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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

How to Roast Chestnuts without an Open Fire

"Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire". Those immortal words from the famous Nat King Cole song always pop up around the middle of November and indicate the beginning of the build-up to the Christmas season and all that goes with it!

In Ireland we don't really have a tradition of eating roasted chestnuts, but like everything else, the world is becoming a smaller place and we can now get our hands on anything, if you really want it.

Edible chestnuts do not grow in Ireland. Most of the chestnuts that are eaten around the world are imported from Japan, China, Spain, and Italy. They are known as 'Marrons' in France.

I got my local veg-man to get me a bag of sweet chestnuts to try out and did some research on how to cook them. They taste different from what you'll expect and also, don't be disappointed if many of them break up when you're taking them out of the shell - that's happens in real life!

How to Roast Chestnuts without an Open Fire

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

1. Using a small, sharp pointed knife, cut a cross into the flat-side skin of each Chestnut. This helps to prevent the chestnut from exploding while cooking.

2. Drop them into cold water, to soak, for 15 minutes. This helps them steam and stay moist.

3. Place the Chestnuts on a roasting tin, cut side up and bake until the skin splits open and the inside is tender, about 20 minutes.

4. Put the cooked chestnuts in a dry towel and press gently to crush open the shell. Peel the shell back and eat them straight away!

If they start to get cold they become very hard to peel. Only a few of mine came out looking perfect and that was because I peeled some very carefully! You can pop the chestnuts back into the oven and warm them up a little again, to help peel them.

You can serve them out in paper bags or newspaper cones if you wish. You can also boil chestnuts for 15 minutes and peel them before you add them into your Christmas Stuffing. Give them a go either way!

You can find my favourite stuffing recipe here: 10 Tips for the Perfect Turkey & My Stuffing Recipe


There are Turkeys Roaming Free (range) in the Boyne Valley

If you know Olivia Duff, you'll know that she really is a very busy woman! She is a dynamic character who passionately promotes Irish and in particular county Meath produce at every opportunity. When managing the award winning family run hotel, The Headfort Arms, in Kells, she strives to serve the best of Irish food in all food service areas of the business. An example of this being their unique menu, served in the Vanilla Pod restaurant, in which all the ingredients are sourced within a 30-mile radius of the hotel.

Olivia Duff is passionate about telling the story of great Irish food
Olivia is one of the driving forces behind the Meath Food Showcase and the Meath Food Trail Package. This trail offers visitors an opportunity to visit local producers and on returning to the hotel, an opportunity to enjoy the 'Meath Menu' featuring food from the rich sources of the Boyne Valley. She is also one of the Failte Ireland Food Champions and is dedicated to helping others tell their own 'food story'.

Her passion for food has led her family to breeding turkeys, rare breed pigs and sheep, supplying their artisan produce directly from their farm to the consumer. Maperath Farm is a small mixed farm, just outside Kells, which is committed to involving the customer in the full story of food production and they take great pride in this story. With her husband, Eoin Sharkey, a former builder and keen horseman, they have created an atmosphere of honest farming, one that invites the customer to discover where their food comes from. Whether that is a newly born lamb or a day old chick, visitors can follow the process of the meat from the farm directly to the table.

All the animals on Maperath Farm are traditionally reared and enjoy fodder crop (the first poultry farm in Ireland to do so) alongside natural feeds and acres of free range lifestyle. New for 2015 will see Maperath Farm's ‘Lamb in a Box’ which will offer the customer a chance to order a full lamb direct from the farm. This will be then custom-butchered to the customer wishes and presented in a box, ready to eat or for the freezer. This year also sees expansion of their brand to include Maperath Farm Christmas Relish & Chutneys.

Maperath Farm ‘Lamb in a Box’ will be available in 2015

The farm produces rare breed pigs, grass fed lamb and poultry, but it is the Free Range Turkeys & Geese which are the main event at this time of year. With huge demand for their birds, it proves that consumers in Ireland really do care about the welfare, rearing and production of their food.

Olivia's husband, Eoin, believes in honest food direct from the farm
Maperath Farm is unique because it represents a true model of Sustainable Farming, incorporating models of high animal welfare, natural feed products and low levels of intensity. It also represents a real concept of ‘honest food direct from the farm’. Customers can order their own lamb, turkey or goose knowing that it is traditionally reared, then processed and butchered locally.

Olivia and Eoin's farm offers premium product which involves the customer throughout the full story of farm to the table. The long-term vision for Maperath Farm is to expand into a unique Free Range mixed farm which will involve its customers from day one in the production of food. Customers will be invited to visit their food as it grows and for the farm to become a Food Tourism Destination as part of the Boyne Valley.

The free range lifestyle of any bird is reflected in the quality and flavour of the meat

Maperath Farm has a limited number of their free range Turkeys and Geese available over the next few months, but they're going fast! Contact the Farm today on 087 902 7070 or see www.facebook.com/maperathfarm


See my 10 Tips on How to Cook a Turkey & my Favourite Stuffing Recipe herewww.irishfoodguide.ie/2011/12/10-tips-for-perfect-turkey-my-stuffing.html

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Halloween & My Barmbrack Recipe

Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is one of those true Celtic traditions that has become a world-wide celebrated occasion. Historically, it is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain which is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end".

