Monday, 30 May 2011

Are Irish Restaurants Up The Swanny?


It didn’t take long to get the conversation flowing at the second For Food’s Sake event at The Sugar Club last Thursday. Stuart Clark, the host for the evening quickly got the evening off to an exciting start as he challenged the panelists to discuss if the glory days of Irish restaurants were dead and buried with a certain Celtic feline. If you missed what went down and need a synopsis, do please read on...


Caroline Byrne, Dublin editor of the Bridgestone Guide shed some light onto why Irish restaurants were seen to be taking the mickey out of the customer. It seems that over pricing was not the main culprit but a sense of value for money and the good auld days of the boom time were behind the accusations:



“There was a perception with Irish customers and tourists that Irish restaurant prices were considered a rip-off. But I think it was a bit more complicated than people imagined. Wages were higher here and certain businesses were able to take advantage of the opportunities during the country's growth. However, I think generally it’s not fair to say they were ripping everyone off. I think that creating a perception of value was the problem. People who left with a feeling that they didn’t get value for their money i.e. food and drink prices, the kind of service they had or not had etc... This may have contributed to a feeling that people thought they were getting ripped off.”

Enda McEvoy of the Cook Wild Project and formerly of Sheridans on the Docks was next to give an insight of someone behind the scenes in restaurants.

“People are more aware of what they are getting now and what value for money is. It is now about being price sensitive while keeping the price down but also giving them value for money. The day of ‘a la carte’ is gone and people choosing what they want. Restaurants are going toward a more seasonal fixed price menu with four courses for X amount of money. Now restaurants can provide a good selection of food that is value for money.”

Enda McEvoy is opening a new restaurant next month in Galway, and is well aware of the range of costs that every restaurant needs to consider. “We are price sensitive, we are all aware of the overheads, the amount of rates that need to be paid etc... you need to do things to keep the costs down, for example we are going to work with local suppliers for better quality produce while keeping the prices down”.



The full number crunching figures that restaurants have the tough task to pay were given by Paul Cadden, owner of Saba and former President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland:

“If you open a restaurant in Dublin you will have to pay a grease trap license for €370, a monitoring charge by the county council for €870 per annum, you have PPI (royalties) for music, an insurance rate,  water in and water out rates, 13.5% VAT on food, 21% VAT on alcohol. Then you have to pay an excise duty, we have the highest excise duty and energy cost in Europe and then we have the second highest minimum wage.  There is also a tax for fold-able chairs outside the restaurant that we call the ‘sunshine tax’."

The audience laughed at the ‘sunshine tax’ remark but they were instantly silenced as Paul revealed some shocking figures. “One restaurant a day closed last year in Ireland and that’s a very sad fact. From the last Restaurant Association survey we found that 80% of restaurants are trading on a loss.”

When it came time for the audience to get stuck in with some Q+A there were plenty of requests for some more info from the panel as to why there isn't more of a BYOB culture in Irish restaurants. There was lots to say on that topic from the crowd and the stage! A couple of more punters were keen to see how Paul Cadden and Joe Macken dealt with service issues and customer complaints within their own establishments.  


Overall, it was a great discussion and we were very happy with how it went. Those attending showed great respect for the panelists and vice versa. Many thanks again to all of you for being there!



Our Second Event - A Quick Summary


The second For Food’s Sake evening was held at the Sugar Club on the 26th of May and it was another full house! The topic of discussion was “Are Irish Restaurants up the Swanny?” but before that kicked off, the three artisan producers whose delicious foods we sampled all night hit the stage to tell us about their companies. These wonderful food heroes were Dominic Gryson from Gleann Gabhra goat milk products, Maurice Gilbert from Ballyhoura apple farm, Caroline Rigney (represented by Gareth Granville) from Curraghcase Pork products. Much love and thanks to them all for coming down and treating us to such wonderful fare, all for free!



The meat of the discussion rocked on with the panelists enlightening the crowd about the many challenges and hopes facing Irish restaurants these days. The panelists of the evening were:

For a more detailed analysis of the discussion itself, please check out this post.

After the interval Enda McEvoy gave a presentation about his recent stint in Noma (only the top restaurant in the world) and talked about the prospect of food foraging in Ireland.



Next up was the  highly anticipated Karaoke Cook-off began. Manager of The Sugar Club, Oisin Davis hosted the toasted cheese cook-off between SJ, the lead singer of Rock band Dirty Epics and club DJ David De Valera. Three lucky (or unlucky audience members depending on how you look at it) were picked out to be the judges. After a nail biting conclusion Sarah Jane’s ‘Student’s cheese toastie’ beat off David’s ‘Rib eye, caramelised onion, mushroom and several other ingredients toastie’. David had no choice but to take the microphone to sing Right Said Fred’s 90’s classic ‘I’m Too Sexy’.


