Saturday, 30 June 2012

Skimping on Size

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed it?

"It" being the skimpy portion sizes now on offer in so many Dublin restaurants.  I say Dublin as it is where I have experienced it lately.  Prices have tumbled - there is no disputing that.  It is now possible to get very good food for €20 or less for two courses at lunchtime, €25 for dinner.

But what is the point if you leave the restaurant starving or worse having to fill up on bread.  Actually this would be practically impossible as how many restaurants even offer a small basket of the stuff?

In France, Spain, Italy - practically everywhere, the first thing that is brought to the table is bread, water and maybe even a small bowl of olives.  The bread is not whipped away after starters are finished.  Very often it is topped up.

I have had two meals recently; both incidentally at lunchtime, that were memorable for all the wrong reasons.  The food in both places was great.  The prices could not have been beaten.  But I left both places hungry and unsatisfied.

Perhaps the idea is to "encourage" customers to order dessert/cheese and make up the money here?

Whatever the thinking is - would I go back? No.  Would I recommend anyone to go?  No.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gooseberry and Elderflower

Gooseberries are ripening at the moment and the elderflower is in full bloom and smells amazing.  It has the most heady, sweet aroma.

Both compliment each other perfectly. 

Gooseberry and elderflower jam is just one of those combinations that work.

For every 500g of fruit you need the same weight in sugar.  Place the fruit and 150ml water with 5 elderflower heads in muslin in a heavy bottomed pan.  Simmer the fruit until tender but before it completely breaks down. Remove the elderflower.  Add the sugar gradually, stirring until it dissolves.  Bring up to a rolling boil.  Test for a set after 5 minutes.  Setting point is usually 105 deg C.  Use a jam thermometer or just place a small amount on a cold plate and leave to cool. Run your finger through it and if it wrinkles it has reached setting point.  Turn off the heat while you are testing.  Pour into sterilised jam jars and seal.

Gooseberry and elderflower jam on spelt and multiseed bread.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Weekly Farmers' Market Shop and Cook

Shop and eat seasonal is a good mantra. However, it's very easy now in our global consumer society to eat stuff flown half way around the world, completely out of season and generally lacking taste. How many times have I fallen for a bargain only for it to be a waste of money? Recently I bought plums on special offer from a supermarket - I should have known better as their weekly fruit and veg specials are generally out of season and unripe.  I left them in a fruit bowl with bananas for ages and they just started to go bad!

I had wood pigeon a friend had shot in the freezer and wanted to use it up as it was beginning to get freezer burn.  So wood pigeon defrosted; I had to decide how to cook it and what to cook with it.  There was some cooked beetroot in the fridge so that and the plums were decided on.

The recipe for the plum and beetroot sauce went something like this - with a fair bit of adjustment as I put in far too much red wine vinegar and had to go to all sorts of lengths to rescue it.

10 plums (mine were small unripe little bullets)
1 medium cooked beetroot diced
1 teaspoon muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine
1 teaspoon honey
Some grated ginger, salt and pepper and 1 star anise.

All above were cooked down and blended.  Adjust seasoning and sweetness to your taste.

I rubbed the wood pigeon with rape seed oil, seasoned and wrapped in Pancetta and roasted in a preheated oven on a bed of sliced red onion and fresh thyme for 30 minutes, which left it quite pink.  Leave another 10 minutes if you want it - to my mind - overcooked!

I bought a lovely celery in the farmers' market recently so far removed from those anaemic ones you buy in the supermarket with their leaves removed.   How is it that in France or Spain supermarkets sell fruit and vegetables that look like you would want to eat them while here we get the most dreadful specimens?  The leaves are really tasty too and it's a shame to waste them so I made soup with them.

Celery Soup
1 large onion chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
bunch fresh thyme and parsley chopped
I medium potato
500 ml chicken stock
The leaves from a head of celery

Fry off the veg and roughly chop the leaves from the celery head and add.  Season, add stock and simmer for 20 mins.  Blend smooth.

 I also made some apricot jam

click on the link for the recipe - it's delicious!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Every Woman needs a Willie

If you are reading this expecting something phallic - stop now - Willie is my handyman!  Every woman needs a handy man and being married or in a relationship is no guarantee of having one.  I found this out to my cost as both of mine were not much addition in the handyman stakes.  The first had the patience to read the instructions which was one step better than me.  I was more inclined to hit stuff with a hammer.  The second when he could be bothered was a bit better, but in no way practical.

Willie has a full time job so his handyman stints are nixers (or foreigners as they say in the U.K).  That means you have to wait until he has finished whatever shift he is on.  Willie doesn't stand on ceremony and he doesn't believe in door bells.  Willie just opens the door and lands in.

