Beer Cooking Food & Drink

Cooking out – why do we barbecue?

West Indies porterNow this is my kind of beer. A rich dark stout with a malty sweetness.

Never mind your beardy, skinny-jeaned, over-hopped craft beers (otherwise known simply as beers).

Give me a full-on porter any old day of the week, especially a Guinness West Indies porter. You can almost hear the rigging creak under the gentle Caribbean swell as the crew carouse in the fleshpots of Tortuga.

Cut-throats every last man-jack of them, not one would scruple to slit your throat so sweet and so neat you wouldn’t wake from your drunken slumber in the warm Haitian night, lost in the scent of the Governor’s African Lilies.

And yet, you’d wish for no finer cut-throat at your back when fighting some snooty English privateer or maybe boarding a fat Spaniard on the way home and laden to the gunwales with tribute for a King.

Ah, heady days indeed.

What else could a fellow do but light a fire and fling on an inch-thick steak?


When I was a child, we never had barbecues.

Why?  I don’t know. Maybe we just weren’t posh enough although now that I look back on it we did occasionally heat a tin of beans over a fire made of sticks on the river bank.

Does that count? I don’t know. Maybe that was an Irish barbecue.

Leaving aside the peculiar Aussie barbie, which I suspect isn’t all that old, the first time Irish people heard of the barbecue was when television arrived.  That was when most Irish people first encountered a way of life they’d never imagined, thanks to bizarre 25-minute comedies like I Dream of Jeannie and Mister Ed, depicting a way of life that only the wealthy have ever enjoyed.  And the Irish lapped it up, even though most of them barely had an indoor toilet in those days. Even though they had about as much hope of sharing in the American Dream as the majority of Americans did. About as much hope as most Americans do today.

But yet, we managed to improve our lot, or at least many of us did, and so here we are, fifty years after Mister Ed, scorching a hunk of meat over burning coals, praying to the Sun God and slugging this thing we call beer.


I suppose there’s something atavistic about it. I suppose there’s a trigger deep down in our amygdala, emitting floods of pleasure at the thought of killing and eating something.

To my vegan friends, I say, sorry but that’s ok by me. I like the idea of having friends around, roasting things over hot coals and throwing back cold beer. But  yet, I’m fully aware that it might be the result of a cultural expansion from our United States cousins. After all, what else have we not adopted from Stateside?

For now, I’m not going to over-think it. Crack open another bottle of West Indies porter there me hearties and strike up a shanty.



Chicken Bhuna

Confession: I might have burnt this a little.


Chicken bhuna curry

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll forgive me, since I’m still giving you the recipe and unlike me, you’ll do it properly.

In many ways, this is a sort of poor man’s tandoori if you bake it in the oven, but of course nothing would do me but to barbecue the goddamn thing. Blame the sunshine. Blame the dear friends sharing it with me on the overgrown patio. Blame the beer, blame the wine, blame it on the boogie.

Does it matter?

Here’s a bhuna recipe and you can use it with anything. Meat, vegetables, captured vegans. It’s up to you.

For myself, I didn’t fancy going to all the effort of boning a vegan, so I bought some chicken instead and in the end we all agreed it tasted slightly veganish with nutty overtones and a strong demand to be heard.

The Spices

Cumin seeds : 2 spoons

Coriander seeds : 4 spoons

Mustard seeds : 2 spoons

Dried chillis to taste. I like it hot but you might not.

Fennel seeds: 2 spoons

Fenugreek seeds: 2 spoons

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

Stir them constantly on a heavy frying pan at medium heat. Not too high or they’ll produce a poison gas that will kill everyone in the house. Just enough heat to darken them slightly but not enough to burn them.

They should come out nicely browned. In fact, I think I might have overdone it a bit with this lot, but it worked out all right in the end.

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

When they’re roasted, fling them into a food processor or else grind them up with a mortar and pestle until you get a nice powder like this.

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

The Other Stuff

You need some onions, ginger and garlic.

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

Skin them, chop them up finely and fry them in light oil.

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

Add some curry leaves and some tomatoes.

