ArchiveJanuary 2001

What a waste

Many members of the farming community all over the country, as well as urban dwellers, are sickened and nauseated by the recent cull of cattle.~

The public are deeply confused as to why this seemingly barbaric exercise was necessary – Was there a suspicion that a high percentage of these cattle have BSE? If not why are so many fine grass-fed Irish cattle being wantonly slaughtered, sprayed with dye and dumped.

Over 20,000 animals have been slaughtered to date and the plan is to destroy up to 25,000 a week. Only 17,000 have been tested and none tested positive for BSE.
The truth, for those who cannot understand why perfectly good beef should be dumped, is even more difficult to stomach. Minister Joe Walsh admitted on the Pat Kenny Show recently that the cull was in fact designed as a market support measure. Recently the beef markets in Egypt and on the continent have collapsed as a result of the BSE scare, hence the EU agricultural ministers have negotiated the purchase for destruction option – Ireland is the only country that has opted to go ahead with a wholesale cull. The cull is funded 70% by EU and 30% by the Irish taxpayer. In addition, each member state was given the option of including a 5% top up payment. In Ireland this was used to increase the premium for the steers in the 30-40 month category, rather than cows. It is estimated that the whole exercise will cost the taxpayers in the region of £400 million and has already created a huge disposal problem.
In an age when approximately one third of the world’s population in starving, it is difficult to justify any waste, not to speak of wanton waste on this scale. Those who remember harder times shake their heads in disbelief and speak of their gut feeling that no luck will come from it!

In Limerick, Quaker Charles Lamb resigned from his job in a local abattoir in protest because his conscience would not allow him to condone this. He asked why the beef could not be sold or given to an entrepreneur who might can the prime beef as a strategic reserve. Norway did just this some years ago when they had a surplus of beef, It was distributed in Kosovo under the humanitarian division of the WHO where it was badly needed and greatly appreciated. If we had another nuclear disaster which we all know in our heart of hearts is not beyond the bounds of possibility, would we not be very glad of Irish canned beef?

The argument against sending the beef to the Third World seems to centre on the concern about not depressing prices in some of their markets also. Surely it should not be beyond the powers of ingenuity of the aid agencies to distribute it sagely Probably the most serious aspect of this entire episode is that the cull is taking place in the low risk group, steers of 30 months and over. No case of BSE has been recorded in Ireland in animals born since 1996. It would seem that the main problem has been found in old cows, yet few of these are being destroyed, mostly because the top-up payment is for steers. This group are the main reservoir of BSE, so they need to be excluded from the food chain without delay.
The EU has brought in a regulation that beef over 30 months must be tested before being sold for human consumption or else destroyed. This presents very little problem for local butchers and small abbatoirs who were killing mostly heifer beef around 18 months anyway. However, the market for these under 30 month animals has now increased dramatically as a result of this ruling, consequently local butchers are finding it difficult to compete with the meat factories who are buying up stocks for export to Europe. The net result is that the price of beef will increase for the consumer.
Perhaps however, the 30 month ruling will inadvertently have the beneficial side effect of increasing the popularity of the Irish traditional Irish breeds, like Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn and Pol Angus, breeds which mature early and can be fattened on grass, rather than the continental breeds which take longer to mature and need huge inputs of grain to fatten.
Local butchers and small abbatoirs have been having a tough time trying to cope with the tidal wave of new regulations that have engulfed them in recent years. The risk of something going wrong is much lower in an operation where the butcher knows the source of the meat and the people who produce it In 1988 there were 800 small abbatoirs, now just 350 remain in operation. These small abbatoirs supply 1,700 local butchers who provide two thirds of the meat for Irish consumers. Many hand pick their animals – they are reared locally, slaughtered locally, sold locally, eaten locally, this is the ultimate in traceability and the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. Many of these abbatoirs kill as few as 2 to a maximum of 6 beasts a week, as opposed to approximately 100 an hour in the big abbatoirs. There is room and need for both types of operation. Small abbatoirs and butchers have the space to hang the carcasses for up to two weeks and sometimes more, a vitally important factor which affects the eating quality of the meat.
This is a forgotten sector, they receive no grants and the local authority inspectorate has been neglected. In 1999, 10 local authorities did not have a full time vet, even though this is a legal requirement.
What return is the taxpayer getting from the £400 million this purchase for destruction scheme is estimated to cost? – none. If the government is serious about protecting the health of the Irish electorate rather than an overseas market, an investment in this sector would yield returns in terms of food safety, food quality, consumer confidence, animal welfare and environmental protection.
Conscientious local butchers and small abbatoirs are an important part of our food culture and a vital link to safe food and real traceability – they desperately need our support – support them now or one of these days we will turn around and they will be gone.
While I was writing this piece, George Bush was being inaugurated as President of America – apparently Spaghetti and Meatballs are one of his favourite foods.


