Thursday, 31 May 2012

Day 21

Well, when I set myself this challenge, I really do set myself a challenge. Nothing by halves. I must have thought that I would suddenly develop telepathic powers as I took my cookbook to work to show it to one of the girls at lunch time who is making dinner for her friends this weekend and needed some recommendations. It is now a regular occurrence every day at break-time that I have to give the girls a full run-down of the previous evening’s endeavours with complete analysis of the scoring system.  And, sure, what did I do?! I only left it sitting in my office and didn’t realise until, of course, I went to make tonight’s dinner. I had intended to make another pasta dish but, instead, I had to rummage through the Internet to find a recipe from the book and, thank God for the RTE website, as they have a special site for Rachel’s Easy Meals programme! If you Google it, you’ll find it. Now, not all the recipes are on the site but thankfully I found one in which I had all the ingredients for which was the Very fast red prawn curry with basmati rice.

First of all, I had to put 4 teaspoons of Thai red curry paste in the saucepan for 10 seconds. Now, how glad was I that I read the recipe again before making it as I skimmed reading it the first time and thought it was 10 MINUTES that I had to cook the paste for. That would’ve been some disaster with a burnt saucepan! Next I had to add a can of coconut milk and, once it came up to the boil, I added the prawns and simmered them. I then added some nam pla which is fish sauce. That was a task trying to find that stuff in the supermarket. I don’t know how many times I was up and down this aisle and that aisle looking for it! Finally, the dish was garnished with freshly chopped basil and accompanied by basmati rice.

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave it 6 out of 10 marks. He said that it was nice but the sauce part could probably have done with being a little thicker. Right enough, it was quite watery and not what one would expect for a curry sauce. It was a complete no-no from Dear Son. He said… and I quote…“ick!!!” I don’t blame him to be honest after having a whiff of the nam pla.

However, in conclusion, I couldn’t believe how quickly the recipe was to make. I would recommend this if you have to whip up something quickly using ingredients that you have in the house already and that’s an achievement for a dish that still managed to get 6 marks out of 10. Making this dish would actually be quicker too than ordering a takeaway so  there’s food for thought for you for tomorrow night…

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Day 20

It’s hard to believe that almost 3 weeks completed of the Challenge and tonight was the first time I made a pasta dish considering that pasta has become a store cupboard staple in almost every Irish home. So, tonight, I made Tinned-tomato pasta which is by far one of the easiest pasta recipes I’ve ever made.
First of all, I put on the pasta to cook which I won’t waste time explaining because everyone knows how to do pasta! Secondly, I put on some minced beef to cook in a frying pan as I made two versions of this dish – one with meat and one without. I then sautéed two finely chopped onions and four cloves of garlic in oil for 8 minutes. I am gradually weaning myself off using my garlic press. Instead, I’m chopping the garlic up myself as it takes too long to do them using the press. Also, it’s one less utensil to clean and, believe me, if you could see the state of my kitchen while I have a work-in-progress whereby every square inch of worktop is in use, any way in which reduces the mess is a plus!

Once the onion and garlic were soft and lightly coloured, I added in the capers for 1 minute before adding two tins of chopped tomatoes. So tell me I’m not the only person in the world who doesn’t like eating the core of the tomato?!!! So what I do is pour a tin of the tomatoes onto a plate and then pick all the cores out. I know. A bit crazy. Anyway, I then added some caster sugar to the sauce. I left out the olives again as we don’t like them and, within 12 minutes, all was ready to eat. I split the sauce and added the cooked mince into the saucepan for the boys. Finally, I garnished the dish with grated parmesan cheese and freshly chopped parsley. I absolutely love parsley and it’s something which my father has been growing in the garden for years. Whilst chopping the parsley, it reminded me of a pregnancy craving I had when I was expecting Baby Daughter last year. I remember going to the hairdressers one Saturday to get my hair done when I was about 7 months pregnant with a bag of parsley in hand. I got the weirdest looks from this woman but sure there are worse things one could eat when pregnant than parsley! It’s a wonder I can still eat it after having ate so much over those months!

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the meal 7 out of 10 which isn’t bad for a pasta dish the night after the ‘magical 10 meal’. Dear Son ate ALL of his and I mean ALL. That was so great to see him eating away even if he was completely covered from head to toe in sauce!!! For that reason alone, I am giving it 9 out of 10 on his behalf. Dear Sister No.1 happened to call in as I was serving up and she gave it 10 out of 10. Then, Dear Sister No.3 arrived as we were eating and she had a plateful worth 7 marks out of 10.

I really liked this recipe as everything was in the absolute right quantities. I have made my own variations of this over the years but very often the tomatoes wouldn’t be sweet enough and then I probably didn’t add enough sugar or there would be something else missing that I could never quite put my finger on. Also, Dear Sister No.1 loves chillies and said that this would be the perfect recipe to add some freshly chopped chilli so that’s what I’ll do next time. The only thing is, I’ll make sure I add the chillies and not Dear Sister. Otherwise, I’ll have to have a full carton of Donegal Creameries milk to hand. That girl really does like her chillies….

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Day 19

I absolutely couldn’t wait to write today’s post as I had super-exciting news as…wait for it…the lady herself i.e. Rachel Allen contacted me yesterday to say that she thought it was great what I was doing with the blog and that if I had any questions, to contact her! Woo-hoo! As it turns out, some of you readers were in contact with her to tell her about it (yes, you know who you are!) so thank you very much for your thoughtfulness – it absolutely made my day yesterday (and today!) and super-exciting things like that don’t normally happen me. Can’t believe it! Being as excited as I was, I tried to excel myself this evening making a last-minute dash to the supermarket en route from work.

