ArchiveJanuary 2013

100% Beef Burgers

I have to say my heart sinks when I consider the potential damage to the reputation of Ireland the green, clean, food island by the recent betrayal of trust

Unfortunately it is unlikely to be the last such incident now that we have virtually handed over control of what we eat to the multinationals. Understandably their primary concern is to their shareholders rather than the health of the nation, so the downward pressure on prices continues.

Food could be as cheap as would like it to be if there wasn’t such ludicrous amount of waste  in very stage from the field to the fork.

 

Everyone, every single citizen, doesn’t matter what the circumstances deserves to have access to nourishing wholesome food. We are not talking fancy food. I’m talking simple fresh food that is health giving food that satisfies and energises rather that empty nutritionally deficient food that leaves us with a perpetual craving and in some cases actually damages our health.

 

This challenge creates a terrible dilemma; food must be affordable for everyone so the downward pressure on prices is relentless.

Animals, plants even fish and shellfish are being produced ever more intensively. Processors are being challenged to produce ‘food’ ever more cheaply but beyond a certain point it simply cannot be done without  resorting to totally unacceptable  practices.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not ‘cheap food is a myth’, the cost in health terms and socio –  economic terms is incalculable.

Take for example the 20 cent burger so much in recent news. Out of that 20 cents, 30+% goes to the retailer, 20% goes to the distributor, now we are down to 10 cents. The manufacturer’s costs must come of that, food cost, labour, packaging, insurance……………so we’re lucky if the value of the meat in the burger is as much as 5 cents –you might ask,  how can it be done?  Well now you know!

 

In the midst of all the furore, I telephoned my  local butcher and asked how much a kilo of mince from the cheapest cuts, say brisket, beef cheek, maybe shin, would cost with a nice proportion of beef fat to make it succulent and juicy – the answer €7.50 a kilo.

 

Out of that, I could make 10 tasty wholesome burgers but the meat cost alone would be 75 cents each. Of course I could spin that out by adding bread crumbs, a bit of sweated onion, some seasoning, some fresh  herbs and or spices to make them extra delicious – maybe get another 4 but we’re still talking 50 cents plus. The price of one good burger and there are some good burgers would realistically be about €1.50, so how can one possibly produce 8 burgers for €1.50 – well now we know – the answer is loud and clear.

 

There’s a huge difference in price and one that impacts significantly on a cash strapped family doing their utmost to stretch their food euros.

So what to do – I certainly don’t have a magic bullet but this much I do know – it’s a damn site easier if you are fortunate enough to be able to cookand have the almost forgotten skills of how to turn fresh inexpensive ingredients into a decent nourishing meal.

A fundamental change in our attitude to education is hugely needed, it’s not enough to teach our kids reading, writing and basic maths – we must teach them basic life skills of which cooking is the most important. We have failed to prepare the next generation by not giving them the simple skills to feed themselves properly and we are paying a very high price. Practical cookery classes and food education need to be embedded in the school curriculum as a fundamental of a rounded education. As in other countries references to food can be included in almost every subjects, history, geography, languages, maths (the recipe measurements)…..

Every week from now on I will do a recipe to feed four for max €5.50. Vegetables were never so cheap I saw a 10 kilo bag of rooster potatoes for €7.99 in a shop inWaterford,  the same quality of Kerrs Pinks was €8.95.

Cabbage is a nutritional marvel – a full head costs 50 cents, four parsnips 89 cents….our bodies are designed to eat a lot more vegetables and fruit, we can do with less meat but let’s make sure it’s the real thing, doesn’t have to be prime cuts, many of the tastiest and must succulent joints like shin of beef, lamb shanks, cheek oxtail, neck of lamb, shortribs, streaky bacon, ham hocks, pigs head are cheap and flavoursome of which more anon

 

Gratin of Potato Cheddar Cheese, Spring Onion and Bacon

 

Potato gratins are a tasty, nourishing and economical way to feed lots of hungry people on a chilly evening, This recipe could also include little pieces of  a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a sustaining main course or a delicious accompaniment.

Streaky bacon either smoked or unsmoked is always good value and a terrific store cupboard staple.

 

Serves 4 as a main course

Serves 6 as an accompaniment if you omit the bacon.

 

3 lbs (1.5kg) ‘old’ potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

4-6ozs streaky bacon, cut into 1/2 inch lardons, strips.

2 bunches of spring onions, use both white and green parts, OR

I large onion, chopped

A knob of  butter, maybe 1 oz or so,

4-6 ozs (75-175g) Irish mature Cheddar cheese, grated

salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 – 3/4 pint (300-450ml/1 1/4 – 2 cups) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock

 

Oval ovenproof gratin dish – 12 1/2 inch (31.5cm) long x 2 inch (5cm) high

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6.

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, about 1/4 thick. Put into a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil for a minute or two, drain, refresh with cold water and drain well. (This removes the starch)

Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. 1/4 inch (5mm) slices with a scissors or a knife. If you decide to use an ordinary onion, cook it in a little melted butter for a few mins until it softens

Rub an oven proof dish with a little butter, scatter with some of the bacon lardons and spring onions, then a layer of potatoes and some grated cheese.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, . Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese .

