I always take some time out in January, after the chaos of the festive season, in order to refresh and prepare for the coming year ahead.As well as giving the staff a well-earned break, it gives me the opportunity to research and discover new recipes and culinary treats that I can bring to the menu at the restaurant.
This year, I’ve embarked on a much longed for Irish road trip, taking in some of the finest culinary hotspots that the Emerald Isle has to offer. Highlights so far have included dining at Ballymaloe House where I chatted to best-selling author and chef Rachel Allen; catching up with Frank Hedermen who supplies our amazing Belvelly Smoke House salmon; visiting Cork’s English market and sampling some of O’Connells finest seafood; eating at the award-winning Sage restaurant in Midleton and, of course, sampling a pint or two of ‘the black stuff’ in Dublin’s Temple Bar. All these experiences encourage my love and enthusiasm for good food which I then try and recreate and experiment with at the restaurant.So look out for the Irish-inspired dishes on the menu in the coming months!
Another reason for my trip to Ireland is to spend time with my family and one of the things I look forward to the most is my sister-in-law Mary’s homemade soda bread.I make this myself at home and in the restaurant but it never quite tastes the same as hers, even though I follow the exact same recipe (I think it’s one of those things, just like Guinness, that never tastes the same when it’s not on home soil!).This recipe has been in Mary’s family for generations and produces the best brown bread I’ve ever tasted.
A beloved staple of Ireland, soda bread is really quick and easy to make and requires minimal preparation unlike regular bread that requires much kneading and time to prove. As in many families, Mary makes this every morning and is lucky if it lasts past lunch time.I can’t resist it straight from the oven, smothered in good Irish butter and homemade strawberry jam.For a savoury option, try it topped with some cream cheese and a slice of smoked salmon – delicious!
Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)400g wholemeal flour 55g plain flour 1 handful of porridge oats 1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda or bread soda 1 tsp. salt 1 egg, beaten 400ml buttermilk 2 tbsp. olive oil 1 tbsp. treacle 30g mixed seeds to decorate (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 190c and grease a standard sized loaf tin.
Add the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl.In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until well combined before pouring into the dry mixture. Fold everything together with a spoon and pour into the greased loaf tin. Top with the mixed seeds.
Cook in the pre-heated oven for approximately 50 minutes. When cooked, the loaf should make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.