A shrinking library

Moving country brings with it many insights, not least the fact that I’ve developed something of an addiction to cookery books.

Choosing which of my many books to bring with me to a new home was a challenge. Continue reading

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Get grillin’

BBQ days are long gone, but midweek kebabs brought the taste of summer back for me this week.

I used a recipe from Rachel de Thample’s book Five. It’s a nice book with some good ideas for getting more fruit and veg into your diet.

To start, mix cubes of lamb and aubergine with a simple sauce: garlic, ginger, yogurt, some garam masala and some chilli. Next skewer the aubergine and lamb and grill on a high heat for about 10 minutes, and then turn over and do the other side.

Ready for the grill

Ready for the grill

Rachel de Thample’s recipe suggests serving the lamb and aubergine skewers with a chickpea curry (which looks delicious). However, I had a chickpea curry just the other day, so decided instead to make a cauliflower salad, and have some pitta and yogurt on the side.

For the cauliflower salad, I used this recipe from Calgary Avansino, and added some pomegranate seeds too. Blitzing the cauliflower in the blender takes a little time (my blender required me to do this in batches). But that aside, it’s just a case of a quick chop, and mixing it all together, which can be done while the kebabs are grilling. All in, less than 30 minutes and there’s enough left for lunch too!

Lamb kebabs

Lamb kebabs

 

The best possible fuel

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf

In the last few months, I’ve been doing a fair bit of running, and work has been busy, so eating decent food has been important for keeping the show on the road.

One Saturday, attempting a long-ish run after a 14 hour work day the day before, powered by multiple cups of tea and far too many biscuits, I felt awful. Sluggish, heavy-legged and not in the humour to run anywhere but to my couch (for more tea and biscuits).

Usually I eat reasonably well, but am certainly prone to eating too much junk. And generally, the busier I am, the more junk I eat. Which, when  you think about it, is really rather stupid.

So in recent weeks, I’ve been trying to think more logically about food as fuel. Dodgy petrol won’t do much for a car, so why would bad food be of any use to a human?

Running has made me much more aware of this, which is silly as it is not exactly rocket science. Even something simple like getting enough water in the day before a run can make such a difference.

It’s not a question of being virtuous, but more ensuring you eat whatever you need to get you through the day you are facing.

So now, if I’m asking a lot of my body, it seems reasonable that I give it the right food in return. Happy fuelling!

Night in nibbles

Make food a friend

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.”

Elsa Schiaparelli

I came across this quote on Instagram recently, and liked the sentiment. I’ll admit I had to Google Elsa Schiaparelli (an Italian fashion designer, apparently) but I like her approach.

Eating can become a battleground of sorts: a battle to eat well when really you want to surrender to the biscuit jar, a struggle to maintain good habits and look after yourself when time is hard to come by, and fighting against the constant clamour of pseudo-science to avoid fads and just eat simple, wholesome and tasty food.

That’s a lot of conflict, so it’s nice to think of the friendlier side of food too. Food as a friend, as comfort and nourishment and fun.

For me, food is often a social or leisure kind of thing, a way to recharge, find some head space or share some good company. On my own, cooking  away with a podcast on, grabbing a quick bite at lunch time on a busy work day to clear my head, meeting friends for a meal, or simply tea, cake and chats.

A recent holiday in Spain featured lovely, lazy balcony afternoons with snacks (amazing fresh figs, nuts and other tasty bits) and good company. Fast forward a few weeks to a Saturday night in with friends, and lots of delicious nibbles, including olives, cheese, and juicy red grapes.

It’s the simplest things that can make us happy really, isn’t it?

Holiday snacks

Holiday snacks

A taste of the weekend during the week

Certain meals always feel like more of a weekend affair, especially those that take a bit of preparation or require you to hunt for unusual ingredients.

A couple of weeks ago I was flicking through TV channels and came across an episode of chef Donal Skehan’s Cook, Eat, Burn and found myself drooling as he made a roast chicken with a twist, using pomegranate molasses. He served it with a lovely side of bulgur wheat and roasted veg.

I added this recipe to my ‘must make’ list, but had two minor hurdles: (1) I had never heard of pomegranate molasses, and had no idea where to get them and (2) I reckoned I’d need a free afternoon to prep this meal.

A quick Google told me that specialty food store Fallon and Byrne stocked pomegranate molasses, and after reading the recipe I realised it wasn’t as involved as I first thought, and, as such, was definitely a viable midweek dinner option – albeit with a bit of organisation required.

