Monday, January 31, 2011

Fishy Friday

Like the vast majority of the rest of the country, I generally look forward to the weekend, and I get a little Friday feeling even if I have absolutely nothing interesting planned. This Friday, however, I somehow found myself in a horrendous big grouch. There was no taking me out of it. When I got home I stropped out on the sofa and felt sorry for myself - for no particular reason, it has to be said. I was so narky that (brace yourselves) I wasn't even particularly interested in what I was going to have for dinner. I know, crazy business. Since I was heading off on a cycle up to Howth summit early the next morning, a glass of wine was out of the question. Huffing and puffing away to myself, I hauled out the bright and cheerful Jamie Does book that my sister in law got me for my birthday; out of all the Jamie books, I think that this one conveys his personality the best. It's one big ray of sunshine, full of simple, inviting recipes from his travels. You know the ones - when he hops on his motorbike and leaves poor old Jools behind to mind their bajillion ludicrously-named children in drizzly old England. Anyhow, his chirpy jaunting makes for some excellent cookbooks, so I appreciate his wife's patience on that front. And his spicy Moroccan take on fish and chips cheered me up no end on a grumpy Friday evening.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

No Famine Here

A wise woman said to me recently that as along as you have a bag of spuds in the house you'll never go hungry. Oh, how I can identify with that statement; in the lean, mean month of January the big bag of taters in the kitchen has come to my very hungry rescue on more than one occasion. Baked potatoes made a fine meal alongside the chilli that I had stashed in the freezer; when I had thoughts of impending hunger I popped a baking tray of hastily-chopped chips in the oven to stave off that state of slightly manic stupidity in between meals; and spiced-up spuds proved a very worthy sidekick to chana masala. But how has it happened that I have trundled through the month chowing down on spuds left, right and centre and managed to neglect the miniature dumplings of potatoey brilliance that are gnocci? It's a mystery to me, but I rectified the situation last Thursday evening, spurred on by the fact that a 12.5 mile run that morning required some major re-fuelling throughout the day.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Loada Old Falafel

It has only just occurred to me, as I began to type this, that in fact this another manifestation of my chickpea obsession. Clearly I have a bit of a problem. Well, it'd be one of the healthier ones, so I won't fight it. On this occasion the pulse o awesome pops up in the form of falafel. I do love falafel, spicy little rounds of knobbly texture. Sometimes when I'm meeting a friend to see a movie in the IFI we grab dinner there beforehand, and I always go right for the falafel. They have a fresh and healthy bite to them, and somehow the fact that they are so full of flavour means that you feel extremely full after eating relatively lightly. In a wholemeal pitta, with crunchy lettuce and the cool ooze of tzatziki, this is a really refreshing meal that captures an abundance of tastiness in one petite package.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sweet Poh-tay-toe, Sweet Po-tah-toe

I do love a good lasagne, all those layers of yummy Italianness, hot tasty cheesy tomatoey...ok, stop me. I think I've made my position clear: I love it. I haven't cooked it very much of late though, which is curious as it is relatively inexpensive to make, it's freezer-friendly and it makes a thoroughly satisfying winter meal. Well, to be honest I find it a little high-maintenance. The sauce and the simmering and the can take a while. And then there's the not-entirely-healthy aspect - though, this is only half an excuse really, as you can clearly see from everything else I cook that the need for healthiness is conveniently overlooked whenever I feel like it. The jam-packed Donna Hay mag that I treated myself to recently has a great feature on baking food in paper, which keeps the steam in the package with the food and helps retain the full flavour of all those tasty ingredients. One of her lovely surprise oven-baked packages is a sweet potato and ricotta lasagne, which I felt was a less labour-intensive alternative to regular lasagne, and also possibly a slightly healthier option. See, there I go again with the convenient overlooking - just wait until you see the spare tyre-inducing, artery-busting amount of cheese in this wee beauty.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bulghur Lovin, Havin Me A Blast

