ArchiveFebruary 2014

Supporting our Small Local Shops

There’s lots of grizzle about ‘over here’ but we ‘sure as hell’ have a lot to be grateful for too. I recently spent a weekend with friends in the UK in a prosperous part of middle England. The local village had neither pub not local shop and the nearest town (about the size of Midleton) had five supermarkets, two of which were discounters. There was not a single food shop or deli and only one butcher hanging on by his finger nails.

The main street had several estate agents, betting shops, a Spec Savers, a couple of charity shops, several fast food outlets and a Boots.

At one point the conversation at dinner centred around two nearby villages where the local community were desperately trying to save the last local shop. In Dymock in the Forest of Dean the last remaining pub in the village was destined to be a housing development so the locals joined with the parish council to buy the Beauchamp Arms for the community.

Here in Ireland the government made a decision not to allow supermarkets to build in greenfield sites outside towns and villages. Consequently we still have life and livelihoods for our local community in our towns and villages. It’s not easy for small shops to survive especially in the current climate. Low – and below cost -selling makes it impossible to compete on price. However an emerging trend brings a flicker of hope both in the US and in the UK smaller shops are beginning to pop-up again and apparently there is a craving for a more personal type of shopping experience. Mary Portas did a TV Series on Channel 4 – Mary Queen of Shops – about the demise of the high street and small shops which highlighted the problem.

Here are a few new recipes we’ve enjoyed cooking recently.

 

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Candied Bacon

 

Brussels sprouts are the number one most hated vegetable – the poor little sprout has had very bad press – mostly because it can be tough to cook well.  If you follow the conventional wisdom to cut a cross in the base and boil them, you are pretty much guaranteed the result that has condemned the sprout to its appalling reputation.

 

Serves 6

 

500g (18oz) Brussels sprouts

25g (1oz) butter

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Homemade Chicken Stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) hazelnuts

6 slices lightly smoked streaky bacon – approximately 110g (4oz)

40g (1 1/2oz) soft pale brown sugar

 

Garnish

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

 

Trim the sprouts, cut in halves and shred thinly.

 

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

 

Toast the hazelnuts on a baking tray in a preheated at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 minutes, shaking regularly until golden and skin.  Allow to cool, then chop coarsely.

 

 

Cover a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper.  Dip the streaky bacon in pale soft brown sugar so both sides are coated.  Cook for 10-15 minutes until the bacon is caramelised on both sides.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a minute or two and remove to a wire rack to crisp up.

 

Meanwhile, over a medium high heat, melt the butter in a sauté pan.  When it foams add the shredded sprouts, toss to coat, add the chicken stock, cover and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes tossing regularly.  Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  The sprouts should be still fresh and green.

 

Snip the bacon into uneven pieces with scissors.  Add most of the coarsely chopped hazelnuts and candied bacon. Toss, taste and correct seasoning.

 

Turn into a hot serving dish.  Sprinkle with the remaining hazelnuts, candied bacon and chopped parsley.   Serve immediately.

 

Watercress, Blood Orange and New Seasons Toonsbridge Mozzarella Salad

 

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalos feed on gives the Toonsbridge Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

 

Serves 4

 

 

2-3 balls of fresh Toonsbridge Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

2-3 tablespoons Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

 

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices, tuck a few here and there in between the watercress and mozzarella.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.   Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

 

Kale, Fennel, Radish and Parmesan Salad

 

Serves 4 as a starter

 

150g (5oz) green curly kale, stalks included

110g (4oz) fennel thinly sliced

8 French Breakfast radishes thinly sliced at a long angle

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Keep the sliced fennel and radishes in iced water for at least 5 minutes.

 

To serve

 

Remove the stalks from the kale and shred very finely.

 

Put some kale, drained fennel and radishes into a bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Grate on some Parmesan with a slivery micro plane. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss and taste and serve.

 

Emily’s Poppy Seed and Lemon Scones

 

Emily Johnson from Switzerland recently did this delicious variation on our scone recipe.

 

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

 

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6ozs (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

rind of one lemon

4 tablespoons of poppy seeds

3 free-range eggs

15fl ozs (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

 

egg wash (see below)

 

2 ozs (50g) granulated sugar for top of scones

 

Lemon Butter

3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind

6 ozs (175g) butter

7 ozs (180g) icing sugar

 

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/regulo 9.

