Monday, February 29, 2016

Taste of the Week Loughbeg Farm 'Oat Tea Brack'

Taste of the Week
Loughbeg Farm 'Oat Tea Brack'

The Oat Tea Brack from Loughbeg Farm, near Schull in County Cork, is our Taste of the Week. Walter Ryan-Purcell tells us their brack iswheat free, gluten free, dairy free and utterly scrumptious! Soaked in tea and cider”. It is our Taste of the Week. I got mine in Bradley's, Cork City.

The ingredients are gluten free oatlets, sultanas, mixed fruit, brown sugar, tea, eggs, cider, mixed spice, and bread soda. It is truly scrumptious. But take it easy. Though it is moist and choc-a-block with flavour, it's rather rich, great with a cuppa. Or why not try it, as I did, with a small glass of Sauternes.

Loughbeg, with Walter and wife Josephine at the helm, has benefited from the Supervalu Food Academy and now you can find their hugely popular Oat Bread loaf all across Munster. And if you do come across the loaf, ask too about this delicious Oat Tea Break.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cornstore Cork. Tropical On A Cold Night!

Cornstore Cork. 
Tropical On A Cold Night!
Golden tasty wings with super dip
Sitting in Cork Cornstore on a cold February night and wondering if the mango was among the fruits sold here in the market in the heyday of the Coal Quay. I doubt it. But the mango featured in the €28.00 set menu during the past week, both in my main course and in the dessert.

It might have been cold outside but there was a warm welcome inside and, as there always is, time for a smile and a little exchange. And there is always a buzz here too, maybe not so much this Tuesday night, though a couple of big groups - they do big groups well here - did keep it up!
Salmon Teriyaki and an unheralded bowl of Mango Salsa!
But back to my mango. My main course choice was Baked Salmon Teriyaki with steamed rice and wok fried vegetables. No mention of mango here but one of the highlights was a little dish of mango salsa which really added an extra dimension. All perfectly cooked otherwise, the salmon, the rice and I loved the crunch of the veg from the wok.

I had started with quite a large one! And quite a nice one too: their spicy chicken wings with a superb Cashel blue cheese dip and celery. The golden wings were a delight to dispatch. Must have been about seven of them on the plate. Massive! Took my time with them, washing them down with generous sips of Stonewell Cider - they have a decent selection of craft beer here too, not to mention whiskey galore and pages of cocktails!

And then time for the dessert. You have a choice of four on this menu and I picked the Mango Cheesecake with mango and passionfruit sorbet. The cheesecake itself was fine but that sorbet was the star as far as I was concerned!

You can check out all the menus here, including set, A La Carte, lunch and so on.
CL's Thai Green Curry.

Cornmarket Street, Cork
Twitter: @cornstore_cork

Fota Gardens and Arboretum. Probably the best three euro's worth in the country

Fota Gardens and Arboretum
Probably the best three euro's worth in the country
It's been a cold February and more cold nights and days to come, according to the forecasters. But some of the days have been spectacularly sunny. And that has given me the chance to get out and about. Fota Gardens and Arboretum is just a few minutes away from where I live in Cork city and I regularly head there for a walk. The dog also gets to walk - just don't forget to keep him or her on the lead.
There is a three euro parking charge and that is all you pay for a visit to the walled gardens and orangery and the world class arboretum. Fota House itself is open from Aopril to September from 10.00am to 5.00pm (Monday to Saturday) and from 11.00am to 4.00pm on Sundays. There is a entry fee for the hosue tour. Get all the details here.  
While the Regency style house, an Irish Heritage Trust property, is not open for tours next month, there are some interesting events lined up for March, including a spectacular Easter Egg trail though the house and grounds with Peter Rabbit. Details here.
Many magnificent trees stand proud around the grounds.
Some have unusual features.

In the Orangery

A view of one side of the house
These photos were taken during the week. Spring may be slow in coming but these coiled up buds contain a promise of things to come when the days get longer and the sun comes out (and it does!)

