Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Attacking the jackfruit

I’ve had a few vac packs of jackfruit at the back of the food press since I attempted Veganuary earlier in the year . I managed three weeks before throwing in the towel because I was really craving a piece of salmon (it was amazing). Jackfruit is an exotic fruit native to India which is now increasingly used as a plant based meat substitute due to its stringy texture which resembles meat fibres.  I found this brand in Holland and Barrett on sale for about a euro but at full price it retails at almost four euro a packet.

This wasn’t my first attempt at eating vegan for a period of time.  I managed to complete six weeks a couple of years ago when I experimented lots with vegan cheese making and all sorts of fun stuff. I was much lazier this time, relying too much on convenience foods and bread and just never got around to playing with the jackfruit.

Jackfruit is most commonly turned into big fat fake pulled pork sandwiches in the vegan world but I decided not to bother with those as I'm just not a big fan of sugary BBQ sauce at the best of times.

Instead, I chose to make some peanut and miso jackfruit noodles which I figured would have enough punch to compensate for what I expected to be a pretty bland ingredient. 

I have to say the jackfruit looked did look quite a bit like pork when opened. I tasted a piece raw and it was pretty tasteless with only a faint briny note detectable.   It contained some weird knobbly bits which freaked me out a bit as they really did look like some of the less appetising parts of  real pulled pork.  

I broke it up a bit with a spatula before browning it in some oil which made it look even more meaty. You might believe this was pork when you looked at it but one taste would tell you that were very wrong.

I did enjoy this stir fry but the jackfruit just brought nothing to the party. The famed meaty texture wasn't even discernible amongst the other ingredients. I'll probably throw the two packets I have left into something or other but probably wouldn't bother buying it again. 

Jackfruit noodles with peanut miso sauce 

Peanut miso sauce

- 1 tbs miso paste
- 2 tbs peanut butter
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 2 tbs rice vinegar
- 2 tbs sweet chilli sauce
- splash water

Stir fry

- 1 packet jackfruit, drained
- 1 cup mixed chopped peppers (I used frozen)
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- chilli flakes to taste
- medium egg noodles

1) blend all sauce ingredients together to a smooth paste. Set aside.
2) Season jackfruit and fry in oil for 3-4 minutes until browned
3) add peppers and fry until softened.
4) add sauce (you may not need it all)
5) Finish with chopped spring onions and chilli flakes. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Old fashioned brownies (cocoa powder only)

My mam baked only now and then when we were young, usually a tray of queen cakes which we would then be invited to cover with royal icing to hide the black spots (sorry mammy), eve’s pudding (remember that?) and the odd ‘cake' of soda bread which was round with a cross on top as distinct from a loaf. 

Of course, there were also the obligatory Rice Krispie buns for parties (or more commonly in our house, cornflake buns which didn't seem quite as exciting at the time). Like most households, the baking centre-piece was the thickly iced Christmas cake which was adorned with the latest in 80s mini Santas and trees and proudly presented each year . 

Brownies only came into my consciousness well into my teenage years and I was instantly a huge fan. This happened to be at the height of my chocolate obsession and their fudgey goodness seemed to offer the perfect antithesis to teenage angst,  unrequited love and all the other desperate things I had to suffer.

Most brownie recipes today seem to contain a good amount of high cocoa percentage chocolate in replacement of some (or all) of the traditional cocoa powder. I've made (very nice) brownies like this on a few occasions but always half resented using up all of my black (70-85 per cent) chocolate like that. With most of the chocolate- heavy recipes requiring a minimum of 70 per cent cocoa solids in the first place, I figured I'd get back to basics for this week's treat for the Roses tub and see if my flittered packet of cocoa powder was up to the job.

It definitely was. These were just as nice as the chocolate-heavy batch I made a couple of weeks ago and I am definitely a convert to going old school on the brownie baking and saving my chocolate for emergencies (they happen!). The addition of a few chopped dates gave some caramel chew and this batch was optimistically cut into 1 inch squares in an attempt to enforce some discipline on this increasingly sugar reliant house.

I am learning slowly that under-cooking really is the key to a delicious fudgey brownie. If you happen to prefer  a cakier texture in yours, I'm sorry,  but we just can't be friends. 

As I said already, we didn't have brownies in our house when we were small but if we had, we would probably have used this recipe which you can find here..

Thursday, 16 April 2020

My first go at sourdough

Like so many others, baking is emerging to be a central theme of my lock-down.  As housebound activities go it really is a good one, allowing as it does for some creativity as well as the obvious benefit of enjoying eating what you produce. Furthermore, baking smells are surely the most comforting of all and God knows we could all do with a bit of that right now.

I have made a good deal of naan, pizza bases and soda breads in my time but had only attempted a 'normal' white loaf on two occasions. I am sorry to say that both efforts were dense, tasteless and quickly fired in the bin. However, I am delighted to reveal that I redeemed myself slightly last weekend.  

