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