Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Easter in Prague

Prague is a European city that I have wanted to visit for quite some time. I can now say, with absolute certainty, I am so glad I have finally taken a trip to "The Golden City".

What would you tend to think of when you think of Prague? Beer, quite possibly. The Czechs are the second highest consumers of beer in the world! Pork knuckle, ham hock, Prague ham and various variations. The stunning beauty of the well preserved buildings, the 650 year old Charles Bridge, The Old Town Square with its majestic astronomical tower, the oldest medieval castle in the world?! Prague has so much to offer and as a foodie destination, it is a definite winner.

For me, on our Easter weekend trip, I want to mention five places in particular.

The first is our hotel, The Maximilian. This hotel has a lot to draw the attention of a first-time visitor to Prague. Its location is excellent, at under five minutes walk to the Old Town Sqaure which is the buzzing heart of the Stare Mesto (The Old Town). The rooms are simple, modern, clean and stocked with lovely products. That is always a bonus for me. As this trip was a birthday treat, they very kindly provided us with a lovely half bottle of local red wine and also local sparkling wine on two different days. They emailed in advance and they reserved restaurants for us and anything else we would like to do during out trip. Their breakfasts were also a high point. Their buffet consisted of everything and anything you could desire - fresh pastries and a selection of breads, fresh fruit, homemade muesli, various yogurts, cheese, cold meats and smoked salmon, juices, nuts and seeds...I could go on! They also had a great array of breakfast goodies that could be ordered, my favourite being their Eggs Benedict and their freshly made raspberry smoothie. Breakfast sets you up for the day and when you're on a city break, I think it's a real bonus to stay in a place where you are well fed (and happy!) before it's time to set out on your day's activities and exploring.

The second place I must mention is Bakeshop. Bakeshop is located just minutes by foot from the Old Town Square and it is a fabulous location for top quality salads, quiches, sandwiches, breads, pastries, buns, cakes...you name it. We visited one lunchtime and sat up on their high chairs by the full windows munching on our salads while staring out at the passers-by. I wasn't as impressed with their skewered chicken, though it did look mouthwatering, but their Greek salad was spectacular. I only wish I had returned again to sample some of their magnificent looking baked goods. It's a buzzy and busy place and any city would be very fortunate to have it as a local lunch spot.

Sweet treats at Bakeshop
Left - my delicious lunch; Right - more glorious baked goods
Moving on to something very authentically Czech. Beer or pivo as it is locally known. I will be the first to admit I am no beer connoisseur, nor am I a beer fan really. However, the Prague Beer Museum was again, minutes from our hotel, and it simply had to feature on our weekend in Prague! The name is a little, if not a lot, misleading. This beer haven is a bar, plain and simple. You come, you choose a beer from the lengthy menu, you drink and enjoy and that is that! My husband likes his beer and was very impressed with the first beer he tried there - Konrad. He tried a few others too and enjoyed them also but the Konrad was definitely his preferred choice. The nice thing about this spot is how you can taste a few different beers in order to discover your favourite, by choosing a 0.15 litre glass. Many people choose a selection of 5 or even 10, which are produced in a kind of wooden platter. I chose a meagre two. A blueberry and a honey flavoured beer and although I was glad to have tasted them, I still can't say I have been swayed away from my favoured tipple, being wine of course! The prices of the beers here are very reasonable, but generally beer is far more cheaply priced in Prague, compared to anywhere in Ireland. The largest and most common sized glass is the half litre and this is priced at about €1.50. The Prague Beer Museum (aka pub) is very well worth a visit if you like your beers.

My girly tasting beers!

V Zatisi is my next Prague trip highlight. The memories! This restaurant was recommended to me by a good friend and she said she would return to Prague just to visit this restaurant. High praise. V Zatisi is a fine dining restaurant that serves European and Czech cuisine along with Indian influenced dishes as they have a chef from India. You can choose from a tasting menu or a three course menu, where you have the option of combining the varied cuisines from one course to the next. We went for the three course menu and here are some photographs of the beautifully presented and delicious food we were served...

