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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Post the Sixty-first (in which the world breathes a sigh of relief)

Let's admit it, we didn't all trust them to do the right thing.  We all, in our deepest, darkest heart of hearts feared that they'd elect Romney and his bible-bashing, gun-toting, get-thee-into-the-kitchen-woman-thinking ilk.  We despaired for female reproductive choice, gay rights and myriad other "liberal" causes (although quite frankly, I don't see what's liberal about basic human rights).  But the American people came through for us.  They did the right thing.  Well, just over half of them did, anyway, and the joys of democracy being what they are, that was enough.  The world is safe(ish) for four more years.

The "average" American (if there is such a thing) may well wonder what the hell the world's obsession with their presidential election is about.  I've noticed a certain "Mind your own business, y'all" mentality in certain conservative circles.  But the reason the world has a vested interest in what happened yesterday is that the foreign policy decided by POTUS has a direct knock-on effect on the rest of the globe, and pretty much nobody else in the entire rest of the world wanted a trigger-happy cowboy sitting in the Oval Office.  Not to mention one who was so backward-thinking in terms of equality, women's rights and pretty much everything else that he made Dubya look like a Nobel laureate.  I'm not sure where this race to the bottom in US conservative politics is stemming from, but it's very, very concerning to onlookers.

Interestingly, had this been a global election, Obama would have been returned by a landslide.  Observe; Americans - the entire rest of the world can't be wrong.

When you think about it, it's rather amazing that the entire world can be more or less polarised by a contest between just two men, but that's what happens when you give a country with a population of 315-odd million a two-party political system.  It's absolute madness, but not a system I can see changing any time soon.

Anyway, in honour of the fact that all anyone is going to be talking about for the next few days is the good ole U.S. of A, here's a veh veh tasty American recipe (adapted from Jamie Oliver) for you to take a stab at.  It's actually native American - Navajo - cause that's just how I roll...

Navajo Lamb Stew - serves 6

800g lamb shoulder, diced                              2 onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled & chopped                  2 sticks celery, trimmed & chopped
2 tsps cumin seed                                            Tin chopped tomatoes
2 beef stock cubes                                          2 sweet potatoes, peeled & diced
2 tsp chilli flakes                                             Tin kidney beans, drained & rinsed
Salt & pepper

1. Heat a little oil in a large pot or cast-iron casserole and brown your lamb all over.  Add the carrots, celery, onions and 1 tsp of the cumin seed and fry for about 15 minutes, til just about coloured.  Stir in the tomatoes and stock cubes, then add another two tins' worth of water.

2. Sprinkle over a teaspoon of chilli flakes, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer really gently for about an hour and a half to two hours.  Check on it every so often to make sure it's not drying out.

3. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180.  Toss your sweet potatoes (the dice should be quite rough and large) in a drop of oil and rub in the other teaspoons of cumin seed and chilli flakes.  Pop into the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, or until they're just easily pierced with a knife.  Remove and set aside.

4. After about an hour and a half, test your stew.  Is the lamb falling apart?  Great.  Is the liquid consistency just right?  Is the seasoning perfect?  Great.  Bung in the sweet potato and the kidney beans, heat through, check the seasoning again and serve with flatbreads.

I actually think a little sumac would be great in this, but it can be very, very hard to get in Dublin.  If anyone comes across it on their travels, buy it and send it this way.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Post the Sixtieth (in which our heroine contracts bubonic plague)

Or possibly something worse than bubonic plague.  Captain Trips, maybe.  Or perhaps the worst affliction known to modern medicine - Manflu.  I've been absolutely floored with a dose since Tuesday (it's now Sunday), something which is very unlike me.  Normally three days, max, and I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed again.  Instead, we're on day seven of this dose and I would quite happily donate myself to the glue factory, if I could only leave the house.

It seems to be strep throat on top of a chest infection.  Which is great, cause it means I'm barking like a dog while barely being able to swallow.  Imagine someone has implanted a fish-hook in your throat, then given you a really chesty cough.  And every time you cough, they give the hook a good tug.  That's kind of what it feels like.  And the great news is that I get to share the wealth around the office cause I don't get paid for sick days and can't afford not to go in, yay!

So, most people are at least lucky enough to lose their appetite when they get sick.  Not the case here.  I could literally be at death's door and I'd still be wondering what to have for my next meal.  This dates back to when I got my tonsils out when I was 11.  Before that, I couldn't *look* at food when I was sick, just like any normal person.  But when they took the tonsils out, they apparently indavertently implanted the appetite of a 17-stone, MMA-practising rugby player who's in training for a pentathlon.  My dad has joked over the years that it would have been cheaper in the long run to have my tonsils put back in, cause I've been eating them out of house and home ever since.  At least, I think he was joking...

Anyway, the unwritten rule about foodstuffs for sick people seems to be that soup is yer only man.  I'm not entirely sure why this is, but far be it from me to fly in the face of convention.  Now, soupy soups do little or nothing for me - sore throat be damned, I still like texture and something to chew on in a soup.  And, come on, it wouldn't be me if I didn't lace my food with chillies...  So this soup is absolutely perfect for when you're feeling a bit poorly - it's pure comfort in a bowl, and the chillies will make you forget all about your cold/cough/bubonic plague for a good ten or fifteen minutes.

