Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Scottish Lamb Broth with Buckwheat and Seasonal Veg

As it often happens, we had some leftovers from our Sunday roast leg of lamb. I love Sunday roast leftovers almost as much as I love the actual dinner. The possibilities! With lamb they were, for a long time, mostly wasted as there was never enough left for a second dinner, so the bone was usually gnawed on by a hungry family member the next day, or forgotten about and discarded a few days later. I know, the waste.

That is, until I discovered the mighty Scottish lamb broth from Jamie Oliver’s book, Save with Jamie. So here we were, on Monday afternoon, and as I was eyeing up the bone, ready to transform it into a simmering pot of satisfying, soul warming goodness,  I realised I don’t have any of the ingredients to make my beloved recipe. No barley, no cabbage, no peas, no squash.

‘Ok’, I thought, ‘think. This is an opportunity to come up with your own version of the Scottish Broth. What’s there to lose? We can always have scrambled eggs for dinner if it turns out a horrible mess.’ So I scanned my pantry (tiny cupboard in the corner of the kitchen), checked the vegetable box, and this is what happened.

I used buckwheat instead of barley and I loved it. I used kale instead of cabbage, why not, it is all the same, as my husband says. I replaced the sweetness of peas with corn, and used mushrooms to give the broth its chunkiness in the place of squash.

I am not saying it turned out better than the original, but I honestly, I think it is up there. It certainly warmed our bellies and our hearts. This time, I am including a recipe too.

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables.Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Served 2 adults and 2 hungry toddlers. Twice.

Ingredients:

  1. Leftover leg of lamb, bone and meat (about 150g)
  2. 1 chicken stock cube or use the drippings from the roast instead
  3. 200g buckwheat, cooked according to packet instructions
  4. 200g of chestnut mushrooms
  5. 3 carrots
  6. 200g potatoes
  7. A good bunch of kale
  8. 100g of cooked corn, crumbled
  9. Fresh mint, to garnish.

Method: 

  1. Simmer the lamb bone, shredded meat, and stock in 3 litres of water for 1 hour. Make sure to skim the surface regularly.
  2. Meanwhile, quarter and sauté the mushrooms in olive oil until slightly browned.
  3. Peel and chop the carrots and potatoes into cubes, add to the broth together with sautéed mushrooms. Simmer for another 20 minutes.
  4. When the carrots and potatoes are almost done, add the cooked corn, cooked buckwheat, and the chopped kale. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Garnish with fresh mint, and serve.

Tip: It is a good idea to cook a whole packet of soup grains such as buckwheat, barley, or soup mix, and freeze in small portions, ready to go.

Have a good (almost) midweek!

Merlixa

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Bruschetta with mozzarella. Food photography.

Bruschetta for Dinner and Other Things

Patrick and me like going for aimless drives in the countryside on weekends. We drive slowly, taking in the scenery, pointing out the houses we like, slowing down to almost a halt to let oncoming traffic pass on narrow Irish country roads. Coffee in hand, we chat about everything and nothing. The kids fall asleep in their back seats and we let them.  It is a welcome break to our buzzing weekend. This is how we ended last week, a flurry of errands, cooking, eating, playing, laughing, and sometimes crying.

I captured a few moments, and there is a little story to each of them. Nothing extraordinary, just everyday life and our attempts to create some magic to brighten up the mundane.

DSC_0139DSC_0142On Saturday, we made our (almost) weekly trip to the Farmers’ Market. The plan was to get some organic vegetables and a few sausage rolls for the kids, and just hang out, but we ended up leaving with a bag of various cheese. One of them was the irresistible fresh mozzarella, firm on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. I had some semi stale sourdough bread, so that evening I toasted a few slices on the griddle pan, rubbed them with garlic, and topped each slice with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, and basil. Hmmm, crunchy and creamy, fresh and pungent, I forgot what a juxtaposition of textures and flavours a good bruschetta is, and what an excellent supper it makes, especially with  a glass of good red.

I really enjoyed taking photos of random flowers I found scattered around our unfinished and chaotic garden. It gave me a few moments to myself, just wondering outside, and made me appreciate our little piece of land even more. It also gave me a great opportunity to try to understand light in photography. I was taking most of my food photos inside, so it was refreshing to learn new things in a different context.

DSC_0658altDSC_0664altNow, this was a completely spontaneous experiment. I was feeling particularly silly on Sunday morning, and we had a box full of organic vegetables, so before I chopped them all up in delicious meals, I wanted to do a little collage, and this is what came out of it. Not quite sure how I feel about the outcome, maybe I will give it another go one day when I have enough kale and beetroot  lying around!

