As I sit down to write this, my little fella has bounded through the barricaded door to my 'office' (the kitchen table), in the nip, to demand my services as his personal YouTube DJ, my wife has been up and down the stairs to soothe the baby who's fighting nap-time and most of night-time sleep, too, and I'm going more grey than I already was! So yeah… we're fine, I'm… eh… fine. Are you fine?
One of the main reasons we decided to move home was a trip to Ireland last summer. Filled with family and friends doting on our little guy, and evening strolls in all that Irish beauty, it would nearly make you forget about the baltic winters! It was a wake-up call. After years on a juggernaut of work, prioritising family is so important. Despite the circumstances we've come back to, there's plenty to look forward to. The spirit of Irish people is alive and well. We were only in the door five minutes before we'd been dropped in an apple pie, welcome gifts and had a friendly wave from a new neighbour. It's good to be home.
Our latest project is to celebrate the little wins that make each day feel different. A picnic in the garden, painting rocks with Noah, baking something sweet for the end of the day. These are all things I would have dreamed of in the midst of a busy work week. Being forced to stop and appreciate these moments is some sort of blessing.
I'd love to tell you this week's recipes are going to sort out your mid-week dinner dilemmas or fix your Sunday roast, but in all honesty, they are simply a collection of what I'm craving the most. Dirty chicken buns slathered in hot honey butter, spicy garlic-laden shrimp tumbled into steaming pasta, and numbing noodles with umami-rich peanut butter sauce. Find your moment and devour!
Loaded with easy ingredients, rich flavours and a slightly mouth-numbing kick from Sichuan peppercorns, these noodles will satisfy all your late-night cravings.
1 tbsp sunflower oil
340g ground beef or pork
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 tbsp five spice powder
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar
2 tbsp hoisin
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
2 pak choi, halved
400g cooked flat rice noodles (cook according to package instructions)
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Small handful coriander leaves
Handful of peanuts, crushed
1. Heat a large non-stick pan or wok over a medium heat with ½ tbsp of oil, add the ground meat and fry for 5-6 minutes until golden.
2. Once any liquid has cooked off, add garlic, chilli, five spice, Sichuan peppercorns and sugar and stir through the mince to coat and continue to cook until sizzling and well combined. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the hoisin, soy and peanut butter along with 100ml water, to create a smooth sauce.
4. Heat the remaining oil in the pan and once smoking hot add the pak choy and fry until just tender. Add the noodles and the sauce and fry until the noodles are warmed through and the sauce is bubbling.
5. Serve the noodles in bowls topped with the warm spiced meat and sprinkled with the spring onions, coriander and peanuts.
These crisp up beautifully in an airfryer, but will cook in an oven on a baking sheet just as nicely.
6 chicken thighs
For the coating:
75g cornflakes, crushed to a fine crumb
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
For the sauce:
200g buffalo hot sauce
3 tbsp honey
6 brioche buns, toasted
Pickles (long thin slices)
Shredded romaine lettuce
Salt and pepper
1. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk with a generous season of sea salt and ground black pepper. Add the chicken to the bowl and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Set aside.
2. Pour the cornflakes in a large freezer bag and with a rolling pin, crush the cornflakes until you have a coarse powder. Add the rest of the coating ingredients to the bag along with salt and pepper. Seal the bag and shake the dry mix until all ingredients are well combined.
3. Pour the dry mix in a large, wide, shallow bowl. One by one using tongs, dip each marinated chicken piece (shaking off any excess) in the dry mix until coated on all sides.
4. Arrange chicken in the air fryer basket and lightly brush the top with olive oil. Place the basket back in, set to chicken mode and cook according to your air fryer instructions (around 20 minutes).
5. While the chicken cooks, make the sauce. In a large pan, melt the butter, hot sauce and honey on a low heat until combined and slightly thickened.
6. Once the chicken is cooked, dip it directly in the hot sauce pan and coat the chicken on all sides, using a spoon to douse.
7. To assemble: spread the toasted bun with mayonnaise, add shredded romaine lettuce, pickles, chicken and top the other bun. Serve immediately.
One of the most popular recipes on my YouTube channel is Spaghetti Aglio E Olio. A slick of oily sautéed garlic forms the sauce and like many of the classic pasta recipes, it is its simplicity that makes it so attractive and rewarding to make. Here, it's made all the more crave-worthy with the addition of plump prawns and a gun shot of spice in the form of chilli flakes. If you have fresh chilli, finely slice and add as optional extra heat. Don't be tempted to add Parmesan cheese - the Italians are probably upset enough by the idea of tweaking a classic.
500g fresh prawns, shelled and deveined
4-5 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tsp chilli flakes (or more if you can handle it!)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil, to garnish
1. Marinade the prawns in a bowl with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp of chopped garlic and lemon zest, for 5-10 minutes.
2. Boil a large pot of water and cook spaghetti until al dente.
3. In a large pan on medium, add 3-4 tbsp olive oil, the remaining chopped garlic, chilli flakes and anchovies. Bring the heat slowly up until the garlic sizzles and turn lightly golden and the anchovies have dissolved. Stir regularly.
4. Heat another pan on a high heat and cook the marinated prawns. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until pink and slightly browned. Once cooked, add lemon juice and toss through, cooking for a minute or so more.
5. Using tongs, transfer the cooked spaghetti directly to the pan with olive oil and garlic, then toss in the shrimp with all the lemony pan juices and stir through vigorously until completely combined. If necessary, add some of the pasta water to loosen up and season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Garnish with basil and serve immediately.
Cracking good biscuits
We've become more resourceful in the kitchen while trying to limit our movements and these little oat biscuits are a really quick-fix that we devoured with cheese the other night. In a food processor, blitz 150g of rolled oats until you have a rough flour. Add 120g wholemeal flour, 1½ tbsp light brown sugar, 6 tbsp olive oil, ½ cup water, 1 tsp salt and blitz until a dough begins to ball together. Roll out thinly (about 3mm) on a lightly floured surface and cut into cracker shapes. Bake at 200˚C for 20 minutes or until they are lightly browned.
Perfect potato wedges
Oh, how I've missed Irish potatoes - they had nothing like them in the US, so it's a pleasure to cook with them again. I made these really simple roast wedges primarily for our toddler but we helped him polish off the tray. Drizzle wedges with a good glug of oil and a generous sprinkling of ground black pepper and sea salt. If you have it, throw in some sprigs of thyme or rosemary. Roast in the oven for 40-45 mins until golden brown and serve hot. They would go great with the chicken buns here!
One of the things I've missed most about living in Ireland is the great seafood. We managed to get our hands on some beautiful scallops this week from Beshoff's Market in Howth and it was such a treat to cook them. Pan fried in butter with pancetta and finished with a squeeze of lemon juice and enjoyed with a little fizz in the garden.