Bake in a preheated oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown and crispy.

Note: It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

 

Basic Beefburgers

 

Serves 4-6

 

After the recent revelations we scarcely need to be reminded that the secret of really good beefburgers is the quality of the mince, Find a local butcher that you can trust. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, after all its your health and the nourishment of your family thats at stake here. It doesn’t need to be an expensive cut but it is essential to use the beef on the day it is minced. A small percentage of fat in the mince will make the hamburgers sweet and juicy. The egg is not essential although it helps to bind the burgers and increases the food value. Fresh herbs are a delicious addition but not essential but seasoning is .

 

15g (½ oz) butter

 

55g (2oz) onion, chopped

 

450g (1 lb) freshly minced beef – flank, chump or shin would be perfect

 

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

 

½ teaspoon finely chopped parsley

 

1 small egg, beaten, free-range and organic, optional

 

salt and freshly

 

oil or dripping

 

Melt the butter in a saucepan and toss in the chopped onion, sweat until soft but not coloured, allow to get cold. Meanwhile mix the mince with the herbs and beaten egg, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the onions and mix well. Fry off a tiny bit on the pan to check the seasoning, correct if necessary.  Then shape into hamburgers, 4-6 depending on the size you require. Cook to your taste on a medium-hot pan or grill pan in a little oil, turning once.

Serve on or off a bun or a Bla or even on toast  with or without chips and your favourite accompaniment, slices of cheese,  maybe tomato sauce , how about making that yourself .

 

 

Tip If the hamburgers are being cooked in batches make sure to wash and dry the pan between batches.

Home-made hamburgers are a vast improvement on most mass produced burgers.  There are endless ways to serve them – cheese burgers, bacon burgers, chilli burgers, blue-cheese burgers, mushroom burgers.  The following are a few of our favourites, always served with lots of crispy Frites

crispy chips.

 

Tomato and Chilli Fondue

 

Reduce it a little more for pizza topping or to serve with burgers or it may be too sloppy.

 

4 ozs (110g/1 cup) sliced onions

A clove of garlic, crushed (optional)

1-2 chopped fresh chillies Jalapeno or less of Thai

1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons)  olive oil

2 lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes, or  ½ fresh and ½ tinned

1-2 tablespoon (1-2 American tablespoons + 1-2 teaspoons) of any of the following chopped, thyme, parsley, mint, basil, lemon balm, marjoram

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste

 

Sweat the sliced onions and garlic and chilli (if used) in oil on a gentle heat. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Remove the hard core from the tomatoes. Put them into a deep bowl and cover them with boiling water. Count to 10 and then pour off the water immediately; peel off the skins, slice and add to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and add a generous sprinkling of chopped basil. Cook for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens.  Taste, correct seasoning.  May be served immediately or reheated later.

 

Tomato Fondue VVC

Omit the chilli from the above recipe.

Tomato Fondue with Chilli and Basil   VVC

Add torn basil instead of mixed herbs to the Tomato Fondue.

 

 

 

 

American Popovers

 

This is a gem of a recipe which can be made in seconds and used for breakfast or as a pudding or just to go with a cup of tea.  There are many variations on the theme, they can have sweet or savoury fillings and the ingredients for the batter only cost a few cents. Popovers can also be cooked in a 6 or 7 inch sponge cake tin until crisp and bubbly, then filled with a salad or anything you fancy…..

 

Makes 14 popovers

 

4 ozs (110g flour

2 free range eggs

10 fl ozs (1/2 pint/300ml )whole milk

1/2 ozs (15g/1/8 stick) butter, melted

Filling

1/2 pot homemade raspberry or blackcurrant jam

5 fl ozs (1/4 pint/150ml/generous 1/2 cup) cream, whipped

icing sugar, to dust

 

Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in eggs.  Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and, add the milk in a steady stream at the same time.  When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter.  Allow to stand for one hour.  Grease Hot Deep Patty Tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full.  Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/regulo 8, for 20 minutes approx.

Remove from the tins.  Cool and fill with a blob of homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream.

Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.

 

Note: If serving for breakfast fill with a spoon full of homemade marmalade, omit the cream.

 

Yorkshire Pudding: Follow the above recipe, use beef dripping or olive oil to grease the tins.  I sometimes put 2 or 3 stoned olives into each one.

 

Cheese Popovers: Add 2 ozs (50g) grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above, omit the jam and cream!

 

Hot Tips

 

I found myself in Dalkey recently in need of a cup of tea and stumbled upon the Tramyard – apart from really good cup of tea in the cute café and a slice of barmbrack (we fought over the crumbs) There were several other little shops in individual timber beach huts across the cobbled yard and a BBgrill which seems to be swinging into action.

