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There’s obviously something weird going on with me and technology at the moment. First off, I managed to mist up my camera lens when trying to take a picture of some soup (which was completely tasteless by the way and somehow makes the misted lens situation worse – cos it would have been worth it if the soup tasted great?).

Now my computer has gone kaput.

The extremely helpful people at PC World think it’s just the power port but it could be the motherboard… So my laptop has to go off for a proper check-up. Which could take a couple of weeks.

Eurgh. No internet. No email. No blog? Noooooooooooo! The room is starting to spin…

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as Mr. B has said I can use his laptop for the duration. What a lovely guy 🙂 Just hope I don’t unwittingly damage this computer with my techno-jinx…

This means I should be able to get round to reading/leaving comments on everyone’s blogs as per usual but if I haven’t done so recently then you know why!

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Just the sheer number of cinnamon-spiked dishes I’ve posted on this blog probably speaks volumes about how much I love this spice. I will happily make any recipe in which it is the main star or I will sneak in a little extra if it’s only meant to have a supporting role. In short, I am a cinnamon fiend.

So when Kieran of Murphy’s Icecream put out the call the other week for recipe testers for his upcoming book, well… it was a shoe-in which one I would go for. Cinnamon icecream – oh wow.

Now, I’ve got to admit, this was a leetle bit of a selfish choice on my part – Mr. B likes cinnamon, he thinks it’s, you know, ok and all that. But it’s not his favourite. So back I went to Kieran’s recipe list to search for something that would preserve marital peace and harmony. And there it was – hot fudge sauce. Mr. B likes to consider himself something of an afficianado when it comes to icecream extras – he has his own special recipe for chocolate sauce, along with the sweetest tooth of anyone I know, so Kieran’s recipe would be judged against stringent standards.

The icecream turned out like a dream, as the warm spice of the cinnamon partnered well with the creamy custard base – a real taste of Christmas (you know, when you’re still far enough away from Christmas that it still seems exciting). And I have confirmation of that from people who aren’t as enamoured of cinnamon as I am – we polished the whole lot off for dessert one evening when we had friends round for dinner, along with this scrumptious apple tart from Smitten Kitchen. Unfortunately, there is no picture of this happy event as I’m still a bit shy about taking food pictures when other people are around. I’ve got to get over that.

But did the hot fudge sauce meet Mr B’s exacting expectations?

And how. He was seriously considering drinking the lot straight from the jug at one point. I think I mentioned that he has a seriously sweet tooth 🙂 In the end, he showed admirable restraint by simply drowning his icecream in the molten, fudgy gorgeousness.

I’d love to tell you that I’ve deliberately shot a soft-focus pic here but the truth is I think I screwed up my camera the other day when I leaned in to closely to snap some soup and a bit of steam got into the lens. Now everything looks like I’m applying for a job with the M&S advertising team. For mouthwatering pics of icecream, hot fudge sauce and many other wonderful things (along with the recipes, of course) I’d recommend a trip to Icecream Ireland.

Good luck with the book, Kieran. It’s certainly been fun testing the recipes!

Well, I fell off the NaBlaPoMo wagon in spectacular style. Apart from a general tendency towards laziness on my part, I think part of the problem was that posting articles every day on the internet was a lot like my old job… which was posting articles every day on the internet. So, unsuprisingly, blogging became much less fun than usual.

And then I scarpered off to Edinburgh for a long weekend to catch up with all the people I haven’t seen since I moved to Ireland in June. Hurray! It was good to see all the familiar faces, catch up on all the gossip and visit old haunts – but I’m glad to be back home as, pathetically, I missed Mr B soooooooooooo much.

All this means that I’m feeling rejuvenated and ready to get back in the kitchen. Normal food-related blogging will resume shortly!

PS That’s a picture of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh on a grey and cloudy day (roll on winter). All very moody and atmospheric. Love it.

I keep meaning to update my blogroll, or maybe set up a completely separate page for all my favourites because that list is getting rather long and not everything is food-related and really, maybe I need separate categories and, ooh, suddenly it’s getting complicated…

Whilst I go off and figure out some kind of blog taxonomy for my links, here are a few gems I’ve stumbled across recently that are either making me chuckle or salivate:

Lunch – two architects with a mission to escape the office and eat as much of New York as possible during their lunch hour. Wish I was there too.

