Monday, 24 October 2011

Singles Supper Club


The Arbutus Club is turning into a matchmaker service for one night only on the 25th November. Will my food succeed in inspiring love around the table? Stay tuned to find out. 

I'll be inviting 8 of the handsomest, most interesting, single gay men Dublin has to offer for a fantastic three course dinner at the club. An evening of good food and sparkling company. Who knows, sparks may fly!

This night is brought to you in association with Singledom Town. Check out his blog. It's really excellent. 
Keep up to date with all the plans on the supper club site here.

What an experiment this is going to be.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The English Market - My Mecca

When I die, I want to have my ashes scattered at the English Market in Cork. Admittedly this may cause some problems for the stallholders and the place may get shut down....actually I haven't thought this through at all. Scrap that first sentence. But you get the sentiment right? 

I had the day off yesterday and instead of hanging around in boring old Dublin with nothing to do I took a trip down to Cork to visit my cousin who was there for one night only. She's very popular and in great demand and often in places for one night only so you have to catch her while you can. So off the bus I got at a very convenient lunch time and I was met by my lovely cousin who took us immediately in the direction of the market and the awesome Farmgate Cafe for lunch. It's rather telling that in my last few trips to Cork my very first port of call before anything else has been the Farmgate. I'm clearly very good at timing my arrivals around mealtimes and there really is no better option than this wonderful cafe. So it was there that we went yesterday.

My love affair with the English Market started at a very young age. My childhood was filled with frequent visits to the rebel city to visit the Cork cousins and the place truly was a home from home. On special occasions we would be taken to the Farmgate where I fell in love. With chocolate cake. Their chocolate fudge cake is, and always will be for me, the best there is. No doubt it's tied up with all sorts of food memories, not least of all when I was about 11 and allowed into the kitchen in the Farmgate restaurant in Midleton to help with the actual baking of said chocolate cake (a favour pulled in by my lovely aunt). I even got paid ten pounds for my days work. I couldn't believe they would actually let me in the kitchen never mind pay me to 'help' them make my favourite food in my favourite place. Madness, but that's what happened. I remember the day I got a whole cake for my birthday. I nearly died with excitement and then, having survived that, was almost pushed over the edge after devouring it all, but luckily I live to tell the tale. I also fell in love with their pickled cucumber and their salads, another one of those tastes that brings back such happy memories for me. Not to mention the shepherds pie, oh dear this list could go on forever. You get the idea. 

So the Farmgate was why I started going to the market. Back in the day I wasn't much into food shopping so the rest of the market probably passed me by a little and my memory is too bad to really be able to say how it was back in the day. But these days, I practically giggle with excitement every time I walk in. After our lunch yesterday we went for a little wander around. There's so much to explore. What I really, really love about it though is that it embodies everything a good market should be. It's steeped in history and it's function hasn't changed since it's foundation in the late 19th century. It is there to provide honest, good quality, fairly priced food to the people of the city. It provides a relatively affordable alternative to supermarket shopping and it fosters a sense of community. The fact that it does all this smack bang in the middle of the city centre makes is all the more special. It would have been so easy for the English Market to have allowed the foodie craze to get the better of it's community ideals. Yes it has all the fantastic foodie stalls like the cheese and the olives, and the speciality chocolates and macaroons, but it also has the iced bun concession and the cobblers and menders and the fantastic shop that sold every kitchen and baking accessory you could desire. Add to these with the butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers and it truly is a market that has it all. It doesn't leave anyone out. And that's why I love it. 

I'm a huge fan of market shopping but have been really struggling recently with the price that is usually charged at foodie markets whereby it seems that we are being sold a lifestyle and not just the food. I was so pleasantly surprised yesterday when we started to buy a few things to see that it was so reasonably priced. To be honest we thought we were being undercharged it was so good. We had decided to have a night in and wanted to pick up a few treats so we headed for the cheese shop. I couldn't believe it  when we came away with two hunks of cheese for just over 3 euro. We then got a sizeable bag of olives for 2 euro and looking around the veg stalls and butchers counters it did seem better value than I was expecting and something that could be used on a more regular basis than the prices of Dublin markets allow us to here. Maybe things are just cheaper generally in Cork, but I felt less like I was being ripped off in ages and it really encouraged me to spend more. Maybe this is a policy that should be adopted amongst our Dublin marketeers. The fact is if you feel like you're getting a bargain or a good deal you're likely to do more shopping. Sounds like good business to me.

loads of local produce on offer

specialty breads

doesn't it look so pretty?

anyone got a recipe for pig's heads?

yum and fancy....

