Bridgestone Food Guide 2010

We have received a box of the new Bridgestone Food Guide for our shops, and John & Sally McKenna’s book is a must for anyone who loves Irish food. I’m not just saying this because we’re still blushing here at the write up of our shops (photo above). This is the most comprehensive list of the best of Irish foods (by a long way), with where to go and what to find in all parts of the country. The work that went into this was clearly immense, and it’s written with love, care and dedication.

I suggest you order it immediately. Better still, hie yourself down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy. From the sound of it, Irish bookshops need all the help they can get.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Sea Salt Ice Cream

Here’s one of our new flavours. I think there are many uses for sea salt ice cream – it can really lift the flavour of a range of desserts, and we’ve brought it in to complement our new caramel and dark chocolate flavours. It’s certainly caught people’s imaginations, and it’s selling better than I would have thought.

It’s a simple recipe to make, but I do have a caution in that various salts can taste so different, so depending on the salt you use, you might well need to adjust the recipe. I don’t think it should be too salty – just enough to boost other flavours.

I made my own sea salt. If you’re near the sea and have the inclination, here’s how I did it.



• 120g sugar
• 5 egg yolks
• 220 ml cream
• 220 ml milk
• 2 teaspoons sea salt

What to do:

1. Beat the sugar and egg yolks and until it thickens and lightens in colour.
2. Bring the milk to a low simmer.
3. Beat the milk into the egg/sugar mixture in a slow stream.
4. Pour the mixture back into the pan and place over low heat.
5. Stir continuously until the custard thickens slightly (around 65-70C) and just coats the back of a spoon. Don’t over-heat, though, because at around 76C you will scramble the eggs!
6. Immediately remove from the heat.
7. Allow to cool.
8. Stir in the salt.
9. Whip the cream until it has doubled in volume (you should have soft peaks – don’t over-whip).
10. Fold (gently stir) in the custard.
11. Freeze using a domestic ice cream machine.
You can also just cover and place in the freezer, stirring every few hours.

Yield: 8 servings


1. Again, you may need to adjust the quantity of salt depending on which salt you use. We also really like Maldron salt, but I’d use about 20% less, since it’s saltier than Dingle sea salt!

2. To pasteurise the eggs, heat the custard to 73C and maintain that temperature for at least 5 minutes. Use a cooking thermometer, though, and keep stirring! If the custard goes any higher than 76C, the eggs will scramble. Immediately cover and place in the freezer until cool.

Technorati tags: 

Making Sea Salt

One of our new ice creams for our new flavour array is sea salt ice cream, and I got to wondering how it would taste with salt made from our local Dingle sea water. So, the other day I decided to make salt.

It started with a trip to the beach, which is never a bad thing, especially on a sunny day. I took along the partner and the little one, and we made an afternoon of it.

Róisín is a bit too young to be interested in the science part of making salt, but she sure loved the fresh air and looking at the waves.

I’m thinking kids a bit older would enjoy such a project and would be quite amazed to see solid white crystals appearing out of a clear liquid, though they would need a bit of patience. If you want to try it, here’s what I did.

How to Make Sea Salt

1. I started with 5 litres of Dingle sea water (note – make sure the area where you get your water is clean and free from pollution).

2. I passed the water through a coffee filter to make sure there was no sand or tiny bits of seaweed.

3. I boiled the water in a large pot until the salt had begun to crystalise and there was about an inch of liquid left (you might need to scrape the bottom of the pot now and then as the salt begins to form). This takes several hours and produces a lot of steam!

4. I turned off the heat and left it uncovered to evaporate overnight. I don’t know if this is necessary, but I didn’t want to burn the salt by mistake.

5. In the morning, the water was gone, but the salt was still moist. I spread it on a baking tray and put it in the oven at 100C for an hour, at which point the salt was dry.

6. That’s it! The yield was about 200 grams of Dingle sea salt (photo top)!

The salt has quite an interesting flavour – more delicate than I would have thought. You can taste the mineral content, and it oddly has a hint of sweetness. Now, I’ll have to turn it into ice cream!

P.S. I was just informed by a science teacher that if you dangle a string into the boiling seawater, once it’s reduced a bit, maybe attached to a rod that can sit on the pot and with a weight tied on the end in the water, that the salt crystals grow on the string. That might have more dramatic effect if you’re making it with kids. I’ll try it next time.

