Monday, 30 April 2012

Foraged Food: Nettle Soup

Aoife, Cambridge

On a recent sunny Saturday morning, I woke up feeling full of the joys of spring and I knew it was time for a feed of nettles. The Husband thinks of foraging as "making a scene", so I left him sleeping and headed off with my high tech equipment: purple latex gloves, scissors and a plastic bag.

Cambridge has an abundance of green spaces suitable for foraging but I ended up in my favourite spot just around the corner from the apartment. The path that winds along between Hobson's Conduit and the allotments on Brooklands Road has given me sloes, elderberries as well as nettles. It was the stinging nettle which first got me interested in foraging and I have been making my spring-time nettle soup for nine years now. Nettles are full of iron, one of my Uncles swears they make a great tonic for the blood. Whether it’s particularly good for you or not, soup made from the tender young leaves is delicious and definitely worth getting out foraging. The smell of a wet nettle patch is fresh and almost spicy; it brings me right back to the damp summer fields of my childhood.

There is still time to get out and pick some nettles before they get too tough and woody. If they have flowered it’s probably too late. Don’t forget your gloves. 

Rapeseed or olive oil
I onion, sliced
2 carrots, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 carrier bag full of nettles, washed and any thick stems removed
1 bunch of parsley (leaves and stalks chopped)
2L of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Cream or yoghurt to serve

The preparation of the nettles is the longest part of this process. I find it best to get some music playing, get your gloves on and give yourself over to the process. Best to get any significant others out of the kitchen at this stage, if they are anything like The Husband they will just start to moan about the mess you are making. Pick over the nettles, washing them thoroughly and discarding any thick stems as well as any insects, feathers or bits of grass that have ended up in your bag.

Gently sweat the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in some oil (I use local rapeseed oil) until they are soft. Add the nettles, parsley and the stock. Let it cook for about an hour until everything is tender. Allow to cool, blend (I use a handheld blender) and season with salt and pepper. Serving the soup with a little swirl of cream or yoghurt helps to balance the spicy flavour. I’ve served this soup as a starter when I’ve had people over for dinner. I normally call it spring greens soup until everyone has eaten it. When I tell them it's made from nettles they are always amazed how tasty it is.

Clockwise from top left: the preparation process begins; picking nettles: protective equipment in place; beautiful soup in the pot; beautiful soup in the bowl; nettles cleaned and ready for cooking.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Fabulous Friday: Cocktail Hour

How to handle cocktail emergencies: Lesson Two

Aoife, Cambridge

 “What do you mean you can’t make me a cocktail? Don’t you have a blog telling people how to make the things....?” Well, once The Sister uttered those words I had to come up with something or risk losing my cocktail reputation for ever. I had been reluctant to even try as we had somehow managed to drink all of the interesting cocktail ingredients the night before; hence why she needed a cocktail so badly. Two limes were all that was left over from the carnage. A quick forage in the fridge and I came up with an additional four pieces of manky looking lemon and a quarter of a punnet of redcurrants. No juice, no cordial, no sparkling water, no gin, just some vodka. 

The shrivelled looking lemons yielded a surprising amount of juice. Next in was the juice of the limes, then a serious slug of vodka. A quick taste test and it was obvious it needed some sweetness to balance out the acidity. Unlike the other gastronomic girl, I’m not organised enough to have sugar syrup knocking around the place so it was out with my trusty squeezy bottle of agave nectar. I added it slowly and tasted as I went to get the right balance (also got a bit of alcohol coursing through the veins which helped with my own hangover).

All that was left to do was to shake the mix over ice and pour into a martini glass. I garnished the glass with the redcurrants for a jazzy touch. These cocktails turned out to be just what we all needed. Shudder inducing (both from the citrus and the vodka kick) but in a good “Jaysus, I’m feeling better already!” kind of way. The cocktail equivalent of “making dinner from floorboards” (© Rachel’s mum) but tasty enough that I would actually choose to make them again.

So, lesson two in summary: as long as you have vodka and some old bits of fruit, you'll be grand.

Recipe (serves one):
50 mL vodka
50mL lemon juice
25mL lime Juice
Agave nectar or sugar syrup to taste

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Views and Reviews: Bear


Bear is the new offering from Jo'burger's Joe Macken and Jamie Heaslip located in the former home of Crackbird on South William Street. They operate a no reservations policy so we figured we'd have a decent shot of getting a table in the awkward time slot we had for dinner before our early evening cinema reservation.