He also shouts loudly and every conversation is peppered with expletives.  He is particularly loud with me as - I am able to take it - his words.  One time he was here doing a job and one of my sisters rang.  She heard him in full flow and whispered "are you ok"?

He has fixed my Kitchen Aid, blitzers, blenders, washing machines, tumble driers, dishwashers, pumps, and recently installed a timer on my immersion heater.  He has unblocked drains, plumbed in showers, freed up a Velux window, hung roller blinds and hung a clothes horse - pulley device on the landing to exploit the heat rising from the stove.  All were fixed with cheerful loud banter, usually berating women as being useless, annoying and the best way to deal with them is to agree with everything they say.

I had the misfortune to take out a 5 year guarantee on a washing machine I bought a while back.  The first time I needed a call out, I rang the number given on the guarantee and was connected eventually to a call centre in outer Milton Keynes (or somewhere) - to an operator who asked where in southern Ireland I was.  I told her there was no such political entity, I was actually almost in Ulster but was in the Republic of Ireland and was met with a stunned silence.  Then she requested my address.  No house number or name were bad enough, but no street address and; horror of horror; no post code!  By the time the call was over she was beyond stressed and I was ready to "fix" said washing machine with said hammer.

The 5 year guarantee still lingers but will never again be used and instead Willie rides in to the rescue, all the time cursing feckin women!

It annoys me when companies sell their products here in Ireland but then cover us by a UK call centre who have no training or knowledge of the country geographically or politically.

Boyne Valley Blue and Beetroot Tart

Sheridan's Cheese held their annual Food Festival recently and I spent probably the best Sunday of the year, wandering around in hot sunshine tasting fabulous food from some of the best food producers in the country.

One of my purchases was a big piece of Boyne Valley Blue cheese that when we returned home was put in fridge along with my sister's purchases and which, when she returned to her home she took along with her own.  Eventually when I got it back it had sweated in tinfoil and was a bit the worse for wear.

I decided to make a tart using beetroot I had bought at Sheridans' Farmer's Market held every Saturday at their Meath base.

The recipe uses Spelt flour in the pastry and raw milk buttermilk (I leave raw milk in the fridge to sour naturally to buttermilk).  The buttermilk gives the pastry a very good flaky, short texture and reduces the amount of butter needed. 

Boyne Valley Blue and Beetroot Tart
Pastry Base
150g organic white Spelt flour
60g butter
2 tablespoons of raw milk buttermilk
2 tablespoons (approx) cold water
Pinch salt

Rub softened butter into the flour, stir in the buttermilk and then very gradually add the water.  All flour absorbs different amounts of water, so don't welly it all in at once.  When it forms a cohesive mix, cover and place in fridge to rest for an hour.

Roll out the pastry and line a 23cm/9" fluted pie tin with removable base.  Prick the pastry with a fork. Cover with baking parchment and fill with baking beans.  Place in a hot oven 180 deg C for 10 minutes, turn around and leave another 5-10 minutes and then remove beans and paper and finish off in oven until it is baked and lightly browned. Allow to cool. 

3 large red onions
knob of butter
sprig fresh thyme
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of Muscovado sugar
salt and pepper
3 medium beetroot cooked and peeled and sliced thinly
100g of Boyne Valley blue cheese or alternative

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, make the filling.  Soften the onions in butter and add in the thyme, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Season and allow to really melt down on a low heat.  Remove the thyme and spread over the cooled pastry base. Scatter the sliced beetroot over and then crumble or finely slice the blue cheese liberally.  Place the tart back in the oven to just melt the blue cheese.  Either serve warm or cold.

They can be made into individual tartlets also and served as canap├ęs or as a starter.


Tags: Irish Food  Irish Recipes  St. Patrick's Day Recipe  Boyne Valley Blue  Irish Cheese Recipes

Monday, 11 June 2012

I have become a Pig Farmer

Even the title of this post sounds hilarious.  I have said it to myself a few times now and I still can't get my head around it.

For years, since I worked in a large turkey processing business as a Quality Manager, I have had a horror of intensively reared animals.  People always used to ask me how could I bear to watch the turkeys being slaughtered. I could very easily because it was a welcome relief from a truly horrible life - and this was lived in an EU registered export plant, inspected by Department of Agriculture veterinary surgeons and continuously monitored by them. 

In this country the only animals that live a true free range life are cattle and sheep.  Pigs and poultry live in horrendous conditions, reared in unnaturally confined sheds with no access to fresh air or even bedding in the case of pigs.  How can meat from such animals be healthy?