Technorati tags: 

Our New Resident Busker?

I was in Killarney this morning, and I took this photo of a new busker who has appeared in the alley just beside our shop. I was most impressed, since I play a bit of fiddle myself, but I’ve never seen a violin-trumpet! I think he said he made the instrument himself, but his English isn’t great, and I might have misunderstood.

Still, it’s a fun addition to the street and much more enjoyable in my eyes than the usual dancing leprechauns!

Technorati tags: , , ,

10 Things to Give Up for Lent

Assorted chocolates As we head into Lent, here’s my third “Things to Give Up” list.

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I’m very fond of chocolate and feel it’s not really the best thing to give up, especially since the Vatican made a pronouncement in 1662, specifically allowing it (at least in drinking form – more here). Besides the panic I feel at the thought of being without chocolate, I think, in general, that there are far more creative uses for Lent.

So, here’s my Top Ten Things To Give Up For Lent this year:

1. Complaining. There’s far too much of it around. I know things are bad in many ways, but complaining wont help that one bit. Better to try to change things and take a bit of positive action.

2. Eating cashews when I’m starving. It’s my rather odd binge habit.

3. Staying inside when it’s sunny out, whenever possible.

4. Worrying about the state of the Irish economy, NAMA, and what the year will bring. In fact, make that worrying in general. Like complaining, worrying doesn’t change anything.

5. Going to Tesco, even when it’s extremely handy. They don’t deserve my hard-earned euros.

6. Arriving home late for dinner with my beautiful little daughter and partner (especially annoying for them since I generally do the cooking).

7. Any restaurant that serves a dish with sweet chili sauce. Time to figure out something a little more interesting!

8. On-line shopping. Better to meet people face to face, support local shops, and spare the credit card.

9. Watching the news. Perhaps these days, ignorance really IS bliss.

10. Anything that gets in the way of friends and family. After all, it’s February, and things will be much busier soon in the world of ice cream!

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Simplicity – In a Complex Kind of Way

We’ve decided to try out the deconstruction idea in our Dingle and Killarney shops. We’ll see how it goes for a few weeks and hopefully then expand it across the business if all parties agree it’s a good idea.

Again, the idea is to have simpler flavours and then sell them in pairs. The flavours will be designed to go together, so that two simple flavours, when paired and served together, will create a complex flavour (such as sea salt + caramel = salty caramel, or raspberry sorbet + Kerry cream = raspberry cream, etc). Hopefully it will make for a more exciting, customisable ice cream experience, although people will still be able to have a single flavour if that’s all they wish to have.

We’ve already started the process by switching over some flavours and changing others. Here will be the 16 spring flavours:

  1. Vanilla
  2. Dark Chocolate
  3. Chocolate Chip
  4. Honeycomb
  5. Raspberry Sorbet
  6. Kerry Cream
  7. Burnt Caramel
  8. Chocolate
  9. Coffee, Guinness, or Brown Bread
  10. Kilbeggan Whiskey
  11. Sea Salt
  12. Cookies
  13. Baileys
  14. Rum Raisin
  15. Mint
  16. Strawberry

We haven’t yet made all of them, but we have made the sea salt and Kerry cream, and so far customers really seem to be loving those two! The sea salt ice cream, though weird on its own, is a delight with caramel or dark chocolate, and the Kerry cream is such a pure flavour that goes with just about anything.

It’s a work in progress.

Three More Tips from Dublin

I’m just back from another dash to Dublin, and it was a hugely enjoyable visit. Three highlights were:

1. Queen of Tarts. I have heard so much about Queen of Tarts, and it was the first time I made it there. What a great, relaxed place for a sweet treat and a bit of tea on a drizzly afternoon.

2. Trinity Capitol Hotel. We stayed in this seriously funky hotel, and we enjoyed every minute. At a rate of €67, it seemed an utter bargain, with stellar service and comfortable rooms. The only downside is that the hotel is wrapped around a fire station. We didn’t hear any outside noise and slept quite well, but apparently one should ask for “courtyard view” to avoid any sirens.

3. Dublin Food Coop. If you’re looking for organic produce, interesting producers, or simply a nice, wholesome change of pace, it’s worth checking out this organic food market on Saturdays. It’s in an industrial estate in the Liberties, but it’s worth seeking it out! While there, pick up some of the excellent, award-winning organic milk and other products from Moon Shine Dairy.

