The real reason I moved to Australia

Avocado on toasted sourdough with a squeeze of lime

Was it because the troika have taken over Ireland, and now you’re all poor?

Or maybe, because you’re allergic to rain?

Perhaps you just had enough of being called a culchie by all those Dublin jackeens?

Oh no, it was for love right? For the grá of your Australian Fella, the one you’re going to marry, it’s got to be for that, right?

WRONG!

Folks, the real reason I moved to the big red land down under had nothing to do with recession, rain for even love. Let’s be honest here; it was for avocados.

Yes. I said avocados.

Avocado on toasted sourdough with fresh cracked black pepper

When I was a child, my mother had a strict rule. Whenever any family member went abroad to warmer climates, they were warned not to bring home duty-free or Toblerone. Instead they were charged with smuggling ripe avocados into the country. My brother and I must have been the only children growing up in the north east of Ireland in the eighties who had avocado addictions. Hell, we must have been the only children for miles around who knew what avocados were! They weren’t spuds that much was for sure.

Things haven’t changed much since then. When I still lived in Ireland I would buy (imported) avocados in bulk and ripen them in the hot press. Yes, like a crazy lady. Now, I live on a much bigger island, one where ripe avocados are very commonplace; and they taste unreal! Gone are the days of waiting ages for an avocado to be ripe; now I can buy a luscious, nutty fruit in my local corner shop, open it up, and immediately spread it on my toast. I’ll repeat that for the folks back home, yes, I did say SPREAD. In Australia, the avocados are spreadable, like some kind of delicious, green butter. Are you beginning to understand my reasons for emigration?

You might all think that avocado on toast is pretty much a non-recipe, but I say, don’t dare knock it until you’ve tried it. I eat this about three times a week, for breakfast, brunch or even a midweek dinner.  And I can guarantee, if you can get quality avocados with super-fresh sourdough bread, you too will fall in love. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!

Avocado on toasted sourdough

Avocado on toasted sourdough slice

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Salt and pepper squid and neglected partners

Salt and pepper squid with five-spice

Who here doesn’t feed their partner enough or properly? Is it just me?

The Fella is kind of, slightly, severely allergic to fish and seafood. Something I really find quite inconvenient, and just a little bit annoying. Have I really just agreed to marry a man who can’t ever eat fish, like ever?

The upside of this little issue is that when we eat out, I can always order the fish. I also get to have a taste of his dish and never have to share any of my own. Double brilliant!

The downside is, whenever I decide to make fish at home I get hit with a myriad of complaints:

“Fish?! Ahhhh but what am I going to eat?”

“Eaugh, it smells like fish, I HATE fish and I’m hungry…”

“Why don’t you ever feed me? Don’t you love me?”

Salt and pepper mix

I’d go on, but I suspect you get the point.

I indulged in a little bit of partner neglect last weekend when I whipped up some salt and pepper squid. I ignored the foot stomping and jibes about how he is wasting away; and how a proper little woman would look after her man by making him a nice (large) lunch of the non-fishy variety. Instead, I set to work on not overcooking the squid.

When it comes to fish and seafood, I lack a lot of confidence, possibly because I cook it so rarely. But several visits to Sydney Seafood School in the past year (and more to come – thanks to my lovely family!) have really helped. I’ve learned that the trick for beautiful tender squid is all in the preparation.  Squid is delicious; rubber is not so much. But with a little bit of practice, I’m pleased to say I pulled it off – delicious, rubber-free, spicy, crispy squid. Although, I guess you’ll just have to take my word on that. As I was the only one eating it, no-one will ever really know for sure, will they?

Salt and pepper squid

Salt and pepper squid

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Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

frangipani and pineapple

Seasons are funny things, aren’t they? In Ireland we tend to have on average, oh, about two days of summertime a year. Three if we’re really lucky. When I was a student these days always conveniently coincided with major exams; in fact I think the gods of Irish summertime still do this. Those guys must hate students.

In Sydney, they have pretty much the exact opposite case. Here, we’ll get about three weeks of winter, tops. Summer glides into autumn, which sometimes threatens to turn into winter, but generally thinks better of it and simply glides back into spring again. We had sunshine and highs of 21 last week, but it is starting to get much cooler and wetter.

spiced pineapple brulee

A major hint that winter is on the way are the two rapidly-shedding frangipani trees outside my house. During the summer these tress keep our bedroom shady and cool, while filling it with the lovely scent of frangipani. At the moment however, they are covering my car in a deluge of dying flowers and leaves, meaning I have to practically dig my way into it every morning.

