Friday, December 31, 2010

If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've...Oh Hang On - I Totally Did!

This delightfully nutty mess is the offering I created for my sister in law's 40th birthday. I am very lucky to have brilliant SILs, and this one lives right beside me, which means that she is also a really excellent neighbour. Since my brother was getting himself impressively stressed out organising a surprise birthday party, I thought that I'd make some culinary contributions and port of call numero uno was a birthday cake.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

House Arrest

Owing to 1) me being sick, 2) it being Christmas and 3) there being loads of really good things to watch on telly 3) there being a huge pile of books to read, I have placed myself under house arrest, which, in spite of (or most probably because of) its anti-social nature, is a thoroughly restful and indulgent state of being. This is all aided and abetted by the fact that my fridge and cupboards are somehow busting with food, even though I have been a fairly infrequent visitor to the supermarket of late. Admittedly, that fact can attributed to: 1) the gift of a cheese hamper from brother number three, 2) the gift of a baked ham from my mother (one of the many benefits of being a culchie is that your parents give the most amazingly comforting gifts, right out of nowhere, like hams and electric blankets and bales of briquettes) and 3) the gift of living seven doors down from brother number one and his wife and their two kids ("oh hi guys, gosh is this a mealtime, I didn't even know, really, are you sure I'm not...oh great, thanks, pass the salt").

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dinner For A Pal Returned From Foreign Shores - Part 2

I couldn't put it off any longer; with the third course out of the way, it was time to become acquainted with my be-shelled buddies. And even though I knew that they had been cooked before they were frozen, I removed them from their plastic prisons extremely gingerly, expecting one of them to raise a claw and give me a good sharp nip at any moment. Clearly I got over this quite quickly. Lobster can be prohibitively expensive, but at a fiver a pop these beauties are worth buying when you have a bit of cash to spare and have on standby in the freezer for leaner times, particularly when you are entertaining but don't have a huge budget to do so.

Dinner For A Pal Returned From Foreign Shores - Part 1

The absolute best thing about Christmas (I know I have cited many absolute best things about Christmas, but this is definitely the number one best thing, swear) is the return of friends and family from their new homes in other countries. My friend Catherine is now living in Singapore, and I miss her massively. When she lived in Dublin, we used to spend lots of quality time just hanging around eating, and so what better way to reconnect over the holidays than a full-on home-cooked feast. When choosing the menu for the evening, well, it all sounds a little fancy but to be honest I was just working around things that I had in the house already; firstly to keep costs down, and secondly to stem the flow of food pouring incessantly into my house. I was also keen to keep effort to a minimum so that I could relax and maximise on catch-up chats. With an abundance of cheese in the fridge, I decided to go for that winning combination of black pudding and blue cheese to make a salad. I had nabbed myself a couple of those €5 cooked frozen lobsters from Lidl last week and decided it was time to bite the bullet and figure out what to do with them, so I hit on the idea of a lobster risotto. For dessert, I decided that it would be wise to opt for something that I could do a couple of hours ahead of my guest's arrival - not only for purposes of timing and handiness, but also because when you have a teeny tiny kitchen like mine, things can get a tad chaotic when there is a three course meal on the go, and so the less there is happening at any one time the better. Since it's Christmas and I have myself under house arrest until I recover from this pesky hardcore cold thing that is afflicting me, I have the luxury of being able to potter in the kitchen and indulge myself with culinary treats that I can't justify spending time on in the normal course of daily life. I pored over Tessa Kiros's beautiful Venezia cookbook until I found a recipe for posh Italian polenta biccies and mascarpone cream that are actually incredibly simple to make, but have both the taste and appearance of something far more fancy and time consuming.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Great Manuka Debate

Just when I feel as though I'm getting better, along comes another symptom. I resolutely refuse to remain ill, and so I have turned to a hardcore substance, as repeatedly pushed by my mother, who swears by it for getting rid of colds and flus: Manuka honey. I have long scoffed at it, considering it a trendy fad, but on this occasion I would be very happy to be proven extremely wrong. This one is from Aldi, it's made it Ireland and it received a Gold Taste award last year. No idea how much it costs. My mam gave me this one for free. Once I'm hooked she'll probably start upping the price though...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fêter Noël Avec Brioche

