The Fatted Calf, Glasson.

A weekend in Galway’s Twelve Hotel is the ultimate way to unwind, but the trip home is always permeated with gloom. I am always happy to extend the trip by just a couple of hours and stopping for lunch is the perfect excuse.
The picturesque village of Glasson, near Athlone in Co. Westmeath is the perfect spot to stop for a light lunch, especially when the car is groaning and begging for a break from the open road. Unfortunately a light lunch wasn’t to be. The menu at The Fatted Calf soon put paid to that. Strangely enough, eating out regularly can have a somewhat negative impact on my waistline, and so starters have been relegated to the back bench these days. But I just couldn’t do it. There was too much temptation. I consider myself lucky that I managed to escape without having dessert.

Decisions made, I kicked off with Steamed Lissadell Bay Mussels with a Coriander and Lemongrass cream and they were good, good, good. No. 2 went for a starter of Scallops with Pulled Pork which were presented so beautifully that a local seated next to us had to lean across to enquire what the dish was. That’s the vibe at The Fatted Calf, friendly locals who amuse themselves by watching the outsiders gorge on the outstanding food (at least that’s how I felt!).

Mains consisted of the usual pub lunch fare, including fish & chips, homemade burgers and hot roast sandwiches served in a toasted Waterford Blaa. All tempting in themselves. Simple dishes need little fanfare when top-notch ingredients are used, as is the case in The Fatted Calf. I opted for Buttermilk Fried Spiced Chicken with Wild Rocket and Tarragon Aioli, which was served with triple fried chips (yum). The dish was simple but superb and a very generous portion – although I did manage to polish most of it off. No. 2 chose the Donald Russell 28 day dry aged Rib Eye which was served with chunky dripping chips and greens.

It was all exceptional and well worth the detour off the M6. In fact, I’m fairly sure that The Fatted Calf is sure to become a foodie destination in itself. With an experienced team like Feargal and Fiona O’Donnell at the helm (Feargal is ex Wineport Lodge), it’s no surprise. You would be crazy not too.

The Fatted Calf

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Sunday Brunch and a Charming Cheeseboard

Sunday Brunch in Dublin is one of my absolute favourite ways to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon – even more so when accompanied by good company, a spicy Bloody Mary and a decent newspaper. Last Sunday found myself and my No. 2, venture into the Dublin City in search of a late Sunday Brunch. For many years, brunch in Dublin was a scarcity, with few places veering away from the usual luncheon fare. Thankfully things have changed – and not before time.

Most city centre restaurants and bars offer brunch in one form or another, and Sunday was our turn to try brunch at George’s Streets 777. Primarily a Mexican Tequila Bar, brunch at 777 is a traditionally Mexican affair. In keeping with the theme (and name), tapas style brunch dishes are priced at £7.77 each with a couple of special cocktails on offer also. This weeks offerings were a Tequila Sunrise, (so so) and a Passionfruit Margarita (yum yum). We chose three dishes and opted for Atole Machin (Shrimp in Grits), Tacos al Campeon (Breakfast Tacos with egg, chorizo and salsa verde) and El Ray ( Coddled Egg Rancheros with tortilla strings). No complaints. Everything was good, but being tapas sized portions, I was glad we ordered 3 dishes (and requested extra bread…..).P1000428

Now, with brunch out of the way, we could concentrate on our next mission – shopping for supper. As I rarely get an opportunity to wander around Fallon & Fyrne, that was our next port of call. The food hall here is heaven, just don’t forget your credit card. Their deli counter in particular is, in my opinion, the kind of deli counter all gourmet stores should aim for. We settled on a cheese board for our evening sustenance and am I glad we did.