Finally a three-way blind tasting was held for a chance to win a weekend trip to Gregans Castle Hotel in Galway. Lychees were the first mysterious taste and after one lucky punter banged his silver spoon to victory, a second head to head blind tasting of cheddar cheese gave away a meal for two in Dax Cafe Wine Bar and a delicious basket of produce from Dennis Healy's Organic Delights.



If you missed out last Thursday, do make sure you catch the next For Food’s Sake on the 28th of July!

Friday, 27 May 2011

FFS II


What a great night last night!
A thousand thanks goes out to all who were involved especially Stuart Clarke, who stood in for Aoife very last minute, and our wonderful panelists and producers:
Enda McEvoy
Joe Macken
Paul Cadden
Caroline Byrne

Dominic Gryson - Gleann Gabhra goat milk products
Maurice Gilbert - Ballyhoura apple farm
Caroline Rigney (represented by Gareth Granville) - Curraghcase Pork products

Big cheers also to Steve, Ciara Ann and Peter who came down to help on the night

check out the facebook page for more photos

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Complexities of a Co-op

Is it possible to have a co-operative farming system in Ireland? Can farmers come together to stand united against the supermarket overlords? Well that’s exactly what one audience member wondered at the first For Food’s Sake in The Sugar Club and raised the issue with the guest panellists.
Pat Smith, General Secretary of the Irish Farmers' Association was first to add his thoughts on the matter. Pat warned of the threats that industrial farming could have to any potential future co-operative schemes. “In the main we have a family farm structure right across Europe. The animals and the environment are looked after better in these farms and the community benefit a whole lot more. We can’t lose this because we will never get it back.”
Establishing a co-operative system sounds great in theory but according to Pat it boils down to establishing an understanding between farmers and consumers due to the one sided relationship between the retailers and the producers:
“As farmers we are far too removed from the consumer because we rely on the retailer who has become too dominant. The people who are buying the product need to take into account the primary producer who year on year are getting less out of the consumer spend.” 
Next up to add their say was food journalist, Suzanne Campbell who claims that there is little chance of farms adapting a co-operative system because the current system prevents any change. 
“The fact of the matter is that the way everyone in this room now interacts with food is mainly in the supermarket. How on earth are farmers to get around that system unless we buy the food from them? People are always questioning why these farmers don’t get more and it is because we actually go to the supermarkets. If we didn’t the farmers would have alternative markets. If the market was worth half a billion a year rather than 30 million then we would have more people buying from another route allowing the supplier another chance to get a fair price for their produce or cutting out the middle man.”
Suzanne continued to delve deeper into the reason why consumers are such a key consideration when establishing a co-operative system: “We have to think about ourselves as consumers. It is wrong for us to say ‘farmers earn so little, it is a pity but I can’t do anything about’. We are directly supporting the system by buying all our shopping in the supermarket. If that is where you get your food that is how things are going to stay unless new regulations are brought in.”
But all is not lost, we have the power to help change the system. We don’t need to boycott the supermarkets or march on the streets, according to Suzanne it can be easier bringing about a change: “Often people are preached at to grow their own vegetables or start all these new lifestyle trends. You don’t need to make it that strict. All you need to do is choose a few more items from different sources or when you go to the supermarket don’t buy cheap chicken, buy Irish chicken but buy less of it. The same goes for organic produce. This way your food expenses stay the same but you can use your food purchases to help farmers.” 
FOR FUTURE FOOD TALKS MAKE SURE TO CATCH THE NEXT FOR FOOD’S SAKE AT THE SUGAR CLUB ON THRUSDAY THE 26TH OF MAY WHEN WE WILL ASK ‘ARE IRISH RESTRAUNTS UP THE SWANNY’? DOORS OPEN AT 7.PM. SHARP AND ADMISSION IS €5 AT THE DOOR.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The remaining 4 days of Don't Eat Any Irish Week for Oisin

Just when I was finding a nightly rhythm with documenting my eatin' and drinkin', technology came along and screwed it all up. The site went down late last week and threw me for six, I had lost all my discipline for doing up this here blog and I'm only getting back to it now. So anyhoop, here's what I munched on for the rest of my Don't Eat Any Irish Week.

BREAKFAST ON DAY 4,5 + 6.
After hearing from Aisling about how hard it was to get Irish flour, I took a punt on a bagel with some French cream cheese. It would appear that our demand for flour outstrips what we can actually produce in this fair land. That means that even Irish made bagels can often have bugger all Irish ingredients. After knowing that fact, I couldn't really enjoy that bagel.
Friday morning I decided to go further afield and enjoyed some frozen wholemeal parathas with pickled gourd. The parathas are made all the way in Malaysia, you cook them in a dry pan. They come out crispy and deadly. It's kind of annoying that food that has to travel this far, tastes so good. A guilty pleasure.


I smothered them in pickled chilli gourd, it's a kind of spicy chutney from Pakistan. Again my local Halal shops on Clanbrassil St helped out a lot here. Not for the faint of heart, this gear really gives you a kick in the goolies. But I actually love a bit of spice in the morning. It's underrated.

