Just love to take short breaks in Ireland. Choose an area, spend a couple of nights in a local country house or B&B and explore.
This time it was West Clare and boy is it all happening in West Clare! I steer well clear of the prime tourist spots, been there, done that a long time ago when they werenâ€™t overrun with tourist buses and often truly shocking fast food. Is it really the case that bus tours only want that kind of food? I find that really hard to believe and wince at the damage to the reputation of Irish food. . . .
On the other hand thereâ€™s much to be excited about. In Lahinch we found Hugoâ€™s Deli, a tiny bakery cum cafÃ©, where Hugo Galloway, a brilliant young baker was turning out dark and crusty natural sourdough loaves, warm sausage rolls, focaccia and warm Portuguese custard tarts to die for. Canâ€™t imagine how they do it in such a tiny space. Hugo is self-taught, learned by trial and error. The counter is made from recycled packing cases, a few wooden seats around the edges. A nonstop stream of cool young hipsters, surfers and grateful locals poured in for a â€˜made to orderâ€™ focaccia sandwich that looks properly delicious, while I was sipping a double espresso and nibbling one of the best pastÃ©is de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) Iâ€™ve ever eaten. That was it â€“ a short menu of delicious things â€“ Bravo Hugo and team!
Another exciting discovery for me was Moy Hill Community Farm where Fergal and a whole group of friends and volunteers have developed an inspirational food producing project on 70 acres of mixed land, with 55 CSAâ€™s / members, which supply 13 restaurants, and two Farmers Markets, Ennistymon and Kilrush and a REKO Ring in Ennis, on Wednesday 6:30 and 7:00 at 9 Lower Market Street, Clonroad Beg, customers meet producers and pay cash to collect their spanking fresh food. Another brilliant route to market where local farmers and food producers get paid full price for their produce rather than the circa 33% they would get through the ordinary retail system.
The energy and enthusiasm was palpable when we visited unannounced as preparations were being made for the Farm Gathering – three days of workshops, music, food, foraging farm tours, regenerative agriculture talks, crafts and dancing â€“ a wonderful celebration on the Harvest Equinox.
Moy House, a Blue Book property overlooking Lahinch Bay also had a beautiful garden bursting with fresh produce grown by Sarah Noonan and her team Matt Strefford to use to make magic in the kitchen.
On the main street in Ennistymon youâ€™ll find Niamh Fox, chef and owner of The Little Fox, a super cool spirited cafÃ© serving the sort of fresh quirky creative plates that Iâ€™m happy to drive all the way to Clare for. We washed it down with Thalli Kombucha made by Avery Maguire a brilliant young forager whom youâ€™ll occasionally find in The Aloe Tree Health food shop on Main Street or on her stall at the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturdays. We were there for lunch but check out Little Fox delicious dinners and â€˜pop upsâ€™.
Bespoke handmade knife lovers, of which I am certainly one should link up with Niamhâ€™s partner Sam Gleeson (also a furniture maker) to explore the options. While we are on the subject of handmade, just across the road under the stone arch youâ€™ll find Eamon Oâ€™Sullivan who carves handmade spoons and will give his next course in Ballymaloe cookery School on Saturday November 16th 2019, from 9.00am to 5.00pm, and the course includes lunch.
Just next door youâ€™ll find The Cheese Press run by Sinead Ni Ghairbith where youâ€™ll find among other temptations the superb St Tola goat cheese in its many variations made by her sister Siobhan Ni Ghairbith.
If you have a little more time to linger in Co Clare, drive across the Burren, treat yourself to a stay at lovely Gregans Castle and enjoy Robert McAuleyâ€™s food. Swing by Flaggy Shore for some oysters, then on up to Hazel Mountain Chocolate, the most remote chocolatier in Europe – making chocolate from the bean to the bar and yet one more absolutely must do â€“ check out where Juliaâ€™s Lobster Truck will be that evening (maybe Bell Harbour) â€“ you absolutely mustnâ€™t miss Julia Hemmingwayâ€™s barbequed lobster , lobster roll, steamed clams and mussels, traditional fish and chips and briny Flaggy Shore oysters.
How about that for a quick taste of Co Clare and thereâ€™s so much more to see. . . .
A recipe of a delicious lobster roll with homemade mayo but buttered lobster is also sublime tucked into a brioche roll.
4 long brioche rolls
extra virgin olive oil
225-350g (8-12oz) lobster meat cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice
4 tablespoons (5 – 7 1/2 American tablespoons) mayonnaise or mayonnaise and natural yoghurt mixed
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) scallions, chopped
lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-8 lettuce leaves or watercress depending on size
Cucumber Pickle (optional)
Mix the mayonnaise and yoghurt in a bowl with the diced celery, scallions and lobster meat. Fold gently, season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice.
Just before serving.
Heat a cast iron grill-pan on a high heat. Split the rolls lengthwise, brush with extra virgin olive oil. Char on a hot grill-pan. Fill with lettuce and lobster filling. Serve immediately with thick cucumber pickle.
Portuguese Custard Tarts
Try these, but Hugoâ€™s tarts are worth a detourâ€¦.
