Monday, September 15, 2014

Flight of the Bee Sensations

Flight to the Top for Bee Sensations
Irish Quality Food Awards 2014.

Great to be at the table with Bee Sensations last Friday evening when one of their lovely jams won at the Irish Quality Food Awards 2014. On the Pig’s Back and Burren Salmon were also among the victors on a night which is mainly for the supermarkets and the larger producers (such as Dale Farm Dairies, ABP Cahir, Kepak, and O’Brien Fine Foods who were all on the podium).

Munster based Bee Sensations are a husband and wife company, run by Tom and Croéin Ruttle. They are quite famous for their innovative (often blended) jams, which use honey instead of sugar, and of course for their honey. As it happened it was one of their jams, the Honeyed Fig, Rhubarb and Chilli Savoury Jam, that struck gold in the Grocery Ambient - Savoury class.

But there was a moment of unnecessary drama before the win was confirmed as apparently the wrong class was called out first. Still, the busy couple were soon able to relax as their name appeared on screen. It was about the only obvious hitch in a very slick presentation, introduced by Paul Kennedy and compered by celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio (“a farmer’s daughter”).

Birgitta Curtin is one of the heroes of Irish food and she keeps innovating and winning. Her success came  in the Fish section where her Burren Smoked Irish Organic Salmon with Seaweed Marinade came out on top. This came in for high praise from the judges: “really fantastic in terms of colour, texture and flavour”. Like Bee Sensations (and unlike most of the other producers), she didn't have a supermarket partner listed.
Olivia, of An Olivia Chocolate, and, sister Emily (left)
But Cobh’s Deirdre Hilliard and her company Just Food weren't as  fortunate in the Soups section. Her HiLo Super Greens Soup was behind a Lidl Ireland soup, Newgate Tomato Soup by Princes (the international food and drink company).

The cross-border event is labelled Irish Quality Food Awards not Quality Irish Food Awards. There is a difference as we all know from small print on food packaging! Honey is one often quoted example.

Cork’s Isabelle Sheridan of On the Pig's Back certainly enjoyed her trip to the Mansion House as she was named the Supervalu Small Producer of the Year.  Based on her French family recipes, Isabelle has been making chicken liver patés and terrines in Cork since 1995. Her Chicken Liver Paté with Garlic and Brandy is the product that led to this breakthrough and the organisers say they are sure “it will be a fantastic addition to Supervalu’s product line and look forward to working with On the Pig’s Back”. Well done Isabelle.

The awards are open to all retailers, food producers, wholesalers and food service operators “across Northern and Southern Ireland” (someone should tell the PR it is the Republic of Ireland!). Awards were presented in some fifty categories and the Overall Gold Q Award went to Simply Better French Trimmed Connemara Hill Rack of Lamb (Dunnes Stores/Tendermeats).
Yours truly with Isabelle Sheridan (On The Pig's Back)
See the full list of awards here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amuse Bouche

“It’s true, when you think about it,” Colette said with a giggle. “There are frogs everywhere in the world but only the French eat them. Why is that so?”
“The French are the only ones who’ve found out how to eat them,” Luc Giraud said. “Another example of French in-ge-nu-it-y.”
“As far as food is concerned, the French are the champions of ingenuity!” Madame Valette laughed.

from On Leave by Daniel Anselme

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Huguenot Bistro. Le Retour de Fred

Huguenot Bistro
Le Retour de Fred
Stuffed Chavignol Goats Cheese

Fred is back in town. Frederic Desourmeaux, the big French chef with the magic touch in the kitchen, is back in town and heading up Brendan Cashman’s impressive team in Huguenot, the new French Bistro and Wine Bar in Carey’s Lane. The venture marks a return too for Brendan to the city centre where he previously enjoyed enormous success with Augustine's.

And it is a French bistro. Make no mistake about that. Lots of produce being sourced from the Cork area but the dishes are unmistakably Gallic. Classics such as French Onion Soup, Coq au Vin and Tarte au Citron (all keenly priced) stand out in the menu as do French cheeses and French wines.

For me, it’s like strolling down town and going on holidays. Even the menu is in French. But worry not! It is also in English and there are some daecent Cork accents in among the European. It is a lovely restaurant, spread over four floors. Downstairs you have reception and a place to enjoy a wine or a coffee and the next two floors is where you'll dine in space and comfort.
Grilled Morteau sausage
We settled in in midweek and took our time with that new menu, nibbling on some fresh French bread and sipping some Bordeaux (Chateau Gait Garriga Semillon and the Chateau Ste Marie Merlot/Cab Franc).

