Posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles | No Comments »

The stretch in the evenings, the early morning sunshine, a carpet of colour in the fields; spring has sprinkled its magic everywhere.  The minute the clocks go forward it heralds the promise of all things outdoors.  Suddenly those lonely looking tables outside urban coffee shops are spilling over with people and life and not just those battling the elements in order to get a nicotine hit.

Just like the way the evenings seem to have shrugged off the darkness, we get to shed a little as well.  The concern for the coat, the gloves and the scarves are gone.  Lighter clothes and shoes are called for, bare arms and legs start to make little appearances; there are always a few with the shorts and t-shirts to hand in order to test the temperature for the rest of us.

Lamb Kebabs

Even if it’s not quite time to clean off the grills, these brighter evenings call for a slightly lighter touch in the kitchen.  While the weather is always better when Easter falls later, it can also inform the Easter Sunday lunch menu.  My own personal view is to keep it simple.  In my opinion keeping it simple is one of the greatest life lessons.  Just keep it simple and apply that to everything in life, including the kitchen.  For example a good quality, flavoursome piece of meat and the freshest vegetables you can find are often all you need to have them cheering in the aisles.  The difficulty is that somewhere along the line simplicity was traded for the smoke and mirrors antics of the celebrity chef.    The idea that some things can never be reproduced in a domestic kitchen to any great degree of competency is nonsense.

I love lamb at this time of year.  I know it’s traditional, but it just conjures spring in the taste buds.  However traditional needn’t mean boring or samey.  For example this Easter why not try a rack of lamb rather than a leg of lamb?  This is something that is often seen as only perfected by the professional.  The key to this is buying the best lamb you can get your hands on and then following the traditional rules of cooking it.  With a little preparation, the meat itself and the oven do all the work!  The same theory applies to the accompaniments.  Two excellently chosen sides will trump quantity or variety any day.

So why are people so afraid of rack of lamb?  I suppose it is considered quite a luxurious dish, probably stemming from the fact that it is the most tender part of the lamb and therefore considered quite exclusive. It also has quite a regal look about it and that’s why sometimes you see those little paper hats covering the ribs.  Preparing the rack involves cleaning the fat of those ‘sticky out’ bones, (this technique is called ‘frenching’) however, if you go to a good butcher they will do that for you.  I would suggest three to four cutlets per person.

Leg of Roast Lamb with Mustard and Herb DressingTake your time when preparing the lamb.  I like to coat it in a little oil mixture that I make using olive oil, chopped fresh rosemary, two garlic cloves (chopped) and a pinch of mustard powder.  I lightly coat the rack with this mixture and then I heat some oil in an oven proof pan and sear the meat.  Do not put the meat into the pan until it is good and hot and then be very careful not to let it burn.  It will only take approximately 2 minutes on each side to sear.  Do not leave it go past 3 minutes or you could be in trouble.   Once it is seared, wipe any excess fat from the meat, cover the bone tips with a little tinfoil to stop them going black during cooking and put the meat, bone side down onto an oven proof dish ready for the preheated oven.  You could, if you wanted to, roll the whole piece in breadcrumbs at this point, but that is optional.

Painted Easter eggs

Usually you are trying to achieve a nice brown colour on the outside with a little pink still in the centre of each cutlet.  Have the oven preheated and then the general rule of thumb is 20 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare; the latter being my preference.   Once again I make the comment about owning a meat thermometer.  It is a foolproof way of checking if the meat is cooked through and no kitchen should be without one.  It should be left to rest for 10 to 20 minutes before carving and for a real sense of theatre, carve at the table!  I prefer to cut and plate up out of sight, but don’t let me stop the showman in you.

At James Whelan Butchers we take particular pride in our naturally reared, wholesome Tipperary lamb with its deep red colour and remarkably sweet, grass fed taste.  There are several spring lamb recipes and serving ideas on our website so do check that out also and don’t let anyone tell you that a perfect rack of lamb is only achievable in a restaurant.  Try it out this weekend and see if home cooking a rack of lamb is not only delicious but tremendous value too.  The only thing for afters at Easter is a chocolate egg, which couldn’t be simpler.  Enjoy the indulgence. Happy Easter.

