‘Best Restaurant in Co Kildare’, Review

Herb Crusted Irish Venison
The French restaurant Vie de Chateau is the 2012 winner of the ‘Best restaurant in Co Kildare’ by the restaurants association of Ireland. With that in mind, it’s Saturday night and we are lucky to grab a last minute reservation, we can’t be seated untill 9:15 because of the high demand which can only be a good thing.
We arrived promptly at 9:15 and were seated immediately, the restaurant was packed, the atmosphere was jovial, full of punters enjoying their Saturday night. Service was slow because the restaurant was so busy but we were eventually served baskets of crusty raisin bread which was delicious and hit the spot.
My starter was an incredibly tasty French fish soup with side dishes of grated gruyère, a rouille mayonnaise and small toasts. There was drama in the eating with picking and assembling from the various dishes to concoct the perfect bite. The taste was rich with a deep fish flavour - mayonnaise in soup you say? Apparently its a French thing, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, its great! Other starters in the group included a confit duck tarte tatin that was dark with caramelised red onions and the crisp pastry brought another texture into play which enhanced the taste.
Mains were also French classics (obviously!) with 3 of our party opting for the Irish venison which was herb crusted and cooked rare. It was accompanied by a polenta cake and seasonal vegetables, the meat was tender and our whole party agreed it melted in your mouth. I had the pan fried fillet of sea bream with a leek fondue. The leeks were creamy and buttery no doubt lashed with the French magic trick to make food taste amazing: butter! The fish was well cooked and tasty.  Other mains included a slow cooked Moroccan lamb and steak frites both of which were faultless. The food is actually quite reasonably priced for such a high class restaurant but I do have a problem with the price of the wines, they offer a carafe of 50cl for €20 which is only two thirds of a bottle, some better value on the wines would be agreeable.

The chocolate fondant was the star of the desserts, intense chocolate flavour accompanied by home made caramel ice cream which complemented it beautifully. Mixed seasonal fruit crumble and a cheese plate were also satisfying. Overall it was a very positive experience and I will be back, dinner for 6 people including service charge was €314. 
French fish soup

Chocolate Fondant

Pan Fried Sea Bream

Confit Duck Tarte Tatin

Giant Vegetables! Salmon with Grilled Courgette

So a little update on my garden, it has gone really well all summer even if I did neglect just a teeny bit. Put it this way; since it practically rained every day this summer, I rarely had to go up to the garden to water it which kind of lead me to forget about it some of the time! I’m not proud and it’s not cool.  This neglect let to astonishment when I did visit the garden at the size and quantity of my vegetables! It seems that since I had put in a lot of work at the start, the vegetables kind of looked after themselves; I have enjoyed beetroot, fennel, radish and the best of all…any amount of courgette! Anyone who is familiar with growing vegetable will know the rate that these things grow at, in what seems like a few days they turn into monsters.  At the moment I am inundated with huge courgettes that I cannot cook at a quick enough!  I have made soup, tried to stuff them, pawned them off to friends and family…and they just keep sprouting up! I harvested a particularly big whopper on Thursday, what to do what to do?

Friday’s dinner came around and I had no one to cook for but myself, there was a piece of salmon in the fridge and I was waiting for inspiration to hit me. Then I remembered my friend Orla telling me what she did with the courgette I gave her, she griddled it and had it with a salad, aha! Griddle I’ll try that.  I brushed slices of the courgette with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, placed them on a hot griddle pan and cooked for about 3-4 mins on each side, now my courgette was particularly big, if you have a regular courgette I’d recommend cutting it vertically and not cooking for so long.  While I had the pan on I also griddled some slices of pepper.  My grandmother is a much better gardener than me and I also had some of her yellow and red cherry tomatoes which I threw on the pan for a minute. I put all the veg in a bowl with some chunks of feta cheese, sliced basil, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil that I had brought home from Spain, the really good stuff, mixed and served the salmon on top.  The result was delicious and has been replicated twice..Only problem is I still have half the bloody thing left! Suggestions anyone? 

Salmon with Grilled Vegetables and Feta
Serves 1
Salmon Fillet
Courgette, 4 slices
Red Pepper, 2 slices
Yellow Pepper, 2 slices
About 6-8 Cherry tomatoes
50g feta cheese, cubed
Basil leaves
Extra virgin Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Season the salmon and grill until cooked.
Brush the courgette and pepper with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a hot grill and cook until tender
Add the tomatoes to the grill and cook for 1 minute
Place all the vegetables in a bowl with 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, the juice of ½ a lemon, sliced basil leaves and some more salt and pepper, mix gently and place on plate, serve salmon on top. 

