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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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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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It’s beginning to look a lot like…cookies!

As the temperature dips and the days grow short, I definitely feel nesting urges. I swap afternoon trips to the park with my son for sticking a stew  in the oven, popping a Christmas movie into the DVD player, and sitting on the couch for a cuddle and a cuppa. It is always hard to have a cup of tea without a biscuit, but in December, it’s hard not to have three or four, as there is always an endless variety in my house – not to mention the mince pies! I’m an absolute sucker for a new Christmas cookie recipe, so when the Irish Food Bloggers Association presented the opportunity for a recipe exchange between members, I jumped at the chance.

My recipe came from Magda, who blogs here about all sorts of goodies. She sent me a recipe for Cranberry Noel cookies, which she first discovered here, and she thinks are loosely based on a Martha Stewart recipe. I made them for the first time this afternoon and they tick a LOT of boxes for me. To begin with, I was able to make them while my son and his friend were having a play date in the next room (for those without toddlers, this means I was able to make them in about 7 minutes using only half of my brain, as the other half was tuned in to the conversation about dragons taking place in the sitting room). It’s an icebox cookie, so it’s easy to make up a few logs, stick them in the freezer, and bake on demand, earning you serious hostess points if someone drops in for tea and sympathy. The red & green in the dough is also very pretty and gives them a seasonal feel. The texture & flavour combinations are fantastic as well – a not- too-sweet, crumbly biscuit with mellow, crunchy nut and chewy, tart cranberry…excellent. I highly recommend giving them a go. Thanks, Magda!

Cranberry Noel Cookies, ready to bake

 Cranberry Noel Cookies

75 g unsalted butter
75 g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk
250 g plain flour
30 g chopped pistachios
40 g chopped dry cranberries

Coating (I skipped it)
1 egg white (lightly beaten)
50 g finely chopped pistachios

Beat the butter with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add icing sugar, vanilla sugar, salt and milk.
Mix until just combined.
Gradually add flour, pistachios, and cranberries.
Mix on low speed until fully combined.
Divide dough in a half.
Shape each half into 8-inch logs, about 2 inches in diameter.*
If you are putting coating. Lightly brush the logs with an egg white
and roll them in the chopped pistachios.
Wrap logs in cling film and put into a freezer for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan.
Line a couple baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper or a silicon mat.
Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Transfer them into prepared baking sheets.
Bake until edges are golden, about 10-12 minutes. (Be careful, they burn quite easily)
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

*At this stage, the dough was very crumbly and I was convinced that I had weighed the flour incorrectly; I hadn’t – the dough just needed a lot of shaping!

Yum!

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All I Want for Christmas

It’s that time of year again when I start casually leaving dog-eared magazines & catalogues around the house, ‘accidentally’  leave the browser open with certain items on display, or (I’ll be honest here…) blatantly take my husband by the arm, drag him into a shop and point to things I like. The vast majority of my hinting points towards food-related items, be they cookbooks, cook’s tools, or luxury food items.  If you’re looking to drop a few hints yourself, or there’s a foodie in your life that leaves you scratching your head, here are a few items that are tickling me this year…

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cookbooks/Publications

For yummy recipes, quaint design, and the feel-good factor, you can’t beat The Mixing Bowl, a fundraising initiative from Our Lady’s Hospice and Care Services. The book includes a wide variety of treasures ranging from Foccacia Soda Bread to Oxford Lunch Cake to Marilyn Monroe Chicken. All of the book’s recipes come from residents and clients of the hospice service, and all proceeds go to support their work – brilliant.

