roast vegetable lasagne….

I’m sitting here reluctantly writing a blog post as I actually wanted to go out for Sunday lunch for a change but after 2 hours of twitter research and trying to decide where to go I gave up! My New Year’s resolution was not to waste anymore money on average food just for the sake of eating out. I know for a lot of people it isn’t just about the food but more the social aspect of it  but for me if the food isn’t great my whole experience is ruined. I go out “TO EAT” and if that’s not right then the whole experience is ruined anyway so there is really no point in me going for the social aspect because I’m a pain to listen to and not very sociable then because I’m grumpy. Actually I’m probably lying here too because on the other hand if the food is great & the service isn’t then I get grumpy too so I should really say I go out to eat and enjoy good service…..

Now finding these 2 elements has become near to impossible for me! Am I too fussy?  My parents would say “HELL YES” but 2 of my sisters have become more like me after listening to me ranting for years they now have the expectation too. I don’t think I am fussy to be honest as I’m not picky or pretentious but I do have an expectation. If I have made the choice to spend my hard earned money somewhere I expect to get something for it and that is a good standard of food & service, it doesn’t have to be spectacular or fancy but I expect it to be the same or a little bit better that what I cook at home and I’m not a trained chef so that shouldn’t be too hard but it seems to be.

 Take for example simple gastro pub food, Ok if I order a burger my expectation paying €16 plus is that I’m getting good quality local beef with a bit of seasoning for crying out loud, cooked perfectly(not cremated), served in a home-made bread of some kind with hand-cut chips. I do not want a burger bun with bought in frozen chips, the same goes for fish & chips! It drives me mad when I order fish & chips and get served bought in chips and tartare sauce, these should be home-made! To take an even simpler example a toasted sandwich, it contains 4 ingredients so they need to be good, I do not want plastic ham & cheese that taste of nothing, I don’t eat Denny ham at home so I definitely don’t want to pay someone to put it in a sandwich for me! These are pretty basic examples but there should be an expectation at every level but there isn’t, I think the majority have lost their taste buds over the last few years and actually don’t taste food!

I remember when we were younger we always bought our cooked ham from our local butcher who would slice it up in front of us, we used to buy our home-made coleslaw there too. There is not one brand of Irish ham that I would buy now from the shop as they are all tasteless and plastic, don’t get me started on the ham used in the sandwich shops and petrol station delis. The only ham I buy is the Rovagnati brand in Superquinn, it’s not cheap but then we don’t eat ham everyday so that’s fine. This goes across the board, sausages, cheese, rashers, tuna etc, average prevails and people eat it but it has absolutely no taste. I think the food people are eating at home has actually caused the standard that exists when eating out as there is very little expectation so very few complain or demand a higher standard and if you do you are the “fussy bitch” because obviously “they are doing everything right as they are so busy & everyone else loves it”. I’m often asked why don’t I complain when I’m out and I never do because there is no point, if these are the standards that an establishment are working from my little complaint isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. We stayed in a well known hotel a couple of weeks back and from start to finish it was so average I couldn’t wait to see the back of it, did I complain? Nope! Why? there was absolutely no point, the place was jammed from the moment we arrived until the moment we left, their books are telling them they are doing everything right and if I complained I would have just been a fussy old so and so, sure everyone else loves it. It really hit home with me last Saturday while munching on a sandwich that tasted like carboard in the outside area of a very popular  cafe(why I have no idea)  it had rained so most of the tables were covered in water, 4 women came out & sat at a table, the waitress passed by 5 or 6 times and didn’t bother cleaning it off but the most amazing thing was these women didn’t even ask for it to be cleaned, they just ate off the wet table. I left a bit depressed to be honest….