Sourdough is traditionally risen with what’s known as a 'starter' instead of yeast. This yields a slow rise which also gives the bread its characteristic chewy crust and distinctive tang. In theory, a sourdough starter can be comprised of only flour and water which is then left for several days to allow for natural yeasts in the air to activate the fermentation process. However, my Google search taught me that there are also starter recipes which include live yogurt as an ingredient. This seemed to be a safer bet to me so I went with that option for my first attempt.

Day one involved the combination of flour, water and live yogurt into a paste which was then left loosely covered overnight (I read that sealed jars have been known to explode so played it safe on this). More flour was then added on day two and I was delighted to see that there was some definite bubble action going on. By day five it was looking somewhat more active but not nearly as much as I expected. A quick flick through my cookbooks showed me that Rachel Allen is ok with adding instant yeast to her sourdough.  Having at last got my hands on some thanks to my friend Ann, I snuck in a precious sachet feeling like something of a fraud. That did the trick and I actually thought the jar would bubble over.


I am (very) early on in my bread-making journey but have learned a lot from just this one loaf mainly the fundamental importance of patience.  The recipe advised that the bread would take between 4-8 hours to rise depending on the room temperature. After five hours, there was some definite growth and I could wait no longer. On reflection I should have. My resulting loaf was a bit flat and I knew even before I baked it that it hadn't fulfilled its potential. Though the end result was very tasty and sourdough-like with a fantastic chewy crust it was also rather close in texture and lacking those big distinctive air-holes.


However, I now have hope! After this (limited) success, bread-making doesn't seem to be quite as mysterious as before. My (yeast- enhanced) starter is now sleeping in the fridge and apparently all I have to do to revive it is bring it to room temperature and feed it with flour and water before using again (it should be 'fed' weekly). I will absolutely throw in another sachet of instant yeast if necessary to help it along. Sourdough snobs might not approve of that but if I get to have the satisfaction of taking a big fat perfect crusty loaf out of the oven I really couldn't care less. I'll just have to learn to have some patience.

Monday, 6 April 2020

A great naan bread for these yeastless times

I fell in love with Indian food the first time I visited a 'real' Indian restaurant. I especially love the way in which this particular cuisine lends itself so well to the concept of sharing and man, I really really love the naan.

I had intended to order a takeaway this past weekend but on hearing that the (best) local Indian had temporarily closed its doors, I once again turned to the Curry Guy for inspiration. Dan Toombs is a US native who now lives in the UK and has meticulously researched and documented how to create hundreds of authentic Indian and 'British Restaurant Style' curries. For my little curry night, I cooked his chicken tikka masalasaag aloo and chana masala. The first recipe involves several stages and takes a good degree of effort but sure I had a bit of time on my hands and the end result was very good.

Then there was the issue of the naan bread. I'm all for a shortcut at the best of times but would honestly rather do without than eat that strangely sweet, rubbery pre-made naan from the shops. It's just offensive. However, with the recent surge in home-baking during this pandemic, yeast has become almost impossible to find either on supermarket shelves or online. The packet I had in the press was so old it was no longer active so I knew I would have to look for another option.

Luckily, Dan came up with the goods again with this fantastic yeast free recipe. What's even better is that, once proved, it can be made on a hot frying pan in just minutes. I was surprised that it needed proving at all given that it contained no yeast but it is still a crucial part of the dough making process. In place of yeast, he includes Greek yogurt, the bacteria in which raises the dough more slowly over a longer period of time but which gives a very tasty, chewy result.

I cooked up some of the dough after about 12 hours and the remainder 24 hours later. Both batches were delicious (especially when brushed with garlic butter) but I would say the longer proved naan had a slight edge.

I was so happy with this naan bread and would choose to make it again and again over a standard yeast dough. It's so good that I'm actually planning on using the recipe soon to make pizza (minus the nigella seeds). I'd better keep getting those (Government sanctioned) walks in or at this rate I won't be able to get out the door.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Recalling my first date (and a tasty loaf recipe)

I have to admit that my first date (of the edible variety) was a real disappointment . It probably doesn't say much for my priorities in life when I genuinely don't recall much about my first romantic one but remember the first one I ever ate with absolute clarity.

 The main reason I felt so let down was that this particular scene in my childhood story was set for something really amazing. It was Christmas for a start and I was visiting my uncle's house where the brightly coloured and individually wrapped box of treats I was presented with was surely going to be something special. The four year old me lived in a sugar saturated world and knew well that this elaborate packaging was just bound to represent a superior treat in the line of a much loved Viscount or Penguin.

