Lovin’ Lots of Little Things

At the end of a somewhat crazy week, I am finally getting a chance to sit and reflect on some highlights…the low points would make a far less enjoyable read.

Lovin’ Visiting

Oriel Hotel, Ballincollig, Co. Cork.

oriel

Mum and I needed some last minute accommodation  in the environs of Cork City this week and so ended up in the satellite town of Ballincollig as guests of the Oriel Hotel. Just really looking for a bed for the night at short notice, little to no research had gone into the hotel and we had no real expectations one way or another. However, it turned out to be an extremely pleasant stay that is worthy of high praise. We arrived early (about 11.30am) hoping only to avail of the free parking but were treated to a complimentary cappuccino in the bar while the extremely friendly staff worked out some confusion relating to our booking.

Coffees enjoyed, we left to get on with our day confident that our room would be ready on our return. And what a room we were greeted with. Despite having paid a very modest sum for the b&b, we found ourselves upgraded to their very luxurious bridal suite where we spent a lovely restful night. We ate a delicious, reasonably priced dinner in the hotel bar and enjoyed an abundant breakfast in the restaurant early the following morning. Armed with a complimentary newspaper we were disappointed that a really lovely stay was not a little longer. I will definitely consider a return visit.

 

 

Lovin’ Cooking…..

I am not sure that this constitutes a recipe but I have been trying to introduce a little tuna (something I am not a great fan of) into our weekly meal plan. For me it needs a little work though to make it in any way appetising. Here’s what I did for a simple frugal lunch.

Poppy Seed Bagel with Tuna Salad

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Poppy Seed Bagels
  • One tin of tuna in spring water
  • Two finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 tbs of mayonnaise
  •  Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 plum tomato
  • A small amount of grated red cheddar
  • Sea-salt and black pepper

Method:

  • Heat the grill. Half the bagels and place them on a baking tray. Toast them gently on both sides.
  • In the meantime, drain the tuna and spoon it into a bowl. Add the spring onions, the mayonnaise, the lemon juice and mix well. Season to taste.
  • Spoon the tuna mixture on to the base of the bagels. Top with a couple of slices of tomato and sprinkle on a little cheese.
  • Return to the grill for one minute to allow the cheese to melt.
  • Place the bagel tops on. Slice and serve.

Lovin’ Shopping for…

Books, books, books. My adorable little godchild has been a little out of sorts for the last few days and my dad has had some health issues to contend with as well and so to pass the time in hospital, for both the littlest patient and myself, I took a ramble to Waterstones in Cork City. I am so far, so pleased with my purchases.  For lovely Lucy, the cute and funny letters from the crayons to Duncan.

And for me, an easy holiday read that I am in the early stages of but that is giving me good vibes – The Versions of Us.

And then just lovin’

The most genius invention ever for those of us who can’t drink red wine in public….this I just LOVE!!!!

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Summer Risotto

Risotto is one those dishes that divides people, there is a tendency to dismiss it as too labour intensive or difficult to get right. For me it is the opposite. I find the stirring relaxing and therapeutic, the ingredients simple to prepare and the success rate very high. It also fits the frugal foodie agenda very well and once you are happy with the base of the recipe you can make numerous variations depending on what you have in the fridge.

This version is summer veg and I am using courgette and peas (although some asparagus would also be great). Here’s what I do.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 knob of butter
  • 2 glugs of olive oil
  • 200g of arborio rice
  • Chicken/ Vegetable stock
  • A  small glass of white wine
  • A diced courgette
  • A couple of handfuls of frozen peas
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Grated parmesan
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh basil

Method:

  • Make a generous saucepan of stock and leave it simmering on a low heat.
  • Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide bottomed pan.  Add the onion and garlic and sweat very gently for 10 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured.  Never rush the onion or burn the garlic, it makes all the difference.
  • Stir in the rice making sure it is all coated.
  • Increase the heat a little and add a glass of white wine. Stir continuously until the wine has evaporated.
  • Stir in the courgette and add the stock ladle by  ladle. Stir continuously adding an additional ladle of stock when the previous one is absorbed.
  • After about 10 minutes add the peas and keeping stirring and adding more stock until the rice is cooked. This usually takes about 20 mins.
  • Take the pan off the heat and stir through the lemon zest, parmesan and ripped basil.
  • Season to taste and serve in warmed bowls with crusty bread.

Simple, delicious and budget friendly. Perfect supper for two.

