Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Taste of Wexford

The weekend before last, I was away with my lovely girlfriends for our annual pre-Christmas night away in Wexford.  This year, I decided we'd break with tradition & go to somewhere new for dinner - a restaurant in the  town called Taste had been highly recommended to me by a few people, so the website was investigated, menus were perused and a phone call was made... I had arranged the meal for the 8 of us, just like that!.

Taste is just over 2 years old & is in the Selskar area - right behind one of my favourite food emporiums Greenacres (where I managed to buy 2.5kg of chocolate for Christmas goodies, but that's another blog post...).  Greg, the very charming owner, had agreed to offer us the group package for the evening which is the most bargainous evening we've ever had in our lives... for a mere €50 per person, we were collected from our hotel, brought to Taste for a champagne reception, a delicious 3 course meal, all the wine we could drink, then rolled out the door into a taxi to Haven bar where not just one, but two free drinks awaited us.  Now where's the catch, I hear you say?  There was absolutely none.

I chose the Natural Smoked Haddock & Prawn Risotto for my starter, which was dressed with rocket, parmesan & herb oil.  I very begrudgingly shared some very small forkfuls with the girls, because it was far too nice to share.

Apologies for the wonky photo - this was a palate cleansing sorbet before our mains.  You'll note that all I had in front of me to drink was water...

Still on the water, I had a gorgeous Ribeye Steak with homemade Onion Ring, Garlic Mash & Cafe de Paris Butter

For dessert, I had their Chocolate Brownie with a Baileys Custard & Vanilla Icecream.  It lasted approximately 10 seconds in this stage before it vanished under a sea of spoons.

And then it was off to the Haven bar where we danced the night away.  Judging by the delicate faces over the breakfast table the next morning, we all had a fantastic night... and we'll be back!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Midweek Meatloaf

A few weeks ago, my parents bought me the Nigella Kitchen cookbook which is full of delights I've already cooked & blogged about including Chocolate Banana Muffins & Risotto Bolognese.  One recipe I made a few weeks ago & promptly forgot about (blame the excitement of getting a new job) was based on her Ed's Mother's Meatloaf.  I put a photo of it up on Facebook and then the lovely Emer and my VBF Aifric wanted to know where the recipe was... whoops!

Speaking of Aifric, she nearly made me crash the car laughing on the way home from work tonight... herself & Mr. T have three gorgeous dogs who cost them a fortune in vets bills.  One of them has a bad cough.  Did you know what you give a dog with a cough?  Cough medicine for HUMANS!!!  Apparently the girl in the chemist nearly split herself laughing when Aif explained who the patient was.  Does anybody know how exactly you can get a dog to take cough medicine - because we haven't a clue...

Anyway, back to the Meatloaf.  Nigella makes this with eggs hidden in the middle of it which does look very pretty in the photos, but neither myself or The Hubs was overly fond of it.  It was even worse when it was reheated the next day... rubbery old egg is not a favourite in this house & it was promptly fired into the bin.  The leftovers were gorgeous drenched in gravy with a big pile of green veg & mashed potatoes - proper comfort food to keep you warm on these cold miserable nights.  This quantity serves 4, by the way.

Midweek Meatloaf

2 Onions, peeled & chopped
2 tbsp Oil (I use Rapeseed as it doesn't burn)
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
450g Minced Beef , as lean as possible
50g Breadcrumbs
1 Egg, lightly beaten
2 Carrots, grated
150g Mushrooms, chopped
1 tbsp Parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp Thyme, chopped
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 cloves Garlic, minced or crushed
Salt & Pepper
150g Pancetta

Heat the oil in a large frying pan & gently cook the onions, seasoning well, until golden & soft.  Set to one side and allow to cool (do this an hour before you start the meatloaf).

Heat your oven to 200c/Gas Mark 6.

In a very large bowl, add the cooled onions to the meat, breadcrumbs,veggies, egg, worcestershire sauce & seasonings and mix well.

