DonQui does Addis

DonQui cannot quite make his mind up about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city.

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At first sight it appears dusty, somewhat ramshackle and plagued by choking traffic and the devil-may-care drivers which are the curse so many modern African cities. On the latter point DonQui feels bound to say that the traffic congestion is not nearly as bad as in other major East African cities, such as Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam.

It would be surprising if the capital of one of Africa’s oldest civilisations did not have some things of interest. Scratching beneath the surface, DonQui finds some of it.

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Visiting the National Museum he meets Lucy — one of humankind’s earliest ancestors. It is not the best laid out museum in the world and DonQui does not linger but he feels it is well worth the trip. He also enjoys a short visit to the Ethnological museum which tells the story of the Ethiopian people.

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Most interesting of all is Holy Trinity Cathedral which is the last resting place of the Emperor Haile Selassie.

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It is also the last resting place of Sylvia Pankhurst — suffragette, turned communist, turned anti-facist who became a great supporter of Ethiopian resistance to the Italians in the 1930s.

DonQui had hoped to make it out into the countryside but the UN issued a warning of political violence in the surrounding districts. Their advice to DonQui was to stay in the city and so he does..

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All the locals he meets are friendly, outgoing and full of life — not least the wedding party he comes across.

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Their joie de vive is infectious.

Would DonQui recommend a trip to Addis Ababa? No, not really. The city is worth a day or two on a stop over to somewhere else but probably not a trip in itself. He hopes that if he visits again he will have the chance to get out of the city and see a bit of the country.

Cold Gold

IMG_1536 2After a long journey DonQui enjoys a much anticipated Habesha ‘Cold Gold’ brew at his hotel in Addis Ababa. It is a very good beer and he finds himself wondering if the labling would get past the UK’s Equalities Commission  or Advertising Standards if the Ethiopian brewery ever decided to try to export it.

Transit through Frankfurt

Heading out to Ethiopia DonQui has a 12 hour trip ahead ahead of him. This includes a crack of dawn hop from London to Frankfurt where he is to pick up his connecting Lufthansa flight.

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Landing in Frankfurt at just before 9am, there is plenty of time to make his onward connection which departs at 10:30. As it is the same airline flying from the same terminal, DonQui imagines himself enjoying a second breakfast in a cosy lounge as he waits. After all how far can it be from gate A10 to B25?

Full of optimism he sets off following the sign saying ‘Gates B20-60’. Turning a corner he sees another long corridor ahead. His bags start to feel heavy as he goes up an escalator and turns another corner, only to be faced with an even longer, desolate-looking corridor.

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The sign: ‘Gates B20-60’ continues to beckon him forward but by now it begins to feel like the carrot in front of one of his less bright distant cousins — always in front and never getting closer. What he thought would be a short jaunt followed by a rest in the lounge has turned into a 3 day camel ride through the desert without an oasis in sight.

A transit train ride, another security check, several escalators, and endless corridors later, DonQui finally arrives at Gate B25 just as his flight is about to board. It took him 52 minutes and he is not a slow walker!

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Naturally DonQui tries to avoid non-direct flights if he can. Recently he has transited through Amsterdam airport quite a few times. Each time it had been relatively quick and painless. Not so Frankfurt.

Oh well it could have been worse. At London Heathrow he overheard a distraught passenger, ladened with bags, trying to work out how to make an onward connection from Luton airport. The time and expense of such a transfer made DonQui shudder.

 

Asparagus Salad with Poached Egg

It is time for DonQui to try one of the dishes he was particularly proud of at the Dublin cookery school to see if he has mastered the techniques. Taking advantage of the last of the asparagus season he is preparing an asparagus salad with a few interesting twists.

IMG_0008He is particularly pleased by his efforts as he has had issues with poached eggs in the past. Now successfully manages to poach a near perfect egg. Not just once — but twice in a row!

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Ingredients (for 2 people):

A handful of lardons, or better yet smoked Italian pancetta or German speck. If these are hard to find smoked bacon bits could be used instead.

A good splash of sherry vinegar (2-4 tablespoonfuls). You could substitute red wine vinegar but as it will not be as sweet as the sherry vinegar you may need to add a bit of sugar.

Olive or rapeseed oil for the dressing (a ratio of 2 oil to one vinegar is usually about right)

¼ to ½ teaspoon of black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon of dijon mustard. DonQui is a bit iffy about mustard. When it is uncooked he has an almost allergic reaction to it. When cooked, as it is in this recipe, he has no problem at all.

