Food for Thought

Everywhere I went this week people were discussing Philip Boucher- Hayes programme on RTE ‘What’s Ireland Eating?’ They seemed shocked by the statistics. Food imports have doubled in the last decade. Ninety per cent of the chicken is imported while our local chicken producers and processors can barely survive. Irish families still eat a phenomenal amount of potatoes but fifty percent less than ten years ago and a third of that is in the shape of chips.
We eat more sugary breakfast cereal than anywhere in the world, but the most shocking revelation was the research that processed meat is known to cause bowel cancer – now the second most prevalent cancer in Ireland.
Processed meat, usually ham is part of the standard school lunch for children – 5 out of 7 boxes that Philip peeped into contained it.  Interesting there was no comment about the squidgy white sliced pan in the virtually every lunch box which I have to say if I was Minister for Health, I would ban on day one for the sake of the health and digestion of the Irish nation. Although not everyone might agree with me.
Six out of ten Irish people are over-weight or obese which currently costs the Health Service (read tax payer) €4 million annually.
I was amazed that people were so amazed but I’m glad that it has stimulated a discussion not only about the shocking deterioration in the national diet but also the terrifying power in the hands of supermarkets and the knock on effect on the livelihood of the farmers and food producers. Half of Ireland’s independent retailers have disappeared over a 10 year period and other findings revealed that for every twenty jobs that are created when a new supermarket sets up thirty local jobs are lost.

Coincidentally, I am re-reading Maura Laverty’s Kind Cooking which was published in 1946. She talks about the proportion of the family income which ought to be spent on food. “Personally I think the usual allowance for 40% inadequate for what is, after all, the most important factor of our material lives. Important spiritually, too, if one considers the depredations caused since the world began though diet errors and deficiencies. I doubt Eve would ever have touched that apple had she been getting her proper ration of Vitamin C”.

We are fanatical about calories I suggest that we need to be fanatical about nutrients instead. At present, we spend between 8-11% of our income on food in Ireland and close to 30% gets thrown in the bin for a variety of reasons. As a nation we are fanatical about ‘cheap food’ and have been brainwashed into thinking cheap food is our right at any cost. We need to concentrate on sourcing food that nourishes rather than just fills us and the pockets of the food manufacturers. I still contend that good food does not have to be expensive, some of the best food is least expensive, potatoes, cabbage, cheaper cuts of meat and offal, lesser known fish but you must be able to cook it and for that matter grow it.
One of the great beacons of hope in Irish life at present is the phenomenal growth of GIY movement (Grow It Yourself) – almost 10,000 members countrywide in less than two years. Ordinary people like you and I helping each other to grow food to nourish their family and friends. If you want better food a good place to start is in your back garden, yard or balcony. Link up with your local GIY Group – see – www.giyireland.com

Loin of Bacon or Oyster Cut of Bacon for Salads or Sandwiches

For those of you who voiced concerns about composition ham, cold bacon is a delicious alternative and it so easy to cook yourself. The oyster cut is between the loin and the ham and cooks and slices beautifully. Make sure to sharpen your knife so you can cut paper thin slices.

Serves 12-15

4-5 lbs (1.8-2.25 kg) loin of bacon, either smoked or unsmoked
14 ozs (400g) 1 small tin of pineapple -use 3-4 tablespoons approx. of the juice

Cover the bacon in cold water and bring slowly to the boil. If the bacon is very salty there will be a white froth on top of the water, in this case it is preferable to discard this water. Finally cover with hot water and simmer in a covered saucepan until almost cooked, allow 20 minutes approx. to the lb.  The bacon may of course be eaten hot with any number of accompaniments or allowed to get cold,

Glazed Bacon

If you would like a caramelised sugary coating, try this, so yummy. Cabbage, parsley sauce and floury potatoes are the traditional accompaniments but Piperonata or Tomato and Chilli Fondue are also irresistible.

bacon (as above)
3/4 lb (340g) brown Demerara sugar (not soft brown sugar)
whole cloves 20-30 approx.