There is a packet of bulgur wheat burning a metaphorical hole in my metaphorical pocket right now. There is also new cookbook on my shelf that needs to justify its existence. And so I spent some time leafing through it with  packet of sticky tabs on the sofa at the weekend looking for bits and bobs that would make for no-hassle midweek eating.  This has to include lunches, so I always have my eye out for handy healthy salads. Now I reeeeeeeeally shouldn't admit to having to use a recipe to make tabbouleh, but I always like to double check recipes even when they seem simple, just so I don't leave out a crucial ingredient. Plus I am not particularly amazing at remembering recipes. Anyhow, I haven't made tabbloueh in quite some time, and any time I have made it before I have used cous cous instead of bulghur, so I felt that I needed a little guidance.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Porridge Topping Du Semaine

I'm not really into effortful food, y'know, stuff that's a bit high maintenance. Like mangoes - they are pretty delicious, and apparently they're really good for your skin, but there's all of that peeling and then that big awkward stone thingy in the middle. It's not like an apple, you can't just crack it out when you have the munchies. You have to come prepared with many utensils to make it edible at all, and then the whole situation gets all sticky and messy. So clearly the best way to eat it is pre-chopped, on a chopping board, in your kitchen, surrounded by things to clear up the ensuing mess with. And what better fruit to chaperone porridge into my stomach of a cold winter morning? I'd love to say that it was innate culinary genius that made me come up with this, but actually I saw that mangoes were for sale at half price in Superquinn. But who really cares where the inspiration came from, this is a winning combo, and the contrast of the sweet, firm mango and the hot oaty porridge is both refreshing and hearty.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fire In Mah Belly

Ok, so I was an ickle wickle bit bold last night and had a teeny weeny bit too much vino. And then I went to see Black Swan this evening and it left me a tad traumatised. And then I came up with at least three other reasons why I deserved to order  take-away for dinner this evening. My absolute numero uno is Namaste in Smithfield, it is top notch, and it never takes them much more than half an hour to get here. There is even a rumour flying round that it's where the Indian Embassy get their takeout from. Either which way, every now and then I like to set myself on fire with a little chicken vindaloo and pilau rice. 

Buttered Up Omegas

Hello my munchie-loving beauties, I have been a very lazy little blogger this past week. I had two deadlines for Friday, so blogging was a luxury that I couldn't afford, I'm afraid. And even if I had been blogging it would have been thoroughly uninteresting, as my life was conducted mostly through the medium of beans on toast for the week, since I didn't have time to dedicate to even thinking about cooking nice things. BOO. Anyhow - deadlines have been met, breath has been drawn, and I'm very happy to be typing away as I tell you of my culinary comings and goings.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Half Woman, Half Chickpea

I have a slight over-reliance on chickpeas. In fact, I am something of a slave to the chickpea and I apportion them a rather sizeable shelf on my own little food pyramid. I am too lazy to do the whole soaking, boiling, yawn yawn yawn thing, so I use the tinned variety and putting out my recycling gets a bit embarrassing because of the sheer volume of chickpea tins. They are tasty and versatile and low fat and inexpensive - now, somebody tell me where's the flaw there, eh? As well as tucking into a big bowl of hummus at any opportunity that presents itself, I'm also fond of lashing them into a big salad. But I think that possibly my favourite way to eat chickpeas is in a chana masala. I found this recipe on the wonderful and lovely Smitten Kitchen last year and it gets a major amount of outings in my kitchen. As well as having lots of lovely chickpeas, it has tomatoes, it's vegetarian, it's madly spicy and it's inexpensive and speedy. PHEW. Oh and you can freeze it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beetroot Saved By A Fallen Fence

I was a diligent little gardener last year, but one of my crops lasted even longer than I had even expected, thanks to the shelter of a fallen fence. Before the first pre-Christmas snow, which feels like an eternity ago now, there were storms that came and repeatedly knocked down one of the fence panels in my back garden. Each time I went out to put it back up, and each time it was blown down again. The game of fence tag got a little tired after a while, and I conceded defeat to the elements until I got my gardening mojo back. One unexpected upside of my laziness, however, was that my late beetroot crop was kept safe from the freezing cold. It made a very tasty belated Christmas present from my rejuvinated little garden to me when January hit and I was looking for healthy eats for lunch.