One or two slices of black pudding (blood sausage for those outside the British Isles – see above photo) with outer plastic casing removed. This is not an absolutely essential ingredient but DonQui likes it and finds it gives substance to the dish. He is fortunate that his local butcher makes excellent black pudding.

A bunch of mixed salad leaves.

6-10 asparagus spears

2 eggs — the fresher the better as fresh eggs have thicker whites which set better when poaching.

a drop of vinegar for poaching the eggs (simple white wine or cider vinegar is best. You don’t need the expensive stuff)

A handful of croutons. These are included in the original recipe but DonQui did not think they added much. In future he will leave them off.

Making the Dressing

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Gently fry the lardons to render out the fat.  If you cook the lardons gently they should not need any extra oil to prevent sticking Take out and set to one side.

IMG_1431They are done when the fat starts to turn golden. By this time they will have shrunk considerably. Take out and set to one side. Pour off the excess fat.

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Gently fry the black pudding (a couple of minutes on each side for a ¼ inch slice) then set to one side. Keep warm if you like. Particularly large slices (like the 7cm one in the above photo) should be cut in halves or quarters. This should be done after cooking as if done before, the soft black pudding will tend to fall apart.

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Throw in the mustard seeds and stir around for a minute or two on a gentle heat.

IMG_1435 Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar.

IMG_1438Stir in the mustard until it is dissolved.

Then pour off into a small bowl. Gradually add the oil to the mixture until it is very well blended. Set to one side and let it cool.

Preparing the Asparagus
Gently bend the asparagus spears until the snap naturally. This will happen naturally between the woody end and the tender tip. Discard the wordy ends.

IMG_0822DonQui prefers to grill his asparagus (2-3 minutes on each side).

Another good way to cook them for a salad is to quickly blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling water, then plunge them into cold water to refresh. This stops the cooking process — bringing out the flavour and colour of the vegetable.

The Secret of Perfect Poached Eggs
Bring a pot of water to the boil while you prepare the dressing. Add a drop of vinegar. This will prevent the eggs from sticking together and helps the white to set more quickly and effectively.

Meanwhile crack the eggs into individual small bowls or ramekins

IMG_1426-2Create a vortex in the water by stirring it around, in one direction, with a whisk. You need to create a proper whirlpool in the water.
Drop in the eggs, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot and leave it alone for 4 minutes.
DonQui had never had any success with poached eggs before trying this method.

IMG_1236 2So far it has worked brilliantly every time.

The Final Dish
Prepare the salad by heaping the leaves into the middle of a plate and dressing them. DonQui has found that adding the lardons to the dressing adds extra interest and flavour. Alternatively they could be mixed in with the leaves before dressing.
Arrange the asparagus, black pudding, and croutons around the leaves.
Place the poached egg on top.

Enjoy!

Variations

DonQui has come to love the rich flavour of the sherry vinegar/bacon/mustard dressing. So he has experimented with other ways to use it after making a batch.

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For this delicious summer salad he uses fine slices of smoked duck breast in place of the asparagus, poached egg and black pudding. The dressing is exactly the same but the addition of a handful of chopped toasted walnuts amongst the leaves and a few fresh raspberries around utterly transforms it (not to forget the duck!). It reminds DonQui of the sort of dish he might expect to find in the south of France.

 

What to do with the Mascarpone?

DonQui’s previous broad bean risotto recipe requires a dollop of mascarpone — a deliciously decadent Italian mild, creamy cheese. It is an essential ingredient as without it the risotto will not have the same deep, rich, creamy taste.

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This leaves a small problem — what to do with the left over mascarpone? The smallest container of mascarpone DonQui could find was 250g and yet he only needed a couple of tablespoons for his risotto.

He has several ideas. Mascarpone is great in deserts and is a key ingredient for tiramisu. This is a dish DonQui has not yet attempted. Mascarpone is also excellent accompaniment to summer fruits such as strawberries and raspberries in place of cream. But don’t get excited that it might be a low calorie alternative to cream as the fat content is similar to clotted cream and more than whipping cream.

Pasta is another option and this is what DonQui goes for. He cooks up some wide egg noodles. When done he drains them, puts them back into the pot, adds a splash of white wine and then stirs in all his left-over mascarpone along with some salt, pepper, grated parmesan cheese and a handful of chopped roasted hazelnuts.

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He serves this with grilled asparagus on top with some fresh sprigs of thyme and an extra sprinkling of hazelnuts and parmesan cheese. Simple in the extreme this dish is absolutely delicious — as good or better than the broad bean risotto.

