Monday, May 24, 2010

A Staple for Anyone who loves Mexican Food

My parents and grandmother visited us last week. It was a fun, food filled week and it sounds like they all went home a few pounds heavier! That's my idea of a good holiday.

While they were here, my Irish mother introduced us to a few new stores in Galway City Centre. One being an "international" farmers' market. Amidst many familiar and some new fruits, veggies and root veggies I spotted a basket of green chilies - similar to those roasted on the roadside in Colorado and New Mexico and other states influenced by Mexican food and culture. It was difficult to contain my excitement as I paid 2 euros for 8 smallish green chilies - and to think at Wal-Mart in Colorado I could buy 8 cans of already roasted and peeled chilies for the same amount. Ah well, to introduce Patrick to one of my favourite Mexican food experiences, the price is worth it!

I know, i know, Green Chili is really a New Mexican food; but in Colorado, I was raised that most foods/restaurants that served chips and salsa, burritos and margaritas were Mexican Food. So bare with me.

Anywho, I've just peeled the meat from the skin of my roasted green chilies and I've got my aunts recipe in hand, which is really quite simple and I'm ready to cook up some homemade Green Chili to pour over our burritos this evening.

If you love Green Chili as much as I do, try my Aunt Pam's recipe, it's simple and delicious

Cube about 1 lb. of pork, I usually pick up cheap pork chops.
Brown the meat with a bit of flour, with salt and pepper in a little oil. Once browned and crisp on the outside:

Add a can of chopped tomatoes and 1 - 2 cans green chilies (in my case, I'm adding the meat of 8 smallish green chilies)

If the sauce is really thick, add some water.

Add cumin to taste. Allow the Green Chili to stew for about 30 - 450 minutes and enjoy with your favourite Mexican food dish, or with a handful of good tortillas chips.

That's it! Enjoy this Mexican Food Staple and be sure to share it with your loved ones.

All the best from Ireland!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ready. Set. Go!

As I type, there is 1 day, 15 hours and 46 minutes until my parents and Grandma arrive in Ireland! Pretty exciting considering they were supposed to be here a month ago and couldn't fly due to the giant plume of ash from Iceland. Now that plume of ash is being pushed far enough north and east that their flight will be able to touch down at Shannon Airport on Friday morning.

All excitement aside, it's time to get ready for their visit. The house is in order: beds are dressed, towels are hung, mementos made, bogs and floors are clean. This morning I layered Ice Cream with homemade apple jam, blackberry jam and honey - that's in the freezer. All that's left to do is bake Crackers, make an Apple and Blackberry Crumble, and prepare the Fish Pie. These things I won't prepare until tomorrow, so they'll be near enough to fresh for Friday.

Crackers are easy enough and great to have for snacks with crab or smoked fish and cheese. I stumbled upon a recipe this past winter and have adapted it to be my own. I make the recipe similar to Soda Crackers and usually add an extra teaspoon of soda, seasoning and a bit of bran. They're so tasty and I usually can't stop eating them when they're fresh from the oven. I have found, (maybe it's our oven) that the crackers take a bit longer to bake, which is usually no bother, so long as I don't forget and burn them. I'll bake these in the morning.

While the crackers are baking and since I'll have the oven on I'll prepare the Crumble, only thing is I don't have Bramley Apples which equates to less tart. No bother. Crumbles are a beautiful reminder of summer and they're handy enough to make. If there's any left, I'll have to take a bit down to our neighbour Eileen. She enjoys my baking nearly as much as Patrick and considering she gave us a bag of turf, it's the least I can do to show my gratitude for her kindness and friendship.

Last dish to prepare is the Fish Pie. I have to say, I'm not 100% on board with the idea of "Fish" in Pie. I have this phobia of fish in any "broth" or "sauce", something about the juices makes me cringe. Nevertheless, Patrick has ensured me it is very good and I will learn to love Fish Pie as much as I love him. We'll see!!! To ease me into this new dish, I'll be doing minimal prep work which entails slicing the veggies for the pie and making the mushroom sauce that everything will be mixed into. I'll get this all ready once I've finished the Crackers and Crumble. Once Patrick's home from fishing, he'll assemble the pie. To keep the meal light and easy on our visitor's stomachs we'll have a light salad with the Pie and save room for the Crumble and Ice Cream.

