Friday, October 28, 2011

Birthday Feast Part 2 - The Old Convent

Birthday Feasting Part 2 was scheduled for The Old Convent in Clogheen, Co Tipperary -We left Gregan's Castle and headed for Cahir where we stopped off and wandered around the fantastic well preserved 13th century Cahir castle - well worth a visit if you're in the area and only €3 each for the entry. 

We had stayed in The Old Convent before in June and we absolutely loved it - the warmth of the welcome, the comfort of the rooms, the dinner, the breakfast, the lovely drawing room, the many books strewn around, and the food :-) Dermot and Christine are exceptional, Dermot is a magnificent chef and Christine does front of house with a charm that is really unequalled in any place I've ever stayed, and next year they will be joined by baby Gannon! Congrats to them!
This time we had room 3 which is compact but oh so cute with a raised seated area, the most comfortable of beds, warm snuggly duvet and great pillows - I have truly turned into my mother judging a place by the quality of their pillow - she actually used to take her own pillow with her when she went anywhere - no need for that in The Old Convent! A beautiful touch was the vase of coral roses in the window.
Down to the drawing room with us just after 7.30p.m. where we enjoyed a glass of Prosecco for me and a Tempranillio for himself, and we got a bottle of each to accompany the dinner,  it was our birthdays after all ya know!!! (Excuses, excuses....) - €36 and €24 respectively, wouldn't it be great if those were our ages instead of the wine prices ;-)

Dermot's 8 course tasting menu is €65 per person and finished off with tea or coffee.

We began with Baked Dunmore East Crab with Glenelin Creme Fraiche and a couple of brioche soldiers, beautifully served in an egg shell and ( insert rolly eyes here) your intrepid food reporter - 'tis good to dream dear reader!!!! - forgot to take a photo till the plate was almost cleaned! Not much point taking a pic of an empty egg shell!

Next up was30 hour slow roast Ballinwilliam Rare Breed Pork with polenta, Crozier Blue, baby pear and candied pecans - utterly delicious, loved the micro red shiso. Billy, being Billy!, enquired as to what breed of pork we were eating, the lovely young girl serving us went off and promptly came back to tell us it was a Wild Boar and Tamworth cross.

This was followed by a Aubergine veloute with truffle oil served in a pretty purple espresso cup. Took a pic but it turned out crap!

Then we had Buttermilk Connemara Smokehouse Organic salmon with handmade potato gnocchi, sunchoke and Saffron cream. Scrummy!

Green Apple Sorbet with Traas farm strawberry apple jelly was then enjoyed, forgot to take a pic - bold me!

Mains was maple & Mint Braised Mountain Lamb with creamy white cocoa beans and autumn veggies.

Then Lemon Posset with blueberries and a warm ginger meringue. We actually had this also in June sans blueberries and it's delightful, LOVE the ginger meringue. In fact made it ourselves one night here and twas just luverly ;-)

The last dessert of the night was a Valrhona Dark Chocolate Pot with white chocolate mousse, cherries and caramelised hazelnuts. Had a taste of all the elements in the interests of being able to report for this blog but forgot to take a pic, probably the Prosecco kicking in there!
We then spent an enjoyable hour in the Drawing Room chatting with a few of the other guests and Christine, and a fantastic night's sleep after that.
Breakfast at The Old Convent is without doubt in my opinion FANTASTIC!! Great juices - orange or blackberry and apple. A glass with yogurt, fresh fruit, to-die-for candied nuts and cherry syrup. A great basket of breads - a brown soda with caraway seeds and a polenta, goat's cheese and pine nut concoction that was great!
Billy had the full Irish - no shock there then! - and it is one of the best Irish breakfasts ever - no arguments! The one Billy had was supplemented with delicious herby mushrooms with white beans, I decided he'd be ill if he ate them so devoured his portion. The kind server brought out a little extra dish of them.
I went for the waffles with bananas, cinnamon and white chocolate mousse - oh sweet Jesus - talk about decadence at breakfast!
Absolutely wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend The Old Convent - a gourmet hideaway in a beautiful part of the country.

And the very best part I'll be back here for dinner again in just over 2 weeks time with a few of my colleagues - looking forward to it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Birthday feast Part 1 - Gregan's Castle.

So our much awaited birthday feast weekend started last Thursday and we headed off for Tarbert and took the ferry across to Killimer in Co.Clare, my first time being on the ferry and it's so handy and time saving, not that we were in any mad rush!

We meandered up along the coast of Clare with the sun shining down on us, ok, rain and fog! We arrived at Gregan's Castle Hotel  early afternoon and were shown to our room, loved the colour scheme, my kinda colours - shades of purple and green - No tea/coffee facilities in the bedroom but not a mad priority for us.  We decided on going to the Bird of Prey centre at the Alliwee caves and enjoyed the bird display and show despite the rain bucketing down!