....and across the way, old school
but still yum-can't go wrong with an iced bun

kitchen treasure trove

Paddy Joes Alterations - community businesses running alongside foodie heaven - genius

Perhaps in years to come the English Market will lose the more old fashioned stalls and it will change into something that is entirely more upmarket rather than the wonderful mix that it is right now, but for the moment it's about as perfect a market as you're going to get in Ireland or dare I say anywhere, and I only wish it were in Dublin.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Cheffactor Competition

I can't remember the last time I entered a competition. Actually that's an outright lie. I do remember the last time I entered a competition because I won and it was a momentous occasion. I was about eight and I created a masterpiece of colouring in which won me a very snazzy red walkman. It was in a cheezy Americanesque style diner that I believe was called Wolfman Jack's in Rathmines. Anyone else remember that place? I loved it and all it's kitsch 50's Americana. And I loved it even more because it gave me my only winning experience to date. Sad but true. So now the time has come to throw my hat in the ring once more and see what happens. It's kind of a cooking competition (I say kind of because the winner is decided on votes of a picture not their cooking skills) and the prize is awesome. A three month cookery course in Ballymaloe House, all expenses paid. Food mecca for many, lifelong dream for me. So,  it comes down to this. I need your help. And your friend's help, and their friend's help...etc....I need to get as many people as possible to like my photo on the Cully and Sully website as possible to be in with a chance. Apologies for the shameless marketing campaign and the incessant nagging and reminding which will no doubt be coming your way over the next four weeks (voting closes on the 17th Nov), I'll try and keep it to a targeted minimum. But remember folks, vote often. 

Here's my entry for the competition. You can vote here. Please and thanks so much.

The dish is a Tuscan bean soup with some delicious sourdough bread to mop it all up. It's really really tasty. I'll include the recipe below for any of you who would like to make it. It's from a delicious cookbook from Kate Caldesi called the Italian Cookery Course, and it's just that, a lesson in Italian cooking. It's a really brilliant book and is full of lots of tips on how to butcher meat, bread making, pasta making and sauce making. If it's Italian it's in there. You Londoners out there might be familiar with Cafe Caldesi in Marylebone. It was one of those special places we liked to go to in college for coffee and dream of the day we could afford to sit down to eat. Some days we'd treat ourselves to a desert but that was as far as it ever went.  They did the best hot chocolate I ever had and we would go and crowd around a mug watching all the well to dos enjoying their delicious lunches, breathing in the stunning aromas as they wafted past. If you're in the area, drop in, you won't regret it. Anyway, the book is great, go buy it.

What a makeshift tripod eh?
For the entry you had to post a picture with your dish, you and the words Cully and Sully in it. See above for cheesy arrangement of said picture. You've no idea how difficult this was to put together with no spare pair of hands and no tripod. Thank god for timer buttons on cameras is all I'll say. And thank god my camera didn't fall off my oh so stable tripod and smash all over the floor. So the picture's not perfect but it's the best I could do given the circumstances!

Please please please go check out the link and vote for my picture. I'll bake you lots of cookies if you do!

Here's the recipe:

Firstly you need to make the base of the soup. It's called a soffrito and is the base for endless Italian soups, stews and sauces. 


150g carrot
150g celery
150g onion
150ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves (optional)
bay (the herbs you use are up to you, you don't have to use them all)

  1. Finely chop all the vegetables.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add the garlic if using and fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and fry for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally.
  4. That's it. It can be frozen in portions to use in soups and stews or used straight away.

The holy trinity - onion, celery + carrot

Bean Soup

1 quantity of soffrito (I used about a third of the above recipe above and it was enough for two people)
700ml of stock (the recipe called for 700ml of stock to serve 4 people, I used that much for 2 servings but I think I enjoy a slightly thinner bean soup than most!)
400g of tinned beans (cannelini or haricot) drained (the recipe called for 800g to serve 4 people)
  1. Warm up the soffrito in a saucepan.
  2. Add the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
  3. Add the beans and cook until warmed through.
  4. Serve with bread.

I told you it was simple. The trick is to get a really good soffrito. You need to use really fresh vegetables, a good amount of oil (I didn't quite use 150ml because it seemed like a lot but I did use more than I usually would) and you need to give it a good length of time to soften slowly and for the flavours to develop. I dislike celery greatly but I have to admit that it is what makes recipes like this. It gives an extra depth of flavour that would ruin the dish if left out. And thankfully it doesn't taste like celery in the finished dish. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Baking Bread for Blog Action Day 2011

Today is the foodie blog action day and I want to share with you my love for bread-making in general and sourdough bread in particular as my contribution to the international food discussion. Baking bread is one of my new found joys. I've been making soda breads for years but have recently been trying my hand at yeast breads and even more exciting, sourdough bread with my own home grown starter. I love the whole process involved in preparing a loaf - the patience that's required, the little idiosyncrasies that each different loaf seems to possess and of course the smell of freshly baked bread. Is there anything better than that first crusty slice, still warm from the oven,  lathered in real butter oozing, from the warmth? If there is I'm not sure what it is. So anyway, here's my blog on sourdough bread. I've been putting it off for a while as it's a complicated one but  the results that come from it are so fantastic I think it's worth the effort.

