Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amuse Bouche

This morning our gun dropped about 270 pounds of ICM (Improved Conventional Munition) on a smuggler’s checkpoint ten kliks south of us. We took out a group of insurgents and then went to the Fallujah chow hall for lunch. I got fish and lima beans. I try to eat healthy.
At the table all nine of are smiling and laughing……. Voorstadt’s got a big plate of ravioli and Pop-Tarts…. and says, “I can’t believe we finally had an arty mission.”
Sanchez says, “It’s about time we killed someone”, and Sergeant Deetz laughs. Even I chuckle, a little.

from Redeployment by Phil Klay.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mr Jeffares Talks Blackcurrants. And Des Walks The Walk!

Mr Jeffares Talks Blackcurrants.
And Des Walks The Walk!
The harvesting machine moves slowly through the rows, a crew of five in attendance. It towers above the plants. But it is a gentle giant.

We were in the blackcurrant fields of the Jeffares in County Wexford watching this amazing mechanical harvest, amazing to those of us who, many moons ago, picked the crop by hand, accompanied by mothers and siblings and neighbours. The younger kids often got the worst job, going through the bushes for the paltry remains after the main picks had been done a few days earlier.

Des Jeffares reckons the machine is kinder to the bushes than the humans! Of course, back then the bushes were separate entities with their own space, so the pickers could access the fruit from all sides. Nowadays they are planted in “drills”, the only space is between the drills, none between the mature plants. But when the machine is finished with a row, you notice hardly the difference between it and one that has yet to be harvested, expect of course the absence of fruit.

The big machine handles the plants very gently as it pushes through the row and picks, any leaves and debris gathered are directed off to the side and the fruit comes out the back where the crew watch it loading onto the boxes. Mechanised or not, it is still quite a slow process and they are lucky to get two to three acres picked in a good day.
Des Jeffares
Des has seen it all. The family have been growing blackcurrants here since 1955 but it is only now that they have taken full control of the process after the harvest. The first product was on show at Ballykelly Farm last Tuesday. And that Mr Jeffares Blackcurrant Cordial is fabulous.

I had tasted a couple of the currants in the field and the cordial is a true expression of the fruit, a great purple colour with fresh and vibrant flavours, a refreshing thirst quencher at any time. The fruit is respected and they do not add any artificial colour, flavour or preservative.

Cut it with water and it is fine, mix in some sparkling water and you'll have a thirst quencher supreme. But don't rush, at least not always. Sit back and enjoy it mixed with apple juice, perhaps something stronger such as gin or even stout. Check out all the amazing drinks on their website.

Many of the drinks were available in the marquee at Ballykelly and we were well fed too and blackcurrants featured there as well. It was added to a salad dressing, featured on some roasts, and was especially attractive in the desserts, just take a look at the pics! Amazing stuff! I’ve often said that producers should add recipes to their site and the Jeffares have done that and more. Please check it out and make the best possible use of their amazing product which is widely available at these stockists.

Des and Margaret Jeffares have put a lot of thought and work into this. In the same way that craft brewers are opening new doors to flavoursome drinks, so the Jeffares are at the cutting edge of what could be a new wave of Irish fruit based drinks. A fruit drink for adults, someone said. No denying that but the kids in the marquee were enjoying it too.

Let us get behind Ballykelly, and make it a success that can be emulated by others around the country. Make the best use of the fruits that grow here: apples, strawberries and blackberries to gooseberries, loganberries and raspberries.

It is not an easy route, patience and capital are required. You won't get a decent crop from your blackcurrant bushes until they are four years old and they'll have to be replaced every fifteen years (or earlier if disease strikes). Pruning is a major annual task. And then, like the wine and cider maker, you get just the one chance per annum to get it right.

But, it can be a very sustainable way of farming. Des: “We try and work as best we can with nature. We allow for the birds to take a share. Indeed, these sheltering trees around the fields help the birds and we also have many nesting boxes, 70 or 80 per cent used, placed around the farm. We also have some bird scarers in place!”

Big attendance
 He explained that they encourage the local hawk population, to keep a natural balance. And they also have hedgehog habitats scattered around the 100 acres farm. Lots of grass cover in the fruit fields and under it their biggest pest, the vine weevil, can flourish. But so too does a certain predatory beetle that feeds on the weevil. Birds and hedgehogs also fancy the weevil. Nature at work!


Not all the one hundred acres is under fruit. There has to be crop rotation and we saw quite a bit of barley. Des says that Mustard is a great crop to plant in the rotation and is very excited about it.

The Blackcurrant fruit is hard won. And immediately after the picking, the priority is to “ice it and juice it”. It takes three quarters of a kilo to produce your 50 cl bottle of cordial.

