Barbecue Season

My own grandmother would have cooked on a barbecue over the last few weeks the weather has been so glorious. There is something about cooking outside and eating outside that whets the appetite and makes us look at food differently and prepare it with more thought and appreciation I think. Unless you are a diehard barbecue cook who fires up the coals in all weather, the barbecue is something that most of us only pull out from under the mouldy tarpaulin a few times a year. Therefore, below is a list of what I have found to be barbecue essentials.

Tools of the trade – If you find tongs useful get a long handled one. You’ll save your hands and forearms from getting burnt as you turn meat that will spit and burn. Better still get a proper long handled meat fork. It’s really the best thing to use. Also, wear an apron. There’s no point cooking an amazing meal and then looking like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre when you’re finished.

The most useful tool I have found for a barbecue is a wire brush to clean the grill with. Obviously, it’s important to clean the grill after the barbecue – a clean grill will ensure meat and vegetables don’t stick during cooking. But also give the grill a brush between batches during cooking. This stops meat drippings and charred bits from sticking and burning onto the next batch. Trial and error however has taught me to always buy a good quality wire brush in order to avoid picking metal prongs out of your burger!

Cooking tips for the barbecue – Meat should be seasoned with salt before grilling. Use good big tasty flakes of sea salt for this – Achill Island Sea Salt is ideal. As salt will draw moisture out of meat, it is important to season just before grilling. The salt enhances the flavour of the meat and also builds up that char crust that is so delicious on well barbecued meat. As the meat comes off the grill, you can season with some ground black pepper.

It’s hard to tell sometimes if meat or poultry is cooked when cooking on the barbecue. It is important not to under cook meat especially poultry but it is also so important not to overcook. I always use a meat thermometer for this. Then I’m confident the meat is cooked to perfection. Sometimes if I am cooking a lot on the grill, I tend to barbecue the chicken first. I like to cook chicken on the bone. I barbecue it first to get that char and flavour and then I finish the pieces off in a pre-heated oven. They have the barbecue flavour and are also cooked through by the even oven temperature. They are then finished at the same time as other cuts of meat that can be served rare or medium. Below is a table of internal cooking temperatures – make sure to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the piece to check the temperature.

Rare Medium Rare Medium Well Done
Beef 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Lamb 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Pork     60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Chicken       75⁰C (167⁰F)

Then sit out and enjoy your barbecue feast in the best country in the world when the sun is shining!

 

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Turkey tips for a Happy Christmas

cooked turkey

NOTE: Ok so I forgot to post this here before Christmas and before you would actually need it! It was published in The Western People on the 21st December in good time for Christmas!

 

The Christmas day dinner is all about timing but more importantly having time yourself to enjoy it, not sweating and slaving over a dinner that’s going to be devoured, let’s face it, probably in 30 minutes flat.

I usually do the cooking in our house as there’s less call for the fire brigade that way. I used to be a purist about the turkey. I always wanted the whole roasted bird in all its glory for carving on the day. I maintained that the whole bird roast was needed to make good gravy. I was converted two years ago by a butcher that I know well (the hubby) to try boning, rolling and stuffing both the breasts and the legs separately. This meant that the breasts went into the oven much earlier than the legs and both emerged perfectly cooked and still wonderfully moist. And you could use two different types of stuffing to satisfy everyone’s taste.

I had a roomier oven to cook all my veggies as we love simply roasted root vegetables such as carrots, beetroot and parsnips not to mention the goose fat roasted potatoes. But I still had the problem of the gravy as very little pan juices would come from the boneless bird. I decided to roast the carcass of the turkey on Christmas Eve on a regular roasting tray and make the gravy using these pan juices and a stock made out of the giblets. So the gravy along with the ham and the stuffing, was made the day before. As a result I only had one pot on the hob on Christmas day for mashed potatoes and a very tidy kitchen!

It’s on the cards again for this year but for you purists out there, I have below some cooking times for the whole turkey and the ham and a fool-proof turkey gravy recipe.

Have a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year everyone.

Roasting the Christmas Turkey

You will need c. 300g butter, at room temperature.

  • Preheat your oven to 190⁰C/375⁰F/Gas Mark
  • Weigh your stuffed bird and calculate the cooking time: 15 minutes per pound up to 14lb and for each extra pound allow 10 minutes. Therefore, a 14lb turkey will take 3 ½ hours and a 20lb turkey will take 4 ½ hours.
  • Place the bird in a large roasting tin, breast-side up.
  • Use your hands to loosen the skin from the breast and the legs taking care not to tear the skin. Rub half the butter under the skin and the other half over the skin. Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Cover the turkey with foil and roast for 40 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 170⁰C and cook until 30 minutes from the end of the cooking time, basting occasionally.
  • Remove the foil and cook for the remainder of the time to brown.
  • Juices will run clear when cooked – Internal temperature of 74⁰C.

