Saturday, 16 August 2014

Squid Ink Pasta with Seafood and Samphire

Lidl are apparently selling squid ink pasta at the moment. I had also got some fresh seafood bought for me in a fabulous fish shop in Navan by the chef. Sometimes he does nice stuff for me. So what to do only throw it all together. Apart from being disorganised and using every pan in my kitchen, it was made in minutes and was really fabulous.

1 packet 250g of squid ink pasta (here it fed two of us)
2 slices of thick cut smokey bacon
1 clove of garlic
1 red chilli not deseeded but just finely sliced
fresh prawns (I used about 5-6 per person)
fresh squid (same)
Samphire (handful)
fresh herbs, I used parsley and thyme
Salt, pepper
Oil for frying
some retained pasta water
splash of white wine

Put the pasta into a pan of boiling salted water and cook for four minutes, after two minutes add the samphire. Drain but reserve a few tablespoons of the water.

Fry the bacon until crispy. Cool, remove and cut into pieces. Add the garlic, chilli to the pan and deglaze the pan with some white wine. Add the herbs. Remove from heat and set aside.  In another pan add some oil which can take high temperatures (rape, sunflower or lard). When pan is smoking add the squid and toss about quickly (do not overcook or it will turn rubbery). Add a ladle of the pasta water. Transfer the squid into the pan with the garlic, herbs etc. Repeat with the prawns until they turn pink. Remove and add to squid mix. Add the bacon. Heat the whole mix up quickly and add the pasta. Add more of the retained pasta water if it appears dry. Toss it around to reheat it. Serve immediately.

Serve with a chilled crisp white such as Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Taste of Cavan - The Future is The Past

For me it began in the Olde Post Inn with a World War One commemorative seven course tasting menu.  Edwardian dress was optional but many took part and dressed for the occasion, not least the two men in army uniform standing at the door with sack sandbags and old weaponry.

It turned out to be a great night. The food was fabulous and the company even better.

Gearoid Lynch Chef Proprietor of the Olde Post Inn

The World War 1 themed menu

It was a race against time to try to photograph the courses as the light was fading rapidly. The only photo that turned out reasonably well was the venison pithiver. This did not in any way reflect on the chef, Gearoid Lynch but more on the photographer who might have been possibly hindered by a very good red.

The actual Taste kicked off at the Cavan Institute on Friday 8th August at 1pm. I drove down in torrential rain and was really glad I had seen that most of the exhibitors were under canvas or to be honest I would have turned back.

I need not have worried as the sun came out shortly after I arrived and it was absolutely roasting in the tent.

First off was a demo by Neven Maguire introduced by Mairead Lavery of the Farmers Journal. It was really entertaining as in front of a live audience he is relaxed and witty. He made a "pizza" which looked and smelled stunning but I'm not sure any Neapolitanos would recognise.

Neven is a big fan of local and seasonal and a great promoter of Irish produce. He used Thornhill duck, Donegal rapeseed oil, fabulous local fruit and herbs and flowers grown in his own restaurant garden.

Then it was out for a potter around all the exhibitors. What struck me is how much food has changed from when I moved to this area 22 years ago. Back then backwards was putting it politely. Now there is a thriving artisan community. Many exhibitors were local in that they were from northern counties, Cavan, Meath, Monaghan, Donegal and just over the border in northern Ireland.

Blast and Wild flavoured butters produced in Slane Co. Meath. A blast of flavour by the wild proprietor as he explained to me. I have to say they looked really good and he has some very interesting flavour combinations.

I've been tasting a "few" craft beers here lately as the chef is very into them. So I am beginning to know what I like. Brehon Brewery is up the road from me here in Carrickmacross Co. Monaghan. I particularly liked their Blonde. Clean flavour and really refreshing. I did ask if you have a skin full will you get a hangover. The brewer laughed.

