i feel like eating a bowl of lucky charms at 1am isn’t the kind of thing that mature, normal adults do. but whatever, it’s friday, imma go wild! (fyi this isn’t even a post-night out snack; i’m completely sober, in my PJs watching project runway. oh yeah.)
now that i’m single again, i’m going to have to re-learn cooking for one. when i lived on my own in paris, i was a student and perfectly content with eating the same pasta dish three days in a row. but now that i’m a grown up (apparently) i feel like there must be another way.
the first obstacle to overcome is buying ingredients. i strongly disappove of buying individually packed or single portions of food, so i tend to buy in bulk, or from the deli. but not all supermarkets have meat counters, or ones that are still open and in stock in the evening. to conquer this, i’ll have to plan my shopping trips better, and make full use of the freezer.
the next hurdle is portion sizes. i’ve always been used to just throwing random amounts of food into the pot and keeping any leftovers for my former significant other’s lunch - or our dinner - the next day. i want to waste less food, and so in order to avoid those too-small-to-be-a-proper-portion situations, i’ll have to start measuring my ingredients, even if it’s just rough (e.g. one mug of pasta instead of pouring until i think it’s enough).
finally, the cooking itself. depending what i’m cooking, i might use anywhere between one and four pots/pans. if I’m only cooking for one, it’s a lot of washing up to be using all that. fortunately, in my uni days, i only enjoyed two hobs, and became master of the “one pan special”. these were usually pasta dishes, though (cook pasta, drain, make sauce in same pan, mix), and since then my cooking has become somewhat more sophisticated and diverse, so i’ll have to figure out how to use this technique for other dishes.
image courtesy of coconutandquinoa
like everything in my life these days, i see this as an exciting challenge, and will be sharing any easy, fulfilling, and efficient recipes for all those one-person households.
when i left paris, the last meal i had in my flat before moving to ireland was very bizarre indeed. i can’t remember exactly what it was, but it involved a tin of stuffed vine leaves and some home made lemonade. you see, since i was leaving, i was eating up all the random food that was sitting in my cupboard, which turned out to be a crazy mix of things.
nearly 2 years later, i find myself in the same position. this week i moved house, and so had the challenge of using up the remains of my food before leaving. i think i did a pretty good job.
i had a lot more stuff than this, but the rest of the food was lighter packs of stuff like noodles and lentils, and stuff that will keep for a while like rice and flour. so i chose to work with the fresh and frozen produce, as well as the heavier tins and canned goods.
here’s what i started with:
500g minced beef
1 head of broccoli
a handful of baby potatoes
2 frozen pizzas
2 garlic bulbs
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin cannellini beans
1 tin tomato paste
4 tins sweetcorn
and here’s what all this turned into:
fish & broccoli bake: 1/2 onion, broken fish fingers, pasta, broccoli, cheese sauce
cottage pie: 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, minced beef, diced courgettes, 1 tin sweetcorn, mashed baby potatoes, sliced tomatoes (topping), grated cheese
leftover cottage pie, 2 frozen pizzas (very random i know, but it was the last night!)
there was a bunch of other stuff i didn’t get to use, like a lot of jars of curry cooking sauce, some tinned fruit and a bag of frozen green beans, but i think i did pretty well in being creative and using up multiple ingredients in one dish. i actually really quite enjoyed the fish finger bake and will probably make that again, as it’s a quick and easy way to get more fish into my diet.
i’m staying with some friends for a couple of weeks before moving into my new place, and have plenty of food supplies left over. i wonder if i can use them all up before i leave? i hope my friends like experimental cooking…
breakfast. as children, we’re told it’s the most important meal of the day. and yet, for me, it’s not been until i was an adult that i fully understood this.
i don’t have many memories of breakfast before the age of about 12, but all through secondary school it definitely wasn’t a big part of my life. my household in the morning was fairly chaotic; it was every man, woman and child for themselves in the race against the clock. i’d usually grab a banana or maybe a bit of toast on the way out of the door, but usually i’d be too late for the bus to even do that.
