Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Little Balls of Heaven

I love meatballs and have experimented with many different recipes to finally achieve what I believe are the best ever.

I use a 50:50 beef and pork. I find the beef needs to be lean and the pork less so.  Preferably mince your own and use the best quality you can afford.

250g each minced beef and pork
1 medium red onion finely chopped with 1 clove garlic softened in some butter
A good handful of chopped herbs (I used sage, oregano and mint)
1 egg to bind if required
Salt and pepper
1 pack of fresh Mozzarella

Mix all the ingredients together when the onion and garlic mix have cooled.  Make a well in the centre of the meat ball and place a piece of mozzarella in it. Form the meat until it encloses the cheese.
Seal the meatballs on a hot pan.  If you are serving with a tomato sauce and pasta, they can be cooked through when transferred into the sauce.  If not then they must be cooked through on the pan but not overcooked or they will become like dry bullets.  Some of the mozzarella may ooze out but it becomes browned and it is delicious. 

This recipe makes enough for 3-4 depending on appetite.  Serve with a tomato sauce made from either fresh tomatoes or a tin of good quality peeled plum tomatoes cooked down with some onion, garlic and fresh herbs, a teaspoon of sugar and a splash of red wine.  Serve with tagliatelle or new potatoes and vegetables if preferred.

Tags: Meatballs  Pork and Beef Recipes  Food  

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Seven Week Odyssey to Skinny

Week one has started of my seven week odyssey - which is defined as "an intellectual or spiritual quest".  Actually, odyssey is maybe the wrong word but I have to make it seem like an adventure and not a miserable experience.  I want to diet to lose a stone in the next seven weeks or 49 days or at least an average of 2lbs a week.  Then if I get to that target I hope to go on and lose a bit more; but one step at a time.  Why I am doing this is, because I have prevaricated and messed about with it for too long now - starting and stopping after a couple of weeks with no target to aim for.  Plus by posting this on my blog I hope it will shame me into keeping it up and not giving up heart if I don't reach my target on time.

I am following the Weight Watchers Pro-Points Programme.  I have joined Weight Watchers a few times and have always given up in frustration at the nutritional advice they dole out.  The final straw last time was telling dieters to use an oil-concoction-replacement-chemical spray instead of a healthy teaspoon of an olive or rape seed oil.  Plus advising buying fake bacon and promoting bars with hefty doses of hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  I wanted to scream several times at the meetings at the level of nutritional ignorance by the leaders.

So this is day 3 of week 1 and I am aiming for a 22 point daily intake plus a very vigorous walk for 50 minutes minimum which gives me another 3 points to play around with.

So far for breakfast I have had organic Kilbeggan porridge approx 50g cooked in water with low fat milk and muscovado sugar and a freshly squeezed orange for breakfast.  I have as much tea, coffee and water as I feel like.

For lunch I have variations on a salad theme with no bread and I use my own homemade dressing with olive oil and measure it out by teaspoon instead of the usual big dollop!

Snacks are seeds, nuts and fruit.

Dinner consists of meat or fish, lots of veg usually up to 5 or 6 different portions and maybe a medium potato or some rice.  I am trying to avoid pasta and other refined carbohydrates.

At the weekend I am going to splash out on a really good red wine and allow myself a bottle spread out over Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday, depending on my restraint! 

I hope to devise some nice meal recipes and post them as I go along, but here's a quickie.

Spicy Bean Stew
1 400g can of mixed beans
1 small onion
1 stick celery
1 carrot
1 clove garlic
Thyme, sage and parsley chopped
Salt and pepper
4 thick good quality sausages (i.e. low fat and 80%+ lean e.g. Oldfarm)
100ml chicken stock
1/2 tin tomatoes
1 tsp of spicy sauce (Holy Fuck)

Sauté all vegetables in a teaspoon of rapeseed/olive oil.  Dry fry sausages, dab in kitchen paper and slice.  Add to vegetables.  Add beans drained and rinsed, stock and tomatoes.  Season and simmer for 30 minutes.  By my calculations this should serve 2-3 people and will not be more than 7 pro-points/serving.  Serve with a mash of root vegetables or extra green veg rather than potatoes or bread.

