with pearled sugar and then bake at 220℃ for about 12 minutes. They should be a golden sun kissed colour rather than actually brown. Cool on a wire rack.

I was as pleased as punch with these. Paris buns could be a bit dry in my memory but the yoghurt in these makes them very soft and the malt powder gives them a stickier crumb with a beautiful glossiness. I had one with a cup of Suki Belfast Brew tea and it was the perfect combination. If you like your baked goods simple, do give these a try. They are so quick and delicious, you’ll understand why things that work well in Belfast are described as ‘wee buns’….

PS: I have no idea why they are called Paris buns. I suspect the shape might be supposed to look like the Eiffel tower. If you really squint…

Dulse Tapenade: the Province meets Provence

dulse tapenade

When I was a child, I hadn’t yet discovered my high umami fascination. Olives didn’t tickle me, I only liked anchovies marinaded and one of the strongest memories of disliking a food in childhood came with one of the strongest flavours I tasted, in the shape of dulse. Dulse is a seaweed, very common around the coast of Ireland and particularly associated for us with the north coast town of Ballycastle and its famed Auld Lammas Fair. In an early adoption of the salt sweet craze, people bring Yellowman and dulse back from there as treats and it was this contrast that caused my long lasting reaction.

Yellowman is the sweetest crunchy thing you can imagine and dulse is intensely iron rich and seawater salty with a slightly rubbery texture and it is one extreme to the other for a five year old. I never eaten dulse since and the thought of it has always made me feel a bit queasy. But when I was back in Belfast last week, I went for lunch at the Belfast Barge and ordered their superb seafood platter and in with the spankingly fresh seafood and fish was a healthy sprinkling of dulse that would be hard to avoid.

Belfast Barge seafood platter

Bravely loading up my fork with some dulse, a caper or two and a marinaded anchovy, I tried it again, hoping the flavours I liked would hide the one I didn’t. I was very very surprised when I loved it. The flavours all went together like nobody’s business and appealed to my umami addiction utterly. It was so good that before I had finished the plate, I was asking my mum where I could get some dulse to bring home.

I wanted to combine those fishy and salty and savoury flavours to the fullest extent and my mind immediately went to tapenade, loaded up with olives, anchovies and capers and dulse. It needed something fresh and clean on the side and Felicity Cloake solved my dilemma by posting a ceviche recipe this week. Not only do I now know how to liven up a sea bream, but I’d found my perfect partner for the ultimate umami paste!

Dulse Tapanade: makes enough for two people

  • 20g dulse (mail order here or get from St George’s Market on a Saturday or the Bethany Fruit & Veg on the Cregagh Road)
  • 20 black olives, stoned
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • squirt lemon juice
  • good handful parsley and fresh thyme

Check your dulse carefully for any small shells or crustaceans, then chop roughly. Add into a hand blender along with the olives, capers and anchovies, all of which should also been finely chopped. Blitz until mixed. (You could also use a pestle and mortar.)

Add the olive oil and lemon juice until you reach the desired consistency. Because this was a main course thing for me, I kept it drier and chunkier, but if you wanted to make it a dip add more until smooth. It’s super easy to make and should take about 5 minutes tops.

I served mine with boiled Charlotte potatoes (Sainsbury’s Basics Salad Potatoes are the less shapely Charlottes and are under a quid) and with the lime and salt rich ceviche on the side. This is not entry level umami. This is the equivalent of the 80s ads where the Tango man slaps you round the face with a salty fishy savoury explosion. It’s addictively good. I smothered my spuds in tapenade and when I ran out of carbs, ate it by dunking broccoli florets in it, revelling in every tantalisingly over the top mouthful, unable to get quite enough of it.

The sharp of tang of the soft fish (and Felicity’s recipe with sea bream was bang on) cuts through the oiliness of the tapenade perfectly while enhancing it completely. This was one of those meals that took less than 15 minutes to make, was utterly simple in its ingredients and was so good I could hardly believe it. Just perfect for these lingeringly warm autumnal days, I can hardly believe how much I’ve fallen for dulse. This must mean I’m a grown up now!

Dulse Tapenade