Lets Think Local for 2006

It’s that time again when I am full of resolve – another opportunity to make lots of New Year resolutions. I love making New Year resolutions, what’s more I am always completely convinced that I will stick to them despite my long track record of sliding back into old habits. 

For 2006 lets
Think Season  Think Local  Think Animal welfare
Think Food Miles Think Organic  Think Sustainability

The coolest words in food as we slide into 2006 are local, artisan and slow. Those with passion for real quality are seeking out fresh naturally produced local foods from artisan producers. Foods that are grown, reared and produced more slowly in the time honoured way so they have more flavour, better texture and frequently more nutrients.

Problem is, now that virtually everything is available year round it becomes more and more difficult, particularly for younger people, to know when particular foods are in season. Here is a list to guide you-

In season in January – 

Root vegetables – carrots, parsnips, celeriac, Jersualem artichokes, turnips.
Brussels Sprouts, Kales, Sprouting broccoli, cabbage, chicory

Game

Fish – herrings, sprats, Pollock, cod, oysters

Citrus fruit
Pomegranates

Food is at its freshest and most flavourful when it is in season. It makes no kind of sense to buy expensive ‘jet-lagged’ food that has traveled half way round the globe when we could be eating delicious local food in season. The foods that are in season contain the nutrients, minerals and trace elements our bodies need at that time of the year, eg citrus fruit in winter provides us vitamin C.

Kale and brassicas are a powerful source of antioxidants and help to boost our resistance during the cold Winter months when colds and flu are at their most prevalent. 

Now that there is an increasing network of Farmers Markets around the country – 130 at the last count, it becomes easier to source local food in season. It’s a whole other shopping experience, convivial, relaxed and in many cases less expensive. Fresh local food can sometimes be found in small independent local shops. Many of these shops are struggling to survive in the face of ever increasing competition from the ‘multiples’, as ‘cheap’ food continues to be the primary objective of most shoppers. However, we fool ourselves if we imagine that food will continue to be cheap after these shops have been closed down. We will be left with no choice and our towns and villages will have lost the charm and diversity that these family owned businesses bring.

We are out of our minds to risk this situation becoming a reality in Ireland, particularly as we can see clearly what has happened in Britain as a result of huge supermarkets being built on green field sites. These multi-faceted businesses sell everything from newspapers to insurance, hoover up all the business and as a result over 60% of villages in the UK have no village shop and no post office. Consequently there is no heart in the village and the community is fragmented. Think how this would change the face of Ireland.

The choice is ours, if we don’t support our local shops – the family butchers, the bakers, the hardware shops, we will lose them and watch as the prices rise and we will have lost our alternatives. 

The reality is that food shopping is an ‘agricultural act’, we can make a difference by the way we choose to spend our ‘food euro’.

When we shop in supermarkets, lets support the Irish enterprises, we can heighten awareness by asking questions about provenance. Ask how much local food do they stock? Think about animal welfare, food miles, sustainability and organic.

Local shops can help themselves by highlighting local food in season in their establishments, Johnny Dunne’s carrots, Peggy Hegarty’s barm brack, Anne Keating’s Baylough Cheese, Sally Barnes’ smoked fish………..

This enables those of us who are searching for local food in season to find it easily and helps to remind those of us who haven’t been thinking that way.

Conclusion – You may also want to think about adopting the Slow Food Philosophy for 2006 – visit www.slowfood.org  or www.slowfoodireland.ie 

Here is a seasonal menu-
Oysters with Murphys or Beamish
Turnip and Bacon Soup
Sprats
George Gossip’s Pheasant and Chorizo
Leek Champ

Foolproof Roast Jerusalem Artichokes (available at Midleton Farmers Market)
Citrus Fruit Salad

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup

Serves 6-8
340g (12oz) swede turnips, diced
1 tablespoons sunflower or arachide oil
140g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in ½ inch (1cm) dice
110g (4oz) onions, chopped
140g (5oz) potatoes, diced
salt and freshly ground pepper
900ml (1½ pint) Homemade Chicken Stock
cream or creamy milk to taste

Garnish
fried diced bacon
tiny croutons
chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the bacon fat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked. Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary. Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley.

