There’s a lot going on foodwise in Ireland this week. First up was  documentary “What’s Ireland eating” on RTE 1 by journalists Philip Boucher Hayes and Suzanne Campbell on Sunday night which made for predictably sober viewing. Irish people spend more money on treats than they do on fruit and veg, processed meats have up to 20% water, obesity rates are shooting up.Urghh.. ..

If you eat organic, chances are you already knew some of this and you’re not one of the people who needs to radically change their lifestyle. Sure, we can all do better but a mainly vegetarian, home cooked, organic (if possible) diet is where it’s at healthwise. All the experts say so and it feels better too.

The other big story is the Eat only Irish for a week campaign started by lamb producer Brendan of Castlemine farm You may have heard him on Pat Kenny last Friday and if you’re on Twitter you’ll know all about it. It’s a great idea and has really focused everyone’s attention on what can be sourced here in Ireland. Lots of the stuff we assume to be Irish isn’t always. As the documentary on Sunday showed, when you eat chicken in a restaurant or cafe it is very rarely homegrown and often comes from as far away as Brazil or Thailand. Yikes!!!!

Again, if you eat locally and organic a big part of your diet is already Irish. Brilliant. No big change required. So, for me this week is really about looking at other items in my shopping basket and making some switches. Some things are easier than others. With 2 very hungry boys in the house I’ve been buying imported honey recently because we go through so much of the stuff . Buying a jar of the local stuff is an easy change, feels much better and I’ve resolved to make savings elsewhere so we can continue the habit. Substitutes for  things like sugar, salt, tea and coffee are impossible to get locally so finding alternatives have been a big challenge. Now, I’m not promising I won’t have a cup of tea all week but trying to eat only local means I’ve been using mint and thyme from the garden. Denis Healy picked lemon verbena for us, admittedly not enough to see us through the week (more like one cup!) but it’s great to get something that’s a bit different as well.

Fresh Garlic

As usual, our suppliers played a blinder this week – Denis and Duncan Healy particularly, they came up with the Jerusalem artichokes, , rhubarb, apples, pak choy, fresh garlic, sage and the aforementioned lemon verbena. Marc Michel’s amazing salad leaves are just starting so the timing on those was brilliant while Philip Dreaper provided the spuds. Now I had hoped to do an all Irish bag but they don’t call this time of year “the hungry gap” for nothing (no, those oranges are not from Wicklow). In a  month it’ll be no problem, but right now it’s not quite possible although I think we did pretty well.

My recipes this week are going to be all Irish – no salt or sugar!!!! and there’ll be at least 2 installments mainly because we got so many new orders in over the weekend that we were completely cleaned out yesterday and there were no Jerusalem artichokes left for me to cook with! We’ll be getting some more in on Thursday morning so I’ll be posting about them then.

My starting point yesterday was the fresh garlic and the baby leaves but feeding a family out of those two  just wasn’t going to happen (I like my food but with boys it’s the sheer volume that I can’t get over). I bought a chicken and decided to stuff it with most of the garlic (I kept a bulb back for another day). When it came to seasoning I had a revelation – what about some seaweed? Gotta work right? It did. While Paul added a sneaky sprinkle of salt onto his plate I managed to hold back and it was quite delicious without. I roasted some spuds alongside the bird and made a salad using our own rapeseed oil (we had this in stock until quite recently but I’m afraid it’s gone until August) and some of that amazing Llewellyn’s Irish Balsamic Cider Vinegar. Lovely.Everyone licked their plate (some literally!)

Roasted rhubarbDessert was a rhubarb fool which I felt completely relaxed about until I remembered the no sugar rule. There was panic but then I saw people tweeting about that gorgeous apple syrup from  Highbank which we actually sell (doh!!)- perfect, an all Irish sweetener. I also slow roasted some apple slices with a little butter at the bottom of the oven (no fancy fan ovens for me something I usually curse but it came in handy yesterday) which I chopped up and threw in aswell for a bit of texture as the usual ginger biscuits I serve with fools were off the menu. I roasted the rhubarb as well so the oven was nicely full  something I always aim for (I only made this cake to save the environment officer I swear!!)