Brekkie on Saturday and Sunday took on a big Polish vibe. Mushroom and Sauerkraut pierogi pan fried and served with sour cream on the side and the next day, pan pan fried potato dumplings with an onion roll.





The dumplings and pierogi come in once a week, already steamed and packaged from Poland. All that's left to do is to pan fry them. Whereas most Polish or Eastern European Shops sell only frozen ones, the Polish shop on Cork St sells the fresh ones. I actually love them. And you can also buy their ridiculously 18% fat sour cream for just €1. The pierogi are only €2.50 and you get a good dozen or so. I am beginning to see why foreign nationals don't like to shop in our supermarkets, they are too fucking dear for them.

LUNCH ON DAY 4,5 + 6 

Thursday's lunch for me was the best of the week. Recently, I discovered that the Shopeasi Halal shop on Clanbrassil Street (so ironic that this was an area once called Little Jerusalem) started  flogging Halloumi for only two quid a block. As you may know this is a cheese that is exceptionally salty, but at the same time very creamy and meaty. It needs freshness, spice and a bit of sweet to cut through it all. So one day I started fooling around with some chipotle powder, date syrup and some other bits and bobs and came up with this recipe for a halloumi salad


Had a northside meeting for 1 on Friday so I grabbed some smoked mackerel and herring from the basement food hall on Moore Street. The herring was nice but even for a smoked fan like meself, the mackerel was too bloody strong. Cunnilingus with an ashtray, not recommended. Saturday's lunch was Moroccan pancakes with roasted peppers and harrisa. Sunday was a falafel out in the People's Park in Dun Laoighre. If the CIA or MI5 were following my dietary habits this week they would probably think that I'm an Al Qaeda sympathizer.

DINNER FOR DAY 4, 5 AND 6

Not being able to eat any Irish meats has been the only hard thing about this week. When Aisling and I were on Tom Dunne's radio show, she said the first thing she was going to eat after Eat Only Irish Week was some chocolate. I was just dying for a big fuck off burger and some hand cut chips. Every now and then, I was tempted to eat a chicken fillet sarnie or burger from some cheap ass food joint, as most of these gaffs stock Thai and Dutch reared chickens, but I just can't be arsed with those kinds of practices anymore. It really pisses me off to see that kind of bogey food malarkey, just to sell chemical/hormone filled shite.

In fact the only meat I ate during this period came from sausages - Polish pork and merguez made with British lamb, and that was only here and there. I cut down my meat in take this week dramatically by abstaining from chicken, beef and non sausage meat pork. If you're a veggie, not eating any Irish would be a doddle. I for one can't wait to get down to see Ed or Bren Hick this Saturday and stock up on the good shit I've been missing out on.

Anyhoop, Thursday was the Eurovision semis and Mom came over to watch it with us. We laughed and screamed through our spinach and feta filo bake. Friday evening's weather held enough for me to barbecue some merguez and Pakistani green beans.


On Saturday I knew I was going to be in for a mad one with the GCN crew as they were hosting a wild Eurovision party in the club. Before I went into work I had a double helping of Chang Mai mince that was made with Polish sausage meat. Not the ideal key ingredient but it satisfied the carnivore in me.



And it may well have been a world first. Thai holy basil mixed with Polish sausage and oyster sauce?

On the 7th day, Aisling and I both decided we needed a bit of a break, well more so for me actually. She had ordered a wicked a wild boar ham from Cork and I wanted in on that action. I brought along a big tub of my walnut dip which was devoid of any Irish ingredients and she happily tucked into that, but there was no way I was missing on that ham that she glazed in rhubarb and mustard. It was fucking amazing and the perfect meal to get me back on the Irish again.

VARIOUS SHIT THAT I'VE LEARNED THIS WEEK

1. There are so many amazing foreign delis and food stores out there that have too few Irish customers. I didn't even get a chance to tell you about the Korean place on Little Ship St, the Slovakian shops on the quays, the Hungarian shop behind the UGC cinema on Parnell St. Do yourselves a favour and check them out. Don't be afraid to approach the staff.

2. So much of the food is really cheap in these places. For some things, you can see why, ie heavily processed crap. But for most purchases it is cheaper because labour, insurance, production, fuel, transport costs are so low in the countries from where they import. Seeing how cheap they are, even when sold over here, only highlighted how expensive everything in Dublin can be.

3. Breakfast needn't only be toast, cereal or porridge. I have definitely started a new habit after last week's culinary adventures. Really enjoyed that and will definitely endeavor to find out more about who eats what for what should be the most important meal of the day.

4. I fucking love Irish butter and rashers, lamb, eggs, pudding, sausages, beef, corn fed chickens. Probably a little more now.

5. Aisling Rogerson is an exceptionally competitive young lady. I had no idea she wanted to turn this whole week into a contest. The next time she suggests anything of this ilk ever again, I shall be fully prepared and show NO MERCY!  

