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Make cocktails while the sun shines…

I live on a small island in the middle of the North Atlantic. It’s a fairly temperate climate, (three cheers for the Gulf Stream!) but summers are…well…optional. There’s a lot of weather that looks like this:

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Yep. That’s about a centimetre of rain landing on my deck in about a 30 minute period.

BUT. Tucked in between the showers, the mist, and all of the clouds, there are little nuggets of glorious weather – days that makes you want to fling open all of your windows hang your sheets on the line, and live in the sun – which doesn’t set until nearly 10PM!

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Same garden, different weather, new motivation!

Because these days are so amazing, but also far and few between, I am always 100% ready to change course and take advantage of the good weather. Cancel those plans for paperwork & laundry. Take walks by the sea! Eat ice cream for dinner! Invite friends over for cocktails! And so…I live in hope, and always keep supplies for my favourite summer cocktail on hand because there ain’t no party like a Pimm’s party.

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If you have not yet been introduced to the wonders of Pimm’s do make this the summer that you discover this fabulous gin-based, herbalicious liqeuer. It’s not like anything else in the drinks world, and there are no substitutions. There are a few variations on the classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail, and a variety of ways to serve it, but what I like to do is make a big pitcher and allow people to serve themselves at a sort of Pimm’s buffet. I mix a 3:1 ratio to fizzy lemonade to Pimm’s (I like San Pellegrino Limonata, but even Sprite or 7Up will do) and toss in a bunch of sliced strawberries & cucumbers, wedges of citrus fruit and fresh mint. I leave out a tray of garnishes, fill some glasses with ice and BOOM. Instant party. If a bottles of Pimm’s seems like too large an investment, making a pitcher of tinto de verano will do!

If the shoe is on the other foot and I’m invited to someone else’s for a BBQ, I have a collection of salad recipes on standby. My current favourite is Watermelon, Feta, and Mint. I honestly can’t remember where I first read about this salad, but I’ve been making the following version of it for a few years, and I just love it.

Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad

1 small to medium watermelon

200g feta cheese

2 limes

1 bunch of fresh mint leaves (this is non-negotiable – dried mint just won’t work – don’t even try…)

Cut the rind off the watermelon and chop the flesh into 1 inch cubes. Cut (rather than crumble) the feta into smaller cubes. Roughly chop (or, if you’re feeling fancy, chiffonade) the mint. Gently toss these ingredients together before pouring over the juice from the two limes over everything and giving a final, gentle toss. (vigorous tossing will squish the watermelon and crumble the feta into too-small pieces, so beware!) This is best made & eaten on the same day, as it gets very soggy if refrigerated over night. You could probably chop the water melon a day in advance and combine the ingredients shortly before serving if you’re stuck for time.

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Sweet, juicy watermelon, salty cheese, and peppery mint – what’s not to love?

Other perennial favourite ‘bring along’ salads include The Barefoot Contessa’s Panzanella and Potato Salad. Ina boils and steams large potatoes, but I take a shortcut and buy the packets of baby potatoes that you can steam in the microwave, which somehow makes the whole process less daunting.

If your host requests a dessert, I have two showstoppers that are deceptively easy. The first is a really joyful recipe by Derry Clarke for Baked Blueberry Cheesecake. My husband sent it to me years ago in a hopeful e-mail, so I made it for Father’s Day that year and pretended that it had been a very complicated and fussy process in order to get maximum credit. (Shhhh…don’t tell him…) It is delicious, really simple, and very seasonal. My second go to summer dessert is Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie. Again, it is so easy that it’s almost funny, but packs a huge punch. It manages to be light and rich all at the same time, and the sweet/salty/tart combination knocks my socks off every time.

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Lush, lemony Atlantic Beach Pie

Keep these recipes in your back pocket for a day when the sun shines because you never know when it’ll pop out again!

