Mourne Mussel Feast

If you’re squeemish, mussels may not be the meal for you. As my grandma has always said, (and look away if you’ve got as weak appetite!) mussels look like snatters – and that’s bogeys to you non-Northern-Irish English speakers. Personally, I reckon it’d be pretty worrying if I was blowing fluorescent globs of orange out my nose; I suppose I see where she’s coming from but I’m not sure I agree. While there’s not much escaping the visceral when you’re eating meat, seafood is definitely less cute-and-relate-able than lambies.

mussels

Mussels have grown naturally in Dundrum Bay off the East coast of N.I. for hundreds of years, and my family own a rustic, weather-beaten cottage in the Mourne Mountains (no running water; no electricity; not many female visitors), the drive to which passes the bay. We’ve made it tradition to now and then stop off at a small mussel farm, the back door of which is tucked between new-built, luridly pastel seaside flats on a road pot-holed with concrete dust soupy puddles. We’re served through a gritty back-trap (between machinery that would look great on the set of a horror movie) 3kg of mussels for £5 – take that for local sourcing. I may never eat mussels in a restaurant again…

On a less bodily note, this ‘recipe’ can barely be called such, it’s so simple. We can get you from tub to table in less than 30 minutes!

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Ingredients:
White Wine – 500ml
Mussels – 3kg
Garlic – 4 Cloves, crushed
White Onions – 2, Cubed to inch sq
Pepper

Method:


1. Give the mussels a good wash and scrape seaweed/grit off with a blunt knife (your local fishmonger may have already done this for you).

2. Golden the onion pieces so they separate and add crushed garlic cloves.

3. Bring a 250ml of water to boil in a pot and add onion, garlic and pepper and bring back to boil.

4. Add the mussels and seal lid for 12 minutes.

5. After 7 minutes, check the pot – some mussels will never open because these are already dead before cooking (live mussels open in the heat and cook) so under no circumstances eat unopened or not sufficiently opened mussels – keep cooking  until nearly all of the mussels have opened

6. Plate and serve with white wine and thick-cut bread with butter to mop up the sauce!

Open fire to Open Bowl: Guest Chef Dad!

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Bon appetit all!

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The Friendly Stew

For the big two-one this year, my lovely housemates let me invite the friends I grew up with in Belfast to our tiny student house in Exeter… with absolutely no idea what they were in for. The invitation was made, plans were set and an fleet of raucous Belfast accents invaded our house by plane, by air, by car, by train, doubling our numbers for a weekend – spoiling me beyond all belief and travelling horrendous distances to the very south of England. We were noisy, ate large quantities of food and touristed like nobody’s business.  The Belfast lot were horrified by how Anglicized my accent had become; the English were baffled by how incoherent my accent became in their presence. But we danced, we drank, we mingled and resolved our respective cultural differences through games enforcing alcohol consumption. An unforgettable twenty-first.

Friendly stew and a heavenly Korean white rice

On a practical note, having lots of people about reminded me of this great recipe! The Friendly Stew is a great way to feed large numbers of people with varying tastes; it’s quick and easy to make, requiring minimal fuss – so you can leave it to do it’s magic while you enjoy playing hostess. This super basic Spanish-style stew is adaptable to many circumstances, and built around a tomato, onion and pepper base which is a good starter for any beginner cook; it can easily be adapted to fit different ingredients and built up into an individualised master-piece! A personal favourite, and one that I crave when homesick, is our family’s ‘Pork and Olive’ – the addition of pimento stuffed green olives (pre-soaked to remove any trace of brine or oil) makes it bitter and rich; it was the only good thing about winter, as my parent’s refuse to cook it any other time, and to be fair, bar Christmas, there’s not much else to be celebrating. (I’m a bit of a grinch when it comes to the cold.). Try switching up the flavours with rosemary instead of bay leaves for a sweeter edge, or three whole garlic cloves for warm tangy undertone.

Here’s the list of what I put into my stew usually, but mix it up with whatever’s in your cupboards. It serves six people generous portions or can be frozen for savvy student consumption (and most importantly, to participate in student freezer tetris).

Ingredients
4x  cans of chopped tomatoes,
3x large peppers
2x large onions
1x tbs tomato puree
Salt & Pepper
2x bay leaves
750g gammon*
I usually use a cheap and cheerful cooking bacon and it tastes great!
Soak for aprox. 30mins before cooking to remove saltiness.

Method

1. Chop peppers and onions into approx. inch by inch squares and put in pot with all ingredients but the pork

2. Dice pork into inch by inch cubes and very lightly pan-fry so they’re ‘sealed’ and pop them into the stew
ie. changed colour on the outside but raw inside.

