Lasagne: Recipe for an Autumnal Summer’s Day.

We hadn’t exactly been having a Mediterranean summer but it’s Ireland and so the fact that it wasn’t cold and there were dry spells between showers was keeping us fairly content. But August has dawned with just a little sniff of winter in the air, a breeze with a bite to it when it picks up and a more sinister threat of rain. The last week has seen the days grow perceptibly shorter and life feels just a little more soup than salad!! We are not quite in the realm of stews and casseroles yet but a yearning for something more warming and comforting than classic summer fodder has set in. The kind of meal that sits somewhere in between slow-cooked beef bourguignon and flash fried fish with griddled asparagus and broad beans.  A type of transitional meal to match the light wool jumper now resurrected from the recesses of the wardrobe.  So what fits the bill? I have decided a lasagne might work – in fact it may just be the perfect trans-seasonal comfort food. A little heavier than grilled meat or fish, yet the perfect bedfellow for the last of the delicate summer leaves and local cherry tomatoes.

There is something slow and languid about the cooking of this Italian classic. It can easily take an entire afternoon to prepare, but it is not difficult or stressful. I find it is best embarked upon with the kitchen door open creating a refreshing draught, while the heat from the stove provides the perfect antidote to the crisper air flow. So with a free afternoon and five people in need of a casual supper, this late summer’s afternoon seemed to be perfect lasagne cooking weather.

So let’s get going. I like to start with a tomato sauce that can simmer gently for hours on the stove, creating the fragrant aromas of an Italian farmhouse kitchen. Here’s how I make it.

Step 1:  The Tomato Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • A good glug of Olive Oil
  • 1 Carrot finely chopped
  • 2 Onions finely chopped
  • 3 Cloves of chopped Garlic
  • 2 Tsb of Tomato Puree
  • 2 Tins of Tomatoes
  • 200ml of Wine
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Heat the oil before turning the temperature to low. Add the onions, carrots and garlic and soften them slowly. Aim for really tender vegetables but don’t let them colour. This can take anything from 10-15 mins but trust me your patience will be rewarded. Remember good things take time – carrots sweeten slowly and soft, translucent onions and garlic release wonderful subtle flavours to build your sauce around.

When the veg has softened, increase the heat and add the tomato puree. Cook for 1 minute or so before adding a small glass of wine to the pot. Personally, I don’t think it matters if you use red or white, I go with whichever I fancy a glass of myself. Today that is white. Continue cooking for about 5 mins until the wine has reduced by at least half. At this point add the tinned tomatoes and a generous handful of chopped basil. Season well and don’t be afraid to sprinkle in a little sugar if the tomatoes taste a little tart. Simmer the sauce gently for about half an hour and then allow it to cool. Parents of fussy little eaters might like that you can blitz the sauce at this point and make it seem like the veggies were never there. Can’t be bothered? No problem. The chunky version tastes great too. For lasagne I like to blend it, I feel it leads to a smoother ragu later. But that’s just a personal preference. And that’s it for stage one, the tomato sauce, now to transform it into a ragu. You will also need a white sauce or a bechamel but seeing as I outsourced that task today, maybe to a helpful Italian nonna or maybe to someone called Dolmio, I will leave you to choose your own recipe.

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Step 2:  Making A Tomato Sauce into A Ragu Sauce

Ingredients:

  • A glug of olive oil.
  • 1.5 lbs of steak mince
  • 1 packet of prosciutto
  • 200ml of beef stock
  • Tomato sauce (see above)

Method:

Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the mince in batches until it is all browned. Add four slices of the prosciutto, finely chopped. (Sometimes I substitute bacon lardons here  – it just depends what I have to hand).  Pour in the tomato sauce (I usually hold a little back for a spaghetti lunch the next day) and the beef stock. Bring the ragu to the boil and simmer for 30 mins, until the sauce looks rich and delicious.

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Step 3:  Building a Lasagne

Ingredients:

  • Ragu sauce (see above)
  • Dried lasagne sheets
  • White sauce (I have used creme fraiche infused with parmesan, lightly heated mascarpone or a even a shop bought version on days where I can’t be bothered making my own…. uh oh foodie hell awaits me!!!)
  • 1 ball of mozzarella
  • Sliced prosciutto (whatever is left in the pack)
  • Grated cheddar/ parmesan cheese

Method:

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish. Ladle in one-third of the meat sauce. Spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Cover this with a layer of lasagne sheets and a layer of white sauce. Repeat this process three times, finishing with enough white sauce to cover all the pasta. Then grate over some cheddar cheese (or parmesan) and scatter on some small chunks of mozzarella. If desired drape the remaining prosciutto on top, it creates a crispy, salty addition to the top of the lasagne. I serve with plenty of garlic bread and a green salad. Although tonight my father in law is looking for spuds!!

