As it announced their impending arrival last year and promised that this new publishing house was set to revolutionize Irish food writing, it took far too long for The Menu to move to make mention of the first in the new Blasta Books series of stunning liveries. and delightfully concise cookbooks. They are all A5 size, beautifully illustrated and designed to be a whole library of stylish culinary shelf fillers that will grab attention as much as they provide fabulous ideas for the plate.
But, the first out of the stable isby Lily Ramirez-Foran, so The Menu’s review is superbly timed at the start of the summer season proper: its sublime, on-point selection of recipes is absolutely perfect for creating al fresco Hiberno-Mexican feasts – and as a salvo opening is the perfect declaration of intent.
Lily is probably Ireland’s most famous adopted Mexican, having married her Irish husband, Alan, around 20 years ago and moving to the rather humid climes of Oul’ Sod where her first hesitant efforts to replicate the cuisine of his homeland turned into flourishing food. Company. Picado Mexican is a boutique Mexican grocery store and cooking school, from which Lily has been her country’s foremost ambassador for culinary creations and has done much to introduce Ireland to good Mexican food – to millions miles of those odious supermarket kits.
Blasta Books’ plan from the start was to provide a forum for diverse voices via small, concise tomes without any unnecessary fluff or filler, and Lily delivers in an admirable style. After a very entertaining introductory essay, she proceeds to give a quick masterclass on real corn tacos covering the origin and best practices when preparing, making and eating tacos, allowing a novice complete to progress to the real deal in record time.
As she rightly says, the potential combinations for a taco filling are nearly endless. Lily therefore offers a short and sharp selection of just 14 of her own favorites, covering meat, vegetarians and even vegans. Many of these are recipes she crafted using Irish ingredients to add a Hibernian inflection to all that sunshine and smoky fire in the mouth. And while the combinations may be endless, this precise little “fortnight” of recipes does an almost perfect job of offering a broad spectrum of this complex and ancient food culture: a concise little introduction that’s guaranteed to spark a tumultuous love affair. with authentic Mexican cuisine.
They’re the class of recipes that, once mastered, will inspire you to start experimenting with your own combos and, good luck to you, says The Menu, while strongly recommending that you use Lily’s splendid little selection of recipes to d excellent salsas and sides to add as grace notes, to anoint your creations with truly authentic Mexican flavor and texture.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our little island holds an endless supply of treasures and domestic pleasures for those who choose to vacation at home and Le Menu raises its cap to anyone who can claim the have all discovered, other than tourism professionals. Carlingford Lough cruises are a great way to discover one of these treasures with a calendar of summer tasting cruises offering fine food for the stomach and the eyes, with stunning views of the Cooley Peninsula and the mountains of Morne with scheduled tours including Symphonia Gin & Woodlabs Distillery, Craft Brewery Cruise with Whitewater Brewery, Oyster & Guinness Cruise, Cooley Flavors Cruise, Wine & Cheese Pairing Cruise, Flavors of the Lough and Whiskey and Gin Tasting Cruise with Boann Distillery. Cruises depart from either Greenore, County Louth or Greencastle, County Down.
The menu never needs an excuse to enjoy the charms of Ballymaloe House, both inside and out, and the ‘outside’ is further enhanced with an outdoor sculpture display which will take take place this summer in collaboration with the Richard Scott Gallery. Free, it’s hosted on the grounds with 40 Irish works by 28 Irish artists, with guided tours available – a good pairing with the Conservatory’s new lunches (Monday-Saturday, 1pm-2.30pm).
Over the years, the team at Burren Balsamics has built a commendable business offering a fine line of very delicious products made with premium quality balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. They then infuse it with a whole panoply of flavors, making it a very versatile cuisine. ‘enhancer’ – an ideal condiment to enhance dishes with a last minute drizzle as a grace note or to use right from the start as a key ingredient in, for example, a marinade for grilling. And while cheap, gooey ‘balsamic’ has been embroiled in all sorts of culinary crime in recent years, including in the form of random and wholly inappropriate ‘sprinkling’ on all sorts of dishes for visual effect, a good balsamic, used wisely, can make for a pleasingly complex but not overwhelming vinaigrette.
The latest addition to the BB stable is Armagh Bramley Apple, a deliciously light and bubbly concoction with a pleasant crisp acidity and a sweet and salty umami finish and The Menu didn’t have to think very hard to design a myriad of uses. in the kitchen, starting with a salad of steamed carrots and broccoli, dressed still warm with EVOO and a drizzle of BB Armagh Bramley apple, then finished with a sprinkle of chopped toasted hazelnuts.