A must for any household that requires dinner-on-demand is Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals.  I am completely in love with this book & its TV tie-in at the moment. A selection of recipes from the book can be found here (I highly recommend the scrumptious tarka dahl – it blew my mind), but I recommend picking up the whole book. It’s chock full of store cupboard suggestions, fantastic baking ideas (OMG, the chocolate mousse cake…) and general tips for getting a proper dinner on the table in minutes. I suspect that I will be using this book a lot. In fact, I’m planning to try the huevos rancheros in about an hour…

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is a book on the top of my Lust List is The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria Adria is the mad genius behind El Bulli. This gorgeous cookbook is a glimpse into one of the finest culinary minds of recent times, but contains achievable recipes. I also just love Phaidon cookbooks.

If baking is your thing, Phaidon have also outdone themselves with Ginette Mathiot’s The Art of French Baking. I got it for my birthday, and it is just a lovely thing to have, even if you are not ambitious enough to make anything in it! (I have drooled on it a lot, but not actually cooked anything from it…yet!)

Magazine subscriptions are also great for year-round giving. Food & Wine is a lovely Irish publication full of recipes, reviews, and tips.

Stocking Stuffers/Christkindl/Secret Santa

A few low budget ideas:

– Irish Atlantic Sea Salt

– This is perfect for those who like to add flare to their dinner parties

– Just about anything from this shop

-every kitchen should have a Microplane. Or two. Or twelve.

Cooking Fun

– A voucher for a local cooking school is a great gift. Look for a place with lunchtime options, like Cook’s Academy or Donnybrook Fair, or if it’s someone special, you could always plan a weekend away at somewhere like The Tannery or Dunbrody House.

– A trip to Kildare Village could net you some great Le Creuset Goodies. All of the products there are factory seconds, but are generally in great shape and significantly marked down from the average retail cost. There’s not a cook in the land who wouldn’t love a new enamel French oven or stoneware gratin dish.

Going for Broke

If you or someone you know has been VERY good this year (or you won the  lotto last night) these are my particular objects of desire at the moment…

– this beautiful stand mixer

– a complete collection of these

– book a trip to Denmark and try to get on the waiting list for dinner at Noma

When Visiting

By the time December 25th rolls around, I don’t want to see another bottle of wine or mince pie coming in my door. They both have their time and place, but they seem to pile up at an alarming rate during the month of December. This year, think outside the box for your host’s gift…I recently received a huge hunk of Comte Reserve from dinner guests and it was the gift that kept on giving (in fact, some of still lives on my hips…) Head to your local cheesemonger for a few wedges of something special and toss ’em into a red gift bag some some oatcakes or a crusty baguette. If you’re feeling boozy, when not try a craft beer? There are a few Irish microbreweries on my radar right now that are producing lovely stuff, like Dungarvan Brewing Company and Eight Degrees Brewing Company. But wherever you live, a guarantee that someone is brewing something lovely within an hour’s drive of your house. Find a stockist and share the goodness.

I’ll be writing about some DIY options next week, but hopefully the suggestions above might help you with your shopping this week!

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Lovely Leftovers and my Cookbook of the Week

My favorite holiday has come and gone, but I had a lovely time celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. I roasted my turkey and made my stuffing in quite traditional ways, and friends provided a lovely assortment of sides (including the most sinful, creamy mashed sweet potatoes and beautiful, Indian-spiced roast parsnips). I pushed the boat out with my dessert this year though, and I don’t mind saying that I even impressed myself by making a pumpkin meringue pie.

Pumpkin Meringue Pie

Pumpkin Meringue Pie

I have to make a confession now…I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living.  I know, I know.  I have a real love/hate relationship with the publication, because it does portray an aspirational lifestyle to the point of the ridiculous. As it arrives in my post box every month, I mock Martha for her ridiculous calendar entries (‘Confirm appointment with piano tuner’ ‘Vacuum wallpaper’) and then I drool over the crafting projects and recipes. There are always particularly creative ideas around the holidays, and I especially love the November and December issues. As soon as I saw the photo of this Pumpkin Meringue Pie I knew I had to try it, and as no one was likely to make it for me, I was going to have to bake it myself!  I’m glad that I gave it a shot, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. The pros were: a visually stunning result, a change from the norm, an excuse to use my hand held blow torch, and of course, a tasty dessert. Cons included meringue panic (why did it take so long for the whites to stiffen?!?!?!?), pastry panic (why is the pastry sticking to the tin?!?!?!?) and a lack of leftovers (The meringue melted overnight, making the last few slices very soggy and inedible).

