The Winding Stair restaurant is a quaint little bistro on Bachelor’s Walk looking out at the Ha’penny Bridge over River Liffey in Dublin.
The name is taken, perhaps obviously, from the entry which is a stair that twists back upon itself before lead to the dining room.
Decor is like something out of a Bogart and Bacall movie but on a smaller scale. The bar is dark heavy oak and a large espresso machine.
On the opposite wall is a chalkboard listing the rather lovely wine list and featuring bookshelves containing the kind of odd assortment of titles a decorator would choose for the broken clothbound and gilded spines. There was Albert Schweitzer in the original German alongside Coleridge. See what mean?
The emphasis of the kitchen clearly was organic and local food though. In other words, exactly what I hoped to find.
There is an early bird menu at 5 p.m., as well as daily specials but, after a quick scan of the main menu, I wanted only the mussels and chips (pomme frite) served with a gorgeous paprika enhanced aioli.
The mussels were harvested on the west coast of Ireland and were generally quite fine– flavorful in an onion and white wine broth. A few were gritty however and several had not opened.
Nevertheless, I was served so so many, the dish was still more than enough for one. The broth certainly enhanced the already tasty mussels but it was a bit too salty to sip afterward.
The chips were thickly cut and crispy. No oil was evident and their flavor was fabulous, especially when paired with the smoked paprika aoili. Mmmmmm. The Portuguese Syrah I drank was also really nice.
The service was also helpful and attentive, although the dining room admittedly was sparsely populated when I was eating at a little before 5 p.m.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable meal and the sort of place that should be supported as Ireland earns it’s place at the big-people table in European cuisine.
Time for me in Dublin being fairly limited, I decided to skip the Guiness tour and hit the bottle instead. Sadly, the working Jameson Distillery has long since moved out of Dublin the result of space limitations and to be closer to their barley producers. What remains of the old site however is a rockin’ good time for the Irish whiskey lover, like me.
First off in the tour is a short film explaining the history of Jameson and a revelation of its shameful secret–it was founded by a Scotsman. That’s okay, though, as the whiskey he produced put a lot of Irish barley farmers, distillers, coopers, warehousemen, etc., to work, and it’s also awfully good.
Now at the end of the tour awaits your choice of three cocktails featuring Jameson or one straight up. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but if your Irish, you’ll drink it like me–nekked.
The trick to getting extra whiskey is a move I invented called the “buzzer beater.” The very second the word volunteer leaves your tour guide’s lips, raise your hand. (This really works well for women, as your counterparts will still be trying to decide what everyone else will think of them.)
What you are volunteering for is a taste test. Jameson versus an American whiskey and a Scotch. Here, they don’t go for comparisons with quality opponents, like Makers Mark or Laphroig. Instead, they beat up on the highly beatable yet commercially successful Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker Black. Here’s another clue: if you still have the ability to smell, Jameson will beat the panties off the competition.
In my not-at-all-humble opinion, Tennessee sour mash tastes like razor blades, and Johnnie Walker is better as an aftertaste as it’s a bit too hot going down for me. But hey, didn’t I tell you? Extra whiskey.
The tour is fantastically interesting too. And not too long. Our tour guide was extremely interesting and pleasant. There is a bit of pressure (I felt) to hurry along after the tasting, so I gave up the rest of mine as shooting liquor is against my religion. After all, I explained to the Aussie next to me, “I’d better quit. I have to be able to walk.”
Finding Murphy’s Ice Cream meant crossing the Liffey River from the suits and order of downtown straight into throngs of foreign tourists, religious figures, pan handlers, gypsies (pardon me: Romani), and hawkers of goods and services appealing to all of the aforementioned–then hanging a right.
Along a relatively quiet side street is a small shop serving ice cream that would change the way I defined several terms I thought I knew the meaning of. Terms like creamy, fresh, smooth, and satisfying.
An Irish food blogger, I can has cook recommended the brown bread flavor, so I had a small cup of it to start. He wasn’t wrong.
The cream comes from Dingle, I was later told, as I’m sure, did all the dairy. That local sourcing showed in the indescribably fabulous flavor range and mouth feel of this magical stuff.
You see, I hadn’t ever before experienced ice cream as refreshing. Cold, sure, but that’s not the same thing.
