Category Archives: Cooking

Dinner and a conversation

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Hubby has his Internet radio show every Thursday. It’s from 8 to 10 our time, and then he has some bits n pieces to finish off afterward, so we don’t get to eat until rather late.

Last night I decided I had the time to pick some fresh herbs to put on the pork roast, and he decided he had the time to chop them for me (I dislike chopping them, not sure why as the smell is amazing). I brought in oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme, and added two garlic cloves that were also home-grown. I always pick too much! The pork was nearly crusted in greenery (I also add salt and black pepper, can’t grow them).

I got ambitious then, knowing that we’d have more good green stuff than necessary, and I decided I also had time to make a salad. We’ve not had one in ages, as hubby never seems interested when I say I want one.

I didn’t use the rocket (arugula) I grew, as it has gone all tough and leggy and seedy. And I forgot I had it. So, boring old iceberg lettuce from the supermarket. With my only four ripe cherry tomatoes – one the size of my pinky fingernail – and a sliced carrot from the Stupid Girl raised bed. That carrot was so damn tasty and sweet! For the dressing I added a bit of dried chopped garlic and my leftover cut herbs into a bit of white wine vinegar and let it sit. I didn’t need to add the fresh herbs; the point of putting anything in the vinegar is to rehydrate a dried spice – so if you don’t have fresh spices, toss everything in the vinegar, whatever is to hand. I don’t measure, sorry – eyeball it! I decided this time to add the fresh ones as the cutting board was hogging all my counter space.

The pork cooks for about 2 hours… when the meat is done I let it sit on a plate, and add water (or sometimes flat Pepsi) to the pan and swish it about to turn the yummy caramelisation flavour into a bit of jus. I add olive oil to the vinegar and swish that about a lot too, before pouring over the veggies. Simple and tasty!

Hubby likes to rate our meals out of 10. Usually he just rates his own cooking, the little egotist. I asked him for his rating of my dinner this time, as he kept saying how great it was.

“The salad is a 9.5! But, it was so good that the meat got lost. So the meat is only an 8. I give the overall meal an 8.”

“Wait, what? How do I get downgraded from a 9.5 and an 8 to an overall 8? Did you forget how averages work?”

“I’m sticking with an 8. The salad overshadowed the meat, sorry.”

A disappointing result. So much for not showing interest in my salads, eh?

Barley Stuffing

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I had a lot of people ask me to share my barley stuffing recipe. Well, three people. But hey, that’s three people who are interested and might benefit from my wealth of knowledge! HAHAHAHAHHA, gasp, HAHAHAHAHHA, wealth.

I got this off the net at some point, because I really, really, hate bread-based stuffing. Was always more than happy to help mom tear bread into chunks to make it, but I’ve always had a disgust for anything involving bread cooked in meat juice. I like bread, I like meat, but there’s just something… ooky… about the two together when the bread is wet. * shudder*

I wondered, one day, what I could use instead of bread to stuff a turkey or chicken. Rice is too sticky, and brings bad memories of a not-favourite-of-mine meal my mother cooked called ‘porcupines’ (no, I’m not kidding. It’s sort of surprising I’m not a vegetarian after that, isn’t it?), so I thought of barley. I love barley. I find the texture fascinating; squishy but firm, soft but a bit chewy, and the little bit of husk gives me the smug feeling that I’ve actually eaten something with ‘good’ fibre in it.

But, I hate onions. So this is an onion free version.

Sorry for the US measurements. I still think in American when cooking! But as with cooking rice, it’s one part barley to two parts broth. Use a coffee cup to measure, who cares? This isn’t baking, there’s no need to be exact. My ‘teaspoons’ are usually just eyeballed or dumped into the palm of my hand. We all do this. I love cooking like this (and this is why I’m a terrible baker).

1 cup pearl barley
2 cups broth (I love beef with barley, but for stuffing I used chicken. I expect vegetable broth would work also)
a shit-ton of salt. As much as you feel is too much. Barley needs salt. And I’m a bit of a salt junkie. Meh, use as much as you want, but my notes from the first time said ‘more salt’ and I went a bit mad this time, by accident. I actually did an iDJ and talked to the barley: “Oh, shit. Sorry. Whoops!” But it was perfect.