Roast Chicken stuffed with dillisk and fresh garlic with Wicklow leaves

You’ll need:

1 organic chicken

1 small handful dillisk – this you’ll get in your healthfood shop and apart from the saltiness it has lots of healthy properties

4 heads fresh garlic


5 or 6 large potatoes

A few sage leaves if you have them

70gr baby salad leaves or whatever salad leaves you have

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons rapeseed oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 scant teaspoon honey

First off roughly chop the garlic including the green steams. Tear a small handful of dillisk then mix the two together in a bowl with a glug of rapeseed oil. Use this mix to stuff the cavity then rub some more oil into the bird’s skin. Cover and pop it into the oven at Gas mark 6. Peel, chop and parboil the spuds then add them to the tray along with a few sage leaves. After an hour uncover the chicken. Continue cooking for another 20 minutes then carefully take the garlic and dillisk out of the bird and spread it on the tray. This is to fully cook the garlic but, to stop it burning turn down the heat slightly. Continue roasting until the bird is fully cooked(this will vary with the size of your chicken). When your chicken is cooked, take it out of the oven and let it sit in a warm place for at least 20 minutes. Try and get the garlic and dillisk off the tray too at this stage but the spuds can stay put and go back in the oven. While the chicken is resting, wash and dry the salad. When you’re ready to eat make a dressing by whisking the oil, vinegar and honey together. Serve and devour!!

PS. Be sure and save the bones for stock. Simply cover them in water in a pot along with a bay leaf (nothing else as it’s all Irish this week), bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour. Drain and keep in your fridge or freeze.

The rhubarb fool

You’ll need:

1 bunch of rhubarb

Apple syrup

3 apples – peeled and sliced


250 ml Cream

Get the apples in the oven first as they take the longest. A low heat of say, Gas mark 4 is best but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for them so if you’ve got something in on a higher heat throw them in too on a lower shelf if you’ve got a rubbish oven like me or just keep a good eye on them. Spread on a dish or baking tray before they do in add a good chunk of butter, a drizzle of apple syrup (sugar will do if you don’t have this), cover and away they go. They’ll take about 2 hours.

Prepare the rhubarb by washing and chopping it into 1 inch chunks.It can go in at a higher temperature (Gas 5) but will do fine at a lower one – just takes longer. Cover and roast for about 20 minutes then check. It should be nearly done at this stage and you can put it back uncovered for the last few minutes. You want it nice and tender but not mush. Let it cool down completely then blitz with your blender adding more apple syrup to taste. Stick in the freezer to firm up slightly for about 30 minutes. Finely chop the apples and set aside. To finish the fool off whip your cream then fold in the rhubarb and apple. Ideally you don’t want everything mixed together so you end up with creamy rhubarb. The aim cream with rhubarb through it. Do your best it’ll taste great either way. Decant your fools into the prettiest glasses you have and stick in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving.Yummmmmmy!!

A few other things……

As I said, the Healy’s harvested lemon verbena for us which you can boil up for tea. We also got a limited amount of sage which I tried to distribute across all the bags but there just wasn’t enough so a few of you are without. The sage was for having with the chicken and spuds but also I thought that the Jerusalem artichokes would be lovely fried up with it (along with some bacon!). Up to you…


