The Church of Nom

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Foodie flashbacks – Astros

There was a point during the writing of this post that I thought I might be going insane. I KNEW this product existed at one time because I absolutely remember buying and eating them… But the internet disagreed. No matter what combination of words I put it, I could not find Astrid chocolates by Cadbury. Thankfully I finally realised I had the name wrong – they were called ASTROS – but I was kinda worried I was losing it there for a minute!

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Product: Cadbury Astros

Remind me: Candy-coated balls of chocolate that came in a box! You could pop the lid back, dip in for a few and then close it again – far better than boring old Smarties tubes.

What happened: These were introduced in 1997 – when I was the ripe old age of 12. My memory of them is of how really different they were from anything else on the shelves. The box packaging and the fact you could close it up and keep some for later was pretty cool (yes, growing up in rural Ireland was that exciting) and the sweets themselves were really delicious. But I seem to recall that these were a touch expensive – by comparison to other sweet favourites – and you could definitely get more for your money elsewhere, which was a pretty important factor for a 12-year-old with a pound to spend. This may be why they were discontinued in Ireland.

So what now: The Astro lives on! Now renamed Lunas, they can still be purchased in South Africa and Australia. And if you’re still craving them, I reckon Crunchy M&Ms could be the next best thing.

Foodie flashbacks

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Have you ever thought back to those sweets you used to love as a kid and suddenly been hit by the realisation that you haven’t seen them on supermarket shelves for at least 10 years? Of course there have been campaigns in the last few years to bring back the classics from our childhoods – Fat Frogs made a comeback and Wispas are still on our shelves after being reintroduced in 2008. But those were never my favourites! So in this new series called Foodie Flashbacks I’m going to try to find out what ever happened to my childhood favourites – starting today with two of HBs finest ice cream offerings.

Product: HB’s Sky and Chunky Ice Creams

Remind me: Sky came in a blue wrapper (third down on the left in the pic above). It was vanilla ice cream with a core of bubbly chocolate, and was coated in chocolate too. The Chunky was in a gold wrapper (fancy) – you can see it just above the Sky in that pic. It was a solid block of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate coating – not a million miles away from a Magnum.

What happened: Who the heck knows! The only mentions I can find anywhere online about Sky bars are on the many Facebook pages and forum posts calling for them to be reintroduced. And the result for Chunky is just about the same. But I did find this ad from the ’90s…

So what now: Well I figure if anyone’s gonna know why they were pulled (and if they’ll ever make a return), it’s HB. I’m gonna get in touch and see what I can find out. Watch this space…

October lust-haves

Here are the things I’ve been lusting over in the world of food and drink this month:

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1) KitchenAid stand mixer. This should just be top of the lust-have list every month; it’s never gonna be something I don’t want. Unfortunately I really couldn’t justify how expensive it is, especially considering the fact that I don’t bake all that often. But it’s just so pretty and it comes in loads of different colours! I don’t actually own any kind of mixer at all, so when I do bake I mix everything by hand and that seems to work just fine for me. This will just have to be kept on the wish list until I win the lotto.

2) Stonewell Cider. I was recently out for dinner with my boyfriend’s family and one of our group ordered this cider. I used to drink a fair bit of cider when I was just entering my drinking years but it was always Bulmers and eventually I grew to dislike it. I had kind of written all cider off as being the same but I had a taste of this and it was amazing. None of that sharp, harsh apple flavour that so many ciders can have; this was easy to drink and just delicious. Cue a major craving for it ever since.

3) Wonka Bars. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries! I think every kid has wanted to take a trip to the Wonka factory at some point in their lives, but these new bars may be the next best thing. There are three new flavours of Wonka bars: Millionaire’s Shortbread, Chocolate Nice Cream and Creme Brulee. I want to try these for the novelty factor alone! I may just have to do a review of all three – just to inform my readers, you understand. The things I do for you guys…

4) Tayto Bacon Melt: And while we’re on the topic of new products, Tayto has released some new flavours. Tayto’s smoky bacon has always been my favourite flavour of theirs so I’m intrigued by this new bacon flavour. Will it be the same as the old classic? Better? Or worse?