The other side of the coin is service, I’ve actually come to the conclusion it doesn’t exist here and do you know why? It’s because it’s not considered a profession like in the rest of Europe. In Italy you train to become a waitress or bar staff, here you just do it when in college or when you can’t find anything else. There are always exceptions to the rule of course but I’m talking in general. My biggest issue or disappointment is when I actually find a place that has very good food but the service lets it down, service is just as important as the food. We struggle with this ourselves and I have my staff driven mad but I really try to hammer home to them how important it is, La Cucina is a bit different too as it’s not a restaurant and we have big volumes coming through the door everyday! These are my key points for staff…

  •  Say hello – such a simple thing but doesn’t happen in most places!
  • Smile – so important! Look like you enjoy your job. In La Cucina people are coming from their workplace at lunch, they want to relax and forget about everything outside our doors for a little while and the last thing they want to see is a grumpy face.
  • Interact – speak with the customer! A simple “how are you” is sufficient…
  • get to know the regulars –  address them by name, know their regular order…
  • the customer is king – make them feel like it! We are not doing them a favour by serving them, they are giving us money, make them feel like we appreciate it & acknowledge it! This is where most places fail, you feel like they are doing you a favour, this is my biggest problem with service in Ireland….
  • service – make sure the customer has everything they need! Stay one step ahead, read your customers and fix an issue before it becomes one.
  • complaints – deal with it appropriately! It doesn’t mean the customer is always right as everyone has different tastes, expectations etc but listen and try & rectify! I hate “oh nobody has ever said that” or the best one I got when treated badly by a very rude waiter was “well maybe you just don’t get his personality, everybody loves him”! I will never go back. It’s actually very easy to deal with a complaint when you know how, I always tell the girls to refer it to me if they can’t deal with it which a lot of the time they can’t! We rarely get complaints though:)
  • Say thank you and goodbye & make sure they hear you….

So basically I try to give to people what I expect when I eat somewhere. I want to be welcomed, I want to be made feel special and appreciated as a customer, I want to be served good food using good quality ingredients, if I have a complaint I want it to be dealt with properly and not made feel stupid for making it, I want to be thanked for my custom and leave feeling my expectation was met and I got value for my money and look forward to giving that establishment repeat business! Back to the whole Ireland being a food tourism island thing, there is not a hope of it happening with the standards that are here at the moment!

 I really don’t think I’m asking for too much but it seems I am……

what you need:

tomato sauce

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

4 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion finely chopped

1 garlic clove finely chopped

8 basil leaves

1 tsp sugar

sea salt & black pepper

besciamella sauce

500 ml milk

50g butter

50g plain flour

sea salt & pepper

nutmeg

2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

roast vegetables

2 courgettes

1 aubergine

2 sweet red peppers

2 red onions

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

10 basil leaves

Lasagne

lasagne sheets (I have no idea of measurements)

1 mozzarella ball

80g grated parmesan

what to do:

pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees

sprinkle your chopped aubergines with salt and leave in a colander for about 15 mins

make your tomato sauce

heat your olive oil in a pan and add your garlic and onion and cook for about 10 mins over a low heat until soft but not coloured

add your tomatoes and leave to simmer for about 10-15 mins

season and add your sugar & basil towards the end.

Roast Veg

place all your chopped veg on in an oven tray, sprinkle with garlic, season well and drizzle with olive oil. Cook for about 20 mins and add your basil for the last 5 mins.

besciamella

heat the milk in a pot to just below boiling point, then remove  from the heat

melt the butter in another saucepan, then add the flour & stir well

add the hot milk a little at a time, stirring constantly

cook the sauce for about 10-15 min over a low heat whisking occasionally with a balloon whisk

remove from the heat, season with salt & pepper and nutmeg & stir in the parmesan

lasagne

you can pre-cook your sheets in boiling salted water or if you can get your hands on  good quality fresh sheets you don’t have to…

butter your dish and build layers of roast veg, mozzarella, parmesan, besciamella & tomato sauce for about 3 layers, season as you go and then finish with some tomato sauce, besciamella and parmesan on top…

cook in the oven for about 30-40 mins until golden brown and bubbling at the edges…

devour….

ciao

L xx

red velvet cupcakes…

Mini Italian foodie has been home all week with the “Chicken Pops” and to prevent us from going stir crazy from barbie.com and the telly we’ve been busy baking and cooking. If this child doesn’t end up working in food in the future no child will even though she is still the worst eater ever! I mentioned that I bought Mr Italian Foodie a kitchen aid for Christmas and I must say it is the best present I’ve ever bought him/us 🙂 Baking is so much easier especially with young children and I’ve baked so much more since getting it, the only problem is I’m going to be as fat as a fool at this rate….