Settled on Stuffed Chavignol Goats Cheese on toasted brioche, beetroot, herb salad and pesto and the Grilled Morteau sausage, warm Puy lentils salad, parsley shallots vinaigrette. The Cheese looked amazing and both tasted delicious. We were winning.

And the meal continued on a high note. My mains was the perfectly cooked Pan Fried fillet of Hake, Ragout of squid, chorizo and roast pepper, garlic Aioli and pesto. Small things can make a big difference in restaurant meals; at the very least they are an indicator of quality. And the small things here, the chorizo for instance and also the exquisite mashed potato that accompanied the mains, made a difference and underlined the quality of the kitchen.

CL had chosen the Braised Beef Cheeks (above), glazed baby vegetables, mousseline potatoes, and smoked bacon crisps. A superb offering, all done to a “t” including those baby vegetables. The beef itself - I had a few mouthfuls, there was no shortage - was magnificent, melt in the mouth stuff.

Took my time choosing dessert. Was tempted by the Cafe Gourmand but narrowed it down to a final two: the Forest Fruit Clafoutis and the Lemon Tart. Finally took the Tarte au Citron and its Raspberry Coulis. More culinary magic from M. Fred! Will just have to go through everything on that dessert menu.

Indeed, a quick return to Huguenot is on the cards. Very Highly Recommended!

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Organic Relaxing Tea
I got mine at Schull Farmers Market.
Also available online - see website below.

A relaxing cup of tea. How often have you heard that said. And much truth in too, particularly if you sup in good company.

How about a relaxing cup of Relaxing Tea? No kidding. I have here in my hand a pack of Organic Relaxing Tea from the Peppermint Farm and Garden in West Cork.

Lots of teas around this house, I can tell you, And it took a while to get around to this one. Not sure that it is more relaxing than some of the others but it does slow things down - after all, brewing time alone is ten minutes! Must say though that it is very enjoyable and that is a big step on the way to relaxation.

The ingredients are basil, chamomile and peppermint and I like the line on the pack: “if you are strained this tea will help you relax”. Humour too in the names of some of the many other teas available from the farm, e.g. Splendid Women's Tea, Kicked Back Evening Tea, Cupid’s Delight Tea (I wonder what’s in that one!) and Banish Exhaustion Tea.

Peppermint Farm is run by Doris and Achim Hoffmann. They do much more than blend and sell teas and you may read all about them here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Camus Farm and its Delicious Dexter Beef

Camus Farm and its Delicious Dexter Beef
Dexter rump steak

The Natural Way
In a small family farm in West Cork, the cattle remain in their family herd. They are not subjected to the stresses of dehorning or castration. They reproduce as nature intended.

The calves remain suckling their mother's milk until fully weaned. In contrast, intensively farmed calves are removed from their mothers and fed on ‘milk replacement’. The West Cork herd is raised organically and there is no risk from the uncertain effects of GM feeds and residues from pesticides and so on.

Even if there was no difference in the taste of the beef, I know I'd be picking from the West Cork farm. It is called Camus Farm and here Vic raises his herd of Dexter cattle, Ireland's native beef breed.

And there is a difference in the flavours and the Dexter comes out on top. Over the weekend we sampled both rump steak and stewing steak from the herd and they were superb. Vic dry ages his beef. In contrast, industrial beef is either not aged or wet-aged. You can check out all the details here.

Vic kills once a month and fresh meat will be available again in Clonakilty Farmers market on the weekend after next. In the meantime, you may buy it frozen (as we did) at his stall in Clon and at the farm-gate. You may also order via the Fresh from West Cork stall in the English Market. Well worth a try!

Interested in raising Dexters? Then Vic's your man, as he also sells cattle. Dexters may be relatively scare in Ireland but they can be found all over the world. The latest we heard is of a herd in the South African vineyard called the Elgin Ridge Winery. It is an organic operation and interestingly Dexter cattle help keep the vineyard clean! Owner Marian Smith grew up in Ballyjamesduff.