Technorati tags: , ,

It’s Time To Change the Debate

 Last night, on RTE’s Frontline program, there was a discussion of whether it made sense to buy Irish foods, or whether it made sense to shop in the North, which is cheaper. John McKenna spoke up for supporting Irish foods and used some strong language in making his points. There were some angry farmers, an amazing number of regular people saying they wanted to support Irish (including some on the dole), and of course there was the usual retail bashing. Eddie Hobbes mocked the notion of buying Irish, saying the best thing for the economy was for everyone to buy in the North so that prices would come down further here. It seems his logic is that with no customers, everyone will be out of work, and then stuff will get really, really cheap in Ireland. As happens on so many of these programs, the discussion devolved into price, price and price. Were retailers ripping people off? If not, who was ripping people off? Were prices too high?

I found it all very depressing. During the Celtic Tiger, so much public discussion focused on prices and money. House prices, food prices, salaries, etc. Now, we’re in a recession, and the discussion hasn’t changed a bit. It’s still about house prices, food prices, salaries, etc. When can we leave this behind and have discussions of all the other things that are important – family, trust, truth, love, beauty, honour, leisure, heritage, caring etc? One would think, now that the Celtic Tiger and the myth of money = happiness has been exposed, that we could focus on other issues besides prices and money.

The fact is that we buy for all sorts of reasons, even if we’re constrained financially. Price becomes important if we see the item as a commodity or don’t really care about the quality (toilet roll would be an example in my case. I’d buy the cheapest and save my money for other things, but my partner violently disagrees). But for many of our purchases, price is only one of many factors. Do we buy the cheapest shoes, regardless of style or quality, or do we rather buy the best and most stylish shoes we can afford on our budget?

We make choices all of the time with our purchases, and those choices can define the society we live in. If we bought more organics, organics would grow (which they have, by the way – 13% growth last year, defying the notion that price is everything). If we support a restaurant we love, that restaurant will probably pull through these tough times. If we hate a shop, we can simply shop elsewhere and it will probably fail. We, as purchasers, have great power. We can decide who survives and who fails with the money we have to spend, even if our budgets are shrinking.

To show that price isn’t everything, here are 10 other, perfectly good reasons that I buy things:

1. Because I know and like the person. For example, I have a jumper I bought from a friend who knits them. I actually make a lot of purchases this way, and for me this category also encompasses local.

2. Because I simply love it. My camera would fall into this category. There are loads of cheaper cameras, but I love my Nikon D300. For food, think Glenilen’s clotted cream or Llewellyn’s apple juice.

3. Because it’s Irish. Knowing how hard it is for farmers these days, I wouldn’t feel right buying potatoes, eggs, fish, milk, etc. from abroad. You can mock me, but I feel better buying Irish when I can on products that matter to me. Saying that buying Irish is xenophobic or anti-free trade is a nonsense – I am all for free trade, and I love certain products from abroad. However, I also have a sense of community and understand that my purchasing decisions matter.

4. Because it’s stylish and/or very cool. My iPhone fits in this category. I don’t make a lot of these purchases, but they sure make me happy.

5. Because it’s ethical or Fairtrade. As long as the quality is good, I feel much better supporting companies with this ethos.

6. Because it’s natural/organic/Biodynamic. Always important to me, this has become much more important after having a baby. I simply couldn’t feed her junk or dress her in synthetic clothes. I’d rather put off my visit to the dentist, put off buying myself new clothes, etc.

7. Because it supports a cause I believe in – for example, my Chernobyl Children’s Project sweatshirt. Not the cheapest, but what a good cause, and I always feel good wearing it.

8. Because the quality is good. This, of course, is one of the most basic reasons we decide to buy anything, and we all know about the false economies of buying cheap shoes that fall apart in a month, cheap food that you end up throwing out because it’s awful, etc. etc.

9. Because I trust the person or company. I don’t think this needs any explanation, and it an important reason for me.

10. Because I need a boost and/or need to feel better. Chocolate. ‘Nuff said.

I’m sure there are many more reasons you can think up, and again I’m not saying price isn’t important. I know that people don’t have unlimited budgets, and I believe that is precisely why we need to change the debate.

So… can we please, please stop talking incessantly about money and prices now that the Celtic Tiger is over? We all need to live within our means, whatever they are, but there are so many other important things in life.