DonQui could have used something other than asparagus — perhaps sprouting broccoli or even french beans. As it is still in season and is also grown locally, asparagus is what DonQui goes for.

 

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He grills the asparagus rather than boiling or steaming it. He finds it tastes so much better this way — simply sprinkled with olive oil and put under the grill for roughly 3 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness. He has more to say on asparagus in a previous blog post.

DonQui adapted this recipe from Epicurious’ 20 Ways to Use Mascarpone where one will find other ideas.

Creamy Broad Bean and Herb Risotto

This is one of the recipes DonQui Oaty worked on during his cookery course. Fresh broad beans  (fava beans on the other side of the Atlantic) are in season now. Therefore it is the perfect time for DonQui to try it out at home?

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One of the first tips DonQui learned on his course was that everything should be mise en place place (put in place) before hand. Now DonQui is a pretty messy, slightly chaotic, cook. His usual method is to get stuck in right away with the result that he is often searching for a key ingredient at a critical moment. This time he resolves to get everything together and it greatly simplifies the cooking process and takes out avoidable stress.

Ingredients:
1 shallot finally chopped. Half a small white onion could be substituted but will not give quite as tasty a result.
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or crushed
A good splash of white wine
1 litre of chicken, veal or vegetable stock. Try to avoid standard stock cubes as these tend to be over-salted. Liquid unsalted stock or low salt cubes dissolved in hot water are best as you can always add more salt but you cannot take it out.
150g Carnaroli or Arborio risotto rice
A good handful of broad beans (fresh or frozen)
Grated parmesan cheese to taste
Zest of 1 lemon
A squeeze of lemon juice
2 tablespoons mascarpone (Northern Italian creamy cheese). It may be possible to use other cream cheeses as long as they are mild and very creamy — or mixed with cream.
A bunch of finely chopped fresh herbs — mint, chives, parsley and (optional) tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter and (optional) olive oil for cooking

The Rice

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Carnaroli is considered by many to be the best rice for risotto not only because of its flavour but also because it produces a creamy risotto while each grain holds its shape and texture. Arborio is the most widely available risotto rice and a package labelled simply as risotto rice will be Arborio. It makes a good risotto but can turn if overcooked. DonQui has heard that Vialone Nano (from Northern Italy) is an excellent short grained rice for risotto but he has not yet tried it himself. Apparently it is never grown with chemicals, cooks more quickly than Carnaroli and produces an equally creamy result.

Preparing the Broad Beans
Pod the beans if using fresh ones. Blanch them in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and plunge them immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process and quickly cool them.

IMG_1307-2Removed the outer husk of each bean and set them aside. The easiest way of doing this is pinch off the top of the husk and squeeze gently from the bottom so that the inner bean pops out. This can be a tedious process and it helps to have a willing helper. Although it is possible to use the beans without husking them, but they taste and look better without them.

Making the Risotto

IMG_1308 3Gently fry the minced shallot and garlic in butter or a combination of butter and olive oil for 2-3 minutes in a deep pan over a medium heat. They should be translucent — not browned. Add a pinch of salt during the process as this helps to break down the shallot/garlic.   Meanwhile bring the stock up to the boil in a separate saucepan and keep on a very low simmer off to one side.

IMG_1309 2.JPGAdd the rice to the pan with the shallot and garlic and toast for a couple of minutes, stirring it all about so that the ingredients are well mixed.

IMG_1311 3Add the white wine to the rice and allow it to reduce by half. Then add the hot stock one ladle at a time and gently stir it in.  Do not add more until the first ladleful is absorbed. Doing it this way keeps the cooking process going (adding cold stock would stop it), and takes the surface starch off the rice which dissolves into and thickens the cooking liquid.

Keep the pan on a low heat throughout so that bubbles in the liquid break the surface but not that it boils vigorously.  This should take around 15 minutes, maybe a little longer. The rice will be done when it soft but still has some bite to it so taste it as you get close to the time. It may not take all the stock to do this. On the other hand, if you find yourself without enough, put on the kettle and add boiling water a little bit at a time.

IMG_1315 3When the rice is done, taste for salt and stir in the mascarpone, lemon juice and zest. When well mixed add the broad beans, parmesan cheese and most of the herbs.

IMG_1319 2Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a garnish of the remaining herbs on top — extra pepper and parmesan cheese on the side for those who like more.

Blackrock Dublin

The Dublin Cookery School, which DonQui Oaty wrote about in his last post, is located in Blackrock — a Dublin suburb on the coast, a few kms south of the city proper. It is unlikely DonQui would have stayed in Blackrock had it not been for his course at the Cookery School and that would have been a pity.

