Monday, 30 December 2013

Panettone Pud

You know every year at Christmas when you vow won't overbuy? But you do.

I bought a Panettone for half price. Of course it sat on the sideboard and was picked at.

I had a carton of cream in the fridge also leftover so made a version of bread and butter pudding using the Panettone.

Panettone Pud Recipe

Panettone (I had about three quarters leftover)
450 ml milk
200 ml cream
3 large eggs
75g sugar

I used two quiche dishes measuring 21cm diameter.

Slice the Panettone up into small pieces and pack it into the two quiche dishes.

I didn't butter it as felt it was rich enough.

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to just under the boil, remove from the heat and set aside.
Put the eggs and sugar into a bowl over a saucepan of water. As the water underneath heats up, whisk the eggs and sugar together.

Continue to whisk until the egg mixture is thick and creamy.

When the milk and cream mixture has cooled slightly add the egg mix into the milk and cream and continue to whisk.

Divide the custard mixture between the two dishes.  Press the panettone down into the custard mix with the back of a spatula.

Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 deg for 35 minutes until golden and puffed up.

Serve with whipped cream.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

It's all about Family, Food, Fun

Annual Christmas Family Shindig
Our annual family Christmas get together is over for another year. Every year after Christmas we all gather in one of our houses and sit down to eat lots, drink lots, argue, shout, laugh and generally be merry. It is always noisy. One of my nephews said to me during the meal the other side of his family were polite, quiet and refined. Let's just say the rambunctious side gathered yesterday.

It was important as it may well be the last time dad will be with us. Dad has dementia and is getting progressively worse. He still knows us all thank goodness but in reality little else.

Food has always played a huge part in our family life. I suppose in a way that may not be considered traditionally Irish. Yesterday all fifteen (my daughter was only member missing) sat down to a four-course meal, lovingly prepared by my brother and his partner, from stunning ingredients all washed down by great wines, grappa and some very exciting Irish craft beers.

Christmas can be a stressful, lonely time for many. Standing in hateful supermarkets over the past few days watching people turn into greedy, ill-mannered, bad-tempered oafs makes me really hate it. But yesterday made me realise what's important. Family, food and fun.

Here's hoping we will all be together again for Christmas 2014.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Buyer Beware Rare Breed

Rare breed pork, the latest, newest buzzword popping up on restaurant menus. Rare breed usually refers to any breed that's not Landrace. Landrace are the familiar pink pig, commercially bred for specific characteristics such as leanness and to provide a good conversion of muscle to fat ratio. They have little hair and would not be as well able to cope living outside as rare breeds or the original pig breeds (but they can adapt). They also do not lay down a protective layer of fat as the rare breeds do to keep them warm.

Rare breed pigs such as Saddleback, Irish Grazer (Tamworth), Gloucester Old Spot, Duroc, Hampshire etc. are the original pigs our ancestors reared, usually outside but in more recent times in a sty. These were fed a mixed diet of vegetables, grains and slops. Feeding slops was banned after some wise guy decided that it would be an idea to feed a vegetarian animal (cattle) with animal protein and lo and behold BSE materialised. Since pigs are omnivorous like us, it is perfectly fine to feed them animal protein.  However probably not advisable to feed them pork or bacon slops. Although I'm sure in days gone by they were.

It is this mixed diet plus the freedom to root and forage for grass, vegetation, roots and grubs that gives rare breed pork it's flavour. Free range rare breeds are able to run, root and generally behave as pigs should. Landrace pigs are reared in concrete housing and fed concentrated feed. They get little or no exercise.

Unless rare breeds are reared outside and fed a varied diet their meat is no different from meat from a Landrace. So a restaurant stating that their pork is rare breed is as meaningless as stating a chicken that has the potential to stick it's head out a gap in the shed, is free range. Do you really want to pay more for something that is no different from conventional pork?

When next you see "rare breed" on a menu ask. Ask if it was outdoor reared. Ask what it was fed. I can guarantee the restaurant won't have a clue. In fact they probably never gave it a second thought. However for their beef they will know the seed, breed and generation and how long it was hung/aged etc.

Why should pork be any different?

Beware of buzzwords. After all arsenic is gluten-free.......

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Prawn Curry and Wok Naan

This is the ultimate fast food. When you live in a rural area where the only take away is MSG central and most certainly doesn't deliver, it's handy to have a recipe that takes as long to prepare as it takes to cook the rice. I have added salmon when I see it on the reduced aisle, cut into chunks and it was really delicious with prawns. You could use any meaty fish such as monkfish.

Prawn Curry recipe

1 pack of frozen prawns
1 large onion sliced
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 (inch) piece of ginger finely chopped
1/2 inch piece turmeric finely chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
half tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp ground coriander
half a fresh chilli chopped
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or equiv. tomato passata
Half tin of creamed coconut
Good pinch salt

Add all the spice ingredients to a pan and fry in oil for a couple of minutes. Add the onions cut in thick slices and just toss them in the spice mix. They are much nicer if they have a bit of crunch.  Add tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Finally add the coconut. (At this point the sauce can be refrigerated for later or even frozen). Finally add frozen cooked prawns and continue to cook for three minutes.

Serve with basmati and naan bread.

Wok naan bread recipe

225g strong flour
half a 7g packet of dried yeast
good pinch salt
1 tbsp natural yoghurt
2 tbsp coconut milk

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add yoghurt, coconut milk and water to make a cohesive dough. Knead until light and stretchy. Cover and leave to prove for an hour. After an hour knock back the dough and divide into four pieces. Stretch each piece into a tear drop shape. Put a wok on to heat. When it is smoking add some coconut oil or an oil with a high smoking point (rape, sunflower). Flip over after a few minutes. You can transfer them to a pre-heated oven (180) as they are cooked to finish them off or just to keep them warm.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cooking Kids.

Well not exactly cooking kids more kids' cooking classes. I started a series of classes in our local community centre/sports complex recently. When I first broached the idea with the committee they were surprisingly enthusiastic. Well the centre does promote health and fitness and it was an idea to cover all aspects of health.

So far we have had two classes. We decided twelve was the maximum we could cope with at any one class and for the first class we had just that. Second week and seventeen kids show up. We didn't turn them away but from next week we need to either run two classes or just go with the original twelve who booked initially.

I am concentrating on healthy eating but using recipes that have "kid appeal". Lots of vegetables, hidden and not so hidden. Lots of - "yuks", lots of - "I don't like that" (this is now banned, they must say "I'm not so keen on....."). But I had one girl who said she never ate any veg try some red pepper at the first class and in the second class admit she couldn't taste the hidden veg.  Progress.

The first week we made spring rolls and chicken Chow Mein. Billed as make your own healthy Chinese take away.  The second week we made pizza using real dough.  For next week I asked them to choose their favourite processed food and we will make it. They chose chicken goujons. They have also requested meat balls and brownies.

They are very enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable in that they have been able to name most of the vegetables including freshly dug carrot, ginger and a bulb of garlic. So I'm not dealing with Jamie Oliver's documentary level of ignorance.

We have visited a couple of local schools to let them know what we are doing and aim to get around them all in next couple of weeks. It takes an age now with security plus clearing it with the secretary, then the head, then the class teacher. Such a change from even my kids' school days!

Some of the mothers waiting for the kids came up to me after and said they had learned a lot just from listening. They have requested I do adult classes as well. The first one starts tomorrow evening.

I have found BBC Good Food a very useful website as they even have a dedicated children's section.

From small acorns........

Choosing pizza toppings

Getting children interested and enthusiastic about cooking, nutrition and food is the best way to combat obesity and to encourage them to have a healthier diet. While they are cooking I am drip feeding them nutritional information. At this age they are like sponges and they retain the information in spite of themselves.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Boozy Christmas Cake

You only make Christmas cake once a year so push the boat out and buy best quality ingredients. The taste will be worth the extra expense. 

Boozy Christmas Cake Recipe
250g organic sultanas
250g organic raisins
100g organic unsulphured apricots
100g mixed candied peel (recipe)
4 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons whiskey
2 tablespoons Calvados
Zest and juice of a lemon and orange

Soak all the above dried fruit, juice and zest in the booze and leave loosely covered overnight. Stir it occasionally.

Next day
300g butter
250g muscovado sugar or if using ordinary sugar add a tablespoon of molasses
4 eggs
400g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
half tsp of nutmeg, ground cloves and cinnamon

Cream the butter and sugar together. If using muscovado it can be a bit lumpy so mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time and one tablespoon of sieved flour to prevent curdling.

If you need more flour add a tablespoon at a time. My mixture was quite wet.

Pre-heat oven to 150 deg. If using fan set it to 140 initially and turn down to 120 after an hour.

While oven is heating line tin with butter paper or baking parchment. I had saved loads of butter papers and I also wrapped some around the outside of the tin. My grandmother used to wrap newspaper with string around hers and I always remember the smell of it singeing.

It took just over an hour and a half to bake as I put mine in a fan at 150 deg. It is preferable for it to bake a bit slower so if I was doing it again I would put it in at 140 and turn down after an hour. I was loosely following a Jamie Oliver recipe which said 150.

When cake is completely cold wrap it well in greaseproof and tinfoil and store in a tin. Every week or so drizzle some more whiskey or brandy over it.

I sometimes make a marzipan but more often don't bother as most people just pick it off.

I used a 23cm square cake tin with 7cm depth. Slightly smaller would be better to give a bigger rise.

Finished iced cake
This recipe is the best Christmas cake I have ever made. It was moist, crumbly and so so tasty.

Monday, 11 November 2013

For Remembrance Day - A Tribute to my Grand Uncle

My first cousin James O'Kelly wrote this and carried out all the research. I am only transcribing it for the record. However it is a fascinating account of the first World War describing the times and possible reasons Irish people enlisted. 

Patrick Joseph (P.J) O'Kelly of Caher, Feakle, County Clare was born Patrick Joseph Kelly on 29th July 1889, one of 11 children of Patrick and Margaret (sometimes called Mary) Kelly. The family are listed in the 1901 census as living in the townland of Caher Power in the (quite large) parish of Feakle which came under the "District Electoral Division" of Derrynagittagh.

The census lists Patrick Kelly as a 41 year old "Shopkeeper-Farmer" and Margaret as his 43 year old wife. The literacy skills of all family members are also recorded. Both parents are listed as being able to read and write and even the then four year old Charlie is recorded as "being able to read".

