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The shock result for the lions versus bears debate is in – turns out that they’re cuddly teddy bears (see my dad’s comment on the post), not the lions they’ve been impertinently imitating.

How are kids supposed to learn anything these days when even biscuits are zoologically confused?

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Nigella versus Martha? The anti-Martha wins hands down any day in my book. But funny how this comes out when she has something new to promote. Oh, I’m so cynical…

And, then there’s this. Puts our two cookery queens into the shade, really.

Just messing with the look of this thing. I’m a bit bored with the name and the serif font…

Look at what Dad brought back from Bettys Tearooms.

How cute are they? The mice are little sponge cakes covered with marzipan and the lion-bears are butter biscuits with a jam filling (which makes them posh jammy dogers).

But it’s very difficult to eat anything that looks up at you so appeallingly. So Mr. B sensibly picked the eyes off his lion-bear first.

Right, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my holiday. so there probably won’t be any posts until the end of August but I promise to take lots of pics for a round-up post. Enjoy the sunshine if there is any (fingers crossed).

Garlic, it seems. This time, my favourite member of the allium family makes an appearance in a chickpea salad with roasted peppers. It keeps well in the fridge, it’s a good lunchtime keep-you-going kind of dish, and it’s tastier once it’s had a chance to sit for a while and let the flavours develop.

But this does mean the garlic flavour is pretty prominent (although not overwhelming), so – in the name of love, peace and harmony – make sure that your loved one or all your co-workers eat it too. Unless you’re trying to break up with your loved one or you hate your co-workers, in which case go right ahead and chomp the lot on your own. Then breathe. Heavily.

Chickpea salad with roasted peppers from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Serves 2 hungry people or 4 as a side dish

You’ll need:

2 large red peppers, roasted
3 cups of cooked chickpeas, rinsed if canned
¼ cup of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of chopped mint
3 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
1½ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or red wine or sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the peppers into ½-inch wide strips and put them in a large bowl, together with the chickpeas, herbs and the capers.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic and oil. Pour over the chickpea mixture and combine.
3. Serve (or refrigerate and allow flavours to mingle).

Cook’s notes

Despite my resolution to boil all beans from scratch, I just used a 400g can here. Oh the shame. What can I say, I’m just a very impatient person. But I think this meant I only used about half the amount specified. However, I like the ratio of chickpeas to peppers that this produced and would recommend it.

I didn’t have any capers, so I just left them out. But I don’t think they were any great loss, just a ‘nice to have’.

Again, I didn’t use as much oil as specified because recipes always seem to add too much for my taste. In this case, 3 tablespoons of oil worked just fine.

Pretty, isn’t it? It’s a lovely, simple salad of tomatoes, rocket and olives, with some oversized (very) garlicky croutons on the side. The perfect partner to go with the rest of the soup I grouchily posted here the other day.

But it’s not the salad per se that I wanted to write about – it’s the dressing. Only it’s a bit tricky to take interesting pictures of a salad dressing when it’s just kind of brown and liquidy:

See? That’s why the salad picture is at the top instead. Look a little closer and you’ll see the chopped onion component of the dressing. It’s one heck of a lot prettier in conjunction with the salad. More importantly, it tastes delicious and is now officially my new favourite salad dressing.

For a long time, my go-to dressing was a honey-mustard one (Jamie Oliver’s, I think). Many jars of honey and mustard would disappear during the summer months to make large batches of the good stuff and then the jars would later be recycled to store the dressings. But familiarity breeds contempt, or just tired taste buds, and I’ve been on the look out for something else to replace it for a while now.

Enter Llewellyn’s Irish Apple Balsamic Cider Vinegar. We visited the Dún Laoghaire farmers’ market a few weeks ago and I planned to do a proper post about it, I really did – but then moving house got in the way. I promise to write about it another time. What’s important for the purposes of this post is that I staggered away with several full bags of goodies (much to Mr B’s amusement), including a big bottle of cider and this fruity balsamic from David Llewellyn’s stall (he’d just won a Bridgestone Best in Ireland 2007 award, so he was a happy chappie).
We drank the cider (refreshing) and now the balsamic vinegar has found a happy place in my kitchen with this recipe. Although I think I’ll be looking for flimsy excuses to put it on everything for the next wee while, so I could be on the hunt for another new recipe soon…

Balsamic vinaigrette
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
4 teaspoons of balsamic, raspberry or other fruit vinegar
2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine both vinegars and the chopped shallot with a few pinches of salt and a little pepper in a small bowl.
2. Whisk in the olive oil and taste to make sure the balance is right – adjust as necessary.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any shallots but a bit of red onion worked just fine.