 

Knockdrinna Farm Shop

– not sure if you know about this little gem in the littlevillageofStoneyfordin Co Kilkenny. Coming fromDublinyou’ll need to swing off the road at Junction 9.  It’s on the main street a little farm shop with a tiny café behind. Here  multi award winning cheesemaker, Helen Finnegan makes cows, goats and sheeps milk cheese, I bought a deliciously oozing Knockadrinna Snow a piece of Abbot, a washed rind cheese only made around Christmas , a Lavistown and a ewe and goats milk both surface ripened for my students  to taste plus some of Helens rare breed dry cured rashers. There are homemade cakes, good chocolates, Paddy’s Granola, free range eggs and a range of local produce in season.

Tel: 056 7728 446

Sandbrook House Bed & Breakfast inCountyCarlowis close by, just the kind of comfy country house where you can curl up in a deep sofa in front of a roaring fire to read a good book and forget about the winter blues. Most country houses are quiet at the moment so you may even have the house to yourself and enjoy Sophia’s suppers.

Tel: 059 915 9247 or www.sandbrook.ie

www.irelands-blue-book.com

www.hiddenireland.com

 

The Coal Quay Farmers Market on Saturday morning is one ofCork’s best kept secrets, check it out once and I guarantee it’ll become a weekly habit, check out  Caroline Robinson ‘s stall

Country Markets – weekly all around the country, another place to find food of consistently good quality that you really can trust – Find out where your nearest country market is, the money goes directly to the producer or home baker and the high standard is rigorously adhered to. You’ll find excellent value for money

 

A date for your diary: Tues March 5th. Neven Maguire one of the nicest guys on the whole Irish food scene is coming to Trabolgan to do a cookery demonstration in aid of the Aghada GAA. Doors open at 8pm. Cheese and Wine reception, craft and artisan food producer stalls. Tickets €20 per person

Tel: 021 4661223 Day’s Spar Whitegate

Farm Shops

Farm Shops, we need many more all around the country so farmers can sell and add value to their produce and local people can buy directly from the farm. It’s a whole other shopping experience and reconnects children with how their food is produced.

There are already several brilliant examples; Tinahely farm Shop on the Shilleagh road in Co Wicklow is enchanting. It is owned and run by ex-dairy farmers Philip and Rebecca Hadden. A couple of years ago the cows were not paying their way so they needed to use their combined talents and resources to think of another way to earn a living. They set about converting their sheds into a farm shop and cute little cafe where customers can now enjoy their really delicious home made cakes and snacks of local food. Recently we tasted Clarkes smoked Salmon from Ballina on Jo Allen’s Harvest loaf made from Uncle Aidan’s stone ground wholemeal, so delicious. That wheat is grown and stone ground in a special French mill on their farm in Ballindaggin, Co Wexford.

Rebecca had made a silky Jerusalem artichoke soup which people loved when they tasted and then rushed to buy some of the fresh tubers to have a go at making their own.

There are some ducks and a lovely flock of happy lazy hens ranging freely so customers can add freshly laid eggs to their basket. The Big Barn now houses an eclectic collection of animals, a couple of llamas, both Saddleback and Mangagalese pigs, several goats and donkeys and ponies, Kerry cattle and Dorset Horn sheep that were brought into Ireland by Rebecca’s grandfather Maurice Allen for the first time in 1933. All warm and comfy in deep beds of straw in the frosty weather. Kids of course love all that and there are plans for a self-guided farm walk in the New Year. Contact Philip Hadden 087 8168457 – http://tinahelyfarmshop.com/ . Tinahely Farm Shop, Coolruss, Tinahely, Co Wicklow, – on the Shillelagh road – Open – Tuesday – Friday 10am – 5pm – Saturday 10am – 4pm.

Olivia and John Hallahan opened a farm shop on their farm at Castlemary near Cloyne, East Cork every Saturday from 10am to 4pm – selling homemade goat cheese, yogurt, goats milk, goats meat (delicious) and some of Olive’s fresh baking 021 4652832 – Turn at L36511 – brave new world!

Castlefarm Shop in Narraghmore in Co Kildare also has a loyal following – Jenny and Peter Young sell organic beef, vegetables, pork, eggs, honey, apple juice and cheese, home baking, ice cream and preserves from their organic farm and operate an honesty box system for their free range eggs. The shop opens the last weekend of every month and  visitors can enjoy monthly complimentary food talks, farm walks, help collect eggs and watch the cows being milked – 0876785269 – www.castlefarmshop.ie

 

Chilled Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Avocado and Roast Hazelnuts

 

Serves 5

50g (2oz) butter

560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped

1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

 

Garnish

 

2 avocados

4 tablespoons of chopped roast hazelnuts

4 tablespoons of hazelnut oil

4 tablespoons of chopped chives

 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.  Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

 

Note

This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

 

To Serve

Peel and dice the avocados.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the avocado and chopped roasted hazelnuts over the soup, drizzle with a little hazelnut oil and chopped chives.

 

Uncle Aidan’s Harvest Loaf

 

Makes 2 loaves

 

This simple and delicious recipe was given to me by Jo Allen.

