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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cheesy leek & dill pie

Plague house. I've got stomach lurgy, Mark has a dreadful cold, the little foster lurcher has colitis. We were all up till 4am this morning with our various ailments. Time for some serious comfort food. Mark is no fan of meat free recipes but even he said this was the perfect thing for all the things that ailed us; silky, rich, deliciously cheesy and satisfying (also quick and cheap!). I think if leeks were an exotic vegetable we'd eat them a lot more. They are amazing tasting when cooked properly (and when you have a good, grit-free source).

1kg trimmed, washed leeks, chopped into 2" lengths
1oz butter
200g chevre or feta or a mixture
100g mature cheddar
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
salt & pepper & nutmeg to taste
Pack ready rolled butter pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 200oC. Simmer leeks for 15 mins, drain very thoroughly. Add butter, cheeses, dill & seasoning. Stir well and cool. Use as filling for pie fashioned from the pastry and sealed with the egg. Bake for around 30 mins. Cool for 10-15 minutes before eating. Return to the sofa and prepare for death, but with a better disposition than before.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

I lied, I lied. I got another foster.

No, I don't know what I was thinking of either. I only posted Dearg off to Sligo a week ago. Sheba's spay went successfully but she was an incredibly bad patient; I had to sit up with her all night stroking her head and paw (this is no exaggeration-the minute I stopped an unearthly wailing kicked off. I got to bed at 7am). Mark and I had plenty on our plates and sure Christmas is only a few weeks away.

Then Jane from Sighthound Strolls posted an urgent request to foster a little whippety lurcher for Christmas. I have a massive weakness for whippets and they are only tiny.....I persuaded the ever amenable Mark that we should take him in as we would hardly notice one more little one. Fortunately the whippet got rescue space that day, but Jane said if I was willing to foster she had the sweetest little Saluki X.......

To cut a long story short, next Saturday we were back down the road to Newry to pick up little Bono (so named for his extravagant vocal style) whom we promptly renamed Yogi as we both hate U2 and he is a darling little bear of a dog.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Haddock Plaki

This is another of those gorgeous Greek braised dishes, full of olive oil. Please don't stint, it makes all the difference.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 oz butter
Juice of 1 lemon
2 medium onions, finely sliced
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1 glass white wine
1 cup of chicken stock (or more wine)
4 tomatoes, each cut into 8 pieces
6 medium red potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced and boiled for 2 mins then drained into a colander
4 large skinless haddock fillets

Preheat the oven to 200oC. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and when it begins to foam, add the onions along with a pinch of salt, stirring to coat well. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and cook for 4 to 6 minutes longer, or until the onions are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the oregano and stir to combine. Add the wine & lemon juice and bring to a boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, or until the pan is almost dry.

Stir in the tomatoes, the stock, and a pinch of salt. Return to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cook for about 10 minutes, season and remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan to medium-high. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sear the fish for 1 min each side, only one or 2 at a time. Don't crowd the pan. Drain them on kitchen towel.

Mix the potatoes with about 2/3 of the sauce and spread it into a lasagne dish. Put the fillets on top and pour the remaining sauce over the whole thing. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and cooked through.

Dear Dearg III - a day is a long time in fostering

Looking like butter wouldn't melt......hmmmm.
One thing you learn very quickly about pound dogs is that it's such a stressful experience for them (the noise, the cold and the fear) that it takes weeks for their personalities to come back again. The first two days are especially hard for them and all they do is eat and sleep. The problem with this is that you won't see some of the more "challenging" behaviour for a day or two and then, just as you've been lulled into a false sense of security, they display some appalling behaviour out of the blue and invite you to "deal with it, bitch".

And so on the third day Dearg decided to act the bollocks and attack all the other dogs. To a certain extent I don't mind husky-on-husky fighting - they mostly enjoy a bit of light hearted scrapping and they have enough coat to protect them from the worst of it. But my little Saluki X is extremely thin skinned and Dearg was lunging at her in an alarmingly fangy way. Also my own two huskies are getting on a bit and you could see that while they were trying to be polite they weren't really enjoying Dearg's toothy advances.

At this point the fosterer has to take a very deep breath. You cannot risk your own dogs being hurt or being affected in the longterm by a foster dog's behaviour. On the other hand, the foster dog has been through an awful lot and you have to give them a break. Something's got to give. And that something is your right to a decent night's sleep.

Mark and I took turns for a full two weeks to sleep on the sofa and ensure that Dearg didn't take a lump out of any of the other dogs. This is not something we will be repeating any time soon and we cannot recommend it. We both have trapped nerves and filthy dispositions as a result of the enforced separation. While I do think the two weeks in our house did Dearg the power of good, it took a lot out of us and our dogs. He's now with Irish Sled Dog Rescue in Sligo and if you feel you could give him a good home, please get in touch. He's a good little man, affectionate and clever. But I think he wants to be an "only dog".

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dear Dearg II - Stinky Husky

The little stinker......
We first met Orsin in a hotel car park. From a distance, cute as a button and good as gold. Then we got closer and.....sweet Jesus he was HONKING! I noticed the lovely transport lady and her two kids looked a little queasy after driving him from Dublin and we were hastily given his vaccination card, told he was a good boy and then they scarpered, leaving us with a very smiley husky who smelt powerfully of socks, Parmesan and something indefinably awful. Possibly badgers.

Anyway, he really was good as advertised and hopped into the back of the car without demur. Five minutes into the journey I pleaded with Mark to crack a window. Big mistake, that just pulled the smell right through the car. Honestly, you could have made sandwiches out of it, it was so thick.

I called a few dozen dog groomers on the way back up to Belfast, but it was lunchtime on Saturday and my opening line of "I wonder could I get a rescue dog washed this afternoon? It's a bit of an emergency..." probably wasn't calculated for success. Our only option was to invest in a few rubber mats and hope he didn't destroy our bath. To be fair he was perfectly behaved throughout his soapy ordeal, standing quietly and looking up occasionally with that pained look dogs feel duty bound to do when being bathed, even when secretly they are quite enjoying the attention.