If you have no interest in bread making you may want to skip this. Be warned, it's going to get technical. If however you're teetering on the edge and you quite like the idea of that fresh baked loaf coming out of the oven, or you want to be able to truly impress your friends by saying 'What, this? This perfectly formed loaf of deliciousness? Oh I just whipped that up this morning' (well, maybe not in those self important words, but that's what you'll be thinking), if you're on the brink of being a bread baker then read on. Once you go sour, you'll never look back!

Ok, so first off. This is not for the faint hearted...or the impatient. 1st step. You've got to make your sourdough starter. This takes about ten days. But once it's made you have it and you can keep feeding and using it as long as it stays alive. Which it will do if you keep feeding it. Confused yet? Read on.

The starter - what it's all about

For the starter you need 100g of strong bread flour (half and half wholemeal and white - he wholemeal helps the yeast get going) and warm water. That's it. If you like you can also use a piece of fruit on the first day to help get the yeast going. Add a small piece of ripe rhubarb, apple, or I used a strawberry, to the mix. Discard once the starter starts bubbling.

First off mix the 100g of flour with enough warm water in a large bowl until you have a paint like consistency. Mix it well trying to incorporate some air into it. Cover with cling film and leave in a warmish place for the fermentation to start. This will vary depending on the conditions but you should see signs of yeast bubbles by the next day.

For the next 7-10 days you need to feed your starter. So it goes like this. 

Day one: make the starter as above
Day two: add 100g more flour and enough water to achieve paint like consistency - cover with cling, keep in a draught free place
Day three: discard half of the mix and replace with 100g flour and enough water to achieve paint like consistency - cover with cling, keep in a draught free place
Day four-ten: as above
After ten days your starter should be starting to smell fruity. This is when you know it's ready to use.

I keep mine in the fridge and feed it with a little flour and water every 5 days or so (discarding some and replenishing it). I then replenish it after I use it for baking with a good big feed. It seems to last really well in this way. I must confess to having neglected it for anything up to three weeks, but once I start feeding it and paying it a bit of attention again it seems to come back to life fine. I change the container every so often to avoid any spoiling. 

Hugh Fernely Whittingstall, who's fantastic recipe this is, recommends keeping it as a stiff dough in the fridge if you are not going to be using it on a regular basis. Achieve this by adding more flour but not water. My starter is kept in a fairly thick liquid form and it seems to be working fine that way so far. He also says it's suitable for freezing if you are not going to use it for a long while, and it will reactivate on thawing. 

Now you have your starter you can make bread. But be warned, you need patience for this bit too.

Just add water

There are three stages to this process:
  1. making the sponge
  2. making the dough
  3. prooving the dough
  4. sorry, four stages - baking the bread!
To make the sponge you need to take about 100ml of your starter and mix it with 250g of strong flour. (You can use any flour really, as long as it's strong. I've been trying Spelt lately and I'm sure as hell going to be trying this Kamut wheat flour! But white or wholemeal is fine, or indeed a mix which I also quite like.) Add 275 ml of warm water, not hot, warm. Mix, cover with cling film and leave in a draught free place. I like to do this stage before bed, then in the morning it's ready to make the dough but regardless when you do it it needs several hours to get going. It's ready when it's good and bubbly. You can replenish your leftover starter with more flour and water to be used again next time. ( Bad blogger. I haven't taken a photo of this, but use your imagination. It looks like floury, sloppy mess.)

The next stage is the dough. I make this first thing in the morning when the sponge has had all night to get excited. Flour the surface that you are going to use to knead your dough. Also have a jug of warm water nearby in case you need it, your hands will be messy in a minute. To your sponge add 300g of your flour of choice, a tablespoon of olive oil and 10g salt. Mix together with your hands. The consistency should be a bit wet. If the dough is too tight add a little water to loosen it. If you're experimenting with different flours this may alter the consistency of your dough, also your starter may be slightly different in consistency from time to time so this might change things too. Use your instinct and trust it!
Knead the dough on the floured surface for ten minutes until it is smooth. Again you have to use your instincts here. Practice will tell you when it's ready. If it's tight and breaking when you're kneading it it might need some more water.  Try and develop your own kneading technique. This is a good start -  hold the dough lightly with the heel of one hand and use the other to stretch it out away from you, then fold it back in on itself, rotate it and repeat. It's tiring but keep going. You'll have great arms if you make enough loaves.
When it's done, knead it into a ball and transfer it to and oiled, shallow dish and cover with oiled cling film. Leave to proove for several hours until it has double in size. (To knead it into a ball you need to fold the edge of the dough into the middle, give it a turn, fold the edge into the middle, turn it, fold it etc until you have a tight ball shape. Me being a bad blogger, I have not taken a picture of this being done. I will rectify this upon baking my next loaf and post it to help explain!)

When it's doubled in size, sometime in the evening if you're following my time plan, you now have to shape it and give it the final prooving. To do this you first need to knock it back. Essentially this means knocking all the air out of it. You can do this by punching it with your knuckles. Then turn it out onto your floured surface again and shape it. Do this by giving it a light kneading and forming into a ball as above. Dust your shallow bowl with flour and place your dough upside down in the dish. Cover with oiled cling and leave to proove.