Form the mixture into a long oval shape in a deep roasting tin and cover with the pancetta, making sure it's all tucked in & the top of the meatloaf is well covered.

Bake for 50 minutes until the juices run clear & let it rest for at least 15 minutes before serving in thick slices.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Risotto Bolognese

The other night, I made a big pot of bolognese sauce - half was eaten that evening for dinner and the other half went into the fridge with vague plans to use it over the weekend or throw it into the freezer.

I am a big advocate of taking shortcuts, especially during the week, and I really do love Loyd Grossman's Primavera sauce - there's no garlic in it, so you won't stink the place out with your dragon breath... I added lots of onion & sliced mushrooms to the meat sauce, together with a "substantial" amount of red wine, purely for flavour, you know.

Anyway, I was flicking through my new Nigella Kitchen book & saw a recipe for Risotto Bolognese.  Her method is very virtuous, making it all from scratch, and that's wonderful if you have all day and an army of kitchen slaves.  I had a stash of bolognese sauce all ready to go, so my version is incredibly simple and easy.  As usual, this feeds two hungry people so it's very easy to upscale the quantities to feed a crowd.

Risotto Bolognese

Bolognese Sauce
6oz Arborio or Carnaroli rice
500ml Beef Stock
Parmesan Cheese

Heat the bolognese in a large pot until piping hot.

Add the rice & stir well.

Start adding the stock in large ladlefuls, stirring well until each batch has been absorbed & the rice is tender (I don't like "al dente" risotto) - this takes 18-20 minutes.  You'll end up (a) having stock left over, (b) using it all or (c) having to add extra water.  It depends on the rice, so don't worry too much.

Allow it to reduce until it's thick & not too liquid & soupy

Serve with some grated or shaved parmesan & some fresh basil leaves.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Simple Leek & Potato Soup

Tonight I drove home from work in the howling wind and lashing rain, and decided to make some soup to warm my chilly bones.  I didn't have a specific plan in mind, so this was everything that needed to be eaten or sent to the bin!  A lot of recipes for this soup use milk or cream - I didn't have any because the cupboard was extra bare - and I don't think the soup suffered because of it.  This makes about 4 bowls of soup.  If it's too thick, just thin it down with water... it's much easier to thin it down than try to make it thicker!

Leek & Potato Soup

3 medium Potatoes, peeled & roughly chopped
3 Leeks, trimmed, washed & roughly chopped
1 large Onion, roughly chopped
50g Butter
Salt & Pepper
500ml Stock, chicken or vegetable
1 tbsp Parsley & Chives, finely chopped

In a large saucepan, sweat the vegetables in the butter until the potatoes are soft at the edges and the leeks & onions are tender.  Season well with salt & pepper.

Add the stock & simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes break up easily.  Taste & adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Allow to cool before blending - use a stick blender or your food processor.  Now stir through your herbs, reheat if necessary and serve.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Winter Warmers Cookalong - Daube of Pork with Apricots & Colcannon

It's the first Friday of the month and that can only mean one thing... it's the Irish Foodies Cookalong.  This also coincided with the end of my first week in my new job, so to say I was knackered was an understatement.  But I'm made of stern stuff and knew there was no way I could miss this Cookalong, which was themed Winter Warmers.

This month, we shall be mostly clearing out the freezers in preparation for the C****mas onslaught, so I found a fillet of pork and decided to make a variation of Domini Kemp's Daube of Pork, but with a big buttery pile of Colcannon.  People, this was heavenly... the pork just fell into big tender shards at the touch of a fork, and the colcannon mopped up the delicious sauce.  I will most definitely be making this again - it's a perfect recipe to make for a large group - my quantities feed 3 people, so just double it for a family meal.