Pizza on the Barbecue

So I think it’s pretty clear to most that I love to barbecue, mostly for the pure handiness of it; no pots to wash, quick cooking time but mostly because I get a kick from cooking outside.  Maybe a throwback to my caveman ancestors.  But really how natural does it feel outside cooking something over a hot grill, granted this is Ireland so it will probably be raining but I don’t care!  The other day I came home to find my Dad outside during a torrential downpour with a brolly in his hand barbecuing steaks, now that’s devotion!

Anything that I can possibly try to cook on the grill I will, on Sunday I cooked an entire (well ok apart from the eggs but it is possible) fried breakfast on the bbq including mushrooms and tomatoes, it was so easy and the rashers just look and taste so much better with the tell-tale charred lines of the barbecue.  With this in mind, I was flicking through a great cookbook I have called ‘Grill Master; The ultimate arsenal of back to basics recipes for the grill’ by Fred Thompson it’s a great book that covers every aspect of barbecue cooking…..INCLUDING pizza on the barbecue! Pizza I hear you, say? On the bbq? Really? YES! And it’s really easy.  Also because the crust is cooked on both sides it makes for a crispier base.  Try this and you will make it again and again.  And for those of you who think that making your own pizza dough is too much like hard work or too difficult, it’s really not and the little work is worth it, I promise you will never want a frozen or takeaway pizza again, there is just no comparison.

For me when it comes to pizza toppings, I adopt the motto ‘less is more’, believe me this is one of the rare instances in life when I adopt this term, it’s usually more is more and then a little more for good measure!  But with pizza toppings it works, the Italians our forefathers of pizza practice this idea and if its good enough for the Italians it’s good enough for me... you don’t want your pizza loaded down with toppings to the point of where it gets soggy as the mountain of stuff on top wont be cooked by the time the base is done.   Of course the boyfriend wouldn’t listen to me and LOADED his pizza with everything he could find in the fridge but hey ya can’t win em all.

The trick to the bbq pizza is that the base is cooked on one side, then you flip it, put the toppings on the cooked side and put the lid back down, while the base is cooking so are the toppings, the whole process takes literally 5-6 minutes.  I’m giving you Fred Thompson’s recipe for the dough with some additions from myself and my own pizza sauce recipe.  The toppings are up to you, on this pizza I used caramelized red onion, Parma ham, mushroom and mozzarella but feel free to experiment thats the fun of it!

Fool proof Pizza Dough
160ml warm water
1 package dry active yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
10oz/315g 00 pizza flour
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Handful fresh thyme, chopped finely

Pizza Sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
Splash of olive oil
I tin of tomatoes
½ tsp. sugar
Salt & fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Serves 4 and 4 small pizzas or 2 hungry people as 2 large pizzas

To make the pizza dough, a bowl, whisk together the water, yeast and sugar.  Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour, oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Pull the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times then form into a ball.  Oil a second bowl, put the ball in the bowl and turn it to coat with oil.  Cover the bowl with cling film and place in a warm area for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

To make the pizza sauce, sauté the garlic in the olive oil on a medium heat for 1-2 minutes, add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper and sugar, allow to simmer for 15 minutes until it has reduced slightly.  Add the basil and take off the heat and allow to cool.

Light or turn on the barbecue to a high heat and allow to come up to temperature.  Oil the grill grate.

Dump the dough onto a floured work surface, then either divide in half or in quarters depending on the side of pizza you are making.  Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin to the size you want your pizza to be, for the large ones, about 10-12 inches.

Slide the dough onto a sheet of baking paper dusted with semolina (it keeps it from sticking) and carefully slide the dough from the sheet onto the grill.  Cook until underside is well marked, about 2 minutes.

 Using the baking sheet, transfer the crusts, grilled side up back to the work surface.Top the crust with the sauce and whatever toppings you are using, drizzle a little olive oil over the top and using the baking sheet, return the crust to the grill, put the lid down and cook until the crust is crisp and the cheese is melted.
Serve at once.