Breaking the Rules

Posted on Sunday, April 13th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles, Good Food | No Comments »

Who remembers the ‘mixed grill’?  There wasn’t a fashionable restaurant in the land that didn’t carry a mixed grill on its menu back in the 1970s.  It was usually a combination of pork; be it chops, rashers or sausages but, somehow it managed to be evening food rather than breakfast as we’ve come to expect it today.  Sausages, rashers, chops and fried vegetables shouldn’t be confined to the morning.  These are great versatile and quick items that should always be in the fridge to cover any meal emergency.

One of my favourite comfort food dishes has to be Toad in the Hole.  It never went off my radar, but has recently been resurrected and the toad pops up in many places these days from cookery shows to glossy food magazines.  For the uninitiated, Toad in the Hole is an English dish of sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter and if made properly can be comfort food heaven.  Bangers and Mash is popular again and turns up with a fashionable sprig of rosemary here or a handful of coriander there, but it’s still just sausage, creamy mash and gravy.

Toad in the Hole

Sausages and rashers are very versatile but I have to urge you to buy the best quality and Irish at that; trust me you will notice the difference.  Whether you are using them on their own or as part of a more complex dish, you just can’t skimp on price and get a good quality product.  In doing so you are cheating yourself out of a proper taste experience.

While I love having these items to hand for a quick sandwich or a cooked breakfast they provide so many ideas for the cook.  Rashers work well in pasta dishes or added to beef stews or a Ragu sauce for flavour.   I have often used a few sausages for stuffing when I haven’t had sausage meat to hand.  Chopped small, sausages and rashers enliven a dull omelette which is basically a combined cooked breakfast, but eaten at lunch or suppertime with a dollop of cream cheese on the side it can be quite the treat.  Then there are the more complicated baked sausages in mustard and Toad in the Hole often served with ‘busy’ mash.  I use the word ‘busy’ because few chefs can leave mash alone these days.  They have to snip in some chives or throw in a pinch of cumin or hide some cheese in there.  Stop playing with the mash, all it needs is butter and plenty of it!  Finally the only thing for pork is onion gravy and getting that right is crucial.   I think you have to give the onions plenty of time to cook and caramelise to really pull out the full flavour.

For many years butchers made their own sausages.  The general idea, shape and size were the same but obviously the taste varied slightly.  At James Whelan Butchers we have a secret recipe for our award winning sausages.  When a James Whelan Butcher is deemed ready, and it takes many, many years of service, we reveal the “secret of the sausage to him” in a grand ceremony in the cold room!  (Regular readers will know that I’m joking of course, but we do make excellent sausages to our own specific recipe.)  You won’t find a James Whelan Butchers’ sausage anywhere else and I’ll personally stand over the quality, the texture and the taste.  While many like the challenge of making their own, there are such good sausages available to buy that it seems an unnecessary and painstaking task.   I would also urge you to try one of our sausage variations such as the Italian sausage available at the shop.  This combines pork mince with a blend of spices and herbs to give an authentic taste of the Mediterranean.   These are great served with pasta or cooked on the BBQ.Italian Sausages

Mind you, whatever kind of sausage you are after it can be easily found today.  From the oily Spanish chorizo that works so well in many dishes to the firm Frankfurter or plump and juicy traditional Irish pork sausage, there are a myriad of inexpensive dishes to prepare.  Try as many as you can.  Some you’ll love and others will be too spicy, too chewy, too gritty or too smoky; but you’ll never know until you try and don’t just resign the more unusual ones to pizza toppings and buffet platters.  Heat them in a pan and see what happens or mix them with some other ingredients or try them cold.  I am very confident that cooked with a little style and given some respect bangers and mash could have them dancing in the aisles and asking for seconds but you have to stick to the rules:

1.  Buy the best possible sausages you can get your hands on. (Butchers are probably your best bet.)

2. Master the art of onion gravy and, whatever the recipe says cut the onions big and coarse.

3. Leave the mash alone – smooth and naked but for a butter lake is all the perfection needed. 

Also drop by the James Whelan Butchers Website where there are plenty of recipes for all times of the day.