With the plantation of Ulster in the early 1600's, the Scottish colonists brought with them the festival of All Hallow's Evening (All Hallows Even') celebrated on the same night and the two traditions merged. This was the night that the souls of the dead were thought to walk the earth and many people believed it a setting for supernatural encounters! I remember how Holy Water was sprinkled on the outhouses, sheds and farm animals  to keep them safe during the night and mirrors in our house were covered with sheets so that the poor souls could not enter the living world.

The traditional bread served on the night was the Halloween Barmbrack, meaning speckled cake, which is a sweet fruit bread. The word Barm comes from an old English word, "beorma", meaning yeasty fermented liquor and Brack comes from the Irish word "breac", meaning speckled - which it is with the dried fruit and candied peel.

The bracks made with yeast are called "barmbracks" and those that use baking powder and fruit soaked in tea are called "tea bracks".

Each member of your family must get a slice and it was always a great treat, to find the penny in the cake as this meant you were going to be rich. Other items buried in the barmbrack are: a ring for the bride-to-be, a thimble for the one who would never marry and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor. This is the recipe I have used for many years and it makes one loaf.

My Ingredients:
450g (3½ Cups) plain flour 
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
7g (1 sachet) (2 teaspoons) dried yeast 
75g butter (4 tablespoons)
75g (1/3 Cup) castor sugar 
250ml (1 Cup) milk 
1 beaten egg
150g (1 Cup) raisins 
100g (3/4 Cup) currants 
50g (1/4 Cup) chopped Dried Fruit Peel 
A little melted butter for greasing

My Method:
1. Warm the milk, add the butter and let it melt in the warm milk.
2. Mix the yeast with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Add half the warmed milk mixture. Add the beaten egg.
3. Sift the cinnamon with the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the yeast and liquid mixture into it. Sprinkle a little flour over the liquid and leave it in a warm place for 1/2 hour until yeast froths up.
4. Add in the remainder of the liquid and mix the whole lot into a dough. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead the sugar, raisins, currants and chopped peel into the dough.
5. Put the dough into a butter-greased large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
6. Knead it back again and then shape into your greased bread tin. Brush the top with melted butter and cover until doubled in bulk again.
7. Bake for 40 minutes in a pre-heated hot oven at 200°C until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
8. To give it a nice glaze stir 1 tbls sugar into 50ml boiling water and brush this over the top of the loaf when it comes out of the oven and is still hot.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards 2015 culminate this weekend!

The Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards 2015 culminate this weekend with Finalists Judging tomorrow (Thursday 1st October).

Now in their 8th year, the Blas na hEireann (which means Taste of Ireland) Irish Food Awards is the biggest competition for quality Irish produce on the island of Ireland. Over 2500 products have been entered into this year’s competition to win Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards in over 90 food and drink categories as well as key awards such as Supreme Champion and Best Artisan Producer.

A Blas na hEireann accreditation has been researched to show the highest recognition amongst Irish consumers and using the award logo on product packs really does encourage shoppers to buy these great products. It is a guarantee of a top quality Irish product.

Blas na hEireann  takes place annually on the first weekend in October, 1st – 4th October 2015. Set against the backdrop of the Dingle Peninsula Food Festival the awards and events throughout the weekend are a fantastic opportunity to meet with producers, trade and press.

The Blas Awards and the Dingle Peninsula Food Festival is an event which has grown to be one of the most recognised and well attended food events in Ireland. In the past few years the first weekend in October has become a critical date in the food industry’s calendar. in 2014 this Irish Food Networking event was attended by over 200 producers with buyers and press from all over Ireland, the UK & US!

Most importantly, the Blas na hEireann awards and the Dingle Food Festival have retained a sense of informality while becoming a key business event.

There is a real sense of the pressure that the food producers are under when you attend the awards ceremony. Everyone in the room knows that winning a Blas na hEireann Award, whether it is Gold, Silver or Bronze, can help launch a new product and boost sales of an existing line. And that is what awards the Blas are all about - helping passionate people with wonderful food products to reach new customers.

I'm delighted to have been asked to be one of the Finalists Judges again this year and I write this as I sit in the Dingle Benner Hotel. If you're coming down to Dingle for the Blas na hEireann Awards and/or the Dingle Peninsula Food Festival, do try to get around as much of it as you can, if you can!

Food Festivals all over Ireland have come to understand the power of social media in helping to get the word out about their event and so you can:
Follow the Blas na hEireann Awards on Twitter at @BlasNahEireann
Follow the Dingle Peninsula Food Festival on Twitter at @DingleFoodFest
And of course you can Follow me on Twitter at @IrishFoodGuide

For more details on the Blas na hEireann Awards see www.IrishFoodAwards.com
For more details on the Dingle Food Festival see www.DingleFood.com

Kelly’s Butchers of Newport open new Black Pudding factory

Celebrity Chef Neven Maguire performed the official opening of a 6,000 square foot manufacturing facility at Kelly’s Butchers in Newport, Co. Mayo, on Friday 25th September 2015.