Spicy Bean Stew,Sausage, Diet Weight Watchers, Low Calorie Kilbeggan, Holy Fuck

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A Measure of Cups

Not all cups are the same
It came to me suddenly; late one Friday night - cups?  Why do Americans use cups to measure? It's daft if you think about it.  A cup is a cup - is a cup - if it's not a mug right?

A cup, anything from a tiny espresso cup to a big clunky mug - the type my mother refuses to drink out of....

Tea tastes nicer drunk from a china cup.  Espresso must be drunk from a pfaffy little cup that invariably you can't lift without burning your hand.  Builders favour mugs.

How can you bake using a cup?

But then if you really think about it - it's all proportional - except when you want to make a cake for 10 and end up with one for 2.  Should the recipe not include a definition of a cup?  I mean are you to use an espresso cup or a big, ignorant mug?  Is there some covert definition of a cup that us Europeans are not privy to?  I immediately come out in a cold sweat when I try to follow an American recipe.  Even the ingredients have strange names - cornstarch and Graham crackers for heaven sake. 

We also measure bust size in cups.  Do big cups mean more milk?  Who thought of cups as a measurement and why?  Had to be men though because let's face it babies not the best at articulation.

So cups for butter, flour and sugar.  Cups for tea and coffee.  Cups for when you have no glasses and cups for boobs.

Next I am going to write a recipe for making a cake using a bra cup.  And It will be left to the imagination which cup to use, depending on how greedy you are...........

Cup Measures   American Measures  Imperial Measurement  Metric Measurement

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Catering Call Up

On a few occasions lately I have been called up to do the catering for family (and friends) occasions.  The latest was my nephew's and godson's First Communion.  Sis was going to get caterers and showed me the menu.  The thing that struck me was the total lack of concept with the dishes on offer.  Anything and everything seems to go.  The usuals - Beef Stroganoff, Beef Bourginion, Chicken Korma, Coq au Vin or as I call them pots of slop.  Standard salads and the usual suspects for desserts.  I maybe am very fussy but I don't think mixing cuisines from lots of cultures together at the same meal works.  The very idea gives me indigestion.

She, in typical sister fashion said "well you do it for me so, since you are so critical"!  So off I popped with the brief - one main "Chicken dish",  a selection of salads and a selection of desserts for 40. 

I did ask should I not cater for vegetarians or non-chicken eaters and was told no "feck them, there will be plenty of salads"!

I decided to do a chicken dish cooked with white wine and a splash of cream but wanted it to look "unanaemic" so chose flageolet beans and spinach to add to give it colour and texture.

Chicken and Bean "Slop"

Chicken breasts (1 breast for 2 people)
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 stalks of celery finely sliced
1 tin of flageolet beans
Small pack of french beans blanched
1 pack of baby spinach leaves (washed, wilted and drained)
500ml chicken stock
2 glasses of white wine
100 ml cream
Handful chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
Beurre manié

Sauté the onions, garlic and celery in some olive oil until softened.  Add the stock, parsley, a glass of the white wine.  Add the beans, the blanched French beans sliced, and the wilted spinach finely chopped. Simmer 10 minutes.  Add the cream and season and set aside.

Poach the chicken breasts in enough water to just cover with a glass of white wine and the bay leaves and seasoning.  Bring to a slow boil, turn the heat right down and simmer for 20-30 mins.  Cool and remove from the poaching liquid and cut into pieces.  Retain the poaching liquor to add to the above sauce if needed.

When you want to serve add the chicken to the sauce and heat through.  To thicken use the beurre manié (this is butter say 25g mixed into 50g flour and dropped into the simmering sauce).

Serve with baby new potatoes and a selection of salads. If you are making above and use 6 chicken breasts this will give you approximately 10-12 servings.  Obviously if using more chicken say 12 breasts double up the other ingredients.

I chose to make a salad with black eyed beans and quinoa to "go" with the main.  We also did a pasta salad to keep the kids happy and a big green salad.  Both adults and kids "assaulted" the desserts on offer. More of that anon!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Tragedy of Memory Loss

Writing this blog has made me realise the importance of memory. Like other senses, it is something we take for granted - until we lose it.   Seeing someone you love lose their memory is a very scary thing.  Almost overnight I have seen my father change from being the human equivalent of a Sat Nav into someone who can't remember the geography of Ireland.  When he goes somewhere out of his own environment he is disorientated and confused.  He now relies on my mother fully and follows her around like a small child, getting distressed if he loses sight of her for a second.

