Saturday, March 23, 2013

No Time for Old Men..

Life is funny.  Just sayin’.  No particular reason. Just where does it go?
I look back on the last few months and, despite the fact that I haven’t had a spare minute to myself, I feel that I haven’t done anything. The lists of jobs to be done aren’t any smaller and things like that bundle of papers in the corner are still sitting there to be sorted – I thought I did those weeks ago…? 
The older I get the faster time seems to hurtle past me. Is it just that the work / life balance is tipping over the work side more? Stuck in a routine? When did Alice grow up?  Secondary School this year – what? Seriously - did I blink?

One of the many things I have recently neglected is this blog.  Granted, it’s nothing special but it’s my inspiration to keep pushing my culinary boundaries and I should keep it going just for sanity’s sake.  In the meantime, if anyone has any ideas for work / life balances please…answers on a postcard!

So, in the theme of timelessness, my favourite fast ten minute meal....
Satay Prawns with noodles.
Serves 2

12 – 14 Frozen King Prawns (thawed)
Two Sheets of Instant Noodles
1 Shallot (or small onion)
1 tsp Chilli Powder (or Sambel Oleck)
½ Cup Peanut Butter
¼ Cup Chicken Stock
3 fl oz Coconut Milk
1 tbls Soy Sauce
2 tbls Honey.

Fry the shallot in a tablespoon of vegetable oil for a few 2 to 3 minutes. 
Meanwhile cover the noodles with boiling water and leave for 5 minutes (or according to their individual cooking instructions)
Add the prawns to the onions and cook through (about 2 to 3 minutes)
Take out the prawns and reserve.
To the pan add the chilli powder, chicken stock, peanut butter coconut milk, soy sauce and honey.
Stir together until combined over a medium heat.  Reduce for three or four minutes until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
Add the prawns back in to the sauce and stir to coat.
Strain the noodles.
Serve immediately.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Lurve log…..

Every now and then I get the urge to do something nice for the ladies in my life (no, don’t worry, I usually get over it quite quickly…) but this poses a problem. If I bring Sinéad chocolates she just isn’t a big chocolate fan and it can be a migraine trigger. If I bring her flowers she wonders why and what I’ve been up to….
So over the years I’ve found cake is a good all round winner for both Sinéad and Alice. And what is better than strawberries – the food of love?

For a fast, quick and incredibly effective cake I recommend the Lurve Log (patent pending..). As for the other ladies in my life, well, that’s another recipe…

3 Eggs
80g Caster Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
80g Plain Flour
1 Tbls Warm Water
250g Strawberries
2 Tbls Granulated Sugar
250ml Cream
1 Tbls Sugar (preferably Vanilla)

Heat the oven to 190oc
Line a swiss roll tin (lipped baking sheet) with greased parchment paper. Sprinkle the parchment liberally with caster sugar.

Whip the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract together for 5 minutes at high speed.
Slide the flour down the sides of the bowl and fold in, in three stages. During stage 3 add a tablespoon of warm water. Try to preserve as much of the air in the whipped mixture as possible.
Pour into the swiss roll tin and spread gently into all the corners.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until just golden.

Whilst the cake is in the oven reserve one third of the strawberries. From this third, select one or two large ones to cut slices straight down from top to bottom leaving 4 to 5 heart shape pieces for decoration.
Take any remaining pieces and the rest of the third and chop roughly. Set aside.
Place the two thirds of the strawberries into a blender along with the 2 tbls of granulated sugar and pulse until smooth. A tablespoon of sherry or marsala may be added if desired. Mix in the chopped strawberries.

Whip the cream with the tbls sugar until stiff peaks form.

Take the cake from the oven and turn out onto a new sheet of parchment which has been sprinkled with caster sugar. Let cool for ten minutes then gently remove the backing parchment.

Working quickly, spread the strawberry mixture evenly on the cake. Spread a layer of cream over the strawberries stopping about 2 inches from one side. Turn the parchment so the edge with no cream is furthest away from you. Start to roll the cake using the parchment to support the cake. Roll gently but not too loosely until you get to the end. The cream will have pushed out ahead of the roll hence the gap at the end edge.

