Thursday, March 13, 2014

5 food habits that mean you are nearly Irish

Since Paddy's Day is just around the corner, what better time than now to reflect on those little food habits, small nuggets of infectious Irishness that make us, foreigners, become a little bit more Irish as time goes by.

12 years since I first landed in Dublin, straight out of college, many things have changed in the country. Looking at the following list, I realise I have also done a fair bit of changing myself!...  

-Lasagne and chips
Coming from 'The Continent', the first impression when encountering lasagne with chips on a menu is of horror. Surely pasta doesn't need any additional carbs...or does it? 12 years on, I wouldn't have it any other way...

-Cheese and onion crisps
Cheese and onion Taytos are probably the biggest export from Irish mammies to their offsprings in
Australia but to the non-Irish crisp lover the first impression when coming across cheese and onion
crisps can be condensed in one word: gross! Where are the plain old-fashion ready salted crisps? With time and practice, we’ve learnt to love them too, of course. Salt and vinegar are still far
superior though… which takes me to the next thing…

-Vinegar on chips
To a foreigner, it is weird enough this obsession of eating chips on their own, but surely, we've all been quickly converted to the humble bag of chips too, but with salt and vinegar? That might have disgusted you 10 years ago. Not anymore.

-A good cuppan tae agus baine
As a rule of thumb, Galicians don’t put milk in their tea. Not that they drink much tea to start with.
But if tea must be drunk, it will be a light watery concoction with lemon and sugar in it. Outrageous,
isn’t it? I agree… nothing beats a good cuppa agus baine. And there is nothing that couldn't be solved (or nearly) with a cup of tea. A few years back I would have added 5 teaspoons of sugar to it though.

-Dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner?
To be honest, breakfast is one thorny issue the Irish and southern continentals are never going to
agree on. Some rather have a rashers sambo at 7 in the morning, the others would prefer to stick to
a coffee or Cola Cao and a piece of lemon drizzle cake. Two different philosophies. Both acceptable.
Likely to cause trouble? Yes. If you are coming to Ireland just stick a few Cola Cao sachets in your
case. If you are heading to Galicia, you might need to bring a few sausages on the sly.

The one thing I still haven't manage to embrace? the yuk crème eggs... some things are just a step too far.

And to finish off, since it is virtually impossible to end a phone conversation in Ireland with just one single 'goodbye'... It is a 'Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye...' for now...

Happy St Patrick's Day! wherever you are, and whatever you are munching!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Carnival Recipe: Monk's Ears (Orellas)

A recipe tried and tested for the office, to celebrate Entroido (Carnival)
Carnival or Entroido is a special time on the Camino de Santiago. In Galicia, food plays a very important role in the celebrations, as usual, with traditional pork dishes and sweets being prepared for the occasion, and the days leading to the big day, Carnival Tuesday (pancake Tuesday). One of those classic Entroido sweets in Galicia is called ‘orellas’ which means ‘ears’, sometimes they are also called ‘orellas de frade’ or monk’s ears! they deliciously crispy and sugary batter strips. Here’s a recipe, tried and tested at the office:

What you will need:
2 eggs
1 spoonful of aniseed liquor or cinnamon (optional)
500gr flour
75gr sugar
50ml of sunflower or 50gr melted butter
150ml of milk (or half warm water/half milk)
Grated peel of a lemon or orange – your choice!
a pinch of salt
a teaspoon of baking powder
Icing sugar to dust
Sunflower oil (for frying)

In bowl, mix the flour, one whole egg and one egg yoke, the sunflower oil (or butter) cinnamon (or aniseed), sugar and the milk and grated peel. Mix well and knead until you get an even and workable dough (not sticky). Take the egg white and whisk until fluffy, then add gradually to the dough mix.
On a dusted surface roll out the dough to a thin layer, then cut into triangular or rectangular shapes and fry on a high heat until they bubble up and get crispy. Take them out of the oil and place them on a plate with kitchen paper (to soak some of the oil). Once dry/cooler, dust with icing sugar.

Enjoy our Entroido recipe with a cup of coffee, chocolate or a tea!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Camino de Santiago in 10 foods

Here's a foodie blog I have just written (and sampled!) at after a recent trip to the Camino de Santiago along the French Way, I hope you like it:

The many routes of the Camino de Santiago cross different regions (in some cases countries), each with its own traditions, culture and food. If you are walking the Camino de Santiago along the French Way, from the French border, here are some classic dishes and traditional produce you will be able to taste.

This is our Camino de Santiago in 10 dishes (feel free to suggest your favourites!):

1-White Asparagus
camino-food-casasabinaNavarra’s white asparagus are the most famous in Spain. They are delicious with just a dollop of mayonnaise sauce. Another Navarrese speciality is ‘pochas’, a regional type of bean, stewed with Serrano ham cubes. Here’s a picture of Helena from Casa Sabina in Roncesvalles, serving her delicious ‘pochas’.

