Sunday, 8 June 2014

Chicken Wings

I've just noticed that my last post on here was March. That is so rubbish - sorry. Truth be told, I've been stuck in a rut of "same old, same old" dinners, and haven't really been experimenting or feeling the love for a while.

I did, however, some time ago, buy a packet of chicken wings. Now, these are CHEAP as chips, literally - a pack of twelve from your local supermarket usually comes in well under €3.50. The weather reports were good and I was planning a BBQ and knew the DinnerGirls (they're not babies anymore!) would love them. But that left me with half a pack of chicken wings taking up an enormous amount of space (it's a big container) in my poor freezer.  So I had a thought to do "fancy" chicken wings... I was thinking along the lines of the spicy, vinegar-y wings you get in the Dublin restaurant "Elephant and Castle" (if you've ever been there, you've almost certainly had the wings - they are their "thing"). 

The recipe however, is elusive. The restaurant guard it as "A SECRET" and will not divulge. I remember, years ago, I did read a recipe for them. It was in a book that accompanied a radio show I listen to - the "Fixit Friday" slot on Ray D'Arcy's show on TodayFM. Unfortunately my copy of the book (which lived in my bathroom) did not not survive the great flood 2010 - caused by over enthusiastic bathing and general high jinx from the then DinnerBabies in the bath.

Endless Google searches with various permutations of the terms (fixit / Ray Darcy - various spellings / chicken wings / elephant & castle) produced lots of references but no actual recipe. And then I had a brainwave. Email the "Fixit Friday" helpdesk! The show is still going strong, they still run their Friday morning slot, so perfect! And thank you a million to both Jenny Kelly and Martin McGuire from TodayFM; Jenny read my email out on Friday morning and Martin provided the recipe. I took the chicken wings out of the freezer, although it took me til today (Sunday) to make them. My word, readers - SO WORTH IT!

Needless to say, as with my first time making anything, I went a tiny bit astray (I really should not have taken a phone call at the crucial moment) but they were really, really good. And I know they are only at 85% good; next time I make them, they will be epic! These are the perfect nibbly starter to serve if you are planning a summer BBQ - go for it. Don't worry about the amount of butter... yes, it's a lot, but these are a treat and you won't be eating them daily! 

As my sauce split a bit, I am stealing TodayFM's photo, and you can find their recipe right here. I've also posted it below, for your benefit.

TodayFM's Spicy Chicken WingsServes 4

  •  1 pack of chicken wings (about 12 in the pack)
  • ½ pound butter
  •  2 tablespoons of cider vinegar (DL note: I used white wine vinegar, it was fine)
  •  Tabasco sauce; to taste (recipe suggests at least half a bottle, I had slightly under half a small bottle in my store cupboard, I'd be more generous in future)
  1. Split the wing into two at the joint – the mini drumstick and the oval shaped part
  2. Deep fry until extra extra crispy (DL note: I just baked them at 180C for 20-25 mins)
  3. In a saucepan, melt the butter on a low heat, addthe vinegar and then plenty of Tabasco sauce
  4. Stir until the mixture takes on that glossy, almost luminous orangey glow (DL note: I let m sauce go too far and it split - it was still gorgeous, but it didn't coat the wings so well as a result. Keep an eye - and don't answer the phone!)
  5. Toss each batch of fresh wings in the mixture and serve with sticks of celery; if you like that sort of thing (DL: and I do!) and a Blue Cheese Dip.

Blue Cheese Dip is simply:

  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • ½ cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar
  • A good squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ cup of blue cheese; crumbled
  • Chopped parsley
Again, I had to improvise a little. I used the proportions above, but I used creme fraiche instead of sour cream, and only about a third of the clove of garlic (it was a big clove, and I didn't want it to take over). The blue cheese I used was Cashel Blue - I'm not the biggest blue cheese lover in the world, but this sauce is marvellous with wings, and the blue taste is very subtle. I had no parsley.

I would suggest that you also serve with a big pack of baby wipes - total messy gorgeousness!

Anyhow, the most important thing is that they were totally DELICIOUS, and I will definitely make them again. And again. And again.

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Special Offer Veggies - Aubergine

I do most of my shopping in Lidl these days. Mostly, I made the choice for economic reasons, however I do like that they are not purely an "own-brand" store but also have some brands that I am quite attached to. I did try out their mayonnaise and ketchup, but I prefer Hellmans and Heinz and it's handy that they are available to me. And it's location is handy for me too, now I can drive.