Eggbeater – the rest of us may play at making our masterpieces in the kitchen but Shuna is the real deal – a pastry chef with an overwhelming passion for both her subject and life in general.

Mollie Katzen – the Moosewood founder is online! I found this link through Winedeb (cheers!) and I’ve been clicking through the recipe archive, noting down many, many things to keep me busy in the kitchen. The dilemna is where to start.

Grandad – possibly the most cantankerous resident of Ireland, Grandad sticks his hobnailed boot into whatever subject is unfortunate to cross his path and gives it a good, hard kicking. Warning: this site contains some, no, a lot of strong language.

Mustaches of the Nineteeth Century – if you’re on Blogger then you probably saw this pop up as one of the ‘top picks’ a few weeks ago. At first, I thought that this would be a subject with limited potential but oh, how wrong I was. Go on, take a peek, you know you want to…

I can tell what you’re thinking… ‘Come on Jen, I know you’re trying to find something to blog about every day for NaBloPoMo and all that, but cheese on toast? That smacks of sheer desperation.’

But wait, in my defense, this is lip-smackingly wonderful cheese on toast. Perhaps the best ever. Ever. And when you find out that the recipe comes from the queen of all good eating, Alice Waters, then there really can be no argument.

There’s no curiously plastic day-glow orange cheese or slice of cardboard-like bread involved here. Instead, there’s tangy, soft goat cheese, blended with garlic and thyme to create… well, something that had me salivating from the minute I read the recipe, let alone when it was under the grill. The smell coming from the cooking mixture had me jumping round the kitchen like a small child, checking every few seconds to see if it was done yet.

Yes, when I finally removed the slices from the grill, I managed to burn my tongue. Greedy guts.

Goat cheese croutons/toasts from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (who cites Alice Waters as the recipe source)

Serves 6

You’ll need:

170g soft white goat cheese
3 tablespoons milk or cream
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly milled pepper
6 large or 12 small baguette slices

1. Smooth the goat cheese with the milk or cream, then stir in the garlic, thyme and a little pepper.

2. Toast the bread slices under the grill until the tops are lightly coloured. Then spread the cheese mixture thickly over the untoasted side and put under the grill again until the cheese goes golden-brown and bubbly on top.

3. Serve with salads, stews, soups…

Cook’s notes

This lasted two days for me because I used bigger pieces of bread and I made it the main course of my meal, instead of the appetiser/starter that the recipe would suggest.

As you’d expect, the garlicky taste was stronger after the flavours had a chance to mingle overnight in the fridge. Delicious.

Yesterday, I paired the toasts up with salad, today it made a good sharp foil against a lentil stew from Mollie Katzen’s online site.

Not quite cake, not quite cookie, snickerdoodles fall somewhere inbetween in the baking lexicon. Lightly crisp on the outside, soft and tender-crumbed on the inside, they make another good accompaniment to a mid-morning cup of tea or coffee.

Have I mentioned that they’re rolled in cinnamon sugar? And that there’s a generous grating of nutmeg in the cake/cookie/whatever-it-is mix?

As a consequence, they smell heavenly when they’re baking in the oven. Imagine the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting around the house, lifting the spirits, making everything feel snug and warm on a chilly autumn day. Consider it a form of aromatherapy with edible results.
And I defy anyone to eat just one snickerdoodle alone, particularly when they’re still warm from the oven. It’s simply not possible. I’ve already eaten three while typing this up…

Snickerdoodles
from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Makes around 21
You’ll need:
250g plain flour
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
125g butter, at room temperature
100g plus 2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 180Cgas mark 4 and line or oil two baking trays.

2. Combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt, and set aside for a moment.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the 100g of sugar until light in texture and pale in colour, then beat in the egg and vanilla.

4. Now stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, coherent mixture.

5. Spoon out the remaining sugar and the cinnamon on to a plate. Then, with your fingers, squidge out pieces of dough and roll into walnut-sized* balls. Roll each ball in the cinnamon mixture and arrange on the prepared baking trays, two inches apart.

