Category Archives: Quick & Easy

When the Cupboard Is Bare

Meal planning takes a on a new challenge this week: I’m on a quest to clean out the fridge and pantry before my family and I head off on our Easter holidays. I concede that I will probably leave behind the odd tin of tomatoes or chickpeas, and that I should probably just throw away the custard powder that I bought for one really odd recipe back in 2012, but my general policy is that no crumb will be left behind.

This delights the boys, of course, as I produce usually verboten treats from the depths of the freezer. Oven chips! Fish Fingers!  They’ve been less enthusiastic about the frozen peas and tinned sweetcorn, but ice pops (definitely purchased last summer…) seem to be making up for it. I, for one, was delighted to find tinned sweetcorn, however, because on Tuesday, after a long day of toddler chasing and hailstone dodging, topped off by a dentist appointment, I arrived home cranky, hungry, and in need of a pick-me-up. Enter: sweetcorn fritters.

Fritters, you say? Batter? Deep frying? Sounds too fussy for a Tuesday night. And you’d be right, if I hadn’t remembered this genius recipe from a blog post that I used to receive from my organic delivery service.  It’s simple, it’s light, full of flavour, and very quick.

A few confessions on my end though…I definitely used a tin of sweetcorn, and I have also used thawed frozen kernels as well. They’re not AS delicious as summer’s finest fresh corn on the cob, but they are more than adequate, and the fritters are way too nice to only eat a few months a year when corn is at its best. Also, I didn’t have any sour cream, so I spiked some natural yogurt with lime juice and drizzled that on top instead. (I also skipped the guacamole, again in the interest of not buying more fresh produce ahead of our vacation) And, my final confession: my husband and I ate them so quickly and happily that I completely forgot to take any photos, so you’ll have to trust us! It was a brilliant use of pantry staples (tinned sweetcorn, flour) and sad fridge items that might otherwise have been destined for the compost bin (a starting-to-wrinkle red chilli, a wilting bunch of spring onions, and some sad coriander left from last week’s Taco Tuesday). Somehow when they all came together it was just what the doctor (or maybe the dentist!) ordered.

Wednesday’s dinner was a bit more organized – out of necessity, really. I take a course on Wednesday evenings, so the boys have an early dinner and hang out with their granddad until my husband makes it home from work. We all eat at different times, and it can be hectic, so I find that the easiest thing to do is make a one pot meal that can easily be reheated. During Operation Empty Presses, this means Jools Oliver’s Pregnant Pasta.

I have no idea how this lovely, rich, meaty sauce got its funny name, but it’s a hit with absolutely everyone in my house. In less than 30 minutes, this hodgepodge of sad veggies and ordinary sausages becomes…

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…this wonderful, rich sauce flavored with fennel, oregano, and sweet, tangy balsamic vinegar.

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It’s absolutely gorgeous. I usually omit the red chili from the recipe, as my kids aren’t big fans, but I often sprinkle a pinch of dried chili flakes (one of my favourite pick-me-ups) on my own bowl. I usually serve this sauce with penne or fusilli (AKA ‘twirly whirly pasta’ in my house), but in a pinch, it’s also nice with spaghetti.

And finally, I needed a last minute solution to the Dessert Night dilemma We always have dessert on Wednesdays for a midweek treat. It is nice to enjoy something sweet once in a while, but I got tired of dodging constant requests for cookies and ice cream. Now that the boys know that they have a guaranteed treat coming one night a week, they don’t ask quite as often, and even if they do, I can cheerfully reply, ‘Yep, we can have that on Wednesday!’ Last week I forgot to pick something up at the bakery, and I didn’t want to buy a whole box of eggs for cookies or brownies, due to Operation Empty Presses, so I decided to use what was on hand and make these lovely little mendiants. I didn’t use the same posh toppings as Rachel Allen, because I didn’t think dried fruit would be an easy sell, so instead I used some mini marshmallows and mini Smarties that may or may not have been left over from Halloween.  They were a big hit, but a word to the wise – if you’re going to give these to a toddler, be prepared to throw him or her directly into the bath when they’re finished…

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More posts soon about some of Philly’s food offerings (not to mention all of the home cooking I’m going to soak up there…woohoo!)

