Thursday, 30 September 2010

Vietnam - all that grows

Im recently back from a few fantastic weeks in Vietnam and as half my photos are food related Im going to have quite a few posts to put up over the next week or two. I also have a special competition prize carried back from Vietnam which Ill post among the photos so keep an eye out.

The first thing that hit me as our bus left Ho Chi Minh City was how green the countryside was. We arrived towards the end of 5 months of rainy season in the south and every small patch seemed to have something growing on it. Farming is massive in Vietnam and rice not surprisingly is the main crop with more than half the population working to produce rice alone on over 94% of the arable land. I got the feeling that some of the other crops we saw were relatively new attempts at making more money than rice is bringing in.

Over the course of the few weeks I spent 4 days sitting on the back of a motorbike going through the highlands which is where most of the photos here are from. My guide was always amused by my enthusiasm for fruit and only understood when I explained that we cant grow any of what he showed me in Ireland. If you ever get a chance to go to Vietnam its well worth a few days off the beaten track to taste all this fruit straight from the trees!

This is what pepper looks like on a tree, its then taken and dried in the sun before ending up in our mills. There was only the slightest hint of a peppery smell from it.
Its always a bit surprising to me that bananas hang this way around

Possibly Papaya
I had no idea what this was and our guides werent much help at all but fortunately a reader gave the the answer in the comments. Its Bixa Orellana and the pigment from the seeds is used to colour foods (commonly seen as Annato or Achiote in ingredients)
Cocoa beans, I was dying to rob one for some further investigation but it was such a small plantation that I couldnt.
Coffee, still a while to go before roasting
Guess what these are? They look so different by the time they make it to our shores
Passion fruit just picked and as addictive as nicotine
Green tea, still very green
Dragonfruit,  a cactus that is trained to grow around cement posts
which produces these beautiful flowers
and the most succulent and  sweet fruit
Corn being dried out in the sun
Finally rice, loads of it:
Rice as far as the eye can see
which is picked by hand and fed through a machine to remove the husk from the plant
Which is then left to dry before de-husking and milling

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Win a place on the 12 week Ballymaloe course

Today I received an email with details about what has to be the best possible competition for foodies in at the moment. Cully and Sully, the geniuses behind the fantastic posh ready meals and desserts are running a competition called Chef Factor and the winning prize is a free place on the 12 week Ballymaloe course along with the accommodation, set of knives, uniform and two weeks work experience with Cully and Sully after the course.

After doing the course myself last year I would almost enter myself with the hopes that I might win so I could do the course again (which I gladly would do!). Ive had so many people report to be green with envy over the time I spent at Ballymaloe that Ill be letting everyone know about this!

So here's what you have to do:

  • Make something that youre famous for (even if only famous to yourself). Cully & Sully say they arent looking for experts as the course is meant to make you the expert!
  • Get someone to take a photo of you with your dish and somehow get the words Cully&Sully into the picture 
  • Go and upload your photo and details to 

Here's one I made earlier, me modelling my dinner tonight:

living proof that Im the most useless in the world at photo editing

Do let me know if you enter and I will promise you a vote!

P.S. Coming very soon will be loads of photos from my recent trip to Vietnam and a competition of my own.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Winding Stair review

Its taken me a few weeks to write this review and every time Ive thought of it Ive been reminded that almost every other review I have ever read of the Winding Stair has been excellent.

On that specific day in an effort to show one of my Ballymaloe friends the very best of Dublin foodie haunts we had already been to the Cake Cafe and to Murphys for some sea salt and burnt caramel ice-cream along with a very long trip through the aisles of Fallon & Byrne. I was proud of my little city haunts and glad we could impress my big city foodie friend, one who spends her days as a personal chef making very fabulous food.

When one of the Ballymaloe girls mentioned booking the Winding Stair I was delighted (I had spent years never reserving early enough to get a table there) as was our visitor who had read about it in numerous emails from friends along with Angelika Houstons recommendation in the Aer Lingus magazine on the way over.

Now a table of Ballymaloe foodies are probably going to be hard to impress as we have been very much indoctrinated to scowl at such little things such as the full bottle of wine being poured before it gets around the table, the resting of the wine bottle on the glass as its poured and pouring of a fresh bottle on top of an already half full glass. We cant help it, the voice of Darina just floods back. The Winding Stair does however have an excellent selection of wines and an even better selection of dessert wines all much to my chagrin on that given night as I was driving. We had been convinced that we were in time for the early bird and indeed told so by one of the waiters on arrival but strangely when we ordered were told that to eat the early bird you have to be out (rather than in) by a certain hour. Later on leaving we found that the sandwich board outside mentioned no start or end times for the earlybird but instead that those interested should enquire within.

I had been warned that the portion sizes were massive but couldnt help but order the smoked fish plate as a starter which was very easily shared with one friend. The fish was amazing and there was lots of it including what I found out later was some of the very last smoked irish eel in the country. As Im so late in writing the review I cant quite remember what other starters graced the table although I know there was definitely some chowder somewhere.

There was a lot of fish between quite convoluted menu and specials that evening and strangely we all found it hard to find something that really appealed for main course. I had the Kilkeel hake fillet with sweet potato, tomato, cockle and mussel stew and Dublin Bay prawns and it was the first time that I ever left fish on the plate due to the very huge portion size. Im convinced its the guilt of an Irish Catholic upbringing that makes me feel bad about not being able to finish my plate of food so if youre planning on going you might want to bring someone with a massive appetite to hoover up the leftovers or abstain from a day of eating cake beforehand!

Then came a list of what could only be considered quite heavy male desserts on such a lovely Dublin summer evening. I had a bite out of the sticky pear and ginger cake and it was glorious but was much too winterly for the day that was in it. I had tiny sips of the very lovely dessert wines and waited with anticipation to order my coffee.

Unfortunately however the coffee was not to be. As soon as the desserts were finished our waiter asked did we want anything else and then promptly told us that we didnt have time for coffee and needed to be off the table in 5 minutes. At no stage during the dinner had we been warned about a time limit so this was very disappointing, even more so as they could have easily asked us to order our coffees along with dessert which they hadnt.

There are so many good things to like about the Winding Stair between the location, the lovely dining room and the fact that the food is all very local and enough to keep you going for half a week. However, as I walked down the stairs that evening without a drop of caffeine in my blood I couldnt imagine myself eating there again due to the poor service. Poor service shouldnt have to be something to put up with just to eat good food.