I've been thinking back over the many things that I experienced over the last year and never got around to writing about for the blog. The big omission is the Food Camp that happened in Kilkenny, way back in October. This post has been sitting half written ever since as it seemed very difficult to capture in text the atmosphere of the day and the enthusiasm and passion displayed by all the participants but I've given it a go anyway and I hope you'll forgive the lateness. Apologies also for the blurry pictures, but I had a serious case of shaky hands that day and these were the best of what I took.
On Friday 22nd October, myself, several other food bloggers and many people involved in all levels of food production (and appreciation) in Ireland descended to the Ormond Hotel in Kilkenny for the very first Irish Food Camp as part of the Savour Kilkenny Festival.
My journey to Kilkenny had begun very early in the morning as I packed up my back seat with bags of goodies to be eaten at lunch (more about that later) and then drove off to pick up the lovely Deirdre of thefood.ie, before heading west towards Kilkenny.
We arrived in Kilkenny ahead of schedule and after leaving our bags at the front desk we went out into the city to have a look around and cup of coffee. Kilkenny is a remarkably busy town with a wealth of cafes to choose from, we picked a little place up a set of stairs and sharing space with a ribbon shop. I only wish I had noted the name of it, as the selection of delights on offer was amazing, as you can see from the picture below. (If anyone one recognises it, can you let me know its name please!) It was a lovely way to start our day.
After that we headed back to the hotel to collect our bags and mingle with the foodie people before the first of the day's talks started. It was great to have a chance to get reacquainted with some of the food bloggers that I had previously met at the day out in Bord Bia.
The day was divided into several 45 minute sessions of mini presentations from passionate people who had something to say about food. These people had put their names forward to speak, not for promotion but to share ideas and engage with others about what they found important about food and the food industry.
There were four of these presentations in the morning with four different topics running simultaneously, I only wish I could've politely managed to move between them, as there were several I had to miss, but would have liked to attend. These morning sessions were followed by lunch and a panel discussion and there were then another two sets of four presentations scheduled for the late afternoon.
The first session of the day that I attended was Wendy Kavanagh talking about the next generation of farming and the difficulties that they will face. It was great to hear about the enthusiasm and interest shown by her son and his friends in farming. It was interesting to learn just how much of a difference to the lives of farmers and artisan producers to would make to have a household spend just €20 a week on local produce. I know make even more of an attempt to buy local.
They set this up as a way for the Irish food blogging community to connect and communicate after seeing just how many food bloggers there were at the Bord Bia day in May. There are now 127 members and it's an incredibly useful resource for those of us food blogging as it has information on upcoming events, links on how to take great food pictures and the occasional competition. If you're a food blogger and not already a member, I urge you to sign up today.
The final session before lunch was given by Sally McKenna of the Bridgestone Guide and Donal Doherty of Harry's Bar and Restaurant, discussing the use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. They both emphasised how important it is when using these platforms to properly interact with your customers, and not just spout press releases. They gave special mention to Lorraine of La Cucina restaurant in Limerick as an example of a business who is using these platforms in the right way.
After a stimulating morning of information and ideas it was time to eat and we all trooped off to the main room, where people were busily unpacking their dishes.
When signing up for the Food Camp, you were asked to bring a "lunch box" or something to share with the other people attending. I decided to bring my smoked salmon tart, kanelsnegle and tebirkes.
There was so much food! At least 4 different types of quiche, pastry parcels fills with various fillings and more brownies then I have ever seen in my life. I, and everyone else, ate far too much. I'm really annoyed that I didn't get picture of the laden tables but the Daily Spud has a couple in her post on the event.
After the epic lunch it was time for the panel discussion titled: "Digging Ireland out of the recession - Artisan produce, Food Innovation and Guerrilla Marketing". This was lead by John McKenna of the Bridgestone Guide and involved Dr Susan Steele of Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna Cheese, Una Fitzgibbon from Bord Bia, Margaret Jeffares from Good Food Ireland Paul McCarthy from Teagasc and Rozanne Stevens, a chef.
This discussion was very interesting and covered how in the last few years local has gone from meaning "from the Republic of Ireland" to "from my local area" in the minds of consumers, how farms and local pubs need to start marketing themselves as brands and just how much of our produce is exported.
The things that really caught my attention were the information that Bord Bia is working with Failte Ireland now to promote Ireland and a food destination and (on a completely different topic) that a lot of artisan producers are experiencing growth in their business despite the recession, as they offer a good quality product.
After the discussion we all split up again to attend the afternoon presentations. I went to the intriguingly named "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours" where Gary Gubbins of Red Nose Wine was talking about the Tipperary Food Producers Network. This is a group of local food producers who have come together to share ideas, resources and to promote themselves as a regional brand.
