Archive for August, 2008

Beef and Guinness Casserole

Saturday, August 30th, 2008
Can of Guinness Original, plus the beer in a glass

We’re heading out for the afternoon so want something that can be put together quickly and cook on its own when we’re sitting the car queuing to get into Mahon Point. A casserole is just the thing. The following is for four so adjust accordingly. By the way, this is great for dinner parties. Gotta dash!

Ingredients (for four)
2Lbs of Stewing (Round) Steak
1tbsp sunflower oil
1 knob butter
Small Bouquet Garni
1tbsp flour
4oz bacon lardons (I use Gubbeen Lardons
1 Large onion, sliced
1 Red pepper, sliced
500ml Guinness
500ml stock
1tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 or 3 Carrots.
Handful of frozen peas


Heat the oil and butter in a pan. Dice the meat and toss it in flour and seasoning, add to the pan and brown. Remove the meat and add to the casserole dish. Fry the lardons, onion and peppers for a minuite or two before adding the mustard, sugar and 100ml of Guinness. Cook for a further minute beforer adding to the casserole. Add the stock and remainder of the stout to the casserole. Add the carrots, peas and Bouquet Garni. Cook at 140F for five to six hours.

Cannelloni with Mince, Spinach and Goat’s Cheese

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

For something that is easy to make, easy to transport and can be prepared in advance if necessary try Cannelloni. This is an extremely versatile recipe, you can take the basic version and add any filling you like, this is great for kids because you can hide any amount of disliked ingredients inside the Cannelloni tubes! With children half the battle is a mental one, what they can’t see won’t hurt them, case in point here is with the spinach. Mine would never eat spinach on its own but don’t question its presence in this.

I saw Jamie Oliver do a great Broccoli and Cauliflower Cannelloni on TV recently, he reduced down the veg to almost a mush, added some seasoning, chilli and anchovies and made the topping with Creme Fraiche and Parmesan. I tried it recently and while it may not sound great on paper it really worked. Careful with the anchovies though!

250g Steak Mince (optional)
1 small jar of ragu pasta sauce
1 Pack of Cannelloni tubes or some pasta sheets if you prefer to roll your own
1 Bag of baby Spinach
1 Onion, thinly sliced
1 clove of crushed Garlic
1 tsp dried Nutmeg
1 pack of fresh Basil
1 tsp Oregano
2 tsp Paprika
175g Goats cheese
2 or 3 handfuls of grated Parmesean
1 bag of Buffalo Mozeralla

Slowly fry the onion and dried spices in a little olive oil, when done remove from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat up and fry the mince until brown. Return the onion mix and add the spinach and continue cooking until the spinach has wilted. Turn off the heat and add the goats cheese and a handful of parmesan. Mix well, season and allow to cool.
Stuff the mix into cannelloni tubes, I use four per adult or two per child. Cover the bottom of a baking dish in a layer of the ragu tomato sauce and place the stuffed Cannelloni on top. Cover with Parmesan and mozzarella and half the basil leaves. Cook in the oven for 30-40mins until golden. When done decorate with the remaining basil and serve.

White Horses and the Seafood Chowder Index

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Back in 2005 I dined in White Horses Restaurant, Ardmore, Co Waterford, it’s the yellow building in the foreground on the left of the attached photo. The food was excellent but a bowl of seafood chowder cost a whopping €9.50, I’ll write that down, Nine Euro and Fifty Cent. I remember it was pretty excellent chowder but I’ve had as nice for half the cost. Three years have passed and checking the price of seafood chowder has now become somewhat of a benchmark for me, I have yet to find a price that beats €9.50. In 2008 I think it rare for chowder to exceed the €8 barrier. If folk are aware of prices in their area post it up as a comment, if I get some good raw data then maybe it will build to something.

On Saturday evening we returned to White Horses where I noted the ‘Chowder Index’ has remained static at €9.50, that elusive €10 barrier is proving difficult to break. The restaurant itself is small and bustling. It’s always busy and comes highly recommended. We were offered a 6:30 or 8:30 sitting and our table was ready when our group of five arrived at just after 8:30. Bread and a couple of menus were supplied as soon as we sat and staff were quick to come back to take orders. There were a lot of staff, all very efficient, but then again there were a lot of diners. White Horses in not a large restaurant and nor was it originally designed as such. The dining room is L-shaped with the larger tables at the front by the window. The smaller tables, for groups of two and four, are toward the back and lined against the wall where the ceiling is low and the chatter echos. Wooden floors do little to suppress the noise. Lack of space and intimacy are traits OK in certain venues but at a €30 average per main course, hitting €50 for the lobster, I believe White Horses are catering for a lot more people than the venue, or the prices, allow. I am reminded of the excellent Eco in Douglas Village, Cork where their prices are kept in line with the comfort level experienced.