Throw in about 1 teaspoon each of whatever dried herb strikes your fancy. I like sage and thyme for a traditional stuffing flavour. And parsley, because it’s green and pretty. It’s not necessary, though.

Put that on to a boil and reduce to a low simmer, covered, as soon as it boils. In the meantime:

Sautée in butter 4 minced or pressed cloves of garlic, with half a minced green or red bell pepper (I used a red one every time, and it was perfect) and either the same amount of minced carrot, 1/2 inch chunks of celery, or both (onion people, this is your chance. Just don’t tell me about it, ok?). The carrot didn’t add much but color and maybe a vitamin or two, really. I didn’t use it last time and didn’t miss it.

Once the sautéed veggies look and smell like heaven, dump it in the pot with the barley. Leave it on low and stir it now and again just to make sure it’s not getting over cooked and dry. When it gets really sticky and there’s no water left, it’s probably done. You can taste it and make sure. Just try to leave some for the dinner later.

Thanks, self, for being an eejit.

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We only, tonight, about an hour ago, realised that American Thanksgiving is THIS week. As in, in a few days. Now, of course this isn’t something celebrated or enjoyed in Ireland; but hubby has this…thing…where he likes to try to make me feel at home by celebrating American holidays. Usually it involves me having to cook something hard to purchase here, or wear something starry and stripey. Thankfully those things are also hard to purchase here.

We really should have tried harder to import him to the States rather than export me, perhaps.

In any case, we scroooowed up and there will not be a timely turkey-day for us. Due to lack of turkey. And anything else slightly resembling the makings of a turkey-day meal…

Death of an important kitchen tool

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Aww. I went to take the pork roast out of the oven just a moment ago, and half the dish stayed in my hand while the other half stayed in the oven.

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At least there was no meat-juice-spillage, because I always double up on the foil. But still, I’m a bit sad. This was a pretty damn good baking dish. Used at least three times a week for at least five years, and damn if I didn’t keep it pretty clean. What about all that burned on oook? It’s due to HIM not washing it before using it again. Usually to make me breakfast. Ugh, how do you balance bitching with gratitude?

Best thing? I wasn’t the last to wash it before it exploded. BOOYAH motherfucker, I won’t have to scrape burned grease off of you ever again.

Pizza angst

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I have to poke fun at iDJ tonight. He makes low-carb pizza once a week, and every time he does, I hear him chastising himself for being OCD about the placement of toppings. I’d like to be able to say it is all in fun, but he really does make a quick meal take ages because he has to have a bit of every topping in every bite. Poor dear. I tried to tell him that you don’t necessarily want every bite to be identical, and I got bitten myself for my ignorance!

So now I get to poke gentle fun at him. No crushed red pepper pain allowed! Here’s his finished product.

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Beautiful, isn’t it? Especially aesthetically pleasing is how every black olive seems to be equidistant from the next. And the pepperoni. And under the cheese, the mushrooms will be as evenly spaced…

Wish he was as attentive to other things! But I guess I should stuff my mouth with this lovely food he worked so hard on, and not bitch about the rest!

(Best pizza in months, by the way! Nom nom nom…)

Spinal flux, Irish BBQ, and the Fourth from a distance

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Happy Fourth! I’m sitting outside, gagging on the smell of citronella-torch smoke, wiping rain off my iPad screen, but certainly enjoying the occasional wafts of heavenly scent coming from our Weber grill.

I’m beginning to wonder if I should have imported my husband to America, instead of exporting myself to Ireland. He goes craaazeee for American holidays. We don’t have a big US flag, just a tiny one onna stick, but we do have two flag bandannas. One of which is hanging in our front window:

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With, of course, Neko the American Akita standing guard under it.

