Friday, 30 September 2011

For Food Sake Ireland Movie Night

Last night was date night and my turn to pick the evening's entertainment. I was looking for something a little different and came across the excellent movie night at the Sugar Club being held by For Food Sake Ireland. For Food Sake holds bi-monthly events at the Sugar Club based around all sorts of different foodie topics ranging from debates on the state of the food industry in Ireland to these fun foodie film evenings where they screen a film, loosely based around food, and cook up some delicious dishes inspired by the movie. I had already read about their first movie night, where they screened the movie Big Night, and was intrigued by the concept. This was the perfect excuse to experience it for myself.

We had a really great time. The night got off to a slightly shaky start when we turned up at about ten to seven for an event that was advertised to start at seven. There was no sign of anyone and the staff at the Sugar Club didn't seem to know much of anything (but they never really do!) so we decided to have a quick drink next door before re-investigating. It was a bit odd that the place seemed so deserted ten minutes before the event was due to start but our patience was rewarded and by 7.30 the evening was in full swing.

There were about 50 people there and the atmosphere was great. We were in time enough to get a table to ourselves so we grabbed that and then headed straight out to the beer garden where the food was set out. The chefs for the evening were from the China Sichuan restaurant in Sandyford and the food smelled delicious. (This is a restaurant I've heard much about and have long been meaning to try. What a happy coincidence!) There was a starter, 2 mains and a desert to choose from. You could have two courses for ten euro or the main on it's own was seven. We went for the two courses. Tom got a starter and a main and I got a main and desert. (Always a good idea to bring a date to one of these things - allows you to cover all the bases!) We both agreed the main was delicious. It was shredded pork in ginger and garlic sauce with rice. There was a tofu option as the other main but due to my deeply in-bedded fear of tofu I stayed well clear of that. I was a little disappointed by the other courses but this was probably more to do with not liking the flavours than the quality of the food. The starter was a cold chicken salad in a peanut sauce which was ok and the desert was a coconut and green tea panna cotta which really didn't do it for me. The texture was a little too like mousse and I wasn't mad on the flavours. But for ten euro we were definitely happy. The portions were a good size and it was great to get a taste of all three courses even if we didn't love them all. And the smell of all that Chinese cooking definitely set the scene for the film that was to follow.

Unfortunately due to our hasty ordering at the bar we missed out on the great value wine deal (10 euro a bottle). We should have realised something was up when we sat down with our dirty big pints and noticed everyone else sipping away elegantly on glasses of dark red. I presumed they were all just more sophisticated than me.

Anyway with the food out of the way the movie could start, so with pint in hand and lights dimmed, we settled in. It's a great venue to watch a movie and the fact that it wasn't stuffed to the gills meant that everyone was comfortable, had a seat and most importantly could see. The film was great. I really loved it. It's a very endearing tale of an old Taiwanese chef trying to deal with his three daughters as they finally prepare to flee the nest. The opening scene is a highlight and shows the father cooking his epic Sunday dinner for his family, preparing about 15 classic Taiwanese dishes. Each more elaborate than the next. Well worth a watch, even if you never see the rest of the movie.

So that was pretty much the evening. I'd give it a very high recommendation for anyone looking for something a little different. It was good value, 5 euro for the movie, 10 for food and had we been wise 10 for a bottle of wine. Can't go wrong with that. So I'll definitely be keeping an eye out on For Food Sake's blog for upcoming events as well as venturing out to the China Sechuan restaurant for a slap up meal sometime in the very near future.

This post has been composed as part of the blogging competition. Check out Groupon Ireland's new blog at

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

New Blog

Is there such a thing as a blog addiction?
Do I have one?

Probably the answers are yes and yes. Regardless, I have created a new blog and I think you should know about it.

In planning my next supper club, which is filling up fast, thank god, I realised that the Arbutus Club blog, which was originally devised as a blogging tool to help me with the supper club has developed a mind of it's own and is going off on all sorts of non supper-club related tangents with not so much as a by-your-leave. So, I've decided to let it go about it's foodie ecperiments uncurtailed and I've created a blog page exclusively for supper club business.