Let me confess that I had no fresh curry leaves and no tomatoes, so I cheated and just tossed in some dried curry leaves and a couple of cartons of passata. It didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference.

Chicken bhuna curry recipe

Add your spices.

Add your meat, whatever it is. In this case, I used chicken.

Let it all cook away until it reduces down to a thick paste and the meat is cooked through.


Now you have a choice. You can just serve the bhuna straight from the pan with any accompaniment you like. It might be rice, it might be chapatis or for that matter it might be chips. We won’t get precious about it.

On the other hand, you can bake it all in the oven and it will come out very like a tandoori.

I chose to barbecue it, which might not necessarily have been the best decision since I managed to scorch it, but at the same time, nobody was complaining. That might have been due to the beer, it might have been due to the sunshine or it might have been due to the laid-back music, but I like to think it was due to the delicious  food.

Chicken bhuna curry


One way or another, we won’t fall out over it. Have a beer.



Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Vegetarian lasagne.

I said vegetarian, not vegan. There’s loads of cheese in this, so if you’re a committed vegan, this one isn’t for you, just like all the other recipes on this site.

If, on the other hand, you fancy a tasty dinner without meat, you could do worse than have a shot at this vegetarian lasagne. It won’t take you long and you’ll impress the living shit out of your non-cooking friends.

Now, this recipe is based on what I happened to have handy, so don’t feel bound to follow it slavishly. If you prefer different vegetables, toss them in. It’s all good. Like any other lasagne, this consists of two main components: a tomato-based sauce and a Béchamel sauce, which is just a fancy name for a white flour-based sauce. I like to add cheese to this, but some people just use it plain.

Here’s what you need.

Vegetables: peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, mushrooms and aubergine.

Lasagne sheets

Passata or tinned tomatoes.

Cheese: Grated cheddar and grated parmesan

Butter, flour, bay leaves
Vegetarian lasagne recipe


Vegetarian lasagne recipe


Start by slicing the mushrooms and onions. Crush the garlic.  Fry them all gently.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe


Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Then add some passata or tinned tomatoes

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Toss in a glass of wine. Obviously.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Crush a nutmeg and toss it in. Add some herbs to taste. Some oregano, maybe, some basil or parsley. It’s a matter of personal taste.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Add the carrots, some good quality vegetable stock and let it all cook away gently for an hour or two while you polish off the rest of the wine and make the Béchamel sauce.

There’s no mystery to this, by the way. All you need to do is melt some butter in a heavy pot and gently sift in flour until you have a reasonably solid mix. This is a roux. Let it cook thoroughly because you’ll be using it to thicken the sauce and you don’t want to get an uncooked flour taste.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Meanwhile, heat a pot of milk and add a couple of fresh bay leaves and a pinch of whole black peppers. Add shallots to the infusion if you have them but don’t worry if you can’t find any, and If you haven’t got fresh bay leaves, dried will do. Let the milk simmer gently for maybe a half hour, but don’t let it boil over or burn. The important word is gently.

When the roux is thoroughly cooked — but not burnt! — add it a bit at at time to the hot milk until the mixture thickens. Then add the grated cheddar and parmesan mix very gradually, stirring all the time until you end up with a smooth cheese sauce. (I actually forgot to add the bay leaves and the pepper to the milk, and that’s why I had to throw them in later. Not to worry).

A Béchamel sauce with cheese added is called a Mornay sauce, because that’s how the French are about stuff.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Now you’re ready to put it all together.

Assemble your sliced vegetables.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Line the base of a cooking dish with sheets of lasagne and spoon a layer of your tomato sauce onto it. Then apply a layer of vegetables and cover with the cheese sauce.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Add a layer of lasagne sheets and repeat the process until you’ve used almost everything up.

Finally, apply a top layer of pasta, spoon on the remaining cheese sauce and cover it with vegetables.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Sprinkle it with the two-cheese mix and pop it in the oven.

Vegetarian lasagne recipe

Voila!  Vegetarian lasagne in minutes.


