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26 February 2009

The News...

Mahon Point
Cork's splendiferous Mahon Point Market has a new contact number: 086 1685312 and the email address is
Food lovers should check out the gorgeous site created by Lydia Hugh-Jones for the market:

Wales and GM
Wales has a bit of a lumbering reputation hen it comes to food, but maybe that is changing with the announcement yesterday by their Agriculture Minister, Elin Jones. Read this carefully: it is of major importance in the ongoing GM process:

“Following our public consultation on the environmental liability directive last year, the proposals that we have made in relation to the GM aspects of the directive will shortly be put into effect through domestic legislation. This will give added protection to our environment in Wales by making the growers and biotechnology companies, namely the permit holders, responsible for any unforeseeable damage to the environment that a GM crop might cause.

The intention is for co-existence to be tightly regulated in Wales. Our proposed measures will be more restrictive than those proposed in England and Northern Ireland. I would like to take a few moments to outline some of the key features of our co-existence proposals.

On seed thresholds, we will seek views on whether the present 0.1 per cent default seed threshold should be retained, as in many EU member states, where separation distances have been established on that basis.

On liability, we will include options for imposing strict liability on GM crop growers and introducing a voluntary industry-funded compensation scheme. Consideration may also be given to an option for a statutory redress mechanism.

On GM-free zones, we will seek views on the desirability of a statutory prohibition on GM crop cultivation in all statutory conservation areas. On a GM crop register, we will propose a statutory national register with public access. To grow GM crops will require registration with the Welsh Assembly Government three months prior to planting. In addition to the implicit need for consultation with neighbours, in order to ensure compliance with separation distances, it is also proposed that there will be a statutory requirement to inform people living in the vicinity and neighbouring landowners. It is proposed that record keeping should be a statutory requirement for GM producers, as will training for all on-farm handlers who have any intent to grow GM crops.

The field measures that I will be proposing are based on our average arable field size in Wales of fewer than 3 ha. I will also propose significant isolation distances between GM and non-GM crops and buffer zones, incorporating pollen barriers or traps. I am conscious that a growing world population, climate change and increasing food costs have given rise to concerns regarding future food security. The debate on the potential role that GM crops have to play in meeting food security has increased. I do not believe that there is any clear evidence that GM crops do have a role to play”

Strict liability, and an industry-funded compensation scheme. Can you see the GM industry rushing to fund such a scheme?... Ms Jones is our new heroine round about here..

Slow Food Meat
Slow Food Heritage Series has announced an inspiring series of discussion with those meat masters of Bandon, Martin Carey and Dan Moloney...

Discover more about the meat that you eat, how to identify different cuts of meat, know which cuts to use for which type of cooking, how to find and recognise the best quality and value meat.
Join us for four evening Master Classes all about meat.
Slow Food West Cork Convivium, Urru Culinary Store, Dan Maloney Meat Centre and Martin Carey Butchers all of Bandon have joined together to provide a unique opportunity to give a masterclass by meat and culinary experts.
The evening will start in Urru, Bandon and move around to the butchers for butchering demonstrations, instruction on identifying cuts, characteristics, matching cuts to cooking methods and budgeting.
We then move back to Urru for refreshments and discussion on meat issues, traceability, food chain, organic, free range, freezing and recipes. Refreshments, Recipes and Special Offers are included.
Practicalities: Tuesdays 3rd March, 10th March, 24th March and 31st March
7.30pm – 9pm. Maximum 25 people. €25 per night (€20 Slow Food Members) or €80 for all four Master Classes.
Reserve your place by registering and paying in Urru, Bandon
Tel: 023 8854731 or email to
West Cork Slow Food Convivium
Co. Cork
Web Site:

Lavistown, Kilkenny
The Food Anniversaries are coming thick and fast these days. Lavistown House celebrates thirty years of its courses this year, so congrats to Olivia and Roger, and smart folk should get their hands on a brochure or take a look at the site for details of this years courses, which range from vegetable cookery to nature photography and butterflies and moths.

Ballyvolane, Cork
Justin and Jenny Green have some delightful yoga and meditation courses planned for April, with Marianne Gabriel and Charlie Stevens. Check out the website, or contact them on t : +353 25 36349 f: +353 25 36781 e :
w: That could be you lounging in the bath above...

19 February 2009

Marino Monterisi's new menus at Bates Restaurant.