Two weekends ago, I picked what I think will be the last frangipani flowers of the year and paired them with the last of the autumn pineapples to make a totally-tropical desert. Crème brûlée with spiced pineapple is actually a great choice for this in-between season; the Chinese five spice gives a lovely autumny accent to the summery pineapple. And crème brûlée is just plain awesome no matter what time of the year.

As The Starks say – Winter is coming. Even to Sydney.

Autumn crème brûlée with spiced pineapple

five-spice pineapple creme brulee

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Jamie Oliver’s chicken challenge

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad

This week I took the plunge and decided my kitchen needed to get messy. So I tried a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals. Oh hells yeah! I decided to bring it.

Did I manage it? Eh…. no.

Now, I love Jamie as much as the next person. His recipes are delicious, no nonsense and always work, but I’m not too sure what he’s at with this everyone-can-cook-faster-than-the-speed-of-light malarkey. Honestly like. I know there have been about 20 bazillion blog posts written about how it’s nigh-on impossible to make any of his meals in either 30 or 15 minutes, so I’m not going to go there again; but I do think it’s a shame he’s made such a rod for his own back. I get the point he’s trying to make: food can be quick, easy and tasty if you’re clever about how you prepare it. However, I think that people in general are pedantic and once they can’t make something in the allotted time limit they will immediately call the whole venture a failure.

Well, this beautiful salad took me longer than 15 minutes to make, and afterwards my kitchen did look like a bomb had hit it; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, in fact I urge you to. The mix of flavours, texture, spice and sweetness is incredibly yummie and it’s pretty healthy to boot. It’s definitely one worth waiting for!

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad close up

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Champagne and strawberry celebration sorbet

Moet & Chandon bottle

What do you do when the man you love; the man you’ve spent the last 7 (very happy) years with; the man you moved to the other side of the planet to be with; asks you to marry him?

You say yes.

Moet & Chandon cork

And you celebrate with many many sparkles, strawberries, sorbet and smiles.

That’s all.

Champagne and Strawberry celebration sorbet

Champagne and strawberry sorbet

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Aubergine inspiration

As much as I love cooking, there are times when I just could not be bothered. Long days at the office, being focused, driven and cheery, while secretly wishing I was in the bath with a good book and a bottle of red, can be a sometimes be an inspiration drain. And don’t even get be started on the post-work supermarket free-for-all, some days I’d rather go hungry than face into that.

My poor Dad also seems to suffer from the same lack of culinary creativity. It’s his job to make the dinner on a Monday night (which, in fairness, is probably the most insipid of all the weekday nights); and so for the past 30 years he has made chili beef. Religiously. Every Monday. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like chili beef just as much as the next person. It’s just that after 30 years of it; I find it, well, not quite as exciting as it once was. Obviously I don’t get to spend that many Monday evenings with my folks, what with living on the other side of the plant and that. One major upside of which is not being subjected to what has become known in our family as ‘Monday night surprise’.

On evenings when I am feeling unimaginative and bored, I just need to open one of Tessa Kiros’ books to get the creative (and tummy) juices flowing. Her recipes are simple, wholesome and comforting and they are just so beautifully presented, I would challenge anyone not to fall in love with them.

This week I made her stuffed aubergines. Like all of her recipes, these are delicious and filling and a little bit different. Okay, so stuffed veggies ain’t exactly world-rockin’ stuff, but they may just brighten up an otherwise dull and same-y weekday evening.  Who knows? Even my Dad might like them.

Midweek beef-stuffed aubergines

Stuffed eggplant

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Chocolate Sunday

Rose, pistachio and cardamom chocolate bark

Isn’t it great that there’s a whole day dedicated to chocolate?!

Okay, okay, I’m not being serious. And I certainly don’t mean to be insensitive to any religious folks out there. I do realise that for a great many people, Easter is about much more than chocolate. However as I’m an atheist to the bone, this weekend is pretty much ALL about the brown sticky goodness. That and having four days off work of course, could there be a better holiday?!

