The real reason I moved to Australia

Avocado on toasted sourdough with a squeeze of lime

Was it because the troika have taken over Ireland, and now you’re all poor?

Or maybe, because you’re allergic to rain?

Perhaps you just had enough of being called a culchie by all those Dublin jackeens?

Oh no, it was for love right? For the grá of your Australian Fella, the one you’re going to marry, it’s got to be for that, right?

WRONG!

Folks, the real reason I moved to the big red land down under had nothing to do with recession, rain for even love. Let’s be honest here; it was for avocados.

Yes. I said avocados.

Avocado on toasted sourdough with fresh cracked black pepper

When I was a child, my mother had a strict rule. Whenever any family member went abroad to warmer climates, they were warned not to bring home duty-free or Toblerone. Instead they were charged with smuggling ripe avocados into the country. My brother and I must have been the only children growing up in the north east of Ireland in the eighties who had avocado addictions. Hell, we must have been the only children for miles around who knew what avocados were! They weren’t spuds that much was for sure.

Things haven’t changed much since then. When I still lived in Ireland I would buy (imported) avocados in bulk and ripen them in the hot press. Yes, like a crazy lady. Now, I live on a much bigger island, one where ripe avocados are very commonplace; and they taste unreal! Gone are the days of waiting ages for an avocado to be ripe; now I can buy a luscious, nutty fruit in my local corner shop, open it up, and immediately spread it on my toast. I’ll repeat that for the folks back home, yes, I did say SPREAD. In Australia, the avocados are spreadable, like some kind of delicious, green butter. Are you beginning to understand my reasons for emigration?

You might all think that avocado on toast is pretty much a non-recipe, but I say, don’t dare knock it until you’ve tried it. I eat this about three times a week, for breakfast, brunch or even a midweek dinner.  And I can guarantee, if you can get quality avocados with super-fresh sourdough bread, you too will fall in love. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!

Avocado on toasted sourdough

Avocado on toasted sourdough slice

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Rabbit food anyone?

What do you think of when you hear the word: lentil?

Let’s be honest here, lentils don’t have a very good reputation do they?  One that’s not actually very fair.

If you hear the word and immediately think of greeny environmental types with dreadlocks and hemp clothes; who only eat grass, soy and hard-as-old-boots rye bread, then you seriously need to think again. And pronto, rabbit food they ain’t. In fact, these miniature pulses are so super yum it almost beggers belief.

When I was little, my Mam did cook lentils a lot. I remember eating them smothered in butter and lemon juice and really enjoying them. But for some reason as I got older, they fell off my radar, only recently to reappear. And to be honest, I can’t believe I’ve wasted so many lentil-free years. They would have been an absolute god send in my student years:  cheap AND nutritious AND filling AND tasty, how come nobody reminded me about them?

As it has been slightly chillier than normal here in Sydney these past few weeks, I’ve been eating them with lots of yummie winter veggies, making some frugal but filling and oh-so-tasty mid-week suppers.  I put this dish together myself, basically because I thought the flavours would go well together: the sweetness of the roast squash and red onion is perfectly balanced with the saltiness of the feta, the rocket gives a peppery twist and the lentils are nutty, rich and wintery.

If you’re out to change your opinion of these nutty little guys, give this dish a try. It’s best enjoyed on a cold, dark evening with a nice glass of red. Hemp scarves and hats are optional.

Puy lentils with roast squash, caramelised red onion, rocket and feta

Continue reading

Hey Pesto!

There are currently four things growing in my back garden: an abundance of nondescript weeds, a deranged passion-fruit vine, a pretty hardy rosemary bush and more oregano than a small Mediterranean nation could eat in a year.

I am an atrocious gardener, but this is not for lack of trying. I frequently plant all kinds of interesting and edible things, only to watch them wilt and die before my very eyes. I have absolutely no idea why these four plants manage to thrive where all else fails.

So what do you do when you’ve a garden full of oregano and you don’t fancy eating roast lamb non-stop for the next year? You make pesto, yummo!

I love love LOVE pesto, although this love is not shared my all members of my family. I think it can be used to dress up absolutely anything from pasta to sandwiches to veggies to dressings; it’s pretty much an all-round genius sauce, and oregano pesto is no exception.

Pesto purists beware; for this recipe I totally parted with tradition and just used what I had to hand: oregano from the garden (obviously), Pecorino I found on special in Harris Farm Markets and macadamia nuts (to make it a bit more ‘Stralian!). And I was more than happy with the delicious results.

Oregano, Pecorino and macadamia nut pesto

Continue reading

Dippage dips

Like most Irish people my age, I went to a Catholic school, and as such got loads of exposure to all the bible stories. One in particular always stood out in my mind: the story of the last supper. The reason being, that I could never understand how wine and bread could constitute a meal. As an eight year old, this was probably the detail that bothered me the most, which suggests I may have slightly missed the point.

Fast forward 17 or so years to a Friday night in one of the brilliant Italian restaurants on Millennium Walk in Dublin and I had an epiphany (most probably helped along by at least half a bottle of Chianti and this fantastic mural).Of course wine and bread could make up a dinner! How had I been so stupid all these years? All you need is to add a little balsamic vinegar, some extra virgin olive oil, maybe a few marinated olives and hey presto – you have the best dinner in the world!

And the word for this new dining sensation? Dippage. Yumo, delicious, dippage.