What I didn't mention is that Patrick will be making up a big dirty frying, traditional Irish Breakfast, when we arrive home from the airport. That' should be a wake up to the taste buds and will certainly require a bit of fresh air and exercise before we get to lunch or dinner. Sure hope grandma is up for the experience!

However it all turns out, we've got a great week to look forward to! Stay tuned for recipes, pictures and posts about my families time in Ireland.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Day to Bake Scones or Welsh Cakes

I learned a few weeks back that our neighbour will turn 78 this month (May); the important detail I did not learn is, what day her birthday is... She said something along the lines of, it's not important for you to know what day my birthday is.

So me being a baker and someone who enjoys acknowledging others birth days, I am left with a small conundrum.

1. Do I forego the celebration altogether?

2. Do I bake a birthday treat and take it to her when it suits me?

Or 3. Do I dig deeper to find out when her birthday is?

I've decided I'm going with option 2, to resolve this conundrum. Part of the motivation in my choice comes from the fact that I learned last Wednesday (from one of her daughters) that she loves Scones.

So today, I will bake Scones with Sultanas or Welsh Cakes. They're similar, it's just the first is baked and the second is cooked in a dry, hot skillet.

Actually, the more I think about it, the idea of turning on the oven and baking Scones sounds more appealing. So there's my final answer.

I'll be baking Scones with Sultanas today, here's the recipe I'll follow, it's from a dear friend in Vancouver

Cinda's Scones

Preheat oven to 425F/220C

In a large bowl, combine the following ingredients with a fork
2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c butter, cold (cut in until crumbly)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c milk (more if needed)
1 c Sultanas*

*Variations for ingredients you may want to add
1 c grate cheese
1 c glazed fruit, chopped fine
1 T orange rind, grated
3/4 c yogurt in place of milk

Pat dough onto a floured surface in 2 - 6" rounds, cut into wedges and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar and bake for 15 minutes. This recipe makes about 12 scones.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Real Flop - Peach Gallette

Some days are better spent somewhere other than the kitchen! OK, maybe not an entire day; but instead the amount of time I spend making something when it ultimately FLOPS, that's the time that would be better served somewhere other than the kitchen! Some things should simply be skipped. For me, that would be homemade custard or any variety!

Last night's dinner was comprised of Blackened Fish Tacos and leftover Pasta Salad. The Tacos were D-lish, the salad an extra filler and then I thought we'd end the meal with a lovely Peach Gallett and that's where the story goes South!

For anyone unfamiliar, Peach Gallette is a fruit pie with custard baked in the middle, only my custard was more like scrambled eggs. Uach! Patrick and I suffered through the dessert wishing we'd simply enjoyed the peaches in a bowl. The sad truth is, this isn't my first attempt at making a "custard" dessert. In fact, it's my third attempt and as I put the first bite into my mouth I could hear my own voice repeating in my head, "don't ever make custard-anything, again!"

Why didn't that voice pop into my head the moment I started mixing the egg, sugar and milk together (the second and third time)? I really should know better; however, I guess it's the hopeless optimistic who believes, if I keep trying different recipes I will eventually achieve success with a custard dessert.

As I mentioned this being my third attempt and third recipe the only conclusion I can draw is, maybe I need an electric mixer to get everything to "stick" together or one other conclusion, I CANNOT MAKE CUSTARD DESSERTS! Either way, I figured if I wrote a blog about the sad experience then maybe I would commit to memory what I am not ever going to do again - make custard desserts. There, that should be well ingrained now!

So on to better adventures, I've got plenty of tortillas leftover from last night's dinner which will be perfect to start our Saturday morning with Breakfast Burritos - something my dad used to make for our family on weekends, when we were growing up. Mmmm, the only ingredients missing will be Pace Picante Salsa and American-style Bacon. Now I'm getting hungry and I just finished breakfast. Aah, well, my food, my life!

Last night's dishes are calling my name, as is the laundry, the weeds on the curb and probably something else that needs cleaned. Off I go!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lots Going on in the Kitchen

There's a whirlwind in the kitchen. It all started when I decided to make Mushroom and Carrot salsa. It's a tasty dip that I was introduced to at a Mexican Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado last year. It's a great place to enjoy great Mexican food and a cerveza frio.