So, tonight, I made no less than THREE recipes from the cookbook. Well, after two days of mediocre results on Saturday and Sunday, I needed to make up for it. Plus, with the heat again today (not complaining really!), I wanted to make something that wouldn’t require too much cooking and some salad-type dish with a twist. Therefore, tonight’s menu consisted for the following – Spicy prawns with feta and watermelon actually that was spicy prawns with cheddar and watermelon, Spanish mussels and Oranges with honey, pistachios and mint.

For the Spicy prawns and feta with watermelon, I replaced the feta with mild cheddar as I’d prefer it to feta. I tried to get fresh tiger prawns today but no luck so I used frozen jumbo prawns from M&S as I always have a stock of them in the freezer. The prawns had to marinate in a mixture of garlic, chopped ginger, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground fennel, sesame oil, Tabasco sauce and soft light brown sugar for 15 minutes. I couldn’t get ground fennel in the supermarket (if there is such a thing!) so I ground up fennel seeds using my pestle and mortar.

Meanwhile, I made the salad part which consisted of watermelon, lime, chopped basil, mint and, as I said, I replaced the feta with mild cheddar. Also, I didn’t include the olives as neither me nor Dear Husband like them and I don’t like to be wasteful so there was no point in including them. All the ingredients were mixed together and then I set the dish in the fridge while I prepared the next dish which was…
Oranges with pistachios and mint which were super-easy to prepare. Freshly sliced oranges dressed with honey, fresh mint, a pinch of cinnamon and chopped pistachios. Then, it was onto the Spanish mussels. I must add that it was at this point that Dear Husband’s friend (same one from last night) phoned and enquired as to what was on the menu and when Dear Husband told him that it was mussels et al., he said mussels were his favourite food and was going to call by on his way home from work which was great because there was no way Dear Husband would be able to eat a full kilo of mussels!

It took quite a bit of time to clean, scrub and ‘de-beard’ the mussels but the ones I had were smaller than the ones in the picture of the cookbook. There I was out with the latex gloves (again!) as this would not be my favourite thing to do! Once I got that part over me, the rest of the recipe was plain sailing. I sliced a chorizo sausage and then fried it in rapeseed oil for about 4 minutes. I then added 120ml of wine – yes, I actually went out and bought a bottle of red and white for my recipes. I flung in the mussels, covered them with a lid and let them steam for about 5 minutes. Once done, I tossed them into a large bowl and garnished them with fresh parsley.

I threaded 4 prawns onto a skewer stick and ended up with around 10 skewers but Dear Husband kept coming into the kitchen and lifting them while I was finishing the second batch on the griddle pan. Well, after all that, this is what the grand finale looked like…

The verdict…

It is with great pleasure that I announce that I have finally reached the holy grail of this challenge thus far by achieving a perfect 10 out 10 for at least one dish! First of all from Dear Husband’s friend for the mussels as he said they were the nicest mussels he’d ever had. Dear Husband gave them 9 out of 10 but then revised (upon reflection) and gave them 10 marks too! Yay!!! Overall, Dear Husband said the whole meal was 9 out of 10. Individual scores were: mussels (10 out of 10); prawns (8 out of 10); salad (8 out of 10); and oranges (7 out of 10). Thank God for that. I am still obsessing about the meringues to the point that today I went out and bought one of those wee individual oven thermometers as I am now convinced that there is a disparity between the oven dial and what the actual temperature is in the oven and that was the reason for the disaster meringues.

Getting back to tonight’s dishes, I really, really liked the salad part which was the perfect anecdote to this fine summery weather we’re having. The oranges were divine for something that was so simple to make.

So, will I make these dishes again? Definitely!!! I was so surprised at how well everything turned out and I am glad that I had an independent taster tonight to verify the magical 10! All in all, the past two days have more than made up for my weekend performances and, I think that the following quote by Mark Twain is befitting of my achievements tonight which says “When one has tasted it he knows what the angels eat”. I’d like to think I cooked a wee bit of Heaven tonight…

Monday, 28 May 2012

Day 18

I think it was about 26°C when I started to make the dinner this evening so instead of making roasted potatoes with the Rack of lamb, I made it with Couscous. Two very easy recipes which was great considering how warm the kitchen was even before I switched on the oven.

For the rack of lamb, I had to mix olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper with freshly chopped rosemary before smearing it over the rack of lamb so there I was out with the latex gloves again. They took 25 minutes to cook and 10 minutes to rest which I have learned makes the juices go back into the meat. Meanwhile, I made the couscous which simply involved mixing the couscous with vegetable stock, olive oil, salt and pepper. I also made the gravy even though I made couscous which didn’t make sense and sure Dear Husband didn’t even see it sitting in the separate dish so he didn’t eat it.  My photography skills don’t do the dish justice (it was the light I tell you and, no, the photo isn't upside down!) but this is what I ended up with…

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the lamb 8 out of 10 and the couscous 4 out of 10. He missed his potatoes. I’m sure he’ll ‘remember’ to eat the gravy with the potatoes the next time I make it! Dear Husband’s friend also happened to call by as I was dishing out the dinner and I have a rule that no matter who comes into my house, I have to feed them, so he was happy to give an alternative perspective on the dinner and he gave it 9 out of 10 – yay! I ate the couscous with freshly chopped mint and tomato as this is how I usually eat couscous and it was lovely – probably 6 out of 10 but I had to have something else as the couscous alone wouldn’t be substantial enough as a meal.

