Food Blogs

Why are we now so obsessed with weird flavour combinations?

Guardian Food Blog - Tue, 02/10/2015 - 12:11

Salted caramel seems to be the taste of the moment, and with an ever-widening menu of odd flavour pairings to choose from, it shows no signs of going away

One Saturday evening last summer, in a liquor store in Santa Fe, I spotted what struck me as possibly the absolute nadir of culinary achievement: Imitation Whipped Cream Flavored Vodka.

Imitation Whipped Cream Flavored Vodka, I later discovered, is a concoction dreamed up by Pinnacle, a drinks manufacturer offering more than 40 flavours of vodka, from County Fair Cotton to Cake, via Salted Caramel, Red Liquorice and Peachberry Cobbler.

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What's Hot in New York?

Darina's Blog - Tue, 02/10/2015 - 11:37
So what’s happening on the New York Food scene? Food seems to be an obsession with virtually everyone. Everyone seems to chat endlessly about where they’ve eaten and the new big thing.
Here's a really good place to add to your New York list.

Via Carota is the newest venture of Jody Williams of Buvette and Rita Sodi of I Sodi, both firm favourites of mine, all within a few blocks of each other around Grove Street. It serves simple Italian and French food, gorgeous ingredients and pretty dishes.

With all the snow and blizzard confusion we just managed to have a couple of small plates and a few salads in the long glass-fronted restaurant. I was longing to stay for dinner to taste the fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic toast.Instead we had their bunless burger made of hand-chopped New York strip steak simply seasoned with salt and pepper, rosemary and garlic, seared on a hot flat top griddle. It comes on the plate without the distraction of a bun or fries, it may just be New York’s best burger in a town where they certainly know how to make a burger.

Categories: Darinas Blog

A Food Lovers' Tour of County Cork

Darina's Blog - Mon, 02/09/2015 - 12:26
Once a term on the 12 Week Certificate course, all the students pile into a bus. There’s always great excitement as we head off on our Ballymaloe Cookery School tour. Everyone reverts back to giggly school kids but although it is a super fun day, it’s all about garnering ideas that inspire the students. We visit a farmers market, artisan producers, fish smoker, farmhouse cheese maker, maybe a café, restaurant or food truck…

This term, we started at Mahon Point Farmers Marketa sizzling ferment of brilliant ideas on the outskirts of Cork city, which hosts a myriad of stalls selling predominately local food. The market is celebrating its ten year anniversary this month and there will be events, tastings and music every Thursday this month... so be sure to go and visit.
Where to start when you get there? The Old Millbank Smokehouse has a wonderful range of potato and fish cakes as well as gorgeous pies: chicken and chorizo, steak and Guinness, roast vegetable and goat cheese… 

Scotch eggs in many flavours from the West Cork Pie Company, The Good Little Cook make arancini to make even Italians weep, Middle Eastern falafel and hummus. And the marshmallows from Cloud Confectionary are to die for.

 Marcus Hoddermakes homemade gelato and serves it with  crispy waffles made fresh on the stall. There are irresistible  cake pops from Treat Petite. Carl Fahy’s Galway Bay Bagels and pretzels are made from scratch. Mick’s homemade nut roasts from Nutcase Food Company. Spanish temptations, La Cocina from Silvia and Olga – super authentic Spanish style baking including their Portuguese custard tarts. 

Gluten free treats from Gan Gluten for the fast growing wheat intolerant and coeliac market. Fumagalli’sfresh pasta, lasagne and pasta sauces, numerous cake, preserves and cookie stalls,  Arbutus artisan bread...

And I haven’t even mentioned the farmers, fishermen, local veg or herb growers, Lolo’s steak sandwiches, Arun’s Green Saffron spices, Volcano pizzas, Rocketmansalads on and on ……..

From there we headed for West Cork to visit the Ferguson family farm at Gubbeen outside Schull. The multi ethnic student group loved driving through the beautiful Irish countryside and little towns with gaily painted pubs and shop fronts.
Three generations of the Ferguson family live on the 150 acre dairy farm and add value to the produce in a variety of ways. 

The milk from Tom’s herd of Friesians and Jersey cows goes to the dairy to make the now famous Gubbeen cheeses,  the whey from the cheese-making gets fed to the pigs for Fingal’s Gubbeen bacon and charcuterie. 

Clovisse grows the organic herbs to flavour the sausages and salad leaves and edible flowers for local restaurants. Giana also has a collection of fancy fowl, geese, ducks and chickens and Fingal in his ‘spare time’ makes hand-made knives when their three little boys have snuggled down for the night. The produce is sold at five  farmers markets and specialist shops around the country. The students were gob-smacked by the entrepreneurial spirit of the whole family.