So far, so well mannered. But I'm no dozer, my rescue Saluki was a little lady until we got home, where she swore emphatically at my dogs for four days solid (and indeed still sometimes throws a casual little snarl out when a dog passes by). My three were dispatched out the back with marrow bones to distract them from the newcomer, giving him an hour which he put to good use snuffling round the house, shaking water out of his coat and on to us, rolling around on Sheba's rug (hell to pay for that later) and looking for cuddles from us (which would have been far more charming if he wasn't so wet and smelly). The orange blossom shampoo and evening primrose oil conditioner were certainly effective, but there was still a lingering cheesiness about him....

After an hour the inevitable scraping at the back door started, leaving us with no option but to do the introductions. Amazingly, after a few brief scuffles and awkward dances, everyone seemed to accept him remarkably quickly. Maybe because he's a husky. Maybe because he showed due deference to everyone. I
neither knew nor cared - by that stage we were so knackered we just took it as a blessing and started to walk all the dogs. Yet again the little man impressed, walking quietly (for a husky) on the lead. Was there no end to his talents? I was getting a bit worried as we had agreed beforehand he was Strictly Temporary and already I could see my husband falling for his not inconsiderable charms.

Dear Dearg -The husky that stole a fortnight off me

Orsin, now called Dearg.....
So two weeks ago I took Friday off work. Woke up early with a filthy cold and trotted downstairs for a Lemsip. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I checked Facebook......and there was my little red nemesis. You see, when I got Sheba from Dunboyne Pound I offered the local rescue, A Dog's Life, foster space for a husky should they need it. Huskies are a (for which read demented) and husky fosterers are apparently like gold dust (I didn't know this when I offered!).

So I saw Martina's call for a foster for little Orsin. You see huskies regularly in Dunboyne Pound - they have non-existent recall but people persist in letting them off lead. Orsin was still wearing his little red halter when he was found, so you would think he'd quickly be reclaimed. Not so.......his five days were up and Irish Sled Dogs Rescue weren't able to take him till December the 3rd. Orsin needed sprung from the pound as technically he could be put down at any time.

I studied the post. There were several people offering to foster him. I'm a hundred miles up the road from the pound so I knew they'd only ask me in extremis. I spoke to my husband, who immediately said "yeah, tell them we'll take him if they are stuck."

Well of course the offer was accepted on the spot and next thing we knew we were signed up to looking after an unneutered red husky of allegedly friendly disposition and very good in cars. That's about all we knew. We arranged to meet his transporter in Newry at lunchtime on Saturday. Friday night we went out for a Chinese, figuring that would be the last time we got across the door for anything not related to dogs for the next two right we were.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Bulgur today means mango milkshakes tomorrow...

What a lucky, lucky girl I am! As you know I need my three holidays per year and the most important one in terms of my mental health is definitely the January one. The old Seasonal Affective Disorder hits nobody harder than poor oul Funkyknuckles and the long, hard stretch of dark days between Christmas (yay!) and Birthdays (woo!) is impossible to countenance without a little winter sun to break it up.

Two years ago I spent a surprisingly lovely week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, but it bore no comparison to last year's holiday in Dahab. It's a little hippy enclave about an hour's drive north of Sharm el Sheikh and it couldn't be more different from the all-inclusive griefhole that Sharm has apparently become. Dahab is a laidback paradise with a lovely lazy bedouin vibe. The thing to do in Dahab is do nothing. And the very best place to do nothing is in the Dahab Paradise Hotel.

Dahab's got its own little rash of AI hotels too but they are well away from the fun, down at the Laguna. The way to go here is to choose a boutique hotel and the best one is the Paradise. I so wanted to go here last year with my aunt but the funds weren't up to it, so we ended up in the Dahab Plaza - a brilliant backpackers motel with free tea, coffee, shisha, wifi and laundry! And of course Emad, the incredibly hospitable hotel manager.

We spent the most wonderfully relaxed week there - listening to George Harrison and Nouvelle Vague, drinking good coffee by day and lovely local wine by night...I read so much, ate so well and met so many lovely, friendly people while all the time the Arab Spring was hotting up in Cairo... I really wanted to bring my husband to Dahab this winter to show him what a beautiful place it was, but the bank manager would not allow me to do it in the style required and I knew that for all the Plaza's charms it's not what you'd call romantic. No point travelling all that way for a week unless you're going to do it right.

This is where my luck came in - the Dahab Paradise Facebook page runs a monthly draw for a week's stay for two, and guess who this month's lucky winner is? I nearly died of excitement when I got the email as I never win anything. My prize is a week's B&B for two with transfers, a bottle of Aida (Egyptian "champagne" and not at all bad!), a day's snorkelling and a candlelit dinner for two in the desert. How fantastic does that sound? The only drawback is that Thomas Cook stopped doing direct charters between Belfast & Sharm last year and the Dublin flights are over €500 each! Skyscanner came to my rescue though with a not-too-complicated bit of hopping around allowing us to leave Belfast and arrive in Sharm on the same day (no mean feat) for half that price. Don't let me down, Easyjet, don't let me down.

Dahab lobster is a good incentive - this was dinner
last January......
So tickets are bought, arrangements are made and I need to make only a few extra economies to ensure complete happiness at the end of January. I'm spending too much on not-very-pleasant tuna sandwiches and actively nasty coffee in our canteen. So in the interests of taste and economy I've switched to karkady (a delicious hibiscus flower tea from Aswan which tastes like spicy Ribena) and bulgur salads, which I never get bored of and which cost half nothing to make. This one features lovely roasted peppers and mint and was so easy to put together and so delicious you'd never think it cost about a pound to make (thanks to a glut of reduced peppers at Tesco) and I got 4 lunches out of it. Every canteen coffee I avoid here will magically transform itself into a mango milkshake in Dahab, while five soggy tuna sarnies equal one lobster dinner. I am powerfully incentivised, as they say.