To conclude, Dear Husband said that he’d love to have the lamb ‘every day’ but I think next time, it would have to be accompanied by potatoes. You see, there we go again, back to the beloved potato. We really are two peas in a pod…

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 17

17 days into the Challenge, 28 recipes so far and, last night, the blog reached an important milestone as it recorded over 1,000 hits since it began so a big THANK YOU to all of you for reading. Without you, this blog wouldn’t be as much fun! Sometimes, I feel like no one is reading this blog at all and my successes and disasters are simply going into the modern-day abyss that is the Internet but thanks to my page statistics, apparently there are many of you reading so, again, thank you!!!

Sunday morning again and a cooked breakfast again which, very often, involves eggs. This time it was the turn of the Spiced baked eggs. These were super simple to prepare. One egg in each ramekin followed by a sprinkling of mixed spices (ground cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper) followed with salt, pepper and cream. Into the oven for what should have been 8-12 minutes but I actually left them in longer (probably 15 minutes) as the egg whites hadn’t fully set after 12 minutes. Once done, they were accompanied by tea and toast.

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave them 5 out of 10 which I wasn’t surprised about as I knew these wouldn’t surpass the infamous Baked eggs with chorizo, cream and cheese which I make so often. I must ask Dear Husband what marks out of 10 the usual baked eggs get! I’d guess that they are at least a 9 if not full marks. Anyway, back to today’s eggs and he said they were nice but he wasn’t fussed on eating the second one so I suspect that they were probably less than a 5. However, after yesterday’s disaster, he was probably trying to spare my feelings or half-worried that he won't get to be the guinea pig any more (lol!) although I always tell him that he must be brutally honest no matter how bad a recipe is. As for Dear Son, I don’t think he even looked twice at them. He didn’t eat one bite although he would normally eat the other eggs.

So, once again, this is a recipe that won’t make a regular appearance in my kitchen. Simple recipe, fast but not a lot to write about. The good news is that tomorrow I know I am onto a winner so stay tuned… J

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Day 16

Ok, I’m going to cut to the chase, one word that would describe my latest endeavours – Disaster – and that’s with a capital ‘D’. Day 16 and I made Chicken skewers with carrot and apple salad and then, for dessert, Rhubarb and ginger meringues.

I made the marinade for the chicken skewers first which was simple – juice of two limes, ground cumin, ground coriander, garlic, grated ginger, natural yoghurt, salt and pepper. The diced chicken marinated in this for 10 minutes while I made the carrot and apple salad which consisted of grated carrot, grated apple, runny honey, lemon juice and chopped mint. After the 10 minutes, I put the diced chicken on wooden skewers and cooked them on a frying pan. Once done, I set them on top of the salad.

Saturday night and I always make dessert but I’m not even sure if I should tell you about the recipe for the meringues considering how they turned out but I might as well…

I didn’t really intend to make the rhubarb and ginger meringues tonight but the rhubarb in M&S was reduced from £3.99 to £1.49 and I’m a sucker for a bargain so, to make the meringues, I needed two egg whites whisked with caster sugar until the mixture formed stiff glossy peaks. I then divided the mixture in four on a baking tray which was lined with parchment paper. The recipe said to cook them for 10-15 minutes and I’d know they were done when one would come away cleanly from the paper and have a crisp shell so into the oven they went.

Meanwhile, I made the rhubarb and ginger puree by adding sugar and water and that literally took 10 minutes to do. Then, it was back to the meringues…

At 10 minutes, I had a peak in at them and couldn’t believe the size of them compared to how small they started off but they were nowhere near done. At 15 minutes, I had another peak and a poke but the ‘shell’ still felt like marshmallow so I thought I’d give them another 5 minutes. Five minutes later and another poke. Nope. Still not crisp. “Hmmm, what will I do?” I thought.  Ah sure, I’ll whack the oven up another bit and hopefully that will harden them up!”. Ten minutes later (which was a total of 30 minutes’ cooking time) and I gave up. Instead of the meringues looking like meringues, they reminded me of a white and beige polka dot dress that my baby daughter has. In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s the proof…

I saved the above picture file on my computer as 'disaster meringues'. Meanwhile, here were the M&S meringues which is what they were supposed to look like even if I did mix in the cream with the rhubarb and ginger when it was still too warm...

The verdict…

Dear Husband said that the carrot and apple salad tasted like…wait for it…toothpaste! He gave it -15 out of 10 and, just in case, you missed that, that was MINUS 15! I said he couldn’t be serious but then he revised his score and gave it 1 out of 10 – purely for the effort I’d made. I ate the salad too and it was awful. It was the sweetest thing I have eaten in a long, long time and that is saying something. I think I’d give the salad 1 out of 10 too. No, wait. I'm giving it  minus 1 out of 10 because I spent time on something which I'll never get back. As for the chicken skewers, Dear Husband gave them 7 out of 10. 

As for the meringues, what can I say?! Hmmm, I know. As long as there are ready-made meringues that I can buy, I will never, and I mean never, attempt to make meringues again. Seriously. What a total disaster! When I was doing the food shopping today, I bought a packet of the ready-made ones in M&S (mostly because Dear Son grabbed them) but I thought I could taste-test mine against the ready-made ones. How thankful was I that I did buy them?! My meringues were that bad that I didn’t even serve them. Out to the dogs they went. The dogs are now probably lying in a sugar-induced coma as we speak. I ended up serving my rhubarb and ginger with whipped cream on the M&S meringues and they were beautiful but there is no point in giving them a score. I must say though, the rhubarb and ginger puree was really lovely. Dear Husband scored the rhubarb part with 9 marks out of 10. He said that part of the dessert reminded him of the way his great-aunt used to make them.

