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Monday, 5 December 2011

Post the Fiftieth (in which our heroine must take a break for a while)

Fifty posts!  It should be a bit of a milestone. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to take my leave of you for a time.  There's some stuff going on "in real life" as it were which renders me unable to give the blog the time it deserves.

So, I must bid you all adieu temporarily.  I hope not to be gone too long, and I sincerely hope you'll all still be here when I return.


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Post the Forty-ninth (in which we see the worst photo of the blog so far)

It really is quite bad.  Apologies in advance.  I'm staying in my mam's at the moment and my camera (as crappy as it is) is at home, so I'm stuck with phone pics for the time being.  The sad thing is that the blurry, out-of-focus, badly composed photo you're about to see is the best of the five or six pictures I took.  We're in for a rough couple of weeks on the blog, folks...

I will probably also have a battle on my hands to be let cook enough to even maintain the blog.  I've mentioned before that my mother never seems overly-keen on the idea of me cooking.  I think this is down to the fact that A) she feels like she should be minding me, and B) she is always secretly convinced that I'm going to poison everyone. Anyone who eats their steak bloody clearly can't be trusted in the kitchen...

I did, however, win the battle for the kitchen last night. It remains to be seen who will win the war...

Pork & Feta Pie - serves 4-6

500g pork mince                        500g pork chops, finely diced
250g feta cheese                        1 egg
Zest of 1 lemon                          Medium bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 onion, diced                            1 stick of celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed              1 large red chili, finely diced
1 tsp ground cumin                     10 sheets filo pastry
Salt & pepper                             Oil for brushing

1. Place the mince, diced pork, onion, garlic, celery, egg, chili, coriander & cumin in a large bowl.  Crumble over the feta, season well and mix everything really thoroughly.

2. Brush a rectangular baking dish (preferably metal, but it's not a deal-breaker) with oil. Lay five of the filo sheets in the dish, allowing a little to hang over the edges; brushing each one with oil as you go.  Press the pork mix into the dish and smooth over. Lay the other five sheets on top, again brushing each one with oil as you go.  Fold over the overhanging edges and brush the whole lot with one more layer of oil.  Stab a little cross in the centre to allow steam to escape.

3. Bake in an oven preheated to 200C for 40 minutes.  If the pastry is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil until the last 10 minutes of cooking.  Allow to stand for 10 minutes before slicing into six pieces.  Serve with spinach salad, yoghurt and maybe some potato salad.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Post the Forty-eighth (in which our heroine continues her thrifty ways)

So, you made the pot-roasted chicken for dinner last night.  Amazing, wasn't it? And now we're going to make the second dinner from our chicken, and bask in the warm glow of our recessionist ways.  Ok, so it necessitates eating chicken two nights in a row, but for most people I know, this won't be a problem.

So, take your chicken out of the fridge and strip the bird of as much meat as you possibly can.  You'll be amazed how much there is on it.  Don't be afraid of the dark meat; it's the tastiest kind.  Put all the meat onto a large chopping board and go over it with a big knife a couple of times to dice it up a bit, then set aside.  You can chuck the skin out (or give it to your dogs, if you have any), but hang on to the bones and carcass to make stock - stick them into a sandwich bag and bung into the freezer until you have two or three chickens' worth.

Anyway, tonight's dinner is a complete change taste-wise to last night's.  You could also, of course, make the chicken & spinach lasagna from a few weeks back with the leftover chicken.  But do give this dish a try at some stage too, because it's a bit of an oul taste sensation.

Buffalo Chicken Casserole - serves 4

1 onion, diced                              Approx. 500g leftover, cooked chicken, roughly diced
1 red chili, finely diced                  3 cloves garlic, crushed
500ml natural yoghurt                   250ml creme fraiche or sour cream
Bunch coriander, chopped            100ml Frank's Red Hot Sauce
2 large flour tortillas                      100g mature cheddar cheese, grated

1. Heat a little oil in a pan and saute the onion, chili & garlic until softened, but not coloured.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the yoghurt, sour cream/creme fraiche and Frank's Red Hot Sauce.

2.  Add the chicken, coriander and fried onions to the sauce and mix well. Spread a third of this mixture on the bottom of an ovenproof dish.  Top with one of the tortillas, tearing it to fit the dish if needs be.  Repeat with another third of the chicken, the other tortilla, then finish with the last of the chicken mix.  Top with the grated cheese, then bake in an oven preheated to 200C until golden and bubbling.  Serve with a spinach, lime & coriander salad.

Btw, if you fancy making this and don't happen to have a leftover roast chicken knocking around, just poach two large chicken fillets, chop them and carry on as above.  Or, you could use turkey mince and fry it off with the onions & garlic.

By the way, if you've never had Frank's Red Hot Sauce before, get the hell out to the shop NOW and buy some.  It is, quite frankly (pun 100% intended) the best thing in the whole wide world. Ever.  This is what they use to make the chicken wings in Tribeca and the Elephant and Castle, for those of you who didn't already know that.  Just make sure you get the Original version, not the Wings one.

And if anyone reading has a Musrgaves card and would like to have me indebted to them forever, you can get a 3 litre bottle of Frank's there for €19.  Christmas is a-coming, folks!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Post the Forty-seventh (in which our heroine vows to be more savvy with leftovers)

We don't really have a leftover culture in Ireland.  I'm not sure why this is, considering we were, as a nation, dirt poor for a long time, but it's just not something we're particularly good at. Maybe, in my family, it was to do with the fact that there was seven of us, so there didn't tend to be a whole lot left at the end of a given meal.  But since we've all moved away and there's only two of us here chez moi and three people chez maman, we don't seem to have improved a whole lot.  Oh, our intentions are good, let there be no doubt about that.  But intent seems to be all we have.  Intent, and a motley collection of mismatched tupperware in the fridge at any given time, all containing bits of food of unknown provenance and varying age.  This is particularly the case in my mother's house.  It's like she has to allow food to sojourn in the fridge for a week or two before she can throw it out guilt-free.

In my house, the food rarely makes it as far as the fridge in the first place.  It goes directly to the dogs as soon as we've finished eating.  A few weeks back, after Emmet and I had eaten the best bits off a roast chicken for dinner, I was stripping the rest of the bird and giving it to the dogs, and it was mostly gone before I realised how wasteful I was being.  Buying a whole chicken and getting one dinner for two people out of it?  Frickin' ridiculous!  So, today and tomorrow's posts will show you how to get two meals out of one chicken  Now, obviously how much meat is left on your chicken after day one will depend on how big it was in the first place, and how many people it served.  For comparison, I used a 1.4kg free-range bird, which fed Emmet and I the first night (and he wasn't sparing with his portions, as usual) and made four servings of the second-night recipe.  So, if you plan to feed four people both nights, obviously get a bigger chicken and maybe make a bit more of the veg sauce.  Or, just add a side dish or two - green beans and cauliflower cheese, maybe.

This is by far my favourite ever way of eating roast chicken.  I can quite honestly say that I will never bother "dry" roasting one again.  You will need either a cast-iron casserole or a deep metal roasting tin to do this in, as you start it on the hob and then transfer the whole lot to the oven.

Pot Roasted Chicken - serves 2

1.4kg chicken                                    2 sticks celery, diced
1 large leek, cleaned & sliced             1 large onion, diced
150g bacon lardons                            3 cloves garlic, diced
150ml white wine                               500ml chicken stock
2 potatoes, peeled & quartered          Loaf of ciabatta, sliced
Salt & pepper                                    Olive oil & a knob of butter
Sprig each of rosemary, thyme & parsley

1. Melt the butter and a splash of olive oil in your casserole or roasting tin.  Fry the chicken on all sides until evenly golden, then remove to a plate and season all over with salt & pepper.  Stuff the herb sprigs into the cavity & wash your hands.

