Sunday, 29 July 2012


We like Mexican food but we don't have a lot of choices in Dublin, so we make fajitas from a kit.  This is one of our regular meals and it's pretty easy to do.  We start with fresh ingredients from Fallon & Byrne.

Ready to eat avocadoes are always a luxury.  Many stores carry avocadoes that have been picked way too soon:  They are hard as rocks and end up sitting on the counter for a week before they're ripe.  We like to spend a bit more and get the ones that are ready now.  These are for the guacamole that goes with the meal.

Fallon & Byrne has an amazing produce section.  We saw habanero chillies colored orange like the sun and jalapeƱo peppers that looked like Brazilian jade.  We chose these fire engine red chillies for tonight's meal.  Aye carumba!

We walked across the street to Dunnes grocery store, (which is a little easier on the pocketbook) and picked up Old El Paso fajitas and salsa.  The box basically contains a packet of spice mix, a packet of salsa and a packet of tortillas.  We buy extra salsa because there isn't enough in the box.

It is amusing to me that this is called Beef Mince here in Ireland.  My fellow Americans call it ground beef.  Ireland has not experienced the mad cow issue like England has.  I am told that if one steer is found with mad cow disease on a farm in Ireland, the whole herd is destroyed.  Notice the "DNA Traceback" logo on the package.  The consumer is given the message that they take meat safety quite seriously here.

My awesomer half prepares button mushrooms and red bell peppers with our Japanese-wetstone-sharpened santoku knife.  She has well-honed Samurai skills at the cutting board.  Whoo-aaahhhhh...!

We add fresh broccoli and corn to the fajitas.  It really is a healthy meal.  Nothing frozen goes into the pan.

Here we are at the table, ready to eat!  The guacamole contains garlic & lime and is such a treat.  It goes so nicely with the spicy notes in the meat & vegetables.

I am such a lucky guy to live with someone who enjoys--and is so good at--cooking for us.  Thanks Awesomer Half!  You Rawk.  Awriiiiight!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Nettle Soup

This is what happens when you don't mow your back lawn in Ireland for 6 weeks; your dinner grows there.  My Awesomer Half and I picked fresh nettles growing in--yes, our back yard--and made dinner out of it.  It's ok, don't be alarmed.  Slugs don't eat this stuff unless they have a death wish.  It's actually a pretty cool example of plants trying to protect themselves.  They call these babies "Stinging Nettles" for a reason.  You definitely have to wear gloves when you pick them.

This is the stinging part.  The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered in hollow glass-like needles.  If you touch these with your bare skin it's a bit painful.  As you can see in the photo above, I'm wearing rubber washing-up gloves.

Lucky for humanity, these spines dissolve in boiling water, thus nettles can be cooked and enjoyed for their lovely herby qualities.  And qualities they have!  Ladies, do you have er... that issue every month where a certain part of you decides to make your life difficult?  Well, guess what?  Nettles can help.  "They are an excellent remedy for anaemia.  Their vitamin C content makes sure that the iron they contain is properly absorbed."  This, according to Jekka McVicar, whose recipe for Nettle Soup I have included below.

The reason why nettle soup is so good is because it is basically potato-leek soup, with some added green stuff.  Well, ok... Jekka's recipe below does actually call for onions, but really... wouldn't you rather have leeks instead?  Of course you would.

Nettle soup goes really well with Hobgoblin ruby beer.  Hobgoblin has a lovely chocolate toffee malt flavor.  It must be tasted to be appreciated.  There's no use in me describing.  Go out and buy some!  (They sell it at BevMo for you Americans reading this.)  For you atheists out there, did you know that, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?"  Benjamin Franklin said that.

So this is our new boat motor.  It's a Russell Hobbs.  Works great, you can really feel the suction pulling the thing down to the bottom of the pot!  OMG, this baby really gets things stirred up!  When you cook nettle soup be extra careful not to scorch the milk.  You still may find some separation of the milk fats but that issue is taken care of by a boat motor.

The Spice Tin to the rescue!  We didn't have marjoram, sage & lemon thyme as the recipe calls for, however we DID have Poultry Seasoning from those nice people in Murphy's, California.  Their poultry seasoning blend contains sage, thyme and marjoram anyway, and man was it good!  This stuff rocks.