To conclude, I know where I went wrong with the salad. It was simply far too sweet with all the apple and honey. The meringues - I still don’t know where I went wrong. There was a reason why I hadn’t made meringues in years and, tonight, I remembered why. I honestly can’t make them. I followed the recipe to the letter and I still messed them up. So, I just have to put tonight down as a loss. As Michael Jordan once said..."always turn a negative into a positive" and, on that note, I will spare my dear family from carrot and apple salad and my dodgy meringues in the future. Onwards and upwards for tomorrow…

Friday, 25 May 2012

Day 15

How glad was I that I made these recipes this evening?! Soooo glad...on a number of levels! Day 15 and, in keeping with the Friday tradition, it was a fish dish whereby I made Salmon and mascarpone and peas with Paprika potato wedges.

I had forgotten how easy yet tasty it is to make potato wedges. I simply washed and rubbed dry the potatoes with a tea cloth and cut each one in 6 wedges. In a large bowl, I mixed rapeseed oil, salt, pepper with paprika. The recipe said to use smoked paprika but I didn’t have that so I used ordinary paprika. Once the liquid part of the recipe was swirled up, I tumbled the wedges in and mixed them up in the dressing using two large spoons ensuring that every part of every wedge was coated. I then put them on a baking tray and poured over the rest of the oil. Into the oven they went and cooked for 25 minutes.

Then it was onto the salmon dish which was made using the en papillote method which I did before for the salmon with tomato and basil recipe. However, this time, I mixed mascarpone, cream, frozen peas, lemon juice with salt and pepper and laid it out on the parchment paper before placing the salmon fillet on top. I then wrapped it up in the paper. They took 14 minutes in the oven. Simple.

The verdict…

Well, I only had the wedges but as soon as one hit my taste buds, I knew I’d picked the right recipe for a Friday evening. I gave the wedges 8 out of 10 for how tasty they were and how simple they were to make. Dear Husband and Dear Son had both recipes. Dear Husband gave the meal an average score of 8 out of 10 – 7 marks for the salmon and 9 marks for the wedges.  Dear Son ate all his wedges and small bit of the salmon so the wedges were a big hit with him.

So, to conclude, from the feedback I’m getting about the blog so far, I know that a number of you are trying the odd recipe here and there so what I would say is that you should all make these two recipes next Friday night. Super simple, super healthy and a super-fast version of a takeaway yet made in the comfort of your own home without all the usual added sugar, salt and MSG you’d get in those long, silver trays that make you wish you hadn’t bothered. Cook your own takeaway, you won’t regret it and let me know how you get on!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Day 14

Something somewhere along the line went wrong on Day 14 when I made Red lentil soup but more about that shortly. First of all, let’s get down to the recipe…

I fried chopped onion and garlic in rapeseed oil and then stirred in a chopped tomato, chilli and ginger before adding red lentils and vegetable stock. Once it came up to the boil, I simmered it for about 20 minutes, added chopped parsley and then whizzed it with a hand blender. Lastly, I finished it off with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice and that was the recipe.

I looked forward to making this recipe as it was vegetarian and had red lentils in it which are an excellent source of protein and that’s a plus for me. The meal really was easy to make so what went wrong….?

Maybe I didn’t put enough chilli in it?! Maybe I didn’t put enough parsley in it as I love parsley?! Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t use homemade vegetable stock and bought the ready-made pouches in M&S?! Or maybe it was because I had it at 4 o’clock in the day after having already had a substantial lunch?! I really just don’t know. What I do know though is that I won’t be making this one in a hurry again. It was filling but bland. I really do think I should’ve put an extra half a chilli in it and more parsley and, sure, another lock of salt and everything tastes well. I could only imagine the poor score I’d have gotten had Dear Husband eaten this recipe. I’m sure I’d now be into minus numbers out of 10! Thankfully, Dear Husband had left-overs from my previous endeavours this week so that was him taken care of. Oh but his face would have been a picture! Lol! Speaking of pictures, just take a look at it again. I won't say what I think it looks like but no amount of fancy photography was going to help this one look appetising!

It pains me to say this but I would give myself 2 out of 10 with this soup. One of the most disappointing recipes I have ever made. Ever. But on the plus side, at least I didn’t make a lot of it to batch freeze or I would surely be in the process of feeding it to the composter. I’m sure the soup will be right at home there...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Day 13

Day 13 and back to the good old reliable potato as this evening’s dinner was Fried potatoes with chorizo and cabbage. I suppose this is a modern twist on the traditional Irish dinner with the inclusion of chorizo sausage and chorizo sausage is something I always keep the fridge well stocked up on as I cook with it 1-2 times per week making the baked eggs which I mentioned before.

You know the great thing about watching cookery programmes is? Well, when the chef is cooking the recipe, isn’t it great how all the ingredients are chopped up, nicely prepared in their wee bowls and plates and all the chef has to do is throw them together. Well, unfortunately, I don’t have an assistant to prep the ingredients for me but I always say to myself that when I win the Lotto (!), I will employ someone full-time who will do exactly that so when I come home from work (because I would still work if I won the Lotto), all I will have to do is fling the ingredients together and making dinner will be so much easier. Ok, to be honest, this recipe didn’t require a whole lot of chopping but chopping onions, peeling and crushing garlic and then peeling and slicing a chorizo sausage takes a bit of time. Again, further evidence of my lack of patience.

On the subject of the chorizo sausage, about 7 years ago, I made a meal for a friend of mine which included chorizo. She had been a chef in a previous life and enjoyed the recipe but hastened to add that I should have peeled the skin off the chorizo which I am eternally grateful for as I’ve never since read or heard anyone say that the chorizo should be peeled but I am sure that it’s better without the skin.

