Recent Roundup

So many restaurants, just not enough time to report them all fully I’m afraid. I hope these photos give you a taste (!) to bring you up to date. It has been a very busy year so far working with more great food producers, visiting new restaurants and cafés, judging baking competitions….such activity in the food community, brilliant!

Finals of the Co. Leitrim Aldi / Foiróige baking competition – the cake won, so light, flavoursome, a great bake as they say – no soggy bottoms!

Lunch in The Oarsman, Carrick On Shannon – Atlantic Hake with a side of the best mashed potato I’ve had anywhere for ages. Thanks Conor Maher for the suggestion!

Duck starter and Sea Bass main course in The Cottage, Jamestown, Co.Leitrim

Beer Battered cod & chips in The Clubhouse Bar, Dromahair, Co.Leitrim – on my doorstep!
The Clubhouse cod & chips

If you haven’t been to the Sweet Beat Café yet in Sligo -why not?! Its just fantastic – tell Carolanne I sent you 😉
Sweet Beat IT feature

Wonderful marshmallow from Donegal, made by Artisan food producer Linda McClean of Mallow Mia! Brilliant for gifts or wedding favours.

KC Peaches, Dame St., Dublin – toasted brown bread with mashed avocado (very tasty even though it wasn’t actually mashed!). Food good though service was a little slow considering the only other person there was only having coffee!

Baba Ganousch in Luna Restaurant, Dromahair, Co.Leitrim – the village is growing its fab food status with Bernadette O’Shea’s incredible food.
Luna Baba Ganoush

Great to see new places opening on O’Connell St., Sligo – Knox is the place to try if you’re in town. Love the style and decor, food good too!
Knox coffee

Dromahair monthly(ish) Culinary Challenge Club – Mexican night!

There’s more to come – and I promise to post a lot more regularly from now on. If you’ve been anywhere great or awful, let me know and I’ll check it out!
Bye for now,
Oonagh

The Hungry Monk, Cong, Co.Mayo

I was in Connemara yesterday working hard (!) and the drive home took me through Cong Village. It really is a gem. Excellent eateries on almost every corner it seems (will try Pat Cohan’s Bar next time). Today I stopped in The Hungry Monk for lunch. I met Aisling Butler a few months ago when she was considering opening something in Cong, and we should be very glad she did!
Aisling

Today I had the Pork Belly, Tomato and Broad Bean stew. It came served with Sourdough Bread which would be wonderful for mopping up the sauce, but on Aisling’s suggestion, I had mash instead. Lovely, light yet creamy mash, perfectly seasoned. The pork had been slow cooked for 12 hours. Yes 12 HOURS I said! As a result it was so tender, it just fell apart with the fork. The sauce was what you might describe as rustic – chunky veg, plenty of beans, sweet, really flavoursome. A great combination of textures and flavours overall (as we say in the trade, ahem!).
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If you’re on the road from Ballinrobe to Galway, divert into Cong, and have your lunch here. I declined dessert, but the sweet treats looked really good – all homemade that morning.
Sweet treats

Keep up the great work Aisling and Jon! I’ll be back.
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Italian Nostalgia

Ciao Bella!

It seems like a long time ago since our visit to check out the food in Tuscany, especially now that Autumn is upon us. Gone are the mornings sitting out on the deck having a breakfast of freshly baked Italian bread from the campsite bakery, fresh cherries, yummy cheeses and salami, sweet sweet oranges, tasty tomatoes…..all of which definitely taste better in the sunshine.

Going back through this selection of photos brings back the tastes and smells of delicious garlicky marinara pizza in an authentic Italian restaurant on a back street called L’Antica Torre close to the piazza in nearby Filigne Valdarno, local pasta from Siena, chickens for sale in the CoOp Supermarket with their heads still on (eeeoow!), Lauderee Macarons in Lucca, gelato from Elmi La Gelateria at every opportunity, Panforte, Panpepato, Amaretti (Almond biscuits), Cantucci (brittle almond biscuits), Brutti ma Buoni, Ricciarelli, and Ossi di Morto (Almond and hazelnut biscuits), not to say anything about the Chianti…!

