Monday, 29 December 2014

That Damn Turkey

Turkey curry with kale

The moaning about turkey precedes the turkey (in this house anyway). Serious foodies in general love to turn their noses up. It's trendy to cook goose, duck, beef Wellington. Anything but turkey. It used to be anything but Chardonnay.

I must admit I succumbed to (the moaning) last year. I went off and bought a piece of organic roast beef that was as tasteless and joyless as quark. I bought a piece of housekeepers cut recently in Aldi for €6 (6 times cheaper than the organic lump). It beat the organic lump under the table and over again. I learned.

This year I bought a small turkey. I saw where it was reared. I saw what it was fed. I was happy about 90% of it's feed, just not the GM stuff. It's not easy to find a bird that had the freedom to gallop about a field and fed the way I would (makes mental note to rear my own next year).

So apart from the stress of cooking the damn thing for Christmas day or Christmas eve (as I do), when you don't taste it until the next day. I have to say I made a turkey curry to die for and cold turkey sandwiches that were almost better than (well you know).

I have a litre of really reduced stock in the fridge and the dogs got the meat off the bones.

Turkey, ham and stuffing with homemade garlic mayo on sourdough

 I have to admit. I'm a turkey.

But you probably knew that.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Just Dad

This photo taken on Christmas Day. Red on red. He had fallen asleep holding a cup of tea and it had spilled all down his front. When I arrived at the nursing home the carers were taking him down to his room to change him. They all had Santa hats on and were laughing and joking. They talked to him but he couldn't understand them. I can see how even now he reads their body language. He's a bit deaf and they speak English with heavily accented Asian, Philipino and Eastern European accents. All the Irish staff were obviously off.

When I walk in the spark of recognition is there. The usual question "how did you know I was here?"

This was our first Christmas he wasn't "with us."In truth he hasn't been with us for a long time now (thanks to dementia/Alzheimer's) but at least we knew he was at home.

They put on some Christmas carols and the residents dozed off after their Christmas dinners.

He had no idea it was Christmas.

Every time I drive away I wonder will it be the last time.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tiramisu - Pick me Up

Tiramisu or Pick me Up (translated) is an Italian dessert. More often than not, in Italy, it doesn't contain any alcohol. Personally, I think it's the kick that makes it. I've tried all sorts of alcohol but have decided that Martinique rum is the business in it.

I loosely follow a Nigella recipe but as I hate wastage, I always use both egg whites. My daughter makes it every Christmas as she doesn't like plum pudding.

Tiramisu recipe

2 x 250g packs of Marscapone
2 free range organic eggs
75g sugar
200g sponge fingers
4 tablespoons of Martinique rum
1 small cup of strong coffee (never instant, that's not coffee)

In a suitable bowl or dish, lay out the sponge fingers. Make the coffee and add the rum. Pour the mixture evenly over all the sponge fingers.

Separate the eggs. In one bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Gradually add in the Marscapone. In another bowl whisk the egg whites. When they are firm fold into the Marsapone mix using a metal spoon. Spread this over the sponge fingers and dust with cocoa powder through a sieve.

Leave to set for a couple of hours in fridge.

*Always use eggs you are confident in. You are eating them raw.
*Always use real coffee.

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Christmas Tale

It was a competition in the Irish Times. Send in a photo of your favourite Christmas bauble and tell the story behind it. It implied a much loved, battered old family heirloom. Something passed down through generations perhaps. I had been thinking about my tree decorations. A mixture of old and new. The old purchased when the kids were small and we lived in England. Mostly bought in Wilko. Mostly rubbish and now mostly gone. A few pieces left. Every year I take them out and think to myself they need to be dumped. But something stops me.

They were bought when we had no money. We didn't own a house. We lived off one salary and we had two small children. The star is a tinselly, garish gold with a bit of blue through it. It's lopsided when it's not at the top of the tree. The tradition was that my daughter put it on as she was the youngest. She was usually lifted up by her daddy to perform this ceremonial role.

This year my son was here and he laughed when he saw me decorating, reached into the box and triumphantly put the star on the tree saying, "I'm the youngest in the house now." Then he took out the little hand knitted Santa stocking he had made in playschool as a three year old in Lancaster and asked me to always keep it.

The memory of his time in playschool came flooding back. His first day when he cried and kicked and screamed. I was distraught. I ran back to the house and rang his dad in work and burst into tears. He told me not to be daft and go back and look in the window.  I walked back dreading what I might find, bracing myself to go in and rescue him. When I eventually managed to climb up to get a good view he was standing at the top of a slide posing like Batman.

