Last week brought an unexpected announcement, Euro-toque Cavan Crystal Awards honoured my â€œoutstanding contribution to the Irish Culinary Sectorâ€.
The citation read – â€œDarina Allen’s award was given in recognition of her exceptional work in providing an outstanding level of culinary education at Ballymaloe Cookery School, for her involvement in the Slowfood movement and her activities as a lobbyist for the artisan food industry, and for her commitment and passion in protecting and promoting traditional Irish and local food. Her contribution has been invaluable in creating the high standard of artisan food production and culinary expertise which exists in Ireland today.â€
Was that not a lovely surprise on a Monday morning.
As a friend wryly remarked in her congratulatory note â€“ great to get a pat on the back while youâ€™re still alive, they (not Euro-toques) usually wait till youâ€™re pushing up the daisies.
Euro-toques â€“ The European Community of Cooks, was established in 1986 in Brussels as a guardian of European culinary heritage and as a lobby group addressing the concerns of Europeâ€™s top chefs and cooks about food quality and the future of food.
Every year they honour artisans and food producers who produce real quality. Speaking on behalf of Euro-toques, Founder member Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House commented â€œWe cannot do our job as cooks without top-quality ingredients and recognizing and promoting the people who provide these is central to what Euro-toques is all about. We are delighted to have here today, a group of people who have championed traditional and local products and production methods and have carried on and developed their businesses in the face of great challenges.
One of our grave concerns in recent years has been the shutting down of small abattoirs right across the country, so we are delighted to recognize a butcher who has continued to raise, slaughter and sell his own animals on his own premises â€“ this is the true meaning of traceability. We also see the depletion of native fish stocks as one of the major food threats currently and are therefore awarding a fisherman who has taken a special interest in conservation. All these people contribute in a small, but vital way, to ensuring a viable and diverse food supply into the future.â€
This year, a butcher, a baker, a fisherman, a miller and a dairy farmer were amongst those commended by top Irish chefs for their contribution to Irish food.
The annual event is sponsored by the Cavan Crystal Hotel and this yearâ€™s awards were presented by Cavan Euro-toques chef, cookbook author and TV personality Neven Maguire.
Awards were presented to five outstanding food producers/suppliers:
- Glenilen Dairy, Drimoleague, West Cork
Recognised for diversifying a traditional dairy farm into production of quality dairy-based products including traditional country butter, clotted cream and yoghurt, as well as a range of cheesecakes, mousses and desserts.
- Michael McGrath Butcher, Lismore, Co Waterford
A fourth generation butcher recognized for maintaining traditional methods, above all for retaining their on-premises abattoir and slaughtering their own cattle, as well as providing a slaughtering service for local farmers.
- Flahavan Mills, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford
The well-known producer of Flahavanâ€™s Oats, recognized for maintaining high production standards in keeping with traditional methods and environmental concerns.
- Terry Butterly, Coastguard Seafoods, Annagassan, Co Louth
A fisherman for 35 years, Terry Butterly now processes seafoods for supply to some of the top restaurants on the east coast. He was recognized for his special interest in conservation and the service he provides in informing chefs about the seasonality and availability of fish.
- Dittyâ€™s Home Bakery, Castledawson, Northern Ireland.
A third generation bakery producing traditional Ulster breads, using ingredients from local artisan suppliers. Recognised for promoting regional diversity and developing new artisan products.
These awards are unique in that nominations are made by the Euro-toque members, and winners are then carefully selected by the Euro-toques Food Committee, made up of chefs from all over the country. Therefore, these awards give producers recognition from the top industry chefs and cooks in the country.
Each award winner was presented with a specially commissioned engraved piece by Cavan Crystal Design.
425ml (15 fl ozs) Glenilen natural yoghurt
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
200ml (7 fl ozs) cream
175g (6 ozs) castor sugar (could be reduced to 5oz)
Â¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground – youâ€™ll need about 8-10 green cardamom pods depending on size
3 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine
Put the milk, sugar and cream into a stainless steel saucepan with the ground cardamom, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you dissolve the gelatine.
