Guilt Free Gourmet

So, my dairy and wheat free diet is continuing apace. It isn’t actually that difficult – particularly if you plan in advance. Nairn biscuits have been my saviors, often holding off the hunger just long enough to keep me going. I’ve also been enjoying the variety of dark chocolates available – who knew the hidden benefits giving up dairy would uncover!

I’ve just purchased the Guilt Free Gourmet cookbook and am looking forward to trying out all their recipes,¬†

And yes, I do miss butter ūüė¶


Life without Dairy and Wheat

So, I’ve recently decided to go dairy and wheat free…finally acknowledging my¬†intolerance’s. It’s not been easy so far (only a week in!) but I’m hoping I start to get used to it. Porridge for breakfast, soup and rye bread for lunch and curry/shepards pie/BBQ for dinner have been the go to meals so far but I really need to start widening the range, particularly if I plan on having people to dinner in the near future. I’d really love any recommendations on a good cook book for restricted diets…..I want to stick to it this time so all help welcomed ūüôā

Dip in

I had a Bad Friday party on Good Friday….the alcohol was flowing and we ate meat…how bold.

One gem that I made for the first time was this Walnut and Pepper dip. It’s a take on Muhummara and is¬†decidedly delicious, gets better with time and is painfully easy to make. We had it as a starter with some other dips but it would be equally good in a ¬†pasta dish or with grilled meats…..I’m just waiting for BBQ season to arrive and it’ll be unleashed regularly.¬†I couldn’t get pomegranate molasses but used grape molasses.

Anyone any other ideas for using this dip? Oh and how have I gone so long without knowing about Muhummara?! I only came across this after hearing a friend talk about a walnut dip they had while in Istanbul. Hummus fairly pales in comparison ūüôā

A gastronomical tour

I’ve been eating out a lot recently…a lot a lot. I’ve been out in Clare, Dublin, Sligo, Derry and Donegal, lets see how long it takes me to give a speed review of each!

First up was a pleasant and surprising find. I happened to be in Ennistymon, Clare at about 10pm looking for something to eat. I’d resigned myself to a bag of chips when I happened on Chow – a noodle bar! Really¬†authentic, good value late night food, Ireland could do with a lot more of these places. We enjoyed a spicy beef with garlic and udon noodles and a marinated pork with egg noodles with a shared portion of spring rolls – a fabulously¬†satisfying, good value (under ‚ā¨30 ¬†with drinks) late night feast, highly recommended.


Next on the tour was a lunch date with school friends. The suggested destination was the Green Hen in Dublin. I’d been hearing great things about this French restaurant so was looking forward to sampling and it didn’t¬†disappoint. ¬†The real high point is the value – 3 course lunch for ‚ā¨19. We enjoyed daube of beef, salmon and crab rolls and goat’s cheese and beetroot salad to start, a (stunning!) confit of duck and lamb burger for mains and all 3 opted for the rice pudding brulee for dessert. Not a complaint was heard and at that price it would be hard to. Lovely staff and great (busy) atmosphere.

Green hen           Green hen2

Onwards and upwards we then headed north, stopping off for lunch in Sligo. I’ve been to Source Sligo quite a few times, including attending one of their cookery courses. I’m a fan. Lunch on this occasion was good but I wonder if the eye has been taken slightly from the ball, it wasn’t quite as sharp as on other occasions but I’ll be back again to double check ūüėČ

Lunch was 2 chowders, delicious with a great splash of wine, which came with lovely bread and a shared flat bread with dips. The flat breads were over toasted and only the olive dip had any real excitement but the other two, hummus and pepper, were still pleasant. Washed down by coffees and a very nice chocolate and pecan brownie we headed off satisfied.

source      Source1

Northwards again until we reached Derry and the culinary highlight. I cannot recommend Browns enough – service, value and food were excellent, one of the better meals I’ve had in a long time. The 3 course menu was ¬£20 but it had nothing of the cheap early bird feel about it. We started with a lovely bottle of proseco, goats cheese amuse bouche and delicious fresh breads – I was already in my element! It went from strength to strength with a delicious prawn and curried cauliflower stater, a vegetarian risotto and sticky toffee dessert. If I’m honest, I was too distracted to properly enquire about the choices of my fellow diners but all their plates were cleared and they too raved about the experience. If you ever have the¬†opportunity¬†to visit Browns – do it!