We had a picnic and food from the farm in the conservatory and gardens and then off to Ummera Smokehouse near Timoleague. There Anthony Creswell told us about the trials and tribulations and triumphs of running an artisan food business. We tasted his award winning smoked salmon, duck, chicken and dry cured nitrate free rashers – a wonderful story which started in 1980’s.
Our last stop was at just a few minutes away close to the beautiful Timoleague Abbey in the village of Timoleague  where Gavin Moore and Michelle O’Mahony opened a  pub/café (Monk's Lane Wine Bar & Café) last May. The revamp tookjust five weeks of super hard work with lots of help from family and friends. Their simple menu reflects the fresh local produce of the West Cork area where let’s face it they are spoiled for choice. 

My students from seven different countries were thrilled and inspired by their brief interlude in West Cork and are already talking about planning a longer trip to discover even more West Cork Magic.

Categories: Darinas Blog

Bone broth: the trend everyone's raging about

Guardian Food Blog - Mon, 02/09/2015 - 10:44

To some it’s just a souped up stock, but advocates say there’s more skill involved – and, given that we’ve been eating it for centuries, is there something special about it?

The perfect winter health food isn’t cold, green or slimy. Move over kale smoothies and juice cleanses, because the elixir currently getting everyone from chefs to cynical New Yorkers in a lather is an altogether different drink: hot, life-affirming and meaty. Bone broth is made by simmering animal bones (usually beef or chicken) for a very long time, to extract maximum flavour and goodness. But is it – as online sceptics suggest – just stock with a makeover and good PR, or is there more to bone broth than that?

Broth is as old as the hills, but it has gained new momentum. New York chef Marco Canora opened a takeaway hatch outside his East Village restaurant late last year, called it Brodo (Italian for broth), and started dispensing chicken, beef and turkey broths with extras such as bone marrow, ginger juice or roasted garlic puree. Within weeks, Brodo was attracting long lines, and lots of US press coverage. Broth is also gaining popularity in LA (it is a paleo diet favourite), where delivery services wing quarts of (presumably well-sealed) meaty goodness to lazy celebs. There is even, wait for it, bone broth for cats.

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Chef Jp Mahon

Darinas Saturday Letter - Sat, 02/07/2015 - 14:00

Chef Owner, of Michelin starred Aniar restaurant in Galway, JP McMahon keeps a lot of balls in the air. He is culinary director of the EatGalway Restaurant Group, made up of Aniar, Cava Boedga, and Eat Gastropub, plus he runs the Aniar Boutique Cookery School. He is totally committed to local producers and engages directly with small farmers. That’s not all, he is the founding chair and director of the Galway Food Festival and is an ambassador for Irish food.

In his spare time JP also lectures in Art History in UCC and is currently finishing his PhD and can you imagine on top of all that JP is organising an international chef symposium entitled ‘Food on the Edge’ which will take place in Galway in October 2015.

WOW, I’m exhausted from even reading this and there’s more, when does this boy sleep! Most recently, he has self-published a book ‘Tapas, A Taste of Spain in Ireland’. The recipes are from Cava Bodega, the much loved tapa restaurant he and his wife Drigín opened in Dominick Street in Galway in 2008.

JP and Drigín love Spain. There’s always been a strong link between Ireland and Spain, and Galway in particular, dating back to 500 B.C. The trading ships would come into Galway Bay and sail right up to what is now called the Spanish Arch, home of another of my favourite Galway eatery Ard Bia.

JP has a deep a love for Spanish food and culture. The recipes for the para picar (nibbles) tapas (small bites) and pinchos (a larger version) in the book reflect his interpretation of the Hiberno–Spanish version of many classic and contemporary dishes.

JP is also an ambassador for the “Cook It Raw” movement started by Alessandro Porcelli in 2009. It’s not just raw food but going back to basics, re-learning the skills of producing some of our own food, fishing, shooting and foraging.

Here are a small selection of recipes to whet your appetite. Meanwhile if you would like to see JP in action, he will be at The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine from May 15th-17th 2015, you can book on-line


Goats’ Cheese Mousse with piquillo peppers and walnut powder
(serves 4)

8 piquillo peppers
green leaves, to garnish

For the goats’ cheese mousse:
150g (5oz) St Tola goats’ cheese
50ml (2fl oz) cream
50g (2oz) crème fraîche
sea salt

For the walnut powder:
45g (2oz) walnuts
5g sugar (¼oz)
1g sea salt (Darina – not sure about translation into OZ)

For the walnut powder: Dry roast the walnuts in a 180°C oven until hard and crunchy. Allow to cool. Blend in a food processor with the sugar and the salt. Spread the powder onto a baking tray and place in the oven until a crumb texture is achieved. This will only take a few minutes so keep an eye on the powder!

For the goats’ cheese mousse: Whip the goats’ cheese, cream, and crème fraîche together until a smooth consistency is achieved. Season to taste. Place in a piping bag with a medium sized nozzle.

