Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our Treat From Lettercollum Cookbook

Our Treat From Lettercollum Cookbook
First of many!

Delighted to meet author Karen Austin at her book-signing in Waterstones last Saturday. Editor (and publisher) Roz Crowley was meeting and greeting and doing the introducing. Karen was hoping the new book, the Lettercollum Cookbook, would get people back into the kitchen and cooking for themselves, especially now that there is so much much great produce available in Ireland.

I did my best to assure Karen that her book, packed with easy to follow recipes, would not be left to gather dust on the shelf in our house and I told it would be dog-eared before long, all the while nibbling her much sought after chocolate and hazelnut cake. No point in putting that promise on the long finger - indeed, I already had my ingredients on the bag!

A few hours later, we began our first project, her Beetroot, Caramelised Goat’s Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Salad. Got a couple of rounds of the creamy St Tola cheese at On The Pig's Back while the beets came from Sandra and Joe Burns’ farm stall at Mahon Point farmers market while the Set Honey was produced by Bee Sensations.

Karen says: "If you are lucky enough to be able to get your hands on some golden beets or striped chioggia beets as well as the regular type, your salad will be all the more beautiful". Well, our beets weren’t quite as colourful as those in the photo* in the book but were delicious.

Just as we suspected, this turned out to be a gorgeous dish, a perfect combination of beets, honey, seeds, and cheese and the dressing was also outstanding. Well worth trying on your own. Now what will we do next?

* The fantastic photos in the book, widely available in bookshops nationwide and in the UK (including Waterstones and Bradley's), are by Arna Run Runarsdottir. Great too that it is printed in Ireland by KPS Colour Print.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Farmgate Café. A Market Star

The Farmgate Café
A Market Star
I was in the Farmgate Café in the English Market for lunch on Saturday, found the whole experience fabulous, and was thinking of a few lines for this blog post. And then, on Twitter on Sunday, I find Mr Gill of the Sunday Times had been in, dishing out stars by the constellation. Pity he couldn't have waited another week!

The twenty year old Cork classic, on the mezzanine above the market, is a magnet for tourists and there were quite a few there on Saturday. But it is also very much appreciated by locals as well and rightly so.

It may be too easy to say that the tourists come for the local dishes. But, in truth, it is all local. Some of suppliers (oysters, the traditional tripe and drisheen, Cork’s own spiced beef) are just downstairs while many others are found within the county bounds. Local, fresh and fair!

The fair refers to the price. I got a fantastic cod dish on Saturday, priced in the mid teens. It would cost up to ten euro more in the city by night and, in a Paris bistro a week earlier, an over-cooked version (though with a gorgeous “piperade” sauce) cost €19.80.

Local. And loyal too. Quite a few suppliers have been with the Farmgate since it was set up in 1994* by Kay Harte (who still puts in a shift here, though nowadays you are more likely to see daughter Rebecca working the mezzanine, all the while keeping an eye on both the dining room and the balcony). And the loyalty is not just between restaurateur and suppliers but also between the Hartes and their customers.
Lucky customers indeed, enjoying top class produce, handled and cooked well and presented well by a friendly and efficient staff. And always that buzz. A little bit different here though as much of the sound is coming from the multi-cultural market stalls downstairs.

Our Saturday call was on the spur of the moment  and we did have to wait a few minutes for a table. That few minutes was put to good use, studying the menu. My starter was the Chowder. This was the real thing: fish galore with a few crunchy slices of veg and greens mixed in. One of the best I’ve had.

CL picked the Market Charcuterie Plate, also available as a main dish. The starter portion though was large with spiced beef and salami prominent and even more prominent was a large slice of country terrine (pork, black-pudding, bacon, chickpea ….) and all served with a spot-on matching chutney.

Before I go any further, I just have to say that the breads were delicious. They always are. So much so that you have to discipline yourself. Some lovely craft beers and ciders are also available and a small selection of European wines. My glass though was filled with a terrific Wild Elderflower drink from the Connolly family in County Laois.

And then it was on to the main course. They have various dishes of the day - catch, tart and meat - and sometimes more than one in each category. Some tempting offers on Saturday but we both went for the Cod, served with a caper and sun-dried tomato butter. Five out of five for everything here (by the way, I have yet to see the AA Gill review!), the produce, the cooking, the presentation.
The main dish included a superb stack of gratin potato and the root vegetables in the side dish, carrot and parsnip, with outstanding colour and texture, were a temptation in  themselves. The cod may well have been a good-looking dish but that didn't save it from the usual fate at the Farmgate, meaning not a scrap was left.

Not a scrap of room either for dessert but time and inclination for a cup of excellent coffee and a relaxing few minutes before heading downstairs to On the Pig’s Back  to buy some St Tola for the evening’s Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot Salad from Karen Austin’s recipe in her recently published Lettercollum Cookbook. All local, fresh and fair. All top class.

The Farmgate in Midleton, the big sister restaurant, was founded by Kay’s sister Margot in 1984.

