Archive for the ‘bread’Category

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Ryan Campbell of Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn’t live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell’s Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village.

“Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of Atxondo in Spain’s Basque country might be an even closer comparison. Etxebarri’s chef Bittor Arguinzoniz cooks everything with open flame and coals. So does Ryan Campbell, one of the most talented and obsessive chefs we’ve ever met. He uses the trimmings from local peach and cherry orchards that would otherwise be burned as slash.

Light my fire


Campbell knows the appeal of the grill, and he places the five-foot cooking box front and center in the restaurant. Diners can opt to sit at conventional tables—or line up in seats along the bar facing the fire. We chose the bar for a tasting menu. We wanted to watch Campbell work the apparatus and poke the logs while wearing his heavy leather blacksmith’s apron. He is so organized and calm that his motions seemed almost meditative.

chicken liver purses at BackhouseThat’s probably because so much of the menu is prepared ahead. Locavore cooking in a cold climate means lots of smoking, drying, pickling, and even freezing products during their seasonal glut. Most of us associate open-fire cookery with quick roasting. Not Campbell. The chickens hanging in the back of the fireplace are cooking ahead for the first step in his “bird on a wire” dish. For our opener, we ate these pastry purses filled with chicken liver mousse and tomatillo chutney. He paired the dish with barrel-fermented sparkling hard cider.

As soon as we finished this earthy combination, we found ourselves looking at a small bowl of fresh curds and whey with just a dash of maple syrup and a beautiful viola flower floating on top. The milk came from Sheldon Creek Farms, a single-herd microdairy. The combination was ethereal and a bright counterpoint to the chicken liver starter. We thought we’d caught our breath, but immediately Campbell set out a tiny ramekin of fried egg white mousse with a confit egg yolk topped with trout caviar. We couldn’t help but think of the pintxos creativos of Spain’s San Sebastian. In effect, the liver purses, curds and whey, and “Meg’s Egg,” as Campbell calls it, formed a trio of canapes that hinted at the restaurant’s range.

Bread and veggies


After a short pause, another trio of dishes appeared in a sudden flurry. Campbell treats his sourdough breads with house-cultured butter as a course unto itself, as well he should. His sourdough starter, affectionately known as “Roxane,” has been with him for years. The bread and butter clean the palate for the intense vegetable dishes that follow.

wild leek and potato soup from BackhouseThe first was a wild leek and potato soup, thick and green, served with a sourdough brioche toast float, a dab of crème fraiche, and thin matchsticks of homemade prosciutto. (Campbell buys only whole animals and does his own butchering. Nothing goes to waste.) Since local asparagus was still in season, he completed the trio with a plate of wood-roasted Niagara asparagus, a smear of black garlic aioli and another smear of garlic mustard. (He makes his own condiments, of course.)

The meat of the matter


First Ontario shrimp at BackhouseWithout getting too precious about it, Campbell treats animal proteins with an almost religious regard for the creatures. He said it took him two years to rise to the top of the wait list to be allowed to buy First Ontario farmed shrimp. The farm only produces about 300 pounds per week, and Campbell gives each Pacific white shrimp a place of honor atop local grits in this small bowl.

bird on a wire from BackhouseOur tasting menu moved on to a variation of the “bird on a wire” dish—so called because Campbell slow roasts heritage chickens strung on a wire in the back of a firebox. He then picks the meat and presses the smoky flesh into a tubular sausage. Thick slices are quickly grilled over the open fire before he plates them with a chicken leg, wood-roasted locally foraged wild mushrooms, and homemade gnocchi. The dish might be the apotheosis of poultry. The glass of Gamay Noir from a local virtual winery (13th Street) didn’t hurt either.