Cook the bacon as above. Remove the rind, cut the fat into a diamond pattern, and stud with cloves.  Blend brown sugar to a thick paste with a little pineapple juice, 3-4 tablespoons approx., be careful not to make it too liquid.  Spread this over the bacon.  Bake in a fully preheated hot oven 250°C/475°F/regulo 9 for 20-30 minutes approx. or until the top has caramelized.  Remove to a carving dish.  Carve in thick slices lengthwise so each slice includes some of the eye of the loin and the streaky end

A little White Soda Bread Loaf

Sliced pan is co convenient for many families, the idea of life without it is unimaginable, but why not try this really easy recipe, it’s made in minutes. You can bake it in a round in the traditional way or like this in a loaf tin which is more convenient for slicing or sandwiches

1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 15 fl ozs (425 ml) approx.
oatmeal, sesame seeds or kibbled wheat (optional)

First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.

Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre.  Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.  Scoop it into the oiled tin, sprinkle with oatmeal and sesame or kibbled wheat seeds if you enjoy them.
Place the tin in the hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, immediately turn down the temperature 200°C/400ºF/regulo 8 and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the tin and replace back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes or until fully cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).

Homemade Crisps

You can make a ton of crisps from a few potatoes. Many people are wary of having a deep fat fryer at home in case they eat too much fried food yet the statistics show that ⅓ of all the potatoes we buy and eat are oven chips or fried

450g (1lb) large, even-sized potatoes
olive oil for deep frying
salt

Wash and peel the potatoes.  For even-sized chips, trim each potato with a swivel-top peeler until smooth.  Slice them very finely, preferably on a mandolin.  Soak in cold water to remove the excess starch (this will also prevent them from discolouring or sticking together).  Drain off the water and dry well.

Heat the olive oil to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Drop in the dry potato slices a few at a time and fry until golden and completely crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.   Repeat until they are all cooked.

If they are not to be served immediately, they may be stored in a tin box and reheated in a low oven just before serving.

Apple Muesli

Serves 2

This recipe can be made in a few minutes and is so full of vitamins you’ll be jumping out of your skin all day! Its literally made in minutes and kids can make it themselves. Strawberries or raspberries can be substituted in season, mash them and fold into the oatmeal instead of the apple – you can imagine how delicious that would be.

4 tablespoons rolled oats (the quick cook type)
3 tablespoons water
2 large dessert apples eg. Golden Delicious or Worcester Permain or 4 small apples eg. Cox’s Orange Pippin
1 teaspoon honey approx.

To Serve
Soft brown sugar and maybe a little runny cream
Equipment
1 grater

Measure out the water into a bowl and sprinkle the oatmeal on top.  Let the oatmeal soak up the water while you grate the apple.  A stainless steel grater is best for this job, use the largest side and grate the apple coarsely, skin and all.  I grate through the core, but watch your fingers when you are coming close to the end, pick out the pips and discard.  Stir a tea spoonful of honey into the oatmeal and then stir in the grated apple, taste, if it needs a little more honey add it, this will depend on how much you heaped up the spoon earlier on. Divide it between two bowls. Have one yourself and give the other to your favourite person that morning. It should taste delicious just like that but will taste even scrummier if you sprinkle over a little soft dark brown Barbados sugar and a very little runny cream.

Hottips

Salmon Watch Ireland Limited are holding their 2011 AGM at Silver Springs Moran Hotel, Cork, on Saturday 21st May at 11:30am. Email Chairman Niall Greene at chairman@salmon.ie – www.salmon.ie

Future Food Symposium on the theory and practice of sustainable agriculture on Sunday 29th May at Chisolme House, Roberton, Hawick, Scottish Borders. Email secretary@beshara.org or + 0044 1450880215.

My discovery of the week – Blarney Castle Gardens – are they the best kept secret in the whole of Cork? I was enchanted – take a picnic and don’t miss the Poison Garden, the Witches Kitchen and the Fernery… Open 9:00am to 4:30am daily www.blarneycastle.ie

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group presents The potential Usefulness of Common Plants. Herbalist Nikki Darrell will explore the wealth of native plants and their uses for food, medicine, dyes, textiles…Crawford Art Gallery Café on Thursday 26th May at 7.30pm. Entrance 6 euro including tea & coffee.

Visit of Cesar Saldana, Consejo Regulador Sherry – Talk and tasting in the Grain Store at Ballymaloe House Wednesday 25th May 7pm – 021 4652531 www.ballymaloe.ie