Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard

cookbooks

The weather is getting colder, the nights longer, the clocks are going back and that means only one horrifying fact to my family …. the slow cooker is going to be taken out and pressed into use again.

It’s not that they dislike tender meat stews, or vegetable stews, or spicy stews, or chicken stew, or beef stew, it’s just that there is only so much of stew one family can take before even the most delicious stew resembles gruel from a gulag.

The slow cooker had been the answer to all my working-mom problems. Prepare it the ingredients the night before (or mass prepare at the weekend), bang the stuff into the slow cooker in the morning while you are waiting for someone to get out of the bathroom and press start. Twelve hours later you will have a belly-warming … stew.

Again.

Every night for five months.

After which even the carnivore was happy to see summer salads arrive again.

This year (in what I feel was a deliberate act of sabotage) the kid, the dog and the husband accidentally threw a ball indoors and it knocked the slow cooker off its shelf causing the bowl to crack. Much to their wisely-well-hidden disappointment I managed to repair it, but being the benevolent dictator I am, I felt compelled to find an alternative solution least there be another uprising that cannot be repaired with ceramic paste.

So I have turned to my many, many cook books. Cook books which proclaim that recipes can be cooked in 30 minutes. Cook books which declare that they have nutritious family friendly recipes that all the family will enjoy. Cook books that claim they can teach anyone to cook. Well I’m going to put them to the working-mom test.

My requirements as a working-mom are

  1. Nutritious food that is tasty but not calorie laden.
  2. Can be cooked quietly when the baby is asleep or quickly when the baby is awake and ‘helping’.
  3. Preparation time should take no more than 20min, although cooking in the oven can take up to one hour, but no longer.
  4. Can ideally be cooked on Day 1, with leftovers for Day 2 (thus meaning every night is not a cooking night, but we get a well cooked meal every night).
  5. Is suitable for all the family:
    1. my husband who insists it’s not a proper meal without meat,
    2. me who insists that there are some healthy vegetables,
    3. my toddler son who has to be able to eat at least part of it with his hands,
    4. my grand-father who is suspicious of overly-spicy meat in case its gone off (apparently its something to do with a war, who knows),
    5. my parents who are open-minded but prefer the meals they recognise.
    6. my dad who is coeliac

Just to clarify, I don’t have the whole family around every night, but the new recipes I am about to learn I will use for the next forty/fifty years (possibly longer), so they have to be versatile enough for my increasingly crazy family (who I love!).

So with that in mind I am taking on my own Julie and Julia project as I work my way through my mountain of cook books and rate them on the working-mom scale.

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Crunchy Caramel Popcorn

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It has been many a year since I stayed up all night to watch the Oscars, firstly because I still miss Barry Norman’s commentary and secondly because I don’t receive any television broadcast signal on my TV. My TV is for Xbox use and DVD watching only, unfortunately this doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the TV License man but that is a rant for another day.

Happily this year I was invited to a party for the 2014 Academy Awards, thank you Bren and Charlene! There was the drinking of blueberry cocktails, the critiquing of gowns and betting on results. All in all, great craic.

Not wanting to turn up empty handed and also knowing I would need something gluten free to nibble on I made a large bowl of Peanut Caramel Corn.

The best nibbles are always a mix of savory and sweet, I am a girl who loves to combine the saltiness of crisps with a bit of chocolate. This caramel corn, sweet but with the salty crunch of peanuts can lead to compulsive eating so it is best to make it when you know you have a crowd to share it with.

You will need a very large pot for the popcorn, 1/2 cup of kernels makes more popcorn than you might think, and a very large bowl for mixing in the caramel.