Poor thing's had all the air knocked out of it.
That's it, upside down and ready for it's last proove!

At least an hour and a half later, or again when it's doubled in size it's ready to bake
Preheat the oven to it's hottest temperature. Place a deep baking tray filled with water on the bottom of the over to create some steam. Preheat your baking tray for the bread. When the oven's ready, flour the hot tray and turn the bread out onto it. It'll now be right side up. Make some incisions on the top of the loaf, either with a knife or scissors. Don't be shy, you want the bread to open up here so you can go quite deep. Bake for 15 minutes in the hot oven then reduce the heat to gas mark 6/200C and bake for another 25-30 minutes. When it's done the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool for at least 20 minutes before diving in.

Ready to go in the oven

Try and wait for it to cool down before diving in with the knife!

So that's it. It gives a really lovely tangy loaf and I love that you don't have to mess around with powdered or fresh yeast. Although you have to be organised, I have to say I love the whole process and the fact that it takes days makes it all the more exciting when it finally comes out of the oven. It keeps very well too and makes delicious toast.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Search Re-visited

rainbow chard from the market to cheer up a dark day

 After last Thursday's disappointing trip to the co-op market, I thought it only fair to re-visit it on a Saturday morning when it's in full swing before totally making my mind up on it's merits, so off I went this morning to check it out. I knew I'd caught it on a bad day the last time, and with me in a bad mood to boot it was never going to be a fair appraisal of what the place really had to offer. I'm pleased to say that this morning it did live up to my a point (more on that in a minute).

The place was bustling, despite it being one of those awful, dark Dublin mornings, where to leave your bed at all is nothing short of a miracle. But miracles happened and off I trundled with shopping bag in hand. And I wasn't alone. There was a great buzz to the place. What had been an empty, soul-less room on Thursday was transformed into a vibrant and plentiful marketplace. There were no less than four different veg stalls (again more on that later...can you feel a rant coming on?), cake stalls, bread stalls, (including one selling bread made from Kamut wheat, never heard of it before, very interesting, I feel lots of nerdy bread experimentation coming on!) cheese stalls, jewelery, olive oil, the list goes on. There were also a few stalls selling nice treats for lunch as well as the in house cafe which was doing a roaring trade. There was plenty of seating for those who wanted to eat but to be honest you'd have a tough job trying to find a seat, it was so busy. In short it was unrecognisable from what I had visited last week. And I was thrilled to have been proved wrong. My other favourite thing was that there was a small and very understated trad session being had in the seating area that filled the place with gorgeous tunes as well as a busker at the front door. The whole thing just felt lovely. So lovely in fact that I'm sorely tempted to join, where for 25 euro you become a member and are entitled to discounts off produce and an opportunity to get involved in the market through volunteering and inclusion in decision making and possible planning.

Anyway, memberships and market domination aside, I had a small list of items I wanted to get to make a bean soup later but I was determined to only buy Irish veg....queue rant....This is a new thing of mine and I seem to be getting quite bogged down in it. Having gone to an interesting talk on the Slow Food movement in DIT's Cathal Brugha Street, I'm more inspired than ever to try to eat responsibly. So, where at all possible I'm buying Irish produced food and trying to cut down on my meat intake. I had a good old look around the veg that was on offer in the market. There's quite the selection and at first glance I was delighted. They were all organic, but I decided to see what they had on offer before I started getting ranty (see previous rant here). As I looked around my initial joy at the array on offer soon started to fade as I realised that at least half the veg on offer was not produced in Ireland. I can kind of understand the need to import things like avocados, kiwis, mangoes, that sort of thing. Although, I'm not sure it's impossible to grow them here, given the right equipment, but possibly prohibitively expensive to do so commercially. So I let those go. But then I started seeing that a lot of the onions, garlic, apples, celery and pears (amongst other non exotic stuff) were also imported (A lot from Holland for some reason). Now, I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure Ireland is capable of growing onions. And apples? You've got to be kidding me? It's autumn. Aren't we over-run with falling apples? I'm clearly missing something here. I don't understand how the organic philosophy fits in with the practice of unnecessary importation of produce that is easily grown in this country. I  plucked up the courage to ask the seller about the importation of his foreign produce. He buys it off these guys who import it and then sell it wholesale in Ireland. Healy's also have a stall at the co-op. My courage did not go far enough however to ask him why he had to import apples at all and why he couldn't find an Irish producer to suit his needs instead? Must get braver next time...Baby steps.