Marino Monterisi's wonderful Bates Restaurant, in Rathdrum, County Wicklow, which features in the Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants 2009, has just launched new menus.
Here is the dinner menu, a model of how to source artisan foods and how to write a menu simply.
Saffron risotto with pork cheeks! Homemade tagliolini with Gubbeen pancetta! Bunclody veal with anchovies and capers!
We are drooling down here in West Cork, and no mistake...

Bates Restaurant, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow Tel: 0404 29988

Dinner Menu


Connemara and Gubbeen Artisan Air dry meats:
James McGeough’s Beef, Hilda Crampton organic leaves & St. Tola €10.50
James McGeough’s cured Ham & mature Gubbeen cheese €10.50
James McGeough’s Lamb salad & Janet Drew fig & apricot chutney €10.50
James McGeough’s & Fingal Ferguson antipasto: Pork, beef, salamis, olives & pickles €12.50

Poached pear, Wicklow blue, hazelnut dressing €7.50
Home made chicken liver parfait, beetroot relish & hot toast €8.00
Sauté Oyster and Shitake mushrooms, garlic, parsley & bruschetta €8.00
Gubbeen fresh Italian sausages, cannellini beans, organic chilli oil €8.00
Glazed St. Tola goat’s cheese, grilled leeks, courgette, peppers & balsamic €8.50
Kiltrea Organic smoked salmon, caper berries, baby leaves & lemon €10.00

First Courses

Castleruddery Farm organic chunky vegetable soup, basil pesto €4.50
Roast butternut squash soup, Wicklow Baun & walnuts €5.00
Home made Tagliolini, Gubbeen pancetta, egg, Parmesan & black pepper €8.00
Home made, potato gnocchi with Wicklow Venison ragout €8.50
Wexford Beef ravioli, braised oxtail & gremolata €9.00
Carnaroli Risotto, Kiltrea smoked haddock, Gubbeen chorizo €9.00
Saffron Risotto, slow cooked pork cheeks, truffle oil €9.00

Fish dishes change daily please see specials

Second Courses

Monaghan free range chicken breast, shitake and oyster mushrooms & jus €16.50
Braised Wexford lamb shank, winter vegetables, mash & braising sauce €17.50
Breaded Bunclody Rose’ Veal escalope, fried egg, anchovies, capers & veal jus €19.00
Slow cooked Tipperary pork belly, butternut squash puree & spinach €19.00
Monaghan duck: crispy leg, seared breast, lentils & Irish pancetta, port sauce €19.50
Peppered Wicklow Venison loin, red cabbage, potato gratin, red wine sauce €22.00

Char-grilled - Wexford Beef –Bates fries and sauce of your choice

10 oz Rib Eye €21.00
8 oz Fillet €24.50

Sauces: Wicklow blue, green peppercorns and brandy
Red wine and shallots, mushrooms, Béarnaise

Fish dishes change daily please see specials


Mixed organic leaves €2.50
Bates fries €2.50
Mash €2.50
Gratin potatoes €3.00
Sauté mushrooms €3.00
Crispy courgettes €3.00
Buttered spinach €4.00

Service charge not included
Children menu available

The People The Country Needs: Simon Tyrrell

We had the pleasure of attending a dinner recently where Simon Tyrrell presented some of his wines from the Rhone Valley.
The wines were a pair from Michel and Stephanie Ogier – the white Viognier La Rosine 2007 and the red Syrah L'Ame Soeur 2006. A second white was the St Joseph Blanc 2007 from Domaine de Monteillet, another red, the Cotes du Rhone Domaine les Aphillanthes 2003, and then a Rasteau vin doux naturel, from Domaine Gourt de Mautens 2004.
The wines were, predictably, superb, and it was only a question of nominating a favourite from amongst them: the delicacy of the St Joseph, the power and finesse of the sweet Rasteau, the amazing Cotes du Rhone.
But of equal pleasure as the wines were Mr Tyrrell's explanations and descriptions of who made them, and where they made them. In vivid, modest language he hopped and jumped across the Rhone Valley from north to south, elucidating terroir, explaining intentions and vinification techniques, painting verbal pictures of people and places.
It was, in the truest sense, a masterclass, but it was a masterclass without didacticism, with unbelieveable learning worn so, so lightly. The wines were amazing, but so was the story of each wine as explained by Mr Tyrrell.
So, how do you get your hands on these magnificent wines. You simply go to, and can we suggest you start with something modest in order to see the sort of artistic winemaking that interests Mr Tyrrell. On the list you will find, at €14.50, a simple Vin de Table, Les Amis de la Bouissiere, made by Gilles and Thierry Faravel.
I know; you don't drink vin de table wines. And that's why you should try the Les Amis, for it is a vin de table such as you won't believe. Finding wines such as these show Mr Tyrrell's brilliance.
And brilliance, and great wines to enjoy, are just what the country needs right now.