 

700g (1.5lb) Uncle Aidan’s Authentic Stone Ground Flour

2 tablespoons oat bran

2 teaspoons bread soda

2 teaspoons salt

1 litre (1 1/3 pints) buttermilk

2 tablespoons oil

2 free range eggs

 

2 x 2lb loaf tins – greased.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Mark 4.

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, mix buttermilk, oil and eggs in a separate bowl, then add to the dry ingredients.

Put the mixture (it will be very sloppy at this stage) into the greased loaf tins

Cook in the pre-heated oven 180°C/350°F/Mark 4 for just over one hour or until fully cooked through. Cool on a wire rack.

Uncle Aidan’s Authentic Stone Ground FlourBallyminane Mills, Co. Wexford – 0539255162 – www.ballyminanemills.com

 

Smoked Salmon, Tomato and Leek Tart or Tartlets

 

Fresh salmon or smoked mackerel may be substituted to delicious effect.

 

Makes 10-12 tartlets or 1 tart (approx.)

 

Shortcrust Pastry

 

4ozs (110g) flour

2 ozs (55g) butter

1 beaten egg

 

5 ozs (140g) smoked salmon or fresh salmon, diced 1/3 inch (5mm)

½ lb (225g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and the flesh cut into ½ inch (1cm) dice

1 oz (30g) butter

½ lb (225g) finely sliced leeks

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

 

8 fl ozs (225m) cream or 4 fl ozs (100m) cream

4 fl ozs (100m) milk

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk

Pinch of smoked paprika

1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped

 

1 x 7 inch (18cm) flan ring OR 10 tartlet tins (the ones we use measure 3 inches (7.5cm) at the bottom, 4 inches (10cm) at the top and are 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.

First make the shortcrust pastry.

 

Sieve the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into ½ inch (1cm) dice, rub into the flour with the tip of your fingers, and bind with the beaten egg, tossing lightly with a fork. (Add it gradually, just enough to make a dough).

Cover with Clingfilm or waxed paper and rest for ½ hour in the fridge before use.

Preheat the oven 180°/350°F/regulo 4

Roll the pastry out thinly and line the tart or individual tartlet tins with pastry, then line with kitchen paper and dried beans.   Bake blind for 20-25 minutes approx. until par-cooked (the tartlets will take 8-10 minutes).

Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan, add the leeks, season with salt, & pepper, cover. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until the leeks are almost soft, keep aside. Add the chopped tomatoes, toss and cook for 1-2 minutes , add a little sugar if the tomatoes are not very ripe. Transfer to a plate and  allow to cool.

 

In a bowl, whisk together the cream, milk, eggs and egg yolk. Season with paprika, salt and freshly ground pepper, add the cooked leeks and tomatoes, diced smoked or fresh salmon, stir gently. Add the dill.

Spoon into the pre-baked tart or tartlets and bake in a preheated moderate oven 180C\350F\regulo 4 for 2 minutes approx. or until just set and golden on top. The tartlets will take 30-35 minutes. Remove from the tin.  Serve warm or cold.

 

Raspberry and Coconut Slice

 

So simple but terrifically good.

 

Makes 24

 

6 ozs (175g) soft butter

6 ozs (175g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably organic and free-range

6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour

 

Icing

homemade raspberry jam

unsweetened desiccated coconut

 

10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well-greased

 

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

 

Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly over the base of the well-buttered tin.

 

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen. Allow to cool.

 

Spread the surface with the raspberry jam and sprinkle with desiccated or shaved coconut. Cut into squares.  Remove the biscuits from the tin if keeping for a few days unless the tin is coated with Teflon.  Store in an airtight cake tin interleaved with silicone paper.

 

Hot Tips

Schipol Airport in Amsterdam is one of the most fun places to be delayed. Brilliant facilities, apart from the Rijcs Museum, the library, massage, rest rooms, meditation area… Don’t miss Dutch herrings, smoked eel, and my favourite teeny Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.

 

Wendy’s Festive Marmalade – I found a pot of Wendy’s marmalade in my pantry after Christmas – slathered it on my toast before realizing it belonged to my son-in-law, it was so good, made with oranges, mandarins, lime and gin. To restore harmony in the household, I rang Wendy to replace it, she tells me there are still a few pots left and if you rush you can find them at her stall at Mahon Point Farmers Market next Thursday or at the Natural Foods Bakery in Blackrock, Co Cork – worth making a detour for www.mahonpointfarmersmarket.com and www.thenaturalfoodsbakery.com

 

Irresistible Breakfasts and Brunch – half day cookery course at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday 4th February – 1.00pm-5.00pm.  Learn how to introduce a variety and fresh tastes on the breakfast menu with lots of advice on finding the best quality ingredients – especially those in the guesthouse/bed and breakfast business. Sizzling rashers, juicy sausages, free range eggs, flavoursome mushrooms, fruit compotes, mueslis, freshly squeezed juices, homemade breads, jams, preserves, marmalades, muffins… Booking Essential 021 4646785 or www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Dreaming of Mexico

I find myself dreaming of Mexican breakfasts weeks before I travel. On my last trip, without even trying, we ate a different dish for breakfast every day for two whole weeks and I have a feeling we only barely scratched the surface, not a bowl of cereal in sight.