Luckily I did not need much in the way of exotic veg for my soup base and was able to pick up the carrots and onions (Irish)  from the market. I gave up when it came to the celery, the only available being from Holland and I was proving a point now. Who needs celery I thought? I picked up a few other bits and pieces in the shop and went on my way. It was only after I'd left that the answer to my question hit me...I need celery soup needs celery. So in I went to Londis on the way home a bit defeated. You go to all the effort to go to a farmers market and you have to go to Londis for the celery? Sheesh. I gave in to the thought that I would be getting celery from China, but at least it wouldn't cost the earth. And there it was....Irish grown celery. Ok, it wasn't organic, but it was Irish. So it's clearly not impossible to grow celery in Ireland. This is very frustrating. It seems I will have to make a choice. What is my priority here? Irish grown or organic? I don't claim to understand the ins and outs of the fruit and veg market in Ireland and even less so the organic fruit and veg market, but it seems to me that we should be trying to avoid any unnecessary food miles on our produce at all costs. Which brings me back to my point, would it not be better to buy un-organic Irish produce than organic foreign produce? Honestly I don't know the answer, but for now I'm going to go with Irish first, organic second until someone can explain to me why I'm wrong. 

This responsibility thing is hard work. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dahl (not the author, the food)

Seeing as the shops all seem to be getting carried away with early Christmas enthusiasm, I've decided to go with the 'if you can't beat em, join em' philosophy. That in mind I've been thinking of my Christmas wish list. This may also be a result of having too much time on my hands resulting in excessive day dreaming. Regardless, the first thing on my list, in case anyone's interested, is Indian cooking lessons. As you can see I'm throwing caution to the recessionary wind this year and thinking BIG! Realistically, there's not much chance of getting what's on the list anyway so might as well be creative. 

I love Indian food. Really love Indian food. I desperately miss the cheap and cheery Indian restaurants of London and have found it hard to find the same experience in Dublin. That said, I think there's some great places opening up that I have yet to try,  so I've not lost hope on this front yet. There's lots to explore out there I'm sure. To be honest I can't really afford to go out for dinner much these days so I thought I'd try a little home experimentation in Indian inspired cuisine. (I say inspired because I'm sure it's about as authentic as a leprechaun in a sari.)

I've also been trying to explore a more vegetarian diet. Like most Irish people I've been raised on a diet of meat and potatoes and feel cheated when the meat is left off the plate. However, what with all this talk of global warming and upcoming food crises, I've been becoming increasingly more aware of how much meat I eat just for the sake of eating it, not because I'm actually enjoying it or need it. Don't get me wrong, I'll never be a vegetarian, I just couldn't do it, but I would like to start eating a little more responsibly, both for my benefit, the environment's and let's not forget my pocket's.

So pulses would seem to be where I'm heading. Which brings me to the Dahl. It seems to embody perfectly the combination of my newly embraced pseudo-vegetarianism and my love of Indian food. Tarka Dahl is one of my favourite things to order in an Indian restaurant (yet I rarely do order it because I would feel cheated if I didn't have some sort of meat curry - idiocy really) and I'd dearly love to learn how to make it properly. In the absence of anyone to teach me how to make it I took it upon myself and yesterday I gave it a try. I had a quick glance at a few recipes online and then made it up from there. The result was actually not bad. I wouldn't say it was anything like any Dahl I've had in an Indian restaurant but it was definitely something I would try and make again. Maybe I'll follow a recipe next time. But where would the fun be in that?

Here's what I did.

Serves about 4

250g green lentils
2 bay leaf
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin 
1 tsp coriander
half tsp cayenne pepper
pinch chilli flakes
1 onion 
1 inch ginger 
2 cloves garlic
3 tomatoes
oil or butter for frying

  1. Add your lentils and bay leaf to a pan of salted, boiling water and simmer as per instructions (about 20mins). You can use stock if you want more depth of flavour.
  2. Fry the onions, ginger and garlic in the oil.
  3. Add the turmeric, cumin, corinder, cayenne pepper and chilli flakes. The spice mix is really up to yourself. I toasted cumin and coriander seeds, about a teaspoon of each, in a dry pan. I then ground them in a pestle and mortar and added a teaspoon of turmeric, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a few chilli flakes. 
  4.  Fry the spice mix with the onions, garlic and ginger until it starts to give off an nice aroma.
  5. Add three chopped tomatoes.
  6. Simmer for ten minutes with a lid on. Make sure it doesn't go dry, you may need to add some more water or stock.
  7. When the lentils are done add them to your sauce. You can add some of the cooking liquid as you like depending on what consistency you want your sauce to be.
  8. Some recipes suggest breaking down the lentils a bit to make them more of a paste-like consistency. Next time I would try and do this with half of the lentils and keep the other half whole to vary the texture.

Onions, tomatoes and spices give the basis of your flavour. I added peppers too!

End result - not bad!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumnal Supper Club - the low down

Friday came and went and a fantastic supper was had. Thanks to all my guests who helped make the evening so special. It was great to welcome some new faces. 
It was a totally different atmosphere from the first time round which I found really exciting and has made me really keen to do more and see what happens next....

Read all about it here!