The China Sichuan Restaurant

Stillorgan's benchmark China Sichuan Restaurant relocated last year, and opened just a little late for our Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants 2009 Guides. But, as Caroline Byrne reports, Kevin Hui's restaurant is already rockin':

Anyone living in the Stillorgan/Kilmakud area of Dublin will be aware of and possibly a fan of China Sichuan. As the name implies it specialises entirely in dishes from that region and is believed by some to be the best Chinese restaurant in Ireland - certainly the view of its extremely loyal local following, whose constant presence made it very difficult to get a table without booking.

Working in the barren landscape that is South County Business Park, my colleague and I were fond of taking the odd long lunch at the Stillorgan restaurant, where very traditional surrounds, efficient service, nice good value food (think cod in yellow bean sauce and the occasional spring roll) and the odd sneaky glass of wine, did just the trick of a Wednesday afternoon.

So, hearing that Kevin Hui had moved his popular little traditional restaurant into the Sandyford Industrial Estate, we were anxious to see if this was a great stroke of luck or a big disappointment for these two local fans. We booked a lunchtime table (which was probably sensible given how busy it was) and settled in for the 1 o'clock sitting.

The new digs are a good bit larger than the old restaurant and are kitted out in a very modern Beacon Quarter-esque style. Service is very quick and friendly, coats are taken at the door and the dining room is of the white tablecloth variety. In spite of this formality, the two-course set lunch was a staggeringly reasonable €16 the day we dined there. The a la carte has changed somewhat, in the spirit of modernising and progress, according to Kevin. But it's a huge selection with nearly 20 appetisers alone, so plenty to choose from.

Sichuan cooking uses plenty of strong contrasting flavours: lots of salt and vinegar, soy and other local condiments, plenty of garlic, and the menu does its best to show you as much as possible of the cuisine. They do a good spring roll, if that’s what floats your boat, but more adventurous palates might be tempted by the likes of “Ma Lah”, cold spicy cucumber slices marinated in soy, vinegar and chilli, and served with scallions and lettuce. This dish came as a generous portion but it’s very light and piquant, and nicely whets the taste buds before the main course.

We stuck to the set lunch where there was plenty of good stuff to choose from. The Aubergine and Tofu Stir Fry in Hot Ginger and Garlic Sauce was delicious, so much so that my companion decided this was her new favourite. I went for the fish special of the day, Monk Fish in Black Bean Sauce with Spring Onion, which was well-cooked but not too tough, tasty and very light, and a perfect portion for me but a hungrier person may feel a little underfed. Fried or steamed rice came with both meals – at €16 this is stunning value for what you get, and definitely makes and argument for China Sichuan being our best Chinese restaurant.

While the quality and value on the set lunch menu is undeniable, you can pay up €60 a head for dinner here, working off the a la carte and choosing decent wine. Dishes like King Prawns in Crispy Salted Duck Egg Yolk, Sweet and Sour Fish, Fried Fillet of Sole in Yellow Bean Sauce, and the popular Sichuan Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, make for opulent feasting. Once again though, I don’t think you’d feel you weren’t getting value for your money, and the service, ambience and overall experience of the restaurant tick the boxes too.

I’ve been to Dublin’s own ‘China Town’ recently, aka Parnell Street, and enjoyed a fairly good ‘Chinese’ for under €20. However, I got what I paid for. I challenge any of those restaurants to produce the quality and elegance of China Sichuan for the same good value. This is an excellent restaurant, please please let it survive!

China Sichuan
The Forum
Ballymoss Road
Dublin 18

T: 01 2935100

Accepts credit cards
Sunday - Friday: 12pm-10pm
Saturday: 6pm-10pm (Booking necessary for weekends/Thursday evenings)

The News from Cobh

A note from Caroline of the Belvelly Smokehouse in Cobh, about all their goings on...

“I'm making Mrs Hederman's fish pies, chowders, and fishcakes for the markets and we intend to make those more available in the shop. From time to time I do smoked fish pasties with roasted root veg and smoked haddock - and filo parcels - with smoked salmon and goat's cheese - and in the summer there will be tarts.

I was doing a different pie every week - say spinach/tomato & egg/mushroom or I varied the top - champ/ garlicky/carrot and potato mash/parsley mash etc etc, but the demand is for the traditional onion, leek, celery, carrot and pea, not to mention a 50:50 mix of smoked haddock and salmon - but I do make stuff to order for the shop.