2-Chilindrón sauce
Chilindrón is a traditional sauce from Navarra, Basque Country and Aragón regions, made with red vegetables, mainly tomatoes and red peppers.
You will likely find meats such as lamb or chicken cooked ‘al chilindrón’, in ‘chilindrón’ sauce.

3-Potatoes Rioja style
tapas-caminowaysFrom La Rioja region of course, famous for its red wine, you will find a variety of dishes cooked ‘a la Riojana’, ‘Rioja-style’, including potatoes. This is more than just a potato dish, the potatoes are stewed in a clear broth with chorizo sausage.

4-Ice cream in Logroño
Marzipan, goats cheese with blueberries, cherry and orange sorbets, Ferrero Rocher… any ice cream flavour you might imagine you will find it in Logroño, capital of La Rioja and famous for its wine but also a city with a deep ice-making tradition.

5-Tapas in Burgos
Burgos has been selected the country’s gastronomic capital for 2013, an important accolade, reflecting the quality of the food you will find in the city of El Cid. Go for tapas in the many bars, offering a wide variety of flavours and combinations so you can taste as many different dishes as possible.

cured-meats-caminoways6-Cured meats in León
As you get into Castilla-León, cured meats become even more prominent in restaurant menus. Cecina, smoked beef, is a local specialty and cured meats (embutidos) from this region are of exceptional quality.
chocolate-caminoways7-Cakes and Chocolate from Astorga
Astorga had at one stage up to 64 chocolate factories – we where assured by Camino, the shop assistant, at the Alonso Mantecados shop in the Plaza de España. As good an excuse as any to stop and taste some of the artisan chocolate made locally. Don’t forget to try the famous ‘mantecados’ (little buttery cakes) and ‘hojaldres’ (super sweet sticky puffy pastries). There is also a chocolate museum in town.

8-Botillo in El Bierzo
You will cross El Bierzo on sections 6 and 7 of the French Way, its capital being Ponferrada. The most famous dish of this region is ‘botillo’. It is a dish where various parts of the pig chopped, seasoned, spiced and stuffed together to be cured and smoked for a few days. It gets cooked and sliced before serving and can also be eaten in stews. El Bierzo is also famous for its cherries so make sure to try them if you are travelling in Summer, you will see them in orchards along the walk and in every supermarket.

octopus-caminoways9-Octopus ‘market fair style’ in Melide
Galicia’s most traditional dish is octopus, eaten traditionally on market days, hence its name in Galego (pulpo á feira – octopus market day style). Stop for a ‘ración’ (portion) at a real ‘pulpería’, a bar or restaurant specialised in cooking octopus, where the octopus is simply boiled and served with a sprinkle of sea salt and smoked paprika. A Garnacha in Melide is a popular stop on the last section of the French Way.

10-Arzúa cheese
arzua-caminowaysFurther along the way, before you get to Santiago, you will pass the market town of Arzúa, where you can get a picture taken with the statue of the humble woman selling cheese in the main square. Explore the small shops in town to get a taste of the local cheese, for example at the old school butcher shop of father and son Luís and Luís, also known as ‘Carnicería Tarazona’. They will milk the cow for fresh milk on the spot and they sell the traditional Arzúa cheese, as well as their meats. The family has been running the establishment for over 100 years.

Buen Camino and Buen Provecho! We have previously shared our list of the best Galician dishes not to miss if you are walking the Camino de Santiago.

This blog was originally posted at:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ah the good weather!

Ah, the good weather! A whole week of uninterrupted sunshine and balmy temperatures tuned Ireland and residents to holiday mode. Out came the sandals and the flowery dresses,the BBQs, the coconut lotions and, of course, the fake tans. The whole nation poured outdoors and rightly so! it has been a while since the last time we had seen Mister Sunshine in such glorious conditions.

Having moved to Dublin recently, I sure missed the long strands of County Wexford this week! We finally hit the beach on Sunday and chose to head out to Portmarnock mainly beacuse it was handy and accessible by public transport (driving to the beach on a sunny Sunday in Ireland is mission impossible). So far so good. The train was packed with teenagers high on hormones and sunshine. It was amusing enough but we chose to head to the middle of the beach to leave the crowds at either end. It was just pure heaven. That's what a Summer Sunday afternoon should be all about!