There was always freshly squeezed juices, orange, mandarin, pineapple or watermelon to wake one up. And then Mexican hot chocolate or freshly ground coffee maybe from Chiapas or Oaxaca.

Next a plate of succulent, juicy, fruit with the sort of ripe flavours we can only dream of, mango, papaya, melon with a little segment of lime to make it really sizzle.

On day one, at a little hotel called Rancho San Cayetano near the Monarch butterfly preserve in Michaocan, we had Huevos Rancheros and Mexican beans with queso fresco crumbled on top. There were also delicious little rolls called bolillos to slather the local honey or guava and passion fruit jam onto. Sadly the hotel was very empty because of the drug situation in the area.

Next morning, it was a little cazeula with a layer of beans on the base then some scrambled eggs with chilli, coriander and chorizo, topped with a layer of melted queso fresco and a sprinkle of chopped parsley, unbelievably delicious and sustaining.

In Oaxaca, a city about one hour south of Mexico City,  Cholita Diaz, our Mexican friend’s cook , served us her spicier version of Huevos Rancheros  passed down in her family for many generations, This is how indigenous Mexican women learn how to cook, helping to slice and chop from the time they are tiny children. No written recipes just effortlessly learning the techniques and quantities by watching and tasting.

Next we flew down to Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast in a tiny 12 seater Aero Toucan plane, a bird’s eye view of the remote villages tucked into the mountains and rocky hillsides.

Here Angelina Martinez Perez was waiting, putting the finishing touches to the sopes that she had hand formed from the fresh masa brought in the Mercado that morning.  While we are slowly savouring our plates of freshly cut fruit, Angelina cooked the sopes on the metal comal, (griddle), spooned some refried beans into each one and sprinkled it with crumbled queso fresco.  We ate several of these still warm from the comal, each with slivers of ripe avocado. A quintessential taste of Mexico.

Angelina has a myriad of dishes, many pre-hispanic, in her repertoire. Next morning, it was Divorced Eggs (Huevos divorciados), two crispy fried eggs on a warm tortilla, tomatillo salsa on one and a spicy salsa roja enveloping the other.  The tomatilla salsa was made earlier by boiling the green tomatoes with several serrano chillies until soft and then pounding them with a little chopped onion in a molcajete  – a pestle and mortar made of volcanic rock – with a small clove of garlic and a little salt. This and salsa roja with a base of tomatoes roasted on the comal are ever present on Mexican tables.

For our next breakfast we had quesadillas, but not just any quesadillas, these were made with Hoja Santa (piper sanctum), a large aromatic leaf which grows on a smallish bush all over Mexico these came fresh from Angelina’s garden. Again they were easy to make, she just tears a few pieces of the fresh leaf over a fresh corn tortilla, scatters it with some strips of Oaxacan string cheese, then slides it on to a hot comal. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, Angelina folds the tortilla to make a half moon shape, flips it over and cooks for a few more minutes until slightly crisp on both sides. Once again these quesadillas are served with a salsa verde and a salsa roja.

And there’s still lots more, next day its Huevos con Hoja Santa. First the fresh leaves are well washed, then fried in a little vegetable oil on a hot pan until crisp on both sides, then dried on kitchen paper.

Just before serving they are returned to the pan, one at a time, Angelina cracks two fresh eggs carefully on top and sprinkles each with a little salt, they are cooked sunny side up and transferred onto a plate as soon as the white sets, again served with spicy salsas.

Hoja Santa (piper sactum) is not something you’ll find in every supermarket in Ireland, but it is certainly available from your local garden centre and worth acquiring if you have a yen for Mexican food like me.

My morning cookery lessons continued, next it was chilaquiles con polo.

In common with many others cultures, Mexicans believe it is unlucky to waste even a scrap of tortilla, (their bread), so there are countless ways to use up stale pieces, in soups, salads and of course chilaquiles, here the crisp corn tortillas are layered with shredded chicken, cheese and covered with hot salsa verde or roja. They are eaten hot with a dollop of crema (sour cream) and crumbled queso fresco on top and of course Mexican beans.

I’ll mention just two more because as you can see I could go on and on.

Entomatadas con enfrigolada , yet another of my favourites and one that we  could easily reproduce here, Angelina first cooks a large pot of salsa roja and then purees it to make a silky sauce. White corn tortillas are then heated on both sides in a little oil on a hot pan, folded in half or quarters if the tortillas are very large. Just when you are ready to eat, dip the tortillas into the hot sauce and arrange overlapping on a serving dish, spoon a little more sauce over them and sprinkle some queso fresco and chopped parsley over the top.  We ate them with chopped onion, crema and chopped parsley. You can’t imagine how moreish these are!

On our last morning as an extra special treat, our Mexican friends asked Angelina to make a special type of tamale wrapped in banana leaves called Tamales Amarillia de pollo for our farewell breakfast, the mole sauce had 32 roasted guajillo and 7 costeño chillies (the latter is a rare chilli only found in a small area of Oaxaca) It was fantastically delicious but surprisingly not too hot.

