Monday, 30 September 2019
The Irish Food Writers Guild, which I’m proud to be a member of, meet occasionally to do reconnaissance trips around the country. We visit artisan producers to see their process and hear their stories. Our most recent summer outing was to the Boyne Valley... and wow, what an action packed day we had!
First stop, Drummond House, where Marita and Peter Collier welcomed us warmly onto their farm outside Drogheda, they grow 5 varieties of garlic and several acres of green asparagus on their rich sandy soil.
This enterprise, like Ballymakenny Farm in Baltray, was born out of desperation to find a different way to earn a living on the land and the family farms they all love. Marita and Peter told us the story of the roller coaster, voyage of trial and error they embarked on to source varieties of garlic to suit their land and the Irish climate. Six years later, through sheer hard work and help from Marita’s friends at the Termonfeckin National School gate, who initially volunteered to help with packing the garlic in their spare time. They now have a thriving business and have introduced the Irish market to a wide variety of garlic types and garlic scapes (tender shoots) which I’ve hitherto only seen in my own garden or in the Union Square Market in Manhattan.
Marita and Peter, like Maria and David Flynn of Ballymakenny Farm had high praise for the chefs who encouraged and supported them initially and continue to do so. Drummond House garlic is now widely available around the country.
Ballymakenny Farm also needed to add value to their produce, so Maria who has a business background decided to trial some unusual potato varieties, much to the amusement and scepticism of their neighbours and friends. They now grow six heirloom varieties, Violetta, Red Emmalie, Mayan Rose, Mayan Twilight, Mayan Gold and waxy Pink Fir Apple plus beautiful crops of long stem broccoli. The chefs go crazy for the deep purple Violetta, the mottled pink varieties and the fingerling potatoes, Ballymakenny can scarcely keep up with the demand. It was a extra special treat to meet David’s parents who were commercial potato growers in the past...
Our next stop was Listoke Gin Distillery and School. Bronagh Conlan gave us a spirited talk on gin production and the wide range of botanicals that can be added to the raw spirit to give it a unique flavour. Visitors can make their own unique blend at the gin school in the individual copper stills around the edge of the room. At the end of their visit, they take home their very own bespoke bottle of gin, a unique and hugely sought after visitor experience for corporate events too. Loved the psychedelic owl street art which has become the Listoke Distillery logo created by Dean Kane of visual waste.
Just a few miles to Tankardstown House where the young Romanian head chef Janos Sarkosi cooked us a seven course feast to showcase his considerable skills... Such a lovely place, no wonder it is also a favourite venue for weddings...
No time to dawdle, still lots more to see... Next stop, The Cider Mill at Stackallan, near Slane in Co. Meath.
I’ve been a fan of Mark Jenkinson for several years now; he is a complete purist, grows a variety of cider apples in his own orchards, gently presses them in small batches in the time honored, traditional way between timber slabs. He makes five different styles of cider including his famous Cockagee, named after an ancient cider apple variety that was thought to be extinct for over 125 years. . . Mark managed to trace it to an old orchard in Gloucestershire and has now recovered and saved it for posterity. Cider is the wine of our land and there has been a rich tradition of cider making in the Boyne Valley for hundreds of years.
Mark is the only Irish cider producer to make keeved cider, a slow natural, painstaking process which results in a superb cider. His tasting room which also houses his eclectic collection of vernacular chairs, hardening stands and artefacts is worth the trip alone.
Carina Mount Charles brought along her organic eggs and salad leaves and nearby farmhouse cheese maker Michael Finnegan from Mullagh Farm delivered over his Boyne Valley Bán and Blue goat cheeses for us to taste...a new find for me.
And there was still more! A whistle-stop tour of Slane Castle Distillery where Henry Mount Charles and his son Alex have converted the stable yard into a highly impressive distillery in partnerships with Brown Forman (makers of Jack Daniels).
