Thursday, 19 December 2013

Its time to claim back our stout

Out of the ashes of the Champagne swilling days of the Celtic tiger the Irish have claimed back their right for stout. We have turned back the clock where almost every town in the country has its own microbrewery. No longer are we dependent on one or two big companies providing us with chemically induced beer. We have gone for taste and quality and have provided the platform for small artisan passionate brewers to dazzle us with their beer.

We now know what IPA, red ale, pilsner and real stout tastes like. Our new generations of talented brewers have taken a huge financial risk to provide us with this liquid gold and in turn we have gone out and supported what they are doing. My father has told me stories of years gone buy of people going to different parts of the Country and looked forward to tasting their unique beer. We can now do this for ourselves.

I feel we are turning a corner in relation to our food heritage. People want to know where their food and drink comes from and they want to be able to put a face to what they are eating and drinking. We are now beginning to realize that we do have some of the best produce in the World. It is important to speak out and let people know this; the French, Italian and Spanish have no problem in doing so. It will create better food for our children, jobs, culture and great conversation around our dining tables. Really it’s a no brainer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Marcel Boulestin knew what he was talking about

'In those days methods of cooking were very primitive, that is to say they were perfect, giving results which I did not sufficiently appreciate, and which today we try to imitate by modern processes' Marcel Boulestin 1878 - 1943.

This weekend I spent my time cooking in Lismore Castle for a small group of people. The menu consisted of what Merlin the gardener picked from his fantastic vegetable plot, the herbs came neatly tied with string, squash of all shapes and sizes, herbs, artichokes, potatoes, celeriac, chard, romanesco, I was in heaven, a Chefs dream was the recurring thought going through my mind.
I cooked each and every ingredient with utter respect, took time to taste everything and presented it simply,  letting the produce speak for themselves. I went to McGraths butchers and purchased some of his fantastic beef, the fish came from Billy Burke in Waterford. This was food, this is why I became a Chef.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Red Biddy

I have a good friend who grows the most amazing vegetables in County Wexford and each year around this time I ring him with one request. I need some of the 'white stuff' I will say down the phone, this is our code name for poitin. Of course this is totally illegal, hence the code name. He gives me a delivery date and I set out to my favourite spot to collect slows and blackberries in order to have everything ready for my red biddy making. When the White Stuff arrives I add sugar, blackberries and the slows, give it a good shake and taste it for sweetness. This is a personal thing so you will have to figure that our for yourselves.
If you do not know where to get Poitin use good quality vodka instead, its good but not as good as the real stuff
Red Biddy

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Home made tagliatelle with turf smoked salmon and basil

Home made tagliatelle with turf smoked salmon and basil
Serves 4
A few days ago I got a special delivery in the post of some smoked salmon all the way from Donegal. Heaven Smokehouse has started smoking organic salmon with turf and as they say themselves people are going ‘mad’ for it. I knew to give this product justice I would have to do something special with it and so I took out the pasta machine and set to work.
The best thing to do is make the pasta dough first and let it settle in a fridge for at least one hour. In the meantime you can get the base of the sauce together. You have to move fast at the end to put it all together and get it to the table but it is worth every bit of effort, I would go so far to say it is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever cooked / eaten.

For the pasta dough:

400g strong white flour
4 large free-range egg yolks
1 tsp. salt

Put the flour in a bowl with the salt and whisk the eggs together. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the egg yolks into it. Mix into a dough by hand, the pasta should come together and be quite dry. It is very important to knead it until the dough becomes nice and smooth. Now rest for at least one hour.

For the sauce:

1 onion very finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic crushed
50g butter
200ml white wine
65ml of cream
150g turf-smoked salmon
10g fresh basil
25g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put the chopped onion in a saucepan with the butter and garlic and sweat over a low heat until the onions are nice and translucent. Pour in the wine and reduce by half, now add the cream and bring to the boil for two minutes. Set aside until you are finish cooking the pasta.
To roll out the pasta, first cut the dough into three pieces. Using the first piece while the others are covered set the pasta machine at its highest setting and grind the dough through the machine. Repeat this process at least twice and on the third time drop the setting by one and repeat all over again until you get to the second last setting. Lay out the pasta sheets on a table, using the tagliatelle cutter, grind each sheet through it. Put the strands of pasta over a sweeping brush, which is supported at each end by chairs, and leave to dry for 40 minutes.
Once the pasta is dried cook in boiling salted water for two minutes and drain. Put it back into the large pot with your sauce base; now add the turf-smoked salmon, basil and season with black pepper and a little salt.
Serve at once with Parmesan shavings…

Pasta drying on a sweeping brush
Heaven Smokehouse turf smoked salmon

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Brazed Rabbit, wild mushrooms, root vegetables, sea beet, tarragon and fennel pollen

In my opinion rabbit is a forgotten food, it is not so long ago that it was eaten more often than chicken. So now is the time to introduce this fantastic meat back into our diet. (You can always tell the kids it is chicken). And to be honest a good rabbit is far superior to cheap chicken.

