What exactly are we eating?

what-are-you-eating

Ever wondered how much chicken is actually in your chicken fillet roll? Should you be eating ‘heart healthy spreads’ or stick to good old butter? How ‘green’ is your green juice?

These are just a few questions looked at in series 1 of RTEs factual food show What Are You Eating? . I work as the Food Producer, alongside a cracking production and presenting team, where we attempt to dissect the truth about the food we eat in Ireland today. Series 2 is about to hit our screens soon and we’ve had lots of fun taking a closer look at the food that fills our Instagram and Facebook feeds. If you missed last series here’s one of my favourite (and most controversial) moments – The Chicken Fillet Roll with Philip Boucher Hayes and Hilary O’Hagan Brennan

What I ate – May 2016

May

Photo by Erica Bracken

Duck & Roll 

Let’s start with lunch at Chapter One because I am still thinking about the duck main course I had, which was perfectly pink salt marsh duck with a toasted sesame crispy coating. But I digress this was not about the duck but in fact about cake. It was a Barry’s Tea & Taste of Dublin lunch showcasing their collaboration ‘Cakes of Exceptional Character’. These extraordinary Victoria sponges featured flavours like Dingle gin, poached rhubarb and what was declared to be the best carrot cake ever by someone at my table. Each cake was inspired by chefs tales with lots of tattoo style print featuring. These pictures do not do them justice. Find them at Taste of Dublin 16th – 19th June. Sponge cakes has never been so rock & roll.

Udon even know me 

If you do know me you will know one thing I love even more than food puns is ramen. And so I am overwhelmingly happy that the aptly named Ramen Bar has opened in Dublin. It’s hidden down the back of Kokoro on South William Street. And they are doing it so right. Ramen is all about the broth. Real, deeply flavoured broth. And while much fuss has been made recently of bone broth, it’s healing qualities etc blah blah… Real ramen broth or tonkotsu is all of these things and more because it will also contain the most divine, slippery, just biting noodles. And these noodles! They make their own fresh beautiful noodles on site with an impressive looking machine they brought over from Japan. I love it. Go, please, and order the Tonkotsu pork or the Spicy Salmon with extra garlic and get stuck in with your chop sticks and slurp your way to the bottom. (Forget your manners with ramen, slurping is OK!). Deal or noodle.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 10.39.11

Lit-erally the best weekend 

Ballymaloe Lit Fest deserves it’s very own huge piece but luckily for me both Marie claire Digby & Erica Bracken have already given brilliant round ups and they seem to have gotten around to a lot more than me. It’s simply an incredible, magical weekend for anyone who is really into food. The highlight for me was without doubt Saturday night dinner at the Cookery School with Mews Restaurant, Baltimore in residence. The menu was genius in it’s simplicity, sharing plates at sharing tables and they were tables you wanted to share with. Ottolenghi, Elisabeth Luard, Pat Whelan, Skye Gyngell, Prannie Rhatigan, Darina & Tim Allen were all dining – no pressure in the kitchen then. Stand out dishes? All of them really. Irish asparagus from Cape Clear Island, the freshest clams, delectably cooked turbot on sea weed, Manganlitza pork served pink and melting, the best smelling salad I’ve ever encountered straight from the cookery school gardens. The matching drinks by Mews sommelier Rani Parish, were surprising & inventive featuring English ‘champagne’, cider, White Gypsy beer and a Bertha’s Revenge gin martini. A refreshing change from the regular wine flights. Even the legendary Hugh Johnson agreed on this as we split a cab with him back to the Big Shed. What a night.

The flip side – Chinese Courgette Pancakes

IMG_1362Growing up Pancake Tuesday was a pretty significant day on the calendar, despite the fact that it marked the beginning of lent and that meant giving up sweets and putting any money you had in the Trócaire box. It also signalled that winter might be coming to an end (well it wasn’t as dark when you left school) and even better St. Patrick’s Day was around the corner. That meant a green ice cream and then not long after Easter beckoned, full of creme eggs and the promise of roast lamb. I knew there was good eating ahead…

