Sweet Potato, Spinach and Chickpea Curry

DSC_0124I should start by saying this is not my most inspired blog post, thoughts outside of study and exams are pretty impossible at the moment, but it’s a good recipe so just bear with me. This is my eighteenth year of exams, and I’d like to say I’ve learned many skills and techniques for studying, balancing work and relaxation and all those other important things. But that would be a lie, exams continue to be as horrendous and stressful as they always have been. I still have a recurring nightmare twelve years on that I am forced to retake my Leaving Cert and it is far more terrifying than any other nightmare I have. As part of my current and hopefully last real exam season, leaving the house and cooking more than once a week is low on the list of priorities. A good store cupboard is the key to exam survival. I made a huge batch of this curry to freeze using ingredients I had lying around the house. It’s healthy, tasty and easy to scale up. It’s a miscellaneous curry, with Indian, Thai and Mexican influences and god knows what else besides. It’s filling, but you could bulk it out more with some rice or flatbread. You can really use whatever is to hand, I’d say it would be great with baby potatoes, kale, any kind of bean or lentil, whatever you have in your cupboard and fridge. If you leave out the yoghurt, it’s vegan, and also coeliac friendly. There isn’t a lot of active time involved, probably about 15 minutes, and it serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 700g sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 4 x garlic cloves
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 chipotle chilli  with adobe (or any fresh chilli you have to hand)
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons sriracha (or any kind of hot sauce you fancy)
  • 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 100g spinach, roughly chopped
  • 250g frozen peas
  • 1 lemon
  • Neutral oil
  • Natural yoghurt (optional)

Method

  • Toss the diced sweet potato in some oil, season, and roast in the oven at 200C for 20-30 minutes until soft and starting to brown at the edges.
  • Blend the tomato, garlic, onion and chipotle into a puree with a stick blender/food processor.
  • Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and fry the spices for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the coconut milk and peanut butter and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt and some lemon juice and stir in the chickpeas, sweet potato and spinach and simmer for 5-10 minutes, adding in the frozen peas for the final 3 minutes.
  • Season with additional lemon juice and a dollop of yoghurt before serving if that’s your thing.

3 Days in Belgium

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I love the idea of relaxing holidays. Sun, books, lying around, wine. Then I go on holidays, and do stupid things like travel from Dublin to Leiden via Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp in 3 days. Then I wonder why I’m exhausted when I come home.

Brussels

Brussels was a favourite day trip of mine when I lived in Holland. It has a feel of both Utrecht and Paris, but with an atmosphere that is entirely its own. We stayed in a beautiful Belle Epoque apartment with a garden in St.Gilles (complete with cat) and basically managed to explore the whole city in a day and a half, from the Grand Place, to frites at Maison Antoine, to the flea market at Jeu du Balles, but these places were the highlights:

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Le Wine Bar Sablon de Marolles

This was the first place we tried in Brussels, and it was a tough act to follow. There wasn’t one particular thing that made it special, it was a combination of all the different factors. A cosy wine bar lit by candles, an extensive menu with food as good as it sounded, great wine, friendly and attentive staff, it all came together.  Our waiter went through the whole menu in English and recommended wine pairings for each dish, steering us away from more expensive options if he didn’t think they were suitable. We shared a beautiful charcuterie plate, complete with homemade rillettes and ham and parsley terrine, some roasted bone marrow with Parmesan, and burrata with roasted vegetables. Each dish was wonderful, with great ingredients simply prepared . We had lovely glasses of Roussane and Grenache to match alongside. We were even more pleasantly surprised when the bill came in at around 40 each, despite several glasses of wine each.

