Monday, 31 December 2012

Brandy Butter Cookies

Every year after Christmas I discover a tub of brandy butter lurking in the back of my fridge.  And every year I end up throwing it out, as it has gone rancid.  This year I left the bowl out to remind myself to think of something to do with it.  Then on Twitter last night several people mentioned that they too end up throwing their brandy butter away.

I started thinking about recipes and Googled a few including brandy snaps but being a lazy cook they didn't appeal.  Then I saw a recipe for brandy butter cookies.  When I woke next morning someone had actually tweeted me the same idea.  But I was ahead and had already bookmarked a recipe.

I have probably mentioned that I never follow a recipe verbatim. I always feel I have to make it mine and change something.  So here is my take on the recipe I found.

Brandy butter is usually a 50:50 mix of butter and icing sugar so weigh how much you have left over.

Brandy Butter Cookie Recipe

200g butter in total (so if you have a 100g of brandy butter use 150g of plain butter and add to your brandy butter)
180g golden granulated sugar (or 130g minus your 100g of leftover brandy butter consisting of 50g icing sugar)
2 large eggs
250g plain flour
35g dried cranberries
50g dark chocolate pieces or drops

Beat your butter and sugar and brandy butter together.  Add in eggs one by one and continue to beat.  Sieve in flour and stir into mixture.  Add cranberries and your chocolate.

Cut a large square of greaseproof paper and spoon the cookie mixture out onto it.

Roll up dough in the greaseproof like a Christmas cracker and twist the edges as in picture.  Refrigerate until it has hardened.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C and line a baking tray and grease.  Slice the dough to your preferred thickness and place on the baking sheet.  Bake in oven for about 10 minutes or until golden.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

I used ordinary dark chocolate which burnt slightly so it would be better to use chocolate drops.  There was very little taste of brandy so if you prefer a kick then add some and increase the quantity of flour if necessary. 

Mix yielded 2 dozen cookies.

Irish Food  Brandy butter Brandy Butter Cookies  Christmas Recipes 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël is traditionally made in France for Christmas.  When I managed a French artisan bakery it was Christophe's specialty and he used to make three flavours, chocolate, coffee and a white chocolate and raspberry.  Hotels and restaurants loved to order them for a centre piece.

I have to be honest and admit I had never made one until now but I used to watch Christophe making them. 

Chocolate Bûche de Noël

The first thing to make is the crème au beurre or buttercream.

Crème au beurre
125g butter (unsalted)
1 egg and 1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
87g sugar
25g water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of rum

Soften and whisk the butter in one bowl.  In another bowl whisk the eggs and stand aside.
Measure out the sugar and water accurately and place in a small pan with a sugar thermometer. Dissolve the sugar and then heat until you reach 121 degrees C.  If you are using a heavy based Le Creuset pan for example remove from heat when you hit 120 degrees as the temperature will continue to rise.  Cool to 110 degrees.  Continue to whisk the eggs adding the cooled sugar syrup in a steady stream.  Continue whisking for another few minutes.  Add this mixture to your whipped butter.  Add in cocoa powder and rum and place in fridge to stiffen up.

For the sponge

4 eggs and the reserved egg white
140g sugar
100g flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment and grease it with a knob of melted butter. Mine was 36 x 25cm or 14 x 10 inches but you can use a bigger one to get a thinner sponge which makes rolling it easier. 

Pre-heat your oven to 170 deg C or 160 if fan assisted.

Put the eggs and sugar in a bowl and place over a saucepan of water.  Put the heat on under the pan and bring to a gentle simmer all the time whisking the eggs and sugar.  When it turns thick and creamy and you can write on the mixture with your whisk and it remains visible for a few seconds it is done. 

Sieve in your flour and cocoa powder and gently fold in with a metal spoon.  Pour the mixture into the tin and tilt the tin to move the mixture into the corners. 

Place on the bottom shelf in the oven and bake until it springs back to a gentle touch for 25-35 minutes.  Place a damp tea towel on a board and slide the sponge out of the tin onto it.  Cover with a dry tea towel and leave to cool.

When it is cool spread the buttercream gently all over it with a pallet knife or a spatula.  Cut a line about 1cm in along the shorter side and fold this over and start to roll from here using the greaseproof paper to guide it into a tight roll. 

Set aside and prepare your ganache to cover the log.

250g dark chocolate or half and half dark and milk if you don't like it too bitter
100ml cream

Break up the chocolate pieces into the cream in a heavy based pan and put on a gentle heat until the chocolate starts to melt. Stir until it all melts and then set aside to cool. This ganache sets very hard so keep an eye on it.  When it is the right consistency to spread cover the sponge and make marks in it to resemble a log.  Decorate and serve.

