Thursday 10 July 2014

Sweeter than Sugar

They say that a little of what you fancy does you good. But unfortunately all evidence points to the fact that sugar is damaging our health in a myriad of ways we are only beginning to understand. 
Make no mistake about it, sugar is addictive and is set to be the ‘New Tobacco’ as it becomes abundantly clear that it’s an ingredient we absolutely don't need: empty calories that pile on the pounds without nourishing us in any way. 
Type 2 diabetes and obesity are increasing dramatically around the world but excess sugar is also linked to cancer, heart disease, mood disorders and of course tooth decay. 

International doctors, scientists and obesity experts are joining forces to put pressure on governments to force food and drink manufacturers to cut hidden sugar in processed foods. According to the head of the Action on Sugar group, Professor Graham MacGregor - who also spearheaded the hugely successful campaign on salt reduction: 
“Provided the sugar reductions are done slowly, people won't notice.”

They have calculated that reducing sugar in processed foods by between 20 and 30% over the next 3 to 5 years could remove 100 calories a day from diets, enough to reverse the obesity epidemic.

But this doesn't mean it'll be easy, says Yoni Freedhoff from the University of Ottowa, Canada, another advisor to the group:  
 "Not only has added sugar found its way into virtually everything we eat, but worse still, the use of sugar as a means to pacify, entertain and reward children has become normalised to the point that questioning our current sugary status quo often inspires anger and outrage."

Deep down, we’ve all known this was coming.

People are aware that fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biccies are loaded with sugar, but they are often amazed to discover that sugar can also be in many types of bread, soups, sauces…

So what to do?

Over the years we’ve noticed many items getting progressively sweeter. In fact, I’m convinced that sugar itself has become more intensely sweet, since we are now using imported sugar now that our domestic sugar beet industry is gone. Can this be my imagination? I’m awaiting the results of a scientific analysis. In the meantime we have been systematically reducing sugar in many of our recipes often without a murmur of complaint.

Sugar is unquestionably addictive, so cutting sugar out of our diet altogether is a ‘big ask.’ It can certainly be done but one may have to endure a couple of weeks of ‘cold turkey’ then apparently the craving dissipates. However with a certain resolve it should be possible to cut out sweet fizzy drinks, sugar in tea and coffee, sweetened yoghurt and soups. There are still some supermarkets that have aisles of tempting sweets and bars as one queues for the till, perhaps it’s time for Mammies of the world to unite and demand support to help solve this global problem of obesity.

So what are the alternatives? 
  • Bananas are naturally sweet and can enable you to reduce or eliminate sugar in banana bread, muffins or buns. 
  • Think about eliminating breakfast cereals from your shopping list and replace with porridge, a brilliant food which also includes fibre.
  • Honey can be substituted for sugar or add a sprinkling of plump raisins or sultanas. 
  • Several of my grandchildren love peanut butter on their porridge, sounds very odd but it’s been their winter breakfast of choice for many years and keeps them sated until lunch time.
  • Completely eliminate sugar sweetened drinks. Substitute real apple juice with sparkling water or just water.  
  • Dried fruit and nuts or blueberries are good for snacks - but why are we snacking all the time? 
  • A bar of dark chocolate has less sugar but at least has the benefit of antioxidants.
Learn more...

At the Ballymaloe Cookery School we are doing our bit to address the issue and in June we held our first Sugar Free and Fabulous course, for those looking to cut back, or even cut out sugar from their lives. It was well attended and so we look forward to running another in 2015 to share natural ways to enjoy 
sweetness without the use of artificial sugar substitutes.

Sunday 6 July 2014

What's Cooking in Dublin?

