Monday, 28 July 2014

Memory Dish: Baked Garlic Camembert, inspired by France

There's no lunch I love more than a proper French affair. Crusty, warm baguettes picked out from the bakery that morning. Slabs of cheese on a wooden board, free for everyone to rip chunks from. Salami, jamon, chorizo and saussicon, all waiting to be torn up and smooshed together with a bit of mustard, sea salted butter and as much bread as you can manage. 

But there's one treat which turns a feast into an event. A big, cheesy, melty, oozy event. And that, my friend, is baked Camembert.  

It couldn't be easier to make.

First, take your Camembert and peel off any plastic layers. Pop him back in the wooden box (obviously, only a wooden box will work here, not plastic). Then make a few little slits in the top, and poke in some slices of garlic.

Then heat the oven to about 180c, and pop him in for around 15 minutes. Be very careful not to overcook him - that will leave you with a solid cheese. You're aiming for a gooey, fondue style fella who jiggles when you wiggle him.

While you're waiting for him to cook, cut up some baguette or any other dipping devices - carrot sticks if you're feeling virtuous. We were not. Pretty much everything got dipped in that cheese... I think even some cheese got dipped in the cheese.

When it's ready, bring it to the table and make a little incision to get to the good stuff.


Saturday, 26 July 2014

My dream summer: the perfect French villa

There's been a lot in the press recently about Magaluf, hasn't there? The strip where mistakes are made by young folk chugging back luminous drinks in micro-shorts. The other night, I caught a few minutes of one of those "Let's Watch Teens go MENTAL in Kavos" type programmes, and it got me thinking to the holiday I took when I was 18. 

Myself and three friends took ourselves off to the French countryside, where we stayed in an old stone house on the edge of the village of Dinan. I tell you, it was off the HOOK. We must have eaten a whole Port Salut every day. Every day! Oh, we ripped into the cheese like we had not a care in the world. 

I think I've always been a bit middle aged. The thought of going on one of those Shagaluf holidays fills me with icy cold dread. I loathe the idea of it. 

To me, the perfect holiday is a rambling villa in France, close to the water, where I can drink wine, eat cheese and not have to listen to even a note of Robin Thicke. 

And that's exactly what I did, for a glorious week with two of my oldest friends, their husbands and babies. 

We chose the gorgeous Cherry Farmhouse from Pure France, which has some fantastic properties around the country. We actually got a bit of a bargain - when we booked, there was 25% off the rates in June. Had we gone in August, it would have cost us more than double what it did (about €660, I believe)

It was quite far from civilisation (about a 15 minute drive to the nearest village of Monflaquin) which we originally thought would be a lovely cycle each morning to the bakery... 

...Which didn't happen once. The thought of cycling for an hour on an empty stomach and squishing all of our gorgeous pastries into a backpack just didn't appeal, funnily enough. 

Originally, I had hoped to find somewhere within walking distance of a village, but that was really the only compromise we had to make. 

Though we spent most of our time outside, the interior of the villa was beautiful, with a gigantic fireplace, very well equipped kitchen and big, squishy sofas. We did cook in the kitchen, but truthfully most of our efforts ended up on the BBQ, or doled up at the huge farm style table on the terrace.

There were three bedrooms, a huge attic conversion above the kitchen where I slept, and two smaller ones downstairs, where the windows were draped with vines. I started off down in the bunk bed room, but switched with the little baby when we were concerned she would actually boil alive in the heat. Which is how I, as the single girl, wound up with the biggest bedroom (and bed), and the family of three ended up in bunkbeds.

But, as I said, most of our time was spent outside anyway. We'd go from early morning pastries and coffee to pool lounging (admittedly, I lounged a little more than the parents) to pool jumping to wine to pool lounging to wine to wine to dinner to wine to bed.

It was pretty damn perfect, if you ask me.

There were even inflatables, which we threw into the pool for dolphin riding and beer holding. We didn't have to buy a thing for the villa bar food (and wine), which was pretty darn handy.

So let's all take a minute, close our eyes and wish that we were in a French villa for the afternoon.


Downstairs bedrooms

The outdoor BBQ/beer fridge

The pool

Amy and Eva

The pool

The pastry table
Cherry Farmhouse was about an hour away from Bergerac airport. You can see more about it, and other properties, at 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A French country market in Monpazier, Dordogne

Nothing beats a stroll around a French market. Everywhere you look there are stalls and tables heaped with fresh, local produce, which is frequently passed over to you on little bits of bread for you to have a nibble. 

The market in Monpazier (in the Dordogne) is held every Thursday morning, in the medieval square adorned with sandy stone arches and vines. 

There's everything you could need for a French picnic. Hundreds of types of saussicons, from hazlenut, mushroom and boar to our favourite, the Herbes de Provence, known in our villa as the grassy sausage. Mmmmm. Grassy saussage...

I asked various stallholders in broken Franglish if it was OK to take back on the plane, and they all said that it was... but I was once robbed of a heap of Chrorizo coming back from Sardinia, so I only took what could be fully wrapped and sealed.

The produce stalls were full of richly coloured fruit and veg which puts the supermarkets at home to shame.

And all the while, a group of musicians played in the sunshine.

After picking up some lunch supplies and accidentally eating fois gras, I spotted the glory stall of any French market...

And it would be rude not to. With Nutella, mais oui. 

My kind of town.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Afternoon tea at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin


There are some meals which are more about the ritual than anything else. The kind that take hours to work your way through, as plate after plate of delicate little treats are brought out to you. Afternoon tea is one of those experiences. 