 

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Filed under Kid-friendly, Quick & Easy, Uncategorized, Weekday

The Best Pasta Sauce in the World. Seriously.

I really don’t think that I’m understating things here. In fact, I can’t believe that I haven’t written about this recipe before. It’s the one I always share when I get a recipe exchange e-mail, or need to whip up something to drop off to a sick friend. (It’s a better cure than chicken soup – honestly!) I was reminded of it tonight when I arrived home tired and famished from the launch of the Absolut Fringe Festival*, and realized that I had never written about it.

This recipe is from a brilliant cookbook that I reference all of the time – Keeping It Simple by Gary Rhodes. This lovely cookbook is chock full of great recipes, but is also a great reference for things like cooking times, ideas for what to do with a veg box, and how to do the classics. It also houses my go-to roast chicken and rib of beef recipes…couldn’t do Sunday lunch without it!

The recipes that I want to share today though, is a weekday staple in my house…ladies & gentlemen, I bring you…Bloody Mary Sauce. It pretty much does what it says on the tin…it’s a rich, but zingy tomato sauce with a little kick, and it’s delicious over any kind of pasta (I prefer spaghetti myself, but really, anything will do…) Perfect if you have a cold or a hangover, or if you want a quick, substantial meal that’s full of flavor. In short, AMAZING.

 

With these ingredients, how can you go wrong?

 

Bloody Mary Sauce from Keeping it Simple by Gary Rhodes

serves four

a large knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

3 tomatoes (I have made it with a 400g tin of tomatoes to a fine, but slightly less fabulous result)

500g/1lb 2 oz passata

a squeeze of lemon

1 t. Worchester sauce

a dash of Tabasco

a pinch of celeray salt

a splash of vodka (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until soft. With the point of a knife, remove the eyes from the tomatoes. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 10-15 seconds before placing under cold running water/ Peel away the skin, then quarter the tomatoes, de-seed and cut the flesh into cubes. Add the passata & tomato cubes to the onions, simmer for five minutes. Add the lemon juice, Worcester sauce, and the Tabasco. Season with celery salt & a twist of pepper, finish with a splash of vodka.

While making the sauce as above, cook the pasta until tender, drain and add to the finished sauce. Eat while making unseemly, very happy slurping noises.**

 

*Click here or here to learn more about my involvement with the festival!

**Not in the original directions…I may have editorialized a bit. Sorry Gary.

 

 

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Dinner Dash

I was having lunch with some friends a while back when the topic of weeknight dinners was broached and a collective groan landed on the table next to my French onion soup. Everyone at the table was a working parent trying to juggle our own diary demands, plus those of our kids and partners’, while trying to satisfy our desire to sit down for tranquil family meals. It’s one hell of an equation…how can I bring child x to child y’s birthday party  whilst preparing a dinner that includes at least 2 of our 5 a day AND allows me to leave the house at 7 to dash off to colleague z’s leaving drinks? High school algebra was easier! (And that’s a strong statement coming from me…) In fact, I’ve had a draft of this blog post sitting on my computer for ages, but just haven’t had the time to proof and post it between meetings, appointments with the public health nurse, and managing the laundry.

Not everyday is like this in my house of course…I love to come home from work and lovingly stir a risotto,  roast chicken with spring vegetables, or make homemade cornbread while a pot of chili con carne simmers on the stove. In reality though, this happens a lot less often than I would like, so in order to keep dinner a budget-friendly, relatively nutritious event, I have a few recipes on stand by that I’d like to share. I can almost make them with my eyes closed at this stage, but no one has ever complained when they pop up on the table – tried and true family favorites.

The first is a lovely, summery pasta dish from Neven Maguire, one of my all-time favourite chefs. (his restaurant, McNean House is one of my happy places – get there if you can…)  This is a veggie dish with great substance and flavor without getting weighed down in too much cream, cheese, or butter.