Every now and then the Ballymaloe Cookery School team of teachers go on a research trip to see what is happening on the culinary food scene. The Dublin restaurant and café scene is really humming once again , and so we did an intensive trip to the metropolis and tasted some very exciting food in a variety of restaurants and cafés. 
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We began our trip to The Fumbally in Fumbally Lane run by Aisling Rogerson and Luca D’Alfonso and their vibrant young team. The food is simple, delicious, uncomplicated but put together in a chic and edgy way. Specials are written on the blackboard above the till. The fresh produce for the kitchen is piled against the wall in wooden crates like a glorious still-life in this airy contemporary space with a cool, retro, comfy, shabby chic feel yet elegant feel.

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We really loved the brunch dishes – The Fumbally take on the Dr Seuss' famous green eggs and ham: toasted brioche with avocado and scrambled eggs and chorizo. The pulled porchetta with slow roasted shoulder of pork, caper mayo and spiced apple sauce was another great combo. 

The GreenHouse on Dawson Street served a totally different style of food.  Mickael Viljanen who hales from Finland is one of the most talented young chefs cooking in Ireland at the moment. He and his team cooked us a delicious three course lunch with lots of excitement on each beautifully crafted plate – a carpaccio of scallop, shoulder of suckling pig and apricot tart with elderflower ice cream.

We popped our heads into Murphy's Ice Cream from Dingle, then wandered through the aisles of tempting fresh produce in Fallon and Byrne. We found lots of new ingredients – fresh pineberries (like underripe strawberries), teff flour which I’d been looking out for to make an Ethopian flat bread and red rice from the Camargue. 

We also dashed past The Pepper Pot in the Powerscourt Centre where Marian Kilcoyne's (a past student) Café Restaurant was throbbing with lots of unbearably tempting treats. 

Ananda is the flagship restaurant of Asheesh Dewan’s Indian restaurant empire under the stewardship of Sunil Ghai and his team of Indian chefs certainly live up to its reputation. The Ballymaloe Cookery School tutors were totally wowed by his tasting menu which started with pan poori and ended with gulab jamun: pistachio icecream and caramel mousse. 

Image from brother hubbard
We got another warm welcome from Garett Fitzgerald and James Boland at brother hubbard in Capel Street. This café cum deli has built up a fantastic reputation in the less than two years since they opened. The menu is packed with unbearably tempting choices, gorgeous sandwiches, salads, brunch dishes piled high on good bread from Tartine Bakery, which is virtually the only item that is not made from scratch in house. Garett Fitzgerald and Danielle Beattie (who does all the baking) are both past students of the Ballymaloe Cookery School. I loved the cannellini beans with tomato sauce and slow roasted pulled pork with a fried egg and a sprinkling of sumac on top, but there were appreciative sounds coming from all directions of the table as we tasted our way through the menu.

At Palais des Thés in Wicklow Street Niall did a tutored tasting with us. We tasted a beautiful selection of exquisite teas including Thé du Hammam, Japanese Green Tea, Sencha Ariake.

A light lunch at Cornucopia the long established vegetarian restaurant in Wicklow Street was another enlightening experience. It really was a delicious few days!

Saturday 28 June 2014

Celebrating Summer's Bounty - The Long Table Dinner

The tickets have just gone on sale for this year's Long Table Dinner on 22nd July and as before it's creating a flurry of excitement, with many people who've been before rushing to buy their tickets for this year's event - it's been sold out for the past three years - despite the price tag of €120 per person, including wine. Which certainly sounds very steep - but people reckon it's totally worth it for the whole experience. The proceeds go to the East Cork Slow Food educational project, which teaches children from nine local primary schools to how to cook, grow and keep chickens. It's such a delicious way to enjoy the bounty of the season, and the pleasures of eating al fresco... with the added protection that we often need in our unreliable Irish climate!

For the past couple of years we've planted a green lawn in one of the bays of the greenhouses, and laid a long table with starched white linen tablecloths in the midst of the scarlet runner beans, tomato vines and edible flowers. All the food comes from the farm and gardens, and the fish and shellfish from nearby Ballycotton from which Rory and his team create a wonderful dinner.It's a wonderful celebration of the work of our cooks, farm lads and gardeners. 

