Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Curry Sauce for Leftovers

For the time of year that's in it, here is a blow-your-mind curry paste recipe.  It can be used for raw meat or is perfect for leftovers

2 large onions
2 cloves of garlic
Piece of ginger (size of half your thumb) chopped finely with skin on
Good shake of sea salt
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil

Blitz the above in a food processor or one of those small blenders. I got a cheap one in Lidl and it's a cracker for making pesto and other type sauces.  When it is a paste remove and place in a bowl.

1 tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
half tsp. mustard seeds
half tsp fenugreek seeds

Heat the seeds above on a dry frying pan for a couple of minutes to draw the flavour out. Transfer to blender and grind. Add the spices below.

2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp chilli powder plus a fresh chilli(s) chopped depending on how hot you like it
1tsp garam masala
half tsp cinnamon
pinch of mace blades (optional)

Then add in 5 cloves, 5 cardamon pods, a cinnamon stick and some curry leaves and galangal (one small piece) if you can get it. Add all the spices into the onion mix from first step. This seems like a lot of work but you can make double quantities or more and save in a clean jar in the fridge. It will keep for at least a week.

500g meat of choice
1 tin tomatoes plus use tin to measure out 2 tins of water. Add more later if necessary.
1 tin coconut milk
Good pinch salt

If you are using raw meat such as chicken then mix the pieces of meat into the above paste and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. I use about 4 good sized chicken breasts for this quantity of spice paste.  To cook just pour it into a large pot and heat with no oil or any other liquids stirring continuously to heat the spices in the mix. Then add in some water or stock if you prefer or a tin on tomatoes.  Simmer until the meat is tender and add some coconut milk ten minutes before end of cooking, stirring continuously so it does not split.  Either serve immediately or leave sit for a day for the flavour to improve.

For cooked meats such as turkey then make the sauce by frying the onions and spices until well cooked and browned stirring continuously to prevent it sticking or burning.  Add in your liquid as above and simmer for an hour or until it reduces and thickens.  Add your coconut milk (half tin) and then finally add the cooked meat and heat until the meat is piping hot.  Serve immediately with basmati rice, naan and poppadoms and some chutney.

Sunday, 25 December 2011


It's that strange time of year.  When everything is supposed to miraculously work but it rarely does.  It's a day when we expect so much, but is it different to any other day?  As my brother said to me recently it's one day and it causes so much trouble.  Well for me it is a labour of love.  This is because it involves food and anything that involves food is worth it.  I spend days thinking of where I will buy the best of ingredients.  I want to have a ham that was once a pig that had a happy, free-range life and the same with a turkey or a goose (although the only time I cooked a goose I set the oven on fire - mainly because we went up to the neighbours for a few drinks and forgot all about the goose so I really can't blame the goose).  I also want the best vegetables that I can get and if I haven't grown them, then I want someone who has paid the same care and attention to them that I would have.  I make my grandmother's recipes for cake, pudding and I make candied peel to go in them.  Why do I do this?  I really don't know, I have done so for years.  For years I accepted that people thought I was strange for doing the things I did but I really didn't care.  I do things my own way and always have done.  Now, it's suddenly acceptable to admit you bake or cook your own and it's even admired.  But for years I got funny glances and comments that I was really a bit mad and why did I not just buy it/them.
Anyway maybe I am a bit mad, because as I sit here wrecked after all the hard slog of the last couple of days I think maybe I should just buy all the stuff ready-made and be done with it.  But something always whispers to me "no"!  And ok, I am tired and I have bucket loads of food left but I will make stock, gravys and lots of left-over dinners such as currys and pies and pasta sauces and nothing will go to waste and I will be happy knowing that I have done the best job I know how.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Earliest Memories of Food

I read a really good blog recently about earliest memories of food, which got me thinking.  I have a notoriously bad memory and am always surprised at one of my sister's perfect recall of incidences in our childhood.  The fact my father has early onset Alzheimer's makes me worry slightly about my very poor memory.  However, my mother is always trying new and different methods to improve her memory, varying from re-learning my leaving certificate poetry to doing the Irish Times crossword.  So I started trying to recall food memories while walking the dogs, which is where I do most of my thinking!

My absolute first memory of food was when my mother was in hospital (I think probably having my youngest sister) and my dad, a very poor cook was left in charge.  To this day I can still remember him emptying mince beef into a pot and pouring water over it before very proudly boiling it and serving it up to us.  My mother says she remembers us coming into the hospital telling her that he made us eat it.  She said she was in tears and wanted to come home there and then to rescue us!  Another much nicer memory of his cooking attempts was sausage sandwiches which he used to make for us for school slathered with ketchup.  And also his Welsh Rarebit - well that is what he called it, but it was cheese on toast!  When mum was away anywhere, the only food we would eat from him was said sausage sandwiches and "Welsh Rarebit".