Chicken Noodle Soup - serves 4-6

1.5 litres good quality chicken stock*                       3 chicken fillets, cut into strips
100g egg noodles                                                    2 red chillies, thinly sliced                                              6 spring onions, sliced                                             1 large red pepper, julienned                                       2" piece of ginger, peeled                                        2 fat garlic cloves, very thinly sliced                               4 tbs light soy sauce                                                Bunch fresh coriander, chopped

1. Bring your chicken stock to a high simmer in a large pot.  Add your chicken strips and cook for 5 minutes.

2. Prick your ginger all over with a fork, cut in half and add to the stock with the garlic.  Add the noodles, chilli & pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes.

3. Add the spring onion and soy sauce and simmer for 3 minutes.  Just before serving, stir in the coriander, taste and adjust the seasoning if needs be - see my note on stock below for my feelings on salting this soup.

4.  Enjoy!

*A Note On Stock
I've posted before on chicken stock and how, obviously, it's best to make your own.  We all know that that's not always possible, though, so I'm not going to judge anyone for buying stock.  What I will say, however, is that the quality of the stock you use does make a huge difference to the end result of this soup.  I was recently introduced to Pure Brazen stocks and they're pretty much the closest thing you're going to get to making your own.  If you can't get your hands on  PB, then spend an extra euro or so on an organic stock cube or bouillon.  Going back to whether or not you should salt this soup, it really depends on what stock you've used and also how salty your soy sauce is.  Obviously, if you've used a homemade stock, you'll know exactly how much salt was in it in the first place.  Pure Brazen don't add any salt to their stocks, so you may well need to add a little salt (or more soy sauce) to the soup before serving.  Cheapy stock cubes, on the other hand, are notoriously salty, and you may well need to actually add a little water to the soup if you've used one of them in conjunction with a very salty soy sauce.  Use your cop-on, obviously, and taste, taste, taste.  It's the only way you'll perfect your seasoning.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Post the Fifty-ninth (in which everyone is rather worried about the Heineken Cup)

It's a funny old game, rugby.  I've written before about how everyone kind of reacts weirdly to certain results.  Leinster are currently two from two in the Heineken Cup, having beaten Exeter at home and Scarlets away, but you'd swear we'd already sent the cup back to the ERC with a note on it saying "Sorry, couldn't be bothered this year," the way some people are going on.  Ok, so the Exeter game didn't exactly go according to plan.  They were Heineken Cup debutantes, we were three-time winners and current defending champions, playing them at home.  It was expected to be a rout.  Instead, the Exeter Chiefs very nearly claimed a famous scalp - we were extremely lucky to get away with a 9-6 win.  It was almost "Exeter stage left", to pinch a phrase off One F, who I was chatting to after the game (and who I know reads this blog - Hi Derek!).  But, a win is a win as far as I'm concerned.

Fast forward to yesterday, when we travelled to Llaneli to face the Scarlets, a team many thought could cause a potential upset this season.  The cardinal rule of Heineken Cup rugby is that you have to win your home games.  Apparently Simon Easterby never got that memo.  Leinster were ahead 11-0 at the break, and looking comfortable.  Maybe a bit too comfortable, as it turned out, because whatever Easterby Mk II put in the half-time oranges, it worked.  Scarlets came out like men possessed in the second half and Leinster found themselves having to dig extremely deep to keep them at bay.  However, our scrum emerged as the piece de resistance in the last quarter of the game and was just too much for the Scarlets pack.  Final result was 20-14, and we had an all-important away win in the bag.

So why the long faces and the prophecies of doom all round?  Two words  - ASM Clermont.  I posted about my dismay at being drawn in the same pool as them back when the original draw was done, and I'll reiterate why - having finally won the Bouclier de Brennus in 2010, ASM have made the Heineken Cup their focus - they won't be happy until they win it.  Unfortunately for them, Leinster have thrown a spanner in their works every year since, having put them out in the quarter final in 2010, not letting them out of the pool in 2011 and beating them in the semi final this year.  We're not too popular around Montferrand way, I can tell you.  There Will Be Blood.  They've been rampant in the pool stages so far, beating Scarlets 49-16 in round one and Exeter 46-12 this weekend.  Two wins and two bonus points put them ahead of us in pool 5.  And guess who we play next?  Yep, ASM, back to back, away first and then at home.  Break out every sporting cliche you have, because this really is going to be a clash of the titans.  Unless we can put them down hard and early in both matches, Leinster's only hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition are as one of the two best runners-up.  Not a prospect I relish.  It's going to be a very long couple of months...

So, in one of the clumsy segues at which our heroine excels, some of you are probably aware that ASM were founded by and are still funded in a big way by Michelin tyre money.  Michelin are, of course, the same people who bring us the extremely prestigious Michelin star system for restaurants and who publish the Michelin Guide, the dining bible of places to eat in a given country.  This week, I attended the launch of a restaurant which has definite Michelin Guide potential - Samphire @ the Waterside.  Located in the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate, Samphire was the brain-child of Executive Head Chef Tom Walsh, who saw the need for more diverse dining options in the North Dublin area.  I was invited along by the lovely Jessica Collins, whose family run the hotel; so off myself and my own Mater Familias trotted on an extremely stormy Wednesday evening.

