Role reversal

In a curious turn of events, hubby has been jobhunting during the past month and I’ve been the temporary breadwinner, busy full-time working on various freelance writing assignments. No complaints, though. I’ve been lucky enough to receive some pretty plum jobs that have allowed me to write about two of my favorite subjects — food and travel. The only real downsides to this situation are that 1) I haven’t had as much time as I’d like lately to spend with my little guy and 2) I’ve barely been cooking at all.

Have to say, hubby has really embraced the whole domestic scene and is doing a great job at keeping the house running like a well-oiled machine, including meal preparation. On one recent occasion, I happened to walk in to get a glass or something out of the cabinet while he was cooking and was promptly ordered to “get out of MY kitchen.” This may be taking things a LITTLE too far…

Hubby had a few solid dishes under his belt to begin with, but he’s really taken them to a new level over the past few weeks. He’s definitely got the homemade pizza thing nailed. A neighbor and I were enjoying a glass of wine on the back patio during a warm evening about two weeks ago when hubby decided to whip one up. You should have seen her face when he brought it out, hot, steaming and fragrant from the oven. She was so impressed, she called the next day to ask him for tips so she could make one at her house.

hubby's homemade pepperoni pizza

Hubby uses store-bought refrigerated crust, but I fully expect that it’s only a matter of time before he’s cranking out his own from scratch. I haven’t even witnessed what he does to make his ‘za so good, but I believe it involves simply tomato paste, cheese, pepperoni and the lightest drizzle of olive oil. A sprinkling of the herbes de Provence I purchased on our last visit to France in the fall seems to be the secret ingredient. I’m telling ya, that little packet I bought at a street market in Aix for a couple of euros has proven to possess damn near magical qualities — a little pinch utterly transforms everything from roasted meat and veggies to pasta sauce. I’m tempted to try it in muffins or scones. If you ever see an herbes de Provence blend in the supermarket, pick up a jar and try it for yourself in almost any savory dish. You won’t be sorry.

But I digress, back to bragging about my husband… the other dish he’s really been jazzed about perfecting lately is pot pie. This is sort of an unlikely fixation for him; he’s never requested or even mentioned an affinity for pot pie prior to eating a chicken version he proclaimed awesome at the Red Lion Grog House in Fountain Square a few weeks ago.

Again, using plain old store-bought pie crust, he’s been able to produce some interesting and delicious results. First, a lightly sauced chicken pot pie stuffed with shredded meat, chopped carrots and celery. Even better, though, is his beef version, made using his Guinness beef stew recipe, which I already love. Playing around with presentation, his latest attempt included some little ceramic ramekins he filled with the stew and covered with rounds of dough, and also some mini-pies that made using muffin tins. I liked the ramekins, I thought they would be adorable for a fancy dinner party, but hubby preferred the muffin versions, saying they reminded him more of the authentic pies he’s eaten in England. No matter, both were delicious.

adorable individual pot pies

muffin-tin pot pies

With several big assignments now turned in and off my plate, my freelance schedule looks to be lightening up a hair. Hopefully I’ll have enough breathing room to revisit my pots, pans and knives this week and make sure they haven’t forgotten me. If I can wrestle hubby out of “his” kitchen, that is…

More Guinness goodness

The past few days have been fairly low-key – visiting various inlaws and drives through the gorgeous Irish countryside. Meals have been fairly low-key as well, but delicious, as always. Dinners of shepherd’s pie, take-out Indian food, and a true rarity – mother-in-law actually let me into the kitchen last night to cook! I made a beef stir fry with noodles, although mother-in-law and one of my brother-in-laws “don’t like the look of pasta” and opted to eat their stir fry over potatoes instead.

Here’s a classic Irish recipe that hubby and I have perfected at home – Guinness beef stew. (Hubby’s made it more than I have, actually, so he’s the one who really has it sussed.) The original version came from a Darina Allen cookbook, but we’ve finessed it into our own variation over time.