Now that I'm in Ireland, as I've mentioned before I have to create my own Mexican food if I want to eat it. Not too big of a deal.

It's days like today I wonder how I get anything done. From t-shirt bags to laundry, making beds to making salsa. I sit here, wondering what transpired to get me to this moment. Queue the salsa, a bit like most thoughts do in my head this one has run wild leaving me with sliced lemon and grapefruit rind in a sauce pan waiting to be transformed into marmalade.

What started as Mushroom and Carrot Salsa (now ready to enjoy) has now turned into Lemon and Grapefruit Marmalade (Thanks Aunt Teresa for the reminder/idea). As it turns out, the rind of the lemon is of little use in the salsa; however, I hate to throw it out and luckily, my Patrick really enjoys marmalade. And so, I'm just a few steps away from homemade Marmalade!!!

Now you're probably wondering how I make both, the salsa and the marmalade. Well wonder no longer, here's my recipes.

Mushroom and Carrot Salsa (serves 2)
1 medium carrot, diced tiny
2-3 medium mushrooms, diced
1 handful fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon, a bit of the skin too if you like
Lowery's Seasoning salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients together and let set in the fridge until you're ready to enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips. Yum!

Lemon and Grapefruit Marmalade (enough for 1 smallish jar)
Rind of 1 lemon, slices thin
Rind of 1 grapefruit, sliced thin
Sugar equivalent to amount of fruit

Cook lemon and grapefruit in a saucepan until rind is tender and juice has cooked out of rind and pulp. Add sugar and bring to boil this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your pan and the heat (usually medium to medium high). Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue to boil for 10 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness you prefer*.

* You can test the thickness with a chilled teaspoon. Dip the cold spoon in the mixture and allow to cool away from the heat. Tip the spoon to test how runny the liquid is.

When ready, pour the contents of the saucepan into a sterilized jar or other heatproof storage container and place in the fridge once it's cooled. The marmalade will last longer than it takes to consume it!!!

Anywho, back to the marmalade at hand!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday May Day - Bank Holiday - Stretching the Euro

It's supposed to be a nice day today, weather-wise. I'm hoping to get out to finish painting the gates - not sure that's going to happen, we'll see if the rain comes....

Last night, Patrick made BBQ Chicken and baked potatoes; I made a salad. We started with a few fresh crab claws. Decided to skip making dessert and picked up a pre-made chocolate swiss cake roll instead. The crab was lovely, the chicken and potatoes - beautiful, the salad was new and different and the dessert although tasty had a really funny smell about it. All in all, it was a wonderful Sunday evening meal.

This post is not so much about a "recipe", as it is about my experiences with "stretching our euro". Before dinner we were "skyping" with my parents and one of my grandmothers. Dad had taken a bit of time to share some of my blog posts and facebook photos with Grandma L - which was an immediate conversation starter as she has cooked and baked all her life. Probably where I get it from. Nevertheless, she couldn't get over the presentation of the food and more so how little we spend on such delicious food. She can't wait for Patrick's cooking when they arrive in 12 days!

Where we live, there are no Wal-Marts, no Dunnes stores, no "big box" shopping centres and certainly no big business. In the words of a former colleague, we live "up the backside" of rural Ireland. That said, we/I go shopping once a week at a Tesco about 30 minutes from home. If I forget any ingredients the next closest village is Kilkee about 15 minutes away and let me just say that if it's sour cream or ricotta cheese I forget - well - there's just no substitute close by, so we're likely to go without or simply modify the recipe which is what happens more often than not. I digress.

Back to the case in point. A few weeks back, following a delicious meal of Black Bean and Spinach Burritos, we decided to figure out how much it costs to eat "so well" each day. Reason being, winters are like hibernation around here where you spend as little, in this case money, as possible. Coming full circle to the conversation with Grandma, she's spent her life cooking with minimal ingredients and not focusing so much on presentation. So, here's 5 things we figured out about our food habits.

