Thursday, August 30, 2012

Beetroot and Blackberry salad

This time of year in Connemara, the hedgerow briars come forward with a luscious crop of blackberries - but blackcurrants work equally well.

We see fig, orange and pomegranate based salads on TV but our own homegrown earthy sweet of beetroot and the zesty sweetness of foraged fruit sing of late summer and early autumn.

It is a great seasonal treat, and you really don't have to forage all that many - its only 200 grams, about a tea mug full.

As an unusual but the delicious combo I would go so far as to call it an almost exotic dish from a small garden plot.

and yet the food miles are minimal for most home gardeners as most of us have a few beets and an onion somewhere in the beet patch.

Great as an appetizer but really, really, really good with cold roast duck, pork or game.
Also, if you freeze a few blackberries now and store some beets, its great with cold turkey just after Christmas.
Iphone pic - slight variation using strawberries and loganberry-applevinegar

1 bunch baby beetroot.
About 200 grams of blackberries or blackcurrants.
Half a small red onion, diced or very finely sliced.
Tablespoon honey - local if you can find it (or caster sugar if you like)
Beet leaves, Bay leaf or mint to garnish

Lightly scrub the beets, remove the leaves - they can be used as a garnish
Boil the beets in lightly salted water

Rinse your blackberries
Melt the honey down in about a tablespoon of water
Gently warm the blackberries in the warmed honey-water until they start to release their colour and soften.

Don't stir the pan, just shake it to avoid crushing the fruit.

Add a little more water by the tablespoon if required, you are looking to create a very light syrup.

When the beets are cooked, drain them and slip the skins off as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Slice into the beets into rings and arrange on a shallow plat.
Sprinkle over the onions and season to taste.

Spoon over the fruits with a slotted spoon and reduce the syrup a little further.

Pour over the syrup and leave the  dish to cool

Serve with cold game or pork, and maybe use the beet leaves as a garnish.
And as I said before, it makes a great post Christmas accompaniment to turkey or ham

Comments are, as always, most welcome - photos will follow, but it may take a while, left camera with pics at home without downloading them - if someone wants to send some in please feel free to do so.

These pictures were taken in Holland, a slight variation on the original. I used strawberries - and instead of water, I used a lovely Swedish vinegar - lingonberry and apple cider vinegar - available at Ikea - but it does demonstrate the colours you can expect. There are other fruit vinegars more available in Ireland. Experiment with what fruit you can grow or forage.


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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beetroot Timbales with a cool yogurt dressing

This is a great two for one - Beetroot is a great veg which, like turnip, can be harvested for leaves and the root.
The notion that beetroot takes hours to cook is an exaggeration.
Small summer beets need about 20 minutes.
Large late season beets take correspondingly longer, but only 10 -15 minutes.
Simply by dicing them and fast boiling in a little salty water cooks them in no time at all - yes they will bleed, but after 15 minutes they will be as tender and beetrooty as you wish, with all the colour and flavour.

Combining beetroot with fennel and lemon in this dish gives great contrast and taste.
It's a great, cool, fresh 
The use of Carragheen or Agar-Agar with veg stock makes this suitable for vegetarians but you can if you wish of course use meat stock and gelatin - but I prefer the freshness of the veg stock and seaweed combo.

This is served normally served with a little sour cream - but I find a simple sweet spinach raita to balance the earthy sweetness of the beetroot - or a standard cucumber, chive, mint and yogurt raita, the classic Indian condiment.

for the timbale:
175g cooked beetroot (retain the leaves)
1/2 Tsp or more of Fennel seeds
1 tsp of squeezed lemon
250ml stock*
Good sprig carragheen.

* When I say veg stock, do use the cooking liquid of the beetroot as a base and make up a simple stock.

For the Raita:
200ml / 7fl oz. Glenisk natural yogurt
About 15 small spinach leaves
12-15 raisins - roughly chopped
Pinch of Paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.

Cut the spinach into fine strips
Blanch in boiling water
Drain and whisk into the yogurt
Add the raisins, seasonings and spices and mix in well
Serve chilled.

Bruise the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon to release their full aroma and steep in the stock.
Add the carragheen and bring slowly to the boil
Reduce and simmer with the lid on for about 10 minutes stirring now and again.

Strain off the liquid and season with a little salt and a good belt of pepper.
Add the lemon juice to taste.
You now have a liquid gel, so be fairly quick.
Bear in mind the earthy sweetness and lemon sharpness are muted by chilling.

Ideally you will need 4 small ramekins or wide mouth glass' to prep this.
You could also use a muffin tray or something similar.
Pour in a little of the liquid gel to cover the base of each mold.
Peel and dice the cooked beetroot if you have not done so already.
Divide the diced beetroot between the molds, mixing in the rest of the liquid gel as you do.

Chill for about 2 hours or until the gel is set.

Loosen the beetroot timbales by dipping their molds into hot water and turn out carefully.

Place onto serving plates, and put a little raita on the plate, or use a bowl with a serving spoon to share  - I have always felt it really adds to the enjoyment of any meal to share.

