Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Special Night for a Special Cause

Announcing details of this years Threshold Valentine's Night Dinner were (l to r) Edel Conlon Threshold, Chef Brendan Cashman and Rebecca Harte Farmgate Cafe

A Special Night for a Special Cause

Threshold's Valentine's night dinner is a special night, on a special day, in a special place, brought to you by a wonderfully passionate culinary team... Oh and if that's not enough, it's in aid of a very important Charity.

The event is held each year in the Farmgate Cafe located in the historical English Market in Cork City. The evening captures all the atmosphere the English Market has to offer (remember that atmosphere includes the need for warm clothes!) and when coupled with the wonderful team at the Farmgate Cafe the evening becomes truly memorable. For those who attend they get to experience the Market at night time, something that does not happens very often and is a rare treat.

This year will be even more exciting, the Farmgate Cafe have invited multi award winning chef and restaurateur Brendan Cashman to create the menu in collaboration with the team in the Farmgate kitchen. Brendan is best known for the wonderful food he created in Augustine’s Restaurant and will be creating a menu especially for the night. We feel that an already unique evening will be made even more special with this exciting collaboration.

The dinner is in aid of local charity Threshold, the national housing charity which works to prevent homelessness and campaigns for housing as a right. (

The evening is supported by Cork City Council and of course the very generous support and hard work from the Farmgate Cafe team. We are very grateful to Irish Distillers who have supported the event for a number of years, as have a number of food producers in the English Market itself and others selected from Cork's rich array of food producers.

Couples, groups and singles celebrate the night together without the "soft focus haze" that is typically associated with Valentine's night in a unique and special place.

Call Threshold for tickets and more information: (021) 427 88 48

Venue: The English Market (entrance via Market Parade on Patrick's Street)

Time: 7pm

Date: Valentine's Night Thursday 14th February

Tickets: €60 (Tickets are limited so make sure you get your tickets early!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chocolate and Cheese Mix from St Tola

Spring In St Tola Air

Spring is in the air at St Tola Goats farm as they see their in-house winter experiments take exciting shape.

The County Clare farm has teamed up with Benoit Lorge, the renowned chocolate master in Kenmare, to create some truly beautiful Cheeserts ....Fresh St Tola Goats Cheese, dipped in the finest dark chocolate and beautifully finished with hazelnuts. They make an elegant and unusual finish to a romantic meal or a great talking point for an Easter Lunch.

Grainne Casey, Sales and Marketing at St Tola told me. “We are aware that the teaming of soft goats’ cheese and chocolate is a somewhat controversial mix.” She needn’t have worried.  Just tasted a sample myself and am delighted with it.

I love St Tola in any case and the outstanding feature of the cheese is its creaminess and that still stands out but now in addition you’ve got this smashing chocolate and the whole experience is one of a delicious balance between the sweetness of the chocolate and the sharpness of the cheese. Next time, especially if romance is in the air, I might get myself a wine to go with the Cheesert, thinking of something like Beaumes de Venise or a Tokaji but open to suggestions.

And speaking of romance, St Tola are going to make a plain heart shaped crottin especially for St Valentine’s Day. The Cheeserts will be launched next week at the Food Forum in Galway and will be available shortly from all good delis nationwide including Fallon and Byrne and Sheridans Cheesemongers.

Further details from Grainne at

See my October visit to St Tola here

Buy local, fresh and fair!

Sometimes a mission. Sometimes messing about.

Stumbling out of the early morning and into a confusion of stalls and marvellous food. That was me at Mahon Point Farmers Market  last Thursday, sans list, sans plan.

Lucky then that I stumbled on a new product by Iain Flynn of Flynn’s Kitchen.  Spotted a colourful jar in the corner where he normally displays his soups. The label: Chorizo and Beans. “Great, I’ll have a pair of those,” I said to the modest maestro Iain.

Put the glasses on when I came home and realised it wasn't soup at all, but another four letter word: stew! A challenge, but no panic. Paired it up with a bunch of Sally Bee’s meatballs and, bingo, we had a fantastic jackpot of lively tastes and flavours that, matched with a superb wine from La Rioja Alta, the Vino Arana Reserva 2004, went down brilliantly.

Like a good wine, Mahon is well balanced. May I present Barrie Tyner, a talkative and very engaging fellow. Can’t ever leave his little stall without feeling guilty as he hands out generous samples of fantastic chicken liver pâtés, a second shoved into your hand before you have delivered the first to your mouth.

And the pâtés represent the cooperation that exists and is growing among local producers – the livers come from Tom Clancy (Ballycotton Poultry)  who also has a stall in Mahon. Sometimes their rich and delicious "smoothiness" enhanced by a dash (Barrie’s dash could well be twice that of others) of cognac, sometimes by a more modest caramelised onion, the livers are transformed into something wonderful.

Perfect when simply served on Arbutus baguette as Barrie does (Arbutus are at the next stall). This time at home, I had something special, a Mango relish with a Creole touch, made in the Vendee and bought last summer on the drive home from the Basque country. Here in a cold wet January evening in Cork, the summer relish and the winter pate, not to mention some organic leaves from Derek of Greenfield Farm (also at Mahon Market), came together in a delicious dish for all seasons.

I know there are many excellent local relishes available at the markets that would make a match with the pâtés. But you are allowed to reach out, occasionally! Lots of thing could be better here but thankfully there are no food police.

By all means try the good stuff from abroad but above all take pride in the local ways, in our heritage. Buy local, fresh and fair, and make the local economy stronger. No big deal really. No violence involved, just a savoury and sweet revolution. It starts with me. And you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Anti-Valentine’s Supper Club at Fenn's Quay!