For the coffee flavour replace the cocoa powder with 2 teaspoons of coffee liquid extract.  For the white chocolate add 75g of melted white chocolate to the buttercream and make a white chocolate ganache as above to cover.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Her Shell

The day came I was dreading and to be honest I didn't know if I could go through with it. Sausage the pig had reached weight far quicker than I had anticipated.  The decision was made, the help organised, the abattoir arranged and the butcher lined up.

This is what I had traipsed up and down the lane for; everyday, in wind and rain and that was just the summer; to feed her.  She had been fed the best - rolled barley, fruit and vegetables and potatoes.  She had had fresh air, space to run and root and a lovely big deep bed of straw to sleep in when it was cold or wet.  She had a better life than the vast majority of pigs on the planet.

I had the help of a neighbouring farmer and a friend who is also a farmer. Neither had any experience of pigs, just cattle and sheep.  They assured me we would load her easily. In the end we did, but I think they were surprised at her strength when she knocked the gate out of their hands they were holding onto, to block her escape.  The trailer was pushed into the shed beside her sister and she was left overnight to calm down.

The next day I followed the trailer in my car. I felt as if I was part of a funeral procession.  In a way I was.

The abattoir is a small one and he had almost finished a consignment of pigs when we arrived.  The smell was all embracing - it seemed to settle in a gelatinous layer on me.   The screams of the pigs were blood curdling and I glanced at Sausage who had shrunk down into the corner of the trailer, fear in her eyes. 

She was unloaded and pushed into the shoot.

I was heartbroken.

I drove home and decided to go and pick up the other pig immediately to get the experience out of my mind.

Little pig is a an eight week old male Saddleback.  He has settled in now, but initially he wouldn't eat as he was scared of a bucket.

Rasher getting to know little pig

Next day I went back to the abattoir to collect the carcass and take it to the butcher.  To my surprise I didn't feel anything. What was carried out was her shell, Sausage was gone.  The relief was enormous and I know now I will have no difficulty eating her.

Everyone said to me it will get easier but I hope it never does.  It should be difficult.

The reality of living as a small holder.

Monday, 26 November 2012

She Married one of the Rockybottoms.

My mother came from a large family in Castlebar Co. Mayo.  When we were children we loved nothing better than when she and her siblings got together (mainly after funerals or weddings) and told stories about Castlebar in the past.  All were blessed with a great ability to tell a story. I was firmly convinced when I was a child that everyone was completely mad in the town.  However, now I think about it maybe people were better accepted for eccentricity then and not labelled as they are now.

One of the characters often spoken about was a lady called Maimie Graham. To this day I have a picture of her in my mind.  Considering I never saw her or met her, this has to be attributed to my aunts and uncles' ability to create a picture. 

Maimie and her sister Annie used walk into town from a neighbouring village, to sell milk in old-fashioned churns.  For some reason they only did this after dark.  When my mother was a child she was terrified of the shadowy Maimie, walking outside on the road; visible from the driveway of my grandparents' house.  She used wave a torch and as there was little or no street lighting then, my mother was convinced she was a ghost as the light danced about through the trees. The fact that her older sisters perpetuated this myth did not help her fear either. Maimie wore a hat pulled down on her face and grey or dark coloured clothes.

My mental image is of a slightly mad old lady with straggley, grey hair and a dirty face wearing layers of petticoats and an old overcoat.  The hat pulled down over her face and dark sturdy mens' shoes with streaks of dirt on her bare legs.

My grandmother was very fond of saying to us we looked like Maimie Graham particularly when we wore a certain type of hat. Recently I heard myself telling my daughter the exact same thing when she arrived home wearing a hat.  I then had to try to explain to her what I meant.

The Cobweb today

I was talking to my mother on the phone when the subject of the Rockybottoms came up.

My sister had met someone recently who came from Castlebar. She told my mother her name.  My mother trying to place her said that she thought this woman's mother had married one of the Rockybottoms.  When what she had said sank in, I started to laugh and asked her what she was on about.

Apparently the Rockybottoms owned a shop next door to our family pub which at that time was a pub, grocery, undertaker and my great grandmother held court there as the local matchmaker. The Rockeybottoms sold furniture and other various household items.  The proprietor used to stand outside on the footpath shouting "come on in - rock bottom prices" and so the family became known as The Rockybottoms.