Desserts at Backhouse are seasonally inspired. We were dining in late spring, and maple was Campbell’s inspiration. (We never asked if he uses sugar, but we suspect that maple is his sweetener of choice because it’s local.) He presented a sweet potato custard, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a crumbly spice cake—all scented and sweetened with maple. Alas, we were too sated to try the plate of Ontario cheeses.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Living the Atlantis fantasy on Paradise Island, Bahamas

Pegasus fountain at Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas
It takes a certain audacity to create a resort themed to the lost city of Atlantis. Royal Towers was the first hotel built on the 171-acre property of Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com) on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It still embodies that fanciful vision of lost glory. Much has been written about Atlantis since it opened more than 20 years ago, but you do have to see it to believe it. It’s so over-the-top that it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the tale of the drowned city first related by Plato.

Grand Lobby at AtlantisThe sunny Bahamian weather certainly doesn’t hurt, but it was the artwork that drew me in. As soon as I stepped out of a taxi, I was greeted by a gigantic fountain with leaping bronze figures of Pegasus (above). I walked past the winged horses to giant green doors flanked by larger-than-life relief sculptures of stylized seahorses and whales. But I was still unprepared for the soaring Great Hall (the Atlantis version of a hotel lobby). Eight enormous murals tell the fictional story of Atlantis from its creation until it sank into the sea. The scale of the aptly named space is enough to make a visitor feel either insignificant or fortunate to be the momentary ruler of all that towers above.

Underwater "dig" at AtlantisAs they say on late-night television—wait, there’s more! In the Dig on the lower level, I wandered through an imaginary version of the walkways and tunnels of the sunken city, all the while surrounded by tanks of fish that might float through the watery grave. Among the lionfish, piranhas, moray eels, clownfish, and seahorses were grouper and spiny lobster—species that might make their way to the dinner plate.

In a place that thinks so big, it’s not surprising that Atlantis boasts 21 restaurants that range from ultra-casual to ultra-swanky dining. And that’s not counting the 19 bars and lounges. It’s an almost overwhelming number of choices. Many world cuisines are represented, but given my short visit, I decided to focus on local foods and flavors.

open kitchen at Bimini Road restaurant at Atlantis

Colorful, casual Bimini Road is perhaps the best place to start. The bright murals on the walls almost distracted me from the open kitchen (above) and the displays of local fish and shellfish on ice, including snapper, lobster tail, and the Bahamian “national food,” conch. This spiral-shaped whelk is common to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The meat is firm and chewy like calamari, though Bahamians consider it more flavorful. It’s also very versatile. Bimini Road serves several variations of conch favored by islanders. Conch salad, similar to ceviche, features minced raw conch with peppers, onion, and citrus juices. Cracked conch is deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. Bimini Road also serves conch fritters, and for good measure, conch nachos.

But I settled on another island classic, conch chowder. The chowder was thick with pepper and tomato and was served with a wedge of johnny cake, the island’s signature baking-powder bread that was perfect for sopping up the last of the broth.

Johnny cake is ubiquitous and it’s always good. It made a delightfully simple accompaniment to chowder, especially at Atlantis, which is otherwise a temple of the unrestrained imagination. The johnny cake recipe below is courtesy of Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board.

JOHNNY CAKE


Serves 9-12Conch chowder and johnny cake at Bimini Road at Atlantis

Ingredients

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup milk

Directions

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or your hands, working the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk and combine until you have a soft dough consistency.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then transfer into a greased 9×9-inch pan.

Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until the edges of the cake begin to turn a light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

14

02 2017

Camisadu farmstay in heart of Cannonau country

Agriturismo Camisadu
Exploring the Cannonau wine country means spending at least a few days in the mountains of Sardinia. That’s hardly a hardship. The scenery is beautiful and aromas of the Mediterranean scrub hang in the air. This macchia Mediterranea, as it’s called, consists of myrtle and strawberry trees with an undergrowth of yellow-flowered gorse and mastic, a shrub that bleeds a gummy sap. In the heat of the Sardinian sun, they smell like a resinous cache of rosemary, bay, and wild thyme. Stands of cork oak and groves of evergreen holm oaks punctuate patches of machhia. Sheep graze in the few open meadows. Pigs forage for acorns in the oak forest.

