Saturday, 29 November 2008

Mince Pie Survey 2: Dunnes Stores Simply Better Luxury Mince Pies

The Simply Better range always makes me wonder what they are meant to be simply better than. In this case there were cheaper mince pies (by a whole Euro for six) so Im guessing those are what you would call worse mince pies.

In comparison with the last one this was definitely more of the traditional mince pie in that it came in a pie shape in a little tinfoil pie case and was made of real pastry (real all butter pastry according to the packaging, more on this later).

On that note before I go into scoring the packaging made me a little angry as I dont think you need to tell me that the mince pies are dusted with sugar if I can see through the little glass window that they are indeed dusted with sugar. Are Dunnes Stores assuming that most of their mince pie shoppers are imbeciles?

Value(2.7): €2.49 for 6, cheaper than the non premium Superquinn ones so not bad. Someday when Im feeling very generous I may try their cheaper ones.

Filling(1): There was plenty of filling and it was moist and sweet with no sign of suet. At least that was the way they tasted when hot. When cold however it tasted just plain weird. I couldnt really make it out, maybe it was the brandy (7% according to the ingredients) but if it was it tasted remarkably like the kind of very cheap booze that I used to drink when in college, you know the kind that would make you go blind if you had to much of it? Oh and when cold the raisins were also very very chewy which just seemed wrong. Strange that it could taste so completely different when cold than hot. I persevered though and finished it just to be sure.

Pastry(2): Yay for the "all butter pastry", yet this was one of the last ingredients on the box so Im guessing there was something else that bound the pastry together. All in all the pastry wasnt the worst ever when cold. When warmish the pie just kind of collapsed on its own. I got the feeling that this mince pie might have been afraid I was going to load it down with cream. Now that Im talking about mince pies having feelings I should really give up.

Packaging and design(1): Not a bad box at all, quite posh looking in comparison with the cheaper mince pies. Despite my groanings about the description on the box above it was nice to have a recipe on the box and a reminder of just how much lard I was eating by doing this survey today (surprisingly not a mad amount either - only .2g saturated fat per pie - another reason there couldnt be that much butter in there). It was also nice to know that these pies werent designed to last until 2020 and as a result wouldnt do bad things to my insides.

Total: 6.7. Only eat these if you have a way of heating them and if you do be careful that they dont collapse under the strain of being heated. Not bad when heated but fairly weird tasting otherwise. Oddly a guy I work with tasted one and said it was the best mince pie he had eaten all year, then he did look at me fairly strangely when I brought mince pies in for afternoon tea and made a comment about it being far too early for mince pies.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Mince Pie Survey 1: Superquinn Puff Pastry Mince Pies

Let the games begin.

First off a mince pie so big that my father called me all sorts of names for taking a whole one to try out. Yes it is almost the size of that saucer. Let the first pound of butter go right on the top of my head.

These are made by the ever fantastic Superquinn, who this year are doing 3 different types of mince pies. I have absolutely no idea of the ingredients as the mince pies come in an open box, which Im thinking is a bad idea because I know in my family that means theres always one missing by the time they get home from the supermarket.

Value(2.5): €2.99 for 6, not insane value for mince pies that are almost the size of your head but you probably wouldnt be wanting to buy these for a big dinner party - buy beer instead.

Filling(3): There was a nice bit of filling and it was lovely, moist and sweet with no sign of suet. Yay for superquinn on this note - I wish they put ingredients on the box and Id give making mincemeat a try (then again thats probably the reason they dont).

Pastry(.5): First off, puff pastry would not be my favourite on a mince pie. These ones had been sitting around for a day or two and were hard enough that you could probably have bounced them off a wall without losing a crumb. I microwaved mine for about 20 seconds to make it edible. Also the puff pastry didnt really taste that buttery, just kind of lardy. You would want to be eating these while very fresh. This is not a good excuse for eating 6 in one sitting.

Packaging and design(.3): Open box is probably not the best idea but as mentioned earlier for ease of in car eating while on way home from supermarket they come in handy. Its also gives the impression that your mince pie wasnt made in July last year. At the same time I worry that grubby hands have touched the mince pies before me. I like to know whats in my food so ingredients on the box would be nice.

Total: 6.3. A good big mince pie with a nice filling but eat them as soon as possible - worth waiting to get home from the supermarket though.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The great mince pie survey - rules, terms and conditions.

