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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!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Post the Thirtieth (in which our heroine has a very bad morning)

Y'know, one of those ones that makes you just want to dig a hole, jump in and pull it closed over you.  Let us examine the reasons for this:

- I put €20 diesel in my car yesterday morning, and by the time I got home, the fuel light was on again.  I had to put another 20 friggin quid in it this morning.  Now, I don't know about you, but for me, €100 a week on diesel is just not sustainable.  A note to my American readers (as I know there are a few of you): lest you feel tempted to complain about the price of gas, spare a thought for your cousins across the pond - diesel here is currently at the equivalent of $7.25 a gallon.  Petrol is even worse again, at about $9.80 a gallon.  And the happy news is that those prices are only likely to rise.  Oh joy.

- I applied to see if I'm eligible for an income-levy refund and came home from work yesterday to find a massive package from the Revenue Commissioners telling me I need to fill out full income tax returns for the two years in question before they can process my claim.  WTF?  Everyone else I know who applied either got a cheque or a "Ha ha, we don't owe you anything letter" straight back, not a small forest's worth of forms to fill out.  I have long said that it's complete pot luck whether anything you send into the Revenue actually makes its way to someone who knows what they're doing.  Clearly, my application landed on the desk of a Fás reject who had no idea what to do with it and decided to try and fob me off instead.  Well, I won't be fobbed, I WILL NOT, I tells ya!  I'll be on to them first thing tomorrow with my best angry voice.

 - I got paid this morning and am still €30 in the red.  Not helped by the fact that I got emergency taxed, even though payroll have my P45.  See point above about the efficiency of the Revenue service in Ireland, so I can probably expect the tax to be refunded some time in 2017, when, with inflation, it will be worth approximately 49c.

Indeed, pretty much the only redeeming factor about today is the fact that I won't have to make dinner this evening, as we'll be having the remainder of the pulled pork.  I can just go straight onto the wine when I get in, which is a perfectly legitimate way to deal with a bad day, as we all know.

Anyway, here's day two of the pulled pork recipe.  I know three days seems like a lot of effort for what is, essentially, peasant food, but it's pretty much all marinating and cooking time, there's very little actual work involved.  You can also amalgamate days two and three if you get the pork on early enough, but I'm splitting them because it gives me an extra blog post, so there.

Pulled Pork Day Two

500ml Coke                      250ml cider vinegar
1 tbs nam pla                     1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs black treacle              Couple sprigs fresh thyme
2 chilies, cut in half             Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Large onion, diced             5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped

1. Place your onion, celery, garlic, chili & thyme in the bottom of your slow cooker or casserole and sit your pork on top.  As you can see, the pork has gone a gorgeous deep red colour from the spice rub.

2. In a large, shallow bowl, mix the coke, vinegar, nam pla, worcestershire, coriander & treacle.  The treacle is like bloody tar, so you'll have to whisk like bejaysis to mix it into the other liquids, which is why you need to use a shallow bowl.  Pour the whole lot over your pork, whack on the lid (making sure the pork isn't touching it) and bang it into the oven at 80C for at least eight hours or, if you're using a slow cooker, set it to high and leave for eight hours.  Turn the pork over once halfway through cooking.

(As an aside, if you're using the oven and want to get more value for your gas/electrictity money, this is a perfect time to bake potatoes for the thrice-baked spud skins - just throw them into the oven with the casserole.  They'll take about 5 hours at this temperature, just slide a knife into them every so often to check if they're done.)

3. To check if the pork is done, grab it with a tongs and give it a pull - if the meat comes away with no effort, it's done; if not, give it another while.  When it's finished, remove from the oven/switch off the slow cooker and leave to rest in the cooking liquid.

And that's it for today - as I said, if you get the pork on nice and early in day two, you can continue with the day three steps straightaway, but for the purposes of dragging out this blog as much as possible, we'll come back to it tomorrow.

Laters, peeps.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Post the Twenty-ninth (in which our heroine falls afoul of a dud recipe)

I hate that.  You come across a recipe, you like the sound of it, you add a few little tweaks of your own (because the original is woejusly low on seasoning) and, at the end of all your effort you're left going "Meh."  This happened me on Friday evening.  I had mince defrosted and the plan was to make a variation on a Weight Watchers recipe that they call Beef Moussaka, but which is really somewhere between a cottage pie and a moussaka.  The reason for the tweaking is that, for some reason known only to the home economists at Weight Watchers, they just don't do herbs or spices at all.  As in, the only seasoning/flavouring in this was salt & pepper.  Snooze-fest.  This is a recurring theme with Weight Watchers recipes, and I don't understand it at all - pretty much all seasonings are points-free.  Why would you try to convince people to adopt a healthy-eating plan, then bore them to death by making the food as bland as possible?  And, let's call a spade a spade here, the vast majority of people who end up in Weight Watchers aren't going to have the kind of  food knowledge that would enable them to improve a recipe by adding their own seasonings.  Get onto it, WW!

Anyway, despite the addition of copious amounts of garlic, oregano, ground coriander, worcestershire sauce & aromat, the recipe was still a dud.  It was perfectly edible, but just did absolutely nothing for me.  So I'm not going to bother posting it for you.  There are far too many other, tasty things you could be cooking instead.  What I will do, however, is give you day one of the pulled pork recipe I was planning to do in one big monster post.

Pulled Pork is one of those American comfort foods that absolutely everyone in certain states eats all the time, and which barely anyone in Ireland has ever heard of.  It's not haute cuisine by any stretch of the imagination - quite the opposite - it originated as a good way of making very cheap cuts of pork both palatable and tender.  Thanks to Sparks at the Cooking Club for the original recipe, which I've tweaked very, very slightly.

Before We Begin:  This recipe can only be cooked in a slow cooker or in the oven in a cast-iron casserole.  If you don't have either of these, it can't be done, sorry.  You may not believe me, but take my word for it.  The reason is that it needs a very long, very low-temperature cooking.  Slow-cookers are designed to do this, so no problem there.  Domestic ovens, however, aren't really designed to work in the <100C range.  If you set the temperature to, say 80C, which is what's needed for this recipe, your oven will constantly cycle between about 120C, and then knock the element off for a while, resulting in a mean temperature of in and around 80C over the complete cooking time.  You need the insulating properties of cast-iron to protect your pork from these variations in temperature and keep the contents at a fairly constant heat.  Glass, aluminium or stainless steel dishes simply won't do this for you.

So, do you have a slow cooker or cast-iron casserole?  Yes?  Right so, let's get started.