FOR FOOD'S SAKE II: Are Irish Restaurants Up the Swanny?

Are Irish restaurants up the swanny? 

That's what we'll be asking our panel at the next For Food’s Sake event, which is going to kick off at 7pm on Thursday 26 May in The Sugar Club, Leeson Street, Dublin 2.

(Note that the main discussion will kick off at 7.30pm sharp, but there will be some great food and beer tastings to be had from 7pm, when doors open).


Panelists will include:
For anyone who may have missed the first event on Thursday 31st May, each bi-monthly themed night of discussion will be chaired by journalist and food blogger Aoife Carrigy (of HolyMackerel.ie, and former deputy editor of FOOD&WINE Magazine), joined by a panel of four guest speakers from across the broad spectrum of the industry.

There will be tastings from several Irish artisan producers who will tell you a bit about why they do what they do. There will be a chance to win some great foodie prizes (see tomorrow's posting for details on what was won at the last event).  And there will be a short interview with chef Enda McEvoy, who was the head chef behind Sheridan's on the Docks – one of Galway's most acclaimed restaurants before its closure last summer.

Enda has been a busy man since: he recently spent two months working a coveted stage at Noma in Copenhagen, recognised as the top restaurant in the world. Since his return, Enda has been hosting his Cook Wild Project supper clubs in Sheridan's wine bar in Galway, as well as working some shifts in Gregan's Castle alongside head chef Mickael Viljanen (who is becoming widely regarded as one of the top chefs in the country). Last Saturday night he cooked a feast of Irish food on Castlemine Farm in Roscommon to celebrate their Eat Only Irish For a Week campaign, which was a great success (more on that in previous postings here). And Enda has more in the pipeline, including a Wild Food Workshop at Sheridan's Irish Food Festival on Sunday 29th May, and a new restaurant due to open in Galway in June. So, lots to chat about there!

If that's not enough, Oisin Davis – manager of The Sugar Club, food writer (www.rockcookbook.com & The Ticket’s Booking the Cooks column) and For Food's Sake team-member – will host a Karaoke Cook-Off between DJs Conor G and David De Valera, who will pit their toastie sandwich-making skills against one another!

And of course there will be a full bar to help get the conversation going.





So, Are Irish Restaurants up the Swanny?

After the success of March’s inaugural night’s discussion (which focussed on the opportunities and challenges facing Irish food producers) we now turn our attention to the restaurant industry. The Restaurant Association of Ireland, who will announce the winners of their annual restaurant awards on Wednesday 25 May, are warning that the industry is in crisis.

We'll be teasing out this claim to ask, if they are up the swanny, how did they get there?

Did they paddle themselves up there on the back of the Celtic Tiger during the so-called ‘Rip off Ireland’ days? Are restaurants a great way to make a quick buck and are restaurateurs laughing all the way to the bank, or is the industry really in a crisis as the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) say? Why do we pay so much more for a meal in Ireland than the equivalent in – for example – Spain, and where exactly is our money going? What kind of overheads do restaurants have to deal with, and is there anyway we can bring down the cost for us all?

Is it fair to ask them to pay above the national minimum wage and to pay up to double time on Sundays? Is it fair to ask restaurant workers to take a reduction in their wages? Or is it better that employers and employees have the flexibility to reduce wages in order to secure jobs?
And what about tips in restaurants – who should they go to and who do they go to? Should we tip like Americans or like the French? Which is a fairer system and which would give us better service? Do we value front of house staff enough? We expect better service but how can we encourage it?

And what about chefs? If you believe what you see on TV it’s a very glamorous, rewarding life, but what’s the reality? Why do even the leading Irish restaurants find it hard to staff their kitchens?
If we have had one Irish restaurant or coffee shop closing every day in the last two years (as the RAI have reported) and if we are to expect 10 closures a week over the next year, as they have warned, is this an inevitable thinning out of an unsustainable ratio of restaurants to hungry punters? Do we have too many mediocre restaurants in the country which have gotten used to being able to serve overpriced mediocre food? Is competition not a good thing for consumers, and will the result not be that only the fit will survive?

Or are all restaurants struggling with unsustainable rents, wages and rates? And will the result be that only the bland survive and that restaurants aren’t in a position to take risks with their menus? Is it a race to the bottom?

And for all the restaurants that closed last year, what of those that opened? We can all see plenty of vacant office and retail space around at the moment but far fewer vacant restaurants. Is there a certain type of restaurant doing well at the moment? Do they have a formula that the others should follow?

Expect these and other such demanding questions being battled out in a heated debate amongst the hand-picked panellists from across the industry together with what we hope will be another lively audience who will have more than their fair share to say. (The first For Food’s Sake event attracted over 100 opinionated punters to come to The Sugar Club and chew the cud, not to mention the complimentary smoked tuna, sour dough, artisan breads, chutneys and relishes.)

