Regular readers of this column will know that I am deeply concerned about the deterioration in the national diet – the results of this rapid decline are evident to see in our ever-expanding waistlines and associated health problems. Consequently, I am an avid follower of research into the nutritive value of food. I firmly believe that the root of the problem is the dramatic change in how the majority of our food is being produced. Farmers are being forced to produce the maximum amount of food at the minimum cost and those who question this mantra are often made to feel like luddites by the agri-business sector. The resulting food is less flavorful and less nutritionally complex. However, a growing number of people are voting with their feet, flocking to the farmers markets to buy naturally produced local food in season. Study after study now shows that vegetables, fruit and meat are substantially lower in vitamins, minerals and trace elements than they were 20-30 years ago, so its nice to have some positive news for a change. At the recent Soil Association Conference in Newcastle , details of new research were announced highlighting that organic milk has higher levels of Vitamin E, antioxidants and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Organically reared cows, which eat high levels of grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produced milk which is on average 50% higher in Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), 75% higher in beta carotene (which our bodies convert to Vitamin A) and two to three times higher in the anti-oxidants lutein and zeaxanthine than non-organic milk. The data supports the higher anti-oxidant levels reported by an Italian Research Council Study. In addition, the research team found higher levels of omega 3 essential fatty acids, confirming earlier research into raised omega 3 levels by the University of Aberdeen and the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. Drinking a pint of organic milk a day provides 17.5% of the required intake of Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) for women and 14% of that for men, and as much beta carotene as some vegetables such as Brussels Sprouts. The enhanced nutritional benefits of organic milk which costs about fifty cents a litre more than conventional, are due to the more natural diets of organic cows. So what does Vitamin E, commonly known as the healing vitamin do, it is a group of compounds called tocopherols,of which alpha tocopherol is the most active. It acts as an antioxidant and protects against damage caused by free radicals, which also cause ageing. Beta Carotene is also a powerful antioxidant which may help reduce the risk of developing cancer. A major study demonstrated that in order to enjoy its benefits, beta carotene must be obtained from food – if it is taken in supplement form it has no benefit. Lutein and zeaxanthine are vitamins in the vitamin A family, which are also found in dark leafy green vegetables and eggs. It is thought that they help reduce the chance of getting cataracts, macular degeneration (deteriorating eyesight as we age) and atherosclerosis (when the blood vessels block up). Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association commented on the research ‘This new research adds to the growing body of evidence proving the health benefits of organic food. A number of pioneering schools are serving organic milk, and there is now a strong case for the Government to ensure that such initiatives are extended across the country.’ These findings will confound those who argue that organic farming is based on wishful thinking rather than sound science. This research was announced just days after a study in the New Scientist revealed that organic tomato ketchup has three times as many cancer fighting components as the traditional variety.
Creme Caramel with Caramel Shards
Caramel 8oz (225g) sugar 5 fl ozs (150ml) water Caramel Sauce 22 fl ozs (60ml) water Custard 1 pint (600ml) milk * or 2 pint (300ml) milk and 2 pint (300ml) cream 4 eggs, preferably free range 2 ozs (55g) castor sugar vanilla pod or 2 teasp. Pure vanilla essence (optional)
1 x 5 inch (12.5) charlotte mould or 6 x 3 inch (7.5cm) souffle dishes
First make the caramel. Put the sugar and water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Bring to the boil, remove the spoon and cook until the caramel becomes golden brown or what we call A chestnut@ colour. Do not stir and do not shake the pan. If sugar crystals form around the side of t1he pan, brush them down with cold water. When the caramel is ready for lining the moulds, it must be used immediately or it will become hard and cold. Coat the bottom of the charlotte mould or souffle dishes with the hot caramel. Dilute the remainder of the caramel with the 22 fl ozs of the water, return to the heat to dissolve and keep aside to serve around the caramel custard. Next make the custard. Whisk the eggs, castor sugar and vanilla essence (if used) until thoroughly mixed but not too fluffy. Infuse the vanilla pod if using in the milk, bring to just under boiling point,-A cool @.Whether you are using a vanilla pod or vanilla essence, the milk must be brought to just under boiling point first. Pour the slightly cooled milk onto the egg mixture, whisking gently as you pour. Strain and pour into the prepared moulds, filling them to the top. Place the moulds in a Bain - Marie of simmering water, cover with a paper lid and bake in a moderate oven 160C/350F/regulo 4, for 35 minutes approx., for individual dishes, 1 hour approx. for a charlotte mould. Test the custard by putting a skewer in the centre ,it will come out clean when the custard are fully cooked. Cool and turn out onto a round, flat dish or individual plates, put the remaining caramel around. Serve with a little softly whipped cream. Decorate with caramel shards (see below). * Milk gives a smoother texture, cook in conventional oven rather than convection. ** Please remember to allow the custard to cool before whisking onto the egg yolks otherwise the eggs will curdle. Caramel Shards Boil sugar and water to the caramel stage - chestnut colour, cool slighty spoon on an oiled baking sheet or onto silicone paper. When cold and crisp use to decorate the creme caramels. Bigger pieces may be splintered into shards. Alternatively, put 4-6 ozs. Sugar either granulated or castor into a low sided stainless steel saucepan. Stir continuously over a medium heat until the sugar melts and caramelizes. When it has almost reached the “chestnut “ stage turn off the heat and allow to stand for a few minutes. Then spoon into shapes as above.