The Fourth wouldn’t be complete without a barbecue. We are back on the low-carb diet (not because of the scale, but because our clothes weren’t fitting any more – been off the diet since April, whoops) so tonight is a meat-feast. Craft butcher sausages from our local butcher, ribs from him also, and best of all, beer-butt chicken. Here’s the scene before cooking:

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Chicken is rubbed inside and out with butter, olive oil, lemon, and my mixture of spices from our garden: sage, thyme, garlic, basil and oregano. And, of course, there’s a can of beer shoved up it’s arse. Or what used to be its arse… Oh and the tuna-can has wood chips in, for smoking. Nom!

We’ve never made the chicken before. Never had a grill big enough until he came home one day with his much-lusted-after Weber. I can’t wait to try it! It takes a while, and hubby made a huge mess during prep. Better be worth it…

So… We both took the day off today, because today happened to be the day I got to talk to someone about the results of my MRI. Finally. Been ages since this journey into WTF is wrong with my back started.

And as it turns out, not very much. I do have one disc that is dried up and cracked and so is squishing out through the crack and bulging a bit. To the right. My nerve issues are nearly all on my left side. Doc couldn’t see any reason that the bulge on the right would be pressing on a nerve on the left. So, surgery was 100% ruled out. Nothing to operate on. He did offer what I had been told were ‘shots’ but actually is an epidural. I agreed, even though I have no idea what they might be pumping into my spinal fluid, and it probably won’t help. If it does, then they know a nerve is indeed being squarshed and that’s a valuable bit of knowledge, to me. Because if the nerve isn’t being pinched at the spine, just what the hell is the issue? Cuz my leg burrrns. Or aches like it is bruised, or itches in a way that can’t be scratched.

But I can live with the leg being wonky. I can’t live with this backache. I can’t do anything! I’m only 40, not too chubby, and like doing things with my hands. When I can’t even do the things I have to do, like the damn dishes, without needing to go sit down for a while, what chance do I have for doing fun things like vacuuming the car? And YES, dammit, that is fun, sort of – I love me a clean car, and I’m in the bitch more than anyone else these days.

Oooooh the sun just came out! I can taste it! Seriously, I can open my mouth and feel the sun on my tongue and oh, I need the sunshine. My current music (hubby testing songs for tomorrow’s radio show, with a USA theme, surprised?) is The Pogues, The Body of an American – “I’m a free-born man of the USA” first heard by me on The Wire. Apparently it’s a wake song; if so – play it for me when I go, please?

Back to the back. Needle in 4-6 weeks, and probably another day off of work. Be interesting to see what result, if any, I get. In the meantime they said my issue appears to be muscular. My lower spine has very little curve to it. Doc said this is because the muscles are supposed to pull tight and make the curve, but mine are weak and haven’t been doing the job. I asked about any options to strengthen the muscles that might be provided by the HSE – none. So Pilates on my iPad it is then, I guess. I can’t afford classes with someone to show me how to do it right – even though I have never done regulated exercises and I doubt I do them right. Only time I ever tried anything close was the Haidong Kumdo and that is what really, really fucked my back up! Even with an instructor. Imagine what I can do to myself, by myself!

Right, just had a looong pause while taking the chicken off the grill. I love crispy skin – the only fatty thing I eat and like – only if crispy! Had to run in and peel the chook, because if you leave the skin on the bird it goes soggy. I have to say the crispness is a bit lacking, so I scraped off the oooky fatty bits and we’ll put the skin back on the grill for a bit, because the ribs and sausages aren’t quite done yet. Last photo before I went inside:

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Had a little taste of the chicken. WOW. Oh yeah, baby.

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Nothing in there for dogs, sorry Neko!

Pancake Tuesday… with a twist

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Today is Pancake Tuesday! Are YOU having pancakes for dinner? We are!

I’m not sure how many countries actually have a Pancake Tuesday. I’m sure the ‘real’ Fat Tuesday is similar… but in Ireland, they call it Pancake Tuesday. Without Googling the official reason, here’s my version of the reason why, as filtered through what my hubby told me nearly seven years ago:

It’s a Catholic thing. Because you were meant to give up yummy things for Lent, you used up all the eggs and flour and sugar the night before Ash Wednesday, so it wasn’t in your house to tempt you. What better way to use these ingredients than by making a passel of pancakes?

