Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pork Chops & Roasted Vegetables with Carrot Parsnip Mash (serves 6)

a veritable feast of a dinner..

Last night I was feeling much better and had a hankering for some food from my childhood.  This probably happened because I couldn’t sleep the night before and rather than tossing and turning I got up for a couple of hours. I pottered in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher and getting things ready for breakfast. I wrote my blog and finally spent the rest of the time curled up with the cat reading Irish Cookbooks!

The food in Ireland has changed a bit since I was a girl. It has gotten more “modern” (for want of a better word?). Years ago it was all stick-to-the-ribs sort of food, like, stews and plenty of potatoes with absolutely every single dinner served. Now potatoes are just an option, not a staple. Lots of dishes involved butter, cream and cheese. Butter would be mashed into everything from potatoes to turnips. A splash of cream topped most desserts, like sweet rice pudding, trifle, queen cakes, sponge cakes, bread pudding – it was the glue to almost every pastry. I love cream – but only freshly whipped. I’m not a snob, it’s just that anything else posing as cream (in tubs, in cans??) tastes so inferior by comparison. You can whip a little cream in a bowl with a manual whisk in a couple of minutes – not that impressive however, people are always amazed when I occasionally pull out a bowl to do this for dessert?

But I digress…..hankering for childhood food? All I really wanted was some mashed carrots and parsnips, held together with a little black pepper, butter and a smidge of cream. What could I make to accompany that? My mother would serve this with fish and white parsley sauce or it would be part of a much grander feast of potatoes, possibly two kinds (mashed and roasted), boiled cabbage and sliced ham or a chop….I really, really miss her dinners. She had a way of making everything taste luxurious. The plate would be piled high with a taste of everything.

Last night I wanted that feeling, the feeling of having too many things to choose from, all topped off with a dollop of parsnip and carrot mash (whether it went with the dish or not!).  I decided on pork chops and lots of roasted vegetables. It was all I wanted it to be, too many things on my plate but loving every mouthful.

You will need: 6 bone-in pork chops (medium thickness), 1 sprig of fresh rosemary leaves, very finely chopped, 1 lb asparagus spears, ends cut off, 1 dry pint cherry tomatoes, 10 or so cipollini onions, slice the bottom end (where the root was – also don’t remove the skin – it pops off when cooked) so they sit flat, 2 lbs baby white and/or red potatoes, halved, 4 oz shiitake mushrooms, cut in half or quartered if caps are large, 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced,  3 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced, 1 tbs unsalted butter, 1 tbs heavy cream, 4 tbs olive oil, course sea salt (I use Maldon salt flakes) and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning.

Preheat oven 425*

season chops with oil, rosemary, salt and pepper..

1 – Prep vegetables as described above. Take the chops and using your hands rub them all over with some olive oil and place in a tray or a shallow dish large enough to lay them singly. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary all over them along with a little salt and pepper. Set aside.

potatoes and onions into the oven first..

2 – In large bowl toss the potatoes and onions together with some olive oil. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Set a very large shallow baking tray in the oven sprinkled with about a tbs of olive oil. Leave in the oven for a few minutes so it gets nice and hot. Take out and add the potatoes and onions in a single layer (there should be plenty of room for the rest of the vegetables). Time for 15 minutes.

3 – Put the asparagus, shiitake and tomatoes in a bowl or on a tray and add some olive oil and salt and pepper and mix it all together with your hands. Set aside.

boil for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft..

4 – Put carrots and parsnips into pot and cover with water. When it comes to a boil, cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes (or until the vegetables are soft). When cooked, drain and mash everything with a potato masher (if you want it to be very fine use a potato ricer). Add the butter, cream, some pepper and salt and mash it all together. Place a tea cloth over it and leave on stove-top until ready to serve.

Cook with asparagus and tomatoes for a further 10 minutes before adding the chops..

5 – When potatoes and onions have been in the oven for 15 minutes, take out tray and add the asparagus mixture. Toss altogether and put back into oven for 10 minutes.

fry on high for 4 minutes per side..

6 – Put a big pan on high heat and fry chop in a single layer (my big pan held all of them in one fell swoop!) for 4 minutes per side.

cook with chops for about 6 more minutes..

7 – When the vegetables have cooked for another 10 minutes take out tray and lay the pork chops on top. Place back into the oven for about 5 or 6 minutes.