  • 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil + extra for the trays (you don’t want to use a strong flavored olive oil for this)
  • 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels
  • 2 cups of salted peanuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  1. Coat a large bowl or roasting dish and two baking sheets with a thin coating of oil
  2. In a large saucepan heat the oil over a medium high heat and add the kernels. Cover the saucepan with a lid and move it about over the heat as the pop corn pops. Keep the pan moving so the pop corn doesn’t burn. Keep the lid on until the popping slows down. This should take five or six minutes.
  3. Put the pop corn in to the prepped very large bowl or roasting tin and stir in the 2 cups of peanuts.
  4. Put the 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder in to a small dish, this will make it easier to tip in to the carmel later.
  5. In a medium saucepan with a heavy add the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup of water.
  6. Cook over a high heat without stirring, you will be tempted but do not stir.
  7. Cook until the mixture turns a light golden caramel color, this should take between 10 and fifteen minutes.
  8. Remove from the heat and with exaggerated care add the baking soda, the mixture will fizz and bubble up.
  9. Whisk in the soda and immediately pour the caramel over the popcorn and peanuts and stir to combine. Try very hard to not spill the carmel on your fingers and don’t be tempted to taste, I managed to get a drop of caramel on the tip of my finger and was left with a lovely big blister a few minutes later. Caramel is extremely hot and will burn so be careful and take it slow.
  10. Once the carmel, nuts and popcorn are combined  divide the mixture between the two baking sheets and spread it out as best you can.
  11. Leave to cool and then break in to bite size pieces, you can use your hands for this or some gentle tapping with a rolling pin also works.
  12. Eat immediately or store in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

Slow Cooked Pulled Pork

V10. slowcooked pork 3We were gifted a slow cooker a few years ago and while it is something I don’t think I would have gone out of my way to buy I do love using it. There is something about coming home to the aroma of cooked dinner after a log day at work that is just lovely.
There are a lot of slow cooker recipes out there but this is something I came up with for Valentines dinner this year as dinner had to be fast since we were heading out to the cinema, very romantic. I prepped it in the morning before I headed to work and left the house starving as everything smelled so good. I doubled the recipe a week later when we were having people over for dinner and those are the quantities I am giving here.

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  • 2 pork fillets, you could use pork shoulder instead.
  • 3 tbl of olive oil
  • I large onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • I pack of thin sliced chorizo, cut in to stips
  • 100ml of red wine
  • 150ml of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 500 gram pack of tomato passata
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Some stalks of fresh thyme
  • 2 Peppers, rubbed with oil
  • ½ cup -1 cup olives cut in half
  • Handful of torn basil leaves
  • Roast potatoes and sour cream to serve
  • 1. Turn the slow cooker on to low.
  • 2. Trim the pork fillet, removing the silvery membrane and then cut each fillet in to four pieces.
  • 3. Heat the olive oil in a pan and brown the pork on all sides, remove from the pan and place in the slow cooker.
  • 4. Add the onions, celery, chilli and garlic to the pan you used for the pork, heat until they start to soften. Add the sliced chorizo and stir until the oils start to seep out of the chorizo and turn your pan a lovely orange,
  • 5. Add the red wine and leave to bubble a minute, then stir in the passata, chicken stock and brown sugar.
  • 6. Add the thyme and bay leaves and pour in to the slow cooker. Put on the lid and leave this to cook on low for 8 hours. When you get in or an hour before you want to eat you could pop the heat up to high just to thicken the sauce if you wanted to.
  • 7. The pork should fall apart when you touch it, shred it in to the sauce with two forks. Season to taste.
  • 8. Grill the oiled peppers or roast them in the oven until the skin is black and blistered. Put in a plastic food bag to allow the steam to loosen the skin, then peel, deseed and slice in to strips. Stir in to the shredded pork along with the olives and the torn basil leaves.
  • 9. I served this with some baby potatoes I halved and roasted in some olive oil for about a half an hour until golden and cooked through. Sour cream works really well with the sauce.
  • 10. You could also serve this with some wraps either corn or GF tortillas or taco shells topped with sour cream and grated cheese.

 

 

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Eating out in Dublin while Celiac: A Review

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Today I have two restaurant reviews that are less reviews of the food and more reviews of eating out while celiac. My issues may come across as a bit whiney and to be honest I think it is fear of the appearance of whinging that stops a lot of celiacs complaining to or about restaurants.

If your significant other has brought you out for dinner the last thing you want to do is be unhappy with their choice of restaurant, particularly if you know they have double and triple checked that the restaurant caters for GF. One anniversary I ended up in the Ely on Grand Canal Place and while serving me my lamb burger without a bun the waitress asked if could recommend a good GF bun to the chef. To that chef I say try the internet, wander over to any grocery store, get on to the Celiac Society but don’t ask the lady who has been brought to your restaurant because you promised her boyfriend you could cater for GF.

If you are with a large group you don’t necessarily want to draw attention to your dietary restrictions, it makes you feel fussy and a bit of a bore when all you want to do is have a the craic with your mates.