Previous posts: Autumn at Fota

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Amuse Bouche

Their waiter shoved his nose deep into the balloon glass, his brow furrowed, critically assessing the wine he was about to to serve. He raised his eyebrows, a facial shrug. “Pas mal,” he said.”It is not bad.” He had to slide and dance and spin to get around the table to pour the wine correctly, sidestepping other patrons and other staff, the wayward limbs of gesticulating guests.

from The Expats by Chris Pavone (2012)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Whiskey and Chocolate. Best of Taste Mates!

Whiskey and Chocolate
Best of Taste Mates!
On the banks of the Lee:
Frank (left) and Niall.

So there’s a guy drinking whiskey. Not just any whiskey. This is The Pogues, fruity, rich and round, which is being launched in the US next week. But what’s he eating? Is that chocolate? Yes, it is. It is Shana Wilkies Amazones. What? Whiskey and chocolate. Yes, indeed, the perfect pairing. This whiskey and that chocolate meet on the palate and both are enhanced. What more do you need from a food and drink pairing?

That guy isn't the only one indulging. A whole roomful is at it. The room is called the Lookout, part of the revamp at the River Lee Hotel, a lovely room to which the River Lee’s Paula Cogan has just warmly welcomed us (mainly media and bloggers) to this unusual Whiskey and Chocolate Tasting. The guys taking us through the enjoyable evening (24th Feb 16) are Frank McHardy (a very experienced Scottish consultant with West Cork Distillery in Skibbereen) and Niall Daly (proprietor of the Chocolate Shop in Cork’s English Market).

As Paula said, the hotel is always on the lookout for “new local products” and was delighted that the two this evening were amazing and taking their place in the hotel offering. The evening had started in The Hub, a nearby room, where we enjoyed the Rebel Pour, a cocktail by River Lee mixologist Finbarr Collins. Ingredients: 40mls West Cork whiskey, 20 mls Pimms, topped up with homemade Lemonade, garnished with fresh strawberry and mint, an easy-drinking delight.

As we started the tasting, Frank told us he came from the Mull of Kintyre, 12 miles from the coast of Northern Ireland. “I’ve been working for fifty years in whiskey,’ he said. As a consultant he travels widely, soon off to Australia. “Not bad for a 71 year old bugger,” he laughed.
Mixing a Rebel Pour

These were the headline pairings for the evening:
Whiskey Flavour Notes
Chocolate Flavour Notes
West Cork Original Blend Whiskey &
Michel Cluizel’s Mangaro Lait 50% – Madagascan Origin
Sweet citrus and vanilla, malt. Sweet nougat with hints of lemon zest.
Caramel, exotic fruits, gingerbread, honey with sultana on the finish.
West Cork 10 Year Old Single Malt & Domori Occumare 77 – 70% Venezuelan Origin
Malty, toffee, treacle notes. Hints of dairy milk chocolate
Apricot jam, cream and dried fruit. Excellent roundness & persistence, with low acidity and bitterness.
The Pogues Whiskey & Pralus Chuao 70% - Venezuelan Origin
Full-bodied, ripe fruits, nutmeg and sweet digestive biscuits
Earthy tones, muscovado sugar, lemon zest – Exceptionally smooth & a fine balance of bitter and acidity.

Sweet things to finish on.

And they were absolutely perfect. But Niall, assisted by Rose, had more than one pairing up his sleeve. When the English Market shop some fifteen years back, they were the first people to stock the famous Valrhona chocolate. But is was a hard sell and they moved very little of it for the first two years. Now their biggest selling bar is a 100%. His own favourite though is the 89% Wilkie's and indeed the Wilkies, made from bar to bean in Midleton, proved quite a favourite on the night.