Back to the food. I had Blue Cheese and Bacon Salad to start. This was a mixture of leaves with a light dressing, dotted around were some small bits of blue cheese and a few slivers of bacon along with some tiny, dry, croutons. Somewhat tasty but very overpriced at €11.50.

For mains I had Black Sole on the bone (with a Marinaded Citrus Slice) and this is where it starts to get good. The sole arrived piping hot and looked beautiful with a simple butter-based sauce to accompany but not to overbear. It tasted every bit as good as it looked. Absolutely stunning. Once of the nicest fish I have tasted. The others had Prawns in a Garlic Butter which were equally as nice. Succulent, sweet tasting, prawns cooked to perfection, a tiny bit of garlic butter was all they needed . The dishes were €32 and €35.

Three bottles of a Macon Village at €24 each, two deserts picked from the display cabinet and three coffees brought the bill to just under €330 for five. The main courses are second to none and, more importantly, they are consistently excellent. However I just cannot get over the noise and low ceilings and overpriced starters. For the price I would prefer the whole dining experience, not just the mains. If noisy chatter won’t upset your own experience then the food, for the most part, is worth it.

Spinach and Cauliflower Cheese Bake

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

CauliflowerContinuing with the theme of giving ‘veg the edge’ this is a really easy recipe that my kids love. The Spinach and Cauliflower combination remind me of a slight Indian feel and I’m thinking you could spice this up nicely if you wanted to experiment. However if you have found a sure fire way of getting a three year old to eat Cauliflower and Spinach in one sitting then you burn it into your memory and leave well alone. If you are more adventurous with this let me know how you get on via the comments.

Large cauliflower cut into florets
1x250g bag of spinach
2x300g tubs four cheese sauce
50g cheddar grated.

Preheat over to 190c. Boil cauliflower for 5mins. Add spinach and cook for 30secs more. Drain and place in an ovenproof dish. Warm the cheese sauce and pout over the cauliflower and spinach mix, sprinkle with cheddar. Bake in the over for 20-30mins until golden.

Paulaner Alcohol Free (Alkoholfrei) Beer

Friday, August 8th, 2008

It’s not often I bother trying alcohol free beer, normally if I am in a cafe or bar and not drinking alcohol it is most likely early morning and a tea or coffee will do fine. However, last week I had the occassion to try Paulaner Alcohol Free or “Paulaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholfrei” to give it its native German title. It originates from Munich with Heineken Ireland, who now own the old Murphy’s Brewery in Cork, doing the importing. I was given a bottle and asked to try it so I dutifully put it in my fridge and tucked it away at the back where it remained for four to five weeks just to make sure it was properly chilled.

It was sunny yesterday and my thoughts, as they do, turned to Alcoholfrei Hefeweissbier. I remembered I had a bottle in the fridge so I cracked it open and poured it. It looked pretty nice, a rich tan colour but not cloudy, it looked malty with a nice frothy head. Looks like real beer I thought. Smelled of real beer too, hops and stuff. You can tell I’m no Oz Clarke, I could flower the language up a bit and say that it smelled of hazelnuts and oatmeal but that’s a step too far.

The taste was malty but had a sweet edge to it, I am not sure if the sweetness, which I didn’t particularly like, was due to the fact it was nonalcoholic or is it just a feature of the beer. Regardless I happily drank the 0.5L and may have had another had there been one.

After some truly horrific non-alcoholic beers in the eighties and nineties maybe the technique has progressed? It may also be the fact that I only ever tried the products that were foisted upon the immature Irish market at the time, things are different these days, you can buy beer from anywhere in the world and Amen to that.

Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich

I noticed there is a lot of positivity in the world of food bloggers so maybe, just maybe, just once in a while, we need something to balance the emotion. Some Yang to go with the Ying. A unity of opposites in the food blogosphere. Yes. I have a negative experience I’d like to share.