First impressions, as the airport bus drops DonQui off outside a bland looking shopping centre, are not auspicious. The area seems to have quite a suburban feel to it with lots of traffic and modern buildings.

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Yet tucked away behind the shopping centre, towards Dublin Bay, is a pleasant park and a number of quiet streets filled with coffee shops, pubs and eateries of all kinds from Indian to Italian and, of course, Irish. There is also a small quirky antiques market with yet more places to eat and drink. Some are little more than small stalls, others are cafés, and there is also an up-market restaurant.

This is more like it DonQui thinks!

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Just because it is on the coast of the Irish sea don’t expect a beach holiday in Blackrock. The view of Dublin Bay is atmospheric but it is not the sort of place to tempt DonQui to dip his hooves in the water. On a late spring/early summer’s day the weather is typically Irish with cloud and rain interspersed with all too infrequent sunny periods.

Over three days DonQui tests out many of the local eateries and watering holes. There are many more he would have liked to have tried but he will have to save these for another visit. In no particular order these are his views of the places he tried out:

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The Mellow Fig: From the outside it looks like a fairly traditional ‘caff’ where one might expect tea and a bacon and egg breakfast. Inside it is anything but that. With pastel colours it clearly caters to ‘yummy mummies’ in search of a light lunch or, yes, breakfast. The pastry and cake counter looks divine. DonQui’s breakfast at the Mellow Fig consists of an excellent croissant and one of the most perfect cappuccinos he has had in ages, The topping of high quality chocolate flakes rather than the usual cocoa powder is a very nice touch indeed.

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Rage: Although there are other things on the menu this place specialises in flame grilled steaks and that is what DonQui goes for. Nicely seared on the outside and evenly juicy inside, his sirloin steak lives up to expectations. The whiskey and mushroom sauce is divine and the accompanying triple-cooked chips are just as DonQui likes them — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. His strawberry Eaton mess desert (see photo above) is a wonderfully calorific sweet to finish off with.

Flash Harry’s: Named after DonQui’s fictional hero — Harry Flashman as portrayed in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books rather than in Tom Brown’s School Days — he had to try out this bar. With football on the many television sets and a pool table outside the main bar area this is not the sort of place a non-sports fan like DonQui would normally frequent. That said Flash Harry’s has a decent selection of beers on tap and is pretty relaxed.

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Café Ciamei: This great little casual Italian restaurant is at the north end of Blackrock market.

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Their pizza’s are excellent with nice thin crispy crusts even if they are not cooked in a wood-fired oven. Duchess’ seafood risotto is indifferent but the atmosphere makes up for it. They also have superb proper Italian coffee. DonQui’s espresso is a tiny high-powered caffeine shot of the sort one might expect only to find in Italy.

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Dunne and Crescenzi: This was DonQui’s only disappointment. Billed as an upmarket Italian restaurant DonQui expected much. The atmosphere and very helpful waitresses lived up to expectation but unfortunately the food did not. At best it was ordinary and certainly not worth the prices nor the marketing.

Instead of fresh basil DonQui’s caprese salad came with pesto. The pesto was good but it was not a proper caprese and the tomatoes were tasteless. The main of grilled chicken supposedly came with a truffle and mushroom sauce but there is no hint of truffle, the chicken is overcooked, the accompanying roast potatoes are barely roasted and have frost damage.

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It is not often DonQui leaves much of his main dish but in this instance he does. To their credit, when DonQui tells the pleasant waitress of his views she is most apologetic and not only does not charge him for his main course but she throws in a free glass of wine. The house wine, it must be said, is really top-notch.

The owners started off selling fine Italian wines, salumi and cheeses and their wine certainly more than lives up to expectation. DonQui sees a nearby couple sharing a charcuterie board and given how good it looked he wishes he had ordered the same. He does not sample the cheese as when he asks if it had been left out of the fridge to let the flavour develop he is told that it had not. There are few things more sacrilegious in DonQui’s view than eating good cheese straight from the refrigerator.

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There is a direct bus to and from Dublin airport every hour and the city centre is quickly and easily reached from Blackrock station via the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) train. DonQui stayed in an excellent Airbnb apartment which was much more spacious and at a fraction of the price of a Dublin city hotel. Next time he visits Dublin, DonQui will probably stay in Blackrock again. There are still plenty of great looking restaurants for him to sample and it was very pleasant staying in a place with a local neighbourhood rather than touristy feel.