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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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