My other memories seem to always be connected with coming home cold and starving from school.  The smell of a roast chicken, and eve's pudding (stewed apple topped with sponge) and custard. Big trays of gingerbread and homemade bread with molasses.  Huge pots of beef stew with root vegetables and barley (which we all thought was yuk).   But the classic had to be our family version of Chilli con Carne!!  I have to warn you that this had very little relation to the authentic recipe.  But it was the ingredients we could get at the time that most closely replicated them.  Into mince beef, onions and garlic, were poured a tin of tomatoes, a tin of Heinz beans and wait for it; a tin of spaghetti!! Oh, and a good tablespoon of chilli powder,  all served with brown rice from the health food shop in Dunlaoghaire (which my mother kept in business)! And do you know it was the nicest meal and the one that gives me the warmest memories of my childhood.  It was usually my job to make it so maybe that is why.

My youngest sister was notoriously fussy and hated fish and anything with weeds or twigs in.  Weeds were herbs and twigs were cloves in apple tarts!  My second sister said she loved pink chicken which turned out to be smoked salmon.  My brother used to gag at potatoes and both my children were the same and were very unusual in that neither would eat chips.  My son when he was about 10 came back to me at a horsey event we used to go to practically every weekend and told me in no uncertain terms that he would not eat "peasant food".  I had offered to buy him a burger and chips from one of those mobile units.  He is now a very good chef and will eat almost everything but still draws the line at "peasant food"!!

So maybe my memory is not so bad after all.  I was always involved in helping to cook and prepare food when I was young so maybe that is why I can remember events connected with food.  My memories of my grandmother are almost all connected to food, my memories of school (which I hated) are all of food which was what made it bearable.  When I went back to study Food Science as a mature student in DIT Kevin Street I could smell the bakery smells coming up everyday from the basement in the college and one day I went down and bought a plait loaf with poppy seeds.  When I tasted it, I was transported back in time to holidays as a small child in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.   The baker had a soft spot for my mother and he used to slip me a bun or a hunk of bread when I was in the shop with my aunt,  The taste of that bread was something I used to think I had imagined but that day in Kevin Street I went back in time to a place called heaven.

 My mother and myself in colour coordinated tops!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Am I the Restaurant Customer from Hell?

If you were asked to name the qualities you like to see in a restaurant - what would they be?  For me it is very simple and can be listed as follows:
  • Atmospheric
  • Welcoming
  • Value
  • Knowledgeable
  • Efficient
First off, the place has to look inviting, cosy, (warm in winter, cool in summer) and most importantly not empty and echoing.   Secondly, when I walk in, after having a glance at the menu outside I want to feel welcome.  There is nothing worse than standing at a sign saying "please wait to be seated" while the staff buzz about ignoring you!  An acknowledging smile and a nod to say "yes, I have seen you and I will be with you in a minute, when I finish what I am doing" is all it takes.  My ex-husband worked in his family pub and the staff were trained to do that, which eliminated any problems with people having to wait to be served during a rush.
The food on offer must be value for money.  This goes without saying but it is incredible how so many restaurants get it so wrong on this front.  In a Michelin starred restaurant you are paying for unbelievable attention to detail and also quality service.  The food should also be mind-blowing.  I always feel, if I have a meal that I would find virtually impossible to recreate at home; then to my mind, it is good value.  Maybe this is a strange rule-of-thumb, however, there is nothing that annoys me more than a restaurant that serves up a badly-executed plate of food that is over-priced and tasteless.  I also hate "menu speak".  The menu that describes something as "resting on a bed of foam" type of thing.
The staff should be knowledgeable and familiar with the menu.  There is nothing worse than a waiter/waitress who has to run off into the kitchen to ask a busy chef if a sauce has garlic in it, or some such.  They should be able to describe the special of the day in particular and preferably have tasted it.  Another bug bear of mine is staff who are not trained to serve wine correctly.  It has happened in the past that I have ordered a bottle of wine which was then emptied into 3 or 4 glasses and filled to the brim, so much so, that I was tempted to get down to eye level and slurp it!! 
My final quality is efficiency and attention to detail.  And by efficiency I do not mean whipping the plate out from under me before I am finished.  A waiter/waitress who knows when to clear a table, when to suggest looking at the dessert menu, who knows when to give you the bill.  The amount of times I have been tempted to walk out without paying because the said waiter or waitress refused to give me the bill despite being requested to numerous times.  Or even did not return with a receipt or change no matter how small the change was.  This happened to us in France this summer in Narbonne where we sat outside on a footpath while the staff rushed backwards and forwards into the restaurant looking incredibly busy but actually doing nothing.  The amount of tables left waiting to order, waiting for food or drinks, waiting to pay the bill and then finally as we were, left waiting for our change beggared belief.  Eventually, when we got our change we got up fuming and did not leave a tip.
If this makes me the customer from hell then maybe I am.  It never fails to amaze me that so many restaurants are let down by badly-trained staff despite the food being great and also how mediocre food is made a hundred times better by friendly, smiling, efficient staff.  The importance of service can never be over-estimated.

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