Dust with caster sugar and decorate with strawberries. Slice up and feel the lurve….

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I started this blog post in end August– let’s pretend I posted it in September…

I haven’t done an Alton blog post for a while and this fact, combined with a week off and a MASSIVE desire to smoke my own food brings me to the Good Eats episode “Right on Q” – Alton’s foray into the, often confusing world of Barbeque science and recipes.  In this episode (check YouTube if you are not in the US), Alton demonstrates the best way to use a gas or charcoal grill as a smoker but best of all shows us how to build a proper smoke box using, in his case, a wood reinforced cardboard box, some oven racks and an electric hob.

Oft have I watched this episode with the imagined senses of authentic smoky ribs and infused turkey playfully dancing in my head – you seriously have no idea what goes on inside there….

This week saw Lidl selling a double electric hob for €30. I picked this up when I saw it and set about to getting the rest of the equipment together. The racks were “recycled” from an oven being dumped at our local recycling centre. A night in a bag with a bottle of oven cleaner and they were as good as new. A cast iron pan was called for to hold and burn the wood chips so I went to a local kitchen / restaurant supply shop. Cast iron pans, as it turns out are not cheap but lady luck smiles occasionally and I picked up a cast iron fajita dish which was (very) slightly damaged and without its base for €5. The wood cost €15 from the local builder’s merchant. Total cost under €60. So with drill in hand and a sparkle in the eye (should have worn goggles) I set about the fulfilment of a long held dream to make my own smoker…
Now there was no particular plan to this project – Carpentry is unfortunately not my forte so the mission was to make a box large enough to hold the electric hob and high enough to ensure the meat is not too close to the heaters to burn.
Once the box was completed I drilled a hole in the bottom of the front door and three holes in the top back. These can be blocked off with corks to increase or restrict airflow as required.
I installed a thermometer through the front door to monitor the air temperature (220of) and the meat can be monitored via a remote meat thermometer put through one of the holes in the top of the box. There is a small removable section at the rear of the box to allow access to the second hob control

Onwards then, stout yeoman, to the testing of the Pandora’s Box of smoking magic. First we need to soak about 3 cups of woodchips for at least an hour. Thankfully I had already thought of this and the pecan wood chips were already in the water. On to the meat – I didn’t have time to get ribs so a quick trip to our local butcher procured a quarter of a Turkey breast. No time for a brine, so a basic rub will do (see Dr. Pepper Pork Chops - I had some left over..). While the Turkey is sitting in the fridge, I cranked up the main burner to full and the secondary burner to the mid-point and set the cast iron dish on the main burner. After five minutes or so, I added the woodchips to the pan and placed the turkey on the rack with the meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. The woodchips need to be changed about once an hour.
I closed the door and 5 minutes later there was smoke – proper smoke – like on the telly…
In goes the turkey for three hours. Ok, so here’s the deal. I realise that most people don’t get excited about barbeque and smokers like I do but this was the longest three hours I can remember. When the thermometers binged we opened the door to exactly what we wanted to see – a perfectly smoked tender and juicy piece of turkey perfection. A 15 minute rest and some homemade bread (bottle of Crabbies optional). The crackle of the crusty bread, the juice of the turkey, the tear in my eye… excuse me, I might need just a moment..*sniff*

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dr Q, I presume…..?

NOOOoooooooo...I dropped a stitch

Once a year there comes a time that strikes fear into the hearts of those of us who are married or partnered to knitting people. People who knit we can deal with, but people who treat knitting as a 35 year old single man living with his parents treats Star Trek are truly terrifying. And spinners. Don’t forget the spinners…..and crocheters (if that’s a word). Once a year, these people amass in the fair County Cork to touch, fondle and otherwise molest innocent wools and yarns in the name of FIBRE FEIS, the annual gathering of the immortal fibre enthusiasts who fight to the death until the last one stands - THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE………..Well, OK that’s Highlander the movie but c’mon, wouldn’t that be great??