Firstly though there were pancakes to be had. Time to stuff your face with stacks of flat round friends sprinkled with sugar, lemon and butter drizzling around your hands. I adore this distinctly Irish way of eating them and I’ve got the easy, old school pancake recipe here . I’m so tempted to have them for dinner but my sweet tooth has been replaced by an Asian tooth (if that’s a thing?) and it’s Chinese New Year so these Chinese Courgette Pancakes ticked all the boxes. They are simple, as a pancake should be, and I serve them with my version of Ching-He Huang’s dipping sauce. They also make a great breakfast and they happen to be dairy-free. Go on, take a whisk…

INGREDIENTS

1 courgette
1 bunch spring onions, green bits removed, sliced finely
4 medium eggs
80g buckwheat flour (or any flour you have)
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Dipping sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese vinegar or mirin
½ red chilli, deseeded & finely sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled & finely sliced
1 tsp parsley leaves and stems, finely chopped

METHOD
Turn your oven on to warming (100c) and put a plate in.
Wash your courgette and slice up using a mandolin if you have one, if not use a box grater.
Into a large bowl, crack your eggs and whisk together with a fork. Add in the flour, Chinese five spice and sesame oil. Mix this all together well and leave for 15 mins. Meanwhile mix together your dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
Your batter will seem too dry for a pancake batter but the water from the courgette should start to seep out and make it looser. Give it a mix and see. If it’s still not loose enough for pancake batter after 15 mins or so, you can add a little water to loosen it. Make sure to mix well.
Get a non-stick pan on medium to high heat. Have oil ready for frying and some kitchen roll handy. This and having an oven on warming in the best way to make lots of pancakes.
Using a big spoon or small ladel scoop out a spoon of your batter and get it into the pan, making it into a circular shape. It will cook really fast, less than a minute each side. When the edges look cooked, turn with a fish slice or flip if you are brave. Cook on the other side and then remove from the pan and pop into the warming oven. Keep the kitchen roll close by to wipe the pan out between cakes (off the heat!) to avoid too burning the oil and tainting your pancakes. You will have a stack ready to go in no time.
Serve them piled high with dipping sauce and a little Sriracha.

Happy Pancake Day!

Veganuary. What I’ve learned so far…

I’m more than half way through Veganuary now and so far so good. Here some of my surprising observations, other than it being an easy way to wean yourself off cake and beer after Christmas..

It’s not the meat that’s the hard bit – it’s the dairy.

Meat and fish are surprisingly easy to cut out. That’s the straightforward bit. But the dairy, oh the dairy! Normally not eating meat I’d throw in a bit of cheese. Feta would solve a lot of problems. Or eggs. But these options are obviously gone. Then there’s also the not so obvious. The most bizarre things have milk in them – like dry roasted peanuts?! There is a lot of labelling reading and googling while shopping. But probably what I miss the absolute most is my daily flat white. Almond, soy, rice milk – they don’t cut it. They’re not meant to be served heated. Not to mention that fact that they are mostly water. A flat white is what I long for not bacon or steak like I originally thought it would be…

You really have to think before you drink

I knew Veganuary would mean laying off my favourite whiskey sours (made frothy with a little egg white). But I hadn’t factored in that most wine and beer are not vegan. These alcohols are filtered through fining agents to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness etc can involve anything from casein (milk protein) to chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin and isinglass can be used. Thankfully there are lots of newer winemakers that are vegan-friendly using plant casein, limestone or silica gel for this process. You just have to do more label reading. If it’s vegan friendly it will say it. O’Briens have a really good selection and I picked up a few bottles in Dunnes Stores. I also called ahead at Forest Avenue the other night and they had two really good wines to choose from. Oh and Guinness is fully vegan as of last year so that’s keeping me fairly happy.  

You have to be organised

It does take some planning to eat well and enjoyably as a vegan. We were filming just outside of the city the first week, in an beautiful location where the was food delightfully homely but everything had meat or dairy. I ended up eating a wrap with just cucumber, peppers and lettuce, toasted. No sauce, oil, nothing. The lady who made it said ‘Don’t choke on it now, I’d hate that to be my last meal’ as she looked at my ravenous face…

I learnt my lesson – call ahead! Most places are happy to accommodate with a bit of notice. Last week was much better. I had an incredible experience at Forest Avenue where they not only had a vegan tasting menu available the chef also sent us out a few extra tastes and mine were all vegan. Not once did I feel awkward. And the food was amazing. 