2. Add the onion, garlic & bacon to the dish and fry briskly for 5 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 150C at this stage.  Add the leek & celery and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Deglaze the dish with the white wine, making sure you stir any lovely sticky bits off the bottom of the pan.  Allow the alcohol to cook off - about five minutes.

3. Return the chicken to the dish, snuggling it down into the veg a bit.  Tuck your potato quarters in around it, then pour the chicken stock over the whole lot.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid or with a double-layer of tinfoil, pop into the oven and roast for 80 minutes.  (That's perfect for a 1.4kg bird.  Obviously increase the time for a heavier chicken.)

4. Take the dish out of the oven and put back on the hob.  Carefully remove the chicken and potatoes from the dish and leave to rest on a clean, warm plate.  (By the way, allowing it to rest upside-down will result in a lovely, juicy breast.)  Bring the veg & stock mix to a rapid boil and allow to reduce by a fifth.

5. While this is happening, toast your ciabatta slices very lightly under the grill.  You don't really want to colour them at all, just crisp them up enough so they don't fall to soggy pieces in the sauce.  Take your roasting tin/casserole off the hob, place the ciabatta slices on top and bring the whole thing to the table along with the chicken on its plate. Assign one person to carve the chicken.

6. Give everyone a warmed plate and allow them to serve themselves -  a big dollop of the veg sauce on top of the ciabatta is HEAVEN!

When you're done eating, cover the remains of the chicken with foil, allow to cool to room temperature, then stick in the fridge until tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Post the Forty-sixth (in which our heroine gets herself stuck in a dress)

Yep, right in there.  Anyone who has ever got their hand or head stuck in a small space will be familiar with the rising sense of panic as I realised that it simply wasn't coming off.

Allow me to give you a bit of background.  My mum is approaching the end of her year as Lady Captain of her golf club and has a celebratory dinner tomorrow which yours truly is attending.  I thought I might buy myself a new gĂșna deas to wear to it, so off I toddled on Monday to one of the few shops I actually like the clothes in to try some on.  Unfortunately, said shop has apparently decided to buck the trend of vanity sizing and adopt a policy of "take you down a peg or two" sizing instead.  Having had to buy size ten trousers and shorts in the last few places I bought clothes; I thought I'd be whistling dixie by opting for size 12 dresses.  This was not the case.  Think of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in a sparkly frock and you'll be some way towards visualising how I looked.  Deflated (in spirit, anyway, clearly not in body), I left the dressing room and trudged towards the exit.  However, just at the door, I spotted another dress that looked like it might be cut a bit more, generously, shall we say.  I grabbed it and returned to the dressing room.  Pulling it over my head, I will admit that the thought that it was a bit tight across the chest crossed my mind.  I got it on though, and stood back to have a look.  It was rotten.  Baggy and saggy around the hips, and absolutely bet onto me around my chest.  "Bleurgh," said I, and went to take it off.  It came as far as my rib-cage, and stopped.  "Ah for Jaysis sake," says I, and tried again.  It went maybe an inch further, then stuck fast again.  I'm starting to panic a bit at this stage.  Not only is the dress apparently spot-welded to my skin, it's made entirely of sequins and the bastards are taking the back off me.  I pull it back down.  I take a few deep breaths.  I tell myself that if I got the dress on, I can get it back off.  I exhale as deeply as I can in an attempt to shrink my ribcage a few millimetres and try one last attempt.  I nearly get my elbows trapped inside it this time. I realise that the only way I'm getting out of this dress is by standing with my arms straight up over my head while someone else pulls it off.

I should mention at this juncture that I had taken off my bra so I could properly see how the dress, a racerback, would look.


Let this be a warning to you ladies: never shop alone lest you fall afoul of a recalcitrant dress and have to flash your boobs to a complete stranger who is probably being paid minimum wage.

Thankfully, the dressing room assistant was one of those middle-aged, salt-of-the-earth Dublin mammies who has probably seen far worse in her time.  I called her in, sheepishly explained the situation and asked her to help me.  Thus commenced a frenzied kind of tug-of-war with her at one end, pulling like bejaysis and me at the other like the back end of a panto horse.  "I don't want to hurt you!" says she.  "I don't care, just get the shaggin' thing off me!" says I.  "Jaysis, but this is a terrible cut," says she.  "Who are you telling?" says I.  Then, like the cork coming out of a particularly stubborn bottle of champagne, out I popped.  The relief!  She legged it, probably to get on to head office and tell them they needed to recall such a faulty item, while I got dressed in a hurry and hung the dress back on its hanger.  Where I spotted the hidden zip running the full length of the side seam.  The. Full. Length.

Not one of my prouder moments, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyway, I'm sure there's some kind of "who ate all the pies?" joke I could use here to segue into the recipe, but I just can't think of one, so sue me.

Fish Pie - serves 4

300g salmon fillet                            300g smoked white fish fillet
1kg potatoes                                   1 large carrot
2 sticks celery                                 150g good cheddar cheese
1 red chili                                        1 lemon                                          
4 sprigs flat parsley, chopped           2 good handfuls baby spinach leaves
Olive oil                                          Salt & pepper

1. Peel and cube your potatoes and bung into a large pot of boiling, salted water for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked through.  Drain and allow to steam-dry in the colander.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, stand a box-grater in a casserole dish and grate the carrot, celery and cheese on the rough side, then zest the lemon and grate the chili on the fine side.  Cut the fish into chunks and add to the casserole with the parsley & spinach.  Juice the zested lemon and add this to the dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with lots of salt & pepper, then mix the whole lot together with your hands until it's all evenly distributed.

3. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash with another glug of olive oil and a bit more salt & pepper.  Spread on top of your fish mixture and bake at 200C for about 40 minutes, or until lovely and golden and crispy on top.  Serve with green beans or a salad.

I will admit, this was right at the upper limits of my fishy tolerance, but Emmet absolutely demolished it.  I might try it with just fresh white fish instead of the salmon next time, because I really loved all the other flavours.  This is a really nice change from the usual "white sauce" fish pies.  Thank you, Jamie Oliver.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Post the Forty-fifth (in which Leinster begin their defence of the Heineken Cup)

It was an away match, so we weren't there.  Our budget unfortunately doesn't stretch to travelling for the pool stages.  So down to the pub it was, because our budget also doesn't stretch to Sky Sports.  Our budget doesn't stretch to much at all, truth be told...

So our opening game was against Montpellier.  French teams are perennially accused of being more interested in their domestic league than the Heineken Cup, but that doesn't matter when you're playing them at home.  An outbreak of mumps in the Montpellier camp had seen them miss their match the previous week and there was some expectation that they might be a bit rusty as a result; but by God, that was not the case.  Despite the fact that you can never expect to easily beat French teams at home, Leinster were still expected to battle out a victory in the end.  As it happened, we were extremely lucky to come away with a draw. Montpellier were completely dominant at the breakdown, their defence was nigh-on impenetrable and their discipline was good enough that they conceded very few penalties.  It was only in the final twenty minutes or so that Leinster were able to build any kind of momentum, and even that was more down to the Montpellier pack getting tired than any improvement in our play. The ref. awarded a rather suspect penalty and Johnny Sexton equalised with the very last kick of the game.  Two points in the bag, and I suspect that the team were more than happy with that, given the way Montpellier played.  Onwards and upwards from here, hopefully.

The plan was to watch the match, which kicked-off at 1.30pm, come home, have a bath while Emmet did some work on his car and then make a fish pie for dinner.  However, we ended up getting into a bit of an impromptu session in the pub, and staggered home at about 11pm with a bag of chips each.  Ah well.  I'm going to do the fish pie today instead.  It's just as well, really, seeing as the pheasant I was hoping to get today appears to be unforthcoming.  (Hint hint, Chris!)