Bear is very simply laid out with stools, low hanging bare bulbs and bare tables except for prickly potted cacti.  It was a little too cool for school for my tastes - especially as I am somewhat vertically challenged and hate sitting on a stool when my feet don't reach the floor - but I could see how the low lighting could be atmospheric in the evening.  

Bear is primarily a steak restaurant and the choice of cuts was extensive and included ones that were unfamiliar to me such as Pope's Eye and larger cuts that would feed up to 4 people.  Other options included tasty offerings such as lacquered pork chops and homemade chorizo but we both decided to go with the 8oz rump steak cooked medium rare.  We had spied on the way in that the side dish portions were quite large so we chose two to share.  The million dollar fries, chunks of gratin dauphinoise that have been fried until crisp, and the horseradish slaw.  We accompanied this with a selection of 3 sauces: red wine tarragon butter, barbeque and chimichuri (a herb oil) and finished off by ordering a rhubarb lemonade and a lime ginger spritzer.  

The steak looked delicious and, as is evident from the picture above, I milled in to it as soon as it arrived!  It was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Of our 3 sauces, the red wine butter was my favourite as it was unusual and best complemented the other sides we had ordered.  The million dollar fries are an incredibly bold but inspired idea and I think I'd happily go back just for them - crispy outside, soft inside, probably incorporating huge amounts of butter and cream - yum!  A special mention has to go to our drinks which were good value at €2.95 for a HUGE jam jar.  I had the rhubarb lemonade which showcased this seasonal veg at it's best and the lime ginger spritzer with zingy and refreshing, delicious! 

Overall, the food at Bear was tasty, well conceived and reasonably priced.  The service, however, wasn't great.  It wasn't slow so much as  very disorganised which was puzzling as the restaurant wasn't half full at the time.  Despite this, I shall be back to perch myself on one of the stools the next time I fancy a good value carnivorous feast.             

Dinner of 2 steaks, 2 sides, 3 sauces and 2 soft drinks came to €51.80 excl. service 

*Update: I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email directly from Joe Macken in response to this review both thanking me for the positive comments and looking for clarification around the less positive ones so that they could be actioned and improved upon.  I feel this deserves a special mention as it shows proper use of social media in running a business and a commitment to improving your customer's experience. Fair play Joe!

34/35 South William Street
No reservations

Friday, 20 April 2012

Fabulous Friday: Cocktail Hour

The Old Reliables

As you may have gathered we do a fair bit of cocktail making in the privacy of our own homes, but sometimes the need for a cocktail is so overwhelming that we don't even make it home after work. So where do we go when we need an emergency cocktail? We want to introduce you to our reliable spots (in Cambridge and Dublin) for a life-affirming cocktail.

Cambridge: The Snug

I'm normally too busy drinking to take pictures so I had to borrow this pic from their website
I wrote recently about the amazing cocktail experience I had at the 12A club. This was definitely the best cocktail I have purchased in Cambridge but as I am not actually a member there I don't think I can have this as my top choice. No, as anyone who has ever come to stay with me will testify, my favourite Cambridge cocktail location is The Snug on Lensfield Road. Part of a small chain of pubs, with five additional locations including another in Cambridge near the Grafton Centre, they serve very tasty food (the burgers are a favourite with The Husband), have a great selection of wine, both by the glass and the bottle, and offer free refills on most soft drinks.  Importantly they have an extensive cocktail menu. All the cocktails I have tasted are properly put together with no short cuts and are very reasonably priced (average £7.50). 

The Snug is where I discovered the French 75, where The Husband first discovered his love of a pink cocktail and where we got engaged after way too many martinis. I love it here.

Dublin: The Exchequer

I am just as big a fan of The Snug as Aoife is and it is on our must visit list every time I am in Cambridge; a visit that usually ends up lasting much longer than we planned due to the influence of 2for1 happy hour!  Should they ever decide to set up on this side of the water (hint hint!) I'm sure it would be my watering hole of choice.  However, fear not, I shall not go thirsty while waiting for this to happen!

My favourite spot for a cocktail in Dublin has to be The Exchequer which is also an excellent Gastropub with a great value early bird. They have a fantastically creative barman in residence here as the cocktail menu is extensive and features mainly new creations rather than the old reliables, (though I'm sure they'd make you one of those too) and the cocktail names are just as inventive as the combination of ingredients they have used, 'I can't believe it's not watermelon' being one of my favourites!