The menu we were treated to (and it really was a treat) was a ten-course tasting selection designed to showcase everything on the a la carte menu.  Tom has really outdone himself here, using local, seasonal produce cooked with exquisite attention to detail to create a dining experience that is really far superior to anything you'd expect to find in a hotel restaurant.  I enjoyed every morsel of:

Seared King Scallop, Potato & Garlic Soup, Parsnip Crisp, Marsh Samphire

This was one of my two personal favourite dishes of the evening - the scallop was cooked to perfection and the soup was of the most perfect, velvety consistency.  The samphire added just the right note of saltiness to the whole thing - perfect.

Parfait of Goat's Cheese, Roasted Hazelnuts & Tarragon, Beetroot Three Ways

This was nutty, cheesy gorgeousness all whipped up into a light mousse that melted in the mouth.  Perfect juxtaposed with the vinegary sweetness of the beetroot.

House Marinated Salmon Gravalax, Caper Berry Dressing, Garden Radish

Erm, I may have forgotten to take a photo of this.  It was a deliciously fresh piece of salmon, slightly thicker cut than you'd expect for lax, but I actually preferred this as I think it improves the mouth-feel.  I'm not a huge fan of smoked salmon, mostly due to the texture, but the thicker slices made for a far more pleasing texture to me.

Cucumber Sorbet & Compressed Melon, Yoghurt Dressing

This was the palate cleanser and it was fab, fab, fab.  The sorbet was so light that it literally started melting the second you cut into it with the spoon.  The watermelon was the ideal accompaniment, as, imo, they have very similar tastes anyway.

Breast of Wood Pigeon, Garlic Puree, Crispy Salsify

I do love a gamey bird... What can I say about this other than it was perfection on a plate.  I love pigeon anyway, and this was exquisite - gamey, earthy, succulent - and the salsify was absolutely gorgeous with it.  More, please!

Peppered Rare Tuna, Tomato Fondue, Basil Puree, Pepper Confit

I have to say, I absolutely LOVED the presentation of this - a perfectly seared rondelle of tuna with a little syringe of oil to inject right into the heart of the fish.  I'm very happy to report that the taste more than lived up to the visual.

Rump of Lamb, Sweet Potato Fondant, Celeriac Puree

Oh, lord, is there anything more beautiful than a perfectly cooked, rare piece of Irish lamb?  Just look at it!

Lemon Posset, Lime & Ginger Air

So this was the second highlight of a meal that had no lowlights at all - high praise indeed.  The lime & ginger air hit the palate with a massive whack of flavour, which one was not expecting from such a light texture.  The posset itself was mellow, creamy, and incredibly moreish.  I'm not going to lie, I would have happily eaten about three of these...

Carageen Pudding, Caramelised Brown Bread & Raspberry

Unfortunately, another dish I forgot to take a photo of.  This was my least favourite dish of the evening.  I just don't have a sweet tooth anyway and I found that the caramelised brown bread and raspberry compote were a little too sweet for me, and just didn't work with the brackish flavour of the carageen (a type of sea moss, for those of you who unfamiliar with it).  Everyone else at the table polished it off, though.

So, all in all, this was an excellent meal and I really admire what Tom Walsh and the Waterside are trying to do here.  They've certainly elevated the level of dining available in the North Dublin area and they deserve to do really well.  If ever you find yourself in that area, or, indeed, feeling like a drive with some amazing food at the end of it, take yourself out there - they're open seven days and you won't be disappointed.

Samphire @ The Waterside
The Waterside House Hotel
Donabate on the Beach
Co. Dublin
Ph: +353 (0) 1 843 6153

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Post the Fifty-eighth (in which our heroine is feeling rather autumnal)

So, it's that time of year again.  The evenings are drawing in, the mercury is dropping and, depending on whereabouts you live, the bangers are already going off, even though it's still weeks to Halloween.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, winter is nearly upon us.  I've noticed a slightly crazed aspect to several of my aquaintances at the thought of facing into almost four months of rubbish weather and minimal daylight, but I have to be honest, I absolutely love winter.  The crunch of fallen leaves underfoot, the smell of wood or turf fires burning, the absolute crispness of the air on a frosty morning.  Plus, you get to wrap up in layers and layers of snuggly clothing and light candles at 6pm.  And then there's the food.  Soups, stews, casseroles, bourgignons - what's not to love?

The only issue I really have with the transition from autumn to winter is bloody Daylight Savings Time.  Someone is definitely having a giant laugh at our expense there.  It's already been getting darker in the mornings for weeks now; you're just getting used to the bloody fact, and then they go and put the clocks back so it's bright again when you're getting up, but only for about three or four weeks - just enough time to get used to bright mornings again, before winter proper hits and it's still pitch black at 8am and your circadian rhythms are officially all over the place.  No wonder so many Irish people suffer from SAD, our body clocks are all going "Ah jaysis, will you just make your feckin' mind up already?"

