Thursday 14 May 2015

Hudson Valley

During my visit to New York I travelled up by train from Penn station to the Hudson Valley. The train runs along by the river bank with a back drop of the sheer wooded cliffs of the Palisades on the other side. I've done this trip once before on my way to Rhinecliff but today it's even more beautiful, the trees are just bursting into leaf, white blossoms of the wild pear and an occasional purple pink crab apple, tangles of old man's beard...

We've passed through Yonkers, Croton Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff and next its Hudson. The train is really comfy and clean with lots of leg room and the bonus of a gracious attendant who tells you where to get off, helps you with your bag... and even puts a little footstool down to help you get out.

I was heading to Hudson to meet Mona Talbott who worked alongside Alice Waters at Chez Panisse for many years. She was the founding Executive Chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome, revolutionising the food in the American Academy including establishing a vegetable garden. 

Talbott moved back to the US and has recently established a new shop and take-out Talbott and Arding with her partner Kate Arding, a world authority on cheese, who honed her skills at the Neal's Yard Dairy.

Warren St is lined with antique shops and small boutiques selling beautiful things, Talbott and Arding in their midst is a little gem, with an array of local farmstead cheeses in perfect condition and a selection of good things to take out, a few tempting sandwiches on really good bread, seasonal tarts with ramps and cheese, a couple of gorgeous cakes and just a few irresistible cookies and scones. Perfect for a picnic! How lucky are the people of Hudson to have this in the area - with everything of such superb quality.

Don't miss Alan Gray's Seville orange scotch marmalade, one of the best things I've tasted for years. 

Image: Annie Schlechter 

And a picnic it was. They brought beautiful beef and horseradish sandwiches, egg sandwiches with pea shoots and radishes on a lovely salty foccaia.  It was totally delicious. Gingernut biscuits that I'd kill for the recipe - must ask Mona - they're the best I've ever tasted. We headed for Ironwood Farm where Lauren, Jenny and Aliyah have an organic farm growing fresh sprouts and pea shoots.

Image: ironwoodfarmny - Instagram

These three young women are part of a really interesting growing grassroots movement in the US - small but significant  - of young, well-educated, Green Horn, agrarians moving back to the land and starting to grow or farm. 

Sadly I wasn't able to spend as long there as I'd have liked to on the farm,  I had to rush back to Kennedy airport to catch the plane back to Ireland, but not before I bought the most delicious selection of treats for my picnic on the way home - smoked salmon rillettes with horseradish in a little glass jars, paprika cheese, hard boiled egg with chilli and fennel sea salt, wrapped in a twist of tissue, coconut cookies, a slice of lemon and olive oil cake - can imagine, when I spread all this out on my airline tray I was the envy of all around me.

Monday 11 May 2015

Union Square Market

Union Square Market is a terrific Farmers Market in the heart of New York city. Held every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, farmers and food producers travel down from upstate New York, and as far away as Pennsylvania, with their wares.

The market has sprung back to life now that the growing season is under way. There were double the number of stalls this time than on my last visit in March. Seasonal produce included young spring garlic, ramps, nettles (at $8 a pound!) chickweed and ground elder. 

They were also selling beautiful eggs and fresh chickens and doing a roaring trade in chicken broth - that people are now realising the value of - at $10 for 24 fluid ounces!

There are several wonderful bread stalls including a not-for-profit enterprise called Hot Bread Kitchen - which makes and sells gorgeous authentic multi ethnic breads including: m'smen - made with white and semolina flour, plain or filled with cheese, kale and onion; nane barbari, a flattish indented oval bread sprinkled with sesame and nigella seeds; quandi, little sweet breads made with butter, milk  and honey; bealys with caramelised onion and poppyseed; Moroccan flatbreads... I wanted to taste everything.

Nane barbari and m'smen

There were lots of stalls selling pickles and ferments - all doing a roaring trade.

I greatly admire the system where local people can bring along their food waste so that it can be composted, and in exchange they get a bag of rich compost to grow some of their own food. In Manhattan this means growing in pots on window ledges and balconies. It's a terrific system, reflecting and encouraging the growing interest in urban gardening and one which could be implemented in so many places around the world with relative ease.

They also have an education station. I was there on a Wednesday and there were lots of teachers bringing school groups of children along to see the various stalls and learn about how food is produced. Now that's what I call real education.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Big Fun at the Big Shed

The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine is nearly here... it's now just ten days away. So I wanted to take a moment to give you a taste of what's planned.

You're Invited!

Join us for the LitFest Opening Party from 7.30pm in The Big Shed - there'll be live music, food and drink stalls and great craic. And it's FREE!

Image: @gracebeforemeal on Twitter

The Fringe Festival 

The Fringe Festival in The Big Shed has exploded this year- there's so much on offer over the weekend - free workshops, talks, delicious food stalls, crafts and funky music. 

Entry into the festival this year is €5 per person per day. Children under 12 go free. This will include access to The Big Shed and the fringe programme that will be jam-packed with child friendly activities, crafts, art, music, food, conversation and fun. Anyone who has purchased tickets to any event has free entry. You will be able to pick up your festival entry pass at the Welcome Area on the weekend.

This is just some of what's on offer at the Fringe Festival

  • In the Big Shed we have demonstrations all day including: Ballymaloe classic techniques, seed saving, fermentation, microbreweries, making mozzarella...
  • In the Kerrygold Corner there will be cookery demos all day celebrating butter.