It all seemed worth it in the sunshine at Ballykelly this week. Great to see people from all over the country there to support the pioneering Jeffares on these early steps of the journey. Best of luck to Des and Margaret and all the family.


At the rear of the harvester.

Hyde No. 1 President's Whiskey. Reaches Maturity In The Mild West

Hyde No. 1 President's Whiskey
Reaches Maturity In The Mild West

“Casks have to be treated with care, almost like plants,” said Conor Hyde MD of Skibbereen based Hyde Whiskey.

The Hydes (Conor, his brother Alan and nephew Peter) have been getting used to handling used Oloroso casks over the past few years. “There is still some sherry inside when we get them. And then we have to water the empty casks every few days, so that they won't dry out and fall apart. You don't want that happening as they are expensive.”

And he told me that the casks can be dangerous too. You need to be careful extracting the bung, especially on hot days as it could shoot out and do damage! 

Their first whiskey, the double distilled President’s No. 1 Cask Single Malt, is based on a ten year old Cooney whiskey (aged in Bourbon casks), and is aged further by Hyde. “The ten year old is a very good base and our intervention improves it and gives it an extra twist”.
The Hydes had no previous whiskey experience when they formed the company three years back. Following a pattern of other start-up whiskey producers, they are buying in in the early days with the aim of establishing their own distillery in the near future.

In the meantime, they are concentrating on building a brand and reputation through adding their own touch. Plans at present include a Rum cask finished whiskey in September, a gin in January and a six year old Single Grain Whiskey is planned for 2016.

They have got off to a terrific start with the President’s, finished in the Oloroso casks in their facility in Skibbereen and distributed by Classic Drinks. “There has been a big thumbs-up from those who have tasted it over the last two months or so. We try to be innovative and we do not use chill filtering.”

He explained that chill filtering can degrade the whiskey. The barley has oils and these oils tend to be lost, to be taken out, by chill filtering. But that is not the case with Hyde and it is appreciated by the connoisseurs. ”You are tasting the true whiskey.”

The President's Men (l to r): Alan, Peter, Conor
Whiskey from the cask can be very strong in alcohol and to get it down to acceptable levels (46% in the case of the President’s) water is added. This is known as “cutting” and Hyde’s cut with West Cork spring water, “no messing, no additives”.


He is delighted with the way sales are going at the moment. “The Germans love it for a combination of factors, including the non-use of chill filtering. They are our best market.” The number of countries taking it is rapidly rising towards the twenty mark and includes New Zealand, USA, UK, Australia and Belgium.

It is available in quite a few places locally, including The Oliver Plunkett, Soho Bar and Bradley’s Off Licence. And Cork Airport spontaneously quadrupled the size of their initial order when placing the second. Quite a vote of confidence for the President’s.

So what is all the excitement about? Take a look at it in the glass and you’ll see some additional colour, from its extra time in the sherry casks. The aromas are complex, vanilla, some fruit, spice too. As you'd expect, after all the ageing, it is smooth and well rounded on the palate, creamy almost, the long finish rich and spicy. Overall, it compares very well indeed with other Premium Irish whiskeys. One of this limited edition of 5,000 bottles would sit very well in any Presidential drinks cabinet.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Taste of the Week. Focus on Fish

Taste of the Week
Focus on Fish


If you’re a regular here you’ll know that we usually have a Taste of the Week, just one at a time. But, shortly after the marvellous Seafest at Ringaskiddy, we are still on a fish trend and have quite a few tasty bits.


Let’s start with Kilmore Quay Seafood. They had a string of products at SeaFest including fish burgers, even fish sausages. The one that impressed us though was the pack of Haddock Goujons, Hand cut fresh fillets of Haddock tossed in breadcrumbs with a Lemon and Pepper seasoning. (Available Frozen and Chilled).
Quite often, when you buy goujons in a store or order them in a restaurant, you have more breadcrumbs than fish and sometimes have to poke around to find the flesh. Not the case here. The fish is almost bursting out of the crumb and very tasty fish it is too.
Catch 'em young, at Seafest!
We got Smoked Rainbow Trout and Barbecued Rainbow Trout from Goatsbridge Trout Farm. One of the advantages of visiting the Goatsbridge website is that you’ll find a load of recipes there. Mag and Ger Kirwan are the people behind the farm (which you can visit). And another handy product that you can keep in stock is their Tinned Trout. And there's much more, including the much sought after Trout Caviar!

