Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Raspberry Coconut Layer Cake

After our dinner at MacNean Restaurant in Cavan, we decided to take the long way home via Enniskillen. The lure of Lakeland always proves too much for me and I am powerless to resist.  It's a bit like Sephora, but full of cookware instead of cosmetics.  Poor Hubs just sighs and plots revenge, usually involving a record store.  This time around I discovered some new flavourings and purchased a bottle each of raspberry and coconut, two flavours which are relatively hard to find.  And they were on special, so I saved money.  Practically free in my convoluted way of justifying purchases...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review : Dinner at MacNean House

I've heard many good things about MacNean House in Blacklion, Co. Cavan. Owned and operated by well known Irish chef Neven Maguire, it's tucked away in the farthest corners of Co. Cavan and quite a drive from Dublin for dinner. Despite the remote location, it's permanently busy with weekend reservations snapped up many months in advance.  At this stage, I must confess that I'm not a fan of MacNean's reservation policy.  It's all by phone, no modern email or online reservation system here.  The phone lines opened for business on a Monday in March and if you couldn't get through, then you didn't get a table.  Some may consider this throwback to an old system charming, I found it to be incredibly customer unfriendly.  For starters, I was in a meeting all day Monday with clients. I could hardly tell them that it was more important to sit with my phone permanently on redial in the hope I'd get through.  So, I finally got to make a call at 5pm, only to end up on hold for 45 minutes before eventually speaking to one of the lovely ladies who have the unenviable task of manning the phones and listening to a a lot of frustrated people.  Surely this antiquated system can be updated?

Frustrations over, our table was booked for the 6pm sitting on a Saturday evening which was to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (I was 16 when we married, you do believe me, don't you?) and we arrived on the dot of 6pm, after a delayed flight, a mad dash from the airport and the fastest change ever in the B&B next door from crumpled mess to classy ensemble.  We were escorted into an elegant long dining room with cream wallpaper on top of grey painted panelling filled with spacious linen draped tables and tweed upholstered chairs.

The dinner menu is €72 per person, with a prestige menu available for the entire table at €87 (€132 including wine) if you really want to treat yourself. Dinner began with canapés, to accompany a glass of rose prosecco (€11). A dark wooden tray held a yuzu salmon meringue. mascarpone shortbread, curried popcorn and spiced nuts. The bright flavour of the yuzu was zingy against the silky smoked salmon and the shortbread melted away.  I need a constant supply of the popcorn and nuts as it is the most perfect tv snack ever invented.  

Breads next : tomato twist, cranberry soda, onion focaccia and a pizza bread with truffled butter. The tiny pieces of each that I sampled were all excellent.  I was, you see, pacing myself for the rest of the evening.  It began with an amuse bouche of sweet potato and pumpkin mousse with a chicken lollipop was silky and light with deep flavours from the chicken to balance the sweetness of the mousse.

My starter of quail was pretty with foie rhubarb gel, lemon powder and egg. The barbequed quail was the winner here, with echoes of subtle smoke but I found the Parma ham slightly too tangy for the terrine.  His Ryefield Goats Cheese came as part of a light salad with leaves, walnut puree, beetroot gel and pickled vegetables.

Lobster next, in two parts. The tortellini with Thai sauce was fragrant and the fusion of flavours worked very well.  Not so much with the smoked lobster which reminded me of a chlorine filled swimming pool from my childhood but the mango element was lovely. The spring roll was slightly overwhelmed by all the wrapper.  His ravioli of Fermanagh chicken was a very pretty sight with edible flowers, micro greens and a light sauce.

The sorbet was a much needed palate cleanser : macerated pineapple, mango & passion fruit with yoghurt flakes. Sweet, tangy and refreshing, it was time for the main event.

My halibut with mushroom consommé sat on some perfectly turned baby vegetables and a red wine fregola with gnocchi which were potatoey and pillowy. Apparently this was a brand new dish and I hope it stays.  I had an inch thick tranche of very fresh fish which was crisp outside and succulent within.  The consomme brought intense earthy mushroom as a grounding point. Fish purists would call it overdone but it was on the right side of cooked for me.  His dry aged beef striploin arrived in two symmetrical pieces, with braised beef cheek, creamed spinach and rosti.  This was a dish for meat lovers and he was delighted, begrudgingly sharing slivers of the striploin and the cheek with me.  I loved the braised baby onions on the side, knowing what a faff they are to prepare and loving them all the more because of it.  Side dishes of sautéed potato, tenderstem broccoli, runner beans, carrot & courgette were well seasoned but pretty much redundant as we were full without them.

At this point, I must mention that the floor staff were beautifully trained.  The service was smooth and skilled but also friendly - a difficult task but very accomplished here. The pace of service filled the three hour window seamlessly, at no stage did we feel hurried or rushed despite another sitting at 9.30pm.  The sommelier had trained as a chef in MacNean before changing career and her knowledge of the menu and the wines was unparallelled.

Soon, our pre dessert of ginger creme brûlée and mixed berry tiramisu served on Irish slate from my friend Tara Hammond.. I would have been happy to have the creme brûlée as my main dessert as it was warm with gingery heat, packed full of vanilla seeds and had the most perfect crisp top to shatter with a little spoon. He preferred the tiramisu, not being a lover of ginger. His loss.

Finally, time for dessert.  Mine was the Peanut Sensation: peanut parfait, caramel mousse and milk ice cream. With a jug of molten chocolate to pour over and dissolve the shell.  It was exquisite.  As was his assiette of Clarke's strawberries.  I stole his cannelloni and he promptly retaliated by liberating the rest of my dessert.