I realised recently that my love of this venue is a little bit centred around one cocktail in particular, the Cucumber and Mint Daiquiri, which I would urge all of you to try immediately as it is so amazing; a summer's day in a glass is how I would best describe it.  So, in the interests of doing proper research for the blog (I'm very dedicated) I have recently resisted the Daiquiri and ordered more widely and can report that everything has been sublime and a fairly reasonable €9 for cocktails of this quality.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Views and Reviews: Bon Appétit

Lunch at Bon Appétit

I wrote recently about a little culinary victory for which I won a prize of lunch for two at Oliver Dunne's Bon Appétit in Malahide, just outside of Dublin.  To say that I was excited about trying out this one Michelin star venue, about which I had heard only good things, is probably the most understated of understatements.

I wanted to love it. I wanted to be raving about it. I wanted to be boring anyone who got within 3 feet of me to death about it.  I did not expect to find myself googling things like 'What do Michelin stars mean?' while struggling to write a fair and balanced review of it.  

My less-than-extensive googling has since enlightened me to the fact that Michelin stars are awarded based on "what's on the plate and only what's on the plate".  I think I agree with the Michelin guide in this respect to a point.  The quality of the food on the plate is crucial of course, but is by no means the only factor influencing your dining experience.  Service, value, decor and atmosphere all have a role to play and it was a careful balance of all of these that we were expecting as we made the trip from southside to Malahide last Saturday. 

My prize allowed us to order from the set lunch menu which offers 3 courses for a good value €29.95, with 3 choices for each course.  Once we had ordered we were offered bread and we both chose a brown bread with sunflower seeds and were impressed at how light it was while having an incredibly crispy crust.

I had instantly loved the sound of the salmon dish for starter and it was as light, fresh and flavoursome as I'd expected. The presentation was impressive as the radish and cucumber had both been sliced to the point of being transparent and the scattering of herbs added little punches of flavour.

Cured Organic Salmon, Avocado Puree, Black Radish and Cucumber
He went for the five spiced Ham Hock with pickled cabbage and watercress puree. I hope my description does this dish justice:  The meat had been coated in breadcrumbs and fried until crisp and, due to the five spice, these tasted like the moistest, most delicious chinese spare ribs you have ever eaten.

It was at the same time we received our starters that we encountered the first hiccup with our meal.  As we were eating for free we had decided we would treat ourselves with nice wine.  The wine list carries a good selection of wines by the glass so we asked the waiter if we could have glasses of wine to match the dishes we had chosen.  We expected to be told the name of the wine, possibly why it went with our food.  What we got was a different waiter who put two glasses of wine down with the explanation "White wine".  Hmmm, yes, that part I had managed to work out...  When he returned with more bread for us I enquired about what type of wine it was and he promptly named it. Why he hadn't volunteered this information in the first place was baffling.

On to mains and I was very tempted to try the fish dish as it was similar to the one we cooked when I won the prize but I decided to go for a dish I wasn't familiar with and opted for the pork.  The meat was succulent and went well with the leeks but the star of the show was the potato fondant, probably because it was about 50% butter.  I need to learn how to make these.

Organic Pork, Creamed Leeks, Potato Fondant, Garlic Jus
The boyfriend opted for the Braised Beef Bourguignon, Creamed Pommes Puree and a red wine jus.  Unfortunately, the one you see in the picture below is the second one he received as the first had to be sent back to the kitchen when we spotted that the cling film, used to hold the meat together while cooking, had not been removed.  The waiter whisked both our dishes away with an "Oh my god, I am so sorry" and returned with an apology centering around an inexperienced commis who I ended up feeling a bit sorry for as I'm sure he was getting a severe reprimanding.  The chef at the pass is there to stop exactly this kind of mistake and the apology should have been directly from him, no excuses.  When the beef returned, sans garnish aux plastique, it was found to be rich, melt in the mouth and with tiny pearl onions who were boxing in the heavyweight class in terms of the flavour they packed in.  The pommes puree, like the fondant, were another vehicle for butter, and were deliciously light and creamy. 