The Farmgate Cafe, English Market, Cork.
021) 427 8134
Open: 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Sundays.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Amuse Bouche

When le dessert finally arrives, it looks like an innocent upsidedown chocolate cupcake, accompanied by a small cloud of freshly whipped cream. But when my spoon breaks the surface, the chocolate centre flows like dark lava onto the whiteness of the plate. The last ounce of stress strains from my body. I feel my spine soften in the chair. The menu says Moelleux au Chocolat “Kitu.”
“‘Kitu’ is a pun,” says Gwendal, with his best Humphrey Bogart squint. “It means ‘which kills.’”
I have discovered the French version of “Death by Chocolate”.

from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Super Steak at Electric Supper Club

Electric Supper Club
It is a high table with high backless stools. It can accommodate eight, more. Take a seat, lean in and chat. This table is made for conviviality. For drinking. For eating. And there are a bunch of these tables in the bar at Electric, all eminently suitable for their newly introduced Supper Club, three excellent courses for just twenty euro.

Wednesdays and Thursdays are try-out days at present and once Christmas is over, expect to see the Club operate every night. Eight of us gathered there last Wednesday to try it out. And each and every one enjoyed the get together, the chat, the drink and above all the food.

Electric is self-billed as the Theatre of Life, a billing well justified. This theatre has three stages, the bar, the restaurant and the fish-bar. Like any theatre, the sets change. And so it it is here on the Mall. More renovations are imminent and that lovely room that houses the Fish Bar will become even more important in the Electric Show. No lack of imagination from the directors here!

So okay, back to Wednesday night and our three acts. Starter was a Mixed Leaf Salad with Butternut Squash, Blue Cheese and House dressing. There are no choices here so how would the blue Cheese go down? Very well indeed at our table and the staff tell me that this is the constant reply. Just one little variation to the starter. In order to add a little crunch, it now includes some sliced almonds.

For now the main course is Chargrilled 8 ounce Irish feather blade steak, twice cooked Chips, Asian Slaw, and Electric Steak Sauce.  This is quite outstanding. The steak, marinated in cider, is incredibly tender (no bother to older teeth!), unbelievably flavoursome. The Slaw provides a healthy crunch, the chips an irresistible if less healthy munch. And that steak sauce is superb. I think they should start selling it on the street, at the markets.

The Chocolate Mousse may not have quite received the unanimous approval of the other courses - some people just don't like chocolate - but, for me, it was a sweet finalé to a lovely meal. Most of our gang were on the gorgeous Montepulciano, the house red, but with a bar at hand, you have a huge choice of libations.

The Supper Club idea has been “borrowed” from Electric’s Dublin off-shoot, Sober Lane D4. Looks like a winner, no matter the location!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Organico Cooks the Books!

Organico Cooks the Books!

Frank Krawczyk has been in touch with an invitation:

Come and join us for a bite to eat and a glass of wine on "Good, Clean and Fair" Terre Mardre Day in the newly and beautifully extended Organico Cafe.

Date and time: 10th December from 5pm to 8pm.

A celebration of 3 great books and short talks by the authors: Giana Ferguson, Karen Austin and Sally McKenna.

A convivial, casual supper in Organico Cafe using inspiration from each book.

€20 members/€25 for non members, including a glass of Organic wine from Mary Pawle,
(Wine will also be available to purchase on the night, by the glass, bottle or even case for Christmas).

To avoid disappointment; advanced booking essential via email to organicobantry@gmail.com, or call Organico Cafe on 027 55905 

Payment on the night but no credit card facilities available.

Why not join us now at www.slowfoodireland.ie 

Membership only €12 for under 30's

Taste of the Week. Ballyhoura Mushrooms Cep Oil

Taste of the Week
Ballyhoura Mushrooms Cep Oil

Ballyhoura Mushrooms are by now fairly well known around the country. But did you know that Mark and Lucy also make some lovely Mushroom Speciality Foods, including a range of soups, marinated mushrooms, pate, pesto, porcini dust, oils, shiitake bacon and mushroom ketchup. Their Cep Oil is basically Extra Virgin Olive Oil infused with wild Irish Cep mushrooms and it is our Taste of the Week. Use it to provide a flavour uplift in pasta dishes, soups, dips or marinades. Wonderful with poached or fried eggs.  Get some at Mahon Point Farmers Market today or at other Midleton or the Coal Quay on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Silencio. Chile's Best Cabernet Sauvignon

Silencio. Chile's Best Cabernet Sauvignon
It could well be a Silencio Night in some Irish homes this Christmas. But not too many. Silencio is the new premium Cabernet Sauvignon from Cono Sur and only nine barrells were produced. It won’t be that easy to get your hands on one of the bottles and Irish distributors Findlaters are likely to be under pressure!

The new wine, and it is superb, was launched at an lunch in Dublin on Monday. Cono Sur MD and winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was at the Trinity City Hotel, joined by some of the crew from the Paris Bloggers Final, including yours truly. Great to meet some of the other Irish contestants, Jeni Pim and Melanie May.

