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Thursday, 20 September 2012

easy plum sauce

Plum season is upon us and so, here are two plum sauce recipes. This first recipe is a quick version I make with a jar of homemade plum jam. Bought jam or a preserve with a high fruit content would be perfect as well and cherry jam will do in a pinch. The combination of sweet and sour with a touch of heat makes the perfect companion for spring rolls, wontons, tofu, pork, chicken dishes. To be honest, I think if you dipped a stinky tramp's shoe into this it would make it quite palatable, it's just that good. We most often have it with quick midweek supper of crispy duck and pancakes plus a bowl of fluffy steamed rice - just bring everything to the boil together and serve, it is truly delicious. 

Plum Sauce # 1
1 jar plum jam
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine jam, vinegar, brown sugar, dried onion, red pepper, garlic and spice. Bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat.

Plum Sauce # 2
1kg plums
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
1cm fresh ginger
1 chilli (optional)
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp five-spice powder
2tsp sea salt
50ml rice wine vinegar
25ml soy sauce

Stone the plums, chop them into quarters and put them in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Finely chop the onion, slice the chilli (if using) in two lengthways and blitz with the garlic and ginger to a puree in a food processor. Add the onion, the garlic and ginger puree, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and salt to the saucepan along with a tiny drop of water and other liquids to cover the bottom of the pan.

Bring to the boil slowly and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the plums are rendered to mush. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise. Blitz to a puree with a hand blender or in a food processor. The sauce should be a nice ketchup-y consistency by now. If not, boil for a little longer. Cool slightly and pour into pre-sterilised bottles, screw lids on firmly and store in a cool, dark  place.

The colour of the finished sauce will depend on the kind of plum you use, but any variety will do. If you have bought a punnet of plums in the supermarket and they are not nice enough to eat by themselves, they will make a good base for this lovely plum sauce.

The Cellar Bar and Restaurant

Gourmet burger with emmental cheese, bacon, pineapple and jalapeños.

To my mind, there are three levels of food in Irish pubs. At one end is the traditional pub, where your only dining decision is whether to have the cheese & onion or salt & vinegar. At the other extreme are the gastropubs. Here you can expect such delights as 'roasted marrow bones with curried clams in a grilled octopus reduction'. And then there is the proper pub-grub, from establishments that cater to both drinkers and diners. Comforting soups, tasty sandwiches and old favorites like fish and chips, bangers and mash or lasagna in man-sized portions. The Cellar Bar is one of Galway's best examples of the latter.

I have a soft spot for The Cellar Bar, it must be said, and I doubt that I'm the only one. There can be few people who ever spent time in college in Galway who have not had the 'all day breakfast' at least once. The location makes it a great city centre meeting spot for lunch or for after-work drinks. And of course, most importantly the food is that rare combination of both good and fast.

The staff are young and friendly and have lunch service down to a fine art. Glasses of water are lined up and coffee cups ready to go - there is not much of a wait for either food or service here, making it popular with city centre workers on a tight lunch break as well as tourists and students. The children's menu has something for even the pickiest child and there are half portions from the regular menu on offer as well.

Fusili pasta with chicken and vegetables in tomato sauce from the children's menu was the little one's choice, served with garlic toast. Chunky peppers and other Mediterranean vegetables in a freshly made and very tomatoey sauce with a little touch of cream and basil to it. The other lady had the mini breakfast from the main menu; rasher, sausage, fried egg, a choice of black of white pudding with chips, beans and toast. Both were very well received and much swapping and tasting of each other's choice was done.

There is a two course special offer which changes every day. When I went at the weekend it was a carrot and dill soup and a very lush sounding sandwich with ham, red onion marmalade, relish, brie and herb stuffing with salad and chips as one option. A chicken and roast vegetable korma on rice with a tiramisu chaser was the other, pretty good value for only €9.95 especially considering the generous portion size.

