Rumours Bistro

After a leisurely drive from Dublin, we checked into our guest house in Glenbeigh in the late afternoon, had a cup of tea and  continued along the coast road to Cahirciveen to make the most of the day. By seven we were back at the guest house, freshened up and ready for dinner. Seafood, naturally.

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mairead’s seafood chowder

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Ingredients

500g marinara mix, or make your own mixture of prawns, scallops, mussels, calamari and anything else you wish
250g white or smoked fish
750ml of fish stock (preferably fresh)
250ml of skimmed milk
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1 stick of celery
1 carrot
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric (if desired)
Fresh parsley finely chopped

Method
Finely chop all the vegetables except the potatoes and fry in the olive oil until well softened. Stir in the turmeric.
Meanwhile chop the potatoes into very small chunks (peel beforehand if you wish).
Add the fish stock and the potatoes, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are well cooked.
Chop all of the seafood into very small pieces (however small you think you want them, chop them a bit more).
Add the skimmed milk, and immediately add the seafood into the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve with proper Irish brown or soda bread, or if not available a decent pasta dura bread will do.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

chowders I have known

A week in Connemara. A week of fresh seafood, especially seafood chowder. You may think that New England has the market cornered in good chowder, but you’d be wrong. The west of Ireland has it all sewn up.

We were miles from the famed Moran’s of the Weir in Clarenbridge, or Monks of Ballyvaughan, but the bars and restaurants of the west coast of Galway held their own admirably. Our first foray was up in Verdon’s of Letterfrack, after a morning’s scuba diving which had us weirdly craving chowder and chips. We sat outside in the summer sunshine, savouring what was the closest thing to a Manhattan chowder we had all week. Tomato-based instead of creamy, our bowls were full of chopped local mussels and generously sprinkled with fresh parsley. The crown bread was fresh and the chips were fresh, not frozen. The brown bread was shop-bought but on the positive side it was McCambridge’s. An excellent start.
On the same day, another group of us lunched at Ballynahinch Castle near Clifden. There, the chowder was more of a bisque, a smooth soup with no lumps in, just a handful of fresh mussels in the half-shell. Those who experienced this one had not discovered the joys of dunking freshly-fried chips into a good chowder, so we cannot record here how good Ballynahinch’s french fries are.
A cold, blustery day saw us take refuge in Glynsk House for a late lunch. There, the bar menu served up a lovely creamy chowder, with plenty of celery, carrot and tomato, and with more than a hint of turmeric in there, and perhaps the tiniest pinch of curry powder. The use of dill instead of parsley was interesting and fresh. Sadly, Mum (a legendary chips expert) announced that the chips, whilst piping hot, were made from frozen. Marks lost. However the brown bread was served as big fresh scones, obviously home-made. Marks gained.

Glynsk House’s sister establishment is Cashel House, a couple of doors away from our holiday home. Our last dinner of the holiday started – of course – with chowder, but despite being a related restaurant it was quite a different bowlful. No turmeric or dill this time, plenty of vegetables, and both white fish and salmon along with mussels. Chips were good and fresh, but no brown bread, just a white dinner roll.

Tigh Chathain in Cill Chiarain served us up a fish chowder – not a mussel in sight. Creamy white and laden with white fish, smoked fish and salmon, it was accompanied by generous basketfuls of fresh pasta dura and white soda bread. Chips excellent, fresh and chunky. And all washed down with an entertaining and informative chat with the barman about the day de Valera unveiled the sculpture of Padraig O Conaire in Eyre Square in Galway.
So, finally we come to our final chowder, in the Galleon Grill in Salthill on our way home. This one was almost white it was so creamy, but it didn’t tasty as rich and creamy as expected. Mostly white fish and salmon, with the odd shrimp and scallop. It could have done with a little more salt but that’s not a complaint, as often soups and chowders can be overly salty. Fresh brown bread scones and proper fresh chips. Marvellous.
All of which prompted me to try my own very first chowder today, just to help me re-integrate into Australian society. A decent potato soup made with fish stock, plenty of shrimp, chopped calamari, mussels, white fish and smoked cod. I did a Glynsk House on it and chucked some turmeric in there too, with plenty of chopped parsley. I simmered the pot for a couple of hours and baked some of my own Irish brown bread scones, and if I say so myself it was a bit of a triumph.

it’s pancake tuesday!

>The day before Lent begins means a stack of pancakes for lunch and more after dinner. Or that was how it was when I was a child.

I would come home from school for lunch and Mum would have made a big stack of pancakes, frying-pan sized, made from freshly-mixed homemade batter. Simple: flour, eggs, milk, beaten until smooth then poured into a frying pan spoonful by spoonful.

The first one was always less than average. The frying pan was never hot enough, and the skill of pouring just exactly enough batter to make a thin pancake forgotten since last year. The second one was always better.