Stupid Cupid! Rebel against Valentine’s at Fenn’s Quay!
Cian O'Sullivan from Kerry Pike and Chloe Kerins from Lockdown Models. Picture: Miki Barlok

The creative team at No.5 Fenn’s Quay Restaurant (Cork) are leading a tongue in cheek rebellion against all things ‘lovey dovey’ and romantically cliché by hosting their first ever Anti-Valentine’s Supper Club. The Fenn’s Quay Anti-Valentine’s event takes place at 6pm on Wednesday 13th February 2012.  The only rule is: No loved-up couples allowed!

The restaurant which is conveniently located just off Washington Street, adjacent to the Courthouse, will serve up a luxury 5-course gourmet meal for groups, singletons, friends, guys and girls nights out or anyone who wants to embrace the single life. The evening promises an escape from cheesy love songs, wilting flowers and cringe-worthy cards. The only passion being served up is that of a gastronomic kind as the menu has been tailor made by well known Chef Kate Lawlor, tying in all courses with the Anti-Valentine’s theme and including dishes with quirky titles such as 50 Shades of Earl Grey, Sticks and Stones, Unrequited Beef, As Cold as Ice Sorbet and Bittersweet dessert.

Having served Cork’s food lovers for over four years, Fenn’s Quay is excited to accommodate the backlash against St. Valentine. Commenting on the upcoming event Kate Lawlor, Chef Proprietor at Fenn’s Quay says, “We are excited to offer our high-quality service while creating for the perfect escape from the stresses and strains of Valentine’s, which is a day perceived by some as excluding anyone who isn’t ‘coupled up’, it is also a great occasion to celebrate friendship and of course, love of good food!”.  Kate prides herself on using local ingredients and suppliers, combined with her keen eye for detail and the restaurant’s warm, inviting atmosphere. No. 5 Fenn’s Quay will also be the perfect venue to raise a toast to the fallen Cupid with something dark, indulgent and fizzy from the Anti-Valentine’s cocktail menu.

On the night there will be a charity raffle in aid of the Mercy University Hospital Kid’s Fund, with some amazing prizes to be won. Proceeds from the raffle will go towards funding the Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nurse Service which provides support to children and teenagers with outreach service that cares for children and teenagers with oncology related conditions. Because the 5 course menu is so affordably priced at just €30 it is hoped that people will dig deep to support the charity raffle in aid of this fantastic cause.

Stick a pin in Cupid, regale your friends with some of those hilarious disaster date stories, or sing along to some anti-love songs. So ‘all the single ladies’ and lads, who know that ‘Love Stinks’ and want to let loose, book a table and rebel against the romantic schmaltz.
For more information or to make a booking call 021-427 9527, email or visit

Check the menu

Anti-Valentine’s Menu at No. 5 Fenn’s Quay, Sheare’s Street, Cork.

Starter-50 Shades of Earl Grey
Earl Grey Tea Smoked Salmon with pickled cucumber and radish salad.

Entrée- Sticks and Stones
Crispy Salsify and olive with a lemon aioli.

Main -Unrequited Beef
Chargrilled rump steak with wilted spinach and carrot puree.

Palate Cleanser-As Cold as Ice
Refreshing Stonewell cider sorbet.

Steamed orange pudding with bitter chocolate ice cream & rosemary custard.

Tea & Coffee

Len’s Cereals, Mahon and Temple Bar

Len’s Cereals, Mahon and Temple Bar
 If you like muesli, pulses, seeds, nuts, spices, rice, dried fruits, then Len’s Cereals is the place to go to. You’ll find him in Mahon Point Farmers Market every Thursday and in Dublin’s Temple Bar Market on Saturday. The venture is run by Corkman Len O’Donovan and his Spanish wife Maria Minguella.


Dried fruits
I started going there first for his granola mix to which I add a scoop or two from his dried fruits, eg papaya, mango etc. The selection is huge, his stall packed with good things. Len says that “health is always a good seller” and at present Goji berries are very popular. He also has quite a selection of lentils (our choice at present are the Puy) and our latest purchase was a bag of linseed.


He finds that tourists are big customers, even if it is seasonal. The continental visitors, especially the Italians, the Spanish and the Danes are very much into their seeds and nuts, much more likely to buy a bag to eat on the go rather than indulge in sweet things or fast food.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Burns Night in West Cork

Burns Night Goes from Strength to Strength in West Cork

Not even Flooding can keep people away from The West Cork Burns Supper!

Building on the success of the first West Cork Burns Supper in 2012, this year’s event on 25 January attracted even more devotees of the poet, his native land and, of course, good food and drink.

Hosted by the West Cork Hotel and West Cork Food, this year’s Burns Night attracted over 120 guests and was, once again, sold out weeks before the night.  Not even the terrible weather and flooding on the roads could put people off!  As Neil Grant, General Manager of the West Cork Hotel observed, “I was saying thanks to one of our guests as I knew they had travelled a distance to get here in terrible weather.  Their response was to say that they would have taken any detour required and would make it here ‘no matter what’!  It was lovely to hear!”

read more

Irish Beef Takes Centre Stage at ‘Culinary Olympics’

Irish Beef Takes Centre Stage at ‘Culinary Olympics’
Bocuse d’Or 2013, Lyon

Monday, 28th January 2013:  Irish beef has been selected as the key meat ingredient for this year’s Bocuse d’Or, the international culinary competition widely regarded as the ‘Olympics of the Culinary World’. Held every two years, the competition will take place in Lyon, France on Tuesday (29th) and Wednesday (30th) as part of SIRHA, the leading European foodservice trade show, which attracts over 170,000 food buyers and almost 5,000 international chefs. The initiative is designed to further underpin and enhance the image of Irish beef, exports of which last year were valued at €1.9 billion and are set to grow by up to 10 per cent this year.
read more 

Fab Fish at Rising Tide

Fab Fish at Rising Tide
 Friday last was a bad one weather-wise, so a restaurant where one could park outside the door had its attraction. The Rising Tide sprang to mind and, once the house painters (us) had signed off, we were on our way to the harbour side village of Glounthaune.