I hummed and hawed over that sandwich for a while but in the end went for the gourmet burger - a meaty, dense burger served on a wholemeal bap with the usual trimmings of lettuce, sliced tomato, red onion mayonnaise and relish, then stuffed full of extra flavor with Emmental cheese, bacon, pineapple and jalapeños. Who knew that pineapple and jalapeños on a burger would taste so good? This is definitely my new favourite way to eat a burger.

My current husband had the steak sandwich. Three big slices of seared Irish minute steak on ciabatta with garlic and wholegrain mustard mayonnaise and salad dressing. This came with chips, sautéed onions, mushrooms and a big bowl of rather delicious peppercorn sauce.

There is tempting selection of desserts, ice creams, deep dish apple pie, warm chocolate fudge cake. We ordered a mixed berry cheesecake which suffered quite badly from soggy-bottom syndrome and an excellent sticky toffee pudding. Warm, very sweet and delicately spiced, we fought over it bitterly, with the youngest eventually gaining control of the plate and defending it skillfully from invading spoons. Tea or coffee with a dessert is good value at €5 and as a pub you have the full choice of beers, wines, spirits cocktails and soft drinks that you would expect.

The Cellar offers reasonably priced, honest, hearty dishes in lovely surroundings. With good food and fast service, there truly is something for everyone on their menu.

Defensive play.

Food served Monday-Saturday : 10.00am-9.00pm. Sunday 11.00am-9.00pm

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

oven dried tomatoes

I was given a copy of Eden cookbook a few years ago and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. It is my go to reference book for quantities and measurements for larder staples and sauces, onion marmalade, pickled cucumber, those sorts of little things that make something ordinary into something special.

Oven-dried tomatoes is one of the things I make regularly from the book - this method makes bad tomatoes good and good tomatoes great. Now is the time of year that the bulk of tomatoes ripen in the green houses and poly tunnels with a little bit of September sunshine.

Eat these immediately adding them to salads and sandwiches. I prefer to keep them in the fridge for a week or two in an airtight jar covered in a good olive oil and put them on pizza or into a pasta sauce for a burst of deep tomato flavor. Use the oil you kept them in for salad dressings, it is too delicious to waste. Or, as soon as they are cool, freeze on a sheet and then transfer to a zipped freezer bag where they will last for months. A little taste of summer to lift your spirits in the depths of winter.

Oven dried tomatos
Adapted from Eden Cookbook

20g sea salt
8 plum/24 cherry tomatoes halved or quartered depending on size
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots peeled or finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
1 sprig rosemary roughly chopped
1 sprig thyme roughly chopped
10g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 100C/200F - the bottom oven of an Aga is also perfect.

Sprinkle salt on the baking tray (non-metallic) place the tomatoes on the salt skin side down. Mix all the other ingredients together and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Place in the oven and dry until juices have stopped running, edges are shriveled, and pieces have shrunken slightly. Timing will vary depending on the variety, ripeness. Up to 6 hours for a plum is usual, about 2 - 3 hours less for a cherry variety.

Friday, 14 September 2012

creme brûlée

My absolute favorite dessert of all time, a deliciously decadent creme brûlée. Despite what you might think, i'm not really a dessert person. I make them, I taste them, but I don't really eat a whole lot of them. I will take a cheese board over a dessert any day of the week, unless there is one of these on offer. These are not a bit difficult to make if you don't rush it.

The perfect creme should have a bit of wobble to it, the only danger is that you will cook your eggs a bit too quickly or too hot and they will scramble. If this happens, just throw it away and chalk it down to experience - there is no redeeming features to sweet scrambled eggs. But if you take it slowly and watch care fully it won't happen, it takes care of itself in the oven and the end result is sublime.

These quantities are for six portions in a regular sized ramekin - I make four slightly larger ones in large shallow dishes so I can have even more crunchy sugar topping. Only caramelize when you are ready to serve them as  the sugar will soften again if left standing around for any length of time. Here I have it with a few summer berries and a raspberry sauce, any seasonal fruit can be served along side but in general it is a stand alone dessert that needs nothing else.