Almond and apricot chocolate bark

So this week I tried my hand at making chocolate bark; because a chocolate-melting project is always fun and you can really get creative with the flavours and appearance. For a few pointers I checked my infallible The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who like me is a little unable to stick to recipes; basically it helps you to mix and match flavours and gives you pointers and ideas as to what works well together (and why) without actually giving any recipes. I love it. After some flicking I decided to dress up some super-dark chocolate with almond and apricot and also rose, pistachio and cardamom. And what can I say? The Flavour Thesaurus never fails, although when you start with excellent quality, rich, dark chocolate, you would have to have a very serious fail for it not to taste like more, oh so much more.

Rose, pistachio & cardamom chocolate bark

Many thanks need to go to The Fella for helping me out with these photos. I made these on quite a hot day and struggled to take any decent shots in good light before the chocolate began to melt. He’s a bit of a creative whizz with the camera and help me tonnes. He did have quite the incentive though and obviously I rewarded him well! If you’re interested in checking our more of his work check out his website.

Happy chocolate day!

Almond and apricot chocolate bark & Rose, pistachio and cardamom chocolate bark

Almond and apricot chocolate bark & Rose, pistachio and cardamom chocolate bark

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Carrot and orange cake

Carrot and orange cake with cream cheese icing and walnuts

I’ve been writing this silly little blog for nearly two years now, that’s mad isn’t it?! I’ve got to be honest, for the longest time I was a bit weird about it.

You see, the truth is I’m actually quite private. Yeah right you say! But it’s true. Yes, I realise I project my life onto the internet for full public consumption, but that’s easy when you hide behind a pseudo-name and an avatar. It took me years to get a Facebook account, I still am slightly scared by twitter and I can’t even begin to fathom Pinterest, so it came as no surprise that I took a little time to ease into the blogging.

Cream cheese icing and walnuts

For the first few months I barely even told my friends about my project, I certainly never interacted with the wider blogosphere (yes, I did just use that word, a sure sign I am now a bona-fide part-time blogger!). I was so terrified that someone might actually SEE it, shock HORROR! Over time, I have (very) slowly been working on this.

So ten days ago, when I went to a food bloggers meetup group, I was really really stepping outside my comfort zone. The people I met there were amazing and all write such unbelievably drool-tastic blogs that it made me feel immediately self-conscious. They also spoke another language, one I’m not very familiar with; SEO, engagement and PR were just some of the foreign and strange terms being bandied about. I just sipped my wine, nodded, smiled and tried to at least look like I knew what they were talking about.

Carrot and orange cake silce

Seriously though, it was wonderful to meet such lovely, energetic and creative people. Left-brained auld me can always do with a dose of inventive thinking and inspiration, check out some of their blogs below (in no particular order) to get some for yourself.

It has also made me think a little more seriously about what I want to get out of my hobby, which has been good. And I realise that I am what I am. I am never going to take the best photographs, or write the snappiest posts, get 10 bazillion hits a day or even write the most interesting recipes. But that’s all OK. As long as I’m still excited to be in the kitchen, making things that make my belly gurgle and pushing myself to write something that at the very least doesn’t put people to sleep, I’ll be happy.

Also, I made carrot cake and it was good.

Check out all of this yumness: Belly Rumbles, Simon Food Favourites, 84th & 3rd.com, Mademoiselle Slimalicious, The Littlest Anchovy, Raging CravingsOne Small Pot, and last but by no means least Chew Town.

Carrot and orange cake

Carrot and orange cake slice with cream cheese icing and walnuts

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Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad

Irish flag Aussie salad

Well it’s that time of year again, when the entire world commandeers my nationality and dyes everything green. Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

Paddy’s day as an expat is a strange experience to say the least, although I’d say it would be worse for Irish people living in the States. It’s such a big deal, a day that everyone knows about, but no one is really sure what’s it for. According to the rest of the world St Patrick was some drunk bloke who wore oversized green top hats and said thirty-three and a third a lot.

This year I’m OK with it though, people can think what they want to as long as it makes them happy. And if they get a bit of craic out of it, sure all the better.

Leprechauns and mangos

The Fella thinks I’m an absolute disgrace to my country for posting this picture, he thinks I deserve to get my passport taken off me because of it. But I say, if the world wants leprechauns, why not give them leprechauns?