The same with “creamy.” Apparently, I had confused that with a certain mouth coating quality. Not the same thing.
This stuff even had Haagen Das beaten, notwithstanding HD’s emphasis on simplicity and texture. As it turns out, nothing can beat Ireland at dairy. Nothing.
As an added bonus, there was an audit going on while I was there. And audits mean free ice cream for the American blogger who chats up the corporate representative from Dingle itself.
In this instance, the young ice cream server was being tested on his ability to produce a peanut caramel sundae topped with whipped cream. OMG! I’d say he passed.
As delicious as the whole of the sundae was, this little (Read: huge) bonus also gave me the opportunity to analyze its components. The caramel was the most buttery and flavorful you can imagine; the whipped cream, light, and again, fresh.
Murphy’s Ice Cream taught me many things I never expected about how delightful dairy desserts can truly be. I may never eat American ice cream again! (Yeah, right.)
(Warning: little bones pics may be added later. I don’t know why that necessitates a warning but it seemed amusing at the time.)
Why? If the funky-cool juxtaposition of the old, pink and lavender dining furniture with the seriously hard-core steel breezeways and red and slate walls running through the space or its near-total integration with filmIreland’s filmbase isn’t enough, then for heaven’s sake, come for the food.
The hostess recommended the special lemonade and smoked trout tartine. The lemonade was made at the time of order so I was able to ask for less sweetness than I feared might otherwise occur. The pomegranate and mint provided a lovely richness and balance to the acidity you usually find in even the best lemonade.
The tartine was a pair of wheat crostini topped with a yogurt-dill dressing, lovely smoked trout, which was slightly pink and not too smokey, and finally, olive oil dressed arugula. The result was a nod to the traditional smoked trout and dill but a deviation with the addition of the yogurt and cucumber that imparted a new level of freshness. No fishy taste it turns out is NOT all you can ask from smoked seafood.
In final analysis, Momma’s Place is a great place for brunch, lunch, even a light supper, as it’s open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(I will add pics and graphics some other time, Chrissakes.)
And before you ask, yes, there is a method to this madness. You see, I’ve heard good things about Indian food but living, as I do, in the American South haven’t yet experienced it in a restaurant.
So being jet-lagged, wet, and cold from my day’s travels, when my host gave me a list of nearby places including the Mint Leaf, I jumped on it! My convoluted reasoning went something like this: Ireland close to England; England former occupier of India and popularizer of all things Indian; therefore, Indian in Ireland would be better than Indian I normally ate. Turns out, I wasn’t far off–whatever the cause.
I dined from the early bird menu and as it was lunch time back home, dinner at five o’clock seemed like a great idea. For €16.95, there were a choice of appetizers and entrees plus a beer or wine of your choice. I went with the samosas and chicken bhuna (I think) and house red wine. I have no way of knowing whether these were good examples of either dish as I’ve never eaten either before. All I can say is everything was delicious.
The wine was every bit as good or maybe a little better than a $20 bottle in the States. The meat samosas (they also come in veggie) reminded me of really good, Indian-spiced taco meat in the best kind of eggroll wrap, fried in triangle-shapes like spanakopita. There wasn’t a trace of oiliness, the spices gave the lamb stuffing a warmth without overpowering, and the chili sauce was fabulous.
The chicken entree was served in a red curry slash brown onion reduction, medium-hot. Definitely a touch of turmeric was present, as it was in the basmati rice side, but other than that, my untrained palate was unable to discern.
Beautiful dishes, well-prepared, good service, and decent-sized portions. I was not disappointed (which, sadly, cannot be said for my past encounters with this cuisine). My newly-informed opinion is we Americans in the South should demand more of our Indian restaurants. This is really great stuff it turns out!
(I’ll insert little bone graphics when I get back home. Dammit.)
So I’m in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and locally-grown is featured even here–in a restaurant called, One Flew South.
Having a farm bacon goat cheese frisse salad and a lovely Ben Marco Malbec. I won’t lie to you: it’s hellaspensive, but at least it’s available as an alternative to the endless chain-restaurant-lined corridors you might have found here just five years ago. Another Ruby Tuesday, I can do without!