Darina Allen is sort of like the Martha Stewart/Alice Waters of Ireland. A self-made kitchen goddess, she operates the Ballymaloe House inn and Ballymaloe Cookery School in southeast Ireland, has written a shitload of cookbooks, and is a big proponent of using only local seasonal products. I would LOVE to attend the cookery school, but it’s a 12-week program at the cost of around $10,000. Uh. Not in the cards unless I hit the lottery.

One of my sister-in-laws drove me to check the place out when we were here visiting last summer and I treated her to a three-course lunch there to thank her for her troubles. The inn was beautiful and the meal was fabulous – very simple ingredients, but each at the absolute height of its freshness and quality. I recall a gorgeous heirloom tomato salad starter, a sumptuous light-as-air gnocchi with wild mushrooms, and a dessert plate full of about half a dozen samples of mouthwatering goodies – a tiny apple tart, a scoop of housemade chocolate ice cream, a few spoonfuls of raspberry yogurt, a madeleine and goodness knows what else. At 40 euros a plate, it was pretty pricy, but since it was a special treat and not something you’d do every day, I was happy to pay it. I hope to drag my husband there for dinner and a stay at the inn if we ever have a free night on one of our future visits in Ireland.  

But back to the stew… Even if you aren’t a fan of Guinness in a pint (like me), don’t let the inclusion of it here throw you. It blends well with the tomato paste and cooks down into a rich, wonderful gravy. This stew is easy to make and it creates a fantastic aroma to waft through your kitchen on a cold winter day.


Beef and Guinness Stew
Serves: 6 to 8


  • 2 lb. lean stew beef
  • 3 tb. vegetable oil
  • 2 tb. flour seasoned with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 pints Guinness
  • 3 or 4 medium-sized carrots cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, halved
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • Fresh parsley

Toss the meat in a bowl with 1 tb. oil, then add the seasoned flour mixture and toss to coat all cubes of meat.

Heat the remaining 2 tb. oil in a large stewing pot over high heat. Brown the meat well on all sides to create a good crust. Add the onions, garlic and tomato paste. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. 

Add carrots, mushrooms and thyme, then pour in enough Guinness to cover everything. Reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer gently (stirring occasionally) for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours until meat is very tender. Salt and pepper again to taste. Top with fresh chopped parsley to garnish and serve with roasted or mashed potatoes and a hearty bread to sop up the gravy. (This is also great to make in a crock pot.)


Ballymaloe Cookery School –

Ballymaloe House –

Pop goes the Cork. County Cork, that is.

Here we are, safely ensconced at my mother-in-law’s house in Ballydaly, Millstreet, County Cork. We finally arrived yesterday after a hella long ride. Left Sligo around 11:30 a.m. and rolled into the homestead at 7:30 p.m., with several brief stops along the way including a tasty lunch at Moran’s the Weir on the river just outside Kilcolgan (famous for oysters and seafood, but we ordered toasted sandwiches), my husband’s aunt’s house in Charleville, and a quick stop so hubby could power-nap for 10 minutes before continuing the journey.

Mother-in-law had prepared her wonderful beef stew last night just waiting to be served when we arrived, bless her. The woman raised 7 children and professes to hate cooking, but let me tell ya, this lady knows her way around a roast. Her style of cooking is very old-fashioned, traditional Irish – roast meat, roast potatoes (and often boiled potatoes as well), and two veg. Nothing fancy, but all of it delicious. This is comfort food at its finest. With any number of inlaws and outlaws rolling in all the time, I have no idea how mother-in-law knows to judge how much food to make, but she always comes out right on the money.

