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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Cookbook of the Week, October 31

Part of my motivation for starting this blog is to get out of my cookbook rut. I own zillions of cookbooks (I’m too scared to actually count, lest I realize how much money I’ve spent…) but I can fall into the awful habit of only cooking from the two or three for weeks on end – books that have family favourites or ’30 minute meals’.  That’s all well and good – don’t get me wrong, a working mama needs 30 minute meals – but I’d like to challenge myself a bit more. So, for the next few months, I’m going to pick one book every week and use it to do my weekly menu planning.

I’m starting simple this week with an old favourite, Economy Gastronomy, by Allegra McEvedy and Paul Merrett.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m feeling a bit broke this week, or because I love some of it’s warming recipes for this damp weather, but it holds a lot of appeal for me this week.  I don’t know which came first, the book or the TV program, but I bought this book two years ago after watching the series of the same name on BBC. In the program, McEvedy and Merrett work with a cooking-impaired family every week and encourage them to ‘eat better and spend less’ by shopping smartly, ditching ready-meals, and cooking at home.  Brilliant.  The show had a light touch, never making fun of any participants for their lacking of cooking experience – it just aimed to educate  and, of course, tempt reluctant cooks with it’s lovely, affordable recipes…

One of my favourites is Paul Merret’s recipe for Braised Mince; it’s actually three recipes in one, as well as freezer-friendly and very easy on the wallet – woohoo!  I’ve used it as a base for Shepherd’s Pie, Spaghetti Bolognese and Chili, as well as just eaten it spooned over a baked potato. Generally, I make a batch and divide it in three.  One gets eaten on the day, and the other two go into the freezer for when I want a quick meal – usually Shepherd’s Pie, as the whole family will eat it.  I find that rather than putting more carrots into the pie, making a potato & carrot mash gets better results from the little guy…give him a piece of carrot and it’s akin to poison; give him ‘orange mash’ and it’s a treat!

The recipe for Spicy Black Bean Quesadillas is one of my favourite pantry suppers, as there is always a tin of black beans somewhere in the back of the cupboard, and it’s easy to pick up a bit of lime and coriander on the way home.  I rarely bother with the pumpkin seeds, and often make a quick salsa instead of the chopped avocado (it can be so hard to find ripe ones sometimes…), but the classic combination of black beans, cheddar cheese, and tortillas always wins in my house.

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