Saturday, 28 July 2012

Where's the Jerk?

After I got the pigs I had to find a source of fruit and vegetables to feed them.  Ideally I wanted organic but there is no one growing or selling locally.  I found a vegetable shop in the nearby town delighted to give me slightly old produce.  A lot of the stuff is a bit shook but some of it is surprisingly good.

Pigs are not keen on onions and I had been fishing them out and putting them aside if they were ok.  Then the other day I rooted in the crate and found a load of chillies.  There were some beyond use but lots were perfect.  Anything too rotten to feed to the pigs goes into my compost. 

I made Jamie Oliver's recipe for Jerk seasoning a couple of years ago.  We made a huge jar and promptly forgot about it.  It was in at the back of the fridge.  After about a year I remembered it.  It was still perfect and had mellowed and was no longer breathtakingly fiery.  I had used Scotch Bonnets and when I tasted it initially I didn't like it at all.  After the long storage it had completely changed character and was fantastic with pork, ham hocks and chicken.

I modified the recipe slightly as the chillies I had got for free were the ones pictured.  They are not as fiery as Scotch Bonnets but they still have a bit of kick.

a good big handful of chillies (equivalent to about 4 packs you buy in supermarket)
4 red onions
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon each of nutmeg, ground cloves, cinnamon and all spice.
a sprig of thyme
4 bay leaves
salt and pepper
5 tablespoons vinegar
5 tablespoons rum

Blitz everything in a food processor except the bay leaves.  Transfer into clean dry jars and store in fridge for as long as you can.  The above quantity made 3 jars.

To use marinate the pork or chicken for a couple of hours with the jerk and then as it cooks continue to baste the meat with it.  If cooking ham hocks boil until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.  Remove, allow to dry and then coat them in the jerk and roast in a hot oven until crusty and browned.

Jamie Oliver   Jerk Seasoning  Scotch Bonnets  Chillies  Ham Hocks  Food  Recipes

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Wine Post

Picture the scenario - it's a Friday evening, it's wine o'clock, and suddenly something incenses me or something earlier in the day has incensed me.

Up comes the laptop lid and I let fly.

It never ceases to amaze me the ease with which I type a post having wellied into a bottle of wine.  Yes, I know all the statistics about drinking.  I'm not making an excuse and I don't recommend it (well I do actually - but not officially). 

The posts I write in these circumstances are what I refer to as my rant posts.

They get the largest number of views by a mile.

The fact that they have to be edited the next morning is hardly surprising but what is surprising, is that the editing is surprisingly small.  When I sit at the keyboard stone cold sober, I change every sentence over and over, to get it just right.  I deliberate on how I want to lay it out, I wonder if my punctuation could be better, have I checked my spelling.

What I really want to know is; who reads them.  What does the reader think.  Do they agree or disagree.  Do they think - oh no here we go again.

It's like I'm ranting in a vacuum.  It's like a very unsatisfying row where no one is countering with the opposite viewpoint.  I love a good row, I always have done.  But a rant is not the same as a good row.  It's self-indulgent.

So my question is - should I give up the wine or should I give up the writing under the influence of wine? Is the rant a result of the wine or is the wine a result of the rant?

Tags: Wine Post Wine

Friday, 20 July 2012

Dear Tesco

Dear Tesco,

I am writing this letter more in vain than in hope.

You opened a huge new superstore near me in a bog in Co. Cavan, not long over a year ago now.  When you opened it was a miracle!  Suddenly we had a shop that supplied dragon fruit, fresh tuna and papparadelle.  It was a miracle - no a mirage - in a bog.

The locals had never seen the like and the "foodies" were in heaven as they had no longer to drive to Dublin to get ingredients.

I was able to tell my sister, resident in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, that I could get her celery seeds so that she could pickle her glut of cucumbers.  Who would have thought?  (or if you are on Facebook, who would "of" thought?)

It was sheer bliss; but like the megastore you opened in Bloomfield in Dun Laoghaire with it's stunning fish display - it was short-lived.  You realised - no profit realised - that Cavan people were; "meat and two veg" and not much else, so the rest of us, could get lost.

The dragon fruit was replaced with swede and parsnip and the tuna with chicken fillet.

The pasta aisle diminished from De Cecchi to Dolmio, from oricchiette to short-cut macaroni.