I also wanted to explain a little more about what the club is, how it came about, what one can expect from the night, that kind of thing. So I think it'll be much clearer for people who are interested in the Club but don't necessarily want to here about all my ramblings/experiments etc.
Check it out, it's at I hope you like it and I hope it'll clear up any questions people might have about the Club.

You may also have noticed that due to popular demand I've reverted back to the older, more colourful format of this blog. Enjoy!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Autumn Supper Club

It's been a while since the inaugural Arbutus Club dinner and it's high time that oven in my kitchen was put to use feeding mouths other than mine so with that in mind I'm planning an Autumnal supper club on the 7th October to celebrate the changing seasons and to counteract the gloominess of the evenings to come. The fire will be lit, the pumpkin will be beheaded and hopefully there will be people around the table to be fed so if you like the sound of the menu below, get in touch and come join me for a great evening of good food and better company.

prosecco and nibbles on arrival by the fire

duck terrine with homemade chutney

baked sea bass with 
celeriac mash and greens

pumpkin pie


20 euro donation

(Non fish eaters/vegetarians can be catered for on request)

I've tried to keep the menu as seasonal as possible using ingredients appropriate to this time of year. I'll be sourcing local organic produce as much as possible and exploring the fine markets Dublin has to offer to get my produce for the day. I hope you like the look of the menu. If you'd like to book a place or have any other comments please get in touch, either on the blog or email me at

Surviving the lurgy

Autumn is here and it would appear that it has heralded it's arrival by striking down the nation with the dreaded 'changing seasons' lurgy. Few of my nearest and dearest have escaped, certainly not anyone who has being hanging out with me in the last week anyway, and it would seem we're not alone in our misery. Don't think I haven't noticed the constant sniffing and hacking coughs that seem to have melded into the general background noise of Dublin in the last week. Sales of Kleenex and other cold paraphernalia are through the roof. It's not normal to be able to get through a mansize pack of tissues in a day. And with the cost of lemsips being what they are I thought it a good idea to turn to the internet for some helpful home remedy tips to try and help me, my loved ones and anyone else out there with their phlegmy nightmare.

Firstly, I've tried two of my own concoctions this week, both of which I've found, if not curing, certainly very comforting, and more enjoyable than a lemsip.

Ginger, lemon and honey drink
  • This one's really easy. Take about half a lemon per mug, a spoonful of honey and about a knuckle of ginger (ie a piece the same size as the tip of your finger to the knuckle, I've no idea if that's an official measurement of ginger, anyone know how you officially measure ginger?), peeled and grated.
  • Put the ingredients in a mug, (not any old mug, your favourite mug, the one with the dangerous chip on it that you probably should have thrown out years ago but you just can't bear to be without, that mug), add hot water, leave to infuse for a few minutes, strain if you want to get rid of the ginger bits and sip
If you're brave enough you can add a clove of grated garlic (maybe start with half a clove), which has extra immune system boosting properties and is a good anti-bacterial agent. If you really can't stand the taste, and possible bad breath, you could try garlic supplements instead.
If you have any fresh peppermint leaves in the garden, these make a lovely addition and also have anti-bacterial properties. (Might help counteract the bad breath that the garlic may bring, but I've never tried the two together. Interesting combination perhaps)

Chicken Noodle Soup 

Who doesn't love chicken noodle soup? I'm not sure I would class this as a remedy but it is certainly comforting and it does contain elements that will relieve some symptoms.

chicken (leftovers from a roast are ideal, alternatively fry up a chicken breast)
peppers (optional)
mushrooms (optional)
spring onions
rice wine vinegar
soy sauce
groundnut oil (any oil will do really)