A carnival of color all for me!

Serve together on a plate with a dollop of the parsnip carrot mash. The mash complimented the pork perfectly. It gave it a creaminess that a sauce might lend.

Get Well Soup, or Limey Chicken & Garlic soup w/ Parsley Dumplings (serves 6)

After a day of denial I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was indeed miserably ill and the only cure was some magic soup – one that would dispel the sick gods while also satisfying the palates of the healthy! I decided that I needed the power of garlic to heal me and based everything around it. I needed chicken broth but I also wanted a zing – something that would liven my muted taste buds? I wanted the best of everything so I went with chicken legs, bone-in, skin on and I would cook it in water which would end up being the broth for the soup and cook the chicken at the same time – no canned broth would do!

bowls of wonderful soup for dinner..

This soup was a revelation. It was pieced together from all sorts of other things I had made in the past and it worked out divinely. It ended up looking very simple and minimal, (even though I knew it had taken quite a bit of work). The broth was excellent and was well worth making my own stock base. The roasted garlic made everything creamy and rich and the dumpling gave the soup the girth it needed.

Even though I felt yucky I had the best time in the kitchen last night. I moved slowly from one little task to the next and each thing that I did created a new smell or taste that went a long way to restoring my energy. I absolutely recommend you take the time to make this soup if you are a garlic lover and you believe in its healing powers. It is worth the effort. Follow the steps as they are written and things should flow nicely.

For stock and chicken: 12 chicken drumsticks (legs), 1 onion, diced, 2 cloves garlic, sliced, 1 carrot, sliced, 1/2 bouillon cube (I used a good quality vegetable cube), water.

1 – Put chicken in big pot and cover with water (about 7 cups or so). Put on stove-top on high heat and when it begins to boil take a big spoon and skim the scum off the top. When it is as scum-free as you can get it, add the rest of the ingredients and turn down until you reach a simmer. Cover and cook until the chicken has cooked (about 35-40 minutes).

Basis of soup..

2 – Turn off heat, take chicken out of pot and put on a plate. Cover with foil and leave to cool. Using a big mesh sieve, strain the broth into a big bowl and set aside (discard the vegetables).

3 – When chicken is cool enough to handle, pull meat from bones and set aside on plate.

For the Garlic Paste: 2 heads of garlic, 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp coarse salt.

1 – While the chicken is cooking preheat the oven to 350* Slice the garlic across the top to making a flat spot and exposing the garlic cloves. Place each head on a square of tin foil and drizzle each with the oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pull the foil over the top and loosely twist corners together until you have a little pouch.

Cut garlic to expose cloves..

2 – Place on little baking tray and roast for about 25 minutes. Take out when cooked and leave to cool. When cool, open foil and carefully pour the oil from each head into a little cup and set aside for use in the soup. Then, using the tine of a fork or a pointy knife dislodge and take out each clove. If you insert the knife and push down and pull up a little the clove should pop out whole (some will be more trouble than others!)

ready to mash with fork..

3 – Place on a board and set about 5 or six whole cloves aside. With the back of a fork, mash the remaining cloves to a paste. Remove to a little plate and set aside.

For the Dumplings: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 4 tbs vegetable lard (I used Crisco), 1/4 cup of  very finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, 5 to 6 tbs cold water.

1 – Put flour in a bowl with salt, baking soda and parsley and using a whisk, mix together (the whisk aerates it a little). Add the lard and knead into flour with fingertips until you have a fine meal-like consistency. Add 5 tbs of water and mix together with a wooden spoon. If it feels a little dry add a little more water. It should be a sticky dough ball (but not overly so).

add water to make a dough ball..

2 – With hands, form little dough balls a little smaller than a golf ball. (I was able to make 15). Set on floured plate and place a tea towel over them until they are needed.

cover with cloth and set aside..

Ready to make Actual Soup: you will need all of the above to be ready and waiting, and: 1 sweet onion, diced, 1 celery stalk including leaves, diced, juice of 2 limes, the oil from the garlic cloves, 3 cups of fresh spinach leaves, washed (no need to dry) salt and pepper to taste.

chopped and ready..

1 – In soup pot that you used to make chicken broth add the reserved oil from the cooked garlic cloves and turn onto low/medium heat. Add celery, onions and reserved whole roasted garlic cloves and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring often.