In other foodie news…

  • I cooked along with Food 52’s Community Cookbook Club this week and made Ottolenghi’s Carmelised Onion Chicken with Cardamon Rice. It was a good recipe, but next time I’ll tweak the instructions to get crispier skin on the chicken. The rice was ACE though.IMG_1451.JPG
  • I am just loving Joy the Baker’s new cookbook Over Easy. I’m looking forward to trying a few more brunch recipes over the weekend.
  • I’m seriously considering trying a round of Whole30. Am I crazy? Have you tried it? Let me know…I know that it would be good for me, but the prospect of 30 days without gin scares me!!! And as much as I love meal planning, this feels like a whole new level – eep.

 

 

 

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ALL the Food

I’ve had a wonderfully indulgent few weeks full of celebrations, houseguests, and travel. As I settle back into routine and process it all, I’ve realised a few things…

1. Explore your local. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a brilliant neighbourhood in Dublin that has burst into life over the last few years. My sleepy suburban village has recently become a proper haven for foodies. Particular shoutouts are owed to Green Man WinesCraft Restaurant and Five Points who are all doing amazing neighbourhood dining. I mean, who doesn’t want to have smokey wild garlic rarebit topped with a poached egg and then paired with a perfectly pickled salad located almost on their doorstep? Not too far away is the equally fabulous Richmond, where I was recently blown away by the Tuesday Tasting Menu. 5 courses, €29.95, totally amazing.

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The aforementioned rarebit.

2. You SHOULD meet your heroes. Last week, I dined at the truly special Ottolenghi. I’ve been an enormous fan of his column and subsequent cookbooks for years, so was highly anticipating my trip to his Spidalfields restaurant. And to be honest…it managed to surpass my expectations! Every dish was complex and simple all at the same time, and the food was, to be honest, full of joy. Inspirational and aspirational cooking. I mean, look how happy it makes people!

IMG_1211.JPGYeah, we finished our desserts and then savaged all the remaining custard. It was the right thing to do. You would have done it too, so don’t judge.

3. Always check out the hole-in-the-wall with the long queue. On Sunday evening we stopped by Klaw to see if the rumours of authentic crab shack dining were true. They were. We ate the most beautiful salty-sweet oysters and washed them down with glasses of picpoul de pinet. Then there was a lobster roll that competed with my childhood memories of Maine summers. I snagged a bite of each of my companions’ Dublin Bay prawns (grilled with epic amounts and garlic butter), fish tacos (filets of John Dory with pineapple salsa, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla) and crab sandwich (a brioche roll stuffed with lightly dressed crab and salty bacon). There was even creamy, delicious mac & cheese to placate the threenager.

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I managed to catch Dan sucking back his first oyster, but there are no more photos of the food because really, it just demanded to be eaten.

So, there’s been some knock-my-socks-off eating that has fed my belly and my soul and is inspiring me to challenge myself in the kitchen. I’m going to push the boat out and make a commitment to try one new recipe each week this summer, when life moves a little more slowly and so much produce is at it’s peak. I’ve started this week, and you’ll be delighted to know that it’s a dessert, and a chocolate one at that. My inspiration came from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen (yes, again…I just can’t get enough of her) and the fact that Tuesday is dessert night at our house (a reward for surviving swimming lessons…) I made these gorgeous little Belgian Chocolate Cakelets and so should you. Six ingredients, which you probably have in your house right now, and no special equipment required, save a muffin tin. Go on…you know you want to…

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They are crispy on the top, gooey in the middle, just shy of tooth-achingly sweet, and absolutely fabulous. I followed the directions precisely, and they turned out perfectly the first time – a rare feat for me, as I’m not a natural baker.

Finally, in other food-related news…

  • I loved this article about chef Wylie Dufresne’s daily eating habits
  • I went day drinking at Teeling Whiskey Distillery with my husband & parents. I highly recommend it. Their Small Batch is phenomenal.
  • Are you listening to Spilled Milk? You should be!

 

 

 

 

 

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Staycation

So…I’ve been working on a post about quick and delicious pasta dinners that you can make when you need to fling something on the table quickly. Then I made a last minute decision to take a few days off work and relax with my family over Easter. As soon as I put my ‘Out of Office’ message on, I lost all interest in the whirlwind of weeknight dinners, so I’m going to write about some fun that I’ve been having in the kitchen lately – making my own soft pretzels.