Later when I collected him, he proudly presented me with a little orange Santa stocking that by now had a mushy, empty Smarty container in it. The evidence around his mouth.

This year, as every year I opened the old shoe box and lifted out the little stocking.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

All My Favourite Foods

Summer fruit pavlova
This is a post I've been planning on putting together for a while now but never got around to it, mainly because my photo filing is a disaster and trying to find a particular photo is impossible.

So finally here it is. My favourite food photos. And incidentally nothing was sent back by the non-paying customers.

Rick Stein's frutti di mare and linguine

Minestrone soup

Hake with fennel butter, green beans, fennel and fried potatoes

Squid ink pasta with squid, prawns and samphire

Blackcurrant buns


Pork loin with apricot stuffing

White chocolate and Coole Swan cheesecake

Lamb cutlets and kale

French apple tart

Slow cooked Zwartbles lamb with Catillac pear, apple and squash

Lentil dahl

Pear in red wine with star anise, thyme, chilli and honey

Slow cooked pork shoulder

Chocolate cake

Coq au vin, cheesy potatoes, baked spinach

Apple snow 

Beef Malay with pineapple salsa

Another cheesecake (I like cheesecake)

Disclaimer: I never do disclaimers but.

All these photos are my own. Most have not been watermarked within an inch of their lives so please do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Balsamic Pickled Onions

Have to confess I have never pickled onions before but when a Twitter pal, Sian offered to send me a recipe, I decided to have a go. She had got the recipe via Twitter as well but couldn't remember from whom.

I used a mixture of banana shallots, small round shallots and small red onions but pearl onions would be perfect as well. It's adds a bit of interest to have different shapes, sizes and colours particularly if you want to give a jar as a Christmas present.

The recipe was for a 1kg of onions so as I had just over 600g I reduced it proportionately.

600g onions
200g salt

Skin the onions and put in a bowl. Use table salt and pour it over the onions. Leave overnight. This removes moisture from the onions.

Next day rinse the onions and drain them.

To make the pickle
500ml Balsamic vinegar
180g sugar
1 red chilli chopped
1 teasp black peppercorns
1 teasp allspice berries
3 bay leaves

Mix the pickle ingredients and bring to the boil and reduce by approximately half.

Put the onions into clean, sterilised jars and pour the pickle over. Allow to cool. Put lids on and leave for a few weeks. If you make them now they should be ready to enjoy with a good Cheddar for Christmas.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

How Free Range is your Turkey?

Have you ever wondered why intensive free range turkeys all seem to congregate at the door of their huge sheds? I always have. I had assumed it was because they were institutionalised and didn't want to leave the heat of the shed. But today I was over visiting a small scale, genuine free range producer and he told me.

A turkey can only recognise a thousand other turkeys. (And we think they are stupid.......) In that thousand there is a strict pecking order. If the doors of the shed open, only those closest to the door will go out because if a poor chap from the back ventures forth, he risks being bullied and pecked by those into whose territory he has entered. So if you assume there are 7000 turkeys in a shed, yes seven thousand, you can presume only a percentage of those ever get to go out.

Having reared poultry here for years, but not turkeys, I have seen the bullying that goes on when a new bird is introduced. It can take one to three weeks for a new introduction to be accepted. Hens are particularly wicked. But I have observed similar bullying in horses as well.

Small numbers of genuine free range birds who have established a pecking order and all recognise each other will knock you down to get out. When they get out, they get to eat a more varied diet (usually), they get exercise and fresh air and their meat will have a lot more flavour. In addition, they have lived their life as nature intended and haven't spent their entire existance in a few square centimetres inhaling ammonia fumes from turkey wee.

With everything you buy "buyer beware" should apply. Ask where your Christmas/Thanksgiving turkey is from. Ask what it's fed. It is best to go and visit but there are occasions you have to put your trust in your butcher or producer. A genuine producer or butcher will have no problem letting you see where the birds are reared. And a genuine person won't sell you a pig in a poke.

If you care about animal welfare or if you care about what you eat, don't be fooled by a free range label. It's become as meaningless as artisan and all the other clichés bandied about willy nilly.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Feast Raising for Kilkenny Town of Food

Feast raising - the art of feasting for a good cause. I'm not sure who's genius idea this was, but it is genius.

I got a surprise invite to Kilkenny on the Sunday of the October Bank Holiday weekend for the night. Now, I don't need very much encouragement to come to Kilkenny. My family can trace it's roots before 1774, when my great (I've lost count of how many) grandfather was born here on the 1st of January.