Dough on the grill before its turned

Adding the toppings to the grilled side

Watermelon Mojitos

I’ve invented a new family tradition.  When I say invented I use this term loosely, ok so I haven’t invented cocktail hour but I have introduced it to my family so let’s just go with that. Yes. Cocktail Hour. It’s wonderful.  The inspiration behind this new tradition is of course, Ina Garten; she loves her booze and always includes a drink recipe in her shows and I love her.  The Americans are big on cocktail hour; I experienced this first hand when I worked in a high end golf club in Cape Cod for the summer.  At the weekends, families would come to the golf club for dinner but first they would all have a cocktail in the bar, also at the weddings I worked, cocktail hour is a big tradition before sitting down for the meal.  In Ireland it’s more like every hour is cocktail hour but we don’t experiment as much as our American cousins.  When bartending in the golf club I had to learn the names of lot of cocktails, Tom Collins, John Collins, Martini, Dirty Martini, extra dirty…excuse me!!! No that actually only means more olive juice before you get on my high horse with me! I used to have a big book of cocktails behind the bar and would panic when a customer asked me a drink I didn’t know. And I have tasted the dirty martini, sure I had to after serving so many of them…it’s not good, tastes like the sea but those Cape Codders went mad for them, actually Cape Codder that’s another drink, vodka and cranberry to you and I.  These drinks are also very strong which points out another difference between us and the Yanks, they want their buzz strong and fast and tend to go home early, we Irish are more like marathon runners, slow, steady and less adventurous,  mainly pints and single measures of gin or vodka but ultimately able to last longer.

Regular Mojitos

So I decided to introduce cocktail hour to my family of a Sunday.  Sundays are when we usually get together in the evening for a nice dinner and some wine, so I thought this was the perfect excuse to try out some cocktails.  It started out with a jug of mojito’s a few weeks ago with mint fresh from my garden which went down extremely well, they are very refreshing and a nice change from a glass of white.  Last Sunday I decided to début my watermelon mojitos, well I say mine and I mean Ina’s.  You blitz up the watermelon in the food processor and that is the substitute for soda, your only mixer…Ina likes her booze!  This recipe made 8 large glasses and let me tell you, 1 each is actually enough they are quite potent and let’s just say lucky the dinner had been made in advance as I don’t think I would have had the head for intense cooking!  I’m definitely continuing the tradition, I decree from now on every Sunday will have cocktail hour, you should try it too, especially these watermelon babies, they will make you feel like you are on holidays with the sand between your toes rather than in your kitchen looking out at a wet miserable Irish 'summer' day!

Watermelon Mojitos
Large bunch of Mint
About a quarter of a small watermelon, try to remove some of the pips
12 ounces Bacardai or light rum (about half of the half bottle)
1/2 cup simple syrup (disolve 1 part sugar to 2 parts water in a saucepan and allow to cool)
Juice of 3 limes

Mash the mint leaves in a mortar and pestel
Puree the watermelon in a food processor untill it is a smooth puree
Put the mashed mint in a large jug, add the puree, rum , sugar syrup and lime juice and give a good stir
Add lots of ice and also ice to the glasses and serve, garnish with a slice of lime
Serve ice cold

Prawn and Cous Cous Salad

I’ve been making variations of this dish for about 5 weeks now so maybe it’s about time that I blogged. It’s definitely a go-to weekday dish, maybe Wednesday.  Monday and Tuesday are over with and the weekend is now practically in sight.  Its easy, relatively quick and involves no real actual heavy cooking, just a lot of chopping which I actually find is quite relaxing after a busy day.  I started this dish with quinoa but recently have moved on to cous cous, simply for the fact that I had no quinoa left!  That’s the thing about this dish, its adaptable to whatever you have handy.  I used chicken last week which works well with pomegranate seeds.  I’m actually apprehensive of trying to write down everything that I put into it tonight but what I basically work from is protein (prawn)+carb (quinoa or (cous cous)+ vegetables (everything!)+seed or nuts (pumpkin) + cheese(feta) + fruits (sultanas) fresh herbs (parsley, mint and coriander) but there are so much other little components that up the flavour factor to make it a true taste explosion I’m going to try and write it down!!  I know it seems like a lot but just trust me on this one, make this once and you will make it over and over, it will become one of your trusty mid-week dinners especially in the Summer and it never gets old because you can keep experimenting with the ingredients.  Also don't worry too much about quantiles, I'm just guestimating the exact measures of everything because the beauty of this salad is that you can just throw ingredients in at a whim and it always works!