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
115g golden caster sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour
400ml whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
900g (2lb) puff pastry
Lightly grease 2 x 12 muffin tins.
Preheat the oven to 230Â°C/450Â°F/Gas Mark 8.
Put the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth.
Cook on a medium heat and stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract.
Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, allow to cool. Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming â€“ prick here and there to allow steam to escape.
Roll the chilled puff pastry into a 3mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, stamp out 7.5cm (3 inch) discs. Press into the muffin tins.
Spoon a generous dessertspoon of the cool custard into each pastry case. Bake in the preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature.
Native Irish Oysters
Crushed ice and/or seaweed
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Brown Soda bread
Guinness or Champagne
Scrub and rinse the oysters well. Open them carefully with an oyster knife â€“ try not to spill the juices.
Cover a large platter with crushed ice or seaweed (or both). Carefully arrange the oysters and lemon wedges around the platter. Serve with Guinness bread and a glass of Guinness.
St. Tola Goat Cheese Croquettes with Rocket Leaves, Roast Pepper and Tapenade Oil
285g (10oz) St. Tola goat cheese (or a similar fresh mild goat cheese)
2 large red peppers
extra virgin olive oil
110g (4oz) stoned black olives
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) capers
1 teaspoon lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
175ml (6fl oz/3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
A selection of lettuces and rocket leaves
4 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons + 4 teaspoons) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Balsamic vinegar
1/2 clove garlic crushed
salt and freshly ground pepper
wild garlic flowers in season
First divide the St. Tola or Ardsallagh goat cheese into 25 balls, chill.
Next make the Tapenade oil.
Coarsely chop the stoned black olives and capers, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Whisk in the olive oil and process to a course or smooth puree as you prefer. Season with freshly ground pepper.
Coat the cheese in seasoned flour, beaten egg, flaked almonds, breadcrumbs. Arrange in a single layer on a flat plate. Cover and chill well.
Roast the peppers in a preheated oven 200Â°C/400Â°F/Gas Mark 6 for approximately 20 minutes until soft/tender. Put into a bowl, cover the top with cling film and allow to steam for 5 or 10 minutes. Peel, remove seeds and cut into strips.
Next make the dressing.
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.
Heat the oil in a deep fry or a pan to 200Â°C/400Â°F/Gas Mark 6.
Fry the goat cheese croquettes in batches until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Toss the lettuces and salad leaves in a bowl with just enough dressing to make the leaves glisten.
Divide between the six plates. Put five croquettes on each plate, decorate with strips or red pepper, rocket leaves and a drizzle of Tapenade oil.
Scatter some wild garlic flowers over the top and serve immediately.
Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies
Everyone has their own favourite brownie recipe and indeed we have several â€“ this is definitely one of the greats.
Makes 9 generous brownies
275g (10oz) chocolate
275g (10oz) butter
5 organic eggs
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
110g (4oz) chopped hazelnuts
cocoa powder, for dusting
deep tin 30 x 20 x 5cm (12 x 8 x 2in)
Preheat the oven to 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/ gas mark 4. Line the tin with silicone paper.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes a light mousse. Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse. Fold the flour into this mixture. Finally add the chopped hazelnuts. Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the surface and cook in the preheated oven for 35â€“40 minutes. The centre will be slightly wobbly. Leave to sit in the tin to cool and cover the tin with a large rectangular plate or tray.
When set, turn out by flipping the tin carefully. Peel off the silicone paper. Place another tray on top of the brownies to turn them right way up. Cut into squares, dust with cocoa and serve.
Crab Apple or Bramley Apple Jelly
Making jellies is immensely rewarding. This is a brilliant master recipe that can be used for many combinations. A jelly bag is an advantage, but by no means essential. Years ago we strained the juice and pulp through an old cotton pillow and hung it on an upturned stool. A couple of thicknesses of muslin will also do the job. Place a stainless-steel or deep pottery bowl underneath to catch the juice. Tie with cotton string and hang from a sturdy cup-hook. If you canâ€™t get enough crab apples, use a mixture of crab apples and windfall cooking apples, like Bramleyâ€™s Seedling, Grenadier or any other tart cooking apple.
Makes 2.7â€“3.2kg (6â€“7lb)
2.7kg (6lb) crab apples or windfall cooking apples
2.7 litres (5 3â„4 pints) water
2 organic lemons
425g (15oz) granulated sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice
Wash the apples, cut into quarters, but do not remove either the peel or core. Windfalls may be used, but be sure to cut out the bruised parts. Put the apples into a large stainless-steel saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons and cook for about 30 minutes until reduced to a pulp.
Pour the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip until all the juice has been extracted, usually overnight. (The pulp can later go to the hens or compost. The jelly bag or muslin may be washed and reused over and over again.)
Measure the juice into a preserving pan and allow 425g (15oz) sugar to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Warm the sugar in a low oven. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and add the warm sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly without stirring for about 8â€“10 minutes. Skim, test and pot immediately. Flavour with rose geranium, mint, sage or cloves as required.