The recipe I'm about to give you, I made on Wednesday.  One of the great things about this blog is that it has forced me to widen my repertoire a bit - nobody wants to read five chicken recipes a week. This recipe uses pork mince and it was so delicious.  Really fresh flavours, and a nice way to get away from the chicken-fillet-or-beef-mince rut we all find ourselves in from time to time.  I served them with pitta bread, Greek salad and homemade hummous.

Sheftalia - serves two

450g pork mince                      1 large onion, very finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed             Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon                        25g feta, cut into 6 cubes
6 black olives, chopped            1 fresh green chili, finely diced
Pinch of ground cumin               Salt & pepper

1.  Put half the chopped onion into a large bowl and add the mince, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and season to taste.  Mix well until everything is evenly distributed.  Divide into 6 rough balls, push a cube of feta into each and then mould into tight ovals.  Pop back into the fridge for half an hour to firm up.

2. Heat a couple of glugs of veg or sunflower oil in a large pan.  Cook the sheftalia on all sides until evenly golden-brown all over - this will take about 15 or 20 minutes.  Drain on kitchen towels and keep warm.

3. Add the rest of the onion, the chili and the chopped olives to the pan.  Sprinkle over the ground cumin and cook gently until the onion is soft but not browned.  Squeeze over a little extra lemon juice if you fancy.  Serve the sheftalia on warmed plates, topped with the onion mixture.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Post the Forty-fourth (in which there's something fishy going on)

Ok, so we have discussed my aversion to fish and my desire to address said aversion in previous posts.  I've decided that the best way to include more fish in my diet is to disguise it.  Fishcakes and fish pies are the friend of the reluctant pescetarian.  Hopefully, at some stage, my tastebuds will give up the fight and I'll eventually be able to enjoy fish in its own right.

The plan at the moment is to have one fishy night a week in addition to our veggie night.  I'll be the picture of health, I'm telling you.  Although I may have to revise that after a couple of weeks; my grand total of two fish recipes could well get a bit boring on constant rotation, but sure we'll see.  I should point out that for the purposes of this trial, I'm discounting tuna, cause I always ate that.

If you're lucky enough to have a fishmonger nearby, then obviously get your fish there.  I, sadly, am limited to whatever is in the supermarket.  As an aside, there's a deadly little fish shop around the corner from my mum's, which has been there for at least ten years.  I have driven/walked past it on an extremely regular basis in those ten years.  And I only copped last week that it is not, in fact, called J.J. Fitzsimons at all, but is actually J.L. Fitzsimons.  And this, friends and family, is why eyewitness testimony should never be relied upon.  Although I also thought for years that there was a pub in Newbridge called Jon Bon's.  It's Johnson's.  So maybe I'm just thick.

Anyway, the Great Fish Experiment of 2011 began last week with "Bolinho de Bacalhau", which are a Portuguese fishcake traditionally made with salted cod.  I was using smoked as well as fresh fish, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to make sure none of the ingredients clashed with the smokey flavour.  This was the end result and they were absolutely delicious.  This will give you six very large cakes, and to be honest, two per person is plenty for dinner, so we had them again the next day for lunch and they were even nicer again after a night in the fridge, so don't feel that you need to cook the entire batch at once.

Portuguese-style Fishcakes - makes 6

250g smoked coley fillets             250g fresh coley fillets (or any other white fish)
140ml milk                                  2 bay leaves
500g peeled, cubed spuds           large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon                           1 red chili, finely chopped
1 egg                                          half tsp fennel seeds, ground up
Salt & pepper                             flour for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.  Pop the fish into a deep baking tray (I find a loaf tin is perfect) with the milk and the bay leaves.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes.  Have your potatoes cooking at the same time.

2. Remove the fish from the milk and go over it quickly to remove any bones - there should be very few if you've used fillets.  Whiz it in the blender to chop, or flake it with a fork.  Put it into a large bowl with the parsley, lemon zest, chili, ground fennel seeds, egg and salt & pepper to taste.

3. Drain your cooked potatoes, return them to the pot and mash.  Add a little of the poaching milk from the fish if they're a bit hard to mash.  Bung into the bowl with the fish and give everything a really good mix.  Have a taste and correct the seasoning, if needs be. Shape into 6 cakes and pop into the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up.

4. When you're ready to cook them, heat an inch of oil in a good, heavy bottomed pan up until a cube of bread browns in about 2 minutes.  Give each fishcake a generous dusting of flour and fry in batches for about 3 minutes on each side until golden and crispy.  If you need to top up the oil between batches, give it a minute or two to come back up to heat.  Drain on kitchen towel and serve with a lovely big salad and extra lemon wedges for squazzing.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Post the Forty-third (in which our heroine reflects on some of life's little truisms)

There are certain universal truths out there.  Gravity, for one.  The passing of time.  The theory of relativity, that sort of thing.  Things which govern all of our lives and which everyone learns about in school.  There are, however, other, lesser-known truths which no-one ever warns you about in advance, but which are none the less true for all that.  Someone should teach them in a class.  You know, kind of like Moe's "Funk Dancing for Self Defence".

One or two of these I've been emailed as jokes over the years, most of them are things I've discovered for myself.  All of them prove one thing - if there is a God/Goddess/Omnipresence out there, he/she/it has a very wry sense of humour.

1. The juice of any lemon squeezed by hand will make an immediate and direct trajectory towards your eye.

2. You will remember something important you've left at home at the exact point in your journey where it's too late to make turning back worth it.

3. You will realise only after jumping in that the hot water ran out halfway through filling the bath.

4. The one time you go to the pub in saggy tracksuit bottoms and no make-up will be the one time every good-looking person in the vicinity decides to go there for a drink.

5. "Peel & reseal" deli packets do neither of these things.

6. You will like pretty much all the songs on your iPod until it's on shuffle, at which point you will discover that you like approximately 1 song in 30.

7. You will wave back at someone who wasn't actually waving at you in the first place at least seven times in your lifetime.

8. On entering an empty lift in which there is a bad smell not of your making, you can guarantee that someone will get on at the next floor and think it was you.

9. That person will tell everyone in the office what a smell-hound you are.

10. U.S Immigration officials will always succeed in making you feel like you're lying, even when you're telling the truth.

11. There is no dignified way to eat a banana.

12. You are officially old the day you no longer find farts funny.

13. A toasted cheese sandwich is infinitely superior to cheese on toast.

15. Lego is a bastard to stand on in your bare feet.

16. There are few things more awkward than somehow managing to get into the same section of a small revolving door with a complete stranger.

17. The washing machine will eat a significant proportion of your socks.

18.  The greater your aversion to children, the more people will insist their offspring kiss you, and the snottier said offspring will be.

19. Mimes can smell fear.

20. Falling up the stairs is worse than falling down it.

Recipes are back tomorrow.  Til then, suckahs.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Post the Forty-second (in which our heroine plays catch-up a bit)

There's been a bit of a deafening silence around here lately.  Sorry about that.  I had last week off work and tried to get a set amount of college work done every day.  Unfortunately our crappy mobile broadband also decided to take the week off, so by the time I had my assignment quota done, my patience with t'interweb was pretty much spent.  Hopefully we'll be back to normal this week, though.

So, in my last post I was about to embark on a pot-pie making journey with the leeks and carrots we had harvested from the garden.  Kristin at Edible Ireland had a totally drool-tastic recipe that I had been dying to try, so all in all, I was terribly excited to give them a bash.

