Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fishy

On Sunday, I cooked my first real meal in Ireland. When we were at the B and B, Rose made us yummy, hearty breakfasts and we ate mostly yogurt and fruit for our lunches and some kind of sandwiches with fruit for suppers. One night we had some soup that I made with boiling water from a mix along with some pre-made tuna salad (Mexican for me, Italian for Bill) into which I added cherry tomatoes.

When we got to flat and went to get a few groceries, I picked up a couple of surprisingly good frozen pizzas for supper that night and then had to make an attempt at figuring out how to use the oven. The book was somewhat helpful, but mostly dealt with the model that was all electronic. Still, it helped me decipher the symbols. I apparently have something called a “fan oven.” I am not yet exactly sure what this means or whether it is the same as a convection oven. We have no internet connection in the flat, so I can’t google, either! We were back to the sandwiches the following night and I picked up more pizza for Saturday--it made a quick and tasty meal for both of us for 4 euro. The “quick” part was really important at the time, because I was exhausted.

Many of the sandwiches we’ve been eating over the past week and a half have involved smoked fish. I think I have eaten more fish since I arrived in Ireland than I did for many months at a time before that. I never cared much for fish growing up and because I was allergic to shellfish, it was the one food I could get a pass on eating. Anything else I had to eat whether I liked it or not, but I caught a break on the fish, so I rarely ate any of it.

When we moved to Alaska, I discovered salmon and found out that I love it. I discovered smoked salmon at the same time and found out that I love that even more! When we moved to Maine, I tried smoked trout as well, but smoked fish was quite expensive, so it was a treat and not a regular habit. 

This is not the case here--smoked fish is abundant, varied, and inexpensive. In the past week and a half, I have had smoked salmon, smoked trout with a honey dijon glaze, and smoked mackerel. In the fish section of grocery stores, there is smoked coley as well. This needs to be cooked, so I waited until we had a freezer to get some. When we were at the B and B and still had internet access, I googled recipes for this fish and almost to a person, the replies said to poach the fish in milk and then use the milk to make mashed potatoes with scallions. So I will try that sometime. One or two people replied that it’s great in fish pie.

It’s been fun wandering around the grocery store and getting acquainted with different foods, packaging, store layout, and prices. Today we stopped in Tesco to pick up more potatoes, peppers, and bread while they were still on sale. As I was heading past the biscuits (cookies) toward the bread, I overheard a woman say to her kids (with some excitement in her voice), “Dad’s going to New York for a football match and he is going to bring back Oreos of every size, shape, and color!!!” She may have been more pleased than the kids!

We got some lemon biscuits the other day and I quite like them--better than Oreos, even! The cookie part is not hard and crunchy, but not overly soft, either. And it isn’t that sweet. The filling is slightly sweeter, but overall it’s a nice texture and level of sweetness.

So for my first supper-cooking in the new flat, I made some vegetable chowder with smoked mackerel. I could not make my usual vat of soup with the built-in leftovers, because the pots that come with the flat are not vat-like! The largest one is 3 litres. So I used that. We had a bit left. I plan to make another batch tonight and we should have a bit left then, too. Then with the two bits we have left, we can have lunch some day soon!

Smoked Fish Chowder
Into a puddle of olive oil in a pot, add minced garlic, chopped onion, bell pepper, carrot, and broccoli stems. Reserve florets for later. Cook, stirring the veggies around, until they start to sweat. Add chopped potatoes and just cover with water. Boil, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are just about tender, then add the broccoli florets and stir in. Turn heat down to low and add crumbled smoked fish of your choice (I used smoked mackerel that was ready-to-eat) and milk, cream, half and half, or evaporated milk to taste. Stir just until heated through. Grind some black pepper on top.

You don’t need much smoked fish because it is very flavorful and a little goes a long way!

If you use uncooked fish, add it when the potatoes are about halfway done and stir in. You can add chunks of the fish, since it will cook and flake as you stir it. Come to think of it, this might be another good way to use that smoked coley!

I think I will be experimenting some with fish and learning more about how to cook it. Because I ended up making it so often in the soup kitchen, I could probably make fish chowder in my sleep, but I never did much with fish at home. Mostly I put in on a baking sheet, sprinkled with herbs, and baked it until done. In summer, I’d add the herbs and some onion, bell pepper and thinly sliced potato to make foil packets that we could leave on the grill to cook as the coals died down. Now that I find myself living on an island with fish being a very healthy, local, economical, and versatile choice, I will have to cook it more often and in different ways. We shall see how it goes!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

In Ireland

I'm back, though at the moment I do not have a kitchen! Bill and I are at a lovely B and B in Oranmore, Co Galway, Ireland called Claddagh Moon and we are comfortable and happy. And I get up in the morning and a nice breakfast--prepared by someone else--is placed in front of me. That is a pleasant change!