The affable Cavan chef has been a longstanding supporter of Kelly’s Butchers and their products. The new manufacturing unit represents an investment of €1 million. It trebles the capacity of the previous facility and leaves Kelly’s Butchers poised to sell into new and bigger markets both at home and abroad. The Kelly family would like to thank South West Mayo Development Company and Mayo LEO for supporting this expansion project.

“I’ve used Kelly’s puddings not only in my restaurant but all over the world from Dubai to the USA", said Neven Maguire, speaking in the very appropriately black and white themed marquee, “I love their consistency and their quality – you can taste the passion the Kellys put into their food. Through that they’ve put Newport, Mayo and Ireland on the map and I’m delighted to be here today to celebrate with them."

“This is a very proud day for the Kelly family”, said Seán Kelly, “It’s the culmination of our family’s work since my father opened the first butchers shop here back in the 1930s. His name, Dominic Kelly, is still over the door.”

The ribbon on the new manufacturing facility was cut by Seán’s mother-in-law, 95 year old Mamie Marley, ably assisted by Neven Maguire.

The new facility will be used to manufacture Kelly’s award winning puddings and sausages. It will hugely increase the manufacturing capacity and will allow Kelly’s to supply customers all over the island of Ireland as well as the UK market. Kelly’s are already supplying customers in major UK cities, and are now able to respond to the increasing demand.

Kelly’s Butchers are a phenomenal success story in the West of Ireland; their turnover has increased steadily year on year and this is expected to continue into the future. Several jobs have already been created by Kelly’s Butchers and they expect to take on more staff over the next year. This will bring their employee numbers to 22.

“We would like to thank everyone who has helped and supported Kelly’s Butchers”, said Seán Kelly, “Every person who chooses Kelly’s Black Pudding or sausages for their breakfast is doing their bit towards creating and sustaining jobs in Ireland.” 

Stuffed Saddle of Rabbit with Serrano Ham and Kelly's Black Pudding
from Sage Restaurant, Westport

Indeed Kelly’s Puddings are seen in all sorts of guises in literally every course of every meal – even in desserts. Seán Kelly has been credited as the man who took black pudding off the breakfast table and put it on the dinner table.

Gerry O’Neill, CEO of South West Mayo Development Company said, “This is another step in the evolution of the Kelly brand which is such a hallmark of success. We are delighted to have supported this project, particularly as it supports rural employment and uses local skills. We wish the Kellys well in their future.”

Michael Holmes, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, recalled bygone days on the football field with Seán Kelly, saying, “Seán always played at the front, he was always moving forward and he still is. He and the family have always been very progressive and have always been more than generous in helping their community as well. It’s a fantastic day for them and for Newport.”

Tanya Whyte, Business Advisor with Mayo LEO who has special responsibility for food, noted that ‘The Kellys are significant employers in Newport and important to the community. I see three reasons for their success: hard work, innovation and excellence in marketing.”

A special presentation was made to the Kelly family by Peter Hynes, Mayo County Manager of a commemorative scroll for Mayo Day created by artist Fionntan Gogarty. Mr Hynes said, “Kelly’s Black Pudding is being consumed everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires and everywhere in between. I wish them every success with their new venture and into what looks like a very bright future.”

Sean Kelly presents the cheque to Caroline Leneghan Mc Manamon
Seán Kelly presented a cheque for €3,000 to Cystic Fibrosis West. This is from sales of the book of Kelly’s Puddings recipes, entitled ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ which was launched last year and is on sale in Kelly’s shop. Caroline McMenamen of Cystic Fibrosis West thanked the Kelly family for their support saying, “This money will all go towards the new clinic in Castlebar”, she also noted, “It’s very appropriate that Neven Maguire is here beside me today – one of his recipes is in the ‘Proof is in the Pudding’ book.”

Kelly’s Butchers produce and sell award winning black and white puddings and six varieties of speciality sausages. Awards include Blás na hÉireann, Great Taste Awards, Business Achievers Award and many butchers’ awards. Kellys also manufacture the ‘Putóg’, a traditional farmhouse black pudding. Kelly’s products are available through their shop and in hundreds of outlets around Ireland and the UK. 

Their products will soon be available online as well, through a new website which will launch in the next few weeks at www.kellysbutchers.com


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The Irish Food Guide Blog www.IrishFoodGuide.ie includes news, foodie chat, recipes, award results, links and other general information on the Food & Tourism Industry in Ireland.

It is written & curated by Zack Gallagher, Donegal Town, Co Donegal, Ireland.

“My Blog is a slice of the Irish Food ‘Network’. I’m a Chef with over 27 years experience and also have a background in media. I’m passionate about Irish Food Tourism and I believe that a rising tide really can lift all boats!”

Supporting Irish Food created by passionate producers and encouraging the Irish food & hospitality industry to use modern social media methods to increase their business.

Zack is building an all-Ireland Food Tourism network to assist Tour Operators bringing guests into Ireland to connect easily with artisan Irish food producers, so as they can experience the provenance and personality behind our Irish food Visit www.IrishFoodTours.ie

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