You can all blather on about corned beef (baffling and disgusting in equal measures), leprechauns (just plain lame) and pots of gold (I don’t know if any of you folks heard, but Ireland is currently owned by the IMF) as much as you like and I won’t bat an eyelid. But, I would really like to remind everyone that there are actually two other colours in the Irish flag. Yes folks, believe it or not there is some orange and white in there too! I know right? It just blows your mind.

I made this salad as an homage to the oft-forgotten tricolour, where mango represents the orange and macadamia the white. An Australian take on my national flag if you were, as mangos and macadamia nuts are a little harder to come by in county Louth.

I will be celebrating Paddy’s day in Sydney CBD with The Fella and his family and I’ve no doubt there won’t be a tractor or a bunch of shamrocks in sight, but it will be fun none the less. And I hope you have the craic too, wherever you are in the world and however you choose to celebrate; but I do ask this: as you’re tucking into your green beer, do save a thought for the tricolour, sure it’s a grand wee flag!

Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad – spinach, mango and macadamia

Tri colour salad

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Raspberry vodka

Raspberries

This one is for my very very awesome mate, Dr B.

For a long time now, she has been my number one drinking buddy, and no doubt she will remain so for many many years (and hangovers) to come.

This woman is a vodka connoisseur, a discerning, knowledgeable and appreciative consumer, who knows her Gray Goose from her Absolut.

That is until she’s had a few; then all wisdom goes out the window and it’s a free for all. But sure who needs wisdom anyway? It’s totally overrated in my opinion.

Raspberry Vodka Bottle
Whoever thought of mixing fruit with sugar and vodka was a genius, as this raspberry vodka is unbelievably delicious. If you think it’s going to be like the skittles vodka you drank in your student years, think again. This is the grown up version. It’s not too sweet and tastes so strongly of raspberries you almost forget about the vodka, at least until it warms the back of your throat and of course, slams into your synapses.

So now you can get drunk, talk shite and act the maggot, all the while safe in the knowledge that you’re at least getting a little more mature with your choice of drink. Sounds just perfect for a vodka-aficionada-come-messer-extraordinaire I know.

Cheers Doll, I know you’ll enjoy!

Raspberry vodka

RaspberryVodkaShot

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Bread for your belly

Rosemary flecked focaccia

If you haven’t seen the film Anchorman, you should, right now. Stop reading this post and go rent it. I’m serious.

Those of you that have will no doubt remember Ron Burgundy singing at his scotch:

I love scotch.
Scotchy scotch scotch.
Here it goes down, down into my belly…….

And so on.

Well today I am here to confess that I feel much the same way about bread. It’s sad really, scotch and bread don’t really have a lot in common, one takes 18 years to mature, is smooth and effortlessly cool and the other is, well, just bread. But the heart (and by heart I of course mean belly) wants what it wants.

If someone told me in the morning I could never eat bread again I think I might consider slapping them; at the very least I’d shout at them, loudly. I always feel sorry for those women in glossy magazines who profess the benefits of a carb-free diet. I mean, they may be skinny, rich and successful, but could they really be happy? I doubt it. But then again, the less bread they eat, the more there is for me, whoop!

The magic of yeast

Magic stuff, that yeast!

Making your own bread is a lot less effort than you’d think and the results are oh so worth it. You just need time and a little elbow grease. The recipe I’m sharing today is one I’ve adapted from Maureen Tatlow’s The Back to Basics Cookbook. I’ve tweaked it a bit to suit my tastes and I just love it.

There are just two things to point out with it, if you don’t put in the requisite kneading time your bread will be heavy and dense; but hand-kneading for 10 minutes is a kind of exercise and so in a way makes up for the delicious carb overload that’s coming. The second thing is, this bread doesn’t keep well, you really need to eat it on the day it’s made, although it does toast really well on the day after. So adjusting the quantities to suit your hunger levels ain’t a bad idea.

Rosemary flecked focaccia

Rosemary focaccia

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Barbequed shrimp Aussie style

I wonder if there is a nationality on earth that doesn’t have a stereotype associated with it?

As an Irish ex-pat, I sometimes get wished a lovely morning; and while I always appreciate the sentiment, I’m not usually a fan of the delivery. Let me be clear here, Irish people don’t, nor have they ever used the phrase ‘top of the morning to you’.

When Australians say this to me, my response is always the same. I say ‘Ahh yeah, throw a shrimp on the barbie mate’.

