Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kitchen Sink Chowder

It's a great weekend for soup. It's been raining--and raining hard--for a couple of days and yesterday especially, the wind was blowing like mad. I also had some veggie odds and ends in the fridge and a package of smoked coley that we'd picked up from the reduced shelf at SuperValu a few days ago. Time for some chowder! I started making fish chowder regularly a couple of summers ago in the soup kitchen and since we've been in Ireland I have been making it a lot--with a break over the summer. Here I use smoked mackerel or coley, because these are abundant, inexpensive, and from what I've read, sustainable. I also sometimes make a veggie chowder without the fish. As was the case in the soup kitchen, every time I make it, it's a bit different, depending on what I have around that needs using.

Last night I used chopped onion, garlic, red bell pepper, a zucchini, and the last few carrots in the opened bag. I also cut some celery from the plant growing on the windowsill. I sweated these and stirred them around in a puddle of olive oil before adding cubed potatoes and half a head of cauliflower that I'd chopped up. I just barely covered the veggies with water and let them cook until the potatoes were almost done. Then I added some big chunks of smoked coley and stirred everything around--the fish flakes as it cooks and I stir.
I turned off the burner and stirred in some milk. A sprinkle of black pepper at the table was all that was needed. It was a perfect meal for a fall day. I do love chowder. And I love the leftovers we have for supper tonight. I wasn't sure there would be quite enough left, so I made a pot of brown rice this morning to add to the bowls. This will stretch the leftovers and leave me a container of cooked brown rice to use during the week. In the past, I've also used pasta, pierogies, or tortellini with leftover chowder. It all works!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Foraging and Food Bargains

Today we went berry picking--again and for what was probably the last time this season. Yesterday we were walking and discovered that what we thought was a driveway, wasn't, so we crossed the street to investigate further.
We ventured down the path and shortly came to the playing field, which I assume is for the schools across the street.
 The path continued on.
We kept on walking until the path ended at a couple of gates a little farther on. We noticed a lot of blackberries on either side of us, but since I did not have my backpack with me and my containers were in that, we didn't pick any yesterday. Today, however, I made sure to bring my backpack and we stopped and picked some berries down our street before making our way to the newly discovered bounty down the path.
We ended up with 4 containers full. I keep saying that this must be the end of the blackberries and they've kept right on coming, but we really must be getting close to the end now. We've been getting more rain lately and a lot of the berries are just turning to mush.

When we got home, I cut up the 8 remaining Bramley apples I had in the fridge and put them in pots with the blackberries. I added some cinnamon and sugar and a bit of water and made fruit sauce. A while later, it bucketed down outside...

 ...and I put the cooled sauce into containers inside.
I am going to try to fit a couple of those into the freezer.

On our way home, we stopped at SuperValu. It's on our way and it's worth cruising through to see what stuff they have reduced--you never know. Now they are starting to scatter stuff around the store, which is very small. So we walked in and saw some fresh ravioli and a package of tortelloni for a euro each, instead of the 3 euro that they usually are. There were 4 packages and they all went into my basket. We moved on to the regular clearance section where we found a pan of some chicken roulettes. I'd not seen them before in the store, but that often happens--stuff shows up reduced and I have never even seen it at a regular price! These are chicken thighs that have been split and stuffed, then wrapped with bacon. It's not something I would normally buy, but for 2 euro, it seemed like it was worth trying. I am going to cook them in the slow cooker overnight with potatoes, onion, carrots, and garlic. Sausage has been very disappointing here, but we saw a kind we'd not seen before--says it's an herb sausage. It was 1.10 euro, so we decided to try them--there are 8 smallish sausages in the package, so I'll freeze 4 of them. I also froze a couple of the packages of pasta. I'll cook the other two tonight for supper with 4 of the sausages and some veggies.

It always disturbs me when I see the food going to waste--it seems so disrespectful--especially when it's meat. Because I know that the next stop after the reduced shelf is the garbage, I try to buy from there when I can, so the food doesn't end up in the landfill adding to the climate problem. I guess some waste is just a part of the grocery business, since you never know what people will buy or not buy. I can't always buy from there--often what is there is stuff I don't use. But when I can, I opt to save money and keep the food out of the landfill--a win-win. I either use it within a day or two, if necessary, or freeze it. So here is the food we got today for a total of 7.10 euro (not including the squash, which we got a week or two ago for 50 cents each).
I used to plan my meals weekly and write them on a chalkboard we had in the kitchen. When our daughter, who is a picky eater, decided she wanted something else, she knew she would be making her own dinner that night. Now I still plan, but I plan very loosely, because I never know what kind of stuff I am going to end up with. I still make a list and take advantage of the sales when I do a regular shop, but I have learned that it is a good idea to be very flexible in order to take advantage of these unexpected bargains that pop up--my plans for lunch and supper for at least the next two days have changed as a result of today's foraging and food bargains!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Potato Pancakes

I had a head of broccoli that I needed to use up, so the other day I chopped it up with a couple of onions, a red bell pepper, and a few cloves of garlic and cooked them all in a bit of olive oil. I had some of this on its own, placed some in a container and froze it for a future use, and mixed the rest into mashed potatoes. We ate the potatoes as a side dish once or twice and I had some left, so I made potato pancakes for lunch.