One of the simpler lodgings I experienced was a farmhouse just outside Oliena. Agriturismo Camisadu offers a farmstay in six guest rooms, two with en suite bathrooms with bidet and shower. Rough-hewn wooden beams cross the ceilings, and terracotta tiles cover the floors. Whitewashed walls are decorated with country artifacts—baskets, old saddles, woven bags, painted wooden shelves. But the interiors are really only for sleeping. If you’re here, you’ll want to be outdoors. The grounds are landscaped with pomegranate trees and prickly pear cactus. The farm offers cooking classes and excursions to gather wild herbs.

Tasting the countryside

Making bread at Camisadu The basic stay at Camisadu includes a Sardinian country breakfast of fresh bread, jams and coffee. But the farm stay also offers lunch and dinner with local vegetables and roast meats. The staff make the Sardinian crisp flat bread called pane carasau. Rolled very thin, it puffs up when cooked in a brick oven burning oak logs.

roasting meat at CamisaduThe cooks also roast pork and lamb on vertical metal skewers in front of a roaring fire in a shallow wood fireplace. I was with a group organized by Laore Sardegna, which provides technical assistance to Sardinian agriculture. So we began an afternoon feast by standing around sipping a crisp Cannonau rosé and eating hot carasau and appertizers of pecorino sardo. In this case, the cheese consisted of balls of soft, fresh cheese rolled in grated aged cheese (below). The salty, piquant cheese was a perfect foil for the fruity wine. Later, we moved on to fire-roasted pork with Cannonau wines from the Cantina Oliena (see previous post). It was hard to move on….

Overnight rates at Camisadu vary by season, but rarely exceed €65 per night with breakfast. The web site (agriturismocamisadu.com) is severely dated, so the easiest way to arrange a booking is by email at camisadu@email.it. Agriturismo Camisadu is about 1 km outside Oliena’s town center on the Strada Vecchia Oliena-Orgosolo. Phone service is spotty, but the number (a cell connection) is +39 368.347.9502. Alternately, book through Sardegna.com or Booking.com.

Pecorino sardo and rose

07

01 2017

Jeffers Home Bakery bakes Irish staff of life

Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast
Whenever we travel in Ireland, Pat’s mother always requests that we bring her home some soda bread farls. Now in her 90s, she still remembers her own mother, a native of County Armagh, cooking the four triangular pieces on a hot griddle.

For us, it’s a good request since it guarantees that we seek out a homey traditional bakery. In Belfast, that was Jeffers Home Bakery (4-6 College Street, 028 9032 7157, www.jeffersbakery.co.uk), right across the street from Sawers in the downtown shopping district.

Inside Jeffers Home Bakery on College Street in Belfast The operation started small in East Belfast when William Jeffers bought a van in 1937 and began delivering bread from Thompson’s Bakery. By 1950 he had purchased the first bakery of his own and the little business began to grow. Andrew Jeffers, the third generation of the family, runs the College Street shop. It’s the only Jeffers outpost in the central city.

Jeffers makes all types of cakes and tray bakes and is known for such holiday specialties as mince pies, trifles, and Christmas puddings. The shop always has lots of fresh breads and rolls – along with white, wheat, and treacle (molasses) soda farls.

Pat’s mother, a purist, prefers the white soda farls. That’s also what Jeffers cooks split in half and grill in butter for their “Filled Soda” breakfast menu. With prices ranging from £1.15 (cheese) to £2.55 (egg and two strips of bacon), the filled sodas make an inexpensive, quick, and filling meal. (That’s a farl with egg and sausage below.)

Eat them outside at one of the three little tables under the awning and you might catch Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter on the animated Alice Clock on the upper level of the Fountain Centre across the street.

SODA FARLS


The recipe is simple, but the devil is in the details. Quit kneading sooner than you’d expect—while the dough is still a little sticky. Watch heat under the griddle carefully to avoid burning the exterior before the center is cooked. This recipe is adapted from
My NI: Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016.