Had a hot whiskey in the bar on our return, I must say I was tad dismayed to find the whisky poured into a non heated glass and NO lemon or cloves but it did the job and took the chill out of my bones! The genial manager/barman James is from Kanturk where I lived for 7 years.

Anyway it wasn't the hot whiskies I was here for so after a lil nap it was time to get ready for the highlight of our trip.

Gregan's castle have won tons of awards, the head chef is Mickael Viljanen. The man is a genius! Not only a genius and a chef but an artist. The food was phenomenal. I am not a food writer and don't have adequate words to describe the taste sensations and the fabulous flavours we enjoyed. In fact Billy laughed that for once words evaded me so caught up was I in the intensity of flavours.  The best I could come up with was that apples were so appley, salmon so salmony, cucumber so cucumbery - you get the drift!!! it was as if a single sliver of apple was imbued with the flavour of a thousand apples and the same for every other item on the plate - of which there were many!

We opted for the tasting menu with matching wines which was €130 each. When the dishes are presented by the very courteous servers they tell you what is on the plate and point each individual item out BUT I was so blown away by all in front of me that I didn't take on board half of it so I earwigged happily when other tables got served!

These were the canapes, From left to right - a scallop ceviche, a jellied smoked potato cube, a beetroot meringue with goats cheese and a pig's cheek croquette.
The paired wine was a sauvignon blanc and was the same for 2 courses.

Next up was the salmon plate, this featured salmom - doh! - and cucumber textures and a squid ink wafer.

Onto the foie gras - now this was my first time ever having foie gras as I'm a bit iffy about offaly things and the nature of foie gras production but in the spirit of the dining experience said I'd give it a bash - OMG I LOVED IT!!!!! The pic is crap though!
Our wine pairing with this was a Pedro Jiminez sherry which was also used as a gel on top of the foie gras. It was accompanied by apple in different textures, salted caramel, candied nuts and honeycomb. Did I say I LOVED it!!!!

Smoked Lobster and Sweetbreads, lobster is my favourist food ever! Never had sweetbreads before either - a wee bit of a wuss am I!  Paired with a Chablis.

Scallops next - MEGA! On the plate were salsify, herb stems, cauliflower textures, mushrooms. This was paired with a Sancerre.

The meat dish was venison, a disc of bone marrow on top (another first for me and yuk to that!) There was beetroot, parsnip and potato on this beautiful dish. The wine pairing was a Rioja.

The pre dessert was a coconut pannacotta with pineapple - saying of the day - "the pineapple is so pineappley!" With this came the first dessert wine.

Then along came a blackberry souffle with a blackberry sorbet, fresh blackberries and a blackberry sorbet. To offset the sweetness a jug of a citrus sauce was poured into the souffle and dessert wine number 2 really complemented it, not being over sweet but having a light citrussy note.

The meal finished with a blimming lovely selection of petit fours which I forgot to take a pic of, such was my food coma at this stage!

Billy then finished off with a cheese board and a port (extra to the tasting menu) - exceptional cheeses and delicious sesame crisps amd fig jam, the fig bread was just a bit cloying and heavy for my taste.

Left the diningroom two VERY happy campers.

Breakfast was delightful - a great buffet with cold meats, cheese, smoked salmon, fruits, cumin cheese from the Burren, cute little pots of yogurt with jam, prunes with cinnamon - nom nom nom!!!!!, apricots etc etc! Tea was proper leaf tea with strainers.

I knew from one of my food blogging friends Mona who stayed there lately that the eggs benedict were good and they were scrumptious! Billy went for the traditional Irish.

Totally enjoyed the foodie section of part one of our birthday break and the revelation that Foie gras is so divine!

Will we be back to Gregan's Castle - hell yeah!!!!

Part Two of our birthday weekend coming soon - The Old Convent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saturday's Grub...

Saturday night last we had Billy's colleague Paudie and his lovely wife Linda in for dinner. I didn't take pics of the plates of food that were served, still at the stage when I think that's just a wee bit OTT - though my fingers were itching to get the camera or even the phone in action! The dishes below are recreations - from the leftovers - shhhhh!!! NOT leftovers from the plates!!!! no, leftovers from what was left in the pots when I'd served! - phew! just had to clarify that!

Linda and Paudie have grown a load of veg this year in their poly tunnel - lucky ducks!, and we have been lucky to have been the recipients of some fab courgettes which as it happens are one of my favourite veggies.

Saturday night's menu was Parmesan and watercress tartlets with baby leaf salad and homemade red onion marmalade. (No pic though I do have a fine kilner jar of the red onion marmalade in the fridge so will post a recipe and pic soon).