Starter of Roasted Quail Breast
Main of Flap Steak with Chocolate-Cranberry Crumble...
Indian Starter of Mustard Tandoori Tiger Prawns
We chose a delicious bottle of Argentinian Malbec which complemented our meal to perfection. I also decided I simply had to try the local liqueur "slivovice", which was a bad move. It is a kind of plum brandy, which is clear in colour and is served neat and chilled. Wowsers! It is potent stuff and though I tried, it wasn't for me and I had to leave it unfinished. My husband did have a small issue with the fact that his main of pork belly was on the small side, though he did say the entire dish was very tasty and enjoyable. We really, thoroughly enjoyed this meal. It was a very special and romantic setting and, although it is expensive for Prague, it is quite reasonably priced in comparison to an Irish restaurant of this kind of calibre. Our three course meal, with a bottle of wine and one liqeuer worked out at just over €120. V Zatisi can definitely expect return custom if/when I return to Prague.

The Hemingway Bar is number five in my Prague list. This is, hands down, the most magnificent experience in cocktails I have ever had! I don't want to give away a huge amount and have no photos to share, as there are strict rules for deportment in this tiny and wonderful bar. The skill of the cocktail makers here is something to behold and the presentation of their scrumptious cocktails is just second to none. I chose a Crème Brulée cocktail firstly, which was served in a ramekin, with a  thin sliver of toffee to the side. Wow! My second cocktail was the Save This Moment, based on gin, with a beautiful freshness of peach liqueur and lime juice added, among other tasty delights. This is some experience and one which I would highly recommend. Oh and make sure to reserve your seats in advance. Standing is not allowed and the bar is teeny tiny. Cocktails are very affordable here at approximately €5 to €7.

I will finish with a few final mentions - Kolkovna is a great place to check out for authentic, reasonably priced Czech food. Be sure to go hungry and the pork knuckle is a must try, but it is truly massive. The Gastronomy Museum was also a unique kind of concept that appealed to me. It's pretty cheap to visit, very quiet if you go in the morning and definitely worth a look if you're hankering for something a bit different. It traces the history of cuisine, cooking and food preparation since Stone Age times. Anonymous Bar, though tricky to find, is a really cool cocktail bar as well with a very local feel, with high ceilings and plenty of seating, although the smell of cigarette smoke is still unavoidable! But this is the case in most public places in Prague.

Prague is a stunningly beautiful city from an aesthetic point of view, but it also has some fabulous food and drinks to be discovered and enjoyed, without completely breaking the bank. I hope that I will have the opportunity to return again before too long. If you too are a lover of Prague, please share your experiences, tips and recommendations. Let's all reminisce together!
The gi-normous pork knuckle from Kolkovna
The famous Astronomical Clock
An Easter Bunny in Old Town Square
An Easter Tree in Old Town Square

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Happy Easter!

Hi all. I am off enjoying the sights (and food!) in Prague this Easter weekend. As Easter is synonymous with chocolate, which is one of my very favourite things, I must share with you one of the most glorious chocolate desserts - Nigella's instant chocolate mousse. Mmm! You can check out and try the recipe for yourself here. It would make a perfect Easter Sunday dessert. It is luscious and indulgent but the big home baker bonus is how easy it is to make. I wish one and all a very happy, relaxing and sweet Easter!

Na zdraví! - cheers, sláinte and bon app, from Praha. X


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

Sometimes, less is more and simplicity is the way forward. When it comes to cakes, as much as I adore triple chocolate lusciousness from time to time, or the stunning aesthetic of a rainbow cake, I very often return, with much joy, to the good old sponge! This recipe for Victoria sponge is taken from Lorraine Pascale's 'Baking Made Easy'. To me, it is perfectly simple and the result is a cake that rises beautifully and is springlike and light to eat. Now that strawberries are beginning to come into season, combining them with this cake as its filling, makes for a perfect match. Serve your friends or family a slice of this with a hot cup of tea from your best China teacup and you will surely be a truly impeccable afternoon tea host or hostess!


