For me, ambling slowly through the Burren in Co. Clare is almost a spiritual experience â€“ the prehistoric landscape feels sooo ancient, Â I can virtually feel the spirit of those who chipped away patiently to build the drystone walls that still provide enduring shelter for the little fields.
Itâ€™s like driving through the Garden of Eden, fields of wild flowers interspersed with an occasional elderberry or hawthorn bush scattered here and there, a flock of sheep grazing contentedly, even a few cattle.
Can you imagine how delicious the meat of the animals reared on this bio-diverse pasture must be.Â Â Looks like there will be lots of sloes and hazelnuts too, the blackberries are just ripening on the brambles pleading to be picked.
Weâ€™re on our way to Ennistymon to eat at Little Fox, a newly opened, super cool cafÃ© on a corner of Main Street.Â Â A short menu of delicious food, a red lentilÂ and turmeric soup with masala yoghurt and toasted seeds was delicious as were all the salads and the Gubeen sambo on flatbread
Just across the road is a cheese shop called The Cheese Press owned by the inimitable Sinead Ni Ghairbhith. Locals get 30 cents off their coffee if they bring their own cup to reduce plastic use.
Just across the street, a little further up, Â Pot Dugganâ€™s is also rocking so set aside a little time to visit Ennistymon and beautiful Co. Clare.
Then on to Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon to visit a variety of inspirational farms.Â Â First, Ronan Byrne aka The Friendly Farmer who rears free-range turkeys and geese and has a farm shop on his 35 acre farm at Knockbrack close to Athenry. Ronan also sells at the Moycullen Farmers Market on Friday and the Galway Farmers Market on Saturday where his growing number of devotees often queue up to buy his produce.
Near BallymoteÂ in Co Sligo, we came uponÂ Clive Brightâ€™s enterprise,
known asÂ Rare Ruminare, CliveÂ has a most beautiful herd of HerefordÂ and Shorthorn cattle which he â€˜mob grazesâ€™ on lush,Â organic pastures on his family farm near Ballymote in CoÂ Sligo.Â Loved his paintings too â€“detailed drawings of insects and plant life, beautifully observed.
From there we popped in to Drumanilra Farm Kitchen CafÃ© in Boyle and met owners Liam and Justina Gavin whose beautiful farm overlooks Lough Kee, Â I wonâ€™t easily forget the few minutesÂ I spent leaning on a farm gate watching Drumanilraâ€™s herd of gentle Dexter cattle grazing naturally and contentedly on the nourishing pasture.Â Â These cattle will have an honourable end on a plate in the cafÃ© in their much sought after Dexter burgers or for local people to buy in the farm shop, look out for their rashers and sausages too.
Clive Brightâ€™s Hereford and Shorthorn meat can be bought in chilled boxes insulated with lambsâ€™ wool, directly from www.rareruminare.Â Â I can certainly vouch for the flavour having eaten Cliveâ€™s beef cheeks for lunch â€“ this young farmer cooks brilliantly as well.
We covered a lot of ground over a couple of days….Â On our way south, we detoured to Birr to catch up on Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni, Hannah Ward at Woodfield CafÃ© just outside the town.Â Â Another cool cafÃ© â€“ delicious brunch and a wander around the tempting Woodfield Garden Centre at the rear.Â A lovely surprise to findÂ Mueller, Oâ€™Connell sourdough bread from Abbeyleix for toasted bacon and Mossfield cheese sandwiches.
Our next stop, the Eco-Village at Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary to meet Joe Fitzmaurice in his Riot Rye bakery, wonderful smells….we had the opportunity to watch Joe shaping and baking his sour dough loaves in the Â wood-burning oven â€“ beautiful crusty bread to nourish his community which for him is a major priority.Â Check out his sour bread classes, www.riotrye.ie.
Just outside the town we found Mimi and Owen Crawford whose rich and beautiful organic raw milk and butter, people flock to buy at Limerick Milk Market and locally.