Bulgur salad with peppers and mint

8oz coarse bulgur
16 fl oz boiling stock (I used Marigold)
2 nests of vermicelli or 1oz orzo (optional but really adds to the texture)
1 tbsp olive oil
small bunch of mint chopped finely
3 large peppers, roasted, skinned and cut up
2 tsp any warm spice mix (I went for a Turkish one this time but Ras el Hanout or Garam Masala would be good too)
1/2tsp aleppo pepper (or other chilli flakes)
1 tsp soy sauce
Salt & pepper to taste.

Fry the vermicelli in the oil on a medium high heat till it colours, then add the bulgur and stir and fry till it's golden brown (about 2-3 more mins). Add the hot stock and cover immediately, turning the heat down to medium. After 10 minutes turn the heat off completely but don't lift the lid! When it's cold toss through all the other ingredients.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

McCartney's Chorizo, Chicken & Bean Stew

Messy but completely delish!
McCartneys of Moira are going a dinger at the moment! First of all their Corned Beef beat 7,500 other entries to become the Great Taste Awards 2011 Supreme Champion, then they were named best Neighbourhood Retailer Butcher of the Year! But we knew that anyway! Their sausages are just the best thing ever and so cheap when you consider how delicious they are. I'd rather have a plate of McCartney's sausages (especially their Italian ones) than a supermarket steak any time.

I made a fantastic (even if I do say so myself) casserole for the weekend from McCartney's chorizo sausages, some chicken fillets, a few tins of beans and a tub of tomato sauce. These sausages aren't as strong as proper chorizo (they are more accurately chorizo flavoured) but they are full of garlic & paprika and perfect for a winter casserole. Incredibly easy and quick to do, this will keep us going through a busy weekend where my husband and I are doing a very accurate impression of ships that pass in the night. You can eat a bowl of it on its own or have some crusty bread and cheese on the side. I make a pretty damn good tomato sauce in industrial quantities once a month and freeze 400g or so batches of it, so that's what I used here. Use your own recipe or a supermarket one if you must, though I can't recommend one cos I think they are all awful.....if you can recommend a good one please let me know!

Chorizo, Chicken & Bean Stew
450g McCartney's Chorizo sausages (If you are not lucky enough to have McCartneys, use a premium pork sausage with a lot of garlic, paprika and spice in the mix) cut into bitesize chunks
450g chicken breast fillets cut into bitesize chunks
1 punnet chestnut mushrooms sliced
1 medium aubergine diced into 1/2" chunks
100g Kabanossi sausage sliced
1 tin chickpeas drained and washed
1 tin flageolet beans drained and washed
3-400g or so of tomato sauce (see recipe below)
1 tsp paprika
Oil for frying

Fry the mushrooms on high until caramelised and golden. Transfer to a large casserole. Do the same thing with the aubergine. Turn the heat down slightly to medium high heat. Fry the chorizo until golden and add to the casserole. Then do the same with the chicken. Put everything else (beans, kabanossi, tomato sauce) into the casserole, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 mins.

My tomato sauce
2 x 500g cartons of passata (Tesco's 29p one is grand)
2-3 large onions
2-3 peppers (optional)
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh.

Put the peppers, onions & garlic in a food processor and whizz till finely chopped. Fry on a medium high heat till cooked through (30 mins?). Throw everything else in, bring to the boil, simmer on low for an hour or so, remove whole herbs, cool & freeze in batches (this makes 3 batches for me). If you make it without peppers it's stupidly cheap and tastes much better than any dirty oul thing out of a jar.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Lidl more than I intended

Didn't think it was actually possible to
break the £20 barrier in Lidl!
I really only nipped in to the Castlereagh Lidl because I saw it had a bakery and I know they do a cracking rye loaf. Of course I got hugely carried away and ended up with a mighty stash - I ended up spending more than £20 which I didn't think was possible!

Lidl is tremendously hit and miss - their yoghurts & chilled desserts are dire and I still can't bring myself to take a punt on the cleaning products but I'll update as I test:
  • Cheese parcels - lovely buttery pastry with a mixture of feta and mizritha cheese - I'll be buying these again!
  • Kabanossi - tasty enough Greek sausage, 300g for £1.99 is a good deal and I plan on putting it in a pie with some of the cheese I bought. (Update: I ended up putting it in a lovely Chicken & Chorizo Casserole)
  • Fin Carre plain chocolate is a good Bourneville substitute and at less than 30p for a 100g bar you couldn't complain at all. We'll be making truffles this weekend!
  • The Greek anchovies are delish - not strong at all, soft, melting texture in a lovely herb vinaigrette.
  • The sesame bagels were quite light and not desperately chewy but toasted well and were COVERED in sesame seeds which is very important for me! Eaten with the cream cheese and ham these sustained us midweek at exactly half the price I'd pay in Tesco. That's if you can find one. Tesco stock buyers, take note. There's a reason you always run out of the sesame bagels while heaps of plain and onion ones languish on the sidelines. Please address it.
  • Country loaf & rye loaf - I lived on these for two days and made no impression. They are as huge as they are delicious and they both make the most amazing toast. The Country Loaf was incredible value for 89p. It made a very memorable breakfast this morning, toasted, buttered and draped with fried eggs. I recently paid £4 for a similar loaf in St George's Farmers Market and I thought that was good value, so it's definitely worth a detour to a Lidl with a home bakery on a Friday - you'll have good bread all weekend for less than a pound. 
  • Gran Padano - as Parmesan substitutes go I'm afraid this was Not All That. 
I'd love to direct you to a list of Lidls with home bakeries, but I can't because their website is UNBELIEVABLY SHIT! Guys, I know it's a budget brand but Jesus H, you could've spent more than a tenner on it?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sheba speaks!