Nordzee – Mer du Nord

Recommended by pretty much everyone I spoke to, Nordzee-Mer du Nord is a corner fish shop with a counter where you can order freshly cooked fish and glasses of wine for a small price to eat standing up at tables on the square. It’s very busy and there’s no formal queuing system, so you edge your way towards the counter and make mildly intrusive eye contact with the efficient staff until they take your order, pay, and then wait for your name to echo across the square about 5-1o minutes later. We had an amazing crab burger with watercress, a tomato glaze and tartar sauce, and some decent, if a little bland calamari together with two glasses of French Sauvignon Blanc for €16. There is also a cute little tapas stall on a nearby corner doing much the same thing, to slightly lesser crowds. The area around it is the fish market, and so stuffed to the gills with fish restaurants (sorry, the pun was there just waiting to happen) and nice old fashioned corner bars. The same square is also home to the Cremerie de Linkebeeke, a renowned cheese shop.

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Mort Subite

This is both my favourite Brussels bar and beer.  I love any bar that looks like it hasn’t changed in 100 years, and luckily Brussels has plenty of these. Mort Subite has a great Belle Epoque interior, and slightly pricey (by Brussels standards) Belgian beer, including its eponymous brand. The staff are diligent in their attempts to ignore you, but speedy if you finally catch them. Locals all seemed to shout and wave their arms, but my Irish mortification at putting people to any trouble wouldn’t allow that. Their Faro beer there is my new favourite, a light slightly bitter brown beer with a caramel aftertaste.They serve bar snacks like cheese with celery salt, and sandwiches as well.

 Bia Mara

This place was a great tip from the guys over at GastroGays, a casual Irish-owned fish and chips place near the Grand Place. Each day they serve a selection of fried fresh fish, lovely mayonnaise and  chips all for around €10. We arrived at 10pm and it was still packed. We ended up at a shared table beside an Irish couple, who went for the classic trick of talking about the other diners in broken Irish, assuming that we couldn’t understand them. The service was a bit forgetful, but the fish and chips were great. I tried Skrei, a Norwegian cod that seems to be particularly popular in Brussels, with lemon and fennel panko, and basil and lemon mayonnaise. This is a place I’d definitely make a regular spot if I was a local.

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Bruges & Ghent

On Saturday we went for a double day trip of Bruges and Ghent. Pro tip: just pick one, this was exhausting. Bruges was predictably crammed with tourists, and a bit the less for it. It is spectacularly beautiful, but maybe best to be visited on a weekday or off season. You can wander off the beaten track into quieter areas pretty quickly, but all of the most scenic spots like the Rozenhoedkaai and the Begijnhof were absolutely filled with hordes taking selfies so you spend your time trying to duck and weave out of family photos. It’s also very pricey to eat, so we ended up having a lunch of frites from the carts near the cathedral. Ghent was very quiet by comparison, but we were pretty wrecked when we got there, so we only wandered for an hour, got a drink in the entertainingly eccentric De Dulle Griet and headed back for the train. It’s a lovely spot, with a mix of  medieval centre and slightly more industrial hinterland that still feels very welcoming.

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Antwerp

Again we only spent a few hours in Antwerp, as part of the three train and one bus marathon trip that brought us from Brussels back to Leiden, and as always, I wish I’d had more time there. Antwerp is a fascinating city, with a lovely old medieval centre combined with incredibly forward design shops. If I won the lottery, I would come here to shop a lot. There are lots of little squares in the heart of the city, replete with terraced bars to enjoy the sunshine. Even on Easter Sunday, nearly the whole town was open, so we wandered around and browsed before settling for a burger lunch at Dansing Chocolaa boho type bar near the river.

Confit Tomato Pesto with Basil and Walnuts (and Marriage Equality)

