Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The New Website is live

It has been fun writing this blog and I am not stopping, I am just moving to my very own spanking new website - hope you are popping over 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Project Pig's Head

Living in the country side and calling some farmers your friends can result in the most amazing moments. Especially if you meet said farmer in the local pub after a few glasses of delicious red ale. The result of such a meeting was a knock on the door one evening and I was given a pig's head. Yes, I did mention in the pub that I would like to cook a pig's head because Paul Flynn served whole pig heads at a gala dinner in Dungarvan during a food festival 2 years ago.

Te poor head looked at me and I thought - do I have a pot big enough. I had. So off I went into my library (see photo) to search through
cookbooks. And I discovered that not many food writers have a recipe for a whole head. The legendary Thomas Keller of The French Laundry has one but my butchery skills are limited (he is asking to remove the meat in one piece from the head) - it looked delicious finished but didn't fit my purpose. Fergus Henderson's book Nose to Tail Eating gave nice instructions but didn't include roasting the little fella. The 1938 edition of Economical Cookery by Mrs D.D. Cottington Taylor had a recipe for a sheep's head but I wasn't too sure how that could be translated to a pig. So I went to the source of my inspiration and asked Paul Flynn himself.
A few tweets later

With a few tweets, I felt comfortable to go ahead in my project. The head was already brined, so I simply set a pot of stock & cider with some vegetables on the stove and cooked the head for about 30 mins just to make sure that all scum has left the head. Then chopping some more vegetables (carrots, leeks and onions), putting them in the roasting tin and placed the head on top. Continuing with the cider, pouring it over the head. Covering the roasting pan with tin foil, I baked the head for 4 hours on a low/medium heat.

Towards the end of the baking time, I mixed some honey, brown sugar with salt & pepper and removed the pan from the oven. Taking off the tin foil, I smeared the honey mix all over the head and returned it to the oven. I increased the heat a bit to make sure that we get a nice colour.

The head isn't burned, my camera seems to darken it
The result was great. The meat was cooked through without being dry and tough. The meat of the cheeks was tender and juicy. Mr T loved that he could just pick away at the meat and served with mashed potato and delicious spiced red cabbage was a Sunday feast.

My next project might really be to re
-cook Thomas Keller's recipe of Pig's Head roulade. But in the meantime, said Pig Farmer has challenged me to a pizza cook-off. So back to the kitchen, practicing my pizza skills....... 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Foodie News - 2nd February 2015

The latest foodie news for you

  • The Real Bread campaign was launched last week by Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread and Patrick Ryan of Firehouse Bakery amongst other artisan bakers. The purpose is to identify real bread, to educate, inform and promote real bread and encourage more people to get back into baking.
  • Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso is said to be looking into venturing out to Dublin with a new concept that might even include fish & seafood. No definite details yet but watch this space for updates
  • Greenes Restaurant is introducing their Supper Club. Members of this club will get access to special offers and menus. The idea behind the supper club is to highlight trends & new techniques in food. Bryan McCarthy is a very talented chef and I am sure, guests are in for a treat. You can sign up for the Supper Club here  
  • Four young brave chefs have passed the first round of the San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition. Mark Moriarty, a former Euro- Toques Ireland young chef of the year, now working on a pop-up restaurant concept, The Culinary Counter. Sarunas Godovan, a chef at Tankardstown House, Stephen Holland, sous chef at Lough Erne Resort amd Maria Elena Martinez Otero, chef de partie at the InterContinental, Dublin are the brave chefs who will have to face some challenges and tough judges to progress. Good luck to them
  • Twin brothers David & Stephen Flynn of the Happy Pear have been signed by Jamie Oliver to work on Jamie's YouTube Channel. I have met both brothers recently and their energy and love of food is contagious. They are both perfect for the Jamie Oliver brand.
  • The Quay Coop Restaurant in Sullivan's Quay in Cork has reopened again after a makeover. The new look is still based on the same calm feel of the historic rooms but has a fresh look to it now. The menu is also getting an overhaul and head chef Sabrina is delighted to put her own spin on things. 
  • Yelp has launched a campaign in Dublin for the month of February to find a Food Porn Star. Foodie fanatics are being asked to upload their 'food porn' to Yelp throughout February. The best will be displayed in a gallery setting. So if you are in Dublin, make sure to upload your photos to Yelp.  
That's me for now :-) 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Changing the Menu - or not

Changing a menu of an existing restaurant can be a difficult task. The chef who has developed the menu, the manager and the customers - all have a stand and all are used to the existing one and might be uncomfortable with any changes. So, why would I suggest to change a menu then?