To plate: Pipe the goats’ cheese on to the plate and lay the piquillo peppers around and on top of the cheese. Garnish with some green leaves (I find mustard cress works well) and finish by sprinkling the walnut powder over the cheese and peppers. Serve with some fresh sourdough or some crackers.

For this recipe, we use, St. Tola, a soft Irish goats’ cheese from Co. Clare. It is made by Siobhán, a good friend of mine. Piquillo peppers are small Spanish roasted red peppers from Navarra. You can find them in Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in both Dublin and Galway and many other delis and supermarkets.

Clams with Chorizo

(serves 4)
Irish clams are an extremely versatile shellfish that work wonderfully with the succulent oiliness of Spanish chorizo. From the moment of its appearance on the menu in Cava, this dish always caught people’s attention. Not only is it a fantastic tapa for sharing, it’s also a great introduction for people who are new to shellfish.

250ml Oloroso sherry
200g cooking chorizo, diced
500g fresh clams, cleaned
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
50g butter, cubed

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the chorizo and fry lightly until the oil begins
to seep from the sausage.

Add the onion and the bay leaf and fry until the onions have softened and have
turned red.

Add the sherry and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes.
Finally, add the clams and butter. Cook for a further 5 minutes or until the clams have opened. Discard any that don’t open.

Fold the parsley into the clams and chorizo. Serve into four warm bowls, ideally
with some crusty bread to mop up the lovely juices.


Free Range Duck with plums and Pedro Ximenez sherry

(serves 4)

2 free range duck breasts
2 plums, stoned & cut in eight slices each
400ml (14 fl oz) PX sherry
4 tbsp of honey
a few sprigs of chervil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 200˚C.
Score the fat side of each duck breast and cut in half. Season with salt.
Warm a frying pan and place the breast into it skin side down.
Cook until the fat is rendered and the skin is a crisp brown colour.
Turn the duck over and fry on the other side for 2 minutes.
Place duck in the oven on an oven tray for 5 minutes.
In another pan, caramelise the plums in the honey on a medium heat.
After a few minutes, add the sherry and reduce by half on a medium heat.
Remove the duck from the oven (it will be medium rare: if you want to cook it more leave it in for longer) and allow it to rest for a few minutes.
Carve the duck into thin slices and season with some salt.
To serve: Divide the plum sauce onto four plates and place the sliced duck on top. Garnish with some sprigs of chervil.


Basque style monkfish, with parsley and mayonnaise

(serves 4)

For the Monkfish:
400g (14oz) monkfish, cut into strips
2 egg whites
100g (3½ oz) flour
sea salt
1 lemon, cut into four wedges
small handful of fresh dill tops

For the parsley mayonnaise
handful of flat leaf parsley, stalks removed
150ml (5fl oz or ¼ pint) oil
450g (1lb) mayonnaise

For the parsley mayonnaise: Blend the parsley and the oil in a food processor until smooth. Add the mayonnaise and continue to blend until you achieve a smooth green paste.

For the monkfish: Heat a deep fat fryer to 175°C. Season the monkfish and coat in the flour. With the aid of a tongs, dip each piece of monkfish into the egg white and then into the fryer. You will need to do this quickly as you don’t want the cooking time on the fish to be too different between the first and the last piece. Fry the monkfish until golden brown. Remove from the oil and strain on to some kitchen paper.

To serve: Place a dollop of the parsley mayonnaise on the plate and rest the monkfish beside it. Garnish with the lemon and the dill tops. Season again with a little rock salt if desired.

Crèma Catalana

(serves 6)

1 litre cream (1¾ pints)
2 cinnamon sticks
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
6 egg yolks
100g (3½ oz) caster sugar
50g (2 oz) brown sugar

Bring the cream to the boil with cinnamon sticks and zest.
Upon reaching boiling point remove cream from the stove. Set aside and allow flavours to infuse for 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, add sugar to eggs and whisk until creamed.
Pour the warm cream slowly over the eggs. Do not over whisk as you don’t want too much air in the mixture.
Set the mixture over a pot of boiling water (bain-marie) and gently warm the mixture until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. This will take about 30 to 40 minutes. Be sure the water does not come into contact with the bowl, or the mixture will curdle.
Strain mixture though a fine sieve and pour into 6 suitable round dishes.
Allow to chill for 3 hours in the fridge.
To serve: Sprinkle the surface of the Crèma Catalana with brown sugar and caramelise with a flamethrower. If you don’t have a flamethrower, you can put the Catalana under the grill, but be careful not to cook the mixture.
In Cava, we serve the Catalana with some caramel ice-cream, fresh fruits, and almond biscuits.


Hot Tips

Good Things Café in Durrus is closed for the winter season but the new Cookery School schedule has just been published. Lots of tempting courses to choose from – how about 2 Day Kitchen Miracle, Cooking for One, or A Dozen Quickies In A Day? If you hurry you may still be able to book a place on the Seaweed Day with Carmel Somers, Sally McKenna and April Dannan on 21st March., phone 027 61426.