Have a great week!

Merlixa

Quinoa salad with charred vegetables. Dark Food Photography.

Quinoa Salad with Charred Vegetables

I am not great with lunches. In fact, I am not that great with breakfasts either. I tend to reserve all my efforts (and belly space) for dinner. During the day, I would make sure my kids are fed, and then load up on caffeine. I know,  it doesn’t sound very healthy, I should really change that.

Good for me so, that I have been using my new hobby as an excuse to throw together healthy, satisfying, and pretty lunches that I could photograph, and eat afterwards. And yes, having a decent lunch does make you feel more like a human being. Having said that, dinner has suffered a bit, since most of my efforts are now channelled elsewhere but it will all balance out, eventually.

Without further ado, I am sharing some pictures and a few words on how our Quinoa and Charred Vegetables salad was made.

Quinoa salad with charred vegetables. Dark Food Photography.

I am a big fan of batch cooking, and while my meal planning skills are still somewhat lacking, I find when my fridge and freezer are well stocked with trusted staple foods, it is quite easy to quickly throw something together. I usually keep a jar of cooked quinoa, brown rice, or other grain in the fridge, ready to be turned into salads, breakfast bowls, sides. I don’t use any flavourings when cooking them, so they can be easily turned into a sweet or a savoury meal, depending on our mood. Here is how this salad came together.

  1. I used some fluffy, nutty quinoa as a base.
  2. I checked the fridge for any leftover veggies, then charred them on a hot griddle pan to bring out their sweetness and adding some smoky flavour while keeping the crunch. (Thank you Jamie Oliver!)
  3. I added some homemade pesto and some roasted pepper and tomato sauce. The two sauces complimented each other beautifully and added some extra depth to the dish. Guacamole or simply smashed avocado would work really well here, too.
  4. I added some protein. We had a fried egg but you can use chickpeas, feta, nuts, chicken, or whatever you like!
  5. I would have enjoyed some extra spice in the salad but I had to respect the kids’ sensitive palate.
  6. Enjoy! We certainly did!

Quinoa salad with charred vegetables. Dark Food Photography.Quinoa salad with charred vegetables. Dark Food Photography.DSC_0667

Happy Friday Everyone!

Merlixa

A Visual Recipe for Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Today I would like to talk about staple foods. Like Sunday morning routines or favourite TV shows, each family have their own. It can be a hearty pot of stew, prepared during the weekly batch cooking, and reserved for quick weekday suppers, or something as simple as a favourite breakfast cereal.  Staple food is one of the few stable things in chaotic family lives. Or, at least, it is in ours.

In my previous post, I was talking about homemade pesto, and how we use it in absolutely everything. Another one of those magic condiments you will always find in our fridge is slow roasted red pepper and tomato sauce. This sweet and smoky sauce has been a life saver on more occasions than I can count! I made it into refreshing soups, and let me tell you, when garnished with some crumbled feta, fresh herbs (or pesto!), with a slice of homemade sourdough on the side, it makes an impressive impromptu lunch for friends dropping by. I also poured it over countless bowls of pasta, with some grated cheddar on top, to fill many hungry little bellies. It also works well as a salad dressing, lasagne filling, or any kind of bake for that matter. You get the idea, it is versatile. So I usually make a big batch which I keep in a jar, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

DSC_0623

On a different note, I have been really busy for the last few weeks practicing my photography skills. It is my new obsession and I just can’t believe that I have been an owner of a DSLR camera for the past seven years (it was gifted to me by my wonderful husband) and only discovered manual mode now.

I have been taking shots of anything edible ever since, driving my family crazy! I have always been attracted to pops of colour against black background, hence most of my clothes are shot on black chalkboard. This love of contrast naturally translated into my food photography style.

Another factor that contributed to the overall ‘dark’ effect was our famous Irish weather. It has been raining for the last week, which I originally thought would hinder my ability to take good photographs. But I discovered that bright light doesn’t suit my aesthetic at all, so it worked out well.

Now I just need to practice, practice, practice. And read a lot of manuals. And cook and eat. Yum.

So, if you are still with me, here is how I make our roasted pepper and tomato sauce. It is honestly so simple that I think my images say it all, no need for further words.

Blackboard food photography. Dark food photography. Roasted tomato and pepper sauce.DSC_0617DSC_0623DSC_0634DSC_0635DSC_0639

Happy Midweek Everyone!