Spaghetti with Meatballs

Serves 6-8
8 ozs (225g) extra lean minced beef
1 egg
1 oz (25g) breadcrumbs
½ teasp. salt
¼ teasp. pepper
1 tablesp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 x 28 fl.oz (800ml) tin of plum tomatoes with juices
1 lb (450g) spaghetti
1oz (25g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablesp. chopped fresh basil or parsley
Combine the minced beef with egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Form mixture into about 24 small meatballs. Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet and reserve.
In large, deep non-stick skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil. Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Cook gently for about 10 minutes.
Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a spoon. Cook over a medium heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add meatballs to boiling sauce. Cover, reduce heat and cook gently for 20-25 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Stir occasionally. (Add a little water or tomato juice at any time if the mixture seems dry.) Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add spaghetti and cook until tender but firm. Drain well and combine with sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and basil. Serve immediately.

(From Simply HeartSmart Cooking by Bonnie Stern)

Sirloin Steak Sandwich with Bonnie Stern’s Barbecued Onion Sauce

Serves 8
1½ lb (675 g) sirloin, cut into generous 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick steaks
2 tablespoon (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Barbecued Onion Sauce

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) olive oil
3 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 ozs (110 g/½ cup) tinned tomatoes
3½ ozs (100 g/½ cup) brown sugar
4 fl ozs (120 ml/½ cup) rice vinegar or cider vinegar
4 fl ozs (120 ml/½ cup) strong coffee
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Worcestershire sauce
2 thin French sticks cut into 24 inches (60 cm)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Pat steak dry. Mix the balsamic vinegar, mustard, pepper and crushed garlic in a small bowl. Rub all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and chopped garlic and cook until soft but not coloured.
Add tomatoes, sugar, rice vinegar, coffee and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Just before serving, barbecue or pan-grill steak, 4-6 minutes on each side for sirloin steak depending on the thickness. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice thinly.
Slice crusty French stick and make hot juicy sandwiches with the steak and Barbecued Onion Sauce. Sprinkle with lots of chopped parsley and eat immediately.

‘Appetite’ by Nigel Slater

Eight or nine years ago I remember being asked if there was any natural successor to Elizabeth David or Jane Grigson emerging on the food scene. I replied without hesitation that I thought young Nigel Slater was certainly someone to watch, I no longer have any doubts, I am his biggest fan.

His new book ‘Appetite’ has me licking my lips all over again – he writes about food in the most irresistible way. Even if you never cook, never want to cook, don’t even want to be persuaded to cook, you should buy this book and keep it in the loo. Sneak a look at it every now and then, read a page or two and I guarantee you, you’ll never be the same again.

In this radical new book, Nigel Slater argues that we should not be slavishly following recipes, but following our instincts. ‘Appetite’ shows us how to break the rules, experiment with recipes and satisfy our appetite.

Slater gives us brilliant templates for a large range of classic dishes from a simple supper of chicken, wine and herbs, a big fish pie for friends, to a curry to make you sweat. With his unique blend of simplicity, wit and relish, he casts aside the insecurities of normal recipes. There are hundreds of ideas and suggestions for how you might adapt each dish to produce something quite different. Each recipe becomes a key to discovering a multitude of meals. Readers are liberated to use their own judgement and often encouraged to skip half the ingredients; at the end of each recipe are suggestions for changing or taking it further. A cheap spaghetti meal has eight variations, and soon you will start to discover combinations that are all your own.
Slater rejects the tendency to make our daily cooking too complicated, believing there is more pleasure to be had in good ingredients uncontrived. The first half of the book goes back to first principles and explores, among much else, shopping ingredient by ingredient and month by month, the basic kitchen kit, how to cut down the work and what goes with what.