The census lists PJ and his siblings as follows;

Michael (16) Read-Write
John (15) Read-Write
James (14) Read-Write (my grandfather)
Mary (13) Read-Write
Patrick (11) Read-Write
Ellen (8) Read-Write
Thomas (7) Read-Write
Martin (6) Read-Write
Charles (4) Read
Margaret (2) Cannot Read

Chris (Christina) is not listed in this census which can only mean she hadn't yet been born.

P.J subsequently changed his name to O'Kelly - as did his brother James ( my grandfather) who joined the Land Commission and moved to Castlebar where he met and married Margaret (my grandmother) McGowan.

At some stage P.J moved to Athlone where he became an apprentice at a firm of solicitors owned, we think, by a Maurice O'Connell whose daughter Mary (sometimes known as Mabel) he married on 30th December 1914 in St. Peter's Church, Athlone. His records do not give her full date of birth, simply stating that she was born in 1887. The witnesses who signed the register were Maurice and Nora O'Connell of "The Willows", Athlone. (The local librarian informs us that this house still exists on the "Connaught" side of the river.)

It seems curious that no member of his family signed the register which may or may not indicate some froideur between the two families or it might even mean that his family were not informed of the marriage. At this remove it obviously isn't possible to draw any firm conclusions.

P.J joined up three months earlier on 21st September 1914 and the family legend is that Mary was the driving force behind P.J's enlistment but there is no way of confirming this as it may well have been her father who pushed it, as the firm would no doubt have been doing business with "Protestant" firms but it remains a matter of speculation.

However the fact that the two events occurred so close to each other, tend to support his enrolment was linked to, or as a condition, of the marriage. Like many people during the Gaelic Revival, P.J changed his name to what was regarded as the more authentically Irish form incorporating the "O" which Elizabethan edict insisted Gaelic families stop using, at the close of the 16th Century. The Revival reflected the strong national desire, at the time, to reassert an Irish identity and push for independence. The fact that he changed his name, in this way, tends again to support the notion that his enlistment was to please his intended wife and/or her family but the two need not have been entirely incompatible either, given that John Redmond had - to the great dismay of Ulster Unionists - extracted a promise of Home Rule for Ireland (shelved for the duration of the war) if Irishmen fought for the Crown.

Incidentally, at this time his brother Charlie was working in Loughrea and some of P.J's correspondence was to an address in Loughrea town square but his permanent address, on the enrolment form, is given as "Excise Street", Athlone which is not far from the O'Connell home.

P.J joined the "Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery" and the enlistment form has an entry which is crossed out before this was entered. The original entry appears to read " regular infantry" but this is not conclusive and in any case the form may simply have been one which was abandoned from another enrolment. However, since he was already an apprentice solicitor, he must have been quite highly qualified for the time (he includes a certificate from a P. Ross, the principle from the "Skerry's College", 10 Harcourt Street, Dublin) and could ride a horse, it may be that he was advised - or discovered - that he could become a commissioned officer if he applied to such a regiment. This may also explain why he did not join either of the two "Irish" divisions, the 10th and 16th, as neither had Irish officers.

His enlistment form is "For a candidate who is neither a university graduate nor a cadet or "ex-cadet" and the category of his commission is described as a "Temporary Lieutenant for the duration of the war".

P.J and Mary's son Gerard Charles O'Kelly was born on 7th December 1915 and he appears to have been sent to the war zone shortly afterwards, on 1st January 1916, before Gerard was a month old. At some point, he was attached to D battalion of the 58th brigade of the 11th (Northern) Division* which had just returned from Gallipoli. He does not appear to have been deployed at the Somme until 1st March 1916 but remained with the division until he was killed in action on 26th September 1916. During that time the division was involved in the following battles and actions;

14th September 1916 - Capture of the Wonder Work
15th September 1916 - Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette
26th to 28th Spetember 1916 - Battle of Thiepval Ridge

The senior officers of every regiment recorded the significant events of the day in a regimental diary and these entries give an insight into the appalling ferocity of the war. In the course of one night - which is described as "otherwise quiet" - a stray shell scored a direct hit on an arms dump behind the regiment's lines, resulting in a series of massive detonations.

(When the relevant entries from the diary have been typed up, we will circulate them.)

Although the conditions under which the officers lived were substantially better than those of the enlisted men, this incident brings home something of the unimaginable psychological strain under which the soldiers passed their days and nights.

Sniper attacks were frequent, as were reconnaissance flights and patrols by both sides. Shelling, at any time, was an unpredictable but common occurrence.

Another entry reminds officers of the need to constantly remind the men driving the horse-drawn carriage-loads of ordinance to the front, to keep noise to a minimum. Sound carried at night and if the horses' hooves were heard, the Germans' Gunners might get wind of the fact that shells were being delivered and target the area with potentially devastating results.

P.J was killed on 26th September - the first day of the battle of Thiepval Ridge - and his records show that he died intestate. Gerard would have been 11 months old at the time and he would only have seen his son as a newborn infant before departing.

His personal effects are recorded as;

an identity disc
a watch
a rosary
2 grenades
2 charms
a prayer book
3 notebooks
a note case
an officer's advance book
photos and postcards

He is buried in the military cemetery outside of the modern-day village of Ovilliers-La-Boiselles (Grave'Memorial ref VII.A.10)

("Ovilliers and "La Boiselles" were two separate villages destroyed during the battle.)