So Fibre Feis is an annual gathering of friends and family who get together once a year to meet up, camp over and discuss all things…well… fibrous. No, not the dietary kind – that’s a way different party. Long story short, Fibre Feis is a great bit of fun and food (and not an inconsiderable amount of drink) and this year was no exception. It is a BYO affair with contributors bringing everything from tomato and mozzarella salads to couscous, brownies to artisan chocolate cake and homemade beers (thanks Phil).

This year I decided to bring Dr. Pepper Pork Chops and Sinéad made two fabulous Madeira cakes (from a closely guarded secret family recipe). Thankfully, people were polite and said they enjoyed them although this did appear evident by the fact the first plate of finished chops were gone in seconds…..

To Sue and Phil and to all those who organised, contributed and turned up – many thanks for a great day and we’ll see you again next year. For those who asked, here’s the recipe – I used this volume for 12 chops.

The Brine
¾ of a 500 ml bottle of Dr. Pepper Soda (full fat, not diet)
2 Tbls Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbls Apple Cider Vinegar
4 Tsp Dijon Mustard
4 Tsp Coarse Salt
2 Tsp Black Peppercorns
2 Tsp Dried Sage
2 Tsp Dried Marjoram
Mix all the ingredients together into a zip top plastic bag and place in a container. Place the pork chops into the bag and squeeze as much air out as possible before sealing the bag. Place the container in the fridge for 4 but not longer than 8 hours.
Take the pork chops out of the brine and pat dry with kitchen paper towels ahead of applying the rub.

The Rub
1 Tsp of your favourite chilli powder
1 Tsp garlic granules
1 Tsp coarse salt
1 Tsp smoked paprika (or normal paprika)
½ Tsp ground coriander
½ Tsp ground cumin
Few grinds of black pepper
Mix together well and apply liberally to both sides of the chops (I use a small flour shaker).

To Cook
Fry, grill or BBQ as you would for a normal chop - 7 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chop and method of cooking, turning once half way through.

Only picture I could get of the finished produce (sorry)

To Serve
Hang a sign advising “the Doctor is in”, prescribe one pork chop in a crispy buttered baguette and see them again next Tuesday if it doesn’t cure all that ails them. Charging €60 is entirely optional……

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the Thai’s

Dr. Who is the guy… suave, sophisticated and always right and why not? He is, after all a Time Lord who, when things go wrong and the girl dies, can go back in time sort it out save the girl and appear a hero to all us mortals who didn’t cop that this was his fifth time trying….. For the rest of us time is a horrible linear thing that keeps going in one direction far too fast. Which, incidentally, is my way of saying "Sorry, I’ve been too busy to devote any time to blogging and I owe you a few recipes"

So here goes…

A couple of weeks ago, Sinead and Alice brought her parents away for a few days to the south of Ireland (Dungarvan in Co. Waterford – fantastic part of Ireland for any of our readers abroad). I was going to Donegal (far north of Ireland) for a few days on business so I couldn’t go. This did give me two days to myself (hurrah). Long story short, we both had a miserable time as the weather was rotten and my wife had to cut the week short due to a serious family illness. But on the two days to myself, I got to have buckets of prawns (‘cos Sinéad doesn’t like them). And the best way to enjoy them? Thai Red Curry, of course.

This recipe has taken a lot of trial and error to get right but (imho) if followed correctly it will give top restaurant quality results.

To make the Red Curry Paste: (This makes enough for two portions about 4 good tbsp– I freeze the second portion for later)

Red Curry Paste
8 long red dried chillies, deseeded and chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
½ tsp. ground cumin seed
1 tsp. ground white pepper
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped
Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
1 tsp. finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
3 cm. fresh galangal or ginger, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. shrimp paste (see note 2)
1 tsp. salt
using a mortar and pestle, grind all the ingredients into a thick paste (OK – I use a small blender…)
(Note 1 – on the day I made this I had no fresh ginger or coriander so I used fresh Basil and 1 tsp ginger powder)
(Note 2 - Just a warning if you have never used it - Shrimp paste has a very "pungent" aroma - please bear with it - there is no smell in the final dish - trust me, it will cook away.....)
(Note 3 - Yes I know what it looks like - get past it  and you will be rewarded....)