The fish cakes are champ based - the raws scallion works very well - with carrot, and I finish them in pinhead oatmeal. And I use a mix of the chilli hot smoked salmon and traditional smoked salmon for them. In the summer they'll be a bit fancier with garden - and allotment! - herbs.

We trade pies for Siobhan and David Barry's vegetables which are really delicious, we use Willie's spuds - also a trade – and they're all made fresh for market and they're all stuffed with fish - rather than the 4% you get in supermarket pies!

The shop has a range of savoury and sweet biscuits including of course the Ditty's smoked oatcakes. I also stock Suki teas - fab & from Belfast; very nice olive oil and pasta which I sourced from the very respectable deli in North Main Street (La Botteghina - great for salamis and slices of pizza, not bad wee resto next door). Jams and chutneys from Filligans, anything
else I make - we're building a new kitchen so I have more free rein, as I'm not allowed to use anything raw in my domestic kitchen.

Brenda - the Love Fish Brenda - supplies fresh haddock to Frank and we have become a drop off point for any one in Cobh wanting her delicious fish. The haddock is a huge hit, and even better sliced and eaten straight from the smoker on toast or with a poached egg. They catch it one day, its smoked the next and in the market the next, so you really can't get fresher!”.

The artisan life in all its brilliance...

17 February 2009

Some News...

ELY HQ has revamped its focus and its menus. This lovely space is now ely-hq gastro pub, and the all-day menu is hot to trot: ½ pound organic ely burger, served on a homemade bun with a choice of toppings - aioli, roast tomato & lambs lettuce, or smoked cheese, chorizo & chili relish. The bangers and mash, is served as colcannon, sweet onion chutney & mustard sauce.
Alongside the old classics they have introduced some comforting dishes for the times in which we need comfort – the ely-hq pot – potted crab, toasty baguette, watercress & capers; Quiche Lorraine with French salad; and moules frites with black olive tapenade crostini. Superb wines and cocktails also at super-keen prices

Bombay Pantry, meantime, has added to its €25 dinner for 2 offer – a steal for ethnic food of this quality – by introducing a family offer, where €39.50 will buy dinner for the McKennas –that's two adults and 3 children. There is also a One Pot Winter Warmer deal for just €8. Their 7 stores are in Fairview and Ashtown on the northside, and Bray, Glenageary, Clonskeagh, Rathmines and Rathfarnham on the southside.
More details from

The People the Country Needs: Janet Drew

Whoops! She did it again!

It is many years now since we declared that Janet Drew's Sweet Pepper Relish was one of the most indispensable kitchen and table accoutrements. Since then, everyone and his wife have gone out and made a sweet pepper relish, but Ms Drew's remains the benchmark.
One benchmark in a lifetime is good, but two seems pretty amazing. Nevertheless, everyone and his wife will soon be going out and making a brown sauce, for Ms Drew's “Really Good Brown Sauce” is another of those products that blows everything else out of the water.
You dunk a good sausage roll into a little puddle of this, or maybe a good pork sausage, and you have sauce nirvana. RGBS is unctuous, sour-sweet, and it manages to hit those culinary pleasure points with deadly accuracy.
“No E's, no additives, no stabilisers – simply the best of ingredients cooked in the traditional ketchupy method”, says Janet.
The ketchupy method! Now, that's what the country needs.

12 February 2009

The People the Country Needs

What with zombie banks, zombie hotels, and Brian and Brian doing the work of two men – those men being Laurel and Hardy – at the head of the Government, we are in a state of chassis.
So, it's time to bring you the people the country needs, starting with Siobhan Lawless, who runs the Foods of Athenry bakery with her husband, Paul.
What's been happening, Siobhan?

““We're still making Mom 'n' Pop apple tarts and crumbles. Our orchards got sown with the help of Irish Seedsavers 12 months ago. We chose native varieties of apple after extensive tart making/tasting tests – and a desire to preserve a little bit of Irish heritage... I did my preliminary beekeeping course in Gormanstown as trees need pollination and that was pretty amazing. Beekeepers are so generous of time and knowledge and I met some great people...
“Paper packaging got researched and bought... this paper is 100% compostable as it hasn't got a polyprop but a cellulose window...
We entered the Blas na hEireann awards in Dingle... tied with ourselves for second place in the Healthy Options category with our spelt soda bread and our sugar-free brack... The Christmas pudding won the Gold in the Desserts category, and it was the category with the most entries... sales for the pudding on the back of the win were very high, ergo December was hectic here. So, 2008 went out with a bang. Looking to the future with some new thoughts and ideas”.
Now, doesn't that the country seem a whole lot of a better place? Congratulations to Siobhan and Paul, and more power to our dynamic specialist bakeries.
More inspiring people in this little series each day...