Saute onions, garlic & celery..

2 – Add the reserved broth plus 1 cup of water. Add the garlic paste and lime juice and stir until it is dispersed (the stock will take on a whitish color). Bring to a simmer.

Stir in garlic paste..

3 – When simmering place the dumplings in the soup pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir gently every now and then.

Add dumplings (they will expand as they cook)

4 – Add reserved chicken and simmer very gently for another 10 minutes. Turn off heat and add spinach, cover and let it wilt. After 5 minutes stir the spinach gently into soup. Taste soup and add salt and pepper to taste if you like.

The completed task - well worth it!

Ladle soup into bowls giving everyone at least two dumplings. Garnish with sliced avocado and hot sauce if you like.

This is what the kitchen looked like last night. For this blog I always write down what I do and what ingredients and their quantities as I go along - if I didn't it would all be one big blur. I use my notes and the pictures I take to write the final recipe!

Lightening Shrimp Appetizer (serves 6)

Are you always ready to serve dinner when you invite people over? – I am never ready! I think appetizers were invented to take the pressure off the cook rather than to satisfy the guests. Who really needs to eat before you actually sit down for a big meal?

The other thing is that I never plan on making an appetizer? When people arrive, I fully intend to have dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time, but, I get distracted chatting and making cocktails (also drinking cocktails). Before I know it, tummies are rumbling and I need to think fast. This is the fastest and tastiest thing I have come up with when I have to cook an appetizer on the fly. Packed with flavor and a total crowd pleaser.

All you will need is: 1 1/2 lbs shrimp, shell on, (31-40 count per pound), Cajun or creole seasoning (or Old Bay Seasoning in a pinch), canola oil for frying.

1 – Rinse and pat shrimp dry. Put shrimp in a bowl and douce with lots of seasoning (until everything looks well-covered).

Pan of shrimp for ravenous diners!

2 – Put pan on high heat. When hot, add oil. Let the oil get hot and toss in shrimp in one even layer (will probably need to do in two batches). Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn each shrimp quickly and cook for another 1 1/2 or so minutes. Turn onto a platter and get out of the way (people tend to get aggressive when they see this big plate of crispy fried morsels!). No need to peel off shell, it cooks into a lovely crispy crust!

Chicken & Apple Sausage w/Rosemary (serves 4)


Ingredients assembled..

Yesterday I didn’t feel that great – managed to catch the tail-end of my kids cold? Not mentioning this for sympathy (I detest whiney sick people!), however, last night I made dinner quickly and scurried off to bed.  To make something fast and tasty I rely on fresh pungent herbs and a hot oven. Also, I always keep some sort of seasoned sausage in the freezer if I am low on energy and ideas. So, last night I cooked chicken thighs, and apple and onion sausage with rosemary. It was a great low effort dinner and the ingredients didn’t disappoint in the flavor department. Sadly my hubby did not take any pictures of the plated dish, but I think you see enough to spur you on to trying this out!

You will need: 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thigh cutlets, 1 lb seasoned sausage, cut into 3″ pieces (I used apple & onion, but a plain breakfast link with work too), 2 medium sweet/Vidalia onions, cut into wedges, 1 big sprig of fresh rosemary, 3 medium carrots, cut into diagonal slices, 1/4 tsp pepper flakes (optional), 3 cups chicken broth, 2 cup water (or 1 good quality bouillon cube with 5 cups of water), salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning, 2 tbs olive oil, freshly chopped parsley for garnish (if you have it).

Preheat oven 400*

sear thighs until brown..

1 – Add 2 tbs of oil to big saute pan (one that can be transferred to the oven) and place on stove-top on high heat. When oil is hot, brown chicken thighs (2 minutes per side). Set aside on plate.

2 – Next brown your sausages and set aside on plate.

3 – Turn heat down (add a little more oil if needed) and add onions. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the carrots and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add rosemary, cover pan and cook for another 5 minutes.

Place in oven with lid for 20 or so minutes

4 – Add meat back to pan along with the liquid, pepper flakes and a few grinds of pepper. Turn heat up and bring to a boil. When it boils place in oven for 20 minutes (or until the thighs are very tender). Garnish with more pepper flakes and parsley if you like. Serve with pasta or rice and a little salad.