A perfect pancake was extra-thin, it filled the whole frying pan and it was cooked just long enough to give it dark brown grooves of caramelised loveliness on each side.

There was no messing about with exotic toppings in our house. This was a pre-Lent ritual, designed to get all the flour, eggs, sugar and butter used up before the fasting began. Each pancake would be spread with butter, sprinkled with a liberal amount of sugar and finished off with a good squirt of lemon juice. The three toppings would mingle into a sweet-and-sour liquid of perfect viscosity.

Mum always stacked the pancakes one by one, topped individually as described above, then when the whole stack was done she would slice them into wedges like a cake. Personally I always preferred to eat my pancakes whole, rolled up, with butter, sugar and lemon juice added fresh each time. This is how I do it myself when I make pancakes in my own house.

Anybody else doing Pancake Tuesday? Anybody got any other family rituals you want to share?

l’Officina

Dundrum Town Centre
Dublin 16
http://www.dunneandcrescenzi.com/

A night out with old friends Joe and Elva is always a highlight of my year. We only get to see each other once or twice a year when I visit Ireland. After 25 years our evenings revolve around good food (often served in their own hectic kitchen), good wine and plenty of conversation.

A beautiful Irish summer evening saw Elva and I looking fabulous in summer fashion, and Joe looking buff and suntanned. Going out with Joe and Elva can be dangerous as they are both incredibly good-looking, and blessed with deep suntans after (it seems) five minutes in the sun. They both look more Mediterranean than Irish, and indeed Joe was once almost stopped from leaving Turkey as they suspected him of being a local trying to leave on a fake Irish passport…

Given the summer warmth and the fabulous outfits we opted for eating out: Italian seemed a perfect choice. Dublin’s Dunn and Crescenzi mini-empire now includes l’Officina, in the new Dundrum shopping centre within a stone’s throw of Harvey Nick’s. Dunn and Crescenzi are known for their excellent ingredients, slow food philosophy and wonderful atmosphere, and l’Officina in Dundrum was no exception.

The wine list was impressive but we didn’t linger over it. The house wine flowed as we shared three starters: some delicious bresaola served with rocket and olive oil on sourdough bread, divine bruschetta made from proper sun-ripened tomatoes, and a decent plate of antipasto with plenty of choice. We lingered over every mouthful and the last morsels of each went to the highest bidder.

Elva and I both chose the special for our main: pasta twists cut to the same length as the calamari it was served with, lightly tossed in olive oil, herbs and a hint of chilli. Joe chose a wagyu steak served alone with just a garnish: he actually forgot to order a side, but then decided it would have taken away from his experience.

For a Tuesday night the place was pretty busy which indicated its popularity. People sat outside by the fountain as well as inside in the modern but welcoming restaurant. Italian deli items and packets of coffee beans were stocked on shelves: the restaurant also sells what it serves.

The wait staff were, it seemed, all Italian, and the post-rush dinners they ate as we sat over our coffees looked as sensational as the food we had just been served. Can’t remember the name of the brand of coffee they were serving, but it was really great. Smooth and rich, even the decaf had a kick to it. Happily the waiter didn’t flinch when I asked for a macchiato: the mark (in Ireland) of a genuine Italian eatery.

I look forward to trying the rest of Dunn and Crescenzi’srestaurants next time I am in town.

>Spago Portlaoise

>www.theheritagehotel.com/bar-&-restaurants/spagoitalian-bistro

On our way home from Dingle we stopped late in the evening in Portlaoise looking for some good home-cooked Italian food. Some might say we were being a tad ambitious, but this is 21st century Ireland and I was hopeful. We stumbled upon Spago, a new-ish Italian housed in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel right in town.

A friendly maitre d’ with a broad Dublin accent seated us in a rustic-looking (but not as far as checked table-cloths) restaurant and immediately served us warm marinated olives, virgin olive oil and sourdough bread. A good start.

We opted for main courses only at that late hour. The two pizzas were freshly made with only the best and freshest toppings. Not too big and perfectly cooked (the Doyles like our pizzas done well). Connor’s chicken and mushroom pasta could have been ordinary but it tasted delicious. Not too creamy and the chicken flavours dominated. I ordered linguine vongole, one of my favourite comfort foods. Tomatoey and with a hint of chilli, I devoured it.

We could not be tempted by the desserts. Mum favours traditional fare such as her favourite, Knickerbocker Glory, and doesn’t go in for the usual Italian treats such as tiramisu. Ashling was sorely tempted but it was getting late. The last-minute coffee I downed was again freshly made and ended a very enjoyable but brief meal. Pity it doesn’t open Sundays or Ashling and Connor’s dad my brother Bernard) would make this a weekend hangout.