in university, i didn’t eat breakfast at all. ever. i’d roll out of bed at the god awful hour of 11am (how could lecture timetables be so cruel?) and after an hour in the classroom, would enjoy lunch as my first meal of the day. although, technically i was often still getting three meals a day if you included the cheeky panini/kebab i’d often get on the way home after a mid-week boozing sesh with the gang.
when i started working, i figured i should get serious. i was living the corporate life now, after all. during the summer of my second year, i was working in an internship out in the sticks, and had to change trains at st. lazare station. even though i was on a measly intern wage, i figured that a starbucks breakfast was a worthwhile investment for my professional image, and i’d go out of my way - quite literally, i had to leave the station - to get my daily latté and sugary donut. looking back, this was a terrible idea both for my figure and for my finances, but whatevs.
after college, when i began my first real-world job, i still hadn’t mastered the art of getting up early, and so i’d pop into the boulangerie on the way to work for a pain aux raisins, or else treat myself to a maxi pain au chocolat (twice the size of a normal one!) from the bonne journée at the metro stop. apparently i still hadn’t mastered the art of eating healthily, either.
for the best part of 20 years, i’d been used to either no breakfast, or something very rushed and very unhealthy. until i moved to ireland. ironic really; france is typically known for its sit-down, take-your-time eating culture, but it took my leaving paris before i actually sat down for breakfast for the first time since i can remember.
my friend adelle enjoying an amazing breakfast during our trip to morocco
my job provides breakfast and so for the past year and a half, not a weekday has gone by without me having that most important of meals. when i started my job, we were still a small office and were sharing a business centre with some other companies. there was a canteen where we could basically get whatever we wanted. they had everything from granola and fat free yoghurt, to full irish breakfasts. it was amazing, and the kitchen staff knew exactly what we liked. for the first few months on the job i’d usually get toast and either sausages or bacon, sometimes porridge. still not the most healthy of breakfasts, but definitely better than nothing at all.
a few months later, we moved into our permanent office, which unfortunately didn’t have facilities for hot food. but to be honest, it was probably a good thing; all those bacon sarnies couldn’t be doing me any good. i soon rediscovered something i hadn’t had for years - bagels! they were very popular in the office, especially with cream cheese, tomato and guacamole. this became my staple breakfast for the next few months, until one day i noticed the culinary team had started offering smoked mackerel. a lot of people are put off by fish in general, let alone for breakfast, but i love mackerel and saw a window of opportunity to improve my diet and get out of the white-bread habit i’d been entertaining.
which brings me to now. for the past 6 months at least, my breakfast of champions has been smoked mackerel on brown toast, and a bowl of mashed banana with yoghurt and honey, with an option for fruit smoothie if available. i’ve become so consistent with this routine that the kitchen staff now know exactly what i’m looking for when i get to breakfast late. “banana?”, they say.
breakfast of champions: mackerel on brown toast, mashed banana with yoghurt and honey / buttermilk waffle with crispy bacon, served with fruit salad and fresh oj.
every now and then i get something different, just for a change. an indulgent sausage sandwich for old times’ sake, or maybe a waffle with crispy bacon and fruit salad, or on those drearier days, a bowl of porridge and a generous dollop of jam. in general, i try to always have some form of wheat/carbs, some protein, and some fruit. not only is this balanced but it always keeps me going until the later serving of lunch, which means i’m less likely to snack in the afternoon. ok, maybe that last part is a lie, i still snack, a lot, but i’ve definitely come a far cry from my neglectful breakfast-less teenage years. seriously, how on earth did i ever have all the energy to do everything i did every day?
today i missed breakfast for the first time in more than a year. and despite a big lunch and several snacks, i’ve been hungry. all. day. long.
i just got home after working late at the office, and needed a quick dinner before passing out for the night. i opened the cupboard and found a tin of mackerel. perfect! within minutes i was tucking into a plate of mackerel on brown toast topped with sliced tomato and fresh parsley. and it was so good. i mean, i even felt compelled to write a blogpost about it, for christ’s sake. so, so good. i could seriously eat another plate of that right now. <3 you, mackerel.
