Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Snotty Service & Mediocre Moules

Damn.  I was really hoping I wouldn't have to write a negative restaurant review, especially only 2 days into our holiday in Saint Jean de Monts.  I did my research but still ended up in a restaurant that needs a Manuel Injection to make it hit the pinnacle of good food and service...

We had a very lazy day, marked only by the consumption of a gorgoeus Fougasse aux Lardons with a giant salad for lunch and a quick trip to the screaming-child crowded non-reclining sunlounger pool area (god we are such snobs!).  I had planned to cook dinner, but a banjaxed BBQ put a halt to my plans so The Hubs told me he was bringing me out to dinner.  Our pesky Garmin Nuvi 250 SatNav was still acting up & not recognising anywhere within 1000km, so we just kept turning right at the roundabouts and ended up on the Avenue de la Mer.  I had checked out some relatively decent restaurants thanks to the StJDeM website and we recognised Le Colonial from the printout, and grabbbed a parking spot on the very crowded seafront at 7pm.

The terrace was packed - always a good sign... so we waited at the entrance, as you do, and waited for be served.  Silly us.  A group of 3 locals barged past us, walked up to one of the staff and asked for a table.  Of course, they were served straight away while we waited... and waited... and waited.  Eventually the stereotypical lanky narky waiter (the pure opposite of the lovely Manuel) snorted in our direction & frisbeed some menus at us.  Which we read and re-read.  Seven times, just to be sure.  Eventually, he rocked up to our table, all cheekbones and attitude to ask "eh, what do you want to eeeet?".  Feck you, skinny lad, my French is a meeelion times better than your English so out went the F&B order, much to his surprise. Dat's roight... I do know how to order a prix fixe and ask for a pint for The Hubs en Francais...
20 minutes later, the drinks showed up and I made that 250ml pichet of super-sour Rose last the whole night as we weren't offered anything else...

We ordered the €18.40 set menu as the choice suited us both

I translated the menu for The Hubs and let him choose first.  To my surprise, he opted for the Croustade de Fruits de Mer - a little seafood casserole and then (as usual) the Bavette - steak in a shallot sauce.  I had the house salad & the Moules Frites.

The French adore their big glass plates and this brasserie was no exception - they were the size of hubcaps in jewel shades of red and purple.  The Hubs casserole came in an earthenware marmite and was full of mussels, white fish and squid with mushrooms.  My salad was composed of beetroot batons with grated carrot & greens with a really light garlicky dressing - both were gorgeous.

The mains arrived and initally looked really promising - the Bavette was perfectly cooked and my Moules were gorgeous... until I got a gobful of grit.  That is something that I really can't stand (never mind the large proportion of closed mussels in my pot) and it put me right off the rest of them.  Boo hiss...

For dessert, I had dark chocolate & pistachio icecream, and The Hubs had the Molleux au Chocolate with a Creme Anglaise.  They were both delicious and my icecream arrived in a special 3-scoop glass plate branded with the Carte d'Or logo - a really pretty way of serving their product.

Our total bill came to €47 - €37 for the food & €10 for a large beer and a 25cl pichet of rose.  A reasonable price but ruined by the service

Restaurant Brasserie Le Colonial

37, Esplanade de la Mer
85160 St Jean de Monts
Tel :

On The Way...

The car was packed, filled with diesel and headed in the direction of Rosslare Harbour.  The crossing was smooth, the food was oh so average and the wifi was €8 per hour (no thank you very much).  We arrived in Cherbourg at 11am on Sunday and thanks to paying a mere tenner extra for speedy exit, were off the boat in 90 seconds!

By the time the vast majority of cars were trundling down the ramp, we had collected our wine from Mme Pilard at the Hotel Ambassadeur, had a quick cafe creme & croissant at the bar opposite and were driving down to the Vendee.

It sounded idyllic but then the sat nav went utterly bananas...  I knew where I was going - Cherbourg, Rennes and then down to Nantes.  Oh no, said the little pink Nuvi 250.  Turn around.  I believed it once as there were loads of new roads that didn't show on the map update.  And then it was WAR!