Here’s the Rub

Posted on Sunday, April 6th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles, Good Food | No Comments »

Like everyone, I go through extremely busy patches where time flies by and there never seems to be enough of it.  I try and enjoy those seasons as I know they will come to an end, there will be some downtime and then it will all ramp up again.  It’s simply called life.  I’m in one of those hectic periods right now.  I’m busy and so I’m not cooking as much as I’d like to and when I do cook I’m looking for the fast and easy rather than anything too involved.  Being out and about also means I find myself needing to eat away from home a little bit more.  I look at it as research and it never fails to inform my own ability and interest in food.  I particularly love it when I make a good discovery.

Finding myself in Cork city recently, I grabbed a bite at the Cornstore, billing itself as a Steak and Seafood restaurant.  They are currently doing a promotion called, ‘What’s Your Beef’, and so being a beef fan it was hard to pass up.  According to the blurb it’s all about the flavour and creating the perfect steak.  They boast an award winning Steak Rub which won Gold at the Blas na hEireann food awards in 2013 and in combination with the rub they experiment with dry ageing times from 32 to 50 days.  Rare cuts are also offered such as Cow Boy Steak or Chateaubriand.  It was a week night for me and I wanted something simple.  I opted for the Rib Eye and waited.

5 cuts of beef for rubs

While waiting I enjoyed the atmosphere immensely.  The Cornstore has a relaxed, fun and casual vibe, yet it still holds true to all the great tenets of an excellent restaurant – great service, good table layouts and sophisticated décor.  The service is extremely friendly and attentive and all in all it was shaping up nicely.  Then the steak arrived with a little hill of generously portioned onion rings perched on the top and a side of chunky home cut chips.  If it tasted anything as good as it looked then I was in for a treat and, yes, it was a treat and met all expectations.

It was a great meal and a great steak but it was the rub that caught my attention.  It lent a great flavour to the already good quality steak and together created a taste that you just didn’t want to end.  I was delighted to find out that they also sell the rub in little pots in the restaurant.  Needless to remark I had one of those little jars in my possession as I drove back to Clonmel.

Marinades have been very popular for some time now but dry rubs are gaining fast and particularly with steak cuts. Rubs are a great way to add flavour to everyday meals.  Put simply a rub is a mixture of spices and herbs that are applied directly to meats before cooking. What makes a rub different from a marinade is that you apply the flavouring directly to the surface of the meat itself. This gives you a different way to control the intensity and distribution of the seasonings.

There are two categories of rubs: Dry rubs, which are made with spices and seasonings only and wet rubs, which contain some moist ingredients like mustard, lemon juice perhaps or vinegar.  If you are barbecuing or grilling then the dry rubs are ideal.  They are also ideal for roasts or meats that require long slow cooking.Cooked Steak with Rub

When it comes to dry steak rubs there are a few rules to observe.  Rubs are generally not suited to very thin steaks as they can be easily overwhelmed by the flavours.  Choose steaks that are thick. Good choices would be rib eye, t-bone or sirloin.  I bought the award winning Cornstore rub created by their Head Chef Michael Ryan from Ardmore in County Waterford and it’s fantastic but there are many recipes floating around the internet for good rubs if you care to make your own.  They will keep in a glass jar for two to three months and also work well in sauces or with other meats such as chicken and pork.   Also don’t be afraid to use a generous amount of the rub.

The best way to apply it is to take one steak at a time and apply a generous amount of rub to one side using your hand.  Rub the spices around the surface of the meat until it’s totally covered.  Turn the steak over and apply the rub to the other side. Once covered in rub it’s time to rest the steaks.  You can leave them to rest for as little as 10 minutes before cooking or for a better result, leave them in the fridge for a few hours.  Just a word of caution when cooking rubs can burn so it is advised to cook the steaks over a lower temperature to avoid this.

Rubs are a great way of upping the flavour on any cut of meat just be sure to choose the right cut of meat for the rub and remember to think about the flavour strengths also.

If you’re not sure about the cuts of steak drop by James Whelan Butchers any time you are in the area or check out our website at www.jameswhelanbutchers.com for plenty of good information.

