Salt and pepper squid and neglected partners

Salt and pepper squid with five-spice

Who here doesn’t feed their partner enough or properly? Is it just me?

The Fella is kind of, slightly, severely allergic to fish and seafood. Something I really find quite inconvenient, and just a little bit annoying. Have I really just agreed to marry a man who can’t ever eat fish, like ever?

The upside of this little issue is that when we eat out, I can always order the fish. I also get to have a taste of his dish and never have to share any of my own. Double brilliant!

The downside is, whenever I decide to make fish at home I get hit with a myriad of complaints:

“Fish?! Ahhhh but what am I going to eat?”

“Eaugh, it smells like fish, I HATE fish and I’m hungry…”

“Why don’t you ever feed me? Don’t you love me?”

Salt and pepper mix

I’d go on, but I suspect you get the point.

I indulged in a little bit of partner neglect last weekend when I whipped up some salt and pepper squid. I ignored the foot stomping and jibes about how he is wasting away; and how a proper little woman would look after her man by making him a nice (large) lunch of the non-fishy variety. Instead, I set to work on not overcooking the squid.

When it comes to fish and seafood, I lack a lot of confidence, possibly because I cook it so rarely. But several visits to Sydney Seafood School in the past year (and more to come – thanks to my lovely family!) have really helped. I’ve learned that the trick for beautiful tender squid is all in the preparation.  Squid is delicious; rubber is not so much. But with a little bit of practice, I’m pleased to say I pulled it off – delicious, rubber-free, spicy, crispy squid. Although, I guess you’ll just have to take my word on that. As I was the only one eating it, no-one will ever really know for sure, will they?

Salt and pepper squid

Salt and pepper squid

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Jamie Oliver’s chicken challenge

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad

This week I took the plunge and decided my kitchen needed to get messy. So I tried a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals. Oh hells yeah! I decided to bring it.

Did I manage it? Eh…. no.

Now, I love Jamie as much as the next person. His recipes are delicious, no nonsense and always work, but I’m not too sure what he’s at with this everyone-can-cook-faster-than-the-speed-of-light malarkey. Honestly like. I know there have been about 20 bazillion blog posts written about how it’s nigh-on impossible to make any of his meals in either 30 or 15 minutes, so I’m not going to go there again; but I do think it’s a shame he’s made such a rod for his own back. I get the point he’s trying to make: food can be quick, easy and tasty if you’re clever about how you prepare it. However, I think that people in general are pedantic and once they can’t make something in the allotted time limit they will immediately call the whole venture a failure.

Well, this beautiful salad took me longer than 15 minutes to make, and afterwards my kitchen did look like a bomb had hit it; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, in fact I urge you to. The mix of flavours, texture, spice and sweetness is incredibly yummie and it’s pretty healthy to boot. It’s definitely one worth waiting for!

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad

Blackened Chicken and San Fran Quinoa Salad close up

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Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad

Irish flag Aussie salad

Well it’s that time of year again, when the entire world commandeers my nationality and dyes everything green. Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

Paddy’s day as an expat is a strange experience to say the least, although I’d say it would be worse for Irish people living in the States. It’s such a big deal, a day that everyone knows about, but no one is really sure what’s it for. According to the rest of the world St Patrick was some drunk bloke who wore oversized green top hats and said thirty-three and a third a lot.

This year I’m OK with it though, people can think what they want to as long as it makes them happy. And if they get a bit of craic out of it, sure all the better.

Leprechauns and mangos

The Fella thinks I’m an absolute disgrace to my country for posting this picture, he thinks I deserve to get my passport taken off me because of it. But I say, if the world wants leprechauns, why not give them leprechauns?

You can all blather on about corned beef (baffling and disgusting in equal measures), leprechauns (just plain lame) and pots of gold (I don’t know if any of you folks heard, but Ireland is currently owned by the IMF) as much as you like and I won’t bat an eyelid. But, I would really like to remind everyone that there are actually two other colours in the Irish flag. Yes folks, believe it or not there is some orange and white in there too! I know right? It just blows your mind.

I made this salad as an homage to the oft-forgotten tricolour, where mango represents the orange and macadamia the white. An Australian take on my national flag if you were, as mangos and macadamia nuts are a little harder to come by in county Louth.

I will be celebrating Paddy’s day in Sydney CBD with The Fella and his family and I’ve no doubt there won’t be a tractor or a bunch of shamrocks in sight, but it will be fun none the less. And I hope you have the craic too, wherever you are in the world and however you choose to celebrate; but I do ask this: as you’re tucking into your green beer, do save a thought for the tricolour, sure it’s a grand wee flag!

