The ULTIMATE Grilled Cheese….

….the cheat meal of dreams!!!!!

grated-cheese-961152_1920

People who don’t know me in real life will possibly eye roll at the notion that I am about to devote an entire blog post to “a cheese sandwich”. Those of us who go back a little further, will remember days when my entire diet was based around chicken, mushrooms, rashers, tins of Campbell’s soup and my beloved cheese. Halfway decent cooking skills came later – but my love affair with cheese is rooted deep in my childhood and melted cheese would definitely make it on to my desert island wish-list.

But grilled cheese – proper grilled cheese – wasn’t something we in Ireland ever really mastered. You see our raw materials were all wrong. Firstly there was an overreliance on the Easy Single, not the best possible start.  This, in the 80s and 90s, was coupled with a bizarre turning our backs on our dairy-farming ancestry, to embrace the abomination that is “spreadable butter”. Finally, the Irish Mammy’s instinct to be a little sparing with the cheese, meant that when it was all combined, we were left with a just about passable cheese toasty. All the while, across the Atlantic, American kids had proper grilled cheese – the epitome of comfort food! The two entities were entire worlds apart.

butter-596296_1920

So for a long time I wondered how we were getting it so wrong….. I mean it is after all only cheese, butter and bread… surely it can’t be that hard to master. And then years later, aided by the magic of the internet and the wisdom of Jamie Oliver, I figured it out. A life changing lightbulb moment  – those bloody Americans had lied to us for years. Blatant, bare-faced lies!!! And lies about cheese are a whole new low people, a whole new low!

Because you don’t grill it at all – you FRY it. Now they didn’t tell us that, did they????? No… this, along with the recipe for perfect Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Grape Jelly for bagels, were things they tried to keep all to themselves. A little selfish methinks.

But jump back if you will to 2017 and the cat is well and truly out of the bag. And those of us happy to sacrifice a few years of our life expectancy for gooey, melty cheese on crisp white toast, can recreate the ultimate grilled cheese from the comfort of our own kitchens, while dreaming of visits to retro New York diners.

Here’s what to do….and more importantly what not to do!

  • Take two slices of white bloomer or batch loaf. Not too thick or the heat won’t get to the cheese without burning the bread, but not too thin either. This is not a healthy meal so please don’t even consider anything wholegrain or with added chia seeds….wrong recipe, wrong tone!!!
  • Grate the cheese – now seriously you will see recipes where they mention “posh” cheeses like Gouda!!!!  No, no, no. Not for this recipe. Remember, we are channelling our inner Rudy Huxtable from The Cosby Show, so no fancy cheese required – we are aiming for food to cheer up a five year old who lost their teddy bear. Keep it simple and make sure it melts well.  I go for a mixture of strong red cheddar and mozzarella. And always grate, never slice. This is non-negotiable if you want to get this right!!!!
  • Next butter the bread with proper salted butter. Preferably the brand with Kerry on the label. Some recipes say to butter both sides…but at this point my heart is crying out for mercy, so I leave it at one side.
  • Now we need to assemble the sandwich on a frying pan, heated between low and medium. Here’s how it goes. Place one slice of bread, butter side down (so it melts and browns on the outside). Then add lots of cheese. Then pop on the other slice of bread, butter side out. Nothing else required.
  • When the sandwich is assembled, weight it down. I put a small plate on top and then pop the olive oil bottle on top of that. Anything will do. Cook until it is brown on the bottom and you can see the cheese melting at the side. Then turn and repeat. It takes about 3 minutes on each side.
  • Then for the best bit. Take it out of the pan for a second and sprinkle a layer of grated cheese directly onto the frying pan. Then put the sandwich back down for a minute to allow the cheese to kind of crisp and set on to the outside of the sandwich. Repeat this process for the other side. Yep, we have soft melted cheese on the inside and crisp melted cheese on the outside. A North Londoner might well exclaim, “Oh my days”. In Americanese, “awesome” was surely invented for moments such as these. While at home in Kerry it would be labeled “grand”, because we are still a little frugal when it comes to praise – and nobody wants to see a cheese sandwich with “notions”!!!
  • Pop it on a plate, allow to cool slightly, slice and eat your cuddle on a plate. Preferably when a fire is crackling, the rain is hitting the window and you are in comfy clothes. Ladies, this is just not a meal you eat while still wearing your heels or indeed your bra!!!!! Just saying…

IMG_3668

Finally for today, on a completely unrelated note, I just found out that Champagne in a Teacup has made its all the way to the final stage of the V for Very Blog Awards Ireland in the very, very competitive Lifestyle Category.  Now blogging is a complete hobby and definitely not award or numbers driven for me. It hasn’t yielded me as much as a free block of cheese…. Kilmeaden surely owe me something at this stage. But none of that is what motivates me.  This page, for me, has always been simply about the words – a creative space to write and just have a little fun. It has given me a lot of joy, and I previously posted about the hows and whys of it all here. All that said, the fact that people who know blogging and love blogs have critiqued my little corner of cyber space and found more positives than negatives is really touching. I love that people read my random ramblings, I love that they are occasionally enjoyed and I am tickled pink by the virtual praise encompassed in the badge below. Thank you. xo

V for Very Blog Awards 2017_Judging Round Button_Finalist

Advertisements

Weekending like a Pro….

