Sunday, February 28, 2010

A King Cake Day

One day every year, if it's a good year, my husband calls upon the power of yeast and cinnamon to create...King Cake! Who cares if Mardi Gras was technically a few weeks ago. In our apartment, Saturday was the day for King Cake, and all the Cajun goodness that goes along with. This year's menu included the following starters:
  • Boudin Rolls with Remoulade
  • French Onion dip with Potato crisps
Preparing Cajun food in Ireland requires a bit of extra effort and invention, but when the result is homemade boudin served with homemade remoulade along with made-from-scratch French Onion dip, you really can't complain. Bill was happy with his sophomore attempt at boudin; he felt it was better seasoned than last (but still using only half the cayenne than the recipe for Irish palate), but may reduce the liver component next year. Wrapped in wonton wrappers, deep fried and dipped in remoulade, the boudin rolls were delish.

The remoulade is a bit of food processor magic where whole grain mustard, yellow mustard, prepared horseradish, ketchup, oil, onion, celery, garlic and lemon juice turn into the loveliest of condiments. The prepared horseradish could have been tricky as we've yet to find it in Ireland, but we happened to have some as a souvenir of our January trip to London.

Without access to typical cajun meats like andouille and tasso, Bill had to look to our Eastern European friends and use all-pork kielbasa. For mains this year Bill prepared Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya and Red Beans and Rice. The kielbasa performed very well in the jambalaya. With a slightly different seasoning accent, the smoked sausage could have been andouille.

Bill brined the kidney beans for the red beans and rice, and they turned out perfect: wonderfully creamy and tender but not disintegrated.

I made some pralines for the party, and as you can see it is quite fun! They turned out really well. I posted on twitter that I was making pralines and got a response saying, "Oh, your kitchen must smell like New Orleans!" I hope so.

Of course, a Mardi Gras party wouldn't be a party without revelers. Thanks for coming!

Making a Break for Kilkenny

I mentioned catching a Nanci Griffith show in Kilkenny. The concert was Feb 13, so we decided to make a weekend of it.  A two-hour drive from Dublin, Kilkenny is a handy weekend destination. As matter of fact, this was our third weekend trip (1st, 2nd)  to this medieval city.

As we've already seen the Kilkenny sights, we focused on eating tasty breakfasts, walking the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, and eating a lovely Valentine's Dinner at Rinuccini.

On the way home on Monday, we ate lunch in Thomastown, and spied this little guy waiting for his people.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Music Scene

The Temple Bar Trad Festival comes round every January, and 2010 was our year to finally attend an event. We have a couple CDs from Beoga, a fivesome comprised of keyboard, fiddle, guitar, button accordion and guitar. We caught their show at the Project Arts Centre and they rocked the house. In addition to rocking, Beoga is at any given moment jazzy, bluesy, riotous, beautiful and always exuberant. Beoga's rollicking repertoire includes original compositions, arrangements of traditional Irish tunes and a sampling of songs from the past century, such as the swing song "Don't talk about me when I'm gone," a 1940s gospel-soul tune "Strange Things," and a traditional American song "Factory Girl," which you can listen to below. One outcome of the evening is that after a transfixing drum solo, we now know how a bodhrán is truly to be played.

On a recent night out with some girls from work, I saw these guys at a club. Mutefish busk around Dublin playing trad rock. The flute player is awesome.

Last week was a big week for Texas music in Ireland. Nanci Griffith is touring Ireland, and we decided to catch her in a smaller venue in Kilkenny.  She performed with her percussionist and a guitar player. Nanci may have brought down some of the high notes, but her voice is still strong and she owns those tunes. She sang some new songs, some favorites, and of course left us wanting more.

On Wednesday we saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt at the Olympia. The seats at the Olympia are far from comfortable, but I would have perched on a milk bucket to watch these two guys trade songs and stories for two and a half hours. We weren't very familiar with John Hiatt--he's quite entertaining. A coworker was also at the show, and she told me the next day that she thought Hiatt was the better musician. Well, John is quite a showman, but Lyle doesn't have to play fancy guitar and wail to win my heart--he just plays it cool. This was the most intimate venue in which we've seen Lyle, and it was great to hang out with him for a while.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday in the Kitchen with Bill

It's official: We have a Saturday routine.

After a bit of a lie in, Bill gets up around 10:00 to watch Saturday Kitchen. I usually wander into the living room by 11:00. Saturday Kitchen is a bit of an institution, which is evident by the number of mentions in the twitterstream during the broadcast. The show features in-studio cooking demonstrations by visiting chefs, as well as dishes prepared by the host James Martin. James is a polarizing force in the world of television hosting, with distinct pro and anti camps. We're both pro. I think he's an excellent host, very adept at describing what he's cooking and chatting up the celebrity guest* at the same time.  Saturday Kitchen also includes clips from a variety of other BBC cookery** shows by the likes of Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, the Hairy Bikers and sometimes even our old Fat Lady friends, Clarrissa and Jennifer. The Omlette Challenge which pits guest chefs in a timed egg match is surprisingly entertaining. One benefit of watching Saturday Kitchen is that we're now familiar with many of the British chefs of the moment.

