Whiskey (truffles) galore

Whiskey Week comes but once a year, but oh, what a glorious week it is. This time last year, I wasn’t much of a whiskey drinker (with or without the e) but a day spent sniffing, swirling, sipping and sampling at Whisky Live changed all that, and I’m now a confirmed mistress of malt.

So far, this year’s festivities are just as thrilling, with the launch this evening of Irish Distillers’ Yellow Spot single pot still, and more exciting events in the offing from the bekilted Michael Foggarty and the WJ Kavanagh crew. And all this before the main event in the Mansion House this Saturday! So, for the week that’s in it, some decadent whiskey-laced treats are in order – delicious on their own or with the dram of your choosing.

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Pork, slaw and a Dublin take on the blaa

The idea for Sunday’s dinner started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet. The talented Vlad from Arun, my local bakery here in the ‘batter, had something special up his sleeve for Saturday’s Honest2Goodness market – his own take on the Waterford blaa, aptly christened the ‘Vlaa’. My poor jet-lagged brain went into overdrive the second I read the news, trying to come up with a worthy filling. Until – bingo! – I remembered that I still had a lovely cut of pork belly from the foodie uncle in the freezer, and a head of cabbage left in the garden. Pulled pork sandwiches with a crisp slaw it would be.

(Of course, the same jet-lagged state had me snoring in bed until far too late on Saturday morning, and we only just managed to snag the last four vlaas at the market, but all’s well that ends well!)

This method of cooking pork belly lends itself well to a lazy Sunday: minimal prep, of the sort that can be done in one’s pyjamas over a cup of tea, and a long, slow, delicious-smelling roasting time. And, as an added bonus, a leftover cider aperitivo – it’d be wrong to leave it behind, right?

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Deer pie, dear

This has been the longest January ever, has it not? It took me a good two weeks to drag myself out of my sleepy post-festive state. No-one told me that hosting a twelve-person Christmas would be quite so exhausting, although I loved every minute of it and am secretly considering offering to repeat the feat next year.

Anyway, it has been as quiet in my kitchen this month as December was manic. Having resolved to make 2012 my year of eating Lots More Veg, I’ve been pootling steadily through the fantastic River Cottage Veg book, a much-welcomed Christmas gift. I now have a mild addiction to kale, and growing confidence in my ability as a veggie cook (one bland biryani incident aside).

What with all this veg consumption, there’s been much less meat eaten at Runcible Spoon HQ this month – no bad thing, considering the size of our festive turkey, ham and spiced beef! It’s also meant that we can spend our money on the good stuff, like this wild Wicklow venison from Hick & Sons, which I picked up at their H2G stall, and baked in a pastry-topped pie.

The filling for the pie takes a while to put together, but it’s entirely worth it, and could be prepped in advance if you’re stuck for time. It’s also delicious without the pastry topping and with a heap of mashed potato. And maybe some kale, if you’re as hooked on it as I am.

"Beware of shot" - oo-er!

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Pasty-licious Christmas leftovers

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and, as most people, I am totting up lists of ingredients, plotting side dishes, and wondering just how much food nine adults and three children can put away in one sitting. Christmas is coming to Runcible Spoon HQ this year, you see, for the first time ever. So much to do, so little time, so many mince pies and cups of tea to distract!

One thing I do have up my sleeve already, though, is a plan for our Christmas dinner leftovers. Given the size of the turkey and ham I’ve ordered, there should be pickings aplenty on St. Stephen’s Day. Something quick, easy and still relatively decadent is just the ticket for post-festive feasting, and these pasties tick all the boxes. The pastry’s quickly made (especially with some seasonal tunes for company), and its buttery glory makes it well worth the effort.

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Easy boozy cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce is not a foodstuff I think about much for eleven months of the year. Truth be told, having first tried the fakely sweet and solid from-a-jar variety, it wasn’t a foodstuff I thought about much at all for a very long time. I assumed that making my own would be a laborious process and so it’s not been a feature of my Christmas dinners in adulthood. But oh, this year will be different. It turns out making cranberry sauce is a total cinch.

I couldn’t resist adding some of Tyrconnell’s port finish whiskey to this version (thus breaking into our seasonal stash, much to Himself’s chagrin!) It’s just as tasty without, though, and, with some great deals on fresh cranberries to be had this year, easy to make in bulk as a lovely foodie gift.

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Sunday night soup social

It’s five months now since my photoblogger sister moved to London. I’ve found it odd not having her close by, although technology makes the distance somewhat easier. We Skype (yes, it’s a verb now too) on Sundays, mostly, as we’re readying ourselves for the working week ahead. This weather, the ritual is straightforward: chat, chop, simmer or roast, gossip, stir, taste, giggle, salt, pepper, and blend. It’s soup season, to be sure, and not long until her next sojourn home.

There wasn’t much in the way of soup-making veg in the house this past Sunday, but this recipe yielded two lovely warming lunches. And the chat was good, too.

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Mapley banana bread

It’s fair to say that I have an odd sort of relationship with bananas. It’s not that I detest them, as such, but if I’m going to eat one, it must be just-so-ripe, and each bite washed down with a gulp of ice-cold water. (I know, I’m insane.) Once at the mushy black-pocked stage, they are frutta non grata but, baked in banana bread, they’re a different prospect entirely. That said, I would eat pretty much anything baked in a cake.

The bones of this recipe – now much tweaked and experimented with – originate from Helen Jane Hearn. I especially love the crunchy demerara crust, the lingering smoky hint of maple sweetness, and best of all, the slathered layer of melting butter on a slice straight from the oven.

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