Jeffers farl with egg and sausage in Belfast

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk

Directions

Prepare a heavy flat griddle or frying pan on medium to low heat.

Place the flour, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend well. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Work quickly to mix into a dough. Place on a well-floured surface and knead lightly until smooth ball forms. Press into a flattened circle a bit less than a half-inch thick and cut into quarters with a floured knife.

Sprinkle a little flour over the base of the hot pan and place each quarter onto the hot pan, one at a time, until the quarters form a complete circle. Cook the farls for 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through. You may have to cut through the center cross to turn them over. Take the pan off the heat and allow the farls to cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 4 farls

09

12 2016

Belfast holidays close out Year of Food and Drink

Belfast City Hall at holidays

With no Thanksgiving to break up the autumn, folks in Northern Ireland start looking ahead to Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. That doesn’t mean that Belfast lacks for reasons to give thanks. With all its occasional rough spots, Northern Ireland has enjoyed nearly a generation of peace since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998. The Peace Wall (below) has become a huge tourist attraction.

At the Peace Wall in Belfast Belfast has blossomed as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city proud of its Irish roots. Nowhere is the renaissance more obvious than on the gastronomic front. Ireland north and south spent 2016 celebrating the island’s great provender, amazing farmers, and legendary fishermen during the Year of Food and Drink.

fish supplier in BelfastBelfast’s chefs have broadly embraced that renewed local pride, and menus across the city proclaim the provenance of every meal’s raw materials. That focus on fresh and local has meant an auspicious year for Belfast’s food and drink scene, including stronger international recognition. Walk through the restaurant neighborhoods early in the morning, and you encounter vans delivering sides of dry-aged beef, huge sacks of newly dug potatoes, or some of the world’s prettiest salmon.

Great dining bargains

Bread and soup at Vin Cafe in Belfast When the Michelin stars were announced last spring, Belfast gained a second starred restaurant, Ox, to complement Michael Deane’s Eipic. Many of the city’s best chefs, Deane included, have complemented their fine dining with more casual spots where it’s possible to get a bargain lunch or pre-theater dinner. For example, the parsnip soup and wheaten bread lunch here was a weekday special at Deane’s Vin Cafe (44 Bedford St., 028 9024 8830, www.michaeldeane.co.uk/vin-cafe). It cost a measly £5. (The glass of rosé was £5.50, but it was worth it.) As visiting Americans, we enjoyed the additional advantage of a weak post-Brexit-vote pound—about $1.25 to £1.

As Belfast celebrates its local foods, many of the city’s best restaurants are also drawing up special holiday menus for the Christmas season. It’s a great time to eat in Northern Ireland’s capital city. In the upcoming posts, we’ll be outlining some places to go and tastes to enjoy. To explore a little online, be sure to see www.ireland.com.

19

11 2016

Toronto fills its larder at St. Lawrence Market

Banner outside St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
Toronto is like the grandmother who always wants to feed you. In fact, banners hanging from Old Town light poles actually exhort visitors to bring their appetites. After a whirlwind visit to Canada’s biggest city just before Canadian Thanksgiving, we have to conclude that Toronto is a good place to “come on an empty stomach.” Torontonians have cultivated a sophisticated contemporary gastronomic scene that draws on foodways from all over Europe and Asia. Great little ethnic restaurants dot the streets of the neighborhoods. At the same time, many of the best restaurants feature market-driven contemporary cuisine that showcases the best products from Canadian farms and orchards.

Historic market continues to thrive


exterior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Toronto has had a permanent central food market since 1830—four years before the town was even called Toronto. Today’s St. Lawrence Market was built around Old City Hall and opened in 1902. The facade of Old City Hall is still visible inside the market, and the former offices were converted into meeting and display space in the 1970s.

