Monday, November 24, 2014

Ides of merch

Snow Glow Elsa doll,

Ah, the annual 'you won't believe what people will do to get their hands on *insert your overpriced piece of plastic here*' story.
This year, it's the Elsa doll from the movie Frozen but tradition goes way, way back. Some of the parents currently chasing their tails in the quest for the toy may even remember the fuss over the Cabbage Patch Kids dolls of the early 1980s, that's if they can stop tussling with rival parents in north Dublin toy shops for long enough.
Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, from

I won't pretend to know what's at play here, why otherwise sane mothers and fathers would entertain the idea of paying €500 for an Elsa Snow Glow Doll. Or how it came to pass that we live in a world where, apparently, boxes that contained some incarnation of the toy are now being exchanged for cash.
Instead, I'm gonna focus on the fact that I've just bagged up 3 portions of Slow-Cooked Beef in Espresso Bean Sauce, which I brewed overnight on Saturday. I harvested the recipe from after nabbing some steak pieces on the same day that I picked up the oxtail.
Due to work commitments and a rising panic over fruit and veg that have to be used up NOW, I'm freezing the whole lot until later in the week, but I want to note that the leftover sauce may end up marinading chicken pieces in a couple of days. It's rather tart, vinegary almost, so why not pair it with more versatile fowl?
Let's see how this goes...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Offaly nice

I suppose it was bound to happen. All the pre-existing conditions were there: my love of slow cooking, the vogue for offal, the arrival of winter. And then I wandered into the SuperValu near my parents' home and spotted oxtail for sale at the butcher's counter.
As a rule, I avoid buying meet in supermarkets but SuperValu implemented a rigorous trace-back system as long ago as 1997, and their produce has never let me down, so when I saw the rounds laid out in the display cabinet, I stopped in my tracks.
My sister still raves about a chilli con carne she made after bulking out beef mince with some slow-cooked oxtail. And a friend of mine swears that oxtail is a delicacy in his wife's native Korea - the first time he brought some home from his local SuperValu here in Dublin, she castigated him for blowing so much of the housekeeping on such a luxury.
Of course, the truth is that oxtail is cheap as chips. I picked up 500g for less than €3.
I should have been a bit more discerning in my selection: in the end I got only a couple of the plump rounds that look like meaty oranges cut in half; the rest was made up of the longer, thinner joints.
But when I got around to cooking them (at midnight on Fri, natch), I refused to be deterred. For the first time in quite a while, I consulted Nigella Lawson's How To Cook, where I found an 'illicit' recipe for oxtail stew (she was writing during a two-year ban on oxtail in the late Nineties).
I'm afraid I strayed from her recipe: I dispensed with the mustard powder, flat leaf parsley, powdered mace, ground cloves (waaay too Christmas cake-like for me...) and the Mackeson beer.
But I was happy to brown the joints in hot oil, tip them into the slow cooker, then use the oil to sweat down chopped onion, chopped garlic, finely chopped celery and sliced carrots before adding in half a tin of tomatoes, about 150ml just-boiled water, half a beef stock cube, and about 200ml red wine.
After that mixture came to the boil, I let it simmer for a few minutes before throwing the whole lot into the slow cooker, tucking in 2 bay leaves, covering and retiring for the night.
The following day, the flat was filled with the aroma of rich, hearty, warming casserole, and I unplugged the slow cooker. My plan was to degrease the stew once it had cooled to room temperature but I'm afraid I'm a bit of a wuss about grease. I'd expected the fat to harden to globules I could neatly lift out. Because I used olive oil to brown the meat, I guess, the oil remained stubbornly fluid so after a couple of attempts at soaking up little puddles of grease with a kitchen towel, I decided to leave well enough alone.
While I was faffing with slimy grease, I decided I might as well do the unpleasant business of removing the unctuous morsels of flesh from the vertebrae. I'm quite squeamish so I couldn't swear that I got every last trace of meat from the bones. Urgh.
Anyway, last night, I steamed a few potatoes, returned the casserole to the hob (this time in a saucepan), reheated it thoroughly, mashed the spuds and poured myself a glass of the wine I'd cracked open the night before.
It was *delicious*.
The richness of the gravy, the tenderness of the meat, the sweetness of the vegetables... it was the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace.
Would I do it again? I absolutely would - though I'd be more choosy at the butcher's counter. And I'd enlist a less grease-phobic friend to help with the de-boning. Urgh.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Peas process

You gotta love Evelyn Cusack - the RTE weather woman knows how to politely knock bolloxology on the head.
Her talk of a cold snap put me in the mood for a hearty soup, so I defrosted ham stock and about 100g of cooked ham (both leftovers from a ham I cooked during the summer), chopped some onion, garlic and 2 medium spuds (missed out on bonus points by not having celery or carrot *sad face*), and boiling it all up with a cup of rinsed green split peas and 500ml of chicken stock.
Cooked overnight in the slow cooker, it was delish when I decanted a bowlful for my lunch in work yesterday.
I think Evelyn would approve...