The far end of the beach, closer to the village, looked chockablock. But the most shocking part was seeing the amount of rubbish being scattered about the place, totally without a care or concern for people around, let alone the environment. A woman with her toddler and baby unwrapped her kid's icecream and proceed to bury the wrapper under the sand, not a worry in the world. Groups drinking cans on the grass were too busy having a good time to worry about binning their empty cans. Piles of empty glass and plastic bottles accummulated in the dunes, on the sand and the grass. Wrapping paper, leftover food and all sorts of litter dotted the place. Dogs were having a fun day at the beach too, but many owners chose to ignore their pets' poo, waiting for a bare foot to land on it. By 7 o'clock, once the tide was out and the main crowds had left, the vision was truly appalling.

It strikes me as strange that people are so keen to get out and make the most of the sunshine and the coast, while having no respect whatsoever for the space and the nature they've come to enjoy. Surely they'll expect to find the beach still there, clean and tidy next time they come... maybe we can put it to the side effects of sunshine, or call it mass national sunstroke... maybe we should just blame a lack of manners and of civil duty. And hope next time Mr Sunshine comes, we've all cooled down a bit and are more prepared to deal with our natural spaces responsibly.

Weather is due a change this week, rain will be back in Ireland. A bit of normality. I hope Summer does visit again this year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cracking sloe gin trifle

I had a go at making a trifle this weekend. My first trifle ever. It didn't look pretty but it was delicious. Since we are going to Galicia for Christmas, I thought it would be a good idea to have an Irish or British dish as well. Looking at recipes online I found plenty of ideas, all of them different so I decided to go free style and use whatever I fancied.

We made plenty of sloe gin last year so that seemed like a good choice.
Also for the base, I bought Boudoir biscuits and assembled them with plenty of blackcurrant jam from the Gorey Farmers Market (I pasted them together as a boudoir jam sandwich). I bought a tin of peaches in grape juice and poured all the peaches (but 3 I left for decoration) over the biscuit and jam base. Then drizzled a good bit of slow gin.

I had homemade apple jelly in the cupboard so that was next in. At this stage it looked like a bit of a mess, not a sight of the tidy and even layers of shop-bought trifles. Then I made custard (one pint of milk) from powder and once it cooled off a bit, I poured over the messy base. Once the custard was cold I whipped cream (with a touch of sugar) and covered the top. I used the remaining peaches for decoration and sprinkled a bit of cocoa powder on top.

Because sloe gin has a very sweet taste and not particularly alcoholic, it went very well with the berries and the fruit.

I should have taken a shot but I just got too carried away... next time!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Autummy chestnut flan

Sweet chestnuts used to be the most important part of the Galician diet back in the day, being the starchy basis of daily meals before the mighty potato was introduced from South America.

The chestnut still remains a big Autumm favourite and the star of the 'Magosto', which is mainly a party celebrating the chestnut harvest, its main purpose being to gather together and roast and eat chestnuts (and sort of celebrate the beginning of winter too).

As a kid, we celebrated a 'magosto' party at school and I loved going to my grandparents around this time of the year, to gather chestnuts and roast them in the fire. Roasted or boiled and eaten with milk... as children we loved the sweet floury taste of chestnuts and the fun involved in picking them, and cooking them. Never to be eaten raw though, as granny said warms will grow in your belly. It might be a myth but just in case...

This year I found some French chestnuts at the Gorey Farmers Market and decided I'd try to make a chestnut flan (creme caramel). It was my first ever flan, and my first ever chestnut flan... and it didn't turn out too shabby! I followed a Galician recipe book that has the shortest recipes ever (they are all about 4 lines long in average!) in true Galician cooking free-style.

Here's what I needed:

500gr (approx) of sweet chestnuts
200gr of sugar
milk (2 bowls - around a pint and 1/2)
4 eggs (separate yolk and whites)
a drop of vanilla essence

First I boiled the chestnuts in water so they can be peeled properly.
Once peeled, I boiled the chestnuts in the milk with the vanilla essence and 150gr of sugar.
The chestnuts will disintegrate in the milk eventually. To help them along, you can blend the mix for a bit.

Prepare a big bowl (the one you'll cook the flan in, it needs to go in bain Marie so it must be resilient) lining it with caramel (in a saucepan melt sugar with a bit of water, then pour in the bowl - my caramel wasn't great but it did the job).

 Once you think the chestnuts have blended into the milk, sieve the mixture (so there are no lumpy bits of chestnut in your flan). Add the other 50gr of sugar and the egg yolk. Then add the whites (first, whisk them to get a bit of fluffyness). Mix well and pour in your caramel lined bowl.

Put the bowl in a big pot with water so you can boil it (bain marie) for roughly 45min to an hour. Let it cool down and turn upside down on a plate or dish. Voila! eat cool with sugary whipped cream. Enjoy your magosto!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

'Little stairs to the doors of the sea'

'Little stairs to the doors of the sea', in Lisbon