Deep Fried Sprats with Aoili

In general January has a few highlights, apart from the arrival of the marmalade oranges in the shops - but when the Sprats arrive into Ballycotton the excitement is tangible. We feast on them for a few short weeks - deep fried, soused, pickled and smoked. Don’t even think of gutting them you may be shocked but we eat them insides and all - completely delicious!
Serves 6-8 

450g (1 lb) Sprats
Well seasoned flour
Lemon Segments

Aoili

2 egg yolks, preferably free range
1-4 cloves of garlic, depending on size
3 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
Pinch of English mustard or 3 teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
230ml (8 fl oz) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) - we use 180ml (6 fl oz) arachide oil and 50ml (2 fl oz) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Oyster Shells (optional) 

First make the Aoili. 

Using a mortar and pestle, work the garlic with a little salt and pepper until smooth; then work in the egg yolks, add the wine vinegar and the olive oil drop by drop, stirring constantly with the pestle. Once the sauce has started to thicken, the oil may be added more quickly. 

When half the oil has been added, one can add the oil a little faster. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Taste the Aioli and add a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice and some salt and pepper if necessary. 

Just before serving: Heat the oil in a deep fry to 200C/400F. Toss the sprats in well seasoned flour, cook until crisp and golden. Put an oyster shell on each plate to hold a generous spoonful of Aoili or Tartare Sauce. Serve immediately with segments of lemon.

Pheasant with Chorizo, Bacon and Tomatoes

– George Gossip
George Gossip who teaches the Game Coookery Course here at the school says that this recipe is an amalgamation of Elizabeth David’s Pheasant with Spiced Rice, a chicken dish of Penelope Casas’ and his own ideas – anyway its delicious.
Serves 6

1 Pheasant – cut into serving portions
1 or 2 chorizos sausages, sliced
6-8 oz good quality streaky bacon diced into ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic,
two large onions, sliced
1 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled & chopped (or one 14oz tin of chopped tomatoes)
salt and pepper
thyme and parsley
two teaspoons good-quality paprika – preferably sweet Hungarian

Pilaff Rice
Pheasant stock
Wash the rice in cold water and leave to soak. Bring game stock to the boil.

Fry the bacon in olive oil, add the pheasant pieces and cook lightly. Remove and keep warm. 

Add two-thirds of the sliced onion and all the garlic to the pan: cover and sweat gently. When these are cooked, remove the lid, add the chopped tomatoes and increase the heat. Add the chorizo slices and seasonings and cook rapidly to form a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, fry the remaining onion gently in oil, in a deep saucepan. Drain the rice, add it and fry at a slightly increased heat. Then add the stock - a ladle at a time - to make a rich pilaff.

Return the pheasant pieces to the tomato sauce and cook though. Add the wings and thigh pieces first, and the breast sections (which will require less cooking) at the end. Check the seasoning. If the stock has become too thick, add water. 

To serve
Serve the pheasant, surrounded by pieces of chorizo and bacon, on a bed of rice - accompanied by a green salad. This pheasant and tomato mixture reheats well.

Potato and Leek Champ

Serves 4-6
6-8 unpeeled 'old' potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
Cold water
4 medium sized leeks
40g (1½ozs) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon water if necessary
300-350ml (10-12 fl ozs) milk
1 tablespoon chopped chives
55g (2ozs) approx. butter

Scrub the potatoes, cover with cold water and boil them in their jackets. Half way through cooking, pour off half the water, cover and steam until fully cooked. 

Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks (wash and add to the stock pot or use for making green leek soup). Slit the leeks about half way down the centre and wash well under cold running water. Slice into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; when it foams add the sliced leeks and toss gently to coat with butter. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and add 1 tablespoon water if necessary. Cover with a paper lid and a close fitting saucepan lid. Reduce the heat and cook very gently for 10-15 minutes approx., or until soft, tender and juicy. Check and stir every now and then during cooking. 