So, before we get into the winter cooking repertoire of comfort food, here's what will more than likely be the last of my more summery dishes.  Like my last recipe, this has a lot of Moroccan-inspired flavours - I was obviously feeling under a Moorish influence recently.  Actually, Moroccan/North African flavours can be a great warming choice for winter - I just tend not to want to eat as many salads and the like as accompaniments once the weather turns that bit cooler.

Harissa Chicken Flatbreads with Coriander-Lemon CousCous - serves 4

4 chicken fillets                             2 tbs harissa
Juice & zest of 1 lemon                 2 tbs olive oil
400g couscous                               Bunch fresh coriander, chopped
4 flour tortillas                               Salt & pepper

1. In a non-metallic bowl whisk together your harissa, lemon juice and olive oil.  Butterfly your chicken fillets and add them to the marinade, tossing to coat thoroughly.  Cover and pop into the fridge for at least an hour, but the longer the better.  Turn them every so often to make sure they're marinating evenly.

2. Heat a heavy pan (or better again, a griddle) and cook your fillets on a high heat for 5 minutes on each side so that you get a nice, blackened crust.  Turn the heat down and cook through, turning once more.  Cut or shred each fillet into four or five rough pieces and rest on a warm plate.

3. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the couscous - pour boiling water over the couscous in a large bowl to cover by a depth of about an inch.  Cover with clingfilm and leave aside for the water to absorb.  After about 5 minutes, fluff up with a fork.  If there's still a bit of water in it, recover and give it another few minutes.  Once all the water is absorbed, fluff again, stir in the lemon zest and coriander and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

4. Heat your tortillas and scatter over the chicken.  As you can see, I've added spinach & onions and the cottage cheese dressing from my steak recipe here.  It would also work very well with feta cheese or even just yoghurt.

5. Serve with the couscous, extra salad and maybe some extra lemon wedges for squeezing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Post the Fifty-seventh (in which our heroine indulges in a bout of melancholy)

You know the kind.  You fetch lots of deep sighs.  You find yourself thinking "Woe is me" rather more than is strictly necessary.  You can kind of see the appeal of just turning your face to the wall and dying, in the style of a melodramatic Victorian heroine.  You don't want to go out.  You don't want to stay in.  You don't want to get out of bed in the mornings, but you can't sleep at night either.  The "Slow" or "Sad" playlists on your iPod are on constant rotation.

Melancholy.  It happens to us all every so often.  My most recent bout snuck up on me several weeks ago, while I was out with a lovely guy from my online dating site.  Those two facts are unrelated, by the way, I'm just setting the scene a bit.  I'm not going to lie, it kind of took me by surprise.  I'd been doing really well, or so I thought.  But little by little, I realised I was listening to more James Vincent McMorrow than was strictly necessary.  And that I'd been looking at old photos on Facebook quite a lot.  I went to bed that night and bawled my eyes out.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the pants side of marital breakdown.  (Not that there's a particularly good side to it either, but anyway.)  You can be doing great for months at a time, then completely out of the blue, the pain train hits you again and you're back at what feels like square one.  But it's not actually square one, thank Jebus.  You spend a lot less time leaking from the eyes, for one thing.  There's also a lot less alcohol and time off work involved ( you can decide for yourself whether or not that's a good thing).  I take all this to mean that each subsequent relapse will be slightly less horrific until eventually, I will be "cured".

In the meantime, I have found that the best short-term cure for the dreaded melancholia is to play Pink's "So What" at ear-splitting volume and lep around the bedroom like a child with ADHD who's been drinking speed-laced Coke for three days.  I apologise to both Sinead and Mrs. Keane next door for being subjected to this on myriad occasions over the past few weeks.

Anyway, my other go-to cure for feeling a bit down in the dumps in general is any food containing chillies.   I don't care if it's a placebo effect, it works for me and that's all that matters, right?  So, dear readers, I give you:

Moroccan-spiced Lamb Burgers with Minted Chickpeas & Harissa Yoghurt - serves 4

500g lamb mince                                1 red onion
1 red chilli                                           1 fat clove garlic
Bunch fresh coriander                         2 cream crackers
Pinch each cumin & paprika               Jar of harissa paste
Salt & pepper                                      Tin of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2 large white onions, sliced                 Tbs mint sauce
250ml natural yoghurt

1. Roughly chop your red onion, chilli and garlic.  Lob them into a food processor with the coriander and the cream cracker (broken up into a few pieces).  Whizz til finely minced, then pop into a large bowl with the lamb, cumin, paprika and a teaspoon of the harissa.  Add a little salt and pepper and mix well til everything's really well combined.  Shape into four burgers, then pop on a plate and stick them in the fridge to firm up for at least half an hour.

2. While your burgers are firming (oo-er, matron!), heat a little olive oil in a large pan and sweat the white onions until soft, but not coloured.  Add the chickpeas and mint sauce and warm through.  Season to taste with salt & pepper, and keep warm.

3. Preheat your grill to its highest setting.  Make a little indent in each burger with your thumb.  Don't ask me how this works, but it does stop them swelling up in the middle as they cook.  Grill until nice and golden-brown, turning over halfway through.