11 February 2009

The Irish Independent Weekender

Restaurants and the Recession

For the last decade, it has seemed as if finding value for money, and eating out in restaurants, have been polar opposites.
Restaurant critics discussed meals that cost several hundred euro for a single dinner. Stories of bankers and hedge fund managers dropping several thousand euro on exotic, rare vintages of great wines in a single evening became the stuff of legend.
And then, suddenly, just like a cheap teen slasher movie when someone suddenly spots the bogey man outside the window and everyone is stunned into terrified silence, we have woken up.
Reality bites. And reality has bitten us. Hard.
And it’s not just the punters who have been shaken into a new sobriety, a new cost-consciousness. Ireland’s restaurateurs are quickly adapting to a new world where money is too tight to mention.
Derry Clarke of L’Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin, the leading city restaurateur of his generation, may have all the stars, gongs and awards that any restaurateur could garner. But in cutting his prices – you can get a superb lunch at L’Ecrivain for €25 – and in controlling the portion size of his prime cut offers, he has simply told his staff: “Do you want a restaurant with stars and no customers? Or do you want a restaurant with customers that isn’t concerned about the stars”.
Restaurateurs like Jay Bourke, who has been one of the pioneers of affordable eating out with his CafeBarDeli chain, is serving offcuts and bin-end bottles of wine in Shebeen Chic, his clamorous George’s Street restaurant. Rib of beef with stout costs just over 14 euro in Shebeen, whilst a true Dublin coddle of wild pig sausage and pork belly is just €15. Wines by the glass are a fiver.
Over in Fairview, at Kennedy’s Food Store, where they offer a dinner special with a glass of wine for a tenner, Sarah Kennedy has just opened a new, 35-seater upstairs bistro and bar to cope with the crowds.
Aside from the dinner special, prices at Kennedy’s start at €6 for starters, with main courses ranging between €11.50 and €16.50.
What is changing at breakneck speed is the way in which we conduct our relationships with restaurants. The champagne fizz is gone. The red carpet has been rolled up. We should have been aware that the love affair was too hot not to cool down.
And cool down it has.
The good news is that this new cool era is going to be very good for restaurant customers. €25 will now get you lunch at most of Dublin’s finest restaurants.
In Ranelagh’s Mint restaurant, where chef Dylan McGrath is cooking what many professionals regard as some of the finest cooking this country has ever seen, they offer an early tapas menu, with matching wines, for €55.
That’s like being able to buy a Faberge egg for a fiver. Or getting a Porsche for a hundred euro. Or picking up a Picasso for a couple of hundred euro.
And it’s not just cost-cutting and value-consciousness that is motivating restaurateurs.
In Dungarvan’s Tannery restaurant, chef-proprietor Paul Flynn has begun a large new vegetable garden and polytunnel, just around the corner from his restaurant and cookery school, right smack in the centre of the town.
“We will have all the veg we need for our restaurant, at least, and with any surplus we will be looking to do barter, and we will probably sell some surplus to our suppliers so they can sell them on to other restaurants”, says Mr Flynn. It’s an audacious plan, and it’s working. Mr Flynn’s new cookery school and his restaurant are hummingly busy. “The ‘phones are ringing, the bookings are coming in, we are optimistic”, he says.
Derry Clarke has also suggested that sharing staff, and sharing their huge purchasing power, can also help restaurants get through the recession.
It’s an idea that the new chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, has seized on for the RAI conference at the end of March. “Successful Strategies for 2009 – A crucial time to share ideas” is the theme that our restaurateurs will be exploring.
In the meantime, there is better value in the Irish restaurant world today than there has been at any time over the last decade. A little silver lining to that big cloud overhead.

