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.


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.


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.


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!

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