 Its toffee hued appearance when unwrapped only elevated my expectations further but as I bit into it I was greatly let down by something that seemed bland and underwhelming. This was the source of great amusement for the adults present and I remember feeling at the time that I had been rightly duped.

Perspective, however, is a wonderful thing and many years later, I would come to see dates in a very different light when I gave up refined sugar for a six month period in my twenties. During that time, they sweetened up smoothies nicely and even meant that I could enjoy a (healthier) brownie or cookie now and then.

My opinion on them now probably lies somewhere between the two extremes but I do know they make a fantastic pairing with banana and banana bread is the obvious thing to reach to make when you have spotty bananas like this in the fruit bowl.

Because I am keen not to take too much solace in sweets during isolation, I refrained from buying any chocolate or junk in my last shop. However, I was struck by a serious sugar craving this weekend and decided to make a banana, date and walnut loaf (well, two to be precise).

I doubled up on this banana bread recipe, adding in a handful each of chopped dates and toasted walnuts. The low fat content in this recipe gives a result that is more akin to standard bread than other banana bread recipes I have tried in the past but a bit of butter helps with that issue greatly. I think toasting would improve it even further. 

Lots of my friends and family are also baking up a storm during this crisis and I'm really enjoying seeing and hearing about (if not tasting) their efforts. This is my little contribution for this week, a good solid recipe that can be modified very easily. (I think chocolate chips would be another great addition).

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Using up that quare stuff at the back of the press

In these strangest of days, I have once again turned to food. While I haven't (quite) been polishing off biscuits by the packet, these incredible times have reiterated to me both the emotional role food plays in our lives and the fact that there really are few greater acts of love than feeding those we hold dear.  And so, more than four years since it last saw the light of day, I am once again resurrecting this blog.

I'm sure I'm not alone in embracing any semblance of normality I can at this time when almost all that we know has been utterly turned on its head. Because of my failure to source Dettol and disinfect the place on repeat like the rest of you, I don't mind admitting that I have instead been washing and drying clothes almost constantly (and sometimes unnecessarily). For me, the hum of the machines has never been more soothing, symbolising glorious normality at its most basic. Similarly, as the hours spent at home have turned into days, the pattern of preparing meals has lent a sense of structure to my time in the house. 

For very obvious reasons, I’m adverse to making unnecessary supermarket trips and mindful not to buy a second of anything for fear of leaving someone else short. Prior to this craziness, I was  someone who unashamedly took full advantage of my shopping freedom, visiting Lidl most days (sometimes even twice) and throwing pretty much whatever I fancied for dinner that night in the trolley but with the planet having seemingly shifted off its axis, that can of course no longer continue. 

I am trying hard to shop just once a week (for both my mam and I together) and also now feel a genuine moral obligation to try harder than ever not to be wasteful with the food we are lucky enough to have in the cupboards and fridge (purchased both pre and post pandemic).

Though it's also in a state of chaos, I have to say that I really love my extra large food cupboard/ larder. I am well aware that many houses these days have elaborate walk-in pantries, outdoor pizza ovens and many other amazing features but when I came to view our house a couple of years ago, the kitchen storage was probably the stand out thing that made me most excited about the prospect of living here. For context, I had just moved home to Mayo after 16 years in the capital which finished with a stint in a horribly overpriced, stinking bedsit in Dublin 8 where I had close to no kitchen or counter space and literally had to sit on my bed in order to chop an onion. To me this standard three bed semi and its abundance of storage was a veritable palace. I snapped it up and promptly began to fill it with food!

I’m lucky to be able to say that my kitchen cupboards and freezer are now quite full of all manner of weird and wonderful things because I have simply gotten lazy and unadventurous but I’ve decided that this is the ideal time for me to challenge myself by changing that and documenting the results here. Having once been a fairly adventurous and experimental cook, I have found myself in a bit of a rut, cooking the same old things week after week. There are so many items I need to use from tahini and miso to panko breadcrumbs and including some older items (that I will have to examine closely before consuming!). Now that we no longer have the luxury of flying down to the supermarket on a whim because we happen to fancy a roast chicken and with no certainty in terms of what still lies ahead, I figure that making do with what we have to hand might be a useful skill to master.

I have to say that I have the utmost of respect for all of the supermarket workers who are working at the coalface of this crisis with little money or thanks.The medical staff are quite rightly receiving high praise from all quarters, crowd funded meals and huge respect and of course that is all richly deserved. However, our retail workers are also doing a heroic and absolutely essential job for a whole lot less money and without the same levels of respect. I see that Aldi announced yesterday that they are to give all staff a 10% raise and hopefully others will follow suit.  After all, if we can't eat we simply can't survive and we all owe those who show up each day in these uncertain times a huge debt of gratitude.

