Friday, 29 January 2016

Cookery School Review: Ballymaloe Cookery School - Butchery & Charcuterie Course

Many people feel that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the food that we eat. At worst there are those who believe that meat comes in neat little vacuum-packed plastic trays with little idea of which animal provided that meat and that salads come pre-washed in plastic bags. We are prepared to sacrifice flavour so that all our fruits and vegetables are of a uniform size rather than understand how to get the best out of the ingredients that we are presented with. Somewhat ironically, despite the tough economic climate in recent times, we still throw away thousands of tons of food each year.
Somewhere along the way something seems to have gone wrong.
Cookery School Entrance
With the pressures of modern life, the last thing that any of us want when we come home from work after a long and stressful day is to have to prepare a meal from scratch. It is perhaps understandable that it seems easier to order a ‘take-out’ or to pop something into the microwave for a few minutes but the truth is that many meals can be prepared quickly using fresh ingredients for a fraction of the cost of these so-called ‘convenience’ foods. Ultimately, without understanding where our food comes from and appreciating the effort that goes into producing it, it is impossible to have respect for it.
However, there appears to a shift in thinking and more and more people are now keen to grow their own fruit and vegetables and reconnect with what they eat. Cheaper cuts of meat are now regularly seen on fine dining restaurant menus and there is a resurgence in the popularity of the foods that fed our ancestors. People want to know where their food comes from and there is increased interest in back-to-basics cooking based around the seasons.
Demonstration Area
Ballymaloe Cookery School was set up in 1983 by Darina Allen and her brother Rory O’Connell with the aim of showing us all how we can cook great food using the wonderful ingredients available to us in this country. The school enjoys a world-wide reputation for excellence and has taught thousands of students since being set up.
In addition to the intensive 12-week Certificate Course, a number of shorter courses are offered throughout the year covering subjects as diverse as Butter & Cheesemaking, Cake Decoration, Seafood Cookery  and Sushi Made Simple amongst many others. Whilst some of the courses are demonstrations, many are hands-on meaning that you get the chance to cook and prepare food for yourself. At all times the emphasis is on the quality of the ingredients used, many of which are grown on Ballymaloe’s 100 acre organic farm or are sourced from local organic suppliers.
Philip Dennhardt
One particular course that caught my eye was the one-day Home Butchery, Charcuterie & Sausage Making with Philip Dennhardt, so I booked myself a place on it and was looking forward to my day away in Ballymaloe.
The focus of this course was pig butchery and as we entered into the large cookery demonstration area we caught sight of the pig carcass that we would use during the day. It had already been split in half lengthwise but other than that, all of the butchery that took place was carried out in front of us.
Originally from Germany, Philip Dennhardt is a master butcher who has been living in Cork and teaching at Ballymaloe for a number of years. He is a mine of information about all aspects of butchery and encouraged us to ask questions throughout the course. It was fascinating to learn about the tradition of pig-slaughter and to realise that not so long ago many families living in the country would keep their own pigs which they would rear, slaughter and butcher themselves. No piece of the animal that could be used was wasted or thrown away and consequently, people were very creative in the dishes that they would make to feed their families. To illustrate this point Philip then prepared a dish of Brawn (Head Cheese) which is made from the whole head of the pig.
Bones for the Stock-Pot
There are countless recipes for Brawn but we used Darina Allen’s which is included in her book Forgotten Skills of Cooking. The fresh pig’s head must be brined first in a solution of salty water before being gently simmered in a large pot of water and vegetables for a number of hours. After this time the meat, including the pig’s tongue and some of the fat, is picked from the bones and roughly chopped before being mixed with herbs, seasoning and some of the reduced cooking liquor. Packed into bowls, it is then weighted down and refrigerated to help it set. Although initially it might not sound appetising, this was one of the tastiest things I have eaten in a long while and something that I would be more than prepared to try making at home.
Philip then showed us how to make a Pancetta-style cured ‘bacon’ using the pork-belly from the pig that we had butchered. What amazed me was how relatively simple this was to achieve. In order to make it, you essentially need good quality fatty meat into which you rub a generous amount of salt and spices before hanging in a cool, dry spot. After a couple of days you can wash the cure off the meat and use it as bacon but given the right conditions you can also choose to let it ripen for at least 4 weeks and let the natural enzymes do their work in order to create Pancetta.
The difference between dry-curing and wet-curing was also explained to us and we were shown how even the fat of the animal can be cured. Coppa, Guanciale and Lardo are all made by curing fat and are considered delicacies, seen on many fine-dining restaurant menus.
During the morning, as Philip butchered the pig, he collected any off-cuts and scraps of meat together and these were minced and used later in the day to make Sausages. Interestingly we learnt that although sausages made from 100% lean meat might sound appealing, a certain amount of pork fat should be included to create sausages that are juicy and succulent to eat. Some of the students then volunteered to fill the minced meat mixture into natural sheep and hog casings using a hand-operated machine to create the sausages. This was great fun and a skill that Philip assured us was easy to acquire with a little practice.
Moving on Philip also showed us how to make Frankfurters to his own recipe which included cold-smoking the filled sausages for at least an hour. Keeping to the sausage theme, we then covered the principles behind the making of Salami and Chorizo.
Finally we stuffed the Loin of Pork with a simple herb and breadcrumb stuffing and roasted it in the oven along with its covering of skin which we scored to create the crispiest pork crackling imaginable. This was accompanied by Bramley Apple Sauce, Braised Red Cabbage, Roast Potatoes and Buttered Carrots as the centrepiece of a feast to finish the day. Also included were the cooked sausages and frankfurters we had made during the day along with samples of cured meats. All these were delicious and we left with our bellies full and smiles on our faces after a most enjoyable day.
I really enjoyed my day at Ballymaloe and would recommend this course to anyone. Philip Dennhardt is a great teacher with an easy manner who succeeds in making the subject accessible. Extensive notes and all the recipes from the day are given to all participants and I felt the price at €195 was reasonable considering all we learnt and the fact that we were fed so well during the day. The price also included a light lunch which consisted of wonderful pizzas cooked in the wood-fired ovens in the café attached to the cookery school. The pizzas were delicious as were the salads and desserts that we also ate.
Self-catering accommodation is available to those attending courses in the school with further details available when booking. Further information on all the courses offered at the school is available from
Ballymaloe Cookery School
County Cork
Telephone: 021-4646785

