Saturday, 30 August 2014

Courgette Spaghetti

Courgette spaghetti

Really simple to make. Almost therapeutic. And you do not need a spiraliser unless you are really, really uptight about getting even strips.

Wash, dry, top and tail your courgette. Try get a straight one. A curly one makes life much more difficult. So we are talking supermarket perfection here.

Use a potato peeler and peel strips. Work until you hit seeds and turn the courgette over and work on the other side.

Using a cook's knife cut into strips as evenly as you can manage and to your preferred thickness.

Put a big knob of butter and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a pan with a small clove of garlic crushed and finely chopped. Heat gently. Add courgette and toss around for about 4 minutes. Add some freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sea salt.

You could also toss through some pesto.  Or a cherry tomato cream sauce.

Either way it's a revelation. I'm not sure why but it is amazing.

Another serving suggestion - chicken stuffed with pesto, goats cheese and wrapped in proscuitto with purple sprouting broccoli. Summer is almost over so make the most of summer veg before cold autumnal evenings draw in. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Blackberry Vinegar

To begin with it helps to save a few vinegar bottles. I find the SuperValu range very good as the shaker thingies come out easily for cleaning. Also the labels are easily removed. There is nothing more annoying than labels that you have to scrape and soak in hot water to get off glue.

I followed a River Cottage recipe (roughly) but halved the sugar.

250g blackberries
300ml red wine vinegar

Put the blackberries in a bowl and pour the vinegar over. Cover loosely and leave for 4 or 5 days.

Strain the vinegar mix through a double layer of muslin. Gather up the muslin and give it all a good squeeze until you extract every last bit of the liquid. Measure the liquid. Pour into a saucepan and for every 600ml add 200g sugar (the RC recipe adds 454g sugar). I got exactly 600ml out of the above quantities. Heat slowly stirring to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil. Cool and pour into the cleaned and sterilised bottles. Label and store for a few months.

I had a small quantity leftover and used it immediately in a salad dressing (1 part to 3 parts extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and seasoning) and it was delicious but it will mature and the flavour will improve.

I also made one batch with half and half blackberries and blackcurrants and followed the method above. If you like you could add a bit of extra sugar to the blackberry and blackcurrant vinegar.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Squid Ink Pasta with Seafood and Samphire

Lidl are apparently selling squid ink pasta at the moment. I had also got some fresh seafood bought for me in a fabulous fish shop in Navan by the chef. Sometimes he does nice stuff for me. So what to do only throw it all together. Apart from being disorganised and using every pan in my kitchen, it was made in minutes and was really fabulous.

1 packet 250g of squid ink pasta (here it fed two of us)
2 slices of thick cut smokey bacon
1 clove of garlic
1 red chilli not deseeded but just finely sliced
fresh prawns (I used about 5-6 per person)
fresh squid (same)
Samphire (handful)
fresh herbs, I used parsley and thyme
Salt, pepper
Oil for frying
some retained pasta water
splash of white wine

Put the pasta into a pan of boiling salted water and cook for four minutes, after two minutes add the samphire. Drain but reserve a few tablespoons of the water.

Fry the bacon until crispy. Cool, remove and cut into pieces. Add the garlic, chilli to the pan and deglaze the pan with some white wine. Add the herbs. Remove from heat and set aside.  In another pan add some oil which can take high temperatures (rape, sunflower or lard). When pan is smoking add the squid and toss about quickly (do not overcook or it will turn rubbery). Add a ladle of the pasta water. Transfer the squid into the pan with the garlic, herbs etc. Repeat with the prawns until they turn pink. Remove and add to squid mix. Add the bacon. Heat the whole mix up quickly and add the pasta. Add more of the retained pasta water if it appears dry. Toss it around to reheat it. Serve immediately.

Serve with a chilled crisp white such as Sauvignon Blanc.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Mullagh Fair Day

PHOTOS - Mullagh Fair Day slideshow

A sense of colour, carnival and crowd hits you when you crest the hill that rises above the town. Followed closely by the smells of food and farmyard intermingling.  It's that time of year again, when Mullagh showcases it's magnificent self.

Mullagh is a small town in the south-east corner of Co. Cavan on the border with Co. Meath.  Mullagh (An Mullach in Gaelic means The Mound).

The fair day is held annually on the second Sunday in September.  It is an attempt to recreate the traditional fair day that was held here from 1828. In 1837, Mullagh had a market and fair for the sale of cattle and pigs, oats, butter and flax several times a year. By 1870 the fair was held on the last Friday of every month.  The traditional fair was one of the best and biggest in the north east, its proximity to the Virginia Road railway station ensured that cattle purchased in Mullagh could easily be transported to ports in Dublin and Drogheda.