Pulled Pork Day 1 - makes 6-8 servings

1.2kg boned pork leg or shoulder           3tsp paprika
1 tsp onion granules                                1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin                                             1 tsp smoked paprika
0.5 tsp garam masala                              0.5 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp sea salt - do NOT use table salt as the iodine will turn the pork blue

1. Mix all of the spices together.  If your joint has twine holding it together, remove it and flatten out the meat.  Lay your pork (don't be tempted to use fillet, it'll just go tough) on a large sheet of clingfilm and rub all over with the spice mix, until completely covered.  Leave the caul of fat on - it will impart a lot of flavour to your sauce in the cooking.  Worry not, we'll remove it before we pull the pork, you won't be eating it.

2. Wrap the pork tightly in the clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge overnight.  And that's it for day one.

No pics today, sorry.  The "Moussaka" wasn't worthy of one and I never thought of taking one of the pork.  Ah well.

In other news, Ireland remain top of their world cup group after beating Russia 62-12 yesterday morning.  And Mushy of all people scored a try!  I never thought he had it in him.  Granted, it kind of looked like he just fell over the line by accident, but hey, we'll take 'em any way they come.  So, we're down to our last pool match this week (Italy) and if we win this one, we'll more than likely meet Wales in our quarter-final, and France or England in the semi if we win that.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, eh?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Post the Twenty-eighth (in which our heroine has that Friday feeling)

First week in the new job over, a woohoo!  Friday has ever been my favourite day of the week, and I'm feeling particularly content today, seeing as I have a week of a real job behind me.  I know it's early days, but I'm very happy with the move.  The company is great, the people are lovely and there's just a really nice vibe about the place.  It's like a different planet to my last job.

There were a fair few sore heads going around the office today, yesterday being Cynical Marketing Ploy Arthur's Day.  For my non-Irish readers, this is an annual celebration of all things Guinness.  You can buy tickets for a venue or just go to your local and raise a toast to Arthur at a minute to six (1759 being the year Guinness was founded).  And in fairness, while it might be a marketer's dream, Diageo donate all the proceeds from the ticket sales to the Arthur Guinness fund, and this year they were donating an additional €5 for everyone who checked-in to Arthur's Day on Facebook.  Plus, y'know, it's an excuse to go to the pub.

I may have celebrated a bit too enthusiastically, however.  I spent the day with my eyelids at half-mast and a second pulse in my temple that was probably disturbing the person in the next office.  I had also drunk a litre and a half of water by 11am, and I haven't been to the bathroom yet.  I may very well give my bed a little kiss when I get into it tonight.

And now for the world's clumsiest segue, where I just bring the food in apropos of nothing.  Needless to say, I cooked nowt last night, as I was too busy laying the foundations for my hangover.  So this is Wednesday's dinner.  I had rehearsals for a cabaret-thing I'm doing next month on Wednesday night, so I didn't want anything too heavy - nothing worse than having to dance with a big sticky-outy belly flopping around in front of you.  So I decided to try and replicate the chicken & chickpea salad from Le Bon Crubeen, which my sister Clo mentioned on the low-carb post from a week or two ago.  It's actually nothing like that salad, though.  I marinated my chicken overnight in yoghurt, garlic & lemon zest, cause I vaguely remembered something about lemon & yoghurt from the menu the one time I was in Le Bon Crubeen.  Turns out their chicken is actually lemon & thyme, and they dress the salad with spiced yoghurt.  Ah well.  It was still delicious, and worth sharing, imo.

Lemon-yoghurt Chicken & Chickpea Salad - serves 2

2 chicken fillets, cut into strips                          Couple of tablespoons natural yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, crushed                                    Zest of a lemon
Bag of baby spinach                                         Tin of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
Medium onion, sliced                                        1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1. The night before, mix your chicken with enough yoghurt to coat, add the zest & garlic and a bit of salt & pepper.  Mix well, cover and stick in the fridge til tomorrow.

2. Preheat your grill to full whack, or get a griddle pan nice and hot.  Cook the chicken for a couple of minutes each side, being careful not to overdo it.  While the chicken is cooking, plate up your spinach leaves, chickpeas, peppers and onions.  Arrange the chicken on top, and commence nomming.  I squeezed the zested lemon and dressed my salad with that, but you could also mix the juice with half as much olive oil and use that.  I just don't like oily salad dressings.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Post the Twenty-seventh (in which our heroine wishes she liked seafood more)

I want to like fish.  I really, really do.  But, despite years of trying, and with a few exceptions, it just does nothing for me.  I know I *should* like it, and I know I can never be a proper foodie as long as I don't really eat it, but just, no.

Like I said, there are a few exceptions.  I'll eat mahi mahi if it's on a menu where nothing else floats my boat.  The meen balchao in Vermilion is to die for, as are the swordfish tacos in Dillinger's.  And I absolutely love the smell of fish cooking on a barbeque or griddle; to me, it's just amazingly evocative of childhood holidays in Portugal.

And then, of course, there's tuna.  Everyone likes tuna, right?  The "chicken of the sea", to quote a well-known brand in the US.  I wonder how much their marketing people got paid to come up with that?  Now, if you were to compile a league table of the most nutritionally advantageous types of fish to eat, I doubt tinned tuna would even feature, but hey, it's tasty, it's low in fat and you nearly always have a few tins of it knocking around the house, which makes this recipe a good emergency standby.

Tuna Cakes with Onion Salsa- makes 8 cakes

For the cakes
2 tins tuna in brine, drained                        250g mashed potato*
1 small onion, very finely diced                  2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chili, finely diced                               Large bunch coriander, chopped
Dash of soy sauce                                     Pinch of ground coriander
Zest & juice of 1 lemon                             1 egg
Salt & pepper

1. Chuck all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix really well until everything is evenly combined.  Check your seasoning carefully - you don't want to go mad with the salt, as the tuna is quite salty already.  When you're happy with the seasoning, shape the mix into 8 cakes, then chill for half an hour to firm up.  Make your salsa while you wait.

For the salsa
500g cherry tomatoes, quartered                1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 small chili, finely diced                             Small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1 lime                                            Salt, pepper & a pinch of sugar

2. Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl, mix well and allow to sit at room temperature until you serve.

3. Remove the tuna cakes from the fridge.  In a wide, shallow pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium heat.  Fry the cakes three or four at a time.  Don't touch them for the first couple of minutes of cooking - you want to give the bottoms time to firm up.  Give them a little nudge with a spatula and if they move easily, turn them over and cook the other side.  Remove, drain on kitchen towels & keep warm while you cook the rest.

4.  Serve the cakes on plenty of mixed leaves and top off with a generous dollop of salsa.  Emmet, being a cottage cheese fiend, also had a dollop of that on his.

You could also make these with tinned salmon.  I'm dying to try them with crab, after sampling the FAB crabcakes from McAllister's Fishmonger in Lucan.