Large cup of Cous Cous
1 cup of Sultanas
1 tbsp Curry Powder
1 tsp Turmeric
About 25 large pre-cooked King Prawns
3 cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Big handful of Pumpkin seeds
Bif handful of Sunflower seeds
Half a block of Feta Cheese, diced
1 Small Courgette, grated
1 Carrot, grated
1 Yellow Pepper
1 Red Onion
1 Cucumber
1 Punnet of Cherry Tomatoes
3 Sticks of Celery
1 Small Bunch of Fresh Mint, Coriander and Parsley

For the Dressing
Juice and Zest of One Lemon
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
1 Tsp Wholegrain Mustard

First get a massive bowl where you will put all the chopped veg, dice them all so they are quite small and the same size.  Grate the courgette and the carrot.  Meanwhile add the turmeric, curry powder and sultanas to the dry cous cous, add an equal measure of boiling water and cover with cling film and set to one side. Finely dice the chilli and add to the bowl, also add the pumpkin and sunflower seeds and chopped feta cheese.  Now to the prawns, crush the garlic and add to a non-stick pan with a good glug of olive oil, add the prawns and cook gently till the prawns are warmed through.  Your cous cous should now be done, fork the grains so they are fluffy and add to the big bowl of everything.  Also add the prawns, oil and garlic, the freshly chopped herbs and dressing.  So there you go; an everything-but- the-kitchen-sink salad, now sit back and lap up the glory.

Object of my Affection

This is not really a blog post more like an expression of desire.  I love skulls for some reason, can't get enough of them, even have a sugar skull tattoo on my leg! If that's not dedication I don't know what is.  I don't know where this love came from, I'm not a goth, just have a love of all things skull .   Add that passion to another passion of mine, kitchenware and what have you got; my latest obsession this Kitchen Aid.  I could literally spend hours browsing the kitchenware department rather than any clothes shop, I actually get excited about new gadgets like my latest grater which shreds cabbage perfectly and effortlessly for home-made cabbage!!! (sad, i know). Anyway how amazing is this Kitchen Aid? I WANT it! I will know I have arrived when two things happen: 1. I can do my grocery shopping in M&S and 2. I own this Kitchen Aid

The Vulgarity That is Man v Food

Is anyone else getting kind of bored of the programming on the Food Network?  Whenever I turn it on, I am sure to see some incarnation of a programme like this:  A man, usually a very annoying uncharismatic man, travelling the US to show us the most grotesque, calorific, deep fried American ‘specialities’ he can find.  He interviews the chef on how its made then shoves it into his mouth, moaning and groaning at the camera.  A hot dog stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, deep fried and put in a bun with French fries? You got it.  I have a number of problems with this type of programming one of which is why they are all men? Can a women not front a show like this or is she too delicate and frail to take on the monstrosities that these men eat?  A second problem is all the programs are so similar; Man v Food, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, Meat and Potatoes, Heat Seekers, Extreme Eats, United Tastes of America and Eat Street all follow a related concept.  Not only are these shows all so similar, they seem to be ALWAYS repeated on the channel, every time I turn it on I see Guy Fieri's overtly tanned bleached head!

But my main issue is Man V Food, Oh how I loathe this show from the bottom of my heart and I can’t for the life of me understand why it’s so popular? Surely watching obese Americans gorging mountains of fried food as a competition cannot be classed as entertainment? And if it is, maybe that goes someway to explain what is wrong with this world.  If we first look at it on a simplistic level, this man (Adam Richman) is encouraging obesity, challenging these competitors to eat, eat and eat some more untill they spontaneously combust.  He also gives them helpful tips, like for instance if the challenge is to eat 5 pounds of ice cream in one sitting, you should eat it with a side of bacon as the salty bacon will counteract the sweetness of the ice cream and help get it down your neck. At the end of each programme we see Richman in the centre of a restaurant being cheered to gorge himself on anything from spicy chicken wings, a 30 inch pizza to a burger that would feed a family of 5 for a week, its obnoxious.  In a recent documentary I watched ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’ on the BBC; in the second programme we were shown how the concept of ‘supersizing’ food contributed to our detriment.  If we see a larger portion on our plate, we are compelled to finish it thus gaining weight. If we now know this why do these ‘challenges’ still exist?  Surely we should be superslimming our portions rather than continuing to eat to excess? Adam Richman is no slim guy but still he seems to have no fears about heart disease and type 2 diabetes that is currently nearly at epidemic status.  Man V Food should come with a health warning; Do not attempt any of these challenges for the sake of your own health.

One of the Challenges 
The show is wrong on so many levels, especially at a moral and sociological level; it promotes gluttony and eating to excess.  As we as a populace are getting fatter by the year, surely it is not right to be advertising obesity and how to fastrack to it? And now Man V Food has evolved into Man V Food Nation, how apt: Richman has realised that maybe his extreme overeating was damaging his health so now he coaches the unsuspecting public on the many ways of gorging.  The vulgarity is palpable, with over a billion people in this world still hungry, the first world need to take a long hard look at themselves.  Not only do these beasts rarely complete the challenge, panting and sweating on the screen, turning green in front of our eyes as they try to resist the urge to vomit, the sheer amount of food waste is sickening.  How can a TV company justify showing this blatant surplus of food when it is aware of poverty and hunger worldwide?