Facebook. /dexterbeef
Twitter. @irishdexterbeef
Tel: 023 886 9268

Our call to Vic at the Clonakilty Market was part of a quick trip west to sample the week long festival  called A Taste of West Cork. Read here about a fantastic multi-course meal featuring seaweed and here about a very enjoyable twenty fours that also included a tour of the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Great West Cork Distillery Tour. Beautiful Baltimore

Great West Cork Distillery Tour

Beautiful Baltimore. Bountiful Clonakilty. 

A terrific tour of the West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen was the highlight of the first part of our twenty four hours in West Cork. A twenty four hours that had some changes to the “plan”, a rather loose one admittedly.

First hiccup, if you could call it that, came on the way down when a phone call to Baltimore revealed that the two o’clock trip on the SeaSafari was off as the craft was out of the water for the afternoon and being cleaned up.

So then the Distillery tour, one o’clock start, was pencilled in. Got into Skibbereen in good time and called to a busy Apple Betty’s. Ordered a panini. That was a little slow in coming but it was gorgeous, a terrific filling of bacon, Cashel blue and a fantastic relish. Rushed it a bit and hot footed down the street to the Distillery.

John O'Connell (foreground) in the Distillery
Things didn't look good here as people were coming away rather than going in! Apparently, the Distillery weren't very happy with the time published in the "Taste of West Cork" brochure. Director John O’Connell explained they couldn't do the tour at one but would have “a good one” at three.

It worked out well, at least for us. We headed off in the sun (the weather forecast was not exactly spot-on either) to Baltimore, packed with people who seemed to know more than the forecasters. So packed, we didn't find a space in the car parks.

Off out the road we went to the Beacon and enjoyed marvellous views both on the way and during our walk up to the Baltimore landmark. Great views over the islands, Sherkin the nearest, and back to the little town. Later, we had a pause and a walk by the harbour. Hiccups yes but this day was going very well indeed.
The Beacon
So well, we nearly missed the tour or so we thought. But there was no rush as dozens and dozens of people arrived, the big numbers a surprise to John and his friendly staff. Still we were all settled, with a glass of their Drombeg, perhaps their most famous whiskey so far, and a good one too for this time of day as it is just twenty per cent abv.

John then took us on a walkabout of the distillery where the staff were still working. He took us through the process, from the malted barley coming in, and along the journey to the casks (they use sherry casks) and the bottling at the end.

Great informative stuff and more whiskey before we left, with tastings of their West Cork whiskey, the normal and the cask (57% abv!). If you like your whiskeys flavoured then Kennedy’s is the one for you. You may have it Spiced, Honied, Limed and Chillied! They also do a gin, poitin and a vodka here, under the Two Trees brand. And that’s not all.

The ferry, from Sherkin, just arrived in Baltimore
But that was it for us and we headed through the town and off to the Inchydoney Island for that evening’s magnificent nine course dinner “A Taste of West Cork”, all part of the week long food festival in the area. Read all about it here.

And there was yet more whiskey on arrival as we were pleasantly surprised with a glass of the lovely Irish Mist. Time then for a walk on the fantastic beaches here.

The Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa is a four star hotel on the Wild Atlantic Way but I must say that the facilties and service that we enjoyed there were closer to five star. Great place with great staff. The only hiccup perhaps was a delay at breakfast but I think that was down to the many customers that all came together at about ten o’clock on the Saturday. Hard to legislate for that!

At Apple Betty's
They support local produce here obviously and I enjoyed my Scrambled Egg and Ummera Smoked Salmon before we headed off to Clonakilty in the morning mist. It had dried up by the time we arrived and we wandered through the streets looking for the Lettercollum Project shop.

We found it and it was busy, selling salads, tarts, cheese, wine, nuts, seeds, breads and so much more, much of it based on produce from their walled garden in nearby Lettercollum. We went off with enough salad (mixed beans) and bread for two delicious lunches over the weekend.

And we also found Vic and his organic Dexter beef in the market. The main market is on Friday but you’ll find some stalls operating on Thursday and Saturday. I’ll soon have a separate post up about Vic and his tasty beef but for the latest check out his Facebook page

Our twenty fours in West Cork were up and it was time to head back to the city. But we’ll return. Again and again!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Seaweed Featured in Multi-course Taste of West Cork

Seaweed Featured in Multi-course Taste of West Cork
Inchydoney Chef and team in top form

 Meet Jim and Maria Kennedy from the Intertidal Zone. “We spend most of our time there,” said Jim as they introduced us to the Magic of Seaweed at the start of the third annual A Taste of West Cork meal in the Inchydoney Island last Friday.