If you don’t own a mini blowtorch, caramelise them under the grill, it will come out pretty even as long as you watch they don't burn.

500ml/18fl oz double cream
1 vanilla pod
100g/4oz caster sugar (plus extra for the topping)
6 free-range egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. Pour your cream into a saucepan and split the vanilla pod lengthways scraping the seeds into the cream. Chop the empty pod into small pieces, and add those to the cream also. Bring the cream just up to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, very gently for five minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together in a large heatproof bowl until pale and fluffy. Bring the cream back to boiling point. Pour it over the egg mixture, whisking continuously until thickened - this indicates that the eggs have begun to cook slightly.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large jug, and then use this to fill six (or a greedy four) ramekins to about two-thirds full. Place the ramekins into a large roasting tray and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up their sides, a bain-marie in other words.

Place the bain-marie onto the centre shelf of the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the custards are just set but still a bit wobbly in the centre. You are looking for a jelly type of wobble here
Remove the ramekins from the water and set aside to cool to room temperature. Chill until needed.
When ready to serve, sprinkle one level teaspoon of caster sugar evenly over the surface of each crème brûlée, then caramelise with a chefs' blow-torch. Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes, then serve.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

West @ The Twelve

For such a tiny village there is certainly no shortage of choice when it comes to eating out in Barna. Mulberry's for casual and family dining, O'Grady's for the seafood lovers and what is considered by many to be the ‘jewel in Barna's culinary crown’, West at The Twelve. West's outstanding contemporary regional cuisine and seamless service has earned much critical acclaim as has their extensive wine list. Here seasonal and local ingredients shine to deliver a superb fine dining experience. 

This kitchen is confident enough to have a Chef's Table where the curious can sit and watch the nightly service unfold from a unique perspective, right in the middle of the action. If that doesn't appeal, the dining room itself is handsome and contemporary, dark and luxurious.

The service was also spot-on, very friendly and attentive. We were impressed by the knowledge of our servers about both the food and the wine. The bread couldn't be any fresher, made in their own in-house 'Pins Bakery' and accompanied by a choice of compound or plain butters. 

When it came to wine, I took the easy option of having my wines chosen for each course, matched to the food for me by the very knowledgeable team. A restaurant with the title of best wine experience in Ireland was hardly going to get this one wrong, and I would highly recommend this option. Each glass was perfect for each course, little point in listing them, however, as their list is constantly evolving. Fergus O’Halloran, General Manager and a Sommelier of some note, is constantly sniffing out new wines from the four corners of the globe to add to the list, a nice feature especially for regular visitors.

A starter of a little pot of mussels from Killary Harbour was served with some lovely baby mussel fritters. A duck plate of confit parcels had a hidden treasure of foie gras inside and was served with an unusual hoi-sin and Guinness sauce.

 The desserts were an average berry tasting plate and an outstanding rhubarb, ginger and marshmallow concoction that was very easily one of the best desserts ever to sit in front of me.

Prices are a little lower than I would have expected from this level of service with the 'small plates' at €6.50 and €8.50 respectively and the lamb at €24.90 for a generous portion. I see that they are now open for a late Sunday Lunch from 3pm - this menu seems great value also and is well worth a look.