I also really love the cut price fruit and vegetables they have weekly. They are not alone in this, I know, but I do like to stock up on onions and celery when they are on offer at some ridiculous price (okay, yes - I hear the economics lecture about price to the farmer and cost of production and loss leaders and all that...  And while I can agree in principal with it, it's the economics of my own household that concern me most immediately).

There is usually an item of fruit (strawberries or even a net of lemons), some basics (celery, onion, carrots, peppers etc.) and something exotic. Recently, the more exotic item was aubergine. 

Aren't these handsome devils?!
I have no real beef with aubergine, except that I have a belief that it is somehow "slimy" and also a huge faff to prepare, as you have to sprinkle salt and draw out moisture etc. etc. before attempting to cook it or you end up with a pile of purplish sludge.
On the other hand, they are rather a good-looking vegetable, and I do also remember my brother cooking me a rather tasty aubergine and tomato pasta dish once, and reading after that all the salt sprinkling might not be necessary. And the darn thing is only FORTY NINE cents, and it's a week to payday. 

So I slung it in my basket and off I went.

I am happy to report, that the result was delicious. Better than that, even (I suppose if it had been a disaster, I wouldn't be writing this piece!). And you know what, even if you buy the aubergines full price, it's still an incredibly economical meal.

I went looking for a recipe that I had seen in one of Himself's cookery books, but I couldn't find the book in question. However, I remembered the name - pasta alla Norma - as it amused me. So off to Google with me, and sure enough, plenty of recipes returned.

I chose this  pasta alla Norma recipe from the website as it seemed straightforward, had some tasty tips and also did not require weighting and salting. I liked the tip to remove the fluffy seedy centres as well. Some additions were recommended - chilli and oregano, and I also added my own. In the recipe below, I've left them all out apart from the oregano, they were all superfluous and took away from the meal, in my opinion. Feel free to experiment yourself; although I have to say, I think we do sometimes over-complicate Italian recipes, that are often very simplistic and all about the basic ingredient and it's nice to allow that to shine sometimes, too.

Here's my version of the recipe.

Sarah's Pasta alla Norma  Serves 4

  • 2 large, firm aubergines
  • Oil, for frying
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated into finely chopped stems and leaves
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes (I love the Lidl ones again, great consistency)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Love the Le Creuset pot
  1. To prepare the aubergine, cut them in quarters lengthwise. If they have seedy, fluffy centres, cut these out and discard and then cut the pieces in half so you are left with finger sized pieces
  2. Heat about ½ a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick pan (I used the Le Creuset casserole dish since I was recently given one, but in the absence of that, a non-stick pan is preferable, as the aubergine will absorb a certain amount of the oil) and fry off half the aubergine at a time, making sure that each piece gets well tossed and coated in the oil (adding more oil, if required) and dried oregano (this gives a great flavour) and keeping them turned until golden on each side; then remove to a dish and repeat the process with the other half
  3. When all the aubergine has been cooked in the oil and oregano, return all to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Add a little drop more oil if required, and then add the chopped garlic and basil stems and cook gently, being careful not to burn the garlic
  4. Add the vinegar and tins of chopped tomatoes and season to taste (I sometimes add a small pinch, maybe a teaspoon, of caster sugar if it is too sharp). Rip up half the basil leaves, and add to the sauce, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes
  5. Serve with the rest of the fresh basil sprinkled on top, pasta and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese
This is fast food at it's best - really easy to cook, super quick to prepare and make, economical and totally delicious. And this is coming from some one who isn't even all that keen on aubergine!

Sarah xx

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Get Wise About Portion Size

Portionwise Campaign
If you've been following our Facebook page (DinnerLadies Page), you will have seen me posting a few things over the past few days about a campaign I've been very peripherally involved in called "Get Wise About Portion Size". 
As I say, I've only been very peripherally involved - my daughters' school (Presentation Primary, Terenure) is one of the local schools taking part, and as a member of the Parent's Association, I've helped put up some posters and stack chairs... minor stuff!

However, I have to say how massively impressed I am with this campaign and what it hopes to achieve - and indeed, is achieving.

So, what is it? In a nutshell, it is one local mum's crusade to deal with the childhood obesity crisis that we hear about. As Professor Donal O'Shea said at the talk on Monday night, the only way he believes we can tackle this crisis, is through grassroots, community-led initiatives and this is very much a fantastic community effort and the very definition of a grassroots movement.
Rather than preach about what you should and should not eat, it is a take on Michelle Obama's portion size campaign. Called "Get Wise About Portion Size", it is basically an aide memoire to help us all know what is the correct portion size for us, individually. The beauty of the campaign is that it uses your hands - your fist size, to be precise. So therefore, the correct portion size for you is based on your own fist size; and, accordingly, so the correct size portion for each member of your household is their own fist size.