Arrange a little salad around the edge of the plate - peppery watercress or slices of buttery avocado are my favorites but best of all are the leaves of the beetroot around the edge of the plate.

Comments are, as always, most welcome


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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blessington baked beans

This is how baked beans really, the original American style.
On occasion, a tin of baked beans is alright, but it cannot be confused with the real McCoy - those are just a facsimile of this American classic.

It is very adaptable, chilli can spice it up - chorizo or other dried spicy sausage can be worked in - but this is just a simple, straight forward variant that is great with a dash of Tabasco after serving.

You are using a very economical cut of meat, a few bits and pieces from the cupboard and a jar of beans - hopefully ones you've grown and dried yourself. Most people grow beans as a part of crop rotation in their kitchen gardens.
A dutch oven or heavy casserole pot are ideal for making this dish - it would have been cooked out of a chuck wagon or over a camp fire back in the day.
Potatoes have become the Irish staple in a meal, but the cultivation of beans and the curing of pork predate the spuds introduction to Ireland, so this is really looking back in a way.

There was a poem the - Chisholm Trail - from a Time life book about cowboys that I loved as a kid from which I've always remembered a few lines, about bacon and beans.

I'm up in the momin' afore daylight
And afore I sleep the moon shines bright. 

No chaps and no slicker, and it's pouring down rain,
And I swear, by God, that I'll never night-herd again. 
Oh, it's bacon and beans most every day
I'd as soon be a-eatin' prairie hay. 

I went to the boss to draw my roll,
He had it figured out I was nine dollars in the hole.

I'll sell my horse and I'll sell my saddle;
You can go to hell with your longhhorn cattle.

This recipe is based on one best known as Boston Baked Beans - but this is a time reduced version I threw together in Blessington - easily feeds 4 hungry hearty lads.
The Boston classic uses belly of pork - I went for a mild cure bacon.
If you are using bacon don't add salt,more than enough will come off the meat and infuse into the beans.

The meal is salt and sweet - you could almost call it an American style cassoulet -beans and pork from an oven

450 grams dried white haricot beans, dried.
1.7 litres water
Cannellini and other dried white beans are also excellent in this.
Teaspoon Mustard powder 
2 tablespoons honey or treackle
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
teaspoon ground Allspice
Lump of mild cure Irish bacon - like McGeoughs Coburger ham - pork belly is also great.

Pour the water into a heavy based saucepan - oven suitable if you have one.
Add the beans and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes
Remove the heat to a simmer and stir in the bay leaf, honey, tomato puree, mustard powder, garlic and onions
Put the bacon or ham into the pot and ensure it is near the bottom - covered with the beans.
Leave at a steady simmer for 45 minutes or until beans are fairly soft and bursting from their skin

After 45 minutes to an hour the liquid should be well reduced.

Lift the meat out of the pot and cut slashes into the rind. 
Smear on the brown sugar, the wetness of the rind should make it melt a fair bit - smear it well.
Sprinkle over the allspice at this stage.

Return the meat to the pot or oven dish buried into the beans but with the rind just clear of the liquid.
There should be enough liquid to just cover the beans - top up with a little water if needed.

Transfer the covered pot or oven dish to a pre-heated oven  on a moderate heat, about 120 degrees centigrade for 50 minutes.
Uncover the pot after 50 minutes and leave the dish in the oven for around another 20.

Serve very hot with a good larger, hotsauce and some crusty bread - and enjoy.

Beans and cured pork were staples in the wild west - as shown in a notorious scene in Blazing Saddles, a movie made in the worst possible taste - and one of my favorites. 

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Connemara Kulfi or Qulfi Cill Dara, Indian classic with an Irish twist

This is possibly the easiest cold desert in the world. Kulfi, or Qulfi, is kind of Indian Ice cream but without the need for an ice cream maker.  It's very popular on the subcontinent - this is just an Irish twist on it using home grown fruits, local honey and two great Irish ingredients, Carolans Irish Cream and Glenisk yogurt
Sorry 'bout the photo - using an iphone
A really tasty, dense texture, it has tones of a toffee flavour because of the evaporated milk and the cardamom gives it a surprising depth  - a nice contrast.
The recipe itself was inspired by and developed from Camillia Panjabi's 50 Great curries of India which is a great book that deals with the various different cuisine styles right across the sub continent, not just concentrating on food from Punjab - most familiar to us - as most books do.
Her explanations of regional, caste and religious aspects are clear and precise, and it goes a long way towards developing our understanding of such a fascinating and vast food culture.

With the recent good weather its a great time to consider alternatives to ice cream like sorbets or a little more exotic like this kulfi. In India popular flavors include pistachio, mango, vanilla, and rosewater.
At this time of year, foraging for fruits like blackberry or strawberry is both fun and rewarding, so if you have spent a few hours going through hedgerows then this is a great reward for all your efforts.

As for the alcohol content, that evaporates in the heating process, so you can safely let kids enjoy this. 