Daube of Pork with Apricots

500g Pork Fillet, trimmed & cut into large chunks
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Rapeseed Oil (or use one that doesn't burn easily)
Salt & Pepper
250ml Red Wine
250ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
300g Passata/Crushed Tomatoes
200g Mushrooms, roughly sliced
60g dried Apricots
200g Tomatoes, semi-dried (optional)*
1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
1 tsp Dried Thyme

Preheat your oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4

Using an ovenproof casserole dish with a lid, brown the pork in the oil until golden on the hob.  Add the onions, season and allow to cook until the onions start to colour.

Now deglaze (scrape up all the stuck bits) the pan with the wine and then add your stock.

Now it's time for everything else - garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, apricots & herbs.  Bring this to the boil, stick the lid on and put into the oven for an hour.

After an hour, give it a good stir & remove the lid so the sauce reduces - it will look a bit watery at this stage, but that will change.  Cook for a further hour, check the seasoning & serve - with the Colcannon.

* Don't stress if you've no semi-dried tomatoes.  I had a punnet that had to be used or binned, so I halved them, sprinkled them with salt, pepper, olive oil and thyme leaves and then put them in a low (130/Gas 2) oven for 90 minutes.  They are like little squidgy jewels when done, and I had to hide them for the Daube, as The Hubs kept stealing them to scoff...


3 Potatoes, peeled & cut into large chunks
200g Kale, trimmed & cut into small pieces
Salt & pepper
40g Butter

Boil & mash the potatoes
Cook the kale in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender - drain well.

Mix the potatoes & kale together, add the seasoning & butter.  Serve with the Daube of Pork

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Anti Room... and me!

I'm a big fan of The Anti Room website and was delighted to see my fellow blogger Clare make a guest appearance last week in the Saturday Dish section, talking about her gorgeous recipe for Stuffed Cabbage.

I then found out that they were looking for more foodie bloggers to submit their recipes, so decided to send in my Pear Gingerbread... and guess what - they published it today!  I am prouder than punch and to celebrate, I'm going to make another batch of gingerbread tomorrow... to be shared with my new work colleagues.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Belfast's Got The Buzz...

Apologies for the break in blogging.  Some of you will know, that after 9 long months of cursing, sending out over 250 applications, meeting a lot of useless recruitment agencies - and one BRILLIANT one and generally cooking my little head off, that I finally got a job.  Yes, I'm back in the ranks of the employed peeps and my bank thanks me heartily for this news.  Sadly it's only maternity leave, but it's better than nothing and I'm rather enjoying it.

To celebrate, The Hubs suggested heading away for a few days as he had some holidays left to use up.  Belfast was our destination of choice - we go there every year and love it - so I was in charge of arrangements.

A trawl through various websites brought us to Dukes at Queens - a small but perfectly formed hotel in the Queens/Botanic area of the city.  The hotel was gorgeous and our room was stupendous - I tried to steal the entire bathroom but the sanitaryware wouldn't fit into my bag, goddammit.  Our deal included dinner on one night and seeing as I was suffering from a stinking cold when we got there, it's where we landed on the first night.  The food was fabulous and the service was pretty good.  Oh, and they make great Eggs Benedict for breakfast...

As the weather was so bad while we were there, we decided to eat close to the hotel on our second night, and we were very fortunate to be right beside the sublime Molly's Yard.  This is a gem and I urge everybody heading to Belfast to make a booking for a wonderful experience.  The staff deserve the biggest round of applause for being so bloody good at their job - nothing is too much trouble for them and they are all genuinely charming and love what they do.  The food is just delicious and they stock the locally-brewed beers from Hilden Brewery which The Hubs loved - a lot.

A highlight of our visit was meeting Deirdre McCanny who is the brains behind the amazing Co Couture on Chichester Street.  Deirdre is a chocolatier who makes the most stunning chocolate creations which are a work of art with beautiful packaging.  We were blown away by the chocolates we bought, which tasted even better than they looked.  She's planning to sell online very soon and I will definitely be placing an order!