Friday, 7 October 2011

The search continues

The task of the day for yesterday was to go and pick up some vegetables and general supplies for my supper club tonight. In my never ending quest for a reliable and affordable produce market in Dublin, I decided to try the Dublin Food Co-op on Newmarket. I've been meaning to try this one for a while, but never got around to it. It's regular day is on a Saturday but it also opens in a somewhat diminished capacity on Thursday afternoon/evenings. Tucked away in a warren of streets I never knew existed I finally found it and alas, I was really disappointed when I did. It had been kind of a frustrating day anyway and I wasn't in the best of form so perhaps this won't be the fairest review, but never the less, I'll continue. There wasn't much there at all. I wasn't expecting many stalls and I was only really there for the veg, which was lucky, because that was really the only thing there, apart from the very nice wholefoods shop which was great and the cafe selling a limited supply of what looked like nice food. But it's such a big space and the whole thing just had a bit of a sad feel a about. It's like having a cake stand and only having two cakes on there. It's all a bit pathetic and doesn't really encourage you to buy anything. The shop felt great because it was stuffed to the gills with produce and the staff were very friendly. However being predominantly organic I couldn't afford anything in it. But the rest of it just felt like a bit of an after thought. I'm sure the Saturday experience is altogether different and much busier and maybe I just caught the Thursday event on a bad day, but it seems to me that it would be better not to have any stalls than one rather badly stocked one. Which brings me back to the vegetables....

First off, there wasn't really much to offer. They had plenty of baskets but not much in them. Secondly, it was an organic stall. Which is fine. I would dearly love to be able to embrace organic produce with all the fervour that the producers do but I JUST CAN'T AFFORD IT!!!! And it's so depressing to go to these lovely markets (it's usually lovely, I know it is) and be faced with this produce that isn't about the produce, it's about a lifestyle. I don't want to buy a lifestyle, if I did I'd buy a BMW. I want to buy vegetables, that taste good and that don't cost the earth. Maybe I'm naive. Clearly I'm missing something about what this stuff costs to produce. If organic really is that expensive to grow, maybe we shouldn't be so focused on it. Producers must have to spend a fortune jumping through all the hoops to make their farm certified organic. I'd happily settle for Irish grown small scale produce. That's what really matters. Well to me anyway. 

Take Mammy E for example (for those of you who don't know Mammy E, her beetroot is renowned and I've gone on about it at length so I'll save you that rant just now. Here's another instead). Now if you asked Mammy E if her produce was organic she'd probably look at you like you've just spoken to her in Cantonese. This thought has never even crossed her mind. She has a garden. It's big. She has the time and desire to grow food in it. The food that comes out of it is both delicious and CHEAP! And it's no small scale operation. She grows enough potatoes, beets, strawberries, apples, herbs and onions and more to keep her and her extended family in a happy supply throughout the year, whether it be in fresh produce or with the jams and preserves she makes from it. Now, she would not claim to be organic and I'm sure she wouldn't get a certification if she cared to try but I've never seen a single spray or pesticide in her garden. She uses complimentary planting, clever mesh structures and good fencing to keep her crop safe. And she seems to have a serious gift. She puts stuff in the ground and it grows. It's remarkable and I want her to teach me everything she knows.

Anyway rant aside. I've come to the conclusion that maybe markets aren't the answer. And personally, organic is definitely not the answer (I could get kicked out of the foodie club for a statement like that). I'm lucky to have a very good greengrocer down the road. Unfortunately they stock quite a lot of foreign produce. For example their celeriac comes from France. Surely we can grow celeriac here? But if I buy in season and start shopping more based on what's available than what I want to eat, maybe I can stick to Irish grown traceable vegetables from there. It's not cheap either but more manageable that the market.

So the market was a major let down yesterday. Next, I was off to buy fish and you guessed it,  the fishmonger was a disaster too. It really wasn't my day. I was hoping to get two large fish, which would feed four people each, either bass or bream. I was going to bake  them with fennel and lemon and herbs and all sorts, and it was going to be delicious. Well, apparently Irish people don't like to share and the only fish I could get were in individual sized portions. I tried three fishmongers and was told that it would be unheard of to get a fish large enough to feed four people. Short of going out to the boats myself and talking to the fishermen, which I'm just not brave enough to do yet, I was stuck. I wasn't going to try and bake 8 whole fish so I had to change my recipe. Now, I know big fish exist, because I've seen them, and cooked them and eaten them. The market in Spain was filled with family size fish. Is it just that we don't have the culture of a large number of people sitting around a table to eat? But wait, we roast massive joints of meat all the time. What have we got against fish? I will get to the bottom of this, even if it means going and talking to a fisherman!

So tonight's menu is somewhat altered. Instead of baking my fish I will be poaching the filleted fish I got from the fishmonger and serving that instead. It's not going to be half as impressive and It will be hard for me to enjoy when I know what could have been but you've got to go with what you've got so, there it is. 

