Monday, April 30, 2012

Grown up meringues

When I was a child one of the greatest treats that we would get was a tin of Hadji Bej Turkish Delight.  Despite the Armenian origins the makers of Hadji Bej were firmly adopted by the people of Cork and their Turkish Delight was part of growing up in Cork.

Anyway, the taste was actually quite 'adult' and unusual and it wasn't until quite recently I discovered that the flavour came from Rose Water.  So when  I came across a recipe for meringues flavoured with Rose Water and pistachios I just had to give it a go.  The ingredients are straight forward - the technique a bit different and the result is extraordinary.

Ingredients :  10 egg whites
                     600g sugar (should be caster but ordinary is ok too)
                      3 tsp Rose Water
                      75g Chopped Pistachios (weight after shelling)

Pre-heat oven to 200'C.  Warm sugar on a baking tray in oven until edges start to go slightly brown.  Turn oven down to 110'

Beat the egg whites in a mixer on fast for about a minute and gradually add the sugar and the rose water.  Beat on fast for about 10 minutes until the mixture looks like a silky Jedward !
Put the chopped nuts on a flat plate and roll one half of a tennis ball size of egg mix in the nuts.  Put on a baking tray.  Make sure they have space as they will expand a good bit.

I used two serving spoons to portion them and although I tried to make them roughly spherical it didn't quite work - but I like the 'curly' effect that transpired.  Then bake for 2 hours at 110'C.  Don't be tempted to open the oven to check on them - the cold will destroy them.

 2 Hours later and voila.  Stunning meringues.

The result was really top class, brittle on the outside with a creamy almost chewy centre.  And the rose water brought me right back to the Hadji Bej of my youth.  A great result.

Friday, April 6, 2012

That 80's cake

Nothing says the 1980's in cooking terms like Carrot Cake (well maybe stuffed potato skins).  Someone sent me a recipe recently for the classic version and I must say it really is superb.  I'd forgotten how good it could be.  Recipe below - it's a bit tome consuming but very easy.


  1. 1 cup pecans (4 ounces)
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  4. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  5. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. 1 cup vegetable oil
  8. 1/2 cup buttermilk
  9. 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  10. 4 large eggs
  11. 2 cups sugar
  12. 1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded


  1. 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  2. Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  3. 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  4. 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?..........

Pizza Fresca

Is it a salad? Is it a pizza? Hard to say really. Last year we in the restaurant had the 'pizza light' where we cut a circle out of the centre of the pizza and filled it with salad. This year we are going a step further and assembling all the core ingredients of a pizza but, well, not cooking it (well the base is cooked).

We make a rosemary focaccia and top it with cherry mozzarella, olives, tomatoes, capers, basil and parmesan.  We call it 'Pizza Fresca.'

I think it looks fantastic but it hasn't sold well at all. Maybe it's a summer thing, we'll see. We will stick with it though because we ALWAYS think we're right. It's a boy thing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Duck, I said Duck !!!

My next door neighbour Pat, a lovely man, keeps a variety of poultry.  He has a rooster that is quite lively in the mornings and I joke with the locals that I get woken up every morning by Pat O'Leary's cock.  I am hilarious. Really.

This morning another bag appeared tied to a fence post at the end of the garden containing a variety of eggs.  Fantastic.  But my eldest son (7) thinks this is very unfair.  He thinks we should be paying Pat for the eggs (obviously Pat doesn't think this).  I suggested we make him a cake but he thinks this is stupid.  He really thinks we should just give him money.

Later I found Oisin (my son) dressed as a spy coming up the garden - he had sneaked into Pats garden and posted 27 cents through his letter box.  He has an amazing sense of fairness (and a crap sense of value!!).

They are supposed to be great for baking but to be honest I can't see beyond poaching them.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Getting closer.........

Well, work progressed apace today and although at lunchtime it looked completely unlikely that we would open by tomorrow it now looks like it's back on track.  Excitement again is tempered by terror and absolute exhaustion.  Roll on tomorrw.