We're at the point where most people are lounging around like a load of stuffed turkeys, making decisions of such magnitude as "black and white classic or witty adult-friendly animation?" and "turkey and stuffing sandwich or the rest of that box of Celebrations?". I'm in bed right now, contemplating a delightful stack of books, and battling a nasty set of symptoms that have had me on antibiotics for almost a week now. It's a lazy and indulgent time of year, and that's what I love; the way everyone revels in doing cosy communal activities that involve eating lots and enjoying togethersome activities like movie-watching and playing Scrabble. I decided that this year I was going to spend my Christmas Day giving a little back, and so I spent some time volunteering in a hostel for the homeless. Since my big bro and his wife and two children live right beside me, I wasn't family-less for Christmas; on the contrary, I had double the celebrations, including two Christmas dinners. Heh heh heh! Since I wasn't contributing to any Christmas dinner cooking efforts, I felt that the least I could do would be to bake a little offering to start the day, so I dusted off the brioche tin that I have been harbouring for months now, and set to work.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Throwing Christmas Shapes

I did my utmost to honour all of my Christmassy meetings-up, but I am sorry to say that the snow scuppered 95% of my plans. One I social commitment I was very happy to be able to keep was afternoon tea with my old work friend Sinéad. Admittedly this wasn't too difficult on my part, since the lady in question and her two little boys (Sam, 2, and Will, 9 months) were coming over to my house, so I didn't even have to haul my lazy ass out of the house. Because of the effortlessness required on my part, I felt that the least I could do would be to crack out the festive cookie cutters and whip up some small-person-friendly biccies. Martha's incessantly fancy offerings were not quite what I was after on this occasion, and so I looked to Nigella's magnificent tome Nigella Christmas, where I found the perfect recipe for the reindeer, angel, star and holly that had been patiently for their five minutes of festive fame for a whole year. Incidentally, one could play a very fine game of Where's Wally with that cafetiere in every single blog post of mine. If one were so inclined.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ignore The Haters

I won't hear a word against brussels sprouts, not a syllable - d'ya hear? *menacing look* In life, in general, I'm all about the underdog and this extends to food. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't like them then you haven't had them cooked the right way. You know the way sometimes parents disguise veggies for their kids and lie to them and don't tell them that there are bits of broccoli secreted into their chicken and cauli mashed into their spuds? Well Darina Allen's brussels sprouts soup is the perfect way to con brussels sprouts haters of all ages.

A Dose Of Visual Vitamin C

I'm feeling rather under the weather at the moment, and more than a little sorry for myself, so I'm dosing up on all sorts of comforts - mostly soups and vitamin c in all forms possible. And while a good dose of curry is welcome at any time, I find it particularly hits the spot when I'm run down. That, among other reasons, is why I was drawn to the warm and welcoming beauty of these books in the Winding Stair bookshop on the quays in Dublin.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speedy Spice

My numero uno dinner on demand is stir fry prawns, and there is always a bag of prawns patiently hanging out in my freezer, ready to provide me with an instant hit of high-protein, low-fat tastiness. It's another from The Book, but it's such a simple one that I don't really need to go hauling out The Book to remind myself how to throw it all together.

Gettin Down 'n' Dirty With The Mr Muscle In My Marigolds

Lest you think it's all scoffing of fancy cheese and cooing over cookbooks here chez eatsalot, I'd like to dispell such notions. No, it's not a hive of foodie glamour round these parts at all, at all. This evening, for example, I gave myself a right old headache scrubbing out the oven with some hardcore cleaning products. Because she who eats a lot cooks a lot, but doesn't clean a lot and had to seriously scour a lot to take off the dirt of the past year. My first new year's resolution is to clean the oven more often, in order to avoid the bicep-busting action that took place in my kitchen this evening. Though I was most impressed by my ability to remove the oven door, remove the glass, clean it and replace it without breaking a thing - no mean feat for this uber-klutz, I assure you.