We stopped at a creperie in Fougeres called Creperie Tivabro - hidden behind the castle in a little courtyard area and it was a great decision to have lunch there... the food was sensational and they pride themselves in using locally sourced produce.

I had a Rond. St. Vincent galette which was filled with Reblochon cheese, potatoes & Savoie ham & beautifully dressed salad.  The Hubs went for the Complet avec Oignons which was a galette with ham, softened onions and an egg on top.  They don't stock "branded" drinks, so we had Breizh Cola and Limonade Artisanale - both gorgeous...

Afterwards, we decided we needed a sugar boost so had a scoop of Fleur du Sel Caramel and Chocolate Noir icecream served in gorgeous glasses & topped with a little Breizh flag!  I had a coffee to keep me awake for the rest of the trip (I was doing the driving...)

And the cost of this gorgeous lunch?  €25.80.

Friday, August 27, 2010

This Week's Likes and Loathes

I'm in holiday countdown mode which means that I'm mainly ignoring my blog duties (although I did write a guest blog post for somebody...).  This week, it's really been all about the likes, rather than the loathes - lucky me!

Top of the list is Hickeys Pharmacy.  2 weeks ago I bought a bottle of Lancome Adaptive foundation there as it was being discontinued & sold at 50% off - a bargain!  Two days later, I went to take the bottle out of my bag in the gym to disguise my tomato red face and CRASH - the brand new bottle shattered all over the floor.  I went straight into Hickeys to see if they had another bottle but the answer was no.  The lovely assistant took my name & volunteered to check with the other branches to see if she could track one down, although she wasn't too hopeful.  I assumed I'd never hear from her again.  She rang me last Sunday & told me she found a full bottle of it at home when she was clearing out & offered to give it to me free of charge.  How lovely was that???  I gratefully accepted and am absolutely blown away by her kindness.

Next up is Dunnes Stores.  Little Sis rang me in a panic trying to source a pair of boots for Lulu as they were out of stock in all the branches near her.  I went to our local Dunnes where they were also out of stock, but the incredibly nice lady at Customer Services checked every branch within a 50 mile radius and then arranged for one of the managers to collect the only pair left from the Wexford branch & bring them up for me!  Fantastic customer service & not what I had come to expect from Dunnes.  Little Sis & Lulu are equally impressed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Makin' Bacon with Ed Hick

A few weeks ago, the very lovely Joanna from Smorgasblog tweeted about the possibility of going to Hicks in Dun Laoghaire to learn how to cure your own bacon.  After a few false starts, a date was agreed and we met up in an alleyway just off Georges Street (sounds very covert and suspicious) where a pair of brightly coloured flags showed us where to go. 

Inside, we were greeted by Ed Hick who is supremely enthusiastic about all things porcine - and the traditions of ye olden days when your great granny was on the scene (you had to be there...).  He talked us through the basics of pork production and the history of Hicks from back in the days of black & white to today.  Ed explained what pork curing is and the two different methods of curing it - wet and dry.  Here comes the science bit...

Wet curing is when you mix salt with water to create a brine which the bacon sits in - a little salty bath, if you like.  Dry curing is when you treat your bacon like a supermodel and rub the dry mix into the skin, which is then wrapped up and left in a cool dry spot to soak it all in.  There was lots of science talk of osmosis and the like but at this stage, my non-technical brain completely tuned out (apologies!).

Our talk took place in the production area so there were lots of  metal bits, sharp objects and steel tables surrounding us - a bit like an episode of Bones, but without Booth.  Ed then produced some fine beechwood smoked rashers - some of which he cooked on a hotplate and some which he passed to us in their raw state so we could have a feel & a sniff.

We had a quick natter about whether cutting the rind made a difference to the finished rasher - this was something we were taught to do in Home Ec class in school to make the rasher prettier and stop it curling up. I believe it does make a slight difference to the taste as well, but I could just be delusional!