I dumped the potato-broccoli mixture into a bowl, added some diced extra mature cheddar, and a couple of eggs. I snipped some scallions and garlic chives from my windowsill plants. I did a few grinds of the hot chilli mixture I love so much into the bowl and stirred everything together well, before adding enough flour to make the right consistency (kind of like a wet dough).
I spooned some of the mixture into a pan and spread it out to form a pancake. When it was browned on one side, I flipped it and browned the other side.
I always love these--good excuse to make extra mashed potatoes and you can add in whatever you want, so they can be different every time--and they usually are around here!

A few months ago I used the last of a bunch of celery. I could not bring myself to toss the end, even though I had no dirt at the time, so I stuck it in a shallow container with a little water and left it on the windowsill.

I did this many, many times in Maine, usually with little success. I would bring home the ends of the celery we processed at the food bank (we cut the ends off, trimmed the celery if needed and cut the stalks to fit into quart-sized bags for distribution in the food pantry). I'd stick the ends in water and by the next day, there would be little dark green growth appearing in the center. This would grow taller and roots would form. I would eventually stick the root ends in dirt and the celery would grow a bit more before rotting. There were 3 exceptions--all ends from bunches of organic celery donated to the food bank by area farms. Instead of the smooth bottoms seen on store celery, these bottoms were all knobbly--they grew and kept on growing when I planted them in the dirt. I had those 3 plants in the bedroom and they never got huge--the stalks were always really thin--but it was great to go snip a bit of celery for tuna or chicken salad, potato salad, or whatever.

I wasn't sure how things would go with my Irish celery, but I didn't get my hopes up. The center grew and the roots developed. I eventually got some dirt and some more plants and I potted the celery and waited to see what would happen.
This is what it looked like yesterday. It's the most successful celery plant I've managed to grow from scraps. It sits in the bedroom on the windowsill and is quite happy there, along with a couple of small mint plants that I also rooted and am growing from scraps, an avocado plant--I got a pit to root and the leaves are just starting to open up--and a rosemary plant. In the kitchen window I have parsley, coriander, a couple of pots of scallions, some garlic chives and a big mint plant that is getting bigger by the minute. Just as well--makes great tea, either hot or iced!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Quick Apple Crisp-ish

Tesco has had Bramley apples on sale this week. There is an English version and an Irish version from Co Armagh. We have the latter. I had never heard of this apple variety, but they were 49 cents for a bag of 5 huge apples, so I bought 5 bags altogether. The bag stated that they are cooking apples. I wondered if that was the choice Bob Cratchit had when he went to buy the food for the family's Christmas dinner in A Christmas Carol--the shopkeeper asks him if he wants cookers or the special Pippins. Maybe that's just in one of the movie versions and not in the text itself--I can't remember now! Help me out, Karen O!

Anyway, I decided to make a bunch of chunky applesauce to use for breakfast in porridge or in yogurt with toasted oatmeal. I cored and chopped 15 apples--this filled 3 pots since they are they are big apples--added a little water and turned on the burner. I'd googled "Bramley apples" so I could get some idea of what they're like, so I knew they were very tart and indeed they are. I tried a piece raw and I did like them that way, but an entire apple raw could be a little too much. I'd also read that the apples fall apart when cooked, which is why they're good for sauce. That's why I cut them into large chunks--I wanted a chunky sauce.

It did not take long for the apples to cook and turn into sauce and before turning off the heat, I added some cinnamon-sugar and stirred it in well.
I put two of the yogurt containers of sauce into the freezer and the rest in the fridge. It had dawned on me that I could use the sauce as a dessert--sort of a cheater's apple crispish kind of thing.

Last night we had some and it was good! I heated up some of the apples, topped them with toasted oatmeal and added some coconut to mine, then scooped some vanilla ice cream on top.
We had pretty much the same thing for breakfast this morning, but with yogurt instead of ice cream.