10 Places with great value for money

Alexis, Dun Laoghaire
Some restaurateurs are ahead of the game, and Alan and Patrick O’Reilly have never been more ahead of the game than in Dun Laoghaire’s Alexis. Three courses for €20 may be the best bargain of 2009, but right throughout the menu Alexis offers what is possibly the best value for money eating in Ireland. Don’t miss their outstanding baked shoulder of lamb, and their skinny chips, at €3 a bowl, are the best and the best value fries in the land. (

The Mill, Dunfanghy, County Donegal
Donegal restaurants have always had the keenest value for money in Ireland, but the value-quality nexus at Derek Alcorn’s The Mill is outstanding. Dinner, at just over €40 for the finest bespoke cooking, would gladden any skinflinty heart, and the Greencastle lemon sole with anna potatoes is unbeatable. (

Ginger, Belfast, Co Antrim
Simon McCance offers a pre-theatre menu for just a tenner, but everything in this buzzing bistro is the best value in the northern capital. Braised and roasted belly of pork with apple sauce and soy jus hits the spot every time. (

One Pico, Dublin, Co Dublin
“The best value lunch in Dublin since L’Ecrivan had a £13.50 menu back in 1991” says Bridgestone editor and Evening Herald food writer Leslie Williams. €19.95 for a three-course lunch of this quality is incredible. Foie gras parfait with pear and vanilla purée and brioche is textbook perfect. (

L’Atmosphere, Waterford, Co Waterford
Arnaud Mary’s restaurant is a legend in Waterford for incredible value for money, and for pitch perfect cooking. Believe it ornot, but they offer foie gras with cocoa beans and duck jus for €12.50 Bring it on! (

Nautilus, Ballycotton, East Cork
There are no linens and nothing fancy in Leo Babin’s little restaurant, just ace food for little more than €30 at dinner. They use snow-white pollock in their fish and chips, and it makes for a dream dish. (087-613 5897)

Roadford House, Doolin, County Clare
Value for both the early bird and dinner menus in Frankie Sheedy’s restaurant are fantastic, and make sure to save space for his grandstand desserts. Chocolate truffle cake with white chocolate chip ice cream is one of our desserts of the year. (

The Ballymore Inn, Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare
Georgina O’Sullivan’s early-bird menus let you taste the work of one of the country’s smartest cooks at little more than €20 per head. Lamb pizza with yogurt and mint is pizza like you have never experienced it before. (

La Marine, Rosslare, County Wexford
Eugene Callaghan is one of the country’s best chefs, and to be able to eat food of this quality at little more than €30 for dinner is a steal. Mr Callaghan’s crispy duck confit is the finest example of this dish cooked by any chef in Ireland. (

The Fern House Café @Avoca, Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow
Avoca may well be Ireland’s leading luxury brand, and the weekend dinner opening at the Fern House, with Matt Murphy and Giorgio Ramano at the stoves, is putting out not just red-hot cooking, but terrific value for such care and accomplishment. Tempura of Arctic char with coconut, Asian chilli and lime dressing and dipping sauce, with herbed salad, gets dinner off to a roaring start. (

The Irish Times Healthplus

The Irish Times/Healthplus

Grains of Life

We begin today with a few simple questions. Simply tick the correct answer:

1. Amaranth is: a. An Inca God. b. A by-product of uranium mining.

2. You meet a Quinoa. Do You: a. Shake hands and use a formal greeting. b. Bow respectfully and proffer a gift.

3. Teff is: a. The most popular item ordered at the IKEA restaurant outside Belfast. b. A Baltimore slang term for a junior drug dealer.

4. You are offered a Millet by a friend. Do you: a. Decline, and say drugs have never been your thing. b. Coat it in butter and enjoy it with a nice cup of tea.

5. Buckwheat is: a. A popular American cowboy series of the 1960’s, currently being re-screened on UK TV Gold. b. The college nick-name of American Vice President Joe Biden.

The correct answer to the questions is: neither A nor B. Amaranth, quinoa, teff, millet and buckwheat may sound strange and arcane, but they are strange and arcane things that your diet and your table should be intimate with, for the sake of your good health.
All of these things are grains. Not as familiar to us as oats or corn or even barley, of course, but grains that have the potential to offer us great variety in our diet, as well as great pleasure.
If your kids like to eat rice, for instance, they will adore quinoa, and it’s a cinch to cook. If you are partial to a bowl of soba noodles in AYA or Wagamama, then you have already enjoyed buckwheat, for buckwheat flour makes soba noodles, as well as those delicious buckwheat pancakes you ate in a creperie while on holiday in France.
If you need a blast of B vitamins, then millet will out-do brown rice when it comes to giving you your B fix. Quinoa is a superfood, delivering big time on plant proteins, iron, potassium and magnesium.
Amaranth, says the great American food writer Deborah Madison, contains “more of the essential amino acids than almost any other plant food… and is a strong provider of calcium”.
Teff (or Tef) is, according to Raymond Sokolov’s splendid book “With The Grain”, “the heart of Ethiopian traditional cookery. Tef flour turns into the spongy, pleasantly sour pancake-like bread known as injera, which literally underlies every Ethiopian meal. To set an Ethiopian table, one lays down a circular injera on top of which the other food is arrayed, directly, without the intermediary of any plate”.
So, how come we are missing out on all this goodness, how come we aren’t mainlining all these grains that are so important to other cuisines and cultures?