Getting back to the recipe and I fried the sliced chorizo for a few minutes on each side and then lifted them out onto a plate before frying sliced onion and garlic in the pan for just over 15 minutes. Once the onions were golden and the potatoes cooked, I splashed in 50ml of water and tossed in the shredded cabbage (which I bought shredded!) and added the cooked chorizo. It only took another 3 minutes of cooking to finish and this is what it looked like…

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the meal 7 out of 10. Sure how could I go wrong making my Irish husband a dinner that included potatoes, sausage, cabbage and onions?! He said it was really tasty and would definitely eat it again. Dear Son nibbled at it eating the potato and sausage but avoided the cabbage.

In conclusion, this recipe has to be a staple in any Irish household. With all the ingredients being really easy to get, you won’t be stuck for a dinner that would be considered, I suppose, comfort food on a cold winter’s night and sure, as luck would have it, I decided to make this recipe on the one day in the last year that it was 22°C and the sun was splitting the sky! Murphy’s law…

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Day 12

Day 12 and it was the turn of Tomato and rosemary risotto with meatballs and I looked forward to making this one simply because I’d never made risotto before. I had seen Jamie Oliver on the TV one night making risotto as he ladled chicken stock into the risotto and then he let it evaporate, then another ladle until it evaporated and so on and so on. Thankfully, Rachel’s recipe was not as labour intensive as that.

I made the meatballs first as per the recipe on page 40 which involved minced beef, garlic, salt, pepper, a beaten egg and freshly chopped thyme. Then I rolled them into tiny bite-sized balls. All very simple but a bit tedious which isn’t good for someone with little patience. Being vegetarian and one who doesn’t actually like handling meat too much, I had the disposable Latex gloves out. Something you wouldn’t exactly see on Masterchef but that’s the way I operate!

I then made the risotto which involved sautéing an onion with salt, pepper and garlic before adding the risotto rice, two tins of chopped tomatoes, more salt and pepper, some caster sugar and then vegetable stock and half of the freshly chopped rosemary. The weird thing was that the recipe didn’t say what to do with the other half of the rosemary so I guessed that it had to be thrown in once it finished cooking and some used for decoration. I actually had to transfer the ingredients into a bigger oven-proof dish once it came to the boil on the cooker as I underestimated the total volume of the recipe. Oh, and I didn’t use the 150ml of white wine which was in the recipe because you’d be hard pushed to find alcohol in our house as neither me or Dear Husband drink and I’ve always been a health freak so I wouldn’t even dream of putting it in my cooking even though all you food purists will tell me the alcohol burns off anyway but still, as my Donegal Mammy would say about me at times “You might as well talk to the wall if she gets a notion in her head!”. Ah sure, there’s a bit of oddness in all of us!  

The last part of the recipe required the risotto to be baked in the oven for 10-12 minutes which gave me the exact amount of time to fry the meatballs. After that, I simply had to stir in butter and the grated parmesan cheese (yum!) into the risotto and hey presto…or should that be 'hey pesto'?!

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the meal 7.5 out of 10 and was really pleasantly surprised with it. It was his first time having risotto and, of course, the meatballs really helped. Dear Son ate it too even though he thought he didn’t like it at first. I had the risotto on its own and thought it was really nice. However, as you will see from the photo above, it was a bit on the watery side so I probably should’ve cooked it a wee bit longer. However, I had plenty left over and had a peek at it in the fridge a while ago and the liquid is now well absorbed into the rice so thankfully that’s a nice lunch to take with me to work tomorrow in my food flask. I got a Thermos food flask a few months ago in Argos and it was such a good buy as it’s designed for soups and curries etc. with a wide neck and built in spoon so it’s way better than an ordinary flask. It keeps the food hot-hot too which is the main thing.

In conclusion, Dear Husband really liked it but would prefer it as a lunch (!). Dear Son just liked it. End of. I thought it was really yum and I am looking forward to having it for lunch tomorrow! However, it’s a recipe that I could improve upon the next time I make it though…

Monday, 21 May 2012

Day 11

Not exactly a Monday evening dinner and more of a Sunday lunch, I made Lamb chops with parsley and mint sauce with Roasted sweet potatoes and Sticky roast carrots in maple syrup. I really should have made this yesterday. Really.

The roasted sweet potatoes (page 312) took about 10 minutes to peel, chop and mix with honey, lemon juice and salt and pepper. The sticky roast carrots (page 329) took roughly the same length of time except they were mixed with olive oil and maple syrup. Both vegetables simply required tipping onto baking trays and then 30-40 minutes to roast in the oven.

The lamb chops with parsley and mint sauce (page 122) were really easy to prepare. I laid them out on a glass chopping plate, covered them in a sprinkling of olive oil and then seasoning. Then, I did the sauce which didn’t even require cooking which was made of fresh mint leaves, fresh parsley, capers, anchovies, olive oil and lemon juice. Everything was flung into my mini-chopper which is an extremely handy gadget to have in the kitchen and whizzed until a smooth consistency. The lamb chops took just over 5 minutes to cook and this is what the end-product looked like…

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the meal 8 out of 10 and said the carrots were the nicest carrots he’d ever tasted. Dear Son ate away at the carrots and sweet potatoes with the lamb chopped up but I didn’t give him too much of the mint and parsley sauce in case he didn’t like the look of it! As long as we didn’t acknowledge Dear Son, he was happy to munch away on his food whilst Dear Husband and I were looking at each other squealing on the inside that he was eating good, nutritious food even if all it took was some maple syrup and honey to get him to eat it. He is such a fussy eater but will eat broccoli no problem!

In conclusion, lamb for a Sunday lunch is another must in any home. The recipe was super easy too and as long as Dear Son doesn’t make the connection between lamb on his dinner plate and lambs that he sees in fields, I think we’re onto a winner! J  

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Day 10

Ok, so I think Day 10 counts as four recipes as I made Zac’s omelette wraps with three different fillings – Avocado salsa, Cheese and ham and Smoked salmon and crème fraiche. In keeping with our traditional Sunday breakfast, this was a cooked dish that was supplemented with many, and I mean many fillings.   