I come from a slightly unusual family for many reasons, the biggest this time of year is our love for Christmas food. I know its coming up to Christmas normally not by the decorations in shops in September or even the fact that it is September but by my parents already having mince pies in the house for after tea. My mom even keeps some and freezes them so it wouldn't be incredibly rare to have a mince pie on the hottest day of the year in their house (although they are much nicer when its cold outside)

My love for Christmas food is detrimental in that last year I put on a whole 9 pounds because of eating too much of it. Not to come over all mental and obsessive compulsive about weight but 9 pounds is a hell of a lot of mince pies and Christmas cake. Im pretty sure that a good portion of the 9 pounds was pure butter so graphically I went from something that looked like the left image below to the right one (my paint skills are only fantastic I know)

End of obsessing.

This year however Im going to give my body up for research purposes and do a mince pie survey. Dont let it be said that I do nothing for ye.

The mince pies will be judged out of 10 on their merits as follows:

  • Value (3) - we are in a recession you know, much and all as I love mince pies Im going to try to be realistic about value here.

  • Filling (3)- Im picky about the filling, it needs to be moist and full of fruit, sweet but not too sweet. Im not keen on suet in my mincepies, even less so after reading that wikipedia link.

  • Pastry (3)- Ill try not to be a complete traditionalist here and test different types of mince pies but its going to have to a good solid tasty pastry either way.

  • Packaging and design (1) - Why is design of mince pie important? Mainly because you dont want your filling falling out. Im a bit of a sucker for a nice box too.
If you have a favourite mince pie let me know and Ill endeavour to eat it and review over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

thefoodie is coming to New York - recommendations needed

On Sunday Im going to New York for a few days of eating, shopping and sightseeing in that order.

Any recommendations you can give would be fantastic. Of course any recommendations that are given will be duly reported on in detail from over there.


yay, Im alive!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Curried butternut squash soup

This is a brilliant soup to warm your soul on a cold winter day which was passed on to me by a work colleague and then slightly modified. Its almost a meal in itself with a scone or lump of buttered bread.

Ingredients (This makes about 5 bowls of soup)

  • 2 leeks
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 pint of vegetable stock (I use 3 veg oxo cubes for a pint)
  • Thumb sized bit of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of curry powder (I normally put a bit more in)
  • 1 can of light coconut milk

Turn your oven on to top temperature and start peeling and chopping the butternut squash. Theres no easy way to do this and Ive broken 2 vegetable peelers trying them. Throw the lump sized bits of squash into the oven onto a tray as you chop to roast. Let them roast for 10-15 minutes (you don’t have to roast the squash but it’s a bit tastier if you do) while you are chopping up the leeks and ginger and chilli (remove the seeds first).

Get a big saucepan and put a bit of oil in the bottom, heat it up and then throw in your chilli, curry powder and chopped ginger. Let them fry a bit for a minute or so and then throw in your leeks. Pour in your pint of stock. Take your squash out of the oven and throw that into the pot too. Bring it to the boil then turn it down and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes until the leeks and squash are soft.

Use a hand blender to liquidise the soup (or a liquidizer - but wait until its cool if youre going to do it this way). Open your can of coconut milk and throw it in to the pot and reheat slowly if the soup is too cold. Enjoy, its yum.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Shephards pie which would make a shephard cry

When I was about 15 years old I gave up eating beef due to a load of mildly traumatic beef related incidents which I'll leave for some other day. While I didnt like the taste of beef there were quite a few things I missed like my mothers meatballs, lasagne and shephards pie. Fortunately quorn came along and saved the day. I have made loads of things with quorn and mostly it takes a few minutes before one of my friends/family says something like "wait a minute, since when have you been eating beef again" - so I guess Im not missing out on beef that much after all.

This recipe is dead simple and very cheap to make (the quorn makes it even cheaper) and perfect for a cold winters evening in front of the fire when all you want to do is splodge with the nearest shephard you can find.

Shephards pie ingredients:
  • 5 large potatoes
  • One packet of Quorn mince (350g) or the same of real beef/lamb
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • half a pint of stock or gravy (Im what my friends call a crap vegetarian and used beef stock)
  • 2 teaspoons of whole grain mustard (I found this Dalkey mustard which is made in Dublin 8 in superquinn)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • salt and pepper
  • some milk and butter for mashing the potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 leeks
  • 3 tablespoons of grated hard cheese (mine was a peculiar goats cheese but anything you have will do the job)

Bring a large pot of water to the boil while peeling the potatoes and cutting them in quarters. Boil the potatoes until soft enough to mash.