All this, for one of your hard-earned fivers.


See you there?

For Fish's Sake

"Fish is the only food that is considered spoiled once it smells like what it is." This saying was originally coined by American writer P.J. O’Rourke but it can easily be used to reflect Ireland’s attitude towards fish. During the first For Food’s Sake discussion in The Sugar Club on Thursday 31st March, under the topic 'What's the Future for Irish Food Production?' the debate turned to why we have failed to embrace seafood despite been surrounded by sea. Graham Roberts of the Connemara Smokehouse took centre stage as he enlightened the 100-strong crowd with his insider knowledge.


Graham journeyed deep into our history to explain why Ireland has never fully indulged in the great variety of fish we have in our seas. Surprisingly he linked traumatic childhood fish experiences to Ireland’s poor attitude. However there were no psychological scars with the audience as they devoured Graham's smoked tuna earlier on in the evening.

 

“Traditionally in Ireland all the good fish is exported and the leftovers stay here. A lot of people here don’t like fish because we have been left with these leftovers. This leads to certain negativity towards fish because I think people became daunted by the idea of preparing fish. Any kid who had to prepare these leftovers would be put off fish for life.”

 

But Graham knows how to turn kids towards the light as he has successful proven with his own children. “I feel very strongly when preparing fish for my kids that the bones are removed and it looks appealing. Fish won’t be an issue for them in the future.”

 

If there was anyone in the audience suffering from childhood psychological fish trauma Graham was able to provide some therapy. “Go to the fishmongers and have the fish prepared. Fish is the ultimate fast food; if you got a fillet of fish prepped then it takes just a few minutes in a pan, add some seasoning and lemon, and that’s it. Combine some vegetables with that and you have a really cheap, quick and healthy meal."

 

After Ireland’s attitude towards fish was put aside the panel discussion went on to address the future of the Irish fish industry. Graham explained how the fish industry in Ireland has the potential for growth while putting Irish fish back onto Irish shelves:

 

“The industry is struggling but I believe the future lies with these small fishermen. The quality of fish coming in is higher with smaller boats and there is also the question of fish sustainability. Small fisherman are going out and not catching huge volumes of fish so there is a future for fishing generations to come. It is something that I feel very strongly about because of the fishermen I work with. I would love to think that our future generations will work together.”

 

AS WE GEAR UP FOR THE NEXT FOR FOOD'S SAKE EVENT ON THURSDAY 26TH MAY, WE'LL BE REVISITING SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FIRST FOR FOOD'S SAKE EVENT, SO TUNE BACK IN OVER THE NEXT WEEK!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Day 7 - The Week is Up

What a Boar








Wild Boar - braised in cider and leeks, roasted in rhubarb, orchard syrup and mustard glaze
Spring Onion and Chive Mash
Roast Leeks and Jerusalem Artichokes
Mixed Leaves with a Rapeseed and Apple Balsamic dressing
Apple Sauce

Hadji Beys Irish Turkish Delight (a little cheat)


Total spend for the week: €152 (incl. dinner for 10 people on Sunday)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Day 6 for Aisling - Still Eating Native

I’m gonna be honest, I’m really looking forward to eating whatever I want again.

Work was rough today. Making food for 8 hours straight and not being able to graze over what you’re preparing is torture. And that’s not what this is all about!

I cooked an all Irish soup for the cafĂ© which I had for lunch. It was good but it wasn’t a defining moment in soup making by any means. I miss flavours. Cumin and coriander seed, chilli, nuts and raisins, cinnamon, aubergine, tomatoes,  avocado, harissa, mustard, cardamom.

I mean, it definitely is possible to be totally self-sufficient and survive off what we grow, rear and produce here in Ireland. But for me food is such a pleasure and to support the food of amazing local producers is one thing but to deprive yourself of amazing non Irish food is another.
A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A bar of carob (weird I know!). That’s what I’ve been craving.
what dreams are made of

For me it has been a massive eye opener. Why is it so difficult to eat only Irish food in Ireland?
Our climate?
Imports are more convenient and often cheaper?
We’re lazy?
We don’t support our local farmers and producers enough?
Reality: we live in a globalised society. The world is small thanks to modern technology and transportation and actually, we export more than we import.

However, I have eaten like a king this week. It’s really only been the sugar cravings and lack of options when given so much choice in a marketplace, that have brought me down. We have a tremendously high standard of quality food in this country. There was nothing Irish that I found this week that I would not eat or would consider to be bad quality or junk food. It has engrained a stamp of quality in my mind of anything produced in Ireland. We should all be really proud of the food that’s coming out of this country at the moment and there’s no reason why we can’t make an international name for ourselves. In fact we already are....

These should be my parting comments from tomorrow night, but we’re having a final feast of West Cork wild boar tomorrow and I may have a few whiskeys so I thought I’d get my little rant over and done with now.