A Little Vintage in Dublin

So before the penny-pinching began in earnest and somewhere during my blogging break, we enjoyed a break of a different sort that definitely warrants a mention. It was a one night mid-week escape to the bright lights of the capital city, Dublin.

Given that there are few places more appealing than Ireland in the sun, this mid-June scorcher was looking positive from the moment we hit the motorway and then on checking in to the Dean Hotel, it was clear we were on to a winner.

I had a minor concern that The Dean could be one of those hotels that is trying so hard to be cool, it loses the chilled out vibe it is working to create, but it was not the case. The hotel felt genuinely relaxed and friendly and I loved the retro inspired rooms. The location on Harcourt St. is also a winner for a short break in the heart of the city.  They warn about noise from late night revellers and provide earplugs to try and negate it but you will have to ask someone who would not sleep through a tornado to verify the extent of the problem. All I can say is that I slept great…nothing new there.

As you can see the room is full of little quirky touches and while not large, definitely had everything you could need. Beds are comfy, Grafton Barber toiletries are great, the water pressure and temperature were excellent and we played Alanis Morrisette and U2 on vinyl as we got ready to go out. Now that’s a lot of positives.  My one quibble would be the lack of chilled complimentary water in a room with a fridge, I always think that hotel rooms with robes, conditioner, Nespresso pods and a steamer (all in The Dean and all very welcome) should stretch to a chilled bottle of still water. And let’s face it if you are including complimentary condoms (they do), an aul’ glass of water can surely be thrown into the mix.  Otherwise this was a room that I loved.

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We didn’t eat at The Dean, although I do plan to at some stage but we had both pre-dinner drinks and a nightcap on return in the rooftop bar.  Given the great weather this was a really fabulous oasis and the drinks were also pretty fairly priced for a trendy, city centre location.

So the verdict on The Dean was that it was a stay where the positives stacked up and the negatives were few. I would happily return.

We chose not to eat at the hotel because there was a little place I was anxious to try and this was not a choice that we lived to regret. The location was The Vintage Kitchen (it was kind of the theme of the trip it seems) on Poolbeg Street and I was so glad I had taken the time to book several weeks before. Arriving a little early we had a drink in another fabled old-school haunt, Mulligan’s Pub, located right next door. This bar has long associations with Dublin’s literary scene and so it was for me a well overdue first visit. The pub is as it always was – perhaps the highest compliment I can pay it.

vintage kitchen

And then to the main event  – dinner. Now this could have very easily gone wrong because I was not eating meat that week (another silly foodie challenge) and the menu here is very concise. A seasonal selection of about four starters and four mains if memory serves. Thankfully, things definitely did not go wrong.

The goat’s cheese starter was stunning (and huge) and given that the veggie main was also very cheese heavy (crepes with Gorgonzola), I enquired about an alternative. I was given the option of a green or a red risotto, I picked green and the picture below will give a sense of the abundant feast that appeared.  This was followed by a strawberry tart which was probably the most disappointing of the three courses being a little too creamy and lacking a little in flavour for my taste and a couple of good espressos.

With great food, reasonable prices and a generous BYO policy, I was really sold on this place. My dining partner who believes food is to eat but not to photograph or talk about at length even gushed a little about his pork belly main. Be sure to book in advance but if  it is possible then I would definitely recommend an evening meal at The Vintage Kitchen, Dublin.

I love Dublin, and happily visited again a couple of weeks later for Taste – now an annual trip and one of my favourite outings of the year. I do however feel that hotels are allowing prices to rocket in recent months and hope that the search for value will not become a negative in a city that has so much to offer. I would like to visit more often after all.

And so from reminiscences to reality. A new week for the frugal food challenge began today with a breakfast of blueberry pancakes drizzled with honey and topped with some summer strawberries. Pancakes are a great breakfast on a budget when you fancy a treat – flour, milk, an egg and a pinch of salt – all staples in our house and probably yours. Lunch was leftover cold meats (there was chicken and bacon) in wraps with some dressed leaves and homemade pesto mayo for the chicken.  Now that just leaves dinner. We have peas and courgettes plus a thriving basil plant and some lemons so I am thinking of a summer risotto. I need to invest in parmesan today so we won’t have meat but when the flavours of a splash of wine, a knob of butter, a dash of cream, freshly ground black pepper, grated lemon zest, summer vegetables and fragrant basil combine I don’t think we will miss the meat. Add  slice of crusty bread and a glass of Pinot Grigio because it is the weekend and it will prove that this frugal thing is really not so bad.