Lemony Snicket

It mystifies me as to why all of those make-your-own-gifts guides that propose you give the gift of food to your friends always focus on things like chutney and mincemeat; I mean, how many people do you know who are really going to use this festive fare, and before it goes off, too? I fancied something snappy, with inexpensive ingredients, but festive  - and what could be more festive than the oozy eggy indulgence of lemon curd smeared on toast or brioche or a croissant with a steaming pot of coffee for a lazy holiday breakfast?

Oh My.

I am pretty poor right now and can rarely afford or justify treats, so when brother number four texted to tell me that brother number three (who lives in New York and will be going on a jaunt to South America for Christmas) had ordered a Sheridans cheese hamper for me and it was waiting to be collected in their shop on South Anne Street I nearly combusted. To say I practically skipped home; my fellow Luas passengers were probably wondering what the girl who was exuding a serious stink was so happy about. I nearly broke the door down when I got home so that I could jam it in to open the very lovely crate and see what lovelies were lying in wait. And here it is: a box full of amazingness. I cannot describe how happy this very unexpected gift has made me. Watch out cholesterol, here come the cheeses!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Very Choccie Chrimbo

In order to justify the purchasing of the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine, I have been typically opportunistic and pouncing on any opportunity to give some of her fancy American biccies a whirl. My first undertaking was the chocolate-almond crackles to bring along to the 30th birthday party of Mrs Newlywed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No-stink, pre-going-out dinner

On Friday night I phoned Fifi Who Lives Nearby and invited her over for dinner before going out on Saturday night. We were both just in from our respective festive celebrations, and a tad tipsy, it has to be said. "I know", I exclaimed, "I'll make cheesy chilli!". Cue lots of snorting and smart remarks about stinking out potential suitors with eau de spicey meatyness. "Not at aaaaaaaaall" I retorted, hung up and toddled off to bed, delighted with my forward thinking and organisation. In a more lucid state on a visit to the shop the next morning I reconsidered my choice, bowed to the more practical mind of my neighbour and decided to go with the healthier and even speedier, more pre-going-out-friendly lemony salmon with cherry tomato couscous.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rainbow Bright

My mission to up the ante on the veg count in my daily diet continues, with the help of that gift that keeps on giving, the Cornucopia cookbook. I generally seek out salads with lots of bright veggies, bulked up with a grain or some sort of complementary carbohydrate, and an interesting dressing. This time I opted for the bulghar wheat, roast butternut squash and baby spinach salad with a mint and lemon dressing. I've been a bit lazy about giving bulghar wheat a try in the past, opting instead for cous cous in its place, but bulghar is a far more nutritious substance, so it was time for me to bite the bullet: protein, iron, and vitamins B1, B3 and E - where's the flaw?!

Food babies all round

Fresh pasta in the fridge equals a week of indulgent carb loading equals food babies all round. This week I very happily cultivated a little pasta tum courtesy of the tagliatelle that I bought for comforting Monday evening bacon and blue cheese pasta. One of the many joys of pasta is that the options are limitless, though the other side of that is that I can become utterly overwhelmed when faced with a great deal of choice and very often just retreat from the wealth of options at hand and opt for a safe old reliable. To avoid this scenario, I decided to limit myself to flicking through Antonio Carluccio's Simple Cooking for a recipe, and soon found something that ticked the necessary boxes: speedy to make, no meat, fairly minimal ingredients. Mushroom noodles seemed just the thing to put a satisfied smile on my well-fed face without too much effort, after a long day that ended with a visit to the blood clinic to donate blood.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monday night squidge