Dinner tonight: Pak choi, chicken, leek and coriander broth (stock from the chicken during the week)
Oriental Irish!
 - just missing the kick



Friday, 13 May 2011

Day 5 Eating Only Irish for Aisling


Porridge again….dreaming about a big thick slice of brown bread with butter and jam but I just don’t have time to make any. 

Mozzarella – this is a great example of how capable we are of making so many things that have, until now, always been imported. We are capable of producing way more than we do, but the convenience and cheapness of imports always wins. This is exactly the same situation with Irish Sugar. It’s something that we CAN produce and have done in the past but now don’t, because its easier and cheaper to import.
Anyway, lunch was amazeballs: Buffalo Mozzarella coated in Macroom course wheatflour, on wilted chard, with a balsamic dressing.




I’ve just been informed that we’re having beef burgers for dinner. Unfortunately, the internet is down in my house and I’m writing this from the office and I want to go home and I wont be able to post anything from home and reeeeeally want to just not think about Irish food so I’m doing it now!!! 

Day 4 Eating Irish for Aisling


Yoghurt with rhubarb and sprinkled flapjack for breakfast (Had to make a new batch of flapjacks)

My wholemeal flour finally came into the Co-op so I called in and picked up some fresh garlic, which had just come in, and some jeruslem artichokes as well. There was a plan to make bread for lunch…no time…right….pancake it is. 
'Coarse wholewheat pancake, this is never gonna work', I looked at the mixture of egg, milk and macroom flour which was resembling a redigested omelette. But we were really rushed for time and didn’t have any other options but to lash it into the pan and hope for the best. It almost went pear shaped when we tried to flip it over as it was crumbling all over the place, until Luca said to use a plate like you were flipping a fritatta. Done. Huzzah
Another great lunch: Macroom wholewheat pancake with leftover chicken, fresh garlic, amazing emmental cheese and cream cheese.




I called over to some friends in the evening. They have a fantastic garden, growing everything from herbs to beetroot and gooseberries and everything in between. Telling them what I was doing for the week they insisted on making an all irish soup: potato, parsnip and carrot with some fresh garlic on top.






On the way over I stopped into Lilliput Stores in Stoneybatter where Brendan had put aside three of their Irish Buffalo Mozzarella. Another friend also stocked me up with apples and strawberries from Limerick ten minutes later. These things are becoming such a treat. I feel like I'm living in wartime and the bananas have just arrived off the boat!



Thursday, 12 May 2011

We're on the radio tomorrow morning!

Just wanted to let you all know that myself and Aisling will be on Tom Dunne's Newstalk 106 show at 10.30 am Friday morning!

We will both be discussing some of our recent experiences while partaking in Eat Only Irish Week. Tom himself has been getting involved in the food experiment too so I'm sure he'll have lots to say!

I will also be chatting about some of my featured acts in The Rock Cook Book and Booking The Cooks in The Irish Times


So don't forget to tune in and do tell your mates!

All the best,

Oisin

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Day 3 Eating Only Homegrown for Aisling

Showed my ignorance when I opened the bag of Macroom Oatmeal this morning and was surprised to see finely ground oats. I was expecting oats to-make-a-meal-from……(cue American accent)
So a new porridge experience altogether. Reminded me of Readybrek in a rush before school, but ten times tastier.


 Made those flapjacks – killbeggan oats, butter, honey, orchard syrup, fresh apple. They’re pretty much all eaten already.

Came home for lunch and Luca cooked us up a lovely ham and gubbeen cheese omelette. Still loving Deirdre's mixed leaves.


Stopped into Sheridans and Magills while running a few erands in town. Realised I havnt even began to touch on the wealth of amazing Irish cheeses we have. Picked up some black pudding which I’m looking forward to.

My slump today came when I met a friend for coffee – I don’t normally drink a lot of tea or coffee anyway, so no problem there. It was watching her eat a chocolate pastry twist thing that killed me. Trying to do this eat only irish absolutely 100% means no sugar. Some feckin idiot decided to close down the last sugar refinery in Ireland in 2008 and so now ALL our sugar is imported. Even if it says Suicra on the pack.

Essentially I’m on a diet. A wheat free, sugar free diet. And instead I’m putting butter on everything.  Buttered porridge for breakfast tomorrow? Sure why not. But like any normal person on a diet, you crave the bejaysus out of what you cant have. I’ve been substituting my sugar, so far successfully, with honey and orchard syrup, but I have to say I did get a bit depressed today.

....Until I came home from football (yes, I play ladyball on Wednesdays) and flatmate had whipped up some AMAZING fishcakes with last nights leftover mash. (Macroom oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs, Irish salmon) Dollop of thyme and chive yoghurt, which was so delisiously tangy that I could have sworn she put lemon in it. WINNING!