The last con is probably my most serious concern, as I LOVE Thanksgiving & Christmas leftovers. Waking up the morning after a big feast makes me giddy with excitement…despite the fact that hours earlier I was moaning that I’d never eat again, I skip down to the fridge to invent new things from the legs of turkey, piles of mash, bits of stuffing, and cold roast veg left in the fridge. Black Friday Breakfast is almost as good as Thanksgiving Dinner…I love making crispy potatoes cakes by chopping up the dregs of the fresh herbs and roast veg hanging around the fridge, mixing them into some leftover mashed potato, shaping them into cakes and coating them with seasoned flour.  I fry them in butter for a few minutes on each side and top them with poached eggs.  Then, of course, there’s soup made from Turkey Stock, turkey curry, turkey pot pie, and the old reliable turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwich. We should be finished our leftovers by the middle of this week…just in time to start thinking about Christmas dinner!

When the turkey is finally gone, I’ll be turning to Rachel Allen for my recipes this week, and exploring her new book, Easy Meals. I have a pretty hectic week coming up, so there won’t be a lot of lingering around the kitchen waiting for things to braise…the 30 minute meal will be my friend. I’ve taken a peek already, and there are such delights as Chicken Skewers with Carrot & Apple Salad, Tomato & Goats Cheese Tart, and Prawn Korma. It’s definitely chock full of recipes that one could make after a quick trip to the shop on the way home and fifteen minutes in the kitchen.  I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the recipes, but for tonight, I have pure convenience on my mind…Turkey Curry with a sauce from Bombay Pantry, the takeaway of all takeaways…

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Meatless Mondays

In advance of one of the biggest meat-eating holidays on my calendar (hooray, Thanksgiving!) I thought that I would write about some of my veggie efforts. Whilst on maternity leave a few years ago, I came a customer of Home Organics, a local produce delivery service.  I thought that I’d keep the delivery for a few months when on leave and that it might fall by the wayside once I returned to work.  Instead, I became an absolute addict, and one of Home Organics’ biggest cheerleaders. Every Thursday morning, I get a delivery of beautiful, organic, seasonal fruit & vegetables as well as free range, organic eggs. Amazing. Produce is sourced as locally as possible and is delicious; the apples and satsumas we’re getting at the minute are brilliant, and I love the ever-changing selection of greens that pop up, from kale rainbow chard in the winter to rocket and cima di rapa in the summer.  There are weekly appearances from potatoes, carrots and onions, as well as fairly regular portions of broccoli, bananas, and lovely garlic.  Everything else varies with the season; some recent delights featured were celeriac, red cabbage, baby butternut squash, and quince – autumn at its finest!

Getting a random, weekly delivery has changed the way I think about making dinner.  Rather than automatically thinking about meat as the centre piece of the meal, and vegetables as an afterthought, I often take a look at what vegetables we have and how best I might accompany them. Sometimes, it means pairing some lovely, big baking potatoes with a lamb chop, but more and more often, it leads me to planning at least one meatless meals every week, as suggested by the growing Meatless Monday movement. I’m not always organized enough to have it on Mondays, and I will admit to frequently adding a sausage to my son’s plate to keep him interested, but my husband and I do have at least one meatless meal every week. Here are a few recent winners: Fried Eggs, Greens & MushroomsVegetable Coconut Curry, and Beetroot Rosti.