Last but not least we can recommend the products of the renowned Woodcock Smokery in West Cork. “All of our products are from fresh, wild fish caught by sustainable methods. We use no artificial chemicals or dyes, only traditional smoking methods over native hardwoods.” Fish smoked by Sally Barnes and daughter Joleine include Haddock, Pollock, Mackerel (our purchase), Tuna, and Salmon. And the good news is that they run a Mail order service.

Monday, July 27, 2015

36 Hours in West Cork. Not that I was counting!

36 Hours in West Cork
Not that I was counting!


Baltimore sunset
I was thinking of Garrett Oliver, master brewer at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery, while I was eating lunch at Union Hall’s Coffee Shop last Thursday. Garrett related at the Ballymaloe LitFest how people, on first drinking one of his beers, tell him that it is so good it doesn't taste like beer. Garrett tells them, with some satisfaction, that what they have been drinking before is not real beer.

Well, here in Union Hall, our first call on our most recent trip to West Cork, I was eating real panini. I’m sure there are other good paninis out there but it is superb here, like nothing I've ever tasted before. It was packed with chicken, brie and pesto, all adding up to great flavours and terrific textures.
Panini
 The menu is short here as you'd expect but quality is high. And that is underlined with CL’s Quiche of Roast peppers, feta, Ballymaloe Relish. After that and a good cup of coffee we were on our way.


Having been in West Cork regularly, particularly this year, I were looking for one or two different things to see and do. West Cork obliged. Big time.


Graveyard on Myross Island
 After the Coffee Shop, we headed for Myross Island and found it. Drove up the narrow road to the graveyard which has terrific views over the Atlantic, including the nearby Rabbit Island. Next call was to Reen Pier where we ran into Jim Kennedy. He runs Atlantic Sea-kayaking and has his base here in this beautiful place.


We got some great views of it as we took the narrow road, rising up above the water, heading for a bridge that would take us to the other side and down to the peace and calm of Castletownsend with its distinguishing tree in the middle of the street, acting as a roundabout.
On the road above Reen Pier
 Baltimore was our destination for the night but there would be another stop or two on the way. First was the amazing Lough Hyne (the unusual seawater lough) and it was quite busy with many enjoying the sunshine, sitting around, swimming in the clear waters and others walking on the wooded hill above and getting fantastic views over the coast.


After all that activity, I felt we deserved a drink and knew just where to get it. On the way into Baltimore, we stopped at Casey’s Hotel. They have recently opened a microbrewery here and some of their Sherkin Lass Pale Ale went down a treat in the beautiful beer garden that overlooks the waters of Baltimore. They also do a red ale.


Rolling hills of West Cork
 Time then to check in at our accommodation. This was in Rolf’s. The Haffner family have been here for over twenty five years and their restaurant, where we enjoyed a terrific dinner at night, is well known. It is a great place to stay too, a fine and friendly base for the area.


In the morning, we were down on the pier, hoping to get a place on one of the boats going out to see the dolphins and, hopefully, a whale or two. But we had no luck. The lesson here is to book in advance.


Castletownsend
 So off we went to the Sheep's Head peninsula and stopped at the car park high in Seefin. We were almost sun-burned here a few months earlier but this day turned cloudy for a while and a strong wind greeted us as we climbed along the marked trail on top of the ridge. We got as far as the megalithic tomb before deciding to turn back. Not the best of days up there but still well worth the effort.


Down then to Old Creamery Cafe in Kilcrohane. This is a spanking clean spot with a menu of sandwiches, paninis, and salads and some home baking. We went for tea and some of that baking. I picked a Raspberry and Lemon Curd Sponge and those raspberries, fresh from the garden, were spectacularly juicy.


Courtyard garden at Rolf's
Refreshed now, we drove up the other side of this spectacular peninsula, heading for Durrus. Our stop though was at Ahakista to pay our respects to the three hundred plus victims of the Air India bombing disaster twenty years ago. Quite a few mementos, mainly wreaths, scattered here since the commemoration last June. Such a waste of life, such sadness.
Megalithic tomb on Sheep's Head
The sun was out as we headed over to Schull to see Walter Ryan-Purcell of Loughbeg Farm (now an open farm that you may visit). Walter, his wife and son, were up in Schull and we met them outside the Bunratty Inn, a gorgeous sun trap! Walter is well known in food circles and great to see the success Loughbeg is enjoying with their Oat Loaf. Look out for it in your local SuperValu.

Sweet! Old Creamery Cafe
 Down then to the pier and we were tempted by the fish dishes on offer at L’Escale but had a date in Rosscarbery and, after a walk on the path alongside the harbour in Schull, we headed for Pilgrim’s in Ross. Hadn't been there before, but is is easy to find as it is right smack bang in the centre of the village.