Or, you could make them with pretty much any white fish fillet - just blitz the raw fish in a food processor with the potatoes, then make as directed above.  You will, however, need to cook the cakes for a little bit longer, on a slightly lower heat.

*If you're making these a day or two after the potato skins from the last post, obviously just use your reserved potatoes from that, and don't worry too much about the weight - no two sets of fishcakes are ever alike anyway.

Until tomorrow, mes amies, I must bid you adieu.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Post the Twenty-sixth (in which our heroine returns to the world of the gainfully employed)

So, after my false start last week, I finally started my new job yesterday.  Although I also got off to a bit of a bad start this week - I left myself an hour and a half for the journey, just to be on the safe side, and still barely made it in on time.  I got stuck behind not one, but two crashes on the way in.  What are the bleedin' chances?  It was one of those "God hates me and wants me to fail" moments.  I got there in the end, though.  Barely.

Anyway, the new company seems very promising - not only do I have  my own office, which is manna from heaven for a misanthropist like me, but my department has a BAKING CLUB!!!  A different person bakes each week, and everyone meets on Friday morning for coffee and something tasty.  It's my boss's turn this week, which I find kind of funny (in a nice way), cause he's a really, really senior guy in there and I'm finding it hard to picture him in an apron.  But worry not, I shall report back on his baking skills in due course.

The return to work is forcing me to partake in activity I previously wanted no part of - menu planning.  I'm not getting home til about 6.45, which doesn't really leave time for my usual half an hour of staring into the fridge/press/freezer while I consider and discard 17 different dinner options before finally settling on one or making something up off the top of my head.  Spontaneity begone!  Who knows, though, it might save me a few shekels.

So, last night was:

Thrice Baked Potatoes - serves 2

4 large potatoes                                    150g cheddar, grated
6 tbs sunflower oil                                 1 tsp aromat
0.5 tsp garlic granules                            0.5 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano                                        Splash of milk
Knob of butter or spread                      Salt & pepper

1.  Scrub your potatoes, dry them and prick fairly deeply with a fork a few times on each side.  (I once had an unpleasantly memorable experience with an exploding spud that was insufficiently pricked.)  Bake in an oven preheated to 200C for an hour to 90 minutes, depending on size.  They're done when you can easily slide a sharp knife into them.

2. Remove from the oven and immediately slice them in half lengthways, holding them with a tea-towel so you don't burn the hands off yourself.  Lay them cut-side-up on a wire rack until they're cool enough to handle.  This step is vital to ensure the utmost crispiness of the finished skins.

3. While you're waiting for the spuds to cool, mix your oil, aromat, garlic granules, paprika, oregano, salt & pepper in a small bowl.  I find putting it in the still-warm oven for a few minutes helps the flavours to infuse.

4.  When you can handle the potatoes comfortably, scoop the flesh out into a bowl.  Do not, as I have done on not one but several occasions, feed it to your dogs before remembering that you will, in fact, need it later in the recipe.  With a pastry brush, coat both sides of each potato with the flavoured oil.  Return your oven to 200C and bake the skins upside-down (it stops them closing up) until nice and crispy.  Leave the oven on.

5. While the skins are crisping, melt your butter or crappy low-fat spread in a large pot.  Throw half your scooped-out potatoes into the pot (hang on to the rest, though, cause we're going to use it tomorrow) and mash with enough milk to get a nice, fluffy consistency.  Season well and keep warm.

6.  When the potatoes are crisp, fill each one with a spoonful of mash - you want just enough to coat the skins by a half a centimetre or so, it's not a loaded baked potato we're going for here.  Sprinkle with the grated cheddar and return to the oven until the cheese is browned and bubbling.  You can flash them under the grill for the last two minutes if needs be.  Serve with sour cream and, if you're feeling virtuous, a green salad.

P.S. If you have an avowed carnivore living at home (I'm looking at you, RF), you can fry off some bacon bits or chorizo and add them into the mashed potato filling.

P.P.S.  It's a good idea to cut these using a steak knife - they really are very crispy.  A dinner knife is like to send them shooting off your plate, which causes no end of excitement if you happen to have dogs knocking around the kitchen.

P.P.P.S.  You could totally save yourself a whole lot of time and effort by skipping the second baking and simply frying your scooped-out skins in a couple of inches of oil (or, if such things still exist, chucking them in a deep fat fryer for a few minutes).  I, however, like to fool myself that baking them (albeit coated in oil) is staving off my old pal the rag on a stick for yet another while.  If you do go down the frying route, do it in plain oil and add the aromat, etc. to the mash.

I have a confession to make... camera ate the photo I took of the potato skins.  The one above is an old one of a different skins recipe and they weren't very nice at all.  Don't tell anyone.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Post the Twenty-fifth (in which everyone feels like Ireland have already won the World Cup)

Well, what a turnaround from last week.  We've gone from feeling like we lost last week, to feeling like we've already won the Web Ellis cup, all thanks to an epic performance against Australia yesterday.  Tri-Nations champions and a lot of people's real pick to win the world cup, and they were completely dominated by us.  Worra day!  Even personality-free-zone O'Gara was practically in tears afterwards.  Onwards and upwards now - Russia and Italy still to go and if we top the group, we're looking at a much easier proposition in the quarter-finals than if we qualified second.  Things are looking up.

It was a bit of an upsy-downy day for sport, though.  Yesterday afternoon we took ourselves off to the RDS for Leinster V Glasgow Warriors, buoyed up by our win.  Unfortunately, the wheels kind of came off the wagon and we were beaten 23 - 19 in the end.  Not exactly a routing, though, and it's early days in the season yet.

Anyway, today's recipe is total comfort food - perfect for this time of year when the evenings are getting that bit shorter.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken - serves 4

4 large chicken fillets                         350ml buttermilk
1 stick celery, roughly chopped         1 small onion, quartered                 
1 large red chili, quartered                2 cloves garlic, quartered              
Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves          2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne pepper                       Salt & pepper
150g flour                               

1. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, celery, onion, garlic, chili, a teaspoon each of the paprika & cayenne and plenty of salt & pepper.  Add the chicken, toss to coat, then cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for as long as you have - overnight if possible.

2. In a large, shallow dish, mix the flour with the rest of the paprika & cayenne and more salt & pepper.  Remove the chicken from the milk with a tongs, shake off any excess liquid and dredge through the seasoned flour until completely covered - give it a good shove with the tongs to make sure you get into all the nooks & crannies.

3.  Heat a couple of inches of sunflower oil (don't use olive, it's too strong and with too low a smoke-point) in a large, deep pan until piping hot.  Fry the chicken two pieces at a time, allowing about 6 minutes per side.  Handle very carefully when removing from the pan so that you don't knock off all your lovely, crispy coating.  Leave to rest on a warmed platter lined with kitchen towels while you're cooking the other two pieces.