Sheba recently gave an interview to Sighthound Strolls, a group which aims to show what excellent pets greyhounds and lurchers make. Here's what she said:

Tell us how you ended up as a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
My mum saw me on “A Dog’s Life” Facebook page. Michelle Griffin takes pictures of all the strays and surrenders in Dunboyne Pound near Dublin and then Martina writes a lovely description and puts them on the page. My mum made my dad come with her the whole way from Belfast to Dublin first thing on Saturday morning to get me, even though he had a stinking hangover and four hours sleep. I slept on my dad’s knee on the back seat the whole way home. When they got me home they had to cut tats out from between my toes and cut out a big lump of chewing gum from the fur on my side so I had a baldy spot there for a few months. I was very skinny when I arrived so I ate pilchards and hotdogs and porridge and cheese and pasta and eggs and after a few months my coat went shiny and I didn’t have a pointy bum any more. At the start I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye and I swore at my brother and sister when they came near me. Mum made me a camp bed in the hall and she slept downstairs in case there were fights. On the third night mum woke up with chest pains and pins and needles and she couldn’t move her legs. She thought she was having a heart attack but it was just me sleeping on top of her, haha! After that me and mum were inseparable, I go everywhere with her apart from work.

We’d love to hear about your new family, both human and canine...
I live with my brother Jasper and my sister Juneau. They are Siberian huskies and they are a lot older than me. Juneau glares at me a lot and won’t let me sleep in the bedroom at night. Jasper is good fun, he does a lot of silly stuff even though he’s old. Sometimes Jasper and I go for walks together but Juneau always has to walk on her own because she pulls even harder on the lead when there are other dogs around and mum says she’s sick of going to physio. If it’s cold I have to wear a coat but they never do. They have so much coat they leave it in big lumps round the house. I might get mum to knit me a coat out of their leftovers. Because Jasper & Juneau are huskies they don’t really listen to anything mum and dad say to them, unless it’s about food or walks. They like to howl sometimes, and I like to join in with them. For some reason everyone thinks this is hilarious. I get a bit offended to be honest as I have a beautiful singing voice. It’s been likened to Bjork crossed with Janis Joplin and I’m heavily influenced by Yoko Ono’s early work, particularly her “Screeching Period”. Mum and dad seem to mostly like feeding us and walking us and buying me new collars and coats. They seem to spend most of their day doing stuff for us. Between you and me if it wasn’t for us I think they’d be bored.

Tell us a little about what you get up to on an average day?
About 7am I like to go upstairs and stick my nose in dad’s ear. He likes that a lot, I always give him a big smile when he wakes up so he knows it was me. Then when he gets out of bed I hop in and snuggle up to mum till the tea arrives. When mum goes to work dad takes us all for separate walks and then we sleep till mum gets home. Then we all run around like loons for a bit because we’re so happy to see her, go for more walks, eat our dinner and sleep until bedtime. If mum or dad have to take the car anywhere I love to go with them. I like the car a lot, you can sit in the back and look out for seagulls and sometimes we go to the pet shop and the girls there make a fuss of me. They try to give me treats but what I really want is a pet rabbit. They have loads of them at the pet shop but they never let me anywhere near them.

Now for some quick fire questions!

Favourite food?
Chappie! It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever eaten! It comes in two flavours and it makes me jump around like a loon every time I see it! Tinned hotdogs are nice too and every Saturday mum gets us each a meaty bone from the butchers.

Favourite place to sleep?
Sofas are best, but at a pinch I’ll settle for bed. I like to lie about on the landing rug sometimes so I can watch out for dogs walking past outside and roar at them.

Favourite place to walk?
Sir Thomas & Lady Dixon Park is a massive sighthound theme park near Belfast. It has rabbits AND squirrels and a walled garden where mum sometimes lets me off the lead if there’s no one else about.

Favourite toy?
Mr Handiquack the squeaky duck.

Favourite pastimes?
Chewing bones, playing with my family, roaring at other dogs, following my mum everywhere and stealing things.

Which celebrity do you most resemble in looks?
Mum says Greta Garbo, Dad says Twiggy, my sister says I look like a gypsy. I think she means it nicely.

Which celebrity do you most resemble in personality?
I think it would be Kate Moss. Apparently she likes a laugh and she enjoys trying on new clothes and so do I. I’m not sure she likes Chappie as much as I do. But I read that her ex husband’s first words to her were “You smell of wee” and that was the first thing my mum said when she met me! Coincidence or what?

Most embarrassing moment since being a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
When I went to Michelle’s studio to get my photo taken for “A Dog’s Life” I got confused and mistook her floor tiles for a pavement. I’m afraid I laid a massive egg in the middle of the studio floor. Michelle and my mum stared at it for a very long time without saying anything. I took a massive reddener.

Best moment so far since being a ‘Happily Homed Hound’?
Being chosen to appear on a Christmas card to raise funds for “A Dog’s Life”. You can buy them from their Facebook page you know! Only €5 for 8 and all the money goes to help other dogs like me who end up in Dunboyne Pound.

And finally, is there any advice you would give to someone who is considering adopting a sighthound from a pound/rescue?
Just that it really is normal for us to sleep that much!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Best butter

I remember being told years ago, no matter how bad things get, three things you cannot skimp on, no matter how bad your financial situation, are coffee, bread and toilet roll.

I agree with all the above, but would add butter to the list. We are entering the third year of penury Chez Funkyknuckles and while many, many cutbacks have been made, skimping on butter is not an option. I have a horror of margarine (we used to be forced to use Banquet on our toast towards the end of the month in the seventies, which was a peculiarly disgusting and utterly unforgettable experience) and there's a lot of butter out there at the moment that may as well be marge for all the flavour. Ballyrashane is the best mass market butter but I am addicted to Tesco Finest Jersey butter, it's by far the best value and taste I've tried.