Put 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the water, allow to â€˜spongeâ€™ for a few minutes. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine has melted and is completely clear. Add a little of the cardamom infused milk mixture, stir well and then mix this into the rest. Whisk the yoghurt lightly until smooth and creamy, stir into the cardamom mixture.
Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the Equator! Carefully separate the seeds from the membrane. Put the seeds into a bowl, sprinkle with just a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, add castor sugar and rose blossom water to taste. Chill.
If the cardamom cream has been set in a ring mould, turn out onto a chilled white plate. Fill the centre with chilled rose-scented pomegranate seeds. Garnish with sweet geranium or mint leaves or even prettier, garnish with crystallized rose petals. Iâ€™ve got a wonderful Irish rose called â€˜Souvenir de St Anneâ€™sâ€ in Lydiaâ€™s garden. This rose has a bloom even in the depths of winter so I steal a few petals and crystallize to decorate this and other desserts.
2Â½ – 3 lbs (1.35kg) lamb chops (gigot or rack chops) not less than 1 inch (2.5cm) thick
8 medium or 12 baby carrots
8 medium or 12 baby onions
8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like
salt and freshly ground pepper
1Â½-1Â¾ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water
1 sprig of thyme
1 tablesp. roux, optional â€“ see recipe
Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole.
Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt. De-glaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover with a butter wrapper or paper lid and the lid of the saucepan. Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1Â½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.
When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Slightly thicken by whisking in a little roux if you like. Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Flahavanâ€™s Oatmeal Biscuits
These nutritious biscuits keep very well in a tin. Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – make them with butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.
Melt the butter, add the golden syrup and pure vanilla essence, stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread into a large Swiss roll tin and bake in a preheated moderate oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.
Gratin of Haddock with Imokilly Cheddar and Mustard with Piquant Beetroot
This is one of the simplest and most delicious fish dishes we know. If haddock is unavailable, cod, hake or grey sea mullet are also great. We use Imokilly mature Cheddar from our local creamery at Mogeely.
1Â½ lbs (675 g) beetroot cooked
Â½ oz (15 g) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
A sprinkling of sugar (if necessary)
5-6 fl ozs (140-175ml) cream
1-2 tsp finely chopped chives.
Peel the beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain!. Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes. Melt the butter in a saute pan, add the beetroot toss, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if necessary. Serve immediately.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the fillets in a single layer in an ovenproof dish (it should be posh enough to bring to the table.) Mix the grated cheese with the mustard and cream and spread carefully over the fish. It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point. Cook in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is golden and bubbly. Flash under the grill if necessary. Serve with hot Piquant Beetroot.
Choose a piece of perfect Irish farmhouse cheese made from cow, goat or ewe’s milk – Milleens, Gubbeen, Durrus, Cashel Blue, Baylough, Desmond, Croghan, Ardsallagh, Knockalara, Kerry, Cooleeney, Coolea, Abbey Blue, Killorglin, Chetwynd, Ardrahan, Lavistown, Ring, Boilie â€¦ there are over 80 to choose from and serve with Dittyâ€™s Oatcakes.
Glenilen Farm Artisan Foods www.glenilen.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Flahavans www.flahavans.com email@example.com
Coastguard Seafoods, Annagassan, Co Louth â€“ Tel 042-9372527
Michael McGrath Butcher, Main St. Lismore, Co Waterford â€“
Ummera Smoked Products are now available in London at
Tomâ€™s Deli, 226 Westbourne Grove, W11 2RH â€“ Smoked Dry Cured Bacon/Rashers, Organic Salmon and if youâ€™re lucky some Organic Gravlax â€“ Call Sophie Taylor at Tomâ€™s Deli â€“ 0207 221 8818 to reserve a little taste of Ummera if you have a longing for a taste of West Cork.
Schools around the country will focus on a healthy approach to eating and lifestyle when they return from the mid-term break as the students paint, draw, photograph or otherwise create posters depicting how they and their classmates get active and become health heroes.