Adolfo was delighted that Chile has just reached the Number One country position in Ireland. “Ireland is important to us. We are one of the leaders of organic wine production and the biggest producer of Pinot Noir in the world.”

They certainly make some gorgeous Pinot Noir, including the iconic Ocio, and this 2010 Silencio is fast heading in that lofty direction. “It spent 26 months in new French oak barrels and a further two years aging in the bottle. It comes from the Alto Maipo area in the Maipo valley. This valley is a great area for Cabernet Sauvignon and the Alto is even better. We have deliberately chosen a less arrogant name as we let the wine do the speaking.”

It has already been declared by the top Chilean wine magazine as the “best Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile”. Matthieu Tiche, their Export Manager and one of the friends we made in Paris, is very excited about the aging potential of this wine. He sees it as having a potential of ten years and declared it  “a sleeping beauty!”.

“It has an intense ruby red colour and delicious aromas of red fruits, berries, and cassis, with well integrated oak. The palate has great balance and concentration with smooth seductive tannins and a long finish.”

Maybe you will be lucky enough to get a bottle or two of Silencio for Christmas. But, if not, Cono Sur has some other red gems in its portfolio. I have to admit that the Ocio Pinot Noir has captured my palate. If it must be Cabernet Sauvignon for you - the cook here, another veteran of the Bloggers Final, is a Cab Sauv fan -  then check out the 20 Barrels Limited Edition or maybe the Single Vineyard Block 18, both also from the Maipo.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch with Cono Sur and Findlaters at the Trinity City Hotel. The opening Classic Caesar Salad was matched with the Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (a beautiful aromatic wine from the Casablanca valley). The Silencio was paired with Roast Sirloin of Beef. The assiette of homemade desserts was accompanied by the Single Vineyard Riesling. The Riesling, with impressive freshness and minerality, comes from the Bio Bio valley which is at about the same latitude as the middle of New Zealand’s South Island.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Amuse Bouche

But now it’s all about ass. You got the last six of them and you’re pretty pleased with yourself about that. That fatty protuberance of rich skin, each one containing fatty nubbins of flavourful, buttery meat divided by a thin layer of cartilage - it’s the single best piece of meat and flesh on the chicken. And, of course, there’s only one of them per animal, so supply is limited. The man fighting a losing battle with verticality across from you…- he’s looking at your chicken asses and he’s angry. You don’t know what he is griping about to the chef - who’s heard it all before - but you suspect that he’s complaining that the lone gaijin in the room got the last piece of ass. You buy him a sake.

from Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain.

One Pot Wonders by Bee Sensations

One Pot Wonders by Bee Sensations 

A delicious new range, by Bee Sensations, all seasonally dressed-up, has appeared on the shelves. We've been sampling, working our way through jams such as Redcurrant and Raspberry Shocker, Fruits of Autumn and through sauces and chutneys like Honeyed Cranberry Sauce, Peri Peri Chilli Chutney, Gingery Ginger Preserve and Redcurrant Sauce.

Naturally enough their Irish Honey features in all the pots. Tom and Croein are Irish Bee Sensations. “We have loved our bees for over 30 years and during that time our friends have always had kind words about our honey and jam. We make our jams from honey not sugar which, we like to think, gives it something special. Our honey and jam making remained a passionate hobby until three years ago when Tom was made redundant and Croein encountered health problems. But as firm believers in the old adage that as 'one door closes another opens' we decided to turn our passion into a business.”

The honey is one of the ingredients in the Gingery Ginger Preserve. Ginger, Coconut Sugar and Treacle are also included in this versatile pot. There are no hints on the label but I'm thinking you could use it with curries and Asian cuisine generally, in soups, and with fish and chicken.

The Redcurrant Sauce - this is made with Burgundy wine - will be more familiar to most of us. Use it with duck breasts, perhaps with game such as venison, lamb, patés, meatballs. Quite versatile really.

Now what to do with the Peri Peri Chilli with Sweet Tomato Chutney? Well this should give added interest to Roast Chicken. Maybe with Lamb Ribs, Vegetable Lasagne,  sweet and sour dishes and so on. I think experiment is the key with this range.

There will be one definite use for the Honeyed Cranberry Sauce with Brady Walnuts and Spices. That will certainly end up on the Christmas dinner menu and even the jar has an appropriate “bonnet”. Looking forward to that!

No waiting though for the jams. I have already made pleasurable progress into the Redcurrant and Raspberry Shocker made with the fruits, Coconut Sugar, Lemons, Irish Honey and Spices. It has a beautiful inviting light red colour and is great blend of the contrasting fruits. Don't think it is going to last long.

Blending seems to be the secret of these jams and Croein is acknowledged as a master on the subject. She got it spot on again with the Fruits of Autumn, a One Pot Wonder of Raspberries, Blackcurrants, Blackberries, Strawberries, Coconut Sugar, Lemons and Honey. Blackcurrant is a prominent flavour but overall it is another gorgeous mix.

This is a brilliant range and hard to believe that this innovative company is just three years old
Do watch out for the One Pot Wonders at their usual stockists, including Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork.