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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.