4. Swirl another tablespoon of the harissa into the natural yoghurt.  Serve the burgers in round pitta breads with a big dollop of yoghurt and the chickpeas on the side.  I also like to add a spinch & coriander salad to this.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Post the Fifty-sixth (in which our heroine embarks on her first online dates)

So, your heroine took the plunge into the online dating world, she spent hours separating the online wheat from the online chaff, she spent quite some time scratching her head at some of the more esoteric messages she received.  Like those from Naked Jogging Guy.  Naked Jogging Guy (or NJG, as he shall henceforth be known) must be famous on my particular site by now.  His first message to me was extremely polite - he had "specific tastes" that he was looking for someone to indulge.  Being a bit of a nosy creature, I replied asking for more details.  Turns out he was looking for someone to come and watch him jogging around a field in the nip.  That was it - no "funny stuff" (his words) - just the naked jogging.  Your correspondent regretfully declined.  Then, maybe two months later, I got another very similar message.  Assuming it to be the same person (no photos on the profile, funnily enough) I replied with "Is this the naked jogging guy?  Sorry, I've no interest."  I received a midly irate response more or less saying "Gawd no, naked jogging???  That's just weird!  Nah, I'm looking for someone to watch me pleasure myself on Skype."

Oh, well in that case...

Anyway, on to the actual dates.  My first one was with a guy who seemed perfectly nice and normal.  We'd been messaging on the site for a few days, then moved onto emails, and when he asked me out for the following Friday, I said yes.  I'm not going to lie, I was absolutely terrified, but hey, it had to be done, right?  So off I toddled to a bar on Pembroke St. to meet him.

5' 11".  That was the height on his profile.  Now, your correspondent is about 5' 7" in her bare feet and loves her hee-highlers.  Height, as shallow as it sounds, is a factor for me in choosing potential dates.  But 5' 11" ?  Grand.  We'd be about the same height with me in heels.  No problem there.  So I'm standing at the bar in Matt the Threshers and in walks my company for the evening.  My heart starts to sink.  I'm desperately clinging to a "these cows are small, those cows are far away" maybe-it's-just-the-perspective mantra in my mind, but I know it's futile.  Matt the Threshers isn't that bloody big.  Up he saunters, says hello, kisses my cheek.  I'm towering over him.  He buys me a drink.  I'm already mentally sending the "Peanuts!" message to my friend A, which is our code word for "get me the flock out of here".  Not the best way to start a date.  He had no-one to blame but himself, though.  I mean, seriously, did he actually think I wasn't going to notice that he had blatantly lied about his height?  Or did he just think I'd be so dazzled by his personality that I wouldn't notice he was approximately the same size as Michael D. Higgins?  Needless to say, he didn't get a second date.  And I now mentally knock at least two inches off everyone's height on my site.  Which is a bit worrying when people have themselves listed at 5' 5" in the first place...

Then there are the people who use photos of themselves that are, shall we say, of the vintage variety.  Apparently women are the worst cuplrits for this, but I got caught out by one of the male perpetrators on my third date from the site.  I met this guy on a Sunday afternoon when I was in town anyway.  He drove in specifically to meet me, and rang me when he arrived.  "Where will I meet you?" says I.  "Ah sure just jump in the car and we'll go for a spin," says he.  "I think not, I don't know you from Adam," says I, wondering if there are actually women out there who are stupid enough to get into a car for a drive with a complete stranger.  So we agree to go to the Old Stand for a drink.  I arrive.  My heart once again sinks.  He is at least 3 stone scrawnier than his profile picture.  He has a massive scar running from his left ear to his mouth that was also conspicuously absent from his said picture.  He bears an uncanny resemblance to Roland the Rat.  He has also, through the magic of online communication, managed to disguise the fact that he's a total knackbag.  "Jaaaaaayziz, dis place is veddy fancy, wha?" was his opinion of the Old Stand.  I repeat, the Old Stand.  I learned two valuable lessons from this particular bloke:

1. Never trust a profile that only has one photo on it.  Everyone has one photo where the planets all aligned and the fates conspired to make them look good.  If you come across a profile with only one photo up, it's that one.

2. Always, always, always speak to your prospective date on the phone before you meet them.  I could have saved myself a whole hour of my life if I'd spoken to this guy before arranging the date.

I could not get out of there fast enough.  Necked my beer, checked my watch and was like "Oh, look at the time, must run, work in the morning and all that..."  He insisted on walking me out, then tried to give me a lift home.  I was like "Oh no it's fine, look, there's a taxi right there.  Taxi?  TAXI!!!???" all while he's trying to give me a goodnight kiss and I'm practically bent over backwards at the waist trying to avoid it.