Day 3 of Don't Eat Any Irish for Oisin

Yesterday's brekkie was so freakin' deadly, there was no way I couldn't give it another lob. Especially as I barely made a dint on the massive tub of Turkish yoghurt I got the other day, which, incidentally, only cost me €2.50. So it was yoghurt, toasted sesame seeds, currants and date syrup again this morning. I could get quite used to that, even if the very thought of toasted seeds first thing in the morning sounds horribly Californian. But it's at moments like these where I remind myself that even hardasses like Clint Eastwood are from the Sunshine State and he's a total veggie. If it's good enough for Dirty Harry.

As I had said previously, I am using this reverse of the Eat Only Irish as a way to hunt down new tastes and products. With the Clanbrassil Street Halal shops being part of my standard shopping experience anyway, I thought it best to venture further afield. To boldly go, where very few Dubs appear to go to anymore - Moore Street. Whenever I hit the food stores there, Irish people seem to be very few and few far between. FX B's Butchers there is a classic example.They are always really busy, but never with locals. And they flog pieces of meat that Irish people wouldn't know what to do with any more, like hearts, necks, tongue, oxtail, etc. For me, this is always a welcome sight and gives me a certain feeling of optimism. While the Irish have had their taste buds and culinary sense of adventure homogenized by pre-packaged fillets and burgers, there are Filipinos, Cantonese, Hungarians, French, Poles, Brazilians flocking to FX B's on a daily basis, snapping up the cuts of meat  that we sadly no longer consume. I reckon that it's these very people who we should be talking to about our future food habits. It's these very people who can help us to de-industrialize our palettes and help us economize our grub budgets.They have the know how, the passion for great food and flavour and they are here living amongst us.

However, seeing as FX B's predominately stocks Irish bred meat (seasonal foreign game does hit their counter I'm told), I can't really venture in there this week and chat to the regulars. So the other day, I stopped off at the basement food hall on Moore St (it has another entrance on Parnell Street) to stop off at a Polish butchers.


 I stocked up on their Silesian sausages which would be similar in taste to say Cumberland sausies. They are made and packaged in Poland. While I was on Moore Street, I stopped off in a large Asian deli to try and find something I had never tasted before. That's where I found these little bad boys, golden egg aubergines. 





They came here from India, via the UK and are about the size of plums. I  sliced and char-grilled two of them and stuck them in a Turkish flatbread wrap with some tomatoes, Breton cream cheese and loads of the walnut dip I made yesterday. A bi-winning lunch

The sausages were put into a ragu that my dearly beloved made for the whole family tonight for dinner. It tasted darn good but every mouthful I took in only made me think how much better it would be with Hick's sausages in there instead. 






Day 2 of Don't Eat Any Irish Week for Oisin

Tuesday's biggest challenge for me is just getting out of bed. I have a serious dose of MANflu that's really knocked me for six. For someone whose appetite knows no natural boundaries, I always know when I'm sick when my desire to eat is lost. Day 2 of Don't Eat Any Irish started off for me like that - cue the sappy violins and minor chords on the piano.

Eventually, I brushed off my self pity and knuckled down to some breakfast. A bowl of extremely rich Turkish yoghurt with some toasted sunflower seeds, currants and a nice dollop of date syrup. The yoghurt is 10% cream and tastes great even on it's own, however, definitely not something that you would see on a weightwatchers menu. For me, this is a success for the food experiment as I never would have tried this otherwise. I am very much a toast/porridge/bagel/stealing some of my daughters' cereal in the morning kinda guy.

I got all of these ingredients in the Turkish shop on Liffey Street and my local Halal shop on Donore Avenue. The makers of the date syrup should be done under the trade descriptions act as it is actually produced in Holland, just sayin'. This gave me enough energy to do a couple of hours in the office and to moan about my MANflu with my colleagues and anyone I answered the phone to.


For fear of spreading my MANgerms around the Lower Leeson Street area, I take a half day and return home. This meant that I could spend some more time on Lunch and that was made up of Turkish filo pastries stuffed with a feta like cheese served with a spicy walnut and pomegranate dip. The pastries were again bought on Liffey Street and are pre-made. You have to deep fry them. On their own, they're very boring. But they go very well with the walnut dip and scatterings of flat leaf parsley.

 The dip brought me no end of joy, to such an extent that it felt like a miraculous elixir and my MANflu felt like it was on it's way out. It's a modified recipe that I got from a Turkish cook book a friend gave me. If you want to give it a lash, blitz the following up and get stuck in:
150 grams of walnuts, 2 teaspoons of harissa, 150 ml of extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup, 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, 100 ml of pomegranate juice, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs.

As nice as this was, it did not have the healing properties I initially thought it did. So at half six I decided to skip dinner and hit the hay.  Are you feeling sorry for me yet?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Day 2 Eat Only Irish for Aisling


 Should I just start with the meals.....?

Ok

Breakfast came in the shape of a bowl of Yoghurt and some stewed rhubarb. I used honey and orchard syrup instead of sugar in the rhubarb. I had planned this. Did up the rhubarb yesterday evening and have enough left for another breakfast, a snack or a crumble or something during the week.