Jim and Maria had quite a few samples of the various seaweeds available (to taste, to touch) and spoke in detail of their different properties. “Seaweed is a super food….from a garden that doesn’t need to be weeded… dulse and carrigeen have traditionally been used in the Irish kitchen...Seaweed is also an amazing detox ingredient….makes a nourishing top dressing for your garden plants.”  And so much more.

West Cork garlic, organic Rosscarbery leeks, Clonakilty potato, and hand foraged Sea Vegetable Soup,
with a seaweed scone, tomato jam and roasted garlic cream cheese.
Jim advised to “look at the Spring tides when the better seaweeds are exposed”. “But,” he added, “If doing it yourself, be careful.” Read more about seaweed here.

Jim and Maria, who run Atlantic Sea Kayaking, are from Skibbereen but you could come across them almost anywhere, from the Liffey to Mexico, from Spain to Japan.

Rabbit and Harrington's black pudding, Shannonvale Chicken lollipop.
Friday evening though was firmly rooted in West Cork and Inchydoney Head Chef Adam Metcalf had the major task of blending all the marvelous products of the area, from its bountiful and beautiful land and sea, into a multi course meal as the week long festival, also named A Taste of West Cork, got underway. Surprisingly, there were no local beers, ciders or spirits included. Maybe next year?

Adrian, the local representative of Findlaters, took us through the various wines that had been picked to accompany the meal. We were greeted with a glass of Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava and that went very well indeed with the Seaweed Sushi (including an amazing toasted Nori) that came with Ummera Smoked Salmon and also the Smoked Shannonvale chicken with Pickled Ginger and Sea Kale.

Castletownbere Monkfish, wrapped in Gubbeen cured ham
with Carrageen Moss and caramelised Shallot Potato Puree.
Some gorgeous breads on the table as we sat down including a Dulse Seaweed, Marsh Samphire and Atlantic Sea Salt Loaf. And Sea Lettuce featured in the Bantry Bay Lobster Course as did a spiced Bluefin Tuna.

Next up was a hand foraged Sea Vegetable soup with a seaweed scone! Rabbit was stuffed with local black pudding and also accompanied by a Shannonvale Chicken Lollipop.

Elderflower Parfait
All the while, the wines were being poured and the next course, the Castletownbere Monkfish (caught by the Fair Maiden), was accompanied by an intense Albarino. The fish was wrapped in that terrific Gubbeen Cured Ham and there was some discussion as to whether the salt of the ham did the fish any favours. Someone suggested that a pancetta wrap would have been better. Someone else said the fish didn’t need a wrap at all!

Then on to the sweet things, an Elderflower Parfait (foraged elderflower, Valley View egg and Clona Dairy Parfait) with a hand picked Wild Damson Compote and a Bushy Strawberry Sauce. Delightful.

The finale.
To finish, there was a choice of Barry’s Tea or Java Coffee with Inchydoney Recipe Chocolate flavoured with seaweed, some oak smoked Gubbeen cheese along with the hotel’s own Plum and Sultana Chutney on an impressive Patisserie Royale Cracker, handmade in nearby Lisavaird by Richard Graham Leigh.

That last course was accompanied by a glass of Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port. The earlier wines were Vicar’s Choice Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (quite a favourite at our table), Pionero Mundi Albarino, and Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz (70%) Cabernet.

Findlater's Albarino

So well done to the many West Cork producers chosen this year and a big congrats too to Chef Adam and his crew who did the hotel proud.  I spoke to one guest who has been at all three events. He reckoned the first was a bit over the top (quite large portions all the way through), the second was underwhelming (probably in reaction to year one), but “this time they got it right”!  And so say all of us.
See account of the full day in West Cork, including Distillery visit, here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Amuse Bouche

In the kitchen, she began to prepare coffee the local way. First, she roasted the green coffee beans in a frying pan on the stove…..
Aatifa placed the roasted coffee beans in a bowl. Then she knelt on the floor and furiously ground them down with a thick wooden stick until they had become as fine a powder as she could manage. …. Then she poured the ground coffee into a long-necked clay pot, filled it with water and sat it on the stove to boil. She expected the Italian would come down soon, once the aroma reached his room.

from The Good Italian by Stephen Burke.