If I’m looking for veggie inspiration, I often look no further than Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso. I think he’s a genius chef; I love his restaurant and his recipes. Wild Garlic, Gooseberries, and Me is one of my favorite food books. It’s chock full of recipes, memories, and general food knowledge. If you find yourself with a bit of time on your hands and a craving for seriously good veggie food, and I can’t say enough about his recipe for Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Oyster Mushroom Broth with Pumpkin Dumplings – it is something truly special. If you don’t want to go all out and fuss around with dumplings, the soup on it’s own is delicious – I did not expect to find such beautiful flavor in a meat-free broth, but it really is gorgeous.  I generally make a double batch of the broth and keep some in the fridge as it is such a good winter warmer – lovely to have a mug of it with lunch.

Happy peeling, chopping, and cooking!

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Happiness is a Warm Risotto

Leek & Tarragon Risotto

As the evenings grow longer and colder, I love to pour myself a glass of wine and spend time in my cozy kitchen.  Sometimes, I have the time to mess around with something posh, like the quail I tried a few weeks ago, or the venison stew I’m planning for the weekend.  Other nights, I just about manage to whip up a pasta sauce.  Risotto is, for me, a lovely happy medium of simplicity, cooking therapy, and deliciousness.  I read a lot of recipes for ‘baked; or ‘no-stir’ risotto and I always despair.  For me, the beauty of risotto is the zen-like nature of its cooking process.  I love the ritual of constant stirring and ladling hot stock into bubbling rice – glass of wine in my left hand, wooden spoon in the other. Bliss. On a practical level, it’s also a great way to use up some bits and pieces in the fridge. Last night’s risotto was leek and tarragon, because I’m trying to use up all of the veg that’s hanging around before I get my next delivery from the brilliant Home Organics on Thursday.

Leek & Tarragon Risotto

(serves 2 adults and a briefly curious toddler)

– 200 g. arborio rice

– 2 leeks, trimmed, well-rinsed, and finely sliced

-500ml stock *

-1 glass of dry, white wine

– 30g butter, preferably unsalted

-big hunk of parmigiano reggiano/grana padano

-sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

– a few decent-sized stalks of fresh tarragon, chopped

 *I used homemade chicken stock from last weekend’s Sunday lunch, but I also love Knorr Stock Pots, chicken or veg

Method: 

Heat your stock in a small saucepan.  It doesn’t need to be boiling, but it should be quite hot. Melt the butter in a large pan and gently saute the leeks for 8-10 minutes over a low heat.  When the white bit of the leeks start to turn translucent, tip in your rice and stir for a minute or two, making sure that each grain is coated in butter. Turn the heat up a little bit, throw in the glass of wine (pour another for yourself!) and start stirring.  As the rice absorbs the wine and the pan is almost dry, add a ladle full of hot stock.  Keeping stirring, and each time the pan seems dry again, ladle in some more stock. By the time you’re out of stock, the rice should be al dente. Turn the heat way down, grate in your cheese (don’t be shy but taste as you grate – I think risotto’s cheesiness is a personal thing ), stir in your tarragon and taste again before seasoning with sea salt and adding a few cracks of black pepper. Dinner is done!

Pecan & Bourbon Tart

Espresso Bundt Cake

I didn’t make any brioche  last week, and I definitely didn’t make any croissants, but I still celebrated my birthday week with a lot of cake!  Aside from the Rocky Road cake delivered to me on my birthday eve, I made a pecan pie and an espresso bundt cake as per Sarabeth’s recipes. I’m not sure that I’ll be applying for any pastry chef jobs any time soon, but I did learn a few things…