Fettucine with Melting Courgettes (from Home Chef by Neven Maguire)

4 T. olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

450 g/1 lb courgettes (zuchinni where I come from!) or yellow squash

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1/2 t dried chilli flakes

250g/9oz dried fettucine

25g/1oz butter

2T flat leaf parsley, chopped

4T. grated Parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add the shallots and saute gently for about 5 minutes. Add the courgettes& garlic, then saute for a further 15 minutes until a light golden colour before adding chili flakes & thyme, then season with salt and pepper. In the mean time, cook your pasta according to the directions on the packet. When the courgettes and pasta are both finished toss together with the butter & parsley, serve in bowls with Parmesan.

Another last minute favorite of mine is from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals and is called (for whatever reason) Jools Oliver’s Pregnant Pasta. (In my house we just call it  Yummy Sausage Pasta –  it’s easier to sell it that way…) I omit the chillies, as my little guy thinks that anything spicier than chorizo is an attempt to poison him, and I’ve often used a yellow onion instead of a the spring onions listed. (Side note: If anyone in Dublin is wondering where to buy the best sausages, my absolute favorites are the breakfast sausages from  the butcher counter at Fallon & Byrne)

These fishcakes from my home cook guru, Rachel Allen are also a crowd-pleaser in my house. You can serve them with any green veg/spud combo for a very healthy meal. In my house we favor steamed broccoli and wedges with a light dusting of paprika. Sometimes I stick them into burger buns with a bit of mayo and sell them as ‘fishburgers’ – not that they need much selling!

Spicy Salmon Fishcakes (from Rachel Allen’s Favourite Food at Home)

350g filleted & skinned salmon, roughly chopped
50g butter
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
100g white breadcrumbs
1 egg, whisked
2tsp dijon mustard
2tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp chopped coriander
6 spring onions, chopped
2tsp Worcestershire sauce
1-2tsp Tabasco sauce or 1 deseeded chilli, chopped (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and whiz to combine. Taste* for seasoning add salt, pepper, lemon juice, or Tabasco if necessary. Shape into patties with a 3 inch diameter. Pan fry in olive oil for 3-4 minutes on each side.
*I never do this because I dont like to taste the raw mixture, but it’s in the original directions! I eat raw salmon all the time, as I’m a big sushi fan, but for some reason tasting the pulsed mixture makes me shudder…
Well, I hope that offers a few dinner dash solutions. If all else fails, I call these guys or call into Marks and Spencer for their dine-in for two special, which can generally be split 3 ways. I have a hectic week ahead, so I’ll take notes on what I come up with and let you know if I find any other gems!

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Filed under Kid-friendly, Quick & Easy, Uncategorized, Weekday

Doing It for the Kids

Parenthood is full of small, joyful moments that remind you how much fun it was to be a kid. It’s a second chance to experience the amazing little things that make life worth living…jumping in muddy puddles, Saturday morning cartoons, looking for snails and slugs in the garden. So when my brilliant friend Dee posted a Facebook status about baking cupcakes in ice cream cones, my inner child started doing cartwheels. I confess, my first thought was ‘Nom, nom, nom!’ My second thought was, ‘Oh, I suppose my thre year-old might like those.’ I made a mental note to stash the idea away for a future play date which, happily, was only two days later.

Dee pointed me in the direction of this brilliant blog that inspired her own baking. The web abounds with recipes like this and this, but I took the easy route by buying a packet of Odlum’s chocolate sponge mix, some flat-bottomed cones, and toppings galore. Then, my kitchen helper and I donned our aprons and went to town. It’s a story best told in pictures…

Ummm….I think it needs more chocolate, Mom.

Ready for the oven

Let the games begin!

Really, what I need is more sprinkles. More sprinkles!

Happy days!

