Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Post #7: Success!

So the Irish are famous for their gorgeous brown bread. Its usually smaller than the standard loaves of sandwich bread we get at home and tastes a whole lot nicer. Its the standard fare in most homes (most homes I've been in anyway) and you will get it at every single B&B or hotel you stay in around the country, a lot of them home-made and protective of their recipes.

I've recently acquired my number 3 'Object of Lust' (I'll discuss the top 10 in a later post. And don't worry, there won't be any naked people :) : this cookbook. It has a load of really fantastic recipes and I've been sneaking peeks at it in my Irish Mammy and Daddy's house for ages before I finally gave in and bought my own. It is an absolutely gorgeous book and I'm smitten. When I find a good cookbook I read through it like a novel, and like any novel I love, it gets more than one read. I've easily gone through the book 20 times and I know I'll keep going back to it. It has beautiful pictures, great step-by-step instructions and (most importantly) everything I've made so far is absolutely fantastic and lip-smackingly good. I'll post a few recipes here as I try them out, I'll tell you about the first recipes I made: bread. There's 8 different types of bread in the book and there are suggestions for variations that can be made. The first one I made was the multi seed bread.

It was SO good! I put pumpkin, flax and sunflower seeds and it is so nice with a bowl of soup.

It came out so nicely, I decided to try the white yeast bread and plain brown bread to take to a family gathering over the weekend. I got a little carried away ...

I don't ever buy white bread and I definitely won't in future - I'll make this for a treat when guests are around. It took a bit of time but was so so delish! Everyone raved about the white bread and it ... just ... disappeared. The brown bread was good too but didn't really compete well with the homemade loaf one of the aunties brought. Hers was fantastic!

But at least I was successful with the white bread :)

White Yeast Bread (from The Avoca Cafe Cookbook)

20 g fresh yeast (I used 10g dried yeast)
25g butter
15g granulated sugar
700g strong white flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Dissolve the yeast in 150ml of lukewarm water. In a separate bowl add the butter and sugar to 150ml very hot water and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, then add 150 ml of cold water. The solution should be lukewarm, so combine with yeast mixture.

In a large bowl sift the flour and salt together, make a well in the center and add most of the lukewarm liquid. Mix to a loose dough, adding the remaining liquid. Add more flour or water as necessary. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, cover and leave to relax for 5-10 minutes. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and springy (if using a food mixer with dough hook, 5 minutes should be enough). Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a clean tea towel until doubled in size.

Knock back the risen dough and knead 2-3 minutes, until all the air has been forced out again. Leave to relax for 10 minutes then shape into loaves, plaits or rolls (or cute little pull apart buns like I did :) Place loaves into 1lb tins that have been brushed with olive oil or on an oiled baking sheet and leave to rise for 20-30 min. Bake at 230C for 30-35 minutes until the loaves have risen, are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Note: at the shaping stage I made kneaded in freshly minced garlic and folded in a bit of Parmesan when I shaped each half. They were SO good! I made them when guests were over and I thought I'd have one to enjoy with my soup the next day but no luck. All gonezo.


Jenn x

Friday, October 22, 2010

Post # 6: A question of healers ...

Note: this is my opinion only. My opinion is based on my experience. Don't do anything against your doctor or homeopath's advice.

I found it very interesting that the doctors in the Harry Potter series were referred to as 'healers'. What an insightful reference. After all, the people dealing with folks suffering with any type of sickness are aiming to heal their ailment. Or are they?

I have had a few jobs in different areas related to health which I feel had different objectives. I'm not sure that health industries today (and I am totally generalizing here) look at curing the underlying problem, but rather they are going for the quick fix. Solve the symptom and then the work is done. I think this should only be the case in emergency rooms, not the general attitude toward treating people. For instance you can't leave someone with a bleeding arm because that will need to be stitched up. I'm referring to long term, chronic illnesses, from something like someone suffering from acne for their entire life to someone with chronic back pain or headaches. In my experience, the medical attitude seems to want to cure the problem with some sort of pill or cream instead of trying to heal whatever is wrong on a deeper level that is the cause of these symptoms. The acne or headaches are the body's way of telling you something is wrong, and just hiding those symptoms isn't solving the problem.

