Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Raw Honey

I've been itching to have an oul rant now for ages but have been biting my keyboard.

It seems most food blogs concentrate on recipes and reviews. Now I have no problem with blogging a recipe mainly for my own benefit, as when something works out really well, I either can't remember where I found the recipe or what little tweaks I gave it.

But I leave the reviews to the experts who have a lot more patience than I do when confronted with a fabulous plate of food. It would be impossible for me not to dig in immediately. I really wouldn't have the patience to set up a photo shoot.

But to the rant.

I read a tweet the other night about the benefits of "raw" honey. Now in my innocence I did not realise what they meant by raw honey. I knew the stuff in the supermarket, the Boyne Valley stuff was blended from lots of different honeys from more than one country and probably heated/pasteurised. When we were kids my mother always told us it wasn't as good for you. Her father had kept bees and they grew up eating their own honey. Then when we went to Wexford every summer we used buy honey from a house on the way to our mobile home. The old man sold it in sections and I really loved digging out the honey with the wax and slathering it on homemade soda bread rolls baked in a wonky old oven.

My mother had an inkling about all it's now recognised benefits. To us it was just honey. Real honey not the Boyne Valley honey.

So now the benefits of real honey (I can't use the term raw) are being written about in the media and even SuperVet aka Noel Fitzpatrick over on the Channel 4 programme uses it in post-operative wound management.

Following this tweet the next day I took a picture of real honey and posted it on Twitter. It was honey produced by my brother in law from his garden in Blackrock. Almost immediately I got a reply from a honey "producer" (**Irish Bee Sensations) asking was this honey raw. Cue bafflement. I replied I was fairly sure it was although I did think it was a bizarre question. In their reply they had asked how it was extracted. I replied I was pretty sure "in his kitchen". Then the clanger, do you not realise honey sold must be extracted in a honey house. (It does not).

I replied "Oh my God", thinking the food "safety" police had got their sticky fingers on honey extraction and production to make it "safe".

I am just so weary of all the food safety rules and regulations that have very little to do with making food "safer" and a lot more to do with keeping bureaucrats in jobs as well as kowtowing to the EU.

If you are really really worried about the miniscule risk of getting botulism or food poisoning from honey read the link above which explains how these pathogens and/or spores may be present. Then work out the risk or the possibility. I would imagine you would be more likely to be hit by a jumbo jet falling from the sky. Of course there is a risk to the immuno-compromised and possibly small babies but you know if you stick a small human in a sterile bubble they will never develop an immune system. In fact this has been pretty much proven with the increase in asthma and eczema and the obsession with sterilising everything a baby comes in contact with.

Instead concentrate on the benefits amongst which are; eliminates allergies, anti-inflammatory, strengthens the immune system, anti bacterial, anti fungal, improves digestion, calming, pain relief.

And if you want any more proof apart from that seen on SuperVet. A friend's newly born colt foal who contracted rotavirus and was very very sick was cured using a combination of natural yoghurt and honey.

I have yet to meet a bee keeper who has not been passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about bees and bee keeping and I would very much doubt they would extract under unhygienic conditions but even if they do, honey is not a great environment for bugs to live in.

On balance I will stick with real honey extracted by small, truly artisan producers and avoid the mass produced and heavily regulated. 

**Irish Bee Sensations have since disappeared off the market and are suspected of repackaging honey from German supermarkets. The owners are wanted for fraud.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Lime Marmalade

I found loads of yellowing but perfectly sound limes in my pig veg the other day. I Googled a recipe and found this.

I had 1.8kg of limes with a few lemons thrown in. I added the bicarb and then decided to use a kilo of SureSet sugar. I didn't want it very sweet so only added another 400g of granulated sugar (1.4kg of sugar to 1.8kg of fruit).

When I say it is delicious I am not exaggerating. It is sublime. It retains that lovely fresh zingy lime flavour with just the right amount of sweetness to counter balance the acidity. If it hasn't set sufficiently after a couple of days, reboil rapidly for a few minutes. I had to do this and it set perfectly.

Lime Marmalade and Poppy Seed Cake

200g butter softened
175g sugar
2 large eggs (I used duck if using hen use 3 medium)
250g plain flour sieved
1 level teaspoon baking powder sieved
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 tablespoons lime marmalade

For the icing
125g icing sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 180 fan. Cream butter and sugar and add eggs one at a time. Add a tablespoon of flour if it curdles. Sieve in flour and baking powder. Add poppy seeds and marmalade. Pour into a lined or greased loaf time (1lb tin). Bake for 40 minutes and if beginning to brown too much turn down to 160 and bake until a skewer comes out clean (approx another 20 -25 minutes).

Allow to cool completely and drizzle icing over.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Rye and Birdseed Bread

Cynthia over at *Solitary Cook first posted this recipe calling it Gold Nugget bread. I tasted it when I was down in *Oldfarm and was really impressed. It was nutty and delicious and so so light. Margaret uses Spelt flour. So of course I just had to have a go and waited (impatiently) for her to convert the American measurements. I just can't handle cups, sticks etc. I finally got the converted recipe and decided to have a go in the middle of watching the semi-final of the Six Nations. So basically in between terrorising the dogs screaming at Bod and the boys, I was running in and out trying to make the bread. Of course it was a bit of a flop (unlike the match thankfully.)