 

First make the lemon butter.

Cream the butter with the finely grated lemon rind. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.

 

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl; add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Grate the rind of one lemon on the finest part of the grater over the dry ingredients in the bowl.  Add the poppy seeds. Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

 

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk; pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over roll out to about 1inch thick and cut or stamp into scones. Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Alternatively roll out the scone dough or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick.  Spread the soft lemon butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 1 1/4 inch (3cm) thick.

 

Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in granulated sugar.  Put onto a baking sheet fairly close together.

 

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

If making classic scones, cool on a wire rack. Serve, split in half with lemon butter – delicious.

 

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven.

 

Practical Tip

Scone mixture may be weighed up ahead – even the day before.  Butter may be rubbed in but do not add raising agent and liquid until just before serving.

 

Hot Tips

Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Sausage Making with Philip Dennhardt at Ballymaloe Cookery School. There’s a growing interest among chefs and enthusiastic amateurs for home-curing and sausage making, a subject we’ve become more and more absorbed by in the past few years as we continue to learn and explore the rich traditions of many countries including – France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland …On this busy one day course Master Butcher Philip Dennhardt will teach you to make a wide variety of lamb, beef and pork sausages and cured meats. This course is also designed for those who would like to explore ways to add value to their meat products, with a view to developing an artisan food business. Ballymaloe Cookery School – Saturday 1st March – 9:30am to 5:00pm – €195.00 – lunch included.

 

Whiskey and Artisan Food – Enjoy a taste of real Irish craft beer, Irish whiskey and artisan food at the Irish Craft Beer Village during the five-day celebration of Irish food at the IFSC inside the CHQ Building, Dublin March 13th – 17th, as part of the St Patrick’s Festival 2014.  http://www.irishfest.ie/

 

Goats Bridge Trout Farm in Thomastown in Co Kilkenny are one of a growing number of food businesses poised to capitalise on the growing interest in food tourism. Meg and Ger Kirwan will open a visitors centre on March 1st 2014. Guests can see around the trout farm, attend smoking workshops and learn how trout caviar is produced and enjoyed. To book a tour with canapés – €15.00 or a day with lunch – €100.00 – www.goatsbridgetrout.ie

 

Big reaction to my recent sugar article, many readers are making an effort to reduce their overall sugar intake. One reader finds The Honey Diet book published by Mike McInnes tremendously helpful.

 

Iyers Restaurant and Ramen Restaurant – Cork City

Two new exciting eateries have opened in Cork in recent months; both are off the beaten track.

I’ve been hearing about Iyers on Popes Quay for several months and at last I managed to pop in. It’s a tiny little restaurant serving South Indian street food. It’s chic, tiny, just five tables and a counter with a large blackboard menu on the wall behind. I love South Indian food and there it was, samosas, dosas, uthappam, Madras thali, mango lassi, chai…

The owner Gautham Iyer comes from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and his wife Caroline hails from Sligo, he’s an aeronautical engineer and she’s a jeweller. They’ve lived in Cork for 14 years and have at last achieved their dream to open a little restaurant serving the sort of Indian food they and their friends love to eat and have been craving. They opened on 17th January 2013 and the word spread fast, they were often sold out before they closed at 5:30pm. They now stay open on Thursdays until 9pm. However you and a group of friends can book a table of eight or ten on another night by arrangement. The food is simple, delicious and tastes authentic. On a recent visit they also had a couple of tempting cakes, the Pistachio and Rosewater cake had sold out so we enjoyed a slice of freshly made Mango, Banana and Coconut Cake  and a Cashew and Coconut Cookie that had the bonus of being gluten free. Iyers is a vegetarian restaurant and Gautham cooks in the Ayurvedic tradition.

Don’t miss their chai, when I closed my eyes I was sipping the spicy brew in a roadside dhaba in India – Iyers is definitely worth seeking out, they don’t take bookings and by the way it is stunningly good value for money.

Ramen on Angelsea Street is owned by John Downey a Ballymaloe Cookery School graduate, who was a retail manager for Aldi in his last life. He now serves new Asian Street food in a contemporary setting. The open kitchen at the end of the room has five or six bustling Asian chefs in bright orange T shirts. Rustling up the yummy food is head chef Zuul Basir from Kuala Lumpur.