Ingredients:

  • 200 g soft butter
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 200 g plain flour, sieved
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1-2 tbsp warm water
  • 5 tbsp strawberry or raspberry jam
  • About 10 fresh strawberries
  • 200 ml cream
  • 2 tbsp Creme de Cassis (optional)
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar, plus a little extra

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 F/gas mark 4. 
  2. Grease and line two 20 cm sandwich tins with baking parchment.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add 2 eggs, 1 tsp of vanilla and half the flour and beat well.
  4. Next, add the last 2 eggs, the rest of the flour and the baking powder and beat well.
  5. If needs be, add a little water to loosen the consistency.
  6. Pour the mixture evenly between the two tins and level the tops with the back of a spoon.
  7. Pop into the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes, until the sponge appears golden in colour, a skewer comes out clean and you can see that the cakes are beginning to come away from the sides of the tins.
  8. Leave the sponges to cool and once cooled, remove from the tins, discard the baking parchment and begin the assembly!
  9. Clean, hull and chop most of your strawberries into 4 to 5 thinnish slices. Leave 4 whole strawberries aside.
  10. Whip the cream to a nice well whipped consistency with the icing sugar sieved through, the last teaspoon of vanilla paste and the Creme de Cassis (if using -  you may have guessed, I am a bit of a fan of this lovely liqueur as it only recently featured in my Eton Mess!)
  11. Spread the jam onto the bottom of one of the sponges but be careful not to spread it out fully to the edges.
  12.  Spoon the cream onto the other sponge and spread it out carefully, as above, avoiding going as far as the edges.
  13. Arrange the sliced strawberries on top of the cream. Gently place the jam sponge on top of the cream and fruit sponge. Dredge the top with a nice dusting of icing sugar and decorate with the remaining strawberries. Mmm...delish!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Black Pudding and Blue Cheese Quiche

This quiche is a real homage to some of the very best of Irish produce we have on offer to us and it includes two of my firm favourites - Black Pudding (sourced from the renowned and award-winning Kelly's Butchers of Newport, Co. Mayo) and Cashel Blue Cheese (now in its thirtieth year, this is arguably Ireland's greatest cheese export). So, a little bit of French traditional cooking (la quiche) combined with some delicious Irish flavour combinations, et violà, we have a delicious meal! This quiche is best served cold and is a fantastic, quick and easy breakfast option. It is also a perfect picnic treat and fingers crossed, there may be more occasions for picnicing as the spring rolls into the summer. You will need a 26 cm pie dish for this quiche. I made this quiche with gluten-free flour and although most Irish puddings contain gluten, both Clonakilty and Hogins now provide gluten-free versions. I had a little gander at the Coeliac Society of Ireland's forum, and the consensus is that the Clonakilty gluten-free is the best one to go for. Of course, this recipe can also be made with regular plain flour and regular pudding, such as the Kelly's one I used. Bon appétit!
Pre and post cooking pics of this delicious quiche

Ingredients: 

Shortcrust base -
  • 150g gluten-free flour
  • 70g cold butter, cubed
  • Pepper, salt and dried herbs
  • 1 egg, beaten

Filling -
  • 3 eggs beaten with 300ml cream/milk - I tend to use more cream than milk
  • 1 black pudding chopped into 8 or 9 1-cm thick rounds
  • 150g Cashel Blue Cheese
  • 1 large eating apple, peeled and diced
  • 2 small red onions, peeled, chopped in half, then cut into wedges
  • Butter
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • Fresh herbs, e.g. rosemary
  • Pepper and salt
  • Parmesan - to garnish (optional)