The raw rasher was very dry to the touch, unlike some of the soggy damp supermarket vacuum pack offerings I've cooked in the past.  It had a slightly golden tinge to the rind and edge from the smoking process and it smelled like a peat fire with a lovely aromatic odour.  Soon, the rashers on the hotplate were cooked and there was a scrum to taste them - the whole "ladies first" principle was blatantly ignored as the men in the group elbowed us out of the way!

Once they had been consumed, Ed took us on a tour of the factory, showing us the smoker and the walk in fridge which held stacking crates of curing bacon which they rotate during the curing process, so every piece gets a turn in the liquor, which is what the liquid released by the meeting of the meat and salt is called.  

Ed also showed us the brine mix for wet curing bacon.  Just like yoghurt or sourdough bread, it's best to have a "starter" brine which is guarded between curing.  Some brave souls had a little taste... me, I kept my hands firmly in my pockets for that!

Then it was time for us to play - it was time to start Makin' Bacon baby (if you say it in an Eamon Dunphy/Apres Match accent, it's even funnier...).  We grabbed a metal container which we had to weigh empty & take a note of the weight : this all makes sense later, I promise.  Ed then brought out two gorgeous loins of pork which he portioned in 7 pieces so we all had one each, weighing at least 1kg.  Then it was time to weigh the pork in the container (hygiene tip) and subtract the container weight from the pork & container weight, to get the actual pork weight.  This was important as there was a specific formula you needed to follow to get the weight of the curing mix correct - too much or too little would ruin the pork.

Somebody found a calculator and the adding up & multiplying began in earnest... The curing mixture is comprised of salt, saltpetre and sugar and it worked out at 34g of the mix per 1kg of meat - my piece of pork needed 36g of mix, which I weighed out and poured onto my pork.

Rub a dub dub, prime pork in a tub...

Now it was rings off time as our next job was to rub the mix into the pork until not a trace remained in the container... the meat got the massage of its life!

Ed then vacuum packed our meat for us and labelled it with our names so there would be no squabbling... and also gave us a 300g bag of the curing mix (enough for 10kg of Christmas ham perhaps) and a large bag of woodchips so we could smoke the meat at home.

So, how much did this little experience cost?  Just €40 per person, including the bacon, the curing mix and the woodchips.  It's a fantastic way to introduce you to pork and bacon curing and I'd highly recommend it.  Incidentally, Hicks also run a sausage workshop (which I'd love to attend), so check them out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This Week's Likes and Loathes

It's not all about food this week - one of my other loves is nail polish.  If you saw the amount of bottles crammed into the vanity case that lurks under the coffee table, you'd be taken aback (or very jealous...)

Last Sunday I found myself in Dundrum and I ended up at the Chanel counter in House of Fraser handing over far too much money for a bottle of their newest must-have polish called Paradoxal.  It's a purple-grey colour with a hint of shimmer and I AM IN LOVE.  It has been admired by all who have seen it and it is currently my most prized polish.

The other love this week is from Aldi - the Specially Selected Ribeye Steaks to be precise.  Yes, they are €11.99 for 2 but they are fabulous - especially when cooked on the BBQ and the sun is shining.  It's Irish Angus beef and most importantly, it carries the Bord Bia Quality Mark, so you know it has to be good.

Now for the Loathes. 

Tesco is the baddie this week due to their annoying habit of pulling items off the shelves in the most irritatingly random fashion.  I went in search of Maldon Salt and their own brand Premium Jamaican Ginger Ale - both of which I tend to buy in bulk.  GONE.  And apparently for good according to the poor man who had to break the news to me.

Every little helps... I don't think. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

O'Donnells Crisps - Perfection in a Packet

A few weeks ago, the ever-wonderful Damien Mulley let slip that Ed O'Donnell was giving away crisps.  Now I first thought that it was a windup but then I decided to drop Ed an email and... it was genuine!

That's Ed there in the picture - isn't he a handsome lad... nearly as lovely as his crisps!

A few days later, the postman came knockin' at my door and left me a brown paper parcel tied up with string (honestly), filled with two of my new two favourite things...