Vegetarian lasagne recipe


Beef Curry Recipe – Ceylon style

Here’s a thing I haven’t made in years: a rather quaintly-named Ceylon beef curry recipe. I just happened to be thumbing through an old cookery book when I stumbled across it, which wasn’t hard. Did you ever notice that all your favourite recipes are in the pages caked with dried food and marked with grubby fingerprints?

Ceylon Beef Curry

A long, long time ago I discovered by accident that coconut goes very well with large amounts of garlic, so I modified the original recipe a bit.  I also had no coconut milk so I adjusted by using creamed coconut instead.  Apart from that it’s pretty much the same as the original, and I can tell you this. It is absolutely delicious, so get cookin’!

What do you need?

Get some beef, cut into cubes.

20 dried chillis

2 teaspoons of coriander seeds.

10 cardamoms. I used black, but next time I’ll try the green ones and see what difference it makes.

A one-inch stick of cinnamon or thereabouts. Roughly. Don’t worry too much about the proportions.


Ceylon Beef Curry

Pound up the coriander, the cinnamon, the chillis and the cardamoms. This mortar-and-pestle business is all very well, and it looks better in the pictures, but I think I should get myself a small coffee grinder instead. Sieve the spices through something coarse like a colander to get rid of the cardamom husks or else you’ll be spitting them out the whole way through your meal, and it isn’t a great look really.

Ceylon Beef Curry

Roast the ground spices in a dry hot pan until they begin to give off a pungent aroma but don’t make the mistake of inhaling deeply to check progress.  This stage is very important for any recipe involving aromatic spices, so don’t skip it.

Ceylon Beef Curry

Add the roasted spices to vinegar. I used wine vinegar but it’s up to you. Malt vinegar might be a bit strong.

Ceylon Beef Curry


Marinate the beef in the spices for about an hour.

Ceylon Beef Curry


Now you’ll need some more ingredients.

Onions, garlic and ginger.

Ceylon Beef Curry


For this, I used about five or six garlic cloves but you could use more or less depending on your taste. Chop up the garlic, onions and ginger and fry them until they’re soft.  I use ghee which I make myself, but you can always use vegetable oil if you prefer.  When the mix is soft and browned, take it out of the pan and set it aside for a while.

Fry the marinated beef in small batches. The reason for this is because if you add too much at one time, the pan will cool down and you don’t want that.  When you have all the beef nicely fried return the cooked vegetables to the pan.

If you have coconut milk put that in now, but don’t worry too much if you have none. I just added hot water and grated creamed coconut. Personally, I think it’s a better option anyway because tinned coconut milk can give food a slimy texture at times. Stick with the creamed coconut.

Ceylon Beef Curry 008


Ceylon Beef Curry

Then throw in some curry leaves if you have them, and let the whole lot stew away until the sauce thickens and the meat is nice and tender.


Ceylon Beef Curry


When you’re happy with all that, cook up some nice brown rice or else make a few chapatis.

Invite some friends around. Enjoy your meal.

Ceylon Beef Curry


Mince pies – simple and delicious

Mince Pies 010

I put  a picture of hot mince pies on Facebook the other day and to my surprise a lot of people came back looking for a recipe.

Recipe? Isn’t this the simplest thing in the world?

Apparently not.

Therefore, in the interests of bringing mince pies to the masses, here’s a step-by-step account of making mince pies with puff pastry like the Mammy used to do.

First, buy some ridiculously inexpensive puff pastry from Lidl. 79 cents or thereabouts.  Also buy a jar of ridiculously inexpensive mincemeat from Lidl. I can’t remember how much.

Mince Pies puff pastry

Let it sit for a while until it reaches room temperature. This technique involves going away and forgetting about it.

Once you’re sure your puff pastry is more or less at room temperature open the pack and peel it back gently.

Mince Pies puff pastry

Now roll the pastry out as thinly as you can and then divide it into circles using a glass or a pastry cutter.

Mince Pies

Split the circles in two groups and lay out one half on the board. Add a spoonful of mincemeat to the centre of each.

Mince Pies recipe

Take the other half of the discs and dip them in water to make the edges stick. Lay them down over the top.