There were also quite a few tips on the night. Frank cautioned against using ice in your whiskey. “Add a little water - it opens up the whiskey flavours. If you think it is a little cold, heat it up with your hand.” Niall warned us not to store chocolate in the fridge as “the cold damages the chocolate; heat will only change the shape. Store it at room temperature.” And then he had one more tip. You can start your day with it: Add some 100% to your porridge!

As I mentioned, the headline matches above all worked a treat. But there were one of two others worth mentioning, in particular the Vietnamese Marou 80% old plantation, a beautiful pairing with the West Cork Original Blend (75% grain, 25% malt).

River Lee Hotel (top left)
at sunset
Another star was the Akesson’s Single Plantation 75% from Bali, a great match with the 10 year old whiskey and then of course the Wilkies with the Pogues.

The Pogues (50% malt, 50% grain) is quite a whiskey, one that you could easily mistake for a much older drink. But is just the normal three years and one day. Frank: “It shows that whiskey doesn't have to be old to be good. You get those roasted nuts and vanilla aromas, fruity, rich and round on the palate. Quite malty, ginger-y. And don't forget, add a little water to enhance the flavours.”

West Cork Distillers was born from humble beginnings. From the coming together of a food and drinks engineer and his two fisherman friends it now has become a global business selling in over 35 countries worldwide.  John O’ Connell, Denis McCarthy and Ger McCarthy are the three pioneers. They reckon their use of local spring water (“from 3 kms down the road”) is a key factor as this natural soft water leads to a smoother whiskey. Nobody was arguing otherwise at the end of a very interesting and very enjoyable evening in the River Lee Hotel.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wines From California. Serious. Cheeky. And Over Here.

Wines From California
Serious. Cheeky. And Over Here.

California Wines – Less is More is the title of a Wine Event in Ballymaloe next month and here, by way of introduction, are three wines from the Golden State. Two are reasonably serious players, the other not serious at all!
Still on the lookout for Californian wines, so let me know if you have a tip!

Joel Gott Chardonnay (California) 2013, 13.8%, €14.99 Bradley’s, Cork.

This has a bright golden colour, micro-bubbles clinging to the sides of the glass. Aromas of white fruits, blossoms too. Fresh and fruity on the palate, tingles as it spreads its lively acidity, all combining in a really long finish. This elegant wine is unoaked and Very Highly Recommended.

The grapes come from three different counties of California; from Monterey (which enhances the acidity) and from Sonoma and Napa (for better concentration). It is all stainless steel after that with some time sur lies to “improve viscosity”.

The Gott family have been making wine in California for five generations and are also well known for Gott’s Roadside where you can get “great burgers and milk shakes” according to Wines of California which itself has Joel's recipe for Fish Tacos (paired with Sauvignon blanc). Watch out too for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Alakai (a red blend).
See the maker’s short video on the Chardonnay here.  
Wilson Vineyard The Crusher Chardonnay (Clarksburg) 2011, €16.90 Karwig Wines

Another with a bright golden colour, tints of green too. Aromas of white fruit, blossoms, even hints of herb. Great mix of fruit on the fresh palate, nicely restrained though, beautiful rounded mouthfeel, enough acidity to balance and a long engaging finish.

This well balanced wine is “a perfect candidate for a bevy of dishes. Try pairing with halibut with lemon butter atop of rice pilaf or a delicious vegetable stir-fry with soy sauce”. There is, by the way, a small percentage of Viognier included.

The Crusher, from Clarksburg (beginning to emerge on the wine scene), captures the freshness of this world-class growing region, and is Very Highly Recommended.
Barefoot Merlot (California), 13.5%, €10.00 O’Donovan’s Off Licence

“Wine tastes better in a tee than in a tux” is the motto, one of them anyway, for Barefoot who pride themselves on making wines “free from the tyranny of all wine snobbery”.  Jennifer Wall, their winemaker since 1995, is best known in-house as Pinky Toe and, with some 2,000 medals to her credit, Pinky is quite a success story. Barefoot is part of E & J Gallo since 2005.