Browns         Browns1

Last stop on the tour was Harry’s in Bridgend, Donegal and it was unfortunately¬†disappointing. There is a strong fish representation on the locally sourced menu. I started with the scallops which were fine, if slightly on the expensive side, ‚ā¨10 for 3.¬† ¬†I followed with the megrim which was very nice but lukewarm at best – a fault shared by all of the tables mains. The sides were good, particularly the cabbage and root veg but garlic potatoes – which were just potato cubes doused in garlic butter were not a hit….all in all we were¬†disappointed,¬†service was slow and food was not hot, but perhaps we were extra picky after the stunning meal the night before in Browns.

harrys        harrys1

Right that’s it, not too long I hope and a few pointers if you find yourself in those parts of the country. I’m not eating out for months!

Not yocky gnocchi

So, I recently asked if anyone had any quick veggie dinner ideas…no one got back to me ūüė¶ so I took a visit to the ever trustworthy BBC Good Food website – I absolutely love this site.

A quick search threw up a few options and I decided to go with gnocchi¬†with broccoli & parmesan cream sauce. I made my own gnocchi from the evening before’s left over mashed potatoes and it was pretty damn tasty. Really quick and you could easily add in a bit of chicken if you crave the meat…

Get the recipe here.

Anyone know of any other good recipe websites? I love the BBC magazines as well but they’re pretty expensive so only get one every now and then as a treat. I do get the Irish version, Easy Food, pretty regularly. It can be quite good, although I have found some of the recipes have lacked important details! I haven’t bought a recipe book in quite a while, the magazines give a good, cheap update to the recipe bank monthly.¬†

Check out Easy Food here.

A friendly weekend

I’ve just had a busy weekend meeting friends Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Friday started with dinner with Mr T and another couple in their apartment followed by card games…great sociable fun. Saturday we (Mamar, Mr T, middle sibling and I) headed into Dublin for a shop around and lunch….we opted for upstairs in Fallon & Byrne. I immediately liked the feel of the dining room, kind of old school glamour…linen tablecloths and red leather.



The menu was a nice mix of appetisers, salads, pasta, platters and mains. Between us we sampled the pear and feta salad; lentil, smoked cheese and pecan salad; rabbit gnocchi and seafood risotto – all plates well and truly cleared. The dishes were between ‚ā¨7 and ‚ā¨10 depending on size and were accompanied by some excellent fresh bread (and soft butter). We then shared a great cheese platter with pear, crackers and quince.



Food was pretty slow to arrive but if you’re after a relaxed luxurious lunch I’d highly recommend, and staff did apologise for the delay. With four good coffees the bill was around ‚ā¨80, I’m already looking forward to my return visit.


That evening was spent partying with old college friends…celebrating the recent spate of engagements – its contagious!

Following a lovely walk in the phoenix park (great to see it so busy on a Sunday afternoon), I ventured to La Bodega in Ranelagh to catch up with two school friends. The background live guitar provided great atmosphere while we enjoyed some tapas – nothing too remarkable but it fitted the bill for the occasion at hand.

I’m headed back west this evening – lots more eating at home in the coming days….Anyone got any quick midweek veggie dinner ideas?

Ah here leave it ou….

Bit of a tenuous link but I recently ate in the Rowan Tree in Ennis….see what I did there…tree, leaf/leave… ūüôā Anyway back to the serious matter at hand….the Rowan Tree. The restaurant is in a lovely old building which also houses the Rowan Tree hostel and used to be the Clare¬†gentlemen’s¬†club, for the great and good of the county. The high ceilings, huge bay windows overlooking the river Fergus and impressive fireplace all help to create a comfortable but distinctive home for this, self described, ‘Mediterranean style’ restaurant.

After a long hard day I was looking forward to some comfort food and we decided on the Rowan Tree – Mr T is a fan. I opted for the ‚ā¨16.95 2 course early bird….my cajun chicken salad was fine…lots of chicken but maybe a bit of an over kill on the sweet and sticky cajun sauce which it had been¬†flavored¬†with. The pineapple salsa was just pieces of pineapple…..nothing wrong with it but wouldn’t set the world alight. Mr T had the chorizo pasta…again tasty but very very simple…penne with pieces of chorizo, a garlic, chilli and tomato sauce and a herb garnish….not sure it warrants the ‚ā¨14.95 price tag but the plate was cleared.¬†


I went for the toblerone cheesecake for dessert, doubt its made¬†in house…pretty standard and Mr T had eton mess (told you we were fans!)…didn’t even come close to my version but a nice sweet end to a meal. We’d two lovely coffees with amaretti biscuits to finish proceedings. All in with a glass of wine and bottle of beer we were just under ‚ā¨50.


I don’t know what it is about the Rowan Tree but I just don’t feel its everything it could be…the food is fine without being brilliant…the decor is fine without being brilliant (I really don’t like the heavy, fabric covered chairs)…menu is fine but should change more regularly….but…the staff are really nice and the place is always busy so maybe I’m just too picky or don’t know what I’m talking about! Try it out and let me know what you think….