We arrived on Thursday and walked into town to get some lunch and a cup of coffee. We stopped at a little coffee shop on the main road and we both got a sesame seed bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I'd expected a few flakes of salmon and was surprised to see how much there was on the bagel. It was delicious and came with the side of shredded carrots in a nice dressing--not too much of it--the carrots were just lightly coated. I love raw carrots, so that was a nice surprise!
The next night for supper we picked up sandwiches in the local Tesco (grocery store). I had chicken salad and it was quite good--I do not like my chicken (or tuna) to be drowning in mayo and this wasn't at all--there was hardly any, which is just how I like it! And they had salad greens, tomato, and cucumber on the sandwich, too--it was great!

We found the Tesco the day we arrived after having our lunch--it's just down the street. We couldn't find the way in from street level! There was a road leading down to an underground car park, but the cars whipped around the curve and we didn't feel like walking into that--plus we are still not used to the way people drive on the opposite side of the road from what we're used to. Finally we saw a woman walking around the building and asked her how to get in, so she walked us there, chatting all the way. People have been very friendly and helpful. Turns out the street level entrance is behind the building and there's just a blue wall separating it from the neighboring lot. Most people use the car park I guess.

We found the same kind of parking arrangement when we went to a Lidl store yesterday. It makes sense--you need less land if you don't have acres of parking around the store, but put it underneath. They have escalators without the steps going up and down so people can push their trolleys to and from their cars.

One thing we've seen for sale in a couple of different places is goose fat in a jar. There was a sign by these that talked about how you need this for the perfect roasted potatoes. Easter is coming and that's a big deal here, so I am not sure whether this is an Easter meal thing or if it's something that is available all the time.

In Lidl, we also saw these:
I'm not sure if the "American Way" bit under the brand is a part of the brand name or not, but I do not recall ever seeing hot dogs in brine before.

People in the US warned me how expensive stuff would be in Ireland, but as I've walked around the grocery stores and looked at the prices, I do not find them to be more expensive than in Maine. Units of measurement are different, of course, and I am eyeballing packages instead of actually figuring out the price per kilogram/pound, but I haven't seen anything that is significantly more expensive. Some things are even cheaper. I have only been to a couple of supermarket chains, though, and not had the opportunity yet to observe any kind of farmers' market or artisanal food shops.

One thing you see is people bringing in their reusable shopping bags or carrying their stuff in their hands. Plastic bags come with a hefty fee and we have not seen anyone with one, nor have we accumulated any. I was commenting to Bill earlier today that had we been somewhere in the US for a few days and buying groceries, we would already have at least a few. It is nice to not see them all over the ground and in the trees!

We have become quite fond of these seeded rolls they have in at least a couple of the grocery stores here--one has a mix of seeds and one has pumpkin seeds. We have some cream cheese and smoked salmon to put on the latter for our supper tonight.




Sunday, February 16, 2014

Oatcakes: Version 2

Yesterday I finally tried out an oatcake recipe that I've been wanting to try for a while. We liked them a lot, but I was surprised at the amount of butter the recipe called for, and went hunting in my pile for another recipe that I thought I remembered asking Heather to copy from a magazine or cookbook that she'd brought home for me from the library. I have no idea where this recipe came from, but here it is:

Oatcakes
Preheat oven to 350

1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup rolled oats (not quick), plus more for kneading
1/4 cup flour (recipe calls for all-purpose, but I used whole wheat)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Mix oats, flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside. Mix water and butter in a bowl and microwave just until butter is completely melted (or you can do this on a pot on the stove). Add water/butter mixture to dry ingredients and stir together. Scatter a little oatmeal on a clean work surface and put the dough on it, kneading a couple of times. Cut dough into 2 pieces. Pat a piece of the dough into a 1/4 inch thick circle, cut into 4 wedges, and use a spatula to place each wedge onto a lightly greased rimless baking sheet. Repeat with 2nd half of the dough. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until the oatcakes are just turning golden around the edges, but are not browned. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack before serving.

Bill declared these better than the ones we had yesterday--and he liked those a lot. He thought these were more cracker-like while the ones yesterday tended toward cookie-ness (all that butter, maybe).

I will make this version again, perhaps trying them with some nuts--I liked the nuts in yesterday's recipe. I'll also add some herbs/spices. Bill suggested jalapenos. Why not?


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oat Cakes

I've been meaning to try oatcakes for a while now. My friend, Karen, gave me an Irish Pub Cookbook for my birthday and there was a nice recipe in there. It calls for rolling the dough in sesame seeds before placing on the baking sheet and flattening. They looked really great, but I kept forgetting to pick up some sesame seeds when I was in the store. Today I finally decided to skip them for this time. I also left out the thyme that was called for in the recipe, because I wanted to see what these were like plain. Once I know what they're like, I can mess around with herbs and spices in subsequent batches. These also have quite a bit more butter than other recipes I've seen. I have another recipe that I will try soon (maybe tomorrow) that calls for only 2 tablespoons of butter and some water. However, I got 16 oatcakes out of this recipe, so it worked out to 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter per cracker.

