Monday, November 3, 2014

Quick Baked Bean Soup

When we first got here and we began to explore our local supermarkets, I was really surprised to see cans of “baked beans” selling for 29 (euro)cents. That’s the regular price. I got a few cans and we kept them in the cupboard until one day they seemed like they’d be a nice addition to lunch. Well. It was a little surprise to discover that “baked beans” means something different here than what I was thinking. They are nothing like the baked beans I’ve eaten for half a century, but rather like pork and beans without pork. They do not seem seasoned at all--just little white beans in a tomato sauce. Bland. So I started doctoring them up when I planned to serve them, cooking some onions, peppers and garlic to add, sprinkling in some chilli (chili) powder or, if I’m really in a hurry, grinding in some of the dried chilli mixture I get at SuperValu and love so much.

One day I needed an idea for supper. I was in the mood for soup. I came up with this and we enjoyed it so much that we’ve had it several times since, including tonight. As with just about everything I cook, it’s never the same twice because I use whatever veggies I have. I keep onions, carrots, garlic, bell peppers, garlic, and potatoes around as staples. Sometimes I have frozen peas or corn, if I can fit them in the freezer. Besides those kinds of produce, we pick up what is on sale or clearance at the grocery stores. This varies, so whatever I have that needs using goes in the soup.

To the usual puddle of olive oil, add various chopped veggies, such as onion (or use a leek instead), carrot, garlic, and bell pepper. You could also add celery, zucchini, broccoli, a little cabbage, and/or cauliflower. Sweat the veggies, stirring them around, for a few minutes. Add some chopped potatoes (frozen peas, corn, or mixed vegetables could also be added here) stir them in, and just barely cover the veggies with water. Let them cook until the potatoes are soft.

Dump in a can or two of chopped tomatoes in juice and a can or two of the beans (you can also just use plain canned beans, drained and rinsed--if you use these, add a can of tomato sauce, too, if you want or leftover pasta sauce). Add some dried herbs or spices--I’ve done this with basil, oregano, and parsley for an Italian-ish soup and I’ve made it with chilli powder. It’s good either way.

I sometimes serve this as is with something on the side--cheese or hummus with crackers, some kielbasa, a sandwich, or a roll and butter. Today I made cheesy baps--I spread whole grain mustard on bap halves, topped with some emmental cheese and stuck it in the oven to toast the bap slightly while the cheese melted. Bill had ham on his, too.
These are seeded baps, which we like a lot for various things.

I have also served this soup over cooked brown rice, pasta, and tortellini and nothing else on the side.

It’s a handy dish, because it doesn’t require me to take anything out of the freezer ahead of time; it’s very adaptable to whatever I have on hand; it can be spiced to make it different each time; it’s a great thing to put over leftover rice or pasta; it’s nutritious; and it tastes great. My largest pot has a capacity of 3 litres and that makes enough for a few meals.

I’ve been buying cans of baked beans and chopped tomatoes to keep in the cupboard. Canned beans are a bit expensive here and the type of available bean is pretty limited anyway. A can of kidney beans runs about 1.40 euro and a good portion of the contents of the can is water. I can buy a can of baked beans for 29 cents--since they are so bland to begin with, they can take whatever herbs and spices I want to add. They come in tomato sauce, so I can just use that too--I’d probably be adding tomato sauce or puree (paste) anyway, if I was using plain beans. So I can get 4 cans of the baked beans for less than 1 can of plain beans. I still buy dried beans (selection is limited) and use them, but that requires me to begin a day before I want to use them--soaking them all day and cooking overnight in the slow cooker. The baked beans are good for last minute use.
 I am also trying to make sure that we have a decent supply of food and other necessities in the apartment. We heard some stories last week about the winter of 2010, when it apparently got to -18C here, resulting in frozen and burst pipes among other things. I’ve read a couple of news stories today about this weather guy who is predicting “brutal” cold and snow for Ireland over the next few months. I am not sure exactly what that means. They are not set up for that kind of thing here at all. If there was snow where we are, it would be a huge mess. The roads would be a disaster but I fear that this would not stop the boy racers and other NASCAR wannabes that are always out there from zooming around. I would like to be able to stay up here and watch the mayhem from my window if it comes to that!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

One Version of Huevos Rancheros

We are having quite the globe-trotting food experience these past couple of days! Yesterday it was gonna be Thai until I opened the jar of red curry paste to find some lovely white feathery things growing in there. We skipped the Thai and moved along to Italian-ish, having a veggie soup/stew with Italian herbs. Tonight and tomorrow night we go sort of Mexican with the huevos rancheros Bill has been wishing for. I had to adjust a bit because corn tortillas are not available here. I used seeded flour tortillas instead. And I do not like the egg with all the other stuff, so I skipped that and had a burrito instead.

Yesterday I soaked about half a pound of kidney beans changing the water a few times. A little before midnight and those off-peak electricity hours, I drained them once more, put them in the slow cooker with fresh water and turned it to high. I used to use the low setting in the US, but my slow cooker here does not get as hot, so I always use the high setting. Off I went to sit in bed with some music and tatting for a couple of hours. The beans cooked. I slept. When I got up at 8:30-ish, they were done.

I drained them and placed them in a bowl. I chopped up some onion and garlic and cooked this in a little bit of olive oil (it really does seem like everything I cook involves chopped onions and garlic in a puddle of olive oil!). I tossed in some chili powder and oregano and stirred it around for a minute before adding the cooked beans, which I mashed up with my wooden spoon. I added a bit of water and kept on stirring until the beans were creamy and the water was incorporated.

Just before supper, I heated up some beans and some of the rice I'd cooked yesterday. I sliced a couple more onions and a couple of bell peppers (one red, one yellow) and, yes, cooked them in some olive oil. I cooked a couple of over-easy eggs for Bill.

To assemble, I folded a seeded tortilla in half, added a little rice and some beans. I topped this with the onions and peppers and some salsa from a jar. I put the egg on and topped it all with some extra mature cheddar and cilantro from my plant on the windowsill.
Tomorrow it'll be the same again :-)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thai to Italian Improv Style

My plan for tonight was to make Thai curry. We would have it for supper with rice and again tomorrow for lunch. I had a little rice left in the fridge, but would need more, so I put some of that on to cook. Then I gathered my veggies and started chopping. Onion, carrot, red bell pepper, and garlic went into the pot to be sweated before I added some chopped cauliflower and cubed potatoes. I covered with water and left it all to cook.
Then I grabbed the can of coconut milk from the cupboard and the red curry paste from the fridge. I opened the jar. While the white feathery things growing on the curry paste were actually quite lovely to look at, I did not want to eat them. The jar went into the garbage and I turned my attention to deciding what I was going to do with my pot of veggies instead! I was glad I had not opened the coconut milk!

I pondered for a minute and then went back into the fridge for the container that held the rest of the marinara sauce from a couple of days ago. I tested the potatoes to see whether they were done.
They were. I added the sauce and a can of chopped tomatoes and the juice. I added a bit more oregano and basil to what was already in the sauce, thus finishing the basil and adding another little jar to the collection on the counter. We keep forgetting to bring it to the recycling area at SuperValu when we go out.
Instead of curry we had Italian-style vegetable stew with rice.
We sprinkled some Parmesan shavings on top. It was good. There's plenty left for lunch.

The next time I buy a jar of red curry paste (which is larger than what I used to buy in Maine), I will need to be prepared to make plenty of curry--I hate wasting food and it bugged me to throw away that jar!

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!