We start with a glass of Prosecco around four in the afternoon and then have a walk down through the farm
and gardens to the greenhouses.  The Gardeners and their friends play a little music and then we all sit down at the long table to enjoy a convivial evening.

The menu is always a surprise, but here is last year's one, illustrated by my daughter Lydia, to whet your appetites... Booking is essential and can be done online or by phone 021 4646785.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Butter is Back!

When I did my Simply Delicious TV series in the 1980s and '90s,  I used to get regular letters berating me for using butter and cream in my recipes. Had I no sense of responsibility? Didn't I realise that saturated fats were bad for us? Why wasn't I recommending low-fat alternatives?

You can imagine my reply!

I simply could not believe that butter, a totally natural product, made from the milk of grass-fed cows, could be less healthy than an artificial product made up of ten or more ingredients, some of them produced in a lab rather than originating in nature.

I was regularly referred to as the Butter Queen of Ireland, and once overheared someone say: "There's that Darina Allen 'wan' - she's a hoor for the butter!"

Despite the barrage of abuse I got, I never faltered. And surprise, surprise, it now appears, all those years later, that my gut feeling was right.

It's interesting how the tide has turned...

In October last year, Dr Aseem Malhotra, an eminent cardiologist at Croydon University Hospital, argued, in a widely reported piece in the British Medical Journal, that it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. 

From his analysis of independent research he concluded that there is no argument to back up the theory that saturated fats from non-processed foods are detrimental to our health. He maintains that saturated fats have been ‘demonised’ ever since a landmark study in the 1970’s concluded that there was a correlation between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol. An entire food industry has evolved and profited from this low fat mantra for almost four decades. For more on this see my November 16th article in the Irish Examiner.

These findings caused quite a sensation. And it wasn't just Dr Malhotra and his colleagues who have come to this conclusion. A recent study from Cambridge University and the Harvard School of Public Health published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that they found no link, repeat, no link between consumption of saturated fats and heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems. The 22-year-long Harvard University study of 80,000 female nurses, has confirmed Malhotra's findings: the total amount of fat in the diet, whether high or low, isn't really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat in the diet. In the US a recent University of California, Los Angeles study indicated that 75% of acute heart patients do not have ‘high cholesterol’. 

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I have spoken to many doctors, dieticians and heath professionals who are presently in a state of confusion, having been preaching the benefits of a low fat diet for years, they are now not sure what advice they should be giving.

So it’s clear that it's time to rethink the received wisdom on what "good" and "bad" fats are - which is exactly what two of the most respected writers and broadcasters on food issues: Joanna Blythman and Ella McSweeney, will be doing in conversation with John McKenna at this year's Kerrygold LitFest. The Good/ Bad Fats: The Big Debate 6.30-8pm on Saturday 17th in the Grainstore, Ballymaloe House   

I simply can't wait. This promises to be one of the most interesting, important and ground-breaking sessions at LitFest this year. If you're interested in health for professional or personal reasons this is not to be missed.

We're also absolutely delighted  to be joined by The Butter Vikings, an inspirational couple from Sweden, who are the chosen suppliers of  handmade "virgin" butter for Rene Redzepi's legendary Noma restaurant. I met the Butter Vikings and Rene at the MAD Food symposium in Copenhagen and invited them to take part in LitFest - the response of both was an enthusiastic "yes please!" 

And whilst we're on the subject of butter, the other great news is that Kerrygold have agreed to become our festival sponsors- how about that for a marriage made in heaven?

JR - a butter devotee and Ballymaloe pastry chef -  in his Kerrygold bow tie at the LitFest launch in Dublin last week.

Thursday 8 May 2014

My Food Heroes Come to the Kerrygold LitFest

One of the most exciting parts of the Kerrygold LitFest is getting to bring absolute food heroes of mine here to Ballymaloe. Some are less well-known to many here in Ireland, but who are living legends in their fields, so I want to take a little time to properly introduce them to you.