3.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for min. two hours until the sauce thickens

4. Serve with rice, boiled potatoes or roasted yam if you’re feeling adventurous.
Yum!

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© Jonathan Boyd Photography

Much, much, much love goes out to Simon, Scott, Hannah, Peter, Jonny and Rebecca for making the horrific journey to land’s end to celebrate my oldness; a MASSIVE thank you hug to Emily, Sophie, Jonnie, Tom and Megan for coping admirably with us Norn’ Ireland lot and holding up the English end with gusto!

‘Is that… Apple?’: The Chilli and Apple Con-Carne

This recipe comes from a mixture of  wild culinary upbringing, and a strong sense of student fugality ie. I bought a huge £1 bag of apples, and had to do something with them. Needless to say, the housemates were horrified.

I feel like cooking style like this should come with an explanation. Delia Smith, the fabulous lady she is, was a constant presence in my house growing up. She helped me learn to read (as I dictated her recipes to my Dad, and he quickly learned not to trust what I said), she was there with me as I wreaked havoc (serious the-oven-is-on-fire havoc) in the kitchen, and supplied me with staple culinary skills that keep me alive and sane at university. Delia’s emphasis on precision was tempered by my Dad’s sense of absolute wild abandon in the kitchen, the supermarket, in foraging; Delia’s Britishness, by my Mum’s exquisite and traditional Chinese style. On our cookery book shelf at home, well protected by the thick paper covering my Dad and I sello-taped on to prevent further damage, is a wedding present from my Grandparents to my parents in 1991: Delia’s Complete Cookery Course. I’m patiently waiting to passed on Delia’s Cookery Book, stains and all, when I get married.

Apple

Let me know if you have any interesting variations on the usual ol’ Chilli!

Ingredients:
2 value tins of plum tomatoes
1 value tin of kidney beans
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 tbs tomato puree
a quick shake of dried chilli flakes
500g mince beef/stewing beef
3 small apples cored and cubed
splash of apple juice
1 tbs honey
100ml red wine (optional)

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1. Put everything but the beef into a large pot.

2. Fry the beef lightly (just seal the stewing beef) and add to pot.

3. Bring to boil, then simmer for approximately 2 hrs.

Yum.

“Cooking is rarely an automatic instinct, we have to learn as we go.”

-Delia Smith, Complete Illustrated Cookery Course (Classic Ed.). Introduction, p.7.

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Cheeky Chocolate + Banana Slice

Not exactly what Ms. Mary Berry would call an even bake, but lush all the same…

I learnt to bake with my Grandma in her kitchen. I’d help make mess; she’d let me lick the bowl. She’s started to forget her recipes, but I’m still using them. When I get home, I’ll teach the old recipe – “two, two, two and one”* – to her again, and no doubt, her work will still turn out to be better than mine.

Ingredients

500g plain chocolate
500g milk chocolate  – ½ chopped into small pieces
75g margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coca (or hot chocolate) powder
2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed

Pre-heat oven to 180º

1. Melt plain chocolate and half the milk chocolate in a bain-marie.

2. Add margarine, olive oil, eggs and sugar to a bowl and mix.

3. Sift flour, baking powder, hot chocolate powder into a bowl.

4. Add banana, melted and chopped chocolate and mix thoroughly.

5. Put in a 10x25cm loaf tin* and into the oven for aprox. 1hr.

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*Remember to margarine the tin and greaseproof paper the bottom!

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* ratio of sugar, eggs, flour and butter

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You Cheap Treat: Scones

“…The only time I see you this happy, is when you’re eating.”

– Jakob (my China backpacking partner)

Jakob was slightly worried when he said this, but it is the truth: I am a food junkie. I unashamedly eat my emotions and my emotions are dangerously ruled by what I’m consuming…

Bad news is best handled with Chinese chicken soup [雞湯 – 香菇,紅棗,枸杞,姜] or Irish stew and wheaten bread, headaches are less painful with hot water, romantic stories are sweeter with sticky chocolate brownies and tea; work is done best when a Spanish pork and olive casserole is in the oven, and let’s face it, life in general just simply better when sticky white rice is involved.

As such, for all you hard workers out there, I leave you a simple and cheap pick me up for that well-deserved afternoon break.

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Light (Dairy Free) Scones

225g self raising flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
50g margarine
135ml soya milk
2 heaped tbs caster sugar
50g raisins (optional)
pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 200°C

2. Add margarine to flour, caster sugar, salt and baking powder; rub until breadcrumby.

3. Mix in soy milk, leaving some to brush the tops of scones (then raisins).

4. Roll clementine-sized balls of dough and on a floured surface, pat down to 2cm.

5. Brush tops with soy milk and put on tray to cook in oven for 10-15mins.

Et voilà! Serve with spread and jam while warm!

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