It's a basic 1-2-3 formula, dividing a plate into three - a line across the middle to half the plate, then divide one of the semi-circles in two again (so 1 half and 2 quarters)...

  1. Your carbohydrate portion is the size of one of your fists
  2. Your protein portion is also the size of one of your fists
  3. Your fruit and veg portion is then the size of both fists together
As a sub-point, your protein should be no larger than the size of the palm of your hand and also no thicker than the palm also.

A major part of the campaign has been getting the buy in from the local schools and all the local children have designed their own plates, so here are some examples:

The local businesses around Terenure have been displaying the plates, and the children have been having so much fun, walking through the village looking for their own plates.

Other activities this week have included a talk on healthy eating, with speakers from the Irish Heart Foundation and Professor Donal O'Shea from RTÉ's "Operation Transformation" fame (the questions and answers session at the end was really interesting) and a Community Walk around the local park on Friday (meeting at 3.15pm tomorrow at the tennis club in Bushy Park in Dublin, if anyone is interested!).

I first heard about this campaign last November, when it was introduced to us by the pioneering Mum (Fiona Phelan, take a bow). I started then to reduce the portion sizes for both the children and ourselves, but this week, during the week-long campaign, I have been making more effort. It was so cute on Monday to hear the 7yr old check the portion size of her rice with her fist on Monday evening, and getting her 5yr old sister to check hers too, before announcing, "thanks Mum, that's just the right amount of carbohydrate for us!".  Hopefully though, this will be a good foundation for them and while they might rebel during their teens, I hope that once they strike out on their own, they will remember back to these days and manage to avoid the over- and under-eating issues that can plague young women in the modern day.

Another thing I like about this campaign is that it also encompasses the "naughty" food. So, if you are rushed for time and you are resorting to potato waffles, fish fingers and beans; then the same portion size rules apply. Keep the size tidy, then you needn't feel so bad about a rushed meal. Likewise, an extra large scatter of sweetcorn or pineapple or some rocket (my own favourite) on top of your pizza and a couple of slices less, and you're still doing okay-ish. 

Last night, the girls had burgers, potatoes and beans for dinner. I make the burgers myself - literally, just a ball of mince rolled in my hands and flattened. No egg, no breadcrumbs, and (for the children) definitely no green stuff or garlic or anything tasty like that! (Although plenty of herbs, garlic and a little spring onion in my own.)
I was expecting the burgers to be smaller than what I usually use - I have to admit though, that I was somewhat surprised. I called the girls in and measured the raw patties against the palms of their hands (they were highly amused by this, and very congratulatory of me, in that supremely smug childish way). When serving, I used the burger size as a guide to the amount of potato - again, I kept having to take some off! And with the beans, I divided the medium size tin (I think about 200 or 225g) between them. As I was spooning it out, it looked about right - the size of the carb and protein portion combined, however on the plate it looked a lot as it spread out. I guess it also looks a lot beside the small amount of meat and potato! As they were eating, the 7yr old kept querying if there was more burger, more potato, more everything. However, they finished their plates and ran off to play and didn't ask for anymore, fully satisfied. I'm very pleased. I'll be keeping this up, and hopefully the scales will have some good news for me, too.

Dinner for two small girls, aged 5 & 7
 There are high hopes that this campaign will roll out nationwide, so if you are interested in the campaign and are looking for more information (perhaps to run a similar event in your own community?) please contact the campaign:; or follow on Twitter: @portionwise123 or Facebook:

The beauty of this campaign is it's utter simplicity - there is no weighing of portions of pasta or measuring out. It's just 1-2-3.So, it's time to step up to the plate (see what I did there?!) and get involved with your community and to reduce your portion size. We can't wait for the Community Walk tomorrow afternoon.

And here's one last image for you, about the growth in portion sizes over the past 20 years - there are plenty of these available, but I think this speaks volumes: 

Sarah xx

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Tasty TV Dinners

I know lots of people do it differently, but this is the way we do it: the kids eat dinner around 5.30 or 6.00pm, whereas Himself and I eat later. Not only that, we eat different things. My kids are (nearly) 5 and 7 and still have a bland palate - they'd happily eat mild chicken curry, shepherd's pie and a couple of other "usual suspects" (bolognaise, pizza, Donegal Catch fish fillets, I know your kids eat them too!) every other day til they were 15. I cannot hack that level of repetition and so we cook something for ourselves after they are in bed. As a result, it is usually about 8.30pm when we eat, so we tend to eat it on our laps in the sitting room.