Upsidedown Paddy’s day tricolour salad – spinach, mango and macadamia

Tri colour salad

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Sunny blue swimmer crabs

New Year’s Eve in Sydney is something very special indeed. I would urge everyone, at some point in their lives, to try and spend it here. I mean, who doesn’t love fireworks? Or spectacular harbours? I’ve been watching some clips on the web, but none of them really do the experience justice.

Blue swimmer crab

However, perhaps I should mention that I don’t really have much else to compare it to. Like, I’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, New York or even London. Up until the point I moved to Australia the majority of my New Year’s celebrations had been in smelly pubs, dodgy nightclubs and other equally glamorous venues throughout Ireland. One memorable year, my date and I were politely (not) asked to leave a county Louth nightclub in sub-zero temperatures because he had fallen asleep under a Christmas tree. Needless to say the relationship didn’t last. The last year The Fella spent at home was with friends, in what was almost certainly the coldest house in Ireland. The central heating broke just as it was beginning to snow outside; so we had to drink buckets of alcohol, purely to keep warm, obviously.

Hence spending New Years in the sunny, warm and party-soaked atmosphere of Sydney is a welcome change. There are no deputes on where to go (see venues described above), or what to wear (party clothes don’t tend to be that warm), or how you’re going to get home (taxis mysteriously disappear on NYE at home). Instead you grab a nice bottle of vino and picnic blanket and make your way to the nearest park, to lounge in the sun for the day and enjoy the midnight show.

This year, I treated myself to a very special lunch. Eating seafood in the sunshine with a crisp white wine isn’t a bad way to finish off the year, not too bad at all.

Roll on 2013; I can’t wait to see what it brings!

Happy New Year!

Steamed blue swimmer crabs with vermicelli noodles in a lemon soy dressing

Steamed blue swimmer crabs with vermicelli noodles in a lemon soy dressing

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Chorizo, mixed bean and rocket salad

crispy and golden chorizo

Question: when is a salad not a salad?

Answer: when it’s got chorizo in it!! YUMO!

One thing I’ve learnt recently is that chorizo is apparently not a diet food. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not me. I’m one of these people who think once you stick the word ‘salad’ onto anything, it’s automatically super healthy and not at all bad for you. Oh why can’t that just be true?

So when I made this salad recently and brought it to a dinner at the house of two dieting friends I wasn’t met with lip smacking or smiles. Oh no, instead I was educated about kilojoules, fat and carb ratios and other exciting stuff like that; because that’s just what I need, another thing to worry over and feel guilty about.

Chorizo and mixed bean salad

“But it’s a salad…” I pleaded.

“No” I was told, “it’s got chorizo in it, so it doesn’t count”.

In fairness, our friends are doing great and look absolutely fab. Maybe taking some of their advice wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Mixed beans

This recipe is from the Avoca Salads cookbook. Any Irish readers will be familiar with the Avoca shops and cafes and will already be drooling and deciding they need to eat this immediately. For all you lovely foreigners, Avoca is a chain of uber-yummie-mummie shops in Dublin and Wicklow. You have to be a yummie mummie to a) have the time to hang out at the cafes with other yummie-friends and b) afford many of the country-chic-organic-handmade foods stuffs, clothes and nick nacks.

Maybe one day I will have the accompanying children and salary to justify my Avoca obsession, although it’s not going to be one day soon. In the mean-time I’ll just continue to buy their cookbooks and delude myself about the health benefits of certain salads.

Chorizo, mixed bean and rocket salad

Chorizo & mixed bean salad

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Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

heirloom & cherry tomatoes

There’s a building right at the edge of North Sydney with a giant digital time and temperature display that I’m kind of obsessed with.

Every morning, as I drive past, I mentally take note of the temperature. Without fail. It’s kind of a morning ritual for me, like coffee and newspapers. I think it might be an Irish thing; as a nationality, we do tend to be unreasonably fascinated by temperature.

Take your annual summer holiday for instance; sure you couldn’t be expected to have a good foreign holiday until the mercury reaches at least 30 °C. You see, you just wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth. Sure what would be the point of leaving the country if you didn’t get pure roasted alive?!

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Likewise, hot days at home are monitored with fascination – jaysus, the winky weatherman said it’s going to be 23 °C tomorrow! Oh holy god! I may dig out the shorts, let’s bring the kids to the beach, and ring the neighbors, we’re going to have a barbeque, god it’ll be great to get a bit of tan! – would be the typical thought process of many an Irish person on the annual day of summer.

Neither would a Skype conversation with anyone from home be complete without an enquiry about the temperature. It’s one hot topic!

So, true to my race, I check the temperature on my drive to work every morning, and think about what a mental country Australia is. Last Friday it was 19 °C at 7.03 am. I kid you not.