I’ve been a bit of a lazy blogger of late, mainly because work has been all consuming, but finally the weekend has arrived and I am going to bring you along with me on a very chilled and slightly indulgent Saturday.

But first for the exciting news… Champagne in a Teacup has been shortlisted for the 2017 V by Very Blog Awards Ireland in the Lifestyle category. Can you believe it? This came as a total shock to me – there were close to 150 blogs on the long list for this category, so I genuinely didn’t think my little blog stood much of a chance. But strange things happen and, lo and behold, here we are sitting pretty on the much narrower shortlist. A list that is peppered with some extremely talented content creators, the kind I like to read in bed on a lazy Sunday morning. And it is quite simply a lovely surprise. I suppose it is like a virtual pat on the back and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  What better motivation to ease me out of a little blogging slump? So thank you judges for reading and seeing the positives. You made me smile!!!

V for Very Blog Awards 2017_Judging Round Button_Shortlist (1)

So back to Saturday….

Peeling myself from the bed, I formed a loose plan to just wander into town, do a little shopping, grab some breakfast… you know the drill. But it wasn’t that simple – literally 6 outfits in and there was NOTHING I could possibly wear. 4 different pairs of jeans were strewn on the bed, shoes were being launched like scud missiles across the room in pure frustration and tops that yesterday looked perfectly presentable were being consigned to the charity pile. It was looking like a day in pyjamas spent online shopping for an entire wardrobe was the only option. It was that critical.

Who knows what the root cause of this epic wardrobe malfunction was? I for one have no idea why the mirror just suddenly turned on me today, distorting and destroying any potential “Outfits of the Day” – but turn it did and we are not yet back on speaking terms. Maybe it was just feeling a tad hormonal? The mirror, not the writer. But eventually I bolstered my resilience and refused to crawl back under the duvet defeated. Instead I fought back – with the outfit that no mirror can take down – the bullet-proof vest when under self-image attack! Black jeans, black top, black leather jacket, white Converse. Simple, classic and comfy. “Take that mirror!!!”  I was ready to leave the house.

chucks-1427322_1280

Now of course the outfit theatrics meant I got to town too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. And I was at this point beyond ravenous. So you may be able to imagine the intense effort I had to make not to glare openly at the waitress who offered me a scone…. or nothing!!! “Breakfast is finished, lunch hasn’t started, we have a scone!!!!!” Oh, no, no, no – not happening lady. I did not go through six outfit changes for a bloody scone. So I smiled, and through gritted teeth muttered that I would come back in half an hour. And man am I glad I did, because that was the point when the day took a turn for the better. Lunch was delicious and adds further evidence to my continuous assertion that Athlone is a genuine foodie destination.

The eatery was The Corner House Bistro, and as soon as I was settled at the table, an espresso cup of the soup of the day, curried parsnip, appeared in front of me as a little amuse bouche. It was warming and mildly spiced and given that it was something I would never order, it made me realise I need to be more adventurous with my food choices. For my main I selected a beef taco dish with salsa, guacamole and sour cream. What was served up was literally a full thinly sliced steak (perfectly cooked to slightly the rare side of medium) on a bed of soft tortilla wraps. Everything tasted fresh and delicious, although for those who like their Mexican dishes with a kick, this definitely did not pack that kind of punch. It was nonetheless full of flavour and is something I would order again in a heartbeat.

I was passably dressed, I was no longer hungry, I had sipped a slow glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and my mood was on an upward trajectory. Then something truly wonderful happened. And it came in the form of vanilla creme brulee with heart-shaped shortbread. Like really…..what could be more perfect? Caramelised sugar, vanilla spiked custard, crumbly cookies, fresh berries and a little scoop of ice-cream. Yum!!!!!! Now that was one great weekend lunch for one, with the Saturday papers making the perfect dining companions. If in Athlone…go here for breakfast or lunch, you will not regret it.

IMG_3623

After that treat for my taste buds, even the rapidly deteriorating weather situation could not dampen my spirits, and so I wobbled off to run a few errands. I needed a pretty neutral eyeshadow to replace a Mac one that had hit pan, and so the swatching of the thousand shades began. I eventually settled on a slightly shimmering Stila shadow in the shade Kitten. It seemed significantly more pigmented than so many of the other brands and I will report back when I try it on the eye.