He texted me later that evening saying what a great time he had.  Clearly his people-reading skills are as rusty as the Stanley blade that gave him that scar.  (He claimed it was an airbag in a car accident.  Yeah right.)  I didn't respond, thinking I'd deal with it in the morning.  I was never given that chance.  I was woken up the following morning by not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE unsolicited (and extremely unwelcome) pictures of his todger.  Well, I stopped opening them after the second one but seeing as they were all MMSs, it was probably a safe assumption to make.  Doubleyou.  Tee. Eff???  Needless to say, he went to Ignoresville after that.  He did, however, message me online again about a week or so later wondering what he'd done wrong.  I kid you not.  So, being the kindly soul that I am, I replied and said I just didn't think we had much in common.  His response? "Ah yer prolly righ'.  I tink you need help though, luv.  Not wanting kids?  That's just weird."

Yep, ladies and gentleman.  This man thinks it's acceptable to carpet-bomb a woman he's met once with willy pictures, and I'm the one who needs help.

Howeyeh, luv!

No recipe today, this post was long enough without one!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Post the Fifty-fifth (in which our heroine muses on the bizarre world of online dating)

So, it was going to happen at some stage.  Eventually your correspondent was going to want to return to the world of the opposite sex.  This was ever going to be a daunting prospect, given that your correspondent had been off the market for almost 7 years, but your correspondent is a woman and women have needs, and there came a time when your correspondent decided she could do with a bit of a snog.

Not having the first clue of how to go about scoring anymore, your correspondent was pointed in the direction of online dating.  "It's great!" said her friend, who shall remain unnamed.  "Even if you don't end up meeting anyone, it's a great ego boost.  Go for it."  So for it I went, on a site that shall also remain unnamed.  I will admit to having a few drinks on board when I created my profile, but seeing as I had about 14 messages before I even finished adding my photos, I decided to leave it as-is when I had another look the next day.  It weeds out (some of) the idiots I'd have nothing in common with.

Anyway, online dating has been an experience, to say the least.  The men who frequent my site fall into a few broad categories; there are the hook-up artists who are only after one thing.  I seem to attract a lot of these. They don't really bother me, as long as they're up-front about it, at least I know not to waste my time.  Then there are the ugly-but-needy brigade.  They think being self-deprecating to an extreme will engender enough pity in you to respond to them.  It doesn't.  There's also the poor craytures who are hanging onto the rules they learned in "The Game" in the mistaken belief that PUA works.  This lot inevitably send you a really insulting first message.  Presumably the idea is that you'll write back to have a go at them, and they can suck you into a conversation that way.  These also go straight into the recycle bin.

And then we have, unfortunately, what appears to be the largest contingent on my site, anyway - the time wasters.  These are people who have absolutely no intention of ever actually going on a date with someone, but who will happily string you along for weeks, if not months, pretending that they're going to meet you.  Online Dating ingenues will inevitably fall for at least three of these idiots, lose all faith in the process, delete their profiles in frustration, then return several weeks later, older, wiser and a lot more cynical.  I know I did. One particular time-waster who was nothing if not entertaining fed me so much crap that he clearly couldn't remember at any given moment what he'd already told me.  Your correspondent, on the other hand, has a nigh-on eidetic memory and took great pleasure in calling him out on stuff.  At the time of going to press, this dude had lived in Kinsale, Cork, Clare and Limerick at varying stages in the process.

So, having done the online dating thing for a couple of months now, I feel well-placed to make the following observations:

1. No-one on my site drinks more than socially, smokes or does drugs.

2. Everyone is good-looking in a baseball cap/sunglasses.

3. People can hide a whole world of crazy behind a keyboard.

4. Some people have no shame.

Now, that's not to say there aren't some genuine people out there too.  I've been on a good few dates at this stage and met some lovely people.  But where's the fun in writing about that?  Part two of my online dating odyssey continues tomorrow with the dates themselves.  Until then, content yourself making this easy-peasy midweek dinner:

Pasta with Smoked Ham & Balsamic-roasted Tomatoes - serves 4

400g pasta shapes                                         250g smoked ham, cubed
750g tomatoes, roughly chopped                   6 tbs balsamic vinegar
6 tbs olive oil                                                 4 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
Couple sprigs fresh thyme                              Salt & pepper
Shaved parmesan, to serve

1. Place your tomatoes, garlic, thyme, olive oil & vinegar in a large ovenproof dish and mix everything really well.  Season generously and roast at 220C for about 40 minutes.

2. While the tomatoes are roasting, fry off your ham (I use the Aldi bacon offcuts - €1.99 for a kilo, they're amazing value) and cook and drain your pasta.

3. When the tomatoes are done, remove the thyme sprigs,  then add the tomatoes and ham to the pasta and give everything a good toss.  Check your seasoning, correct if necessary, then serve on warm plates with shaved parmesan and good crusty bread.

Apologies for the atrocious photo, by the way; I was absolutely famished and actually couldn't wait five seconds to compose the shot properly...