It all depends on how long the menu is in place, how it has evolved (or not) over time and if it still has a fresh feel to it. Restaurants are not only defined by the food served, decor or furniture. It is also defined by the customers & diners. If you are starting a new restaurant, you have free reign but if the restaurant has already a faithful followership, you need to be careful not to alienate these diners.

I am like most people - a creature of habit (in some restaurants I always order the same dishes) and I don't like drastic changes to my favourite restaurants. The old familiar is comfortable and soothing but can tend to be boring. Will it entice new diners to return, does it make diners to talk about the food in the restaurant to their friends and families? Will customers go out of their way to visit the restaurant?? I doubt it. It might be alright when I am passing to pop in for a quick bite to eat but would I consider a visit when I am planning a night out with friends and we are discussing where to go for a nice meal?

So, how does one go about it to introduce changes? Small steps, small changes at a time. I am working with a client at the moment and we were discussing changes in his restaurant and he was quite open when it came to implementing processes & guidelines to guarantee standards and consistency but we had a bit of a dead pass when it came to the menu. Dishes are rotated on a regular basis over several weeks that is should create the feel of a regular changing menu. This can work for quite some time but it can also prevent a menu to evolve with time & trends.

Working with the chef is key here. Bringing ideas to the table and getting input from the kitchen team is necessary to introduce small changes. My ideas might be great and innovative but do I really know the existing diners? My job is to suggest, plan and implement with the help of the entire team. I know food, trends and the general diner - the team knows the regular customers. Bringing both expertise together should result in a synergy that will bare fruit to amazing ideas. I am looking forward to seeing these changes happening and being part of it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gingerbread House - Santa's Home

My Cutter Set - years old but perfect.
A few years back I bought a cutter set for a gingerbread house as I always wanted to make my own little creation. Everytime I saw one at one of the many Christmas markets I went to in my life, I thought, I want to make that (it's a curse as I think that about a lot of things). Anyway, there I was with my set and no idea how to start. Gingerbread has a long tradition in Germany, especially at Christmas time where stalls at Christmas markets are bursting with hearts decorated beautifully with coloured icing and adored by beautiful sayings (most of the times, the hearts would have been made months beforehand and didn't taste that nice anymore but it was delicious if you got a fresh-ish one).
Adding the roof tiles carefully

My wise mum stated the obvious 'have you ever made gingerbread before?' - so I went off and tried all recipes out there until I found the one that not only tasted nice but also stood up to the task of becoming a house covered in icing. The recipe below has been tested over years and I have made many houses and have given classes in making your own gingerbread house and it worked everytime.

It is great to make with children (although you might not get a standing house) as they have fun putting all the sprinkles on (so much that you will still find them around Easter in your kitchen) and it's a great way of getting kids involved in baking and cake decoration. And if you are not confident to start with a house, try your hands on a gingerbread heart instead. 


250g unsalted butter

200g dark muscovado sugar

7 tbsp golden syrup

600g plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tsp ground ginger
Hardboil sweets (coloured) (optional) 
Sparkles, sugar decorations, mini marshmallows etc. 

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

450g icing sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Cake board to fit the house on (use a larger size to create a garden etc)

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a tiny splash of water.

Cut out a template (or buy cutters). Put a sheet of baking paper on your work surface and roll about one quarter of the dough to the thickness of about 0.5cm. Cut out one of the sections, and then slide the gingerbread, still on its baking paper, onto a baking sheet. You can cut out doors & windows. To create a 'glass window' crush some of the coloured (make sure they are the clear type sweets) and place it in the cutout of the window. It will melt during the baking process and creates a beautiful glass effect. Repeat with remaining dough, re-rolling the trimmings, until you have two sidewalls, a front and back wall and two roof panels. Any leftover dough can be cut into Christmas trees, if you like.

Bake all the sections for 12 mins or until firm and just a little darker at the edges. Leave to cool for a few mins to firm up, then trim around the templates again to give clean, sharp edges. Leave to cool completely.

I normally leave the gingerbread to dry overnight before I am starting to use it for building the house. 

When ready to start, prepare the royal icing. Beat all ingredients on high speed for 10 minutes. The icing will be thick and glossy. This icing hardens quickly, so leave the bowl covered with a damp cloth while working.

It is easier to decorate the  pieces before assembling the house, making sure that the roof tiles are not overloaded. Let your imagination run wild. 

Start with one wall piece and set it on icing
When the icing has dried on the gingerbread pieces, it is ready to be assembled. Start by spreading some of the icing on the cake board and gently press the first wall piece in it to stand up. Don't press too hard. Now, add the side wall to the first wall, again, pressing into the icing gently. Now, still while holding gently, pipe icing in the gap of the joining pieces. It should now stand on its own. Pressing it won't help, so let it be. If you think it is falling, pop something on the inside to hold it up. 

