Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Healthy and Cheap eats for Students

Spiced Couscous and Chickpea Salad

Easy to make, full of fibre and low in fat.

Once made it will last for about 3 days, so is a great salad to make on Sunday night for a portable lunch on Monday and Tuesday. Add any pre-cooked or raw vegetables that you like to the finished recipe for an extra vitamin boost. Fruits like apricots or pomegranate work particularly well also.

  • 200g couscous
  • 40g raisins
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 350ml hot chicken stock
  • 100g tinned chickpeas - rinsed
  • 3 tblsp olive oil
  • 2 tblsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 2tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and pepper
Put the couscous in a large bowl with the raisins and spices, season with salt and pepper,  and mix well. Pour the chicken stock over the couscous and cover immediately with a large plate or cling film to seal in the steam. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork to separate the grains and stir in the chickpeas. lemon juice, olive oil, red onion and parsley.

Once cooled, refrigerate and store for up to 3 days.

Grilled Salmon Tacos with Avocado Salsa

Full of healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin c.


  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 skinless salmon fillets
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 2 ripe avocados - stoned, peeled and diced
  • 1 red onion- finely diced
  • 2 large tomatoes- deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 lime - juiced
  • small bunch of coriander - chopped
  • 8 taco shells

Heat the grill to high and line a large baking tray with foil. Mix the spices and rub onto the salmon before placing onto the baking tray. Grill for 8--10 minutes or until cooked through.

While the salmon cooks, combine the yoghurt with the garlic and season to taste. In another bowl, combine the avocado, onion and tomato. Add the lime juice, season and scatter with coriander.

Warm the taco shells in the oven. When ready to serve, flake the salmon into the shells before topping with the salsa and yoghurt.

Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

Low fat and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, this soup will keep for up to 5 days refrigerated. Heat before college and transport in a flask for a warming January lunch.


  • 1 butternut squash - peeled and cubed
  • 1 white onion  - chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic - chopped
  • a few large handfuls of spinach
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 cube chicken or vegetable stock
  • 5 tblsp red lentils
  • 1 tblsp mild curry powder


Fry the onion in some oil in a large pot until translucent. Add the quash, lentils and curry powder and fry for 3 minutes, stirring gently to make sure everything is evenly coated in the spices.

Boil the kettle and add 500ml hot water into the pot along with the coconut milk and stock cube. Bring to the boil.

Add the spinach, stir well and turn the heat down. Simmer for one hour.

Blitz with a hand blender and allow to cool before refrigerating in a Tupperware container.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Wild Irish Venison with Port, Figs and Watercress Salad

As venison is going out of season so I wanted to produce a recipe that showcases the last of this locally-produced winter speciality combined with watercress, the first shoots of which should be coming above ground this week. Eating seasonally is important firstly because you are getting the food to your table at it's best tasting and most nutritious. Secondly, it is good for the environment because it usually has to travel a great fewer air miles to get from farm to fork.

Wild Venison can be difficult to source if you don't live in a country area or are not in the food industry but usually a search online can provide you with a lot of resources. I have linked a couple below. Just remember that because venison is so low in fat, cook it quickly and keep it on the rare side or it will be tough.

  • 100ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 5 small red chillies, whole
  • 4 small red onions, finely sliced
  • 800g wild Irish Venison haunch steaks
  • 200g soft dried figs
  • 50ml port wine
  • 150ml balsamic vinegar
This is a really fast recipe to make so is perfect for a quick midweek dinner or weekend lunch.

Heat half the rapeseed oil in a heavy frying pan. Add the chillies to the hot oil and coat completely, cooking for about two minutes or until the skins just begin to blister.
Stir in the red onions and cook for three minutes. Add the venison steaks, turning to seal all sides of the meat. Cook for about eight minutes for medium-rare. Add the figs and remaining oil, then the port and the balsamic vinegar and reduce for about three minutes.

For the watercress salad, simply wash and dry lightly and very lightly toss the salad with a refreshing dressing of your choice as the protein dish is already quite rich.

If you can get your hands on some smoked sea salt or smoke your own it can really enhance the balance of the dish.




Organic food in 2015

Don't fall for the line that organic food is just a trendy lifestyle choice for the neurotic rich. There's nothing new or modish about organics. Until about 1950, all the food we ate was organically produced. It is organic food that is considered as "normal" not the Johnny-come lately, factory-farmed industrial equivalent.

These days, there are many compelling reasons for buying organic food. It will almost never contain the residues of pesticides that are commonly found in food grown with the aid of agrichemicals. Just six pesticides are approved for approving for organic farming and these can only be used in extremely limited circumstances. Conventional farmers have over 300 at their disposal and use them routinely. The powers-that-be parrot the food industry line that we should not be the slightest bit alarmed that our food regularly contains residues of toxic pesticides because they are all below "safe limits". But pesticides are poisons. They are designed to kill things. Surely the only truly safe limit would be zero? Why eat toxins if you don't have to.