Jonathan Lovekin’s photos are exquisite and don’t forget to read the chapter about the art of washing up.

‘Appetite’ by Nigel Slater, published by Fourth Estate, London, priced at £30 in Ireland and worth every penny.

Two weeks before Christmas

Tim and I spent a blissfully relaxing week in Morocco just before Christmas, a perfect and much needed break to recharge the batteries before the festive season. We were staying at a little hotel called La Gazelle d’Or just outside Taroudant which is east of Agadir.

I’m rather drawn to Morocco, not just for the food which I love, but because it is the closest place where the culture and way of life are completely different – just three and a half hours by plane. For us the climate too is wonderful – two weeks before Christmas it was like our best summer weather and there were virtually no tourists.
The hotel where we stayed was set in the midst of a 200 hectare organic farm and orange groves. The 30 bedrooms in stone cottages were scattered through the gardens and each one covered with jasmine, bougainvillea, and lemon trees. Each had its own little veranda and an open fireplace, with lots of timber to light a fire when the evenings turned chilly – bliss.

By about 9.30am it was warm enough to have breakfast on the veranda overlooking the gardens in view of the Atlas mountain. Habib or Rachid dressed in the long flowing Moroccan djellaba would bring in the tray laden with steaming hot coffee, freshly baked homemade breads, croissants and brioche. Mercifully none of the par baked frozen stuff here, home made jams and marmalade, fresh fruit and warm Moroccan honeycomb pancakes called Baghrir oozing with melted butter and honey. They came in little blue and white tagines hidden under the distinctive conical lid. There was of course freshly squeezed orange juice, large glasses of fruity juice pressed from oranges picked just minutes earlier – bliss.
While we ate our breakfast in leisurely fashion, listening to the birds squabbling over the dates in the palm tree, we would flirt with the idea of doing something energetic, but apart from a few little forays into Taroudant and an expedition to Marrakech, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from our oasis. We had many lovely walks through orange groves and fields of vegetables and herbs. We simply read for hours on end, relaxed , had occasional swims in the pool, the most stressful decisions we had to make were whether we would have lunch beside the pool or on the balcony or in the dining room and what kind of massage we would like – what decadence!
Well, that’s not quite true, because both of us are actually writing books. Tim’s is on bread and needs to be in to the publishers Gill & Macmillan by the end of January, mine is a terrifying tome of over 500 recipes – loosely entitled the Darina Allen Cookery Course, which, if I manage to keep to my new and final deadlines, should be in the shops by next Christmas. Not surprisingly everywhere we go we’re always on the look out for new and delicious recipes. At Gazelle d’Or we spent some very happy hours in the kitchen with the chefs and cooks learning how to make the delicious little Moroccan pancakes and the Berber breads we ate by the pool for lunch.
We ordered Pastilla, Couscous and various tagines for dinner. The pastilla was made with pigeon and paper thin sheets of warka. All of these extraordinary skills were passed on from mother to daughter and to the sons also.
Tagines take their name from the terracotta pot with the distinctive conical lid. Essentially they are stews of meat, vegetables or fish, often with the addition of nuts, fruit and olives. Traditionally they are cooked long and slowly in the clay tagine over a charcoal fire which of course impacts a particular flavour. Nowadays however, the stew is often cooked in a regular pot and served in the tagine.
We were in Morocco during the Ramadan which is the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Lent. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it commemorates the time in which the Koran was revealed to Muhammad. In contrast to the Christian West, though, the Muslim world observes the fast extremely rigorously – indeed Moroccans are forbidden by law from ‘public disrespect’ of the fast, and a few are jailed for this each year. The Ramadan fast involves abstention from food, drink, smoking and sex during daylight hours throughout the month. With most local cafes and restaurants closed during the day, and people getting on edge towards the month’s end, it is in some respects a disastrous time to travel, although we didn’t find it so. The staff were wonderfully courteous and although they must have been feeling weak and tetchy by sundown when they break their fast with the traditional bowl of Harira, they never showed it.
Dinner was served after eight, by then it was completely dark and the way to the candlelit dining room was lit by Moroccan lanterns – so beautiful. La Gazelle d’Or was quite a find – rare to discover a gem like this and right in the centre of a bio-dynamic farm – what more could we ask.
La Gazelle d’Or, Taroudant, Morocco Tel. (212.4) 8.85 20 48/20 39
Fax (212.4) 8.85 27 37. 


From Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian published by Ebury Press
These soft, spongy Moroccan pancakes have the airy holes of a muffin but a texture that is much more satiny and pliable. They are perfect for absorbing butter and honey at breakfast, when they are eaten as sweet pancakes, and equally good at lunchtime when they can be wrapped around beans and vegetables and eaten as a bread.
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
200g (7oz) semolina flour
200g (7oz) plain flour
½ teasp. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
250ml (8 fl.oz) honey plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (for pouring over the pancakes)
9-10 tablespoons unsalted butter for serving the pancakes
Combine the yeast, sugar and 2 tablespoons warm water 40-46C (105-115F) in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast begins to bubble up.  Meanwhile, put the flour, semolina flour, salt, egg and yeast mixture in a blender. Add 600ml (20 fl.oz) warm water 40-46C (105-115F). Blend until smooth and free of lumps. You may need to push down with a rubber spatula several times. Empty into a bowl, cover and set aside in a warm place for 2½-3 hours.  Get everything ready to make the pancakes. You need a medium-sized, non-stick frying pan, a plate with a large tea towel on it to hold the pancakes as they get cooked, a ladle with a round bottom in which you have measured 85ml (3 fl.ozs) so that you know how much batter to pick up each time, and a spatula to pick up the pancakes.
Set the frying pan on medium heat. Grease the pan lightly with the teaspoon of oil (you will only need to grease the pan once). Let the pan get very hot. Ladle in 85ml (3 fl.oz) of batter into the pan. Using the rounded underside of the ladle and a very light touch, quickly spread the batter into a 15cm (6 inch) round. Cover and cook on a medium heat for 1 minute. Uncover and continue cooking for another minute, or until the bottom has turned golden and top is not only filled with airy holes, but is also cooked through (you might find that the pancakes take less time to cook during the uncovered period as the pan gets hotter. Lift it up with a spatula and place on the tea towel. Fold the four corners of the tea towel over the pancake and keep it covered. Make all the pancakes in this way, stacking them on top of each other, and covering them each time. You can keep the pancakes like this for a couple of hours.  To serve, put the combined honey-butter mixture into a small pot and heat until both the honey and butter have liquefied and mixed. Stir once or twice. Keep warm.  For each pancake, melt about 2 teaspoons butter into a non-stick pan on medium-low heat. Place one pancake, the bubbly surface side down, gently into the pan. Heat for 15-20 seconds. Put on to a plate, bubbly side up. Pour some of the honey-butter mixture over the top and serve hot. Makes about 12-13 pancakes.


Gazelle’s Horns

From Mediterranean Cookery by Claudia Roden, published by BBC books
The most popular Moroccan pastries are best known abroad by their French name cornes de gazelles. They are stuffed with almond paste and curved into horn-shaped crescents
Makes about 16.
For the filling:
200g (7oz) ground almonds
100g (3½ oz) castor sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons orange blossom water
For the pastry:
200g (7oz) flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
Scant 175ml (6 fl.oz) orange blossom water
Icing sugar for dusting.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4)
Mix the ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon and orange blossom water and knead with your hands into a stiff paste. It will seem dry at first but will soon stick well together as the almonds give out their oil.  To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt with the oil and add just enough orange blossom water to make it hold together in a soft dough. Knead vigorously for about 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Roll the dough out with a floured rolling pin as thinly as possible on a floured board and cut into long strips about 8cm (3 in) wide.
Take lumps out of the almond paste filling about the size of a large walnut and roll them into thin sausages about 8cm (3in) long and with tapering ends. Place them end to end in a row along one side of each strip of pastry about 3cm (1¼ in) apart. Wet the pastry edges slightly with water, then fold the pastry over to cover the almond paste and press the edges together to enclose the ‘sausages’ completely.
Cut round the ‘sausages’ with a pastry wheel or a sharp knife and pinch the edges firmly together. Curve the pastries gently into a crescent or horn shapes. Prick the tops with a fork or make a design with a sharp knife. Put the pastries on a greased baking tray and bake for about 20-35 minutes or until lightly coloured. Let them cool, then dust with icing sugar.


Past Letters