Serves 4

1 large rabbit approx. 1.5 kg cut into 6 pieces (ask the butcher to do this for you)
2 tbsp. of rapeseed oil
2 onions finely chopped
1 large carrot diced finely
½ fennel bulb diced finely
50g Irish butter
200ml white wine
500ml good chicken stock
75g wild mushrooms (chanterelles are perfect for this dish but not to worry if you cant get any use ceps, oyster or field mushrooms instead)
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon
1 hand full of sea beet (if you can not forage sea beet use spinach instead)
½ tsp. Fennel flowers
175ml cream

Brown off the rabbit pieces in a large pan in the hot olive oil and set aside. In an oven proof dish sweat off the onion in the butter and once soft add the carrot and fennel bulb, cook this over a low heat for five minutes. Now add in the white wine and reduced by half. Add in the rabbit pieces and season with salt and pepper, add the stock and bring to the boil. Put the lid on the dish and place it into a hot oven, 190 degrees celisus for 1 hour.
Take the dish out of the oven and add the cream, sautéed mushrooms, tarragon, sea beet and cook for a further 10 minutes. Garnish with the fennel pollen and serve..

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Lyonnaise Potatoes made easy

For years I have avoided making this dish because in my mind I could not see what I was missing. This my friends was a big mistake, so tonight I was faced with what I was going to cook with a roast duck.  All I had was some carrots, onions and potatoes in the house and a little butter. Before I knew it  I started caramelising the onions and slicing the potatoes, put it together with some stock and threw it into the oven for twenty minutes and hey presto it was ready. All I can say was this is a winner and will go with duck, steak, chicken, venison, lamb or pork.

900g waxy potatoes
40g butter
3 medium onions thinly sliced
salt and pepper
100ml good chicken stock

Put the onions and butter into a heavy based pot and cook until they start to caramelise. It is very important that you stir the onions as they catch on the bottom of the pot. Now peel and slice the potatoes as thin as possible. Once the onions start to smell sweet and have a nice golden colour they are ready. In a oven proof dish layer the onions and potatoes and season as you go, pour in the stock and place in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 20 minutes. Easy as that.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Ballymaloe LitFest of food and wine

Inspiration is medicine for the soul and with the likes of Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Sandor Katz, Stephanie Alexander, Darina Allen, Myrtle Allen and David Thompson in one place there was plenty of it to go around last weekend. The first Ballymaloe Litfest of food and wine took place in East Cork which attracted everyone interested in good and pure food. Ted Burner played a blinder in the Big Shed, transforming a huge farmyard shed into a mecca for interesting food and people, the whole event was truly unique and completely inspiring. I drove out of Ballymaloe last night rejuvenated and knowing that our food culture was in good hands, the people i met all had one thing in common and that was to preserve our unique food heritage and in some cases to improve on it.
So well done to everyone at Ballymaloe for putting on such a uplifting event......

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Forage For A Feast....

There is nothing new about foraging, we have being doing it since the beginning of time. But when i stood on a salt marsh near Tramore with 16 culinary arts students last Tuesday and looked at them wading ankle deep in thick black mud looking for cockles, i realised how important it is for us not to loose our connection with the past.
Cockles, limpets, pepper dulse, carragheen, sea lettuce, rock samphire, scurvy grass, sea beet, snails, wild garlic and dandelion were all gathered up  under the watchful eye of Grace O'Sullivan. She has being foraging along this shore line and the back strand since she was a kid and knows every nook and cranny in the area. A mind full of information, Grace took time to explain to the student what to look for and where to look for it. We are all grateful for this new found knowledge.
In true ancient style a fire was lit and we cooked our bounty and marvelled in the true taste of natural wild food.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Take the sting out of the nettle..

Spring is definitely in the air, sun is in the sky and the dark days of winter have left us for another while. I am no different to anyone else because we all love this time of year, new growth is everywhere and we are looking for new foods to cook. So keep your eyes peeled for the young soft nettle tops that will appear in abundance over the next few weeks, they make the most delicious and healthy soup. Be cute and wear a pair of gloves while picking the nettles.

3 good bunches of spring nettle tops
3 medium size potatoes
1 leek
6 cloves of garlic
1 litre of good chicken stock
a little cream
a little butter
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
salt and pepper

Chop finely the potato, leek and garlic, throw into a saucepan with a good knob of butter and cook out over a medium heat for five minutes or until the leek is nice and soft. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil, now add the nettles. Simmer for five minutes and season with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Blend until nice and smooth with a hand blender and finish with cream.

