Reek View Farm

PatGrimes5

We lived in a mid-terraced townhouse in Nenagh for 7 years before we moved back home to Castlebar. It had a postage stamp sized back garden that was filled with dock leaves, thistles and piles of maintenance when we moved in. We wanted to grow some vegetables and herbs for the kitchen and soon realised the work involved even in a tiny garden. I distinctly remember discussing in amazement the people that grow vegetables for a living. After our own very limited and forgiving experiences in the garden, we will be forever in awe of people who do it every day. They are really up against it. If you get your produce grown in the first place, what with the war that has to be waged against weeds, slugs, aphids, blight, mice and other competitors, you’re still trying to compete in the market place with foreign supermarkets that are selling bags of carrots for 99cent; a product someone somewhere has paid the price for.

Westport native Pat Grimes was a builder when the recession hit. He started doing odd jobs for people as building work waned and found that he was leaning towards the gardening and planting jobs more than others. He grew up on Reek View Farm in Carramore on the Westport to Leenane road. His parents always grew a wide variety of vegetables for the table, but Pat’s recollection is only of weeding. He never in a million years thought he would end up growing vegetables himself and would have laughed at the suggestion. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

After doing a short organic vegetable course in Mayo Abbey, Pat knew that he wanted to study planting more extensively and attended the Organic College in Dromcollagher, Co. Limerick. He had started developing his home place on Reek View Farm growing salads, vegetables and herbs. He grew everything at first to see what would sell and what people would be interested in. He also had to work out what he could grow and rotate on a farm that, while not certified organic yet, is based on an organic ethos utilising organic systems of pest control, rotation and composting. He started selling his mixed salad leaves, herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, parsley and coriander) and vegetables (for example: cauliflower, tomatoes, beetroot, courgettes, French beans, kale) to local restaurants and hotels. Sol Rio was his first client and the number has grown to include Sage, The Lodge at Ashford, Bar One, Seasons, Mill Times Hotel, Hotel Westport, The Pantry and Corkscrew and the Idle Wall, to name a few. He also supplies SuperValu and Centra in Westport and ourselves, De Búrca’s in Castlebar with his bags of Elia’s salad leaves. For his farmhouse eggs and any surplus vegetables he keeps an honesty box at the end of his farm lane – it seems a lot of people have making the spin out the Leenane road just for this.

Pat’s leaves were recommended to us last year when we did our first proper De Búrca event at the Banbh Market on Rushe Street. We absolutely loved them. Not just because they were so varied, fresh and delicious but because we were dealing with someone at the end of the phone that was so calm, where nothing was a problem or an obstacle – which is probably why he grows vegetables.  Despite having spoken to him twenty times on the phone I didn’t get to meet him until the day of the Market. He came to the stall with his wife Corey, a Californian who came as a volunteer to his farm two years previously and never left, and their little baby girl Elia in a sling. That was last year. Elia’s name is on his bag of greens in the shop now, and seeing as they are due their second baby this summer, I’m looking forward to see what else comes from Reek View Farm.

 

First published in The Western People 25th May 2015

PatGrimes6

PatGrimes7

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Joint up thinking

eyeoftheround2

A few years ago we had our first large family gathering at our house In Nenagh. There were family members and friends travelling from Mayo and Galway and we were cooking a meal to be served in a small marque in the very small back garden.  Just before we left the house to meet everyone at the ceremony, ‘he who shall not be named’ (as we live in a no-blame house) turned on the oven to start the roast. We were cooking a marinated loin of pork off the bone with rind on that was left directly onto the middle shelf of the oven, with a tray on the shelf below containing the roasting bones to make a delicious stock for gravy. We then headed off, happy in the knowledge that everything was cooking away in our absence.