I made the fillings first as I knew these would take the longest part to do so there was diced avocado, diced tomato, chopped scallions (raided my father’s garden for them!), chopped fresh coriander, limes (cut in eighths), chopped ham, fresh basil leaves, crème fraiche, smoked salmon, grated Gruyere cheese, capers, chopped chives and lemons (again cut in eighths). I arranged them all into dishes on the table and then started on the hot part of the recipe.

The omelette part of the recipe was so simple – two fresh eggs (thanks again Dad for them!), milk, butter and a pinch of salt and pepper. They took 2 minutes to cook on each side so I was there as usual with my stopwatch which has a permanent fixture to one of the cupboard door handles.

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the whole breakfast an average score of 6 out of 10. The reason being was that he thought it would be more of a brunch or lunch meal rather than a breakfast. He scored the fillings separately as follows: Avocado salsa – 7 out of 10; Cheese and ham – 5 out of 10; and Smoked salmon and crème fraiche – 4 out of 10. Dear Son ate away at his and he picked the combinations himself which meant he was more likely to eat them which consisted of crème fraiche, ham and cheese.

In conclusion, I will definitely make these again but as a lunch. The cookbook is called “Easy Meals”, not “Quick Meals” and anyone can chop but don’t be in a hurry to get this one out on the table if you’re short on time. Alternatively, you could just make the omelettes with one type of filling. I still think that this is a great breakfast as it’s a good way of getting your 5-a-day in the fruit & veg department. Now, who couldn’t give that a high score?!

Saturday, 19 May 2012


Day 9 and I made four of Rachel’s recipes – well, it is Saturday night! So, I made Maple black pepper pork chops, Perfect mashed potatoes, Green beans with anchovies and toasted almonds (again!) and Oreo chocolate fudge sundae.

I started the dinner tonight again with preparing the potatoes as they would take the longest to make and they were pretty much the same recipe I used before except I stuck to Rachel’s modest quantities of milk, cream and butter and not my usual overloading of same – see page 324. I then started on the pork chops (page 130) and, I must admit, this was the first time that I make pork chops. These were pretty easy to do except it probably took me a wee bit longer to cook them to brown them properly. I could have done with having the pan hotter.  

The pork chops were browned on each side and then I put them on a hot plate in the oven on a very low heat while I made the sauce. The sauce consisted of red onion, maple syrup and thyme. Maple syrup is always a staple in our house. There was a Canadian girl I used to play basketball with at Queen’s who got me started on the maple syrup for my porridge and ever since, that’s what I have with it every morning. I finished off the chops with green beans using the same recipe from last night. So here’s the dinner…

Then, it was onto dessert. As I said – no Saturday night would be complete without one. Dear Husband actually picked the recipe out of the cookbook himself (page 57). It wouldn’t have been my first choice as I’m not big into chocolate ice cream but, anyway, the Oreo chocolate fudge sundae had…wait for it…Oreo biscuits, chocolate ice-cream and fudge sauce. Oreos – shop bought. Check. Chocolate ice-cream – shop bought. Check. Fudge sauce – well, I had to make this one and for something that sounds simple, it took quite a few ingredients – caster sugar, soft light brown sugar, cocoa powder, plain flour, salt, tin of evaporated milk, butter and vanilla extract. The plus side that it took 5 minutes to cook once I brought it up to the boil but the downside was that I had to stir continuously for the 5 minutes which can be a task when Dear Son wants me to lift him up to see the “special chocolate sauce”. The recipe makes a litre so there was plenty left over which I put in a jug in the fridge. Somehow, I don’t think it will last too long.

The verdict…

Dear Husband gave the meal 9 out of 10. I strongly suspect that the inclusion of a dessert upped my marks by that crucial extra 0.5. However, in fairness, he did say that the pork chop dinner was one of the nicest dinners he’d ever had. I’m now that little bit closer to the 10! Dear Son gave the potatoes 9 out of 10 – probably only because he heard his father saying it but only ate a small bit of the pork. All in all, tonight’s dinner was a success story and, thank God, because I’m wrecked. Good night.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Day 8
You know what it’s like when you have a great idea and then a while into the idea you think “Why did I start this?!!” You know what I’m talking about…deciding to clean out all your kitchen cupboards, de-clutter your wardrobe, sort out your children’s clothes which are too small for them to give away?! Well, after yet another very busy week at work, I was my usual tired Friday-self getting home this evening so I could almost have done with making a handy pasta dish instead but no. I have a saying that is on a continuous loop in my brain which is “Suck it up and get on with it!”. No way was I giving in that easy. So on Day 8, I decided to make two recipes – Salmon en papillote with tomato and basil and Green beans with anchovies and toasted almonds. I also make no apologies for accompanying these dishes with heavenly creamed-potatoes. If I didn’t mess much last night with the Fish Chowder, I certainly made up for it tonight. I probably set a new record for the highest number of dishes, cutlery and pans one can mess whilst making just the one dinner.

Firstly, I decided to put the potatoes on for the creamed potatoes and instead of doing my usual of peeling the potatoes and then boiling them, instead I scrubbed them and boiled them with their jackets on – just like the way I did when I was making the Salmon Fishcakes on page 28 of the cookbook. I’ve discovered that this stops the potatoes filling up with water and makes lighter potatoes when they are mashed. So, the potatoes took 10 minutes to boil, then 20-30 minutes to steam in a small amount of water and then they were mashed with butter and cream. If the Irish Dairy Board was privately owned, I would seriously have a share in the company from the amount of butter I eat and only real butter will do. I don’t believe in all that low-fat, vegetable spread nonsense. I think I have inherited that trait from my father – he eats butter like slices of cheese! And not to do things by halves, it had to be double cream I used for the potatoes too.