So Mini IF was housebound for Valentines so she wanted to make something special for her “daddy” seen as he presented the 2 of us with 2 big bunches of flowers on Valentine’s morning.  Her little face lit up when she saw the huge bunch of sunflowers, she has been very cute all week showing every visitor “her flowers” so red velvet cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook seemed like the most appropriate thing to bake for the day that was in it. I had never tried these before but have heard a lot about them, O.M.G they are divine. Grandma Italian Foodie pronounced they were the nicest cupcake she had ever eaten so say no more…..

        Ms Chicken Pops herself interfering with my photos:)

 

ciao

L xx

Salmon, Leek & Mascarpone Parcel….

So I’m just back from a whirlwind couple of days eating & drinking myself stupid around London, we went over on some research for our new product development & branding! We went to so many places I earned  the Overshare Badge on Foursquare for checking into 10+ places in 2 days. The highlight of the trip is that we got to meet Gennaro Contaldo at Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden, he was an absolute gent, took a photo with us and then sat down at our table for a chat for about 20 mins, he was so nice & down to earth telling us about his upcoming TV show with Antonio Carluccio called “Two Greedy Italians”.  I’ll do a post on where we ate again, I love London, there is so much choice of places to eat, we didn’t have enough time so we’ve decided we need to go back more often for research purposes of course;)

This is my latest Facebook Cookalong recipe, VERY simple and quick to make and is a great recipe for having friends around for dinner….

what you need: 

2 salmon fillets

3 leeks

1 shallot or 1/2 small onion

150g mascarpone cheese

zest of 1/2 lemon

1 egg

2 sheets of puff pastry

sea salt & black pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

20g butter

what to do:

pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees

heat a tbsp of olive oil and melt your butter in a pan…

add your onions and cook over a low heat for about 8-10 mins until soft but not coloured…

add your chopped leeks & 2 tbsp water, season and cook over a low heat for about 15-20 mins until soft…

add your lemon zest to your mascarpone and season…

throw a little bit of flour on your counter, you can roll out your pastry a little but with the new Jus roll sheets you don’t even need to…

once your leeks are cooked transfer to a bowl and leave to cool…

once cooled add your mascarpone mix…

place your salmon on your pastry sheet and season well…

place your leek & mascarpone mix on top…

brush some beaten egg around the edges so the sides will seal…

fold over your pastry and cut away excess, leave in a square or cut into a more rounded shape, whatever is easiest! It doesn’t have to be perfect so don’t worry about it…

press down the edges with a fork…

egg wash the whole outside and place on a greased(rub the tray with some butter) baking tray…

Cook for around 20 mins until pastry has risen and is nice and golden…

Serve and enjoy:)

ciao

L xx

nutella cupcakes….

Wow it’s been a busy week, my blog was mentioned by Paulo Tullio in his restaurant review in the Independant last Saturday and then this week I was the foodie to follow  in the Independant and I was featured in a Blogging in Ireland piece in the Examiner. Blogging and social media is becoming so main stream now, I remember when I started this blog 4 years ago and anyone I mentioned the blog to hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and looked at me like I had 2 heads! A lot has changed since then, I do find Social Media is overtaking blogging a bit though and I tend to keep this for recipes and rants now and chat away about my life in general over on Twitter whereas when I started this blog I used to chat a lot more on here and it was like my online diary in a way but after 4 years you do tend to run out of things to say I suppose so I’ll keep going the way I am.