There will be no spuds but I think I can placate the situation with some rhubarb tart and ice-cream. Pie and ice-cream solves a lot of the world’s problems. xo

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Tapas in Kerry

 

I took FOUR photos!!!! No that’s a lie, I took six photos, one of which appears to be of an outside flower-pot and one that is completely out of focus. So this post will include just four photos. This is despite travelling 40 minutes, spending two and a half hours in the restaurant and sampling quite a portion of the vast menu. I think I need to take blogger classes for dummies!!!

But in my defense I was busy. My best friend was with me, there was wine, we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks. That meant there were several situations to be totally over-analysed. You know the drill…. we look at what “he” said, and then we consider the 8,000 possible things this might mean… not really engaging with the idea that there may not in fact be a message to decode and in some weird reality men might just mean exactly what they say. Because where would the fun be in that?? Although if wine sipping women took our conversations with attractive men completely at face value, this post might actually contain some photos of the food!!!

Because ostensibly the food was the purpose of the trip to Killorglin, a small town on the Ring of Kerry, where Sol Y Sombra is housed in an old but beautifully restored Church of Ireland. Stone walls, high ceilings, stained glass windows, good acoustics – the atmosphere takes care of itself. But do the food and wine measure up?

Yes and yes. This little gem of a restaurant definitely did not disappoint. The whole experience was positive, starting with the simple online booking option – no need to speak to pesky humans – just a few clicks and your table is sorted.

Next came the wine list – it is extensive and includes a really great selection of by the glass options – allowing you to pair a cool, crisp white with some seafood tapas before switching to a full-bodied red to match a heartier meat dish! It is also very fairly priced. Now on this particular occasion, we were not such sophisticated tipplers who match food to vino – we stuck to white, we ordered by the bottle (and more than once) and we kept it safe and French instead of exploring the extensive and interesting looking Spanish options. But there is always next time…

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Because given the quality of the food there will definitely be a next time. The menu is quite vast and although we tried a great selection of dishes, we didn’t really make a dent in it. And that is a testament to very generous portion sizes. We started with three tapa sized plates to share – fillet of hake and prawns fried in beer batter with garlic mayo, a portion of Kerry lamb meatballs cooked in a rich tomato sauce with delicious cubed potatoes and the highlight for me, a little pan of prawns sautéed in garlic and chilli oil that did not skimp on the prawns. We ordered a basket of bread for dipping in the oil and set about devouring every morsel of food on the table. It was all excellent but for me the prawns were the standout dish – they somehow encapsulated everything that I love about food. Take something simple but high quality, combine it with minimal ingredients (enough to enhance not confuse the flavour) and allow the dish to transport you to a different place and a different time, be it watching a technicolour Mediterranean sunset, experiencing tapas in a bustling Madrid bar, or dipping bread in wine on a Portuguese beach front. The simple action of dipping bread in spicy and gently pungent garlic oil  is a wonderful sensory experience. On a drizzly Thursday evening in Co. Kerry, it recreated something from a different place and a different time. There was a memory hidden somewhere in the cast iron sizzling pan….this is what I understand to be food for the soul, or possibly food for the heart.

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The plan was to go on to order two larger Racion portions but we were genuinely quite full after the tapas and decided that one to share would be more prudent. We opted for a skewer of monkfish & bacon with scallops on a potato cake and it was a really tasty dish – plump meaty monkfish interspersed with fresh scallops all wrapped in crispy smoked bacon. What’s not to like?

Dessert was not the plan (there was wine to finish) but we made the fatal mistake of just taking a look. What did we expect to happen? That we wouldn’t like the sound of anything!!! That was definitely a long-shot. In reality we didn’t need to read beyond the first line – homemade lemon mousse on a crumble biscuit base sounded like a perfect end to a quality meal – sweet yet tart, smooth in texture but zingy in flavour. My dining companion gave serious thought to licking the bowl.

So if it wasn’t clear, I was really, really impressed with Sol Y Sombra. Great space, great food, great drinks and best of all great company. I am very excited to make a return visit. xo.

Once to Ballybunion…

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Today we have another instalment in what could be termed a “Highlights of Kerry” series. Regular readers will recognise that this isn’t really a challenging remit… especially when the sun shines brightly and the Kingdom’s jewels twinkle happily in iridescent light. It was on one such day we took a leisurely road trip to Ballybunion, or possibly Ballybunnion, in North Kerry.  Which spelling is correct joins “Who was Jack the Ripper?” and “Who killed JFK?” on the list of great unsolved mysteries. The town’s own website and renowned golf club both go with the former spelling, and that is what I am most familiar with but as you travel the highways and byways of North Kerry, the road signs direct you to “Ballybunnion”. Way to confuse a girl!!!! So if you know let me know….. how do we spell the name of this coastal, seaside town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way?

