Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Salad for Breakfast: Layered Tex-Mex Salad

I just ate salad for breakfast. Because I can. Isn't being an adult wonderful? I've gone wheat-free and quasi-paleo of late and am loving it, feel like a new woman and this salad fits in well!

This isn't your average salad, it's salad I've been dreaming about all night because it is just that good. The combination of flavours and textures added to the aesthetic appearance is just fabulous. It's a whole meal and a healthy one at that, which would be perfect for dinner or to bring to picnics, potlucks or parties. It keeps well overnight and doesn't get soggy. I used grilled Mexican seasoned pork chops as the main protein, sliced thinly, but you could use a layer of seasoned taco beef or ground turkey, or some sliced grilled chicken or just leave meat out entirely! You may notice you don't see the corn in the pictures that the recipe calls for, but that's because when I went to get the corn, it turned out I had none. Although this was excellent without it, I think the crunchy sweetness would have added another fabulous layer of flavour.

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 4 little gem lettuce, thinly sliced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • handful chopped coriander (cilantro)
  • 2 avocados, thinly sliced
  • lime, juiced
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 can black or kidney beans
  • 1 can sweetcorn
  • 4 roasted red peppers, sliced
  • 2 cups meat choice (see intro)
  • 1 cup sliced black olives
  • 1 quantity of dressing (recipe below)
Mix the onions and coriander and add half the juiced lime. Season with salt and pepper.  Use the remaining lime juice to coat the avocado slices to ensure they don't brown.

Get a large glass bowl and begin assembling. Start with a big layer of lettuce, reserving about 1/4 then layer the rest of the ingredients in whatever way seems appealing to you, with the dressing on the top. Top with another thin layer of lettuce. You can add a bit of cheese and green onions and olives on top as a garnish if you'd like.

Serve 

For the dressing:

  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chill powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients thoroughly. 







Monday, January 6, 2014

Winter Warmers: Italian Wedding Soup

When I lived in New York state, I worked for a major bank. During my training I was sent to a different part of town to work in a corporate branch in the business district. I hated every second of it, except for lunch time on Wednesdays.  I smelled it before I saw it, rich, warm, flavoursome and I asked what it was. Italian Wedding Soup they said.  Every Wednesday they had Italian Wedding Soup. It was so good, the only way I got through my few months in that job was knowing that every week had a Wednesday!

The whole family, even the picky ones have inherited my love for this soup and often beg for it after a long hike in the mountains. It really is a full meal in a bowl with protein, veggies and carbs all covered.

I've tried many recipes over the years and nothing has compared to that little canteen. Eventually I had to reconstruct my own version. Some recipes use kale, some use spinach, either would work fine, I use spinach because it's easier to find here, but go with whatever works for you.  If you can't get Italian sausage, use normal sausage and add some ground fennel seeds, chilli and Italian seasoning to the meatball mix and you will come pretty close! A perfect meal for these cold wintery days.

Ingredients:

For the meatballs-

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat (remove casings from alb of sausage)
  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • handful parmesan
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt, pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and form small one inch meatballs. Brown in a 200C/400F oven for about ten minutes. 

For the soup-


  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3-4 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3-4 litres chicken stock
  • 1 cup small pasta shapes (orzo or risini work well, broken spaghetti is fine too)
  • 2-3 handfuls torn spinach
  • Meatballs
  • Salt
  • Black and white pepper
  • Parmesan cheese to serve

Saute the carrots, onion and celery in the butter and olive oil until soft. Add garlic and sauté for another minute or so until fragrant. 

Pour in stock and add pasta, cook for about ten minutes then add meatballs. Allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes until pasta is cooked. Stir in the spinach and allow to wilt. Season with the salt and two types of pepper. Serve in big bowls with lashings of freshly grated parmesan.





Friday, January 3, 2014

Perfect Buttered Popcorn

This weather is enough to depress the heartiest of souls. With the torrential rain, howling winds and icy temps, I suspect there is many a "duvet day" going on around the country.   I know personally we've found ourselves curled up with Netflix, a fire and a big fat bowl of buttered popcorn much more often than would be normal.

Popcorn in Ireland is one of the reasons I rarely go to the cinema. Because well, quite frankly the popcorn sucks and considering you have to take out a second mortgage to even get enough for the whole family, that's just not on.  Not to say that the popcorn in America is any better.  I mean, it is, it's delicious - they ask if you want butter. The most ridiculous question ever. OF COURSE I want butter, LOTS of butter.  And then they go pump hot butter all over your popcorn.  Sometimes you get an especially good popcorn server, who'll fill it half way, butter then repeat.  BLISS!  Now I'm under no delusions that this is real butter and not some butter flavoured soybean oil derivative, but whatever, it's delicious and it makes the movie experience for me.  Here the popcorn is dry and over salted. Blergh.  
Maybe you buy microwave popcorn?  Well, it's slightly more flavourful than it's Irish cinema cousin, but have you read the ingredients!?  And the price of the stuff is insane. A year or two into our Irish adventure I knew I had to figure out the popcorn situation.  I seemed to always burn the microwave stuff (I never get along with microwaves) so I experimented for awhile with air poppers and pots and pans and woks and butters and salts and oils and combinations thereof until I finally managed to figure out the perfect formula! 

