Category Archives: Weekday

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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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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Love In The Oven

I feel like I was writing about Christmas last week, and all of a sudden, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! I thought I’d put together a few ideas for simple, romantic meals to cook on the day.

Cooking a romantic dinner on a Tuesday night after a day at work and toddler bath time/bedtime madness does seem like a challenge, but it is entirely possible to whip up something special in just a few minutes.  I might borrow a page from Rachel Allen and cook a meal that’s a bit posh, but quite simple to put together – Spaghetti with Caviar.  This recipe is adapted from Food for Living.

Ingredients

(for 2 people)

200g/7oz spaghetti

1/2 tsp salt

100 ml fish stock

60ml/1oz creme fraiche

1tbsp caviar, plus extra for garnishing

2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp snipped fresh chives

How To

Cook pasta according to directions on packet in a large pot of boiling, salted water. While pasta is cooking, place fish stock in a smal saucepan and boil, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes until reduced by half. Take stock off the heat, whisk in creme fraiche, stir in caviar and chopped herbs. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and mix with the caviar sauce and serve.

This dish is lovely served with dry champagne (or the bubbly of your choosing – I’m a big fan of this prosecco, but am also a firm believer that you can never go wrong with Veuve Clicquot’s Yellow Label – if there’s any night of the year that worth splashing out on the good stuff, this is it. For dessert, something citrusy hits the spot after all of the salty herbiness of the pasta – lemon macaroons from this shop, or these lemon puddings, from, again, Rachel Allen. You could even make them in these sweet little ramekins from Tesco. I picked up a set last week…it’s hard to beat the value – two for €2.50!

If you have a meat-lover in your life, steaks are actually a great week-night meal, as they take relatively little time to cook. I love this recipe for Strip Steaks with Red Wine Sauce. I’ve made it with rib eye steaks as well as strip steaks, and I think it works well with both. Serve with Caesar salad (yes, the pre-pack is fine!) and baked potatoes and you’ll be lucky in love for sure. This lovely red is ticking all of my boxes these days and is fantastic value if you can get your hands on it. I love to follow a nice steak dinner with a tiny bit of rich chocolate – this cake hits the spot.

Another quick and easy meal that can be romantic is one of my favourite no-cook options – a mezze. I absolutely adore the food of the Mediterranean & Middle East and love eating with my hands, so I’m a big fan of laying out a spread of nibbles from that part of the world, pouring 2 large glasses of red and calling it dinner. Most items are usually served at room temperature and can either be made far in advance or popped out of a jar at the last minute –  olives, almonds, pitta (or other flatbreads), hummus, vegetables roasted or grilled in olive oil (think peppers, aubergines, courgettes), feta wrapped in mint leaves, grilled halloumi, and if you’re feeling fancy, some falafel and babaganoush.  I’ll be honest here and admit that I usually warm some shop-bought falafel in the oven, but this recipe will also do the trick if you want to make it from scratch.

If you’re looking for a wine pairing, I highly recommend a bottle from this Lebanese vineyard. I’ve had a few of their reds over the years and they are absolutely gorgeous. For afters, some clementines accompanied by a few squares of dark, almost bitter chocolate is happiness defined.

And if all else fails, there’s always Dine-In delights from Marks and Spencer, who have a slightly more expensive, but very appealing offer on in their Food Hall this week. Who knows…I could end up there myself on Tuesday afternoon depending on how my calendar looks. Happy dining, lovebirds!

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An Ode to Slow Cooking

The beginning of 2012 began much  like the last weeks of 2011 – at top speed. After a fun-filled Christmas and very mellow New Year, my family burst back into action in the beginning of January with a bunch of new things in the mix for all of us, including a new job description, a college course and potty training – whew! It’s been hectic, but also fantastic to start the year off with a bang. As ever, the challenge to put a healthy dinner on the table presents itself. I won’t lie…I have relied on my local pizza place once or twice, but the real godsend to our dinner table has been my slow cooker.

With just a tiny bit of preparation, the slow cooker is a busy family’s best friend. Admittedly, they are bulky items that can take up a lot of cupboard space, but I love mine to bits. Generally, any recipe that calls for slow cooking in a Dutch oven is suitable for adaptation to a slow cooker, but the web is crawling with suggestions for easy, delicious meals that can be prepared in minutes. I’ve come across two particularly brilliant recipes lately, both from Real Simple magazine. The first was this lovely Chicken Tikka Masala recipe that was the perfect antidote to a wet, windy Wednesday evening. Coming home from work to a house smelling of lovely, rich, Indian spices was just brilliant, and all I had to do was cook some rice. The next week, I made this gorgeous vegetarian chili, which made enough for two meals, one of which is currently stashed in my freezer for another busy week.

At 8 am, dinner looked a bit like this:

A few tins were opened; an onion, sweet potato, and red pepper were chopped.

8 hours later, dinner was ready!

Yum!

Happy cooking!

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