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Anyway, issues of the redundant or errant “n” aside, there was a hint of nostalgia to our summer sojourn to Ballyb., not so much for me but for my other half. You see a trip to this seaside resort was an integral part of his childhood. In a rural Ireland before the foreign holiday was commonplace, especially in the dairy farming community, his family went on two seminal outings each summer  – “we didn’t go on holidays – we went once to Ballybunion and once to the festival (i.e. The Rose of Tralee), that was our holidays.” There was never a need to stay somewhere overnight and definitely no “fancy” trip to a Keycamp resort in France (like the townies might go on). Instead there was the short drive to Ballybunion, a few pounds for the bumper cars in the most retro of amusement arcades, a go on the swings in the playground and a bag of chips for the trip home. The result was tired but happy children half way through their summer treats. Of course, no farmer’s son in rural Ireland grows up without something of a persecution complex, and so the fond reminiscences of  “simpler times” are a cue for a gentle rant beginning with the phrase –  “I was never taken to…….”. But for all the world left unseen, he was without fail taken to Ballybunion and so, many summers on, off we went down memory lane.

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Now… as salubrious as the dodgems in the Pavilion look, they were not the focus of this more grown up trip to the sea. This was more about the scenery. Ballybunion has a stunning cliff walk, really breathtaking, #nofilter type vistas that take your breath away. It starts above the town’s golden sandy beach, holder of a prestigious Blue Flag, and provides amazing views of ocean, cliffs, caves, sand dunes and even Bottlenose dolphins. It’s a safe, easy walk that really rewards the effort.

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I like to walk, mostly to justify all the food I plan to graze on …. and true to form the exercise led to a natural need to refuel. Having read favourable reviews of Daroka and admiring its philosophy of “Real food, real simple”, we opted to give it a go. It is a comfortable, simple space spread over two levels. The lunch menu was compact but appealing and I was impressed by little touches that made the place feel homely – fresh flowers, quality hand-cream in the ladies, little messages on blackboards. We ordered very simply – freshly battered fish and chips, a BLT, a beer and a house wine. Perfect food as you come up from the beach, nothing fancy but executed really well.

Our food was delicious but I had serious order envy and I know I really need a return trip to give this menu a better appraisal. The lady beside me had wonderfully succulent looking crab claws in a coconut and chilli sauce and I was very jealous of the soft, almost orgasmic moans, she was emitting with each mouthful. The hake with prawns and samphire (sea asparagus) appeared the most popular dish, and plates were returning almost licked clean. Naturally the seafood dishes were proving more popular than the more carnivorous options as people gazed out into the Atlantic ocean on probably the hottest day of the summer so far. Finally, when your BLT is mostly B and comes in triple decker form, you know you have backed a winner. And being easily pleased, I got a little giggly seeing it come with a quality steak knife to carve through the generous rashers of bacon. It’s the simple things!!!

 

 

We skipped dessert, although they sounded tempting, in order to sample some of MacCarthy’s homemade ice-cream from Sundaes. It was really good ice-cream and there was an abundance of flavours and toppings to choose from (we tried oreo, nutella, vanilla and strawberry), but it is definitely on the expensive side of normal for scoops in a tub. That said finding a peaceful spot, listening to the ocean and munching on quality hand-produced food, is an experience worth paying a premium for, at least once a year.

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And that was it for this year’s “once to Ballybunion” trip… We returned home after a paddle in neighbouring Ballyheigue and stopping for a little liquid sustenance in Kate Brown’s Traditional Pub in Ardfert. Tired from the fresh sea air and keeping the nostalgic air alive, we cooked an old school fry-up with slices of warm white toast dripping with Kerry Gold butter. It may have been the perfect summer’s day. And if you are looking for any further evidence that Kerry is indeed a Kingdom, you might like to peruse these older posts about GlanteenassigBanna beach & Killarney, Foodie Kerry and Dingle (my personal favourite). xo

 

 

Urchin, Dublin – A Short Review

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There was a lot of What’s App debate regarding a dining venue for an early bite before attending a Bell X1 gig, part of the Trinity Summer Series on Saturday evening. Given that we were going to be eating early and we were a little unsure what time the whole party would assemble, we agreed to a casual tapas meal. We narrowed our selection to The Port House, House or Urchin and after much debate the latter emerged victorious.

Situated on St. Stephen’s Green, Urchin scored points for location and it was also the only place on the list that none of us had visited previously. Added to this, reviews of Urchin, a little sister of The Cliff Townhouse, have been generally very positive.

Urchin doesn’t take reservations but when we rocked up at 5.30pm we easily nabbed a large table in a cosy alcove. First impressions were really good. Urchin is an achingly cool venue. It is a light, colourful space that is channelling a sort of beach house in The Hamptons vibe. Lots of white and exposed brick, softened with bold splashes of orange and turquoise. It feels young and hip, the aesthetic complimented by laid back music and a charming, sexy Italian waiter. So far so good!!!

 

We started our visit to Urchin with some cocktails. This venue has a great cocktail menu and a mixologist who knows what he is doing. We sampled a selection of gin and vodka based tipples and everyone was happy with these boozy thirst quenchers. At €12 – €14 a pop, the pricing here was pretty standard for a cool city centre bar and the drinks that appeared had both style and substance. A good start.