They understandably did not like this nickname and apparently there was war if they were called the Rockybottoms. 

Ironically the shop is still there and is called Rocky's.

In the same conversation she then started to tell me about another pub further down the street called Bucko Sheridan's. They had cows and walked the cows through the town and in through the bar for milking, twisting their tails to prevent the inevitable.  My mother said that the locals sat up at the bar never blinked when this procession occurred at the same time every evening. 

This pub is still called Bucko's today.

Sadly, characters such as these seem to have all but disappeared from towns in Ireland or else they are not spoken about.  I really wish that I had had the foresight to record the stories at the time.  Most of my uncles and aunts are now dead and the three that are left are well into their eighties.  But I am so grateful that I got to sit spellbound as a child and listen to all the stories.  It was magic.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Kitchen Hoarder Mincemeat

During my recent kitchen makeover I had to clear out my cupboards and drawers.  What a revelation that turned out to be.  I found various uncashed cheques to the tune of €250 as well as jars of jams, chutneys and a tin of vegetable soup with a best before of 2003.

The best find of all was a huge jar of mincemeat that could be either last years or the previous one.  I opened it and sniffed.  Wow  - the most amazing smell wafted out.  Like a really good dessert wine combined with a brandy and Calvados.

This got me thinking about a comment I read on Twitter criticising the practice of making a Christmas cake or pudding two months before eating it.  This really amazed me considering some of the best food and beverages are eaten after long periods of maturation. I have a Christmas pudding in the fridge from two years ago and once that is boiled up again I know the flavour will be sublime.

Which gets me back to the mincemeat. If the jar is a year old then I can't claim the recipe.  That honour has to go to Margaret at Oldfarm.  Her recipe uses lots of cooking apples which normally at this time of year would not be a problem.  However, this year I had the worst crop in living memory so I will be using my own recipe.  It's actually two recipes I joined together and it works really well.

It helps if you mature it for at least a year or at least the next few weeks before the longing comes on for some mince pies.  And what must mince pies be served with only champagne or a glass of dry white wine. Try it......

75g dates stoned and chopped
250g currants
250g raisins
250g sultanas
75g cherries
100g candied peel
75g chopped almonds
75g unsulphured dried apricots chopped
4 tablespoons of brandy
150g butter
1 large cooking apple grated
zest and juice of an orange and lemon
150g muscovado sugar
some freshly grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves

Mix all the ingredients with the melted butter and cover. Leave in a large bowl overnight somewhere cool.  Next day spoon into clean jam jars and cover tightly.

If you don't like a particular ingredient leave it out or substitute with something else. 

This quantity will give you 3-4 large (500g) jars, enough to keep a couple for next year.

Tags: Irish Food  Irish Christmas Baking  Mincemeat  Mincepies

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Kitchen Nightmares

Today is my first day in my new kitchen.  

They say moving house is the most stressful thing you can do in your life. This is not true.  Ripping out your kitchen and fitting a new one is.

It has taken two men six days to fit.  It should have taken no more than four.  

I live in a small, old house.  This meant that there was no room to move all the kitchen "stuff" from the kitchen and store it elsewhere.  It was instead piled up mostly in the dining area of the kitchen but also in a small sun porch.

I purchased the kitchen from Ikea and the amount of mistakes on their part so far beggars belief. We were supplied the wrong sized units, had units missing, doors not the correct size, not to mention shelving, legs and handles missing. We were even given parts of units.  It appears that they dispatched units based on two different kitchen plans - the first original draft and the final one.

It was so confusing that even the kitchen planners in Ikea could not figure out what had gone wrong.  The trouble is that Ikea is the DIY equivalent of budget supermarket giants Lidl and Aldi.  If there are items out of stock as happened initially, hard luck, you have to go back to get them .  You deal with literally dozens of staff so there is no follow through.  The communication between departments is virtually non-existant.

Did they handle the complaint well?  Not well enough to my mind.  They ended up refunding me the initial delivery cost.  But this was small compensation for the 5 trips to the shop (an hour's drive both ways).  Plus the cost of having to pay men for six days instead of four.  Not to mention the waste of time trying to figure out how to make a giant jigsaw with vital pieces missing.

Incidentally the unit they neglected to provide at all was given to me today minus legs.....after they knew about the original cock up.

Would I go back to Ikea again? Certainly not.  Would I recommend anyone buy a kitchen there?

Do yourself a favour and go to somewhere they value their customers.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Ireland's Brighton

Less than 13 miles from the centre of Dublin is Ireland's original seaside resort.  Bray is a fine town straddling the Dublin Wicklow border. In 1854 the railway was built out as far as what had been up to this a sleepy market town and thus sparked a building boom.