photo courtesy of fullenglish
i like to think i eat a decent amount of vegetables, but i’ve been thinking recently that i really need to find a way to get more fruit in my diet. most days i have a banana and some kind of fruit smoothie as part of my breakfast, and on occasion i’ll snack on an apple instead of chocolate in the afternoon, but i still feel like there’s room for improvement. obviously i could make fruity desserts but i don’t always have room or time for dessert, and if i do i prefer it to contain some form of chocolate. so i’ve started exploring the world of fruit in savoury dishes.
one fruit i’m not a fan of when used in savoury dishes is orange. duck à l’orange for example, i find too overpowering. cooked pineapple, however, is one of my favourite treats. as a kid, my brother and i used to make “hawaiian sandwiches” which consisted of a slice of bread, a slice of ham, a pineapple ring, topped with cheese and melted under the grill. so tasty, it was a staple of our mid term holidays when our mother was at work and our father let us make our own lunch.
a few months ago, a foodie friend from work was kind enough to share a recipe of his i’d enquired about. i’d only seen a photo of the dish, but the description and visuals alone were enough to make my taste buds tingle. tonight i attempted to recreate the dish and to be honest, i was quite impressed with myself, considering i’d cut a few corners and botched a few of the ingredients.
the recipe called for fresh pineapple and mango, coconut water and shavings, shrimps and saffron rice. i’d actually never bought a fresh pineapple in my life, so felt quite exotic travelling home on the luas with a big spiky fruit poking out of my handbag.
about 10 seconds into cutting up the pineapple, i immediately felt i was in over my head. i’ve just completed a first aid course at work and having studied how to deal with huge lacerations and stab wounds was making me more and more paranoid about wielding a huge kitchen knife and trying to negotiate these slippy, sticky fruits. fortunately, i didn’t end up needing to bandage myself up and went on to dice the onion i’d be cooking the fruit with.
by the way, let me tell you something - going from cutting a mango to cutting an onion is certainly a strange experience. after having dealt with the soft, slippy mango, when it came to the onion it felt like i was trying to cut open a rubber ball.
the onion and fruit were to be cooked in a reduction of vinegar and sherry, only i didn’t have sherry. i used madeira wine which, by the smell of it, seemed to be doing the trick.
boz served the onion/fruit mix on a bed of saffron rice with coconut-coated shrimps which he’d deep fried. i thought about buying some nice big king prawns, but remembered i had some prawns in the freezer, so figured i’d try using them. i’d forgotten how tiny they were, though, and although they’re good in risottos and fish pie, trying to coat a prawn the size of a raspberry in egg and then coconut shavings, and then trying to fry it, was not exactly what i’d describe as a roaring success. in the end i wasn’t happy with the coconut:prawn ratio, but it still tasted good. also, since i don’t have a deep fryer - and didn’t want to entertain my paranoia about nursing my own burns as well as knife wounds - i just shallow fried them. not as crispy but still delicious.
overall, a great success. and the best thing is that no doubt it’ll just get better every time i make it. thanks to boz for sharing this wonderful dish - i apologise for not doing it justice but it’s definitely a new favourite recipe for times that call for something a bit different.
and here’s the finished product (albeit a bit thrown together presentation wise):
when i was a kid, my favourite drink was ginger beer. i drank gallons of the stuff. i drank so much that after a few years, i couldn’t stand the taste of ginger anymore. in fact, ginger got added to the very short list of foods that i actively dislike (along with beetroot, aniseed and grapefruit) and it has stayed there ever since.
what’s interesting is that while i dislike ginger, i actually really enjoy gingerbread and those ginger snap biscuits you sometimes get with coffee. but i should think that there is enough sugar and other ingredients to ensure that the taste is sufficiently sweetened, and a lot less, well, ginger.
ginger isn’t that common in most western foods, but it’s used a lot in many asian dishes, and so whenever i get sushi, the ginger is always pushed aside (figuratively speaking, i wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10ft bargepole let alone a pair of chopsticks).