Two packets of O'Donnell's Crisps

In the Red corner was Mature Irish Cheese and Red Onion, and in the Blue corner was Irish Cider Vinegar and Sea Salt.  Being a caring, sharing kind of person, I didn't tear them open on the spot but decided to hold fire for a few days until The Hubs was around and we could taste them together.  Now The Hubs is a man who likes his crisps a lot.  I honestly think that he likes going to France every year so he can eat lots of Brets Chips a l'Ancienne Petit Oignons and he is counting down the days until he gets his next fix!

Anyway, back to the crisps.  I'm now putting on my Dervla Kirwan M&S dirty voice and am telling you that "these are not just any crisps, these are authentic handcooked Tipperary crisps". 

The cheese in the Cheese and Onion hails from Mount Callan and is very tasty indeed - a world away from the mass produced crisps you usually find on the supermarket shelves.  Apparently Mount Callan Farmhouse Cheese is an award winning cheese made in Co. Clare using traditional cheddar methods. By allowing their cheese to mature for 9- 12 months it adds to the full flavour of O’Donnells crisps - and we can vouch for that.

As for the Cider Vinegar which adds to the unique flavour of O’Donnells crisps - this is locally sourced from Con Traas at The Apply Farm in Tipperary and they taste amazing.

They didn't stay like this for long...

They're stocked by Supervalu and Centra and I strongly encourage, nay URGE you to try them... before we eat them all!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fish Pie - My Twishparty Contribution

If it's Friday, it's got to be fish, right?  No more so than last Friday which was declared Twishparty night by the lovely Sarah & Kristin.  Initially it was meant to be seafood but the net was widened to include anything that swims...  A concrete date of the first Friday of every month has been set for our select cookalongs.  Next month is Vegetarian Cookalong - god knows what name that will be given for Twitter, but myself & The Hubs will be in la belle France on holiday and I will (hopefully) be participating via WiFi to save on horrific roaming bills.

I was in the mood to dine out of my freezer - I seem to be constantly putting stuff in it, but never take food out... so I delved deep into its icy depths and came up with a packet of Fish Pie Mix - how convenient!  I adore Fish Pie in all its many shapes and forms so decided to go back to my childhood memories and recreate a version of my Mum's pie.  This has a base of onions, peas and parsley sauce (yum).  Mum used to use pearl onions but they weren't available (boo hoo).  Now I'm going to have a little rant/moan.  Why can you buy them frozen in any supermarket in France for a pittance but they're as rare as a friendly bank in this country?  Moan over, back to the food.  The Hubs is a man who would never knowingly or willingly eat a vegetable if he was allowed, so my philosophy is to jam as many veggies into our meals as possible... hence the presence of broccoli and mushrooms in my pie!  Now my vague quantities serve 3-4 people, so you can double or halve the quantities as appropriate

Fish Pie

300g Fresh Fish (I used a mix of cod, smoked haddock & salmon)
200g Prawns
75g Frozen Peas
100g Baby Mushrooms
100g Broccoli, cut into small florets
75g Baby Onions or Shallots
250ml Parsley Sauce (yes, you can use a packet but add extra parsley & a squeeze of lemon)
400g Mashed Potato
50g grated Knockdrinna Lavistown Cheese

Firstly, make the mash as this will take longest. 
Somebody just may have been a lazy sod and used frozen mash to save time & washing up.  Don't be ashamed as it's actually healthier than the bold butter-laden mash I would make from scratch at home...

Preheat the oven to 200c/Gas 5

Now prepare the vegetables - peel & chop the shallots, trim the broccoli into small florets, clean & trim the mushrooms, add the peas and place in a large bowl. 

Now trim and bone your fish, cut into chunks and add to the bowl along with the prawns.

Make the parsley sauce & add to the fish & veg mix. 

Combine well and then lovingly place the mixture into an oven-proof dish.  Top with the mashed potato & bake for 25 minutes.  Add the grated cheese and bake for a further 20 minutes - adding the cheese halfway through stops it burning (trust me, I speak from experience!)