Raglan, in Dublin’s hip Drury Street, is the place to pop into for a beautiful glass of fresh orange juice, they will squeeze the oranges while you wait – only takes a couple of seconds- the best €3’s worth I’ve had for quite a while. (In case you are confused Raglan is a clothes store as well as a coffee bar, 56-58 Drury Street, While you are in the area don’t miss Industry (41 A/B Drury Street, – just down the street packed with irresistible chic up-cycled stuff for your home and kitchen. Kaph (31 Drury Street, is just across the road, pop your head in there too, people rave about the coffee. Considered by Helen James Café with an eclectic range is next door (35-36 Drury Street, Super Miss Sue (2-3 Drury Street, www. is on the corner of Drury Street and Stephen’s Street Upper and there’s much more to tempt in George’s Street market.

Categories: Darinas Blog

Why Giles Coren has got Birmingham’s food scene all wrong

Guardian Food Blog - Fri, 02/06/2015 - 14:54

The Times restaurant critic said Birmingham’s restaurants were ‘a bit rubbish’. The editor of Dine Birmingham begs to differ …

​On Thursday, there was a rerun of the media’s oldest food fight, starring its favourite protagonist. The BBC published a story about the Times restaurant critic Giles Coren slating food outside London. “Honestly, if I’m going out of London to eat, it’s more productive to leave the country,” he moaned.

Getting needlessly and cruelly specific, he went on to say that Birmingham was “just a bit rubbish”. Same for poor old Leeds, while Liverpool “was worse”. Oh dear. Cue a Twitter storm from angry Brummies taking exception, myself included.

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Easy Gorgonzola Cream Sauce with Gluten-Free Gnocchi

Food Renegade - Fri, 02/06/2015 - 14:43
This recipe for Gorgonzola Cream Sauce with Gluten-Free Gnocchi is insanely easy and will please even the most refined of palates!

Man v chilli: what's impressive about a mouth on fire?

Guardian Food Blog - Thu, 02/05/2015 - 15:58

For many men, competitive chilli chomping is a display of machismo, while women actually enjoy the burn

The man in my life extracted the small pepper from its jar, popped it in his mouth​, then hopped around the kitchen for a good half an hour afterwards, inhaling yoghurt, opening his mouth under the tap, tears streaming from his eyes, his face turning a spectacular and frankly worrying shade of purple.

Me? No sympathy. None. It said on the jar “Naga Viper Chillies – The World’s HOTTEST”. The clues were there (although it turns out they were bending the truth slightly – there are hotter fruits even than the Viper.) What possessed him? What possesses men – and it is usually men – to trample over their tastebuds by subjecting them to painful capsaicin heat?

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How to cook the perfect corned beef hash

Guardian Food Blog - Thu, 02/05/2015 - 08:53

Best of British or school-dinner stodge? Is tinned beef unbeatable, or do you make your own? And are fried eggs mandatory – or just greedy?

Count this column as a victory for the common man, a two fingers up at the powers that be – an achievement akin to the scrapping of the proposed pasty tax. Not everyone at the Guardian was convinced I should sink my teeth into the humble corned beef hash, but hardly had I bulldozed the idea past them than, quite out of the blue, I received a plaintive tweet requesting that I “settle the mash v fried potatoes conflict once and for all”. Thank you, Bjam! The cheque is in the post.

To be honest, I too was a late convert to the joys of this supremely satisfying dish. I can confidently say I didn’t touch corned beef from the age of 13 until my mid-20s, a legacy of the teatime choices at school in my formative years. To say a corned beef roll was the lesser of the two evils can only be understood when you know that the only other choice was luncheon meat, Spam’s less glamorous cousin. I’d had my fill for life – or so I thought, until an ex introduced me, kicking and screaming, to the corned beef hash. It was love at first bite. But how on earth do you work such magic on a tin of beef?

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Snowed In in New York

Darina's Blog - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 11:21
We packed our bags and headed for the US ready to launch the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in New York. We had a terrific guest list of media, speakers, friends and well-wishers.
David Tanis of the New York Times, April Bloomfield of the ‘Spotted Pig’, ‘John Dory Oyster Bar’, ‘The Breslin Bar and Dining Room’ fame, blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz, Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery,
Christine Muhlke of Food and Wine magazine, Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe and Kerrygold our festival sponsors were all due to attend.
But we hadn't reckoned on the weather taking a sudden turn for the worse. Sunday was crisp beautiful sunny day, but by Monday New York was being whipped into a frenzy of panic by the weather forecasters, who predicted scary blizzards, 24-30 inches of snow by Monday evening.

The city gradually went into lock down, and by mid-afternoon the conditions had certainly worsened, but still only a few inches of snow. By late evening trains had stopped running and roads around the city were closed, as were shops and restaurants. Supermarkets shelves were emptied as people panicked. The serious snow and blizzards were, we were told, to come during the night. 