Rhubarb love

April 18, 2011

Chopped rhubarb

Of all the things that the seasons throw at us I think I love rhubarb the best. Bogstandard in this part of the world yet somehow completely exotic, there’s nothing like it. I especially love that it’s not around all the time (even if I do keep a stash in the freezer) and when I see those pink and green stems (a great colour combination always as far I’m concerned) it sets me on a path of all day mulling over what I might do with it – a crumble? well, you gotta, it’s just so superior to any other fruit, as a compote at the bottom of creme brûlée ? – unmissable especially because it’s Paul’s dessert star turn so all I have to do is show up and eat. Cordial and/or cocktails – well it would be rude not too, it’s seasonal after all plus Crackbird’s rhubarb lemonade has me addicted. Cheesecake is my most recent fixation but it’s a work in progress so stay tuned for that one. Perhaps the best place to start is stewed with Greek yoghurt. Some nice biscuits take this to the next level but are not essential. I went in search of gingery tuile style ones the other evening in Fallon and Byrne and came back with Cinnamon Sticks from Wicklow Fine Foods. Lovely. Those ginger thins they sell in Ikea also work brilliantly.

Rhubarb and Yogurt

Rhubarb is really fab with oily fish. The logic is simple, all that sourness cuts right through the oil. I love it with pan-fried with that very Irish should be staple – oatmeal coated mackerel. You can do a simple compote of stewed rhubarb with a little sugar or you can step it up a little with the addition of some cinnamon and star anise (there it is again) and you’ve got something very special and it’s dinner party time. I’ve got gorgeous baby leaves in from the Healy’s farm in Co. Wicklow and that’s all you need alongside.

Mackarel and Rhubarb

Pan-fried mackerel with oatmeal with a spiced rhubarb compote (for 2)

You’ll need:

2 large or 4 small  mackerel fillets

1 cup oatmeal

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

For the compote

200gr  chopped rhubarb

1 Cinnamon stick

5 star anise

The juice of 1 orange

4 heaped tablespoons brown sugar

Begin by making the compote. Put all the ingredients in a pot over a low heat until the rhubarb collapses and thickens to a nice heavy consistency. This will take about 15 minutes. Allow the compote to cool, fish out the cinnamon stick and anise then set aside.

Rhubarb and spices

To do the fish, season the oatmeal with salt and pepper then coat each fillet. Heat some oil on the pan, add the fillets then fry for 2 minutes on each side until golden. Serve with the compote and some salad immediately.

Rhubarb crumble  

Oh how I love you rhubarb. Those lovely pink and pale green tones. The tart with the sweet… Mmmm… Rhubarb is definitely a favourite in this house. Every year it comes around I swear I’ll make all kinds of new things and it does happen (a bit) but only after I’ve made this crumble. The recipe comes from my friend’s mother Mrs Deady, a most revered cook. Quite simply it’s killer. My one deviation from the original recipe is that I roast rather than stew the rhubarb. This helps to keep it more intact which I like but really, if you can’t be bothered turning on the oven, stewing is fine too.

Rhubarb in a roasting tray

Rhubarb and stem Ginger crumble with Pecans                                                                                                 

You’ll need:                                                                       

About 600gr trimmed rhubarb (i.e. just the stalks) cut into pieces 2-3 inches long

2-3 Tablespoons sugar – just enough to take away the sourness but still leave some bite

50gr (about 3 heaped tablespoons) stem ginger chopped to the size of Jelly Tots

The crumble ingredients:

75gr Dark Brown Sugar

100gr Butter cubed

150gr plain flour

125gr pecan nuts roughly chopped

Begin by roasting the rhubarb. Put your prepared stalks into an oven dish or tray with 2-3 tablespoons sugar and 2 of water. Roast at gas mark 5 for about 15 minutes until the rhubarb has softened but remains firmly intact.

While the rhubarb is roasting, get on with the topping. Crumble all the ingredients with your fingertips or instruct a small child to do so. You want something resembling breadcrumbs and it should take about 5 minutes although little people may take about 20 – 100 and somehow manage to empty everything onto your (hopefully not too dirty) floor at least once.

When your rhubarb is ready, mix the stem ginger through it and cover with the topping. Bake at gas mark 5 for about 30 minutes. Enjoy hot or warm (cold doesn’t put me off either) with creme fraiche or vanilla ice-cream.

Rhubarb crumble