The Night of a Thousand Feasts was an initiative to fund raise for Thomastown, a small town south of Kilkenny City to become the Town of Food. They have started to build an artisan food school and garden here with funding from the Leader Programme as well as from local business, but they need to raise the rest themselves. The idea was that ordinary people as well as businesses (restaurants, cafes and hotels) would throw open their door to feed friends and strangers with the hope that those feasting would contribute a discretionary amount to the fund. Over 2000 thousands feasts were registered from breakfasts to lunches to dinners. For social media purposes the hagtag #1000feasts was used.

It all coincided with the Saveur Kilkenny food festival which takes place on the same weekend so there were lots of food events, food stalls, food talks and banter organised. We met outside the magnificent Kilkenny Castle at noon on the Sunday, where the parade was packed with food stalls and vendors and the smell of barbequed meats wafted with glorious strong coffee from Badger and Dodo and crepes with chocolate sauce. 

We attended one of the banter sessions. A good way to draw breath before a wander around the food stalls and lunch. Lunch was organised in a converted Manchester City bus, The Bula Bus at the back of Billy Byrne's pub. For some reason Kavanagh's poem came into my mind as we walked here, "the bicycles go by in twos and threes - there's a dance in Billy Brennan's barn tonight," -

Photo courtesy of Dee Sewell
A lot of the menu is wild and foraged, cleverly itemised on the menu in red. I really enjoyed my choice of wild mushroom gnocchi. The side of spicy sweet potato fries with a dip were dive-into-delicious. I tasted the venison and damson stir fry noodles as well. This is great food for street food and they do sell at markets as well. 

Wild mushroom gnocchi

Venison and damson noodles
Another wander around the food stalls and a welcome dip into the beer tent for a glass of Metalman Smokescreen with beech smoked malt from Germany. Really liked it. I could quite happily have sat on a bar stool here and people watched but it was onto the Leader tent to talk to some recent start ups.

The start up I was most impressed with was The Inistioge Food Company with their range of beer marinates and spice rubs. I had to be dragged away. Fascinating story and really interesting man. I think he's onto something here. He is not interested in supplying supermarkets as every craft butcher he visits won't touch his product if he does.

We were supposed to stay in Abbey House guesthouse in Jerpoint but there was a problem so we ended up staying in Burley House in Thomastown. It worked out very well because we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast next day.

But the reason for the weekend was the feast. We had no idea until that afternoon where we were all to go. There were fourteen of us in total and we were all assigned different feasts. I'm probably biased but I reckon we pulled the winner. We were to feast in Helen Finnegan's house, owner of Knockdrinna Farmhouse Cheese.

Fifteen people sat around a long table in Helen's new visitor room. We started off with some of her cheese and a pâté Helen had made from smoked trout from Goatsbridge and a new product she has developed recently from cream cheese topped with pesto or a pepper relish. I could quite happily have ensconced myself in the corner and polished off the lot. 

She followed this with a dish made from her own whey-fed, free range pork that I can still taste, it was so delicious. This was served with basmati rice and roasted pumpkin. For dessert what was produced could only be described as breath taking. A tower of profiteroles made by one of her assistants (a qualified pastry chef) filled with coffee and Bailey's and a raspberry meringue roulade. 

The wine and the conversation flowed. A fantastic evening. 

A good night's sleep, a big Irish breakfast and we were off to Goatsbridge Trout Farm for a tour from the indefatigable force that is Mags Kirwan and her husband Ger. We sat and drank coffee waiting until we all arrived to get started. Ger then told us the history of the business and gave us a brief tour. 

Ger explaining the trout life cycle

The trout beds

Trout caviar
I tasted the caviar and was so impressed I bought a jar for Christmas. Go and visit the farm. When people are as enthusiastic and passionate as Mags and Ger are, you know their product is top class and it is. 

We then moved off to visit some craft people. This part of Kilkenny is a hive of activity and the talent is outstanding. We visited Karen Morgan's procelain first and then on to Jerpoint glass. I have been a fan of Jerpoint for years and have their wine goblets, frosted G&T glasses (well I use them for G&T) and their big glass bowls. But what I coveted most was this fabulous cheese board.

A cheeseboard with attitude
We then went back for a quick tour to Knockdrinna. At this stage we were really behind time, probably due to talking too much, but there you go. 

Helen showed us a quick video and explained how she got into the cheese business. She produces a sheep's milk cheese, a cow's milk - Lavistown and a soft goat's milk style brie. She bought the Lavistown brand and the cows producing the milk for it are organic. I bought some of her cheese in her really well stocked farm shop as well as some Sicilian Coppa and some Lavistown sausages. She gave us a sample of her cream cheese with pesto which is soon to be available in shops. Watch out for it. It's going to be big. 

