Thursday, 23 May 2013

Buy the Shin of your Teeth

Let's start with a disclaimer - this is not normally a scrimping scroogalista blog but: every now and again I surprise myself with a discovery, so why not pass it on?

The first was that it was sooo much cheaper to buy a whole chicken and bone it out yourself. Fellow blogger Adrian Shanahan followed it up and calculated that it was 350% more expensive to buy the breasts alone.

My latest eureka discovery is that buying a great lump of shin beef and either cutting it up yourself and/or mincing it, is much cheaper than buying mince or stewing beef. I buy a kilo for around €8. I mince half and I cut the rest into stewing sized pieces. I calculated that with half the meat you could make a big pot of chilli which would easily feed 5-6 and with the remainder minced, a lasagne or whatever you normally use mince for.

To buy 500g of stewing beef alone is normally in or around €7 and the same again for mince.

You do need a good knife and a mincer. I got the mincer attachment free with my kitchen Aid in a deal one Christmas. However, I'm pretty sure you can buy the old fashioned ones that screw onto the kitchen table from Amazon.

To make the chilli use half the meat approximately 500g diced into bite sized chunks.

Chilli with Cocoa and Lime


500g shin beef
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin of kidney beans 
2 large onions diced
2 sticks of celery chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
1large heaped tablespoon of chilli powder
1 or 2 small red chillies diced
2 teaspoons of dark cocoa powder (try get it with high cocoa content)
Zest of a lime and half of it juiced
A good pinch of salt

Sweat the onions, garlic and celery until really soft. Add in the cumin seed, chilli powder and the chillies.  Cook for a few minutes. Then add the beef and brown. Add tomatoes, beans and two tin fulls of water and put in the oven for 3 hours on a very low heat. Just about 30 minutes before the end of cooking add in the cocoa powder and the lime zest and juice.

It improves unbelievably if you put it in the fridge for a day or two.

I'm not sure why but chilli with meat in pieces is so much nicer than with mince. Both the cocoa powder and the lime add a certain "Je ne sais quoi".

Tags: Money saving  Chilli beef dish  Chilli  Shin beef  Chilli with lime  Chilli with cocoa

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dipping is Dangerous

So apparently the EU is planning on banning olive oil served in jugs or bowls.  Instead we will only be "allowed" sample factory bottled and aseptically sealed oil from an industrial production process.

This is presumably in case a rogue dirty finger is accidentally dipped into a bowl of artisan cold pressed oil.  Horror of horrors.

However it's absolutely fine to eat meat produced from animals fed a diet of genetically modified grain, or antibiotic-laced feed or crops dusted with nenicotinoids (NNI) which harm bees. Ireland was one of four countries who abstained from voting to ban them recently.

It's fair to say I became very disillusioned with our food safety "gestapo" a good many years ago.  Food safety to them was ticking boxes and filling in paperwork.  The paperwork and box ticking are almost always made up.  In fact I remember checking fridge temperatures to see why a product kept going off. The bakery worker in question had been diligently filling in the temperature charts. It was only when I looked back, I realised he was filling in football formations, 4 4 2 etc. It was a complete work of fiction.

And this minor example is far from being the only fictional paperwork I observed. I was once asked to forge metal detecting records in one job by the owner of the company.  Needless to say I told him he could do that himself. I could go on with more examples but it might not be such a good idea.

While it is necessary to make sure food is produced and served in a clean environment there is also a much bigger picture that these food police seem to be completely oblivious to.

After all food is dangerous.  It is now with them at the healm. 

Tags: Food Safety  EU Ban on Dipping Oils  Nenicotinoids 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Diet me Arse

As I write this post there is yet another "diet" being talked about on the radio.  This time it's the Alkaline Diet. To be honest I switched off as soon as the dietician started describing it.

I always remember when studying nutrition as part of my food science degree, a lecturer saying to us that when you go on a diet your metabolism actually slows down.  This is due to the sudden drop in calories.  Your brain sends warning signals to all the various organs and metabolic processes to slow down and conserve energy in order to hold on to reserves.  He described it a bit like when you are low in petrol in your car you slow down and coast downhill.

So I knew the latest fad fasting diet of cutting down severely on calories for two days was a non-runner from the off.  However, it has been proven that occasional fasting is good for you but it is only beneficial as part of an already low calorie diet and not a burst out of the blue.

I used to have a really fast metabolism and was always able to eat like a horse and still remain slim. But in the last few years this ability has deserted me.  Also I have a real sweet tooth which has got a lot sweeter in recent years and a love of baking. A fatal combination.

But four weeks ago I decided to do something about the excess winter layer that piled on.  I am lucky I have a good scientific knowledge of nutrition and I also do a lot of reading about latest thinking and advances on nutrition.

Two major changes have come about recently.  The first is to do with fat. Fat is no longer the enemy that it was made out to be.  Eating a normal amount of fat means you actually feel full and eat less.  It is also a source of vital fat soluble vitamins. Saturated fat such as butter and the fat found on most meat is beneficial.  Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated such as olive oils also contribute to a balanced diet.  The one fat to avoid and indeed eliminate completely from your diet is hydrogenated fat.  This is a chemical process whereby a cheap liquid oil is hardened by adding hydrogen to make it solid at room temperature.  It is found mainly in processed foods including biscuits, cakes and your sliced pan. 

The next big change is sugar and particularly refined white sugar.  Avoid at all costs.  I have changed almost completely to unrefined muscovado cane sugar.