Well, the prediction turned out to be embarrassingly exaggerated – a mere two to three inches of snow dusted sidewalks in the morning but the city was still at a standstill and it took days for things to get back to normal.

The Flat Iron the day of the planned launch - not a person in sight. NY was locked down.Meanwhile we had held out to the last moment to make a decision, but there was simply no option but to cancel the event. As you can imagine we were thoroughly disappointed, having found a great venue in the Bowery, planned it all, hired all the glassware, great flowers, yummy food... Not to worry. We quickly picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and arranged a new date for the New York launch of the  Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine in mid March.

Categories: Darinas Blog

Why 'best-restaurant' lists are nothing of the sort

Guardian Food Blog - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 11:19

We have just been subjected to yet another list of the UK’s supposedly best restaurants. It’s nice for chefs to be included in them – but do they actually help us decide where we should go and eat?

Best-restaurant lists are something of a love/hate thing for me. I basically hate them but love being included in them, for the same reason I liked being on the art wall in school (even though I knew it was because I’d sucked up all year to get there). Recognition in any form for hard work is always appreciated. I have no problem with lists existing. But I wonder whether they ever actually tell us anything useful.

This weekend we saw a new list of Yelp’s 100 best UK restaurants. Number 1 was taken by Dishoom, an upmarket Indian concept with three big sites in London. Dishoom has members of the Tilda rice family and, therefore, significant funding behind it. It also has excellent customer service, the food is faultless and all the sites have a great vibe going on so it’s not necessarily an unworthy winner. There are a lot of my favourite places in the list too. Patty and Bun makes No 9 for serving great burgers. Barrafina also makes the top 10 and Hawksmoor is at No 22.

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Asparagus, Melon, and Prosciutto Salad

Food Renegade - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 02:51
The melon-prosciutto combo is a classic one, as is the prosciutto-asparagus, so why not throw them all together in a salad and devour all that deliciousness in one scrumptious bite?!

Spring has Sprung - the new Skye Gyngell restaurant

Darina's Blog - Mon, 02/02/2015 - 10:35
Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in London for several years. 

Skye, whose super fresh food at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond thrilled and excited real food lovers from all over the world, had not been actively involved in the restaurant scene for over two years. In that time she and her team were actively seeking out exciting premises in central London. After much toing and froing they eventually chose part of the New Wing at Somerset House, where the Inland Revenue had its office for 158 years. 

The new space could not be much further in style from the original charming greenhouse at Petersham Nurseries where mismatched tables, crockery and cutlery on the clay floor created a sophisticated up-cycled bo-ho chic look. 

Here in Spring, Skye shows her elegant ultra-chic side by transforming what by all accounts was a dull and dreary room into a haven of sophistication with a Zen-like feel. 
The walls are pastel with tiny handmade porcelain flowers by Valeria Nascimento fluttering across the walls. There’s a marble counter at one end from which drinks and house cordials are dispensed. The cutlery is by English cutler David Mellor and the leather chairs are by Mario Bellini.

The chandeliers which resemble bunches of frosted balloons cast a soft flattering glow. Not everyone loves the atmosphere or the eccentric staff uniform designed by Trager Delaney of Egg. I personally found them playful and quirky... and why not?

The food was totally delicious, quintessentially Skye even though she wasn’t in the kitchen herself that night. Beautifully fresh ingredients shine through with the minimum of interference.
The delicious desserts at are the creations of Sarah Johnson and her team. Sarah interned here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a while and honed her considerable skills at Chez Panisse in Berkeley  as well as Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

The wine list would also blow you out of the water impressing even the most seasoned wine buffs. Deeply knowledgeable sommelier Frank Embleton has been given both the brief and budget to create one of the most fascinating and well-chosen lists in London to compliment Skye’s food.
Put Spring on your London list. Open seven days for lunch and dinner.
Categories: Darinas Blog

Worst culinary disasters: from Gwyneth’s awful aubergine to exploding mixers

Guardian Food Blog - Mon, 02/02/2015 - 09:19

None of us are immune to calamities in the kitchen. Jeremy Vine doesn’t know one end of his asparagus from the other; chef Valentine Warner struggles with the simple food processor

She might have authored several cookbooks, but Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t immune to culinary disaster. In a recent interview, the actress told of a dinner party gone wrong after her aubergine parmigiana left guests running for the bathroom. “I didn’t know that when you cook eggplant, you first have to sweat it to get all the bitter juice out, and I didn’t realise that you also have to bread eggplant parmesan and fry it before. So I put slices of raw eggplant with jarred tomato sauce and mozzarella. And everyone threw up.” Ah, Gwyneth, we’ve all been there. Even the most experienced cook can suffer the odd misstep. We asked figures from the world of cooking and entertainment to share their worst kitchen upsets.