The hanging  sign went up but it was raining too much to paint the main sign.  Tomorrow,

This is the view from the mezzanine down into the restaurant.  This is the entrance level and you go down the stairs to the restaurant level.

Hanging the 'poetry'.  I got some poems printed on big plastic sheets.  It is very different and kinda funky.

Colm and Rob from down below. 

The wine starts to arrive.

At about six o'clock the bottles of gas arrived and we found that on one of the cookers the pilot lights were knackered.  One of my customers has a gas business so I rang him and currently (21.50hrs) inside there trying to sort it out.  I owe him big time.

It's looking good to be open tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This used to be my playground......

The Stolen Pizza, Kinsale

Five years ago (give or take) I took a lease on a business premises in Kinsale - the plan was to make pasta and sell it fresh.  That plan evolved and I decided to sell coffee while the pasta was being made.  It did ok, without being great.  The next year I opened at night selling freshly cooked pasta.  That did better.  Then I got a pizza oven before I knew it I had a little Italian restaurant.

At the time we called it E,Kirby 66 because those letters were already over the door and I really liked them.  It never conveyed what we were doing though and we changed the name to the Stolen Pizza (long story).

Anyway, I've been there now for 5 years and I really feel sad leaving the place.  I learned so much there and to be honest how we survived at all is a miracle.  But survive we did and last year we were turning away 10 to 15 people a night.

Now this isn't an ad' for my business.  Really.  This is just a place of reflection.  And I don't want to imply we are a spectacular restaurant.  We're not.  We just make home made pasta, home made pizza and home made sauces.  We try to keep the wine and beer affordable.  And kids are very welcome.  It's not rocket science.   Some people 'got it', some people wondered what the hell we were doing.

But now it's time to move on.  A beautiful restaurant across the road became available and after much soul searching I decided to move.  It's crazy at some levels but it also is a great opportunity.  Can I fill it?  I really don't know.  And it needs to be busy.  There is nothing worse than a big empty restaurant.

So, we signed the contract this afternoon and I am equally excited and terrified.  We should be busy.  We are getting great reviews on Tripadvisor, we get a great mention in the Lonely Planet and highly recommended in Rick Steeve's book.  And we are only 50m from our last location so people should find us.

I just hope people 'get it'.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Farmers (??) Markets

We are lucky, here in Kinsale, to still have a Farmers Market every Wednesday.  Now most towns have a farmers market at this stage so I am saying Kinsale is lucky because the county council have done their absolute damnedest to kill the market by moving them from pillar to post for the past number of years.  They are back now in the central square and hopefully they will begin to grow again.

I must admit though to being in two minds about farmers markets at the moment.  Out of the dozen or so stalls today there were two farmers (market gardeners), three guys who made there own stuff (chutneys, jams etc.)  a fish guy, a flower guy and the rest were trying to sell me lunch.

Now, I have a small food business at the other end of town and the HSE are insisting I put in an extra two toilets (I have one) for my customers.  I have 3 sinks in my kitchen and they want one more.  I need a fly door inside my normal back door.

Now, these may all be valid requirements but why don't they apply to everyone?  I need a fly screen on any opening and yet these guys are cooking in the open air.  These guys have no water to wash things and certainly don't provide staff and customer toilets.  

Now I wouldn't don't want to see extra regulations put on anyone but the playing pitch is not level right now.  I'd love to see farmers markets heading to self regulation with one requirement - you must grow your produce, make your produce or catch your produce.

Am I getting too precious?

Friday, March 2, 2012

A little knowledge........

I noticed this morning dropping the kids off to school, that the wild garlic is blooming already.  I saw these on the edge of the wonderfully named Botharin na Spioroga.

For years I have been making pesto from it and adding the flowers and stems, raw to salads.  That is, until last year, when one of my waitresses (who was studying horticulture  or permaculture or some kind of culture) told me that it was not in fact wild garlic.  She didn't know what it was but wild garlic was quite different and the next day she brought me some in and told me where to pick it.

If you are ever in Kinsale the wooded driveway down to the Carlton hotel is awash with it.  If you drive down with your windows open the smell is overwhelming.