In fairness, the Rising Tide has much more going for it than its so convenient parking spot. Bet you I’m not the only one to enjoy co-owner Sandra Murphy’s hearty laugh!

Okay. Stop right there and get serious. Sandra had posted a few tweets detailing her fish specials. Hooked me, for one. No regrets at all.

 Baked Monkfish, Pan-fried Sea bass ad Pan-fried King Scallops were the three, also detailed on the Specials Board. Settled on the Baked Monkfish with sauté sweet potato and green bean salsa (€26.50). Haven’t sweet potatoes come from nowhere to centre stage in Irish restaurants in recent years? The dish was very well presented and accompanied by a colourful arrangement of perfectly cooked vegetables, including chunky carrots and herby garlic potatoes.

The overall dish was perfect, quite a combination with a serious eruption of flavours and terrific textures eg the spot-on mange tout. Completely delicious, totally delectable. And well worth the out of city trip on a night that tempted one to put the feet up to the fire, well close to it.

We were hardly six feet in the door when greeted warmly. Soon we were guided to a table in the comfortable restaurant area, the bar already (before 7.00pm) buzzing with its eating space close to full. Less than an hour later, the downstairs restaurant section was also close to being packed (comfortably so). Not bad for such a bad night!

 Service was chatty, informative yet efficient and never slack. Very impressed when the lights at our section were turned on from the bar as we studied the menu and then dimmed somewhat when that pleasurable task was completed.

Started off with a surprisingly colourful selection of breads and dips. My “official” starter was a well executed Mussels Marinara (steamed in a white wine and cream sauce), that creamy sauce requiring a spoon so as to avoid wasting even a smidgeon of its deliciousness.

The other starter was Breaded Ardsallagh Goat Cheese with a Melon Salad and served with a Cumberland sauce, just the correct mix of sharpness and sweetness. The promise of good things to come.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

“She gave him a conspiratorial smile; the waitress brought menus in golden script.
‘Here one takes the choucroute garnie,’ she said.
Sauerkraut? Oh no, not with the way his stomach felt. On the surface, Zannis showed a certain insouciant confidence, but every muscle in his body was strung tight. He was ready to shoot his way out of the restaurant but not at all prepared for sauerkraut.”
Alan Furst in his WW11 novel, Spies of the Balkans.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Skirt and Kidney Chow

Skirt and Kidney Chow

Foodie Articles
If there are positives to be taken from the current financial climate then for butchers it has to be the renewed interest in the cheaper and less regarded cuts of meat. I’m quite thrilled by this because in our more affluent years we gradually lost out on so much when it came to taste and flavour as we turned our noses up at some of the cheaper cuts of meat. I am also conscious of the environmental impact we made when we disregarded so much of an animal that was perfectly good for human consumption, purely on the basis of our arrogance and perceived sophistication which really boiled down to nothing less than ignorance.
While many of us may not want to be reminded of it, our heritage was built on eating an animal nose to tail and acknowledging and fully embracing its ultimate sacrifice so that we could be nourished and made strong. It would also have to be recognised that when it came to offal and the tougher cuts of meat, these were often the only things left behind for the ordinary Irish once the rest of the meat had been shipped off. This was particularly the case when we were under British rule. The best meat was often butchered here and sent to Britain making the eating of offal and off cuts very popular in port towns and cities. Here in the south, Cork and Waterford have long traditions of this as it was through these ports that many animals and meat passed through. The elderly of these cities will be very familiar with dishes such as crubeens (pigs’ trotters), tripe, drisheen, liver and skirt and kidney stew.
So what are skirt and kidney? While it definitely sounds like it could be a show that my children might watch on The Cartoon Network, they are part of the pig. Skirts are thin strips of meat found on the inside of the ribs and backbone. Skirts are very tender because they are found near the pig’s diaphragm and this is a muscle the pig tends not to use too much. Kidneys, as the name suggest, are just that. When skirt and kidney are stewed gently together the result is delicious and oozing with flavour. There are many traditional recipes from the very simple that use just pepper, water and potatoes to the more elaborate that include an abundance of herbs, soup mix and vegetables and finally thickened with a little corn flour. 
Recently I happened to catch an episode of Saturday Kitchen on BBC. Saturday mornings are usually not a good time for watching TV in my house but on this rare occasion I happened across a marvellous recipe by Atul Kochhar who was a guest on the show. He introduced a wonderful traditional spicy lamb stew from South Africa. The interesting part of this recipe is that it was originally created as food for the field workers. Because of this it was served (literally) in bread dishes. Loafs of bread were cut in half, the soft white part largely removed and the empty loaf shell was then filled with the lamb stew for the worker to take back to the field. As he ate the stew he would tear off part of the ‘dish’ and eat it at the same time. How very inventive; no washing up and no worrying about what to do with the plates when lunch was over. The recipe was called Bunny Chow. I made it as suggested with the lamb along with a few necessary tweaks and it was great, but I didn’t bother with the bread bowl and just served it with rice. However it did occur to me that this would be a great way to serve a Skirt and Kidney Stew. Traditionally it was a dish that was served with bread anyway, so this was just a new twist on the old; and so my new dish was born; Skirt and Kidney Chow. What is really lovely about serving it this way is that by the time you get to the end the loaf has soaked up all the lovely juices and so the dish is tasty and warming to the last bite. (Of course when I served the stew in the hollowed out loaf I did put the loaf dish on an actual plate as it made more sense. We are, after all, in Clonmel and not on the African plains!) I suppose the even better news for everyone is that Skirt and Kidney stew is probably one of the most economical dishes you can make. Indeed it was featured on an episode of the RTE radio series, The Frugal Household – need I say anymore.
Depending on where you buy your skirts and kidneys you may need to do a little trimming. Make sure all the membrane is removed and all the ‘plumbing’ is removed from the kidneys. Any good butcher should be able to do this for you. Everything should be cut to about 1” pieces. There are many varying recipes available but personally I recommend that once on the heat this should be simmered gently for 1 to 1½ hours to bring out the full flavour.
Once the skirt and kidney stew is cooked it really is up to you how to serve it. The hollowed out bread is a novelty, but not a necessity. If you haven’t used potatoes in the actual stew itself then you could serve it with creamy mash or just slices of fresh buttered bread, either of which would work really well. Below is the recipe I used but as you will see it is one that can be played around with very easily. I’m on a mission to at least get people to try these old fashioned cuts. I love them for the flavour but if the driving factor for you is value then it’s a double win.
This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mushrooms light up Mahon Market

