simple is best

 simple is best

I don’t know why I haven’t made carrot salad more considering how often it comes in the veg box and that they are almost always available in your local corner shop. There is a very simple recipe in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and it’s lovely.

Take 1lb of carrots, grate them, add 4 tbsp’s of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp of lemon juice, 2 tbsp’s flat leaf parsley (or chervil), mix and leave to chill for a while .
Add salt and pinch of sugar to taste (though I didn’t) and hoof it down you. Lovely.

bean tops


A thunderstorm passed through a few hours ago, you wouldn’t believe how dark it got in the kitchen about 6pm.

But now it’s the calm after the storm, there is a softness in the earth and bird song.

Sometimes walking in the garden I think I can see things growing, like the turnips and lettuce.
It’s all in my imagination *he said to make himself sound sane to anyone reading*  but it’s such a soft day now that you know the vegetables and herbs are soaking it all in, the rain and nutrients and whatever else makes things grow.

I pinched the tops off my broad beans, they books say to do this when they come into flower so that the energy goes into making the beans. It was as nice task because broad  beans smell lovely. A few books suggest to cook them if they aren’t over run with blackfly, which they weren’t so I made a risotto.

It looked better than it tasted truth be told, not because of the bean tops but because I haven’t yet mastered the art of making onions soft and transparent without letting them get brown. The crunchy onions ruined it for me, though it still tasted nice. It ruined it because I was kicking myself for not getting the oni0ns right. In my defence I was distracted by counting the time between flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder, calculating that the thunderstorm must be directly above Barna now or out in Galway Bay. It was also pitch black.
If you don’t cook much you’d be amazed how often the recipes tells you not to let  onions brown. It seems like a simple thing but my oven hobs are crazy and want to char anything that touches them, even at the lowest setting.

So there you go, pay attention to softening your onions and don’t throw out your broad bean tips.


re-blogged because it’s true..

canal ways is curious how seldom the all importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market-gardeners.’

George Orwell in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’

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use only one hand for kneading..


I’m on a bit of a Penguin book grabbing frenzy at the moment and managed to pick up a grubby copy of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 2’ by Simone Beck and Julia Child. I’m not sure if I would have been aware of the book if not for sneakily watching ‘Julia and Julia once when it was on at home but I love it already because it is full of diagrams and lines like this:-

‘Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scraper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth’

I’m not sure why that line attracts me to the book, but it seems almost joyful to me. Of course you need to keep the hand free to answer the phone, life is still going on when you make a loaf of bread, you can talk to people and bake bread as well.
Maybe I’m influenced by Meryl Streep’s performance as Julia Child in the film but there seems to be a sense of joy in the writing of the book. I’ve an old grubby copy of Elizabeth David’s classic ‘French Provincial Cooking’ that I’ve flicked through over the last few years but it just seems to be missing something. I think it’s a sense of joy or enjoyment, or just having a bit of light-hearted banter

I think that is why I enjoy my Hugh Fearnley Whats-his-face books as there is a sense of joy in his writing whereas Delia Smith seems a bit less joyful in her cookery books. Perhaps the missing ingredient between cookery books I find useful and ones I love is a sense of joy.

In a larger sense, I wish I was more joyful sometimes, or enjoyed things a bit more. To often I let myself whinge or moan, find fault and be cynical about life. I don’t enjoy things and let others know that I didn’t enjoy it. I need to recover a sense of enjoyment about life because it’s life affirming, things aren’t all bad out there.

vegetable stock supply chain


This is all theory being a man without a garden but I was wondering how much land would it take to grow all the vegetable stock I need for a year based on simple stock recipe in River Cottage Everyday.
I reckoned that roughly 6-7sq.m might do it but was wondering about the celery as I’ve heard it’s a bit of devil to grow. Then I remembered the old soup celery as it’s called here in Northern Ireland, or leaf celery you see in veg soup packets in Spar. So I’d probably try growing a patch of that and keeping a few bay trees.

indexing blackcurrants and courgettes

spiceI’ve been sitting here  in this freezing cold house for the past hour indexing all my recipe books so that I can find my recipes quickly. Yes, Thursday night is obviously party night at Dave’s house.