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We chatted for a while, nibbling on some delicious crisps, before eventually placing a food order. Urchin serves some “small bites” and some “bigger bites” which can be shared and the seafood heavy menu reads like the stuff of foodie dreams. But it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that it was here the experience started to unravel. We ordered about 12 portions of food from across the menu to share between 5 people. We had fully intended to order more as required. Our selections included a sea urchin in a Bloody Mary type sauce, a couple of duck liver choux buns, pork belly in lettuce wraps, portions of both Iberico ham and shrimp croquettes and a two portions of mozzarella fritters.  Everything looked great, each dish was well executed and quality ingredients were clearly sourced.

 

The problem? Because there was a problem  – was that the portions were tiny!!! And I am fully aware that we had chosen a “small plates” venue but these offerings came directly from the tiny portion movement. We had eaten half the menu and we were still starving and begging the waiter for more crisps. In normal circumstances we would simply have ordered the other half of the menu but we were unanimous in concluding that we would then have spent a fortune to still leave hungry. So we decided to cut our losses and go for a burger!!!

So all in all, Urchin is a cool venue. It has a fab little beer garden to the front if you are lucky enough to snag a table. It does great cocktails. It feels trendy and fun. It does tasty little bites. But it will not fill you up. So my advice is to consider it a place for a drink and a snack – a lot classier than a pint and a packet of crisps – but providing a similar amount of sustenance. I want to go back on a sunny afternoon to sip a gin cocktail at an outside table. I would order a little tapas to tickle my taste-buds. I would have a dinner reservation close by.

 

Simple Speedy Supper

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Six months into life after television and I miss only two things – the news and chilling out in front of a cookery programme. So as we are currently away for a few days in a little cottage with a large TV, I am catching up on both types of viewing. In fact, as I type, I am cringing as some poor hopeful on MasterChef is being told his deconstructed Poussin pie has no redeeming quality – #awkward. Maybe he will go home, comfort eat a properly constructed chicken pie and realise you don’t have to be a Master Chef to cook well (or even for a living). Just watch Donal Skehan!

I really enjoy Donal – despite how ridiculously clean cut and smiley he is. I can turn a blind eye to the Jamie Oliver (circa 2000) cloning, the Daniel O’Donnellesqe “niceness” and the recent cringe-worthy YouTube vlogs. Why? Because his recipes are so, so simple and generally work out really well. Donal is no master chef; he is a home cook and a blogger, just trying to create simple, tasty dishes. And this he does very well. You can watch, adapt, cook and eat. Not all chefs can claim such success. And that is why the world can’t seem to get enough of him at the moment. Last night he made tortellini soup, sausage pasta, a crostini of some sort and a salad. Cordon Bleu it ain’t. But can Joe and Josephine Soap attempt it and succeed – absolutely.

So inspired by my viewing of Meals in Minutes last night, I cooked a simple pasta supper tonight. This dish is based on Donal’s Pork & Fennel Ragu but slowed down and changed up a little. Fennel reminds me of shots of Pernod in dodgy nightclubs during my late teens, and no good ever came from that, so there will be no fennel for me. Ever. Or Aniseed. Or Liquorice. Or shots of Sambuca. Soz! And the original recipe has spinach, which my husband confuses with arsenic, so we need a substitute for that too. I went for peas – peas are a more non-threatening kind of vegetable it seems – we trust the pea. Healthy but not quite so pretentious!!!!

So here is what we ate…

Sausage Ragu with Rigatoni.

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Ingredients (for 2 servings and some leftovers for the dog…)

  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 1 carrot – in small dice
  • 2 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 4 thick butcher’s sausages
  • 1 jar of passata
  • A couple of handfuls of frozen peas
  • Bunch of chopped basil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Rigatoni or other short pasta

Method

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the diced onion, carrot and garlic. Cook these down very slowly for about 10 minutes so the onion and carrot are nice and soft.

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Remove the casing from the sausages and chop them into rough chunks. Add these to the pan, turn up the heat slightly and brown the sausages. When the sausages have begun to brown, add the passata to the pan and cook for about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken slightly. Stir in some frozen peas for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking and season with salt and black pepper.

As the sauce is coming together, prepare the rigatoni according to the instructions on the packet. After the allocated time, drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Pour this and the pasta into the sauce and mix everything together.

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Sprinkle over some freshly grated Parmesan and a generous handful of fresh basil and divide into two warm pasta bowls. Serve with some crusty bread and real butter. Eat and enjoy – it’s delicious xo

 

Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle

Situated over two hours away, it was a long drive “for an aul mug of tae and a few sambos“. But Ashford Castle on a rare sunny day rewarded the effort.

The 13th Century castle, situated in Cong, Co. Mayo, is a fairy-tale setting, the stuff American tourists dream of. Surely some part of it must be haunted and elfin figures inhabit the undergrowth in the nearby woods. The castle itself has hosted the wedding receptions of Pierce Brosnan, Shane Filan (the lad out of Westlife) and Rory McIlroy – so you see it’s proper posh!!!!