There was a lovely little wine shop on our campsite in Norcenni Girasole . The campsite was excellent, by the way, great facilities and brilliant staff. I could have done a cookery course one morning in the Villa la Palagina near by, but it was too hot to spend time baking bread! We would seriously consider going back again. We went with Kelair/Campotel.

There is far too much to cover in detail, but I am going to write a longer post about one experience at the Antica Macelleria Falorni, so tune in for that soon.

Buon appetito!

Irish Quality Food & Drink Awards announce 2014 finalists!

I was delighted to have been invited to be a judge at this year’s IQFA Awards. I spent two days in Dublin with a range of really interesting people judging everything from Christmas puddings, mince pies, frozen desserts, ice cream, chocolates, gluten free sausages, bread, butter, spreads, cakes, cheeses and yogurts. Phew!! It was great! Such a range excellent of foods, so many wonderful producers and the quality was fantastic!
IQFA

And so, following a huge wave of entries and 8 days of tough judging, the shortlisted products for the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards have been announced today. Check out the shortlisted producers here.

The 180 shortlisted food and drink products in 50 categories were whittled down from 606 entries and are now in with a chance to win one of the prestigious awards in a glittering ceremony hosted by TV Chef and author Catherine Fulvio on 11th September in the Round Room, Mansion House, Dublin.
IQFA Awards winners 2013

This year for the first time a panel of judges from Musgrave Retail Partners chose finalists for the Small Producer of the Year Award – designed to celebrate artisanal foods and drink in Ireland and sponsored by SuperValu. The winner will be offered a prestigious listing in SuperValu stores. Finalists are:

• Chicken Liver Paté with Garlic & Brandy – On The Pig’s Back c/o La Charcuterie Irlandaise Ltd
On teh pigs back

• Scotts Irish Cider – Big Hand Brewing Company Ltd
Big Hand Brewing

• Sweet BBQ Pulled Pork – Jack & Keith Molloy Bros. Ltd
Molloys

Organiser, Helen Lyons, is thrilled with the success of the awards so far and said the judging was a “fantastic 8 days which brought together some of the very best food and drink on sale in Ireland and many of the Nation’s top foodies”.

The Irish Quality Food Awards set out to recognise excellence in product development for food and drink producers, retailers and catering companies in Ireland only, with Q Awards being awarded across 50 different categories. The Overall Gold Q is awarded to the one product that stands out among all the other entries and is chosen from the winners of the main categories, representing the very best of the best.

The awards are open to all retailers, food producers, wholesalers and food service operators across Northern and Southern Ireland. They are a unique collaboration between Food and Hospitality Ireland and the UK Quality Food and Drink Awards (now in its 33rd year) and sponsored by top UK packaging manufacturer, Benson Group as well as Invest Northern Ireland and MLS Labelling & Printing Systems.

All excess food from the judging was given to The Capuchin Centre for Homeless People, which provides warm food each day and more than 1800 food hampers a week to vulnerable people in Dublin, and FareShare. Learn more about The Capuchin Centre for Homeless People www.capuchindaycentre.ie.

I love you Butter!

When I was about 17, the new trend was to try to cut down on eating saturated fat. Flora appeared on the market and even some of the most sensible people thought it best to start spreading it on their toast instead of butter. The only margarines available before then were Blueband and Stork (Stork! Imagine putting that on your toast, eeeuugh!). And so, the move away from butter commenced.

In our house, my mother went with that too, as per doctors’ advice. She tried everything to get me to eat Flora. Blind taste tests, disguised with jam, you name it, but I could detect butter a mile off. There is just no comparison. As far as I was concerned, and still am, its butter or nothing. In fact, if its not butter, then I’ll have dry toast, thank you very much. I will forego any spread unless its butter, and I’ve tried them all – fakeries, interlopers, chancers all. I was never convinced that polyunsaturated spreads could be good for you – they’re too processed. And as for the easy spreaders or low calorie spreads? Yuck! If you want it to spread easily, leave it out of the fridge for a bit (or see new innovation below!). If you want lower calories – eat less (rocket science, I know!).
TIME cover
Meanwhile, the market for spreads booms away – some people just have no taste! I was finally vindicated earlier this week when Time magazine published an article, reported also in the Irish Independent, debunking the bad rep that butter has been given over recent decades (they should have asked me!!!). What’s more, I heard Professor Eoin O’Brien, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at The Conway Institute, University College Dublin on the Today Show with Sean O’Rourke a couple of weeks ago saying that its not as bad for your health as you might think.