In a perfect world if you call a restaurant and they say their menu can be adapted for celiacs you should be able to trust that and relax. However the world is far from perfect, celiacs know this. You start to wonder if the kitchen staff really know what it means to be celiac, do they think you are just on some gluten free diet because you are trying to lose weight? You start to imagine that the kitchen is a seething mess of cross contamination. The fear sets in and you have to start asking questions.

I understand how difficult it can be to make a kitchen safe for GF cooking and I appreciate every restaurant kitchen that tries however there are somethings that drive me crackers when eating out and unfortunately for the two restaurants I am writing about today, they both managed annoyed me.

Mulligans the Grocer on Manor Street.

Ah Mulligans, you are right around the corner from me and you have an excellent whiskey collection, your desert coffees, lifted above and beyond the mere Irish Coffee are luscious and good. You stock gluten free beers and a nice selection of wines. For all of this I thank you.

Dave and I used to eat in Mulligans a lot, the prices were very reasonable and the staff informed and very good about advising me on what I could and couldn’t eat. Although the starters and deserts were mostly out of bounds a main course was usually all I wanted anyway.

Then things started to change, main course prices went up and the dishes which had been lovely in their simplicity became a little too adorned. Everything seemed to come with some kind of croquette or other garnish that was in no way adaptable for GF.

The last time I ate there I asked about my go-to dish which was always the slow roast pork belly, golden with crackling, served with lovely mash to soak up the even lovelier gravy which cheered my heart by always being GF. It was food that was good for the soul. Dave, a man who never orders chicken in a restaurant always got the Chicken Kiev, the chicken was always tasty as were the chips but the real attraction was the creamed corn, this he would eat from the pot with a spoon given half a chance.

So as usual I asked our server what I could eat and true to form he went to the kitchen to check. The pork and thankfully the gravy were fine as long as I forgo the accompanying croquette and crumble. However there wasn’t a potato dish on the menu that I could eat, not twice cooked chips nor mash. What I ask are you doing to mash that fills it with gluten? What I ask you is the good of gravy without a carb to soak it up? The lovely chef did fill my plate with a variety of vegetable sides and made me one of the aforementioned crumbles without crumbs but with bubbly cheese topping. If I was eating Paleo it would have been a perfect meal but I missed the mash, so many restaurants cannot do a good mash but Mulligans was always buttery perfection.

The mother of all peeves for me though is that finding a GF chip in Dublin is akin to searching for the Holy Grail, I challenge both Indiana Jones and Dan Brown to find one. Beshoffs you will remind me, and indeed Beshoffs do GF chips but in fairness Beshoffs is a chipper, they have the skills, it is what they do. I am grateful for their efforts but I am talking about non chipper restaurants.

How hard is it to keep a separate deep fat fryer in a kitchen for GF chips, and why not go mad and throw a few GF onion rings in there. This is a simple solution to my chip needs and if there is a reason that prevents restaurants from doing this simple thing then someone needs to explain it to me.

As for Dave his Kiev arrived with a wee pail of chips on the plate and sorrow of sorrows only a thin slick of the creamed corn painted artfully on to the plate in the style of Master Chef contestants.

While Mulligans gets so many things right there are little mistakes that take away from the experience. And it isn’t just me, talking to friends who used to wander over from the south side to eat in Mulligans I have found that it just isn’t the draw it used to be. I hope this changes as I like to support local businesses and to see this part of Dublin thriving.

Brasserie 66 on Georges Street.

I hadn’t eaten here before but I heard good things about the brunch and also that the menu had a lot of GF options. My parents were visiting recently so a group of six of us headed out for dinner on a Saturday night. We were seated, drink orders taken and I perused the menu. Very promisingly there was C for celiac on the menu to denote what I could eat. I decided on a Chicken Skewer for starter and the Stuffed Pork for main. When I went to make my order however I was told the pork was not GF despite the bloody great C printed right next to it, I was vexed to say the least. Why tempt me with pork and then say no. A mistake I was told, the menu needed to be reprinted. Apparently the roast chicken was GF so in a bit of a panic I said ok to that and ended up with a chicken starter and a chicken main course.

So having had this discussion about my GF requirements the waiter returned to the table with half a loaf of crusty bread on a board with a bread knife, so the bread could be cut as needed. A lovely idea but even with my dad and his near surgical skill with a bread knife crumbs flew everywhere in the natural manner of bread crumbs. Hither and yon over the table they went, my hand reflexively shot out to cover both my wine glass and top of the carafe. As discretely as I could I brushed the crumbs away and sat there sadly watching as bread was slathered in butter and munched. There was no bread for me, apparently celiacs are ok with waiting in a busy restaurant for their starter without anything to nibble on.

