One of the most popular dishes in our James Whelan Butchers range is the great family favourite, Mama’s Meatballs in a sumptuously rich Italian sauce and topped with local cheese. It’s filling, comforting and fantastic value. This is important as you can’t pick up a food magazine or go to a food website these days without seeing the words ‘budget’, ‘eat well, or spend less’. I don’t want to be controversial, but surely the wise amongst us were always interested in value and many people I know always worked to a budget. Savvy customers at James Whelan Butchers have always expected value without the compromise on taste or nutrition. In a recent chat with another retailer he relayed a sad tale that he has noticed people buying the lower end range in food while they continue to buy the high end brands of pet food. So Fido is getting the good stuff while little Johnny is being fed the less nutritious processed stuff. There is definitely something wrong with that picture.
What a week, Valentines Day and Pancake Day just three days apart! Such celebratory alignments indicate that between March and early April we’ll be very busy with all the spring celebrations; St Patrick’s Day, Mothers Day and Easter will come quickly on the heels of each other. The retailer in me has to look ahead but the farmer and natural instincts that I bear tell me that all we have is now.
I don’t think there is anything more disappointing in life than eyeing a fabulous looking piece of pie, sweet or savoury it doesn’t matter, only for the taste to be less than exciting. Indeed many shop bought pies, particularly the meat variety, have a way of over delivering on the picture on the outside and being severely underwhelming once cooked. The only answer was to make my own and it all starts with the pastry.
It had to happen at some stage but for someone in the meat business it was probably the best New Year’s gift and a great way to start 2015. What am I talking about? The small fact that there has been a dramatic swell in the research emerging from the US that confirms grass fed beef is full of health benefits. Not that I want to say, “I told you so” but for years I told you so. It has been hard to convince certain quarters of this particularly with the loudness of the healthy vegetarian and vegan messages but it doesn’t make it any less true or valid. Does it make vegetarianism or veganism wrong? Not at all! Thankfully we live in a free society where I would highly value our freedoms and choices but these lifestyles are just that, choices, and should be entered into on that basis and not because they are believed to be a healthier alternative.
It’s really great to be alive at this time of technological breakthroughs, tremendous convenience, and working central heating! We have a lot to be thankful for and yet I see the stress on the faces all around me. For every smile there’s at least one frown. Some people truly delight in this time of year, they thrive on the planning and the busyness of the season. They appear to love the anticipation of friends and family during the festivities. For others it’s just a downright hassle. To the latter group I say “Let go and just make it easy on yourself this year. There are plenty of ways to do it”.
There will always be those prepared for Christmas in September and while we may admire their industriousness for most of us it just isn’t practical. So here we find ourselves in the first week of December, the public lights are up, the Christmas songs are playing in the shops and it’s time to get festive. It’s time to focus on what Christmas is all about – family, friends and, oh yes, food. Even if the gifts fall short, as long as the grub is great it all pales into insignificance.
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An egg is among the most nutritious foods that we have access to with many believing that the egg is ‘nature’s multivitamin.’ Eggs contain unique antioxidants and powerful brain nutrients that many people are deficient in. Eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, high quality proteins, good fats and various other lesser-known nutrients. An average large egg contains Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, Vitamin A, Vitamin B5 and Selenium along with small amounts of almost every vitamin and mineral required by the human body such as calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, manganese, Vitamin E and many more. A large egg contains 77 calories, with 6 grams of quality protein, 5 grams of fat and trace amounts of carbohydrates. Almost all the nutrients are contained in the yolk, the white contains only protein. So what we really need to take away from the above is that for 77 calories you are getting an incredibly nutritious food; serious bang for your calorie intake buck!
I find that when you mention pork chops there isn’t the instant appeal that other meat often elicits. The problem is that the chop has generally been maligned for being too dry, dull and altogether boring. I can understand this because I too, as a child, witnessed the abuses visited on the chop. What started out as a relatively nice looking cut of raw meat ended up horribly pale and leathery and tasted the same. For years there was a fear of raw pork and so everything had to be cooked to a crisp. I feel very sorry for the pork chop because today it really has a lot of untapped potential. The chop makes a lovely alternative to the chicken fillet. It also has great autumnal value as it works well with the glut of apples and other fruits in season.
There’s a tremendous beauty in the English language. We, unlike some of our European neighbours, have been blessed with an abundant tongue based on rich, ancient foundations. We have an instrument of expression that when used correctly can work incredible magic. Words can make us fall in love, do things we don’t want to do, create mental pictures or even stir up emotions we didn’t even know existed. There is power in words and yet we are often lazy, assuming that some subjects don’t deserve a richer word currency. Sad to say, recent recruitment advertising that I have seen for butchers is a perfect example. It looks like there are openings for apprentice butchers in many parts of Ireland which is great news, including my own business, exposing the fact that there is not a lack of jobs in the industry, but a lack of skills. However looking at the distinctly dull and lifeless call to arms, I can see many approaching just because there’s a paying job at the end of it. I caution that a paying job is never a good driving factor for a life in this world.
I was reared in the business of food and farms and therefore acquired an easy knowledge of the natural world, seasons, soil, animals and the roles that man plays within nature’s boundaries. I also have a great passion for food but sometimes though, when one is immersed in a world it’s easy to forget that not everyone shares your passion or knowledge. Our increased busy-ness and technological advances have meant that simple knowledge about nature is often lost. Add to this trade agreements, modern food processes and fast transport and suddenly most foods are available all year round and the natural seasons and what they yield become irrelevant. It’s always “summer somewhere” and so everything appears to be available all year round. Many people just don’t know what is “in season” at any given time and therefore cannot operate within nature’s laws even if they wanted to. By the same token we don’t want to go overboard. This isn’t about adopting a bad attitude to anything imported, processed or not grown within a ten mile radius. It is, however, about adjusting the balance. If we increase the amount of local and fresh food that we consume we are positively impacting nutrition and the local economy.
I’m always conscious of the balance between time invested, money spent and the result. Some things in life just aren’t worth it. Puff pastry is an example. Getting puff pastry right is a skill and for the amateur it requires time and patience. If you have a burning desire to master it then go ahead, but for the rest of us I would say, “buy it”. If your family is fond of tomato ketchup that too can be recreated at home but it’s a lot of work. Homemade ketchup might be considered the healthier option perhaps but, unless they are consuming it by the bucket load, then a squeezy tube is the way to go.