For the sake of the children, give this one a try…

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Filed under Kid-friendly, Quick & Easy, Sweet Stuff

Magic Mushrooms

The blog has been quiet lately due to a fairly overactive social and family life, but I’m returning with a vengeance and tonnes of motivation to write about all the food I’ve been eating/cooking over these past weeks. I could write for days about all the beautiful food I ate in Lanazarote. Equally, I could wax lyrical about the summer produce starting to make its way into my kitchen (mmm…Wexford strawberries…). Instead, this will be just a quick post inspired by the fabulous weather that has FINALLY descended upon Dublin – that’s right, it’s BBQ season!

If there’s one thing that I have learned after ten years in Ireland, it’s that Dublin is the most fabulous city in the world on sunny days. Sidewalk cafes and parks are fully of smiley, happy people, beer gardens are bursting, and everyone you meet is either eating an ice cream or en route to the shop to buy one  – it’s almost impossible to be in a bad mood. Unfortunately, these legendary days don’t happen as often as we’d like, so I’ve also learned that you have to make the most of them. If there is sun, one must BBQ. This was the inspiration behind last night’s dinner – that, and a little competition some of my co-workers and I have going on at work called Operation Slim Jim. It’s not quite as structured as Biggest Loser or Operation Transformation, but a few of us who are trying to shift a few pounds or generally be a bit fitter have banded together for a bit of group motivation. There are formal weigh-ins and friendly eyebrows raised when cake and crisps make their way into the office, and a little bit of Wednesday morning smugness if one achieves the weekly goal – all good. Trying to marry my deep-seeded desire to BBQ and newfound healthy eating regime seemed challenging until lightening struck while I wandered through the produce section of Fallon & Byrne – enter the Portobello Mushroom.

Since I’m trying to shed a few pounds, but don’t really believe in the idea of dieting, I’ve been trying to follow Michael Pollan’s creed, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ A few years ago, I could not have imagined a BBQ without a big, juicy burger or a fat Toulouse sausage (and I still love them both). With a little creativity and a good green grocer, however, it’s easy to put together a super fast, veggie friendly meal. This one is my own creation…my husband and I were too famished to take pre-feast photos – oops – so you’ll just have to trust me – they looked good!

Portobello Burger A La Grecque

1 Clove garlic, smashed

5 T. Olive Oil

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1/2 t. dried oregano

2 Large portobello mushrooms, brushed

50 grams feta cheese, crumbled

1 large tomato cut into thick slices

2 hand fulls of rocket (baby spinach would also work)

salt and pepper

2 whole grain burger buns (optional)

About an hour before you plan to start cooking, place the smashed garlic clove into 2T. of olive oil and leave to infuse. If you’re BBQing, give your grill time to heat too about 220, or, if it’s charcoal, until your coals are white hot and smoking. If you’re cooking indoors, use a very hot grill pan, or turn your oven grill up to 220.

Brush the mushrooms all over with the garlicky oil, season with salt and pepper, and place on your heat source for 4-5 minutes each side.  When flipping the mushrooms, pop the tomato slices on as well. While the vegetables  are cooking, mix a simple dressing with the remaining 3T. of olive oil, lemon juice, dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the dressing with the rockett and set aside. Toast your burger buns and take everything off the heat. Place your mushrooms on the buns upside down, fill them with the crumbled feta before layering on the grilled tomato slices and topping with rocket. Pop the on bun top and and voila!

Obviously this works just as well as a veggie stack without the bun, but I like the juicy burger feel of it. I served this with grilled asparagus tips, but sweet potato wedges or corn on the cob with chili and lime butter would also be winning accompaniments.

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Filed under BBQ, Quick & Easy, Weekday

Rainy Day Baking

There’s been some shocking weather in Dublin over the last 36 hours – pretty steady rain with some fog and chilly mist thrown in for good measure. While I’m a big supporter of throwing on the wellies and going puddle jumping, there is only so much rain two parents and one toddler can take and only so many hours of Peppa Pig that can be watched. Fortunately, my little man has developed an interest in the kitchen, so that kept us entertained for a while yesterday.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m always chopping something, or the fabulous set of kiddie cookware that his godmother gave him for Christmas, but he’s gotten very curious about pots bubbling on the stove and loves anything that involves cracking an egg. Here are two store cupboard recipes perfect for rainy day baking with a small person.