It’s all very convivial, there’s a long timber sharing table down the centre of the restaurant as well as side tables along the wall. The menu is divided into Soups, Salads and Nibbles, and Something for Kids. Dishes from the Wok, Rice dishes, Noodle dishes and there’s strictly no MSG.

Chop sticks, soy sauce and chilli oil are on the table, customers order and pay first. Your choice of dishes arrives on a little metal tray; there will be an empty ice cream cornet for your complimentary whipped ice cream. If the generous helpings defeat you, take home the remainder.

Again it seemed to me to be exceedingly good value for money – tasty delicious food, the word is out so you may have to queue at peak times but the general consensus is that it’s well worth the wait.

 

Gautham Iyer’s Spicy Potato Curry (Urulaikizhangu Kari)

 

500g – ½ kg (18oz) potato (waxy new potatoes are better)

1 1/2 teaspoons red chilli powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon gram flour/ rice flour

salt – to taste

for the seasoning you will need

2 teaspoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

a very small pinch asafoetida / hing

225ml (8fl oz) water

1 teaspoon urid dhal (optional)

small sprig fresh curry leaves

 

Peel and chop the potato (into small cubes) and leave soaking in a bowl of water.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to splutter add the urid dhal (if using) and curry leaves and fry till the dhal turns golden brown.

Add the asafoetida and turmeric followed immediately by the drained potatoes. Stir for a few seconds.

 

Add 225ml (8fl oz) of water and then add the salt and red chilli powder and let the potatoes cook completely. If necessary add a bit more water.

 

Once the potatoes are cooked, reduce the flame and add 1/2 teaspoon oil and stir the potatoes to fry them.

 

Sprinkle the gram flour/rice flour to help the potatoes brown evenly.

 

Transfer to serving dish and serve hot with rice or bread of your choice.

 

Niloufer’s Cauliflower and Chickpeas

 

Serves 4 – 6

 

2 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter, or canola oil

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

1 small yellow onion finely chopped

2 tablespoons grated, peeled fresh ginger

2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced into a paste

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste

1 teaspoon garam masala

salt

12 oz cooked chickpeas (or 6oz dried – soaked overnight and cooked)

1 head cauliflower, broken in florets

large handful fresh ciltrano (coriander) leaves and stems chopped

juice of 1 lime

 

Heat the ghee in a large skillet over a medium heat and toast the fennel seeds for about 1 minute. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to keep it from sticking, until brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the turmeric, cayenne, garam masala and a big pinch of salt to the skillet and cook, dribbling in a little water as you stir. Add the chickpeas, cauliflower and ½ cup water. Cover and cook until the cauliflower and ½ cup water. Cover and cook until the cauliflower is tender, 15 – 20 minutes. Add the chopped ciltrano (coriander) and lime juice and serve with yoghurt and rice or big floppy flat bread chapatis, if you like.

 

Mekong Duck – Ramen Style 

 

John Downey from Ramen Restaurant in Cork city kindly shared this recipe with us. It’s a firm favourite with his customers.

 

Serves 4

 

2 duck Breasts

 

2 teaspoon garlic, chopped as finely as possible.

2 teaspoons fresh root ginger, minced.

 

Mekong Sauce 

 

1 tablespoon tomato purée

50mls (2fl oz) pineapple juice

50mls (2fl oz) orange juice

2 teaspoons soya sauce

2 teaspoons sweet chilli sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon five spice

 

Vegetables

 

pak Choi

cherry tomatoes (halved)

diced courgette

mangetout

fine beans

carrots (julienned)

 

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Mark 3

Delicately score the fat on the duck breast and roast for 25 minutes. While this is roasting, create your Mekong sauce, by mixing all of the ingredients together with a hand blender. Prepare all of your vegetables and set aside for cooking. Slice the roasted duck breast into bite-size slivers.

Once the duck is cooked (it should still be slightly pink), heat your wok as hot as you possibly can. Add a splash of rapeseed oil, sauté the garlic, add the ginger, the Mekong sauce and the duck and cook on a high heat for 1 minute, until you achieve peak temperature. Add the vegetables; toss for thirty seconds and voila!