I've also recently been getting very fed up of our normal midweek dinners. Himself is extremely fed up of stir fries (although I'd never tire of them!) and really, if I see either my vegetable crumble or my cauliflower cheese again this winter, it'll be too soon. I've been meaning to re-try an old student staple of mine, and tonight seemed like a good night. It's so long since I made a Spanish omelette and the last few times weren't so successful, so I just thought I should cast a quick eye over a recipe. BBC Food is always a good idea, so I found this Delia Smith recipe for Spanish Omelette on their site. 

As you can see from the photo, I did tweak it a little, not least the addition of some red peppers - I always found the potato and onion mix alone to be a little bland. However, following Delia's instructions meant that we had a really delicious meal (turns out, I had been rushing the whole thing too much, that's why it was failing more and more with each attempt). And the great thing about a Spanish omelette means that it is also delicious served cold, at a picnic.

As usual, the recipe is pretty much verbatim.

Spanish Omelette

  • 1 medium onion (about 110g / 4oz)
  • ½ red pepper
  • 275g / 10oz potatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 large eggs
  • salt and freshly milled black pepper
  1. First some points to note. The size of the frying pan is important: a base measurement of  8 inches (20cm) diameter is about right for two to three people. If using a larger pan for more people, it should not be too heavy because you need to turn the omelette out using both hands. Use a non-stick pan if you don't have a well-seasoned frying pan. An enormous asset here is a flat saucepan lid or large plate that fits the pan.
  2. First of all, peel and cut the onion in half, then thinly slice each half and separate the layers into half-moon shapes. 
  3. Now thinly pare the potatoes using a potato peeler and slice them into thin-ish rounds ... you have to work pretty quickly here because you don't want the slices to brown. When they are sliced, rub them in a clean tea cloth or some dry kitchen tissue to get them as dry as possible.
  4. Next, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the frying pan and, when it's smoking hot, add the potatoes and onions. Toss them around in the oil to get a good coating, then turn the heat right down to its lowest setting, add a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, put a lid on the frying pan and let the onions and potatoes (and peppers, if sing them) and cook gently for 20 minutes, or until tender. Turn them over halfway through and shake the pan from time to time, as they are not supposed to brown very much but just gently stew in the oil.
  5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl and, using a fork, whisk them lightly - it's important not to overbeat them. Finally, add some seasoning. When the onions and potatoes are cooked, quickly transfer them to the eggs in the bowl.
  6. Put the frying pan back on the heat, add the rest of the oil and turn the heat back up to medium. Then mix the potato and eggs thoroughly before pouring the whole lot into the frying pan and turning the heat down to its lowest setting immediately. Now forget all about French omelettes and be patient, because it's going to take 20-25 minutes to cook slowly, uncovered.
  7. Every now and then draw the edge in gently with a palette knife, as this will give it a lovely rounded edge. When there is virtually no liquid egg left on the surface of the omelette, turn it over to cook the other side. To do this, place a flat lid or plate over the pan, carefully invert both so that the omelette is on the lid or plate. Put the pan back on the heat and use the palette knife to gently ease the omelette back in. Give it about 2 minutes more, then turn the heat off and leave it for a further 5 minutes to settle. It should then be cooked through but still moist in the centre. 
  8. Serve hot or cold, cut in wedges, with a salad and a glass of Rioja - it's brilliant.
We served it with a simple salad - half a bag of rocket, a few cherry tomatoes, half a stick of celery finely chopped, a scallion, a grated carrot, some mixed seeds and a basic dressing, Bob's your uncle - the perfect TV dinner.

Sarah xx

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Beat the January Blues - Eat MORE Cake!

Wasn't today just the most miserable day??! I tell you, I am well fed up of January already, and I know I am also over February too, and it hasn't even started yet...

Tonight, my Dad is coming up and has deposited with us a leg of venison, which we will be attempting to roast later. Thank goodness Himself is a chef and even though he's never roasted a leg of venison before, I am leaving it in his capable hands. I found him a Jamie Oliver recipe on a Daily Mail page (very random) on the internet that uses canned cherries, and I know I have a tin lurking in the back of the cupboard (honestly, the weird food items you accumulate!) I felt this would be a good opportunity to finally use the blinking thing. 