The branding process is going great and the latest options we’ve been given by Midpoint Creative are really good, we’re nearly there I think. The latest images really represent us and I’m starting to get really excited now, we’re off to Bordbia’s Vantage Programme on Tuesday and I’m hoping we’ll learn a lot through that about the production side of our sauces & ready meals and most importantly route to market.  We’re off to London the following week for a couple of days for research and inspiration so if there are any UK artisan brands or Speciality Food Shops that you know of that we should visit please let me know please and thanks:)

Sooooo, today’s recipe, very simple, frickin delicious and a brilliant one to make with smallies! Mini italian foodie was in her element as she has a tendency to sit with a jar of nutella and a spoon in front of the telly so anything involving her favourite chocolate spread was going to be a winner! I’ve based this recipe on the Humming Bird Cookbook as they make everything in an electric mixer so it was my chance to put Mr italian foodie’s Christmas present from me to him to the test! Yes I’ve always wanted a Kitchen Aid so I bought it for him for Christmas……

ciao

L xx

ireland’s food future and a recipe….

It’s exciting times at La Cucina at the moment, I spoke here about the problems with expanding the business with the high overheads that still exist here so opening more shops is just not a risk I’m willing to take at the moment. I know they would be successful but I’m not prepared to kill myself again to pay for rent, rates,wages and everything else that goes with it so we had to come up with another way to expand. We sell some of our pasta sauces in the shop to take home and we’ve noticed the sales of them have been steadily increasing over the last year, likewise with our lasagna to take home to cook in the oven. It seems that people are looking for home-made good quality sauces made with the best ingredients to take home so that’s where we are going…..

We’re currently at the branding stage which is a very detailed process, I presumed you hired a graphic designer, they design a logo and there you go!! Ah no sireeee!! The brand has to represent what we stand for – family, culture, Italian lifestyle, passion, natural, local,  good quality etc etc and it is pretty difficult to get all this into a couple of words and a graphic, we are on the way though and get closer every meeting we have with the designers but it is all I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks, we’re off to London soon to see if we can get any inspiration over there, they market artisan food very well in the UK and I think Ireland should look to them on how it is done….

There is a lot of talk at the moment on Ireland becoming a food island and that this is the future for the country, I think this is a great idea, we are a tiny country with amazing countryside inhabited by lots of passionate farmers and food producers and this is definitely the way to go BUT so much has to change first! I can only compare to what I see in Italy and the Uk when I go to visit my sister in Canterbury, our red tape strangles us here. There are so many rules and regulations I don’t see how this will happen??? I think a big opportunity here is the setting up of farm shops and farm cafes similar to the “Agriturismo” in Italy and which you see all over the UK countryside. There isn’t a hope you could set one up here at the moment between insurance and health regulations, planning restrictions etc etc! These cafes would be very simple places and there should be regulation about what is sold in them if grants etc are provided like in Italy, only local produce should be allowed used and everything should be made on site, no buying salads from Pallas Foods etc but the health regulations need a complete overhaul for this! They would probably only open 3 or 4 days a week and serve simple food using meat from the local butcher, veg from the local farms, the focus should be on simple food using Irish produce – soups, pies, breakfasts, Irish smoked salmon on brown bread, home-baking, Quiche with farm eggs, nothing fancy just good wholesome food.

 I spoke about a farm cafe I ate in just outside Canterbury and it was one of the nicest experiences I’ve had, the owner and staff were fantastic as they were so passionate about what they do, it came across the minute you walked through the door, you felt you had entered something special. The farm shop beside the cafe was a haven of local produce where you would browse for ages and pick up things you knew you didn’t need but had to buy. I loved it! There were 3 other units too selling local art and crafts and it really had such a nice little community spirit and character, we’ve lost that here. The small guy got lost in the Celtic Tiger and we need to bring him back, nurture, encourage, develop and take advantage of the beautiful countryside we have. A prime example is Caroline Rigny up in Curraghchase, we went up there last summer with Mini Italian Foodie, she has a little farm shop and you can wander around her farm and see the pigs and her veg patch, it’s a little piece of heaven. The place was empty and she was working herself, we bought some of her sausages and vegetables which she plucked straight from the garden in front of us, we then went down to Curraghchase park and it was packed down there with families. There was nowhere in the whole area to have a cup of tea or get a drink for the children, imagine if Caroline had a cafe on her farm it would be packed in the summer! I would go out there a lot more if I knew we could pop in there for home-made scones and tea, you would make a day of it, if she had a small play area even better!! I’m sure there are lots of places like this around the country that have huge potential???