Low-sugar apple muffins

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Many years ago, when I still lived in Dublin, the cafe at Heuston Station was a very familiar haunt. Most Friday evenings involved catching a train to Cork to see my boyfriend (long-distance love, eh) so there would be a mad dash from work at 5pm, then straight into the cafe for an apple muffin and a large cappuccino to tide me over for the journey. Nowadays I’m rarely in Dublin – and when I am it’s by car rather than by train – so those muffins are few and far between. So I decided to make my own version today, with a few tweaks to a classic muffin recipe. These use sweet eating apples – the Pink Lady variety – so you can cut right back on the amount of sugar that normally goes into a muffin. And they definitely still have the deliciousness factor – I just took the second batch out of the oven and the first batch has nearly disappeared already… This recipe makes 6 large American-style muffins or 10/12 smaller buns.

Ingredients:

2 Pink Lady apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes

250g self raising flour (or 250g plain flour plus 1tsp baking powder)

125g margarine, melted and cooled

50g caster sugar

150ml milk

1 egg

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 175C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.

Put the apples in a pot with an inch of boiling water. Simmer until the apple have softened – roughly 10 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool

Melt the margarine and allow to cool.

Put the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix.

Mix the egg and milk together, and add the cooled margarine. Mix well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir.

Add the apples to the mixture and stir well.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tray.

Cook for 30 – 40 minutes. You can check if the muffins are done by inserting a knife – if it comes out clean, they’re ready.

Allow to cool, then enjoy.

Famous names

Don’t you just hate when you’re let down by a product you have high hopes for? And when it’s something you paid over the odds for, it  feels even worse, I think. It happened me lately with a Jamie Oliver product. I’d been going through a bit of a love affair with pesto and pasta. It was during a stint of working seven-day weeks and I was far too busy to cook proper food, but didn’t want to be stuck with sandwiches and wraps every day for my break food. The beauty of working from home means I have access to a full kitchen on my break and I found that boiling some fresh pasta (which takes about three minutes) and adding pesto felt like having a ‘real’ meal. It became my break food go-to because it was so quick and delicious. I had been using Aldi’s pesto (I can’t find a pic of this online for the life of me and don’t have one here to take a shot of, but it’s in a glass jar and called Cucina Pesto Genovese, if you want to try it) and it was delicious.

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Then I ran out, and as we don’t get to Aldi that often, got a replacement from Dunnes. Jamie’s pesto seemed like it would be a great option; I’ve eaten in his Italian restaurant in Dublin and loved it, and I have many of his cookbooks, so there was no reason why his pesto wouldn’t be great. But it wasn’t. Completely lacking in flavour while being so, so over-sweet at the same time, it was just awful. The closest I can come to describing it is this: imagine you took a bowl of pasta and poured sugary water on it. There. That’s what it was like. It was also a couple of euro more expensive than Aldi’s offering, so it was doubly disappointing. I managed about a third of the bowl before the rest went in the bin. Lesson learned, a famous name doesn’t guarantee a great product.

The best roast chicken you’ll ever eat

It’s probably quite poor for someone who tries to write a food blog, but I can’t remember the last time I cooked a full meal. The summer went by in a blur of work and holidays and the fact that I work five or six nights each week doesn’t help either with ‘proper’ eating. But now that September is here (and nearly over, where does the time go?), things have started to settle down in work and I feel I’m finally getting back into a normal routine. And a normal routine means more time for cooking, which is great – not least because of the money-saving aspect. My finances deal a lot better with a week of planned meals where I cook the food we have in the house, rather than daily trips to Tesco to grab something to tide me over till the next day’s trip.