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The truth about Noma's live prawn dish

Guardian Food Blog - Fri, 01/30/2015 - 12:42

The Danish restaurant’s Japanese pop-up has hit the headlines for its ‘live’ seafood. Food writer Joe Warwick waited tables and tried the still-twitching crustacean

It is just shy of 2am and I’m sitting at a 24-hour sushi bar in Tsukiji market, Tokyo. I’ve just had some of the best nigiri of my life, and I’m watching the chef who sliced my fish dip a set of very long chopsticks into a tank behind the bar. It looks as though he’s trying to grab a rather large and lively mackerel. My immediate thought is that he’s going to make it into sashimi, ikizukuri-style.

My basic Japanese (I spent a week in Tokyo getting by in restaurants with sumimasen, hai, omakase, okanjo onegaishimasu and arigato) means that it takes a while to get to the bottom of what’s actually going on. “Sashimi?” I eventually ask, with a concerned look on my face. The chef smiles and shakes his head. “Pet,” he says. “Six years old.” He’d been tickling his pet mackerel. We all laugh and I take another gulp of sake. I love sushi and sashimi, the fresher the better, but I’m relieved. A live fish being dispatched, sliced and served up inches away from me is not something I want to see.

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How to make the perfect salted caramel sauce

Guardian Food Blog - Thu, 01/29/2015 - 09:33

Is salted caramel a fad or the world’s most delicious foodstuff? Does the sauce need any extra flavours – vanilla, rosemary, chilli – and what do you drizzle it on?

Salted caramel is one of those trends that came from nowhere, seemed daring for a bit (salt? In a sweet?), got all saucy with Nigella on the cover of a glossy magazine, and is now reduced to flogging overpriced milkshakes at my local multiplex, which presumably means its moment in the sun is over. But salted caramel could be as unfashionable as the sun-dried tomato and I’d still love it – once you’ve tasted that alchemic combination of bittersweet, toasty sugar, rich butter and salt, you can’t go back.

Though caramel au beurre salé first pops up in Brittany, home to some of the world’s finest butters, Nigella reckons it arrived on our shores from the other side of the Atlantic, rather than the Channel – which makes sense, given the Americans seem far more attuned to the pleasurable combination of sugar and salt than we are. Just think of their chocolate-covered pretzels, or bacon and maple syrup pancakes, or their enviable range of nut-based confectionary.

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Fasting facts: is the 5:2 diet too good to be true?

Guardian Food Blog - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 14:35

From claims that fasting makes you thin and feeds the brain to the suggestion that it can even reboot the immune system, Amy Fleming looks at the scientific evidence for restricted eating

More than a year since they first hit the bookshops, 5:2 diet books are still bestsellers on Amazon. As a result, it is not uncommon to witness people, with that odd wind-tunnel facial effect of rapid weight loss, dishing up spaghetti fashioned from courgettes while excitedly apologising for any crankiness, because they’re “on a fast day”. (In case you spent the last 13 months in a cave with no Wi-Fi, the idea of 5:2 is that on two “fast” days a week you get by on reduced calories, and the rest of the time you eat normally.) Its appeal lies in its perceived simplicity, and the fact that you’re on a diet for less than a third of the time.

Reading through all the potential health benefits of fasting, the practice has panacea written all over it. Perhaps, the reasoning goes, this is why it’s been done so much throughout history, and why some religions still prescribe it. Hippocrates was into it, Plato fasted for greater physical and mental efficiency, and Mark Twain said: “A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.”

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Why are we so obsessed with food trends?

Guardian Food Blog - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 15:26

I run a barbecue restaurant, but don’t call me trendy – cooking over coals is a time-honoured cuisine. Food gimmicks, on the other hand, really get my goat

January is almost over – and cheers to that. New year resolutions, hangovers, blue Monday, juice cleanses and half-arsed attempts at being sober throughout. I hate almost everything January brings – I usually drink more and diet less. For the restaurant industry, it also brings reduced sales, tired staff and the inevitable “restaurant trends of the year” mailshots. Those emails don’t help.

As a chef, I’m often asked to contribute my opinion to them. “Menus will be written more in hieroglyphics and/or Flemish,” I might reply. “A Fray Bentos revolution is coming,” or, “Hipsters will open restaurants selling breakfast cereal and flavoured milk. I predict toast and jam will take a back seat this year.” I gave a serious answer to one this year; inevitably they didn’t use it. I’m not being dismissive of new ideas and concepts, but what really irks me is the things people tell us are “trends”. The things the media considers trends often have a much smaller impact on the market than we think, though all the noise on social media suggests otherwise.

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  Not sure if St Brigid’s day is

Darinas Saturday Letter - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 10:27


Not sure if St Brigid’s day is celebrated in every school in Ireland but many of our local national schools teach the children how to make the Crois Bríde or St. Brigids’s cross.