Eat In Restaurant Style

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Good Food | No Comments »

Why is it that we place a higher value on food cooked in a restaurant than the food we cook at home?  If you think about it, many of us can cook dishes every bit as good as the average restaurant.  I’m not suggesting you don’t go to restaurants at all, but these days we can’t all afford to dine out as regularly as we would like.  Also when you have small children, outside of the cost, restaurants are not ideal venues no matter how child friendly they are.  Children seem to have an inbuilt time clock when out in public.  Step across the threshold of a nice restaurant and the hour glass instantly turns on its head and the sands trickle steadily. When my kids were very small we found that the ‘clock of good behaviour’ often ran out somewhere mid dessert (sometimes even earlier) and then it was a rush to finish, pay and leave the premises before we were forever banned from entering again with our demon possessed child.

Taking away the human element of the restaurant the things that feed into your experience are all very doable at home.  The table is clean, fully laid and sometimes has a little extra like a candle or some flowers.  The plates are often interesting – a different shape for different dishes.  They provide proper linen napkins.  The chairs are comfortable.  The space is uncluttered and fit for purpose!  Sometimes it’s just these little things that can elevate a simple meal into something of a joy.  We tend to do this for special occasions like Christmas, Valentine’s or Easter and while they do call for extra special attention why can’t we just go half way on a normal day?  Yes it takes a little effort but when you think of how much it will increase the pleasure of the experience it’s truly worth the five minutes.  Even serving on a different size or shape plate every now and again will make the food appear differently.  Sometimes I think we have lost the art of stopping and just sitting together and sharing food.  It’s not always easy to coordinate schedules to do that these days but it happen a few times in any normal seven day period. Eastern Cuisine

Then we get to the food.  There is a myth that good food or excellent meals are expensive.  When we think of the countries that have given us great dishes such as China, India, Thailand and North Africa the common denominator is the lack of affluence.  Yet for all our wealth, progress and modernity here in the West we don’t eat as well as they do.  These poorer countries eat foods rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and fish, natural spices, locally grown grains and rice – the list goes on.  They also understand nose to tail cooking so much better than us.  Only last week I was watching a fantastic programme about street food in Asia and on one stall there was a full tray of roasted ready to eat rabbit heads.  These are foods that you buy and eat as you walk along – a little like a bag of chips here.  Even if we look to our European neighbours many of our favourite dishes from Italy, Spain and France have their origins in simple home cooking and what was known as peasant food.

However if you take a big pot of tasty ‘peasant’ food, serve it in big generous bowls with large chunks of crusty bread it can be delicious and on a par with the piece of fillet steak the size the of a two euro coin and the three mange tout balanced artfully on the top that you would get in a high end restaurant.  Food is all about the taste and the flavour but we also eat with our eyes and so if it is presented well in a nice environment it certainly adds another layer.

Great food is about using good fresh ingredients, not necessarily the most expensive ingredients.  Budget meals can feel incredibly luxurious.  I recently came across a recipe for Beef Casserole with Parsley and Parmesan Dumplings.  Now it required about two and half hours of cooking time but it’s the oven that’s spending the time not you.  It is not something you can knock together for a ‘quick’ meal after work, but with a little thought the day before or the use of a proper slow cooker it is very doable.  Certain cuts of beef, lamb and pork are incredibly reasonable and as long as you cook them long and slow the taste is fantastic.Beef Stew with Dumplings

We need to start thinking like restaurants do.  What food can be prepared in advance?  And what about all those unusual things that are popping up on menus all over – lamb and beef shank, rabbit, offal – again what do they all have in common?  They are inexpensive cuts of meat cooked in a great way.  We can do the same at home.

It’s time you visited the James Whelan Butchers website for some more inspiration or either of my books, An Irish Butcher Shop or The Irish Beef Book, contain a number of recipes that use fresh foods and less expensive cuts of meat for outrageously good dishes that the whole family will enjoy.

Eat at home restaurant style and you are creating memories for the family that will last a lifetime.  They will also bring it with them into adulthood and create a family tradition of sitting together and enjoying food.  It’s a lovely thing to teach them.