Although I generally know what I like in the cheese department, advice is always appreciated and the charming man on the cheese counter surely knew his stuff. His knowledge of the cheeses available was impressive. He suggested a french St Agur, a Durrus from Cork, and a wedge of Glebe Brethen all the way from Co. Louth. As a palate cleanser when switching between different cheeses, he recommended a rose-petal encrusted French Chevre. A little radical perhaps, but Oh. My. God. This man knows his stuff. My perfect Sunday evening was spent grazing on our divine cheeses atop wafer thin rye crackers and washed down with a glass of Warre’s Otima 10 year old tawny –  my favourite Port at the moment. Sheer Heaven.

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A Winter Warmer

I truly believe that Nigel Slater is a genius. His recipes not only inspire me to cook, but sometimes I am happy enough just to sit quietly and read his cookbooks as if reading a book of short stories. His love of cooking is infectious and usually oh so simple. This pudding is sheer heaven on a cold winter evening. The almost meringue like top conceals a warm lemony sauce hidden beneath – no need for custard here. It is comfort food at it’s best – as sooothing as sucking your thumb. And I should know.

Lemon Sponge Pudding in it’s own sauce.

100g butter
175g caster sugar
3 lemons
4 eggs
40g plain flour
400ml milk

Adapted from Nigel Slaters Appetite

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale. A processer takes the sting out of this. Grate the zest of the lemons and squeeze the juice. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the flour and the milk. Keep the mixer on a low speed until you have the consistancy of light batter. Beat the egg whites until forming soft peaks and add to the batter gently. Don’t over mix. This creates the meringue like texture.Transfer into a heatproof bowl where the mixture reaches halfway up the sides. Stand the bowl in a roasting tin half-filled with hot water, then transfer it to the oven. Bake for an hour until the top is golden and spongy – cool for five minutes before serving.

In his book, Nigel uses 1 lemon and 2 oranges, but I prefer an all lemon pudding. What you choose to do, is entirely up to you.

A New Stew.

Beef with chorizo, chickpeas and sherry.

The winter months generally lend themselves to stews of all kinds, and a favourite in my house is a classic beef stew. As much as I love  it, stew can become a bit boring, and so I decided the time had come to liven things up. Well, in the stew department anyway. This beef dish has a decidedly Spanish flavour, which is a good thing. Trust me.

Serves 4

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
700 g round beef steak, diced
1 onion, sliced
1 clove chopped garlic
Salt & Pepper
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
Splash of red wine
250 g chorizo, chopped
150 ml dry sherry
1 tin chopped tomatoes
200 ml beef stock
1 tin chickpeas
Brown the beef in a little oil and remove from pan. Fry onions, garlic and chilli, add a splash of wine and reduce. In another pan, fry chorizo until crisp, then add the sherry. Add the tomatoes to the onion mix and bring to the a simmer. return beef to the pan, add chickpeas and chorizo mix. Season with salt and pepper and then simmer on low heat until tender, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Peploe’s Please!

While I adore cooking up a storm at home for friends and family, it is closely followed by my love for eating out and discovering new restaurants. Or sometimes just re-visiting an old favorite. Peploe’s Steak and Wine Bistro, located on Dublin’s St. Stephens Green has been around for quite a few years, but somehow the opportunity to visit had never cropped up. My first visit was only a couple of years ago, after I was romanced there one afternoon by my other half.  And it was perfect. Our most recent visit was on a whim but luckily we managed to procure a table, even on a busy Friday night. The space has the feel of an upmarket Gentleman’s Club, minus the air of stuffiness.  Art Deco touches complete the ambiance, resulting in a relaxed vibe and an understated elegance that pulls you in. This is the kind of place that is a little bit special so dressing up is allowed (which I love) but is also so relaxed that dressing down would not be out of place either.

And so – to the food. On this occasion we opted to show some modicum of restraint and skip the starter, going straight for a main course. The menu is classic brasserie style with starters that include French Onion Soup, Carpaccio of Irish beef and the ever present Moules Mariniere. Not that I’m complaining, there is a reason why some dishes are elevated to the ‘classic’ status, and this is one of them.  I opted for a main of Kilmore Quay Monkfish Pie, with Dublin Bay Prawns and Parmesan Crumb. Now, I’m not a fan of the ‘crumb’ under normal circumstances, but I do love a Fish Pie.