They are also running the Food Connect Programme where Transition Year students are paired with a local producer and spend a week getting to know how their business operates. They will also complete a project on behalf of the producer. The idea behind the project is to help the students connect where the food they eat comes from.
There was enough time after Gary has finished his presentation to sneak in and catch the end of Philip McCabe's talk about honey as a natural medicine. He told the most amazing story about seeing a lady have her MS symptoms relieved through the application of bee venom. I am sorry that I missed the rest of his fascinating session.
Even though there was one more session, it was time for me to head home. I had some more lovely company in the car in the form of the Daily Spud and Steph and the discussion of food continued for most of the journey home.
All in all it was an amazing day and it was wonderful to meet so many people who were so passionate about food in Ireland and how best to promote it.
As last Friday was the first of the month, and indeed the year, it was time once again for the Irish Foodies Cookalong and being January the theme was leftovers or budget food.
Putting on my thinking hat I decided that I would come up with a budget recipe rather than leftovers as I was a little bored with turkey and most of my leftover recipes are already up on the site.
Toad in the hole is one of my favourite budget meals, and what's not to love about it? It contains two of the most delicious things sausages and Yorkshire pudding and reaches it's zenith when paired with onion gravy.
The recipe below covers everything you need to do to get from start to finish in having this for dinner including veg. This recipe makes 6 portions for €9.30 but I used 3 different types of sausages which brought my price per portion up to €1.55 but by using a cheaper sausage you can bring the cost down to as little of €0.70 per portion.
The first thing to do when making toad in the hole is prepare your batter, then it can stand and thicken while you prepare the sausages and the start of the onion gravy.
First preheat the oven to 200°C. Weigh out the flour in to a bowl and make a well in the centre of it with a spoon. Crack the eggs into the well.
Add salt, pepper and the thyme if using.
Whisk the eggs into the flour and then gradually add the milk whisking continually.
Once it the egg and milk have been thoroughly mixed into the flour, ensuring there are no lumps, cover the batter with a tea towel and leave to one side
Now onto the sausages! I used 3 Toulouse sausages, 6 normal sausages and 2 smoked sausages for my toad, but you can use any type you like, but you will need at least 8 and I personally think 12 would be a better number of the normal size sausages to use.
Cut up the sausages into smaller pieces.
Heat 1 tblsp of oil in the frying pan and add the sausages. Fry until browned all over.
When the sausages are browned, transfer them to a bowl. Leave the pan as is for the moment as you will use it again for onion gravy.
Add the mustard and stir through the sausages. I used a tablespoon of Dijon and one of wholegrain mustard for extra flavour, but honey mustard also works really well.
Once the sausages are evenly coated in mustard transfer them into the roasting tin and add enough of the vegetable oil that the base of the tin is just covered. I found that 3 tablespoons along with the fat from the sausages was enough for me.
Place the tray into the oven for 5 mins until the fat has gotten shimmery hot.
While the tray is in the oven, it's time to start preparing the onion gravy. Peel and chop your onions, they don't need to be finely chopped, but smaller pieces would be better. Heat up the pan that you cooked the sausages in and add the onions. Keep them on a low heat until they start to brown.
The sausages should now be ready to come out of the oven. Take them out and immediately pour in the waiting batter and put back in oven as quickly as possible. It's important not to let the tray get too cool before it gets back into the oven as that can cause the batter not to rise properly.
The toad in the hole should take about 25 mins to cook properly, check it after 20 mins through the door, as opening the door will also cause the batter to not rise.
Now back to the onions. The onions, which have been gently cooking on your hob while you finish the toad in the hole for the oven, should now be a golden brown colour.
Add the teaspoon of sugar and the teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and allow them to cook with the onions for a couple of minutes before adding the beef stock.
Add the beef stock to the pan and bring to the boil. Leave it to boil for 5 mins. If you are using beef stock made from stock cubes, I find that 2 Oxo Cubes to 600ml of water gives you the best final flavour to the gravy.
Time to make the thickener for the onion gravy. I am very lucky to own a device that is designed to shake up flour and water together to make an easy to pour thickener, but if you don't have something like this the best thing to do is to mix the same amount of water and flour together in a cup or small bowl.
Put the 2 tablespoons of flour into a container with 100mls of water. Shake or stir to combine.
While the onion gravy is boiling is also a good time to prepare any vegetables that you are going to serve with the toad in the hole. I used carrots and frozen peas and put them on to cook about 10 mins before the toad was ready to come out of the oven.
Back at the onion gravy; once the stock and onion mixture has boiled for 5 mins, blend it together. You don't have to do this but my family are not fans of gravy with bits in, unless those bits are pancetta, so I do.
