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OK, I don’t usually claim to have god-like qualities or wizardly talents (although reading the last Harry Potter book gave me some funny dreams) but I think I may have summoned the sunshine by baking these lovely orange and blueberry muffins.

I made them on Sunday when the world was grey, dull and a bit chilly – real pull-the-duvet-back-over-your-head-and-forget-about-it weather. However, by the time I pulled these zesty treats out of the oven, everything had changed for the better and stayed sparkly the whole day long. And what do you know – it’s sunny today as well.

I think you’ll agree that the evidence presented is highly credible, cause and effect has been clearly established and the link is undeniable.

Unfortunately, my new-found powers didn’t stop most of the blueberries sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Ah – I guess every gift has its dark side.

Orange and blueberry muffins from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 muffins
You’ll need:
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
About ¾ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons of honey
110g/ 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup of sugar
2 cups plain flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup of blueberries
1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 200C/gas mark 6. Butter/spray your muffin pan and place on a baking sheet.
2. Put the orange juice into a measuring cup and add enough buttermilk to make up 1 cup. (See cook’s notes below.) Then put this mixture into a bowl with the eggs, honey and melted butter. Whisk together.
3. In another bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange is strong.
4. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and work quickly to blend (but be careful not to overblend or the resulting muffins will be tough).
6. Gently stir in the blueberries and divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups.
7. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to touch – and a thin knife inserted in the centre of the muffins will come out clean.
8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for five minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Cook’s notes
My orange yielded about ¾ cup of juice, which was clearly going to make for a soggy muffin. So I just chucked in ¼ cup with the ¾ cup of buttermilk specified and drank the rest of the juice. Waste not, want not and all that.
And yes, I could have rolled the blueberries in flour to stop them sinking in the muffin batter but this particular omnipotent being is grumpy/forgetful in the mornings and was concentrating on summoning back the good weather rather than fruity aesthetics. It’s supposed to be a bad sign when you start talking about yourself in the third person, isn’t it? Oh dear.
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I am the sandwich queen. Oh yes. Given half a chance (not even that, if I’m being honest), I would feast on this most perfect of food forms morning, noon and night. Mmmmm, sandwiches…

Not good for someone who likes to cook, is it?

But – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – sometimes, just sometimes, I get a teensy bit tired of two bits of bread with something slapped between them. And then I start thinking about salads. I dream about beautiful, ripe tomatoes bursting with the taste of summer, soft, buttery lettuce and spiky rocket, peppery radishes, the refreshing aniseed flavour of fennel… and oooh, anything else that can be chopped, diced, sliced and chucked into a bowl with some kind of interesting dressing. Mmmmm, salad…

This recipe comes from Tossed, which I optimistically brought along in the car when we moved over, so I could make delicious salads for hazy, hot summer days. Well, the current weather situation has well and truly scotched that little day dream. Never mind.

I wanted something quite substantial to munch on, a main course kind of salad for lunch, so I plumped for what is really tabbouleh but with some salty feta crumbled on top. Very easy to put together, it’s one of those dishes that tastes disproportionately wonderful in relation to the small amount of time you need to put it together. In fact, I had it for breakfast the day after I made it because I couldn’t wait until lunchtime, which either means that it’s delicious or I’m greedy – or perhaps both.

Bulgar, feta and parsley salad from Tossed

Makes enough for two servings.

You’ll need:

90g/1/2 cup of bulgar wheat
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
4 spring onions, finely chopped (I didn’t have enough so I threw in some radishes too)
2 firm ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved, seeded and diced
100g feta, crumbled
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Put the bulgar wheat in a large bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Leave to soak for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain well, then thoroughly squeeze out all the excess liquid.
2. Gently toss the bulgar in a bowl with all the remaining ingredients.
3. Season with salt and pepper, and mix together well. Leave for about an hour to let the flavours mingle.

Wheeeeeeeee! We’re properly interweb connected – broadband and everything. Very fancy pants. Although apparently everyone has it these days and I’m just behind the times…

Anyway, it means I don’t have to put my pics on to the computer to transfer them to the USB to take them down to the locak internet place to load them up on to the blog.

No – I can just click a couple of buttons from the comfort of our kitchen and… voila!

And, with another click of the magic button, I can reveal… the kitchen sink!

The kitchen units aren’t really blue – that’s just the protective film – they’re really white. And if you’re wondering why some of the doors haven’t been added yet… Well, that’s a combination of laziness, bad door-hanging skills and a couple of missing pieces. But we’ll get there. At least we’ve got enough bits and bobs sorted out to function and, more importantly, cook delicious things.

So that means all the excuses for not posting about what I’m cooking have disappeared. Darn.

Although I love my cookbooks and drooling over any food porn on the TV, there’s one thing that never fails to irritate me. You’ve read the recipe/watched the presenter put the dish together, you’re salivating like Pavlov’s dog and thinking, ‘I could whip that up, nooooooo problem,’ when the following patronising advice crops up:

‘Of course, this particular ingredient is pretty difficult (read impossible) to find/takes ages to prepare, so you could substitute X… (slight pause) …if you wanted to.’

And thus the knowledge is imparted that if you use the substitute then (gasp, horror) you are somehow a total f*$£ing foodie failure and your tastebuds will never experience the culinary nirvana that is the dish in its originally-specified form (haughty sniff). Pat on the head for trying though and better luck next time.