Merlot, of course, is also quite a success story in California. In 1990, 15,205 tons of Merlot were crushed here and that had risen to 282,300 by 2014. In the US overall, consumption figures for the grape are 2.8 million cases in 1990, 18 million in 2014.

This Barefoot is a fun wine with 76% Merlot and 24% other red wines. The Merlot grapes were harvested from select vineyards in The Central Valley, at the mouth of the Sacramento Delta, a location which provides beautiful warm days and cool breezy nights that foster ideal weather conditions for perfect fruit ripeness.

Colour is purple and there are red and dark fruit aromas (mainly plum, cherry). This medium bodied wine is smooth and warming, full of raspberry and blackberry flavours, mild tannins, well balanced too and with a decent finish. It is an easy-drinker, good value and Recommended. One half of the house is more inclined to make that Highly Recommended, so I used my casting vote! It is versatile too and Barefoot say it may be served with beef, poultry, pasta (with tomato sauce), cheese and dessert.
Merlot. And Barefoot friends

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Taste of the Week. Mella’s Irish Butter Fudge

Taste of the Week

Mella’s Irish Butter Fudge
The sweetest fudge, the cream of Irish butter, the magic touch added by Mella, and you have our Taste of the Week in your mouth. Don't rush it. Allow it to soften and then gently take it across your welcoming palate, feel its melting thickness and velvety softness, the kiss of that creamy flavour. You don't want to swallow it but soon you must. It is irresistible. Indulge.

And why wouldn't you swallow it. There is, after all, plenty more where that came from. Different flavours too. I had vanilla but you can also have chocolate, walnut, rum and raisin. And I’ve just been checking her website and see she has Irish Cream Liqueur as her flavour of the month. And an on-line shop. Oh the temptation of it all.

And let us hear from the girl herself: And by old-fashioned, we mean crumbly, buttery, the flavour your grandmother might remember from the good old days! YUM! Luxurious and decadent, you know you want it, it is addictive to say the least!

Mella is based in West Cork so there are many stockists in the area. But there is quite a spread of stockists aorund the country and you may check them out here and she is a regular attender at food fairs and festivals.  I got my most recent bar in Bradley’s of Cork.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How About An Evening Meal At The Crawford?

Munster Wine & Dine
Evening Meal at the Crawford

The hard-working Beverley has been in touch with details of the next Munster Wine & Dine event which will take place on Thursday March 3rd in the beautiful Crawford Art Gallery. 

The evening will kick off at 7pm with a drinks reception in the sculpture gallery followed by dinner in the Crawford Gallery Café laid on for us by the extremely talented Sinead Doran. Sinead has taken inspiration from Margot Henderson, chef patron of London's famous Rochelle Canteenwhich bases its menu on seasonally-informed Mediterranean-influenced food. 

Sinead is renowned for turning simple food, using locally-sourced ingredients, into something really special. And with the backdrop of the magnificent Crawford Art Gallery, which is only open on special occasions in the evening time, this promises to be a very special night! 
Tickets for the event which includes pre-dinner drinks reception and dinner are €40pp for members and €50pp for non-members. 

If you'd like to join us, can you RSVP to this email address by Monday 29th February with any special dietary requirements. 

Can you pass this on to anyone else you think might be interested in joining us on the evening, or indeed to anyone who'd like to become a member of the MWDC. We are delighted to welcome new members, so if you are interested in joining Munster's newest and most dynamic food and drink circle, let me know and I will forward an application form.    

We look forward to seeing you in the Crawford on March 3rd for a fantastic food-focused event! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

One Farmers Market. One Restaurant. Weekend: Douglas, Les Gourmandises

One Farmers Market. One Restaurant
Weekend: Douglas, Les Gourmandises
I took the opportunity at the weekend to get to the Douglas Farmers Market and also to revisit Les Gourmandises in the city centre.