Ask any of my friends – they will concur that I am a dippage fanatic. I think it’s totally acceptable to serve some olives, maybe some char-grilled veggies, an array of dips, balsamic oil and vinegar with crusty bread and call it dinner.

One of my favourite dippage dips is hummus, it’s all kinds of yum and apparently it’s good for you too. Brilliant.

Roasted red-pepper hummus

Continue reading

Creamy, basily, mushroomy pasta

The Fella and I spent this weekend in Melbourne, where we had a frickin’ deadly time. We were visiting with some of my good friends and had a very enjoyable night out with them on Saturday. Needless to say we were feeling a tincy wincy bit delicate yesterday morning. So in the name of recovery, we all sat around in our jim-jams, drinking coffee, eating sweets and watching reality TV. It was possibly a perfect Sunday morning.

I’m a bit of a closet reality TV fan; my favourites include Four Weddings, Come Dine with Me and One Born Every Minute. But reality TV in Australia takes things to a whole new level; it’s all just so damn dramatic. For example, yesterday we watched a number of episodes of My Kitchen Rules. The premise is very similar to Come Dine with Me; however the contestants not only cook for each other, but also for two professional chefs, who then rate the meal. However unlike CDWM, it was all so very very super SERIOUS. There was minus craic, but plenty of dramatic music and lingering looks. Not so many ridiculous drunken antics but more food snobbery than you could shake a stick at. It was just not enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think most people just like easy to cook and eat simple and delicious food? Surely food snobbery just alienates people and makes the kitchen seem even scarier than it should? With that thought in mind I decided to share with you all my quickest, most yumbo pasta-surprise recipe. Haute cuisine it ain’t but it sure tastes goooood.

Creamy, basily, mushroomy pasta

Continue reading

New Year beer fish

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, welcome ladies and gentlemen to the year of the dragon!

When The Fella and I packed up and moved across the world from Ireland to Australia, we took the long way down. Once we found out our furniture was going to take three months on the slow boat, we decided we also didn’t need to rush. So when we left Dublin we were initially bound for Beijing, not Sydney.  From Beijing we travelled down through China, into Vietnam, back up into Cambodia, then onto Malaysia and Singapore before finally deciding we should probably face reality again.

It was the trip of a lifetime and China was definitely a highlight. It’s such an enormous country with a hugely diverse culture, people and countryside. We spent three and a half weeks there and it was not nearly enough, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s planning a holiday. And the food? Oh my, the food! Sometimes it’s not for the faint hearted, navigating a menu can be more confusing than learning the modh coinníollach (a famously difficult tense in the Irish language); but it’s also so interesting and not at all like any Chinese take-away/restaurant you’ve ever been too.

I learned to make this recipe while doing a course at Yangshuo Cooking School. We spent a very relaxing few days in the little village of Yangshuo in Guangxi Province, surrounded by the most fabulous mountains I have ever seen.

This recipe is the local staple and it’s great, totally moreish and a cinch to cook. I also did a chicken version for The Fella (he’s allergic to fish) and it was equally delicious. If getting to China on your holidays is going to be a little bit of a stretch, make this and bring a little bit of China home instead.

Beer fish


Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Pasta with feta, spinach and pine nuts

It’s actually a bit bizarre that in the few months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never posted any pasta dishes. The Fella and I eat a LOT of pasta, mainly because it’s cheap (his thumbs up) and quick (my thumbs up). Because don’t you hate it when you’ve had a long day at work and you’re faced with the stupid what to make for dinner dilemma? I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I find weekday evenings frustratingly short. Some evenings I just want something quick and easy and I don’t like only sitting down to my dinner at 9 o’clock at night. For one thing, that’s when all the good shows start. Hence, pasta it is.

You would not believe the number of “pasta surprise” recipes we have, The Fella is especially good at these. Basically they consist of whatever we have in the fridge, and thus they are great for avoiding a condition called postworksupermarketrage. This dreadful disorder is particularly prevalent among 20 and 30 something childless professionals, who use their weekends for getting drunk and other irresponsible frivolities and neglect to do basic household tasks, such as shopping. Tut tut tut.

This is a wee step up from pasta surprise, and it is a little beaut of a recipe. I found it in Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen, and I guarantee you can get this on the table in 20 minutes flat. Beat that Jamie Oliver!

Pasta with feta, spinach and pine nuts

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Put the lime in the coconut

Back at home I’ll quite happily have soup for dinner from Monday through to Thursday, especially during the winter. It’s so quick and filling and warm and healthy (kind of) and all-round delicious. And it can generally be made from whatever you have in the fridge, making it super cheap. Could there be a better combination of things for a midweek supper? But here in the Land of Oz soup just doesn’t suit the climate. That was until I was flicking through the lovely Rachel Allen’s Favourite Food at Home book and came across a recipe for coconut, pak choi and basil broth. It sounded pretty yummy.

This Asian inspired soup is perfect for the Australian climate. It’s fresh, hot, sour and very light. I have adapted it slightly, throwing in some red pepper (or capsicum – look at me getting down with the lingo!) and vermicelli noodles just to make it a bit more substantial for a hungry supper. Otherwise The Fella would only complain loudly that I was trying to starve him.

Coconut, pak choi and basil broth

Chopsticks + noodle soup = big giant mess.

Continue reading