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a recent decrease in the frequency of posts hereto. And there’s a darn good reason for that–and it’s about to change! The reason is, your favorite dinosaur and mine has been planning a food trip to Ireland and Italy, and she’s taking you along for the ride!
So buckle up ’cause next week we begin with two days in Dublin to find out whether Bobby Flay was really on to something when he suggested Irish food didn’t suck anymore in his Food TV special, “Bobby’s Ireland.”
From Dublin, we take a train to Waterford City to attend the final three days of the newest Irish food festival, the Waterford Harvest Festival. The festival features many Slow Food Ireland and Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) events, among others, all designed to increase awareness about locally-grown Irish food. While there, we will attend a tasting of Irish beer and cheese, the GIY street feast, and an open air harvest market.
After that, we travel to the heart of Tuscany: Florence, that is. There we will learn the subtle art of chilling out with locals who do it pro-style. And of course, we will eat. If we happen to trip over some art or architecture on the way to eating, we might even write about that too.
So join me on a food exploration of parts of two European countries beginning with the letter “I.” Oh, and I’ll be doing it all from my iPhone and any WiFi connections I happen to find along the way. Now THAT’S going to be an adventure!
Let me just tell you upfront: the life of a food blogger does not suck. Which is a good thing because the pay really does. But every once in a while, gustatory curiosity (and my continuing need for high-quality content) leads me to an event I might otherwise never have noticed. And every once in a while, I have an experience that ends up being pay enough. (Well, almost.)
The Summer Farm Supper No. 4 on Thursday, August 11, 2011, at Farm Burger in Decatur, Georgia, was such an event. And luckily for all involved, it is part of an ongoing a series!
At the helm this evening were two chefs, Ryan Smith of Empire State South and Zeb Stevenson of Livingston Restaurant + Bar, ready to show what they could do with ingredients provided by Farm Burger affiliates Moonshine Meats and Full Moon Farms in Athens, Georgia.
The rest of us were just along for the exquisite ride knowing only that for about $36 we would get something like four courses. Nonetheless, the event sold out completely leaving a decent-sized waiting list of the tardy but hungry.
The menu was posted on the Farm Burger blog two days ahead of time, and I was intrigued. The line-up included parts of the cow and pig I’d never experienced before along with some unusual parts of other animals, too.
Dinner was served at several communal tables set throughout the restaurant and at the bar. I was seated with a group of three and another pair to round out our table of six with a great view of the kitchen.
As my fellow diners arrived, we were provisioned with a pre-appetizer snack of puffed beef tendon dusted with a finely grated, hard, white mystery cheese.
It was paired with a refreshing and delicately sweet fig-rosé spritzer concoction.
Now just where on the animal this tendon was originally located was never revealed but the secret in no way diminished my enjoyment of this oddly alluring treat. (You will note I followed a strict “don’t ask; don’t tell ” policy through most of this meal. It was probably for the best.)
My closest analog with the texture was pork rinds but with a slightly sticky finish you would expect from an ingredient containing so much collagen. There was obviously some delicious fat involved, perhaps tallow, the buttery flavor of which only intensified its beefy goodness. And even though each tendon was about the size of a dinner plate and I was putting them away like I had just returned from a two week stroll across the Gobe desert, I still had plenty of room for the remaining courses—six remaining courses to be exact.
Next on deck was a sampler basket featuring three items, potted chicken liver with a rhubarb mustard, something called “scrapple,” which appeared to be something formed into a cube, enrobed in an herbed crust, and fried then topped with cured egg yolk, and something else called a beef heart “kifto” topped with a bit of crispy beef belly. (You will note, the chefs served not only inspiring food but also gave me an edumacation.)
The potted chicken liver was as you would expect—smoothly pate-like—and the rhubarb mustard was a served atop a subtly-sweet jelly (or maybe it was the jelly. No one at my table seemed able to tell). The scrapple simply reminded me of a really moist baked kibbe—only fried. And the shredded beef heart was an interesting deep red color and velvety texture with an unexpectedly delicate flavor. So far, so good.
But the meal was only just beginning as course one was finally served. This course was to be a cold melon soup redolent of watermelon juice and containing a large, succulent shrimp, a sliver of “lardo,” and sweet, raw onion slivers, served as a “shooter.” (I refused to shoot, preferring a more lady-like sip that allowed me to actually taste this excellent dish.)