That usually gets a reaction.

And I just love a reaction.

Prawns on the barbie, BBQ, Aussie BBQ
If the only thing you know about the Land Down Under comes from Crocodile Dundee or Men at Work songs, you need to throw out those misconceptions. I’ve never seen a deadly spider or snake;  I’m still not entirely sure what a billabong actually is; I don’t carry around large knives; The Fella hardly ever drinks Fosters or rides kangaroos to work. It’s all a bit disappointing really. Although I still hold out hope of one day finding a koala bear living in my back garden.

Barbequed crustaceans are sadly lacking from my life, so in honour of Australia Day I decided to turn that around. God damn it, I threw some shrimps on the barbie and they were bloody bonzer mate!

Barbequed shrimp Aussie style

Barbequed prawns

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Pho bo

Time for another travel post methinks; it’s been a while.

Pho bo recipe

I’ve previously written about how the Fella and I packed up our lives in Dublin and took the slow boat other side of the planet. We stopped off in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore before making the final trek to this great red land Down Under. Truth be told, I only picked those countries because of the delicious and unusual treats that were waiting to be discovered. As I’ve said before: feck culture, I’m hungry!

Vietnam was …… oh god, how do you describe Vietnam in a few succinct words and do it justice? The simple fact is you can’t, well, I can’t. Not without gushing endlessly.

Asian ingredients

We started our Vietnamese adventures in Hanoi, the home of the famous pho soup. On nearly every street there is a stall selling this hot and savoury beef soup, you can smell the star anise at almost every turn. So many stalls and restaurants all claim to sell the best version in Hanoi, the competition is fierce. It is light, spicy, full of green freshness and yummie; oh so very yummie.

Images from Vietnam

I would urge any of you who can to visit Vietnam; the people, scenery and food all combine to make such a wonderful and interesting holiday. Just some of our highlights included sleeping at a gibbon sanctuary, celebrating the full moon festival in Hoi An and exploring the coffee plantations and waterfalls of the Dalat highlands by moped.

Pho bo (beef pho)

Pho bo

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Sydney Swelters

Passion fruit, lemon and mint and creamy cherry ice-lollies

This is the counterpoint to my post Sydney sparkles. It seems in the springtime Sydney sparkles; but by the time January rolls around, Sydney simply sweats.

Last week, all of Australia struggled through a massive heat-wave. Temperatures were literally off the charts with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology having to come up with new colour indicators on their forecast charts. Bush fires raged across Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, but thankfully no one lost their lives. The weather in this country certainly is serious business.

Colourful fruit ice lollies

On Wednesday the mercury in Sydney reached over 41 C, which is just as uncomfortable as it sounds. When it was still 37 C at half eleven that night, I regretted my decision not to just sleep at the pool. So what do you do when you live in a country located – as Dylan aptly observed - three quarters of a mile from the surface of the sun, in a house with no air conditioning? You make ice-pops and eat them while sitting in the bath, isn’t it obvious?!

Don’t let the fact you’ve no ice-pop making accoutrements stop you, do what I did and make them in little shot glasses with straws instead of sticks. You can all judge me if you want, but I was hot and I wasn’t driving to the shops. Anyway, I think they look kind of cute in a DIY sort of way. They tasted good at least and they were cold, which was really all that mattered to me.

Lemon and mint, passion fruit and creamy cherry ice-lollies

Lemon and mint, passion fruit and creamy cherry ice-lollies

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Sunny blue swimmer crabs

New Year’s Eve in Sydney is something very special indeed. I would urge everyone, at some point in their lives, to try and spend it here. I mean, who doesn’t love fireworks? Or spectacular harbours? I’ve been watching some clips on the web, but none of them really do the experience justice.

Blue swimmer crab

However, perhaps I should mention that I don’t really have much else to compare it to. Like, I’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, New York or even London. Up until the point I moved to Australia the majority of my New Year’s celebrations had been in smelly pubs, dodgy nightclubs and other equally glamorous venues throughout Ireland. One memorable year, my date and I were politely (not) asked to leave a county Louth nightclub in sub-zero temperatures because he had fallen asleep under a Christmas tree. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last. The last year The Fella spent at home was with friends, in what was almost certainly the coldest house in Ireland. The central heating broke just as it was beginning to snow outside; so we had to drink buckets of alcohol, purely to keep warm, obviously.