 This chicken is absolutely perfect served with:

Spiced-Up Mac & Cheese - serves 4

250g pasta                                  300g grated strong cheese
30g flour                                     30g butter
700ml milk                                  3 tbs Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper                  1 tsp chili powder
0.5 tsp garlic granules                  Salt & pepper

1. Cook the pasta until just slightly underdone & drain.  In the same pot, make a roux by melting the butter, then adding the flour and cooking for a good 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. In  a jug or bowl, mix the milk, cayenne, chili powder, hot sauce, garlic granules and salt & pepper.  Whisk into the roux a little at a time, then bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.

3. Stir the pasta back into the sauce (add a little of the cooking water if your sauce is too thick), pour into a shallow dish & bake in an oven preheated to 200C until golden & bubbling.  Serve with the chicken and a leafy green salad.

I know we've discussed my addiction to spicy food already, so if you're afraid that this is going to be too hot for you, feel free to reduce the quantities of hot sauce, chili & cayenne.  You could even omit them altogether, but where's the fun in that?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Post the Twenty-fourth (in which our heroine opines that halloumi is the greatest of all cheeses)

O halloumi, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...

Your rubbery salty skin,
Encasing the delights within,
Your chewy, springy meat
Is all I wish to eat.

Bake you, fry or grill,
You're simply rather brill.
Drizzle you with oil,
A dash of chili will not spoil.

Dipped in herbs and spice,
You're really rather nice.
Or wrapped in warm flat-bread
And stuffed inside my head.

You can keep your cheddars and Gloucesters
And ooey-gooey bries
And if ever I find myself on death row
I'll be saying "Halloumi, please".

Halloumi Wrapped in Roasted Red Peppers - serves 2

Block of halloumi, sliced in 4                         4 red peppers
1 red chili, finely diced                                   Finely grated zest & juice of 1 lemon

1. Roast your peppers whole until just beginning to soften - don't overcook, cause they've to go back under the grill later.  When they're done, place them in a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave for ten or fifteen minutes.  When they're cool enough to handle, twist off the stalks, cut down one side, then open out and remove the seeds & membrane and pinch off the skins.

2. Place a slice of cheese on top of each pepper and sprinkle with lemon juice, zest and some of the chili.  Roll the pepper around the cheese and secure with cocktail sticks or kitchen twine soaked in water.

3.  Get your grill up to full whack and grill the peppers on both sides until they're beginning to char slightly.  Serve on warmed plates with the bean salad below.

Red Onion, Bean & Tomato Salad - serves 2

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced                          Finely grated zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 tbs olive oil                                               400g can of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
12 cherry tomatoes, halved                          1 red onion, finely sliced
3 tbs fresh coriander, chopped                     1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
Salt & pepper

1. Place the oil, lemon juice & zest and the garlic in a large pan and set over a low heat.  Allow to infuse for 5 minutes, then stir in the beans, tomatoes & onions and leave to warm gently for another 5 minutes.  Scoop into a bowl, season generously then leave to marinate at room temperature for at least an hour.  Stir in the coriander and mint just before serving.

Note: Garlic tends to turn green in lemon juice, but don't worry, it's perfectly fine to eat.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Post the Twenty-third (in which our heroine meets a Stephen King book she doesn't like)

Emmet would have said it wasn't possible.  And, to be honest, so would I.  There isn't really any handy way to describe just how much I love Stephen King's work.  He's often dismissed as a hack (generally by people who haven't read him, I find) and horror as an entire genre tends to be written off by the literary types, but by God, that man has a gift for words and a subtler turn of phrase than he's ever given credit for.


I bought his new "short story" collection yesterday - they're actually more novellas than short stories.  It's called "Full Dark, No Stars" and if anything excites me more than a new King novel, it's a new anthology.  I actually feel like I'm somehow being unfaithful to him even by writing this, but, amazingly, FD,NS didn't live up to expectations.  The subject material was very un-King-like, and, at times, I felt like I could have been reading a toned-down Richard Laymon.  This, readers, is not a favourable comparison - Laymon wrote, to quote a memorable critic, "Stomach-churning porno-violence".  In this particular tome, three out of four stories have extreme violence against women at their heart, and two out of those three have rape as a recurring theme.  I am far from a prudish reader, but this is so unlike King (who has actually been accused countless times of pedestalising his female subjects) that I found it very hard to read.  Indeed, I think the reason it was so hard to read is because it felt so contrived - it was so, so obviously not a style that he was comfortable writing in, and that discomfort practically leapt off the page.  I just wonder what made him try it at all.

Anyway, yesterday I attempted to harvest the remainder of my spinach.  This was easier said than done, because spinach is amazingly prolific and even when you think it's going to seed, when you cut the bigger leaves, you find yet another crop of younger ones underneath.  For anyone wanting to start growing their own veg, this is the way to go.  And, in fact, I found myself specifically looking for spinach recipes, so that I could use this batch.  I also had chicken fillets fresh from the butcher, and reckoned a chicken & spinach lasagna might be just the way to go.  Unfortunately, none of the recipes I found quite lit my fire, so I combined the best bits from all of them, and this is what I came up with.

Chicken & Spinach Lasagna - serves 4-6

4 large chicken fillets                              8 double- handfuls of adult spinach
2 onions, diced                                      4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 knobs butter                                       Glass white wine
25g butter                                             25g flour
350ml milk                                            Half a nutmeg, grated
100g grated parmesan                           350ml natural yoghurt
1 egg                                                    6 sheets of lasagna, par-boiled
Salt & pepper

1.  Poach your chicken fillets* in simmering water until just cooked.  I usually add pepper, garlic granules and a bay leaf to the poaching liquid.  Drain, chop roughly and set aside.

2.  While the chicken is cooking, melt a knob of butter with a glug of oil in a large pan.  Add the onions & garlic and sauté gently until just beginning to soften.  Add the glass of wine and turn off the heat.

3.  Melt the other knob of butter over a low heat.  Rinse your spinach and remove any thick stalks.  Add the spinach to the butter and cook, turning constantly, until you can fit it all in the pot and it's completely wilted.  Add the spinach and the chicken to the white wine/onion mix and toss to combine.  Season with plenty of salt & pepper.

4.  In another pot, melt the 25g of butter.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes.  Add the milk, stirring constantly, a little at a time, until you achieve a thick, but pourable consistency.  Add the parmesan & the nutmeg and stir until smooth.  Bechamel is very much an instinctive type of sauce, so if it looks to thick, add more milk, if it's too thin, increase the heat until it thickens a bit.  Use your common sense.

5. Stir the spinach & chicken mix into the bechamel.  In a small bowl, beat the egg into the yoghurt and thin with a little water.