They also rear and sell their own plump Ross free-range organic chickens, lamb, bacon and pork.Â Â Their small 20-acre holding is super-productive with a little tunnel and vegetable patch bursting with fresh product.
That was the last stop on this short reconnaissance
trip – so many inspirational people. Â We ran out of time to visit Sodalicious in Limerick, a recent start-up owned by another Ballymaloe Cookery School allumni Jane Ellison – we hear it’s worth a detour.
Orange Lentil Soup with Turmeric, Masala, Yoghurt and Toasted Seeds and Coriander
225g (8oz) onions â€“ chopped
extra virgin olive oil or butter
2 teaspoons turmeric, peeled and freshly grated
225g (8oz) orange lentils
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pints of vegetable of chicken stock
6 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon each of black and white sesame seeds
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
fresh coriander leaves
Bring a saucepan of the chicken or vegetable stock to the boil.
Meanwhile heat the oil and/or butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the freshly chopped onion, toss, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured.
Uncover, add turmeric, cook for a minute or two, add the lentils. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.Â Add the boiling stock. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the lentils are soft.
Meanwhile, toast the seeds by stirring continuously on a dry pan over a low to medium heat until they smell toasty, 3-4 minutes, turn into a bowl,Â add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and cool.
Heat the cumin and coriander in a dry pan over a medium to high heat until it starts to smell aromatic. Turn into a mortar and grind to a fine powder. Add to the natural yoghurt, add salt to taste.
Whizz the soup to a coarse puree. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Correct the seasoning.
Ladle into wide soup bowls, drizzle some masala yoghurt on top. Sprinkle with an assortment of seeds and some fresh coriander leaves and serve
Braised Beef Cheeks with Colcannon and Swede Turnips
Gary Masterson from Fire and Ice CafÃ© in Midleton served delicious beef cheeks with a gutsy red wine sauce and sea spinach at a Winter Slow Food event â€“ perfection.Â Â He shared the recipe with us.
6 beef cheeks
dripping or oil
1 head garlic, cut in half
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
4 ripe tomatoes, cut in half
sprig of thyme and a bay leaf
1 bottle full bodied red wine
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
hot chicken or veal stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
Scallion or Parsnip Champ
Marinate the beef cheeks in half the red wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables and herbs for a minimum of 12 hours, up to 48 hours if you are organised enough.
Before cooking, take the meat out of the marinade and pat dry.Â Â Heat a frying pan, add the dripping, season the beef cheeks with the salt and freshly ground pepper and sear the cheeks in the hot oil, allowing them to colour on both sides.Â Â Remove from the pan and transfer to a casserole.Â Â Add the vegetables to the oil and sautÃ© until brown, then deglaze the pan with the marinade, scraping off all the flavour from the bottom.Â Â Bring to the boil and skim off any impurities that rise to the top as it boils.Â Â Reduce by half and pour over the beef and add the other half of the wine and enough hot stock to cover the cheeks.Â Â Cover the casserole and cook in a low oven at 130Â°F/250Â°F/gas mark 1/2 for 3-4 hours or until the meat is soft and meltingly tender.
When cooked, remove from the sauce and keep aside.Â Â Strain the sauce, pushing hard through the sieve to extract as much flavour as possible from all the vegetables.Â Â If the sauce is too thin, put back into the saucepan and reduce until the required consistency is reached.Â Â Check the seasoning, it may also need a touch of sugar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.Â Â Gently reheat the cheeks in the sauce and serve in bowls with a few crispy smoked bacon lardons on top.
We like to serve with Colcannon and Swede turnips.
Reynardâ€™s Buckwheat Pancake with Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnuts
25g (1oz) butter
65g (2 1/2 oz) buckwheat flour
50g (2oz) plain white flour
1 large free range egg
175ml (6fl oz) milk
110ml (4fl oz) cold water
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
best quality organic chocolate and hazelnut spread
toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Maldon sea salt (optional)
First make the batter.
