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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.