They say that Alzheimer's deletes short-term memory and that long-term memory is not affected.  In my father's case this is true up to a point.  He tells us the same stories from the past over and over again but yet he would have difficulty remembering what he had for lunch.  My early memory is terrible and my sisters are always surprised when I say I don't remember things they do.  However, I was blessed with a photographic memory at school.  Something that often got me into trouble.  Seeing my father's memory deteriorate has shocked me into trying to remember the past.  

Apparently memory is like a muscle that needs a work out.  Challenging your brain and your memory keeps it fit and active.  My mother is a great believer in this and regularly does crosswords and reads through her school poetry that she had to memorise as a schoolgirl.  She amazes me when she can still recite verbatim a Shakespeare sonnet learned probably 60 years ago.

I have found that writing has definitely improved my memory.  I wish I had paid more attention in school to grammar and punctuation or maybe I did and can't remember it.  I robbed my mother's copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and have learned so much from it. But I have a long way to go.

This is the real "Raison d'être" for my blog.  Invariably, I have found that the memories I find easiest to recall are food-related.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Length of France

The ferry sailed on a Wednesday evening from Rosslare.  We crossed a pond (literally) arriving on a Thursday evening in lovely sunshine in Cherbourg and hit the road quickly for the start of a long drive to the south.

Chartres Cathedral
The year before we had stayed in Alençon so decided to stay there again. Next day we drove through three cathedral cities Chartres, Orléans and Bourges, making time for a quick visit to each magnificent cathedral. We stopped in Chartres long enough for lunch after a walk around the cathedral. It was memorable in that we did not want the "plat du Jour" so asked for an omelette (on the menu).  Waiter told us we would have to wait 20-30 minutes for it.....and we did.  Talk about customer service. 

The Cathedral at Orléans
After lunch it was on to Orléans. It is a magnificent city and statues of Jeanne d'Arc are everywhere.  Apparently it is the 600th anniversary of her birth and lots of celebrations are planned.  We had a walk about and then a coffee in a big square underneath her statue. Then into the cathedral.  I had recently read Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth which gives an insight into the difficulties they experienced building these monumental structures with the limited resources they had at the time.  Cathedrals are fascinating to me and a real tribute to the men who slaved over so many years to build them.  I love to wander about inside and try to visualise how they lived at the time and what their lives were like.  Orléans is a beautiful city and one I would like to visit again and spend a day or two in.

Bourges Cathedral at dusk
That night we stayed in Bourges. We found a little restaurant and had a fabulous meal and great wine.  We stayed in the same hotel my son had stayed in on his way back to Ireland last November.  It was central, luxurious and the staff were really friendly and most importantly spoke to us in French.

Approach to the Millau Viaduct
 Then the final leg - the longest part to Pezenas, the lovely old medieval city deep in the heart of the Languedoc over the stunning Millau Bridge (the tallest in the world) passing through the  Massif Central en route.  We drove through miles and miles of agricultural land with acres of rape seed in full bloom. From fruit in the north to gradually vineyards in the south.  When we eventually got to the south the vines hadn't even fully leafed up. 

It was a tiring but very enjoyable few days. Saturday night was spent catching up with old friends and a very boozy meal. The next day Sunday, we were very hungover and everything was pretty much shut.  We went for lunch in a really lovely crêperie and then we spent a pleasant few hours in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert stopping off for a tour of the caves at Clamouse.


On Monday we went for a drive in the Montagnes Noire where the already low temperature of 10 degrees plummeted to 1.5 and the ice warning came on in the car.  Other cars coming down out of the mountains had snow on the roofs.  The scenery was stunning but it was way too cold and miserable to get out of the car to take photos.  We had lunch in Neffies in L'Escampette, a stunning meal and the best of the trip, cooked for us by a friend of my son who had just moved back to France having worked in Ballyfin, Co. Laois under Fred Cordonnier.

Canal du Midi at Narbonne
View from Béziers Cathedral
 Tuesday we drove to Narbonne for lunch and had a walk along the Canal du Midi looking at all the boats and barges moored alongside.  Then onto Béziers to yet another magnificent cathedral and views out over the whole of the Languedoc to the Pyrenees. On Wednesday it was back home flying from Carcassonne.  Sad to leave France once again and my son but looking forward to the next road trip.