  1.  Always  taste  your batter/filling before you bake.  You may realize that you’ve forgotten the sugar. (Yes, I caught it in time!)
  2. When blind baking pastry, remember to line the  tin with parchment before pouring in the baking beans.  Otherwise, you will have to pick about a hundred of them out of partially cooked pastry. (This odious task takes about 20 minutes and makes you feel pretty dumb!)
  3. Baking can be an expensive habit, especially if you want to invest in the proper tools – proper tins, mixers, etc.  I managed with my hand mixer, but it was a challenge and involved doing a lot of washing up.  I’ll be buying  this about five minutes after I win the lotto.
  4. The moment when a cake pops effortlessly our of a tin or a tart reveals it’s crispy crust and gooey filling is immensely satisfying; sharing it with friends is even better! Because of this fact, I’ll be participating in The Great Irish Bake over the coming weeks, and would encourage anyone to give it a go.  Have some friends around for a cuppa, impress them with some home baking, and raise money for Temple Street Children’s Hospital.  The website has some great recipes, and I’d be happy to share suggestions as well if you’re interested.

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The Butcher Girl

So, the most exciting foodie news this week for me was the return of MasterChef: The Professionals on BBC2.  (And to think I almost missed it, but for a kindly text from a fellow foodie friend letting me know it was starting!  Note to BBC: next year, more advance publicity!) I think it is the absolute highest form of cooking entertainment  – yes, even better than the original MasterChef and even surpassing Saturday Kitchen (my Saturday morning TV time has largely been handed over to Peppa Pig these days anyway, sniff, sniff!)  I love everything about MasterChef: the Professionals though, from Monica’s horrified expressions to Greg’s ‘orgasmic pudding face’ and Michel Roux Jr.’s avuncular tutelage…I can only imagine that cooking for him and hearing the words,’ Well, it’s not quite right…’ must be the most crushing thing a professional chef can do.  As the nights grow longer, I will be extracting great pleasure from wrapping my hands around a hot mug of tea, steeling into the couch, and firing up the DVR for big helpings of fine dining drama.

In other news, my husband drew my attention to this article in last week’s New York Times.  I love the NYT’s dining section, and highly recommend poking around the website if you’re ever looking for inspiration (I always find particular joy in Mark Bittman’s video podcasts).  This particular article, however, is more about shopping for food than cooking, as it notes the ‘trend’ of shopping at your local butcher’s shop.  It made me think how lucky I am to be living in a city where going to the butcher isn’t seen to be specialty shopping, or a particularly elite activity.  It’s very easy to ignore all of the plastic wrapped meat at the supermarket and head a few doors down to a top class butcher who can give you the names of the farmers he does business with, and, in some cases, the name of the cow! I have a great relationship with three Dublin butchers who keep me very well supplied with pretty much any protein a girl could want, so I thought I’d take a moment to give them credit.

The first is O’Toole’s Butchers in Terenure village.  The first organic butcher in Ireland, this family business is a top class spot. They’ve been supplying me with fabulous Christmas turkeys since 2004 and their garlic chicken en croute is a lovely solution to the quick dinner dilemma.  Second is the butcher counter at Fallon & Byrne, which stocks meat from the happiest pigs in Ireland.  Their pork steak is absolutely perfect  (click here for some great recipe ideas – it makes a brilliant weeknight dinner) and their breakfast sausages are a staple in my house.  In addition, all of the butchers there are great for advice on cooking times and recipe ideas, and there’s a lovely wine cellar right downstairs – the ultimate in one stop shopping!  Now, I’ve saved the best for last – Lawlor’s Butchers in Rathmines is a true foodie paradise.  From the lamb shank to the rib eye steaks to the stuffed pork shoulders, this is THE place to find a Sunday roast.  They also have a fish counter, fresh bread delivered daily, and a loyalty card scheme – all pure genius. I could write about their beautiful lamb marinades, gorgeous free-range Irish chickens, and brilliant T-bones for pages, but really, Dubliners – GET IN THERE and experience it for yourselves.  Non-Dubs, well, you’ll just have to visit – I promise you a Sunday roast that will keep you happy for days.

Now that you’re all craving a juicy steak, I’ll leave you with this happy little clip from the aforementioned Mark Bittman Minimalist series:

videos

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Cookbook of the Week, 7 November

I’ve decided to up the ante this week and try a more ambitious cookbook.  I have a few freezer meals ready and waiting, so this week, I’m going to focus on some baking.  My birthday is this week, so I figure that it’s a good week to get stuck in and eat some cake!