After an excellent tour and tasting we sped down the road to Boann Distillery where Peter Cooney had cans of several versions of gin in a tin for us to taste. This super exciting innovative company in the heart of the Boyne Valley brews beer, non-alcoholic drinks, whiskey and cider from apples grown in their own orchards in Tara. The Boann Distillery, named for Boann the Irish Godess of the Boyne, is housed in an amazing building repurposed from a car showroom. Book a tour and tasting if you are in the area.
Finally we had supper at the Eastern Seaboard Bar and Grill, Jeni and Reuvans Diaz’s award winning restaurant in Bryanstown. Seek out this place in the suburbs of Drogheda, its super innovative food is made with many of the superb local ingredients.
Who knew the magic that awaits in an area that has been hitherto been regarded as a mere corridor between Dublin and Belfast? It was an eye opener to discover so many artisan food and drink producers flourishing in this historic area... Well, take my advice and take time out to explore this intriguing part of Ireland’s Ancient East....
Wednesday, 25 September 2019
One Pot Feeds All, my nineteenth cookbook has just arrived in shops around the country. There I am, smiling from the front cover: silver grey hair and a new pair of specs as opposed to my brown locks and red glasses of the Simply Delicious era. . . I couldn’t have imagined then that I would be still writing cookbooks and loving it thirty years later. . . I still have so many delicious tips and recipes to share.
I can’t imagine why it took me so long to write One Pot Feeds All, it’s been bubbling away in my subconscious for years . . . .
It must be over a decade now since we first added a One Pot Wonders course to our schedule at Ballymaloe Cookery School. From the word go it was a big hit and its enduring popularity is a sure sign that this kind of cooking is here to stay as the pace of life continues to ratchet up.
|The UK cover|
So this book is for all of you who really want to cook delicious wholesome food for yourselves and those you love but find it virtually impossible to keep all the balls in the air, battling home through rush hour traffic, dashing into the shops to grab some ingredients and then doing your best to cook from scratch, in full knowledge that beautiful freshly cooked produce has the best flavour and is super nutritious. For growing numbers of people, it’s simply not possible, yet we know that if we don’t manage to get healthy nourishing wholesome food on the table to keep the family healthy, happy and bouncing with energy, we’ll spend the money on supplements and meds. But what to do?
Well, hopefully this book will provide some solutions. I’ve collected my favourite one-pot dishes, some time-honoured favourites honed over the years, others developed more recently while we were testing recipes specifically for this book. Everything had to be cooked in one pot so, against my better judgement, on my food editors suggestion, I experimented with some one-pot pasta dishes and was amazed at how successful they were. By increasing the liquid in some other dishes, I discovered that I could add rice, pearl barley, orzo and beans to the various pots with delicious results – so you really can get your whole meal from one dish. Of course, you can still cook them separately, if you like, but believe me this one-pot method works brilliantly.
One Pot Feeds All has lots and lots of brilliant recipes for college students, who often have very limited cooking facilities. For this kind of cooking you just need one fine sturdy pot with a tight fitting lid and off you go! What’s not to love about one pot cooking? For a start there’s less washing up…It’s a brilliant option if you don’t have much time and there’s no longer any need to feel guilt ridden.
Not all students will have access to an oven but for those who do, there are so many brilliant ideas for dishes to cook in a roasting tin or gratin dish. An electric slow cooker or crockpot is also worth considering as part of your kitchen kit, perfect for slow cooking and gentle braises and of course for making stock.
I have many delicious recipes to share with you. I hope you are going to love this book, I loved writing it, every word, originally in long hand!
Monday, 9 September 2019
Back to school…our little dotes are busily settling back into school, some making new friends others reacquainting with special pals from last term. It can be an anxious time for both children and parents and now we hear the deeply worrying statistics that anxiety and depression among children, teens and third level students is increasing at a really alarming rate. No doubt there are many contributory factors…the internet is an easy target, ‘helicopter parenting’…is a new one on me...apparently it refers to parents who ‘hover overhead’, overseeing every aspect of a child’s life, rather than allowing them to acquire basic life skills, usually learned by trial and error.