The town was transformed into a fashionable seaside resort and it became known as the "Brighton of Ireland".  Today there are still magnificent terraces of houses along the sea front and a lovely promenade with views up to Bray Head.  On a sunny day there is no where better to blow the cobwebs away.

Bray has really become a destination in it's own right with lots to do and see and has some fantastic bars and restaurants.  The lonely planet recently listed The Harbour Bar the best bar in the world.  It's cozy, quirky and full of character.  It is also a great live music venue.

There is almost a little Italy developing with restaurants, cafes, gelaterias and even a risto-market selling cheese, charcuterie and coffee as well as pizza, panini, Italian breads and baked goods to eat in or take away.

Pastries and biscuits in the risto-market

We had a lovely lunch here the-day-after-the-night-before, a panino and a glass of "hair of the dog" whilst watching a chef prepare ravioli for the newly relocated restaurant across the road.  Campo di Fiori was originally located where the risto-market is now.  It is owned and run by an Italian couple Marco and Laura from Rome.

There is a Farmers' market in the town every Saturday which is small but there is an excellent vegetable and fruit stall selling all organic produce from a farm run by the Dominicans in Wicklow town.  They also sell some of their own free range organic pork, lamb and beef.

We bought some really fresh fish from a selection of sea bream, hake, langoustines and sole amongst many more while bantering with the Chinese owner.  He supplies a lot of the restaurants in the town and loves to talk.

Bray has lots of little gift and coffee shops perfect for a Saturday morning browse. There are some real gems down the side streets and also some great boutiques. 

When I was a child Bray had degenerated into somewhere slightly seedy and run down. It's former grandeur reduced to has-been status.  My memory of it were dodgems and one armed bandits.  Today it has been transformed into a sophisticated, multi-cultural and cosmopolitan town and I really love spending the weekend there and return feeling as if I have really been away.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Best Things in Life are Free

Two big cooking apples were in the pigs' crate this week.  One had a brown bruise on the side but otherwise was perfect.  A plastic container in the freezer had some of the last of the season's blackberries and there were two pieces of leftover short crust pastry. A benefit of never throwing anything out.

My mother always dusted the pastry base of a tart with semolina to thicken up the juices.  I use arrowroot and it has the same effect.

The result: a delicious apple and blackberry tart served with a dollop of whipped cream.

The best things in life are free.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Judge the Butcher

The local butcher shop used to be an integral part of every town and village in Ireland and there was usually more than one.  In Northern Ireland very often there was one for each section of the community - The Protestant butcher and the Catholic one. The butcher shop was a monitor of how affluent the town and hinterland was. 

This changed somewhat with the arrival of big multinational supermarkets, particularly in more urban areas.  When I moved to a small rural village in county Meath over 20 years ago, virtually all meat was purchased in the local butcher shops.  I live equidistant between two small villages with a border dividing them.  Despite this the butchers were brothers-in-law and shared an abattoir.   Their meat was second to none.  Then along came all the EU regulations with the subsequent abolition of local abattoirs and the meat changed beyond belief.

Carcasses arrived into the shop all but cut. Suddenly they had no feet, hocks, heads or offal. In many cases it was almost impossible to get bones.  The butcher counter became "lean" literally. The cheaper cuts disappeared.  On display were diced up round steak pieces in place of stewing beef, strip loins at the expense of sirloin, mince without an ounce of fat, chicken breasts, loin lamb chops etc.  Fat was banished and the counter was red.

Red and lean

I judge the quality of a butcher shop by the selection of "cheap" cuts available and by this you have a fair idea of the food knowledge of the locals as well.  In a complete turn around, the butcher counters servicing the more affluent/food savvy populations have a better selection of cuts and it is here you will find hocks, shanks, skirts, cheeks and tongues. In "the country" you will also find them in areas where there are large immigrant populations.

In the English Market in Cork, the selection of every cut of every animal is second to none.  Tripe and drisheen are on display in almost every butcher counter.  As well as the English Market, the butcher shops in Moore Street in central Dublin have an amazing display of many old and forgotten cuts and even sell goat meat for the large African community.

Old cuts nestle with the battered
Cooking the cheaper cuts (it is only in Ireland they are cheap - in France they are the more expensive), requires a bit more skill, time and energy so when you analyze it in more detail they are probably not cheap.  However, they have the most flavour, the best texture and are deliciously moist.  You need to add more vegetables and herbs to make the meal, making them much more healthy than just slapping a load of protein on a barbeque.