6. Lay a third of the chicken mix into an ovenproof dish.  Lay over three of the lasagna sheets (btw, par-boiling them stops them soaking up all of your sauce, making for a nice, floppy, sloppy lasagna), then repeat with another layer of chicken, the other three pasta sheets, and another layer of chicken.  Finish with the yoghurt "sauce".

7. Bake at 200C until the top is browned & bubbly.  Enjoy, and, if at all possible, get someone else to do the washing up because, alas, this recipe generates a lot of dishes.

*This would actually be the perfect dish to make with the strippings of a roast chicken in place of the fillets.  Unfortunately, with three dogs about, leftovers are a bit of an alien concept in our house.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Post the Twenty-second (in which our heroine turns up for her new job a week early)

Yes, I am a muppet. I spent the whole week thinking (and telling everyone) I was starting my new job on Monday (which was yesterday), despite having heard my recruitment agency lady say the 19th perfectly clearly.  Now, you would think, given the 9/11 overload on tv all last week, that I would have copped fairly quickly that yesterday was, in fact, the 12th, but no.  It was only on the way home from Dublin on Sunday evening that I realised.  I had seen a sign for the Castledermot Vintage Day, which is taking place this year on Sunday the 25th of September.  "That's this day week", says I to myself.

*imaginary "Does Not Compute" message flashing in brain*

But how can this day week be the 25th if today is only the 11th?

And so on and so forth.  By the time we got home, I had myself totally confused.  And, of course, I had no way of getting in touch with MRAL (my recruitment agency lady) to double-check.  So, I resigned myself to getting ready and heading to Dublin in the morning, and just keep trying to reach her in the meantime.  In the end, I was literally around the corner from the new job when I got the orders to stand down.  Ah well.  We all make mistakes, right?

On the plus side, the fact that I was all fired up and ready to go to work from yesterday makes it feel like I've been gifted a bonus week off.

Anyway, I ended up going out for a late lunch with my mum yesterday, so I wanted a pretty light dinner.  This was absolutely perfect.

Two-Way Coriander Beef - serves two

350g round mince                          2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled                   2" piece of ginger, peeled & cut into rough dice
2 chilies, finely diced                     Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbs curry powder                       2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin                                   50g cashew nuts
Soy sauce, to taste                       3 tbs fresh coriander, chopped

1. Heat a wok over a medium heat and brown your mince.  Put your garlic and ginger through a garlic crusher and add it to the mince with the onion & chili.  Cook until the onion is soft.  Drain any excess, grease, but, to be honest, with round mince, there shouldn't be any.  Add the cumin, ground coriander, curry powder & lemon juice and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Add your preferred quantity of soy sauce and the cashew nuts, stir and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Season, check the spice level & adjust if necessary, then remove from the heat and stir in the fresh coriander.

3.  Serve with rice/naan/wraps/whatever you prefer.  I had mine wrapped in iceberg lettuce, like yuk sung, which was absolute perfection, and I would recommend this method above all others.

Today's Top Tip: Save a fortune on laundry bills - give your dirty shirts to Oxfam. They will wash and iron them and you can buy them back for fifty pence.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Post the Twenty-first (in which everyone feels like Ireland lost)

So, Ireland kicked off their world cup campaign yesterday.  The match kicked-off at 7am Irish time, so I'd say most people missed the first ten minutes or so out of bleary eyed-ness.  It's really a terribly uncivilised time to be getting up at of a Sunday.

The bad news is, those who slept through it were the lucky ones.  It was a really, really bad match.  We were playing the USA, in case you didn't know.  The USA wouldn't be known as a rugby powerhouse, also in case you didn't know.  We were expected to hockey them comfortably; shite form during the summer series notwithstanding.  That didn't happen.  We won 22-10, which sounds like a great result on paper, but which is really quite alarming from a team who were ranked third in the world less than a year ago, against a team whose highest world ranking ever was 14th.  On the day, the US looked like the hungrier team and Ireland just couldn't seem to make any cohesive play.  It says a lot about the match that, out of three tries, two were scored by a guy who couldn't touch the ball without knocking it on for the first half an hour and the other by a hooker who "retired" years ago.  And, in the dying minutes of the game, after 10 minutes of play where it looked like we actually might have snatched the bonus point out of nowhere, what did our one player who'd had a decent summer series do?  He kicked away possession.  Game over, ball burst, as Emmet would say.  Only it wasn't even game over - out of nowhere, Paul Emerick intercepted a BOD pass and was gonzo, as we Coffeys are wont to say - over the line, for a try that would be converted, making an even bigger dent in our tries for/against stats.  It made for a very morose post-match analysis, both at home and in the RTE studio.  As I've said, you'd swear we'd lost the game.  We might as well have; if we play like that against the Wallabies next week, we might as well cede from the (rugby) union.  I do, however, have faith in the lads, if not in Declan Kidney.  If he gets the right people on the pitch, we're still in there.  Anyone who has a Kidders voodoo doll, get working on it now.

However, the bitter taste left by our under-par performance was soon erased by the yummy breakfast provided by my eldest sis, Clo.  I was tempted to Dublin with the promise of Hueveos Rancheros, but got Huevos á la Flamenca instead.  I forgave her, just about - she did ply me with ample quantities of mimosa.  There's a certain frisson to being drunk before 10am.

Anyhoo, Emmet and I had come to Dublin the night before, to save ourselves having to get up at a completely offensive hour.  We briefly toyed with the idea of going out to eat, but I decided that I wasn't arsed putting on make-up, so I said I'd make...

Beer Chili - serves 4 (generously)

500g stewing steak, very finely diced*
250g pork mince                         100g bacon lardons
330ml beer                                  2 beef stock cubes                                
2 onions, diced                            4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stick celery, diced                     2 chilies, diced (skin & membrane left in)
1 red pepper, chopped                1 tin tomatoes
2 tbs tomato purée                       2 tbs chili powder
4 tbs Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1 tbs oregano                               1 tbs cumin
1 tbs dried basil                           1 tbs ground coriander
1 tbs paprika                               1 tbs mustard
1 tsp brown sugar                        Juice of 1 lime
Bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

Before we start: I may have mentioned before that I'm totally addicted to chilies.  However, even if you don't like hot food, you should totally try this recipe - it is A-MAZ-ING.  Just cut down on the fresh chilies a bit.  And it's so easy to make; you just go as far as step 3, before the lime & coriander, and then leave it all to simmer for as long as you like - the longer, the better. Eat it the next day, and it'll be better again.  Just add the last two ingredients before you dish up.  The recipe I've given you here is actually halved from the original - but feel free to double everything, make the monster pot, and freeze in individual portions for lunches/weekday dinners.  It's all good.

*Stewing steak - do not attempt to make this chili with mince.  Buy stewing steak, which should already be in strips, and dice it nice and small.  Yes, this is a bit of a pain, but it's worth it.  Chili made with chunky beef is, quite frankly, the only way to eat chili at all.