While the potatoes are boiling chop and fry the onion and garlic in some oil. Add the quorn (you can add straight from the freezer). Add the pint of stock (I find the one in the picture above great as is their gravy and it saves a lot of time making it from scratch), mustard, cinnamon, salt, pepper and tomato puree and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about ten minutes.

Once the potatoes are soft enough drain and mash, using some milk (only a few tablespoons), a sprinkling of salt and a lump of butter. Be careful with the milk or they will be too soft.

Pour the quorn mix into the bottom of a large pyrex dish (mine is about 11 inches in diameter). Top with the mashed potatoes. While preheating the grill, chop the leeks finely and place over the potato. Grate the cheese and sprinkle over the potato. Place under the grill for about ten minutes until brown (my shephard didnt watch this and it burned a little)

Friday, 21 November 2008

Five stars for effort

This has been a very slow week for cooking as theres been loads on. My prodigal brother just came home from 2 and a half years on the road (queue plenty of baking from my mother), my dressmaking class, booking somewhere to stay in New York and queueing for a hug have also kept me really busy. So in the absence of a recipe or review heres a story about possibly the most amusing date meal I ever had.

As you may have guessed I enjoy cooking but its far better cooking for (or with) someone else. Every boy I have ever gone out with has been spoiled rotten by cakes and dinners. Some of them have tried to spoil me back but none with such disastarous endings as the boy who made me Lemon Chicken.

The boy in question spent a good week telling me how he was going to cook dinner for me and had been trawling through recipes on the Internet until he found one he thought might be easy enough to make. Now, like some (stressing the word some as its not all) other Irish men that I know this boy was not too good in the kitchen. He comes from the school of thought that doesnt use washing up liquid because he has a dishwasher and "sure, doesnt water do the job". The same fella once asked me what the raw chicken breast I was chopping was as he had never seen a raw chicken breast before.

Needless to say this was all enough to scare me into eating something before leaving home for fear I wouldnt get to eat real food again for a while (either because of hospitalisation from food poisoning or the fact that I was unable to eat his food). When I arrived at his place he was exhausted from his day of cooking and served me up a plate of food with much flourish and the one clean knife and fork in the house. Much as my Grandfather would have loved it was a good round Irish meal of meat and two veg. Mashed potato, carrots (mashed) and lemon chicken (not mashed).

The poor boy however had no implements for squeezing lemons and given that the recipe called for 2 cups (US recipe) of lemon juice which he was roughly equating to 8 lemons (to make the 2 Irish sized mugs) he had a wander around the supermarket to find a substitute.

Said substitute turned out to be undiluted sugar free Lemon Miwadi which for those not in the know is a cordial that you dilute with water prior to drinking. Ill let you imagine just how sweet and full of aspartame the Lemon chicken was.

Boys, dont try this at home. 2 points from this - cups are not equal to mugs and lemon juice cannot be subsituted with cordial.

Go buy yourselves a cookbook, in really desparate cases this book is a good one to try.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The Unicorn Review

I dont think the Unicorn is somewhere that will be greatly affected by the recession as most of the people leaving there on a Friday seemed very well to do (Eamon Dunphy was among the faces I half recognised) and looked like they had been drinking expensive wine since lunchtime while the rest of us are at work (the rest other than me that is as I was eating cake and shopping). My friends and I however probably wont be back quite so quickly (at least until next Christmas comes around anyway if even then).

A few things I wouldnt do if I had my own restuarant:
  • 2 seatings unless you can get the food out quick enough or make those seatings long enough - 7 until 9 is not a long enough seating for 10 in the Unicorn.
  • Expensive starters - there were only one or two on the menu under the €20 mark. Make your mains more expensive and your starters cheaper - surely the mains shouldnt come in around the same price as a plate of antipasto (over 20€ for some olives and parma ham is insane!)
  • Not serve at the same time - I realize Im in double negative land here so Ill explain by saying that there was a gap of ten minutes between the first and last person getting their starters and the same happened again with the mains which meant in both cases that some people were eating cold food.
  • Be so slow at collecting plates that the table cant order dessert/coffee. Some of us are particularly fond of desserts and its the lasting impression that people remember on leaving a restaurant.

Needless to say given the above we all left a bit disgruntled. I'd like to think places like the Unicorn will start to get less visitors given the current state of the economy but think I may be kidding myself.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The perfect sunday morning breakfast

French toast is the perfect breakfast for when you have had a very lazy morning in bed after a hard week. Having French toast made for me is an absolute luxury and its not insanely difficult to make well (a whole lot easier than finding a place open on a Sunday without a queue who will make it for you!). Men of Ireland - I recommend learning this.