Today Ovilliers-La-Boiselles, is 22 miles north east of Amiens, 5km northeast off the D929 road to Bapaume, the cemetery itself being 500metres west of the present day village on the D20 road to Aveley.

P.J's grave is recorded on one document as being "about 150 yards southwest of La Boiselle Communal Cemetery.  A letter from the War Office says the grave is "marked with a durable wooden cross with an inscription bearing full particulars". The place of burial is also given as "X13. of 2.1 map 57 of S.E 4."

The initial site of the cemetery - documented on the Commonwealth war graves website - is described in 1916 as being "behind the dressing station" but it would obviously have grown rapidly, as the battle went on and after the war ended it was hugely expanded with the addition of an enormous number of  unmarked graves. About two thirds of the graves are unmarked. 

After his death Mary/Mabel applied for the war gratuity and pension and some of her correspondence with the war office gives her address as Caher, Feakle, County Clare.which could indicate that she had gone to live there or, more likely, was visiting at the time.

The gratuity paid to her upon the death of her husband was stg. £140 plus a pension of stg. £100 per annum. A gratuity of stg. £46.13 plus stg. £24 per annum was paid to her on behalf of Gerard for the loss of his father.
She remarried and lost the pension but after the death of her husband, she applied for it to be restored on 16th December 1936.

 In memory of
Patrick Joseph O'Kelly
29th July 1889 - 26th September 1916

Ar dheis go raibh a anam

Background note: The Summer of 1914

As the late summer of 1914 turned into Autumn, John Redmond made two major speeches – one in August, the other in September – urging Irishmen to fight for Britain, pointing out that Nationalists could not afford to allow Ulster Unionists to reap the benefit of being the only Irish to support the war effort.
These speeches were deemed as critical turning-points. It should be remembered that at this point, no one in military or political circles envisaged a prolonged or bloody conflict, even though by this stage of the war, the “Glorious Retreat” from La Mons – the first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force – had already taken place a month earlier on 22nd and 23rd August and had been widely reported. It’s worth noting however that the public would have been cocooned from the true nature of this brutal engagement by the sanistised-style of war reporting prevalent at the time.
During the retreat, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, in a classic rearguard action, held nine German battalions while suffering appalling casualties until being cut off and finally overwhelmed on the on the 27th of August at Etreux with only 240 men surviving. (The Connaught Rangers were also involved in the retreat but in much smaller numbers.) Incredibly they secured the unmolested withdrawal of no less than four divisions, a then largely unrecognised fact that is now seen as having enormously influenced the eventual outcome of the war. Newspaper accounts of the battle and retreat resulted in a rapid rise in army recruitment in Britain but the achievement was so great that by April 1915, conventional explanations were considered insufficient to explain it, in the public mind.
Rumours began to circulate which offered another explanation for the Munsters’ achievement. These claimed that a “miracle” had occurred or, that the intervention of the “Angels of Mons” had aided the troops. The final irony of the extraordinary achievement at La Mons, was that the southern Irish troops who achieved this great feat were usually described as British.

*The 11th (Northern) Division
The division was a volunteer division which came into existence on the 21st August 1914. Initially it was without equipment or arms of any kind. The recruits were judged to be ready by late spring 1915, and it was ordered to reinforce the beleaguered garrison at Gallipoli.
It landed at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915 and withdrew on 21st December 1915. In July 1916 it landed at Marseilles and spent the remainder of the war on the Western Front. It was involved in the Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette (sixth phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916).
On 28th June 1919, the Division ceased to exist, having lost more than 32,100 casualties during the war.

*There was an “Arthurian” legend newly invented by a Welsh journalist and author named Arthur Machen. Machen published a short story entitled The Bowman in the bestselling London newspaper, The Evening News, on September 29th , 1914. It was inspired by accounts that he had read of the fighting at Mons and an idea he had soon after the battle. Machen was a journalist on the paper and although he was a well-known author of supernatural stories there was no indication that it was fiction when it was originally published in the paper. It was written from first-hand experience and described a soldier calling on Saint George, to summon phantom bowmen from the battle of Agincourt, to destroy a German host. The unintended result was that Machen had a number of requests to provide evidence for for his source for the story quite soon after publication, from the readers who thought it was true. He responded by saying it was completely imaginary, as he had no desire to create a hoax. However the story was reprinted a number of times over the next six months and by May 1915 was being cited in pulpits across Britain, as evidence of Divine intervention in the war.

Machen was appalled by this development and attempted to refute it by publishing a book with a lengthy preface stating that the rumours were false and originated in his story. It became a bestseller and inspired popular songs and artists' impressions. Further attempts by Machen - who regarded as one of his poorest pieces of work - to set the record straight in many quarters as "treason".

In the spring of 1915 there was another surge in supernatural rumours and the stories published then often attributed their sources to "anonymous British officers". One April 24th 1915, an account was published in the British Spiritualist magazine telling of visions of a supernatural force that miraculously intervened to help the British at the decisive moment of the battle. This resulted in another flurry of similar accounts and the latest study of the Mons story suggests these may have been part of a covert attempt by military intelligence to spread morale-boosting propaganda and disinformation.
It was a time of Allied problems due to the sinking of the Lusitania, Zeppelin attacks and a failure to achieve a breakthrough on the Western Front. From this point of view, the timing would make military sense.