I've come to think this way based on my experience with eczema. I had eczema on my hands from when I was a child until into my 20s, when I started seeing a homeopath (more on that later). I was taken to different doctors and was given tablets, steroid creams, had to cut nearly everything from my diet (an Easter without any chocolate when I was 8. Still bothers me) you name it. Nothing ever made it go away. And it was painful. I had it all year round and it would sporadically get worse with no seeming rhyme or reason. My palms and fingers would develop deep cracks and bleed ... and I could do nothing about it. My mom would slather my hands with the prescribed creams, wrap them in gauze then put finger cots or whole rubber gloves on to keep the gauze in place. And this went on for years, but it never healed.

One of my jobs during university was working in a health store. There I studied as a chartered herbalist (as if a degree didn't come with enough books!) to determine how herbs would help to cure a person, or their pet, of different issues, like using bladder wort if you have an under-active thyroid or chamomile to reduce anxiety. I found herbs and their abilities to heal the complaint amazing. Sure it didn't always work as quickly as a pill you'd get from the pharmacy but it did work, and the problems seemed to stay away. It was enough to pique my interest in hoping this was a way to deal with my eczema. And it kinda made sense to me too. I mean, of we were put on this earth, shouldn't the stuff we need to make us better be readily available?

Around the time I was learning all this cool stuff about herbs, my mom was introduced to a homeopath. I'd heard very little about homeopathy so was skeptical when my mom took my brother and I down to meet her. I could understand the herbs working because there was scientific studies done and Native wisdom to support their properties (did you know the Native Indians used to chew on birch bark to cure a headache? We know now that its where aspirin is derived from. Cool, eh? The Natives also advised that the first forests in Northern BC infested with pine beetle should just be burned, but the department of forestry knew how to deal with it in a more sustainable fashion. Or so they thought. Native wisdom is so rich) so the use of herbs was more ... measurable to me. Appealed to my scientific method of thinking.

Homeopathy is ... not. The remedies used in homeopathy are a diluted form of the original substance, and most remedies are derived from plants, minerals or animals. The plant/mineral/animal remedy is diluted so much that only the essence is left. So someone deathly allergic to peanuts could take the peanut remedy and it wouldn't harm them. Homeopathy works on the basis of like-treats-like to help the body cure itself; to remove whatever obstacle is preventing the body from working properly. For example, I used to have a stash of Nux Vomica for when I suffered from a hangover (it came in handy when I first moved to Ireland. The land of Guinness and all :). Nux vomica is the essence of strychnine. So while drinking alcohol is essentially poisoning your system, taking a poison remedy will help to cure you.

So while the idea of like-treats-like made sense to me, I struggled with how the actual remedies contained anything. In my job I analyze tablets that contain as little as 20 ug (1/100,000th of a gram) of an active ingredient, but as far as I know there has been no scientific support to show that there is any of the original substance present on the remedy and that its not just a placebo. This was going through my head when we went to the homeopath. How in the world were these things going to cure my eczema where all the drugs I had taken couldn't? The drugs were quantifiable, the remedies were not.

Not long after we started working with the homeopath my eczema started getting better. The homeopath identified that stress was a contributing factor, so we dealt with that. Its been years and while I still get a bit of eczema, mostly when I'm stressed, it never gets anywhere near as bad as it did. Its been a very nice 8 years without that pain and the cracked, bleeding hands. I took a leap of faith, mostly to please my mom, and it set into motion a revolution in the way our family looks at medicine. And we've never looked back. I have never taken a flu shot or any other vaccination as a society we've been told is necessary, and haven't had any problem. I guess this can be looked at like wearing a seat belt - you don't know you need it until 1 minute later - but I really feel that natural medicine is best for me. There definitely is a place for western medicine (antibiotics are literally life savers) but for things not immediately life-threatening, I like homeopathy.

Have you ever tried natural medicine? Do you think doctors are 'healers' or 'treaters'?


Jenn x

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Post #5: Taking - I mean making - Stock. Beef Style

I think its a little early in the life of this blog to take stock (don't want to scare ye off just yet :) so thought I'd share my first experience in making beef stock -from scratch!