Anyway, this is possibly the easiest recipe on this blog.  It tastes divine and you can easily leave out the ham for any vegetarians you might be catering for.  Go on, give it a try.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Post the Fifty-fourth (in which our heroine waxes lyrical about Buffalo sauce)

It all started fairly innocuously.  The odd chicken wing in Tribeca if I was there with a group and we ordered a basket for a starter.  Little did I know I was on a slippery slope to a torrid love affair with all things Buffalo.  I can trace this descent back to one defining moment - the day I found out exactly what they use in those chicken wings that makes them so dangerously addictive.  It's Frank's Red Hot Sauce.  I've already posted a recipe using it.  If you've made it, I'm sure you'll agree with me on the crack-like addictive qualities of this wondrous stuff.  Their tagline is "I Put that Sh*t On Everything" and I do.  I really, really do.  It truly is the king of condiments.  This recipe came about as an attempt to recreate a starter I had in the Cheesecake Factory in Orlando.  Truth be told, it probably bears absolutely no relation to that dish whatsoever, but it's still really, really good.  Not something you'd want to be eating on too regular a basis, granted, but perfect for some hungover night in with a DVD and the need for major soakage.

Buffalo Blasts - makes about 8

500g turkey mince                          1 pack filo pastry, defrosted
150ml Frank's                                 4tbs butter or dairy spread
1 tbs white wine vinegar                 Pinch garlic granules
1 egg, beaten                                   Good handful very sharp cheddar, grated
Black pepper                                   Oil for frying

1. Heat up your deep fat frier or if, like me, you don't have one, heat a couple of inches of oil in a wok (don't use olive, it has too low a smoke point and has far too strong a taste anyway).

2. Fry your turkey mince over a medium high heat until cooked through. You'll need to really work it well with a fork, because it clumps like a muthafucka. Add garlic granules and black pepper to taste, then set aside.

3. Combine the Frank's and butter or dairy spread (this is one of the few cases where you can genuinely use the low-fat crap without it affecting the end result) in a small pot over a low heat, stirring until it's nice and silky.  Add a splash of white wine vinegar (you can use red if it's all you have) and stir in the turkey mince.

4. Cut the filo into rectangles. Place a small spoonful of filling on the bottom left corner of the rectangle with a sprinkle of cheese and a grind of black pepper, leaving a small border. Fold the pastry over from the right to create a triangle shape. Continue to fold over from side to side till you have a triangular package. Brush the end of the pastry with the beaten egg and seal.

(Google videos on how to fold a samosa if you genuinely have no clue what I'm talking about here.)

5. Cook the blasts in the oil in batches until the pastry is golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve with blue cheese dip or sour cream.

Blue Cheese Dip

120ml buttermilk                         60ml sour cream
115g blue cheese, crumbled        Black pepper to taste

1. Very complicated this - bung the whole lot into a blender and whizz til smooth.

Erm, I didn't really think a ramekin of blue cheese dip warranted a photo, sorry!

Anyway, as I said, these are perfick Friday-night-in-with-a-DVD-and-a-few-beers fare.  And, shamefully, they're just as good cold, a few hours later when you just can't help yourself wandering into the kitchen to pick.  Do it in your dressing gown and pretend you're Nigella Lawson.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Post the Fifty-third (in which our heroine is happy with the Heineken Cup draw)

Ah, you have to love rugby.  No sooner is the season over and you're wondering how you're going to last until September, when the ERC step in with the draw for the next year's Heineken Cup pools, keeping you going for, ooh, at least a week while you try to decide which away trip you'd like to go on and waste countless hours in work looking at flights, which you can't actually book because they haven't published the match dates yet.  Leinster got a pretty nice draw this year - we're in Pool 5 with Scarlets, Exeter and Clermont.  ASM are the only potential spanner in the works there, as they are determined to win the HEC soon, and they're quite unhappy with us at the moment, having been beaten by us in the semi final this year.

Pool 2, on the other hand, is horrible.  El Grupo del Muerte.  Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.  Toulouse, Ospreys, Leicester Tigers and, erm, Benetton Treviso.  Poor Treviso.

I'm just going to gloss over the fact that the national team are still on tour in New Zealand.  I've decided to pretend we don't have a national team for the remainder of Declan Kidney's tenure.  It's just better for my mental health.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to the grub...  I'm just back from a few days in Kinsale, where I ate approximately my own bodyweight in seafood and brown bread.  I also ate my entire week's salary in seafood and brown bread (and possibly also one or two sociable drinks), so it's going to be a lean couple of days chez moi in both senses of the word.  A slightly less depressing option than beans on toast on constant rotation when your bank balance is less than rotund is homemade hummous.  Tins of chickpeas are ridiculously inexpensive (about 35c in Aldi) and there's also the added bonus of them being low in fat, low GI and generally all-round good for you.  And you should have practically everything else you need to make this already lying around the kitchen.

Chilli Hummous

1x 400g tin chickpeas, drained & rinsed                          1 red chilli, roughly chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled & quartered                             Juice of 1 lemon or lime
Small bunch fresh coriander                                             Dash of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Tip the chickpeas, chilli, garlic & coriander into a food processor and blitz til you get a crumbly mix.  Add the lemon/lime juice and pulse again, scraping down the sides between goes if you need to.  Then, with the motor running, drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Stop the motor (obviously), season with the salt & pepper, taste and season again if needed.

2. If the texture still isn't quite right (I like mine quite stiff), you can continue to thin the hummous out with a little extra olive oil, or even water if you're trying to undo the damage of four days in Kinsale.  Just keep checking the seasoning after every addition of liquid.