 

Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

 

Hot Tips

 

Hospitality and business course “Being ‘the best’ takes time, dedication and an absolute commitment to raising standards, every day. It is an infinite journey and it’s what separates the best from the quickly forgotten.” says Georgina Campbell who is teaming up with business mentoring company Conor Kenny and Associates to run the Hospitality Business Development Programme, over a 3 month period from Thursday 13th March to Thursday 29th May. The programme was created by people who are immersed in the industry and the practical workshops will drive and accelerate growth. www.georginacampbelllearning.com  or call Linda Halpin – 01 663-3685 for bookings

 

Calso Cooks – Real Food Made Easy– Watch out for the new kid on the Irish food scene, Paul O’Callaghan aka Calso. He came late to the discovery that real food can be produced with very little effort and be tastier and healthier than the fast, convenient foods he’d survived on ’til then. Paul had his own plastering business in his native Armagh but when the recession hit, he lost everything. At first, he struggled with depression and feelings of helplessness but by a quirk of fate, the house he rented had some land attached so he decided to try growing some of his own food. He was soon hooked on cooking (and eating!) the ingredients he produced. In 2001 he started his blog Calso Cooks from the Sustainable Larder. Paul now runs his own food business, has a column in ‘EasyFood’ magazine and contributes to the Breakfast Show on 2fm. Look out for his first cook book Calso Cooks – Real Food Made Easy published in paperback by Mercier Press.

 

e. When the watercress begins to form little white flowers the leaves elongate.

Medjool Dates and Neufchâtel for my Valentine

We all love a bit of romance, an unexpected bouquet; a bar of choccie, a spontaneous hug, even a furtive wink can put a skip in your step for the rest of the day.

Valentine’s Day is upon us again where everyone from 9 to 90 gets license to be silly and cutely romantic.

Even my grandchildren are making cards and cupcakes and having fun.

But most of all the way to everyone’s heart is through their tummy, of course you can book a romantic meal for two in a fancy restaurant but how about cooking supper instead of or as well as particularly if your favourite spot is already booked out.

Choose a nice easy menu that can be spirited without too much fuss or bother, a simple starter might me Ardsallagh Goat Cheese with Highbank Orchard syrup with a few rockets leaves or Medjool Dates with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachios and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Both are light and easy. A stew or tagine can be made ahead and served with a bowl of mash, a few baked potatoes or a simple cous cous.

Follow this with a salad of winter leaves and a piece of cheese – a heart shaped Neufchâtel would be perfect. You’ll find it in the many specialist cheese shops like Sheridans in Dublin or Galway or On the Pigs Back at the English Market or Iago on 9 Princes Street Cork. It’s a heart shaped Camembert type cheese made in Normandy it has an appealing mushroom taste and is perfect for a Valentines supper.

A light fruity dessert would be good after this comforting stew. Blood oranges are in season at present. A blood orange granita would be perfect or even some thickly sliced blood oranges with a chiffonade of mint.

However I’m tempted to suggest a rice pudding with a little grating of nutmeg over the top. We’ve been having lots of rice puddings recently – and it seems to get a joyous reception from every age group particularly when it’s served with a little Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar.

 

Rory O’Connell’s  Ardsallagh Goats Cheese with Highbank Orchard Syrup

 

 

Serve a crisp cheese biscuit or 2 or some hot bread to accompany this cheese course.

 

Serves 4

 

120-130g (4 1/2oz) fresh soft Ardsallagh Goats Cheese

4-6 tablespoons Highbank Orchard Syrup (available at Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop)

16-20 Rocket leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Divide the leaves between 4 plates.

 

Place a slice of cheese on top of the Rocket leaves.  Drizzle with the syrup.  Season with a pinch of Maldon Sea salt and serve.

 

Lamb, Winter Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stew

Serves 4 – 6

This comforting stew makes more than you’ll need for your romantic supper but it reheats brilliantly.