Actually just had a very fine dinner of wheaten farl from the home bakery at the bottom of the street generously buttered with the above, accompanied by a bottle of Wairau Cove Sauvignon Blanc and some Emmental and Pave d'Affinois past its sell by date but much better for it. Total cost of meal excluding wine, less than £2 for two people. Of which the butter cost about 20p but added immeasurably to the experience. Bread, butter, cheese and wine will make an excellent meal if the participating ingredients are great, but equally if it's awful stuff you'll think "Is this what I'm reduced to?" which is no fun at all.

So all relative - £1.50 sounds like a lot for 250g butter but if it keeps you happy all week it's an investment, right?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Fasolakia ladera (Braised runner beans)

Sheba modelling her new woolly jumper.
It's getting cold, but I don't want to give up on summer foods just yet. There's a great collection of recipes at Symi Visitor and their Fasolakia recipe was just the ticket for using up 1lb of runner beans and feeling a bit more cheerful about having to button little Sheba into her winter woollies for the first time this year.

For those of you who have an interest in such things, Sheba's jumper was made by a lady called Valerie Charman at Greyhounds4me.

This recipe is a ladera, which is just a generic Greek term for vegetables braised in olive oil. You can do any wintery vegetables like carrots, peas, spuds and beans in a ladera and any herbs such as parsley, mint, thyme or dill. Your constants are sauteed onion, tomato, garlic, good olive oil and a looooooooong slow cook. Fasolakia ladera is the perfect dish to remind you of Greek summers but it will also insulate you against a Belfast autumn evening.

Fasolakia Ladera (inspired by Symi Visitor)

1lb runner beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1" chunks.
1 tin flageolet beans, drained and rinsed
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
3-4 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
2-3 finely chopped onions,
1 ½ cups olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and add the onions. Cook gently until soft, around 20 minutes. Add the runner beans and cook for 5 minutes. Finally add the flageolet beans, potatoes, tomato, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and a scant mug of water. Simmer over medium heat for 15 mins and then turn right down low until the beans are tender. I took the husband and the dog to the pub for two hours and that was perfect timing. It should all be velvety and unctuous, you are not looking for bite here. Traditionally served warm or at room temperature with feta cheese, bread and a squeeze of lemon to taste. I had mine with pork chops, wheaten bread and overripe brie and it was great.

PS I did this again without the flageolet beans and potatoes and it was extremely good with a cheesy mushroom, ham & tomato omelette!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Chicken and dill pilaf

Dispose of your
chicken carcass a stock pot
This weekend I found myself hoking round Tesco's reduced section and gathered up some random vegetables, some of which gave me the makings of stock. One thing I did not get to eat on my holidays was my favourite bulgur wheat pilaf - the restaurateurs of Side preferred rice and orzo to coarse bulgur and vermicelli. So I dragged a chicken carcass out of the freezer and made a main course pilaf inspired by Turkey and Tesco's.

Chicken & Dill Pilaf

1 chicken carcass (or a pack of chicken wings)
2 onions, halved
2 carrots, cut into chunks
3 stalks of celery
Handful of parsley
Salt and pepper

Coarse bulgur (or rice if you can't find any)
3-4 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 nest vermicelli (optional)
1 small bunch of dill, chopped

Take the first 6 ingredients, put them in a large pot and cover with water, bring to the boil, skim off the foam, simmer on low for a few hours. Strain the liquid off and measure it (I got 24 fl. oz.). Measure out half that amount of bulgur or rice (e.g. I poured the bulgur into a measuring jug up to the 12 fl.oz. marker). Pull any chicken meat off the carcass and chop finely. Take a large pan with a lid (I used a flat bottomed wok) and fry up the onion and celery in olive oil until it's transparent, then crumble a nest of vermicelli in, stir till the vermicelli is translucent. Add the bulgur and fry for a few more minutes. Then add the hot stock (there will be lots of steam!), add the chicken bits, bring to the boil, cover and turn the heat to medium. Leave without touching for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave it to stand on the ring for 10 minutes (it will sit longer if needed). Do not touch the lid! No peeking, no stirring. Chop the dill finely and stir it through, check for seasoning and then leave covered for another few minutes for the flavour to permeate.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Whole lot of greeting going on

Took Sheba to the Greyhound Meet and Greet at the Pets at Home in Bangor today, the idea of which is to demonstrate to the public that sighthounds are lovely, lazy guys who are biddable, easy to care for and generally very nice to be around.

So they are, too. About a dozen of us were there, mostly with rescue greys and lurchers, and a very friendly and chatty bunch we were. Everyone's dogs behaved impeccably too....apart from you know who.

The noble Sheba in more relaxed form
 Yes, Sheba reminded everyone that she's a massive Dublin knacker and growled very loudly at every dog who came near her. At one point she was actually marching over to new dogs, wagging her tail, all smiles.....and then growling at them once she got close. The other dogs were, naturally, nonplussed. One of the owners suggested (in the nicest, most helpful way) that we invest in a muzzle until she sorts her issues out. She lent us one for a while and it was useful because as soon as Sheba was strapped into it, it was clear that she's not actually scared, she just likes to growl, because she promptly sat down and sulked.

So still work to do on my little gurrier, but if you are interested in adopting a dog please consider a greyhound or lurcher, they are such good dogs and so easy to look after.

On the way home we went to McKees in Craigantlet to get bones for the dogs and very happy they were too.

Old school savoury mince pie recipe

A lot of Saturday evening conversations go like this:

Me: What do you want for dinner?
Him: Lark's tongues in aspic (I exaggerate for comic effect, but you get the idea - some mad concoction you'd never have the ingredients for)
Me: I don't have the makings for that!
Him (sulking): Well why ask then?