Mince pies recipe

Squeeze the edges together but don’t forget the spare offcuts. You can stick them on the top to make the things look a little prettier if you like that sort of thing.

Mince Pies recipe

Mince Pies recipe

Shove it all in the oven at about 200C and wait for it to puff up and go brown.

Mince Pies recipe

What more do you want me to tell you?

Get stuck in. Delicious.


Let’s make hummus

I love making grub, as you’ll know if you happen to be a regular here, but I can’t see the point of putting up recipes of things you already know.


Why would I do that?

Of course, admittedly, you might well know how to make hummus, but there’s a good chance many people won’t, so let’s give it a go.

It’s ridiculously easy.

All you need to do is buy a couple of cans of chickpeas, throw in some tahini, add a few cloves of garlic, maybe a fist of coriander, a squeeze of fresh lemon and a shot of olive oil.

Whizz it all together using a stick blender and before you know it, you have hummus.

You probably have so much hummus you’ll have to give it away to friends and neighbours but that’s all right too. That makes you even more Levantine than you were before. That makes you an absolute decent hospitable Arab.

My question is this: how can I make this hummus recipe better?

How can I add to this, or remove from it, so that my hummus begins to approach the wonderful quality of hummus in Lebanon?

I have this  wonderful book of recipes, but I feel I can do better.

Lebanese food

How can I make better hummus?




Home-made ice cream recipe

There’s a huge amount of mystique associated with making ice-cream, not to mention downright mystification and, I must confess, I was as much a victim of it as anyone else. I thought it was impossible for anyone to make real ice cream unless they were born under the shadow of Mount Etna.

All the same, I decided to give it a shot even though I have no ice-cream maker. The odds were against anyone in 17th-century Sicily having an electric ice-cream machine either and they somehow managed to turn out a passable frozen delight, so I thought it was worth taking a chance.

I do have a fridge, which is always an advantage in making ice-cream, unless you have access to a 20,000-ton iceberg towed south from the Arctic circle, as they used to do in centuries gone by, and anyway we’ll soon have melted all the ice in the Arctic, rendering the question completely abstract.

But anyway, despite my ignorance of ice-cream making, I plunged in, ignoring the advice of Polonius to Hamlet:

As the monkey knoweth not his father, so the fool knoweth not his own folly.

All right. I made that bit up.

I tried a few different ways of doing it before settling on this, but I’m a complete beginner, and there’s every chance you know of much better techniques, so please tell me if you do.

A warning. This recipe uses raw eggs. Do not make ice cream this way if you’re giving it to an ill person or somebody of a great age because there’s always a danger of salmonella. If you’re concerned, use a little custard instead.

Here’s what you need.

Some whipping cream.

A couple of eggs.

Icing sugar.

Colouring and flavouring of choice. For this recipe, I just used vanilla extract, but you could use anything you like, from cardamoms to lemon juice, with or without alcohol. I understand that booze makes the ice-cream a little softer out of the freezer but I can’t say for certain since I haven’t tried it yet.

It’s remarkably easy to do.

First, separate the yolks and the egg whites.

Home-made ice cream


Whip the egg whites using a hand whisk. I’ve found that this works much better than mechanical devices like stick blenders, though I don’t know why. Perhaps they’re a little too violent, but anyway, the resulting foam is much lighter. If the yolk breaks, discard the whole lot because the egg white won’t whisk properly if it has any yolk in it.


Home-made ice cream


Whisk in some icing sugar to taste, along with whatever colouring and flavouring you choose. I just used vanilla for this example because it’s all new to me.

Beat the egg yolks and fold them into the whipped egg whites.

Whip the cream, also using a hand whisk. You can of course use an electric mixer, but the whisk seems to make the results much lighter which is a good thing in an ice cream.

Home-made ice cream

Then fold in the egg mixture.

Home-made ice cream

Home-made ice cream


Pop it into glasses, tubs or whatever you prefer.

Freeze it.

Serve it to your family and friends.

Accept compliments with good grace.

Feel good about yourself.