The Christmas Ham – cooking times and glazes

  • Cooking times for ham:

Up to 4 ½lb in weight, allow 30 minutes to the pound and 30 minutes over;  4 ½ – 10lb, allow 20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over. Extra-large ham times roughly are: 12lb = 3 ½ hrs; 16lb = 4hrs; 20lb = 4 ½ hrs; 24lb = 5 hrs.

  • Put the ham in a very large pan, cover in cold water and bring to the boil for 10 minutes. Discard this water and fill pan again either with just water or a mixture of water and cider. Add a chopped onion, carrot and celery along with a bouquet of parsley, bay leaves and thyme tied together. Cook for the calculated time.
  • IF GLAZING, remove the ham 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  • Remove the skin and cut a diamond pattern into the fat. Preheat oven to 190⁰C/375⁰F/Gas 5.
  • Mix together 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard, 1 tablespoon muscavado sugar, 1 tablespoon honey. Smear all over the ham. Stud the diamonds with whole cloves in the traditional way.
  • Or I also like to slice an orange thinly and stud the slices with the cloves onto the ham prior to glazing.

Cooked Christmas Ham

Great Turkey Gravy

You will need: 1.9l pan dripping from the roast turkey; 200g butter; black pepper; 170g plain flour. Extra thinners can include red wine, marsala.

  • Drain pan juices from the roast turkey through a strainer and allow to sit. Skim the settled fat off the top.
  • Make up the juices to 1.9 litres using either chicken stock or stock made with the giblets (boil the giblet in some water with onion, peppercorns, carrot).
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a very low heat and add freshly ground black pepper.
  • Add the flour and whisk continuously for 3-4 minutes over a low heat.
  • Slowly add the turkey juices and stock, whisking constantly over a medium heat until bubbly and thickened.
  • To thin the gravy slightly and add flavour and complexity, use some red wine or Marsala wine.
  • Taste and season if required. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

 

 

Published in the Western People 21st December 2015.

Dripping with flavour!

RoastPorkCrackling

Sunday is our family day – it’s the one whole day we’re all together in the week. Cooking on Sundays is one of my favourite things as I have time. I have to say that I tend to be a lazy cook during the week as, like most people, whether working or homemaking, find time is at a premium. Therefore, the Sunday roast serves another purpose – I cook for leftovers. If saves time and roasts also make dripping.

I realise it’s a controversial subject but dripping holds an amazing amount of flavour. Our grandparents used it all the time but a lot of people are concerned about saturated fat levels and rightly so with issues like obesity and heart disease. If you cook fresh food as opposed to eating processed foods, fast foods or takeaways, using a little dripping with whole fresh ingredients will result in much less saturated fat than in the processed alternative. Using one small teaspoon of dripping to start your stew or soup is the best stock cube you could wish for.

One of my favourite big roasts is a slow roasted shoulder of pork. I usually use half a shoulder as it will weigh about 4.5kg. I save this for Sundays when family or friends might be visiting as it will feed 8 including extra for all-important left overs.

Also shoulder of pork is very economical. Buy the best pork you can. I have a few tips.

  • Firstly find a butcher that handles whole carcases as these will be able to give you a shoulder in the first place, and it will probably be fairly local. Secondly, they will be able to give you a shoulder with skin on and bone in, a must for crackling and flavour.
  • If your butcher handles whole free-range pork, it is probably local and you may be surprised at how little extra you have to pay to go free-range.
  • Remember that the more off-beat cuts such as shoulder, belly or hocks that require that extra bit of time and care are the less sought after cuts and are therefore cheaper. Get the best you can for your money – it’s out there, especially if you’re a willing and eager cook. You won’t be disappointed – think of the leftovers!

Slow roasted shoulder of pork – they don’t call it slow for nothing as you will need 5-6 hours.