Roast Pork Dinner

Friday, 15 January 2016

Restaurant Review: Angelina's, Percy Place Dublin 4

The growing popularity of brunch as a meal means that there appears to be no end to the amount of places cropping up that are offering it. The truth is that many people like to go out for late breakfasts at the weekend and are more than happy to let the meal roll languorously into the afternoon. It definitely beats having a piece of dry toast or a bowl of soggy cereal at home and makes the weekend seem that little bit more indulgent. Throw in a few cocktails (mandatory in my opinion) and you are on to an absolute winner.

Latest recruit to the Dublin Brunch Bunch is the newly opened Angelina’s, located off Baggot Street beside the Grand Canal. Sister restaurant to Sophie’s at The Dean Hotel, Angelina’s is spacious with a relaxed atmosphere, comfortable seating and a stunning bar. It is decorated in warm, muted tones which prevent the large space from appearing cavernous. The restaurant also has an outside balcony area overlooking the Canal and I expect that during the summer this will be one of Dublin’s most popular dining spots; a place to enjoy good food and have a few drinks on warm evenings.

Orange Juice
Although recently opened, the restaurant has already hit the ground running and I have heard great reports about the food on offer under Head Chef Ryan Bell. A quick online search brings up the restaurant’s menus and I am delighted to see that in addition to serving dinner seven nights a week and lunch on weekdays, Angelina’s also offers a weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10.30am to 4pm. I can never understand why so many venues who offer brunch around the city only start serving at midday as this has always seemed a little late to me. In my opinion, the earlier opening is another plus in Angelina’s favour and I immediately book a table for an 11am Sunday brunch.

Accompanying me was my eldest daughter Aoife – a self-professed brunch connoisseur and buttermilk pancake devotee – someone  who is quite prepared to leave something on the plate if it fails to come up to her exacting standards… in other words; a tough customer!

Healthy Porridge
As we arrived we were greeted warmly by the front-of-house staff and shown to our table beside a large floor-to-ceiling window looking out onto the Canal. Judging by the number of tables already occupied the 10.30am opening appears to be popular with diners and the restaurant already had a lively feel.