No hope of making this here so I just have to return to Oaxaca to recapture the flavour as soon as possible, oh how I wish!

 

Mexican Scrambled Eggs – Huevos a la Mexicana

 

Cholita Diaz, a wonderful Mexican cook showed me how to make this favourite Mexican breakfast dish. One mouthful transports me back to Mexico – one of the most magical places in the entire world.

 

Serves 4

 

45g (1 1/2oz) butter (in Mexico they would use lard)

1 small onion, finely chopped

1-3 chillies – de-seeded and finely chopped (the amount depends on how much excitement you would like in your life!)

2 very ripe tomatoes, chopped

8 eggs, free-range if possible

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, cook the onion and chillies until the onion is soft but not coloured, add the tomato and cook gently for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and salt well; add them to the saucepan and scramble, stirring all the time until cooked to your taste. Serve immediately on warm plates, preferably with Tortillas.

 

Tomatilla Salsa

 

Salsa Verde is always a surprise and varies with each cook’s interpretation – this one is quite hot but of course you could reduce the number of chillies.

 

6 tomatillas – (green tomatoes, covered with a papery husk)  approx. ½ kg

4 Serrano chillies

1 heaped tablespoon chopped onion

1 small clove garlic

a loose fistful of fresh coriander leaves and soft stem

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons water

 

Peel the husk off the tomatillas and discard. Put them into a saucepan with the chillies. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil and cook for approximately ten minutes until both are soft. Drain and put into a food processor, add the chopped onion, garlic, coarsely chopped coriander, salt and water whizz for several minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve with everything!

 

Salsa Roja

 

Angelina uses plum tomatoes for all her recipes, which are considerably larger than our standard sized tomatoes. It’s also worth noting that Mexican garlic cloves are about half the size of ours and this salsa is also quite hot but you can adjust the number of chillies as you please.

 

Makes about ¼ pint

4 large ripe plum tomatoes quartered or 6 – 7 of our tomatoes

4 Serrano chillies

1 small clove garlic

scant teaspoon salt

 

Wrap the tomatoes in tin foil and roast on the comal turning occasionally until soft – 20 minutes approximately. Alternatively pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Mark 7 and roast for similar length of time until soft.

Put the tomatoes and the juices, roasted chillies, crushed clove of garlic and the scant teaspoon of salt into a blender and whizz for about 30 seconds. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Put into a bowl and serve as an accompaniment.

 

Chilaquiles Verdes con Rojos

 

Serves 4

 

6 –8 corn tortillas (stale is fine)

12 fl ozs (350ml) Tomatilla Salsa (see recipe)

8 fl ozs (250 ml) chicken broth approx

1 large chicken breast, cooked and shredded with fingers

1 large sprig epazote (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Accompaniment

2-4 tablespoons sour cream

4-8 tablespoons crumbled Queso fresco or Mozzarella and Cheddar mixed

1 onion, thinly sliced (optional)

fresh coriander leaves

 

Ovenproof dish 8 x 5 inches (20 x 10 cm)

 

Cut the tortillas into eights.  Dry them out in a moderate oven if they are moist, they are best stale and leathery for this dish.

 

Heat oil in a deep fry and cook the tortilla pieces in batches until crisp and light golden.  Drain on paper towels.

Just before serving, spread half the tortillas over the base of a deep sided serving dish.  Cover with shredded chicken, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Thin out the sauce with a little chicken broth if too thick.  Put another layer of tortillas on top. Cover with the hot sauce and a sprinkling of cheese.

 

Heat through in a preheated oven 230°C/450°F/regulo 8 for 5-10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

 

Serve immediately with sour cream, more grated cheese for sprinkling and fresh coriander leaves.

 

Hoja Santa Quesadilla

 

Serves One

 

2 – 3 white corn tortillas

1 Hoja Santa leaf (Piper sanctum) about 8 inches across

Oaxacan string cheese or a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar

Pinch of salt

 

Salsa Verde

 

Lay a tortilla on a chopping board, tear a few pieces of fresh Hoja Santa onto the tortilla then scatter some Oaxcan string cheese on top (we would use mozzarella mixed with a little Cheddar). Heat a comal (griddle) or frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the tortilla for a couple of minutes. As soon as the cheese starts to melt, fold over and cook the other side until slightly crisp on both sides.  Serve 2 -3 quesadillas per person with Salsa Verde.

 

Hoja Santa con Huevos

 

Serves one

 

a fresh Hoja Santa leaf  (Piper sanctum) about 8 inches across

a little vegetable or extra virgin olive oil

2 fresh eggs

a little salt

 

Salsa Roja

 

Wash the leaf well on both sides and shake off the excess water. Heat a little vegetable or olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the hoja santa leaf, it will splutter a bit, cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until the leaf becomes crisp. Dry on kitchen paper.

Just before serving, put the leaf back into a hot pan, crack two eggs gently onto the leaf, and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook sunny side up until the white sets. Then slide onto a warm plate. Spoon a little salsa roja around the yolks and serve immediately.