Now, before we start, I will happily admit to using shop-bought pastry.  And before you get all judgemental on me, have you ever actually seen what's involved in making puff pastry?  Go and Google it there.  Now, tell me who in God's name has a) the time, or b) the inclination to do that?  Just buy it.  You're keeping someone in a job.  Good for you.

Oh, and Kristin, not only did I copy your recipe, I also stole your presentation idea of writing on the pies.  Please don't sue me.  It was just too cute.  Even though my crappy photo is actually just embarrassing.

Beef, Stout & Blue Cheese Pot Pies - makes 4 individual pies

2 carrots, peeled and chopped                     2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped                          1 leek, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped                              1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 kg stewing beef, diced                              2 tablespoons flour
500ml stout                                                 150g crumbled blue cheese
2 sheets ready-rolled puff pastry                  1 large egg, beaten

1) In a large oven-proof casserole dish, heat a good splash of olive oil. Add the carrots, celery, onion and leek along with a pinch of salt so the onions don’t brown. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic, thyme and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more. Stir in the beef, then add in the flour. Stir well to coat the beef and vegetables with the flour and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in the stout, give everything a stir and bring to a boil.

2) Cover the pot with a lid and place in an 180C for 2 1/2 hours, giving it a stir now and then, until the meat is tender.  When the beef is cooked and the stew has a nice, thick, silky consistency, stir in the blue cheese, taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.

3) Place one large ovenproof pie dish or individual gratin dishes on a baking tray just in case any filling bubbles up and over the sides, then spoon the stew into the dish(es). Cut the ready-rolled sheet of pastry to fit the top of the pie dish (or individual dishes), rolling it out a little on a lightly floured countertop with a rolling pin if you need to in order for it to cover your dish. Brush the edges of the dish(es) with some of the beaten egg to help the pastry stick in place, then carefully place the pastry lid on top. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and is golden. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

I really can't thank Kristin enough for this recipe; it is really, really good.  Go on and give it a try - you know you want to.  Beef, cheese and booze - what's not to like?

Monday, 31 October 2011

Post the Forty-first (in which our heroine scalps her garden)

The Ice-Man cometh.  Winter approaches.  I had my first frosty windscreen of the season yesterday morning.  Although it was 16 degrees and sunny today, so go figure.  Emmet and I had said that we would sort out the garden this weekend.  We'd been saying that for the last eight weekends in a row, mind you, but anyway...

I'm a bit of a bi-polar gardener.  I start the spring in a sowing & planting frenzy.  The excitement grows as I lovingly mist my containers every day, rotating them so they get equal amounts of sunlight, and peaks as the first germinating shoots appear.  Unfortunately, I am, at heart, a terribly impatient person, and it all tends to go downhill from there.  I lose interest as I realise it'll be several more weeks before I can actually eat anything I've planted.  I "forget" to go outside and water the pots in the cold frame.  Plants wither and die before they really even got going.  I have guilt, but only a little bit.  The solution, I have found, is to grow stuff that either gives you a pretty-much instant reward, or can be ignored altogether until it's ready to harvest.  So, herbs, salad leaves and root veg, pretty much.  The one exception I'll make is for chilies.  They take a bit more tlc, but I grow them every year because, as we all know, I'm addicted.

Anyway, yesterday we pulled all the root veg from the raised bed in the front garden.  We (well, Emmet, actually) also removed all the gone-to-seed spinach, little gem, endive and lollo rosso.  So now I'm looking at two empty beds and wondering if there's anything else I can plant and leave there for the winter.

Here's the haul, by the way.  I know it doesn't look like much, but it was my first time to do either leeks or carrots, so I'm happy enough.  We're going to have the first of them tonight in beef pot pies.

I also have rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, oregano and asparagus.  Don't ask me what the hell I was thinking with the asparagus, cause it takes three bleedin' years just to be ready for eating.  Mine will be three next year, and I can't wait to get my chops around it.  Oh, and I've two strawberry plants too, but seeing as I've yet to get even a single scabby fruit off either of them, I don't really count them.

Anyway, it's a bit late now, but in the spring, do have a go at planting something yourself.  Nothing quite gives you the smug factor like taking something from your own garden and eating it.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Post the Fortieth (in which our heroine drowns in a vat of creamy, buttery, cheesy deliciousness)

Those of you who are dieting, look away now.  The other day I made one of my absolute favourite things to eat.  I don't eat it very often.  Maybe once a year.  This is despite the fact that it is quick, easy to make and abso-frickin-lutely GORGEOUS.  The reason for this is that you can pretty much feel your arteries clogging up as you swallow.  Why oh why is this the case with so many nice things?  I love a vibrant green salad or some crunchy veg as much as the next person, but let's face it, if we could get away with it, we'd all eat this kind of shit all the time.  Quite frankly, vanity is the only thing stopping me.  If I was one of those bastardly lucky souls who can eat whatever the hell they like without getting fat, I wouldn't give a fiddlers what my cholesterol or blood pressure was like.

We all know someone like that.  And we all hate them a little bit.

Now, before anyone jumps down my throat, I'm well aware that strictly speaking, gnocchi should only ever be served in a tomato sauce.  But it's just so, so good like this.  A friend once had an argument with the maitre'd in an Italian restaurant because they wouldn't give her gnocchi in a cream sauce.  The chef was having absolutely none of it, and I don't blame him at all.  Italian cuisine is bastardised enough in Ireland.  But the joy of cooking at home is that you can do whatever the hell you like and no-one can give out to you.

Except put cream in a carbonara.  You still can't do that.

Anyway, without further ado I give you...

Heart Attack on a Plate

Gnocchi in Gorgonzola Sauce - serves 2 (pigs)

500g gnocchi                     2 tbs gorgonzola
2 tbs butter                        6 (yes, 6) tbs cream

1) Cook the gnocchi in plenty of boiling, salted water until they rise to the surface.  Drain, then sit the colander in cold water to stop them sticking together.

2) Melt the butter over a medium heat.  Add the gorgonzola and the cream and stir slowly until the cheese melts.  Increase the heat and allow the sauce to simmer for 5 mintues or so to thicken a little.

3) Drain the gnocchi again and add to the sauce.  Stir gently to coat the gnocchi thoroughly, and allow to heat through for another 5 minutes.  Season with lots of black pepper, but no salt (the cheese is salty enough).  Serve immediately on warmed plates or bowls.  Have the defibrillator on standby.

You could, of course, use an Irish blue cheese in this, but I think gorgonzola has a slightly more mellow aspect to it, which suits this dish perfectly.  Experiment, and let me know how you get on.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Post the Thirty-ninth (in which our heroine gets some very good news)

I'm going to be a paid blogger!  You may recall me posting that I was entering the food blogging competition a while back.  Well, shock-horror and joy of joys, I won!  I will now be writing a food blog for and getting paid for it, can you friggin believe it?  I'm still kind of in shock, to be honest.  I'm still waiting to be told the finer details, but fear not - you'll be the first to know when my first entry is published!

So, I'm going out for dinner with my sisters this evening to celebrate.  We'll also be taking advantage of the fact that Dine in Dublin is back - we're going to Bijou in Rathgar, which is offering three courses for the low-low price of €30.  You can't really argue with that.  If you fancy partaking, all the participating restaurants and their menus are listed on

If you don't have the good fortune to be located in (or within driving distance of) Dublin, don't despair - I'm about to give you a gorgeous recipe that's just as good as going out to a restaurant*

White chili is a staple in our house, but it's not a concept people are at all familiar with.  It's not rocket science, though - you simply replace the beef, tomato sauce, kidney beans and other red ingredients of "normal" chili with white ones - turkey mince, chicken stock and cannellini beans.  As you can see from the photo, the end result can run anywhere between beige and pink.  This batch turned out very dark, thanks to a particularly red tin of refried beans.  Next time I make this, I'm going to make my own refried beans using cannellini beans - I reckon that'll make for a truly pale chili.