Also, I tend to like my salad dressings to be a little sharper than a lot of people, so I just used four tablespoons of oil. Nothing worse than a salad swimming in an oil slick.

Actually, I think it looks more like an egg yolk surrounded by the white of the mug in the above picture. But that’s a loooong post title.

A weekend trip to York for a christening meant we only returned to Ireland very, very late last night. After sleeping in and still feeling groggy, a trudge to the shops for supplies wasn’t really on the cards, so I had to russle something up for lunch from whatever I could find lying around – preferably something that didn’t require a lot of effort.

Which led to…

Garlicky butternut squash soup
, adapted from Soup Kitchen
You’ll need:
1 butternut squash
2 or more unpeeled cloves of garlic (I used 5, but it depends how garlicky you want to go)
Some olive oil
1 pint of veggie stock
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/ gas mark 6. Slice the butternut squash into segments and place them in a roasting tin, along with at least two cloves of garlic (or more to taste.)
2. Toss the squash and garlic with some olive oil and then put the tin in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and browned around the edges.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
4. Scoop out the squash flesh, pop the garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to a blender, along with the pint of veggie stock. Blitz.
5. Adjust the seasoning to taste and reheat the soup if necessary.

6. Serve.

Generally, I feel like I should be blogging about healthy food (which, despite the evidence of this blog so far, is what we generally eat – honest), searching out new culinary delights and reporting back on interesting local producers…

Then I stumble across this…

Oh yes – proper Mr Whippy icecream, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. For anyone around the age of 30(ish), this was the taste of childhood summers – right up there with Munch Bunch ice pops and sherbert fountains (proper E-number-crammed crud). Only I don’t think that the portions were as big back then – I mean, look at that picture, it’s an icecream behemoth! It’s coming to take over the world in a bad B-movie near you!

For some reason, Mr Whippy disappeared off the map years ago (or maybe I’ve just been walking around with a blind spot to all things icecream-related – I didn’t develop a real sweet tooth until I met Mr B, so it’s entirely possible). Later, there were other brands claiming to offer the same soft, creamy vanilla treat but they were serious fakers – too powdery, too hard, too flavourless, damn it – and my hopes were always dashed.

The best bit, or perhaps it’s the worst bit, is that you can pretty much get the real deal in any newsagents around the country.

I will make amends immediately for this serious lapse in reporting by seeking out proper artisan icecream and ordering David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop.

It doesn’t matter if I walk into a shop with a strict list of ingredients, I will inevitably walk out with something I never knew I needed until that precise moment. That’s why my cupboards are crammed with crap, er, esoteric foodstuffs.

Anyhoo, what I like to call the ‘supermarket zombie effect’ – brain switched off, automatic pilot engaged as you wander numbly round the aisles to the strains of muzak and whinging children – kicked in the other day at the supermarket and I left with 10 peaches. (Two packs for 4 euro! Bargain! But how does that work for the farmers?)

Once I’d returned home and re-engaged my brain, I examined my haul and I’ve got to say that I didn’t have high hopes for the little suckers – most of my impulse buys turn out to be bad ideas that end up mouldering in the cupboard, fridge or a bowl somewhere until they look like science experiments. However, probably because it’s peach season, these ones were really pretty good. More than that, they were excellent. Yay for seasonality and eating things at their proper time.

Normally, when I’m lucky enough to stumble across perfectly ripe fruit, I like to eat it in its raw state, juices messily dribbling down my chin (you can’t take me anywhere). So it’s been peaches with everything for the past couple of days. Then my baking gene kicked in and I just had to do something that meant at least a few of those peaches, some flour, sugar and butter would meet up in the oven to perform some kind of sweet alchemy. (Eurgh. Why am I hearing some kind of Barry White-esque tune as I write that? I’m not bloody Allie McBeal.)