How delighted was I last week then when as part of the Food Bloggers event for So Sligo Food Festival 2014, we were given a selection of Connacht Gold butters to try out. Such hardship!

So in the spirit of my days growing up in Barna, last night I carried out a blind taste test with my daughter Anna. (I should mention that Anna is very fond of cooking and food generally, not sure where she gets it!).
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In fairness, Anna identified each of the four varieties without too much difficulty. But, and this is major, all of them were really buttery. I’ve an aversion to anything low fat, as it generally doesn’t taste as good as the real thing but the Low Fat butter (49% butter – can you call that Low Fat? I thought it has to be <3% fat to be legally Low Fat) tasted really good – no compromise there. The Spreadable Butter is excellent, truly.

I love simplicity in innovation and the Garlic and Herb butter meets that standard for me. When innovating anything, start by asking: What do people want thats not too fancy, but just a bit of hassle to do for themselves? Well, making garlic bread is one thing that people find a nuisance. Frozen garlic bread is big business but the standard out there is mediocre. Making your own is fiddly, mashing the garlic into the butter is messy, and then you need to chop the herbs really finely, if you’ve remembered to buy the herbs that is. So, this Garlic and Herb butter should go down a storm – spread it onto a white bread roll and pop it under the grill – simples! The Garlic and Herb flavours come through really well, not at all overpowering or strange tasting – we ate it spread on white bread and it was great!

Finally the real butter itself. Yes, the others are very good, and I’ll be happy to buy them, no problem. Connacht Gold’s Great Taste 2013 awards are very much deserved! But the real butter…that’s where its at. I’ll never leave you butter. I’m all yours!

Photos – Oonagh’s own or from Connacht Gold website and Irish Independent article

The Kelly Belly – its no myth!

Aerial Kelly'sWhen I was about 8 or 9 my parents would drive us out to Rosslare from Wexford town (where we lived for a couple of years) so we could play on the beach. As I recall, Summers were always sunny, and while we played, we saw people coming onto the strand from Kelly’s Resort Hotel, bringing their picnics, and generally looking well fed & relaxed. Even then I knew from listening to my mother that Kelly’s was THE place in terms of family hotels. Fast forward 25 years and my mother and I return for a short stay. This time I’m pregnant with my first baby, though still managed Crazy Golf and a boogie on the dance floor to the house band!

For 3 years in a row when the children were small, both under 5, we took our little family for a week at a time to stay in Kelly’s. We always went in September since this is their Focus on Sport month. It was tennis, crazy golf, table tennis, bowls, horse shoe throwing, table quizzes, you name it, from sun up to sun down. We loved it! And we could justify the near constant eating because of our strenuous exertions on the (Crazy) Golf course!

Apart from the activities and the brilliant (best in Ireland?) kids club, its the food and sheer pleasure and relaxation that people talk about. I’m pleased to report that in the spirit of checking that they’ve been consistent in their standards (well someone has to do it!), Mum and I returned last month after an absence of 6 years to check it out. At this time of year Kelly’s still has a variety of activities, and the week we were there Dermot O’Neill was giving gardening talks, and we attended two of these. Lots of notes taken, no action yet!

We took the train – she from Galway, me from Collooney, met in Connolly and so on to Rosslare Strand. This has to be the most scenic train journey in Ireland – the line hugs the coast down to Bray and then follows the Slaney. We were met at the station by the Kelly’s bus and so began 3 days of bliss.

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Our room was lovely – in the new part of the hotel, above the Spa, and with a sea view. There was a bottle of Kelly’s Blanc de Blanc bubbly in the room with a card wishing us a happy birthday! This trip was a treat to ourselves, falling between both our birthdays. So we started doing nothing, sitting about, relaxing, wondering how soon we could start eating.

Day 1 – Dinner

First of all, very unusually for a place like this and with only one exception, there was no food provenance on the menu on any night. An extreme oversight.

