Sunday, June 29, 2008


Introducing my first guest blogger, Little Sis, on the gastronomic pleasures to be found in Barcelona.

"Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Barcelona. Aside from the opportunity to watch some fantastic football, enjoy the sun and see some of Gaudì’s fascinating - and mad - buildings, my dad and I also got to sample some of the gastronomic delights of the Catalan capital.

We arrived hungry and disorientated after a 4 a.m. start, badly needing solid, reliable comfort food. Luckily, we soon found an innocuous-looking underground tapas bar called ‘La Bodegueta’ which quickly served up some of the simplest, and best, food I’d ever had. We shared plates of chorizo, cheese and the eponymous tortilla, and also enjoyed one of Catalonia’s signature dishes, crusty tomato bread. I particularly liked the tortilla, which I ended up eating at every possible opportunity after that - this was probably the best example we had. The cheese plate was also interesting, especially a variety which had been stored in oil and had a tangy, moist-but-not-oily taste. All in all, it made for an excellent start to our trip.

That night we ate at ‘Tragarapid’, a fast-food (fast-food in the Catalan style, which basically means cheap and informal) restaurant in the Tragaluz group, who have restaurants all around the city. We also lunched at the flagship ‘Tragaluz’ restaurant and a third member of the group, ‘Bestial’ on other days. ‘Tragarapid’, although vastly preferable to fast-food outlets here, wasn’t particularly memorable until we got to the dessert. I had an unremarkable rigatoni with tomato sauce and parmesan, while dad had fried chicken. However, the dessert was one of the single best things we ate on the trip - a basil and lime sorbet. The sharpness of the lime perfectly complemented the richness and slight oily taste of the basil; this dish was a revelation. ‘Tragaluz’ itself was more impressive, though that was possibly helped by the fact that dad brought along a Catalan friend who seemed to know every member of staff. We shared a portion of deep-fried aubergine to start (apparently, the Catalans share the tendency to deep-fry everything in sight with the Scots, though they haven’t yet got to Mars bars) which was much better than it sounds. We both had a simple, but perfectly made, starter of rigatoni drizzled with pesto and then I had a main course of seared veal. For dessert, a mango coulis cut through the richness of my chocolate brownie; this made for a wonderful conclusion to a great meal. The third restaurant, ‘Bestial’, was one of two restaurants from the group on the seafront (the other is ‘Agua’) and was definitely the weakest of the three. We started with seafood antipasti, which wasn’t bad but also wasn’t anything special. For the main course, dad’s mushroom risotto was reasonable while I accidentally ordered foie gras ravioli in a port wine sauce. Given that it was a hot afternoon, this was far too rich and cloying to have on he menu and neither of us could eat it. Although the caramel and cinnamon ice-creams we had for dessert were good, they didn’t really compensate for a disappointing meal. As this was one of the most expensive restaurants we went too, I can’t recommend it - the food never lived up to the stunning setting.

In a spirit of adventure, we booked a dinner at ‘Loidi’, a new venture by the three-time Michelin-starred Basque chef Martín Berasategui. A four-course set menu for €33.65 per person was thankfully quite a bit short of Michelin prices and both of us enjoyed an excellent meal. A tasting menu for €45 was also available for those that were so inclined. We were offered glasses of cava as soon as we entered, although possibly that was because we were the only people there - as a general rule it’s not a good idea to go out for dinner at 8 p.m. in Barcelona. I started with a rice and chicken casserole, while dad had an intriguing leek and egg soup - the egg was actually poached before being cooked in the soup. Both dishes made for a good start to the meal. For the fish course, dad had a helping of monkfish and clams, while I had a double helping of rabbit - I don’t like most fish. The rabbit was rich and juicy and my only problem that I wasn’t quite hungry enough to do it justice. I continued with the rabbit into the third course while dad had a lamb ragù. This was perfectly cooked; the lamb falling off the bone in a deeply rich sauce. The meat was perfectly complemented by the bottle of Finca viladellops we shared. The high standard continued into the desserts where I had an interesting coffee and Bailey’s spongecake topped with a crème brûlée-style crust. Dad had an apple tart with a sharp-tasting apple ice-cream. He finished with a ‘cortado’ - an expresso with a shot of milk - the traditional way to finish a meal in Catalonia. On the whole, we thought that ‘Loidi’ was well worth the visit.

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a trip to the Boquería, arguably the best market in the world. For a foodie, the only question is how many days you spend there. It’s a riot of colour and scent, a real feast for the senses. It’s here that you can get ‘cinco bellota’ ham, made from pigs that have been fed only on acorns. As it’s expensive, there’s a sliding scale based on how many acorns the pig has been fed. Even the smell of this ham is intoxicating, and I find myself savouring the tiniest amount of it. There are stalls dedicated to every type of chili and spices and sections full of fruit, vegetables and fish. A few of the stalls also act as cafés where you can sample ham, cheeses and myriad varieties of chorizo. This place is mesmerising, and any foodie who goes to Barcelona will find themselves in heaven.

‘Cacao Sampaka’ is a place of pilgrimage for every member of our family. There are branches throughout Spain and they serve the greatest hot chocolate known to mankind. I’m not exaggerating. ‘Azteca’ is drink made of 80% cacao infused with spices and tastes much like solid chocolate that has been liquidised and mixed with cream. It’s so rich that it starts solidifying as soon as you take your spoon out. I dream about this stuff. There’s also a variety of pastries available, although they’re mainly a sideline to the chocolate. We had feather-light melindros which were excellent for dipping, and perfectly buttery - but not over-rich - brioche. Dad also had a yoghurt and lemon smoothie which was apparently nice, but still ended up unnecessarily diluting the chocolate (in my opinion). It’s also a shop, so you can take some of the chocolate home with you - and, believe me, you will.