I enjoy recipe books but despite enjoying them I can never find a recipe when I need it which makes me resent my recipe books. It’s just too much bother to look through things when you’re tired and so you might stick on a bowl or porridge or eat a can of tinned rice.

If I bring some courgettes for example home from the market I quickly get tired flicking through book after book until I stumble across courgette recipes I can make with the ingredients that I have. So I’m making a big book that has recipes labelled under different vegetables and fruit and various meat.

My main reasons for doing this are:-

1) I’d like to try and make more meals around whatever vegetables or fruit are in season. If I ever get space I’d like to try growing some of my own. So it’s sort of getting used to the natural rhythms of the seasons and cooking around what we can grow in the UK and Ireland.

2) I’m trying to eat more foods that can be grown locally but seeing if they can be made more exciting or tasty. For instance is there a nice recipe for carrots or cabbages which doesn’t use much energy to prepare and is easy to make but doesn’t taste bland. There are some vegetables which you can get in your local corner shop pretty much anywhere but they don’t seem sexy or appealing on a cold February evening.

3) I’m trying to eat less meat, but better quality meat when I do. Also to try and get as much value from that meat when we do buy it. So are there any good recipes for using cheap cuts of meat like beef shin or livers and that sort of thing.

At the same time flicking through recipe book after recipe book and having your mouth water at glossy pictures can make you more than a little ashamed and guilty.
Here you are indexing recipe books and thinking about how you’re going to try that cassis and blackcurrant recipe while millions and millions of people around the globe go to bed starving and malnourished.  Here you are with all these options and ideas and others are trying to scrap a living from poor soil and land that suffers drought. So I’m trying to remind myself to be thankful for every thing in the cupboards, for water tapped in and energy for cooking at the flick of a switch.

I guess that all this indexing is an attempt to find out if I can eat in better ways than I have been doing, in a way that is more thankful for my daily bread and less destructive to creation. Am I cooking in a way that isn’t wasteful of energy? Can I get 3 meals out of a chicken instead of 2?

But at the same time to be able to cook well because I’d like to be able to cook well for hospitality in the future, especially for wherever we move to next or whatever happens there. Because I’ve heard a lot sermons about the Good News in my time but I’ve experienced the good news most around dinner and fellowship with friends.  Which always reminds of Babette’s Feast.

nutritionists and onion gruel

The shifts and strategems of nutrition experts have provided one of the recurring amusements of the past thirty or so years:


  We ought to take more vitamins, We’re taking too many vitamins. Milk is the aqua vitae. Milk is a killer. Potatoes are good for you. No they’re bad. No, they’re good after all. Why bother with food – we can nourish you better and more scientifically (whatever that means) by pills and tonics. Tonics are unnecessary, pills are harmful, what you need is natural food.
Well, no claims for beef tea of onion gruel have been made for a long time, but I will risk saying that, when you feel wan and peevish about food, beef tea will go down agreeably. If you are are suffering from a feverish cold, a boil in an awkward spot, pink eye or any other of those minor ailments that together with the awful weather make you wish you were dead, onion gruel will warm, console and affirm your status as a martyr. Neither can harm you.’

Georgina Horley, Good Food on a Budget

free range bacon

I am typing this and eating my dinner, a bowl of leek and potato soup with some cubes of free range, woodland reared etc etc pancetta style bacon from St George’s Market.

I have rarely, if ever bought free range, organic meat before for two main reasons.

1) It is more expensive and when you’re watching the pennies those extra pounds that an organic, free range chicken would cost (and it would be pounds)are a big deterrent.
2) Sometimes there is an atmosphere middle class self righteousness when around free range, organic meat which I don’t like and puts me off.

But having said all that the reason I am typing this during my dinner is that I was amazed by the difference in the grease and fat that came from my grill when I was cooking my free range, woodland reared bacon compared to what I normally would get cooking some bacon from my local Spar, or even from my butcher.

First up, there was much less steam coming from the grill. Normally there would be clouds of steam coming from the grill, so much so that when you lift it up it could burn your hand.

There was also much less water running into the bowl. Normally there would be a layer of dirty grease water floating on top of the bacon fat. Tonight there was a much less steam from the grill and the fat which ran seemed much clearer.

I guess what I’m saying is that there was something noticeably different to the bacon I cooked tonight compared to the bacon I would cook normally.