Btw, I always get my turkey mince in Aldi.  You can sometimes get it in Tesco, but the Aldi version is much leaner - I reckon Tesco mince the skin and everything, because theirs is much fattier.

*May not actually be true.

White Chili - serves 6

450g turkey mince                             1 large onion, diced
2 green or organge chilies, diced        4 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs cumin seed                                250ml chicken stock
1 tsb ground cumin                             2 tbs dried oregano
1 tsp ground coriander                       1 tsp cayenne pepper
Half tsp ground ginger                        1 can refried beans                           
1 can cannellini beans                         Juice of half a lemon

1) In a large pot or wok, heat a small splash of oil, then add your turkey mince and cook til no pink remains.  You'll need to really work this with a fork as it cooks, otherwise you'll be left with one big slab of mince, which isn't cool.

2) Add the onion, garlic, chilies & cumin seed and cook until the onion is soft, but not coloured.  Add the chicken stock and the rest of the spices.  Give everything a good stir and allow to simmer until the stock has reduced by about a quarter.

3) Stir in the refried beans, making sure they're well incorporated.  Add the drained & rinsed cannellini beans and the lemon juice.  Check the seasoning, correct it if needs be, then allow to simmer for another 15 minutes.  Serve in deep bowls with a swirl of natural yoghurt.

Like all chilies, this one improves with age, so feel free to make it early in the day, or the day before, and reheat it when you're ready to eat.  If you find it's dried out a bit, just add a bit more chicken stock to loosen it up again.

I mentioned before that I always serve my chili with tortilla chips that I bake at home myself.  By doing this, you'll save yourself roughly a kajillion calories on the store-bought kind.  They're dead easy too, so it's a win-win situation.

I use the Aldi garlic & herb tortillas, and three of them makes enough chips for Emmet and I.  Simply cut the tortillas into halves, then quarters, then eighths, giving you nice, even "slices" of tortilla.  To make the chips, layer a few slices on top of eachother.  Cut the bottom piece off to give you a triangle.  Cut the remaining piece into three more triangles - good spatial ability comes in handy here.  Repeat till all the tortillas are used up.  Spread them on a metal baking tray in a single layer - you may need to use two sheets or do them in two batches.  Bake in an oven preheated to 220C until just turning nice and golden.  They burn incredibly easily, so keep your mincers on them.  Serve in a warmed dish.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Post the Thirty-eighth (in which our heroine has Blogger's Block)

It's awful.  I can't think of anything to write about.  I was going to blog about Halloween and why I'm not joining in the festivities this year, but I only got about 30 words into that.  Then I was going to have a moan about how long my textbooks are taking to arrive from the Book Depository, but I wasn't really quite annoyed enough to get a whole post out of it.  I considered and discarded other moan topics in quick succession.  X Factor? Don't care enough.  The APA referencing guidelines we were initially told to use in our History assignment?  Didn't even want to think about that.  The weather?  Been there, done that.  I'm just feeling terribly apathetic altogether.  Methinks a ridiculously spicy dinner is in order this evening; it might shake me up a bit.

Anyway, continuing my love affair with all things Mexican, today's recipe is for three bean enchiladas.  The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that this is a vegetarian recipe.  You may also notice that there have been a few such recipes scattered over the blog.  The reason for this is that I have some kind of half-formed notion that it's good to go meat-free once a week.  Don't ask me whether this is for health, ethical or financial reasons, cause I really haven't thought about it that much, but the upshot is that you will find the odd vegetarian recipe popping up.  All of these recipes have (so far) been given the Hungry Man Seal of Approval (i.e. Emmet eats them), so why not give one a go?

Three-Bean Enchiladas - makes 5*

1 litre passata                             Tin each of chickpeas, kidney beans & cannelini beans
1 large onion, diced                    1 large chili, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed              1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin                     1 tsp cayenne pepper
Half tsp ground ginger                Half tsp ground coriander
150g grated cheddar                  Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
5 large soft tortillas                    Salt, pepper & a pinch of sugar

1. Heat the passata in a large pot.  Add the paprika, a teaspoon of the cumin, the cayenne, ginger, ground coriander & sugar.  Give everything a good stir and allow to simmer very gently for 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then remove and reserve half of it.

2. Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a separate pan and cook the onion, chili and garlic until nice and soft.  Add the other teaspoon of cumin and mix well.  Add the onion mix to the pot with the passata in it and stir in the three tins of beans (drained & rinsed, obviously).  Check the seasoning and correct if necessary.

3. Oil an ovenproof dish that's big enough to take all your enchiladas in a single layer.  Take one tortilla at a time (heating them for 10 or 15 seconds first makes them more pliable, btw) and spread about two dessertspoons of the bean mix along the middle of it.  Roll up exactly as you would a fajita and place in the dish.  Repeat with all five tortillas - they should be nice and snug in the dish.  Pour your reserved passata over the top, spreading to make sure everything is evenly covered, then scatter with the grated cheese and bake at 210C for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  Serve with a big green salad and plenty of sour cream or yoghurt.

*  Five enchiladas?  What kind of crazy-ass quantity is that?

So sue me, but five is exactly what fits in my dish and it works out perfectly for us - one for me and two for Emmet for dinner, then one each for lunch the next day.  Deal with it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Post the Thirty-seventh (in which our heroine has a rant about the traffic)

Recession?  What recession?  Last year the AA were banging on about how the downturn was having a positive effect on traffic levels because A) loads of people had lost their jobs and B) those who still had them were car-pooling/cycling/generally leaving their cars at home because no-one can afford petrol any more.  Me arse.  As far as I can see, the traffic has been getting steadily worse over the past two years.  It doesn't help that I have the misfortune to live on one of the worst commuter routes in the country.  Ladies and gennelmen, I give you - the N7.  A road that is populated with quite possibly the most idiotic drivers in Ireland.  They tailgate.  They don't switch on their headlights when it's raining/foggy/snowing/dark.  They consistently manage to crash into eachother, even though they're all travelling in the same direction.  They slow down to look at people changing flat tyres in the hard shoulder.  Yesterday, it took me a record 22 minutes to travel from the ball at Naas (my Irish readers will know what I'm talking about) to the M7/M9 split.  A distance of approximately 12km.  And the reason for this massive tailback?  Was there a pile-up blocking one or both lanes?  Were the police stopping people to check tax and insurance?  Had a truck jack-knifed and shed its load?  No, no and thrice no.  The reason, dear readers was a malfunctioning traffic information sign.  You know, the ones that normally just say "Belt Up" or "Arrive Alive" and all that happy crappy?  Well, this one was lit up entirely in orange, with tiny writing in the middle that stated "This programme cannot display the".  And that was enough to cause people to slow down so much to read it that a 12km tailback was formed.

N7 drivers, I hate you.  This is the same group of people who seem to be consistently surprised that the sun rises in the east every morning and slam on the brakes every time the road curves into it, so you can see the kind of intellect we're dealing with.  Here's a novel idea - KEEP A PAIR OF FRIGGIN SUNGLASSES IN THE CAR!


So, we have established that brain donors in cars give me the rage.  But do you know what gives me the happiness?  This soup.  You may remember me having it down in the Tannery a few weeks ago.  Well, the recipe is (kind of) on the Cook With Avonmore website, so I decided to have a stab at recreating it on Wednesday night.  I say "kind of", as Paul Flynn doesn't give any quantities for any of the ingredients, so I had to judge it by eye, but it turned out really, really well.  This stuff is buttery, creamy awesomeness in a bowl.  It's also extremely indulgent, so I wouldn't really recommend anything particularly heavy as a main course after it.  We actually just had a huge bowl each with some crusty bread for dinner.  Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I give you...