years ago when i worked in a paris restaurant, my boss asked me for some help in the kitchen. i was happy to help out, until he asked me to peel some ginger. ugh. anyone who’s ever tried to peel ginger will know what an awkward shape it is, and so when you can’t stand the smell or taste of the thing you’re peeling, it becomes even more arduous of a task.
photo courtesy of wikipedia
however, everything changed last week during my trip to california. i went for dinner with some friends to a japanese restaurant in oakland called coach sushi, famous for its bottomless sake. i ordered chirashi, my favourite sushi dish, and began to inhale the lot. when i got to the bottom of the bowl of deliciousness, i realised that some of my food had been tainted by the everpresent ginger. but this time instead of gagging and abandoning it, i actually kind of didn’t mind it.
later in the week, i went for drinks at the elbo room in the mission. this was one of the places listed on my san francisco bucket list, and i’d been told that if i went there, i must get the moscow mule. without even knowing what was in it, i ordered one, smug in the knowledge that i would be able to cross off yet another thing from my list. when my drink arrived, i took a sip, and realised that one of the main ingredients was, yep, that’s right, ginger beer. here again there was an odd disconnect between mind and body; my brain, trained to reject the idea of ginger, was crying out “no, don’t do it, for the love of god!”, but it was too late. my tastebuds were already transported to my childhood days, when the taste of ginger beer was just another refreshing drink. it was a sensory conflict of interest, and although again i didn’t mind the taste of the ginger, i wasn’t sure i could handle drinking a whole glass of the stuff. in the end i swapped drinks with my friend (vodka on the rocks, which turned out to be a bad idea, but that’s another story for a never time), but was proud of myself for considering that actually ginger might not be so bad after all.
the final stage of my rehabilitation was my last night in california. i went for dinner in japantown with a friend, who recommended i get the miso ramen. i was absolutely famished, and so watched hungrily as the steaming bowl of soup was placed before me. as i tucked in, there it was again. the mind/body disconnect. the soup had a rather strong ginger taste, but gosh darn it was tasty! i ate and ate until i literally could not eat anymore, and my brain retrained itself to accept the fact that ginger is okay.
chicken miso ramen
now i’m not sure i’ll be going out of my way to order moscow mules at the bar, but i think i can safely cross this flavour off my blacklist. and who knows, maybe i might just start eating everything that’s served with my sushi, if not a little gingerly (sorry, i couldn’t resist!).
it occured to me yesterday that i’ve gone out for japanese food three times this month. now, i’m no expert on japanese food but i would definitely class it as one of my favourites. there are a number of japanese restaurants in dublin, all with their different quirks and, of course, price tags.
the last (and only) time i went to wagamama was probably about ten years ago with my family, in london’s strand restaurant quarter. i don’t remember what i ate, but i remember i really enjoyed it. interesting, then, that i waited so long to go back to this chain restaurant, which has locations all over the world.
this time, i was with some friends. we were grabbing a bite to eat before going to watch a friend of ours perform on stage in a local singing competition. the restaurant was bustling but we got a seat soon enough. i was absolutely famished and so ordered to gyozi duck dumplings, a bowl of cha han and a bottle of tiger beer. the dumplings were served with plum sauce and were the perfect accompaniment to the rice dish.
the cha han was a huge portion of brown rice, shredded chicken, prawns, sweetcorn, mushrooms, mange tout and spring onions. it seemed like the bowl was bottomless, and it was so good that i could barely get it into my face fast enough. i always like to use chopsticks in asian restaurants, but there was a moment where i seriously considered using the spoon they had provided, to facilitate the frenzy of shovelling that was going on. in the end i decided that i had a better chance of retaining my dignity – and not alienating my friends and everyone else in the restaurant – if i stuck with the chopsticks.
as delicious as the cha han was, i simply could not finish the bowl. luckily, i was with a group of lads who gladly took up my offer to share the leftovers. as they finished up, i enjoyed the remainder of my beer and cursed myself for not treating myself to japanese food more often. my meal at wagamama came to just about €25, which i think is not bad considering i ate enough to feed a small family.