The only real evidence of visions from actual names serving soldiers, provided during the debate, stated that they saw visions of phantom cavalrymen, not angels or bowmen, and this occurred during the retreat than at the Battle itself. Furthermore these visions did not intervene to attack or deter German forces, a crucial element in Machen's story and in the later tales of Angels. Since during the retreat many troops were exhausted and had not slept properly for days, such visions were obviously hallucinations.

While it is not entirely impossible that the original newspaper account played some part in P.J's decision to enlist - given that Athlone was a garrison town - it seems rather unlikely. But it is an interesting illustration of the heightened atmosphere of the day and the factors that would have played a part in the decisions made by many others. There was mounting hysteria in the press and enlistment in Ireland would have been driven as much by stories of German atrocities and calls to defend neutral Belgium, as by the enormously emotional issue of Home Rule.

If anyone can add to, or clarify, any of the above, please feel free to do so. Any information as to the final destination of P.J's son Gerard would be most welcome.

My grandfather James had the photo of P.J proudly displayed in his house. When my grandparents died my uncle inherited the house, however, since he died the photo has sadly vanished which explains the horrible quality of a photocopy of the original. 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Apple Butter

This is a brilliant way to use up wind fall apples. It takes a bit of time but it really is worth it. I used a combination of cookers and eaters.

Apple Butter Recipe
1.8kg windfalls. (I used 1kg cooking apple and 800g small eating apple windfalls)
2 cups water
1 cup cider
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
half teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg  
Sugar (quantity determined later)

Wash and cut apples in quarters. Remove any damaged or bruised bits. Don't peel or core.
Put in heavy based saucepan with water, cider and vinegar and cook until apples soft.

Sieve the mixture into a big basin. Weigh.

Transfer back to heavy based saucepan. I got 2kg of apple purée. (you need half this weight in sugar but don't add it yet). Bring purée back to the boil and simmer for 45 mins. Add 1kg sugar. Stir until dissolved, add spices then simmer for at least an hour until it has reduced and is starting to thicken at edges of pan.

Pour into hot, sterilised jam jars.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Really Easy Pastry

This was an accidental discovery.

I was making pastry to blind bake in a hurry as usual. I weighed out ingredients in a bowl. The butter was very hard so I popped the bowl into the microwave and turned it on for one minute, thinking the flour would insulate it and it would need that to soften. Needless to say it was a liquid when I removed it. Rather than waste over 200g of butter I decided to plough on because in the back of my mind I remembered Raymond Blanc making a pastry where he heated the butter. I searched on line for it and discovered this.

Now I very rarely follow a recipe verbatim. So I just added enough water to my dough to make a cohesive ball. Then I followed the method above and pressed the dough into the dish and baked it for 15 minutes at 180 deg in a fan oven. It was for a large Bakewell tart and it was a runaway success.

My version of this recipe is (for a 21cm removable base pie tin) -

200g plain flour
Pinch salt
95g butter
Water to make a cohesive ball.

Sieve flour with a pinch of salt. Melt butter and mix in. Add water very slowly and mix with a fork.  When you have a ball of dough all holding together transfer to your pie dish.

Press mixture into your dish as in the method above. I used my fingers and a fork to get it to an even thickness throughout. Press it into the fluted edges until at same level (no need to push it higher). Put in the fridge while the oven heats to 180 for a fan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Cool.

No need for rolling, baking beans, baking paper etc.

And it really works.

For the pear and almond tart above I made a frangipane, 100g butter, sugar and ground almonds mixed together with one egg beaten and 25g sieved plain flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Three pears, peeled, cored and fanned into the frangipane mix. Bake at 175 deg fan for approximately 55 minutes or until springs back to touch.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Veggie Sides

Kale and Chorizo
As a confirmed meat eater, walk it through a warm room/twitching/black and blue advocate this might seem like a surprising post but, I love veg.

No meal is complete without at least two different portions of veg as far as I am concerned. I love figuring out different and interesting ways to cook and serve vegetables. I love eating seasonal veg and I love buying interesting and unusual varieties of veg in the local farmers' market I go to every Saturday. The selection there is always better than a supermarket or even a green grocers who always seem to stock the old reliables no matter what the season.

What started this epiphany was discovering that flash frying Brassicas on a pan was infinitely better than boiling them. It began with Brussels sprouts. That hated vegetable. Fed up of listening to my children when they were small moaning how much they hated them. One (now the chef) actually hated most vegetables but being the understanding mother I am, I told him he'd die of bowel cancer if he didn't eat them. It worked! Shock therapy or maybe just sheer terror at the vague promise of a painful death, he grudgingly picked at both sprouts and spinach. My daughter was much better but she used to complain loudly about spinach especially if I included it in lasagne. They both now eat all vegetables.

Slicing up sprouts very finely and tossing in a mixture of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and toasted almonds or hazelnuts transformed them into a different animal. Especially fabulous at Christmas.

Sautéing shredded cabbage with a clove of garlic and seasoning well, likewise the same.

Wilting spinach on a pan is so much better than cooking it in a saucepan. Don't ask me why.

But my recent discovery is kale. I love making Colcannon with it, but I discovered blanching it and refreshing it in cold water followed by tossing it on a hot pan with some finely diced Chorizo and a small clove of garlic is really delicious. 

Buying the best quality Chorizo you can find is important because the cheap stuff has a really nasty after taste.

