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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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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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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Spring green salad

I’ve been a bit hard on myself these past few weeks. Like that dude, Bear Grylls, I’ve been putting myself through a mad-hard endurance test. Except, I haven’t been scaling mountains or eating bugs. No, my fortitude has been tested in a far more boring manner: I’ve been working a lot, not sleeping much and drinking far too much alcohol than should even be allowed. Which is pretty much the same as the entire working world in the run up to Christmas.

Anyways, after a few weeks of this abuse, my immune system has finally given me the finger, packed up and gone on strike. And within seconds, my old friend herpes simplex seized his chance and erected a tribute to an erupting Mount Vesuvius on my bottom lip. Very attractive.

Apparently I need vitamins. Stat!

Isn’t it funny though, when your body really needs healthy nourishment; all you want to eat is beans on toast? Which are pretty vitamin deficient I think. But this salad saved me, and more importantly, it got my immune system and me into peace talks. It’s totally healthy but it doesn’t feel like you’re eating rabbit food. Oh no, instead you get all the lovely, herby goodness, nicely balanced with the salty feta and finished off with the crunchy toasted pitas; satisfying the demands of both taste buds and immune system in one go. Nice one!

Broad bean fattoush

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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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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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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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Yumbo feta and chickpea salad

Salads: Love them? Hate them? Nothing them?

Mmmmm? This is a difficult one.

When I was a small child, I don’t remember ever having salad. Then at some point in the latter half of the eighties, Ireland must have discovered iceberg lettuce. And thus began the many crimes against salad that my poor home country is so guilty of. Wet. Limp. Tasteless. Familiar to anyone?

“Eat your salad, it’s good for you” my mam would growl across the dinner table; leaving my brother and me with the firm belief that anything good for you couldn’t, and probably shouldn’t, taste nice.

Then the nineties rolled around and with them the Celtic tiger. We were suddenly awash with such foreign goodies as sun-blush tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Things in the salad department were suddenly starting to look up. And in fairness, we’ve come a long way since then: like Iarnród Éireann, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

These Australians on the other hand, they have this whole salad-making lark down. They know their stuff and they are not afraid to flaunt it. This recipe was given to me by The Fella’s sister; she’s a great cook and always willing to share her secrets. I think this salad actually started out as a way to serve feta from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. But, it has now morphed almost beyond all recognition into a hearty dinner salad (yes, a salad can be hearty!). Just serve with a crispy bread roll on the side and you’ve a super tasty meal for two.

I know some of you will be tempted to skimp on the garlic, but don’t be afraid of it! It totally makes this salad. You’d do it an injustice by skimping, and salads have been done enough injustice already.

Yumbo feta and chickpea salad

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Little miss figgy

I love figs. Yummie, sticky, foreign bundles of goodness. The operative word there being: foreign. Growing up on the oh-so-tropical island of Ireland figs weren’t exactly ten a penny. Unless of course you count the dried or fig-rolled varieties, which don’t really taste the same. Instead, these were slightly strange looking yokes found only on Mediterranean summer holidays and in racy short stories by Enda O’Brien.

So a few days ago when I was walking past my (now) local fruit shop in Sydney and spotted a whole tray of these little parcels of yum, I just had to get some. Once I got them home though I will admit, I was a little stumped about what to actually do with them. Enter the Avoca Salads book and an idea was born (or borrowed).

As ever, I didn’t quite stick to the recipe. I tried to grill the figs to caramelise them and make them that little bit sweeter. I had this idea that they would get lovely griddle pan scorch marks on them and look really cool. They didn’t. But they did caramelise slightly and I served them still a little warm. I think it worked, The Fella certainly didn’t complain.

Fig, goat’s cheese and pine nuts salad

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