Porridge Topping Du Semaine

While notching up the fruitiness on the porridge front tis week, I also decided to make it spicy. Apple and banana seem to be pretty popular toppings, but rather than leave them plain and simple, I decided to stew them together in some orange juice. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hot n Sour n AWESOME Soupiness

It seems like the entire country is in the grip of a never-ending cold right now. Sniffling and sneezing and snotting left, right and centre, there's no escaping it. So, when Nigella tweeted the other day that recipe of the day on her site was hot and sour soup, I was on to it before you could say "a box of Kleenex and a packet of Lemsip please mister pharmacist".

Porridge Topping O' Boldness

I was trying to get myself out the door to the swimming pool yesterday morning (I really am such a slowcoach when it comes to leaving the house) and I discovered that I had no fruit to put on my porridge. Quelle désastre! Always on the lookout for the opportunity to indulge myself, I remembered that I had the end of a packet of pecans in the cupboard and a big jar of maple syrup in the fridge. Now, I  wouldn't go for this high-calorie, teeth-rotting combo ordinarily, but it made a lovely Saturday morning treat. I toasted the nuts very quickly on a non-stick pan, and I was very liberal in my pouring of the syrup. Anyhow, surely pecans have all the virtuous oils that all the other nuts have? Or was it at the back of the queue when the nutritional qualities were being given out? Plus, I believe that there is actually a great deal of calcium in maple syrup. I did a monster swim in any case, so I definitely needed all of that energy. 

An Antidote To The Month Of The Hairshirt

This annual self-imposed penury holds no truck with me. Do we all not have enough to deal with as it is? Plus, it not being the most cheerful month for a variety of reasons, is January not the ideal month for being particularly nice to ourselves? I am always tempted by cookery magazines, but less so this month, since they all come in varying shades of bowel-shifting browns and greens, and I'm sure that all of those healthy eating recipes don't include hay as an ingredient, but somehow they just look as though they do. I have always been a huge fan of Donna Hay, and though her magazine is a ludicrous price (€7.35, GULP. I mean, the lovely Trish Deseine's Nobody Does It Better is currently on sale in Easons for €6.99) I couldn't resist this cheering yellow cover. And you wouldn't believe the wealth of simple, tasty recipes within - she does a lovely 'Three Ways' series with simple ideas for four ingredients, there are excellent speedy dinners, menu planners for special, casual, simple and fast dinners, a super piece on brioche, a piece on cooking things in baking paper...I could go on and on. And then there's the styling and photography, oh my. The Australians really do know how to make a beautiful magazine. If you have been particularly good this first couple of weeks of 2011, be nice to you and treat yourself to this beautiful and cheering, yet still very practical, magazine.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Late In The Door FEED ME NOW Food

Hunger doesn't suit me, at all at all. This means that not only do I tend to know what I'm eating and when I'm eating it, but very often the events of the day are planned around mealtimes, rather than it being the other way round, as is normal for most people. God help anyone who is anywhere near me when I'm hungry, either I get horribly cranky or I become completely catatonic and lose the ability to speak. At the moment I'm doing a part-time psychotherapy course, and part of this involves me getting home past my preferred dinner time one evening a week. I am VERY brave about it, if I do say so myself, but by the time I get through the front door I tend to be completely ravenous. I pass various places with dodgy quick-fix potential en route both there and home, such as Burger Kings and Centras, but hungry and all as I am I resist the temptation, though, lets face it, those options really aren't that tempting. So, that means that part of my obsessive need-to-know-what-I'm-eating–next-ness is devoted to figuring out how to feed myself back to a human state on that late evening home once a week. I found a satisfactory and speedy reward for myself this week, when I finally got around to giving the chicken teriyaki from Nigella's Kitchen a go. No, no, it's not particularly healthy. But sometimes I am just too hungry to give a fiddlers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Porridge Topping Du Semaine

I've decided that if myself and porridge are going to get on for any decent amount of time, it's going to have to keep me interested, shake it up a little every now and then, make a bit of an effort. So my action plan is to have a new porridge topping every week. Last week it was dried apricots and berries soaked in orange juice and then simmered in a pot with a cinnamon stick, this week it's simply some frozen blueberries, heated up in a saucepan on the hob while the porridge cooks Not rocket science by any means, but a cheap, speedy and inexpensive way to get the day going. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spicy Mexican Mess