Merlixa

Nasturtiums and Pesto

One day my son brought home a seedling from his preschool. ‘I planted it!’, he said with pride. ‘We need to water it, so it grows big and strong!’ Ahem. I am bad at watering plants, like really bad. Many green things died in my care. It also says a lot about me as a gardener that I have not, at that time, recognised the plant as nasturtium. I had to ask Lex’s teacher. But I could not let my son down, so it lived on our kitchen window sill for a while, until Lex and me finally planted it in our herb garden.

But then,  as my interest in gardening grew, I learnt that not only nasturtiums are the easiest plants to grow from seed, making it a quick win for somebody whose fingers are the opposite of green (what colour would that be?) but they are also edible. And not only the pretty flowers, but the leaves too! They have a fresh, lemon-y, peppery flavour, and remind me of the earthy taste of rocket, my favourite salad leave. You can even munch on the stalks, if you are into that kind of thing. So me and the kids planted a lot of them, everywhere. One has to start somewhere.

Anyhow, one thing led to another and when it came to making pesto, one of our weekly staples,  it was only fitting that I used nasturtium leaves as the base. I started making my own pesto a few years back, and it was one of my first transitions towards making my own staple food. I remember buying a tub of homemade pesto at the Farmers’ Market, and realising that all these years I have been duped into buying the canned version at the grocery store. What a difference! Bright green, rich and creamy, we liked it a lot. In our pasta, couscous, salad, scrambled eggs, toast, ice cream (just kidding). Anyway, you get the idea. The farmers’ market version came with a hefty price tag, so I learnt to make my own and thus my journey of making pesto out of anything green and leafy begun.

So back to the story. I grabbed a bunch of nasturtium leaves, then added some basil and parsley for extra aroma. I minced a handful of cashews, using their creamy sweetness to balance out the sharpish flavour of nasturtiums. Then I mixed in the crushed garlic, lemon juice, parmesan, and voila!

Food photography. Nasturtium pesto decorated with nasturtium flowers.

Later, we enjoyed a light supper of pasta and pesto with some sweet and smoky slow roasted tomatoes, shaved parmesan, and of course, nasturtium petals.

Food photography. Penne pasta with nasturtium pesto and slow roasted tomatoes.

Happy Monday Everyone!

Merlixa

Slow Cooking

I remember not so long ago telling a friend of mine, ‘You know, I don’t really enjoy cooking anymore’. It was true. With two small children, cooking became a daily race against time to produce something healthy and edible with least amount of stress and dirty dishes.

I missed the slow cooking, unhurriedly savouring the process of making food, preferably while sipping a glass of good wine, and with some music playing in the background.

But as the summer days rolled in and we embraced a slower pace of life, I found myself much more at ease. There was finally space, for pottering around without the urge to get things done, for sleeping in without the pressure of being late, for learning and creating, and for slow cooking.

The kids followed my lead, spending their days playing games and resting, according to their own rhythms, and letting me embrace mine. We were giving each other space, and hence our time together became more meaningful. We were really living together.

One day, we were returning home from a day at the lakes, when I realised we haven’t done any grocery shopping and were running seriously low on food supplies. Going shopping at this time was out of question, so I had to think fast. Just then, I remembered coming across a recipe for Chana Masala in Molly Wizenber’s book, A Homemade Life. A great read, if you ask me. The reason this recipe stuck with me was that it sounded fancy, and it needed surprisingly few ingredients, that is, if you like me, have an ambitiously stocked and rarely used spice collection.

So when we got home, I poured myself a small glass of wine, turned on some music (jazz is my preferred style when cooking), and sat down to carefully read the instructions. I normally seriously lack in patience when following a recipe, hurriedly scanning the list of ingredients and proceeding to haphazardly put them together, completely ignoring any recommended cooking techniques. As a result, I have been missing out on a lot of learning opportunities, which would have come in handy for a novice like me. I also felt that with so few ingredients (basically chickpeas, tomatoes, and a bunch of powerful spices) one would benefit from a good cooking technique. I was right! As I went on recreating the recipe one step at a time, I learnt that when sautéing onions as the base of a dish, you really need to take your time. Most recipes are quite vague about the time you need, ranging from a few minutes to ‘until translucent’. I took a whole ten minutes until the onions were fully caramelised, even slightly charred, as per Molly’s instructions. Then I went on toasting the spices (using the right amounts of each!), instead of just pouring them in at some random point. I also took my time cooking the sauce down, scraping the sides of my Le Creuset, until it thickened and the flavours intensified. If you are a seasoned cook, you might find my revelations laughable, or just plain boring, but for me, it was a breakthrough.

And Molly is right, it is even better the next day. There was none left for the third, so I can not testify to that.

Chana Masala. Food photography. Slow Cooking.