Mushrooms light up Mahon Market

Lucy and Mark of Ballyhoura Mushrooms brought a colourful crop to Mahon Point Farmers Market today. The Rose and Gold Oysters (originally from South East Asia) certainly caught the eye. But so too did the Pom Poms and even the less colourful Chesnut. No stopping these two, always coming up with surprises. Ballyhoura also have stalls in Midleton and Douglas (both Saturday markets).

Pom Poms on top.
Then a mix of Rose and Gold (Lemon) Oysters.
Chesnut mushrooms are bottom left.
At the bottom right, you have the front and back
views of the Rose oyster mushroom.

Food and Drink Spotting

Food and Drink Spotting
Buying a Pizza? Then why not buy a local one. I found this in Dunne's Stores. It is made in Bandon and is delicious, moist with a tasty bite. Padraigin's frozen pizzas are available in local shops in the Cork area.

Padraigin's Gourmet Pizza comes from a family owned busniness in the West Cork town, set up and run by local resident Patricia Crowley. The restaurant is located on St. Patricks Quay overlooking the Bridewell river. It has been operating for twenty years and has recently been expanded to a two storey restaurant. 

Bush Tucker Trials in Cork?!
The Woolshed Baa & Grill are bringing the famous Bush Tucker Trials to Cork as they celebrate Australia Day this Saturday 26th January! The trials will bring a taste of the Australian jungle to the Rebel county as on the night those brave enough to take part in a bid to win some amazing prizes will be served up meal to remember including Crickets, Worms, Scorpions, Ants, eyeballs plus many more ( no horse meat!!!). Along with the Bush Tucker trials the celebrations will include an array of traditional Australian activities and an Aussie style party that will take you down under for the night!

The Celebrations kick off at 12noon with an Aussie BBQ and they the celebrations this year look to set to top last year’s crazy event when they had a large swimming pool in the bar!!!  There will loads of activities to take part in throughout the day such as a rock paper scissors tourney, beer pong, wet t-shirt competitions and a 1st ever Bush Tucker Trial in Cork that will definitely challenge the toughest of you out there!!! The Party is set to go on all day and night as the DJ kicks in from 8pm with a late bar giving you the opportunity to experience a taste or Australia right here in cork!

The Woolshed have over €1000 euro worth of travel vouchers to giveaway to make the night even more exciting.

Burgundy 2011 En Primeur
Burgundy had another excellent vintage in 2011 and prices have remained remarkably stable considering the ever-growing worldwide demand. This won't last unfortunately as the 2012 vintage was a disaster in terms of yields - in some cases 70% down! The Hospices de Beaune auction prices for 2012 were 55% up on 2012 - a clear sign of things to come... Burgundy lovers should buy as much as they can.

Stuart Smith of FVYD: “Our En Primeur offering comes from some of the best small growers and Domaines in the heartland of Burgundy. Amongst them Sauzet in Puligny, Michelot in Meursault and Bize in Santenay. The generic Bourgogne wines from these producers are particularly good value as the grapes come from vineyards next door to the greater Grand Crus.” Read more here

Slow cooked and scrumptious
Let your slow cooker do the work for you - from soups and curries to stews and more, it truly does do it all!

New slow cooker recipes via All Recipes:
French onion soup
Bean and sausage stew
Smokey bourbon ribs
Chickpea and quinoa stew
Lamb korma
All Slow cooker recipes

Flemings Restaurant ‏@flemingsrest
COMPETITION TIME** Win Romantic Dinner for 2 on Valentines, 6 course tasting menu w/bottle of bubbly Enter Here:

A brief history of cider in Ireland

Funny restaurant signs

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Woodside Free Range Pigs

Woodside Free Range Pigs
Bubbling Up Nicely
Taste of the Week in this house came from Woodside Farm. Actually, the Conroy’s at Woodside could provide a taste of the week every week, even if they confined it to their Free Range Pigs, pedigree Saddleback and pedigree Gloucester Old Spot pigs.

I have tried quite a bit of the range: Shoulder of Pork, Pork Loin, Pork Belly, Leg of Pork, Pork Chops, Pork Escalopes, Pork Steak, Spare Ribs, Minced Pork, Pork Sausages, Gluten Free Sausages, Cumberland Sausages, Liver, Kidneys, Caul Fat, and Pigs Tail.

