Thursday, 24 July 2014

1st Birthday - Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake & Some Reader Interaction

I think it's true to say that it's an exciting time for any enthusiastic blogger when you come to a milestone such as this. Happy first birthday Fascination Food - I like the ring of it! Of course, there were at least three years prior to that, of tweeting and talking, baking and cooking, and sampling new cuisines in different restaurants...but when I finally bit the bullet, I was delighted to call myself a food blogger, and still am, one year on.

Three(-ish) standouts for me in this past year are:

  1. Ariel House - it has been a joy to be so welcomed on a number of occasions to this beautiful Victorian era house for their exceptional Afternoon Tea and I have been very fortunate to be featured on their website, which in turns brings many visitors to F.F.
    Afternoon Tea at Ariel House
  2. The "foodie meet-up" on a gloriously sunny Saturday in  June, which was a lovely opportunity to meet Kate of Kate's Kabin and some other lovely ladies with common interests - not to mind enjoying some luscious food and drinks, as one should on a foodies outing.
  3. No. 3/4 is a close toss up between my lovely cousin Catherine's wedding in December and the afternoon tea style treats I made for her reception along with my sister Emer - it was a beautiful day and this blog post documents it. Also just last weekend I took part in an excellent food photography class facilitated by two top people in the food photography and styling industry, Gary Jordan and Erica Ryan. Here's hoping my photographs will continue to improve after all we learned on Saturday.
In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to The Big Grill Fest in Dublin next month, and even more real-life foodie interaction, an overnight visit to Ariel House, which means a little bit of relaxing and luxury, a beautiful breakfast and yet another Afternoon Tea  is in store. I also plan to keep cooking, baking and updating my blog with all my exciting experiences in food and have bought a few new cookbooks to keep the inspiration flowing.

But anyway, I mentioned chocolate in the title and I won't dither any longer. This cake recipe, although gluten-free, does not mean it is in any way tasteless or boring; quite the contrary. This is a moist and dense type of cake, a grown-up chocolate cake if you will. It is chocolately indulgence, without being sickly sweet. It serves at least 8, if not 10 people. Here we go...

  • 200 g unsalted butter
  • 200 g dark chocolate - 60% or higher cocoa
  • 5 eggs
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp. rum (optional - can be substituted with a few drops of vanilla extract)
  • 110 g ground almonds
  • Cocoa powder (if using, verify it is G.F.) and/or icing sugar
  • Your choice of accompaniment* (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C/gas mark 4/325 degrees F. Grease a 20 cm round spring-from tin and line the sides with baking parchment.
  2. On a gentle heat on the hob, melt the butter and chocolate together until fully smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until quite thick, glossy and aerated.
  4. Whisk the melted chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar and then add in the rum. Sieve in and fold through the ground almonds.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until set and a skewer can be inserted into the centre and comes out clean. You will find the cake may have risen somewhat, perhaps even unevenly, but it will sink down, which is just perfect.
  6. Leave to cool slightly, remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar/cocoa or a combination.
  7. Cut and serve with your choice of accompaniment! *I used creme fraiche with some fresh raspberries slightly mashed up and mixed through, and then a few extra raspberries for good measure. Melted white chocolate drizzled on top would be delicious too.
    Gluten-free chocolate cake, just out of the oven

    Gluten-free chocolate cake - it's time to tuck in

Finally - a bit of interaction. Besides Ariel House, my most searched for and viewed post is The Hairy Dieters' Beef Stroganoff. If any of you have made it, it would be wonderful to hear your feedback. I think it's a great dish, healthy and low in calories, but very flavoursome and filling too. Anyway, I am a big fan of their book and have three more dishes I'd love to try out - all main courses. I am hoping you will comment below this birthday blog post as to which recipe of the three you'd like me to make and blog about. Whichever one of the three turns out to be the most popular by Thursday next week, the 31st July, I will cook! This second Hairy Dieters' helping will then appear as a blog post in August. So, the choices are...*drumroll*
  1. Easy Chicken Bake
  2. Low Calorie Chicken Tikka Masala
  3. Enchiladas
To all of you who check in on F.F. regularly or from time to time, thank you, and I hope you continue to drop by and enjoy the blog posts. With almost 25,000 pageviews over the year I don't think I'm doing too badly at all and it's nice to be finishing year one with a roundy number of 50 blog posts. Let's hope next year I'll get my act in gear even more and I might even hit 60!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sicily: Its Fabulous Food & Wine

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, you'll be aware that I spent a week in the stunning south Italian island of Sicily around the beginning of July. Excuse the probably excessive bragging. I couldn't help myself. Well, without a doubt, an amazing week was had. In no particular order here are my top ten recommendations for delicious food and wine in Sicily...