So here you go... I recommend eating it with a two litre of diet coke to cancel out the copious amounts of saturated fat.  Ok not really, but we can pretend right!? 

You will need:
  • 1 large stock pot with a lid
  • 1.5 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels*
  • 8oz butter
  • Table salt
  • Tongs
  • A big bowl or three!
  • Napkins or paper towels!!!
First things first, get your stock pot on the highest stove setting. If you have a gas stove, do the butter first, if electric, get your pot on.

While it starts to heat up, put your butter in a microwavable container and melt it on a low to medium heat. Do not let it bubble. Once it's fully melted, immediately remove and pop in freezer.  Yes, you heard me right. Don't ask questions, just do it! We're working on a tight schedule here peeps!!

When the pot is pretty hot add the oil and four kernels of popcorn.  No I haven't lost it, there's a method to my madness.  Put the lid on and wait until you hear four pops.  When all four kernels pop you know it is hot enough to pop the rest. 

Toss in the popcorn and put the lid on. Using a tea towel if the pot handles are hot, swirl it around gently every ten seconds or so, to ensure all the kernels keep moving and are coated in oil. Continue swirling as it pops. When the pops slow down to where there's more than 4-5 seconds between pops, remove from heat. Do not remove lid. 

Get butter out of the freezer. You will notice it's separated, congratulations you have just made clarified butter! Cold clarified butter gives the popcorn all of the flavour with none of the sogginess! At this point you can pour off the liquid gold and leave the solids in the bottom, or if you're lazy like me you just be careful not to get any of the solids on your popcorn.

Pour half the popcorn into your bowl and drizzle butter all over it. Toss with tongs as you pour to ensure even coating.  Sprinkle with salt and toss again.  Repeat with remaining half. 

Serve with plenty of napkins to go around! 

*I like the Kelkin brand. Do not buy the cheap stuff at the Asian shops, I made that mistake once and it's awful, doesn't pop right at all!


Tip Junkie Handmade Projects
Monday, December 30, 2013

Ginger Mango Detox Smoothie

Confession time... I don't like fruit very much. I'll reluctantly eat a banana or apple when I feel like I should be healthy but it would not be my preferred choice. Luckily I love veggies, so hopefully I'm covered. This year I am hoping to get some more fruit into my diet and smoothies are a great way to do that!

After all the indulgence of the holidays I thought a nice detox smoothie would be a good way to start the morning. I'm also dying of the flu and ginger is a great bug fighter, so it seemed to make sense. I doubled the ginger in the original recipe.

I was pleasantly surprised with this smoothie, it's zingy and delicious and not too fruity at all. Definitely a great start to the morning!



Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 4-5 slices frozen mango
  • 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 oz orange juice
  • 2 oz water
  • 5-6 ice cubes
Blend all ingredients in a blender and drink! <3

Adapted from here.

Now I'm going to sip my smoothie and sit down with my 2014 Create an Amazing Year workbook and get a start on 2014! 
Monday, December 16, 2013

Gifts for Foodies and Kitchen Junkies

I swear this post isn't a subtle hint for my hubby, but I thought it would be fun to go through the Argos catalog and pick out some awesome gifts that a kitchen junkie or foodie might enjoy for Christmas.

Let's get the expensive stuff out of the way first! What foodie doesn't want a good mixer? Kenwood and Kitchenaid are both known for their fabulous mixers, but Kitchenaid always had the edge on aesthetics. Not anymore! Check out this fabulous Kenwood mixer, I think it looks so slick with the red and stainless combination and if it were in my budget I would totally snap it up.

Now personally I am not a coffee drinker, but himself is and Argos have an amazing range of coffee machines available here for all types of budgets.  Himself being American and quite particular about his coffee thinks the pod machines make terrible coffee and has no idea why they're so popular, but for a country so used to instant coffee I'd say they're quite the upgrade. De'Longhi are well known for their excellent espresso machines and it's nice to see some of them are now very affordable coming in under one hundred quid. Definitely some options there for the coffee lover on your list!

If I had to give up every kitchen gadget I owned save for one, it would be my santuko or chef's knife that I kept. A set of good knives will last a lifetime and is essential for any serious home cook.  Look for a good quality steel, German, Swiss or Japanese are always a good bet and most decent sets will have a very long or even lifetime guarantee. If you like funky coloured ones I hear rave reviews about the new ceramic knives that seem to be flooding the market as well. Again, look for a set that has a decent guarantee.

A few years ago we purchased a soda stream and I have to say it's such a fun gadget. The kids love it and myself and hubby have come up with some interesting cocktail mixers over the years as well. We absolutely love the cranberry raspberry flavour soda stream sells, but other than that we tend to make our own fruit-flavoured simple syrups and use carbonated water from the soda stream. We've had it about 3 years now and have had to replace the canister once a year on average. If your kids like fizzy drinks and you're looking for a healthier and cheaper alternative, this will really pay off! The NY Times recently had a great article on these unique kitchen gadgets.