Nice to hear him say he wanted an old-fashioned mince pie with boiled spuds and broccoli as I had all the makings to hand (Tesco having Jus-rol ready rolled puff pastry on special offer for a pound), so I made a pie so wonderful he says we have to have it at least once a week from now on. ;)

Best old school mince pie

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
350g lean mince beef
4 bacon rashers, finely chopped
1 onion finely chopped
1 small carrot chopped
1/2tsp dried thyme (I used some great stuff I brought back from Turkey)
1 dsp Bisto Best gravy granules
1 tsp HP sauce
Half a mug of water
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 200oC. Heat the frying pan till smoking, dry fry the mince and once it's browned, drain in a sieve to get rid of excess fat. Do the same with the bacon. While they drain, fry the onion & carrot at medium high heat for 5 mins to soften. Return the mince and bacon to the pan along with the Bisto, HP sauce, thyme and water. Cook down until it looks like pie filling (5 minutes?). Let it cool slightly and then make it into whatever style or shape of pie you like. Brush well with beaten egg, bake for 30 mins or so (turn the heat down if it looks like it's getting too brown). Serve with crinkle cut chips and beans for full old school effect. This is a powerful aphrodisiac and will make your husband adore you in a spectacularly demonstrative fashion, so be careful.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Leydi Kuafor, Side

You may as well make yourself
beautiful while you're here!
If you happen to be staying in the old part of Side, be sure to treat yourself to a threading and head and shoulders massage at Leydi Kuafor. It doesn't look like much, sitting right at the end of Gul Sokak opposite the Begonville Hotel at the intersection with Yasemin Sokak but they are super friendly and do great work at a very good price. I got comprehensively threaded (eyebrows shaped, moustache and a few stray chin hairs removed!) and a super relaxing massage for 10TL. Also in that street (Yasemin) and worth an honorable mention is the cobbler opposite (did a very tricky bit of work on a favourite belt absolutely perfectly for 20TL) and about 50m on up the hill on your right just after the big open air pottery shops but just before Ugur Kebab there's a tailor on the first floor who will do alterations on the spot! And charges about a fifth of what it costs at home (my dress was taken up 4" and pressed for 5TL!).

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Happy teeth

Without Halile's help, this is how my
bedside table will look....
I have some stupid phobias (mainly regarding balloons) and a couple that strike me as eminently sensible - needles and dentists. I get the full works with these; uncontrollable shaking, weeping, flailing and woohooing. Frankly, doctors and dentists can't stand the sight of me and I don't blame them. Unfortunately this year I discovered that trips to the dentist are not optional but essential. I chipped one front tooth and a malevolent brown mark appeared on the gumline of another. My tongue also kept finding a jagged hole in a back molar that I couldn't ignore. I tried not smiling for a year (really!) but finally I had to admit defeat.

My dentist is a lovely woman, but rather stern and much given to sermonising. Every time I see her she lectures me on how my dissipated lifestyle is affecting my teeth. She is also patently unable to get near me to do fillings. She has neither the patience nor the necessary sedatives for the job. Every so often she would wearily point out that i needed work done and we'd do the traditional dance; chase me round the surgery with a needle, send me out sobbing to the waiting room to frighten the other patients, bring me in again, chase me round the surgery with a drill and so on, until she admitted defeat and sent me home in disgust. In all those years drill has never made contact with enamel.

But this time I realised I had no choice. The not smiling thing was really not my style. Then as I was trying to decide where to go on my hols I read a recommendation on a Tripadvisor forum. Halile the magical dentist was patient, kind and could work on the most nervous patients. People travelled from Istanbul to get work done in her space age offices in Manavgat, a dolmus ride away from Side.

Here was my chance, I thought. Foreign dentists would be much more on for a spot of sedation, which I was sure I needed. Well, no, it turns out. But Halile really is the best damn dentist in the world.

She was happy to tell me I was the worst patient she's ever had. Absolutely nothing to be proud of, but always good to know you're not a middling kind of phobic. Actually the whole experience was a bit Graham Greene. First she sat me in the dentists chair and of course I did my usual and immediately burst into tears and shook like an epileptic.

She moved me over to her desk a couple of feet away from the chair of doom and said "do you smoke?". I assumed she meant was that the reason my teeth were such a mess so I said yes, I used to. To which she lit a fag and offered me one! So I explained I'd rather not start again and she laughed and said "how about a whisky?". I told her it had taken me two glasses of wine to get to the front door so she sent the technician out for a glass of wine for me! I declined that, as the thought of being actually half cut during reasonably major dental work rather than just having a bit of Dutch courage didn't really appeal. Then she said "just imagine it's the hairdressers", told me she'd work really slowly and carefully and told me to put my hand on her waist and hold the nurse's hand while she did the injections!

And I shit you not, I didn't feel a thing! Didn't stop me shaking and crying and wahaying like a loon for the first hour or so, but towards the end she could have suggested another four fillings and I'd have gone for it. OK that's pushing it but you get the idea. The woman is a genius. She even sorted the chip on my front tooth. She had to stop three times for a fag, god love her. My kind of dentist. So I'm sure you think I'm absolutely mental (and of course I am) but it worked for me and worth every penny.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Oz Adana, Side

Yasemin Sokak, with Oz Adana on the left.
The Oz Adana is on the same street as my pension and every time I walked past it was busy and had some damn fine smells coming from it. So today I had lunch there, hoping to find a worthy contender for the Best Kebab Contest (currently held by the Ali Baba Kebab Evi in Manavgat). No prizes for guessing what I ordered; the Adana kebab is the lovely flattened, spiced sausage one - done right it is juicy and fresh and moreish. You can make a real beast if yourself with an Adana kebab.

Oz has an admirable regard for food hygiene; I don't think I've ever eaten in such a spotless place anywhere. He favours cleanliness over presentation (which is where he and I would fall out) and serves his lovely crusty bread in tied plastic bags inside wicker baskets on the tables. You also get a plate of hot little chillies to nibble while you wait. I would have loved some olive oil to dip it in, but I'm just greedy that way.

This place is proper Turkish so very little English spoken or understood, but a glass of white wine was eventually got hold of and Adana kebab hopefully ordered.