6. Bake for 15 minutes, by which time they should be turning golden brown. Take out of the oven and leave to rest on the baking trays for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Cook’s notes

For a chocolatey variation, replace 25g of the flour with cocoa powder.
Be careful with the baking time on this recipe. Snickerdoodles are supposed to be a teensy bit dry, making them good tea-break dunking material, but it’s easy to go too far and dry them out completely.
Nigella suggests they’d be good with spicy poached plums and cream. I’m also thinking pears… Or crumbled over icecream… I wonder if you could adapt it into some kind of cobbler topping… Oh the possibilities!
They don’t store well, so they would make a lovely treat to share with work colleagues or friends on the day of baking or within 24 hours at most.
*I don’t know what kind of walnuts Nigella is used to but they must be tiny. She suggests that this recipe makes about 32 snickerdoodles, but I only managed to scrape 21 together at a push.
I’ve eaten another one to see me to the end of these notes. I don’t think that Mr. B is going to get a look in.

Another couple of images from the archive. Normal food blogging will resume tomorrow once I get that camera back from Mr. B!

To set the scene: I was wandering through Merrion Square one fine summer’s day…

When this quirky-looking (bronze?) chair lurking under the trees caught my eye…
Well, it was quite clearly staring at me (I mean, look at the eye on that thing!), so I stared straight back.

Once I’d stopped being so aggressive, I took a closer look at the inscription…

If you can’t quite make it out, it says ‘Dermot Morgan 1952 – 1998’.

Father Ted.

I don’t know how much the name means to anyone outside Ireland or the UK but Dermot Morgan was an Irish comedian and actor who played the eponymous lead character of the Father Ted series on TV, making a generation of students laugh so hard that beer/alcoholic beverages of choice would spray out of their noses. Check out the Friends of Ted for some seriously devoted fans and Tedfest ’07. Other (more sane?) people must have liked it too as it won several BAFTAs along the way.

Dermot was also a founding member of Scrap Saturday – a political satire on RTÉ radio during the late 80s and 90s. I would never have known about this wonderful program except for Mr. B, who was a big fan and snapped up the ‘best of’ CD that came out a couple of years ago. It’s side-splittingly funny and has been on repeat in our house ever since.

And that was my first introduction to some of the key players in Irish politics. Unfortunately, because the series was so darn funny, it’s difficult to take any of them seriously in real life. Although, come to think of it, who does?

What particularly makes me smile is that this beady-eyed memorial is only a stone’s throw away from the Irish government buildings and all the characters Dermot used to mercilessly satirise. Clearly, someone else has a sense of humour too…

Mr B. has run away to Kerry for work purposes and he’s taken the camera with him 😦 Nevermind, he’ll be back tomorrow.

In the meantime, this has given me the perfect excuse to go trawling through my photo archive, weed out the rubbish (of which there is a lot) and see if there’s anything interesting and food-related to post here.

Icecream on a sunny May day at the Edinburgh farmers market seems to fit the bill. More specifically, low-fat, no-sugar, vegan strawberry icecream,* which was absolutely delicious. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so – the stall selling it ran out by mid-morning.

This was a treat that sparkled with flavour on the tongue. It performed that wonderful trick of tasting more like strawberries than the real thing. Sunshine somehow captured in a cone. A real pleasure to be lingered over on a warm day, while taking in the view of the Castle – I don’t know of too many other farmers markets with such an amazing backdrop. (Although I’d love to put that to the test by visiting all the markets in the world, just to make a fair comparison, of course…)As for the icecream makers, they were local farmers who had come up with an ingenious solution to their strawberry glut (rather than just going the usual jam-making route), so it could have been just a one-off thing for them to pitch up on that particular Saturday. I don’t know if they ever came back as I moved to Ireland not long after taking these photos. But I truly hope so.

*Being an inquisitive/nosy person by nature, I asked what went into the icecream. I was expecting to hear that there was at least some soya milk or cream, because the resulting flavour and texture was so creamy. The answer turned out to be just water and incredibly ripe strawberries (hence the need to make something with then before they turned bad). Who’d have thunk it?

There’s something quite mesmerizing about watching little plates of sushi and sashimi move at a stately pace around a conveyer belt. All those different shapes, colours and combinations drifting gently by, waiting for you to snap out of it and decide which one to pick first.

It took me a while to choose because I’ve never tried sushi before (how can that be?) and was quite content to enjoy the visual feast for a while. But once I’d grabbed a plate of spicy noodles, I picked up pace a bit, trying some salmon, nori rolls, a bit of tuna and then wontons stuffed with more salmon. Yum.