This morning before work, I took five minutes to stick the chicken in a bag with pomegranate molasses, garlic, chilli and seasoning, and then stuck it in the fridge for the day. After work, veg was chopped, bulgur wheat boiled and that was about it.  It required a bit of a wait for dinner while the chicken and veg roasted. But it was well worth it!

Roast chicken with bulgur wheat and roasted veg

Roast chicken with bulgur wheat and roasted veg

Lazy like Sunday morning

Between work and having stuff on at the weekends, sometimes mornings can be a little chaotic: shower, breakfast, grabbing bags of stuff needed for the day ahead, throwing together lunch, losing things, desperately trying to find the lost things, and rushing out the door already feeling like you are on the back foot.

Sound familiar?

I’m the first to admit that I’m really not very good at mornings. That’s why I relish a nice slow moving one, where there’s time for a cup of tea, a read and a treat.

Today’s treat was my first attempt at homemade bounty bars, a Little Green Spoon recipe I came across recently. It’s a doddle to make. Simply blitz desiccated coconut with some melted coconut oil and some maple syrup to form a sweet coconut mixture. Squish this into a lined tin, and compact it (as you would the base of a cheesecake) and freeze it.

Once it is solid, chop it into squares, bars or whatever you fancy and dip in melted dark chocolate (or drizzle the chocolate on top, whichever you prefer). Then dig in with a cuppa!

Tea and a treat

Tea and a treat

A word of warning: be careful when dipping the coconut bars in the chocolate as they start to crumble a bit and then the chocolate gets bits of coconut mix in it. Not an issue for taste, as it all goes down the one way, but it makes them look a little less pretty.

Coconut treats are definitely one of my favourites. I’m also partial to snowballs, and coconut and raspberry muffins. Hopefully this batch of bounty-type bars will last for a few days, although I’m pretty sure they’ll be devoured long before they go off!

Lunch on a sunny day

What a day it was in Dublin today. Sun splitting the rocks all day. After working on Saturday, I was off today and it really was a lovely day to not be in the office.

A long run in the early afternoon nearly killed me, given the heat. So I wanted a healthy lunch on my return, but didn’t want something too heavy because it was so warm. I decided to have a go at making fish cakes.  I didn’t follow a recipe but cooked based on what was to hand. Continue reading

Sweet nostalgia

There are certain smells that have the ability to transport me to a specific moment the second a waft hits my nose. Cinnamon and nutmeg will forever remind me of Christmas preparations, tomato soup brings me back to an ill-fated family holiday hit by food poisoning, and burnt toast makes me recall my first attempts (bad ones!) at fending for myself in the kitchen.

Food has an amazing ability to conjure up long-forgotten memories, which wrap themselves around you like a comforting shawl. When in need of comforting, or if simply in the mood for a treat, I’m partial to retro goodies. Perhaps because such treats – the likes of a good ol’ finger of fudge, or a mini bakewell tart – remind me of being a wee one!

When it comes to retro treats, it doesn’t come much better than a snowball. For those of you unlucky enough not to have had one, it’s a gooey, oozing, sweet affair: a fine chocolate shell, covered in coconut, encasing soft, sweet, fluffy marshmallow. Bliss!

Snowball

Snowball

Pizza with a twist

When it comes to comfort food, you really can’t beat a gooey, cheesy pizza with lots of toppings and a hint of spice.

I’ve seen lots of recipes recently for a less doughy alternative, using cauliflower and ground almond to make a gluten-free crust. To be honest, I was intrigued…but not convinced. Cauliflower does not scream comfort food, does it?!

After a lazy Sunday that did not involve a trip to the supermarket, my fridge was pretty empty. I was tempted to order a pizza, but then decided to put the rather sad looking cauliflower that was lurking in the fridge to use.

To start, blitz the cauliflower florets in a blender until very fine. Then microwave for 4 minutes or so. Next, add ground almonds (approx 100g for a full head of cauliflower, or reduce accordingly), a beaten egg and some seasoning (salt, pepper and oregano).

You’ll now be wondering how the gloopy mess in front of you is ever going to resemble anything like pizza. But stick with it. Spread the mixture on a baking try and bake for about 20 minutes, until it starts to crisp.

Then knock yourself out with whatever toppings take your fancy and pop it back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The aforementioned empty-ish fridge meant few options. I roasted some tomatoes and then blended them, sieved off some of the excess juice and used the pulp as a tomato base. Next I added some grated cheese, a sliced yellow pepper, some mushrooms, spring onions and chilli flakes.

A twist on pizza

A twist on pizza

Continue reading