Going back to basics

CLOSE to a hundred people crammed into our local village hall recently for the inaugural meeting of GIY (Grow It Yourself) Shanagarry, east Cork.

The organisers had hoped for 25, maybe 30 people, but by 8pm the original meeting room was bulging at the seams. We had to decamp down the stairs to the badminton hall. It was just about large enough to fit the throng of people eager to hear more about the new initiative that is engaging people from Dingle to Drogheda to Dublin.

A few positive things have emerged from this recession. Many of us have come to realise just how vulnerable we have become and how little control we have over our lives. Suddenly we appreciate the value of a degree of self sufficiency, how lovely it is to sit down to a plate of food where even one or two items come from your own garden or back yard.

Suddenly, there is an unprecedented interest in producing your own food – preferably organic or at least chemical free – not only in back gardens but also allotments and community gardens. So no surprise to learn that in this new era vegetable seeds are outselling flower seeds for the third year in a row.

Unfortunately just when we badly need the know-how there is a deficit of practical expertise.

As individuals and a society we have to a great extent lost the knowledge and skills that any of our grandfathers and great grandfathers would have taken for granted. Yet there is a deep craving to learn once more.

GIY Ireland was founded almost by accident by Michael Kelly, a well-known author and journalist. Michael and his wife Eilish wanted to raise their family in the country so they moved to Dunmore East from Dublin five years ago. They bought a cottage on an acre of land and began to settle in. They had a vague notion that it would be nice to grow a few veggies, maybe keep a few chickens and in time maybe get a pig. They had bundles of enthusiasm but not a notion of how to go about starting.

They scarcely knew what a digging fork looked like, not to speak of how to sow a seed. But where could you find out? Michael thought that there must be an organisation like the ICA (Irish Country Women’s Association) or the Flower Club who could help, but their emphasis was different. Neither was the IFA interested in sowing a handful of spuds or a row of broad beans. Eventually Michael linked up with a couple of others who were desperately seeking out all of that.

Out of the experience was born an organisation that is sweeping across Ireland called Grow It Yourself. In less than a year almost 50 groups have started around the country. It’s very simple, a not-for-profit organisation. GIY membership and meetings are free and open to all amateur growers from all walks of life – urban and rural – young and old, novice and expert, back garden or allotment.

The first National GIY week will be from Saturday, February 20 to Saturday, February 27, 2010. For details of events around the country check www.giyireland.com

Shin of Beef and Oxtail Stew

Another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs capitalising on their customers’ nostalgic craving for Granny’s cooking. Oxtail, or the tail of a beef animal, makes an extraordinarily rich and flavoursome winter soup or stew. If you prefer, you can cover and cook this very gently on top of the stove rather than in an oven.

Serves 8

175g (6oz) streaky bacon

2 oxtails, about 450–600g (1–1¼ lb) each, cut into segments

450g (1lb) stewing beef

25g (1oz) beef dripping or 2 tablespoons olive oil

225g (8oz) onions, finely chopped

225g (8oz) carrots cut into 2cm (¾ in) cubes

50g (2oz) celery, chopped

150ml (¼ pint) red wine and 425ml (¾ pint) beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks

1 tbsp concentrated tomato purée

Salt and freshly ground pepper

175g (6oz) mushrooms, sliced

25g (1oz) butter

10g (½ oz) roux

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3.

Cut the bacon into 2.5cm (1in) cubes, cut the oxtail into joints and cut the beef into 4cm (1½in cubes). Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1–2 minutes. Then add the onions, carrots and celery and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Transfer the bacon and vegetables into a casserole. Now add the beef and oxtail pieces to the frying pan, a few at a time and continue to cook. When the meat begins to brown, add it to the casserole. Then add the wine and 150ml (¼ pint) of the beef stock to the frying pan. Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the pan. Add to the casserole with the herbs, the rest of the stock and the tomato purée. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook very gently for 3–4 hours, or until the oxtail is falling off the bones and the vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2–3 minutes and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Strain the liquid from the meat and vegetables, and keep them warm in a hot serving dish while you thicken the broth. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.

Bring the cooking liquid back to the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and vegetables. Add the chopped parsley and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ or colcannon.

Spiced Lentil and Carrot Soup

This soup is really fast to make and has lots of flavour – perfect for a winter lunch or supper.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

¼-½ tsp chilli flakes

600g (1lb 5oz) carrots peeled and grated

140g (5oz) red lentils

1.35 litres (2¼ pints) chicken or vegetable stock

125 ml (4 fl oz) milk

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: 4 tablespoons approximately natural yoghurt Fresh coriander leaves Extra virgin olive oil Pitta bread

Heat the oil in a stainless steel saucepan over a medium heat and add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes. Stir for a minute or so, add the grated carrot, lentils, stock and milk. Bring to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then simmer for about 15 minutes or until the carrots and lentils are completely soft. Purée in a liquidiser until smooth, add a little more stock if it’s too thick. Taste and correct the seasoning.

