Ireland is fast gaining a reputation as a food tourism destination and not before time. Up to relatively recently visitors to this country came to Ireland with high expectations of everything except the weather and the food. All this is changing and the enhanced image of Irish food is due in no small measure to growth of the artisan food production sector whose products are making waves on the global food scene, not for their scale but for their quality. Small is definitely beautiful and craft, handmade and traditional are all attributes that food lovers and food and travel writers seek out.
At last the butchers, bakers and shopkeepers who have stayed true to their craft are being valued and recognised for their skills.
Ireland has several admirable food guides but most with the exception of John and Sally McKennaâ€™s Bridgestone Guide, focus solely on restaurants which is, after all only part of the food picture www.bestofbridgestone.com
Those of us who cook and are in the food business are acutely aware that we are only as good as our raw materials and that in the past one rarely heard the names of the fishermen, farmers or food producers.
Good Food Ireland, a relatively new organisation is determined to remedy this lamentable situation. This not-for-profit marketing organisation brings together a cross section of establishments from hotels, restaurants, food shops, artisan producers, butchers, and bakers to fish smokers and farmerâ€™s markets that are committed to using local Irish artisan produce. The vision of Good Food Ireland is to grow Ireland as a food tourism destination by providing visitors who want a real taste of Ireland with a one stop shop so they can find local food wherever they go.
Good Food Ireland also showcases its members regularly at tourism events. Earlier this year they provided the food at the Showcase Event for Darley Irish Oaks at The Curragh Racecourse. The response was overwhelmingly positive as it was at Taste of Cork and Taste of Dublin. More recently the managing director of Good Food Ireland, Margaret Jeffares and her group were invited – in conjunction with Tourism Ireland – to showcase its members produce to 150 international media at the start of Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante. Good Food Ireland flew out all the food produce from member food producers and Maurice Keller from Arlington Lodge www.arlingtonlodge.com and Peter Ward from Country Choice presented an all Irish buffet. Good Food Ireland is now preparing to travel to the second stop of the Volvo Ocean Race in Cape Town, South Africa. Just a few weeks ago 26 members including myself travelled to London to provide a Taste of Ireland at Tourism Irelandâ€™s Flavour of Ireland event. 26 chefs, farmers, fishermen, bread makers, shopkeepers, artisan producers and fishmongers, from the whole of Ireland set up their stall in the beautiful dining room of the CafÃ© Royal in London. The audience of high end travel agents were mightily impressed and piled their plates high, there was so much to choose from. Black and white puddings with Bramley apple and grainy mustard sauce from Kellyâ€™s Butchers of Newport www.kellysbutchers.com to dry cured bacon from Jack McCarthy www.jackmccarthy.ie Valencia Island squid with homemade chilli jam. Isobel Sheridan of On the Pigs Back in the English Market in Cork brought two delicious terrines, pork & plum and chicken & lemon. There was roast fillet of James Whelanâ€™s Hereford beef, traditional Irish Connemara Lamb slow cooked under reeds. Donegal Crab, St Tola organic goat cheese soufflÃ© and much more besides.
Such a feast! It didnâ€™t end there. A whole array of desserts and Irish Farmhouse cheese and chocolates tempted the guests. The response was overwhelming. Everyone loved the extra dimension of meeting the splendid people behind the production of the delicious food they tasted and needless to say we enjoyed the response and were truly proud of our delicious Irish food and our tourism product.
Black and White Pudding with Grainy Mustard and Bramley Apple Sauce
Kellyâ€™s Butchers of Newport, Co Mayo were inundated with requests for a taste of their black and white pudding.
Serves 12 for canapÃ©s, 4-6 as a starter
Butter or extra virgin olive oil
6 slices best quality black pudding approx. 1cm (1/2 inch) thick and 6 slices of white pudding
Bramley Apple Sauce:
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, e.g. Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
1-2 dessertsp. water
2 ozs (55g) sugar, depending on how tart the apples are
Grainy Mustard Sauce
8 fl. oz (250ml) cream
1 dessertsp. Dijon mustard
1 dessertsp. Grainy mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flat parsley or watercress
First make the apple sauce – Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut the pieces in half and put into a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan with sugar and water. Cover and cook over a low heat, until the apple breaks down into a fluff. Beat into a puree, stir and taste for sweetness.