The Frugal Foodie Challenge

After a blogging hiatus for a myriad of reasons – but mostly internet issues, a crazy workload and an impromptu decision to put our house on the market  – it is time for a welcome return to some key tapping and camera snapping.  Thankfully for the next six weeks I don’t have to work so there is time and space for all things “lifestyle”. However, while there may be time there is very little cash to finance my preferred champagne and lobster modus vivendi (as it turns out that getting a house market ready, planning a week in London and marrying a student combine to leave a paltry sum for the discretionary) and so I am attempting to morph temporarily into a “frugal foodie” of sorts.

The self-imposed challenge is to make €60 feed our family of two for a week. This budget is just for food and we have allocated €140 for the other stuff houses need to function – fuel, cleaning supplies, an occasional bottle of wine, books, toiletries and the like. We do gratefully accept dinner invites from our parents if we are lucky enough to get them (and we have been very lucky in this regard) as we are not complete masochists and would like to ward off a life characterised by endless rounds of beans on toast.

So with the frugal being pretty self-explanatory, where does the foodie come in?  Well I like food..a lot.  This means that there are other things as important as cost in this whole endeavour  – like quality and nutrition. So the goal is to buy fresh and local, to cook pretty healthy food from scratch and not to simply save some cash by raiding the freezer section of the local discount supermarket. We are talking eliminating food waste, buying less (if any) red meat, looking for offers and seasonal produce and cooking…lots of cooking.

And I am discovering that not only is it fun, if you have the time, but it allows the credit card bill to be cleared, the house to be insured and any bills to be paid on time.  Win win win.

So what do we eat?  Well my goal over the next week or so is to share just that, along with some recipes and other general money saving tips.

And where better to start than today.

Breakfast – Berry Porridge with a drizzle of honey

A huge bag of porridge oats is a staple for any frugalista and although berries can feel like a luxury they are part of what puts the sunshine in summer and so I try to budget for them. And let’s be honest, porridge needs a helping hand.  But there you have it, a regular on the breakfast rotation and probably the cheapest and most nutritious early morning meal available.

Lunch  – Mushroom and Thyme Frittata 

Having checked what’s in the house (the only sensible place to start) we have half a carton of chestnut mushrooms, garlic, some cheese and a thyme plant growing on the windowsill. There is also some baby spinach and some rocket. So…what can we do?  Buy a box of local free range eggs (€1.79) and whip up some sort of omelette. It’s healthy and nutritious and it’s super cheap…..see this is fun! On top of that the recipe is simple.  And for those who echo my husband’s sentiment of “it’s an omelette, why can’t she just say omelette, frittata is just a posh word for omelette?”, the answer is because they are not actually synonyms with varying levels of pretension. They are in fact different things and in my personal opinion this difference is subtle but important. Finishing the “frittata” under the grill as opposed to the “omelette” in the pan makes it a little puffier and more solid in texture and to my mind this is more filling. If I wanted something lighter I would just make an omelette!!!

frittata

Ingredients:

  • A good glug of olive oil
  • A small knob of butter (optional)
  • 10 sliced chestnut mushrooms.
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A generous sprinkle of fresh thyme
  • 4 large local free range eggs
  • Grated cheese (also optional)
  • Sea-salt and black pepper

Method 

  • Preheat the grill. Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan on the hob. Reduce the heat and add the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes before adding the garlic, thyme and plenty black pepper. Continue to cook for another few minutes.
  • In the meantime whisk four eggs with a little seasoning and a drop of water.
  • Add the eggs to the mushrooms, covering the bottom of the pan evenly and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Grate on some cheese and transfer the pan to the grill for about 4 minutes to complete cooking.
  • Carefully turn the frittata onto a large plate and serve in triangular wedges with a lightly dressed green salad.

 

frittata cooked

For dinner tonight I went to the local fishmonger and picked up some unsmoked haddock (€4.10) and then nipped next door to the vegetable shop for a handful of new locally grown potatoes (€1.69) and some nutritious broccoli (€1.49) and I am going to use all this with the lemons I have left over to make  “zesty haddock with crushed potatoes & peas” for tonight’s dinner. Now I can substitute spring onion for chives and the budget will stretch to a small packet of frozen peas but what about the great caper dilemma of 2016?? How essential are they to the dish?  Are they are worthy investment? Will I buy the capers and live 24 hrs without coffee?  I am still deliberating but on balance I think capers are in and I will visit someone who will surely offer me a coffee if I am desperate!!!!! That’s the thing about a tight budget – it’s all about compromise. And as tomorrow is Friday we start all over again. I will report back on the capers tomorrow – and the caffeine withdrawals xx