Anyway, onwards and (hopefully) upwards:

1. Heat a (very) large pot over medium heat.  Add your diced beef & pork mince and brown, breaking up any clumps with a fork.  Drain off any excess fat.

2.  Add the onions, celery, garlic and chilies.  Cook briskly for 5 minutes, stirring, then add the beer, bring back to a simmer, and cook for another 5 minutes.

3. Add all the remaining ingredients except the lime juice & coriander.  Stir, lower the heat, then leave to mellow at a very low simmer for as long as you have.  Just before serving, stir in the lime juice & coriander, check the seasoning, then serve in warm bowls with cheese, tortilla chips (see below) and lots of lovely cold beer.

A note on tortilla chips: I don't eat rice and, to me, chili should be eaten with tortilla chips anyway.  However, with one eye always cocked towards the rag on a stick, I try to avoid the shop-bought tortilla chips.  I am aware that that's what's in the photo above, but that's just cause Emmet misread the shopping list - I usually make my own.  I'll tell you how to make these some time this week, I promise, but tonight, I'm just too tired -  too tired, even, for a Top Tip.  I'm off to Bedfordshire, folks - g'night...

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Post the Twentieth(in which our heroine has a restless night)

I'm bleedin' shattered, so I am.  Was awake pretty much the whole night, and the few scraps of sleep I did manage to snatch were those horrible, feverish ones where you're not actually sure if you're asleep or awake anyway.  It was also really, really warm last night, and even with the window open I spent the whole night sweating like a pig.  Not cool.  I finally gave up the ghost and got up at 6.30, knowing full-well that I'd be wrecked later, but at least it got me out of bed in time for France V Japan.

I was actually whistling dixie when I got up at 6.30, went back to bed at about 12 for an hour or two, and woke up with a hangover.  What's that about?

So, dinner last night was one of those ones that you think is going to take about an hour and a half, but ends up taking about twice that.  I blame one specific component - the baked onions.  A) I had never made them before and B) they're a Jamie Oliver recipe and as much as I love his food, he tends to, well, lie, about how much effort goes into some of his recipes.  Sorry Jamie.  In the case of the onions, he neglected to mention that the feckers are slippier than wet bars of soap coated in castor oil once they've been boiled, and chopping them without losing several of your fingers takes friggin' FOREVER.  It is also clear that Jamie is not a man who has had to clean his own kitchen in quite some time.  I've been caught out by him in this regard before, on the memorable occasion when I decided to make pasta from scratch.  This was right back at the start of my cooking "career" and I didn't know to dispense with some of Jamie's arsier foibles - to wit, not putting the flour in a bowl, but making a big "volcano" directly in the middle of the counter and just cracking the eggs into it.  You can imagine how that went.  It took me about an hour with a wallpaper scraper to restore the counter-top to its former glory.

Having said all that, don't be put off trying this recipe.  If I'd started the onions at the same time as the chicken went in the oven, I'd have been laughing, but I foolishly went and chillaxed on the couch with a glass of wine and generally dilly-dallied far more than was advisable.

Anyway, dinner consisted of three dishes - Chicken in Milk, Baked Onions and Roasted Garlic Mash.

Now look, you're going to read the recipe for the chicken and go "Eeeeuuuwwww!", but believe me, it's really, really, really good.  Live a little and give it a try.

Also, I know times are tight and everyone's watching the pennies, but I implore you to always buy free-range chicken.  Yes, it's more expensive, but believe me, it's worth it from an animal-welfare point of view.  How battery farming hasn't been outlawed is beyond me.  And if you can stretch a bit further, go organic.  But I'll be happy with free-range.  Same goes for eggs, obviously.

Chicken in Milk - serves 4

1.4kg fresh chicken                  Pint of milk
Zest of two lemons                   Handful of chopped, fresh sage
10 garlic cloves, skin on            Oil & butter, salt & pepper

1. In a casserole or roasting dish, heat a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter.  Season your chicken all over with salt & black pepper, and brown on all sides.  Remove & set aside.  Pour the frying liquid away, but don't clean the dish.  (I keep the oil to go over my dogs' dry food, they love it.)

2. Put all the other ingredients into the dish, and give it a good stir to scrape up all the lovely sticky bits from the bottom.  Pop the chicken back in, baste with the milk, cover and stick in the oven at 190C for an hour.  After the hour is up, remove the lid, baste again, and continue to cook, uncovered, for another half an hour.

3. When the chicken is done, remove to a warmed platter to rest for ten minutes.  With a slotted spoon, fish out the garlic cloves and squeeze the pulp out of the skins.  Reserve a few for your mash.  You'll see that the lemon zest has caused the milk to split, but that's all part of the charm.

In the meantime, you can be getting on with your...

Baked Onions - makes 4 (although I only did 3 last night, cause I knew Emmet would only eat one)

4 tennis-ball sized onions, peeled                     2 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 tbsp cream                                                   40g parmesan, grated
4 slices streaky bacon                                     4 springs rosemary, lower leaves picked & chopped

1. Boil the onions for 15 minutes until just tender.  Drain and allow to cool enough so you can handle them.

2. Trim the stalk end of the onion enough so it will sit flat on a baking tray.  Cut the top inch off the root end and discard.

3.  This is where it gets tricky - you want to take most of the centre out of the onions, while leaving the "walls" intact.  I found that the easiest way to do this was to pinch the outer two layers together (depending on the thickness) and push the remaining centre bits out from the stalk end.

4. The even trickier part - chop the centre portions of the onion as finely as you can.  This is easier said than done, as the membrane between each layer (the bit everyone had to mount on a slide and examine under a microscope in first year science) is unbelievably frickin slippy and slimy.  I found that the pieces of onion kept shooting out from under my fingers, like particularly aromatic tiddlywinks.  Once you get them roughly chopped, just keep going over them with your biggest knife until they're chopped nice and fine.

5.  Wrap a baking tray in tinfoil (cause they leak all over the place).  Wrap each onion in a slice of bacon and, if your rosemary is "woody" enough, secure by skewering with the rosemary stalk.  If not, use a cocktail stick and push the rosemary down in between the layers of the onion.

6.  Heat a little oil in the same pot you boiled the onions in (I'm allllllll about keeping the washing-up to a minimum).  Add your onions, garlic & rosemary and sauté for about 7 minutes, until nice and soft.  I lashed in a bit of white wine too, just cause I felt like it.  Add the cream, then remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan.  Season with plenty of black pepper, but very little salt, as the cheese is quite salty already.

7.  Fill each onion with the cheese mixture, and bake for approx. 25 minutes, until the cheese is golden & bubbling.  Serve on a warmed plate.

