Mmmmmmm Risotto!

butternut squash risotto last

I love risotto.  Love, love, love it.  Butttt….it does have three little downsides:

1) It’s not exactly calorie/heart attack proof, what with all that delicious melted butter and oodles of oozing Parmesan cheese…*ghfffhhslobbergfffhh*

2) It’s not a difficult thing to make once you know how but it is hard on the feet.  You have to stand over and watch it for the whole cooking time, a recipe quality that lazy cooks like me abhor.

3) It’s a boozy type of a meal.  You see, every good risotto needs a wee glass of white wine.  But then, you find that you’ll be pouring yourself a glass.  And then the whole dish takes so long to cook, that you will inevitably need a top up, leading to a half cut cook by the end of the process.  Which is maybe why risotto always tastes so ridiculously good.

I did a bit of a bold thing today.  I found myself doing an unplanned food shop for dinner, with no idea what to make.  So, instead of just buying a rubbish ready meal or the usual pasta/pesto combo, I popped into the bookstore next to the supermarket to find inspiration.  So casually and deceptively did I browse the cook book section of the bookstore, the poor clerks must have genuinely believed that I was going to buy something.  Hah!

So I found this little recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto in a cheap & cheerful student’s cookbook type affair.  I texted myself the ingredients and headed off to the supermarket, chuckling away  to myself about my own cleverclogness.  Mwah mwah!

Once I got the basic ingredients home, I consulted my BBC Good Food bible, and sure enough, found an almost identical recipe there.  Thunderbirds were indeed go.

chopped butternut squash and sage

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Post Electric Picnic Health Buzz

Post EP Salad

Phew.  Had a great weekend at The Electric Picnic.  Still don’t feel normal at all today.  Although the above dinner helped to replenish some lost vitamins from three nights spent in a muddy field with a crate of beer as a pillow.

Check out Niall’s coverage of The Picnic over here and over here.

You can find the recipe for the lovely Warm Puy Lentil & Tomato Salad here and the really delicious Spinach with Caramelised Onions and Pine Nuts here. I more or less followed the recipes (made a lot less of the spinach) and they worked a treat.

Although they were kind of unusual bedfellows, I wanted to maximise on the health factor this evening.  They were surprisingly yum together.

Apologies for not putting up the full recipes but you can head over to the links on BBC Good Food above.  I’m off back to bed!

Pastry. Is it worth it?

when squash met cashel

When Squash met Cashel.

So.  I did it!  I faced my pastry demons and came through victorious, like some sort of baking Joan of Arc, battling the murky, tempestuous world of flour, butter and water.

Maybe that’s going slightly too far.

I managed to make a fairly kicking savoury tart the other night, and yes, I’ve been followed around by a vague sense of warm achievement ever since.  It’s a curious thing.  In fact, this video is fairly close to how I felt at the end of the evening sitting down to eat my very own home-made pastry.

The tart itself took me over three hours to make.  By the time it was ready, I was exhausted.  It made me think of my granny, who always had time to make a rhubarb tart – no doubt daily – while still looking after the kids and her husband.  And gardening and cleaning and growing veg and dusting and peeling spuds.  Unbelievable.

Now that I can just go to the shops and buy some ready to roll pastry, is it worth all the fuss?  It took an awful lot of energy and time.  Is it worth it?  I think it is.  For special occassions.  Simply because of the feeling of achievement that I’ve been left with.  And it must get easier, right?  In fairness, my granny has probably around 80 years of experience in pastry making, so she can just whip it up without any fuss.  I imagine it will get easier every time.  And Jen the Pastry Chef said it gets easier.  She would know.

It was a personal quest of mine to make this pastry, and I really want to thank all of the foodies who gave me such good advice after my first disasterous attempt.  This time round, I was armed with information and pastry-proof tips from Jocelyn, The Daily Spud, Jenna, The On-Line Pastry Chef, and I felt comforted by the back-up support from Diva, Darrah, English Mum, Lottie, Lola-Lu and all my other lovely commenters.

I think my main weapons were that I put the butter in the freezer for about 15 minutes so it was reaalllly cold.  I also put a glass of water in the fridge so it too was really cold.  I also used a food processor this time, so that my grubby hands didn’t even get a look in at the pastry.

pastry uncooked

In your FACE, pastry demons!

I found this recipe in last weekend’s Guardian on Saturday weekend.  It’s by Jane Baxter, a chef at Riverford Field Kitchen, Buckfastleigh (BUCKFASTleigh?!?! WOW.)  in Devon.

I was a little unsure about using the recipe as I feel sometimes magazine recipes can be a bit hit and miss, and often aren’t well tested, leading to incorrect measurements, dodgy instructions, stress etc.

