Monday 19 November 2012

Leaving Sri Lanka.....

We're now on our way to Colombo Airport. It's difficult to tear oneself away from the Dutch House, it's such a tranquil place, just four beautiful bedrooms, a gracious drawing room and a veranda around three sides of a square.

Our afternoon tea expedition yesterday was great success, we took a tuc tuc and were met by Gabriele Francis, another ex-pat using her initiative to earn a few bob from the tourists. We walked along a tiny path through the rice paddies to a 'paddi island' across a little bridge. Lots of palm trees, hibiscus, frangipan, bougainvilla, jasmine and lush foliage, and suddenly there was a little kind of summerhouse in the middle with a beautifully laid table, pretty china cups and saucers, freshly cut cucumber and egg sandwiches, lavender biscuits, shortbread still warm from the oven,a gorgeous crumbly carrot cake, a boiled fruit and nut cake and a chocolate cake to die for!

Afterwards we piled into a bullock cart all decorated with bunting, and trundled along the road and up the hill to the local Buddhist Temple to watch the sunset and give thanks, there were about a million steps up to the top, a welcome opportunity to burn off some calories- we had to taste everything!

The whole experience was lovely.

Later we had dinner with Geoffrey at his newest acquisition - Mamas in Galle Fort, work to be done there, he's waiting to take it over so it can have a good shake up!

Today we just relaxed at the Dutch House, we took a tuc tuc out to the beach Cafe at Wajiya Beach for a fishy lunch and then I came back into Galle to go to the Green Market and potter around the little shops, I bought beautiful sweet cinnamon, the only spice indigenous to Sri Lanka and lots of funny tin cooking utensils that I certainly don't need, lovely Henri will post them home for me.

Our flight to Bangkok leaves at 1.30 am and arrives in at 6.30 so we should arrive just in time for breakfast, were staying at the Mandarin Oriental where I stayed years ago on an earlier trip to Asia.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Jetlagged in Sri Lanka.....

We arrived in Colombo shortly after 4am on Monday and eventually got on our way to Galle after we'd arranged visas which we now know could have been done on line. Beautiful drive, through the waking city at first but then along bumpy country roads and eventually on a slick new motorway which chops an hour off the original journey to Galle.

Lush foliage, bananas trees, mangoes, guavas and seemingly over grown tea plantations in full bloom on either side of the road rising out of the mist and then a most beautiful rosy dawn. When we arrived at the Dutch House, owner Geoffrey Dobbs came to welcome us back and we sat down to breakfast on the veranda as though we had never left. The table was strewn with jasmine flowers and we ordered our favourite things, a plate of beautiful ripe fruit, freshly made curd (yoghurt) and treacle, (jaggery) toast and lime marmalade, pineapple juice, Ceylon tea, everything freshly cut and freshly squeezed.

There was a kingfisher on one of the branches, a cute little monkey swinging in the trees and a mongoose ambling in and out under the shrubs, the temperature is about 28 C.....nice!

Then I had a little swim in the pool and a snooze in the hammock. Bliss!

We had a delicious dinner in the restaurant at the Sun House just across the road and an early night. Today was also nice and relaxed, we went down to the Fort to have a little bite of lunch in the new Heritage Cafe everyone is talking about but it was pretty grim.

Afterwards Henri,(short for Henrietta), the larger than life manager, talked me into having a pedicure and having my nails painted, it took forever (wish I'd taken a book), now I'm all poshed up and could be mistaken for a ex- pat of which there are a million here all finding ingenious ways to earn a few bob including the latter.

This evening we took a tuc tuc to Wijawa beach and watched the sunset from the veranda of the Cafe, a gorgeous sandy beach with great waves, and stick fishermen fishing precariously around the Frog Rock.
Pizzas from a wood burning oven, crab curry and lobster and chips all fresh and delicious and very cheap.

Must go to bed soon, I've got an early start tomorrow morning, I'm going cycling at 8.30 am.
Stick fishermen fishing precariously around Frog Rock at sunset.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Forgotten cuts of Beef.

