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!

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!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tortilla Pizza

I tried some of the seeded tortillas we found at Tesco last week when I used them as a pizza crust. They are quite good! I'm glad I got three packages--it's handy to be able to just take out as many as I need and leave the rest in the freezer. Each package contains 8 tortillas.

When I use tortillas as a base for a pizza that will have a lot of toppings, I usually use two with a little bit of cheese between them for a sturdier base. When the pizza is baked, the cheese melts and holds the tortillas together. In this case, I folded each tortilla in half with a thin slice of extra mature cheddar in between the layers.

I used sliced tomatoes instead of sauce and sprinkled that with oregano. Then I added mozzarella, sliced red onion, chopped  bell pepper and garlic, and some sliced pepperoni. Yum.

I was thrilled to realize the other day that it was cool enough for me to make chowder. I used smoked coley this time. I have made quite a lot of smoked fish chowder since we got here, but I always used the smoked mackerel that we buy frequently at Super Valu--it used to be that I always had a package or two in the fridge. The coley was purchased when we found it on clearance and I stuck a bunch in the freezer. This time the mackerel was frozen too, so I decided to use the coley. It was delicious--similar but slightly different than the chowder made with the mackerel. I had never even heard of it before we got here and I saw it prominently displayed in grocery stores. I had to google it!

I do love soup weather. There was enough chowder left over for lunch yesterday, too. Yay! It's still warm here, and summer has not released its grip, but there is a hint that autumn is on its way. As I do every year, I look forward to its arrival. Bring on the soup weather!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

New Favorites

There's plenty of familiar food in the grocery stores here, along with stuff that you wouldn't see as frequently in the US. I have not seen frozen steak and kidney pies in the freezer case at stores in the US, for example, but there they are in Tesco. Lamb is more popular here than in most of the US. They also tend to highlight different things here. Parsnips are obviously popular and are often a featured sale item, usually paired with carrots. I have seen rutabagas on sale and featured prominently. These are called swede here and pronounced like "swayed," at least by someone I heard on the radio--not sure if there are dialect differences. Just for the record, I have not tried the steak and kidney pie and have no plans to do so. Parsnips, swede, and the also popular turnips are things that I tried in Maine and feel no desire to purchase here. Bill has bad memories of these vegetables (and lamb) from childhood.

There are some things that we tried here and loved and now we buy them all the time. The very first day we were in the country, we dropped our bags at the bed and breakfast and walked into town to get some lunch and coffee. After that, we knew we would not want to go back out for dinner, so we went in search of somewhere to buy stuff to take back to our room. Happily, we discovered Tesco just down the street, so in we went. We discovered their rolls--there are several different kinds, but we got the triangular brown rolls with the seeds on top. I don't even remember what we got to put on these rolls, but we bought more almost every day we were there, I think, and we've been buying them ever since! Last week, they only had a few of the traingular rolls, but they had a new oblong brown roll with seeds and oatmeal, so I bought some of each. Now we can have some variety, because they are equally good! Yay! When we are lucky enough to get there and get some while they are still warm, it is a real treat--we have been known buy a couple extra and eat them on the way home!
There is a lot of seeded bread here and stuff I had not seen before--you can see the seeded wraps in the photo above. I went to look at the clearance bread to see if there was anything I could freeze for future pizza crust and I found these. I got 3 packages (66 cents each) for less than I would have paid for one at full price, so it seemed like they were worth trying. When we got home, I stuck them in the freezer. I can take them out as needed for pizza (we'll be having some tonight), wraps, burritos, quesadillas, etc. Very handy!

Another thing we love is Tesco brand milk chocolate digestive biscuits. As you can see, there are none in the photo above. We ate the last ones we had that night, so we went back while we were on our walk the following day to get more!
When we first got here, we started buying different kinds of biscuits to try them. It was several weeks before we discovered these and we've hardly bought any others since. They are not overly sweet and are vaguely reminiscent of a graham cracker with a light chocolate coating on one side--they are so good with a nice cup of strong black tea!