One of the easiest things to cook that’s really deceptively impressive is a roast chicken. It’s a regular Sunday meal in our house; and the leftovers can make many different lunches and dinners for a few days. I’ve experimented with countless techniques, recipes and cooking times, and I think I’ve got a handle on how to prepare the nicest roast chicken ever. And I’ll share it with you, coz I’m nice like that. (Note: cooking temps and times will vary based on the size of the chicken and oven differences. This is what I do for my oven but adjust for how yours usually behaves).

First, pre-heat the oven to 180C (350F).

Next up, the chicken. Most stores and butchers will have chickens in sizes from 1.2kg to 2kg. For two people, I find a 1.2kg will do a good Sunday lunch with pretty much no leftovers, while 2kg will keep us in lunches and dinners for about three days. Choose one to suit how many people you’ll be feeding or how long you want to eat chicken leftovers for. The chick I used here is 1.4kg. Take it out of its packaging and pop it into an oven dish. (You’ll notice in the pics that there’s tinfoil in the base of my dish – you don’t have to do this; I just find it makes it easier to get the chicken juices and bits out of the dish afterwards)

Next, make up your marinade. Get a ramekin dish and pour in a generous amount of EVOO, Sriracha, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic powder (roughly two tsps of each spice). Mix up your sauce and put aside.

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Back to the chicken. Get a sharp knife and cut two slits in the skin at the top of the breasts. Take a teaspoon and slide it under the skin at each cut (see helpful picture). This separates the skin from the chicken.

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Next, load up your spoon with some marinade and slide it back into the slit in the skin, pushing the marinade in under the skin so it coats the meat inside. Repeat with the other cut. Then pour the remaining marinade over the chicken. Ta dah!

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Now it’s ready for the oven. Pour about 100mls of cold water in the base of your dish. Cover entirely with tinfoil and pop in the oven for two hours. After two hours, remove the tinfoil and return the chicken to the oven for about 20 minutes to get a good colour on the skin. Remove and test with a skewer to make sure the juices run clear.

At this point I eat what I want (which is usually a lot because this chicken is sooo good). Then when the chicken has cooled completely, strip all of the remaining meat from the bones, pop it into some containers and store in the fridge, using as needed. This was the entire haul from the 1.4kg chicken, brown meat on the left and breast on the right.

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If you wish you can use the bones to make chicken stock: fill your biggest pot with water, the chicken carcass, and roughly chopped onions, carrots and celery. Let it simmer away on the stove for a couple of hours, skimming the fat away from the top of the water if any settles there. Then after a few hours you can strain the liquid and keep for soup.

Happy birthday to meeee

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It’s my birthday today (28, wooo!) and here is the cake I made! It’s an owl!

Restaurant review – Douglas Tea Rooms and Bacco Italian

A double whammy of reviews for you guys today. I don’t go out to eat a huge amount, and when I do, I like to try somewhere new or somewhere I haven’t been for a while. So it’s fairly unusual for me to end up in the same restaurant twice in one week, but that’s exactly what happened with both Bacco and Douglas Tea Rooms. Nothing like having two takes to help me give a full review!

Let’s start with Douglas Tea Rooms. It fills half the space left vacant when Amicus closed its doors in Douglas – the other half is taken by La Lavanda, which I have yet to try. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but the menu sounded good so we gave it a shot. It’s definitely one of those bigger-on-the-inside kind of places; once you step inside through the floor-length curtains it’s actually a surprisingly large and bustling cafe, which also has a terrace and seating outside. The decor is typically tea room, lots of china and chintz prints. But my eye was drawn to the amazing selection of cakes on the counter – very appetising! We took a table and were brought menus. They serve your typical range of sambos, paninis and wraps, plus a hot food menu that included fish pie, stew and quiche.

We went for a baked ham and mozzarella panini, a tikka chicken panini and two diet cokes. The paninis were stuffed with fillings, and were just what we wanted – in fact, we had enjoyed them so much that when wanting a bite to eat a few days later, we headed straight back down and ordered the same thing. This time around, we also ordered a portion of fries. There was a delay with our food on this occasion – the waitress explained that the tikka panini would take longer to arrive as they chef had accidentally made two ham & cheese instead. But when it did arrive, the chef brought it down himself and apologised, which I thought was a nice touch.