Frank Murphy is a fifth generation traditional butcher from Midleton and now his son Brian who swore he'd never be seen in a butchers apron has joined him in the family business. The skills have been passed down from generation to generation.His grandfather just passed away last week at the age of 94.

Last year Ella McSweeney interviewed them for both her TV and radio programmes so they have become a cause célèbre in their local area and beyond.

Frank and Brian were guest speakers at our September East Cork Slow Food event on Forgotten Cuts of Beef.

The skill of butchery is not just about cutting up meat, it starts in the field, with the ability to be able to judge by the appearance of an animal when it is in prime condition, then there's the skill of humane slaughtering in a calm and gentle environment. Next comes the dressing of the carcass and the hanging, Frank explained that it's different depending on the age and breed of an animal. Finally, there's the actual butchery, here the skill lies in being able to utilize every scrap from the nose to the tail.

Problem is nowadays many people's cooking skills are limited to frying or roasting , anyone can slap a steak on the pan but it takes more' know how' not to speak of time and patience to transform some of the less well known muscular and sometimes sinewy cuts in to a melting tender stew or braise.

But it's so worth while taking the time to learn, not only are these cuts dramatically less expensive (€3.55 for shin of beefy the bone as opposed to upwards of €35.00 for fillet steak) but they also taste much more flavourful.

Years ago there were seven abbatoirs in Midleton, now Frank Murphy's is the only one which means that all the other butchers have to pick up the phone and order directly from the meat factory or wholesaler and take their word about the quality which may or may not be brilliant and will almost certainly be wet aged (vacpack) as opposed to dry aged.

Frank and Brian showed us the following cuts;
  • Beef cheek,
  • Ox Tongue,
  • Prime rib of beef,
  • Chump steak,
  • Onglet and Hanger steak,
  • Beef liver, kidney, and suet,
  • Brisket and corned beef,
  • Beef skirt, diaphragm,
  • Shin of beef,
  • Oxtail.
They also brought out a breast of lamb,some sweetbreads and a lambs kidney but we concentrated on beef and how to cook it for this evening.

Each of the 50 plus participants got a pack of recipes and a ton of tips. The response was overwhelmingly positive and many bought some of the less familiar cuts to experiment at home.

Traditional family butchers could be a dying breed unless we realise their crucial importance in the food chain.

For me they represent real traceability, they buy many of their animals directly from local farmers so they know how the animals are reared, the breed, the feed.... In Frank's case the relationship with local farmers goes back for several generations, they are our genuine link with safe food but unless we appreciate and support this dwindling sector we will loose them and be left with no choice as in many other countries who are now desperately trying to reestablish their small butcher shops.

There are many examples in the US and UK, Ginger Pig in London, Marlow and Daughter, and Meat Hook in Brooklyn.

Proceeds from the event went to support the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project where we teach children from local schools how to cook and grow.

Saturday 1 September 2012

I ate a tarantula!

Feb12.2012 Phonm Penh,Cambodia.

Ahhhhhhh I've just eaten a big hairy black tarantula, in fact I ate two and Timmy ate one - all in the way of research! We're in Phnom Penh now, a crazy city, less tame than Siem Reap, they don't get quite as many tourists here but there's still tons to see and new tastes to experience. Traditionally the Cambodians ate lots of insects, particularly because they were a inexpensive source of protein. Ours were fried crispy and beautifully presented with chilli, cucumber frills and a little dish of pepper and lime juice, they were actually delicious once I concentrated on the flavour rather than the scary appearance!

We had terrific morning, after an early breakfast,around 7ish, (one has to start early here, it gets blisteringly hot around noon) we went to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda -impressive but nothing like as spectacular as the Royal Palace in Bangkok which was one of the most extraordinarily splendid and opulent collection of buildings I've ever seen.

The National Museum next door is quite small but has among other treasures a fine collection of Buddhas, many of which were rescued from Angkor when the civil war erupted.