Oatcakes (slightly adapted from Irish Pub Cookbook)
scant 1/2 cup butter
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 beaten egg

The recipe said to incorporate the butter into the oats, and whole wheat flour using your fingers. I opted to toss it all in my food processor fitted with the steel blade and whiz until it was crumbly. Then I added the salt and nuts and whizzed again. If you don't use a food processor, add the nuts and salt after the butter, oats and flour are blended and mix in well. Pour in the beaten egg and mix until well blended. Roll dough into walnut sized pieces and place on greased baking sheet. Flatten. It said to use a rolling pin, but it was easier to use the palm of my hand, so I did that. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. The recipe said 12-15 minutes, but that wasn't enough time for me. Ovens vary, though, so just start watching them carefully around the 12-minute mark and when they're golden brown, take them out and place on rack to cool.

The flavor of these was really good and I liked the walnuts in it. The next recipe I will try does not call for the nuts or for rolling the dough in any seeds. My plan is to try a few different recipes, taking what's best from each to come up with what Bill and I like best. I'll update my progress as things move along.

We ate ours for lunch today with hummus on a couple and cheese on a couple. Plain like this they would also be great with peanut or almond butter--they could go sweet or savory.  I'll probably start making some version of these on a regular basis. These will be very handy to have around because we liked them a lot and they would be good on their own as a snack or in place of bread with various toppings.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bean Soup Mix in a Jar--Food Pantry Demo

I did a holiday demo in the food pantry this morning. I made bean soup mix in a jar. I'd brought home herbs last week and over the weekend, I measured them out into snack sized zipper bags. This morning, Annette, the fabulous soup kitchen coordinator hunted down a variety of beans in festive colors. We had red, green, and whitish gold ones. I brought in a large bowl and a measuring cup and just dumped a bunch of beans into the bowl and mixed them up with my (gloved) hand. Then I filled quart canning jars, leaving enough room for the spice packet, which I placed on top before screwing on the lids. Sue, the food pantry coordinator mentioned that it would be nice if there was some decoration on the jars, and I told her that last year I'd improvised with some holiday napkins I'd found--I cut out the design section and placed that on top of the lids before screwing the rings on. This year I didn't see any napkins, so Sue went in search of some and found a package of Santas. They worked nicely. Everyone was stopping to look at the jars and to say how pretty they were with the mix of colorful beans and the festive Santas on the lids. People were excited to get a little gift and they were so appreciative. Many people commented that this weekend will be a great time for a big pot of bean soup, since it's supposed to get a bit colder and maybe even precipitate! I might just make some bean soup myself this weekend! I have chicken veggie soup in the Crock Pot for tonight and tomorrow night. Below is the handout I gave people. We didn't have the exact beans listed, but we used what was available in the food bank. You can improv with the spices, too--leave out the basil or Italian seasoning and add chili powder to make chili instead of soup.


As an aside, while I was standing there, one of the clients went up to Sue and thanked her for the turkey she'd gotten before Thanksgiving. She and her family shared it with another family who would otherwise not have been able to have Thanksgiving dinner.

Bean Soup Mix in a Jar
Into a quart jar, place the following (you can layer the beans or mix them all in a large bowl and pour them into the jar:
3/4 cup dried red beans
3/4 cup dried great northern beans
3/4 cup dried split peas
3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup dried black beans

You can use whatever beans you have--you don’t have to have these exact amounts of these exact beans. Just make sure you have 3 1/2-4 cups of dried beans altogether for each jar.

Into a small ziploc bag, place herbs and spices:
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

OR you can use the parsley and a tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning.

Place the spice baggie on top of the beans in the jar.

TO PREPARE THE SOUP:
Remove seasoning packet from the jar and set to the side. Rinse beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water and let soak for several hours or overnight. Drain, then put beans back in pot. Add 8 cups water, one 15 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes and seasonings from packet. Cover, bring to boil. Lower heat, cover pan and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Stir occasionally.

Variations:
--add leftover cooked meat and/or veggies to the pot for the last half hour of cooking time
--use tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes--simply stir in paste during the last 15 minutes of cooking time until the broth is the consistency you like
--serve soup over rice if you like
--you can add chopped potatoes, carrots, onion, and/or bell or chili peppers to the pot at the start of cooking

Want to give this as a gift but don’t have quart jars? You can put the mix in a ziploc bag and plop it in a decorative gift bag with a copy of the directions for preparing the soup. If you are a knitter/crocheter or someone who sews, you can make festive gift bags using scraps of yarn or fabric. Just take two squares or rectangles (yarn people--swatches are great for this!), attach on three sides and add a drawstring at the top. If you don’t want to make gift bags, you can use brown paper bags--kids can have fun decorating the bags with stickers, drawings, etc. Or just reuse gift bags you’ve gotten in the past--stick in a bag of bean soup mix with a copy of the cooking instructions and you’re good to go!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Does "Celebrate" Mean to You?