The brunch menu is divided into different sections and includes Cocktails, Healthy, Benedict, Toasts & Pancakes, Eggs and The Rest. To kick off proceedings, we both ordered drinks – an Orange Juice (€3.95) for Aoife and a cocktail for me. Angelina’s offers a number of specific brunch cocktails but diners can also order from the main cocktail menu if they wish. Despite the fact that I am normally a fan of Bloody Marys when having brunch, I decided to order the provocatively named Best Damn Sazerac in Ireland! TM (€11). This is a boozy cocktail sometimes made with Cognac but made here with Rye Whiskey to which a sugar cube soaked in bitters is added. Finished with a spray of absinthe and garnished with a twist of lemon peel just before serving, this isn’t a drink for timid types. I loved it.

Toast & Preserves
Feeling in the need of something a little healthy but comforting at the same time, I decided to order a bowl of Healthy Porridge (€5.50). Made with almond milk, grated pear and golden raisins, this was one of the best bowls of porridge I have ever eaten, possessing a natural sweetness that was perfectly pitched. Gently flavoured with cinnamon and served with a choice of jam on the side, it was delicious.

Aoife decided to keep it simple and ordered a side serving of Toast (€1.95) to start. Toast is one of those things that we all take for granted and as a result, it is not something that tends to excite but here the thick slices of toasted brioche that we were presented with were wonderful and worthy of specific mention. Crisp on the outside but soft and still slightly fluffy on the inside, the toast was incredibly satisfying to eat. Served with Glenilen Farm butter and extremely tasty homemade preserves, I was reminded how often the simple things in life can be the most delicious.

Eggs Florentine
I love poached eggs and for me nothing beats the slightly hedonistic quality of Eggs Benedict – poached eggs served with sliced ham on a toasted muffin with rich hollandaise sauce. Angelina’s offers a number of variations on the eggs benedict theme and although tempted by the Crab Cake version, I decided to go for the Eggs Florentine (€10.95). Served with spinach, a grilled Portobello mushroom (instead of the burnt asparagus which had been listed on the menu) with Sweet Potato Fries on the side, this was a substantial dish where every element had been perfectly seasoned and cooked to perfection.

The Stacked Vanilla Buttermilk Pancakes with Salted Maple Caramel & Roasted Pecans (€8.95) succeeded in eliciting a spontaneous ‘wow’ from Aoife when they were placed in front of her. A beautifully presented dish with a generous amount of caramel and pecans, this was food that was destined to please. After enjoying a few mouthfuls, she declared them to be the best she had ever eaten… which is really saying something! The small sample I was able to sneak confirmed that they were indeed rather good.

Oozing Yolk
In keeping with its general ambiance, service in Angelina’s was warm and friendly and added to our enjoyment of the meal. I was a bit worried about venturing in so soon after it had opened as some restaurants need a little time to get bedded in. Not here. The food spoke for itself. Everything we ate was delicious and it is somewhere that I will definitely visit again soon.

55 Percy Place
Dublin 4

Tel: 01-6602262

This review first appeared in
Toast with Rhubarb & Ginger Jam

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Restaurant Review: Drury Buildings, Drury Street, Dublin 2

I have always found the graffiti-painted, exposed stonework frontage of Drury Buildings very attractive and given that a visit was long overdue I decided to book a table there for dinner recently. Although I was looking forward to dining in this über-cool venue, I will admit that I’m always slightly wary of places that seem relentlessly hip and cool. I worry that this is merely a façade to distract from mediocre food and overpriced drinks. However, any concerns that I might have had in this regard began to fade when I arrived at Drury Buildings.

Mai Tai
Warmly greeted by the friendly hostess, we were led through the packed bar to the stairs leading up to the restaurant on the second floor. Whilst the downstairs bar serves a ‘Bar Bites’ menu, the upstairs restaurant offers the full à la carte experience. The dining room is large with dark wooden tables, comfortable seating and more of the exposed brickwork. There is also a balcony area which overlooks the heated walled garden. Many of the tables in the restaurant were already occupied when we arrived but the low hum of happy diners chattering away added to the overall atmosphere of conviviality.
Drury Buildings is known for the quality of its cocktails with an impressive selection to choose from so we both decided to order one each to sip on as we made our food choices. John, my dining companion for the evening, chose The Selector (€11.90) made with Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey and Amaretto. This excellent, very grown-up cocktail also had lovely chocolaty background notes due to the inclusion of Crème de Cacao and chocolate. It was delicious. My Mai Tai (€10.90) was also sensational. Made with 3-year-old aged Havana Rum, Triple Sec and fresh lime juice this was a boozy but refreshing drink.