I want to buy flowers for restaurants that bring me GF bread, they have me at that small gesture that says we acknowledge that you might also be a bit peckish and need something to soak up the wine you are sipping while waiting for your meal.

It isn’t rocket science, if you don’t want to bake GF bread in house there are a number of good breads out there, keep some in the freezer, I will take toast over nothing.

My skewer came without the pitta bread it should have been served with although I know that right across the street in Dunnes Stores there are GF pitta breads, right across the street people!

And now I seem churlish, surely the fact that I could eat there at all should be enough. I had a great night, I was with family and the food I had was good but I have been diagnosed celiac for almost ten years now and the ease of sourcing products, the availability of information should mean the restaurants shouldn’t have these annoying restrictions around catering for GF.
Things are better, indeed they are, when I was first diagnosed I didn’t eat out for a long time for fear of cross contamination, it was all a bit stressful and took the good out of what should have been a treat. But things can still be better. If as a restaurant you can’t fully to commit to catering for celiacs then make a decision not to and make this known when you are contacted with queries. I won’t be mad, I will be relieved that you are being honest, just don’t half ass it, that is letting you and me down. If you do want to cater for GF then think it through, try and make our dining experience comparable to our fellow diners. We will thank you with our repeated custom.

Retro Cake: Pineapple Upside-down: GF & Non-GF

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This is a desert that is more of a pudding than a cake. My Mum used to make this when we were small and maybe that is why I think of it as great comfort food. I hadn’t made it in years and then a friend of mine was saying that she loved pineapple in deserts and I remembered how much I loved this. I love deserts that are served warm, with whipped cream or ice cream melting over the sides. When tipped out this pudding cake should be a deep caramel colour and should smell amazing.

This is also very retro, having come from my Mums Margaret Patton cookbook, a book that has long since lost its spine from use and age. It is adapted here to be GF, for a non GF version just use regular flour and omit the xanthum gum.

The original recipe calls for glace cherries to be placed in the centre of each pineapple ring but I haven’t been able to get a clear answer anywhere on whether glace cherries are GF. The internet failed me there so I just left them out.

V11.pinapple upsidedown cake

Ingredients

  • 5 oz / 140 grms butter
  • 5 oz / 140 grms sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6oz / 170 grms of Doves farm plain flour
  • ½ tsp of xanthum gum
  • 1 ½ tsp of GF baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 tablespoons milk.

For the topping

  • 2oz / 56 grms butter
  • 2oz / 56 grms dark brown sugar
  • I small tin of pineapple rings in juice

Instructions

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and light, use a gentle speed at first otherwise you will end up with butter and sugar all over your walls, the counter and yourself!
  2. Whisk eggs with a fork and beat gradually into the butter mixture, this is a pain if you don’t have a standing mixer as you keep having to start and stop unless you can convince someone to hold the mixer while you pour.
  3. Sift flour, xanthum gum and baking powder in to the batter and fold in, mix the milk and vanilla and fold alternately into the creamed mixture.
    The mix should be a soft dropping consistency, if it isn’t then you could add a drop more milk or a tablespoon of the pineapple juice.
  4. For the topping melt the 2oz butter in a 8 or 9 inch cake tin, I used a nine inch as I prefer a ratio of more pineapple to sponge. I have a heavy bottomed tin so I melted the butter in the tin over a low heat you could also just melt the butter in a pot or in the microwave and pour it in to the tin.
  5. Top the melted butter with 2 oz brown sugar and arrange pineapple rings over the butter / sugar mix. If you are going to use the glace cherries now is the time to place them in the centre of the pineapple rings.
  6. Spoon over the cake batter and smooth out, gently, with a spatula or knife.
  7. Bake at gas mark 4 , 325f, 160c for an hour. If the top starts to brown you can loosely cover the tin with tinfoil. The cake is done when the sponge has pulled away from the sides of the tin and springs back when you press it or a cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then run a knife around the edge to loosen. Place your serving plate over the tin and carefully turn it over so that the cake slides out on to the plate.
  9. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.

