Thursday, September 29, 2011

Breathing is always important, especially when it's time for the annual Dingle Food Festival

Breathe, Sharon, breathe.
I'm suffering from mild hyperventilation at the moment because it's finally arrived: the Dingle Food Festival starts tomorrow and that means that today is officially my busiest day of the year. I ought to be mixing  batters and baking and icing cakes now but the reason I'm sitting at my computer is because I've got so much work to do, I don't even want to start. 

Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while will remember that I was ambitious for last year's festival and made ten different types of cupcakes as well as my ever-popular brownies.
Well, this year I'm going one better. I'm making eleven kinds as well as a range of cake pops - which are new to my stall and, as I haven't practiced them very much, may end up looking so unpresentable that they'll go into the bin - a possible but hopefully avoidable outcome!

This year's flavours are:
White chocolate and raspberry
Cookies and cream
Lemon meringue 
Black Forest Gateau
Guinness and Baileys
Chocolate and coffee
Chocolate and peanut
Ginger and lime
And mixed berry cheesecakes

My cake pops will include a Madeira cake base and a chocolate cake base flavoured with orange, Baileys, raspberry or coffee covered in either dark or white chocolate and topped with rose petals, pollen, chopped hazelnuts, candied orange peel or chocolate shavings. If they work out, they'll look fabulous. If not, then the bin it is!

There's so much to look forward to at this year's festival - if you're lucky enough to be a visitor and not a stallholder.  If I'm able to break free from my stall or the stove for any length of time, here's what I'd like to go to:
  • Some of the workshops, which include chocolate making with Benoit Lorge; rearing and curing a pig with Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen Farmhouse Products and Ted Berner and Ivan Wheelan of Wildside Catering; hen keeping; foraging; and 'coffee from around the world' with Mark Kingston from the Golden Bean.
  • For Food's Sake: a series of thought-provoking talks, film screenings and discussions - all about food.
  • Come Dine with the Penguins: a seafood feast served in the penguins' enclosure at Oceanworld Aquarium.
  • And, finally, the wonderful taste trail where 55 businesses in the town play host to some of the area's food producers and serve creatively cooked local food. There's seafood in Curran's Bar, a kangaroo BBQ in Finn McCool's Surf Shop, Píog pies with a pint in Hannie Agnes' Bar, Terayaki salmon skewers with warm sake shots at Fish at the Marina and so much more. 

    So, who is coming to Dingle this weekend? If you are, do call by and say hello. I'll be manning my stall at the market on Holy Ground from 9am to 2.30pm tomorrow and from 11am to 4pm (ish) on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the time, I'll be breathing - or should I say baking!   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't you just love Cork?

I love going to Cork. I was there for work last week and after spending the morning listening to the harrowing stories of two homeless people I had to interview, I was badly in need of some sustenance and comfort.

My first choice was the fabulously art deco Electric Cork where I have yet to eat but have heard such good reports about. But it was not to be as they don't serve lunch on Wednesdays. Hmm, I wondered, where to now?

I strolled through the English Market where I nibbled on some Frank Hederman smoked salmon and bought Macroom oats, some Clive McCabe teas, Vacherin cheese and orzo as I considered my options. (If you have yet to visit this wonderful place, it should be the first place on your list whenever you're next in Cork.)

I eventually hit upon the idea of going to The Liberty Grill. 

Located on Washington Street, this is a bright, buzzy place with a modern vibe. It's always busy, no matter what the time of day, and its menu seems to have something to appeal to all appetites and tastes.

I was instantly greeted by a very friendly member of staff who offered me a copy of that day's paper as I was on my own. He also presented me with the menu, which tempted me with all sorts of great dishes. There are sandwiches - a choice of steak, chicken, club, crab, halloumi cheese and ham, chicken and Swiss cheese - served on sourdough or seeded rye bread. There are salads, ranging from classics such as Caesar salad and niceoise salad to more unusual combinations such as a vegan San Fran salad of soya and chilli-fried tempeh, herbed quinoa and dressed leaves. There are great brunch options which include the house muesli, porridge, pancakes, quesadillas, and baked eggs. I loved the idea of the posh toasts, which come with a range of toppings including sautéed mushrooms, spicy crab and tomato and avocado as well as more classic offerings such as eggs benedict.