IMG_3646

I then nipped into my local butcher for some chicken fillets and rashers of smoked bacon because I was cooking Fully Loaded Cajun Chicken Burgers for supper (it is a delicious recipe to which I add mozzarella and pesto mayo).

Before heading for home, I picked up a book that was recommended to me by a friend, despite the fact that he hasn’t actually read it!!! But to be fair, if I was waiting for a retrospective review from him my eyesight may have failed and the novel may well be out of print.  He is one of those readers who REALLY takes his time getting through a novel. That said, he did get through the review (or was it a radio interview???) and reckons “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes is a must read. It may be too edgy for my romantic leanings but I like to keep an open mind. So it is here on my desk now, next in line on the reading rotation.

Finally for my rainy afternoon retail therapy, I treated myself to just a few yellow roses from my favourite florist. Just something to brighten up the kitchen as the evenings rapidly close in. Fresh flowers in the house are one of life’s simple pleasures. Now, I just need to buy some new mirrors and the place won’t look half bad!!

IMG_3645

After shopping there was a sneaky G&T to help us warm up on a miserable day. And now some vinyl records are crackling, candles are flickering and logs are burning slowly in the stove. It won’t be a late night, it might be a lazy morning, there will be a long walk and a slow roast. It may be more PJs and slippers than nightclub and hangovers, but this to me is weekending like a pro… xo

Lasagne: Recipe for an Autumnal Summer’s Day.

We hadn’t exactly been having a Mediterranean summer but it’s Ireland and so the fact that it wasn’t cold and there were dry spells between showers was keeping us fairly content. But August has dawned with just a little sniff of winter in the air, a breeze with a bite to it when it picks up and a more sinister threat of rain. The last week has seen the days grow perceptibly shorter and life feels just a little more soup than salad!! We are not quite in the realm of stews and casseroles yet but a yearning for something more warming and comforting than classic summer fodder has set in. The kind of meal that sits somewhere in between slow-cooked beef bourguignon and flash fried fish with griddled asparagus and broad beans.  A type of transitional meal to match the light wool jumper now resurrected from the recesses of the wardrobe.  So what fits the bill? I have decided a lasagne might work – in fact it may just be the perfect trans-seasonal comfort food. A little heavier than grilled meat or fish, yet the perfect bedfellow for the last of the delicate summer leaves and local cherry tomatoes.

There is something slow and languid about the cooking of this Italian classic. It can easily take an entire afternoon to prepare, but it is not difficult or stressful. I find it is best embarked upon with the kitchen door open creating a refreshing draught, while the heat from the stove provides the perfect antidote to the crisper air flow. So with a free afternoon and five people in need of a casual supper, this late summer’s afternoon seemed to be perfect lasagne cooking weather.

So let’s get going. I like to start with a tomato sauce that can simmer gently for hours on the stove, creating the fragrant aromas of an Italian farmhouse kitchen. Here’s how I make it.

Step 1:  The Tomato Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • A good glug of Olive Oil
  • 1 Carrot finely chopped
  • 2 Onions finely chopped
  • 3 Cloves of chopped Garlic
  • 2 Tsb of Tomato Puree
  • 2 Tins of Tomatoes
  • 200ml of Wine
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Heat the oil before turning the temperature to low. Add the onions, carrots and garlic and soften them slowly. Aim for really tender vegetables but don’t let them colour. This can take anything from 10-15 mins but trust me your patience will be rewarded. Remember good things take time – carrots sweeten slowly and soft, translucent onions and garlic release wonderful subtle flavours to build your sauce around.

When the veg has softened, increase the heat and add the tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute or so before adding a small glass of wine to the pot. Personally, I don’t think it matters if you use red or white, I go with whichever I fancy a glass of myself. Today that is white. Continue cooking for about 5 mins until the wine has reduced by at least half. At this point add the tinned tomatoes and a generous handful of chopped basil. Season well and don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little sugar if the tomatoes taste a little tart. Simmer the sauce gently for about half an hour and then allow it to cool. Parents of fussy little eaters might like that you can blitz the sauce at this point and make it seem like the veggies were never there. Can’t be bothered? No problem. The chunky version tastes great too. For lasagne I like to blend it, I feel it leads to a smoother ragu later. But that’s just a personal preference. And that’s it for stage one, the tomato sauce, now to transform it into a ragu. You will also need a white sauce or a bechamel but seeing as I outsourced that task today, maybe to a helpful Italian nonna or maybe to someone called Dolmio, I will leave you to choose your own recipe.