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I’m not sure if it’s my German heritage, or my Philly roots, but I love soft pretzels, and so do my kids. What’s better than warm pretzels – crispy and salty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, dipped in a bit of honey mustard and served with a cold beer? NOTHING. And I’m on vacation, so warm pretzels and cold beer I will have. Especially because I had a small man requesting pretzels before I had opened both of my eyes this morning.

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I’ve been using this recipe from Real Simple Magazine, and it’s proven very successful. The instructions are really straightforward and there are lots of opportunities to involve young chefs, between rolling dough, sprinkling salt, and egg washing. I have not had the time or energy to seek out proper coarse salt, so I’ve just been using Maldon sea salt, and it does the trick. I’ve been fortunate to receive some very good feedback from local critics.

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It’s a time-consuming process, but it isn’t hard, and the end product is very tasty. I’ll be back to writing about pasta next week, but right now, I’m going to put my feet up finish the rest of this beer…

If you want to make a quick honey mustard dip, I like this combination:

1 T. coarse, whole-grain mustard

1 T. dijon mustard

2 T. runny honey

Whisk them altogether and dip away. If you have any leftover, a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive or rapeseed oil will turn it into a lovely salad dressing.

In other foodie news…

You’re all watching Masterchef UK, right? It’s rocking my world right now.

I’ve been spoiled rotten over the last couple of weeks with meals at Craft and Richmond, and some very fun cocktails and bar food at Camden Exchange. Loving the Dublin restaurant scene right now.

Spring is here and it’s iced coffee season!  Make a double batch of this now and thank me later. I like to add a dash of vanilla to the finished product. If you want it to last all morning, pop it into one of these with a generous handful of ice and a good glug of almond milk. Happy days.

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Slow Living

My love of slow cooking has been well documented on this site already, but it has become a necessity since I returned to work and renewed my commitment to family dinner. I use it at least once a week. Sometimes, I use it to make to make a batch of baked beans that I portion into freezer containers. Other days, I need help with Taco Tuesday, which follows swimming lessons – meaning I have 3.5 seconds to get dinner on the table after we walk in the front door. Often, I let a ham simmer away all Sunday afternoon with some oranges, cloves, and brown sugar. By the time it’s finished it falls apart into gorgeous strands of smoky deliciousness. (Although, if you are patient enough to let it cool, it slices beautifully) We nosh away on it all week in sandwiches, on top of pasta, or in salads.

This morning though, I peeked at my menu plan and realised that I had absolutely NO interested in making the pretzel crusted chicken that I had planned. Also, I had failed to actually buy pretzels. So I turned to my trusty slow cooker and threw together some absolutely delicious Sesame Honey Chicken, which I served with brown rice, cauliflower, and broccoli. It was a total hit! (OK, the threenager only ate the rice, but still…whole grains!) I’ve also made this recipe with a pork tenderloin instead of chicken and it is delicious. The shredded pork is incredibly tender and the leftovers make great pulled pork sandwiches.

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On the topic of leftovers…I used up tonight’s by making some chicken fried rice. I sautéed some onion & ginger in sesame oil and scrambled an egg. I folded them into the cold rice* & vegetables, threw in the leftover shredded chicken and topped it all off with some chopped peanuts and chives. (I am a firm believer that almost anything is better with chives!) I am looking forward to my latest not sad desk lunch.

*Aways make friend rice with cold rice, or things start to turn into a weird savoury rice pudding.

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Speaking of lunch, I’m excited to be heading here for a Mother’s Day treat with the men in my life. Other weekend plans include eating my weight in Macroom Buffalo Mozarella on pizza night, and making some chocolate truffles for Saturday night’s book club. It’s been a long week…we deserve it!

 

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What’s for Dinner?