Serve in hot bowls with a dollop of natural yoghurt, some fresh coriander leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top. Pitta bread makes a good accompaniment.

Beetroot and Walnut Cake

Serves 10

3 free-range organic eggs

150ml (5 fl oz) sunflower oil

50g (2oz) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) white or spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

100g (4oz) beetroot, grated

60g (2¼ oz) sultanas

60g (2¼ oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped

Icing: 175g (6oz) icing sugar

3-4 tablespoons water to bind

To decorate: Deep-fried beetroot (see below) Pumpkin seeds

1 loaf tin 13 x 20cm (5 x 8inch)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line a loaf tin with a butter paper or baking parchment.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and sugar until smooth. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add a pinch of salt and gently mix into the egg mixture.

Stir in the grated beetroot, sultanas and walnuts. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Next make the icing. Sieve the icing sugar, beat in the water gradually to a stiff consistency.

Spread evenly over the cake, allow to drizzle down the sides, leave for 5 minutes and scatter with deep-fried beetroot (see below) and pumpkin seeds.

To deep-fry beetroot: Peel the outer skin off the beetroot.

Using a peeler, slice thin rings of the beetroot.

Allow to dry on kitchen paper for 20 minutes. Deep-fry until crispy.

Ottolenghi’s Carrot and Walnut Cake

We used two 8 inch cake tins and then sandwiched the two cakes with the icing as well as the top – it was light and delicious.

Serves 6-8

160g (5½oz) plain flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon clove

1 organic egg yolk

1 large organic egg

200ml (7fl oz) sunflower oil

275g (10oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) chopped walnuts

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

135g (4½oz) roughly grated carrot

2 organic egg whites

Pinch of salt

Icing: 175g (6oz) cream cheese

75g (3oz) unsalted butter

35g (1¼oz) icing sugar

25g (1oz) honey

25g (1oz) chopped and lightly toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 3½.

Grease two 20cm (8 inch) loose-base cake tins and cover the bottom and sides with greaseproof paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

Lightly whisk together the one yolk with the one whole egg. Set the whites aside.

In a mixer bowl with the beater attachment beat together the oil and sugar for about a minute. On a low speed slowly add the yolk and egg mix. Add the nuts and carrot and then the sifted dry ingredients. Don’t over-mix. Remove from the mixer bowl into another large bowl.

Make sure the mixer bowl is totally clean before pouring in the eggs whites with a pinch of salt and whisking on high speed until firm peaks form.

Gently fold the egg whites into the carrot mix in three additions. Do not over-mix. Streaks of whites in the mix are fine.

Pour the cake mix into the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 to 45 minutes. It could take longer. A skewer would come out totally dry when inserted in the middle of the cake. If the cake starts going dark while the centre is not cooked cover with foil.

Once ready, let the cake cool down totally and remove from the tin.

To make the icing, bring the cheese to room temperature and beat in a mixer until light and smooth.

Remove from mixer. Beat the butter, icing sugar and honey in the mixer until light and airy. Fold together the cheese and butter mixes. Spread waves of icing on top of the cake and sprinkle with nuts.


Refrigerator Cookies

Makes 50 approximately

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

1 organic egg

1 tbsp double cream

300g (10oz) plain flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

Pure vanilla extract (or lemon juice or ground ginger)

Extra sugar

Cream the butter and caster sugar in a bowl, then add the beaten egg, cream, flour, salt, baking powder and vanilla extract. Shape the dough into a long roll or rolls, about 5cm (2 inches or smaller) in diameter, and wrap in silicone paper or foil. Chill in the refrigerator until the next day.

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Cut the dough into thin rounds. Arrange well apart on one baking tray. Sprinkle them with sugar and cook for about 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven; they should remain pale in colour.

Transfer to a wire rack. There is no need to bake the dough all at once. Cut off what you need and put it back in the refrigerator until you fancy another biscuit.

If you would like different flavours, divide the dough into three, and flavour each mixture differently.


SPLIT the contents of your different vegetable and herb seed packets with friends.


- CORK Free Choice Consumer Group presents Middle-Eastern Vegetarian Foods. Ann Crowley and contributors from Morocco and Egypt will discuss the culture of vegetarianism in their countries and describe their favourite traditional recipes at the Crawford Art Gallery Café on Thursday, February 25, at 7.30pm. The €6 entrance fee includes tea or coffee, recipes and tastings.

- John and Sally McKenna – publishers of The Bridgestone Guides – are teaching a one-day food writing Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday, February 27.

Whether your ambition is simply to write a blog or to write your masterpiece, then knowing the work of great writers is one of the keys to understanding the artfulness and greatness that lies in writing about food.

The course is also extremely practical. Sally McKenna will discuss how to create everything from the simplest blog to the mechanism behind lighting food for photography, or mastering page layout for your own book.

To book phone 021-4646785 or see www.cookingisfun.ie


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