I tried it again a few times and to be honest I couldn't get it right at all. The spelt just didn't seem to rise well. Finally I decided to have one last go using wheat flour with added rye flour and a sourdough starter. And hey voila!

Rye and Birdseed Bread Recipe

150g of an active sourdough starter (my starter is quite liquid - 50:50 flour to water)
100g rye flour
150g water

Mix the above together and put in a bowl covered with cling film. Leave overnight or at least all day. If it looks like it's drying out pour a small amount of water over surface and swirl it to cover the surface. You need to prevent a crust forming.

Active sponge next morning

Next day when it's all bubbly and foaming pour it into your mixing bowl. This is your sponge. Add

300g strong bread flour
10g salt
2 tablespoons of milled linseed also called flaxseed
2 tablespoons millet
2 tablespoons brown linseed/flaxseed

100ml water (put in a jug and add slowly)

Add all the dry ingredients above to your sponge. Turn on your mixer and set to lowest speed. Begin to mix and slowly add about half the water. Leave to mix for 15 minutes. Then turn off mixer and leave dough to stand for another 15-20 minutes.  Start mixer again and add the remainder of the water slowly. Turn the mixer on to a medium speed for 10 minutes. If it is jumping about stand beside it and hold it. Do not worry about the dough being wet. Sourdough needs a wet dough. Add more water if necessary.

Test dough by pulling a piece out and stretch it. It should pull thin and not tear. If it tears continue to mix on a low speed for another 5 minutes and a high speed for 2 minutes.

Remove and transfer to a bowl sprinkled with flour in base. Rub surface of the dough with some sunflower oil and cover with cling film. Leave for 5-6 hours or in winter I leave over night to prove. The longer it proves the more the natural yeasts and the lactic acid begins to break down the wheat proteins to make the bread more digestible and to give the lovely sour flavours.

 Dough left to prove
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and gently gather it and fold it into the shape you want to bake it in. Place it on a baking sheet or a tin and rub water over the surface to prevent a crust forming. Sprinkle with some flax and millet and leave to prove for another 3-4 hours.

After 3 hours

Turned out after 5 hours for reshaping
Second proving

I have a steam function in my oven. I put it in the oven with steam at 40C for 15 minutes then turn the oven up to 220C with steam for about 25 minutes, turn the steam off and lower the oven to 200C for another 15-20 minutes or until the base sounds hollow when tapped gently. Sometimes I remove the bread from the tin and turn it upside down directly onto oven shelf for the last few minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

The rye gives this bread a dense texture but this works really well with the sour, nutty and earthy flavours. If you prefer a lighter bread replace the rye with all wheat flour.

*Check out both Cynthia and Margaret's blogs by clicking on the links above. They are fabulous.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Drawing with Light

A pastoral scene under a lime tree

Some valuable lessons learned yesterday. Every day is a school day, right?

1. The word photograph means drawing with light.
2. Clean your lens.
3 Forget all the bells and whistles on your camera, learn to compose your shot.

I went to a photography workshop with Suzanna Crampton on her idyllic farm in Bennetsbridge Co. Kilkenny. 

In my dark and distant past I did photography in university as an elective subject. I had used an old Canon camera for years and had a "fairly" good understanding of f stops, shutter speeds and iso. But my new "bells and whistles" digital camera was a whole new ball game.

I was grappling with a pile more settings and getting really bogged down. Not seeing the wood for the trees so to speak. Suzanna took everything back to basics. She showed us photos taken with disposable cameras that looked as if they had been taken by a top notch camera. I happened to mention that my iPhone used to take fabulous photos but the quality had really gone down lately. Straight away she asked if I had cleaned the lens. Talk about a "DOH!" moment. It was manky.

Then she told us put our cameras on "programme". This means it does all the thinking for you and you just shoot.

Here are the results.


Pepper posed for me

Acer palmatum dissectum atropurpureum (couldn't resist)

Getting arty

All the triangles


I got it

You're not herself

She's after us - we're for it now

These are a few of the hundreds of photos I took. Many were rubbish but some were not. I had a really enjoyable day because despite the heavy rain overnight it turned out lovely in the afternoon. Of course it helps to have had the following props: fabulous gardens, plants and garden ornaments, dogs, horses, doves, Zwarbles sheep. Oh and a great teacher!

I also bought some black wool to knit (well attempt to knit) a long cardigan.

I'll be back.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Porter Cake

When I was a child one of my friends was not allowed to read Enid Blyton. I was an avid reader and I used to lend the books to her surreptitiously. She then read them by torchlight in bed underneath her covers. To this day I never knew why she wasn't allowed read them. But then she and her siblings were only really allowed to play with us and not the other children living on the road.

Her mother was a big, very grand Donegal woman who could talk for Ireland, lowering her tone when a child was in earshot (usually a very nosy me). Her husband was (I think) a senior civil servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I know now she had very influential contacts and she used to entertain at length at home. She was a great cook and her dinner party preparations usually involved a lot of whispering and lowering of tone whilst talking to my mother.