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Let me just put that into context for you: at seven in the morning, in the spring, it was as warm as it sometimes ever gets in the middle of the day in Ireland in summer.

I think that means summer is officially on it’s way. Australian summer, obviously.   

To celebrate, I made a wonky heirloom Caprese salad, because nothing tastes more like sunshine than tomatoes and basil. I used some juicy heirloom tomatoes and chopped everything up so roughly, you’d swear I don’t even own a knife. Then, I sat in the back garden, soaked up some rays and enjoyed it.

Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

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Creamy, sundried surprise

So it’s time for another pasta surprise; because everyone loves pasta and surprises, hoo-raa!

Pasta surprise is all kinds of super and as yumbolicious regulars will know, it’s one of my favourite things to make.

It’s great because you get to clear out the contents of your fridge; while avoiding the supermarket (always good on a midweek evening) and all in under the guise of experimentation. And the big plus? Well it’s pretty hard to go wrong, but if you ever do, you can nearly always do an emergency rescue job with some cheese and a good grill!

This pasta surprise is veering dangerously towards poshness, but I swear it was a fridge clearing exercise that went exceptionally well. So well in fact, that I committed it to memory and made it again and again and again. And you should too.

Creamy, sundried tomato and chicken rigatoni

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Mussel months

When I was a kid my Mam always said you should only eat mussels during months with an ‘R’ in them. And as everyone knows, Mothers know everything. So when my Mam came to visit me recently in Sydney, I decided we should have some March mussels, just because.

I love love love all types of seafood, but mussels are by far my favourite. Every year when my brother and I were little we were be brought to Dunany beach in the wee country of Louth to pick them. We used to pick bucketfuls; and I have a clear image of bringing them home and filling up the bath with them. But presumably this couldn’t be right, how could we have got that many home in the first place? Beats me. But once a year we did pick them and would have a fresh mussel feast. We always enjoyed the whole day hugely!

Since I met The Fella I eat a lot less fish; he’s a little bit severely allergic, which does pose a slight problem. So now when I do eat anything from the sea, it’s always a total treat.

My Man and I didn’t pick these mussels, unless you count driving to Sydney Fish Markets and back. But I did follow her tried and tested recipe from way back when, and they were so very delicious. Enjoy them quickly, before May rolls around.

Mam’s Mussels

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Potato and egg salad with fennel and lemon

I’m all about dinner salads; love them I do. It’s great to pile loads of tasty and (sometimes) healthy food onto a plate and call it dinner. Add a dash of dressing, crusty bread for some dippage and you have a great mid-week supper.

Although, perhaps this dinner salad lark is just another way for me to delude myself into thinking I’m healthy.

This recipe is absolutely wonderful; I’ve adapted it from Epicurious and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It takes minutes to prepare and has a beautiful array of flavours and textures. Boring oul egg salad it ain’t! Let it brighten up a midweek dinner table near you, and soon.

Potato and egg salad with fennel and lemon

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Pretty potato salad

Look at how pretty spuds can be! So pretty in fact, I will have to revert to their proper title and start to call them potatoes. How fancy.

I had never intended to post this; it was simply going to be a random Thursday dinner. I had green beans that I needed to use. I had some spuds, I spotted some juicy baby roma tomatoes in the corner shop, and that was going to be it. But once it was all on a plate, it all looked so gosh darned pretty, that I just had to take a snap and share it with you all.

Just goes to show, all you need for a yummy dinner is super fresh ingredients and zilch all else.

Pretty potato salad

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Chicken satay pizza

Oh dear, I seem to have created an uber-addictive and calorie ridden tour de force.

Anyone who is on a diet, please proceed with caution. I’m pretty sure this harmless looking snack contains oh, about 79 bazillion weight watchers points per slice. By all means make it, but when the top button of your pants starts to object don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This recipe is from one of The Fella’s cookbooks from back in his bachelor days. It’s a wonder he found a girlfriend at all, given how much he likes this pizza; although I suspect all the faffing about with yeast and dough probably put him off making it too often.

I’ve adapted the recipe and made my own satay sauce, rather then just using a jar. So now I have plenty left over for chicken or prawns or the more traditional satay companions. Satay makes a super interesting pizza sauce and this recipe has actually inspired me to experiment a bit more with what I would consider to be stapes in a recipe.

I would definitely recommend you chuck the diet out the window, go forth and be adventurous with peanuts!

Satay sauce and chicken satay pizza

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Haloumi salad

Is there anything in this world better than fried cheese? Really? I’m pretty sure it’s virtually impossible to beat, even with a super-long-great-big stick.

I actually wonder what was going through Mr Haloumi’s mind when he was inventing it? I like to think the thought process went something like this:

Mmmmmm, cheese really is some kind of super food, totally healthy and not at all packed with fat. No, no, no. So how could I make it appeal to the non-healthy eating market? … conundrum … I know, let’s FRY IT! Whoop!