So, anyhow - obviously we are pushing the boat out a little tonight with the whole leg of venison. As I mentioned, I am thoroughly fed up of the whole post-Christmas denial thing - not to mention the amount of talk in the press this month about the evils of sugar; so instead of the planned apple crumble, I decided to try out a recipe of Nigella Lawson's that I've been eyeing up for a while - Butterscotch Layer Cake. Butterscotch, caramel... what's not to love?!

So that's it - screw the "Jan Ban Plan" or whatever it's called in your house. If I'm gonna sin, I'm gonna do it in style; I'm having a glass of wine and I'm making me a seriously decadent cake - bring it on!

It doesn't look like Nigella's picture much, but I have HIGH hopes

Butterscotch Layer Cake 

(recipe verbatim from Nigella Lawson's "How To Be a Domestic Goddess")

For the icing
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 125ml cold water
  • 250ml double or whipping cream
  • 400g cream cheese, at room temp
For the cake layers
  • 225g butter, very soft
  • 125g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g golden (or ordinary) caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temp
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons double or whipping cream
  • You will also need 2 x 21cm sandwich tins, greased and lined on the bottom with parchment paper
  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / gas mark 5, and get on with the icing. I do this first, since you need to make some caramel and then let it cool. 
  2. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, remembering NOT to stir at all as it will crystallize if you do. When it seems dissolved, turn up the heat and boil until it turns a dark golden colour. This will probably take 10 - 15 minutes. And try not to be faint-hearted: caramel has to be burnt; it wouldn't be caramel otherwise. (I think I actually let mine go a minute too far, but i think it should be fine)
  3. When you've reached this exciting stage, take the pan off the heat and slowly whisk in the cream. It may go a little lumpy, but don't panic, it will right itself smoothly enough. When all the cream's in, put the pan on the heat for a further minute , whisking until smooth and combined. I find one of those little curly wire whisks (sometimes sold as Magiwhisk) the best tool for the job. Cool, and then put in the fridge until you need it
  4. The easiest way to make the cakes is to put all the ingredients except the cream into the bowl of the food processor and blitz til smooth. (It's for this reason the butter must be very soft before you start.) Scrap down the sides of the bowl, then process again. adding a couple of tablespoons of cream down the funnel with the motor running. Stop and check the consistency of the batter: if it's on the runny (though not liquid) side then stop here; otherwise add another 1 - 2 tablespoons of cream to achieve this dropping consistency. 
  5. If you want to make them by hand (as I had to, as my food processor is only a small one and the above method wouldn't work for me), then proceed as per a Victoria sponge - cream together the butter and sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, adding a spoon of flour after each egg. Then slowly fold in the rest of the flour, and add the cream at the end, as required to achieve the dropping consistency.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared tins and bake for about 25 minutes (another aside from Sarah: I baked mine at 180C, as I have a fan oven, 25 mins was verging on the over-cooked, a couple of minutes less would've been better.)  The cakes are ready when they're beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin and when a cake-tester or skewer comes out clean. Leave on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out and leave on the rack until completely cooled.
  7. Now, for the assembly. Pour the thoroughly cooled caramel into either an American cip measure or into a measuring jug to come up to the 250ml mark. (You'll be using some if not all of the rest to dribble over the iced cake later.)
  8. Beat the cream cheese until softened and smooth, then add the cupful of caramel and beat gently to combine.
  9. Put one cake on a plate. Using a rubber spatula or an ordinary blunt knife, roughly spread just under half the icing over the top of the waiting cake. Place the other cake on top and then roughly ice the top of that cake with what remains in the bowl. Don't feel constrained to use up every last scrap of icing: it tastes almost at its best straight out of a finger-wiped bowl. 
  10. Using a teaspoon, drizzle some of the reserved caramel over the cake: think Jackson Pollock.
    Serves 8
So go on - beat the January blues! 

Sarah xx

PS - here's an update a day later on the venison - WOW! It was totally sublime. We used only one tin of cherries, but otherwise followed the recipe (although our joint was smaller so we took an hour off the cooking time). It was totally delicious. Venison is not very "gamey" game. The meat is extremely lean so therefore quite dry, so the cherries were fabulous with it - I am not usually the biggest fan of fruit and meat combos, but the sweetness of this sauce was good to offset the dryness of the meat. Served with the veg it was cooked with and some roast potatoes, with the butterscotch cake to follow... It was a triumph of a meal. And there's loads of leftovers, so we are going to have venison wraps tonight, with some sweet onion relish. S.