The wine saga continued with main course as we were presented with "Red wine" which turned out to be a Bordeaux upon further inquiry.  By dessert the waiter had got the measure of us and asked if he could recommend a dessert wine.  The boyfriend requested a port as he was having the cheese and I was given a glass of Monbazillac, a sweet wine from the south west of France that I'm familiar with.  The French usually drink it with paté and foie gras but it went well with my Vanilla Panna Cotta, Berries and Strawberry Consommé.

I loved the presentation of my dessert, the panna cotta having been set in a thin layer on the bottom of the dish, with fresh berries, mint and the strawberry consommé which was like a concentrated strawberry essence.

His cheese plate (€5 supplement to the set menu) was presented cleverly with a pasta tongs-come-cracker stand holding thin, crispy, caraway seed crackers.  I cannot tell you what type of cheeses he got other than blue, goat's and someting brie-like as they were not explained to us.  The blue and the goat's were excellent while the brie was a little under-ripe, the spiced pear chutney that accompanied them was delicious.

Overall, the quality of the food and wine we experienced, plastic wrap incident aside, was excellent and the lunch menu is good value.  However, the service was hurried and lacked attention to detail  at times and small things, like a dirty wine glass, were out of place in a dining room where effort has obviously gone in to your surroundings.  So I was left a little confused as to how I felt about our experience of Bon Appétit.  Had our expectations been out of sync with what was on offer?  Were we examining it all through a star tainted microscope?  It is at this point that I would have to disagree with anyone who is reviewing a restaurant solely based on the food on the plate, and to clarify, the Michelin guide do have another rating to indicate service etc., because when the other aspects of a dining experience do not match the quality of the food on the plate it can leave you feeling strangely unsatisfied. 

Lunch of 3 courses costs €29.95 per person. Six glasses of wine and an espresso came to €53 excluding service.

Bon Appétit, 9 James's Terrace Malahide, Co. Dublin
01 845 0314

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Black Pudding Scotch Eggs

Returning to Cambridge after a holiday in the old country is always hard. However flying home after my Easter holiday I was surprisingly sprightly. The reason? Tucked in my suitcase was one of my favourite Irish foods – black pudding, more specifically Clonakilty black pudding. Irish black pudding is quite different to the pudding I have had in England, the higher grain content means the Irish stuff has a crumblier texture. Clonakilty is also spicier than the average Irish brand; I love the flavour. Rather than just use my bounty for my old favourite omelette (black pudding, goats cheese and spinach) or weekend breakfasts, I wanted to do this amazing ingredient proud and try something new.

I only had to do a little bit of searching online before I came across black pudding scotch eggs. I’d never made scotch eggs before and while there were some technical details to master I felt I could cope without having a major nervous breakdown. This is more than can be said for some of my previous “experiments”. Out and about at the market on Saturday afternoon I came across some quail eggs, I couldn’t pass their pretty shells by – black pudding scotch quail's eggs it was. I thought I should try some hen’s eggs as well, just to be sure.

Most of the recipes I’ve seen use either 2:1 or 1:1 sausage meat to black pudding. However I wanted mine to be much more about the black pudding so I used a ratio of 1:1.3 sausage meat to black pudding.

9 quail's eggs
2 hen's eggs
280g Clonakility black pudding
220g Good quality sausage meat (I just used my favourite sausages squeezed out of their casings)
2 eggs lightly beaten
~100g fine breadcrumbs
Plain flour
Vegetable oil for deep frying ( I used about 1L)

First of all soft boil the eggs. Plunge the eggs into boiling water (3 minutes for the quail’s, 7 minutes for the hen’s) drain them and cool in ice water. 

When they are cool, peel them carefully (the quail’s eggs particularly).
Once the eggs are ready to go mix the sausage meat and black pudding in a bowl. The advantage of the crumbly Irish pudding is that it is very easy to mix through the sausage meat with your hands. If you are using English black pudding you may want to whizz it all together in a food processor.
Once it is all combined take a reasonable pinch of the mixture and spread it out thinly on a square of cling film. 

Pop an egg in the middle and gather up the cling film so that the pudding mixture covers the egg. There will be an extra bit at the top you won’t need so just pinch that off and throw it back in the bowl.

Twirl the cling film around so you have a little black pudding ball.

Unwrap from the cling film and move on to the next one. Once all the eggs are done (obviously you need a bigger blob of mixture for the hen’s eggs) you can get ready to coat them.