then there’s yamamori, which has two locations in dublin. yamamori noodles on george street, and yamamori sushi on ellis quay, which is where i went with two friends of mine who had offered to buy me dinner there as a belated birtday treat.
i looooove sushi, but hardly ever have it because it’s pricey and because i like to save it for a treat, even though it’s one of those things that i could eat for the rest of my life and probably never get sick of it. we went straight from the office and got a table at about 7.30, so were all absolutely ravenous by the time we sat down.
julie and i ordered a jo moriawase between us, which is basically a large sushi platter served with a small salad of brocolli, cucumber and ginger. krista ordered the bibimbap, a huge bowl of rice, shredded steak and vegetables, topped with a fried egg.
we washed the lot down with happy hour cocktails - i had the cosmopolitan tokyo, julie had the kiwi mojito and krista had the strawberry mojito - followed by more happy hour cocktails and plum wine. julie and i also ordered dessert in the form of the mount fiji chocolate mousse, garnished with an orange brandy snap and orange caramel coulis (pictured here with the original mojito i ordered with it).
as far as i know, asian cuisine is not known for its desserts, at least in my experience. a lot of asian restaurants just offer american or european desserts by default, but this chocolate mousse managed to give an exotic twist to a classic dessert, making me feel a little less guilty for not getting something more traditional. a thoroughly satisfying meal altogether.
and finally, ukiyo restaurant on exchequer street, a popular karaoke joint in the centre of town. we were a rather large group - ten or so people - and were given the largest table which ran along one side of the dining room. the restaurant is actually quite small, catering for probably no more than 25 or 30 people, but the atmosphere is definitely buzzing and sets the tone for a great night out. since i’d been to yamamori two days previously, i felt i shouldn’t indulge in sushi for the second time that week, so instead i opted for the peking duck. not very japanese, i know, but another of my favourite dishes, and something that i don’t know how to make myself (yet).
while waiting for the food, i ordered a cucumber sake martini, which didn’t actually contain any sake. however i was absolutely fine with this, as i don’t like anything aniseed flavoured, which means that sake, along with absinthe, sambuca and pastis are all off limits for me. the cocktail was made up of vodka, so ju (a korean drink akin to vodka) and cucumber. it was delicious, very refreshing and didn’t taste too alcoholic - a dangerous combination indeed. once my food arrived, i ordered another cucumber martini, figuring that the duck would line my stomach enough to avoid vodka/soju-fuelled renditions of i will survive later that night. thankfully, it did.
the duck itself was absolutely divine. thick, succulent slices of perfectly cooked bird, a basket of hot, paper thin pancakes, and the usual accompaniements of cucumber, spring onion and hoi sin sauce. the highlight of my night was being told by my chinese friend that he was impressed that i was actually preparing the pancakes properly, by placing the pancake in the palm of my hand and then assembling the ingredients in the middle before rolling it up to eat. i’d say i’ve had plenty of practice - i’ve ordered crispy duck pancakes so many times from the local chinese takeaway that i’m surprised the girl on the phone isn’t laughing at me, like in that episode of sex and the city where miranda thinks she’s being mocked by the takeaway lady.unfortunately, i found myself with leftover pancakes, so either there wasn’t enough duck, or there were too many pancakes, or maybe i was just putting too much duck in each pancake. in any case it was freaking delicious so spare pancakes or not, i was pleasantly full.
there are many more japanese restaurants in dublin that i haven’t tried yet. for example yo sushi with its conveyor belt system, which i’ve only been to in london. i told a friend of mine this week that i should stop going for sushi in dublin, so that i can save up enough money to go to japan and get the real thing. maybe i should get myself a sushi bank - like a piggy bank but shaped like a california roll. then every time i think about going out for japanese food, i put the money i would have spent into the sushi bank instead. and clearly, at the rate i’m going these days, i’ll be in tokyo in no time at all.