Next make the mustard sauce â€“ Put the cream and both mustards in a small pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally. Taste and season if necessary.
Melt a very little butter in a frying pan and fry the pudding on both sides on a medium heat until cooked through. Remove the skin from the pudding.
Make a bed of Bramley apple sauce on the serving plate or plates. Lay the pieces of hot pudding on top of the apple. Spoon a little Mustard Sauce carefully over the top.
Garnish with flat parsley and serve immediately.
Ballymaloe House Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts and Parsley Pesto
Serves 6 â€“ 8
350g sliced onion
1 Â½ lb (700g) chopped pumpkin (skin removed)
50g to 75g butter
1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable stock
110ml (4fl ozs) cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a covered saucepan, add the onions and the pumpkin and sweat on a low heat until soft but not coloured 10 â€“ 15 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the hot vegetable or homemade chicken stock and simmer until tender. Add the cream and liquidise. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4. Roast the hazelnuts for 5-10 minutes. Place the hazelnuts in a tea-towel and rub off the skins, roughly chop.
Next make the pesto.
25g (1oz) parsley, leaves only (no stalks)
1_2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
40g (1Â½oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
25g (1oz) pine nuts
75ml (3 fl oz) Extra virgin olive oil
salt (donâ€™t forget, essential to bring up the flavour)
Put all the ingredients except the oil into the food processor. Whizz for a second or two, add the oil and a little salt. Taste and correct seasoning.
Drizzle parsley pesto over the top of the soup and garnish with roasted hazelnuts.
Lemon Polenta Cake with Lemon Curd and CrÃ¨me FrÃ¢iche
Janet Pilfold and Olive Brennan of Blue Geranium CafÃ© at the Hosford Garden Centre near Bandon in West Cork made this cake for the Flavours of Ireland Event in London, certainly one of the highlights.
225g (8oz) butter, softened
225g (8oz) castor sugar
225g (8oz) ground almonds
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, preferable free-range, lightly beaten
grated zest of 2 unwaxed and washed lemons
juice of 1 lemon
110g (4oz) fine cornmeal (polenta)
1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
pinch of salt
Lemon Curd (see recipe Fool Proof Food)
softly whipped cream or crÃ¨me frÃ¢iche
1 x 23cm (9in) spring form cake tin
Preheat the oven to 160Â°C/325Â°F/gas mark 3.
Brush the cake tin with a little melted butter and flour the tin with rice flour. Cut out a round of parchment paper for the base of the tin.
In a large mixing bowl beat the butter until pale and soft. Add the castor sugar and beat until light and creamy. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla extract. Add the eggs, a little at a time beating thoroughly before adding the next bit.
Fold in the lemon zest and lemon juice, polenta, gluten-free baking powder and salt.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes or until deep golden and a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd (see recipe Fool Proof Food)
Spread the Lemon Curd over the top of the cake.
Serve cut into slices with a blob of softly whipped cream or crÃ¨me frÃ¢iche. .
Peter Ward of Country Choice hand carved a glazed ham dry cured by his local butcher TJ Crowe of Dundrum, Co Tipperary.
1 x 10-12 lbs (4.5-5.4 kg) fresh or lightly smoked ham (make sure it has a nice layer of fat)
1 small tin of pineapple (use about 3-4 fl ozs/60-100 ml) of the juice
12 ozs-1 lb (340-450 g) brown demerara sugar
60-80 whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds
If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight; next day discard the water. Cover the ham with fresh cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 20 minutes to 1 lb (450 g) approx. for ham, 15 minutes for a loin of bacon.
Peel off the rind, cut the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Spread this over the ham. Bake it in a hot oven, 250ÂºC/500ÂºF/regulo 9, for 20 minutes or until the top has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste regularly with the syrup and juices.