Hence spending New Years in the sunny, warm and party-soaked atmosphere of Sydney is a welcome change. There are no deputes on where to go (see venues described above), or what to wear (party clothes don’t tend to be that warm), or how you’re going to get home (taxis mysteriously disappear on NYE at home). Instead you grab a nice bottle of vino and picnic blanket and make your way to the nearest park, to lounge in the sun for the day and enjoy the midnight show.

This year, I treated myself to a very special lunch. Eating seafood in the sunshine with a crisp white wine isn’t a bad way to finish off the year, not too bad at all.

Roll on 2013; I can’t wait to see what it brings!

Happy New Year!

Steamed blue swimmer crabs with vermicelli noodles in a lemon soy dressing

Steamed blue swimmer crabs with vermicelli noodles in a lemon soy dressing

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Christmas stollen

Christmas Stollen Loaf

I am writing this while basking in the (relative) cool of the evening, which is quite a strange feeling on Christmas Eve. Where I’m from, we tend to bask in the warm glow of turf fires on the 24th, instead I’m battling with the cats for who gets to sit closest to the fan. The cats are winning; they use their cuteness against me, clever things.

It’s still 24 °C at 10 pm, which is not generally a temperature that makes me think of mulled wine and mince pies. Or stollen for that matter, but I’ve got to make some concessions to this festive season, right?

Dried fruit, glace cherries and Cointreau
Nothing screams Christmas better than dried fruit, glace cherries and booze!

I have to admit (and I’m sure it’s already clear), this year I’m finding the summer-time Christmas a little difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem sitting in the sun sipping many cool drinks (like this one), but let’s call a spade a spade here, it’s just not Christmas when it’s over 30 °C out. Today I’ve been pining for Grafton St and Grogans and going out with my girlies.

But who can’t resist marzipan fruit bread? Not me I tell you, doesn’t matter what the temperature is! So I rolled up my sleeves, whacked on my oven and set to work, and the results were worth it, oh so worth it…..

Nollaig shona daoibh!

Christmas stollen

Stollen with cherries and marzipan

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Chorizo, mixed bean and rocket salad

crispy and golden chorizo

Question: when is a salad not a salad?

Answer: when it’s got chorizo in it!! YUMO!

One thing I’ve learnt recently is that chorizo is apparently not a diet food. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not me. I’m one of these people who think once you stick the word ‘salad’ onto anything, it’s automatically super healthy and not at all bad for you. Oh why can’t that just be true?

So when I made this salad recently and brought it to a dinner at the house of two dieting friends I wasn’t met with lip smacking or smiles. Oh no, instead I was educated about kilojoules, fat and carb ratios and other exciting stuff like that; because that’s just what I need, another thing to worry over and feel guilty about.

Chorizo and mixed bean salad

“But it’s a salad…” I pleaded.

“No” I was told, “it’s got chorizo in it, so it doesn’t count”.

In fairness, our friends are doing great and look absolutely fab. Maybe taking some of their advice wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Mixed beans

This recipe is from the Avoca Salads cookbook. Any Irish readers will be familiar with the Avoca shops and cafes and will already be drooling and deciding they need to eat this immediately. For all you lovely foreigners, Avoca is a chain of uber-yummie-mummie shops in Dublin and Wicklow. You have to be a yummie mummie to a) have the time to hang out at the cafes with other yummie-friends and b) afford many of the country-chic-organic-handmade foods stuffs, clothes and nick nacks.

Maybe one day I will have the accompanying children and salary to justify my Avoca obsession, although it’s not going to be one day soon. In the mean-time I’ll just continue to buy their cookbooks and delude myself about the health benefits of certain salads.

Chorizo, mixed bean and rocket salad

Chorizo & mixed bean salad

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The desert your dentist will love to hate on

Every kid loves Roald Dahl’s dark, twisted and hilariously grotesque stories, right? Or was that just me? I love that he got right to the crux of what kids really like, there’s no pink fluff or fairy godmothers in his stories, no sir. Instead there are disappearing twits, shrinking grandmothers, squish-able aunts and other villains coming to raucous, violent and; let’s be honest; hilariously funny ends.

