Builin Blasta, An Ceardlann, Spiddal, Co. Galway

Builin Blasta (Tasty Loaf) is a gem of a cafe located in the craft center (An Ceardlann) in Spiddal, Co. Galway.  The cafe is owned and run by Chef Jamie (J-Me) Peaker who hails from New Zealand.  J-Me’s cv includes a stint at well known London eatery The Ivy before he opened Builin Blasta in Spiddal.  The cafe is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and on Sunday from 11am until 5pm. Breads, pastries, tarts, sausage rolls, scones, desserts, dressings and preserves are all made on site.  You can also purchase their dressings and chutneys to takeaway and they will also provide you with the recipe for their scones if you would like to try and make them yourself!

The menu consists of a Seafood Chowder, Sandwiches, Salads, Hot dishes, Pizzas and Homemade Desserts/Pastries.  They also serve a selection of Suki loose leaf teas, a variety of coffees (Americano, Latte, Cappucino, Mocha etc), soft drinks and juices.  There are two white wines and two red wines both served by the glass or bottle.

The menu may read very simply, but the cooking here is really accomplished and well presented. The seafood chowder is made with prawns, smoked haddock and organic salmon stock.  Two sandwich choices are available – Hot bacon, fried onions, tomato and cheddar on Focaccia bread or a Roasted red pepper and almond crush with mixed leaves on red onion bread.  The chowder is priced at €6.50 and the sandwiches at €8-€8.50.  Four “Hot Dishes” choices are also priced at €8-€8.50 and include Fishcakes, Omelette, Goat’s cheese tart and Scrambled Eggs.

The salads are very fresh, full of flavour and beautifully presented.  There are five salads to choose from and these include a smoked salmon based salad, a Beetroot and feta salad, a Blue Cheese, walnut & Pear salad, a Pork & Apple salad and a Green Leaf salad.  The salads are priced at €7.50 with the exception of the Green Leaf salad which is priced at €4.50.  All the salads are served with breads and butter.

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Pictured:  Grilled Pork & Apple salad with crispy sage served with red onion and tomato relish.

The pizzas are served in large triangles, roughly about two large slices of your more traditional pizza and make for very filling lunch for one.  As the little girl at the next table said to her Mommy, “they’re good pizzas Mom, not junk pizzas” and she is not wrong!

There are four pizza choices available; Salami served with cheddar, caramelised onion and tomato, a Smoked chicken pizza with olive, feta and spinach, a Brie and red onion pizza served with sundried tomato and basil and finally a Smoked Salmon pizza with cheddar, cherry tomato and rocket.  All pizzas are priced at €8.50 and are served with dressed greens on the side.

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Pictured: Salami, Cheddar, Caramelised Onion and tomato pizza.

There is always a wonderful selection of sweet treats to choose from to finish a meal including Chocolate & Beetroot Brownies, Carrot Cake, Hazelnut Meringue, Eclairs, Crumbles and more.  Desserts are priced in the €4.50 range with scones at €2.

Builin Blasta is a busy spot and you may have to queue for a table but generally turnover is quick.  The food is super and staff are very friendly.  Pizza and a glass of wine for €13.50 – what’s not to like?

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FoodWineTravelFun’s Ginger & Treacle Bread

Firstly, ginger is my thing.  I love it in all its forms; ginger ale is even my choice of mixer with Vodka!  Ginger and treacle as a combination is another favourite.  After a long search for a recipe for a Ginger & Treacle bread and finding none that perfectly suited what I was trying to create, I came up with this recipe which gives me everything I was looking for in a Ginger & Treacle bread.

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What you need:

180g of Plain Flour

300g of Wholemeal Flour

2 teaspoons of Ground Ginger

1.5 teaspoons of Breadsoda

Pinch of Salt

100g of Butter

1 egg

280ml of Buttermilk

100ml of Treacle

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 195˚C.

Sieve the flour, breadsoda and ground ginger into a mixing bowl.  Add the wholemeal and salt and stir.  Add the butter and rub in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the mixture.  Combine the egg, buttermilk and treacle and then add to the mixing bowl.  Combine well.

Grease a 1lb loaf tin and add the mixture.

Bake for about 40 minutes.  Then take the loaf out of the tin and turn upside down and return it to the oven for about another 5 minutes.

Cover in a clean tea towel and allow to cool.

The cooking time is generally 40-45 minutes in total but you can experiment with when to invert the cake towards the end of the cooking time to ensure the top of the cake does not burn.

