Sunday, 18 October 2015

Pumpkin Lunch at Virginia Park Lodge

Facing Lough Ramor 
Virginia Park Lodge originally the shooting, hunting, fishing lodge of the Marquis of Headfort and in previous incarnations an hotel, a cookery school and now owned by well known chef Richard Corrigan.

The Border Bites crew booked in advance to have lunch here at the start of the Pumpkin Festival which is held every year in Virginia, Co. Cavan. After several weeks of an Indian Summer the autumn colour in the estate is spectacular and the renovations superb. The last time I was here years ago was when it was The Park Hotel. A faded, slightly shabby grand old lady with stiff linen and hotel food typical of that era in Ireland.

Impressive pumpkin table display in the entrance hall

Huge fire place in the entrance hall
The lawn sloping down to the lake
The lunch was held in a very luxurious and attractive marquee that fits well into the site, situated beside the lodge and looking out over Lough Ramor.

The marquee

Lovely bright airy marquee with views over lake

Pumpkin themed table centre piece
But to the food. We had a chesnut and ricotta raviolo with a pumpkin soup to start. Up to this I have never been a huge fan of chesnut but I really loved this. A big bowl of autumn.

Raviolo and pumpkin soup

Pork two ways, pumpkin, celeriac
Red and green cabbage
I have serious misgivings about eating pork. In fact I make a point of avoiding it if I can, but it did say free range even if free range is a very loose term. I wasn't overly enamoured with the belly, it was a bit rubbery but the slow cooked shoulder was melt in the mouth and had a very good flavour, The red cabbage was the star though. It had been smoked and braised in red wine. We were all convinced we could taste apple but when we asked they said no. A big bowl of creamy butter mash had everyone groaning with pleasure. All the vegetables tasted home grown and freshly pulled from the gardens here on the estate.

Steamed pumpkin pudding with rum caramel ice cream
A steamed pudding to finish. Sometimes the simple done well is sublime. This was. Light, fluffy sponge that was moist and speckled with pumpkin. I could have licked the plate.

Petit fours with a pumpkin filling
It is some achievement to base a meal around one ingredient and not have diners groaning enough but the chef managed it. The quality of the ingredients shine, the cooking is simple but skillful.

I had been looking forward to trying out the food here. I left impressed. We so badly need more of this in rural areas of Ireland instead of same old, same old menus appealing to the masses.

Monday, 5 October 2015

World Animal Week

This week from the 4th to the 10th of October is World Animal Week. Last week I shared several posts from an animal sanctuary based in Kildare who were trying to rescue battery hens who were about to be destroyed. Battery hens are only productive from an economic point of view for a year or so. After this they begin to lay less frequently and so are destroyed. This means that every battery farm and this includes "free range" as in open the side of a shed of thousands of chickens who may or may not go out - are destroyed after a year of life.

A healthy hen is one who has a full body of shiny and fluffy feathers and an erect bright red comb. The comb is the on top of their head. These hens had bare bodies and floppy pale combs. How such unhealthy looking animals can lay healthy eggs is beyond me. How anyone would want to eat eggs from birds like these mystifies me. And yes I know they are cheap and so many are on a budget..... yada, yada, yada, yawn!

Photo from LittleHill Animal Sanctuary

As with everything in life, it's a question of priorities.

Then we come to the next animal reared in similar circumstances. The pig. Almost daily, pig transport lorries drive past my house and the stench lingers for ages afterwards. The pig is an incredibly clean animal. In a field it has a toilet area, a wallow area, a feeding area and each and every pig keeps a large circular area in front of their house undamaged. They don't root here, they don't use it as a toilet, they don't lie in it. I am convinced they do this in order to keep an area clean and dry as contrary to popular opinion they hate having wet dirty feet. I have seen piglets walk along under an electric fence rather than through a mucky patch.

Intensively reared pigs are forced to live in circumstances they would never live in by choice. So if these pigs are smeared in their own excrement in a transport lorry how can meat from these animals be healthy? The meat is infused with bacteria that you really do not want or need to eat. But you are advised to cook it well. Like all protein, overcooking makes it tough, dry and indigestible.

Treating meat animals badly is one thing. But even if you don't care about their welfare, surely you care about your own?

Most people if they thought about where the meat and the eggs they casually throw into their shopping trolley would be appalled. The vast majority probably consider themselves animal lovers and have pets at home. So why have double standards?

What you can do.

Ask in your local supermarket how free range that chicken is (free range by definition and by law is a very loose term open to exploitation). The more people who ask, the more the retailer will think. Customers have massive power. If only they realised it.

Ask why supermarkets don't sell free range pork and bacon. Ask this in your butchers as well. And if they try to pass off flabby, pale pork chops as free range tell them you know that genuinely free range pork is not pale in colour.

Ask in restaurants. After all they will be able to tell you what field your lump of steak came from.

Ask in cafes.

For this week alone just ask.