One of my very favourite characters is Violet Beauregarde, maybe because I can relate to poor ‘oul Violet a little more than I’d care to admit. For those of you who don’t know, Violet, a serial gum-chewer, won a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  But poor Violet comes to a colourful end when she insists on trying a prototype gum that doubles as a three course meal. Long story short, she sweals up, turns into a blueberry and has to be rolled away…. to be juiced.

I love the idea that you could eat so much of something, you could turn into it. I’m pretty sure it can’t actually happen, at least, I haven’t turned into a lump of chocolate just yet; although I do have a friend who insists her skin once started to turn orange after she over dosed on carrot juice.

Well, eating tonnes of this yummie desert won’t turn you into a blueberry, but it will turn your teeth and tongue a jaunty shade of purple. Hence why your dentist won’t like it, but I bet your friends will find it hilarious.

I threw this together after The Fella’s mother gifted me a whole bucketful of blueberries (yes, I am a very lucky girl). It’s like a cross between a fool and a fruit crumble, mainly because I couldn’t quite decide on what to make, but it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it is deeeelicious. I think it would work with any summer berry, especially raspberries, so if you’re not lucky enough to be gifted a pile of blueberries in the morning, feel free to mix it up, your teeth can take it.

Little pots of blue

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Sydney Sparkles

When it comes to weather, us Irish like to think we’re pretty hardy.  We just love to hate it, almost as much as we love to talk about it; and I did think we had it pretty tough, until I moved to Australia. The weather in this poor country is pure mental.

MENTAL I tell you.

When I first moved here and was house hunting, I amused quite a few real estate agents asking in-depth questions about central heating. At that stage I was such a FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) I didn’t realise the buzz phrase in Sydney is ‘reverse-cycle air conditioning’, doh! One actually guy laughed in my face. Well what can I say? I love to keep people entertained.

So, last week, when the reverse-cycle air conditioning in my office gave up the ghost, it wasn’t a good day. The system was kaput, defunct, dead. And it got hot. Oh so very hot. I started to glow, then to glisten and then to sweat profusely; all over my keyboard. As this was happening I also got progressively more stressed and stupid. Apparently my mental faculties are inversely proportional to the temperature of my immediate environment; which means if I ever move to Finland or Antarctica or someplace, I would probably be SO smart.

When I got home I needed alcohol, cold alcohol.

So I made this, and it was yum. I got the idea when browsing Heidi Swanson’s pop-up shop, QUITOKEETO. Heidi made hers with a straightforward thyme-infused syrup, but I decided to take things a step further and use lemon thyme instead of the regular variety. Lemon thyme is wonderful and I would urge everyone to get a pot, just for the beautiful smell if nothing else.

This cocktail is so very yummie. It’s lemoney and herby, aromatic and sweet, I love it; and I usually like my gin so bitter it makes my face turn inside out. So if you’re not a gin drinker, this might be the perfect introduction.

They fixed the air-conditioning, by the way; but the next day there was a hail storm, so it was a bit redundant really. See, I told you: mental.

Lemon-thyme gin sparkler

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Pork with a serious, devilishly good (chocolaty!!) twist

If you’re anything like me you will think chocolate and wine are thee very  bestest inventions in the whole entire wide universe. Fact.

They are delicious together. Or separately. For breakfast (well maybe not the wine), brunch, lunch or tea. When you’re happy, sad, bored, stressed or just feel like you deserve a treat. I honestly don’t know what I would ever do if, in a desert island type situation, I had to choose between The Fella and a chocolate-red-wine combo. I’d certainly need a glass of wine to help me mull it over, I may need several in fact.

But… what if you mix these two yummie ingredients with something totally left of field, something completely unusual, something like pork? Am I blowing your mind?! I hope so because this dish is very very special indeed.

This is a recipe from Rachel Allen’s Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends, and it has been a major hit since the first time I made it a few years ago. Initially people are very reluctant to try it, but after a little coaxing and a taste, it gets gobbled up quicker than you can say: but chocolate isn’t supposed to be for dinner! Of course, you don’t actually taste the chocolate; it just adds a beautiful richness and sweetness to the sauce. Midweek dinner this ain’t, this is RICH and filling and unusual, but totally delicious. So I urge to mix it up a bit this weekend and try it, I guarantee you’ll love it, or your money back.

Sweet and sour pork with raisins, pine nuts and chocolate

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