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to reveal that I bear the little village of Cong “an ancient grudge” of Shakespearean proportions. You see when I was twelve, their GAA team beat mine in a national final. It was one of my first tastes of defeat on a big stage, and the association between this place and that memory is undeniable. I would love to say I was a gracious loser, but while everyone else hears Cong and thinks of “The Quiet Man”, the epic scenery and celebrity sightings, I think of one crushing afternoon in Mosney at the National Community Games Finals. Sorry Cong, my little heart was broken, it is hard to let go!!!!!

But anyway, last week I put my issues aside and embarked on a girlie roadtrip in search of High Tea in a castle…. sure what else would you be at on a Monday morning? We even saw a llama – or was it a goat???

Now you know you are in the realm of elegance, when not one but three men in funny hats have greeted you before you even get in the door. We had to explain our purpose, be ticked off lists and given instructions on how to pass the little extra time we had – this is very much a 5 star location.While waiting to be called in for tea at 1.30pm we admired the period decor and the tranquil lakeside setting, but mostly we worried about whether the poor man at the gate was melting in his emerald green tweed tails and top hat.

Now I admit to being a philistine when it comes to heritage type interiors, favouring more modern and slightly edgy decor, but even I can appreciate the beauty and the attention to detail of this hotel – in particular the room in which you “take tea“. There is an intangible sense of history and if you close your eyes for just a second you can imagine lords and ladies of eras past, sitting exactly where you are, also sipping tea from bone china cups, although possibly less worried about spillages or breakages. That’s the thing about a silver spoon upbringing, breaking the Wedgewood China is just breaking a cup! What luxury!

So seated and settled, with a cherry lemonade, a gift from the kitchen, tea was ready to be served. And the choice of teas was very impressive – from fruity to traditional – there were pages to select from. So of course we wondered where the Barry’s was, two of us queried if we could have coffee and in a particularly classy moment we could be heard snorting with laughter at the mention of a Red Bush tea. You can dress them up!!!!!

Then to the food – in typical afternoon tea fashion – we started with the savoury layer and I have to admit these were good sarnies. No chicken and stuffing here – rather chicken with avocado, tossed it seemed in a light garlic mayo. The most delicious filling but it didn’t stop there. All crusts were removed (to the dismay of the Irish mammy), the bread was cut into circles and the outside of the sandwich was dipped in almonds. This flavour combination alone was worth the trip. It was sublime. So much so we asked for a whole other plate of just that sandwich. After that you had the all traditional combinations of cheddar and tomato, egg and cress, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber and crème fraîche. The quality was really high – particularly the very mature, tangy cheddar that I think is from Hegarty’s Farm in Cork. We were off to a good start.

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The scones came next. As they are served warm from the oven, you order them 10 mins or so before you want them. And it is that type of attention to detail that makes this a special experience. There was the traditional plain and fruit scones, with strawberry jam and clotted cream. But what was new to me (and my extensive afternoon tea experience!!) was a cheese scone, so warm the cheese was all melty and runny in the middle. The lovely server suggested we try this with lemon curd!!!  Now, that might be a familiar combo to some of you – but warm cheese scones with zesty lemon curd – was never a staple with the pot of Lyons Tea when I was growing up in Kerry. And more is the pity – it is delicious.

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My biggest issue with afternoon tea is always that by the time you get to the sweet treats on the top tier you are just a little too full. But don’t worry, we took a little time-out, had a team talk and were ready for the final quarter. Multiple calorific delicacies were shared and discussed, from custards to cupcakes, meringues to macaroons, chocolate tortes to fruit tarts.  What we couldn’t finish was presented to us in individual boxes along with a chocolate box from the pastry chef.

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I expected to find this a lovely experience but a tad on the expensive side – a case of paying for the location. But in all honesty it is quite good value. The staff were so sweet and were really quick to offer seconds (or thirds) of anything we wanted. We had about four rounds of teas and coffees. We left with boxes of scones, pastries and chocolate. And we spent hours in the stunning setting. At €40 per person (which is of course dear), I genuinely felt we got our money’s worth. It was a damn good afternoon tea. But don’t get me started on the “cosht of the fizzy wine” – given that one glass is never enough we just left it out altogether, and the experience didn’t suffer from its omission in any way. Ashford Castle, I may return, despite old wounds felt anew at the sight of the word “Cong” on the signpost.

Taste of Dublin – what keeps me coming back?

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The Iveagh Gardens in the sun are the perfect setting to celebrate Irish food and increasingly Irish booze. And for the fourth year running, the sun shone brightly on the Saturday afternoon session that the girls and I chose to attend, making it yet again my favourite day of the year so far.

So what do I love so much about Taste of Dublin?

The setting:

Taste of Dublin is a classy day out and the location totally befits the vibe it is striving for. Once inside the gates, the city feels a world away, as the gardens are very much an urban oasis. They are big enough to take the crowd but not so big they dilute the atmosphere; they are shaded but don’t block out the sun and they are stunning without being so precious that you can’t lounge on the grass sipping a cocktail.  It really is an ideal site for this type of event.