My 'new' wild garlic is a lot less bitter than my original and not quite as harsh on the system.

Not for the first time I find myself pondering what I have been putting into my body all these years!!

We all know how to make pesto so here is a nice wild garlic soup.  It is exactly the same way I make nettle soup.

  • 300g wild garlic
  • 1 l chicken stock (hot)
  • 1 large onion
  • 100ml cream
  • Knob of butter
  • salt & pepper
Soften the onion in the butter.   Add garlic and cook for 5 minutes.  Season (I add more pepper than normal). Add the hot stock slowly and cook gently for half an hour.  Add the cream and liquidise. Adjust seasoning.

Some soups benefit from sitting overnight - not this one.  Eat fresh.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tiramisu - ish

Everybody loves Tiramisu - the rich dark heady combination of tastes and textures was surely sent by God to finish every great meal.  I used to make a lot of it but to be honest, in the summer it was a bit too heavy for me. So I decided to see if I could invent a summer version.  

I started off going back to basics and the whole 'pick me up' mix of coffee and alcohol.  I reckon that todays version is vodka and redbull.  So I made a tiramisu with the savoiardi biscuits soaked in a heady mix of Absolut and Red Bull.  It truly was as hideous as it sounds.  But mainly because Red Bull tastes like cheap chewing gum - the vodka hit the spot.  

So I tried vodka and blueberries and that did the trick.  Make the Tiramisu as normal but instead of soaking the biscuits in coffee and brandy, soak them in a 50 / 50 mix of vodka and white wine.  Then put a layer of blueberries over the biscuits before you add the mascarpone mix layer.  If this doesn't pick you up then baby you cannot be picked !

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oh my God.............

I bought a tin of capers recently.  Can't see the name catching on in Ireland.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Favourite Toy

A number of years ago I learned how to to make pasta in a family run restaurant in Barga, a small town in the north of Tuscany.  A woman called Gionetti ran the place with her sister and every afternoon Gionetti would make pasta for the evening.  On afternoon she let me help / watch !!

I won't bore you with the recipe for pasta (6 eggs to one Kilo flour) but what was impressive was the ease with which she operated the bog standard Imperia pasta maker. She rolled the pasta to the perfect width flipped it into the machine and cranked it through.  She made the rollers thinner and started again and in no time she had thin flexible sheets of shiny yellow pasta ready to be cut into any shape.  She let me do some rolling and hey, it turns out I was a natural.

Imagine my surprise when I got back to Ireland, bolted my new machine to the table and cranked out the stodgiest, gluey pasta the world has seen.  So, I worked hard at it and after a large number of attempts, I managed to make reasonable quality pasta.  But it wasn't great and it took about an hour to make a kilo.  I never achieved the results that looked so simple in Barga.

But there are many ways to skin a cat and I am not one to give up easily so, after much research, I bought a Lillo Due pasta machine from Italy.  This is a tough little machine that kneads the pasta and then extrudes it through a variety of different dies.  I have dies for spaghetti, tagliatelli, rigatoni, fuesilli and lasagne but there are many other dies available too.  I can make about 3kg an hour and the quality is second to none.  Well, maybe second only to Gionetti's in the beautiful town of Barga.

The end result.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Folks Who Live On The Hill

 The town of Montepulciano in southern Tuscany reeks of affluence stronger than the garlic coming from its many little restaurants.  There is wine everywhere.  Long caves going deep into the hill selling the local Super Tuscan, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  And with this Vino Nobile begins the story of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See.

The name of the Nobile wine comes from the family who ruled Montepulciano and had their Roman residence on the highest hill within the old walls of the city.  The Villa Spada. 

Supporters of the Catholic wave across Europe, the Nobiles welcomed O’Neill and O’Donnell after the Flight of the Earls and the two Irishmen are buried further up the Janiculum hill at the Church of San Pietro.

For ten days in June of 1849 the Villa Spada became the centre of world attention as Garibaldi and his red shirts made their last ditch, heroic stance against the French as he fought, rather ironically, against the rule of the Vatican.   

