Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Pork Loin with Fresh Apricot and Walnut Stuffing

Until I started rearing my own pigs I had only ever experienced dry and tough pork fillet no matter how I cooked it. Pork fillet from an outdoor reared pig is a different animal. It is tender, moist and so tasty.

I had found this one in the depths of my freezer unlabelled and slightly freezer burned. Initially I thought it was a tongue. I defrosted it and shaved off the "burnt" bits. I rooted in the cupboards and made this stuffing from what I had to hand. My measurements are not exact but this doesn't matter.

Stuffing Recipe
2 heels of a granary style loaf crumbed
1 onion softened in a big knob of butter
A handful of raisins
2 fresh apricots stoned and chopped
A good big handful of walnuts roughly chopped
a few fresh sage leaves chopped
salt and pepper

This quantity made enough for two fillets but it's really handy to have one frozen for when you don't have time to faff around making stuffing. I rolled half up in cling film and froze. Soften the onions in the butter, add all the other ingredients. Cool. Slit pork fillet and stuff. Line a roasting tin with tin foil. Lay slices of prosciutto on base. Place the fillet on the slices and wrap the prosciutto over. Secure with cocktail sticks. Wrap the foil over and pop in a preheated oven at 180 fan for 45 minutes. Open foil and brown for the last ten minutes. Check with a meat thermometer. If it has reached 70 deg in centre it is safe. I cook mine to 68 but I know the source and so feel safe with it being slightly pink.

Allow it to rest for about 15 minutes. Use the meat juices that run out to drizzle back over the joint. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Summer Fish Pie with a Potato Rosti Topping

You tend to think of fish pie as a winter warmer but I love it and wanted to make it more summery. I looked up a few recipes and patched this together from them all.

It is so good I think I will make it this way from now on. The rosti topping gives a lovely contrast in texture much better than the usual mash. By varying the vegetables included you can row with the seasons. For winter include a mirepoix.  It is also a great way to disguise vegetables for small people.

For the filling:
500g mixed fish (cod, natural smoked haddock, salmon etc.)
200g of prawns, mussels or squid (adds interesting texture but is optional. If using frozen defrost and dry or they will make sauce very sloppy)
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove crushed
1 stick of celery very finely chopped with a few celery leaves
half a fennel bulb finely sliced
A good handful of petit pois 

tablespoon rapeseed oil
2 tbsp flour
25g butter
200ml milk
Half a lemon juiced
1 tablespoon cream
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
sprig fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Pour a small amount of milk in the bottom of a saucepan and add your fish (not the shell fish). Just cover with more milk and put on hob on a low heat until the milk becomes too hot to hold your finger in. You just want to flavour the milk not cook the fish. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon. Pour off milk and reserve. Set fish aside.

Using this pan add butter and melt, add flour and make a roux. Gradually add the reserved milk to make a thick sauce. Add the mustard, lemon juice, cream, a pinch of salt and a good pinch of black pepper. If you need to add more milk do but try to keep the consistency thick as when you add fish back it will loosen it up. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile soften the vegetables in another pan in the rape seed oil. Cover and cook on a low heat for a few minutes. You need to cook them as they won't cook in the pie. Season.

Cool the vegetables and mix into the fish, add the shellfish and the sauce and mix gently. Pour into an ovenproof dish.

For the topping:
4-5 large potatoes (waxy or new)
25g butter
zest of a lemon
5 tsp of capers

Cook the potatoes in their skins in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove, cool and skin. Grate them coarsely. Melt the butter in a pan and add lemon zest and capers. Toss the butter mixture through the grated potatoes.

Pile it on top of the fish filling but don't pack it down.

Pop in a preheated oven at 180 deg for 45 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Serves six very generously with maybe a portion for the freezer. It freezes beautifully and can be made in advance for a dinner party. Just don't add potatoes until about to put in oven. 

It goes great with a chilled glass of Picpoul.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Sunday Cookoff

We have here in Ireland a pretty unique competition run via Twitter every Sunday. Entered by amateurs, judged by a busy professional for no prize or gain other than a nod and an acknowlegement from the said professional.  Mad eh?

