I just have to admit it…
Yes, I am a soppy sod.
My Saturday – Sunday – Monday…
Moral of this story? Never say “I’m actually not drinking much tonight” to an Irish friend.
A different blog this time.
Less about food. Something about travel.
I was in Prague for work last week. When I say I was “in Prague”, I mean I saw the outdoors from indoors within various restaurants, my hotel bedroom, conference rooms, a hotel lobby and random company coach rides that transported our 500+ army of selected European employees. We RULED the indoors of multiple Czech establishments.
We were the business cockroaches of the city. And the window was our friend.
I hate staying in a country and barely seeing it. You can never really say you were actually there. Even though you were there. But you weren’t. But you were. But you weren’t… Yes, this can go on for a while.
I did manage to get some time to myself though and venture out of our massive, towering hotel for an hour. I’m pretty sure I was approached by a spy as I was sitting on a bench by the river and actively throwing loaves of bread at ducks.
Spy Dude: “It is nice weather we are having, no? But not as nice as Is-ra-ale”.*
*Deliberate misspelling of Israel to sound like a Russian accent. It’s hard to type accents.
Spy Dude: <stares>
Awkward silence ensues…
Spy Dude: <stares>
Spy Dude: <stares>
He walks away. I sigh a relief.
I then ponder, “Was that tall, raincoat clad, briefcase wielding dude a spy? Hang on… Wait… Am I A SPY”??? I wonder if I am an agent of the shield and perhaps I blinked the wrong way which portrayed my amateur status and I have to be reprogrammed or destroyed.
I then realise I’ve allowed my thoughts to wonder into the random again… Back to the Hilton Prague.
Ugh. A “Hilton”. I wonder how many more dresses, cars, houses and private jets our company just contributed to the Paris Hilton brand. I shudder to think.
Despite barely seeing Prague, what I did see through the windows from indoors, I enjoyed and it was fun work-wise. I travel a good bit for work but this was intense. The 4 days were a marathon of rushing from meetings to more meetings to quick hotel room changes to bars to coaches to restaurants to more bars to more meetings and so on. I barely remember sleeping. Did I sleep? I remember a room, a bed, a floor… but did I sleep?
Ah sleep is for the weak!
Despite being part of the drab* Hilton brand, the hotel was nice.
*(Views and opinions of hotel brands, Heinz versus Hellman’s, twerking, Madonna’s British accent, why Canadian’s say ‘aboot’ etc, are of my own and do not reflect the opinion of my company, my butcher, the barista who served me my soy milk cappuccino in Starbucks this morning, my hairdresser or the ducks I threw bread loaves at).
At the top of our hotel was the sky bar, otherwise known as the “Cloud 9 Bar”. It was a fun maze to get to between catching an elevator to a random floor, following the hidden, ambient advertising signs that lead to a service corridor suspiciously resembling the one from a scene in “American Psycho”, then catching an additional lift that brings you to another floor. The elevator doors suddenly part and present a long corridor whose decor resembles the love child of Studio 54 and Hugh Hefner’s bedroom.
It made me want to crimp my hair and don a bikini.
But it did give us a great view over Prague.
More indoor to outdoor viewing. More windows.
At the end of this corridor, we reached the Cloud 9 Bar… “(or the Bar of Opposite Personalities)”.
This was the place where the flamboyant cocktails loosened the work ties and suddenly our very formal, corporate and powerful business colleagues were transformed into loud, vivacious, shot drinking hillbillies where business talk was supported by various slurs and “WE ROCK” high fives.
Thankfully, no one decided to strap their tie to their head, á la Rambo style. But it was close.
Talk about upstairs/downstairs.
On our final night we had the Gala Ball in a conference centre somewhere in Prague. I took in whatever view I could from our coach ride to the venue. This exercise was futile.
This time, the window was not my friend.
The centre was excessive and hired out for our company which basically gave us more room to carry out the usual nonsense, frivolity and networking. Except this time, woman wore cocktail dresses and the men wore… well exactly the same; suits. The food was formal (trout, veal and a selection of desserts), the waiters were EXCEPTIONALLY friendly and the wine tasted like a hangover in a glass.