Ahakista's Air India memorial
 We were pleasantly surprised by the very high standard of the food here, a standard that many high class restaurants would find hard to match. We thoroughly enjoyed our few hours in Pilgrim’s before motoring back to the city.

Schull

Put Pilgrim’s On Your Camino.

Put Pilgrim’s On Your Camino

Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair
Ham Hock
Put Pilgrim’s on your camino this year. Forget the sackcloth and ashes. Maybe wear some flowers in your hair - there are gentle people there. You’re heading to the new Rosscarbery venue for a feast of the highest quality where you’ll be received with a calming courtesy.

The menu, from the local fields, nearby seas and wild places, changes from season to season, from day to day even. You won't have the biggest choices but quality shines through even if sometimes the sun doesn't.

You enter a door, surrounded by plants and flowers, and cross those big black slabs to your table - reservations advised. The menu is on just one sheet - see all the local suppliers on the rear, including the local Fish Deli, Tim Yorke from Lisheen, West Cork free range eggs, Hegarty's Cheese, Liam Ryan’s pork and more.
Macroom Mozzarella
Small bowls of olives and nuts (with chilli) are emptied as you study the list, including a section called Nibbles, small plates to share. At the weekend we choose the Tatsuta age (sweet chicken) with Chilli Mayo. Hadn't come across this before but it is a close cousin to the commonly known Japanese fried chicken. The chicken is marinated before being dusted in a coat of katakuriko and fried in hot oil. It was absolutely delicious, the chicken so moist behind the crispy coating.

Now, we were on to the real starters. Mine was the Ham Hock, served with tomato, egg, sauerkraut, mustard butter and fried crumbs. Delightful to look at and a delight to eat, an amazing combination of flavour and textures, that free range egg, that silky butter and those crispy crumbs and, of course, the ham itself.

Meanwhile, across the table, CL was trying out the new Macroom mozarella (by farmer Johnny Lynch and renowned cheesemaker Sean Ferry). It was all oohs and aahs as she tucked into the superb cheese served with Tomatoes, Broad Beans, Basil, Kale crisps, citrus.

There are just a few starters to choose from and it is the same with the main courses. By now,

you sense that all will be excellent; you feel comfortable here, assured of the quality after your early nibbles and starter.

Brill with Samphire, peas, new potatoes, saffron pistachio butter is a stunning combination and CL is thrilled with it, especially since they served it off the bone! It is cooked on the bone of course. A popular dish here (not always with the same accompaniments) and a highly recommended one.


With a glass of the excellent Karwig's Caldora Sangiovese Merlot in hand (they also sell wines by the half glass), I picked the Pressed Lamb Shoulder, courgette, kale, broad beans, mint yogurt, tomato jam. The lamb is supplied by Sean Dennehy of Shandangin and again the combination is a cracking one, the mint yogurt giving a lovely lift to the meat.


Lamb
Having come so far on this camino of cuisine, we were not for turning. Desserts were ordered. We didn't order from the pudding section, nor did we go for the Hegartys and Crozier blue (much as we love them!), but instead opted for two from the Ices Section.

Gin, the drink of the moment, featured in CL’s - I was allowed a sample and a sip of the Fentiman’s Tonic Sorbet, Lemon Confit and Cork Dry Gin. Excellent stuff. Of course there was a swap involved and I handed over a little of my Meadowsweet ice cream served with Flax Caramel Shard. Two appropriate desserts to chill down at the end of a lovely meal as the pilgrims’ progress came to an end.

Very Highly Recommended.
Pilgrim’s
South Square, Rosscarbery, County Cork
(023) 883 1796
contact.pilgrims@gmail.com (not for reservations)
Open Wednesday - Saturday 6-10pm Sunday 1-4pm

Desserts

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Amuse Bouche

“Jefferson’s an American saint, because he wrote the words all men are created equal - words he clearly didn’t believe, because he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He was a rich wine snob who was sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So yeah, he wrote some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went out and died for those words, while he sat back, and drank his wine, and f****d his slave girl.”

from The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs by Greil Marcus

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Atrium is the Plaza to be. Tapas in the Clarion

The Atrium is the Plaza to be

Tapas in the Clarion
Enjoying the Tapas with Alice (@fabfoodcork)
The well known Atrium in the Clarion is transformed into a Spanish Plaza. Spanish chef Maria is dishing up the Tapas of her homeland here every Tuesday to Friday (5.30pm to 8.00pm). And it is not just the food that shouts Viva Espana. A new range of Spanish wines, accompanies the tapas and intensifies that relaxing feeling of being on holiday right in the middle of the city. And, if the sun isn't shining, even if it is, take a look at the colourful new seating before you sink in.