Sunday Cookoff is where Twitter home cooks share a picture of their home cooked Sunday dinner, lunch or brunch. It's fun, it's interesting and it shows how people are cooking at home now in a modern Ireland. Actually I think I have seen entries from other countries as well. And then there were the entries from that Domestic Goddess. Yes, Nigella (she who is recognisable without even giving her her full name) entered her Sunday food, unstyled and photographed as presented to her family in her home.

The brainchild behind this competition is the inimitable Ciarán Behan @mrcbehan on Twitter. Some how he has managed to get a busy chef, Dean Coppard @UluruArmagh who runs a, by all accounts busy and successful restaurant kitchen called Uluru in Armagh, northern Ireland. Now from what I know of a busy service from first hand accounts from my chef son, I would imagine the last thing you would feel like doing after one is looking at a load of photographs from a load of amateurs of their Sunday cooking and judging them.

But every Sunday Dean does just that, sending out a tweet usually that he is just finishing off service and will start with the judging soon. He has been judging now for over two years and has followed stalwarts such as Conrad Gallagher, Gary O'Hanlon, Wade Murphy and Kate Lawlor.

I asked Ciarán Behan when it started. He replied when he came out of hospital in 2011. He got the brainwave and asked the first chef to judge. The competition will be three years old next month. For a competition that is purely organic and amateur with no physical prize or sponsorship this is surely some feat.

So check out the photos and the food. Photos are always accompanied with the hashtag #sundaycookoff. The standard of the cooking is variable as is the photography but what shines is the pride and the passion people have with what they have produced for their family to eat. And everything looks homemade in the way that is comforting when you are starving and wish you could just smell and taste it.

I find myself thinking on a Sunday will I take a photo and enter. Today I am and here is my entry. I find it makes me think about my presentation more than I would do usually and let's face it; we eat with our eyes too.

Hake with green beans and fennel. Fried leftover new potatoes and a fennel butter.

For pud, a white chocolate, Coole Swan Liqueur and raspberry cheesecake with a cherry compote topping.

So get cooking and take a snap and join in the fun.  Add the hashtag #Sundaycookoff and mention @UluruArmagh on Twitter. And cheers to Ciarán and Dean the unsung heroes. And of course Nigella for being such a great sport.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Lesser Spotted Supermarket Trolley Observer

Whenever I'm in a supermarket I look at what shoppers have in their trolley. I can't help myself. It fascinates me.

Today a woman in front has seven white sliced pans (yes I counted them), two tubs of some sort of margarine spread, a bag of sweaty carrots, a small bag of potatoes and various other items, oh and a jar of jam (could have been raspberry but could also have been strawberry).

On the way in, I watched as cars lined up to drive as close to the door as possible; despite there being no obvious spaces. Two or three cars had men sitting in them not actually in a parking space. Possibly waiting for wives, mothers and hoping a space might suddenly materialise. The cars still continued to line up trying to get closer. If they could actually drive into the shop and grab items and throw them onto the
passenger seats I think they would.

Years ago when I lived in England I used to look out the window of the train in the evenings. It was dark and people were just home from work with their lights on and I could see into their kitchens. I used wonder what sort of food they were cooking. Similarly, when I'm standing in a supermarket queue I wonder the same.

Would the sliced pan woman use all seven in a week or was she buying them to freeze. It's a lot of bread. I couldn't imagine eating that much bread. But maybe she has teenage sons sticking their heads into the fridge every time they pass it, making sandwiches for their friends while they watch tv.

I have often leaned over to ask someone about a product they are buying. Sometimes they look at me as if I'm a bit deranged but usually they are delighted to have a chat and tell me about the product. At Christmas, an elderly couple in front had venison steaks and quail. I couldn't resist asking them what they were like. They told me they were big game eaters and loved them but they usually bought all their meat in one of the butchers in town. I ran back and picked up the venison. I was delighted I had because it was delicious. I still have some in the freezer.