IMG_3541.JPG

Step 2:  Making A Tomato Sauce into A Ragu Sauce

Ingredients:

  • A glug of olive oil.
  • 1.5 lbs of steak mince
  • 1 packet of prosciutto
  • 200ml of beef stock
  • Tomato sauce (see above)

Method:

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the mince in batches until it is all browned. Add four slices of the prosciutto, finely chopped. (Sometimes I substitute bacon lardons here  – it just depends what I have to hand).  Pour in the tomato sauce (I usually hold a little back for a spaghetti lunch the next day) and the beef stock. Bring the ragu to the boil and simmer for 30 mins, until the sauce looks rich and delicious.

IMG_3547.JPG

Step 3:  Building a Lasagne

Ingredients:

  • Ragu sauce (see above)
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • White sauce (I have used creme fraiche infused with parmesan, lightly heated mascarpone or a even a shop bought version on days where I can’t be bothered making my own…. uh oh foodie hell awaits me!!!)
  • 1 ball of mozzarella
  • Sliced prosciutto (whatever is left in the pack)
  • Grated cheddar/ parmesan cheese

Method:

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish. Ladle in one-third of the meat sauce. Spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Cover this with a layer of lasagne sheets and a layer of white sauce. Repeat this process three times, finishing with enough white sauce to cover all the pasta. Then grate over some cheddar cheese (or parmesan) and scatter on some small chunks of mozzarella. If desired drape the remaining prosciutto on top, it creates a crispy, salty addition to the top of the lasagne. I serve with plenty of garlic bread and a green salad. Although tonight my father in law is looking for spuds!!

There will be no spuds but I think I can placate the situation with some rhubarb tart and ice-cream. Pie and ice-cream solves a lot of the world’s problems. xo

IMG_3559.JPG

 

 

 

Simple Speedy Supper

IMG_3198

Six months into life after television and I miss only two things – the news and chilling out in front of a cookery programme. So as we are currently away for a few days in a little cottage with a large TV, I am catching up on both types of viewing. In fact, as I type, I am cringing as some poor hopeful on MasterChef is being told his deconstructed Poussin pie has no redeeming quality – #awkward. Maybe he will go home, comfort eat a properly constructed chicken pie and realise you don’t have to be a Master Chef to cook well (or even for a living). Just watch Donal Skehan!

I really enjoy Donal – despite how ridiculously clean cut and smiley he is. I can turn a blind eye to the Jamie Oliver (circa 2000) cloning, the Daniel O’Donnellesqe “niceness” and the recent cringe-worthy YouTube vlogs. Why? Because his recipes are so, so simple and generally work out really well. Donal is no master chef; he is a home cook and a blogger, just trying to create simple, tasty dishes. And this he does very well. You can watch, adapt, cook and eat. Not all chefs can claim such success. And that is why the world can’t seem to get enough of him at the moment. Last night he made tortellini soup, sausage pasta, a crostini of some sort and a salad. Cordon Bleu it ain’t. But can Joe and Josephine Soap attempt it and succeed – absolutely.

So inspired by my viewing of Meals in Minutes last night, I cooked a simple pasta supper tonight. This dish is based on Donal’s Pork & Fennel Ragu but slowed down and changed up a little. Fennel reminds me of shots of Pernod in dodgy nightclubs during my late teens, and no good ever came from that, so there will be no fennel for me. Ever. Or Aniseed. Or Liquorice. Or shots of Sambuca. Soz! And the original recipe has spinach, which my husband confuses with arsenic, so we need a substitute for that too. I went for peas – peas are a more non-threatening kind of vegetable it seems – we trust the pea. Healthy but not quite so pretentious!!!!

So here is what we ate…

Sausage Ragu with Rigatoni.

IMG_3193

Ingredients (for 2 servings and some leftovers for the dog…)

  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 1 carrot – in small dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 4 thick butcher’s sausages
  • 1 jar of passata
  • A couple of handfuls of frozen peas
  • Bunch of chopped basil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Rigatoni or other short pasta

Method

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the diced onion, carrot and garlic. Cook these down very slowly for about 10 minutes so the onion and carrot are nice and soft.

IMG_3207

Remove the casing from the sausages and chop them into rough chunks. Add these to the pan, turn up the heat slightly and brown the sausages. When the sausages have begun to brown, add the passata to the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken slightly. Stir in some frozen peas for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking and season with salt and black pepper.

As the sauce is coming together, prepare the rigatoni according to the instructions on the packet. After the allocated time, drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Pour this and the pasta into the sauce and mix everything together.

IMG_3209

Sprinkle over some freshly grated Parmesan and a generous handful of fresh basil and divide into two warm pasta bowls. Serve with some crusty bread and real butter. Eat and enjoy – it’s delicious xo

 

5 things I like to do on a Summer Morning

Given that the next few months are largely devoid of any serious level of commitment or responsibility, I am enjoying waking at my leisure and easing myself into the day ahead gently. Here’s what a “typical” morning is starting to look like.