She gave this recipe to my mother years ago and my mother had it stuck in her copy of Full and Plenty. I was always asking mum if I could have it. She eventually gave it to me the other day.

I made the first cake yesterday (pictured above) and now I have wrapped it up in baking parchment and tin foil and it is stored in a tin for a month to mature. For this reason I can't show a picture of it cut.

I followed the first recipe almost exactly until I got to the dried fruit but I had different fruit and no candied peel. I also used 330ml of Guinness Foreign Extra. Well actually I didn't even pour it all over the cake, thinking it would make a very soggy cake, so I poured some into me instead.

Lady Iveagh's Porter Cake Recipe
225g softened butter
225g muscovado sugar
4 eggs
500g mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, cranberries, raisins, dates and prunes)
100g walnuts
300g flour
330ml bottle of Guinness
1 teaspoon of mixed spice

Cream the butter and sugar well. Add in one egg at a time and a tablespoon of sieved flour to prevent curdling. Stir in the dried fruit, walnuts, spice and 4 tablespoons of the Guinness. Sieve the flour and add it in bit by bit (I use Spelt so you may need more or less). Transfer into a suitable tin lined or greased. I baked it at 130C for 2 hours. Check a skewer comes out clean to make sure it is baked in centre. Allow to cool. And here is the bit that confused me. It says in recipe to pour the remainder of the Guinness over the base of the cooled cake (after skewering a few holes in it). I was sure that this would make a very soggy cake and most of it was running through cake onto my counter top. I decided to pour it in several stages in small amounts and drank the rest. I left it out overnight and next morning it didn't seem remotely soggy.

I looked up a few recipes for Porter cake and none of them say to do this so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

I couldn't even wait a month. I can confirm it's sublime with the taste of Guinness not obliterated by heat but instead infusing the fruit with the most unbelievable tang. This is the way to make a porter cake!

I intend making the Lady Killanin recipe next. But I need a couple of months to mature this one and eat it (being on a diet like).

Friday, 2 May 2014

Off the Pig's Back

Warm potato salad with a yoghurt mustard dressing
I hesitated writing this post. Why? Because the following dishes were cooked using ingredients that were dumped. I get black sacks of old fruit and vegetables for my pigs from a small green grocer in my local town. It's a pretty good green grocer in that you can get virtually anything you could want (in season and completely out of season). In this respect it often has a better selection than the local supermarkets. For this reason it does really well.

A lot of the stuff is pretty shook but quite edible for pigs. And other times I fish stuff out and really wonder why? I have microscopically examined stuff and for the life of me couldn't find a thing wrong with it. In fact I would have been happy to pay full price for it.

There is so much about food waste in the media that I wonder how someone running any business can be so casual about what is in effect throwing away money. I have never gone by use by/sell by dates in my life. I use my nose, my eyes and my cop on to decide if something is safe to eat. I came from a family that never wasted food. Not because of financial constraints, but because we were educated to believe it was wrong to waste. Even when I had more money than sense, I never would have dreamed of throwing away a chicken carcass. In fact my (ex) husband used to joke I put stuff in the fridge and let it grow whiskers. Then and only then I dumped it.

The dish pictured above is made from a bag of salad potatoes and bunches of scallions that I found in the black sack. I made a dressing using Greek yoghurt, grainy Dijon mustard and some lime juice (from a lime also dumped.) The salad potatoes had a few eyes which was maybe why they had been dumped and the scallions a few yellowing outer leaves.

cock-a-leekie soup
This cock-a-leekie soup was made using potatoes and leeks that were dumped.

I had boned out a chicken carcass as I was using breasts in one dish and the legs and wings in a stew with haricot beans. I browned off the carcass and then made stock with it. When it had cooled I flaked off the remaining chicken and added it to the soup.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana
The aubergines in this dish were also dumped. It was really, really delicious. In fact so good that the chef who normally doesn't like "tomatoey" stuff told me he really enjoyed it.

The recipe is in the previous post here.

I make this sweet spicy pepper relish at least once every two weeks with peppers that are in the black sacks. Very often I use packets of chillies that are also dumped to add to it. When I get a large quantity of chillies I make Jerk seasoning, recipe here.

Fennel and Mushroom Ragout
This fennel and mushroom pasta dish was made using three massive and completely perfect fennel bulbs. I usually only buy fennel in summer from the farmers' market I go to. But when I discovered them in the black bag I couldn't bear to dump them in my compost heap. And the pigs won't touch them. Recipe here

I have made orange curd in the past and used it in a luscious chocolate cake but since I am off sugar at the moment I just put them in the compost as the pigs don't eat any citrus fruits. Check it out here. In fact it is on the list of my most popular posts on the blog.

The reason I hesitated about his post is that so many people are so squeamish about food. I know many who would be absolutely horrified I used ingredients that were dumped to cook with, a lot of this is due sadly to food safety concerns and indeed food safety bodies, but I think if you look at the pictures you will agree that the food looks delicious. And you will have to take my word for it that it was and we have not been sick or poisoned.

It's food for thought. What do you think you would do?