Richman and a fellow challenger

Suffice to say that I rarely turn on the Food Network these days for the reasons outlined above. I cannot bear to look at these people mindlessly stuffing their faces with greasy and downright grotesque food.  Food should be a pleasure, it should be enjoyed with friends and family, it should promote health and taste, it should not be stuffed into ones mouth surrounded by a crowd of people wolf whistling and shouting you on until you are ready to vomit.  Food Network, employ more girls, diversify your programmes don’t opt for lazy broadcasting for the sheer sake of ratings; it’s your moral obligation.

Lamb Burgers

So how has everyone’s ‘Summer’s’ been so far? Yes the perhaps one day of the week when the sun breaks through the clouds and the Irish grab the beers and barbecues.  We have been having a lot of barbecues, not just the epic weekend barbecues but also the quick middle of the week grilling of pork chops over open coal.  Recently our gas BBQ succumbed to a terrible fate – it went on fire after a particularly strenuous grilling session! Basically we had cooked so much on it that the next time it was turned on and the lid left down, it ignited!  A replacement cheap charcoal barbecue has been purchased in the meantime to ensure there is no gap in barbecuing activities.  With this in mind let me tell you about a competition I entered last week.  Bord Bia and the Ray D’Arcy show were looking for people to come up with a summer lamb burger recipe – I accepted the challenge with relish (ahem) 

While out walking I came up with this recipe.  I used the warming spices of cumin and coriander seed in the burger with caramelised red onions.  I was also inspired by my garden which is providing me at the moment with an abundance of fresh herbs.  I went for coriander in the tomato salsa and lots of fresh mint in a tzatziki.  All this was served on a seeded pitta, I thought for summer it might be lighter and while on the health buzz I chose to serve it with a quinoa salad jewelled with pomegranate seeds and more fresh herbs.  I’m loving quinoa at the moment it has been a recent discovery of mine and excellent in summer salads.  And I know that it is my recipe and maybe I’m not supposed to say this as it would be considered gloating but it really was delicious! One of my finer kitchen moments, you really should try and make this!

And so the day came to announce the four finalists for the competition, I remained phone at the ready waiting for the call – of course I was going to get the call… I waited and waited, then waited some more..sadly my burger didn’t get picked and I’m not bitter about this in the slightest…But honestly the four finalists and eventual winner had fantastic recipes that I will be trying myself.  I realise that the competition was by Bord Bia to promote lamb in the summer months and it has worked the trick on me, I never really would have used lamb in burger recipes but it provides such a distinct taste that really absorbs any flavours that you add to it that I will certainly be trying it again.  But now I’m off to check my email…obviously its broken, sure that’s the reason why I wasn’t chosen, they didn’t get my email…!

For the burgers:
1 pack of lamb mince
2 red onion, cooked with balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
Lamb burgers on a temporary bucket barbecue!
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp oregano
1 egg
salt and pepper

For the tzatziki
Natural yoghurt
Juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic minced
½  pack of Feta cheese crumbled
Handful of fresh mint, chopped
½ a cucumber, grated

For the salsa
1/2 a green chilli, finely diced
3 large tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
1 red onion diced
Handful of coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds on a dry pan, add to a pestle and mortar and grind to a dry powder
Add this to the mince, along with a beaten egg, the cinnamon, turmeric, caramelised onions, oregano and salt and pepper
Mix with your hands and shape into 4 burgers
For the tzatziki combine all ingredients and season to taste, do the same with the salsa
Cook the lamb burgers on a BBQ for ten minutes
To assemble place some of the tzatziki on the bottom of a toasted pitta bread, add the burger and top with the salsa.
Serve with the quinoa and pomegranate salad

A Sumptuous Summer Salad

Summer has arrived! Apparently but I’m not getting over cocky, this is Ireland after all, the past week might have well been our summer but let’s not get negative.  Irish people are great with the good weather, once the sun shows his face its BBQ’s, beach, little to no clothes almost instantly! Who knows how long this is going to last, it might rain in an hour, carpe diem QUICK!!! You gotta use it or lose it!  So this Saturday, I did exactly that, the decision was made that morning.  I was originally going to the shops to get ingredients for homemade pizza but the glorious sun quickly changed our plans to barbecue, the troops were rounded and lo and behold a splendid barbecue manifested a few hours later.  There was steak, marinated chicken, prawns on sticks, homemade coleslaw and cous cous salad and what I want to talk about today, a new salad that I was debuting.