The list of additives that can be used in organic food is small-just 32 of the 290 additives permitted in Europe. Only additives derived from naturally sources such as lecithin and citric acid are allowed and no artificial preservatives, colourings or flavourings are acceptable. Among the additives banned are those that have been linked to health problems. So if you are buying processed foods, the organic sort wont contain any dodgy ones.

Genetic modification is not allowed in organic food and organically-reared livestock cannot be fed on GM feed. Organic standards are the most humane and the methods encourage and protect wildlife. Chemical-dependant agriculture, on the other hand, has been shown to harm and deplete it.

You don't have to get hung up on eating 100% organic though. There are many high-quality, wholesome foods around that do not come with organic certification - such as grass reared meat, game, wild fish and hand-made cheese.

If you have to watch what you depend, then you need to prioritise what you purchase. It is cheapest when bought direct from a farmer or producer. either via a box scheme, or at a market and farm shops. There is also a directive from the  that defines what is known and the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" which refers respectively to the most contaminated farmed items and least contaminated ones.

The list for 2015 is as follows:Environmental Working Group

The Dirty Dozen (in order of contamination)


The Clean 15 (in order of least contamination)
Sweet peas
Sweet potatoes

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Baked Chicken Liver Mousse

This recipe is super light and serves 6-8 people. Smoother and finer than pate and so easy because you just blitz everything then pour it straight into a dishes/ramekins and bake. Optionally, you can bake it in a water bath because the slower cooking results in a smoother mousse but it's not totally necessary.

Organic chicken livers are incredibly nutritious and is one of the most cost effective meats money can buy. Enjoy the mousse slathered on toast or crackers. Also good with preserves or a refreshing salad with ingredients like fennel, cucumbers, dill and citrus fruit.

  • 1/2 apple cored and peeled. 
  • 1/2 small white onion
  • 100g butter at room temperature - plus extra for buttering ramekins
  • 200g fresh chicken livers
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 allspice
  • 1/2 ground white pepper
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1-2 tbsp Cognac or other brandy
Preheat the oven to 130 degrees Celsius and butter 5 8cm individual ramekins.
If you have a strong blender and room temperature butter, then throw all the ingredients in, pulse a few times and then blend until smooth.
Otherwise, finely chop the apple and onion and cook the apple and onion until softened, then add to the food processor.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until completely smooth.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins until almost at the top and then tap the bottoms against a hard surface a couple of times to get rid of any air bubbles.
Place the ramekins inside a deep baking tray and fill with freshly boiled water until about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and place in the oven.
Cook for 20-25 minutes - you know it is done when it is set around the edges and just very slightly wobbly in the centre.
Let the cool a little - serve hot or cold right from the dishes.

Note: If you wanted to store these in the fridge for up to 5 days, melt a little cold butter and when cooled pour on top of the mousse. The oil in the butter will protect the mousse from the air.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Fresh Look at Spring Dressings

Honey and Chive Flower Dressing

  • 10 fresh chive flowers
  • 1tbsp blossom honey
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed or olive oil
  • Sea salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a blender and blend to an even texture. Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Peppery and bitter leaves like rocket, romaine and radicchio are particularly good with this dressing.

Rosemary and Rose Dressing

  • 1 tsp very finely chopped rosemary needles
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp rosewater
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 50ml 100% fruit black grape juice
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Put the rosemary in a small bowl with the cardamom. Ass the rosewater and honey, and stir until the honey dissolves. Add the juice, vinegars and oil and season. Allow the dressing to infuse for at least 15 minutes.

Particularly good with figs, fennel, cheeses and grapes.

Hazelnut Bacon Vinaigrette

  • 120g bacon slices
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic or regular apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tbsp skinless hazelnuts
  • 3 tsp finely chopped spearmint or peppermint
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tbsp freshly squeezed bergamot or lemon peel and juice
  • A pinch of chilli flakes
  • 3 tbsp cold-pressed hazelnut or peanut oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Fry the bacon very crisp on a pan. Once ready, place the bacon on a cutting board. Put the boiling water in the pan, de-glaze and pour into the bowl.
Chop the bacon very finely and put it into the bowl also. Stir in the vinegar, garlic, bergamot peel and juice.
Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan for a few minutes then chop them finely. Add them to the bowl with the chilli flakes and oil. Stir well and season to taste.

Tastes good with pears, parsips, soft cheeses and jerusalem artichokes.

Irish Wild Salmon - Lemon Gravlax

The Wild Salmon season always starts slowly in the middle of May, with the first of the wild salmon being caught in East Cork. The most of the wild salmon are caught in July and August.
As you might have been aware of, driftnet fishing was banned in Irish waters from the 2006 season onwards. It still is banned as far as the driftnet fishing is concerned – long nets being towed by boats in the sea. The simple reason for that is that the number of wild salmon went down dramatically in Ireland. In other countries as well, but as far as we are aware of, Ireland is the one of the few countries to have acted on it.
There are, however, limited licences being given out to small fishery outfits. They are only allowed to fish a small number of wild salmon, and they basically do it by hand with simple nets. The season starts around 12 May and ends in August. Stringent rules apply- fishing is only allowed on certain days.
Wild salmon can be gotten from a few sources for the Blackwater River in Co. Cork, and the River Nore in Co. Kilkenny. The fishing takes place more than 5 kilometres upriver. This is important, as the wild salmon, on return to and in search of the river where they were born, swim into the river for a certain distance and taste the water. If they find it is not the native river of their origin, they turn back to look for the right one.