Method:
  1. Make the pastry first by rubbing the butter into the flour, until the consistency is of fine breadcrumbs. Season and add in some dried herbs.
  2. Add in a little of the egg, bit by bit, and mix through to form a ball. It shouldn't be overly wet. There is a good chance some egg will be left over and it can go into the filling mixture.
  3. Cover the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 F/gas mark 6.
  4. Now, sweat the 2 small onions in a frying pan in about a tablespoon of butter on a medium to low heat, with a pinch of salt and the brown sugar.
  5. Add the diced apple after about 5 minutes and gently cook for a further 8 -  10 minutes or so.
  6. Meanwhile, grill your pudding rounds, turning once or twice to ensure even cooking on both sides.
  7. When the onions, apple and pudding rounds are cooked, leave aside, ready to be added to the pie dish later.
  8. Take out your pastry from the fridge, roll it into a round shape of about 27 to 28cm in diameter. With the help of your rolling pin, raise it up and place it into your pie dish, evening around the sides, and cutting off any excess.
  9. Blind bake the pie crust for 10 - 15 mins. Good oul Delia has a step-by-step guide if, like me, you would never think of buying baking beans. You can have a look here.
  10. Once, the pastry is ready, firstly add in the onion and apple mix to the bottom of the dish and then top with the grilled pudding rounds.
  11. Pour in the egg and dairy mix, with chopped herbs added, if using.
  12. Scatter crumbled Cashel Blue Cheese on top and among the pudding pieces. Grate a little fresh Parmesan on top, if using, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  13. The quiche can be eaten hot, but is most delicious when left to chill to room temperature and/or stored and served straight from the fridge. Yum.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Eton Mess with a French Twist

Since purchasing my Kenwood Chef, (yes, I know I've been mentioning it a lot, but it's my newest and most treasured possession!) I have wanted to try out meringues, specifically to make Eton Mess. I decided to add one of my favourite liqueurs, to give it that extra 'je ne sais quoi' and Creme de Cassis does just that. Married with the fact that it adds to an intense berry flavour through the dessert, the cute pink shade of the cream is just lovely. This would make a great dinner party dessert. It's light, yet really sweet and tasty and once you've your meringues made, it's a doddle to prepare! I adapted my meringue recipe from one of the culinary goddesses, Delia's recipe, on her website, which can be found here. Using all of the meringues, this would easily serve 8 people, but my recipe is to serve 4 people, so you can hold onto and store your leftover meringues for future sweet occasions.

Ingredients:
Meringues -
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large egg whites (very fresh and free-range if possible)
  • Half tsp. vinegar
Cream mix -
  • 200g cream
  • 2 tbsp. Creme de Cassis
  • About 10 medium sized strawberries
  • A handful of other berries (I used blackberries and blueberries)
  • 1 tbsp. icing sugar
Method:
  1. It's best to make the meringue in advance, that morning or even the day before.
  2. Preheat oven to 150 degrees C/300 F/gas mark 2 and cover a flat baking tray with baking parchment.
  3. Add 3 eggs whites into a spotlessly clean bowl and whisk well until they change to a pale white colour.
  4. Pour in the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time, followed by the drop of vinegar, and continue to whisk, until your reach a consistency of stiff peaks, just as my photo below should demonstrate.
    Check out the new shiny appliance!
  5. Using a tablespoon, spoon out even rounds of meringue onto the baking tray. You can make these as pretty as you like, if you are planning on using some for mini pavlovas let's say, or as simple as you like, if you'll be bashing and breaking them all to smithereens for Eton Mess!
    My mixture made 9 large tablespoon rounds of meringue
  6. Pop into the oven and bring the temperature down to 140 degrees C/275 F/gas mark 1.
  7. Bake for one hour, after which time, turn off the oven, leaving them inside and allowing them to cool completely.
  8. Now to assemble the Eton Mess... 
  9. Pour your cream and Creme de Cassis into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Whip well until you get a nice thickish consistency.
  10. Hull and chop strawberries and add a little over half of all your berries into the mixture. Stir together.
  11. Break 5 meringues into the mixture and stir once more.
  12. To serve the Eton Mess, add a little mixture to your glass or bowl, followed by some more fresh berries, and top again with the meringue and cream mix. Finish with extra berries and a light dusting of icing sugar and enjoy!
    I love Eton Mess 'berry' much indeed!


Sunday, 30 March 2014

Happy Mother's Day

I found this anonymous quotation online recently. It is so filled with truth, for all sons and daughters I believe...
'Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.'