Starter A – Confit of Duck on a bed of savoy cabbage – this must be in vogue at the minute because its the third time I’ve seen it on a menu in the past month AND its one of the dishes I cooked at Neven Maguire’s Cookery School in January. It was good though, the fat all properly rendered, the meat falling off the bone. Really good according to Mum;

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Start B – Chicken Liver Pate with toasted brioche. A bit ordinary to tell you the truth. the pate was bland but was saved by the marmaladey side dish (that’s a technical term, btw). Salad was ordinary, toast a little dry.

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Main Course A – Turbot – a huge portion, but fresh and tasted good. Main Course B – breast of pheasant on a bed of (lacked finesse) – a big pile of food, topped off with a rasher for some reason. Looked like something you’d eat after a hard day working out doors. Not too good.

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Dessert A – Warm sticky toffee pudding (neither warm nor sticky). The sauce was a bit scarce and so more was requested – it came and was poured all over, now a little too much. Dessert B of Pistachio Creme brûlée with stewed apple and crumble. It was a bit thrown together looking, and again lacked that special touch.

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Overall, dinner on Day 1 was disappointing.

Day 2 – Breakfast 

We breakfasted in The Beaches dining room, table service, very nice, no complaints, nothing to write home about either though.

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Lunch

When it comes to lunch, you tell yourself that you’re still full from dinner the night before and the big breakfast you only finished at 10am, but then they serve lunch, so what’ll you do?! It’s a great buffet affair, fab range of salads and cold meats, at least 3 or 4 hot dishes and then an extensive spread of desserts (some left over from last night’s dinner). My dessert (at lunchtime?) was a lime jelly topped with vanilla creme – absolutely limey, light and lovely.

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Dinner

Tonight we were joined by my good friend Bernie who lives and works in Wexford. Starters included smoked salmon, roasted crab claws and mozzarella & tomato salad – thumbs up all round.

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Main courses of Monkfish with chickpeas for Mum & Bernie and Scallops for me were a big improvement on last night. However, my scallops were covered in a mushroom sauce for  some reason which overpowered them somewhat. Personally, I prefer my scallops just lightly fried and served without sauce, just a wedge of lemon. I had them recently in the Inis Meain Suites restaurant and have never tasted better.

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Dessert of chocolate tart was certainly chocolately but dense. It should have come with creme anglaise (I think) but instead a big squirt of vanilla icecream. I had lemon cake light, lemony, moist, yummy.IMG_3425

Day 3 – Breakfast 

Breakfast this morning was in the Ivy Room – a great buffet of a thing, and all the fruit, cereal, hot food, bread, toast and pastries you could eat. So we did!

Lunch – All I could manage was soup. I swore off dessert, but then ate almost all of Mum’s lemon cake (familiar from the night before).

Afternoon Tea – we declined this both days. However, the queue for the cakes snakes its way from the counter back through the Ivy Room. Its as if people have been starving for days! I remember when we were there a few years ago, and being in Wexford in the afternoon for a bit of shopping. My husband was getting very anxious about finishing up shopping and getting back to the hotel in case we would miss afternoon tea. Its amazing how the body adapts to accommodate volume. It would be a waste; after all, it’s included!

Dinner – getting better with each night – we should have stayed a week! We were joined by an old family friend from Wexford. Starters included melon (how presbyterian), smoked duck (fabulous) and salmon roulade. Main courses of halibut (huge, fresh, fantastic), some sort of casserole (sorry!) and roast duck breast. Desserts of chocolate bomb-thingy (really good description, I know…), vanilla cream slice, and I had cheese. When they ask you which cheese you would like and you say you’ll have them all, you know that you’ve totally succumbed.

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Kelly’s is great, it really is. There is no doubt at all that I’ll be back with the family. There’s just something about the service, the hospitality, the atmosphere. I felt completely relaxed and de-stressed at the end of 3 days. I hardly thought about work (and that’s really saying something). We met some lovely, interesting people. I haven’t even mentioned the Sea Spa, and all I’ll say is – go! And while I’ve had better food, perhaps I’m a bit fussy, because I ate everything that was put in front of me, everything!

Sea Spa

As for the infamous Kelly Belly – 3lb in 3 days, that’s all I’m saying!

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 Photos take by Oonagh except 3 from Kelly’s website www.kellys.ie