The Mullagh Development Committee re-established the Fair Day in 1997 to ensure that the present population kept in touch with their rich historical past.  And to date they have done a fantastic job, organising it and working to ensure it is a hugely enjoyable day out for families.  Even in rural Ireland there is a sense of remove from our agricultural tradition and many children from the neighbouring towns rarely get so up-close-and-personal with farm yard animals.

The fairground attractions are a huge draw, in an age when childhood is dominated by iPads, wiis and game consoles.  To see a small child laugh with delight as they waltz in a giant Alice in Wonderland teacup reminds you that sometimes; the simple, old fashioned things are still the best.

Food plays a huge part of every festival now in Ireland and Mullagh Fair is no different.  A pig is roasted on a spit and the smell of it draws you in while at the other end of the town a sign advertises kangaroo, crocodile and wild boar burgers.   There are stalls selling cakes, buns and soda bread, and the now ubiquitous cupcakes, chocolate, cheese and vegetables.  Others are selling boxty potato cakes cooked over a turf fire.  

Traditional crafts are represented and this year, there were forging, knitting and basket weaving demonstrations.  An old style gypsy wagon was on display complete with fortune teller installed.  Accompanying all this activity were a group of traditional musicians.

Remembering the past whilst embracing the future makes the annual fair day in Mullagh such an enjoyable event.  And surprisingly almost every year the weather obliges and the rain stays away.  After all it would not be Ireland if there was not at least a nod to the weather.

Special thanks to Liam Daly and Tommy O'Reilly of the Fair Day Committee who gave me the historical information and photo.  All other photos not acknowledged are my own.

PHOTOS - Mullagh Fair Day slideshow 

Visit Maggie's personal blog here or follow her on Twitter .

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Taste of Cavan - The Future is The Past

For me it began in the Olde Post Inn with a World War One commemorative seven course tasting menu.  Edwardian dress was optional but many took part and dressed for the occasion, not least the two men in army uniform standing at the door with sack sandbags and old weaponry.

It turned out to be a great night. The food was fabulous and the company even better.

Gearoid Lynch Chef Proprietor of the Olde Post Inn

The World War 1 themed menu

It was a race against time to try to photograph the courses as the light was fading rapidly. The only photo that turned out reasonably well was the venison pithiver. This did not in any way reflect on the chef, Gearoid Lynch but more on the photographer who might have been possibly hindered by a very good red.

The actual Taste kicked off at the Cavan Institute on Friday 8th August at 1pm. I drove down in torrential rain and was really glad I had seen that most of the exhibitors were under canvas or to be honest I would have turned back.

I need not have worried as the sun came out shortly after I arrived and it was absolutely roasting in the tent.

First off was a demo by Neven Maguire introduced by Mairead Lavery of the Farmers Journal. It was really entertaining as in front of a live audience he is relaxed and witty. He made a "pizza" which looked and smelled stunning but I'm not sure any Neapolitanos would recognise.

Neven is a big fan of local and seasonal and a great promoter of Irish produce. He used Thornhill duck, Donegal rapeseed oil, fabulous local fruit and herbs and flowers grown in his own restaurant garden.

Then it was out for a potter around all the exhibitors. What struck me is how much food has changed from when I moved to this area 22 years ago. Back then backwards was putting it politely. Now there is a thriving artisan community. Many exhibitors were local in that they were from northern counties, Cavan, Meath, Monaghan, Donegal and just over the border in northern Ireland.

Blast and Wild flavoured butters produced in Slane Co. Meath. A blast of flavour by the wild proprietor as he explained to me. I have to say they looked really good and he has some very interesting flavour combinations.

I've been tasting a "few" craft beers here lately as the chef is very into them. So I am beginning to know what I like. Brehon Brewery is up the road from me here in Carrickmacross Co. Monaghan. I particularly liked their Blonde. Clean flavour and really refreshing. I did ask if you have a skin full will you get a hangover. The brewer laughed.

This is Kenneth Hall of Farmers to Market. Possibly the best free range chicken readily available now. They also have very sexy packaging. Personally I would prefer if chicken along the lines of Poulet Bresse was available here but I doubt many consumers would be ready to pay the premium just yet.

Around these parts and probably most parts Silke Cropp's fabulous raw milk cheeses need no introduction. Her range is amazing. Her son Felix recently started making a cheddar and it is sublime. But the star has to be her Cavanbert - a Camembert style cheese which could rival the top Camembert and is incredible baked with rosemary and garlic.

This really interesting and colourful display was from The Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers based in Birr, Co. Offally. I tasted their nettle and rose hip syrups. They all have different health benefits. It's interesting how so many old remedies are being re worked into more palatable forms.