My new years resolutions are many, and to that end I must adapt accordingly on the habits front. Weekends, in particular, need a behavioural overhaul. I was getting a bit bored of my slovenly ways of a Saturday and Sunday mornings anyhow. It went a little something like: get up 8 or 9ish, go to the shop for the paper and something thoroughly unhealthy, then return to bed with aforementioned purchases and a pot of coffee for about two hours while listening to Playback/G Lee/Miriam/Marion. I used to really enjoy the laziness and the catch-uppage on radio/newsiness/reading, but, as with so many of my little ways, the novelty has passed and I am ready to change. This year I plan on upping the ante on the triathlon and marathon front, so Saturday and Sunday mornings will now be the preserve of big long swims and runs. This weekend I managed to get out for a swim on both Saturday and Sunday morning, and I upped my distance from 80 lengths (2k) to 100 lengths (2.5k). Y'know what that means? Yup, you guessed it, joy of joys - MORE FOOD!!!! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Joys Of Unintentionally Planning Ahead

Way back a whole, oooooo, I'd say about a week and a half ago (doesn't it seem like an eternity ago, that whole Christmas holiday thing that happened for a fortnight and turned us into a load of face-stuffing, under-achieving vegetables?) I took it upon myself to help my brother make some food for my sister in law's surprise birthday party. With a gusto that surprised even myself, I cooked up quite a storm that included a maple pecan cake and potato salad with homemade mayo. I thought that sustenance should also be provided with some good hot, hearty, stomach-lining chilli. Nigella's latest alluring tome Kitchen has been one of my most-used cookbook purchases of late, and one of the speedy comforting recipes therein is a lovely meaty, tomatoey chilli that includes one of my favourite flavoursome meat products, chorizo. I suggested this as a pre-going out dinner to my friend Fiona once and she sniggered down the phone at the thoughts of the honk off the two of us going out after eating that, but on this occasion I overlooked the potential stinkiness of it in favour of the sustenance it would provide to partygoers. It turned out that nobody was as hungry as I had planned them to be, which was a bit of a winner of a situation for me, since I ended up with a load of it stashed in my freezer. And when I was trying to make sure that my return to work and normality in general last week didn't result in me resorting to anything objectionable or madly unhealthy on the food front, I was very happy to be able to grab this tasty lot from the freezer to smother a steaming baked potato straight from the oven in rich proteiny flavour.

My New Go-To Comfort Food

I launched into back-to-work-after-the-holidays mode last week with some certainties in mind. Firstly, there were many bad habits that would be difficult to unlearn after a fortnight of sloth, such as keeping ludicrous hours (waking up at 12 in the afternoon actually came as quite a shock to me on one particular afternoon) and eating meals that revolve solely around cheese. There was going to be great potential for Achievement-hindering actions, such as excuse-making and procrastination. Finances would have to be closely monitored, and it was likely that I would be too wrecked and lazy in the evenings to cook proper meals, not to mention plan what I was eating and then get up off my backside to go to the shop and buy the ingredients. I shopped bearing all of these things in mind at the start of the week, and I'm pleased to report that my planning ahead paid off; I neither went hungry nor had to resort to doing anything drastic or hideous such as buying a dodgy roll from a third rate deli counter for my lunch. Now, that is not to sound snobby, it's just that the nutritious potential of such items is highly dubious, and if I'm going to eat something unhealthy I'd rather have made it myself. As I made do with what I had bought, what was in my garden and what I had tucked away in the freezer, I came up with this little beauty, and it has very quickly become a comfort food that I crave when it's cold and dark and I'm pressed for time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Post-Running Sugar Buzz

I finally got my running mojo back yesterday, after numerous setbacks including a dodgy heel injury and inclement conditions. It was like being reunited with the best friend I've ever had, going on the hop to do lots of fun things together, thinking that maybe I had taken it for granted without even realising it, and loving it even more than ever. It was an absolute joy of a run, I almost felt like I was flying as I bounded through the Phoenix Park.