Kilmore Quay Monkfish and Dublin Bay Prawn Pie

More often than not, a fish pie involves chunks of salmon, swathed in a creamy sauce and topped with mash, and leaves you in food coma for the rest of the evening. Not so on this occasion. Chunks of meaty monkfish nestled beside succulent Dublin Bay Prawns in a velvety sauce with pockets of spinach, topped with crispy, butter slicked parmesan breadcrumbs. This dish was comfort food taken to a new level. Satisfying but not heavy enough to render one incapacitated ( it can happen – believe me). I washed this down with a crisp glass of Chablis that out charming Gallic waiter had recommended.

Across the table, my partner in crime had opted for pasta, choosing a Seafood Linguine with  Bacon Lardons, Cherry tomatoes , Chilli & Basil. It did not disappoint. For a change, the (fresh) pasta was a secondary player in this dish, not the main component as is so often the case. An abundance of prawns and clams were suffused with a hint of chilli and basil while the lardons added a subtle smokiness that enhanced the dish greatly, resulting in a gorgeous dish that was both light but fulfilling. We skipped dessert, opting instead for an Irish Coffee before braving the cool Autumn evening. On this occasion, it was very much a case of ‘less is more’. How very unlike me……

Peploe’s Wine Bar, 16, St. Stephens Green, Dublin 2. Website.

A Fresh Green Chilli

Ok, I will admit, coming home to cook dinner after a long day can be tiresome, but there are days when I spend my afternoons daydreaming about what I will conjure up for dinner that evening. I enjoy unwinding in my kitchen with my chopping boards at the ready, glass of wine in hand.Yesterday I had decided on meatloaf. The plan was formed and the expectation set, until I discovered much to my dismay that it was minced pork and that I had in the fridge, and not beef. One of the great things about meatloaf is that a combination of any minced meat can be used in it, but I find that beef needs to be involved to give some depth to what could otherwise be a banal dish. And so, back to the drawing board. Luckily I had the fixings for a recipe I have been dying to try for ages, so all was not lost. This recipe is adapted from Jamie’s America by Jamie Oliver.

Fresh Green Chilli

Serves four

Olive oil
800 g pork mince
Salt & pepper
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 green chillis, chopped
1 bunch fresh mint
1 bunch fresh coriander
2 limes

To serve –

Flour tortillas
Soured cream
Romaine lettuce
Tomatoes
Or whatever else you fancy….

Heat the oil in a pan, when hot, add the pork mince. Break up with a wooden spoon and saute for a few minutes. Add chopped onion, garlic, green pepper and chillis, along with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, adding some water if necessary. This dish is fairly dry so don’t drown it. When the chilli is cooked and golden, remove from the heat and add in chopped herbs and the juice of the two limes. Combine thoroughly and serve with warm tortilla, sour cream and crispy lettuce. Yum!

The comfort of food…..

The summer is a distant memory at this stage, but then again, it never really arrived in Ireland this year. So for me, it’s time to move on. As with every year, I reach a stage where I embrace the winter traditions with glee. While we Irish are never really afforded an opportunity to get stuck in to the summer vibe (barbecue in the rain anyone?), the autumn and winter months never let us down. While rainy and sludgy weather may be the downside, they provide the perfect backdrop to log fires, cosy jumpers and steaming pots of comfort food. With this in mind, I devoted Saturday afternoon to making a Chicken and Leek Pie for the clan – whether they liked it or not. Luckily, the effort was well worth it. This recipe is adapted from Cully&Sully.com.

Chicken and Leek pie

1 whole chicken
1 liter water/chicken stock
1 onion
1 carrot
Herbs of you choice
Salt & pepper
50 ml double cream
A dash of white wine (if required)
Some Parmesan for grating

Place a whole chicken in a tight fitting pot and half fill with chicken stock or water, herbs of your choice, salt and pepper, a peeled carrot and onion. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour and a half.