Florins:

Florins are the currency of Taste and they are a little piece of marketing magic. For many they will be a negative but I love the way they promote a suspension of reality. Taste is an expensive day out (I will get to that in a minute) but the Florin system allows you to pretend it isn’t happening. It is Monopoly money and the connection between it and the ESB bill pinned magnetically to the fridge is completely non-existent. It subtly but effectively banishes any feelings of guilt about what can easily become a very extravagant afternoon.

The Entertainment:

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Taste is about the food. Unlike Bloom where the gardens seem to be almost peripheral, Taste keeps its focus firmly fixed on the consumption of all things edible. But that is not to suggest that it is light on musical entertainment or that this lacks quality. In fact the diversity and calibre of the live performances is something that has remained a consistent feature of the event over the years. And it really helps create a chilled out, summer party atmosphere.

Bubbles:

Now there is absolute no need to be drinking alcohol to enjoy Taste of Dublin and I am sure hundreds of visitors don’t. However, it has always been part of my Taste experience. I go with friends – some friends from my childhood and some friends of these friends. Friends I only know from Taste, only meet at Taste, but really enjoy catching up with. The group can vary in size but a love of food and a penchant for a fizzy flute of Prosecco makes for a very easy day out, always full of laughter. We pool our Florins, swap foodie anecdotes, right the wrongs of the world and generally laugh a lot. Whether it is a gentle ribbing of the IT professional who can’t use internet banking, anecdotes about my best mate’s “schoolboy” office humour or a lively debate about the pros and cons of internet dating it is always a slightly tipsy day full of laughter. And don’t worry if after too many bubbles you feel a little worse for wear – I have it on good authority that a splash of water on your forearms is entirely sobering!! Not convinced? Me neither!

The Food:

Well obviously.

Now, if I were to be critical I would have to acknowledge that there has been a decrease in the really high end food available at Taste in recent years. No more do we seem to see L’Ecrivan, Chapter One or Thornton’s. And where oh where have the lobster rolls gone? But on the flip side, the food is great. And there is an oyster bar.

The thing about Taste is that even if something is not what I expected, I never remember getting food that I felt was sub-standard or poorly executed. While we may wish for more crab in our croquette, or softer rhubarb after the stewing, it all still tastes like good food. It is all still prepared skilfully. The ingredients always appear to be high quality. And that’s why we go.

Where else do you get to move from restaurant to restaurant picking and choosing from their signature dishes? The aforementioned crab croquette with avocado mayonnaise from Suesey St, pan seared scallops in the shell from Matt the Thresher or gambas and chilli risotto from The Old Spot gave seafood lovers something to whet their appetite with. For committed carnivores an Irish pork belly lettuce wrap from Urchin, The Porterhouse’s grilled lamb chop or goat on toast from Pickle were just some of the options we sampled. A spicy Singara – Bengali Samosa with lentils and puffed rice was pronounced the dish of the festival and its creator, Jaipur, was the favoured restaurant by the judges. But from my observations the punters’ pick was St. Lorenzo’s calamari with chilli and lime, served in paper cones with a garlic mayo dip. There were tons of desserts and loads of veggie offerings, illustrating why one session is never enough and why Taste of Dublin has such enduring foodie appeal.

So roll on next June when we can do it all again. Maybe for an evening session, just to break with tradition. Or maybe not. After all if it’s not broken…

If you have never been, then I can’t really recommend Taste of Dublin enough but be prepared, this is an expensive day out that is definitely not getting any more affordable as the years go by. Yes, the ticket is cheap but really the ticket buys you nothing but a foot in the door (or the garden in this case). You will spend a lot and still you will be hungry again a few hours later but you will have a great day. xo

 

5 things I like to do on a Summer Morning

Given that the next few months are largely devoid of any serious level of commitment or responsibility, I am enjoying waking at my leisure and easing myself into the day ahead gently. Here’s what a “typical” morning is starting to look like.

1. Coffee/Tea and a book.

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I wake pretty early, probably because the renovation budget has yet to stretch to curtains, so once the sun is up, the room is bright. But I am in no hurry to actually leave the cosy confines of the bed, so I generally pad downstairs in my bare feet, make a hot drink and cuddle back under the duvet to read a chapter or two of whatever I am currently enjoying. Of course if someone else is getting up to take the dog out, then I don’t even have to make the barefoot trek to the kitchen…. yes, I know I am spoiled. But don’t worry, coffee in bed comes with a healthy dollop of sarcasm (a small  price to pay!).

2. Some exercise.

If I am going to work out I like to do it pretty soon after getting up. Less time for excuses. Lately I am trying to get back into running, but as I am carrying a tag rugby related injury, I am taking things very slowly. TBH I am probably taking things far slower than necessary but this is in keeping with the leisurely zen persona I am currently channelling. I am using a C25K app on my phone to complete pretty gentle walk/run workouts. I find some fresh air and exercise first thing really clears the cobwebs and energises me for the day ahead.