But I was really hungry and none of these seemed enough. I wanted a proper lunch and I wanted it Liberty Grill style.The Liberty Grill is known for its burgers so I had to have one of those. But seeing as I didn't want meat, I opted for a crab burger.

It was a good choice. There was lots of crab and white fish in the burger which was coated in a pleasingly crunchy crust. It was served on a bed of rocket and with a zingy lemon and dill sauce and the crispest of chips. My only complaint was that the bun was a little dry and had too much of that sweet processed taste for my liking.

But these are niggling things. Overall, the Liberty Grill was a friendly, buzzing place with a great menu and I enjoyed my lunch there. The price was good too - €14.95 for my burger and a sparkling water.  It ensured that my love affair with Cork continues and I'm looking forward to visiting the city again soon. Where should I go for lunch/dinner next time?

The Liberty Grill  
32 Washington Street
021 427 1049
Open Mon-Thu 8am - 9pm; Fri-Sat 8am - 10pm

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blackberries and apples: the stars of the season

I used to take blackberry picking very seriously when I was a child. As soon as the season started, my two sisters and I would go blackberry picking with the neighbour's children and it was a matter of family honour that we would pick more than they did. We would fight our way through thorny brambles to reach the juiciest specimens, clamber down steep riverbanks to reach out-of-the-way briars and arrive home, scratched and bloodied but victorious, clutching buckets overflowing with purple berries.

I went blackberry picking for the first time this year at the weekend and was a little disappointed with my haul. It seems as though the blackberries of West Kerry are slow to ripen this year. 

Perhaps it's because we haven't had enough sunshine but the brambles aren't very heavy with fruits and had I presented my pitiful bowl of blackberries to my sisters (not to mention my neighbours) all those years ago, it would most definitely have been scoffed at.

Nevertheless, it was still enough to make a delicious blackberry and apple crumble. Blackberries and apples are two of the stars of the season and they are certainly the stars of this recipe - one you should all make before blackberry season is over for yet another year.  
This recipe feeds six generously.
250g blackberries
600g bramley apples or other cooking apple
The juice of half a lemon
80g to 120g of golden caster sugar (depending on how sweet you like your filling to be. I prefer mind slightly tart.)

125 cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
200g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
A pinch of salt
75g porridge oats 

A baking dish (I used a rectangular one measuring 20cm by 28cm) 

  • Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius/350 F/Gas Mark 4.
  • Place your blackberries in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to remove any dirt or insects. Drain in a sieve or colander.
  • Core and peel the apples and cut them into chunks. Place them in a bowl and toss them in the lemon juice, which will prevent them from discolouring and also add an extra level of flavour.
  • Add the blackberries and sugar and mix together.
  • Place in a baking dish. 
  • Place the butter, flour, sugar and salt for the crumble mixture in a large bowl and combine by rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Rub, lift and drop the mixture until it has the texture of breadcrumbs. (If you're lucky enough to have a food processor, it can do this step for you.)
  • Once you've achieved the correct texture, stir in the porridge oats.
  • Sprinkle the crumble over the fruit. 
  • Cook in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes until the crumble is golden on top. 

  • Serve with cream or ice cream.  

My haul of blackberries may not have been enough to impress my competitive childhood self (or my siblings or indeed my neighbours) but what I did with it certainly was. 

Excuse the erratic lighting in these pictures. It was still light when I started making the crumble but dark by the time it had finished baking. That's autumn in Ireland for you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sharon learns that eating yourself better doesn't mean scoffing endless bars of chocolate

Down, down, down...
That's how I've been feeling lately. 

It's a combination of the weather, which has been prematurely dark,dreary and dull, and the effect of this seemingly never-ending recession. It's had a huge impact on my income. A paper I used to write a weekly column and music features and reviews for has gone into liquidation, leaving me with a hole in my bank balance that really hurts. And many of the others have been cutting back on the work they commission from freelancers, which means I've had less work from them too.