Its not churned like our ice cream so you don't need a special machine to make it, just a freezer and a tin
Because of its density, kulfi takes a longer time to melt than Western ice-cream. It can be set in molds or glasses with a stick like ice lollies etc. or just set in a small tin as I do.
One great advantage is though it keeps in the freezer like ice cream, unlike an ice cream, it's no problem to re-freeze.

Traditionally Kulfi was made by reducing milk over a long period requiring constant stirring, but using condensed or evaporated milk, or in my recipe, Carolans Irish Cream make a far easier and quicker alternative.

There are many recipes online for kulfi, some use various combos of condensed, evaporated or powdered milk as well - but this one is as always set to be as simple and straight forward as possible.

The second time I made this, the first was about three weeks ago using blackberries but recently I was staying with friends 300 yards into Kildare over the border from Wicklow - and they have the most wonderful wild strawberries which I added to the mold - so that's where the Qulfi Cill Dara name comes from, I used blackberries in the last one I made so I would call it Connemara Kulfi - but that's for another day.

450ml  Evaporated milk*
450ml Carolans Irish Cream
3 Cardamom pods
3 big tablespoons Glenisk whole milk organic yogurt **
4 tablespoons honey or sugar, I prefer using honey
Seasonal sweet soft fruit, like wild strawberry, blackberry, currants or raspberry

Optional: A few strands of Saffron - or half a teaspoon of turmeric powder for colour

*the Carolans and Evaporated milk are interchangeable, you can use more or less of both.
**  You can use double cream, but I have found the yogurt gives a better texture, and you can of course use a flavored yogurt like vanilla if you like, the Glenisk vanilla yogurt has real vanilla seeds in it as opposed to essence.

Add the honey and cardamom pods to the Carolans and evaporated milk in a heavy based saucepan.
Cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the saucepan.

After ten minutes remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve to remove the cardamom pods, seeds and saffron strands if you are using them.

Leave aside until it has cooled a bit, about hand temperature is fine, then stir in the Yogurt and fruits if you are using them.

Pour into a mold or tin and chuck it into the freezer for 4 or 5 hours, overnight is fine.

To remove from the mold or glass, dip the container into warm water and press out the kulfi. I serve in slices with a sprig of mint

 - hope you enjoy it, photos coming soon.

As always I really appreciate it when people take the time to comment, or suggest alternative variations.

Just to add, it is possible to make your own evaporated milk - I have not done so, yet, but Imen from the great website has done so - as well as her own condensed milk.
According to her - and I would believe it - the 'flavour is far superior to any version of the same in a tin with a supermarket shelf life of six months or more.' and I would believe her - must try it sometime.
This is her way of doing so 
Farm Fresh Homemade Evaporated Milk
2 litres whole milk from your farm or local dairy (from the store is fine as well)
In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for about two hours until the volume is reduced by 60%. The milk should be barely simmering and never bubbling at any point. Stir every 15 minutes or so to keep the milk from burning on the bottom.
Remove the pot from heat and let the milk cool. The milk will thicken further after it has cooled.
Will keep in refrigerator for 2 weeks or more.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Grafton Media Irish Blog Awards

To my delight and surprise the blog has been nominated in three catagories for the 2012 Irish Blog Awards which are sponsored by Grafton Media.
This little hobby of mine started a few years back for a few reasons, and its very rewarding to recieve this news.
Whatever happens with these awards I know from emails and comments that my efforts have in a small way have helped others, and thats the main reason I keep it going - however eratically.

I started my garden to do something productive, to reduce my food miles and as a sort of therapy after a serious assault.
The physical work and thought process do help to overcome trauma, and the reward of a good crop is something to look forward to rather than the stress of the past.

A major theme in the blog is the use of home grown, foraged, locally sourced or Irish produce where possible. This includes adapting recipes from other cuisines and their modification, quite often their improvement, in using native products.

For that reason its really brilliant that the sponsors of the food and drink award are an Irish Organic dairy company -  Glenisk - who are celebrating 25 years.
Wierdly I used their whole milk organic yogurt in a very recent recipe that I still need to post !!

A lot of old cookbooks have been browsed over for hours in doing this - I set out to do was to develop my cooking skills, but also to maintain simplicity - I did not want to have to use special equipment in anything I prepare.

blog awards ireland
It has at times been frustrating, particularly this summer with the lack of good weather and the tremendous abundance of weed growth that has been so bad its even been written about in UK papers!So at least its not just me :-)

The next series of dates are
8th Sept – Short list published
29th Sept - Finalist list published
13th October – Awards ceremony

So, lets wait and see whats next

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blight and Weather Warnings

Blight Warning:
Issued at 06:00 on 1-Aug-2012
Weather conditions conducive to the spread of potato blight will occur at times for the rest of the week in Munster, Ulster and Connacht. Opportunities for spraying will be limited.

Weather Warning
Southerly winds will reach force 6 today (2nd) on coasts from Roche's Point to Slyne Head to Erris Head.

From 2100 Thursday 2/8/2012 until 2100 Friday 3/8/2012
Heavy, thundery rain showers expected overnight and through tomorrow resulting in accumulations of between 30 and 50mm.
Highest totals most likely in the southwest, with parts of the west and south also at risk.

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