That is just the pork. Here is the bacon selection: Collar Bacon, Loin of Bacon, Streaky Bacon, Ham Fillet, Dry Cure Back & Streaky Rashers, Dry Cure Gammon Steak, Lardons, Bacon Ribs, Trotters, Pigs Cheek.

Last Thursday in Mahon Point Farmers Market, I got a piece of Dried Cured Ham from Martin. He is in Mahon every Thursday and in Douglas every Saturday while Noreen is on duty in Midleton every Saturday.

We went pretty traditional with the bacon. Got lots of vegetables in Mahon but had no cabbage when Sunday came around. Up then to the local Supervalu and picked up an excellent head of Savoy, a terrific combination with the very flavoursome meat.

And all polished off with no worries about what was in the meat. Martin: “We cure our own bacon and make all our own sausages. We don't use any preservatives or stabilisers; because of this our sausages have a five day shelf life. We also make Pork and Apple Burgers which contain just Pork and Apple, these are also Gluten Free. We only sell meat from our pigs and don't buy in any meat and pass it off as our own. When you buy our products you can be sure you are getting a Truly Free Range Product.”

In recent months, I’ve been getting granola along with dried fruits (e.g., papaya, mango...) from Len’s Cereals, also in Mahon. But he has lots more, including Puy Lentils. Got a bag of those last Thursday. But what to cook with them?

Had been thinking of some lamp chops but instead decided to go with butchers sausages. So up then to the local Coolmore Meats in Montenotte. I found out that they don’t do their own sausages but the good news is that they stock O’Flynn’s Gourmet sausages.  No hesitation, bought a bunch and between them, the lentils and some sun dried tomatoes, we had quite a tasty plateful.

Mark’s Cheese in Mahon carries a range of Irish and European products but had no Irish sheep cheese for me last week. And indeed won’t have it from his supplier for another couple of months! So I settled for a wedge of the Spanish Manchego.

While in the Basque country last summer,  I came across the local sheeps cheese regularly in the restaurants and it was invariably served with jam (black cherry). Iain Flynn (Flynn’s Kitchen)  includes jams among his award winning products at the market and I bought a pot of his excellent Mixed Berry (livened up with black pepper and Kirsch) and that went down every well with the Manchego.

As you can see, the Manchego and the lentils were about the only non Irish ingredients in that bout of shopping but at least I bought them locally and had a lot of fun doing do. The more you go to the markets and indeed to your local shop and butcher, the more interaction you’ll have as they always have time for a chat or even a suggestion as to how to make the best of your purchase. Buy local – why not hit Mahon tomorrow? – and enjoy the craic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Castle Scoops 2013 Travellers' Choice Award

Castle Scoops 2013 Travellers' Choice Award
In the Gearagh, a beautiful
natural attraction in Macroom.

The boutique 4 * Castle Hotel in Macroom, Co. Cork, beat off stiff competition and was voted a best ‘customer service’ hotel by Trip Advisor this week in its annual Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.

The Castle Hotel was ranked 12th within the top twenty five hotels in Ireland by Trip Advisor. The hotel is no stranger to Trip Advisor and was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for 2011 and secured best “bargain” and “family” hotel in 2012.

The prestigious awards are run on an annual basis by Trip Advisor, which is the world’s largest travel community, where millions of travellers seek information on all items travel related.

Owner, Don Buckley said “It is refreshing to be awarded by Trip Advisor and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the team at The Castle Hotel for their continued hard work in achieving best practices in the hotel.  We are delighted to be right up there with well established hotels such as  The Aghadoe Heights Hotel (13th) & The Four Seasons (11th). This is a fantastic boost for management and staff and will spur us on to exceed our guest requirements”.

For further information on family packages and special offers contact The Castle Hotel on 026-41074.

Other Cork hotels featured in the Top 25 were Hayfield Manor (#2), Inchadoney Island Lodge and Spa (#7), The River Lee Hotel (#21) and Bayview Hotel (Ballycotton, (#23). In the best Small Hotels, Ballyvolane House came in at Number 10 with Liss Ard in Skibbereen (#22), while the Cork Airport International Hotel took 1st spot in the Bargain Hotels category.

Rico To The Rescue!

Rico To The Rescue!

Rico Vallebella has opened the doors of his new Italian Restaurant in the city centre to the people of Cork who have been left out of pocket as a result of the closure of HMV. Rico’s Trattoria Pizzeria on Sheares Street, is offering 2 for 1 on all main meals in return for one HMV voucher.

Italian born Rico feels in the current climate “we have to look after one another” and he wants to do his bit to make sure the people of Cork get some value from the money they spent on these, now unredeemable, HMV vouchers.

Adjoining Rico’s is the new Mardyke Ping Pong bar, the first of its kind in Ireland. So why not turn this bad situation into a great night out where you can enjoy  2 for 1 on delicious Italian food followed by a few drinks and some Ping Pong – Now there’s a night with a difference!

Rico’s food is now famous in Cork as he began trading at Farmers Markets with signature dishes Parmigano and ‘arranchini’ filled rice balls, and within a few years had opened The Castle Bar and Trattoria at Blackrock Castle and Baile Bella, a pizzeria at Blackrock Village. So now’s your chance to try his famous cuisine at half the price!

Riccardo Vallebella’s new Italian venture in Cork Rico’s at the Mardyke Entertainment Complex assures you’ll find a familiar mix of fresh fast real food at good prices. Family favourite pasta and pizza dishes will feature along with daily specials from Mama’s recipe book. Start with antipasta and finish with ammazza caffé (to kill the coffee) and eat like the Italians!

*2 for 1 offer  not available at the weekends

Monday, January 21, 2013

Warm up in the Idaho Cafe.