This is Kenneth Hall of Farmers to Market. Possibly the best free range chicken readily available now. They also have very sexy packaging. Personally I would prefer if chicken along the lines of Poulet Bresse was available here but I doubt many consumers would be ready to pay the premium just yet.

Around these parts and probably most parts Silke Cropp's fabulous raw milk cheeses need no introduction. Her range is amazing. Her son Felix recently started making a cheddar and it is sublime. But the star has to be her Cavanbert - a Camembert style cheese which could rival the top Camembert and is incredible baked with rosemary and garlic.

This really interesting and colourful display was from The Wild Irish Foragers and Preservers based in Birr, Co. Offally. I tasted their nettle and rose hip syrups. They all have different health benefits. It's interesting how so many old remedies are being re worked into more palatable forms.

For me the star of the show was actually an exhibitor from northern Ireland, Tully Farm. His Dexter and Irish Moyle beef looked fabulous. The meat marbled with a creamy fat. He explained that he only feeds grass. The native breeds such as these do much better if they are not fed on concentrates or cereals. He is waiting his organic certification. I tried rib eye from both breeds.

Dexter rib eye

I cooked the Irish Moyle rib eye when I got home and it was sublime. Moist, tender and full of flavour. The fat was sweet like fat from my own pigs. You just know it's good for you.

Rare Irish Moyle rib eye
It also went particularly well with the Breton Blonde.

It just makes sense to me that native Irish cattle breeds eating a natural diet (grass not cereal) is going to taste better than anything from a genetically engineered Belgian breed stuffed to its heels with grain.

I really believe the future of food in this country is the past. Our great native beef breeds, beers and ciders produced from old methods with no chemicals. cheese from our great milk, raw, rich and creamy, old natural remedies made into palatable syrups and chickens allowed to free range and grow slowly to develop depth of flavour.

Taste of Cavan is a fantastic event. It is has grown in size every year. Every exhibitor I spoke to was passionate and enthusiastic about their product. It's well run. It's well laid out. There were lots of other side shows to keep everyone amused and interested, including some World War 1 displays. There were fast food stalls and coffee booths and picnic tables but you could also just stuff your face with tastes.

If you missed it this year, mark it into your diary for next.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Eat This Not That

Image from

A discussion on processed diet food recently where a manufacturer stated that theirs contain no additives, got me thinking. 

The definition of an additive is: something added to food to preserve it or enhance it's flavour or appearance. This could be for example, salt (a preservative or a flavour enhancer) and classed as a "natural" additive. In fact if you want to be pedantic about it, anything you add to a food is an additive.

So saying a food particularly a processed food, is additive free, is complete and utter nonsense.

Read an ingredient list for a simple dish which is processed. If they contain guar gum (a thickener), maltodextrin (a highly refined sweetener usually derived from corn starch and incidentally, increasingly attributed to the rise in obesity), acidifier (gives a sour taste and acts as an antioxidant to stop fats going rancid) or colourings; I am at a loss how they can claim they are additive free. But they do.

I'm not saying any of the above additives are bad for you per se. However, they should not form more than a small part of any balanced diet.With diet meals the likelihood is you will give up with boredom long before they do you any harm.

Why ready meal manufacturers have to add all this stuff is quite simply to give shelf life and freeze-thaw stability (for frozen products). At home if you freeze a meal and it goes a bit liquidy when you defrost it, you don't get distressed but manufacturers do because customers will complain. Often times additives act as flavour enhancers purely because low grade ingredients are used.

I have yet to come across a processed food proclaiming that it is "all natural" or "additive free" to actually be. If something is all natural it needs minimal processing to begin with anyway. If you use high quality ingredients you don't need to enhance flavour. Milk, yoghurt and most cheese would undergo minimal processing which only really involves pasteurisation. Processors often reduce fat or add vitamins but the original product is still pretty much intact.

The thing to bear in mind for a processed €3 ready meal is, that even giving benefits of scale you are not getting high quality ingredients. But what you are getting is fleeced. Calculate the price per kilo and wait for your eyes to water.