There is also an Irish brand of yogurt that we found while still at the bed and breakfast--it's Glenisk Organic Vanilla. It is really, really good. We were buying some the other day and an elderly woman was waiting behind us in line. She had some Greek yogurt from a French company (in Ireland--food certainly is a global industry these days). She pointed out her choice of yogurt to us and almost seemed to be trying to talk us out of what we had as she went on and on about how good it is and how anything that comes from France is really great. I was kind of amused at the thought that while I am always trying to buy Irish, she looks to France.

I made some hot pepper relish the other day. My daughter sent me the recipe. It called for a certain kind of chili (spelled "chilli" here) pepper, but I just used what is available here. They come in a bag of mixed peppers, so I grabbed a couple of those. This week some red ones are on sale, so I will have to go get more. I already had a bunch of garlic, because it was on sale last week. I will definitely be making more of this stuff--I love it! It was reminding me of something and I couldn't think what, until Bill mentioned this stuff we used to buy in Maine called, "Wickles," which is a spicy pepper relish. Making this could not be easier. I cut 6 or 7 chili (chilli) peppers in half and took the seeds and ribs out of some of them. For a hotter relish, leave them in. I cut them in chunks. I peeled and roughly chopped 6 cloves of garlic (you could add more or less as you wish). The peppers and garlic went into a pot of boiling water and I let them cook for a couple of minutes, until the peppers were really bright. After draining the water out, I added 3 tablespoons of vinegar and used my hand blender to chop it up. I didn't add salt, but you could if you like it. I've had it on a seeded roll with cream cheese and on a seeded roll with kielbasa and it was excellent!

Last week I found out that there's a farmers' market here in town, so this morning we went to check it out. It was underwhelming. First of all, there was a sign outside with a strange arrow that pointed somewhere, but not to the market! The only reason I knew this is because someone told me where it was, but not that it was inside. I saw the door open and decided to look. There was a table of veggies and one table of hand knitted and crocheted baby items. Nothing had a price on it and there was no sign listing prices. This is a peeve of mine--I do not want to have to stand there interrogating a seller about how much each item costs, so I usually will just not buy something if it's not marked. One woman was in there filling a box with produce, though, so good for her! I just turned around and left. I went into the Country Market store where signs clearly indicate the prices for things and I bought the lettuce I was looking for and picked up a cauliflower and a jar of plum jam while I was at it! We were out for a walk, so I didn't buy the 10kg bag of rooster potatoes, but I will make a special trip for those next week.

There was a nip in the air as we left today and although the sun was out, the black clouds soon rolled in and it started to rain. This makes me happy! Soon it will be soup weather--yay!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Potato Salad and Omelettes

I had a craving for an omellette with salsa, of all things, so I planned to have that for supper. I beat the eggs with a little water and added them to the pan. I snipped in some scallions and proceeded to let it cook, adding salsa, extra mature cheddar, and on mine, pickled jalapeno slices before folding it over and sliding onto the plate. We had some of the seeded rolls from Tesco which I wanted to use. It's humid here and between the humidity and the seeds I knew mold was possible. Don't want to waste those rolls! I'd made some potato salad earlier in the day by cubing some baby potatoes, boiling them, draining them, and placing them in a shallow bowl. I diced a red onion, a yellow bell pepper, and a few carrots before adding the to a puddle of olive oil in a pan. I also put in a few cloves of minced garlic and a couple of slices of diced pancetta. I stirred all of this around until the veggies were crisp-tender and added to the potatoes. I made a dressing by pouring a little bit of cider vinegar into a jar and topping with twice as much olive oil. I added a bit of coarse stone ground mustard and a bit of oregano and basil and shook it well. I added some parsley from my plant on the window sill when I served it.
It was quick, easy, and yummy. That omelette really hit the spot. Funny how the simplest thing can taste so good!