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I turned thirty last weekend, and it seems to be one of those events that makes you stop and take stock of how things have gone so far. Mainly because people keep telling you what a momentous occasion it is, then try and reassure you as they hand you a paper bag to hyperventilate into. In my lifetime, a lot of things have changed. Little things, like I no longer hate tomatoes, and basil, and so can make this recipe, and much, much bigger things. Exciting things, like careers taking off and people I have known for half my life getting married. Watching the country I grew up in change, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Saturday will mark a big personal occasion,celebrating the wedding of two lovely people. With a bit of luck, it will also mark a big public occasion, because I really hope that when I wake up on Saturday, Ireland will have passed a referendum which will allow same-sex couples to marry as well. I’m mindful of friends and family who will want to marry, and who currently can’t do so in their home country, as well as those who already have married far from home, and are not recognized as such here. I’m hopeful that we will be our best selves as a country this weekend; loving, brave and open to change. There are a lot of things we can’t alter about Ireland, but this is something within our control. We can be a country that values everyone equally, regardless of our differences. That would be a nice way to start off my thirties, and if I can grow to like tomatoes, quite frankly anything is possible.  So, Irish readers, please get out and vote Yes to Marriage Equality on Friday 22 May 2015.

Ingredients

  • 450g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 head of confit garlic, or roasted garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • 40g Parmesan cheese
  • 70g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • A handful of basil leaves

Method

  • Chop the cherry tomatoes in half
  • Toss in a few tablespoons of olive oil together with the balsamic vinegar and season well.
  • Roast at 160C for 1 to 1 and a 1/2 hours until soft and a little browned and wrinkled.
  • Once they are cooled, add the parmesan, walnuts, basil and top up with olive oil before blending.
  • Check for seasoning.
  • You can make this as thick or as liquid as you prefer your pesto to be.
  • Store in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top.

A Whirlwind Tour of Galway

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When I asked friends from Galway for tips on what to do, I got a laundry list of restaurants, cafes and pubs. “There aren’t really any ‘sights’ in Galway, it’s more a place to eat and drink and wander” I was told. So that’s what we did.We also went for a brutally cold swim in the ocean at Salthill, but mainly we ate and drank our way around town for 24 hours. For a small city, it’s punching well above its weight in culinary terms. We didn’t get to try everywhere I wanted (the universally recommended Kai for example was closed for the bank holiday) but managed a good whistlestop tour of the main highlights:

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Sheridans

Sheridans is a small chain of cheesemongers with a branch in Dublin, and strong presence on the farmers market circuit around Ireland. In Galway, they have added to that with a lovely wine bar above their shop. It’s a welcoming space with large communal tables, high ceilings and big old sash windows looking out at St.Nicholas’ church. They have a number of bottles open at any given time, but they’ll also open any for you that you ask if you want to try a glass, for between €6-8. You can also buy bottles to take away, as plenty of people were doing while we sat there. We went with staff recommendations and got a fruity Malbec and delicate Insolia. To help wash them down, we went with a very ample “small” cheese plate for €10 featuring Irish cheeses like Ardrahan and Gubbeen together with Mimolette, Manchego Tetilla and an unusual blue whose name I’ve forgotten. There was such a lovely relaxed atmosphere, it’s the kind of place you’d stay all evening in if you could.

Cava Bodega

Cava Bodega is one of three restaurants owned by JP McMahon, who brought Galway its first Michelin star with Aniar. As that was a little outside the budget, Cava seemed a great alternative, a lively casual place serving an extensive range of tapas. It seems to be pretty popular with Galway’s glamorous twenty-something women, immediately leaving me feeling underdressed. The staff were friendly, if slightly overworked but it was a nice place to sit and soak up the atmosphere. The menu is huge, literally 50 or so dishes, and we picked a little randomly, ending up with way too much food from 5 tapas shared between two. A highlight was the local mussels with almonds and garlic, and the pork neck with morcilla, migas and piquillo peppers. With some cava, and a very nice carafe of Verdejo, the bill came to just 40 each for more food than we could finish.

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Neachtains

It feels like everyone in Galway stops by Neachtains at some point in the day. After an evening drink there, we were recognising most of the people we passed on the street the next day. An old fashioned pub that still has the counter it used to sell groceries, they have a warren of rooms and snugs, some with fireplaces. There is also a large outside area spilling onto Quay Street for optimum people watching. The Guinness is good, and they have a selection of craft beers and whiskeys too. It feels like the kind of place where secrets are shared over late night drinks, unless you bring the Russian secret service, they will not give away any gossip apparently (yes, someone has really done that).

