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!