This is a once in a life time opportunity to see Diana Kennedy (do read all about my visit to her in Mexico last year), who is, I'm sure she won't mind me telling you 90 this year. Diana is one of the most iconic food writers in the world, branded the Julia Child of Mexican cooking, having written the standard works on Mexican food and has been decorated for her services by the Mexican government. She's electric, she has such a presence and a wealth of knowledge to share. She doesn't do cookery demonstrations any more, so we were very fortunate to persuade her to come all the way over from Mexico to join us. Don't miss her, rush to the website and book now.

STOP PRESS - news just in, Diana has just won the James Beard Life Time Achievement Award! We are soooo delighted for her!

Maggie Beer is a well-known Australian chef, she has written nine books, has her own TV series as well as making appearances on the Australian Masterchef. She is the incredible woman behind the verjuice revival and has established in Australia a similar thing to what we have here at Ballymaloe: she's all about simplicity and great produce. Don't miss her. She will be involved directly in two events at Litfest: as Guest Chef for Saturday lunch in Ballymaloe House (now sold out) and doing a Cookery Demonstration on Sunday at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for which there are still a few places left.

We all know that Middle Eastern cuisine is hot right now, due to the Ottolenghi effect (his demo and pop up dinner are completely sold out, but there is still room in the Grain Store to hear him speak, along with Sami Tamimi and Ariana Bundy). 

Whilst you'll all no doubt be familiar with the names of the Ottolenghi boys, you might not know Ariana, author of the simply beautiful book Pomegranates and Roses, who I especially invited to give us a taste of exquisite Persian food. She will be doing a fragrant Cookery Demonstration alongside our own Rory O'Connell on Saturday afternoon at the Cookery School.

Meet Ariana Bundy TV Chef and author of 'Pomegranates & Roses: My Persian family Recipes'

This is only a tantalising taste of the multitude of demonstrations, workshops, talks, meals and readings that we have planned for the weekend of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest of Food and Wine, we look forward to seeing you on the weekend of the 16th of May.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Tasty Words: The Dream Package for (Wannabe) Food Writers at LitFest

There's never been a better time for those who want to write. You can just tap away on your keyboard or iPhone, and publish it immediately - on a blog, on Facebook, or email it to an editor. Anyone anywhere can write about what they're passionate about.

And it's so great that a lot of people have got that message - there really is some incredible stuff out there... but there's  also a lot that "needs more work".

LitFest is a haven for writers, wannabe writers, bloggers, journalists, food photographers. We celebrate food, books and words. Here's just a taste of what we have in store:

Monday 5 May 2014

Short Courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School is well known for its 12 Week Certificate Course - but we also run dozens of shorter courses throughout the year where you can learn a new skill and soak up inspiration.

I'm aware that many of you will be coming down to East Cork for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe LitFest of Food and Wine, and might be interested in extending your stay for a few more days to take a short course with us.

Coming up over the next couple of weeks you can:

Thursday 1 May 2014

Inside LitFest 2014

I've been dying to lift the curtain on LitFest 2014 for you. So here goes...

Things are hotting up here! The ace LitFest team have been working flat out for months now, drawing up the programme, planning one exciting event after the other. The excitement is reaching fever pitch at this stage.

Last night we had the official launch up in Dublin - the whole team headed up on the train...

Never go anywhere without a picnic and a cushion darling!

Now we're officially launched... we're counting down the days before the influx of speakers and guests arrive. There's a real buzz about the place already.

As before, the event will be held at Ballymaloe: the Cookery School in Shanagarry, the Grain Store at Ballymaloe House, and the new Drinks Theatre at Ballymaloe House. Dozens of food and drink heroes will be flying in from all over the world, to join our home grown legends in a celebration of food, drink and words. It was a a great boost to get a shout out in the Observer last week as one of their Top 50 Food Events of the summer. And I'm looking forward to sharing more about a few of the events over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!