The Tail of the Ox

Posted on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles | No Comments »

Oxtail, a tough gelatinous cut of meat that was a favourite for stews and soups, has had an interesting cycle when it comes to fashionable eating.  Our ancestors knew all about nose to tail eating and everything was used.  They were very aware that once the prime cuts were sold there was plenty of meat left on an animal as long as you were prepared to wait while it cooked.  This long slow cooking rendered it every bit as tasty as the rib.  Not only did they use the tough but meaty areas of shin, shoulder and tail areas, offal was also on the menu.  Again there was a nutritious value to every part of the animal and they knew it. Kidney, liver heart and stomach were all considered food and not waste.

Historically many of our best animals or meat were exported and long before refrigeration, the animals would be taken to Irish ports and slaughtered near or on the docks for export.  For this reason port towns and cities would have a very strong tradition in offal and the tougher cuts such as oxtail.  Once the prime cuts were butchered and prepared for export, the leftovers would have been discarded or sold at a very low price, making them very popular with the masses.  Those that worked on the port and, back then, it would have been a substantial employer, and those that worked around it would have had access to all these delicious wonders.  While we talk about it as if it were ancient history, there are plenty of people still alive today that would remember these times quite clearly or at least would have been children during those years.  Also the methods of cooking these cuts would have been passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.  There was no such thing as buying the ’One Hundred Things to do with a Kidney’  back then.

Meanwhile the rest of the world was also acutely aware of the value of the leftover bits. In every country where animals were reared, from Asia, New Zeland and mainland Europe you will find tremendous recipes for all the interesting parts of an animal that our generation largely turned our noses up at.  While we did become more prosperous and could afford the more expensive cuts of meat the other issue was time.  If you had a job outside of the home suddenly it was impractical to make dishes that took hours of long slow cooking, we needed convenience and so the idea of speeding everything up began in ernest.  

Today the trend for nose to tail eating is back; fed in part by economics, in part by environmental concerns and, ironcially, also fed by our constant appetite for something ‘new’.  Oxtail is one of those ‘new’ things.  It is highly fashionable on restaurant menus and there are many interesting approaches to oxtail that are influenced from abroad.  Did you know that oxtail is huge in Hawaii.  All over Hawaii you will find a traditional oxtail soup.  While we know oxtail soup to be thick and beefy in Hawaii it is a broth elevated with spices such as orange, star anise, ginger, onions and fresh corriander.  So straight away it doesn’t have to be a heavy winter dish, it can be light and fresh and suitable for the heat.  Oxtail also stars in Italian and Korean cuisine.

When the tail is taken from the cow (not necessarily just an ox) it is skinned and cut into sections.  There is alot of bone and fat but when cooked slowly these elements give up a flavour that is superb.  And don’t be afraid to experiment with the liquid and spices.  Try wine or beer instead of water add in some non traditional herbs and spcies and watch the dish sing.  Oxtail is also a great meat to use in a slowcooker or a pressure cooker, both are pieces of kitchen kit that are enjoying a huge revival in popularity.

One of the most interesting things I came accross recently in my search for oxtail recipes was a Spicy Asian Soup.  Here is the recipe.


  • 1 kg Oxtail pieces
  • Olive oil to fry in
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 4 tblsp of light soy sauce
  • 1 tblsp brown sugar
  • 1 and a half Pints of beef stock
  • A decent size piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped
  • One chilli (with or without the seeds)
  • A star anise
  • Zest of a whole lime
  • A chunk of lime peel
  • zest of half an orange
  • juice of half an orange

 To Cook

Preheat the oven to 170. In an oven proof pan heat the oil and brown the oxtail on all sides. Remove the meat and drain the oil from the pan but don’t clean it out completely. Return the pan to the heat and deglaze with the wine, letting it reduce to about half stirring all the time to pick up the stray bits of oxtail. Return the oxtail and all the other ingredients to the pan, holding back half pint of beef stock. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 3 to 4 hours, checking it every hour or so and spooning the juices over the meat. When the meat is falling off the bone, remove, allow to cool and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day remove all the solidified fat from the top.  Add the extra beef stock that you held back and gently reheat. When the meat is hot remove as much as you can with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and cover with foil, then boil the sauce until reduced by half. Remove the star anise before pouring it back over the meat and serve. This also freezes really well so you can make it in advance.