Many other tempting dishes paraded by as well – mackerel, prawns, mussels, squid and a couple of things I couldn’t identify, but I was feeling a little unadventurous since it was my first sushi trip (oh the foodie shame).

Except for the little mystery bundles in the slightly blurry picture above.* They’d made a couple of sexy, twinkling rounds on the conveyer belt and Mr B. had noticed me eyeballing them.

‘Do you want to try them? I’ll go halves with you.’
‘Alright then. They’re such a gorgeous colour but I’ve no idea what they are.’

We asked the waitress and she told us it was fantail roe. None the wiser, we shrugged our shoulders and tried a piece each. Kind of peppery, kind of crunchy. Pretty nice. I’d eat it again.

Then I got home and googled fantail. DON’T CLICK ON THIS LINK if you’d rather not know what it is. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

However, it hasn’t put me off in any way, shape or form. In fact, the whole thing was a little bit addictive – it’s nearly dinnertime and I’d like some more, please. I want to know what all those mystery dishes are, work my way through the menu, try everything at least once, maybe twice for good measure. So I’ll be going back as soon as possible 🙂 Although that’s all I need – a new food addiction…

*I’m not keen on taking photos in restaurants as I feel it’s a bit annoying for other customers – they didn’t ask to have a flash bulb popped in their eyes when they’re there to enjoy the food. But that green was so cool, I just had to show it to you. So I managed to turn the flash off and get a couple of sneaky snaps.

Butternut squash isn’t something I ate as a kid but after trying it a few years ago I came to love it, love it, love it. I’ll throw this versatile veg into soups, salads, stews, risotto, eat it roasted as a side dish… However, I’ve never used it to make anything sweet rather than savoury. High time, then, to remedy the situation.

Which brings us back round to Jamie Oliver’s latest book,* in which he has a recipe for butternut squash muffins. Bingo. He mentions that the result is a bit like carrot cake, which had me hooked straightaway, seeing as that’s one of my favourites (along with all the other favourites…). And, as if I needed an extra reason, there is cinnamon involved – oh yes, count me in. What I wasn’t so sure about was the fact that you use the entire butternut squash, skin and all.

What? Grate the whole lot? All I could imagine was encountering bits of hard squash rind in the middle of an otherwise perfectly delicious muffin. Why? Why would you do that to yourself?

But Jamie’s rarely set me on the wrong path before so I gritted my teeth, trusted the recipe and got on with the grating.

After some skinned knuckles and a bit of swearing, I realised that everything would turn out ok. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that the skin on a butternut squash is pretty thin. So it would just melt into the batter as the muffins cooked – exactly the same as carrot cake. Hurray!

Of course, this means you’re sneaking in an extra bit of fibre too. But sssssssssssh – don’t tell anyone 😉

Butternut squash muffins from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Makes 12 muffins

You’ll need:

300g, plain flour, unsifted
350g light brown soft sugar
sea salt
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
175ml extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
400g butternut squash, skin on, deseeded and grated
a handful of walnuts, chopped

For the frosted cream topping, which I clearly didn’t use:

zest of 1 clementine
zest of 1 lemon and juice of half a lemon
140ml soured cream
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
optional: lavender flowers or rose petals
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and line your muffin tin with paper cases.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil and eggs.

3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mix and stir until just combined. Then add the grated squash and chopped walnuts. Stir to combine but being careful not to overmix.

4. Fill the paper cases with the muffin mixture and bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to rest for five minutes and then take the muffins out of the tin and leave to coo on a wire rack.

5. Icing: Place most of the clementine zest, all the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a bowl. Add the soured cream, icing sugar and vanilla seeds, and mix well. Taste and adjust the balance of sweet/sour by adding a little more icing sugar or lemon juice as necessary. Spoon the icing over the muffins once they’re completely cold.

Cook’s notes

As you can see from the photo above, I didn’t bother icing the muffins. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit lazy.

Next time I’ll add some raisins or sultanas too, making it even more like carrot cake.

If I’d read the blurb at the beginning of the recipe properly then I would have seen the sentence, ‘The skin of the butternut squash goes deliciously soft and chewy when cooked, so there’s no need to peel it off.’ And then I wouldn’t have worried in the first place. Guess I was in too much of a hurry to make those muffins!

*I renewed the book from the library – there are a few more things I’d like to try 🙂

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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).
November 2007
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