  • Firstly heat up your stock, bringing it to the boil. Reduce to simmer, add your noodles and cook as per instructions.
  • Using a wok, fry  the ginger and garlic in the oil
  • Add the veg and chilli (not the spring onion) and stir-fry for a couple of minutes 
  • Add soy sauce and rice wine vinegar (about two tablespoons of each, you can adjust this as you like)
  • When the noodles are done you can add them and the stock (this will now be your soup so add as much as you want to eat) to the wok
  • Add the leftover chicken to warm through
  • Add the spring onion and serve
 If you like you can add extra matchsticks of ginger at the end for additional immune boosting goodness.
A drizzle of chilli oil over the finished soup will give it an extra kick. A spicy soup will really help to clear out the sinuses so go for a bit more of a kick than you're used to. (you'll end up addicted to the stuff and never look back!)
You can put whatever veg, or no veg, as you like but I would pack it with lots of green pepper and pak choi for a vitamin C hit.

The two of these have helped me and my 'slightly suspicious of anything alternative' other half so far so hopefully they'll give you some comfort in this dark hour.

Other interesting tips I've found on the wonderful interweb are as follows:

Sage: Drinking a sage tea infusion can help with sore throats as it has antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties. Alternatively gargle with a sage, honey and apple cider vinegar infusion. Or drink as a hot tea.
Blackberries: Rich in vitamin C and given the time of year that's in it, it doesn't take much persuading to get me eating lots of these.
Echinacea: If you can be disciplined to take it and stick with it's worth investing in the drops. Not sure they're much help once you've got the lurgy but they definitely reduce the chances of succumbing, or if you do succumb the damage will be lessened somewhat.
Liquids: loads and loads of drinking people. But counter-intuitively, for me anyway, avoid the juice, the sugars feed the virus so avoid anything overly sugary. Lots of hot drinks, preferably brought to you in bed by someone easy on the eye.
Which brings me to.........HOT WHISKEY. As if  you had to be told. If ever there was a finer excuse to drink hot whiskey, I know not of it. Make it with honey instead of sugar (see above) lots of lemon and a good generous portion of whiskey. There's not much it won't cure. And if it doesn't fix your cold, have enough of them and you won't really notice it anymore anyway. Genius. 

There's loads of info out there about all this stuff. But all the sites seem to say pretty much the same thing: lemon, honey, garlic, ginger, sage, echinacea and REST!
 So go on, put your feet up, take the wonderful excuse that this misery brings and stay indoors, guilt free, watch terrible television, sleep during the day, and bark at people to bring you more tea. You deserve it. (but remember to say thanks, because they'll be the sick ones shouting at you next week and you don't want to make any enemies)

Websites used for inspiration in this post:

Friday, 16 September 2011


The best thing about the onset of Autumn...possibly the only good thing about the onset of the falling fruit and the inevitable glut of all things apples and pears that ensues. And what do you do when you have a glut? You preserve that's what you do. With this and an upcoming weekend trip to the country, which will no doubt result in me returning to Dublin laden with produce from the garden, my thoughts have turned to chutney. Also, I've been looking for an excuse to use up those long saved empty jars that have been lurking in the back of my press for so long.

Spurred on by my new Australia Women's Weekly cookbook, (I had a bit of an accident in a bookshop lately that saw me leave with not one but four new cookbooks, rather proud of them I am too!) I was inspired to research chutney making. Initially, this was so I would be extra prepared for any excess fruit and veg I might be taking home with me at the weekend, but inevitably,  I got carried away and went out and bought the excess fruit and veg I needed. Waiting for things is not my forte!

I made two varieties. An onion marmalade, which did actualy use up some excess onions I had, and a classic tomato chutney. The onions came out lovely and are very tasty. Looking forward to having them as an accompaniment with some steaks soon. The tomato chutney was pretty good for a first go. I don't think I used the right sugar. I used a soft brown when I think I would have been better off with a granulated and I could have let it reduce down a little more. The end result was a little watery but tastes and smells delicious. Had it in a cheese sandwich for lunch today and it more than did the job.