Bring the milk with the chives to the boil, simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and chives, add the drained leeks and beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. It should be soft and melting. 

Leek champ may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn't get a skin over the top.

Pangrilled Herrings with Grainy Mustard Butter

Serves 6 as a starter
6 fresh herrings, gutted, scaled and washed
Seasoned flour

Grainy Mustard Butter
1 teaspoon grainy mustard eg. Moutarde de Meaux
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
3 ozs (85g) melted butter
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

First make the Mustard Butter. Cream the butter in a bowl, add the mustards and the finely chopped parsley, a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and freshly ground pepper. Form into a roll in pure clingfilm or greaseproof paper and allow to harden or make into pats. Refrigerate until needed. 

Preheat a cast iron pangrill over a medium heat until quite hot. Slash the herrings at an angle in three places on each side. Coat with well seasoned flour, spread a little soft butter over one side of each herring. Lay the herrings butter side down, not touching on the hot pan, they should sizzle. Reduce the heat immediately and cook for approximately 3 minutes on that side before turning over. Continue to cook until golden on both sides. Serve immediately on hot plates with two slices of Grainy Mustard Butter per fish. Garnish with a sprig of flat parsley and a segment of freshly cut lemon.

Citrus fruit Salad

In the winter when many fruits have abysmal flavour the citrus fruit are at their best, this delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of that ever expanding family. Its particularly good with blood oranges which appear in the shops for only a few weeks, so make the most of them. Ugli fruit, Pomelo, Tangelos, Sweeties or any other members of the citrus family may be used in season.
Serves 6 approx.

½lb (225g) Kumquats
12 fl ozs (350ml) water
7 ozs (200g) sugar
1 lime
½ lb (225g) Clementines
¼-½ lb (110g-225g) Tangerines or Mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats. Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of ¼ inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled.
Foolproof Food

Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

The winter vegetable is particularly good with goose, duck or pheasant.
Serves 4 to 6

1lb (450g) Jerusalem artichokes, well scrubbed.
2 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A few rosemary or thyme sprigs, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/ gas mark 6. Leave the artichokes whole or cut in half lengthways, if large. Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with the oil. Season well with salt. Bake in a shallow gratin dish or roasting tin for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with the tip of a knife – they should be mostly tender but offer some resistance. Sprinkle with thyme or rosemary. Season with pepper and serve.

Hot Tips

Check out the Irish Food Market Traders Association website www.irelandmarkets.com
Check this farmers and country market site to find new farmers, town and country food markets both old and new in Ireland. Use it to discover the vast array of organic and fresh local foods available directly from small food producers in a town near you!
Check out the farmers and produce markets of Ireland
Find out too about local country markets in a town near you, the smaller locally run markets

Oxfam Ireland has opened its 5th Fair Trade shop in Ireland on 18A Frenchchurch Street, Cork. Oxfam shops have the biggest selection of Fairtrade food products in Ireland - Food range includes coffee, tea, chocolate, honey, rice, sugar, biscuits, snack bars, dried fruits and much more. They are all excellent quality and taste great. Nice range of crafts and gifts also which changes regularly – so worth a visit.

Organic Beef – Available from Gortnamucklagh Organic Farm, Skibbereen, Co Cork, Tel 028-23742 – can be ordered in large or small quantities for the freezer, also available at Skibbereen Farmers Market every Saturday 10-1 email:paulfmccormick@eircom.net  

Foodwise Conference, at Drumalis Retreat Centre, 47 Glenarm Road, Larne,Co Antrim ,27-29 January 2006

Presentations on Food and Health, Food Poverty, Food Waste, Food Distribution and Fair Trade, Genetic Engineering and Biodiversity, Look to the future, Food Memory and many other food issues. For details email:drumalis@btconnect.com  Tel 048 2827 2196 , Fax 048 2827 7999