1. We can survive on less than 8 euros a day (that's less than 11 dollars). That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, 1 coffee each, 3 teas (2 for Patrick, 1 for me) and a sweet treat. That's about 240 euros each month and 2,200 euros each year.
2. We have about 4 vegetarian meals each week. I can buy 4 different kinds of veggies for less than 5 euros.
3. If we buy 1 whole chicken I can stretch this into dinner, lunch and soup. One chicken or other meat product costs about 5 euros.
4. We catch and freeze as much fish and shellfish as possible during the summer months. As fish would cost 5 to 15 euros each week in the store (for one meal). That's a savings of about 520 euros each year. Plus, we're able to use this fish to barter with friends for vegetables and fruit.
5. I buy "mark down fruit" to make jam, jelly or sauces which costs less than buying a jar of the equivalent (unless I buy the uber cheap, fully loaded with sugar and preservatives brand which is usually less than 1 euro). We save all our glass jars for canning (things like mustard, mayo, pickles) - all of these jars will reseal when treated like true canning jars. A savings of about 78 euros a year.

To further the euro stretching-fun, we've planted many fruits and veggies in our back garden, in hopes of off-setting our food costs. For about 200 euros, we planted 2 apple trees,1 pear tree, 1 blueberry bush, Potatoes, Onions, Shallots, Garlic, Squash, Tomatoes and a handful of herbs. We're anticipating a savings this year of roughly the same amount we spent to get started. The trees and berries will continue to produce for years to come and we'll be able to harvest seeds from what we've planted for next year, further reducing the cost of fresh produce not to mention increasing the joy of watching something grow which is priceless.

All this aside, there are days when I feel seriously challenged to create something new or at least slightly different. How easy it would have been in my previously life to hop in the car and drive straight to the nearest restaurant or fast food joint, spending a minimum of 25 dollars each time I "didn't feel like cooking". Today, these days are the days when Patrick steps in and cooks up a lovely traditional meal of bacon and cabbage or smoked fish with steamed veggies. I get sick when I think of how much money I used to spend eating out or grabbing a quick cup of chai.

A few years ago, my mom taught me to ready labels. I stick with a lot of the same ingredients each week (balancing new seasonings to change the dynamics). If I do buy something pre-made, I look for a short ingredient list and try to steer clear of the words I can't pronounce and the overly processed sugars. As it turns out, most of the veggies and things we enjoy are on the "healthy" list. Things like broccoli, dark leafy greens, fish, chicken; by sticking with the same ingredients it makes it easier to know "what" we're putting into our bodies.

The Internet is my friend, especially when I can open 20+ tabs (addicted to tabs) - I reference hundreds of thousands of recipes and experiment as I go making my own version, bookmarking my favorites - most of the time it works and sometimes it doesn't (I can think of 3 meals in the last 6 months that weren't anything to blog about and I'd sooner forget). Plus, when I get comfortable with a recipe, that's when the fun begins; I can start shaping it to be my very own!

At the end of the day, our life revolves around "good grub". An adventure in the kitchen is just as fun as an adventure outdoors and to have the knowledge and piece of mind to stretch our euro in the healthiest way makes all the difference.

Time to get out and enjoy this day! Keep smiling from your liver and laughing from your spleen!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Two Great Dinners

What a nice week. April wrapped up with a few good days of fishing for Patrick a night in Galway with my Irish Family and a head start on a few house projects, not to mention two really great dinners.

I realize this blog is just as much about sharing the food I love as it is about keeping track of the recipes I want to re-create, so there's a selfish side and a show-and-tell side too (I never had anything really cool to share on show-and-tell day in school).

I spent the better part of 10 years wanting to make really good homemade pizza and also spent the better part of 10 years, actually most of my life searching for the best place to eat Mexican food. It's taken me all that time and a handful of countries, to arrive in a place where, if I want to enjoy pizza or Mexican food, I better make it myself or get use to my four choices for dining out - Curry, Chinese, Local, or the Chipper. I say no thanks to eating out, and instead enjoy the adventure of creating food in a wonderful kitchen also coined Our Sunset Diner.

So today, get your pens and paper ready or turn on the printer, because I'm about to give you the ingredients to make my pizza and one variation of Mexican food.