You will need:

  • 1 x 4.5kg half shoulder of pork – bone in , skin on and scored at 1cm intervals
  • I heaped tablespoon fennel seeds
  • Olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 4 apples – skinned, deseeded and halved
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

What to do:

  • Take the pork out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 220⁰C/425⁰F/gas 7.
  • Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of sea salt and pepper.
  • Rub all over the pork with a good glug of oil making sure to get well into the scores.
  • Roast for 1½ hours.
  • Meanwhile peel and quarter the onions.
  • When the time is up, pour away all the fat (or transfer when cool to a jam jar to keep as dripping in the fridge).
  • Reduce oven to 130⁰C/250⁰F/Gas ½
  • Put the onions and bay leaves under the pork in the tray. Pour in 750ml water and cook for 2 hours.
  • Baste with tray juices and add the halved apples to the tray with a little water if required.
  • Roast for a further 2 hours until the meat pulls away from the bone freely.
  • Remove from oven and transfer to a plate with the apples and cover.
  • Put the roasting tray, with onions on a medium heat on the hob and stir in the flour. You should have plenty of liquid to make gravy. Add the pork resting juices. Stir well and simmer until a good consistency is reached. Pour through a sieve into a jug.
  • Serve everything together with seasonal greens along with your own usual trimmings.
  • Don’t forget to make good use of the leftovers during the week!

Published in The Western People – 14th September 2015

Filling back to school bellies

Meatballs in tomato sauce

Well ‘back to school’ time is almost upon us again. Every year I feel torn at this time between the craziness of summer with the kids and the comfort of the routine of school. I have to be honest and say that there was a time when I didn’t think much of the notion of having a dinner plan for the school week. I used to think that it would take too much time to do and took the spontaneity out of food. Then, of course, as the kids came along and got a bit older, I learn that ‘spontaneity’ was a luxury that ironically, someone with time would have!

This last school year, I found it not only invaluable but absolutely essential to plan the week of dinners in advance. If I didn’t I found that I either had nothing really to cook when I got home or I would spend too much money buying ingredients for one-off meals that hadn’t been properly thought through. This ultimately meant a lot of waste in the kitchen aswell. I suppose this is all just about good housekeeping but for me, I didn’t really learn what that meant until the kids came along. You don’t want hungry tired children finishing school with no dinner in sight. Life is too short for that!

The weekly dinner menu does get predicable but they are all dinners that are made from scratch, made relatively quickly, have plenty of vegetables and flavour at their core and the kids love them. Our meals include the predictable spaghetti bolognaise, chilli, chicken curry, pork meatballs and pasta, homemade fish fingers with potato wedges and veggie frittata (which is basically a massive omelette containing vegetables mainly potatoes).

Monday’s dinner is always based on leftovers from the Sunday roast. If we’ve had roast chicken, the leftover chicken (you’d be surprised how much meat you can get off the carcase) is bulked up with plenty of vegetables to make a chicken curry. This could even be done on the Sunday evening but that’s always been wistful thinking on my part.

The kids’ favourite is meatballs in tomato sauce. We use our own Fennel and chilli meatballs from the shop but you could use a good sausage that has the flavours that you want to taste in the finished sauce. Our hot Italian sausage does the job well as does Jane Russell’s Fennel and chilli sausage. Find a highly flavoured sausage with high meat content that your family likes. You could fry off the sausages directly and roughly chop them or use the sausage meat as follows.

For a meal for 4 there is plenty in 500g of sausage meat. Squeeze the meat from the casings into a bowl – kids love doing this! Smell the meat. If it seems to be lacking on the aroma front you can add some finely chopped red chilli or garlic to your taste, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and maybe a tablespoon of ground fennel. Mix well with your hands and form into meatballs. Colour the meatballs gently in the bottom of your casserole pot. They don’t need to be fully cooked through but just firmed. Add a finely chopped medium onion at this point. When the onion is softened a little, add a full 700g jar of passata. Find a brand that doesn’t have sugar listed in its ingredients. It should only contain sieved tomatoes and a little salt. Let the pot bubble away for about 30 minutes on a very gently heat. If you have good sausage meat with plenty of flavour either in it or added, these flavours will leech out into the tomato sauce. Finally, to add some extra fibre, strain a 400g tin of Barlotti beans and add towards the end to heat through. Once cooked, taste and check for seasoning. If the passata you’ve used is a bit acidic, you might want to add a teaspoon or two of sugar to balance the flavour. This is actually a very quick dinner to make and there is always a queue for seconds!

 

 

First published in The Western People on 24th August 2015.

A product that is pure and from the land.

VelvetCloud1

Velvet Cloud is a sheep’s milk yogurt made by the Flanagan family in Rockfield, Claremorris. Why would you go to the trouble of milking sheep you ask? Especially when considering the relatively small milk yield of the sheep in comparison to the massive yield of the cow.