Bacon & Butterbean Chowdah* - serves 4

2 medium onions, finely diced                   150g bacon bits
550ml chicken stock                                 250ml cream
1 tbs flour                                                 1 tbs English or Dijon mustard
1 tin butterbeans, drained                          Small bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
Good knob of butter                                 Lots of black pepper

1) Melt the butter over a low heat, add the onions and sweat for about 10 minutes with the lid on - you'll know they're done when they go kind of translucent.

2) Turn the heat up and add the bacon.  Give everything a good stir and cook for 5 - 7 minutes.  Don't bother waiting for the bacon to brown - it won't happen because of the moisture from the onions.

3) Sprinkle over the flour, stir and cook for about 2 minutes, just to get the raw taste off the flour.  Add the stock and bring to the boil.

4)  Stir in the mustard, then add the cream and the butterbeans.  Lower the heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes, until it thickens slightly.  I mean slightly, now, it should still be quite loose!  Stir in the parsley and season with plenty of black pepper (no salt, the bacon & stock will take care of that).  Ladle into deep bowls and serve immediately with lots of crusty bread for dipping.

*It's chowdah, chowdaaah!  Say it, Frenchy!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Post the Thirty-sixth (in which our heroine returns to education)

So, you know it is.  You're 16, you're filling out your college application forms and you don't really have a clue what you want to do with your life cause, y'know, you're 16.  So you apply for a B.Sc. in Biotechnology, thinking it sounds kind of cool, picturing Professor Weeto types teaching the course.  You go to college.  You correct the lecturer's spelling of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in your very first lecture.  You fail your first maths test miserably.  You realise you have absolutely no interest whatsoever in Biotechnology.  You drop out.  You decide to work for a year while you figure out what you *do* want to do in college.  Twelve years later, you're still working.

Or is that just me?

Anyway, the plan was always to go back to college eventually.  The problem was that, having bought houses and cars and whatnot in the intervening years, giving up work to go back full-time wasn't really an option.  And the kind of courses that are available in the evenings never appealed to me - all business-related.  Our heroine was despairing.  And then, lo!  Along came the Oscail programme at DCU - a distance-learning initiative that allows you to do your degree from home.  And lo!  They actually had a few Humanities degrees on it.  So our heroine now finds herself embarking on a B.A. in English and History and realising that she won't be able to coast through this on recall alone as she did with the Leaving Cert.  I'm actually going to have to - gasp! - study.  Something I have never done in my life.  Two hours a night, on weeknights, until my first two assignments are submitted.  It's all very alien to me, I have to admit.

Anyway, as my evening pottering-around-the-kitchen time is now severely curtailed, I'm tending to make big pots of stuff that will look after dinner for two or three nights in a row.  I'm sensing a lot of soup, stew and chili in my short to medium-term future.

Which brings us to the first (I think) soup recipe of the blog.  It's a Jamie Oliver one - English (as opposed to French) Onion Soup.  It's a really hearty, filling soup which, with a few sausage rolls on the side, makes a meal in itself.

English Onion Soup - makes 8 bowls

5 red onions, sliced                         3 large white onions, sliced
2 leeks, washed & sliced                3 shallots, diced
6 cloves garlic, crushed                   Large bunch fresh sage, chopped
2 litres beef stock                           8 slices crusty bread
200g grated cheddar                      Worcestershire sauce
Glug of olive oil                               Generous knob of butter
Salt & pepper

1)  You need a fairly massive pot for this, be warned.  Heat the olive oil & butter over a low heat.  Add the sage & garlic and allow the butter to melt.  Add the onions, leeks & shallots, season with salt & pepper, give everything a good stir to coat and then sweat gently with the lid on for 50 minutes.  Remove the lid for the last 20 minutes.  Stir occassionally to make sure nothing's sticking to the bottom.

2)  When your onions are lovely and silky and slightly golden, add the stock.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

3) Preheat your grill to full whack and toast the bread on both sides.  Taste the soup and correct the seasoning if needs be.  Ladle into 8 deep bowls and bung a slice of toast on top of each - tear it up to make it fit, if you have to, and feel free to dunk it into the soup a bit.  Top the bread with some grated cheese and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce.  Place the bowls on a baking tray and flash them under the grill until the cheese is golden and bubbling.  Very carefully remove the tray and bring to the table, remembering to warn your guests that the bowls are absolutely hopping!  Serve with warm sausage rolls - see below.

 Ok, so these are more home-assembled than home made, but they're still excellent.  And, in my defence, I did make proper home-made ones last week, and these were actually nicer (not to mention a hell of a lot easier), so I'm sticking with them in future.  By the way, I'm aware that the quantities in this recipe are a bit vague, mostly because I'm terribly disorganised and never bothered to write down the weights on any of the packaging, but for what it's worth, the sausages and the puff pastry I use for these are both from Aldi.

Home "made" Sausage Rolls - makes about 30

Packet of good-quality cocktail sausages               Packet of puff pastry
50ml olive oil                                                        50ml Worcestershire sauce

1)  Place your puff-pastry sheet on a large chopping board.  I use the Aldi one, which is a bit thick, so I generally go over it with the rolling pin once or twice to flatten it out a bit.  The other advantage of this is that you get more sausage rolls out of one sheet :-)

2) Pour the oil & worcestershire sauce into a small bowl and give it a good whisk.  Brush the sheet of pastry with a good layer of this.

3)  Snip your sausages into singles and place a row of them across the top of the pastry, leaving a gap of about 5mm between each one.  Cut the pastry into strips lengthways, so you have several long strips of pastry with a sausage at the top of each.  (I really should have taken some photos of this process...)

4) Roll the pastry over the top of your sausage so that it's fully covered, but only just.  Cut the pastry, then repeat this process until you run out of either pastry or sausages.  To form each roll, press & pinch the edges of the pastry together to seal.  Don't worry about the gaps at the sides; when the pastry puffs up during cooking, these will close.

5)  Place the sausage rolls on a baking tray and brush again with the oil/worcestershire sauce mix.  Bake in the oven at 210C until lovely and golden-brown.  Allow to cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then serve.  Try not to eat the entire batch in one sitting.

You can also freeze these before cooking - put them on the baking tray, brush with the oil mix, then put the whole tray into the freezer - this will stop them sticking together as they freeze.  Once they're frozen you can chuck 'em into a freezer bag to store.  Cook straight from frozen, but at 200C and for approx. 25 minutes.  Again, they're done once they've puffed up and turned golden-brown.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Post the Thirty-fifth (in which our heroine gives you one of her favourite recipes)

So, it's been a few days.  If you're one of my Irish readers, you will already be painfully aware that Ireland got knocked out of the world cup.  If you're one of my non-Irish readers, chances are you couldn't give a fiddlers anyway.  It was a dark day in the Coffey household.  England, South Africa and Argentina all also went home.  Three out of four pool winners knocked out in the quarter finals.  It's a funny old game.  The good news is that Leinster won their Rabo Direct Pro 12 game later that day, and our departure from the world cup means that my weekend sleeping patterns can finally get back to normal.  Every cloud, and all that.

Anyway, it's been so long since I posted here that I can't actually remember what day I cooked this recipe.  Doesn't really matter, I guess.  This is one of my all-time favourite recipes because it's ridiculously simple, absolutely delicious, and even if I haven't done a shop in absolutely ages, I nearly always have the makings of this knocking around.  It's also the kind of thing that can easily be scaled up if you have unexpected guests dropping in, maybe by adding a few chunks of potato and a diced chicken breast, it keeps happily in the fridge for a few days after cooking (and tastes better every day) and it also freezes excellently.  What's not to love?