 

Hot tips

Butter and cheese making is definitely one of those simple but deeply satisfying kitchen crafts that not only deserves to be resurrected but can also provide additional income or a vibrant business.  Learn how to make a long list of delicious dairy products including homemade butter, yoghurt, cottage cheese, coeur a la crème, labneh, paneer, and a simple farmhouse cheese on the half day Homemade Butter, Yogurt and Several Cheeses course on Wednesday 16th January at Ballymaloe Cookery School – from 9:30am to 2:00pm – phone 021 4646785 or book online www.cookingisfun.ie

The Standing Stone Garden Centre near Schull stocks Hoja Santa (Piper Sanctum) plants, or ask your local garden centre to order it for you.

East Cork Slow Food Event – Kathe Burt O’Dea will give a talk on her research project SPUDS (Sustainable Potato United Development Study) www.spuds.ie at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Tuesday January 15th 2013 7pm. Slow Food Members €6.00 Non Slow Food Members €8.00. Booking essential 021 4646785 or slowfoodeastcork@gmail.com. Proceeds to the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. www.slowfoodireland.com

Midleton Farmers Market reopens today after the Christmas break from 9:00am to 2:00pm on the Fair Green. Lots of Jerusalem Artichokes, kale, Vacherin Mont d’or cheese, Golden Wonders, local honey and gluten free baking to die for…. www.midletonfarmersmarket.com

 

Building up a Cookery Book Collection…

If by any chance you have a few book tokens left over from Christmas presents, I’ve got some brilliant suggestions for worthwhile cookbooks to track down. For the growing number of cake-makers, Annie Bells Baking Bible published by Kyle books is a real gem. The recipes are triple tested so really work which can’t be said for every cook book by a long way.

April Bloomfield is the toast of New York at present. In London she worked at Kensington Place, the River Café and with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum. Her initial venture in the US – the Spotted Pig in Greenwich – was the first real gastro pub in New York. She’s gone on to open the highly acclaimed Breslin and John Dory. I love her simple food, so I was thrilled to learn some of the secrets from her recent book – A Girl and Her Pig published by Harper Collins.

Any of Aussie chef’s Bill Granger’s books are worth having on your shelf; Bill’s Everyday Asian is full of tempting easy recipes like Vietnamese Rice Noodles and Sticky Prawns

Fermentation is the new big craze; it’s well known that we don’t have enough fermented foods in our Western diet so there is a huge revival of interest in foods like Kim Chi, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles…

Sander Katz is the king of fermentation, who by the way will be coming to Ballymaloe to do a session at the inaugural Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine over the May Bank holiday week-end.

Sander Katz’s book the Art of Fermentation is a modern classic and a ‘must have’ for those who are experimenting with fermentation.  It costs around €40.00 but it’s worth every penny.

Finally, a little paper-back, ‘Cook on a Shoestring’ by Sophie Wright published by Kyle- an exciting new voice in food. This book is choc-a-bloc with easy, inspiring, straight forward recipes that you can even imagine trying out after a 9 – 5 slog.

 

Wishing you all a Happy New Year, may 2013 bring the blessing of many delicious meals around the kitchen table with family and friends.

 

 

Sophie Wright’s Barley and Curried Squash Soup

 

Serves 6 – 8

 

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 celery stick, roughly chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 teaspoons mild curry powder

1 large butternut squash, chopped into small dice (seeds removed)

1 litre vegetable stock

125g pearly barley

A squeeze of lemon juice

 

To Serve (optional)

 

crumbled feta or goat’s cheese

pumpkin seeds

 

Put a large flameproof casserole on the hob and add the oil. Add the chopped onion and celery and cook for 6 – 8 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper before adding the grated ginger and garlic along with the curry powder. Cook the spices for a few minutes before adding the butternut squash and the stock. Put the lid back on a simmer for 25 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, boil the pearly barley in a separate saucepan of boiling water until tender. The should take about 16 minutes.

Once the vegetables are tender purée the soup using a hand held blender, or by transferring the contents of the pan to a food processor. Ensure you don’t get splashed by any of the hot soup. Blitz the soup until it is completely smooth.

Drain the pearl barley and add it to the puréed soup. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and check again for seasoning.

If you have any feta or goat’s cheese, crumble a little over each serving and sprinkle over a few pumpkin seeds for extra texture and little bit of creaminess.

 

Sophie Wright’s Tray Baked Ginger-glazed Salmon

 

Serves 4 – 6

 

600 – 800g (1 ¼ to 1 ¾ lb) fillet or supreme of salmon, skin on or off

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

2 tablespoons stem ginger syrup

2 pieces stem ginger, cut into fine strips

juice and zest of 1 lime

 

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay the salmon fillet or supremes on top.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl and pour or brush onto the salmon fillets on the fish side only. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes in you have a whole large piece of fish or 8 – 10 minutes for smaller pieces. You will know that the fish is cooked when you can easily flake the flesh using a fork.

Remove from the oven and flake the fish, if you wish, before serving with either steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables or noodles.