About ten minutes later one of the waiters put a clingfilm wrapped plate of kebab and chips on my table. Not on my place, but opposite. He didn't acknowledge me and walked off. Huge confusion. Was it mine? Were they really that hygiene conscious? What were they afraid of? Bloody hell, it had all suddenly gone a bit Death in Venice.

A kebab with a hinterland at Oz Adana, Side
After five minutes I figured it must be mine as sod all else was happening at the table, so I gingerly lifted the clingfilm. Instantly four Turks start laughing their heads off and through the international language of mime I discover that that dish was a carryout destined for a nearby shop and mine will be with me shortly.

The real lunch is yogurt dip, roasted pepper and tomato, a salad of parsley, sumac, onion and lettuce, a big bouncy flatbread, rice and orzo pilaf, home made chips (yeooooo!) and an Adana kebab that would make grown men weep. Meatier and less juicy than the Ali Baba model but more going on. A kebab with a hinterland. Certainly the best thing I've eaten in Side all week so I'm splitting the prize. And I'm eating at Oz's for the rest of the week.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Ali Baba, Manavgat

Manavgat....kebab heaven not far from the bridge.
The Ali Baba kebab house is one of those quiet unassuming places; pictures of food on the menu, four parasols out front and Coca Cola logos plastered everywhere. Not the sort of place you take the missis, unless you're my husband, in which case you definitely do. What I'm driving at is that it's Not That Romantic.

It's one block off the main drag in Manavgat (walking away from the big fake waterfall, cross the bridge and take the first road on your right, the one lined with canopied shopfronts. At the end of the street is a dry fountain and the Ali Baba). The first time I ate their I had their Doner Kebab and it was great; really savoury and served with fantastic bread, the best I've eaten here.

Next time I went into Manavgat I thought I'd try somewhere different but I was nervy (this was just prior to the trip to the dentists) and more in need of comfort than adventure. They repaid my repeat business with some really good free appetizers; puffy lavash bread with dill and yogurt dip, chili tomato dip (not the ubiquitous gloop straight from a catering carton that you get everywhere, but really fresh, tasty stuff) and a dish of a hard, Parmesan style cheese with a pat of unsalted butter. The trick seemed to be to wipe some butter onto the lavash and then dunk it into the grated cheese until it was covered in crumbs of the stuff. Well that's how I approached it anyway and it was bloody fantastic! Made a bit of a beast of myself if I'm honest, but I figured I wouldn't be able to eat after the dentist so might as well.

I had the Adana kebab this time and it was just incredible, so juicy and bursting with flavour. I'd love to send McCartney's the butchers over here on a research trip cos if they could recreate that flavour it would be flying out of the shop as fast as their corned beef! I had two glasses of wine for my nerves and the whole feast was 24TL. As long as you're not fussed about the view (which is not great given the picturesque copper blue river is a block away) you couldn't fault this place. Very tempted to go back one last time.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Ugur Kebab House, Side

The beach a minute from my door....
My first day in Side and boy, it's a pretty wee town. Built over ruins going back thousands of years, it's like walking into a film set. When I arrived late last night they were floodlit and looked amazing. Was secretly a bit smug when I got dropped in the old town before everyone else went off to their all inclusive hellholes. I was booked with the Begonville Pension, No. 1 B&B on Tripadvisor and got at a great price from Travelrepublic not four weeks ago.

Of course I forgot; first rule of female travelling alone is that you'll be put to the bottom of the heap on everything. So when I checked in I was told the hotel was full and I'd have to stay in another one. Was too tired to care last night but this morning I woke to an unusable shower, dodgy electrics, unpleasant decor and the unmistakable scent of cat piss. Not what i come on my holliers for. I spend bloody months shortlisting and spreadsheeting options for hotels - for someone who is usually very relaxed this is the one area where I acknowledge I stray into OCD territory. So off to the Begonville for breakfast and a spot of negotiation.

The Turkish defence (sighing and staring very hard at the reservations book in the vain hope I would go away) was left in tatters when a German couple tried to check in, leaving the manager with no choice but to acknowledge that there was indeed space and after a bit of dramatic spluttering I got my room.

My lovely front door!
To celebrate I did a walking tour of the town and finished off with lunch at the Ugur, which does perfect sis kebap - lovely lean, tender, perfectly spiced lamb with slightly charred lavash bread, served with a long green pepper and big juicy tomato roasted on the grill, plus my favourite rice and orzo pilaf - this with a raki, two glasses of wine and an apple tea came to about £8. The best kind of first holiday lunch - long, a wee bit too boozy but all kinds of tasty and a great reminder of all that's good about Turkish hospitality.

Also managed to get hold of my husband on Skype who was able to tell me that Sheba is officially on full heat now and has spent the last 24 hours asking her brother to do really quite unbrotherly things to her (thank god he's 10. And neutered). I kinda had a feeling it would be like this and I'm feeling very guilty at how relieved I am not to be there right now. At least this is the last one she'll have (straight to the vet in eight weeks and snipsnipsnip!).

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Plane disgusted

So here I am, winging my way over central Europe c/o the lovely Mr. Thomas Cook towards Antalya and then on to Side. Mr. Cook and I have a love/hate relationship - I love his charter flight prices and I hate everything else about him. Mr. Cook is a bastard. He kept me waiting an hour and a half in check in and then immediately posted a final boarding call, making me run to the gate without a bottle of Havana Club. Of course I arrived at the gate to find a queue and sod all else happening. So now I'm stuck in a metal tube with a bunch of people I wouldn't like in real life wondering (a) is it me? Am I just a huge misanthrope and (b) why does anyone order meals on a flight to Turkey? You are a few hours away from one of the world's finest cuisines, a properly self sufficient country with the very best and freshest ingredients and you choose to fill yourself up with salted gloop to stave off boredom? I'm going hungry. I'm going to eat the bake off myself this week, and that requires preparation and discipline. And elasticated waistbands.

Courgette fritters

Fritters of can't go wrong.
Now I'm getting excited about my holidays, with my lovely drunk husband snoring gently beside me on one side and my wee lurcher snoozing on the other.