  • 4 eggs

  • 120ml milk (whatever type you have, I use semi skimmed and its fine)

  • 5 slices from a hand cut loaf (Get the best bread you can get and its grand even if its been hanging around a few days, as long as theres no mould that is. Theres no point wasting your eggs on sliced pan. I went a bit far and made some as I was in prime baking form)

  • some butter and veg oil for frying

  • maple syrup, cinnamon, caster sugar for serving

Beat the eggs and milk in a bowl and then pour half the mix onto a large plate.

Cut your slices of bread in half and soak in the egg mix, turning after a few minutes until they are completely soggy.

Heat the butter and a tiny bit of oil in a freying pan and once hot fry the bread until golden on each side

Once done eat very quickly with lots of the maple syrup and it will completely make up for the fact that its Sunday and you have to work tomorrow.

Monday, 17 November 2008

banoffee for friends

Banoffee/Banoffi is the one recipe I have resisted for ages for a number of reasons:
  1. Even thinking of it makes me fat
  2. I didnt want to try to make it in case it was easy and then I would never stop making it.
  3. It may mean that I never leave the house again due to pure gluttony.

Banoffee is simply one of my favourite desserts and is dead simple to make, so easy in fact that it would be really hard to go wrong. So when a friend of mine who has been sick recently asked would I make it for his birthday party I made 2 big ones (one for the party and one for family) and 2 small ones for myself.

Ingredients (for a 12 inch tin - I doubled this and made two 9 inch tins and 2 ramekins):

  • 6 oz digestive biscuits
  • 2 oz gingernut biscuits (you could do a full 8oz digestive - it will be easier on the mashing!)
  • 3oz butter
  • 5 or 6 bananas
  • 250ml cream
  • 1 tin condensed milk
  • juice of half a lemon
Put the unopened tin of condensed milk in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer and let it simmer for about 4 hours. This part is the part that most people at the party asked about and I think today many shops in Dublin will be out of condensed milk

My favourite bit - put the biscuits in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin. This was always my job as a kid at home and is a great stress reliever (this is going to be one of my crap excuses for making banoffee going forwards!)

Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix the biscuits in. Line the base of the tin/ramekins and press down with a spoon. Let it set for a while in the fridge.

Open the condensed milk after the 3 hours and spread over the biscuit. I defy you not to stick your finger in to taste it. In fact I defy you not to give up at this stage and run off with your tin of toffee.

At this stage you can leave it like this in the fridge until you are almost ready to eat and add the chopped bananas and whipped cream at that stage. Alternatively if you want to be uber organised cut your bananas in slices and toss with the juice of half a lemon. Place the bananas on top of the toffee and cover with whipped cream and it will keep nicely until you give in and eat it.

If you have never had banoffee before you are most certainly cursing me now. Im sorry. If it hadnt been for my friends birthday Id be cursing him too. Oh and look at the enjoyment on that face - as good a reason as any to make this!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Green Saffron Spice Review

Since a trip to Middleton farmers market earlier this year I have been raving about Green Saffron spices. These are spices imported by a lovely company directly from India and mixed into blends that any eejit who is a bit afraid of the intricacies of Indian food can easily use. They arent so easy to get in Dublin but if youre in Temple Bar market on a Saturday Len at the muesli and lentil stall normally has a selection of a few and is more than obliging to bring more for you if you want them the following week (Len brought me up more chai mix than I could possibly ever need after electric picnic when I was missing the chai tent).

Masala Gosht was my latest very easy attempt at impressive Indian food. Theres nothing difficult about making a fantastic meal with these spices as you will see from the recipes, normally all you need is the meat, tinned tomatoes, some ginger, garlic and onions and youve got yourself a better Indian meal than you would get at all but the best Indian Restaurants. It may not look too appetizing to the right but it was yum!

I have made a number of these recipes over the last few months and have a constant stock of made up food in the freezer from them. The Dahl (best comfort food there is), Bengali Tiger Prawns and Jalfrezi come particularly highly recommended from me.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Leon (Exchequer Street) Review

When I have a day off work I consider it a holiday. On holidays I do two things - I eat cake or ice cream. Today was no exception.

Having been in France recently enough my first thought was Léon, as I hadnt been there before and have often salivated over the cakes in the window. I went to the one on Exchequer street as after passing by it reminded me of cakes with my granny when I was younger in Bewleys on Grafton Street and Clerys.