Home-made ice cream

Food & Drink

Saturday morning newspaper ritual

I value my Saturday mornings.

All my life, since I was a teenager, I’ve treasured that hour or maybe two, in which I can read my newspaper from front to back including the letters page and the gushing reports of desirable residences in South Dublin. For years, I took the time to do the cryptic crossword (if I could manage it) and later the Sudoku.

I like the way a newspaper is folded and I like the way it unleaves itself as I open it. When I was a young student, on the early-morning bus to summer factory jobs, opening the newspaper was an essential part of my waking ritual, something without which the day was not complete, since a folded newspaper is a perfect thing, an object that will never return to its perfect state once touched by human hand.

Now and then, I wonder why people buy newspapers at all any more, since they can simply look them up on their phones or their tablets if they’re looking for nothing more than information, but I suspect it goes beyond that. It seems to me that part of the reason we buy a paper is so that we can handle a tangible, pristine artifact.

Most people, having bought a newspaper, don’t like anyone else handling it, smudging it, disordering its pages until they’ve had a chance to do so themselves and I can understand why. You don’t buy a paper for the information it contains, but for the opportunity to make it your own, to read in the order that suits you and to reassemble it according to your own whim. You want to descend into the world of your paper, retreat into that benign void and resurface in your own time, under your own air, without intrusion from other human hand.

Now, not everyone is like that. Not everyone, I know, is the slightest bit bothered if a page of a book becomes crinkled due to rough handling. Not everyone cringes when a friend crumples a photo offered to them for gentle and respectful handling.

But I do, and I can’t help it.

I won’t dog-ear a book. I won’t put an oily fingerprint on a beautiful photographic plate. I won’t finger a cleanly-printed page as if it were a discarded burger wrapper.

Today, I had the idea to withdraw and read the paper with a little extra treat. I promised myself to have a deliciously crunchy fish and chip as I worked my way through the newspaper from beginning to end, including the sections that tell me all the things we can do in Ireland, provided they happen to be in Dublin, and all the restaurants we can visit in Dublin and all the four-million-euro broom cupboards we can buy in the newly-revitalised Dublin property market.

That’s what I promised myself and part of it happened.

fish and chips

I got my deliciously crunchy fish and chips, which were undeniably delicious.

But I also got a man behind me who surreptitiously lifted my paper and had a good read of it while I waited to place my order.

I can’t blame him. He knows nothing of these little rituals that sustain some of us through the day, but I wanted to turn and tell him to unhand my paper, not because he was doing it any harm but because I wanted to be the first — the very first — to read this paper.

Mercifully, I did no such thing, but how Freudian is that?

I also got a proprietor whose idea of speaking to tourists involved raising his voice to ear-endangering levels, who passed on orders to the cooking staff while drumming loudly on the counter and who addressed me in a hair-dryer voice as I savoured my Saturday-morning newspaper ritual. My retreat from the madness of everyday life. My sanctuary.

Having a good read there, aren’t you?


You’re having a good read there.

Well, I’m reading the paper. Well spotted.

It’s nice to get away from things, isn’t it?

That’s right. It is.

Great to get away and have a good read.


A good read. Great to get away.

I gaze at him with a basilisk stare.

It is, I tell him. Great to get away from people bothering you and just read the paper. In peace. On your own. For a few minutes.

He grins. Great to get away on your own! That’s it exactly!

I fold up my paper and stuff it into my bag, never again to be read.

Thanks, I say. The fish was delicious.

Great! he says. Come back soon.

I probably will, since the food is so good, but I’ll make sure to read the paper first.



Food & Drink

Finding the perfect full Irish breakfast

One of life’s greatest little pleasures is going to a pub or a café for a full-on breakfast, but few places get it exactly right.

As a purist in these matters, I think beans have no place on a breakfast plate.  If you plan to serve me beans with my full Irish, which in truth isn’t all that different from a full English or a full Scottish, at least have the decency to put them in a little ramekin that I can discreetly remove and slip onto somebody else’s table when they’re not looking.

