Saturday, 27 December 2008

On holidays

Ill be away in India until the 10th of January and will probably not get a chance to update until I come back. Expect lots of tales of fun, food and frolics (and hopefully no need for use of any of the above)

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Great Mince Pie Survey - Results Round up

When I started this I thought I would get the chance to eat way more mince pies and am surprised I havent. The truth is that there isnt a massive choice out there in the supermarkets - they pretty much have one or two of their own (normally one of superior quality/price/taste) and then Mr.Kiplings and possibly the Tea time express ones. So if you arent shopping in different supermarkets you probably will only purchase one or two different types of boxes.

The results:
  1. Superquinn Superior Quality Mince Pies (8.8) - Expensive but worth every penny of thigh fattening lard. I would be seriously obese if these were available all year round

  2. Dunnes Stores Simply Better (6.7) - Give you flashbacks to the time you tried poitín when cold. When warm not completely unbearable.

  3. Lidl Rowan Hill (6.5) - Id had a feed of rum the night I had these so my results may be slightly inaccurate. The cheapest in the survey by about 50% and not a bad choice for a party.

  4. Mr. Kiplings (6.3) - The most widely available and not all that bad although they could do with a bit of brandy and less odd ingredients

  5. Superquinn Puff Pastry Mince Pies (6.3) - The biggest least traditional pie I tasted. Not my favourite because Im a bit of a traditionalist. My Dad swears by them though.

The other results:

  • a layer of lard that would keep me warm if I was to try swimming in the sea over Christmas...
  • ... in Alaska
  • recommendations from everyone on which pies to not eat (my Dad says he would need to be paid to eat another Tesco mince pie and then said I might get sued for writing something like that)
  • a dislike of store bought mince pies, mainly after tasting the fantastic mince my brothers girlfriend made

Next year I think Ill spend some of my mince pie eating time making them.

Happy Christmas everyone, I hope you all enjoy your last few weeks of mince pie eating before they are gone from the shops.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Mince Pie Survey 5: Mr. Kiplings Mince Pies

Mr. Kipling has been around for donkeys years as have his pies so I figured that these would have to be tested. Of the pies I have tasted these are the only ones that are for sale everywhere.

Value(2.7): €2.49 for 6, this seems to be the average price for mince pies really, unless you are buying in Lidl. Some places have 8 Mr. Kiplings for the price of 6.
Filling(1.6): Im going to have to admit that I was biased by my family sitting around saying that these were not going to be good pies, so much that they all refused to try them. The filling is quite moist and has the weirdest little currants in it that I cant find listed in the ingredients so can only assume that they are mutantly small raisins. Theres plenty of fruity filling in them which is good although they are quite sweet (which is good because given the calorie/fat contents you really shouldnt be eating more than one). No hint of booze at all. I get the feeling Mr. Kipling is a teetotaller.

Pastry(1.3): The pastry kind of collapsed as soon as this mince pie was microwaved (see above) so you wouldnt want to be eating on the run. The pastry is not overly buttery (4% is mentioned on the box) and really theres nothing special about it at all. It does have a little Christmas tree decoration on the top and some sugar dusting

Packaging and design(.7): Exceedingly merry says the box and it is definitely the most festive box Ive seen yet. Id warn you though that if you like your mince pies not to look at the box in too much detail and avoid the especially avoid the nutritional values. You really dont want to know that if you eat 5 of these that you will have hit your daily allowance of fat and calories and have blown your allowance for sugar. I expected Mr.Kiplings to have a shelf life of approximately forever but they will only last until the 5th of January, surprising as they appear to contain more sorbates and dioxides than any of the other pies.

Total: 6.3. Being that you cant buy my moms pies in the shops these arent the worst choice, although my mom will disagree and tell you to come taste hers. Id be exceedingly more merry if they added some brandy.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Best present yet

It may be too late to order but I received the best present yet last night and Im not sure who it was from as it was all part of the Internet Secret Santa as arranged by the lovely Helena. I got to meet a load of lovely people from the interweb too which was very nice and festive.

I currently have a very black tongue and expect to hyper for a good bit of the way into 2009. Thank you Internet Secret Santa.

You may still be able to order one of these boxes. Its the first time I have seen a wham bar and black jacks in a long time (and yep, they are still as good).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Les Halles review - New York

I finished reading Kitchen Confidential only a few days before going to New York and as a result had Les Halles as one of the things I had to see when I got there. See being the operative word in that sentence as I wouldnt be the biggest fan of steak and having once bought the Les Halles Cookbook didnt expect there would be too much for me to eat there. So much like passing the NYSE and praying for my shares to rise in value, the WTC site and Macys, Les Halles was on my list to see.

On my first morning in New York I woke really early and as the morning looked clear I went off to downtown Manhattan and took the ferry over to Staten Island to take some photos. Afterwards I had a bit of a wander around popping into churches and taking photos of tall buildings.