 

Chickpea and Chorizo Stew

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This recipe came from a team building exercise in my old job of all places. It was an American company and this was taken extremely seriously by HR, so I had to run out and buy two mobile stove tops and the entire office was divided in to two teams and sent off to the supermarket with a very tight budget to get ingredients for a meal we had about five minutes to plan.
An early version of this recipe was the result of our collaboration and (go my team!) we won the exercise. It was very loosely based on the memory of something delicious that someone had eaten while in Spain on holiday.
I have adjusted this over the years, adding different things, sometimes using chicken or pork with the chorizo and adding spinach and olives. It is a dish that lends itself to tweaking. It is also a really quick mid- week dinner that won’t break the bank and reheats beautifully for lunch the next day.

The following recipe will serve four (six if served with lots of crusty bread) or two with enough left over for two lunches.

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Chickpea & Chorizo stew

  • 2 tbl olive oil
  • I large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed, grated or sliced
  • 1 pepper, the colour of your choice, chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 170 – 200 grams of chorizo cut in to ½ centimetre slices. I use the whole chorizo for this rather than pre sliced as it gives a better texture to the finished dish.
  • 100 grams (roughly half of a bag) of baby leaf spinach, rinsed and rained
  • 1 400gram tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 300ml of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tbl tomato puree
  • ½ cup of olives cut in half
  • 1 tsp dark brown sugar. The world will not end if you use white sugar but the dark brown sugar gives a better flavour and darkens the sauce
  • Sour cream to serve.
  1. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onion and celery. Cook until softened but not browned and add the garlic, pepper and chorizo.
  2. Continue to stir over a medium heat until the chorizo starts to release its oil and your kitchen starts to smell amazing.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree and the brown sugar. Stir in the stock and the chickpeas and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to gently simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and olives and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve in warmed bowls with a good dollop of sour cream.

 

 

 

Marcos Gluten Free Irish Pizza

V15 Marco GF Pizza Review

Sometimes I tell myself I should just be grateful that certain gluten free products exist. Whether they are very good or not it feels slightly mean spirited to look at someone’s gluten free offering and say that it just isn’t great. They are trying after all and I applaud that effort but given the price consumers are asked to pay for gluten free products I have decided that I am going to expect a little bit more from the producers even if that makes me seem ungrateful.

Case in point would be the Marco’s Gluten Free Irish Pizza I picked up for the bargain price of €4.99 on my way home from a very long day at work. I am in the midst of getting a hole in my kitchen ceiling repaired so the contents of my kitchen currently live in my sitting room, this makes cooking an adventure. On this particular evening I was tired and unwilling to prep food in a building site, convenience is what I was looking for and I found it in the freezer section.

It isn’t too hard to find gluten free pizza, a few restaurants offer it as an option and Domino’s will even deliver one right to my door. I make my own pizza base using the recipe on the back of the Dove’s Farm Bread Flour mix and I would recommend this base to anyone. My point is that GF pizza is not the Holy Grail it once was and as such I want my pizza to be good. Marco’s pizza was just not that good.

On the plus side the base was very good, it was thin and crisp just the way I like it. As the GF base is normally the most difficult thing to get right I don’t understand how in getting this part so right Marco got the rest of the pizza so wrong.

I don’t know if you remember the little individual pizza’s that used to come in packs of five; grim little discs with a smear of tomato sauce and a sparse sprinkling of processed mozzarella, Soviet era pizza. Well that is all this pizza reminded me of when I took it out of the box. Looking over my shoulder my best beloved remarked that it reminded him of a St Bernard value pizza from the 80’s. I gently reminded him that we in Ireland didn’t get frozen pizzas until at least the 1990’s. Before that we had to make do with thick based pizza’s they made up a deli counters and gave to you in big styrofoam containers to cook at home. Those were the days.

Back to Marco’s pizza, it cooked well, sat nicely on the oven rack and didn’t disintegrate and end up a burnt crumbled mess on the floor of my oven. This has happened to me before and not just with GF pizza. Unfortunately it just didn’t really taste of anything. It was bland, unsatisfying and felt like it wasn’t really trying. I looked over at the non GF pizza I had also cooked, oozing sauce, bubbling strings of melted cheese stretching as each new slice was lifted off the plate and just felt hard done by. The fact that the fault lay not in the base but in the lack of flavour and the skimping on cheese, which must be a cardinal sin when it comes to pizza, annoyed me, I was in fact peeved. Post pizza I should be in a happy carb induced stupor, not peeved.

To Marco I say, you are halfway there, a little bit of work and you may have a pizza I am happy to pay a fiver for!