Monday, July 14, 2014

1 Chicken, 2 People, 6 Meals

Last week, Tesco had whole chickens on sale. Chicken is one of the few things here that is more expensive than it is in the US. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts go on sale 5 for 5 euro. The package is 500 grams (about a pound). There are no bulk packs or anything like that. We can get two or possibly 3 meals for both of us from a package. My oven is not very good and it’s quite small, so things tend to take a long time to cook in there. Electricity is expensive as well--those two facts result in me rarely using the oven. I’d been looking for a slow cooker and had only been able to find a 3 litre one, which I finally bought, figuring that it’s better than nothing.  I’d planned to keep my eyes open for a larger one, but as it happens, this one works fine for us and I’ve stopped thinking about getting a bigger one.

Since I had the slow cooker, I could take advantage of the sale on whole chickens--a 1.7 kg (3.74 pounds) chicken for 3.79 euro. I got one for the freezer and one to cook. I wondered whether I would have any room left in the crock for veggies once I put the chicken in it, and it wasn’t a lot of room, but it was enough. I put the chicken in first and halved an onion, which I put inside the bird. I had a few small sweet potatoes left from when I’d stocked up during a sale a few weeks ago, so I scrubbed and poked them and tucked them in. I then had enough room across the top to add carrot chunks, so I did that. I turned the slow cooker on high and went to bed. When I got up, everything was cooked--and all during off-peak electricity hours, too!

I mashed the sweet potatoes and we had them with lunch. I put the carrots in a container before removing the chicken from the bones and sticking that in a container, too. I poured the liquid from the crock in still another container and stuck it all in the fridge.

The first night we had chicken sandwiches on seeded brown rolls with cheese, peppers, and onions.

The following day I cooked a courgette (zucchini) and onion in some olive oil and added some of the carrots and pieces of chicken. We had this over leftover rice/wild rice.

The next day I really wanted soup with pierogies, and was thrilled that it was cool enough to make soup in July! I used carrots, onions, potatoes, and frozen peas. I added some of the remaining chicken. The liquid from the crock was nicely chilled and the fat had risen to the top and hardened, so it was easy to scrape off, before adding the rest to the soup. It made a nice broth. I got out my jar of ground chilli (chili) and generously ground a bunch onto my soup. I love this stuff and I put it on a lot of things--pasta, soup, eggs, hummus, and more. It’s a mix of dried chilli, mustard seeds, dried onion, red pepper, garlic, and black pepper. You can grind it coarse or fine. It adds a nice bit of spice and a good flavour.
Finally, on the last day, I chopped and cooked a courgette, a red onion, and a white onion in some olive oil before adding the last of the chicken and a bit of hot chilli powder. I stirred it up well and the chicken shredded. I added a jar of salsa and then rinsed the jar out with a bit of water and added that to the pot, too. I turned off the heat and stirred in small cubes of extra mature cheddar and some smoked cheese with red chillies. I spooned this over pasta. We still have soup and the MexiMac, so there are two more meals there.
One chicken, 2 people, 6 meals.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ice Cream and Salsa

Ice cream is not as abundant here as it is in the US and there are a lot more pre-made kinds of frozen treats than there are flavors of ice cream in a carton--at least that's the case at the stores in Ballinrobe. They have several different kinds of frozen ice cream cones (like Drumsticks in the US) and lots of ice cream on a stick with some kind of coating on it. There are things called ice lollies, which I think are like those Flav-or-ice things they had in the US when I was a kid--a plastic tube with brightly colored liquid in it that you froze and ate by cutting off the end of the plastic and pushing the icy stuff up from the bottom. There are ice cream sandwiches, but I have only seen one brand of those and they are called "icebergers." When someone first told me about these, I thought it was "iceburger," but I later saw it in the store and saw my mistake. The icebergers are 2.50 euro for 4 of them, which, since there are 2 of us, would be two nights of dessert. We decided to do it ourselves, so we went in search of some plain ice cream in a tub. We already had our Tesco digestive biscuits in the cabinet.
We could have chosen the sliceable ice cream we got once before, which is good and comes in one flavor--raspberry swirl.
Our other options were a 1 litre plastic tub of vanilla or chocolate. We chose the chocolate.
Bonus--I will get to keep and use the container when the ice cream is done. I am having a hard time finding larger food storage containers. This is understandable when you consider how small the fridges and freezers are here. I was saying to Bill on the way home that the gallon buckets of ice cream we used to get once in a while are definitely a thing of the past!