I was in for the “official launch” last week and enjoyed the food, the wine and the company. And isn't that what Tapas are all about. There is quite a selection each evening and all are reasonably priced.

You may have Patatas Bravas (a standard in all Tapas menus in this part of the world) with a spicy Tomato Salsa. Simple but always a welcome dish. My favourite was another fairly common one: the Roasted Red Pepper and Confit Potato Frittata, full of real flavour, simply and honestly prepared.

Another that made my taste buds stand to attention was the Salted Cod Croquettes with a Lemon Aioli, sharp and satisfying. Other favourites at the table included Arancini (delicious crispy fried risotto balls), Mehico Meat Balls with a smoky Tomato Sauce, and Chorizo and Roast Squash salad with sun-dried Tomato.
Adrian introduced the new range of wines to accompany the Tapas. They are supplied by Findlaters and are a good match. All are available by the glass, of course, with prices ranging from €6.50 to €9.25.

In the reds, the general favourite at our table (I didn't take a vote) seemed to be Marques de Riscal Ardo Rioja, with all the flavours and aromas typical of the region. I took a punt on the Torres Atrium Merlot - I liked the name, for a start. By the end, I loved the wine, smooth and rich and a great drop, especially with the Tapas. Other reds were Torres Mas Rabell and Innurrita Norte.

I didn't get as much feedback on the whites but I do know and like the Riscal Rueda. This Verdejo is very versatile and obviously a good choice for Tapas. The Innurrita Sauvignon Blanc from Navara also came in for praise. The others, and I’m sure they were all fine, were Torres Mas Rabell and the Olvena Chardonnay.

It turned to be a very enjoyable evening and a big thanks you to Sonia and Donna and the staff of the Atrium, the inner courtyard of the Clarion (celebrating ten years in business), for looking after us so well. See you soon!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Teeling Single Malt. Dare to be different!

Teeling Single Malt
Dare to be different!
Teeling Whiskey Single Malt 46%

Teeling Whiskey, The Spirit of Dublin, say they “dare to be different”. And yet the first words that came to my mind when first tasting their Single Malt are “This is Whiskey!”.

The words are, of course, a compliment. For this smooth and beautifully crafted spirit is not just of Dublin but of Ireland, the character of hand selected casks bottled just for you. And me! And no doubt this flavoursome Irish spirit is a distinctive gem that will travel well and far.

There is a leather feel to the label but read it as well as feel it and you’ll see that the tradition and experience of the Teelings, which, at least in recent centuries, mirrors the Irish whiskey story (should that be stor-ey?) where quality is the consequence of skill and time and not just the rushed result of some accountant’s bottom line.

It is made from 100% Malted Barley and consists of a “vatting of five different wine casks (Sherry, Port Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon). It is bottled at 46% ABV with no chill filtration, allowing for all the natural flavours… to be retained.” No argument. Take just one sip and slip into agreement!

The nose is vibrant and inviting. The palate is an agreeable melange of fruit flavours and spices and the long finalé offers sweet harmony and a dry denouement as you deliciously slip from paradise promised to the realisation of whiskey heaven. The Spirit of Dublin indeed!

I've been talking this up to virtually everyone I meet. Someone asked: What would you match it with? I said, thinking of cool, Miles Davis.

Perhaps not my best one-liner. That, IMHO, came after a nosy tea-lady badgered two males (including me) as to who was wearing the expensive aftershave in the office. My buddy cracked under her persistence. “Which one?” she asked. “Joop” was the reply. She turned the heat to me. “Couldn't afford that,” I said. She kept at it, so I admitted to using a cheap copy. “What’s it called?”. “Duplicate,” I said.

Teeling Whiskey is fairly widely available, including at airports. Bradley's of Cork are selling it while Dublin's Celtic Whiskey Shop also have it.
See also: Teeling Whiskey Distillery Visit

Taste of the Week. Mr Tyner’s Patés

Taste of the Week
Mr Tyner’s Patés


Think I may have mentioned (more than once!) the marvellous patés that Barrie Tyner sells at his market stall, especially that palate pleasing one made with Hennessy and Garlic.

That was my first thought as we approached Barry at Mahon Farmers Market (he also operates in Midleton on Saturdays). But, as usual, Barry was dishing out generous samples. The Cognac one was again a delight but then so too was the Caramelized Onion and Mustard Seed offering.

I bought the latter and it is our Taste of the Week. Rich and creamy and just irresistible, a delight at lunch or as a pre-dinner treat. Very Highly Recommended and well worth checking out.