 

Bill Granger’s Vietnamese Rice Noodles and Sticky Prawns

 

Serves 4

 

250g (9oz) vermicelli

2 tablespoons light flavoured oil

16 large prawns, peeled and de-veined, tails intact

1 red onion, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves – crushed with the flat of a knife

1 red chilli, finely chopped

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

4 tablespoons lime juice

small handful coriander leaves

1 cucumber, sliced

2 limes cut into wedges

 

Place the rice vermicelli in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 6 – 7 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.

Place a wok or frying pan over a high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the prawns and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Remove from the wok. Heat the remaining oil, then add the onion, garlic and chilli and stir-fry for one minute. Add the lime juice and remove from the heat.

Divide the noodles between four bowls. Top with the prawns, coriander and cucumber.

Serve with lime wedges.

 

 

April Bloomfield’s Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt, Eggs and Mint

 

These are not straight up Italian meatballs. The sauce has a bit of North Africa as well as the Mediterranean in it, so the dish is exotic and comforting at once. The sauce has a whiff of cumin and mint, both good friends to minced lamb. Just before I serve the meatballs, I add little blobs of yogurt, crack a few eggs into the pot and let them poach.

 

Serves 4

I.1kg boneless lamb shoulder cut into 2.5cm pieces

2 ½ tablespoons Maldon or another flaky sea salt

225g fine bread crumbs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

 

For the Sauce

 

1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt

2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground

2 Dutch or other spicy long red chillies, pierced with a sharp knife

1 800g tin peeled whole tomatoes, drained, trimmed and squished with your hands

about 125ml (4fl oz) whole milk Greek style yogurt

4 large eggs

 

For Finishing

 

a small handful of mint leaves, a small handful of small, delicate coriander sprigs

extra virgin olive oil

 

Special Equipment

 

Meat mincer or meat mincing attachment of a stand mixer. Make the meatballs: Put the lamb in a large mixing bowl, cover the bowl with Clingfilm and pop it into the freezer until the edges get crunchy, about 1 hour.

Toss the lamb well with the salt, then add the breadcrumbs and toss again. Use a meat mincer (or the mincing attachment of a stand mixer) to mince the mixture into a bowl. Put the mixture through the mincer once more.

Take a bit of the mixture in your hand, give it a few firm but still rather gentle squeezes, and roll it into a ball (you’re shooting for each one to be a little bigger than a golf ball) Over working the mixture is bad leads to tough meatballs, but this warning often makes cooks too timid when they form the balls: the outside of each ball should be smooth, with no big cracks or crags. Gently pinch any cracks closed so the ball doesn’t fall apart in the pan. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

Add the oil to a 8 to 9 litre casserole with a lid, set the pan over high heat and swirl the oil in the pan. When it just begins to smoke, cook the meatballs in batches to avoid crowding, turning them occasionally with tongs, so they develop a beautiful shiny, deep-brown crust on all sides. You don’t want to cook them too fast. If you see any black spots, turn your heat down a little. Keep at it until you’re happy with the colour of each one, transferring them to a plate when they finish browning. It’ll take 12 to 15 minutes per batch. Drain half the fat remaining in the pot.

Make the Sauce: Lower the heat to medium high, add the onion, garlic and salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and lightly browned and the garlic smells toasty and is a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin and chillies and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.  Turn the heat to low, add the tomatoes and simmer gently until the tomatoes begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 10 minutes. Add 1 litre water and raise the heat to bring the sauce to the boil, and then turn it down to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes more. Transfer 500ml of the sauce to a blender; give it a whiz until its smooth and airy, stir in back into the sauce in the pot.

Return the meatballs and their juices to the pot and stir gently to coat them in the sauce. Cover the pot, tweak the heat if need be to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for about 30 minutes to let the flavours come together.

Finish the dish: Turn the heat to low, add blobs of the yogurt and crack the eggs here and there into the sauce. Tear and sprinkle in the mint leaves and coriander and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Cover the pot and turn the heat to mediu, Cook until the egg whites have just set (I like my yolks a little runny) 10 to 15 minutes.

Eat it right away from the pot or divided among shallow, bowls, making sure everyone gets an egg and some yogurt.

 

Homemade butter adds a little je ne sais quoi to your table, look out for Cuinneog and Glenilen Butter, a taste of the past and the future. Each one has a distinctly different flavour, a taste of the lush green grass on that farm. www.cuinneag.com and www.glenilen.com

 

Floury Irish potatoes: If you hanker for a floury Golden Wonder or a few Kerrs Pinks get to the Midleton Farmer’s Market good and early on a Saturday morning and head for Willie Scannell’s stall.  The Market re-opens on Saturday 12th January, 2013.

 

Trout Caviar from Goastbridge Farm in Co Kilkenny – you’ll find a myriad of ways to use it, we love it on a tiny potato cakes with sour cream, on scrambled eggs, atop a baked potato. www.goatsbridgetrout.ie

Don’t forget Penny Dinners, St Vincent de Paul and Shelter et al in the New Year. People were very generous around Christmas but there’s a long year ahead.

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