The onion marmalade was very easy. All you need to do is:
  • Heat some oil and butter in a heavy bottomed pan and fry the onions. I had them finely sliced in half moons. Cook for about 10 mins.
  • You can add garlic at this stage if you like.
  • For 5 onions you should then add 200ml of red wine and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and seasoning. You can add herbs or spices as well depending on the flavours you want.
  • Leave to simmer for 30-40 mins until the onions are soft and sticky.

Here's the tomato chutney recipe. It's from the Women's Weekly book.

Simply throw everything in the pot. Bring to the boil then reduce to simmer uncovered for an hour and pour into hot sterilised jars. Seal and leave to cool. The smell from the kitchen I've been reliably informed is of Christmas. Seeing as all the shops seem to be getting in on the Christmas game extra early this year, it would appear my kitchen does not wish to be left behind.

I'm hoping to pick up a glut of beetroot at the weekend because what I really want to make is beetroot relish. Maybe now after these two trial runs I'll have some idea of what I'm doing. Will of course let you know how I get on. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Scottish Supper Club

Apologies for the non food orientated tangent of the last post, but to avoid any upsets here is my foodie post to reset the balance.

So, walking holiday over, feet momentarily rested it was off to my sisters temporary home in Glasgow to cook up a feast for friends. 

Goat's cheese and black pudding salad

Monkfish and prawn stew
with potatoes and green veg


I was very excited to be able to go to MaCallum's fishmongers in Glasgow, just off the Argyle Rd. to get the fish sorted. Now, I don't know if any of you experience this, but you know when you're in a shop and you don't really know what you want and it's a specialist shop and they're really knowledgeable about their produce and then you start to feel very stupid for not knowing anything about what's going on? Well, that happened. I knew I wanted monkfish. I had no idea how much, or how expensive it was, or how it came. And this was a real old school fishmongers with crates of fish everywhere. I just panicked. So five minutes later I was already out of the shop with forty pounds worth of fish. How the hell did that happen? Anyway, that'll be another of those pesky life lessons. Don't panic in fish shops. Here's a run down of what happened:

Me: I want some Monkfish.
Fishmonger: Oh, you mean the most expensive fish in the shop? 
Me: yes please. 
Fishmonger: Do you want way more than you need? 
Me: yes please. 
Fishmonger: And how about some of these really expensive langoustines to go with that? 
Me: yes please. 

Of course, had I slowed down and thought about it, I could have got half monkfish and bulked it out with a cheaper white fish, then a couple of prawns for a bit of drama on the top of the dish.  Oh, well, lesson learned. Worst thing was I didn't even get to enjoy the shop I was in and out of there so fast. 

The black pudding came all the way from Fort William at the end of the west highland way and I'm sorry to say the rest of the ingredients came from  Sainsbury's, but my feet were very tired.

The fish stew went something like this and it was delicious. The idea came from a Richard Corrigan recipe that I saw on the telly. I would definitely recommend it as something a little special if you want to splash out.

  • Sweat off leeks and shallots in a large deep frying pan (preferably with a lid) with butter. Season.
  • Then add your chunks of fish. I put them all in together but if I were doing it again and with varying types of fish I would add them at different times according to how long each fish needs to cook. ie. monkfish first, smaller less meaty fish after, then prawns at the end.
  • Add about a half bottle of white wine, enough that it comes about half way up the fish so it's going to steam a bit when you put the lid on.
  • Throw in some herbs, I used dill and parsley, put the lid on and leave to cook. Time will vary depending on what fish you use.
  • You can check the sauce at the end for seasoning. I served it in the pan at the table as it looks pretty impressive. 
  • If you wanted a slightly richer sauce you could take the fish out, keeping it hot,  add some cream and butter and reduce it down before re-adding the fish to the sauce before serving.  