Nettle Soup
Serves 4

250g young nettle leaves
50g oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped
250g cooked potatoes, peeled and diced
900ml milk
1 teaspoon each (mix, fresh, chopped) sweet marjoram, sage, lemon thyme
1 dessertspoon fresh chopped lovage
2 tablespoons, cream and French parsley, chopped, optional

Pick only the fresh young nettle leaves, and wear gloves to remove from stalks and wash them.  Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the chopped onions, slowly sweat them until clear.  Then add the nettles and stew gently for about a further 10 minutes.  Add the chopped potatoes, all the herbs and the milk and simmer for a further 10 minutes.  Allow to cool then put all the ingredients into a liquidizer and blend.  Return to a saucepan over gentle heat.  Add a swirl of cream to each bowl and sprinkle some chopped French parsley over the top. Serve with French bread.

From:  Jekka's Complete Herb Book, ISBN:  978 1 85626 780 9, Copyright 2007 Jekka Enterprises Ltd.  Published by The Royal Horticultural Society, revised edition

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Cedar Tree

Hello there Neighbor, can you say, "Baba Ghanoush?"  Sure, I knew that you could.  Heh heh, I don't think Dr. Fred Rogers ever said that on his popular childrens' TV show, but I bet he would have liked the dish all the same, (mashed eggplant).  This evening my Awesomer Half took us to The Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin.  It is on St. Andrews street right by Wicklow Street, about a block away from Fallon & Byrne, (the amazing grocery store).

This was our second visit.  Last time we ordered a Mezze which is a about a dozen little dishes full of good things, like hummous, baba ganoush, fish shmear (for lack of a better word) and tabouleh.  Think of it like Middle Eastern tapas.  You get pita bread to tear and dip in the bowls as you see fit.  This evening we ordered Beruit Mezze:
Last time we ordered a less expensive Mezze (basically a meal-for-two deal) and they gave us an enormous amount of food.  We were stuffed, and it was delicious.  Again when our meal arrived tonight, we were treated to a huge spread.
These puff-pastry rolls were really good but I have absolutely no idea what these things were called.  Basically, they were like the standard meat-filled egg-rolls you get at any Chinese restaurant.  Crispy outside, meaty & yummy inside.
When the waitress comes to your table, she starts putting all these tiny dishes down and names what each one is.  You know how at the beginning of an American Football game, each of the players runs out onto the field and the announcer says each guy's name?  It's like that.  The names go by in rapid succession and you have no recall 5 seconds later.  So she puts all this stuff on the table and I think she's announcing Husain Abdullah followed by Aqib Talib and then Fuamatu-Ma'afala.  Sure, ok lady.  Whatever you say.

I am told this is tabouleh.  It's like parsley with some tomato, onion, mint and herby stuff.  Kind of short on the bulgar and long on the parsley.  And this is really the only good use of iceberg lettuce:  As a bowl for other food.
This one is a "homemade lamb sambousek" which I find amusing for two reasons:  A) how can it be homemade if you make it in the restaurant kitchen?  Does the chef sleep under the sink or something?  B) Sambousek must be the word for meatloaf in Lebanese.  Being a big fan of lamb, my Awesomer Half actually didn't like this.  She said it was too grainy.  It did taste like a lower-quality cut of meat that was tumbled into a meat grinder.  Well, I ate it.  It was ok, but not worth the reverence in which the waitress announced it.
By this point were were on our second Cokes and had nearly made our way through the entire spread.  Whew.  That was a lot of food.  We were about to ask for our check when the waitress came back and said, "Are you ready for your Main Course?"  We were like, "Wait, what?  There's MORE?"  Seriously, she took the myriad of little bowls away and then brought out Kheftas, which we like to make at home.  This was more than we could handle, so after a taste we asked for the check and put the main course in a Doggy Bag for home.
So the final virdict?  It was a good meal.  We would come back.  They do a good job and the service is friendly.  However there are a few things I'd change about the restaurant.

  • good quality food, chef skill is satisfactory
  • they offer specialty cuisine that is hard to find in Ireland
  • fresh ingredients
  • friendly (if a bit overextended) staff
  • dreadfully hot inside
  • wine prices are outrageous and no wine-by-the-glass
  • patrons are served way too much food
  • some items are hit or miss, i.e. in giving you a lot of food, they might skimp on the quality of the lamb to keep costs down.
We paid €10.50 for 4 glasses of Coke, (2 Cokes each).  Not sure how they arrived at that price... €2.625 per glass?  That's $3.20 for basically a 50-cent can of Coke.  We paid €5.50 for a 12 oz. beer last time.  That's about $6.75 USD.