Though I ate plenty of the over-salted packet sort as a teenager (usually alongside a white bread cheese sandwich), soup wouldn't usually appear on my shortlist of favourite foods. Perhaps it was its 'hug in a mug' connotations that encouraged me make some yesterday or maybe it was its reputation as a good old staple at a time when things feel less than secure. In any case. it helped clear out the overflowing vegetable drawer nicely.

Soup really is the perfect vehicle to use up tired vegetables be they slightly withered with age or ice- burned from spending too long in the depths of the freezer. It is also very forgiving of adaptations. To make a simple vegetable soup,  I started with one onion, gently fried in butter, adding about seven medium sized carrots, most of a celeriac (head?)half a packet of diced swede (that must have been in the freezer for a year), a few shrunken potatoes, a couple of handfuls of frozen peas, about 750ml of vegetable stock and finishing with a good glug of milk added to a basic flour and butter roux to thicken it a little further and add to the creaminess.

The lot then simmered on medium for about 25 minutes before blending and finishing with some extra peas. I also added a teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder (not salt! I made that mistake once!).Another mistake I made was adding in a very pungent Tesco herb and garlic stock pot towards the end of cooking.Though still very tasty to eat, I found it took from the gentle sweetness of the root vegetables a little and I will be wary of using these so liberally in the future. It still made a great lunch together with some soda bread I made using this very simple recipe with the addition of a few chia and sunflower seeds. I am sorry that I don't have a picture of the finished soup but I'm simply out of practice. Here is one of the bread instead and I promise to try to be a better blogger in future. 

I dropped some soup to my mam and dad (from a safe distance) and, in the absence of real hugs,  it seemed to to be something of a substitute. It certainly wasn't fancy but transformed a good amount of weary ingredients into something very edible (including some very questionable flour which I used in both the bread and soup).It was nourishing, simple and good for the soul because in these weird days here on planet earth surely that needs feeding too.

These are mad times and I believe they will change us all in many ways that are yet to be revealed. My own journey of change starts with tackling that food press. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Breadless Benedict with Smoked Salmon and 1 Egg Hollandaise.

Ah Eggs Benedict - one of my favourite things to eat in the whole word and also one of the dishes I have been most frequently disappointed with in restaurants over the years.

Like so many of the best things in life, it is this dish's simplicity which makes it so perfect, the double creamy hit of the runny egg yolks and the hollandaise together with the salty pieces of ham or smoked salmon, all piled up on something to mop it all up (traditionally English Muffins or in this case wilted spinach) but God, I've had some horrors with rubbery hard egg yolks, bland sauces and rubbish quality ingredients all too commonly served up. And considering Benedicts usually cost about 12 quid a pop and given that they contain relatively inexpensive ingredients,  you really should expect to be right. Despite this, I keep ordering it because when it's good,  it's so very very good.

Since I started eating properly, I have been getting regular cravings for different foods which I didn't really before (with the exception of sweets and rubbish). I'm not sure if that has something to do with my body getting accustomed to being properly fed and in turn really missing something that's not there or not. In any case, all  last week it was canned tuna and last night it was smoked salmon.And I had some in the fridge. Whoop.


I have tried to make hollandaise in a blender before with just mediocre results. In theory it seems like it would be foolproof/ much easier but in practice it didn't thicken nearly as much as I'd like. Last night, I made this one the old school way, using a recent tip I picked up of using a sieve to keep the base of the bowl separate from the water.  It worked very well.


Hollandaise sauce
1 large egg yolk
I heaped tbs butter
1tbs lemon juice
1tbs hot water
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste

2 eggs
2-3 slices smoked salmon (I like Lidl's)
1 medium bag baby spinach leaves (yes, a whole bag, you will be left with a couple of tablespoons when it wilts down)
1tsp butter
6-8 asparagus tips, roasted in olive oil
1tbs vinegar


This isn't particularly tricky to make but it does involve the juggling of a few different elements simultaneously.

1) Having given the asparagus a 5 minute head start in a preheated oven, set up your double boiler for your sauce and a wide pan for your eggs, bringing some water in both to a slow simmer.

2) Slowly melt the butter for the spinach in another pan, adding it gradually until all cooked down (about 3-5 minutes only) Season well.

3) Whisk the egg yolk with the tbs of hot water and set over the sieve if using. You will have to whisk it almost constantly now for the next 5 minutes.

4) After about 3 minutes or so, add vinegar to egg poaching water and then the eggs.

5) When the egg yolk/ hot water mix has thickened to a point that it coats the back of a spoon, gradually add the butter and continue to whisk. At this point I was taking it on and off the heat like a mad woman but we got there in the end.Add lemon juice, cayenne, salt and black pepper to taste.

6) Drain as much water as possible out of the spinach (I tried my best but you can see that some remained...next time I think I'll wring it out in kitchen towel!

7) Pile it up high, feel smug that your hollandaise worked and enjoy. Who needs bread?!