Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Peanut Butter, Parsley, and Stuff

I was chuckling to myself yesterday about the way fish has become a feature of my diet. First there was the seemingly endless weeks of fish chowder that I made in the soup kitchen over the past year and now there is the abundance of smoked fish in our local grocery stores. I have a couple of packages of smoked coley in the freezer--I have not tried this yet. We keep on buying the packages of smoked mackerel that we can get for less than 1.50 euro in the Super Valu. We have been having sandwiches of cream cheese, chopped onion, pepper, and tomato with the fish, smoked fish chowder, and yesterday I decided to try something different for lunch.

I had some leftover pasta in the fridge and I thought I could make a topping for that, so I chopped up an onion, a red bell pepper, and a couple of big cloves of garlic. I stirred these around in a puddle of olive oil for a few minutes and then I added some chopped cherry tomatoes, flaked, smoked mackerel, dried basil, and parsley. I cooked this for a few minutes more until the cherry tomatoes were softened and topped the pasta with it--it was great. now we have a new way to use the smoked fish. I have eaten more fish in the few weeks I’ve been here than I have in the previous year, I’m sure!

We went to Tesco yesterday. I was thrilled to find peanut butter that was a regular color and didn’t cost an arm and a leg! Most of the stuff I’ve seen in other stores is a weird pale beige/tan color, which looks extremely unappealing--at least to me. And it costs 4 or more euro per jar to boot! So when I saw the jar in Tesco for a little over a euro, I almost did a happy dance (but I refrained). I did grab a jar of crunchy, though.

I found a curly parsley plant in the produce section that was in the “reduced” section, so I picked that up for 67 cent. It’s healthy and full. I am thinking about getting myself a bag of dirt and making some plant hangers so I can have a little herb garden hanging from the railing outside. At the moment, I have my plant in the kitchen window where it gets sun when there is some.

Now that I am more familiar with Super Valu and what they have to offer, I was able to compare with Tesco on selection and price. Tesco has better prices on some things and higher prices on others. They generally have a larger selection of things, but it seems to be variable in terms of specific items. A couple of weeks ago they had scotch bonnet cheddar and this time there was none to be found. They do sell the seeded rolls that we love so much and Super Valu doesn’t. I bought a dozen of them yesterday and put 6 in the freezer. It looks like the best strategy will be to use both stores. It’s been interesting over the past few weeks to realize that even though Super Valu is tiny compared to grocery stores in the US, we can actually find what we need there, for the most part. In fact, I find that I like dashing in there and dashing out with a few things in a few minutes, rather than having to stand around choosing between several different kinds of the same thing. I like the fact that they are locally owned, too. As for Tesco, I am pleased about the fact that they just gave their employees a raise and they made it retroactive!

Both stores prominently feature fruit and veg in the weekly sales and I like that, too. I have been stocking up when things are on sale--potatoes, onions, bell peppers of various colors, and apples have all been on sale recently and I grabbed a bunch, knowing that I would use them a lot. Boneless chicken and turkey are on sale at Super Valu this week, so I am buying a little extra for the freezer. Some basic stuff--like eggs and peanut butter--are better purchased at Tesco, so I will just make sure I get that stuff when I go there. Super Valu is just down the street from us and we pass it almost every time we go somewhere, so it’s good that we can pick up stuff there on a regular basis and it’s not that far to carry. Tesco is about 20 minutes away, so that’s more of a planned shopping trip--we have to be able to carry home the stuff we buy. We make sure we don’t overload ourselves by using the hand-held shopping baskets instead of a trolley (shopping cart).

Tesco also sells some clothing and housewares and it is the only place I have been able to find a slow cooker. It is only 3 litres and I would rather have a larger one, being a big fan of planned leftovers and all. Apparently, these are not popular appliances, though, so I might just have to settle for that one. There are deep fat fryers all over the place, but slow cookers are hard to come by! Even that small one would be big enough to cook a whole chicken or some dried beans. My oven is not great and I can tell that I will rarely use it. Plus, I could cook stuff overnight in the slow cooker during the off-peak hours for electricity usage. I am not sure why, given the attention given to conserving electricity, slow cookers are not more popular here than they are! Guess fried food is more popular.

We might stop into the Polski Sklep (Polish market--I think that’s the name, but I might have the second word wrong) today. It is also right down the street from us and I bet they have some good pickles! I am also going to keep my eyes open for some kielbasa.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


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.