Nearly 100 years later in June 1946 the Villa Spada came up for sale, right at the time the Irish Government was looking for a new Embassy to the Vatican.  The Villa Spada was perfect except it was well over budget. Still, De Valera wanted it and with the assistance of some U.S fundraising the Villa Spada was purchased in New York in February 1947.

Combining this historical significance, the huge Catholic influence over the Irish Government and the ‘great listening post’ arguments we have heard recently, one can see how important a role the embassy has played.  And yet, these really are historic, almost sentimental arguments.  There have been few greater steps towards secularism than Enda Kenny’s decision to close the embassy to the Vatican.  And surely that move is a good thing.

But there is one great loss and that is the loss of an embassy to a higher ideal.  We had an embassy to a spiritual code, an embassy to a belief system if you like.  At a time where our country is rapidly turning from a community into an economy, it is a shame to ditch that without replacing it with something else.  We need an embassy to a higher value. We need an embassy to the arts, to culture, to the intellect.  We need Ambassador Heaney to move to the Villa Spada.  And we need it now.

And then, when the IMF threatens us with further humiliation we will write them a poem.  The bonfire of the bond holders will be a huge tapestry by Louis Le Brocquy.  The grey suits in one corner will be balanced by a startlingly yellow Basil Blackshaw in the far corner.

Villa Spada can lead us back to a time when a new poem by Derek Mahon was more important than anything Angela Merkal has said.  Ever.

So let’s close the fridge door on cold cheap German beer and let a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano breathe a bit.  Enjoy the colour and the nose and the rich complexities of its flavours.  Take a long drink and drift away to the Villa Spada.  Van Morrison is tuning up out in the warm evening sun on the veranda.  It would be a shame to miss him.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Runny Marmalde

Nicely runny

When I was a child my mother would always make marmalade at this time of the year.  It was such a bonus for us to get  such a glut of fruit in the middle of the winter.  

My mothers goal was to make well behaved marmalade that set properly.  She rarely achieved this goal.  Each year there were new tips and pieces of advice played around with.  Put all the pips in a muslin bag and steep this in the marmalade.  Next year, include a chopped up grapefuit - they are full of pectin.  Next year, include a chopped up lemon - they are full of pectin.  But nothing seemed to work.

So, till this day, homemade marmalade, in my opinion, should be quite runny.  This is my frame of reference.  This is what I know.

I presume nobody needs a recipe for marmalade but for the record I like to put a slosh of gin in at the end - this adds a lovely zing to the marmalade and helps make sure it doesn't set too much!

Don't add the hooch too early or all the alcohol will evaporate.  You need a bit of a kick to it.

Serving suggestion - serve on some lightly buttered, fairly well burnt toast.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Blessed are the Cheesemakers - making Camembert in the comfort of your own home

Here is the idiots guide to making cheese (and superb cheese at that).    I get all my bits and pieces from .  They are not cheap and my experience of the delivery was very poor so just give yourself plenty of time - I might have caught them on a bad day.

It is VERY difficult to get unpasteurised milk in Ireland (yup). I had to make an 80 mile round trip to get quality raw, Jersey milk. It was incredible though. I stole a glass for my porridge and it was like pure cream.

Warm it up slowly.

When it gets to 31degrees add a litre of pretty ripe buttermilk (left overnight in a warm room with the top off). Also add penecillan candidum (spelling?). Leave for an hour.  Add a few drops of rennet and leave for another hour.

Chop it up and separate the curds from whey. Ladle the curds into moulds - these are bottomless rings of plastic with holes drilled in them so any remaining whey should drain away.

After an hour or more it settles and flattens.

I have, rather pretentiously, changed the name of the utility room to 'the dairy'.

You must turn it every hour for the next 8 hours but I was going out so I only did it for 6. It'll be grand.
Look at how much it has condensed already.

The following morning I popped them out of their moulds and covered both sides with sea salt.

Not a lot of cheese for 2 gallons of milk.

Its a waiting game from now on really.  There is not a lot to do for the next three months but keep an eye on it and turn it occasionally

By the way, the place does begin to pong a bit (I like it) so you might want to take this into consideration when you are considering where to store it.