Another day I ended up discovering a really good Rioja reserva at a great price because I asked the man buying it was it nice. He turned out to be a mine of information and pointed out a few wines to me that were a great price and very drinkable.

Supermarket people watching is a great way to pass the time, if you are not in a rush. And even when I am in a rush I still end up studying what people are buying. But I often wonder why would someone get stuck in a traffic queue to get a parking space closer to the door? And who eats all the sliced pans..........

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Real Foodie - Real Money?

Can you be a real foodie and make real money?

This thought has crossed my mind several times recently. It usually occurs to me when I'm in a restaurant or cafe and think, I could make so much nicer at home. Now I'm no Cordon Bleu cook, but I love food and I buy and cook the best I can afford and sometimes what I can't afford!

When I lost my job, I had a lot more time to indulge my passion, but a lot less money. I began to realise that I was actually eating much better. Now I was time rich but cash poor. Before, I was coming home and just making what I could with what I had managed to buy, on a mad dash to the supermarket at lunchtime or on the way home. I always cooked but rarely bought anything more processed than a pizza on a Friday night when the kids were small.

But first I suppose you would have to define a "foodie". Apart from hating the word, is there a definitive definition? Wikipedia has this. At no point does it mention someone concerned with the origin and the production method of the food they are passionate about. To me - this is what a foodie is or should be. I'm not hugely concerned if it's not organic but I tend to prefer to buy it when I can. If a food is produced with minimal damage to the environment and with minimal cruelty to the animal concerned then I'm happy. 

During my research for this post and quite by coincidence an American friend posted this article on Facebook. I agree with most of it particularly that agriculture does not necessarily have to be organic. Before we started importing vast quantities of genetically modified grain to make cheap animal feed we had pretty much the best agriculture system in the world. At least for sheep and beef, pigs and chicken have always been less so.

I asked some people I know involved in food production (small passionate producers) can money be made without compromising your principles. I got some interesting replies.

A farmer I know producing top quality meat says restaurants have tried his meat, they love it, their customers love it but the price point is just too high. Restaurants, even high end ones have a budget to adhere to.

Another restaurant supplier told me that their customers will buy a top quality ingredient initially but then they squeeze the supplier, and buy trashy ingredients to supplement.

Another farmer told me you can make money if you have a "sh&t load" of land.

One restauranteur replied to my Twitter query that you can make money using good ingredients but not organic. 

The consensus from the smaller artisan producers was you can make a living (just about) but you can't make money.

I know when I worked in a high end bakery we used the best quality ingredients and the products were all hand made but we lost money hand over fist. It is very difficult to make money using butter, top quality chocolate, olive oil (not pomace), cream, real eggs (not liquid). Well you could if you charged a realistic price but how many restaurants and cafés would pay a realistic price?

How many times have I found what I think is a great product but then I look at the ingredient list. I gave up a long time ago buying "artisan" pesto. They skimp on the olive oil to begin with and if they use it at all you can be guaranteed it is pomace. There are so few ingredients in pesto but the quality of the oil is of paramount importance. I'm not that bothered. I just make my own. In fact I do this with so many different foods now. I never buy mayonnaise. Even if you could buy it made with raw organic eggs you would probably have to sign the official secrets act or whatever the equivalent is.

Money is almost always the bottom line no matter how passionate the producer or the consumer is. The producer has to justify the expense of using a top quality ingredient and will they get a return. The consumer depending on budget and passion has a price point too. Very often it is cheaper for me to make my own using top quality ingredients. But you do need the time.

I am obviously not talking about large food companies here. The likes of Glenisk and successful artisan cheese producers, particularly the ones using raw organic milk. For some reason the latter seem to be immune from this "price point". I love buying products like theirs. I love to glory in the fact that they are making what I would make myself at home. I can taste their passion.

In an ideal world we could all eat, buy, make real food without financial hardship. And we would need less of the meaningless adjectives - natural, handmade, hand tied, artisan, country fresh, gourmet etc. to describe it. And maybe we would have less obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease, cancer.

So can a real foodie make money?

Some can. Most make a living and many more make money where the foodie bit is a bit fuzzy.