1. Coffee/Tea and a book.

12716975_435242440004952_102845283_n

I wake pretty early, probably because the renovation budget has yet to stretch to curtains, so once the sun is up, the room is bright. But I am in no hurry to actually leave the cosy confines of the bed, so I generally pad downstairs in my bare feet, make a hot drink and cuddle back under the duvet to read a chapter or two of whatever I am currently enjoying. Of course if someone else is getting up to take the dog out, then I don’t even have to make the barefoot trek to the kitchen…. yes, I know I am spoiled. But don’t worry, coffee in bed comes with a healthy dollop of sarcasm (a small  price to pay!).

2. Some exercise.

If I am going to work out I like to do it pretty soon after getting up. Less time for excuses. Lately I am trying to get back into running, but as I am carrying a tag rugby related injury, I am taking things very slowly. TBH I am probably taking things far slower than necessary but this is in keeping with the leisurely zen persona I am currently channelling. I am using a C25K app on my phone to complete pretty gentle walk/run workouts. I find some fresh air and exercise first thing really clears the cobwebs and energises me for the day ahead.

3. Smoothies

I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast smoothies and lately I have been trying to lighten them up for summer by avoiding adding milk and yogurt. This morning I had banana, mango, kale and lemongrass.

I just added ice, water and a glass of pure apple juice to the fruit mix – it was really refreshing. I love when things actually taste good for you.  Makes me feel all virtuous.

4. Breakfast

More time allows for more effort, so for the most part I am currently avoiding cereal. It feels like the entire year is made up of bowls of porridge (which I tolerate) and bowls of granola (which I love) but at the moment I am trying to change it up a little, depending on what’s in the fridge. This morning I had Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes with Yogurt and Strawberries. Delicious and so, so simple. Just take the Jamie Oliver approach – 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup self-raising flour, 1 egg.  Whisk and cook. I tossed in a handful of blueberries that were in the fridge and served with a side of strawberries and vanilla yogurt.

IMG_3050

5. Housework

Now anyone who knows me has now started to laugh and roll their eyes… because to say I am not into housework is a complete understatement. But it’s true, I currently start my day with a quick spot of cleaning. You see now that we live in a teeny house, with one bathroom and very small floor space, I find that giving the place a quick once over every morning is ideal to keep things under control. Then the dread of The Big Clean and the days (or weeks) of Big Clean related procrastination are unnecessary. Now I don’t exactly enjoy this part of the morning. But I do it. Before I even get dressed or put my make-up on!!! And it is strangely satisfying.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should acknowledge just how much the Dyson helps here. Formerly, I judged anyone sad enough to get excited over a hoover. I definitely judged anyone who paid as much for a hoover as they would a weekend in a 5 star hotel. But this cordless wonder will change your life! It is worth every single cent and more. A little bit of magic sent from whoever the real domestic goddess is. And it has already been used 100 times more than any vacuum I previously owned…. so on a cost per wear calculation it is positively cheap!!!!

So that’s a little window into my summer mornings. A little chilled, a little foodie and a little productive xo.

18888747_2001139846775393_5485992157024092160_n

Goodbye Village, Hello Town

IMG_2787

Having spent a decade living in one of the best (and definitely the craziest) villages in Ireland, there will always be a nostalgia attached to our recent house move (even though we didn’t go far). However, a downsize from a rural to a more urban setting was the right move for us – at least for right now!!!! This was a lifestyle move, and so far it is very much suiting my lifestyle. Here’s what I mean….

This morning, pretty much directly after breakfast, I started to think about lunch. That’s pretty typical for me. There was a delicious pesto open and in need of using up, so I thought a bruschetta type ensemble might work. So far, so simple.

Problem? I LOVE melted mozzarella, with all that oozy, stringy yumminess. But I know, from bitter experience, that the supermarket offering tastes of NOTHING. And I know it needs decent sourdough or ciabatta to hold its “meltiness”. And I know that in rural areas quality cheeses and “fancy” breads are at the very least a car drive away.

But I live in town now. And this means that when mozzarella issues arise, I can tackle them with a certain urban smugness. And here’s how….

IMG_2838

I just popped on my coat and trotted the five minutes to the Fine Wine & Food Co. around the corner, where I picked up a fantastic artisan cheese product from Toons Bridge Dairy. As it was far too early for wine, I also got a quality Americano and threw in some firm and salty halloumi for a weekend salad. There was a casual chat about interiors with the ever hospitable Claire, the proprietor of this fabulous little independent store and cafe, before I toddled off with my paper bag fully of dairy goodness. I didn’t move house to be nearer good mozzarella, that would be a little extreme, but being able to access wonderful ingredients from quality conscious local businesses, without parking disks or travel times, is a huge part of the draw.