3. Smoothies

I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast smoothies and lately I have been trying to lighten them up for summer by avoiding adding milk and yogurt. This morning I had banana, mango, kale and lemongrass.

I just added ice, water and a glass of pure apple juice to the fruit mix – it was really refreshing. I love when things actually taste good for you.  Makes me feel all virtuous.

4. Breakfast

More time allows for more effort, so for the most part I am currently avoiding cereal. It feels like the entire year is made up of bowls of porridge (which I tolerate) and bowls of granola (which I love) but at the moment I am trying to change it up a little, depending on what’s in the fridge. This morning I had Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes with Yogurt and Strawberries. Delicious and so, so simple. Just take the Jamie Oliver approach – 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup self-raising flour, 1 egg.  Whisk and cook. I tossed in a handful of blueberries that were in the fridge and served with a side of strawberries and vanilla yogurt.

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5. Housework

Now anyone who knows me has now started to laugh and roll their eyes… because to say I am not into housework is a complete understatement. But it’s true, I currently start my day with a quick spot of cleaning. You see now that we live in a teeny house, with one bathroom and very small floor space, I find that giving the place a quick once over every morning is ideal to keep things under control. Then the dread of The Big Clean and the days (or weeks) of Big Clean related procrastination are unnecessary. Now I don’t exactly enjoy this part of the morning. But I do it. Before I even get dressed or put my make-up on!!! And it is strangely satisfying.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should acknowledge just how much the Dyson helps here. Formerly, I judged anyone sad enough to get excited over a hoover. I definitely judged anyone who paid as much for a hoover as they would a weekend in a 5 star hotel. But this cordless wonder will change your life! It is worth every single cent and more. A little bit of magic sent from whoever the real domestic goddess is. And it has already been used 100 times more than any vacuum I previously owned…. so on a cost per wear calculation it is positively cheap!!!!

So that’s a little window into my summer mornings. A little chilled, a little foodie and a little productive xo.

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Galway: A Hungry Girl’s Guide

If you’ve never been to Galway (or you’ve been 1000 times) the spaces and places pictured above will be more than sufficient to while away a lazy afternoon. Wander down Shop St and Quay St listening to the buskers, stop for a pint of black in Ua Neachtáin’s or Tig Cóilí, grab a bite in Ard Bia or An Cupán Tae and have a browse of the gifts, textiles and ceramics in Judy Greene or Twice as Nice. It is the Galway of guidebooks and rightly so.  More hippy than hipster, more Celtic than modern European. But full to the brim with music, wit and charm and so laid back you wonder how anyone gets a day’s work done. But just as Galway trades under several titles – City of the Tribes, Gaillimh, City of the Festivals – so too does it smile out of several faces.

And so I spent the day yesterday looking at a more 21st Century Galway and visited places that have captured the essence of the city they are fortunate enough to trade in, but moulded it into something more modern and innovative than what came before.

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I started my voyage of discovery in Coffeewerk and Press, for a caffeine hit to fuel a long day of eating, drinking and shopping. The space is beautiful, full to the brim with exquisite homewares and works of art from all over the world. It’s more concept store or small gallery than cafe (although I assume the money is in the coffee sales) but the fact that you can get great coffee, while listening to vinyl in a quiet window seat shows where the two businesses collide. The staff were friendly, the baked goods looked great and they know their caffeine. Not a place to linger for the afternoon working on your laptop or finishing a novel but for browsing two floors of beautiful “stuff ” while sipping an Americano in a super cute take-away cup it definitely works. Coffeewerk and Press is achingly cool; I assume it to be a  place hipsters hang out discussing the merits of Guatemalan blends over Ethiopian. But have you noticed the problem with the hipster of today? Yes, they have started to shave their beards so we can’t spot them (avoid them!!) as easily. Next they will start wearing socks and only be identifiable when you hear the discussion on the latest gin micro-distillery they discovered on a visit to North Leitrim!!! All this while looking at the craft beer drinker and thinking, “that poor guy is so 2016″.

Caffeine levels stabilised it was then time for some food.

Now despite my younger brother often labelling me pretentious (as he slurps a protein shake from the Nutribullet and listens to wireless headphones – all while googling the term irony!) I really am not quite there yet. And, let’s be honest, to a 23 year old DJ still enjoying the festival circuit and drinking cans of Galahad while sporting a head to toe charity shop ensemble, most things are pretentious!!! But it must be remembered  I am married to a man who judges restaurants on the quality of their “pandy” (that’s mash) and how generous they are with the gravy. He only yesterday accused who ever first put breadcrumbs on chicken breast of all sorts – “wasn’t it fine the way it was?” and as for replacing his beloved gravy with pepper sauce – now that is “just looking for notice”. So you see there is a gravitational pull at work to keep my feet firmly on the ground. And this is why the growing “brunch” circuit with Bloody Marys or Prosecco makes me cringe a little. It’s just breakfast people!!! Unless you actually eat it in the afternoon and it is going to keep you full until dinner…. then maybe it constitutes brunch. But if it is a bowl of granola or a fry up on a Tuesday morning at 11, it is breakfast!!!!! And you eat it, you don’t do it!!!!