The spice racks from galangal to cinnamon.

We, foodies were of no importance.  But to be fair we realised that you had profit margins and shareholders to consider. 

However, the final straw was, as far as I am concerned, your decision to stop stocking free range chicken.  We here in Ireland have access to British television though Sky.  We are aware of Jamie Oliver's campaign to try to improve the plight of the intensively-reared chicken.  Some of us actually care that chickens have horrendous lives.  But your care is only "lip service".  The free range chicken in Bailieboro does not sell so instead of making the effort to sell, you take the easy way out and stock the intensive stuff. 

Your staff in Bailieboro are probably the nicest and most helpful in Ireland but they haven't a clue about food.  You don't bother to invest the time to train them. So the friendliest staff have no idea of the hapless lives the chickens lead that they sell on the shelves.  It's no wonder that they look at me like I have ten heads when I ask, "where are the free range chickens"?

I know your answer before I ask - profit margins.

But sometimes principle must come before profit; even in the multi-nationals.  Sometimes it is right to do something even if it does not make a profit.  Sometimes a company has to be reputable.  You are a British multiple trading in Ireland.  You are responsible for the displacement of many local retailers and suppliers.  You have a responsibility, albeit a moral responsibility to consider the welfare of animals you supply as meat.  You have responsibility to your customers, to give them the option to make the right decision. Do you care? Do you heck?

Tesco   Free Range Chicken  Jamie Oliver  Galangal  De Cecci  Dolmio  Celery Seed  Cavan

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Calories and Yobs

Two things have infuriated me recently (well actually probably far more than two).  The crazy idea that if we display calories on menus that somehow we will reduce the level of obesity.  Obesity sadly is a fact and the numbers defined as obese are increasing every year.

Smokers are on the increase too and this is despite warnings printed on cigarette packs and a ban on smoking in most public spaces.

Alcohol has warnings printed on bottles and there are restrictions on sale and advertising.

So despite all these dire warnings and bans what have we actually achieved? Not much if the truth be known.

I was in a very small bakery/cafe in Dublin's city centre recently where the menu was displayed on the wall.  We were sitting on bar stools facing the wall.  I glanced up and saw that beside the price of each sandwich was displayed the number of calories in each item.  There was a negligible difference between any of the options apart from one which was the "diet option".  If I had seen the calories displayed previous to making my choice would it have influenced me?  Unlikely, because I do not eat out very often and I am educated enough to be able to tell bad calories from good.   If a sandwich contains good bread, cheese, roasted vegetables and olive oil then yes it will be calorific but the calories are more beneficial than that supplied by a chocolate muffin and a latte full of refined sugar and hydrogenated fat.

Stand in a supermarket any day of the week and look at the items people buy.  The people who are on a low budget invariably buy the most amount of processed foods.  It is no coincidence that they are the most expensive, the most calorific and the person making the purchase is at the very minimum overweight. Stick a label on the shelf with the calorie content and see what difference that will make to the decision to purchase.  I would be willing to bet none. 

What is required is education; but that would be too easy and too logical for our legislators.  A programme should be introduced in primary schools where the children are educated in nutrition and beneficial calories.  The subject should be given the same status as the core subjects.  After all the outcome of this education is going to have far more impact on their lives than any amount of maths, language or science. 

All of which leads on very nicely to yobs.  Yobs in every society are thankfully the minority.  However, we now have to legislate for them and not for the rest.  Because they can't control their bad behaviour, drinking, drug taking; the rest of us who can - are to be penalised.

In the UK recently I was in a lovely old fashioned pub selling real ales on tap.  We were asked were we intending drinking inside or outside and as it was a nice evening we said outside.  The barman then started pulling my ale into a plastic glass.  When I asked could I not have a real glass he replied "I am not allowed to give you glass if you intend drinking outside".  So because there was the possibility that a few yobs could hit each other over the head with a real glass, the 50 people outside sitting quietly, enjoying their beers on a balmy summer evening had to drink from a plastic glass.

Because a minority of people at weekends get drunk, coked up and start fights and cause mayhem the solution is to restrict the sale of alcohol and to increase the price.  Once again the majority have to pay for the actions of the minority.

The actual solution is far more logical but would require a declaration of intent.  Zero tolerance against any sort of anti-social behaviour and a change in legislation to allow severe punishment for any misdemeanors related to drink or drugs.  Yobs need to know that should they behave as yobs the consequences will be swift and severe.