I've got 10 more apples, so can make more sauce when this is gone. The sale is still on for a couple of days, so I could even go get more, if I am so inclined. I have a growing stash of various fruit sauce combinations in the freezer and used just enough from the stash to make room for the two containers I added yesterday. It's handy to have, since it can be used in so many different ways. They are all good, but this apple-cinnamon combination just tastes like autumn :-)

Which foods say, 'It's fall" to you?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wonky Veg and Christmas Biscuits

There has been some new stuff popping up in the grocery stores. Some of it is seasonal and some is a new way to market stuff.

Tesco has come out with a "Wonky Veg" range. At the moment, it is limited to carrots and mushrooms. I got some carrots this morning.
The point is supposed to be that these items might not be uniform and they might look "wonky," but as it says on the bag, "we're all the same inside." These cost a bit less than more uniform produce and the stated goal is to cut down on food waste. This doesn't seem like a new idea for Tesco, but more of a new marketing strategy. Most of the produce sold here comes packaged and Tesco has been selling produce of varying sizes and saying on the tag that it's "all shapes and sizes, just as fresh."
They sell these under their "Everyday Value" range as you can see with the onion tag above. They sell bell peppers this way, too, and even smoked salmon! I wonder about this. Is it important to Irish grocery shoppers to have their onions be all the same size? If you're stuffing them and baking them, then I can see why that would be desirable, but most of the time you're chopping onions anyway, so who cares whether they are different sizes? It must make a difference, though, because the onions, peppers, and smoked salmon are significantly cheaper than stuff that comes packaged with each piece being the same size. I'm happy to buy mismatched onions, peppers, smoked salmon, and wonky carrots--I could not care less what this stuff looks like or how uniform the pieces are!

Halloween stuff has appeared in stores now. Tesco has "Halloween Street" which has costumes and decorations. SuperValu has a few Halloween things, too. They are both getting the Christmas biscuit collections on shelves as well. Tesco had a small display, but SuperValu has a pretty extensive variety already! We were looking at the tins and having a chuckle at the USA Biscuits:
I guess the "big 1 kg tin" is what makes them USA-ish?

I quite liked the marketing on these:
"More yum per crumb"--very clever :-)

So seasonal change has come even to the grocery stores. It's fun to see how it's different here. I have not seen any pumpkins at all--in fact the only kind of winter squash I've seen has been butternut. There's a bit more cabbage, too. Now there's wonky veg, big biscuit tins, and yummy crumbs on offer as well. Wonder what will be next!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Simple Supper

We had a simple supper tonight, thanks to planned leftovers!

Yesterday I made some mashed potatoes and cauliflower with herbs.
I used rooster (red) potatoes, leaving the peel on, cubing them and placing them in a pot along with some chopped cauliflower (about half a head). I covered with water and boiled until tender. Then I drained the veggies and mashed with a fork, adding in a little butter and milk. Then I snipped some scallions, garlic chives, and curly parsley from my windowsill plants and mixed them in with a bit of cubed extra mature cheddar cheese. We sprinkled with black pepper at the table. Yum! I made extra so we could have leftovers today.

I cooked a chicken in the slow cooker the other night, so I made chicken salad with some of it. To the chicken I added black pepper,diced cherry tomato, diced red pepper, and started snipping the plants on the windowsill again, adding scallion, garlic chives, parsley, and celery and I mixed in a bit of mayonnaise. I toasted some brown bread to put it on.

For breakfast, I made some porridge and tossed in some of the blackberries we picked yesterday along with a sliced banana and some almonds--that was really good. For lunch we had eggs and sweet potatoes that I'd cooked in the slow cooker with the chicken. Very handy to have stuff in the fridge and ready to go--and with electricity costs being what they are here, I try to cook extra whenever I have the stove or slow cooker going, so I can use less energy. The slow cooker is particularly nice because I can turn it on overnight, during off-peak hours. I still have chicken left and will probably make some soup with it. I poured the drippings into jars and stuck them in the fridge. I'll scrape off the fat and use the rest in the soup, I think. I will stick the soup stuff in the slow cooker tomorrow night and let it cook overnight. Tomorrow I'll probably make some bean burritos so I can use the avocados we have. Don't want any waste!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Backberries and Budget Road Food

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the blackberries were starting to ripen. I would see a few here and there that were ready to be picked, but I kept forgetting to stick a container in my backpack. Finally one day I remembered and when we went out last Monday, we went back toward the river and saw a bunch ready for picking. By the time we were done, the container was just about full.
A little further on, we saw a few more and those filled the container.
We came home and I washed the berries and put them in a pot. I cut up a couple of plums and added a sprinkle of sugar and a little bit of water--just a tiny bit. Then I cooked the fruit until I had a nice sauce, stirring frequently. I had a little bit of an apple/plum sauce I'd made the night before, so I added that to the pot and let it heat through.
We had leftover sourdough pancakes from supper the night before and we had those topped with the fruit sauce for lunch.

