small things, big difference No1 – mortar and pestle

Technology does many things, but one thing that it doesn’t do (yet?) is appeal to our sense of smell.
Smell is  surely the most neglected of the senses, or it is in this house at any rate.
So if needs arise grind and bash some toasted coriander and cumin seeds, or a few cardamon pods and smell. You’re life won’t turn around but it might be enough to make you pause even for a second.


easy rye loaf

I have been feeling a bit low the last couple of days and sometimes when I feel like that baking bread cheers me up and so I decided that I would try an easy rye loaf recipe from Elizabeth David.

A few things

1 It is like only a 1/6th rye, the rest is strong white flour. Should that even count as rye bread?
2 It was really hard to knead, like tough. On the plus side it didn’t stick to my sideboard which usually puts me in a grumpy mood
3 After I baked it the loaf had the hardest crust in the world, somewhere between cement and brittle granite. Although the recipe did say to put it in a tin, and because I am without tin I just put it on a baking tray. Maybe in a bread tin the crust might have been softer?

4 Elizabeth David just doesn’t agree with me as a cookery writer. I’m not sure why that is. Is it because she seems like a bit of a snob or lacking in humour?

So what we learned from all this was that we won’t be making the easy rye loaf again.The crust was hard (I like my teeth) and it didn’t taste that tasty.

langoustine/ Dublin Bay Prawns


They’re really nice but

a) too expensive for what you get
b) shelling them is annoying. I was grumpy afterwards.

Plus they’re creepy to look at, though also beautiful

I just cooked them in salted water and dipped them in mayonnaise, but the big bag of farmed mussels you could pick up for the same price is better value.

So no more Dublin Bay prawns for me thank you very much. Unless of course you’ve shelled them and are paying for them in which case, yes please!

recipe sorting

I love cooking but find it hard to sort the chaff from the wheat in the old recipe books.
I’ve made stuff and forgotten that I made it, or that it tasted good.
So this morning in a very uncharacteristic fit of organisation I set about sorting the whole debacle out.
There are rough guidelines I want to try and keep to.

More vegetables.
Local and seasonal ingredients if available.
Organic/Fair Trade if possible
Using things I can grow myself
The shorter the cooking time the better
Not lots of faffing around with spices and that sort of thing.

So I went through the cookery books with sticky labels and marked those recipes that roughly fell into those categories (with room for not sticking to the rules), then wrote and indexed them under vegetables and grains (like chickpeas or lentils).

It only took my about 25.5hrs to complete this task and now that I have I can  reliably say that by Sunday the list will be forgotten about and it will be panic in the kitchen as we try to make something functional out of a can of pineapple and some pearl barley.

Muesli Loaf

I’m not sure I’ve ever lived in a house that didn’t have a half empty bag of muesli sitting in a cupboard, dry and unloved in it’s dust. Nobody seems capable of eating an entire box or bag of muesli and so it lies forgotten about until one day you think ‘I’m never going to eat that bag of Alpen so I might as well bin it
This has been my experience of muesli.

Then this weekend I flicked through a book on bread making and stumbled across a recipe for muesli bread and thought ‘I’m going to redeem you  unloved muesli in my cupboard

Mix a sachet of quick action yeast with one teaspoon of honey and 150ml of warm, body temperature-ish water and leave for 10 mins.  Or leave for a few hours as I did after forgetting and going out of the house.

Mix 650g of strong white flour, 90g wholemeal flour and 2 teaspoons of salt. Add the yeast mixture and 300 ml of water (the recipe in the book said 250ml but added 300ml by accident). Knead for 7mins and leave to rise until doubled in bulk (whatever that means)

Work in 125g of muesli and knead for a few more minutes, seperate dough and shape into rounds on baking tray. Leave for 1hr.

Bake in an oven for 30mins or so at 230 c.

Well that’s what I did and I got a nice little brown loaf. It was maybe not as light as it should have been but I just had a slice a few days later toasted and it tastes grand to me. Plus the bag of muesli in the corner has been tamed.

There is also a recipe in this book for Weetabix and it just so happens that there is a packet of unloved Weetabix in the cupboard as well so I must give that a go next time.

‘You must not eat alone’

We had a little party on Wednesday for Mrs Canalways which involved some cooking and preparation of food, of making tortillas and baking bread, whirling up some pesto and dips, cleaning and washing up afterwards.
This might sound like hard work or a lot of effort (why not just go to M&S and buy a few bits and bobs?…which we did do) but I enjoyed doing it. And it seems like a good thing to do.

If there is one truth that I’ve learned about Christianity over the last decade or so, and if there is one setting where it seems to make sense it is around a few olives or a beer or two. Around a table there is a bit of give and take, you can enter long and lazy conversations, you can get to know your neighbour and it seems like an equal relationship.
I’m not talking about over the top, best china and dressing up type of hospitality, but the casual gathering with a few bits and bobs. |

I was reading this in Mediterranean Cookery by Claudia Roden.

‘Mediterranean society is family-based and that is where real Mediterranean cooking at its best is to be found. The home cooking of a society with strong family ties, large clans and women at home has none of the rigid rules of haute cuisine. And when dishes are passed down in the family they are fill of the little touches which make them both exquisite and individual.
I once asked a wrought-iron craftsman in Turkish Anatolia who builds pavilions in Seljuk and Ottoman styles, why he thought food in Turkey was regarded as being so important. He replied ‘What we enjoy most in life is being hospitable. That is all we have. You must not eat alone.’

That seems to me like pretty good advice for a church to take on board as well.

wild garlic pesto

Spring truly arrives in our house with the first wild garlic pesto of the year, an annual event that started back when we lived near the River Liffey and had access to a large bank of wild garlic.

It continues to this day but with the problem that I can no longer find wild garlic growing near the house and have to pick it up at St George’s Market, which means paying for it.
There are two ways to make the pesto I reckon, the expensive way and the cheap way.
If you use pine nuts and Parmesan (which is probably the right way) then you might end up with selling your kidney to fund your pesto.
However, I’m not that fussy or bothered about pine nuts or Parmesan and just used walnuts and a mature cheddar intead.
This year I also left out the clove of garlic that the recipe suggests adding as I found it a bit overpowering last year.

So  the recipe (from this book) was something like

1 Blanch 100g of wild garlic in boiling water for 10s, then run under cold water and pat dry.
2 Put garlic in big bowl with 200 ml of extra virgin olive oil and 50g of walnuts and liquidize.
3 Add 50g of mature cheddar cheese (you might need to add more to make it cheesy), add salt and pepper and mix.

Well that’s what I did and it tasted alright to me. You might have to experiment for your own taste I suppose.