The recipe as it was written was slightly confusing, and I felt that it could have been laid out better to make the best use of time, so I adapted it slightly.  Reorganised it if you will.

Pastry aside, there was nothing difficult about this tart.  It was just really time-consuming!

butternut blue cheese tart on plate

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Steak “Pie” with Daily Spuds


Although I’m getting close, I’m still not quite over my pastry fail a few months back.

I have invested in a food processor which I really think will solve my clammy-pastry-kiss-of-death hands problem.  I’m going to give it a go this weekend and see if I can’t make myself a nice, savoury tart.  I’ll let you know how I got on.

I spotted this fabulously fool-proof looking recipe on BBC Good Food, the site which remains my go-to-guy when it comes to recipes on-line.

Although it took around three hours to make, I found this recipe really easy to make, quite cheap, and the result got about a 9 on the comfort food scale.  Which is pretty comforting.

The Daily Spud had given me some appropriately firm style Colleen potatoes, which she recommended for grating.  This whole ‘pie’ is based on the idea that instead of a pastry crust, you can just cheat by grating a few spuds over it and making a cross between a pastry pie and a shepherd’s pie.

pie on plate with beans

What you need for BBC Good Food’s Beef Pie with Crisp Potato Crust for 4 people

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Wherein Soup Dragon redeems itself…

oup dragon

Two or three years ago, I used to go to Soup Dragon as often as I could for my fix of sustenance that the small friendly cafe on Capel Street specialising in soup offered.

I don’t know what happened, but some time early last year (perhaps around the same time as the second premises around the corner from the original was opened) the quality of the soup took an awfully sharp drop.  It had basically become over-priced and under-flavoured.   I was one sad soup lover, let me tell you.

A few months back, after the second premises on Ormond Quay had closed, I was enticed back into their Capel Street cafe by this giant sign in the window:

soup deal sign smallsoup dragon with town hall

Cheep is right.  The small size vegetarian soup – of which there are usually around 6 choices daily – plus two slices of delicious bread, and a piece of fruit is a perfect size lunch.  It’s an absolute bargain at €3 and has ensured that Soup Dragon has a queue outside the door regularly at lunch time.  Good for them.

The soup prices to eat in are the same as before (€5.30 for a small, €6.30 for a medium and €9 for a large) and those prices include non-vegetarian soups, the lovely fresh bread and a piece of fruit as well.  Have a look here at a sample of their soup menu, which changes daily.

Perhaps it’s the bargain that makes the soup taste better but I feel like Soup Dragon has had a return to form, producing the deliciously fresh and flavoursome soups that had made me such a fan in the first place.

If you work close enough to Capel Street, pop in and get yourself a take-away soup.  And you can also get yourself a good cup of coffee for €2 a cup.

You can’t go wrong.

PS Sorry there are no pics of the soup.  I had the most beautiful Indian Spiced Potato Soup today but it was so delicious I had it eaten before the camera got a look in!

I Can Has Kitchen Concert Cook-Off?

Kitchen Concerts Icon

I had an idea a few months back of a way that I could combine my love for music and food….have kitchen based concerts!

How’s about every once in a while, we invite a band to our gaffe and give them a budget of €20?  Not only will they have to cook a delicious budget meal for four, they will play us a few songs in the kitchen and answer a few qs about themselves, their music and their food.

What a better opportunity than to try it out with my good friends Herons! who stayed with us on a recent visit back to Dublin from London.  We got our buddy Tristan to come over with his camera, the guys played a few tunes in the kitchen and cooked us a beaaauuutiful meal for under €20.

Herons! are an American boy Ben and an English girl Anna.  Here is the story of Herons!:

benanna with boot large

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Oooh look!

lovely veg

The spoils from The Daily Spud’s back garden - on the left are the Colleen spuds and the big one at the front of the pic is a Duke of York (or a King York as I insist on calling them)

The Daily Spud sent me an email yesterday asking me if I wanted  some of the surplus goodies from her veg garden.  Did I???  Absolutely.  You don’t have to ask me twice.

We met for a lovely lunch in Avoca

falafelsuperfood salad

I had the Morrocan Mezze on the left and Spud went for the Super Food Salad (yep, thems are blueberries in that there salad)

…after which she handed over the bag of goodies.  The stash included a beautiful red onion, a very pretty courgette, some gorgeous looking french beans, and, of course, two varieties of lovely spuds.

As soon as I got home, I went to work on a simple ratatouille, inspired by these lovely ladies over here (love their blog).

Niall had picked up some super delicious budget sausages which had to be used by today so I whipped up this old-fashioned farmer’s dish in under an hour.  Serve with some crusty bread and (optional) cold ale and say oo-ar when you eat it.  That last bit is optional too.