The Crane

A tip from our B&B, a proper local pub with great pints of Guinness and traditional music upstairs. A regular did try to sneakily take a photo of the boyfriend, hopefully because he mistook him for someone famous or wanted to get the same hairstyle in the barbers, and not for some kind of weird shrine.

Ard Bia

Walking into Ard Bia is like stepping into a little community. The staff are friendly and chatty with everyone, the little rooms are decorated with artwork and fresh flowers, and they were even giving out forms to register to vote in the upcoming referenda on same-sex marriage and presidential age.  The menu is a mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Irish styles. Again, the food was excellent, there really were no dud meals on this trip. They offered brunch/lunch on the afternoon we were visiting (they also do dinner). Opting for something a bit more substantial to sustain me for the train journey home, I had a delicious pulled spiced beef with flatbread, carrot slaw, yoghurt and paprika wedges, while himself had hake in a saffroney broth with boiled baby potatoes. They have a great small craft beer list, from which I chose a honey beer I have never seen before in my too extensive time in craft beer pubs. They do take bookings, but we just turned up and didn’t have long to wait. A must visit place!

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The Stop B&B

My only previous Galway B&B experience was in a house where the hostess nearly fainted upon the discovery that she had harboured an unmarried couple under her roof (despite separate bedrooms) and promised to pray for our souls. With that in mind, I wasn’t too eager to go back to B&Bs, but when I saw The Stop B&B on the top 100 places to stay in Ireland list, we had to try it. Recently opened, it’s a short walk from the city centre in a 1930s house with gorgeous decor and lovely hosts. When we arrived, Russell the owner presented us with a hand-drawn map of their favourite shops, restaurants and bars. Our room had a simple and elegant style with nice artwork, design magazines and little details like a vase of elegant branches. The living room was stocked with more books and magazines, homemade cookies and tea and coffee. This is the kind of place you’d stay just to hang out in. In the morning, we were given a choice of breakfasts, with a buffet involving homemade bread, muesli, cheese, apple compote, and a fry up to go alongside. They even make their own ketchup, and drizzled the fry with wild garlic oil. They also agreed to allow us to check out late, and mind our bags for the afternoon. I really hope this is the way B&Bs are going.

Pea Guacamole Toast with Black Pudding

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Just what the internet needs, another toast recipe. I met up with an old friend, now living in San Francisco this week. Among many other things discussed over sunny pints, the topic of the tech booms transforming our cities and hipsterfication of everything came up. It reminded me of a story I heard on This America Life on the origin of the San Francisco artisan toast trend that seems to make up 50% of Instagram right now. You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but the story is both inspirational and sad. It originated in a cafe called Trouble, which is run by Giulietta Carrelli, a woman who struggles with schizoaffective disorder. She set up her cafe as a lifeline, against all the odds, after years of living rough. It was a way to stay connected to her surroundings and to interact with people and have a support network. Everything she sells is something which has helped her through the worst moments of her illness in some way. She started selling toast because it represented comfort and home. You can read the whole story here which I’d strongly recommend doing rather than going on my very flawed summary. It’s a nice reminder that people are more than the sum of their troubles.

Black pudding is something that will always remind me of Ireland, and home, so I’ve included it here. You could also use chorizo, or just keep it veggie if the idea of blood sausage is too creepy. This recipe makes about a cereal bowl sized amount of pea guacamole, it’s an easy thing to whip up quickly to share with friends.

Ingredients

  • 250g frozen peas, cooked
  • 100g goats cheese or feta
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
  • Bread of your choice
  • Black pudding

Method

  • Blend all the ingredient 6 ingredients, and check seasoning. Add chilli flakes if using.
  • Fry some slices of black pudding, and serve the guacamole slathered on toasted bread with warm black pudding on top.