To quote pretty much every Masterchef contestant, ‘Pastry isn’t really my strong point’, so I have a challenge ahead.  Last Christmas, I received a fabulous parcel from a mysterious address in New York. ‘423 Amsterdam Avenue?’ I thought to myself. A quick Google search reminded me that it is the address of one of my favorite places on earth: Sarabeth’s West.  My genius mother had arranged for for the brunch mecca of the Upper West Side to send me a care package: a selection of petite jams & jellies, mouth-watering hot chocolate mix, and the the most gorgeous cookbook. I am ashamed to say that 11 months later, I have done nothing with the book except drool over its gorgeous photos and nurse a case of nostalgia for my college days of long, lazy brunches with my girlfriends.  This week though, I’m going to take the bull by the horns, break out my bundt pan and piping nozzles and bake, bake, bake.  (And hope I receive a lot of invitations to friend’s houses, as I should not be left alone with too much cake!)

My plan is to start off with something relatively simple (a lovely-looking espresso cake) and move into a higher realm as the week progresses. I’d like to try some breakfast pasty, but I’ve just read the recipes for croissant and danish pastries, and they scared the life out of me, but maybe I’ll manage some brioche.

 

 

 

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Is it local?

It’s a rare day when I’m not in some sort of shop to buy food, whether I’ve been corralled into the newsagent’s to buy a packet of crisps for my son, or pop into the butcher for a chat and a chicken breast and leave with a five pound roast instead.  This week, as I’ve gone on my food buying travels, I can’t stop thinking about the program I watched on Monday night, a re-play of RTE’s documentary What’s Ireland Eating? presented by Philip Boucher-Hayes.  Now, I’ve been known to moan about RTE in the past (particularly in the realm of sports commentary…) but I think they do factual programming really well and this show is a prime example.  Irish residents who missed the show can watch it here.

Boucher-Hayes starts with the micro by examining the facts and figures associated with the average Irish shopping trolley (man, we eat a lotta pork) and moves to the macro by exploring the effects of Irish consumer choices on the economy.  There were a lot of figures and health warnings thrown around, but the program was hardly devoid of emotion – especially when we meet Nigel Renaghan, the county Monaghan chicken farmer whose family is entirely dependent on the current market price of Irish chicken, which is constantly being driven down by imports.  The takeaway message of the program is pretty simple and makes a lot of sense for your health and for the economy: make like a character on Portlandia and keep it local!  It might cost and extra euro here or there, but it’s worth it.

Here are a few suggestions for those intersted in consuming Irish chicken, not just as a cook, but also when dining out:

– It’s probably the American in me, but I can’t get enough of CrackBird. Great for lunch with the girls or late night nibbles. I dream about the soy garlic chicken, all sourced from Ireland.

– I also love the very family-friendly Hen House in Dun Laoghaire. A bracing walk on the pier, fresh sea air, and free-range Irish buttermilk chicken tenders – bliss!

– For value, I think Supervalu is fantastic…they sell a whole, free-range Irish chicken for €8 – brilliant.  They also sell lots of chicken from Cootehill Farms, which is, I believe, where CrackBird sources its chicken.  I can get three meals out of a whole chicken, especially since I got a good set of knives and learned to joint one myself.

And once you’ve bought that lovely chicken and filled your home with it’s gorgeous roast chicken smell (better than perfume, I think!) here’s a recipe for your leftovers from my Cookbook of the Week, Economy Gastronomy. I love Allegra McEvedy’s Arroz con Pollo because it’s a one pot wonder, it has fantastic Spanish-inspired flavours, and is a brilliant use of leftovers. Also, I’m a sucker for any recipe that lists beer as an ingredient.  Happy cooking!

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