Whatever the challenge, I am completely convinced that the food children eat is vitally important for both their physical and mental health and their ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life.
So of all our many responsibilities we have as parents and there are many, one of the most important of all is to make sure that our children eat real food. It’s an investment in their future both in health and socio-economic terms. No one is saying this is easy in the frantic world we now inhabit, but somehow it must be done.
The morning is crazy busy in most households as parents try to get themselves and kids fed, school lunches made and their kids off to a crèche and/or school all before 8.00am.
So what to do, now I am going to sound unbearably bossy, but take my advice and ditch the cereal packets. I’m a big porridge fan, otherwise oatmeal fruit muesli or granola with a banana or some fresh fruit, All can be ready from the night before…
Children from seven upwards can learn how to make each of these and be proud of their achievements.
A simple fried egg, pretty much a whole protein and a slice of brown bread will set them up for the day. Most 5 or 6 year olds can learn how to fry an egg, Yes they can...and they have the wit to know the pan is hot!
After all, I’m the oldest of 9 kids, so no ‘helicopter parenting’ in our house, everyone had their own little jobs and so we inadvertently learned life skills and were proud of what we could do and anxious to help Mum (a widow at 36).
I’m a big believer in the value of freshly squeezed orange juice to provide a shot of vitamin C and many other good things each morning to protect from winter colds and flus. Buy a small electric juicer, they’re worth every penny and once again a 7 – 8 year old can make juice, pure and delicious with no additives (save and dry the citrus peels for firelighters).
This week I’m going to concentrate on a simple pre-school (or work) breakfast.... I urge you to make or seek out good bread and I’ve become more and more convinced that it needs to be made from organic flour as research clearly shows glyphosate residues in non-organic products. Look on it as an investment in your family’s health – save on supplements and meds and build up healthy gut biomes in all the family.
We can no longer say we don’t know the danger pesticides and herbicide residues are doing to our health, the research is there…
After all glyphosate is registered as an antibiotic and is known to cross the placenta barrier. Austria became the first country to Europe to ban glyphosate in June 2019, others will follow - It’s an extremely problematic subject but back to the kitchen....
Flahavan’s, the famous seventh generation family from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford, sell organic oat flakes but their non-organic porridge is also glyphosate free because Flahavan’s banned their growers from using glyphosate over 20 years ago. Pat and Lily Lawlor’s creamy Kilbeggan Oatmeal too is organically grown and widely available. We are also big fans of Donal Creedon’s Macroom Oatmeal with its unique toasted flavour and texture.
Flaked oatmeal porridge can be made in minutes. Pinhead oats or Macroom can easily be made the night before and re-heated in just a few minutes the following morning when you are bleary eyed and trying to wake up. I love it with a sprinkling of soft brown sugar and a drop of Jersey cow milk, but I notice that the young people nowadays enjoy porridge with all manner of toppings. Fresh or stewed fruit, compotes, peanut butter, jam, honey, nuts…the more the merrier to give them energy and vitality to power through the day.
This fruit muesli, a Ballymaloe favourite for over 70 years, changes with the seasons. Add crushed berries or grated Irish dessert apples – they are in season now... If you have an apple tree you’ll probably have a glut, don’t waste a single one, they make delicious apple juice to drink fresh, freeze or try your hand at cider, but we are wandering away from breakfast!
Kilbeggan Organic Porridge
Serves 2 -4
Mix a large cup of porridge oats with 2 cups of cold water or milk. In a saucepan, bring slowly bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes stirring all the time. Reduce cooking time if the oats are soaked overnight. My grandchildren love porridge with peanut butter – sounds bizarre but it’s nutritious and delicious!
To further enrich your porridge, you can add your own selection of organic fresh fruits, nuts, honey, cinnamon…
Macroom Oatmeal Porridge
Virtually every morning in winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge. Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour. It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.
155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
1 level teaspoon salt
Soft brown sugar
Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time. Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.
Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt and stir again. Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.
Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day. Add more water if necessary.
If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.
Ballymaloe Strawberry Muesli
This is a huge favourite with all our family and friends – it's such a good recipe to know about because its made in minutes and so good. We vary the fruit through the seasons – strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blueberries and grated Cox’s Orange Pippin apples or Ergemont Russet in the Autumn.
6 tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
250g (8oz) fresh strawberries
2-4 teaspoons honey
Soak the oatmeal in the water for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a couple of teaspoons are usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with pouring cream and soft brown sugar.
Granola is a toasted breakfast cereal, it’s super easy to make in a large batch and will keep fresh for several weeks in a Kilner jar. You can add all types of dried fruit and nuts to the basic recipe and top it with all manner of good things to make it even more nutritious and energy boosting.
12oz (350g) honey or golden syrup
8fl oz (225g) oil e.g. sunflower
1lb 1oz (470g) oat flakes
7oz (200g) barley flakes
7oz (200g) wheat flakes
3 1/2oz (100g) rye flakes
5oz (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5oz (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4oz (70g/1 cup) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2oz (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too
toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also delicious
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey. Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don't burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!
Allow to get cold. Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm. Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.
Serve with sliced banana, milk or yoghurt.
Monday, 2 September 2019
I’m increasingly dismayed by the often ill-informed and self-righteous debate on climate change. For many "Stop eating meat" is considered to be the solution to all our planetary and climate change ills. Farmers of all persuasions are being ‘tarred with the same brush’ and vilified. . .
Some farming methods certainly need to be reviewed and there is a growing consensus that business as usual is no longer an option particularly for very intensive pig and poultry units which despite economies of scale rarely even yield a decent income for the farmers themselves, many of whom feel trapped in the system, fuelled by our assumption that cheap food at any cost is our right!
If you ask most young people what we should eat to be sustainable and healthy, their immediate and well intentioned response will be, Go vegan or vegetarian. They are convinced by the argument that meat, particularly red meat is bad for us and damaging to the environment. However, there is a world of difference, both in health terms and in environmental terms in meat from pasture reared livestock and intensively reared animals from feedlot systems. Cattle are crucially important to a sustainable agricultural system; it is worth noting that worldwide, approx. 80% of the land that cattle graze on cannot be used for tillage or other forms of agriculture.
It is also important to understand that cattle, other animals and poultry build soil fertility. A crucially important factor at a time when the UN warns us that there are less than 60 harvests left in many intensively farmed soils.
In Ireland we are favoured by nature, with optimum conditions to produce superb food. Many farmers desperately want to be a part of the solution to global warming. They urgently need wise advice, training and support to embark on regenerative agriculture that encourages continual innovation and improvement of environmental, social and economic measures. The primary priority in regenerative organic agriculture is soil health. Vitally important when one realises that our health comes directly from the soil.
For optimum health enjoy a little of all the bounty of nature. . . Eat vegetables, herbs and foraged foods in season and seek out humanely reared meat with a nice covering of juicy fat so important for our health, include some beautiful wild fish when you can get it fresh, an increasingly difficult challenge.
This week, let’s show support for our farmers who work 24/7 to produce nourishing meat for us to enjoy. Buy from your local butcher preferably one with their own abattoir who knows the source of the meat and buys directly from local farmers or the local mart. Let’s eat a little less but seek out pasture raised meat, from native breeds.
If you are confused about what to eat for optimum health start by cutting all processed and fake food out of your diet, just eat real food in season. . . One could do worse than listen to the sage advice of the Weston A. Price foundation www.westonaprice.
org and wise tradition podcasts https://www. westonaprice.org/podcast/ - Some are literally life changing.
The reality is, nutrient dense sustainable food can be more expensive to produce. As tax payers we all contribute to a farm support system.
Our taxes help to fund the health service, clean up the environment. . . I strongly believe that politicians urgently need to be courageous and move the support to more sustainable forms of food production which I believe will help to reduce climate change and benefit our health, a win, win situation all the way.