So, I’m not a Catholic and wasn’t raised that way. Hubby isn’t a Catholic either, but he was raised that way, and has had a lifetime of traditionally having pancakes for dinner one particular Tuesday a year. (He was just telling me the day is yet another pagan festival day that has been usurped.) Hence, we make pancakes (or, he does, because I don’t have the patience) – but we don’t do it for any other reason than tradition and it’s a bit of fun – and, of course, because they are soooo tasty.

The problem is… we are on a low-to-no carb diet. What to do? Well, there are tons of versions of low-carb ‘cakes out there. He’s been doing it long enough that now he has his own version. I’m not privy to the details, but I know it involves eggs, vanilla, possibly whey powder, and ricotta cheese. And they are fantastic, especially with my home-grown blueberries from the year before all throughout. You’d never know they were low carb. I’m smelling them cooking now, and they even smell like ‘normal’ pancakes.

As an American, I can’t get into just sprinkling sugar (or Splenda) on top of my pancakes. I might cheat on the diet and use some of my precious Mrs Butterworth’s syrup on mine. Just a little, though.

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Chicken with shrooms n beans n bacon

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I thought I’d share a recipe that I made up all by myself. I’m sure it is quite similar to loads of other ones; but this one is mine. It doesn’t have a name. When iDJ requested it for dinner tonight, I think he just called it ‘the chicken mushroom thing.’ No apologies for it being very salty, tasty, and rich…and rather American, probably…

Firstly: we like to take our time when cooking. We nearly always cook from scratch and we are never in a hurry. We never want to eat within twenty minutes of starting to cook. The main reason for this is that we both like to sit on our respective arses and have a drink and relax while the food is busy making itself edible. Cooking is fun and relaxing and never, ever, a pressured event.

Secondly: we are on a low carb diet, to recover from the Christmas fat we both piled on. We eat low-carb year round, excepting the holidays. This is a meal we’d have any time, more in colder months perhaps. But it is not high fat – low carb doesn’t mean high-fat to us.

Thirdly: it involves meat. Sorry, I know some of my readers don’t partake. Perhaps you’ll come along for the laugh, anyway.

Okay! Take some chicken, and cut it up into bite sized chunks. Stir fry it in oil with garlic, coarse ground black pepper, and parsley. I do grow both garlic and parsley, but it’s winter and I’m not going outside in the dark right now to get some. I don’t feel like cleaning and chopping, either, it’s Friday. So, straight out of the jars tonight. How much? Hell if I know. I just dump it on until it looks good. I usually add more garlic if it doesn’t smell garlicky enough while the chicken is browning. I love me some garlic.

While that’s going on, clean and cut up a punnet of fresh mushrooms. Hmm, my iPad doesn’t know the word punnet. It’s what I call the little plastic box they come in from the shop. A couple of handfuls, then. I like to cut them in big chunks, not thin sliced. Pretty much just cut em in half, unless they are huge. What kind? I don’t know. Have fun with it. Probably not portobellos, though.

When the chicken is sort of/mostly browned or cooked, reduce the heat down to low, and dump in a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. I prefer Campbell’s brand. Add some water, or milk, or cream, whatever you want. Not a whole can of water, etc, though. You want it kind of thick and goopy. Add the mushrooms and stir it all together, making sure the shrooms are coated. They will add more water to the soup-sauce while they cook, too. Cover the pan.

Go sit on your arse for a bit, and have a drink. This part can take as long as you like. Have two!

Stir the goop whenever you think about it, or when getting yourself a fresh drink. You wouldn’t want it to stick. But if it does, no big deal. It will still taste good. Just add some more liquid, it’ll be grand. If it is too wet, take the lid off and the liquid will steam away.

If you’re industrious, you can open a can of cannelini beans and let them drain in a sieve. You can also start microwaving some bacon. Use ‘streaky’ bacon, the American kind: not Canadian or Irish or English bacon. That stuff is too thick. You want it thin and crispy, but not burnt. The microwave is best for this, if you can keep it from sticking to the paper towels and annoying the hell out of you. The reason for the bacon is two-fold: mushrooms and bacon are made for each other, and the dish needs some crunchy texture.