Dip each ball into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs (I lost concentration on a few and did a freestyle egg, flour, egg, breadcrumb thing and it didn’t seem to make any difference).

Once they are all ready, get the oil heating up in a deep saucepan. When the oil is at 180°C (or turns a cube of bread brown) pop in the eggs. I cooked three quail’s eggs at a time or one hen's egg and one quail's egg. The quail’s eggs cooked for 4 minutes and the hen’s eggs for about 7 minutes but you can tell when they are done as they go a lovely deep brown colour. 

Drain them on some kitchen paper while you are finishing the rest of the eggs. My homemade sweet chilli jam was a great accompaniment and along with some spicy green leaves really cut through the richness of the eggs. I was delighted that the yolks were still slightly runny. We had plenty left over for the next day (we both took one of the monsters made from the hen’s eggs for lunch).

The quail’s eggs were definitely the prettiest and had the most satisfying pudding to egg ratio however all that peeling of tiny eggs is a bit much unless you are feeling in the whole of your health. 

I’ll definitely be making them (both big and small) again. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Views and Reviews: Fitzbillies

 Dinner at Fitzbillies

I was determined to like Fitzbillies. A Cambridge institution given new life, an independent restaurant, on my favoured side of town, an easy walk from our apartment with a weekly changing menu filled with seasonal ingredients. It seemed perfectly calibrated to appeal to my liberal, guardian-reading sensibilities; I had to check it out. I rearranged my reservation several times due to various disasters and they were incredibly nice and patient with me which was an excellent start.

I don’t think it will spoil the ending if I tell you now that I loved it. The refurbishment has created a light-filled additional space at the back. The room and the accessories are predominately white with the exception of the wall covered in (Cambridge) blue tiles. I’m quite obsessed with this wall now; I find myself thinking of it in all sorts of odd moments. We started with a glass of Rhubarb Fizz, which proved just the thing to take the edge off the dodgy-theatre-wine hangover we were both suffering with. The waitress sympathised very knowingly when I mentioned this rather than looking at me disapprovingly. She also brought water and delicious bread made in their bakery. The bread was so good it was in the “shall we just stick with the bread and wine?” league but luckily we moved on, engaged our brains and ordered some food.

We wanted all of the starters; the Sorrel soup and the cure pork loin both only narrowly missed the cut. The Husband’s white dandelion, bacon and soft boiled egg salad was beautiful, the egg perfectly cooked and beginning to ooze out on to the leaves. The combination of bitter leaf, salty pig and creamy egg woke up my taste buds and made me believe I might get out of my hangover hell and feel normal again (quite an achievement). My sourdough pancake topped with mushrooms (morels and Suffolk browns) and wild garlic was rich, satisfying and perfect for my delicate state. The thick pancake stood up well to the mushroom liquor. 

The main courses were all very hearty sounding and came in man/hungry-girl sized portions. The gentleman at the table next to us ordered the rabbit and ale pie and it looked big enough for two. The Husband had the nettle and Lord of the Hundreds (a cheese apparently) risotto with fennel and claytonia. I sneaked a spoonful or three and I liked the balance of the rich cheese and fresh green flavours so much that I fully intend to make a version of it myself. The Husband enjoyed it immensely (he’s a demon for the risotto); he did say it wasn’t quite as good as mine but I think he may just have been trying to get into my good books. My roast pollack was surprisingly flavoursome for a fish with a reputation for blandness. The accompaniments, artichokes braised in cider and pink fir apples, were fresh and zesty: entirely appropriate for an early spring menu. Even though I hadn’t quite managed to finish my fish (did I mention the generous portions?) we thought we should share a desert, for research purposes. It had to be the treacle tart and it was all that a treacle tart should be: sticky, sweet and satisfying. We didn’t eat much of the crème fraiche it was served with; we were too busy with the tart and our excellent coffees. 

Fitzbillies: tasty seasonal food, a good value wine list, sympathy for your hangover and a mesmerising blue wall; I’m sold. They are open for dinner on Friday and Saturday and for lunch, coffee and cakes all week.

Dinner of two starters, two mains, one desert and drinks (2 rhubarb fizz, 2 glasses of wine and coffees) came to £72 excl. service.

52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1RG
01223 352500

Friday, 13 April 2012

Fabulous Friday: Cocktail Hour

Hurrah for Frozen Raspberries!
How to handle cocktail emergencies: Lesson One

It might have been a very long week in work. Or, like me, you might have spent all week suffering from the shock of returning to work after a long weekend.  Anyway, you arrive home, exhausted and thirsty, on Friday evening and the contents of your fridge look something like this...