On the large main stage, the Czech performances (which were designed to inject us with some local culture) went largely unnoticed… The necessary “What do you do for our company in your country?”, type questions and sizing-up chatter was abundant… But with alcohol, it’s called “Business banter, darling”!
Meal over, Czech performances generally unappreciated, a few of us ventured upstairs where we plonked into massive bean bags that overlooked the river and bridge. We drank champagne and drunkenly expressed our happiness to see Prague while we soaked in the views… More indoor to outdoor viewing. The window was my friend again.
It was pretty darn nice though and I was in Prague.
Well, not really, Kind of. Sort of. Well, I was practically there.
That dude was so a spy.
OBLIGATORY SHOUT OUT MOMENT: Photos taken by a colleague named Matt. He’s also a DJ “SLASH” Producer, the London based kind. He can be found on Instagram as MattRich91. Stalk him there.
So I mentioned in my previous post that my friend and I were going to make a rainbow cake for her daughter ‘Amelie’ who also goes under the status name of ‘My Goddaughter’. It was her first birthday and so, it needed to be especially epic.
And what can I say? Well we came, we baked, we pellet-gunned those bad boy Gummi Bears to the icing and we blew the socks off the party. There were “ooooooooooh”s and “woooooooooah”s and even the occasional “holy cow”* was featured.
*(The word “cow” may have actually been replaced with a swear word of the excrement variety)…
It is because of this that this post shall be a picture one, with few words. The awesomeness of our achievement speaks for itself.
We barely followed a recipe (coz we’re crazy and that’s just how we roll) and the link to such recipe is at the bottom of the page.
The colours are immense. Sunglasses please.
Suzy vs. Batter; A Test of Whips…
Adding the colourants to the batter; First batch to bake!
First set of sponges that I shall name “Spongii”…
Next batch of batter to face the colourants and oven for a Spongii Round 2;
Whipping and colouring the icing layers;
Icing done and spread between the layers? Ok, now it’s time to stack; Lets do this…
Look at those layers; those beautiful layers!!!
Icing on the cake? Get your pellet-gun (or fingers) and you go add those Gummi’s and candles;
Now, cut into it. Be prepared. Be proud. Yes, you are now SUPER cool;
I really love a bit of pig. It’s so versatile. Each part of the meat tastes different and you can do so much with it. I know some people are not hot on pork because the little brat can get stuck in between your teeth and it can be rather chewy. But there is a piggy option that won’t cause these little quandaries…
I present you with pork fillet. Ta-dah!
So this recipe is not actually mine. The gravy I added to it is mine but not the stuffed pork recipe. My friend gave me this free supplement cookbook that came with The Irish Times one Sunday and it had this recipe in it. It’s by a lady called Domini Kemp and she created it specifically for dinner parties when the host desires as little leftovers as possible. Now when I made this, it was just for me and my mother (who eats sparrow sized portions. No joke) so we of course had leftovers. However, I know how yummy this dish is and the plates would have been licked clean if we had more mouths to feed that night.
If you are not completely sold on pork yet, give this a go. It’s good and tender and the stuffing is lovely as it has so much flavour with just the right amount of prunes to add a bit of sweetness.
Prep and cooking time: 90 minutes if doing it all in one go and not prepping it the day before you want to serve it.
Music I listened to:
I actually cooked this meal while watching re-runs of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’… never gets old!
Wine I drank: Pinot Noir
For the gravy (optional):
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/360°F.
Slice the pork in half, lengthways but not all the way through. Put it between two sheets of clingfilm and bash the life out if it with a rolling pin so you turn it into one large rectangle of flattened fillet.
Now make the stuffing; gently sweat the onions in the olive oil until soft. Turn up the heat and add the rashers. Fry until brown and crispy.
Add the garlic, spinach, chopped prunes and pine nuts and sauté until the spinach wilts. Keep the heat turned up so that any water from the spinach evaporates. See ya H2O… Season and set aside to cool.
Once the stuffing is completely cold, you can stuff the pork and leave overnight, ready to cook. If you’re cooking it straightaway, then it’s ok to stuff the pork while the stuffing is still warm. It won’t poison you.