As for the Cranachan, again in hindsight (I've been using that a lot lately) this probably wasn't the best desert for me to make having never eaten it in my life and not even being very sure of what it was. But I'd seen it in nearly every restaurant/pub I'd eaten in for the last week and I was curious. I found a recipe in a book, (in a bookshop, I didn't even buy it...awful) and thought I'd give it a try. The Scots at the table deemed it different but a success. My sister claimed it reminded her too much of porridge and made her gag. You can always count on honesty from a sibling. As for me, I wasn't much pushed about it but I think if you like Eton Mess and oats you'll like this as it's basically Eton Mess with oats instead of meringue and a bit of whiskey thrown in for good measure. Here's a recipe that I found similar to the one I used. I made a fresh raspberry coulis instead of using jam. The other recipe I found specified pinhead oats, which I couldn't get but I think would work better.

And we're back....

So, it's been a while since my last post so apologies to those of you who have been losing sleep over the lack of communication on my know who you are....(singular). As for the rest of you, here's a little catch up on what's been keeping me away from my computer over the last few weeks. Be warned, there is little to do with food in the following lines!

Having realised that the cost of all these cooking experiments needed to be met, it was time to go out and do some real work, the type where people actually pay you money for the services you provide. So it was off with the apron and into the car, which took me to London to be precise. A few successful days at the grindstone later, a bit of cash in my pocket and it was back in the car to head north, to Glasgow, on my holidays. The bad thing about car travel is that it invariably means eating on the service stations....which equals yuck and tasteless....unless you happen to be traveling on the M6 from Manchester to Glasgow and you stop HERE!! 

Tebay services, the only privately owned services in the UK (possibly the world??) It's phenomenal and was just the thing to pick me out of the drudgery that is the usual squished toasted ham and cheese (with mysterious white sauce...uugh) and a latte from Costa that is my usual diet on such journeys. Here you can find any amount of homemade tray bakes, delicious hearty and healthy sandwiches and hot dinners, not to mention the full butcher and cheese counters that have some of the best looking local produce you could imagine. Oh and a dangerous array of beautiful pottery and kitchen ware. I recommend avoiding that bit if you are partial to your savings. Couldn't resist picking up a little spot of cheese from the incredibly helpful and knowledgeable cheese lady as an offering to my kind hosts for the night. Unfortunately I was camera-less on this journey, for shame, but the view was spectacular. I know what you're thinking, it's a service station, how good can it be? Well, it was so good that I think next year I'll forget my end destination and I'll just go here for my holidays.

Having recovered my composure, I picked my jaw up off the floor, dragged myself back in the car, got back on the motorway and continued on my way to the Highlands. I love Scotland and I love Glasgow and of course I love the amazing people I know who live in Glasgow that give me brilliant excuses to visit time and again. The excuse this time was walking the West Highland Way. For those of you who know anything about the West Highland Way you will know it is not something to be undertaken lightly, (which I did), it is something that should be trained for, (which I didn't), and  one should be properly prepared with the right equipment, boots etc, (which I wasn't). Looking back I was a little naive. "A wee 95 mile walk", I said, "Sure no bother, you just put one foot in front of the other right?" And even now, I would probably approach a similar task with a similar mindset. It's amazing the capacity the human body has to not learn it's lesson.

Cake shops like this are one of the many reasons I love Glasgow

Thankfully though my thoroughly prepared and experienced walking companion Ali had most of the bases covered so we were set. Well I would have been if only I had known that little trick of wearing walking boots a size bigger than usual so your feet have room to swell. Will I always have to learn these lessons the hard way? Why is there no manual to allow you to avoid learning such lessons the hard way? Pre-emptive solutions to not yet encountered problems, that's what I'm after. So head's up, next time you go for a 95 mile walk....wear big boots. 

Views like this are what can be seen from the way (of course there wasn't any of that snow there in September)

Anyway, day one over and game over for my poor big toes. With a great big blister under each toenail it was grin and bear it time from then on. Which would have been fine. I'm not above grinning and bearing it. I would have happily squeezed my screaming toes into my foolishly sized shoes for another 5 days had I not gone through a rapid overnight ageing process that left me with the knees of a 70 year old. Hobbling to the end of day two the thought of going on was beyond me. I would have happily lay down in the wood then and there and called it quits, the walk, life, the lot, were it not for the ever encouraging words from my faithful companion. So the two of us dragged ourselves over the last two miles of the day and arrived, seriously shook, at our second night's accommodation. This was where my foolishness and naivety really hit home. What was I thinking? A 95 mile walk? Who does that? Why does someone do that? 