Gooseberry Jam

When I was young I ate plain bread with butter and jam all the time. Nowadays it is something I never think about having. Maybe it’s because the jams I like have to be special in some way. I grew up where marmalade was a constant companion of morning toast and tea and where, in the summer the countryside would be filled with kids doing all sorts of dangerous things just to pick ripening black and red berries. You would come home with scratched-up, fruit-dyed fingers and present your treasure to your mother who would then turn it in to lovely pots of jam – yum!

Pot of Gooseberry Jam

When I come across a nice pot of jam, I cannot resist buying it. I don’t really use jam for many things so the jam gets forgotten in the pantry, until a day like today comes along and a pot of jam gets discovered while looking for a jar of mustard. Today’s find was a pot of gooseberry jam. It was made by the Follain company (which means wholesome in Irish) in County Cork. For those of you who have never seen a gooseberry, it grows on straggling bushes and is round in shape (as big as an average-sized grape), is lightly hairy with spiny veins that can be seen through it’s translucent skin. It is generally green but there is a red variety. They are great eaten right off the bush but they also make lovely jam.

My lunch today was a piece of toasted fresh white country bread with a nice slather of my forgotten Gooseberry Jam!

Mussels & Squid with Red Sauce and Pasta Shells (serves 6)

When I go to my favorite supermarket I hot-foot it straight to the bakery counter and buy some loaves of Tuscan Garlic bread and some lovely white bread called Pain de Champagne.  I buy as many loaves as my freezer can stand, (right when I get home I pull out a slice, slather it in butter and eat it with a crisp little tipple of white wine – absolutely always).

Next, it’s off to the to the fish counter….it is a heavenly place full of beautiful fresh fish and seafood. I know I won’t be back for weeks so I buy something delicate, something that has barely been out of the water, so, we always have some sort of seafood dish that same evening.

Yesterday I saw for the first time this season soft-shell crab. It was so tempting to buy. There is nothing better than a soft-shell crab fried in butter. When it is this fresh, when the shell is practically a sheath over the body you can eat the entire thing! I had to pass as each one cost more than a chicken dinner for 6!

The shop was capitalizing on it being the first of the season and preying on the purses of the weak-willed with more money than sense. After much drooling, myself and my children ended up with 1 pound of squid tentacles and 2 pounds of mussels – cheap but delicious sea creatures!

I Also bought a can of San Marzano tomatoes, so my dinner menu was set. With the burden of shopping late, and putting everything away I had armed myself with fast and easy dinner ingredients.

Ocean-y Dinner..

I also love having lots of different varieties of onions on hand. I blindly put onions into almost every dinner I cook. There are so many types to choose from nowadays?

My new favorite is Vidalia or Sweet onions, but I love to have shallots and pearl onions in the mix too. Yesterday I spied some cipollini onions (pronounced chip-oh-LEE-nees, whose name means “little onions,” in Italian) and thought they would be great to try in my red sauce? Since I was going in the Italian direction with dinner I figured why not? They are squat little onions that are a little bigger than a pearl onion and have a papery thin skin (which is sort of a pain to get off).

They are mildly sweet and hold together well. They are also great for roasting whole because of their flat bottoms (at least a desirable trait in some things).

Cipollini Onions

So what we ended up with last night was a lovely seafood pasta dish. It was quick to make with very minimal chopping. In it’s praise, all I can say is, we all wished there were leftovers..


You will need: 2 lbs mussels, washed & scrubbed, 1 lb squid tentacles, rinsed, 9 cipollini onions, peeled & quartered, 1 28oz tin of whole San Marzano tomatoes with their juices, sliced, 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1/4 cup white wine, 1/2 cup kalamata olives (pitted or with stone in), 4 garlic cloves, chopped, 1/4 tsp chili flakes, 1 lb pasta shells (I use Barilla brand), 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning.

Cipollini & Garlic

1 – Add the oil to a big saute pan on low heat (big enough to hold the entire dinner when done) and toss in the onions and cook for 4 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes or so.

Add tomatoes and bring to a bubble..

2 – Add the white wine and turn up heat and let it bubble until wine has reduced to about 1 tbs. Add the tomatoes, chili flakes, several grinds of pepper and the olives and bring everything to a bubble. Turn down heat, add parsley and cook at a gentle simmer with lid on for 15 minutes.