There are also some great oxtail recipes in both my books, An Irish Butcher Shop and the Irish Beef Book.  Check out our website or drop in to our store where we will be more than happy to talk you through simply cooking an oxtail for flavour and nutrition at fantastic value.

Beef Dripping, it’s the new Goose Fat!

Posted on Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles | No Comments »

I have no doubt that my ramblings this week on the merits of beef dripping and the fact that we have introduced it as a product in our shop, will create three distinct groups – those who remember it well, those who have heard of it but are not too sure of what it is or how to use it and those that wouldn’t know beef dripping if I put it in front of them right now.  I can confidently predict that those lines will be drawn by age with the first group having the oldest demographic.

Dripping, as the name suggests, is the fat that drips from meat as it cooks.  When I speak of dripping I would always mean beef dripping.  If you cook a roast of beef, the joint juices left in the pan when you remove the meat is effectively dripping.  If you were to let it cool it would solidify into a white substance.  We usually pour off all but a few teaspoons of this hot liquid fat and add it to the other ingredients to make gravy.  If you think about it, it’s the dripping that gives the gravy a great meaty flavour and not the stock, the flour or the onion.  You see dripping is more than just a fat to cook in; real dripping also has the essence of meat.  It’s that essence of meat that gives it such depth of flavour and that’s why every serious cook should always have dripping to hand.

Years ago dripping would have been found in every kitchen up and down the land.  In my own lifetime I have vivid memories of people in the shop asking for fat to make dripping at home.  I remember households where the dripping sat in a vessel on a shelf and it was the ‘go to’ fat for frying, basting and for making Yorkshire puddings.  It was also used for deep frying chips and battered fish.  For those of us in the 40 plus bracket we might sometimes linger on the thought that the traditional fry up or fish and chips today doesn’t taste quite the same as it did when we were kids.  While many would tell us we were just full of sentimental nostalgia, I can tell you that it has probably got to do with the fat the food is cooked in.

In our wisdom my generation traded the wonderful flavourful dripping for commercially produced oils and shop bought fats.  Quicker and more convenient perhaps, but without even going into the health merits (or demerits as is the case), we have been seriously short changed in the area of taste.  Our growing love of cooking with oil (and not olive oil which is the exception) has meant our children have become adults without any knowledge of a dripping taste experience. They’ve been truly robbed.

Recently at James Whelan Butchers we were getting more and more requests for dripping as people began to slowly cotton on to the wisdom of our grandparents.  While they wanted to use dripping, there is a case that a time poor society can’t make it themselves.  While dripping is the drips of fat that comes off meat when you cook it, there is another stage in the process before you can reuse it and have proper beef dripping that will last.  You must leave it to cool and form two distinct layers.  The first layer will be the white fat and the underneath layer will be a jelly like consistency.  The jelly is fantastic used pretty quickly in stews, casseroles or sauces but it is the white fat that needs to be taken off and clarified.  Clarifying is a simple process but it is time consuming and a little messy.  Basically you melt the fat slowly again once you have removed it from the jelly. When it has liquefied, strain it into a bowl or vessel and allow it to set.  We usually strain it through muslin for the best results.  Dripping is particularly good for browning beef of any kind as you are adding another layer of deep flavour to the already beefy taste.

Coming up to Christmas 2013 a bit of a public chef-y debate broke out about whether beef dripping or goose fat was better for cooking roast potatoes.  Leading the celebrities in the goose corner was Nigella Lawson who has been championing goose fat for years, while Heston Blumenthal, surrounded by his numerous Michelin stars, shouted loudly for beef dripping.  The debate raged and finally it seemed to come down to the fact that goose fat was certainly the secret to a perfectly crispy coat on the roast spud but beef dripping was where the taste was.  I’ve tried both and much and all as I hate to leave Team Nigella, on this topic I just have to.  Try the beef dripping on your roast potatoes and it will conjure a taste of childhood like never before. It’s what our mothers and grandmothers used and it really makes a difference.