  • Granita - this has to be tasted in the depths of Sicily's summer heat to be truly appreciated. My husband received a description of this slushy, icy, soft sorbet-esque Sicilian speciality and said it wouldn't be for him. He subsequently tasted it, loved it and devoured many the granita al limone on a hot afternoon by the Med.
    Lemon granitas

  • Canolli - these are delightful cylindrical pastries containing sweetened ricotta - which is used regularly in Sicilian desserts.
    Canolli with Almond Gelato on the side in Duomo Restaurant

  • Gelato - how could you ever go anywhere in Italy, particularly in the summer, without enjoying a gelato...(or ten)?! But what is their unusual twist on the gelato in a cup or cone, is that it is often sandwiched inside a brioche bun in Sicily! It is certainly tasty, it works, but for me, the cup is still king. There is also wine flavoured ice-cream to be found in Sicily, believe it or not. I was quite tempted to try, but on that particular day I was (unusually for me) just too full.
    My gelato on the left - Pistachio and Nutella

    Gelato in a brioche bun!

    Fancy some wine ice-cream?

  • Cheese (formaggio) - in the province of Ragusa, Ragusano cheese is typical and beloved. It is quite a hard cheese and is really delicious, made from whole cow's milk in this very specific region of southeast Sicily. I bought some beautiful fresh Mozzarella while we were there and made Caprese salad for lunch a couple of times. It is so delectable and creamy. You will note the Gorgonzola too, as I simply can't pass blue cheese.
    Buffalo Mozzarella in Caprese Salad and Italian Gorgonzola
  • Pizza. Enough said really. What's not to love?! We tried Bresaola with fresh rocket and Parmesan shavings sprinkled on top and also a simple tomato and cheese pizza topped with prosciutto. Delicious.
    Bresaola pizza with rocket and Parmesan

  • Pasta - the variety of brands, both fresh and dried in the supermarkets is just amazing and then the range of shapes and varieties is mesmerising. I tried a lovely unknown name pasta shape with Sicilian pesto, which combines tomatoes, nuts and ricotta cheese, and it was fabulous. My favourite restaurant pasta experience was at a really lovely trattoria right on the stunning blue flag Marina di Ragusa beach. It was a spinach lasagnetta with basil pesto and "blue fish" - these appeared to be little sardines to me, regardless, it was truly fabulous and very moreish.
    My favourite lasagnetta pasta dish

  • Arancini - Arancini balls are what we might more commonly refer to as risotto balls and they take their name from the Italian word for little oranges due to the resemblance in appearance. In Sicily, they come in every flavour, shape and form imaginable - there's even a Nutella one for dessert! They are real Sicilian street food, they're tasty and super filling. I tried the Norma, which is a typical sauce, composed mainly of aubergine and cheese, such as Ricotta, Pecorino or Parmesan. I also had a little bite of the seafood, which was yummy too.
    Arancini - the Norma and Seafood
    Enjoying the Norma Arancine

  • Nuts - nuts are widely grown in Sicily and are used in many dishes - another favourite Sicilian pesto is made with pistachios as its base. I have my own jar, carefully transported home as part of my foodie haul, which I look forward to trying. Almonds are also much loved in Sicily. My favourite granita is the almond version from the fabulous gelato café Il Caffe delle Rose in Marina di Ragusa.
    My special Sicilian Pistachio Pesto hiding among the goodies

  • Sparkling white wine - during our stay we enjoyed Sicily's version of Prosseco twice. It is just gorgeous and definitely gives any of the big shots of bubbly a run for their money. We were particularly taken by a fabulous fizz from the Palermo region we tasted while dining at Duomo, an exceptional two Michelin star restaurant in Ragusa Ibla. This special place will deserve a blog post all of its own, in its own time.
    Bubbly from Palermo