The Chorizo pictured is from Kilruddery Farmer's Market in Bray but there is another fabulous one I bought recently in The Milk Market in Limerick from On the Wild Side, based in Kerry.

Giving vegetables a starring role in a meal by making them more appetising especially if it gets children to try them has to be a good thing.

I really believe that coercing, okay tempting children to eat vegetables when they are small makes them much more adventurous as adults. How many adults say they dislike this or that, but when you ask them have they tried it, they invariably say no......

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Save your Veg

Food waste has been in the news a lot lately. Tesco say that over two thirds of their bagged salad is often thrown out. I'm not sure why, but bagged salad in general seems to go off really fast. In days gone by when I occasionally bought it, very often it was slimy by the time I had got it home. It's not even nice so not sure why I ever bought it.

Over the years I have discovered a few secrets to storing vegetables.

Fruit is another story. It really doesn't keep well especially in summer. But don't ever put bananas in a fruit bowl with other fruit unless you want them to help ripen something. They emit ethylene gas which ripens fruit or over ripens it. A cool room is best for a fruit bowl even in winter.

Salad and Spinach
For both, if pick I my own or buy it in the farmers' market, I've found the secret is to wash it immediately and then shake it well. Transfer to a clean plastic bag and store in the vegetable drawer in your fridge. It keeps really well this way for a least a week.

Tomatoes keep better at fridge temperature but taste a lot better stored at room temperature. I actually keep them on a sunny window sill. If they get soft just use them in a tomato sauce for pasta or pizza.

Pickled cucumber
Cucumbers need to be stored in a loose plastic bag (remove the clingy plastic) in the salad compartment for a few days but then tend to go mushy. The best way to preserve them (and they taste a lot better I think) is to pickle them.

Root Vegetables (carrots, turnip, swede, celeriac, etc)
For root vegetables remove from plastic and place in paper bags. Store in a cool, dark place in a cardboard box in a garage/shed if you have one. All root veg keep much much better if you buy them unwashed. I have kept carrots for weeks like this and the flavour is incredible. I also never buy them in summer when they are out of season.

As above. Never store in fridge or in plastic. Must be stored out of direct light.

Celery and Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, romanesque)
They keeps best in a plastic bag in the vegetable compartment. In fact they tend to keep well for the longest of all, probably because they are used to the damp and the cold in our climate. They will also keep really well in a cool, dark garage if your fridge is full (especially in winter).

Onions and garlic need to be kept somewhere dry and dark preferably. Do not store in fridge. A cool cupboard or a cardboard box in your garage or shed is best. The exception to this are scallions which really have to be stored in fridge in loose plastic (not cling film).

Get a needle and thread and thread the chillies through the stalk. Hang them somewhere dry in your kitchen. I hang them under a shelf. This way if you don't get to use them fast enough they will dry naturally.

Mediterranean Vegetables
As in peppers, courgette and aubergine, they need to be stored in the vegetable compartment in paper bags. If you leave them in plastic they go slimy.

Keep best in paper bags. Remove from plastic. Can be kept in the hard plastic tub they come in but with the cling film removed.

A good plan is to check your vegetables weekly, and for anything that is going a bit wrinkly, use in a soup. You can use even use lettuce and cucumber in soup.

Anything that is beyond redemption can be composted. And even if you don't have a garden you can make compost for herb or flowering containers. 

See no need to waste. Do you agree or disagree?


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A River Divides Them

I was told to take the "lake road" because of the views. I drove along and thought to myself, "what is she on about?" Until I climbed a hill, rounded a bend and there stretched the most stunning view of Lough Derg it made me gasp. I would have caused an accident if I had stopped to take a picture. But no camera could have done it justice anyway.

Where Loug Derg flows into The Shannon, on one side you have Killaloe, Co. Clare, cross the bridge over the river and you are in Ballina, Co. Tipperary.

Both are equally picturesque. We were spending the weekend on the boat and the marina is well-maintained and well-equipped for boaters. The towns well-equipped to feed, water (okay wine) and entertain you.

The marina
I am ashamed to say I knew little of the rich history of Killaloe. The name means church of St.Lua (an ancient monastic settlement). It was from here that Brian Boru ruled his kingdom of Ireland.

We got up Saturday morning and went for a wander about the town. We came across St. Lua's little church, moved from an island in the middle of the Shannon when it was submerged due to the construction of the power station at Ardnacrusha.

St Lua's

St. Flannan's Cathedral has the most beautiful stained glass and a really old window.

Killaloe is full of lovely little craft and gift shops and a really great cafe where you can browse the bookshelves and sit beside the fire (in winter) or just inhale the wine, charcuterie and cheese on sale in the shop.

One of the gift shops and Ponte Vecchio

And then there is the food.

The Wooden Spoon Cafe has an eye-watering display of cakes, proper cakes, like you'd make at home (albeit much more professionally finished.) The lunch menu is equally good especially the predominantly middle eastern vegetarian specials. It was packed every time we were there. I presumed it was with boaters but no, I was informed it was mostly locals. Lucky locals.

Temptation on display

Falafel in pita with all the trimmings
Choices for evening are every bit as good. The Cherry Tree overlooking the river in a stunning dining room. We had a very good meal here. Brasserie Mark Anderson a few kilometers outside Killaloe but worth the journey. We had some great food here too.
Brasserie Mark Anderson
After eating you can walk across the bridge to the quaint Liam O'Riains in Ballina for music and porter. Or if you prefer wine try the Ponte Vecchio where you can also just have a pizza.