Monday should be the day to redeem the indulgences of the weekend with some cleansing food, but, to be honest, when I gave time to the cravings of my tastebuds, some squidgy creamy pasta was where my instincts were leading me. And though I valiantly fought off all thoughts of bacon and blue cheese pasta, my end-of-Monday self was crying out for it, and so I dutifully trotted off to equip myself with the necessities. When I was giving some lovely salty bacon the chop, I also thought to use a mushroom that was languishing forlornly in the fridge: food waste is a pet hate of mine, possibly as a consequence of my "there-are-children-starving-in-Africa" 80s upbringing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Could The Tall Crazy Lady Please Step AWAY From The Magazines

Yes, yes I did. Because this year the theme for Christmas in my house is: EATING. And also because no-one does eating, magazines or holidays quite like the Yanks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another Old Reliable From The Book

After throwing such a very lovely party on Saturday night, The Hostess was feeling a little fragile. Since I had mitched cleaning up duties and then had the cheek to return the next day to hoover up some leftovers, I felt it was only fair that I cook her some Recovery Curry for dinner. Before she could interject with the whole 'but the X Factor final blah blah blah' thing, I, very selflessly I feel, said that I was happy to participate in the watching of X Factor (little did she realise that she would be watching to the sound of annoying questions and derogatory remarks). And so, for the menu - to The Book, where I dug out another old favourite, particularly in times of post-party recovery, Malaysian beef rendang, torn out of the pages of a magazine I would guess roughly three years ago, and much cooked since.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Food to Write Christmas Cards By

Tortilla, It Makes Me Happy

Another lovely neighbor of mine is Fi, who had a Christmas party on Saturday night that I was really looking forward to. Not least of all because she had decided that she was going to do a pot luck, and there was going to be a random assortment of foods that I could hover around a table and eat many portions of. Excellent. I had promised a lasagne as my contribution, but when I started to think about it I got a bit twitchy at the thoughts of doing something that, although delicious, seemed a little, well, staid. Never able to keep anything simple or leave anything alone, I went searching for a fitting alternative and hit the jackpot among the pages of, guess which book - yes, Nigella's Kitchen. The deliciously squidgy and spicy-looking Mexican Tortilla Lasagne jumped right out at me. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Little Bit Bananas

You know the way money burns a hole in some people's pockets - they can't rest until they have bought something and it's just not there anymore? I'm like that with food, both in terms of cooking it and eating it. Nothing edible is safe in my presence. So the bananas that were ripening up beautifully in the kitchen were lucky to even survive as long as they did. But now it's RIP bananas, thanks to the banana and chocolate muffins from Nigella's Kitchen. Having spent two hours in a queue to see Santy in Arnotts with my nephews (aged three and seven) on Saturday morning, as well traversing the usual negotiations in Smyths and then playing diplomat through the ensuing Hungry Hippos tournament, I returned home in need of peace, quiet and a little something to have with a big pot of coffee.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

An old favourite

Some of my favourite recipes are ones that I have pulled out of books and magazines, and scribbled down after eating something really delicious in a friend's house. I keep them all together in a notebook, which has now doubled in size and is jammed full of scraps of paper, all raggedy and covered in food stains. I think that, generally, these kind of recipes are the most time and wallet friendly, realistic recipes that don't take an age and have been finely honed by those who share them.

The very first recipe in The Book is Thai red salmon curry and it remains a firm favourite, a tasty reliable that takes about twenty minutes. It's from 2006, and it was actually in an issue of the Irish Times Saturday magazine, written by Hugo Arnold, but I forgot to tear it out and so had to write it down after a friend made it for me for dinner. It's written on the free stationery from a fab hotel in London called The Zetter where I stayed once, back in the good/crazy old days, when I was put up by a company who were doing a presentation on trends in interior design there.

Salad days

Unlike Florence Welch's Dog Days, the Salad Days are not over, not in my house anyhow. I treated myself to the Cornucopia cookbook in September, just in time for stew-and-casserole season. It's a pricey tome, weighing in at around €40, but it pays for itself in wallet-friendly recipes. For starters, it's a vegetarian cookbook, so cutting out the price of meat is an instant money saver. And then the wealth of recipes that use pulses is a boon for a food lover on a budget - making friends with beans and lentils is a must for anyone whose grocery bills keep them awake at night.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If amazing had a flavour it would be chocolate

I haven't actually tried that many recipes from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, which I think is down to the fact that I got very fond of two in particular and never quite managed to move on from there. The pages of the pain au chocolat pudding actually got stuck together because they were so food-spattered, and so I hastily placed a sheet of parchment between the pages of the chocolate brownie recipe lest it meet the same fate.