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's a dirty old night here in Dublin. It started raining at around 7am and it feels like it never stopped. However, I'm on a mission to lose a few pounds in time for the party season, so I ignored the weather and cycled to work, getting utterly drenched in the process.
Man, was I feeling sorry for myself by the time lunch rolled around - which I hope explains why I found myself in the Starbucks near my office. This was a bit of An Event for me. I've never had a satisfactory experience in an Irish Starbucks. In fairness, I'm not their target customer: I'm too old, I drink tea, I have a cheap Samsung laptop. But, look, I can change my ways, I drink cappuccino every now and again, and I used to own an iPod...
*smiles wanly*
For my part, I've never been convinced. They are always chilly affairs with little atmosphere, the menu is consistently baffling, and they always seem to be staffed at about 150% optimum standards, with peppy young people in aprons jostling behind the till to take your order.
So today, I denied myself the pleasure of ordering a pumpkin spice latte (I'm not much of a coffee fan, much less the sickly syrups baristas have begun chucking in) and grabbed a smoked salmon bagel.
I fully expected a heavy, indigestible affair - doughy, undercooked bread with miserly scaps of salmon - so I was pleasantly surprised to find large slices of (Irish) smoked salmon on a delicious bagel that had a light, enjoyably chewy texture.
Was it a thrifty choice? Hm. To tell the truth, it was a fairly unusual lunch option for me: I usually go to work on Mondays, armed with a couple of kidney bean burritos, fresh from the slow cooker. But I knew that supper was sorted (I cooked a double helping of amatriciana last night), and I needed a break from the office. I decided to forgo the coffee, so lunch cost me *just* the price of the bagel. Which was €4.95.
So, no it wasn't an altogether thrifty choice. I can't even say it helped me clear my head, because I spent the break looking at my smartphone, ignoring the filthies I was getting from the iPhone users nearby.
But I could almost imagine myself ordering there again - yaknow, if I could come to terms with the poor broadband, confounding coffee menu, the perky youngsters fighting to write my name on a mug... 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Well. It's been quite a while since I was here. I wish I could say that I've been busy putting my life in order, writing a screenplay, learning French, travelling the world... You know, I'd *love* to be able to say that. Unfortunately, it would be a big fat lie. I'm still in Dublin, still dragging the divil by the tail.
Today, however, I managed to take advantage of one of the  perks of my job: I'd been invited to a book launch of Catherine Fulvio's latest book at Ballyknocken House in Co. Wicklow.
Catherine Fulvio is a very beautiful celebrity chef who seems to have stolen my dream life: she is a gifted food writer who has gone from founding and operating a cookery school at her family farmhouse to a fast accelerating career as a domestic goddess. I mean, that could be me, right? Right??
In any case, Ballyknocken House was a hive of activity today: archery, clay pigeon shooting, tours of the guesthouse, classes in the cookery school's show kitchen... Oh, and lunch in the big barn. I'm a bit of a tart for lamb curry, so the rogan josh with coconut raita went down particularly well. Not that it stopped me scarfing down 2 hotdogs also - or the 2 orange and almond polenta squares or (truly divine, this) a slice of parsnip and hazelnut tealoaf.
Having inspected the recipe for rogan josh, I've decided that I'm going to try making it myself. The list of ingredients for the curry paste is, as you might expect, quite long - but it's an excuse to raid the collection I've amassed over the years. The tealoaf will definitely get a run-out too - if only to give me the satisfaction of seeing the look on people's faces when they find out what the special ingredient is...
And, yes, before you ask, The Weekend Chef is a gorgeous read. At the launch, Ms Fulvio explained that she wrote the book because she'd noticed how many people regard cooking as a leisure activity, something they can devote themselves to at the weekend, as they create something delicious for loved ones.
It was a nice reminder that food isn't just fuel, and that cooking isn't just about throwing ingredients into a pot. She sees it as a way of getting the family together, and bringing friends together.
But I'd also argue that in a world where the production of almost everything we consume personally has been outsourced to industry (clothing, food production), the final preparation of food is something we still have the power to reclaim. And isn't there something comforting in that?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Whoah. That's a pretty big image. Still you get the point: the Chocolate Cola Cake was delish. Moist, tasty, good enough to eat for brekkie, to my eternal shame. Thanks to my heaving pantry, last night wasn't the orgy of excess it could have been. My friend brought 1 bottle of wine; I had one on ice here. I bought chicken legs instead of fillets. The veggies were from Tesco (pushed the boat out and splashed out on organic carrots, and went for the Tesco Finest new potatoes - not very thrift-tastic)... But I didn't make too much of an effort to save money - and my outlay for the evening was a grand total of €13. And I still have 2 chicken legs, half a bag of spuds, half a cake, half a head of broccoli and a few leftover veggies knocking around. Sometimes, I surprise myself...
Here's a blast of 60s nostalgia. The lovely Sergei mentioned that this song was No.1 the week he was born. Big Mistake. I had to google it and now I'm in love with the lead singer. It's the Alan Price Set singing Randy Newman's Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear. If this doesn't leave you with a smile on your lips, you're probably dead.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's one of my rare nights to entertain tonight! You have no idea how stressful this makes me. I'm pretty much used to my own lowly standards of hygiene and cuisine. Inviting people into my home to judge me is not a pleasant prospect. Luckily, the friend who's calling over is a good one. Unfortunately, she's also an amazing cook. Who's had the opportunity to sample most of the de Winter standards. So... on the menu tonight is a chicken dish I cooked for lovely Sergei a few weeks ago. It's from the much-lamented Slow Cooked in Blighty and is very tasty indeed. Even better, it's something I can bung in the slow cooker well before my guest arrives, allowing me to focus on the side dishes of roasted vegetables and spicy broccoli. For afters, I'm making Chocolate Cola Cake to a recipe gleaned from the marvellous Cake & Pie forum. I know: baking isn't thrifty but I have a few eggs which need using up (a work colleague gifted half a dozen from her own brood in Donegal!) and most of the ingredients are in the store cupboard. Right here we go...