I got the idea from something I had seen on Food Network about grilling apricots and I decided to incorporate this into a salad for the summer season.  I’m a big fan of fruit in salads and grilling the apricots not only slightly caramelises them but it also intensifies their sweetness, they actually taste like tomatoes!  Added to the salad is crispy pancetta pieces, toasted hazelnuts and goats cheese, it’s a substantial salad that you could well have as a main course but being greedy we had it as a side to accompany all the other grilled goodness.  Quick post today as I’m back out to enjoy the sunshine, QUICKKKK!!

Apricots on the grill

Grilled Apricot Salad with Rocket
Serves 10 as a side
1 Punnet ripe apricots
1 Bag of Rocket and 1 bag of leafy herby salad leaves
50g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
150g semi hard goat’s cheese, cubed
150g Pancetta pieces
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. White wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper
1 Tsp. Agave syrup

Halve the Apricots, remove the stone and brush them with olive oil.
Heat a griddle pan to a high heat and place the apricots halved side down on the pan, cook for 3-4 minutes, brush the rounded sides with olive oil then turn and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, allow to cool slightly
Meanwhile cook the pancetta pieces in another pan until brown and crispy
To assemble the salad, slice the apricots, whisk all the ingredients for the vinaigrette together, add the hazelnuts, pancetta and cheese, toss the salad and enjoy

A Chinatown Delight

New York, I could write a book on my love for this city.  I have just returned from my I think 6th trip to this magical place, or as I call it my spiritual home!  Even though I’m a country girl something in me is just drawn to the big city.  My first experience in New York was when I came over on my own for a summer during college; I worked in a ridiculous Martian-themed restaurant and spent my spare time exploring the city and being delighted with myself.  Even the smallest thing like navigating the subway or grabbing a hotdog from a street cart ignited pure joy to my core.  Being back this time was no different.  Anyone who has been to New York can testament to the diversity and sheer amount of food on offer.  I am not joking when I say that almost every second premises on most streets are food places.  There is such a variety and for the most part it is inexpensive, pizza slices, dumpling houses and that not to mention the glorious street food!  We knew from the beginning it was going to be an eating and drinking tour of the city, partly because I has an obsessively researched 2 page ‘document’ with me at all time of the places I needed to eat at and partly becase the four of us are ever hungry foodies!

I’m not going to bore you with every meal we had in NY because lets face it we would be here for a while, there was so much I had on my ‘document’ that we ended up inventing meal times. So we already know brunch, but about about linner? That long time between lunch and dinner when a little ‘snack’ could go down a treat, it was pure gluttony but it was only for a week and I’m back on the wagon now!  Funny thing is most New Yorkers are skinner than their American counterparts from other states, its all vegan food, gluten free and cycling, well at least that was the case in the neighbourhood we were staying in in Williamsburg, its an enigma!

So anyway what I want to write bout is this one little gem we found on our second last day.  Orla my friend has been talking about Chinatown and her ‘super Chanel’ since time began or at least since the last time we were there and she procured an amazing Chanel bag in Chinatown which she lost.  Needleless to say she was keen to replace it and we hit Chinatown with gusto early on Thursday morning.  Early enough that by 11.30 we were drained and weary and needing sustenance, we also hadn’t had breakfast (shock horror!) so it was wholly justified.  We decided to walk deeper in Chinatown and stumbled upon this place call Motzar Kitchen.  It was still empty as it was only 11.30 am but we already knew we were staying, it was friendly, welcoming and you could see the chefs working as you pass through the corridor into the dining room.  The first thing I noticed when I opened the menu was dim sum and Peking duck; I love both and decided immediately, I just needed to get someone to share the duck with me, luckily Ken was a willing cohort so we decided to order the whole Peking duck to share. 

