Once again, it’s that time of the year when I make a ton of New Year resolutions that despite all the evidence to the contrary I’m totally sure I will keep. I’m totally obsessed by my new ‘best present’, a pedometer – it tells me how many steps I’ve walked each day. Apparently, to keep fit, it ought to be 10,000 at least. That’s pretty easy in my average day but I keep wanting to break my record. I reckon everyone should have one of these new ‘toys’ or alternatively, install the app on your phone. That will also tell you how many stairs you have climbed and how many miles you have covered – it becomes addictive but then again there’s far worse things to be addicted to!
Back to New Year resolutions, as the obesity crisis becomes ever more urgent, we’ve already started to reduce sugar drastically in our recipes – 20% across the board to get them back to the original degree of sweetness before we changed from sugar beet to cane sugar. Try it, you’ll be amazed how you scarcely notice the difference and 20% adds up to a lot of sugar…..
My next challenge is to reduce my meat consumption by 50% and increase our plant/herb and grain consumption by 50% instead. Plants are by far the most important food group, you can live totally healthily on a plant based diet, but the same cannot be said for meat despite the popularity of the Atkins diet. The cost of unrealistically cheap meat particularly chicken and pork can no longer be ignored in health and socio-economic terms. There are also serious animal welfare issues to be addressed not to speak of questions on real traceability and sustainability. Interesting a growing number of people worldwide are becoming exercised about this subject and initiatives like ‘Meat Free Monday’ are growing in acceptance. Chefs too are embracing the concept and restaurants like The Grain Store in King’s Cross in London have already highlighted meat as a flavouring or garnish rather than the main ingredient on their menus.
There are many other examples – René Redzepi of NOMA in Copenhagen whose restaurant has helped to change the gastronomic image of the entire Nordic region, features fish and meat just once during his unforgettable 20 course meal. It’s a total celebration of the fresh vegetables and wild foods. The reality is that evidence is mounting that both we ourselves and the planet would be immeasurably better off if we ate less but much better quality meat. My guess is that this is more than a trend ….
We are fortunate in Ireland to have access to some excellent meat. Make some enquiries in your area to find a producer of properly free-range, organic poultry, you’ll need to pay €18-20 for a fine plump bird with giblets’. That is closer to the real price of rearing a tasty, wholesome bird for the table. It’s time we got real about the true costs involved. Paying what to many will seem like an astronomical price is enough to galvanise the mind so you use every single scrap and enjoy it as an occasional treat as used to be the case when I was a child.
The carcass and giblets will make a fine pot of stock. The chicken liver can be whipped up into a pate or smooth parfait to enjoy with slices of crisp toast or crusty bread. The drumsticks, thighs, breasts, tenders and wings can all be used in a variety of ways and bulked up with lots of vegetables and pulses or grains. The skin on a good chicken cooked crisp and served with a lime and chilli dipping sauce will become a family favourite. Offal lovers like me will also enjoy a confit of the hearts and gizzards served on a bed of winter greens just as guests do in 3 star Michelin restaurants or in Parisian brasseries.
Here are some delicious recipes to get the maximum from a beautiful free range organic bird should you be able to find such a treasure……
Thai Chicken, Galangal and Coriander Soup
A particularly delicious example of how fast and easy a Thai soup can be and how a little organic chicken can go a long way. Serve in Chinese porcelain bowls if available. The kaffir lime leaves and galangal are served but not eaten. The chilli may of course be nibbled. Prawns and shrimps can be substituted for the chicken in this recipe with equally delicious results.
900ml (32fl oz) homemade chicken stock
4 kaffir lime leaves (use 3 dry if fresh are unavailable)
5cm (2 inch) piece of galangal, peeled and sliced or less of fresh ginger
4 tablespoons Fish sauce (Nam pla)
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
225g (8oz) chicken breast, very finely sliced
225ml (8fl oz) coconut milk
1-3 Thai red chillies
fresh coriander leaves – about 5 tablespoons
Put the chicken stock, lime leaves, galangal or ginger, fish sauce and freshly squeezed lemon juice into a saucepan. Bring to the boil stirring all the time, add the finely shredded chicken and coconut milk. Continue to simmer until the chicken is just cooked 1-2 minutes approx. Crush the chillies with a knife or Chinese chopper add to the soup for just a few seconds with some coriander leaves. Ladle into hot bowls and serve immediately.
Note: We usually use one red Thai chilli – number depends on your taste and how hot the chillies are.