Eventually, when you feel like it, add the drained – but not rinsed – cannelini beans. Dont rinse them, because bean-juice is a natural sauce thickener. You don’t want to add the beans too soon, because stirring the goop with the beans in is bad for the beans. They break and lose their skins; it just isn’t pretty. Be gentle when stirring the food after the beans are in. This is harder the more drinks you’ve had. Or easier, if you are getting sleepy.

Let it sit and simmer a while longer. Unless you’re hungry. In that case, you only have to wait until the beans are hot. It’s up to you. Me, I’m having another drink or two. I’ve made half the bacon, the other half is cooling in the nuker. I should probably peel it free of the paper and turn the microwave back on for another couple of minutes. But, I’m writing this. It’ll keep.

Let’s see… now I have to think of the next step instead of writing down what I’ve already done… good thing we’re almost done.

Scoop into bowls, and crumble the bacon on top at the very last minute. It really does need the crunch. Everything else has almost the exact same texture by now. Oh, I might add some more parsley before I serve it. I forgot parsley entirely once and the meal wasn’t the same.

I’d post a picture, but it isn’t nearly ready because I lied a little. I haven’t even put the beans in yet. And my glass is empty…

How to Roast a Chicken – With Jokes!

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iDJ and I perform what I think of as tag-team cooking. For one meal, I have my cooking tasks and he has his. For example, I cut up the peppers but he cuts up the mushrooms. These rules are not set in stone but rather the way we’ve worked out how to share cooking duties.

When we roast a chicken he gets his hands dirty and I do the spices. He picks off any feathers, and rubs oil over the whole bird. I do the spices on one side, he waits, then he flips the bird and oils the other side. Then he can wash up. Saves us both having to get raw chicken yuck on our hands and/or saves him from having to wash his hands several times. Pretty efficient, we think!

Tonight he got a little ahead of me and took out the spice jars in advance. I sprinkle on salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, basil and thyme. Sometimes not all of the green ones, but he had them out so I used them all.

Then I noticed he had both types of thyme on the counter. One is chopped, one is ground to a fine powder. So I told him, for his future reference, that I only use one thyme at a time.

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Yes, we are that nerdy.

International food shenanigans

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I’m grinning like crazy right now. The little group of international blow-ins that I (unintentionally) named is KIBIS really taking off. It consists of me, from the US; a Canadian, an Italian, and our newest member is Japanese.

Our KIBIS group today decided to have a ‘KIBIS Christmas Gala Dinner’ on the 14th Dec. I suggested we make and bring food from our respective countries. This is going to be an interesting meal!

Italy: either sage stuffed roast chicken with walnut bread, or lasagne. (I’m hoping for lasagne, I haven’t had it in years.)
Canada: sweet potatoes with cranberries and maple syrup (Wow! I think I’m salivating just typing that.)
Japan: a variety of sushi (Okay, I’m a newbie at sushi. Hope I don’t make an ass of myself.)
USA: cornbread and DethNog.

Since the last two are obviously mine, I have more than a parenthetical comment to offer.

I’ve never made cornbread, unless you count Jiffy Mix. I don’t know if I can even get cornmeal here! I might end up going with my second option, buttermilk biscuits.

Proper southern recipes for either one are now being taken. I don’t have a clue…

The eggnog, however, is a classic family concoction. I have my dad’s instructions for this brew, and it is POTENT! Our tradition is to write on the jug ‘death nog’, because one morning mom put it in her coffee instead of milk. Wheee! Work today is so much more fun than usual!

I usually draw a skull n crossbones in a Santa hat on the jug, to keep it coffee-safe. Last year I had two, one was a cat and one a dog.

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Hmm, it seems I left the ‘deth’ part off last year.

Anyhow, if I could be bothered to dig it out, and had my dad’s permission, I’d give you the recipe. But I can’t, and I don’t. Maybe if someone asks nicely I will. Tomorrow, when I’m less giddy.