 It would also bring the younger generation back to nature, city kids wouldn’t see an animal from the day they are born unless they go to the zoo. Mini Italian Foodie loved the pigs that day and it was the first time she had ever seen one that wasn’t called Peppa or George. Even ourselves as adults we are completely removed from the land and I would love nothing more on a Sunday afternoon than heading off for a drive to the local farm shop and cafe and picking up my veg and stuff for the week and having a bite to eat while I’m there! I know we have farmers markets but this just isn’t the same thing and to be honest I’m not a big farmer’s market fan, I would much prefer to go to the farm and buy it there. We have so much Irish produce between cheese, butter, salmon, sausages etc but it isn’t showcased like it should be, it’s all exported! If we had these kind of places we could really promote Ireland as a food destination which it really isn’t at the moment, ok we have good restaurants in the cities but go to the Cliffs of Moher or any destination in Kerry etc and you will eat muck, there are no local cafes showcasing Irish produce, we could have a food trail around Ireland which might be of interest to tourists! When I go on holiday abroad where I eat is as important as where I visit and this should be the same for Ireland if we are to become this “agri country” that everyone talks about….

As to the logistics of this I haven’t a clue, that would be up to the likes of Bordbia etc, there would be lots involved I’m sure but if they can do it in Italy why can’t it be done here? The key is it is affordable too so there should be lots of tax incentives etc, no tax, vat or rates for the first 2 years, ok so the goverment won’t make anything initially but they are investing in the people and the country and most importantly the future! This would allow people to get on their feet, enjoy what they do and re-invest back into the business then if it is a success, it’s a win win for everyone!  The prices could also be kept lower for consumers then, I don’t want to be paying €5 for a scone and tea! In Italy you pay €20 per person for a 3 course meal including wine and there is no menu, you eat what you are given as you get what’s on the farm that day! This wouldn’t work here but the key is value for money as you are eating from the land and you expect it to be cheaper! A local farmshop could also help local people, a lot of stay at home mothers are great cooks and bakers and why couldn’t they supply the local shop with their home-made bread, baking, jams etc, it’s really going back to basics and how it used to be…

Maybe I’m a bit of a dreamer and in reality it mightn’t work and probably won’t if the last few years in this country is anything to go by, all that’s left on our streets is franchises and multiples! Our local community has been decimated and the family businesses are on their knees, local is a foreign word to us now and this needs to change! We need to start thinking outside the box and it’s all well and good talking about Ireland as a “smart economy” or an “agri country” but we need to go back to basics, we have all this fabulous cheese produced in Ireland and I’d say more people eat it in the rest of the world than here, I would be interested to see what are the top 5 selling cheese in Ireland??? It is very interesting following all the “foodies” on Twitter and the passion that comes from all corners – bloggers, Bordbia, Bridgestone, Ireland Guide and other food journalists and contrast it with running a food business and the realities that we come face to face with everyday and that is the majority do not have this passion, food for Irish people is fuel where in Italy food is the main topic of conversation from the minute they wake up until they go to bed at night! We as a country don’t own our food and don’t have enough of a connection with it, the majority would still choose the breakfast roll or plastic ham and cheese sandwich from the Spar deli and why????

 We could talk about education etc but I think the main problem is access, where can you go to have home-made brown bread with Yeats cream cheese and smoked salmon from Kinvara or the Burren? where can you eat sausages from Oldfarm? Nowhere, the Celtic Tiger ruined our connection to food and “dashboard dining” overtook sitting down and eating proper food! The high street cafes & delis can’t do it because they are crippled by rents and overheads so the bottom line is their priority. We need to find a way to bring this Irish food to the people rather than just exporting it, we need to find our sense of community again, get rid of half the red tape that’s out there and start moving forward, there is no point in us all talking about becoming a food island when the majority couldn’t even name a locally produced Irish cheese or food and that is the reality, as a country we need to take ownership of the food we produce and we are a long way from that! 