Two paninis and two diet cokes hit €15, and I’m completely failing at finding out how much the fries were, but I think in the region of €2.95. They also have dinner and brunch menus, plus the aforementioned selection of cakes and coffees, so there will be lots to keep me coming back, I reckon.

Now to Bacco. Before my first time at this restaurant, I had worked up probably the biggest hunger of my life. I had a rare Sunday off work, so Eamonn and I decided to head to Guagan Barra, a forest park type place filled with hiking trails. We spent about four hours up and down moutains, crossing rivers and generally enjoy the great outdoors. On our return to Cork, our thoughts inevitably turned to food. Having stopped in Macroom and finding nothing that grabbed us, we considered Ballincollig. Eamonn suggested Bacco, having been there before with family and loving it. I’ll eat Italian food all day long so I didn’t take much convincing.

We arrived without a reservation but were seated immediately. Shortly after being seated we were brought a basket of still-warm garlic bread and bread sticks. At this point I was having trouble deciding between a pasta dish or pizza, but the soft, chewy, flavoured bread made my mind up for me, and pizza it was. I chose the quatro formagio, while Eamonn went for a chicken dish with mushroom sauce (unfortunately I can’t find their menu online to give the exact name). I think a four-cheese pizza can sometimes be a risky choice; it can very easily be bland and stodgy. But this was so highly flavoured, and the four cheeses were so different from each other, that it never became boring. Even with my monster hunger I only managed to finish about half of it, but the waiter was happy to wrap it up for me to take away. I had a little food envy when I tasted the chicken dish, the mushroom sauce was so good. But as it came with a side of veg and potatoes – not something I would have much interest in – I was happy with my choice.

A week or two later, we found ourselves back there again for a family occasion. Having gone for the pizza last time, I chose pasta this time around and went for the carbonara, which came served with garlic bread. Because my eyes are bigger than my belly, I went with a bruschetta starter too. Both as good as last time, and again I had to admit defeat half way through my main and get it wrapped up to take home.

So, two thoroughly enjoyable eating experiences, and two places I would be happy to recommend to anyone.

Who likes updates? (We like updates)

Yup, once again I have gotten caught up in the real world and I haven’t had time to blog. I haven’t had much time to cook either (Friday’s dinner was cream crackers and an Indian ready meal from Tesco) so it’s been all quiet on the foodie front. But! I do have a few little updates to share, on stuff I had blogged about previously (like my saying goodbye to milk, paleo, holidays and such). And! There’s a lot coming up (like a French food festival on my doorstep and more holidays) and I’ve been in a bazillion restaurants lately too so expect some reviews shortly. Before I launch into all the upcoming stuff, here’s what’s been going on in my life over the last month, in handy bullet form:

  • Bye-bye to milk. Still off milk (go willpower!) and not really missing it at all. I worked out a while back that I was drinking the guts of a litre a day, which is a fairly hefty calorie load, so I think I’m gonna keep on avoiding it for the time being – but I won’t deny myself a cappuccino once a month.
  • Paleo: Doing a kind-of paleo light at the minute. I’m still avoiding bread, pasta, etc, but I haven’t been quite as strict with keeping my carbs super low; I’m more like 70g a day now than the 15g I had been on. And whadya know, I think it’s actually working well. I finally broke through the weight plateau I’d been stuck at and I’m down a further 5lbs since then. I guess my body doesn’t like restriction…
  • Jolly holidays: Amsterdam is my new favourite place on earth. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting by a canal eating profitjes covered in Nutella right now. Had tonnes of amazing eats both there and in Brussels; the aforementioned profitjes, waffles, cones of chips with mayo, raclette, those really nice paprika crisps that only seem to be available in Europe.