Shrimp Dumplings
Crab Wonton Soup

Then the magic began to happen, one by one our dishes started arriving at the table and we started to realise that we had made something of a mistake; every dish was brought out individually and looked like it was for sharing.  We started with delicious steamed prawn dumplings, followed by crab won ton soup which I had ordered.  When it came out as a regular wonton I was confused and the waiter explained to me that the soup was in the wonton – talk about the excitement of a child putting it into a bowl, piercing it with my chop stick and seeing the golden liquid flow out, it was rich with crab and very tasty.  At this stage we had another revelation; perhaps,  just possibly we had ordered too much… As spring rolls, hot and sour soup and cuttlefish with cashew nuts came one by one.  The cuttlefish was a joy, lightly wrapped in a crispy tempura batter, the cashew nuts were hot and toasted and the portion was huge!
Cuttlefish and Cashew Nuts
Finally the duck came out, our waiter brought it to another table with a giant cleaver and took off the meat and put it in these steamed buns, they were not the thin pancakes that we would be used to, rather a doughy moist bun.  Garnished with strips of scallion and hoi sin sauce they were indulgent mouthfuls of pleasure.  Then the waiter  brought the carcass away and just as Orla was commenting “actually you don’t get that much on them..” out he brought a plate piled high with the WHOLE duck, cut into portions, ribs, neck, spine, the lot! Ken was in heaven but I had quite enough by this stage.  THEN the other guy’s mains came out, sweet and sour chicken and general Tsao’s chicken, both wonderful but by then we were fit to roll out of the place.  I would highly recommend this place if you are in Chinatown, it is authentic; by the time we were leaving the place was packed with Chinese people having lunch and we realised it was 1.30…we had been there eating for literally 2 hours.  A word of warning, don’t order like its your normal Saturday night Chinese, everything is made for sharing and you will have more than enough!  Even when we tried to go to dinner that night at 9 we couldn’t do The Meatball Shop in Bedford justice, we were still epically full from our Chinese brunch.

Peking Duck

General Tsao's Chicken
Name and Address if anyone fancies a visit

Chocolate Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Recently I was, how shall I put it..tricked into making a chocolate cake for my friend’s 6 year old son.  I say tricked because I don’t know how he actually did it but as the conversation was over it was clear that I was making him a cake.  I think he did the aul reverse phycology trick ‘I like some of your food Emma but not all of it’, ‘I’ve never had a cake you made me’, clever chap it worked a charm.  I took the challenge(bait) if not to prove to him that I could! He was very specific in the cake he wanted; chocolate sponge with cream and strawberries – he is a man of discerning taste.  Now I in no way claim to be an expert cake maker like say my brother’s girlfriend Mary.  My cakes are simple to say the least and amateur in the decoration.

 The last cake I made was a birthday cake for the boyfriend; while it was cooling I walked into the kitchen only to find our bold Weimararner Goose tucking into it!  I screamed, he recoiled and I surveyed the damage.  Now when I tell you the next part of the story, try not to judge, I have told some friends and they reacted with disgust!  But I knew the boyfriend would’nt care and I wasn’t wasting the cake.  I simply cut off the bit Goose had enjoyed, remodelled it and frosted it, I presented it to the boyfriend and he went ‘Awh lovely a half moon and stars!  I had to confess but he found it hysterical and devoured the cake.

'Moon' Cake
 Thankfully I didn’t have that problem with the chocolate and strawberry, it turned out very well, moist and light I didn’t want to use a recipe that was too heavy so I went for a recipe found in one of my mother’s cookbooks, it’s so old it doesn’t have a cover on it but from the back page I have deduced that it is a ‘Be-Ro’ cookbook.  I’m presuming Be-Ro supplies baking products but it’s not available anymore.  A line from the first page, “For many years, housewives have relied on Be-Ro flour to give them consistently good baking results” AHEM!! Obviously that was from back in the good old days of the patriarchy telling us that only housewives bake – God I could write a whole other blog post… but I won’t.

Front of book
So the recipe, yes I tweaked it here and there, added some grated dark chocolate and the filling.  For the strawberries I sprinkled them with caster sugar and let them sit for a while to bring out the sweetness.  We sat down to the cake after a day in the garden planting potatoes and it was unanimously agreed that the cake was yummy, hurrah my reputation has been restored with my harshest critic!

Chocolate Cake with Strawberries and Cream

175 g self-raising flour
175g caster sugar
50g cocoa
100g margarine (at room temperature)
½ tsp. salt
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs
50g dark chocolate, grated
Punnet strawberries, sliced
150ml cream, whipped

Sieve flour, sugar sat and cocoa

Add margarine, eggs and grated chocolate and mix with an electric mixer

Grease and flour 2 cake tins and divide mixture between them

Bake at 180 degrees for 30-35 mins

Allow to cool, place a layer of strawberries on one of the cakes, add the whipped cream then top with strawberries and add the top of the cake. Sprinkle with icing sugar if you want.

My Garden

I haven’t blogged in a while, I’m not going to come up with excuses I’m simply going to say that the last three weeks I have been lacking inspiration for this blog.  Don’t get me wrong I have had many wonderful meals, God forbid I actually deprive myself and have cooked a number of taste explosions just none of them excited me enough to blog about.  Any other food bloggers read this? Do you get the same thing? Now every meal you have/dish you make people ask you “are you gonna blog about this?” Then you feel pressure to take pictures of every meal in CASE you blog about it and then your phone’s memory is full with said pictures but you’re afraid to delete them IN CASE you blog about them!, Oh the anxiety!!