Then maybe the rest of us - the majority, can get on with making informed decisions as to what we eat and what and where we drink, to relax and enjoy our occasional treats without financial pain or guilt.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fork to Farm

Myself and Raman plating up.
I have had a busy weekend from fork to farm so to speak. Friday 6th of July was the final of the Newstalk curry cook-off in the Kal Showrooms in City West.  The event was sponsored by Uncle Bens.  It was a fantastic experience and the other two contestants, Eithne Jarret and Raman Patel were amazing and talented cooks.  Eithne was the winner for her really excellent meatball curry.  It was a real explosion of flavour in the mouth and contained a spice I had never even heard of.

The judges were Arun Kapil of & Sunil Ghai, the well-known chef from

We had great fun with The Beatles playing and a comedian and a very supportive, appreciative audience. Uncle Ben's supplied goody bags filled with all sorts of rice and sauces.  The Kal showrooms are superb and a must see for anyone thinking of upgrading or installing a new kitchen. 
My lamb curry recipe can be found here

The following day it was a very early start and off down to Redwood, Co Tipperary to Oldefarm.  Margaret and Alfie produce free range pigs in the most idyllic setting here.  They run courses for people interested in getting their own pigs and have a wealth of experience and knowledge as well as a real passion for food.  Their pigs are happy pigs, leading a healthy outdoor life rooting and foraging the way nature intended.  Their pork and bacon has to be tasted to be believed and they make their own sausages.  Alfie also makes a damn good burger.  I tried my best to get the ingredients but think there is a magic ingredient in there somewhere he was not telling me about!

They can be found at Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to real food produced from happy, healthy and gmo free pigs.  Margaret also writes a really great blog filled with terrific recipes and stories about life rearing pigs and lots of other animals. 

At the course yesterday they had a woman who had flown over from northern Portugal to participate. So the Oldefarm brand has become truly international. 

Jemima's babies
I have my own pigs for over a month now. I had intended on doing the course the last time they ran it but was unable due to family commitments.  They are two 12 week old Middle Whites and are called Rasher and Sausage.  They have their own Twitter account and you can follow their exploits @rasherandsausag. I have explained here at my reasons for deciding to rear my own pork and bacon.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Safe Food?

Food that comes from a large processing plant with all the required safeguards in place such as HACCP, BRC, Efesis, ISO etc. is safe to eat.  Safe in the sense that you probably won't get food poisoning from it. 

I have been for two interviews in the last two weeks in two huge multinational food processing plants where they proudly informed me they had all the above food safety systems in place and supplied Irish and international food service and massive supermarket chains.

When I walked out of both plants the overwhelming feeling I had was, did I really want to work in plants like this anymore when their philosophy is so contrary to my own.  I need a job; but do I want to sell my soul?

I have decided I do not.

Both plants had such security in place that even gaining entry to the car park required filling out a form and several phone calls.  They carry out all the pre-requisite checks, all the boxes are ticked and the paperwork is up to date before any of their product leaves the site and ends up on supermarket shelves in Belfast, Bangkok or Bournemouth.

I am sure most consumers would be very happy knowing all this so why am I not?

We have become so obsessed with hygiene in our little world that everything we eat is now boiled, sterilised, processed, aseptically packed, metal detected and has mountains of paperwork in a trail behind it.

Yet we have more auto-immune diseases now than ever.  We also have more incidences of food poisoning as our sterile systems are not able to cope with any rogue bacteria or viruses.  We are now attacking our own bodies.

These huge multi-nationals do not have our best interests at heart. They are adhering to all these regulations for one reason alone and that is profit.  Every chance they get to cut corners in quality of ingredients or additives they take it.  They pump their products full of genetically modified soya and maize without any care for the consequences further down the line.  Sugar has been replaced with high fructose corn syrup as it is a cheap alternative.  Natural fats are replaced with hydrogenated.

Every bag of animal feed you buy now comes with a label stating the ingredients and if it contains genetically modified ingredients.  How many of our processed "safe" food products do? 

As long as the consumer demands "cheap" food they will continue to supply it. As long as the customer does not care about the ingredients but demands hygiene as a higher priority then they will oblige. But cheap food ultimately has a cost.  It may be produced hygienically but is it really safe to eat?