The process of creating a recipe is obviously not a direct line, some folk have original ideas they build on, others adapt recipes by adding their own touches. Whatever way you do it the single common element is food bloggers all over world using their loved ones as guinea pigs. This post is a tribute to my loved ones and their suffering as I made a balls of Domini Kemp’s “Ham and Cheese Fried Sambos” as published in Saturday’s Irish Times Magazine. The recipe is a bit like the All-American Grilled Cheese meets French Toast who, in my case, reverted to talking about the war and quickly ended up on opposite sides of the room.

In a pitiful effort at self-validation it occurred to me why not share my not so positive experience to see if anybody tried to make the same thing and agrees with me. I’m having a post-mortem. I want to figure out what went wrong and who was to blame for the death of a recipe. I know in my heart of hearts Domini Kemp did a good job, the picture looked so good, so it saddens me so say this must have been pilot error. Has anybody else tried to make this? I don’t know if I’m allowed to actually re-print the recipe so I’ll just refer you to link above.

The problem I found was that the bread had to be cut so thick in order to get the ham and cheese stuffing in it ended as…well…just a mound of bread with some filling in the middle. It was certainly not a sandwich. How are you supposed to stuff a slice of bread with ham and cheese and not have the bread fall apart? Next time I’ll adapt and use two slices from a regular sliced pan but for now the mystery of the stuffed slice will remain just that.

Enlightenment via the comments section please.

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The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore

Having a birthday on the Saturday of a holiday weekend during the summer means there is always extra impetus for celebrating and I’m glad to report this year was no different. After a glass or two of Champagne and a nice home cooked Cannelloni we headed to The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore for drinks.

Opened at the start of 2008 it is a 39 room, boutique style, hotel built into the cliff overlooking Ardmore Bay. The difficult €16m build took over two years and while it may be more a triumph of engineering over some of the external aesthetics this is soon forgotten when you enter reception. Stunning views, plush carpet and glass frontage abound.

Leaving reception the bar and restaurant are down a level on opposite sides of the large spiral staircase. Turning left into the bar you are greeted by a long, narrow, space further divided by three supporting columns which are decorated with slate, the stone theme is common throughout the hotel with some very impressive limestone paving (with fossils) outside reception and on the terrace. The bar area is not large but this adds to the intimacy. Outside is the large terrace providing commanding views of the bay, beach and surrounding landscape. Sitting here you could almost be on the deck of a luxury cruise ship and with the bonus of a sunny day you could well be cruising the Amalfi coast. One thing that did strike me was, apart from a row of tables along the bar window, there is no shelter or outdoor heating. Leaving the imaginary cruise ships and Amalfi coast behind the harsh reality of Irish summers means most of the terrace is a space that can only be used for about 15% of the year, and even then is decidedly cool after sun down. To the delight of the staff the guests tend to play musical chairs trying to avoid the wind and stay in the sun, it was not uncommon to see a staff member with drinks on tray scanning the decks to see where his drinkers were huddling.

This weekend was my third visit and it was nice to note some of the minor niggles present on the earlier visits, such as lack of coasters for the drinks, had been ironed out. However the bathrooms remain slightly below par. The bar of soap sitting on the counter without a holder had been replaced with a tidier bottle of liquid soap but the room could be cleaner, the bin was full of used hand towels and the urinals could have done with a wipe. Unfortunately there was no cleaning rota on the wall so I don’t know what the intervals were or when they were last done, maybe I hit at a bad time. The complaint was the same for the ladies, coat holders were missing or had fallen off and an undisguised tissue box lay stuck to the granite surface. These are niggles that I’m sure will be ironed out over time.

The staff were cheery and bright. During the drinks a suited manager stopped by to have a quick chat and to make sure all was well, his manner was friendly without being forward which is perfect. The mojitos were excellent at €10 each, plenty of sparkle and zing to them. Continuing with the Cuban theme a Havana Club and Coke cost €7.50 and was served in a decent size glass with loads of ice. Cocktail stirrers were also an addition over the previous visit. After we settled the bill the bar tender called me over to ask what I thought of his mojitos, excellent I told him. I’m looking forward to going back, the bar menu looked very inviting with prices you see on most Irish restaurant windows, hopefully we’ll have time to eat on the next visit.