Disasters aside, I'm all set. Starter's looking good. Desert seems to have worked out ok, but you never can tell until you cut into it can you? And the few flowers and candles are working their majic on the atmosphere. Now all I need is some guests.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Looking to expand my biscuit repertoire I wanted to try out some biscotti recipes. I haven't much of a sweet tooth but it is really nice to have something to hand in the press for visitors and these keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container so I thought they'd be ideal. I'm also keen to develop more after dinner treats for my supper club evenings and this is just the thing.

I turned to my Poppina book of baking for their fig, apricot and nut biscotti. As this was only an experiment I just used what nuts I had to hand and left the fruit out. I'm in two minds about the result and will have to wait for a second opinion. I'll let you know what the verdict is.

They came out looking good, although not excatly like the picture in the book! I perhaps did not cook them enough on the first bake and they didn't rise a great amount. I used self raising instead of plain flour and left out the baking powder. Maybe I should have added a little baking powder to help it on its way.

fig and grape fragipane tart
So here's the recipe. I'm still not convinced by this book. Beautiful ideas but the two recipes I've tried have not left me feeling super confident. The other was a frangipane tart which turned out very dense and heavy. And their sweet pastry recipe is way too sweet for me. Anyway try the biscotti and if it works for you we'll know the problem is me!

Fig, apricot and nut biscotti

200g plain flour
1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
100g caster sugar
30g pistachios 
30g hazelnuts
this is how it looked before baking
30g sultanas
40g dried apricots
40g dried figs
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs - beaten

  1. preheat oven to gas mark 2
  2. sift flour and baking powder
  3. add sugar, fruit, nuts, lemon zest and stir
  4. add eggs and mix until you get a dough like mixture
  5. flour your hands and bring mixture together into a ball
  6. roll out on a floured surface (it will be quite sticky so work quickly and keep your hands floured, it doesn't need much rolling)
  7. transfer to lined baking sheet and flatten slightly so it's about 8cm in width
  8. bake for 30 mins - should spring back when pressed
  9. take out and leave for 10 mins
  10. using a serrated knife cut the biscotti into 5 mm slices (mine were a bit thicker)
  11. return to the oven and bake for 10mins, turning half way (The recipe is ambiguous here, it says 'return to the hot oven'. I don't consider gas 2 to be a hot oven. I turned it up to 5 to give the biscotti a golden colour)
  12. take out and leave to cool 
  13. can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks
....and after

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A pint of tea?

Tea anyone?

One of the things I both love and hate about Ireland is our inescapable love affair with the public house.  There's something so innately Irish about meeting in a cosy little snug, settling in to a couple of pints and talking about....what?...who knows? The beauty is it doesn't really matter. The beauty is in the act itself. Where the conversation takes you is an unknown and that's what makes it so special because it gets you away from the regular chat of daily life and allows you to dream. You might talk about X-factor, you might talk about what you would do if you were President, or you might plan out in minute detail what you will do when you pack in that job you hate so much and move to a hermit's cave in Clare to keep bees. The point is the world is your oyster for as long as you're in that snug with that pint in front of you and your imagination turned up to 11. So in my head Dublin pints lead to dreams. 

After nine years of living in London, where finding a pub that is capable of inspiring this kind of engagement is next to impossible, I, understandably I think, have perhaps over romanticised the notion of the mid-week pint. 

However, I find it an undeniable truth that I do some of my best communicating over a pint down the local. I find it particularly true when the pint in question is had with a family member, partner or close friend. Someone you see and speak to regularly but with whom you can sometimes go for days without actually saying anything at all. Sure you ask them about their day during the ads of Eastenders, or you meet for a flying lunch in town and read off your schedules to each other before you both dash off again, back to wherever it is you're skiving off from to have the lunch in the first place. But there's something about the slowness of a mid-week pint in an old man pub that no matter how the year's go by will never really change, which means you have both the time and inclination to really talk.

Worried that this equation between pubs and good communication might be signalling some sort of alcohol dependence problem I did a quick survey of my friends and was met with a reassuring consensus of agreement. They too found that getting out of the house and into the pub led to a good old chat. But wait a minute. That can't be healthy surely? Is the best way to good communication through alcohol? The answer of course is no. It's not. Good communication comes from sitting across from someone and listening, then responding. Then they listen and respond to you. It's that simple. We should be able to do it anywhere, but given all the interruptions of modern life - phones, twitter, blogging, not to mention tv, books and of course sleeping - there simply isn't the time or the energy in the day to really keep up with people, unless we make it. And the provision of an encouraging setting where the pressure is off and the rounds keep coming seems to help us along the way.

So, I decided to try for a while and see how I would get on without the alcohol.  I feel uncomfortable with the pub being my only option. As much as I love it, I want more. And by having choices I'll appreciate it all the more for the beauty that it is. With no pub on the cards I was faced with a tricky dilemma. How would I do my socialising? Where would I go to have that long talk about nothing with my best friend. What alternative would I find to facilitate weekly chats with Dad. Would it result in never actually saying anything of real importance to my boyfriend ever again? What an experiment. 