Theres something weird about visiting places you read about in books and see in movies and New York was like that for me. Every corner I turned around I felt like I was being secretly filmed for a tv show. So when I turned a corner and bumped into a tv crew filming Ugly Betty I felt like I had seen everything I needed to see in New York. I also felt exhausted and starved so finding out I was around the corner from Les Halles just felt magical.

Look at that chicken sandwich and chips - nom. All I could think of was the big vat of sourdough starter he writes about in his first book and all the effort that they put into getting the perfect chips. I almost licked my plate.
If you are in New York its worth the visit, there are 2 of them and Mr. Bourdain when he is around is normally in the Park Avenue one (according to my waiter he is now writing another book so not around much). Its nigh on impossible to get dinner reservations anywhere decent but a lot of places are open at lunch (with much cheaper menus) or early dinner and if you are anywhere near the World Trade Centre site and have read any of Bourdains books then this is not a bad place to stop.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Mince Pie Survey 4: Superquinn Superior Quality Mince Pies

I have a confession to make, last Tuesday after a particularly long day at work (including flights to and from Southampton) I went to bed with a glass of Baileys and a mince pie. The king of mince pies, so kingly it even has a little crown of pastry. The thought of this kept me going all day long, that lovely mince pie waiting for me back in my leaba. Ever since I have hardly been able to update so much has been the love for those mince pies.

Indeed so far in my survey there has been no better mince pie. I sneakily had a few of these a few weeks ago before I started my reviews and every other pie has been held up against this one since.

Value(3): €2.99 for 4. These are some seriously expensive mass produced mince pies but given the quality are worth it. Think of yourself as being in a L'oreal add. If youre going to sit down to eat a mince pie (out of the ones Ive tasted so far) and you are only just spoiling yourself (dont buy these for a party as you will be stony broke) then you may as well go for the best (so far of course - Im still testing).

Filling(2): The filling like in the other Superquinn mince pie I tasted is fantastic. The right mix of fruity, sweet and moist. My only bad point about these pies is that theres not enough of it. Now in a way I can completely understand this, as the pie probably has a bit more pastry than most and its good thick pastry so its hard to get enough space for the ratio. Im not sure if these pies could be architected in another way to give more room for mince but if Superquinn could figure out the physics of this then I would possibly never leave my house ever again.
Pastry(3): If I could write poetry I would write a poem for this pastry, if I could sing Id sing all day. This pastry is quite literally the bomb. Its buttery and thick yet perfectly melt in the mouthy when warm. The little design makes you almost not want to eat them as they are so pretty although I am convinced a team of engineers worked on this for a long time.

Packaging and design(.8): These pies are the prettiest I have seen out there. If you were serving them at a party people would know you hadnt gone for the cheapy ones. Superquinn have also started covering their mince pies so they are not just sitting in an open box any more. Of course the disadvantage of that is that you cant eat them in the car on the way home. Then again these pies are too expensive to be doing that anyway - they are built to be savoured. Other than that the packaging is a bit boring.

Total: 8.8. If I could marry a mince pie it would be this one. Enough said.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Oatmeal Christmas cookies

When I was a kid one of the things I used to love doing was rooting through the presses in my parents kitchen. I would always find chocolate chips, glacé cherries and different nuts that my mom used in baking. There was only the one jar that I tasted something out of once and then never went back to. That was the jar that contained crystalised stem ginger.

Ginger has such an odd earthy taste to it, sweet and hot and not at all to the likings of my very junior tastebuds at the time, but something that I use quite a lot in cooking asian food now. It was only recently chewing on an aerlingus cookie on the way to New York that I realised I had never used it in baking.

This recipe is a slightly modified version of the Oatmeal and Raisin cookies in Rachel Allens book Bake (a book I would definitely recommend if you have even the slightest of sweet teeth).

Oatmeal Ginger Christmas Cookies


  • 4oz soft butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 4oz soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ginger
  • 9oz porridge oats
  • 4oz self-raising flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1oz finely chopped crystalised stem ginger
  • 3oz dried cranberries (I bought a mix of cranberries and macadamias so it was about 1oz macadamia, 2 oz cranberries)

          1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4
          2. Cream the butter until soft, if you have a mixer use it, otherwise you will end up with guns of steel (like me - Santa is bringing me a mixer this year I hope)
          3. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy
          4. Add the egg and water and continue beating
          5. Mix in the flour, salt, ginger, oats, cranberries and stem ginger and mix well until a dough is formed
          6. Using a small ice-cream scoop or your hands, make little balls on 2 baking trays (should make about 30 cookies)
          7. Bake for about 15 minutes until light golden brown and slightly soft in the middle

          Wednesday, 10 December 2008

          Mince Pie Survey 3: Lidl Rowan Hill Bakery

          I dont like Lidl, I worked with them for a while and dont do my shopping there due to their frequently reported mistreatment of staff. You dont hear the same kind of news about Aldi and as a result if I want cheap stuff Ill go there instead. That said they do a good mince pie (purchased not by me but a friend) and consumed at their lovely Christmas party.