My New Favourite Fixx

I love to steal a little time to myself to sneak away to a coffee shop with a big fat book, curl up in a corner with coffee and a treat and while away a big chunk of time indulging myself with my caffeine, sugar fix and fiction. There's quite a dearth of places in Dublin where I really want to do that, though. Much as I try to hate Starbucks, they really offer all the necessities for this most innocent of illicit activities: comfy chairs, large mugs of coffee (albeit really lame coffee), no-one bothering you about the fact that you've been there for two hours hogging a huge chair despite not actually spending that much money there. Also, I have on occasion curled up on sofas in the Westin and the Westbury. But none of them have felt quite so right as my new favourite, Fixx on Dawson Street. It has everything: fab coffee (sorely lacking in the other three), delicious food, room and comfort to veg out with a book, lovely staff, and the unique buzz of an independent Irish business. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Season Of The Cranberry

It's the penultimate day of the season of the cranberry. It has been a delightfully long and languid holiday of face-stuffing and bonding with the sofa, but I reckon at this stage that everyone seems quite happy to draw a line under the holidays and return to normal life. Relief and all that it is to get off my backside and return to normal (healthy!) life, there are a few things that I'll miss about the past fortnight, and cranberries are one of them. It's a fruit that tends to be fairly hard to find the rest of the year, apart from in juice form, but once the supermarket shelves begin to load up with the necessary festive ingredients they pop out at you from all aisles. These wrinkly little rubies are a lovely chewy addition to all kinds of baked goods, and I used their extensive availability as an excuse to do up a batch of cranberry cookies and a batch of cranberry muffins.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shiny New 2011 Breakfast

An area of my eating where I can be very, very dull is breakfast. For monnnnnnths now I've been tucking into a reliable mix of fancy Superquinn muesli, blueberries and Glenisk natural yogurt. It's speedy and minimal on the washing up front, though the muesli and the berries are pricey enough. At the weekend I like to retreat to my bed with maybe a bagel or a croissant, along with a pot of coffee and the paper, of course. When I'm on holidays I capitalise on the leisure time available to cook myself something tasty, and sometimes I choose to linger at home in the morning just long enough to try out something a little new and special. But my on-the-go weekday morning staple needs a little shaking up, and, to that end, my new brekkie-du-jour is to be porridge. Not plain old porridge, of course; there are as many ways to jazz up your simple bowl of stirabout as there are with pasta. I get at least one of my five-a-day in at breakfast time, so, rather than being all trendy and experimental and chucking some veggies in there, I generally go with fruit. After flicking through some books and website for inspiration, I set to work with my own little concoction. Some dried apricots and a dried berry soaked in orange juice the night before; I know that the benefits of prunes are innumerable, but to be honest I couldn't quite face up to them - they just reek of over-zealous early morning nutrition action to me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

It Had To Be Scramblers

The last lazy, indulgent breakfast of  a lazy, indulgent Christmas holiday. But what to have? Such an important decision. It had to be comforting and satisfying and flavoursome; it could only be scramblers. Since I can never leave anything alone, I needed to add something vegetable-y and nutritional, and, unable to resist a little spice, I felt that the hour of day (a fittingly holidayishly late morning time that I can't divulge for reasons of pride and...oh alright, it was half twelve) justified some heat.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Things That I'll Never Buy In A Jar, Number A Million

As I write this I am picking away at a bowl of potato salad, leftovers from my sister-in-law's birthday party. My brother called over the day before the main event with a big pot of peeled spuds. "Will you do me a favour and boil them?" "Do you want me to make a potato salad with them?" "Yeah, brilliant!" and the eldest sibling scurried off to stress out about something else. It's kind of like the way he sometimes appears at my front door with my nephews. "Would you like me to babysit them?" "Yeah, brilliant!" The next day, in between making stews and cakes I caught sight of the saucepan of potatoes and remembered pretty much in the nick of time that I had a salad to make, but I hadn't factored it into my shopping that morning. Thankfully the necessary elements were to hand, including all I needed to make some mayo. Mayonnaise is up there with salsa, guacamole, hummus, salsa and pesto as a foodstuff that tastes indescribably better when homemade than when bought in the shop from a jar with a label that lists way too many ingredients, including some that look more like chemicals than food. There's some sort of mayo myth, kind of like the risotto myth, that it's really difficult to make and goes wrong very easily. Lies, lies I tells ya: it's easy peasy, and, as with risotto, is in fact rather soothing to make.