Idaho Cafe. Side Street Oasis.
It is small and perfectly formed, they say themselves. It is also bright and bubbly and has been bouncing on the same spot at 19 Caroline Street (at its junction with Oliver Plunkett Street) since 2001. It is of course the Idaho Cafe and themselves are the bright and bubbly Richard and Mairead Jacob.

"Real food for real people” was the original motto and you could now make it real local food! “We try to source all our primary ingredients from within a 100km radius of Idaho Cafe.” They can even tell you the names of their top laying hens: Beryl and Gladys.  

The cafe’s location could hardly be better, barely more than the length of a wren’s flight (25 yards for you city folks who never hunted the wren) from the busy Patrick Street. It is a breakfast place, a quick or a leisurely coffee and sweet things stop morning and afternoon, and a re-filling and refreshing lunch station. It draws visitors, shoppers and business types, along with casual drop-ins like myself.

We dropped in there on Friday shortly before one and just managed to get a table. Turnaround can be quick here with the coffee drinkers coming and going so check with Richard behind the counter if it looks full.

The menu is quite extensive. They are strong on breakfast choices and the lunch choices are good also, augmented by daily specials. We started off with a Potato and Fennell Soup. Fennell can be an overpowering element but here it was all nicely judged, really well balanced and very tasty indeed. Also enjoyed the brown soda bread.

Idaho has quite a reputation for its salads. Friday’s feature was Chicken with beetroot, roasted pepper, red onion and pine nuts (10.50). Looked almost too good to eat but this French style mix, so well dressed, was just gorgeous and both plates went back without a shred of evidence! Well, maybe a smear of beetroot.

Then had a look at the Sweet Things, next to the Hippy Teas. My choice here was the Rhubarb Tart and a pot of the traditional Barry’s Tea (not under Hippy Teas!). Both went down a treat.

Terrific ambience in this busy little spot which, by the way, is Cash Only! Contact them at (021) 427 6376 or Read more about Idaho here

Friday, January 18, 2013

Baigorri Crianza and Reserva

Baigorri Crianza and Reserva

Baigorri Tempranillo Crianza 2008, La Rioja, 14.5%, €11.40 in the bodega at Samaniego.
Baigorri Tempranillo Reserva 2006, La Rioja, 14.0%, €18.66 in the bodega at Samaniego.

Happy day: the 12th June 2012. That was the day I pulled into the winery of Baigorri, its glass cube rising above but not dominating the nearby medieval village of Samaniego in La Rioja, and left with some really lovely wines, including these two.

We rang the bell and Pilar met us at the door and let us in. We were too late for the tour but had a lovely chat with the young lady who had polished off her English on the Clash Road in Little Island (Cork).

I was amazed at the stunning winery, designed and built by the architect Inaki Aspiazu, creating an unmissable yet compatible landmark. The cube is just the top of a seven storey structure that carries on underneath the surface and means that virtually every movement of the wine making process owes much to gravity.

And the results in the bottles are brilliant too.

The Crianza

Colour is dark red and there are intense aromas of red fruits, regularly found with Tempranillo in this region.

But the palate is something else, above expectations. Full of fruit flavours but very rounded, quite sophisticated. A really well made wine with a persistent finish.

Probably the best value of the wines that I bought here and very highly recommended.

The Reserva

The Reserva is another excellent wine but is pretty expensive. If I were stuck for money and in the bodega again, I’d probably buy two Crianza rather than one Reserva!

There are good reasons for the big price difference. It has been a good deal longer in the process, including longer in oak. The grapes are picked from very old vines, manually selected and de-stalked before being fermented in French oak.

It is one hundred per cent Tempranillo whereas the Crianza is a blend of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Garnacha and 5% indigenous varieties.

The colour is a dark ruby red. The nose is rich with ripe fruit and hints of spice and leather. On the palate it is pleasant, warm and fruity, slightly spicy, with a supple texture drawn from the tannins and the oak, rounded and so well balanced with a persistent dry finish. Another in the very highly recommended category.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gathering the Wine Geese Home

Gathering the Wine Geese Home

Just heard from Beverley of L'Atitude 51. She has some exciting news on the wine front:

In association with The Gathering Ireland, we are organizing a series of “Meet the Wine Geese” events throughout 2013, where Wine Geese from across the globe, ranging from some of the more famous Bordeaux players to the smaller less-well known producers will be flying home to meet wine (and history) enthusiasts and share their stories and wines – they’ll recount their winery’s history and connections with Ireland and give a guided tasting of their wines – they talk, we taste!

The aim is to host at least one event per month which will be open to the public in venues across Cork city and county, including some historical venues. A schedule of events is currently being drafted and will be made available shortly. We are really excited to include the wine tasting & presentation by Jean Charles Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages, at The Grain Store, Ballymaloe on Sunday 10th March ( as one of our 12 events. As this is an opportunity to promote the best of Irish produce, tastings will tie in with other similar events, such as masterclasses in cheese & wine matching, etc...

The initiative is being led by L’Atitude 51 with support from Colm McCann of Ballymaloe and Maurice O’Mahony of Wine Alliance and has received approval from Cork City Council to be included as part of The Gathering Ireland's official line-up of events. We are looking to engage as many venues, suppliers, members of the hospitality trade and the media as we can to make the event as successful as possible.

We have a page on The Gathering's website where details of events will be posted as they are confirmed, as well as feedback on events held.

For more on the event please click here

Toys for Pigs!

Toys for pigs? And music.. Whatever next?

Truly Irish have a new and "a very exciting project which might just change the future of how/why we eat meat and the Irish pig industry.

Please take a look. We are involved with groups from the EU as well as BioAtlantis, UCD, UFBI in Ireland and the project has received funding of 1.68 million.