We arrived back from the ceremony with gang in tow to find a crowd standing, looking at the house that was quickly filling with smoke with alarms blaring. We nervously opened the door to find that the house was not on fire but that ‘he who shall not be named’ had turned on the grill full blast instead of the oven so we had perfect crackling sitting on top of raw pork. The meal was eventually cooked but we were truly exhausted at the end of it. We decided that day that any gathering we were to cook for would be one of stress-free convenience. We usually go for cold cuts that can be roasted the day before with a variety of colourful different salads.  It works well.

A lot of people come into the shop at this time of communions and confirmations wondering about how to cook joints of meat for either serving warm or as cold cuts. Our favourite cold dish is beef served on sourdough bread with a dollop of homemade horseradish. The best joint of beef to use for large groups are roasts such as the eye of the round, topside or silverside because these joints are tidy to slice. But the one issue with these particular joints is that they are too lean. It is very important for roasting that there is enough fat on the meat to prevent it from drying out and to caramelise the surface. Fat is essential for the perfect roast.

Contrary to popular belief the fat found in well-reared grass-fed beef is good as a lot of it is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which is the same heart friendly fat that’s found in olive oil. Also, most of the saturated fat in beef actually acts to either lower LDL (or bad) cholesterol or by reducing your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (or good) cholesterol. But if fat on beef is still not to your taste using it for roasting beef doesn’t mean that you have to eat it. At the end of the roast, solid fat can be cut off or liquid fat poured away. For joints such as the eye of the round, your butcher should provide you with some beef suet or pork flair fat to bard your joint with. Without this treatment, it will not roast well.

Once you have your cut of beef, barded if required, the next important requirement is the correct cooking time for how you like your beef. These cooking times apply to beef that has been allowed come to room temperature fully i.e. left out of the fridge for at least one hour or more, depending on size. I cook it uncovered in a suitably sized roasting tray seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.

    1. Preheat oven to 230⁰C or Gas Mark 8.
    2. Sizzle time: 20 minutes for up to 2kg; 30 minutes for 2 – 3kg; 40 minutes for over 3kg at 230⁰C.
    3. Reduce temperature to 160⁰C or gas mark 3.
    4. After initial sizzle time, cook times are:
    • For Medium (just ping in the middle) – 15 minutes per 500g or per 1lb
    • For Well done (not pink at all) – 20 minutes per 500g or per 1lb
    • For Rare (very pink in the middle) – 10 minutes per 500g or per 1lb

 

One Pot Wonders

ThaiGreenCurryWiki

I love one pot dinners. I especially love one pot dinners that don’t take long, where you just fire everything into it and it’s ready as soon as you are finished adding the last ingredient. Most of our winter dinners are one pot wonders: stews, braises, casseroles, goulash and our favourite, curries. Although we eat curries all year around, a fresh fragrant spring alternative to the more wintery madras or tikka is a Thai green curry. Thankfully the girls love curry, although the kitchen looks like a bomb hit a paddy field after dinner if we have rice.  It’s worth it though. My daughter Elly is lactose intolerant and these curries are great because they use coconut milk and are dairy free.

Like any dish, a good curry needs good ingredients. I almost always use chicken thighs and drumsticks for any chicken dish that is made in a pot with sauce. Curry is no exception.  Always try and buy the best chicken you can. A proper pasture-reared chicken (like The Friendly Farmer’s from Athenry) will always go much further than a conventional chicken of the same weight. This is what I’ve found when cooking at home. The meat is denser in a free-range chicken and there is nothing but delicious cooking juices in the bottom of your roasting tin instead of that volume of suspicious looking clear liquid that you get with some conventional chickens. Of course, if you prefer chicken breast substitute these for the thighs.

Consider buying a whole chicken at your local butcher and getting them to take off the breasts for you and boning the thighs and drumsticks for a dish like chicken curry or a casserole. You can also add the carcase to the pot when making your casserole for stock and remove it at the end. To make the curry itself, I would steer clear of ready-made curry sauces. They are mostly disappointing. The only exception to this I find are Green Saffron ready-made sauces from Cork which include in the range a Korma that is really wonderful. What we generally use for Thai curries are good quality pastes. One good brand is Mae Ploy that’s available in most supermarkets.