Remove the chicken and take all the flesh from the carcass discarding the skin and bones. Keep whats left of the stock. Tear the chicken meat into bite size pieces.

Thicken the remaining cooking liquid with a little bit of roux and adjust seasoning (half flour, half butter cooked together for 2 minutes) and set aside. Enrich with a good dollop of cream. A glug of dry white wine would not cause any damage at this stage.

Slice one medium leek into half inch rings and soften in butter for 5  minutes and add to thickened cooking liquid along with the chicken.

Pour contents into a pie dish and cover contents with fluffy mashed potato. Grate a little Parmesan on top if you so desire.

Bake in the oven at 180 C until pipping hot and golden on top, around 30/40 minutes.

Girls night in

I’m not sure  it’s a good sign that staying  is often more appealing than going out, but one of my favorite things to do at the weekend is have a few of my nearest and dearest over for good (hopefully) food, good wine (or beer) and conversation. I won’t go so far as to say the conversation is good (it’s subjective) but we rarely have any complaints. And so, with this in mind, I invited a couple of friends for dinner last Saturday, and it wasn’t half bad (the food, not the company which was exemplary as usual). Coq Au Vin is a great one pot wonder that allows me to prep everything  in advance and then sit and sip wine while it simmers away – giving the impression that I’m not flustered at all. Unfortunately, they know me too well. On the plus side, the bar chez ciara is not restricted to traditional closing times, whether that’s good or bad,  I have yet to decide

This recipe is loosely adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible

5/6 chicken fillets on the bone (or peg bone attached)

290 ml red wine
1 bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 sprig of parsley, and 1 stick of celery)
8 shallots
100 g bacon lardons (or sliced streaky bacon)
50 g  butter
12 button mushrooms
570 ml chicken stock
1 clove of garlic crushed
20 g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Melt half the butter in a large saucepan and add bacon, shallots and mushrooms. Saute until browned then remove and reserve. Season the chicken with salt & pepper and add remaining butter to the pan, followed by the chicken, skin side down. Resist the impulse to prod and poke, you need the skin to brown. After a few minutes tip off any fat and reserve, then add the bacon and veg back to the pan along with bouquet garni and wine. Scrape off any sediment at the bottom of the pan then add garlic and enough stock to envelop the chicken. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 45 minutes. To thicken the sauce, remove chicken, bacon and vegetables from the pot and set aside. Add flour to reserved fat and mix to a smooth paste, then add to cooking liquid, whisking all the time to remove lumps. When the sauce is at the desired consistency, return the chicken and vegetables to the pot and heat through before serving.

I served this with rustic french bread and a green salad dressed with olive oil and lemon. It needs nothing more. Easy as that.

Steamed mussels with red wine and chorizo

I spent a few days in the Cotswolds over the summer and came across a dish similar to this in one of the many quintessential English pubs I visited. What can I say, tastes like more……

1 lb diced chorizo
5/6 sliced shallots
Salt and black pepper
2 lbs mussels, cleaned and bearded
1 bottle dry red wine
100 ml double cream
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

In a deep pot, shallow fry the chorizo for ten minutes until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned. Remove from the pot, add shallot, salt and pepper. Add the chorizo back to the pot along with the wine, cream and mussels. Cover and cook for 4 – 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Discard any unopened mussels and stir to coat with the liquid. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with parsley.
Voila!

Coconut Hot Chocolate

I had to do a double take when I saw Trish Deseine tweet the link to this recipe. So simple yet so inspired. It’s pure genius! The only thing that could possibly improve it, is perhaps a drop of coconut liquer.

Coconut Hot Chocolate – from Chow.com

Enough for two

4 fluid oz coconut milk
4 fluid oz  milk
5 oz good-quality milk chocolate, chopped (or use half milk and half dark for a more intense flavour)

Heat the milk and the coconut milk in a saucepan until warmed through – 3/4 minutes. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted.  Sit back and enjoy.