The best thing about being back in Ireland is Christmas in winter. Somehow – although my readers from the other side of the world may not agree! – cold long nights and short wet days make me feel Christmasy. It’s that whole feeling of getting indoors and battening down the hatches for the miserable weather. Perfect for Christmas preparations! And driving home for Christmas surely isn’t the same unless you arrive late, on the evening before Christmas Eve, to see the house lit up with all the lights on and there’s lots of tasty smells coming out of the kitchen.
After my appetite had been well whetted by Denis Cotter’s A Paradiso Year: Autumn and Winter Cooking, I decided that it was time to return to Café Paradiso itself and last weekend I went down to Cork. All my nights were tied up but Saturday lunchtime was designated Paradiso-time and who better to share it than my Sister, who lives in Cork, and the Canadian friend that I met in New Zealand. Both the girls are waitresses – one in the nearby Liberty Grill, the other in Cork’s famous Jacobs on the Mall – so Café Paradiso wasn’t getting the most uncritical audience.
Coming across some raw chorizo sausage recently at Verkerks‘ butchers I decided to try out one of the recipes from the Mediterranean Café’s Tapas Evening. I also wanted to try out the Spanish smoked paprika that Chef Nik had used with such success that night but, naturally, the recipe sheet had disappeared. Still, if I’ve something in my mind, I don’t normally let something small like the lack of a recipe dissuade me.
The Middle Eastern soup Harira has cropped up in several of the different cookbooks and magazines that I’ve been reading lately. It’s a thick, near solid, nourishing soup (it can be so thick that it’s close to getting called a stew!) which was traditionally served to break the Muslim fast during the month of Ramadan but what drew me to it was the fact that it combines both chickpeas and lentils – two of my favourite ingredients. Most recipes also include lamb but, due to my lack of funds when I made this, my soup was almost vegetarian, save for the chicken stock.
There are days in winter – and spring, and autumn – when you wake up to wet and wild mornings and the only thing to do is spend the day indoors, with occasional rain-coated excursions for walks to avoid claustrophobia. Digging through Tamasin Day Lewis’ Weekend Food on one such day, I discovered a recipe for Pork Hock and Bean Casserole that made me go digging in the freezer to find the cheap meaty pork hock that I’d purchased last month.
I’ve been having more than a few Mexican moments lately with my chocolate and chilli experiments and I’ve also cooked several Mexican meals. The first was for a pot-luck dinner for eight in our house when some of the Boyfriend’s college friends and their wives were about. This was only arranged that morning and when the Boyfriend asked what we should cook, I figured that it was the perfect time to try Nigella’s recipe for Cornbread-Topped Chilli.
Looking at Sunday’s entry about flatbreads and foccacia, I just realised what was missing – I forgot to write up my foccacia recipe! What I give here is just the basic recipe but there are countless variations. You can always add different herbs or some crushed garlic, top the dough with caramelised onions or roasted peppers or, indeed, stuff it with cheese and bacon for a ready-made sandwich.
Even though I haven’t been mentioning the Breadmaker very much recently, it does get a regular workout. Every so often we’re out of Brown Soda Bread and it’s just too much hard work to go down to the shop so I just throw ingredients into the Breadmaker bowl and it makes one of its little square loaves – which are, incidentally, the perfect size for the toaster.