I wish my now local butcher shops were not so boring.  I want meat with fat and bone and personality. After all it's time people woke up to the fact that fat is not the enemy we have all been led to believe.  We were rightly led up the garden path by the big food cartels in cahoots with government and even the medical profession.  We need to go back and open granny's old recipe book because in her day there was not half as much obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  They ate meat with personality because the butcher was a butcher and not a slicer.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Bake the Blues Away

Is there anything more depressing than relentless rain?  So far this autumn has been glorious but when a day dawns like today, what's there to do but roll up your sleeves and start to cook.

My oven is knackered or at least it should be dispatched very soon to the knacker's yard; so I try to make the most of it while it isn't clicking.  The automatic lighter senses that the oven temperature is dropping due to the door seal being perished and this very annoying clicking starts.  Or so I have been told by the gas man.  But until I can afford to buy a super-duper, state-of-the-art replacement, it and me continue to rub along together. 

I was very pleased with myself recently, filling it up with a Cassoulet made with Toulouse sausage I brought back from France. Now I know the French around Carcassonne would probably have apoplexy at my version of the classic but it is really, really good.  Recipe can be found here.  I also roasted a big piece of pork belly sitting in a shallow baking tray on top of diced up celery, carrots, onions, garlic, fresh thyme and sage.  I covered it with foil after the crackling had become nicely browned and crispy and continued to roast it for 3 hours.

I made my beetroot and blue cheese tart using a piece of Bellingham Blue.  Bellingham Blue is a blue cheese made from raw milk and it is really creamy and delicious.

And then in a fit of madness last weekend when it was really warm and sunny I headed off down the lane where I used to walk the Big Boy and where I found Sarkozy the donkey.  I hadn't been back since the big Boy died as I couldn't bear to. I was hoping there would be a few blackberries left.  Amazingly there was.  Lots of big luscious ones.  So in no time I had 500g picked.

I made these lovely little muffin-style buns.

They are just a basic Victoria sponge mix with 150g each of butter, sugar and flour (with a teaspoon of raising agent) and 3 eggs.  I sliced about a quarter of a cooking apple into the little silicon bun moulds and added a few blackberries.  Spooned some of the sponge mix on top and baked in a moderate oven until browned, risen and firm to touch, about 15 minutes.

This mix made 12 buns comfortably. 

They would be delicious served warm with some homemade custard or whipped cream or just on their own with a nice pot of tea.

When you next switch on your oven, make the most of it and utilise all the space.  It makes sense.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Reduce the Balsamic

Let me warn you this is a rant.

And a plea.

To every chef who thinks it's acceptable to decorate a plate with squiggles, lines, blobs of the viscous stuff - you know the one that comes in a squidgy bottle?

I have vague recollections of when balsamic vinegar first made an appearance in my life.  My mother very proudly pronounced it - "good for you".  She used to read those free health magazines distributed by the health food shop she haunted.  When I heard the words "good for you," it immediately put my hackles up. 

We were subjected to lots of food items that were supposedly "good for you". Actually some were reasonably okay but as a teenager I was determined to hate them.  I remember thinking this balsamic vinegar that replaced normal vinegar in our salad dressing was something I could take or leave.  Then I decided I would leave it altogether.

Years later my brother, (a confirmed Italophile) true to form arrived back with the Rolls Royce of balsamic and convinced me to taste it.  It was passable served on strawberries but at the price €16 for about 2ml it would probably want to be.

Anyway, to cut to the chase.  I returned recently from a short break in France.  My overwhelming memory will be balsamic vinegar.  Why? Because every middle of the road brasserie decorated their plates with it.

The above crêpe had in a really good little crêperie was spoiled completely, by not only having the stuff liberally dressing the salad leaves, but even dribbled over the egg for heaven's sake.  Served with Normandy cider it clashed like Bay City Roller tartan with pink ribbons dangling from it.

A duck breast cooked to perfection (very pink) and tasty had a vile balsamic reduction jus fighting nine rounds with it.  The balsamic won.

A starter of deep fried goat's cheese (yes this was the starter common to almost every restaurant) had not only balsamic decor but orange segments to boot.  And they say France is the culinary capital of the world.

So if you are a chef dump the balsamic in the same place as white pepper, salad creme, hundreds and thousands and every other naff 70's type food condiment.  Because let's face it to use the stuff that costs more per litre than Chateau Petrus is unlikely to happen and the rest of it is a vast EU pile of acidic mediocrity .