For me the star of the show was actually an exhibitor from northern Ireland, Tully Farm. His Dexter and Irish Moyle beef looked fabulous. The meat marbled with a creamy fat. He explained that he only feeds grass. The native breeds such as these do much better if they are not fed on concentrates or cereals. He is waiting his organic certification. I tried rib eye from both breeds.

Dexter rib eye

I cooked the Irish Moyle rib eye when I got home and it was sublime. Moist, tender and full of flavour. The fat was sweet like fat from my own pigs. You just know it's good for you.

Rare Irish Moyle rib eye
It also went particularly well with the Breton Blonde.

It just makes sense to me that native Irish cattle breeds eating a natural diet (grass not cereal) is going to taste better than anything from a genetically engineered Belgian breed stuffed to its heels with grain.

I really believe the future of food in this country is the past. Our great native beef breeds, beers and ciders produced from old methods with no chemicals. cheese from our great milk, raw, rich and creamy, old natural remedies made into palatable syrups and chickens allowed to free range and grow slowly to develop depth of flavour.

Taste of Cavan is a fantastic event. It is has grown in size every year. Every exhibitor I spoke to was passionate and enthusiastic about their product. It's well run. It's well laid out. There were lots of other side shows to keep everyone amused and interested, including some World War 1 displays. There were fast food stalls and coffee booths and picnic tables but you could also just stuff your face with tastes.

If you missed it this year, mark it into your diary for next.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Eat This Not That

Image from

A discussion on processed diet food recently where a manufacturer stated that theirs contain no additives, got me thinking. 

The definition of an additive is: something added to food to preserve it or enhance it's flavour or appearance. This could be for example, salt (a preservative or a flavour enhancer) and classed as a "natural" additive. In fact if you want to be pedantic about it, anything you add to a food is an additive.

So saying a food particularly a processed food, is additive free, is complete and utter nonsense.

Read an ingredient list for a simple dish which is processed. If they contain guar gum (a thickener), maltodextrin (a highly refined sweetener usually derived from corn starch and incidentally, increasingly attributed to the rise in obesity), acidifier (gives a sour taste and acts as an antioxidant to stop fats going rancid) or colourings; I am at a loss how they can claim they are additive free. But they do.

I'm not saying any of the above additives are bad for you per se. However, they should not form more than a small part of any balanced diet.With diet meals the likelihood is you will give up with boredom long before they do you any harm.

Why ready meal manufacturers have to add all this stuff is quite simply to give shelf life and freeze-thaw stability (for frozen products). At home if you freeze a meal and it goes a bit liquidy when you defrost it, you don't get distressed but manufacturers do because customers will complain. Often times additives act as flavour enhancers purely because low grade ingredients are used.

I have yet to come across a processed food proclaiming that it is "all natural" or "additive free" to actually be. If something is all natural it needs minimal processing to begin with anyway. If you use high quality ingredients you don't need to enhance flavour. Milk, yoghurt and most cheese would undergo minimal processing which only really involves pasteurisation and the addition of salt and/or sugar. Processors often reduce fat or add vitamins (when you reduce fat you remove a lot of the fat soluble vitamins) but the original product is still pretty much intact.

The thing to bear in mind for a processed €3 ready meal is, that even giving benefits of scale you are not getting high quality ingredients. But what you are getting is fleeced. Calculate the price per kilo and wait for your eyes to water.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Expert? Advice.

Every day of the week I read expert advice. And usually that expert advice has changed from the last time I read it. You know the drill. Fat is bad/ fat is not bad - sugar is bad. In a few years sugar will not be bad (you read it here first). Running is good. Well running a certain amount is good. Running too much is bad. Cholesterol is bad. Well good cholesterol is good, bad cholesterol is bad. Dietary cholesterol is good/bad. To be honest I've lost track now.

My head does be in a spin.

Latest article I read is organic veg is better than conventional. I could have sworn I read a few weeks ago that the top boffins concluded there was no difference in nutritional value.

Can you believe anything they tell you? I'm beginning to think not. Actually I'm kind of glad I have never done what I was told.

I think the answer is to trust your own innate instinct. I trust mine. If I die in the next few years of a heart attack/stroke/cancer, then maybe you can say I should have listened.

I have never believed butter was worse than margarine.

I have never believed any rubbish about cholesterol from the time I read (years ago) that if you eat a low cholesterol diet your body makes it.

I learned the hard way that too much running was bad when I wasn't able to get out of the bath in my thirties, my knees were so f*cked.

I know it makes sense that vegetables and fruit that have not been doused in pesticides are better for you than those that are not. I don't need any boffin or any of their studies to prove otherwise.

I know that if something smells okay and looks okay despite a use by/sell by, it is.

I know that pink meat won't kill you if you are used to eating it that way (and this includes children).

The human race survived long before boffins had their heads stuck down microscopes so long they couldn't see the bigger picture. 

The question has to be - who do we believe?