The bustling food market, with its main entrance on Front Street at the corner of Jarvis, continues to flourish. The busiest day is Saturday, when both the main market and the adjacent farmers’ market open at 5 a.m. Closed on Sunday and Monday, St. Lawrence Market opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and closes late in the afternoon. (For full details on hours and special events, see www.stlawrencemarket.com.)

Interior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto We always like to check out fresh food markets wherever we visit. It tells us volumes about local specialties and about what might be in season. We visited on our first afternoon in town to get a preview of what might be on the menus during our stay. A quick perusal of the butcher stalls suggests that Torontonians are keen on “tomahawk” steaks (a very large ribeye), filet mignon wrapped in bacon (on sale at six for $35), racks of Ontario beef back ribs, Ontario lamb, and (of course) peameal bacon. (More about that in the next post.)

market-eaters-300 The produce aisles had plenty of exotic vegetables from South America, California, and Asia. But even in October, Ontario growers were still harvesting strawberries and currants along with seasonal apples. Bakeries also abound in the market, and some of them make sandwiches. Many shoppers were also diners, sitting on stools at narrow shelves to enjoy their meals. Some take their food outdoors to the picnic tables outside the market’s lower level.

Farmers’ market dominates Saturday


apples at Farmers Market at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Nothing beats the Saturday farmers’ market for getting a reading on local products. With the old North Market building torn down and the site under construction, a voluminous white tent south of St. Lawrence Market on Esplanade houses the farmers’ market. When the weather cooperates, many vendors set up on surrounding sidewalks, and fall offerings included big bouquets of flowers and heaps of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Growers come to the market from a considerable distance. Shop for chicken or duck eggs, and you’ll likely buy from a woman wearing the long print dress and simple lace bonnet associated with some of the Mennonite and Amish sects.

12

10 2016

Sweet tastes at Waikiki farmers’ market

Waikiki farmers' marker
As on the mainland, farmers’ markets are thriving in Honolulu as more and more people embrace fresh, local foods. The best market for visitors—who don’t have to gather all the ingredients for dinner—may be in the pretty atrium at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki (2424 Kalakaua Avenue). It’s held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and has a nice array of exotic fruits, such as the spiny red and slightly acidic rambutan or the sweeter lychee. There are also plenty of options for a quick snack, such as bowls of diced mixed fruit or coconut juice straight from the shell. The market is also a great place to pick up food gifts for the folks back home. You’ll find local coffee and coffee jelly, green tea, ginger chips, sea salt, and an array of fruit butters, including guava, mango, lilikoi, and haupia.

Waikiki farmers' market fruit Several bakers also set up tables offering everything from malasadas, or “Portuguese donuts,” to loaves of guava bread and pineapple-macadamia nut muffins. I was most intrigued with the muffins, though no one was willing to share their recipe. Those that I sampled were very tasty but quite dense and perhaps a little too moist. I’m guessing that the bakers used canned crushed pineapple, since the enzyme in raw pineapple breaks up protein chains and messes up the way baked goods rise. But I liked the flavor combination and the textural contrasts of the pineapple and nuts, so I decided to come up with my own version once I got back home.

I started with a classic muffin recipe that can be altered to add fruit and nuts, and crossed it with an unusual recipe for dried fig muffins from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. I thought I would like to use dried pineapple, but those pineapple tidbits can be tough compared to the soft crumb of a muffin. The fig muffin recipe called for soaking the figs in hot apple juice. I thought orange might go better with pineapple, so I grated the peel, squeezed the juice, heated it, and added the pineapple bits. They soaked for 10 minutes, and voila!, I had pineapple with the right texture for muffins and without the sogginess of crushed fruit.

PINEAPPLE MACADAMIA NUT MUFFINS

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

Wakiki farmers' market pineapple mac muffins2 juice oranges
1 cup dried pineapple cut in raisin-sized pieces
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup tart yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Directions

Grate peel from the oranges, then cut and squeeze for juice. Heat juice and peel to near boiling. Add pineapple pieces and soak 10 minutes. Remove pineapple and grated peel from juice with slotted spoon and reserve.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 12 muffin cups,

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, ground nutmeg, and baking soda. Whisk to mix thoroughly

In another bowl, beat together eggs, yogurt, and milk. Beat in brown sugar, melted butter, and vanilla.

