Saturday, February 27, 2010

Malt Shakes: a Flavour Experimalt

I know your secret Eddie. Rocket, that is. I’ve always had a big thing for their malt shakes, as does almost everybody else who I’ve ordered try one at some stage or another. Nothing quite beats one when you’re surrounded by 1950’s style decor with the Beach Boys piping in from above (NB: I don’t care what those signs on the wall say, the Jukeboxes do not work!). It doesn’t take a genius to see how they’re made, you just watch them do it over the counter. It starts with a few scoops of flavoured ice cream, then you add a piled high teaspoon or two of malt powder and finally give the whole thing a quick whirl in a milkshake mixer. The problem for me was always the powder itself though. I was convinced it was a specially made mix brought in from a wholesaler’s in a land both far and away, virtually impossible to obtain short of leaping in and grabbing the entire box. All hope seemed lost, but I usually do try to concentrate on that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. This time it came in the form of my brother getting a job in the Santry branch of Eddie Rocket’s. Screw their secret sauce, I wanted to know what the malt powder was called, or where you could buy some! Do you want to know what he told me? ...It’s Horlicks. And it wouldn’t surprise me if half of you knew that already, or had just guessed even. Either way, after getting over the embarrassment I quickly popped on into Dunnes and bought myself some. What followed was an evening of malt experiments with numerous casualties: about a litre of milk, more than one tub of ice cream, two bananas, a package of blueberries, half a packet of ginger nut biscuits... The list goes on, but they didn’t all perish in vain since for the most part they all made quite delicious malt shakes. Whether or not that’s courtesy of Eddie’s or Horlick’s I really don’t know anymore but nonetheless, here are a few of the mixtures I came up with:

Coffee malt shake, serves 2/3

300ml fresh, cold milk
2 tsp of instant coffee
170g of vanilla ice cream
1 ½ tbs Horlicks powder

Before you begin, make sure to remove the ice cream from the freezer a good fifteen/twenty minutes prior to actually making the malt so that it softens; this will make speed up the process, especially if you have to finish them by hand! Once the ice cream is suitably soft, you’re ready to go.

Pour the milk into a tall container, for example a jug or measuring beaker. If you don’t have anything of this description to use then a large, deep bowl will do instead. Before adding the coffee, dissolve it in a very small amount of water so that you won’t be left with any stray granules that may escape the following steps. Add it to the milk and stir, then add the ice cream (if you have no regard for precise measurements – and I wouldn’t blame you when – then you should be aiming for roughly six generous scoops) and the Horlicks powder.

Finally, blend the mixture. Personally, I prefer to do this with a handheld blender as this gives you more control over the consistency of the mixture in a shorter space of time. A regular blender will do, but you will need to stir and push down any of the ice cream that isn’t caught. Otherwise, stir vigorously by hand until you get a smooth consistency. Taste, and if you feel it needs more malt then add another teaspoonful; this really is a matter of personal taste, I love mine very malty but the measure I've given is average. If you feel like experimenting, use a different flavour of ice cream instead of vanilla. Chocolate will of course work well in this case, as may another flavour. Do you like your malts thick? then simply add more ice cream. This recipe should give you a good milkshakeish consistency, but it's all about preference at the end of the day. Serve as a dessert or with a good old fashioned burger n’ fries!

Oreo malt shake, serves 2/3

300ml fresh, cold milk
6 Oreo cookies, crushed
170g vanilla ice cream
1 ½ tbs Horlicks powder

The process is almost identical to the coffee malt shake recipe above. Whilst waiting for the ice cream to soften, simply take a mortar and pestle to six Oreo cookies. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, wrap the cookies in a clean kitchen cloth and use a mallet or similar blunt object to bash them with until they're well broken up.

Assuming you will be finishing the mixture using a blender then do not crush the cookies too finely as leaving small chunks will make the overall shake more flavoursome. In the Oreo sense that is! If the mixing is to be done by hand then crush them more finely, but not into an outright powder. When ready, add the crushed Oreos to the milk before you add the ice cream and Horlicks powder. Serve on its own or with cream on top and a single Oreo cookie for decoration.