On Sundays the farmers' market is a bustling space with many of the traders from the Milk Market in Limerick present. We were able to cruise right up to it and moor along side.

The small towns along the Shannon have always been better for food than most provincial Irish towns. I remember years ago being able to get ground coffee in a small corner shop in Drumsna, Leitrim. In those days a rare occurrence. They were catering for the large number of French and Germans hiring cruisers.

It's great to see that they are continuing and improving the tradition, despite the loss of so many cruising Europeans.

Tags: Lough Derg The Shannon  Killaloe Co. Clare  Ballina Co. Tipperary  St. Lua St Flannan's Cathedral  Wooden Spoon Cafe  Cherrytree Restaurant  Brasserie Mark Anderson  Ponte Vecchio  Milk Market  Drumsna Co. Leitrim  Food on the Shannon


Friday, 27 September 2013

Ploughing Food - The National Ploughing Championships

The 2013 Ploughing Championships have just finished up for another year. Over 700 acres of ploughing demonstrations and competition, agricultural stands and not so agricultural. Something for every one, all 200 000+ of them. The crowds descended on the County Laois fields at Ratheniska, parking in stubble fields and walking or being pulled by a tractor and trailer up to the site.

It was a long day and unless you wanted to drag a rucksack with a picnic, at some point you needed food. The catering areas were numerous and populated predominantly by burger bars. All the usual suspects Rumbles, Gourmet Burger etc. were in evidence. There was fish and chips, burgers and chips, steak sandwiches, flabby pizzas and packet soup kitchens. The smell of grease hung in palls over packed picnic areas, as much littered with bodies as discarded packaging.

The first day I brought a small flask of coffee and some brown bread and blackcurrant jam and ate it in the traffic queue to get into the site. This kept me going until about 4pm but then the hunger pains kicked in. I saw Rumbles in a huge tent. There was a queue but it moved fast. There were a few choices, overcooked slices of beef, shrivelled salmon and half a chicken which looked the most edible.

The food was being doled out by a team of latex-gloved staff grabbing fistfulls of vegetables, chips and potatoes, throwing it onto paper plates that already had had a latex-gloved hand slap the meat of choice on. Hardly appetising.

This plate of food along with a watery cup of tea cost €15.

It was mass catering feeding the masses.

The next day I suddenly got weak around lunchtime. There were long queues at every food vendor. We remembered the lovely smells coming from the meat vendors in the livestock area we had originally walked through and decided to walk back there. There were also long queues here but not as long. There were Irish Hereford, Irish Angus and Irish Limousin burger stands. We choose the Limousin as it had the shortest queue.

We should have known.

The burger patty was grey, flat, chewy and utterly, utterly tasteless. The burger bun a McDonalds chemical formula. A limp piece of Iceberg lettuce and a watery tomato slice came to €5. If this was to showcase Limousin beef it failed on all fronts. In fact I am convinced every stand had stopped off on the way to the show and bought a job lot of supermarket yellow pack burgers.

I remembered a farmer friend telling me all these French/Belgian breeds that Irish farmers have become obsessed with, probably due to the public obsession with lean fat-free meat; produce tasteless meat. He was right. To have flavour, to have succulence, you need fat. But you also should not cook the bejaysus out of meat as per health fascist requirements.

The vast majority of people at these events are probably quite happy to queue up and pay over the odds for a greasy burger but there are those of us who are not.

To my mind a wasted opportunity to showcase food at a huge event showcasing farming. Surely the two should go hand in hand?

This disconnect needs to be joined up.

The consensus among our group was we would not be coming back again in a hurry. I wonder how many of the thousands walking out said the same?

A comment has been passed that I should have tried to find the quality, artisan food sellers. The reasons I didn't are because, firstly, I suffer from hypo-glycemia and when I get the shakes I need to find food fast. This was made extremely difficult with the badly designed layout of the site. The map was also terrible. I assumed it was my "female brain" but my son who most definitely has a male brain pronounced it worse than useless. In addition, when you did eventually find the row the stand was supposedly on, the stand number (on map) was not displayed outside.

Also I have tried all the artisan producers and know their food is good. The purpose of the blog post was to highlight the organisers of an agricultural event (the largest of it's kind in Europe apparently) allowing such a preponderance of mediocre food sellers.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gooseberry Martini

This summer past has produced an amount of soft fruit. All my bushes have been laden with fruit except my gooseberries. The Gooseberry Saw Fly got the better of the leaves and I'm not sure if this affected the crop hugely but it certainly didn't help.

I started looking for ideas and found a recipe for Green Cowboy Martini on the Channel 4 website.

I followed the recipe  (250g gooseberries in 75cl gin, add 2 tbsp sugar and leave for a month) using up all my gooseberries and then read the bit where it tells you to put the martini together. I had no gooseberries left. So how was I going to make the syrup?

I left the gooseberries in the gin until now, they have been in it since the end of June. I decided to decant the gin and use the marinated gooseberries to make the syrup.

I weighed them and they were 220g. I added 150g of sugar and 300ml of water. I simmered the syrup until the fruit had softened, about 15 minutes. Using a potato masher mash the fruit into the syrup. Allow to cool and then strain through a double layer of muslin into a clean, sterile jar or bottle.