Those who did try to shoot it failed miserably, however, as it was a bit too much volume and the shrimp was really too large to allow much success. So, effectively, this was soup was served sans spoon. Alright then.
Along with the soup was a trout “rillette” spread upon on a whole wheat crostini. The rillette reminded me of a really awesome fish mousse—and that is good—because apparently it is prepared something like a pate. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 3 for the chefs to 1 for the foodie. But, hey, I’m on the board.
Next up was a quartered and cherry heirloom tomato salad with slivered and fried pigs ears, basil, and goat cheese in a lovely vinaigrette. Yum. As in each course so far, there was a hint of sweetness about this dish, but as in each prior course, only as a delicate note far in the background. In this case, that note was provided by the perfectly garden-ripe tomatoes and the vinegar.
Course three was thinly-sliced pickled beef tongue, shaved fennel, summer veggies (in this case diced tomatoes, thin slices of raw okra cut on the diagonal, red and yellow bell peppers, and slivered sweet onions), and chili vinegar served family-style on a wooden plank. Once again, the chefs transmuted random organ meat into an unexpected delight.
Only a few of my fellow diners had ever eaten tongue, but we all agreed this must be a great example of it. The tongue had been sliced across the grain and was so thin as to eradicate any hint of toughness and leave only clean meat with a texture that nearly melted in your mouth.
Even more surprising to everyone than how much we all enjoyed tongue, however, was how much we enjoyed raw okra. The diagonal slicing and other mystery preparation resulted in a crispy and totally un-gooey freshness none of us okra-eaters expected.
And then suddenly, it was time for course four. The craziest part of this, the final savory course, was its incredibly underwhelming description and family-style iron skillet presentation. I mean what was so hot about sausage, ribs, and warm barley salad? Well, as it turns out: a lot.
Like the huge burst of incredible fireworks that immediately precede the end of a Fourth of July display, course number four simply blew me away. Without hesitation and unblushingly, notwithstanding all prior praise for pork and pork products previously reviewed in this blog, I can truly say these were the best, ever, to-end-all, to-die-for ribs and kielbasa that shall forever haunt my dreams.
The only consolation is that these unassumingly titled components were so far in a class by themselves that they almost defied the categories from which they sprang, and so, in my mind are set aside—incomparable with any other food sharing those respective names. Hey, if they weren’t, I could never eat pork again. (Yes. They were that good.)
And the barley salad was pretty good too. In fact, in the presence of any other meat, the salad likely would have been star of this particular show. Here, however, it was merely something to pass the time between brief sojourns through the outskirts of pork heaven.
“What was so awesome, then?” you may ask. Well, for starters, the fat of the sausage was practically drinkable. And the meat was sensuously textured, amazingly well-seasoned, and absolutely perfectly prepared. So perfectly, I wondered whether one nanosecond of cooking time in either direction would have ruined its delicately balanced flawlessness. My God! I can hardly believe I’m talking about sausage here.
Strangely, the rib came in second to the sausage in a photo finish. That’s weird to me because I have never before in my life preferred anything to a spare rib. Not that there was anything wrong with this one.
In fact, there was everything right about it. The exterior was almost imperceptibly crispy with a delicate crust of lightly distributed and (once again) subtly sweet sauce. Until now, it had been my experience that most ribs are defined by the sauce and the meat is either good or not good.
In this instance, however, Chef Terry’s restraint allowed the magnificence of the pork to shine through. His delicate application of the condiment enabled this rib to achieve a perfect balance of flavors that elevated both the sauce and the meat to a level I have never known. Truly divine!
After this incredible burst of light and sound, we metaphorically sat around playing with sparklers in the form of the “Goodbye Course” of fried blueberry pies dusted with lime sugar and served with a side of savory whipped yogurt. Again, it was a triumph in any other context.
Following as it did the almost religious experience of course four, however, I couldn’t help thinking of it more as a palate cleanser. Something akin to a nightcap before I hit the road home to mull over all that I had learned at this meal and to swear silently that I will never miss attending another Farm Burger Supper ever again.