Melt the butter on a low heat – cool.Â Â Sieve both flours and a pinch of salt into a bowl.Â Â Make a well in the centre, add an egg, gradually whisk in the milk and water drawing in the flour from the outside.Â Â Finally whisk in the melted butter. Cover and allow to rest for 15- 30 minutes.
Heat a non-stick pan on a high heat.Â Â Pour in a small ladle-full of batter just enough to cover the base of the pan.Â Â Cook for about a minute, flip over and cook for a further 30-45 seconds.Â Â Slide onto a hot plate.
Spoon a couple of generous tablespoons of chocolate spread onto the centre.Â Â Fold in the four edges, once, twice to form a square with chocolate in the centre.Â Â Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts and a few flakes of Maldon sea salt.
Buckwheat Pancakes with Smoked Salmon, CrÃ¨me FraÃ®che and Crispy Capers
Buckwheat is deliciously nutty, rich in minerals and B vitamins and naturally gluten-free.
8 buckwheat pancakes (see recipe)
16 thin slices of smoked salmon (approximately 225g/8oz)
8 tablespoons of crÃ¨me fraÃ®che (see recipe)
56 capers, drained and fried until crisp in a little hot oil
4 tablespoons of finely chopped scallions or chives, cut at an angle
Freshly ground black pepper
To serve:Â place the pancakes on warm plates, divide the smoked salmon between the pancakes.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon crÃ¨me fraÃ®che over each pancake.
Sprinkle 7 capers and 1/2 tablespoon of chopped scallions or chives over the crÃ¨me fraÃ®che.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Buckwheat Pancake Batter
Makes twelve 18cm (7 inch) pancakes
2 tablespoons butter
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
60g (21/2oz) rice flour
21/2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
11/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 small free-range eggs
40ml (11/2fl oz) sparkling mineral water
Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Add the milk, salt, and sugar, stir well, and turn off the heat.
Put both flours in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the vegetable oil and eggs. Mix the eggs and oil with a whisk, gradually bringing in flour from the sides until it begins to thicken. Add the milk mixture little by little until all has been incorporated and the batter is smooth. Whisk in the water.
Pour the batter through a medium strainer into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using.Â Â (This resting time will allow the batter to relax and the flour to absorb the liquids fully.) Pancake batter may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.
To cook: Heat a 15-18cm (6-7in) frying pan.
Add a very little oil. When the pan is hot, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan.
Allow to cook on one side for a minute or two, flip over onto the other side and continue to cook, until speckled and slightly golden.
Slide onto a plate, repeat with the other pancakes.
Stack one on top of the other, they can be peeled apart later but are best eaten fresh off the pan.
Wild Blackberry and Rose Petal Sponge
When the first blackberries ripen in the autumn we use them with softly whipped cream to fill this light fluffy sponge.Â Â The recipe may sound strange but the cake will be the lightest and most tender youâ€™ve ever tasted.
melted butter, for greasing
140g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
3 organic eggs75ml water
225g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
Â½ teaspoon rosewater, optional
225-350g wild blackberries
pale pink rose petals, fresh or crystallized
2 x 20.5cm sandwich tins
Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas mark 5.
Brush the cake tins evenly with melted butter and dust with flour.Â I usually take the precaution of lining the base with a circle of greaseproof paper for guaranteed ease of removal later.
Separate the eggs. In a food mixer whisk the yolks with the sugar for 2 minutes, then add in the water. Whisk until light and fluffy, 10 minutes approx. Fold the sieved flour and baking powder into the mousse in batches. Whisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak. Gently fold them into the fluffy base. Pour into prepared sandwich tins and bake in a moderately hot oven 190C/Gas mark 5 for 20 minutes approx.Â Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.
Whip the cream, add the icing sugar and a few drops of rosewater.
Sandwich the sponge together with whipped cream and blackberries. Sieve a little icing sugar over the top. Sprinkle with fresh or crystallized rose petals â€“ it will look and taste enchanting.