1kg lamb neck fillets cut into thick chunks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions peeled and quartered

3 carrots peeled and cut in half at an angle

3 leeks trimmed and cut into thick chunks

1 sprig thyme

1 small bay leaf

600ml lamb or chicken stock

100g pearl barley

 

Gremolata

a nice handful of fresh parsley

the same of fresh mint

zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, grated

 

Cut the neck of lamb into chunky pieces, season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan over a high? heat, brown the meat on all sides, transfer to a casserole. Don’t overcrowd / he pan just do the meat in batches. The toss the vegetables in the olive oil and fat in the pan, add a little more extra virgin olive oil if necessary. Add to the meat in the casserole.

Pour the stock into the pan and stir to dissolve all the meat juices, bring to the boil, pour on the meat and vegetables in the casserole, add the herbs and bring to the boil, simmer on the top of the stove or transfer to a moderate oven 180°C/ 350°F / Mark 4 for 45 minutes, add the pearl barley and continue to cook for a further 15 to 20 minutes or until the grains are plump and the meat and vegetables are meltingly tender. Taste and correct seasoning. Not long before serving make the gremolata, chop the parsley, fresh mint and lemon zest together. Turn the stew into a terracotta serving bowl, sprinkle with gremolata and serve with baked potatoes and a green salad.

 

Jacob Kenedy’s Blood Orange Granita

 

Blood oranges are in season at present so use them in every way you can while they last.

 

blood oranges

caster sugar

 

To Serve

toasted flaked almonds, dusted with icing sugar

a little chopped fresh mint

 

Juice the blood oranges, removing any pips but straining only through a colander or coarse sieve to do so, so some pulp remains. Add 120g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar per litre (1 3/4 pints) of juice and stir to dissolve.

 

Pour the liquid into a deep tray that will fit in your freezer (metal is best, as it will conduct heat from the granita fastest – but this is only a question of time, rather than quality). Place it in your freezer, and check after half an hour. Once ice crystals start to form, stir every
15 minutes or so with a fork or sturdy balloon whisk until you have a satisfyingly thick slush. If it gets too hard, you can always thaw it a little before serving – and it can be stored this way (frozen solid) for weeks.

 

Serve on a hot day, sprinkled with the flaked almonds and mint.

 

Variation

Mixed 2:1 with vodka or Campari, this makes for an excellent cocktail, too.

 

Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Serves 4 as a starter

 

8 fresh figs in season

 

8 tablespoons Greek style natural yoghurt (the yoghurt should be thick)

2 teaspoons fresh sumac

3 – 4 teaspoons pistachios, halved

extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

a few flakes of sea salt

 

Spoon two – three tablespoons of yoghurt onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.

 

Wild and Free Food

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

 

For those who like to be on the cutting edge, you may be interested to know that watercress is the new rocket! Chefs are going crazy for it and using it in all kinds of recipes. But in reality there’s not much new under the sun. There are references to watercress – the original hydroponic vegetable – in many early Irish manuscripts. It formed part of the diet of hermits and holy men who valued its special properties, which we now know include significant amounts of iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamins A and C. Watercress is brilliant for detox – the mustard oils boost and regulate the liver’s enzymes. Its beta carotene and vitamin A are good for healthy skin and eyes, and watercress is naturally low in calories and fat. Gram for gram, watercress has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than full-cream milk.

Watercress grows naturally in rivers and drains all around Ireland. When you’re looking for it in the wild, make sure the watercress you pick comes from a pure water source with constantly running water. Avoid water drained from fields that are grazed, especially by sheep, which may infest the plant with the liver fluke parasite. Look for darker leaves, which signify older plants and deliver more peppery flavour. Watercress often grows side by side with a plant called fool’s watercress (Apium nodiflorum), which is sometimes referred to as wild celery but it isn’t, even though it is part of the parsley and celery family. It has small green flowers, whereas watercress has small white flowers. With watercress, the top leaf is the biggest and they decrease in size as you go down the stem; with fools watercress, it’s the reverse. When the watercress begins to form little white flowers the leaves elongate.

