Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Blackberry Picking!

On Sunday Pete and I went blackberry picking with a friend, who we were visiting for the weekend. We started out near her house where she'd noticed some brambles ripe for the picking and whilst we were there a kind neighbour recommended some other locations slightly further afield which we drove to afterwards.

There's something very fulfilling about enjoying the autumn sunshine, gathering traditional fruits from the side of country lanes, chatting to walkers rambling past...

We gathered three full ice-cream tubs (not to mention the mouthfuls I crammed whilst picking), some of which went into a crumble for dessert on Sunday (I had mine plain with artificial sweetener) leaving plenty for our hosts plus a tub for us to bring home as well.



Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Soda Bread Diaries

Having enjoyed the soda bread my friend made for a picnic in her garden recently, she sent me the recipe. It's published in a book called The Baker's Tale by Catherine Brown but is credited to James Burgess.

The first time I made this soda bread (last Wednesday) I followed the recipe exactly and the bread was just gorgeous.

The second time I made it (on Saturday) I accidentally added a touch too much buttermilk which made the dough too sticky to shape easily but texture and taste were still fine.

Third time, tonight, I added two "heaped" teaspoons of treacle, reduced the volume of buttermilk (adding a little at a time until all the flour and oatmeal were absorbed into a dough without it getting too sticky). Formed ball, flattened it, criss crossed the surface and baked for the normal 20 minutes.

Came out really, really well. The treacle made it only slightly darker in colour (so still not sure quite what went into the really dark brown stuff we encountered in County Cork last month) but definitely added a subtle depth of flavour.

Recipe (method re-written by me)

175g (6oz) wholemeal flour
75g (3oz) strong white flour
25g (1 oz) medium oatmeal
half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half teaspoon salt
300ml (10 fl oz) buttermilk* (I buy a 284 ml pot and don't quite use all of it).

*Apparently, if you can't get buttermilk you can use milk soured with the juice of a lemon.

Measure all dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.

Add the buttermilk a little at a time and mix into flour/oatmeal with hands to form a soft dough.

Take care not to add too much or dough will become very sticky.

No need to knead dough or leave it to rise/prove etc.

Shape dough into ball then flatten into a circle about an inch deep.

I've taken to slicing parallel lines across the top with a sharp knife at two angles to form diamonds. Not traditional for soda bread but I like it more than the more traditional quartering.

Bake for 20 minutes in pre-heated oven at 210 (fan assisted) or 230 (non-fan). (If you don't like a very slightly moist and dense bread, which I do, leave it in a couple of minutes longer).

Check it's done by tapping bottom - should be a firm crust and a slightly dull thwack form inside.

Leave to cool for as long as you can stand it - I didn't last 4 minutes tonight!


Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Restaurant Reviews: County Cork

We got back on Sunday from a week in County Cork with friends...

Dinty's in Union Hall
A tiny, simply decorated, casual pub restaurant on the harbour in tiny Union Hall, the setting belies the excellence of the food. On the first night several of us had deep fried brie as a starter - two tranches per serving, each one the size one would normally buy for a cheese board, about 6 inches long and utterly delicious. The other half of us had crab claws in garlic butter served with brown soda bread. So good I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. For mains two of us had the smaller seafood platter each - so large I couldn't finish even half and had some of the leftovers for dinner another night - my plate was piled high with a huge mound of fresh crab meat, a pile of succulent king prawns, another of crab claws, 3 smoked mackerel pieces, 2 hot smoked salmon pieces, a mound of regular smoked salmon, several pieces of regular cooked salmon fillets... Others had the fish pie, the very tender and generous sirloin steak and the breadcrumbed plaice - a serving of 4 large fillets - 1 alone a normal perhaps slightly small serving, 2 a generous main meal, 3 already excessive and 4 too big even for 2 to share! With (limited) drinks, the bill was less than 35 Euros per person and well worth it. We went a second night and many of the same dishes were enjoyed as well as a generous chicken wing starter, some tasty breaded mushrooms and a T-bone steak (though second time around, we knew to share some of the dishes as they were just too large)!

Max's Wine Bar in Kinsale
Recommended by someone on the BBC Food Chat board, this was a very elegant and adult place, the opposite in decor and style of food to Dinty's. Four of us enjoyed a fantastic lunch there. The brown soda bread was as good as that at Dinty's. My dublin bay prawn salad very tasty (though I did pick the celery out), my foie gras (second starter instead of main) the equal of any I've had in France, freshly sauted, served with a port or sherry sauce on a small bed of tagliatelle. The saffron monkfish special one friend had was beautifully cooked and presented. The omelette and saute potatoes Pete chose were also very well executed as was the creamy chicken pasta chosen by our other friend . The chocolate orange gateaux (we ordered two between us) oozed hot liquid centres which went well with the vanilla ice-cream. The cheese plate was delicious too. With wine the bill was only just over 30 Euros per person. Oh and for those who like dessert wine, the taster glasses are plenty big enough - you won't need the full glasses, as we're glad the waitress advised us. Fantastic meal, would go back in a heartbeat.

We also ate well elsewhere in County Cork enjoying simple home-made lasagnes, a delicious crab mornay, gubeen cheese crumbed and fried, seafood chowder, sandwiches, ice-cream and snacks in various cafes, pubs and restaurants.