Banana malt shake, serves 2/3

300ml fresh, cold milk
2 small bananas
170g vanilla ice cream
2 tbs Horlicks powder

Again, simply follow the original set of instructions where adding and mixing the ingredients are concerned, only substitute the banana for the key flavour ingredient. A blender will, however, be required in this recipe as it can be difficult to achieve a smooth consistency by mashing and mixing the banana by hand. Slice both bananas in half and add to the milk prior to the ice cream and Horlicks. Blend. Note than in this particular recipe I have included an extra half tablespoon of Horlicks powder. This is because the banana flavour can be surprisingly strong, and on first attempt overpowered even the maltiness of the powder! Here is where I encourage you to experiment, to find the balance that’s right for you and your preferences. Either way, the malt will add body to the flavour but if you really like that malty taste then add more, it’s entirely up to you! Again, substituting chocolate ice cream for vanilla turns this into an even more interesting shake.

And that’s all my experimenting yielded for tonight. Well, in terms of success rather... but there are inumerable flavour combinations that you can try with malt shakes. It’s exciting, it’s fun; It’s definitely something I’ll do again. Bearing that in mind, if anybody has any suggestions then I’d love to hear them!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hugo's Restaurant and Wine Bar

I’ll be honest now rather than later to save you any disappointment: I’m not the person you should look to when trying to decide what wine to have with a meal. Cheap wine or expensive; I couldn’t even begin to tell you the difference between a cabernet and a chardonnay beyond that they’re red and white. Also that it would be very easy to write a poem about them. More importantly, I never did quite warm to the taste of wine in the first place. Patrick Guilbaud taught me high quality wine is indeed delicious and can be expertly paired with food, but in general I skip the list. Especially when eating without company. I expect by now that half of you who know their food and might be reading have already gone and closed the window. To those of you who did, thank you for getting this far! I’m amazed I managed to as well. Those of you who didn’t, you might be wondering why I chose to go to Hugo’s restaurant and wine bar for my first written review. Simple: familiarity, convenient Sunday opening hours for a restaurant of its kind but above all, good food.

My first experience with Hugo’s was in 2007, not long after they first opened. Paulo Tullio had reviewed them and done so well. It was new, French style, sitting alongside some of Dublin’s best restaurants and painted very eggshell blue. I was interested immediately. Three visits, two lovely bowls of tomato soup and one freezing Sunday night later I was there once again, this time with Rebecca and my good up-and-coming artist friend Yvonne.

The first thing you might notice – or I always notice – are the cushions; many cushions. They’re piled high along the wall seating and into the window bays. Very few places I’ve eaten in have ever taken this simple, straightforward approach. The aim in any restaurant of this kind is should be to serve food in a comfortable environment and Hugo’s could only do better if they had thrown in a few bean bags! The classic wallpaper, frequent artwork and heavy drapes give an altogether very bourgeois feel. It’s homely, it’s cosy. It’s exactly what you’re looking for when temperatures are in the minus outside. Our coats flew off and the food soon began to arrive.

Parmesan and semi dried tomato cake was something I’d been looking forward to since checking the menu and it didn’t disappoint; a very light and flavoursome starter. I was a little disappointed that the olives from the description had gone AWOL though, in my mind’s tasting they would have complimented it well.

Rebecca meanwhile enjoyed her Ronseal dish of organic smoked salmon with mini blinis and a generous helping of sour cream.

The mains arrived promptly as you would expect on a quiet Sunday night and all were well received: sun-dried tomato and artichoke risotto sans goats cheese for Yvonne, roasted corn fed chicken served on a bed of tagliatelle with a creamy tarragon sauce on Rebecca’s side and fillet steak ‘a la Lyonaisse’ with onion sauce, roasted potatoes and French beans for myself.

The star of the show here was the risotto; a very large portion, perfectly cooked and luscious throughout. Sun dried tomatoes are an addiction of mine and it was hard to stop myself from robbing more than I did from Yvonne! She (practically) proclaimed herself the risotto queen whilst we ate, so her finishing most of it is a compliment to the food in itself.

Rebecca’s chicken was succulent and crispy skinned, complemented well with the pleasant addition of mushroom to the tarragon sauce. The pasta was neither under nor overcooked and I unfortunately managed to steal none of the streaky bacon that also featured.

