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!