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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.