There should be no chips on a breakfast plate either, and no sautéed potatoes.  That’s for dinner time, not breakfast.

As a purist, I also think there should be loads of toast. Loads. A few extra slices of bread wouldn’t kill anyone without me having to ask for more and it should arrive hot so that the butter can melt over it properly. Real butter that is. Give me real butter and give me toast that is not stone cold. That just isn’t on.

full irish

I had a breakfast recently on the Aran Islands where they smeared some butter-substitute over the middle part of the toast leaving the outer parts all dry and inedible — an unforgiveable transgression, I think you’ll agree, since the toast-buttering is all part of the ritual and should be left to the person doing the eating.  Everyone has a unique way of buttering toast and that diversity needs to be respected.  What is this country coming to when a haphazard slather of vegetable-oil fake butter is considered acceptable?

I don’t much care for these little rectangular pats of butter, but at least if I get enough of them it isn’t too bad.  However, penny-pinching, or portion control as some people prefer to call  it, is far too common. Seriously now. How much does a mushroom cost? I went to one of my favourite places not too long ago and got half a large mushroom on my plate. A half mushroom. It probably cost more to cut it in two than it did to cook it.  What sort of mindset decides We’ll give them half a fucking mushroom?

By the way, is  there a factory somewhere in the world that makes stainless steel tea-pots especially designed to spill boiling hot tea in your lap and all over the table? Do they have some quality-control boodie checking to make sure they all overflow, rejecting the ones that work properly?  Are they the same factories that make the self-spilling stainless steel milk jugs for sale to chip shops and pubs throughout Ireland?

What’s that about? Does anyone ever say, Jesus, maybe we should be putting out teapots that are going to boil the bollocks off our customers?

Give me a runny egg. Give me plenty of tea or coffee. Don’t give me cheap sausages made out of biscuits. Give me some marmalade for my toast when I’m finished and finally, please don’t give me salt and pepper in horrible little paper envelope things that I have to tear open, if that’s all right.

I’m sure there are loads of things that enrage people about the breakfast-you-buy.  These are just a few of my personal pet peeves and no doubt I’ll think of a few more as we go along.

Food & Drink

My terrible fish ‘n’ chips conundrum

I love fish and chips.

As far as I’m concerned, fish ‘n’chips comprises the complete meal, combining delicious flavoursome chippiness and tasty fishy nutrition coated in a batter of crunchy goodness.  That’s what we all grew up on, in a town full of Italian chippers run by people with names like Di Vito, Marsela and Nardoni.  People who grew up with us and who became part of us.

In Limerick, we know our fish and chips.

I’ve never been a fan of Donkey Ford’s. Their chips are soggy, flaccid and unappetising, though of course, I have been known to hoover a bag or two when tempted, or after a surfeit of drink, but apart from that I wouldn’t go near them.  Poor enough.

Anyway, this is all a preamble to something else, which is this.

René Cusacks have taken over the old Lazio café in the Milk Market, and now they’re doing fish and chips.  As a family that has been dealing in fish forever, their offering is impeccable.  Their menu presents you with a choice of cod, hake, calimari and whatever else is available on the day, as one would expect of a fish restaurant.


Rene Cusack fish and chips

Last week, I went and had cod and chips, which I gobbled down like a dog with two dinners, just as my friends did, and that was for a very good reason.  It was delicious.  The batter on the cod was the crispiest, the crunchiest, the crackliest batter I have ever had on any cod ever.  And the fish was the tastiest, freshest, most delicious cod I have ever encountered.

I’m telling you now.  Go and experience this piscean experience, but the advice comes with a however.


The chips are not Italian chips, and I’m sorry to tell you that, but it’s a fact.

True, they’re not skinny McDonalds chips.  They are big and chunky, but they’re cooked in a bland vegetable oil, entirely unrelated to the wonderful chip culture we grew up with, and that’s not something I want to buy.

Sorry, René Cusacks.  The battered cod is as good as anyone will find anywhere, but the chips are a one-legged Tarzan.

In future, I’ll buy my battered cod in Cusack’s and my chips in Enzo’s.  That works for me.