I have always believed there is such a strong link between nourishment and love. In many ways, what greater love than the love of the one who brings you into this world! So, on Mother's Day, let's celebrate.

Although I lost my own mother quite a long time ago I have compiled a list of my top five favourite 'Mammy treats'. I am certain that we all have our own list and would love to hear you share yours too!

So, here we go, 5 to 1...

5. Kids' party 'top hat biscuits', which were a fabulously simple treat, homemade and perfect for child inclusive cooking. I once made them as a treat for a Senior Infant class I was subbing in and the children loved them!
4. Sunday night tea of cheese, onion and rasher toasties. I really must try this out and blog it.
3. The good old Sunday lunch of roast chicken, complete with stuffing, various veggies and deliciously crisp roast potatoes.
2. Lasagne, one of the ultimate in comfort foods, and you can find my family version here.
1. Baked goods - scones, meringues, tarts, biscuits and buns...mmm! Especially for family occasions. I am a week-old owner of a brand shiny new, but still retro Classic Kenwood Chef, so I plan to try and begin replicating some of my mother's sweet treats. She had her Kenwood Chef since she was married and it was the most reliable piece of kitchen ware and was made use of on countless occasions.

I will leave you with a poignant but lovely Mother's Day blessing I found. I am off to try out some homemade meringues in my Kenwood Chef for a dessert of Eton Mess. Happy Mother's Day to all the endlessly kind and generous mammies, mams, mums, moms and mammas out there and a big thanks and hugs for your everlasting love x.

~Image sourced at hopefullyknown.com~



Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Old Convent, Co. Tipperary


It has taken me quite some time to write this blog post about a place I have many times referred to as "my favourite restaurant". There's no "in Ireland" or "for a special occasion" attached to that, although it is certainly very special. It is just a wonderful place, with heavenly food, spectacular hospitality and it is a true hidden gem.

The Old Convent is run by a lovely couple - Dermot and Christine. He takes charge of the food side of things with great talent and passion from what I've experienced, while she deals with the front of house and is a lovely, genuinely friendly and welcoming hostess. The Old Convent, unsurprisingly, was a convent and you can read more of the building's past on their excellent website. It is now a fabulous foodie getaway nestled in a very pretty, rural location in south Tipperary, with a handful of unique suites for overnight guests. I was never fortunate enough (so far at least!) to stay over in one of their charming rooms, which look truly gorgeous. Nor have I sampled one of their breakfasts which are to die for all, by all accounts, and have been described as "the best in Ireland". I have, however, been very lucky to have experienced their tasting menu on three glorious occasions. Once in summer 2011, once in summer 2012, and most recently, last month - for Valentine's 2014.

Their tasting menu is an eight-course affair, with a selection of the freshest and best local Irish ingredients that happen to be on offer that very day. All diners are seated at 8 o'clock sharp and the tasting menu is their one and only option. They have always been very accommodating towards anyone with a diet or allergy issue all the same. On my three occasions to dine at the OC I have been blown away by the combinations of carefully thought out flavours and textures - pineapple, sushi rice and crab was one course, a palate cleanser, that was utterly delicious. I had always been a little squeamish about the idea of pork belly but since tasting it there, combined with candied nuts, Tipperary blue cheese, pears, beets etc. I am a complete convert, though maybe my waistline is losing out on the other hand... oh well! Their dessert section of the meal, which normally combines a light sweet and a slightly heavier one afterwards, has been superb from my experiences. Their lemon possets/creams are delectable and help to balance a previous heavier meat course. Their chocolate offerings, what can I say?! For a confessed chocoholic, they are pure bliss! Christine has even come around mid-chocfest with extra heated, velvety, chocolaty goodness to pour over your dessert.

From the beautiful secluded setting, to the warmth of the hospitality, to the star of the show - the incredible food, The Old Convent is a real winner. I hope if it's a place that would appeal to you, that you find an occasion to go and experience something truly wonderful.

You can check out their website here.
Their address is: The Old Convent, Mount Anglesby, Clogheen, Co, Tipperary.
(Oh, and a word to the wise, bring your GPS!)


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