Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Barm Brack and Stuff

I am so used to seeing Halloween stuff and pumpkin spice everything hit the store shelves as soon as the kids are back in their classrooms that when September rolled around, I started looking to see what kinds of things I would see here. Turns out there was nothing to see until a month later! A couple of weeks ago, the Christmas and the Halloween stff began appearing at the same time. Tesco has less Christmas stuff, but at SuperValu, I'd say there is probably more of that than there is Halloween merchandise. They are already well stocked with Christmas cakes, mince pies, and Irish Christmas puddings.
There is some Halloween candy, of course and Tesco sells costumes--part of one aisle there has been transformed into "Halloween St." Both stores are now stocking various brands of barm brack.
I got some the other day. I knew that it was a sweet yeast bread with raisins and sultanas. I found the following additional information at Wikipedia:
"Barmbrack is the centre of an Irish Halloween custom. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game.[2] In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Other articles added to the brack include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary to symbolise going into the priesthood or to the Nuns, although this tradition is not widely continued in the present day.
Commercially produced barmbracks for the Halloween market still include a toy ring."

Indeed, mine did have a ring baked in--found it yesterday when I sliced some for toast.
 I saved it--I am sure I can think of some crafty use for it :-) I bought another loaf today--I love the stuff, so may end up with a collection of these little rings!
I've been eating this for the past couple of mornings toasted with butter. Add a cup of coffee and an apple on the side and it's a simple yummy breakfast. I think the brack would also be good with peanut butter. It seems almost the same as the raisin bread I used to get once in a while in the US, but there is a slight difference, I think--maybe the sultanas? Not sure.

Supper has been pretty simple these past couple of evenings, too. I got some veggies in the oven to roast yesterday morning, so we have had those and all I have had to do was whip up an accompaniment.
Our electric meter has two numbers on it--one for day and one for night. It's cheaper to use electricity at night, during the off-peak hours. Our water heater is set to run at night only. If we want to have it run doing the day, we have to manually turn it on. We were told the same is true for the electric heating, though we haven't had a need for that yet. Off-peak hours begin at midnight during summer time and 11 during winter time. We change the clocks to winter time this coming weekend in Ireland. The water heater light goes off at 9 in the morning, so I guess that's when off-peak hours end and if I am washing a load of clothes, I try to get them in by 8:30 at the latest so they will be done by 9. I never use the dryer, so don't need to make time for that. If I am cooking in the slow cooker, I do it overnight so that it's done by morning. And if I want to make something that will require use of the oven for more than a few minutes, I try to do that in the morning as well, if it's something that can be cooked and then reheated.

The roasted veggies can, so I cut up potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic, tossed them with some olive oil and sprinkled with mixed herbs. I put them in my saved foil pans, set the (fan) oven to about 200 and let them cook. I don't bother pre-heating the oven if I am not baking something. After half an hour, I turned off the oven and the power switch and let them sit in there some more. They were perfectly done. Since I had the oven on anyway, I made two pans. We had some for supper last night with omelettes and toast. We had some tonight with kielbasa and beans. There is some left for tomorrow. Someone suggested the term "plan-overs" for planned leftovers and I like it! I almost always make plan-overs--saves time and energy and it is very convenient to have stuff ready-made in the fridge. I often keep a container of cooked brown rice in the fridge--came in handy yesterday for lunch--topped with leftover marinara sauce and some Parmesan shavings--yum!



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!!