Keeping a well stocked liquor supply is not something I struggle with. Indeed, I have several bottles of Bacardi in the house currently due to a duty free special I was unable to pass by!  Depending on your preference you will replace some things reasonably often: Gin/Vodka/Bacardi, while others will hang around forever getting dusty: Apricot Brandy/Creme De Menthe/Weird berry liquer you got as a present three Christmases ago. 

Mixers, however, are another story; they go off, they go flat and they run out unhelpfully quickly.  Making sure you're prepared for your Fabulous Friday Cocktail of choice can require a significant amount of forethought.  Realising, as you walk in the front door on Friday evening, that your recipe requires Pomegranate seeds or fresh lychees can rather scupper proceedings.

This is why the Gastronomic Girls say "Hurrah for Frozen Raspberries!"  These delicious, inexpensive, and wondrously pink berries will hang out for ages in your freezer until just that moment when you're thinking "Drat, I forgot the Kumquats!"  

Frozen raspberries are a cocktail saviour for a number of reasons.  Firstly, they make very pretty, pink cocktails, which I am always a fan of.  They do part of the job of ice cubes - very handy if another thing you forgot to do this week was refill the tray.  They defrost really quickly so they can be easily muddled while involving little waiting time for your drink.  Finally, they are also very tasty in porridge, so, you can pretend that the real reason you have them in your freezer is for healthy-eating purposes! Bonus!  It is also worth noting here that cocktail emergencies need not be a hardship.  In fact, a Raspberry Martini is probably one of my favourite cocktails. So much so, that I may possibly need to remember to pick some up tonight on the way home...

Raspberry Martini from diffords guide

10 Raspberries
2 1/2 shots Vodka
1/2 shot Sugar Syrup

Muddle raspberries in a shaker to crush them, add the other ingredients and shake.  Fine strain into martini glasses to remove the seeds.  Garnish with 3 raspberries on a cocktail stick.  Unfortunately, frozen raspberries are very soft when defrosted and may fall off.  If it is a cocktail emergency you won't care, or, if it's a serious emergency, you probably won't have bothered with a garnish at all!

*NB: Diffords Guide uses a shot measure of 25ml.  Sugar Syrup is made by dissolving granulated sugar in water in a ratio of 2:1.  Heat the water while stirring to dissolve the sugar but don't let it boil.  If you have syrup leftover it will last in the fridge for quite a while.  

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Views and Reviews: Dillinger's

Lunch at Dillinger's

I have to admit that this felt quite bold.  Easter Sunday has always been a day for a big family meal for me.  This year, however, we found ourselves with both sets of respective parents absent.  Now, it would never have occured to me, because it's Not Something You Do on Easter Sunday, but the boyfriend had the inspired idea of going out for lunch. 

We hadn't booked anything, in fact, I was quite convinced nothing would be open, but we set off to Ranelagh as a)there's quite a few restaurants we'd like to try there and b)all those restaurants are concentrated in a small area limiting the traipsing from one closed sign to another we might have to do.  We settled on Dillinger's, it being the second open place we found and we'd already eaten in the first (fyi Kinara Kitchen, very nice).  Technically, we ordered off the Brunch menu but, as neither of us ate anything remotely brunch-y, I'm reviewing it as lunch.

Neither of us fancied alcohol, though I did covet another table's Bloody Mary, so we both ordered Ginger Beer which was thoughtfully served with a shot of fresh lime.  This was my first try of Fentiman's and I will be seeking it out in future, it was deliciously fresh and I loved the dinky little bottle, though you would definately need a glass of water on the side if you were in any way thirsty!

There were lovely, seasonal, specials on offer including a version of Egg's Benedict that came with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, and Crab croquettes with cajun remoulade.  I can normally never pass by any kind of crab without ordering but I was tempted by the Hot Smoked Salmon Caeser Salad and especially the accompaniement of house pickled onion.  I received a veritable mountain of salad with lots of salmon, beetroot, crispy croutons and a punchy horseradish sauce but the onion was the absolute star of the show.  It was wondrously pink, sharp, and had a delicious anise flavour.  My only issue was that it was obviously a 'magical replenishing salad' as I ate, and ate, and ate and there was still loads left! Not the worst complaint I guess! 