IMG_2844

Now as mozzarella without tomato is like pie without cream, I had to make another pitstop before lunch could be assembled and this time it was to my local greengrocer for ripe and juicy vine tomatoes. And this is it, this is the life I want. I want to shop less in supermarkets. I want to buy local. I want to reduce the packaging we have to dispose of. And I want to grin as a man delivering local carrots tries to sell me a kid goat!!! Simple but hugely satisfying. Now I just had to pop a ciabatta under my arm and actually make some food.

Toast the ciabatta, rub with a garlic clove, spoon on the pesto, layer up the sliced tomato and mozzarella, sprinkle with black pepper, melt under the grill. A drizzle of balsamic optional.

 

A recipe that is not a recipe at all. Simple and seasonal . The perfect lunch after a perfect morning.  It couldn’t be easier. Why not give it a go? xo

Never Look A Gift Carrot…..

carrots

Yesterday, I got a gift of a bag of carrots. Not just any carrots either but carrots from Clonown, famed in song and deemed to have properties that would put the most extraordinary superfood to shame. Chia, Maca,Wheatgrass or Kale have nothing on the humble Clonown carrot. Not convinced? You really need to have a listen to this ode to the indigenous orange vegetable – skin, hair, fertility or muscle mass issues- you name it the Clonown carrot can fix it.

So there I was, carrots in a plastic bag, fresh Clonown dirt still attached and the farmer driving out the gate oblivious to the mud dropping from the wellies. Now all that remained was to decide if I wanted them for “supper or tae!!” And what exactly to do with my “fine big juicy” specimens.

stew

Traditionally, a stew or casserole would be the obvious choice, especially in the week in which we celebrate all things Irish, but neither would be my dinner of choice, especially on a rare sunny day like today. So I raided the fridge, pulled out the food processor and decided to experiment a little. If Brendan Shine had come to dinner, I think he may have added another verse for “Clonown Carrot, Ginger and Coriander Salad with a hint of Chilli”. (It’s not too late Brendan, you could debut it in the Gleneagle this weekend!) It would make the perfect side dish for rural Roscommon farmers after a long day at the bog!  You heard it here first.

grated

Joking aside, it honestly is one of the nicest incarnations of the humble carrot I have tasted for a long time, although I do admit to feeling that carrots are a vegetable best served raw. Incidentally, an option the celebrated ballad overlooks entirely! Although to be fair, in the Ireland that the illustrious Mr. Shine was immortalising, vegetables were cooked, or more specifically boiled, until they were soft. The only way to overcook a vegetable was to boil it dry and ruin your pot. Once there was still water, they were still perfect! They did not have fresh chilli added – sure that would “roast the gob off ya” and coriander was but a twinkle in the eye of the Irish herb garden (then merely a parsley patch). So carrots were sliced and boiled and maybe mashed with a parsnip on a Sunday. Simple!!!

And this recipe (if you could even call it that) is equally simple but infinitely more nutritious and possibly even more delicious. Here it is…

Ingredients:

  • 4 Clonown Carrots (I am sure other carrots would work too)
  • A handful of fresh coriander
  • A thumb sized piece of ginger
  • A finely chopped red chilli
  • 2 spring onions (for garnish)
  • Irish rapeseed oil (extra virgin olive oil would be perfect)
  • Vinegar of choice (I used wild mountain thyme vinegar because I was lucky enough to have it – not very rural Clonown circa 1980 I grant you)
  • A pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper

Method:

Rinse, peel and grate the carrots (I used the food processor) and place them in a medium sized bowl. Grate in the ginger. Finely chop the coriander and chilli and add both to the carrot and ginger. Mix everything well.

Whisk up a dressing in a little bowl or jam jar. I just used two parts oil to one part vinegar and added some seasoning. Pour the dressing over the carrots and mix until everything is lightly coated with the dressing. Snip some spring onion over the top. Serve as a fresh and delicious side dish with chicken or fish.

I had this for dinner with a portion of The Little Green Spoon’s Chicken Tikka and her delicious It’s Always Sunny Quinoa (a favourite since this blog post). It was the perfect healthy mid-week supper or “tae”, as Brendan himself would say, and although intended only as a simple side, the fresh, local carrot salad kinda stole the show. Give it a go with whatever carrots are local to you… and don’t be afraid to write a song about it. xo

 

Sunday Night Meal Prep..

img_2281

The roller coaster that is healthy living seems to get derailed with frightening ease at times, especially if you head in to the week unprepared. Personally, I find that my most successful weeks always start with a disciplined, well planned Monday, but that in itself requires some Sunday pre-planning. And so here I am, on a chilly Sunday evening, trying to organise the perfect healthy Monday, when really I want to cuddle up with my book by the blazing fire.

For the last little while, I have been using the app 8fit (on a 30 day free trial) to help organise my eating and workouts, so I thought I would give you a sneak peak and share my plans for a healthy tomorrow.