  • Nero d'Avola (or the "black grape of Avola" in Sicily) - You may know by now that I am a red wine enthusiast and I was won over by this Sicilian grape during our stay. At prices as low as €9.00 for a decent bottle in a lovely restaurant, you begin to think really how overly expensive things are in Ireland. The Planeta winery, which operates at various locations throughout the island has some fantastic Nero d'Avola wines, which we thoroughly enjoyed as the perfect complement to some fabulous food during our stay in Sicily.
    Two different bottles of Nero d'Avola red wine

Prior to the week spent in Sicily, I did some investigating and planning as many of us like to do to feel somewhat au fait with a new destination before arriving there. The wonders of Twitter helped greatly, as did Tripadvisor and its forums with endless tips and advice. I also came across a Sicilian's blog, based solely on the cuisine of her beautiful island home and it was there I discovered about the gelato brioche combo. 

I look forward to sharing my Michelin star dining experience from the stunning Baroque town of Ragusa with you in the near future...

Left - Duomo Restaurant; Right - Ragusa's main piazza

If you have been to Sicily and want to reminisce or add some further tips and ideas, please do so in the comments. And please, feel free to share what you do to prepare in advance of a holiday to ensure you get to taste and experience all the hidden treasures.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Gluten-Free Polenta Chicken Kievs

Yes, I have been somewhat on a gluten-free buzz on and off for the last while - for the sweet tooths among you, check out my pear and almond tart recipe. But for now, back to dinner. Polenta is  a new friend to me it! It is a relatively recent discovery but a very pleasant one at that. This recipe is super easy and very tasty. It also leaves you with none of that bloated, sluggish feeling that a heavily bread-crumbed kiev might. So anyway, I'm just going to get on with it. This serves two hungry garlic-ophiles and is very quick to prepare!


  • 2 best quality chicken fillets (on or off the bone)
  • Approx. 20 g softened real butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Your choice of fresh or dried herbs
  • Pepper
  • A handful of polenta (cornmeal), seasoned with pepper and salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C / 400 F / gas mark 6.
  2. Mix your minced garlic, herbs and a fresh grinding of pepper into the softened butter and set aside.
  3. Take your chicken fillets and cut them carefully along the centre (butterfly technique).
  4. Use a rolling pin (or some such implement) to flatten them out a little and smear the garlic butter inside.
  5. Fold back over, dip your chicken into the egg wash, and press it onto the seasoned cornmeal, ensuring the entire chicken fillet is covered evenly.
  6. Sear the chicken on the pan - approximately 2 minutes each side and then pop into the oven to bake for a further 15 minutes or so.

    The kievs being seared in the pan
  7. Serve the kievs with your choice of sides - I went with sweet potato fries and green beans and petits pois.

    Gluten-free chicken kiev. Dinner is served!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

An Port Mór Restaurant, Westport, Co. Mayo

Westport has long been one of my favourite places to get away to in Ireland. It has a happy, relaxed and welcoming buzz at any stage of the year. My last visit to Mayo in June was for a good friend's wedding taking place close by. As I knew we would have one free night to venture out into Westport and due to various good reports and bits and pieces I had read through Good Food Ireland and other sources, I was quite intent upon An Port Mór being our dinner spot. There were absolutely no regrets after what was a fabulous meal in a pretty, serene and unpretentious setting.

You will find An Port Mór tucked down a quaint lane way, through an archway off of the main street, Bridge Street. The setting is warm and welcoming; the staff friendly, helpful and relaxed; but it's the quality of the produce and skillful preparation of the mouthwatering food that makes this place so special! It was no wonder to me when I heard a few weeks ago that Frankie Mallon, head chef, was awarded the title of best chef in Connacht, and the restaurant itself, best restaurant in Connacht, at the recent Irish Restaurant Awards. They are truly deserved winners.

On the evening we dined at An Port Mór, I chose the Donegal turf smoked organic salmon as my starter, the special of monkfish with crab claws as my main, and the dessert platter to share with my friend. The starter was very tasty and I really got a powerful and distinctive peaty smoked flavour, as I'd never experienced before. It was delicious. The fish for main was oh so fresh and succulent and the crab claws were hearty and full of flavour. The buttered leek on the side was yummy too. I was quite full at this point, but when my friend suggested the dessert platter to share, I couldn't say no. This had some lovely elements, particularly the chocolate tart and cake and the ice-cream but generally, I have a thing about dessert platters. That thing is I'd far rather a full portion of one dessert I really love. And yes, I do realise, there was a definite whiff of a greedy sweet tooth off of that last sentence.