All in all the ambiance of the restaurant on a busy Friday, the quality of our meal and some of the best staff in Galway made for a perfect night out - sophisticated without being pretentious. I have been fortunate enough to have many great food experiences over the years, from a tasting menu in an art installation on the roof-tops of Paris, to sipping homemade organic cider in a smokey yurt in Dorset with Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall (Yes - I am foodaholic). Dining at the West certainly ranks as one of the memorable ones.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

the malt house restaurant

I used to go to The Kings Head quite a bit for lunch, but lately, with the introduction of the connecting door, I have found myself nipping into The Malt House. Don't get me wrong - I love 'The Head', good pub food (and I have been assured that no spaniels were harmed in the making of their 'King Charles' Burger'), nice staff and always great craic. But here's the thing. I'm no sports fan and since they have one of the biggest screens in town, I leave the sporty types to enjoy themselves and tootle into The Malt House. In fact, I seem to have tootled in there so often recently that our five year old daughter complained on our recent summer 'holiers' in Spain that the mussels she was served were not as good as 'at home in The Malt House'. I fear I may have created a tiny food critic.

Everyone's a critic.

This long-established place, tucked away down one of Galway's quaint little lanes just off High Street has developed something of a new lease of life since new owners Mary and Paul Grealish took ownership a few years ago. You may remember it from about ten years ago when it was rather formal and seemingly always filled with solicitors. It's now more relaxed and casual, the dining room is bright and spacious, with a feature wall of quirky, fun plates. The food tends towards upmarket Irish bistro dishes with an international twist and they specialise in local and organic. Listed among their suppliers are some of Galway's finest, Stephen Gould's leaves, bread and meat from their nearest neighbours Griffin's Bakery and Colleran's Butchers. This is a restaurant that goes out of its way to support the local small producers and suppliers.

                Smoked suckling pig with rhubarb and ginger compote

Historically, this was the spot where the good people of Galway went for special occasions. The Malt House must have seen more birthdays and anniversaries than most restaurants over the years. Indeed, the evening menu still has special occasion written all over it. Starters of Rabbit Ballotine, Malbay Crab Claws or Quinoa Salad with Peashoots are followed by mains such as Medallions of Monkfish, with Killeen Goats Cheese and Beetroot Arancini and a showstopping Duck Tasting Plate that includes a roasted breast, confit leg and pan-fried liver. This needs to be sampled to be believed. There is a fantastically priced option of the Value Saver menu with two courses for €24 or three courses for €29 and with such tempting fare as Slow Roasted Pork Belly, Organic Fillets of Sea Trout and their perfect melty, warm chocolate fondant to choose from - it really does represent some of the best value for money anywhere in town. 

Hake with crushed baby potatoes and sundried tomato with basil cream.

The wine list is full of favourites - some excellent bottles on offer from a 2007 Domaine de la Charbonnaire Chateauneuf du Pape to the 2009 Comte la fond Sancerre, some also recommended by the glass and a very reasonable Dow Vintage 1985 port for €11.50. But don't worry if you are not a wine drinker, there are plenty of beers on tap including the local brew 'Galway Hooker' and the staff are always happy to nip into the Kings Head for you and get you a cocktail.

Always check the specials board.

However, it's the great value lunch menu that has me racking up my 'frequent flyer' miles. If you consider that you wouldn't get much change from a tenner from a takeaway of cod, chips and mushy peas, or your lunchtime soup and sandwich at any cafe in the city, then eating fresh haddock with a tomato couscous crust and organic salad for €10 from a ceramic plate, served by pleasant staff in Galway's best lunch time hidey-hole is definitely something of a bargain. Lunch is decidedly cheaper, has more traditional choices and is, quite frankly, a joy. I love the room and the modern decor and I really, really love the food. Head Chef Brendan Keane has been at the helm in the kitchen from its new beginning and it shows.

The lunchtime B.L.T. Salad

The consistently excellent results are testament to the continuity that comes from a tightly knit team. They do a fantastic burger that comes with a glorious slice of smoked suckling pig, their very excellent chips and blue cheese dip for €10. The highest priced item on the menu is the steak, as you might expect, but at €15 it's still priced at the lower end of the scale. They have a lovely deconstructed BLT salad and delicious fish and chips but the really good value here is usually on the specials board.