This has been in the back of my mind for a while. I make virtually all my food from scratch but stocks are something I rely on the cubes for. Working with chemicals for so long has really made me think about ways to avoid them in my home, mainly in my cooking. When I told my Nana and Irish mammy I was trying to track down beef bones for stock they both thought I was mad. 'Just use the OXO cubes!' they said. My Nana admitted when she'd made it before it was never clear and just didn't end up being worth the effort. Despite the advice from these two women I adore, I thought I'd try my hand at it for the craic.

So I found a recipe I thought I could do and set to it. I thought the most difficult part would be having to wait through 8 hours of simmering, but the most difficult part of the process was getting my hands on the beef bones. I went to butcher after butcher after butcher with no luck. I seemed to always be just a little too late, the last customer just got them. This went on for a couple of days and I started to worry that maybe this was an exercise in futility. Until ... the second butcher I tried in the neighbouring town. This was going to be my last attempt. At least for this week :)

  Trimmed bones before roasting
At that butchers, I hit paydirt. The fellas in there got a good laugh out of me because I was SO excited when they said I could have as many bones as I wanted. I think there may or may not have been a little happy-clappy dance.

 Roasted bones - ready for the pot!

Now that I had the vital ingredient I was really looking forward to getting the stock going. While the bones were roasting I got my mirepoix (sounds fancy, eh? Its chopped onions, carrots and celery) ready so I could get this stuff simmering. I had 8 hours of watching it to do!!

Here we go!
It was really quite simple - throw everything in a pot, bring it to a boil then leave to simmer for 8 hours. There was a good amount of fat to skim off the top so I had to keep an eye on it, but my persistence paid off as I had a fragrant, clear stock at the end of it all.

The recipe yielded about 2 liters of stock. I could have reduced it down to make it a little more concentrated but it was midnight and I was well sick of the sight of the stuff, so I put it in the fridge. I was delighted to see it was even more clear after it was chilled and that I could easily remove the little bit of fat that remained in the stock from the surface. I froze it into ice cubes and will use it for stew this weekend. I'll let you know how that works out :)

Have you ever made stock before? Any tips?

Hope you have a fantastic Thursday!


Jenn x

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Post # 4: Work in progress ...

So I had this butternut squash just ... calling to me. It yearned to be used, to fulfil its destiny, (kind of like those Christmas trees Phoebe was so mad into protecting) or in other words - to be made into soup. I have a standby butternut squash soup recipe I really like and make quite often but I also have some leeks I need to use and they don't jive with my original recipe. I did some searching and found a recipe using both the butternut squash and leeks: 'Butternut and Apple Harvest Soup' (here's the recipe) and it sounded lovely. It smelled really good while it was cooking too. The sweetness of the squash and the apples mixed with the nutmeg ... I was really looking forward to it! Since I'm still on some pretty hefty painkillers for my back I substituted the white wine for apple cider vinegar and ... well ... I kinda killed it.

The vinegar is very strong. I didn't add the cream stated in the recipe and maybe that would have helped to absorb some of it. I directly substituted the vinegar for wine but should have started small and gradually added more until it was to my taste. Or even tasted it before adding any at all. Hindsight is 20/20, right? I've been trying to hide it with veg and chicken stocks as well as sugar. Anyone know any other ways to try to counteract over vinegar-ing something? I'm letting it rest overnight and I'll tackle it again tomorrow. There is a lot of soup there and so many good veggies in it, so I really want to sort it out. I don't have to waste any of it.

      Hope you have a fantastic day!


      Jenn x

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Post # 3: Adventures in Soup!

Ok, so I know soup isn't exactly adventurous, but I tried a new recipe that included 2 ingredients I've never cooked with before. I'm pretty risky when it comes to trying new things so finding a recipe that has more than one veg I haven't used as the primary ingredients seemed like a mini adventure and a great way to use some of my treasures from yesterday's farmer's market. Also, as I've been out for over a week with my back in bits, its about all the adventure I can handle. So an adventure nonetheless!! :)

Ingredient # 1 is the sweet potato. I don't think I've ever tasted that before and definitely haven't brought one through my door. Its a pretty ugly veg in my opinion (although not many pretty things grow underground) but when its cut open it is a lovely orange-red colour. It doesn't really smell like anything either, so I was unsure how it would play out as the star of my soup.

