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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of being on Pat Kenny’s new radio show on Newstalk. On the show we discussed my new book, co-written by Katy McGuinness, the Irish Beef Book which is full of tips, advice and recipes to help you get the best from your beef. We also talked about the art of butchery covering the complete process from raising and slaughtering the animals, the complex process of maturing the meat to develop flavour, the skills needed to butcher the whole carcass and the importance of communicating your message to the customer.
Last weekend I was delighted to appear on Marian Finucane’s RTE Radio 1 show to discuss the best way of coping with the stress of Christmas. We discussed the stress people put themselves under when deciding what to cook for Christmas dinner. I talked about the differences between the two main breeds of turkey – the white and bronze, the tradition of buying a turkey from your butcher and the alternatives for Christmas dinner including the traditional free range goose.
|Thursday 19th Dec||8am – 7pm|
|Friday 20th Dec||8am – 7pm|
I came across The Bowler at an event in the UK earlier this year. He’s part of the street food movement that’s been growing over the past few years. He makes gourmet meatballs using meat, fish and vegetables and serving them all from an eye catching grass covered van, affectionately known as the ‘lawn ranger’. It’s a sight to behold, never fails to raise a smile and the meat balls are stunning. I’m a particular fan as The Bowler (real name Jez Felwick) learned to cook at Ballymaloe and I love that Irish connection.