          Value(3): €2.49 for 12, at half the price of the Dunnes ones this is seriously impressive and its a large enough number to fill a crowd or one very hungry mince pie eater.

          Filling(.5): The filling was a bit disappointing. It was terribly sweet but not very fruity. At the stage of night when I had this mince pie I had consumed quite a few very sweet Caipirinhas and Mojitos so I can imagine these would feel like they were rotting your teeth something terrible if you were eating them on their own. No sign of suet or booze taste. At this price though you probably wouldnt want them to taste of booze.

          Pastry(2.5): The pastry worked well on this one, it was nice and buttery and held up to a microwave blasting (which is rare enough in some of the pies I have tasted). I didnt get to examine the box so cant tell you how high butter content it was but it tasted fairly buttery. Downside again here was that the pastry was a tad sweet. Im about as unlikely to complain of something being too sweet as it being too sunny outside (never in this country) so heed these words.

          Packaging and design(.5): Bit of a bland box from what I googled but the mince pie had a lovely little sprig of holly design on it (along with the cream and mint from my good friend Hoggie). The mince pies themselves werent massive so it will lose a mark there. Then again they are such good value you could just have 2 (or 12).

          Total: 6.5. I didnt get to taste these cold and didnt have a full review of the packaging so my mark may be slightly off but overall a good result for Lidl. Now if they could just be a wee bit nicer to their staff.

          Tuesday, 9 December 2008

          New York review - breakfasts

          First off, I would say that in the name of research and science I have eaten almost my weight in food in the last week and have enjoyed every minute of it. I had a great time in New York, 4 days are really not enough though. Im hoping the 30 odd kilometres I walked a day will save me from sprouting cupcake sized lumps of lard all over my body.

          But theres too much to review in one post so Im going to do a few, starting with the most important meal of the day.

          Now I figured, it being the city that never sleeps and as my sleeping was so terrrible that breakfast wouldnt be the handiest thing to get in New York but I was very wrong. It wasnt just all coffee either, there were plenty of breakfast options. I stayed fairly local every morning though as jetlag left me famished and in no mood for a trek.

          Ess a Bagel was my favourite place for breakfast and was just around the corner from my hotel (clean & tiny rooms which is very central). The bagels here were literally to die for (or from due to size). There was far too much choice on the bagel list for morning time (asking me to chose between 20 cream cheeses and 14 bagels is far too much at any time mind you) and more with cakes, muffins and cookies. The guy in front of me in the queue asked could they hold a chocolate muffin for him every day as the days he didnt have one something bad always happened. New York is known for bagels and you would never find this place unless you accidentally saw someone going in (as I did) but once you have a bagel here you will never have one anywhere else (compare the left picture to the right one below). They also make the bagels fresh which I had never seen before - did you know they boil them before baking them?

          Next door to Ess a bagel and all over town were Pax (picture on right) which are all over Manhattan. As you can see the Bagels werent quite as impressive, nor did they have the massive choice of cream cheeses. Grand for a cheapish cup of coffee but if you want a chain you may as well go to Starbucks right?

          One thing that Pax did do as well as quite a few other places I passed is porridge. Im quite picky about my porridge and always find it a bit surprising that you cant get porridge easily in Ireland for breakfast and I have never seen it as take away. Then again maybe thats because we are all so picky about porridge.

          Most of the places I saw in New York had 2 or 3 porridges bubbling away (with milk, skimmed milk or water) and a selection of toppings you could add. Yay for healthy food as my porridge with strawberries was definitely healthier than the bagels I was eating.

          Breakfast over there was plenty of walking to be done.

          Monday, 8 December 2008

          Back from New York - the best bits

          It was some week - did you miss me?

          For any foodies going to New York over the next while here are my top list of things to eat, do and see:
          • Walk across the Brooklyn bridge - I passed Hulk Hogan on the way, you might pass someone far more interesting!
          • Staten Island ferry for pictures of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty
          • Stay somewhere nice and central - I stayed here
          • Take the subway, I dont know why people say its scary as its not
          • Take a foodie tour, I did the Grenwich village one and spent 3 hours eating foods with a lovely group of people (and was the only non North American there!)
          • Go to Chelsea Market and eat until you drop - I recommend Elenis cupcakes, Hale and Hearty Soup and Amys bread. I would recommend more but theres only so much you can eat in the morning
          • Go star spotting - I saw Ugly Betty being filmed on the street!
          • When I had lunch in Les Halles I figured I could pretty much go home as even on the first day it was such a highlight- the chips and sandwich poulet were amazing. No sign of Bourdain unfortunately.
          • Get to the Empire State about an hour before sunset and take some amazing pictures
          • Go to Times Square and get yourself cheap tickets to a show. I saw Hairspray
          Reviews and more pictures to come