Lunch I didn't planned. Thank god I was working from home though when I realised it was quarter to two and hadn't eaten yet. Had a slight moment of panic that was quickly quashed after opening the fridge and seeing some left over spud from last night and a bag of greens that I had bought from Deirdre and Norman in the Co-op on Saturday (lovely organic mixed leaves). A quick hop down to the butcher for a pork chop and that was that. When I asked the butcher if the pork was Irish his eyes widened and he kind of laughed when he said 'Of course!'
Dressing for the salad: Apple balsamic vinegar, rapeseed oil, sea salt and kelp


Checked in with the flatmate for a roast chicken dinner and she was up for it. Dunnes was offering me five different types of chicken, all of them supposedly Irish ranging from €3 to €6, I went with the free range from Castlemahon for €5.59 and sincerely doubted that the '2 for €6 chickens' were actually Irish. The 'friend' came over again and so did another friend. The former was delighted to eat the flowers from the chives for the first time and so was put in charge of 'chive-flower-sprinkling on mash'. Roasted parsnips on the side. yum


The rest of the day was spent trying to track down a 100% Irish Flour (in between real work of course). I knew already that the big guns like Odlums were importing part of their wheat so I made a couple of calls to the smaller guys and ended up on the blower to Donal Creedon from Macroom Oat Mills, the only FULLY Irish Mill, as far as I could find. 
'How long have you been at it?'
'Sure my mother's mother and her mother were at it since the 1830s,' says he. With the West Cork brogue.
'And you're 100% Irish?'
'We're 100% Irish. But sure when the harvest is bad you have to import. Two years ago was a very bad year so we had to buy in. But this year we're fully Irish.'

I thought back to that pissy summer when it infamously rained for 60 days straight. The unfortunate reality for wheat in Ireland. Speaking to Joseph from Ballybrado, they've tried for years to grow organic Irish wheat but you just cant get a high enough protein content to mill a good flour, because we don't get enough sunshine. Their oats are 100% Irish though.

I managed to find the Macroom Oatmeal in the Hopstack in Rathmines but no flour. My thoughts of a ham sandwich at some stage during the week were drifting away. What I did come across on my trip to Rathmines though was hunger, followed by my second panic attack of the day. Shit. What do I do now? It was ok at home earlier with the safety of my clever planning Irish food bounty to fall back on. I had my first realisation of how utterly impossible this would be on a national scale on a day to day basis. However, Fallon & Byrne tied me over with an apple until I got home. Stocked up on some Atlantic Sea Salt while I was there, some apple juice and the parsnips for dinner.

Gonna have to make some flapjacks tomorrow in case of a repeat emergency.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Day 1 of Eat Only Irish for Aisling

This is great! I'm really enjoying this.

I did have to put a little effort into preparing for today though. I can't just pop down to the local halal shop like Oisin over there. I live in Dublin 8 aswell, so I've a real mix of local and ethnic shops around me that I buy from all the time, but that means nothing really this week, since the 'local' shops don't necessarily sell local products. Hence, the need for a bit of forward thinking.

Myself and Luca (one of the other ForFoodsSake-ers) run the cafe in the Dublin Food Co-op on weekends so after work on Saturday I came home with 2 boxes of great items like pak choi, sea veg seasoning, balsamic vinegar, cream cheese, rapeseed oil, apple juice and endless amounts of greens.


Ready for Monday!

Breakfast was a dawdle - Porridge (made with Kilbeggan Oats) and Highland's Orchard Syrup. Delish.


Lunch posed a few more problems.....and probably will continue to do so for the rest of the week.
Luca and I went down to Greystones for lunch in the Happy Pear. Love that place, they always have a great selection of locally grown veg.....but whataya know....not today. Most of their orders are due to come in tomorrow and the season hasn't started yet for all the good stuff like tomatoes, courgettes, etc. I found myself salivating over what everyone else was going to have for lunch, especially when I went into the kitchen and saw the pot of amazing aubergines bubbling away on the hob. So after a shot of wheatgrass, I went about to scrubbing together some munch. Results: sauteed mushrooms, with wicklow cheddar and fresh onion and broccoli sprouts. The lads even let me cook it up in the kitchen (it helps to have friends in culinary places). Punnet of strawberries for dessert.

temptation

strength

sustenance

Dinner was by far the winner....
Despite some severe curveballs by flatmate and friend trying to steer me off track, Ireland pulled through in the end and came up trumps with: 
chunky chips - roasted in rapeseed oil, rosemary from me mammy's garden and sea salt and kelp seasoning
striploin steak - seasoned with the sea veg again, point of contention for the others in the beginning due to lack of black pepper but it was frickin gorgeous 
'Irish' bearnaise - replaced the shallots with leeks, white wine vinegar with cider vinegar, tarragon with a mix of chives and sage.
Best steak dinner I've had in months.