Firstly, I start my day sipping some water on my way to the gym. As tomorrow is to be img_2305freezing, I don’t give myself time to think about things (i.e.press snooze and drift back to sleep), just set the alarm for 6.40am, dress in the dark in my work-out clothes that are lying by the bed, brush my teeth, grab my bag and go. The 8fit model  is based on daily (or as close to it as possible) short workouts, but to justify the trip to the gym, I either adjust them or do a couple of them together with some added cardio, whatever adds up to about 45 mins. I also did a couple of ‘at home workouts’ last week, but our beloved dog Herbie thinks it is a game and it all got a bit comical and slobbery…he’s not really ready for ‘yoga with your pet’ classes, and I am not really that kind of pet owner. Here’s a glimpse at my modified version of tomorrow’s workout:

Workout:

The actual workout is completely different every day, but tomorrow is:

  • Warm-up of 5 mins cardio, 30 secs fast feet, 10 arm rotations, 10 inch worms, clockwise and counter-clockwise leg circles and 45 secs of mountain climbers.
  • 4 sets of swimmers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of push ups (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of mountain climbers (45 secs) with a short rest in between.
  • 4 sets of deep squats (45 secs)  with a short rest in between.
  • I then finish with another 10 minutes cardio on whatever machine I fancy and a couple of plank exercises.

After this I eat breakfast at work with a strong black coffee. Tomorrow’s option is Greek yogurt with blueberries, flaked almonds and always a drizzle of honey. This is usually enough for me, but if I am starving, I keep some of Lizi’s granola close by and I can sprinkle in a handful.

Lunch, and here is where the prep is vital, is all packed up and waiting just for a little re-heating. I need something quite substantial on a Monday, because I teach a sports class in the afternoon, and then have to take my best friend Herbie out, so it is my most active afternoon of the week. Tomorrow, lunch is a chicken faijta wrap.

img_2287

Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Free Range Chicken Breast
  • Half a red onion sliced
  • Sliced peppers (I use red and yellow)
  • A handful of sliced mushrooms.
  • Generous sprinkle of cajun seasoning
  • A handful of mixed leaves
  • A tablespoon of hummus

Method:

  • Melt the coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the chicken.
  • Add the red onion, peppers and mushrooms and fry until the chicken and the vegetables are cooked.
  • Season with the Cajun spices.
  • Add to a wrap spread with hummus and a handful of salad leaves.

I cook a big batch and pop it in Tupperware to use over a couple of days for lunch/ supper.

img_2300

After work, I wrap up warm and get some fresh air with the dog, before starting on the evening meal. I try to cook mid-week meals that work for the next day’s lunch so tomorrow, given that it is to be freezing, I have planned a beef and green bean stew. It’s healthy and full of veg, especially with a portion of steamed tender-stem broccoli on the side.

img_2289

I am not a big snacker, which may seem like a good thing, but I think it leads to wanting portions that are bigger than advisable. I am working on this, and have a plan to buy smaller plates in an effort to play tricks on my errant appetite. I drink a peppermint tea after dinner to aid digestion, and like a little dark chocolate for a treat.

Coffee is one of my big vices, so I am going to try and limit it at least a little more this week in order to up my currently paltry intake of water. So, with good intentions in place, shopping done and meal prep underway, I am hoping this will be a good week on the road to health and fitness. If more days could be like a well-organised Monday, and wine and pizza Fridays became a thing of the past, maybe just one year I would achieve those bikini body goals…..but man would I miss wine and pizza. And who could live a life without crisps??  xoxo

What I eat in a day: the healthy version

Image result for new beginnings

First off, to acknowledge the long, long time between posts and to commit to rectifying the situation. The lack of posts was not due to any loss of interest in the creative outlet that is blogging, but rather to a loss of the other vital component for any blog – an internet connection. Thankfully, having just moved house (not so I could blog – that would be a tad dramatic!) this situation appears to be rectified. And so, expect a return to regular updates on food, beauty, books, travel and, this year, lots and lots of interiors (because that’s what happens when you buy a 100 year old house that needs work!) But that is for another day…

Today, let’s focus on health and fitness. In a month of resolutions and restarts, today was a welcome return to a life more healthy, after a prolonged season of goodwill and excess (and for excess read chocolate, cheese, crusty bread and white wine). But let’s not dwell on that (for fear I am tempted by the remaining Cadbury’s selection box) and look at the daily diet of someone trying to be healthy (without being vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, dairy free, sugar free, or any other rigid diet that is very admirable but just not for me). For me, we are talking simple healthy choices  –  no chocolate for breakfast, ditch the white bread and not a a cracker with brie to be seen.

Diet and exercise

So what did I eat in a day?