Continue with the other pieces until you have the foundation ready. Now comes the most frightening part, attaching the roof. Pipe a good measure of icing on the rim of the walls and attach the first roof tile, gently pressing it down. It should hold on its own - please don't press as you will move the tiles (trust me on this one). Wait until the icing sets before adding the last piece. 

In case you have used the hardboiled sweets and your door is wide enough, why not light a tea light and put it inside. The light from within will shine through the 'glass' windows. 

Please send me your photos if you are making your own gingerbread house - love to hear from you 

Creation at a class I gave in late November

Creation at a class I gave in late November

Pieces needed for a house with stained window effect

Have everything ready to go

Using an adapter helps if you like to use different nozzles for piping

Add the second wall

Pipe icing into the cap to join the 2 pieces

Adding finishing touches

Use different sprinkles and decorations

Monday, December 8, 2014

Looking in from the outside

You might not know but I am consulting on a few local restaurant and food businesses and it is great fun, meeting all these amazing people who are dedicated and hard working and have a passion for what they do.

I am currently working with a local business that is kind of an institution - I am going here for years and love the laid back atmosphere, the feel that time just stops here and that I am not hurried out to make space for the next guest. The menu rotates regularly with favorites being always on the menu. So if you came regularly, you would know the menu and when what special would be on. Nothing wrong with that but the time has come to adapt to the changing dining market.
Teamwork is essential for success

And this is where the challenge for me and the team lays. You still want the feel of the place to stay the same, want to keep existing diners but need to attract new ones. Food trends need to be considered and of course special dietary requirements need to be transformed into tasty dishes. And all that while a hard working team is unsure if they will like the changes and how guests will react.

What I have to keep in mind is that everyone has a comfort zone and it is not easy to penetrate this zone (I know just too well as I have my own comfort zone and protect it when endangered). Tact and diplomacy is the key here. Trying to convert skeptics into believers - the chef who has worked hard on the menu, the restaurant manager who is worried on being left out and the staff who work hard behind the scenes - is the key to create a team that works towards a common goal.

I am the person who is coming in from the outside looking in - I have a clear view as I am not manipulated by processes, history or worries - but do I know the place? No - not as well as the staff who work here for years, who have seen transformations before, who have built up relationships with diners and who have given their time and expertise. So do they need me?? Yes, they do - to show them different ways to achieve the common goal, to bring expertise that is not bound on processes, history and worries. But I need to keep in mind that I can't do it alone. I need this team behind me to achieve with them the changes needed to bring this amazing place into new territory.

So my job starts with listening - to their processes, history and worries and learning from their experience. This is what I am doing at the moment while doing research into food trends and customer profiling.

I really love this job - watch this space for updates in the coming weeks on how we implementing changes.

Mincemeat Flapjacks

Hampers are a great gift for foodies - you get all the wonderful goodies (at least if someone took care creating the hamper) that you wouldn't normally buy. And since it is Christmas, a jar of mincemeat surely will be part of the hamper. If you are like me, you will be tired of mince pies by mid December, so here is a lovely alternative to mince pies for using a jar of mincemeat (it is also worth making your own, so much better than the shop bought unless you get an artisan one). Flapjacks last about 2 weeks in an airtight container and are therefore wonderful gifts to either add to (you might have guessed it) a hamper or simply a little token when you are invited for a dinner party. By the way, if you are still looking for an awesome hamper, check out Flemings Restaurant, Longueville House, Nash 19 and Bradley's Off License as well as Urru in Bandon.

I am using here my own mincemeat that I make every year and I think it is awesome (obviously) and I haven't bought a jar (the last one I bought was simply yuk). If your mincemeat seems a bit chunky, mince it down more, maybe adding a tbsp of Cointreau (or orange juice if children will eat it) - very tasty and it will go further.  It took Mr T only 2 days to finish the whole batch of flapjacks - yes, they are that good.

Mincemeat Flapjacks

  • 400g porridge oats (I use normal ones, but try a mix of jumbo and normal oats)
  • 100g almond slivers
  • 150g butter
  • 3 tbsp honey (or golden syrup)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 400g mincemeat

Pre-heat the oven to 180C

Grease and line a 20 x 20cm square tin.

Mix the oats and almonds together in a bowl. Melt the butter, honey (or golden syrup) and oil in a pan over a medium heat. Pour onto the oats mix and stir until well combined.

Press half the mix into the tin,  using the back of a spoon to press it down firmly. Spread the mincemeat over the mix and top with the rest of the oat mix, again pressing down firmly with the back of the spoon. Bake in the oven for about 20 mins until golden brown.

Using a knife, mark squares and leave to cool for about 30 mins before cutting it into the marked squares.

You could also add shredded coconut, sesame seeds and other dried fruit like blueberries to the oat mix.

Enjoy xx