So I made us open faced ice cream sandwiches. For the same 2.50 that we would have paid for 2 nights of dessert, we will have 4 nights. And these taste quite good. Bill had his plain and I sprinkled coconut on mine.

Went to Tesco this morning and stocked up on salsa. They had jars of salsa with new labels on them, complete with new UPC codes. They also had some jars of the salsa with the old labels and codes. I looked at the labels of each and the ingredients are exactly the same--they include the percentage of each ingredient on the label here. The difference (other than the labels) was that the jars with new labels cost 1.95 euro and the jars with the old labels cost 85 cents. We bought the last 6 jars of old label salsa this morning and had bought a couple the other day (we had a bunch of other stuff and were limited in what we could carry). Since avocados are also on sale as are jarred jalapenos, we're having nachos for supper! And we have a good stock of salsa in the cabinet--yay!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Veggie Sandwiches with Chorizo (Or Not)

Had several courgettes (zucchini) in the fridge as we'd found bags of it reduced to clear at Tesco last week. The regular price for these is 2.99 per kg and we got at least that amount, if not more, for 65 cents. I bought a couple of bags and planned to make stuff that contained courgettes. I used a few in the white bean veggie chili last week and I planned to use more last night. We also had some sliced chorizo left from the pizza the other night. I decided to make some veggie sandwiches.

I cut up a red onion, half a green bell pepper and half a yellow one, and a couple of zucchini. I minced a couple of cloves of garlic and sauteed everything in a bit of olive oil.
When the courgettes were crisp-tender, I added a bit of the chorizo that I'd cut into strips. In the meantime, I'd cut up and boiled some baby potatoes, which I roughly smashed and to which I added some snipped scallion. The bottom bulb part I sliced and added to the veggie pot. The root ends got planted in the waiting container of dirt on the windowsill.

I placed a piece of the smoked chili cheese we'd gotten in Claremorris the other day on each roll and spooned the veggie mixture over it.
It was quite good! I'd meant to add some herbs, but forgot until it was too late. Happily, we liked it anyway. This is a good improv meal because you can use whatever veggies you have around and add whatever herbs you'd like.

It can be vegetarian if you leave out the chorizo. Add some smoked or crumbled tofu or a meat analogue instead, if you want. If you don't want, it'd be quite good with veggies alone.

If you don't want a vegetarian dish, you could add leftover cooked meat or some cubed boneless, skinless chicken or ground turkey, chicken, or beef. Just add these things at the beginning of the cooking time so they are thoroughly cooked. Cut up salami or some other deli meat and add that instead of the chorizo at the end. I might even try this sometime with some crumbled smoked mackerel.

We used rolls we had, but you could use flatbread or a tortilla and roll up like a wrap or burrito. Spread with hummus or cream cheese first, if desired. Or roll up, enchilada style, place in a pan and top with enchilada sauce and cheese and bake until cheese is melted. Use the veggie mixture to stuff pita breads or use to top pita bread pizzas.

The veggies would have been even better if they'd been cooked on the grill. We did a lot of grilled veggies last summer and they would be perfect for this--grilled onion, peppers and courgettes. I cut the courgettes in half, brushed with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with herbs. They were great on the grill. If you grill extras, you'll have your sandwich fixings ready to go when you're ready to eat!