Whilst we sipped our cocktails we nibbled on fresh bread which included a Brown Treacle Soda and Ciabatta. The bread came served with a well-flavoured, fruity extra-virgin olive oil. We also demolished a Bowl of Olives (€3.95) as we waited for our starters to arrive.
The Italian-influenced menu is divided up into Starters covering Anitpasti and Primi, Mains encompassing Pasta and Secondi and Desserts. It has many tempting dishes on it. I was pleased to see that authentic Italian ingredients are used throughout.
I was immediately drawn to the Warm Traditional Cotechino, Puy Lentils, Mostarda di Frutta (€12.50) starter. Cotechino is a fresh sausage made from pork and belly or back fat and hails from Modena in Italy. Rich and hearty, it is typically slow-cooked by braising for a few hours and is commonly served, as it was here, with lentils. I have always loved the piquancy of Mostarda di Frutta, a pickle-like condiment made from candied fruit and a pungent mustard syrup and I thought it was the perfect accompaniment to the cotechino as it helped cut through the richness of this outstanding dish.
White Bean Soup
John’s White Bean Soup, Walnut & Parsley Pesto (€5.50) was a more mainstream dish but flavoursome none-the-less. I particularly liked the alternative take on a traditional pesto and I thought it really added something a little different to the soup which was velvety smooth. I also liked the fact that some of the cannellini beans that had been used to make it were left whole and hidden in the bottom of the bowl; they added body to the soup and were a nice little taste surprise.
Keen to sample at least one of the pasta dishes, I persuaded John to share a half portion of the Papardelle with Black Truffle & Truffle Pecorino (€14.00/22.50)with me. What a joy it was to eat. The silky pasta ribbons had been cooked perfectly so that they retained a slight bite. The sauce was simple but full of the heady flavours of truffle. The word ‘sublime’ is overused by restaurant reviewers and I tend to avoid it but no other description does this dish justice. It was truly spectacular. Sublime.
Grilled Cod Fillet
Unfortunately the Wild Wicklow Venison that I had hoped to order for my main course was off the menu so I decided on the Grilled Cod Fillet, Caponata, Rope Mussels with Lemon Gremolata (€22.50) instead. This was an attractively presented dish and, like the food we had already eaten, full of gutsy flavours. The meaty cod had been well cooked and was succulent to eat. Similarly, the mussels were also nicely cooked. However, the thing that really set this dish apart was the caponata – a traditional Sicilian vegetable stew with sweet and sour agrodolce flavours. This was a really good version and was delicious with the cod.
The 10oz Chargrilled Rib-Eye Steak (€29.50) came served with either Bone Marrow as John had requested or Rosemary Lardo di Colonata. The meat which had been supplied by Gilligans was tender and flawlessly cooked medium-rare as had been requested. Candied Shallots and Watercress finished off the dish and were perfect accompaniments. Both main courses came served with roast baby potatoes and a choice of mixed vegetables or salad.
Orange & Campari Cake
I find it impossible to resist desserts but wanted something a little refreshing so I decided on the Selection of Ice-Creams (€7.95). Supplied by the Wexford-based Natural Ice-Cream Company they were really rather special. I usually passionately dislike anything flavoured with rosewater but the Rose Petal Sorbet was fabulous. The Salted Caramel and Sour Cherry Ice-Creams were also mouth-wateringly good.
John’s Orange & Campari Cake with Vanilla Ice-Cream (€7.95) looked beautiful and tasted wonderful. I loved the slightly bitter flavour of the Campari against the citrusy sweetness of the orange cake. Served slightly warm with a scoop of ice-cream on the side and pistachio crumb, this was a delightful dessert.
The restaurant was extremely busy on the night that I visited but despite this service was good. Staff are friendly and eager to please. I was really impressed by my meal in Drury Buildings. The cocktails are exceptional and the food under Head Chef Warren Massey left me with smile on my face. I loved the lively, fun atmosphere and I will definitely be back.
Drury Buildings
52 – 55 Drury Street
Dublin 2
Tel: 01-9602095
This review first appeared in
Ice-Cream Selection