When we can manage to resist the classic Irish “fry,” breakfast at the mother-in-law’s consists of tea, juice, cereal and brown bread. Mother-in-law is a whiz at making traditional Irish brown soda bread – a chewy flat disk of wheat and bran. She says she rarely makes it anymore, but always has a loaf cooling when we come to town, (my husband being her “golden boy,” after all, entitles him to special treatment). Like tea, brown bread is found everywhere you go in Ireland, from the neighbor’s house to the finest restaurant, and every family has its own variation. You’ll often find it served for breakfast, alongside a dish of stew, or with cheese. My mother-in-law knows her recipe by heart, of course, and demonstrated it to me once after I begged and pled pitifully. Imagine me trying to take copious notes as my mother-in-law casually pitches in a handful of flour or a palmful of baking soda, saying things like, “now, just add enough of this until it looks right.” Needless to say, the brown bread I’ve tried to recreate at home is nothing like hers.

traditional Irish brown bread

traditional Irish brown bread

Neither are my roasted potatoes. Since I got married, my husband’s been after to me to learn how to make roast potatoes just like mom’s. After three plus years, I seriously doubt it’s ever going to happen, although I think I am getting closer. The secret lies in parboiling them first until just tender, sprinkling them lightly with oil, then roasting gently until they are ever-so-browned on top, tender and fluffy inside. I can never get them exactly right. Hubby’s actually better at making them than I am, but I pledge to persevere until I succeed. Where there’s a will, there’s a spud. 

The Irish eat potatoes every day, no exaggeration. Whether it’s the aforementioned roasted version or the ubiquitous chips, nary a meal goes without some sort of potato accompaniment. Rice, pasta and other starches are few and far between, and even they are served with, yep, you guessed it. Potatoes. It’s a little strange to go into a restaurant or pub and see items like chicken curry or lasagna offered up with a side of chips, but that’s how it’s done here. 

Hubby and I stopped into the pub this afternoon for a quick pint while we were running errands in town, then headed back to the homestead for a delicious dinner of tender roast lamb with gravy, potatoes and a mashed carrot-turnip combo. Yummy, yummy stuff. Another pint of Bulmer’s, and I’ll be off to dreamland…

Sligo, day 2

Day two in Sligo. Spent a better part of the day sleeping, I’m embarrassed to report, but I always have a hard time with jet lag and it usually takes me at least three or four days to really get my bearings after the transAtlantic flight. Hubby has a much easy transition than I do, and even the baby is coping well. We all went to bed last night around 9:30 p.m. Baby and I slept for pretty much a solid 12 hours; hubby got up about 4 a.m. local time and escaped off to the lobby downstairs to do a couple hours of work before returning to bed. 

We all arose around 10 a.m. and set off in search of breakfast. There is a huge number of cafe-type places here in Sligo, so had our pick. This is a change I’ve noticed in Ireland since I started coming here four years ago – the coffee culture has definitely taken a firm hold. No Starbucks, mind you, but there are coffee shops popping up on every corner. You can barely spit without hitting one. We settled on a run-of-the-mill place inside a shopping mall across the hall from Tesco’s (the big supermarket chain here). It was almost a repeat of yesterday’s early morning meal – I had a muffin and a glass of milk while hubby again had a more-than-generous full Irish breakfast complete with eggs, toast, sausages, fried mushrooms, beans, a pancake and black pudding.

What is black pudding, Americans may ask? Well. Let me tell you. I’ve been urged to try it on every visit to Ireland thus far (and this trip makes my sixth), and I have refused. Black pudding is sort of a mush-like concoction – essentially, it’s a thinly sliced fried sausage patty that is held together with pig’s blood as a filler, which gives it a black-ish appearance. VERY popular here in Ireland, it’s seen regularly on breakfast menus, and sometimes incorporated into other recipes as well. At the wedding of one of my sisters-in-law, one of the entree menu choices was a chicken breast stuffed with black pudding. Many guests selected it. Not me, but many other. Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to do it knowing what it is.