Did I mention the extra post-dessert dessert?  A beautiful miniature cake on a long white plate to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  I'm assured that it was an excellent treat.  I had admitted defeat by that stage, being utterly replete with food and a very good half bottle of Portuguese Provia Regia Arinto (€17.50). MacNean thought otherwise and an assortment of petit fours arrived as a final temptation.  

Our bill for three hours of sublime food, superb service and a great celebratory experience was €186.50 excluding service.  Yes, it is on the high side, but it was a very special occasion and we felt that it was exceptional value for money. 

Blacklion, Co.Cavan
Tel :+353 71 985 3022

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Baby Beetroot and Hot Smoked Salmon Salad

A few months ago, a very well known company who sell pickled vegetables came to me and asked me to create a recipe using their beetroot.  When I mentioned this to The Hubs, he pulled a face and muttered "who eats that stuff".  Well, me for a start.  When I was a kid, a salad wasn't complete without some crinkle cut beetroot, pickled cauliflower and onions and perhaps the odd gherkin if I was really lucky.  I loved how the beetroot vinegar would stain the salad cream and the vegetable salad bright pink.  Mum wasn't as impressed if I managed to get it all over my clothes though...

Monday, October 27, 2014

October Roundup

This month, I decided that sharing was definitely caring.  To be honest, after two weeks of holiday where I ate, drank and was very merry, I needed to share out the tasting duties.  My lovely work colleagues rose to the challenge admirably and munched their way through many delicious things, so I wouldn't have to bring them home.  They're so kind.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Halloween Treats : Scary Pumpkinhead Carrot Cake

"I hate carrots but I love carrot cake".  Another gem from the Little Brother who was the happy recipient of this special scary Halloween cake.  I was browsing around TK Maxx last week, purely to help The Hubs buy a new wallet.  It's never that simple - I walked out with a set of Essie nail polish and a new pumpkin head cake tin.  I know, I'm a sucker...  Then, what cake to make?  With the changing weather from lovely to "holy moly, stick the electric blanket on", I reckoned a more substantial warming sponge would work best.  Add some spooky gel icing and you're all set for a Scary Pumpkinhead Carrot Cake.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Triple B Muffins

Muffins.  They didn't exist when I was a kid - the most glamorous thing we ever made was butterfly buns.  And I can assure you that buttercream was most definitely made with margarine then.  I'm still shuddering at the memory of margarinecream gritty with granulated sugar because icing sugar wasn't a staple ingredient, the way it is now.  If you're curious, a butterfly bun was a standard fairy cake (called a bun in the country to this very day) with the top lopped off to create a flat surface.  A splodge of gritty margarine buttercream and a dab of jam, usually strawberry, were spread onto the flat surface.  Then the leftover cake top was cut in half and placed back at angles on top of the jam and cream to create a sort of butterfly effect.  And there were no fancy paper cases either.  Just like Henry Ford, cake cases came in one colour only - white.  Take it or leave it.  Kids nowadays have no idea of the trauma we went through!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review : Dinner at Eastern Seaboard

People of Co. Louth, you don't know how lucky you are to have a restaurant like this in your neighbourhood.  Eastern Seaboard is a big corner unit in a new building which embraces the space with a long banquette set into the curved end wall.  Long narrow chalkboards holding specials clad the central column and blades of grass in little glass bottles echo the height of the room. The floor staff are young and cheery in long navy striped aprons.  The corner bar is dark wood with attractive wine filled shelving and vintage lanterns suspended over the counter.  A large stars & stripes flag flutters gently at the entrance to the kitchen. Jeni Glasgow, the co-owner together with chef Reuven Diaz, glides from table to table greeting guests and ensuring that everything runs calmly and smoothly.  The presence of a former colleague of mine, Michael C behind the bar, adds to the air of happy calm.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review : Lunch at Pichet, Dublin 2

I have a pair of friends, let's call them Jess and Packie, who have worked very hard (well, Packie has, Jess is a bit of a layabout) and love going out to eat.  I live vicariously through their many photos of lovely lunches, delectable dinners and many, many cocktails.  One such dining extravaganza involved lunch at Pichet on Trinity Street in Dublin 2 when I was starving at my desk.  I rang The Hubs and told him that we were going there for my birthday lunch.  Not being one to argue, he agreed on the spot.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mocha Shortbread

Oh I love shortbread.  It's buttery, crumbly and very hard to refuse another piece. The Hubs and his Mammy are both big lovers so I decided I'd make a variation on the traditional recipe by adding coffee and chocolate.  When I was in France last year, I bought a box of espresso sticks - powdered instant espresso which you can drink or use as an ingredient.  Two little sticks gave enough oomph to turbo charge the shortbread from something nice into a special treat loaded with coffee and chocolate.  Sure, what else could you possibly want?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review : Bake Like an Italian

Although she's a Wicklow girl like me, Catherine Fulvio loves all things Italian and marrying a Sicilian, the very dapper Claudio, was the start of her amore Italiano. She's written four books already, all with a very distinctive Italian influence and this fifth offering, Bake Like an Italian, explores baking.  Anathema to carb haters, it's subtitled "more recipes for the good life" and is definitely written with la vita è bella in mind.

There's a very vintage feel to the book cover with three very home made cakes and beautiful panelling in the background.  Inside, more delights await with Graham Thew in charge of design, Harry Weir on photography and new author Kristen Jensen as editor.  Together, they've helped to create a beautifully illustrated and cleanly edited book which is a pleasure to peruse.