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

 

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)

De Búrca’s first year in photos!

Front of McHale's - April 2014

Front of McHale’s – April 2014

This is kinda our first year in De Búrca in photos – it looks like it happened all in one week. But it happened over nights and weekends and two days closed for business in October. It was a mad year. We’re happy it happened and we’re happy it’s over! Settling in now. Thanks to everyone that helped us.

Return of the tea salad.

Heinz Potato Salad

In my house when I was small, you knew the weather was getting warmer not just from looking outside, but when the big hearty winter dinner was replaced with the tea salad. We didn’t call it a tea salad of course – it was just called ‘salad’ because it was the only form of salad available. It was the 1980s and the avant-garde tossed salad of the roaring 90s hadn’t arrived in Connemara yet. We felt incredibly sophisticated to have on our plates a leaf of butter head lettuce acting as a bowl to a small scoop of Heinz’s tinned potato salad. Slices of ham were rolled and propped up by a plain tomato cut in half or maybe quarters. Our mother would have boiled eggs earlier in the day and you watched them cooling in the saucepan wondering if they were going to be made into egg mayonnaise sandwiches or not… our favourite. If they made the salad, they were simply shelled and cut in half. We weren’t really Heinz salad cream people but more Hellman’s. There was any amount of homemade brown bread and warm tea. There were no dressings or oils or lollo rosso or radicchio but looking back on it, we loved those evenings. I went looking for a can of Heinz potato salad the other day but couldn’t find one. I wanted to see if it tasted the same. I’m glad I didn’t find it.

Warm weather food has taken on a different form today. After a day’s work, if the weather is good it’s a wonderful thing to come home and cook something that is quick to prepare, tasty and light but still filling. It gives you time to spend outside.  What we love in our house are kebabs or skewers that can be partially prepared in advance, usually the night before, by marinating the meat and then skewering on wooden skewers just before a very quick cook under a hot grill. They can be accompanied by noodles or homemade coleslaw or potato salad (Heinz or otherwise) or a green salad.

A favourite skewer of ours in the shop doesn’t require overnight marinating but does require a food processor.

 

Satay Chicken Skewers

This recipe serves 4

 

Ingredients for satay sauce

A small bunch of fresh coriander

1 fresh red chilli

1 clove of garlic peeled.

3 heaped tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter

A glug (2 tablespoons?) of Soy sauce

1 inch piece of fresh root ginger

2 limes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chicken:

4 x 180g chicken fillets

Pineapple pieces (optional)

 

SataySaucePrep

What to do:

  • Turn your grill on full blast. Soak 8 wooden skewers in a tray of water. If they float, place a plate on top to submerge them.
  • Assemble the food processor with the standard blade. Add the coriander, stalks and all; the red chilli stalk removed; the peeled garlic clove; the 3 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter; the glug of soy sauce; the roughly chopped piece of ginger; the zest of the 2 limes and the juice of one. Add a couple of splashes of water to help blitz it to a reasonably thick sauce consistency. Adjust seasoning if required. Put half of this sauce to one side for accompaniment for the cooked kebabs.
  • To the other half of the sauce, add the evenly diced chicken fillets (you will get about 6 pieces from each fillet). Coat all the pieces evenly with the sauce. Place about 3 pieces on each skewer, alternating them with a large chunk of pineapple if using. This will give you two kebabs per person.
  • Place under the hot grill for about 8 to 10 minutes each side or until bubbling golden and cooked through. You can check the thickest piece of chicken to make sure.
  • Serve with a noodle salad or rice. Spoon some of the reserved satay sauce over the kebabs at the table. The kids will love them.

 

Now we just have to wait for the weather!

 

(This article was published in The Western People on 20th April 2015)

History repeating.

 

McHalesFront

This last weekend, our shop was one year old. To say that time has flown would be an understatement, but it still feels like we have been on Main Street for a very long time. But not quite as long as a butchering business has been in the building it seems.