Like many of our saints including St Patrick, there seems to be considerable confusion about the background facts, nonetheless I’ve always loved St. Brigid whom I understood was the patron saint of dairy.

Every year, children’s nimble fingers weave green rushes into the little cross while listening to the colourful story of Ireland’s female patron saint, Bridget, who was born in 451 in Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth. The story goes that she converted a pagan chief in his last hours by explaining the story of Christianity as she wove a little cross from the reeds that were strewn on the bedroom floor (as was the custom then, circa 500A.D.).

The children’s St. Brigid’s crosses are stuffed into school bags and proudly presented to Mum and Dad to bless the house and/or cow byre because this gentle saint was said to have loved cows who gave a prodigious amount of milk which she distributed to the poor.

Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we still continue the tradition every year and our neighbour Mrs Cowhig comes to the cookery school to teach the students how to make Crois Bríde, (this term there are twelve nationalities,  Irish and UK of course, US, Canadian, Japanese, Russian, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Australian…..).

Milk is a magical ingredient with infinite possibilities – the ultimate ‘fridge staple’. It can be transformed into numerous milk products. Every country has its own traditions and Ireland was for ever famous for the quality and variety of its bán bia (or white meats, as dairy products are known in Gaelic) not surprising because we can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world except perhaps New Zealand.

From 1759 to 1870, the biggest butter market in the world was in Cork and butter from the small farms of Cork County was exported as far away as India and the Caribbean. Can you imagine, and that was long before the days of refrigeration – it’s all about the quality. The whole fascinating story has been told in a recently published book  “Butter in Ireland, From Earliest Times to the 21st Century”, editors Peter Foynes, Colin Rynne and Chris Synnott,  cost €15, available from

If you would like to learn how to make butter, yoghurt, labne, paneer and lots of simple cheeses, check out the Ballymaloe Cookery School website for the next dates . Meanwhile have fun with these recipes using milk and milk products. Learn and pass on the skill of making a Cros Bríde and continue our Irish traditions.

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labne


This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East is an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking and is wonderfully versatile. It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use a top quality commercial yogurt like Glenilen or Killowen.


Makes 500g (18oz) labne

1kg (2 1⁄4lb) natural yoghurt


Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labne in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. It will keep for four of five days in the fridge. The liquid whey that has drained off can be used for fermented dishes or to feed to hens or pigs if you have them.

Delicious served with dates, toasted hazelnuts, rose petals and pomegranate seeds see photograph.

It can also be eaten with berries or a kumquat compote and grated chocolate or simply add freshly chopped herbs and a little crushed garlic and serve with homemade cheese biscuits.


Figs with Labne, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Serves 4 as a starter


8 fresh figs in season


8 tablespoons labne

2 teaspoons fresh sumac

3 – 4 teaspoons pistachios, halved

extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

a few flakes of sea salt


Spoon two – three tablespoons of labne onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.


Pork Cooked In Milk


Cooking pork in milk produces the most delicious curdy liquid.  There is honestly no point in attempting this recipe if you cannot find really good free-range pork.  The lactic acid in milk has a tenderising and moistening effect on meat.  This recipe is of Italian origin where they also cook veal and chicken in milk on occasions. By the way this is also great with a whole chicken.


Serves 10-12


1.8kg (4lb) loin of pork (free-range and organic if possible)

a dash of extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

600ml (20fl oz/1 pint) milk approximately

thinly sliced peel from 1 lemon, unwaxed

1 teaspoon of slightly crushed coriander seeds or a small handful of fresh sage leaves

4 cloves garlic, cut in half

sprig of marjoram


Remove the rind and almost every scrap of fat.  Season generously with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole, large enough to fit the pork.  Brown the pork well on all sides, remove to a plate and pour off all the oil and fat. Add the lemon peel, coriander seeds and garlic.  Return the pork to the saucepan, add the milk, it should come about half way up the meat.  Add a sprig of marjoram or sage and bring to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours with the pan partially covered – after about an hour the milk will have formed a golden skin.  Scrape all this and what has stuck to the sides back into the milk, continue to cook uncovered.


The liquid should simmer very gently all the time.  The whole object of this exercise is to allow the milk to reduce and form delicious, pale coffee-coloured “curds” and a golden crust while the meat cooks.  When the pork is cooked slice the meat and carefully spoon the precious curds over the top.


Earl Grey Milk Jam

I found this recipe from Angel Kim in the Cook supplement of the Guardian.

“This is one of the most delicious things I have made. The jam is full of milky, caramel goodness with a faint hint of Earl Grey tea. Spoon it directly out of the jar or drizzle it over pancakes, waffles or ice-cream.”


Makes 200ml

2 Earl Grey tea-bags

250ml (9floz) whole milk

3tablespoons sugar or vanilla sugar

1 tablespoons honey

a pinch of salt

250ml (9floz) single cream

40g (1½ oz) butter, cubed


Bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat, add the teabags, steep for about 10 minutes, then remove.