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Two Star Lunch

I was so excited to have lunch recently in Le Parc, a 2 star Michelin restaurant owned by Franck Putelat while visiting my son in France.  We flew into Carcassonne in the south and by the time we landed were more than ready to eat.

The restaurant is very chic with minimalist decor but they are currently building on rooms, so there was a bit of disturbance for which they had a sign apologising.

The lunch menu was €35 including a glass of wine.

We enjoyed a glass of rosé while the amuse buche were brought out.  They included foie gras macarons, crisped chorizo and pear, a carrot pureé gel and a type of savoury brioche with ham and cheese.  I am not a fan of foie gras and could not get excited about the combination of salty, savoury in a sweet macaron. Nor was I keen on the carrot pureé.  However, I loved the crispy chorizo and pear combination and the brioche.

Carrot, macaron and pear chorizo

Savoury brioche

The starter was a yellow courgette topped with an aubergine pâté and crispy prawns.  It was really delicious - light, tasty and a surprisingly generous portion. 

Crispy prawns on yellow courgette

The main, a slow cooked veal hock that had the texture of really tender, pulled pork with some of the marrow.  It was topped with a crispy pastry.  The potatoes and a selection of root vegetables had been slow cooked in the veal stock. The vegetables had a slightly "overcooked" flavour in my opinion. 

Jarret de veau

Pear crumble

The dessert -  pear crumble was sublime with poached pear and a really crunchy, tasty crumble served with vanilla ice cream - simple but oh so delicious.

Coffee was served in very funky if slightly impractical cups along with petit fours, more macarons, fudge, strawberry shortbreads and almond cups.

I enjoyed the experience immensely, the food was good but not great.  However, it was very reasonable and I would love to go back and have a tasting menu in the evening.

Leaving the restaurant the boys were very excited to see this parked beside my son's car.  Needless to say it was the BMW they were excited about!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Cork on a Fork

Room with a view
When the September sun shines, is there anywhere else better to be than in the foodie capital of Ireland - Cork?

And by Cork I mean the city and the county. This trip though, was just the city.  Possibly one of the best breakfast selections to be had in Ireland, is here, in the River Lee Hotel.
Kicking off with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, yoghurts, homemade muesli, porridge. Delicious preserves, huge selection of breads, pastries, cold meats and cheeses.  Followed by the full Irish and you are set up for the day.

After a stroll around the city in the autumn sunshine and a spot of window shopping in this bustling city, we were ready for lunch in the Farmgate Cafe upstairs in the English Market.  The menu showcases many of the artisan ingredients available downstairs.

The English Market is acknowledged as one of the best in the British Isles.  It's buzzing with shoppers and gawkers like me.  It's impossible to resist the temptation to get completely carried away.  I bought Toonsbridge Mozarella having sampled some in the cafe at lunch and a big piece of Cork's finest spiced beef as well as a local Chorizo.

Entrance to the English Market

All this food shopping is thirsty work and the craft beers served in Mutton Lane were calling.  Friar Weisse is brewed by the Franciscan Well brewery in Cork city and is just the job to sooth frazzled nerves.  Mutton Lane is a charming, cozy little pub down a medieval lane just off St. Patrick's Street.  It would be very easy to perch on a high stool for the afternoon and work your way along the taps.

Mutton Lane

A very special dinner celebration was booked later that evening in Fenn's Quay restaurant - as if we hadn't eaten enough fabulous food already.  And with characteristic Cork charm they pulled out all the stops and turned it into a very memorable evening with some pretty slick cooking to boot.

Seafood platter starter to share

What more can I say about Cork? Only that it is possibly one of the most charming cities I have visited in Ireland.  The people are friendly, helpful and witty.  The food is amazing.  There are some of the best and most progressive artisan food producers in this region and many are showcased in the English Market and in the restaurants and cafes.  Cork is on the Lee but the best way to sample it, is on a fork.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Honest 2 Goodness - Honestly We Need Goodness

James Joyce was known to be fond of a trip to Bewley's Oriental Cafe and referred to it as “the Lofty Clattery Café“.  For some reason this came into my head when I stood on the steps looking down into the cafe in the Honest2Goodness farmers' market in Glasnevin, Dublin.

Up to this Dublin hasn't had a dedicated covered food market which could rival the English Market in Cork; but now it does.  Honest2Goodness is that rare gem of a market where you can do your entire food shop.  Then when you have trawled the stalls and filled your boots, you can sit down in the clattery cafe and eat freshly produced food from the very market stalls you have shopped at.  Or, if you just want to relax and enjoy a coffee and a browse through the Saturday papers that's fine too.  There is an area for the children to amuse themselves on comfy couches with books and toys provided.