This will keep for a good five days in the fridge in an airtight container, but to be honest, it rarely lives that long - it's incredibly moreish with griddled flatbreads or even (dare I say it), carrot or cucumber sticks.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Post the Fifty-second (in which our heroine returns to the kitchen)

So, your sometime correspondent returned to the kitchen last night.  I genuinely can't remember the last time I cooked a meal, to my shame.  There was much jubilation in the Coffey household.  I even invited a special guest in the form of my friend A.  (But it was really only cause I knew she'd bring Prosecco...)  Your correspondent pondered muchly on just what she should cook.  In the end, she plumped for Mexican, which should surprise no-one who has been a regular peruser of this blog.  Ok, I lie; strictly speaking the recipe is from Arizona, or at least it's in the "Arizona" section of the Jamie Oliver cookbook from whence it came, but sue me, I'm listing it under Mexican as, quite frankly, I can't see myself having enough Arizonan (Arizonian?) recipes on this blog to make it worth my while creating a whole new set of tags. 

We've discussed in depth my love of Mexican flavours previously on this blog.  This recipe has pretty much all of them - chillies, lime, coriander.  But it's quite different too - the addition of mint and sage give it a zing and freshness that make it really dance on your tastebuds.  Plus, it's ridiculously easy to make, which is a plus in anyone's book, right?  Perfick Friday night grub with a few cold beers.  I'd imagine that, like most chillies, it would be even better the next day, but to be honest, I've made it twice now and on neither occasions have any leftovers made it through the night in order to test that theory.

Btw, your correspondent is also on the blocks next week in the Cooking Club and this is the recipe I'll be using, with the addition of Navajo Flatbreads, so if you'd like to know how to make them, have a shufti over there next Friday.

Jamie Oliver's Green Chilli - serves 4

800g lean pork mince                                            1 tsp dried sage
2 large onions, diced                                             2 green peppers, seeded & diced
6 small green chillies, roughly chopped                4 cloves garlic, crushed
4 large, ripe tomatoes, deseeded & chopped         Bunch coriander, chopped
Small bunch fresh mint, chopped                          Juice of 1 lime
1 Romaine lettuce                                                  Bunch spring onions                                            
Yoghurt & tortillas to serve

1. Heat a little oil in a large pan or pot and brown your mince until no pink remains.  Make sure you give it a good going over with a fork to really break it up.

2. Add your sage (use twice the amount of dried oregano if you can't get sage), onions, peppers, chillie and garlic and cook on a high heat for about 10 minutes, or until any water from the pork/veg has been driven off.

3. Stir in your tomaters and half a glass of water.  Season well with plenty of salt and fresh black pepper, turn the heat down slightly and let everything simmer away nicely for another ten minutes or so - this chilli is supposed to be quite dry, so again you want to let most of the moistsure cook off.

4. When the chilli is almost ready to serve, stir in the lime juice and the chopped coriander and mint.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed (it will likely need more salt), then turn the heat off but leave the pot on the warm ring.

5. Wash and dry your lettuce and spring onions, then roughly chop them.  heat a flour tortilla per person, fold it into quarters and pop it into a bowl.  Ladle over your chilli, then scatter over some chopped lettuce & spring onions.  Serve with yoghurt or sour cream on the side for the wimps at the table.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Post the Fifty-first (in which our heroine returns to the blogosphere)

Well, folks, it's been a while.  Six months, actually.  I find that quite alarming, to be honest with you.  A) because I never intended to abandon the blog for that long and B) because it feels more like six weeks.  The time, how she flies, eh?

Anyway, I feel a bit of an explanation is probably required.  Bear with me here; t's not going to be easy.  There may be snots and tears.  You may end up feeling quite uncomfortable.  But I've always been an extremely low-bullshit kind of person and I feel that it would be disingenuous of me to just kind of gloss over the fact that I disappeared for six months and pretend it never happened.  A lot of you know me personally and will already know the story anyway.  But, for those of you who don't; my marriage ended.  I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty of how and why and whatnot, but suffice it to say that it was not the most pleasant experience of my life to date.  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the major side effects to marital breakdown is loss of appetite.  Not really conducive to a food blog, as you might imagine.  So, I went to ground for a while.  I moved home.  I drank far too much.  I stayed in far too much, and then I went out far too much.  I lost a stone.  I call it the "Ditched Diet".  It's very effective, but I couldn't in good conscience recommend it.

And then, little by little, I started to feel a bit better.  Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments where I go "How the hell did this happen?", but gradually I started to feel human again.  I had counselling.  I realised that I didn't want to come out of this experience a worse person than when I went in.  I still have no idea where I'm going or what I'm doing long-term, but I know that blogging was something that gave me a lot of pleasure, and I've had a lot of lovely comments from people over the past six months saying that they missed the blog and hoped I'd come back to it, so here I am.  And if nothing else, it'll force me to cook again, thus appeasing my family somewhat, as they've been woefully disappointed at the lack of kitchen action since I moved home, God love them.

Just as long as I don't put that stone back on...

Recipes, sarcasm and stream-of-consciousness musings will all resume from tomorrow.  Thanks for reading, folks.