By the way, it should go without saying that you want to use the thick, whole chorizo sausages here, not the flat pre-sliced stuff that goes in sandwiches.

Chorizo & Chickpea Stew - serves 4

200g chorizo, diced                       2 tins tomatoes (whizzed, if they're whole)
1 large onion, finely diced              3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
150ml white wine                          3 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
2 tsp smoked paprika                    Tin of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
Salt & pepper                               Pinch of sugar

1. Heat a large, heavy pot over a low-medium heat, add the chorizo and cook slowly until it renders its oil - as you can see it's a gorgeous red colour.  Add the onion and cook for five minutes, then add the garlic & thyme and cook for another five minutes, til soft but not coloured.  Add the wine and allow to bubble for another five minutes.

2.  Add the tomatoes, paprika & sugar and give everything a good stir.  Bring to a low simmer and cook for at least half an hour, but the longer & slower you cook it, the better it will be.  If it looks like too much of your cooking liquid is evaporating, add a little extra wine or chicken stock.

3. Just before serving, stir in the chickpeas and heat through.  Taste, season as needed, then serve in deep bowls with lots of crusty bread.  Fookin' delish, man.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Post the Thirty-fourth (in which our heroine goes on her first blogger jolly)

I feel so official now!  I spent the day with some fellow foodies at The Tannery in Dungarvan, courtesy of the lovely people at Glanbia and McGovern PR.  The occasion was the launch of the online video channel, and the disgustingly talented Paul Flynn was the first chef to be featured.

The Tannery has been on my "list" for quite some time now, so it was great to finally get down there.  On arrival, we were invited to have a mosey around Paul's kitchen garden, which sparked some serious green-eyed monster-ism.  The garden is actually a fairly new initiative - it used to be a piece of wasteground beside the cookery school, and they were having problems with some of the local "characters" using it as a drinking station, so Glanbia stepped in and offered to sponsor a garden on the site.  I can think of a few spots around Dublin that could do with the same treatment...

Back in the cookery school, Eithne O'Hara of Avonmore and Paul explained that the idea of the channel is to get people back into the habit of cooking good, simple food at home using local, seasonal ingredients, which is a pretty laudable aim, if you ask me.  After that, it was time to eat, so off we trotted to The Tannery itself, where we ate:

Bacon & Butterbean Chowder

This was absolutely amazing - creamy, with a salty tang from the bacon and the perfect amount of texture from the butterbeans.  The recipe for this is on the Cook with Avonmore site and I can't bloody wait to give it a go at home.

Pollock with a Chorizo, Pine Nut and Parmesan Crust

Having only blogged recently about how I wished I was more fond of seafood, I decided to go out on a limb yesterday and order the fish (the other main course option was corn-fed chicken).  Boy, did my "gamble" pay off - it was frickin GORGEOUS.  Flaky, succulent flesh in the most delicious, cheesy crust ever.  I ate every scrap of it, and could happily have had more.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for pollock on menus in future.

Chocolate Truffle Cake with Caramel Sauce and Crumbled Pistachio

I don't have a sweet tooth, but ordered this for research purposes - never let it be said I don't put myself out for you guys.  It was a lot lighter than it looked, with just the right balance between sweet and bitterness in the chocolate, and the caramel sauce had a lovely burnt-sugar aspect to it.  I only ate a bite, and thought how Emmet would howl if he saw the almost-full plate going back to the kitchen...

The bus back to Dublin was unsurprisingly quiet, as we all succumbed pretty much immediately to our food comas.  Personally, I can think of way worse ways to spend a Thursday.

So, to bed now, perchance to sleep.  We've to be up with the milkman tomorrow for our world cup quarter final (against Wales, told ya!) at the unGodly hour of 6am.  Emmet seems to be under the impression that I'm going to go to the local to watch it with him.  I shall gently disabuse him of this notion shortly.   Nobody needs to see my phiz sans make-up at that hour of the morning, and I certainly won't be getting up any earlier than I need to just to put some on.  I will be rolling out of bed at approximately 5.58 and will be watching the match at home, on the couch, in my dressing gown. 

COME ON IRELAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Post the Thirty-third (in which our heroine takes stock)

Beef and chicken stock, to be exact.  Soup-season is practically upon us, and it should go without saying that the key to a good soup is a good stock.  Most shop-bought stock cubes are packed with salt and can taste really, really synthetic.  You can buy much better quality concentrated stocks or bouillons, but they tend to be mad money.  So, the obvious solution is to make your own.  Buy a huge pot, set aside a day to make it, then freeze in 500ml portions and you're set for weeks, if not months at a time.

Now, seeing as the whole point of making your own stock (apart from it tasting lovely) is to try and save a few bob, there's not much point in going out and buying a sackful of ingredients specifically for it.  Instead, use yer noggin and make it when you know you're going to have pretty much everything on-hand anyway - after a roast dinner, say.  I'm talking specifically for chicken here, by the way.  It's not so much of an issue for beef stock, as your butcher will give you the bones for free anyway.  If you only use a whole chicken once in a blue-moon and couldn't be bothered making a third or a half quantity of the stock, just freeze your chicken carcasses until you do have enough to make it worthwhile.

This chicken stock recipe is from the doyenne of Irish cookery, Darina Allen, and it really is excellent.

Chicken Stock - makes about 3.5 litres

2 or 3 cooked chicken carcasses                   1 onion, sliced
1 leek, split in two                                          1 celery stick, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped                              Sprig of thyme
6 peppercorns                                               1 small bay leaf

1. Chop up your carcasses a bit.  Stick all the ingredients into a large stock pot, cover with 3.5 litres of cold water and bring to the boil.  Skim any fat off the top with a spoon.  Lower the heat and simmer for 2 or 3 hours.  Strain, allow to cool, skim off any remaining fat, then freeze in 500ml portions (I just use sandwich bags).

By the way, Darina prefers not to use bay leaf in her stock as she finds the flavour overpowering, but I don't know what kind of bionic bay leaves she has, because I find it adds only the tiniest hint of flavour.  'Tis up to you, though.

Also by the way, if you don't have a stock pot or only have a small freezer, it's perfectly fine to make a 1/3 quantity of this stock with one chicken carcass.  Just use smaller onions, leeks etc., rather than trying to cut exactly a third off of each...

So, now to the beef.  Beef stock is a slightly more involved process but it really is so, so worth it.  And it's not like you've to spend the entire time standing over it; you can blithely ignore it for large swathes of the day, which is exactly the kind of "recipe" that appeals to me.

When you're asking your butcher for the bones, tell him it's for stock - if he rocks, like my butcher, he'll make sure you get plenty of meat on them, and he'll more than likely cut them up for you too.  Give him an oul watery wink, if you think that might help.

Beef Stock - makes about 2.5 litres

2.5kg beef bones                            3 onions, peeled & halved
5 cloves garlic, peeled but whole     Few large sprigs of thyme & sage
2 leeks, halved                                2 large carrots, cut into rough chunks
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped       1 tbsp peppercorns

1. Preheat your oven to 200C.  Pop the bones, onions, carrots & garlic onto a large baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and give everything a bit of a toss to coat.  Bung the tray into the oven and roast for an hour, until everything is nice and browned.  Marvel at the awesomeness of the smell of the bones as they roast.

2. Remove the veg & bones from the tray and put them into your stock pot with all the remaining ingredients.  Deglaze the roasting pan with a little bit of boiling water to get all the lovely burnt-y bits off the bottom.  Add this liquid to the stock pot, then top up with 4.5 litres of cold water.  Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer for 4-6 hours.

