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

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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.

Andarl Farm

Andarl Farm piggies

Andarl Farm piggies!

Dave and Di Milestone, both originally from Yorkshire, first came to Ireland in 2010. Dave was a long distance lorry driver and Di worked part time in a local deli in Claremorris. In 2012 they bought a derelict farm and some land at Brickens as they were both used to living in the countryside and along with this they also bought Doris, a Large White sow.  Doris soon gave birth to 17 piglets but three days later the unthinkable happened when Doris died, and the piglets had to be hand reared. They had wonderful support from their friends and neighbors during that time. Two of the orphaned piglets took to drinking replacement milk straight away and thrived. They were named Thelma and Louise and they still have them today. A few more ladies have joined the group since: Ruby, Rosie, Scary, Posh, Sporty and Baby (Ginger hasn’t arrived yet!) They said that it is such a great feeling to have Thelma and Louise the original orphaned piglets in particular, producing regular litters of their own, despite the fact that they were told by a local pig farmer at the time that they would never make anything out of them! Little did they know that with Thelma and Louise, Andarl Farm Velvet Pork was born.

Their passion for their pigs started from that point on. As modern tastes can often find free-range pork too fatty, they decided to take up the challenge to find the perfect cross that would have the right fat to lean ratio as well as a good hardy outdoor disposition to suit their farming style. It took 3 years through the use of AI to develop the right breed and in 2014 they bought Harry, a Hyroc boar to compliment the Andarl Farm sows. Harry was bred by Hermitage Genetics in Kilkenny and is a cross between a Duroc and a Pietrain. The fat and lean characteristics of this meat results in a density that gives Andarl Farm meat its name: Velvet Pork.

Harry photobombing the Spice Girls

Harry photobombing the Spice Girls

They soon found they had a bit of a backlog of pigs, weight ready but with nowhere to go. They asked Michael Webb the owner of the abattoir where they kill their pigs if he had any interest in taking a few for his Castlerea shop. He took a pig that first week and has been buying them since. A few weeks later I met Dave and Di at a Mayo Food Producers meeting and we started selling their pork in De Búrca’s. They supply Mark’s Meats in Dunmore and Ryan’s Food Emporium in Cong. Sheridan’s in Galway sell the pork products they have developed in the last few months: dry cured rashers, gammons, sausages and Pork and apple burgers. Award winning restaurants such as: Flanagan’s in Brickens, Bar One and Rua in Castlebar, The Hungry Monk in Cong and Araby in Claremorris feature Andarl Farm pork on their menus. Dave and Di are also at Boyle Farmer’s Market every Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

They both really care about their pigs and it shows in the final product. I asked Dave does he ever struggle with that journey to the abattoir. He said ‘I do and I don’t’ in the sense that the overriding feeling he has is one of pride. Pride that he and Di have done their best for their pigs and reared them to standards that results in very happy healthy pigs that lead lives according to their natural instincts. They prefer to use the small abattoir in Castlerea because they find it to be a quiet gently process that doesn’t lead to stress for their animals. The care taken at every stage is evident in the wonderful flavour and texture of the pork and this is why the customers for Andarl Farm Velvet Pork are growing on a daily basis.

Harry

Harry

DATE TO REMEMBER: Dave and Di from Andarl Farm will be at De Búrca’s Butcher Shop for a food demonstration of their pork and pork products on Friday 31st July 2015 from 11am to 2pm.

Our appetite for the weather

 

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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.

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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.)