What you need for Aoife Mc’s Ratatouille for 4 (or 2 with buckets of leftovers for lunch the next day, yay)

lovely onion

Look at this lovely onion from The Daily Spud’s garden.  Isn’t it perfect?

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How to eat the summer…

Flowers on tableflowers smallflowers small back

Ukiyo Bar at the beginning of what turned out to be a full-house for Raw Foods

It’s wonderful what a few fresh wild flowers can do to a room.  We arrived at Ukiyo Bar on Exchequer Street last Sunday night around 7pm, ready for a raw food extravaganza.  The room had been set up with long communal tables, with vases of wild flowers lit up by candlelight.  It was like walking into a country peasant communal feast and immediately gave the night the relaxed, friendly feel that was to follow until we left, full of food and good health, a good five hours later.

We were in Ukiyo for our second Tasting Menu, and the fourth that has been held in Ukiyo since the beginning of the year.  We had enjoyed the Taboo Tasting Menu hosted by ECCAFD.  Tonight was to be an entirely different type of night – a night, in fact, on the complete opposite spectrum of the food chain.  Instead of potentially offensive foods such as Foie Gras and Lamb’s Brains, we were to be treated to an entirely guilt free Raw Food night.  Kind to the environment, kind to your belly.

Natasha’s Living Foods is a one-woman company with a mission to bring raw food to the forefront of the Irish dining landscape.  She was very much a part of the night, an absolute poster girl for the benefits of eating a diet of raw foods.  She seemed to have endless energy, as she bounced around the room checking on everybody, telling us about  the dishes as we were being served, singing jazz songs at towards the end of the night – and this after having foraged in the woods earlier in the day.  As well as twenty shops around the city, her produce is available in The Farmers’ Markets around Dublin including Saturday’s Meeting House Square market.

Natasha had sourced a large amount of her produce from Sonairte an Interactive Ecology Visitors Centre in Co Meath, which she bigged up the centre during her between-course talks.  Looking through the website gave me a sudden urge to head off into the wilderness with wellies and a will for foraging.  It really does look like a remarkable place, with a shop, cafe and gardens, and volunteer placements throughout the summer.

Once we had been seated, the night began with course after course being presented to us alongside our matched wines for each course, for which we paid an extra €20 each.  The tables were communal so we were seated next to strangers as well as people who were familiar from the last Taboo tasting menu night.  It’s always a bonus to share positive experiences with relative strangers – it certainly added to the evening for us.  Especially since we were seated next to Ciaran, the Taboo Chef himself, who helped us to identify some of the more unfamiliar raw ingredients.

We were treated to more mid-course entertainment, this time in the form of poetry from Steven Smith and a live jazz two piece.

Watermelon Square with longans, thin silvers of horseradish with micro greens, fresh ground black pepper and olive oil

Watermelon Square

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Raw Food Session at Ukiyo Bar

raw veg

So remember last week we were eating Lamb’s Brains and downing Oyster Shooters as part of a special tasting menu night at Ukiyo Bar?

This Sunday the 16th, a special Raw Foods night will kick off around 7pm at Ukiyo on Exchequer Street and will follow the same theme as the Evolution of the Ciaran Crawford Acion Figure Doll night.  Not only will there be a six course tasting menu, but you will also be treated to entertainment in the form of live music and spoken word.

The emphasis this Sunday is on cooking with entirely raw produce.  Have a gander at the menu below to see what kind of ingenious treats Natasha Czopor, the chef of the evening, has in store for you.  All raw!

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Come Dine With Me Behind The Scenes: The Cooking

Jamie you're a bleeding legend

Jamie and one of our Maps of the World place mats

I spent the hours between 5pm and 7pm on Friday of our first CDWM running around the flat like a blue-arsed fly.  I was chopping and scrubbing and screeching and puffing and huffing and slicing and dicing and marinating and panicking basically.  I would have been lost without Niall who set the table beautifully and made sure the flat was up to a CDWM level of cleanliness.  I thanked him by shouting at him mostly so….sorry about that, babe.  Thanks again.

I have a confession to make.  My menu was almost entirely from Jamie At Home.  Alan remarked to me at the end of the meal that my menu concentrated really well on flavours and he complimented me on choosing recipes that worked so well together.  I nodded, feigning modesty while keeping my mouth shut about Jamie At Home and thinking to myself ‘So that’s what Jamie was thinking when he wrote the book’  I just picked the recipes because I thought the colours all matched.  Hah!

The first guest John arrived at about 7.05, gracefully late, followed by Alan and Colette at around 7.10 with Joc appearing around 7.20. We started the night by saying cheers to some Strawberry Champagne.  Made with Prosecco, you understand.

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