Genius.

So to counteract it’s many health benefits, I’ve paired the Haloumi with super fresh, calorie-free veggies in a yummie salad of my own inventing (that sounds so way better then admitting these ingredients were all I could find in the fridge).

I know there are the Haloumi haters out there, who think it’s too chewy and salty and just plain weird. Well I just say bah to them, the less they eat, the more there is for me, right? But I did cook my Haloumi with a squeeze of lemon juice, just to cut through that saltiness, then paired it with a little lemon dressing and Bob’s your Uncle, you have yumness on a plate.

Haloumi salad

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The dreaded pesto

This recipe is for my dad.

Dad is usually very adventurous about what he’ll eat, with one major exception: he cannot and will not abide pesto.

He was raised on a diet of spuds, cabbage and bacon that bored him to tears; so now he has an appetite for absolutely anything. He has been known to disgust friends and colleagues in posh French restaurants with a penchant for things that crawl on the sea bed (raw, of course). And in college he was affectionately known as Two-Dinners-Dillon. This is a man who likes his food.

This all worked out well for him, as my mother is an absolutely cracking cook. However, as a working mother of four, she has, on occasion been known to favour convenience over taste. So when the first incarnation of this strange concoction called pesto arrived on Quinnsworth’s shelves in the late 80s, it didn’t matter that it actually tasted like something an animal might try and bury. No, no in my mother’s eyes it was new, foreign and exciting. And more importantly, it could be poured over a pot of just cooked pasta, meaning dinner for six could be prepared in approximately 14 minutes. Dad hated it and it became known in our house as “The Dreaded Pesto”. Eventually he just boycotted it, which drove my mother mad. And to the best of my knowledge, pesto (fresh or otherwise) hasn’t darkened the door of their fridge ever since.

I, on the other hand love love love LOVE pesto. It can be used to dress up absolutely anything, from a plain old cheese sandwich, to salad dressings, to meats; and (my favourite) baked spuds. Limiting it to pasta is just an injustice. This recipe is lovely; it has quite a different taste to basil pesto, not as sweet and with a hint of smokiness from the walnuts. I think it’s what pesto would have tasted like if it had been invented by the Irish.

So this one’s for you Dad, one taste and I promise you’ll be hooked!

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Summery tart

This week spring well and truly descended onto Sydney, and it got HOT. It has been lovely and bright in the mornings and when I leave the office each evening. We’ve started sleeping with the windows open every night.

So, I started what I feel may become a springtime ritual in Australia: I worried about how many bugs we’re going to have come summer (which was sparked by finding a baby huntsman spider in my kitchen, eek); and I fretted about by my poor très-burnable Irish skin.

But I also hit the interwebs in search of light, bright, summery, yummery food to cook. I’ve resolved to eat no more stodge until May. During my search I found this beautiful tart on one of my favourite websites: Delicious. And it was oh so colourful, simple and delicious. I served it with a crisp green salad it really hit the spot. Plus it gave The Fella ample opportunities to make super hilarious innuendos about all kinds of tarts, like, who doesn’t love a good tart on a hot day? But maybe the less said about that the better….

Tomato, chive and Brie tart

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Unorthodox souvlaki

One disappointment I’ve had since coming to Australia has been my experience of the great Australian Barbecue. Now, don’t get me wrong, these Ozzys do love their outdoor cooking, but it’s just not quite as I’d expected.

I really should use this information to challenge my stereotypes; as I’m sure the Ozzys appreciate hearing ‘throw a shrimp on the barbie’ about as much as I welcome idiots saying ‘top o’the morning to ye’.

Most self-respecting Ozzy barbecuers have a large gas-powered or electric grill on their patio, instead of the tray of smoking, glowing coals that we’re so fond of on the annual three days of Irish summertime. And I can see why they do; it’s simply easier to control a grill. You’re less liable give your friends salmonella with pieces of charred chicken that are still raw on the inside, or turn a sausage into a weapon, or transform a nice juicy steak into something you could wear on your feet.

But really, isn’t that really half the fun?!

So, anyway, the point of all this is, I found this recipe for souvlaki, which are meant to be cooked on a barbecue. Not actually owning a barbecue, I opted to cook these on an electric grill (albeit an indoor one). And although, I know this was unauthentic, they still tasted soooo good.

I know many many Greek people are probably cursing my existence night now, but in my defence, I was excited to try these and simply couldn’t wait until summer. But once it does come around, I’ll cook them again, on a proper, smoking, coal barbecue and I’m sure they will taste even better again!

Souvlaki with salad and tzatziki in pita bread

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