A few years ago I dallied with Weightwatchers but when I heard the crazy, inaccurate nutritional information they were dishing out I left in disgust. They were recommending all their own products packed with hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  They also recommended using a chemical spray to fry with rather than a teaspoon of olive oil or even butter. 

They advocated severely restricting nuts, avocados and bananas all terrific sources of vitamins and minerals.  And they banned wine apart from of course their own Weightwatchers brand.  Enough said.

To date and four weeks down I have lost 5.5kg or 12lbs.  I have eaten three meals a day and if hungry in between meals have eaten handfulls of nuts and a banana with a glass of water.  When you eat nuts, drink a glass of water, you feel full for ages after.

For breakfast I have a bowl of porridge with muscovado sugar and full fat milk. As well as a freshly squeezed orange and tea. I used to only buy low fat milk now I use full fat.

For lunch two eggs either boiled or poached with sourdough toast or salad which includes either cous cous or another carbohydrate.

For dinner no change from normal apart from slightly smaller portions and plenty of vegetables.  I haven't changed the way I cook, as in I still use oil to fry with.

If hungry before bed I eat more fruit and or nuts.

I have also made a discovery and I stress this may only apply to me. Wine makes no difference.  As in I have still managed to lose all this weight by allowing myself wine at the weekend.  I actually think that if you drink too much alcohol, what causes the weight gain is the false appetite it causes or the "munchies". 

So forget the ridiculous diets and eat sensibly. Do not cut out fat, but do cut out refined sugar and indeed refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta.

And for heaven's sake enjoy a glass of wine or two at the weekend.

Tags: Diets  Alkaline Diet  Fasting Diet Healthy Eating Irish diet  Weightwatchers  Wine diet

Friday, 3 May 2013

Tipperary North Riding

We all pondered the meaning of "North Riding" while driving into Nenagh on a lovely sunny Saturday morning. It is used in Yorkshire in England as well and we spent a good few minutes trying to guess the origin of it.  I only remembered to look it up now and apparently it is found in a lot of Commonwealth countries.  It originates from an old Norse word meaning "thirdings" as in a third of the county divided for administrative purposes. Thirdings eventually became corrupted to riding in everyday usage.

We were in Tipperary for my father's eightieth birthday.  It is a beautiful county with fertile land.  It is also remarkable for not being as spoiled as other counties in Ireland by ribbon development and horrendous bungalows littering the landscape.  

We stopped off in Oldfarm en route for a quick visit and a cup of real tea.  Dad got to see all the pigs and being a real animal lover thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a shame we couldn't stay a bit longer as you always get a great hospitality from Margaret and Alfie.

Lots of curious bonbhs at Oldfarm
We were staying in Cloughjordan House, a lovely old country house surrounded by high walls and big trees.  We got a great welcome here and all twelve of us felt right at home in that important "kick your shoes off way".  The only word to describe the food was superb.  All locally sourced and prepared simply to let the raw ingredients shine.  To my mind the only way to present food.

Cloughjordan House 
The breakfasts were sublime. Homemade granola, fruit compotes, porridge, the most delicious breads and freshly laid eggs from the hens with superb bacon, sausage and pudding.  Oh and the mushrooms - what was done to the mushrooms was almost sinful! We probably drove them mad asking for pot after pot of real tea having indulged in lots of red wine the previous evening at dinner, but they humoured us.

The dinner the previous evening was excellent as well. The food was again superb. I was especially impressed with the selection of freshly baked bread. We had planned to head up to the pub after but we ended up relaxing in the sitting room in front of a big fire.

Our personalised menu
We eventually moved on on Saturday morning into Nenagh for lunch.  Yes, after that breakfast we planned to go to Country Choice for lunch.  It was packed and I soon realised why.  The smell in the deli area was like stepping into the best deli in Italy.  Except they stock mostly Irish charcuterie and cheese.  It is a paradise for food lovers.  Lunch was really good with a huge selection of platters of pâté, cheeses, charcuterie, sandwiches and soup as well as many hot dish selections.  The service was really great as well.

We pottered off around Nenagh which is a very fine town.  It was a lovely day and it was a shame that the castle was not yet open for a wander around.  Apparently they are doing some work on it.

My charcuterie board at Country Choice

Nenagh Castle
That evening we had booked dinner in Brocka on the Water. Set just up from the shores of Lough Derg in a cosy wooden chalet type building with big leather couches and an open fire to peruse the handwritten menu (which was impossible to read.)  Choices made, we repaired to the dining room admiring Prince the peacock peering haughtily in the window at us.  The table was beautifully prepared and they had made a big effort to make the evening special.

Colourful table display at Brocka
While I was underwhelmed with the food there is no doubting the ingredients are local, fresh and well prepared.  However, the presentation is amateurish, the cost anything but!  Why do restaurants outside Dublin persist in charging Celtic Tiger prices?

Birr Castle courtyard cafe
On Sunday on our way home we stopped for a coffee and a sandwich in the cafe in Birr Castle.  I have to say that Birr is easily one of the most beautiful towns in Ireland with some superb, unspoilt Georgian architecture.  The cafe is excellent sourcing all it's ingredients locally (listed out on a blackboard.)  However, I think they may have been training the mostly young staff and it was a comedy of errors with the manager running around like a flapping chicken and complete and utter chaos mixing up orders.  There were seven of them running around and into eachother, making for car crash viewing.

All in all it was a great weekend and special thanks to Sarah, Peter, Holly, Julie and Sam for being such lovely hosts and making us feel so welcome. 

Tags: Tipperary  Tipperary North Riding  Weekend breaks Irish food Georgian architecture  Country Choice Nenagh  Cloughjordan House  Birr Castle