Spoon the stuffing in a straight line down the middle of the pork, then roll the pork and wrap it up with the Parma ham, all nice and snuggy like. Tie at intervals with a string down the length of the pork fillet.If you want to make a gravy, put some water with pork stock and a little red wine into the roasting tin and place the pork fillet on top of it. It will make a yummy gravy.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
Take the pork out of the oven and add the buttery shallots to the roasting tray and some more stock and wine if necessary and smear the fillet with the redcurrant jelly. Baste with the juices, season with black pepper and roast for another 20 minutes.
So basically, the pork is roasting for 40 minutes in total.
Leave to rest for 10 minutes before carving. At this point, I thicken the gravy with a little cornflour in the roasting tin over the hob on a low heat. You just want it simmering. Stir gently and once thickened to your liking, take off the stove. Serve it with the delicious pan juices or gravy and whatever accompaniments you desire. My personal preference is roasted parsnips, carrots and potatoes.
Mmmmmmmm, stuffed pig…
Some people are so afraid of cooking scallops and I just don’t understand why! They are not going to jump out of the pan and gnaw at your face; trust me, I know. They only take 2 minutes in a frying pan and really make a starter so full of class but simple at the same time.
This dish is so colourful! And I am now a huge pea purée devotee. I had never made it before and when I was whipping up my version I decided to throw in some parmesan cheese and wow… how awesome. I am so making this for my 5 month old Goddaughter when she is old enough to manage it. I literally could not stop eating it and it actually stood out more than the scallops on the dish.
You go little peas! Take on those scallops.
The black pudding also makes the dish a little more bulky so be prepared; if it’s a starter, be sure to have a break before you have your mains. It is very rich and filling, but so goddamn satisfying.
Prep and cooking time: 25 minutes
Music I listened to:
“The Adjustment Bureau” soundtrack by Thomas Newman
Wine I drank: Chardonnay
Ok so let’s start with the yummy pea purée…
In a small pot over a medium heat, melt the butter. Now add the shallots and garlic and sweat for five minutes. Throw in the mint, peas and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Add the parmesan cheese. Blend the pea mixture in a liquidiser until smooth. Season to taste and set aside and keep warm. Easy peasy! (Sorry…)
Now grab your black pudding slices. Heat the pan to a low-medium heat and fry the pudding on both sides until cooked. Try not to burn it. You just want it slightly crispy on the outside. Should be about 5 minutes each side. Set aside and keep warm.
It’s now the pancetta’s turn to face the wrath of the frying pan. Wipe the pan clean and fry the pancetta over a medium heat until nice and crispy. Not burnt…Crispy! That’s it. Don’t clean the pan as you’ll want to fry the scallops in the oil fat the pancetta omitted. Set aside.
Now onto the big guns; grab your scallops. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive in over a medium heat in your frying pan. The amount will depend on how much oil the fried pancetta let out on the pan. Once the pan is heated, place the scallops on it.
After about 1 minute turn them over and cook for another minute. They should be golden in colour. As they are cooking, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over them.
Now get your plates and spoon 3 little blobs of the pea purée on it. Add a slice of black pudding on each and then a scallop. Sprinkle the pancetta over the little rounds and dash a little white truffle oil over them.
I never really understood why some people dislike avocados. Yes, yes I know; each to their own. But to me, they are just so damn delicious. They are creamy and nutty in flavour, so versatile and scrum-diddly-umptious in sandwiches, dips, salads etc, etc.
I’m not going to bore you with the nutritional facts of avocados because there are just so many positives and reasons to prove how unbelievably good they are for you. Yes, I can hear some people say ‘but they are so high in fat’?! Alright, they may contain 25% fat but this, my calorie conscious friends, is indeed the right fat. Ever heard of monounsaturated fat? Did you know this fat is good for you? Yep, it is! It basically reduces the bad (LDL) cholesterol and boosts the good (HDL) cholesterol. This fat is just so ‘fat-astic’!!!
(Ok, I’m sorry. I’m even face-palming myself right now for subjecting you to that pun. I’m sorry. Please forgive me).
So, here we have a recipe for Avocado & Cucumber Mousse with Cherry Tomato and White Truffle Oil Salsa. This is loosely based on a Mary Berry dish. Her example was more of a guideline really. I have changed the quantities, added different ingredients and of course, decided to add the divine white truffle oil to the salsa.