I looked briefly at the Wine Menu and they start right off with €99 bottles and then--almost as a concession for the poor folks--they get into the €50 bottles.  I'm not really sure why drinks prices are so outrageous in Ireland.  Pubs in Ireland charge 5 or 6 euro for a pint of beer these days.  The government is really heavy handed with liquor taxes, and the restaurants & bars aren't giving us any breaks.

Lastly a message to the owners:  Guys, could you turn on a fan or something?  It's always hot as blazes in there.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunday Dinner

My awesomer half cooked us an amazing meal this evening:  Chicken Kebabs With Avocado Dip.  We are big fans of Jamie Oliver and this recipe comes from his book Jamie Does... Spain Italy Sweden Morocco Greece France.  This recipe is from the Morocco section.  This recipe is in our repertoire of meals that we cook every fortnight or so.  Not only is it easy to make but it tastes great with some California red wine.
OMG.  Spices.  Everyone needs a mortar & pestle

Doesn't this look lovely?

Wine courtesy of La Folia Vineyards

Pita want more!  Om nom nom

Chicken Keabs With Avocado Dip, copyright 2010, Penguin Books, ISBN: 978-0-718-15614-5.  Recipe by Jamie Oliver.

Serves 4

4 boneless chicken breasts (approximately 125g each), preferably free-range or organic, cut into bite-sized chunks
4 Arab-style breads or flatbreads
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

For the marinade

a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tablespoon hot paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the avocado dip

2 ripe avocados
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped  [Note:  3 big cloves is groovy]
1 fresh green or red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
a small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon  [Note:  we prefer lime]


The marinade ingredients go in a bowl with a bit of salt & pepper.  We like to grind the spices with a mortar & pestle.  Cut up the chicken chunks into something resembling 1 cm cubes, quite small but not minced.  I saw some other blogger do this recipe and she cut the chicken pieces into Chicken-McNugget sizes and then complained they wouldn't fit into her pita bread.  Put the chicken chunks into a ziplock bag with the marinade and squoosh it so that it is evenly coated.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Making the avocado dip:  Halve the avocados and scoop out the good stuff.  Making good guacamole is like making love, some people can do it right, and some people are dullards.  Put some love into your guac.  Right, so.  Put the green stuff into a bowl and add all the other dip ingredients.  Mash it up the way you like it; some people are into good-and-chunky and other people prefer smooth-and-creamy.  Taste frequently to make sure it's good.  Add salt or pepper.  If you're brave, add more lime and garlic.  Oh yeah.

We fry up the chicken in a €4 Ikea fry pan.  You could use a fancy-pants French grill pan, but why bother?  This is supposed to be a quick dinner.  The chicken cooks in the marinade in about 7 minutes.

Microwave the pita breads, put some chopped cilantro (yeah, the Europeopeans call it 'coriander') into a bowl, and serve-up your guacamole and commence feasting.  We recommend a brilliant Californian red wine from La Folia, to compliment your meal.

Bon appetit. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Stone Roses

It is summer concert time in Ireland, and that means:  Bring your wellies!  With the usual Oxegen music festival in County Kildare taking a break this year, we are fortunate to have a smaller, less-Woodstock-like festival in Phoenix Park.  The Stone Roses are making a reunion tour and they played Thursday night.  Irish fans have waited over 20 years for the Stone Roses to come back, and the band was welcomed by 45,000 steadfast fans.  Funny that the band is known for their hit, "I Want To Be Adored," because they certainly are here in in Ireland!  This concert was so much fun.  I'm looking forward to seeing them again.
Thank goodness it wasn't raining.  This is what Phoenix Park looked like on a DRY day

Why hello there, fellowmen

Tower of power

You Sir, are awesome.

Dancing girl, (yeah she was a little drunk...)

Some people had very cool wellies.  I think these are Smarties?  lol

 Oh.  My.  God.  Fractal wellington boots.  My mind blew a fuse when I saw these.  I've never done LSD, but I'm pretty sure it would look like these boots.

Imma Firin Mah Lazors!  Pew pew pew!

And then lemons

Dude, did you really put your beer on the ground?

Things started to get psychadellic around 11:00 PM

Ian Brown rockin' on the Jumbotron

Best of luck to the Stone Roses on the tour.  Thank you from Dublin!