Well, it’s simply because we are unfamiliar with these foods, but getting up close to them is easy. If you buy a copy of Gaby Weiland’s new “Neantog Cookbook”, for example, then you can get stuck into making sprouted quinoa granola for breakfast, spicy millet dish for dinner, as well as barley burgers, or basmati rice with quinoa and vegetables. Wholefood cookery teachers like Gaby Weiland have long known the health benefits of these grains, as well as their versatility and deliciousness.

And sourcing these grains is simple: you will find them in plain cellophane bags in any and every wholefood shop in the country, and then it is simply a matter of knowing the basic things about how to make the most of them.

Quinoa, for instance, must be rinsed before it is cooked. Millet should be toasted in a dry pan before being simmered in water. Stirring a beaten egg into buckwheat keeps the grains nice and fluffy. A good vegetarian cookery book, such as Deborah Madison’s magisterial “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” will give you all the guidance you need.

And then, suddenly, instead of spuds and rice as the staples of every meal, you have the culinary kaleidoscope of these marvellous grains, foods that deliver healthfulness as well as deliciousness. The last time I wrote about grains was a year go, when this column devoted itself to oats, specifically in the form of porridge. A couple of months later, in Nenagh, I got talking to a gentleman who had read the column, and started cooking the porridge recipes each morning. “My energy levels are up by at least 50%”, he said, looking the very picture of health. So, see what percentage increase you can achieve with your energy levels.

Wouldn’t surprise me if Joe Biden was once known as Buckwheat, mind you.

(Neantog Cookbook is available from Gaby Weiland for €22 (incl. p+p), e-mail: or online at or in the health stores Tir Na Nog and Key to Health in Sligo).

“Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” is published by Broadway Books”

06 February 2009

How Cool is This?

We had been planning to run story on Flahavan's, Waterford's oatmeal masters, to let you know that they have just launched two new products.
Organic quick oat sachets are the first, simple to use single sachets, and the second are organic portable porridge pots. (A little word, here, to keen campers; these portable pots are only brilliant when you are out camping: a hearty energy breakfast in seconds).
And then along comes a message to say that Flahavan's have teamed up with Garret Byrne, whose Kilkenny restaurant, Campagne, has been the hottest opening of the last year, to produce some oat-based recipes. And how cool they are: a mussel recipe; a breakfast recipe; a fish recipe (see below), an oatmeal crumble and oatmeal cookies, all wearing Mr Byrne's trademark of elegance and sharpness.
Check out the recipes on
(Above are Garret and Dolores)

Flahavan's Organic Oatmeal Crusted Organic Salmon with potato cakes and herb sauce

For the salmon
100gr/ 3.5 oz Flahavan’s Organic Porridge Oats
4 tbsp flour
2 egg whites
4 x 170 gr /6 oz Clare Island Organic salmon fillet

1. Dust the salmon with flour and remove excess, then dip in the egg white and finally in the Flahavan’s Organic Oatmeal.
Dust off any excess oatmeal while you prepare the potato cakes and sauce. Place in fridge

For the potato cake
300gr/10 oz cooked potato
30gr/ 1 oz parsley
10gr/ 0.5 oz tarragon
1 banana shallot*, peeled
Salt and pepper
• Banana shallots are the long bulb varieties of shallots.

1. Pick and wash the parsley and tarragon and chop finely.

2. Finely chop the shallot and to the potato with the herbs, season with salt and pepper and crush with a fork.
Place into metal ring moulds to shape and then place in fridge to firm up.

Herb Sauce
1 tsp capers
1 tsp gherkins
4 anchovies
1 banana shallot, sliced
1 tsp mustard
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
_ bunch tarragon
_ bunch basil
200ml/ 6 fl oz olive oil
Lemon juice to taste

1. Pick, wash and dry the herbs.

2. Place the capers, mustard, gherkins, shallot and mustard in the liquidizer. Turn on the machine and blitz for one minute.

3. Add the herbs and turn machine on again, slowly adding the oil. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt if required.

To serve
Fry the potato cakes in a little olive oil and clarified butter until golden brown on each side. Place in oven to keep warm.

Season the salmon with a little salt and cook in the same pan about 3 minutes each side until nicely coloured.