Add the egg-sugar mix to the flour mixture and stir just enough to moisten all the ingredients. Batter will be lumpy. Fold in the reserved pineapple and orange peel and add the macadamia nuts.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (a rounded quarter cup of batter). Place in oven and bake 14–16 minutes—until tops begin to brown and toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool on rack.

28

03 2016

Even more decadent grilled cheese and truffle sandwich

ingredients for truffle grilled cheese sandwich
Some foodies love to play the “last supper” game: What would you want to eat for your last meal on earth? Pat and I are in accord on this one. It would probably be this elegantly simple grilled cheese sandwich with Comté, prosciutto, ripe tomato and truffle. Cooked just enough to brown the bread in butter (an omelet pan is perfect for the task), the Comté brings out all the high, resinous notes in the black truffle. You could die happy just biting into the sandwich, which gives you a strong whiff of truffle just before you actually taste it.

grilled cheese and truffle sandwich In the interest of research, we tried this sandwich in the purist form—just Comté and truffle—before adding the prosciutto and tomato. The basic sandwich shown here is very, very good. But it’s only good enough for a last lunch, not a last supper. We chose Comté, by the way, because it’s the standard cheese for making a great croque monsieur. Although we’ve never been able to lay hands on Patricia Wells’ book, Simply Truffles, we’ve read that she includes a recipe for a truffled croque monsieur. Any cheese that can stand up to béchamel sauce, we figure, can stand up to black truffles. The addition of prosciutto was also in homage to the croque monsieur. Using paper-thin prosciutto gives a lot of flavor without interfering with the toothiness of the truffle. Like the burger, we think this dish is the apotheosis of an American classic.

ULTIMATE GRILLED CHEESE WITH TRUFFLE


Makes 1 grilled cheese sandwich

2 slices excellent white sandwich bread
butter (lots of butter)
2 oz. aged Comté cheese, coarsely grated
1 slice prosciutto large enough to cover bread
1 ripe tomato, skin removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
10 grams black truffle, thinly shaved

Butter both slices of bread. On one buttered side, place half the cheese, then a layer of prosciutto, the truffles, the tomato slices, and then the remaining cheese. Top with other slice of bread, butter side toward filling.

In an omelet pan, melt a knob of butter and swirl it around the pan to coat. Place sandwich carefully into pan and press gently with a spatula. Cover with a pot lid and let cook over medium heat for up to 90 seconds. Remove lid and flip sandwich over. Top should now be golden brown. Place lid back on and cook another 45-60 seconds until other side is browned and cheese is just melted. Remove from pan and cut on the diagonal. Eat while hot. Alternate bites with sips of cold Chablis.

Try not to die just yet. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.
grilled cheese truffle prosciutto and tomato sandwich

28

07 2015

What to buy in a Dublin grocery store

Dublin grocery store 1
Whenever we visit Dublin, we make sure to enjoy lots of incredible butter and cream since we can’t bring any home. (U.S. Customs frowns on such dairy products.) Fortunately there are lots of other good Irish foodstuffs that we can pack in the suitcase. For cheeses, we make our purchases at Sheridans Cheesemongers (see earlier post), but here are some of the things that caught our eye in a neighborhood Dunnes grocery store:

Irish soda farls

Pat’s mother still remembers her own mother, who hailed from Northern Ireland, making soda bread farls in a round pan on the top of the stove. First she would shape the dough into a circle and then cut it crosswise into four pieces, the so-called farls. This style of soda bread is flatter and more moist than the more common cake-style. Most grocery stores sell the farls already packaged in plastic bags. They remain fresh if we put them into the freezer as soon as we get home.