You will eat better

There’s no way around the fact that you’re going to eat a lot more plants. And more lentils, beans, nuts, seeds – all those things you usually buy and then forget about and you end up spilling all over the cupboard (maybe that’s just me). By default you won’t eat as much baked goods, mostly full of dairy and eggs. I’ve had a weird amount of birthdays so far in January and not had ANY cake. The most painful being TWO pavlovas in my house in one week. (Thanks Halina). And as I said there is a lot of label reading so you’re going to think more about what’s actually in everything you are eating. You start to make different choices. 

Veganism is not as funny as it seems

I’ve been having serious guilts about how mean I may have been to vegans and vegetarians. Admittedly some the jokes are still funny (the one about the vegan on a plane, no?). It think it’s still funny because you actually have to say ‘I’m a vegan’ a lot when you are eating vegan. And then explain/ apologise about not eating animal products in so many situations – coffee shops, bars, restaurants, tea break at work, birthday parties. And then people make really unfunny jokes. That’s not great. I will definitely be more selective with my vegan humour going forward…

These things will really help

My vegan discoveries & saviours. Admittedly my list is probably very Dublin focused but might be some good ideas!

Happy Pear sundried tomato pesto – on toast, pasta, sweet potato, pretty much anything

Coyo yoghurt – super tasty on breakfast & desserts

Cocu boxes – you can substitute any meat for tofu. Easy vegan on the go.

Natasha’s and Nobo – the best vegan treats

Keen vanilla almond butter – when nothing but sweet will do

Instagram – I’ve had so many supportive messages & following #veganuary hashtag is great for ideas and advice

Happy Veganuary!

Help – I’m going vegan!

389155_333374643415054_972591687_n

My happy days at Berties Butcher

Yes you read correctly. I’m going vegan – for January. This will be very unexpected to anyone who knows me. I am a dedicated animal product lover. I spent 2012 stocking the wonderful Berties Butcher with the best meats and trying to convince Melbourne to eat more of it. I put butter generously on & in everything. I am generally unbearable without my daily flat white and my morning eggs. I’m also not always the most supportive of vegetarians or vegans friends trying to convince them to come back to the animal goods, to simply make better choices –  Go on, have a little… Not all meat is bad! What about cheese? Who can resist cheese? You get the idea…

So what’s the deal – am I just jumping on the Veganuary band wagon? Well no, that’s just a happy hashtag coincidence. Have I had an epiphany? Well of sorts. And it’s not about the industry being bad, which I know lots of it is. (I always try and make very conscious decisions). What made the difference was being tasked with putting together a vegan eating guide and helping a dedicated meat eater go vegan for a month. I realised how little I knew. Yes I can tell you all the cuts of steak, make all the mother sauces and identify most cheeses by taste. I can write a healthy eating guide, a low budget guide, a seasonal menu. But ask me to write an interesting, achievable, tasty vegan guide for a month. Now that was hard. It’s like I’ve completely ignored veganism. I looked on my heaving shelves of cookbooks for inspiration and couldn’t find a single book that didn’t have meat or dairy. I trawled all my bookmarked recipe sites, pretty much the same. I realised that being a vegan is not easy. And being a food lover and a vegan is even more difficult. Not to mention a wine loving vegan!

So I thought I’d just put it out there and look for a little help & guidance. Share some of my discoveries. And say sorry to any vegans or veggies I’ve offended!

Apprehensively looking forward to a month of experimentation and challenges…

Ali

http://www.veganuary.com/

 

Barry Fitzgerald’s Bastible Opens

Photo from Bastible.com

Photo from Bastible.com

One of the most hotly anticipated restaurants in Dublin (by me anyway) finally opens it’s doors today. Bastible is on Leonard’s Corner, the edge of picturesque Portobello which is fast becoming the food spot in the city. Why so excited by it? Well the chef proprietor is Barry Fitzgerald who Dubliner’s will know as the opening chef at the brilliant Etto on Merrion Row. In addition to adoring his food at Etto, I’m enthralled by his impressive London CV which includes three of my favourites – Arbutus, St. John and The Harwood Arms. All Michelin starred but also all restaurants that concentrate on serving real food – always using seasonal and sometimes inexpensive ingredients but above all creating interesting dishes that you want to eat.