The boyfriend went with the classic burger and fries.  The chips were thin and very crispy and the burger was moist, with lovely bacon and cheese.  It was precisely how a burger and fries should be. Yum.

We both decided to go for desserts, I had spotted baked cheesecake almost as soon as we walked in!  Unfortunately, I obviously got excited at the prospect of cake and forgot to take any pictures of them.  He went for the Pecan Pie which had a crispy base and gorgeous, gooey caramel with lots of Pecans crammed in amongst it.  My cheesecake, unfortunately, did not live up to expectations as it was quite bland.  It was touted as honeycomb but there was very little evidence of this other than a little scattering on top.  I also thought the desserts were touching the expensive side at approx €7 each.

Dillinger's dining room has the look of a lot of effort having gone in to making it looking like they made no effort at all - some of the vintage school chair-style chairs look decidedly uncomfy! However, it does have a cosy atmosphere even though it wasn't busy when we visited.  I did wonder what the noise level might be like at busier times as some of the tables are very close together.  I shall let you know after we have been back for dinner, which will be soon: the boyfriend spotted lamb shanks on the menu...!

Lunch of two mains, two desserts and two soft drinks came to €45 excl. service.

Dillinger's, 47 Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
01 497 8010

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sweet Treats: Happy Easter!

Chocolate and Ginger Cupcakes

I had never thought that baking was something I would particularly enjoy.  Firstly, because I am very much a 'throw it in and see what happens' type of cook and this is not conducive to baking.  Secondly, I have an extremely savoury tooth, I love the french phrase for this: 'j'ai le bec salé', literally: I have the salty beak! Indeed, if I am planning a meal for a dinner I can think of numerous options for starter and main course and then come to a sudden dead halt when thinking of a dessert...Hmm, ice-cream??

However, I was given a wonderful present last christmas of Lilly Higgins' book Make Bake Love along with some pretty baking accessories and I have been on a baking exploration ever since! Lilly's book is beautifully laid out and incorporates lots of small twists on classic recipes that make for delicious eating.  My colleagues have been the lucky recipients of most of my baking experiments, partly because I love to treat people and partly because I don't want my waistline to expand as rapidly as my baking repertoire!

After a few recipes I am now completely hooked on baking as it appeals to my creative side and I like planning how to decorate and present things.  Marie at Yummeelicious talked this week about struggling with the creative aspect of baking (the gastronomic girls think she's fab at it though) but I do think some of the techniques are quite tricky to master - evidenced by the fact that I've tried making meringue roulade, unsuccessfully, twice this week... 

I'd had a plan in my head to make easter cupcakes so I decided to bake for a meeting in work this week.  I knew I wanted them to be chocolate flavour so I decided to opt for the Chocolate and Ginger cupcake recipe in Make Bake Love with chocolate buttercream icing, neither of which I had made before. 

I  infused 100g chopped crystallised ginger with 120ml milk for ten mins on a low heat and then whizzed it in a food processor.  I creamed 220g caster sugar with 100g softened butter with my fab new hand whisk that I treated myself to during the week, it makes baking so much easier! Then I added 2 eggs, one by one.  Once they were really well mixed in I added 160g plain flour, 20g cocoa powder and 1.5 tsp of baking powder that I'd already seived. I then added the whizzed milk and ginger and it was all stirred just until it was mixed through.  Lilly recommends an ice cream scoop to transfer your batter to the bun cases. I found they ended up a little big but my cases may have been a bit on the small side.  I then baked them for 20mins in a 160c fan oven.

Ready for Icing

The chocolate buttercream recipe is also from Make Bake Love and involves whisking 55g softened butter with half of  230g seived icing sugar until fluffy.  Then add in the other half of your sugar with 40g cocoa powder, 5tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and whisk until the icing is as fluffy as you would like.  I then used a mini spatula to spread the icing onto the cakes making a hollow in the middle and trying to make the edges look as 'nesty' as possible.  I am sure my icing skills still require a lot of work but, once the eggs were added, I think these looked the part... But, the best part, by a long stretch, was the flavour.  Steeping the ginger with the milk before adding it to the mix is an inspired idea.  The resulting ginger 'tingle' makes these quite an adult cupcake and offers a lovely balance to the sweet chocolate icing.  The perfect combination for those of us with a reclusive sweet tooth.  I'm currently pondering an experiment involving similar steeping of pink peppercorns.... 