The clattery cafe

There is a terrific atmosphere in the market as stall holders banter with the regulars and amongst themselves.  The stalls include a bakery producing a real "kick ass" sourdough and variations there of and a superb spelt Irish soda loaf. Arun Bakery is run by an Irishman and a Czech masterbaker duo.

 Breads from Arun Bakery

The Whole HoggThe Whole Hoggs sells their own rare breed, free range pork and bacon from their farm in Slane, Co. Meath.
Ryan's Farm sell beef, lamb and pork from their farm in Co. Meath.

There is a fine selection of Irish cheeses in The Pantry and "store cupboard" items and then beside this, to tempt you are a superb selections of wines, sourced primarily from small European producers and very keenly priced. 

For the sweet toothed amongst you there is the most eye-watering display of baking at Wild Flour Kate's market stall.  I have tried her raspberry, pistachio and rose cakes and can confirm that they are beyond divine. 

So much temptation here

Lily's Mexican food stall selling everything you need to make authentic Mexican food and from Lily, the help and advice to be successful.  I am hoping she will write the definitive Mexican Irish cookbook as she is a marvellous cook and a passionate foodie.

This is only a flavour of the stalls in the market.  There are much, much more including a lovely selection of dried pastas and other Italian basics; fresh olives, beautifully made jams and chutneys.  A colourful display of fruit and vegetables including very many organic and locally grown.

It is time that there are more options open to people to do their food shopping away from large multi-national supermarkets and to support locally grown and home produced Irish food.  Honest to goodness, it really is!

The Whole Hoggs setting up
Colourful array of fruit and veg

Lily setting up

Look and taste great

Time to chat

Cafe salads

Wine display

Irish cheese selection

Raw milk, organic yoghurt and butter

Store cupboard display
Cafe cakes and desserts

Honest2Goodness  Farmers Market

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Big Boy

As I type this the tears are running down my face. I wanted to write a tribute to the Big Boy or Lestat, an English Bull Terrier who came to live here over 4 years ago. 

Lestat started out the early part of his life living in a house full of French bakers and pastry chefs, in a suburban housing estate with a small back garden. It was the staff house for the bakery and there was a big turnover of staff. As a result Lest was very well-socialised. 

When the bakery was going through financial difficulties, the decision was taken to do away with the staff house so Lestat was homeless. I was asked to take him in. He was brought here late one evening, and as I had chickens and ducks running loose and the large garden was not as secure as he was used to, the decision was taken to put him in the stable over night. Next morning the Frenchman went to give him his breakfast and let him out to get to know the garden and to socialise with all the other animals, but Lestat was gone.

He had disappeared without trace. We searched for days walking all the fields and roads around about.  We phoned the dog warden and the police with no luck. We asked all the neighbours to keep a look out for him, but no one was really familiar with the breed so it was difficult to describe him.

He was missing for 10 days. Then out of the blue, my daughter at home from school, sick and lying on the couch, saw something white flash by the window. It was Lestat. He was very thin and very happy to be home. To this day we have no idea where he was but suspect he was so shocked from living all his life in a garden, when he escaped from the stable, he panicked and hid out somewhere. He sadly developed pneumonia and had to be taken to the vet (the first of very many trips to come).

Lestat recovered and settled into life with the other animals. He had a couple of chicken dinners to start, but when it was drummed into him that this was not acceptable, he then allowed the chickens to eat his dinner.  He accepted kittens, puppies, chickens, ducks and children. He loved everyone and everything. Sadly other people did not love him.

When I walked him cars slowed down to stare; if people were on the same side of the road they crossed over away from him. On the beach mothers scooped up their children when they saw him coming. He on the other hand was oblivious and tried to make friends with animals and humans alike. After a good long time we realised we had never once heard him growl. We never did.

He was a good guard dog in that he barked when he heard anyone at the gate or in the yard. However if the intruder or visitor made an attempt to scratch his belly, he rolled over. He looked the part so he was a good deterrent.

He developed lots of health problems including skin complaints, eye infections, ulcers in between his toes, sore pads with subsequent difficulties walking on the gravel in the driveway. He then started having seizures. A lot of his health problems were improved by changing his diet and giving him steroids when his skin got bad. He got lots of fresh air, exercise and he had company all the time.