 

Garden Workshop at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Learn how to build a Willow Structure with Norbert Platz The Willow Wizard from West Cork. Norbert will show you how to make scarecrows, dragons, willow tunnels, plant covers, baskets… On this intensive course you will learn how to harvest and prepare willows and the basic techniques needed to create a variety of willow structures in your own garden. Monday 17th February at 9:00am, coffee and homemade biscuits on arrival and light lunch included – €95.00. Phone 021 4646785 to book or www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Cask and Winter Ale Festival at Franciscan Well on 14B North Mall, Cork Festival is on Friday, Saturday & Sunday the 14th, 15th & 16th February. With a selection of casks from a selection of Irelands best craft breweries and some winter specials this festival is growing each year to showcase the real ale culture in Ireland. Talk to some of Irelands newest brewers at the  ‘Meet the Brewer’ section, a new element in this year’s festival. See their FaceBook page – Cask & Winter Ale Festival.

Sugar, the New Tobacco

A little of what you fancy does you good. Well, no actually, all evidence points to the fact that sugar is damaging our health in a myriad of ways we are only beginning to understand. Make no mistake about it, sugar is addictive and is set to be the ‘New Tobacco’ as it becomes  abundantly clear that it’s an ingredient we absolutely don’t need, empty calories that pile on the pounds without nourishing us in any way.

Type 2 diabetes and obesity are increasing dramatically around the world but excess sugar is also linked to cancer, heart disease and of course tooth decay.  Ireland’s leading obesity expert Donal O’Shea paints a grim picture, 25% of Irish children are overweight, 25% of adults are obese while a further 40% are considered to be overweight. International doctors, scientists and obesity experts are joining forces to put pressure on governments to force food and drink manufacturers to cut hidden sugar in processed foods by up to 30%.

In the UK, Action on Sugar has launched an initiative chaired by Professor Graham MacGregor – who also heads up CASH which spearheaded the hugely successful campaign on salt reduction. “Provided the sugar reductions are done slowly, people won’t notice. In most products in the supermarkets, the salt has come down by between 25% and 40%. Kellogg’s Cornflakes contain 60% less salt than they used to.”

The panel includes obesity experts, high profile scientists and doctors including Robert Lustig author of Fat Chance – The Bitter Truth about Sugar and Professors John Wass, academic vice-president of the Royal College of Physicians, Philip James of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, Dr Aseem Malhotra cardiologist and Sir Nicholas Wald of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine.

Yoni Freedhoff from the University of Ottowa, Canada is another advisor to the group said   “Not only has added sugar found its way into virtually everything we eat, but worse still, the use of sugar as a means to pacify, entertain and reward children has become normalised to the point that questioning our current sugary status quo often inspires anger and outrage.”

Experts have calculated that reducing sugar in processed foods by between 20 and 30% over the next 3 to 5 years could remove 100 calories a day from diets, enough to reverse the obesity epidemic.

Deep down, we’ve all known this was coming.

People are aware that fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biccies are loaded with sugar, but they are often amazed to discover that sugar can also be in many types of bread, soups, sauces…

So what to do?

Labelling can be confusing, low fat does not mean low sugar and labels are often carefully worded to mask the reality. For most people, teaspoons are easier to visualise than grams. We now know that Coca Cola Original, 330ml and Pepsi, regular contain 9 teaspoons of sugar. Mars Bar 51g has 8 teaspoons sugar. Even zero fat yoghurt can contain up to 5 teaspoons of sugar, while a tall Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream and skimmed milk was found to have 11 teaspoons of sugar.

Over the years we’ve noticed many items getting progressively sweeter. In fact, I’m convinced that sugar itself has become more intensely sweet, since we are now using imported sugar now that our domestic sugar beet industry is gone, can this be my imagination – I’m awaiting the results of a scientific analysis. In the meantime we have been systematically reducing sugar in many of our recipes often without a murmur of complaint.

Sugar is unquestionably addictive, so cutting sugar out of our diet altogether is a ‘big ask.’ It can certainly be done but one may have to endure a couple of weeks of ‘cold turkey’ then apparently the craving dissipates. However with a certain resolve it should be possible to cut out sweet fizzy drinks, sugar in tea and coffee, sweetened yoghurt and soups. There are still some supermarkets that have aisles of tempting sweets and bars as one queues for the till, perhaps it’s time for Mammies of the world to unite and demand support to help solve this global problem of obesity.

So what are the alternatives, bananas are naturally sweet and can enable you to reduce or eliminate sugar in banana bread, muffins or buns. Think about eliminating breakfast cereals from your shopping list and replace with porridge, a brilliant food which also includes fibre.