Casa pretty average

We found ourselves in Limerick on Sunday looking for somewhere for lunch and seeing as La Cucina wasn’t open we decided to try Casa Nostra, it had popped up on a friends facebook recently – the power of facebook eh?!

The restaurant is in a very high¬†ceiling-ed¬†room and they’ve gone for a rustic decor. The staff were very welcoming but I’m afraid the food is pretty average. We decided to share two appetisers, mixed olives and a ‘specialty’ bread with oil and rosemary. The olives arrived along with a glass of a pretty sour house red wine. The bread which was to come with them was two slices of french stick….and the mix was all black olives…..from a jar ūüė¶ I do hate cheap olives.¬†


Our mains arrived at the same time as the second starter, which turned out to be a flat bread, not unlike a poppadom – nothing too exciting there, also with more of the bad olives and pointless lettuce leaves. I had a smoked pancetta carbonara and Mr T the diavolo pizza. The pasta was ok, pretty salty and very pancetta heavy and the pizza was of a similar standard, although the base was nice.


On a much more positive note we had a really good coffee and espresso to finish. ‚ā¨48 all in with the glass of wine and a diet coke….it wasn’t great but then I am very picky ūüôā I think if you were out for the night with a group of people you’d be well looked after and have an ok meal but a little more quality in the ingredients would go a long way….

Dinner party, walks and a Wooden Spoon

Last Friday I had 7 people over for dinner…not a huge number but enough to keep you on your toes. I’d carefully planned the menu so that most was done before they arrived. Starter was blue cheese, poached pear and walnut salad. For main we had beef cooked in cream, wine and brandy (Rachel Allen recipe) with mashed spuds and red cabbage and dessert was baked marzipan apples with ice-cream (red cabbage and apples from Darina Allen Christmas book)…..all plates were cleared ūüôā Definitely the key is in the preparation.¬†

Some of the dinner party guests were staying for the weekend so Saturday saw myself and Mr T tour guiding around the Burren, a very enjoyable task. 

On Sunday we joined Mamar for a walk in Killaloe followed by a much¬†anticipated first time visit to the Wooden Spoon coffee shop. I must first gush about the walk, one of the Shannon region loop walks, of which I am a huge fan. They are in really lovely locations, really well signed and pretty accurate on the timings – and very importantly remove some of the guilt over whats to come ūüôā ¬†

So, all walked out we headed into the Wooden Spoon bakery. We first tried the restaurant at the back but were more interested in a quick lunch and cakes so opted for the bakery. A mushroom and parma ham bruschetta and ham and brie quiche were quickly disposed of before moving onto the main event – ¬†the cakes. They’ve a great selection and the three we tried were very nice.


We tried the raspberry roulade, chocolate fudge cake and chocolate roulade. The chocolate fudge is definitely only for the extreme chocoholic but Mr T managed to get through it. The staff were very friendly and there is a nice atmosphere in the bakery. The other mucky shoed patrons indicated that we weren’t the only ones with the walk first, cake later idea. Two lunches, a lemonade, 3 cakes, 3 coffees and one take away cake for the brother waiting at home came to around ‚ā¨30 – not bad at all. I’m not sure the Wooden Spoon deserves the ¬†2013 Caf√© of the Year award recently received from Georgina Campbells Ireland Guide, but it is pretty good and I look forward to having an excuse to go back again. I’m also looking forward to continuing my own research into Ireland’s best caf√©…..tough work!


Mashuga Walnuts

I’m having a dinner party on Friday so preparations are well under way. With the menu decided last week I’ve planned out what I can get done in the evenings leading up so that I’m not stressed on Friday. Yesterday I sorted out one element of my starter, the beautiful sugared walnuts.

I can’t remember when I first made sugared nuts, but I’m sure it was Mamar that showed me how….ever since I’ve been hooked anyway. I could just eat them like sweets and combined with a good blue cheese and a bit of fruit there is nothing better…..and the nicest thing is they’re so easy to make.

  • Turn on oven to c. 200¬į to heat.
  • Boil some water in a saucepan, add your chosen nuts (I usually do walnuts but have experimented with all kinds) and boil for about 2 minutes.
  • Drain in a colander and then add icing sugar to your own taste. For a 100g bag of walnuts I add roughly 2 dessert spoons.
  • Mix the icing sugar and nuts well.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment and spread the nuts out in a single layer.
  • Toast in the oven until just browning. This is the only tricky part in the whole process because they can burn in an instant but just keep an eye on them, I usually give them 5-10 minutes (carefully watching).
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool and harden and ta dah delicious mashuga nut mouthfuls (I know there technically should be cinnamon as well – add it if you want!). The only challenge for me is not eating them all as I wait from them to cool.