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So long story long….. I went for BREAKFAST to Dela. And the homefries alone were enough to make me long to return. The vibe was laid back and airy, the menu has clear Scandinavian influences (what doesn’t at the moment) and, to be honest, anywhere that can make fried cauliflower taste that good deserves its success. I rate this place highly however, not for the Scandi vibe, but for the fact that, like neighbouring Kai, it takes ingredients seriously. They were local and clearly carefully selected, produced in a kitchen with a passion for food. Everything had a flavour. This was a breakfast where the mushrooms tasted almost like field mushrooms (although I think we are a little too early), and where you stop and realise that you shouldn’t be pleasantly surprised about how mushroomy the mushrooms are. That should be normal. But, in a world where people who own restaurants think frozen chips are ok, it isn’t. So yes, I like to do a little research to seek out places that are getting good press and making positive waves, not cause I need a Mimosa with my breakfast, but because if I am going to pay for it, I like to think some effort went in to the purchasing and the preparation. Does that make me pretentious? (The question is rhetorical little brother!!!)

It was a pretty day in Galway, so, after a the leisurely breakfast, I wandered by the Corrib, read my book and did a little interior shopping while waiting for my appetite to rebuild. I find the issue of not getting hungry fast enough to try all the places I would like to a real hindrance when I am away. Now that’s a first world problem!

But lo and behold, time passed and if not starving I was definitely able to take on a little more sustenance. And I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The Dough Bros on Middle St. for pizza.

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Now this is laid back eating at its finest, inspired by not just the pizza but the culture of Naples, it is not a place that stands on ceremony. You pay at the counter and eat with your fingers. And the queue is out the door.

Why? Because it’s delicious. And I lived in Italy so I speak about pizza from the perspective of the perpetually disappointed. Good pizza is not so filling you need to share it, or take the remainder home in a box. The dough is light, the edges are burnt, the toppings are kept to a minimum. This was REALLY, REALLY good pizza. I devoured it…. great base, simple tomato sauce and high quality mozzarella. The basics all in place… you are onto a winner whatever toppings you choose. It was the perfect end to my day out!!!

So there you go – a day in Galway without an Irish pub, trad music or handmade pottery. Lots of you know that this is a city that has it all, the rest of us can enjoy finding that out. Galway, I look forward to our next encounter xo

Goodbye Village, Hello Town

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Having spent a decade living in one of the best (and definitely the craziest) villages in Ireland, there will always be a nostalgia attached to our recent house move (even though we didn’t go far). However, a downsize from a rural to a more urban setting was the right move for us – at least for right now!!!! This was a lifestyle move, and so far it is very much suiting my lifestyle. Here’s what I mean….

This morning, pretty much directly after breakfast, I started to think about lunch. That’s pretty typical for me. There was a delicious pesto open and in need of using up, so I thought a bruschetta type ensemble might work. So far, so simple.

Problem? I LOVE melted mozzarella, with all that oozy, stringy yumminess. But I know, from bitter experience, that the supermarket offering tastes of NOTHING. And I know it needs decent sourdough or ciabatta to hold its “meltiness”. And I know that in rural areas quality cheeses and “fancy” breads are at the very least a car drive away.

But I live in town now. And this means that when mozzarella issues arise, I can tackle them with a certain urban smugness. And here’s how….

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I just popped on my coat and trotted the five minutes to the Fine Wine & Food Co. around the corner, where I picked up a fantastic artisan cheese product from Toons Bridge Dairy. As it was far too early for wine, I also got a quality Americano and threw in some firm and salty halloumi for a weekend salad. There was a casual chat about interiors with the ever hospitable Claire, the proprietor of this fabulous little independent store and cafe, before I toddled off with my paper bag fully of dairy goodness. I didn’t move house to be nearer good mozzarella, that would be a little extreme, but being able to access wonderful ingredients from quality conscious local businesses, without parking disks or travel times, is a huge part of the draw.

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Now as mozzarella without tomato is like pie without cream, I had to make another pitstop before lunch could be assembled and this time it was to my local greengrocer for ripe and juicy vine tomatoes. And this is it, this is the life I want. I want to shop less in supermarkets. I want to buy local. I want to reduce the packaging we have to dispose of. And I want to grin as a man delivering local carrots tries to sell me a kid goat!!! Simple but hugely satisfying. Now I just had to pop a ciabatta under my arm and actually make some food.

Toast the ciabatta, rub with a garlic clove, spoon on the pesto, layer up the sliced tomato and mozzarella, sprinkle with black pepper, melt under the grill. A drizzle of balsamic optional.

 

A recipe that is not a recipe at all. Simple and seasonal . The perfect lunch after a perfect morning.  It couldn’t be easier. Why not give it a go? xo