The outcome:

This is a very gingery treacle bread but you can reduce the amount of ground ginger if you wish.  I had tried so many different recipes.  Some had no wholemeal so were more like a cake.  Some had honey so were too sweet.  Some claimed to be for 1lb loaf tins but produced way too much mixture.  Some suggested cooking for a longer time at a lower temperature that did not deliver the desired end product.  After much trial and error, I came up with my own recipe and I hope you like it too!

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Lunch at The Fatted Calf, Glasson, Co. Westmeath

After including The Fatted Calf on my list of must visits for 2014, I was glad to get an early opportunity to visit for lunch on a blustery Saturday in early February.  Glasson is easily accessible from Athlone and well worth the trip even from farther afield.  The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday.

There are a number of elements to the lunch menu.  Firstly, there is a set lunch menu offering a choice of three starters and three main courses.  You can have two courses with a glass of wine for €22. There are also some Light Bites for those who not want a full meal.  There is an a la carte lunch menu aswell in addition to a daily list of Blackboard Specials – both starters and mains.

The a la carte starters included Soup, Seafood Chowder, Caesar Salad, Potted Mackerel, Cheese and Onion Rarebit and Crispy Prawn Wontons.  The a la carte mains included a Roast of the Day (Chicken), Jane Russell’s homemade Sausage with pan fried potato gnocchi, Beer Battered Fish & Chips of the day (Cod) and an 8oz panfried 30-day aged Sirloin steak.  The special starters included a Warm salad of Pigeon served with pickled rhubarb, garlic sausage & rocket, Deep fried Camembert and a rack of ribs for two to share.  Main course specials included the Fatted Calf burger and a Rib Eye steak.

It doesn’t normally happen but my friend and I were obviously feeling like the exact same food and both chose the Warm Pigeon salad followed by the Sirloin Steak.  Before the starters arrived, we enjoyed some wonderful homemade breads – a treacle bread and a sourdough.  Both of these breads can be purchased aswell to take home (along with some other goodies).  The salad starter was so good, the pigeon perfectly pink and superbly complemented by both the garlic sausage and the pickled beetroot.

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The Sirloin was served with a flat mushroom and some Marrow Butter and was accompanied by a large portion of excellent skinny fries and by some mixed vegetables (green beans, carrotts, peas, roast potatoes).  We thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.  Both steaks were cooked exactly as ordered and the quality of the produce was in no doubt.

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Even after two large courses, we were determined to have dessert.  I chose the daily special which was a raspberry brioche and butter pudding and my friend chose the Banana & Hazelnut pudding with salted caramel ice cream.  Both desserts were outstanding and the presentation was wonderful.

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The bill came to €88 for 2 starters, 2 main courses, 2 desserts, a diet coke, 2 glasses of Pinot Grigio and a Latte.  This is wonderful value for a fantastic meal made using the best of produce.  We really enjoyed our time at The Fatted Calf.  The restaurant itself is really lovely, the food was outstanding and the staff were super friendly.  We will definitely be back.

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If life gives you lemons….. make Tarte Citron

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This recipe makes a wonderfully tangy version of this classic.  Hope you like it.

 

Recipe:

Pastry Base

180g of Plain Flour

75g of Butter (softened)

5 tablespoons of Icing Sugar (about 40g)

1 Egg Yolk

1 tablespoon water

Filling

4 Eggs

1/2 cup of Castor Sugar (about 112g)

Zest of 4 lemons

200ml Fresh Lemon Juice

125ml Cream

METHOD

To make the pastry base, sieve the flour and icing sugar into a bowl.  Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the egg yolk and water and combine into a firm dough.  Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge for a half an hour before rolling out and transferring into a flan tin.

Bake blind for 20 minutes at 200˚C.  You will have to take steps to ensure the edge of the pastry does not burn, perhaps cover with strips of foil for at least half of the cooking time.

To make the filling, beat the eggs and the sugar until thick and pale.  Add the lemon juice and the zest (keep back a little zest for decoration) and fold in to the mixture.  Then add the cream and whip the mixture lightly.

Pour the mixture into the pastry base and bake at 180˚until set (about 30 minutes).

Let the tarte cool, then decorate with icing sugar and lemon zest.  Serve with whipped cream.

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The Restaurant at Bramon Wine Estate, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

I have been in South Africa many times and have travelled the Garden Route on three of my visits.  Prior to the second visit, I became aware of Bramon Wine Estate and booked a lunch at their restaurant.  I was drawn to the place by virtue of the gorgeous pictures on their website, the type of food they serve (sharing plates/tapas style) and the fact that they make a sparkling wine from Sauvignon Blanc grapes (or a Methode Cap Classique (MCC) as South African bubbly is called).  On our first visit, we had booked an outside table for lunch (among the vines) and hoped the weather would oblige – and we were so thankful it did.  On our second visit, we dropped by without a reservation and we got an outside table but all the tables between the vines were booked.