We're absolutely thrilled that Kerrygold have joined us as festival sponsors this year. For us it's a completely sympathique partnership with a company that has always been known for its quality... that spreads a taste of Ireland all over the world.

We were so excited with our line up last year, and it was quite a challenge to match... and top it... this year. Judging from the reaction it seems we have done it again in spades. My brother Rory keeps joking about my little black gastro-book!

We were so delighted by the reaction to so many of our food heroes who responded so positively to our invitation. Without exception they had heard of last year's event. Word seemed to have spread like wildfire through the global food community. And those who have already committed were begging to come back again next year. I'm not going to share names now, but we are VERY excited!

Wednesday 30 April 2014

And the winners are...

Thank you for all the competition entries and your enthusiasm. Choosing was hard. But the winners are...

Niamh Mannion for the Food and Wine Blogging event tickets.

My Favourite Things for the Good Fats, Bad Fats tickets.

Please can you make contact with the LitFest box office ( ASAP and give them your name, email and address so they can send them out to you!

Saturday 19 April 2014

LitFest 2014... just around the corner. WIN TICKETS!

Oops, it's been a busy couple of months... and can you believe it, it's almost that time of year again!

The KerryGold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine is just around the corner.  This year it's on the weekend of May 16th-17th-18th. We'd love to see you there...  WE'RE OFFERING PAIRS OF TICKETS TO TWO EVENTS, so be sure to read on for more.

Once again we will be welcoming some of the world's biggest names in food and wine to Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School, to share their knowledge and passion with you. This year's line up is even more incredible than last year's... though it hardly seems possible! (See below for our speakers!)

Simon Hopkinson, Alys Fowler, Sally and John McKenna, Donal Skeehan, Catherine Fulvio, Rachel Allen, Tom Dorley, John Wilson, Thomasina Miers, Paul Flynn, Maggie Beer, Mary Dowey, Jill Norman... some of the giants of food and wine literature. 

We have discussions, readings, writing workshops, a food trail and walking tour as well as cookery demonstrations galore.

Tickets to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's demonstration and pop-up dinner sold within minutes of going on sale. As did the foraging walks with Rene Redzepi of Noma.... but you can still (at time of writing) catch him in conversation with John McKenna on Saturday morning in the Grainstore... but tickets are selling fast.

If you were longing to learn about Middle Eastern flavours then Ariana Bundy's cookery demonstration with Rory O'Connell is not to be missed. She will be sharing recipes from her delectable book, Pomegranates and Roses

Another couple of cookery demonstrations which are selling fast are grande dame of Mexican cuisine Diana Kennedy who "did for Mexican cooking what Julie Child did for French cuisine and Marcella Hazan did for Italian." And don't miss our home grown heroesRoss Lewis and Rachel Allen,  who will be doing a demo together.

If you're a writer or aspiring writer then our Food and Wine Blogging discussion will be right up your street. Or perhaps the all day Food Writing workshop run by the staff of UCC’s MA in Creative Writing... which just has a couple of places remaining... and is a steal at just €10!

And whilst we love to talk books, we also relish debate on the hot topics of our time: Forgotten Skills Making a Comeback and Good Fats vs Bad Fats- The Big Debate are just two of the many discussions for the discerning foodie.

And that's just the beginning. With over fifty speakers from home and abroad touching on all aspects of food and wine, as well as our Big Shed Fringe event, it promises to be a weekend to savour. 

For a full listing of events, and to book, check out the website. 

We can't wait to welcome you!


To be in with a chance to win a pair of tickets to EITHER the Food and Wine Blogging OR Good Fats Vs Bad Fats event, just tell us in the comments section below which event you'd like to attend... and which food hero you'd most like to meet in real life! 

Please ensure that 1) You are free to attend the LitFest event and 2) That you check back here on 30th April to see if you've won. Winners will be announced that day and must make contact with us within 48 hours to secure their tickets.