After watching 90 minutes of food being prepared, Bill makes his way to the kitchen to produce some kind of amazing brunch. Recent creations are pictured below.

 French Toast with Orange Zest and Cinnamon.

Baked Eggs with Spinach.

Breakfast Tacos with M&S British, Outdoor-Bred, Dry-Cured, Smoked,
Streaky Bacon. Tastes like real bacon!

Most Saturdays Bill pays a visit to the Red Stables Market*** in St. Anne's park.  I frequently accompany him. The market is one of the reasons we love our proximity to St. Anne's. It's a small market, but contains all the major tasty groups: organic meats, cheeses from Sheridan's, various ethnic foods, tempting breads from Soul bakery, and organic fruit and veg from Duncan at Organic Delights. Sometimes Duncan has amazing surprises like tomatillos or white onions.

Bill comes back from the market inspired to cook wonderful things. For example, the cavolo nero in this photo (above) was featured in pasta along with garlic, pancetta,  and cherry tomatoes.

Recently Bill has been keeping an eye on the wild garlic growing by the river.

I guess it makes sense that our Saturdays, like our holidays, revolve around food. Happy Saturday everyone!

Hey, Bill just came back from the Market with Scallops! Yum. 

* Guests are of some noteriety in Britain, which means we often have no idea who they are. My favorite guest: Len Goodman.
** They say cookery here.
*** If you have four minutes, watch this video I found with scenes of Red Stables market, with a few misspellings, set to a slightly annoying soundtrack.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Carluccio's is back!

Hooray!  Carluccio's has reopened after negotiating reduced rent. This tasty turn in events is due in part--I have no doubt--to Bill's passionate Internet Campaign!

I'm very happy to have our go-to place back, and must visit soon for that amazing caponata.

So, I say to all three of our Dublin-based readers, get thee to Carluccio's!

Monday, February 8, 2010


A couple shots from a walk on a recent foggy day with some friends in Tobergregan, a bit North of Dublin.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Few More Scenes from London

Monday we did a bit more wandering. Parts of London are staring to feel familiar. That is so cool.

Taxis waiting outside Herrods.

If you take Kensington Church Walk off of Kensington, you'll find a lovely park with views of St. Mary Abbots Church. The 1872 Victorian Gothic building has the largest spire in London.

We happened across Ottolenghi on Holland Street.

We stared in the window for a while, snapped a pic and walked on. Then we turned around and bought two of these Lemon Polenta Cakes with Pistachio to take as a snack on the plane. These cakes were tremendous--very moist, luscious with lemon and rose water aroma, just sweet enough.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tom's Kitchen

Tom Aikens in 1996 became the youngest British chef to be awarded two Michelin stars. He was 26. In 2003 he opened the eponymous Tom Aikens in London's Chelsea. The restaurant won a Michelin star in 2004 and was named the 8th best restaurant in the world in 2005 in Restaurant's Top 50.  He opened his second restaurant, Tom's Kitchen,  also in Chelsea, in 2006. On Jan 3, 2010, we dined in Tom's Kitchen.

Tom's Kitchen is a brasserie that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The atmosphere is very casual: rustic wooden tables that can be moved together for large parties (and are quite close together anyway), an open kitchen, reasonable prices. Many of the starters and all of the pasta dishes can be ordered as a starter or a main. We ordered a bottle of the 2005 Rioja Crianza from Bodegas LAN to have with our meal and it was very tasty. We wanted to order the Eternum Viti Tempranillo (we're suckers for tempranillo), but the two ladies at the table next to us ordered it first. When I say next to us, I mean about a foot from us. We didn't want to seem like we were copying them. Childish, huh? But, gaw, we were seated like ten minutes before they were!

Sharon started with the Pan Fried Foie Gras served with duck egg and Ventreche bacon while I, beet-lover that I am, had the Beetroot Salad with Feta cheese, pine nuts, pomegranate and oak leaves. Sharon's foie gras was the richest "fry up" imaginable while my salad was its complete opposite. Beets can be hit-or-miss in restaurants--they must have enough sweetness to balance the funky earthiness--but these were very good, and well-matched with the feta and pomegranate. It's hard to tell from the picture but Sharon's duck egg was enormous.

Sharon took advantage of the variable-portion pastas and had the Paparadelle with mixed mushrooms, truffle oil and fresh parsley as her main. The aroma emanating from her bowl was intoxicating. There is nothing in the world like the smell of a truffle. I had the Confit Duck Leg with bean casserole, garlic and Lyonnaise sausage. At first I thought the portion was a bit measly, but after taking my first bite realized it was just right. I was glad I started with the salad because this dish was very, very rich. The duck was topped with buttery herbed breadcrumbs and fell off the bone easily as a good confit should. With the creamy beans and sausage it was like a simple cassoulet. Delicious.