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The Wine Estate and Restaurant is located 20km from Plettenberg Bay towards Tsitsikamma and Storms River.  The Restaurant is open for lunch only and is set right in the Vineyard.  If you want the coveted tables set between the vines it is absolutely necessary to book in advance.  It truly is a magical setting.

The menu had changed slightly on our second visit but continues to feature a number of salads, a selection of dips and pates, meat dishes, fish dishes, cheeses, preserves and desserts.  All the dishes are made for sharing and you are encouraged to order some of their wonderful homemade bread also.  Actually, the bread is not to be missed as it is amazing.  All their own wines (and MCC) are served by either the bottle or the glass.  On our second visit, we really enjoyed the Avocado and Roasted Parmesan salad, the gorgeous home made bread with Pesto and Hummus, Fig wrapped in Bacon and we finished off with an excellent Malva pudding (a South African favourite – very much like our Sticky Toffee pudding). We also enjoyed a glass of MCC and a bottle of their very fine Sauvignon Blanc.

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Bramon Wine Estate is one of my favourite places in the world, there can be nothing better than sitting at this restaurant in the middle of the vines sipping their gorgeous wines and eating this type of food.  The restaurant building itself is also gorgeous, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos of their “artwork” – just the kind of style I love.

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I would encourage anyone travelling to South Africa who is including the Garden Route on their itinerary to make sure they stop at Bramon for some lunch and wine tasting.  It is so worth it to book ahead and reserve that table among the vines.  I can promise you that you will want to return over and over again.  A special place indeed.

www.bramonwines.co.za

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A visit to Ballymaloe

Ballymaloe House has long been on my list to visit, as I imagine it is for many people.  A friend booked in to do a couple of consecutive courses at the famed Cookery School and I decided to use the opportunity to tag along, sightsee around Cork and have dinner in Ballymaloe House.

We spent one night in Cork City and my friend was booked into Cookery School accommodation for the next night, being the night before her first school course.  Upon enquiring with the Cookery School, they were very accommodating to me too and I was able to avail of B & B there too for one night even though I was not attending the course.  Now I am sure it is not always possible to this, but I was grateful it was available for the night I wanted to stay.  I was very impressed with the quality of the Cookery School accommodation.  We stayed in Mrs Walsh’s cottage which is an 8-bedroomed house (all bedrooms en-suite – including two twin rooms) complete with fully equipped kitchen and two reception rooms with TV and free wifi.  Participants in the shorter cookery courses can avail of breakfast beforehand in the Cookery School.   The breakfast is a wonderful buffet of a variety of muesli, porridge, yoghurts, breads, scones, spotted dog, cheeses, jams, juices, tea and coffee.  Everything is freshly made on site that morning and as confirmed by Darina Allen – not a cornflake in sight!

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The Cookery School is situated a couple of miles from Ballymaloe House.  The setting is lovely and the House looked very welcoming as we drove towards it on a dark winters night.  We were welcomed by Myrtle Allen and shown to the Drawing Room where we ordered a pre-dinner drink.  We visited on a Sunday evening and whilst we were expecting their traditional Sunday evening buffet, it was explained to us that for December 2013 it had been decided to replace the Sunday evening buffet with a 3-course meal plus tea/coffee and petit fours for €50.  I was secretly pleased at this as I am not a huge fan of buffets, though I was expecting a Ballymaloe buffet to be a cut above the norm.  We laughed when we realised that, depending on your choices, it was possible to order all courses for less than the total of €50 being charged, however it would only be slightly less so it was just a little quirk on the menu that made us smile.  There are polite notices asking that mobile phones be turned off so I resisted the urge to photograph the menu (and subsequently the food!).  From memory, the starters were weighted heavily towards shellfish with both oysters and mussels featuring along with a Pea & Chilli soup.  We both ordered the soup and for mains I opted for the Lamb and my friend the Hake.

The restaurant comprises a series of roooms and our table was in the Red Room.   There are only 4 tables in this room so it’s nice and cosy.  Some very good homemade breads were served and both of us were very happy with the soup which had a nice kick of chilli without being overpowered by it.  The main courses were both very good, the quality of the ingredients shone through and the mains were accompanied by a very good side dish of creamed potatoes.  Dessert was served by way of a Dessert Trolley and this was the real winner of the night.  We chose from a wonderful spread of Trifle, Profiteroles, Lemon Meringue Roulade, Caramel Ice Cream with hot caramel sauce and mince pies with whiskey sauce.  All were so good.  We finished the meal with tea and some very good petit fours.  The waiting staff are also really friendly and knowledgeable and we really enjoyed our night.