The salmon was wrapped up in parchment paper along with sliced tomato, cucumber, fresh basil with a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. That’s another thing about me – I love salt. Maldon sea salt to be exact. Gorgeous. The Barefoot Contessa aka Ina Garten (who is my second favourite chef) always says that salt brings out the flavour in food and I am with her 100% on that one! It was all fairly neat once it was wrapped up in the parchment paper as a parcel and it took 12-14 minutes in the oven.

The Green Beans literally took 3 minutes to cook and then were mixed with anchovies, toasted flaked almonds and olive oil. I made a vegetarian version of these for myself without the anchovies.

The verdict…

Dear Husband loved this one. He said, and I quote verbatim,it was like something you’d get in a 5-star hotel” yet he gave the whole meal 8.5 out of 10! What is going on with that??!!! Of course, I am mildly obsessing as to how I can get those other 1.5 marks in future recipes (!). Dear Son loved the creamed potatoes but wouldn’t venture near the salmon part. Children really are fickle. He ate salmon in the chowder last night but wouldn’t go near it tonight! I had the creamed potato and beans – heaven! The almonds in the beans were absolutely beautiful. This dish is a keeper so make this on a Saturday night if you decide to sit-in.

To conclude, salmon or no salmon, I really do love potatoes and although pasta is apparently now more popular on Irish dinner tables, all I can say is “Long live the Irish potato….

…and the Kerrygold butter too, of course!”

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Day 7 and it was the turn of Fish Chowder and it only required one dish to cook the recipe so already I was off to a good start with this one.

The recipe started off with diced bacon fried with onion and the remaining ingredients consisted of diced potato, fresh salmon, cod and smoked salmon along with chicken stock, milk and a hint of cayenne pepper. The finishing touches were freshly chopped chives and parsley. From start to finish, it took about half an hour to make. After taking 1.5 hours to make potato gratin the other night, any recipe that only takes half an hour now seems quick! Apologies for the quality of the photo but here it is…

Apparently, Irish people don’t eat fish as often as they should and I must hold up my hand and admit to only cooking it on Fridays which is something I often remember about being in my Granny’s house on a Friday. To this day, my mother still cooks fish on a Friday in keeping with tradition but I can’t help but think that this wouldn’t be a bad way for fish to be promoted – just like the “good old days”. Health promoters – take note!

The verdict…

With the dish being made of fresh fish and especially oily fish such as salmon, I was very keen to get this into my darling Dear Son’s little tummy with salmon being an excellent source of omega-3 oils i.e. brain food! And with that in mind, I started the coaxing that this “magic food” would help him do his numbers and letters but, to be honest, it didn’t take much for him to start into it – apparently it “looked nice” so that was good enough for him. Dear Husband described it as a “hearty bowl of soup” and gave it a very respectable 8 out of 10! Yay!

In conclusion, I think this recipe must be a staple in anyone’s recipe box and I know that this will keep well in the fridge for Dear Husband’s lunch tomorrow so that’s an added bonus! Now, where’s that Thermos…..?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Day 6
Okay, so on Day 6 with the Chickpea and Aubergine Salad you could be forgiven for thinking “Chickpeas. Bland” but you’d be wrong. This was absolutely delicious…

The ingredients were roasted red onion and aubergine mixed with chickpeas topped off with rocket salad and a gorgeous dip of Greek style natural yoghurt with mint and a hint of paprika. Thankfully, I got to use fresh mint from my father’s garden. When it comes to herbs, only fresh will do. The dried ones don’t have a look-in when compared to the fresh versions. The whole dish only took about 35 minutes to make but I did mess quite a few dishes.

The verdict..

As I said, absolutely delicious. A real surprise. It reminded me of something you’d get in a posh restaurant as a starter even if it was made partly of chickpeas! The good thing about the recipe is that it can be served warm – just like I ate it this evening or cold – I’m going to have it for lunch tomorrow too! When I gave it to Dear Son, it came out of his mouth as quickly as it went in so it was a complete no-no for him. He has now learned the phrase “Mum, I think it’s out of date” if he doesn’t like something (!). Dear Husband wasn’t too impressed either which is no surprise seeing as the dish was vegetarian and he would be a complete carnivore if he got away with it! Therefore, his score was 2 out of 10! Booooo!

In conclusion, I gave the dish 8 out of 10 and I think it’s still worth making even if you’re not vegetarian – it is a great alternative to sandwiches for lunch!

If you’re having vegetarians around for dinner some night, serve them this but as a starter as I don't think it would be substantial enough as a dinner. They will be so surprised at how simple yet delicious this is.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Day 5 and it was the turn of the Lamb pitta pockets. These were simple enough to make. The ingredients were onions, garlic, minced lamb, diced potato, garden peas and a mixture of spices such as ground cumin, coriander and turmeric. The recipe was quick to make and total cooking time was about 20 minutes which is good if you’re in a hurry to get food on the table which most people are in the evening!

Once the lamb mixture was ready, I served it with warm pitta pockets and Greek style natural yoghurt.

The verdict…

I knew before serving this that tonight’s recipe was going to pale into significance compared with last night’s so I wasn’t surprised when Dear Husband gave it 6.5 out of 10. This meal is probably best served as a lunch rather than an evening meal. However, best of all, was Dear Son wolfing down his like there was no tomorrow – for that reason alone, I’d give the recipe 10 out of 10! It’s definitely made my list!