In the meantime you can buy farmed Salmon for a massively reduced cost but there really is no comparison to the taste of more ethically pleasing wild-caught fish.

Cold spicing is one of the easiest and nicest ways to enjoy fresh fish and also achieve a superb texture. It's a great topping on toast, rye bread and crispbread for a few days after making. You can pretty much add any flavour you like. Alcohol or herbs and spices are ideal to add to the basic recipe below.

  • Approx 1.2kg salmon fillet (a half side)
  • 200g white sugar
  • 200g fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground fennel seeds
  • Finely grated zest of a bitter orange (Seville preferably)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Day One

Remove any bones from the fish and dry it, leaving the skin on. Mix together the sugar, salt, pepper and fennel seeds.
Sprinkle 1/4 of the mixture into the bottom of a roasting pan (choose a clinically clean one around the size of the fish, it mustn't be too big.) Put the fish in skin side down and sprinkle the rest of the spice mix over. Cover the fish with baking paper or a lid. Marinate in the fridge for 24-48 hours depending on the thickness.

Day Two

Scrape the marinade off the fish with a knife. The salmon will now keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.

This dish is traditionally served sliced very thinly with a long thin sharp knife.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Foraging and Cooking in March

For most of its 31 days March can be every bit as miserable, marrow-chilling and monotonous in terms of seasonal vegetables as February. But it doesn't matter, because March has something the February lacks: hope. However cold and wet it gets, various life-enhancing things are sure to have happened by the end of the month.

 Primroses bloom and hedgegrow plants compete furiously with each other. The wild chervil. nettles and alexanders are all half a yard out of the ground before my carrots have shown a couple of inches! There are other wild spring greens to look out for, hogweed shoots (these can be served like asparagus), watercress and wild garlic.

I cant emphasise enough how worthwhile nettles are as a vegetable. Freshly gathered and given a quick wash, they are ready to make soups, teas and vegetable dishes.

Nettle Tea:

Blanche the nettles and use the cooking liquor as the base for the tea. You can sweeten with honey, sharpen with a squeeze of lemon and drink as a fortifying brew. Nettles are rich in iron, formic and silicilic acid and natural histamines - a healthy spring tonic if ever there was one.

Nettle and Sorrel Risotto:

  • Use the nettles blanched to make the tea. Pick only the heads of the young plants, a generous colander-full will do.Chop them before use.
  • Pick about half the quantity of wild sorrel leaves - finely shredded.
  • 900ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 white onion
  • 50g butter
  • 175g Arborio Rice
  • 50g finely grated Parmesan
Heat the stock firstly and keep on a simmer.
 Finely chop the onion and sautee with the butter in a heavy based saucepan until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown.
Add the rice and mix well to coat the grains well with the butter and cook while stirring for about 2 minutes.
Add the heated stick a ladle at a time, all whilst stirring. Wait until all the stock has been absorbed before adding more. Once you have about a third of the stock left, add the nettles.
From then on, add more stock a little at a time, stirring constantly, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is nicely al dente. You may not need to use all of the stock but the texture should be loose and creamy.
Stir in the shredded sorrel leaves and check for seasoning.
Finely stir in the parmesan (and another knob of butter or splash of cream if you wish).
Serve straight away with more parmesan and a grater at the table.I like to top mine with toasted pine nuts also as it lends an amazing smokey texture.

Primrose and Champagne Jelly

This is an Edwardian dish which I saw made on the television series "Treats from the Edwardian Country house". It's visually stunning, with a floral citrus flavour.

  • 7 gelatine leaves
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 500ml champagne or a dry sparkling wine
  • 175ml sherry
  • 2 egg whites with the eggshells crushed
  • The zest and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 12-16 primrose heads (depending on the size of your jelly mould)
Soak the gelatine leaves in a dish of water for at least 5 minutes,
Put the sugar, wine, sherry, 250ml water and the orange and lemon into a large saucepan and heat while stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the gelatine and stir until that is dissolved too.
Lightly whisk the egg whites and add them and the crushed shells to the pan.
Stir occasionally until the mixture becomes very frothy and comes almost to the boil.
Remove from the heat and strain through a thoroughly wetted muslin or cotton cloth into a bowl.
Pour about a quarter or the jelly mixture into the mould and allow to set in the fridge until very lightly set.
Arrange a ring of the primrose heads face down (pressing lightly into the tacky surface).
Carefully pour over the next quarter of the unset jelly into the mould and put it back into the fridge.
Continue in this way, creating 2 or 3 rings of primroses set into the jelly.

To unmould the jelly, dip the dish very briefly in hot water and use the tip of your finger to judge when the jelly is coming away from the dish, Choose your serving dish and flip it over with a little shake and lift off the mould.

Easier said than done I know!