The next morning we headed off for a few days in Letterkenny in County Donegal. We'd booked a few nights at a B&B there. We'd made sandwiches for lunch on the bus. We ate one at our break at the Sligo bus station, but still had one each left when we arrived, so we saved it for supper. There was an Aldi (grocery store) just down the street from the B&B and we passed it every time we walked into town or back from town, so it was very convenient. After leaving our bags in our room and having a cup of tea and some biscuits, kindly provided by the owner, we headed out to explore a little. After a couple of hours, we headed back and stopped in Aldi for some fruit to go with the sandwiches. I had a craving for a salad, and I found a pretty good one ready-made, so I got that, too. Aldi ended up being our food supplier while we were there. I think we spent about 40 euro on food for the 4 days we were gone--and some of that was food that came home with us. I discovered that flaked almonds (sliced almonds in the US) were less than half the price in Aldi that they are in Tesco, so I bought a couple of bags to bring home. We also brought home other stuff that did not get eaten while there. That stuff probably amounted to about 10 euro, so we fed ourselves on 30 euro over 4 days while on the road. That's not bad! We did not really plan on that and we expected to eat out once or twice while there, but we looked at restaurants and menus and nothing seemed all that appealing--we could get better food at Aldi, so we did!

The breakfasts provided at the B&B were quite substantial. We were offered a full Irish breakfast every day, which consisted of an egg, a couple of sausages, a couple of rashers (kind of a ham-like bacon thing--not nearly as fatty as bacon), tomato, a piece of flat potato bread like Norwegian lefse, and a slice of black pudding. Black pudding is made from pig blood and oats and it is something I was sure I would never eat. But there it was and I didn't like to throw it away without trying it, so I did and it was pretty good, but very rich. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the original Gardenburgers that I used to get back in the late 1980s. I had my slice the first day, but the second day my stomach and head were a little off at breakfast time, so I skipped it. On our last morning, we split one slice. In addition to the Irish breakfast, she had other things available--a few kinds of cold cereal, yogurt, fruit, breads (and a toaster), she'd make porridge if you wanted, and of course, jams, coffee and tea. Needless to say we did not eat all of this, but it was there if people wanted it! We had the Irish breakfast, a piece of fruit, and a piece of bread and we were stuffed. Breakfast was our main meal of the day. For lunch we would buy a container of yogurt at Aldi and split it and we bought peaches (on sale 4 for 39 cents). Our lunches cost 1.38 euro for 2. For supper, we bought cherry tomatoes and cucumber, grapes, a package of tortillas, cream cheese, and smoked salmon. We made smoked salmon wraps. We liked these so well the first night we had them that we repeated this the following night--we had some of the stuff left from the day before and I picked up a small container of red pepper hummus to use in my wrap. We bought biscuits and Jaffa cakes for dessert, but only had a few of the latter and the rest came home with us. We stopped one afternoon and had coffee and a cookie in a little coffee shop. I'm sure there are good restaurants in Letterkenny and there were a lot of different kinds, from takeaways to fine dining places. None of them seemed as appealing as a simple meal on the porch looking at the flowers and the red ivy! It seems like I have less and less desire to sit in crowded places at small tables waiting for overpriced food that ends up being pretty ho-hum. I have to be in the right mood to go out and eat and even then, I prefer a simple kind of place. Fancy table settings, white tablecloths and swirly sauce food isn't my thing. I was glad to have the grocery store so conveniently located so we could have a quiet, simple meal outside in the fresh air!

While we were there, I saw that Tesco had chickens on sale again, so now that we're home, we went and got a couple yesterday. I did some rearranging in the freezer and fit one in there and cooked one overnight in the slow cooker. I cut up a couple of onions and a few cloves of garlic and stuffed that in the chicken. I had enough room on top to put five small, wet, and poked sweet potatoes. I turned it on high a little before midnight and let it cook. It smelled wonderful in here!

My windowsill herb garden is doing great! I drenched everything last week before we left and I got back to a lot of new growth. I'd used most of the scallions and garlic chives and a good bit of the curly parsley, but everything has shot up again. My celery is growing new stalks, too. To use some of this, I decided to make some mashed potatoes with cauliflower and add scallion, garlic chives, and parsley, along with a little cheese and black pepper. We'll have that tonight with some chicken.

We picked another container of blackberries this afternoon--they are starting to really come on now and I've put a larger container in my backpack. It took us just a few minutes in one spot to fill the yogurt container I had in there. I will make a sauce with them and freeze it for the next time I make pancakes. These would also be good in porridge. There are a lot of them out there!