Its so charmingly French that when you walk in the door you almost completely forget you are in Dublin. There is a big long list of cakes with confusing names I hadnt heard of before so I went up to the counter and chose the one I fancied the most which was called something fabulous like Coffee Explosion - a round choux pastry type thing filled with coffee cream. The coffee was also fantastic and what girl can complain when the French waiter serves her a cup with a heart on the foam! There is certainly a fantastic selection of cakes and given the noises I was omitting while eating mine Im glad I was on my own.

My only complaint would be the chairs, Im obviously searching for a downside here to even mention it but my chair was completely soft in the middle and I had to change it for the one opposite. In truth considering the calories I was about to consume the little weightlifting did me good though. I walked all 3 miles home knowing that the French would scoff at me eating that whole pastry on my own!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

slightly foodie meme

as seen on

Five things I was Doing 10 Years Ago
  1. Working a summer in San Francisco (incidentally how I met Jane)
  2. Starting college in Saarbruecken in Germany
  3. Goint out with German guy (first serious boy)
  4. Desperately trying to learn German
  5. Starting a blog which is long long gone.

Five Things on My To Do List Tomorrow:

  1. Day off so the first one is a sleep in. No 6:20 alarm for me.
  2. Shopping - ingredients for banoffee.
  3. First Christmas dinner with old work colleagues
  4. Pop into town to meet old friend from Germany
  5. Foodie morning coffee with old friend

Five Snacks I Enjoy:

  1. Peanut brittle
  2. Granny smith apples
  3. Chocolate - in any form
  4. Carrot cake and coffee
  5. Toast

Five Things I Would Do If I Were a Millionaire (presuming multiple millions of dollars of course):

  1. 12 week Ballymaloe course
  2. Very long foodie tour of the world
  3. Pay off mortgage (a bigger house would be on cards but no mortgage would be lovely)
  4. Invest in curing cancer
  5. Quit my job (how is that not the first one?)

Places I Have Lived:

  1. Dublin, Ireland
  2. Munich, Germany
  3. San Francisco, USA
  4. Saarbruecken, Germany
  5. Chicago, USA

Jobs I Have Had:

  1. Kitchen Porter
  2. District Manager for a chain of Supermarkets
  3. Mother Goose
  4. IT Consultant
  5. IT Sales (current)

history of this foodie

Born in 1979 and living through the 80s there was no such thing as convenience food in my parents house, especially as my overly picky (meat and 2 veg only) grandfather lived with us. I was brought up in a family where my mom cooked dinner every day from scratch. I watched on hooked at the magic of changing a bunch of raw ingredients into something tasty.

My granny was (to me) a master baker and all through my childhood she wold create fantastic cakes when we would go visit. I was so appreciative of her work that she would make a christmas cake every year just for me and cut me off a slice every time I came to visit. Her other speciality were homemade donuts. My gran had travelled the world getting recipes and never used a recipe book.

Ive always been crazy about food. Theres nothing I love more than finding a new restaurant and amazing food there. Travelling where my main goal of trying new foods is also a great love of mine, I always have a new trip planned (New York and India are next on the cards).

Cooking and baking calms me when my head feels like its going to burst from the stresses of work. Food is currently not my career but maybe someday will be.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

we all scream for cinnamon ice cream!

recipe for cinnamon ice cream

slightly modified from recipe found here

ingredients -
130g sugar
5 egg yolks
240ml cream
200ml milk
3 cinnamon sticks
6 slightly stale chocolate digestives or hobnobs

1. Put the cinnamon and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
2. Beat the sugar and egg yolks until about this pale
3. Slowly add the cinnamony milk to the eggs and beat, then put this mix back into the saucepan and bring heat to 65 degrees (dont let it boil). It should be quite thick by this stage
4. Let this cool for as long as you can - it should be fridge temperature before taking it out.
5. Whip the cream.
6. Put the biccies in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin
7. Do some reading or watch tv while waiting!
8. Once the mix in the fridge is cold take it out and remove the cinnamon sticks. Fold this together with the cream.
9. Pour into an icecream machine. I got mine in Aldi for about 30€. If you dont want to make the investment you can just stick it in a container in the freezer and mash up with a fork about every 30 minutes.
10. After 15 minutes (if using ice cream maker) or when the icecream is about half frozen if using a box in the freezer mix in your broken up biscuits.
11. Leave it another 5 minutes and remove from the machine and freeze for a bit longer before serving to family or eating it all in one go!