After breakfast, hubby set off toward Rally Ireland. The baby and I retired back to the hotel for a nap. We arose mid-afternoon, baby had lunch and we set off for a walk around Sligo. This is really a nice town, there are tons of shops, cafes, bookstores and such. The weather is chilly and typically Irish today. Not terribly cold, but terribly wet, cloudy and off-and-on rainy. No problems with static electricity here, let me assure you. Every time I come to Ireland, I optimistically pack my hair straightener, and every time, I kick myself for having bothered and just resign myself to frizzy ponytails for the remainder of the trip. 

Baby and I stopped into a small cafe called Grappa so I could grab a cup of tea. Despite the recent influx of coffee shops, tea is still the thing here. It’s available everywhere you go, and never served iced, only hot. It must chase away the damp. Three years ago when hubby and I were married here, my brother and my dad came over for the wedding. They immediately idolized my father-in-law, as did I. When my mother-in-law offered them hot tea, they first looked to my father-in-law to see him readily accept before doing so themselves. I don’t think either of them had ever drank a cup of hot tea in their lives, but if Andy was having some, then it was obviously the right thing to do. My dad remains a hard-core coffee drinker, but when in Ireland, he enjoys tea instead.

I also chuckle at the memory of a trip to Wales with my hubby before we were married. We went into a small cafe to grab a quick lunch and a group of burly, local construction workers occupied the next table over. Every single one ordered a pot of hot tea. This is no biggie in the U.K. or in Ireland, of course, but as Americans, we are conditioned to view hot tea drinkers as stuffy, high-falutin’ types. I secretly chuckled to see this table of most manly men enjoying their cuppas. It changed my view of tea aficionados, for sure. 

Anyway, back to Sligo… We regrouped with hubby for a pub dinner tonight. My mission of the day was to find a nice location for our evening meal, and I chose a pub called Fiddler’s Creek, just down the river a short walk from our hotel. This is a quintessential Irish pub – heavy dark wood decor, a well-stocked bar, a handful of regulars, lots of casual tables and several strategically placed televisions alternately showing rally coverage and Eastenders, a horribly melodramatic night-time English soap opera.

The place was just crowded enough, I imagine they’ll get a lot of business over the weekend due to the rally. We started off with the hubby ordering a Guinness, of course. Everyone says Guinness tastes much different, and better, here in Ireland than in America. And it certainly seems true, these pints are poured in two steps and arrive at the table with a head of creamy foam thick enough to top a milkshake. Alas, I am not a Guinness fan. I really wish I were, but the taste is wasted on me. I can appreciate the pints for their aesthetic appearance, but when it comes to Irish libations, I’m a Bulmer’s girl at heart. Bulmer’s is a light, not too sweet hard cider that I love. Another selling point of Irish pubs is that you can order a “glass,” or half pint, of beer, cider or whatever if you don’t want another full pint. Nice!


a perfect pint

a perfect pint


Irish pub menus seem to have steadily improved in the past few years as well. You are still hard-pressed to find any sort of fresh salad or side that doesn’t consist of “chips” (fries), but it’s getting better. I ordered a large and juicy breaded chicken breast that came with mashed (“creamed”) potatoes, a little ramekin of peppercorn gravy on the side, and a little bit of salad that contained mixed greens, green onion, shaved carrots and corn. Hubby got chicken fajitas with the same salad. Very, very tasty stuff and we were well pleased. Dining out in Ireland is expensive though… this meal, a starter of garlic bread, two pints of Guinness for hubby and a pint and a glass of Bulmer’s for me, ran us 60 euros (not including a 5 euro tip). That’s about $70, and reasonable by Irish standards.

When baby started kicking up a fuss, we decided to beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel room. Hubby has currently taken him down to the bar downstairs to enjoy a post-meal pint (for hubby, not baby) so I can write. Tomorrow, we’re headed south to my mother-in-law’s house in Millstreet, County Cork. Should be about a five hour drive. Wish us luck.

Fiddlers Creek, Sligo:

view from our hotel room in Sligo

view from our hotel room in Sligo