The farmers market has now moved from Dunnes Stores car park to a new spot in the centre of Douglas village, on the plaza by Marks & Spencers. It is a compact location and the reports are good. It is open on Saturdays, from 10.00am until 2.00pm.
Old Millbank Salmon Pate - with some chunky bits added!
Some excellent stalls here, including the Rocketman, Badger & Dodo coffee, Ballycurraginny Farm vegetables (not forgetting their gorgeous Joe’s Farm vegetable crisps), Arbutus Breads, O'Driscoll's Fish from Schull, Old Millbank Smoked Salmon, Woodside Farm, Brendan's Burritos, Sonny’s Broth, West Cork Pies, Green Field Farm, Ballycotton Free Range Farm, O’Leary’s Mountain Lamb, Cloud Confectionery, Dingle Cookie Company, Volcano Wood-fired Pizza, Mealagulla Orchards, Barry’s Nurseries, Clothilde Compotes, along with some others. Guest stalls too feature.

O’Driscoll’s, no matter where you find them (Midleton and the Coal Quay are among their venues), are always popular. We often go for the popular fish but this time the red gurnard caught our eye. So that was the main course for Saturday. And we got our starter across the way from Old Millbank. They had a nice tub of Salmon Pate (with one that included a few chunks of the salmon as well!).
Red Gurnard at O'Driscoll's
Lunch too came from Douglas, a pot of that delicious aromatic Chicken Broth by Sonny (we added some noodles). It is a Vietnamese broth and the proper title is Phỏ Gà and was a recent Taste of the Week. Check it out here, if you have a chance.

The other main purchase was some shoulder of pork from Woodside for Sunday's dinner, the order to cook it low and slow. We got an unsolicited recommendation from another customer who thought it was fantastic and told us his 93 year old mother is thrilled with it as it reminds her of the real taste from a long ways back.

Some low and slow cooking too in Les Gourmandises on Friday night. Slow cooked beef, braised carrots, baby onions, and smoked Gubbeen lardons, with a delicious red wine jus, was my superb main course, with a side plate of sauteed potatoes. CL’s choice was also excellent: Braised lamb shoulder with smoked potatoes, braised onion and Savoy Cabbage.
We had a fine choice for starters. We had eaten some of them before including the excellent Prawns in Filo pastry with Mango jelly and Mango creme fraiche and the Roasted on the Bone Quail with coconut, cumin, basmati and apricots.

My pick this time was the Carpaccio (named after the Venetian painter) of Spiced beef, tomato, pickled and shaved parmesan while CL took the Castletownbere Crab Salad, brioche croutons, peaches and piccalilli. Both good but, next time, we may go back to the brilliant prawns and the quail!

Desserts again had no shortage of choice, up to seven, including a selection plate for sharing. No sharing this time though! My pick was the Warm Chocolate Fondant with butterscotch centre and vanilla ice cream. Pretty good. CL was delighted with her Caramelised Apple Tart with Five Spice and cinnamon ice cream. All good. No tea or coffee though, not at €3.65 a cup!
New location, in centre of Douglas
There is a good selection of house wines, all Old World, and all at €29.50 a bottle or €8.50 a glass. Haven't seen that kind of uniformity anywhere else! My glass was a 2012 Portuguese blend of Tempranillo, Castelao and Syrah, called Pinta Negra Tinta, nice and smooth with dark fruits. CL sipped happily from an organic wine, Fontana Bodegas from Castille (Spain), a 100 percent Tempranillo (2014).

There are quite a number of possible menu variations and you can get to try the excellent food here for less than the €47.50 (the cost of our 3-course menu). There is also a Prix Fixe menu and here you may have three courses (from a more limited selection) for €32.50. Most nights, maybe not all night, you will get tapas to share, two main courses and a glass of wine each for €39.50 for two people. Stay up to date on all menus and special offers by checking their Facebook page here.
Oh La La! Chocolat!