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