The seizures gradually got more severe and more frequent and finally, I found him floating face down in the river he loved to swim in, when we went to feed the pigs. He had run off in front of me so I was only seconds behind him. I panicked when I realised I couldn't see him as the river was flowing very fast. I could see his tail from high up but not the rest of him. I had to climb down a steep bank to get to him. I hauled him out unconsious and he took ages to come to.

He didn't recover as he normally did and then he started vomiting blood. I took him to the vet who said she suspected a tumour or something sinister in his brain causing the seizures. She thought the fact he was vomiting blood, it was likely that the possible tumour in his brain may have metastasized into his lungs and or stomach. However without in-depth investigation in a dedicated veterinary hospital this was only conjecture. 

With a very heavy heart the decision has been taken not to do further investigation but to put him to sleep, if necessary. I am sitting here on the floor in the kitchen beside him as he breaths heavily. The sun is shining in the window and Piaf, the small Jack Russell is lying beside him. He was very distressed last night and all morning, but now I am here beside him he is calmer. Ironically whenever I used to lie on a rug in the sun, he insisted on lying on top of me or at least a part of him in contact with a part of me.

The Big Boy as my son calls him (and it stuck), is a gentleman. He is a breed that is hugely mistrusted and misunderstood.  He has been called ugly, an abomination, vicious and aggressive by people who judged him by his appearance. In fact he is the polar opposite. Never judge a book by it's cover absolutely applies to Lestat. And I hope he pulls through, because first and foremost he is a great and loyal friend.

Lestat born with a pedigree as long as the Queen on 25th December 2005. I hope he lives to see another Christmas but I'm realistic.

Lestat was put to sleep today 7th September  2012. Rest in Peace Big Boy.

Labels: English Bull Terrier, Lestat, Lethal Acrodermatitis

Monday, 3 September 2012

All the Colours and no Additives

I have been watching the Great British Bake Off avidly for the last couple of years.  I just settle down and for an hour - I am in heaven!  Last year I jumped up a couple of times when it was over and started baking at 9pm.  It has probably inspired a huge number of people to take up baking.

This season they made a colour-themed showstopper as they called it.  Some of the attempts were really spectacular.  However, they mostly seemed to involve artificial food colouring.  Now I no longer have small children but a substantial number of the ingredients in food colouring have been implicated in adverse reactions in children including hyper-activity.  Tartrazine thankfully has now been banned but there are other nasties used in it's place.

I decided to have a go at making a cake using all natural colourings.  I chose chocolate (cocoa powder), coffee (coffee extract), purple (blackcurrant purée) and vanilla.  I sandwiched the chocolate and coffee layers with a chocolate and coffee buttercream.  I used a vanilla buttercream between the coffee and blackcurrant and a blackcurrant buttercream between the blackcurrant and vanilla layers.

For the blackcurrant purée I picked 150g of very ripe and juicy blackcurrants (the last of this years crop) and added 50g sugar.  I simmered it until it was syrupy and then pushed through a sieve.  Discard what will not push through a sieve and retain the rest in an airtight container in the fridge.  This method could be used for any strong-coloured fruit including beetroot but you need to add sugar to taste. 

Cake Recipe (Natural Rainbow Cake)

450g butter
450g sugar
6 eggs
350g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, add in one egg at a time and beat well into mix.  Fold in sieved flour and baking powder. This mix yields just over 1.6kg or 1600g so divide into 400g portions.

I only have two sandwich tins so I had to bake in two batches.  To the first I added a tablespoon of blackcurrant purée (30g).  To the next I added just a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I baked both at gas mark 4/176 deg C for about 30 minutes until the sponge sprang back to a gentle touch.

Blackcurrant and vanilla
 For the next two layers I added 30g of dark cocoa powder to make the chocolate layer and a tablespoon of coffee extract for the coffee layer. Both were baked after the first two layers were removed from the tins.

For the pink icing (1 layer and topping)
150g icing sugar and 50g soft butter
I added three teaspoons of the purée and loosened with a little milk.  If you want a deeper pink add more purée. 

After baking
For the Vanilla icing 75g icing sugar and 25g soft butter, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a tablespoon of milk (approx).

For the chocolate and coffee icing 75g icing sugar and 25g soft butter, add 2 teaspoons of cocoa and 1 teaspoon of coffee extract and mix.  A little milk can be added here as well to adjust the consistency.
If you want to make the cake look more professional slice the top peak off each sponge layer to get them to sit together better.  I didn't as it was just for us to eat here.  If you don't the cake will be slightly "bockety".

Cut a big slice, kick off your shoes, sit back and enjoy!