If I were to have one minor complaint about the any of the mains, it’s that my steak was closer to medium well as opposed to the medium that I asked for. This is, however, only a small problem when you’re eating a good quality fillet! The onion sauce was delicious, though perhaps slightly sparse on the plate for this particular serving.

Yvonne also skipped dessert, but neither Rebecca nor I could help ourselves. Her Crème Brûlée was generous (with the added bonus of three biscotti) whilst my apple and blackberry crumble was very enjoyable after it had cooled down a bit, particularly because in Hugo’s case the normal crumble mixture has been replaced with muesli. It makes for a really interesting flavour, and gives us a new excuse for having dessert first thing in the morning!

The service was friendly and helpful, checking with the chef at least twice regarding whether or not certain meals were vegan friendly. In total our bill came to just over €110 for two three course meals, one main, a coffee and two glasses of a half white, half rosé wine, the name of which escapes me.

Hugo’s is a reliable restaurant. They break the trend and make themselves available until closing hours on a Sunday, something that I still think goes largely unappreciated. Even more so given a) their location and b) the quality of the food they serve, which – if you hadn’t got the gist so far – is great. If I had a better taste for wine, I’m sure I’d be able to appreciate the other half of their title as well. Who knows? Maybe with enough visits, and assuming that they stay in business where neighbouring Kitty’s and Bang Café could not, I might eventually be able to. But in the meantime, I don't imagine Hugo's will give me anything to wine about.

Hugo’s Restaurant and Wine bar
6, Merrion Row,
Dublin 2

Tph: 01-676 5955

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Serving of Intent

Food. I like food. I like it a lot. Burgers, pies, steak, truffle, sushi, I like it all. I probably like what I haven’t even tasted yet! That's not to say I've liked food forever; there was a time that I felt sick at the thought of pizza, all kinds of ham and, shock horror, cheese too but thankfully, those days are long since gone. As they passed, I started visiting restaurants. Many, many restaurants; Restaurants in Dublin, restaurants in New York, Stockholm, London, Edinburgh; Italian restaurants, Moroccan restaurants, restaurants that dealt in cuisine that you could only consider an invention in themselves! The list is extensive. Some I visited only once, others, like Yamamori, I seem to end up in almost daily. The importance I came to realise was that no matter where it was or how good the food, I was always accumulating, learning, consuming ‘foodie’ knowledge as I went.

Up until recently, I never felt any urge to share beyond friends anything I’d discovered along this pretty delicious culinary voyage but in 2008, a restaurant called Kitty's Bistro closed its doors. Then, in 2009, Mint of Ranelagh followed suit. The final straw was the popular Bang Café in the early months of 2010. When I saw that dreaded paper sheet in Bang’s door window I stopped and thought of all the people who had never eaten a meal in these good establishments, myself included (regretfully) when it came to Mint in particular. I decided that the only thing to do would be to start writing about them, all of them, and never stop. Leave no eatery undiscovered, no take away, food stand or greasy spoon café left unvisited lest we arrive in a month’s time and find it gone.

There are, after all, some real gems out there, fantastic places to eat in a whole spectrum of cuisines, styles and, most importantly in today's environment, affordability. My and Consumed's aim is to bring these places to YOUR attention, and hopefully, in turn, your stomachs to them! Anything I cook – successfully – will also cameo, because hey, miracles do sometimes happen and you might even end up liking a recipe or two.

We all deserve a good meal; even those condemnded to die on death row get one in the end. Very little really compares to a satisfying dining experience when you think about it. It was after all Voltaire who said that “nothing could be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity”. To be honest, I know next to nothing about Voltaire beyond that he had a pretty cool name, but I do know that he had his priorities in order when it came to food. And that, boys and girls, is all that we’re concerned about here. Food.

So to wrap it up, I really hope you enjoy Consumed in the months and hopefully years to come. I hope that you find it everything that you expect a good food blog should be and most importantly that at the end of the day, I send you in direction that's right for you.

Special thanks has to go out to my lovely girlfriend Rebecca. Without her constant prodding I'd never have started writing this. Not to mention her HTML skills which helped me get the finished banner looking like it does! She's rather multi-talented, it has to be said. I'd also like to thank my friends for their support and finally, the writings of Paulo Tullio, Angela Flannery and Lucinda O'Sullivan of the Irish Independent which have been a constant source of digest God knows how many weekends now.

Bon appetit guys!