Today A Good Eater wrote about how she loves celebrating Christmas. It was a great post and it made me think about my own way of celebrating. Like Laurie, I love Christmastime and the personal traditions that go along with it. It is actually a very important time for me and if I do not nourish myself at this time of year, I feel the effects of that neglect in the year that follows. Unlike many people though, my traditions do not involve a lot of socializing and elaborate decorating, cooking, and shopping. I decorate, but simply. Several long moves and my own growing annoyance with having too much stuff led me to donate most of my Christmas decorations and to keep just a few, most of which have been handmade by me or friends or have been given as gifts. We do not like to have a lot of stuff, so we buy very little in the way of gifts and what we do buy is either consumables or purchased from artisans, either locally or online. Cooking is something I do all the time and I like to have a break from it. It's been almost 30 years since we did away with the big Christmas meal and I have been glad about that choice every year! We decided to stop because it all became too much. My birthday is December 23rd and we were having a large meal on that day. On Christmas Eve, we would have an enormous Italian feast. Then Christmas Day and the turkey would arrive. It was too much--too much food and too much work--so we changed things. I decide what I feel like having on my birthday and I make it in advance. It is always something simple and munchie-like. It also almost always involves cheese! This year I've decided to make a smoked salmon spread and a jalapeno cheese spread. I have some crackers already and put some bread in the freezer--we get this amazing little seeded baguette from Panera at MCHPP. I brought one home yesterday and stuck it in the freezer. Last year my fabulous friend and neighbor knocked on my door with a hot homemade pizza, warm gingerbread, and freshly whipped cream. Needless to say I was well-stuffed that day!!

On Christmas Eve we have lasagna. I never put meat in my lasagna and I never boil the noodles in advance I don't buy those "no-boil" noodles, either. You get less in the package and they are completely unnecessary--I haven't boiled a lasagna noodle (or a manicotti tube, either!) in 30 years--well before those showed up in stores! It takes me about 5 minutes to put together the lasagna and get it in the oven. Simple, yet delicious. We usually have pita bread garlic bread with this--spread some butter on a pita bread, sprinkle with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese and bake until the cheese is slightly browned. Bonus--there are plenty of leftovers!

On Christmas Day we always have jalapeno cheese puffs, but whatever else we have varies depending on what we feel like. I make the puffs on Christmas Day, but everything else is made ahead of time and is finger food--we just graze quietly through the day.

So for me, the Christmas season means quiet hibernation time. I love the music. I love the darkness. I love the stillness. I love being home with nowhere to go. In fact, I have a food demo tomorrow in the food pantry lobby and I am making taco casserole in the soup kitchen on Thursday. Then I am in hibernation mode until the 30th. I have scheduled time off from MCHPP, declined invitations, and have plans to be quiet, work on some Christmas gifts for my family, and just have some quiet contemplation time. I need it very badly. I am looking forward to it very much.

Whatever your celebrations look like, I hope they are exactly what you want them to be and that this season brings you much joy!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply: Dessert

Recently I saw a headline somewhere that said something like, "The Best Pies for Thanksgiving--And It MUST Be Pie." Apparently, people have strong feelings about what a proper Thanksgiving dessert looks like! We do have pie, but it's been banana cream for years--I have a sliver of it, but it's pretty much Heather's. She has never liked pumpkin pie, so when she was little, I asked her if there was a kind of pie she did want. Banana cream was her choice and it became a regular part of the meal. I used to make pumpkin pie, which I like well enough, but it started giving Bill heartburn, so I stopped making it. We bought pies for a few years--blueberry, I think. But starting last year, I made an apple cake and that it what I will do again this year.
This is how I made it last year:
Apple Cake
3 cups cored and peeled apples, chopped sort of small
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (the original recipe calls for raisins and I have used them, but I like these better--you can use any dried fruit of combination that you like)
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Place apples and dried fruit in bowl, pour boiling water over and add oil.  Let sit for 10 or 15 minutes.  Add

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir everything together.  Add

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir everything together until well-blended.  Pour into greased tube pan (or square cake pan or loaf pans) and bake for about an hour at 350.  Let sit for a few minutes before removing from pans.

This year I will be using a dried fruit and almond mix that I have instead of the dried cranberries. I may or may not add the walnuts. The mix is mostly dried fruit and not a lot of almonds, so I will probably add a few walnuts.

Whether you have pie or not, I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!