I'm not going to tell you how to make mash, cause, you know, it's fairly obvious.  However, for this mash, when you've drained the potatoes, put them back into the pot with a few tablespoons of the milk from the chicken and the reserved garlic cloves and mash the whole lot together.  Check the seasoning and serve the whole lot in the middle of the table, allowing everyone to help themselves.

Today's Top Tip: Office workers - avoid distraction from your important paperwork by making "blinkers" out of two Post-It notes, one stuck to each temple.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Post the Nineteenth (in which Leinster have their first home match of the season)

And I'm not at it.  #rage, and all that early twenty-first century jazz.  Emmet and I generally go to all the home games, but we've to be in Dublin tomorrow night (and early Sunday morning for the match - more on that later) and it just wasn't feasible for us to go up tonight for the match.  Dogs don't generally appreciate being left on their own for three days at a time, you'll find.

So it's three-all at 25 minutes in.  Against Newport Gwent Dragons, btw.  Of course, no-one is supposed to say that the opening weeks of the Pro12 are going to be less than explosive, with most of the teams missing their star players because of the world cup, but everyone's thinking it.

Success on the world cup brekkie front, by the way - my oldest sister is hosting this Sunday's.  Result!  Thanks Clo!  I've said I'll supply the chilies for the huevos rancheros and she has allowed that jim-jams are acceptable attire.  Everyone's happy.

On the food photography front, I've been snapping away all weekend, with various different settings on my camera.  All the photos still look the same.  I'm beginning to think my camera only has an idiot-mode.  It's a Sony Cyber-Shot 8.1 Mega Pixel, if anyone is familiar with it and would like to give me a few pointers.  I'm kind of ashamed to admit that my phone takes better pictures.  I shall keep trying, however.  I'm nothing if not stubborn.

So, as I averred to yesterday, last night was my night off the low-carb wagon, and what better way to celebrate it than with the carb-tastic wonder that is gnocchi.  Potato-based pasta dumplings  You really can't get better than that.  Now, gnocchi is actually very easy to make from scratch, if you can be bothered, but for me it's one of those life's-too-short things.  So sue me, I buy mine.

Gnocchi & Parmesan Bake - serves 4

500g gnocchi                            2 tins tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped           Bunch of basil, stalks chopped, leaves chiffonaded
75g parmesan, grated               1 tbs dried oregano
2 onions, diced                         1 small red chili, finely chopped          
Salt, pepper & pinch of sugar

1. Boil your gnocchi in lots of salted water until almost done - about 4 minutes.  Drain, refresh in cold water and set aside.

2. In the same pot, heat a glug of olive oil.  Add your chili, onions, basil stalks & garlic and fry til beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  (Are we beginning to see a pattern with the tomato sauces, btw?)  Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, add the chopped basil, oregano and a pinch of sugar.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes.

3.  Season the sauce and stir in the gnocchi.  Pour into a large dish, scatter over the grated parmesan and bake at 190C until golden & bubbling.  Serve in deep bowls with a green salad and garlic bread.

A note on oven temps: Unless specified otherwise, take it as a given that all ovens are preheated.  I'm not going to tell you when to switch it on - you know your oven better than I do.  My oven heats really quickly, so switching it on at the start of cooking, as most recipes specify, is a waste of energy.  My mother's oven, on the other hand, needs to be turned on some time the previous day before you can start cooking in it.  So, know thy oven.

Another note on tinned tomatoes: I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I always buy whole tinned tomatoes, rather than chopped ones.  They're 10 to 15c cheaper, and tend to be better quality - not as many stalky bits.  I just whizz 'em in my mini chopper for a couple of seconds before using.

Today's Top Tip: Save time when crossing a one-way street by only looking in the direction of oncoming traffic.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Post the Eighteenth (in which our heroine is grateful for her lack of a sweeth tooth)

So, you may recall me complaining about the effect a prolonged period of unemployment was having on my figure a few weeks ago.  Specifically, that said figure was disappearing under a layer of home baking-induced fat.  This is because I tend to only bake bread which A) is only nice when it's fresh, so you have to eat it all the day it's baked and B) would be defiled by having anything other than lashings of real butter put on it.  You can see where this might lead to increased tightness in one's clothing, I'm sure.

The solution, for me, therefore, when I feel the need to get floury in the kitchen, is to bake sweet thangs.  I don't have a sweet tooth, you see, whereas Emmet has 32 of them, so it's a win-win situation.  It also helps that he has the metabolism of a coked-up hummingbird, whereas mine is closer to that of a sloth who has nested inadvisably close to an ether factory.

In an attempt to kick-start ye olde metabolism, I have tried to go low-carb this week.  This is extremely difficult for me for two reasons:

1. I have spent years refuting the whole "carbs are evil" dogma.  I still think Atkin's is a load of shite, but looking at A)  my skinny older sister and B) the way carbs were points-loaded when Weight Watchers launched ProPoints, I have finally conceded that they may not be as waistline friendly as I would like them to be.


2. I *am* the Carb Queen.  I've been known to have potato waffles on toast, for crying out loud.  So this was always going to be hard.

The biggest challenge for me this week has been trying to come up with low-carb lunch ideas.  I mean, lets face it, pretty much everything you ever have for lunch comes in or on some kind of bread item.  Or, sometimes, for a change, a baked potato.  The Atkin's Acolytes aren't very helpful, as all they seem to eat is cheese & bacon, and I'm not looking to simply replace my obesity-induced heart attack with a sodium-induced one, thanks very glad.  I could have made a big vat of soup, but to be honest, I'm not the biggest soup-eater in the world and get bored of eating the same type within two days.

Anyway, if anyone has any tasty low-carb lunch ideas, please feel free to post them below.  Although I'll probably have fallen off the wagon spectacularly by tomorrow and be having Chipstick sandwiches or something.  Anyway, today's lunch was a meatball salad with a cold egg, cheese & onion.  It was very tasty.

And yesterday, I had lettuce, warm eggs and finely grated cheese, all wrapped up in slices of French ham.  Only this was before I rolled them up, obviously...

I had apple slices & cheese the day before that, but I didn't think that really warranted a photo.

And so, to the baked goods.  I'm a terribly disorganised baker and never actually plan anything, so am always limited to baking things I have the ingredients for to hand - so, biscuits, basically.  They also don't require any fancy-ass equipment, which is another tick in their favour, if you ask me.

Rolo Cookies - makes 24 (allegedly - I ended up with about 30)

400g plain flour (the recipe specifies cream plain, but I used plain plain, and the world didn't end, so there)
250g butter, softened                         150g light muscovado sugar
150g white sugar                                4 tbs cocoa
2 level tsp baking powder                   2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence                           24 Rolos

1. Preheat the oven to 190C and grease two large baking trays.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter & sugars until light and fluffy.  If you're a pov, like me, spend this time wishing you had an electric mixer.