 One such lady thinking outside the box is Imen who is restoring a beautiful cottage on her farm and is planning on using it for agri tourism projects like farmstays and buttermaking etc, I’m really looking forward to following her progress and I hope we see lots more like her and most importantly that she is supported from the powers that be…..

So back to the recipe, yes it’s basically beans on toast but not like you’ve tasted before:)

what you need:

2 cans cannellini beans

1 can chopped tomatoes

2 shallots or 1 small onion

basil

1 garlic clove

160g pancetta

country style bread or ciabatta

olive oil

sea salt and black pepper

1 tsp chilli

1 tsp sugar

what to do:

heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan, add your chopped onions and garlic and cook for 5 mins until soft but not coloured

add your chilli and pancetta and cook for 5 mins

add your tomatoes and sugar, season and cook over a low heat for 10-15 mins! Add a little water or stock if it dries out!

drain and add your beans, season and cook for a further 10 mins, add your basil towards the end

heat a dry grill pan and cook your bread, rub with a garlic clove and drizzle with a little olive oil

serve your beans on your bread and enjoy:)

p.s what is your vision for the future? what would you like to see happen with Irish food?

maccheroni gratinati….

or to you and me MAC & CHEESE!!!

Happy new year y’all! We had a lovely relaxing Christmas in the Italian Foodie house this year, we went to the Italians for Christmas dinner as per usual and then out to the Oirish on Stephen’s day. We didn’t cook much this year except on New Year’s we went all out and did a 3 course spread even though my 2 year old nephew sabotaged my beef wellington by turing down the oven twice without anyone noticing and me scratching my head trying to figure out why my pastry wasn’t browing and thinking the oven must be broken, we caught him in the act eventually but it was too late by then, I didn’t sleep for days after my first failure in the kitchen and in front of guests and everything! I have a reputation to uphold ya know:)

Anyway a bit of comfort food for you today even though I know I should be cooking healthy recipes with it being January and everything but it’s dark and miserable so nothing like a comforting mac & cheese to cheer one up. This is the latest Facebook Cookalong so if you make it be sure to post a pic of the end product over on our page grazie….

what you need:

Facebook cookalong shopping list….

Serves 4

500g macaroni – I could only get it in Tesco! Penne is fine too:)

75g cheddar cheese grated

75g emmental cheese grated

75g parmesan

75g pecorino

1 ball of mozzarella cut into cubes (I had to use mini mozz as I didn’t have reg)

150g peas(1 mug)

3 egg yolks

15g butter

5 slices of ham chopped

300ml double cream

sea salt and black pepper

what to do

pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees

bring a pot of water to the boil add salt and your macaroni and cook until aldente. Drain and return to the saucepan off the heat

melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the ham until crispy, leave aside

add your cream, and your cheese to your pasta(keep some parmesan & pecorino for the top), return to the heat for 1 min and mix together

remove from the heat and add your ham, peas, mozzarella and egg yolks, season and mix together well

pour your pasta into a greased oven dish and top with remaining parmesan and pecorino

cook in the oven for 15-20 mins until nice and golden on the top

devour:)

ciao

L xx

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 170,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 35 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 276 posts. There were 342 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 28mb. That’s about 7 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was May 21st with 982 views. The most popular post that day was Menu.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were prouditaliancook.blogspot.com, blogs.com, italianfoodies.blog.com, thegoodmoodfoodblog.com, and magicmum.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for la cucina limerick, italian foodies, menu, lamb burgers jamie oliver, and tuna steak recipe jamie oliver.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Menu May 2009
12 comments

2

pasta with mushroom, white wine and cream! January 2009
23 comments

3

penne carbonara March 2009
29 comments

4

stuffed courgettes! January 2009
20 comments

5

about moi! July 2008
51 comments