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.

Salted Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Blondies

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In hindsight, baking blondies for my office in the second week of Lent was probably not the best idea I’ve had. Lent is a Christian tradition of penance for the 40 days preceding Easter, usually involving giving up whatever little vice you like the most.Like most things involving guilt and denial, it caught on like wildfire here in Ireland. As a child, I used to give up sweets, but would stockpile the sweets I would normally eat, and then end up eating them all in the space of about a week after Easter. 

Other places like Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans kick it off with amazing carnival celebrations that last days in a flurry of parties, music, and vibrant costumes. We decided to go the other way and instead have a day where we eat a few pancakes, followed by six weeks of complaining about not eating chocolate.  The key to survival is to adopt strict definitions of what you are giving up. So, for example, giving up chocolate, but not white chocolate, as that does not have cocoa powder. That’s how you can manage to wrangle yourself something as gloriously unhealthy as these. They are soft, chewy and just the right balance of sweet, salt and fat.

Makes 20-25 blondies

Ingredients

  • 450g brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 85g honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 225g flour
  • 225g butter
  • 225g peanut butter
  • A handful of roasted sated peanuts, chopped
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped

Method

  • Beat the eggs and sugar together until well combined.
  • Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly (make sure it’s still liquid though).
  • Add the butter, peanut butter, honey and vanilla essence to the eggs and sugar and combine well.
  • Add the flour and stir to combine thoroughly.
  • Stir through the peanuts and white chocolate.
  • Pour the batter into a well greased brownie tin.
  • Bake at 180C for 30 minutes, then cover with tin foil to stop it browning more and bake for another 15 until it’s set.
  • It will still seem a bit liquid, but a skewer in the middle should come out clean.
  • Leave to cool for an hour before slicing up.
  • This keeps well for a few days in a tin although it’s unlikely to last that long.

Herbed Chili Labneh

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I am a sucker for those articles that tell you how to make the type of products you normally buy. You know the ones, with pictures of East London/Portland/Brooklyn types with plaid shirts, tattoos and massive beards standing outside the shed on their allotment that they use for home smoking their own duck prosciutto, or ridiculously photogenic young couples on farms posing with their pet goats, Poppy and Sunflower, whose milk they use to make their own organic cheese with. I love the idea of making my own cheese, smoking things, preserving things. I just never do it. I bought cheese cloth with great intentions, but instead I just make labneh. It’s straightforward and quick to make and provides just the right amount of smug DIY satisfaction. Labneh is a traditional Middle Eastern strained yoghurt ‘cheese’. Basically you just buy some thick yoghurt, and strain it through cheesecloth for a day or two with some salt, garlic and spices until it has a thick, smooth consistency and a rich tangy flavour. You can use it as a dip with some crispy pitta bread, as a substitute for cream cheese, dress some roasted vegetables with it or really anything you fancy.

Ingredients

  • A tea towel sized piece of cheese cloth or muslin
  • 250g natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili flakes of your choice (plus a bit extra for topping)
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried dill (as above)
  • 1 teaspoon zaatar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Line a sieve with the cheesecloth, folded to make a double layer.
  • Add the yoghurt and remaining ingredients besides the oil and stir well to combine.
  • Leave in a fridge overnight over a bowl to drain the excess liquid.
  • Grab the corners of the cheesecloth in the morning to form a bag and squeeze the labneh well to drain out any remaining liquid.
  • Serve topped with some extra dill, chilli flakes, chopped fresh chili if you have it, and olive oil.

 

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