Once it's blended (or if you're not blending it) add the flour and water mixture bit by bit to the gravy, allowing it time to thicken before adding the next splash, until you reach the thickness you desire. I would also advise shaking/stirring up the flour and water mix before pouring it in so that you don't get lumps in the gravy.
All you have to do then is season the gravy and leave it to simmer until the toad in the hole is ready to come out of the oven.
After the toad in the hole has been in the oven for about 25 mins, remove and serve immediately with the vegetables.
Toad in hole with onion gravy is an excellent budget meal as it uses a lot of store cupboard ingredients such as flour, milk and onions. The only things that you might be purchasing are sausages, eggs and any vegetables that wish to serve with it.
It is also a very easy meal and takes very little time to put together for a weeknight dinner. Plus it's delicious! I do hope you give it a try.
The 3rd of December was my birthday, almost this blog's birthday (it was the 5th December) and it was the Christmas version on the Irish Foodies Cookalong.
As I was not entirely in the mood for cooking, having eaten a really excellent lunch in One Pico and lots of birthday cake, I decided to make the traditional starter for a Danish Christmas dinner, Risengrød or Rice Porridge.
In Denmark they have their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve and traditionally they would serve Risengrød as the starter. This rice porridge would fill you up so that when the meat was served, you wouldn't mind if you didn't receive much as you were all ready quite full. This would've been back when meat was very expensive and for most families it would be a treat on feast days like Christmas.
Nowadays many Danish families have exchanged having Risengrød at the start of the meal for a dish called Risalamande, a cold, sweet, creamed rice dish, as a dessert. However, in my family we still eat the hot Risengrød as a starter.
Risengrød is also nice to eat for breakfast or as a comfort dish on cold, wintery days.
The best thing about this recipe is that there is only 2 ingredients! It does take a while to cook but the resulting porridge is a wonderful, comforting dish.
First measure out the milk and rice. Put the milk into a pot and bring to the boil.
Add the rice to the boiling milk and stir until the milk returns to the boil.
Turn off the heat and let the rice and milk stand for 20 mins so that the rice can absorb some of the milk.
After the 20 mins, bring the milk and rice back up to the boil, stirring continuously. Once the milk has boiled, reduce to a simmer.
The rice should take about ¾ of an hour to cook through. You should frequently stir the rice while it is cooking to prevent it burning to the bottom of the saucepan.
The rice is ready when it looks soft and creamy and is soft to bite into, not unlike normal porridge. If it seems a little dry or stiff at this point, add some more milk until the texture has improved.
What makes risengrød different from an Irish rice pudding is what you eat it with. Danish rice porridge is traditionally eaten with a large knob of butter, sugar and cinnamon.
The Danes also serve it with Nisseøl, a light, malty, sweet beer (very light, you can give it to children). It is poured over the rice, personally I don't like it on the porridge, but I do like it to drink on the side.
The most important thing about risengrød, is to leave a bowl out for the nisse, a little elf who lives in your house and looks after you and your family during the year. The bowl of risengrød ensures that your home's nisse will continue to look after you in the coming year. The nisse in turn will hide an almond in somebody's risengrød and the one who finds it receives a gift. Funnily enough, it's often the youngest member of the family who finds the almond.
Do let me know if you give risengrød a go and what you think of it. Don't forget to leave some for your nisse!
Another long gap since my last post I'm afraid. This time it was down to hectic work followed by a dose of the flu. Not the best way to spend Christmas!
But I thought as we've had so much cold weather in the last month and as it looks like we are due to have more in the next week that I would dig out the photographs that I took in September when on my holidays in Portugal.
They were all taken at the market in the town of Loulé, which is located on the Algarve not too far from the main city of Faro.
The Loulé Market it open on Saturdays and is thronged with locals and tourists in the summer. It is yet another market that I would like to have access to all year round, especially because of the fish counters, they are amazingly varied.
As well as fresh fish there is also the salted fish which is very popular with the locals. The most common variety of the dried, salted fish is cod.
There is also stands that are piled high with fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The local honey, which is something of a speciality, can also be found in large amounts.
There are also the usual cheese and meat stalls. These are the ones I spend the longest drooling over, trying to work out just how many salamis and cheese rounds I can fit into my suitcase going home. There are also butcher shops that sell raw meat. These are located in shop spaces built into the walls of the market building, along with cafés and shops selling tourist items such as teatowels and painted plates.
And finally there are stalls with baskets full of dried fruits, nuts and spices.
If you're in the area, I highly recommend giving this market a visit, especially if you're staying in self catering accommodation, as you'll be inspired to cook everything!