Although that’s a round-up of the most notable places we ate, Barcelona is full of good food. The Camp Nou serves up fresh, sturdy hot dogs at half-time with particularly good ciabatta-style bread. On our way home from the Parc Guëll (one of Gaudì’s) we dropped into the ‘Store Café’ where we had lovely, fresh drinks - I had lemon with ice, while dad had a strawberry and lime smoothie. Fresh bocadillos (sandwiches) are readily available and are almost invariably filled with excellent quality ingredients. The only misgiving we had was about the hotel breakfast - it was €18 per person for a mediocre meal, while we had hot chocolate and pastries the next day for a fiver in a small café. It’s something to watch out for if you go there as it’s easy to eat well for little money once you avoid the tourist traps. If you get the chance to go there - and eat there - savour it!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wraps for Dinner

I have been an OFM reader since the very beginning. It is edited by my favourite cookery writer, Nigel Slater. I love the fact that his writing is descriptive and contains wonderful imagery whilst still retaining a veil over his own life. This recipe comes from Allegra McEvedy in last Sunday’s edition. The original was suggested as a lunch dish, I added the chicken to make it a bit more filling for dinner time. The combination of flavours worked really well together, we'll be having these again.

Wraps with Courgette, Feta and Chicken.
(adapted from Observer Food Monthly, Sunday June 22nd 08)
Serves 2

120g feta
120g natural yoghurt
100g peas, cooked
1 lemon, zested
1 spring onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
salt + pepper
2 chicken breasts, chopped
2 small courgettes
garlic infused oil
4 tortilla wraps, warmed according to packet instructions
4 big lettuce leaves (I used Cos lettuce)
small handful mint leaves
1 chilli chopped, minus seeds and membrane

  • Mash the feta and stir in the yoghurt, peas, lemon zest, spring onion and olive oil. Season
  • Cut the courgettes lengthways into three (think of a Toblerone shape)
  • Heat a griddle pan until it’s nice and hot
  • Lightly oil the chicken and courgette with garlic oil and griddle until done
  • Assemble and enjoy

Monday, June 23, 2008

Still in Italy

……….I wish

We arrived back to on Friday evening and decided to continue the Italian theme for dinner on Saturday. The structure of a full Italian meal is usually some kind of antipasta followed by gnocchi/pasta, then a meat/fish dish and finally dessert.

We started with a simple melon and parma ham salad – simply drizzle over some olive oil and lemon juice (if there wasn’t mozzarella in the next course I would have followed Nigel Slater’s lead an added some good quality buffalo mozzarella, flat-leaf parsley and served it on a bed of rocket).

Next was the gnocchi course – for this recipe I turned to Lorraine’s site. I used 500g for 6 as we were having four courses.

Take T-bone steaks. Sear. Rest. Olive oil + rosemary. Serve on bed of rocket. Could it be any easier?

For dessert you are going to get an actual recipe. These semifreddos come from Bill Granger’s Everyday. He marbled the raspberries and nuts into the mix halfway through freezing whilst I kept the overall flavours the same by serving mine with a raspberry coulis and a sprinkling of pistachios, (the assigned plates are The Doc's attempt at decoration).

Rosewater Semifreddo
(adapted from Everyday by Bill Granger)
Serves 6

6 egg yolks
3 tbsp honey
250 ml cream, whipped
2 tsp rosewater (the best place to buy this is middle-eastern shops – it’s cheap and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for a year, I got mine in Spiceworld in Portobello)
  • Beat egg yolks and honey together until pale and doubled in size
  • Fold in the cream and the rosewater
  • I froze mine in individual dariole moulds which I lined first with cling film

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Meal of the Year

It's been a while since I've posted but as you can see from the picture above I was slightly busy with some other stuff!! Ever since The Doc asked me to marry him we have been adament that we didn't want the traditional Irish 250-people-at-the-local-hotel kind of wedding. We are both quiet people so just invited 64 of of nearest and dearest to spend the day with us. But organising this wedding has taken all my time and we've been revisiting lots of old favourites on the dinner side of things. I'm looking forward to getting back into my cookbooks.

Where better for a foodie to have her wedding than in the local fine wine and food store, Greenacres in Wexford. The store is housed in the old family solicitors' building, they have added a fab modern extension with an art gallery and this is where they hold all their events. It's a great mix between old and new and the sense of light in the gallery space is amazing.

We designed the menu ourselves and I got the one thing I had been really looking forward to, the croque-en-bouche. This tower of profiteroles is a traditional French wedding cake and even though I'm not a fan of fruit cake I did want something that is associated with a wedding. It looked really classy but I'm glad to report that it tasted even better! The starter was served on a platter for each table so you could pick and choose, we had the speeches during this so that the guys could relax and enjoy their main courses. It being a wine shop they advised us as to what would go with all the dishes and suggested that we greet our guests with a glass of Prosecco and some strawberries (from Wexford of course!). Instead of the traditional sarnies at 11pm they sent out a platter of cheese to each table - the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Now it's iPods and cameras packed as we fly off this evening for two weeks in Tuscany. I look forward to lots of cooking, baking and blogging upon my return.

P.S. Little Sis, despite being my only bridesmaid and staring down the barrel of the dreaded LC this week, managed to put this together a our wedding gift.