We also happily sipped on a super bottle of Malbec from Argentina and finished with a few teas and coffees. We were treated to a few surprise treats on the house, some tasty homemade petits fours and their own limoncello. Our only disappointment came for my poor husband, who heard, to his great dismay, that the crème brûlée had sold out by the time we got to ordering dessert. I spied a portion across at another table and I think it was fair to say his dessert envy was justified. Across the table, the steak and the surf and turf (with scallops as the 'surf') both went down very well. The goats cheese and smoked duck salad starter was very highly received. All in all, it was a fantastic meal. For four people, 3 courses each (bar one dessert shared between 2), 1 bottle of red wine, 1 craft beer and a glass of dessert wine, our bill came to just over €200. Good value in my eyes, for a beautiful meal in relaxed surroundings in one of the most appealing towns to visit in the west. This one comes with a big thumbs up.

Now, some photos to whet your appetite...

Left - Goats cheese and smoked duck; Right - Seafood linguine

Top - Smoked salmon, Centre - Monkfish and crab claws; Bottom - Surf and Turf

Sharing dessert platter
See An Port Mór's website here.
You can (and, in my opinion, should) phone them in Westport on (098) 26730.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Fudge

For the day that's in it - Fourth of July, Independence Day, I felt it only right to go with an American theme for today's blog post. I picked up a jar of the delicious, gooey decadence that is 'Marshmallow Fluff' in Aldi lately and was thinking of ways I could incorporate it into an authentic American style dessert. Peanut butter always comes to mind for me in the context of a real honest to goodness American treat. And so, to combine the two...Fudge! Now, as you may know, or have guessed, chocolate is one of my first loves, so I couldn't neglect it either. Here goes, I hope you enjoy. And please be advised, don't even think about calorie counting. This is plain and simply, sweet and indulgent comfort food!
*Watch out for the tip (soft ball test).

The ingredients

  • 500 g light brown sugar
  • 55 g butter
  • 150 ml evaporated milk
  • 1 jar of 'Marshmallow Fluff' - you could substitute this with a packet of marshmallows of course
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 200 g peanut butter (I used the crunchy variety)
  • 200 g dark chocolate, melted
  • A handful of roasted and salted peanuts, finely chopped (optional)

  1. Grease a 9 inch/23 cm tin.
  2. Combine the first five ingredients in a saucepan on a low heat, until they are fully melted in together.

    Combining the sugary goodness!
  3. Gradually raise the heat to medium and allow to cook further on a gentle rolling boil for 4 - 7 minutes, stirring slowly and continuously. (*N.B. - After 4 minutes, test by dripping a small bit of the mixture into an iced bowl of water and leaving to cool for 10 seconds. If it can be rolled into a ball in your hand and tastes chewy when eaten, it is ready. If not, continue on a rolling boil for a little longer).
  4. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the peanut butter and dark chocolate and swirl through. There is no need for it to be mixed through perfectly and in fact, the marbling effect looks great.
  5. If using, top your slab of fudge with a good even drizzle of the chopped peanuts, giving a lovely salty edge to the fudge.
    Fudge made and ready to be cooled...Have patience!
  6. Leave to cool and once cooled, cut into square chunks and tuck in! If (it's a big IF) the fudge isn't devoured straight away, these delicious chunks of sweetness will last well in a sealed container. If you're feeling generous, they make really cute gifts too.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Freshly Spiced Indian Lamb & Dublin Cookery School

Two summers ago I attended a week long course called 'Cooking for Friends' at Lynda Booth's Dublin Cookery School. It was a thoroughly enjoyable, worthwhile and fun learning experience. Their tutors and equipment are second to none and it is a fabulous foodie alternative to a typical holiday, or a means to keep out of trouble if you're as lucky as I am to have a long summer of two months off work!

During my week in Blackrock, I learned many new and helpful culinary techniques, but there is one recipe I always come back to. It is an easy, slow cook, weekend kind of recipe and it is very suitable as a main dish if you're entertaining. It is also highly spiced but not all that hot, so I always feel quite confident to serve it to a mixed crowd - spice fans and spice avoiders included. So here goes; a lovely, fragrant taste of India.