I started the day with a mug of warm water with lemon and a banana, eaten in the car on the way to the gym (she says with a hint of smugness). After my workout though, things got a little rushed and the planned breakfast to refuel was forgotten. In fact, two coffees (it’s an addiction you can read more about here) saw me through to lunch.  Not ideal I realise, but that’s just how things went today and I did regain a little ground with a super healthy lunch.

As part of a working lunch meeting, I had a meat free salad box from a local healthy cafe here in Athlone called Eat Unique, where salads are taken to a whole other level of deliciousness (and, let’s be honest, salad in January needs all the help it can get).  My box was made up of a selection of seven salads without even a hint of the ubiquitous limp lettuce leaf. The picture (which was taken by the cafe, not me, but I don’t think they’ll mind) gives you a pretty good idea of the amazing fresh and healthy selection to pick from.

15355616_1744321099222367_6624392861905792832_n

Throughout the day I sipped more water than usual, still nowhere near enough, but didn’t eat anything else until dinner. I didn’t even drink any more coffee!!!!

leanin15

And so to dinner… Cooking just for myself tonight, I chose a prawn stir-fry with rice noodles, adapted from Lean in 15. It was quick, simple and very tasty. It doesn’t really warrant a recipe but, if you want to give it a try, all I did was heat some coconut oil and saute whatever veg I had in the fridge. Today that was red onion, courgette, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, fresh chilli and garlic. When these had softened slightly, I tossed in some tiger prawns – I used cooked but raw would be even better. Then I drizzled the entire dish with a little light soy and sweet chilli sauce (naughty I know but not a super size Galaxy bar or two glasses of wine). I then added a liberal sprinkle of fresh coriander and served the dish with a small portion of rice noodles, keeping a second portion for tomorrow’s lunch.

winterA coffee after dinner and a peppermint tea before bed and that was a wrap. So there you have it…what I eat on a healthy day. More healthy ideas and recipes are definitely on the cards this month as part of “Operation Close the Button on my Jeans”. I hope your January is getting off to a resolute start too and that, whatever your goals are, you keep them in your sight.

‘Til Next Time xo

 

Healthy, healthy, healthy!!!

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

Well after a fab week in London, the last few days have been about restoring the equilibrium – balancing the excesses of the good life with some of the sacrifices that come with a healthier approach. Otherwise there will be no button closing on any pair of jeans!! But that’s not to say that being healthy cannot be enjoyable. After a lovely sober Saturday night dinner with friends, Sunday lunch with family and many walks in beautiful countryside, it has been a wonderful few days in many ways. But what to eat?????

I have actually had to cook very few dinners in the last few days, just try to make slightly healthier choices at the tables of others. But breakfasts I have been all over. I have tried to keep them pretty light and definitely low in carbs and so fruit, yogurt and smoothies have been my go to meals.  Green smoothies are a goal for later in the week but so far I have been sticking to fruity and yummy. Not a spinach or a kale leaf to be seen. Baby steps.

smoothie

My favourite smoothie is not as healthy as I might like, but it is full of delicious summer berries.  I just blitz a chopped banana, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries with almond milk, Greek yogurt, a drizzle of honey and lots of ice. However, when the smoothie is my entire breakfast I also throw in so organic porridge oats to bulk it out. Obviously these can be gluten free if you prefer and of course you could use protein powder instead to fill you up, but I have never actually bothered.

fruit bowl

Second breakfast of choice these past few days has used the same ingredients, as I am returning to frugality and attempting to minimise waste and it involves just layering fresh fruit and green yogurt in a bowl. I have again been using a selection of berries and chopped banana but this time including some perfectly ripe nectarine slices. I drizzle a little honey over this and just have it with a leisurely cup of green tea, preferably sitting out enjoying this view from the front door.

windmill

If I am hungrier, I find porridge with raspberries does the trick, but I haven’t really been that hungry at all yet.

And now quickly to lunch….simple salads have been the order of the day but I have to admit to doing something that to me involved a dalliance with the dark side. One of those boundaries that you cross, never sure if you can return the same person. The kind of thing you judge others for, thinking you will never go that far. Well go that far I did and you know what, it really wasn’t that bad. Here it is – I ate my lunch out of a lettuce leaf, that was pretending to be a wrap!!!! The only point of redemption was that it wasn’t a burger!!!!

Actually, the lunch in the lettuce leaf was really not half bad. The filling was a combination of cold, leftover brown rice, peas, tuna (in water), avocado, red pepper, lime zest and juice, seasoning and a little yogurt all mixed together with some fresh coriander. Just bung everything in a bowl (Jamie Oliver style), mix it up and spoon it into the leaves of a baby gem lettuce. Now that is a healthy lunch!

lettuce

So there you go, from travel posts to healthy eating posts in the space of a couple of days. Because remember, life is all about balance xo