Pizza and Salad
Crust (I am no good with yeast and stumbled upon this yeast-free dough which works pretty well)
My variation follows
2 cups flour
1/2 cup bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1/2 cup warm water, maybe a little more or less

Mix dry ingredients together, then the oil, and last the water. Knead for a few minutes and let it rest on a clean work surface under the bowl you just mixed the dough in.

Meanwhile, prepare your toppings
Chop or slice about 1/2 to 1 cup of any toppings you like (we enjoy mushrooms, wafer ham, peppers, onions, olives and sometimes garlic)
Set out about 1 to 1/2 cups shredded cheese (we use a white cheddar), more or less depending on your cheesy preference
About 1/4 to 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce (I keep a jar of our favorite spaghetti sauce on hand), again depending on your preference

Now, roll out your dough on a floured surface. I roll it to a nice thin 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch thickness and place it in a nice, big pan. Spread the sauce and sprinkle all the toppings evenly, lastly cover with cheese and bake for about 25 minutes in a preheated oven of 400F/205C. Allow the pizza to rest a few minutes before serving.

While the pizza is in the oven, whip up a nice, refreshing salad. I rarely buy salad dressing and instead mix a few ingredients together based on whether I want something sweet or savory.

Garlic Ginger Vinaigrette
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon Demera sugar

Mix all ingredients together and set aside while you mix the salad of
1/2 head of butter lettuce, torn or chopped
1/4 English Cucumber, sliced
1/4 cup crumbled salad cheese or Feta

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and mix well serve on the side with the pizza.

Next on the menu, is Vegetarian Tacos and Cheesy Pearl Barley
I started my Mexican Food Adventure with a recipe from my Sister in Law for Spinach and Black Bean Burritos. This Adventure quickly took me down a road of new experiences and along the way I found a great recipe for homemade tortillas which beat the price in the store of nearly 4 euros for a pack of 8 tortillas, eek!

I've pointed as many people as I can to this blog about Mexican Food, there are some great recipes for those of us that can't walk into our favorite Mexican restaurant. For the purposes of this recipe, we're focusing on her recipe for tortillas and then of course leaping to my version...
2 cups flour
1/2 cup bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or Olive oil
3/4 cups warm milk

Like the pizza dough, I mix dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients. I don't always use all the milk (which I keep for a mugga tea later), Generally mix the dough with enough milk so it holds together and is not too wet. Knead the dough for a few minutes and allow to rest on a clean work surface under the bowl you just mixed the dough in. Allow to rest for about 20 to 30 minutes, meanwhile preparing other ingredients. After the dough has rested, separate into balls about 1" round, and allow to rest under the bowl again for another 10 minutes.

When dough is well rested, roll each ball on well floured surface and set aside, preheat a dry skillet at medium high heat. Cook each tortilla on the dry skillet for about 30 seconds each side. Watch for bubbles as they tend to burn and cause uneven cooking. Keep the tortillas warm between two plates.

Vegetarian ingredients
I soak over night and then cook for about 2 hours, about 200 grams of beans, any kind or you can simply buy a can of beans and rinse them well.
I made smokey beans last night, which were beautiful, to do this
I put the beans in a deep pan, added
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small onions, sliced
6 mushrooms, sliced
1/8 cup water
1/8 cup liquid smoke
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium heat until mushrooms and onions are tender, set aside and keep warm.

Cheesy Pearl Barley
I cooked about 100 grams of pearl barley, then drained nearly all water off when cooked
I added about 1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons taco seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces yellow cheddar
1 ounce feta

Once the barley is cooked, add all ingredients and heat on low until cheese is melted, set aside and keep warm.

The last bits are just finishing touches, and for me ingredients are difficult or expensive to come by so I make all my own, you can buy yours or do as you see fit.

1 can stewed, crushed, Roma tomatoes
2 small, roasted red chilies, de-seeded and de-skinned
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and allow to rest.

Last, mix sour cream and shredded cheese together. Chop lettuce and half of an avocado. These will be your taco toppings.

Now to put it all together. Spoon the bean mixture into the tortillas and cover with salsa, lettuce, avocado, and cheese. Spoon up the Cheesy Pearl Barley and enjoy!