My favourite Turkish dish is a really basic one: Mucver, or Courgette Fritters. Utterly delicious, I really could live on these. They are impossible to get wrong so long as you remember to fry them in really hot oil. Mess around with the quantities till you get a mix that suits you, but it must have (a) courgettes thoroughly wrung out in a teatowel (b) good feta (c) fresh dill. Everything is up for grabs after that.

The best starter recipe I've come across is at Give Recipe, a lovely Turkish blog full of deliciousness:

Zucchini Fritters | Give Recipe:

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Turkish/Scottish sea bream recipe

Allspice for the win! Thanks, Dave.
Off to Turkey tomorrow for a week of relaxation and excellent food. But as it's a wee bargain basement trip (I'm planning to relearn how to draw and use an SLR properly) I can't justify ordering delicious Turkish seafood. It's dreadfully expensive and when there are delicious cheap eats like pide (Turkish pizza), kebabs, meze and lavash bread for a few quid there's not a lot of point.

But I do love fish, I really do. And my favouritest fish is a plump, whole one - head on, scales off, simply fried or grilled, such as you'll find all round the Med. There will always be olive oil and lemon involved and maybe one other characterful ingredient - dill, cumin, oregano or whatever.

So when I nipped into Tesco tonight I was very happy to see their sea bream reduced to £1.50 for a 12oz fish! The plan was to treat myself to a Turkish style fishy dinner for one with minimal fuss and maximum flavour. My problem was getting the right flavour combination - it had to be simple, quick but tasty enough to keep me walking past the Turkish fish restaurants all week.

Then I remembered that our old photographer, David Spence, once told me that when he was a kid in Scotland they used to ask for their fish suppers with "salt, vinegar and spice" and that the spice in question was allspice. Genius!

Turkish-Scottish Sea Bream

1 x 12oz Sea Bream
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Lemon juice

Gut and scale the bream (to scale it, hold it by the tail and scrape a knife down it repeatedly till all the scales fly off. Repeat on the other side. If you don't know how to gut it, you probably shouldn't be trying this!). Heat a few tbsp of oil at medium high heat and fry the fish for 5-10mins each side. Don't move the fish while it fries. When it's done, lift it out and dress it with lemon juice and fresh olive oil. season with salt, pepper and allspice.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Mushroom carbonara recipe & a Fly Agaric

Found this fabulous Fly Agaric in a little shrubby area off the Belmont Road (we call it the Magic Forest because the dogs get excited when they get there, though I think that has more to do with the squirrels than any actual paranormal activity or forestation).

These have been coming up for the last three years but this is the first time I've actually managed to photograph one. They only last a day or two so a cool thing to capture.

Went home and made a lovely mushroom pasta (using the boring button ones I'm afraid).

Friday Carbonara
250g dried pasta (I used penne)
200g smoked bacon
1 small onion
1 punnet of mushrooms
Some nice veg (I used 4oz each baby sweetcorn and asparagus)
200ml Creme Fraiche (or double cream) and whatever cheese is handy
Glass of wine, plus more for drinking

Put a big pan of water on to boil and heat some olive oil in a deep frying pan. Snip your bacon up small and fry it on a high heat till crispy. Decant to a bowl, use the same fat to fry your mushrooms on a high heat too, be sure and get all the residue scraped off the pan. Your pasta water will be boiling now, get the pasta in, give it a good stir and put the timer on for whatever time it takes (I'm guessing 10-12 mins for this recipe). Throw a finely chopped onion in with the mushrooms and turn the heat down to medium high. Cook for a min and add veg. Keep cooking until it all starts to caramelise then throw a glass of wine in, stir till the alcohol smell dies down and add creme fraiche. Pasta should be cooked by now so drain it and throw it in along with some cheese (I'd say 4oz).

My magical powers... first blog post ever about a random little trip to Moira for corned beef ends up on national news and Mr McCartney gets a deal with Selfridges. Coincidence, or what? OK, coincidence. Been eating his corned beef sandwiches all week, moving on to his pork & walnut sausages tomorrow night. If they end up in some kind of sausage Oscars this weekend, start worrying, I have special powers.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Good luck McCartneys of Moira - off to London for the Great Taste Awards final! |

Good luck guys!

Corned beef: Food of the gods?

We attended a great Doggy Fun Day organised by Beechgrove Stables near Banbridge on Saturday. Unfortunately we couldn't bring wee Sheba as she's just come into season and that's not the kind of Doggy Fun we had in mind.

Instead hooked up with the wonderful Jackie Redmond and her agility squad - we had a good chat about training sighthounds and we got to meet Lady, the elderly greyhound Jackie is fostering. Also caught up with the magnificent Mr. Jack Quaile who was letting his wee alsatian Diamond have a rake around the agility course (more of a demolition derby to be fair, but she had fun!).

On the way home we diverted to McCartney's butchers in Moira. I bought my usual 10lb of assorted sausages (I particularly recommend the Italian, Pork & Apple and Oak Smoked but to be fair it's impossible to go wrong here - everything is the best of the best). Having heard great reports about their famous corned beef I was keen to give it a go - corned beef is one of my very few "bleugh" foods so I was intrigued that McCartney's were making it. I've been going to McCartney's for 20 years and they are really creative, high quality butchers.

Got talking to the owner and he told me they are in the finals for the Great Taste Awards "the food Oscars" on Monday night for their corned beef! Getting it home I can see why. It's the most utterly moreish beef product I've eaten in a long time.

Where your usual experience of corned beef is that gruesome mush bound together by dripping (our school canteen used to add insult to injury by dipping it in batter and deep frying it!) this is luscious shreds of lightly seasoned, braised, pressed beef bound in the lightest imaginable jelly and thinly sliced. It is about as different from canned corned beef as a Porsche from a Lada. Buy it by the kilo (it's about £2 per 100g and worth every penny).
Production | McCartneys of Moira:

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