Ingredient #2 is lemongrass. I have only started seeing lemongrass in supermarkets here recently but hadn't ventured to cook with it before now. When I saw organic lemongrass in the farmer's market yesterday I decided it was time to begin our friendship.

It looks like a reed and has dry, hard outer layers and kind of reminded me of a very tiny leek. The outer husks are peeled away and there is a moist center where all the joy comes from. When I chopped the center part of the lemongrass I was surprised to see how pretty with alternating white and deep purple layers. Oh and how gorgeous it smelled!! It really was like essence of lemon. Just delicious! I wasn't at all worried at how it would play out in my soup :)
Some slices of lemongrass beside a whole one to show how the colour changes down the herb

So along with a few other veg, the soup was made and it was really, really yummy! It was pretty thick so I added about an extra litre of water, but the flavour was fantastic, very nice and subtle. I really enjoyed it and will make it again, especially coming into the winter. An added bonus - if you have anyone hesitant about getting their veg, they're nicely hidden.


Jenn x

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Post # 2: To Market, To Market!!

Today I headed to the Farmer's Market in my adopted hometown of Naas. Its located in the parking lot of a fancy-schmancy restaurant near the center of town. There aren't too many stalls, maybe around 12, but there is a good variety of stuff available there. When I arrive I usually make a bee-line for the organic veg stalls, which supply veggies grown on a local organic farm. This kills two birds with one stone from my perspective: (1) local produce is better for the environment because it doesn't need to travel as far, which means its fresher for me (and anyone who calls for dinner :) ) and (2) organic produce is devoid of the nasty chemicals that is poured onto a lot of fruit and veg found in the standard shops. I worked as a grocery manager in an organic fruit and veg department when I lived in PG, so in that role I gained an appreciation for how much better the organic stuff tasted compared to the chemical-laden alternatives (especially bananas!) well before I started reading about the health benefits.

View walking into the market

Organic produce isn't as widely available here as it is at home in Canada so Farmer's Markets are a great way to get locally grown produce. The market in Naas is fantastic as it has more than just the veg stalls - one where you can get potted organic plants and herbs, delicious cheeses (with the best goat's cheese ever!), organically grown fish, a noodle bar, a stand with every type of anti pasti you could fathom, fancy-dancy chocolatiers, all-natural bakery and a coffee stall where I usually get a yummy cup of java for the drive home.

Yes, four different types of potatoes!! It is Ireland after all :)

I didn't bring my camera so only took a few pictures with my phone, but I'll try to remember to bring my beast next week and get pics of each of the stalls. It is a really lovely place to start the day.

Anyway, back to the veg stall I love. I only took a couple of pictures but you can see the variety of organic produce (mostly vegetables) available. I mostly go for the local stuff, like onions, potatoes, leeks, lettuces, sweet and regular potatoes, but there is a lot of organic veg brought in from Holland, such as the artichokes and a few varieties of apples. There is also a lot of organic whole spices available too. I haven't been able to bring myself to buy tumeric yet. Have you seen whole tumeric before? It reminds me of a young insect and kinda creeps me out. Think I'll stick to the ground version for the moment :)

It was a lovely morning I really enjoyed, and I'm looking  forward to the yummies I'll enjoy with my local organic treasures :)


Jenn x

Friday, October 15, 2010

Post #1


I've been thinking of getting back on the blogging-wagon for ages now, but haven't felt like I have anything interesting to offer. I read a good few blogs written by people that are fantastic cooks, photographers or just post about stuff that sounds really interesting and creative, and I just had the feeling like I needed to wait until I was doing something interesting, exciting and creative before starting a blog. But then it dawned on me - maybe a blog would provide motivation to spend more time pursuing my hobbies, such as cooking, photography and hiking. After all, I live on a beautiful green island and not taking advantage of this stunning country and culture is nearly a crime! Espically if I move back to Canada, which definitely gives Ireland a run for its money in the fabulous scenery department ... but I'm not quite ready to do that yet :)

So here goes! Please leave a comment if you stop by, espically if you are a blogger yourself, and leave me any tips you can think of ... I need all the help I can get!!


Jenn x