Blanched and refreshed rice noodles are also great added to this soup. Fresh lime leaves are not available in every shop, but you may be able to pick up a plant at your local garden centre. (I found several at Deelish Garden Centre near Skibbereen) Alternatively, buy the leaves any time you spot them, pop them into a bag and freeze them, though not quite the same as fresh they are surprisingly good.
Spicy Chicken Livers on Toast
Serves 6 as a starter
A tasty little starter but also great to serve with drinks.
1lb( 450g) organic chicken livers
1 teasp. cumin seeds
1 teasp. coriander seeds
a good pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teasp.sea salt
1 teasp. black peppercorns
1 tablespoon white flour
2 tablespoons freshly snipped flat parsley or coriander
6 slices of sourdough bread
Butter or extra virgin olive oil
Warm the cumin and coriander in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes by which time they should be smelling fragrant and spicy.
Put into a pestle and mortar with the sea salt and peppercorns. Grind with the pestle, add the cayenne pepper and flour and mix well.
Meanwhile clean the chicken livers, divide in two pieces if still intact. Remove any veins or traces of green. Wash and dry.
Just before cooking toss each chicken liver in the spicy coating.
Heat a little butter in a frying pan ,add a dash of olive oil, when it foams add the livers (you may need to cook in two batches depending on the size of the pan. Cook on all sides until slightly crisp on the outside but still a little pink and juicy .Add the roughly chopped parsley or coriander.
Meanwhile, pan grill or toast the bread and butter or drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Put a slice on to a hot plate.Spoon some spicy livers and juices over the top. Serve immediately.
Confit of Gizzards
4 organic chicken or duck gizzards
200g (7oz) duck fat
Clean the gizzards and trim off all the fat. Tuck them into a small saucepan and cover with the duck fat. Put on a very low heat (or transfer to allow oven, 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2) and cook until tender, this could take three hours. Allow to cool, transfer into a sterilized crock or Kilner jar, cover with strained duck fat and store in the fridge until they are to be used. They will keep for months and are delicious heated up on a pan and served on a little salad of seasonal leaves or in a risotto.
Spiced Chicken Legs with Banana and Cardamon raita
3 1/2 lbs (1.5kg) chicken drumsticks or a mixture of drumsticks and thighs (boned or unboned)
1 tablespoon toasted ground cumin seeds
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon castor sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed
2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil
Ballymaloe Tomato Relish
Banana and Yoghurt Raita (see recipe)
Mix the cumin, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, sugar, black pepper, salt, garlic and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a bowl. Slash the chicken legs with a sharp knife in a couple of places. Rub the mixture all over the chicken pieces, put in a bowl and cover. Keep in a cool place for at least 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the chicken pieces onto a roasting tin with all the paste, Brush or drizzle with a little oil and bake for about 20 minutes then turn over and bake for a further 20-25 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Baste 2 or 3 times during cooking. Transfer to a serving dish spoon the degreased juices over the chicken and serve hot or at room temperature with Ballymaloe Tomato Relish, Banana and Yoghurt Raita and poppadums.
Crispy Chicken Skin with Plum or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce
This recipe is only worth doing with an organic chicken. The idea of eating chicken skin may frighten some, but it’s soooo yummy. You’ll soon become addicted – just don’t live on it!
skin from organic chicken breasts
or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce (mix Sweet Chilli Sauce with freshly squeezed lime juice to taste)
Peel the skin off the chicken breasts. Cut the skin into pieces about the size of a business card (if the pieces are reasonably even they will be more manageable to eat later).
Preheat the oven to 180Cº/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
Spread the chicken skin upwards on a wire cooling rack on a baking tray. Cook for 25–30 minutes, until the skin is irresistibly crisp and the fat has rendered out. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with a little bowl of plum or lime and sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Homemade butter, yoghurt, and some cheeses: Why not start the New Year learning how to make butter, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products at home. You’ll also discover how added flavour can be achieved with fresh herbs and fruit. Butter and cheese making is definitely one of those simple but deeply satisfying kitchen crafts not only that deserves to be resurrected but can also provide additional income or a vibrant business. Course on Wed 14th Jan 2015 from 9:30 am to 1:45 pm, light lunch included. For more details see www.cookingisfun.ie or phone 021 4646785
Midleton GIY Practical Skills of Horticulture: Learn about tree planting and pruning of apple trees at the Midleton Community Garden on January 10th, from 2pm to 4pm. Classes are free of charge, children are welcome. Practical skills will be demonstrated with participants encouraged to practice, tools will be provided. Bookings phone 085-8123617 or email@example.com. See www.giyinternational.org. for the 2015 schedule of events countrywide.