We started looking into the history of the building as soon as we started our lease on the 4th of April 2014. We didn’t get very far as things like digging up floors and tiling took up most of our time. The previous occupant, and our current landlord, Martin McHale, had been in the shop since 1976 and he ran it as McHale’s Butchers. We knew that the Flannelly family had been in it prior to that and we are very grateful to Patrick Flannelly, who ran it as a butcher shop before Martin,  for coming in to us those first few weeks  to give us information on his family history in the building. He gave us a copy of the front page of the Connaught Telegraph from June 1st 1889 which displayed an advertisement for the shop, then run by his grandfather.

Front page 2

He also had a photograph, or part of a photograph, taken of the building next door which at that time was a pharmacy. The photograph happened to capture the panel that the shop has on the left hand side of the front, which historically was used for advertising. It clearly shows that the Flannelly family business was established there in 1812.

It’s a lot of history between four walls which we love! I wonder was it a butcher shop before that? And what was Main Street like in 1812? If anyone has any information, we would greatly appreciate it. More than anything, we would treasure a photo of the shop front from those long ago days.

In the meantime, this Saturday 18th April, we are having a party in the shop during the day, to celebrate our relatively short time here on Main Street – there will be plenty of sausage tastings as we are introducing some new recipes: Apple, Cider and Sage; Wild Garlic; and what we call the ‘Breaffy Blue Banger’, which is a blue cheese and plum sausage.

We would like to thank everyone who has given us much needed help this last year, our families and friends, the supportive people of Main Street and our wonderful customers.

Call in on Saturday – we would love to see you.

(First published in The Western People 13th April 2015)

ShopFront

Planting parsley on Good Friday

StuffedRackPorkApricot2

According to tradition, parsley should only be planted on one day: Good Friday. If planted on any other day, the planter would risk an almost certain dire end as parsley was once associated with death and the devil. The ancient Greeks feared the herb more than most and one day, in a particular battle, some clever Celt sent a donkey out adorned head to hoof with the green stuff and the Greek soldiers turned and fled!

Fortunately, parsley’s bad reputation faded over the years and it has since been rightly prized for its flavour as well as its many health benefits.  Recent studies show that parsley is one of the richest sources of a compound called apigenin, a cancer cell killing flavonoid that is found in many plants, of which dried parsley is the cream of the crop. Of course, parsley is also full of iron, vitamins K, A, C and B complex as well as what we are all lacking, magnesium.  I try to use it as much as I can and my favourite way of using it is in stuffing.

Everyone likes good stuffing. I’ve seen it on family state occasions such as Christmas and Easter when there is a large gathering and the vegans or vegetarians in the family find out that all the stuffing has dairy or sausage meat and there is none that’s suitable for them. There is nothing worse than violent vegans! I speak from experience.

In Europe, lamb as the main feature for Easter dinner goes back earlier than Easter, to the first Passover of the Jewish tradition when the sacrificial lamb was eaten. As Hebrews converted to Christianity they brought these traditions with them and as the Christians often refer to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, the traditions merged. In the United States however, ham is the traditional Easter staple. Traditionally meat was slaughtered in autumn, and the fresh pork that wasn’t consumed in the cold winter before lent was cured in spring. This type of curing used hard salt and took time and the first hams were ready just in time for Easter.

The recipe below is for a simple sage and onion stuffing. It can be embellished with different herbs or vegetables depending on what you need it for. If stuffing a duck, you can add a diced fennel bulb or finely chopped sticks of celery. Rosemary or mint can be added instead of sage for lamb. For Easter Sunday we usually have a stuffed rack of Pork for dinner. We stuff it with this stuffing as well as dried apricots that we pre-soak  in some good apple juice.  It’s a colourful as well as very tasty combination.

StuffedRackPorkApricot

The recipe below makes enough stuffing for 1 large chicken or a 3lb rack of pork. You may want to make some extra as it will never be wasted. If you are not keen on tying your own joint, remember that you can bring your own stuffing into your butcher and they can stuff your joint for you.  Leave out the butter in the following recipe if you have any vegans in the house!

 

You will need:

A little butter and a little oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

12-18 fresh sage leaves OR 1 level tablespoon of dried sage

1 large bunch of parsley, chopped OR if using dried, 2 good handfuls

Half a small stale white loaf, blitzed into breadcrumbs

Sea salt and black pepper

 

What to do:

Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion and sage. Sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the chopped parsley and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumb, season well and stir. Leave to cool.