 So I’m just going to talk about my garden; I have recently become the proud owner of 4 and a half raised beds, a fence and a gate, I love it.  I have been talking about this for ages and wanted to do it and it has finally happened.  It started slowly with pots of herbs last year, then I got a mushroom growing kit for my birthday (They have just sprouted – the excitement!), then it was garlic bulbs in pots and now it has manifested into a full blown vegetable garden.  I am a little worried that I am already a garden snob – as I don’t simply want to grow root or ‘boring’ vegetables like carrots, parsnips and spuds, oh no I want the exotic pak choi for my stir fries, I want rocket and radish and fennel and Chinese cabbage, am I being too ambitious? Am I a garden elitist? For the record, nothing has actually sprouted in the beds yet; despite the fact that I got the very best food-waste compost from a farmer friend but I am assured that I takes more than 2 weeks to see life, not only am I an elitist garden I am also an impatient one!

But its that little thing isn’t it? Life.  My garlic was first to sprout and the thrill I got from watching something that I had planted begin to bloom was profound.  I think its because its Spring too but I am finding pleasure in the small things and trying not to stress the big ones; the budding cherry blossom, a random chicken walking across the yard, life’s little simplicities.  Because, that’s what its all about isn’t it? Life and regeneration. We get caught up with the stresses of life but if you take a step back and just be present with nature all that silly stuff seems to slide away.  Ok enough with the philosophy suffice to say I just love my garden!

 But also one last word about gardening; I think I had a romantic notion of a bit of pruning and clipping and I would have a beautiful, bountiful garden.  Not the case.  It is hard work, hard physical work first off having to manually shovel the top soil and compost into the beds, then trying to work out depths and measurements’ and the correct times for planting. No I have realised with a shock that it is tough work, tough but rewarding, a labour of love- that little sprouting bud makes it all worth it… now as its the season, go forth and garden!

Sprouting Garlic
Mushroom Kit
My Gate

Scrambled eggs with TRITzo

After a very stressful morning which I won’t get into…. Ok then you’ve persuaded me; my car (new car by the way, well not new but new to me, 02) wouldn’t start; we jumped it, that lasted for a few miles then it just died.  An amateur diagnosis was given; the alternator was broken, it was not going anywhere and would have to be towed home.  I don’t know if any of you have ever been towed before, I hadn’t and quite frankly it’s a bit terrifying!  You’ve being pulled by a vehicle in front, you have to steer the car like you are driving but your brakes seize and you’ve no control of the accelerator!  It’s like using cruise control but you have no way of taking it off.  The journey back home was a stress inducing nightmare and I’m NOT being dramatic!!  The tow rope broke no less than 5 times! Every time it snapped the whole experience became more traumatic, and the hazard lights wouldn’t even work on my car so we had to hang a high-viz vest out the back of the car, nice! When we finally got to my town I dipped down in my seat slightly ashamed.

When we finally got home it was after 11, the whole debacle had started at 9 and we were starving!  I felt lucky to be alive and waited to celebrate my living status with a decent breakfast.  I looked in the fridge and saw the tritzo aka chorizo but we call it tritzo as a little joke. Everyone has problems pronouncing it, whether they go with the Spanish the silent ch or else they over annunciate the izo, it’s just all a bit confusing.  So our joke is to pretend we are totally ignorant and pronounce it like tritzo it also save the embarrassment of pronouncing it wrong! I knew I wanted eggs so I decided on a kind of Spanish/Mexican version with coriander and chilli.  This experiment resulted in a success that I had to share as it was so tasty and a bit of a change from the usual scrambled eggs.  It also was satisfying and uplifting after my traumatic morning!

Scrambled eggs with Chorizo

Serves 2
5 eggs
75g Chorizo
1 green chilli
Bunch of coriander
Splash of milk
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tortilla wraps to serve

Cube the chorizo making sure the pieces are quite small; dice the chilli, leaving in the seeds if you prefer the heat.
Heat a non-stick pan and add the chorizo, there is no need to add any fat.  Cook for around 5 minutes then drain the chorizo with kitchen paper, you will be shocked at the amount of fat that is rendered out.
Clean this pan then add a slash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the chilli for a few minutes, while you are doing this beat the eggs with a little milk and salt and pepper.
Add the butter to the pan, lower the heat and add the eggs, when the eggs begin to firm gently stir them until you reach the consistency of soft scrambled eggs, take off the heat, add the chorizo and chopped coriander.
Serve with a tortilla wrap on the side and some salsa.

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