Honey can be substituted for sugar or add a sprinkling of plump raisins or sultanas. Several of my grandchildren love peanut butter on their porridge, sounds very odd but it’s been their winter breakfast of choice for many years and keeps them sated until lunch time.

Completely eliminate sugar sweetened drinks, SSDs as they are called – make no mistake sugar is addictive so if you or your children are used to a couple of these drinks a day – you’ll need to be full of resolve to kick the habit. Substitute real apple juice with sparkling water or just water.  Dried fruit and nuts or blueberries are good for snacks but why are we snacking all the time? A bar of dark chocolate has less sugar but at least has the benefit of antioxidants.

 

Debbie Shaw’s Banana and Pecan Loaf


This is a lovely, moist loaf and a great way to use up over-ripe bananas. See sugar free version of this recipe below.

 

 

Serves 10-12

 

110g (4oz) white spelt flour
110g (4oz) brown spelt flour (Ballybrado)
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of mixed spice
1 teaspoon of salt
75g (3oz) Billington’s unrefined caster sugar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 large egg, beaten
75ml (3fl oz) of sunflower oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
65g (2 1/2oz) pecan nuts or walnuts, chopped
4 large ripe bananas, well mashed

 

Place the flour, salt, finely sieved baking powder and caster sugar into a large bowl. Lightly mix the egg, oil, vanilla and maple syrup together and add to the dry ingredient mixing very gently. Fold the pecan nuts and mashed bananas into t this mixture with a fork being careful not to over beat or mix. Place in a lined and oiled 900g (2lb) loaf tin and bake in the preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 1 hour. Allow it to cool in the tin before turning out.

 

For a Sugar Free Version:
You can also make this bread very successfully omitting the 75g (3oz) of caster sugar and ensuring that the bananas are very, very ripe and it’s equally as delicious.

Debbie Shaw’s Figgy Flapjacks

 

It is almost impossible to find a flapjack without tons of butter, golden syrup and sugar in it. This is my healthier version of the flapjack with vastly reduced sugar and butter content but it does need a little golden syrup for binding.

 

Makes 25 bars

 

Tin size – 19cm x 30cm or 11 ½ x 7 ½ inches

175g (6oz) of porridge oats
50g (2oz) butter
2 scant tablespoons of golden syrup
1 ½ oz light brown sugar
2 tablespoons of honey
25g (1oz) sunflower seeds
25g (1oz) pumpkin seeds
25g (1oz) toasted sesame seeds
150g (5oz) of figs, roughly chopped
25g (1oz) apricots, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4.

Blend the figs in a food processor with 5 tablespoons boiling water to make a paste. Line the base of the tin with parchment paper and oil the sides with sunflower oil. Heat the butter, brown sugar, honey and golden syrup in a medium-sized pot until melted and add the other ingredients. Mix the fig mixture with the other dry ingredients and add to the melted sugars and butter. Stir thoroughly and place in the lined tin. Press firmly into the tin with a palette knife and bake for 30 minutes until lightly golden brown. Allow to cool completely before cutting. Store in a tin or airtight container.

 

 

Debbie Shaw’s Medjool Date and Coconut Rounds

 

This is a no-cook, egg-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan cookie that takes minutes to make.

 

 

Makes 25

 

½ small ripe banana, mashed (optional)
225g (8oz) Medjool dates, stoned
250g (9oz) of whole almonds
1 heaped tablespoon of raw cocoa powder
1/4 scant teaspoon of vanilla extract
110g (4oz) desiccated coconut

 

Whiz the almonds in the food processor until they are the size of breadcrumbs. Add the raw cocoa powder and pulse. Add the banana (if using), vanilla, and dates and blend to a paste. Shape the mixture into a log with your hands and roll in the desiccated coconut. Cut into rounds or roll into truffle-sized balls and roll in desiccated coconut and give them as presents.

 

 

Debbie Shaw’s Kiddies Crispy Party Buns

 

These fun buns are a great way to get essential fats and B-vitamins into kids and they are pretty tasty too. The protein in the seeds prevents a sudden blood sugar rise that some sugary treats cause which make kids hyper!