From a sneak peek at their soft launch last week Barry looks set to continue this ethos. A short, simple menu let the ingredients and cooking shine. Here are a few of the dishes…

Bastible opening

Food pictures from soft opening from Barry Rowan

The restaurant itself has a neighbourhood, laid back feel, thoughtfully designed with lots of space for the open kitchen – as it should be! As well as the short al a carte menu, there will be a bar menu with sharing options. Coffee comes from Cloud Picker (so happy to see restaurants start to serve local coffee!) and Sunday’s will see a proper lunch served every week – no brunch bandwagon here I’m glad to say.

Bastible, 111 South Circular Road. Dublin 8

Contact. +353 (01) 473 7409 hello@bastible.com

Flying the flag for Irish Food #COYBIG

I’ve had to whisper this the last few weeks but (shhhhh) I’m not a rugby fan. I’ve felt distinctly unpatriotic avoiding the games with excuse after excuse. So, in a way to make up for it, I want to draw attention to some other boys in green, well sort of…chefs that are flying the flag for Irish food. They are taking our favourite hearty Irish foods and making them into world class dishes. Two of the best meals I’ve had recently and perfect examples of this and randomly have been Irish meals in London…

Mark Moriarty cooking at Selfridges, LondonMark dinner 2

Rising young star, Mark Moriarty, recently beat global competition to win the hugely prestigious San Pelligrino Young Chef of the Year competition in Italy, representing Ireland and Britain. With experience in The Ledbury and Restaurant Tom Aikens in London and Dublin’s Thornton’s and The Greenhouse he has had some stellar training and it shows in his cooking. I was lucky enough to sample his recent pop-up dinner in Selfridges in London where I was blown away by his take on traditional Irish dishes…

Mark Moriarty Dinner

Not only did this whole meal taste insanely good Mark also popped out in between each course to talk about the food. The Irish-ness was in the stories as well as the ingredients. The canapé served in a scallop shell inspired by ashtrays you’ll find in pubs all over coastline, the crispy potato skins of his youth, comparing cooking his now signature ‘Lamb in Hay’ to Blur always having to play Country House (It was just after Electric Picnic). His take on bacon and cabbage was somehow a million miles away from the dish we grew up with but also tasted exactly as it should. It was nostalgia at it’s tastiest and incredibly executed.

Mark will be cooking his first dinner in Dublin since winning Young Chef of The Year as part of Taste City Fusion on Friday 23rd October. It’s a Medieval menu he told me was part inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s medieval menu at Dinner. Along with his DIT mentor & head of culinary arts Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire he delved into Irish medieval food history along to devise what I’m sure will be a stunning four course feast. 

Richard Corrigan at Bentley’s, Londonrcgarden1

Meath native Richard has been flying the flag for Irish food for longer than most having won a Michelin star at his original London restaurant, Lindsay House back in 1997. I remember eating there back in 2004 and ordering his star dish crubeens and thinking this is pretty cool. An Irish chef cooking this dish right in the heart of Soho. He went on to be a winning chef Great British Menu three times and consequently was thrust into the limelight as an Irish food ambassador. And boy is he good at it.  From the seaweed butter at the beginning right through to the petit fours I had a list of questions to ask the chef about various tastes and ingredients that blew me away. And you know what the common theme was? Irish ingredients! Here’s a recap of what I had….

Richard Corrigan Lunch

The mussels were the best I’ve ever eaten, big, juicy, tasty. And what really stood out was the broccoli – yep. You could smell the broccoli over the steak, sauces, over anything else. And Richard proudly told me that’s because he grew it himself in Cavan. He’s taken over the beautiful Virginia Park Lodge and has been bountifully growing his own fantastic produce for his restaurants. 

I also want to give a shout out for the chefs that are coming home and doing great things in Dublin. I’m thrilled to see that Paul McVeigh has put away his passport (he was travelling the world cooking with golfer Rory McIllroy) and has now opened super cool steak restaurant on Dawson Street Featherblade and I’m waiting with baited breath to see what ex- London chef (Harwood Arms) Barry Fitzgerald will serve up when he opens his new spot Bastible in the next few weeks in Dublin. #COYBIG

My lunch in Bentley’s was thanks to a trip with Cityjet on their inaugural Cork to London flight.