Last weekend, I spent the night in the sumptuous Westbury Hotel in Dublin. On Sunday afternoon, I went to indulge in their afternoon tea, along with my friend Sam. Sam's leaving soon, heading to the other side of the world to be with the hobbits that are somehow BETTER THAN ALL OF US. This was our last hurrah, or our last for a while, at least. 

So what better way to say "In a while, crocodile" than a ladies afternoon for the ladies that we most definitely are?

I'll start with a picture of the room, exactly where we were perched. 

The Gallery itself is a beautiful space, with wide, cream sofas and a highly valued and impressive selection of art. But the window seats are the best, for both the people watching and the plush, turquoise seats. 

We kicked things off with a glass of Moet. Just because. 

Then it was time to select our tea. There was a hugely varied selection on the menu, and I went for the Lapsang Souchong, because I'd never tried it before, and because I like the Colin Hay song in which he sings about it.  

Our tea sommelier (my term, not theirs) said it was his favourite, but a real smoky, rich number which can be a little much for some. Not for me! I loved it. And smoky is the word - it tastes like sitting around a bonfire with some cowboys. But you're not eating beans from a can, oh no. You're eating these...

The sandwiches are, of course, the first plate to be delivered. As the carnivore, I had...

Truffled chicken on a brioche bun
Free range egg and chive mayonnaise on milk pan
Honey baked Limerick ham, whiskey mustard relish on malt harvest
Oak smoked Salmon and Crab with lemon aioli on malt harvest

The veggie at the back had a tomato and cucumber sandwich, a quinoa wrap, the same egg and chive mix and a smoked applewood cheese. She also had my egg mayonnaise because bleugh.

The salmon and crab mixture was amazing, though the malt harvest was a bit too soda-y for my taste. The chicken and truffle was a close second.

After a breather and a top up of tea, the pre-dessert was brought out, much to our glee. Pre-dessert? I've never heard of such a thing! And the dessert world is my world. It turned out to be a little palate cleanser of sorts, but instead of cleansing, its aim was to get your taste buds ready for something sweet (eh, I've never needed help in that department)

I didn't grab a picture, but I can tell you that it was a miniature white chocolate custard dessert, with a little chocolate cookie on top. It was good, but I was more excited about the tower that was coming soon...


This was the showstopper I was waiting for. Now, I didn't write down the exact desserts, but I can have a good crack at describing them. There was a tiny chocolate eclair (which, as my usual favourite, I saved until last). It was filled with a chocolate and raspberry cream, rather than the usual plain, which was a delight. There were a number of hidden fruits in these cakes, something which I love, as it cuts through the saccharine sweetness of some cake. In the little pistachio fella, there was a succulent cherry at the bottom of the light sponge, as well as the glistening one on top. I'm a sucker for anything with a glazed cherry. When I was a kid, my grandma used to keep a tub of glacie cherries in the cupboard, so I could dip into them when I visited. Mmmm. 

There was an orangey, tarty flan thing (my descriptions are failing me, but it was Sam's favourite) and an amazing mousse, which was my favourite of the entire tea. The air-like chocolate mousse was on a thick base of what tasted like chocolate covered cornflakes mixed with caramel, and it was DIVINE. 

Finally, there was a miniature fruit tart, which came on a thick base of shortcrust pastry and creme patissiere. 

As well as the huge selection of teas, there were coffees (which I can vouch for from previous visits) and a NUTELLA HOT CHOCOLATE. I've never wanted something so much in my life, but I had also rarely been as full before. You think that nibbling on little sandwiches and cakes wouldn't fill you up as much as it did, but we had to roll ourselves out a couple of hours later. So instead I switched to a jasmine pearl tea, and promised to try the nutella one on a day when I hadn't consumed half of a bakery. 

The traditional afternoon tea costs €42 per person, or €48 with a glass of champagne. It's not cheap, but it's also not something that you'd be doing every week. If you have a special occasion coming up, then it's a fabulous spot to celebrate in style.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Santillana del Mar, the Spanish town which time forgot

The town of Santillana del Mar is, to be quite blunt, a bit of a liar. It's neither a saint, nor flat (illana) nor by the sea. What it is, is really quite stunning. A protected little village where only local cars can drive the cobbled streets, dotted with cider and chocolate shops. It's small, apparently rammed with tourists in the morning or high season, and popular with American visitors, who feel as though they're in a film set.

We arrived late in the afternoon, when the last of the day trippers were emptying out and heading back to the car park. They made their way over the crooked streets and made the most of the dying sun with a few last pictures. Some couldn't make their way without clinging onto each other, lest the cobbled streets collapse in and leave them drowning without the touch of their lover. Others stood behind them, taking pictures and rolling their eyes.

The little shops started to close up for the day. Bars of chocolate were laid out in every conceivable flavour, from lavender to sea salt.

The shutters were drawn, the buses departed and the town was officially its own once more.

Residents peeked over their balconies to check the lay of the land, before heading down to the bar and catching up over a sidre.

We were free to amble around the empty streets, poking our heads into tiny shops, gazing at the church and checking out the various menus.

As the sun set, we checked into an amazing little guesthouse, which deserves a post all to itself, before diving into a hefty steak at the Parador on the main square and sinking into bed.

Santillana del Mar is about 30km from Santander Airport, and a wonderful village to let time run away from you. Perfect for a sleepy stolen weekend.

See more about the region at


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