Our head office is located in Charleville with our 85 pig farmers located all over the country. Our goal has always been to safeguard 8,000 Irish jobs and to save the Irish pig industry."

Click here to read all about it

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Four Liars

The Four Liars

Spent an enjoyable ninety minutes or so in the Four Liars Bistro, in the shadow of Shandon, on Friday night. First impressions were good. The place was neat and tidy with solid but very comfortable tables and chairs. The standard table for two was more spacious than most.

We got a lovely warm welcome and the service was friendly throughout. Great too to read on the menu folder about their focus on local produce. The menu had been “put together with the best of local ingredients while adding a continental touch. All our food is sourced locally... our beef is from O’Flynn’s, Sunday’s Well, Chicken from the English Market, Fish from Good Fish, Carrigaline..”

I started off with a beauty: Lobster Bisque with Cognac and Cream. This, from the A La Carte, cost €9.50. A handful of prawns were in the very tasty bisque. The other starter, Duck Spring Rolls with Mango Chutney (7.25), was another excellent combination of taste and flavour.

Had been given one of those discount vouchers as a Christmas present and we used that to pick our mains from the Value Menu (which looks good value with three courses for 24.95). They also do an Early Bird with three courses for 19.95. The voucher also allowed us a drink, a glass of wine or a bottle of beer (no craft beer here, so had a Miller).

My mains was Chicken Creole sautéed in a sweet chilli and red wine sauce with Chorizo and sweet red peppers. A lovely piece of chicken, well cooked, spicy but not overly so and there was a really well made Potato Croquet also in the mix. And that wasn't all as we got a superb side plate of vegetables that included turnip, carrot and pea. Quite a pleasing dish, also quite filling and, if you didn’t have a voucher, reasonably priced at €15.00.

Between the various menus, there is a great choice. You may spend as much or as little as you like here, with mains on the A La Carte priced between €13.95 and €32.00. And, going by last Friday’s performance, I’d have no worries about quality. We enjoyed our visit and great to see another restaurant supporting local produce.

Four Liars Bistro,
The Butter Exchange,
Ireland .

Contact:  021 4394040  and

Friday, January 11, 2013

A twinning proposition: Timoleague and Samaniego

A twinning proposition: Timoleague and Samaniego
Timoleague (above) and Samaniego

Let us twin the ancient villages of Timoleague (West Cork) and Samaniego (La Rioja). Maybe I can’t pull that off but I sure can get Ummera and Baigorri together. Ummera is a famous state of the art smokehouse in Timoleague while Baigorri is a renowned state of the art winery in La Rioja.

Indeed, I have already brought them together, stumbling on a fantastic wine food pairing, as an unforeseen postscript when I recently opened a bottle of Baigorri Garnacha that I had purchased in Samaniego last summer.

Approaching the end of this bottle, I remembered that I had a few slices of the fantastic Ummera smoked duck to be finished off. Thought to myself that they might make a match.

For once, heaven agreed with me. Chewed a sliver of the duck and added a little wine. Eureka! The "chemistry"  revealed depths of smoky flavour, hitherto unsuspected. Amazingly, products from two ancient villages met on my palate and turned it into a flavour filled paradise.

Baigorri Garnacha, Rioja 2009, 14.5%, €19.54 at the winery in Haro.

Baigorri tend to experiment a bit and they even have a “garage” wine. This Garnacha has been influenced by the winemakers, a vin de l'auteur they call it. A well made wine for sure and highly recommended (very highly recommended if you add the smoked duck!) but a little pricey in comparison with their excellent Tempranillo Reserva.

Quite a dry introduction and then a bubbly rush of fruits. A flavoursome wine then with a stirring persistence. It has a rich red colour with calm fruity aromas, especially plum, plus hints of spice. Overall, the experience in the mouth echoes that of the bouquet.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

Even here in Southern Italy, in unheated houses in winter, bread won’t rise because of the cold. Historically the answer was to take the rising mass to bed with you, using the human body and bed clothing to maintain the adequate temperature. I did this for a few weeks over this winter, the pleasant and yeasty gestation under the sheets and thick woolen blankets, likely the closest I’ll ever come to feeling the profound satisfaction observed on the faces of mother hens. from the blog by SILVESTRO

BB and Amy in Cork Show later this month

Legendary photographer, Terry O’Neill, brings a major exhibition of his work to Cork in January 2013. The show will feature shots of Bridgette Bardot (left) and Amy Whitehouse (below) among many others. Read all about it here

Cork Baker’s Book in Paris Mix

Food and Drink Spotting

Cork Baker’s Book in Paris Mix

Just over 6 months ago chef and baker Patrick Ryan turned his back on a successful career in the UK to return home to set up the Firehouse Bakery and Bread School on Heir Island in West Cork.

On his return home Patrick brought with him his first published book 'Bread Revolution' which aims to return bread to its rightful place as 'King of the Table'. Patrick is now set to take his 'Bread Revolution' to Paris as it has been short listed for the Gourmand World Cook book awards best bread book 2012.

With participants from 171 countries Patrick's passion for real bread will go up against authors from France, Austria, Denmark and Singapore for the title of Best Bread book with the eventual winner being crowned at an awards dinner on February 23rd at Carrousel Du Louvre in Paris.

“Absolutely overwhelmed to receive such recognition” says Patrick. “ The idea behind 'Bread Revolution' was to just get people back baking again. I wanted to show that there is so much more to bread than just brown and white. With a few tips and thrifty tricks the humble loaf can so easily be transformed into a meal”.