Thai Red Curry
2 tbsp. peanut or sunflower oil
2 tbsp. red curry paste
400 ml. coconut milk
200 ml. vegetable stock
4 small carrots sliced (parboil for 6/7 minutes to soften first)
2 red or green chilies coarsely sliced
3 tbsp. light soy sauce
2 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
fresh basil leaves
Add any veg you want or use prawns / chicken / beef / pork
If using chicken/beef/pork, sauté in a little hot oil for a few minutes then reserve.

Heat the oil in a medium hot pan, then quickly stir in the curry paste
Add the coconut milk, and stir to combine then add the vegetable stock, stir briefly
Add the prawns/meat/veg, carrots, chillies, soy sauce, sugar and salt.
Bring to a rolling simmer and cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, until the sauce reduces (it should be able to coat the back of a spoon)
Add the basil leaves, stir and serve with rice or noodles

Serve with Old Jamaican Ginger Beer as it picks up on the spices and ginger in the dish and not the ( Crabbies delicious alcoholic ginger beer ‘cos I wouldn’t be having fun on my own, oh no, I would be missing my wife…. Not drinking crabbies no, not me, missing my wife not Crabbies ‘hic’

Monday, June 25, 2012

I am the eggman, they are the eggmen. (coo coo g'coo)

Nothing like cooking to bring a family together. Either you love it and it is your “go to” place for relaxation, inspiration or just good old enjoyment or you love your other half’s “go to” place for relaxation, inspiration or just good old enjoyment and you can lick the spoon and eat the results…..
But, for me, I will admit getting Alice involved in the process gives the most rewards. Like all 11 year olds she is not the most responsive at the idea of peeling pots of potatoes or washing the dishes afterwards but put a bowl of mince, herbs and egg in front of her and it’s all hands in until burger / meatloaf / whatever is thoroughly squished, squelched and mashed into submission. Who needs a mixer?

This weekend we were making ravioli from scratch (post to follow) and I was showing Alice how to beat an egg with a fork and I remembered that Sinéad and Alice made little eggmen last Easter to decorate the table.

And so, for no other reason than a bit of my own nostalgia, may I present to you “The Eggmen” by Alice….

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Only here for the Krack(en)

Some things just have to be done. Don’t think, don’t plan, just do. Your first kiss, your first parachute jump, the first time you dissect a squid….. If you spend time discussing, analysing and justifying some things, you will never do them. I discovered Calamari in Italy in 1992. In fairness, looking back they weren’t the best examples of calamari – they were on the rubbery side and were quite oily. (I also didn’t know they were squid at the time or I probably wouldn’t have eaten them – I thought they were some kind of Italian onion rings…oh the innocence..). But I did eat them and have eaten them ever since. But as for cooking these strange and somewhat frightening cephalopods, where do you start?
So when we saw the Good Eats “Squid Pro Quo” episode, Alice (in a mixture of awe and horror - as only an 11 year old can simultaneously display) decided that this was something that had to be done. Off to the fishmongers did we trot and returned did we with a creature of sac and tentacles and eyeballs and – well, you get the picture. Seriously though, I ask you, who first looked at these and thought “mmm, those look yummy”?... I mean look at them….
For the sake of those who may be squeamish, I will refer you to “Squid Pro Quo” for full instructions on how to slice and dice but suffice to say, after a few minutes, a full set of usable parts lay before us (and it wasn’t that hard either).
Some more slicing to create the rings and separate the tentacles and a quick dip in the batter and we are ready to fry.
We decided, as the oil was on anyway, to serve them with some chips (fries for our U.S. friends) and a few minutes later a platter of deliciousness was placed on the dining table. A quick sprinkling of salt and some sweet Thai chilli dipping sauce and dinner is served. The best part was watching Alice making a point of eating the tentacles first, to show “that she could”…
I would fully recommend that you give it a go, particularly if you cook with your kids, but would also say that you can buy packets of frozen mantles (the body of the squid from which you cut the rings) if you would prefer not to go through the hassle of dismembering a fresh one. These will do the same job. Don’t think, don’t plan, just do….