Sheep’s milk is naturally easier to digest than cow’s milk. The milk has small fat globules which mean that it is naturally homogenised and therefore creamier. It also has medium-chain fatty acids which allow sheep’s milk to be digested more rapidly – it takes 30 minutes to digest sheep’s milk compared with 2 hours for cow’s milk.

As well as all that, sheep’s milk wins hands down in terms of nutrition when compared with cow or goat’s milk: higher in protein, Vitamin C (a whopping 10.3mg per cup), Vitamin B12, Folate, Calcium (almost twice that of cow’s milk) and magnesium (twice that of cow’s milk also). It is also lower in lactose which might suit people that have mild lactose intolerance.

And now for the taste test – sheep’s milk is divine! It’s super creamy and mild. So why are we not drinking more? I suppose, if you are going to milk an animal for a living, you are more likely going to milk a cow which would give on average across the seasons 20 litres of milk a day. A sheep will produce 1 to 2 litres per day. The Flanagan family decided to go with the nutritionally better sheep’s milk and decided they were going to do something special with their product.

It takes dedication to milk sheep. Apart from the lower yield, they are naturally prey animals so the ‘let down’ reflex can be affected if startled and therefore milk production. But the Flanagan family on their farm in Rockfield have been milking sheep and working on getting their yogurt, Velvet Cloud, just right over the last three years. Michael and Aisling spent over a decade living in France and Italy where they saw the popularity of Sheep’s milk products. On returning to Ireland they noticed the marked absence of it in a country where sheep thrive on luscious green grass. The idea of Velvet Cloud was born.

Aisling and Michael started selling their yogurt in mid June 2015 when they quietly launched it on their twitter and Facebook pages. The response was instantaneous. They experienced astounding interest from chefs and retail outlets as they had hit on an obvious gap in the market and also had produced a deservedly well received delicious product. The couple have not been daunted by the massive interest since June and their yogurt is now available across the country in shops as well as on menus. In Dublin, the yogurt is available in Caviston’s in Dalkey and Morton’s as well as the following markets: The Temple Bar market, Honest2Goodness Market and the People’s Park Market, Dunlaoire. Down here in the West it is available in Morton’s and McCambridge’s in Galway, and Rua and De Búrca’s in Castlebar, O’Connor’s SuperValu Westport, SuperValu and The Food Store in Claremorris to name a few, as the list is growing daily. It is featuring on many menus including the Michelin starred Aniar in Galway.

I love these stories of people who have put in such hard work over years developing and researching to the point where they have a product that they are really happy with, a product that is pure and from the land. Their yogurt is their sheep’s milk, milked on their farm and brought to the dairy on their farm where all that’s added to it are live yogurt cultures – that’s it! No sugar or preservatives, nothing else. It’s real food made on one farm from start to finish. And I love how they then tentatively let it out into the big world to see if something would happen only to find a great reception for a great product. In the space of a few months, their product has left their farm and is successfully reaching people all over the country. Aisling and Michael should be very proud of what they have achieved – proud and tired!

First published in The Western People – 17 August 2015

VelvetCloud2

The Humble Spud

NewPotatoes

I get annoyed when people dismiss certain vegetables out of hand as ‘fattening’. I spoke with a lady the other day who said she couldn’t eat potatoes because they had too many ‘empty carbs’ and she questioned ‘what’s in them anyway?’ Firstly, you don’t have to eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and tea. Secondly, we could all learn to shown some restraint with portion size. But to rule out an incredibly nutritious vegetable altogether I think is wrong – especially one that has such a strong history with this country to the point where it has become synonymous with Ireland.

How the potato got to Ireland in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins have all been credited with introducing the tuber into Europe. The usual story for Ireland is that Sir Walter Raleigh brought it here when he was came to help suppress the Desmond Rebellions between 1579 and 1583. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this dating from that time in any of the Raleigh-related estate records. Some evidence comes in the form of hearsay some 100 years later through the minutes of a Royal Society meeting held 13th December 1693 when it’s president Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702) stated that his grandfather had ‘brought potatoes into Ireland who had them from Sir Walter Raleigh after his return from Virginia’. This may or may not have been the case. There does seem to be a connection with Spain however as an early name for potato was An Spáinneach. A likely scenario is that the first potatoes reached us from Spain via commercial trading routes.

Either way, Ireland fell in love with the spud. And as a staple food of a country, potatoes weren’t a bad option. They were one of the few staples that one could live nutritionally on exclusively which was the case for about 40% of the population in the 1800s. Potatoes are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc, and of course the First World dreaded starch. All was good until 1845 when the potatoes were struck by blight and this, coupled with Ireland’s political and commercial practices at the time, resulted in the famine.