Dorie Greenspan to the rescue again (although not from my sudden Barry White problem). I’m really going to have to write some kind of slavishly sycophantic fanmail to this very sweet-sounding lady – all the recipes I’ve tried so far from her latest book has produced amazing results. I’m also going to have to make sure I don’t publish every single recipe from her book online, otherwise her publishers might, understandably enough, get a bit pissed off.

The original recipe is for a winter upside-down cake with cranberries – something I’m bookmarking for the festive season. This version is the alternative she suggests for the summer months and it’s sublime – the already succulent peaches become silky soft, melting on your tongue, and then there’s the lighter-than-expected cinnamon-scented sponge which complements the fruit beautifully…

I love cinnamon a lot – so much so that I usually chuck in some extra when I’m baking. But, bearing in mind how well Dorie’s other recipes have worked so far, I exercised unheard of restraint and just put in the one teaspoon she recommended. And, of course, she’s absolutely right.

Upside-down peach cake from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

You’ll need:

1 cup of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
A pinch of salt
3 ripe peaches
190g butter at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of full-fat milk

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease an 8-inch round (and 2-inch deep) cake pan and place it on a baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and set aside.
3. Melt 80 grams of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan. Set aside.
4. Skin the peaches by dropping them briefly in boiling water. Pit and slice the peaches, then lay them out in a pattern on top of the butter/sugar mix in the cake pan.
5. In a large bowl, beat the remaining 110g of butter until smooth. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and continue to beat until creamy – about 3 minutes.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the vanilla and briefly beat this in too.
7. Using a wooden spoon (or a lower speed on a stand mixer, if you have one), add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk and then the rest of the dry ingredients.
8. Spoon this mixture over the peaches in the cake tin and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
9. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a thin knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
10. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 30 minutes, so that the peachy juices have a chance to settle into the cake.
11. Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate and serve.

A trip to the Dublin Food Co-op at the weekend threw up some lovely surprises – a raw food stall, which I think VK will be very interested in, a comprehensive dried goods section for all your pulse-, legume- and grain-based needs, a baker offering several yeast-free and gluten-free alternatives, and veggie producers selling, amongst other things, one of my all-time favourite vegetables – fennel.

I hadn’t seen any in the local shops – maybe they don’t stock it because there’s little demand for it, or maybe they’re being ultra-strict about seasonality as fennel only really comes into its own about now. Whatever the reason, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to cook with fennel, so I greedily popped four bulbs of aniseedy goodness in my basket and skipped off with a big smile on my face. Clearly, I don’t get out enough if this sort of thing counts as exciting.

Bulb number one was eaten straight away – raw and unadulterated. Some people find it too harsh/unpleasant but I’ve always been a savoury girl rather than sweet (no jokes from my family, please) so the pleasure of that refreshing, sharp flavour is something I look forward to and enjoy enormously.

The second one was thrown into a salad for some extra crunch and bite. Numbers three and four went into the following pasta dish, the aniseed overtones baked down into a backnote to complement rather than overpower the other ingredients.

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days. He recommends it as a tasty side dish and then, in a throw-away note, mentions that it would make a sexy little pasta. I’ve never used it as the side dish – I can’t get past making this creamy, soothing, very satisfying dinner.

Fennel, tomato and ricotta pasta – adapted from Happy Days by Jamie Oliver
(Serves 2)

You’ll need:

2 fennel bulbs, cut into quarters
A punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
A few dots of butter
About 125g of ricotta
A handful of grated parmesan
14 black olives, stoned and sliced

Enough pasta for two

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
2. Put the fennel quarters in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the fennel, then add to a large roasting dish, along with the tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Slosh some olive oil in the pan and mix the vegetables up to make sure they’re well coated. Then dot some bits of butter around the pan. Very scientific, this.
4. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables look cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the veg cool enough to handle.
5. Cook the pasta, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
6. In the meantime, chop the cooled fennel into pieces about 2cm big.
7. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the ricotta and parmesan – stir to melt the cheese (no need to use the the stove top for this, the heat from the pasta is enough.)
8. Add the chopped fennel, the rest of the roasted veg mixture and the olives. Stir through and season if neccesary.
9. Serve.

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).
August 2007
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