We went to Cafe Sol for lunch. I was so impressed with this bistro. I had been in the flag ship restaurant in Kilkenny years ago and loved it. Suffice it to say I would have been happy with every plate of food that was put in front of our considerable party. This is the style of restaurant that is really lacking in north Meath/Cavan. 

Spicy prawn warm potato salad with bok choy, garlic and sweet chilli
I had the above dish. It was sublime. The vegetarian option of warm pecan, vegetable and hazelnut roast was so good we all wished we had ordered it. Not often that is said in too many restaurants I'd hazard a guess. 

Then the purpose of all our feasting was then to go and see the actual site in Thomastown which will be the school of food and community gardens. It was a boys' national school that had fallen into serious disrepair. Francis Nesbitt the coordinator of The Town of Food gave us a tour. They had already roughly laid out the gardens and the site for the poly tunnel. The school benefits from huge south facing windows so every room was flooded with natural light even on a murky afternoon. There will be a lecture room, a demonstration kitchen  and a teaching kitchen complete with ovens, work stations, fridges, freezers etc. canteen and chef changing areas. Outside the typical old school shelter has been earmarked as a water harvesting area. 

The school envisages being at the forefront of hands on chef training to supply the shortage being experienced currently. It will also be a community learning facility. It is a really, really fantastic idea and one that should be replicated in every county in the country. 

Before the light faded and to round up an absolutely fabulous weekend we called out to Maidenhall in Bennetsbridge to see Suzanna Crampton's Zwartbles flock and have a cup of tea. I had been here before to do a photography course with Suzanna. She is a brilliant photographer and teacher. We walked around the orchard and she gave us some Catillac pears and Newtown Wonder apples as well as some of her gigot chops and a recipe sheet to try her stew. 

I have her chops defrosting here to cook later and I will take a photo of the finished dish. The lamb is lean and tasty as the flock are raised on lush green Kilkenny grass and finished in her orchards. 

Zwartbles' lamb stew with gnocchi
Then the long drive home to think over a really lovely weekend. Special thanks to Dee Sewell and Susan Fitzgerald of Green and Vibrant Tours for inviting me and working so hard to make it so good. Also to Mags Kirwan who really is a woman to be reckoned with when she gets an idea into her head and everyone else who made our stay so enjoyable. I have always loved Kilkenny but I love it a little bit more because of the passionate, enthusiastic and friendly people I met.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake

Smoked porter chocolate cake 
Having someone in the family who is into craft beer can be a blessing sometimes. I was lying on the couch one evening when a glass of black stuff was passed over with the instruction to taste that. My initial reaction was euw...... But then I asked for another sip. Immediately chocolate cake came to mind. Not sure why, but I was determined to try it.

This recipe uses Beavertown Smog Rocket smoked porter. But any good porter will work as well.

Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake recipe

For the cake
200g butter
125g golden demerara sugar
2 large eggs
150g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g good quality chocolate (I used half and half 60 and 52% cocoa solids)
150ml porter
1 tbsp dark cocoa powder

For the topping
250g marscapone
100g white chocolate

Preheat oven to 180 deg. Grease and line a deep round cake tin.

Put porter and chocolate in a bowl over a bain marie to melt slowly. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, fold in flour, baking powder, cocoa powder. Finally fold in chocolate and porter mix. Whisk until smooth and well combined. Pour into tin and bake for 45 minutes (it cracks like chocolate brownies, don't leave it in for much longer as better slightly underdone than over). Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of porter over it while still in tin and before it cools fully.

Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack. Melt the white chocolate in a bain marie and whisk into the marscapone.

I deliberately reduced the amount of sugar in the cake as I wanted the taste of the porter and the chocolate to shine. The white chocolate in the marscapone balances it perfectly.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Autumnal Apple Cake

Apple pear and almond cake

Tis' the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Trust Keats to sum it up so succinctly. Lots of lovely home grown varieties of apples and pears abound. These red purple skinned apples are so pretty. They are called Spartan. The pears are Conference. I love getting varieties of fruit and vegetables different than the bog standard offerings in supermarkets. Give me a knarly, knobbly, nicely coloured apple with flavour anyday over those green watery tasteless excuses for apples.

Spartan apples and Conference pears

Apple Pear and Almond Cake Recipe
250g butter
250g sugar
4 eggs
150g self raising flour
75g ground almonds
30g flaked almonds
light brown demerara sugar to sprinkle
300g red apples and pears not peeled just cored and sliced

Preheat oven to 160C fan. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs with a tablespoon of sieved flour if curdling. Fold in sieved flour and finally ground almonds. Using a lined roasting tin, spoon out half the cake mixture. Scatter half the apples and pears. Dollop the rest of the cake mixture on top. Spread the rest of the apples and pears and push some down into the cake mixture. Sprinkle with light brown granulated sugar and the flaked almonds.