 

Makes 20-24 depending on size

 

3oz (75g) 60% dark chocolate, melted

2 1/2oz (62g) puffed wholegrain brown rice or puffed quinoa (available from Health Food Shops)
3  1/2oz (82g) pumpkin seeds
1oz (25g) sunflower seeds
1oz (25g) toasted sesame seeds
1oz (25g) flaked almonds, broken up
1 tablespoon maple syrup

 

Melt the chocolate and add all of the other ingredients stirring well to coat. Place in paper cases, press down gently and allow to set. If you are in a hurry, pop them in the freezer for 5 minutes and they set quickly.

 

Wild and Free Food

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

For those who like to be on the cutting edge, you may be interested to know that watercress is the new rocket! Chefs are going crazy for it and using it in all kinds of recipes. But in reality there’s not much new under the sun. There are references to watercress – the original hydroponic vegetable – in many early Irish manuscripts. It formed part of the diet of hermits and holy men who valued its special properties, which we now know include significant amounts of iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamins A and C. Watercress is brilliant for detox – the mustard oils boost and regulate the liver’s enzymes. Its beta carotene and vitamin A are good for healthy skin and eyes, and watercress is naturally low in calories and fat. Gram for gram, watercress has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than full-cream milk.

Watercress grows naturally in rivers and drains all around Ireland. When you’re looking for it in the wild, make sure the watercress you pick comes from a pure water source with constantly running water. Avoid water drained from fields that are grazed, especially by sheep, which may infest the plant with the liver fluke parasite. Look for darker leaves, which signify older plants and deliver more peppery flavour. Watercress often grows side by side with a plant called fool’s watercress (Apium nodiflorum), which is sometimes referred to as wild celery but it isn’t, even though it is part of the parsley and celery family. It has small green flowers, whereas watercress has small white flowers. With watercress, the top leaf is the biggest and they decrease in size as you go down the stem; with fools watercress, it’s the reverse. When the watercress begins to form little white flowers the leaves elongate.

Hot Tips

Alternative Sugars from Natural Sources

Brown rice syrup, date syrup, maple syrup, honey and agave syrup are all available from health food stores.  XyloBrit or Xylitol is a refined sugar made using fruit or Birch tree extracts. You can use this as a 1:1 direct replacement for refined white caster sugar in baking. The Tate and Lyle brand, which is a blend of caster sugar and stevia, can be also used as a 1:1 direct substitute for refined caster sugar in baking. This is available in powder, liquid and dried herb form from good health food stores. Another good way to naturally sweeten baked goods without using refined sugar, is to add dried dates, dried figs or overripe bananas, whizzed in a food processor with a little boiling water to make a sweet paste. Other dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots etc.) also add sweetness to cakes and muffins.

Debbie Shaw

Debbie will be presenting more healthy recipes in her “Feel Good Food – Let’s Cook” course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Mon 21st July 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. This one day course offers fresh, simple and seasonal recipes for energy, vitality and optimal health. The morning cookery demonstration is followed by an opportunity to cook some of Debbie’s tasty recipes in the kitchens. Debbie Shaw is a chef and Nutritionist and runs “Apple A Day Nutrition” (Mobile tel: +353 (086) 785 5868, email: debbieswellness@gmail.com).

The booking office is now open for the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 16th-18th May. There’s an incredible line-up again this year international food heroes such as René Redzepi, Diana Kennedy, Simon Hopkinson, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. There will be a cocktail of wine and drinks experts, Irish participants will include talented chefs Ross Lewis, Paul Flynn and Clodagh McKenna. Some events are already fully subscribed so check out the website www.litfest.ie or call the Box Office (open Monday to Friday 10am-5pm) on 021 4645777.

 

Hospitality and business course “Being ‘the best’ takes time, dedication and an absolute commitment to raising standards, every day. It is an infinite journey and it’s what separates the best from the quickly forgotten.” says Georgina Campbell who is teaming up with business mentoring company Conor Kenny and Associates to run the Hospitality Business Development Programme, over a 4 month period from Tuesday 11th February to Thursday 29th May. The programme was created by people who are immersed in the industry and the practical workshops will drive and accelerate growth. www.georginacampbelllearning.com  or call Linda Halpin – 01 663-3685 for bookings.

 

 

 

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