All in all, a visit to Ballymaloe is a lovely way to spend a weekend.  I was impressed with the obvious love the Allen family have for what they do and the professionalism with which they run both the House and the Cookery School.  I am only sorry I did not sign up for one of their Cookery School courses this time, but there’s always next time.

Shanagarry is located close to the lovely beach at Garryvoe and just a short drive to Ballycotton.  There is a lovely Kilkenny Shop with a cafe in Shanagarry.  Castlemartyr is also very close by (don’t forget to visit both Castlemartyr Resort and Pat Shortt’s Bar) and you can easily double up a Cork City/Shanagarry trip on a weekend.

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10 Restaurants/Events I hope to visit in 2014

There are so many good restaurants throughout Ireland that I am hearing good things about that I failed to visit in 2013.  I also read many interesting accounts of trips to food festivals that I didn’t get to last year.  It’s not possible to get to all the places I would like to – real life gets in the way!  But, here is a list of 10 places I would like to get to in 2014.

1.  MacNean House & Restaurant, Blacklion, Co. Cavan

Neven Maguire’s restaurant and cooking is legendary.  This may take some planning and some luck in securing a reservation but I definitely need to visit after hearing so many good things both online and from friends.  I am told that if you stay overnight at MacNean House that the breakfast is also an experience in itself.

2.  The Greenhouse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

It is a mystery to many how The Greenhouse failed to win a Michelin star last time out.  Reviews of Chef Mickael Viljanen’s food have been outstanding and anyone I know that has been there has enthused about the experience and vowed to go back.

3.  The Fatted Calf Bar & Restaurant, Glasson, Athlone, Co. Westmeath.

The Fatted Calf is an award winning “Gastro-Pub” situated in the picturesque village of Glasson, close to Athlone.  Said to be casual dining at its very best, the Fatted Calf is known for bringing quality produce to the table at value for money prices.

4.  West Waterford Festival of Food.

2014 will mark the 7th running of the West Waterford Festival of Food, which is centered in Dungarvan.  For the last 2 years, I have thought about going and ended up regretting that I didn’t.  This year, I am determined to make it.  If the previous years’ line ups were anything to go by, this will be a mecca for food lovers and fun seekers alike.

5.  Las Tapas de Lola, 12  Wexford Street, Dublin 2.

I just love the Spanish Tapas way of eating, much preferring nibbling and sampling a larger variety of dishes than sitting down to a traditional 3-course meal.  Always on the lookout for new and recommended Tapas restaurants, this is one that I have seen reviewed and recommended on many occasions throughout 2013 as an excellent authentic Spanish tapas restaurant.

6.  1826 Adare, Main St, Adare, Co. Limerick.

Wade Murphy’s cooking has been on my radar for some time and in 2013 he opened his new restaurant in the village of Adare, Co. Limerick.  In the short time since opening, the restaurant and Wade himself have both won many awards, and critics, such as Tom Doorley, have reviewed their experiences there in glowing terms.  This is another restaurant I will need to book in advance!

7.  Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare.

Aidan McGrath’s Wild Honey Inn is a multi-award winning eatery – including a Bib Gourmand award from The Michelin Guide (Good food at moderate prices).  The emphasis here is on wild, seasonal, local and free range produce served in a characterful Inn setting.

8.  White Horses, Ardmore, Co. Waterford.

I have been in Ardmore a few times now and each time I have passed the White Horses and wished I was going in.  So many people have recommended this restaurant to me at this stage that I am determined to eat there the next time I visit Ardmore.  This restaurant consistently gets excellent reviews with repeated praise for the quality of produce, the simplicity of its cooking and its warm and cosy atmosphere.

9.  La Cucina, 5 University Court, Castletroy, Co. Limerick.

At this stage, I have lost track of the number of awards Lorraine Fanneran and Bruno Coppola have won for La Cucina, their authentic Italian restaurant in Castletroy. I hear it’s always packed, is loved by locals and visitors alike and that Bruno makes the best Carbonara ever.  I can’t wait to visit these ItalianFoodies soon.

10.  Chapter One, 19 Parnell Square North, Dublin 1.

Chapter One,  Ross Lewis’ award winning Michelin Star restaurant, is of course on this list.  Another visit that is going to take some planning (and saving for) but I know this will be an experience very much worth having.  The success of this restaurant appears to be a combination of the genius of Ross Lewis, the quality of the ingredients and the passion of the staff, all of which ensure a wonderful dining experience.  The restaurant attained its Michelin Star in 2007 and has also been the recipient of many RAI and Food & Wine awards over the years.

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