Perhaps the most common footnote of this kind is the one you see about using canned beans/pulses instead of going the distance and cooking the darn things from scratch. I mean, come on – who has time to do that these days?

Erm, well, me, I guess.

Having ditched my job last week, I’ve suddenly got more time on my hands than I know what to do with. That’s not a complaint, mind – I know how to grasp life by the cahunas and live it to the full.

So I’m boiling beans.

However, this isn’t entirely due to the no-job, housewifey situation. A lot of it is to do with the fact that you can’t get things like canned cannellini or butter beans in Maynooth. Maybe up town in Dublin but not here. No, if you go looking for tinned beans in the local shops you’ll see chickpeas, kidney beans and then endless variations on the theme of mushy peas. But very little else. (I’m leaving the bit about being spoilt by the age of convenience for another day.)

Dried beans are a bit easier to get hold of, so I’ve been busy pre-soaking them overnight and then boiling them for hours on end for stews, salads, spreads…

Now, I know I said I could get hold of tinned chickpeas but I’ve decided to become a martyr to the cook-beans-from-scratch cause. So when I had a craving for garlicky, lemon-spiked hummus…

Do you absolutely need to use dried beans for the best results? Well, I guess you could use tinned ones if you had to… Nope, I can’t keep that up. My answer would be ‘not really’. I don’t think there’s too much difference, to be honest. It is cheaper though and more environmentally friendly ‘cos there are no tins to recycle, so if you have the time and the inclination, why not?

Hummus from The Candle Café Cookbook

You’ll need:

2 cups of cooked chickpeas (cooking liquid reserved) or 2 cups of drained canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
2/3 cup sesame tahini (but I found 1/3 cup was enough)

1. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir well to mix. Place in a food processor and process briefly.

2. Add ½ cup of water or the chickpea cooking liquid and continue to blend until the mixture is smooth.

3. Add more liquid if necessary to loosen the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice.

4. Transfer to a serving bowl and allow the flavours to develop for at least an hour before serving.

Cook’s notes

As I mention above, I only used 1/3 cup of tahini rather than 2/3. Sometimes the amount of tahini stated in recipes overwhelms the end product. Cutting it down to 1/3 cup meant you could still taste the sesame but you wouldn’t gag on it.

There is already a fair amount of liquid in this recipe so you may not need to add the chickpea cooking/tin liquid. I followed it to the letter and ended up with a fairly sloppy consistency (but it was still very tasty). So I’d recommend whizzing up everything fully before seeing if you need to add any more liquid to loosen it up.

It makes a fair amount – about 3 cups, I reckon. Good for a party but maybe not when it’s just you eating it. So I’ve put some in the freezer to see what happens. I’ll let you know.

Does this explain everything we need to know about a certain Mr GW Bush?

Wow – turns out I’m an amateur on the cookbook-collecting front.

I’ve got something like 265 books, VK has about 300 and, after Dad carried out a quick count, it turns out that Mum has 313 on the shelves ‘plus all the others scattered around the house’.

It’s nice to have something to aspire to. Just don’t tell Mr B – he might come over all peculiar.

It had seemed like a reasonable and rather sensible plan at first: I would choose my 10 favourite cookbooks from the stacks, the ones I absolutely couldn’t bear to leave behind, and then (tearfully) surrender the rest to the dubious care of the removal men. (After some initial swearing about the amount of books we owned/that they’d have to shift, they turned out to be lovely gents who ran on fags and sugar with a splash of tea.)

Nnnnnnuuuuurgh! I looked, mused, puzzled, wibbled and bit my lower lip petulantly to no avail. But no – I simply couldn’t do it. Somehow, as I sifted through the books laid out for packing, the pile of ‘must haves’ got a leetle out of control and I ended up with 22.

So here they are. The books that I currently enjoy cooking from, looking at and getting lost in. The ones that I really couldn’t leave behind for love nor money. I’d write something brief about each one but, you know, there’s 22 of them and I’m feeling lazy.

1. Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites
2. Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
3. Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special
4. New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups
5. Chocolate and Zucchini
6. Happy Days with the Naked Chef
7. Jamie’s Italy
8. How to be a Domestic Goddess
9. The Tassajara Bread Book
10. The Greens Cook Book
11. Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings
12. The Candle Café Cookbook
13. Vogue Entertaining Cookbook – short order and seasonal (autumn/winter) (an Australian magazine I’ve never seen again, despite hunting high and low for it)
14. Super Natural Cooking
15. Baking – From my Home to Yours
16. Good-Tempered Food
17. Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons
18. Little Red Gooseberries
19. Vegan with a Vengeance
20. Peas, Beans, Greens – a cook’s book of vegetables
21. Tossed – 200 fast, fresh and fabulous salads
22. The Kitchen Diaries

And, er (sheepish look), since arriving here, I’ve also snapped up the Café Paradiso Cookbook, which is definitely going to get a kitchen work out. Just as soon as there’s a kitchen to work out in.

I’ve found the only interweb cafe in Mullingar, so I’ve got a bit of time to play around with the blog.

Now I’m here, I have no idea what to say…

Erm, the bathroom leak has been fixed, the fridge turned up, the electrician should have been in at the weekend to wire up the cooker and we’re going round tonight to finish off the kitchen. It’s an exciting life.

Theoretically that means we should move in properly this week and that Veggie Kate will have somewhere to stay with running water, electricity and hot food when she comes to visit next month.

Hello

I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
July 2007
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