It's been difficult and, as a result, I've been overindulging in chocolate - my ultimate go-to comfort food. However, much as I love chocolate, I can't help but notice that it doesn't appear to be helping me. Instead, I am spotty and I feel lethargic. Whisper it: perhaps chocolate isn't the cure to all woes?

Believing as I do in the importance of a good diet and giving your body what it needs, I looked up the best depression-busting foods and found this list: wholegrains, nuts, seeds, oily fish, lean meat, tomatoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, spinach and raw vegetables.

Yum, I thought. Why don't I eat myself better? 

So, that's exactly what I started to do, beginning with last night's dinner, potato and sweet potato wedges, avocado and tomato salsa and lime-zested cod:

Here's how you can eat yourself better too.
Ingredients for four people:
4 medium-sized potatoes
1 large sweet potato
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

4 fillets of cod, weighing approximately 150g each
4 tbsp of breadcrumbs
1 tsp coriander seeds
Zest of one lime
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

3 avocados
12 cherry tomatoes
4 scallions/spring onions
3 tbsp chopped coriander
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper

  • I started by going to the greenhouse to pick my tomatoes. (I'm only saying this as it makes me happy. My boyfriend built it all by himself this summer and it's become a lovely place that smells like a tropical summer even on these damp and dreary September days.) So, if you've got a greenhouse, go there. But if you don't, just get down to work. It won't be long before this food puts a smile on your face.
  • Start by pre-heating your oven to 200 Celsius/400 F/Gas Mark 6.
  • Then prepare your potatoes. Peel the sweet potatoes but leave the regular ones as they are. Cut both kinds into wedges and set the sweet potatoes aside. Boil the regular potatoes in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes to soften them a little.
  • Place both varieties of potatoes in an oven proof roasting dish. Try to have them in a single layer if possible as they will become crispier that way. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle over two tablespoons of olive oil and cook for 30 minutes or until crispy at the edges.

  • Now start your fish. Place it on a baking tray which you've lightly oiled so that it won't stick. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Crush your coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar (or with the back of a spoon if that's all you have) and mix with the breadcrumbs. Add the zested lime juice and some salt and pepper. Cover the fish with the breadcrumb mixture and drizzle with a half tablespoon or so of olive oil.

  • The fish will cook in ten minutes in the same oven so place it in the oven ten minutes before the potatoes will be ready.
  • That will give you time to prepare your avocados. Peel and chop your avocados into bite-sized pieces. Halve or quarter your tomatoes depending on their size. Mix in the chopped coriander. Drizzle over the lime juice. Season to taste. 

Plate up and before you know it, there will be a smile on everyone's face.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Markets of Killarney: a new food business that places Irish food alongside the best in the world

This (terrible) recession doesn't appear to be having that much of an impact on the burgeoning food culture of Ireland. There seem to be more farmers' markets, food festivals and shops specialising in fresh, natural foods that have been grown and produced with respect than ever before.     

Places like The Markets in Killarney.  I discovered The Markets today and I only wish it were in Dingle instead of in Killarney (which is more than an hour's drive away). Newly opened on New Market Lane in the heart of the town, I'm willing to bet that it will be a great success.

And do you know why I'm willing to bet that?  It's because it has the emphasis just right. It's all about the food and letting the quality and value of that food speak for itself. 

This food includes the freshest fruit and vegetables, Benoit Lorge's handmade chocolates and pastries, cheeses and wines from Manning's Emporium, fresh breads, fabulous Irish produce such as Glenilen yoghurts and Glenisk organic milk and the finest ingredients from the greatest food-producing countries in the world, particularly Italy and France.

I spoke to some of the staff there and all of them are very ambitious for The Markets. They want to stock more of the foods that make Ireland, and especially this part of southwest Ireland, special. Already, they stock (wonderful) seaweed products made by Olivier Beaujouan of The Wild Side, who has a stall at Dingle Farmers' Market. And because they only opened last Thursday, they are still in the process of sourcing new ingredients and making connections with new producers. I can't wait to see what they have on my next visit. 

The Markets,
New Market Lane,
Opening hours: Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri & Sat: 9am to 7pm
Thursday: 9am to 8pm
Sunday: 12pm to 6pm