13 February 2013

Yotam and Sami help me bring the Middle East home

It was a short conversation but ultimately a very useful one. It went something like this:

Me: What would you like for dinner tomorrow night?

Sister: Something new!

With little hinting required, I received the book 'Jerusalem' by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for Christmas.  I had returned from a trip to London last summer raving about the food, displays, presentation and atmosphere of the Ottolenghi restaurant in Islington. All I needed was the right opportunity and sufficient encouragement to give some of the recipes a go.

Sharing dishes of fattoush and hummus with lamb kwarma

I picked four recipes - Na'ama's Fattoush (p.29), Fried Tomatoes with Garlic (p.50), Basic Hummus (p.114) to be used for the Hummus Kwarma (lamb) with lemon sauce (p.118). Also, although discussed in the book with no specific recipe (p.76), I made a Baba Ghanoush taking guidance from a David Lebovitz recipe on his website.

Hummus with lamb kwarma

I followed the recipes as accurately as possible. This is not my preferred modus operandi but the results were very impressive. The hummus was wonderfully smooth and creamy.  The fattoush was fresh and light.  (I suggest that there are strong similarities, and perhaps even historical links, between fattoush and Italian panzanella. I have yet to prove it but I did not have a lot of support for the idea on twitter!). The kwarma was a great match for hummus.  Interestingly, I expected the fried tomatoes to be the background dish to all the others but they turned out to be a hit for both their simplicity and their flavour.

Fried tomatoes with garlic

Notably, the baba ghanoush requires 'burning' of the aubergine over a gas hob - nowhere near as messy or smelly as it sounds and definitely worthwhile. In principle, I am not a lover of the aubergine, but slowly.....every so slowly, I am coming around to it.  Making the baba ghanoush was a big and very enjoyable step towards the aubergine revolution.

Burning aubergine's to give the baba ghanoush smokiness

31 December 2012

Coffee time

On a spilt shift today so had some daylight to play with - rare in the midwinter working calendar. First decision was to have coffee.....second was to take a few shots of the process and the key ingredient. Honestly, that was the order.

The Mocha

Decided to go with the Mocha coffee maker today. It has been good to me over the mayhem of the past few weeks - speedy, strong and quintessentially (cough cough) Italian!

The Bean

The Bean & the Grind

My grinder has blades - highly controversial I know but it is what it is. It does the trick for what I need....for the moment.

The Mocha

28 December 2012


So I have upgraded the camera to a Nikon 5100. I added a lens. The Nikkor 105mm Micro (or Macro...take your pick). The plan is to put all this new technology to good use in 2013. Here are some trial run shots from Christmas Day. I am pretty happy with them!

Red Cabbage being prepped!

Mum's beetroot cured salmon

Fresh fig on our cheeseboard.

Apple and Mont D'Or


28 November 2012

Meatball night

Meatballs were on the menu tonight - a complete nightmare to photograph, particularly on the winters night.  But they were good!  Here's a snapshot. 

My meatballs - beef and lamb.
I am slowly but surely trialling different meats, mixes of meats, herbs, frying vs oven vs combination, breadcrumbs vs no breadcrumbs, small vs medium vs massive, .....the methods are endless. 

These were good. Ovened, on a rack, beef and lamb, rosemary and parsley, tomato sauce prepped separately, red wine to finish the sauce. 

19 November 2012

Just a little cheese!

Crottin.... (french goat's cheese).  I just like the picture. And love the cheese.

13 November 2012

Beery Brownbread with smoked salmon

I have a been a bit lax (d'ya get it?) with my posts. So I made some brownbread last night, continuing my experiments with different beer based recipes.  Thus far I am happiest with the Smithwicks Pale Ale version.  The Budweiser and Carlsberg attempts were fine but unexceptional.  The Guinness recipe I did as scones rather than as a loaf - they were good but not exactly Guinness-y. The Pale Ale version actually smells and tastes.....beery. 

Nolan's Smoked Salmon on Smithwicks Pale Ale Brownbread

The idea stemmed from a lack of buttermilk in both the fridge and the local shops one evening. A quick google noted that beer was a sufficient replacement. I have used my Mum's brownbread recipe as the base for the experiments.

My Brownbread 

- 2 Mugs of Wholemeal Stoneground Flour
- 1 Mug Plain Flour
- 1 Heaped tsp. salt
- 1 Heaped tsp. baking soda
- 2 Heaped tblsp. sugar
(Nice additions - pinhead oatmeal or pumpkin seeds.  The pinhead requires more liquid).

