Fresh ideas for menu planning

IT wasn’t a particularly unusual order, or so celebrity chef Catherine Fulvio thought. She stopped off at her local shop one January evening to buy some fresh veg for a mid-week family stirfry, but was assailed by a tinfoil egg mountain.

Fresh ideas for menu planning

“I thought maybe that I had imagined it — dark ones, milk ones, white ones, kids’ eggs, eggs in cups, eggs, eggs everywhere, but very few fresh vegetables,” Catherine says.

She took a picture to prove she wasn’t hallucinating and posted the evidence on Facebook to put her experience to the social media test. It created a virtual storm. Her comment — “NO, no, no, it’s way too early for Easter” — was viewed over 2,000 times and there was a raft of supporting comments.

Easter is still a month away but you’ll find serried ranks of chocolate eggs in most shops. Apart from ruining the season, the premature arrival of Easter has pushed ‘real’ food out of the way.

Fulvio says she has nothing at all against chocolate eggs yet found it shocking that she couldn’t buy chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, or scallions on that particular evening. The only thing left in the veg section were potatoes and carrots.

“I know that shopkeepers have a business to run but I sometimes wonder if they underestimate the needs of their customers,” she tells Feelgood.

And those customers want to cook nutritious food at home. That’s what the TV chef and cookery tutor has found since she converted the milking parlour of her family home at Ballyknocken House in Wicklow into a cookery school 11 years ago.

Visitors are interested in Fulvio’s Italian expertise but also in improving their home-cooking skills. The most popular courses are 7 Nights, 7 Meals — 1 Plan, which takes the stress out of menu planning; and Fabulous Mains and Desserts, which will help you wow dinner-party guests.

On a Saturday morning in February, 26 of us are rolling up our sleeves to attempt a week’s worth of recipes on the 7 Nights, 7 Meals — 1 Plan course.

Catherine and chefs Pat Lalor and Daniel Koenig are on hand but, make no mistake about it, we are the ones doing the work. Soon we’re weeping over monster onions and Catherine tells us to moisten our lips — that apparently attracts the sulphuric compounds to your lips instead of your eyes. It appears to work.

The next three hours go by in a fascinating and highly entertaining blur.

We’re chopping, spicing, frying, stirring, whisking, mixing, and by lunchtime there’s an impressive array of dishes to sample — chicken korma, oven-baked chorizo and red-pepper risotto, and apple and mango crumble to mention but a tantalising few.

When we go to turn out the courgette frittata, it’s stuck to the pan. The chef takes over. He can’t get it out either. A ripple of delight runs through the room — these things happen to the best of chefs too. After some rigorous coaxing, it plops out onto a plate more or less intact.

We tuck in. These are definitely recipes to try at home. Just don’t try to buy the ingredients in the local shop.

The key to good cooking is to learn how to add layers of flavour, says Fulvio.

“The devil is in the detail,” she says, advising aspiring chefs to master the key techniques of cooking so that you can build flavour in each dish.

Take steak with onion gravy, for example: “Make sure to cook the onions slowly, ensuring that they are wilted down over a low heat to unlock layers of sweetness. By doing that, you can turn something very ordinary into something extraordinary.”

She also advises people to be brave and not to shy away from high heat when panfrying.

Put in your piece of chicken, fish, or meat at a high heat and allow the caramelising process to happen.

“That will give you a natural sweetness that you just can’t buy.”

Try to be adventurous, too, and pair ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think to put together. Peach and basil crumble, anyone? The herb works really well with peaches or nectarines and will add something really special to your crumble. Here are some other delectable duos: Plum with rosemary; rhubarb and strawberry; lemon and apricot.

APPY COOKING

Restaurants will be obliged to put calories on menus from next year but you can start doing it straight away with a new app, Cook&Count.

The app not only calculates calories but tells you the fat, carbohydrate and protein content in food.

British health psychologist Deborah Wilder came up with the idea to help her son manage his type 1 diabetes.

“It was tough trying to keep my son safe and healthy through accurate carbohydrate counting and insulin calculations. I’ve developed Cook&Count so that people with type 1 diabetes no longer need to guess the carbs,” she says.

The app costs £3.99.

KINDRED SPIRITS

If you’re looking for some inspiration to give your menu a health kick, check out the online chronicles of two Dublin sisters Theodora Coptil and Alexandra Coptil Casadi.

They launched a blog to showcase their passion for fashion, and health food.

“Food is such a big part of our lives, not just eating it but also making it,” they told Feelgood.

“And because we love good food, we create healthy alternatives to the food we already love. For the past year, we have been on our own health and fitness journey, losing weight and getting fit.”

Log on to blog at http://teddyandalex.com

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