This starter is lovely, pretty and also a classy dish that is perfect for dinner parties! It’s made ahead so you don’t have to worry about preparing anything later but the salsa. It’s subtle in flavour but the truffle oil really accentuates the creamy, nutty taste of the avocado, the freshness of the cucumber and the sweetness of the cherry tomato salsa. Yummy!
So don’t delay! Get your ingredients ready and guac ‘n’ roll!!!
(Jeez, I’m really sorry again. I have a pun problem. I’m receiving treatment for it).
Difficulty: Easy – Medium
Prep and cooking time:
Mousse: Once cucumber has been drained with salt, prep/cooking is about 30 minutes then leave to set for at least 6 hours.
Salsa: 5 minutes
Music I listened to:
‘Supermassive Black Hole’, Muse
‘All My Days’, Alexi Murdoch
‘Brand New Day’, Joshua Radin
‘Mr. Brightside’, The Killers
‘Let Go’, Frou Frou
Wine I drank: Chenin Blanc
Grease the sides of 4 ramekins with a little oil. Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthways. Remove the seeds with a teaspoon and chop up into very small dice. Put the cucumber in a sieve over a boil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt. The salt will dehydrate the cucumber to remove some of the liquid. Leave for about an 1 hour.
Follow the instructions on the box for your packet of gelatine. It should be about 11g-15g per packet and you only need 1. If for some reason you don’t have any instructions, the normal way of preparing the gelatine is to put it into a bowl and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of cold water on it. Leave to sponge for about 10 minutes. Once sponged, stand the bowl in a pan containing a little boiling water to dissolve the gelatine.
Now, put the avocado, cream cheese, fromage frais, mayonnaise and lemon into a bowl and blend with a handheld blender or put into a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the gelatine into the warm stock and mix together. Pour into the bowl and blend again until mixed thoroughly. Stir in the diced cucumber with the dill and then season with some salt as desired.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight until firm.
So, it’s about an 1 hour before you want to serve your smart, little starter. Make your salsa! Mix all the salsa ingredients into a bowl and lightly season (if necessary). Cover and ignore this colourful goodness for an hour in order to let the flavours infuse.
Hour is up and it’s starter time! Run a thin knife around the ramekins, then tip the mousse onto a plate and shake to release from the ramekins.
Serve with the salsa.
I love sweetcorn. It is so delicious, crisp and flavourful. When my boyfriend and I were on holiday in Madeira last year, everyday we ate fresh corn on the cob roasted on the barbie. We would strip the casing and silky threads off the cob, toss them in a little butter, season well with salt and black pepper, wrap in tinfoil and roast on the open barbecue. It is by far the best and most delicious way to cook and eat corn on the cob. And from my many travels around California, I learnt the whiter the raw corn kernels; the sweeter and more crisp the corn.
This soup is a favourite of mine and whenever I am in a Chinese restaurant and watching my fat intake (if you can when in a Chinese restaurant!), I always order this soup. It’s healthy, tasty and filling!
The recipe is adapted from www.bbcgoodfood.com. I made the exact soup from the site before but I wasn’t too hot on the amount of lemon juice being added. For me, chicken and sweetcorn soup should not have a lemon flavour, but more an enhanced flavour of the components being brought out by the lemon juice. I doubled the recipe (because what’s the point of going to the effort of cooking when it only serves 2 portions??) and I kept the original amount of lemon juice. I used sesame oil instead of vegetable oil and I added more garlic and some mushrooms as I like my soup to be more of a meal then a watery starter.
Prep and cooking time: 30 mins all in!
Price: €10 or under
Music I listened to:
Wine I drank: Merlot
Heat the oil in a deep saucepan over a low-medium heat and add the garlic, ginger, chicken and mushrooms. Cook for 4 mins without colouring.
And the cornflour, a little stock and mix together. Then add the remaining stock and sweetcorn. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5-7 mins stirring occasionally.
In a bowl, beat the egg and the lemon juice then slowly add it to the soup stirring with a chopstick or a fork to break it up and give an egg strand effect. Season to taste and add spring onions to garnish and soy sauce as desired.
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