You will always find a wide selection of seafood, depending on the daily catch, and something the kitchen crew here cooks exceptionally well. Also, they are the undisputed kings of quinoa, which features in nearly always one if not more menu items and is always used imaginatively. Stir-fried with sauté spinach, beetroot and crème fraîche or in a spring vegetable and butterbean curry infused with coconut, lemongrass, lime and char-grilled bread - a vegetarian nirvana.

I always look forward to the seasonal changes from this kitchen - and coming into my favourite season now with game and venison, mushrooms and blackberries - I am excited to see what Brendan and Sous-Chef Brian McCormack will come up with. Brian is also well worth a follow on twitter @malthouserest to give you a heads up on the specials. He tweeted last Mother's Day "Free range chicken, Clare Island organic salmon, mothers love us, would be delighted to see you!" I'm one mother who loves them a lot.

Chocolate caramel cheesecake with a peanut butter cookie

Olde Malt Mall, 15 High Street, Galway, Ireland
T:+353 91 567866  F:+353 91 563993   info@themalthouse.ie

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

kai cafe & restaurant

On Sunday I was in Salthill early for a Triathalon. The small people were shaken awake and dressed at an early hour and we were up and out the door with bicycle, wetsuit and various sporting paraphernalia in tow. A few hours later after waving daddy off into the murky depths of the sea, we three hungry ladies turned our thoughts to breakfast in one of the sea-side cafes.

The bill was €15 for two glasses of milk, a cup of tea, a fairly decent croissant which was eaten and an elderly chocolate muffin which was not. Also included was my bacon bap. You can't go wrong with a bacon roll, right? Wrong! Unloved and unlovely as it was, I abandoned it and can safely say that I have not tasted anything as functional and joyless since my last stay on the maternity ward of the hospital… and that's really saying something! Not so much as a slick of butter to relieve the tedium of the dry bread and no offer of any help from the unenthusiastic staff either. Now, it seems to come as a shock to some cafes that it's Sunday again, but I have observed that Sunday happens at the very least once a week. There are measures you can take to ensure that anyone silly enough to order anything involving bread or baked goods is not disappointed. That was my first time eating there and I hope never to go back.

But this is not a story of a a bad breakfast - this is the tale of a glorious brunch and how the lovely people at Kai can turn a frown upside-down. Still hungry and refusing to be beaten where my stomach is concerned, I cheekily added my party of four to a friends table of ten in the beautiful room upstairs that is available for private hire. Lucky for us that our friends had booked it, as there was a steady queue of people waiting for a table downstairs, at what has become a very popular Sunday brunch destination. The staff, particularly David, were more than accommodating to us and quickly arranged the extra settings. An iPod dock means you can listen to your own selection of music (Toto's 'Africa' is recommended by head chef Jess Murphy).

The children now numbering six were served quickly. Spongy, fat pancakes full of zesty Sorrento lemon scent with toasted poppy-seeds popping in your month. Drenched in organic maple syrup and served with Wexford strawberries - these are the best pancakes in town. Fact! And six smiling kids is
an achievement in its own right.

Egg hollandaise on a bagel was the basis for a range of options - there was a choice of salmon, asparagus or bacon & avocado. The Hipster vegetarian fry listed rainbow courgettes and spinach among its components, and looked fantastic when it arrived.

But for me, the real star was the Kai fry. 'Pigs on the Green' sausage, bacon, creamy mushrooms, tomato, two poached eggs, home fries & brown bread. The streaky bacon was a bit too 'rindy' for my taste, but a lovely cure. The fantastic sausage, perfectly poached eggs, and lashings of sunshine-yellow hollandaise sauce more than made up for it.

Two orders of pancakes, a Kai fry and the grilled apricots on fig jam and toasted walnut bread came to 27 including a macchiato. Downstairs, the atmosphere was really buzzy and friendly, it has a real New York neighbourhood vibe going on and I left a happy camper, full and with my faith in humanity restored.

Contact: kaicaferestaurant@gmail.com + Sea Road, Galway, Ireland + 353 (0)91 526003