After all that culture, we hopped into a moto as tuc tucs are called here and headed for the Central Market, this is where one gets a real understanding of how the people really live and eat beautiful fresh produce, a fantastic variety of fresh, dried and salted fish, shellfish, snails, snakes, frogs, even tortoises.

In the meat area, women butchers sell pork and chicken and a lot of the fish while men do the macho job of selling beef. The whole experience is not for the fainthearted, ever possible scrap of freshly killed meat and guts are sold and cooked in one way or another. The blood is coagulated to make a blood pudding, I didn't get the name, it's a tonal language that's really difficult to absorb even phonetically.

Tim was snapping away, some great photos including one of a chap shaving a pigs head to posh up his stall.

Beside every market there is an eating area with lots of food stalls and food sellers wandering in and out of the Market with bowls of congee or noodle soup for the stall holders. It's all incredibly inexpensive, each stall has one speciality that their reputation depends on.

We tasted lots of tempting little dishes, I particularly remember a little kebab of chicken livers with a tiny puffed up plastic bag of dipping sauce, crispy deep-fried shrimps in batter (still in their shells). I can't wait to try that with Ballycotton shrimps when I go home, there was steamed sweetcorn..... But our favourite was whole cuttlefish and huge shrimps grilled over charcoal served with a little plate of crispy cucumber, a kind of squash and lots of fresh herbs including mint, and coriander again it was served with several dips, segments of lime and local Kapok pepper.

Cambodians are sweet smiling people, eager to help. They often wear funny little check cotton base-ball hats with long wide peaks and a scarf that can cover the back of the neck and mouth to give added protection against sun and pollution.

There are a million scooters and motor bikes in the cities and an increasing number of cars, Lexus seem to be the car of choice for the increasingly affluent middle class. Believe it or not there are lots of Hummers here too, purring along side by side with cyclos and tuc tucs

The latter are different here, you climb in from the side rather than the back in Bangkok,they have two rows of seats facing each other, some times the seats are covered in satin with little frills behind, so cute. They all try to overcharge of course but it's only an odd dollar here and there. Dollars are accepted everywhere side by side with the local currency.

In the evening, we went to one of the city landmarks, the FCC Club (Foreign Correspondents Club) to have a drink, it overlooks the Mekong River and is a terrific place to people watch and sip a gin and tonic (Tim) or a mojito (me). The walls are covered with poignant photos of Cambodians who lost limbs by stepping on hidden landmines, still a huge problem here despite the brilliant ongoing work of MAP.

We hadn't the faintest idea where to eat so I consulted the dreaded Tripadvisor and found a place called Friends, one of several training restaurants run by an NGO of the same name ,it was absolutely brilliant with a great little shop next door selling lots of cool stuff made from recycled materials... The food was cooked and served by the teachers and students all of whom were originally street kids.
On our way back to the hotel we passed a packed Paddy Rice's Irish pub, beside a coffin shop overlooking the Mekong river, Irish pubs seem to be like Coca Cola, doesn't matter where you go you'll always find one!

We were staying in the Intercontinental Hotel, but it was almost 30 mins outside the city and so ghastly that we actually moved out and booked into Raffles Hotel close to the centre.

One morning, we took a long-tail boat on the Mekong river, nothing particularly interesting on this trip, most of the little bamboo and galvanise Cambodian houses are gradually collapsing into the river or being bulldozed to make way for villas and mansions of the nouveau riche. Many of the people that live by the river seem to just throw all the plastic rubbish out through their back window down onto the river bank. There's a very serious erosion problem for variety of reasons, partly because so much of the forests have been cut down and partly because they are constantly dredging the Mekong to sell the sand to Thailand. Closer to the city there is a little community of floating houses and lots of fishing of course, the fishermen use empty yellow vegetable oil bottles as floats for their nets.

On another night we went to a noodle shop where an energetic chap hand make the noodles in front of us, a fascinating but by far the best part of the meal!

This is also getting too long, next stop Luang Prabang in Laos..... This is a brilliant way to learn my geography!


Friday 13 July 2012

New York, New York.......