- 1 Bottle Smithwicks Pale Ale

Mix all the dry goods together. It's recommended to sieve the baking soda so there are no lumps in the mix. I am not so.....attention focussed and just rub it in.  Add in the ale in decent glugs but not all in one go. Give it a good stir until you have a good sticky wet mixture but not loose and flowing. You may not need to use the whole bottle.

Grease a loaf baking tin with butter.  Pour in the mixture. Throw it in the oven at around 190/200 degrees C.  An hour normally works.  The wetter the mix, the longer the loaf will need.  

Allow to cool (or not) and serve with smoked salmon (Nolan's  from Ballina in this case) - or with honey or.... blackcurrant jam or..... some robiola tre latte or .... tomatoes or.... cucumber.... or ..... you get the point! 

Tip: If you cut the mix into scone sizes, these will cook in 25/30 minutes. The buttermilk version was a stalwart on our Sunday breakfast table when we were kids. 

Pale Ale and Brownbread

08 July 2012

Calories on Menus

This is not an issue of health standards or industry downfall. This is about the customer and their right to make indulgent decisions.

There are potential reasons for putting calorie listing on menus. For example, it might reduce obesity.  It might get some people thinking about what they order.  It might help reduce Dept. of Health bill in about 50 years.  According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), 96% of consumer respondents to a recent survey believe that calories should be displayed in "all or some food outlets".  The report also emphasises that nearly 75% of food service businesses are also in support of this idea in, yet again, "all or some food outlets".  The statement is so fantastically vague and undefined, it is hard not to agree. 

The other side of the argument suggests that calorie listing will be the downfall of the industry; a costly and indulgent project with little benefit for the consumer or the producer.  Indeed, this extends to a conspiracy theory that this act of Governance (big G) by the Dept. of Health (DOH) is simply another money making racket for friends of the FSAI. There is also a more worrying concern that calorie listing on menus will limit the Irish chef community to boring repetitive menus, with no room for flare, imagination, eccentricities and skill.

I am non-plussed with any of these positions. The FSAI Press Release, and the recommendations included, are based on a flawed and spun analysis of what people actually think.  The report stands only to support the DOH in their policy direction.  However, if the Minister insists on pushing the agenda, it will not result in the downfall of the industry. We are country of capable foodies and business people with a growing recognition of the quality of Irish food produce and recognition of new ethnic food influences.  The industry will survive, perhaps at some cost in the short run, but it will survive.

My concern is for the customer experience.  More accurately, my concern is for me 'the purveyor' but also me 'the customer, the eater, the consumer', the person who pays to experience the offering of a venue, whether restaurant, bar, cafe, or pub.  When I pay a bill -  consciously or not - I analyse the value of what I have been charged for.  Did I enjoy the food?  Was I impressed by the service, welcome and goodbye?  Did I feel comfortable in the chair I was sitting in and did it fit with the rest of the decor?  Did the atmosphere live up to my expectations? This is 'industry-me', an unavoidable by-product of my career choice but one which I love.

More than anything else however, me 'the customer' simply wants to walk out the door with a smile on my face, feeling better from my indulgent experience.  This is the key....it is an indulgence.  The act of dining-out, no matter how small, is one of escapism, a treat, a method of spoiling myself to distract from the humdrum of normal surrounds.  Whether buying a coffee in the morning, meeting colleagues for lunch or gathering friends for dinner, these are all things can be done more cheaply in the office or at home. 

The active decision to move these opportunities to a coffee house or restaurant is one of individual choice.  It is an act of pure indulgence.  It does not matter if the order is a decaf americano (x calories) or a cappuccino with full-fat milk and a scone with full fat butter and jam (x+y+z calories).  As soon as the customer enters a food outlet, everything they purchase is an indulgence of their own choice.  The calorie content of their purchase should be of no concern to the food seller.  'Food outlets' should be left to focus on their warmth, their welcome, their service, their hygiene and their quality of produce.  They should not be used as a mouth-piece for the DOH.  Such efforts will detract from the customer experience, which we value so highly. 

Insistence by the DOH on the addition of calorie counts to menus is a puritanical act.  It smacks of nanny statism.  The DOH should be asking bigger questions of obesity problems in this country.  Why are the cereal companies allowed sell their wares in big bright coloured boxes with big bright coloured advertisements that catch the eye of my young nephew?  Why, in a country in which it rains so much, are we not energising the development of local amenities to encourage fitness and activity throughout the year and not just in summer? Why is there no real infrastructure in support of the Bike-To-Work scheme, like bike lanes and secure bike-parks?  Why are leading chefs not brought into schools, colleges and universities to teach healthy cooking and eating to students? 

Health at its basic level is about fitness, self-awareness and self-management - individual choices. 

Create a bike path from my door to my place of work and I will ride a bike not the bus. Leave my indulgences alone.