Roast Fillet of Beef with BÃ©arnaise Sauce
Serves 8 â€“ 10
1 whole fillet of well hung dried aged beef 2.6kg (6lb) approximately
a few cloves garlic
pork caul fat (if available)
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Trim away the chain if it is still attached; use the meat for Beef Stroganoff. Double over the meat at the tapered end and tie the fillet securely with fine butcherâ€™s cotton twine. Alternatively ask your butcher to do the â€˜butcheringâ€™ for you.
Rub the fillet all over with a cut clove of garlic, season well with lots of freshly ground pepper and wrap loosely in caul fat if available. Season well with sea salt.
Preheat the oven to 230Â°C/450Â°F/gas mark 8.
Alternatively, rub the fillet all over with the cut clove of garlic as before, season well on all sides with salt and freshly cracked pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Heat a cast iron pan grill to very hot. Sear the beef until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer it to a roasting tin and tuck a couple of sprigs of thyme underneath.
Roast for 25-30 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should read 118Â°C/235Â°F. Alternatively the meat should feel springy to the touch and the juice should be a pale pink when the meat is pierced with a skewer. Remove from the oven to a carving dish. Cover and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes by which time the juices will have redistributed themselves and the beef will be uniformly medium rare.
Serve cut in 5mm (1/4 inch) and serve with BÃ©arnaise sauce. (see recipe Fool Proof Food)
Fool Proof Food
110g (4oz) castor sugar
50g (2oz) butter
finely grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons, preferably unwaxed organic
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)
On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, lemon juice and rind and then stir in well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools.)
4 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
4 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
a pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped French tarragon leaves
2 egg yolks free-range and organic if possible
115-175g (4-6 oz) butter, salted or unsalted depending on what it is being served with
Boil the first four ingredients together in a low heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan until completely reduced and the pan is almost dry but not browned. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water immediately. Pull the pan off the heat and allow to cool for 1 or 2 minutes.
Whisk in the egg yolks and add the butter bit by bit over a very low heat, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece; it will gradually thicken. If it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly â€˜scramblingâ€™, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped French tarragon and taste for seasoning.
If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until all the butter is added and the sauce is a thick coating consistency. It is important to remember, however, that if you are making BÃ©arnaise Sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand it is also too hot for the sauce!
Another good tip if you are making BÃ©arnaise Sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so that you can plunge the bottom of the saucepan into it if it becomes too hot.
Tip: Keep the sauce warm in a Pyrex bowl over hot but not simmering water or in a Thermos flask until you want to serve it.
The interest and demand for allotments is growing apace. Many are over-subscribed but some farmers on the edge of larger towns are beginning to offer allotments to rent. People in the Cobh, Carrigtwohill and Midleton area should contact Siobhan Barry
021 4883034 or 086 8238187.
Skelligs Chocolates are offering a couple of new temptations for the Festive Season. Dark chocolate Christmas tree bars for Christmas and plump rum soaked figs dipped in dark chocolate are worth seeking out. www.skelligschocolates.com
Exciting Kitchen Toys
Rachel Allenâ€™s has launched a whole range of kitchen items. They have been really carefully chosen and tested. Some of my favourites are a juicer which weâ€™re using around the clock at the moment. I also love the slow cooker for making gorgeous succulent stews and the bread machine has at last converted me to the benefits of this appliance.
Isaacâ€™s at Mahon Point Famers Market
When Arbutus Lodge Restaurant closed its doors in Cork it was sadly missed by its many admirers of which I was certainly one. Everyone had a favourite dish, Chicken with Whiskey sauce, Crubeens and Pheasant Torte; I loved all these and many more besides. One of my favourite treats was Chocolat St Emilion, a divinely rich chocolate mousse with a brandy soaked almond macaroon at the base, the stuff that nostalgic dreams are made of. Despite my best efforts I could never faithfully reproduce it. Can you imagine my delight when I discovered it at Isaacâ€™s stall at the Mahon Point Farmers Market in Cork. I couldnâ€™t believe my eyes when I found it and it tastes as irresistible as ever, this could become the new cult pud.