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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Tava tender lovin’ lamb

How do you cook-melt-in-your-mouth, falling-off-the-bone meat??

Beats the hell outta me!

After years and years and YEARS of fighting with my oven and overcooking every cut of meat ever invented, I was about to give up. I really was. I felt all those TV chefs, who I have spent most of the Saturday mornings of my adult life watching, were lying to me. Cheaper cuts my arse, they worked no better than the expensive ones. I just didn’t get it.

Sometimes I blamed my lack of roasting prowess on the fact I was (am) normally quite hungover for my Saturday Kitchen Live marathons, and hence found (find) it difficult to absorb many, or in fact, any details beyond thinking stuff looks yummo.  Then, for a while I went through a phase of blaming my oven, stupid oven.

Now I realise patience is the key. Lots and lots and lots of patience. And not being hungry when you start, that’s also important. If you begin to feel peckish, resist the urge to turn up the oven; instead pour a glass of wine and go stalk someone on Facebook, or whatever it is you usually do to distract yourself. Temperature knob twiddling will not yield melt in your mouth meat, no sir.

This recipe is from Tessa Kiros’ wonderful book Falling Cloudberries. I heart her style of cooking so much; it’s simple, totally unpretentious, and unbelievably delicious.

Tava – Cypriot baked lamb and potatoes with cumin and tomatoes

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Sweet chicken tagine with minted couscous

Like every other person on this planet, I love to travel. It’s funny isn’t it, how people nowadays think of ‘travelling’ as a hobby? Yet another thing we can thank the intrepid Mr. Michael O’Leary for, I guess. Anyways, everyone loves holidays, no surprises there. But I’m the only person I know who picks a destination based on what kind of food you’ll get. Feck culture, I’m hungry.

Paris may have the Musée d’Orsay, but it also has dark and interesting brasseries and a boulangerie on every corner. Yumo! As for Barcelona; yeah, yeah, Gaudí was great, challenged modern architecture like never before, but is it nearly time for paella? I could continue but I may be labelled a philistine, or worse yet, a lush.

Anyway, the point of this is that when I go away, I try to take a cookery course if I can. These types of courses generally include a trip to the local market to buy ingredients, where you can learn, see and smell all kinds of weird and wonderful things. It can be really interesting, however you are likely to come home with a handful of recipes that call for pandan leaves or galangal root or other such exotic items you don’t generally come across in Dunnes Stores.

Not so with my trip to Marrakesh a few years ago. This recipe only calls for things you generally would have at home, or at the very least could easily find in the local shop. And it is de-lic-ious. I was taught to make this by a woman at a riad (I’ve been looking for the website but can’t seem to find it unfortunately). Riads are small courtyard houses, many of which have been converted into amazing boutique hotels. I spent a few hours at the riad, learning all the tricks and tips the cook had to offer. Later that evening, The Fella and I came back to be served our meal by the plunge pool on the roof and feel totally decadent!

Sweet chicken tagine (or tajine) with minted couscous

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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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Feeling chilli

About two months ago, in a fit of romance, The Fella gave me a chilli plant. Now, I’m pretty dire at all things plant related. Most green and sprouting things like to shrivel up and die if I even so much as look at them, but it seems chillies are a hardy lot. Or else, maybe I’m getting better.

So my plant stayed green and the chillies stayed red and shiny and very pretty. So pretty, I didn’t want to pick any for fear of ruining my bourgeoning green-fingered illusion. That was until last week, when I noticed some of the chillies were starting to look more shrively than shiny. It appeared I’d done it again.

I pruned and managed to save a lot. But then I had to think about what to do with a large quantity of fairly hot chillies at extreamly short notice. As neither I, nor my digestive system, fancied eating curries for a month; I decided it was time to learn the ancient art of preserving. Enter Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking (I heart her!) and hey presto we have lift (your head) off chilli jam. Delicious on sangwiches, cold meats, cheese, or anything that needs a wee bit of a kick!

Tomato and chilli jam

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