I dwelled on these thoughts (and my pain) overnight and when I couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer in the morning I waved goodbye to Ali at the start of day three and hopped on the delightful ferry which took me across the loch (Loch Lomond should you be interested) to a main-road....with buses....and on to civilization. It took me all of forty minutes, including waiting time for bus and ferry, to get to our next night's accomodation. It took Ali 9 hours. It just doesn't add up. 

So the days went by in a disappointing haze of me attempting to walk, and failing. Day four was started with much pep in my step. My feet felt like they were returning to something resembling their normal size, knee was almost pain free and motivation was at an all time high. As we pushed north the desire to walk grew and grew. This was something I was not expecting and even now find hard to comprehend, but something in those Highlands definitely took over and try as I might to explain it to myself now it feels impossible to grasp it. I guess it was an in the moment thing. Anyway, I started out on a magnificent morning feeling on top of the world and seriously motivated to walk. Half an hour in, the pain starts. 6 miles later and I hobble to a halt. Luckily this coincided with the intersection of the main road before the way heads over Rannoch Moor and into nothingness so I decided the sensible thing to do would be to stop here and again catch a bus to that night's hotel. 

I was gutted. Really low. What a failure I was. 

Arriving in the hotel once again before I was allowed to check, I killed time in the bar looking out across all the stunning scenery. Thanks by the way to the lovely bus man who informed me as I was getting off the bus that I had just missed out the part of the way with the most impressive views and scenery. That really lifted my spirits. So it was decision time. Give up altogether? Head back to Glasgow? Rent a car? Battle on? No, I'd decided battling on was not an option. So I would rent a car, hang out, drive to the nice views I'd missed and find myself in the Highlands. It'd be magical....I had no driving license with me. Oh how I cursed my stupidity. So, still no plan of action, I drowned my sorrows in some fabulous ales and went to bed. 

Then the rains came.......and came.....and came....

 Perfect day for a stroll

We woke up on day 5 to the wind whipping around the hotel, the rains beating down on the roof and against the windows. It was the kind of weather where the only sensible thing to do is stay under a duvet. Or, go for an 8 mile walk over a big hill, in the Highlands, with a gammy knee.....and sore toes. With the weather what it was, that really was my only option. What else would I do in the pissing rain in the middle of nowhere when I couldn't get into the next hostel for another 5 hours or so?  I dosed myself up with drugs, strapped up my knee and readied myself for the ordeal ahead. 

It was amazing. I've never been so exposed to the elements in my life and it really was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. Again, it's probably a 'you had to be there' scenario and even looking back on it it's hard to remember why I would have felt the way I did. It makes no sense, but having nearly been blown off the mountain twice, walking through what were essentially rivers not paths, crossing waterfalls that the previous day and the day after didn't exist, screaming at the sky for what it was throwing down at us and coming through it all at the other end, in pain but alive, was fantastic. Oh how we earned our pints that day as well as redeeming a little bit of my self esteem. 

Conquering day 5 made it just that little bit less bitter a pill to swallow when I had to leave Ali off to complete the last day by herself, with her substitute walking partner that she picked up along the way. I was sorry not to cross the end point with her, but was delighted to be able to walk out and meet her there to congratulate what was on her part an extraordinary feat of strength both physical and emotional.

Would I reccommend this as a holiday? Hmmmm......

Is it fun? depends on your definition of fun. But having gone through the journey (I'm really not a 'journey' type of person) I can safely say it's one I won't forget. Despite the pain and what at times can be a monotonous and very challenging track, the sense of accomplishment, even having only actually completed half of it is fantastic. Not to mention the people we got to meet and the places we got to see and the ale we got to drink.  So....yes...I would recommend it. Just be bloody sure and have the right size shoes.
Tea and coffee left for the walkers by some lovely local. They were nowhere to be seen!