My new book Irish traditional Cooking was launched in New York over St Patrick's Weekend, a busy few days, lots of interviews with food editors, radio and TV including an early morning appearance on CBS on St Patrick's Day.

In between I was batting for Ireland as ever and spreading the news at every possible opportunity about the artisan renaissance in food production, farm house cheeses and farmers and country markets. Many Irish products are now widely available in the US, including Kerrygold butter, Irish Cheddar cheese, Odlums flour, Barry's tea, Kilbeggan porridge.......

The prestigious Manhattan store Dean and Deluca has increased it's list of Irish products from two in 2011 to eleven in 2012, while I was there I was delighted to see that they were doing a brisk trade in Ballymaloe country relish , Dubliner cheese and Burren smoked salmon. Sarah Grubb was over to promote the launch of Cashel Blue Cheese in the US and Sean Hyde was charming everyone with her irresistible smile and a spoonful of country relish.

The head buyer from Dean and Deluca was high in her praise of Bord Bia and the Market place event they organised for food buyers last year which she insisted was the best she ever attended. However she was quite alarmed to learn that there was a possibility that Ireland was considering doing trials of genetically modified potatoes which if passed would mean the loss of Ireland's GM free status. The perception of Irish produce in the US as in many other countries is of wholesome, clean food they can trust. Why would we want to loose our precious clean green image on which so much depends when there are already several varieties of blight resistant potatoes that could be further developed instead. With GM, if something unexpected goes wrong and there are already numerous examples of unintended consequences with GM crops, it's not a question of product recall, once the 'genie is out of the bottle' there's no going back- you only loose your virginity once!

Well, a girl has to eat and in the midst of it all I fitted in as many delicious breakfast, lunch and dinners as I possibly could, all in the spirit of research. The cutest breakfast place was Buvette, Jody Williams gastroteque in the west village. Delicious orange juice, freshly squeezed there and then. Tiny homemade croissants and pain au chocolat still warm from the oven with a spoonful of clotted cream and strawberry jam, good strong freshly brewed coffee and poached eggs with kale, grilled bread and pecorino. American breakfasts really scare me but Clinton St bakery does a brilliant job with people queuing around the corner for their fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and crispy bacon.

Egg, out in Williamsburg also serves a super delicious breakfast, I particularly loved the biscuit (scone to us) with heritage ham, grits and tomato and chilli jam. A breakfast like that sets you up for the day but when I could manage it I had a bite of lunch as well.

Most memorable was lunch at The Green Table in the Chelsea Market with eight women artisan bakers. We'd just had a tour of Amy's bakery and tasted several of her breads including her famous fennel and sultana. They were up to their eyes making soda breads for St Patrick's Day, Amy's version was particularly rich and delicious with lots of raisins and caraway seeds.

Mary Clever's Green Table closely has been known for its home made pies and sourcing local for over 30 years and now serves 'crop to cup' coffee.

We enjoyed a variety of sharing plates (very NEW YORK right now!) including a selection of devilled eggs which are having their 15 mins of fame once again.

Chicken liver pate served with marmalade, caramelised onion brittle and grilled bread turned out to be very successful if bizarre sounding combination.

Virtually every bakery is expanding at present. Joseph Leonard is a neighbourhood place in the West village, once again the menu is very focused on local seasonal produce and heritage meats from traditional breeds, I had a delicious burger with house made (another magic word) with great fries and tomato and chilli jam.

Most memorable dinners were at Boulod Sud, Daniel Boulod's new venture on West 64th St, vibrant Mediterranean food.

Food trends may come and go but the enduring appeal of Italian is still undiminished. Meatballs are everywhere in New York and I particularly loved Cianos roasted veal meatballs with creamy polenta and truffle pecorino.

Two of the toughest reservations in Manhattan at present are Dutch and Redfarm, the latter doesn't actually take reservations and the night I was there.

There was a three hour wait for a table, fortunately I inveigled a stool at the bar after a mere 20 mins and the Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemon and yuzu granita were worth the wait alone. People were happy to virtually sit on each others knees to get a table.