If using the dried apricots in the rack of pork, pre-soak in apple juice for at least 1 hour until plump. Add a row of apricots into the stuffing cavity and fill it with the cooled bread mixture. Tie the joint at intervals, or better still, get your butcher to do it for you!

Enjoy, and happy Easter!

 

This article was published in The Western People on 30th March 2015

Rosemary and garlic griddle lamb

Spring morning - Main Street, Castlebar 2015

Spring morning – Main Street, Castlebar 2015

I love that first morning in spring when you wake and realise it’s light outside. The air changes and everything feels fresher and more hopeful. When I see the days getting longer I always get an urge to start digging in the garden, planning and planting for the summer. Since moving to Castlebar, we had to start in the garden from scratch again. But the one thing that we have kept from our small terraced house in Nenagh are the planters that grew our herbs. It is very rewarding to have one large pot outside the backdoor in a sunny spot filled with your favorite herbs. I have a mix of rosemary, thyme and parsley and an additional pot of bay. I use these herbs in most meals. I also have a pot of lavender which is a wonderful addition to most fruit desserts in the summer time. With the coming of spring I also feel like shaking off the winter days by cooking fresher and usually greener looking meals. And there is nothing that defines spring more than lamb especially from the West of Ireland.

One of our favourite spring recipes is Rosemary and Garlic Griddle lamb. We like to make it on a Sunday when we are going out wandering for a few hours, usually for a walk around Lough Lannagh followed by a lengthy session in the playground. As we are usually returning home hungry, we need something to eat that is quick to prepare, but that is also hearty and tasty and worthy of ‘Sunday Dinner’ status.

WP LambSalsaVerdePrep

A version of this recipe we found originally in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ where he barbecued butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb. You can use these lamb portions or indeed, any lamb chop depending on taste and pocket. Sideloin chops are suitable as they are boneless. But I do love gigot lamb chops which happen to be the cheapest cut and to me the tastiest. You just have to remove the bone if putting the meat into a bap.  You can either use Salsa Verde as an accompaniment on some form of bread or for a more substantial dinner, you can serve with some roast vegetables.

Salsa Verde is a wonderfully herbaceous gooey sauce that has the most verdant green colour imaginable. When you blitz it in the blender, you turn a whole massive pile of ingredients into a few tablespoons of sauce which you immediately feel a little disappointed with in terms of volume. But then you taste it and you realise that a little goes a long way. We have used this sauce with most meats and poultry. We love to use it with lamb but we also often use it as a topping on grilled chicken fillets. The recipe for the sauce listed below is the initial guideline you need to make your own original version. Try it – maybe you could bottle it and make your fortune!

WP SalsaVerdePrep

This recipe serves 4

For the lamb marinade you will need:

Lamb: 6 Butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb OR 8 Sideloin Lamb chops OR 8 gigot lamb chops

Rosemary: A dozen good sprigs

Garlic: 6 cloves peeled and roughly chopped

Olive oil: 2 to 3 good tablespoons

A few good twists of Black Pepper

What to do: Add the roughly chopped garlic and stripped rosemary needles to a mortar and bash with a pestle. Add the mix to the bowl, along with the olive oil, pepper and meat. Toss all of the ingredients well and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours. (At this point you can go for your Sunday walk)

To griddle your meat, ensure your griddle pan is smoking hot. Remove the pieces of meat from the marinade and wipe lightly prior to placing on the pan. Don’t leave too many bits of garlic and rosemary sticking to it as they will burn. Cook the meat according to its thickness and how pink you like it. To avoid the meat blackening too much on the griddle pan, for those in our family who like more medium-well than pink, we would usually seal those meat portions on the pan before placing it in the oven to finish off.