  • 500 g of lamb cut into large cubes
  • 3 tbsp. sunflower oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • A small (cm-ish) piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 50 ground almonds
  • A few tbsp. cold water
  • 6 whole cardamon pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
  • Spice mixture - 2 tsp of a mixture such as coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric
  • 125 ml single cream
  • 80 ml chicken stock
  • Rice, to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/ 350 F/gas mark 4.
  2. Put the garlic, ginger, ground almonds and water into a bowl and mix very well to form a paste.
  3. Heat your sunflower oil in a casserole dish/ovenproof saucepan on the hob on a high heat and add in the cubed lamb in batches so that each layer browns evenly. Season the meat with pepper and salt.
  4. Remove the browned lamb cubes and put the cardamon, cloves and cinnamon into the hot oil. Almost instantly, you'll get that super fragrant smell and you can tip in your onion.
  5. Stir and cook until the onions turn a brownish colour. Then add in the paste on a medium heat and cook gently, before putting back in your lamb with its juices, the cream and the stock.
  6. Put the lid on your dish and pop it straight into the oven to cook through for at least 1 hour 15 minutes.
  7. Remove and serve up immediately with your choice of rice and/or naan breads or poppadums on the side.

    Here, I have served the lamb with some par-boiled mangetouts, gently stir-fried in minced garlic and spices and a mixed white/wild rice
*Wine note - I am biased towards red, but this works a treat with a punchy red such as a Spanish Crianza or an Argentinian Malbec.

Get involved by following Fascination Food on Facebook and Twitter, I'm @ Nollaig B. on Google + and nollaigb on Instagram.

Below, I have included a selection of photos from the wonderful week of cooking and baking experiences while at Dublin Cookery School.

Tarte tatin - je t'aime. Quite possibly my favourite dessert!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Foodie Meetup in Dublin - House and Opium

I have wanted to go on a foodie meetup for some time now. When myself, Kate (of Kate's Kabin) and Carol (of Gin & Griddle) started discussing it a month or so ago, I was delighted to be getting things in motion. It is a wonderful thing to meet up with like minded people, and let's be honest, for a few foodie snaps to be celebrated rather than receiving the rolling eyes! Unfortunately Carol couldn't make it but hopefully she will for the next one. We had a small but great all female bunch of food bloggers, reviewers and nutrition students and graduates - all proud and happy to go along with the foodie label.

We enjoyed a few pre-dinner drinks - wine, G&Ts, ciders and cocktails from the extensive drinks menu in House on Leeson Street. The setting was beautiful. We were seated in the outer glasshouse part at the back of this gorgeous venue around a large and comfortable table on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon. I chose a lovely, light and fresh Pinot Grigio - an usual choice for me but I couldn't resist a cool drink as the weather was so warm and sunny. I also tried a Gin Mare with tonic, which was tasty, but I have a feeling it needed another garnish instead of just your regular slice of lemon/lime.

We were certainly hungry once our little walk brought us to Opium on Wexford Street for the main event of the night - dinner! I have a few photos to share of the delicious food, a little darker than I'd like so my apologies on that score. The venue is minimalist is style and very suited to a group get together, as was evident from many of the other tables around us. The place is buzzing and we only had our table for 2 hours as they had a later booking, which was a little constraining timewise, but understandable too given just how popular the place is. I chose Gyoza as my starter - very tasty and a nice size as a starter. On Kate's recommendation and because it sounded so yummy, I chose the Lamb Claypot (massamam) as my main. This was fabulous. There were whole roasted cashews in the sauce and the potatoes were halved baby potatoes, which still retained a lovely bite. I got brown rice on the side, which was cooked perfectly and soaked up the sauce very well. My dessert, which I couldn't resist, though I was very full, was flourless chocolate brownie with peanut butter cream pie. Mmm! To wash down the meal, we chose a lovely bottle of Argentinian Malbec. The pricing for food is rather good, with starters mostly priced around the €8 mark, all mains under €20 and all desserts at €5.95. I did have one cocktail after dinner, the Gin and Giner Lassi at €9.90, which was very tasty but quite sweet so I was happy with just the one.

The most important thing was that our first foodie meetup was a great success and a big thank you goes to all those who came along to meet a new fellow foodie and enjoy an evening of good food and drink and plenty of fun. Let's hope it is just the first of many!