Friday, 5 April 2013

John McKenna's holistic chef

In my opinion what John has identified here is bang on the money, as Chefs and Cooks we need to get out there and educate, participate and above all encourage the holistic growth of Irish Food and Food Culture.
The McKenna's are the real food hero's of this green fertile land....

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Bridgestone Guide....

The Mighty Quinn

Leslie Williams pays respect to one of Ireland's greatest cooks, Michel Quinn of Waterford Castle.

When you think of foodie counties in Ireland, Waterford does not always spring to mind despite the infamous blaa and the towering presence of Paul Flynn in Dungarvan.

Now many people will tell you that a blaa is just a bap and deserves no further elaboration.  However, if you eat a floury fluffy blaa filled with Dromana peppered sheep's cheese (made by Knockalara in Cappoquin) or with some pulled rare-breed Waterford pork and Comeragh cheese and you are halfway up the Comeragh mountains surrounded by Willie Drohan's black faced lambs on a sunny day, you start to think differently.  Add in a bottle of Dungarvan Red Ale to swig between mouthfuls and very soon you too will be calling for protected geographic status not just for the blaa but for Waterford food in general.

Chef Michael Quinn of Waterford Castle hotel had dragged me and a few others up this mountain to see the natural landscape where his favourite lambs graze and of course he had prepared a picnic.  One of the diligent foragers among us quickly dropped to her knees to see what the lambs were eating and found at least ten aromatic plants including wild sorrel.  Sadly we were a little early in the season to eat the lambs (and nobody had a rock in a sock), but we all made plans to return later in the summer for that treat.

Waterford Castle is on an island (you need to get there via a ferry) in the middle of the River Suir just outside the city.  The hotel has the island to itself and is justifiably determined to position itself as a foodie destination (ok there is a golf course on the island also but who would want to play golf when you could be eating your way around Waterford with the hotel as a base instead?).

The island has been occupied for a couple of millenia but the Castle Hotel mostly dates from Victorian times and has a pleasing gothic feel with large rooms filled with solid old furniture.  The rooms all have names by the way - numbers are rather declassé after all - and the first job any staff member is given is the task of learning where each room is located.

Dinner that night in the Munster Dining Room under the seductive gaze of Emma Hamilton (Nelson's Mistress) was either sourced in the county or in neighbouring ones.

We began with Kilmore Quay scallops – a perfect sautéed one topped with pieces of sacallop ceviche and all nestled in an intense pea and wasabi purée.  This was followed by Sally Barnes smoked haddock risotto and later a thick slice of meaty turbot in sauce américaine that had been landed that morning at Dunmore East.

These completely contrasting seafood standards sound conventional enough but what set them apart was Quinn's sensitivity with dressings, sauces and spikes of flavour.  Here a lemon verbena leaf or some salt cured salsify, there some pea-shoots and intense tarragon from the hotel's herb garden.

Rare-breed pork belly is nothing new but when it is this well cooked, and better still is served with a glass of draught Metalman Pale Ale, it becomes something else altogether.

Skeghanore Duck in Quinn's hands is not just a piece of pink breast but also a rillette from the leg, some foie gras rendered down and mixed with maltodextrine (which sucks up protein like a sponge) to make a lollipop, and served with blobs of smoked pineapple sauce.

An example of Quinn's generosity is that he stayed in the kitchen for the night but sent each member of his team to our table to introduce the course they had been put in charge of and to answer our questions.

This was a sumptuous meal and was made all the better by the knowledge that it will be the first of many I will be eating there.

Breakfast the next morning could have been anything from local sausages to blueberry pancakes to pan fried cod but I stuck to some of Quinn's malty brown bread and fresh fruit from the buffet to give my poor waistline a rest.

Michael Quinn and his team at Waterford Castle are doing something important not just for their county but for food.  I suggest you bookyourself in for a treat before everyone else hears about it.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Beef Pickle its so corny......

A few years ago I decided to try and come up with a good corned beef recipe, it took  quite a few times to get it right but boy was it worth it. Historically it is a very old way to preserve beef and was a favourite at the dinner table in Ireland for years. It fell out of favour for a number of years but like all good things, they make their way back even stronger. Try this out, the secret I find was to keep the beef in the brine for at least eight days and if you can't get your hand on saltpeter don't worry just add an extra 100g of salt instead. 

2kg of Beef, (top side or eye of the round) 
5 liters of cold water
375g of salt
50g saltpeter
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bulb of garlic cut in half
10 juniper berries
50g brown sugar
200g Black Treacle

Dissolve the salt, sugar and saltpeter in the cold water, add the thyme, juniper berries and garlic. Add the beef and leave it in the solution for at least eight days. 
Slowly boil the beef in clean water for 2 hours or until it is nice and tender, serve with creamy mash potatoes, cabbage and a large bottle of Stout