In search of something new to try, and in the interests of keeping our energy levels topped up in work, I turned the page of the chocolate brownie recipe to find an exciting new take on my old friend: chocolate brownies with cream cheese. Not so new as to be particularly challenging, new enough to make me feel unboring. Perfect. I have eaten chocolate and cream cheese muffins in the past and they were most, most pleasant, surprisingly so: the inimitable cold salty creaminess of the Philadelphia complements its more moist chocolatey surroundings delightfully. Look away now if you are one of those very disciplined creatures who cannot eat Lovely Things after seeing what goes into them.

Melty melty - but extreme vigilance at all times because the old butter/choccie combo is a pain for sticking and burning.

Pesto: all you can eat, and more

Pesto is in the same category as hummus for me: I can make it without having to use a cookbook, it is a million times more delicious when it's homemade than the shop-bought variety, and it's a versatile little beauty perfect for having on stand-by in the fridge to convert to tasty meals on-demand.

I must time myself making it some day, but I think I'd put it at roughly two minutes. Toasting the pine-nuts quickly on a non-stick pan:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beyond these four walls

I do get out on occasion, y'know. I venture beyond these four walls quite frequently, in fact. Not as much as I used to, admittedly, but I don't think I'm alone on that one. Going out for dinner is something that I do fairly rarely these days, though I had cut that out a long time ago. I just love cooking so much, I find that it's more enjoyable to make my own food at home (and know exactly what I'm eating) than go out and potentially eat lame (or even downright horrible) food and potentially sit in not-very-lovely surroundings and potentially have random strangers who are paid to provide service actually be very rude to me - and pay all-too handsomely for the pleasure. Because this has happened in the past, so I got into the habit of suggesting that I would cook any time I was making plans to meet up for dinner. Not always, mind, but as frequently as I could spare the time and the money.

Monday Morning Jiggery Poachery

I've never poached an egg before. There, I've said it. Maybe that's why it's my favourite way to have eggs; because I can't just have poachers on demand, and because there still exists an air of mystery around how the hell you crack an egg into a pot of boiling water and it re-emerges a silken blob of misshapen beauty.

Until yesterday morning, that was. I'm conscious that most people abhor Monday mornings. I, however, have the approach to it that I do the month of January - a brand new clean slate lying ahead, full of opportunity and better-ness. Just in case my optimism isn't enough to perk up the morning, I like to give it a lift with a slightly indulgent breakfast, one that would be considered worthy of a lazy Sunday. With some eggs in the fridge leftover from the baking efforts of last week, I thought I would give Sopie Dahl's poached eggs on mushrooms a go. Now, Sophie Dahl's TV show was utterly irritating, I found; all of that sighing and self-conscious stirring and gazing into the distance - very affected indeed, and not entirely convincing. The book, however, is a delight - Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights, in fact. Again, I find the title very affected, but there are some (very simple) gems of recipes in there. One of these is the poached eggs on portobello mushrooms with goat's cheese. Very straightforward and speedy, perfect for a Monday morning. I also, however, had to stretch my fuzzy little morning brain to the making of lunch, so there were a couple of operations on the go in the kitchen at the one time. Nothing too taxing, mind you, all very pleasant and undemanding.