The first is this genius recipe from Food52 founder Merrill Stubbs. With only five ingredients and an opportunity to use the electric hand mixer, this is the perfect recipe to occupy little hands, fill your house with a sweet, buttery fragrance, and accompany the necessary rainy day cup of Earl Grey.

The second recipe is even easier and the one I went for yesterday, as it only has three ingredients. Seriously. Just three. My friend Monica posted it on Facebook not too long ago and it has become my go-to emergency cookie. I’m not sure of its origins, but it’s this easy:

1cup/200 grams sugar
1cup/250 grams peanut butter
1 egg

Mix ingredients. Roll into balls. Flatten with fork, bake on parchment-lined try for 10 minutes at 350F/180C degrees. Try not to eat them all in one sitting. It’s a struggle.

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Deskfast

Today’s post is inspired by a great article by Roisin Ingle in this week’s Irish Times about dining al desko – a popular activity these days, as post-Christmas credit card bills loom and desires to book a summer holiday blossom. We’re all looking for a way out the sandwich rut and her article as well as this post and this piece offer some great suggestions that I will definitely be trying over the coming weeks, especially the Easy Duck Pie in Ingle’s article and Peanut Chicken Noodle Salad in Usborne’s – yum.

No matter how hard I try, I will never be a morning person, even if I am an early riser these days, and I need to be up and about for an hour or two before I really develop an appetite for breakfast, so Monday-Friday I often eat breakfast at my desk. I’ve been trying to keep breakfast a bit more inspired recently, as a result of a great Christmas gift. My husband bought me a fantastic insulated coffee mug, which turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. We had a million plastic ones lying around the place, but this stainless steel beauty keep liquids hot for up to four hours. This means that I can brew a pot of filter coffee at home, pour it into my mug, pop it into my bag, run around like a mad woman dropping my son off at creche and chasing buses, and arrive at work with a lovely, hot cup of coffee to savor – all for mere pennies! A quality cup of coffee deserves an equal partner, so I’ve made an effort to trade my slice of toast, bowl of Special K, or (I’ll be honest here…) my Cuisine de France Pain au Chocolat for something a little more upscale. Here are two recipes that I love…

The first is Bill Granger’s Cinnamon Crunch Muesli. This is not yo mama’s muesli…it’s rich, crunchy, and so delicious that it feels a little too naughty for breakfast, but it’s chock full of oats and nuts. (He uses almonds, but I have also used hazelnuts – pecans would probably be nice too). The recipe makes loads and it keeps for weeks in an airtight container. I like to make a batch and leave it in a jar on the counter. I tip a few spoonfuls into a little container while my coffee is brewing, throw it in my bag with a yogurt (this is my current favourite brand). Happy days!

Museli Ready for the Oven

Muesli for the Week

Yogurt and Muesli Parfait with a Honey Drizzle

The second recipe is one that I’ve been making as long as I remember. I’m not sure of its origins, but it’s my mom’s favourite recipe for blueberry muffins. They are super easy and delicious to a ridiculous degree. I like to make a batch on Sunday night and bring them to work or stick them in my son’s lunchbox throughout the week. They’re a lot better than store bought muffins because despite the fact that they contain a bit of butter, they’re relatively low in sugar and have tons of blueberries (antioxidants!) in them. I’ll include metric and American measurements in the recipe.

Blueberry Muffins a la Peggy

2 1/2 c. (300g) plain flour (if you’re feeling virtuous you can use whole wheat pastry flour)

1/2 c.  (100g) white sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1 c. (280ml) milk

6T. (80 g) unsalted butter, melted

1t. vanilla

1 egg

1 cup (140g) blueberries

Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat milk, egg, and vanilla. Mix the wet with the dry and fold in blueberries. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Voila!

Blueberry Goodness

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Filed under Breakfast/Brunch, Quick & Easy, Uncategorized