Odlums mixes

Odlums began milling and selling flour in 1845 and the company remained in the family until 1991. Its flour has been a staple in Irish kitchens for generations and the Odlums web site (odlums.ie) is full of recipes. But we generally just pick up a couple of mixes for brown bread or for brown, white, or fruit scones.

Flahavan’s Porridge Oats

The Flahavan family has been milling oats for more than 200 years, uses only local oats, and has perfected a technique to produce a fine flake that cooks up more quickly. Even if the oats weren’t so good, we would probably buy them anyway because we can’t resist the old-style packaging.

more food from a Dublin grocery store

Erin Meal Mixes

This Dublin-based company’s seasoning mixes for meats and vegetables include a number with a French accent, but for an easy to prepare flavor of the Emerald Isle, we opt for Shepherd’s Pie or Country Stew.

Lakeshore Duck Fat

We almost hate to admit how good French fries taste when they are cooked in duck fat. We don’t do any frying at home, but we agree with the Irish that a bit of duck fat gives roast potatoes or roast vegetables a richness that belies their humble origins. The manufacturer advises adding one tablespoon of duck fat per pound of vegetables, which means that a 200g jar will last for a couple of weeks in the winter. Better get two.

Marrowfat peas

mushy peas with fish and chipsThese green peas left on the vine until they have dried are the primary ingredient in mushy peas – the classic accompaniment to fish and chips (see photo at right). They’re available canned, but it’s easier to throw a bag of the dried peas into the suitcase.

Lemon’s sweets

You can find just about every type of Cadbury chocolate bar in Dublin, but for a treat with local roots, we look for Lemon’s. The company started out as a confectionery shop on what is now Lower O’Connell Street in 1842 and even made its way into James Joyce’s Ulysses. It has changed hands several times and experimented with a number of products. Our favorites are the Mint Iced Caramels, with a smooth center and a crisp coating. The company claims that it takes two days to make them from a secret recipe dating back to 1926.

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20

02 2015

Making The Marker’s Irish brown soda bread

Irish brown soda bread loaf If you’re following our series of posts on dining in Dublin, you might recall that our last post called for Irish brown soda bread. We realize that unless you’re blessed with an authentic Irish bakery (like we are, with Greenhills Bakery in Dorchester), you’ll probably have to make your own. For folks who often flub yeast breads, a delicious Irish soda bread is almost a godsend, since it’s hard to screw up if you follow the directions.

seeds for Irish brown soda bread At the chic and rather new Marker Hotel in Dublin’s hip Docklands district, we tasted a spectacular version of Irish brown bread on the extravagant breakfast buffet. Seeds in brown bread are nothing new, though the classic recipes only call for oat groats to add texture. This version adds the perfect balance of sesame, sunflower, and flax seeds to make the loaf interesting. It’s from Rey Hortillosa, the pastry chef at The Marker, and we made only slight adjustments for North American ingredients. He provided the recipe in metric measures, and we recommend that you weigh everything with a gram scale. (Weighing the ingredients is often a key to success in baking, as it eliminates the influence of relative humidity.) For readers in a hurry or those without a kitchen scale, we’ve added North American volume measurements.

IRISH BROWN BREAD

Ingredients

250 grams (1 3/4 cup) whole wheat flour
250 grams (1 3/4 cup) all-purpose white flour
8 grams (scant 1 1/2 teaspoons) salt
20 grams (4 teaspoons) baking soda
50 grams (1/4 cup) brown sugar
75 grams (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) oat groats
1 tablespoon flax seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
560 ml (19 fl. oz) buttermilk

Directions

Set oven at 325°F (160°C). Thoroughly grease a bread loaf pan.

Mix all dry ingredients by hand in a bowl. Add buttermilk and mix by hand until the dough is uniformly wet and sticky. Place dough in loaf pan, being careful not to trap any pockets of air.

Bake 50-60 minutes, until top is brown.

Remove from oven and carefully remove from pan, placing loaf on wire rack to cool. To avoid gummy bread, resist the temptation to cut a slice for at least 10 minutes.

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02 2015