While the kettle was boiling and the lovely roundy flat mushies were under the grill, I set about making some hummus for a sandwich. Hang on - did I use singular there? Yeah, sorry - sandwiches. Because I'm never quite full and happy with just the one. Anyhow, I haven't been able to get my hands on tahini of late, for some reason (answers on a postcard), so I thought that I'd attempt to make my own by whizzing up some sesame seeds, and then adding a little water. It didn't quite work to be honest; maybe there weren't enough seeds in the little plastic blender bowl thingy (I do like to dazzle with my terminology), and maybe I should have used olive oil, but I just didn't get that thick gunky oilyness that you expect from tahini.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

J'aime bien le bibliotheque

I have a weakness for books in general, but cookbooks are my kryptonite. I try, though admittedly not particularly hard, to restrain myself, but fail repeatedly. It's a very happy sort of failure, I must hasten to add, one that results in some very contented downtime with the guilty purchase, a cup of coffee and lots of tabs to mark the pages of recipes I plan to try out. The Redundancy, however, put paid to many of my spending habits, and this was one of them. Feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I sought refuge in my local library, which brought a very satisfying compromise; the wealth of cookbooks on offer there is an absolute joy, and I find, as with regular books, the fact that I can borrow anything at all at a cost of absolutely nothing means that I am more likely to experiment a little and go for things that I wouldn't choose if I were buying from a bookshop. I disappear into the central library in the Ilac, and even if I have only popped in to return some books, I find myself drawn in and re-emerge an hour later with a heavy bag full of books to indulge in, guilt-free, at home. It reminds me of my weekly visit to the local library in Longford when I was small. It was always on a Monday after school, and it was without doubt the highlight of my nerdy little week. I remember, in particular, when new books would come in and if you were the first person to borrow it you felt as though you were the first person in the world ever to read this book.

And so it was with the Dorling Kindersley book Curry that I first borrowed from the library a couple of months ago and have renewed repeatedly online since.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sugar Fixin'

They say you should listen to your body, so when my body demands a good dose of sugar far be it for me to ignore it. No, I'd never respond negatively to a request for something sweet and tasty, particularly if I have been for a good big long run. Though this was not the case today, today my cravings seemed to be leaning instinctively towards cultivating layers of fat to insulate against the cold. When I was trying to figure out how to feed my greed this afternoon, I was in the mood for something soft and springy with a lump of butter melting on it...kinda like banana bread, only more interesting. So I raided my bible du jour, Nigella's 'Kitchen', and decided to give the coconut and cherry banana bread a go.

The good old butter wrappers came into their own for this one; I love using butter wrappers to line a loaf tin, no cutting or greasing, you just pop them right in, and they make a lovely homemadey packagey thingy for it when it's done.

Love, thy name is leftovers

A good twenty minutes after eating a sambo made from Tuesday's meatloaf and I am still in a state of slightly dazed overjoyed-ness by how amazing it was. A huge chunk of, admittedly not-entirely-healthy, protein between two slices of toasted white batch bread slathered with a generous layer of dijon. I'd make the entire meatloaf again just for the sandwich.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cookie Monster

Given that I'm a pretty massive fan of biccies, it's funny that I've never really made them before. I've baked tons of cakes, but I've never given biscuits a go. Maybe it's my subconscious mind protecting my blood sugar levels from my insatiable greed.

Until a couple of days ago, that is, when I decided that we needed to try out the old oven in work, which has been lying dormant for a long time. We're breathing life back into an old community centre, so I figured that the smell and warmth of a batch of cookies baking in the oven would perk it up a little.

Snowy Soup

Let there be no doubt about it, this is serious soup weather. When I was daydreaming in work earlier about how to warm myself from within, I remembered that these beauties were patiently hanging out in the garden, keeping their elegant green necks held high in the snow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dinner with the Newlywed Neighbours

Being a wee culchie who doesn't drive, when I was buying my house I wanted to be around people I know and love, so I moved into a great neighbourhood right beside my big bro and two friends who had also bought houses in the area. One of these is the lovely Niamhy Mac, who just got married recently. I am a tad behind on my wedding pressies, but since they are my neighbours they got bumped up on the list, so I had them over for dins last night to give them their pres. Since I was working and going to physio that afternoon I wasn't going to be home too early, so I prepped on Monday night. I've been Nigella-ing it up a lot since I bought her new book, and this time I thought I'd try the meatloaf, with lemon polenta cake for dessert.