For the Salsa Verde you will need:

Garlic: 1 small clove

Flat-leaf parsley: A good big handful with the coarse stalks removed

Basil: 15 to 20 leaves

Tarragon: Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs

Anchovy fillets: 4 to 5 fillets

Capers: About 1 teaspoon

Mustard (Dijon or English): About 1 teaspoon

Sugar: A pinch

Lemon juice or vinegar: A few drops

Extra virgin olive oil: 2 to 3 tablespoons

Freshly ground black pepper

What to do: Add all these ingredients to a food processor, and pulse to a saucy consistency.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the use of a food processor, finely chop the garlic on a large chopping board. Then add the herbs, anchovies, and capers and chop all together until fine in texture. Add to a mixing bowl, and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper, and when initially mixed, add enough olive oil to give a glossy saucy consistency. As soon as the sauce is complete, taste and tweak to your own liking.

This sauce is best made fresh but what’s leftover, if any, will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered or in a jar.

WP LambSalsaVerdeBap

 

 

A version of this article appeared in The Western People on 23rd of March 2015.

Our appetite for the weather

 

WP1- Photo2

I always knew Irish people had an unusually extensive preoccupation with the weather, but it didn’t quite sink in until we opened the shop. Maybe it goes back to Oiche na Gaoithe Móire and the terror of that and other climatic catastrophes affected our DNA to the extent that we are now concerned daily about the weather past, present and future. My grandfather used to say he remembered ‘The Night of the Big Wind’ well, despite the fact it happened on the 6th January 1839!

The thing is, I now realise my own preoccupation with the weather and that I do at least, think every day about the coming forecast if for different reasons. I’m probably in the minority but I love the long cold windy winter nights because for me that means comfort food. Stews and braises can be amazing if given their time. My favourite stew is a rich wholesome shin of beef with marrow bone. Long winter nights doesn’t always have to be about slow cooking though. A recipe that we love in our house is the traditional bangers and mash, with compulsory red onion gravy. It is cooked in the length of time it takes to boil the spuds.

We use good herby Cumberland sausage for this but you can also use a traditional one. Buy the best sausage that you can afford. Sausages have for too long, been predominantly seen as a cheap source of meat in this country and the UK. Our European neighbours, on the other hand, have always respected sausage- making as an important and integral part of a butcher’s repertoire and have taken great care in their production.  We have some wonderful sausages in this country now with some butcher shops developing and making their own, farmers making top quality sausages direct for their market stall and also more widely available brands such as Jane Russell’s and of course, Kelly’s of Newport.

Note: The onion gravy recipe is a version of a Jamie Oliver recipe. I would recommend you choose the best stock you can find as some have a lot of salt and flavourings.

WP1- Photo1

This recipe serves 4

You will need:

Enough sausages for 4 people – 2 jumbo sausages per person should be plenty

Oil such as rapeseed

2kg/4 ½ lb. potatoes, peeled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

300ml or just over ½ pint of milk

115g / 4oz butter

4 medium red onions, peeled and finely sliced

5 tablespoons of balsamic OR red wine vinegar

Beef or chicken stock

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C / 400⁰F / gas 6.

Place the sausages in an ovenproof dish and drizzle with a little olive oil to coat. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

While the sausages are cooking, boil or steam the peeled potatoes until tender. Drain, and return to the saucepan. Mash until smooth. Add the milk and about 70g/2½ oz. of the butter.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS FOR MASHED POTATOES – You can make an extra special mash at this point by adding a few dollops of wholegrain mustard OR 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly grated horseradish. Both varieties work well with this recipe.

Season the mashed potatoes well to taste and keep warm.

To make the onion gravy, fry the onions very slowly in a little oil with the lid on for about 15 minutes until soft. Remove the lid and turn the heat up. As soon as the onions start to get golden, add the vinegar and boil until it has almost disappeared. Turn the heat down again, add the rest of your butter and add 565ml/1 pint of stock. Stir well. Let this simmer until you have a nice gravy consistency.

To serve, dollop some creamy potatoes onto a plate, chop your sausages in half and place on top. Finally spoon over the onion gravy.

And there you have a plate of pure rib-sticking comfort.  All that’s left to do then is to talk about how cold it is outside!

 

(This article appeared in The Western People under the title ‘Cold wintry nights mean one thing: Comfort Food’ on 16th March 2015.)