Diana Henry’s Roast Chicken with Dill, Leek and Potato

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There is something immensely soothing and satisfying about roasting a chicken. It gives me the kind of warm zen inner calm other people seem to get from yoga. Yoga, on the other hand, I find intensely stressful. There is nothing calming about discovering that you can count breathing among the many things you have yet to master after thirty years on the planet. Cooking a roast is one of those things that also makes a place feel like a home. The commitment to cooking something to share, the delicious smell slowly filling the kitchen, lounging around reading (ok, fine, napping) while you wait for it to cook, it all makes a place really seem like your own. This is a beautiful, simple recipe from Diana Henry. It is easy to throw together, and is a whole meal in itself. The active time is about 15 minutes, but you have a wonderful, impressive dish to share at the end.

This serves 4 by itself, you could stretch it to 6 with some extra side dishes and bread.

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg chicken
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • 75g unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 lemon
  • 500g waxy potatoes, peeled
  • 500g leeks (2-3 leeks)
  • 3 shallots
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 3-4 tbsp dry vermouth or white wine
  • 4 tbsp crème fraîche

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200C.
  • Remove the fronds from the dill and finely chop (keep the stems for stuffing the chicken).
  • Mix the butter with half the chopped dill.
  • Carefully lift the skin of the chicken breast and legs, and smooth half the butter under it.
  • Spread the remaining butter over the chicken skin and season well.
  • Place in a deep roasting tin or flameproof casserole.
  • Squeeze the lemon over the chicken and put the lemon halfs into the cavity, together with the dill stalks.
  • Roast for 20 minutes at 200C.
  • Meanwhile, slice the leeks and potatoes, and bring the stock to the boil.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven, lift it up, and place the leeks and potatoes underneath (this is ideally a two person job).
  • Pour the stock and wine in, season the leeks and potatoes, and return to the oven at 180C for one hour.
  • Remove from the oven.
  • If the stock hasn’t reduced enough (mine hadn’t), remove the chicken and place on a warm platter or additional tin and cover with tinfoil.
  • Place the oven dish on the stove and boil for 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.
  • Add the creme fraiche and mix.
  • Place the chicken back on top, add the remaining fresh dill and serve.

St. Patrick’s Day Twice Baked Potatoes

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Ireland is a small country, both in size and population. What this means in practice, is that everyone knows everyone. When you meet someone for the first time, you will inevitably try and work out who you both know, and will almost certainly succeed. Facebook has of course helped with this, but there is also the old school approach of “oh, so you’re one of the Borris-In-Ossory Murphy’s, Sean Murphy is my dad’s cousin”. It’s a stereotype, but it is also very very true. There are whole swathes of counties that you can discard from your potential dating pool due to the high risk of everyone there being related to you.

This is kind of inevitable in an island, and is part of the reason Ireland has higher rates of genetic illnesses like coeliac disease. As a result of this, Irish restaurants were doing gluten free dishes long before it was trendy. So, this is a vegetarian, coeliac friendly recipe to celebrate Paddy’s day. These twice baked potatoes are an update on colcannon, a traditional Irish potato dish made with mashed potato and kale or cabbage. Then I added a Greek flavour, courtesy of my stalwart fridge ingredients, feta and greek yoghurt.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 medium sized baking potatoes
  • 3 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 150g kale, washed, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of greek yoghurt
  • 150g feta
  • 75g cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs
  • 2-3 teaspoons chilli flakes (optional)

Method

  • Poke some holes in the potatoes with a fork and bake at 180C until cooked, about 45 minutes -1 hour depending on size.
  • Meanwhile, saute the leeks over the medium heat in some olive oil for 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for a minute.
  • Add the kale and cook until it’s wilted and the leeks are soft and starting to turn golden.
  • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the middle and add to a large bowl, leaving shells with just enough potato to give structure.
  • Mash the potato in the bowl with the yoghurt, salt and pepper until smooth.
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients.
  • Fill the potato skin shells the potato/kale/cheese mix.
  • You can either freeze them now to cook later, or go ahead with the next step.
  • Bake in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes or so, until the top starts to brown and crisp.
  • Serve.
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