Place the potato cakes in the middle of each plate and put a piece of salmon next to it. Drizzle the herb sauce around the plate.

05 February 2009

Pasta in the Bag

Dear John,

A number of years ago, when you were still writing your column for the "Irish Times", you gave a recipe for a pasta dish which I greatly enjoyed but can't remember how to make.
As far as I recall, it involved part cooking the pasta and then finishing it by putting it in a turkey bag with a cream & garlic sauce and baking it so the pasta would absorb the sauce.
By any chance, would you be able to let me have the recipe, or remind me what the book was from which you sourced it?

Many thanks,
Fintan Swanton.

The recipe came from a book by one of America's most interesting food writers, John Thorne, called “Simple Cooking”, published by North Point Press.Mr Thorne writes:
“With the paper bag method, the pasta is cooked in the ordinary way until it is almost done, then mixed with the sauce and put in the oven to bake. Since the bag is collapsed around its contents and sealed, the flavour of the sauce completely penetrates the pasta.
There is also a second advantage. Because no moisture escapes, the cook has the opportunity to get a maximum amount of flavour from a minimum of undiluted sauce...”

The technique is simple. Have an ovenproof paper bag ready. Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Cook the pasta for 3 minutes less than the recommended time. Drain but don't shake dry. Pour the pasta into the bag, pour the sauce over, and close the bag tightly. Place the bag in a protective pot – just in case! –and bake in the oven, generally for somewhere around 15 minutes to let the pasta and sauce get to know each other.
John Thorne uses the technique with 3 sauces: spaghetti with chanterelles in mushroom-scented olive oil; spaghettini with snails in butter and wine, and – best of all – spaghetti with a creamy garlic sauce: 12 cloves garlic cooked in 6 tabs olive oil for an hour on low heat, then blended and mixed with the cream, then seasoned. Pour this sauce over the spaghetti, along with a little of the pasta cooking water, seal the bag and bake for 15 minutes. Pass the Parmesan at the table. This is unutterably delicious.

02 February 2009

The Bridgestone 100 Best Guides 2009

The new Bridgestone 100 Best Books for 2009 – the 100 Best Restaurants and The 100 Best Places to Stay – are in the shops and almost out of our lives and on their way to – hopefully – connecting nice curious people to nice, satisfying places to eat and stay throughout the country. Lots of ace new places to eat and stay, lots of lovely new creative people discovered. Aidan Crawley of The Irish Times quickly and unobtrusively took this lovely shot, above, when we launched the books in Dublin's peerless L'Ecrivain restaurant.

A friend asked us to reflect a little on what might be coming next, to ask what the smart guys who are ahead of the pack are up to. Here is what we suggested...

Food miles is an issue already being addressed by the smart guys, whether it is Ross Lewis and Derry Clarke buying all their vegetables from Wicklow growers and fish from east Coast fishermen, or Carmel Somers at Good Things Café down here who sources within probably a two or three mile radius.

But the smart guys are taking it even further: consider Paul Flynn of The Tannery with a garden in the centre of a town! or Martin Kajuiters of The Cliff House in Ardmore who gardens to produce his own flowers, and has a Camphill community delivering to his spec. Ruari and Marie-Therese de Blacam who are planting their own veg garden on Inis Meain. Catherine Fulvio in Wicklow doing the same.

Of course, the country houses got there first, but these are radical steps, and one I fancy will be much copied, as they should be. The county houses are taking it a stage further also: Rathmullan House has its gardener blogging on their website, and where they are also growers, then places like Longueville House go one further, becoming farmers market sellers as well as restaurateurs.

In fact, this multiplicity of activity thing is one of the key drivers now: Aroma in Donegal retail their breads through a dozen different outlets in the county, and sell their dressings, relishes and so on, selling them to people like Mary McAleese. Paul Flynn has gone from restaurant to restaurant with rooms, to restaurants with rooms and cookery school with garden and polytunnel. Good Things is almost more of a cookery schoo and shop (books, saucepans, food to go) than a restaurant, and brilliant at everything.

So, in the near future, expect to read on the menu the miles the food that you are eating has travelled. Expect to be able to see the kitchen garden from your seat. Expect restaurants that are also schools, shops, market gardens, farmers' markets sites, whatever. And expect to see lots of optimism, for optimism is what drives hospitality and cooking. It is, even in the best of times, a crazy thing to open a restaurant, B&B or hotel. But crazy, brilliant people do it all the times, so the recession can go hang!

The 2009 Bridgestone 100 Best Guides cost €12 each. You can order them through this site, or find them in all good bookshops