In a large frying pan or non-stick saucepan with high sides, bring the infused milk, sugar, honey and salt to a gentle simmer. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the cream to the pan in three stages, stirring constantly until it has been incorporated.

Add the butter, stirring until melted. Simmer the sauce over a medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

Once the jam has thickened and turned slightly darker in colour, simmer for 10-15 minutes longer. It will thicken further once cooled.

Pour into a hot sterilised jar or airtight container then seal with the lid to prevent a skin from forming. Keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.


French Toast


French toast is so good that you forget how economical it is.  The French don’t call this French toast.  They call it pain perdu or “lost bread”, because it is a way to use up leftover bread you would otherwise lose – the only bread you’ve got on the baker’s day off.  French toast is actually better if the bread is a little old or sliced and dried out overnight.


Serves 4


3 free range eggs

175ml (6 flozs/3/4 cup) whole milk- not low fat

tiny pinch of salt

6 slices white or light wholemeal bread

4 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons + 4 teaspoons) clarified butter (see below)


Whisk the eggs, milk and salt together until well blended.  Strain the mixture into a shallow bowl in which you can easily soak the bread.  Dip both sides of each slice of bread in the batter. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan.  Fry the bread over a medium heat until very lightly browned, turning once.  Serve warm sprinkled with icing sugar.


To Serve

1) Serve with crispy streaky rashers and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey.


2) Also delicious with sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or grated apple.


3) Serve with a blob of sweet apple sauce.



Spiced French Toast: Add 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg to the batter.


Lemon or Orange French Toast: Add 2 teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest to the batter



Kheer with Saffron and Pistachio nuts

Kheer is a traditional Indian dessert made from rice, milk and sugar and flavoured with spices. You could garnish it with sultanas, raisins, hazelnuts, pistachios or any nuts of your choice.


Serves 6-8

100g (3½ oz) long-grain rice, such as Basmati

1 litre (1¾ pints) whole milk

a pinch of saffron strands

1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom

40g (1½ oz) flaked, toasted almonds

55g  (2½ oz)  sugar or a little more to taste


Coarsely chopped pistachios or your choice of toasted nuts and dried fruit.

Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain and then set aside.

Pour the milk into a stainless steel saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer over a medium heat.

Add the rice, stir to combine, then add the saffron, ground cardamom and the flaked almonds. Simmer until the rice has cooked and the milk has reduced by half – around 25-30 minutes.

Stir regularly to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan.

Add the sugar to taste and stir to dissolve. Pour into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Top with your choice of chopped nuts and dried fruit.


Hot Tips:

Slow Food Galway is celebrating St. Brigit’s Day with a Gourmet Banquet on Sunday February 1st at 5pm, in LOAM Restaurant, Fairgreen, Galway with Michelin Star Chef, Enda McEvoy.

Reception with canapés and wine, five course banquet with Slow Wines and musical entertainment. All proceeds to: Clowns without Borders Ireland; Cope Community Catering, Galway and Slow Food 10,000 Gardens in Africa. Tickets are €75 Euro Contact Eileen: 086-8533395, Kate: 087-9312333 or Cait: 087-2311580.


Give your loved one the gift of a lifetime. Why not impress your Valentine with a Ballymaloe Cookery School voucher which can be tailored in a number of ways to create the perfect gift for the food lover or gardening enthusiast in your life! For more information and to purchase a vouchers see or phone 021 4646785


Deasy’s Harbour Bar & Seafood Restaurant in Ring. How lovely is it to have a little black book full of addresses of good places to eat around the country. If Deasy’s in Ring, just a mile from Clonakilty is not already on your radar add it to your list right away. Caitlin Ruth is a beautiful cook. We had a really good dinner there recently with particularly memorable Korean fish cakes, Radicchio with whipped Toonsbridge ricotta and pickled green beans, monkfish with braised fennel, black rice and smoked chilli oil, and hazelnut cake, but there were appreciative sounds coming from all around the table to a variety of other dishes. Phone 023 883 5741

Categories: Darinas Blog

Peanut butter: why Britain's going gooey over the sticky spread

Guardian Food Blog - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 15:16

It has been rebranded as a health food and sales are up 13%. Where do you stand on the crunchy or smooth divide and have you tried it satay-style on toast?

Peanut butter love is spreading, and I’m not surprised. News from the Grocer shows Britain has gone nuts for this unctuous stuff, which has now pushed past marmalade and into third spot, behind honey and jam, in the list of best-selling spreads.

It has always had a place in my heart, but rebranding peanut butter as a health food has helped increase sales by 13.3% in the past year, leaving erstwhile favourites consigned to the sticky naughty step. Peanut butter is even being pushed as a sports aid, with manufacturers such as Whole Earth offering it up in sachet form so we can squeeze it down our necks after exercise.

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