I have to say I was fairly stumped for options. Aside from the pub, there are few places to go of an evening in Dublin where you can while away the hours without spending an absolute fortune. You could go for dinner, but this is expensive and will probably give you a max time of about an hour and a half before staff start hovering at your table anxious for you to leave. It's ok but not for a real and regular alternative to the pub. You could go for coffee but few places stay open late enough, and being a one cup girl I find the guilt of taking up valuable table space starts to kick in after about forty minutes. Cinema, theatre, exhibitions....there's no chat in them, you do that in the pub afterwards. In short there's few places with the same relaxed environment as the good old fashioned pub, where, lets face it, we've all nursed a pint for a couple of hours and not had the slightest shred of guilt about taking up space. That's what pubs are for.

It seems that the Irish psyche is just geared towards the pub. Any cafes that do stay open late seem not to do that well and don't keep up the practice for long. I'm hoping against hope that with the increasing variety of cultures in the city we can be encouraged to explore how other nations do it and adopt some of these practices for ourselves in the future. And it does indeed seem to be happening. 

Which brings me to the real point of this blog. My new spot de jour is Wall and Keogh on Sth. Richmond Street. Open until 8.30 you won't be rolling out of there at closing time but it beats the early closing of many of Dublin's city center cafes. It offers over 150 varieties of loose leaf tea and for the price of a pint you'll get a pot of tea big enough to last you at least one dream. Its relaxed atmosphere (which I'm presuming is tied in to some all good things come to those who wait/everything in it's own good time tea philosophy) means you never get hit with guilty feelings of 'I must vacate this table'. In fact the prolific aray of books and board games practically begs you to while away at least a significant portion of the afternoon (without the guilt of afternoon drinking!). Other pub busting benefits include not getting bored of your drink of choice and the ability to choose a drink which actually helps your liver instead of damaging it. Ironically on Saturday afternoon, when I last went, the liver relief tea jar was almost empty. Dublin's nothing if not reliable. Oh and don't forget the wonderful smug feeling you'll have when you wake up the next morning not feeling the worse for that last pint the night before. 

So tea is my new thing. There's so much more to it than a cup of Barry's and with Ireland being such a tea drinking nation this shouldn't seem like such a jump for the Irish psyche.

No doubt I'll be in the pub for a pint at closing time. 

Don't mind if I do...

Lovely outside seating area

Beautiful teapots at Wall and Keogh

Monday, 3 October 2011

Chicken Kiev

Continuing with my experiments on deep frying, this time scarily alone, I wanted to try that 80s kiddies classic. Chicken Kiev. I've no idea why I wanted to try this. I wasn't ever that big a fan of chicken kiev but there you have it. I wanted a wholesome hearty dinner and this is what I came up with. 

I made it up out of my head. I made a herb and garlic butter. Then made a hole in the chicken breast and stuffed the butter into it. I heated my oil. Scary. It was oil I had used before and it was much noisier being heated up the second time round. It was really quite intimidating! Anyway, I breaded the chicken dipping it first in seasoned flour then egg and lastly breadcrumbs and put it in the pan. I had no idea how long it would take and as I'm a bit scared of uncooked chicken and my deep frying capabilities I finished it off in the oven which was busy roasting my potatoes. I served it with roast potatoes and good old broccoli and it was very tasty. And it looked pretty impressive too. The breadcrumbs were a great success and it was a lovely golden colour. Not bad!

As I sat down to eat it I decided to look up some recipes to see what I had done wrong. A lot of them suggested making a compound butter then rolling it and refrigerating it before slicing off the desired amount and stuffing it in the chicken. I presume this keeps it colder for longer and then it doesn't all melt away in the cooking completely as mine did. Mine was decidedly lacking in that fairly essential to any self-respecting chicken kiev pool of melted butter.
Another common element was flattening out the breast with a tenderizer then placing the patty of butter on the flattened meat and rolling the meat around it, instead of just inserting the butter in a pocket as I did. 

Minor details but could improve the end result. So here's my recipe:

2 chicken breasts
100g flour (seasoned)
1 egg
1 cup of breadcrumbs
2 tbsp butter
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
herbs (finely chopped)
oil for frying 
  1. make the compound butter with the garlic and herbs
  2. roll in baking parchment to form a tube of butter and refrigerate
  3. place cling film over the chicken and flatten out with a mallet
  4. cut a round of butter about 1 cm thick
  5. place this in the middle of the chicken breast, fold in the ends and then roll the chicken breast so the butter is completely enclosed
  6. season the breasts
  7. dip the breast first in seasoned flour, patting off any excess, then egg and finally breadcrumbs
  8. shallow fry in a frying pan until golden then transfer to the oven and bake at gas mark 6 for 20 mins
  9. alternatively, deep fry until golden and cooked - about 15-20 mins

The best thing about this dinner was eating the leftovers the next day in a chicken ceasar salad. Yum!