You don’t have to save the fat from your roast or buy fat to make dripping, just pop into James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel, Avoca Rathcoole and Monkstown and pick some up or you can order online. It’s a natural, tasty fat that has always been perfect for frying and cooking meat.  Try it today for yourself and find all the modern ways to use this old fashioned natural fat.  It makes perfect food sense.

Slow Cook February

Posted on Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles, Good Food | No Comments »

Is it over?  Is it really over?  Is the entire month of January now in the past?  Thank God for that as I’m not sure I could have taken much more of those on the New Year abstinence kick. Somehow there seemed to be more of them this year than ever before.  Everyone I met was either on a diet (abstaining from food), having a drink free January (abstaining from alcohol) or saving money (abstaining from spending), one or two were practically abstaining from life!  Naturally in the wake of an over indulgent December it’s probably right to rein it all in come January and try and get a little balance back.  January deprivation isn’t the problem, it’s a good thing to be as healthy as possible in all areas of our lives but doing it so joylessly is what makes me want to run and hide.  The evangelising is a thin disguise for their utter misery. By the start of February though, most of them have fallen off the wagon, the gloss of the New Year has well and truly waned and we can return to a little normal living.  Go on, it’s February, you can buy the full fat cream cheese rather than the tasteless and therefore pointless fat free version.

I was thinking that as I was driving the other day when the Imelda May song ‘Kentish Town’ came on the radio.  It’s a great little tune about her early days in London when she and her husband were struggling, unknown musicians.  There’s a line in the song that says “and those stews that lasted three days into four”.  I have a very good association with stew.  The image that word triggers always tends to be luscious, rich beef stew mind you, not that strange, pale abomination that the Americans affectionately call ‘Irish Stew’.  I’m talking about slow cooked chunks of beef dotted with thick sweet rounds of carrot and other root vegetables, all releasing a wonderful marriage of flavours in a great big pot of gravy.  As a child it was always accompanied by creamy mashed potato and when it’s done right, it is possibly the king of comfort food dishes.  Without a doubt stew is also a healthy choice and it’s a very economical dish which can often taste better the second day when the flavours have really come together and relaxed. 

On these cold and wet February days everyone should have a good stew recipe to hand.  I can’t think of anything nicer than returning from work or school and being welcomed by the gentle, wafting aromas of a beef stew.  I do think however we are sometimes programmed to only make stew as our mothers made it and only serve it with mash.  Nothing wrong with that but stew is great on its own just served with great big hunks of fresh, fluffy buttered bread.  Or you could use a celeriac mash for a little flavour change.  Someone recently told me about cauliflower mash. Just cook the cauliflower until it is soft and mash it.  For flavour add some mustard. If I’m honest it’s a little too healthy and lightweight for me, but it’s certainly a healthy alternative to buttery mash.

Unlike some who are quite rigid in their approach to this dish and insist on taking the Julia Child way as gospel, they might be quite surprised to know that it was essentially a French Mammy’s dish rather than anything fancy.

Our beef stew isn’t a million miles away from the popular French Boeuf Bourguignon.  In my most recent book, The Irish Beef Book, there is a great Boeuf Bourguignon recipe.  Unlike some who are quite rigid in their approach to this dish and insist on taking the Julia Child way as gospel, they might be quite surprised to know that it was essentially a French Mammy’s dish rather than anything fancy.  Just like our own beef stews, people interpreted the recipe depending on what they had to hand or personal preferences. Again I think one of the main ingredients in any stew from any nation is time.  That’s the key, plenty of long, slow cooking to release the flavours and let them sing together like a fine choir that has been a long time in rehearsal.

Beef Bourguignon

I’m not at all rigid in my stew making.  I like to take influences and mix them together.  Red wine, if I have it to hand, will often find its way in to my stews and sometimes I do take that French influence by adding just a little chopped streaky bacon at the initial stages.  The bacon fat definitely adds a unique flavour dimension.  I’m very easy about the vegetables I use, working with what’s there, but if I plan it, thick chunks of carrot and decent shards of celery would definitely be in there.  And I would often replace the beef with an oxtail.  Now this does take time but Braised Oxtail is the ultimate ‘stew’ as it must be left to stew for about 4 hours on the hob.  Before you roll your eyes at the time, this dish takes very little time to prepare and the work is all done in the long, low, slow cooking.