3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat again (beat again, it's killing me...).  Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder and mix well with a wooden spoon until you get a thick dough.

4. To form each cookie, take about a tablespoon of the dough into your hands, stick a rolo into the middle of it, then roll into a ball.  Stick onto your baking sheet and flatten slightly, but not too much - you don't want any of the rolo sticking out anywhere.

5. Bake for ten minutes until just set and slightly cracked on top - you want them to be slightly soft, still.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray for two minutes, then move to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

These cookies work with pretty much any chocolatey sweet, by the way - Minstrels, Munchies, Poppets - give 'em all a go.

Today's Top Tip: Smell gas? Locate the suspected leak by striking a match in every room in the house until a loud explosion reveals the source of the leak.

Oh, and after all my talk of going low-carb, I'm having gnocchi for dinner tonight.  Ah well.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Post the Seventeenth (in which our heroine bemoans her lack of photography skills)

So, I've decided that the weakest part of this blog is the photography.  I read a lot of food blogs, and pretty much all of them seem to have the most amazing photographs.  They can't all be professional photographers, right?  So what the hell am I doing wrong?  After much comparison I've come to the conclusion that it's my camera.  All the photos I like have this cool dual-contrast thing going on where the food in the foreground is lovely and sharp but everything in the background is out of focus.  My camera doesn't seem to do that, you just point and click.  Although, I will confess that I never RTFM, so it's entirely possible that my camera does, in fact, do that, but I just have it set to Tomy My First Camera mode.  Perhaps it's time to start playing around with it a bit.

Another thing that has become clear to me over the course of this blog is how difficult it is to shoot brown (for want of a better word) food in a way that makes it look at all appetising.  This will become all too obvious in the next few minutes.  Food stylists and photographers must be crapping themselves when they're hired to do a curry cookbook.

Lastly, it has become increasingly clear to me that there is a definite trade-off to be had between styling your food and photographing it well, and actually eating your dinner while it's still hot.  At the moment, the gourmand in me wins out every time, but that may change over time, we'll see.

And so, to last night's impossible-to-photograph-appealingly dinner:

Venison & Puy Lentil Casserole - serves 2

6 venison sausages                          150g puy lentils, rinses & drained
2 pints chicken or veg stock            150ml red wine
2 onions, chopped                          150g bacon lardons
2 tbs fresh sage, chopped                2 tbs fresh rosemary, chopped

1. In a large casserole, brown the sausages lightly in a little olive oil.  Add the onions, lardons, sage & rosemary and cook for 5 minutes.  Deglaze the dish with the red wine, making sure to scrape up any nice burnt-y bits from the bottom.  Turn off the heat & cover.

2. At the same time, have the lentils boiling in the stock.  When they begin to soften, drain them & reserve the cooking liquid.  Add the lentils to the casserole with about 200ml of the stock.

3.  Cover the casserole and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 140C for two hours.  Check it every 45 minutes or so to make sure it's not drying out - add a little more of the reserved stock if it looks like it is.

4.  At the end of cooking, season with lots of black pepper, but no salt (the stock & bacon are salty enough).  Serve on its own or with a big dollop of creamly, garlickly mash.  It's also excellent with green beans.

You'll be seeing lots of casseroles and hot-pots off me over the coming weeks, as the autumn draws in and the evenings get shorter.  I'll be shot for saying this, but I really look forward to this time of year, and can't wait to light the fire for the first time.

Today's Top Tip:  Don't waste money buying expensive binoculars. Simply stand closer to the object you wish to view.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Post the Sixteenth (in which our heroine has three pieces of good news)

Howdy strangers.  Yes, the world's worst blogger is back.  And I bring with me not one, not two, but THREE items of good news.  It never rains but it pours, wha?

Good News #1 - I'm back home and back into a cooking routine, so my blogging should resume some semblance of regularity.

Good News #2 - Masterchef Ireland starts tonight, for those of us who are interested in such things.

Good News #3 - I will soon be rejoining the ranks of the gainfully employed.  I got the job I mentioned wanting weeks and weeks and weeks ago, and will be starting on Monday.  The money is woejus, but it's better than nothing, right?

Oh, and in other exciting news, the rugby world cup starts this week.  Ireland open against the USA on Sunday morning.  I'm currently engaged in an attempt to get someone in my family to host a breakfast and invite us all over to watch it, but the silence is currently deafening.  I rather suspect they're all holding out for an invite down here.  Well, the joke is on them, cause I don't eat breakfast, so I don't really have any fabulous morning dishes stashed away in my repertoire to wow them with.

Anyway, today's recipe is what I call an "archiver" - it's something I actually cooked a week or two ago, but never posted at the time - was saving for a rainy day, as it were.  Well, it's lashing out, so what better time to give you my version of quiche Lorraine - bacon & cheese quiche with a layer of caramelised onions at the bottom.  This is almost outrageously addictive - Emmet once ate a whole one on his own.

Quiche Lorraine - should serve 4, with a nice green salad

180g plain flour                         85g chilled butter, cut into cubes
45g chilled marg, cubed            Half tsp salt
3-4 tbs iced water                    150g bacon bits
2 large onions, sliced                Handful fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 cloves garlic, finely diced       Good glug olive oil
3 eggs                                      150ml cream
100g grated strong cheese        Quarter of a nutmeg, grated

1. For the crust, sift the flour & salt into a bowl.  Rub in the butter & margarine until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Stir in just enough water to bind, gather into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and bung into the freezer for 15 minutes.

2. While your pastry is chilling, heat the oil in a large pot and brown your bacon bits.  Remove the bacon from the oil with a slotted spoon & set aside.  Turn the heat to low, add your garlic, onions & thyme, toss in the oil and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes until the onions are soft & caramelised.  Stir back in the bacon bits & set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 190C and pop a baking sheet onto the middle shelf.

4. Flour a clean surface and a rolling pin, and roll the dough out to about 3mm thick.  Transfer to a springform tart tin and trim the edges.  Prick the base all over with a fork, line with greaseproof paper and fill with dried beans or peas to weigh down (keep them in a tub for re-using).  Bake for 12 minutes.  Remove the paper & beans and bake until golden, about another 5 minutes.

5.  Spread the onion and bacon mix onto the pastry base.  In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, cheese (I like to use Gloucestershire or Gruyere), nutmeg and a good grinding of black pepper.  Pour into the tin and bake until puffed and golden, about half an hour.  Allow to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then remove the sides of the tin and carefully slide the quiche onto a warm plate.

Today's Top Tip - use a permanent black marker to circle stains on your white clothes before washing them; this way, you'll know exactly where to check to see if your detergent has worked after you clean them.