I keep hearing a lot about slow cookers or crock pots of late. While I have one, I can say I don't use it that much and when I do, I'm usually underwhelmed. I suspect that is because I am at home all day and don't really see the point of over-cooking my food. But if I were still working and came home to a sumptuous smelling house and dinner just ready I don't think I would be complaining about overcooked beef!  If you work outside of the home these can be a brilliant investment and even though I'm not the biggest fan, I would still always want to have one. Being someone who cooks a lot with dried beans, the slow cooker has often saved the day when I realised I forgot to soak the beans overnight. It's also great as an additional appliance to keep things warm on oven-heavy holiday meals. I have been known to make the mash in advance and keep it in the slow cooker to stay warm!

Those are some of my favourites this year. What about you? What could you not live without in your kitchen and what would you love to see under the tree this year?
Thursday, December 12, 2013

Electronic Toys For Kids

With Christmas just a couple of weeks off, you (like me) are probably in high-stress mode, finishing off home decorations, preparing to host guests or cook meals, and, of course, finishing off your gift list! Particularly if you have young children in the picture, the shopping process can be very trying, as you want to find gifts that will make Christmas special for your little ones and keep them entertained and delighted for some time to come. And of course, you have to do it all within your budget!

Fortunately, the toy industry is alive and well, and always thriving this time of year. And what you may notice after a bit of searching is that even for young children, electronic toys are some of the most popular ones out there. We're not talking about gaming consoles, smartphones or cameras - those are for the older kids - but rather, fun and inventive toys that make for perfect Christmas gifts for toddlers and pre-teens. Just to help you get an idea of some of these trendy toy options, here are a few cute ones we're seeing at various stores.

Furby Boom
We all remember Furby - the strange but lovable furry little "pet" toy with various speaking capabilities and personality traits. It's an incredibly fun toy for children, and it's hung around for years now. Furby Boom is the latest version of the toy from Hasbro, and comes with new personalities, new colour schemes, and even an app component that adds a new dimension to playing with the toy.  This is on both the girls list... let's just hope it comes with volume control! :)

Nintendo DS
Arguably the current standard in handheld gaming, the Nintendo DS is a bit more kid-friendly than Sony's PSP line, offering some of the same playful Nintendo games that have been classics for years. Of course, different parents feel differently about introducing a handheld gaming device, but if you're open to the idea and your children would enjoy it, the Nintendo DS is a nice option to consider.  My girls have gotten great fun out of theirs and god knows it makes the 4 hour trip to my parents a lot more bearable.

Angry Bird Helicopter
Angry Birds seem to be just about everywhere these days. Having burst onto the scene in app gaming (with several of the most popular gaming apps we've ever seen), they're now something of a cultural phenomenon. The toy helicopter in the image of the iconic red "angry bird" offered at My Smart Buy is merely one more example of the explosive popularity of this cartoonish theme, but it's also a great toy for kids. Remote control helicopters, after all, are already very popular - throw in a popular character image, and it's ideal!  I'd say the husband might enjoy this one too!

Casio Mini Keyboard
Want a semi-educational gift that's also barrels of fun? A mini electric keyboard like this one from Toys R Us, is perfect! These days it's easier than ever for a kid to learn music at home (just find lessons online - it's shockingly easy), and this will give your child an activity to learn and improve at while having a blast with a new toy.  We're a pretty musical family and love the keyboard. It's even great for the little man who gets hours of fun just banging the keys!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

Winter is well and truly here. Time to break out the comfort food.  This is more chicken and biscuits (of the American variety) than chicken and dumplings, but the biscuits are baked on top of the casserole.  It's absolutely delicious and frugal as well.  My kids and all their friends go nuts for this one. 


This would also be great for all the leftover turkey and stock you're bound to have after Christmas or Thanksgiving.  When I don't have stock on hand I just use a bouillon cube and it's just fine.

If you're not up for making biscuits or just feeling lazy as I often am, the base casserole will be delicious with a sheet of puff pastry over it too.

Ingredients

For the casserole:

  • 1 lb leftover chicken/turkey, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, cubed
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • sprig of thyme, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • handful of frozen peas
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper 
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F.

Saute the carrots, onion and celery in the butter until they are beginning to soften.  Stir in thyme.  Sprinkle with flour and cook for about a minute stirring to incorporate the flour.  Slowly pour in the stock, cream and milk and whisk in until a thick sauce forms. Bring to boil, reduce heat to a simmer.  If the sauce is too thick, add more cream or milk to thin.  Stir in chicken and peas. Allow to simmer for about five minutes while you make the biscuits.  Stir in the parsley at the end and season with salt and pepper.  





For the biscuits:
  • 2.25 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add butter and mix with two knives or a pastry cutter until it resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the parsley and milk to make a sticky dough.

Pour the filling into a 9x13 pyrex dish or something similar.  Break off large tablespoons of the biscuit dough and plop on top of the chicken mixture.  I usually get about 12 biscuits.

Bake for half an hour or until golden brown on top and dumplings are cooked through.  Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before serving.