Brooklyn is another whole super cool food scene, lots and lots of creative young people and exciting start ups. Apart from restaurants and cafes, there are a growing number of gardens on rooftops, backyard hens and bees and a lot of great graffiti!

It doesn't take long to get out from Manhattan and it's totally worth it plus there are some totally brilliant food businesses of which more anon.

Fluffy chicks.

We've have just hatched out a clutch of fluffy chicks in time for Easter. A few weeks ago,we put a batch of fertile eggs into the incubator, plugged it in and hoped for the best.

Twenty one days later we heard faint cheeping and eventually a few damp little chicks pecked their way out of the eggs. After several hours they fluff up and get perky enough to be moved out under the infra red lamp in the Palais des Poulets.

After a few weeks they'll grow pinfeathers and eventually proper plumage. Well have to wait to see which grow little tails, those will grow into fine cockerels and the others will mature into hens. We'll fatten up the cockrels for the pot and the hens will keep us supplied with beautiful eggs.

A few weeks ago I was in New York and guess what were the coolest new hobbies - keeping chickens in your backyard and bees on your roof. At several dinner parties the main topic of conversation was how to look after your fowl, what to feed them, their likes and dislikes, can you imagine! I suddenly found I was an 'expert' on the subject having had chickens since I was a child.

Public demand in many cities is such that the by-laws have changed to enable people to keep their own fowl, isn't that brilliant

It makes perfect sense, food scraps from the kitchen can be fed to the hens and they will come back as eggs a few days later, no waste, and you don't have to pay the council to take away the scraps, perfect recycling. There's hope for the future!

Collecting sea urchins on Inis Mean

I'm sure you could count the number of restaurants in Ireland easily on one hand that offer sea urchins on the menu - Ballymaloe features them occasionally when they come up from West Cork.

I adore sea urchins but rarely get the opportunity to feast on them so I was thrilled to bits to see them right on the top of the the dinner menu at Inis Mean suites on the Aran island with the proviso (order 24 hours ahead).

The restaurant with just five rooms owned by Ruari and Marie Therese de Blacam and is one of the hottest foodie addresses in Ireland right now. We love it for a ton of reasons not least that dinner starts with a little bowl of freshly picked periwinkles. How about that - not everyone's cup of tea but it gave me a oops in my tummie - what ever turns you on!

I'm an enthusiastic forager both on land and in the woods and on the sea shore but I've never known how to find sea urchins so I ordered them for the following night on the proviso that I could come with Ruari when he was collecting them. What an experience, we wound our way down to the seashore along the narrow botharins until we came to Tra Teacht. From there we scrambled over jagged boulders, limestone karst, round algae covered stones, slippery seaweed and fossils until we came to some rockpools exposed only during the spring tides a couple of times a year. Ruari waded in in his wellies and prized them out of their little nests with a chisel.

I kept thinking how the little sea urchins were quietly conjugating in their natural habitat one moment and seconds later they were my dinner!

So how do you go about eating a sea urchin? Well, pick it up, hold it firmly with the mouth upwards, tap around in a circle with the bowl of a teaspoon until you have cracked enough of the hard shell to lift out the ? and made a opening large enough to scoop out the contents. Inside there will be five pieces of orange coral and other gunge all of which is delicious. Some people like to squeeze in a couple of drops of lemon juice but I love the fresh briny tasting coral on it's own.

We sat on the seashore watching the pollock jumping, feasting on sea urchins and the Morrocan chickpea stew in the picnic which had been delivered to our bedroom earlier in cute littleThermos flasks with a spoon tucked inside the lid. (Just what I need for my travel survival kit).

Later we went fishing with Turlough, Ruari's Dad, we were totally hopeless but he caught 10 or 15 mackerel, four and five at a time, I also love fresh mackerel so Ruari prepared sashimi with a ginger and sesame marinade and some spring onions, it was brilliantly good , in fact it was one of the most memorable things I've eaten all year.

Everyone speaks Irish on Inis Mean, the least visited of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. It can be reached by plane or ferry and is truly a world apart with one of my favourite places to stay anywhere in the world.