This was followed up with a serving of Courgette and Ginger soup, served in a little coffee cup. Aren't the cups so cute, they are from a set I bought my parents for their 20th wedding anniversary many many moons ago and have the most darling coffee pot, jug and sugar bowl to match. They are 33 years old almost - eek!!!! Obviously I bought them when I was in my pram!

Courgette & Ginger soup Recipe:

What you'll need:

One big courgette if you're lucky enough to have a home grown one or 2 supermarket sized ones, cut into dice of about 1 centimetre.

A piece of root ginger about 3 centimetres long, peeled and thinly diced.

3 banana shallots, peeled and chopped.

2 tablespoons oil.

500 ml chicken stock.

A good glug of cream, don't know how much I put in, maybe up to 200ml.

(Note: If you want a super healthy and low cal version omit the cream! But sometimes a little cream doesn't do us any harm and adds oodles of flavour!)

White pepper and salt.

What you'll need to do;

Put the oil in a largish saucepan, add the shallots, lightly fry for about 3 mins, add the diced ginger and fry for a minute.

Add the diced courgette to this along with the chicken stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 6 minutes till soft.

Liquidise it all with either a stick blender or in a liquidiser. If doing it in a liquidiser be careful and wrap a tea towel round the bowl of it cause it can explode out of the bowl and we don't want that do we!

Return to the saucepan.

Finally add the cream and seasoning.

Garnish with some finely chopped ginger and a couple of dots of oil before serving.

To follow this we had oven roasted monfish stuffed with sundried tomatoes and thyme, wrapped in parma ham. This was served with black pudding mash, homemade pesto and caperberries.

When we were planning what to have for dessert I said it had to be chocolate - no arguments! So chocolate and raspberry mousse was decided upon. With it we served a caramel glass with pistachios and sea salt, so kicking myself I didn't take a pic of that, and it was all gone by the time I took this pic. Anyways here's a pic - recipe another time!


Monday, October 10, 2011

Dingle food fest.

October is going to be a very exciting month for us food wise as it's the month of birthdays and our birthday gastronomy weekend! 

However to get the month off to a good start on Sunday 2nd we headed back to Dingle for the Dingle food fest.

 We got there round 12 ish and had a gander round the Farmer's Market first of all, our bag wasn't long in filling up with delicious smoked chicken breasts from Carrig na Breac smokehouse in Leitrim, a selection of cheeses from The Old Irish Creamery in Effin, Co Limerick and wow what a selection they have, curry, chocolate, porter, chili, Jameson whiskey, smoked, herbs, garlic, you name it they have a cheese with it! We got delicious venison sausages from The Wild Side Food Artisan, a French man who lives out in Castlegregory. From The Green Apron I got the most deliciously indulgent Chocolate Raspberry Conserve. Scrummy Apricot salsa from the Phoenix restaurant, absolute heaven!

Recipes will be added later for the superb Smoked Chicken risotto and the Venison sausage & Red wine casserole that were enjoyed from this haul.

And then it was onto the food trail, unfortunately I hadn't brought my camera so the pics off the phone are rather dire!  (Note to self check to see when Vodafone are bringing out the iphone 4s!)

We nibbled our way around town starting with Teriyaki salmon skewers and a warm sake shot at Fish at the Marina.

Tim's taste of the sea at Out of the Blue was a little trio of tasters - lobster and langoustine bisque, cured salmon with herbed cream and a little scatter of caviar (Yum!) and a swirl of smoked mackeral pate with a carpaccio of salted mackeral on top.

In The Waterside Restaurant Billy had suckling pig and I had the crab toastie - loved the crackling not that too much was offered to me!

In Murphy's Ice Cream we shared a Kerry strawberry and champagne chocolate covered popsicle, nom, nom! My turn here to be mean with the sharing!

We stopped in Murphy's Bar for a pint for himself and a cup of tea for me and I was asking the bar man about the Crean's lager and he very kindly poured me a quarter pint of it on the house. I'm not a larger/beer drinker but this actually tasted quite ok. A barmaid here also gave us the head's up on barbecued kangaroo available at Finn McCool's Surf Shop. WE got one of the skewers and it was lovely, very juicy and succulent.

We stopped off at St James' Church and took in two cookery demo's - Jean Marie Vaireaux from Out of the Blue restaurant did hake fillet, Sauce Vierge and beetroot chutney and it was finger lickin' good!
Then Mark Murphy did what was down as a dessert delight, he made a chocolate ganache served in an espresso cup, a little chocolate millefuille layered with creme paistisserie - pastry cream, a smear of raspberry coulis and candied orange peel.

End of the day we stopped off in John Benny's bar and Billy got a couple of oysters, I tried oysters au naturel once and did NOT like them so I passed up on these. On another occasion I have lightly grilled them wrapped in bacon and loved them though.

The 2012 festival will run from Friday 5th October – Sunday 7th October - a great day out or even a weekend!