Follow the suggestion in the recipe for 75ml of the gooseberry infused gin and 10ml of the gooseberry syrup. I poured it over crushed ice but by the time I had faffed about taking the photo the ice had melted.

It makes a lovely drink particularly if you like gin.

Tags: Gooseberry gin  Gooseberry recipes  Gooseberry syrup  Summer cocktails Gooseberry saw fly

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Which Oil?

This title reminds me of Which magazine that my father used to pour over prior to making any big purchase. But honestly you would need to do your research before; "God forbid" you would believe a label!

That Guardian article was the final straw for me. I was not going to line Mafia coffers ever again.

Pork lard and olive oil contain oleic acid
Olive oil adulterated with cheaper oils and passed off as extra virgin, first cold pressed and the rest.

Now the way to overcome this is probably to buy the uber-expensive, single estate oils that cost a king's ransom. I don't know about anyone else, but to me it's a huge waste - if you are going to fry with it.  I have no problem using it for a dressing but......

So I have changed from using all olive oil to using the really good stuff for making dressings. I'm a bit of a traditionalist in that I like the taste in dressings. I use sunflower oil in mayonnaise. I tried organic sunflower oil and it was vile. Apparently the non-organic is filtered and refined and most of the flavour removed. Maybe if I had persevered I would have developed a palate for it, but it was very strong and overpowering.

For frying and roasting I use rapeseed oil. I usually buy it from my fruit and veg man at the farmers' market over at Sheridans. He only sold a Dutch brand and when I asked him why, he told me none of the producers in Ireland are organic.  But apparently Second Nature Oils based in Kilkenny are producing organic oil so I must try to source some.  I prefer to buy organic and use less than use lots of non-organic.

I also use my pork fat rendered down for frying and roasting. It makes the most amazing roast potatoes as it has a very high melting point. This basically means it does not burn at roasting temperatures and become denatured or degrade into nasty toxic and carcinogenic chemicals (see here). It also means food cooked in it does not absorb as much fat as would normally be the case. Horray!

Lard (read this link, it's fantastic) from organically reared and free range pigs is probably one of the healthiest saturated fats. It is beginning to enjoy a revival of sorts although official bodies have yet to wake up and smell the roses. But you know granny knew best and probably still does.

Nearly half the fat in lard is monounsaturated. This is the type of fat that is good for you and is 90% oleic acid (a fatty acid), the same as found in olive oil. Oleic means derived from olives. If you read the article it even goes so far as suggesting, if you replace the quantity of carbohydrate in your diet with an equal quantity of lard you actually reduce the risk of heart attack.

I have also tried it in savoury pastry and can confirm it gives a really delicious flaky texture.  I'm pretty sure it can be used in a sweet pastry as well, I just have not tried it yet.  I suppose some of that old brainwashing that all animal fat is bad is still a bit of a hurdle to overcome for most and some of it still lingers in the back of my head, but I'm getting there.

I'm even going to try out the Lardy cake recipe in The Independent link above.

Which magazine might not be consulted as much any more, but for oils and fats an equivalent really should be.

Buyer beware. 
Tags: Which cooking oil  Adulterated olive oil Organic rape seed oil  Second Nature Oils  Organic and free range pork fat

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A Different Cream Tea

Is there anything more luxurious than a cream tea? Freshly baked scone with cream and jam. You can almost feel the calories glide onto your hips. With Greek style yoghurt you can still experience the sensation of cool, creamy smoothness combined with a fruity kick and not feel as guilty. How?

Here's how. Organic Greek style full fat yoghurt has 10g of fat per 100g serving. Cream has 40.3g per 100ml. So you have a lot less fat without sacrificing flavour. That means you can enjoy more.

You can still feel decadent.

I discovered how delicious making this soda scone recipe with yoghurt is, by accident. I had a pot in the fridge opened for a while and as it smelt fine and I had no buttermilk, I decided to use it instead.

The sour yoghurt cultures react in the same way as buttermilk with the bicarbonate of soda to create a rise.

(1 used a mug for ease of measuring (mine held 300ml liquid). Remember it is proportional so if your mug holds less that's fine).

1 mug fine wholemeal flour
1 mug plain white flour
Half a mug of a coarse stoneground flour
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds
1 egg beaten
a good half teaspoon of bread soda
a pinch of salt
Approximately 140ml of buttermilk or 100g of yoghurt thinned out with 40ml whole milk

(All flours absorb different amounts of liquid, so measure it out in a jug and add slowly until the mix comes together and resembles a stiff porridge texture. Add more if required).

Pre-heat oven to 200 deg C.
In a mixing bowl combine flour, bread soda (sieved), salt and poppy seeds. Make a well in centre of bowl and pour in the beaten egg. Add a small amount of the yoghurt/milk combination and with a fork begin to work in the flour. Add the liquid slowly. When the mixture has all come together, turn out onto a floured surface and shape gently into a round. Don't handle any more than necessary. Using a scone cutters cut out your scones (This mix made eight).

Transfer to a floured baking tray. Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until well-risen and browned. Turn one over and if browned on base then they are baked.

Cool on a wire rack.

Cut in half and serve with a good dollop of Greek style yoghurt and some homemade jam.

Make a big pot of tea. Enjoy!

Tip {using live natural yoghurt is a good tip for those who live in countries where buttermilk is not readily available especially students.}