The stone walls on Inis Mean are a homage to the local stone masons
The cliffs on Inis Mean
Ruari de Blacam prising sea urchins from the rocks

Sea urchins... before my picnic

Cranesbill, salad burnett, valerian...

Inis Mean - cattle grazing contentedly on beautiful pasture full of wild flowers
Ruari served us this mackerel sashimi with ginger and sesame dressing - it was simply sublime

Friday 29 June 2012

From Virgin to Veteran

Sam Stern's new cook book From Virgin to Veteran has just arrived on my desk, a slick hardback choc full of easy recipes to inspire confidence. Sam did the 12 week Certificate course in September 2008, this is his sixth cookbook in five years, he's just 20 - how about that!

I'm inordinately proud of 'my babies' now scattered all over the world achieving on all different levels. At this stage, 12 past students have published books, in some cases they have several to their name and an accompanying TV series.

Gillian Berwick (September 1985)
Rachael Allen (January 1990)
Clodagh McKenna (January 2000)
Catherine Fulvio (January 2000)
Thomasina Miers (January 2002)
Stevie Parle (January 2002)
James Ramsden (September 2004)
Tiffany Goodall (September 2004)
Lily Higgins (April 2007)
Sophie Morris (April 2008)

Other books are in the pipeline as we speak, I'll keep you posted.

Product DetailsProduct Details

Here's my cookbook!Product Details

Thursday 21 June 2012

A little background...

We live in the middle of a 100 acre organic farm close to the sea near Ballycotton in East Cork. It's a mixed farm with some cattle, a few heritage pigs, several flocks of hens and three Jersey cows which we milk every morning so we can have fresh unpasteurised milk for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and the students who come to the Ballymaloe Cookery School from all over the world. We also buy some organic milk for those who'd rather have it pasteurised.

We feel very strongly about the importance of raw milk from a clean well managed herd for our health so we sell a small quantity of milk and our natural yoghurt from our farm shop just outside the village of Shanagarry as well as freshly picked organic vegetables and herbs from the gardens and greenhouse. It's a fantastic time of the year on a farm and despite the extraordinary weather we have an abundance of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs - broad beans, tiny beets, ruby chard, spinach, radishes........

The first crop of carrots are almost finished and the peas came and went in almost ten days, we simply couldn't keep up with them. We ate them raw and cooked in every possible way, in risottos, salads, soups...... The grandchildren had wonderful time in the green houses picking them straight off the vines a joy to see.

Thursday 14 June 2012

A blog at last, well almost!

I've been wanting to write a blog for years but simply couldn't seem to get started, a bit ridiculous considering I write a weekly column in the Weekend section in the Examiner. But it's even more bizarre than that because I never learned to type, all my books were written in my scrawly longhand and then typed by my unfortunate secretaries, corrected, retyped and on and on and on......

Consequently, I had a major block about any kind of technology but as I travelled particularly in the US I felt increasingly embarrassed to have to admit that I was a technophobe.

The ultimate proposterous situation occurred when I was scheduled to appear on Martha Stewart Kitchen, live. Her research team sent a list of questions to Sharon at the Cookery School, she forwarded them to my hotel who delivered the email to my bedroom. When I arrived back I tried to telephone the TV station, I could only get an answering machine, by this stage Sharon in Ireland had gone home for the day so I was going to have to wait for her come in next morning to dictate my answers for her to send to Martha Stewart, problem was it would be too late, I'd already be in the studio. Even I could see that this situation was beyond ridiculous - this was the turning point!

On my return I asked for an iPad for my birthday and the rest is history. It's been and still is a slow and painful process. At first a short email would take me at least 20 mins to do and then I would somehow manage to loose it and be totally traumatised by the experience. I felt like throwing my hat at it several times but then a pal suggested I type everything in Notes initially so I couldn't lose it - another big break through . I'm still very slow and still reach for the pen more often than my iPad but I'm working on it and this, my very first post marks another milestone for me.