So, I used to dread those words because I didn’t always have an answer…now that I have become an obsessive meal planner, I dread them for a totally different reason: I live with a threenager. Here he is:

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Super cute, right? And tonnes of fun, really. 90% of the time. Because the other 10% of the time he’s throwing a tantrum because he just asked, ‘What’s for dinner/lunch/breakfast?’ and you answered something that didn’t involve sausages, ketchup, or chocolate biscuits – his three main food groups. It’s driving me nuts. Maybe because my first born is a fantastic eater (the kind you can bring for midweek sashimi dates and who has been eating pulpo since he was three), I’ve been a bit spoilt. I’ve never really known what it’s like to live with a picky eater. I like to tell myself it’s a phase, but…it’s been happening since he started eating solids, so I think it’s time to stop fooling myself.

I was particularly tired and cranky last Taco Tuesday (yes, that is a weekly thing in our house – a key aspect of my  aforementioned obsessive meal planning…), so I did something I’m not particularly proud of. When Josh decided that he wasn’t going to eat my (very delicious) slow cooker chicken & black bean enchiladas, I cried. Yep. Had a proper tantrum at the dinner table, had to go on timeout in my room, and come downstairs and apologise to everyone. Super mature stuff.

Fortunately, my husband has a much more even temper than I do (excluding rugby-related issues), so he calmly handled dinner cleanup and, the next day, sent me this life-affirming article about family dinner strategy. I already engage in some of the articles suggestions in a casual way, but I was comforted by the idea that we can still have a family meal with reasonable standards and all be happy.

So I started the week with a renewed sense of purpose. Monday night’s dinner looked like this:

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I roasted a huge tray of veggies (whatever was in the fridge, really) and let people take whatever they wanted as a topping for some fresh tagliatelle. Josh opted for none, but did not have a tantrum, Dan choose broccoli & peppers, and Ben & I went for the whole kit’n’caboodle, with a dash of lemon zest and generous shaving of pecorino romano. Garlic bread was a universal hit, and NO ONE CRIED.

Maybe I’m just a bit slow, and I should have thought of this years ago, but thinking about dinner in this way has refocused my meal planning. For tonight’s Taco Tuesday, I made turkey chili, but instead of stressing about what Mr. Picky would eat, I planned a side of  quesadillas. Josh scarfed them up, and even dipped them into his otherwise untouched chili, but I looked at it as baby steps. (Also, Dan had two helpings of chili, which fed my ego enormously.) Next week, I think I’ll put a baked potato bar and a ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ buffet into the calendar. And, no matter what anyone does or doesn’t eat, I’ll remember not to cry.

Also, in my foodie world this week:

  • I’m excited about an upcoming dinner reservation here.
  • I’ll be baking this on Friday, for the day that’s in it.
  • I’m currently completely obsessed with Wall & Keogh loose leaf Irish Breakfast tea. It is the Best. Thing. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m ba-ack…

So I went out to dinner with some friends in London last week. OK – fine – we went for drinks, and then I insisted on dinner because this girl can’t really handle her pints any more. Thanks to some impeccable local knowledge of one pal, we ended up in the most gorgeous Italian restaurant in Shoreditch. While shoving forkfuls of tiny, light-as-air gnocchi and sticky, tender lamb ragu into my mouth, I learned that one of my dinner companions was a former food blogger. ‘NO WAY – I used to have a food blog!’ I exclaimed with my mouth full.

And then I was sad. I used to have one? Huh? I still have one! It’s just…been a while. Goodness knows that I haven’t stopped thinking about food, reading about food, or cooking food, so why haven’t I been writing about it? Frankly, to quote a non-foodie guru of mine, I haven’t been making it a priority. But I still have so much to say! I haven’t told you about my Cookbook Club, shared all of the things that Jenny Rosenstrach has taught us about family dinner, or loudly sung the praises of Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce. I have so many avocado toast photos to share!

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Seriously. So many avocado toast photos. Isn’t it just the best? Anyway…I guess this is me saying hey, hi there, and I’m going to try and do this more. Because I miss it. Here’s to all the crusty Italian bread & limoncello shots that reminded me of that!

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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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