'Bread Revolution' is just a taste of what you can get expect from a day’s bread making at The Firehouse Bakery and Bread School. With over 60 recipes including everything from nettle and chive flowerpot loaves to crusty sourdoughs 'Bread Revolution' provides true crust to crumb eating.


Castle Hotel

Lucky enough to get a ticket to see The Boss in Cork?……

Don't be left 'Dancing In The Dark' this July 18th 2013 - The  boutique four star Castle Hotel in Macroom,  nestled between Blarney and Killarney and just 30 minutes from Cork City, is the ideal base for Springsteen fans to explore the scenic South West of Ireland.

The four star Castle Hotel is delighted to launch The Bruce Springsteen Special package and, for as little as  €55 per person sharing.  guests are in for a treat. For further information on this offer and other special offers currently available at the Castle Hotel visit here.

From Vineyards Direct
“We're very excited to announce the arrival of 2 magnificent new wines from the iconic Château de la Négly in the Languedoc, and a Bourgogne Blanc from the stellar producer Domaine Michelot, a Meursault in all but name at a  terrific price.

Negly, within sight of the Mediterranean, the sea breeze helps to soften the sometimes harsh heat of the summer and this combined with the unique terroir and painstaking methods of the estate results in an utterly delicious and very well priced wine at just €14.49 per bottle.” Details here.

Longueville House ‏@Longuevillecork
Longueville House & Restaurant open every weekend throughout January. Great DBB deals on weekend stays! T 02247156

Colours of Beer
Beertone, classification of your beer by its color.

Cafe Portebleue ‏@cafe_portebleue
Seared scallops with pan fried lardons flambeed in pastis. Try it and love it!  #CafePortebleue

Galway Oysters
Galway: With so much to look forward to this New Year, make sure you mark the world's oldest oyster festival in your diary for 27th-29th September 2013. 10 per cent discount ‘til end of Jan here

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I like the cha cha cha

I like the cha cha cha

They like to cha cha cha, they like to cha cha cha 
Everybody likes to cha cha cha

I used to love that old Sam Cooke song and now I got another Cha Cha Cha in my life. For the past few days I’ve been sampling three Cha green teas that I bought from Fixx Coffee  in Dublin. 

Cha Very Berry Tea received the accolade of a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards 2012. They are handpicked and sourced from single estates at the foothills of the Himalayas. “Our Cha Teas are organic and certified by the EU Regulatory Authorities”.

Opened up the packet and picked the Golden Mango, with naturally extracted flavours of Mango and Vanilla, for the first tasting. The aromas were absolutely fantastic. But would they be too much for the flavours. No. Sure, I still savoured the smells but also loved the flavours. Wow. What a winner! A delicious flavour enjoyed either hot or cold, I’m told, but I haven’t tried it cold yet.

Then on to the Spring Mint. The aromas here were unmistakably those of spearmint, really cool and clean. A beautiful cup, fragrant and cooling. Must make sure I have some in for the summer.

The teabags are made from non chemical bleached filter paper and each tin contains 25 x 1.5g teabags (Tin Size 37.5g).

Finally, it was the turn of the Pure Green. Pure tea, boy, supple and dry, unhindered by any fancy flavours yet doing the job in a firm yet calm and relaxing manner. That it is full of antioxidants helps!

Cha Teas perform best when brewed for 2-3 minutes at 90C and served in a 250-300ml cup. Keep an eye on your cuppa – use a timer! You don’t want to spoil a good thing.

The teas were part of an offer on the Fixx Coffee site and naturally there was also some coffee on offer. I tried their Cubita Roasted Beans. They said this “is an exquisite coffee that has strong earthy tones, with a hint of smokiness and a caramel finish, it is the most popular brand of coffee in Cuba”.  Must say I agree one hundred per cent with the tasting notes here. A classic in a cup!

So now I move from Cha Cha Cha to Bolero: the music beating insistently out in the sun, load conversastions, a cup of cubita on the table and an eye out for the señoritas. Only an eye though as  mi señora, who also loves the cubita, is keeping an eye on me!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Operation: Transform the Chicken!

Operation: Transform the Chicken!

Smoked Chicken @ Urru Culinary Store by CorkBilly
Back in the jour, there was poulet fumé. En vacances in France, it was a treat but nothing to write ( it was long before Twitter) home about. 

Indeed, we had to come home and fast forward a fair bit to find something to write home about. And that was the smoked chicken from Anthony Creswell in Ummera. Indeed anything Anthony smokes is worth not just writing home about but bringing home with you.

Sampled a fair few of his delicacies over the recent holidays before getting down to the chicken. What to eat with it? That was the question until I began browsing through the latest Aldi newsletter and spotted the potato salad they had printed as part of their association with RTE’s Operation Transform.

This has proved to be quite a popular programme and the 6th series gets underway this very Tuesday evening. Dr. Eva Orsmond is one of the key people and her recipes appear in the Aldi booklet and all the info will be on the programme’s website

In the meantime, I have attached a copy of the potato salad that did indeed go very well with the smoked chicken, even though Eve suggested you use it with her pan-fried salmon dish. In any event, it is quite versatile and very tasty!

Speaking of matches, I tried another one over the holidays and indeed, must say I am very pleased with it. Have you still got some Christmas pudding in the house? Good. Don’t use it until you get your hands on a bottle or two of A Winter’s Ale from Mitchelstown’s 8 Degrees Brewing Company.

The Ale, which is “reinforced” by some Green Saffron Spices, is stronger than usual. But don’t worry. This doesn’t call for a lot. We shared a bottle between each pair. Pour into a small glass, even a wine glass, and sip it with your steamed pudding. Gorgeous. That was the verdict here. Well worth a try.

Operation Transform starts Tuesday 8th January at 8.30pm on RTÉ One