Easter Nest Chocolatey Goodness 

If you fancied an easier option (especially as I've left this post a bit late for easter) these chocolate cornflake nests are very cute and a great activity for small people; the nests below were made by my 7yo cousin. Recipe was a bit made up on the day but was about a bar and a half of melted milk choc and about 150g of cornflakes stirred together to make the quantity below. Make sure to make little hollows for your eggs and chicks. Oh, and to leave the house asap after your aunt gets home before she realises how hyped up on sugar you've made her kids...!  Happy Easter!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Fabulous (Good) Friday: Cocktail Hour

 Rediscovering Tequila - Margaritas!

 Rhubarb Margarita

I have been experimenting with Mexican food over the last few Saturday nights (with this amazing Thomasina Miers book) and my usual gin based cocktails didn't seem the right accompaniment. So my thoughts turned to tequila and specifically margaritas. A quick trip to Cambridge Wine Merchants to consult on tequila choice and I was ready to go. Back at the ranch, The Husband was set to work juicing limes and I got out the necessary equipment.

As it had been a long time since tequila and I had interacted, I stuck to a very straightforward recipe:

3 parts tequila
2 parts triple sec (I used Cointreau)
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice

For two large drinks I used 150mL tequila, 100mL cointreau, 50mL lime juice. I'm not a fan of frozen-style cocktails so I combined the ingredients in a jug, shook it over ice in a cocktail shaker and poured in to prepared glasses full of ice:
 By the second batch my salt rims were definitely improving

I had forgotten how amazing tequila is. The only word for how it makes me feel is, well, JAZZY. Two enormous margaritas later and I was getting very excitable. Rummaging around in the fridge, I found my rhubarb/sloe gin syrup and thought Rhubarb Margaritas!
This is pretty much the recipe I used although I was operating a little freestyle at this stage (the graduated cylinder had been abandoned in favour of sloshing):

3 parts rhubarb/sloe gin syrup
2 parts tequila
1 part triple sec (I used Cointreau)

These were amazing, very fruity but the tequila gave them a complex, spicy edge. The Husband was particularly impressed but then he does have an almost unnatural fondness for pink drinks.

So tequila and I are friends again, I just hope gin doesn't get jealous.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Bites and Pieces

Cambridgeshire Wine School Launch Party

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch party for Mark Anstead's Cambridgeshire Wine School. The party took place in the fabulous 12A Club in central Cambridge last night. Mark gave a great introduction to the school; the guest of honour, food journalist Tim Hayward, made food-obsessed Cambridge residents feel very good about themselves and personal chef Frank Boddy cooked up a storm on a tiny hotplate. Several prizes were up for grabs via various games and prize draws and I was the lucky recipient of the beautiful bottle above. I'm already booked in for this Champagne tasting in July - I couldn't resist!

Lots of photos of the launch on Jean-Luc Benazet's photoblog here.

Special word for @OliTrainor - amazing bar man (mixologist?) at 12A who made me an outstanding martini (Sipsmith gin and two fat olives - heaven) and was happy to discuss the finer points of martini making for ages. It has inspired me to get out the graduated cylinder and do some research of my own into the science of the perfect martini. I will share in due course....

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Seasonal Ingredient: Rhubarb

Ever since the locally grown rhubarb started appearing in Cambridge market I have been having a great time experimenting. Rachel has been at it too (the beautiful rhubarb fool below is from her kitchen). The most important thing I have learnt this week is to cook it in sloe gin (inspired by this Nigel Slater recipe). This leaves you with an amazing syrup which is very tasty in cocktails (look out for a cocktail post soon!). Over at yummelicious the fabulousness of rhubarb has been described much better than I can so I'll just leave you with a selection of the rhubarb related goodies coming out of our kitchens at the moment:

  Top Row, left to right: the start of the process; rhubarb cooking with sloe gin and sugar; the resulting stew and syrup; Middle Row, left to right: rhubarb margarita; rhubarb and sloe gin syrup; rhubarb bellini (with pomegranate seeds); rhubarb and raspberry smoothie; Bottom Row, left to right: rhubarb fool (from Ballymaloe Cookery Course book); baked cheesecake with rhubarb topping; yoghurt with pomegranate and rhubarb/sloe gin syrup.