  • In the Family Area you can do arts and crafts, bake cookies, play games...
  • Get your cookery books signed by your food heroes – and bump into others as you stroll around the food, drink and craft stalls.
  • Hang out with your friends at our long tables, bean bags and sofas soak up the atmosphere… and make new friends, whilst enjoying a selection of great food and drinks.
  • Dance the night away to our DJs and live music.

  • Take a guided tour or a leisurely walk around the gardens at Ballymaloe House… or Cookery School. 
  • Enjoy readings and rants in the garden tent.
  • Join Grow it Yourself and Cully and Sully with demos a plenty to inform and inspire.
  • Visit the stunning photography exhibition in the Grain Store.
  • Plant a seed in the glasshouses at Ballymaloe Cookery School -where workshops run every 1/2 hour.

See the full schedule of Fringe events here.

On a practical note: 
  • Shuttle buses will be in operation between Ballymaloe House & Ballymaloe Cookery School throughout the weekend from 09.00 - 19.30
  • Food stalls run from 10am-10pm on the Saturday and Sunday.

Want tickets? 

If you're wanting to attend an event, there are still places on some cookery demonstrations, talks and workshops - check the website as they're selling fast.

Stop Press...

In our festival brochure there was a misprint - oops! - April Bloomfield's cookery demo is listed as running from 11-12 but it's actually from 9.30-12!... April's just brought out a new book, Eat Your Greens which is taking New York by storm. At last vegetables are moving to the centre of the dinner plate and April is at the forefront of this - so this is an opportunity not to be missed.

My Hot New York Tables

I was in New York again last week. First as a guest speaker at the 2015 Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs program at ICE in New York (Institute of Culinary Education). Then two days later at the Glucksman Ireland House, speaking about the role of Ballymaloe in the Irish food renaissance.

It was a great opportunity to see the ICE and meet the students there and see Glucksman Ireland House and the wonderful work the Foundation are doing.

For the Glucksman talk two and a half times the amount they were expecting showed up so they had to move to bigger room. People were delighted to hear that the image of Ireland as the land of corned beef and cabbage, colcannon and champ - delicious as they are - in no way reflects the Irish food scene as it is now.

This trip gave me the opportunity to check out what's happening on the New York food scene, and even though it was only a couple of weeks since my last visit, I made some great new discoveries.

El Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette in Stanton Street in Nolita is doing really interesting contemporary American food using superb ingredients. Head Chef Gerardo Gonzalez is really one to watch - friendly, talented and still refreshingly ego-less at this time. 

Image: El Rey website

He does lots of small plates where vegetables take centre stage. The chargrilled radicchio with housemade ricotta, hazelnut, lemon and aleppo honey that I had was truly delicious. As was the flat bread with avocado, pickled onion and chimichurri. Put this on your New York list... but you'll need to get there fast, because New York magazine has just written a super positive piece about him. They also do great pop up curry nights on the weekend - so be sure to check them out.

The hot new opening whilst I was over was the Dominique Ansel Kitchen on 7th Avenue South. Ansel is a hugely talented pastry chef with very little ego, which is rather rare in New York. He shot to fame a couple of years ago when he created the cronut (see my post on it here) in his tiny premises in Spring Street (where they're still queuing round the corner). 

I went along on the day he opened his long anticipated new place and joined his many fans, plus several television crews that were documenting his first day. I was number thirty two in line so I gave up, despite the tempting oohs and ahs from the others sitting around me enjoying his creations like this sticky toffee pudding served like a Christmas cracker!

I also checked out Russ and Daughters - a fifth generation Jewish deli which now has their own cafe serving lox and bagels, pickled herrings, chopped liver, potato latkes, caviar...

I tried a couple of fermented drinks - the beetroot and plum one was thirst quenching and delicious, as well as the halvah ice cream with a salted caramel sauce for which they are famous. 

I met Josh, the fifth generation owner, who told me he's longing to come to Ireland - we're hoping he'll come to LitFest next year.

Another great place is Mission Chinese Food (171 E Broadway). If you haven't already discovered it, then this is definitely another hot spot to add to your list. As long as you don't mind queuing. It opens at 5.30. Like many other restaurants now they don't take bookings - so just resign yourself to standing in line and enjoy the experience - I guarantee it'll be worth it!

And then there's Ristorante Rafele (7th Ave S near Christopher Street), a little Italian gem that Madhur Jaffrey and her husband Sanford introduced me to.

I would never have found it on my own, it's the sort of restaurant you would walk by without a second glance. But it's my very best new discovery - thanks Madhur!

The other place I went to amazingly for the first time is an amazing ingredient shop, Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue, which has floor to ceiling shelves packed with ethnic ingredients from around the world. I bought barberries, Ceylon cinnamon, piment d'esplette and the best Telicherri peppercorns. 

Established since 1944, there were three generations working the shop floor that day - here I am with two! 

Another find was Breads Bakery. They had superb coffee, delicious little sandwiches and gorgeous breads, pastries and chewy, chunky breadsticks with gouda and green olives. I loved the cheese straw split in half filled with cream cheese, cherry tomato, coriander and avocado. 

Don't miss their speciality - chocolate babka - a Polish sweet bread swirled with chocolate and hazelnut that is truly irresistible. They're located just off Union Square and are well worth a visit.

Friday 1 May 2015

And the winners are...

Thanks so much for all your entries to our LitFest giveaway. It was great to hear who you'd love to see at LitFest in future... we'll see what we can do! To those of you who didn't win, I really hope you will still make it to the festival. It's going to be so much fun.

So back to business, the competition winners are... Sharon Dowdall and Claire Crowley.

Sharon and Claire, please do contact the Cookery School to claim your prizes. 021 4646785