When Irish people think of potatoes their eyes often glaze over at the thought of freshly boiled new potatoes and rubbing the thin skins off before eating them with butter, salt and some new onions. Or colcannon, which is one of the most celebrated of Irish potato recipes and one of our favourites. It has all the simple goodness of floury potatoes, kale, milk, butter and scallions – Heaven! Maybe this is what the lady meant when she said that she couldn’t eat potatoes as they were fattening. But is there any dish that can evoke an Irish childhood more?

Colcannon

What you need:

  • 2lb or 1kg of Floury potatoes
  • 400g chopped kale
  • 1¼ cup/ 320ml milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until tender. Always start with cold water, never using hot water. Otherwise you will end up with floury outside and a hard middle.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a pan over a medium heat. Add the kale and cook until just wilted. This should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the potatoes. Add the milk, butter and scallions to the pot and let simmer gently for 2 minutes to infuse the milk with the scallion. Add the kale and the peeled potatoes to the pot. Mash until smooth.
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. To serve traditionally, make a crater on top of each portion using the back of a spoon. Add a knob of butter to each crater so that every forkful of colcannon can be dipped into the lake of melted butter.

Published in The Western People 20th July 2015

Preserving Summer

Elderflower1

Nothing reminds me more of summer than the heady scent of elderflowers. Elderflowers in our garden have been slow to bloom this year for obvious reasons but they are out in their full glory at the moment. I’ve been preserving that smell in jellies for the last few years so that I can smell summer on my toast on a cold November morning. I didn’t realise how much I would love jam and jelly making, especially when some of the ingredients comes from the hedgerows and the garden. There is nothing like having a cupboard full of your own various jars from different times of the year.

One very easy preserve to make is an apple jelly. This sweetly tart jelly is beautiful as an accompaniment to pork dishes. My own favourite is a plain crab apple jelly which I love with grilled chorizo off the barbeque. But I also use the following Bramley apple recipe as a base for the elderflower jelly as well as other jellies such as mint, rosemary or even chilli.

You will need a jelly bag or a DIY version of one, which is what I use because every year I find myself, yet again, without the real thing. I use a large colander lined with muslin as my substitute.

There are a few rules to jelly making.  If you are someone who can’t resist squeezing the juices out of the jelly bag, be prepared to get a cloudy jelly. I find if I let gravity work its magic overnight on the jelly bag, I always get a beautiful sparkling clear jelly. The only rules with picking elderflowers are to pick them on a warm dry day, never when it’s wet. Make sure the scent is good as trees differ. You will soon know a very well scented one and that will be your tree every year.  Make sure to pick heads on which there are flowers just beginning to open with plenty of buds that are still closed. And of course, remember to leave some on the tree for elderberry picking!

Bramley Apple and Elderflower Jelly

Makes 6-7lbs (about 3kg)

  • 2.4kg (5 ½ lb.) Bramley apples
  • 2.6 litres (4 ½ pints) water
  • 6-8 heads of elderflower (gently washed in water)
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • Sugar

What to do:

  1. Wash the apples and cut into rough chunks. Do not remove skin or core. Make sure to remove any bruised pieces. Put the apples into a large saucepan with the water and the thinly pared zest of the lemons. Add the elderflowers and push under the water.
  2. Cook for about 30 minutes till the apples are reduced to a pulp.
  3. Add the pulp to a scalded jelly bag (or your DIY muslin version) and allow all the liquid to drip through into the collecting container usually overnight.
  4. Measure the volume of the resulting liquid into a saucepan.
  5. To sterilise your jars: place clean glass jars into a moderate oven at 180⁰C/350⁰F/gas 4 for 10 minutes.
  6. For every 600ml of juice allow 450g of sugar. Heat the sugar in a low oven. This helps to dissolve the sugar quickly but is not a necessary step.
  7. Squeeze the lemons and strain the juice into the juice.
  8. Bring the juice to the boil and add the warm sugar. Turn down the heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat again and boil for about 10 minutes without stirring. The jelly should reach setting point in this time.
  9. Skim off any scum that may have formed on the jelly using a slotted spoon.
  10. Test that the setting point has been reached by pouring a teaspoon of the jelly onto a very cold plate – I place one in the freezer. The jelly should crinkle on the cold surface.
  11. The jelly should be potted immediately into sterilised jars.

Elderflower2

 

 

Published in the Western People – 06th July 2014