Phew! That’s Christmas over again for another year. We’re all settling back into a routine and there’s a palpable sigh of relief in many houses, no unrealistic expectations, no feelings of guilt, just settle down and maybe re-evaluate our life style and plan to plant a few vegetables maybe an apple tree…
Or maybe build a little chicken coop, and get a few hens. The wholesome left over household scraps of food can be fed to your hens who will reward you with the most delicious eggs a few days later. They must have grass otherwise the eggs will be not be anything like as good or as nourishing. The chicken coop can be moved around your lawn every few days so they have fresh grass and the manure will benefit your lawn so its ‘win win’ all the way.
My New Year resolution is to learn how to type – just as much of a mystery to me as cooking is to many others. What’s your challenging resolution? Could it be in the kitchen? If you can’t cook, just learn how to cook, somehow, somewhere, it’s the easiest way to be happy, save money, keep healthy, endear you to your family and friends and cut down on garbage. The latter is because when you can cook there’s no need for cans and packets, plastic wrap or polystyrene trays. Just buy beautiful fresh ingredients when they are least expensive and in season and give the trimmings to your hens.
Take one step at a time – one practical suggestion to improve the family diet. Ban breakfast cereals, virtually without exception they are full of sugar and salt, empty calories and despite what it says on the packet are far from nourishing.
Much better to follow Michael Pollen’s advice – ‘Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.’ So let’s start with breakfast – the only food your great grandmother might recognise is porridge and its every bit as nourishing now as it was then, particularly if you buy Macroom stone-ground oatmeal. I’m also a big fan of Kilbeggan organic porridge, and of course Flahavans oatmeal is a wonderfully nutritious and satisfying food. Eat it as porridge with soft dark brown sugar and whole milk or incorporate it into a muesli or granola – so easy to make yourself. The second little decision that can have a major influence on the family diet is to eliminate squishy sliced pan totally from your diet.
Make it your total priority for 2013, ask a friend or neighbour to teach you just one dish at a time, maybe barter babysitting, mending, dog walking in exchange – no money need change hands.
Cooking really isn’t ‘rocket science’, like so many other skills in life its all about confidence and the quality of the raw materials and you do need some basic kitchen kit. You simply can’t cook without a few basic utensils. Buy them one at a time and the very best you can afford – they should be good enough to last a lifetime. I often give a present of ICM Pentole saucepan as a wedding present to young couples – not very romantic you might say – well I disagree, they will bless me every day when they cook in a beautiful stainless steel saucepan with 5 layers in the base so its almost impossible to burn something and if you do, it can be cleaned easily plus you will pass the saucepan on to grandchildren.
Happy cooking, may 2013 bring the blessing of many delicious meals around the kitchen table with family and friends.
Toasted Granola with Coconut and Cinnamon
This nourishing breakfast cereal, will keep several weeks in a Kilner Jar. Serve with sliced banana and whole milk or scatter over a bowl of natural yogurt.
450g (1 lb) organic rolled oats (porridge oats)
110g (4ozs) flaked almonds
55g (2ozs) unsweetened coconut
55g (2ozs) sunflower seeds
30g (1oz) linseed
55g (2oz) bran
½ teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground
2fl oz (50ml) sunflower or grape seed oil
110g (4oz) brown sugar
150ml (5fl oz) honey
125g (4ozs) dried apricots, chopped
125g (4 ozs) raisins
2 large baking trays
Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C /Gas mark 3
Mix grains, seeds and cinnamon in a large bowl. Put the oil, honey and brown sugar into a saucepan, stir and bring to boil. Stir the honey mixture into the oat mixture. Mix carefully.
Divide evenly between the baking trays. Bake in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until evenly golden.
Allow to cool. Mix in chopped apricots and raisins. Store in an airtight jar.
Ballymaloe Nut and Grain Muesli
This muesli, bursting with goodness keeps in a screw top jar for several weeks. Measure the ingredients in cups for speed. Lecithin comes from soya beans, it is rich in phosphatidyl Choline – an important nutrient in the control of dietary fat, and it helps the body to convert fats into energy rather than storing them as body fat.
8 Weetabix bars
7 ozs (200g/2 cups) oatmeal (Quaker oats or Speedicook oatflakes)
1 1/2 ozs (45g/1/2 cup) bran
2 1/4 ozs (62g/3/4 cup) fresh wheat germ
2 1/4 ozs (62g/1/2 cup) raisins
2 1/2 ozs (62g/1/2 cup) sliced hazelnuts or a mixture of cashews and hazelnuts
2 1/2 ozs (62g/1/2 cup) soft brown sugar – Barbados sugar
2 tablespoons Lecithin – optional
Crumble the Weetabix in a bowl, add the other ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Keeps for 2-3 weeks in a cool place.
Serve it with a sliced banana and whole milk.
Fresh Apple Muesli
This fruit muesli is served for breakfast right through the year at Ballymaloe House the fruit varies with the season.
4 heaped tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Quaker Oats)
8 tablespoons water
3 – 4 grated dessert apples (Worcester Permain, Cox’s Orange Pippin or Gala)
1 – 3 teaspoons Irish honey or to taste
Soak the oatmeal in the water for 10 or 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grate the apple on the coarse part of a box grater, no need to peel, pick out and discard the seeds, mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a scant teaspoon is usually enough but it depends on how sweet the apples are.
Serve with cream and soft brown sugar.
Macroom Oatmeal Porridge
Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge. Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal from the last stone grinding mill in Ireland 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.
5 1/2 ozs (155g) Macroom oatmeal
32 fl ozs (950 ml) water
1 level teaspoon salt
Soft brown sugar
Bring 4 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.
Shanagarry Soda Bread
This is a more modern version of soda bread, couldn’t be simpler, just mix and pour into a well-greased tin – yields about 10 slices.
This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves
400g (14 oz) stone ground wholemeal flour
55g (3oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bread soda, sieved (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey or soft dark brown sugar
1 egg, preferably free range
1 tablespoon of sunflower oil, unscented
425ml (15fl oz) buttermilk or sour milk approx. (put all the milk in)
Sunflower or sesame seeds optional
Loaf tin – 9 inches (23cm) x 5 inches (12.5cm) x 2 inches (5cm)
Preheat oven to 2001C/4001F/regulo 6.
Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved bread soda into a large bowl, mix well. Whisk the egg, add the oil and honey most of the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid, mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy, pour into an oiled tin or tins and bake for approx. an hour or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Spanish Point Sea Vegetables
At last we’re waking up to the wealth of sea-weeds and sea vegetables around our coast. Not just carrageen moss and dilisk but kombu, wakame, sea lettuce, kelp, sea spaghetti… all packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements – great recipes on the website – www.wildirishseaveg.com
Irish Honey – I was not convinced about rape seed honey – in fact I was deeply prejudiced until I tasted Ballyvalla Honey from Slieverue in Waterford – phone 086-8168825 – firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s lots of excitement about the flavour and health benefits of rape seed oil – only one does it for me – Kitty Colchester’s freshly pressed organic Second Nature Rape Seed oil from Urlingford in Co Kilkenny, look out for new flavours, lemon, mandarin, rosemary, chilli and garlic. www.secondnatureoils.com
The Restaurant Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins recently announced that there is a critical shortage of trained chefs – one of the very few areas where there are job opportunities at present – the next intensive 12 Week Certificate Course designed to teach students the skills they need to earn their living from their cooking starts Monday 7th January, 2013 – www.cookingisfun.ie – watch a short video about the course http://youtu.be/ZbHDi7SS2hY