Bake for one hour. Allow to cool in tin. Remove and cut into chunks. Stores well due to the ground almonds in an air tight tin.

fresh out of oven

Serve as is or with warmed with whipped cream or custard. 


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Water Water Everywhere

There's been lots of talk lately about water, water charges and water meters. Understandably, there is also lots of confusion but one thing is sure, no one is going to pour water down the drain anymore.

I have a shallow bore well here, hand dug probably in the early 70's. If I open it I get vertigo. It's pretty amazing really that they dug to that depth by hand and lined it with stone.  However, in the last few dry summers we have had to be very careful with water usage. About three years ago it almost ran dry but we were able to run a series of hoses up through the field and fill it from a deep bore well down in the yard.

Shallow bore hand dug well (30 foot)
This year the well has dipped below the level of the foot valve and the pump has got airlocked several times. Yesterday was the latest. We have had so little rain all summer and even this past spring. This September has been the dryest on record. We tried the old hose trick but almost ran the deep bore well dry.

I have had to get very clever about water conservation as a result. We haven't used the dishwasher or washing machine now for about 6 weeks. Absolutely no water is wasted. Everything is recycled. 

After a while it becomes second nature. Here are some water saving tips.

1. Only flush the loo when absolutely necessary. Go by the old adage "if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."

2. Wash up dishes in a washing up bowl with minimal washing up liquid. I went out and bought a smaller bowl than the one I already had. If you don't foam up to the moon, you won't have to rinse so much and let's face it, no one wants to be eating washing up liquid.

3. After the washing up is done, use the water in the bowl to soak your dishcloth by adding some bleach or use it to water containers or house plants. If you haven't used lots of washing up liquid you won't kill the plants.

4. Spend minimal time in the shower. Wash and go.

5. Get out of the habit of running the tap. Ever. If you are waiting for it to get hot, fill a kettle with it or a bucket.

6. Hand wash "smalls" in a bucket by leaving to soak over night and giving them a quick rinse next day. Spin in your washing machine. This leaves a bit more space for a big wash. Obviously, if you have small children this may be difficult but for adults it's not.

7. Only put on the dishwasher and the washing machine when full. Use shorter "economy" cycles.

8. Install water butts in your garden. I use mine for drinking water for all the animals here and if there is any left for watering plants. Leave buckets at various intervals outside. You will be amazed how much water you will collect.

Clean water is a precious commodity. Clean water pumped into your house costs money. I have had to pay electricity and pump maintenance for years now. As a result I have clean, flouride free water which I value and appreciate.

People argue that they already pay taxes which should go towards this utility. Yes, they do. But I pay tax as well and I don't get water so why should my tax pay for those that do? By that argument I should get a tax rebate.

If you follow some or all of the tips above you will save money and stop pouring water or money down the drain. And you won't be contributing to massive salaries for the board of Irish Water.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Coole Swan

Cooleswan, white chocolate cheesecake on a dark chocolate base, blackberry coulis

I have a friend who has lately taken to emptying her drinks cabinet and giving me what she doesn't like. One evening she was coming over for dinner and arrived with a big bottle of Coole Swan liqueur. I poured some into a smaller bottle and gave the rest back to her.

I'm not a fan of Bailey's or sweet liqueurs but they can be great in recipes.  I Googled a few recipes and patched one together.

It can be "deconstructed" or served traditionally and the coulis changed to suit the fruit in season.  It's really, really easy to make and sets quickly.

Deconstructed white chocolate cheesecake with amaretti biscuits & blackberry coulis

The basic recipe is:

For the base
12 digestive biscuits crushed (200g approx)
100g melted butter
1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder if you want chocolate base

Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter, add the cocoa if required. Press into a 20cm tin with a removable base and chill. 

1 pack of marscapone (250g)
200 ml of whipped cream
200g melted white chocolate
4 tablespoons of Coole Swan

Whisk the marscapone, fold in the whipped cream, Stir in the melted chocolate. Spread evenly over base and chill.

For the coulis
200g seasonal fruit
75g sugar

Heat the fruit and sugar. Cool and push through a sieve to remove "bits".

Amaretti biscuits
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
1 egg white whisked
1 tbsp amaretto

Whisk the egg whites and fold in the almonds and sugar. Finally add the amaretto. Drop onto a lined tray and bake for 10-15 minutes at 180 deg.

Cooleswan white chocolate cheesecake with cherry compote

 Luscious, laden with calories but oh so good.

@foodborn #foodborn