For dessert Sharon had the Vanilla Crème Brûlée Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce while I opted for the Baked Blackberry, Almond and Kirsch Clafoutis with crème anglaise. We had to wait a bit for my clafoutis which was fine. Profiteroles are a common dessert on Irish menus, so Sharon wanted to sample an excellent version--the pastry was tender and the sauce as rich and chocolatey as it looks. My clafoutis was light, creamy and almondy, and who doesn't like a little crème anglaise on their clafoutis?

The total including wine and coffee was a steal at £110. Now, more about that table next to us. We got to know them pretty well with some eavesdropping (a foot away, remember?). One of them went on and on about her exercise regime which included yoga and pole-dancing class. Yes, that kind of pole-dancing. Apparently she can hold herself upside down on the pole which requires very strong abs. We were quite happy not knowing that.

A Sunday in London

The Winter Market in Hyde Park was still festive on Jan 3 with lots of carnival rides, food stalls and a gruesome pen where people of all ages were forced to glide across a trecherous slab of ice while pretending to have fun.

We choose an Edinburgh hot beef sandwich for lunch, followed by a hog roast sandwich for dessert. And some gluhwien for warmth.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the Wallace Collection, a small (free!) museum near Oxford Street. The museum contains items collected by the family of Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The family bequeathed the collection to the British nation in 1897 and it opened to the public in 1900. The collection includes some excellent examples of porcelain, home furnishings and paintings. When did we stop embellishing even the most mundane household item, I wondered. And why don't I have a special tea service to use during my toilette? The Wallaces also collected loads of weapons and armor, including some wicked-looking spurs. I saw several sets of armor made in Augburg, one of the cities we stopped by on our tour of Bavaria.

The Wallace Collection was also hosting a special collection of new paintings by Damien Hirst, who is going through a skull-painting phase. Hirst wanted to present these paintings in a classical environment, and I attest they are jarring and somewhat creepy in the context of Hertford House. We did appreciate they appeared to glow. We contemplated buying a T-shirt, but decided £45 was too dear for any art cred we would gain. The museum had prepared a Damien Hirst guide to the collection which was interesting, but the best part really is that I recently saw a reference to this exhibit in The New Yorker and I could think to myself, "Yeah, I saw that."

After a stop for cappuccinos and a bit of wifi on the Android phones, we went in search of Tom's Kitchen.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Meat Wrap

We spent a few cold but sunny days in London the first week of 2010. We were supposed to fly out Jan 1, but our flight was canceled because of wintry conditions, so we rescheduled for Saturday.

We checked into our hotel around 2:30, and I asked the fella at the desk if he could suggest a good place to grab a late lunch. "Well, if you walk back up the street toward the Tube, you will probably find something." That is the helpful sort of information I was looking for. Definitely the kind I can't make up myself. Luckily this was our third visit to London, making us London experts (although we have yet to visit the Tower of London or ride The Eye). Anglo-awesome, you might say.* So we happened to know that there is a Whole Foods in nearby Kensington and that at a minimum we could buy some Greek yogurt with honey and eat it on the sidewalk (which is what happened last time), so we blatantly walked the total opposite direction from the tube and made our way to the pretty pretty grocery store.

Happily the Whole Foods cafe was open. I lingered at the mid-eastern food counter for a while, but then Bill reported back with a burrito sighting. Real burritos! Or meat wraps as we were forced to call them, as the menu listed the food choices like this:

Veggie wrap
Meat wrap

I'll have a pork, erm, meat wrap, please. With everything. Yes, Jalapenos. Yes, Guacamole. Yes, Sour Cream. Yes, what you are making there is a burrito. Those other things, while tasty, are not burritos.

We really enjoyed our burritos.

Then we wandered around in slack-jawed wonder for a while and bought some olives and cheese and Dr. Karg** crackers to snack on later after we saw an incredible performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring James Earl Jones.

*I said might.
**Dr. Karg crackers are exactly like Dr. Kracker crackers. So, as we scarfed them down, we accused Dr. Karg of Dr. Kracker impostery! Turns out, Dr. Karg crackers are the inspiration for Dr. Kracker crackers. Sorry for the aspersions, Dr. Karg.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Luce is no more!

Our favorite Italian place, Carluccio's, has had to close down because it hasn't been able to negotiate a lower rent. This place serves 5000 customers a week and it has to close because the rent is too high. Utterly ridiculous. Property owners in this town have got to start reducing rents or we'll just end up back where we were during the Tiger. Or no restaurants.

The food here was great--the most authentic we've found in Dublin. Their caponata is one of our favorite foods on earth. The market sold high-quality pasta, sauces and other staples, and the torrone, oh the torrone!  I was kicking things in our car park when I got home tonight I'm so mad.