P.S. Dear Son decided to give the onions a rest tonight but is now demanding a set of golf clubs and for me to 'make a hole in the ground' to put the ball into!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Day 4 was always going to be interesting as this was going to be the first day of my challenge when I was going to be under the usual weekday pressure of rushing home from work to make a dinner and, in the meantime, put the baby to bed who is teething and who now also doesn't want to go to bed on her own seeing as staying up is so much better fun. Also, as with a lot of mothers in the same position, doing this while trying to entertain baby's older sibling. Fortunately, Dear Son decided to use onions again for entertainment but, this time, whack them about the kitchen with his hurl-og. Anyway, back to the cooking and it was the turn of two recipes this evening - Salmon with Capers and Dill and Potato and Bacon Gratin.

The gratin was simple to make but took 1.5 hours so don't be in a hurry for this one. I think I slightly over cooked the topping though but it’s almost difficult not to when cheese is added. I always like potato dishes that are made in an oven as there's no worry of boiling them dry and potatoes, for the staple food they are in the Irish diet, are still relatively easy to get totally wrong. Also, I always think it's a measure of a good restaurant as to how well they do their potatoes. If they can't get the basics right, then that's a no-no in my book. I must say that Harry's in Bridgend, Quay West, Fitzroys & The Exchange in Derry always have the perfect potatoes.

So, the salmon had butter, capers and freshly chopped dill and this dish was very easy to make – it literally took 10 minutes. I had to use those weird wee things again – capers. They are strange and it was only my second time cooking with them. I still can’t make my mind up about them. 

The verdict...

Dear Husband loved the dinner! Also, I made a separate vegetarian version of the potato gratin with veg on the side for me and I must say – I love these potatoes! But, then again, I knew that anyway. Add in cream and cheese and it’s the ultimate comfort food after a busy day at work.

To conclude, Dear Husband gave the dinner 8.5 out of ten and Dear Son ate most of his which is a serious accomplishment. I think I’ll give my potatoes 9 out of 10. I could seriously eat these every evening if they didn’t take so long to make!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Day 3
Breakfast in our house every Sunday is always a cooked breakfast and today, on Day 3, I deviated from the usual Chorizo Baked Eggs to make Heuvos rancheros which is pronouced WEH-vohs-ran-"CHAIR"-ohs and the only reason I know that is because having learned French at school rather than Spanish, I Googled it. If you look at the picture on page 27 of the cookbook, it reminded me of something I'd seen eaten for breakfast in an old cowboy film.

The three main ingredients were onions, tomatoes and eggs. Unfortunately, my 3-year-old decided to use the only two red onions I had as footballs around the kitchen floor so I used white onions instead and every time I cut an onion chef-style, it reminds me of my cousin Tina as she is one of the few people I have ever seen cut onions chef-style. Indeed, it's something that I have only started to master myself within the last year. The red pepper had to be cut into 1cm dice which is the size of the wee 1cm wooden blocks we used to have in primary school and definitely the simplest way to cut a pepper is to cut the four walls straight down. I also had the pleasure of using eggs from my Dad's chickens:) A plus of the recipe is that it is from the Store Cupboard section of the cookbook so most of the ingredients you would already have in the house anyway.

The end result was this...

The verdict...

Dear Husband gave them 7 out of 10. I gave them 5 out of 10 but I'm not an egg lover anyway. It was a no-go for the 3-year-old other than two mouthfuls of the egg bit.

On another note, if there is only one recipe of Rachel Allen's that you learn in your life, it has to be the Chorizo Baked Eggs from her cookbook Rachel's Food for Living (page 104). As I said before, I don't consider myself a good cook - just good at following recipes - and friends and family come to my house especially if they know I'm cooking Chorizo Baked Eggs for breakfast!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Day 2
Onto to Day 2 and it was the turn of the Smoked Salmon and Chive Fish Cakes. I must say that eventhough they take about an hour to prepare, the recipe is relatively easy (page 28). I suppose the most complicated part was boiling the potatoes but as long as you follow the recipe instructions exactly, you can't go wrong. Once the potatoes were boiled and mashed, it was a simple task of mixing them with all the other ingredients which ended up looking like this...

Then, it was onto making them into 8cm patties which I figured is just slightly narrower than the width of my hand. Plus, I used an ice-cream scoop to make them all the same quantity. The good thing about these fishcakes is that they can be prepared in advance and put in the fridge and then fried in a little oil later. If I fry, I always use rapeseed oil as it's the healthiest but I stuck to the Extra Virgin Olive Oil as per the recipe. Once cooked, they looked like this...

The verdict...

Being a vegetarian, Dear Husband was only too glad to be the guinea pig. He gave them 7.5 (!) out of 10 - to be exact. Another plus was that my 3-year-old finished a whole one with a little coaxing. Result!!!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Day 1
So, today marked Day 1 of the challenge and without much deliberation (!), the first recipe I picked to cook was the first one in the book (page 10) - Hearty Lentil and Onion Soup. It seemed a relatively simple recipe to start off with - hey, it's soup! However, three things which I must remember next time:
  1. I'll be sure to buy those big Spanish onions in the supermarket rather than those small-medium size ones which took an age to peel and finely slice.
  2. I won't make it on an empty stomach on a Friday evening when I'm starving (I ended up making Rachel Allen's Pea and Coriander soup while I was waiting on this one to cook).
  3. I will vow not to set off both fire alarms in the house - especially when the two babies are sleeping. Not even joking.

The verdict...

It looked like something found in a witch's couldron at Halloween and took an hour to cook but I was really pleasantly surprised by this, the cheesy croutons really helped. Not a big fan of rosemary but it worked so well in this soup. Yum. It has made it onto my list of lunches for work. Not a bad start to The Late Late Show on a Friday night... :)