3. Strain the stock, then return it to the pot, turn the heat back up and reduce by half - this will take around an hour, so be patient.  Allow to cool, skim off any fat from the top, then freeze in 500ml portions.

A note on salting your stock:  I don't tend to salt my chicken stock, but if you want to add some, do it at the end of the cooking and taste very carefully.  Same applies to the beef stock, but only add the salt after you've reduced the stock.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Post the Thirty-second (in which our heroine once more rhapsodises about Mexican Food)

So, we've discussed my love-affair with chilies already on this blog.  They really are conical little bundles of joy.  Big ones, small ones, pointy ones, round ones, green, orange, reds so purple they're almost black - I love them all.  I even got a very phallic-looking one recently.  That one's hanging up to dry at the moment, and it makes me giggle every time I see it.  And, of course, you run the gamut between sweet and innocent to Scotch Bonnets so hot they make you sneeze.  I have a very scientific way of testing the heat of chilies that aren't readily identifiable - I chop the top off and give the cut side a big lick.  This has led to me executing some very amusing dance moves around the kitchen.  There is also the extremely happy news that eating chilies has been scientifically proven to raise your metabolism, as anyone who has ever had a particularly hot one can testify (I'm thinking specifically of some unfortunate dinner guests of my sister, to whom she once served raw habaneros in a salad, thinking they were just baby peppers.)

Of course, there's more to Mexican food than just chilies, and it's a common misconception that it's all blow-your-head-off hot.  There's limes, coriander, cumin, chocolate, avocado - so many amazing, gorgeous flavours.  Unfortunately, in Ireland it can be a bit tricky sourcing the more esoteric ingredients - tomatilloes, cactus, etc., but you can still do a fair bit of experimenting with what we do have.

The single easiest place to start is with fajitas.  Everyone loves them, and they're a lovely, communal way to eat - bung everything into big dishes in the middle of the table, and allow everyone to help themselves.  Now, most people only ever make fajitas out of those powdery packet things, but it's ridiculously easy to make your own fajita mix from scratch, and it's waaaaaay nicer than the packet stuff.  Perfect Friday night grub, if you ask me.

Chicken Fajitas - makes enough to fill 4 large tortillas

2 large chicken fillets, diced                  2 heaped tsp paprika
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika               2 tsp chili powder
Half tsp ground ginger                           Half tsp ground coriander
Half tsp ground cumin                           Half tsp sugar
Juice & zest of 1 lime                           2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium chili, finely diced                   Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Salt & pepper                                      Sunflower oil
1 large onion, sliced                             1 red & 1 green pepper, sliced

1. In a non-metallic bowl, mix all your dry spices with the lime juice - you'll have a very thick paste.  Add enough oil to loosen the mix so it will coat the chicken, and stir in your chili, garlic, fresh coriander and lime zest.  Season with the salt & pepper, stir in the chicken pieces, cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 5 hours.

2. Heat a wok or large pan over a medium-high heat - don't add any oil, there's enough in your fajita mix.  Plonk the chicken into the pan, making sure you get all the lovely, tasty oil-paste in.  Fry the chicken until sealed, then add the peppers & onion and cook briskly for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

As I said, I like to serve everything in the middle of the table.  So, have a dish nice and hot for your fajita mix, and heat a plate to hold your warmed tortillas (cover them with a clean tea-towel) and a plate for each person.  I also serve with a big bowl of salad leaves, grated cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos and these:

Lime-pickled Onions - makes 1 medium bowl (which you can just spy in the pic above)

1 large onion, finely sliced               Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of sugar                                Salt & pepper

1. This is really complicated - toss all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl and leave in the fridge for a few hours for the flavours to develop, stirring every so often.

2. Eat.

A Treatise on How to Build the Perfect Tortilla:

*First and foremost*  You need a decent-sized tortilla - no point using those stupid saucer-sized ones they insist on giving you in restaurants.  I use the Aldi garlic & herb ones.

Step 1: Spread a good dollop of sour cream on the bottom of your tortilla.  Place a handful of salad leaves and some of the lime-pickled onions on top.

Step 2: Top with a couple of spoonfuls of the chicken & veg mix.  Do NOT overload, or you haven't a hope of rolling it up.

Step 3: Scatter with plenty of grated cheese and a few sliced jalapenos.

Step 4: Roll up the bottom of the fajita, then roll in the two sides.  Leaving the bottom open, as they do in the ads, will simply result in the carefully-contructed contents of your fajita falling out onto your plate as soon as you take a bite.

Step 5: Commence nomming.  One fajita of this size does me, with extra salad and maybe a bit of garlic bread.  Emmet, on the other hand, usually eats three.  The one time in my life that I ate three, I had to be put to bed afterwards.  The moral of this story is not to try and compete with a fit and hungry man in the fajita-eating stakes.

I'm very happy to announce that I'm submitting this post to the blogging competition, so wish me luck, and get yourself over to to see if you can save yourself a few shekels in these extremely straitened times.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Post the Thirty-first (in which our heroine finally caves and joins Twitter)

I was so strong for so long.  I really, really was.  But since a certain over-zealous mod on banned blog links in their Cooking & Recipes section, I've been forced to consider other ways to get this blog out there, and it seemed that Twitter was a bit of a no-brainer.  So, if you feel like following me, I'm @CookingCoffey.  I promise to restrain myself as much as possible, ok?  All tweets will be put through a rigorous quality-control system to ensure that only the funniest and most acerbic (and food-related, obviously) make it though the brain-to-keyboard filter.  I'll still talk as much crap as I want on Facebook, though.

So, if you're still interested, we're on to day three of the pulled pork.  Definitely not one for the instant-gratification brigade, but in food, as with all things in life, good things come to those who wait.  By the way, this is perfect party food, and if you have a large-capacity slow-cooker, you could totally increase the size of the pork joint - just make sure to increase the other ingredients by the same volume.  To give you an idea, though, this recipe quantity fed Emmet and I for two nights in a row.  And Emmet eats a lot.

Pulled Pork Day Three

3 tbs brown sauce                        2 tbs "normal" vinegar (optional)
Soft baps                                     Whole pickles
Coleslaw (see recipe below)

1.  So, your pork is cooked to perfection, so all we need to do now is sauce it and serve it.  Remove the pork from the cooking liquid and stick it on a large chopping board.  Strain the cooking liquid into a smaller pot (discard the veg) and place over a high heat.  Bring to the boil and allow to reduce to about a third of its original volume.

2. While the sauce is reducing, pull your pork.  Simply grab two forks and shred your pork roughly with them.  When it's all shredded, go across it once or twice with your biggest knife, just to make sure it's all nice and even.  Bung it back into the pot with your reduced sauce, add the brown sauce and vinegar (have a taste first if you're not sure about using the vinegar - I like sharp tastes but you might prefer it a bit sweeter), season with salt & pepper, if needed, and heat through.

3. Serve on a warmed platter in the middle of the table with the soft baps (Aldi do a pack of eight miniature soft rolls which are PERFECT for this), coleslaw and pickles.  As you can see, I made chips too.

Thanks to Ashlie at for the coleslaw recipe (with one or two minor changes).  I hate mayonnaise, and by extension have always hated coleslaw, but this one is really, really good.

Homemade Tangy Slaw

250g white cabbage, shredded               1 huge carrot, peeled & grated
150ml natural yoghurt                             2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs red wine vinegar                            0.5 tsp sugar
Pinch each of: cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder.
Salt & pepper to taste

1.  Mix the cabbage & carrot in a large bowl.  If you have time, leave your carrot to drain a bit on kitchen towels first, as it can be very wet.

2. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients.  Have a good taste, and adjust any of the spices if you fancy.  Give it all a good whisk, then pour into the cabbage & carrot and mix well.  Enjoy!