Like many of you this time of year (and hereafter), I was feeling really run down with a sore throat and general yuck. Knowing I would have to see this cold through on my own, I instantly searched the Internet for a soup recipe that could pull me through the next few days while laid up with what seemed like impending doom. I found this: “Mom’s Cold-Season Chicken Soup” at SimplyRecipes.com.
It looked like a recipe I could handle, even at half-power, so, now, it was just a race against time. And, of course, there would have to be a few modifications….
I drove to my local Whole Foods as fast as my feverish brain could manage to hunt down the ingredients for the soup recipe but not for the recommended homemade chicken stock. (I did NOT have that kind of time!) Instead, I substituted Kitchen Basics (Unsalted) Chicken Stock in a Tetrapak. For the fat, I would dip into the lard I rendered about a week earlier.
Organic vegetables were my call both for flavor and potency, and an organic French bread baguette, as well. Then I made a few changes—Cajun seasoning instead of “poultry seasoning” (whatever that is), and for the bread, a very strong garlic butter using, in my case, pastured butter and organic garlic.
I started chopping as soon as my feet hit the kitchen tile. Luckily, for Sicko over here, there was no mincing called for—just a rough dice—so the veggie prep was quick, and there was still time to pull my garlic butter and bread together.
To make the garlic bread, you just cut a baguette into quarters and for each quarter prepare the following: in a chopper or small food processor, grind two cloves (or one big one) of garlic; when minced, add two tablespoons of cold butter cut into eight bits then pulse the butter and garlic until the mixture sticks to the side of the bowl. Split your baguette lengthwise along the side, spread the garlic butter on each half of the bread. Preheat the oven to 350°.
Now that I was through with prep, it was time to start the sauté.
To begin with, I used way more than a tablespoon of fat for the veggies—more like four. While the veggies were cooking down, I added the seasonings as instructed. Here, however, I doubled the crushed red pepper flakes. (Hey, Sunshine, this cold isn’t going to get over itself!)
At the point I added the stock to the veggies, I also popped my quarter baguette into the oven for about 10 minutes or so until it was hot but not brown. You can toast either closed or open-faced. Mercifully, once the bread was done it was time to serve the soup, as well.
Now this recipe makes about three quarts of soup, and I recommend eating about 1 quart and one quarter loaf at a sitting. Afterward, you will reek of garlic, and you may experience a slight tingling of the mucosal membranes—but hey, that just means it’s working.
So if you are the only one who is sick or the soup works immediately, why not freeze the rest of the French bread and pour the soup into quart-sized containers and freeze it too? Then you can heat and eat the soup and all you have to do is make a new batch of garlic butter for the bread. I did this and it’s just as effective as new!
Feel better the delicious way, while keeping vampires at bay, with this souped-up Mom’s Cold-Season Chicken Soup.
As previously announced on Facebook and Twitter, I recently rendered lard for the first time. Here’s an inside look at how that whole thing went down.
It all started on recent a Wednesday afternoon when I visited the Decatur Farmers’ Market in Decatur, Georgia. Among other things, I was looking for a replacement for the lard supplier I had found in Birmingham but lost when I moved away. I had been told Tink’s Grass Fed Beef would be there, but as it turns out, Tink raises pastured pork as well. So naturally, I asked about lard.
“No, Tink’s doesn’t render lard,” I was told, but for $5 they could provide me the fat needed to do it myself if I would come to the Saturday market. I readily agreed and showed up on Saturday hoping to score the goods.
Sure enough, the fat had been put on the truck and off my contact went to retrieve it for me. When she returned, I was presented with a large plastic bag of frozen fat weighing at least 10 pounds. I was simultaneously thrilled and intimidated. But for $5, I could afford to screw this up so I soldiered on—with a 10-pound lump of frozen pork fat in my trunk.
When I got home, I placed the lump in my refrigerator and set to work trying to figure out how this mass was to be turned into the white, soft, odorless fabulousness so often imitated by vegetable shortenings but never quite matched and certainly not replaced.
In my search, I found this link to a site called, “A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa,” which provided tantalizingly simple instructions for lard-making using a Crockpot, of all things. Included were beautiful pictures showing exactly what I was to do. The lard pictured looked like what I wanted in an end result, so I figured I’d try it for myself, after buying just a few supplies.