Macaroni with Mature Imokilly Cheddar Cheese Sauce
Macaroni cheese is one of my children's favourite supper dishes. We often add some cubes of cooked bacon or ham to the sauce with the cooked macaroni.
Serves 6 8 ozs (225g) macaroni 6 pints (3.4L) water 2 teaspoons salt 2 ozs (55g) butter 2 ozs (55g) white flour, preferably unbleached 1½ - 1¾ pints (900-1050 ml) boiling milk 3 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley, (optional) Salt and freshly ground pepper 5 ozs (145g) grated mature Cheddar cheese (We use our local Cheddar which is made at Mitchelstown and matured at Imokilly Creamery, Old Charleville is also excellent). 1 x 2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn't stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approx. drain well. Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes, remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually, bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard, parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add back in the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and serve immediately. Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place, it is very good served with cold meat, particularly ham. NB: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce. Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later. Macaroni Cheese with Smoked Salmon Add 4 ozs (110 g) of smoked salmon pieces to the macaroni cheese. Macaroni Cheese with Mushrooms and Courgettes Add 8 ozs (225 g) sliced sautéed mushrooms and 8 ozs (225 g) sliced courgettes cooked in olive oil with a little garlic and marjoram or basil and add to the Macaroni cheese. Toss gently, turn into a hot serving dish and scatter with grated cheese.
Serve with boiled bacon or ham.
600ml (1pint) milk (not low fat) 50g (2oz) Roux – see below salt and freshly ground pepper a few slices of carrot, optional a few slices of onion, optional bouquet garni 25-50g (1-2oz) freshly chopped parsley If using herbs and vegetables, put them in the cold milk and bring to simmering point, season and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Strain out the herbs and vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil, whisk in the roux until the sauce is a light coating consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add chopped parsley and simmer on a very low heat for 4-5 minutes. Roux 110g (4oz) butter 110g (4oz) flour Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Old Fashioned Rice Pudding
A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold Winter's day.
2 ozs (50g) pearl rice (short grain rice) 1 oz (25g) sugar 1 pint (600ml) milk knob of butter 1 x 1 pint (600ml) capacity pie dish Put the rice, sugar and a little knob of butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 1-12 hours. Its quite tricky to catch it at exactly the right stage. The skin on top should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have soaked up the milk but still be soft and creamy underneath. Time it, so that its ready just in time for dessert. Serve with cream and soft brown sugar. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you'll wonder why you bothered. Foolproof Food
4 tablesp. jam – good quality apricot, strawberry or raspberry or fruit puree* 8-10 fl.oz milk Whizz the jam and milk together in a blender. Taste. Sweetened fresh fruit puree is best, but jam is probably more accessible. Hot Tips Cork Free Choice Consumer Group – first meeting for 2005 on 27th January In the Crawford Gallery Café at 7.30pm – topic Italian Food Admission €5 including tea, coffee and tastings McGee on Food & Cooking- New edition now available of this invaluable cook’s reference book – a highly readable and fascinating guide, a must for anyone interested in food and the science, history and culture of cooking. McGee on Food and Cooking – an Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture published by Hodder and Stoughton, €30 Cookery Demonstration by Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School, in aid of Tsunami Disaster Fund at Garryvoe Hotel on Thursday 3rd February at 8pm. Tickets €20 on sale at Ballymaloe Cookery School (Tel 021-4646785) Garryvoe Hotel (Tel 021-4646718) and the following outlets – Cork – The Crawford Art Gallery Café, Midleton – Hurleys Newsagents, Main St. Midleton, Shanagarry- Brodericks Supermarket, Garryvoe – Murray’s Shop, Castlemartyr – The Village Greengrocer. Garden writer Joy Larkcom and her husband Don Pollard are opening their garden at Donaghmore Farmhouse, Lislevane, Bandon, Co Cork. in aid of The Hollies Fund Sunday January 23rd 2.00pm to 4.00pm Tel 023-40010