It’s the perfect time of year for a good healthy stew and whether you are trying to save money, calories or both, a stew is the perfect answer.


Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Wine

Posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013 by Pat Whelan in Recipes, Side Dishes | No Comments »

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Wine

In recent years this has been an addition to our Christmas feast.  The bacon can be omitted but I don’t advise it.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Wine – Printer Friendly Download


  • 1 red cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion sliced thinly
  • 3 Bramley apples  peeled and chopped into dice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

To Cook

Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the core and slice as thinly as possible.  Melt half the butter in a pan and add the onions and cook until soft.

Add the remaining butter, the cabbage and the apples and stir well.

Add the wine and sugar and wine and cover, simmer for about 45 minutes and serve hot.  You can always prepare red cabbage in advance as it is a dish that reheats quite well.

Sausage Rolls

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by Pat Whelan in Pork Recipes, Recipes | No Comments »

sausage rolls

These sausage rolls are legendary and as popular in Ireland as they are in Australia where the recipe originated.  Make double or even triple the quantity because the crowd will keep coming back for more.

Sausage Rolls – Printer Friendly Download


  • 2 packets frozen puff pastry
  • 500 g/1 lb sausage meat
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 2 cups grated potato
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • Pepper and salt
  • 2 eggs beaten

To Cook

Pre heat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/ Gas Mark 4

Defrost the pastry and cut each square in half.  De-skin the sausages by soaking in cold water for 10 minutes and then slipping off the casings.

Combine all the ingredients, except the eggs, in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.  Place a ‘tunnel’ of sausage mix in the centre of the pastry strip.  Brush the edges with the egg wash and roll up so that the edges just overlap.

Place the long rolls onto an oiled baking tray, nudging each other so that there is no space between.  Brush the tops with egg and then with a sharp knife, cut across the roll to the length desired.

Bake for about an hour or until the sausage rolls are golden and cooked through.


French Beans with Almonds

Posted on Monday, December 16th, 2013 by Pat Whelan in Recipes, Side Dishes | No Comments »

French Beans with Almonds

Beans can be a great addition to any meat dish when cooked simply.  Trouble is, they are often cooked to death, losing colour, taste and most importantly texture.  Beans should be cooked for just a few minutes in boiling water until tender, not soft, and then drained immediately and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.

French Beans with Almonds – Printer Friendly Download


  • 500 grams beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch spring onions finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon juice

To Cook

Prepare beans by topping and tailing.  Leave whole and cook in salted water until just tender.  Melt the butter in a large pan, add the spring onion and garlic and cook until tender.

Add the almonds and cook until they are golden brown.  Add the beans, season according to taste and add lemon juice and heat through.


Pat Whelan – The Irish Beef Book cookery masterclass

Posted on Monday, December 16th, 2013 by Pat Whelan in Foodie Articles | No Comments »

Pat Whelan - The Irish Beef Book cookery masterclass at Cloughjordan House

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Game Pie

Posted on Friday, December 13th, 2013 by Pat Whelan in Poultry & Game Recipes, Recipes | No Comments »

Game Pie

Any full flavoured gamey meat is perfect for this pie.  Rabbit, venison or pheasant work equally well or how about trying a combination!

Game Pie – Printer Friendly Download


  • 750 g of gamey meat
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 leeks sliced
  • 2 parsnips sliced
  • 2 carrots slicced
  • 1 fennel bulb sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley freshly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Puff pastry thawed if frozen
  • 1 egg yolk

To Cook

Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the vegetables.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove the vegetables from the pan and add a little more oil if required.  Add the meat to the pan in batches, browning well before removing.  Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir in a little of the red wine to make a paste.  Add the remaining wine and the stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Return the meat and vegetables to the sauce, add seasonings and parsley and simmer for 20 minutes or so until well cooked through.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7.  Spoon the mixture into a pie dish.  Roll out the pastry and cover the mixture well, making sure that the ‘lid’ of pastry is bigger than the dish.  Press down edges and trim off overhanging pastry.  Press the pastry well around the rim of the dish, and brush with beaten egg. Make a small hole in the centre of the pie to allow steam to escape.

Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is risen and golden.