Remove from the oven & allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

This Week's Likes and Loathes

In the last L&L post I raved enthusiastically about a shop in Dun Laoghaire called the Sweetest Thing.  Well I'm back to rave about it a little bit more - specifically their bloody amazing sausage rolls.  These aren't those pastry-heavy, almost meat free offerings you find elsewhere... they are the real thing.  Beautifully seasoned pork with a very thin and crispy pastry shell, these are worth a trip on the DART, 46a, 75 or however you choose to travel.  If one was hungover (ahem, not that I ever would be), these would be the perfect soakage food.  Or if you're feeling a little bit virtuous, share one and serve it with a giant healthy salad.  I was very mean and taunted LikeMamUsedToBake with a bite by bite report on the gorgeousness of my sausage roll so I will buy her one all for herself.

Second on my list of Loves is my brand new shiny iPhone.  I love this loads.  In fact, I may love it more than The Hubs... and he knows it!  I dressed it in an apple green case (so I can find it in the bottomless pit commonly known as my handbag) so it's very pretty indeed.

I've only had it a week but there's already loads of fab foodie apps I've discovered and downloaded... here's just a few of my favourites

Echofon - great app for accessing Twitter on the go & for blogging in the kitchen while I'm cooking

Twitpic - the perfect companion to Echofon for uploading photos of food & other random things like the contents of my drinks cabinet

DeCecco - a handy pasta resource full of recipes & advice

BigOven - a giant recipe book to give you loads of ideas

Epicurious - a fantastic app from a website I love

iFillet - want to know how to cook the perfect steak?  This is all you need...

Mixology - now this is fun... an app which gives you cocktail suggestions based on what you have.  Finally, a use for my bottle of Frangelico!

Two of my Favourite Things...

Things I Loathe

When I drop things - yesterday a tray of World Peace Cookies bit the dust on the way out of the oven.  Splattered everywhere...  Also managed to bounce my media hard drive on the floor but it survived (thank god)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pork Fillet with Lardons, Apple Rings and Cider

Ooh la la eh - this was actually an unplanned "what the hell am I going to make for dinner" recipe as there was literally nothing else in the fridge.  All the other suggestions that The Hubs made were frozen solid... Burgers - no, mince is in the freezer.  Chicken - no, we had that last night.  Steak - no, we had that the night before.

So, it was down to a solitary pork steak (Irish Pork, of course) from SuperValu, bought when it was very cheap indeed.  The last pork fillet was stuffed with a Feta and Mint mixture and baked.  It was gorgeous, but I wanted to try something else.  Seeing as we're off to France at the end of the month, I decided to cook a Normandy-inspired dish using the last bottle of cider from last year's trip to Tregastel, the apple rings from the Toffee Apple Cookie recipe and some lardons and onions.  Out came my beloved Le Creuset casserole dish and I was ready to go.  This recipe makes 3 servings - dinner a deux, and leftovers for me the next night

Pork Fillet with Lardons, Apple Rings & Cider

1 Pork Fillet, well trimmed and cut into two pieces (so it will fit into the casserole)
2 Onions, finely sliced
100g Lardons
1 glass of Cider
1 tsp dried Thyme
Handful of Dried Apple Rings
Vegetable Stock
1 tsp Olive Oil
2-3 tbsp Creme Fraiche
1 tbsp Grain Mustard
1 tbsp Parsley, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper

Heat the olive oil in the casserole dish on the hob & add the pork fillets.
Brown on all sides quickly and transfer to a plate.

Add the lardons to the casserole and cook until sizzling. 

Add the onions and cook for another 5 minutes.

Now add the cider and make sure that you scrape the bottom of the casserole to free up any burned bits - this is where the flavour is hiding...

Bring to the boil for 1 minute to burn off the alcohol, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

Add the thyme, apple rings, stock, salt and pepper and stir well.

Return the pork to the casserole, put the lid on and either braise on the hob or in the oven for about 40 minutes, checking occasionally. 

When the pork has cooked through, remove it to rest for a few minutes before carving into slices.

While the pork is resting, reduce the cooking liquid so it thickens slightly and add the creme fraiche, mustard & parsley.

Sorry about the rubbish photo -
I had to physically restrain The Hubs from taking the plate before I took a pic!
Serve with mashed potatoes and green veg to soak up the sauce.