Ok, all caught up? Excellent. Now for some stuff you can expect so see me nattering on about over the next couple of weeks:

  • Killarney: Off for a short break to Kerry shortly so there’ll be pictures and reviews all over the place.
  • Gran Canaria: Whoop, summer holidays are booked! I’m already excited and it’s still two months away, so don’t be surprised if I keep bringing it up.
  • Couch to 5k: I tried this running programme once before and got half way through before giving up (and I was at my slimmest then, so lord knows how I’ll fare now). I’m gonna give it another shot, and if I’m tracking my progress here then I’ll have added pressure to keep it up. (Plus it’s an eight-week programme, and starting it tomorrow brings me right up to holidays). Possibly featuring pictures of my sweaty face if I have enough energy to lift a camera post-run.
  • French food festival: Happening in Douglas next weekend. I’m working most of the weekend but I should be able to pop down on Friday and check out the night market.
  • Weight loss: Yup, I have a goal and I aim to reach it! Tuesdays are my weigh-in and measurements day, so I’ll keep ya posted.
  • Restaurant reviews: Including the new Tea Rooms in Douglas.

Phew! I think that’s everything covered. Keep your peepers peeled for lots of posts over the week 🙂

Bye bye bainne

I mentioned it as a bit of an aside in my previous post but I’ve been stalled weight-loss-wise for the last two weeks. It’s pretty frustrating to say the least; my diet is so much better (weekend blip included) than it had been previously, it’s like night and day. After I lost a stone in the first month, I set a goal to lose another 7lb in the second month. Seemed completely achievable but I’ve made absolutely no inroads on it. To make matters worse, I’m stuck at a particular number that I really struggled to get below the last time I was trying to lose weight, and it’s become my own personal… my own personal… I’ve completely drawn a blank at what the end of this phrase is. Waterloo? Everest? My own personal spectre haunting me every time I venture into the corner of the bathroom where the weighing scales lives?

Anyway, to keep seeing the same number every damn time I get on the scales is driving me mad. Today I’ve been trying to figure the culprit and I’ve narrowed it down to one of three things: fruit, nuts or milk (or maybe it’s all three, but I’ll just address one at a time). I think nuts are in the clear on this one. While they are the highest calorie, fattiest of the three, I keep a rough count of my calories everyday and don’t go overboard on them, so I think they’re fine. I won’t do the complete dog on a bag of Brazils, but they can stay for now. Fruit may be the culprit. I tried to cut it out completely during my first month but lately I’ve been getting really sudden weaknesses when I’m hungry and fruit brings me back to normal the fastest, so they’re sticking around. Now milk. I don’t even tend to register milk as calories because I just have “a wee drop in my tea” but realistically, I drink a shit-tonne of tea. Some days I remember and add a few hundred mls of milk to my MFP counter but most days I don’t even think of it. And with the amount of tea I drink, I could easily put away 400 – 500mls of milk a day, which a quick check with MFP tells me is 320 calories. If I’m looking to point fingers at possible causes for not dropping the pounds, that may just be it. So I’ll give giving it up a try and see, process of elimination and all that.

Now, the question of what to replace it with. The idea of black tea doesn’t appeal to me, but I do have some peppermint tea, so that might do. And there is another, more paleo option. When I started reading paleo blogs, getting started out on this whole thing, I kept seeing mentions of bone broth. The name instantly made me cringe, it sounded like the most disgusting, unappealing thing ever. You just boil bones and then drink what comes out? I put it down to American food weirdness (incidentally, it’s really hard to find an Irish paleo blog. The only one I came across used comic sans, so obviously I couldn’t be reading that). Anyway, it took a while before my brain finally engaged and I realised that “bone broth” was just stock. Duh. So as I write this, I’m drinking a cup of beef broth. It’s a brave new world, kids.

* Side note. People will, of course, say that it’s not all about the number on the scale, and how your clothes feel tell a lot too. Which I totally believe in, but I’m putting the fact I’m more comfortable in my jeans down to the initial stone I shed.

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