Newly purchased cheesecloth and ladle in hand, I followed the author’s instructions as closely as possible with the following results. (N.B. Our gentle reader should now take a moment to familiarize him- or herself with the instructions at the link above. That is so I don’t have to type as much and yet can refer to the article freely whilst pointing out where those self-same instructions may have gone off the rails ever so slightly.)
First, as to the choice of equipment, I was working with a regular, old, Rival Crockpot that was one of the first models to feature a removable crock (circa 1999). Nothing fancy; just low and high.
So I didn’t really get where the “Valerie,” referred to in the first paragraph of the instructions, was coming from advising that unless the Crockpot was “high-end,” low wasn’t low enough and just to “use a stockpot on the stove’s lowest setting.”
In fact, I used both the low setting on the Crockpot and the lowest burner on my late ’80s gas stove, and the gas stove was definitely hotter and harder to control.
Pictured here, is the lowest I was able to get the flame on the gas stove. It was still far hotter than the low setting on the Crockpot. The fat in the Crockpot was on for 16-hours, by contrast, and still wouldn’t burn—no matter how hard I tried—which brings me to my next few points.
Nowhere in the instructions does the author address how much fat she is rendering, but still confidently assures us of process completion in (it appears) just a few hours. This is totally misleading!
Time to completion is (I hypothecate) likely dependent on the quantity of fat to be rendered. In my case, I rendered for 8 hours on Day One; got tired and put the lid on the removable crock, placed it in the refrigerator, took it out the following day, and rendered for another 8 hours before “finishing.”
It seemed to go faster once the volume was reduced (but that is by no means a scientific observation). At no point did the “cracklings” get crispy as described, however, which brings me to my next observation.
The author discusses the possibility of a “piggie” odor in the finished lard but attributes the off-flavor to “burning” the cracklings. I believe that attribution is only partly true. In other words, the reason I believe my fat never crisped into cracklings (and therefore did not burn) and the reason I didn’t have any piggie odor to my lard is the same—Tink’s did a great job in giving me very little meat and skin with the fat.
What little protein there was, I trimmed away and rendered separately as an experiment.
Sure enough, the lard separately rendered from fat and protein did have a strong piggie scent.
The purer fat did not.
The purer fat also did not produce cracklings, which I now believe must contain a good percentage of protein to crisp and brown or to “burn” if allowed to cook further. Or maybe my cracklings sans protein did not burn because of my next observation.
At no point are we instructed to stir, fold, or otherwise turn the contents of the crock. I did it anyway, for better or worse, because it seemed the fat along edges and bottom was definitely turning brown while the fat in the center remained raw and unchanged. Maybe this is why I didn’t get the “separation” of fat from cracklings or the crisping she described, but after a few hours, I wasn’t seeing that happen anyway so I erred on the side of not causing a fire (I guess).
Now, for what went right. As an initial matter, using the Crockpot is a stroke of genius. A virtually odorless process that was totally controllable, the end result of rendering in the Crockpot was just was as article described.
The crock also seemed to make it easier to manipulate the fat than any oven-based method I’d read about, as it sat open and reachable right on the countertop, and yet was still gentler-heating than my stove-top experiment. In fact, it was a happy compromise of the benefits of both traditional methods. And when I got tired of rendering, I put on the glass lid and stuck the crock in the refrigerator so I could restart it the next day.
Also, grinding the fat as the author suggests seems to have facilitated a more even release of oil. Because I found the instructions online (including the suggestion to ask the farmer to grind the fat for better results) only after I’d already received the fat, I hadn’t asked Tink’s for pre-ground fatback. But perhaps that was better anyway. Grinding it myself gave me a chance to trim off the protein beforehand, and grinding wasn’t such a big deal using the little chopping attachment to my Cuisinart stick blender and would have been even less of a big deal in a real food processor.
After reading the instructions, I naively assumed lard making was simply a matter of heat-for-a-few-hours-strain-pour-chill. Not so! I was totally unprepared for the huge chunk of time rendering this amount was going to take out of two days.
But, at the end of the (second) day, I got a gallon of really high quality lard for my $5 and am happy to have one half gallon of lard in the fridge and another in the freezer. In the final analysis, I will definitely render my own lard again—but hopefully not for another year or so.