Chicken and turkeys have to be pumped with antibiotics in their feed as they are housed with so many others that transfer of disease and bacteria is rampant.  I always remember the handy man in the turkey plant came in at lunch one day and told us he had found a turkey with no feathers on it's body, it had been pecked so much from the other birds it was completely raw - yet it was still alive.  He said, and I will always remember it, "if it wasn't for all the antibiotics in it's food, the poor bugger would have died".

Unfortunately pigs are no better and what is worse they are animals with greater intelligence than dogs.  Sows are still kept in farrowing crates where the only movement they can make is to stand up or lie down.  Intensively reared pigs are not allowed bedding in order to prevent the spread of disease.  They cannot root or forage as pigs do naturally and they are fed concentrates.

The option is there to buy free range poultry, but how free range are they really? I have seen poultry called free range, many thousands in a shed with a patch of grass at the side that would be full with a few calves.  Every now and again the vents at the side of the shed are opened and the turkeys - totally institutionalised - peep out and a few brave souls venture forth.  So free range really is a word that has little or no meaning. 

I have chickens primarily for eggs but we have killed some for the pot in the past.  I do not eat eggs any more from the shop.  Firstly, despite what they are labelled they are not free range and secondly they are not even fresh.  If I have to buy chicken I buy "free range" with a heavy heart knowing that it really is not.

At least with chicken you have a choice - with pork there is none.  I don't know of any major supermarket or butcher selling free range pork.  Unless you buy from a friend or a specialised producer, what you buy is intensively reared.  The local craft butcher told me he would not be able to sell free range pork.  I assumed this was because of cost, but no it was because of fat! Consumers have such an abhorrence of fat that they would consume antibiotic-pumped lean pigs producing lean but tasteless meat??

Now I have my own pigs I am looking forward to having my own pork and bacon and so are all my family.  If I get any more customers that will be great but for now I am going to produce only what I can use or distribute among friends and family.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Rainy, Recession Dishes for a Wintery Summer

Sometimes when I am shopping in my local supermarket I come across meat at a really reduced price that I can't resist.  Often they are cuts I would never normally buy so I challenge myself to try and make something tasty with them.

I love lamb but hate the the taste of mutton and a few times I have been caught out buying mutton dressed as lamb so to speak.

I almost never buy shoulder chops as I prefer loin.  But the other day I came across a packet of 4 big lamb shoulder chops at a substantially reduced price and as it was the weekend of my Seven Week Odyssey (diet) I decided to try and make a curry but reducing the calories.

The curry paste was made up as follows:
1 large onion finely chopped or buzzed in a blender preferably with 2 fat cloves of garlic and a piece of ginger the size of your thumb.  Add a good pinch of salt and a tablespoon of sunflower oil.

Remove this mix and add to the blender 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds, cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon of fennel, mustard seeds, nigella seeds and fenugreek.  Buzz these until crushed and add to the onion mix above.

Mix in 1 teaspoon of turmeric, chilli powder (more if you like it spicy), ground cumin, coriander, garam masala, 5 cloves, 2 bay leaves, 2 curry leaves, 5 cardamon pods and a small piece of cinnamon stick.  I also add a red chilli chopped with the seeds.

Trim excess fat off the meat and spread the paste on both sides of the chops and leave overnight or at least 3 hours covered loosely with cling film in fridge.

Scrape the paste off the meat and reserve. Sear the chops on a hot pan and set aside. Add the paste to the pan and stir for a few minutes as heating the spices releases the flavours.

Add the meat back into the spice paste and just cover with water.  

Simmer for approximately an hour.

When the meat has become tender, add 1 sachet of creamed coconut.  When adding it stir continuously to prevent it splitting.  The sauce will thicken. Just before serving add a good handful of finely chopped spinach.

I either serve with a small portion of basmati rice and/or a naan bread and some poppadoms cooked in the microwave.

All curries are far nicer cooked with meat on the bone and also left overnight before serving.  Nigella seeds are available in Sainsburys in Newry or Asia Market, Drury St.                                                               

Tags: curry, lamb shoulder chops, creamed coconut

Jarret de Porc

Jarret de porc also know as a pork hock i.e. a hock that has not been brined.  I bought one from my local butcher weighing 1kg for €1.

A hock this size feeds two people adequately so it is really economical.

Marinate the hock overnight with 500ml of dry cider or a craft beer (O'Hara's ale).  Add some chopped onion, celery, carrot and a bay leaf to the marinade.

Next day strain off the marinate and place in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the top and reserve the skimmed liquid.

Fry off more veg of your choice (carrot, celery, onion, garlic and some fresh herbs such as thyme and sage) and transfer to a casserole with the skimmed cider/beer.  Pat the hock dry and sear it on a hot pan.  Place it in the pot.  Add 150ml of chicken or veal stock, season and place in oven for 2-3 hours or until the meat falls off the bone.

Tags: jarret de porc, pork hock, O'Haras