The following recipe is for a curry that serves 4 and takes 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook. Not bad on a busy week night and the rice will be cooked in the 30 minutes. Perfect timing!

What you need:

  • 4 chicken thighs (or 4 chicken fillets)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons Thai curry paste
  • 1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 x 225g tin of bamboo shoots
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
  • A few leave of fresh Thai sweet basil (or regular basil)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

What to do:

  1. Remove the meat from the chicken thighs and cut into thin strips (or even better, get your butcher to do it for you!)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the curry paste and stir over a hot heat for one minute.
  3. Gradually add the coconut milk to the paste. It is important to do this slowly so that the paste and the coconut milk don’t separate. Then add the chicken strips to the saucepan.
  4. Drain the bamboo shoots and add to the pan followed by the frozen peas. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the fish sauce, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
  6. Sprinkle the curry with sweet basil and serve with rice.

 

(This article was published in The Western People on 11th May 2015)

Quick Proof Bread

Cáca baile

Many of life’s most intimate minute details can come flooding back at the sight or smell of particular foods. It happened to me recently when I baked some brown bread. I asked my Aunt Cáitín for the recipe Mamó used for her brown bread or cáca baile (bread for the home). It always looked very different to my mother’s brown bread and I remember as a child realising for the first time that baking could be a very individual expressive thing. And also at the time, very much a woman’s domain. Everyone’s brown bread, from my mother’s to Mamó’s, to the headmistress of my national school, to Cáitín’s  all tasted completely different despite the fact that they all contained basically the same ingredients. Baking from that moment on became a strange act of alchemy in the oven for me. I never quite knew what was going to come out.

I was never much good at baking sweet desserts. That was my sister Eileen’s area. Her strawberry pavlova Swiss roll is a work of art that gets savaged at every family get together. I stayed on the road of bread making and fell in love with flour and yeast experimentation. I’m not very good at that either but the recipe for proper white yeast bread could not be simpler: strong flour, salt, yeast and warm water. You can add extras like garlic and herbs but that is the basic recipe. Yeast is a living thing that can be kept alive in a starter dough for repeated use to make fresh bread, as long as you look after it and feed it. I heard about a French woman who had her starter dough for over 30 years.  Mine never lasted the week – a thriving half jar of bubbling goo in the fridge one day to dead as a dodo the next. I end up using dried yeast or if I can get it, some fresh yeast. The kids love making fresh dough and watching it grow and puncturing it with their fingers as it proofs. They love turning it into pizzas or garlic bread or just tasty, properly proofed white bread.

The other day as I made cáca baile using my grandmother’s recipe, I was transported back to when I was about six or seven to her back kitchen, standing at her elbow in front of the window with my sister at the other, watching her stir her cake with her wooden spoon. I can see it and smell it. I’m going to do my best to get her recipe as close as I can to the real thing. In the meantime…

Sourdough

Recipe for QUICK PROOF BREAD:

You will need:

  • 500g Strong White flour (or Strong Wholemeal flour)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of Quick Yeast
  • 300ml Luke warm water (or use warm water if making wholemeal version)
  • 1 tablespoon Vegetable oil

Method:

  • Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix in the water and bring together in a rough dough.
  • Add the oil and knead well for many minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add some flour as you go.
  • Cut and shape the dough into loaves and place in oiled tins or on a baking sheet.
  • Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will probably take 40 to 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200⁰C/Fan assisted 180⁰C/400⁰F/Gas 6 with a tray of water in it.
  • Use a very sharp blade to score some slits in the top of the loaves and dust with flour to make an extra rustic crust.
  • When the dough is ready, bake in the oven for 25 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the loaf.

 

(First published in The Western People 05th May 2015)