3 – While the sauce is cooking put pot of water on for pasta. When it boils add some salt and cook pasta according to instructions. Before draining scoop out about 1/2 cup of pasta water in case you need it for your sauce.

4 – When sauce has cooked for 15 minutes, take lid off and add the squid and mussels. Turn up heat slightly and cook until all the mussel shells have opened. Stir every now and then. This should take no longer than 5 minutes or so.

5 – Add drained pasta and gently stir everything together. Add reserved pasta water if you want a brothier consistency. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper if you think it needs it. (go easy on the salt initially as the olives may add enough salt to the dish)

A very tasty dish!

Serve topped with a little more pepper flakes and some fresh parsley.

Chicken & Creamy Basil with Linguine (serves 6)

Last night was “Relative Night” as in, I made dinner for my mother-in-law, her sister, my sister-in-law, her children and my family, a packed house! Everyone was arriving at 6.30 pm and expecting to eat soon after?  I was in the supermarket at 5.30pm with only a vague notion of what I would be cooking? This was a tough crowd, Diane (mother-in-law) loved food but had a limited diet, her sister…. I had no idea about her likes and dislikes, my sister-in-law didn’t like the texture of mushrooms and kids being kids put a damper on many options.

The Dinner that worked for everyone!

When I cook for a crowd I never think about separating the kids from the adults. I absolutely do not belive in making “kid food” as I call it, and sticking them at a different table – why do people do that? No wonder kids have a hard time communicating with adults and vice versa – they have no practice! If kids are at the same table, enjoying the same food, they feel part of the group and get use to expressing themselves. There is nothing nicer than being around a table where grown-ups and children are all talking and laughing ( on occasion, the kid at the table can sometimes end up being the most interesting person to talk to!).

So how to please everyone? I knew that Diane loved the dark meat of chicken (only) and that pasta was universally liked by adults and kids.  I started to think about creamy chicken with pasta? There is a dish in Italy that is based on a creamy sauce with pasta and is finished in the oven. I’m sure there are endless variations? So, using those guidelines I ran around the shop grabbing ingredients. I called my husband and asked if Diane liked mushrooms?? He told me to not think about what people liked and didn’t like and to just cook! Dispelling my worries about what to use or not to use I armed myself with cream, chicken thighs, mushrooms and fresh basil!

Dinner turned out great in every way. My sister-in-law brought over a couple of bottles of prosecco which was fantastic with the chicken. A night with the relatives can go in any direction and last night will be remembered by me as a table full of loud happy talking and empty plates  – what could be better..

You will need – 12 to 14 boneless, skinless, thigh cutlets (cutlets are on the small side), 1 medium sweet onion (Vidalia), diced,  4 garlic cloves finely chopped, 8 oz white mushrooms, slices, 4 cups (2 big bunches) of fresh basil leaves, left whole, 1 1/2 cups white wine,  3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tbs olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning, pepper flakes (optional), Parmigiano Reggiana cheese (optional), 1 lb linguine pasta (I use Barilla brand).

Sear meat on both sides - don't crowd pan or meat will not brown!

1 – Wash and dry chicken ( I always wash chicken?) and season with salt and pepper. Using a big saute pan on high heat with oil, brown thighs on both sides (2 minutes per side). Remove to a plate and turn heat down to low.

2 – Add onions and garlic to pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft.  Add mushrooms and continue to cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until onions begin to brown.

Add chicken back to pan after wine comes to a boil..

3 – Turn heat up to high and add wine. When it comes to a boil put chicken back into pan. Turn heat down to low (until you have a small simmer going), cover and cook for 20 minutes, at which time the chicken will be cooked.

4 – While chicken is cooking preheat oven to 400* and put pot of water on for pasta. When water boils cook pasta according to instructions (the pasta should be cooked about the time you need to add it to your pan). *Reserve  1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining into colander.

Ready to bake..

5 – When chicken is cooked remove to a plate and turn up heat under pan and add cream. Let the sauce bubble gently for 3 minutes. Put the chicken back into pan, add drained pasta, reserved pasta water and 3 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves. Mix everything gently and place in oven. Time for 10 minutes then cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Take out and let it sit covered for about 10 minute to let all the flavors meld and settle.

Chicken with Creamy Basil & Linguine

Garnish with all or any of the following: pepper flakes, fresh basil leaves and Parmigiano Reggiana cheese.